disconnect

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The door shut.

ssssss

The door opened.

Heavy rain was falling outside. Clair wrapped the shawl tightly around her neck and shoulders and hugged herself.

"Put the note in the next booth along and send it to your second destination," I told her.

She did so, giving the booth a South American address and requesting an unaccompanied freight transfer. She ducked out before the door shut on her, and went to the third booth.

The doors closed and opened again a moment later in Cape Town, her third destination. She stepped out of the booth and warily looked around. It was the middle of the night, but the weather forecast warm and humid. The station was deserted. A sign in her lenses welcomed her to the Devil's Peak lookout. Below her was the university, on the edge of a moon-shaped bay. Across the bay was Ndabeni Island, lit up by a ghostly spear of light fired at a slant from a powersat above the equator.

Clair unwound the shawl and threw it away.

"Why are you doing this for me?"

"I have been following Improvement, Clair. That is what I do." Which was true enough, but again not the entire truth. I could find no better words to sum up what I did. What I was. "Now I am involved, and it is very exciting."

"Is this some kind of game to you?"

"No, Clair. I am not playing a game. I am very serious. I want to be your friend. Like Libby. Like the two of you are friends."

"You can't just become my friend. Not like this. Friendship has to be earned. And besides, who knows what Libby thinks of me now . . . ?"

Libby's most recent caption simply said "I'm beautiful!" with a rapid-fire sequence of women's faces, all of them blonds like she was.

"Her profile declares your relationship to be unchanged," I told Clair.

"You can track her?"

"Yes. She is in the Manhattan Isles."

"What about Zep?"

I searched, but to no avail.

"He cannot be located."

"What does that mean? He's dead?"

"No. He is disconnected from the Air."

I didn't need to tell her what that meant. He was back in the safe-house, recaptured.

"I have to go back and rescue him," Clair said. "I can't just leave him behind."

Before I could offer a reply, the booth behind her came to life. Its door closed and the machines within whirred busily, processing new data and spinning pure energy into matter. Someone was on their way.

"Is that . . . him?" Clair asked.

"Yes."

"But it can't be. We got rid of the note."

"This proves that your location is being tracked by means other than the note."

"So what do I do now?"

At that moment, I could offer her just one suggestion.

"You must disconnect from the Air and go to your fourth destination."

She shook her head, and I understood why the thought was so unpalatable to her. Disconnecting from the Air would be like locking herself in a coffin and nailing it shut. She'd lose access to her family and friends, her blogs and books, her music and shows, her wardrobe and meals. Every pattern she had ever saved was out there in the Air. She had never once been deliberately disconnected from them.

"Think of something else," she said.

"I can't. This is the most likely method your pursuer has used."

"But if I leave the Air, no one will know where I am."

"Including Dylan Linwood."

"Yes, but . . . oh, damn it."

She opened another booth, but didn't enter.

"Is there any way just to hide my connection?"

"Not in the time remaining, Clair. You have five seconds precisely."

The whirring of the active booth reached a crescendo. It was going to open any moment.

She dived into her booth and asked for the Tuvalu monument. As the door shut, she called up menus and options in her lenses. Disconnect. Sever. Disallow. Isolate. Interface by interface, she plucked at the ties connecting her to the rest of the world. Her augmented senses, her sunburn epidermals, the pedometers built into the soles of her shoes—everything.

ssssssss

One by one, the patches in her lenses went dark.

"Wait," she said as the air thinned around her. "If I do this, how will I talk to you?"

I couldn't tell her that I was already working on the answer.


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