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Car, clothes, another breakfast - Coriolis staff fell over themselves to provide Clare with anything she wanted, variously eager, deferential or just plain creepy. Only Officer Tiggles provided a hint of sanity amid the storm of obsequiousness. He personally sorted out transport to take her back to the accommodation block, easing into the role of special bodyguard to fend off a growing herd of special, personal or executive assistants who were assigning themselves to Clare like maggots on a corpse.

“That’s better...” Clare sighed as Tiggles drove her away from the glass frog. "I ought to stick around...”

"Thought you were glad to be going."

"I am. If only I could just stay a few days and fire every one of those arse-lickers..." She tipped her head back and sighed again. "When Lilywhite sent me up here, he never mentioned having to deal with the career-executive shits."

"So why did he send you?"

"To sort out Elsworth. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Should have sent a couple of heavies...” Tiggles gripped the steering tightly enough that the automation sounded a warning. “Just put a bullet in his head." He eased off when the car threatened to take control on the approach to Henwick Pond, and pulled up outside the main entrance. "Still, you did OK."

"Yeah. Made plenty of mistakes."

"They trained you well." He held her door open. "Best undercover security officer I’ve ever seen. We get them come in from time to time – never failed to spot one until you came along."

“Really?” Officer Tiggles, are you about to ask me on a date? “I certainly had some unconventional training.” Definitely not the time to mention her true background. I could make your armour melt, Officer Tiggles. “If we meet again, you do the bomb next time.”


And he means it... Clare just smiled – letting him mistake her for a commercial super-spy worked. Better yet, he was in lust with her because she took a bomb apart with her bare hands. Taking high-level meetings wearing nothing but a skirt and some medical hardware was just a bonus. Really, he was no different to the junior executives clustering close, except no hint of creepy.

In her temporary apartment, she stuffed the things she cared about into a small bag – her surviving pair of Stellex leggings and the battered knitted pullover. The Zebra Thilk was still hanging unused so she put it on, light and large enough to fit over the numbvest, only a mildly strange combo with the business skirt.

She turned when Tiggles started making officially threatening noises. Rea was standing in the doorway, trying to get in – Clare caught the important words ‘Bob’ and ‘Miela’.

"What does she want?"

The distraction was just enough for Rea to slip past. "I was Director Critchley’s housekeeper..."

"I understand." They were not that different – just another girl from the bottom of the heap seeing the next rung of the ladder pass within reach. No need to look down, just because she was already on the next rung..."I hope he wasn’t a difficult resident."

Rea shrugged, slipping into unguarded conversation for a moment. "Considerate. I don’t usually deal with residents on a personal basis any more. He was no trouble – apart from Miela."

Clare had a slow smile building on her lips. Bob, you bad, bad boy... I wonder if you... “Wait...” She caught up with the unlikely threesome... "And Miela?"

"Clung to him like a limpet. Never seen her act so lame before." The housekeeper shrugged. "Maybe she thinks she’s found her one true love.”

“Or got indigestion.” Bob and one true love... no way. “Pity I missed that.”

“Director Critchley had trouble getting rid of her. It can be a delicate moment, knowing when to step back, but Director Critchley clearly didn’t want her... so close.”

"I don’t entirely understand Bob... but he does look like he’s about to hurl when Miela’s around. I don’t see him encouraging her... so, yeah that does sound weird. Wonder what set her off?"

"You told her to stay close…”

“I did?” Clare tried to recall what she had said... No. Total bullshit. Miela was bad news, somehow tied in with Phil, perhaps part of targeting Bob... “Right... not exactly... A little misunderstanding, I think," Clare lied, as a matter of convenience. Miela and Bob were her problem now. "But thanks for er... sorting them out."

"No problem." Rea took her cue to leave. "Oh. I checked some information that Director Critchley wanted. The housegirl Lesley is recovering well."

Clare blinked. "I think I missed something there. This is Lesley from the King’s Arms?"

"Got shot…"

"Oh shit. I didn’t know." Jeremiah and Lesley... not my fault... "I made the arrangements," she told Rea by way of explanation. So partly my fault. "Could you have updates forwarded to Lilywhite?"

Rea nodded. "I will. This Lesley was the lucky one. One security guard was killed – hole blown straight through his body armour, so I heard."

"Thanks. You’ve been very helpful."

Tiggles stepped forwards. "Miss Farral needs to get on." So firm, so masterful, so not getting that date. "She has important meetings to attend."

Rea nodded and withdrew with a final, "If there’s anything else I can do…"

Clare waited until Rea had gone. "Just need to make a call." She let her card take over the terminal.

Tiggles stared in amazement. “How...?”

“I do more than just defuse bombs.” And please, never again.

Clare put her call through and had to wait for several minutes before Calder’s face appeared.


Clare gave him a quick précis and he grinned broadly, pleased that everything was going so well.

"Good work, Clare. Won't take long to tidy this up."

She shook her head. "Not so sure. Phil is after Lilywhite. Bob is on his way back with Miela."

"The Una operator Madame has been looking into?"

"Yeah." Clare had forgotten that request. "Anything turned up?"

"Nothing notable. The assault which took her eyes was one of a spate of attacks. Suspects killed in a shoot-out with the police a few months later. Other than that, a model employee. Only outstanding feature is the level of enhancement."

"Something to add to her file…" Clare chose her words carefully – she had to assume that Phil could intercept their comms. "It may mean nothing, but it looks like she was another friend of Jeremiah. Might just be coincidence…" Come on Calder, figure it out, Miela is some flavour of bad news...

"I’ll bear that in mind." His good cheer slipped, so he probably got the message...

"And you may have a traitor – some of the things Phil has been doing would need inside information. He has been in regular contact with something called The Digital Tart – seems to be a crime syndicate. Unless you need me to stay up here I’ll be coming back with a cybercop. She’s been pursuing Phil."

"Would that be Officer Medway?" he asked stiffly.


"One of our teams almost killed her. An unfortunate accident." He suddenly sounded like a company lawyer. "She may not approach the company with an even hand."

"I got the impression she was pretty pissed off with us." What the hell is going on? "I still think it would be best to bring her. Elsworth has upset her far more than we have."

Calder nodded reluctantly. "Yes. Get yourself back here. This is serious. I’ll get Emily to sort out Miela. We'll just ask her about Jeremiah – best to be direct about it. I can make further apologies to Officer Medway in person. Anything else?"

"Yeah. Are you sure it was an accident?" There were too many mishaps cropping up around the company. "If there’s a traitor at Lilywhite, could the attack on Medway have been deliberate?"

"No. Very unlikely." Calder started firmly and then wavered. "I’ll have Emily look into it. Is that all?"

"Not quite – Phil’s enhanced. Eyes certainly. Some sort of processor array and the last time I saw him he was… his reactions were fast. It looked just like two cybercops I saw having a training session."

"Damn. Nothing in his records about that…"

"Given the way he’s faked his medical files, I’m not surprised." Clare shrugged. At every step Phil Elsworth had been seriously underestimated. At least Calder was now taking the threat very seriously. "I’ll ask Medway to drive fast."

"There’s another Panther available for you at Coriolis if that will get you back sooner. Those Peacekeeper contraptions that the police use are built to survive a war, not travel fast."

"I’ll look into it," Clare promised and broke the connection.

"The Panther is in the motor pool." Tiggles was only a breath away from offering to drive.

Such a perfect target…. If someone wanted to have a final go at killing her, then a top of the range Panther would show up on the motorway. Anyone who could tap into the traffic nets – such as Phil and his Digital Tart – would be able to track her progress and prepare an ambush. The Peacekeepers... not built to travel fast, just to survive a war...

"I’ll feel safer in Officer Medway’s car." Clare gathered up her bag. “I was trained to do the unexpected.” Trained was stretching it, but some clients appreciated the surprise of a nylon pad, instead of lint, for polishing their nodes.

# # #

Tiggles drove her to where Medway had parked and barely kept a straight face as Clare stared at the remains of Lameduck. "You’re sure it’s a car?" she asked dubiously.

"You got an alternative?" Medway challenged, eyebrow raised at the Zebra Thilk. Not only was it hideously expensive but you were supposed to wear it with nothing but skin underneath. Medway was not a fashion enthusiast, but she enjoyed the occasional celebrity show on the nets where the Thilk and skin look was definitely in.

"The Panther," Tiggles whispered. Please. And let me drive...

Clare shook her head. “I like the unexpected.” And the Peacekeeper was a detail no one at Lilywhite could leak. "Officer Medway... There’s a friend of mine called Annie... used to silver her eyebrows, paint her face blue, pink, green and gold, rings on every finger. You know that that means?”

“An unusually broad skill-set.” Medway stared – are you making this up?

“No, more like false advertising. Although, Annie would try to turn her hand to anything...” And any other part of her body for that matter. “So, can this thing do an Annie? Pretend to be something it’s not?" She walked round it to inspect the full extent of the damage – survived one war, but could it take a second? "We both seem to be targets. I wouldn’t want Phil to follow us with the traffic nets."

Tiggles nodded. "Forget the Panther." Her rating as a quality security officer rose another notch. “Uh... Director Farral...” His voice dropped to a whisper. “The business of face paint... isn’t that how some prostitutes advertise their...”

“Tiggles, Annie is the best undercover operative I know.” Undercover, overcover, down a back alley... “Whatever it takes.”

<Medway: Open the doors, Lameduck. Establish covert identity.>

"Lameduck? Good name."

Medway stared at her. "You heard that?"

"Yeah...” Clare was equally surprised. “This screen pops up in my head." Without trying, without asking... She frowned suddenly. "But I think I heard it as well."

"So you have a system which can decrypt standard police codes." Medway was still staring. "Definitely not a conventional system. Anything else I should know?"

"I need a shower." And a bucket of cold water to tip over Officer Tiggles.

Medway ran her fingers through her hair. Clare was going to be a seriously irritating passenger. "I’ll manage. Lameduck can turn up what’s left of the air conditioning."

# # #

The car pulled away from Coriolis, skimmed through Wellerbridge and then found its way to the M1. The traffic management systems were fully operational, but Medway kept an eye on things until they were safely on the motorway. It was an illogical attitude – so soon after a major failure, the motorway systems were more likely to overload than the minor roads. If anything went wrong, the vehicles were already spaced too closely for human reflexes – even enhanced ones – to be able to compensate in time. Lameduck should stand more of a chance than the average vehicle on the road – or it would have done, had it been prime condition.

<Lameduck: Probable pursuit identified.> They had barely joined the traffic stream.

<Medway: Ident?>

<Lameduck: Private vehicle registered to Michael Brandon of Wellerbridge.>

"Not many roads lead there." Clare was half-listening, still trying to figure out how to send messages as well as receive. It was a facility that came and went with no conscious control on her part. "Anyone else coming to the motorway would appear to be following us."

<Medway: Confirm analysis.>

<Lameduck: Three vehicles followed us. Vehicle registered to Michael Brandon matched all speed changes. Officer Medway has applied manual override and made changes not in compliance with instructions from traffic control.>

"We’re being followed," Medway concluded. "I hadn’t realised I was doing it – running some basic standard evasion manoeuvres. This Brandon guy matched them."

“Since when do police train to evade pursuit?”

“I learned it from Kyla. No idea who taught her.” And Kyla might pop the question at any moment - Medway, are we being followed, or not? Could be some little fucker waiting for you to take your helmet off. I know it’s against regs, but we all do it. “Basic skills to stay alive on the streets.”

“I remember. Stay alert...” Pay attention Clare... Eyes open. Stay alert...

“Stay alive,” Medway finished for her.

"Right. So who are they after – you, me or both of us?" Clare gave up on the mysteries of her enhancements. Stay alert, stay alive, focus on what’s happening now, not the next meal or the next lay.

"Does it matter?" Medway kept her eyes on the road – no look round, or up, for incoming helicopters. No giving in to panic.

"Can you call for help?"

Medway hesitated. "If I do, they will know we are on to them. If I don’t we might be able to learn something. They are probably monitoring police nets – the last lot to try to kill me certainly knew enough about procedures and comms protocols."

"This would not be a good time to encounter Phil." Clare shuddered at her own memory of pain. "I’m pretty useless for anything physical and you’re not wearing your armour."


"Next service station? Pull in and ambush the bastard. I’m carrying a couple of spare anaesthetic packs. Pour a bit of that down someone’s throat. Bound to do something. Pity my implants don't do anything more useful than increase my cup size. I need help learning..."

"Anaesthetic.. probably kill the bastards." Medway turned the idea over – not unappealing, but... "It’s too risky. If we go for an ambush I want some backup. Preferably a line of suited-up cybercops between me and trouble."

"So what’s your idea?" Clare took a tight grip on the safety harness – another encounter with Phil was a promise of pain and terror, but having him lurking behind... “Kyla always said keep facing trouble....”

"We keep an eye on him. Because Kyla also said..." You go left and take a shot. I’ll blow the fucker’s head off when he moves... But that didn’t help. “Forget that thought. Kyla didn’t go barging into trouble she wasn’t prepared for.” Unless she was in a really pissy mood. “Need to play this smart. Let him follow us all the way to London. Even Lameduck can do that in three hours. The local police can arrange a proper welcome.”

"But that will still mean using the nets and by then we’ll probably have another one following, because sure as Annie can do five guys at once... it’s not Phil behind us. Just some goon. Phil will be waiting in ambush, not chasing us."

“Five? How?”

“Best not to ask. There are some things you can’t un-see...” The back of her neck tingled like a premonition. “Oh. Fuck. How many in the car?"

<Lameduck: Two occupants.>

<Medway: Imagery?>

<Lameduck: Bridge in eighteen miles with suitable cameras.>

Perfect, except their followers might pick that up... unless... <Medway: Commence major net query for information on Doctor Philip Elsworth. Use local query on the bridge cameras as we pass.> If they were monitoring the nets, the image request should get lost in the deluge of query data, with nothing in there that would get flagged up as a call for help or hint that they had been spotted. Unless they had very sophisticated analysis capabilities, and then all bets were off. "Let's see who they are."

“I know who they are.” As scary as Phil.

“Then let’s confirm who they are.”

The minutes crept by uncomfortably. Medway found it difficult to believe that she had been any less tense waiting for the helicopter to shred Lameduck. Clare wasn’t Kyla, was allowed to be afraid of small things, was just a civilian, but having her there put an armoured ghost in the passenger seat, and if ghost Kyla was afraid...

Clare fidgeted in her seat. Her ribs tingled – but that was perfectly normal, right? Not a fault with the anaesthetic.

The bridge passed them in a blink, and they both sat straighter in their seats. Lameduck processed the imagery and then displayed it, discarding the stream of null reports on Philip Elsworth.

Clare stared at Niels.

"Oh, shit." Not fair. Not fair at all.

"You know him?"

"Yeah." Clare’s voice trembled.

"Not someone you want to meet again?"

"No." The scraping of his thumb in her eye socket shivered along every nerve.

"How bad?"

"His name is Niels." The pain was so real again she could hardly talk. "Ripped my eye out." There. Said it. Her breathing was urgent as the memories faded to distant, diffuse horror. "And he has Kyla’s earring." Still one eye left...

"We want the bastard, then." Medway took a deep breath – what would Kyla say? "You feel ready for that ambush?" Kyla wouldn’t say anything. She would snarl. That’s my fucking ear-ring.

“No. Not ready. Ever.” Suddenly all the gung-ho enthusiasm melted away to hide in a distant corner. The last time she had tangled with Niels and his horrid sidekick, they had thrown her around the room for fun. "Unless you’ve got a few cops to help us along?" That gross and casual violence was as terrifying as the deliberate mutilation.

Medway pursed her lips. "And risk someone else shooting the bastard?"

Clare couldn’t help rubbing her prosthetic eye. It even mimicked the normal warning pain when she pressed too hard. "They were carrying some heavy weapons last time. I was told about it… later. They killed one of the hotel security guards – shot him through his body armour." And one of them broke Jeremiah’s neck just because he was in the way.

"Heavy stuff." If Medway had been wearing her armour there would have been no question, but this was seriously risky. No question of what Kyla would say – need to play this smart.

<Medway: Distance to next services?>

<Lameduck: Nine miles.>

"This isn’t a good idea," Clare said tightly. The plan – what plan? – was sloppy to say the least. There were too many variables and the opposition had too many advantages. Worse than the night Ivan and his lads tried to take her, and one of them kicked some old biddy out the way... and she said... you all right, kid? But that was after she put Ivan in a coma. Can you walk? My name’s Kyla... Not an old biddy, a grumpy ex-cybercop on a surveillance job. "Can Lameduck fake a mechanical problem?"

Medway laughed. "No need to fake it… ah, make them think we have been forced to stop."

"Might even the odds – keep some element of surprise."

<Medway: Lameduck, generate false overheat on the gas turbines. Register it with Traffic Control. Not yet serious.>

“Set a trap and lure them in,” Medway said, and Clare nodded agreement. “That’s the sort of thing Kyla would pull...” And then she would say focus on the job, Medway... "The one with the muscles – are they natural?" Medway asked because Clare had been sparse with the details of the assault. "Not enhanced?"

"Assume enhanced." Assume the worst of everything. "If this pair are mixed up with your Digital Tart…"

"So the only way to be certain of stopping them is to blow their heads off."

Medway was still working through options when Lameduck reported a stop instruction from traffic control, directing them to pull in at the next services. With the nets so dicey, the system was falling back on absolute fail-safe protocols and refusing to let a potentially hazardous vehicle proceed any further than necessary. Other cars were routed away from them as Lameduck swapped from the turbines to the electric motors. The pursuing car matched speed.

<Traffic Control: You will be directed to a service bay. Do not attempt to deviate from the set route. You are classed as a potential explosion hazard.>

There were no other vehicles in the service bay, and they were directed to a high-roofed enclosure of thick, reinforced concrete walls. Warning lights flashed as they drew close. Explosion and fire damper systems came on line and the moment Lameduck halted they were both ordered from the vehicle. Blast doors closed swiftly behind them as they stepped into the small waiting room and office area. Outside, Niels and Muscles parked to gain a good view.

"Just watching," Medway muttered.

"Perhaps that’s all they’re supposed to do. How long before the service bay figures out that Lameduck is faking it?"

"No idea. If we’re going to do something, now is the time."

Clare leant against the door, reluctant to move – Niels and Muscles brought bad memories and a sense of imminent defeat. Even on home turf, she would prefer to avoid rather than confront them. "You afraid, Officer Medway?"

"The last time you asked me a personal question like that, I ended up with Jaz polishing my nodes."

"Any regrets?"

Medway smiled. Jaz should be up and about by now. "No."

"That’s a yes, then? About being afraid?"

"I lost my armour." Medway was defensive, and embarrassed about it. "Otherwise I would just walk up to them and ask what the fuck they think they’re doing."

<Traffic Control: Your vehicle has been downgraded to mechanical fault. It is beyond the ability of the automated systems to identify. Your vehicle will remain in the service bay until an engineer is available.>

<Medway: How soon?>

<Traffic control: Minimum estimate one point five hours. Maximum estimate three point nine hours.>

"Plenty of time," Clare decided. "Might as well get something to eat. That might lure our friends away from their car."

"They might just sit and wait there."

Clare shook her head. "Nah. They both struck me as... hands-on sort of guys. They’ll follow us."

# # #

Heads turned as Medway and Clare walked into the restaurant. The automated vending systems didn’t care, but the rest of the diners were boggled by the sight: a uniformed cop and a girl wearing Thilk over some bizarre cyber contraption and a business skirt.

"It’ll be fashion by the end of the year," Clare muttered. "Look at them. They think it’s something wild and new – they probably assume that I’m some special variety of cybercop."

"Too late to change your clothes," Medway muttered back. "Our friends just walked in."

"Let ‘em stare," Clare retorted and then turned to the vending system. "Coffee. Chicken kiev and fries. What you having? Lilywhite can pay."

"Coffee… Ham sandwich. Standard salad."

"Really pushing the boat out. So, now what?"

"I think they’re running a private comms channel." Medway picked up her food. "Can’t make it out. They're using very low power transmissions. Probably encrypted as well."

"Really? Because... I can hear them.”

“Easy to hear, but it’s just garbage.”

“But I can hear... like understand." Clare couldn’t help sounding surprised – those dodgy implants just kept doing the impossible. "Just general natter. Bloody hell – Niels fancies me."

"You can hear them?" Medway shook her head in disbelief. "I don’t know what they put in your tits, but I want a pair just like them."

"No double-date on the cards. Muscles doesn’t fancy you," Clare continued. "In fact he’s pretty pissed off. I don’t think he likes cops. He wants to kill you and Niels is reminding him they can’t."

Medway pursed her lips. "So, we can just drive on and ignore them."

"You didn’t hear what Niels just said about my arse. It’s just the way this skirt fits. I want to poke his eyes out."

"Two mercenaries. Probably enhanced. Certainly armed and running a private comms channel." Medway recited the points like a litany. "Have to take both at once."

"Or I could go for a piss, slip out the window and do something nasty to their car."

Medway sipped her coffee and watched a large quantity of chicken kiev vanish, along with a heap of fries. "So you also know how to break into cars?" Maybe you can fix Lameduck’s aircon to handle all that garlic.

"I wasn’t always a respectable company girl, Officer Medway," Clare retorted. "I drove clients home at Hunter’s Casino."

"Call me Lianne." Medway paused with the sandwich half way to her mouth. "Drove clients home? Do you have any idea… oh."

"I know what I said."

Medway stared a while longer and then tucked in to her sandwich. She suddenly had no idea how to classify Clare, beyond a simple tag of gutter-trash. All manner of people had once ‘driven clients home’ from Hunter’s Casino and that involved considerable skill and intelligence. A little breaking and entering – physical or digital – was a basic qualification.

"You like the plan?"

Medway nodded. "Just don’t eat too much. You’ve no idea how big the windows are."

"I was joking about the windows." Clare laughed and patted the bulk of the numbvest. "I'm not climbing through windows wearing this. I’ll bollix the alarm on a fire exit – bound to be one in the toilets. Building regs. Always good to know building regs."

"Does Lilywhite know about Hunter's?"

"Calder might not," Clare conceded. "But someone does – probably Emily. There were a few basic background skills required to work at DigiTart. I’m not the only ex-Hunter’s employee to have ended up there."

"Great. Don’t take too long."

# # #

The restaurant layout made it easy – a glazed passage along the front gave her multiple reflections to watch Niels follow her until she entered the toilets. There was the expected emergency exit in there, wired to sound the fire alarm when opened – easily defeated by the sort of simple lock-breaking she had done routinely a few years back. Even before the Kyla master-class she could have done it. Once outside the building, she peered quickly back through the windows to confirm Niels was busy, still watching the toilets.

Time was short, but...

Walk, don’t run, it attracts attention... Kyla never mentioned that a numbvest made it nearly impossible to run, restricting movement and breathing. Frantic puffing against the firm pressure nearly crippled her by the time she reached their car – she almost leant against it to catch her breath, but that would have been a mistake. It had all the latest security systems – a galling reminder that she was almost respectable now, and out of practice. The anti-theft mechanisms were constantly evolving – hacks that worked eighteen months previously were utterly useless on the newest models.

She touched the door handle. <Confirm ident.> It was like someone shouting in her ear. She was too inexperienced in such things to really notice that the car offered no identification of its own. <Confirm ident. Alarm will be issued in five seconds.> If she started running now she would still be in view when Muscles or Niels came looking. In view, on her knees and gasping...

A stream of data went back, generated without her conscious decision. The door latch popped. Clare tipped her chin down to stare at her chest. "Nice going," she told her breasts appreciatively. "Knew you would be useful one day." And no glint of SpangleDust in sight.

She popped her head inside the car. It was strictly a two-passenger vehicle with most of the back taken up by the latest in Japanese turbo-electric engineering. If Niels wanted to, he could outpace a Panther in this thing and the initial acceleration would settle his eyeballs back in his skull.

At least he still had his.... but that could change. There were scores to settle, one for Kyla, and one for Clare.

"Open the boot," she told the car.

<Confirm ident.> Her processors obliged.

The luggage hatch swung open at the back. The gas tank was well hidden and left plenty of room for the heavy-duty hardware that Niels and Muscles were carrying. Clare looked over the cases of guns and grenades. One set of items caught her attention – individually wrapped lengths of pink sausage and a box of detonators just like the one which Phil had used.

She picked up a stick of Maldex, turned it over a few times and then inspected a detonator. "Pity I can’t have a remote control on this."

The virtual screen unfurled. <Detonator. Model RK4445. s/n 13343782: Specify detonation command.>

"Fuck you, Niels," she crowed.

<Detonator. Model RK4445. s/n 13343782: Command sequence /Fuck you, Niels/ accepted.>

Clare stared for a moment before twisting off a small piece of Maldex. With a gentle push, she fixed it onto the back of the detonator and felt the tiny movement of the interlocks settling. It was crazy, over-the-top, and it was payback... so long as the whole car didn’t explode. So, perhaps not...

Except... there.... low down on the casing of the gas-turbine, over on the passenger side, nowhere near the fuel tank, shielded by the bulk of the engine from setting off everything in the cargo space. Muscles would get the worst of the blast and Niels should be still alive to feel her rip Kyla’s pendant out of his ear.

"Close doors." The outgoing electronic echo was like a whisper <close doors.>

The car complied without any request for identification. Clare was already hurrying back to the restaurant as fast as she could go. The fire-exit responded to her persuasion and she closed it behind her, restoring the alarm systems. She caught Niels slipping out of sight as she left the toilets.

"Nice walk?" Medway asked.

"Lovely. Met some old friends. I was never formally introduced to the electronic whatsit at Coriolis, but its pink friend is called Maldex."

"How much?"

"I hope neither of them are music lovers." She peered at the cold remains of her coffee. "When that goes off, their ears will be totally buggered."

"You have some irritating habits," Medway grumbled. "But… you are forgiven. Kyla would approve.” Medway... come on, I told you this already, no half measures. The bastard’s eyes are still open. Give him another tap. “Shall we go and see how Lameduck is doing?"

Clare adjusted her numbvest as they left the restaurant, ensuring as much attention as when they entered.

“Did they follow?” Medway refrained from running her radar, or even an ultrasound scan.

“Yeah. Caught their reflection.” Clare laughed and waved at a rusty old MPV. “Rear window...”

“Missed that...” Now was that a Kyla-taught trick, or pure Clare? “They’re getting in the car." Another few steps and she would lose sight of their reflection. "How long left on the fuse?"

"Hah!" Clare snorted. "When would be a good time?"

"You set a remote? Holy shit. Just fire it."

Clare turned and stared at the car, the most enormous grin spreading across her face with no prompting. There was a distant shuffling inside as one of them realised something was wrong.

"Fuck you, Niels," <Fuck you, Niels.>

It was something of an anticlimax. There was a muffled thump and the car rocked gently. The windows were armoured and did nothing more than flex. The most obvious visible symptom was a swirling grey smoke which filled the interior.

"We should help..." Medway led the way as the driver’s door opened and Niels fell out. She drew her side-arm and went to check on Muscles.

Clare knelt awkwardly beside the man who had poked her eye out. He looked utterly dazed until he saw her face and then some semblance of focus returned. He grabbed the front of her Thilk drape but had no strength. He only whimpered faintly when she reached round and ripped the earring free in a tiny spray of blood.

"Who sent you, Niels?" she asked gently. "I don’t have a lot of time and you only have two eyes."

Muscles performed his final duty. <Command: The Undiscovered Country // code authorisation sequence//>

"Oh shit, no," Niels whispered frantically before he died.

Medway walked swiftly round the car. She glared at the corpse in frustration. "Funny, the way you told it, Niels was in charge."

"I thought he was..."

"Muscles just topped himself. Looks like Niels had his implants slaved to the suicide command." Medway's throat was too tight to talk for a moment. "This Digital Tart is one mean monster."

"Assuming it was the Digital Tart who sent them…"

"You think it wasn’t?" Medway demanded.

"I don’t think I really care." She held up the earring. "He lived long enough to feel this come out."

Medway took it for a moment and then handed it back. "I don’t know about legal, but that was justice."

Clare nodded. Got the bastard. "Can we go to London now? Override the traffic net somehow…"

<Medway: Traffic Control – police override.> "No problem. I’d better just call in the two dead bodies..."


Fairy Dust



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