wound

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By the time we were in the hall, my limbs were shivering and teeth chattering uncontrollably. Arcady put me on a table at the centre of a growing audience. Clair tore a sleeve off her top and tied it around my bullet wound. The cloth immediately turned a bright, sodden red.

"Shock," said Axel.

"You're a chemist, not a doctor." Arcady wasn't concentrating on me, though. He was staring at a double line of bodies: dupes on one side, sentries on another. The body count was eleven in total. "That's a flesh wound, nothing serious."

"It feels serious if you've never been shot before."

"This has nothing to do with the bullet," said Clair. "I've seen it before. Her mind doesn't fit Libby's body. She needs to go back into a booth and d-mat out of here."

"Sorry," said Arcady, "but that's not going to happen."

"If she doesn't, she might seriously hurt herself," said Jesse, pressing through the crowd to stand opposite Clair, on the other side of my borrowed body. He was wearing pyjama pants and no top and looked very skinny and pale.

Arcady said, "What I mean is, it can't happen. We have no way of connecting to the outside world, even if we wanted to. No way at all."

"Not true." I tried to sit up but the pain was too great. Jesse helped me onto her elbows. "That's how we got in here. Me and the dupes. By d-mat."

"Aren't you listening to me?" said Arcady again. "Our system is closed."

"All systems are leaky. You receive weather reports and software updates, don't you?"

"Yes, but-"

"The thin end of a wedge," I said. "One crack is all it takes. One line of code to widen the crack . . . one executable in your private net, one custom chip built from scratch in a duplicating booth, one transmitter to widen the bandwidth . . . . Step by step, they got in deep. It took them less than eight hours to slave your private network to their data. If I hadn't found them, I would never have been able to piggyback on their signal."

"You led them to us," said Arcady to Turner. His voice quivered with fury. "You brought them right to our doorstep."

Turner was standing to one side with a blanket over his shoulders. He had been quiet ever since the principle purpose of the breach had been revealed to him. I'm looking for Turner. "I'm sorry. We had no idea they would respond so quickly."

"And you could have stopped this," Arcady accused me. "You did nothing to warn us."

That was true, but Clair sprang to my defence anyway.

"She's here, isn't she?" Clair took my twitching hand and held it tightly. I tried my best not to weep. "And if the people who sent them don't know their team is down, that gives us time to work out what to do next."

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