The room falls into silence again, all of us just staring at each other as our anxiety grows.
Xander breaks the silence. “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know.” Elle lets out a breath. “But…well, who would be hiding something? Not the Redeemers, and not anyone loyal to them. So that leaves...”
I let out a breath. “The Truth?”
“No way.” Xander rubs his eyes, dragging in a deep breath. “No way. The Truth? What could they possibly be hiding?”
“I’m not sure,” Elle says. “But whatever it is, it’s big. Like, end-of-the-world big. Why else would they need those defenses?”
I stand up, gripping the bedpost to steady myself. “We have to tell the Redeemers. Now.”
“Hold on,” Xander says. “What if it’s not the Truth? This could all just be a false alarm.”
That stops me for a moment. If we’re right, then this is a great threat, something so big that it could destroy our way of life. But if it’s not – if we’re wrong – then we’ll be labeled as the kids who hacked the Redeemers and threw the Remainder into chaos because of a false suspicion. I’d lose my position, my dignity, everything. Or worse. I’m a risk taker, but I’m not stupid.
A headache is taking form behind my eyes. “But if we can’t tell the Redeemers, what can we do?”
“Well, there is one thing,” Elle says. “If we hack into the region, we can find out if it’s a real threat or not. If it’s not, we can forget it ever happened. And if it is...” She pauses. “Well, if it is, then we’ll have to tell the Redeemers.”
Hacking into the region could either end very well, or very badly. I point this out of Elle, who shrugs.
“It’s our only option, Nat. I mean, unless we just ignore it, turn a blind eye-“
“No,” I say. Doing that would be even worse. We know something now, a potential danger to our Remainder. We have to do something.
“Then I guess hacking is our only choice,” Xander says. “How will you get in, Elle?”
“Um, well, that’s the thing.” Elle smiles sheepishly. “I can’t. It’s beyond my level.” She holds up her hands, fingers splayed. “Imagine it like a brick wall. The entire region is surrounded by layers and layers of defenses. It’s impenetrable.”
“So, it’s impossible to get through?” Xander asks.
“Not exactly.” A smile creeps up the side of her face. “There’s a type of tech made especially for this type of situation. Hackers call it a brick-breaker. It scans the network for weak spots and then breaks down the codes, making a loophole to get in through. You can slip in and out, leaving no evidence you where there.”
“Where can we get it?” I ask.
“Only the Redeemers have permission to use it legally. Maybe you could ask to use one…?”
I shake my head quickly. Doing that would end very, very badly.
Elle sighs. “Then the only way to get one is through Era.”
Xander stands up quickly. “Era? Are we thinking of the same thing? That could get us in big trouble.”
I have to agree with him. Being caught associating with the black market is a criminal offense – and lawbreakers are Flawed.
“You won’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught,” Elle points out. “Besides, most of the stuff Era sells was created by the Redeemers, or are altered versions of their tech.” She looks to me for support.
I look away. This is our duty to the Remainder, but is this really the right way? Thousands of scenarios flash through my mind. If we’re caught, we could be Cleansed. I might never see Darren again. How would that effect him? He’s already been through so much. I can’t abandon him like that.
But I don’t think Darren would want me to ignore this issue, either, although he’d probably prefer me to go to the Redeemers.
I take a huge breath. “So, our only option for eliminating a possible threat is to do business with an illegal organization?”
I sigh. “Well, I say we do it, for the safety of the Remainder.”
“Where’s the nearest Era location?” Xander asks.
Elle pulls up a map on the screen and points to Coastline. The city’s name glows under her finger. “I scanned Sector 7. The nearest branch is in Coastline.”
Xander blinks at the screen. “How did you figure that out?”
“Cliks,” she responds, as if that’s a suitable enough answer.
I sigh to myself. Of course it would be in the biggest, seediest city in the Sector. But we have to go. I take my Clikbook from my backpack and open the Nex schedule.
“Darren’s in the south today,” I say as I scroll through the time options. “He won’t be back until tonight, so we should be good to go…” I find a Nex that leaves in a few minutes, note the location and time, and close the Clikbook.
Xander clears his throat. “Don’t you think he’ll be mad when he finds out?”
I smirk. “Who says he’s going to? C’mon, Xander, it’s just a trip to the city. It’ll be fun.”
“I’ll stay here,” Elle says. “Maybe I can find out more about the region.”
“Sounds good. Are you coming, Xander?”
“I guess I have to,” he sighs.
“Great.” I smile, shouldering my backpack. “Let’s go catch that Nex.”