"We can make it happen."
Listening to the audio feed from the meeting of anarchists, agent Janet Runciter tensed. This was it, the evidence she'd been waiting for that these people were a serious threat, much more dangerous than the right wing militias or even the Islamists. She knew there were no "terrorists" -- that's just a marketing term to motivate the public. There are only different political factions, with the common goal of ruling the world, using whatever tools and tactics are available. When people said the Islamic fundamentalists threatened civilization, she got angry, because they were more civilized than we were all the way up to the Enlightenment. In 50 years, after America falls, they'll probably occupy our cities, and drop bombs on our people, and we'll blow up their people with suitcase bombs -- the game goes on. And in the broad background, we have technology and cities and culture.
But here are the anarchists, some of them, actually standing up and saying, "We want to bring down civilization." And they're not taken seriously. But now they will be. If this guy says yes, I'll sound an alarm that will have half the agents in the city on the case by morning. They'll watch the suspects and wait until they have the virus in their possession, to be sure of getting a conviction, although if it were up to me, I'd arrest them immediately and not take any chance of more people getting infected.
Her hand poised over the phone, she waited for his answer.
Jake Bagley had been working deep cover with the Seattle anarchists for more than two years. His mission, known only to the regional director and his shadowy superiors, was to incite them into doing something really shocking, something of the magnitude of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. Setting fire to SUV's was not going to cut it -- that turned almost as many people for them as against them. Hundreds, or ideally thousands of people had to die, to earn public consent to put the whole movement in prison.
The problem was, they were wimps. There wasn't a real leader among them, not counting himself. They talked about theory and culture, and dug stuff out of the trash like rats, when they had the brains to blow up buildings and poison reservoirs. It was frustrating!
He had made his persona tough but sober and patient. If you're always trying to incite them to violence, half of them will think you're a cop, plus they'll start to take your position for granted. He was waiting for the one big score, where he would say, let's do it, and they would think, wow, if even Jake wants to do it, maybe we should. And here it was, dropped in his lap. If he could get Pierce to take the plague over the mountains, to... He thought fast: Wenatchee, the northernmost city on the east edge of the Cascades. It would be easy to contain, but a big enough town to get a good death toll. It didn't matter if Pierce actually did it -- the important thing was to get him to Wenatchee, keep him from leaving, and make sure a lot of people got infected. So he made up the bit about the road and the hike -- that could be worked out later. And now...
"No, I won't do it."
Jake swallowed his anger. He was really thinking about it! Why did he say no? Maybe he still wants to, but he didn't want to say it in front of this crowd. I need to get him alone.
Outside the house, a few minutes later, Jake fumbled with the lock on his bike and watched Sirach's red flashing taillight vanish around a corner. He sped after it, around the corner, up to the next corner, just in time to spot the light again, but diffuse, as if it was coming through fog. When he got to where he had seen it, there was no fog, but again, the foggy red light, up at another corner, closer now but somehow dimmer. I'll catch him this time, he thought, and rode fast up to the corner, around... Ahead of him a streetlight blinked out. Underneath it was a patch of mist, which, as Jake reached it, dissipated into a cluster of tiny vaprous whirlwinds, and was gone. The light came back on. The street was empty.
"Who authorized the bug?" the regional director demanded.
"My immediate superior," Janet said. "But I take responsibility. He didn't know..."
"That it was your little obsession."
He sighed. "You've been clearly told to lay off the anarchists. They're nothing."
"But they're not! That's just what I'm saying -- they were this close to intentionally spreading the plague out of quarantine. They might still do it. All I'm asking is to use agency resources to look into this Jake, find out who he--"
"Did you bring the file?"
"And the tape?"
"Yes, and my report." She handed them across the desk.
"Janet, your job is not to investigate terrorists. My job is to protect national security, and your job is to do what I say. Do you understand?"
"Yes." She lowered her head.
After she was gone, he put the tape in the demagnetizer and ran all the pages through the shredder.
By the time Sirach got into Las Vegas, bought some fresh food, and found a modest little hotel, it was morning. He registered under a false name and when the clerk asked for picture ID, he said, "Will this picture work?" and slid across a hundred dollar bill.
"If that's all you've got, I'll need another picture."
Sirach gave him another hundred. "Can't be too safe."
The money already made him feel different. He got in the room and took a hot bath and thought about how he was going to spread the plague. Now, instead of skulking around and touching things with infected gloves, he could get a nice suit and go right into the casinos, with the high rollers, the richest people from all over the country. He'd shake their hands with his slightly dampened gloves, touch the chips, the money --
He sprang out of the tub and waited impatiently for the dirty brown water to drain. Then he partly filled it again and dumped the money in. He pulled out a stack of twenties and a stack of fives for personal use, and when he thought about it, a stack of hundreds. OK, and a stack of fifties and one more of twenties. Damn, I could buy land with this. How much is there anyway?
He took a rough count -- one or two hundred thousand. He held back around twenty thousand for himself, and left the rest in the tub. He mixed it around, drained it, refilled it shallowly, at just below body temperature, and then put in, slowly, even ritualistically, the infected rags.
He wrung them out, mixed the water, then wrung and mixed again. Then he let it steep and took a long nap. In the afternoon he pulled the bills out by the handful and plastered them to the walls of both rooms, almost every inch, to let them dry.
It occurred to him that he still didn't know what day it was, how long he had been in the desert. He checked the clock radio but it was obviously wrong, so he called the front desk, but the guy there told him the same absurd date. I've picked a hotel run by crazy people. He turned on the TV, and there, on a broadcast channel, was the same date. Was this some elaborate joke?
He dressed and went outside, up the street. He asked two, three, five people. They all said the same thing, and he walked, bewildered, back to his hotel room.
It was August 4th, the day before he left Seattle.
I'm in Seattle right now, he thought. I could call myself! Hey...
Now he understood what had happened at the supermarket this morning, when he opened his wallet and the $200 he had brought was missing. With $200,000 in his bag, he had let it go, but it was important. He had to make a phone call.
He picked up the room phone and then put it down -- he didn't want to be traced here, at least not exactly here, or to have it traced back to them, if something were to go wrong. So he got on his bike, carrying also the clean $20,000, and rode several miles toward the edge of the city.
He picked up some ziplock bags, a calling card, and a hand shovel. Then, in a waste area beside a highway, a little after dark, he buried the money, and on a hunch, his wallet. With the infected money he could easily buy some quality fake ID's. At last, he rode to a pay phone and punched in Mariana's number.
As he remembered, Jenkins answered. "Jenkins," he said, "It's Si."
"That's impossible. He's--"
"Don't say it! Listen, do you know the quantum physics theory of multiple universes, and how they can sometimes interact? I'm sure you know more about it than I do."
"What's this about?"
"I know Si is there in the room with you. In a moment he's going to ask you who it is, and you're going to tell him it's Freejohn calling from the library, nothing important. He's going to walk right by you and make one and a half pieces of toast with honey, from the round brown loaf in the freezer."
"Who is it?" Sirach heard himself say in the background, and Jenkins said, "Freejohn at the library, nothing important."
"Watch," Sirach said, "and see if I'm right. He's going to look at the second piece of bread and tear it in two. Then when it's in the toaster he's going to go to the bathroom."
"That's Si and this is also Si. I can't explain it more than that. But I need you to do me a favor. Go to--" and he told him where to go, and what to get. "You're going to leave in about five minutes. Don't say anything to me. And tonight, after I go to sleep, take all $200 out of my wallet, and keep it." Then he told him what to do with the rain pants, to cut the leg off and put the stuff inside and replace it in the bike bag. "Will you do it?"
"You've got to give me more."
"More information. This is fascinating."
"You wouldn't believe me."
"Try me," and when Sirach hesitated: "Just say it."
Sirach took a breath. "On my bike trip tomorrow, I'm going to go through some kind of time corridor. Way in the future, where I'll trade the stuff you're about to get, then a little bit into the past, so I can be here to call you."
"Do you know how you did it?"
"You believe me?"
"I'm a scientist. I accept whatever's most interesting until it is absolutely disproven."
"I don't know how I did it. I have no idea."
"The Russians are experimenting with advanced quantum weapons. They're years ahead of everyone else. I think this might be an effect of something they did. It might be happening more and more from now on."
Sirach felt his face break into a smile. "That is so cool!"
"I thought you'd think so. Good luck."
Riding back to the hotel, Sirach thought about how he would distribute the money. He would get his beard growth cut into a little goatee, like the devil, and buy a red and black silk suit. Then he would spend three or four days going all around the city dropping money everywhere, sometimes literally dropping it, or handing it out on the street, and of course gambling with it in the casinos. He would figure a way to get the chips infected too. Then he would just vanish, get the fake ID, buy new clothes, throw everything away, and take the bus to... where? Maybe New York City, where if he had some of the infected money left... Yes, better save some.
When he opened the door of his room, there was a man inside. The man showed him a badge, and then there were more men, in front of him, behind him. "You're under arrest."
It took Janet Runciter the whole day, in between her other work, to find out who Jake Bagley was. First she hit a dead end, which was suspicious enough, and then she determined that his whole identity was artificial. So he was an agent, but for who? At last, by running an age-regression of his photo, she found corporal Jack Bradley, pulled out of the army at age 20 and sent to one of the black ops schools, never heard from again.
Is it possible, she thought, that he's one of ours? That would explain why the director warned me off the case. They already have an operation at a higher level, and Jake was setting up a sting, and I blundered into it. They do care about the anarchists! I should have trusted them. Now I just hope they haven't been monitoring my keystrokes, and I don't get in more trouble.
It was evening, and she sat in her little office in the quiet building looking at a photo of Jake at some kind of protest or rally. Then her eyes were drawn to the guy standing behind him, another one of the anarchists. He looked familiar. Where have I seen him? It was in some other context, just in the last few--
She gasped and went to the computer and pulled up the photo. Yes, it was him: the guy they arrested two nights ago in Las Vegas. Her intuition told her that this was Si, the one Jake incited to carry the plague, but that was impossible -- at the time of the meeting he was already in custody. But...
She looked closely at the mug shot. The Nevada agents hadn't been to the west coast, hadn't seen it up close, didn't know what they were looking at. They had looked right over it. His face had the pock marks. He had survived the plague. He was a Seattle anarchist who had broken quarantine.
She grabbed the phone and hit the number for... the phone was dead. Why would...
Her computer died, and a moment later the lights went off and the windowless room was completely dark. She reached in her pocket for a tiny flashlight and went to the door, but the door was already opening. Who...
She felt the first bullet hit her temple, and did not feel the second.
"You better come look at this."
"You know the guy we picked up with the cash?"
"In the motel room, all the bills stuck to the walls."
"Oh yeah, him. You ID him yet?"
The two men walked down a hallway, into an elevator. "No. This is something else."
"You haven't ID'd him. No match on fingerprints."
"Not in the databases we’ve checked. He might not even be American. Hasn't said a word."
"Anyway, you gotta figure he’s nobody important."
"That's what we thought too. Hold on."
They were in the laboratory now. "This is one of the bills from his room. We ran through a bunch of the serial numbers, a routine check for counterfeits, which you'd never expect with worn-out bills of mixed denominations."
"But they are, a lot of them, maybe all the bills in that room. A lot of the serial numbers match bills in storage elsewhere."
"How about destroyed bills?"
"Strangely, no, not one. Every bill in there, we surmise, on the basis of the percentage that match, every bill is a copy of a bill still in existence somewhere."
"You mean a copy of the serial number."
"That's what I brought you here to look at. We were able to get one of the actual matching bills. Here they are."
"Look close." He handed him a magnifying glass.
"I thought you'd want to see it."
"Even the little red and blue threads!"
"We looked under a microscope. Even the microscopic threads are a match."
"Yet here it is."
"Call everyone. Tell them what you told me. Call the whole alphabet, Treasury, Homeland Security, military. Call the Department of Agriculture if you know what I mean. Everyone. They're all going to want to look at this money."