counterfeit

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"Thank you, Mr Beaumont," I said in a woman's voice that wasn't my own. "I have them now."

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "I don't know you," he said. "You weren't here before."

Clair half turned, and her mouth opened in surprise.

Beside her Jesse literally gasped.

"You don't need to know me, Mr Beaumont," I said with the mouth and throat of the body I had borrowed. "All that matters is that you've done as you were instructed. Now it's time for me to take over."

"What's going to happen to them?" Jay was hesitating. His shotgun hovered in no-man's land between his prisoners and the stranger who had come to deal with them.

"Go back inside the saloon, please, Mr Beaumont." I took one step closer to him, hoping I didn't have to do more than that. I felt as though I might collapse at any moment. "You don't need to see any more."

"Just don't do it here," he said, nervously licking his lips. "Don't do anything to them here."

He lowered the shotgun and went into the saloon, keeping his eyes carefully on the floor.

The door shut and locked behind him with a terminal click.

Jesse's hands came down. He started to say something, but I waved him quiet until I was sure Beaumont had gone.

Then I sagged with relief. One level of pretence fell away. I already felt drained, after only moments in my disguise.

"Right," I told them. "He's not listening anymore. Go now, both of you, in the buggy."

"Wait," said Jesse. "What are you doing here, Libby? How did you know where to find us?"

Clair wasn't fooled. She could tell her friends apart. "It's Q."

"But how did Q find you, Libby? Are you feeling all right?"

I shook my constricting, counterfeit head. "I'm not Libby, Jesse. I know you would like me to be, but I'm not. It's hard to explain, and I'm afraid you need to get moving. 'Dylan Linwood' left Columbia five minutes ago. He is d-matting to the San Andreas Memorial as we speak, and that's only four kilometres from the rendezvous. If you don't move quickly, he will get there before you."

I approached Clair, and she physically recoiled.

"Q?" said Jesse, staring at "me" in shock. "It can't be."

"Please, Jesse." I turned to face him, wounded by Clair's rejection. "The longer I stay here, the less control I have over the situation. You must leave immediately while I use the booth to go back the way I was."

"Who are you?" Clair whispered. "What have you done to her?"

"We can't talk now." There wasn't time. I was increasingly unable to control the body I inhabited. My right hand reached for her, and it was shaking, trembling, spasming. "I want you to know-"

"Don't touch me!"

It was my turn to recoil. I had felt emotions before, but never like this. Grief and despair hit every cell of my body at once. There was no mistaking the horror in Clair's eyes. I had done something wrong. But I had meant only to help! What else could I have done?

"Come on, Clair," said Jesse, taking her by the shoulders. "She's right. This doesn't matter. We need to get in the buggy and get the hell out of here now."

Clair allowed herself to be led away. The buggy was humming impatiently to itself, the sandwich I had made for her still resting on the seat. She pitched it out into the night as Jesse got in after her and put the buggy into motion. It accelerated hard up Main Street, heading for Route 4. Clair looked behind her just once, at me standing alone under the porch light. I turned while I could and staggered into the booth's mirrored interior. Bright lights flashed. The body was gone.

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