First was denial. “You have to be fucking kidding me!,” Taiwo cried.
Then came anger.
“Fuck you you fucking monster!” she screamed.
After that, bargaining.
“There has to be a way to stop this.”
Depression followed quickly.
She bawled, unable to speak or even think clearly.
Finally, a cold acceptance gripped Taiwo. She wiped the tears and snot away, opened her laptop and started typing.
“Attached to this message are unmodified data files, emails and text messages. It is all evidence that Harrison Phillips, CEO of Platinum Galactic, has–” She stopped, backed up and typed, “– will commit 8 billion murders.”
Nichelle stared at Honor. The girl was lounging happily on the floor, working on homework while listening to music. She was still gangly but the suggestion of adult beauty surrounded her.
Nichelle imagined what she would look like in graduation robes. She imagined her in a wedding dress. In a maternity gown. Nichelle felt tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.
Nichelle would never see those things. Honor would never experience them. She was happy and oblivious, caught between childhood and womanhood, never to escape.
Nichelle wondered if she had the right to take that away, from Honor or anyone.
Justin stared at Honor’s picture. He might have remained paralyzed for hours but his phone started vibrating. Stacey’s face replaced his daughter’s.
He answered and said, “Hey.”
“Hey,” said Stacey. “I’m getting out tomorrow.” She paused. “I thought you would want to know.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Good.”
“Are you okay?”
Justin tightened his grip to stop the phone from shaking. “No,” he said.
“What?” she asked, real fear in her voice.
“Look,” he said, “you need to go home.”
“What? No. I want to–”
“No. Go home.”
Justin hung up and Honor’s face reappeared. He stared, still unable to dial.
Taiwo waited while Sammy’s files downloaded. He had backed everything up to their secret server from when they had been avid but destitute gamers. Sammy was smart but Taiwo had always been the better programmer and hacker.
While she waited she bought plane tickets. It would drain her savings to fly to America. After not showing up at her IT job tomorrow, she wouldn’t have a paycheck either.
A tone told her the files had downloaded: the contents of both his phone and personal computer, and a massive unidentified data file.
“Better be something big,” she whispered and started digging.
“No way,” said Bernie.
“Run it!” demanded Nichelle, frustrated.
“I have the world’s richest man threatening to sue us into oblivion. No.”
“God dammit, Bernie, this is the most important story in history. It is–” She cut of with a strangled sound. She couldn’t say the words.
“I get it,” said Bernie, “but we have to vet it — extensively — or we are dead.”
“We’re all dead anyway!” she screamed.
Bernie reached toward her but she slapped his hands away. “Then I’ll quit and tell everyone. Fuck Phillips and his lawyers!”
“He’ll destroy you,” said Bernie. “No one will believe you.”
Justin dropped the thick file onto Peter Zavod’s desk.
“That’s everything. Every irregularity. Every obfuscated change order.”
Zavod frowned. “Okay. What do you want?”
Justin yelled, “I want to know what the fuck is going on! Why is a corporate headquarters hardened against nuclear strike? Why are there 200 residential apartments? Why is there a fusion reactor in the basement?”
He leaned in so close his nose almost touched Zavod’s. “And why was hiding it important enough to try and kill Stacey?”
Zavod raised his hands and smiled ruefully. “I’ll tell you, but you aren’t going to like the answer.”
Taiwo Olalegbin finally got around to listening to her brother Sammy’s voicemails. She nodded and rolled her eyes as he described his new job and begged her to call. He was always the clingy twin. But, she knew that he knew that she loved him, even if she didn’t call often. She was busy.
Then his calls became more frequent and she felt a growing dread. In the last recording he said, “Taiwo, the world–” before being cut off.
Unsettled, she stopped what she was doing and called him. It didn’t even ring.
“This number is no longer in service.”
“Sit down” Nichelle told Bernie.
Bernie sat. His face was a mask of concern. “What’s this about?”
“This story,” she started. She shook her head. “This is big. And horrible. And I don’t–” She fought against imminent tears.
“Whoa,” said Bernie. “Take a breath. Calm down. Tell me what’s going on.”
As Nichelle took a long shuddering breath to compose herself, Bernie’s phone chimed. He answered. “Yes? Yeah, I’ll talk to him.” He paused, then said, “Yes, Mr. Phillips, what can I do for you?”
“No,” hissed Nichelle.
Bernie motioned to silence her. “Go on.” His concern darkened to anger.
Justin closed and locked the door behind him. Javier reclined in his chair with his arms crossed. “What the fuck do you want?” sneered Javier.
Justin didn’t answer. He just pulled the axe handle from his belt.
Two minutes later Javier was on the floor covering his head with his hands, swearing and coughing and wheezing.
“What the fuck do you want,” whined Javier.
Justin didn’t answer. He dropped the axe handle and walked out.
He pulled out his phone and dialed. “It’s Galvonsen. Tell Mr. Savod I am on my way,” he said. “No, I don’t have an appointment.”
Two and a half thousand years ago, fifty miles south of Athens, twenty thousand men labored in stone. They haunted narrow shafts to extract silver from the earth. They did not labor for wealth, but for their lives. They died of accidents and violence, sometimes as examples or warnings to their fellows. Whatever their lives had been before capture was gone forever. They were owned, body and soul, and their value was less than that of the pick they swung.
The Mines of Laurion were not the first site of brutal slavery, and they would be far from the last.