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224 “human folly is always amusing” No one returned things to the library any more, Kennedy said. “They laugh at us; they act like we don’t matter.” “Well, I matter,” Lila said. She tapped her skull. “The only place anyone can find the water map is here.” Kennedy said, “Are you insane? What if they find you out and torture you?” Lila called the number on Nelson and Solganik’s card. “That service you provided for me”—she gripped the phone with her shoulder, twisted a rubber band around her wrist— “could it be undone?” Why hadn’t she thought of torture? Incessant screeching noises piped into her brain. Metal instruments tearing at her wound. She hated pain. Their hurting her would make remembering the map impossible, and then they’d hurt her more. “Undone?” The legend’s merry laughter hurtled through the receiver. “Honey, you don’t have to worry about a thing. Sue and I are professionals. That stuff’s dust now. It’s air.” “ L a n i ta’ s n ot tal k i n g to you,” Naomi said to Tuuro. “No way.” “Could you hold the receiver in the air when she’s talking, let me hear her voice?” 225 “human folly is always amusing” “You listen to me, you erase this number from your mind. Because if you call me back, I’ll have to round up my angry friends.” Lila called Gerald Ferrescu, the former city manager. She would never, in her past life, have called someone so eager to be called. But he knew things. They met for lunch at L’Auberge, the most expensive restaurant in town, which appeared to be—oddly or not—thriving. At a table near them sat a woman in lipstick, with painted fingernails, trim buttoned boots, and a purple cap on her head. Unimaginable, looking at that woman, to think that they were in quarantined Dayton. Lila smoothed her skirt—she had only one winter skirt, and it wasn’t glamorous—and looked across the table. Ferrescu smiled. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Kennedy had told her Ferrescu had a relative who worked in Washington in Homeland Security. Ferrescu never named this relative, or any of his informers; his gossip was customarily preceded by the words “I hear,” as if the facts had slipped from the air into his ear. “Curiosity,” Lila said. She’d made it clear that she was paying for his meal. The Grid had not lost its appeal to her. It struck her that the Gridians might need her water map, that under their umbrella she could be protected. What a crazy irony that would be, working for the Grid after they’d shot her in the leg. People did what they had to. Ferrescu ordered oysters, and Lila thanked God for her savings. She could still afford her lemons, although they cost three times what they had the year before. Ferrescu was filling her in on Grid history. “ . . . and then they enlisted those Lindisfarne people, who were always”—a significant pause—“particularly clannish.” This was no surprise to Lila, but Ferrescu’s next statement was a revelation. “They were utopians, you know,” he said, the slippery gray of an oyster disappearing into his mouth. “Wanted to be blasted off into outer space.” 226 s ha r p a n d d a n g e r ou s v i r t u e s “Outer space!” This was worth the oysters. There were still a few abandoned space stations circling the earth, but the Mars colony had been shut down during the world recession of 2032, and only schoolchildren and hotheaded scientists talked about space travel now. “That was why they didn’t want babies. You remember that abortion debacle. Their idea was to hold off on reproduction until they had a new world to colonize.” “Bizarre. I thought they had more sense than that.” “Sense? Never Jeff Germantz’s strong point, my dear.” “What was his strong point?” Ferrescu waved his tiny fork. “Intellectually pliable. You figure out something you want, he’ll give you the rationale. They didn’t have any power, you know. Just those ten thousand acres of Australian scrub one of their members had inherited . That’s why they wanted the stars. But they couldn’t raise the money for a space mission. So when Babbitt Chromium , who was a friend of Germantz’s from Yale, told him that our dear...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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