War and Peace: Chapter 39

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Chapter 39

James drove in circles until he almost ran out of gas. The twenty minute trip home from August's took four hours.

What should he say? What could he say? Hey man, so, about that coup in Pakistan. Or better yet, I stole data from your computer and broke your steganography. I know everything.

But all James actually knew was that UCC had developed an artificial intelligence that, for some fucking reason, was stirring up trouble all over the world.

Who was pulling the strings? What was the point of it all?

James had questions, too many of them, but no plan for what to do when they were answered. He had responsibilities—to his mother, chiefly, but also to his half-sister, his friends, and himself. If he ended up in a windowless cell or in the river with concrete shoes, what would happen to those responsibilities?

But the responsibility James had been neglecting was to his best friend. Maybe it was too late to go back, but he had to try, or live every day with a bitter taste in his mouth.

When he at last resolved to get in the car and go, his phone beeped. A text message from Casey, uncharacteristically short and to the point.

can u come 2 the park? plz.

***

The night was as black in Laurentia as in the boroughs, the air cool but not uncomfortable. The snow that had carpeted the ground for the holidays had melted away.

The park was as deserted as it had ever been. James saw no one until the central area by the fountain. Deep in the shadow of one of the trees, a figure sat with knees drawn up and arms wrapped around them.

"Casey?"

Even for a deserted park in the middle of the night, her answer was quiet. "You came," she said, without looking up.

James maneuvered into position, sitting against the same tree a quarter turn around the trunk, just far enough from Casey that their elbows didn't touch.

He waited for her to gather her thoughts. Donald would still be there tomorrow. Things could stay as they had been for one more night.

That was fine.

"Can I tell you 'bout Mom 'n Dad?" Casey said.

Of all the topics James expected to be called out in the middle of the night to discuss, that hadn't been near the top of the list. "Go ahead."

"They're great." Casey's voice was barely a whisper, but her enunciations seemed clearer than usual. "They're, like ... upstanding citizens."

James had to smile. "I see."

"Everyone from Texas is big on national pride 'n all. When Bro joined the army, they were so proud." Casey ran her fingers through the blades of grass that lay just between her hand and his. "They're teachers. Mom 'n Dad, I mean. Mom always was. But Dad was in the army. Drill sergeant, just like the movies. Ten-hut, soldier. Fifteen laps for sleepin through your alarm. You cry, it'll be twenty." She chuckled, a dry sound with none of her usual spirit. "They're both always serious. 'N I know my bro had to deal with it most. 'Cause I'm a girl, they laid off me a lot. He went to keep the peace 'n I just stayed home 'n did track 'n sang songs."

Casey rustled, rearranging herself against the tree. "Dad's been goin on 'bout how great it is to serve 'n see combat. He never got to, always doin drills. Mom, she's ... not takin it real well ... 'n Dad just goes on 'bout honor... they can't hardly talk to each other now, they just start fightin..."

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