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After dinner, conversation turned immediately to what had happened and what might happen next, driven by Clair.

Clair: "You knew about the dupes all along. Why didn't you tell us?"

Gemma: "You wouldn't have believed me."

Clair: "Is there anything else I need to know?"

Gemma: "You tell me. What's the relationship between Improvement and the dupes?"

Clair: "Well, the dupes stepped in when Jesse's dad tried to get the word out about Improvement. They protected the secret. So that means there's a connection. Yes?"

Gemma: "That'll do."

Clair: "Do you know what they want?"

Gemma: "Your guess is as good as mine."

Clair: "I guess it doesn't matter. Stop one and we stop the other. That's the main thing."

Gemma: "Exactly what we've been trying to do."

Clair: "No, you're not. You're burning down the house to roast a pig. If we bring down d-mat, I'll never get Libby back."

Gemma: "Forget Libby. Don't wait for Improvement to finish the job, if it hasn't finished already. Save yourself the agony and get used to her being dead."

Clair: "She's not. That's the thing I think I've worked out. There are rules to how d-mat works. Things have to even out. So what happens to minds that are pushed out by the dupes? Where do they go?"

Gemma: "They're erased."

Clair: "No. Data can neither be created nor destroyed, Q said. If you can't erase the data, that means those minds are still out there, somewhere-and so's Libby's original pattern. All we have to do is find it and we can put her back the way she was, before the brain damage."

Arcady: "Interesting. Our private net does everything two, three times. It's the only way to weed out errors. Our safety net is basically a big memory dump. We zap something; we keep its data in limbo until we're absolutely certain it's come out the other side okay. We call this limbo the hangover. Obviously our net is different from the one VIA monitors, but I'm betting it works the same. If you don't empty the hangover, the data stays there forever."

Clair: "Yes! The hangover. That has to be where she is. Brilliant! And that means we need VIA more than ever, now. They'll naturally be able to access their own hangover. They'll be able to pull out what's in there and put Libby back the way she ought to be."

Gemma: "What about your hacker friend? Couldn't she just break in and get Libby out?"

Arcady: "Winning this battle isn't enough. The war's the thing."

Clair: "Exactly. We have to stop it happening to anyone else. I know we don't see eye to eye on everything, but surely we both accept this. Right? So we need each other-and we need VIA, too. Even together we couldn't do it without Ant Wallace's help."

Gemma: "He'll just cover it up like he does all the other mistakes."

Arcady: "Shame is a powerful motivator. If you had some kind of physical evidence, there'd be no way to argue with it."

Gemma: "They body we captured went down with the Skylifter."

Arcady: "There'll be others. You can be sure of that."

Clair: "We are safe here, aren't we?"

Arcady: (quoting T. S. Elliot) "There are no eyes here / In this valley of dying stars / In this hollow valley . . . ."

Clair: "No, seriously."

Arcady. "Seriously. Our booths are completely sealed, there are no comms in or out, and we have deadly serious active denial systems all around our borders. You're lucky you didn't come in that way, let me tell you."

Clair: "They'll try to search the wreckage."

Arcady: "Maybe we'll let them rather than cause a scene, but they won't find anything. I promise."

He was wrong, but I liked him anyway-even after the fact, even after his wrongness almost killed them all. Like Clair, he knew his literature.

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