gamble

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The door shut. The bubble of silence closed around them. Inside the train, Arcady briefed them on what was to come at their destination. When they left the train in Pleasantville and drove to meet the submarine at the old dockyards, they would be at their most exposed, so speed was of the essence. They would stop at Absecon Station, literally the end of the line, take White Horse Pike to the New Road and follow that along the coast, through the casino district all the way to Zion Road and the docklands, such as they were. Like many resort towns, Pleasantville had an official population of zero. Literally everyone d-matted in and out from all points across the globe, be it to gamble, to serve, to maintain or to protect. Pleasantville had plenty of beds but no one went there to sleep.

Clair, Turner and Jesse would go with Arcady in the lead vehicle. At the first sign of trouble, the other two cars would peel away to provide distractions elsewhere in Pleasantville. Grenades were distributed.

Dariusz: "Do you really think they'll be necessary?"

Clair: "Hope for the best, plan for the worst."

Arcady: "Spoken like a true soldier."

Jesse: (whispering) "Was that . . . you know?"

Clair: "Arabelle said it once, remember?"

Jesse: "Oh. But she was never a soldier."

Clair: "I think she thought she was. Every second of every day, WHOLE's fighting the entire world."

Jesse: "Who knows what it'd look like if they won?"

Clair: "As long as the dupes weren't in it, it'd automatically be a better place."

The train pulled in ten minutes ahead of schedule. Arcady opened the door as they decelerated into the train station. My drone woke up and I monitored the situation without saying anything to distract them. It was dark outside, two hours before dawn, and a rich, ocean smell washed over them like a heavy tide. There was no one watching them, as far as I could tell.

The engines started with a snarl. As soon as the carriage was stationary, the fat-wheeled vehicles manoeuvred smoothly across the gap between train and station and formed a line outside. Arcady checked to make sure everyone was accounted for, including Libby's body, and gave the signal to move out. The engines roared like beasts caged for too long as they accelerated along the gleaming side of the train, then pulled away, heading into the town.

The outskirts were dark under a cloudy sky, but there was a multicoloured glow ahead that grew steadily brighter. New Road was straight and smooth with an uninterrupted view of the sea to the left. In a short while, the sun would rise from that side, casting bright, revealing light over a town that never paused for breath. Even from a distance the heart of Pleasantville was a glittering maelstrom of bright flashing lights and exaggerated extravagance-as though that mattered any more, in a world of plenty.

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