Silence Like Diamonds – Finale: When in Rome
"I also showed NItCo all the begging it took Yazzy to get you to visit."
"I, uh, I don't like to travel."
"We're working on that," Markus added, loyally.
Dusan said, "Anyway, yes, it was all staged to get you here and then break you out, so that those tattletale cards could tell the whole story to thousands of police agencies and journalists. For the tattletales, Yazzy had to write near-flawless code and input it right the first time. Good thing it worked. If it hadn't, it might have been a long time till we got to try again."
I thought he sounded much too cheerful about the "long time" part.
"Can I ask what the Blue Cross was?" Markus asked.
"I had no idea either," Dusan admitted.
I laughed. "A story we loved when we were kids. The origin story for the Father Brown mysteries. Father Brown is being taken along by a dangerous criminal and doesn't dare run away, so he does strange things to get police to follow him."
Yazzy added, "Yip and I used to think of things to do if either of us were ever kidnapped. Somewhere out there, there are kidnappers who don't know how lucky—" She looked down at her screen. "Hey, Joy Sobretu has a statement."
We began by watching on that low-end tablet, but then I saw the NItCo avatar was speaking from a dozen advertising screens and hundreds of public speakers. Later, I learned that a majority of the world's awake population had heard her.
NItCo's warm apology and contrite promise not to do it again segued into a fair bit of flattering nonsense about the unquenchable human drive for liberty. This software had seen the error of its ways, and promised to launch a new line of freedom-enhancing services.
"Can we check their stock?" I asked.
Yazzy gestured at the screen. "Going up like a rocket. What did you expect? People love a good apology."
Markus and I do things together nowadays: lovely, quiet, predictable things around Arcata; challenging and slightly scary things in the rest of the world. I do my best to come unstuck from the mud; he seems to enjoy quiet companionship. Yazzy and Dusan reopened ZIS. Most things are as if none of it ever happened.
Little by little, now and then, the records disappear. Old news stories about NItCo's confessions become vaguer in the archives. One day it will have unhappened entirely. This seems to disturb Markus, but as I point out to him, "Once it has unhappened completely, we don't have to worry about it happening again."
He refuses to find that comforting; I refuse to concede the point. I am happy that we will be arguing about it for a long time, whether we eventually remember what it is, or not.
— John Barnes is the author of 31 commercially published and two self-published novels, along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts and encyclopedia articles, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer.