Today's Reading

Because the signals travel in both directions, Kira understands exactly what is happening. There is even a part of her that, despite her trying to fight it, is actively participating. The signals are influencing her like a reversal of cause and effect; by thinking about having just kicked the rail, she is involuntarily sending her legs additional signals that, after resetting her stance, culminate in her striking the rail again.

The aluminum is shearing away from its anchors, and the third kick sends the entire middle section of railing spinning down into the dark. Kira now understands that she has been infiltrated, and that she only has seconds to detach. But the releases are not responding. And because it is supposed to be impossible for modern Russian prostheses to fail, there is no mechanical override.

She takes two steps forward, and then there is an awful, silent pause. The clatter of the rail hitting the street below rebounds off the surrounding buildings, and her brain uses the delay to make a sickening calculation. Kira has stopped trying to free herself and is now attempting to focus. She knows that she cannot physically prevent the next step, but she might still be able to regain control.

With her eyes closed, she breathes in deeply and wills everything around her to be calm and still. She grows poised and balanced, and she unexpectedly begins to feel strong and tall. Newly resolute and deeply empowered. She can no longer tell who or what is in control, but she knows that the easiest and fastest path away from the pain of her past is to have the courage to move forward. It is with this profound sense of peace that she takes that last step and allows herself to drop from the top of the tower.

The feeling is not one of flying or floating or freedom. Free fall is neither peaceful nor meditative. The atmosphere rushing past her rapidly intensifies into a roar, and it lashes at her shirt and tears the specs off her face. She feels herself pitching forward, rotating, and reflexively she tries to claw her way straight. All she can do is scream into the cold black wind until her breath is gone, and when she tries to draw another, she finds that her lungs are too weak to pull anything from the torrent of air around her. The girl is silent and limp by the time she hits, and the crack of dead weight against the concrete reverberates through the quiet.

As her body lies contorted and twisted, the burns on the inside of Kira's pale forearm continue to redden and blister. But even though they were caused by overlapping concentric coils wrapped inside soft polymer, they are not resolving into perfect circles. It is as though only select sections of filament malfunctioned. The fresh wound is developing into what appears to be a string of digits woven out of segments of rings—the numeric sequence 6809.

* * *

"Nobody is untouchable," the Israeli says. "Just like I told you."

The tall man is standing behind him. They are both watching a hijacked surveillance feed on a slab of plasma glass. It is being rendered in the false-color spectrum of the infrared, and the thing they are observing has gone from red to green and is now cooling to blue.

The Israeli's workstation contains a matrix of displays. Some of them are news feeds, and some are different angles on the same street scene. One of them shows a schematic of a cybernetic prosthesis, and on another, an editor in hex mode renders thousands of lines of highlighted bytecode.

The Israeli spins in his chair and looks up. "I think it's safe to transfer the other half."

"I'm impressed," the tall man says. "But there's one thing I don't get."

The Israeli raises his eyebrows. The sides of his head are shaved and the remaining black mohawk is French-braided into a single looped topknot. His beard fades in from smooth, dark skin and neatly wraps the pointed contours of his chin.

"This is dangerous work that you do," the tall man continues. "But you let me walk right into your flat. You have no protection. No real leverage. How do you know I won't kill you?"

"Because I have a system," the Israeli says.

"A security system?"

"Better," the Israeli says. "An economic system."

"I don't understand."

"Do you know the only way to keep information safe?"

"Tell me."

"The cost of stealing it has to be higher than its value. Securing information is less about encryption and more about the cost of decryption. It's all economics."

"What does that have to do with your security?"

"I never charge so much that it would be easier to kill me than to pay me."

"But what is difficult for one man may be easy for another."

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