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His voice said, “Names and PUIs aren’t that relevant to me as a runner, Jonah. Look at you. You have carried your name for all your life without understanding its true meaning. However, for the purposes of ease of conversation, you may call me Jibril.”

The smile had gone from his face to be replaced by a slight frown. I wondered if this was as a result of his having to concentrate on what I was thinking while he was talking.

I thought, “Why me?”

And said, “So, Jibril, you have admitted that you are a runner and have agreed to produce a statement of your activities for purpose of judgment under Article 2 of United Nation Containment Code, but you stopped the process and insisted on seeing me. How is it that you know of me?”

While saying this, again my mind was overlaid with his thoughts. Somehow I managed to get the words out, but now my temples were throbbing in pain at the effort of conducting these two conversations.

His thought said, “Jonah, your name is not Jonah, your uncle is not your uncle, and you are not you, as you know you. My real name is Gabriel — Jibril is Arabic for Gabriel. You must trust me Jonah, it is vital for the future of this planet that you do.”

I heard his voice say, “You represented an illegal that I once ran. He said you were kind and fair to him, which was good enough for me, and so I asked for you.” I saw a bead of sweat roll from his temple down his jaw line and fall onto his chest.

I thought, “How can I trust you when I don’t know who you are or where you come from?”

I said, “Do you perhaps remember which illegal this was? I mean the one who said that I treated him fairly?” My voice was strained; I hoped those monitoring this didn’t notice.

“Your voice sounds natural enough, Jonah, and we’re nearly finished. Proof of what I say and my trust in you is that in less than eight hours I will be gone from this room.”

This thought overrode everything I was thinking and then his voice said, “Who the illegal was is of no importance. The important thing is that I know the whereabouts of sixteen of the most wanted people in the universe, and your superiors want that information. To get it, they’re going to have to give me what I want.”

While he said this, I thought, “How does your disappearance provide me with the proof that I can trust you or that anything you have claimed is real?”

And I said, “Well, Jibril, perhaps if you tell me what it is that you want, I would be happy to relay that to the appropriate people.”

I felt a trickle of sweat run from my armpit down my ribs. This wasn’t easy, this dual conversation stuff. His thoughts again crowded in, swamping my thoughts of sweat, piercing into my head.

“Jonah, the proof is that I came here to meet with you to give you this message. When I leave, you will realize that the only reason I allowed myself to be caught was because this was the only way that I could reach you without causing suspicion to fall upon you.”

“Ten million units, a full pardon and a drop off in the outlands of the region of South America,” he said and smiled, sitting even further back in his chair. “Then with the aid of a Dev, I will track all sixteen of the illegals who were dropped when I was so rudely interrupted in my work.”

I couldn’t think of anything. I froze. My mind was a shattered nothing. I just looked blankly at him.

“That’s enough for now, Jonah, I can feel you’re at breaking point. When the time comes, you will know what to do and you will do the right thing. Don’t trust Agent Cochran: she’s a telepath as you are, so be very careful when you are in the same room with her to think of anything but this conversation or else you will find yourself here in the Deep, or worse.”

Somehow my mind cleared enough for me to say, “Do you have anything else to add to that or is that the sum of your requests?”

Immediately after I’d spoken, I thought, “All right. I will wait eight hours and if you’re gone then what do I wait for? And did you say I was a telepath?”

“No, I don’t want anything else. That is all I require,” he said and closed his eyes. I stood up and turned around. As the door behind me opened, a final thought entered my head.

“You were born a telepath like your father, the man your so-called uncle captured, tortured and then killed, but you are untrained so unless you must use it to save your life, then do not. When the time comes we will send you a sign and you will do the right thing. Goodbye my brother, for that is who you are. I await the day with eagerness when we will meet again.”

I was dripping with sweat, sopping wet, and I felt wrung out mentally and physically. It was all I could do to walk through the door and retrace the steps to the Lev port. One of the Special Ops team handed me my clothes and wanted to take me by the elbow but I shrugged him off and followed the lights. My brain was frozen and I couldn’t muster a single thought to my command. My exhaustion dominated all else. I entered the Lev port and sat down.

The Lev said, “I am instructed that your next destination is the Director’s office, Arbitrator Oliver. You will arrive there in approximately eight minutes.”

The door slid shut silently and eight minutes was the time I had to recover from what I had been told by Gabriel. My head was still a mess and I could hardly recall our spoken conversation but our unspoken conversation was as clear as if it had been printed on the inside of my forehead. I could see every word and feel the emotion behind them. I sat back in the Biosense and shut my eyes.

“Off-line travel, please, Lev.” I started putting my clothes on again.

Suddenly life had changed. That single thought dominated. I opened my eyes and, taking my Devstick out, looked at the time. In less than twenty-four minutes, the time it had taken since I had left the Lev to the time that I was sitting here right now, my entire life had changed.

When I was twenty-six, I had driven a car — it was a bright red Tesla Mach 4 with a beautiful raked black windscreen — into the back of another car. The anti-collision had failed, and I went through the windshield at about eighty kilos an hour. Two days and a hundred and twenty staples later, I was sitting outside in the hospital’s garden under a huge Banyan tree feeling like the happiest guy on earth. Everything petty had just washed off me like mud off a sluice: I had felt so light that I thought I might float right up into the arms of the tree. Well, OK, the painkillers they’d given me probably accounted for some of my happiness, but the point is, I was having such a moment again. Only this time I didn’t feel happy, I felt scared. But I wasn’t crying over spilt latte either. I became focused upon my own survival.

“Destination is estimated to be reached in approximately six minutes, Arbitrator Oliver.”

I realized, as if awakening to a whole new dimension of life, that suddenly circumstances had created a situation in which I might be a central figure to a plot of global significance. More indeed than simply significant, the future of the universe as we know it perhaps depended on my successful actions, whatever they turned out to be.

Don’t panic. Focus. Right, OK. Me, save the planet. Right, no problem. I let out a long breath, emptying my lungs of every milcube of oxygen, until my diaphragm was pressed against my spine, and I held that moment, then with a slight gasp, I drew in a breath as long as its exhaling partner. The only immediate solution, being the rational arbitrator that I was trained to be, was to re-evaluate the evidence surrounding this circumstance in another eight hours.

Gabriel had said that proof of his message would be in his disappearance and that would happen within eight hours. Therefore I had everything to gain and nothing to lose by being the old me for another eight hours. I would banish, no, wipe out, all thoughts of my little mental chat with Gabriel and simply wait.