hack

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It took me one hour to find a way to hack into the Skylifter. It had been an anxious hour, for all my collaboration with Gemma and WHOLE at the airfield. Anything could have changed since then. My breath was metaphorically held as I opened communications between us again.

"Clair?"

There was no answer. Her lenses were dark. But I could hear her breathing. It was rapid and light, as though she had been exercising.

Asleep, I thought. She was, perhaps, in the grip of a nightmare.

"Clair? Can you hear me?"

Her eyes flew open. Suddenly she sat up and stared wildly about her. Her lenses gathered images of the inside of the Skylifter and Jesse curled asleep on the floor near her. Behind her was the window and the view of a perfect blue dome above and an endless sheet of white below. Inside, the Skylifter was unassuming. The interior wall was decorated with paintings of landscapes and, incongruously, childish sketches in primary colours. There were large, hand-embroidered cushions on a brown-carpeted carpeted floor.

"Clair? Are you all right?"

She blinked.

"Yes, Q."

I was glad she recognized my voice. I was beginning to worry about deep-vein thrombosis or even a stroke.

"How did you get in here?" she asked me. "The Skylifter is jammed, isn't it?"

"I can get anywhere that isn't Faraday shielded, such as the room you occupy. The first thing I did was hack the habitat's firewalls by bypassing its usual routers and-"

"Okay, okay, spare me the details."

She looked around again. Jesse was snoring softly, undisturbed by either her or bad dreams of his own.

"The engines have stopped," she said. "Why aren't we going anywhere?"

"The Skylifter stays still only by flying against the wind. Now you've reached the westerlies, all it needs to do is drift. You are passing over Missoula right now."

Clair automatically went to access her lens menus, probably to look at a map, but of course the Air wasn't available. She stood on wobbly legs and crossed in stockinged feet to the miniature kitchen. In the freezer she found several single serves of pre-cooked lentil stew, and she fiddled with the microwave controls until she worked out how to set it to defrost. While it whirred and rattled-an antique like the Skylifter itself-she filled a bottle of water and drank deeply from it. When the stew was ready, she sat cross-legged on the floor and picked at it while we talked.

"Okay, let's start with Dylan Linwood. Tell me how someone can copy him when he's supposed to be dead in Manteca. Doesn't that raise a . . . what did you call it?"

"Parity violation alarm."

"Right, one of those."

"No, because Dylan Linwood isn't listed as dead."

"What?"

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