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You live.

You have been reborn.


Your entry point was Deanmere Gap, the village where you spent the later years of your childhood, looked after by your mother, your father an intelligence officer killed in Gaza.

You have died and now you are reborn.

Now you head back to London.

You are coming back to me!

Priscilla... I am here. I am waiting. I would wait for an eternity as long as I know that you are on your way.


Burnham stood on the balcony, drinking his scotch, savouring the smoky mix of peat and seaweed and pepper in each sip. The view of the night-time city was stunning, so many lights appearing to hang in space from the skyscrapers, glimmering in the thick, muggy night air. Life was so rich! How could they ever hope to emulate it in the Accord? Sure, the meetspaces he had used seemed pretty convincing, but how could they ever capture that mix of shabby human existence and the sheer exhilaration of being?

Lucy Chang joined him. “Nothing more,” she said.

He had hardly expected to extract anything from a man of Tate’s training and character, but they’d had to try. Each of them understood the position.

“What do you think?” he asked, handing her his glass. She sipped, handed it back, leaving bloody smears on its cut crystal sides.

“Tate has not been spying,” she said. “He is loyal.”

Burnham nodded. “That was my guess,” he said. “But I had to be sure.”

Lucy nodded now.

“You know what that means, don’t you?” he said. “If Tate didn’t tell them I killed Priscilla, then they must have found out from Priscilla or Barakh, and they’re both dead...”

“Could Barakh have told them before he killed himself?”

“His movements and messaging were all traced in detail by the official investigation,” said Burnham. “I know: I had the files sent to me. He contacted nobody. He left no messages. So he must have told them after he killed himself!”

Lucy looked puzzled for a moment, and then she saw what Burnham’s words implied. “From the Accord? But...”

Burnham nodded, eyes blazing, a bitter grin on his face. “They know a way to communicate in and out of the Accord!” he said. “They must do!” He had been right, despite Warrener’s assurances: there was always a way.

Then he thought it through one step further: Warrener! If he was in league with Jang Xiaoling then he had very probably known all along that it was possible to communicate with people in the Accord! Warrener had signed his own death warrant more than once...

They stood in silence for what seemed like minutes, taking it in turns to sip at the scotch. Finally, Lucy Chang said, “What about Tate?”

Burnham turned to her. Tate would not be in a forgiving mood when he emerged from this. He was a wounded animal, a wounded predator. “Kill him,” he said. “Give the body back to Zhang Xiaoling. Let her deal with it. She’s not going to want any mess here on her own doorstep that might implicate the project.”

Then, an afterthought: “Oh, and replace him, would you? Use your contacts to find me someone. I have a feeling I’m going to need protection.”

He turned back to the city lights, sipped at his drink, felt sharp brininess explode in his mouth.


Priscilla is free. She is single again, and she likes it.

She does not need an other half in her life.

Not now, at least. There will be others, of course; there will be an eternity of others.

But now... now she is freer than she has ever been in her life.

Should she feel guilty about this? Should she feel more than just a slight pang of regret that she finds it so easy to draw a line under her time with Jack? She had been drawing that line for some time, though; it was not new that they lived pretty much separate lives.

She explores the museums and galleries, sometimes sitting for an hour or more before a particular picture, losing herself in light on water, in distant mountains, in the freeze-frame pose of a Parisian ballerina. She sits by the river, or in Soho Square or one of the parks, noting as each day passes the shift from occasional lone people to, if not crowds then at least a feeling that there is a population here. The world fills up as people die.

But they are mostly alone. It must hurt so much for many of them, the separation, the loss, the being lost.

But for many... for many it is release. A guilty, hedonistic, exciting release.

She finds herself drinking in a bar near Piccadilly Circus. Bloody Mary, the spices so hot the drink makes sweat break out on her forehead. The place is half full. People seem to know where to gather in a city so far below capacity.

His name turns out to be Omar, although he doesn’t look like an Omar. He has a wiry thin body, collar-length chestnut hair, spaniel eyes, and he claims to be in his sixties, despite his youthful incarnation in the Accord.

He persuades her to try a tequila slammer, she copies him, bangs it on the bar, and it fizzes over before she can bring it to her mouth. They giggle like schoolkids, into their hands, into each other’s shoulders. His mouth tastes of ginger ale, his stubble tingles, awakens feeling, sensitivity.

It feels wrong. He is so young. But then she is, too. They are both young things. Both free and single, and just a little intoxicated.

“I know a place,” he says into her ear. “A club. Where people have fun.”

Outside the bar, they link arms, walk.

Soon they are inside again, heading up a narrow staircase. Music meets them, something jazzy, something recent.

There’s a bar, a woman leaning on it being served, wearing stockings, suspenders, basque.

Priscilla feels overdressed in her black jeans and loose top. A couple at a nearby table wear more clothes, but not for long by the look of it, their faces locked, their hands squeezing, grasping, their limbs tangled.

Omar takes her hand and leads her to the bar.

They have cocktails, Priscilla doesn’t know what they are – something with a tangy fruit juice and one hell of an afterburn. They find a table, drink, press legs hard against each other. Priscilla looks about her as her eyes adjust to the low lighting. As well as the tables, with low leather sofas and bucket seats, there are more secluded booths, doorways through to other areas. The couple nearby stop kissing, look around, as if seeking something. The man is tall, a Slavic look to his features, eyes intense as they make contact with Priscilla’s; the woman, a short-haired blonde, her skin flushed. Priscilla smiles; the couple kiss again.

Priscilla turns to Omar, takes a handful of his hair and draws his face into hers, tastes the ginger again, feels the rasp of his chin on hers.

They get more drinks, find themselves sitting with the other couple when they come back from the bar. There is lots of laughter, laughter that requires leaning into the person nearest, clutching at arms, hugging. The blonde woman tastes of gin, tonic water, the man of whisky.

There are other rooms, branching off the main bar area, some of them already occupied, but one quiet. Omar pushes Priscilla against the wall, seizes her loose black top, pulls it clear of her head, and then she feels that stubble rasp dragging across her collarbone, her breasts, her belly.

She is turned by hard hands – not Omar’s – feels her jeans pulled down, tugged free from her feet, her black thong being pulled aside. She grips the blonde woman for support, feels soft, smooth flesh. Tastes gin, tonic, again. Finds Omar, or he finds her. Tastes salt, skin. Gasps at the touch of fingers, gasps...


Burnham watched dawn pour its golden light through the fuggy air among the skyscrapers, sparking flares and rainbows off windows and metal frames, painting grey concrete and stone amber, honeyed, gold.

Lucy Chang sat opposite him in the seat where Tate had been bound the previous evening, neat as ever in her tailored pinstripe suit, the trousers fashionably baggy so that the outlines of her legs were only suggested even as she sat. Burnham found himself wondering what it’d be like to fuck her. She would be good. Naturally. In all his time with Priscilla he had remained faithful, despite the numerous opportunities to get his rocks off elsewhere. He looked after himself, and what the gym and his nutritionist couldn’t provide the cosmetic surgeons and pills did, but he had no illusions: it was power that opened the doors, not the fact that he was a well-preserved fifty-ish. It wasn’t that he had particular standards or principles; he understood how so many relationships went after time, and that rigid adherence to ideas like faithfulness was naive and unrealistic. It had simply been that he had wanted no other. There had only been Priscilla, from the very first day she had strode into his office, political science student on a gap year, intern to the new electee.

He could fuck Lucy right now if he wanted to. She would – out of loyalty and career planning, if nothing else, although he more than half-suspected she was genuinely turned on by power and would be more than willing. He wondered what it would be like. It had been so long since he had been with another woman. Would she groan deep from the belly as passion took her? Would she be demanding or would she rely on him to take the lead? Would she come easily or would he have to work hard for her? Would he feel the muscles of her cunt spasming afterwards?

He shifted in his deep armchair, hard, disturbed. His mind was playing tricks on him, taunting him with thoughts he didn’t want right now.

Lucy’s lips moved, almost imperceptibly, as she sub-voked into her jaw-mike. She stared straight ahead, unseeing, or only partly seeing her surroundings, her main focus directed inwards, studying data-flows, mails, pings.

“You should see this,” she said, interrupting his thoughts. She glanced towards the wallscreen and it sprang into life, sound fading up to a comfortable level.

It was News 247, newsbites arrayed along the bottom of the screen, talking heads waiting to be activated up the left-hand side. The main screen estate was taken up by camerazzi coverage of a rally, filmed from a drone buzzing low over crowds of surging, shouting, chanting demonstrators.

“... claimed a total of seventy-five thousand people attending, but police put the number at twenty thousand,” said the female voiceover.

The picture cut to an aerial view of a cluster of boats out at sea. Three small fishing smacks, a couple of larger vessels, and an orange inflatable that appeared to be nearly swamped by the waves. People crowded each of the boats, black-skinned and thin, their faces turned up to the helicopter overhead, as if to heaven. They must have travelled thousands of miles packed into these boats like this. How many more had tried and failed, taken out by rough seas, shortage of food, water, fuel?

“I should be back there, shouldn’t I, Lucy?” said Burnham.

She turned her gaze on him, still part-focused on her datafeed. “There’s more,” she said.

For a moment, Burnham was confused, but then he realised she was referring to the news-stream and not to the people on the boats. The coverage had returned to the camerazzi feed from the demonstration. The banners and placards brought to mind Burnham’s visit to the refugee camp in Bexhill-on-Sea. African’t. No refuge. White rights. See them off. Charity begins at home.

Cut to a platform somewhere at the front of the crowd, a small group of men in suits. One of them jacketless, crumpled linen shirt open at the neck. Nesbitt.

“... sources close to the Cabinet confirmed this morning that Electee Nesbitt has been in closed talks with Electors Burnham and al-Naqawi. The wide-ranging discussions were reported to be amicable and constructive, with an emerging consensus on migration, trade controls and the Accord...”

Burnham stared at the screen. He felt old. Several steps behind. He was being out-flanked by a puppy-faced retro-fascist and a wily old fundamentalist. There had been no such discussions, but now everyone would believe there had been, or at least that there might have been, which was as good as had been for most people.

“... growing consensus that the Accord should face thorough investigation following last month’s murder of Electee Priscilla Burnham by Noah Barakh, principal architect of the Accord and the man the tabs are calling ‘The man who built heaven’. Pressure is growing for the Accord to be, effectively, switched off while investigations take place...”

Burnham felt trapped by a cleft stick, being pushed into making choices he had been heading towards in any case... It wasn’t as easy as simply switching things off, but if it could be done... His hatred for Barakh burnt deep in his belly, his need to... to stop the two of them.

Nesbitt was talking to the crowd now, the usual racist cant dressed up in tones that were reasonable and calm, using language and references carefully selected to simultaneously press xenophobic hate buttons in the extremists’ heads and thank God there’s finally someone speaking the language of the ordinary man buttons in the middle-class little Englanders’ heads. The man was slick; that had never been in any doubt.

Burnham sighed. The saddest, most heart-rending thing was that maybe Nesbitt was right, even if it was for all the wrong reasons: the world simply didn’t have enough to go around. It was, as he and Tate had agreed, all about survival.

“Now,” said Lucy, leaning forward in her seat. “Watch now...”

Burnham studied Nesbitt. The electee was cranking up the passion in his speech, reeling in the crowd; he was gesturing with his right hand, stabbing the air to punctuate his speech, for all the world like one of his Nazi forebears.

“We are bound” – stab – “to our native land, the land that has fed us for countless generations. We are bound” – stab – “to our native shores. We will drive” – stab – “them from these shores. We will” – stab – “defend what is ours.”

He had his audience in the palm of his well-manicured hand. Now, that hand reached down to his hip and Burnham saw that the electee was wearing a holster.

Nesbitt drew a long-muzzled pistol and waved it in the air.

“The Legislature moves slowly, my fellow Englanders, but in only days the Bill will be passed and the protection of these shores will be the right – no, the duty – of every man and woman.”

He raised the gun, fired it once, twice, a third time, into the air.

“I will be there, my friends. I will be with you on the beaches, defending what is ours by right, ours by descent, ours by heritage. Together we will protect our native shores!”

“Projections?” asked Burnham, pinging the screen to gag the sound.

Lucy paused, then said, “Projections are erratic. Escalation of unrest. Conflict between Nesbitt’s Englanders and pro-movement groups like the Soul Harvesters and World Amnesty. Bloodshed won’t be confined to the shooting of migrants. The Henley Model projects a fifteen per cent probability of military intervention in southern coastal hotspots within the next month: Eastbourne, Dover, Portsmouth, Hastings, Bexhill-on-Sea, Worthing. That has grown from three per cent yesterday. Unrest is likely to spread into dump estates throughout the south where the English Nationals have been blaming everything on migration and stirring up a lot of hostility.”

“The Cambridge Model?”

“Concurs on the broad view; differs on detail and probabilities, but only by a few points. Electee Nesbitt’s strategy is based on provoking unrest and then trying to steer the reaction. He is throwing all the pieces in the air and aiming to catch as many as he can as they fall to the ground. He sees it as a no-lose approach: if he gains influence then his strategy has worked; if he fails to steal any political ground then he can still point to the unrest and blame it on Legislature policy on migration. Either way he will not be the one who has to sort out the chaos, which can only be harmful to the Legislature.”

“Wild cards?” There were always wild cards.

“The boat people,” said Lucy. “Up to now, with the exception of a few handguns and knives, they have been unarmed.”

“Safer for the bastards who sell them places on the boats,” said Burnham. “So you’re saying that might change?”

“Almost certainly. There really will be fighting on the beaches, and it won’t all go the way Electee Nesbitt proclaims.”

Burnham nodded, grim. “And the Accord?”

“His position is a strategic one: he is claiming a moral stance, but it is most likely a strategy to secure backing of Christian and other fundamentalist conservatives on the migration question.”

“What does he expect to happen now? What’s the next step in his strategy?”

“He’s trying to draw you in,” said Lucy. “He already has some kind of arrangement with al-Naqawi, and with Electees Sharma, O’Neill and Gallagher. He is working on Elector Vaughan, and at least five other electees. He is building a broad coalition.”

“So he needs me: with my backing Vaughan and the others will be far easier to sway. Okay. What if they’re right? What if beneath the tin-pot fascism a hardening of borders is really the best way to ensure that at least some of us survive in this world we’ve so well and truly fucked up?”

Lucy didn’t show a flicker of surprise at the line he was taking. “You want me to arrange for you to meet Nesbitt?”

He shook his head. “Not yet, but it’s an option. Tell me: where’s al-Naqawi? He back in Jakarta?”

A momentary pause, a glazing of the eyes, then: “Yes.”

“Okay. That’s where we’re going next. A slight detour. I want to talk to him, get a feel for what Nesbitt is offering people like him. If I’m going on-board with Nesbitt I need to know how I can steer him and his coalition.”

Another brief glazing over. “Confirmed,” said Lucy. “Suborbital flight for us and two bodyguards from Shanghai Pudong to Soekarno-Hatta Jakarta on Garuda Indonesia for two-fifteen this afternoon.”

“And put word out that I’m seriously considering throwing my weight behind Nesbitt. I want to see how he reacts, and what the snap polls say.”

Lucy nodded. Burnham knew that already she would be leaking to the tabs and agencies from “a source close to Elector Burnham.”

“Good. And Lucy? Trace a Chuckboy Lee. Based in a warehouse in Jakarta. Has worked for the project but I don’t think you’ll find anything official.”

He would play Nesbitt’s game, side with the fundamentalists if necessary, and if that meant the destruction of the Accord then he would shed no tears; what mattered was survival in this world, and if the price was that the plug would be pulled on the ghosts of his wife and her lover then there would be a bittersweet justice involved.

But first... first he would see what Lee had to tell him about the Accord.

Warrener had said Lee was one of the best, if anyone could unravel the Accord then he was the man. Which had to mean that if anyone could use whatever method Zhang Xiaoling had to communicate with people in the Accord then that person was probably Lee too.

Warrener... Warrener had given him the name. It could be a trap, another piece in the elaborate puzzle Barakh had left behind. Or it could have been fear talking, something real to buy the safe release of Warrener’s flesh-and-blood self. Either way, Lee was the next step.

“No official records,” said Lucy. “But an apparent nickname and the name ‘Lee’ aren’t much to go on. We have a Rachel Lee, a mid-grade analyst at the London office; a Jupiter Lee, clerical officer in Sydney; both work on the project, but neither look like good matches.”

“Try your unofficial sources, Lucy. By the time we arrive in Jakarta I want to know where this guy is, what he looks like, how he thinks, all of his vices, his fucking shoe size. Okay?”

Lucy nodded, at work already.


“It will be a completely new kind of space,” says Huey Kashvili. He sits on the beach, drawing patterns in sand firmed by the retreating tide.

I nod. That is the point, really.

“When?” I ask.

Malky Warrener is knee-deep in the sea, the faded blue of his jeans wet to mid-thigh. “We’re running out of time,” he says. “You’ve seen that, Noah. You’ve seen consensus bursting at the seams.”

The consensus quakes... Not irregularities as consensus takes hold, but – if Warrener is right – indications that the Accord is approaching some kind of crisis. We always knew this would come, but never anticipated that it might be so soon. We can set all the Sammy Zhangs in the world on to securing virtual real estate for us, by whatever means they care to use, but all they will ever be able to do is buy us a little more time.

Netspace is not big enough. The world is not big enough... not for two worlds...

Another Huey joins us, jumping into this meetspace from the Huey shard. He walks down the beach, through the markings of his other instance. He points at Warrener. “You...” he says, jabbing his finger. “You...”

Then he stops, looks around, says, “Oh... fuck,” and fades from the ’space.

The first Huey says, “I’m breaking up. I’m kind of a Warrener Event in miniature: I can’t draw enough resources to sustain the team. We are struggling.”

“You have to,” I tell him. “You have to finish the proof. You have to give us the blueprint so that we can start to test the move.”

If the world is not big enough, then we have to find another one...


He stayed quiet as his senses kicked in, kept his eyes closed. There was a lot of background noise: the electrical engine whine from traffic in a street nearby, the occasional splutter of internal combustion, jangling bicycle bells, voices talking, shouting, laughing, even singing, a goat bleating, music from a radio or TV. Sweat beaded his skin. His clothes felt rough, cheap. The heat was unpleasant, the humidity like a heavy blanket smothering him, making his body wet even before he had tried to move. The heavy, broiling atmosphere made the smells of body odour, decay and spices all the more intense. Or maybe that was just him recalibrating: new environment, new senses. It always took a while to stabilise. He had learnt that much by now.

He wondered who he would be this time.

He opened his eyes, saw a corrugated metal ceiling stained brown and black by damp, flies buzzing in mindless circles. It was mostly gloomy in here, wherever here was, save for a single shaft of bright light angling in through an unglazed window.

He turned. Through the window he saw the back of an old stallholder’s head, smoke from his pipe haloing him like some barroom jesus. Beyond him, the street: bustling, packed. Asia, somewhere in Asia. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines. It didn’t matter much.

He looked down. His body was scrawny, white, maybe sixty kilos of skin and bone. He wore battered pumps, baggy khaki shorts, a grubby white T-shirt. Pretty much what you’d expect from a sweat: some kid out in the world for the first time, runs short of money, hires himself out for a few hours to cover the shortfall. We’ve all been there, or our sons and daughters have. Hire your body out so some rich fuck can have fun in it; get it back with maybe a bit of damage and the odd virus or two, but hey, the ghosting company covers you for all that, so you’re fine, fixed up in no time, back to yourself with a couple of thousand bucks in your pocket where there was none before. These people, these lowly kids who trade the use of their bodies for cash, were called sweats, rides.

He closed his new eyes, bounced himself around inside his new skull. You in there, motherfucker? Is any of you left?

But no... his host’s mind, his self, had been safely warehoused for the duration, would get pumped back in when his time was up.

He opened his eyes, stood, adjusting to the mechanics of an unfamiliar body, the balance, all the little inner feedbacks that allow us to stand and not teeter and fall. He knew what to expect from this now.

He jumped, did the starfish in mid-air, squatted on landing, dropped to press up, managed twenty before his arms felt about ready to fall off. Rolled over onto his back, did twenty sit-ups and wished this grubby jerk had had money for deodorant, or had at least washed before hiring himself out. At least the body wasn’t completely wrecked already. He needed it to be a fit one, a sweat who was ready for a bit of action.

Okay... If he were one of the idle rich, out for kicks, he’d head off and burn credit in the nearest mall, clean himself up, kit himself out before hunting down some fun. That was another of the perks for the sweats: they usually ended up being pampered a bit, new outfit, that kind of thing. Sometimes it got trashed, of course: Armanis shredded in a knife-fight when a night out turned bad. Sometimes the sweat got trashed too; that went with the territory. Why hire a ride if you’re not going to try out something you couldn’t or wouldn’t do in your own body?

He walked to the beaded doorway, peered out, and the old man turned his head, bowed a little, smiling. “You tell me what you wanna do, mister, I tell you the place to go and the man who can set you up.” In his baggy jeans and Sex Pistols T-shirt, the old man didn’t exactly look like the proprietor of a ghosting company’s premises, but that didn’t really mean much. Sometimes it would be a swanky high-class clinic, sometimes a back-street dive like this. It all depended on what the client was looking for, and willing to pay for; and it depended how desperate the ride was.

“I don’t need nothing, thank you, sir,” he told him, and stepped past him into the street.

He had business to attend to.


Priscilla sits on a bench in Hyde Park, looking out across the Serpentine. This used to be Jack’s route to his office. She doesn’t know why she is here, why she is thinking of him.

She has mail, but she will not read it. She does not want responsibilities to settle on her shoulders again; not just yet. She is still free.

It is early, the sun finding strength. She closes her eyes. She hasn’t slept in two days, at least. When she turns her head it feels like it keeps turning, even when she has stopped. She is still a little drunk, a little intoxicated with whatever it was she took last night.

The sun feels good, its energy seeping into sore muscles and joints.

She opens her eyes and notices a child hunched in the shade of a nearby bush, a boy of about eight, very black skin, thin like the cliché boat kid on the news. He is looking at the ducks on the water. He appears mesmerised by them, by their ceaseless activity.

“Hey you,” she calls softly to him.

He jumps, startled, stares at her with frightened eyes.

“You okay there?” She wonders if he understands her words.

He turns to look at the ducks again.

All the lonely people, she realises. All of them, come to the Accord, alone, parted from what they know. They come here with nobody. Poor fucking kid...

“Hey,” she says again. “You hungry? You like pizza?”

She sits forward. It hurts like fuck to move, but... poor fucking kid.

“Do you have a name? Do you?”

The boy watches the ducks; Priscilla waits. She has eternity. They both do.


Tate had always mixed a great martini, and he knew when to chat and when to remain judiciously silent. He had managed to establish a place in Burnham’s small entourage that was more than just bodyguard: he had been a sounding board, a lightning rod, a source of grounding, of staying in touch with the real world. Increasingly, he had become Burnham’s friend...

But fuck, he had never been able to give a Nuat phaen boran massage like Sunan could!

Burnham lay face down on a padded mat by the pool while the skinny young bodyguard, who had accompanied him from Shanghai with Lucy and a bigger, older guard called Lin Huy, pressed on his lower back with what felt like at least four hands and both feet.

In the pool, Lucy swam lengths in a peculiarly rigid head-up breaststroke fashion. Burnham wouldn’t be surprised if she was still viewing datafeeds, hooked into netspace, sub-voking as she exercised.

Sunan took Burnham’s right arm and stretched it out behind him, pulling at the fingers until the joints cracked. God, but it felt good!

He opened his eyes again and saw Lucy’s feet nearby. She was wrapped in a big white towel, looking down at him. “I have located Lee,” she said. “He lives in the Sadikin Scheme in Sunda Kelapa, the old port district. He never leaves.”

“Good, good. When do I see al-Naqawi? This evening, isn’t it? When is it now?” So many fucking time zones. He had completely lost track... It was daylight here in Jakarta, that was the best he could do.

“It’s almost two in the afternoon. Six hours until your appointment with Elector al-Naqawi.”

Burnham shrugged Sunan off and sat, twisting at the waist. “Okay. You head in to Sunda Kelapa now. Get your bearings, the lie of the land. But no contact with Lee. I’ll follow with Sunan and Huy.”

Lucy nodded, turned, left.

Burnham turned to Sunan. “One more arm and we’re done, eh?”

Sunan looked blankly at him, then gestured for him to lie down again.

Burnham settled face down, let the kid take his left arm, pull, stretch, press.


Looking like shit had its advantages.

Looking like this, like a Western kid down on his luck and right out of money, and probably a junkie to boot, the hawkers and hustlers took one look at him and no more. No hassle. Easier money elsewhere.

He hit the main drag and flagged down a bright orange Honda rickshaw, gave the driver an address that popped into his head. The driver jabbered something in his face and he guessed the meaning; he waved a wad of bills in the air to prove he could pay. The driver gestured him into the seat, and then gunned his engine back into life.

Slowly, they passed through streets packed with stalls and throngs of people, some traders selling from goods simply stacked up in the street, a district where everything seemed to be made from warped sheets of corrugated metal. And then, almost immediately, crisp skyscrapers, glass and chrome and palm trees growing from raised, walled beds. Here, the military presence was noticeably heavier: where before there had been cops and troopers in occasional twos and threes, now they occupied sentry posts at all the major junctions and guards stood duty at every building entrance. The traffic crawled, rarely above walking pace, but the rickshaw driver darted in and out of gaps, took shortcuts up alleyways and across public gardens so that both driver and passenger had to hang on tight. The air was thick, hot, burning acidly in the lungs.

An hour or so later they were pulling up in a residential part of the city, somewhere up in the hills, white houses partly hidden behind stone walls and cast-iron railings. Rich vegetation crammed the gardens around manicured lawns and large, open swimming pools.

They had made one stop along the way already. A cramped side street, a doorway screened by a beaded curtain. A bony kid sat on her haunches outside, flicking at the flies with a stick and watching him as he pushed through the beads to another shady room where he found the man, struck a deal, came out with a heavy lump of steel tucked into his waistband.

Now, he paid off his driver and walked up to an iron-bar gate that extended at least a metre above his head. He looked through to the sprawling white mansion, people in and around the pool, cars pulled up out front.

A security camera watched him from the top of the wall. He ran clawed hands through lank hair stuck to his scalp with sweat and grease, gave a junkie twitch, rubbed his nose on his upper arm, turned away.

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