“Say … Torchy,” Hollis said. “How did you know the aliens were coming?”
“Because they always come.”
“All right … ” he said, shifting on the couch and giving Mia another of those Why the fuck are we here? looks. “So how did you know when they’d come … this time, I guess.”
“Because there are doors. When you take the medicines, you can see them. Sometimes, they can see you.”
“You mean drugs.”
To Mia, Hollis said, “I understand now. When our boy here takes drugs, he sees aliens.And remembers lunchboxes.” Then to Torchy: “Thanks for your time.”
“We’re not leaving,” Mia said. Theo and Carol were out of ideas; they knew only that a vast power source from the southwest (based on the location of IP routers or something Mia didn’t understand) was lighting up whatever the aliens had done to the Astral data like a Christmas tree. At first, they’d thought it was a local problem, able to be addressed locally. But, Carol said, the Astral datacenter was now only part of the problem. If they couldn’t find this other power source,anything they did with the local databank would be pointless. But it wasn’t normal data; it came somehow through the air without the aid of electricity or internet. And they’d had no idea how to find it until Mia, on a whim, had read the right thing at the right time and suggested finding Torchy Banner. Not that Hollis planned to let her hear the end of it.
“Yes,” Hollis said. “We are.”
He was halfway to standing when Torchy said, “You had a lunchbox, too.”
“Come on, Mia.” Hand out, but Mia wasn’t budging. He was so infuriating. If they didn’t have it out soon — or make peace, which never really felt possible — she might just have to kill him.
“It had an army man on it,” Torchy went on, ignoring their power struggle. “The clasp was broken, so you wrapped it with a rubber band — one of those big ones, from your father’s work. You told him, ‘I want a new box. They are making fun of me. I want the one with the cartoon robots — one that actually works.’ But you were poor and he did not buy it, and so you walked to school every day with your army man lunchbox with the rubber band on it, and everyday you put it in the cloak room instead of the cooler because you wanted nobody to see. But one day there was no ice pack and it was warm and in the morning time, the mayo on your sandwich went bad. When you ate it you were throwing up for days. They made fun of you more for that,and after you took that lunchbox and threw it into the river and told your family you lost it. After that it was only leftover shopping bags to carry your lunch, which was worse. So you went to the river again, thinking you might be able to find it. But of course you could not.”
Hollis had never fully straightened. He was looking at Torchy like something that’d crawled from under a rock.
“How the hell did you know that?”
Mia looked from one man to the other. She asked Hollis, “Is … Is it true? Just like he said?”
“Nobody knows about that. I was alone. I never told anyone.”
Torchy still had his arm across the back of the couch, still with his legs crossed. He looked at Mia. “You do not know this?” he asked. “It is so loud, from south by southwest.”
“I’m right here, Freak Show,” Hollis said, suddenly angry. “I’m not at the bottom of your weird southern memory stream. Tell me how the hell you hear my memory coming from there if I’m right the fuck in front of you.”
“Maybe you went there,” Torchy said, “or maybe you will.”
But Mia didn’t like Hollis’s tone, and was fascinated by the way Torchy had, somehow, nailed him. She pulled out a notebook and said, “Torchy. Do you know where exactly? San Antonio isn’t small.”
He waved both hands. “Give me a map.”
“Do you have a map?”
“In the map room.”
Which, of course, the luxury penthouse had in spades. It looked like a room on a trans-oceanic boat from the last century, when sailors had to navigate using transits to measure the stars. She found a Texas atlas quickly, hurrying sot hat Hollis wouldn’t pop Torchy’s head off while she was out of the room. Twice she heard Torchy say something and conclude with “Ha ha ha ha.” She worked faster. Hollis, hearing that laugh, might just go to murder.
“South,” Torchy said, waving Mia through page after page. “Southwest.”
Torchy stopped her on a page showing a zoom of San Antonio, hovered his hands mystically above the page, then stabbed at a spot.
Mia and Hollis looked. If his prediction was accurate, it meant the missing piece in the alien machine — source of all the power Theo and Carol saw streaming into the datacenter through technologies unknown — was about ten miles outside of town, at the intersection of two rather ordinary semi-rural streets. A destination, Theo had said,that he should be able to verify or deny once he knew where to look and what triangulations to try.
“Vine Street,” Hollis said, reading the map. “That’s where you say you ‘hear’ my private memories somehow coming from, even though I’ve never been anywhere near it in my life?”
“Is easy,” Torchy told him, smiling, missing all the ire in Hollis’s stare. Then he stood. “You would like some Fresca?”