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We were in a celebratory mood; this marked the completion of our part in the vox-cutter project. From then on its success was up to strangers. We wolfed down a breakfast of cakes, eggs, and sausages. We proposed toasts with orange juice and coffee. G toasted to Operation Ragweed for Ragheads. B toasted to M and her kid, wherever they were and whoever they had become.

When the waitress came over with more coffee, she said, “I know it’s petty of me and wrong, but I resent happy people like you.” She spoke calmly, refilled our cups, and went away.

We gaped at each other. I stood up to peer over the booth partitions and saw patrons crying into their phones. We left immediately. The woman at the register told us how sometimes she pilfered from the tip jar. Her eyes and nose were not inflamed, so whatever vector was involved in dispersing the TC, it wasn’t our pollen. On the sidewalk outside, a guy on a mountain bike and a woman with a shopping cart were trying to unburden themselves to each other. So it probably wasn’t the coffee or restaurant food either. In fact, all up and down the street we saw penitents fessing up to one another.

G craned his neck and peered into the sky. ­”Aerial spraying?” he said. “An area-wide dragnet?” We wondered if we were the target. But we didn’t stick around to find out.

A woman was slumped against the bumper of our car. She looked at us and said, “Is this all I get?” I helped her to her feet. “I mean, I know I’m ugly. I’ve known that since I was a child, but does it mean my life has to be so small and empty and meaningless?”

I turned her toward the intersection and told her to find a taxi and go home. And if she had a phone, to use it.

We jumped into the car, G behind the wheel. “Where to?” he yelled, pulling into traffic.

I told him to drive back to the warehouse. No matter how the TC was being dispersed, our hazmat gear there had protected us. My plan was for us to suit up before evacuating the area. Then my phone rang, a call from C. I asked him where he was.

He said, “I feel like telling you that 10 years ago I acquired a complete microfiche set of engineering plans for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.”

“I don’t care about that. Where are you?”

“At the warehouse. Listen, I sold the plans for a shitload of money. You want to know who to?”

I ordered him to destroy his phone and stay put till someone came for him. Then I hung up and told G to forget the warehouse and head for the bridge instead. He made a sharp U-turn and nearly hit an SUV. He had to brake so hard he stalled the engine. But instead of restarting it, he just sat there staring out the windshield. In the back seat, B said, “They showed us color photos of aborted fetuses. They said a baby as old as mine already had perfect little fingernails.”

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Credit: Istvan Banyai

Tagged: Communications

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