“April, I’m so sorry, once I started not telling you—”
“GET OUT!” I screamed. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t crying. It felt like I should be crying, but there wasn’t anything but anger there.
Robin’s mouth pressed closed and his face contracted. It looked like he might cry, but he just stood up from the bed.
“If you need me—”
I interrupted coldly, “I’m sorry, I’m not being clear, you are fired.”
In the silence that followed, Robin turned and walked out of the room.
I wanted to do nothing more than curl up and go back to the Dream. Back to my dream that Carl had made just for me. But Peter Petrawicki had solved the sequence, and he had done it without the Dream, which meant that I could too.
“That was pretty uncool, April,” Andy said.
“Robin has never done anything except help you. He’s been there all day every day for the last six months and he’s never even asked for a thank-you. And I’m not sure he’s gotten one either.”
“Never done anything except help me? Peter Petrawicki created a movement that tried to kill me. A movement that succeeded in destabilizing the whole PLANET, Andy! God, we don’t have time for this. They’ve solved the sequence, we need to figure this out.”
Andy sighed. Then he turned around and started walking out.
“Where are you going?” I asked, more accusatorial than I intended.
“I don’t know, April.” He turned back to me. “I’m going to leave. I don’t know if I’ll be excited to see you here when I get back.”
“Well, then I won’t be here,” I retorted.
He looked at Miranda and then he looked at me. “Have fun, you two.” The look on his face was something I didn’t think Andy Skampt would be capable of. It was corrosive, disgusted, and also very tired. He walked out the door.
I want to tell you that I understood this then, but I didn’t. I didn’t get it, that we had spent weeks on the road on that book tour, the three of us, and that Andy had suddenly stopped seeming like he was that into me. And that we were all working so much, so maybe I didn’t notice when Andy and Miranda had been spending more and more time together. That he was funny and smart and so was she and that Andy was afraid to make a move, probably because he had spent years perfectly aware that if he had made a move on me our friendship would have been over. And then I got lonely and bored one night and fucked it all up for him. But, no, I had no idea.
Miranda came over, her sympathy outweighing her discomfort, and sat on the edge of the bed.
“It’s just a very high-stress time.”
“It is more than that,” I replied.
She leaned over to wrap her arms around me, which of course made me feel horribly trapped.
“I need to call Maya,” I said stiffly.
Miranda sighed. “I understand,” she said.
“Nothing,” she said, looking tiny. She was older than me, taller than me, smarter than me, and terrified of me.
“Just about the sequence, she’s our expert. We can’t just let the Defenders win this.”
I knew she didn’t believe me, and looking back, she was absolutely right. I didn’t want to hug Miranda. I didn’t want to have a girlfriend. I didn’t need another thing to worry about. I did need to talk to Maya. But she was also a convenient wrench to throw into this relationship because throwing wrenches into relationships is what I did.
I got out of the bed. I had started thinking of it as my bed, but that feeling had suddenly evaporated.
“Miranda, can you stay here and work on making sure you have the program ready to run if I can get the password?”
“It’s ready to run now.” And then she added, “I think,” in a manner that was most unlike her. I was used to her being ridiculously sure of everything.
“Well, I need it ready to go the moment I have the key. Is there a way to email me a file or website I can input it into if I don’t have you at hand?”
So, yes, I was offhandedly asking this beautiful genius who wanted nothing more than to be a part of this to compile a bunch of code for me that would make her unnecessary to me. Did she know that? Oh, absolutely. Did she do it anyway? Of course she did.
“Yeah, I can work on that.”
“I need to go for a walk,” I said, leaving “alone” implied, and left Miranda there without another word.
I exited Andy’s building on 26th and just started walking. I called Maya immediately and explained the situation. I realized I was pissed at her too, because the Defenders wouldn’t have been able to figure any of this out if I had just kept the 767 Sequence a secret like I initially wanted to. It was a dumb anger, and also not a helpful one. I tried not to throw that in her face because I needed her.
“How could the password be outside of the Dream?” I asked.
“We don’t know that it is. The sequence may lead you to another part of the Dream that is public. Clues have been skipped by brute force before,” she replied.
“Why did it have to be a Defender?” I asked in frustration, knowing that the question wasn’t helpful. “They’re like maybe 2 percent of the humans in the world. How did they figure it out before the rest of us?”
“That’s actually a really good point, April,” Maya said.
“Yeah, I mean, it could just be a coincidence, but it could also be one of two other things. One, they knew that the information would be passed along and they’re just fucking with us. Or, two, it’s something different about the way they think, about the way they see the Carls, that helped them uncover the password.”
“Oh, so it helps to be a xenophobic, delusional conspiracy theorist?”
I had just arrived in a park I didn’t recognize. People lounged on grassy green hillocks. There were basketball courts and old guys playing chess. Very NYC.
Maya continued. “What do the Defenders obsess about that you don’t?”
“Um . . . me? That I’m a secret space alien? They want me to do a DNA test, they don’t think my parents exist. Either that or I’m a traitor to my species. Or that the Carls have been using me all along and that I was chosen specially and duped into being their shill. There are reams of conspiracy theories, Maya. I don’t read them because it freaks me out.”
“They think that you were chosen by the Carls, and you don’t?”
“Right. It’s ridiculous to think that they picked me out of eight billion humans on the planet. Like I was the only person lovable and gullible enough to be their missionary.”
She didn’t reply, sensing we were on treacherous ground, so I just continued talking.
“OK, yes, Carl saved me. He didn’t save anyone else,” I said, conveniently leaving out that I had also been saved from an assassin’s bullet by Hollywood Carl’s right hand. “They gave me a dream that no one else had access to. I get it, I’m . . .”
I couldn’t finish that sentence.
“Yes, you are.”
“God, that gives me the fucking creeps. The Defenders were spouting that from day one and I hate that it’s true.”
“You hate that you were chosen by an alien race to be their envoy? That they think you’re special enough to give unique knowledge to, and to keep from being currently dead?” She said this somewhat mockingly—like, of course I loved being special.
“Yes, OK! I hate it!” I was suddenly angry. We had made it to the treacherous ground and now we had to deal with it. “I hate it now and I hated it the first moment I thought it. I hate that they saved me and let all those other people die. I hate that the weight of this bullshit situation is all on me!” My volume level had increased, but it was Manhattan—people screamed into their phones all the time.
“I’m sorry, you’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t think of that.” She paused. “But it’s not just you, you’ve got help. You’ve got good friends. Good people. I love Andy, of course, and Miranda and Robin seem lovely.”
There was no way I was going to get into the weeds of my day thus far, so I just said, “I don’t know that I do, Maya.”
“Oh, April.” She sighed.
“Yeah. I sure do know how to fuck shit up.”
“Yeah, you do,” she agreed.
Those words should have been extra weight on me, but for some reason they made me lighter. The silence hung for a while. For that one moment, I forgot that I was at the center of a swirling storm of political intrigue and I was just a shitty ex-girlfriend. It was kinda lovely. I laughed.
“OK.” I headed back to the topic at hand. “So the Carls really did choose me and they really are treating me different than everyone in the rest of the world. How could that help the Defenders solve the 767 Sequence?”
“I don’t know, April,” she said, a little dejected. I didn’t know why, possibly because we had gotten close to talking about something else and, again, I didn’t let it happen. “I think the Carls, maybe they didn’t pick you because of who you were but because of who you could become.”