Iftikhar Quraini shivered, but not because of the cold that tightened his skin and turned his breath to fog. Sure, the gate room was frigid: walls carved from blue ice as hard as steel, air cold enough to freeze the water molecules on his skin as he cupped his hands over his mouth to preserve a tiny morsel of warmth.
But what was at the heart of the gate room was colder still.
The Fissure Gate.
It waited for him, a hollow sphere eight meters in diameter, built from arcs and swirls of gleaming metal, bisecting each other, hiding something darker within. Iftikhar couldn’t suppress a shudder. Are you sure you can’t tell me anything?
[I can tell you many things,] said Carter, his muse, [but very little of it is likely to be useful. As I’ve told you many times, the gate experience is highly individual.]
A deep voice interrupted. “Nervous, kid?”
Iftikhar didn’t turn to look at the chimpanzee named Brandon Sail. Instead he watched one of his teammates step into the sphere, her body marked by the odd, curling shadows of the sphere.
She stepped into the darkness at the center, and then she was gone.
Iftikhar winced.
He heard the soft panting of chimp laughter. “Man, you’re really tweaked.”
Iftikhar turned on Sail. “I am not,” he said coldly. Everyone knew the chimp was a hypercorp agent and Iftikhar didn’t really want to talk to him.
Sail issued a skeptical snort. His skin was the light color of cedar, his clear brown eyes as enigmatic as any human’s. Fine black hair framed a face made comical by giant ears. At one meter, fifty centimeters, Sail was shorter than Iftikhar but more powerful. Chimpanzees weren’t monkeys. They were apes. And this one probably had commando training.
“Look,” said the chimp, “I’ve done this a dozen times. There’s no reason to worry.”
Iftikhar clutched at the comment like a man with a ripped vacsuit grabbed at the material around the tear, trying to hold in his life. “You mean it’s really not that bad?”
“Oh, no. It’s going to suck.” Sail shrugged in his forest green vacsuit and flashed a toothy smile. “There’s just nothing you can do about it.”
Then the gate tech said Iftikhar’s name, and it was his turn.

The singularity was black, but it was an empty black, like it wasn’t really there—like nothing was really there. Iftikhar tried to look at the thing’s shape, but it made his eyes water. Needle-sharp pain pricked his skull. The transhuman mind wasn’t designed to look at wormholes. A flash of emerald lightning arced across its surface, actinic and bright but utterly silent.
Iftikhar took a step back.
“Any time now,” Sail called.
Iftikhar put his helmet on and drew a deep breath. He rushed forw—

A moment of darkness, like being in a room during a power failure. No one and nothing there but the black. Iftikhar took a step, heard the click of his boot, felt something solid underfoot. Wherever he was, it was big. Big and empty. He could feel it. He could hear it in the echo of his single step. He was alone in a big nowhere.
He felt the throb of his pulse in his wrists. He had grown up an indent on Mars, spending far too much time in tin can habitats. The empty just felt wrong.
Something clutched his shoulder, a hand.
Inshallah.
A hand, cold like space, cold like the grave. Someone, something, whispered softly in Arabic.
I almost had you before. This time I won’t let go.

—ard and stumbled into blinding sunlight and circular shadows, the ocean’s voice loud all around him. The deep roar of it as it smashed itself into white foam, the sibilant hiss as it retreated.
He wasted no time making his way out of the gate’s enclosure. Staggering and then collapsing on white sand, down on all fours and trembling, his breathing coming in great ragged gasps.
How long between?
[There was no “between,”] Carter answered. [Gate travel is instantaneous.]
But I was sure—I mean, I— He didn’t have any way to finish that thought.
[Perhaps you suffered a hallucination?] said Carter, gently. [It may have been caused by the stress of wormhole travel. By the way, atmosphere is within standard transhuman range, as expected.]
Still breathing hard, Iftikhar reached up with shaking hands and unsnapped his helmet. The air tasted cool. It smelled of brine and anise, with a note of sulfur underneath. Very different from the antiseptic halls of Chat Noir.
Iftikhar looked up. Sail was staring down at him curiously, though no one else seemed to have noticed his arrival. He scowled and scrambled to his feet.
The gate rested on a sand spit that jutted into the green water like a knife. The beach was back-stopped by a high rock face covered with red-green photosynthetic shrubs that made their living on black volcanic rock. Mixed in with the shrubs were branching tubular structures that looked a little like coral. They were royal purple and sharp-edged. Razorweed. Weed, because they were useless. Razor, because they could cut.
“All right,” said Krazny. “You were all at the briefing, you know the drill. Pelagic’s mostly ocean, but as you can see there’s some lovely island property.”
Krazny was a tall, slim woman with skin the color of bronze. Her face was narrow and angular, framed by chocolate-brown hair tied back in a pony tail. She wasn’t unattractive—but she wasn’t exactly a knockout either. Her maroon vacsuit prominently featured a hand with the middle finger extended on her chest.
The Love and Rage Collective didn’t care what they wore as long as it was practical.
“There’s a small anarchist research station here to study the world’s suitability for colonization,” she said. “They missed a standard protocol contact check-in three days ago.”
“Something must have happened,” said Derrick Weaver warily. He was a short man with sandy-blond hair. Weaver was no one you’d notice until you looked into his pale green eyes. Then the menton crackled with intelligence. “The station AIs would’ve made contact on schedule, so clearly something has gone wrong.”
Krazny shrugged “Possibly just a communications failure.” She shook her head, her kinesics indicating that she didn’t really believe that. “Anyway, Chat Noir wants to know for sure. I propose Weaver and Aqua check the comms substation. Sail and Quraini make contact with the main station. Reaper and I will coordinate from the gate.” She glanced at the synthmorph.
The reaper was a disk carried on a skittering quartet of legs. Right now it wasn’t showing any weapons—but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.
“You mean we’ll hold the gate,” said Reaper in a hard, brittle voice. It didn’t have to sound that way. The ego riding the morph probably picked that voice for the same reason it hadn’t told them its name. Trying to be scary. Why else ride a warbot unless you got off on that kind of thing?
“So there is danger?” asked Aqua, a sylph. She wore a turquoise vacsuit that hugged her pleasing curves and brought out the blue in her eyes. A mane of blond hair framed her perfect face.
“Look, we’re just being careful,” said Krazny. “Everyone’s armed. Stay meshed and lead with your probes and everything ought to be fine.”
No one spoke, but after a few seconds the group broke up into three teams.
As Iftikhar set off with the chimp, he couldn’t help noticing that Krazny hadn’t really answered Aqua’s question.

Iftikhar didn’t realize there could be so much up on an island. Not a lot of islands on Mars. His skin was slick with sweat under his vacsuit and his calves were on fire. Unlike the chimp, his body wasn’t designed for scrambling through jungle. The ape kept slipping ahead and then coming back and saying things like, “I think there’s a game trail five meters to the left,” or “If you’d like to rest, we can.”
This only made Iftikhar angrier.
After a while the chimp said: “You don’t like me, do you?”
Iftikhar said nothing for a long moment, just staring. The chimp stared right back.
“You’re from Luna,” said Iftikhar.
Sail shrugged.
“I heard you worked”—he emphasized the word, to suggest he believed the tense was wrong—“for Direct Action.”
“Work is not a dirty word,” said Sail. “Martians work, too.”
“Oh, we work,” said Iftikhar bitterly. “My parents were killed in the Fall.” He swallowed hard. “But they bought a ticket out for me. I was eleven and alone. An infomorph refugee. It took eight years to work off my debt.”
“Eight years isn’t so very—”
“What?” snapped Iftikhar. “Long?” He lowered himself into a crouch, so his face was close to the chimp’s. “It was my childhood.”
Sail winced. “I’m sorry.”
“Really? Wow. That almost sounded sincere.”
“So, I’m a Consortium tool,” said Sail softly. “Is that what you think, my young Barsoomian friend?” The chimp stared up at him with those big brown eyes, so like a human’s. “If I’m so obviously a hypercorp spy, why did the anarchists invite me along on this mission?”
Iftikhar frowned. He had been wondering the same thing.
“All right,” said the ape. “Here’s another one. When does an anarchist act like a drill sergeant?”
He means Krazny, Iftikhar thought. Something clicked into place. “When she really is one.” He paused. “Reaper’s here for defense. Weaver to solve puzzles. Aqua because of her charisma.”
“You’re slow,” said Sail, “but not irredeemably stupid.”
“Something bad’s happened.”
“Maybe,” said Sail softly. “But this world is too promising to give up, so …” The chimp spread his hands wide.
“They’re checking it out,” Iftikhar finished. He met the chimp’s gaze. “If you’re here they must believe there’s some kind of corporate game going on.”
The chimpanzee nodded. “Yes. That is a concern they have.” He leaned forward, so his face was only centimeters from Iftikhar’s and whispered, “But I don’t think so.”
Then he turned and raced ahead, disappearing into the green foliage.

They walked like that for a long time, Sail up ahead in the distance, Iftikhar struggling to follow. By the time Iftikhar reached the small research station, the chimp had already used the drone to search all the buildings.
[There’s no one here,] he said.
Iftikhar studied the cluster of gray and brown prefab domes growing out of the jungle like toadstools. I’d like to see for myself, if you don’t mind.
[Fine.] Sail’s irritation came through loud and clear. [I’ll search the jungle. Stay close.]
Iftikhar muttered a curse under his breath. Like he was going to follow the orders of some corporate sellout. He stepped into one of the big community domes. The power was out, the only light a faded parallelogram of sunshine from the open door. Iftikhar’s boots clicked on the tile.
“Hello,” he called.
No one answered.
A chill wriggled down his back. Suddenly he remembered his hallucination at the gate. I almost had you before. Death had nearly claimed him during the Fall.
This time I won’t let go.
He wheeled around—
But there was nothing behind him.
[Iftikhar, look.]
He jumped—and muttered another curse. It was just Sail.
Iftikhar pulled up the chimp’s real-time feed. Sail stared at the ground, bent over like he’d just been sick.
What is it?
[This.] The ape moved, loping on all fours, like he was too rattled to walk upright. He peered over a shallow ridge.
What the chimp saw was enough to wring a curse from Iftikhar. “There is no God, but God,” he whispered, “and Mohammad is his Prophet.”

Krazny cradled the Medusan Arms Hammerstrike in her arms. Whatever had built this gate, it had owned a righteous tactical sense. She patted her automatic rifle affectionately. The gate’s placement on a spit meant it could be defended by a single well-armed soldier. The beach was really a cove running 400 meters north-south and bracketed on three sides by steep walls of black rock. You could climb, you could slip across the narrow strips of sand to the north or south, or you could swim. That was it.
Krazny liked that just fine.
She glanced back at the southern approach. Reaper had that one locked down. She turned to look north—
Someone there.
She flashed on a humanoid shape in a silver hardsuit moving through the foliage, the helmet’s mirrored faceshield hiding the morph’s face.
[Contact!] she snapped.
[Got it,] answered Reaper, his ping filled with tension. [Targeting.] The warbot crouched down and extruded several weapons.
The figure held up its right hand, palm out.
[Are you rescue? Oh, thank God. Thank God.] The voice sounded male.
Without thinking, Krazny had leveled her rifle. [Sir, I need ID. Right damn now.]
[Yes, yes. Chetko. Artur Chetko. I—I’m a soil scientist.]
Without asking, Krazny’s muse opened an entoptic checklist under the heading “Artur Chetko.” Green check marks appeared next to Roster, Voice Match, and Crypto, all indications that it really was Chetko.
Krazny didn’t relax. [What happened?]
[Virus. Holy God, it’s bad. Some kind of respiratory thing. Virulent as hell. A third of us are dead. Damn it, we need help.]
Disease was certainly on the list of things that could’ve gone wrong. Not likely, but certainly possible. Especially if the virus had been engineered by some damn hypercorp. It didn’t explain the communications failure, though.
[Stay there, don’t move,] she told Chetko. Krazny used her private link to Reaper. [Go check him out.]
[Why me? You’re closer, I’ll provide cover.] Reaper wasn’t the sharpest blade in the armory.
[Because synthmorphs can’t catch respiratory infections, that’s why.]
Reaper skittered down the beach, past Krazny’s position, towards the scientist. He disappeared out of sight. The scientist moved toward Reaper, and she temporarily lost sight of him as well. She was briefly concerned, but then admonished herself. She knew Reaper could take care of himself.
A belief she held right up until comms went straight to hell.

The jungle’s canopy filtered out most of the sunlight, allowing only stray beams to stab down from the green roof overhead. Heavy, verdant air pressed against Iftikhar. It was like breathing soup. He wiped sweat from his face with the back of his arm. The worst part was the strange sounds of hidden creatures: a xylophonic burr, a slide-whistle shriek, a deep, menacing growl.
Where are you, Sail?
[Just—hiss—hundred meters—crackle —due east.]
I think I can hear him better now.
[You’re closer,] said Carter. [The interference seems to decrease with proximity. Go left.]
Left.
His foot found a tree root and he tripped, going face down into the moldering leaf litter. He grunted as the ground slammed the air out of his lungs and another root rapped him on the skull.
The leaves’ sweet rot swirled around him, forced itself inside his chest. He set his hands in the moist soil and pushed his body up. A busy buzzing attested to the industry of insects.
And then he realized the perfume of rot wasn’t leaves.
His breath caught. Suddenly he didn’t want to breathe any more of this air. Not any more.
Holding his breath, he looked forward. The earth fell away from the tree, as if some giant had hollowed it out with a shovel, scooping away tons of soil and leaving a shallow pit. He edged forward.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he peered over the ridge’s lip.
A scream wrenched itself from his chest before he could stop it.
Lying in the pit was a tumult of bodies. They were stripped naked, maybe a dozen of them, men and women, limbs bent this way or that, lying—no, piled—on top of each other in a way that no living thing would tolerate.
Something touched Iftikhar’s shoulder and he shrieked and jumped. He wheeled and found the chimp behind him.
“Easy, boy, easy,” said Sail softly.
“Before comms dropped out,” gasped Iftikhar. “Krazny said something about a virus. Do you think—”
Sail shook his head. “Look closer.”
Iftikhar inhaled unsteadily and made himself peer over the ridge. This time he saw what he’d missed before, what he’d wanted to miss before. The splash of crimson.
Spilled blood.
The emblem of violence.

Klaxons were going off in Krazny’s brain. Reaper wasn’t responding. There was no sign of Chetko.
Except she didn’t really know it was Chetko, did she?
It made perfect tactical sense. If you’re going to attack a group, hit the strongest first—while you still have surprise.
Her mesh inserts were flooded with hissing, gray static. Someone was jamming. Sure sign of a hostile move.
Suddenly things were spinning out of control.
Her mind was racing. Was this some hypercorp gambit to seize control of the planet? Did they come through the Mars or Discord Gates? Whoever it was, they’d need the gate to get off-planet.
She quickly picked out the best tactical position on the beach, up against the back wall and under a small outcropping of rock, so she’d be difficult to hit from above. The position commanded the approach to the gate and the rubble from a rockslide offered cover from the northern half of the beach. Perfect.
She worked her way back into her little niche. The shade from the overhang must’ve crowded out the red-green shrubs because there was nothing but razorweed here. This stuff looked a little different from the regular kind, like it was slathered with raspberry jam. Probably the purple coral had entered some reproductive phase. The station biologists would probably think that was just swell—if any of them were still alive.
She moved carefully among the razorweed. No way she could avoid a few cuts, but she didn’t want to reveal her position with a path of broken tubes.
The day was getting hotter. She spat on the ground and kept moving. She had to get into position before someone came around.
Krazny was panting now. She turned and spat again.
She froze.
Her mouth was already filled with more saliva and a warmth was spreading through her middle. Did I—Did I just wet myself?
Anyone with any kind of tactical sense would’ve picked this spot to defend the beach. They knew I’d choose this place.
She glanced down at her right hand. Some of the razorweed had cut through her glove. It wasn’t a bad wound, hardly more than a nick, really, but—
She looked at the jam smeared on the razorweed.
Profuse salivation, shortness of breath, involuntary urination.
She wasn’t certain it was a nerve agent until the convulsions began.

Iftikhar looked down at Krazny’s broken and bloodied body laid out on the beach. The most terrible part was her head. Her skull had opened like the bloom of a delicate flower. He and Sail had returned to the gate to find Aqua and Weaver standing over Krazny’s body. No one knew where Reaper was.
“One might posit that an unclassified carnivore killed Krazny,” said Weaver. “But that doesn’t explain what happened to the reaper.”
“This is crazy,” yelled Iftikhar. “We’re not detectives. Let’s just go back. When they’re resleeved they can tell us—”
“Iftikhar,” said the chimp softly. “You know better.”
He looked at Krazny’s violated skull for a second before his eyes slid off and found another place to look. The realization hit him. They had taken her cortical stack.
Iftikhar shuddered. He understood why the killer might have destroyed the stack. If they hadn’t, Krazny could identified her murderer, or murderers. But to take it—
That implied something far worse.
“All right,” he said, “but let’s go. Let’s just go.”
“We can’t,” shrieked Aqua. “Don’t you think we tried? Don’t you think that’s the very first thing we tried?”
“Someone took the gate control unit,” said Weaver. “Without it, we can’t interface with the gate.”
“How long until Love and Rage checks back in here?” asked Sail.
“Five, six hours,” said Weaver.
“Might as well be a hundred,” snapped Aqua. “None of us could stand up to a reaper—we sure as hell aren’t going to survive whatever can kill a reaper.”
Iftikhar heard the hysteria in her voice and felt it welling up within him, too. Get control.
“The killer might not be powerful,” said Weaver. “They might just be duplicitous. Maybe they lured Krazny and Reaper into traps.”
Iftikhar found himself looking at the chimp, along with the others.
Sail folded his long arms across his chest and looked right back at them, his demeanor calm. Stoic.
Iftikhar looked at the other two. Their distrust was plain on their faces. He shook his head. “This is crazy. He was with me the whole time.” And then he wondered if that was true. They had been separated for short periods of time.
“No one’s saying you’re innocent,” snarled Aqua.
Sail looked at him. Raised an eyebrow.
Iftikhar had no reason to trust the chimp, but somehow, he did anyway. It just felt right. “Let’s not do this.”
“There’s something strange going on here,” said Sail.
“This is ridiculous,” shouted Aqua. “This is nothing more than some fucked-up hypercorp game.” She stabbed a finger at the chimp. “And he’s in it up to his eyeballs.” She stalked off, moving south, down the beach.
Weaver glanced at her, that gigantic brain running through possibilities. Finally he turned and followed.
Leaving Iftikhar to wonder how he’d come to be the chimpanzee’s lone ally.

Iftikhar turned on Sail. “You let them go. You knew you aren’t the killer and you let them go.”
Sail drew a deep breath. “You thought before I was a corporate plant. Well, you were right, Iftikhar. But that’s not all I am.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I’m not an anarchist like the rest of you. I’m a Consortium citizen. I freelance for various hypercorps. But that’s not all I do.”
“Who do you work for?” Iftikhar whispered.
“Firewall,” said the chimp softly.
The young man shook his head. “Firewall? That can’t—I mean, that’s just a story. It’s not real.”
“Firewall protects transhumanity from the dangers that might destroy us all.”
“No,” said Iftikhar. “This is bad. It’s murder, but—”
“Think, boy. This is more than just murder.”
“But—”
The chimp placed both hands on Iftikhar’s shoulders.
“You did such a good job of figuring out why Love and Rage selected each member of the team. But you never asked yourself why you’re here?”

Iftikhar lay on a narrow lip of black rock that jutted out from the sheer rock face, the unfamiliar seeker pistol clutched so tightly in his right hand that his knuckles ached. Below him was a descending carpet of greens: emerald and kelley and forest. The only non-green thing he could see was the black fur that covered the back of Sail’s head, ten, fifteen meters from Iftikhar’s ledge. The chimp was down far enough that the wall arced into a gentle slope.
Beyond Sail’s perch, there was the beach and the sea.
And the gate.
The weapon ached in Iftikhar’s hand.
I can’t do this, he said to Sail over his mesh implant.
[You have to.] Static distorted Sail’s words, but the chimp was close enough that Iftikhar could make them out.
Why can’t you take the kill shot?
[No. The killer will expect a military-style ambush. He won’t expect a double ambush. And he won’t be looking for you.]
Because I am weak?
[No,] said the chimp patiently. [Because you look weak.]
But I’m not really?
[You trusted me, Iftikhar. Now why did you do that? Why did you trust a hypercorp agent?]
The hair on the back of Iftikhar’s neck rose. He had asked that very same question of himself just a few hours before.
You’re quite convincing.
[Yes,] said Sail. [But you’re not. Want to try again?]
The question froze Iftikhar for a long, frightening moment, froze him as he stared down at the featureless expanse of green. No, he said and even in his mind it came out as a whisper. No, I don’t.
[You were infected with Watts-MacLeod,] said the chimp. [You’re an async, Iftikhar. You may not have been trained, but you have loads of psi talent. We just need a little bit of it today.]
But how did Love and Rage know? Why did they put me on the team? How do you know?
[It was Firewall that put you on the team. Whether you knew it or not, you have a keen intuition about the people around you. You know who is telling the truth and who is not, how they feel, how to persuade them.]
Iftikhar remembered trusting Sail even though he hated corporate drones. Remembered the flash of prescience he’d experienced at the gate.
[We knew these skills would come in handy,] said Sail.
Yeah. How exactly?
[I know a lot about you, Iftikhar. I’ve read your profile. You show talents in particular areas. One of your psi talents let’s you see patterns more readily. You can pick them out where other people just see noise. Just look down at the foliage and concentrate. Concentrate on what doesn’t fit.]
The killer could be anywhere.
[Look.]
Iftikhar drew a deep breath and concentrated on the sea of green. If Sail was right, somewhere down there an assassin was slipping through the forest, creeping up on the chimpanzee. All he had to do was divine where. If he put the ruby pip of the targeting laser on the right spot and pulled the trigger the micromissiles of his seeker pistol would take care of the rest.
But what was the right spot?
He would get nowhere looking for the well-hidden killer, he realized. He had to look at the trees, the shrubs. Broad fringed leaves gently waved in the sea breeze; the forest rippled in the wind, leaf and branch moving with the rhythm of sea.
Except there.
Iftikhar suddenly saw it. A bush moving in a way that didn’t match. And then another. And another. All of them in a line that led to Sail’s position.
Iftikhar raised his weapon in his shaking hand, settled the ruby dot over a patch of jungle between the killer and target and pulled the trigger.

The assassin had fallen in the shade of a grove of low trees, the victim of a combined assault by Sail and Iftikhar. It was a pleasant glen, out of the sun, cool and quiet, but when Iftikhar looked over the killer’s body he could see the distant place where sea met sky through the trees.
He moved up on the killer slowly, not really believing they were dead. Each footstep a desperate act of will, his heart trembling in the cage of his chest. Whoever the killer was, they’d hidden their identity inside the silver skin of a hardsuit.
Iftikhar’s micromissiles had smashed through the suit’s centerline and fractured the helmet. Sail’s hand laser had severed an arm. Iftikhar stopped a meter away from the dead killer in the suit.
“Go ahead,” said the chimpanzee softly, from behind.
Iftikhar licked his lips and stepped forward. With the toe of his boot, he kicked away the fractured helmet.
He just stared, not really understanding what he was seeing. What was inside the helmet looked like a blue-green jelly dropped from the roof of a building. Flaccid stalks crowned with cilia were sprinkled across the creature’s “face.” Somehow the thing did not have the coppery smell of blood. Instead the corpse had the pleasant smell of a newly-mown lawn.
Iftikhar thought he might be sick.
“Now this is interesting,” said Sail softly. “What do you know about Factors?”
The young man shrugged. “Same as everyone. Advanced alien race, communal organisms kind of like slime molds.”
“It’s been suggested they’re predatory. Hard to explain their evolution otherwise. I can’t imagine ambulatory pond scum hunting. But traps …”
“You’re saying this thing has been setting traps for people. That it’s after human colonists for food?”
Sail said nothing for a long moment. Then he looked up. “It’ll have hidden the gate control unit. And the stolen cortical stacks. We probably won’t find them, but we should search. So Krazny and Reaper and the others can regain their memories of this world—if they want them.”
Iftikhar looked down at the suit, two arms, two legs, a head. “It was pretending to be human.”
“In case someone saw it. So we would believe the killings were the result of faction fights, corporate politics—and not something else.”
Iftikhar looked up, looked at the ape. “And what is the something else, Brandon? Why kill us on this world? None of it makes any sense.”
The chimpanzee reached up and scratched his chin. Then he walked over to stand beside Iftikhar. For a long moment they stood there, man and ape, looking down at the alien body.
“Who knows,” said Sail. “Maybe the Factor was a criminal exiled to this world. Or it was insane. Or it’s a political dissident that came here to meet transhumanity and something went wrong.Who knows how aliens think?”
“How do we know it’s the only one?”
Sail looked around. “We don’t. But somehow I get the feeling this one was operating on its own. This doesn’t have the feel of some major Factor operation. This feels more like lone wolf behavior.”
Iftikhar frowned. “Or maybe we were right all along and this is some kind of hypercorp game.”
Sail laughed. “You’re slow,” he said, “but not irredeemably stupid.”
“Thanks,” said Iftikhar dryly.
The chimpanzee put his hand on the young human’s shoulder. “I don’t know what happened on this world,” he said softly, turning to look up into Iftikhar’s eyes. “But whatever the future holds, if we stand together, I believe transhumanity can face it.”
And somehow, calling upon some strange power he possessed but did not understand, Iftikhar knew the chimpanzee was right.
The young man was glad for Firewall’s existence. Transhumanity was at the center of a strange political struggle whose rules it couldn’t begin to even guess. There would be great danger.
But perhaps also great opportunity.
Iftikhar Quraini looked up, past the trees, past the beach, even past the broad ocean, his gaze settling finally on an infinite horizon.

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