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Bartie Davits was a sweat, a ride, a kid who hired out his body to make a living. A student working his way through business school, paying his own way because his parents were in no position to help, one of them a low-paid supermarket assistant, the other long since dead and gone. Sweating was easier than shop work, and generally safer than dealing, although Bartie did a bit of that too – that was just a natural extension of his business training, he always argued.

He liked the SweatShop parlour in Haymarket. Real class. You could taste it in the air.

He opened his eyes, remembering where he was, getting used to his own senses again after spending what felt like a couple of days warehoused off in netspace, playing TrueSim games while some rich wanker fooled with his body.

A face loomed over him, cheekbones like geometry, perfect skin, eyes like the flawless glass eyes of a porcelain doll. Bartie could smell her and she was like apples. He smiled.

“What’s the damage?” he asked.

She smiled back at him, everything symmetrical. Someone had paid a fortune for those looks, he guessed.

“Narcotic residue,” she told him. “Alcohol residue. Black eye – looks like you had a run-in with someone. That’s all, though, Mr Davits.”

No serious damage this time, then. Right now there would be drugs cleansing his blood and liver, stripping out the narcs and booze, replenishing his reserves. That was one of the perks of sweating; some people argued that the clean out could add years to your life. Rich wankers would pay a fortune for some of this shit and here was Bartie Davits, getting it all for free. Fuck no: getting paid for it.

“Like we agreed,” he said, sitting slowly. “Cash in hand, right? I’ll deal with the taxman later.”

She smiled her professional smile again. “The fee is already in your registered account, Mr Davits, minus tax, health insurance, and obligatory pension, just as always. No special arrangements.”

He stood, stretched. Felt unfamiliar aches and stiffnesses. Raised a hand to his left eye, suddenly aware of its dull ache.

He looked down at his clothes: a slick pair of jeans, a crumpled silk T-shirt, pointed snakeskin boots, none of it his. There was a bag on the side containing his own newly laundered clothes. The new outfit – another perk.

He hoped his body had had a good time while he was warehoused playing games.

Funny to think that his own body had experienced far more than he himself had – and he knew nothing about what it had been through other than a bunch of hints and signs and scars...

Out along a corridor, mirrored walls multiplying him, bright lights making him squint, still getting used to the feel and responses of his own body again. Into the foyer, all tall, angular plants emerging from white-painted steel pots full of black glass pebbles. The street beyond looked dark through the clinic’s floor-to-ceiling tinted glass front.

He was just wondering whether it was a Comedy Store night, who might be on. Maybe he’d call a few mates and front them for a night out, make the most of the new wad in his bank account.

He stepped out through glass and white-steel doors that slid open as they sensed his approach. He had time to notice the sudden clash of warm scented air from the interior of the clinic mixing with the smells of the damp London street, had time to emerge into the drizzle, to look left, then start to look right, and then they were on him.

A sudden rush of figures... Two men stepped out from his right and as he opened his mouth to speak, to curse them for jostling him, for not looking where they were going even though it was actually Bartie who had stepped out into the flow, another two took him from the left. His arms gripped tightly, he smelt something cloyingly sweet, realised someone had sprayed something, felt it infiltrating his lungs as he breathed it deep, heard the gabble of street noise suddenly fizz to static, to nothing...


... and he woke in a cell.

He remembered, then, the men grabbing him, the prickle of some kind of nerve agent in his lungs. He realised they were police, some in uniform, some not. He hadn’t had time to take it all in as they descended on him, in the sudden rush of sensation as the foundations of a normal day were abruptly pulled from under him.

He was on a bunk, a brick wall to his immediate left, a narrow strip of floor and then another bare brick wall to the right. There was a door at one end of the cell, past his feet, with a viewing panel set into it. In one corner of the room, where two walls met ceiling, the glinting eye of a security cam peered back at him.

He sat, rubbing at his temples as dizziness descended.

Down on the concrete floor, he pressed his feet against the wall and started on sit-ups, rapid and regular, enjoying the rush of blood and adrenalin that kicked in with the exercise. Bartie liked to look after himself. It kept the brain in tune as well as the body. And his rich clients liked a fit sweat to ride in, so it was a good career move, if sweating could really be considered a career. These little touches generally brought him a better class of client, in any case.

He was past 150 when he heard the door. He carried on until a man said, “Bartie Davits. You’re wanted for interview.”

“Interview?” he asked, pausing, twisting to see the uniformed man framed by the doorway. “Like for a job?”

The policeman just looked at him, waited for him to stand, stepped back to let him out into the corridor.

A short time later, Bartie was sitting in another room, elbows on a desk. There was a plain-clothes officer across the table from him, a uniformed man on the door.

“Bartholomew Brooklyn Davits,” said the officer, “we have reason to suspect your involvement in the murder of Elector Jack Burnham in Jakarta on the twenty-third of this month. This interview is being recorded and your responses processed for veracity by smart systems from two independent vendors. Anything you do or say may be used as evidence in a court of law, and may also be used for commercial purposes. Do you understand?”

Bartie stared at the man. “I understand your words,” he said slowly, “but fuck no, I don’t understand.”

The officer had a feed going into his ear. He received some kind of input, nodded, and his eyes met Bartie’s again.

Then Bartie added, “Burnham? Elector Burnham? The virtual worlds guy? Dead?” At a brief nod, he continued, “I... I’ve been out of it a couple of days. I hadn’t heard. I sweat rides, you know? I was sweating, warehoused in a databank somewhere while some rich fuck rode my bones, you know?”

Another pause, while the officer listened to his feed, then: “Elector Burnham was killed by a kid called Joey Bannerman.”

“So... I don’t understand?”

“Bannerman was gap-yearing round the world, ran out of cash, took to sweating to get by. He was ridden by the killer.”

Bartie got it, then, he thought. “Not me, man... I didn’t do nothing. I was warehoused, playing TrueSim strategy games in perfect isolation. Check out the records: I was pumped into a databank and kept clean and cut off from the world. They have to do it like that. Data integrity and all that: have to put back what they take out!” He laughed awkwardly.

“We don’t think it was you, as such,” says the officer.

Bartie relaxed, hadn’t realised how much tension he’d been holding in. Then he registered the “as such” and he saw from the officer’s expression that there was more, a layer yet to unpick. “And?”

“We’ve pattern-matched traits identified from the datafeed that injected the killer into Bannerman’s skull. The killer was an amalgam, a construct. Whoever was behind the assassination took a few traits from here, a few from there, and built the killer suited for the job.”

Bartie waited. There was more.

“It’s a known technique. Developed by the Yakuza but it’s been seen in a number of cases now. The way they do it is they have to have a solid foundation, a template, someone who could easily be a killer in the right circumstances, with the right traits added, remixed, recompiled. We’ve identified the template, Davits. We’ve tracked down that individual. It’s you.”

Bartie shook his head. “But it wasn’t me!” he finally said. “I was warehoused, isolated... It wasn’t me.”

“Your profile was used,” said the officer. “Edited, built upon. We’re talking legal grey areas here. Our advice is that this could be the test case to beat all test cases. Could take years.”

The officer was enjoying this, Bartie suddenly realised. “How do you mean?”

“It’s all about legal culpability,” the officer explained. “When due process proves that you were the template used in this crime, and when it is demonstrated that the killer was substantially you, then you will share legal culpability for the killing.”

“But... I wasn’t there.”

“No, that’s true. But there is evidence to show that a statistically significant instance of you was...”


Responsibility finds you.

Or, at least, it has found Priscilla.

Efan and Mazeli had been the first, Efan hunched up by the Serpentine, his younger brother out of view behind a big laurel bush. The two of them are boat children, from when migrants were still being settled in the UK. They’d lived for two years in one of the Lewisham camps, as far as Priscilla can make out. They’d been warehoused by one of Charlie Bonnetti’s Soul Harvesters, working the camps as they did. Mortality in the camps was high when Priscilla was in the old world, but even so, for two siblings to die together... She is as sure as she can be that these two must have died horribly when the Mountsfield Park camp was torched by a retro-fascist mob. They know nothing of that, of course.

Now they laugh at the monkeys in London Zoo. Little capuchins, grooming each other and leaping about their enclosure.

Priscilla is doing her best to educate the children, and to keep them engaged with their new world. Many of them are too young to really understand what has happened, and why they have lost their families. The older ones understand, and in many ways that is even harder. She has sixteen of them now. Some of them are boat children like Efan and Mazeli; others are local kids like Lucy, who cannot really understand why she is no longer in a hospital bed with tubes attached to her and her hair falling out in clumps, and little Sissy, who only ever wants stories and poems. For most of them, though, the reason they are here is a mystery. They are dead, but they do not know how or why. That is a frightening thing, one of the many aspects of the afterlife that appear to have gone unanticipated.

Priscilla is lucky. She knows why she is here. She is here because her husband murdered her. Because she was on the threshold of starting an affair with Noah Barakh.

Maybe lucky is not the best term, but at least she knows. She doesn’t lie awake at night dreaming of a violent father, as Sam does; thinking his father might have gone too far with a beating, but not really knowing anything for sure. She doesn’t wonder like FaceGurl does what the DazeI gang might be doing to her kid sister back in the old world because they’d almost certainly already done it to her...

A capuchin leaps at the mesh wall, clings to it with pencil fingers, its white face and whiskers giving it the look of ancient wisdom. Mazeli squeals with laughter.

Noah is not here this morning. She feels guilty that that should be such a relief.

The poor fuck is broken-hearted, and he thinks he is ballsing it out really well, but he isn’t. She wonders about fucking him – there have been moments, in the old world but also, she has to admit, in this. He has a certain intellectual attraction about him, a magnetism of the mind.

He hasn’t mentioned it since that one time, but it hangs between them.

They had been lovers once. Many times, if she can get her head around that. But no: he had been her lover, but she never his. Not she.

Not just lovers. In love.

She can see that that is how it would be. Her attraction to him is the kind that would need exploring, the kind you would grow into. He isn’t an Omar.

So yes, she has wondered about fucking him now. They are two lonely souls in a new world. It would be natural to fall together, find relief and diversion with each other. But a one-night stand, a play fuck, a sympathy fuck, is hardly what he needs right now, and Priscilla is not ready to love anyone just yet.

The kids... she loves them. She has never been the maternal type, never regretted the lack of a family of her own, and she doesn’t believe that she is feeling that way now. What she is feeling is a recognition of the difference she can make: sixteen kids who now have some kind of shape to their lives.

The responsibility has found her. So soon.

She remembers Omar. All the Omars.

She should feel happy.

But she is not ready to feel happy yet.


Emerging in Hyde Park on a sunny afternoon had been misleading: all the people, strolling, lounging, playing. Everything pretty much as normal. But no, much of London is pretty much deserted. Much of the country. Much of the world.

Not enough people have died yet.

But somehow, the economy – the mechanics – of the place keep ticking over. Food comes into the shops and restaurants, people go about their lives, many with a great sense of sadness, separated from the ones they love, but all knowing that it is a temporary state of affairs. This is the consensus: the world must work; the world must carry on.

Burnham sits on the Commons Terrace by the Thames, sipping at a martini. “Look at me,” he says, puffing his chest out. “I’m pretty much the ruler of the whole fucking world!” No other elector has died since the Accord hit consensus, only a handful of electees. No leaders of the free states. Nobody.

“Ruler of the world and I don’t have a clue! What’s going to happen in a few years’ time? A few decades? Hmmm?”

“How do you mean, JB?” asks Tate, leaning his backside against the railings, arms folded across his ribcage.

“Malthus’d be having fucking kittens!”

“Ah,” says Tate. “The impending population crisis, you mean?”

Burnham nods. “How quickly will this world fill up when nobody dies here? Hmmm? We thought we had it bad back then: a few boats trying to land on the south coast. Where will people go when this world starts to fill up? What’s going to happen then?”

He’s been asking the same question of people for days, and getting no satisfactory answer.

“You know who would have the answer,” says Tate.

“And can we fucking find him?”

Barakh. Noah fucking Barakh. It always comes back to him.

They have tried everything. They’ve even gone to the police, found the Deputy Assistant Commissioner currently in charge of the Met, a man out of his depth and not helped by the fact that he has been reborn as a mere twenty-five-year-old – it seems everyone is reborn at their best age, the age they should always be. That’s how consensus decrees it should be. But it seemed wrong to be confronting a mere kid who happened to be in charge of the city’s police.

Clearly intimidated by a visit from the man who pretty damned near rules the world, the DAC blustered for a while. “But... I don’t see how... We can’t just...”

“It’s simple,” Burnham reasoned. “He is a murderer. There is a clear case against him, and now he is here in the Accord. He must be hunted down and prosecuted.”

“But... We have no official reports of this incident. No evidence here. What jurisdiction can we have over crimes committed in a branch of reality other than this?”

“Then get the evidence!”

“But...” The puppy-faced Deputy Assistant Commissioner, started again: “There is no two-way communication between the Accord and the old world, Elector Burnham. It’s a fundamental feature of the protocols that maintain consensus. We are in another reality. There is no evidence that a crime has been committed.”

“There are ways,” Burnham told him. “There are always ways.” He knew this for a fact: Zhang Xiaoling had known he had killed Priscilla. She could only have learnt this from either Priscilla or Barakh after they were dead.

“I’m sorry, Elector Burnham,” said the DAC, palms raised, smiling. “It is not possible. I assure you. And this incident is really beyond our jurisdiction.”

Burnham had pursued it for a while, long enough to make the jerk sweat like a hog on a spit, but he had got nowhere. It was as if the refusal was hard-wired into his skull, another protocol that would not be contradicted. If he were paranoid, Burnham might believe that the whole of the Accord had been set up to protect Barakh: no one could do anything that might betray the man who had built heaven. Burnham was not paranoid, though; just healthily suspicious...

Now, a picture-windowed tour boat drifts past on the river, heading downstream with the ebbing tide. There are three people on it, a suited man and two women in hijab, pointing at the Houses of Parliament, at Big Ben. Tate waves, chuckling. In an empty world, making contact seems somehow precious, a more fragile thing.

“I’ve been asking round,” says Tate, “calling in a few favours where I can. Trouble is, most of my contacts are still alive.”

“Damned inconvenient of them,” mutters Burnham. He sips at his martini.

“I’ve tried the project offices, here and all around the world. Nothing. He has a London flat, you know? Across in E1, just off Vallance Road – handy for the project offices. Nothing there, either.”

Burnham hadn’t known about the flat. Now, he can’t help picturing them there... How many “meetings” had she had at the Bethnal Green centre? How many long lunches, with Barakh’s flat just round the corner? Just how long had they been fooling him for?

“I’ve had people check everywhere he’s likely to go to. His house out near Rochford is deserted, locked up, although apparently there were signs that someone had been there recently. I’m having it watched.”

“I want to go there,” says Burnham. “Not the house – the flat. I want to see it.”

Tate nods. “Now?”



Priscilla sits on the pavement of the Strand with the new kid, Luca. He’s fourteen, speaks English well – it’s the language of netspace, so why wouldn’t he?

The street is empty, even though it’s the middle of the day. Every so often, a car passes, a few pedestrians... London is filling up, but it’s still a ghost town.

Priscilla stretches her legs out, passes a half-full Coke to the boy.

He just looks at it.

His hands are deep in the pockets of his leather jacket, his chin sunk into his chest. He has collar-length black hair, eyes almost as dark.

“It’s true, Luca,” Priscilla says. “You died in the old world. This is the Accord.”

He shakes his head.

She found him here about ten minutes ago, has only exchanged a few words with him but already thinks of him as the new kid. He is lost. He is one of hers. Another responsibility, although she tries hard not to think of them that way.

“It’s against the Church,” he says. “My mother, she says that. It’s against the Church. There wasn’t anybody in Misurina was recorded into the warehouse. None of us. So you tell me: if no one of us was recorded, then how is it that I am here? It’s not true. This... I am not in the Accord. I am some place else.”

Misurina is Luca’s home village in northern Italy. He was in London travelling with his father before he died, not that he will accept that he is dead.

Softly, gently: “Someone must have had you recorded, Luca. Maybe your mother wasn’t so sure of her convictions. Maybe your father had you saved while you were in London?”

Luca shakes his head.

“So where are you then? Where is everybody?” She waves a hand to indicate the deserted street. “Where have all the people gone?”

“I am in London,” he says. “The people... they are not here.”

“So where are they? Where is your father?”

He doesn’t answer, keeps his chin buried in his chest, his jacket pulled up around him, despite the warmth of the late afternoon sun.

Priscilla wonders why he is here; why he has emerged in London and not in his home village. Maybe he is more attached to this place than he realises; maybe his father had moved here with him, and this instance of Luca had been saved before he had been told. Maybe London really is his home now?

Priscilla takes another swig of the Coke, even though she hates the sticky sweetness on her tongue.

She holds it out and this time Luca takes it, drinks.

Another one. Another of her responsibilities.


“Come away with me, Priscilla,” I tell you. We’re in the Great Court of the British Museum, the light beneath the great spans of the tessellated roof limpid, ethereal. “We can go anywhere you like. The children can come with us. We can show them the world. We could see the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids. How many wonders of the world must there be?”

“You’re telling me we should run from him?”

“We have forever,” I say. “Let him have time to cool off while we see the world.”

“He’s the one who killed me!” You’re pulling at a lock of your chestnut hair, stretching the natural waves straight. “I shouldn’t have to run.”

Your eyes have dark shadows under them. So much responsibility, taking over the care of these children! “It’s an option,” I say. “Let me help.”

You stand, give a single shake of your head to get the hair out of your eyes.

“You don’t know me, Noah. You don’t know me at all.”



Fucking dogs. A whole pack of them, ragged-looking beasts, sniffing at the trash stacked high. Didn’t they eat the fucking dogs in this part of the world?

He pressed back into the corner of the doorway, hugging himself, trying to think.

One of the dogs started pawing at the side of a box and the soft cardboard gave way immediately in the humid heat.

A steady flow of people passed the end of the alleyway. It had been several minutes since the two cops passed. Should be safe to emerge again. But he was no fool. The security cams would be watching for him, sniffing him out like they must have done when he had crossed the city immediately after the hit. They had his host-body’s signatures mapped out: scent, pheromone mix, facial geometrics, gait. As soon as he passed one of the cams he would be flagged up back at the control centre.

He had to get out of here. Out of this city. But how? Where?

Out of the city there would be fewer cams, but as soon as he hit civilisation again he’d be exposed. Did he really want to see out his days in a borrowed body in the middle of some fucking jungle?

He needed to get out of this body, shed his skin like a snake.

He wracked his brain, struggling to come up with some kind of a plan.

A dog spotted him, all bone and shaggy coat. It started to growl, shuffling towards him, one leg lame, bent. He squatted, held out a hand, and in seconds the mutt was nuzzling his wrist as he scratched its mangy neck.

He straightened.

Cautiously, he approached the end of the alleyway. No sign of the cops. He stepped out, joining the flow. He walked with a limp, holding a hand over his face, occasionally rubbing as if he had a permanent itch. He could obscure his facial geometrics and he could disguise the normal pattern of this borrowed body’s movement, but there was nothing he could do to hide its scent signature. That was a risk he had to accept: all the cams supplied a feed that was processed for visual patterning, but far fewer were equipped with the full bodystamp sensors.

He needed to get his bearings, but then what? He didn’t know what city this was, didn’t even know which country. And even if he did know... why should he trust any knowledge he had? What if his controllers really did just want to erase him as soon as he uploaded? He couldn’t rely on any knowledge they’d given him, just in case they were leading him towards his own end.

He needed to upload, but on his own terms. And then... Time to go looking for himself, the original him. Time to find him and ask himself some tough questions. Time to look for daddy.


Priscilla heads off into the museum shop, smiles at Sissy and FaceGurl. Noah thinks it’s going to happen again. Just because it had in another place, with another her. It’s like a weighted blanket over her.

She stops, breathes deep.

Last night, she had been lying awake in the Sloane Square flat she had taken over. The kids were sleeping three or four to a room, while Priscilla had the living room sofa to herself.

She found herself thinking about him, about Noah. About the afternoon they had spent discussing the Accord with the kids, talking it through in terms they might get. She had watched him as he spoke, watched his eyes, so alight with the discussion, with the responses he was getting from the kids, those precious moments of understanding, of connection, of really getting where they were and why they were here.

That was a real world-shift moment, a confirmation of the vague feelings she had felt before. She really could fuck that man, but more: she could love him. He was a man who needed to be explored, found out.

But not now.

She cannot open herself up in that way. Inside, she is raw, exposed, vulnerable. She is not ready.

She needs to be her first. She needs to be her for the first time in her adult life.

Last night, she had climbed from her bed, pulled on some clothes, gone out to a little bar she knew, one that was open all hours for all kinds of reasons. She had come back to the flat just as dawn was breaking, the kids still asleep apart from Mazeli who hardly slept at all. Shutting the door behind her, Priscilla was comfortably drunk, and she ached in all the right places. And God, but she was tired...

Outside now, in the Great Court, Noah still sits on the bench, waiting.

She stands before him, arms folded. He looks timid, suddenly, threatened. She unfolds her arms, but can’t work out what to do with her hands and ends up tucking them in the tight pockets of her jeans.

“I like you, Noah,” she tells him. “I even love you, in a way. You’re a good man, an attractive man. You’re someone whose company and support I treasure. And I’m full of respect for you: you’re a fucking genius, after all – but you’re a human genius, not some up-his-own-arse geek genius.”

He watches. He waits.

“But it’s not going to happen, Noah. Between us. That was a different me. Different place. Different circumstances. I don’t feel I can love anyone like that. Does that make sense? Am I just telling you the most insensitive, brutal things you’ve ever been told? Am I a complete fucking cow?”

He shakes his head, once. “I understand,” he says. “I do understand.”

He smiles. He watches. He waits.


“... a statistically significant instance of you was...”

Bartie Davits hit 280, and then stopped the sit-ups, head between his knees, gasping, chest aching, head pounding, abdominal muscles burning.

He couldn’t shake the sound of the officer’s voice, the half-smile on the bastard’s face. They were having fun, toying with him. Fucking with his life, but for them it was just a new twist on an otherwise dull and routine day at the station.

Slowly, his breathing calmed, and his thoughts calmed too.

They were playing games with him. But if they wanted to play then bring it on! Bartie played games all the time. Other than the dealing and the sweating, online gaming was his main source of income to fund business school.

This was just a game, a strategy game.

It was time to stop acting like a frightened rabbit, caught in the headlights. Time to take control, take the initiative.

If the bastards wanted to play with Bartie Davits, then Bartie Davits was ready for them. And then some.


“A road trip,” I tell you. “You, me, the children. Let’s show them something of this new world of ours! We can take a minibus, take a ferry across the Channel, just drive each day until we feel like stopping. Some of these kids have never seen the countryside, never seen the sea. Let’s do it, Priscilla: a road trip, a break from it all, a holiday.”

We’re in the kitchen of the Sloane Square flat, debris from the preparation of another meal all about us. You’re not happy here. I can see it in your eyes, the set of your shoulders.

You are wavering.

“I don’t know,” you say. “It feels like we’re running away.”

I shake my head.

“We’re not running away,” I tell you. “Let’s head for the mountains, the Alps. Let’s head for northern Italy, find Misurina, see if we can find Luca’s family.” Luca worries you, I know: he clings steadfastly to the belief that none of this is real. Maybe seeing his home village will help him.

You nod. “Okay,” you say. “Okay, Noah. Let’s go on a road trip.”

You smile. Only briefly, but you smile.


I dream. But it’s more than that, I think.

We sleep an exhausted sleep, having spent the day travelling. We are in the French Jura, heading through to the Alps tomorrow. FaceGurl has never seen a mountain. We will show her big mountains. We will walk in alpine meadows, show city children wild flowers and butterflies; walk for hours through pine forests; camp out under the stars. The kids have grown, even in the few days I have known them. Grown in confidence, grown in the knowledge and understanding of what they have gone through. You work wonders with them, Priscilla; you treat them like people, not like children, and they thrive on it.

Today we drove from London in a minibus we borrowed from a depot in Lewisham. We sleep in a wooden house near Baumes-les-Dames, making sure that the kids treat the place with respect. Its owners will be here again one day.

You and I... we sleep, clothed, on a double bed, a space between us. I can smell your delicate scent. I am intensely aware of the small movements you make as you sleep. I do not reach out across the space that separates us. I wait, and hope.

And dream, I think.

You are not here, not in this dream.

I am up in the mountains, a steep scree tumbling away below me, a flock of little birds flashing black and white among the rocks. There is snow here, tucked away in the shadow of rocks, and higher, on the open slopes where maybe there is snow all the year round. Mountains wrap around me, snow-whitened crags, flanked with deep pine green, an almost perfect circular lake nestled on a plateau below.

Me... us... I am not alone.

“Xiaoling,” I say. It always feels odd to meet Zhang Xiaoling like this. I have been inside her almost as often as we have met. I have been her. She stands at my side, similarly taken with the view.

If Xiaoling is with me, then this is not the Accord, unless I really am dreaming, or unless she has died and not informed me; it is a meetspace, one that uses the algorithms of Accord to build its own integrity; maybe even a deleted shard of pre-consensus Accord being reused as meetspace, development space.

“Noah,” she says. “Sammy has been good to us. He has exceeded himself in securing resources for the Accord.”

“That is good,” I say. “But hardly sustainable.” I wonder how long we have before either netspace cracks under the strain, or the Accord starts to fracture.

Xiaoling stays silent for a while, and together we enjoy the view and the vitality of the mountain air.

“You should come and talk to the Hueys,” she finally says. “There has been progress.”

We walk down the slope, following an indistinct trail through the boulders and stones strewn across the slope. The air is crisp, its chill countering the heat of the summer sun’s rays.

As we enter the first fringe of pine forest I hear voices. Huey. Hueys. Arguing, of course.

There are two of them, in a clearing where a stream runs through a cleft in the forest.

“Huey,” I say.

They fall silent and turn to me. One of them smiles; the other looks sidelong at the stream, sheepish.

“Noah,” says the smiling Huey. “You’ve read our report? Xiaoling said she would forward it to you immediately.”

“Half an hour ago,” she mutters under her breath to me.

“Tell me about it,” I say. It’s good to see Huey looking so upbeat – or at least one of the Hueys, anyway. Huey and I go back a long way. Right back to grad school, what, eleven years ago? We’d spent long nights back then, Huey providing the spark that would make me stretch my thinking, me pushing and cajoling him to take the time to communicate his reasoning to the world, let other people in on the genius that filled his skull.

“We have demonstrated interstitiality, Noah.”

I nod, as if he had said I boiled the kettle, or I won at Sympics.

“We have channelled data into uncollapsed quantum states – all those quantum states that aren’t made ‘real’ by observation. The subatomic interstices... the space within space... we have shifted something from our world into a state of existence that is beyond our ability to experience.”

“Data integrity is retained?”

“We are trying to establish that...”

“How can we establish that?” says the other Huey. “It’s not possible!”

“They’re arguing worse than ever,” says Xiaoling.

“I will stay here,” I tell her. “I will leave an instance of me here.” It will be like the old days, only with more of Huey. I will get him to apply himself; he will make me dig deep; and between us we might just save the world.

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