Read Fragments Online

Authors: Dan Wells

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Survival Stories, #Social Issues, #Prejudice & Racism

Fragments (3 page)

BOOK: Fragments
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But this one has a printer.
She stopped, staring at a side table in the last office on the floor—a bigger office
than the rest, with the name
GUINEVERE CREECH
on the door: probably the local vice president or whatever their ranks were called.
There was blank paper scattered around the floor, wrinkly and discolored from past
rainstorms blowing through the broken window, and a small plastic box on a side table
by the desk. She recognized it as a printer—there were dozens in the hospital back
home, useless now because they had no ink, and she’d been tasked once with moving
them from one storage closet to another. In the old world they’d used them to write
out documents directly from a computer, so if there was a printer in this room, there
must have been a computer as well, at least at one time. She picked the thing up to
examine it more closely: no cord, or even a place to put one, which meant it was wireless.
She set it back down and knelt on the floor, looking under the side table; nothing
there. Why had someone gone through and removed all the computers—was it to hide their
data when the world fell apart? Surely Kira couldn’t be the first person to think
of coming here; ParaGen had built the Partials, for goodness’ sake, and they were
the world experts in biotech. Even if they didn’t get blamed for the Partial War,
the government would have contacted them about curing RM.
Assuming, of course, that the government didn’t know that the Partials carried the
cure.
She pushed the thought away. She wasn’t here to entertain conspiracy theories, she
was here to uncover facts. Maybe their computers had been seized?

She looked up, scanning the room from her hands and knees, and from this vantage point
saw something she hadn’t before: a shiny black circle in the black metal frame of
the desk. She moved her head and it winked at her, losing and catching the light.
She frowned, stood, then shook her head at the stupid simplicity of it all.

The desks
were
the computers.

Now that she saw it, it was obvious. The clear plastic desks were almost exact replicas,
in large scale, of the medicomp screen she used at the hospital. The brain—the CPU
and the hard drive and the actual computer—were all embedded in the metal edge, and
when turned on, the entire desk would light up with touch screens and keyboards and
everything else. She got down on her knees again, checking the base of the frame’s
metal legs, and shouted in triumph when she found a short black cord plugged into
a power socket in the floor. Another flock of sparrows lifted up and flew away at
the sound. Kira smiled, but it wasn’t truly a victory—finding the computers meant
nothing if she couldn’t turn them on. She would need a charging unit, and she hadn’t
packed one when she hastily left East Meadow; she felt stupid for the oversight, but
there was no changing it now. She would have to try to scavenge one in Manhattan,
maybe from a hardware store or electronics shop. The island had been considered too
dangerous to travel on since the Break, so most of it hadn’t been looted yet. Still,
she didn’t relish the thought of hauling a fifty-pound generator up those twenty-one
flights of stairs.

Kira blew out a long, slow breath, gathering her thoughts.
I need to find out what I am,
she thought.
I need to find out how my father is connected to this, and Nandita. I need to find
the Trust.
She pulled out the photo again, she and her father and Nandita all standing in front
of the ParaGen complex. Someone had written a message on it:
Find the Trust
. She didn’t even know exactly what the Trust was, let alone how to find it; she didn’t
even know who’d left her the photo or written the note on it, for that matter, though
she assumed from the handwriting that it was Nandita. The things she didn’t know seemed
to settle on her like a great, heavy weight, and she closed her eyes, trying to breathe
deeply. She had pinned all her hopes on this office, the only part of ParaGen she
could reach, and to find nothing of use in it, not even another lead, was almost too
much to bear.

She rose to her feet, walking quickly to the window for air. Manhattan stretched out
below her, half city and half forest, a great green mass of eager trees and crumbling,
vine-wrapped buildings. It was all so
big
, overwhelmingly big, and that was just the city—beyond it there were other cities,
other states and nations, entire other continents she had never even seen. She felt
lost, worn down by the sheer impossibility of finding even one small secret in a world
so huge. She watched a flock of birds fly by, oblivious to her and her problems; the
world had ended, and they hadn’t even noticed. If the last of the sentient species
disappeared, the sun would still rise and the birds would still fly. What did her
success or failure really mean?

And then she raised her head, set her jaw, and spoke.

“I’m not giving up,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how big the world is. All that gives
me is more places to look.”

Kira turned back to the office, going to the filing cabinet and pulling open the first
drawer. If the Trust had something to do with ParaGen, maybe a special project that
was connected to the Partial leadership, like Samm had implied, this financial office
would have had to process some money for it sooner or later, and there might be a
record she could find. She wiped the dirt from the table screen and started pulling
files from the cabinet, searching through them line by line, item by item, payment
by payment. When she finished with a folder, she swept it onto the floor in the corner
and started on a new one, hour after hour, stopping only when it had grown too dark
to read. The night air was cold, and she thought about starting a small fire—on top
of one of the desks, where she could contain it—but decided against it. Her campfires
down in the streets were easy to hide from anyone who might be watching, but a light
up here would be visible for miles. She retreated instead to the foyer at the top
of the stairs, closing all the doors and setting up her bedroll in the shelter of
the reception desk. She opened a can of tuna and ate it quietly in the dark, picking
it up with her fingers and pretending it was sushi. She slept lightly, and when she
woke in the morning, she went straight back to work, combing through the files. In
midmorning she finally found something.

“Nandita Merchant,” she read, a jolt through her system after searching for so long.
“Fifty-one thousand one hundred and twelve dollars paid on December 5, 2064. Direct
deposit. Arvada, Colorado.” It was a payroll statement, a massive one that seemed
to include employees from the entire multinational company. She frowned, reading the
line again. It didn’t say what Nandita’s job was, only what they’d paid her, and she
had no idea what that represented—was it a monthly wage, or a yearly? Or a one-time
fee for a specific job? She went back to the ledgers and found one for the previous
month, flipping through it quickly to find Nandita’s name. “Fifty-one thousand one
hundred and twelve dollars on November 21,” she read, and saw the same on November
7.
So it’s a biweekly salary, making her yearly . . . about one point two million dollars.
That sounds like a lot.
She had no frame of reference for old-world salaries, but as she glanced over the
list she saw that $51,112 was one of the highest figures. “So she was one of the bigwigs
in the company,” Kira muttered, thinking out loud. “She earned more than most, but
what did she do?”

She wanted to look up her father, but she didn’t even know his last name. Her own
last name, Walker, was a nickname she’d earned from the soldiers who’d found her after
the Break, walking mile after mile through an empty city, searching for food. “Kira
the Walker.” She’d been so young that she couldn’t remember her own last name, or
where her father worked, or even what city they’d lived in—

“Denver!” she shouted, the name suddenly coming to her. “We lived in Denver. That
was in Colorado, right?” She looked at Nandita’s listing again: Arvada, Colorado.
Was that near Denver? She folded the page carefully and stowed it in her pack, vowing
to search later for an old bookstore with an atlas. She looked back at the payroll
report, searching for her father’s first name, Armin, but the payments were organized
by surname, and finding a single Armin among the tens of thousands of people would
be more trouble than it was worth. At best, finding his name would confirm what the
photo already suggested: that Nandita and her father had worked in the same location
at the same company. It still wouldn’t tell her what they did or why.

Another day of research turned up nothing she could use, and in a fit of petulance
she snarled and threw the last folder out the broken window; as soon as she threw
it she berated herself for doing something to attract the attention of anyone else
who might be prowling the city. The odds were against it, of course, but that didn’t
make it smart to tempt fate. She stayed back from the window, hoping that whoever
saw it would chalk the errant paper up to wind or animal activity, and moved on to
her next project: the second floor.

It was really the twenty-second floor, she reminded herself, as she trudged up the
stairway to the next door. This one, oddly, was only barely closed, and when she pushed
it open she stepped into a sea of cubicles. There was no reception area here, and
only a handful of offices; everything else was low partitions and shared workspace.
Many of the cubicles had computers, she noticed, or obvious docks where a portable
computer could be plugged in—there were no fancy desk-screens on this floor—but what
really caught her attention were the cubicles that had empty cables. Places where
a computer should be, but wasn’t.

Kira froze, surveying the room carefully. It was windier in here than on the floor
below, thanks to a long wall of broken windows and the lack of office walls to break
up the airflow. The occasional piece of paper or swirl of dust blew past the cubicle
partitions, but Kira ignored them, looking instead at the six desks nearest to her.
Four were normal—monitors, keyboards, organizers, family photos—but in two of them
the computers were gone. Not just gone, but ransacked; the organizer and photos had
been pushed aside or even knocked on the floor, as if whoever took the computers was
in too great of a hurry to bother preserving anything else. Kira crouched down to
examine the nearest one, where a picture frame had fallen facedown. A layer of dirt
had collected over and around it, and with time and moisture mushrooms had taken root
in the dirt. It was hardly surprising—after eleven years of open-air access, half
the buildings in Manhattan had a layer of soil inside of them—but what stood out to
her was a small yellow stem, like a blade of grass, curling out from beneath the photo.
She looked up at the windows, gauging the angle, and guessed that yes, for a few hours
of the day this spot would get plenty of sunlight, more than enough to nurture a green
plant. There were other blades of grass around it as well, but again, that wasn’t
the issue. It was the way the grass grew out from underneath the photo. She picked
up the photo and tipped it away, exposing a small mass of beetles and mushrooms and
short, dead grass. She sat back, mouth open, stunned at the implications.

The photo had been knocked off the table
after
the grass had already started to grow.

The act hadn’t been recent. The picture frame had enough dirt and muck on top of it,
and around the edges, to show that it had lain there for several years. But it hadn’t
been lying there the full eleven. The Break had come and gone, the building had been
abandoned, the dirt and weeds had collected, and
then
the cubicle had been raided. Who could have done it? Human, or Partial? Kira examined
the space under the desk, finding a handful of other cables but no clear evidence
of who had taken the CPU they were connected to. She crawled into the next cube over,
the other one that had been looted, and found similar remains. Someone had climbed
up to the twenty-second floor, stolen two computers, and lugged them all the way back
down again.

Why would someone do it? Kira sat back, puzzling through the possibilities. If somebody
wanted information, she supposed it was easier to haul the computers down the stairs
rather than haul a generator up. But why these two and none of the others? What was
different about them? She looked around again and noted with surprise that these two
cubicles were the closest to the elevator. That made even less sense than anything
else: After the Break, there would have been no power to make the elevators run. That
couldn’t be the connection. There weren’t even names on the cubicle walls; if someone
had targeted these two computers specifically, they had to have inside knowledge.

Kira stood up and walked through the entire floor, going slowly, watching for anything
else that looked out of place or looted. She found a printer missing, but she couldn’t
tell if it had been taken before or after the Break. When she finished the central
room, she searched the handful of offices along the back wall, and gasped in surprise
when she found that one of them had been completely gutted: the computer gone, the
shelves emptied, everything. There was enough corporate detritus to make it look like
a once-functioning office—a phone and a wastebasket and various little stacks of papers
and so on—but nothing else. This office had far more shelving than the others as well,
all empty, and Kira wondered just how much, exactly, had been stolen from it.

She paused, staring at the empty desk. Something else was different about this one,
something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. There was a small desk organizer knocked
onto the floor, just as there had been in the cubicles, which implied that the office
had been raided with the same sense of anxious haste. Whoever had stolen these items
had been in an awfully big hurry. The now-empty cables all hung in the same way, though
the office had far more of them than the cubicles. She racked her brain, trying to
figure out what was bothering her, and finally hit on it: the small office had no
photos. Most of the desks she’d been scouring for the last two days had held at least
one family photo, and many of them had more: smiling couples, groups of kids in coordinated
outfits, the preserved images of families now long dead. This room, however, had no
photos at all. That meant one of two things: first, that the man or woman who worked
here had no family, or didn’t care enough about them to display photos. Second, and
more tantalizing, whoever had taken the equipment had also taken the photos. And the
most likely reason for that was that the person who’d taken the photos was the same
person who’d once worked in the room.

BOOK: Fragments
9.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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