Chapter Fifty-Four

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I drop my face into the keyboard and cry. I'm full-out balling, dripping into the keys, teeth grit, eyeballs scraping off plastic corners. H, Y, U, and 7 are all depressed, the characters streaming across the screen and the machine bleeping hot in my nose.

I'm wrong about everything.

Susan is no unicorn defying the patriarchal morass. She's a wolf, shrewder and stronger than the males but fundamentally no different. My greatest ally here was Paul Bloor—who two days ago I wouldn't have left alone with my toiletries.

Carebnb didn't tap some vast well of never before harnessed social power, or unleash people's innate charity. It exposed them for selfish cowards.

I'm even questioning my own sexuality. What were those twinges I felt around Graham, sitting beside him on the Cray's vinyl bench? I've always taken that part of me as gospel—identity, not choice.

Why would that tenant be any firmer than the rest?

Through my tears, I spot the Polarity of the Universe toggle, currently set to Evil. I would love to leave it there, to foist the blame fully on the Russians who terrorized me, to nurse my own convictions until the world looked neat and tidy again.

But that world isn't coming back—the world of black and white clarity. It's gone. I stretch my middle finger over and flip the toggle to Amoral.

I just hacked a nuclear power plant on behalf of Vlad Putin.

The most important product launch of my career tanked.

I misjudged basically everyone.

I got Raven blown up.

Actually, Raven's brains are backed up to the cloud. Well, almost—thanks to the data blockade, she never uploaded her RAM record of Blackquest 40, but those are memories we're probably all best without.

I can build her a new body, better, maybe with localized missile defense. Will it really be her, though?

I only ponder for a moment, in no mood for some existential sci-fi contemplation. What I feel like doing, honestly, is biking one last time around Lands End and up onto the Golden Gate Bridge, pedaling to that first pylon, gazing down at the swirling whitecaps, then casting off all my pain.

A noise punctures my dread. It's up, over my head somewhere—for an instant, I think it must be the ghost of Raven. The sound is shallower than what her propellers made, though. When I look up, I see one of my mechanical dragonflies, weaving drunken figure eights.

"You still suck at flying," I say, "but I respect your stubbornness."

She's flying even wonkier than usual, pitching and rolling forward at once, then recovering her line, only to wobble off it in her next series of wing-beats.

I'm sure she took hell from Elite during the melee, but her components look sound enough. She should be recovering better. I wonder if her state variables aren't getting properly re-calibrated.

When she veers closer, I squint into her buggy eyes.

Whaddaya say? Shall we take a shot at fixing you up?

I punch up the Bailey's Buzzy World modules. It's neurotic and pointless and really I need to get myself over to Crestwood, but maybe a little coding will be therapeutic—after all, I was just contemplating a header off the Golden Gate.

I find the flight logic. The main subroutine, which I wrote so long ago I've nearly forgotten, is produce_flight_output. It receives a matrix of values, then compares the values to previous matrices, then churns through a series of complex calculations, then...

All breath is vaporized from my mouth—like my lips closed around a lit match.

Oh God, oh no. It can't be.

It can't.

But I click on the matrix's name for details, and see that it is. The matrix of variables required to simulate flight—the inputs needed to calculate future vectors—contains exactly the number of variables I fear.


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