trust

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This was a very welcome development. I wanted nothing more than to help her survive. But her voice was full of desperation and wariness. She hadn't come to me first. That honour belonged to Zep. I had to prove to her that I was the most faithful and reliable of everyone she knew.

"You are being tracked," I told her. "The first thing to do is find out how."

"Well you're tracking me. Could he be doing it the same way as you?"

"That could be so. There are other ways, though. Someone could have planted a device on you. They could have hacked into VIA. They could be monitoring CCTV and EITS data—"

"I don't need a list. I just need to get rid of him!"

"Take the next left," I told her.

"But the station—"

"It is too obvious. And you do not have enough time. He is behind you."

Clair glanced over her shoulder. He was shouldering his way through the crowd, using his slightly greater mass to good effect. In a straight race, he would undoubtedly catch her.

"Next left it is," Clair said, renewing her efforts to press through the throng.

It was the entrance to a market and the reason for the confluence of people in the street. Lines of stalls stretched into the hazy distance, with hundreds of hawkers competing for the attention of the passers-through. There were locals as well as tourists, a multitude of people, pointing, talking, occasionally buying, sometimes with material currency or even barter. The trade in original goods—hand-made, hand-grown, freshly killed or wrenched from the sea—was lucrative, but convincing customers that something was unique and not fabbed from a pattern could be very difficult. Claims and counterclaims were being made in loud voices.

"Go straight ahead," I told Clair over the racket. "Take the second lane on your right."

Clair did as she was told. Dylan Linwood might still be behind her, but at least in the market he couldn't fire at her, not without risking hitting someone else or attracting the drones. That made her safe, for now.

She ducked into the lane when she reached it and snatched a brightly coloured shawl from a stand. She slipped it over her head and ducked lower, camouflaging herself as best she could.

"Is he far behind me?" she asked.

"Keep going. I will tell you when to deviate from this course of action."

"But you'll warn me if he's about to catch me, won't you?"

"Yes, Clair. I will not let that happen."

She squeezed past a woman pushing a small child in a stroller.

"Have you worked out how he's tracking me yet?"

"I believe I have. Do you still have your Improvement note on your person?"

Clair opened her mouth, then closed it. Then she opened it again to say, "Yes, I do."

She slipped her index finger around her waist until she found the creased note in her underpants. "But what difference does that make?"

"Open it. Hold it up to the light."

She did so, exposing the Words that had brought us together.

Charlie X-ray Romeo Foxtrot . . .

"I don't see anything," she said.

"Nevertheless, this is the most likely tracking device."

"I'll tear it into a thousand bits. That'll break it."

"Possibly. There is a better way. Turn left here."

Clair ducked into another lane lined with market stalls. At the far end was an exit. Next to the exit was the sign for a d-mat station, and on seeing it she understood.

"I get it," she said. "We're going to send him off on a wild goose chase. Good thinking."

"Not this jump," I told her, "but the next one. Clair, do you trust me?"

"Uh. How far, exactly?"

"I can program the booth for you, if you will permit me. That will save time."

"Can't I do it myself?"

"You can. But in that case I must ask you to mentally prepare a list of destinations in advance. You will need to speak immediately I tell you to, without hesitation."

"How many?"

"Four should be sufficient."

"Okay." Clair forced her way through a tangle of people at the exit, into the relatively free space of the street outside. Once there, she ran the last dozen yards to the station.

"Take the note with you to your first destination," I told her. "You will dispose of it the transmission after that."

"All right." She dived into the nearest available booth and cried out a Swiss address. Dylan Linwood burst out of the markets and hurried in her wake. Not firing, not shouting, just moving quickly, confident that she wouldn't get away from him. The gun wasn't visible. I wondered if it was mainly for show, and hidden now because it clearly didn't cow her.

That it would reappear when she was caught, I had no doubt.


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