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Electee Priscilla Burnham wakes in greyness. She is standing. She feels... a sense of vitality. She runs a hand over her body, looks down. She is wearing jeans and a T-shirt bearing a swirling pattern across the front, a bunch of silver bangles around her left wrist. She has lost about ten kilos, is firm where she should not be firm, pert where pertness had long-since departed. Her body looks and feels about twenty years younger.

“Fucking result,” she says softly.

She is dead.

She realises that.

This is no meetspace. This is the real thing. She is dead and just waiting to enter heaven.

She remembers cocktails at the Savoy. She remembers sipping a cosmo and focusing inwardly to read mail, most of them dull, repetitive, but a really sweet one from Noah Barakh, pressing to make sure she was okay with notes he had sent her for the next meeting. Next day: the project meeting, the routine brain dump, and nothing more after that.

That must have been the last time then, the last time she had warehoused a copy of herself before she had died.

Before she had died... what a curious phrase to have in your head. The Accord leaves people thinking thoughts they had never evolved to handle... Before she had died.

The outline of a door appears, lines of light. She steps forward, the door scrolls up and she steps out into her old bedroom in Deanmere Gap. She had lived here for seven years, after she and her mother had moved out from Eastbourne. The sash window is half-open, net curtains partly obscuring the view to the trees. The room has been redecorated several times since she last came here, but it is still her room.

She goes out to the landing.


There is no response.

Her mother is dead. Dead dead. Before the technology for brain dumping had been developed. And even then, her last years had been spent lost in some mental limbo. She had missed heaven by many years.

Priscilla sits on the top step, where she had often sat as a girl.

A tear swells in the corner of an eye, brims over, trails down her left cheek. Must be coming on, she thinks. So fucking emotional.

She rubs the tears away with the inside of a wrist, stands.

Priscilla is dead. Long live Priscilla!


Electee Clive Nesbitt: sitting alone at a table in a Starbucks that could have been anywhere, sipping at his macchiato, chatting into the feed grafted into his jaw. His chestnut hair somehow managed to look simultaneously neat but tousled – either ruffled by his gran or raked through in long-fingernailed passion, depending on the target demographic of the moment. Clive Nesbitt was a politician carefully tailored to tick lots of often-contradictory boxes.

He stood, adjusting the hang of his stone chinos as he did so. His open-necked, windowpane-checked shirt revealed a collarbone tattoo, something interwoven and Celtic, so very retro-modern.

“Jack,” he said, holding out his hand.

Burnham shook, sat, smiled. “Good to see you, Clive,” he said. “Shawna sends her best.” They’d already exchanged about Burnham’s comments on the Shawna Brakes show, no ground given on either side. Nesbitt was riding a popular wave, and they both knew it.

“She’s one of the best,” said Nesbitt, grinning easily. “Ten million people a week can’t be wrong, can they?”

Burnham chose not to rise to that one. This coffee-shop chat would be running live on all the newsfeeds, directional mikes picking up every word. There were almost certainly bugs on the table too if the waiting staff had anything about them. Nesbitt was probably even providing a syndicated feed direct himself; Burnham’s feed only went to Lucy in the office.

“Ninety-four more last night, Jack.”

“And thirty-six dead,” Burnham replied. “Your vigilantes are pre-empting your bill.”

“They’re not mine, Jack. They’re the vanguard of a popular movement.”

Burnham pinged Nesbitt, the third time he’d tried since entering the coffee shop, and this time an answering ping bounced back, the secure connection established.

Okay, Clive, Burnham sent. Let’s cut the bullshit. What’s this all about?

Nesbitt <smiled>, <shrugged>, sent: I like you, Jackie. You’re one of the good guys. I’ll always be grateful for what you’ve done for me.

“We have to take a tougher line with these people, Jack. We can’t keep letting them land. The whole south coast will be littered with transit camps – for no purpose!”

I said let’s cut the bullshit, okay?

“And how do you propose to do that? Blow them out of the water as soon as they enter European territory?” They were both keeping their voices calm, amenable.

“The language of deterrence can be very effective, Jack. You know that.”

Sure, Jack. Sure. Okay: I know you’ve been digging around the Accord project, and for good reason. I thought you might appreciate a bit of a steer.


Ask about Shanghai, Jack. Ask about Shanghai.

“You’re really proposing that we take offensive action against these boat people? They’re helpless, defenceless... You want us to blow them out of the water, or what?”

“There are ways to deter, Jack. We have a fine Navy, with a lot of experience. I wouldn’t wish to instruct them on their own areas of expertise, but I’m sure they could offer effective ways to implement a policy of hardened self-defence. It’s what the people are demanding, Jack.”

Why are you doing this? At least part of the price was this public encounter: there was far more spin in it for Nesbitt than there was for Burnham. But there was more than that...

The Accord was a corrupt project from the outset. How can we engineer our own paradise? Barakh’s whole ideology harks back to defeated socialist ideas of a managed culture – now he’s trying to take heaven into social control, or at least, some perverted simulacrum of heaven. He’s a new Stalin, Jack, and like we did with Stalin we’re now learning about the true Barakh: a murderer, a liar and cheat, and corrupt to the heart – just ask about Shanghai, Jack; Barakh has been running rings around us for years, misappropriating funds on a staggering scale. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the Accord – enormous technical advances. But the Accord itself... it’s wrong, Jack. It’s one man’s control-freak vision of a world that can never be. I’m going to help you pull the plug on it, Jack. I’m going to help you get Barakh and destroy his egomaniacal paradise.

“More coffee, Jack...?”

Burnham shook his head. He hadn’t even touched his cappuccino.


He had met her on a handful of occasions – formal receptions, project social events at Christmas and various landmark stages. She looked no different to his recollection: a small woman, stick thin, with big dyed-red hair and eyes too large and plate-like for her delicate face, so much so that she looked like a middle-aged anime character.

“Marie,” said Burnham. “Thank you for agreeing to see me.”

Marie Barakh stepped back from the door so that Burnham could enter. He followed her through to a large conservatory that looked down a grassy slope to the salt marshes, a dark grey-green mat of vegetation cut through with twisting silver ribbons of tidal creek.

“Noah loves the marshes,” Marie said, easing herself into a cane bucket seat. “When he was here he always had to walk out along the seawall at least once a day, whatever the weather. He probably doesn’t strike you as an outdoor man, does he, Elector Burnham?”

She talked about her late husband as if he had just popped out to visit a friend, or to pick up a few things from the local market. Lucy Chang had commented on this phenomenon only yesterday: how the Accord was turning death into a temporary parting of the ways; the bereaved no longer speaking of the departed in the past tense – they are merely somewhere else...

Burnham sat across from Marie and looked out over the well-tended garden. “It’s very quiet here,” he said, wondering how she coped with such a lonely existence. Living like this, miles from the nearest town, just yourself and the marshes, was a way of life he could never really imagine himself accepting.

“We like it this way,” said Marie.

This morning Burnham had been up before five so that he could spend an hour going through subcommittee papers – why so much paper, for Christ’s sake? – before Tate had called for him, Lucy Chang already in the back of the car to brief him on the day’s schedule. Later, sitting at his desk, every time he looked up there had been a different combination of people in the office, talking to each other, or to him, staring into the middle distance as they viewed datafeeds or mails, sub-voking into jaw-mikes, walking purposefully in or out or across the room... And somehow... this had been normal, comforting, the way things operate, the way things should be.

Out in the garden, a black and white cat stalked flies dancing over the wet grass.

He’d pissed everyone off when he made a spur of the moment decision to head out into the wilds of Essex to visit the widow of the man who had killed his wife. He caught himself... The man everyone thought had killed his wife. Even now, Lucy was out in the back of the car, rearranging and rescheduling, placating lobbyists and bullshitters in meetspaces where she was able to deputise for her errant elector.

“We have a lot in common, don’t we?”

She fixed his look then. “No, Elector, I don’t think so. We have only one thing in common, and that... nothing happened between them. It’s been investigated and they were not having an affair.”

“In this world...”

“They never did anything. My husband was never unfaithful.”

“But in their heads, Marie... In the Accord...”

“That was before Consensus, Elector Burnham. That was before the Accord became real.”

“And now...?”

Finally, she looked away. The cat was lying on its back now, paws in the air, twisting like a puppy in a muck heap.

“We have no way of knowing what is happening in the Accord,” she said.

“Except that it is functioning as modelled, it has become real to all its inhabitants. In the Accord, your husband, my wife... the best projections say that they probably survive, and that they survive together.”

“He killed her.”

“You think that will stop them?”

“My husband is a good man, Elector Burnham. Despite everything that people have said in the last few weeks. He gave us heaven. He gave us a future when... when the politicians can only offer us varying degrees of survival.”

She peered up at him, a fierce glint in her eye, but Burnham met her look.

“We politicians,” he said, “gave your husband the resources and the protection to build the Accord. And yes, we offer survival – would you have us do otherwise?”

Outside, the cat looked up as a press drone drifted over the trees and positioned itself above the garden. Word must have got around about the elector’s visit. Almost immediately the drone started pinging Burnham with requests for a feed, for interview responses, for confirmation that he was going to sue the Barakh estate for damages or that he was having an affair with Marie, or any number of equally ludicrous propositions. After a few seconds, the barrage was being safely filtered out by his firewall.

“Tell me,” said Burnham, turning his face away from the window so no one could lip-read his words from the drone’s camerazzi coverage, “did your husband ever talk about our Shanghai operation?”

She looked genuinely puzzled by this change of conversational direction, but she gathered herself quickly – she was clearly smart enough to realise that this was important to Burnham, despite his efforts at nonchalance.

“Shanghai?” she asked. “My husband mentioned it in conversation, yes. There’s a branch of the project there. He’s visited a few times over the last couple of years or so.”

“What did he tell you about it?”

Marie Barakh shrugged. “I really don’t remember, Elector Burnham,” she said. “Nothing memorable. He never talked much about his travels, or his work, for that matter. I don’t think he thought I understood what he was doing, other than the superficial level of explanation he reserved for politicians and the press, and he had enough of talking at that level during office hours...”

Burnham ignored the slight, and waited, silently, until she filled the gap.

“There are branches of the project all over the world, aren’t there, Elector Burnham? Shanghai, Brussels, New York, San Francisco, Warsaw, São Paolo, Sydney, Madrid... I’m sure I’ve missed some from the list, haven’t I? Noah travels to them all. There was nothing special about Shanghai, as far as I can recall. And I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why you’re asking in such a casual manner, even as you make sure your face is shielded from the press drones?”

Burnham stared at her, realising that she, too, had been careful to discreetly turn away from the cameras so that her words could not be lip-read.

“Don’t you think you should leave these investigations to the appropriate agencies?” she asked him. “You have a world to save. Or, at least, some survival to ration out...”


Marie Barakh’s words echoed in his ears as he walked back to the car. She came across as demure and very proper, but beneath that façade there lay a complex and surprisingly bitter woman. The surprise was not so much the bitterness – after what had so recently been revealed about her husband she had plenty of reason to be bitter – but that it was directed at the world with such passion, rather than at her lying, cheating partner.

He straightened, bones in his spine cracking audibly. Why was he wasting his time on this vengeful pursuit of ghosts, when he did indeed have survival to dole out? He thought again, as he often did, of the camp he had visited at Bexhill-on-Sea, of the boats scattered along the south coast, such a graphic illustration of the quest for human survival as all around them the world was well and truly fucked. He shouldn’t be thinking like this. He needed to keep a grip on things, look for the positive, and pursue it relentlessly. That was all that was left.

He looked up. There were five press drones now, one of them only a few metres over his head. A pinged interview request slipped through his firewall filters, just then, but he blocked the new encrypt immediately.

Let them make what they wanted of this visit.


You are dead. Forever. Lost because I brought you with me into pre-consensus Accord and was unable to ensure that you would be consolidated when consensus struck.

Or you have been consolidated elsewhere in the Accord, somewhere where your presence had been stronger. I can find you, then.

Or you are dead, but you will return. Your instances in the pre-consensus Accord had failed to consolidate, the anomaly that you were had been smoothed out of existence... but you were warehoused, you were dead, the normal protocols of drawing the dead into the Accord would find you, wake you.

I recline in my chaise longue, looking out across the lawn to the salt marshes.

You are gone from me, and all I have are thought experiments to help me decide if you will return, or not.

I reach out to netspace again, feel the flows of data, the currents on which the Accord is built. My search routines have found nothing yet. The population of the Accord grows steadily, at a rate of more than 2,000 a day, but not one of these lost souls is my beloved.

I try to get a grasp of what the Accord is like now consensus has been achieved, what it is.

It is our world.

It is defined by the consensus of those who contributed to its construction, those who inhabit it.

But where are the limits? What is beyond the known, the shared? Is that tree really falling in the forest?

Countless shards of pre-reality have not been assimilated, as was always likely. They were anomalies, false starts, side branches.


I turn from the window. I have a skullcap here, synched to my house net. I have taken brain dumps here many times over recent years. I slip the cap into place, fire up the routines, but there is no response. There is no Accord, no project. The Accord will not allow me to twist it in tangles of its own logic.

I sit back again, close my eyes, feel the data-flows. Wait.


“But Nesbitt and his fascist friends are popular! They really are the voice of the people.”

Lucy Chang shook her head. “The electorate is both stratified and segmented in complex ways, Jack,” she said. “It has never been as simple as a representative having the wholehearted backing of the people, although Electee Nesbitt likes to portray it so.”

The car sped through the narrow lanes away from the Barakh house, Tate at the wheel, a police bike out front, press lost, unable to keep up. They had probably stayed behind, hoping to pin Marie down in an interview, but Burnham had learnt that she was far more savvy than he had previously assumed. He somehow doubted she would be giving quotes on anything but her own terms.


“Some of the people support him on some of his chosen themes, split by demographics, geography and subject,” explained Lucy. “Southern England, right across the social classes, more in the under-forty-fives than the liberal wrinklies, back him strong to very strongly on migration and repatriation. Across the country, a slim majority in the lowest thirty percentile on the income range back him on the Accord – they see it as a middle class thing, something they might be excluded from on financial grounds, even though there are nothing more than tabloid scare stories and Nesbitt’s misinformation campaign to back them on that. But it’s wrong to think that just because he has mass support on migration he has the same kind of backing on the Accord – apart from a few segments, the people want the Accord. They want the hope it gives them.”

“You don’t want me to go after the Accord?”

She didn’t answer. It wasn’t a case of what she wanted or not. Burnham sat back in his seat, looking out at the warehouses they were passing. Half of them were abandoned, in varying states of disrepair. Several had been taken over by travellers, internal migrants from coastal towns now vulnerable to the tide.

“You find anything about Shanghai?”

Businesslike, Lucy nodded, said, “A little. Enough to suggest we should pursue enquiries.”

Burnham returned his look to his assistant. Her expression gave nothing away.

He raised an eyebrow, and she continued: “The model used for project management is a deliberate echo of the informational and organisational infrastructure of the Accord itself. Pre-consensus, the Accord consisted of numerous reality shards: fragments of virtual reality where consensus was becoming manifest – full consensus was reached when the reality shards converged into a single, unified reality. The project is distributed around the world: project teams in twenty-seven major cities. Each project centre is a fragment of the whole, just as each reality shard was a fragment of the pre-consensus Accord. Rather than have centres of excellence, each team worked across the range of project activities. In the current political climate this is a resilient model – lose one centre to civil war or political wrangling and the project will continue apace, viz Tunis and Manila; lose a specialist centre and everything might grind to a halt. With netspace and VR architecture at its disposal, virtual teams can collaborate across the globe just as if they were side by side, so the model is very powerful.”

Burnham nodded. “The point?” he prompted.

“Shanghai is different,” said Lucy. “On the surface Shanghai appears like any other project centre, but check out the personnel profiles and it’s clearly a specialist centre.”

“Specialist? In what?”

“Theoretical physics. There are more theoretical physicists working at, or collaborating with, the Shanghai centre than at any single university in the world. Cosmology, quantum theory, dimensional mathematics.”

“What the fuck has that got to do with the Accord?”

“I don’t know, Jack. But physicists and their toys don’t come cheap – there appears to have been a degree of innovative accounting practices associated with Shanghai. In the last fiscal year, the centre has absorbed something like twelve percent of project funding.”

Burnham stared at his assistant. That was one fuck-load of creative accounting... He remembered Nesbitt’s accusations about malpractice. “Was that legitimate spend, or has someone been tapping the funds?”

“It appears to be legitimate, in that it was paying for research personnel and activities under the remit of the project. There is no indication of embezzlement.”

“But what were they doing? What are they doing?”

“I don’t know, Jack.”

Burnham sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. Barakh was a cheat, and there was plenty of evidence that he had manipulated the project to his own private ends – that in itself was a form of embezzlement. But it staggered Burnham to think that his lead developer could have been manipulating things on the scale suggested by Lucy’s investigation. And why?

He sighed, and gave in to the mail and scheduling reminders blinking away in the corner of his field of vision. He would find out: Barakh was undone, it was just a matter of unravelling the threads now.


Burnham sits in a featureless grey meetspace, body hugged by a chair he can feel but can’t see. Malcolm Warrener sits opposite, his seat visible only as a slight change in the light and shadows of the grey backdrop.

Burnham gestures and a screen appears in the air to one side of them, positioned so that they can both see. It shows Warrener – the real flesh-and-blood Warrener – sitting naked in a leather seat, arms strapped to his side. A wad of some kind of fabric is stuffed into his mouth, drool trailing down his chin, sweat glinting on his forehead, running in tracks down his cheeks and body. His eyes bulge like eggs and the tendons in his neck are taut, standing out as he strains against his bonds.

Tate has his back to the observers in meetspace. He is kneeling at Warrener’s feet. Doing something Burnham and Warrener can’t see on-screen.

“The principle,” says Burnham in a conversational tone, “is like a wire stripper. You know what I mean? Cutting off a toe is crude, old-hat. My friend has an adjustable tool which clamps two semi-circular blades around any appendage. When drawn back it strips that appendage of the outer layers of flesh. In the case of a toe, it strips it to the bone. It is much more painful and disfiguring than amputation.” This was another trick borrowed from the Yakuza. Tate had not wasted the three years he had spent as a corporate minder in Kyoto.

“Please,” gasps Warrener, leaning forward in his seat in meetspace. “You don’t need to do this!”

“Find Barakh for me. Find my wife.”

“But... I’ve explained... The Accord doesn’t allow that kind of intrusion. The protocols deny all external access, other than the transfer of the dead, and then they cannot communicate back to the outside world. I’ve looked for any possible way to help you, Elector, but there are none.”

“That’s a great shame for you.”

“Please, Elector.”

On screen, Warrener’s body bucks against its bindings, head thrown back, eyes rolling so that they’re mostly white.

Here in meetspace, Warrener swallows, looks away, looks at Burnham.

On screen, Tate turns, leans back on his heels, revealing more of his captive. Warrener’s right foot is a crimson mess.

“The device is not only used on toes,” Burnham says softly, pausing for long seconds to allow that point to sink home. “So... how do I find Barakh and Priscilla?”

“You can’t... Unless you die and get uploaded.”

“Oh, I’ve considered that. Or sending someone else in there to go after them. But it seems so... final...” And, with no communication possible, it was still so uncertain. Burnham wanted to know that Barakh and Priscilla had been found. He wanted to see for himself. So he couldn’t simply send Tate or someone else into the Accord after them. How would he know when they had accomplished their mission? And he wasn’t ready to die himself...

“The only way you can get them is if you destroy the Accord itself.”

Burnham nods. It’s looking like the best option. But could he be the man who destroys heaven? Could he kill Priscilla again...?

“How do I do that?” he asks.

Warrener hesitates. “Noah was always prepared to use unconventional approaches,” he says finally. “He always argued that some of the best v-space minds were the mavericks, the outsiders...”

“He hired hackers?”

Warrener nods. “Sometimes, yes. There’s a guy called Chuckboy Lee – best of them all. Lives in a warehouse in Jakarta. The Accord is embedded right across netspace; it’d be almost impossible to unravel. If anyone can pull the plug, Chuckboy Lee’s the man.”

“How do I track him down?”

“I don’t know. He’s very elusive. He only ever contacted Noah direct, or Noah went there to see him. And even then he only ever found Lee when he wanted to be found.”

Burnham glances at the screen. Tate is leaning close to Warrener, saying something into his ear.

“Please, Elector Burnham. I’ve told you everything!”

Burnham pauses, then stands, turns, steps through the door that scrolls open before him.


In the car, just Burnham in the back, Tate driving, sitting in a traffic snarl somewhere just off the Strand.

“So what did you do with him?” asked Burnham.

“We drank tea, talked about the Arsenal game. He’s a Hearts man. I like him.”

Burnham nodded. By now Warrener would have realised that the whole thing had been a sham: the screen just a window into another meetspace where a virtual Tate went to work on a virtual Warrener. Burnham was not as brutal as Warrener clearly believed he was capable of being.

“Do you enjoy your work?”

Tate glanced back over his shoulder. His expression gave nothing away. “My work is important, JB,” he said. “I take pride in it. So that makes me feel good. Good about myself and my place in the world. Is fulfilment the same as enjoyment? I don’t know. I’m not looking to move on, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’m envious of you sometimes, you know that?”

Tate looked back again, the car crawling through the gridlock.

“You get to do things. You’re involved. You know how much of my day I spend just talking to people? Reading papers and talking to people. That’s pretty much my life.”

“You’d rather be out there, stripping the virtual flesh off some geeky Hearts fan’s athlete’s foot-infested toes?”

Burnham sighed. “I just want to do something. It’s so frustrating always sitting back and being told what’s happening...”

Tate reached down and yanked at the handbrake. The car had only been edging forward but still it juddered to an abrupt halt. Horns blew behind them.

Tate opened his door and stepped out into the middle of the road. He gestured and cursed at the cars behind him in jovial, couldn’t-give-a-flying-fuck manner, and then opened Burnham’s door.

Before the elector knew what was happening, he was out in the street and Tate was climbing into his vacated seat.

Burnham looked around, saw the angry faces of drivers stuck behind his car. He looked down at Tate, whose window was now sliding down.

“Get in, then,” said Tate. “Drive the fucking car if you want to do something, man.”

Burnham stared at him, his mouth half open, then he straightened, tipped his head back and laughed, the most hearty, deep belly laugh he had emitted for as long as he could remember.

He climbed in, slammed the door, reached down to release the handbrake and edged the car forward. “You cheeky fucking bugger,” he said to Tate, and laughed again.

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