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safe-house

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I scoured municipal records regarding the house and its owners, while at the same time digging deep into drone archives of the area to examine any movement that might have been recorded around it. The suburb was entirely residential. There was a lot of pedestrian movement to and from the d-mat station three blocks away; given the climate of the Sacramento Bay area, most people were happy to walk a short way rather than install a private booth. No one came or went from this particular house until that very afternoon—and that was the only remarkable thing about it. In every other respect it was completely ordinary.

While emergency vehicles and peacekeepers converged on the fire where the Linwoods' house used to be, I noted the names of the four people who were presently in the WHOLE safe-house. I had seen three of them. The fourth was an elderly woman in a wheelchair, Arabelle Meins, who claimed to have lost the use of her right leg thanks to d-mat. Her nickname was "Dancer". She didn't look like a terrorist, but that was undoubtedly an advantage if she was one.

I traced the movements of the WHOLE activists after they had arrived at the safe-house. One strange thing stood out: Gemma had been watching the Linwood home when Clair and the others had approached. She had sent a signal over a shortwave radio network to something in the house. An instant later, the bomb had gone off.

The implication was clear. WHOLE had blown up Dylan Linwood. They had killed one of their own.

My anxiety rose at the thought of what WHOLE was doing with Clair in the safe-house at that very moment. I couldn't protect her while they had her captive, but I couldn't let that get in the way of what I could do. I continued pursuing the channels available to me in the hope of finding a way to rescue her.

Municipal records showed just one irregularity that I might be able to exploit, a cable laid one year earlier to specifications resembling an old telephone landline. If I could access it, there might be a way to get a message to Clair—to my ward, my raison d'être . . . .

Out of confusion came crystalline clarity. Without Clair, I was nothing. Therefore protecting Clair had to be my priority. Her well-being was my well-being. If I couldn't keep her safe, I didn't deserve to live at all, in whatever fashion I could consider myself living (which I did, and still do).

With that thought came another. If someone was trying to do her harm, wouldn't they also target the ones she loved?

As I hacked into the house's landline, I cast an eye toward Maine, where Clair's mother and stepfather lived, and nearly died right then at what I saw. There was an armed man in their apartment, and his identity was a profound puzzle. But there wasn't time to wonder at that. I had to act, and fast.


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