Back - Part VI

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EVVIE FOLLOWED the sound of the screen door slamming back, feet pounding across turf, the shouting.

Gwen was sitting in the lowest branch of a gnarled apple tree on the edge of the property between the garden and the corn. Evvie wondered if this was going to be her favourite place to think while she grew up. Basil tugged her leg, pulling her to the ground, catching her against his chest.

"What the hell is wrong—"

"The pilot!"

" — with you, what? What pilot? Huh?"

Evvie slipped on her garden boots, folded her arms to fend off the chill night breeze, and crossed the dark lawn towards them.

Basil flashed an excited, white-toothed smile. "Jesus, Gwen, the protesters. You saw the riots when the first — when our Aglunate was government-sanctioned. It was violent. Those people were determined." Gwen scowled. "What's that got to do with us? They were disbanded. Arrested!"

"All of them? Are you sure?" Basil said, eyes flicking over her face, searching for, hoping for some sort of realization, of understanding and acceptance, for some spark of emotion, for anything. "What I mean is...what if it's someone else? What if it's all humans? Someone using them — their technology — to sneak around the Institute? All of 'em not wanting us mixing."

"What? How do you — ?"

Basil's mouth pulled up in the parody of a smile. "The pilot was listening to Raquel!" He cocked his head to the side, a yes yes, you see? expression on his face.

Gwen's eyes got wide. "He was human?"

Basil nodded. "I think. I mean, I didn't get a good look before you...it could have been a mask or, or plastic surgery maybe? Think about it — it's only human Specialists who've been Aglunated have been targeted, yeah?"

"What about Derx?"

"With Barnowski. Pias, too."

"What about..." she trailed off, swallowed once, "Kalp?"

By now Evvie was close enough to join the conversation. "He was a set up — a dummy," she said softly. "To get you to turn against your own teams. Get the Institute fighting itself. To kill the trust between our people and theirs."

Basil snapped his fingers, pointed at Evvie like a particularly bright student, and nodded. "Everyone on the bloody planet knew our bloody address, they could have mailed something and Aitken was just so keen..."

Gwen pressed her forehead against Basil's shoulder, and Evvie resisted the urge to reach out, to rub her back in soothing circles.

"Oh," Gwen whispered, voice weak and shaking. Her whole face turned a ghastly white and for a moment she appeared as if she was going to vomit. She swallowed heavily, hands suddenly shivering where she had them fisted into his tee-shirt.

Her knees went out from under her and for a second Evvie thought she'd fainted, but no, her daughter was stronger than that. She was just trembling too hard to remain upright. Basil held her up by winding his arms under hers, and looked with excited concern into her face.

"Gwen?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine I...fuck."

Basil whispered quickly, excitedly into her ear. "Yeah? But it...it's perfect, innit? There are enough people who don't want them around. Enough politics. This is just one way to get the world's attention. Get their voices heard without causing any actual genocide."

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