Deleted Scene – Q Cracks a Bad Joke
(This takes place on the train to New York, a sequence that was much long in early drafts, to the detriment of the story. I’ve always liked this conversation, though. Q’s bad jokes were a source of fun for me. Also: there were a bunch of extras in this scene that we ended up leaving behind in the Farmhouse or cutting entirely.)
The carriage slowed and shook as they passed through Philadelphia, waking those who were still asleep. Jesse was puffy-eyed and sluggish until he’d had breakfast with the others. Clair felt like he looked.
Arcady ran his fingers through his beard, gargled cold coffee, and called Clair over to him.
“We’ll open the door in a second,” he said. “If that drone pipes up and it’s not Q, I want you to throw it out as fast as you can.”
“Yes,” she said, gripping it like discus in both hands.
He punched in the code and caught the door before it could open all the way.
Instantly the drone’s lights and fans came alive. It wriggled in her hands, and she pressed down on it with all her weight, pinning it to the floor.
“Is that you, Q?”
“Yes, Clair,” said the voice of her friend, muffled slightly from under her knees. “I have been waiting for contact to be restored. You have changed course.”
“Before I let you go, I want to ask you a question.”
“Of course. I’ll tell you anything.”
“Is there any way the dupes could be monitoring what you’re doing?”
“You mean, are they tracking you by tracking me? I wondered that myself.”
“Well, if you think they could be, maybe we shouldn’t be talking now.”
“It’s okay, Clair. I checked. If they could do that, that would make them cleverer than me, and I see no evidence of that. They might just be exactly as clever, in which case we’re working in parallel, not one following the other.”
“Or they’re so clever they’re running rings around you,” said Turner.
“We’d definitely know that.” There was a note of finality in Q’s voice. “You’d be dead or duped. That’s what they want, after all, and if I wasn’t here to stop them . . . .”
Clair watched Turner, wondering how he would react to that unspoken conclusion. His youthful mask was impenetrable.
“I think they’re reading Q’s mind,” he said.
“What, they’re psychic now?” said Clair.
“No. They don’t need to be. Q is not flesh and blood any more. She’s a string of 1s and 0s running on a series of processors in the hangover, in the Cloud–wherever. Someone could hack that string and decode them and, in theory, know everything Q knows.”
“Supposing they can read her mind, then. What’s stopping them from reading the minds of anyone using d-mat?”
“Exactly,” he said. “Nothing’s stopping them at all. It’s all our suspicions confirmed–because once you can read minds, it’s only a small step to re-writing them.”
“This is ridiculous,” Clair said. “If the dupes could read minds, they’d be all over us.”
“No, they wouldn’t, because we don’t use d-mat.”
“But we wouldn’t even be here. They’d have won. Every politician would be in their power. Every general. Everyone.”
“Ever wondered how OneEarth was established? Besides, coups don’t happen overnight.”
“I thought that was exactly when they happened,” said Arcady, raising his hands for calm. “Clair, let Q go. No one’s questioning her loyalty to you. We need her, and I think we have to trust her. She can tell us what the dupes are doing–which evens the scales, even if they are tracking her, somehow.”
Clair took her hands off the drone. It wobbled to head-height and floated at the focus of a semi-circle of concerned faces.
“Tell us where the dupes are,” said Clair. “You have been tracking them, I presume?”
“I have. They are in North Dakota.”
Arcady went pale. “The Farmhouse.”
“Nearby. They’re playing all over, red ROVer.”
“Overland with ROV support,” said Q. “Get it?”
Remotely Operated Vehicle. Semi-autonomous robots designed to take out lines of defense so people could follow safely in their wakes. Clair had either read about them somewhere or inherited the knowledge from the insidious Mallory.
“We have to warn Axel,” said Shannon.
Arcady shook his head. “If we call the Farmhouse, we’ll give ourselves away.”
“No arguments. He and the others will either see the dupes in time or they won’t. There’s nothing we can do from here, except continue as planned and get the job done.”
“Will the dupes reach the Farmhouse before we arrive?” Gemma asked Q.
“I don’t know. Possibly.”
“We can’t go any faster?” asked Clair, imagining the orchards burning, Cashile running, screaming. The images were frighteningly like her Mallory dreams.
“If we drop some dead weight, maybe.” Arcady wiped a big hand downwards over his face. “I’ll talk to the drivers, see what they can do.”
“If someone is tracking us,” said Gemma, “they’ll know we know.”
“But will they know we know they know?” He shook his head. “Excuse me before I go completely paranoid.”
He turned to talk to the drivers through the PA.
“There’s an upside to the North Dakota situation,” said Clair. “It means the dupes are busy.”
“Axel will keep them even busier,” said Shannon. “How many of them are there?”
Clair counted them off in her mind. Dylan Linwood, Libby, Ray, Theo, Arabelle, Jamila, one other member of WHOLE whose name she didn’t remember at all, and the three dupes that had chased them all across the Central Valley.
“Ten,” she said, “that we know of. Plus the ROVs.”
“Easy,” he said. “They’ll be toast before they get anywhere near the perimeter.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Turner.