That night I dreamt of my father, in the French West Indies. I was with him, at my current age rather than at fifteen, as I was when he died. He looked as I remembered him, though. There was a third person with us, too—John Doe, whose face remained in shadow even though we were in full sun the whole time.
Suddenly the scene changed. Both of them lay before me on the sand, dying of Treblar’s Disease, as the sun slipped over the water. There was nowhere I could go for help, nothing I could do but watch them die…
I woke with a start, panting. I felt briefly disoriented in the unfamiliar room, until my memories of the day before flooded back to me. The hotel room looked so dark that I wasn’t sure if it was still the middle of the night or not. I crept out of bed to pry open the blackout curtains, and saw only the first hint of a sunrise streaking across the San Jose skyline.
My heart still pounding, I sat in one of the plush chairs beside both the window and the charging station where I’d plugged Madeline in for the night. I powered her up.
“Good morning!” she chirped. “Do you feel any better?”
Before I’d gone to bed the night before, I’d told her about John Doe and the strange meeting. We’d both surmised that he must be Loomis—who else could he be?
“I had nightmares,” I admitted.
She nodded sympathetically. “Are you going to tell Liam about him?”
I shook my head. “He told me not to, so how can I? Although it feels weird keeping secrets from Liam about this.” Liam, who was the original conspiracy theorist… after my father, of course. “I guess I’ll just let it play out for now…”
I met Liam in the restaurant downstairs for breakfast. He sat alone at a circular white table, his hair wet like he’d just gotten out of the shower. He really was very handsome—I was so used to him, but every now and then it caught even me off guard. A waitress bot wheeled up and deposited his breakfast just as I sat down across from him.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” I told the bot, gesturing at Liam’s eggs, bacon, and coffee.
He raised his eyebrows. “You sure you’re not too snobby for this coffee?”
“Beggars can’t be choosers.” I felt nervous, unsure how I was going to avoid telling Liam about John Doe. I wasn’t good at lying. Then again, he didn’t know I’d gone out again last night, so he’d have no reason to ask. I decided the safest approach was to steer the conversation myself.
“Did… you find anything out about Loomis from Francis?”
“Not much,” he admitted. “In your father’s day, Loomis was their liaison to those in power. He had a government job of some kind himself, and had a lot of connections because of it, which is part of why it’s so surprising that he managed to just vanish. But Francis said that might be why he managed it. He might have known the others were in danger and tried to warn them, and fled to at least save himself when they wouldn’t listen. All speculation, though. I’m afraid that doesn’t help you find him now.”
My heart beat faster, as I made a mental note to ask John Doe about this when I saw him next. Not that he was likely to answer me. For Liam’s benefit, I tried to look disappointed. I needed him to think he was my only source of information.
With a melodramatic sigh, I changed the subject. “So what’s on the agenda for today, then?”
“Meeting with Joon Kim,” he said, lowering his voice. “The senator that Dr. Yin knows. We’re meeting him at half ten at his office. Dr. Yin told me she hadn’t seen him in years, but he was a reasonable guy when she did know him, so she thinks either he’ll already be on our side, or else he doesn’t know about all the censorship, and he’ll join our side once he hears about it. I’d like to have at least one senator in our corner before we try to organize a Town Hall meeting.”
I wondered what John Doe would think of the Town Hall meeting idea. Too indiscreet? Would it make us a target?
Liam tilted his head to the side, eyeing me as he shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth. “You doing okay?”
I nodded, dropping my gaze. “Yeah.”
“That was convincing.”
I shrugged. “I’m just a little nervous about letting someone like Senator Kim know what we believe, and that we intend to tell as many people as possible about it. That’s all.”
“This from the girl who had no problem discussing it right out on the streets last night, where anyone could overhear.” I started, until I realized he was referring to the conversation I’d had with him, when he’d walked me to the hotel. He went on, “It’s a risk we’ve got to take, I think. From what Dr. Yin described, I don’t think he’ll be dangerous, even if he is in Halpert’s pocket.”
Senator Kim’s office was in an historic building with a red door and a very long foyer lined with an expensive-looking maroon rug. His maid bot opened the door and admitted us into a sitting room decorated as if it belonged to the Victorian period of the Second Era. I felt terribly underdressed in my cheap cotton skirt and ballet flats. It made me look like what I was: a college student. At least I’d left my backpack at the hotel.
The maid bot offered us tea. Liam accepted for both of us, and the maid vanished, promising to tell the senator that we had arrived.
“Stop fidgeting,” Liam hissed at me when she was gone. I hadn’t noticed I was doing it, but I kept smoothing my skirt and my hair, crossing and uncrossing my legs.
“I can’t help it, I feel so…” I looked around the expensively furnished room, “…insignificant.”
“You’re in musicals like every other weekend,” he whispered back. “You’re an actress, play a role!”
“Why are you so comfortable?” I retorted.
He shrugged. “I kind of grew up in this world. High society. Powerful people. Doesn’t faze me anymore.”
I blinked, recalling my earlier thought of how little I knew about Liam. “Really? You did?”
“It’s all a show, y’know,” Liam went on, as if he hadn’t heard my question. “They might act like they’re better than you when you first meet them, but people are people. Don’t let him intimidate you.”
The maid bot returned bearing three cups of fine china, a matching tea kettle and a pitcher of cream. Senator Kim entered the room behind her, wearing a perfectly tailored three piece suit. Liam stood to shake his hand.
“Sir, thank you for meeting with us on such short notice,” he said. I followed his lead, standing to shake the senator’s hand as well. Liam introduced us both, and then added, “We work for Dr. Ana Yin. She spoke highly of you.”
The senator’s eyes crinkled around the corners. “I remember Ana well. Give her my regards.”
“We will,” said Liam, sitting down again and helping himself to a cup of tea. I did the same—if he grew up in high society, then surely he’d know what to do. Although it was very odd to think of Liam as a model of class and elegance.
“Well, let me get right to the purpose of our meeting,” Liam said. “I don’t know how much Dr. Yin told you?”
Senator Kim hesitated. “She told me that you had something you would like to discuss with me regarding—censorship?” Now he fidgeted, wiping his palms on his trousers. My eyes narrowed.
“Yes, sir.” Liam launched into the story about how his locus had been black-listed, and those of many of his friends as well. “We believe that our labyrinth voices were silenced because they were powerful, and we were saying things contrary to the official line of Halpert and those in charge of the development of Synthetic Reasoning. Rebecca and I had been working collaboratively with other researchers around the world by means of these loci, trying to prove that the successful completion of Halpert’s challenge would almost certainly lead to superintelligence, placing all human lives at risk.”
As Liam said this, I watched Senator Kim. I’d studied a little bit about body language in my psychology coursework, and he seemed almost like a case study. His eyes darted around the room, rather than resting on Liam’s face. He readjusted his seat about every five seconds. He set his cup on its saucer, picked it up, and then set it down again without drinking.
He was even less comfortable than I was. But why?
“Because our loci were removed from the labyrinth,” Liam was saying, “not only did we lose our voices, but we also lost the platform to open-source our research within our own network. Halpert of all people knows the power of open-sourcing knowledge to expedite breakthroughs—”
“I see, I see,” Senator Kim finally cut him off, holding up one hand. It was shaking, I saw. What is going on? “Are you sure there isn’t merely a problem with your server?”
Liam balked at him. “A problem with my—”
“Labyrinth censorship is a thing of the past,” Senator Kim went on. “Use of it is freely available to all. If you are implying that your locus and those of your friends were intentionally black-listed, I’m afraid that is impossible.”
Perhaps it was because I was already in observer mode, but I thought I could actually see Liam’s blood pressure spike. The muscles in his face twitched with the effort of maintaining his veneer of politeness.
“So all of our loci, on a myriad of different servers, coincidentally all went down within one day of each other?” Liam asked, his voice carefully controlled. “Sir, have you searched the labyrinth for any dissenting opinions to Halpert’s on the subject of Synthetic Reasoning? There is not one left. Not one. Do you call this free speech?”
“If there are none, then it is because dissenting opinions are quite rare,” Senator Kim returned, sipping his tea. “Most people recognize, as does Senator Halpert, that the advancement of Synthetic Reasoning will solve most of the remaining ills in the world today. Now if you will excuse me, I’m afraid I’ve got a lot of work to do.” He stood up, setting his saucer on the serving tray. “I wish you the best in restoring your pages to the labyrinth, I really do. Give Dr. Yin my regards.”
“Sir!” Liam jumped up, his eyes flashing now. “You can’t possibly believe what you’re saying!”
“Good day,” said Senator Kim with a slight bow to both of us, and left the room.
As soon as he was gone, I crossed the room to Liam and put a hand on his shoulder, hissing preemptively, “Shh.” He looked like he was about to blow.
I needn’t have bothered though—he couldn’t speak. He was too busy shaking with rage.
Liam went for a run when we got back to the hotel, presumably to burn off the excess adrenaline from our meeting. Once he’d rounded the corner, I went to the alley where I’d seen John Doe the night before. While still cast in shadow between two buildings, it was, of course, broad daylight now.
“John Doe!” I hissed. Waited. Nothing. “John Doe!” I tried again.
He’d told me I couldn’t contact him, and that he’d have to contact me. But how would he know when I needed to talk to him?
“I need to know what Senator Kim is hiding!” I whispered to the shadows. “I know he’s hiding something!”
After waiting a full five minutes which felt like twenty, I finally sighed in frustration, running a hand through my hair and turning back to the hotel to wait for Liam’s return.
“You are not likely to get much from Senator Kim, no matter what you do.”
I spun back around. He was there, lurking in the shadows.
“Why not?” I demanded.
“Because he values his life.”
I blinked. “Is his life in danger?”
“He knows the same secret your father knew. The same one all of your father’s companions knew. The same one Liam’s brother knew.”
“Liam’s—brother?” I swallowed hard. “Is he dead too?”
John Doe started to back away. “Be careful, Rebecca. Don’t probe too deeply for the truth. You may discover far more than you ever wanted to know.”
“Wait!” I cried, starting to run after him—but he was gone. I let out a guttural cry of frustration, and called out to the empty shadows, “That didn’t help at all!”