Fragments, p.11
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       Fragments, p.11

           Dan Wells
 

  “This is how it started,” she said out loud, setting it down and picking up another paper from the same box. It was another combat report, this time from a Sergeant Major Seamus Ogden. He talked about the Partials the same way, not as monsters but as tools. She read another document, then another, and the attitude was the same in each one—it wasn’t that they thought the Partials were harmless, it was that they barely thought of them at all. They were weapons, like bullets in a clip, to be spent and used and forgotten.

  Kira moved to another box, 302, pulling out a newspaper clipping from something called the Los Angeles Times: PARTIAL RIGHTS GROUPS PROTEST ON CAPITOL STEPS. Beneath it in the box was a similar clipping from the Seattle Times, and beneath that another from the Chicago Sun. The dates in this box were all from late in 2064, just a few months before the Partial War. Kira would have just turned five. Obviously the Partials would have been all over the news at the time, but she didn’t remember her father ever talking about them; now that she knew he’d been working for ParaGen, that made more sense. If he’d worked with them, or even helped create them, he would have had a different attitude from the rest of the world—probably a pretty unpopular attitude. At least I hope he had a different attitude, she thought. Why else would he raise one as his daughter? She vaguely remembered her nanny as well, and a housekeeper, but they never talked about Partials either. Had her father asked them not to?

  Had they even known what Kira really was?

  Kira turned to the earliest numbered boxes in the room, finding number 138 and pulling out the top piece of paper. It was another newspaper clipping, this time from the financial section of something called the Wall Street Journal, describing in vague terms the awarding of a massive military contract: In March of 2051 the US government contracted ParaGen, a budding biotechnology company, to produce an army of “biosynthetic soldiers.” The focus of the article was entirely on the cost of the project, the ramifications for stockholders, and the impact this would have on the rest of the biotech industry. There was no mention of civil rights, of diseases, of any of the massive issues that had come to define the world right before the Break. Only money. She searched through the rest of the box and found more of the same: a transcript from a news interview with ParaGen’s chief financial officer; an internal ParaGen memo about the company’s new windfall contract; a magazine called Forbes with the ParaGen logo on the cover and the crisp silhouette of an armed Partial soldier in the background. Kira flipped through the pages of the magazine, finding article after article about money, about technologies being used to make more money, about all the ways the Isolation War, despite being “a terrible tragedy,” would help heal the American economy. Money, money, money.

  Money had a place in East Meadow society, but that place was a small one. Almost everything they needed was free: If you wanted a can of food, a pair of pants, a book, a house, whatever it was, all it cost you was the effort to go out and find one. Money was used almost exclusively for fresh food, things like wheat from the farms and fish from the coastal villages—things you had to work for—and even then, most of those commodities were traded in kind, through a barter system in the marketplace. Nandita and Xochi had built a lucrative business trading herbs for fresh food, and Kira had always eaten well because of it. Money, such as it was, was usually just work credits: government vouchers for her time spent in the hospital, her reward for performing a vital service that didn’t actually produce a tradable commodity. It was enough to keep her in fresh fish and vegetables for lunch, but not much else. It was a minor, almost insignificant aspect of her life. The documents in box 138 described a world in which money was everything—not just the means of sustaining life but the purpose of living it. She tried to imagine being happy about the war with the Partials or the Voice, rejoicing because it would somehow bring her extra work credits, but the idea was so foreign she laughed out loud. If that was how the old world worked—if that was all they really cared about—maybe it was better that it had fallen apart. Maybe it was inevitable.

  “You’re real,” said Afa.

  Kira spun around, startled, hiding the magazine behind her guiltily. Would he be mad at her for looking at his records?

  “Did you say I’m . . .” She paused. “Real?”

  “I thought you were a dream,” said Afa, shuffling into the room. He stopped at one of the boxes and sifted through it idly, almost as if he were petting an animal. “I haven’t talked to anyone in so long—and then last night there was a person in my house, and I thought that I’d dreamed it, but you’re still here.” He nodded. “You’re real.”

  “I’m real,” she assured him, placing the magazine back into box 138. “I’ve been admiring your collection.”

  “It has everything—almost everything. It even has video, but not in this room. I have the whole story.”

  Kira stepped toward him, wondering how long he’d stay talkative this time. “The story of the Partial War,” she said, “and the Break.”

  “That’s just part of it,” said Afa, picking up two stapled sheaves of paper, examining his own pen marks in the upper corners, and then reordering them in the box. “This is the story of the end of the world, the rise and fall of human civilization, the creation of the Partials and the death of everything else.”

  “And you’ve read all of it?”

  Afa nodded again, his shoulders slack as he moved from box to box. “All of it. I’m the only human being on the planet.”

  “I guess that makes sense, then,” said Kira. She stopped by a box—number 341—and pulled out some kind of government report; a court order, by the look of it, with a round seal stamped in the corner. She wanted answers, but she didn’t want to pressure him again, to freak him out by saying or mentioning anything he didn’t want to remember. I’ll keep it generic for now. “How did you find it all?”

  “I used to work in the clouds,” he said, then immediately corrected himself: “In the cloud. I lived my whole life up there, I could go anywhere and find anything.” He nodded at a box of dusty clippings. “I was like a bird.”

  I saw your name at ParaGen, she wanted to say again. I know you have information about the Trust: about RM, the expiration date, what I am. She’d been looking for these answers for so long, and now they were right here, split into boxes and trapped in a failing brain. Is it just from the loneliness? Maybe his brain works fine, he just hasn’t spoken to someone in so long he’s forgotten how to interact with people. She wanted to sit him down and ask him a million questions, but she’d waited this long; she could wait a little longer. Win him over, don’t freak him out, get him on your side.

  She read a bit of the court order in her hand, something about the words “Partial Nation” being declared a sign of terrorist sympathy. Students couldn’t write or say them on school campuses, and anyone caught using them in graffiti was subject to prosecution as a threat to national security. She waved it lightly, grabbing his attention. “You’ve got a lot about the last days before the war,” she said. “You’ve really worked hard to put this together. Do you have anything . . .” She paused, almost too cautious to ask. She wanted to know about the Trust, which Samm had implied was part of the Partial leadership, but she worried that if she just blurted it out, like she had with ParaGen, he might shut down again. “Do you have anything about the Partials themselves? The way they’re organized?”

  “They’re an army,” said Afa. “They’re organized like an army.” He was on the floor now, looking at two of his boxes and the papers in them; every third or fourth one he frowned at and moved to the other box.

  “Yes,” said Kira, “but I mean, the leaders of the army—the generals. Do you know anything about where they are now?”

  “This one died,” said Afa, holding up a paper without looking away from his boxes. Kira walked to him and took it carefully; it was an article from the New York Times, like some of the others she’d seen, but printed out from a website instead of clipped from a real paper. The headline rea
d NORTH ATLANTIC FLEET SUNK IN LOWER BAY.

  Kira looked up, surprised. “They sank a Partial fleet?”

  “The Partials didn’t have a navy,” said Afa, still sorting his papers. “That was a human fleet, sunk by the Partial Air Force, just off the shore of Brooklyn. It was the biggest military strike in the war, in retaliation for the death of General Craig. I have one about him, too.” He held up another page, and Kira snatched it away, poring over the information: “‘General Scott Craig, leader of the Partial uprising and former mouthpiece of the Partial rights movement, was assassinated last night in a daring strike by human commandos—’ We killed him?”

  “It was a war.”

  “And then they destroyed an entire fleet.” She counted up the ships in the article, a massive group sailing north to attack the concentration of Partial forces in New York State. The ships had been undermanned, their crews already ravaged by the plague. “Twenty ships, and they just . . . killed everyone on them.”

  “It was a war,” said Afa again, taking the papers from her hands and dropping them back in the box.

  “But it didn’t have to be,” said Kira, following him across the room. “The Partials didn’t want to kill everyone—you said yourself that they weren’t evil. They wanted equality, they wanted to live normal lives, and they could have done that without killing all those thousands of people on those ships.”

  “They killed billions of people,” said Afa.

  “Do you know that for sure?” Kira demanded. “You have all these documents and articles and everything else—do you have something about RM? About where it came from?”

  “I’m the last human being on the planet,” he said loudly, walking more quickly to stay ahead of her, and Kira realized that she was practically shouting at him. She backed off, forcing herself to calm down; he had to have something about the virus, but she’d never find it without his help. She need to keep him, and herself, calm.

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry I got loud. I’m very . . .” She took a deep breath, collecting herself. “I’ve been looking for some very important answers, and you’ve found them, and I just got overexcited.”

  “You’re still real,” he said, backing into a corner. “You’re still here.”

  “I’m here and I’m your friend,” she said softly. “You’ve done an amazing thing here—you’ve found all the information I need. But I don’t know your system; I don’t know how it’s organized. Will you please help me find what I’m looking for?”

  Afa’s voice was soft. “I have everything,” he said, his head nodding up and down. “I have almost everything.”

  “Can you tell me who created RM?” She clenched her fists, forcing herself not to get loud or aggressive.

  “That’s easy,” said Afa. “It was the Trust.”

  “Yes,” said Kira, nodding eagerly, “the Trust, keep going. The Trust are the Partial leaders, the generals and the admirals and the people who made the decisions, right? You say they made RM?” That was completely the opposite of what Samm had told her; he’d insisted that the Partials had nothing to do with it, but she’d already suspected that might be a lie—not Samm’s lie, but one that had been told to him by his superiors. If the cure for RM was in their breath, manufactured in their own bodies, then the connection between the Partials and the virus was undeniable. To learn that they had created it and released it was an easy jump to make.

  And yet Afa was shaking his head.

  “No,” he said, “the Trust aren’t the Partial generals—they aren’t even Partials. They’re the scientists who made the Partials.”

  Kira’s mouth dropped open in shock. “The scientists? ParaGen? Humans?” She struggled for words.

  Afa nodded. “The Partial generals still follow the Trust; I don’t know why. That’s where they get all their orders.”

  “The Trust,” said Kira, forcing the word out. “The Trust created RM.”

  Afa nodded again, never stopped nodding, rocking his whole body slowly back and forth.

  “So the people who destroyed the human race were . . . humans.” She groped for a chair, realized they were all full of documents, and sat heavily on the floor. “But . . . why?”

  “I know everything,” said Afa, still rocking back and forth. “I know almost everything.”

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  Kira stared at Afa. “What do you mean, you know almost everything?”

  “Nobody knows everything.”

  “I know,” said Kira, struggling to keep her temper from flaring up. “I know you don’t know everything, but you have so much.” She picked up a handful of printouts from the nearest box, shaking them tightly in her fist. “You have hundreds of boxes in this room alone, and more all over the building. You have files in every room, you have cabinets in the hallways, you have at least twenty salvaged computers in the room we ate dinner in last night. How can you have so much—the entire history of the Partials—and not have a scrap about the people who made them?”

  “I have scraps,” said Afa, holding up his hand. He shuffled out of the corner, jogging awkwardly to the nearest door. “I have scraps in my backpack—I’m never supposed to leave my backpack.” He ran down the hall, shouting over his shoulder, and Kira followed close behind. “I’m never supposed to leave my backpack. It has everything.” Kira caught up with him in the cafeteria, the makeshift computer lab where they’d eaten fruit cocktail the night before. He crouched down in front of his massive backpack and zipped it open, revealing thick sheaves of paper.

  “That’s what’s in the backpack?” she asked. “More papers?”

  “The most important papers,” said Afa, nodding. “All the keys to the story, the biggest steps, the biggest players.” He thumbed through the papers with lightning speed, his fingers guided by an obvious familiarity. “And the biggest players of all were the Trust.” He pulled out a slim brown folder, holding it in the air with a flourish. “The Trust.”

  Kira took it gingerly, as she might have touched a baby in the old maternity ward. It was thin, maybe twenty or thirty sheets of paper at the most—pathetically slim next to the massive bulk of papers bursting out of the overstuffed bag. She opened it and saw that the top sheet was an email printout, framed by layers of meaningless symbols. At the top of the page was the name she hadn’t dared to hope for:

  Armin Dhurvasula.

  Armin.

  Her father.

  The email was date-stamped November 28, 2051, and the list of recipients was illegible—another string of random symbols. She read it breathlessly: “‘So it’s official. The government has placed an order for 250,000 BioSynth 3s. We’re building the army that will end the world.’” She looked at Afa. “He knew?”

  “Keep reading.” He was more lucid now than before, as if the familiar topic had rejuvenated his mind.

  “‘A quarter million soldiers,’” she continued. “‘Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is? That’s a small city of completely new beings, not technically human but still intelligent, still self-aware, still capable of human feeling. It was one thing when we were making a few thousand Watchdogs, but this is a new humanoid species.’” These were his words—her own father’s words. She had to fight not to cry as she read them. “‘The government—even our own board of directors—talks about them like property, but that’s not how most people will see them, and that’s not how they’ll see themselves. At best, we’re reverting to the worst excesses of “partial people” and human slavery. At worst, we’re making humans completely obsolete.’”

  Kira shook her head, her eyes locked on the page. “How could he know all this? How could he know it and not do anything to stop it?”

  “Keep reading,” said Afa again, and Kira swallowed her tears.

  “‘I don’t know where this is going to end, but I know that there’s nothing we can do at this point to keep it from starting. The wheels are already moving, the technologies are already proven—Michaels and the rest of the board could do
this with or without us. We can’t stop it, but we need to do something to tweak it. I don’t want to say anything else, even on an encrypted server. We’re having a live meeting tonight at nine in Building C. My office.’

  “‘The first thing we’ll do is figure out exactly who we can trust.’”

  Kira fell silent, reading and rereading the email until the words seemed to blur and lose meaning. She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

  “That’s the first instance of the word,” said Afa, standing and pointing at the final sentence. “He said they had to figure out who they could trust. From what I’ve been able to piece together, they formed the group that night, in that secret meeting, and they started using the word Trust as a code word.”

  “He said they were trying to tweak something,” said Kira. “What does that mean? Were they trying to tweak the plans for the Partials? Or tweak the Partials themselves?”

  “I don’t know,” said Afa, taking the folder from her hand. He sat down and began laying out the papers on the floor. “Everything they did was encrypted—that’s what all this gobbledygook is up here, and down here. I got through as much of it as I could, but they were being very careful.” He arranged another printout carefully on the floor in front of him. “This is the next one, though it doesn’t say much. I assume it’s in code, but not machine code, or I could have cracked it. They gave themselves pass codes and phrases so they could talk without their bosses understanding them.”

 

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