I’m beginning to get a picture of things, but I’m not sure how much of it I’m making up. Filling in the spaces, I ask, “Janis,have you ever killed anyone before today?”
Her cortex fans are whirring more now. “In simulations. I have been training for three years now.”
I cover my forehead with my hand. “Janis, you’ve been playing video games. Real life is different. Ending someone’s life is not anywhere near the same as making some mass of pixels go away. That’s what your brain is telling you. What happened to your father and you, when you saw him lose you, and then when your mother visited you and you saw her realize that you will never be who you were again, that’s what those FBI agent’s families are going through right now. Maybe one of them is at this moment in coma just like you were. Or maybe all them are dead and their loved ones don’t even have a body to cry over.”
“If they were agents, then she did the right thing. They would imprison Eklund and without him, many would die and quality of life would diminish worldwide. They wanted your information to get more control over people. That would diminish freedom. The negative of their death is less severe than the negative of letting them have what they want.”
I shake my head, “Jazz, it doesn’t matter whether what she did was right or not. They were people. Whenever people die, it’s sad. That’s just the way it is.”
“Would you like me to believe this?” Jazz asks.
“Believe whatever you like!”
“I only believe what I am told to believe. I am a Pisces.”
I’m about to argue the point when Janis grabs my free hand. “Thank you, Ethan. I think I understand now.” She releases my hand suddenly and stares at it for a little while. Then, slowly, she wraps her fingers around my hand again. “It is not only me. I see myself in other people. I…feel a little of what they feel because I can imagine myself in their position.”
Janis’s hand is so warm against mine. She looks so beautiful. I close my eyes and swallow. I can’t be thinking about things like that!
“You do not have to be…afraid, Ethan.” I open my eyes and there is Janis looking up at me. “I will not hurt you.”
“Unless she is ordered to,” Jazz adds, his cortex whirring, “Have you made your decision yet?”
Oddly, when I look at the fans on Janis’s prosthetic cortex, they don’t seem to be spinning much at all.
“I’ll go see Eklund,” I say, almost without realizing it.
Jazz nods and takes an exit onto a highway.
After the highway, we travel through several back roads until Jazz pulls over at a fairly nondescript area where the road widens a little for cars that need to turn around. The road here cuts into the hill so I can see the sedimentary layers underneath the soil. There’s a sign that says to watch out for falling rocks.
Jazz puts the car in park and gets out.
I look at Janis, but she’s just sitting, rubbing her wrists, looking distant.
Through the side window, I can see Jazz touch an area of the shorn off hill with his large hand. The surface moves inward and up, revealing a rectangular space not unlike a garage.
Jazz walks back and folds his large body back behind the steering wheel.
As he drives us inside, I feel like I should say something but I have no idea what would be appropriate. Wow? Cool? Nice place you’ve got here? That last might be good, but the moment’s gone by now and I don’t think either Jazz or Janis are in a position to appreciate sarcasm. It bothers me that I’ve driven by so many areas just like this one and never really noticed them. Somehow I’ve always had the feeling that if I drove past a secret hideout I would know it if I saw it.
After we’re inside, Jazz turns off the engine and the door —rock face? Portcullis?— falls back into place with a reverberating thud. There’s an uncomfortable time when nothing seems to be happening, but just as I’m about to mention this, there’s the sound of hydraulics and we’re being lowered down below the floor.
Once again I get to see the sedimentary layers of the rocks through the car window, but now they’re lit by sparse, artificial light and covered over with algae blooms where the light is brightest. We keep going lower and lower, down past older and older sedimentary layers. I’m just beginning to worry irrationally about possibly going through the crust into the mantle of the Earth… when we stop.
Jazz and Janis get out of the car immediately. I take a moment to think about how I got to be where I am and whether I really want to be here. I wonder if perhaps I might be safer staying in the car. But then I realize that I’d be staying in a car several stories beneath the surface of the Earth on a hydraulic elevator operated by someone I can only assume is some kind of mad scientist.
Might as well see if I can figure out where the controls are.
When I get out, the scenery reminds me a little of those caves they have at tourist traps. Stalactites and stalagmites dramatically lit by strategically placed lights. Dominating the scene is a man wearing a linen suit that was probably white at one time. He has a white fedora on and glasses with flashlights embedded in the rims so that looking at his head is like seeing a car coming at you in the night. Because of this, I can’t make out his face too well, but judging by the martini and olive he’s holding jauntily in his left hand, I don’t get the impression that the conversation I’m about to have with him is going to be dull.
“I’m glad you could make it, Ethan,” the man says, “I’m Baxter. Let me show you around.”