Far off in the distance I detect a sound, born just at the edge of my perception, and with each second it grows louder—an unmistakable whirr. “I always believed your tale, believed it all the way,” he says.
My voice is low and troubled. “What did you do?”
“I just had to get you here and they promised they’d let me in.”
The whirring sound of a motor rises. Alfa listens as the wind blows over him. “Do you hear that? They came, just like they said they would.”
The dual seated, tru-blue glider shoots across the sky above our heads, doubles back, and yo-yo’s down to the forest floor. It’s an eerily familiar scene. The pilots kill their engine, they both step gingerly off the bike and take off their dark helmets.
“Miss me?” she asks. She’s ditched the long, raven holo, just a short bob of natural, mousey-brown locks over her scalp. I want to answer her, but the words won’t come. Headwoman Toi removes her helmet next.
“I believe we’ve already met,” she says. “Good to see your face again, Study Fynch.”
I stammer part of a response,
“How did you—”
“Ever play chess?” Cheza says, smoothing out her jumpsuit with her palms. “To be good—and I mean really good—you’ve got to be thinking three moves ahead at all times.”
“O-kee-dee,” I say. “But I still don’t get how—”
“Madelyn, I mean Headwoman Toi, never dulled me into solitary confines—that was just a way to buy us time. You didn’t think I’d let you get away from me that easily, did you?”
“You did this?” I say to the woman. Toi nods.
The two femmys hop up and straddle the huge glider again. “Who do you think connected me up with Linklyn?”
Cheza says. “Toi’s been resistance for years. Now get on before we’re made.” She starts the engine.
“I gave Linklyn up,” I tell her. “To get my life back. I’m sorry, but I had to.”
The femmys look at each other, then turn back to me. “We know you are,” Toi says. “Don’t worry about that now.”
“What about me?” Alfa hollers over the hum of the magdrive. “You told me I could be one of you.”
“That’s right,” Cheza says. “But your work at Fairchild isn’t done yet, stud.”
“The Resistance needs more than just a few trees, we need a whole forest. When you need to grow a forest, what do you do?”
Alfa shakes his head.
“You plant seeds,” Cheza tells him. “Lots and lots of seeds.” She points to the ground beneath his feet. Alfa bends over, wipes some dead leaves aside, and picks up one of the lantillo seedpods that encircle the stump. “Get to it, Johnny Alphaseed,” she says before she turns her eyes back to me. “Tig, get on, you’re ruining the ending.”
My feet shuffle away from her slowly. “I’m not going with you, Cheza. I just got my old life back.”
“Pffft, what life was that?”
“I’ve got things together again, finally, after you kuffed it all up. I’m up to threes-and-one. I’ll come to my senses in five years.”
“Or you can leave now, with me.”
“But I hate you.”
Cheza frowns. “You don’t hate me, Tig.”
“Forget it, it’s no use trying to convince me, I’m not joining the stupid Resistance with you.”
“Then don’t join. Just get on the bike.”
“They’ll follow us,” I tell her.
“If they find us, it’s the treatment. I saw you go under at the sewage plant—that was real. How could you risk it again?”
The glider’s idling engine threatens to drown out our voices. She jumps off and grabs me by the collar. “I would risk being thrown into shit a hundred times for the chance to feel the way I did with you that night!”
“And what about all those other studs you recruited like me? Where are they now?”
“I have no idea,” she says. “Doesn’t that tell you something?”
I shake my head feverishly and start pacing the grove. “No, no, no, I’ve made promises. Why are you doing this to me?”
Cheza puts her hands on her hips. “Listen, that was my whole pitch, Tig. I’ve got nothing else to say. Tick tock, stud, tick tock.”
“What happens if I go with you?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “Some things you don’t always get the know on.”
I hear a hundred voices in my head, all telling me what to do. But I know they all stop once she’s gone. Once Cheza leaves, it’s finished.
She gets back on the seat and revs the engine. The bike gives a squeal before it bucks just off the ground. It hovers there.
“What are you going to do, Tig?”