Strong Defense

Milward was three levels deep in the network tracing a communications channel when the daemon he was following looked up and spotted him. There was no transition; like that, bam, everything was out of control and the daemon was after him and he was flashing back upward as fast as he could, hoping that his focus was where he’d left it, that Ana hadn’t gotten bored and flipped away to check her mail or read the news. He swore viciously, continuously, unconsciously, a thick stream of profanity that was just another part of his professionalism.

Ana was still there for a wonder, a little blue sprite like a gemstone that cast no shadows or caught any reflections. The daemon was right behind him, long black tendrils of its tracking routines flitting around his ankles, his shoulders, his wrists, looking for a hold that would let them snap into solid reality. He grabbed Ana and tumbled back into his body.

“What the hell happened?” she said. The crystal screen of his tablet had cracked; a vile smoke curled out of the fissure and he coughed tearingly until she opened a window.

“We’re made,” Milward told her. “Blown. We’ve got to get out. We’ve got an hour, maybe two, before–”

“Less than that,” Ana said, her face frozen and her hands spread wide, and the cold metal of the barrel pressed against the hollow behind his ear might have been the daemon’s smoky fingers, caught hold of him at last.