Wyn pushed forward against the steering wheel, hoping to get a better view of the gate but the squalls of rain made it almost impossible to see further than the cars parked next to them. Wind buffeted the car, the gusts working their way through the gaps in the door and driving water under the seals to pool on the dashboard. The carpark felt isolated, like an island in the storm. It was one of the rare places in the sector not crowded in by buildings, instead surrounded by a muddy field pockmarked with puddles. At the bottom of a short slope was a road that ran from the edge of the dense urban sprawl, through the empty no-man’s-land to a gate set in a tall, red-bricked wall. Wyn could just about see the light in the guard’s hut, a soldier poking their head out before retreating inside.
“They won’t know we’re here,” Misha said raising her voice to be heard over the rain and Alex’s ear-shattering screams. She tried to rest the infant against her shoulder, rubbing his back but he lashed out, tears running down his tired face.
“As soon as they come out, I’ll run over,” Wyn said. She was worried that Alex was going to hurt himself he was screaming so loudly. “You should have stayed at home. If they don’t come out...”
“We said we’d do this together. When he sees his father, he’ll calm down.”
A heavy downpour hammered the car and Wyn placed a hand against the roof, willing it to hold up to the onslaught. Alex stopped screaming long enough to cower before the power of the storm.
“We can’t stay here much longer,” Wyn said reaching into the passenger's footwell and retrieving an umbrella. “I’ll talk to the guards and see if they know what’s happening.”
“Don’t anger them.”
“Misha, I know how to speak to the militia. I’ve been doing it my entire life.”
“You’re a civilian now and they’re on edge.”
“I’ll be polite.” Wyn slipped the cover off the umbrella and unclipped the strap.
“It will break,” Misha said. “It’s only a cheap thing.”
Wyn looked at the umbrella and then at the heavy rain before tossing it on the back seat.
“Screw it.” Wyn zipped her rain jacket to the top and raised her hood.
The rain hit her like a hammer forcing her to almost buckle and fall back into the car, but a hand pushed at her back, shoving her out. The door slammed and Wyn was caught in a sideways wind that carried her towards the grass verge. She went with it slipping her way down, arms out to stop herself from falling over. The tarmac was hidden under a windswept layer, miniature waves that broke around her ankles threatening to breach her wellingtons and soak her feet. Swearing under her breath Wyn splashed her way towards the windowless barracks looming like a slab of rock dropped from the sky to sink into the mud.
Wyn held the lip of her hood up searching the guard hut for signs of life. Someone passed in front of the light and a woman slipped around the red and white striped bar to stand on the road. Arms wrapped around herself, thin white shirt plastered to her skin and loose black trousers whipping back and forth. The newly released prisoner looked back at the gate, unsure where to go, stunned by the violent weather.
“Jena!” Wyn called out as she ran and her friend turned at the shout, long grey hair plastered across her face. She called something back and started walking, her left leg dragging slightly. The soldiers in the gatehouse watched as the two old friends hugged each other for the first time in their lives.
“I thought they were going to shoot me,” Jena said letting go of Wyn and glancing back at the barracks.
“Put this on.” Wyn unzipped her coat and helped Jena with the sleeves, feeling the gauntness of her former captain as she did so. “It will keep you warm.”
Jena embraced Wyn again, almost crushing her in her arms. “I never thought I’d see you again.”
“It’s alright now, you’re out.”
“When they pulled me from my cell, I thought it was my time. I’d heard them taking other people that never came back,” Jena said letting Wyn turn her away from the gate. “The bastards laughed at me when they gave me back my clothes. I was crying and trying to get dressed in front of them.”
“It’s over. I’m going to get you home.” Wyn glanced over her shoulder at the gate as she helped Jena up the steps. “Keep going, Misha and the car are just over there.”
“Where are you going?” Jena held on to her, reluctant to let go.
“I need to speak to the guards about Tom, I need to know where he is,” Wyn said. “Just keep going. I’ll only be a minute.”
The guards were unwilling to leave the hut and Wyn had to step right up to the traffic barrier.
“There should be another prisoner being released today,” Wyn shouted, water streaming down her face.
The guard picked up a clipboard and ran a finger down a list shaking his head. “Nope, that’s it.”
“Are you sure? A Major Tom Glass should be here as well.”
“There’s no major on my list,” the guard said with a shrug and looked to his partner tucked into a seat in the corner. “Do you know any majors getting released today?”
The poncho mirrored the shrug and gave Wyn a look of palpable boredom.
“Tom Glass.” Wyn brushed her hair back out of her face. “His release was authorised by the Ministry of Justice.”
“Come back tomorrow.”
“Can you call inside and check?” Wyn moved around the pole but stopped when the poncho twitched, and a rifle barrel poked out of the bottom.
Wyn backed off a few metres while searching the barracks hoping to see Tom emerging from a doorway. An overflowing gutter dumped its contents onto the roof of an armoured car, the drumming adding to the wall of sound filling the yard. Without any ground-floor windows, it was impossible to see if anything was happening. The poncho-wearing guard got up from her seat and came to stand by the door, the muzzle of her rifle casually trained on Wyn.
“Where’s Tom?” Jena asked when Wyn had jogged back to her at the top of the steps.
“I told you to wait in the car.” Wyn took her arm and steered her through the rain.
“Is he still in there?”
“We need to get you out of the rain.”
“Where’s Tom?” Misha shouted. She was outside the car but holding onto it. “Wyn, where is he?”
“I’m going to phone Agent Douglass and find out.”
“Jena, take the front seat,” Misha said, the wind whipping her hood back as she set off towards the steps. Alex was standing up in the driver’s seat with his hands pressed to the glass.
“Where are you going?” Wyn asked.
“To get my husband!”
A gust of wind hit Misha and she tottered at the top of the steps before Wyn caught her.
“He’s not being released today,” Wyn said. “We need to go home.”
“There!” Misha shouted pointing to the gate where two guards had come out carrying a man between them. They dumped him on the verge and retreated behind the barrier.
“Tom!” Misha shouted sprinting to his side and dropping to her knees in the muddy water. She clasped his face, staring in horror at the damage done to him. Blood ran freely from his lips to mingle with the rain.
The sullen guard stood just inside the gate, watching as Wyn helped Misha carry her husband to the car. Wyn got the rear door and they set him in the back seat before getting in themselves and slamming the doors shut. Once they were all in Wyn took a deep breath and looked over at Jena to find her holding a now quiet Alex on her lap.
Wyn wiped her hands on her jeans before gripping the steering wheel. She glanced in the rear-view mirror as Misha embraced Tom, urgent words concealed by the drumming on the roof.
“Can we go?” Jena said as Alex stared over her shoulder at the strange man in the back, no longer crying but his face red from the effort. The man looked like his father, but thinner and bruised with dark sockets around his eyes. “I don’t want to be here if they change their minds.”
“Misha,” Wyn said taking Alex and passing him back through the gap in the seats.
“Detective Wyn,” Tom said struggling to catch his breath. Wyn caught a look at his bloodshot eyes in the rear-view mirror and quickly looked away. “I want to thank you for looking after my family.”
“We can do all that when we get back to the pub,” Wyn said trying not to think about what they had done to the man to leave him looking that way. She glanced over at Jena to find her tensed up, breathing through gritted teeth, and staring at the gate. “We’re going.”
Wyn pulled out of the space slowly, her lights on despite it being early morning. They drove to the sound of the windscreen wipers doing their best to shift the water streaming across the glass, but visibility was less than five metres.
“Did you drive here in this?” Jena asked staring at the water covering the road. “I’ve never seen it like this before.”
“This just started up an hour ago. The rain we’ve had in the past few months has been crazy. Half the sectors flooded out.” Wyn drove hunched over the steering wheel, concentrating on the brake lights of the car in front, hoping they knew where the road was.
“What’s been happening while I’ve been locked away?” Jena's voice strained as she struggled to be heard over the rain. “Or is it better I don’t know?”
They left the open area of grass and mud behind and entered the canyons of tower blocks. The tall buildings and narrow streets blocked the worst of the wind and allowed some visibility to return.
“I would like to say nothing exciting, but I’d be lying.” Wyn slowed as the car in front signalled an upcoming turn. “Jena, I want you to come and stay with us for a few days. Things are a bit rickety in the sector and I’d be happier if you were at the pub.”
“I would be as well,” Misha said from the back. “We talked about it, and we won’t take no for an answer.”
Jena twisted in her seat and Misha reached forward to gently touch her shoulder.
“What do you think, major?” Jena asked Tom.
“I could do with a pint,” Tom said and managed a smile despite his cracked lips.
“I tried looking for you, Tom,” Jena said unable to avoid studying the bruises on his face. “I asked around, but you were on a different wing.”
“We’re out now, that’s all that matters.”
“It’s settled then?” Wyn asked.
“To the Magdala,” Jena said and settled into her seat. “I need some clothes though.”
“Taken care of. I went to your flat yesterday and picked up some of your stuff.”
“Breaking and entering.”
“Mo offered to kit you out, but I politely declined on your behalf.” Wyn watched Jena closely, hoping for a smile but she was twisted in her seat and staring out at the empty streets. “I had your keys. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the opportunity to empty your fridge and tidy up a little.”
“Did you try the quiche?” Jena asked craning her neck to stare up at the dark apartment blocks looming on either side of the road.
“It made a run for it as soon as I opened the door.”
They drove in silence for a few blocks, all of them lost in their own thoughts. Alex studied the stranger next to him unsure if it was really his father or not.
“The last time I came down here it was wall to wall traffic,” Jena said pointing at the near-empty road in front of them. “But now there’s no one. No pedestrians, hardly any cars. It’s a ghost town.”
“The rain keeps most in,” Wyn said. “The militia's scared everyone else off the street. People have been attacking the patrols and they’ve responded by shooting first and asking questions later.”
“What about the lights? It’s only the afternoon and everything’s shut up.”
“The flooding’s knocked out parts of the electrical grid, so there’s a rolling blackout. The mains water is still good, but I’ve heard of some districts having to queue for bowsers brought in from the treatment plant.”
“I have never in all my life heard of flooding in the sector,” Jena said. “It’s never been a problem before so why now?”
“God knows, Jena. Everything is just breaking.”
“So, what have you been doing?” Jena asked. “Apart from missing me.”
“Running the pub.”
“You opened the Magdala? Good for you. How’s it going?”
“It went well for a while, but we had to close up yesterday.” Wyn shared a look with Misha in the back.
“Were you helping, Misha?” Tom asked.
“It was her idea,” Wyn said glancing back at her business partner. “She got hold of the suppliers and sorted it all out. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
“What happened yesterday?” Jena asked.
“The ground floor flooded,” Misha said. “We tried to keep it out, but the water came up from under the floorboards. Mo and I are thinking about setting up a table by the back gate and trading in the market. It’s not as if the council are going to come after us.”
“The pub flooded?” Jena asked. “That front step is a foot up from the pavement. The entire road must be underwater.”
“All the way to the river. Boatbuilding is a burgeoning industry,” Wyn said.
“Alex and I saw a paddleboat going down the high street. Do you remember the big swan?” Misha asked Alex and he smiled briefly before frowning at his father.
“The upstairs is dry for now,” Wyn said. “We still have power and clean water but neither of you has to worry about it. Misha and I have it under control. You’ve both been through an ordeal and need time to recuperate.”
“I didn’t realise it was so bad outside.” Jena stared out the window at the submerged cars and maze of raised walkways leading from doorways, stunned by what she was looking at.
“I doubt it was much better inside the prison,” Wyn said.
“There was flooding in the lower levels, but we just doubled up. I spent all that time wanting to get out and get back to normal, only to find this,” Jena said.
“I’m glad to have you back.” Wyn reached over and squeezed Jena’s arm through the wet sleeve. “All this will get sorted. What’s important is that the two of you are out and we can all figure this out together.”
“I don’t get where all this water is coming from,” Tom said. “Sector rainfall is usually consistent. We don’t get abnormal weather patterns. Mid-November should be dry, not this.”
“I have a theory on that,” Wyn said but she caught Misha’s curt headshake in the mirror and kept them to herself.
“Which would be?” Tom asked.
“We’ll talk about it when we get back,” Misha said.
“No, no, no!” Wyn shouted slamming the steering wheel as she coasted the car to a stop by the curb. A wave of water crashed across the pavement and into a sandbag wall protecting a doorway. They were on a quiet street with townhouses on one side and a block of flats on the other.
“Did you forget to fill it up?” Jena asked.
“Haven’t been able to for a while,” Wyn said giving the ignition another go but if there was any life in the engine it was masked by the heavy rain thundering on the bonnet. She gave up and pocketed the keys. “Deliveries stopped coming in from Central a month ago. We were saving what was in the tank to come and get the two of you.”
“How far are we?” Jena asked peering at the houses. “I don’t recognise anything with all this rain.”
“The pub’s just around the corner.” Wyn pointed through the rain at a lone telephone box at the end of the road. “The flower market is a hundred metres to the left.”
“Jena,” Misha said from the back. “Would you mind carrying Alex while Wyn and I help Tom?”
“Oh, sure, gladly.” Jena reached back and took the wriggling child.
“Put him in your coat and hold him up.”
Jena sat Alex on her lap and unzipped her coat. The little boy seemed to know the drill and hugged her reflexively while she did the zip back up over him. “Are you going to be all right, Wyn?”
“I’m used to it. My toes are starting to web,” Wyn said bracing herself before opening her door.
They piled out and Wyn helped Tom get out while Misha came around the side. Jena focused on the red telephone box, limping with her arms wrapped around Alex, doing her best to stay upright in the howling wind. The covered market was only a little further and they rushed the last distance, all of them eager to get under the large glass roof. The traders looked up as they staggered in but only a few said hello, the others taking one look at the major and deciding to keep to themselves.
“Wyn, someone’s tried forcing the shutter,” Misha said nodding to the big doors and where the bottom strip had been bent.
“I’ll deal with that in a minute,” Wyn said passing the key to Jena. “Let’s get everyone in first.”
They filed inside and Wyn shut the door, putting her shoulder to it to close it properly.
“I need a cuppa,” Jena said unzipping her jacket and letting Alex poke his head out. He let out a giggle and Jena smiled down at him. “It’s good to be home, Wyn.”