While boarding the train car later, Mauricio wondered what Elisa might be preparing for dinner. Perhaps they would finish the leftovers from Isabel’s birthday dinner. His stomach rumbled with anticipation as he headed to an empty row.
When he plopped down, he saw an incoming video call on his phone and his heart skipped. He looked at the name, not sure whether to believe his own eyes. He never expected her to call him.
Answer it, you idiot. This might be his only chance to prevent further calamity with the Harmony Project. It might be the only chance for me to make things right with her.
Holding his breath, he adjusted his wireless ear plug and touched the screen to answer the call. As her face appeared, he smiled. “Hi, Eve.” The noise coming from her end filled the brief silence between them. “I see you’re out at a café or something. Please don’t let me interrupt your brunch.”
“I’m the one who called you. Look, let’s keep this short. You said you’re in trouble. What do you need me to do?” she replied, her face impassive.
He realized he’d forgotten how brusque she could be, but he appreciated her eagerness to avoid small talk. “Right. As you probably know, I’ve been working with FordTech and the Remington Center for Science—”
“On the fader pills, the one that just killed a kid here. Yeah, I know. Let me ask you something. Why on earth would you go to work for Charlie Ford of all people after what he helped Agent Grobeck do to us?”
Mauricio looked away, ashamed that he had no sufficient answer to offer her. He’d never been able to answer this question for himself. Charlie had explained how he disagreed with Agent Grobeck’s methods and thought the man had veered away from the initial mission of SPI. Agent Grobeck was an “unfortunate but necessary evil at the time,” Charlie had insisted. But to what end was he necessary? Mauricio never received a satisfactory answer from Charlie.
“Mauricio? Are you frozen?”
“No, I’m sorry. To answer your question, I want to make it right, the things I did to you and others. With Charlie’s resources, that’s possible.”
Eve cast him a pitying look. “How’s that working out for you?”
He didn’t answer but stared into her eyes as the train lurched to a stop. A dozen people exited and a handful entered before the train resumed.
“So what do you want from me?” she went on, sounding as bored as she looked.
He launched into his pitch for her to become a face of the H2F campaign, promising her generous compensation should she accept the offer. As he stopped, he held his breath and waited for her to respond. The thick silence that emerged felt like a boulder pressing down on him.
“I’m sorry, Mauricio. I can’t do it.”
“If you’re worried about the safety of H2F, I can assure you that despite all the sensational stories you’re seeing, life-threatening side effects are extremely rare. Point zero two percent of trial participants—”
She glared at him. “People have died. And I’m not just talking about the kid here.”
“The kid in Chicago was taking a black market version. It wasn’t authorized by—”
“The case in South Korea and Brazil,“ she went on. “The incident in Iran. People aren’t going to just let this stuff slide.”
“I know. I just—I want you to understand they’re exceptions. This drug has the potential to level the playing field. Yes, we’ve seen some tragedies, but that doesn’t outweigh the good. I talked to one mother here in England who developed fading abilities after using H2F, and now she feels so much more connected to her elementary-age fader son. They’re even learning together how to control the ability. And another person, the wife of a fader husband—”
“Stop it,” she interjected. “I don’t share your opinion about H2F. All I see is you trying to make people less afraid of us by showing them they can be like us.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Eve scoffed. “We deserve respect and dignity, no matter how different we are.”
“All I see is you being used by a man who just wants to capitalize on the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prove to these people that they shouldn’t fear us, that faders are not out to hurt them, and let me tell you…they don’t care. I shouldn’t say this.” She stopped, looked around, and lowered her voice. “But I don’t believe they’re ever going to see us as one of them, no matter what you or I do. Ask any fader and they’ll tell you how much hatred is directed toward them. It’s unrelenting, Mauricio.”
“Which is exactly why H2F is so important,” he pressed, taken aback by her pessimism.
“H2F is actively making it worse. Don’t you see that? The little boy here and what H2F made him do…that’s every regular person’s worst nightmare about us. Small anti-fader protests have already popped up in Chicago because of that tragedy, and more are planned. I shudder to think how much worse it’s going to get when H2F causes more side effects.”
“But the chances of those side effects are—”
“Most of these regular people are terrified of us, Mauricio, and they’re never going to change. You’re just giving them fuel now.”
Her words hit him like a ton of bricks. How could the woman who had become the spokesperson for American faders, who spent all her time working to convince regular people that they shouldn’t fear faders, believe it was all futile? “Eve, if you don’t believe you can change the perception of faders, why do you bother? Are you hoping to be proved wrong?”
For the first time, she looked crestfallen. “What you’re doing is not the way to encourage mainstream acceptance of us. I can’t help you.”
He stared at her sad face as the train stopped at the Chiswick Park station. Gathering his briefcase, he hurried to the exit but kept the phone’s camera on his face. He didn’t want the conversation to end, although he knew he wouldn’t change her mind.
Was she right? Was it all pointless? Would regular people ever trust the ‘super-powered’ people among them?
“Okay,” Mauricio relented, approaching the stairs. “I understand.”
After a moment, he turned the conversation to AJ and mentioned he’d ran into her. As he emerged on the street outside the station and headed south toward Acton Lane, they talked about AJ’s show and his life in London.
For the duration of his walk, Eve caught him up on the many things that had happened since they’d last seen each other. He’d heard much of it from AJ, but it was nice to hear the joy in Eve’s voice as she talked about the family she’d created with Zoey and Gabriel. Forgetting about his problems at work, he enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Eve. He marveled at how they talked like no time had passed, as if all the ugliness that had happened between them had never transpired, as if they were old friends just updating one another. He talked about the joy of being reunited with his wife and daughters.
At no point did Mauricio dare ask Eve to forgive him for selling them out to SPI, nor did she mention his betrayal. He wasn’t sure what to make of her omission, but he figured it was best to go with the flow. So they contented themselves with discussing the happy elements in their lives.
When he arrived at his front door, he concluded the call and checked for messages from AJ. Nothing so far. Only a message from Elisa, warning him not to be late for dinner. He stood there for a moment, thinking about how the fate of the project now hinged on AJ’s answer to his pitch.
He cursed himself for not getting AJ’s cell phone number from Eve. At the very least, he wanted to send AJ a message to check in about the offer. But I don’t want to come on too strong. She’ll call. I know she will. He sighed, hoping faith was enough.
After saying a little prayer, Mauricio pushed aside his worries and stepped inside the house to the spicy aroma of dinner.