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“They can’t do that,” Jameson said, pointing at the TV and the footage of the assassination. The entirety of the detective team was packed into the small kitchen, all five of them.

“Who’s going to stop him?” Wyn said, tossing the teaspoon into the sink. “They just killed his only competition. He’s now the sole person in charge of the sector.”

The charred remains of a car and then a photograph of a broad-shouldered sixty-year-old man stuffed into a suit. The now-deceased vice-chairman sitting proudly, his head tilted away from the camera, thinking about his place in sector history and unaware that he would end up a charred husk by the side of the road.

“It’s a fucking loyalty purge, I’m telling you. This is party infighting,” Jameson continued. “I swore an oath to the sector, not to the governor.”

“Damn right it’s a purge, and it’s not just us,” Wyn said. “The militia are going to feel this by the end of the day. That bastard Kaplan has been waiting for the chance.”

“God damn Doron, he knew this was coming, but did he warn us?” Wilma said.

“The writing was on the wall, we just chose to ignore it,” Wyn said. She gave the TV one last look and gave a rueful shake of her head. “It’s been nice working with all of you.”

Wyn left the break room in time to see Jena coming in from the corridor. The captain looked harassed and in need of a stiff drink in a quiet room with a lockable door. Wyn stood back against the wall and watched her approach.

“If you’re about to give me grief, don’t bother,” Jena said, dumping her bag on the nearest desk and shrugging out of her wet coat. She was wearing a black suit, her hair tied back. “I swear I’m this close to shooting someone.”

“You don’t look right without a bit of colour on you,” Wyn said.

“Can’t say I feel like any of that right now.” Jena saw the others gathering in the kitchen doorway and held up a hand. They looked ready to start shouting but had collectively decided to at least give their captain a moment to gather her wits. “I know, I know. I was in the commander’s office when the governor made the announcement. It caught us all by surprise.”

“Captain, what are we going to do?” Wilma asked.

“Nothing,” Jena said. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“What, we just close up shop?” Jameson said. “We just let them kick us out?”

“The order isn’t up for debate. There’s no appeal, no one to listen even if we could make one,” Jena said. “It’s done.”

Wyn took her mug and walked over to her desk.

“Where are you going?” Jameson asked.

“If we’re all sacked, then I’ve got calls to make.” Wyn sat down heavily in her chair. She didn’t pick her phone up though, instead pushing her chair back so she could still watch the conversation.

“The governor is reacting,” Jena said.

“He’s fucking overreacting,” Jameson said his skin flushed red.

“Look at the bigger picture, the vice-chairman was just gunned down in the street. It was an attack on the government and they are taking the measures they deem necessary.”

“Do you agree with them?” Jameson said. “I can’t believe you’re siding with them.”

“No, of course I’m bloody well not,” Jena said sharply. “We served this district to the best of our ability, and we always tried to do what was right. It’s just that right now we’re on the outside.”

“It’s not enough though, is it? We bleed for this sector, and how do they treat us? They just toss us to the side.”

“It’s not the people, Jameson, and you know it isn’t,” Wyn said, getting everyone’s attention. “When I come to work every day, I don’t do it for the government, I do it for them. All this,” Wyn gestured at the office and the stacks of filing cabinets that took up the rear wall, “this means something.”

“The chief has confirmed that as of three o’clock this afternoon, there will no longer be an independent police force operating in the sector. The militia will absorb all duties and assets,” Jena said.

“Three hours?” Jameson said, raising his voice. “What the hell are we supposed to do in that time? I’ve got informants I need to call. What the hell am I going to do with my cases? I’ve got a family looking for a child. Am I supposed to just walk away from that?”

“I haven’t got the answers,” Jena said, letting out a weary sigh. She picked her coat and bag up. “I’m hoping to get some though in the next couple of hours, what I have been told so far is that you’re all going to get paid, at least until a plan is put together.”

“That’s it?” Jameson said, turning his attention to Wyn. “We need to do something about this.”

“Don’t forget to lock your doors tonight,” Wyn said. She pulled a box out from under her desk and started putting things in it.

“Thanks, Wyn,” Jena said, frowning at the unhelpful advice. “There is a way through this mess for us as a group but I’m afraid until the election is over it’s all going to look a bit shit.”

“Lock your doors and it’s all a bit shit, is that really what senior management has to offer?” Jameson scoffed. “Where’s the union, they should be involved?”

“Still locked up, I think.” Wyn sat back and stared at the ceiling. “I know at least one of them is under house arrest. Barbara got shanked whilst being held at the barracks, Karlson works security in some hotel, but as for the rest, God knows.”

“Wyn, you’re not helping,” Jena said.

“All I’m saying is that the time to get angry was last year. We all knew the corruption charges levelled against the union were bullshit, but we did nothing about it,” Wyn said. “Other than moan about it in the pub.”

“I don’t remember you volunteering to break them out,” Jameson said.

“Hey,” Wyn said holding up her hands. “I’m including myself in that. We had a chance but didn’t take it. That’s it.”

“I need to call my wife,” Jameson said and took his coffee mug back to his desk. The others peeled off to contemplate their options.

Jena dumped her bag and coat in her office, pausing for a moment before coming back out, angling for Wyn. She rested a hand on the partition and watched as Wyn carefully dumped a stack of files in the box. She lifted a photograph from Wyn’s desk and studied it. An older woman and a beanpole kid holding a trophy.

“She was a tough lady,” Jena said.

“She’s why I became a policeman.” Wyn could still see her Auntie beaming with pride in the front row. She’d been the loudest person in the hall and at the time it had embarrassed her but looking back the memory only brought Wyn happiness.

“Really? The way I remember it, she didn’t let us in the pub in uniform.”

“Hah,” Wyn sat back in her chair. “That’s because half of her customers were criminals. No, I’m talking about before she bought the pub when she lived on the Tooling estate.”

“I know it well, got my first collar there. Lovely place.”

“It was an ongoing riot that people just got used to. A gang tried to move into an empty flat on her floor and open up a stash house. Auntie organised the resistance and chased them out with mops. She broke the stick over their heads.”

“We could do with more like her now.” Jena handed the photo over. “You’re taking this quite well.”

“You warned me they were going to shut us down. I got that out of my system last night.”

“Who was your visitor?”

“Oh, no one,” Wyn said. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Jena, more that she had a feeling she’d made the wrong decision. At the time it had felt like the right thing to do. Her and Misha had talked late into the night, a surprisingly easy conversation that had ranged far into each other’s lives, but the cold light of dawn had brought with it a sober realisation. She had involved herself in a stranger’s life, one possibly fraught with danger. It might distract her from the bigger threat. “The damned Arcists have played right into Kaplan’s hands. I don’t understand why they didn’t go for the governor. Why the party’s number two?”

“Bad intelligence maybe, who knows. Ministerial cars all look the same.” Jena glanced around the office. “What are you going to do now?”

“Go home, have a drink and call the brewery. At least I’ll make the market traders happy.”

“Sounds like a plan. Are you taking those files to remember the office by?”

“We both know the militia aren’t going to pick up our caseload. They’ll trash the backlog and start again. I owe these victims something.”

“Give it a few months and they’ll be begging us to come back.”

“You still going to the funeral?” Wyn asked.

“Command scheduled an emergency meeting that starts halfway through the service but to hell with them. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Jena said, watching Wyn pack away the last of her stuff. “Why don’t you come along? I know what Fiona said, but you were his best friend, you should be there.”

“I don’t need to see him bricked up in a wall. He knew I cared about him.” Wyn retrieved her pencil mug from the back of the desk and rubbed a thumb over the uneven surface. “You know he made this for me as a birthday present? It was a project at his pottery club. I can still see the look on his face when he gave it to me. He really was an idiot.” She put the mug in the box along with the pens and pencils. “You really going to blow the meeting off?”

“No, but I’m going to be late to it,” Jena said. “I’ve got some calls to make. Drink later?”

“Definitely.”

Jena squeezed Wyn’s shoulder and then went back to her office.

Wyn sat for a while staring at Bran’s desk. It had already been cleared, and all that remained now was an old monitor and a calendar. It didn’t feel right to her, none of it did.

Her phone rang, the caller coming up as her dead aunt, the pub landline.

“Misha?” Wyn said. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s someone here,” Misha whispered. “I can hear them downstairs.”

“Where are you?” Wyn asked opening her drawer and getting her gun out. She clipped it onto her belt and stood up.

“I hid in your bedroom with Alex. I think it’s your friend, but she’s with someone else, I heard someone shouting.”

Wyn grabbed her coat and strode out of the office, raising a hand when she saw Jena look up. There was a shout, but she didn’t have time to stop and explain.

“I’ll be there as quick as I can. Top draw, bedside cabinet, you’ll find a stun gun. Do you know how to use one?”

There was a rummaging sound. “Got it. I can figure it out.”

“Good, now hide in the closet. I’m on my way.”

Wyn raced down the stairs and into the garage.

 

When Wyn arrived, she found the roller up and a beat-up car in her place. She parked behind it and studied the bullet holes in the side of the car, most were small calibre, but a few were as large as her fist. She drew her gun when she saw the blood on the front seat. The back door to the pub was open with her spare key in the lock.

Wyn carefully stepped over the threshold and stood still, listening to the pub. The machine was whirring away in the games room and Wyn peeked in, careful to keep an eye on the hall and the kitchen. A bloody coat just inside the door, shoes discarded before the machine. The hood was opaque with a milky fog that rolled around as the arms worked on a small body stretched out on the bed. Wyn nudged the jacket with her shoe and cursed when she saw a toothbrush jutting out of an inner pocket.

“Damn it, Tay,” Wyn muttered.

She went back into the hallway, intent on going upstairs and checking on Misha and Alex before tracking down her unwanted guest. The stairs creaked as she neared the top and she paused, scanning the landing with her gun.

She saw Tay sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over, and staring at something in her hands. Wyn climbed the last few steps, pausing on the top step to peer into the lounge. She could only hear Tay’s gentle breathing, but approached cautiously, keeping an eye on the doorways as she edged her way to the kitchen.

“Tay,” Wyn said, moving into the room, keeping her gun ready. If Tay heard her, she didn’t give any indication. “Tay, it’s me, Wyn.”

“It fell off,” Tay said, holding up the little red owl. Blood smeared across her cheek and her hands the colour of the owl. “I can’t find Gren’s pellet gun. I think I dropped it.”

“What happened?” Wyn asked, holstering her weapon. “Is that your blood?”

“It’s not me,” Tay said. She didn’t resist as Wyn lifted her arms one at a time, searching her for a wound. “It’s not mine.”

“You’re cold.” Wyn shrugged out of her jacket and draped it over Tay’s shoulders. “Stay here.”

Wyn crossed over to her bedroom door and knocked softly. “It’s me,” Wyn said as she pushed it open. The room was dark, the curtains pulled shut despite it being midday. “Misha?”

The closet door creaked open, and Misha stepped out with the stun gun raised. “Wyn?”

“It’s all right, everything’s okay.”

Misha let out a long breath and lowered the stun gun. “What’s going on? Your friend was screaming.”

“I don’t know but stay in here. I’ll sort it.”

Misha stood in the gloom. “I don’t like your friends.”

Wyn pursed her lips and closed the door. Tay was still sat at the table, staring at the plastic owl, running a thumb over its wing.

“What happened, Tay?” Wyn asked. Her mind ran backwards from the bloody hands to the stranger in the machine downstairs and then finally to the cheese grater of a car parked in her yard. “Oh god, you were there, weren’t you?”

“I wasn’t supposed to be.” Tay hunched her shoulders and turned her hands over. She looked to Wyn like a kid confessing to breaking a window. “I don’t know why I agreed to help her.”

“It’s okay. Just tell me what happened.”

“We were following a politician to his mistress’ house when Oz flipped out. We were arguing, but then this van pulled up and shot at the minister’s car. I mean, like really shot at it. Keir had this cannon going. It was brutal.”

“That was you?” Wyn took a step back, her hand moving to her gun.

“Are you going to arrest me?”

Wyn struggled with her instincts; she should cuff Tay, but then what? In a few hours, she would no longer be a police officer, and Tay would be a militia prisoner, and she knew what that meant.

“Not if you answer my questions truthfully. How did you get blood on you?”

“She was shot.” Tay tapped her bloody t-shirt in several places but gave up when she remembered just how damaged Sona’s small body had been. “I pulled her into the car, didn’t know where else to go, so I brought her here.”

“Osiris, is that who’s in the machine?”

Tay shook her head. “It was so fucked up. Oz pulled a gun on me and then drove off. I just stood there watching her and then the van. They opened up on the car. The bullets were flying, and they were shooting up the cars. God knows how many people they killed that were just stuck in traffic.”

“Hang on, she tried to kill you, and you’re still trying to save her life?”

“I wasn’t thinking. I just saw her laying there. She reached out to me, and I pulled her into the car. I didn’t know it was her, I swear.”

“Did Oz tell you what would happen?” Wyn asked. “Don’t lie to me, Tay. If you did it, then tell me.”

“No, she thought we were just tailing him. I think I saw the van pull past us, but then Oz said that I killed Mara.” Tay saw Wyn’s look of confusion. “Oz was in on the attack, back in the Colony. She’s been working for my uncle all along. She said we killed Mara, that I was responsible for her death.”

Tay sobbed and rested her head on her arms, her body shaking.

“She was part of it? Tay, how can you think I would be okay with her being here? Let her take her chances at a hospital.”

“What?” Tay said, looking up. “That’s not Oz. She drove off.”

“Then who is that?” Wyn asked, pointing down the stairs.

“That’s the bird lady,” Tay had to think for a moment. “Sona.”

“You brought an Arcist terrorist into my pub?” Wyn balled her fists but lowered her voice. “Are you fucking insane? She can’t be here.”

“I panicked. Honestly, I just saw her dying and tried to help.”

“God damn it, Tay.” Wyn stormed out of the kitchen and paced back and forth on the landing. “We can sort this; I just need to think.”

The bedroom door opened wide enough for Misha to peer out of.

“What’s happened?” Misha whispered.

“Have you not seen the news?” Wyn asked. Misha shook her head.

“No,” Tay said from the kitchen. “And I don’t want to see it.”

“The vice-chairman was killed in a terrorist attack,” Wyn whispered to Misha.

“Oh, god.” Tay wailed from the kitchen.

Misha’s eyes widened and she pointed past Wyn to the kitchen.

Wyn closed the gap between her and Misha and lowered her voice. “Let me deal with her, then we’ll talk.”

“She’s a terrorist, you have to arrest her, it’s your job,” Misha whispered.

“It’s not that simple.” She didn’t add that in a few hours she wouldn’t have the power to arrest anyone. “Just go back in, please.”

Misha gave Wyn a sharp look and then shut the door.

“I’m sorry, Wyn,” Tay said, getting up, the owl clasped in her bloody hand. “I didn’t know what else to do. I just saw her bleeding and thought of the machine.”

“When was the last time you slept, Tay?”

“I don’t need to sleep, I can’t,” Tay said and then yawned. She wobbled on her feet and gripped the doorway to stop herself from falling over. “Oh man, it’s all I can see.”

“You must be running on fumes. Come on, into the front room.” Wyn put a hand on Tay’s shoulder and steered her to the open doorway.

“Do you want me to go?”

“No, you’re not going anywhere, not without your friend.” Wyn led her into the front room and sat her down on the sofa. “Lie down and shut your eyes.”

“I can’t, I have to...”

“You don’t have to do anything but sleep.”

Tay slumped onto the sofa, sinking into its deep cushions, and curling up on her side.

“Are you watching it?” Tay asked as she put her head on the cushion and closed her eyes.

“Am I watching what?” Wyn looked down at Tay as she slowly fell asleep. Tay’s features smoothed and the wrinkles on her forehead vanished as the chaotic energy that inhabited every pore of the strange young woman seeped away.

“The news,” Tay murmured.

“I’ll wake you if anything happens.”

Wyn pulled the dust sheet over Tay and left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.

Misha was standing at the bedroom doorway, Alex asleep against her shoulder, the yellow stun gun in her free hand.

“How much of that did you hear?”

“Who did she kill?” Misha asked.

“She didn’t kill anybody.”

“Then why is she bloody and where is her friend?”

“Tay’s harmless, you’ll have to trust me on that. If you want to put Alex back into his bed, you can, it’s safe now.”

“Was it safe when that madwoman stormed in covered in blood? And who is downstairs, is it another terrorist?”

“Misha, I don’t know where to start.” Wyn rubbed at her eyes. “I am struggling to keep a lid on it all, but everything is going wrong.”

“We should go.”

“Where? You don’t want to be out on those streets right now. Major Glass wanted you out of the way, and trust me when I say that here is the safest place you can be.”

“What about your friend?”

“Tay? Friend is pushing it.” Wyn sighed. “But she couldn’t hurt a fly. She just has the misfortune of being at the centre of everything that’s going wrong.”

“Then maybe we should get as far away from her as possible?”

“Misha, you have to do what you think is best for you and Alex, but you are welcome to stay here as long as you want to.”

Misha thought about it for a moment.

“I want you to tell me everything. I’ve heard you say some things that I don’t understand.”

“Everything?” Wyn asked and Misha nodded. “I need to pop downstairs for a few minutes, but when I come back up, we’ll talk.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to make sure we’re safe.”

“Are we?”

“Keep the stun gun on you and shut your door.”

Misha crossed to the spare room and shut herself in.

Wyn rubbed at the bruise at the centre of her chest and then went to deal with the evidence parked in her yard.


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