Clair: "So you bring her back, over and over-"
Wallace: "And she keeps taking herself away from me. She loves me, but in the end she always hates life more. Her last pattern was taken a week before . . . the first time . . . and it's always the same. Do you understand me now, girl? Have I at last earned your cooperation?"
Clair: "I am cooperating. I've told you everything I know."
Wallace: "I'm afraid that's not enough. You'll have to try harder."
Clair: "How can I-?"
Wallace: "Don't play that game. You control this Q of yours. That's what Gemma said. You're her Mother Duck. You snap your fingers and she does anything you want. Call her off and make her talk to me, now. If you do, I'll make everything go away. I'll bring back Zep and Jesse's father-Libby too, if you like, before it's too late. You don't know how Mallory thinks, not really, but you're learning. Her philosophy is quite simple: to outlive your enemies is to defeat them. Right? But then: once you've defeated your enemies, what's the point in living? The persons she hates most is herself, and that's why her Improved commit suicide. But not Libby. Not yet. While her enemy is still alive, Libby's still alive. Just say the word and I'll put her back the way she was."
Clair: "What if I don't?"
Wallace: "Then we'll destroy you. There's too much at stake now to let you ruin it. But we won't just kill you, Clair. We'll destroy the life you might have had. We'll take away your parents, for starters. And Jesse. That's easy to do. In fact, it helps balance the scales. Every person we dupe is a new human resource for us, so you'd really be doing us a favour. And your reward won't come in heaven. It'll come right here on Earth."
Clair: "What's that supposed to mean?"
Wallace: "Remember that gun you got rid of in Copperopolis? It turned up in what you call the hangover, perfectly intact. Fancy that. It still has your fingerprints on it, and it matches the bullets that killed our man in Manteca. No one would be surprised that you became a terrorist given your recent associations. They're such bad influences. Do you fancy spending the rest of your life in prison for murder? Do you want to grow old alone? One simple action could spare you all of this, Clair. One act of common sense. Just do what I want and all this will be over. Think about it. I'm sure you'll see reason."
Clair: "I'm not guilty of anything. Q aimed the pistol for me. I just pulled the trigger."
Wallace: "The pistol has an auto targeting system, Clair. Q just turned it on. I'm afraid you'll have to do better than that, starting with everything you know about Q. Don't think of it as betraying her, if that's what's bothering you . . . . although I hear you have some proficiency in that regard already."
Clair: "Don't you dare bring Libby into this."
Wallace: "Any more than she has been? Clair, you're deluding yourself if you think you can ever save your friendship. Libby's enemy is you, see. Did you know that? She hated you for what you did with that Zep boy, and she hates you still, with Mallory under her skin. Mallory emotionally resonates with her, just like she resonates with you. Through the headaches and the dreams, you've felt the homing instinct, the urge to come here and see me. You rationalized it your own way. I bet you even thought that it was a perfectly good plan. Well, it was a good plan, for Mallory. So you've both got a seed of Mallory and that seed will grow and grow until it destroys both of you-but it's not too late. Just do as I ask. Otherwise I'll walk away and watch Libby destroy you, and then I'll watch her destroy herself."
Clair: "Shut up!"
Wallace: "Why, Clair? I'm the one offering you a way out of this mess."
Clair: "Just leave me alone! I need space. I have to think."
Wallace: "About what? Surely there's only one possible response."
Clair: "If you destroy me, Q will destroy you. That's why I'm here, isn't it? She's looking for me right now. And she's scared you. You don't know what she can do, and you're worried that you'll find out big-time if you don't give me up soon. So you don't get to order me around. Not now and not ever. Back off and let me work out what I want before I agree to anything you want."
Wallace: "All right, all right. I'll give you ten minutes-in which time you'd better hope your little lapdog doesn't do anything you'll regret. You only get one second chance."
(sound of booth operating)
YOU ARE READING
113 (Twinmaker)Science Fiction
A post-scarcity world transformed by free, instantaneous travel should be paradise, but nothing is ever as it seems. When an ordinary girl uses Improvement, a meme promising a complete physical makeover by little more than wishing for it, she brings...