[A face: the mouth stretched out, contorted, smeared. Behind thick-rimmed glasses, eyes wide. A hand close, blocking the corner of the frame. A streak of blood, arcing across the image. Reflected in the man’s glasses, the machine.]
The Raven staring it. His own hand holding his mouth. His brow knit. The overhead fan is the only thing in the room that moves. A sun-bleached kitchen table, scattered with week-old mail. His old laptop, askew on top of it. A media mail envelope, ripped open and emptied.
The Raven, hitting the eject button. The image, disappearing. The Raven, fitting the disc into the jewel case. Click. With his right hand, he holds he jewel case. With his left, he holds the table as he stands. This is the imagining that forms in his head:
The glass of the office door would be cold against his hand. His steps would be quick, clacking. Our hero would look up, his mouth dropping, standing to meet the Raven. Maybe there would be someone else in the office, a business man. Maybe it would be empty. The business man would leave. Our hero’s expression, changing to match the Raven’s. Our hero’s hand, outstretching to meet the Raven’s. The Raven holding the jewel case. The case quivering in his hand.
The Raven, sitting back down. The jewel case, clacking back onto the table. He leans back, he sighs. A new imagining is already forming:
Sounds would be dulled by the threading carpet. Sounds would be muffled, sneaking beneath the wooden door. People would be busy outside, past the window of Andrew’s office. Andrew’s head would be hanging within, his sandy blonde hair waving back and forth.
“Hank, please. Just.” Andrew would say. The Raven’s words would be stammering, grasping for confidence, failing. Andrew’s head would shake his attempts away.
“You still trust him then, Hank. It’s obvious! And,” Andrew’s pity would overwhelm his disbelief, his disbelief his shock. He would smile bitterly. “And even after what I’ve told you, even after what he did to me, you still trust him.”
“But I don’t—I didn’t—”the Raven would stumble.
“Yes I know,” Andrew’s hand wiping the air, wafting through the Raven’s stammering. Andrew’s hand, landing on the desk, picking up the jewel case. “Yes, you brought it to me, thank god, you brought it to me.” Andrew’s eyes, rising to meet the Raven, rising above the bitter smile. “But you hesitated, Hank. You hesitated. I mean, my god! You actually considered taking this to him!”
[Two blue lines. Faint, but present.]
Beth, at one end of the bathroom, sitting on the tub, foot on ledge, elbow on knee, hand in hair, and the trash can at the other end, as far as possible. Still, she can see them, the two blue lines, tiny, peaking over the edge of the can.
Beth sighs and pulls her hand from her hair.
They would be at his place, at separate ends of the couch. Two laptops, ticking against the ballads of the Red Garland trio. His brow would be furrowed, he would be focused—she would watch him.
“Andrew,” she would say, and his head would rise but his eyes would not leave the screen.
“Hmm?” he would say, the ticking of his keyboard not pausing to make room for the sound.
“Umm,” the hesitation would be necessary, calculated, deniable. She would take a small breath. “I thought you should know: I found out today that I am pregnant.” Still his eyes would not leave the screen, but it would be conscious now. He would freeze, like an animal under the gaze of a predator. Surely the typing would stop. “I’ve decided to have an abortion. I called to schedule an appointment, I just wanted to inform you. I thought it was only fair that you know.”
He would set the laptop aside, maybe, but he would not close it. “Alright.” He would look at her, purposefully, a dead stare. “This is what you want to do?” He would not even be able to give her a legitimate question.
“Yes.” She would nod, maybe she would smile (no, she couldn’t smile). “The time isn’t right” maybe, or—no, just this. “The time isn’t right.”
Beth closes her eyes. Beth leans her head back. Before the one vision is gone another is piercing through it.
“I’m sorry!” our hero’s hand would be clinging to her wrist, holding her down to the table. “Please, Beth, please, just listen to me for a moment!”
She would want to relent but be terrified to. Her eyes, scanning the café. Finally, she would sit back down. Our hero would release her, but his mania would not subside.
“I know, Beth, I know what a mess I made of things before, but you have to believe that I’m a different person now.”
But his hand would raise, pleading for silence.
“Beth, we are meant for each other. You’ve always known that, haven’t you? And I know, I was the fool before! I was the one who didn’t see it! But listen to me: you can’t sacrifice everything we could have because of that. This isn’t about what I think of Andrew, or any of that, it’s about you and me: that we are meant for each other: that we love each other.”
His eyes would be desperate, glistening. He would maybe venture to smile. She would reach across the table, to rest her hand on his.
“No Simon, Andrew and I love each other. Andrew and I are meant to be with each other. And that is why I am here Simon, I thought it was only fair that I tell you in person. Andrew and I are going to have a baby.”
THUDTHUDTHUD “Beth, are you in there?”
Beth, across the bathroom before he’s finished speaking. Hand to the trashcan. The two blue lines, slipping into her jeans pocket.
Muffled by the door: “Beth, we need to talk.”
“Yeah,” she shouts, “yeah,” she sighs, “give me a minute.”
Andrew and I are going to have a baby—
The bathroom door, creaking as it opens. Andrew, standing close. Andrew, not amused.
“Are you going to publish the photos or not, Beth?”
“Jesus, Andrew.” Beth pushing past him, out into the hallway.
“A multi-billion dollar machine tromping around in the subway system.” Andrew following her.
“Every newspaper in the country has already published half a dozen blurry cell-phone photos of the same thing.”
“Yes, because you waited.”
“Yes, because I don’t care about sensationalism, I care about news.” Beth, turning into him. “So what? The DexM was in the subway? Who cares?”
“Simon Salter, now head of Salter Enterprises, is leaking photos of the DexM to a reporter. I think people would care about that.”
“No, you think people would crucify him for that.”
Andrew smiling mockingly, an eyebrow raising. “So now you’re protecting him?”
Beth turning away again. “I’m not protecting him, and I’m not crucifying him. I’m reporting things that are newsworthy.”
“If you mean to say that you’re not publishing those photos because they’re not newsworthy than you are simply lying to yourself.”
“And if you’re implying that you have any agenda besides destroying Simon than you’re doing the same.”
Andrew shaking his head, opening his mouth. Beth speaking before he can: “What’s more important, Andrew? Destroying Simon, or respecting my choices as a journalist?”
“And what about when the requirements of your job coincide with something that might harm Simon?”
Beth, as she walks out of the room: “You can’t even give me a legitimate answer.”
This is what you want to do?
The time isn’t right.
“No, I’m not trying to view anything from the archives,” the Raven is becoming irritated.
“That’s good, sir, because you don’t have permission to view anything from the archives.” So is the young woman.
“I just want to know who has permission to view the archives. And, specifically, who could record something from the archives.” The Raven is making adamant hand motions.
“I understand, sir. But if you don’t have permission to view the archives, you don’t have permission to know that information either.”
“And isn’t the fact that I am in this building, in this room—that I know that this room exists—evident enough that I have permission to know that information?”
“No, sir,” the young woman makes her own hand motions. “Having permission to view the archives would be ‘evident enough’ to have permission for that information.”
The Raven, sighing. The Raven, placing a fifty dollar bill on the table. “And does this help me get permission?”
The young woman disgusted, shaking her head. “Sir, I don’t think you understand. I don’t have permission to know who has permission. Only the system knows who has permission.”
The Raven goes for the bill but the young woman beats him to it, swats it, stops its motion. “But, if you are interested, sir, I could tell you how I think the system knows who has permision.”
The Raven releasing the bill.
“I think the system can tell whether or not the person knows that they have permission.” The young woman is speaking more quietly now. “If a person thinks they have permission, then the system thinks they have permission.”
“But how could the system know what the person is thinking?”
“The system is integrated with the DexM technology.” The young woman is almost whispering.
The Raven: “And the DexM technology seems to know what people are thinking.”
The young woman shrugs. She pulls the fifty from the table, slipping it into her pocket. “That’s what some people think.”
The Raven: “So, could a person trick the system into thinking—”
“—No more than a person could trick himself into thinking something he knows isn’t true.”
“So then,” the Raven places another fifty on the table, “who do you think thinks they have permission?”
“I think certainly Mr. Jonas Salter did,” the young woman slides it off the table. “I think probably Mr. Simon Salter does now, and possibly General Linnaeus. And I think the operator probably would.”
The woman’s brow crinkles. She shakes her head. “The DexM is just a machine, sir, it needs an operator to operate it. Have you noticed the red light, just above the left eye?”
The Raven nods.
“Well that’s how you know it’s not on auto-pilot, that there’s actually a person behind the controls. No red-light: it can fly pre-programmed routes maybe, snap some pictures—but to interact, to make real decisions, there needs to be a person controlling that thing, that red light needs to be on.”
“And you’ve seen the operator at the archives?”
The young woman raises her hands. “I’m not saying I’ve seen him here, I’m only saying to me, it makes sense that he would have permission, he’s already seen most of the stuff anyway.”
“And who else?”
The young woman shrugs. “Someone I don’t know.” The Raven reaches for his wallet. “No, really,” the young woman says. “If I don’t know who they are I can’t tell you who I think they are.”
The Raven: “Blonde? A little short? Skinny?”
Andrew Gillman’s sandy blonde hair waving back and—
The woman’s head shaking. “Tall. Very skinny, like a pole. And Asian, I think.”
The Raven’s brow crinkles. The woman puts her hands up, as if in defense:
“I’m just telling you what I think I know.”
He would rush to her, embrace her, his arms drawing her in. “Oh, Andrew,” she would be crying, joyously.
He would pull her away to see her smiling face and she would see his. It would be—no, he would keep her held tight, crying his own tears. He would whisper something back to her. He would say—
Or maybe he would start laughing, joyously. An expression of happiness at the wonderful news. He would be ecstatic, maybe. Or he would start screaming. His body, spinning, his fist hitting the wall. He would—
The buzz of Beth’s phone, vibrating her desk. Beth, snapping the phone open, drawing it to her ear.
A pause. She waits for the other voice to speak.
“This is Philip from IT, are you at home now?”
“I’m at the office.”
“Shit, hold on.” The clattering of a keyboard. A long pause. “Sorry. Someone was trying to access your account through your home line. I didn’t want to disable it in case it was you. I thought maybe you’d forgotten your password or something.”
“No.” Beth, drawing her breath in. Holding it. “Through my home computer?”
“Well, through your home account. They probably just accessed the line remotely. They got your security questions right, so I thought it might have been you. Sorry to bother you. I’ll reset the account. You’ll get a notification for a new password in a few minutes.”
“Ok. Um,” Beth, eyes narrowing. “How could they have known that?”
“The security questions? Oh, a lot of ways. Could have gotten it from another account, could have looked up information about you. It’s a pretty weak defense, that’s why we monitor it pretty actively. Hell, I mean my wife knows enough about me to get in to pretty much any of my accounts just by using the ‘forgot password’ button.”
“Yes,” Beth, hand tightening on the phone, “I could say the same about my boyfriend.”
The slow whir of the overhead fan. The couch, well-formed to his body. The Raven opening the laptop. The Raven inserting the disc.
Bzzt—the screen popping to life. The first voice: “Stealing it? I’m liberating it!”
The Raven’s eyes on the video. The Raven’s thoughts left to wander:
“You don’t see how it’s the same thing?” Andrew’s look would be almost shocked, amazed at the Raven. “You don’t see how it is exactly what he did to me? Why do you think I told you about it, why do you think I explained it to you?”
“To warn me,” the Raven would be sheepish, hesitant.
“Exactly,” Andrew would be almost threatening, the anger just kept at bay. “I thought I could trust him. I thought he was a good man, like his father. And I saw his father being taken advantage of by Linnaeus, being deceived and mislead, and I thought I could use the son to help redirect the father, to help realign him.”
The first voice: “You would deprive it of its ability! You would make it some museum display! I am giving it the liberty to flourish!”
And the second voice: “The liberty you grant it is at the expense of the liberty of others!”
“And in confidence I went to Simon,” Andrew would say, “to alert him to the danger of this thing his father was unknowingly building. And what does Simon do? Tell me, Hank, what does he do?”
“He alerts General Linnaeus.”
The first voice: “I sacrifice the minor liberty of a few for the safety of the many.”
The second voice: “You make decisions that are not yours to make!”
Andrew would be furious: “He turns me in to Linnaeus! He gets me fired from the project, from the company! They concoct some lie so that Jonas doesn’t speak to me again—for the rest of his life, he doesn’t speak to me again! And now you find this, this video, and you consider bringing it to Simon?”
The first voice: “I make decisions that I have the power to make.”
The second voice: “Finally! ‘Power!’ A word of truth slips out of you!”
“What do you think he would do, Hank, if you’d given him this video? Praise you? Thank you?”
The first voice: “I am not here for a debate, Jonas. I am here to explain the new situation to you. The DexM and its technologies are now under full control of the United States military.”
“He would destroy you with it, Hank! He would destroy you! Hell, for all we know the entire thing is a trap!”
The first voice again: “And Simon is out. He is no longer connected to the project, in anyway. The boy can’t be trusted. You’re blinded by him, you don’t see it, but it’s no longer your decision to make. It’s no longer a decision you have the power to make.”
(Or, the other imagining—)
Our hero’s eyes would be wet. His head would be in his hands. Slowly, he would look up, his eyes locking with the Raven’s: “Thank you, thank you for bringing this to me. I would have done the same for you, I swear it. I would have done the same for you.”
Andrew, very heavily, sighing. A smile on his lips. He shakes it away. He opens his mouth.
Beth: “Are you kidding me?”
Andrew: “I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”
Beth: “You tried to break into my email?”
Andrew: “I—I wasn’t going to let your emotions get in the way.”
Beth: “What the hell were you looking for?”
Andrew, again venturing to smile, slightly, bittersweet. “I was looking for the photos of the DexM. It’s an important story, Beth.” Andrew looking to Beth. Andrew changing his mind on the smile.
Beth, shaking with anger: “And what? Once you found them you’d email them to my editor?”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t planning it like that, I was just doing what I thought was right.”
“You mean you don’t know, you couldn’t get into my email, you didn’t get that far.” Beth staring at him, eyes wide, in horror. “They’re not there, anyway. I didn’t load them into my email. Because I wasn’t planning to send them to anyone.”
Andrew turning away from her, turning back to the sink, the dishes.
Beth: “Where else did you look?”
Andrew: “It doesn’t matter, I didn’t find them.”
Beth: “Like hell it doesn’t matter!”
“Look,” Andrew, spinning around, back to her, “you want to pretend this is about you, about me violating your trust? Fine. Pretend whatever you need to. But this is about me trying to expose a danger to the world. I’m sorry if your feelings get hurt in the process, I’m sorry if your ex-boyfriend actually has to face the consequences of his actions. The sacrifices of the few for the many.”
Beth, standing back: “You don’t even think what you did was wrong.”
Andrew: “Right. Again: as I said: I was only doing what I thought was right. And, god help me, if I find those photos, I’m going to do what I know to be right.”
Beth: “You mean what you think you know to be right.”
Andrew: “I mean what I have to do! It’s not a choice, Beth, not for me!” Andrew, breathing heavily: “It’s not a choice when it’s your only option.”
This is what you want to do?
This is what I have to do.
The staccato tapping of keyboards, quiet conversations through the lilting music. Beth, coffee cup to her lips, sipping. The chair across from her slides out. Beth’s eyes, flicking up.
Beth smiles. The chair squeaks. The chair shifts in. At the table, folding his hands, is the Raven.
“Thank you for coming.” Beth, lowering the coffee cup. “I want to apologize for contacting you out of the blue. I had my work look up your number—”
“You don’t need to apologize for anything.” The Raven’s voice is low, calm. “You looked after my boy once, when I didn’t have anyone else to. I remember. I was happy when you called.”
Beth: “And you know who I am?” The Raven nods. “And who I am to Simon?” He nods again. “Then I hope you’ll let me ask another favor of you.”
Beth, sliding an envelope across the table. The Raven takes it, opens it, draws the photos out. [The DexM, trapped behind the subway turnstiles.]
Beth: “Do you remember taking these?”
The Raven nodding.
Beth: “I’d like to ask you to hold onto them for me. I can’t keep them, it’s not safe, I can’t give them back to who gave them to me, and yet I think they’re too important to destroy.” Beth, watching him as he flips through the photos. “Can I trust you with them? I figure I should be able to trust an artist to care after his own work.”
The Raven, leaning in. His nose almost touching the glossy photo. “Jesus Christ.” The Raven, pulling away, looking to Beth, his face horror-stricken. “Do you have a computer?”
Beth stammers, reaches for her bag. She pulls out her computer, her headphones. The Raven produces a disc. He slides it in. He makes Beth watch.
Immediately, she recognizes the men:
General Linnaeus: “Stealing it? I’m liberating it!”
The Raven, watching for a moment, turning away. Back to his photos. “Jesus Christ,” he mutters, leaning close to them.
Linnaeus: “And Simon is out. He is no longer connected to the project, in anyway. The boy can’t be trusted. You’re blinded by him, you don’t see it, but it’s no longer your decision to make. It’s no longer a decision you have the power to make.”
Linnaeus leaving the room. Jonas Salter left alone. He turns toward the camera. He smiles. He approaches.
Jonas, to the camera: “I’m sorry, my friend, this isn’t my choice, but they’re not leaving me with another option. If I don’t shut you down, they’ll make you into something you don’t want to be, I know that to be true.”
The screen lights up with action, numbers data. Along the bottom third: IMMINENT THREAT.
Jonas: “This isn’t the end for us, though, don’t worry. We’ll meet again.”
The camera lurches forward. Jonas lurches back. A steel hand, swinging out, collapsing around Jonas’s neck. He tries to speak but it is incomprehensible: “Penny . . .”. Jonas, grasping at the hand. It digs in. Blood squirts out. Jonas, trying to speak, “wuld,” gurgling through the blood. The other steel hand coming round, clamping down on Jonas’s mouth.
“Pwennywul . . .”
The Raven taps the space bar. The video freezes.
“There.” The Raven pointing at the screen.
Beth, horrified. Mouth agape. Eyes welling.
“Look, do you see,” the Raven, grabbing one of his photos, sliding it in front of her. “Above the left eye. The red light. It means there is an operator. But here,” the Raven lowering the photo, pointing at the video, “you can see the machine in the reflection of Jonas’s glasses. And there is no red light. There is no operator.”
Beth—mouth still agape, body still shaking—leans in, squints her eyes.
The Raven: “But I can’t figure out what he’s trying to say. Why does it cover his mouth? What is he trying to say to it? I’ve watched it a few hundred times but it’s just garbled, it’s nothing.”
Beth, sniffing: “Pennywyld crybilly.”
The Raven, turning to Beth.
Beth: “I don’t know why he’s saying it but that’s what it sounds like to me.”
The Raven: “Pennywyld crybilly?”
Beth, wiping her eyes: “It’s a nickname Jonas had for Simon. Simon always hated it, Jonas would just use it when he wanted to tease him. It was a joke between them, though. I don’t know why it would be the last thing he would say.”
The Raven, turning back to the video, standing. “How about we trade, then? I’ll hang on to your photos, you hang on to my video.”
Slowly, Beth looking up to the Raven. “If you leave this with me, I’m going to have to show it to him.”
The Raven, nodding. “That’s your choice. I respect whatever you decide.”
Beth, turning back to the video. “It’s not a choice if it is your only option.”
She would knock, lightly, gently. She would smile, carefully. She would reciprocate small talk, but not urge it on. Politely nodding, she would sit him down. She would be pleasant—it would be a warning.
“Simon.” She would speak evenly, smoothing out her words. “Simon, I’m sorry, but they lied to you.” She would not hesitate, she would be firm, she would be as gentle as possible. “They lied to you about what happened to Jonas.”
She would comfort him as necessary. She would let him cry on her. “They lied to you about your father.” His head to her shoulder, her shirt wet, wrinkling. Her hand in his hair. She would hold his hand after. She would not leave him.
“Simon, I’m so sorry.”
For a long time they would sit, the twilight fading, the night creeping round them, her hand on his. She would be there, she would stay with him. She would not leave him.
Our hero answers almost immediately. He stops when he sees her.
She smiles, fleetingly. The disc is in her purse; she clutches the purse desperately.
“Beth, what’s wrong?”
Her body is shaking with the sobbing. She cries out, helplessly.
“My god,” our hero says.
Beth looks up at him, trying to speak. The tears blur her eyes. Her hand is shaking her purse is shaking.
“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
His hand finds his brow.
“You’re pregnant again.”
(The Philanthropist will return May first . . .)