flight

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The airship was spherical, of a kind once used to provide surveillance over unpopulated areas. Its external shell was a modular frame holding a series of gasbags that expanded and contracted with altitude. It had seven propellers, four around its middle, two underneath and one on top, allowing it to move in any direction. The crew compartment was big enough for twelve people or their equivalent in mass, with a low ceiling that didn't quite allow Clair to stand upright. It currently held eight people, plus the body. The rest of the space was full of supplies, everything from food to weapons, including an open case of grenades and one sniper rifle.

Inside, the Air was jammed so I couldn't monitor Clair in real-time.

The propellers thrummed and the ground receded beneath them as the airship rose into the brightening daylight, rocking from side to side.

Cashile: "Here. In case you're sick."

Clair: "I thought you were dead."

Cashile: "When you called, we were hiding in a bush from one of the dupes. He walked right past us and never knew it! We thought you were dead too, when you didn't turn up at the airfield. Luckily Q found our frequency or we would have left you behind for real."

The dupe. He had said that before, but I hadn't understood. The real Dylan Linwood was a victim of a bizarre and deadly impersonation, not a patsy used and manipulated by people unknown. His body was being inhabited by someone else, someone who had hunted Clair and Jesse relentlessly across the countryside. Whoever that someone was, they had made an enemy in me.

Clair: "What's to stop someone from shooting us down?"

(unknown female pilot): "Nothing but the law. This is a privately operated vehicle with a registered flight plan. Anything happens to us, there'll be an investigation. They don't want that, so we're safe for the time being."

This was interesting, too. What was the law to people who hunted and killed with impunity? But then I remembered that the "Dylan Linwood" dupes hadn't killed in open areas. There hadn't been dozens of them waiting for Clair and Jesse at the airfield, waving submachine guns. They had avoided the drones-all of which indicated a healthy regard for peacekeepers and the consequences of being caught. They weren't all-powerful.

Defining their limitations, I thought, would go a long way to defining who they were and what they wanted, like the concept of negative space in the visual arts. The dupes wouldn't go to so much trouble over something they didn't already have in their power.

(unknown female pilot): "I'm Dyta, and this is my brother, Dariusz. We've been flying for five years and never lost a passenger-not one we didn't want to lose, anyway."

Dariusz was the man who had helped carry the body into the airship. He looked nothing like his sister. Where she was youthful and full-featured with wide, brown eyes, he was narrow-faced and lined, and his hair was completely white. He looked old enough to be her father.

Dyta: "We're going to the Skylifter first, then heading north until we hit the westerlies. From there north-east over Washington, Montana, maybe into Manitoba and Ontario, then south for a landing at Buffalo."

Clair: "What's in Buffalo?"

Dyta: "Nothing. It's just for the flight plan, you understand. The idea is to peel off when they get tired of watching us."

Clair: "What makes you think they'll do that any time soon?"

Jesse: "What's the Skylifter? Why have I never heard of it?"

Gemma: "Stop asking questions, for God's sake, both of you. You're hurting my brain."

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