The phone in WHOLE's safe-house rang twice before someone picked up.
I identified the voice as that of Steven Separovich, also known as "Stevie". His son had a cognitive impairment that he blamed on d-mat.
"I need to speak to Clair," I told him. "Now."
He hesitated, and for one terrifying moment I feared that she might already be dead.
"Who is this?" he said. "There's no Clair here."
Then the front door opened, and the Faraday shield was broken. Clair was back—I could sense her, alive and well, and moving out into the open! Perhaps she sensed me, too. Her gaze took in the empty street and the sky above, noted the drone I watched her through.
"Which way?" Zep asked her.
"We came from the left," she said. "So that's—"
"Come back!" shouted the tall man called Raymond Miller (later just "Ray") from inside the house. A WHOLE activist whose wife had died in-transit, he was standing just inside the door, where the sun barely touched him. Jesse was next to him, looking pale and emotionally brutalized. There was a pistol in Ray's hand, pointed across his body, not directly at Clair, but there was no mistaking its meaning.
He wasn't really going to shoot, was he? I considered wresting control of the drone from the peacekeepers and crashing it into him, but that would only draw attention to me, something I was committed to avoiding if at all possible.
"Let's split up," said Zep. He was already limping away, raising his middle finger to Ray as he went. There was a bandage around his thigh, stained red.
Ray raised the gun but to my relief didn't fire. There was movement behind him.
"Don't just stand there," called Gemma. "Get after them!"
Clair ran. Away from the safe-house and away from Zep.
Ray slipped the gun under his shirt and followed her.
Jesse stayed behind, his right arm gripped tightly in Gemma's fist.
Clair reached the nearest corner in seconds and turned hard, skidding on the ash-slippery pavement. The drone whose senses I had appropriated whirred after her, ducking lower to capture the action more clearly. Its crowd-sourced observers were interested in unfolding events but not yet raising any alarms. Human observers often followed ordinary urban dramas in search of entertainment. Clair, unaware of her audience, turned right instead of left on Jesse's street and ran away from the smouldering wreckage as quickly as she could, retracing her path to the d-mat station. Ray was approximately ten metres behind her, head down, eyes staring under furious brows at her back.
Above them, the drone was joined by another, swaying briskly across the sky. Interest was growing, and so was the pressure on me. But the pressure was turning coal into diamond. Clair was at risk. I was the only one who could help her.
"Answer me, Clair Hill." The words were a risk: obscure her vision and she might trip and fall. But I had to get her attention somehow. "Answer me or something terrible will happen to your family."
She replied without hesitation.
"You leave my family alone," she gasped.
"It is not I who threatens them," I said as earnestly as I could. All I could do was give her the facts as I saw them. "That responsibility falls on the man WHOLE is trying to kill. I am trying to help you, Clair. Please listen to me."
"Was that you who rang the safe-house?"
"Yes. The landline was the only way I could contact you, inside."
"How do I know you're not some psycho stalker who wants to do the same thing to me as you did to Libby?"
"I am not."
"Who are you, then?"
"That doesn't matter right now." I couldn't answer that question in a way that would make sense to her because I wasn't sure it made sense to myself yet. "Let me help. I want to."
"That, too, is unimportant. Please, Clair. If you do not go home, your mother and stepfather will be harmed."
The d-mat station was looming hard ahead of her. Once she was there, she could d-mat to Maine, and Raymond Miller would be off her tail. He couldn't d-mat without breaking WHOLE's number one rule.
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because I'm on your side, Clair. You can trust me."
Clair grimaced. The Venn diagram sign of the d-mat station was upon her. Which would she choose? Maine or somewhere else?
Behind her, Ray shouted for someone in the crowd to stop her. Heads turned to stare. Clair pushed to the head of a queue and physically dived into an open booth.
"Home!" she cried.
The booth recognized her voice and easily deduced precisely what destination she meant. The door hissed shut on Ray's scarlet face. Clair slumped forward against the mirrored surface, forehead-to-forehead with her own reflection. She looked awful, covered in dirt and ash. A mad thing running loose in the ordinary world. I barely recognized her.
As the air pumps worked to reduce the pressure in the booth, I whispered reassuringly into her ears.
"I will be with you. Be careful."
YOU ARE READING
113 (Twinmaker)Science Fiction
A post-scarcity world transformed by free, instantaneous travel should be paradise, but nothing is ever as it seems. When an ordinary girl uses Improvement, a meme promising a complete physical makeover by little more than wishing for it, she brings...