The Dealey Five
Chapter 17 (or, "Damage Control")
Where We Last Left Off: Jason and Rifka made their way back to Mac’s apartment, and were just getting together their grand master plan when they were interrupted by Isabelle Plotnikov.
Carissa’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. She turned to Mac, giving him a “help!” look.
“No,” Isabelle said, and she grabbed Carissa by the shoulder. “No answers from Mac. He gives enough of those, anyway. I want to know, now, from you. Who am I?”
Carissa still tried to form words, and instead felt tears spring to her eyes. Mac’s right. Even though I saved this world, I’ll never change. I’ll always be the same scared person. Then, it occurred to her: if she couldn’t trust Plotnikov, who could she trust?
She closed her eyes and pretended it was Isabel in front of her. “You’re right. You’re not from this world.”
Isabelle stared back at her in shock. Mac’s mouth was wide open. “Carissa!”
“No. She needs to hear this.” Carissa opened her eyes. “I need to say this. Isabelle, who told you that you weren’t from this world?”
Isabelle started shaking, so Carissa invited her in. The living room was empty (as the kids were in the bonus room) so they sat on the couch in relative silence. Carissa was quiet, waiting for Isabelle to say the first word. “Take your time.”
The girl ran a hand through her blonde hair, clearly nervous. “There was a man,” Isabelle finally said, trying to get her bearings. “He called my mother on the telephone and then spoke to me. He said that I wasn’t from here, that I was really from another world, a world that disappeared or something? He said that the world I was from, well, we could get it back, and he said to join his group of people fighting for this other world. I hung up on him, but he just kept calling. I finally asked what proof he had of this, and he told me that you would know. He specifically said your name. I came straight here after that.”
“Who would have called you?” Carissa thought out loud. “Especially with a claim like that.”
“I don’t know. But he said that you are from this world, and you did something to it to fix it, and when you did my world disappeared. For some reason, I was the only one from that world to survive. I didn’t get anything else from him. I trust you, Carissa. I want to hear it from you.”
“So you literally came straight here after he hung up,” Mac said. “Your parents know you’re here, right?”
“They do. Mac, are they my real parents? What is this other world I’m from?”
“Ask her,” Mac said as he pointed at Carissa, which translated to You got yourself in this mess, you get yourself out.
Carissa took a deep breath. “Fine. I’ll tell you everything. I promise, no matter how hard it is. No matter what I say, you are still my best friend. Just tell me one thing. This man…did he introduce himself, or were there any other traits you could identify?”
Isabelle steadied herself on the couch. “He had an accent...something Eastern and familiar, like from my grandparents’ home country. That’s all.”
“You know,” Tama said, “it’s kind of funny to watch them sleep sometimes.” He moved Rosa’s hand from where it was sitting on the chair and put one of her fingers in her nose.
Jason tried his best not to laugh. Of all of the kids in the Dealey Five, he would have never pegged Tamasine as a trickster. “She’s gonna kill you, man.”
“She won’t know it’s me.” Tama then moved on to Rifka. “She’s had a long night, so I’ll make hers simple…” He pulled out her hair, which was already down from its usual pigtails, and pulled out a rubber band. He flung it up into a messy ponytail, high and missing some pieces. “That’ll be fun in the morning.”
“Tama! I thought you were going to make it simple!”
“She won’t be embarrassed about it. Rosa will.” Tama turned to Didi. “And him…”
Jason wasn’t going to include himself in tricks against the girls, but he was in for Didi. “Wait. I’ve got it.” He searched in Didi’s pile of clothes until he found Didi’s extra pair of underwear, grabbing it and hoisting it above his head.
Tama almost lost it. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would.” Jason stood on his tiptoes and hung the tighty-whities from the ceiling fan. “He’ll have fun with those in the morning.”
“Now.” Tama grinned at Jason. “What about you?”
“Me? Wait -- I’m awake for this!”
“So what?” Tama opened the nearby window and jumped onto the fire escape. “Come on. If I push you off, you’ll be back up in ten seconds and kicking my butt from here to the World Trade Center. I’ll be nice.”
Jason sighed, then got onto the fire escape. There wasn’t much of a view, just the street they were on, but the stars were above their heads. “We’re pulling some late nights, aren’t we?”
“We are.” Tama blocked Jason’s good way back into the building, propping himself against the window. “I wouldn’t worry about the others. I used to play tricks on my siblings all the time. You know, just little stuff. They never took it bad. They’d always come back with a hug or a sad attempt at their own joke.”
Jason laughed and sat on the stairs. “You have four…”
“Five. And had. But I have four now.”
Tama held up four fingers. “Teammates. Rosa, Rifka, Didi…” He counted down. “And you. I mean, come on, you’re practically one of us anyway. Why not just call us family?”
It reminded Jason. “Dude, we’re not related.”
“But we’re all we’ve got. You know that. Actually...you’ve never told any of us about what you remembered. I remember hearing that you played basketball or something, but I didn’t hear anything about family or school or anything like that.”
“You didn’t hear anything about family because there wasn’t one.” Jason stared out into the space above the street.
Tama found himself at a loss for words. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. They never even told me. They just pretended they were my real parents. What, did they think I couldn’t take it? I’m fourteen years old, Tamasine, and these people who adopted me couldn’t even tell me the truth. And now, I’ll never get it.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the railing. “I’m not nobody’s family. That’s the way it’s always been, and it’s even more true now with our entire world being shot to hell.”
“That’s not true.” Tama got his back off from against the wall and reached for Jason’s hand.
He pulled it away. “Yes it is! You think you’re so special because you had all the family in the world! You had so many brothers and sisters that it didn’t matter if you lost some of them!”
Tama felt his heart bottom out. “You take that back.”
“I will not --”
“Jason.” Tama’s voice was hard. Jason had never heard the boy like this before. “Jason, I watched my sister get blown to bits by a bomb that should have killed me as well. Sometimes...sometimes I wish it had killed me. Sometimes I think, I’m alive, and nobody else from my world is here. Why am I so special? Why am I here and Hideko’s not? Who chose me? You had nowhere to go, Jason, just as you’re saying. Your family is not your own, and I’m sorry for that -- I really am. But you -- and Rosa, because she had really dug herself into a hole with that explosion thing. Both of you are better off here in this world, as part of QWERTY. But I’m not.”
Tama’s tone of voice was making Jason concerned. His previous worries about being adopted were forgotten. “You can’t wish yourself gone, man. You’re our leader.”
“I’m nobody’s leader. I’m just a kid with the goggles. That’s all.”
“No, damn it, Tama.” Jason stood up. This was all wrong coming from Tama. “You’re our leader. You got Rifka to shut up about the Soviets by bringing her those pancakes -- and don’t say it was Mac, because then you bought the Chinese kid that fancy techie thing that he won’t stop playing with. Plus, I’m sure Rosa leans on you emotionally more than you realize.” Jason forced himself to look into Tama’s brown eyes. “So do I. You don’t even realize you do it, but you make every one of us want to be here. You just did it. Rosa, Rifka, the Chinese kid, and me...we’re all your teammates.” He stumbled over the word. “We’re family. Now, let me back in the house, dude. It’s cold out here.”
He gripped Tama by the shoulders, and instead of stepping inside, the other boy gave Jason a small smile. “Family.”
“I can’t believe you told her everything,” Mac said as Isabelle slept soundly on the couch. “She’s going to hate you for eternity.”
“So what? I deserve it because I kept it from her for so long.” Carissa looked out the window at the street below. “Maybe she’ll talk to me again in this lifetime.”
“Carissa, you told her that her parents aren’t her real parents, that this world molded to fit her, and there’s no way she can go back to a world she’ll never remember. You just messed with her mind in a way only shows like The Twilight Zone can do. Except this is real.”
“I told her the truth, Mac. That’s all I could do. I can only hope she’ll trust me again.”
He sighed. “If she’s a real friend, she’ll love you no matter what.”
Carissa’s eyes went to her sleeping friend. “I hope that’s the case.”
The sun rose early the next morning. Didi didn’t need to wait for it. The alarm he had went off right on time.
He got dressed in the old outfit Dimitri had given him, realized his underwear were hanging from the ceiling fan, decided that wearing yesterday’s would have to work. He passed Rosa, who still had her finger up her nose, and made sure his shoes were tied and his red tie was perfect. Then, he left the room and went to the fire escape, just like Tama had told him to do last night.
“Leave early in the morning, before the rest of us are even awake. Do not take anything with you. You don’t have a communicator yet, or a jacket -- Isabel hasn’t come here yet to give them to you. So you should be able to just go back. Be who you used to be, Didi, and I promise I’ll come back for you.”
Tama-niichan. He hadn’t even been allowed to take his tablet with him, which meant he had to return anyway. But he liked hanging out with Tama. And the way Rifka had spoken about the Soviets made him want to stay by Tama’s side even more. He was doing this for him -- and also for Jason, because they couldn’t leave here without the boombox.
He walked down the street without any interruptions, arriving at Brighton Beach and the alley. He couldn’t think about the fact that Anton and Vlad -- two people in the KGB he had never met -- had harassed Jason and Rifka yesterday. Or that they had disappeared. He just needed to get the boombox back.
He stood in front of the door and raised his hand to knock. This had been home. This was the KGB headquarters. This was home...or rather, it had been.
Before Didi could knock, the door opened, and Tao stuck his head out. “I’m surprised to see you here,” he said in Chinese.
Didi honestly seemed disappointed. “Of course I’m here. I want to help with the rest of the code. Do you think I could stay away and leave it unfinished forever?”
“The code has been finished for you.” Tao tried to shut the door.
Didi stuck his foot in the door. “Isn’t there anything else I can do?”
“No. You have done us a great service already in your code. We are no longer in need of your services.”
Didi gulped. “I still want to see Dimitri.”
“And what is your reasoning for wishing to see our great leader?”
“Haven’t you even missed me? I was serious with what I said, Tao. I know where the other kids are. We can eliminate them so they no longer pose a threat to us.”
Tao’s face seemed to soften a bit. “To conquer the children was never in our plan. However, I do admire your willingness to act on your own for the behalf of our Soviet mother. I will take you to see Dimitri and see if any other missions can be assigned to you.”
“Glory to our Soviet land.” Didi followed Tao into the long hallway, past the door near the alley that led to his room. The hallway led farther back than he had ever been in the building.
They passed down more hallways, each dark and damp smelling with their own sets of doors. Didi tried not to inhale the ridiculous stink that came from everywhere. Finally, Tao led Didi to the very end of one hall, that had a set of huge double doors.
He knocked. “Master?”
“Come in. I’ve been expecting the boy.”
Tao opened the doors and shoved Didi in. “Now you will see the glory of our mother Soviet,” he said, closing the doors behind him.
The entire room was dark, save for one small light dangling from the ceiling. Dimitri sat behind a desk, the boombox on top of it, currently turned on but with the volume low. The leader of the KGB leaned his head on his hands, eyes on Didi. “Well, look who’s come back?” he asked in Mandarin.
Didi smiled. In a way, he was still glad to see the familiar face. “Glory to our mother Soviet. Tao said that you finished the code?”
“We did. It only took a small amount of tweaking to get what you wrote finished. Thank you for your hard work.”
“I came back because I’ve been spying on the kids, but apparently that was the wrong thing to do. So I am here. Use me as you wish.” Didi’s eyes were on the boombox. How would he ever be able to get it out of Dimitri’s sight? “I want to find ways to continue to serve out Soviet motherland.”
“Oh, you young boy.” Dimitri had never called Didi by a name, so this was the only designator the young code programmer had been known by. “You know you’re one of them, don’t you? You must.”
Didi’s breath caught. “One of who?”
“Those children who fell from the old world. You fell, as well.”
“I may have fallen like them, but I’ll never be one of them! I’ll always be loyal to the Soviet mother.”
Dimitri stood up from his chair. “If you are honestly devoted to the Soviet mother...then you will have to look elsewhere for her. She is no longer here.”
The one light in the room flickered off as the boombox’s volume increased without Dimitri even needing to touch it. Didi covered his ears, but the loud, screeching music was too much. Was this really what Jason liked to listen to, or had the music been replaced?
“I would tell you to run, little one,” Dimitri said, “but there’s no reason to. I’ll get you all anyway.”
“Get us all...what?”
“There is no Soviet mother. The KGB does not exist here. It’s all a ruse. Don’t you know who you’ve been coding for?” Every light flickered on in the room as Dimitri’s eyes started to glow. “You better run, little boy. Run home to Carissa and Mac. You’re all going to die anyway.”
Didi was still confused. Over all of this time, he had never actually been told what the code was for. He had just been told to write it for the Soviet motherland. But if this was wrong… “Who are you, anyway?”
“Oh, you don’t know me. But your friends do.” Dimitri put his hand on the boombox. “You know what the code helps, right? This boombox. Since it’s from the other world, it’s not supposed to be here. It’s an anomaly. The code you wrote means this boombox can now exist in this world, just the way I want it to. There’s more to it than that, but I doubt someone of your age can understand…”
“The uplink. You asked me to write a program for the uplink. Is the boombox an uplink portal now?”
“It’s more than that. It’s a virus. At midnight tonight, it will shut down all of the computers in this city, then spread the virus elsewhere around the country and the world. All operating systems will be affected, because that’s how you wrote it, right?”
Didi tried to run, but his feet wouldn’t let me. “A virus is a virus…”
“What, you think people won’t die? Once people see the other widespread destruction I’m causing, they’ll bow to me and make me their leader. For, you see, I am their rightful leader. I am the dictator of this world, a title only taken from me by that girl and her penguin-sock wearing friend.”
Didi had never met Isabel, but had heard of her. “Taken from you?”
Dimitri got out from behind the desk and stooped to Didi’s level, patting him on the head. “I guess I do have you to thank. If it weren’t for you writing the code, I would have never been able to really break free from limbo, or harness the power of this boombox, or build the code to take over the world. But you don’t understand any of this. After all, you’re just a kid who did what his country told him to do.” Another pat on the head. “Glory to our Soviet motherland, right?”