Gina refused to speak to anyone else. She sat by the pond in the warm night air, alone, while her emotions swung back and forth between extremes. One moment her heart would say, Artificial wombs are so expensive . . . The next, Pick up a fucking wire hanger and get this thing out of me!
     Even Gabriel kept nagging at the back of her brain, wanting to know what was wrong, but she quickly got tired of dodging his questions and locked him out.
     She didn’t know what to do. How on Earth did you break news like this?
     The horizon turned a light grey before she finally succumbed to the pull of the Network. She kept her eyes closed as she entered the tea house and climbed the stairs, beyond caring about whether or not anyone saw her. She let her clothes drop around her ankles, lay down in one of the pods, and submerged herself in the unconditional warmth and understanding of a hundred other minds. They welcomed her into the glow. Every one of them knew what it was like when life knocked you on your ass.
     Some began to offer advice, but stopped when it became clear Gina didn’t want it. Everybody kept a respectful distance from that point on.
     She drifted for a long time, going through her little store of happy memories, bringing them back to life in no particular order. Warm summer nights at Onounu’s old flat learning how to use the Spice trance, drugged out of her mind, but joyful all the same. Staring out across the Black Sea without a care in the world. Matching Mahmoud drink for drink. Her skin prickling with goosepimples as Gabriel’s arms snaked around her. Tasting Alfie’s lips one last time.
     When they were over, though, all she could think about was the ruined city and its harrowing streets. Silhouettes of crippled buildings hovered in the mist as if stalking her. She swallowed hard, and immediately got annoyed at herself. She shouldn’t even be here. She ought to be sorting things out in the real world. Making a choice, any choice.
     It was just that the choice scared her shitless.
     She felt Jupiter’s presence added to the Network, his thoughts and emotions reverberating through the oneness. He materialised in her little chunk of make-believe and smiled at her with something bordering on contrition.
     “I guess I have some apologising to do,” he said. “You’ve been through a lot lately. I should’ve found an easier way to give you the news, and been more forthcoming. I’m too used to not being able to trust people. I don’t blame you if you’re upset with me.”
     She smirked, then turned her back and stared off into the fog. “I’m not upset with you. I . . . I don’t know, nothing makes sense anymore except while I’m in here. I can’t think straight. This thing is really driving me nuts.”
     “You’re still walking and talking. Most people wouldn’t be.” He joined her where she stood and stared out to the distant city. “I would’ve dropped by sooner, but we had a new patient to deal with. She’s a real handful. Mind like a steel anvil. You might be able to lend a hand, if you feel up to it.”
     “Heh . . . You know, it’s easy to lose sight of it, but you really do try to help people, don’t you?”
     “When I can,” he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I think you’ll beat it. You’re something new, Gina, something stronger than I ever would’ve believed. I’m not even sure my treatment is any good to you, but I’ll do everything I can.”
     “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” She flashed him the ghost of smile and patted her stomach. “Guess I can’t afford to go crazy now, huh?” she whispered, her voice caught halfway between hope and misery.
     Jupiter remained tactfully silent until Gina collected herself again. She said, “Alright, let’s go see your patient.”
     She thought about disconnecting, and felt the Network slowly fade from her consciousness. She slipped her skin back on like a pair of comfortable shoes. That soft, selfless unity still tugged at her desires, offering her a place to hide forever, but she was determined not to hide anymore.
     She sat in her pod and watched Jupiter wake up. He stepped out without the slightest hint of shame and began to put his clothes on. She followed his example.
     “How did things go at the warehouse?” she asked him, belting her jeans. “Did you get anything out of the computers?
     His expression turned sour. “There’s good news and bad news. Good news, we took the stock and equipment. Bad news, it looks like Alejandro was telling the truth. The ‘source parts’ can’t be reproduced by anything short of a full nanoscale lab. But . . . If we’re frugal, we can make enough Spice to keep us going for a few more years. Maybe long enough to figure something out.”
     “I hope you’ll be okay.”
     “We will muddle through, like always.”
     They turned a corner and stopped at another wooden door, as intricately-carved and painted as the rest of the tea house. It opened to reveal a small white cell, padded walls, and an old bed equipped with thick nylon straps. There was a woman tied down on it, unmoving, while Jupiter’s assistant Mai-Lin sat by her side whispering soothing words.
     Jupiter began. “A friend of mine brought her in, apparently gone feral. What’s strange is that she’s got anti-telepathy training and she’s sure as hell using it. She won’t let anything inside.”
     Even with Gina’s extended awareness, she could barely feel the presence of a mind on that bed. She reached out only to slip off again. Something didn’t feel right. It was a bit like trying to get a grip on Darius, or . . .
     Gina caught a glimpse of short bleach-blond hair over dark eyebrows, hard eyes and sharp cheekbones. Her heart went cold as the woman lifted her head and grinned.
     “Hello again, dolly bird,” she said. “Daddy sends his regards.”
     Jane sat up, the straps on her wrists coming loose as if by magic. Steel buckles disintegrated at her touch. There was a soft hiss of air, and Mai-Lin hit the back wall in a spray of blood. Jupiter had time to watch it, wide-eyed, before swinging back to face the dark shape in her hand. It was pointed at him.
     There was nothing Gina could do. Another soft hiss cut through the air, and Jupiter crumpled to the floor while she stood frozen in horror.
     The next moment Jane was on her feet with one arm clamped cruelly around Gina’s throat. “Alpha, target acquired,” she whispered with satisfaction. “Pickup in two-zero-zero seconds.” She jabbed her weapon into the small of Gina’s back. “You, outside. Now.”
     Gina stumbled out the door, struggling uselessly in the headlock, and wished she could find the breath to scream for help.

***

     “I’ll tell you one thing,” Jane said as she dragged Gina down the stairs. This late at night, there was no one nearby to hear the commotion. “You’re a real pain in the arse to get hold of, Emily. Let’s come along quietly for a change and forget the hide and go seek.”
     Gina choked out, “My name’s not Emily!”
     “Do you honestly think I care? Shut the fuck up.”
     Although Gina kicked and clawed like a mad thing, nothing seemed to even slow Jane down. The stronger woman only tightened her grip until coloured spots danced in front of Gina’s eyes. It was hopeless. Jane had called herself a FedPol special agent; there was probably as much metal as flesh underneath her skin.
     She reinforced her point with another painful yank on Gina’s neck. “Don’t even think about trying any telepathic tricks on me this time, or I’ll put a bullet through your pretty little head and take you back to daddy that way.”
     Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jane half-ran through the front room, restraining her captive to damp down the noise. There were people speaking casually in the kitchens. Gina tried her hardest to raise a shout, but sound refused come out of her throat.
     “Don’t bother,” Jane said. There was no threat in her voice; she just sounded bored by Gina’s attempts. “In a minute and a half there’s going to be a copter dropping down through those buildings and your little friends will never see you again. May as well get used to it.”
     She dragged Gina off into a small utility room, one with a back door into gardens, and the cheap lock simply disintegrated when she shot it. Desperate panic built inside Gina’s chest. Jane was right. Nobody would be coming to help her, and there was nothing she could do.
     Then a hint of calmness drifted in from somewhere. She started to remember that, despite Jane’s threats, she was not helpless. She was more than a telepath. All she had to do to tap that power lurking in her brain was concentrate.
     Her eyes drifted shut. She reached out with her mind, bypassing the solid wall of avoidance techniques and iron discipline that was Jane. The woman was as single-minded as a robot. Instead her mind focussed someone, anyone in a position to do something. Unfortunately there was only one person she could pick out in that mass of unfamiliar minds, maybe the only one who would understand her message. When he noticed her presence, she grabbed his mind by the proverbial throat.
     Help, she said, blasting words into him like volleys of gunfire. Somebody’s trying to kidnap me. There isn’t much time.
     The edge of fear in her thoughts was obvious. Although confused, Darius staggered to his feet fuelled by amphetamine energy, and gradually pulled himself together enough to work out what had happened. She could hear him speak, but it was as if his voice were being played back in slow motion from the bottom of a well. His vision was two tiny tunnels of light surrounded by darkness. She could feel the drugs pounding behind his eyes, his vision tinting red at every heartbeat.
     In her own battered body, she hissed at Jane with her last strength, “You’ll die. Put me on that copter and I’ll blow your pilot’s mind to pieces. I’ll make him crash.”
     Jane laughed and hit her in the back of the head.
     The blow knocked her halfway unconscious, and she went limp in Jane’s arms, drifting. She could barely feel herself hitting the grass outside, the faint whistle of stealthed rotor blades at the edge of her hearing. Air whipped at her cheeks in the helicopter’s downdraft. Something dangled in front of her unfocused eyes, and she slowly realised it was a rescue harness.
     Distantly, she could hear Darius calling out to her. His presence grew closer, but she was already hanging on to consciousness by her fingernails, unable to focus. Gina, he echoed between her ears. Wake up!
     She stirred in shock at the calm control in his ‘voice’, the energy and focus that hadn’t been there a few minutes ago. They’d hooked him up to the Network. Jupiter never would have allowed that.
     He went on, We’re on our way, but we can’t do much against that chopper. You’ll have to take it out yourself.
     Take it out? she asked incredulously. How?
     A missile hissed down from the sky like a streak of white fire and slapped the copter sideways. Fire engulfed the fuselage. It separated into pieces as Gina watched, each going off in a different direction. The rotor assembly chewed into the ground, ripping itself to pieces in a storm of grass, dirt and carbon-fibre shrapnel. The front half of the fuselage dropped into the garden like a flaming brick. The tail section whirled away into the distance, tumbling end over end until it finally vanished from sight.
     Little chunks of the Fed stealth ship rained down slowly around Gina’s feet, scorching black pits into the manicured grass. Clouds of toxic smoke rolled around at random in the fickle City breeze.
     Darius was frozen by the spectacle, watching from the corner of the tea house, until the piece that caught his attention dropped out of sight. He stammered, That works.
     The look in Jane’s eyes could’ve buckled steel plate. No matter how she controlled herself, an echo of sheer, boiling fury bubbled up through her defences. She didn’t say a word. Instead she checked the ammo counter on her weapon, tightened her grip on Gina, and started back for the tea house.
     She stopped when she saw faces appearing in the little pools of brightness cast by the tea house spotlights. There were dozens, maybe hundreds. Many looked thin, half-mad, but they surrounded Jane by sheer number of bodies, pressing up against the fence to deny her any escape route.
     Mahmoud and Darius stood side by side at the front of the crowd, immovable.
     “Miss, you have no idea who you’re trying to grab,” Darius said, staring Jane in the eye without flinching. “She’s not leaving here. Not with you. I suggest you climb into your helicopter and get out of here while you still can.”
     Gina blinked . . .

***

     . . . And Hawthorn whooped as he zoomed in on the tea house gardens through his monocle. He relayed a copy of his video feed to Bomber. A black shape hovered a few metres over the immaculate grass, ruffling it with downdraft. “Found him,” he said triumphantly. “Does it strike you as at all curious for a Federal covert ops craft to drop from a skybase already en-route, fly to private property in the middle of the City, and just hover around like it’s performing a hot dustoff?”
     “Maybe a little bit,” Bomber admitted, glancing up from his targeting box. The missile’s projected path replayed over and over in the VR display, a thin black shadow barely visible on the infrared camera, until it touched the Fed copter and blossomed into bright white. The faintest of smiles tugged at his lips before he shrugged it off. His military training told him not to feel anything, but the trigger seemed alive against his finger, charged with electricity. He squeezed it with a sense of satisfaction.
     He turned his visor transparent for a moment. The ordinary view from his cockpit window told him everything he needed to know. A little ball of fire flashed somewhere far below him, an angry orange contrast against the neon brightness of the City. It only lasted for a moment before it disappeared forever.
     It was a sacrifice. A burnt offering to those who would never be forgotten.
     Bomber closed his missile bays and came about, hovering between the Feds’ target and their most likely source of reinforcements.
     “That one didn’t know we were coming. The rest will,” he said. “What’s the ETA on the airship?”
     “Top speed on a FedPol skybase is about forty klicks an hour. They’ll be close enough to drop ground troops in thirty minutes.” He glanced at his beeping radar. “I’m reading three more contacts launching from the skybase. Looks like jet fighters.”
     “Turnin’ to engage,” Bomber grunted, but Hawthorn made a hesitant noise and broke formation. He closed on the tea house and pitched his copter from side to side above the gardens, straining to get a look from his cockpit. His monocle only showed radar contacts.
     “There’s a situation on the ground,” he said, forehead pressed against the glass. “I can see a lot of people and they don’t look happy.”
     “We can deal with it when these jets are out of our hair.”
     “I don’t think they have the time, Jake. I can’t get a good look, but something’s not right. You’d better go and see.”
     “Don’t be stupid, Hawk! You’re good, but you can’t hold off three Feds on your own.”
     “Hey, Feds I can handle. Gina needs you. This place is gonna be crawling with unfriendlies in less than an hour, and it’s all gonna be for nothing if we don’t get her out of there, yes?”
     Bomber couldn’t think of anything to say to that. He didn’t want Hawthorn to be right. Holding off three Feds in that Kamov would be a suicide mission for anyone, unless he could grab Gina and get back in time.
     Grinding his teeth, he turned towards the tea house, sent his copter into a nose dive, and unlocked his seatbelt. “I’ll put down in the parking area,” he grumped. “Get their attention, keep them busy but do not engage. If you get in trouble, you call me. Got that clear, Hawk?”
     “Yes, Sir,” said Hawthorn. He wrenched at his flight stick, setting a course to meet the enemy head-on.
     Bomber flicked the autopilot to life as he swooped in over the big circle of gravel outside the front door, giving it control over the landing procedure, and then leaped out of the cockpit, plummeting the remaining twenty metres to the ground. His repaired legs absorbed the shock without complaint. Gravel crunched under his feet while he ran to join the bodies gathering on the field to his side, struggling to see over their heads. The crowd was big enough that nobody even realised he didn’t belong. He hid the laser against his body, but kept a tight grip for reassurance. Nervous sweat beaded on his forehead. He hadn’t been this worked up since . . . since he watched the last remnants of his life disappear in a nuclear fireball, fourteen years ago.
     By way of knee and elbow, he managed to force his way to the fence, lifting himself up with one hand and foot to get a better vantage point.
     It was the first time he’d seen Gina since watching her fall in an airship lifeboat. His heart froze in his throat. A million feelings twisted through him while his eyes swivelled to her face, to the arm around her neck, to the tiny smugglegun pressed against her temple.
     The laser’s handle ached in his hand, begging him to raise it, but he cursed inwardly when he realised he couldn’t. These people might panic at the sight of another gun, which would foul his shot as well as draw attention to him. He knew he was only going to get one chance.
     He dropped down and ran for the tea house door . . .

***

     . . . “Everybody back away or I’ll blow her head off!” were the words that brought her back, ringing in her ears as she gasped for breath. She wrenched at the arm around her throat but couldn’t budge it. Jane kept her pinned in front as a human shield.
     The mass of people refused to move. Gina had never seen so many telepaths united in one purpose. Their minds burned with Spice trance, some bright and distinct, others only flickering at the edge of sanity. They shared one thing, though; anger rolled off them like steam, a black need to exact vengeance for Jupiter’s murder. They wanted blood.
     And then there were a few, a handful, who were there for the sake of Gina Hart.
     Jane didn’t waste a moment to assess the tactical situation, which did not favour her. She quickly decided the best way to even things up. She moved too fast for Gina to see, lashing out with her little gun, and obliterated one of the spotlights in a flash of hot gas. A few people cowered as hot sparks rained on the crowd. She systematically shot out all the lights around the field, plunging everything into the dim grey of a City night. The crowd lost focus and degenerated into a mass of milling shadows, night-blind, packed in like confused and panicking sardines. People began to push and shove to get away from each other.
     Gina managed to gasp, “What the fuck are you doing? There’s no other way out of here!”
     “I told you to shut up,” Jane said, dragging her along by the hair. “No amount of self-sacrificing idiots is gonna slow me down.”
     She kept Gina between herself and the tea house to stop any hopeful snipers. There was the soft zip of a variknife uncoiling. In the half-light Gina could barely see the crossed steel wires of the outer fence, but the snap of releasing tension sounded clear as a bell when Jane cut through them.
     Heavy footsteps thudded on the grass, and Mahmoud’s voice boomed over everything, calling out for her. Jane ignored him. There was another presence, though, quieter and more cunning. Darius kept his eyes closed, navigating solely by his Spice trance as he catapulted across the field, putting his shoulder squarely into Jane’s back.
     She hit the wire with a painful grunt, and the pressure on Gina’s throat finally released. She fell down coughing, gasping for breath, while Jane threw Darius off like a rag doll. His limp body hit the ground with a dull thump. He didn’t move after that. When Gina staggered upright to run, Jane was already in front of her, blocking her escape.
     It was too much. She balled her fists in frustration and fury, shouting, “Just leave me alone! I don’t want anything to do with him! Can’t you get that through your head?”
     “Too late,” Jane said coolly. “He’s on his way here, you know. If you make him land to get you, he’s gonna bring an armour platoon with him, and nobody will be getting out of this place alive. Tell them to back off while they still have the chance.”
     Gina’s anger blew away on the wind. She couldn’t even begin to answer that; she just stared wordlessly, working her conscience around the idea of being responsible for these lives. For Darius, for Mahmoud, for Bomber. She’d put them in danger with her stubborn pride. Jupiter had already paid the price for it.
     Her heart knew what had to be done. She hung her head and said, “Fine. You win. I’ll come quietly.”
     “That’s the first bit of good news I’ve had all day,” Jane replied. She bent the fence back to open a hole, then reached for Gina’s arm to pull her through.
     Something prickled at the back of Gina’s neck. The familiar presence she’d felt a minute ago resurfaced again. She reached out, easily stretching her mind across the field, and found Bomber on one knee on the tea house roof. He brought the laser up, resting it in both hands, and levelled it on his target.
     Don’t, she found herself thinking. Don’t miss.
     He gave a tiny nod and exhaled.
     The laser pulse travelled through the air invisible and soundless until it hit Jane in the side of the head. There was a brief flash of light followed by a cracking, sizzling noise. She dropped without a cry, without last words, just a body with a blackened hole where an ear used to be.
     Gina looked at it and felt nothing until Bomber’s arms swept around her.

***

     He didn’t know what to say. There was so much to express, but where to start? He tried to think of words that could convey his relief, his empathy, the feel of her against him.
     “Gina, I . . .” he whispered haltingly, but was cut off by her mouth pressing up against his.
     Strong fingers tousled his hair and held him in place as she kissed him. Her lips were forceful and needy, desperately looking for any kind of human warmth, but he’d take whatever he could get. He cradled her in his arms and kissed her back.
     Finally she quieted down, sniffling, and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. It came away dry, and she looked at it. “Guess I’ve cried enough lately,” she croaked. Her throat was red and bruised. Bright blue eyes raised to take in his face, wide as dinnerplates. “I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to see you again . . .”
     He’d imagined this moment a hundred times, but none of the words in his head seemed to measure up. All he could manage was to wipe her cheeks with his thumbs and work up a smile. He could still hear the clank of the lifeboat releasing, her scream as she dropped away. “I’m so sorry. It was the only way I could think to save you. I never stopped lookin’ for you.”
     “I know.” The smile on her face was the best thing he’d seen in weeks. “There’s been so many times I wished you were here. And not just to bail me out of a bad spot.”
     Bomber’s heart thumped in his throat. He wanted to tell her that everything would be alright. That he’d protect her. Even that he was falling for her. It was just so difficult to breathe, or speak, or think. His throat had gone dry as dust. He swallowed, trying to get his voice working.
     “I wish I was better with words,” he sighed. “What I mean to say is, I don’t open up well to anyone, Gina. I’m not the kind of guy who shares things. But . . . I want to get to know you, and I want you to get to know me.”
     Thankfully, words no longer mattered. She threw her arms around his neck and held on tight, saying with her body what her voice couldn’t convey. A strange warmth seeped into him, something beyond physical, as if her embrace connected them heart to heart.
     He started when the searching beam of an electric torch landed on them, but Gina squeezed his arm to reassure him. “It’s okay,” she said. “They’re friends.”
     They climbed to their feet and walked hand in hand back to the tea house. There was no hurry. They had a perfect, peaceful moment together, and it lasted until they reached the first intact set of spotlights on the side of the building.
     A big brown-skinned man leaned over the prone body of someone else, an average-looking guy with a strange lankiness to him. Bomber felt their names bubble up in his mind without ever having learned them. He suppressed a shudder. Even being near Gina seemed to have its consequences. He sent her on ahead by herself while he knelt beside the two.
     “I saw him hit the ground,” he said to Mahmoud. “How bad is it?”
     “Not good,” Mahmoud replied. “He’s dead.”
     Bomber’s eyes widened in dull surprise. He felt the man’s neck for a pulse, but found nothing. The head rolled away limply at his touch, barely connected to the spine. Death would’ve been instantaneous. The only thing Bomber could do was cross himself and fold the poor bastard’s hands over his chest.
     Mahmoud gave him a long measuring look, as if deciding something. Finally he said, “She has enough to deal with for one night, yes?”
     “The night ain’t over yet,” Bomber sighed, then glanced at the people milling about around him. They had no idea what was coming for them. To Mahmoud he said, “If you have any pull with these people, get them organised and ready to run. There’s a Fed airship comin’ into drop range in about twenty minutes. Anybody who’s still here can expect either a bullet in the head or a couple of sessions in a Federal prison cell, you get me?”
     Nodding, Mahmoud rushed off to find someone who could help him spur this crowd into action.
     Bomber headed into the gardens to find Gina. Somehow he knew where she was without even looking; laying on a stone bench by the side of a duck pond, hands folded over her stomach, staring straight up at the sky. It couldn’t have been called stargazing, not in the City, but there were occasional flashes of colour from the signal lights of airships, helicopters and tall buildings.
     He sat down beside her outstretched legs and smiled. She looked barely present in her own body, the lights left on but nobody home.
     “Penny for your thoughts,” he said.
     Raising her head, she gave him a slightly confused look. “What’s a penny?”
     “Never mind. I don’t mean to rush you, but we really gotta go. There isn’t much time.”
     “I don’t think so,” she said to the sky. “Seeing you made it all clear in my head, Bomber. I’m done running away. I watched two people die tonight, and I’ve had enough. I won’t let them hurt any more of my friends. Something’s got to end, here and now.”
     “You think you can hold off a Fed assault force by yourself?”
     “If necessary.”
     “You’re joking.”
     “Watch me.”
     She raised herself up to a sitting position, and the steel in her eyes woke another cold shiver in him. Maybe she could. The thought frightened him. Had she really gotten that powerful?
     Tender fingertips brushed his cheek. “Don’t be scared. It’ll be okay.”
     “No, Gina, it won’t be okay,” he argued. He couldn’t hide his anger and frustration anymore. “Think about what you’re doin’ for a second. The Feds are like a fucking cancer, even if you beat them once, they’re just gonna come back harder and stronger. Stay with me. I need you.”
     “To get at Gabriel?” she asked, reading his mind. “For some military operation?”
     “For me! What if you lose, what if you get hurt? I couldn’t live with that anymore.”
     “Then I won’t lose.” She swung her long legs over the side of the bench and rose with the grace of a dancer. Her hand reached out, beckoning to him. “Trust me.”
     That was the question which brought it all into the focus. Despite everything, he did trust her, and he’d follow her anywhere. Even into the lion’s mouth.
     Bomber took her fingers and let her pull him to his feet.

***

     “Why wouldn’t they just drop troops and wipe this place off the fuckin’ map?” Bomber asked Gina on their way to the front of the tea house. Anxious people clustered everywhere, evacuating the compound with all the possessions they could carry, but Gina moved through them unimpeded. She parted them with the tiniest mental push, so small she barely even realised she was doing it.
     From the front she could see heavily-loaded cars and vans stream away from the grounds with as many people as they could carry. Maybe that was for the best. They were safer somewhere else, at least for now.
     It was such a curious feeling to have every part of her focussed on the same goal. In some way or another she’d always been fighting herself, she’d always gotten in her own way, but now the calm clarity in her mind and the icy anger in her heart worked together to sharpen her to a knife point. Everything was under tight control. She felt ready to draw blood.
     The front part of the garden stood empty now, its parking spaces abandoned, which meant they’d have some peace and quiet to talk.
     She announced, “They won’t launch a ground assault. They won’t do anything until we’ve met face to face.”
     “I don’t see how you could be so sure,” said Bomber.
     “It’s my father. He won’t let this go without another lecture.”
     He absorbed the information quietly. Despite his natural uneasiness, he was willing to let her run the show, and that meant a lot coming from Bomber. He had his own ways of showing things like trust and affection. They’d been through so much together. And, of course, he loved her. She could read that in his mind plain as day, a hot glowing feeling in his chest whenever he looked at her.
     Love wasn’t something she could think about right now.
     Together they stood and waited while everyone around them disappeared in the City fog. Mahmoud came up to join them, silently taking a place at Gina’s side while Bomber spoke tersely into his radio. She could hear the conversation echoing in his mind.
     “Jake,” said a strained voice, someone she knew through his eyes. “Radar’s detected another launch, troop transport headed straight for your location. I can’t intercept without losing these MiGs somehow. They’re flying circles around me, and I think they’re getting tired of playing tag.”
     “Don’t worry about the transport, just keep your distance and hang in there. You’re okay as long as you’re not tradin’ bullets.”
     “I’ll do my best. Hawk out.”
     Forcing calm, Bomber returned to Gina’s side, then divided his time between scowling at the sky and looking around for a good sniper position. He felt vulnerable out in the open. Gina understood, but she needed him now, for the way he made her feel stronger just by being there. Together they spotted the heavy dropship descending like a shadow out of the clouds. At first it looked like a fat drop of rain, but soon its black bulk pulled into hover over their heads, dazzling floodlights turning the night to day.
     “Place your hands on top of your heads and remain still,” an amplified voice thundered down at them. “Do not make any sudden movements. Do not reach for weapons or other items. This area is now under Federal Police authority. Ignoring this warning will result in the exercise of lethal force.”
     Powerful downdraft whipped Gina’s hair in every direction. Nobody on her team moved an inch. The dropship repeated its threat, louder and more aggressive, but Gina stood her ground, staring up with her hands tightly at her sides.
     The standoff continued for minutes, until it was finally broken by the ship’s side door shuddering open. Four hulking suits of armour piled out and hit the ground running, posing with their computer-aimed machine guns in full view. Director Vaughan wasn’t far behind them. He stepped out of the dropship just as its undercarriage touched the ground.
     He was dressed in grey Federal uniform, immaculately neat and proper, not so much as a hair out of place. Silver pins and badges gleamed on the black slash across his left shoulder. The muscles of his hard, lined face didn’t move when he looked at her; he spared her friends one distasteful glance, then cleared his throat.
     “Emily,” he said dryly. “I’m sure you have something to say to me.”
     She looked into the face of her father and tried to feel something. Anything. Emily Vaughan just remembered a distant man, absent even when he was at home, working day and night. Someone who would sooner throw her some money as a distraction than talk to her about anything. Obsessed to the point of madness with the idea of upwards mobility. He worked day and night to better his lot, until his social standing became a goal in itself. Eventually it consumed him.
     And here he was, the petty, domineering, hollowed-out husk of a man. He hadn’t changed. She stared at him, finally beginning to feel.
     All she could do was laugh.
     “Fuck me,” she gasped in disbelief between mad giggling fits. “You’re expecting me to apologise, aren’t you? You really, honestly think I’ve done you wrong.”
     The Director wrinkled his nose. “I see you’ve forgotten any sense of decorum your mother and I tried to teach you. Running away wasn’t enough, was it? You murdered one of my men. You had your friends fire at me. At me.”
     Gina crossed her arms under her breasts, as much to project a sense of impudence as to stop herself from shaking. Anger burned like hot coals behind her eyes, and the laughter quickly died away. “You’re a lunatic.”
     “I didn’t come here to be insulted, Emily. I came to take you home, where you belong. And I brought someone who might help you listen to reason.”
     Director Vaughan half-turned and took a step to the side to watch the dropship. Gina’s eyes went wide as she watched the tall, skinny frame of her mother descend the steps down to the tarmac. She wore a simple white dress to compliment her midnight-black hair, older but no less elegant, her apparent age lost somewhere in the nebulous decades between thirty and fifty. She crossed to her husband’s side, smiling awkwardly, and had to clear her throat before she was able to speak.
     “I thought Edward had made a mistake when he said he’d found you,” said Deborah Vaughan. “You’ve grown so much. Oh, Emily . . .” Tears started to flow. She buried her face in a handkerchief while her husband put an arm round her shoulders. “Please come home to us. We can start again, I promise. We just want our daughter back.”
     It wasn’t fake. Gina could see that in her mother’s mind, and she wasn’t ready for it. For a second she was sixteen again, packing her bag without any kind of feeling in her heart. She opened her window and climbed out into the rain, shimmied across the tree branch that took her to the edge of the security fence, and jumped over. The street below welcomed her. She wasn’t angry, or upset about leaving. She never hesitated to walk away from that house. Maybe it was petty, maybe it was a mistake, but she had her reasons. The idea that she’d be missed seemed laughable.
     Swallowing the lump in her throat, Gina looked at her father again and husked, “She speaks for you as well, does she?”
     There was a tiny hesitation in the Director’s eyes, and his face hardened slightly. “Yes,” he ground out.
     Emily Vaughan had had her reasons. And, seeing her father just then, she knew they hadn’t changed.
     “You’re about thirteen years too late, dad,” she said, trembling from the effort of keeping control over her anger. “I’m never gonna stop being the blemish on your perfect record. You can’t erase me or hide me away by getting me back home, and I’m going to make damn sure you never hurt any of my friends again.”
     “Debbie, get back in the helicopter,” the Director ordered, and his tearful wife went without protest. He stared at Gina impassively. “Are you threatening me, Emily?”
     “Yes, I am.” This time her voice rang like cold iron. She bared her teeth, still sick at the memory of Jupiter and Mai-Lin bleeding to death on the floor. “Do you understand that? Two innocent people died tonight, shot in cold blood by that goon you sent to abduct me. They were friends of mine. Their blood is on your hands, and you have no fucking idea what I’m prepared to do to you.”
     The blank-faced suits of armour barely shifted at her words, too confident of their superiority to entertain the idea that she could do any real harm.
     “I never ordered her to use lethal force,” he added as if it absolved him of blame, “and I can’t believe you’re so far gone that you’d hurt your own father.”
     “Then maybe you need a demonstration.”
     Fury surged like lightning in her veins. She reached out to her father and the Fed troopers in front of her, so safe behind their armour, made relaxed and complacent by their endless legal and physical power. Their minds echoed the contempt in which they held the world around them. Nothing could be more justified than blowing out their neurons one by one until they flatlined and went down the cold, black slide into braindeath. She knew she could do it. These were shock troops, not infiltrators; they never received Jane’s kind of telepathy avoidance training. They didn’t have any kind of defence against Gina’s abilities. It would be so easy to give in and squeeze until the lights behind their eyes went out.
     The dead city blazed in her mind’s eye, this time not as a torment, but as a weapon. A way to share her pain with those who deserved it most. Temptation sang to her from that dark place, ringing in her ears. She held at the brink and listened to its siren song. It wouldn’t be any different from blowing the brains out of a slave trader’s head, or frying the synapses of one of her kidnappers. It was justice. Who could blame her for returning the gift of death to this pack of butchers?
     The answer was right in front of her. She watched her father’s hard, unforgiving face, and she knew. Killing out of some sense of vengeance, no matter how worthless their lives might be, was something Director Vaughan would do. Not Gina Hart. Gina Hart had taken life, and she’d regret it to the day she died.
     It was just a tiny adjustment to her original plan to paralyse them instead. Helpless limbs spasmed in armour, then
stiffened and stopped responding. A few frightened shouts rang out before the four Fed troopers lost the ability to speak. Gina just about afforded them the mercy of not letting them choke on their own tongues.
     With her real eyes, she watched the troopers slump in place, held upright only by the rigidity of their armour. It brought Gina nothing but satisfaction. These animals got what was coming to them.
     Edward Vaughan was not a fearful man. He watched in momentary horror, but quickly tore his eyes away from the empty shells of his bodyguards and took control of himself. “It won’t work. The whole Federation will be after you. I won’t be able to protect you anymore, Emily, please–“
     “Stop calling me that!” Her scream stopped everything. She lunged forward and grabbed her father by his lapels, shaking him, shouting in his face. “My name is Gina Hart. I’m not here to talk or negotiate with you. I am here to tell you what’s going to happen, and if you listen very carefully, you might be able to walk out of here under your own steam. Are we penetrating your thick skull yet?”
     For once in his life, Director Vaughan didn’t have anything to say. Gina let him go and backed away a few steps, where Bomber silently took her hand and squeezed it.
     “I’d take the good advice,” Bomber said, “because if this woman asks me to start breakin’ all the bones in your body, I ain’t sure I’m gonna be able to stop.”
     Gina lowered her eyes and dropped her voice to a tired whisper. “Take your people and go. Don’t ever come back. The next time I see your face, I will tear your throat out, and you won’t be able to stop me. Nothing will.” She glanced sideways at the four armoured statues. “They’ll start coming around in an hour or so. Whether there’s anything left depends on how good your shrinks are.”
     No further communication seemed necessary. Her father stood and stared at her while, behind him, the helicopter crew pulled their paralysed comrades to safety. Gina turned her back on him and walked away with Bomber and Mahmoud in tow.
     She placed her hands on a shoulder each, thanking her lucky stars that they were here to keep her sane for a little longer.

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