Even though she wasn’t in the Archives, Asanti didn’t have to picture the digits spinning down on the thirty-six-hour clock. They were right in front of her. Because Fox had his own, perfectly synchronized to the one that hung above her desk.
Of course he does.
And so Asanti stated the obvious. “We’re running out of time.”
Fox very nearly smiled. The indulgent expression of a parent to a petulant child. “I’m aware of the time, Archivist Asanti. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not cleared for fieldwork. Team One will be departing for Seattle within the hour. They can handle anything that Team Three hasn’t.”
Asanti was more than passing familiar with condescending old white men, even when they were younger than she was. Unfortunately, as much as she might want to tell him exactly what an idiot he was, or shout in his smug face—so much more calculating since he had become head of the Society—she chose her words carefully. “You cannot send Team One to Seattle.”
Cardinal Fox leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “Team Three arrived on the ground yesterday. They missed their last two check-ins. Tell me why I should even wait for the thirty-six-hour clock to expire.”
“I didn’t say that Team Three didn’t need backup. I said that you cannot send Team One to Seattle. To be more precise, you shouldn’t.”
“And yet, you still haven’t told me why.”
“The last we heard from Sal, Team Three was in a crowded hotel in the middle of Seattle, Washington, a major city.” Asanti paused, then added: “A major American city.” Asanti paused again to see if Fox was going to catch up to her, but he didn’t. Asanti clarified, “If you send in a commando raid, innocent people are going to get hurt.”
Fox dismissed this. “Shah knows what she’s doing. I trust her to work clean.”
“I trust Shah. I don’t trust everyone else in that hotel.”
Asanti sighed inwardly. Fox still wasn’t getting it. She was going to have to spell this out.
“American hotel,” said Asanti. “Full of Americans. Who are a lovely people on the whole but many of whom have a disturbing tendency to carry too many guns and run to paranoid about their own government, terrorism, or the Illuminati trying to take over their country.”
“Their government has, by definition, taken over their country,” said Fox, but his smugness was slipping.
“And the Illuminati don’t exist,” said Asanti. “Your point?”
18 HOURS EARLIER
The lights glaring down at the front of the stage were so bright that from Tom’s place in the wings the only part of the start-up’s cofounder, Mark, that wasn’t in silhouette was the gleam of his freshly shaved scalp. In spite of a liberal coating of powder—supplied by their programmer, Amber—the sweat had already broken through. Hopefully, the VCs would write it off as an effect of the lights, and not nerves.
Actually, the sweat was from a far better source: the flush of triumph. It was the last day of the Amazon-sponsored tech accelerator, and for the first time all week, the team from Polly Mnemonic had a working prototype. Mark’s pitch was amazing; the UI was a joy to behold. Amber’s code was a thing of beauty, and now, thanks to Tom, when investors asked to try out the product, it would actually work.
Mark reached the microphone at the center of the stage. In the wings, the rest of the team held their breath. Mark began his speech:
“When asked what attributes they most prize in a personal assistant, ninety-five percent of executives said, ‘someone who knows and anticipates my needs.’ There’s something magical about a truly exceptional assistant. But let’s face it, for most of us, a human assistant is a luxury that long ago went the way of gold watches, pensions, and three-martini lunches. We have to make do with digital organizers, wearables, and automatic calendar alerts. But I want you to imagine a digital personal assistant who—from day one—knows your work schedule, your personal schedule, your project deliverables and deadlines, and where you and your spouse went on your first date . . . all without a single import or download.”
Sal shifted lower in her seat as the tech guy on stage droned on, trying to get a better view of the rest of the team clustered offstage.
The pitch was gathering steam: “Polly will change personal productivity and digital assistants forever. If you know it, she knows it. If you forget, she’ll remind you. If you remember, she won’t bug you. She is literally your second brain.”
“Is it just me,” said Sal, “or is that really creepy?”
Beside her, Grace used checking her hair as an excuse to hold up Liam’s smartphone camera at a better angle.
Sal could hear the smirk in Liam’s voice, even over her earpiece. “Could be creepier. He could tell them that the technology is based off of stolen oracle bones or that the more you give it to remember, the less information you’ll be able to keep in your brain.”
“For Silicon Valley investors, that might be a plus,” Sal...