Jihad was back to feeling just a little bit better, now that the mystery was less misty. He hadn’t dared launch a spydrone – not against a guy like Daniel, who almost surely would find the control. Instead, Jihad found cover in the forest, and lay prone on a high branch. His Scope worked well enough, despite the dark, the distance to target, the tent, and the background noise. The video and audio were fuzzy – Daniel had Noisemakers, obviously – but Jihad knew how to hack his way through all sorts of screens.

He’d just sent an encrypted update to the unknown puppeteer who’d flung him clear across the stage, and a hundred clicks north of where he ought to be: “Met Gook and Charlie for dindin, painfully dull as ever, but they do send you cheers. TTFN.” And he meant for it to sting.

Roughly translated: the guy you ordered me to tail all this time and all this way is just up to the usual no good with the usual bad guys – I hope you’re happy for wasting my time, and for putting the mission in jeopardy.

He’d almost fallen asleep from boredom, listening to the Crusader bomplaining about the tea – ‘Oh they don’t make it properly here, do they, not like at home’ – and drone on and on about how Mr. Smith should be running this country and how many languages Enoch Powell can speak … Jihad remembered watching that sketch with Daniel when they were kids, hiding under a blanket, and covering their mouths so Daniel’s dad wouldn’t hear them laugh. That was then. Before things turned. This is …

That’s when Jihad felt the Net wrap around him suddenly, completely immobilizing his body, zapping dead all his toys, and dragging him down through branches and leaves, until his head nearly hit the ground.

“Good morning, Haji,” Daniel greeted Jihad. “Howzit hangin?”

“Good morning, Gook,” Jihad replied. This was the worst day ever.


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