Jeremy’s feet begin to twitch. He must want to pace, to move, to flee, but he doesn’t budge. He keeps his eyes on Virginia. “The Ghosts hate the Cloud so much that they ripped three women out of it so they could rape them without anyone knowing. They pumped them full of nanites until they vanished too, like Ghosts, unable to call for help, invisible to us even as we were dealing with the Halders. Then when they were done with that violation, they vanished three men and butchered them as the women watched!”
“We need time,” insists Virginia. “Time to figure out who the Ghosts were, why they –”
“It was an attack!” snaps Jeremy. Agreement rings through the Cloud. “The Halders might have been revenge, but this is terrorism. This was a targeted attack, aimed at Otis, Leslie and me. I think the message is clear. We were all trying to change where the Ghosts stand. Otis helped build Oyuki Okyo’s proxy. Leslie designed the marker rings. And I,” he looks around, takes a deep breath, “I warned of this from the beginning.” Now his eyes come back to Virginia. They are cold but more piercing than ever. She is used to the Cloud seeing every part of her, but unlike the Cloud, Jeremy sincerely hates what he sees. “And you,” he says softly.
“And me what?” demands Virginia. She steps forward, getting almost under his nose. She is tired of Amorth’s isolationist crap. That’s not the vision of the Cloud she was raised to believe in. “You came down here for what? If you have an accusation to make, then do it!”
“No,” says Jeremy, his breath thick on her face, “I don’t think you were involved.”
“Then what the hell do you want from me?”
“From you?” asks Jeremy. “Virginia, who ever said I was here for you?” Spinning sharply, Jeremy draws a sonic hammer out of his overcoat. Before Virginia can react, he bears it down on a shelf of components and fires. The hammer whines and the carbon and glass parts dissolve into dust. The shelf stands unharmed but all the experiments that were there are obliterated.
“What the fuck!” shouts Virginia, ducking and stumbling away from Jeremy. Griffin stumbles back as well, the floor now littered with residue. Without responding, Jeremy turns the hammer to another shelf. “Get away from there!” screams Virginia. She bolts forward and grabs his arm, wrenching it back until he shouts and turns toward her. She holds his arm twisted to one side, but he doesn’t drop the hammer or resist her.
“This is how the story ends, Virginia.”
“No!” she says, almost spitting. She shoves his arm away from her and retreats a step. “Violence is not the answer. My work isn’t done yet.”
“Your work? Your work caused this!” His words echo through the Cloud, are echoed, resonating through Virginia’s skull like jeering cheers from the enemy. “The Ghosts don’t want verification. They want to stay as they are, that is clear now.”
“But there must be a peaceful solu –”
“There can be no peace!” shouts Jeremy, waving the hammer broadly. “Our only option now is victory!”
“So it’s war?” demands Virginia, jabbing a finger against his chest. He stares back defiantly, but both their eyes are distant for a long moment. The Cloud is frothing. Support is being called out to Jeremy, demands of action made. Close the firewalls! Tear down the hostels! Purge the Ghosts!
This is madness! Staring into Jeremy’s eyes, Virginia sees humanity’s mood reflected: fearful, confused, restless. They have reached the knife edge.
“This is what you wanted?” asks Virginia. “To drive out the Ghosts?”
“Drive or be driven,” replies Jeremy, his attitude emboldened by the growing public support. Virginia can’t believe his hate-mongering is actually working, but people are scared. Users have been killed. Users have been blinked out of the Cloud. They don’t know what to think, how to react. Two weeks ago, this was all impossible.
Taking a slow breath, Virginia steps back and finally breaks eye contact with Jeremy. He is only one, she can’t let him distract her. “Is this how we’ll be remembered?” she says into the Cloud. “As terrified children hiding from the unknown? Two weeks ago, I was working on Project Certainty, trying to teach apps to predict everything. When an unexpected variable came up, we didn’t hide from it. We faced it!”
“You beast!” declares Jeremy, circling to force his eyes on her. “How dare you compare a simple experiment to what the Ghosts have done! They have declared war on us!”
Looking past him, Virginia continues to speak to the world. They’re all listening. This is her last chance. “The Ghosts have already fled the hostels,” she says. “Before the Halders were even attacked, they were leaving.”
“It’s easy to run from a storm of your own making,” interjects Jeremy, but Virginia ignores him, hopes the rest of the world does as well.
“If we do this, if we renounce our attempts to bring them into the Cloud, there will be no turning back.”
“We are already beyond that point,” says Jeremy, moving close to her again. She tries to turn away, but he puts a hand on her shoulder, the other still gripping his hammer. “The Ghosts were given a chance to coexist with us, but they threw that offer in our face, drenched in the blood of our friends, our family. From the start, they have disrespected us, ignored the firewall, scorned the hostels we built for them. They don’t want our help!”