Augustine concluded the conference, "I will go back upstairs and see what I can do. I will try to make the United think we left already, in a rush. They will, hopefully, wait for us to come back before coming in, expecting us to try to clean up the exit. You all have to lay low. And the lights have to go off, too.
A few minutes later we were all in darkness again.
For many hours the Christians sat in the dark and conversed. They talked about trials and sufferings, and how much better of people they would be when it was all over, by the grace of God. Seemed like some awfully complicated business for just meaning that they got better at living after getting experience. With how much faith-building they talked about Nic was beginning to imagine a tower that could outdo even that of Babel. Brick, tar, and faith.
Eventually they grew tired of quoting ancient works of religious literature and retired to sleep. Nic had dozed occasionally during the day, he couldn't help sleeping when surrounded by such un-stimulating conversation. And so he had barely moved out of his chair, except for a few moments to stretch, which were dangerous, because in the pure dark one could trip over something at any moment.
And so they all went to sleep. Nic was almost there, too, physically, but mentally he was outpacing the download speed of the fastest computers he had ever worked on.
So the United was on there trail. And not just on the trail, they were after Nic, and after Cea. Nic still had the microchip. Ephesus had never demanded it back yet. He might have almost forgotten about it, since Cea had the same virus on her chip.
It had been too long since Nic used a computer. Too long since he had information. His moves were being made by some Christian zealots with nothing but the kingdom of God in mind. Nic had other plans, and he did not trust the Christians to work in his best interest. He had to know what was going on. He had to know what kinds of evidence, what lines of clues, the United was pursuing. He specialized in knowing the project better than it knew itself. He had to out-know the United. And sitting in the basement wouldn't accomplish that. He felt like he was in a bad version of Plato's cave.
He managed to traverse the floor without tripping. He couldn't afford noise. There was the lowest rung. Up he went, one at a time, barely breathing. There was the top. He popped the latch and was out. Nic crawled across the floor, counting his little crawls. He bumped his head against a box and barely restrained from profanity. He turned ninety degrees and kept going. He reached the stereo, and instantly popped out the cassette. In case he was caught, he could plea bargain his evidence, maybe.
Now where was the door to the main shop.
But then he didn't need it. A computer was sitting next to him on a box. Augustine must have left it there when he got interrupted with something. Perfect.
Passwords didn't stop Nic for long. This would be a cinch.
Except that there was no password. The computer was left logged-in.
Nic prowled around until he found an internet browser. It was an ancient thing, something about what had once been counted as a high number and a shiny metal, except the number was spelled with a "-gle" instead of a "-gol." Silly 21st century advertising.
Connecting took an eternity. Apparently the device had never been connected to the United internet before. Nic would have to find a way to wipe this things record when he was done... the virus would do. Besides, he needed to test it, for his own confidence's sake.
In under ten minutes Nic was cruising his way through United government communication files. He did a quick search for Rachel. Still no records.
Then he searched for himself. And he was amazed.
He had escaped from Rott, apparently on nothing more than a scrap of wood. His body was never found at sea. He was legally dead.
Well that was an interesting revelation, to say the least.
And Cea, was she dead, too?
No, she was very much alive. Apparently she had been hired to work on a top secret mission on Mars, a colony project, from which colonists were not allowed to return. Nic knew from personal experience that there were no such projects. Some governmnet-employed liar had creative ways of eliminating people that shouldn't be on the papers.
Maybe that's where Rachel was, too.
For a quick moment of fun, Nic looked up John and Dowe. Not at all to his surprise, he found an entry covering both. There escapades were remarkable. Apparently a whole warehouse of print Bibles had emptied itself in the space of three hours, and they were found with one-tenth of the booty twelve hours later. And there was a missing jump-jet. That never turned up again. And millions of dollars of records were burnt. They escaped, made mischief, were caught, caught while escaping, escaped, made mischief, lit something else on fire, and apparently turned one thing into rubber even on the official entries. Then they went to Rott. And then there was an interesting entry. "Hired as valve operators." The date was for two days ago.
There was something interesting. New industry on Rott. But of no consequence.
The Smyrnas... how did they show up?
Ephesus was still dead in an explosion. It must have been to embarrassing to ever correct that. Thomas Smyrna worked as a lab-tech in a factory. His was accurate.
How about that miscreant female creature that was his offspring?
"Philadelphia Smyrna. Age: 17. Unaccepted minor. Uncovered one Unaccepted plot of global terrorism." She was classified as a moderate. Stubborn about her religion, but not a trouble-maker.
Well, obviously the United saw things in a very different light than their greatest Martian governor ever.
And what about her mother? Where did she get the other half of her trouble-making side?
Her mother was dead. She had been killed when being brought into questioning. There was a newspaper link to the story. Nic followed it.
"Unaccepted Scientist Kills His Wife."
Well, that escalated quickly.
Nic read on. Apparrently there was a purge of the ranks in Street 17 Camp at some point. The best Christians were brought in for questioning. The state was refilling its archives and reassessing the religion problem. Really just paper-work shuffling. That's when Dr. Thomas Smyrna's wife was called up.
But he wouldn't let her go.
There had been some sort of scuffle at his home. He had resisted letting her go. She would have went, according to the media, but he dragged her inside and tried to lock the door. As Commander Ambrose moved in to get her, force was required. Setting his gun to a stunning level, Ambrose had fired upon Dr. Smyrna. Somehow he missed, and the stun shot caught his wife in the head, the only spot a stun-shot would be lethal.
There was a story to tell. Finally, Nic new his chief nemesis better than she knew herself.
So he went to check on the new Rott industry. That was more tightly classified, but then he found a major de-briefing that he stole the transitory version of. When a file transfers, the cloud of transfer holds, temporarily, a ghost copy of the document. Only smart people remembered to protect those or delete them. So Nic read away.
A new factory down at the lowest depths of Rott. A weapons factory, under direction of Commander Ambrose. "So, he got a position of leadership again. He must be tickled pink."
A plant manufacturing a weapon to end all resistance.
But how could this be?