THE TEAR CATCHERS

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Chapter 12: Breaking Point

“What about this one?” I ask, nodding at a picture on the tunnel wall showing a crying little boy choking the life out of a grown man with a ribbon of his own DNA. It was drawn, Greymore said, with an inexpensive paint that’s manufactured in cans and atomized by liquefied gasses. The work is signed Bonestreet West with an artful font.

Greymore stops walking and waves his glowing hand over the picture. Bioluminescent skin, another trait seen only in Rivegan G-8s. Greymore studies the painting, before letting his gaze fall to the ground.

“What does it mean?” I ask. He doesn’t want to tell me, but I’m done looking at the world through a diamond facade. “I want to know.”

“It’s mocking your brother, Atherton. The first drafts believe it’s his anti-theft gene that’s making them all sick.”

A mischief of Sigmodon Ochrognathus run by, their tin voices shredding the tunnel. Greymore pauses to watch my reaction. I don’t know if he’s expecting some kind of double X chromosome-driven meltdown, but I won’t give him one. Rats don’t bother me. I used to work with them all the time. Not this kind, but Rattus Norvegicus, a close relative.

I smile and wait for him to redirect his stare before I speak again. “You really think this outbreak is Atherton’s doing?”

“It’s not Rivegan business. I have no truth to speak of it.”

“Yes, you do. You have a truth to speak on everything, tell me.”

Greymore stares down at his shoes, the ones with palm trees sketched around them, as if they’ll tell him how to change the subject. “It feels like this is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”

“What? Chatting with the girl of your dreams?”

“No.” Greymore drapes his arm around me and smiles. “Walking through a dark tunnel with only a dim light to guide me. Acquiring genes to make us faster, stronger, and smarter without ever questioning how they’re used. We could have done so much with our DNA, but all we’ve truly done is bank more credits to the family account. Everything we’ve ever done has only served to keep us separated from the world of first drafts – a place that holds more wonder than they’re overdeveloped minds will allow them to realize.”

“Doesn’t it ever get heavy?”

“What?”

“That weight you carry on your shoulders.

“I direct speak, Tessa, it should weigh down all of us.”

“I know. Leaking DNA to the first drafts, maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Whoever it was, maybe their heart was in the right place.”

Greymore stops and turns to me. “I promise you, Tessa, I didn’t leak your DNA,” he says, putting his hands on my shoulders, his bright blue eyes reading my thoughts as quickly as they come. “I would never put you at risk. You have no idea what you mean to me. If anything were to happen to you, my tears would fill a thousand jars.”

I turn away from him, silently cursing myself. Why would I even say a thing like that? Greymore would never betray me, not for anything. He wipes my cheek with his thumb, but the tears fall right through his hands. I hear a splash at my feet, but it’s not coming from us. Greymore waves his hand through the air. Water leaks from a thin crack in the tunnel ceiling, collecting in pools all around us.

The scar above divides into two smaller lines, each of which spawns two more as the ceiling webs with cracks, spilling streams of water along the mag rail.

“The bomb,” Greymore whispers. “It’s still hunting me.”

Before he has time to think about it, I grab his wrist and pull him through the tunnel, our feet slushing the water. The tunnel groans, its low, tortured voice chasing away the silence. The lone voice quickly becomes a thousand, all crying out in sequence. Water gushes from the ceiling, covering the track magnets below.

“Come on,” I say, the water now finding our ankles. “We have to keep moving.”

Another train lights the corridor ahead, only there’s something different about this one. A few of its cars have drifted off the submerged guideway, starting a chain reaction that sways the whole train.

The rear car slithers off the railway, pulling the rest of the cars with it, each of them toppling in different directions. The cars slam into each other, one after the next, drawing a zigzag pattern across the tunnel floor. When the collision catches up to the front of the train, the lead car gets nudged sideways, wedging between the tunnel walls as it rolls end over end, popping loose bricks in all directions.

Greymore drags me to the right side of the tunnel.

“No.” I pry myself away from him. “It’s safest on the tracks.”

“Is there no end to your self-hatred?” Greymore scoops me in his arms and carries me off the guideway. “This is for your own good.”

“I’m not trying to kill myself,” I scream, kicking and fidgeting until he sets me down. “We’ll be safest on the tracks.”

Greymore studies me a moment. “Alright,” he says, pressing me to his chest and pivoting to stare at the approaching train. “I trust you.”

The lead car buckles, the two shredded halves slinging past us on both sides of the track, before sliding to a stop a few meters behind us. My mouth tastes of copper, the adrenaline singing my throat and esophagus on its way down to my stomach.

Greymore speaks my name, his voice faint and vague, like he’s not sure whether we’re still in the train tunnel, or if we’ve faded into some ghostly realm. “How did you do that?”

It’s not witchcraft. The linear-elastic fracture strength of any material is a product of the stress intensity factor at which a crack will no longer be denied. Everything has a breaking point, I tell him, in first draft terms.

“Everything except you,” Greymore says, wading through the knee-deep water and staring into one half of the busted front car, a kaleidoscope of bent steel, shattered windows, and blinking lights.

In the other half, a marketing hologram projects into the tunnel. The surface image shows a man and woman winding along a coastline in a sporty anti-gravity car, the sound of the propulsion and the wind rippling through their hair bringing a look of shared exhilaration to their faces. Then it scrambles, fusing with the hidden image beneath of the same man and woman, nakedly entangled over a sleek red cloud baring a striking resemblance to the vehicle being peddled.

In the cars behind us, first drafts stumble to their feet, confused by the not-so-hidden messages now revealing themselves: buy this neural app or you won’t fit in; take out a loan with us, you’ll be dead before you have to pay it all back; there’s no problem in life that can be solved at Soma Casino; blowing up dissidents is fun, join the Federated Peacekeepers.

A woman in a torn dress removes her scarf and applies it to the gashed head of the man beside her. A younger man with tattoos on his face fiddles with a container on the wall that looks like a first aid capsule, only that’s not what it is. I know this, because I saw a container just like it the first time I rode a mag train.

A crashing sound above draws their eyes up to the tunnel ceiling, which finally yields to the cracks, raining a steady channel of mud and masonry over the wreckage. The warning lights and the holographs all go dead. The missile isn’t far. Me and Greymore find refuge among the first drafts in the train car. Beside us, the tattooed man breaks open the container on the wall, spilling syringes across the floor. What are these, he asks.

“Black market DNA,” I say, dropping to the floor and sifting through the pile. “It’s a safe disposal box for dirty injectors.”

“What are you doing?” Greymore asks.

I pluck one of the injectors from the stack and plunge it squarely into Greymore’s neck. His eyes grow wide with fear. He tries to speak, but a few gurgled vowels are all he can manage. I remove the tip and watch him sink to the floor in a fit of twitches.

“What’s wrong with you,” the tattooed guy yells, plying the injector from my hand. “She just stabbed that kid in the neck.” The tattooed man, the guy with the head wound, and the lady in the torn dress, all three of them pin me to the floor. If they were to turn around right now, they would see the bio-missile sailing past the train car, quietly whistling on down the tunnel, and understand why I did it.

Black market DNA is dangerous because, aside from introducing a new gene into your body, the dose also comes laced with a promoter, which immediately starts the gene transcription, and a terminator, which stops it nearly as quick. The problem lies with the work done in between by the selectable marker, the thing that tells the gene which cells to transform. These fast-acting black-market doses often rewrite your DNA before the selectable marker can even get the pen to the precise location. I don’t know what I injected him with, but the important thing is that Greymore’s genome looks different than it did a few minutes ago, making the bomb’s DNA signature useless.

“Let her go, she just saved my life,” Greymore says, hoisting himself off the floor by a steel rod and wiping the spot of blood from his neck. “Is there nothing you can’t do?”

I smile, and probably I’d be blushing, too, if my adrenaline hadn’t already been spent. The three passengers let me up and stare at me, puzzled. Things will go better, me and Greymore decide, if we’re not around when the rescue workers get here. We wade back through the tunnel, towards the Manhattan side, trading touches and stories about all the things that have happened to us since we last saw each other.

I tell him about being forced to record my sister’s tingly sex feelings in the dollhouse, the mark of separation, getting attacked by a hospital full of infected first drafts, and the interrogation by Fallkirk at the police house. I watch his face as he spins through every emotion I went through in rapid sequence. Then his eyes suddenly get still.

“You stopped listening,” I say, squeezing his arm.

“My neural network is blowing up.” He stops and finally looks at me. “With condolences”

“They think you died?”

“The condolences aren’t for me,” Greymore whispers. I pull up the Rivegan family screen on my neural network and scroll through the comments:

5:06, sent from Coexist neural, #TindleRVGN transmittal, “The brightest star in the Rivegan sky just went out.”

5:07, sent from Coexist neural, #DallasRVGN transmittal, “Her beautiful light will remain lit in our hands forever.”

5:07, sent from Coexist neural, #BrahmRVGN transmittal, “Tear catchers will fill with blood for this. Who’s of the same mind?”

I struggle to keep up with Greymore as he runs the rest of the distance through the tunnel and flags a taxi just outside. The city blocks slide past our window without him saying a word, and I don’t know what to say that might comfort him at a time like this.

It’s dark by the time our taxi gets to the wreckage. Smoke rises from the top of the limo, the smoldering embers tracing the edges of a small hole cut into the roof. Every few seconds, a siren breaks up the darkness long enough to see the first responders carefully stepping down into the jagged crater redistributing the pavement around the crippled limo, before it all turns black again. Neural media is buzzing with theories about exactly what happened here on Sterling Street. Gas line rupture. The collapse of a catch basin. A crane atop a skyscraper accidentally dropping its load. Me and Greymore are the only ones who know it was a bio-missile hitting its secondary target.

I wrap my arms around Greymore and tell him it’ll all be okay, but he knows I’m lying. They’re just empty words that come out of your mouth when nothing else will. Greymore thinks it’s should’ve been him, but truth speak, it shouldn’t have been a Rivegan at all. It should’ve been me.

If I had just told Atherton I was involved with Greymore, and that Greymore didn’t steal our DNA, none of this would have happened. The blood of Summer Rivegan is on my hands. She only got 13 years in this world. Not enough to give her the kind of death notice she deserves. A person like Summer should have a list of accomplishments that goes on for six neural windows.

A string of yellow tape is lifted and a gurney hovers beneath it. A woman wearing gloves and a dark coat with four initials etched across the back pushes it to a van marked: New York City Coroner’s Office.

“Wait,” Greymore shouts, nudging the woman with the gloves aside and pulling down the sheet over the body. Summer’s hair spills out over the side rail, her lovely strands of blond now a charred black. “I have to tell her something.”

Two men wearing coats displaying a different set of initials hook their arms around Greymore and pull him away from the van.

“You can’t put her in there,” Greymore insists. “She belongs to us.”

“It’s okay, he’s a Rivegan,” says a familiar voice. Behind us, Detective Fallkirk in his wrinkled suit, peels back the lid of his coffee and takes a few sips. “And this one’s a Tearcatcher. Would you look at that? Two coders from the two most powerful families on the coast here at the same time. What are the odds?”

“Now’s not a good time, Detective,” I say, pushing all the resolve I have left into my eyes.

Fallkirk looks at Greymore, who falls to his knees, his head buried in his hands. Greymore’s the one always catching everyone else’s tears. Now, someone needs to be here to catch his.

“You’re right,” Fallkirk concedes, collecting the locks of hair falling over the gurney and arranging them neatly around Summer’s delicate shoulders. He reaches around her neck and unclasps the necklace carrying the symbol of the flame cupped in two hands, then presses it into my hands. “Now’s not the right time, but a conversation needs to take place. If I don’t see you in my office, this week, I’ll have it with your brother, Atherton.”

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