Outside, the buildings began to change, grow taller, reaching for a peak that would apogee in the center of downtown. Bonnie caught her breath, started to speak several times before finding the right words.
“There is no world inside that sliver, just as there is no world inside VNet. Devices like that only separate you from the real world, where people just like me live out our imperfect lives. And it’s all real. You couldn’t accept that, not even when it grabbed you by the hand and dragged you out of downtown. You wanted to go back to your routine, to the safety of useless information and video-enabled distractions. Public surveillance is going to happen whether we like it or not, but losing people to virtuality is going to kill our species a lot sooner. It just shows you this isn’t about you and me or even our country. The people in this world need to be saved. What will happen when everyone walks away from reality, when people stay in loveless, child-less marriages until it is too late, because they can get their sexual kicks from VNet?”
An attendant came into the car and Bonnie stopped talking until he had passed safely by. The momentary break caused a low whine to spin up in Rick’s ears. He shook his head in vain against it.
“I don’t know how to stop Vinestead. I don’t know if we can actually reach our goal of bringing that scumbag corporation to its knees. They’re so many and we are so few. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight. We warned them what would happen if they passed the GA bill. We told them we would kill every Vinestead employee we could get our hands on, from the board room to the mail room. Today, people are celebrating the rise of stock prices and the start of the Vinestead Way of Life. Come tonight, they will mourn the dead if they are not dead themselves. People will see what happens when you take up the wrong side of the fight.
“Maybe it will make a difference and maybe it won’t. Maybe someone like you working at Vinestead East will see this mass exodus and question whether he should continue working for a company that lies to its own employees, that doesn’t give them the opportunity to choose for themselves.”
She shook her head and took his warm hand. “They should have told you. I didn’t realize until after it was too late that you hadn’t been given a choice. I thought you were just stubborn, but you were just like the rest of us, clueless. This isn’t the way I wanted to do things. It was supposed to be one small, dissolvable pill in a fancy drink and six hours later, it’s all over. But then you had to go and be all likeable.” Her voice broke again and she wiped at her cheek. “I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. As much as you mean to me, I have a job to do.”
Bonnie let her hand linger for a few seconds and then withdrew.
Rick felt the car slow to a stop, felt his body lean out of control and then find equilibrium again. He could barely turn his head, but he saw Bonnie collecting her bag and standing up. She stood in front of him, touched his chin to lift his head.
“The Eighty won’t take you home, but it will take you away from here. That may not be what you want, but I think it’s what you need.”
Rick made a noise that sounded vaguely like her name.
She smiled, put a hand to his cheek. “It’s actually not Bonnie.” After looking around at the empty car, she bent closer and whispered, “It’s Kaili, Kaili Zabora, Calle Cinco cipher den.” A pause, a sad look steeled by professionalism. “You were my favorite assignment, Ricardo Diaz.” She stole a final kiss. “I will miss you, truly.”
The Reaping occurred in 2004 on the same day the Guardian Angel Bill was passed.