Wallace

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The lift doors opened as they approached, revealing a heavy-set man in a shiny blue suit. He motioned them inside without a word. The doors shut behind them, and my connection to them remained. That is, I had to fight my way through several layers of firewalls and other security protocols, but I got there in the end. Nothing was said as the carriage ascended.

When the carriage stopped, the doors opened again, and the security guard escorted them out.

They arrived at a double door, which the security guard opened. Inside was an office that seemed to take up half an entire floor. It was largely empty, of furniture or people, but the view more than made up for that. The office looked directly out across the archipelago, over a jungle of rooftops and parabolic bridges and sails and monorail tracks. There were storm clouds moving in from the east.

In front of the view sat a single desk with another woman behind it. Tall and solid, with swept-back gray hair and a thin, blade-like nose, she was wearing a conservative, light-fitting suit tailored to hide a shoulder-holster. When the woman stood up and introduced herself, she didn't shake their hands but she wasn't standoffish, either. She seemed confident and curious.

"Angela Kadri, head of security. How can I help you?"

"We need to speak to Ant Wallace," Clair said.

"He's a very busy man, I'm afraid. But everything you tell me will be given due consideration, and I will pass on any relevant information to him directly."

"Really?" asked Jesse.

"I've no reason to hide something important from him."

Clair said, "The system is being used to change and kill people. Someone's hacked into it. They have to be stopped."

"I was told this was about an attack on the building," Kadri said. "There have been no credible threats-"

"This is more important than anything to do with the building. This is about everyone, everywhere. We have to put a stop to it before someone else gets hurt."

Before Clair got hurt, I wanted to add. But I stayed silent. Thus far my intrusion into the building hadn't been noticed.

Kadri looked unsympathetic. "I'm afraid-"

"It's all right, Angela," said a voice from behind them. "I'll handle this."

They turned to see the head of VIA himself walking toward them. He looked exactly like his picture: round-faced, in his fifties, with an open expression and care lines around his eyes. He was jacketless, in shirt sleeves and silk tie, with charcoal suit pants and patent leather shoes. His right hand was outstretched in welcome.

"Ant Wallace," he said, shaking their hands in turn. He met their amazed stares evenly, without blinking. "You've caught me at a good moment. My last meeting cancelled, and I'm always looking for an excuse to stretch my legs."

"They told Brianne there's an attack imminent," said Kadri, a narrow worry line evident between her eyebrows.

"Well, if there's a threat to the people in this building, I want to know about it." He indicated the door through which he had entered. "Come this way, and we'll talk in detail."

Clair took one step forward, then stopped. She touched her forehead with one hand as though dizzy. Had she remembered something? Had she realized something? Was Mallory interfering?

She glanced at Jesse, and he tilted his head back at her. What? Everyone was staring at her-Shannon nervously, Gemma's face a mask of tension, Kadri in puzzlement, Ant Wallace calmly and with infinite patience.

"Where is everyone?" she asked. "This should be the busiest building on Earth."

"Evacuated," said Wallace, "as a precaution."

"So quickly?"

Wallace smiled. "My staff are highly trained and efficient."

Clair didn't buy it. "You already knew. How . . . ?"

Her expression suddenly changed. But she didn't say anything aloud. She called up her menus, found the Air and linked to it.

"Q!" she shouted via every inaudible means available to her. "Q, warn the others! It's a trap!"

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