In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the governments that wielded the biggest sticks were those with easiest access to fossil fuels, primarily oil and gas. Russia, steadily tightening a fuel stranglehold on Europe, wielded a very big stick indeed, in fact one so large that, in a shameful replay of history, everyone looked away when it annexed the Czech Republic, and Red Army troops marched again through the streets of Prague. But then, perhaps, everyone was busy watching the Middle East, and shrieking hysterically about the protectorate America had begun forming there after being dragged into a worsening situation when Israel nuked Tehran and proceeded to roll its tanks into Syria. Or perhaps they were more intent on China’s sabre-rattling in Tibet, or India’s response of a hydrogen bomb test conducted in the Bay of Bengal—a test, incidentally, aimed at focusing the attention of the new Caliphate of Pakistan, which responded in turn with its own test in the Arabian Sea. Yet, even after all this mayhem, sanity prevailed and the expected World War Three failed to materialize. However, there are those who seriously still think such a war would have been a good thing. For the resultant megadeath would have taken the strain off world resources, while inevitable technological advances could have made us more able to use them effectively. It would have at least given the human race a breathing space, whereas now, without one, the human race suffocates.


Var waited until the shepherd headed out of sight around the other side of Hex Three, where it would doubtless enter through the big airtight garage doors—a process likely to take at least fifteen minutes. With the diamond saw resting on her shoulder and the battery box clutched in her right hand, she started walking and then, once accustomed to the weight and balance of her burden, broke into a steady lope. She skirted the water tank and continued on down between it and the hex wall, to where that connected with the outer wall of Wing Five. Then, after a few paces along the wing wall, she came to the first of the metre-square windows. Luckily, Wing Five was not being used as a dormitory, since Ricard did not like having ordinary station personnel bunking too close to him. Instead, that wing now contained workshops and storage. At this end lay a workshop for the crawlers, with direct access for the vehicles running underneath the hex towards the garage on the further side, while a light-engineering workshop lay further along, towards Hex One, beyond which the wing was divided into a regular series of storage rooms.

Nobody at home, it seemed. Var peered in at a crawler stripped of its wheels and raised on a lift, then transferred her gaze to the bulkhead doors separating this particular wing from Hex Three. These were the same sort of doors as could be found scattered throughout the complex, the sort that had killed those workers processing soil in one of the laboratories. And the doors still operated according to the same safety protocols.

Var placed the battery box on the ground, plugged in the diamond saw’s power cable, then set the thing running. It jerked and twisted under the force of its spin, the blade turning to a blur and gyroscopic action making it awkward to manoeuvre. For a second she hesitated—strangely reluctant to harm her own base—then she brought the saw blade down against the window. A thin shriek assaulted her ears as the blade juddered against the glass, raising a spray of fine white powder. As it hit one of the resin laminations, this bubbled between the layers of glass, then the saw pierced all the way through, and internal air pressure booted it out again. A great plume of vapour shot out from the gash, but maybe that would not be enough. Var cut again, then again, the blade slicing open slots that extended to just under its full ten-centimetre diameter. Beyond the blur of vapour and glass dust she saw three of Ricard’s armed enforcers charging through the bulkhead doors, with a couple of execs trailing behind them. She gazed at them a little disbelievingly, seeing they’d demonstrated just how stupid they were to come running unsuited into a section already shrieking with decompression klaxons.

Var shoved the blade still harder against the glass, then, with a thump, found herself flung back, in a cloud of glittery fragments, on to her backside. The entire window had blown out, the vapour plume reached thirty metres behind her, but diffused as the thin Martian air sucked it in like a dry sponge on milk. After carefully shutting off the saw and laying it on the ground, Var stood up and walked back to the gaping window to peer inside. As expected, the bulkhead doors had closed, and the five who had foolishly entered were pressed up against them, two of them desperately trying to operate the frozen controls, before sliding to the floor. All of them had trails of vapour issuing from their mouths, as their lungs expelled both air and moisture with a thin shriek. She grabbed the top of the frame and hauled herself up, then carefully over any remaining fragments of glass to drop inside. There she waited as the three enforcers writhed about, fearing they might grab for their weapons if they saw her. It was only then she realized they could not see her, for their eyes had started bulging, the fluid inside them expanding, and vapour wisping away as their surfaces dried out. Even as she watched, she noticed a fresh gust of vapour, as first one eyeball burst, then another.

Var strode across and picked up the discarded weapons: two side arms and a scoped assault rifle—probably the same one used to kill Gisender. The three enforcers were also carrying universal ammunition clips, but a check revealed that only one of the spares contained ceramic ammunition. The rest held plastic ammo, sufficient to kill, but too light to punch a hole through a window, a door or any other vital infrastructure. These went into her hip bag, before she returned to the broken window and stepped outside.

Perhaps she should be feeling some guilt about what she had just done, but found no such emotion inside her. People just like these had made her life a misery from her first conscious moments, then later forced her to make the journey out to this godforsaken world. They deserved everything they got. Like so many others who concealed their rebellion deep inside, she had just been waiting for a chance to strike back—and it felt good.

Pausing, she remembered what her personal political officer had said to her back at the Traveller construction project: “You’re too dangerous to live, Var, but too valuable to kill.” That was just before he informed her that she had been appointed Technical Director of Antares base, replacing the previous incumbent who had recently died of cancer. But as enforcers had taken her off to a holding cell, “the only accommodation presently available,” she had known the real reason they were moving her out. They knew she had just discovered the truth about her husband, Latham Delex; how he had not died in an aero accident, back down on Earth, but in an adjustment cell. They wanted her to continue being useful to them, but in a situation where she wouldn’t have access to the massive orbital tools of her main profession—tools she might use against them.

Ricard and his staff were now sealed in Hex Three, until such time as they could suit up and find another route out. Var did not intend to allow them the time, however, and quickly strode round the hex to bring the next two windows into view. Here lay the private community room for Ricard’s staff. After much fumbling she managed to swap the assault rifle’s existing clip for the one with ceramic ammo. Then adjusting the weapon to a three-shot setting, she fired once at each window. One pane blew out but the other held, so she hit it again and it blew out too. Var did not bother checking inside. She’d already seen movement in there, and knew she’d just killed someone else—quite likely more than one. She jogged round the hex to the next windows, and opened fire again.

After that, again approaching the hex, she peered in through the broken windows of Ricard’s office and apartment, and was disappointed to see it empty. She moved along, then climbed through the next shattered window and into the control room. Here she found one exec slumped over a console, while another lay writhing and clawing at the diamond-pattern metal of the floor. She headed over to the console and hauled the first one out of his chair, aiming to dump him on the floor. He grabbed her wrist and held on tight, his lungs pumping wildly as he tried to stay alive. She waited patiently until his grip slackened, before shrugging him off, then paused briefly to gaze down at the two of them. Five years she’d known these people, but right now, she couldn’t even remember their names.

Sitting down, she reached into her hip bag and took out the data disc she had retrieved from the crawler. She fed it into a slot, from the disc menu selected Le Blanc’s speech, then from the control menu selected broadcast and repeat. A subscreen blinked on, down in the bottom righthand corner, confirming that Le Blanc’s speech was now being broadcast throughout the base.

Back outside the Hex again, Var realized that by now Ricard and his remaining staff must be aware of what was going on. They would already be suiting up, grabbing weapons, reacting purposefully. She quickly strode round to the personnel airlock, and fired one burst into its outer door. One bullet ricocheted off, but the other two punched through the bubblemetal, disabling the airlock and killing anyone inside.

Var paused to check the display on the side of her weapon, seeing that only seventeen shots now remained of the fifty-round clip. Just then a shadow speared across the arid ground over to her left, removing her attention from the weapon. A shepherd had arrived.

The machine paused, surveying its surroundings with its blind blunt dome, then abruptly jerked into motion again to come striding towards her. She felt a sudden dry terror, but managed to take careful aim, this time using the scope and setting the rifle to full automatic. As she opened fire, emptying all seventeen shots into the thing, it shuddered and staggered, with chunks of metal and ricocheting bullets flying away from it. Var turned and ran, aware that it was still loping after her, even with one of its legs no longer working properly. Just a few metres from the personnel airlock leading into Hex One, its shadow finally fell across her and its sticky tentacles dropped on her like writhing lianas. They wound themselves around her torso and hauled her off the ground.


The pain was intense as Saul’s pulse thundered in his head again, but he now seemed to be positioned over to one side of it. In his two-year life he had encountered the number pi only once, and memorized it to fifty decimal places, but it had never been of much use to him, so he’d done no more beyond that. Janus’s calculation of pi was delimited only in terms of processing space. The installation software had made a compromise during integration, however, so now Saul could instantly remember the number to five hundred decimal places, then calculate it thereafter. Such compromises and complete displacements were working all through his artificially extended mind, and blocks of information shifted rapidly about as if being moved by some ancient computer-defrag utility. He remembered some parts of the processing plant in which he’d been destined for incineration. Janus had known it wholly and completely: the schematics, computer systems, security, power inputs and outputs, the materials used in its construction, the manufacturers of its components, its overall history and its maintenance log, so Saul now knew all that too, as Janus and he gradually became one.

Govnet remained open to him, so he managed to download data from it for inspection, thus learning that the encampment had been established in a cam deadspot inside the tunnel, probably around the location of a former black market. But, with tentacular code, something started groping its way after him in that virtual world, trying to latch on. There seemed something familiar about this shadowy presence and he wondered whether he was detecting Malden. But somehow that wasn’t right; somehow he knew he would identify Malden instantly if the man put in an appearance. As this thing, this comlife, oriented towards him, shifting the information of its substance in some sinister manner, he immediately tried to shut down the radio modem in his head. The result was overload: a spike driven in between his eyes, his vision filled with lightnings. But the modem closed.

“Alan,” urged Hannah. “Alan.”

He was down on his knees and she was trying to pull him back to his feet with one hand, whilst she clutched Merrick’s assault rifle in the other. He raised his head to study their surroundings through watery eyes. To his right stood a row of double-skin inflatable tents, and directly ahead lay a campfire around which a crowd of ZAs was gathered. Many of them were staring at him and Hannah, and some of them were beginning to walk towards them. They needed to get out of here, now.

There was no reason to suppose these people were hostile, but they would certainly want to know about the AH trailer van, and why he and Hannah had deserted it. The state of his skull would raise questions too. Or maybe they thought he and Hannah might be able to provide answers regarding that distant atomic blast.

“Alan!” she repeated.

He was still weak and his head ached abominably, but his awareness of his body, provided by the martial training in his previous existence, had grown to something almost mathematical in its precision. He stood upright, automatically assimilating a mental model of the movements of every muscle and bone in his body, whose names, strength, position and size he now knew, calculating the stresses caused, calculating potential, as he also filled in a rather more sketchy model of his surroundings. This other model he expanded, briefly switching on his modem again to download a city map, seemingly snatching it from beneath the multiple limbs of some shadowy behemoth, mapping the sprawl around him and working out precisely where he wanted to be next in order to further his plans, for they had not changed.

“Who are you?” called the woman leading a group of four zero-assets towards them.

“Rifle,” he said, reaching out to close his hand about the assault rifle Hannah held, delighting in the complexity of the structure of both hand and arm, and already seeing much room for improvement.

“No.” She did not release the gun.

He turned to gaze at her, targeting the points on her body he could strike to get her to release the weapon, finally deciding that one jab in her solar plexus would be quickest. She met his gaze and straight away let go, looking terrified. Weapon held one-handed, its butt tucked under his arm, he turned back to face those still approaching. The woman halted then and, as if Saul had struck her, abruptly lurched backwards into the man directly behind her. The other ZAs halted as well, and Saul measured subtle alterations in their pose. They went from a belligerent curiosity to something cowed and frightened. What were they seeing? He turned and began heading back out of the tunnel, already downgrading their importance within his mental model.

“Your eyes,” said Hannah.

“Bloodshot like Malden’s,” he stated. “Blood-pressure differential through the organic interface to his cerebellum, caused by increased demand. It will kill him eventually.”

“And you?”



He halted and turned to her. “Because of the viral nanite fix my previous self made.” He paused, briefly studying the map in his head of the surrounding sprawl. “Telomeres reconfigured, T-cell boost and an increase in stem-cell division, but with strong immune response to stem-cell mutation. I heal about four times faster than a normal human being, and this body physically adapts to internal and external pressures at the same rate. Also, those little biomechs are still in my bloodstream, constantly running repairs. This is why I survived Smith’s torture.”

No terror in her expression now, but a look of shock remained, and something like awe. “How can you know that?”

“I worked it out, and that’s what my present self would have done.”

A motorway flyover now above. A big truck with strobing green lights shot over it, followed by four Inspectorate ground cruisers. He began walking towards a pedway over to his far left. It cut through under the flyover and on the other side of it lay access for maintenance workers to reach the road itself.

“Where are we going?” Hannah asked.

“Closer to the blast.”

“Please, speak to me, Alan.”

He was already speaking to her, so what was her problem? The answer to that didn’t really require much thinking about, but its implications did. The human component of his self had been all but subsumed by Janus, and he now thought with the ordered logic of a machine intelligence. Emotions: what were they but an evolved evolutionary imperative, a chemical anachronism residing in the new him? Love, hate, friendship, fear and happiness, what did he need them for? In the mouth of the pedway tunnel, he dumped the assault rifle in a litter bin—as a precaution, since carrying it might draw the attention of enforcers in the cruisers passing above—then, two paces beyond the bin, a great black gulf opened up in his extended mind, and he sank to his knees again.

What use were emotions? He could analyse them right down to their smallest components and know the reason for them all, then he could discount them from his thought processes and become a totally logical being. What use then for that other anachronism called the survival instinct? He’d run full-tilt into the dilemma of those who saw themselves merely as machines for the transmission of genes, and nothing more. If that was to be his only purpose, what use was existence at all? Why live, why struggle, why seek pleasure and try to avoid pain, in the sure knowledge they were both just a couple more screwdrivers inside the genetic toolbox? Surely oblivion was a better choice?

He didn’t need a lump of Hyex embedded in the base of his skull to end it all. Through the organic interface, he could just shut himself down, turn off his conscious mind, erase all data. His autonomous nervous system would continue functioning, but he would then be mindless. He lay a breath away from oblivion at that moment, but even patterns of thought are a product of evolution and the old survival imperative itself had survived the integration process, having as its source both himself and Janus who, after all, was a near-copy of a human mind. Saul realized that to survive he must make divisions, he must retain a human mind to interface with the world, just as the organic interface in his skull marked a physical line of division between the organic and the silicon him. In that instant he began rebuilding the cowering cockroach inside his skull, re-establishing its predominance, turning a human face back towards the world. Finally he stood up again, and the human face he turned towards the world boiled with anger and hate.

“What happened?” Hannah asked.

“Call it existential angst,” he said tightly.

She nodded. “Something like that happened with Malden, but he thought it was a fault in the comlife he used.”

“You knew?” He looked up.

“I got no chance to tell you.” She gazed at him accusingly. “I thought you would warn me before you loaded the AI.”

“How did Malden survive?”

“He hung on to his hate.”

The much larger and more complex part of himself delivered into Saul’s human mind the dry verdict that, though Hannah indeed had some idea of how things had run within Malden’s head, she had no idea of what was going on in his own. Saul realized that she had taken a gamble with him; she could not have known what combining Janus with the hardware in his head would result in.

“I, too, hang on to my hatred,” he declared.

But was it just the Committee he hated, or the entire human race?


As the Inspectorate cruisers, the big trucks of DRS or “disaster response service,” the AH ambulances and ATVs sped past, their occupants all ignored Hannah and Saul. Why, Hannah wondered, would they take note of just two more civilians milling around the periphery of the blast zone? If she and Saul had been the only two actually walking towards the great boiling cloud still rising from the firestorm, the only two making their way through the increasing amounts of debris, perhaps they would have been more noticeable.

“Why are there people heading towards it?” she asked Saul.

“Desperation,” he replied succinctly. “It’s an opportunity for looting not to be missed.”

Soon impassable, the highway became a traffic jam of emergency vehicles, though some surprisingly organized individual had kept one lane clear for the bulldozers that approached shortly after she and Saul arrived on the scene. With such a concentration of Inspectorate enforcers, the citizens who flocked along this route, with apparently nefarious intentions, abandoned the main highway long before, heading off into devastated sprawl and dodging between smoking mounds of rubble, while avoiding those buildings that still belched flames. She wondered if they hadn’t noticed the shepherds pacing about over there, or hadn’t heard the clattering hum of razorbirds. However, one small group of citizens, who she and Saul joined, seemed to be here merely as spectators. She felt that Saul’s cynicism might be catching, as she found herself surmising that they had come here to see something appalling enough to lessen the impact of the constant disaster of their own lives.

Survivors came staggering out of the surrounding wreckage, and some others barely crawling. Many of them seemed to be naked, some bearing burn blisters big as fruit, and after their clothing they were now shedding their skins. But there and then, in that moment when screaming might be justified, there was only silence from them.

“They’re not receiving any help,” Hannah observed.

Though a crowd of these injured had gathered in a clear space beside that section of the highway where most of the All Health ambulances were parked, no one showed any signs of tending to them, and instead they were being driven away from the ambulances by baton-wielding enforcers.

“They cannot all be saved,” he remarked flatly.

She glanced at him, feeling something leaden in her stomach. “You’re not just talking about those we see here, are you?”

He gestured to the traffic jam of emergency vehicles. “This is probably the result of some automatic disaster-response plan that Committee execs just hadn’t yet got round to shelving,” he said. “I doubt they would have bothered sending any ambulances, since what’s the point of saving a few thousand people when you expect billions of others to die?”

“Can it really be so cynical?” she asked, but with no real question in her tone. By now she was beginning to know the score.

Four of the large bulldozers made their way off the highway, beginning to cut a path through the wreckage. A couple of AH ambulances turned round on to the lane the dozers had just vacated, providing a gap through which further bulldozers could pull out on to the other side of the highway. The big machines weren’t making a path towards where Inspectorate HQ had recently stood, but almost certainly scribing a circle with that place as the centre point.

Hannah nodded to herself as the two ambulances now returned along the highway, and other ambulances began breaking away from the main cluster to follow them.

“They’re sectoring it,” she said.

“I imagine they’ll bring in readerguns, in a few hours,” he said, then pointed to where a number of large aeros had settled in one of the few clearings amidst the rubble. “We go there.”

A double crash barrier lay bent down a slope strewn with burnt rubbish and seared grass, a Dascan Hydrobus lying on its side down at the bottom. The windows were all blackened, yet as far as Hannah could see the vehicle had taken very little damage from its impact with the barrier. Then she saw why: the posts securing the barrier had rusted through and it had possessed almost no stopping power at all. In passing, she saw the red palm of a single hand welded against one window of the bus, but only noted it with a kind of numbness. Enough horror surrounded them anyway, like that woman crouching in a doorway, the only part standing of an apartment block, with her face a dripping mess and her plastic sunglasses melted into her eyes.

“You should have brought the rifle,” Hannah said, her voice hoarse to breaking point.

Inspectorate enforcers patrolled within the area where the four aeros had landed, while a cylinderbot circled it, crawling round on rubber treads to deposit coils of razorwire behind it like spider silk. If they had waited any longer, they would not have been able to just walk straight in here the way they did. As they crossed in front of the bot, Saul paused for a moment, then turned and gazed over to the Inspectorate officer who appeared to be in charge.

“Walk just ahead of me,” he told her. “You’re my prisoner.”

“Yeah, I figured that.” A panic attack nibbled at her, then dissipated because everything here was just too real for its falsity.

“Citizen Avram Coran, Inspectorate Executive, command designation HQ707,” he explained to the exec. “I’m commandeering one of your aeros.”

How the hell could he get away with this? But even as she asked herself the question, Hannah knew the answer. Now the AI had fully loaded to and begun integrating with his mind, he possessed all its abilities within his skull. He was Saul and Janus all in one, and with every passing moment the synergy between those two components would keep expanding his abilities. But that wasn’t all. She hadn’t yet told him about the organic interface she had used, just how different it was from the one inside Malden’s skull. Whilst Malden’s had been made of organic tissue, it remained inert, merely integrating with his brain like a plug-in electrical component. The interface in Saul’s skull, however, was an active organism: even now it would be growing neurons throughout his skull and making yet further connections. Quite possibly it would kill him, quite possibly it would turn him into something never witnessed before, but whether that would result in a demigod or a monster, she didn’t know.

The two enforcers accompanying the officer already had their machine pistols trained on Saul. All three were staring at him with wary vigilance, and not a little degree of fear. Was it just his red eyes and the stitching in his skull that caused this reaction? Or did something of what was gestating inside him show through to them? Hannah could certainly see it, but then perhaps she was reading more than was actually visible.

The officer meanwhile dropped his hand to the portable scanner at his belt.

“So it seems you haven’t studied your atomic-incident protocols lately,” Saul said, inserting what seemed just the right amount of contempt into his voice.

“Sir?” the officer enquired.

“Electromagnetic pulse from the blast.” Saul pointed at his forearm, where his varied collection of ID implants resided. “Do you really think my ID implant is working right now? It’ll take at least an hour for its recovery program to reinstate it.”

“You’ll understand that I cannot just hand over an aero without checking first, citizen,” the man replied.

“You’ve received no orders about me, Commander Taiken?”

Hannah stared at Saul, whose mind must now be in Govnet, absorbing data, perhaps changing data. Taiken straightened up, now he had been offered some small proof that Saul was of the Inspectorate. For how else would Saul know his name?

Saul continued, “I managed to make contact from my car, after the blast tipped it over.” He gestured towards Hannah. “It’s important I get her away from here fast, but you don’t need to know any more than that.”

Taiken raised a hand to the fone in his ear, as doubtless his new orders came through. Then, as was only to be expected, he unhooked a palmtop from his belt and did some checking. He directed its integral cam at Saul for a moment, then pointed it at Hannah. After a moment, he snapped the palmtop closed, nodded to himself, then pointed across to the nearest aero.

“You can take this one.” He turned to the two enforcers. “Go check the gas loading, and tell Latham to speed it up with that fence.”

Hannah was dumbfounded. That was fast—faster than she could have believed possible. Saul’s penetration of the local computer network had to be all but total. He must have been providing data direct to the man’s palmtop even as its recognition programs tried to read their faces. He must have drafted orders, and built a whole fiction to back up their presence here.

“Gas?” Saul enquired as the officer turned back to him.

“They’re writing it all off,” he replied.

Hannah understood. There would be no survivors.

“I’ll get you a pilot and put together a squad for you,” Taiken added.

“That won’t be necessary,” Saul replied, and Taiken glanced at him in surprise. “I can fly the machine myself and I need to lock down on security.”


“The fewer people who know about her,” he gestured at Hannah, “the better.”

Officer Taiken didn’t like that, since it suggested that not all of his men were to be trusted. As they reached the craft, its recognition system picked up on him, opened its doors and lowered some steps. Taiken stepped up inside first, and even as Saul waved Hannah up ahead of him, she realized something was wrong. Saul seemed to be in pain, pressing the heel of his hand between his eyes before climbing in behind her. Door motors hummed into life, closing the door behind them, and Taiken turned, with a brief look of confusion on his face, just before the edge of Saul’s hand slammed into the base of his skull. He went down like a sack of potatoes.

“Ack! Jesus!” Saul stumbled away from the fallen man, and went down into a squat. He retched, bringing up nothing but bile, then just crouched there, gasping.

“Saul…” Hannah took a step towards him, but just then Taiken groaned and began to make an effort to rise. Saul’s head snapped up, and she saw his eyes were weeping bloody tears. He lurched to his feet and stumbled over towards Taiken, descending to drive a knee into the man’s spine, then, grabbing Taiken’s head, he pulled it back and twisted hard.

The horrible gristly sound seemed to punch Hannah in the stomach, and she turned away, pressing herself against the wall of the aero. “Is it necessary always to kill them?” she protested, but that seemed about as effectual as appealing to a guillotine, and she hated the whine in her voice.

“I’ve shut down all their links to Govnet here,” Saul rasped, “but it won’t take them long to open up some other channel, once they find they’re offline. Then he could identify us.”

Already he had the aero’s engines starting up, its fans whirling up to speed. It had to be him, since the cockpit stood empty.

“So can others out there,” she remarked.

“Yes, I know.”

Just that? Did he mean he had already set something in motion to deal with the problem?

He moved past her towards the cockpit, and she followed him inside. As he strapped himself in, he gestured to the seat beside him. She plumped herself down and began to fumble with the straps.

“You have reservations,” he suggested, his voice tight and angry.

“You might be just like Malden: possibly worse than what you’re fighting.”

Saul winced, wiped his eyes and studied the watery blood smeared on his hand. “You heard what they’re intending here?”

“They’re going to gas the survivors.”

“Whether I’m worse than them or not is irrelevant,” he snapped. “This is about survival now, not morality.”

He took the override off the controls before him, and grabbed hold of them, then lifted the aero up into the sky.


Lights still jagged across his vision, but the pain in his skull was beginning to disperse. Apparently, each time he pushed himself too far mentally, as he had back in the aero camp, either the software or the hardware crashed in his mind.

Things had been fine while he was approaching the camp, reinstating his internal radio modem at last and cautiously exploring his near surroundings in cyberspace. Govnet had lain around him like an infinite city constructed of edifices of information, webbed with highways and lanes, paths, rivers and canals of information all in transit. With a thought he had highlighted the networks relevant to the Inspectorate, picked out the aero section, and absorbed as much data as possible related to the imminent gassing of survivors and the squadron of aeros being used.

Therefore, once in the camp he had jumped inside the nearest aero’s computer in an instant, made a coded link direct to the modem in his head and simultaneously disconnected the craft from Govnet. He had then disconnected all local hardware from Govnet too, by scrambling connection software, isolating the aero camp, and incidentally cutting himself off from that distant dark thing he had first sensed in Bronstein’s surgery. But by that time his pulse was thudding inside his head and the pain growing constantly.

He had managed to hold on just long enough to get himself inside the aero, and to eliminate Taiken, but then had come the crash. Yet, each time he recovered from one of these painful episodes, like now, it seemed his abilities were expanded. Saul now considered dumping the aero and going into hiding until whatever was going on inside his head was completed and he had found his new limits. But he soon dismissed that idea, for the longer he waited, the greater the likelihood that the Inspectorate would move to tighten up computer security because, certainly, someone or something out there had got to know about him. He needed to now move fast and with utter ruthlessness to achieve his goal.

By confining his mental compass to the aero and its systems, he could see everything in them with a clarity that had been missing before. This vehicle was a fast transport with jet assist, internal and external readerguns, external missile-launchers and inducers, state-of-the-art armour and autodefences. And, having seized control through the command override, it had become his absolutely.

Now airborne, he considered the evidence he’d left behind. Time to remove it. All the aeros possessed similar command overrides, so could be flown and their weapons controlled remotely—this to prevent them being hijacked.

Useful that, and precisely the route he now followed to hijack them.

The identities of the two enforcers who had actually seen Hannah and himself, he transmitted to the recognition systems of the aeros still on the ground, and fixed a delay of about two minutes. After that brief time, the other crafts’ readerguns would identify the two of them as dissidents, and that would be the end of them. He doubted the Inspectorate would be able to—or even be bothered to—work out what had happened, or at least not until his and Hannah’s journey was over. He neglected to mention this to her, however. Next he finally severed his connection to the aero camp.

That was it. Done.