Chapter 7: Return

Roland awoke in his weightless sleeping sack, warm and comfortable. He blinked his eyes and looked at the low-lit room around him. He had never seen such a beautiful room in his entire life. His quarters at Green Davis had been comfortable but small. These were luxurious beyond anything he could imagine.

He pulled himself out of his sleeping sack, still wearing his clothes from the day before. He pulled himself over to the door, opened it and went out into the corridor. The air was clean. He made his way to the main cabin. This area was even more spectacular than the room in which he’d slept.

The others were there, including Roger. “Ho Rolo!” Said Roger, and he moved his head as if he were head-faking a soccer opponent. “Sleep well?” He asked and smiled wide.
“Hello Ro…Clive.” Roland said.
“Will you have some breakfast, Rolo?” Asked Ian, floating in the galley nearby.
“Yea, thanks!” Roland said.
“Have you given any more thought to going back with us?” Asked Ian.
“I have.” Said Roland quietly. “I’ll go with you.”
“What!” Exclaimed Roger. He would certainly have dropped the bottle of juice he was drinking had there been gravity. It just floated in front of him rotating slowly at an angle.
“I’ll go. It’s the right choice... for me. I understand you don’t want to go.” Said Roland to Roger.
“That’s an impressive choice.” Said Ian.
“It’s my only choice.” Said Roland.
Helen arrived just then carrying a spill-proof cup of coffee.
“Are you crazy, Rolo? They’ll tear you apart if you go back there!” Roger said.
“Why would they do that?” Asked Ian, alarmed.
“They think I killed someone.
I didn’t, by the way.” Roland explained.
“I believe you. The the court will protect you, Rolo. If you’re innocent, why worry?” Ian asked.
“I’ve been cunningly framed.” He said.
“But, you didn’t do it?” Confirmed Ian.
of course not!” Roland said emphatically.
“But, you did bring down their secure network?” Helen asked.
“Yes.” Roland admitted.
“Yea, I’ll bet they’re going to be mad. But don’t worry. We’ll set them straight.” Ian said.
“How will you do that?” Roger asked.
“I don’t think they’ll have much choice.” Ian said.
“Why not?” Roland asked.
“Because we won’t help them unless they treat you fairly.” Ian replied.
“We need your help, Roland. That’s enough to protect you.” Helen said.
“And if you stop needing him? What then?” Demanded Roger.
“By then, I hope, I’ll have undone the damage I caused. Then it doesn’t matter what happens to me.” Said Roland.
“Yes it does!” Insisted Roger.
“I didn’t kill anyone. They’re not going to kill me.” Roland said.
“Prison sucks, my friend.” Roger said.
“Yea. I know.” Roland said and looked down.
“I don’t think it will come to that, said Ian. Not if you help us fix this. We’ll stand up for you and try to convince them to at least let you free on probation. They might.” Ian said hopefully.
“You’re Generation One. I don’t think they’ll want to put you into prison.” Said Helen. “They’re going to want to give you a chance, especially if you come back willingly to help us.”
Roger looked at them. He knew they were both
at least 23 years older than he was, since he was one of the first members of Generation One. “How can he trust you?”
“Why don’t
you trust us, Clive?” Asked Helen.
“Because… because you just want… what
you want!” Roger boomed. “Rolo! Are you really going back with them?”
“Yes.” Roland said. “I suppose I should tell the others.”
Roger shook his head in disbelief. He pulled himself out of the cabin and back toward the hatch. He opened it and passed through into the tug. The air smelled foul by comparison, but still a lot better than he remembered. The others were floating in the cabin eating breakfast or working on their disguise.
“Roland is going back with them to Rose World!” Roger practically shouted.
They looked at him wondering if it was some kind of joke, but Roger’s agitated state was proof that it wasn’t.
“I know it smells kinda rank in here, but…” Said Axel.
“No! Listen! He’s planning to go back to Rose World on that ship! They’ll skin him alive if he does! We’ve got to stop him!” Roger said urgently.
They looked at him. Then they all rushed toward the hatch and pulled themselves into the Krypton and into the cabin where Roland and the others were chatting.
“You’re going back to Rose World?” Asked Tracy, and hir voice was very calm.
“Yes.” Roland said and nodded.
“I’ll go with you.” Tracy said.
What?!” Said Roger. “What’s the matter with you two? Don’t you remember why we left?” He asked almost pleading with them to understand.
“I won’t be a fugitive in any more ways than I already am!” Tracy said firmly, but s/he didn’t shout. “I’m. Going. Back.” Tracy said and turned to look at Roger.
Roger’s mouth opened and closed as if he wanted to speak but could not.
“Why?” Asked Joan looking back and forth between Roland and Tracy. “Is it because we were trying to dress you as a girl?”
This drew surprised looks from Ian and Helen.
“No. It’s just the
right thing for me to do.” Said Roland.
Tracy just pointed to Roland rather than saying the exact the same words. S/he locked hir eyes on Joan. “What’s the right thing for
you to do, Joan?”
She looked at them. Then she looked around the ship’s interior. She sighed. “There’s only
one way I’m going back to Rose World.” She said with a calm emphasis that telegraphed her unilateralism. “On this ship.” She said plainly.
Roger’s expression was comical. He looked from one to the next of his friends. “Axel, are you going back?” Roger asked him.
“I didn’t commit any crimes.” Axel said and shrugged.
“Neither did we!” Roger boomed.
“Then what are you worried about?” Said Axel. “Lets go back.”
“Roger, it will be OK.” Said Tracy.
“I’m Clive.” Roger said.
“Really?” Tracy asked. “Oops. Sorry.” S/he added.
Roger looked at Ian and Helen. “OK. My name is Roger, not Clive.” He explained.
“And I suppose you’re not Rolo?” Helen asked looking directly at Roland.
“I’m Roland.” He admitted.
“The only thing you do poorly is lie, Rolo.” Axel said.
“I wasn’t trying to lie.” Roland said defensively.
Roger looked frustrated. “And if it’s not OK?” He asked looking directly at Tracy.
“Then maybe we’ll be in the same prison.” Tracy said. “Come with us. Please?” Tracy implored him.
Roger’s heart simply melted. He said, “Yes.” But he knew he’d said it only because he could hear himself say it. Some other part of his mind had its arms folded and lips sealed. That part just didn’t happen to be in control at the moment.
“Then it’s settled. You can all ride back on this ship if you want, but we still need Axel’s help to get through the Holcomb Clump.” Said Helen.
“We have to go back. Through… that!” Joan looked like she would throw up again.
“It’ll be a lot smoother a ride.” Assured Axel.
“Why?” Asked Joan.
“Oh, we won’t be trying to race through it, so we won’t be jerking your stomach around so much.” Axel said.
“You two were racing through it last time?” Joan said, outraged.
“Well…” Axel started to say.
“Asshole!” Joan shouted at him. “Couldn’t you hear us puking back there?”
“Yea, I heard you. Remember we were running from the security forces?” He said.
“Yea, well.” Joan said.
“Well a vomit ride wasn’t my idea of fun either.” Said Axel.
“OK. Right. Sorry.” Said Joan.
“So, I’m not an asshole anymore?” He asked, annoyed.
“No, you’re not.” Joan granted in reply.
“That’s good to know.” Said Axel. “We leave for the clump in an hour.” He said and turned around and went back to his ship.
“Nice one, Joan.” Said Tracy.
“Yea. That was dumb of me.” Joan admitted.
“Go say you’re sorry.” Suggested Tracy.
“Yea.” She left to follow Axel and apologize.”
“We should go get our stuff.” Said Roland.
Tracy nodded. Roger floated there, silent, looking down at Tracy’s feet.
Tracy held out hir hand and grasped Rogers. Tracy pulled Roger slightly and he looked at hir. S/he led him forward slowly and they made their way back into the tiny tug ship to collect the few things they acquired at Outpost 102 and weren’t already wearing.
Joan was in the tug’s cabin talking to Axel.
“I’m really sorry about that. I’m really grateful for all you’ve done for us.” She said.
“I know.” He said.
“But you’re mad?” She asked.
“A little.” He said.
“Because I called you an asshole?” She said.
“No. Because Rolo deserves
better than you.” He said.
She looked at him. “Rolo and I aren’t… anything. Well, we’re friends is all...” She said.
“Yea?” He asked, defiantly.
“Yea.” She confirmed, worried.
“You sure about that?” Axel asked.
“Yes.” She replied.
“You’re an asshole.” Axel said.
“What did you call me?” She said, rising.
“Oh, sorry, I meant you were escaping.” He pointed to the hatch.
“What?!” She said.
“What are you running from, really? Is it this fake crime? Or is it something else on Rose World?” He asked.
“Like what?” She said.
“Like everyone?” He suggested.
She blinked. “I think I’ll go pack now. Thanks again for the ride.” She said dismissively.
“I didn’t give
you a ride. I gave Rolo a ride. You just came along.” Axel said.
She was embarrassed because she knew he was right. It made her angry. But, she just left and packed up her things and returned to the Krypton without saying another word to Axel.

An hour later the ships separated. Axel flew his tug with Tracy and they took over twelve hours to go through using a much less demanding course. Joan was glad it wasn’t another vomit ride. At the end of it the ships connected again so Tracy could join the others on the Krypton.

“Before I go, I just want to thank you for teaching me how to fly this ship.” Said Tracy.
“I was happy to have your help. You learn so
fast! You’d make a great rock hunter!” Axel said.
“And, thank you for rescuing us too. Twice. Rolo must be pretty amazing to have a friend like you.” S/he said.
“Stop! I’m blushing!” Said Axel, clowning as usual. “No,
do go on, please.”
“Thanks. That’s all. I hope that if I’m ever in the same situation I’ll do as well as you have for us.” Tracy said.
“That feels better than ‘thanks’.” Axel said. Then he spontaneously saluted Tracy.
Tracy nodded. “Are you going back to Rose World now too?” S/he asked.
“No. I’m going… out… for a while.” He said and pointed over his head.
“You think it’s not safe to go back?” Tracy asked.
“I think I’ll wait to hear from you that things are fine at Rose World first. I’m not going to be able to help with their fight anyway.” Axel said and shrugged.
“You already have. You’re already one of the hero’s in the story.” Tracy said.
“That means a lot coming from you.” Axel said. “Good luck.”
“Good luck.” Tracy echoed in a quiet voice, but it wasn’t clear whether s/he meant to say it to Axel or whether she was wondering what good luck would even be under these circumstances.
Then Tracy left the cabin, collected hir things and moved to the other ship.
They separated and the tug moved off quickly and was soon out of sight.
“You guys want gravity or do you want to look out the windows?” Asked Samir.
“Windows.” Voted Roland.
“Can’t we have both?” Asked Joan.
“Not unless you’d like to spend the next few days throwing up.” He said reasonably.
“Gravity.” Voted Roger.
“Not throwing up.” Voted Joan.
“Her not throwing up.” Voted Tracy.
“Can I vote again?” asked Roland.
“Gravity it is!” Said Samir and the main window shades closed, except for the pilot’s cabin windows in front. The space outside could still be seen from some of the other small windows in the ship. The ship flew in a helical orbit with full thrusters and managed a comfortable 1/3 G just like Rose World. It was quite comfortable so long as you ignored the whirling stars.

Everything is easier with gravity: bathing, going to the bathroom, preparing and eating food. Some people sleep better in zero gravity. Only Roland preferred sleeping without gravity.

The ship mostly flew by itself, aside from a few large rockfields that were easily avoided. The job of pilot was mostly sitting around waiting for the next minor course adjustment every few hours… Tracy, however, loved learning how to fly the ship and realized at once the similarities with Axel’s ship. By the end of hir first shift s/he was t least as good at piloting the Krypton as anyone else on board.

By the time they were a day away from Rose World Tracy had mastered flying the Krypton. S/he’d read through and memorized the perimeter control protocols. S/he’d been through all the dialogues in hir head dozens of times and s/he was ready to take the ship all the way into the port and dock it. Docking itself was mostly automated once the ship was in the slip.

The comfortable quarters and ample space felt extreme to them after their ride on Axel’s tiny ship. They all seemed to expect trouble awaited them at Rose World. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement not to talk about it for the first few days. But, now, with less than a day to go before they arrived, the four were feeling their ugliest fears

“Have you ever been arrested Roland?” Asked Roger.
“No.” Replied Roland. “You?”
“No. My dad was… a few times.” Roger said.
“Do they beat you up?” Roland asked.
“No. Well, I don’t think so. Maybe they do if you fight them. He came back a mess once.” Roger said darkly.
“If they put me in prison… will they… attack me?” Roland asked.
“I don’t think they’d put someone like you in the same place the most violent people.”
“They have a prison for computer hackers?” Roland said hopefully, but only for the humor of it.
They were both quiet for a bit.
“No.” Roger admitted.
“Do you think they’ll arrest us?” Asked Roland.
“Yes.” Said Roger.
“What will they do?” Roland asked.
“They’ll lock us each in a room and then come by again and again and ask us the same questions. Over and over. We won’t be able to talk to each other.” Roger said.
“And then?” Roland asked, dispirited.
“And then, hopefully the truth comes out and they let us go.” Roger said hopefully.
“Except that the truth is that I may have caused… terrible harm to the network. To help us escape. And that may have opened the door to the Network Demon.”
“I’m not a counselor, but I’d say that sounds like ‘extenuating circumstances’ to me.”
“Maybe. But… do you think there’s
any chance they won’t arrest us?”
“No. Not really.” Roger admitted. “I think they’ll arrest us all, ask us a million questions, and then they’ll put us in front of a bunch of old people who will decide what happens to us.” Roger said.
“You guys could have gone with Axel. You could have run. I’m the only one who really did anything wrong.
I’m the only one who really needs to go back.” Roland said.
“If we all go back together, we can all stand up for each other. Otherwise, you’d be alone.”
Roland and Roger looked at each other for a moment, Roland not quite getting it.
“Without us, it’s just your
story. They might not believe it. But, it’s our story they need to hear.”
“You’re coming along as a witness?”
“Witness… accused… whatever mood they’re in, I’m sure.” Said Roger.
“That doesn’t quite add up.” Roland looked at him. “Tracy could be my witness.”
“I’m going back to Rose World because that’s where Tracy is going.” Said Roger.
Roland stared at him. Roger looked resolute.
“That adds up.” Said Roland.
“I sure hope I’m just a witness, Roland. Or, this may have been foolish. I can already hear my dad calling me a meathead.” Roger said.
You’re not a meathead!” Roland said firmly.
“I figure, if you all are going back… I’d be a meathead
not to.” Said Roger smiling.
“Listen to me, Roger. Even if this works out badly,
you’re not a meathead! You saved us all with the elevators, you saved Tracy at Outpost 102!”
“Yea, I guess.” Roger said dismissively.
“No guesswork about it.” Insisted Roland.
“And, you were great at keeping Joan out of everyone else’s hair that whole ride out from Rose World.” Roland joked.
“The least I could do, really.” Said Roger, and he jokingly bowed, elegantly.
“She really seemed to have it out for you for a while.” Roland said.
“Oh, she just doesn’t like that she’s attracted to me and I’m not interested in her.” Roger said plainly.
Roland looked in his eyes to see if he was about to laugh. “Are you serious?”
“Yes.” Roger said.
“You think she likes you?” Roland asked.
“No, I think she likes my body.” Roger said.
“And that makes her hate you?” Roland asked.
“No, that makes her hate who she thinks I am. But, she’s wrong. It’s so stupid.” Roger said.
“What does she think you are?” Roland asked.
“Interested in getting into her pants.” Roger said.
“You’re not?” Roland asked, surprised.
“No. Well, maybe a little, but no. Not really. Certainly not now.” Said Roger.
“She thinks almost everyone is.” Said Roland.
“You know, there are a lot of women out there who would love to show you how it works, Roland, and some men too.” Roger said.
“I know how it works.” Roland said.
“Maybe Joan isn’t comfortable with sex but most women are. They were all at least 23 years older than me because I’m Generation One. You know. Weren’t there women there at your factory?” Roger asked.
“Plenty. And, they all knew each other and talked to each other.” Roland said.
“They weren’t interested in you?” Roger asked, surprised.
“Some were. But, the factory is a small place – just five hundred people. I just didn’t know what it would mean… there is no way to live anything down there. It’s too small. Once people have an idea of who you are, you’re fighting with them forever to be who you really are.”
“And that meant you couldn’t have sex with them?” Roger asked, confused.
“Well. It’s complicated. I wanted to sometimes, but it just felt like so much bad might come of it.”
“From sex? You know, you don’t have to make babies…” Roger said.
“That’s not what I meant!” Roland said.
“Then what?” Roger asked, genuinely confused.
“They’d gossip. They talk behind my back… What if I wasn’t any good? I’d be the laughing stock of everyone there. Everyone would know.”
“You worry too much.” Roger said.
“You think?” Roland said and laughed.
“I said ‘Yes’
a lot. I got to know a lot of great women. They taught me so much about life, people, sex... They taught me how to be comfortable with my body.” Roger said.
“You grew up in Rose World. That place is so big – they probably never saw each other.” Said Roland.
“No, you’re wrong. Some of them were friends with each other and they’d
share me.” Roger said and smiled.
“Why does your dad call you a meathead?” Roland asked trying to change the topic.
“My dad’s an engineer. And a drunk. I couldn’t do the engineering. I tried. But, it was just too much for me. To him, I’ll always be a meathead. He ignored me after I failed at engineering and I made good use of the time.” Roger smiled.
“So, Joan doesn’t seem special to you?” Asked Roland. “No Joan Field around her, influencing what you think and do?”
“Not to me.” Said Roger.
“I think she’s something special.” Roland admitted.
“Yea. I know, Rolo.” Said Roger.

“Lets think about some new options.” Said Erika. “What haven’t we tried?”
“We haven’t tried setting up a point-to-point network.” Said one person.
“We haven’t tried Morse Code.” Suggested another, as a criticism.
Erika shook her head and wagged her finger to show that it wasn’t appreciated.
“We could implement a whole new network. New equipment, everything.” Someone said.
“We could flood the network with a lot more traffic to make it harder to track ours.” Someone else said.
“We could use steganography.” Suggested Gaelle. She looked around and most people shook their heads or shrugged. “We embed encrypted data in other data like a video feed, so it doesn’t look suspicious.”
“Wouldn’t it just look like garbage?” Asked Erika.
“Not necessarily, the extra data can be distributed in the form of compression artifacts that can be interpreted after the fact to extract the original message.”
“Do we have the software to do that?”
“We’re… writing it.”
“How long will it take?”
“Another week, or longer. And then it has to be installed everywhere.”
“Ugh. If the network demon gets a hold of the code, we’re right back where we started.” Erika rolled her eyes. “It’s a longer term plan. Keep working on it.” Erika said.
“Come on people, what else can we do here? Have we made any progress on understanding whom is operating the Network Demon? Or Why?”
“Lets start with basic motives.” Erika held forth.
“Number one: why? Why do this? Whoever it is hasn’t made any demands. They haven’t done anything at all except attack security forces and blackmail or influence people into what?
“Eluding us.” Said one.
“Fighting us.” Said another.
“Trying to stay in control.” Said Gaelle.
“Which is exactly what we’re trying to do.” Said Erika. “This thing wants to stay in control. When we fight it, it fights us. If we want peace, we should be peaceful for a while.” She reasoned out loud.
“We have to win back our privacy somehow, and until we do, we should not appear to be fighting it.”
“You mean, back to grocery lists and social calendars?”
“No, I mean we should embark on two paths at the same time. One of them we know will fail and we conduct that one on our public network, because we know the Network Demon will be watching. The other we do in private, as we have been, until the steganographic encoding network stack is ready. Once its ready, we’ll distribute and test it secretly. If it works, we’ll pursue our real plans to regain control via the new secure stack.”
“We have plenty of unworkable strategies to use for bait. The real question is, what are we going to actually do to regain control?” Asked Gaelle.
Erika shook her head. “I don’t know yet. Have we made any progress understanding how the network was compromised?” Erika asked.
“I’m bringing in some network and computer experts from CSSI.” Said Gaelle. We’ve had folks from our disc one and two Universities come in already and they haven’t found anything yet.”
“And you think these folks from CSSI can help?” Asked Erika.
“Yes. I hope so.” Gaelle said.
“When will they be here?” Erika said.
“Tomorrow at the soonest, I’m told.” Gaelle replied.
“Has there been any contact with them? Do we know they are actually coming at all?” Asked Erika.
“I sent an officer to hand-deliver a request to CSSI on Star’s View. We’ve kept com silence; however, we’ve confirmed that the man we contacted stopped being available at his desk ten days ago. We assume that means he left and is on his way, which should mean he is here any day.”
Everyone was quiet.
“Any other ideas?”
More silence.
“Go home. Go home and pretend we aren’t fighting with the Network Demon. Be boring and normal. We should stop meeting here. We should meet socially instead. We should have some picnics, I think: something that brings us all together. Something that looks completely normal. Let’s meet tomorrow at noon at Penelope Park. It’s out by the water treatment plant near 1.14? That’s about 5K from here.” Said Erika. “Pot luck.”

“Rose World Perimeter Control this is Private Cruiser Krypton requesting docking instructions please.” Tracy said smoothly into the mic.
Everyone watched and listened intently.
“Krypton, we copy that. Stand by for docking protocol.” The voice came over the com channel.
“So far so good.” Said Tracy.
“Say again. Please, Krypton?” Came the voice over the speaker.
Tracy switched off her mic and blushed a bright red. S/he shook hir head and flipped the mic back on.
“Cancel that. Waiting for docking protocol.” Tracy said and switched off the mic with overt deliberacy.
Everyone laughed out loud until the speaker made noise and they stopped mid-word to listen.
“Krypton you are clear to land at Level Four, Section Baker, Slip One Four Tango. Please note: the speed limit everywhere in the spaceport is 5kph. RWPC Out.”
Tracy turned around and pretended to bow and everyone applauded.
“Can we talk?” Said Joan out loud, apparently to everyone. “What’s our plan here? Just open the door and walk out together? Arm in arm or something dramatic?” She asked, joking but serious.
“What else can we do?” Asked Roland.
“I’ll go out first.” Joan said.
Everyone asked some variation of “What?” or “Why?”
“Because, if we all go out, Ian and Helen can’t withhold Roland to bargain for us. And, if one of you two go out…” Joan said pointing to Roger and Tracy, “…it isn’t the same. They don’t want you for murder. They might not want you for anything if the only evidence they have is a printer log.” She said. “I’m the perfect guinea pig. We can find out what they’ll do to Roland if I go out first.” Joan finished.
“That’s very brave of you, but I won’t let you do it.” Said Roland.
“You can try to stop me!” She said straightening out her legs as if she would kick him.
“There’s no reason for this.” Said Ian. “I could get out first and try to find out what’s going on.”
“You don’t think they’ll come search your ship if you mention us?” Asked Joan.
“Well… I’d… be subtle.”
“You wouldn’t know about our situation at all unless you’d met us.” Said Roland.
“If you ask about us, they’ll guess we’re here. We might as well all go out together.”
“We all decided to come back here. Why start worrying now?” Asked Tracy.
“Tracy’s right.” Said Roger. “I vote for walking out together.”
“I don’t think the security forces will be waiting for us.” Said Helen. “They have no idea you’re on board.”
The cabin was silent while people thought.
“Together?” asked Ian. Everyone nodded.
Tracy maneuvered the ship through the spaceport and into the correct slip. S/he engaged the automatic docking procedure. A few moments later the ship transitioned to docked mode and the lighting inside changed. The docking hatch lit up and indicators around it showed green.

They emerged from the Krypton, one after another into the chaotic spaceport. There were people everywhere. There were no Rose World Security Force officers to be seen anywhere.

“Well, that’s anti-climatic.” Said Joan.
“Would you rather have a welcoming committee?” Tracy asked.
They moved through the crowded spaceport, weightless. They climbed into a shuttle that would take them to the disc one elevator that was nearest the Security Force’s main headquarters.
It wasn’t private in the shuttle so they didn’t say much to each other. They just tried to look like tourists. The elevator was also full of people who were mostly talking and absorbed with each other or using consoles. When they exited the elevator the 1/3G of Rose World pressed their feet and reminded them that they’d been in space for a while.

Helen borrowed a large skimmer from a pool near the elevator and they set off to find the Security Force headquarters. Finally private, they began finally to speak.
“So, we’re just going to walk into the Security Force headquarters?” Asked Joan.
“We’re not trying to hide. I’m going to offer my help.” Said Roland. “You can leave if you want.” He offered.
Joan thought about it seriously, but she remained seated and watched the scenery go by.
Within half an hour they’d reached the former Security Force complex. But, the activity there now was destruction and construction. There were almost no security officers anywhere to be seen.

“That’s weird.” Said Helen.
“Maybe they moved to somewhere else.” Suggested Samir.
“Where?” Asked Helen.
“Let’s ask a security officer. They’ll know.” Said Samir.
Helen landed the skimmer not far from a security officer walking across an open space. Ian got out to asked, “Sorry to bother you, but do you know where the security office moved to?” He asked.
“Why, do you need help?” Asked the officer, an older man with a hard looking face.
“No, we want to volunteer to help.” Ian said.
“The recruiting center is over there. That white building.” He pointed.
“Where can we find the chief inspector?” Ian asked.
“The chief is very busy, I’m sure. They can help you.” He pointed again to the white building.
“OK, sure.” She said, not wanting to argue. He returned to the skimmer and got in.
“He would only tell me where the recruiting center was. That white building there. It’s a start.” Ian said.
Helen flew the skimmer over to the white building and landed it. Samir, Ian and Helen got. The four from Generation One were happy to stay in the skimmer and enjoy a few more moments of freedom.
“Are you afraid?” Roland asked nobody in particular.
“Yes.” Said Joan.
“Yes.” Said Roger.
“No.” Said Tracy.
They looked at hir. “Sorry, I meant the other one. Yes.” Tracy said trying to joke.
“Me too.” Roland said.

Helen and Ian and Samir went into the recruiting center. There were a few people milling about. They found a recruiting officer and hailed her over.
“We’d like to volunteer. My name is Helen McGrath. This is Ian McGrath. This is Samir Naranjan. We’ve just arrived from CSSI to offer help in securing the Rose World Network. Gaelle Adriano invites us. Can you tell me where we can find her?” Asked Helen.
The officer digested what she said for a moment. “Yes. Yes, I can. Sorry, yes, of course.” The officer took out a small paper book with bent pages and notes written all over. “Today she’s at… Penelope Park. Do you know where that is?” She asked.
“No.” Helen said.
“I’ll give you a map.” Said the officer.
“We can just find it on our dots.” Said Helen.
“No. Please don’t. Don’t use your dots at all. Have you used them yet?”
“No, we haven’t needed to. Except, when I borrowed this skimmer from the pool. I checked it out using my dot.” Helen replied.
“Then it the Network Demon knows you’re here. Have you used your dot?” She asked Samir.
“I haven’t used mine either.” Said Ian.
“Don’t. Tell the others not to use theirs either.”
“What if we need to call each other?”
“Sorry. That’s what we all have to do now.” She said to them and pointed to herself. “If you’re here to help us. Don’t use your dots, OK?” she confirmed.
They nodded.
The officer scribbled a map onto a piece of paper and handed it to them.
“We can sure use the help.” She said.
“That’s why we’re here.” Ian said.
They left and returned to the skimmer.

Helen flew them to the park a few minutes away. She landed the skimmer and they all got out. They could see a lively picnic happening in the park. There were many families and the smell of BBQ grainmeat wafted on the breeze. There were many security officers present. They looked busy with something other than the picnic.

The seven walked onward.

A child kicked a ball into a group of officers and for a moment they all laughed and kicked the ball among them and then back to the child. Some tables and chairs had been set up in an impromptu office on one side of the picnic.
“If Gaelle Adriano is here, she’ll probably be at one of those desks.” Helen said.
They walked toward it and heard several people in an intense conversation. They listened as they approached.

“No, I’m saying that if the Network Demon had already compromised the network it might have been spying on us for any length of time.” Gaelle said to a taller man.
“We think it had not penetrated our SecCom until the disc four sweep.” He replied.
“So, maybe it found a way to reverse the key pair algorithm and it just took it that long to figure it out?”
“The timing seems to suggest otherwise.” The tall man said.
The seven arrived and stood silently, listening.
“What? Are you saying someone besides the Network Demon brought down SecCom?”
“That is a valid theory. But who else could possibly have done that? There aren’t many people who could.”
“I could.” Said Ian McGrath.
“I could too.” Said Helen. “Pretty easily, actually.”
Gaelle looked at them trying to determine if it was a joke. She looked at Samir, who hadn’t spoken yet.
“Yes, you’re using level three holographic encryption technology. Your data remained encrypted. But, you still are using a dynamic certificate authority lookup, so your SecCom is easy to bring down without revealing its original content.” Explained Samir.
Gaelle looked at Roger.
“I couldn’t even spell what they just said.” Roger said.
“Well, that’s a relief.” Said Gaelle.
“I can spell it but I don’t know how to do it.” Joan said encouragingly.
“I feel better already.” Gaelle said and turned to Roland.
“I brought SecCom down.” Said Roland.
Gaelle looked at him and her palm found her face, ungracefully.
“You?” Gaelle asked and she unveiled her face so she could call over several armed security officers.
“Yes, I did. So… so we could escape Rose World.” He said. “I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone.”
“You… what? Ohhh… Oh!” She said. “Wait here!” She commanded and she nodded to the officers who had now casually surrounded the seven. It was clear they would be waiting.
She walked over to where Erika was meeting with several other people, poring over a map on the table.
“Sorry to interrupt, but there’s someone here I think you’d like to meet.” Said Gaelle.
“Can it wait?” Asked Erika.
“I think you should come now.” Said Gaelle.
Gaelle led her over to where the seven were surrounded by security offices.
Erika could not see who was inside the crowd of officers.
“Yes?” Erika asked when she arrived. She first saw faces she didn’t know and she wondered how important the meet-and-greet really was. Then she saw the four Generation One fugitives and her eyes opened widely enough to alarm the officers. Two withdrew their weapons.
“Whoa, whoa!
Put. Those. Away. Right. Now.” Erika said forcing calm into her voice.
“Are you Roland? Tracy? Joan? Roger?” She asked and her voice was quiet and low, the way one might speak to a much younger child.
They nodded.
“You’re not in trouble. Do you understand?” Erika said.
They did not. They just looked at her.
“We know about what happened at 4.27. We know
you didn’t kill anyone or steal anything.”
“None of you are guilty of anything worse than printing too many shoes.” Erika said.
“That would be me.” Said Roger and he held his wrists out as if they would place handcuffs on them.
Erika waved her hands and shook her head. “No. No. Just.
No. OK? You haven’t done anything wrong and you’ve been harmed because we… “ She pointed to herself and then to all of the other security officers around them, “we did a crappy job and were too easily misled into thinking you did something... awful.”
“I am very, very sorry. We all are. It wasn’t fair. I’m so happy you aren’t… that you’re OK. We feared you were dead. You pulled quite a disappearing act!” Erika said brightly.
“I did something wrong.” Said Roland seriously.
“No, you didn’t.” Insisted Erika.
“I did. I brought down your SecCom system by invalidating its certificate authority.”
“You?” She asked.
“Yes.” Said Roland. He held out his hands the way Roger had.
“No.” She said kindly and pushed his hands down. “But, I’m very curious about how you did it. And, I’m so happy you decided to come back. Can you help us undo what you did?”
“I’ll do whatever I can. But…”
“Well, don’t you want to talk to them? They came here from CSSI and all.” Ian looked uncomfortable.
“Of course I do. I just want to make sure you know that we’re fixing more than the network today, we’re trying to fix what happened to you too. Thank you. Thank you all for coming back to Rose World.”

Generation One kids this old were uncommon. “
This was so screwed up. We’re luck we didn’t lose these four.” She thought to herself.

“The tide has turned, Gaelle. I hope. Do you think these people can help you?” Erika asked.
“They are the answer to my prayers.” Gaelle said, and she meant it.

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