January 27, 2163
“No,” Lee said, leaning against the stone wall, her arms crossed.
Morton sat on the edge of his desk. “This is our fault. You and me. We bought our own bullshit. All the safeties, all the controls. We were wrong.” He left that hanging. Almost a question.
“True,” she agreed after a pause.
“Your plan could go wrong. Mine could, too. Maybe everybody will die no matter what we choose. Everybody who’s still human, anyway.”
“I hate it down here,” Lee said, looking toward the ceiling.
“Building Haven was your idea.”
Morton rolled his neck. Sighed. “Both our plans might leave every human being on the planet dead. The difference is, my plan’s safer. Forcing a cascade is our best chance.”
“The difference is, a cascade murders the entire motherfucking human race,” she replied, her voice calm. “Dick.”
“Not the entire…”
“Oh yeah, sorry.” Lee stood straight. “It’s only mostly genocide. Anyway, we’re done. I listened like you wanted. We’re doing it my way. If you try your way, I can stop it. Shit, cabron. You so much as dream of a cascade, I’ll stop it.”
Morton rubbed his eyes. “I know. That’s why you’re here.”
“I was here.” She walked to the door. When it didn’t open, she palmed the override plate. She palmed it again, then tugged the manual latch.
“You could stop it,” he said softly.
Lee faced him, frowning. “Why the hell did my feeds just go dead?”
“You could stop a cascade. That’s why we’re meeting down here. This room’s secure now. No signals in or out.” Morton nodded toward the ceiling. “We’ve spun up the shield around Haven. Livv used the chaos of the Collapse as cover. She hacked nearly every nanofactory in the Western Hemisphere and brought them here. Trillions. There wasn’t enough government left to understand what was happening or stop it.”
“Morton,” she said.
“After the cascade, we’ll send out the ‘factors to carve a canyon circling north-central Ohio. The cascade…” He paused. “The cascade hits in about four minutes.”
He waited for her reaction. Any reaction. But she stood there, quiet, facing him. Impassive, her head a little to the side.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He had the flickering impression of her in midair and then he was on his back, on the floor. It’s like that when someone has a military-grade naughtwork. Their naughts make them too fast. You can hardly see them coming.
Lee straddled Morton’s chest, all four foot eleven of her, her face puckered in an unfamiliar grimace of rage. With her right hand, she cradled the back of his head almost tenderly, lifting it gently from the floor. Then, in the instant of peace that lay between, he realized: there wasn’t much mass behind her. She was anchoring herself with her own right arm. She was going to make this count.
Then she was pounding him with her left.
It was like getting hit with a bowling ball. The first blow fractured his jaw. A crash of agony smothered all thought until his naughtwork dialed down his pain receptors. He couldn’t tell whether the next crunch was her hand or his skull.
But he didn’t mind. If he survived, his naughts would heal him.
And if she killed him, he wouldn’t have to face what he’d just done.