Back in the forward bay I had to let my eyes adjust for a few minutes before I could see the tiny engraved shapes on the handle again. They weren’t the indecipherable scribble of “on the wrong track” dream writing; they were the lines and dots of the Mayan numerical system Miranda had taught me at that hotel in DC. The same system that, I was now certain, represented the number six on the tail of the plane.
I could absolutely have punched myself in the face and looked up the system with Andy, but I wanted nothing more than to do this on my own. After months of people all over the world co-solving sequences, I wanted to be more than the vehicle through which this final sequence was solved; I wanted my name on that goddamn Wikipedia page!
So I sat there and tried my damnedest to remember what Miranda had told me. The dots were ones and the bars were fives. So two bars with one dot was an eleven. I was pretty sure about that. Two dots, that was just two. This was simple—the Mayans knew what was up!
So I had a sequence of numbers: 11, 2, 7, 19, 4, 4, 12. Now, what the hell was I supposed to do with those numbers? Well, to the side of the door were seven dials, each numbered one to nineteen. Good lord, was it that easy?
I set each of the dials to the corresponding number, and actually had to dodge as the hatch fell down into the wheel bay. My foot slipped and I tumbled down out of the open hatch. My head slammed into the landing gear on the way down. I awoke in Andy’s apartment.
“FUCK!” I shouted.
Andy screamed from the other room, “Are you OK?” and then ran into the room.
“Yes! I’m great! I just— FUCK! I got into the plane. Then I solved the next step in the sequence, it was the Mayan numbers Miranda told me about, they were printed on a hatch in the landing gear bay. I was opening the hatch and I fucking fell and hit my head and woke up!”
Andy laughed like a madman.
“It’s pretty funny, April. You bagged your first clue and finished it off by slamming your head into a wall?”
“I slammed my head into a landing gear, thank you very much. I need to go back there! And god only knows I can’t get to sleep now!”
I rolled over and picked up my phone, which, of course, was set to Do Not Disturb. There was a text from Maya: Thank you so much for that video. It was really good.
That was a good feeling. A calming feeling.
“It’s OK, April,” Andy said. “You’re the only one who can access this. There’s no time constraint.”
I sighed. “I know, I just . . . Goddamn it, y’know! I was almost there!”
“Well, you were almost to the next clue. I don’t mean to harsh your buzz, but there’s bound to be more.”
It was a couple of weeks later and I was sitting in the cockpit of the 767 pushing buttons, trying to make the plane do something. Life had slowed down for me. When everyone you know (including the president of the United States) is telling you the same thing, eventually you listen. Also, being almost murdered twice in one day and then spending weeks dealing with constant dull, aching pain does inspire a little bit of self-reflection. Not only did I have to actually think about the danger I had placed myself in, I also found myself thinking for the first time about the fact that I could and also would die someday.
I was trying very hard to settle into my new, more “behind the scenes” life. I was still a household name, but I was mostly staying off-line at the moment. The world knew I was the only one who could work on the key, and that meant I (and the whole team) was super active on the Som, but I wasn’t doing interviews or press events or even making videos. I made Robin take my social media passwords away. If I wanted to tweet something, I had to send it to Robin, who would edit it and make sure it was a good idea before it got tweeted. He would post some relevant stuff on various social media to keep my profiles alive, but I was trying to read books and watch television shows and work slowly and methodically on the 767 Sequence. I had a huge portion of the world helping me, and it was a lot of pressure, so that was a good distraction from my deep, aching desire to leap back into the fray.
I was addicted to the attention and to the outrage and to the rush of being involved in something so huge, but more than any of that I was just addicted. After the attacks, things calmed down. People were, somehow, less freaked-out because we were all more on the same page. People had started to feel comfortable with the Carls, as if they’d just always been there and always would be. Basically, I wasn’t really needed. But addiction isn’t necessarily about the specific thing; it’s about mental reliance, it’s a bug in your brain software, and even with the support of some truly remarkable people working to keep me in line, I never went cold turkey. Even after the apps were off my phone, I would go to twitter.com using its browser.
The 767 Sequence was giving up none of its secrets. Once I got into the avionics bay, getting into the plane wasn’t another sequence; it was just opening a hatch. But the interior of the plane had turned out to be massive and completely normal. Going back and forth between the Dream and the Som had provided a wealth of data on the plane: what year it was made, what model it was (did you know planes had models?), and even a fair guess at which precise plane it was modeled from. I had spent hours on the in-flight entertainment system, become quite familiar with the cockpit using a flight simulator, and interviewed pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants who worked on 767s. All to no avail.
Anyway, that’s what I was doing when Robin shook me awake. This was pretty not-normal for Robin. He seemed visibly flustered in his pressed maroon dress shirt sitting on the edge of my bed in Andy’s spare room. Andy and Miranda were standing behind him. This was pretty dang weird.
“April, I have some important and bad news.”
Gathering my wits, I said, “That sounds bad. And also important.”
His lips made a thin line. That wasn’t good.
“The Defenders have solved the 767 Sequence.”
“That’s not possible,” I said, feeling relieved. “I’m the only one with access to it.”
“Apparently, access isn’t necessary. Miranda?”
Miranda began, “I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the code. It’s complete, it turns out. If you compile it, it’s a complete program. It does, however, ask for a key.”
“Isn’t the whole code just keys?” I asked.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. We could tell that the code was useless until we had it all. So every piece was as important as every other piece. But now it seems like we do have it all, and it’s asking for a password of sorts. We think that password is what you’re working toward in the 767 Sequence.”
“But if that’s true, then how could the Defenders have it?”
Robin took over again. “We don’t know, we just know that they’ve solved the sequence and are taking action based on that information right now. We don’t know what they’re doing, but we know they’re doing it.”
“Did they release a statement? They might just be baiting us into freaking out.” I was pretty much fully out of my sleep haze now, but I still couldn’t really believe the conversation we were having.
“No, I heard it directly from Peter Petrawicki.” He looked almost sick as he said it.
“Why would he tell you that?”
“He didn’t.” Suddenly no one was making eye contact with me. “He told his agent.”
“His agent is at your agency?”
“His agent is Jennifer Putnam.”
A lot of things happened in my mind simultaneously, none of them good. I said, very slowly to Robin, who was doing his best to meet my eyes, “Jennifer Putnam is my agent.”
“She is also Mr. Petrawicki’s agent.”
“Continue,” I said, my voice sounding unfamiliar to my own ears. I didn’t even realize how angry I was until I heard it.
“She took him on shortly after you,” he said. “She was aware of the significance of the Carls before anyone else in the industry and felt that she had an obligation to scoop up related clients. I had a fight with her about it, I told her that his perspective was nasty and dangerous. She told me we weren’t in the business of deciding who was right and wrong and threatened to fire me and legally prevent me from working with you.”
“How long have you known about this?!” I almost shouted.
He could have explained, I could see he wanted to, but I hadn’t asked him to explain, so he just said, “Months.”
“Months,” I repeated. “So the whole time Putnam was trying to get me to do an in-person with Petrawicki . . . those months? An interview that was always going to have a better outcome for a professional debater than a twenty-three-year-old graphic designer? But what does that matter because either way the money was going into Putnam’s pocket?”
I was silent for long enough that Robin’s mouth opened to speak, but I cut him off, quietly now. “The months during which Mr. Petrawicki was dog-whistling his support of extremists who would go on to murder hundreds of people and try to murder me? But hey, gotta look out for the agency, so let’s just keep our heads down and serve our clients? Those months?”