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The chancellor abruptly closed the folder and placed it in her lap.

"Where did you obtain these records, Mr Linwood?"

"I am not at liberty to divulge my sources."

"Why not? It might bolster your case if you would. All you've given me are pictures." She tossed the folder in her hand as though to demonstrate how little it weighed, physically and symbolically. "These documents could easily have been falsified."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"Nothing of the sort. Misled, possibly, but we won't know until you tell us more."

"The onus is on you to ensure the safety of your students. I've given you cause to look deeper. Now I expect you to do it."

"I see no cause at all." Once again the chancellor's hard gaze fell on Clair. "Are you saying, Clair, that you or anyone you know have used Improvement?"

She quickly shook her head. "No, Chancellor."

"Would you submit to a physical examination to ascertain if you suffered any kind of injury?"

"Of course, but I don't need to, honest—"

"Then I would say that settles it—don't you agree, Mr Linwood? Should any allegations about Improvement ever be sustained, we will of course follow the guidelines issued by the appropriate authority, but until such a time—"

"That's not good enough," said Dylan, standing up. "I won't allow my son's well-being to be compromised by such gross irresponsibility."

"Removing Jesse from his learning environment wouldn't be in his best interests."

"No, it wouldn't. And this is about more than Jesse, anyway, more than just Improvement. The entire deadly system is what we should be railing against. How many students of yours take d-mat to campus every day? Do you know or care what dangers they're exposing themselves to every single time they use this technology? Don't you think it's irresponsible to encourage them to take such risks when telepresence alternatives exist?"

"Alternatives are already available to anyone who wants to use them. How my students choose to engage with the educational resources we offer is entirely up to them."

"That's a coward's answer, Chancellor Gordon." Dylan's face was red. "You sit here in your comfortable chair while your students are fried up and scrambled and scattered in pieces across the planet. How many deaths would it take to spur you into action? How many kids could you bear to lose? Perhaps you're so jaded already, so inured to this cult of disintegration, that you would cheerfully herd your wards into a slaughterhouse without losing a minute's sleep. You monster, you murderer—"

The door to the office burst in behind them, revealing Jesse and the chancellor's flustered PA.

"Stop this, Dad. You're making a fool of yourself!"

"A fool, you say." His father rounded on him. "Then what are these people? These zombies?" He waved an arm in front of him, as though sweeping the entire world away. "Let them burn. Let them all crumble to dust. What do I care?"

He pushed past Jesse, into the antechamber and through the crowd that had gathered by the door. It parted for him, forming a wide circle around the electrobike. He leapt on and with a screech of tires sped away.

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