paranoid

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The Skylifter was a huge, antique dirigible, a leftover from the days when people hauled freight from one place to another and worried about carbon emissions. With a wide, two-storey upper deck and a docking station on the lowest tip, a long elevator shaft connecting them, it looked like a fat, inverted teardrop hanging in the dawn sky.

It had once belonged to a socialite. Guests had come and gone by d-mat, not needing airships to act as taxis. WHOLE had bought it at a bargain price when the fashionable crowd headed out of the atmosphere entirely, in search of even better views.

(sound of hatch opening, movement)

(unknown male): "We'd almost given up on you. Where is it?"

Ray: "Give me a hand. If we're quick, we might be able to hack into the lens feed."

Arabelle: "Be careful, please. The body might be booby trapped."

Clair: "You've seen this kind of thing before?"

Arabelle: "Too many times. We're constantly on the look-out for infiltration. That's why Dylan's homes was mined. All our homes."

Cashile: "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."

(engine noise, fading)

Gemma: "Jesse, help Theo with Dancer. Clair and Cashile, follow me."

Later, when I gained access to the Skylifter's blueprints, I could guess which route they had followed. From the airship they would have walked through a series of docking tubes to the base of the inverted spire. Two routes led upwards, an elevator and a spiral staircase. At the top was a D-shaped chamber that spanned fifteen metres in diameter. The curved side to the left was all window, letting in the sky. There were two doors leading through the interior wall.

(sound of door opening)

Arabelle: "Jesse and Clair, you'll wait here. Cashile will show you where you can freshen up."

Clair: "I don't care about freshening up. I just want to talk to someone in charge."

Gemma: "Not now. Be glad you're alive."

(sound of door shutting)

Cashile: "This way. Go easy on the water. But there's plenty of soap."

Clair: "What are the others doing?"

Cashile: "Talking. They do a lot of that up here."

Clair: "About what?"

Cashile: "They'll come down and get you when they're ready. You don't mind waiting, do you?"

Jesse: "We'll survive, I guess."

When Clair emerged from the bathroom, Cashile was gone. The common area contained only Jesse, and both exits were locked.

Clair: "Any word from the others?"

Jesse: "Nope."

Clair: "How well do you know these people?"

Jesse: "Not as well as I should, obviously."

Clair: "You've known some of them most of your life."

Jesse: "Yes, but Abstainer meetings are like AA meetings-everyone has a testimonial. I may have heard those stories over and over, but I couldn't tell you anything important about them. Like who's a psycho and who isn't. I didn't even know they were really in WHOLE."

Clair: "Are those testimonials secret?"

Jesse: "Now you're interested?"

Clair: "Yes."

Jesse: "All right. You know about Aunt Arabelle."

Clair: "Two left feet. That's why she's called 'Dancer'."

Jesse: "Yes. Well, Ray's wife died in-transit-just arrived dead for no reason, and they couldn't revive her. Theo has aphasia, and she didn't before using d-mat for the first time. Gemma had a baby that disappeared during a jump, and she was never able to have another one. Stevie's son's mind was wiped, and Ori's mom died of the same cancer as George Staynes, the founder of the Abstainer movement. Who else have you met?"

Clair: "Dariusz. Don't tell me d-mat prematurely aged him."

Jesse: "No. The problem's with Dyta. They're actually twins, although you wouldn't know it to look at them."

Clair: "No way. He has to be twenty years older or more."

Jesse: "Have you heard that story about a girl who was lost in transit, and when they found her pattern in a hard drive somewhere, years had passed and her parents had died?"

Clair: "Yes, but . . . that's real?"

Jesse: "Some urban legends must be based on truth, Clair. They can't all be lies, even if you want them to be."

Clair: "Do you believe it?"

Jesse: "I don't know. But I don't automatically disbelieve it. They're terrible stories either way."

Clair: "Like your father's . . . ."

Jesse: "Exactly. And my mother's, too."

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