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London, England

The BBC headquarters building was located at Portland Place. Broadcasting House’s façade was stone and it was ten stories tall, not including the radio tower on top. Protruding from the front of the ninth floor was a clock. At the moment, Ruslan Chernecov saw that it read twelve noon. Below this was a statue of Prospero and Ariel. The ornament looked different, if not notably attractive. Wearing a stolen badge, he went inside and rode an elevator upstairs, not drawing any attention to himself. When the doors finally opened, he was confronted by a big sign that read bbc.co.uk, in metallic silver letters.

Light filtered in from the right and left. Pressing his rimless glasses up his nose, he started walking, hands behind his back, flawlessly pressed, white, collarless button down shirt beneath a black jacket. His hair was crisp with a hint of spikiness and his five o’clock shadow was worn down to imperceptibility. He was the spitting image of a young erudite.

He went down a corridor, not casually, not hurriedly, but with a linearity that came off as confidence. Finding the door he was looking for in just a few minutes, he picked it and closed it behind him. Safe behind Venetian blinds, he began. First the desk, then the cabinets. He was extremely rapid about it but not for urgency’s sake. Ashley Argile wasn’t here and wouldn’t be back for several days. No, Ruslan simply moved swiftly because it was not in his nature to waste time. People had always said he had remarkable clearness, focus. Frequently aiding this was Adderall, such as the pill he’d taken a half hour earlier. He knew one day he’d pay for this habit. But not today.

There was nothing on the desk of use, and the cabinets were filled with papers and would take hours to rifle through. He put that off and moved to the computer. The computer was a nice shiny new Apple. Flat monitor, polycarbonate mouse. To the left, there was a cylindrical webcam. He’d have to buy one when he got the chance. The computer came on with a loud musical note, making his eyes reflexively shoot to the Venetian blinds. He looked back at the computer. It wanted a password. He slid in a USB stick that dealt with that. He had another one in his pocket in case it had turned out to be a PC and another one for Ubuntu. He looked at the Spartan desktop as it loaded. He imagined it was uncommon for a news man’s.

He used the Find function to search for the news article that had been reprinted on a half dozen other news sites and when he found it, he clicked the folder it was in. There were a number of other files in there. Articles about incidents similar to the one that had taken place at Kation two weeks ago, incidents that had been going on since March. He read them all, very rapidly. He scrolled down in the folder. Voice recordings. He played each one, straining his ear against the speaker so he could keep the volume down. They were interviews with policemen. Environmental regulators.

By the time the last tape had played, a clear image was formed in his head, and as he read the saved Microsoft Word document beneath the voice recordings, he suddenly developed a strong suspicion of who had hired him and why. There were more documents. Around the middle of the scroll bar was a Microsoft OneNote file. When he’d read its contents, Ruslan knew he had found what he was looking for. A kinder man might have felt unease. But as Anna had always known, Ruslan Chernecov was not a kind man. These kids, whoever they were, had messed with The Company, and now The Company was going to mess with them.

The next morning, John got up early to do his laundry. As the washing machine rumbled, he walked out of the laundry room and past a corridor, passed through a door that had metal bars over its windows, and emerged out onto the sidewalk. It was a chilly morning and the sun shined brightly on him. The nights here were oppressive, but by morning, the Earth had cooled so that for a short hour or so, it was just right. He looked up both directions of the street and put his hands in his pockets, turning to join the working members of French society as they bustled themselves to their various places of employment.

There weren’t many cars. Several bicycles. The street was neat and tidy. While the sun was slowly creeping upwards, simultaneously, the moon was relinquishing its domain over the beryl sky.

As he walked along, he looked down at the sidewalk, glancing around himself every once in a while. He felt his left earlobe. He’d gotten his ears pierced. Put in two black studs. He didn’t really know why he did it. He’d just felt compelled to get them. He stopped to look at himself in a shop window. It was different, but not bad. No one at home would appreciate it, probably. This made him frown as he looked into the glass, the reflection staring back at him until he started to not recognize it anymore. He had a headache. Looking up, he glanced at a café across the street. He wasn’t hungry right now. And he didn’t want coffee. What he really needed was sleep. He hadn’t been getting much of that lately. Too much sex. He and Erika. Pretty much every night.

The others had to know about it by now, but they respected John and Erika too much to inquire. Scott would be interested though, he suspected. He stepped into the middle of a cobblestone street and peered at a car as it slowly came towards him, away from the blinding sun.

He had dreamed afterwards too. A surprisingly vivid dream. He and a bunch of other people had been standing at the bottom of a long, vertical shaft. The walls weren’t circular or square but hexagonal. Lit by incandescent light, the walls were gray stone, as smooth as a granite countertop, and all around the perimeter, at regular intervals from the bottom, were black and yellow caution stripes. So there they’d been, standing at the bottom of this tall shaft. They had found out somehow that they were standing on top of a lift, but it wouldn’t move. And behind them were two massive steel doors that were repelling hundreds of feet of water. With the cry of a klaxon, yellow hazard lights had begun to rotate, and as they had struggled to figure out the secret to raising the lift, they had became terrifyingly aware that any second, the doors would open and they would be underwater. And then he’d woken up. It was the most vivid dream he’d had in years. He’d actually woken up shaking.

John walked down a block and came upon the stone steps of a library which he ascended silently. As he regarded it, ostensibly, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about it. So much the better. He went inside. Walking past the circulation desk, he turned right, entering a large room with bookshelves along the walls and tables in the center. From a row of windows, sunlight poured in, bathing the tables. Particles of dust sparkled in the sunbeams.

For a fraction of a second, he wondered if this could be a dream. It was so… stimulating. He took a step and the floor was firm beneath his foot. It felt real. Preoccupied by the thought, he walked to a shelf of magazines. He missed reading. He usually did it a lot and now he realized it was not merely an artifact of his boring life at home. He really did just desire to read. A bunch of titles were in French, which made him mutter something, but he did manage to find some English language newspapers, and much more pleasingly, copies of Discover magazine and Scientific American, in English. He thanked God. The cold covers crisp between his fingers, he went over to one of the tables, and illuminated by a sunbeam, read his fill.

When he finally looked up from the magazine and remembered where he was, he smiled broadly and rubbed his eyes, yawning and laying his head on his arms. People came and went. People of no particular interest to him. He closed his eyes. Opening them a while later, he realized he’d been asleep. He looked at the sunbeams. They hadn’t shifted much. He got up and went to a computer. There wasn’t a sign that said no instant messaging, so he logged on. As he’d hoped, Scott was online. He clicked his buddy name.

AngryLabMonkey: Hey hey.

There was a delay. Nordictrax: Who is this?

AngryLabMonkey: It’s John.

Nordictrax: How do I know it’s you?

AngryLabMonkey: What? Of course it’s me.

Nordictrax: Prove it.

AngryLabMonkey: You stole a bust from your university.

Nordictrax: Ok…

AngryLabMonkey: Why didn’t you think it was me?

Nordictrax: Because your sister logged onto your account last week and pretended to be you. Dude, you are in so much trouble.

AngryLabMonkey: [email protected]@WQ?!!!!!!

Nordictrax: Ya.

AngryLabMonkey: Stop joking.

Nordictrax: I’m not.

AngryLabMonkey: That’s not funny.

Nordictrax: I’m not kidding.

John suddenly felt a strong urge to defecate.

AngryLabMonkey: Do my parents know?

Nordictrax: Ya.

AngryLabMonkey: …How much do they know…?

Nordictrax: Considering your sister came to my house… I’d say probably pretty much everything.

John was no longer breathing. He only resumed when he started to feel lightheaded. He didn’t faint, even though he wanted to. It would have been nice. Nice and melodramatic. He stared without blinking into space, his head tilted slightly to one side. His trance was interrupted by the flashing window in his peripheral vision that told him a new message had been received.

AngryLabMonkey: I am so fucked.

Scott didn’t say anything. John knew he was trying to come up with something both true and comforting. But when no message came, it was a message unto itself. Yep. He was fucked. He rubbed his eyes and suddenly realized he was crying. His parents were going to kill him. Draw him up, quarter him, and feed his body parts to polar bears. Finally Nordictrax said he was sorry.

AngryLabMonkey: It’s ok. Don’t feel bad.

He didn’t totally mean it. Then something else occurred to him. If she had his screen name, and had gotten into his account, did that mean… oh God. She had gotten into his computer. She was at his house, reading through his computer. Had been for a week. A goddamn week. His AIM conversations…

Nordictrax: I think you should come home.

After a while, AngryLabMonkey: Yeah. I was going to call them today…

Nordictrax: I think that what happened is, they never heard from you, and got suspicious.

AngryLabMonkey. Dammit.

Stupid. Stupid. Why hadn’t he brought his computer with him? Space had been tight in his bags so he’d left it behind. He should’ve sucked it up and bought a carrying case for it.

Nordictrax: You ok?

AngryLabMonkey: Shit fuck damn cunt whore bitch piss cum pussy shit FUCK!!!!! Yes fine.

Nordictrax: I’m so sorry John.

AngryLabMonkey: It’s all right. I’m gonna go tho. Gonna take a nap. Take it easy.

He didn’t wait for Scott to respond and logged off.

Three thousand miles away, in a room with the shades still drawn, a window on his sister’s computer flashed insistently.

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