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I waited anxiously for Clair to return, imagining the circle containing her possible location widening steadily as the time passed. I wished there were someone I could call for help, but there was no way I could do anything of the sort. I was on my own, just as Clair was on her own. We who had been thrown together by chance were now thrown apart.

Behind them, the safe-house was a nest of converging peacekeepers. Someone had called in the gunshots. The bodies had already been found. Every sense I possessed was focused on detecting Clair when the vehicle's Faraday cage was open.

When she finally reappeared, I was almost overwhelmed with a giddy sense of relief.

"You're in Escalon, I see," I told her, finding it hard not to babble. "It's lucky no one else can find you. You're a wanted person now."

"Murder?" she sent back by text. She was hiding our conversation from the WHOLE activists surrounding her.

"No one will ever match the bullet that killed Dylan Linwood to one from the pistol I gave you," I was quick to reassure her. "Not if you get the pistol into a booth so I can dispose of it."

"Can't right now," she texted back. "WHOLE will wonder why."

"So many Ws. That must have been odd to tap out."

Everyone was piling out of the vehicle into the still, dark night. Clair scanned the urban nightscape around her, and I quickly took stock of the visible landmarks. There was a hall nearby, a squarish Art Deco building that might once have been an old movie theatre, with broad steps leading up to sets of double doors. The vehicle was parked between the theatre and the church next door, in a large clear space overhung by shabby eucalyptus. A silent woman with long black dreadlocks guided Clair to a small door at the rear of the hall, accompanied by Jesse and a boy of around twelve years. Although the walls looked on the verge of collapse, the lock on the door worked just fine and the hinges gleamed in the starlight.

"Going to Oakdale," Clair texted. "Can you look up Libby? Tell me how she is?"

I did as she asked. "She is in perfect health."


"Completely certain, Clair. Hey, that's three Cs-"

"Still in Manhattan?"

"Yes. I'll let you know if that changes. I know what she means to you."

Clair didn't respond. I didn't press her. Grief was an emotion I had never experienced, but there were many accounts in the Air, and I could try to imagine how she must feel by putting myself in her shoes. To lose her, the only person I cared about in the world, would be devastating. Zep was gone, taken from her in an instant, so she was clinging to Libby as she would a life raft. Maybe one day, I thought, she would cling to me as tightly I clung to her. Without our friends, we are nothing.

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