NIGHT OUT

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The next day, the workshops begin. After the first one, they'll still be free to leave, they are told. In fact, they'll have to leave because Positron wants you to take a good look at the alternatives before deciding.As they have good reason to know, it's a festering scrap heap, out beyond the Consil‐ ience gates. People are starving. Scavenging, pilfering, dumpster‐diving. Is that any way for a human being to live? So each one of them will spend what the Positron Project hopes - what it sincerely hopes! - will be their last night on the outside.To give them time to think it over, seriously.The Project isn't interested in freeloaders, tourists just trying it out. The Project wants serious commitment.

Because after that night you were either out or you were in.

In

The first day's workshop is mostly PowerPoints. It begins with videos of the town of Consilience, with happy people at work in it, doing ordinary jobs: butcher, baker, plumber, scooter repair, and so on.Then there are vid‐ eos of the Positron Prison inside Consilience, with happy people at work in it as well, each one of them wearing an orange boiler suit. Stan only half watches: he already knows they're going to sign the commitment papers tomorrow, because Charmaine has her heart set on it. Despite the slightly uneasy feeling he's had - they've both had, because Charmaine said at breakfast, with lattes and real grapefruit,"Honey, are you sure?" - the bath towels clinched the deal.

Their night outside the wall is spent in a nasty motel that Stan wagers has been tailored for the purpose, with the furniture trashed to order, stale cigarette smell sprayed on, cockroaches imported, and sounds of violent revelry in the room next door, most likely a recording. But it's enough like the real thing to make the world inside the Consilience wall seem more desirable than ever. Most likely it is the real thing, because why fake it when there's so much actual wreckage available?

In view of the racket and the lumpy mattress they have trouble getting to sleep, so Stan hears the tapping at the window immediately."Yo! Stan!" Fuck, now what? He draws back the ragged curtain, peers cautiously

"Hi, bro," says Con."Come out. I need to talk to you."
"Fuck, now?" Stan says.
"Would I say

"Honey, what is it?" says Charmaine, holding the sheet up to her chin. "It's only my brother," says Stan. He's pulling on his clothes.

"Conor? Why is

"I can handle it," says Stan."He's my

"Don't leave me alone in here!" she says fearfully. "It's too scary! Wait, I'll come with you!" Is this an act, to keep him tethered so Con can't spirit him away to a den of vice?

"You stay in bed, honey. I'll be right out outside," he says with what he hopes is gentle reassurance. Muffled sniffling from the bed.Trust Con to turn up and mess with everyone's head.

Stan slides himself out the door."What?"he says as irritably as he can manage.

"Don't sign in to that thing," says Conor. He's close to whispering. "Trust me on it.You don't want to."

"How'd you know where to find me?" says Stan.

"What's a phone for? I gave it to you! So I traced it, dum‐dum. I tracked you on that bus, all the way here. Lesson one, don't take phones from strangers," says Conor, grinning.

"You're not a fucking stranger," says Stan.

"Right. So, I'm telling you straight up. Don't trust that package, no matter what they tell you."

"Why not?" says Stan."What's wrong with it?"

"What's wrong with it is, unless you're top management, you can't get out. Except in a box, feet first," says Conor."I'm just looking out for you, is all."

"What're you trying to tell me?"
"You don't know what goes on in there," says Con.
"Meaning what? Meaning you do?"
"I've heard stuff," says Conor."It's not for you. Nice guys finish last. Or

Stan juts out his chin.That would have been the signal for a scuffle,

"Yeah, right. Don't say I didn't warn you," says Con. "Do yourself a

So that's it. Con has his poacher's eye on Charmaine. No fucking way in hell is Stan falling for that one."Thanks, buddy," he says."I appreciate it. I'll think about it."

"Like shit," says Conor, but he smiles cheerfully, and the two of them do the back pat.

"Stan?" comes the anxious voice of Charmaine from inside their room.

"Go comfort the little wifey," says Conor, and Stan knows what he's thinking:

pussy-whipped

.

Not that Stan would mind having such a car himself.


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