“Hey!” someone shouted in the distance and her cheek stung with sudden pain. The throne room grew faint, torn away from her eyes. She swam into a dark room where a woman in ordinary clothes was shaking her by the shoulders and shouting. Gina shook her head like a punch-drunk fighter, closed her eyes against the throbbing pain between her temples. Part of her was still missing, lost halfway between here and there and fading fast, but she managed to latch on to it just in time and dragged it back into her own body by sheer force of will.
     Nobody had ever managed to bring her out of an out-of-body dream before. The transition was quick and abrupt, followed by a rush of cold memories about who she was and what had happened to her. When she opened her eyes she stared her captor full in the face, angry and alert.
     “Wakey wakey,” the woman, Jane, sang in a mocking tone. “Everybody’s here. Time for you to go on display, dolly-bird.”
     For a moment Gina looked around, taking in her surroundings. They were the only two people in an abandoned concrete shack whose sole feature was a single bare light bulb burning overhead. Gina tested her hands and ankles and found them cable-tied to a heavy chair.
     Shit, she said to herself. Then, “Where am I?”
     Jane snorted. “What does it matter to you? You’ll probably be dead by morning anyway. If I were you–“
     “Untie me,” Gina said with her voice and her mind at once. Jane’s hands twitched with involuntary movement, and Gina smiled, a small sense of triumph in her heart. The woman’s dark eyebrows shot up and she jerked backwards. It was Gina’s first good look at her captor’s features. Angular cheekbones framed a pair of bright brown eyes, and above that a high forehead showed a few millimetres of bleached blond growth.
     “What the fuck was that?” Jane breathed.
     Gina focused again, struggling to find a hold on the woman’s mind. Fear gave her a little bit more to work with. She hissed, “Untie me. Now.”
     Jane’s body lurched forward against her will. Then she clamped down on her own mind with iron discipline, took control and made it whirl in bright, confusing circles of disjointed images. A telepath avoidance technique, the worst of them all. Gina was hurled back into her own head as the room spun around her, dry-heaving with nausea.
     “I don’t know how you did that, you little bitch,” Jane spat, “but you’re not gonna do it again.” Cold steel flashed out of her sleeve and Gina jerked backwards in genuine terror. Jane grabbed a big fistful of Gina’s hair and held her still as she put the knife to her throat. The murderous expression on her face was all Gina could see.
     Then there was a loud thump and everything moved. Gina flew backwards into the wall, her chair turning to splinters where it crunched into the concrete. The next moment she was on the floor, dizzy and spitting out bits of acid-tasting bile, but not dead. Definitely not dead.
     “She’s supposed to be alive!” boomed a voice that Gina couldn’t see. Pins and needles stung her hands and feet as she pulled free of the broken chair. Pain had never felt so good, like the physical sensation of freedom. She pushed numb hands against the floor and marvelled as her body lifted up an inch or two, then stayed there swaying unsteadily.
     “Are you alright, ma’am?” the voice continued, and she raised her head to thank her rescuer. She slowly took in the outline of a suit of Federation battle armour, kneeling down in front of her, silhouetted clearly against the lights outside.
     Pure panic hit her bloodstream. All reason disappeared in that moment, she simply reacted, like an animal. Her mind lashed out. The Fed cried in sudden fright and clenched the rifle in his hand, firing wildly, bullets whistling past Gina’s ears. Somehow she’d convinced his eyes that they could no longer see.
     He staggered blindly to the side, just the opening Gina needed, and she bolted screaming out of the shack. The outside wasn’t quite what she expected.
     Some kind of fenced-off compound surrounded her, built on part of a small jet airfield — Gina could see airplanes rolling down distant runways and rumbling into the sky. Something seemed funny about this choice of location. Planes were a rare and expensive affectation nowadays, reserved only for the elite. Everyone else travelled by slower and more economical airships. If only she’d been in the right frame of mind to think about it.
     “Stop,” Jane’s voice echoed behind her, strained and coughing. “FedPol Special Agent! Stand down or I’ll fire!”
     That was all the incentive Gina needed to run. She tore across the tarmac in the glow of the airfield lights, without care for cover or staying hidden. She could hear nothing except her own hyperventilating gasps for breath. She passed a tumbledown warehouse, then an old concrete light post now given over to moss and rust. The next moment she was at the fence, four metres of vertical wire mesh, and she launched herself upwards.
     Hand over hand she pulled herself to the top of the fence. Barb wire tore at her skin and ripped her clothes but she was beyond feeling it, fuelled by nothing but animal fear. More footsteps pounded behind her, the heavy metal thumping of more Fed troopers. She prepared to jump the drop to the other side, not caring how many bones she broke, as long as she could get away . . .
     “Emily!” someone roared from the ground, and time stopped. Gina froze, shocked into stasis. No one called her by that name. No one knew that name anymore. Then a light clicked on and illuminated the thin, grey-haired spectre of a man standing a few metres away. Gina immediately recognised Director Edward Vaughan of the Hong Kong Federal Police.
     “This stops now,” he said in his rolling baritone, expecting to be obeyed. “Come down.”
     Gina leaped.


     She landed hard on the dirt. Her ankle twisted the wrong way and she fell, aching, but the next moment she pushed herself upright again and drove forward at a stumbling run. Suddenly a loud metal scream sounded behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see an armoured Fed trooper running through the fence without even slowing down, electric torch firmly fixed on her fleeing shape.
     She tried to speed up but flesh and bone were no match for advanced servo-motors and artificial muscles of tungsten and steel. Cold metal fingers snatched the bottom of her t-shirt and lifted her off the ground.
     Left without any other option, she twisted around, grabbed his helmet with both hands, and poured all the anger and fury she could muster straight into his mind.
     The image of the dead city Gabriel had given her, the certainty of drowning to death in the icy Atlantic, the smell of a man’s brains spattered on the wall behind him. Street life. Street death. Every horror she’d ever experienced cut into the Fed’s soul, and he crumpled backwards without a sound, dragging her down with him.
     When the dust settled Gina found herself lying on top of the armour, cold inside. She no longer felt anything of the man beneath her. He was catatonic, his mind shredded to pieces. She tried to stand up but found her t-shirt still stuck in the armour’s grip. She pulled and pulled to free herself but the powerful fingers were clamped tight. She tore at it frantically until it ripped, exposing her midriff to the cold evening air.
     Pulling Mahmoud’s leather jacket tight around her, she set off through the thick grass and brush into wilderness. No one else pursued her.
     It took a long time stumbling through the ocean of green before she found a road in the darkness. Just a small dirt track, but the fresh imprint of tank treads told her that the search for her was not over. She cursed her luck.
     “When the hell did I become what everybody’s fighting over?” she wondered aloud. Wind rustled in the underbrush but nobody answered her.
     She followed the track for a while until it took her within sight of another fence, this one lined with lights and guard posts. A small sign stood above it all, printed in incomprehensible Russian letters, but its message was made clear by the pictogram of a land mine going off. Gina swallowed. She had to be on some kind of old military base, then, and that made escape impractical.
     Something crunched behind her. She wheeled about to see a Fed personnel carrier zooming across the track towards her, its top-mounted spotlight searching left and right. They’ll have infrared, Gina thought miserably. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.
     Then another thought presented itself.
     She took up a good hide in the bushes and cleared her mind. This might be her only chance, and she wasn’t sure if she could do it. Maybe it was too far, maybe no one would be listening. Still, she dug the little foil packet out of her pocket, swallowed the Spice pills dry, and waited for them to start working.
     The trance came on her slowly, strangely, detaching herself from her body until she felt almost weightless. The world began to pulse blue at every heartbeat. Then the awareness hit her. She sensed minds, bodies, life everywhere around her, without the need to reach out or concentrate. Coloured lines connected them all like some beautiful moving mosaic, every bird, every insect. Even the squat rolling shapes of the APCs had their place, the human minds inside now blazing bright to her eyes.
     Finally, before her concentration faded away completely, she gritted her teeth and focussed. She submerged herself in the dreamworld for a few seconds, long enough to send out a cry, as loud and as far as she could manage. It roared through the blankness like a tiny avalanche of sound.
     It said, Help me.
     The next moment a squad of camouflaged Fed troopers skidded across the grass towards her, surrounding her. They would be invisible from normal eyes, but Gina could see them, shining brighter by the second. They shouted demands for her surrender. So she surrendered, staggering back to her feet with her arms up. Her muscles responded only sluggishly, and she swayed in the light breeze.
     Her mouth turned dry as dust as she watched Director Vaughan climb out of the APC. Part of her would rather take her chances with the land mines. Still, she made herself stand and face him. The shock of fear-adrenaline concentrated her mind wonderfully.
     “Hi, daddy,” she tried to say, something appropriately bitter and sarcastic to set the tone, but no sound came from her mouth. Cold dread choked all the attitude out of her, her throat so tight she couldn’t breathe.
     Director Vaughan drew up in front of her. He was not as tall as she remembered him, but every bit the proud Hong Kong aristocrat. He stood with feet planted shoulder-width apart and hands clasped behind his back like a soldier. Like a Fed, Gina corrected herself.
     “Your mother and I thought you were dead,” he said coolly. His expression showed no hint of emotion. “Then I was shown the security footage from your little raid on my building. I saw you. You looked older, but I knew.”
     “Congratulations,” husked Gina, then cleared her throat.
     The Director’s jaw clenched tighter, but Gina couldn’t tell what it meant. He continued, “Against my better judgement, I suppressed your identity from the FedPol system and came after you myself. I knew you wouldn’t want to see me, so I sent Jane to track you down and bring you in quietly.” He paused for a long time. Then, “I want an explanation.”
     “You were torturing a friend of mine–“
     “An explanation, Emily. We came home one day and you’d disappeared. Our only child gone up in smoke.” Now his voice trembled with old anger and betrayal. “We searched for you for weeks.”
     It was Gina’s turn to get angry. “Oh, I’m touched, dad,” she shot back. “I’m surprised you could fit it into your busy schedule of attending parties and tonguing the Fed Controller’s ass. Jesus, I’m shocked you even noticed I was gone.”
     “You made an embarrassment out of–“
     “I don’t care how you fucking felt!” screamed Gina. “You couldn’t be bothered with me since the day I stopped being your pretty little princess!” She took a few steps towards him, baring her teeth, but he stood his ground. “You think I don’t remember, dad? It all clicked for me when I was sixteen, the Federation Day party. You left me at home so you and mom could rub shoulders with the Controller and her people, and you wore a shiny little Fed pin on your lapel, smiling and shaking hands with everybody. Just like you did at the President’s parties three years before. That’s when I figured it out. It wasn’t the Federation who made you what you are. You were a fucking lapdog before, and the only thing that changed was whose cock you were sucking.”
     His normally pale face had gone red with fury. “I was making sure we had a future!”
     “I found my own future,” she said with absolute certainty. “You’re not in it.”
     The Director snorted, his anger fading, or at least brought back under control. He motioned his troops to close in on her. A moment later she had a hulking battlesuit standing at each shoulder. “It doesn’t matter anyway. You’re coming home with me. At least your mother will be happy to see you.”
     She laughed. “You’re insane. You think that just by showing up here you’ll erase the last thirteen years of my life? You think you’ll get your perfect little family unit back? You’d have to lock me in a fucking tower.”
     “If that’s what it takes. You’re coming with us, Emily, like it or not.”
     “I don’t think so,” Gina replied. A tingling at the back of her brain told her that everything would be okay. She smiled and added, “Dad, meet my friend Gabriel.”
     Three silent stealth helicopters dropped out of the sky like rocks, raining missiles down on the APC. It erupted into a tower of flame and shrapnel. The Director dove to the ground, the battle suits pulled away from Gina to raise their guns, but pinpoint cannon fire blew them into the ground in a flurry of dirt and grass. One of the copters hovered overhead and lowered a rope ladder. Gina grabbed it and climbed like never before.
     Then she was inside, waiting arms pulled her to safety, and the big door banged shut behind her. The helicopter swayed back into the sky. A stream of rifle bullets followed it, but the copter simply shrugged off the hits and carried on flying.
     “Thanks,” she said to no one in particular, staring out the window. The lights of Odessa still glittered below her — in all that time she’d moved only a few miles. Almost automatically she scanned the chaos of lights at the waterfront, but found only dark water in the mooring where the Son of the Wind used to be. A pang of sadness troubled her for a moment, but it was right for Mahmoud and Maryam to be getting on with their lives. They’d involved themselves too much. After all, Gina Hart could take care of herself.
     As she tore her eyes away she found herself still breathing hard from the excitement, her heart pounding, fighting her Spice trance for a little clarity of thought. An idea struck her. “Could you fly to Spain in this?”
     “The boss said you’d say that, ma’am,” answered the copilot, an American by his accent, strapping himself back into his chair. “The only place we’re going is straight back to the airship, and we’re under orders to shoot down any copter that breaks formation. Please don’t make this difficult.”
     “Ah.” That cut down her options. “Okay, I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.” She stood up, walked into the cockpit, and smiled at the copilot as he cursed and reached for his sidearm.
     “Did you hear what I said, lady?” he growled, struggling with the catch on his holster.
     Her eyes followed a row of colourful warning markers down to a small switch at the copilot’s knee. “Yeah,” she whispered, reached down, and pulled the emergency ejection tab.

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