"Okay, but he's kind of busy right now. Listen."
The hubbub returned, and quickly resolved into a welter of overlapping voices. She must have stepped closer to Alphon because his voice grew louder and more distinct. "--and that makes it a war crime," he said emphatically.
"But sir," another voice said, "even if it is, what can we do about it?"
"What's going on? Who's he talking to?" Ferd asked.
"Ground support for those killer drones. Two of them fired on their commander's drone when he murdered Ms. Butler, and blew it up. Then, several of the others raised their weapons, and were about to kill the first two, when Quince stood up after seeing what was left of Ms. Butler, and saluted them. He just stood there at attention, with his arm cocked and tears streaming down his face. That's when it happened. I don't know why, but the other soldiers lowered their weapons. One of them joined Quince's salute, and then the rest followed suit. It was surreal."
"Damn," Eshana said. "Were there pictures? Vids? I mean, with you folks being the press and all. Is there a record of this?"
"I don't know about the others, but my head-mount A/V set's been live the whole time."
There was an awkward silence, and then Ferd said, "Including now?"
"Um hmm. Is that going to be a problem?"
"I don't know. But now we really need to talk to Alphon. Could you hand him the phone, please?"
While she was waiting for Quince to join the conversation, Eshana went into the back bedroom to survey the mess that the police had made, and shuddered from the stench. The neat rows of Rafi's hydroponic herb plats had been hacked to shreds. The plants he'd been growing were piled up against the wall and then doused with some sort of foul-smelling poison. Quince came on the line while she was peeling the privacy film off the windows, so she finished opening them, and then headed back to the living room.
"Calculated? No, not at all," he was saying when she sat down. "I was petrified. The only thing I could think of right then was that those two soldiers had avenged her death. They'd honored her dignity as a human being at the risk of their own lives, and I had to thank them for it. I mean, look. Phoebe is dead because of me. So is her mother. I'm so sorry, Ferd. I know they were like family to you. But what can I do? I'm too dangerous to be around now, even for these soldiers, and especially for the press that stayed."
"I'll tell you what you can do, buddy," Ferd told him firmly, "you can help us to fight back. You want to take it from here, Eshana?"
It struck her, as she was about to speak, that Alphon Quince had enough on his plate already, and that she had no right to put a decision like this on him. "I'm sorry," she said self-consciously, "this is probably a stupid idea, but--."
"Those are usually the best kind," he reassured her. "Go on."
"Living in steel country, it's kind of hard to not realize just how much power the owners of Lake Michigan have over us. The Great Lakes supply drinking water to the better part of both the US and Canada, and with the Atlantic shipping routes at the mercy of those hurricanes that never seem to go away, they're also essential to the Mid-Continent Shipping Corridor, which passes freight through Chicago and down to the Mississippi. Anyway, I heard what you told the press earlier, and it's the same people. The Basel banking cartel that profits from climate disasters also owns the lakes."