From the award-winning, best-selling author of The Circle comes an exciting new follow-up. When the world’s largest search engine/social media company, the Circle, merges with the planet’s dominant ecommerce site, it creates the richest and most dangerous - and, oddly enough, most beloved - monopoly ever known: the Every.
Delaney Wells is an unlikely new hire at the Every. A former forest ranger and unwavering tech skeptic, she charms her way into an entry-level job with one goal in mind: to take down the company from within. With her compatriot, the not-at-all-ambitious Wes Makazian, they look for the Every's weaknesses, hoping to free humanity from all-encompassing surveillance and the emoji-driven infantilization of the species. But does anyone want what Delaney is fighting to save? Does humanity truly want to be free?
Studded with unforgettable characters, outrageous outfits, and lacerating set-pieces, this companion to The Circle blends absurdity and terror, satire and suspense, while keeping the listener in apprehensive excitement about the fate of the company - and the human animal.
Release date: November 16, 2021
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The Every: A Novel
Delaney emerged from the dim subway and into a world of sterling light. The day was clear, and the sun struck the Bay’s numberless waves and threw golden sparks everywhere. Delaney turned away from the water and walked the hundred feet to the Every campus. This alone—taking the subway, making her way to the gate unaccompanied, without a vehicle—made her an anomaly and confused the gate’s two guards standing in their booth. Their domain was glass, pyramidal, like the tip of a crystalline obelisk.
“You walked here?” asked one of the guards. Rowena, by her badge, was maybe thirty, raven-haired and dressed in a crisp yellow top, snug like a bicycle bib. She smiled, revealing an endearing gap between her two front teeth.
Delaney provided her name, and said that she had an interview with Dan Faraday.
“Finger, please?” Rowena asked.
Delaney put her thumb on the scanner and a grid of photos, videos and data appeared on Rowena’s screen. There were pictures of Delaney she hadn’t seen herself—was that a gas station in Montana? In the full-body shots, she was slouching, the burden of her too-tall teenhood. Standing by the booth, Delaney straightened her posture as her eyes wandered over images of her in her Park Ranger uniform, at a mall in Palo Alto, riding a bus in what looked to be Twin Peaks.
“You grew your hair out,” Rowena said. “Still short, though.”
Delaney reflexively ran her fingers through her thick black bob.
“Says your eyes are green,” Rowena said. “They look brown. Can you get closer?” Delaney got closer. “Ah! Pretty,” Rowena said. “I’ll call Dan.”
While Rowena was contacting Faraday, another snafu occupied the second guard, a gaunt and sullen man of about fifty. A white van had pulled up, and the driver, a red-bearded man sitting high above the guards’ window, explained that he had a delivery.
“Delivery of what?” the gaunt guard asked.
The driver briefly turned his head toward the back of the van, as if to be sure of his impending description. “It’s a bunch of baskets. Gift baskets. Stuffed animals, chocolate, that kind of thing,” he said.
Now Rowena, whom Delaney assumed was the alpha of the glass obelisk, took over. “How many baskets?” she asked.
“I don’t know. About twenty,” the driver said.
“And is anyone expecting these?” Rowena asked.
“I don’t know. I think it’s for potential clients maybe?” the driver said, a sudden exhaustion in his voice. This was evidently a conversation already far longer than what he was accustomed to. “I think these are just gifts for some people that work here,” he said, and reached to the passenger seat, where he found a tablet and tapped it a few times. “It says these are for Regina Martinez and the Initiative K Team.”
“And who is the sender?” Rowena asked. Her tone, now, was almost amused. It was clear, to Delaney at least, that this particular delivery would not be consummated.
Again the driver consulted his tablet. “It says the sender is something called MDS. Just M-D-S.” Now the driver’s voice had, too, taken on a fatalistic tone. Would it matter, he seemed to wonder, if he even knew what MDS stood for?
Rowena’s face softened. She murmured into a microphone, apparently speaking to a different security phalanx within the Every. “Never mind. I’ve got it. It’s a turnaround.” She tilted her head sympathetically to the driver. “You can turn around just up here.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac fifteen yards ahead.
“So I drop the baskets there?” the driver asked.
Rowena smiled again. “Oh no. We won’t be accepting your…”—the pause seemed meant to allow sufficient venom to accumulate for the next, heretofore benign, word—“baskets.”
The driver raised his hands to heaven. “I’ve been delivering for twenty-two years and no one’s ever refused delivery.” He looked to Delaney, who was still standing next to the booth, as if he might find in her a potential ally. She averted her eyes, resting them upon the campus’s tallest building, an aluminum-clad corkscrew tower that housed Algo Mas, the company’s algorithm thinktank.
“First of all,” Rowena explained, clearly uninterested in the driver’s history of successful delivery, “your cargo doesn’t meet security thresholds. We’d have to X-ray every one of your…”—again she hissed the word—“baskets, and we aren’t prepared to do that. Secondly, the company has a policy whereby we don’t bring unsustainable or improperly sourced goods onto campus. My guess is that those baskets”—somehow she’d made it an epithet—“contain extensive plastic packaging? And processed foods? And factory-farmed fruit without organic or fair-trade certification, all of it no doubt covered with pesticides? Are there nuts in these”—still more venom—“baskets? I’m assuming so, and this campus is nut-free. And you said something about stuffed animals? There’s no way I could let you bring cheap non-biodegradable toys onto campus.”
“You don’t accept non-biodegradable toys?” the driver asked. He had his meaty palm against the dashboard now, as if bracing himself against collapse.
Rowena exhaled loudly. “Sir, I’ve got a few cars behind you now. You can turn around just past the booth.” She pointed to the roundabout that was no doubt busy all day with people, trucks and goods, unwanted by the Every, returning to the unexamined world. The driver stared long at Rowena, and finally put his van into gear and rolled toward the turnaround.
The scene was odd in so many ways, Delaney thought. A non-Every delivery driver in the first place. Five years earlier, the Circle had bought an ecommerce behemoth named after a South American jungle, and the acquisition created the richest company the world had ever known. The subsummation necessitated the Circle changing its name to the Every, which seemed to its founders definitive and inevitable, hinting as it did at ubiquity and equality. The ecommerce giant, too, was happy for a new start. The once-rational, once-dependable online marketplace had been allowed to devolve into a chaotic wasteland of shady vendors, product knockoffs and outright fraud. The company had ceded all control and responsibility, and customers began to peel off; no one loved being cheated or deceived. By the time the site course-corrected, they’d lost the trust of a fickle public. The Circle engineered a stock takeover, and the site’s founder, increasingly distracted by divorces and lawsuits, was only too happy to cash out and devote his time to space exploration with his fourth spouse. They were planning to retire on the Moon.
After the acquisition, a new logo was conjured. Essentially it was three waves crashing around a perfect circle, and hinted at the flow of water, the bursting of new ideas, of interconnectivity, at infinity. Successful or not, it improved upon the Circle’s previous logo, which implied a manhole cover, and easily beat the longtime logo of the ecommerce behemoth, which was an insincere smirk. Because the negotiations had been fraught and finally unfriendly, now that the merger was complete, it was unwise to use the ecommerce company’s previous name on campus; if it was mentioned at all, it was referred to as the jungle, lowercase j intentional.
The Circle had been in nearby San Vincenzo since its inception, but a fortuitous confluence of events brought them to Treasure Island, largely manmade, in the middle of San Francisco Bay—extending from a real island called Yerba Buena. This new landmass was built in 1938, the intended home of a new airport. When WWII broke out, it was converted to a military base, and in the decades since, its patchwork of airplane hangars were slowly converted to maker spaces, wineries, and affordable housing—all with breathtaking views of the Bay, the bridges, the East Bay hills. No developers would touch it, though, given the unknown military (and presumed toxic) waste buried under its abundant concrete. But in the 2010s, speculators finally worked out the mitigation, and glorious plans were drawn up. A new waterport was built, a new subway stop was added, and a four-foot wall was erected around the perimeter for the next few decades’ expected sea-level rise. Then the pandemics struck, capital dried up, and the island was there for the taking. The only catch was California law dictated that access to the waterfront be public. The Every fought this quietly, then publicly, but ultimately lost, and a shoreline perimeter path around the island remained available to anyone who could get there.
Delaney spun left to find a man in his early forties standing before her. His head was shaved, and his large brown eyes were magnified by rimless glasses. The collar of his black, zippered shirt was positioned upward, his legs smothered in snug green denim.
“Dan?” she asked.
After the pandemics, handshakes were medically fraught—and, many thought, aggressive—but no one substitute-greeting had been agreed upon. Dan chose to tip an imaginary top hat in Delaney’s direction. Delaney offered a brief bow.
“Should we walk?” he asked, and slipped past her, through the gate. He strolled not into campus but out into the island’s perimeter sidewalk.
Delaney followed. She had heard this was the way of most first interviews at the Every. With humans as with non-biodegradable toys, the Every did not want the unscreened, the unchosen, risking the infection of the campus. Each new person presented a security risk of one kind or another, and given that interviewees like Delaney had no clearances and had not been vetted in any thorough way—not beyond nine or so cursory AI screenings—it was best to conduct the first interview off-campus. But this was not what Dan said.
“I need to get my steps in,” he said instead, pointing to his oval, a ubiquitous bracelet able to track myriad health metrics, made by the Every and required by all insurers and most governments.
“Me too,” Delaney said, and pointed to her own oval, which she loathed with molten fury but which was integral to her disguise.
Dan Faraday smiled. Every candidate, Delaney was sure, came wearing all possible Every products. It was not pandering. It was an obligatory ante before the game began. Dan motioned Delaney to cross the street, entering the public promenade.
Forgive me, Delaney thought. Everything from here on out is lies.
For now, Delaney’s task was to charm Dan Faraday so outrageously that he recommended her for a second, more thorough interview. There would be at least three after that. Some Every employees, she’d heard, had been interviewed twelve times over six months before being hired.
“We can talk and look around,” Dan said, his eyes amiable, reasonable, seeming incapable of anything but calm deliberation. “If you see some food or beverage you want along the way, we can stop and sit.”
The tiny neighborhood around the Every campus, a string of ostensibly private-sector businesses catering to tourists there for the view, had the look of a hastily assembled film set. There was a dimly lit architectural firm devoid of people, and brightly decorated but depopulated pastry shops and vegan ice cream parlors. The streets were largely empty but for the occasional pair of people looking precisely like Delaney and Dan: actual staff member—or Everyone—interviewing potential employee, or Everyoneabee.
Delaney, rarely nervous, was rattled. She’d spent years assiduously building her profile, her digital self, with meticulous care, but there were so many things she couldn’t know if they knew. More pressingly, on the way to the campus, Delaney had been shammed. On the subway platform, she’d dropped a wrapper, and before she could pick it up, an older woman with a phone had filmed the crime. Like a growing majority of tech innovations, the invention and proliferation of Samaritan, an app standard on Everyphones, was driven by a mixture of benign utopianism and pseudofascist behavioral compliance. A million shams—a bastard mash of Samaritan and shame—were posted each day, exposing swervy drivers, loud gym grunters, Louvre line-cutters, single-use-plastic-users, and blithe allowers of infants-crying-in-public. Getting shammed was not the problem. The problem was if you got ID’d and tagged, and if the video got widely shared, commented on, and tipped your Shame Aggregate to unacceptable levels. Then it could follow you for life.
“First of all, congratulations on being here,” Dan said. “Only three percent of applicants make it this far. As you can imagine, the AI screenings are very rigorous.”
“Absolutely,” Delaney said, and winced. Absolutely?
“I was impressed by your résumé, and personally appreciate that you were a libarts major,” Dan said. Libarts. Dan had either invented this or was trying to popularize it. As if unsure how it was going over, he pinched the end of his shirt-zipper. “As you know, we hire just as many libarts majors as we do engineers. Anything to propagate new ideas.” He let go of his shirt-zipper. It seemed to be his way of holding his breath. As he formed and uttered a sentence, he held the zipper; if it came out okay, he relaxed and let it go.
Delaney knew about the Every’s openness to non-engineers, and relied upon it. Still, she’d gone to great lengths to make herself uniquely appealing even among that math-weak category.
Two years ago, Delaney had moved to California and had worked for a startup—Ol Factory, it was called—whose mission was to bring smells into gaming. Their most successful release, Stench of War!, brought the smells of diesel, dust and decaying flesh into the homes of teen boys worldwide. She assumed that Ol Factory was plumping itself for Every acquisition, and she was proved correct when that deal was finalized, eighteen months after she joined. The founders, Vijay and Martin, were brought to the Every and given nothing to do. Delaney, being relatively new to Ol Factory, was not automatically brought with the acquisition, but Vijay and Martin were determined to get Every interviews for anyone at Ol Factory who wanted one.
“Your background and point of view, actually, are just what we look for,” Dan said. “You’re disobedient, and we strive to be, too.” Disobedient was a recently favored word, replacing mutinous, which had replaced insurgent, which had replaced disruption/disruptor. Dan had the zipper in his fingers again. It was as if he wanted to unzip it completely, to break out of this shirt, like a child chafing at an itchy sweater. The sentence having cleared his internal censor, he let it go.
They passed a shop that purported to sell hardware, and was full of hardware, beautifully arranged, but free of customers or staff.
“I’ve always admired that about the Every,” Delaney said. “You planted your flag on Titan while everyone else was contemplating the Moon.”
Dan turned his head to her and Delaney knew the combination had landed. His eyes were warm and admiring, and then they narrowed, signaling a transition to more serious terrain.
“We read your paper,” he said.
Delaney’s face burned for a moment. Though her thesis was the centerpiece to her candidacy, and, she was sure, much of the reason she’d been granted an interview, she hadn’t expected to get into it so quickly. She’d assumed this first interview was simply a sanity check.
She’d written her college thesis on the folly of antitrust actions against the Circle, given whether or not it was a monopoly was immaterial if that’s what the people wanted. She coined the term Benevolent Market Mastery for the seamless symbiosis between company and customer, a consumer’s perfect state of being, where all desires were served efficiently and at the lowest price. Fighting such a thing was against the will of the people, and if regulators were at odds with what the people wanted, what was the point? She posited that if a company knows all and knows best, shouldn’t they be allowed to improve our lives, unimpeded? She made sure the paper was disseminated online. It had been mentioned, she came to know, on various internal Every staff threads and had been referred to, briefly but significantly, in a rare EU ruling that went the Every’s way.
“The salient points in what you wrote were discussed a lot around here,” Dan said. He’d stopped walking. Delaney marveled at how quickly her armpits could become dank swamps. “You articulated things that of course we believed to be true, but we’d been unable to get the ideas across effectively.”
Delaney smiled. The Every was the company most crucial to the dissemination of the world’s ideas—in the form of words and audio and video and memes—and yet the company had absolutely no clue how to explain itself to governments, regulators and critics. The Every’s leadership, especially since the forced semi-retirement of Eamon Bailey, erstwhile barker and evangelist, was perpetually tone-deaf, arrogant, and occasionally outright offensive. They had never seemed sorry for any regulatory crime, nor chastened by any misery-causing use of their products. The Circle had disseminated hate a million times a day, causing untold suffering and death; they had facilitated the degradation of democracy worldwide. In response, they formed committees to discuss the problem. They tweaked algorithms. They banned a few high-profile hatemongers and added poorly paid moderators in Bangladesh.
“The way you framed the antitrust struggles we’ve had,” Dan continued, “through the lens of history—it was very enlightening, even for someone like me, and I’ve been here since the beginning.” His voice had gone wistful. “You have a very fine mind, and that’s what we solve for here.”
“Thank you,” Delaney said, and smiled to herself. Solve for.
“How was it received by your thesis advisor?” Dan asked.
She thought of her professor, Meena Agarwal, with a stab of regret. Delaney had taken Agarwal’s course, “Free Things > Free Will,” her sophomore year, and had fallen boundlessly under Agarwal’s influence, coming to believe that the Circle was not only a monopoly but also the most reckless and dangerous corporate entity ever conjured—and an existential threat to all that was untamed and interesting about the human species.
Two years later, when Delaney asked Agarwal to advise her thesis, she readily agreed, but was shocked when Delaney turned in a 77-page treatise on the anti-entrepreneurial folly of regulating the Circle. Agarwal had given Delaney an A. “I grant you this grade for the rigor of the argument and research here,” Agarwal wrote, “but with profound moral reservations about your conclusions.”
“I did well,” Delaney said.
Dan smiled. “Good. There’s still some respect for intellectual independence in academia.”
Delaney and Dan turned a corner and almost ran into another first interview in progress. A stylish young Everyone was walking with a man who appeared to be at least fifty but was trying frantically to look more vibrant and necessary than his age might imply. His glasses were orange-framed, his button-down black and shiny, his sneakers new and electric green. His interviewer was a lean young woman in silver leggings, and Delaney was sure she saw the woman’s eyes meet Dan’s and open wide for a microsecond in mocking distress. Dan gave her a tip of his imaginary top hat.
“We’re committed to hiring without regard to age,” Dan said, and Delaney wondered if he saw her, at thirty-two, as fulfilling a kind of anti-ageist quota. “Older candidates have so much life experience to draw from,” he said, and swept his eyes across Delaney’s shoulders, as if she kept her wisdom there.
“Shall we?” he said, and guided Delaney toward a playground, designed by Yayoi Kusama and paid for by the Every. Adults welcome! a sign said, and then, below and in parentheses: If accompanied by a child. Delaney glanced at the small print, which emphasized the importance of Play (always capitalized) in the creative life of adults.
Capital-P Play was last year’s management theory, following multitasking, singletasking, grit, learning-from-failure, napping, cardioworking, saying no, saying yes, the wisdom of the crowd > trusting one’s gut, trusting one’s gut > the wisdom of the crowd, Viking management theory, Commissioner Gordon workflow theory, X-teams, B-teams, embracing simplicity, pursuing complexity, seeking zemblanity, creativity through radical individualism, creativity through groupthink, creativity through the rejection of groupthink, organizational mindfulness, organizational blindness, microwork, macrosloth, fear-based camaraderie, love-based terror, working while standing, working while ambulatory, learning while sleeping, and, most recently, limes.
“How were things at Ol Factory?” Dan asked, sitting on an enormous rubber mushroom. Delaney sat opposite him, on a llama made of recycled plastic fibers.
Delaney knew that the easiest mistake she could make now would be to criticize her former bosses. “It was outstanding,” she said. Outstanding, she’d heard, was a word beloved at the Every. “They treated me well. I learned a world every day.” Learned a world. She’d never uttered this phrase before. But when she glanced at Dan, he seemed to approve.
“I liked that acquisition,” Dan said. “The numbers were big but the talent was…” Delaney was sure he normally would have said outstanding, but she’d stolen the word. He found an alternative: “…stellar. What did you think of the acquisition price?”
“Talent is expensive,” she said, and he smiled. It was the only right answer, because there was no logic to the numbers. The Every had bought Ol Factory, a three-year-old company with twenty-two full-time employees and no profit, for just shy of two billion dollars.
“Well put,” Dan said.
There did not seem to be a point in any purchase, for any tech buyer or seller, unless the price was a billion dollars. Delaney had paid attention to Ol Factory’s revenues, and was unaware of any incoming funds that exceeded $23 million in the totality of the company’s existence. And yet the price the Every paid to purchase the company was $1.9 billion. This was much like the unprofitable headphone company that went for $1 billion, and the unprofitable VR firm that went for $2.8 billion, and the unprofitable nonviolent gaming firm that went for $3.4. The numbers seemed based on little more than the roundness of the figure and a wonderful logic loop: if you paid a billion, it was worth a billion—a bold notion unburdened by a thousand years of business accounting.
“I haven’t met Vijay and Martin,” Dan said. He was swaying now, and Delaney realized that his mushroom had a flexible stalk. She wondered if her llama might be similarly malleable. She tried. It wasn’t.
“I believe they’re in the Romantic Period,” he said, waving a hand in the general direction of the campus. Somewhere in there, Vijay and Martin were installed. She liked them a great deal, and assumed they were now miserable, as were every team of founders-who’d-sold-out, and would be for the five years they’d agreed to stay while vesting, after which they would peel off and start family foundations.
But the billion-dollar acquisitions kept the world of tech alive and dreaming, and the smartest entrepreneurs were those who recognized that preparing oneself for Every acquisition was far easier, and far more logical, than either staying private and trying to make a profit—Sisyphean madness—or going the treacherous and unpredictable route of an IPO.
“I know your title changed a few times, so can you talk about your role at Ol Factory? Doesn’t have to be linear,” Dan asked. “Can I?” He stood up and indicated he wanted to switch to Delaney’s llama. Delaney left her llama and took his mushroom-seat.
“It was amorphous,” she said, and saw a flash of admiration animate Dan’s eyes. Another word he liked. He was easy, she realized. For years, the Every, through its auto-fill algorithms, had squeezed out thousands of words, favoring the most-likely over the lesser-used, and this had had the unexpected effect of rendering wide swaths of the English language nearly obsolete. When a word like amorphous was used, the ear of an Everyone was surprised, as if hearing an almost-familiar song from a largely lost time.
Delaney laid out her employment history at Ol Factory. She’d come in as an executive assistant, more or less, and for a while after that was called Office Manager, though the job was always the same in that it encompassed everything. She arranged for the snacks and lunches. She arranged for the maintenance of the offices, kept everyone fed, hired and directed the gardeners. She put on every event, from brown-bag office meetings to Presidio retreats to Martin’s wedding on the peak of Mt. Tamalpais (for which she’d had to hire a team of paragliders willing to fly in tuxedos). She explained all this to Dan, with total honesty but hoping to impress upon him that she did not want to plan parties and handle catering at the Every.
“I did do some of the interviews for new staff,” she noted. “Just the initial sanity checks.” She smiled knowingly at Dan, hoping he would appreciate this attempt at connecting tasks common to them both.
He smiled back, but perfunctorily. She’d hit a nerve. And she’d hit nerves before. The Everyones she’d met, six or seven of them at bars or dinners, were invariably normal humans, every one of them idealistic and very often brilliant in some way, and most of them capable of candor about their work and lives. But there was, with each of them, a line that was not crossed. She would be chatting amiably with them for twenty minutes about the many questionable or ridiculous aspects of life within the Every, or its occasionally positive but usually disastrous impact on the world, and just when Delaney felt that this Everyone was free to say and think as they pleased, some subject, some sentence, would go too far, and this new Every-friend would retreat to a more formal, defensive posture. The word monopoly was not spoken. Kool-Aid was not said. Any comparison, even in drunken jest, between Jim Jones, or David Koresh, or Keith Raniere, and Eamon Bailey—the Circle’s co-founder—was considered in poor taste and not remotely apt. The mention of Stenton, another of the company’s Three Wise Men, who had left the Every to form an unholy alliance with a public-private company in China, soured any conversation beyond repair. Knowing what to say about Mae Holland, now the Every’s CEO, was hard to know.
Mae had begun, ten years ago, in the Circle’s customer service department, soon becoming one of the company’s first fully transparent staffers, streaming her days and nights, and because she was utterly loyal to the company, and also young and attractive and reasonably charismatic, she rose through the ranks with startling speed. Her detractors found her dull and exasperatingly careful. Her fans—far greater in number—considered her mindful, respectfully ambitious, inclusive. Both sides, though, agreed on one thing: she hadn’t brought a significant new idea to the company in all her years there. Even after the merger with the jungle, she seemed perplexed with what it all meant and how the companies might be threaded together for maximum benefit.
“Ol Factory was how many people?” Dan asked.
Delaney knew Dan knew this number, and that if she herself didn’t know the exact number of employees, it would paint her as either someone who didn’t care about her fellow staffers, or as someone who couldn’t count.
“Twenty-two and a half,” she said. “There was one new dad who was working part-time when we were acquired.”
“They had a good life-balance there, do you think?” Dan asked. He was pulling on his shirt-zipper again.
Delaney told him about the many days they took lunches outside, the thrice-yearly retreats (which she planned), the one warm Friday in June when Vijay and Martin sent everyone to the beach in Pacifica.
“I like that,” Dan said. “But given you started at such a small place, do you think you’d like working at a much larger company like the Every? We’re looking for a certain degree of absorbability.”
“I do,” she said. Absorbability.
There had been nineteen suicides on this Every campus in the last three years, mirroring a global uptick, and no one wanted to talk about them—chiefly because no one at the Every seemed to know why, or how to stop them. Even the number nineteen was debatable, for there was no local news, there were no journalists—all of that wiped out by social media, the advertising apocalypse and, more than anything else, the war on subjectivity—so any knowledge of the deaths at all was pieced together from rumor and quickly muffled accounts by those on the Bay who’d seen a body here or there washed ashore. That was one of the ways Everyones often chose—they threw themselves to the sea rising all around them.
“I have to admit,” Delaney said, “I had a feeling that Ol Factory might be acquired sooner or later, so I’ve had time to think about coming here. Not that I would presume to be hired. But I have had time to ponder it, and savor the prospect.”
Delaney’s purpose in joining the Every was to kill it. She’d waited years for the chance to work at the company, to enter the system with the intent of destroying it. Her college paper had been the beginning of her on-again, off-again subterfuge. Even then she knew she’d need to appear to them an ally, a confrere they could welcome inside the gates. Once inside, Delaney planned to examine the machine, test for weaknesses, and blow the place up. She would Snowden it, Manning it. She would feel it out and Felt it. She did not care if she did it in the civilized, covert, information-dump sort of way her predecessors practiced, or through a more frontal assault. She intended to harm no one, never to graze a physical hair on a physical head, but somehow she would end the Every, finish its malignant reign on earth.
Dan dismounted his llama and checked his oval again. He began to jog in place, picking up the pace until he was a blurry mess of knees and fists. This went on for two minutes, no more, at which point a celebratory sound came from his oval, and he stopped.
“Sorry,” he said to Delaney, panting. “It’s a promise I made to my wife. It’s why I went vegan, and why I have to do cardio when the oval says it’s optimal. She died last year.”
“Oh God. I’m so sorry,” Delaney said.
“Have you gotten an MRI recently?” Dan asked her.
She hadn’t. Dan had pulled up his sleeve, revealing his phone, attached to his forearm, a popular new style. He scrolled through what seemed to be thousands of videos of the same woman in a home with blond floors, in a hammock on a verdant slope, kneeling in a rose garden. She looked far too young to be gone.
“This is Adira,” he said, as the thumbnails sped by. He seemed to be trying to decide which one to show Delaney, a person whom he had just met. “She was already Stage 4 when they found the tumor,” he said, and looked up at the Bay Bridge, at a tiny car catching the light as it sped silently westward. “Anyway. She made me promise I’d stay ahead of things, health-wise. I urge you to do so, too.”
“I will,” Delaney said, utterly blindsided. Dan, she was certain, actually cared about her and her health, and this felt like a cruel trick.
He continued scrolling. Delaney prayed he would not choose a video, that he would not ask her to watch it. But he did.
“She was a big runner,” he said, and Adira came alive on the screen. She had just finished a race, and was standing with her arms folded over her head, pacing, smiling, with the number 544 pinned to her tanktop. Delaney hoped she wouldn’t have to hear Adira’s voice.
“Sorry,” Dan said, and turned up the volume.
“Did I just do that?” Adira asked, heaving, smiling.
“You did,” an offscreen voice said. It was Dan’s. He sounded so proud. “You did it, my sweet,” and the footage ended.
Dan’s finger tapped the screen and scrolled again, looking for more moments in Adira’s life to show. He seemed to have everything there, all of Adira, in the phone strapped to his arm, and Delaney stood next to him, watching him search and search for more.
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