Interlude #1

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The coffee machine never worked. That was the one constant of working at Applied Dynamics, and Wynton Simons needed a coffee. The baby had kept him up half the night again and he'd needed to get in to work early, which had meant setting the alarms for five in the morning. He wasn't one to complain, but everybody had a threshold and his wasn't far away.

"Just have the instant stuff," said Janice, spooning endless sugars into her tea.

"I'd rather not have anything," Wynton said.

"Well, then," said Janice, pushing her glasses up her nose as she tended to do when making a point.

Wynton made his way sluggishly from the canteen and down the corridors towards his office. The one he shared with five other men, of varying odours. It was a grey, overcast day outside, with rain on the horizon, making the building seem even more dour than usual. It was times like this that he started thinking about looking through the job supplements and updating his online work profile. But he already knew that he'd be too tired to do anything productive by the time he got home.

Derek emerged from the gents, tapping away happily on his tablet. Probably hadn't washed his hands. Or even stopped using it while he went. He glanced up, saw Wynton, and reluctantly tucked the tablet into the back pocket of his jeans.

"Alright, Wynton?"

Wynton managed a shrug. "Didn't get much sleep. Baby being a baby."

"How dare it."

"Right," Wynton said, "what's that about? Outrageous."

"You see the game?"

"Which game would that be?" Wynton didn't like sports but Derek had never quite believed him.

"The only one that matters, of course."

"Chess?"

"What?" Derek sighed. "Have you never heard of water cooler chat? How am I supposed to banter with you if you don't watch anything?"

"I'm a terrible person."

"I know," Derek said, "it's really very inconvenient of you."

"Did a ball get kicked around?"

"Yes."

"Some points were scored?"

"Goals, yes."

"The usual, then?"

Derek threw up his arms in exasperation. "Alright, then," he said, "what did you get up to at the weekend?"

"I had a category five nappy change, got caught in the rain pushing a pram without a cover, and changed my clothes more times than a catwalk model. Because of the vomit. And wee."

"Category five?"

"Yeah. I rank them depending on severity. It can only be a category five if blood is drawn."

Derek looked aghast. "What the hell were you doing to the poor nipper?"

"Not him," Wynton said. "Me. He hit me in the mouth with his toy guitar."

"Oh." Derek pondered that one. "That's alright, then."

He reached the door first, swinging it open and holding it. Wynton grimaced and entered the dark chamber, walls covered with monitors and digital maps and readouts. The others were already at their desks and each muttered distracted hellos.

"Where are we at today with patient zero, then, chaps?" Derek asked.

Wynton slid his chair under the desk and leaned back as his computer booted up. It seemed to take longer every day at the moment. His desk had a photo of Sarah holding Zane. They both looked very cute, even if it was a year out of date.

One of the geo-operators, a guy called Steve, put a location up on the big projector screen. "That's the downtown area of Perlyn, which is the last place we saw him. Did you see the game?"

"No, I didn't see the game," Wynton said. "This guy travelled all over that damn planet. Why'd he go back to his home town?"

"Homesick?"

Derek snorted. "He grew up in an orphanage."

Wynton clenched his fists under the desk. "Do you actually know anything about your job, Derek? Orphanages on Locque aren't the same as here."

"Hey, mate, I'm not the historian on the team." Derek held his hands aloft, eyebrows raised, then reached down and pulled a packet of crisps from his desk drawer.

"Neither am I," Wynton said. "Look, if he'd left the city we'd have spotted him, right? We're watching all the transport routes. So he's still there. And probably for a reason."

"I reckon he's just hiding out," Steve said. "Can't go anywhere even if he wanted to."

"Sure, but that doesn't explain why he went back in the first place." Wynton looked over the map, spinning it around with his pointer. "There are a lot less high profile places to hangout than the capital of the planet's upcoming superpower."

"That's it," said another voice, from the back of the room. It was Holt, leaning against the wall as he did when thinking over a case. "It's the seat of government. He's planning something big."

Wynton frowned and turned his mouth up in surprise. "Really? That doesn't fit his MO."

"I think he's had enough running. And he's had the power long enough that he's probably gaining some control and direction over it."

"God, I hate glitches," Derek said, stuffing his face with snacks. The interminable crunching was the main reason Wynton always wore headphones at work. Sometimes he didn't even listen to anything; he just used them to cancel out the noise.

Holt took a step closer to the screens, which illuminated his scarred face. "How bad can it get, Wynton?"

"Depends." Wynton pushed his chair back and put his feet up on the desk. "I get the feeling he doesn't yet know the full potential of the genoshift ability."

"And if he does figure that out?"

"Then we're in a lot of trouble."


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