The room stank of stale coffee and spent tension. Blair perched on the bed across from Dodge, their knees almost touching. Joshua continued to stare at the gray wallscreen. At some point during the broadcast, the air conditioner had ground to a stop, and humidity had overpowered the room. Dodge was sweating under his jacket.
He knew he should be livid. That he should somehow force Blair to account for Entropy’s actions; make her explain to the world that Klaxon Overdrive’s murder had all been an act; make someone, anyone, pay for killing his friend, for tossing his life back into turmoil. But he couldn’t.
He couldn’t even summon the intensity necessary to raise his voice beyond a whisper.
“Entropy destroyed a building worth hundreds of millions of dollars, risked a legal nightmare by creating dozens of replactors, and documented the bogus assassination of their biggest money-maker, not to mention framing me and—and killing Len, for what? Publicity? For goddamned clicks?”
“Your friend was never part of the plan. I’m guessing the Burning Spear killed him while trying to find information on your whereabouts. Had you died like Entropy wanted, he would still be alive.” She spoke of Dodge refusing to die as though he had skipped a day of work.
“I’m sorry my continued survival is such an inconvenience to everyone.” Blair chose not to respond. “Why bother to lure me to the Needle? If you already had my DNA for your evidence, what did you need me there for?”
“Entropy couldn’t have you showing up someday and proving their story had been faked, could they?”
So his attempted murder was just a loose end. This really wasn’t about him at all. And yet here he was, in the middle of yet another fucking mess he was only supposed to play a minor part in. It would have been easier if he had blown up like Entropy wanted.
Dodge paced to the window, yanked his jacket off and tossed it over the chair, then appraised the non-functioning AC unit. It was most likely beyond his ability to repair, but he rolled up his shirtsleeves, pried open its flimsy plastic cover and poked around inside anyway, fiddling with tubes and wires slick with condensation, wanting something to keep his hands busy, to channel the nervous energy.
The numbed shock that had permeated him was waning. Another panic attack was simmering at the edge of his consciousness. Getting up and moving around had made him realize he was still alive and in an incalculably bad position. So much had happened—could still happen—and all of it was extremely bad for him.
Ultimately, Blair was responsible for his situation. Since the moment he had walked into the Needle, he had possessed as much control over his life as the replactors Entropy had sacrificed. She’d set this all up. Planned his death for fuck’s sake.
Dodge pulled his arm from the slippery innards of the air conditioner, a decade of grime smeared on his forearms. “This is your fault. You got me into this. You owe me—” What? What could she possibly give him to repay for what she had done to his life? “You owe me an explanation.”
“I don’t owe you anything,” Blair said, her voice controlled. “Your greed got you into this. Your greed got your friend killed. You’re just like all the rest: more concerned about the money you’d be paid than who you’d hurt.”
Like a child tired of listening to his parents fight, Joshua got up and locked himself in the bathroom. Through the thin wall, Dodge heard the roar of water running into the bathtub and then a quiet hiss as the shower started.
Dodge attempted to brush her words aside, to tell himself it wasn’t true, that he wasn’t responsible for Len’s death. But he couldn’t. He did get Len involved. He was to blame. Sure, he hadn’t blown the holes in Len himself, but through his cowardice, and his inability to think of anyone but himself, he had helped them get there.
Though if he were to blame, then so was she. He wanted to hear her admit it. Dodge was tired of her composure, of her naked condescension.
“So everyone is responsible but you, is that it?”
“With what Entropy has planned, one civilian death is meaningless. A thousand would be.”
“What Entropy has planned—a publicity stunt?”
“You have no idea of the scope of the situation you are in, Mr. Dodgson. If you were, I assure you, you wouldn’t be so flippant.”
“I’m physically unable to take things lightly. I want to know what’s going on.”
“I don’t give a damn what you want. The only person I care about is Joshua. I’m taking him where Entropy can’t manipulate him any longer. He’s already been through too much.”
“He has? Was he almost blown up?”
Her eyes narrowed. “This is much bigger than you.”
Abandoning his attempt to fix the AC, Dodge wiped his hands on his wrinkled pants and stepped closer to Blair. “I’m in it now. Tell me.”
She was quiet for a moment, judging him.
And then she relaxed, blinked, and began to speak. “You just watched Entropy start a new religion. They claim it isn’t, they’re calling it a ‘Lifestyle Integration’. But, at its core, it’s corporate fundamentalism. All based around the Klaxon Overdrive brand.”
“That’s absurd,” Dodge said.
“Before Entropy—before Klaxon Overdrive—Joshua was just a regular, disaffected kid with a nice smile and a bit of raw talent. Entropy created Klaxon from the ground up. Gave him the tools he needed to express himself and channeled it towards profit. They are the media. Keep someone in the public eye long enough and fame is inevitable. No amount of talent makes you this popular, Entropy has been molding his audience for years, and this is the end result, a religion that treats Klaxon’s work—his movies, music, the other artists under the Overdrive label, books based in the extended universes of his characters, Entropy’s Netfeed, Entropy supermarkets, Entropy pharmaceuticals, Klaxon-branded colonies in the developing world—as official dogma. It provides a welcome place for the disenfranchised to belong, everywhere in the world. They’re creating a whole generation of consumers.”
“Do you know how many people already think Klaxon Overdrive is a living saint? It’s only a short step from there to messiah.”
“No one is gullible enough to buy all that,” Dodge said.
“People believe there’s a man who lives in the sky waiting to grant their prayers. People believe that killing a goat while chanting the right words will bring rain. People believe the spirits of dead loved ones live on in some kind of eternal realm. Reality for most of these people is an ugly, unforgiving beast. Entropy’s promising something better than truth. And, if that wasn’t enough, the clever boys down in R&D developed a special effect—they call it the Godwave.”
“What’s that, a secret hand signal?”
Blair pinched her eyebrows together in the way that Dodge was beginning to associate with him finding out things that exponentially complicated his life, then stepped over to her bag, pulled out a dull-gray ovoid about the size of a loaf of bread and set it on the dresser. Two round indentations marred its otherwise smooth surface.
“This,” she said as she simultaneously pressed her fingers into the indentations, “is the Godwave.”
The world dissolved into twinkling blue pixels and Dodge suddenly understood what heaven was. It was as though his jangled nerves had been wrapped in God’s dryer-fresh towel. He drifted blissfully in a blue haze for years before the contours of the room reappeared from the fog. Warmth and comfort permeated his skin. The world pulsated as a single interconnected organism, and he was at the very center, at one with the Universe.
More importantly, the feeling of peace was infinitely more pronounced than his accustomed tryptoxetine numbness. With the medication he felt nothing—this felt incredible, like he could achieve anything. He never wanted it to end.
Blair pressed the controls again, and the happiness leached away. Low-level anxiety diffused back into its place.
“Wait,” Dodge said, reeling. “Turn it back on. I—I was ...”
“Blissed out, and highly suggestive.”
“No, I was calm. For maybe the first time in my life.”
“That wasn’t you. That was electromagnetic radiation creating tiny seizures in the region of your temporal lobe responsible feelings of spiritual transcendence. Entropy has one that can extend its radius for a square klick.”
Dodge struggled to cling to the serenity left in his head.
“The people gathering at the remains of the Needle will be indoctrinated first. Klaxon was supposed to appear there in three days, emerging unscathed from the wreckage. As he appeared, Entropy would have hit the generator, and the crowd would think they’ve just witnessed the second coming. Word would spread, then poof, new religion.”
“Exactly.” Blair said. “Suddenly Entropy is the most powerful corporation on the planet, and they get to claim tax free status.”
The water continued to run in the bathroom. All of Entropy’s grand, trillion-dollar plans scuttled because of the absence of the man currently showering. They will never, ever stop looking for Joshua.
Which made being near him the absolute last place Dodge could ever want to be.