This series started with the story, 'Bait'.
(Part 7 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
She was sitting in a maker lab at what the Hacker Collective had been calling 'Bayou Bundis', idly stroking the glossy wings of a 3D-printed butterfly, when the biggest story of 2095 caught her eye and crossed the room towards her.
"That's her memorial, you know," Quince told her, indicating the sculpture.
Cinquetta glanced at the butterfly, which was incongruously emerging from an egg-shaped geode, and recalled that his traveling companion had been shot by military gunfire moments after they emerged from a HyperLoop pod that had fallen into Lake Pontchartrain. "Phoebe Butler?"
His pace faltered, and a fleeting look of regret escaped its hiding place. "No," he said quietly. "It was for her mother, Meg." He stopped beside her and looked at the sculpture for a long moment. "Well, Maira Bundis, really. That's how she introduced herself to me before she was"" He trailed off as his finger touched the eerily human-looking eyespot on one of the wings.
"I'm sorry," she said, afraid of opening yet another wound.
"Don't be," he said, regaining his composure. "Unlike Phoebe, Meg wasn't killed because of me. It was because of a box." He smiled at her and gestured vaguely at the head-mounted A/V kit she always wore. "Did you" want to record this?"
Normally, she'd have jumped at the chance. After all, it was the sort of scoop any independent reporter worth her salt would kill for. But if she reached up to her temple and tapped the record switch, she'd also have to turn off her emotions and approach the interview dispassionately. And that was something she didn't want to do right now. Finding out who Alphon Quince really was meant being someone he could be at ease with when he spoke to her, and she couldn't do that with the recorder on. "No," she said, "there's time for that later. So what was in the box?"
"Some goo, and the instructions for how to make it.""And that was worth killing her over?"
"Oh," Quince said, taking a seat, "it's worth far more than that. As far as the bankers in Basel are concerned, their entire world is at stake. But it's not something they can sell. Its value lies in keeping it secret, because their global power structure was built on a lie, and that goo is the disinfectant." He smiled, amused at his turn of phrase. "In a manner of speaking, it will blow their scam wide open. This is an event cascade I'm not going to want to miss."
"But what is it?"
"It's the counteragent to the bacteria that learned how to eat resin."
Watching him grow serious again, Cinquetta thought back to the press event that started when he and Phoebe emerged from the rescued HyperLoop pod, and how it changed tenor the moment she identified him to the other reporters. "You'd said that you got into infrastructure analysis because your brother died in a collapsed school building when he was a kid. What drove you to hunt down that missing document from the Golden State Barrage archive?"
He sat back and looked up at the repair in the domed ceiling for a few moments, then took a deep breath and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "There was a vid." He closed his eyes tightly and frowned. "A news intern in Oakland was streaming the disaster when the sea swept in, pulled the phone out of his hand, and sucked him under. As the phone floated to the surface, and the sky rocked back and forth between fractured buildings, all I could think of was my brother. There had to be a reason, something I could understand." He looked up at her. "A few minutes later, the government announced that the Barrage had been blown up, that it was a senseless act of terrorism. But it wasn't that at all. It didn't fit. It didn't make any sense. I couldn't let it go. I just couldn't."
Imagining that intern's last moments reignited the emotional fire that had driven Cinquetta to track Alphon Quince to the bayou. When the Cold Comfort resort was crushed under the ice, those financial bigwigs weren't the only people who died. Her cousin was there, too. Marci worked in operations, so she was able to get a message out before the comms were shut. 'Don't believe what they say happened here, Cinq,' she'd said. 'The Hacker Collective were called in to help us. Quince is not what they say.' She was still struggling to shake off the terror her cousin must have felt before the ice fell when Meg's friend Ferd stepped out of the office and started towards them.
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