I didn't know any of this. I didn't learn Clair's theory until the carriage was opened in Philadelphia. The conversation with Jesse and Clair happened as the train was in Pittsburgh. In a few hours, they would traverse the Philadelphia Keys on a line called the SRNJ. Once, the tracks had gone all the way to Atlantic City, but now Atlantic City was under the Atlantic, the line stopped ten klicks earlier at Pleasantville. There Arcady had arranged to meet the submarine. Until then, Clair had nothing to do but think and worry.
In Philadelphia, they opened the carriage and I was able to access both the drone's stored recordings and the transcripts from Clair's lenses. Data rushed into me in a flood. The drone came back to life as my control signals reactivated it.
"Is that you, Q?"
"Yes, Clair. I have been waiting for contact to be restored."
"I want to ask you a question."
"Is there any way the dupes could be monitoring what you're doing?"
"You mean, are they tracking you by tracking me? I wondered that myself."
"Well, if you think they might be, maybe we shouldn't be talking now."
"It's okay, Clair. I checked. If they could do that, that would make them much cleverer than me, and I see no evidence of that. They might just be exactly as clever, in which case we're working in parallel."
"Or they're so clever they're running rings around you," said Turner.
"We'd definitely know that. You'd be dead or duped already."
"I think they're reading Q's mind," Turner said.
"What, they're psychic now?" said Clair.
"No. They don't need to be. Q is not flesh and blood any more. She's a string of 1s and 0s running on a series of processors in the hangover, in the Air-wherever. If someone could hack that string and decode them, they'd know everything Q knows."
"Suppose they can read her mind, then. What's stopping them from reading the minds of anyone using d-mat?"
"Exactly," Turner said. "Nothing's stopping them at all-and once you can read minds, it's only a small step to re-writing them."
"This is ridiculous," Clair said. "If the dupes could do that, it'd be all over for us."
"No, it wouldn't, because we don't use d-mat."
"But we wouldn't even be here. They'd have won. Every politician would be in their power. Every general. Everyone."
"Ever wondered how OneEarth was established so easily? Besides, coups don't happen overnight."
"I thought that was exactly when coups happened," said Arcady, raising his hands for calm. "Clair, no one's questioning Q's loyalty to you. We need her, and I think we have to trust her."
I was relieved to hear that, even as the disquieting thought that someone was reading my mind sunk in. Could that be possible? Was I being watched by someone as smart as me-or someone so smart that I hadn't even suspected their existence or noticed the intrusion?
That was as worrying as the thought that Clair had proposed to Jesse about Mallory. I had reviewed the transcripts while Turner and the others had discussed me, and it posed several difficult things to consider. Untangling them would take considerable thought, as well as time I didn't have at that moment.
Clair was addressing me again.
"Tell us where the dupes are. You've been tracking them, I presume?"
"I have," I told her. "They are in North Dakota."
"The Farmhouse," said Lorne in alarm.
"Nearby. They're playing all over, red ROVer."
"Overland with ROV support," I said, covering my unease at all these new thoughts with a joke. "Get it? Remotely Operated Vehicle?"
"We have to warn Axel," said Shannon.
"If we call the Farmhouse, we'll give ourselves away," said Arcady.
"No arguments. The others will either see the dupes in time or they won't. There's nothing we can do from here except continue as planned."
"Can we go any faster?" asked Clair.
"If we drop some dead weight, maybe," Arcady said. "I'll talk to the drivers, see what they can do."
"If someone is tracking us," said Gemma, "they'll know we know."
"But will they know we know they know?" Arcady shook his head. "You guys are paranoiaholics. Excuse me."
He turned to talk to the drivers through the PA.
"There's an upside to the North Dakota situation," said Turner. "It means the dupes are busy."
"Axel will keep them even busier," said Shannon. "How many of them are there?"
Clair counted them off. "Dylan Linwood, Libby, Ray, Theo, Arabelle and Jamila."
"And Adam," said Ray.
"With the blond hair? I never knew his name." Clair nodded. "Then there are the three dupes who chased us all across the Central Valley. That makes ten, at least. Plus the ROVs."
"Easy," Shannon said. "They'll be toast before they get anywhere near the perimeter."
"I hope you're right," said Turner.
YOU ARE READING
113 (Twinmaker)Science Fiction
A post-scarcity world transformed by free, instantaneous travel should be paradise, but nothing is ever as it seems. When an ordinary girl uses Improvement, a meme promising a complete physical makeover by little more than wishing for it, she brings...