The universe burned. New galaxies of pain exploded out of the black, blowing through the flimsy barriers of human rationality and leaving them stripped bare. Sanity shattered into a million little fragments. The only thing left was a lone scream in the darkness.
     Slowly the scream eased down, the pain faded away to a black calm. There was something conscious in this empty world, but confused. It remembered too much. It remembered things that didn’t belong to it. How could that happen? Something had gone wrong, something had pulled it here, to black skies over black earth.
     Gina, came a faraway whisper. The sky lit up with distant flickers of crimson in tune to the words. Answer me.
     She stayed still. She was afraid.
     I know you’re here, said the whisper, a little stronger than before. The sky flashed brighter. Talk to me and I’ll find you.
     Somewhere inside, she ached to call out, but fear overruled that heartsick feeling. Stay silent, stay hidden. She knew she couldn’t give in to that voice.
     You can’t hide from me, the whisper went on, only it wasn’t a whisper now, it was someone familiar speaking softly in the darkness. I’m not going to hurt you. There’s so much I still have to show you, you’re the only one who’ll understand.
     Gabriel! she sobbed almost against her will. Then she turned and ran. She dove up through the blackness higher and higher–
     –Gina bolted up with a gasp and tumbled out of her hammock. The floor hit her squarely in the back. The big wooden planks pitched and rolled with the waves, reassuring her that she was still on the Son of the Wind, still safe. She picked herself up and dusted off her naked skin.
     Without warning Maryam burst into the room, wearing a frown that made her look ten years older. She stared unembarrassed at Gina, and Gina was too frazzled to try and hide herself.
     Maryam said in a deadly serious monotone, “We just got word, there’s an airship come in over the town about half an hour ago. It’s headed the wrong way to go to the airport, and it’s had a helicopter ferrying people all over. You can see it from the deck.”
     Trying to shake off the dream and think, Gina collected the fuzzy ideas in her head and held on to them. She jumped into some jeans and a t-shirt and let Maryam lead her up into the morning air, damp and heavy with mist. The buildings along the Potemkin Stairs gradually faded to white, but suspended in the air above the city centre was a cigar-shaped blob of colour which Gina recognised all too well. Civilian and army helicopters buzzed around it like fireflies.
     She said, “Maryam, I don’t think I can stay here.”
     “You’re not going anywhere with those people on the streets. What you need to do is sit down, get some breakfast in you, and stay on the boat. I’m not giving up now, which means you aren’t allowed to either.”
     Gina closed her eyes, feeling tears well up behind them. She knew it couldn’t have lasted, so she only had herself to blame. She should’ve kept her distance from Mahmoud and Maryam. Shouldn’t have let them get under her skin. Everything would’ve been so much easier.
     “No,” Gina husked, then had to stop to clear her throat. “This has gone far enough, Maryam. You’ve done too much already. I need to get the hell out of here before I drag you both down with me.”
     Without waiting for a reply she went to her cabin and threw some of her handed-down clothes into a bag. Her only possessions in the whole wide world. Lastly she hid herself inside the big leather jacket, slung her bag over her shoulder, and tried in vain to think of something to say before she went out to face the world alone.
     Words failed her. There was nothing she could say that would live up. Instead she just went, hoping that they knew how much they’d meant to her.

***

     Maryam glanced at Gina when she emerged on deck, but didn’t say a word. She merely patted Gina’s arm and disappeared down the steps. The only sound was the soft howl of the wind whipping across the harbour.
     Gina bit back tears as she clambered down onto the jetty, glad that Mahmoud wasn’t around to see her. Even a glimpse of his face would have made this so much harder. She’d be dead now if it hadn’t been for this boat and the people on it. Maybe that would’ve been better for everyone involved, but she was grateful all the same.
     Mumbling a few weak goodbyes, touching the old timbers one last time, she sighed and walked away. The jetty led her onto the pier, and from the pier she could go anywhere.
     So, running away, she thought. She couldn’t bear to stay on Son of the Wind and endanger the people she’d come to love. By the same token she couldn’t just go to Gabriel until she knew exactly what to do, or she might lose herself and never find her way back.
     This is the best thing to do for everyone, so why do I feel like such a heel?
     She kept her eyes on the Stairs — the only way she knew into the city — and shouldered her bag to begin the long lonely march. However, before she even reached the end of the jetty she saw something that made her heart stop. Mahmoud turned the corner from the direction of the Stairs and started towards her. She swallowed a cry and dashed for the nearest alley.
     She watched him through the wispy white fog as he trundled past her, up the jetty and aboard his ship. By some miracle he hadn’t spotted her. He called for his wife but received no response. Frowning, he headed below-decks. He knew something was wrong.
     Gina fled. She rushed headlong through the maze-like streets of the pier, a self-contained world of wet concrete and steel. Shady back alleys and overgrown byways let her avoid the main roads, and it only took a few cuts and scrapes to reach the tram tracks. She jumped onto a passing carriage going up and breathed a sigh of relief as she let her bag slump to the floor. Away, safe, free from guilt.
     Free . . .
     As the tram began to grind its way uphill towards the city, Gina found herself a seat in between some quiet locals and sat down to wait. She tried formulate what to do next, some kind of plan of action, but her attempts at rational thought quickly disappeared in the cold numbness at her core.
     Worry about getting out of the city later, she told herself, and clenched her shaking hands. First we need a better place to hide. How do you find somewhere like that for no money at all?
     She could at least answer that question, after spending half her teenage years in squats around Hong Kong. Once you found a decent slum the rest tended to take care of itself.
     She hopped off the tram as soon as it reached the top of the hill. The airship still hung pendulously in the sky, casting its menacing shadow across a large swathe of the city. Gina kept her head down and her hood up to avoid face recognition. She couldn’t help glancing back one last time, though, to absorb the sea spread out below her. Steady winds were blowing the fog away inland, and although the sky above Odessa was still thick and grey, far-off rays of sunlight sparkled on the surface of the water where the clouds broke.
     The view hit her in an unexpected way. She was no stranger to being on her own, but she’d never felt quite so alone. Even in her darkest days the City had been all around her; solid, familiar, almost alive. She spoke its language, knew how to carry herself through its backstreets. ‘Home’ was the wrong word, but it had been something. Now she had nothing and no one to count on but herself.
     “Hey, Bomber,” she whispered into the collar of her jacket, “I really wish you were here right now. But you’re in Spain and you can’t hear me, so just take care of yourself.” She shrugged. “I’ll be okay, yeah? Street girl like me will make herself right at home.”
     Steeling herself, she set off down the badly-maintained streets and searched for a place to set up for the night.
     Soon the sun dipped below the nearest row of rooftops, and Gina shivered in the afternoon shade. Her ears slowly became attuned to the melody of this unfamiliar city. There was a discordant note in it, the bustle muted and uncertain. People used words Gina didn’t understand, but she got all she needed to know from their fearful glances up at the sky. The airship darkened their moods, too, like a symbol of the apocalypse.
     Helicopter rotors chopped constantly in the distance. The sound made her tense up inside, even while she forced an outward calm. Nobody was going to get the drop on Gina Hart. She was a telepath, and if that dubious talent was ever going to come in handy, here and now would be it.
     She kept one hand on the Spice pills hidden in her pocket. She wasn’t sure what kind of effect they’d have on her now, how crazy the world would become. Still, in a weird way, their presence was reassuring. They were there if she needed an edge, a little extra firepower against the frightening world around her.
     The sun disappeared completely while she wandered alone. She passed pubs and hostels, tempted, but thought better of it. Her Conglom wasn’t great and they might remember her. She’d be better off finding a nice park bench or a dry spot under some bridge. A few years had gone by since her squatting days, but she remembered sleeping rough pretty well.
     The neighbourhoods grew meaner, and the streets quietened. The background noise of kids playing and people enjoying the evening had gone. The only figures she saw walked fast and kept their heads far down. Only a few dared to look up from the pavement in front of them, and they glanced over her as if she didn’t exist.
     She looked back once, wondering if she was being followed. Just a feeling. She couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean there was nothing to see. There was a lot of interference, too many unpleasant minds in the dilapidated houses around her that she didn’t want to touch. She kept walking.
     Then she spotted something. It was an abandoned house on the corner of the street, boarded up and marked with a few shreds of ancient warning tape. Weeds grew waist-high in the garden and rubbish littered the path up to the front door. Iron gratings were screwed over the broken windows. There was broken glass everywhere. The place should probably have been knocked down years ago, but all the important walls were still standing.
     Perfect, Gina thought, grinning, and she made a beeline for the porch.
     First she tested for weak screws around the barred windows. Then she looked for a way to climb up to the second floor’s open windows. Without a crowbar or a ladder, she’d find no joy there.
     One by one she exhausted every method she could remember. She kept coming up against her lack of tools. In the end she had to step back and think again, a little bit deflated, but determined to get in there.
     She idly ran her hand along the rotted wood of the door, which splintered and crumbled between her fingers. Then she stared at it, an idea forming in her head. Soft as fucking powder. I could just push my way through . . .
     Two swift kicks tore a big hole through the door’s bottom panel, just big enough for someone to crawl through. Gina went down on her hands and knees, buried as much of herself as possible in the oversized leather jacket, and forced her way through the splinters into the house.
     She’d just started to dust herself off when an electric torch flicked on and caught her full in its beam. From behind it, a voice chuckled, “Come on in, make yourself at home.”
     Silence. Gina froze, her heart in her throat, unable to move.
     “You’re Gina, right?” asked the shadow behind the torch, a calm female voice with thick Australian vowels. Gina blinked against the light. She could just make out a silhouette, taller and slimmer than herself, with a mind like a blank wall. “You don’t have to answer, I know perfectly well who you are. Been following you, didn’t want to make a scene in a public place.” She glanced over her shoulder towards the patio. “Back door’s open, by the way.”
     Gina bared her teeth as she climbed upright, trembling with anger and cold fear. “Go away. Tell Gabriel I don’t want to be found.”
     “Tell who?” the woman said in mild surprise, then chuckled. “Sure, I’ll tell him whatever you want.”
     Suddenly something cold pricked Gina’s neck, and in an instant she felt her muscles go numb. Even her mouth refused to work as she sank to the floor. She watched, paralysed, as her captor put the torch away, then calmly trussed her up with cable ties and carried her out into the night.

***

     The next thing Gina knew she was in the boot of a car, bouncing about with no idea where she was going. The plastic ties bit into her wrists, causing her to moan through the gag in her mouth, to no avail. Anyone who could hear her wouldn’t care.
     She tried making telepathic suggestions, but the woman’s mind might as well have been made of steel. Gina listened and wrestled with it for what seemed like an eternity, and the only thing she could find out about her captor was her name. Jane.
     Prisoner again, she thought, disgusted at herself. Didn’t last long, did it?
     The mobile phone in her pocket started to dig in. She’d already tried to get it out three times, but it wasn’t easy with both hands tied behind her back. Summoning up her energy, she made one last attempt, grinding her hip against the car’s rough upholstery. Bit by bit the phone moved. Beads of sweat rolled down her face from the effort, but she gritted her teeth and forced her muscles to obey. One last wrench brought it free.
     She twisted around to hit the buttons with the tip of her nose. She called the only person who could help her now. The phone clicked as she hit the final number, and it rang. And rang again. After the third ring the call cut out completely. Gina’s heart sank and she dropped her head to the floor, exhausted.
     Another turn came up, and Gina couldn’t help thinking they were driving in circles. She sighed and shifted her weight to ease the pressure on her shoulders. Her mind started to wander. There was nothing to do except lie and think.
     Without even realising it, her mind ticked over, and diffuse light touched her closed eyelids. The restraints were gone and so was the car, the hum of the engine, even the rare flashes of thought from Jane. Gina was somewhere else. She stretched her sore muscles and looked up at a white place, infinite and empty, just like her first glimpse of the dreamworld in Gabriel’s head.
     For a moment she thought herself alone in it. Then a sudden clap of thunder rolled over her, deafening her. A shallow dent appeared in the floor a few centimetres from her feet. She shrank back, and another dent appeared a few inches away with its own blast of noise. More dents appeared as the battering from underneath became more frantic, but the floor held. Gina imagined she could hear screaming.
     On a whim, she crawled over and placed her palm against one of the white dents. She remembered the lessons Gabriel taught her. This was her dreamworld, and she could make anything happen. She willed the floor to open. It obeyed.
     The scream from beneath tore at her full force, blowing her hair back from her shoulders, and in a flash she caught sight of a face underneath — Rat’s face, buried in a dark wooden coffin filled with sand — before the whiteness fell away.

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