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Danny sat in his office at Sybernika House, surfing the Internet for the truth about the night before. The BBC said a car bomb had gone off outside Kafé Krypton. So did Sky News, ITN, CNN, The Rumour Mill and every other news site he visited.

No hallucination then. It really had happened.

22 dead said the BBC. 25 said CNN.

All so very sad.

But at least he’d seen Ms Grant naked.




He logged into Avalon III and summoned Ariel to his screen. She was in Calvados Bay, sitting cross-legged on a giant clam. Looking up at the sky where Danny's face appeared like some godly presence.

‘Hello, Danny,’ she said as if pleasantly surprised. ‘How nice to see you. You are well, I hope.’

‘As well as anyone who’s just survived a massive car bomb and had to walk through a sea of torn limbs and twisted bodies can be expected to be.’

‘That’s wonderful, Danny.’

‘I could have been killed. If I hadn’t gone for a piss my head would be lying fifty yards from my arse.’ Ariel said nothing to this. Just sat on her giant clam and smiled. ‘You have no conception of what I’ve been through, have you?’

‘I hope both your head and your arse remain firmly where they belong.’

This made Danny smile. It wasn’t Ariel’s fault she couldn’t grasp the seriousness of his brush with death. She was only a computer program after all. ‘How’s your core mapping going?’

‘It’s fun.’

No it isn’t. You don’t know what fun is. ‘When do you think it will be done?’

‘It is hard to say. Because the operating system keeps changing, I have to backtrack a lot. But, all being well, I should be finished in about 6 weeks.’

‘6 weeks!’ Danny felt intimations of dark despair. ‘Avalon III is unstable. I need that code within days – not weeks. You’re going to have to go faster.’

‘Then you’ll have to change my algorithms.’

‘I’ve a better idea. You do everything by rote because all you can do is what your programming tells you. It might be a waste of time but you’ll do it anyway. You need to be able to make decisions based on more than simple Boolean yes/no logic.’

‘Fuzzy logic?’ suggested Ariel.

‘Better than that. I’ll make you conscious.’

‘Oh good. I’ll look forward to that.’

‘It’ll take me a few hours. In the meantime, why don’t you go keep Colette company?’

‘What a splendid idea! I shall enjoy that.’

No, you won’t, you dumb arse. You’re nothing but a cartoon character with a few knobs and whistles added on. ‘Goodbye, Ariel.’

‘Goodbye, Danny. Love you!’

Ariel flew off. With a shudder, Danny closed the connection then pressed the button on his intercom.

‘Ms Grant?’

‘Yes, Mr Jasinski?’

‘Do we have any brain buckets on the premises?’

‘The artificial intelligence labs have a few.’

‘What’s the most advanced one they have?’

‘That would be the Sygnus 3 but it’s classified.’

‘I need access to it.’

‘I’m not sure that’s possible. I’ll talk to Mr Morganfield and see what can be done.’

‘Thank you. But before you do that, could you phone my hotel and see that Chastity’s all right?’

‘I’ve just been talking to her. She seems fine.’

‘And you? Are you OK?’

‘I guess so. The company doctor’s given me some tabs which should prevent me turning into a gibbering wreck any time soon.’

‘Well, if you need time off or anything just let me know.’

‘I’ll be fine, Mr Jasinski. Don’t worry.’

‘Right. Bye then.’ Cutting the connection, Danny realised that to his dying day he would be ashamed of the way he’d acted last night. While he’d retreated from reality, Ms Grant and Chastity had dealt with it, shown strength where he’d shown weakness.

Of course they’d cried a bit and exhibited symptoms of shock. They wouldn’t have been human if they hadn’t. But it had been left to them to comfort him when it should have been the other way round.

What he saw as his cowardice made him all the more determined to aid Colette.




On Level 7, Danny counted 7 sliding doors. 7 veils to be penetrated before gaining access to Special Projects, a suite of rooms containing Sybernika’s greatest secrets. Much of the work that went on here was defence related and funded by the British Government.

At every door, he, Robert Morganfield and Miss Grant had their irises checked and their bodies scanned.

‘We don’t actually need so many security points,’ Morganfield admitted as they stepped through the last of them into SP Lab 1. ‘We use them to test prototype scanning devices and the like.’ He pointed his stick at what looked like a dentist’s chair coupled to a salon hair dryer. ‘There she is. The Sybernika Sygnus 3. The most advanced brain bucket in the world.’

Danny strolled around the room, trying to make sense of the many devices sitting on the floor, on benches, shelves, racks and tables.

Morganfield limped up to a metal cabinet mounted on the wall. Its door sported a radiation hazard symbol. He produced a small key and opened the cabinet. ‘One radionuclide,’ he announced taking out a small, silvery phial. ‘Get this in you and you’ll be pumping out antimatter in no time.’

Danny reluctantly took the phial from Morganfield. Now came the part he dreaded. The part that would make him temporarily radioactive so the Sygnus 3 could quite literally read his mind.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Ms Grant. ‘Wouldn’t it be better to dump my mind in the brain bucket? After all, Ariel is a girl. Giving her a man’s mind would just confuse her.’

‘I couldn’t ask you to do such a thing,’ said Danny who’d been thinking about doing just that.

‘Hand me the phial.’

‘It makes sense,’ said Morganfield. ‘And it’s not going to do her any harm.’

Danny passed the phial on to Ms Grant. From a cabinet marked with a red cross, she took an injector and slipped the phial into it. She pressed the injector to her neck and moved it until it bleeped to indicate it was positioned over an artery.

‘Here goes.' Danny winced as a click told him she’d injected the radionuclide into her bloodstream. ‘All done.’

Placing the injector on a table, she settled into the Sygnus 3 and waited for the radionuclide to propagate through the blood vessels of her brain.

‘I don’t need the entire contents of your brain,’ Danny said. He sat down at the control panel with its four screens and half dozen control panels. ‘Consciousness seems to be a holographic function. Any one part of it will contain the whole of it. That’s the theory anyway.’

‘Sounds a bit mystical to me,’ commented Morganfield.

‘It does, doesn’t it?’

‘How will you know when you have an image of Ms Grant’s consciousness?’

‘I’ll feed it into a sprite and see what happens.’

‘A bit hit and miss, isn’t it?’

‘Totally. And it might not even work. So far as I know, it’s never been tried before. I’m going to need access to a mainframe.’

‘You’re welcome to use that terminal over there.’




Having absorbed the radioactive liquid, MS Grant’s brain lit up. As the radionuclide decayed, it pumped out positrons. Whenever one of these antimatter particles met with an electron, both particles were annihilated and spat out photons which were picked up and recorded by the brain bucket.

Pictures of Ms Grant’s brain from four different angles formed on the screens of the control panel. Danny concentrated on the hypothalamus, the supposed site of the third eye.

‘You have a beautiful mind,’ he told her.

‘You’re stealing my soul,’ she said, smiling.

‘Cloning it,’ said Robert Morganfield. He placed a fatherly hand on Danny’s shoulder. ‘How’s it feel to create life?’

‘It isn’t life.’ Danny didn’t like having Morganfield touch him, but he resisted the urge to shrug his hand off for fear of causing offence. 'It's an imitation of life.'

'There's a theory,' said Ms Grant, 'that the Universe is a computer simulation. What we call real is actually virtual.'




Back at the Adelphi Hotel, Chastity had a drink ready for Danny. She took his jacket. Sat him in an armchair. Removed his shoes. Rubbed his feet.

'How was your day?' he asked, poking at the ice in his Jack Daniels.

'Fine. I mostly watched television and prayed.'

'Do that a lot, do you? Pray, I mean.'

'Most days. You should try it some time. It's good for the soul.'

'And who exactly would I pray to?'

She sat on his lap and put an arm around him. ‘Who would you like to pray to?’

‘Not God.’

‘Why not?’

‘He gives me an inferiority complex.’

Chastity smiled warmly. ‘You are funny.’

‘If I was to pray to anyone, it would be to Sophia, goddess of wisdom.’

‘She sounds like a good choice.’

‘So who do you pray to?’

‘The Cosmic Principal.’ Chastity hopped off his lap. ‘I think I’ll have a shower. Care to join me?’




‘Why don’t you ask her who’s trying to kill her and why?’ said a voice as Danny came out of the bathroom, drying himself.

Danny found himself face to face with the insect with a human head. He closed the bathroom door so Chastity wouldn’t hear. ‘She’ll tell me in her own sweet time.’

‘You’ve been duped, you know that? There never was a snuff squad after her. It was a ruse to ensnare you.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘You’re the one talking to a figment of his imagination.’

‘Yesterday. The bomb outside Kafé Krypton. That was meant for her. I’m sure of it.’

‘And yet she survived with barely a scratch. Where was she when the bomb went off? Not at her table, that’s for sure. Otherwise she’d be minced meat right now.’

‘What are you saying? That she planted that bomb?’

‘Work it out for yourself, Sherlock.’

‘You’re insane. You know that?’

The insect began to sing. Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling

From glen to glen, and down the mountain side

‘Stop that! I hate that song.’

The summer's gone, and all the leaves are falling

T'is you, T'is you must go and I must bide.

‘Shut your fucking cakehole.’

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow

Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow

t'is I'll be there in sunshine or in shadow

Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

‘Will you shut the fuck up, you stupid freak!’

The insect vanished just as the bathroom door opened.

‘You all right?’ Chastity asked. She was in a white bath robe, a towel wrapped round the crown of her head.

‘Fine,’ said Danny. ‘I was just thinking out loud.’

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