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The trio reached the d-mat station that lay between college and Jesse's home and turned right. Jesse, of course, never took d-mat to school. He had to walk, so the route was well-trod by him.

"Your dad asked someone about Improvement," Clair said, referencing the conversation I had not been able to overhear the previous night. "A woman. Who would she have been?"

"I don't know," he said. "There's a network of people spread all around the world. Some of them are local, the ones who attend the meetings—they have to be, since they only come on foot or by bike. But of course she could be from anywhere."

"I was hoping we could we talk to her ourselves . . . if your dad won't help us now, I mean."

"I'm sure I can bring him round."

"How?" asked Zep. "What have we got to offer?"

Clair hesitated, then told them that the birthmark that had bothered Libby all her life was now gone. She had been successfully Improved.

"Are you sure that's what you saw?" asked Zep, frowning.

"Of course I am."

"Well, that's great," said Jesse. "Now we have evidence!"

"Libby's not a courtroom exhibit," Clair said. "Don't promise your father anything we might not be able to deliver."

"Do you think she'd have a brain scan?"

"In her current mood," said Zep, "not a chance."

"Bring your father round," Clair said to Jesse, "and I'll deal with Libby."

"You'd better brush up on your self-defence," said Zep. "She might not be so gentle next time."

Clair rubbed her throat as they turned into Jesse's friendly-neighbourhood street.

"My place up is just here," said Jesse to Zep, pointing. "Don't expect much—oh hey, there's Dad."

Dylan Linwood walked through the front door of his house, and stood there with his hands on his hips. He had changed since leaving the campus. He was wearing a shirt that was even more crumpled than the one before, and there was a bruise on his forehead. One of his eyes, the left, was red.

He looked left, then right, and saw Jesse, Clair and Zep walking toward him.

Jesse raised his hand in greeting.

At that moment his house exploded, and Dylan Linwood vanished into a giant ball of flame.

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