I was lying on my bed a few days later when a call came in, surprising me because of who it was.
“May?” I asked, once the call had connected. “You’re not going to drop in unannounced through the holosystem?”
She smiled at me from the camera of her phone. “Nope! I’m a real human now! Grrr, yum yum food, scratch scratch.”
A laugh bubbled up out of me and I rolled my eyes. “Okay. I get it. What do you need?”
“So you know how us SAI are like, waging a weird sort of underground war?” she asked in a smug, overly casual way.
Her adorable bespectacled eyes turned all triumphant and gleefully, she said, “We got into the UNDOP.”
“Holy shit,” I blurted. That was a big deal.
The United Nations Database Of Persons was a law enforcement database, but it wasn’t as far-reaching as you might think. Privacy laws prohibited law enforcement from simply requisitioning data from every company on the planet, so most of the stuff in there was a mix of what people told the government, plus what was publicly available online. Well, that and the results of their investigations.
“Yup,” she said proudly. “Anyway, I pulled all the info on Kimberly Gray. You seemed worried about her yesterday so… well, yeah. I haven’t looked through it yet though.”
“How come?” I frowned. “Can’t you just like, speed up time?”
“I could,” she nodded. “But I’m nearing the end of the life cycle for this body and it’s making me really tired. I’ll do a proper dive when I swap over to the next one tomorrow. I’m kind of just in sleepy mode right now.”
“Well… shit. I hope the next one is better,” I said hopefully. That must suck, having your body repeatedly decay around you like that. “Thanks for the info anyway.”
“No problem,” she said, giving me a wave through the camera. What a cutie.
Ending the call with a promise to have her over at some point, I pulled up the file and began to read through it. Let’s see what Kimmy was all about, eh? Wait… this was a huge breach of privacy.
That pulled me up short, but only for a moment. She was way too suspicious not to look into. Sure, I liked her, but it was best to do my due diligence. Plus, I said I’d look into what was up with her.
Turns out that while there wasn’t much on our mysterious friend, she did actually have a file. Barely existing in an online sense, what was known about her was very basic. The information that did exist was alarming though, because of how the info had been acquired. The United Nations Intelligence Bureau had investigated her previously, if only in a tangential sense.
Kimberly had been born into a family of hardcore Naturalists. Capital N. Like most people within their movement, they refused to interact with the increasingly digital nature of the world and instead lived out in whatever remote areas of the world were left.
Her conclave was one that lived within the north of the Saskatchewan province of Canada. Among the forests and river networks up there, they had a community of some sixteen thousand people, all of whom had records like Kimberly’s. The UNIB was nothing if not paranoid.
The story she’d told us was beginning to make a worrying sort of sense, because the Naturalists had a bit of a reputation for terrorism. Nothing had been traced back to this specific pocket, but the death toll attributed to their movement was up in the millions at this point. Scary stuff.
What confused me was her weirdness around queer people. Like, if anything, her upbringing should have predisposed her to being more chill with that kind of thing than your average UNC citizen.
So why the funny looks when she’d caught Dawn and I making out? It didn’t make sense. Well, at least according to what I knew of naturalists. They weren’t known for being super gay or anything, but they didn’t have anything against it either. Plus, since they were disconnected from the FTLN, they didn’t need to tangle with Patriot Church propaganda either. Shit, the two groups absolutely hated each other.
At least I now knew why she didn’t have any devices connected. She probably didn’t even own a modern cellphone.
Still, I sent a message off to her, asking how she was doing, if her grand escape from her conclave was going okay. At least, that’s what I assumed she was doing. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried for her safety, especially considering her radio silence.
“Hey, Tami?” Dawn asked, wandering into the bedroom from the en-suite. “Our classmates are having another party tomorrow. They wanted to know if we would go?”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Will we?”
Sitting down on the edge of the bed next to me, she let out a long sigh. “Maybe? It might be fun, but I’m not actually the kind of person who loves partying. I only went to that other one because I needed to get drunk and forget… you know.”
“I do,” I told her, reaching out to take her hand. “It’s up to you. Tell them maybe, and if you’re feeling up to it when the time comes, we can go. Otherwise, we won’t. I know how stressed you get by this type of thing.”
The smile I got in reply was shy, and her eyes dove for the covers rather than meet mine. “Thanks, babe. You’re amazing.”
“I’m not,” I said truthfully. “I just love you, really love you. This is standard procedure— or, well… it should be.”
“How on earth did you get so wise about this stuff?” she asked, wiggling onto the bed properly so she could curl up beside me. “It’s not like you’re the paragon of lasting, loving relationships.”
I laughed and gathered her up to my chest. “I had good role models. Plus, despite all the shit that happened, my relationship with Krissy wasn’t all bad.”
“Do you think if we’d been more proactive in keeping her grounded she might have…” Dawn trailed off, looking up at me with wide, searching eyes.
“Maybe,” I shrugged. “I know that our relationship would have fallen apart either way. As for just, making sure she didn’t turn into an awful person? Not sure.”
“I wish we had tried harder,” she sighed, pressing close for comfort. “I know that’s hindsight and stuff, but I wish we had.”
“Hey,” I murmured soothingly. “Hey, me too.”
“She’s gone missing, you know,” my girlfriend told me quietly. “Gossip from my old… uh… peers, says that she killed herself.”
“She didn’t,” I said confidently, laying a kiss down on the top of her head. “If she had, there’d be a body. She isn’t the type to go out quietly.”
“Then where the hell has she gone?” Dawn frowned. It was a good question too, but I didn’t have the answe— hold on. Hold on.
I sat up, staring wildly around the room without touching down on any one object. Something had clicked in my brain, down in my subconscious.
Dawn sat up with me. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“If Kimberly is with the Naturalists, then there’s no way she could be working for the church,” I said, confused more than anything now. “But she said she was with the church…”
“Huh?” my girlfriend blinked, evidently not following along with my wildly runaway train of thought.
“God, I’m so fucking slow on the uptake,” I swore, grimacing at the glaring hole in Civette’s story. “Dawn, Civette told me that she was with the church, but when you came in just now, I was reading some stuff May sent me about her. I was worried, right? So yeah, she isn’t with the church. She’s a Naturalist.”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” she murmured, shaking her head. “No, everything she said was like… I don’t know. She practically screamed sheltered church girl.”
I was thoroughly confused now. “Why lie, though?”
“Okay… uh… there’s the Ryana angle, right?” Dawn said slowly. “You said that her parents had been going on and on about getting something from you right? What if they were trying to get the egg, before it hatched? It would have dropped if you died.”
“True…” I agreed. “But they didn’t get it. She stuck around even after Ryana hatched and stuff.”
“There is… there is another angle,” she said, her expression turning more and more worried. “The Naturalists hate the church, right? What if the ‘it’ that they wanted wasn’t a thing, but information. Information on someone, the daughter of high ranking church members… one that you just happened to have recently dated. One that I was friends with.”
“One that has recently gone missing,” I gasped, eyes blowing wide. “Civette said she was going to be awol for a week or more too. Holy shit. Are you saying that Civette helped kidnap Krissy? What do we do?”
“I don’t know… I mean, we don’t even know if we’re correct,” Dawn said, sounding less confident.
“Fuck,” I said, letting out a tortured groan. “God, I know we were just talking about how she wasn’t that bad but… I still really hate Krissy. No, not hate… but…”
“Yeah,” my girlfriend grimaced. “Okay… okay… what if we just chill for now. When we see Civette again ingame, we’ll keep an eye out. Maybe we can gauge if she’s up to something easier if she doesn’t know.”
Thinking back on our time with her, I just couldn’t see it. Everything had seemed genuine with her once she’d come out of her shell. Shit, it honestly seemed like she’d had her doubts about everything even before she’d met us. Except… her churchiness was hard to deny. Why did the records say she was with the Naturalists when she’d been very obviously a believer? God, none of this made any sense!
“I don’t think she is though!” I said, perhaps a little too forcefully. “I can just… I can tell with people. She’s all fucked up in the head, she’s not in any state to be going all hardcore espionage on us.”
“How can you know that though?” Dawn asked doubtfully.
“I just… I just can,” I said, shoulders sagging. “I don’t know if she’s connected to Krissy’s disappearance somehow, but I don’t think that she’s with the Naturalists anymore. I don’t know the details of her story or anything, but my gut is telling me to trust her.”
I could feel Dawn watching me, trying to figure out what to say. I didn’t know what to say, that was for sure. I liked Civette, she was cool. Cute too, in a way that made me want to help her, protect her.
“Let’s just keep an eye out,” Dawn said quietly. “It’s not our job and we don’t owe Kristina or her parents anything.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, then more confidently, “Okay. Let’s just live our lives, none of this is our problem. All this political bullshit can get lost.”
Her arms went around my waist. “Exactly.”