Dax woke, not because of shock or horror but because someone was shaking his shoulder. Still not quite sure whether he was falling, he turned over and saw Athellus crouching next to him. “Whhh…”

“It’s happening again,” Athellus said. He was carrying his gun; as he spoke his fingers were putting in a new magazine without needing to look. “Come on.” Without waiting for a reply he headed across the room to the spy nest they had built, and slid down the slope out of sight.

Dax rubbed a hand across his face, wishing he had had another hour’s sleep, then sat up on his elbows, which were sank into the pile of old mattresses he had been sleeping on. They were surprisingly comfortable, and only smelled a little musty.

Like everything else they used, the mattresses were abandoned property. They had been salvaged from several rooms in this building, where they had been sleeping for the past day or so, a low structure with holes in its roof and walls, and a colony of bats in a room whose door Dax had opened and then closed very quickly. It had once been a halfway house attached to a small nearby hospital. The hospital itself was only visible as a nearby footprint in the ground now. Even the foundations had been destroyed.

“The Scorpieth?” Dax had asked when they passed it.

Athellus had shaken his head. “Implosion bomb. Uses Gating energy to analyse the structure and paradigm of a building, then – “ He mimed with his hands. “Collapses it. Must have been before Jayton Ember’s time, he outlawed them.”

There had been no time to say more. The three of them – more like two and a ghost, Dax thought, sourly – were four days away from the Librais Tower now, following the directions Kaire had risked so much to get, and the first location was a fair distance away. Kaire didn’t have any use for street names, but the location, as Athellus had relayed to Dax, was precise. The primary power grid, their first target, was in the cellar of an old barracks to the north of the Librais Tower. The barracks had been turned into an Evinthei guard post a few years ago.

“Guard post?”

“It won’t be a problem,” Athellus had replied. “They’ll never know we were there.”

The calm and edge of bravado in his voice hadn’t fooled Dax. The first night away from the Tower, they had been woken by a droning engine overhead. Dax had been lying awake, thinking, and the noise had frightened the life out of him – he had become so used to the nights being quiet that it came as a shock. It had woken Athellus, who had crept out from cover to watch it go over. It was an Evinthei aircraft, he said. “Ember’s blood. They must have just missed us at the Tower.”

He had set a sharp pace the next morning, one Dax resented until he remembered that these people had a bounty on Athellus’ head. If someone was trying to get my head on a stick, I wouldn’t want to push my luck with them, either…

But for Dax it was an opportunity missed, too. Now this ‘mission’ was beginning in earnest, the logistics of trying to approach the Evinthei and asking for their help, without putting Athellus in danger, seemed even more difficult. That commander had seen him, back on Lailenus Street. Maybe he could make the case that he hadn’t shot anyone and had been doing what was necessary to survive, but from now on he was going to be in this up to his neck.

And it wasn’t as if he could barter his way into their good books, either. That was – the consequences were unthinkable, for people he had come to like and respect.

He reached for his clothes. The cell phone was lying on top, shiny and silent. Dax weighed it in his hand, feeling elements of his dream coming back to him.

It’s been more than a week now. A week since I fell into the river, and woke up here. And since then it’s been nothing but grey concrete in every direction, and blood, and running back and forth. Being scared, and being hungry. All this paradigm and Sundered stuff… are you quite sure you didn’t die when you fell in the Thames, Dax old boy, and now you’re somewhere that’s not quite heavenly? Because it feels like you’ve done nothing but get it where it hurts.

No, he didn’t believe that.

Oh really? Why’s that?

 

 

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