Keeping his weight balanced carefully, Athellus shielded his eyes against the light; at this time of day it fell in blinding shafts from the horizon. In the distance he could see a faint, regular line of towers, miles away. Unlike the southern quarter of Nones, they were intact and shielded against the effects of Gating energy. Mappable. Knowable.

Home.

“Can you see it?” Dax shouted up to him.

Athellus glanced down. He was standing on the roof of the vehicle they had taken from the aeroponics bay, which Dax had christened the Green Warrior. The interior smelt green, all right: like moss and the must of padding exposed to the elements too long. But it was sturdy. They had taken the time to weld extra bars onto the sides and front, turning the Warrior into a tank capable of handling any pile of rubble or rusted fence that Nones could throw at them. Or any pack of Earthborn, if they had been stupid enough to attack, but thankfully they seemed to have fled into their boltholes at the sound of the Warrior’s enormous tyres crunching over fallen concrete.

The thing was a fortress, and Athellus had come to like it. Sleeping inside was the closest he had come to feeling secure since they had left the Chapel of Silence, and as a bonus, there were no eerie iron statues to disturb him. Athellus respected Merriad and Roscher as fellow professionals who had fallen in battle, but the Chapel was theirs, and he felt the same discomfort anyone did when intruding into two lovers’ personal space. The Warrior was theirs.

Though it did mean he had been forced to forgo having Kaire sleep beside him at night. When she had entered the Warrior, experimentally after Dax’s endless questions, all its proximity alarms had gone off and the onboard computer had crashed, as if in outrage. Athellus understood, it was part of her inability to use any machine, but he had grown used to a warm protector sleeping chastely at his back. Hopefully the mission would be over soon and they could get out of here. Too many memories.

He squinted into the light again. Between them and the towers of Lyon’s Boulevard was a vast expanse of stillness — the deadlands where, somewhere, the Great Maw lay in its dreadful silence — and, much closer now, glittering water.

The river.

Athellus swallowed. Okay. It’ll be easy. We go, we scope the pylon, we blow the fucking thing, we leave. We stay away from the Evinthei and anything else that might pop up. Easy. Yeah.

He shook his head at himself, ruefully. But there was something to be said for a simple, optimistic plan. If they were going to do this, better to do it as fast and smooth as possible.

He crouched and jumped down from the Warrior’s roof. “We’re nearly there.” He glanced around. “Where’s Kaire?”

“She’s gone to the rooftop,” said Dax. “She said she wanted to scout ahead a bit.”

Athellus swung back into the Warrior and reached for his seatbelt as the engine started up. “Come on. This mission’s taking long enough as it is.”

“What other missions have you been on before this one?” Dax wanted to know over the sound of the engine. “You said you’d been to London once.”

“That was a while ago,” shrugged Athellus. “I was there for about a week—this was before I met Kaire. Actually when we completed a mission in New York a couple of years later, some of the stuff I found out in London came in handy.”

“Like what?”

“Like how to do a museum heist.”

“You’re joking.”

“Nope.” Athellus grinned at the memory. “It was our first real mission together, mostly a training session for Kaire to teach her… well, how not to proverbially use a nuclear weapon to swat a fly. She passed, and it was a lot of fun.”

“What did you steal?”

“Nothing valuable.” Athellus glanced over at him. “Better if Kaire tells it, she had a — better perspective than me.”

“Well, I’m going to hold her to it. Once we’ve broken the pylon.”

Athellus nodded. “Yeah. Then maybe we can get out of this city and finally get a good night’s sl

 

* * *

i

i’m

Little Jacques West was three years old, lying on the old carpet in the living room. The TV was on in the corner, showing that test card with the girl and the clown doll. He could hear his mother washing up in the kitchen, but there was also that persistent tone from the test card itself.

no

No, he was nineteen. That was it. He was helping Ginny at one of her concerts and someone had plugged the speaker into the wrong outlet. The feedback was sawing his head, the speaker was about to blow.

no wait

No. Dax remembered finally. He was twenty-six. He had fallen into the Thames and woken up in another world. He was with friends, and the ringing in his ears was because someone had blown up the car they were travelling in.

 

 

 

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