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Clair leaned away from the mirrored door. Beneath the smeared ash and grime, she looked unbowed. I wondered what had transpired in the WHOLE safe-house, but couldn't ask. The d-mat process had interrupted the conversation as it always did, and she wasn't answering my requests to communicate. Rather than flash her and break her concentration, I merely watched as the booth opened and she edged warily out of it.

The booth was on the same floor as her apartment, shared by everyone on that floor. Clair walked slowly up the central corridor that she had walked along many times. No doubt its wood-panelled walls and green carpet were very familiar to her, but I was seeing it for the first time, through her lenses. This was her home. And it was under attack.

Raised voices came through the front door.

"I said call her. Tell her to come home now and make her listen to you. If she doesn't, there will be consequences."

"Don't hurt her . . . please don't hurt her."

Clair gulped at the sound of her mother pleading but made no move. I silently begged her not to burst in unarmed—but what else she could do, I didn't know. I hadn't thought this far.

"We've been nagging her all day." That was her stepfather. "What makes you think she'll answer now?"

There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh. Thanks to the apartment's sensors, I could see what was going on as well as hear it. I could see the face of the man who had tied Clair's parents to chairs and was methodically terrorizing them. I didn't know how it could be him, but then I lived in a world where identities and labels changed with disconcerting ease. This might have been perfectly normal, for all I then knew.

"You figure it out," said Dylan Linwood, the man WHOLE had tried, and failed, to kill once already that day.

Clair backed away from the door, calling up menus even as her stepfather sent her an urgent message to check in with them. She was calling the peacekeepers, and I agreed that this was probably the best response. I couldn't call them because I wasn't a registered OneEarth citizen, not without revealing my existence in the Air. An artificial system answered. Speaking low and fast, Clair gave her name and address, both physical and the nearest booth. She didn't mention Improvement or WHOLE or the explosion or anything that didn't bear on the immediate situation: her parents were in trouble and she didn't know why. That was the truth, if not the entire truth.

The voice on the other end was calm and reassuring. Don't do anything rash. Stay out of harm's way. We'll be there as soon as we can.

Clair closed the chat. Her hands were shaking. The sound of her mother cursing Dylan Linwood came through the door.

"You've got one minute," he said to her.

Grim-faced, Clair highlighted the patch from her stepfather and sent him a quick message. It was all she could do.

"Stall. Help's coming."

"!!" he shot back immediately. "Stay away. Not safe!"

Clair glanced at the booth behind her, obviously wondering when the peacekeepers were going to come. I was wondering the same thing.

The apartment had gone quiet. Clair crept closer to the door, breath tightly held.

When Dylan Linwood spoke again, it was in response to something only he could hear. Not even I could intercept that conversation—impossible though that seemed at the time.

"What," he said, "she's here?"

Clair froze in mid-step.

Dylan Linwood looked up as though hearing her.

"RUN," I flashed to her as he hurried to the other side of the door and opened the locks.

She was already moving. Not to the booth, which was smart. There wouldn't be time for the doors to close on her before Dylan Linwood emerged from the apartment. She'd be caught like a rat in a mirrored trap. Instead she ran for the emergency exit.

"Clair, stop!" Linwood shouted.

She burst through the fire exit door and ran down the stairs three at a time.

"Help!" she called to her neighbours. "Help me!"

But the stairwell was empty and no one could hear through the walls of the building. The peacekeepers weren't coming, either. I could see no movements indicating anything of the sort. Whoever Dylan Linwood had spoken to over a line so secure I couldn't tap into it, they had intercepted Clair's call to the peacekeepers. Clair was on her own, apart from me.

Dylan Linwood crashed through the door, one floor above her. She ran flattened against the wall, minimizing the likelihood that she would be seen. At the next exit, she ducked through it and closed it behind her as quietly as she could. Feet thundered after her. She ran for that floor's booth, dived inside, and said the first address that came to her.

"Woodward and Main, Manteca." The station she had just left, in Sacramento Bay.

The stairwell entrance burst open just as the booth slid shut. Framed at the other end of the hallway was Dylan Linwood. He didn't look like an assassin. He was still scruffily dressed, with gray hair, a bruise on his forehead and a glaring, blood-filled eye. But he was holding a sleek, black pistol, and he didn't shout a warning.

Clair froze as Dylan Linwood aimed the pistol with both hands and fired at her.

Two bullets slammed in quick succession into the closed booth door.

She dropped to the floor with her hands over her ears.


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