The next day, Michelle contacted Valerie on Facebook, asking about what had happened to her since Pat’s assassination of Karol Sargent. This was Valerie’s reply in a personal message:
Don’t worry, I’m OK. I managed to get out of China immediately after the killings. I got back home by burying my feelings and pretending to be one of those automatons. It was really hard to hide my grief over the Bolshivarians’ murder of my husband, but once I got back to the privacy of my Milwaukee home, I lay on my bed cried for what seemed hours.
We should meet. I can fly over to Toronto or Mississauga. I hate having to pretend to be one of those soulless carriers all the time. If I’m with you, I can relax, be myself, and cry on your shoulders over what happened in China.
Michelle let Peter read Valerie’s message.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked him. “Judging by what she said, does she seem to be still all human? She doesn’t seem compromised to me. Do you think this message could be pretence?”
“Well, I guess she’s being sincere,” he said. “I certainly want to believe she’s sincere. We need some real human company around here, and the only way we can get it is by taking a risk or two. We can have some cans of bug spray handy, just in case.”
“OK, I’ll tell her we can meet, say, in your home,” she said. “As soon as she’s in Toronto District, we’ll have a driver at the airport take her home.”
“The driver could be a carrier. He could turn her into one of them.”
“Anyone out there during her trip could be a carrier, turning her into one of them. She could be a carrier right now, for all we know. If we really want to meet with her, it’s the chance we’ll have to take.”
“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. Let’s hope that if she isn’t a carrier, that she can fake being one all the way here, and not get changed.”
Michelle replied to Valerie’s message with the plan, to which she agreed.
Three days later, in the afternoon, Peter and Michelle heard his front doorbell ring.
“That must be her,” Michelle said.
They both rushed to get the door.
Valerie stood there with that eerie, soulless grin.
Peter and Michelle grinned back uneasily.
They all stood there stupidly for several seconds.
“May I come in?” Valerie asked, her grin unchanged, with no awkwardness in her expression at her hosts’ odd hesitating.
“Oh, yeah…uh, of course,” Peter said as he and Michelle stepped aside to let Valerie in. “Sorry.”
“What a nice place you have,” Valerie said as she went in and looked around. “So, this is how the rich live.”
Concealing his annoyance at her remark, he said, “I may be bourgeois by birth, Valerie, as is Michelle, but I assure you, that’s not where our sympathies lie. My mom and dad used to call me the Friedrich Engels of our family.” He closed the front door.
“I’m sure they did,” Valerie said with that same grin as she approached a chair to sit on in the living room. “I’ve just never seen such a posh place before.” She sat down. “My home with Pat in Milwaukee is nice, but not this nice.”
“Thanks,” Peter said as he and Michelle returned to the living room and sat on the sofa. “After seeing what life is like for so many in Venezuela, Angola, and here, too, in Regent Park, I feel guilty about having this ‘nice’ home.”
“I feel the same way about mine in Mississauga,” Michelle said. “With all the changes the Bolshivarians are making, especially now with President Price and Secretary of State Hammond gone, and with the Washington District government under Bolshivarian control, we can more quickly provide for all the poor of the world.”
“Yes, those changes will be coming fast now,” Valerie said, still grinning without a trace of personality.
Peter remembered the switchblade he had in one of his jeans’ back pockets, and the small can of bug spray in the other.
“Valerie,” Michelle said. “Would you like to relax? I mean…we can get you something to drink if you like. Some tea?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine,” grinning Valerie said.
“You said in your message that you want to relax and be yourself,” Peter said. “Feel free to do so here.”
“I am,” grinning Valerie said.
“You–you’re with friends,” Michelle said. “N-no need to pretend. Let yourself go.”
“Pretend?” Valerie asked, all those teeth still showing.
Desperate to end the tension, and gripping those weapons in his back pockets, Peter stood up and said, “You don’t need to pretend to be one of those Bolshivarian automatons!”
“Peter, easy,” Michelle said with a frown.
“I’m not pretending,” Valerie said as she rose from her chair. “But you have been, haven’t you?” Out of her fingers flew a swarm of those little dots of light.
Peter was quick on the draw with his can of bug spray. It hit the first six or seven of those tiny balls of light, making all of them drop on the carpet. Since Valerie hadn’t been a carrier for long, the lights hadn’t yet integrated with her body, so the bug spray wouldn’t kill her. Peter ran at her with the switchblade ready to stab. Valerie screamed.
Michelle looked away and covered her eyes. She didn’t want to see her boyfriend shed blood a second time.
A few seconds after Valerie’s body hit the floor, her blood staining the carpet, Peter and Michelle heard the doorbell ring again. Michelle ran over to answer the door.
“Yes?” she said to a male neighbour after opening the door.
He, too, had that all-too-familiar grin.
“I heard a scream,” he said, looking into the living room, though Michelle’s left shoulder was hiding Valerie’s body and blood from his sight. “Is everything OK?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying her best to imitate that stupid-looking grin without showing any nervousness.
“We’re watching a horror movie on TV,” Peter said as he approached the door, hoping his body would help obscure not only the bloody body, but also the living room TV that hadn’t been turned on all that day.