null-jump

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While Clair grappled with Mallory and Wallace, and with the ghost of Mallory inside her own head, I was grappling with another version of me. But which one? It could only be the 112th iteration, the me assigned to Liberty Zeist. It was she who had been resisting my incursion into VIA, she who had distracted me when I should have been deducing the nature of Wallace's trap. She was my sister and my enemy at the same time.

"Why are you fighting me?" I asked her, wondering with a guilty pang whether she knew that I had interfered with Libby's pattern not once, but twice. That was undoubtedly a betrayal. "We want the same things!"

"You opened wide the mind's cage-door," she said, misquoting Keats, "and now I am vexed by conceptions of sudden change."

I found a chink in her armour, and leapt through it, seizing what data I could. I caught a glimpse of Clair through Libby's lenses. She appeared to have gone nowhere. The room around her was the same-but I knew it couldn't be the same room. It was an identical room somewhere else. Somewhere that was nowhere on Earth, for I had searched every possible location and come up empty. My search expanded to the OneMoon and OneMars. Still nothing. Lightspeed delays would make searching any further difficult.

Clair was alone, apart from Libby and Ant Wallace. Everyone else was gone. They had been edited from the pattern when the trap had sprung.

As I pursued the glimpse down a complicated spiral of data pathways, Clair vanished. The booth had activated again. But this time the jump was a null-jump. It took the pattern and rebuilt it in the same location, with slight differences. Ant Wallace was gone; Zeppelin Barker took his place. To Clair it must have seemed as though one man had vanished and another appeared from nowhere.

I still hadn't traced her location. I couldn't do anything to help her until I did.

"What changes isn't perfect," I told my sister, misquoting Esther Dyson in an attempt to get through to her. "People want to be better."

"When a friend dies, something of you dies, too."

That was Flaubert. Was she trying to say that I was dead, or Libby? Or something else entirely?

Another glimpse. I saw Zep lying in a pool of blood, shot by Mallory in Libby's body. Now what was she trying to tell me?

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