Rolling his wheelchair down the kitchen, Simon rifled through the drawers in search of some aspirin. His head pounded like a jackhammer even while his legs were numb with morphine. The sudden stabbing pain had started about an hour ago, and it simply refused to go away. His overworked implant seemed to be doing fuck-all about it. It sat there like a dark cloud, muddling his thoughts and destroying his concentration, until he couldn’t put up with it any longer.
     His search wasn’t going well. The kitchen was a showpiece more than anything, an empty shell built to look pretty. He could find no trace of pots, pans, containers or anything else food-related. Even the refrigerator contained nothing but microwave meals and water. Simon couldn’t really judge, though. He was no chef.
     At last he discovered a first aid kit hidden away in a corner. It yielded a few small sachets of generic painkillers. He pushed out a double dose to account for his pumped-up metabolism, swallowed them all dry, and then concerned himself with the matter of food. Right now his body needed constant refuelling in order to keep the healing process going.
     He shovelled a tray of soggy rice and chicken-flavoured protein into his mouth without tasting a single bite. His mind sifted through plans and plots for his escape from Bilbao, and his greater campaign. After getting out of here he’d find Gina and take her to Geneva, link up with the resistance cell they’d been supposed to meet, and make damned sure Gabriel never got his hands on her.
     Not again, anyway . . .
     A jab of cold hatred went through him, and his meal turned to ash in his mouth. He still felt her betrayal churning in the pit of his stomach. She’d fucked Gabriel, sold out everything they’d fought for. But then, when the chips were down, she’d turned and saved his life from the telepathic psycho. That had to mean something.
     It was strange. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt so much emotion about anything. There must have been a time when he wasn’t numb inside, but that was another life altogether. Right here and now, he’d give anything to be at her side, keeping her safe.
     A loud pinging noise sounded from the elevator, and Simon watched as a big black car rolled off the ramp. It parked itself in its assigned spot with computerised precision. Toledo got out, twirling his key ring around his finger, and sucked on a cigarette as he saluted Simon.
     “Feeling any better?” he asked, gesturing the lit end at Simon’s legs.
     “That ain’t a concern. How are we doin’?”
     Toledo shrugged his shoulders. “Same as before. Europe’s still dead to the ‘Net, no wire, no satellite, nothing. The banks and governments are scrambling to get their old paper-and-ink systems back up. Riots have broken out in Paris, but that’s nothing new.” A lopsided smile crossed his lips. “What is it about you, Caine? How in hell do you make somebody this mad?”
     “Ask him,” Simon said coldly. “I don’t care about the daily news, Toledo. I need to get back in touch with my people in Laputa. I need to find Gina.”
     Silent except for breathing, Toledo looked at Simon like a schoolteacher with a particularly dim pupil on his hands. The unspoken message was clear: Don’t push your luck. Simon inclined his head, conceding the point. There was no room for emotional outbursts in this relationship.
     “I talked to someone who might be able to patch us into a Federal emergency transmitter. The satellite network seems to still be working, might be our only option. It’s a good lead, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s a couple other things I want to do. Take a more proactive strategy, if you read me, more than gathering forces and establishing communications. Unless we want to play by Gabriel’s rules, we need to seize the initiative.”
     “How?” Simon asked, but was cut off by the insistent buzz of a mobile phone. Toledo reached into his pocket, pulled out a smooth black cylinder no larger than a pen. It extended a tiny plug which he stuck into a socket at the back of his ear. A small anti-noise field made his conversation completely silent, but Simon could read lips pretty well.
     “Go ahead. Yes, I understand. Avenido de Santiago. Six o’clock. We’ll be there.”
     He squeezed the phone in his hand. It retracted its plug while he took another drag of his cigarette, looking insufferably pleased with himself.
     “What?”
     Toledo expelled smoke from his nostrils and grinned. “The first part of my plan, and more proof that I am the most amazing human being that ever lived. I just booked us a clinic to take care of your other problem.” He waved at Simon’s crippled, wheelchair-bound body, saying, “We’re gonna grow you some new legs.”

***

     The fading sun cast its red-gold rays over everything on the Avenido de Santiago. Orange buildings, orange roads, orange trees over orange grass. In this light the whole street looked more like a simulation programmed by someone who loved sunsets a little bit too much. Simon sniffed the air, caught the faint bitter tang of chemicals. Their composition told a lot to his boosted senses. Somewhere in this complex was an illegal pharmaceutical plant, hiding under the emissions of a legitimate one.
     From outside the clinic didn’t look like much. Just an ordinary medical establishment with a white sign and a small carved fountain jutting up in front of the entrance. The only materials were whitewashed concrete and polished chrome. There was even a group of ancient-looking patients hanging around the doorstep, muttering to each other in a bastard mix of Spanish and Conglom. Except for the smell it could’ve been just an innocent local medical centre in suburban Bilbao.
     Toledo rolled Simon through two sets of automatic doors and an X-ray weapon scanner to get to the lobby. There they came face to face with the clinic receptionist, a sour old woman who couldn’t stop eyeing the trenches the wheelchair had made in their nice blue carpet.
     She asked if she could help, clearly resenting her duty to greet and serve anyone. Toledo smiled at her and said, “Here to see Dr. Guillermo, appointment at six.”
     “Down the hall, door five on your left. Someone will be waiting there.”
     He thanked her and drove the chair to their destination. Door five was marked with a big silver plate screwed to the front. Toledo made sure there were no prying eyes to watch them go in, and carefully shut the door after them. A dark-haired woman waited inside, her back turned, making notes on a clipboard.
     “Leg regeneration?” she asked with sharp impatience.
     Toledo grunted agreement, and she motioned to follow. She pulled out a small plastic key on a chain around her neck, fumbled it into a hidden lock behind the fire alarm. As she turned it, the wall in front shimmered, dull painted plaster crackling with snow like a broken TV. Some kind of door opened behind it and vomited wafts of bitter pharmaceutical-waste stench into the room.
     The woman walked right through it. The hologram swallowed her up with a violent flicker, and Toledo wheeled the chair in after her.
     A large angular room waited on the other side, sandwiched into the leftover space between the clinic’s other rooms. All kinds of lab equipment were arranged around the place, bits and pieces all clustered together as if looking for safety in numbers. Lights blazed everywhere. The heavy, humid air weighed down on Simon like lead.
     The woman led them to the centrepiece: a large, circular steel tub half-hidden by a jungle of wiring and pipework. Six spindly robot arms were mounted along the rim like upturned spider legs.
     “Finest tech the Federation has to steal,” Toledo whispered into Simon’s ear. “Ever hear of the old Basque nationalists in the twentieth century, all the bombings? Same damn people. Occasionally they’ll hire out equipment to a few selected guys they trust. Fuck that up for me and I will kill you.”
     Pulling up next to the tub, the woman said, “This is high-level regenerative gel similar to that used by the Federal Police. We hang your legs in the bath and target specific regions of injury with tailored viral-bacterial injections and electric shocks. These can promote tissue damage repair, breakdown of bone fragments, nerve regeneration and other functions. There will be some lasting nerve damage following the procedure, but in time you should recover almost your full range of motion. Strap into the harness and we’ll begin.”
     Toledo tipped his hat to her and rolled Simon towards the waiting robot arms. Without hesitation Simon undressed himself and fastened the nylon straps around his pelvis and under his arms. Pretty soon he was struggling, disabled as he was, and Toledo moved in to help. The implant deadened the nerves in his legs but the fractured bones wouldn’t take his weight even for an instant.
     It don’t matter, he thought, burning inside. Nothing matters as long as I’m walking again.
     With the last strap in place, electric motors began to whine. He felt himself leave the ground as the arms lifted him up, then left him suspended waist-deep in the empty tub. The doctor’s voice echoed over a loudspeaker somewhere, a rapid-fire stream of Spanish which Simon completely failed to catch. Blue goo began to fill the tub from underneath.
     Within seconds the level climbed up to his ankles, then his knees, crawling and sucking its way up his body. He might as well have been sliding feet-first into a giant bowl of jelly.
     “This’ll take about six hours, eight on the outside,” said Toledo. “I hope you’ve developed a taste for Spanish TV, Caine.”
     “What are you gonna do?”
     “Don’t worry about me. I’ve got things on my plate besides helping you.” He smiled, a wide predatory flash of teeth. Then he tipped his hat and walked away, called over his shoulder, “Be good!”
     Simon said nothing as he watched the sticky gel swallow up his hips and waited for the injections to begin.

***

     Simon’s muscles twitched and spasmed as the robot arms hauled him out of the vat. The doctor was there as they set him down, and she undid the straps without a hint of embarrassment at his nakedness. He tried to help but his shaking fingers couldn’t hold on to anything. Finally he had to give up and let her get on with things, teeth chattering, hands covering his painful electricity-induced erection.
     “You will be unstable,” she said in her cool businesslike tone. “Stand if you feel you can, use the bath if you need to hold on to anything, or just sit down.”
     She undid the last strap and lowered him to the ground. His legs slowly took the weight, twitching and swaying but pain-free. He couldn’t help but smile at the sheer pleasure of standing. It had almost become unfamiliar. He was in a position to fight back again.
     He said, “Thanks. What about walkin’?”
     “Your nerves are still raw, but practice will help them form new connections. Don’t push too hard. No matter how much hardware you have, you’re still human.”
     She straightened, stretched out her back and yawned with genuine exhaustion. Simon couldn’t resist a passing glance at her figure. She was easy enough on the eyes, but skinnier than Gina, with less in the hips and the chest. There was a kind of cold detachment in her body language which paled before Gina’s fiery, sinuous grace . . .
     Simon caught himself. Every woman he looked at nowadays ended up getting compared to the pretty redhead who occupied most of his thoughts.
     Get a fucking grip, he told himself, and tried to put her out of his mind.
     Tentatively Simon started to walk, both hands clamped onto the edge of the tub. His legs moved only in stiff jerks, and he had to carry much of his weight on his arms, but they worked. They worked. If he’d gone here straight after his fall, he might have been up and about again in thirty minutes.
     “Your clothes,” said the doctor, pointing at the heap lying on a plastic chair next to the tub. “If you need help dressing, I can get you a male orderly.”
     Simon shook his head and fell into the chair. Through stubborn determination he managed to get himself dressed and upright without anyone’s help, despite his knees’ refusal to bend. For a moment that was the greatest feeling on Earth.
     “My friend ain’t here yet?” he asked the doctor, who was checking the tub’s electrics, and she shook her head. “In that case, I think I’ll take a little stroll. Tell him to wait. I’ll be back.”
     “You should be resting,” she pointed out with supreme disinterest. She didn’t care whether he followed her advice or not as long as the advice was properly given.
     He didn’t care either. Every minute he could feel the control coming back to him. His implant helped, kickstarting the fried nerves, and it would keep working until his body was physically perfect. The only limit to his recovery was his brain’s ability to learn and get along with the new nerves.
     He limped a few more steps to practice, then went to the door. The doctor shrugged and let him out, muttering something about food and how he’d need it. He ignored her. He had other things on his mind.
     I’m gonna find you, he thought at Gina, wherever she was. He hobbled out the lobby and stepped into the night, looking up at the sleeping city in front of him. The yellow glow of street lights stretched far into the distance. Maybe you can hear this. Doesn’t matter if you can’t. Just sit tight and don’t get yourself killed, not before I get to scream at you for what you did.
     Far in the distance, flashy holographic advertisements played between the skyscrapers of Bilbao. Individual sequences ran together in mid-air until they seemed like an endless running battle between the different fantasies. Suddenly the sparse trees and open parkland felt threatening and exposed. He wanted nothing more than a helicopter to go up in, something familiar and comforting, but failing that he’d settle for a sturdy wall at his back.
     He started to walk. It was stupid considering the circumstances, he shouldn’t present Gabriel any opportunities for an easy shot, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind. After weeks cooped up in a nuthouse and a bachelor flat, wheelchair-bound, he had two choices: either go get some fresh air, or tip over the edge into murderous insanity.
     The streets were deserted so far away from the city centre. Lone, desultory cars made up the only traffic, just glossy aerodynamic blobs on minimum-friction wheels. Their only sound was the faint crunch of tires on tarmac. Simon enjoyed the quiet. On a whim he searched the sky for stars, but they had already disappeared behind a smothering blanket of clouds. Pollution made the sun an infrequent visitor here, and it only got worse further east.
     Slowly his stumbling gait became smoother, more natural. He started to jog. The implants and augmentations in his legs volunteered status reports back to his conscious mind. They happily announced that access to his nervous system was restored and his body was starting to recover from all the abuse.
     He sped up, running, leaping across the pavement in superhuman bounds. A desperate need for freedom overcame him. As he came off the main roads into residential housing, he really cut loose. Feet pounded against the pavement. He barely noticed when he overtook a car. His weakened muscles ached from the strain, but his implants flogged them and dumped some more rocket fuel into his bloodstream. Then he spotted a little bungalow with a particularly good rooftop, flat and low to the ground. He grinned and took a running jump.
     Both legs tensed, he took off like a missile, and slammed stomach-first into the edge of the roof. All the wind got knocked out of him. He barely managed to catch the edge and save himself from kissing the ground. He grimaced at the pain in his ribs and hauled himself up hand over hand until the last of his limbs reached the safety of the roof.
     The doctor’s cautions rang sourly in his head while he lay panting, a little bit deflated. Just takes time and practice. Almost my full range of motion.
     Flat on his back on the dry roofing tar, he breathed deep to calm himself, and watched the city night go by.
     Simon rarely stopped to think about the past. Even when he assumed a different alias, as it became necessary, he trained his brain to start thinking of himself by his new name. He became that name, and blocked out everything before it.
     And then Gina came along. She . . . changed things. Where he used to shut down his emotions, now he couldn’t seem to stop thinking and feeling, and it was always about her. She reminded him so much of Sarah that it hurt to even look at her. It hadn’t started out that way, but after getting to know Gina, he recognised the same kind of toughness in her. A resilience that he couldn’t help but admire. She’d survived a lot. She was tough enough to fight when she had to, and smart enough to know when to run like hell. Her aversion to killing mystified him, but even that was a firm choice on her part, not cowardice. She turned every weakness into strength.
     Just like Sarah.
     His mind tortured him with memories of desperate sex in a sweltering hut in Africa. Afterwards Sarah lay up against him and hummed tunelessly to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Incense prickled his nostrils from the smoke pots which kept the mosquitoes at bay, and together they listened to the monsoon rains torrenting down outside. Thunder boomed in the distance. Within hours they would go up on another hopeless guerilla mission against the ever-expanding Federation, not knowing if they would both come back alive, but Sarah wouldn’t have it any other way. She believed in nothing if not the rightness of her cause. Her whole country might capitulate but she would never stop fighting.
     As a last act of remembrance, the last step in his mourning, he’d taken her name. Caine. He got comfortable in it. Complacent. He let his guard down, sure that no one could follow the long chain of identities he’d left behind him, and that complacency had allowed Gabriel to find out as much as he did. Too much.
     Plus, thanks to the mess in Hong Kong, Simon Caine was a Federal hot topic again. They’d find out the truth eventually, and that meant he simply couldn’t wear this skin any longer.
     “Caine!” called a voice from the street. Simon looked down directly into Toledo’s eyes. He waved and began to climb down from the roof.
     Impressive bit of detective work, he thought to himself. There was no sign of any surveillance equipment and, even more interestingly, Toledo didn’t move like he had boosts. Any boosts at all. How could a normal human be so effective?
     “That was stupid,” Toledo pointed out as Simon approached. His tone was calm and clipped — there was no personal anger in him, only a hard analysis of the facts that did not favour Simon. He continued, “There could’ve been an ambush, snipers, anything. You should’ve waited. I want to get paid with more than your dead body, Caine.”
     “I agree,” said Simon, which took the smaller man aback. Simon smiled. “It won’t happen again. And please, let’s drop the formality. Call me Bomber.”
     Toledo quirked an eyebrow, recovering. “Fine. I’ve got some information you’ll be interested in, ‘Bomber’.”
     “Show me,” Bomber replied. He got halfway to the car before his brain exploded and he fell down with a wordless scream.

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