Gina blew smoke into the night outside the shop, waiting for a dark van of some type. The description was vague, Jock had just said it would be dark, with red flame decals down the side. She wasn’t quite sure why she was doing anything Jock told her to do, but at the moment she didn’t have any better ideas. The cigarette calmed her nerves as well. Still, she felt a little bit cagey about being back outside, out in the open. Exposed. Sometimes she swore she could still hear the machine guns firing far away, the helicopters and the sounds of the dying.
     A sudden rustle from the bushes nearly gave her a heart attack. An asthmatic squirrel hopped out and dragged itself across the road, with Gina swearing after it. Then the dark van she’d been waiting for came gunning around the corner, and Gina had to jump back as it screeched to a halt in front of the abandoned shop.
     “Who the fuck do you–” Gina began, her nervousness and vulnerability making her angry, but gave up in mid-sentence. The team of thin, weedy, questionably-dressed men emerging from the van ignored her completely, too busy with their own problems. They huffed and puffed under the weight of several large, unlabelled black boxes that could’ve contained absolutely anything.
     “Don’t mind us,” said the last one out the van, a tall, gaunt man wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night. There was an ill-advised scraggle of hair on his chin, something which he must’ve thought looked ‘hip’. He continued, “Just installing some hardware, nothing to worry about. We’re friends of Jock’s.”
     She glanced up at him for a beat. “Jock has friends?”
     The man laughed heartily, then took off his sunglasses to look her in the eye. His eyes were like green slits, and Gina could see dozens of tiny surgical scars all around them. “Hard to believe, yeah. You must be the girl. Sorry, he didn’t mention you by name.”
     Slight hesitation before she said, “Gina.”
     “Pleased to meet you. Sorry we can’t stay, but y’know. Bullets make us uncomfortable.”
     “Can’t say I blame you.” She flicked away the leftover half of her cigarette. It didn’t interest her anymore. “What is all this stuff?”
     “VR rig, good one. Jock says you’re going to be pulling something hot.”
     “Really?” Gina said pleasantly. “That includes me, does it?”
     The guy immediately cottoned on to her change of tone and cracked a nervous grin. “You’d have to ask him. I’m just here to help set things up, right? No need to shoot the messenger.” Then, remembering something, he dug around inside his trouser pocket. “Jock said to give you this.”
     He pressed something into Gina’s hand, then ducked back into the van as the rest of his gang came hustling out of the shop. They moved a lot faster without the big black boxes. Gina could barely believe the speed with which they all piled back into the car, which they’d left running. The door hadn’t even shut before the van took off like a bullet, to get out of the war zone as fast as possible.
     Gina stared after it for a long time, but eventually she snapped out of her bewilderment and looked down at the small scrap of plastic in her hand, scanned the rows of Chinese and Conglom characters scrolling across the top. It was an airline ticket. The destination blinked at her invitingly from the top right corner, spelled out in block print just above the small video clip advertising the local culture, food and friendliness. Hong Kong.
     “You going to stand there all day?” asked an unfamiliar voice. Gina looked blankly at the short, weedy adolescent in front of her. She couldn’t even see his face under the thick hooded sweatshirt, just two black lenses glaring sullenly at her, waiting for an answer.
     “Depends,” Gina crossed her arms, “are you going to stop staring at my tits anytime soon?”
     “Might do, might do,” the teenager drawled with a badly-faked American accent. “I’m here to help, yeah? Name’s Rat. Just call me the cavalry.”
     Gina nodded. “Oh, good,” she said with a roll of her eyes, turned around and went back inside.
     She found Jock in a newly-cleaned corner of the shop, staring unfocused at the ceiling. His eyes were glassy and repulsive like the eyes of a dead thing, his body strapped into a padded metal frame, and wearing a VR crown with its black plastic tentacles and electrodes stuck to his head. In the background the old TV still droned on, some reporter blathering about execution-style murders in Hong Kong, something about gang lords and gang wars and gang tattoos. Gina didn’t really spare it any thought.
     “Alex?” Jock asked to the empty space above him.
     The teenager stepped forward and announced, “Here.”
     Gina caught him by the shoulder as he passed her. “I thought you said your name was Rat.”
     “Easy! No need for hands-on,” he said indignantly, shrugging out of her grip. “Alex is my name, Rat’s my handle, yeah? Cowboy’s gotta have a handle. Chrome Rat, that’s me.”
     “And you’re a friend of our Jock here?”
     “Acquaintance,” said Jock, his voice absent like his eyes. “A thief and a wannabe cyber-cowboy.”
     Rat scowled. “Wannabe my ass, you black-fuck piece of shit. You just can’t stand me getting into places you can’t.”
     Jock’s eyes focused for a second and his lips cracked a smile. “Hey, there’s no Breaking and Entering on my criminal record. How about yours?” To Gina, he added, “Rat picks locks, mechanical or electronic. Not too bad at it. Not good, either, but not bad.”
     Rat glared at him in silence.
     A soft tick sounded from the VR rig, accompanied by the high-pitched grind of a cooling fan speeding up. Its barely audible whirr turned into a howl of moving air. Jock had to be pushing the machine hard.
     “So what’s to do now?” asked Gina.
     Licking his dry lips, Jock answered, “We’re going to need a few more things. See, the Emperor has a lot of bank accounts. Most of them have already been plundered by the other Triads, but there’s a few that the Emperor thinks only he knows about. Which is true, apart from me.”
     “You talk about him like he’s still alive,” Gina said, almost touched.
     “But he is.” Jock mouthed a shutdown command. The VR rig obeyed just a heartbeat after it disabled every telephone line in a hundred metre radius, all meant to throw off any active traces. That done, Jock lifted the VR crown off his head and placed it back in its cradle.
     He said meanwhile, “The Emperor’s private accounts — his very private accounts — have been accessed three times since your friend torched the fortress. From the location of the withdrawals, it looks like he’s making his way down the coast through Zhejiang district. Probably headed for one of the cities to try and catch a boat or airship.”
     “And?”
     “And you two are going to go pick him up. You switch over in Hangzhou on your way to Hong Kong, he’ll be around there.” He kicked a large black bag towards her, smiling his unbelievably smug smile. “You’ll need this. Now hurry up, girls, you don’t want to miss your flight.”

***

     “Knew they couldn’t a’ killed him,” Rat blabbed excitedly at her all the way through the airport’s crowded arrivals bay. “The Emperor. Man, that’s cool. This is gonna be cool.”
     “Will you shut up?!”
     Three hours on a plane with Rat and Gina was already sick of him. Between his endless chatter and the gaggle of overweight women in front of them with screaming children in tow, she didn’t feel like some super-spy or undercover operative or whatever the hell they called it. She just felt alone, vulnerable, in a place where she didn’t know the exits. And her only backup if anything went wrong was . . . Rat.
     Why me? she asked herself with a quick glance heavenwards. The flickering neon tube on the ceiling didn’t have an answer for her. Nor did the mysterious brown stains on the walls, or the pile of rags at the bottom of the staircase which smelled like a week-dead corpse that no one had bothered to clean up and probably was exactly that. She caught a glimpse of a black-stained hand, clutching an empty strip of Spice.
     “Hey, you alright?” Rat asked in a tone halfway between apathy and curiosity. Like he wanted to know if something was wrong, but didn’t particularly care if there was.
     “I’m fine,” she snapped. “Get a move on, we’ve got a cab waiting.”
     Even without seeing his eyes, she could feel Rat’s teenage scowl on her. He manhandled his bag onto his shoulders, muttering, “Alright, Jesus.” Then one of the wheels fell off his bag, the moment he took his first step up the stairs. Of course he stopped immediately in order to drop his bag and swear at it in a loud, high-pitched voice, until Gina stepped in and smacked him upside the head.
     He squealed indignantly, “What’d you do that for?”
     “Because we’re trying to lay low, you little–” She bit her tongue in mid-sentence, and the taste of blood filled her mouth. It was hard to keep throttling down her temper with someone so infuriating. Finally she managed to gain control of her anger, then grabbed Rat by his collar and pulled him around to face her. She moved in closer to him, so close that their lips almost touched, so close that she knew she had his full and undivided attention.
     “We are trying to avoid standing out,” she explained calmly, quietly, and with the utmost patience. “You are being loud, obnoxious, and making us the centre of attention for at least three armed guards and a whole bunch of security cameras. Do you understand?” He nodded silently. “Alright, now understand this. I’ve been pushed just about as far as I can be pushed today. I’m tired, I’m angry, and I’m more than a little crazy, and you do not want to be on the other end of that.” She licked her lips slowly for the dramatic pause. Then, “Pick up your bag and carry it outside. Now. Before I’m forced to claw your face off.”
     Rat swallowed and nodded without protest. He almost ran the rest of the way. Gina allowed herself a thin smile of satisfaction. Threatening teenage boys was a skill you never quite grew out of, like riding a bike, you did it once and it all came back to you.
     A pink morning fog hung over Hangzhou, speckled with the brightly-coloured blotches of airships both near and far. You could never tell how distant they were, whether the one you spotted was small and close-by or big and very far away. Behind her, just visible over her shoulder, an airship twice the size of the terminal building drifted majestically into its mooring brackets. Hydraulic clamps thumped. The airship lowered a covered drawbridge towards the transparent plastic bubble of the disembarking area, and the terminal similarly extended a docking tube to connect to the other side of the bubble.
     Gina had always loved airships. They used to play to her imagination, reading about them as a girl, part of an abandoned and nearly-forgotten time until they were revived by new technology that made them far cheaper to operate than aeroplanes. Still, the mysticism wore off a bit when you saw them every day with giant video screens on the side advertising the latest brand of washing powder.
     The vehicle outside turned out to be a bicycle rickshaw with a wiry young boy at the helm. The rickshaw seemed to consist of chicken wire and baling twine, held together by some mysterious force in defiance of all the laws of physics. Gina shook her head as she saw it, but couldn’t be bothered arguing anymore. She chucked her bag into a luggage rack which looked it had once, in better days, been a shopping trolley.
     “You know how long I wait here?” the boy snapped in sharp Chinese-accented patter. “Hours! I could be in town making money, not here waiting for you! You pay me for waiting!”
     Pretty well-acted, Gina decided, but not well enough. She looked him up and down, then said, “Drop the accent. You speak English, you’ve been here no longer than ten minutes, you’re already being overpaid, and we’re not tourists. Dong ma?”
     “Ta ma de biao zi,” he muttered. Gina ignored him; she’d been called far worse out on the Street. Rat had to run to catch up as the boy started pedalling. Gina pulled Rat up by his shirt, then eased herself into the dubious wire seat and let the City wash over her.

***

     You couldn’t really tell the districts from their architecture anymore. The City looked the same all over, an endless parade of blank office blocks, apartment towers dotted with halogen light, hundreds of identical shops belonging to the same megacorp chains. The only thing to break the monotony was an occasional traditional pagoda or shrine that the property developers hadn’t managed to buy up yet.
     The slow passage of neon-lit buildings and the hypnotic lurching of the rickshaw lulled Gina into a doze. Images fluttered across her half-closed eyelids. White sand, dancing fires, stars twinkling overhead. For a moment she thought she heard the chop of helicopter blades, but it faded away too quickly to be anything real.
     Fires turned into candles as she slipped deeper into sleep. Sand crunched under her bare feet and tickled between her toes. The stars were little fireflies buzzing in the night, giving her tingles wherever they touched her skin.
     There was a white table, plates of china and pure crystal glasses, a decanter of wine so red that it shone with inner light. The waves rustled in their gentle rhythm. She saw him then, sitting calm as a rock at the far side of the table, and she was not afraid.
     “Gabriel,” she whispered.
     He smiled and stood up, leaned over the table, caught her in his eyes. Eyes the colour of burning coal. “Beauty,” he said, making the word a warm invitation. “I’m glad you came.”
     The wooden chair gave a satisfying creak as she slipped into it. The atmosphere was perfect to every detail. Her eyes drank in the wonder of it all. “How did we get here?”
     “Oh, I’ve been wanting to talk to you ever since we met. You’re a hard person to get a hold on.” The crystal stopper popped out of the decanter of its own accord, as if to announce the time to drink had arrived. Gabriel poured for both of them. A testing sip brought tears to Gina’s eyes and she nearly retched it back up. It was too much, like liquid heaven on her tongue.
     By the second sip her senses had adjusted, and the taste became merely orgasmic.
     “I haven’t meant to avoid you,” she blurted before realising what the words meant. “Well . . . Um, it’s just that you’re trying to kill us.”
     “No. Never you.” His sad smile cut straight to Gina’s heart. She just wanted to hold him and kiss him until it went away. “I told them to bring you to me alive. Their methods can be a bit rough, I’m sorry if they startled you.”
     “You startled me. In that club when we met, you . . .” The words caught in her throat as she remembered. A tiny tingle of fear hovered at the back of her mind before the magic of the scene dispelled it.
     “I didn’t mean to hurt you. You surprised me, that’s all, trying to get into my head without permission. I didn’t know who you were.” Gabriel reached out to take her hand, his fingers like velvet where they touched her skin. “Please, forgive me.”
     She responded immediately without even thinking about it. “All forgotten,” she said, and blushed deep red. She could barely keep from shaking as he stroked her palm. The wine glowed in her stomach, sending up more butterflies of excitement.
     “Thank you. You don’t know how happy that makes me,” he said with a gentle smile. “It’s strange. I never met anyone quite like you. You’re tough to have survived what I did to you, I admire that.”
     A question flared briefly in her mind, but even an instant later she could barely remember it. “How did you do it?” she asked in a struggling voice, trying hard to hold the words in her mind, but as soon as it came out she knew it was the wrong thing to say.
     Gabriel’s mouth curled into a faint smile. “I wish I could tell you. Maybe someday, in person.” Then, in the same smooth voice, “I’m sorry if this question seems strange, but . . . Who are you?”
     She told him. Everything, her whole life, it all seemed to flow from her lips without a pause. It seemed like she talked for hours, and Gabriel sat enraptured by her voice the whole time, a soft smile on his lips.
     When it was all done she blushed and laughed, taken by a sudden wave of shyness. It took her a minute more to work up the courage to ask, “And who are you?”
     The image of Gabriel pulsed, suddenly becoming more real in Gina’s mind. More solid, more there than Gina herself. Her flicker of fear returned like a distant scream, but Gabriel’s aura of power overrode it. Every sense and thought told her he wouldn’t hurt her. Not now.
     The space between them, even the table, seemed to shrink without ever actually changing size. In that instant he was close to her, so close that she could feel his warmth radiate across her skin. Somehow she was on her feet, and when she looked up into his eyes he glowed like a little piece of God.
     He leaned in to kiss her, and her heart stopped.

***

     The world was black. The sky was red. People made of ash walked and talked and laughed as if they were alive. They turned to look at Gina, smiled and welcomed her.
     She gasped for life. It rushed into her all at once, an explosion of light onto her retinas.
     “Fuck,” said Rat, his disembodied head hovering over her. Still covered by a hood and sunglasses. “Fuck me, she’s breathin’!”
     She sucked in breath after breath, lungfuls of polluted and smoky and wonderful air, and soared back into the world of the living.
     “What are you talking about?” she asked, still floating on a cloud of endorphins. Gabriel’s kiss lingered on her lips and staved off the rush of adrenaline crashing into her system. “What happened?”
     Rat collapsed backwards and threw back his hood. It revealed a mess of short black curls over a thin, androgynous face. “You were dead, girl. I saw it. Two minutes, no breathing, nothing. You died.”
     A strange smile came to her lips without thinking. “That, or I got brought back to life.”
     “What? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
     Gina giggled to herself and gestured dismissively. “Never mind. You wouldn’t understand.” Sitting up, she steadied her spinning head and looked around. “Where are we?”
     The place looked like a dark, abandoned City alley and certainly smelled like one. The stink of stale piss and other human waste assaulted her nostrils. Buildings crowded in on both sides, creaky old things of brick and wood, most of them either abandoned or claimed by squatters. No doubt there was a corpse or two lying further up the alley, adding to the local aroma. Gangs loved these sorts of places.
     “Scratch that last,” she said next. “I know where we are. What are we doing here?”
     “Waiting for–” a mobile phone started jingling in his pocket, “–Jock to call.” He sighed and dug out the tiny cylinder, no bigger than Gina’s pinky finger, and slid out the mouthpiece. “Rat,” he said into the phone. “Okay. Yeah, I’ll set it up.”
     He rummaged around in his pockets and brought out a small mobile computer, slotting the phone into it. After some more rummaging, he threw Gina a tiny piece of flesh-coloured plastic. “Put that in your ear. It’s a radio, like in the movies. Picks up everything you say and everything you hear. Touch to turn it on, touch again to turn it off. Got it?”
     The piece wasn’t hard like she expected, but soft and pliable. It slithered into her ear and wriggled around, discovering the curves of her ear. Once it had established the area in its databanks, it hardened and settled in with the most disgusting sensation Gina had ever experienced, like greasy ants crawling into her ear canal. She barely managed to restrain herself from clawing it out and hurling it away from her.
     “Let’s get to business,” Jock’s voice buzzed in her ear. “I’ll guide you to his general location, watch your back, tell you what to say. Remember, there could be Yakuza out there, or other baddies with Gina’s picture. Watch everything.”
     A wave of fresh excitement pumped in Gina’s bloodstream. She stood up, straightened her skirt, checked the Mk5 in her pocket, and brushed her fingers over her blouse to feel the warm piece of steel against her chest. “Roger,” she said, just like in the movies.
     “Got it,” Rat grunted.
     “I’ve got access to all the local cameras, so I can tell you if anyone suspicious is armed, but I can’t run face checks on the whole crowd quick enough sift anyone out. That means the tricky bit is up to you two. You’ll have to locate him, identify him, and make peaceful contact.”
     Gina frowned, her excitement screeching to a sudden halt. “What do you mean, ‘peaceful contact’?”
     Over the radio, Jock chuckled and said nothing.

***

     They split up and went out into the street with a purpose. Gina vanished into the throng, like a river of people flowing down a long winding valley of neon and concrete storefronts. The horizon glowed grey with the encroaching dawn, but even at an hour like this the people’s lust for shopping didn’t seem a bit diminished.
     She reached into her purse and tore a section off the plastic strip of pills. Just one, she thought, glancing around her. Not two, not here. Too many people. She nodded to herself, popped a dose of Spice out of the plastic, swallowed it dry.
     Acid churned in her empty stomach as the pill hit her. It would take a while for her third eye to open. She stared blankly into shop windows, felt pickpockets search her for a wallet that wasn’t there. Some of them settled for a quick grope in lieu of payoff. After all, she was a woman — a gaijin woman, no less — so what else was she good for?
     The touchy types were quickly introduced to the way of the steel-toed boot. Still, they put Gina into a black mood that just got darker as the minutes wore on. The chatter of the crowd hammered in on her like waves beating against the shore. Thoughts and feelings streaming through the cobbled streets with battering-ram force. It was the Spice working on her, and she wondered if taking a pill had been such a good idea.
     A peal of thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain came down all at once, a torrential downpour, and Gina didn’t have the luxury of sitting in a warm shop until it went away. She had to march into a dangerous, unpredictable, pretty fucked-up situation in order to bust someone out of prison. What a life.
     She just wanted to kill someone.
     “Let’s go then, you bastards,” she snarled at the shop window and turned away. Strands of wet red hair dangled down her shoulders. If anyone had looked at her just then they would have flinched back from the mad look in her eyes. She gave in completely to the trance, bit her lip in concentration, and reached out to the crowd with her mind.
     “This is Rat,” mumbled a voice in her ear, “ain’t found anything yet. There’s a building, though, corner next to the strip club, looks abandoned. I wanna check it out.”
     “Go,” said Jock. “Careful, though. Infrared cams say there’s definitely people in there. Gina, give Rat some backup.” A beat ticked away. “Gina? Gina! She’s not responding. Something wrong with the radio?”
     Gina stretched out her arms. The rain, the sky, the earth, she could feel them all. She touched all living things, felt their warm blood coursing, felt the drum of their heartbeats. She looked out, and it was as if she could see Gabriel in the distance, smiling. She smiled back.
     She submerged herself in the voice of the world and the whispers of thoughts all around her. She glided through rivers of people, through porches and doorways, her nerves thrumming to the rhythm of the world. Her feet never seemed to touch the ground as they carried her nearer to the object of her search.
     Suddenly, her trance shattered like crystal as a cold gun pressed against her temple. A jolt of ice shot down her spine at the click of the hammer being cocked.
     “No sound,” a voice hissed in her ear in tones of sharpened steel. Gina couldn’t see him but she felt his thoughts rattling in her head. They were iron plans and steel secrets, full of rage and full of blood.
     Gina swallowed the lump of terror in her throat and husked, “Don’t kill me. Please.”
     Rough hands turned her around and flung her against the wall. Corrugated steel boomed where she landed. Pain flashed up and down her back. She saw blue eyes blazing in the half-light of reflected neon, a hand like a carpenter’s vice gripping her throat, the gun pressed up against her chin. His face slowly swam into focus as he came closer.
     “Gina!” her earpiece buzzed. Jock, frantic and angry. “I heard you! Where the fuck are you?!”
     “I know you,” he said. “The girl. Come to finish the job, have you? Simon’s pulled a good trick on me, but I’m not dead yet. Where is he?”
     “Listen–” she started, shivering like a reed in his grasp, but the cold metal of the gun hit her hard across the cheek. The world spun for a moment. A savage jerk of her neck brought her back to her senses, to the feeling of warm blood rolling down her jaw, to the taste of it on her tongue like copper and iron.
     The Emperor treated her to a cold smile as her eyes focused again. “Where is he?”
     “I know that voice.” Jock sounded ashen. “Fuck. Fuck me. Don’t say a thing.”
     The grip around her throat tightened to make her gasp. Her breath wheezed out of her, unable to get back into her lungs. “Where is he?” the Emperor repeated with the same quiet edge.
     Gina squeaked, “He’s . . . He’s not here!” She coughed violently, but couldn’t breathe in again. “Hhh . . . Hhh . . .”
     Just when she thought her lungs would burst, the door on the other side of the room slammed open. Rat’s thin, high voice called out from the shadowy doorframe, “Emperor! Let her go!”
     Gunshots thundered through the darkness. Gina heard Rat squeal as he jumped away into cover, her eyes aching from the muzzle flash, barely able to see the Emperor in front of her as he scanned the room for his target. Without thinking she dipped her hand into her purse, pulled out her trusty old Mk5, and squeezed.
     The Emperor flew away from her. His body landed convulsing on the floor, but within moments he stretched out again with terrible endurance, grasping for his gun. Gina, still fighting for breath, hurled herself on top of him and shoved the Mk5 in his face. It hummed menacingly while it recharged.
     “The next one will kill you,” she rasped, “so no more games. We’re here with Jock.”
     “You lie,” the Emperor mumbled, but his voice was unsure. He continued more forcefully, “Jock is dead. They are all dead. Do not mock me, woman.” He clenched his fingers to work the electric-shock numbness from them.
     The bug in her ear hummed, “Quick, tell him–” it switched to Mandarin in mid-sentence, “–‘dawn over Chang Jiang’.”
     The Emperor’s eyes widened as she repeated the phrase. “All right?” she asked the strong, harrowed face underneath her. Recovered as he was, she had no doubts that he could throw her off at any second. Her muscles were weak and starved of oxygen and her brain was on fire with Spice. But she had the Mk5.
     He nodded. “Alright. You are with Jock. But I don’t understand.” From the corner of her eye, Gina could see Rat cautiously creeping back into the room, ready to bolt again if anyone even pointed a gun in his general direction.
     “Neither do I,” she said and moved to roll off of him. Jock said something in her ear, but she couldn’t make it out as the Emperor threw her off the moment she shifted her weight. The gun materialised in his hand in the same way Bomber’s had done in the alley. Surprised and off-balance, it happened too fast for her to react. Three shots rang out like the wrath of God.
     A dark shape toppled to the floor out of the doorway, accompanied by the clunk of metal as something dropped from its hands. The Emperor rushed to the body’s side and ripped open the dark overcoat. He spat a savage curse when he saw the gang colours.
     “Fuck,” breathed Rat. “Holy fuck. Who’s he, Yakuza?”
     “No,” the Emperor said hatefully. “Triads.”
     The earpiece burbled, “Gina, are you listening? I told you, I’ve got about five armed people converging on that building! You need to get the hell out of there!”
     The Emperor sneered as she told him the news, then stood up and jacked the slide of his pistol. “Follow me.”
     He slipped out the doorway into a deep stairwell, and Gina followed him on trembling legs, pulling Rat along behind her. They rattled down the rickety steps as fast as they could. The sound of other people’s footfalls hammered off the walls, and somewhere at the bottom of the stairwell, the noise of a boot meeting an ancient rotting door boomed up the shaft. Wood cracked. Shouts in Chinese echoed everywhere.
     The Emperor turned onto the first floor landing and muttered, “A parting gift,” as he pulled a grenade out from under his longcoat. He sent it tumbling down the gap between the stairs to land hard on the ground below. Meanwhile the door at the bottom let out a final creaking moan as it gave way. Several men piled into the stairwell, shouting and stomping, and a moment later vanished in a ball of fire. Huge clouds of black smoke billowed up the stairway like an avalanche in reverse.
     With a single powerful heave, the Emperor threw open the fire door and leapt into the empty space where the fire escape should have been, undeterred by the drop to ground level. He landed lightly on his feet, all the while aiming his gun down the street in case anyone decided to pop their head round the corner. Behind him, ancient fire alarms roused from their slumber and started to blare out their electronic warnings.
     “This feels familiar,” Gina muttered as she climbed down. Her heavy soles made a loud clump as she hit the pavement. The shock travelled all the way up her legs and into her Spice-muddled mind, sent it spinning so hard she had to catch herself against the wall, retching all over the brickwork.
     Meanwhile Rat waffled in the doorway, frightened to take the three-metre jump, but the sound of more Triad men thundering into the building persuaded him to take his chances with gravity. He squealed as he plummeted to the ground, but soon found himself on the ground unharmed.
     “Move,” the Emperor hissed, “they won’t be far behind. If we’re fast we can melt before they see us.”
     Gina agreed immediately and followed close on his heels. Rat didn’t get a vote. In Gina’s opinion, it was a capital plan.
     After all, it put as much distance as possible between herself and the chaos of smoke, fire and armed men behind her.

One Response to “EMPATHY: Part 6”

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