Chapter Three

Watching us, watching them, watching you..


Tobin took them to the main Food Court, to Mike's delight, then led them past all the flashy restaurants and themed eateries to a cheap self serve cubicle joint right on the outskirts of the court.

"This dump?" he remarked sourly, looking longingly back at a Hawaiian pizza eatery behind them.

"It's cheap, the portions are generous and it's all you're going to get," Tobin said shortly, handing them an M-Cyn credit chit each. "Eat yourselves sick on the company. I have a few people to see, I'll meet you back here in about half an hour. Order me the All Day Breakfast special." He turned and walked rapidly away.

"Get me anything," Terri thrust her chit into Sebastian's hand and turned, running after the dwindling figure of Tobin. "Wait up!"

"What's she up to?" Mike asked, but without any real interest, food was his favourite thing and he was already eyeing the menu.

"At a guess I'd say that she's trying to get her hacking stuff back," Sebastian remarked, following Mike's example and checking out the menu options.

"Do you think she has a chance?" Anne asked.

Sebastian gazed into the distance where Terri had caught up with Tobin, then looked back at Anne, shaking his head. "Nope," he said cheerfully. "How much of this stuff d'you reckon is soy protein?"

Terri caught up with Tobin at the edge of the Food Court, stopping him beside a large holo-ad for beach holidays on Mars. He turned when she called his name, raising an enquiring eyebrow as she skidded to a halt in front of him and leant over with her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.

"Not hungry?" he said blandly.

"I need my stuff back." Terri stood up straight, folding her arms and glaring at him.

"Why?" His tone was vaguely interrogative, mostly disinterested. He wasn't looking at her, his eyes tracking all around them.

"Whoever trashed our flat destroyed everything we had." Terri ran a hand through her short, dark hair. "I want to hack the colony mainframe and get the holo's of our parents from the records. Even an official holo is better than nothing. I won't go through your ship systems, I promise. There are public booths all over the place here."

Tobin's hand whipped out, grasping her wrist and pulling her towards him. Close to she could appreciate what a big man he was, how much contained violence there was in him. His eyes were fixed on her, glittering ice green in the bright lights all around them. For the first time since they had met him, Terri was afraid of what he might do.

"Promise me that you won't go near any of those booths," he said in a low, intense voice.

"No!" she snapped, rebellion sharpening her eyes and giving her the strength to wrench herself away. "Not until you give me the reason!"

Tobin's hand tightened on her wrist for a moment and he looked down at her grimly, then nodded once and stepped away from the holo-ad, leading her over to a bench.

"Sit," he said abruptly, pushing her down. Terri sat on the bench with a thud, staring up at him in shocked surprise. He reached into one of the many pouches on his tool belt and produced a hand sized flat, brushed steel case, flipping it open and dropping it into Terri's lap.

"What is this?" she asked, her anger at his rough treatment overcome by her intense curiosity as she stared at the thing. Half of it was taken up by a sense-weave colour screen, the other half by five basic buttons. Her attention was caught by a small lip running around the edge and she used her fingernail to slide it open, revealing several flat transparent gel electrodes.

"It's the latest in neural systems," Tobin said. "Stick one of those on your temple and with a little practice you can make the system do anything you want."

"And it can make you do anything it wants too, I've heard," Terri didn't immediately take one of the electrodes.

"Who told you that?" Tobin asked, he was looking at her intently, his face set in grim lines.

"No one told me," Terri slid the little tray shut, shaking her head slightly. "It just stands to reason. The electrodes work on the latest wireless technology, they convert electrical signals from your brain into electrical signals that the system can process and vice versa. I don't want a computer controlling me, thanks very much."

"Every single booth here is part of the M-Cyn neural system," Tobin told her quietly.

"What about your ship systems?" she asked. "You can watch everything I do. I won't screw up your system, I know what I'm doing."

"You're not listening to me, Terri," Tobin said carefully, sitting down next to her and taking the palm computer from her hand. "M-Cyn has pioneered the use of neural systems. Every single unit in the colony is capable of being accessed by one of these neural electrodes. Your holo- screen lenses can be utilised in the same way, it's still a route into your mind. Do you really want M-Cyn in your head?"

Terri looked away from him, down at her hands, plucking at the loose material on her coveralls. There was a cold, sinking feeling in her stomach as she recognised the truth in what he was saying, and the implacability; he was not going to give her stuff back, or let her hack anything. "Fine," she said dully, carefully not looking at him. "I'll be a good little girl."

"Terri," Tobin said quietly as she got up. She turned slowly to look at him, his expression was still serious.

"What?" she said. "I've already promised. What more do you want?"

"Where did you get your hacking kit from?" he asked. She blinked, slightly taken aback. Whatever she thought he had been going to say, it had not been this.

"A woman called Patricia McCann came to give us a lecture in our comp systems class," she said with a shrug. "She set a competition, I won; that was the prize. Why?"

"What was the competition?" Tobin said curiously and Terri's answering smile was the most brilliant he had seen from her.

"She set up a secure system and we had to break in without getting caught," she told him. "I got in, moved a few files around and got out before she even knew I was there."

"You beat a Pepper McCann system? She never told me that." Tobin raised an eyebrow, then returned her smile. "Go and eat, kid. I'll be along in a bit."

Bemused, Terri walked back to the café where the others were already eating, sliding into one of the spare seats and staring down at the plate of food in front of her.

"Any luck?" Sebastian asked her and she glanced at him, shaking her head.

"No," she said, and picked up her fork.

"I've been trying to tell you that he's not our friend," Anne remarked smugly. Terri ignored her, stirring the food around on her plate, mixing everything together into a colourful mass.

"I never thought he was," she said, without looking up, and began to eat.

Tobin came back almost an hour later. Sebastian watched him thread his way through the tables towards their group, his face still as blank as ever. He sat down next to Mike and removed the hot cover from his plate, digging in to the rubbery looking food with every sign of enjoyment.

"Get your business sorted out?" Mike asked.

"Hmm?" Tobin looked up from his food, then nodded. "All sorted. Oh, yes, I managed to pick these up for all of you."

He threw a bundle of holo's onto the table. Sebastian picked them up, looking through them one by one.

"When did you get these?" he asked quietly.

"Terri reminded me that your stuff was all destroyed, including holo pics of your parents," Tobin said through a mouthful of food, reaching out to the water jug and pouring himself a glassful. "I knew a guy who owed me a favour and he found them on the system for me. It's no big deal, you know, they're only the official M-Cyn file pics."

Terri grabbed the holo's from Sebastian, leafing through them and then staring at Tobin with wide eyes, for a moment she looked as if she were going to cry and he gazed at her in some alarm. Then she smiled at him and he relaxed.

"Thank you," she said, and took two of them, handing the rest back to Sebastian.

"Like I said, its no big deal," Tobin shrugged a little uncomfortably.

"Here," Sebastian handed Anne a small holo of her mother and she looked at it briefly for a moment before pushing it away.

"No thank you," she said politely. "I already have a picture of mum."

Tobin glanced up, meeting green eyes as hard as agate. She was looking at him with hatred and he took a deep internal breath, bracing himself as that chill stare bored into him like a diamond drill.

"I'll hang on to that one then," he said, as calmly as he could, and reached out, plucking the small holo of Elizabeth Parker from Sebastian's hand and slipping it into his pocket. Then he turned to look at Sebastian. "Are you ready for the ore sheds then?" he asked, and scraped up the last of his food.

Sebastian looked at him thoughtfully, his blue eyes almost as penetrating as Anne's, then he nodded slowly.

"Sure," he said, and stood up.

"Here," Tobin handed Terri the ship key card. "You three go and let yourselves back in. Mike, I'll need you to open holds three and two, okay?"

"Okay." Mike nodded.

Tobin pushed his chair back from the table and got to his feet, his gaze sweeping over them all.

"Well come on," he said, clapping his hands together. "The sooner we're loaded, the sooner we're off this spit ball."

"I never wanted to leave in the first place," Anne said icily, but she got up and followed everyone back across the concourse, trailing behind them but ensuring that she kept them in sight.