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Fontaine pounded his fist into his hand. He paced the conference room and stared out at the spinning Crypto lights. “Abort! Goddamn it! Abort!”

Midge appeared in the doorway waving a fresh readout. “Director! Strathmore can’t abort!”

“What!” Brinkerhoff and Fontaine gasped in unison.

“He tried, sir!” Midge held up the report. “Four times already! TRANSLTR’s locked in some sort of endless loop.”

Fontaine spun and stared back out the window. “Jesus Christ!”

The conference room phone rang sharply. The director threw up his arms. “It’s got to be Strathmore! About goddamn time!”

Brinkerhoff scooped up the phone. “Director’s office.”

Fontaine held out his hand for the receiver.

Brinkerhoff looked uneasy and turned to Midge. “It’s Jabba. He wants you.”

The director swung his gaze over to Midge, who was already crossing the room. She activated the speaker phone. “Go ahead, Jabba.”

Jabba’s metallic voice boomed into the room. “Midge, I’m in the main databank. We’re showing some strange stuff down here. I was wondering if—”

“Dammit, Jabba!” Midge came unglued. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”

“It could be nothing,” Jabba hedged, “but—”

“Stop saying that! It’s not nothing! Whatever’s going on down there, take it seriously, very seriously. My data isn’t fried‑never has been, never will.” She started to hang up and then added, “Oh, and Jabba? Just so there aren’t any surprises . . . Strathmore bypassed Gauntlet.”