Gina had worn more than a few names in her lifetime. It was out of necessity more than anything; she used them up one by one and discarded the empty husks behind her. She went through several identities before settling on ‘Gina’, and it took more than a year of trial and error to find a last name that stuck. Hart. Gina Hart. It sounded right together, like a film star.
     She wondered what her parents would think of it. Director and Mrs. Vaughan would probably be aghast, their darling girl going around by an appellation fit only for some manner of prostitute. But their naive little daughter died a long time ago, or so Gina liked to think. The girl had had to give way for the woman she became.
     Her hammock rolled again, and she remembered she was on a ship. She’d almost drowned. Some people dragged her out of the water, gave her food and a place to sleep. Gina wondered where they were now. She decided to go look for them.
     She tried to sit up but found her muscles wouldn’t respond. The next moment there was a big woman by her hammock murmuring soothing words that Gina couldn’t understand, piling cold cloths on her forehead. A dark-skinned man with a huge beard stood beside her looking worried. Gina couldn’t understand him either. Their voices sounded tinny and distant, like her head was wrapped tight with clingfilm.
     What was happening? How did she get here? Nothing made sense. She couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a second at a time.
     They’re the people who rescued you, said a voice inside her, the voice that remembered things. She didn’t hear it much anymore. It continued, You have a fever. You were in the cold water a long time.
     The memories came back to her in waves, imperfect and full of holes. Too intense, too weird. So many things had happened to her, she could no longer tell which were real and which were just a fever dream.
     She still remembered her life before she started running. She’d been a telepath, freelance, selling her mind for money. She took drugs that let her feel other people’s thoughts and emotions. Then a man came to her and offered her a job she should never have taken. They met more people, but foremost among them was another man, someone dangerous. She looked inside his head and found only horror.
     The terrible images repeated themselves in front of her eyes, made more powerful than ever by the fever burning in her brain. Half-melted skeletons of steel and bone sagged and swayed through the sky. Rows of trees were stripped of their leaves and branches, dead or dying in the poisoned ground. Misshapen statues of ash and carbon stood locked in the moment of their death, staring sightlessly as the red sky bled evil down onto the world. Deserted streets echoed to the soft keening of the wind. It was the sound of a thousand voices screaming in the distance.
     Her confused thoughts circled back to the time before she became a telepath, before she took to the Street of Eyes, and clawed through the fuzzy shreds of memory. Those days had gone by so fast. She had a boyfriend then who helped her run away from home. For a while they lived together in a couple of condemned flats with a group of his squatter friends, happy, not needing much. Then his addiction to pixie dust started to spiral out of control. He spent more and more time away with the faeries. She wasn’t into it, but she stuck by him because that’s what she did. In the end she found him on the bathroom floor, dead from dehydration with a blissful smile on his face.
     That, at least, was real. She clung to those memories with desperate strength. Memories were all she had left.
     She saw the dangerous man again, glowing with inner light, something more than human. Gabriel, she remembered. The name was something clear and powerful in the thick sludge of her thoughts. She feared him, hated him, pitied him and loved him all at the same time. And he loved her. Maybe. Some things had happened, and she wasn’t sure . . .
     Slipping back into the darkness, she rested for a while, but the unfocussed dreams spinning through her head were almost the same as her waking delirium. Occasionally she tasted food or water passing her lips but couldn’t be sure whether it was real or imaginary.
     Then, one morning, she awoke with a cold sliver of clarity between her eyes. She saw the little cabin around her, smelled honest salt and wood, felt fresh air pouring over her face from the open door — this time without seeing dancing kidney beans and purple elephants. She tried to look around, but the slightest movement seemed to ignite a fireworks display of pain behind her eyes. She moaned, and within moments the big woman appeared to layer more damp cloths on Gina’s forehead. She wore a faded apron stained with a lifetime’s worth of coffee, flour and gravy.
     “Some painkillers would be better,” Gina suggested through her dry throat, and the woman jerked back. Then she broke into giggles and ran off cackling about gods and the praising thereof. Gina grunted and tried not to move. Everything hurt.
     The woman marched back into the room with the bearded man from before. Gina tried to remember his name, flogging her fuzzy brain until it uncovered the right one like a shining jewel. He was called Mahmoud, and the woman was his wife, Maryam. She hoped she could get her tongue around those.
     “It’s good to see you awake,” said Mahmoud, smiling under the black mass of hair that covered most of his face. “You had Maryam worried sick, you know. She kept saying, ‘She will die of fever, she will die, poor girl,’ and I told her over and over, ‘No, she is young and strong, she will survive.’ You took your time proving me right!”
     “I’ll try and do better next time.” Gina forced a smile, then barked a dry cough. “How long was I out of it?”
     Mahmoud signalled his wife to get some food and drink, and she shot off like a bullet. Once she was gone, he pulled up a chair and sat down next to Gina’s hammock. “It’s been two weeks since we picked you up. You remember? You were adrift in a lifeboat, we found you and fished you out the water. You came down with fever the next day.”
     She nodded, then immediately regretted it. “I remember,” she grunted. “Not my best day ever.”
     “No,” said Mahmoud, “you were lucky, very lucky. You could easily have died in the water, and again here in bed.”
     “I’m grateful.”
     He broke into a grin. “Be grateful to God, my girl. We had little to do with it, we merely followed the paths set out for us.”
     “Okay,” Gina murmured politely. Her head wasn’t in any shape to deal with religion at the moment. “Two weeks . . . Christ, how could I have a fever for that long? Didn’t you give me antibiotics?”
     “How would we give you what we do not have?” he asked, a little hurt. “This is not a pleasure yacht, though I’m sure it’s an easy mistake to make. For all our riches we are humble people with humble means.”
     The idea of not having antibiotics threw Gina for a loop. She couldn’t imagine anyone in the Federation so poor that they didn’t have access to basic medicines. Regardless, she didn’t want to offend Mahmoud’s feelings, so she worked up an apologetic smile.
     “Sorry, I didn’t mean to come off like that.”
     He nodded acceptance and stood up again, shoving the chair back into its corner. “Try to rest. We’ll be coming into port in a few hours, home with our catch. Then you can leave if you wish and make your own way to wherever you are going.”
     “Thank you.” A moment of silence passed between them. Gina’s gratitude was plain to see, requiring no further explanation. “You never even asked my name.”
     “I’m sure you will share it when you are ready.” He dipped his head in a brief bow, then headed for the door. She called out to him just before he made his exit.
     “There was a man travelling with me,” she said softly. “A friend. Not on the lifeboat, before that, before we launched. Have you seen any sign of him?”
     “None,” he admitted, “but I will keep my eye out. Really, try to rest. I must go pilot this thing into port, but Maryam will be back soon, she’ll get you anything you need.”
     Gina thanked him again and leaned back into her pillows. Food and rest sounded pretty good right around now, so she settled in to wait, feeling truly safe for the first time in years.

***

     Gina struggled up the stairs despite her body’s protests. Her muscles were stiff and weak from days of lying in bed, but she needed to get out, needed to see the sky again. It always reminded her she was still alive.
     The ever-present smell of salt became even stronger as she poked her head up through the hatch. Sea spray spattered across her face, and she pulled her borrowed jacket tight around her against the cold wind. She climbed the rest of the way, undaunted by the pitch and yaw of the waves, and emerged onto the slippery timbers of the foredeck. Bobbing green waters stretched out before her, and she looked out over them like a newly-minted queen surveying her country.
     The sky was grey but it didn’t choke her like the City’s usual blanket of smog. Dark, rocky shore stretched out on either side of her, showing miles of choppy surf in each direction. A massive concrete pier connected the shores behind her, an ancient relic from the previous century, discoloured with hundreds of patches where its crumbling concrete had been repaired and reinforced against the beating of the waves.
     Wooden jetties sprouted haphazardly from the pier. The boat was tied up at one of these, drifting next to the rusted hulk of a freighter that obviously hadn’t moved in years. Up on the pier, oily yardsmen battled with nets and dredging equipment, unloading each ship as it came in.
     And above the pier she could see a massive stairway leading up the hills to the city above, the longest, tallest set of steps she’d ever seen. To the right of it stood the remnants of a small cable car line, now in disrepair, replaced by an elevated tram track. To the left was a container elevator going up the hill to a large complex of warehouses. Beyond the warehouses she could see nothing but roofs going off into the distance. The stairs were the only significant space in view that wasn’t covered by buildings.
     Gina had to step back and think before the sights absorbed her completely. This town might not rival the continent-spanning vastness of the City, but it looked big. It gave a feeling of . . . oldness. Properly old, in a way that neon lights and mirrored glass could never really achieve no matter how many years they lasted.
     “Where the hell are we?” she asked herself.
     “Home,” Mahmoud said from behind, startling her, but Gina quickly regained her composure when he joined her at the railing. He positively beamed with happiness. “My sea, my town. The best place in the world to come back to with a good catch! The Federation has paid our haul, we have money to spend and time to enjoy the land!” He thumped his fist against the wooden railing, a fierce grin on his lips. Then he fixed Gina with a look and added, “You will join us for the celebration tonight?” It was more a statement of fact than a question.
     Gina shrugged. “Sure. Wouldn’t want to miss a party.”
     There were a couple of things she ought to be doing, but she welcomed the chance to forget about everything for a while. Her life hadn’t been the greatest since she got involved with Bomber and his crew. Instead she closed her eyes and listened to the rustling of the waves. She hadn’t felt so relaxed in months.
     At last she opened her eyes again and said, “What is this place? It’s not like any city I’ve ever seen.”
     She’d been building up to that question ever since she woke up. She had to find out sooner or later, even if it meant looking at her place in the world again and trying to figure out what to do next. At the moment she was out of sight, adrift, without anyone trying to kill her or protect her. It made a nice change. Anything was better than–
     “Odessa,” Mahmoud answered suddenly, “in the True Marxist State of Ukraine.” He didn’t seem to notice Gina stiffen where she stood, her knuckles white where they gripped the railing. He continued, “It is the place of my birth, and the birth of my father, and of his father, all the way back to the Cossacks of ancient times.”
     She stammered, “I’m . . . in the Recommunista?”
     Mahmoud flinched. “People here aren’t fond of that term. It’s hardly fair to equate us to–“
     “The last thing I need right now is a political lecture!” she burst out. Suddenly it all made sense. The primitive conditions, the antiquated architecture, the complete absence of holographics. One of her worst nightmares had come true. “Mahmoud, I’m a Federation citizen! Do you have any idea what they do to people like me here? And the gangs . . .”
     His dark eyes looked at her with such gravity that much of her anger and panic melted away. He said in a dead serious voice, “Things have become less drastic over the years. We have lived at peace with the Federation for some time now. Enough for them to make contracts with local fishermen like me, at least.”
     “That’s . . .” She sighed. “Okay, Mahmoud. Thanks.”
     Faint signs of a smile around the corners of his mouth. “You do not trust me.”
     “It’s– it’s complicated.” She was at a loss about how to explain the threat of getting ‘disappeared’ into some Russian slave pit, getting tapped by the mafia, or — even worse — being extradited to the Federal Police. She was wanted for any number of felonies, depending on how much the Feds disliked her after raiding their Hong Kong base to free Bomber. Being a foreigner here certainly wouldn’t get her any favours from the local law.
     Just about the only thing that could be said in the Federation’s favour was that it was slightly less of a stinking, corrupt hellhole than the glorious Marxist States.
     Mahmoud turned around to look up at his city, its buildings ancient and majestic under the endless grey sky. “Your Federation may be a safer place,” he admitted, “but this is a free place, where men can still live without the bootprint of police and government all over them. You cannot have both.”
     Gina nodded dubiously. She wasn’t sure she believed Mahmoud or agreed with him, but if a man like him was happy here then she supposed it couldn’t be all bad. Mahmoud gestured to the rickety jetty leading toward the shore and proffered his hand, an invitation to come along and explore.
     “Alright,” she said, working up a smile despite herself, and took his arm. “Show me the good bits.”

***

     Their tour of Odessa lasted until dusk fell. Gina and Mahmoud rode a rundown blue tram through the tight streets of the city centre, visiting pubs and palaces, huge streets and tiny back alleys. They all looked equally ancient and intriguing. The Vorontsov Palace — itself just a solid mass of neoclassical concrete, seemingly made up of nothing but columns and facades — offered an intense view of the harbour below, all the way out to the great green plain of the Black Sea.
     She’d enjoyed the pubs too, and had downed four pints of pitch-black Russian ale by the time they made it back to the dockside. Her head was warm and buzzy but not quite drunk yet.
     Mahmoud guided her towards a stretch of pebble beach in the lee of the pier. People were dancing around a large bonfire made of driftwood and old clothes. A few amateur musicians stood to one side playing their instruments, fiddles and guitars and an accordion. An untalented but enthusiastic singer belted out some bawdy Russian folk song, and earned a massive cheer for his effort.
     Gina’s stomach rumbled when she spotted the island of collapsible tables shoved up against the wall of the pier, piled high with platters of food. The revellers didn’t seem to bother with the usual garden-party affair of paper plates and disposable cutlery, they just grabbed what they wanted and ate when they liked.
     The crowd parted to let Maryam through. She stormed up to Mahmoud for a hug and a kiss, then crushed Gina to her chest. “There’s m’girl!” she said in her thick English accent. “Glad y’re ‘ere, it’ll be fun an’ dancin’ all even’n!”
     Gina just smiled and nodded. They supposedly spoke the same language, but only in theory. Maryam’s strong hands dragged her along to the food, where Gina nibbled politely at a handful of things she didn’t recognise. She’d decided she wasn’t hungry.
     “You look uncomfortable,” Mahmoud observed from beside her.
     “I’ve never been to . . .” She was lost for words to describe the scene around her, so she spread her arms to try and encompass it all in a gesture. “Anything like this.”
     He smiled as if he believed she was having him on, willing to indulge her little story. “Do you not have parties in the Federation?”
     “Nothing that comes close. Stiff little affairs with white tablecloths and caterers. Bars and night clubs. I’ve even been to church once. This . . .” She shook her head.
     “You must have been wealthy,” he said.
     “My parents were. I was their little princess until I hit puberty, and they bought me anything I wanted. Sometimes I–” She suddenly realised what she was saying, how much she’d opened up to somebody she didn’t even know, and clamped a hand over her mouth. The alcohol buzz had loosened her up too much, and Mahmoud was a terrific listener. Which made him all the more dangerous.
     Worst of all, he seemed to guess her exact thoughts and put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “I have said before, anything you wish to share, you may do so of your own free will. As much or as little as you like. I ask no questions.”
     “Thanks,” she said huskily, then cleared her throat and sent him a playful smile. “What about you, great fisherman and rescuer of strange women? What’s your story?”
     He gave a slight snort. “Are you sure you have that long? I wouldn’t want to ruin your evening.” He stepped closer to the fire as if to warm himself, but then took off his thick jacket and threw it on the pile of coats and shoes for safekeeping. Gina followed his example and shrugged out of her borrowed jacket, exposing her borrowed t-shirt and borrowed jeans. The desperate need to go shopping overcame her, just to get into some of her own clothes again.
     In the meantime she murmured, “I’d like to hear it if you want to share it. As much or as little as you like.”
     She couldn’t suppress a grin at his sour expression. Using his own lines on him was clearly considered cheating, but Gina Hart wasn’t about to let anyone get away with that.
     “All right, my girl, you win,” he sighed. “It’s a good night for a story. But perhaps not a story about me.” He clapped his hands three times, and the musicians stopped playing. He spoke to the crowd in Conglom. “I should like for you all to sit around the fire and listen to a tale of my ancestors, who are of the blood of the ancient Cossacks, and you will listen politely and enjoy it because I am the man who pays your wages. Understood?” He scanned the crowd for any signs of dissent, and found only a few glum — but silent — faces. Then he added with appropriate magnanimity, “However, I would not be a ship’s captain if I were without mercy. You may still drink.”
     The crowd cheered and applauded, and they all settled on the sand around the fire to listen. Someone shoved a bottle of vodka into Gina’s hand as she made herself comfortable. She figured a sip or two wouldn’t do any harm. She could barely taste anything as she swallowed the oily liquid, but it burned sweetly all the way down her throat.
     Mahmoud’s deep, rolling voice picked up over the fading murmur of the crowd, and Gina allowed herself to be swept up in his words as the story began.

***

     “When I was just a boy,” Mahmoud boomed, “my father used to tell me tales of the great men in my family line. He told me of their heroism, their patriotism, their sense of duty or honour. They were flawed men, as all men have flaws, but my father told me to appreciate their memory for the good they did, not the bad. As we should appreciate all men for the good they do.
     “My father told me a lot of shit while I was growing up,” he continued, and grinned as a laugh rippled through the crowd. “It was not his fault, truly. The stories were important to him, told to him by his father, who heard them from his father, and so on. Like family heirlooms passed down the generations. They gave him a link to the past, to a simpler life where our people were free as birds and did as they pleased wherever they pleased. He once asked me if I wanted him to write down his stories, but I said no. It was the telling that made them special. So now I give you a story of my own father, Djalil Omar Kerensky.
     “You will not find this name in any history book or epic poem. My father was one of those men whose lives are never written down, but who make you know how much less the world would be if they had not existed. He too had brushes with heroism in the days when the Recommunist revolution came to the Ukraine. But let me begin at the beginning.”
     “Djalil was born in the middle of a thunderstorm on the Black Sea, aboard a fishing boat called Son of the Wind. His father was the ship’s steersman, my grandfather. My grandmother, though big with child, had insisted on joining her husband for the journey so that they might be together when the child was born. Even the captain could not dissuade her. So Djalil Omar entered the world amidst crashing lightning and ten-metre waves, a healthy baby boy named in the tradition of my grandmother’s family.
     “He grew up aboard Son of the Wind, learning the ways of the sea from all the people aboard. When Djalil was fifteen years old, the ship’s captain died of pneumonia. Leaving no sons of his own, he passed his ship to my grandfather. That was when things began to change.
     “Word of the Recommunist movement reached Odessa when my father was eighteen. At first he heard stories of non-violent protests against the Russian government, against their inability to lift the poverty gripping the country, even though their politicians lived fat and easy off the proletariat’s taxes. However, the revolution was far away and my father could do little but wish them well.
     “The marches slowly spread throughout Russia, ever larger and more numerous. Even people in independent Ukraine started to grumble. The Russian government attempted to stop the marches by deploying armed police, which would finally give Djalil the impulse he needed, when those same police gunned down a column of unarmed protesters in Saint Petersburg. To my father, whose ancestors lived through the October revolution, it was as if the Tsars had returned. He called the fishermen of Odessa and started to march. Many people did the same, rising up in the hundreds of thousands all across Russia and Ukraine and Belarus.
     “He was soon recruited into one of the Russian Recommunist groups, spreading the word about the government’s crimes on both sides of the border. The police arrested him several times for speaking at marches, letting him rot for weeks in a Russian jail, but each time he was released without charge.
     “They still held out hope for a political victory. Opposition parties everywhere were set to take both countries by storm. Then the joint governments of Russia and Ukraine suspended elections. Again my father was in the thick of it, speaking for the revolution, until even the army began to turn against the government. The Recommunists looked like the better option, promising leadership and prosperity through cooperation and hard work. The government tried harder and harder to suppress things, but more and more soldiers deserted as things grew more violent. In the end, Djalil knew they couldn’t wait any longer.
     “With his help the Recommunists made a plan to infiltrate the Kremlin, aided by the army guards, aiming to depose the government without firing a shot.”
     Mahmoud observed the crowd again, which was getting noisy and restless, and he sensed that their patience wouldn’t last much longer unless he got to the point. He nodded to himself.
     “Djalil Omar was part of the group that went into the Kremlin. Army guards turned a blind eye to him, some even helped to surround and block the exits of the palace buildings. When Djalil gave the signal, they marched in on the government in session. The Prime Minister, President, everyone of importance was there and there was no escape.
     “Due to his gift for speech, Djalil made a statement to the assembled officials, and placed the Deputy Prime Minister under citizen’s arrest. Then it fell to him and his compatriots to pick up the rule of two great nations. They set out to implement their reforms as they had promised, and my father was part of the initial debates, always pushing for the rights of the poor.
     “However, homesickness took its toll, and he soon became frustrated with politics and his own lack of education compared to some of the other leaders. After only a few days my father left Moscow again to return here. To his ship and his family, to honest work and honest people, to the sea and the bounty it brings us. To a simpler, better life.”
     “A toast!” someone shouted from the crowd. “To a simpler, better life!” The crowd boomed their approval and drank, then gave Mahmoud a roar of applause.
     Gina found herself clapping as well, without even realising it. The story had drawn her in so much that she’d lost all track of time. It seemed like Mahmoud had inherited his family’s speaking skills — or maybe it was just because of all the vodka boiling in her stomach. Her head started to spin, and she steadied herself against the sand.
     When the quiet returned, Mahmoud said, “My father never spoke about the revolution afterwards. This story was told to me by one of my uncles, and I am satisfied that it is true. That is why Djalil Omar Kerensky is worthy of a place among my honoured ancestors, and why he is my father.”
     Mahmoud finished in a solemn tone and lowered his head. A respectful silence fell while Mahmoud raised his glass. They all drank quietly, even Gina — and then the toast was over. People sprang up to continue the party as lustily as ever. The musicians resumed playing and Mahmoud headed over to the tables to get something to eat.
     Once, he glanced over to where she sat, smiling in his peculiar way. She caught the look, raised her bottle to him in salute and drank with the best of them.

***

     The mother of all headaches pounded in Gina’s skull, like somebody hammering on a big drum inside her brain. She moaned, but even the act of moaning hurt. So did moving, breathing, thinking, and pretty much everything else under the sun. She tried to keep as much blanket as possible between her eyes and the painful daylight peeking through the porthole. It was white and bright and horrible and she wanted it to go away.
     What on Earth was I drinking last night? she asked herself despite the pain, but the whole evening had become a blur. Definitely something strong. She’d drunk herself silly plenty of times in the past, but never in her life had she experienced a morning as bad as this.
     She thought she heard someone speak outside her cabin, and grunted at them to shut up. She was in a foul mood. Didn’t want to do anything except lie around in perfect peace and quiet until the hangover went away. This demanded absolute silence from everyone else on board.
     She tried to get back to sleep, but her brain wouldn’t shut off. The recent past kept preying on her mind. It felt like an eternity since she took the job that landed her in all this trouble. She’d been running for her life ever since, with Bomber as her constant friend and companion. For certain values of ‘friend’. He was the strong, silent, emotionally distant type, which fit neatly into his cold-blooded attitude, but every now and again he showed a glimmer of humanity that really caught her attention. She wondered where he could be now. Whether he was still alive. She missed him a lot . . .
     She only hoped that Jock and Rat might be able to give her some answers, if she could get back in touch with them somehow. They were Bomber’s acquaintances, although Gina and Rat had come to be friends.
     God, sighed Gina, it’d be good to see those faces again.
     A spark of loneliness tugged at her heart. She was completely cut off from the rest of the world. She’d kept her eyes out during her tour of the city, and found there was no such thing as a public GlobeNet terminal in Odessa. Some linkups had to exist somewhere, but they might as well be a million miles away.
     More people started speaking, and louder. Again she called out for them to shut up. Her brain throbbed as if trying to violently burst out of her skull. It reminded her of taking one Spice tab too many, in that your thoughts turned to mush and all you really wanted was to stop your senses from bombarding you with more information.
     “What’s the point?” someone asked. The voice was clearly in the same room, but muffled and distorted as if coming through a bad speaker. Gina opened her eyes to look, but found no one.
     “Who’s there?” she asked. No response. Her head felt increasingly light, as if it were detaching and floating away from her body. Moaning, she replaced her face on the pillow and tried again to block everything out, but even with her ears covered she could hear voices warbling at her. Go away! she shouted mentally.
     “You’re wasting your time,” said someone unfamiliar. Suddenly the voices stopped.
     For a long time she heard no sound at all, and she bit her lip, worrying. What was going on with her? Was she finally starting to break down?
     Somewhere in this mad adventure, being in contact with Gabriel and his impossible telepathic abilities, Gina had started to develop weird talents of her own. They came and went, but at times she could read people’s minds without taking any Spice at all. Feel their thoughts, see through their eyes, even make them do things against their will. It was scary and wrong and shouldn’t be possible, but it was happening. A tiny part of her had held out hope that the fever might have killed it off. She should be so lucky.
     She recalled the short time she’d spent on Gabriel’s airship. Sleeping with Gabriel probably hadn’t been her best idea ever, but it had seemed inevitable, like destiny. But she’d also kissed Bomber, and she’d be lying if she said there hadn’t been something behind it. The same Bomber she’d last glimpsed through the door of a falling lifeboat, lunging at Gabriel in a misguided attempt to protect her. Knowing full well Gabriel could kill him with a thought.
     Gina sighed and kicked herself. No matter what, her mind always turned back to Bomber, as futile as that train of thought was. It wasn’t fair. She didn’t deserve to be alone again.
     “There is no such person,” came that voice again, Dopplering strangely. “Besides, you’re hardly in any shape to–“
     Suddenly it was cut off by another, deeper than the first, and her heart leapt into her throat when she recognised the rolling Mississippi accent. Her eyes saw two different rooms at the same time, her ship’s cabin superimposed over a small square room, pastel walls and spartan furniture, a blurry but familiar face staring at itself through a mirror with a thick coat of stubble growing on its chin.
     It snapped, “Enough! I’m sick and tired of listenin’ to you. I don’t give a damn how much time it takes, how much money it’s gonna cost, or who’ll be standing in my way. I’m gonna find her.
     The voices continued but Gina couldn’t make anything out after that. Her trembling hands were covering her face, wet with tears, and her whole body shook against the pillows.
     He was alive. Nothing could’ve made her happier, but . . . Things weren’t finished. She’d have to get involved again and let the storm swallow her up a second time. She’d have to find a way to stop Bomber and Gabriel from tearing each other apart, even while facing down the apocalyptic visions that had haunted her day and night. They’d drive her stark raving mad sooner or later. She still held out hope for a cure, though she didn’t even know where to begin.
     Even thinking about the blasted city made her head hurt. She still didn’t know where it came from, or how Gabriel could’ve picked up that kind of trauma, or why he passed it to her. Maybe it was some memory from his time in post-apocalyptic New Orleans. Maybe a plan for something yet to come. She still didn’t know, thanks to Bomber screwing everything up.
     And then there were the Hephaestus Project nanobots. Nobody had a clue how or where they fit into the Gabriel Lowell mystery. She still burned to know the answer.
     It had to be done, she told herself. The peace she’d found in Odessa would only ever be the eye of the hurricane.
     Gina swallowed the rest of her tears and swung her legs out of the hammock. Forcing some clarity into her muddled brain, she pulled on some clothes and went off in search of Mahmoud.

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