10 0 0

Clair sat awake the rest of the night, thinking thoughts I couldn't have read, even had I been there. Turner and the others didn't stir until the carriage changed locomotives at Chicago, jerking through sidings then resuming its journey without significant pause. Arcady told them that they had followed the old BNSF line through Duluth, and were now on the CSX line to Pittsburgh. That accorded perfectly with my observations, allowing me to track the timing in retrospect.

Farmers played cards against Turner and Dariusz, and the carriage was soon filled with camaraderie and conversation, but not everyone joined in. Gemma said nothing unless spoken to. Jesse was silent too: judging by the sounds in the carriage he was inspecting one of the farmers' vehicles. Clair was still thinking, but when she got up to use the toilet, she whispered something to herself that I couldn't make out, and when she emerged, she broached a conversation with Jesse that changed everything.

Jesse: "Dad tried to teach me about this stuff, but anything with wheels bored me out of my skull."

Clair: "Jesse, I need to talk to you. In private."

Jesse: "Okay. In the cab?"

Clair: "Sure."

(sound of movement, doors slamming)

Jesse: "What's up?"

Clair: "Don't tell anyone . . . but I tried Improvement."

Jesse: "You what?"

Clair: "After I saw your dad the first time. He said it might be a way of tracking girls like Libby, remember? I wanted to find out for myself, so I used it-a few times, in fact. I forgot the note was still on me when the dupe came after me. I d-matted eight, nine times before I got rid of it, maybe more. It didn't seem to do anything . . . at first."

Jesse: "What do you think now?"

Clair: "I think the brain damage your dad talked about was deliberate, not accidental. I think Improvement and duping are different aspects of the same thing. And I think there's a bit of someone else in me now, and she's starting to show."

Jesse: "Huh?"

Clair: "Libby had migraines before she changed. Her birthmark disappeared. She attacked me. She . . . she was different. Remember what the dupes called her back at the Farmhouse? Remember that woman Q traded herself for? Her name was Mallory. I think that's who it is."

Jesse: "Just because someone called Mallory was inside Libby's body doesn't mean that Libby became her."

Clair: "Zep said that Libby remembered terrible things from her childhood, things that just weren't true. I'm starting to remember them now, in my dreams.

Jesse: "Nightmares are normal, especially after what we've been through."

Clair: "That's what I told myself, but the dreams aren't right. Why aren't I dreaming about Zep or my parents being held hostage? These dreams have to come from outside me. They have to come from Mallory."

Jesse: "That doesn't necessarily mean anything. What if you're only dreaming this stuff because you're worried about it happening?"

Clair: "I don't think my subconscious is that clever, Jesse. Anyway, the dreams came first. And it's not just the dreams. It's everything else, too."

Jesse: "Everything how?"

Clair: "The guns. Keeping my head. Strategizing. You noticed it, remember? You asked if I was moonlighting with the peacekeeper cadets. Gemma noticed, too. Mallory, in my head, and the more I dream the stronger she gets. It started when I touched the gun in Manteca, and it's got really bad since I saw her in the Farmhouse. I'm living in her shadow now, not Libby's, and I don't know how to get her out without . . . without killing myself."

Jesse: "God. . . I guess it could be a thing. Dad mentioned the prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobes, didn't he? They have something to do with personality and long-term memories, I think. And the brain rewires itself when we sleep . . . . Do you think this is what happens with all of them? With Libby, before she was properly duped?"

Clair: "Yes."

Jesse: "And is she . . . is Mallory making you do things?"

Clair: "No. Absolutely not. I'm sure of it."

Jesse: "But you're worried the others might think she is. Or will."

Clair: "Yes."

Jesse: "Are you worried, too?"

Clair: "Yes."

113 (Twinmaker)Read this story for FREE!