sermon

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Jesse interrupted with a question that had been bothering me, ever since the existence of the dupes had been revealed.

Jesse: "There's something I don't understand. In order to be duped, you have to have a pattern, and that means going through d-mat. But Dad never once used d-mat, not in his life. So how did they do it?"

Arabelle: "We think he was intercepted on the way home from your college. There were at least three dupes waiting for him-the same three, we think, in the search party looking for us last night. They hijacked a private booth in one of the houses nearby. When Dylan came home, they stunned him and loaded him into the machine against his will. He was sent on a null jump, meaning he was analysed and rebuilt in the same booth."

Gemma: "That's why he's injured every time he comes back. He resisted, and now that injury has been built into the base pattern they're using for his dupe. So whoever they are, they're doing more than just murdering people. Copying a pattern is legally considered kidnap, erasing a pattern is murder, and damaging a pattern is the same as causing bodily harm. Putting a mind into someone else's head-or even just altering them, as Improvement is supposed to do-that lands you in a completely new category."

I wondered if Clair thought of me at that moment. I was thinking of me, but finding little hard evidence to support her theory that I was one of Improvement's lost minds. I was finding no evidence of anything at all. All I knew was that my sisters and I had appeared spontaneously from the Air with preconditions and precepts intact. We could be copies of a girl who had once existed, remade in strange new forms, but just as plausibly we could be some freakish emergent property of the Air itself. These possibilities were diametrically opposed but equally unnerving. Either someone very powerful was in charge, or no one at all.

Clair: "I didn't come here for a lesson in law. Why are you here, Turner? What led you to WHOLE?"

Turner: "You want to know if there's anything wrong with me? Well, let me stand up so you can get a good look. There; As you can see, there's nothing wrong with me at all. I am perfect in every way. Do you agree?"

Clair: "Uh, sure."

Turner: "Clair, I don't need to suffer to know what's right. There's something very rotten in the state of d-mat, and it's only getting worse. Can you tell me the first steps in establishing a dictatorship? They are very simple. First you rob people of their individuality, and then you find a way to observe them completely. D-mat offers the perfect means to do both. Go through a booth and everything you carry-everything you are, right down to the wiring of your brain-can be monitored without your knowledge. Tracking devices and bugs can be installed; information can be re-written or written entirely from scratch. That is the world we live in. No regime ever before has had the power to manipulate people so easily. It's unprecedented in human history. And no one fights it. People fed convenience and prosperity seem to accept that they live in a world without physical value. Who's to say their minds haven't been made up for them? Once you can build people atom by atom, rewiring brain cells is easy-which might explain what to me seems so inexplicable, why the world is teetering on the brink of a totalitarian dark age and no one but us complains . . . ." (sounds of agreement)

Clair: "I didn't come here for a sermon, either. Neither of us will get anywhere if we can't reach the people-everyone, I mean, not just the people in this room."

Gemma: "OneEarth will never take on d-mat."

Clair: "No, but they might start with the dupes. We still have the body, don't we?"

Ray: "We didn't find anything in its lenses. All the data has been erased."

Clair: "Figures, but that wasn't what I meant. Dylan Linwood is officially still alive, and we now have hard evidence of the fact that he was killed at least once, that there's been a parity violation. This proves there's a loophole, somewhere. There'd be no hiding something like this. Once it's in the public record-"

Gemma: "The public record can be altered."

Clair: "So let's make it really public. Let's film it and put the lot where people can easily find it. People love a good conspiracy. The bigger the better. Isn't that why I'm here-to be a witness? Isn't that why Dylan put me and the chancellor up in the Air? Isn't that what he died for?"

Arabelle: "He died because he openly declared himself. Once they knew he was one of us, he became both dangerous and valuable to them-a potential asset, not a threat. Their intent is always to infiltrate, and if they can find some way of achieving that, they will try."

Gemma: "Failing that, they frame us for murder-because that's what terrorists do. I'd advise against walking up to a PK with that body slung over your shoulder. Not unless you want to be damned with the rest of us."

Clair: "Maybe we should look up the head of VIA and drop the body right onto his or her desk. Go to the top. Make it their problem, not ours."

Arabelle: "VIA is at the heart of the problem."

Clair: "What if you're wrong about that? What if VIA suspects the existence of dupes and we have exactly the evidence they're looking for?"

Arabelle: "We don't want VIA's help."

Clair: "I honestly can't see us taking on a problem this big without someone backing us. And who else is there? The peacekeepers? The federal government? OneEarth? They all benefit from the status quo; they won't want anything changed. Only VIA is hurt when the word gets out how badly they've managed things. Because it's not just the dupes-it's Improvement and who knows what else? That's our leverage. That's how we should do it."

Gemma: "You can't really think it'd be that easy."

Clair: "No, but that's not stopping me from thinking at all. Look, we can argue about the means all day-you want to tear the system down and start again, while I want the system to fix itself, as it's supposed to-but the ends we want to achieve are not that all that different. We want people to be safe. We don't want people to be changed in ways they shouldn't. Can't we find a means of doing this together?"

Jesse: "Clair's got a point. We should listen to her."

Turner: "Ah, the irony. I want to say that words are not enough, when all I have are words, too. Here's what I suggest, Clair and Jesse. We won't dismiss your suggestion out of hand. It has merit, even if it does have some obvious holes. In return, stay with us while you plug those holes. We need information, evidence-and we need young people like you, especially. That's the real reason you're here. You've seen what we see. You know what damage d-mat can do. Join us, and you could make a huge difference. You and Jesse, and your friend Q. Now you two are safe here in the Skylifter, at least think about it. Jamila will take you downstairs while we finish up here. There's no need to rush into anything."

A young woman with mismatched irises led Clair and Jesse down the spiral staircase, back to the D-shaped deck below, and I was able to observe them again. Turner's offer struck me as both strange and tempting. What role would a creature like I have to play in an organization like WHOLE? Wasn't I the very antithesis of everything they stood for-physical security, the sanctity of human flesh, normality? I couldn't imagine Gemma viewing me in a positive light.

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