Spinning round, Virginia sweeps her hand. A large shelf slides aside, exposing a blank wall. Spreading her fingers, she glides them down through the air and the wall follows, disappearing into the floor. Light rushes in as Virginia steps out.
With the Ghosts gone, the quarantine firewall around the lab has been lowered and it is now surrounded by a dense crowd spreading out in all directions, people lined up out of sight around every neighboring building. Once, no Users would’ve come. Once, they would’ve just watched in the Cloud. Back then, they didn’t need to think of themselves as ‘Users’.
“There is no going back,” says Virginia, voice raised for the benefit of the physically present. “We cannot cast out the Ghosts and pretend to live as if they weren’t there. Ghosts are a fact.”
The reaction from the crowd and in the Cloud is mixed. Virginia knows what she says makes sense, but everyone is so scared. The Cloud had known everything, but now it feels like it knows nothing.
Jeremy is there now. Having circled around through the main door of the lab, he works his way through the crowd to get in front of Virginia. He has regained his composure and he seems more comfortable in the midst of so many Users. Behind Virginia, Griffin looks out silently on the scene, his part played. Jeremy allows the crowd to calm to near-silence before speaking. “No one here is trying to deny that Ghosts exist, but they are dangerous!”
“Ghosts are not the danger!” insists Virginia. “Fear is the danger. Ghosts have hurt Users, yes, but Users have hurt Ghosts. Ignorance and fear have put us at each other’s throats, made us afraid to welcome Ghosts into the Cloud and the Ghosts afraid to take any invitation.”
“They can’t be trusted!” declares Jeremy. “All your attempts at verification have failed. They will never live by our rules, so we will never be able to live with them.”
“We did.” The words play in Virginia’s skull, not through her ears, and it takes her a moment to find the silent speaking hands in the crowd. Oyuki’s parents slipped into the front of the mob without Virginia noticing, but now she watches them, eyes following their hands as apps speak for them. “We lived with a Ghost for twelve years. We raised her, we cared for her. She was our daughter and we knew exactly what she was. We knew there were Ghosts, but we weren’t afraid.”
Virginia wants to go to them, to hold them since no one else will, but she keeps her place, keeps her focus. “Ghosts are our kin,” she says. “For almost every Ghost, there are two Users who gave birth to them. They come from the same place as us all. The Cloud does not define our humanity, but our actions do. More will continue to be born and they deserve the same treatment as any User.”
The weight of opinion is shifting. Following the example of the Okyos, many other Ghost parents speak out. From all over the world, they share words of love for their children, despite how different they were. After the initial rush of interest in the origin of Ghosts two weeks ago, many of these fathers and mothers had retreated from the world, but now they stand forward. “We knew,” they say, “but we were not afraid.”
“You speak of children!” shouts Jeremy, as much to the parents as to Virginia. “We have interviewed all of these people already. Their testimonies are in the Cloud, unlike their beloved children. We know what they have to say, but we also know that almost no Ghost stays with his parents past adolescence. Once they mature, realize what they are, they take to the streets, living off our hard work, exploiting our innocence. The parents of these creatures may be secure with their memories of what their children were, but the rest of us have only now come to know the danger they present as adults. None of us can sleep soundly knowing Ghosts are lurking!”
“I did,” says Leslie Taggart, stepping forward from the middle of the crowd. She is solemn, tight faced, but she isn’t alone. Leaning on her is a pale fleshed, distant eyed Bethany, barely able to stand. “I knew about the Ghosts,” says Leslie, “but I slept soundly.”
All eyes are trained on Leslie, but none more than Jeremy’s. His breath went short at seeing her, or more likely at seeing Bethany. His mask softens visibly. “Leslie,” he says, “you don’t need to be here.”
Leslie’s head swivels to glare fury at Jeremy. “Yes I do,” she says, straining to support Bethany. “I need to be here,” she says to everyone, “to say this. I knew about the Ghosts but I didn’t tell.”
“Leslie,” says Jeremy, “we all found out about the Ghosts with the proclamation. There was nothing left to tell.”
“You don’t get it,” says Leslie, shaking her head. Confused questions pour into the Cloud, echoing Jeremy. “Before the attacks, before the proclamation, before all this, I knew there were Ghosts.”