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poured blindingly through the south-facing window wall. There were
neither shades nor blinds to be closed.
Their orders finally taken and filled, he and Megan carried their
trays to an open table. They hung their coats over the backs of chairs,
Brent taking the seat that faced the wall of glass. Skirt and sweater was
a whole different look for her from short shorts and T-shirt.
He said,  So, here we are.
 Here we are, Megan agreed. There was a trace of a question mark
at the end.
 You re wondering why I called.
 After seven months? Megan picked up her fork.  I thought we hit
it off, but when you didn t call I decided it was just me. Look, Kim
threw us together that day. You didn t owe me a call then, and you
don t owe me an explanation now. But sure, I m curious.
If only this were about his libido reawakening, or even about dis-
cussing da Bulls and da Bears with another Chicago ex-pat. Brent s
need was far more elemental to restore some normalcy to his life.
His qualms loomed as large. He had invited Megan to lunch because
lunch wouldn t take interminably long if things went badly.
He said,  Kim merely thinks she knows everything I do. Soon after
you and I met, a relationship I thought was something else flared up.
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That was even truth of a sort, but a truth Megan could not possibly
understand. Without a second consciousness in their head, who could?
 Makes sense. Megan smiled.  I m glad you called.
 Then I ll assume the fork you re holding won t be coming at me.
Go ahead and eat. Brent started on his own food.
She told funny stories about library-impaired Hamilton College stu-
dents. He mentioned an offbeat band whose music he had discovered.
(Kim had discovered it, and passed it along. Brent/One did not waste
time on such frivolous searches.) They talked about last summer s big
movies, only one of which he had seen.
After a while, Brent put on his VR specs.  The glare is brutal.
That was another partial truth. The mirrored specs did double duty
as sunglasses, but being offline so long had left him jumpy. Putting
them on was soothing.
Why kid himself ? A ready-made excuse for wearing the specs that
was why he had opted for lunch and this particular deli. He had planned
for failure.
Getting to know Megan. Crippling the homeless men. Hospitaliz-
ing and discarding Ethan. Brent struggled to feel anything about any
of them. All were but fading shadows of a world lost to him.
But what of the new world?
With a flick/blink, Brent confirmed that Morgan and Brittany were
online in VirtuaLife, orienting the latest recruits. Progress? Brent IMed.
Quick studies, Morgan answered. The attached file, blinked open, re-
vealed a long list of training results.
Brent tried to imagine how it would have been to transform over a
couple weeks, not many months. With hypnotic suggestions to ease
his concerns and guide him along the path. To know that he was evolv-
ing, not crazy. To be planned and guided, not just . . . happen.
Flick/blink: another virtual window opened. Through Schultz s eyes,
Brent peeked in on Charles on his virtual beach. Charles was Brent s
personal pupil and the most advanced of all; Two had fully emerged
more than a week earlier. Charles remained on his Caribbean retreat
even as three weeks stretched past four, baffling the island doctors (and
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stymieing Dan Garner, increasingly impatient) with nonspecific, non-
diagnosable symptoms.
Crystal Nordling was a brilliant thinker just how capable, Brent
was only very recently able to perceive. As an experimentalist, she left
much to be desired. As a delegator, she was hopeless. It had been expe-
dient to let her create chaos within the Biology Department. Later, it
would take that much longer for anyone to understand what had been
removed. As for later . . .
Flick/blink: he added Alan, stuck in the Garner Nanotech main
lobby, checking IDs. The mundane task did not keep Alan/Three from
annotating the imagery Three had stored from his/their latest patrol
through the factory.
The moment would come soon for the Emergents to act. Alan/
Three s assignment was to create an optimal sequence for selectively
looting the plant and its inventory. Despite corridors stacked with
equipment being staged into the factory, despite ongoing maintenance
and upgrades and repositioning of the production lines, despite over-
flowing storerooms repeatedly unloaded and repacked to get at parts
and materials, despite the daily bounty of crates and pallets and chem-
ical vats that came across the loading docks . . .
It was a factory-sized 3-D jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces kept
moving about, and not even the set of pieces remained constant. Cap-
tain America could never have conceptualized the problem, let alone
worked it. Alan/Three was someone quite different.
2 hours, Brent reminded Alan. When the day came, that was the
longest they dared risk taking.
More text and imagery flickered in a corner of Brent s online vision.
That was One, communing with its cohorts at a rate to which Brent
could still only aspire. A rate that no old-style human could imagine.
Almost as an afterthought, Brent directed Charles to return. For as
long as Dan Garner remained overseas, safe from transformation, the
boss s impatience mattered. At work tomorrow.
 . . . Game this Saturday afternoon, Megan was saying.  Hardly of
Blackhawks caliber, but I enjoy watching them. Are you interested?
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Huh? Brent accessed One s digital memory to replay the last few
seconds. Megan was talking about the college hockey team. While his
attention had been elsewhere, One had had him nodding at appropri-
ate moments.
The faster Brent/One s mind sped, the harder the niceties of basic
social interaction became. He dredged up enough humanity to feel
lousy about calling Megan.  Saturday? I ll have to get back to you on
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