Jaden’s rendezvous hideout was an unobtrusive cabana-style house in Old Hyde Park. The neighborhood had once been a haven for pretentious Senior Management types like Ally’s parents, but they had all since moved to the corridor, preferring the longer commute to the inner-city strife of Tamlando. The house had belonged to Baqer’s mother. When he stuffed the pass card into Jaden’s palm, Baqer mumbled that he hadn’t been back since her death, not even to sell the place.
Jaden discerned the ghost of Baqer’s mother in every corner of the tasteful little bungalow. Despite the permission he’d been granted, he felt like an intruder in a home so lovingly adorned. Each ceramic penguin and crystal polar bear remained exactly where Baqer’s mother had left it two years ago. The layer of dust on everything gave testament to his somber surroundings.
Settling on the parlor as the best place to work, Jaden opened his duffle bag on the coffee table and assembled the splitting apparatus the way Baqer had taught him. The probe reminded him of a tick, with its oval body and long, barbed legs.
The only part of the process that worried him was the immobilization drug. Baqer had assured him that the effects were only temporary, and that it was required to ensure proper insertion of the probe, but thinking of Ally lying helpless bothered him. What if something went wrong?
Of course, unless Ally showed up, nothing would happen at all. As the minutes ticked away, Jaden became more and more certain she’d bailed. She was probably still mad at him for embarrassing her in front of her friends.
The noise came from the backyard.
“Dammit!” the intruder muttered.
Jaden looked out the window to see Ally playing the garbage cans like a drum set, dancing to her own beat. He raced outside.
“Stop that!” Jaden said, yanking her away from the garbage.
“I’m not finished!” Ally said querulously, furrowing her brow.
“Someone will hear!” Jaden hissed, guiding her inside.
“Everyone should hear!” Ally shouted. “Let the music ring!” She waved her hands in the air, conducting an ethereal symphony.
She smelled of smoke and sweat. Her hair was back in bobbing blueberry-colored pigtails, this time dusted with glitter that covered the couch as she flounced onto it.
“You’re late,” Jaden said dourly.
“Sorry, dad,” Ally said sarcastically.
“You’ve just left a rave, haven’t you?” Jaden asked.
“The best one yet! The music was just so pounding and euphoric, and the technoshaman had us all in the palm of his hand.” She leaped from the couch to demonstrate. “First he’d let the music build, all slow and steady, but louder and faster,” Ally said, her head down, dancing to the crescendo of a remembered beat. “Then he’d take us higher and higher, until we almost crested, the music just wham bang whiz!” she cried, flinging her arms upward and waving them like some giant sunflower, head upturned, beaming at an unseen sun.
Jaden grabbed her by the shoulders. “Yo, snap out of it,” he said, shaking her. “You’re not at the rave anymore.”
“You’re here to get cured, remember.”
“Am I sick?”
“Uh, I think you pretty much are, Ally. You’re an addict. I wouldn’t really describe what you’re doing as normal.”
“Who made you the expert on normal, Mr. Cyber-hypocrite? What am I addicted to?”
Her head bobbed. “Oh, I do love music.”
“We can fix that. I brought some really cool tools with me, and—”
“I don’t want to be fixed.”
“To hell with my parents and The Corporation! To hell with you, cyperposer. Let the music ring!” Ally swirled around again, gyrating to her own internal music.
Her behavior was abstruse to him. It wasn’t just that of someone high on something she was addicted to. Something else was at work here. Music addicts didn’t usually act this intensely. Her behavior reminded him of the effects of hard drugs like maze and skate, designer drugs that had been popular back when Jaden was dealing.
“What else did you take, Ally? What are you high on?”
“Life, Jaden! Joy! Music!” She clutched his hands. “Dance with me! Don’t you hear the music?”
Her hands were frigid, coated with sweat. He pulled his own hands away.
“You’ve got to control your addiction, Ally, or your temerity will get us both busted. I’ve gone to a lot of effort to get us here, to get you healed, because you wanted it—and now you don’t want my help?”
“Calm yourself, narc. You’re much too intense. You need to let go once in a while. You need to feed the need, you know?”
Jaden collapsed on the couch. “I don’t know what you want, Ally. You’re so capricious. One minute you want to be healed, and then you’re sure you don’t. Which is it?”
“Music isn’t a disease, Jaden,” Ally said in a conspiratorial whisper, sitting down beside him and leaning in until her face was inches from his. “It’s a liberation.”
“You call this liberation? How are you supposed to be a ‘productive employee’ behaving like this? What the hell’s the matter with me that I keep trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? All I’m trying to do is help you be the person you said you wanted to be. What’s so egregious about that?”
With uncharacteristic sobriety, Ally looked at him intensely with her bright aqua eyes. “Jaden, I don’t want to be cured.” Without warning she leapt to her feet. “I want to dance!” She became a one-person maelstrom whirling around the living room faster and faster until she barreled into a standing lamp and turned it over. The room crashed into darkness, the only light that of the full moon and the streetlight outside.
At that moment Jaden made a decision. It was for her own good. If he didn’t find a way to calm her down, Ally could send herself into cardiac arrest. Besides, incorrigible addicts could be forced into treatment with the right paperwork. He’d just do the same without the proper forms. He’d be doing himself, Ally, and The Corporation a favor. No more vacillating on Ally’s part.
Jaden filled the syringe with the immobilization drug, the bottle catching a glimmer of moonlight. He tapped the needle twice to remove any air bubbles.
His voice deepened when he spoke, the reassuring mandate of authority. “Ally, come here.”
Ally froze. She tilted her head. “What is it, Jaden?”
“Come here,” he repeated. “Now.”
Ally came and sat next to him.
His voice was staid and serene. “I’m going to give you this drug. Then you’re going to lie very still while I insert this probe,” he said, picking up the tick-shaped splitting device. “Then I’ll remove what’s bothering you, and you’ll finally be free. Do you understand?”
“I’m not going to let you put that in me,” Ally said. “I want to keep my music. Blast my parents, blast The Corporation, and blast you!” She got up and stormed toward the back door.
Jaden knew this would be his last chance to help her. If she walked out the door, the next time he’d see her was in the lineup for the Unemployed Zone.
He lurched off the couch and tackled her from behind. They both landed on the dusty carpet with the wind knocked out of them. “This won’t hurt, Ally,” Jaden panted. “You may feel a slight . . . pressure.”