Oyuki feels Pris’s hand on her shoulder, trying to preempt her thought, but she ignores it. “Spook!” she shouts. The woman turns sharply toward her. “Tell me something: why are you doing this?”
The woman smirks, then speaks up. “Normally the pitch is only for recruits, but I guess it won’t hurt.” What an idiot. She thinks she can delay Oyuki so she’ll get caught, but that just works in Oyuki’s favor. Now both of Pris’s hands are on her, trying to pull her away, but she just shrugs back toward the port.
“We were Users,” says the woman, “but we have transcended that. We have stepped out of the Cloud, freeing ourselves from its constraints. By vanishing ourselves, we are free to do as we will.”
“So you think you’re Ghosts?” challenges Oyuki.
“We are more than Ghosts!” retorts the woman. “You are condemned to your fate, but we choose our own path. We use what you squander to free ourselves, and now we will free the world. Even now we are showing the world the fallacy of the Cloud, proving to them that it cannot be trusted. Soon they all will join us!”
“And you’ll hunt down Ghosts to do it?” says Oyuki.
“Yes!” shouts the woman. “As many as we need to secure our liberty. Be proud that you will be the instrument of humanity’s ascension!”
“If you think –” Oyuki stops as she feels a third hand on her back. She spins to find Pris looking pleadingly at her, gesturing down the pipe with her head. Glancing back at the Spook woman, Oyuki nods slowly and follows Pris down the pipe. The voice of the woman floats after them.
“They’re mad,” says Oyuki, positioning her legs thoughtfully once they stop. “Harvesting Ghosts just to turn themselves unverifiable? Is that even possible?”
“Theoretically,” says Pris, “and apparently practically too.”
“But how?” says Oyuki. “How could all these Users just disappear?”
“How could Ghosts have been running amok so long without being found?” counters Pris. “If there’s one thing you’ve taught us,” she says, looking Oyuki straight in the eyes, “it’s that there’s always something new to find.”
“Great,” says Oyuki with a roll of her eyes, “now I’m patronizing myself.”
“Oyuki,” calls the Spook woman, her words barely penetrating the walls. “Oyuki, come on out now. We won’t hurt you. We just need your help.”
Oyuki glares in the general direction of the Spook, speaking bitterly. “How many Ghost do you think they’re charging from?”
“You don’t know,” says Pris, “but we can’t find out now.”
Oyuki twists to face her. “What are you talking about?”
“We have to leave,” says Pris, pointing toward an upward juncture.
“No,” says Oyuki, teeth clenched as she chops her hand sharply. So much for no arguing. “I am not leaving without Bell.”
“Bell wouldn’t want you to be foolish,” says Pris. “She told you what you need to do: get to the surface and expose these Spooks. Whatever they’re up to, only you can stop them.”
“That’s right,” says Oyuki, “only I can stop them, and I’m not leaving until I have.”
“Oyuki,” pleads Pris, “it’s too dangerous. You need help. You need to tell people.”
“No,” says Oyuki, pursing her lips. “I’m not going to abandon Bell.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” insists Pris. “You need to tell Simon. He can –”
“I’m sure he’s got enough on his plate. I can handle this.” She turns away and begins crawling, heading toward the center-top of the large juncture.
“There are too many,” says Pris, following behind her noiselessly. “You’ll be caught.”
“Then I’ll be caught!” snaps Oyuki, spinning to glare at Pris. She sits so comfortably in the tube, not a worry in the world. “I’ve been captured before and I got free. When Miss Brown was taken, it was Bell who helped us save her, so I’m not leaving her.”
“Please,” says Pris, sliding closer. “You don’t have to go it alone. You can’t get back what was taken, so cherish what –”
Oyuki’s hand comes up and cracks across Pris’s cheek. She feels tears on her own face and her voice is suddenly hoarse. “Don’t you dare use her words!” she shouts. “You aren’t even real! Miss Brown would never be so cowardly. She would never abandon her friends!”
But Pris is gone. Somewhere amid her blinking away of tears, the hallucination has vanished. Wiping her face dry, Oyuki crawls the last feet to a maintenance panel. These Spooks are just posers. She’ll show them what it means to be a Ghost. Pulling open the panel, she plunges her hand in amidst wires and connectors. She never should have even tried the proxy. This is where she belongs, out of sight but never out of mind. She finds the wires she is looking for and pulls them free, tugging out slack as she slides over to a view hole. She looks through and finds the Spook woman still in the juncture. She grins.
“Hey, Spook!” shouts Oyuki. The woman looks up and as she does Oyuki brings the two leads together. “Eat shit.” There is a sizzle and a click and the sewer pipe above the juncture opens.