“Wait,” Barron said quietly. “Are you suggesting that this Gentle person had something to do with my wife’s death?”
Barron felt very cold inside. It had happened three years ago, and yet he still had trouble even saying Rachel’s name. The thought of her was so painful that he had spent most of the time since her death trying to pretend that she had never existed, which was one reason Grace could no longer stand being in the same room with him. The last thing he wanted to do was revisit the circumstances of her death. Her absence was still too tangible, felt every moment in that hateful formula shouting itself in his head, which had imposed its presence in his mind on the same day—almost at the same moment, it felt now—as she departed.
“Well, no, not exactly,” Savage said. He looked uncertainly at Van Treece, as if just realizing that his revelation was going to have less impact than he’d anticipated. “I mean, Zero Day was a worldwide event, so I doubt if he actually caused the collapse or anything. But then again, nobody remembers what happened that day, so we can’t rule it out.”
“That’s it?” Van Treece asked. “That’s your big reason for bringing Mister Barron in? That’s an awfully slim thread, Anton.”
“I know,” Savage said. “But it’s… There are no accidents. There are no coincidences. The universe is made up of patterns, and if you don’t see one, then that just means you don’t have enough data yet. Gentle’s connection to Barron’s past means something, even if we can’t explain it yet. I’m sure of it.”
“What do you think, Mister Barron?” Van Treece asked.
Barron didn’t answer right away. Savage had made two statements, one false and one mostly true. Someone did remember Zero Day. But his experiences since then had convinced him that coincidence was merely the human name for a pattern we couldn’t yet perceive, a vortex amid fractal chaos. “Tell me about Gentle first, and we’ll go from there.”
“He’s an eco-terrorist,” Julie Anselmo said. She stared at the table’s surface as if reading the words she spoke. “Started out small, spiking trees and ramming whalers with established activist groups. He’s only grown more radical since. Has his own splinter group, a small core that can link up with affiliated groups when he needs more manpower.”
“His heart’s in the right place, but his methods suck,” Isobel added.
“Bullshit, his heart’s in the right place,” Van Treece said. “He’s a wacko nutjob.”
“That’s a little…” Anselmo started.
“It’s not nearly,” Van Treece cut her off. “He’s one of these guys, loves ideas in general, hates them when they become specific. You know what I mean? Hates oil and gas, loves wind and solar. Until you decide to build a wind farm, and then he’ll blow up the towers because you’re killing endangered birds. Build a solar farm in the desert or a tidal power station, he’ll blow them up, too, because you’re disturbing delicate ecosystems. He doesn’t give a shit about the environment. He just likes using it as an excuse to blow stuff up.”
“People can’t be summed up that easily. They’re more complicated,” Isobel said. “You can’t just make a blanket statement about his motives like that.”
“The hell I can’t,” Van Treece said and turned to Barron. “Virginia, six years ago, he sets bombs on a ridge to stop a mining operation. Landslide buries 27 miners, causes havoc downslope, dust cloud ended up killing plants and wildlife for miles. He didn’t care. Five months later, firebombs a logging camp in Washington and ends up burning down 200 acres of forest.”
“I can get you files if you sign on,” Anselmo said.
“Guy’s a tumor,” Van Treece finished.
“Why isn’t he in jail?”
“He’s smart,” Anselmo said. “He leaves tracks, but not enough for the feds to make a case.”
“So what’s our interest?” Barron asked. “The feds aren’t subcontracting their investigation to an outside firm.”
“We have a client,” Van Treece said. “They’re worried Gentle’s going to hit their operation.”
“Who’s the client?”
“That’s confidential information. What makes you think I’d tell you before I hired you?” Van Treece asked.
“Because I won’t sign up until I know what I’m here to do and who I’m doing it for,” Barron answered. He nodded at Isobel. “And because if I turn you down, Isobel can make me forget what you told me.”
And with that last card laid on the table, Barron saw a wave of change in the data he was seeing from the people at the table. It was subtle, but real relief that this final gambit did not have to be held secret any longer. And at the sight of that relief, Barron realized two things: he had missed this job more than he had wanted to admit to himself, and he would almost certainly end up joining this team. Not because of Rachel–that had been a flimsy pretext for recruiting him—but because Isobel had been right. He could do good here.
Van Treece nodded. “You’ve heard of UNOPCO?”
“The orbital power project?”
“You know about it, then.”
“I know what the name means.”
Van Treece nodded at Savage. “Eighty-seven satellites,” Savage said. “Three giant solar collectors at L1, 4, and 5 beam power down to seven distribution sats in high Earth orbit, which distribute the power down to 77 satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which basically blanket the Earth in free electricity. No matter where you are, you flip a switch and you have power. Power from on high. They call it the Heavenly Choir.”
“We’ll still need a traditional power grid for very power-intensive applications like manufacturing,” Van Treece said, “and we’ll still need to burn fuel for larger, heavier vehicles, but for the most of us, it will be like heaven on earth. No more electric bills, no more trips to the filling station. The world’s use of fossil fuels will decrease dramatically.”
“And Gentle is against this why?”
Van Treece shrugged. “Because he’s an idiot. He’s afraid they’re going to bombard the world with microwaves. Cook the entire planet.”
“Could he be right?”
“UNOPCO’s been running a test village for almost two years off of a single satellite,” Savage said. “No ill effects have been reported, either in the people or the environment. Nothing outside what would be statistically normal, anyway.”
“Metatron’s set for launch in about three weeks,” Van Treece said. “We need to make sure that launch happens as scheduled.”
“Metatron?” Barron asked.
“The final satellite,” Van Treece said.
“Metatron is an apocryphal name for the highest of the angels,” Savage said. “He serves as the voice for God.”
“Once Metatron achieves its orbit, it will send the signal that activates the entire grid,” Van Treece said. “He starts the Choir singing. We need to see him safely there, and that means we’ve got to stop Gentle. So Mister Barron, are you in, or shall I have Isobel escort you out?”