A nanite wash scrubs the last of the Halders’ blood from the lab floor. Virginia flips her hands, just scrubbed as well, but they are both clean, so why does she feel so filthy?
There is a hiss and Virginia looks up to see the body bags venting their atmosphere. The Halders are hidden behind opaque silver, but Virginia can’t get the image of their mutilated corpses out of her mind. As if that weren’t bad enough, the same view is still trending in the Cloud. People can’t stop gawking at the horrible, and the more recent atrocity left little to leer at, so they continue re-watching the hanging, the appearance of the bloody messages, and Virgina’s futile attempts at mattering one whit to the world.
“Shit,” she swears under her breath. She can’t stop rubbing her hands. Griffin steps back somberly from the Halders as the body bags slide noiselessly across the floor, disappearing through slots in the wall to be put in cold storage until burial. Everyone deserves a grave, even murderers.
But what about rapists?
Griffin joins Virginia by the door. “Do you want to get some air?” he asks. She shakes her head, picking at her lower lip. Everything has been cleaned, their skin scrubbed, their clothing parsed and freshly printed, but there’s still that smell. Virginia knows she’s being irrational, but she can’t escape the feeling it’ll only be worse outside.
“Let’s sit down,” she says quietly, skirting the edge of the empty room to another door. It opens onto one of the lab closets, a large storage room where the experimental equipment is kept. She waves inattentively and two stools slide through the maze to them. They sit down as the stools move into place, Griffin slowly and Virginia heavily.
The silence stretches on to what Virginia assumes is an uncomfortable extent, but she is beyond discomfort at this point. “They must’ve been screaming,” she says, staring at the floor.
“They were trying,” says Griffin, “but they couldn’t breathe.”
Virginia shakes her head. “No, I mean the others. They must’ve been screaming, but no one could hear.”
“We had no way to know,” says Griffin. His comforting words border on condescending, but Virginia knows they are as much for him as for her. They are the senior experts on Ghosts, more experienced in dealing with them than just about anyone else, but neither of them saw what was happening.
“Virginia,” begins Sophia, but Virginia waves to silence the voice in her head. She is tired of listening to the Cloud. It never lies, of course, but there is little truth left in it.
“I should have gotten out when I could,” says Virginia. “I’m just a digger. I wasn’t made for this.”
Griffin leans forward and takes her hand in his. They aren’t as rough as her father’s. “You did everything you could. You worked tremendously to help the Ghosts.” He glances away, shrugging unsurely, “But now…”
“Now your services are no longer required.” Virginia turns. She didn’t hear the door open, but there stands Jeremy Amorth, casting about the storage room with a look of revulsion. Virginia pops up from the stool and waves an open hand past her ear, bringing back up her chatter.
The melodramatic idiot! He took a worm to the other side of town and got off here at the last minute, so now everyone is watching, wondering why he is here. Virginia has to wonder as well; he should be at home. “Jeremy,” she says pleadingly, reaching a hand toward him, “you don’t need to be here.”
He looks at her quizzically for a long moment, then bemused realization appears as a sarcastic grin. “You think I’m here looking for…what, resolution?” He barks a hostile laugh that stiffens Virginia’s back. There is an edge to his manner that wasn’t there before, something dangerous. He shakes his head at her, challenging her to speak, but she doesn’t. “At first, that’s what I thought I needed. A conclusion, an end, but then I realized, I am that end.”
Virginia looks him over more thoroughly. He is tense, jittery, his clothing misaligned from too many sharp movements. It’s not resolution he’s here for, but revenge.
“Jeremy,” says Virginia, intentionally drawing herself up to keep from looking vulnerable, “Lindi wouldn’t want you to be here.”
Jeremy’s eyes burn at her and his words come in a low growl, “Don’t mention her name.”
Griffin steps forward, getting his hands calmly between them. “Jeremy,” he says, also keeping half an eye on Virginia, “this is not the –”
“No!” shouts Jeremy, swatting away Griffin’s hand to move closer to Virginia. She stands her ground, meeting his stare. Never turn your back on a wild animal. “It’s your fault!” he says accusingly. “It’s your fault Lindi was…” He trails off, but the word on his lips echoes through the Cloud. Each repetition is more furious than the last.
“Please calm down,” says Virginia, to Jeremy, to the world, to herself. “Milada, Bethany and Lindi are still in shock. We don’t really know what happened.”
“What happened?” asks Jeremy, face suddenly slack with genuine surprise. Griffin seems about to step between them, but he remains still. “What happened! They were raped, that’s what happened!” His hand twitches, wanting to call up a view to support his statement, but there is none. All that can be rendered are six once happy people, then nothingness, silence, and then they reappeared in the Cloud, dead or broken. Nick, Vlad and Centi are now being prepared for burial in their respective beliefs, their bodies repaired where possible. Milada lies silent in her apartment, Otis never leaving her side. Leslie cradles a stuttering Bethany, refusing all further inquiries. Lindi sleeps, medicated but still thrashing, a scream forever etched on her lips. Accounts of what happened in that quarter hour of darkness were carefully coaxed from the three women; all told the same story.