Clare’s Countdown

Clare walked out of the medical suite in the grip of Phil’s script. Her own barely-understood processors latched onto local systems, re-writing camera feeds and sensor data, erasing Clare and her movements so that Madame would only see her apparent ongoing conversation with Miela.

Her thoughts were free to roam – I hate Phil, that door needs a new label, that’s a good colour scheme in that room... That was fine, but anything approaching intent, like I could go that way instead... and fall, so far, so hard, just falling... or perhaps use that lift.... and drown in icy cold water, filling her throat... or I could go up and escape.... but starving, so desperate for food, ready to do anything for the smallest scrap...

Stick to the script.

That experimental cortical interface, with its exceptional feedback capability, was a monster. It read her intentions, and re-wrote them as easily as it re-wrote camera feeds.

Stick to the script, or else.

<Farral: What’s the time?> The system popped up a small clock display in one corner of her virtual screen. <Start countdown from twenty minutes.> That was theoretically the time left until pain started again... Another display obligingly appeared beside the first, zero hours, nineteen minutes and the seconds to the nearest thousandth whirling away too fast to follow. So like falling, or drowning, or... <Just seconds. No decimals. ***Please!***> The display amended itself as she reached the lift.

The door opened as if Madame were in control, but that was really down to a fast, whispery chatter between her systems and the local mechanism. The data flowed too fast to follow the exact detail... what the hell was that? and an explanation popped into her head like divine inspiration. The lift would move up and down, but continue to report itself stationary. So long as no one else tried to use it, Madame would not notice, and the building was on lock-down for the current crisis – minimal staff movements. Phil was a clever bastard.

Stick to the script, or else... Falling. Drowning. Starving. Freezing...

She went down – even that felt like a threat – all the way to the sub-basement, second level, one floor below the motor-pool. The corridor beyond the lift was in darkness, but her prosthetic eye adjusted to pick up infra-red – poor resolution, but enough to navigate by.

A route unfolded in her head – down the passage, second left. The corridors were broad and the doors of similar dimensions. This was the Lilywhite warehouse – holding a stockpile for the tower above, food and water for weeks if necessary, a final precaution against the madness of the world.

Clare followed the scripted path to a pair of armoured, sealed doors. The stage direction was simple: open them. Her processors provided full details of the alarm systems from sophisticated self-contained processor units to simple electromechanical switches that had to be manipulated manually and couldn’t be suborned by a skilled hacker.

The details of the security systems had been betrayed to Phil and he had provided the necessary resources for Clare to do the job – picks and probes, tucked behind exposed pipe-work, concealed in an emergency phone recess, balanced on the fire suppression sprinkler. The traitor could have opened the doors, but with a risk of exposure...

The job was slow – her processors hammered at the digital locks with brute-force attacks, eating away at her minutes until pain. Then, a mechanical interlock succumbed to Clare’s skill with the picks, her coordination enhanced by those exceptional new processors, burning another six minutes of her countdown. A final digital challenge fell... and she was into the last five of her twenty minutes – ideally an overestimate. It would have been simple to check, but Phil’s script wouldn’t permit that – it had a schedule, tightly timed, curbing any possible delaying action, getting antsy at even an intent to go slowly.

The door opened onto a loading bay. The gates to the outside world were also sealed and a handful of low-intensity lights glowed softly from the ceiling. Precise instructions drove her onwards to a small pedestrian access, primarily intended for maintenance work. The locks and alarms here were much simpler, another seven minutes of her time – so twenty minutes for the numbvest anaesthetic to run out was an underestimate. No pain yet...

The door opened and Phil Elsworth stepped in, a heavy-calibre weapon slung over his shoulder, small carry-all in the other hand.

“Follow.” He strode across the loading bay and through the secure door. “Shut it.”

Clare complied – the script was still running – and reset the electronic locks. The mechanical latches would take too long and the buried instructions said skip it.

Phil was wearing standard business attire – tailored jacket fastened up to his throat, close-fitting, understated and elegant – perfect camouflage for moving around the Lilywhite building. Only the weapon ruined the effect... and a ridiculous pair of bug-eye sun glasses that went out of fashion two years ago. And, at second glance, the cloth of the suit actually looked wrong...

Lightweight body-armour. Thin enough to be barely noticeable, enough to deflect blades and low-calibre rounds. Exactly what some of Milo’s enforcers had taken to wearing...

Clare flicked through options on her eye – to her infra-red view at close range, everything about Phil looked wrong.

What the hell is he wearing? The suit was relatively conventional but underneath was a collage of wacky heat patterns, lines, lumps and bumps that made no sense.

"Keep it down, Clare..." Her virtual screen shimmered as he rifled through her thoughts like a pack of study cards. “Move. Back to the lifts.”

“Then what?” Her internal script forbade reading ahead – no spoilers allowed.

“Then we see what happens.”

I can see you... She followed, trying to make sense of the infra-red mess. Need to record this... and a new icon popped up in her head. And take a look inside... her sub-dermal mesh came on line, a bare eight percent capacity but enough to run a low-power radar sweep.

“Stop playing with the toys,” Phil commanded and the script snarled in the background, but it was toothless because all those toys kept on running without her conscious command. Her eye and the nascent sensor net were integrated and sub-conscious now, another gap in Phil’s scheme.

Clare built up a picture without trying, a new skill evolving by the second. The muddy jumble of infra-red was matched to a detailed mapping of the man – flesh, bone and enhancements – along with a limited profile of his comms emissions.

Phil, an intricate living statue, a tightly integrated pattern of nodes and antennae interleaved with layered segments of sub-dermal mesh, moving like a predatory insect. His internal armouring blocked detail, but the carefully overlapped panels and sheets were beautifully engineered, flexing and sliding to match his movements. Multiple layers of mesh protected his internal organs. The seam where the thoracic shielding joined over his sternum was further protected, a concertina fan of armour moving as he breathed.

“Shit...” Phil was invincible, even without external armour.

“What’s that?” <Elsworth: Show me...> He trampled through her thoughts and intrusion alerts scattered panic icons through her head like flies on a wind-shield. Countermeasures engaged... and aborted. Phil went where he wanted, and all she got was an aggravating itch behind her ears. “Automation integrating well. You might even survive.”

Clare had an idle thought, show me round... and Phil was rendered in three dimensions, as a sculpture of hi-tech augmentation, a detailed analysis performed by her processors, prompted by her curiosity. “Is this how I will be?” That wasn’t the real question.

“No. You will be better. Or dead. Depends on how well it works.”

“Why me?” That was the real one.

“Because you were in the way.” Phil actually stopped and laughed before continuing. “Faster, Clare. On a timetable here.”

The script concurred – hurry up. It just didn’t say why.

“In the way of what?”

“Wake up. Figure it out.”

Hurry, hurry, hurry... the script was falling behind on its schedule. Clare’s own countdown was well into negative numbers and still not a twinge of pain.

“Shit. It was supposed to be Bob.” Clare Farral, one of dozens of disposable girls, nothing special... “Why Bob? Wait... so Niels wasn’t trying to kill him... but... but...”

The script stopped her on the spot. A routine and random security scan, every sensor in the corridor being interrogated by Madame – Clare wormed her way in, intercepted the requests, falsified the answers... and moved on.

“Why Bob?” she whispered again.

“Because the Digital Tart didn’t want any mess.”

Didn’t want a mess... and there was Phil carrying a portable cannon. “Bob... shit... you only wanted to hack the system. You’re after Madame...” And now he was going to blow it up instead. There was the lift, doors waiting open. “Why do you...?” A line of fire looped around her ribs, spiralling up and fading away behind her breasts. “Shit...” The script stopped her again, waiting for a prompt from Phil, nagging until she asked the question, “Where next?”

“Take me to Kernel Kombat." He tapped the weapon slung over his shoulder. "Not as subtle as using Bob.”

Not Madame, but Kernal Kombat... “The cyberwar...” And the script nudged her into the lift.

“I thought you were smart, Clare. Kernal Kombat is the decisive force. Without it, the cyberwar will be over. Lilywhite will have new ownership."

"Why do you need me? You already know the way."

"The security on that level is partially independent of Madame. But Bob Critchley’s assistant has easy access."

"I’m not his assistant any more."

"Close enough. Pick up Miela first.”

Clare leant against the back wall as another wave of fire gnawed across her chest – better late than never. “Miela. Right.” Breathing was suddenly an effort. The script noticed – keep up, keep moving, screaming pain and horror else... It had no idea. “Going up.”

The doors closed; Clare started to sweat as a relentless fire crawled along her ribs. No sharp stabs or transient flares, but the steady burn of microfabricators burrowing under her skin. That damned anaesthetic cartridge should have expired over ten minutes previously; the first hints of pain were only now breaking through. And the doors opened...

"Along there." She pointed him down the corridor to the recovery room. "First door on the left. I’ll wait here." Anything to avoid even looking at the replacement anaesthetic cartridge.

"Yes. You will." He strode away, footsteps fading into the depths of the medical suite. She caught a rapid exchange of comms traffic; her traitorous systems decrypted fragments.

<Miela: Subversion of Farral successful.>

<Elsworth: She is satisfactorily compliant. Now we //decrypt fail// Reach Emily... Calder Lilywhite... Necessary death.>

<Miela: I will… //decrypt fail//>

<Elsworth: ... cripple the system... no long-term damage... Critchley undecided... //decrypt fail//>

“Really?” Clare shook her head as if it would help. “Can’t you just tell me the whole fucking plan?” Another shake – why did I get the faulty head? “Got the bloody encryption. Just tell me what they’re saying...” And that was the point – suddenly so obvious – the super-advanced stuff in her head could crack the messages, no gaps or drop-outs at all, unless there was deliberate interference. It was the same pattern as with those countermeasures that failed to keep Phil out... active for a moment, flagging up the threat and then something killed them... because Phil had also loaded her head with aggressive, subversive code, dancing hand-in-hand with his script. Her processors fought against that heavy layer of control, but every internal defence or response died in moments. The only chance to recover the situation was to alert Calder or Emily. “Right. Record everything for later...” And there, in one corner of her mind’s eye, a record icon... which died after a few seconds. “Shit...”

There had to be something... no need for anything fancy, just a way to break through...

“Gotcha...” something like the comms terminal built into the lift controls, really basic, but enough to call for help. All she had to do was log on and request Madame. Tripping, falling, tumbling, all the way down, down, to the rocks below... Everything was messed up. Her processors sucked in data from every device in reach, re-wrote it and sent it back, replacing the original. It couldn't be perfect, surely? But good enough to fool Madame... The only way to beat it was use that terminal, call for help, let them know, but she couldn’t do any of that without... Falling on the rocks, under the water, cold, cold, cold, breathe it in, feel it freeze, drowning on the rocks... Just touch the terminal, that would be enough – Madame would take note and ask... except that couldn’t happen, because Phil’s script had its own question... Can you run fast enough girl? Run, run, run, two steps ahead, run, run, one step ahead, running and running, catching and holding, hands, hands, hands, a hundred hands holding down a toy for the boys...

The pain in her ribs flared hotter. The nightmare panic that Phil had imposed was suddenly bogged down in real physical pain – the control was weakened but not enough for her to break its hold. She remembered that earlier pain, extreme, unbearable, so much worse because she was helpless in the Coriolis medical suite, horrible because she couldn’t even scream, but that was as far as it went, just a concept of agony and helplessness... as vague as the threats from Phil’s script. With time so short, the microfabricators burrowing under the skin needed to pick up the pace – come on you little bastards, hurt me properly...

"Time to go." Phil stepped back into the lift, a Lilywhite medical tunic over his body-armour business suit, and placed both his carry-all and weapon in the corner. Clare felt a growing warmth in her breasts from her processor arrays, drawing and dissipating far more power as they re-wrote the camera feeds in real-time to erase those details. Miela walked just behind him, still in her medical smock... but there was the outline of Coriolis security force body armour underneath. "Call Calder. Miela is ready to talk – directly to Bob Critchley.” Phil and Miela shuffled positions, a piece of stage-management so that the erratic prisoner was clearly under medical supervision, easing the load on Clare’s processors spoofing the cameras. “You need a meditech in attendance. Calder will have to override the security systems."

The script moved on, and Clare tapped the terminal. "Madame?" Now she was allowed to talk to Madame, within the guidelines of the script. Drowning. Burning. Falling. Running... "I need to talk to Calder."

"I am aware," the computer replied. "I have been monitoring your efforts. The resolution was most impressive."

Calder’s face appeared, staring at her, eager for news. "Progress?"

The rising warmth in her breasts increased further as her processors edited the video link to remove threats like Phil’s heavy weapons. An internal alert popped up – over-heat. Breasts were a convenient place to put processor nodes, and Clare had the volume, but not so good for dissipating the waste heat...

The script had an answer. Talk fast.

“Progress. Yes.” Disaster, she wanted to tell him. "Miela is a bit flaky, but ready to talk. I think…" Drowning. Choking. Falling... She held out. Let the hesitation alert him. Choking... and breathe... "Bob needs to hear this directly." Her lips quivered. Her ribs were on fire. Come on, Calder. I’m almost screaming here. You can see that, right?

"Excellent work, Clare.” Calder didn’t see it. “Come up to Kernel Kombat. The observation gallery."

The connection broke abruptly and Phil kicked a wall. "Shit... No... It doesn’t matter. That grade of armoured glass won’t stop one of those." He glanced at his weapon again. "Quickly now. Time is short.”

The script echoed that. No time to waste. Keep to the timetable.

Clare nursed her pain, waiting for it to get worse, waiting for him to make a mistake she could use. Something had to give.

"Go."

# # #

Medway opened her eyes as her processors completed their analysis of the last of the operators who maintained and developed the Madame system. They had their quirks, but none bad enough to raise alarms. The most disturbing person with the necessary security access was Emily – but she was monitored so heavily for her own protection that Medway was prepared to accept that she was not the traitor.

"I have additional information," Madame interrupted. "Clare has enabled a dialogue with Miela the operator."

Medway sat up straight. "Great. What does she say?"

"Nothing specific."

"Crazy… We need specific information."

"Clare is now in discussion with Calder. Information is available which needs to go directly to Director Critchley. Clare is bringing Miela up here."

"Nothing specific...” Kyla, this kid says he has information for us... “Serious enough to need…” Were you born yesterday, Medway? Big, serious info with no fucking details? “Are you sure about this, Madame?”

"There is no doubt," Madame assured her. "I monitored the conversation. Miela made it plain that she had valuable information which had to be conveyed directly and immediately to Director Critchley. I have successfully identified several non-verbal aspects of the exchange which provided the emphasis. Miela will be brought here. Director Critchley has been notified. Calder wants your observations on the information supplied."

Medway shook her head... not right... really not right. "Did Miela give any indication of the nature of the information?"

"None. It is my estimate that there was a level of non-verbal communication between Clare and Miela which I did not decipher. I have adapted to take account of these effects even when unable to fully quantify them."

"Where are they now? Can you show them to me?"

"In the lift." Madame conveyed a camera image.

"Who’s the guy in the background?" An unknown face in medical garb.

"Meditech. Miela’s current health requires his attendance."

Medway stood up... wrong... wrong... wrong... "Absolute crap. And that bloody camera needs replacing. It’s barely focussing properly...” So wrong, on so many levels. “The meditech... what’s his name?”

“That information is not available.” Madame hummed – more like a broken motor than an actual human sound, but the intent was there. “I can match his face to three medical staff, but below seventy-five percent certainty.”

“Because the image is too fuzzy... And what’s up with Clare? Can you get a different angle?” The feed shifted, Clare wrapping up a conversation with Calder, leaning against the lift wall like a street-kid hiding a half-brick. “Can you zoom in? I want to see her face…" the image expanded. "Look at her. Sweating, tense – something seriously wrong. Can you estimate physiological parameters from the camera?"

"Crude estimates may be possible. Camera is standard security monitoring hardware, not suited to detailed analysis."

Medway logged in and started taking a direct feed from the camera. Everything about the scene was wrong but the image quality was not good enough to identify what. Kyla would say... snap the little fucker’s wrist and see if he stops being vague. Not helpful just now...

Medway disconnected. "It looks like she’s in… Shit. You monitored her? When did she change her anaesthetic cartridge? That Annie girl got one from my car, didn't she?"

"Annie took her the cartridge… Clare has not installed it." Madame put significant synthesised concern into its voice. "I am analysing the video record. There was no sign of distress until very recently. The parameters of the numbvest indicate the level of discomfort would rise slowly on expiry of the anaesthetic." Madame managed to sound apologetic. "It is possible that my analysis of the non-verbal exchanges was erroneous."

"This is a load of bollocks. Clare would have to be stupid to… Why not just use a comms link? There is nothing that needs face to face contact. Not in the middle of this... mess."

"The recordings indicate that Miela was very clear on the need to…"

"Bollocks.” Snap his wrist, Kyla? Why? “Where are Critchley and Calder?” Works every time, Medway. The little shit just wants to get close enough to stick a shiv in a gap in your armour. “Critchley and Calder... warn them to stay back...” Can’t use a shiv with a broken wrist... “It’s an ambush waiting to happen.”

Madame shifted tone to contrite. "Your analysis is valid. I am delaying the lift. I am running a conversation with Clare to explain the delay… my analysis is that my deception has now been noticed…"

"Can you disable the lift totally? Give security teams a chance to get there."

"It is done. They are now trapped… there is an error. My controls are being overridden." The tone of disbelief was almost human. "There has been a sophisticated attack against local systems. Data traffic analysis indicates multiple anomalies. Malicious code has infiltrated many remote systems." There was a long silence as Madame initiated urgent countermeasures. "I am under threat. Celene fragments have been released but that will not reinstate infected units. I have now lost all camera signals from the lift and its vicinity. Security teams have been dispatched."

“Shit...” What would Kyla do next? So break his other wrist, Medway... Definitely not helpful. “Show me the building plans. We need to work out where they’re going. Assume that the meditech was Elsworth. Assume that he has extensive knowledge of this building. Where can he go?"

A sub-window opened with Calder’s face. "I see we have trouble," he said quickly. "Get in the Kombat suite, Officer Medway. The door to the observation room is not as strong. The glass should handle anything that leaves the building standing. You need to be the other side of it…"

"Bollocks. I can try to track the bastard from here."

Calder smiled thinly. "Thank you." That was what he really wanted. "Madame will provide a channel to security." He tipped his head to one side. "Consider my earlier job offer confirmed." The image vanished.

"Which way did Elsworth go, Madame?"

"The analysis does not make sense," the computer admitted. "The extent of the camera failures indicate that he has descended two levels. There are a small number of failures on the level above the medical area. I deduce that Doctor Elsworth is fully aware that he has been discovered and is laying a false trail."

"Of course he is... so, which way? Up or down?” He’s supposed to be coming here. So he went up... or pulled a bluff and went down... but the more obvious trail is down... maybe a double-bluff... Fuck-it... “He went up..." What did Kyla say? Good job, Medway. Told you I’d fix your crappy instincts. "What’s on that level?"

"Offices. Currently empty."

"Supposed to be empty, or actually empty?" There was no direct Kyla answer for any of this... just their years together, experience on the job, surviving the streets... "Has anyone entered that level recently?" Am I talking crap?

"The area is disused. All access points are sealed. It was used for the AgonyArnt project."

"The what?"

"It was another calibration project," Madame explained. "It was used to teach me aspects of human behaviour. The project was shut down two months ago when it was deemed to have served its purpose."

"So now you run a sex counselling service instead."

"Another calibration project." Madame sounded defensive. "I am required to understand human motivations. Modelling extreme emotional functions is complex…"

"So what motivates Elsworth? Would he hide or go somewhere useful? Clare’s the one who knows how this bastard thinks. Any chance of logging in to her processors?"

"I can establish a link," Madame confirmed. "The data flow is active and bi-directional. There is no response to my attempts to communicate."

"Shit. Why not? Is she dead?"

"Carrier is active," Madame recited. "Basic protocol exchanges are being made. Remote system is fully operational and capable of communicating. Host meatware is viable. Degradation would be reported by the exchange protocols."

"Alive but not talking.” Can’t or won’t? Medway absently circled a finger around the bullet scar on her belly, tracing the puckered flesh through her uniform. Can’t. Definitely can’t. "Is she conscious?"

"Only the most basic protocols are being maintained. I can not extract more detail."

"Has her system been corrupted?"

"A valid explanation," Madame confirmed.

"Shit. Can you tell where she is?"

"One level above the medical facilities. The disused AgonyArnt area."

"So... Elsworth is there. With Clare. Where am I?" Medway scrolled through the building plans. "It doesn't tell me..."

"That information is restricted."

"And I need to know. Now." The display adjusted to show the true layout. "Thank you. So she’s eleven floors below us. And she shouldn’t be able to get into your Agony Arnt area anyway. Who comes up with these bloody names?" Medway skimmed down – this was familiar stuff, tracking a suspect, predicting escape routes, moving a team into place... "But two floors down from Clare gives him… restricted lift two. That lift-shaft has access to the floor above this one."

"That is correct," Madame noted. "My own central systems are located directly above your current location."

"So Elsworth can break in there, blow you to pieces and then drop down here."

"That is not possible. The defences around my systems are as strong as those protecting Kernel Kombat. The mechanisms are independent of general building control. Only Calder or Emily may amend the access rights."

"Where is Calder?"

"Penthouse suite."

"And Emily?"

There was a long pause. "Emily is currently in restricted lift four in transit from Operations control. Selected destination is your current level."

"Why? There is no reason for her to come down here."

"There is Bob Critchley," Madame suggested. "The DigiTart project has not yet given me the insight to comprehend the way in which Emily selects her sexual partners. Her choices show only limited consistency. Bob Critchley lies well outside the broad bands which I have identified – however she has shown a significant and discreet interest in him."

"Who we want...” Jaz, oh yes... “And who we say we want...” All those files showed Emily with spies, mercenaries and assassins... but she fancied Critchley... “Or she’s the traitor and trying to kill him.”

"Emily is now entering the Kernel Kombat enclave."

Medway walked to the gallery window and looked down – Bob was presiding over the operations with vigorous enthusiasm. The primary display showed the overall conflict, but he kept moving from one operator to the next, directing local tactics – offering hints to the system where necessary. Emily took a seat at his own desk to watch him.

"Shit." Medway ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. "Do you want to inform Calder, or should I? She's either the traitor or mooning over her fantasy lover. Can’t tell one way or the other. Whatever she’s up to, she shouldn’t be there. Causing trouble or likely to get shot..."

Alarms sounded and everybody jumped – armed intruders, this is not an exercise...

“Madame... can you give me sound? I want to hear what she says.”

# # #

Bob flinched at the alarm – understandable – and then noticed Emily. Medway watched, looking for a hint of attraction or attack. Emily, sultry and sensuous, the fox to his rabbit, just smiled when he turned away to concentrate on the digital conflict.

“No detectable threat,” Madame concluded.

“Seriously? You didn’t see that?” Medway watched the two of them. “She might not be there to kill him, but he’s scared shitless.... and... wait...”

"Relax, Bob.” Emily was talking to his back. “I’m not going to eat you." She laid on the husky voice like ketchup on a burger. "I just came down to look after you."

“Still no threat,” Madame confirmed.

“Really?” The knife-dolls were like that, dressed as whores to lure the punters in, armed like muggers when the trap was sprung. “Someone ought to tell him to face her. Enemy or lover. Whatever. Turning his back is just trouble. And look after you...? That can go either way.”

"We are moving to counter the assault." Emily sounded lazy, almost asleep, but Medway saw tension, so, so like those knife-dolls, ready for when the mark got close enough... “My gorewar teams. Best in the business. Already in the building and heading this way.”

And Bob relaxed. Medway almost hammered on the glass – wake-up man, psycho-sister just told you her killers are on the way...

"We’ll keep working."

Medway stepped back from the glass. “Is he insane?”

“Dedicated,” Madame offered.

“Bloody oblivious...”

“Bob...” Emily pitched her tone just right, not the honeyed seductress, more a steady friend in a crisis. “Look at me...” And he did. First smart move so far... “You’re thinking of a whore called Lesley..." He shook his head, but that was just a confirmation of guilt. Not so smart... and who the hell is Lesley? "I’ve seen the reports. Cute and soft, I think. Soft and pliable, yes? Did you like soft? Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m soft.” She adjusted her blouse... but I could be soft... “Did you like Lesley?"

“Officer Medway, I am now concerned for Directory Critchley’s safety...”

“Relax, Madame.” Medway leant against the glass, just to watch the almost-bedroom drama. She had a measure of Emily now. “She’s a predator... and she likes to play with her food.”

“Bob? Did you like her? I’ve read all the reports, but I want to hear it from you.”

Bob swallowed. "Yes."

"She got quite badly hurt. Badly, Bob." Emily tapped her finger repeatedly on the desk. “Shot. Serious internal injuries.”

"I know." He nodded more vigorously than necessary. "I checked up. She’s doing... well."

Madame applied a convincing extreme concern tone. “Officer Medway, I think you should intervene....”

“Relax. Seen this shit before. She’ll give him a come-on any moment...”

"Good, good.” Emily finally stood, graceful, balanced on the balls of her feet. Here we go... “Good that you checked. Really, though, it would have been simpler if you had just taken the Farral girl to your bed."

"Really?" Bob was mesmerised, lost in a distant look, so obviously playing out the possibility in his mind... "No. I don’t think so.”

“Didn’t see that coming.” Medway leant as far forward as the armoured glass allowed. “But any moment now... something like we should get together later or we should talk... any moment now.”

Bob cleared his throat, gathered his courage... “Will Lilywhite make sure Lesley has whatever treatment she needs… cosmetic or whatever."

"We will look after her," Emily promised. "You can have her afterwards, if you like.... if that’s what you want.”

Medway sighed – the two of them, almost adorable... “Here it comes... one of them is going to say it.”

“Officer Medway, I am attempting to direct security staff to protect Director Critchley from Emily, but they are not responding...”

“Relax... Any moment now.”

“I... I...” Bob gestured to his beloved Kernal Kombat. “I need to...”

“Yes, you do.” Emily sat down again, and stretched. Medway whispered the words come and get it... “Right. Back to work, Bob. Keep us safe from the cyber-freaks." And he turned his back on her again. “But we really need to talk later.”

Told you!” Medway stepped back, breathing hard. Playing with her food! A perfect assessment of the situation. Not even Kyla could have done better. “Right. Back to business. Where the fuck is Clare now?”

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