"Oh, right," she said, "people don't do that any more, do they. Look, before the big IP crackdown in the "50s, it was possible for techies to make their own stuff. You could design just about anything, then fab some chips and print the parts for pretty much anything you wanted to build."
"Why bother? If you want something, isn't it easier to just order it?"
She gave him a weary look. "Things were different. I was trained as an engineer just before the field was overrun by AIs and all the corporate jobs were pink-slipped. But an out-of-work engineer is a seriously bored human being. So what happened was they made stuff on their own. But it had to be for personal use because it was illegal to even approximate a company's intellectual property and try to sell it. Take this raft for example."
He looked down. "What about it?"
"The water jets, for one thing, and the fuel cells that power them. I didn't buy any of it. Couldn't even come close to affording the commercial ones, so I made my own. That's the kind of stuff you'd do at a maker studio. Like the one I've got at home. It's how I've managed to stay off the spooks' radar all these years. But I guess that's over now."
Since he'd finally managed to get her to open up about her past, he took another stab at digging for answers. "Was the Green Party still around back then? And what was it that used to be on your Post Office share?"
"You're right, Alphon," she said. "We do need to address that, don't we? After all, it appears our lives are now at risk because of it. Well, as to the missing file, it was never really there."
She turned off the jets and faced him, deadly serious. "Too dangerous," she whispered. "As you said, all trace of the Greens was expunged decades ago. But a friend of mine, an old techie who died several years back, discovered that the automatic scans that were set up to trap for any new material about them didn't check for links, only for content. He broke into that report you found and reinstated the mention of the Greens' submission to the Barrage's design review. You could call it bait."
Alphon's jaw dropped. "Bait?" he said in disbelief. "What was he trying to catch?"
"Someone curious about the vanished past. Someone like you. But really, I'd forgotten that it was even there until I read your note."
"Do you even know what they had to say about the Barrage design? Was there a flaw? Is that why it failed?"
Maira closed her eyes and lowered her head. Looking a bit unsteady, she reached down to the bench and eased herself down onto it. "That's the key to it, really. There wasn't exactly a design flaw, because ocean chemistry wasn't even considered."
Alphon sat down beside her. "Okay. Now I'm confused. Didn't you tell me that the destruction of the Barrage was an act of war?"
She nodded. "It was. Not that anyone would believe it."