Lameduck rolled to a stop on the driveway and both doors opened smoothly, all the way. Medway stepped out – no armour, but that was almost normal now, and no side-arm, which made her anxious. Relax, take it easy, just a social visit, nothing more dangerous than spilled vol-au-vent not coming out of this party dress.... and its MINE, all mine, not borrowed from a... just let it go...

“You know your thoughts carry when you do that?” Clare stepped out the other side. “Who is the over-muscled under-aged bitch?” She was unexpectedly comfortable in a dress that promised to show too much leg and never quite delivered.

“Later.” <Medway: Close the doors, Lameduck.>

"Now that they’ve fixed the door...” Clare caught her reflection in the door window – the dress is over the top for family dinner, whatever Emily says... “You could give it a new name. Something more positive."

"I like it." Saved my life. So, the structural integrity was too severely compromised to make it economical to repair as a fully functional police transport. A newly minted Detective Constable didn’t rate her own car, but no other officer wanted to risk their life in the unreliable Lameduck. “And since Mister Lilywhite signed off on paying for it...”

“Suppose so.” No. He didn’t. I did...

Medway checked her evidence log. "And that’s the thirty-fifth time you’ve mentioned the name."

"Really?” How does she do that? Clare’s processors had a will of their own – sometimes useful, mostly perverse. “Sorry, Lianne. I have spent years climbing out of the shit." She fluttered a hand to encompass her borderline risque evening dress. "I have got a bit sensitive about appearances." It is over the top, isn’t it?

"You need a crisis to sort you out. You can resurrect Phil. You’ve got most of the bits in a box. " Medway straightened the line of her own dress. Mine, mine, mine... "Restart the whole bloody war and we go another couple of rounds...” No, never again... “Or you can relax. Stop adjusting your tits like you’re working the streets, relax and come and meet Francesca."

“I never worked the streets. Not like that, anyway. And this is not quite what I had in mind as a going-away party." But better than Annie’s suggestion...

Clare forced a smile on her face as the door opened and Francesca Tarbuck emerged, trailed by a younger girl... damn, look at those burns... and an older man... is that what fathers look like... and two excitable kids... hush, keep it down, don’t draw attention...

“Clare...” Medway led the way. “This is Francesca...” The two of you have a lot in common. No. The three of us have so much in common...

"Pretty girls." Tarbuck’s father stared at each of them, and then settled on Medway. "Have we met before?"

"Just once..." Hey! I’m just as pretty... but his gaze was already on Clare, completely entranced.

“Some of us just got it,” Clare murmured wryly, and patted Medway on the arm.

"We ought to meet again," Tarbuck’s father told her, and then opened a comms channel. <Daft Old Sod: Later we could… //image sequence//>

“Wow...” The transmission code was obscure – an early version no longer used – but the curious experimental implants which Clare possessed interpreted it easily. <Farral: In your dreams, Grandpa.> "That would be nice, but I’m leaving for Mars in a few days."

<Daft Old Sod: What are you doing tonight… perhaps… //image sequence//>

"I’ll show you your rooms first," Francesca said brightly and then lowered her voice, "Did you make any sense of that?"

"A little. It’s very garbled,” Clare lied.

“Just how garbled?” Medway asked. Porky, porky, porky... It was a habit to have the shit-sieve running in idle around Clare.

<Farral: Sure you’re up to it, Grandpa?> “Getting one word in five.” <I mean, I think I can do that... but...> “It gets better with more data. It’s probably just a matter of developing the necessary... flexibility. <And that bit... you really think you can do that, old man?>

<Daft Old Sod: Confirmation. Absolutely… Biofeedback. Endurance enhancement… //image sequence//>

Clare smiled. Look at me, the perfect guest... "I’ll sit with him later this evening. Perhaps I can… do something for him." <Farral: Your place or mine, Grandpa?>

<Daft Old Sod: More room in yours… //image sequence//. Further from my daughters… //image sequence//>

Clare’s smile stretched wider. "It was so kind of you to invite me," she said sweetly to Francesca. "Lianne has told me so much about you."

Francesca was momentarily flustered. "Lianne did promise to finish a story for my children, and she said it wouldn’t be complete without you. Are you really going to Mars?"

"That’s another story again," Medway said firmly.

Clare discreetly winked at Francesca’s father. "Yeah."

"She’ll be leaving soon enough," Medway said apologetically and then growled at Clare. "Behave yourself in front of the children."

"Of course." Clare raised her most charming smile. "I want my last days on Earth to be perfect." And my last nights.


Fairy Dust



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