dupe

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The driver of the ATAC was a small, thin-faced woman dressed in black like the rest of them. She had a close-shaved scalp and a full-vision helmet that offered her an augmented view of the outside, projected directly onto her retinas. Her full name was Oriel Daphne Hannaford, but her companions called her simply Ori. I was learning to keep track of nicknames to avoid future misunderstandings.

The ATAC left the blind spot surrounding the safe-house and moved stealthily through the suburbs, dark colours and shapes sweeping down the ATAC's sides like an urban waterfall, decreasing the likelihood that anyone outside would notice its passing. It was a masterpiece of engineering, much too slippery for my senses, and I was filled with admiration for Dylan Linwood's skills.

Ori guided it east along the sidewalks of Manteca, weaving and curling around trees, benches and water features where roads had once been. Soon she hit Route 99, which possessed none of the heritage value of the still-famous Route 66 and had therefore been converted to a green strip like most of the federal highway system. The vehicle and its passengers wended westward instead to Route 120, away from the coast and into areas that had once been entirely rectangular fields and farm lots but were now nature reserves and parks, with some golf courses and horse runs thrown in for good measure. Ori drove without lights, using infrared to guide her along the rough, asphalt surface.

Route 120 stabbed perfectly west, rising and falling with the contours of the land beneath. Clair wept for a while, then audibly pulled herself together.

(unknown young male): "You're Clair. I'm Cashile."

Clair: "That's an unusual name."

Cashile: "It's Zulu. My mom is from Africa."

Clair: "I was in Cape Town just a couple of hours ago."

Cashile: "You used d-mat?"

Clair: "Yes, I did."

Cashile: "So you're not one of us."

Clair: "That's right."

Cashile: "But you killed him."

Clair: "Who?"

Cashile: "The dupe."

Clair: "You mean Dylan Linwood?"

Cashile: "It's not his fault."

Clair: "Whether someone tricked him into it or not, it was still his decision. Do you know where we're going?"

Cashile: "Escalon. We have a place on California Street."

Arabelle: "All our eggs are currently in one basket. If they find the ATAC, they find the lot of us."

Clair: "Is that likely?"

Arabelle: "Hope for the best, plan for the worst. We'll be taking electrobikes separately from Escalon."

Clair: "I've never ridden an electrobike."

Jesse: "Then I guess you'll have to learn."

Arabelle: "We have X2s in the cache. Clair, you can ride pillion with Jesse."

Clair: "I won't hold you back."

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