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damage

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Theo and Cashile were just heading off, riding two identical bikes. Cashile's hands and feet barely reached far enough to touch the controls. He waved at Clair as he disappeared through the doorway, and she waved back.

Then it was just Jesse, Clair and Gemma. Gemma was looking pale from blood loss and shock.

Clair asked her, "Was it you Dylan Linwood called about Improvement?"

"Yes."

"So you're the one who found the data about the brain damage."

"Yes."

"Where did you get it from?"

"Does it matter? It's real. Improvement kills people."

"Libby is not going to kill herself. I won't let her."

"How do you know it's not already too late?"

"Because she's in Manhattan, perfectly fine."

"Not for long. She's been behaving oddly lately, not her usual self, yes?"

"She's been under stress, using drugs-"

Gemma shook her head firmly. "It's happening and there's no turning it back. Better get used to the idea. Improvement is killing her. The Libby you know will soon be gone forever. "

"How can you say that?"

"Because this is what d-mat does. It reaches into you and guts you and you don't even notice until it's too late. Don't you think that makes a difference? Don't you think it adds up, eventually?"

Gemma was crying. She didn't blink or gulp or even seem to notice it, herself. The tears simply trickled down her face into the lines around her mouth and dripped from her chin onto her chest.

Jesse was staring at her with his water bottle raised halfway to his mouth. Neither he nor Clair said anything. What could they say? She was obviously beyond reason.

Gemma flexed her injured shoulder, raising it like a defence against their incredulity.

"Time is up," she said. "On your bikes, boys and girls."

"Will you be okay?" Jesse asked her.

"Of course I'll be okay. You just keep an eye on your mirrors. I'll be coming up hard behind you."

Clair headed warily for the bike, slipping on her helmet as she went. Jesse climbed on first, and steadied the frame with both legs as Clair clambered awkwardly aboard behind him. The pillion seat moulded automatically to her posture, and helped stabilize her. The suspension hummed and settled, balancing the structure as a whole.

Jesse took his feet off the ground. The bike steadied itself and turned at his command. Clair swayed and put her hands awkwardly on his waist, nervous of falling off the seat. She leaned backward as they juddered down the stairs. When they were on level ground, the bike surged beneath her. She flung herself forward, wrapped her arms around Jesse's middle and cried out in fear.

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