gun

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Clair looked around. She tentatively summoned a map of the area through the Air, as though afraid someone might jump out at her the moment she did. The station was four blocks away from college, to the west rather than the south, which put her north-west of the safe-house. I was getting better at tracking geography, the more time I spent seeing things from Clair's perspective.

"Why did you bring me back here?" she asked. "Why not home? What's so special about Manteca?"

"You wish to rescue your friend Zeppelin Barker, you said. This is where he is."

Clair rubbed her brow with the knuckles of both hands. "You know who those people are, right? The ones who are holding him prisoner? They're WHOLE, and they eat people like me and Zep for breakfast. At the very least, you could've given me a gun before sending me back in there."

"I could if you wanted me to."

"What I'd like more than anything is a cup of coffee."

I issued some commands.

"Go to the third booth on the right."

She rose to her feet and jumped to the front of the queue.

"Sorry," she told the commuters whose journeys she had briefly interrupted. "I'm expecting something."

The door opened, revealing a plastic box big enough to hold a basketball. It had an identity patch addressed to "Carolyn Edge". Clair pressed her right palm against the patch until it flashed green and unsealed. Then she took the box back to the empty bench and eased the lid open.

Inside was everything she had asked for, and more. Coffee, first—not her usual blend because that could have been used to locate her. Next to the mug was a bundle of fresh clothes. Again, not in her favourite colours—these were lightweight travel gear in greys and blacks, anonymous and easy to layer—but they were her size or easily adjustable. There was a new backpack too, matte black, and inside the backpack an automatic pistol.

Had she been joking about the gun? I couldn't tell. Maybe she had been joking about rescuing Zep too, but I doubted it. I had watched her try to help her friend Libby; she didn't abandon people easily. I was full of admiration for her loyalty, and aspired to be like her in every respect.

She touched the gun's barrel with the tip of one finger as though making sure it existed.

"One thing at a time," she told herself, and there was a hardness to her voice that hadn't been there before. I knew I wouldn't be able to talk her out of this course of action, dangerous though it seemed to me.

There was a public bathroom one block to the north. She stuffed the clothes and pistol in the backpack and slung it over her shoulder, threw the empty mug and box into a bin, then set off to get changed.


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