After James left, August got in the shower, leaned her forehead against the tile, and felt liquid stinging her eyes that was not only from the tap.
She had been battering uselessly against UCC's defenses for years. There was only one hope left—that Donald Marsh, the human epicenter of UCC, might have files on his personal network that were more accessible. All August needed was for James to give her program the chance to do its job. If it failed, she would give up. James would be free, his mother's financial future secured.
If they succeeded, James would not be required to do anything but hand over the data. August would then do with it as she saw fit. On the high probability that it contained nothing, no one would be the wiser. Donald and UCC and James Kirkpatrick could carry on as always, and James would still gain the resources to sustain his mother's care.
The only way things could turn out badly for James would be if he took data from Donald's computer and the data subsequently proved that UCC was involved in something illegal. In that case, August would use the data to bring UCC down. But since James was convinced that was impossible—as was August herself, at this point—there was no danger in accepting the deal.
So August had painted it, anyway. Such an easy black and white picture. In reality, they both knew what James had to lose: his dignity as a human being. Relying on a two-faced user for his mother's life, giving up his friend's trust in the process—even if Donald never knew, James would know.
James had said he would think about it, but that was as good as a yes. He had long ago decided to throw away everything for his mother's sake, which was really his own sake. There was no chance he could refuse.
So August rubbed her skin nearly raw under scalding hot water until she was in danger of passing out. The look of loathing James gave her as he left was so intense that it made her feel like throwing up. But she was too like him to pass up the opportunity, no matter the cost.
When August managed to drag herself from the stall, burning up and still feeling unclean, it was all she could do to wrap her body in a towel and fall on the bed. She lay there mentally struggling with herself till every last ounce of energy was depleted, and finally sank into black sleep.
But she dreamed, and every dream ended badly.
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No Life to LoseMystery / Thriller
James Kirkpatrick's difficult life leads him to take solace in virtual reality—a momentary peace soon shattered by mystery, intrigue, and unseen forces bent on plunging the world into chaos. An epic tale of love, loss, and the boundless influence of...