trouble

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They froze.

"What do you want?" Clair asked, holding up her hands. I was surprised at their steadiness. Me, I was panicking.

"We've got nothing, Jay," said Jesse. "Don't do this to us."

"It's not about you," he said. The smile was gone now. "I lied. The last people through here weren't balloonists. I had some visitors tonight through this thing." He cocked his head at the booth behind him. "They said to keep an eye out for people using the roads. I'm to let them know if I see anyone."

"Did you let them know?" asked Clair.

"They told me you were terrorists, which seemed strange. But then I saw you fiddling with the booth. I may not approve of it, but it's the only thing this place has going for it. You blow it up and I might as well go out back and dig my grave."

"Did you let them know, Jay?"

His gaze watery darted from her to Jesse and back again. "I did what I had to."

Clair opened a connection to the Air, risking detection, but this was undoubtedly an emergency.

"Q, we're in trouble and we need your help."

I knew, and I had already considered numerous options, ranging from running the quadricycle into to him to calling WHOLE. None of them promised to resolve the situation before Beaumont fired the gun or "Dylan Linwood" arrived. Already, his position on the map was shifting at speed toward the booth nearest him.

"I am monitoring your situation by the sensors in the quadricycle, Clair. What can I do?"

"We need a distraction," she said. "Anything. Whatever it takes."

"I have a thought-"

"I don't care what it is, Q. Just get us away from him."

I didn't answer. She had given me this thought: if I put the booth into use, that would stop someone else from using it. But what would I send? No weapon I fabbed could reach Clair in time. Some kind of distraction, then? Something that would give Clair the opportunity to act-ideally something that might neutralize the problem completely?

The answer was already in my mind, put there by Clair herself an hour ago.

Time to get your hands dirty, Q.

I could send myself, if I could only work out how. My brain wasn't presently in a physical body, so at the very least I would need one of those. But which one?

I performed a rapid scan of the Air. As it happened, one was available. Looking back on it, I should have been more cautious: exactly that body, exactly that time? But speed was of the essence. A journey via d-mat can takes as long as two minutes from beginning to end, although it seems instantaneous to the traveller. Every second counted.

And just like that, to save Clair, I was becoming a physical being for the first time in my living memory.

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