rage

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P's rage was all-consuming. Her need to protect Libby-her ideal of Libby, whether it existed or not-was as strong as my need to protect Clair, but I seemed to be able to stand outside it, somehow. I could see how that emotive force might be both innate and contrived-an artefact of our initial template rather than something truly warranted in the present moment. I knew that if I gave in to my own anxieties I would be no use at all to Clair. To help her, I had to remain objective. I had to stand outside myself and decide what was best to do, rather than simply react.

Another glimpse of Clair revealed that she was alone in the room. Libby had gone.

"I'm not attacking Libby," I told P. "Look. See? I want what exactly you want. Clair is waiting. Let me protect her, as you should be protecting your own ward."

That prompted a far more dramatic response than I had expected. P's spirited defence suddenly and entirely collapsed, and I was left fighting nothing at all. Nothing but the Air. Words swirled and tumbled around me, but there was no sign of P. I was alone in the semantic tunnels of VIA with no one to impede my progress.

Perhaps she hadn't noticed that Libby had left the trap, I thought, although that seemed ridiculous. How was it possible to be so tangled up in one's love for something that you don't even notice when it's gone?

That was a disquieting question, and another one for which I had no ready answer.

With P gone and Libby elsewhere, I had no access to Clair. She was somewhere Faraday-shielded; that was for certain. I could only back-trace the many data feeds that had come from her location while P had been connected to Libby, and hope that they led to a location I could access.

That location turned out to be a satellite in orbit around the Earth. Access would be tricky, but I set to getting it without hesitation. The satellite possessed security systems of complex but relatively mundane natures. No more mind-games with clones of myself, I was pleased to see.

But Libby was in the station, with Jesse and the other WHOLE activists-although they were in pattern form only, just data in a private server, waiting to be materialized again. Gemma the traitor was there, and so were a series of dupes whose false names didn't match their patterns. Wallace and Mallory's names swam through the dataverse of the station like sharks in deep water.

As I drilled through the layers to where Clair was imprisoned, I looked outward too, because I knew what mattered to her, and I knew what she would ask me when I found her.

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