"And how many of them are either members of the Hacker Collective, or supporters of your work?"
"Just about--. Oh. I see your point."
"Not all of it," Quince said. "That's how it starts. That's how we get their attention. But that's not where it ends, and I think these soldiers know why, because they've just been through it. You two, why did you break ranks and shoot down your commander's drone?"
"He committed murder, sir," one of the soldiers said. "Our mission was originally to extract that pod from the tube and bring it in. When we arrived and found that you were already addressing the press, our mission was changed to shutting down the event and escorting you to base. He acted outside his authority, sir. She was not the enemy. He dishonored the corps."
"But why did you do it? Weren't you afraid that you'd face court martial?"
"Well, yes, sir. But I felt that stopping him was more important."
"Thank you. What happened next is the crux of it, Eshana. Now the rest of you immediately thought to retaliate by shooting these two men. They were clearly in violation of military rules, and yet you stood down. Could one of you please tell my associates why?"
Two soldiers spoke at once, and then one deferred to the other. "It was what you did, sir. When you saluted them."
"Why was that?"
"Well, sir, I think we were all pretty disgusted by what the commander did. Standing orders are to target traitors in the ranks, but none of us was willing to be first to shoot, because, well, because what they did was right. But you chose to honor them, even though you knew we were all here to prevent you from speaking. I had to stand down. There really wasn't any other choice. Not for me, anyway. But sir?"
"A backup force will be arriving shortly. I don't think any of us should be here when they arrive. Can we take you somewhere?"
Ferd suggested that they go to Meg Butler's hideout in the bayou, and Cinquetta Mills asked if she could come along. Once they were en route in the transport, Alphon got back to the point. "An avalanche," he said, "is an unpredictable series of events that happens when a system that's in a precarious state is nudged at just the right time and place. We're going to provide that nudge by shutting down the Daley Transshipment Center. The corporation that owns it will retaliate in the only way they can, by making life even more miserable for the people. They'll shut down the water supply from their lake. And that will be enough to push a lot more people into action. Phoebe's mother was right. What frightens them most is a social event cascade: a mass, uncontrollable action by the people. When she died, I swore to take them all down, and you've just given us the means to make that happen. This is it."
Eshana sat back and swallowed hard. "All right," she said. "I'm game. But I feel a bit exposed here. After all, the police just trashed my house and arrested my brother. I've got to be on their radar. Do I have to do this alone?"
"You're anything but alone, sis," Rafi said from the doorway.
Relief flooded through her. "What? I thought--?"