Wyn trudged through the rain, unable to sit in the dark pub on her own. An hour listening to the water running down the walls had been more than enough to tell her she had to leave. She had her service weapon in the shoulder holster and the confiscated revolver in a pocket. She didn’t know what she was going to do, just that she felt safer doing it armed.
Bruising rain pummelled her as she walked the streets, hammering on her hood and driving her shoulders down. It brought a calmness to her soul, a masochistic peace where her suffering had purpose. The streets rolled with thunder and the intermittent flashes of lightning but always the rain. It ran in waves along the road carrying bins and anything not bolted down until they collided with cars or lodged against buildings creating dams and forming lakes. Shop windows buckled under the pressure, bursting into fractured sheets to be washed away by the water.
People cowered from the storm, sheltering in apartments or the lobbies of hotels and office blocks. Armed guards hired from the gangs or jobless militia soldiers stood in doorways ready to repulse those in need.
Wyn didn’t want to hide, she wanted to confront reality, to find an answer to the anger growing inside her. This was her home being destroyed, her streets, her neighbours being pushed out. Any hope she had of stopping it was fading but she wasn’t ready to give up, not while Tay was still out there.
The Longsal loomed through the gaps of crowded tenements. All roads led to the cluster of towers, Wyn realised. Despite their location off to one side of the sector, they were a focal point, a dense concentration of life not unlike the Colony. Its counterweight in many ways. Chaos reigned in the Colony, the origin of so much of her pain but the Longsal felt the opposite. She could think of two people there that would welcome and make space for her.
The Takoma loomed out of the rain. The red sign flapping, straining against its chain. The front door was open, but a quick flash of the torch revealed a flooded bar with less than half a metre of clearance under the ceiling. Tony was gone, safe at home with his family, Wyn hoped.
She left the closed pubs of the Triangle and crossed the train tracks via the metal bridge. The cutting was now a river, rippling as it flowed over a submerged train, abandoned to the elements. The newly formed water course spilt across the road blocking the path to the Longsal. Wyn spent a moment attempting to judge its depth; she was going to get wet feet either way, it was just a question of whether she could stay on them.
Powerful headlights turned the corner from the Longsal, as one of the massive Lancaster personnel carriers raced past the steps, chest-high tyres ploughing through the water knocking waves out on either side to batter the cars and the few remaining trees not washed away in the flood. A spotlight blinded Wyn, and she froze, careful to keep her hands visible, sure that the top-mounted machine gun would have her in its crosshairs.
The door slid back as it came to a stop and one of the tall, armoured soldiers jumped out to land in the knee-deep water, rifle at the ready. A smaller man emerged from the cabin, wrapped in a bulky rubber suit that concealed every part of him but for his puffed-up face. He climbed down carefully until the water was up to his waist and clung to the soldier’s arm as he waded over.
“Agent Douglass?” Wyn said raising her voice to be heard over the rain and the wind whistling around the bridge.
“Wyn, I’m glad I found you,” Agent Douglass said waddling over to her. His suit had a yellow flap running from throat to crotch and a plethora of zipped pockets along with gill-like structures under the arms.
“That looks comfortable,” Wyn said noting the suit with a mixture of amusement and envy.
“Standard survival gear. We take the safety of our operatives seriously, detective,” Agent Douglass said quickly, the gills flaring and wheezing as he struggled to stand up against the storm.
“Lancaster breaking out the survival gear doesn’t scream optimism.”
“No.” Agent Douglass pursed his lips, an act that made him look almost cherubic. “That’s why I came to find you. The situation is deteriorating faster than we thought possible.”
“Which situation, the weather or the temple?” Wyn shouted over a crack of thunder and the drawn-out rumble.
“Can we speak in the APC? I don’t feel like getting struck by lightning.”
He waded to the vehicle without waiting for an answer and stood to one side to let Wyn get in first. Intrigue got the better of Wyn and she gritted her teeth as the water climbed up her thighs. She grabbed the handrail and hauled herself up, water sloughing off her, spilling across the floor of the cabin and emptying into drains under the seats. The interior was lit with a green light and hummed with the sound of the engine. Two rows of seats large enough for the armoured soldiers ran down either side, Wyn tried to stay near the door but it soon became clear that she had to go further in. The bulky soldier got in last, taking the spot by the door and trapping Wyn in the cabin. The door slammed shut and Agent Douglass pulled his tight hood back, leaving a small head on a large body.
“What’s this about, I didn’t think you had any more work for me?” Wyn asked. She was well and truly soaked now and resigned herself to being so for the foreseeable future. The door hissed and Wyn felt the pressure change in her ears.
The soldier twisted in its seat so that it could stare at a monitor over the door, live feeds switching between external cameras. An open hatch gave a view of the cockpit, the driver hunkered down in a well surrounded by instrument panels.
“That’s better,” Agent Douglass said. He clasped his hands over his puffed-up suit attempting to knock some of the air out. The gills wheezed but left him looking bloated.
“What’s this about? If it’s a job I’m busy.”
“I wanted to give you another chance to reconsider my offer.”
The bridge loomed on the monitor and then it was gone, replaced with a smooth shot of the Longsal, daylight definition despite the fact it was night.
“Are we moving? Let me out, I didn’t agree to this.” Wyn sat forward and the soldier snapped its head around. Up close they were even bigger, the white armour thick and imposing. “Is this you kidnapping me?”
“No, I promise it isn’t.” Agent Douglass spread his hands and tried one of his smiles. “I will return you to this spot once you have seen what I want to show you. The rules concerning border crossing are very strict, designed to prevent the sort of thing you just mentioned.”
The soldier blocked the monitor and the sliver of windscreen Wyn could make out in the cockpit was coated in reflective material. The driver spoke wordlessly into a throat mic, hands moving inside the bubble.
“Stop the vehicle,” Wyn said.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Agent Douglass said. “We’ll be at the customs zone in a few minutes. I promise it will all make—”
“We’re going to the gate? You lying bastard,” Wyn growled and reached inside her coat.
The soldier’s arm snapped out, a crackling light buzzing at the end of a finger.
Wyn’s skin tingled as she stared at the narrow arcs of light jumping between the prongs, aware from experience just how painful an electric shock could be.
“I promise you will be returned to where we found you,” Agent Douglass said.
“I want out.” Wyn gritted her teeth and stared at her reflection in the soldier’s visor.
“That can’t happen, not until you meet him.”
Agent Douglass sat back, his suit letting out another exhalation. “You’ll want to hear this.”
Wyn withdrew her hand from her coat and the soldier lowered its arm but kept its focus on her.
“I’m starting to think there’s no one in these suits,” Wyn said.
“Why would you say that?”
“They’re too quick. Emotionless.”
Agent Douglass smiled to himself and folded his hands in his lap.
“I’m starting to think you’re the same.”
Agent Douglass winced at Wyn’s words, and she felt a pang of regret.
The APC came to a stop and the soldier opened the door, jumping down and taking up a position. Agent Douglass gestured for Wyn to go first and then followed her out.
They were in a large hanger with at least a hundred of the Lancaster tanks lined up in tight rows, outside similarly sized personnel carriers rolled past in a steady procession, the Lancaster logo emblazoned proudly on each one.
“What’s going on?” Wyn asked as she peered out into the rain.
“We’re leaving,” Agent Douglass said remorsefully.
“Orders. We’re not happy about it, there’s still so much to be done but I don’t think we were ever meant to succeed.”
“Central can’t just abandon us. They caused this mess. If they leave now, then what was this all for?”
“We all have masters we answer to. I’m afraid I’m as in the dark as you are.” Agent Douglass nodded to a two-story office building in the corner of the hanger. “The person that might be able to answer your questions is in there.”
“Who? I don’t like surprises.”
“I can’t say, not out here.” Agent Douglass winked awkwardly at her.
He led the way to the office and tapped a code into a panel before pushing the door open and stepping back. Wyn gave him a hard look before going in. Filing cabinets took up most of the floor space but there was a desk at the back next to the only exit.
“Aren’t you coming in?”
“I’ll wait out here. I don’t need to hear what’s said.”
The agent closed the door leaving Wyn on her own, dripping on the floor. She stood there unsure what to do when the door at the back opened a crack.
“Hello,” Wyn called out as she approached cautiously to peer through the gap.
“Boris?” Wyn said spotting the giant looming next to a vending machine.
“Come in, detective,” Mr Wilkin said from behind the door.
Wyn poked her head further in and found the old man sitting at a table, a steaming cup of tea in front of him.
“Detective Wyn,” Mr Wilkin said smiling warmly at her.
“What are you doing here?” Wyn checked the office making sure they were alone.
“I came to try and persuade you to accept the agent’s offer.”
“You’re working with Lancaster?”
“No, not at all but the agent is a friend of mine, a believer in my cause.”
“Douglass works for you?”
“He has for a long time now.”
“Of course he does. People like you just exploit others. Misha was right, this is just a game to you.”
“You couldn’t be further from the truth, detective.”
“I told the agent that I’m not leaving, not until I find Tay. I’m not leaving without her.”
“You must see that it is over. There is no hope left, not within these walls. If you wish to live, then you must accept the agent’s offer. Once outside the sector, I will be able to help you but if you choose to stay then you will be on your own.”
“It’s not over. How can it be?” Wyn sat down in a chair, her back to Boris.
“The final stage has begun. The sector is set to be transformed. You only have a matter of hours left.”
Wyn pulled a photo out of an inner pocket, peeling the plastic back and unfolding it. She’d stopped on the way out of the Magdala and gone back behind the bar, a part of her suspecting that it would be the last time she was there.
“What do you wish to show me?” Mr Wilkin coughed into his hand and sat forward.
Wyn turned the photograph so that he could see.
“I know it well,” Mr Wilkin said smiling softly at the photograph of Auntie with a much younger Wyn. It was taken behind the bar at the Magdala. Auntie standing tall with her arms around a beaming Wyn. “I never did ask you what the medal was for.”
“My first half marathon. I was out there every day before school, running everywhere.” Water ran from Wyn’s hair to drip on the table. It didn’t escape her attention that Mr Wilkin and his bodyguard were both bone dry. “I must have crossed most of the sector training for that race. When I joined the police, my instructors used to quiz me. Asking me where a street was or the location of their favourite pub. I always knew the answer because I’d probably run past it in my training.”
“This is your home, you’re a part of the sector.”
“What does that mean?” Wyn caressed Auntie’s face with her thumb and then folded the photo carefully before slipping it back into the plastic wallet. “It’s all been taken away. There’s nothing left.”
“Come work for me. Sign the paperwork with the agent and get across the border. Boris will pick you up at the first opportunity and then you’ll be free. I have so much I need to tell you.” Mr Wilkin grew excited but kept his voice low. “This, everything that has happened is only the beginning. What I have to show you will change the very meaning of your life.”
“For the better? My life so far has been fairly crap.”
“All I can do is show you the truth, it’s up to you what you make of it.” Mr Wilkin reached across to take Wyn’s hand, but she pulled back. “I need your help, Wyn. I’m fighting a war and I’m losing.”
“No, they are a tool employed by far more dangerous people.”
“The Great Mother, she’s one of yours, a citizen of Central?”
“That doesn’t even begin to cover what she is. She believes she gave birth to all of you. That it’s her right to treat you like pets, toys to be broken and put back together as she sees fit. Join me and I will tell you everything.”
Wyn tried to remember what she had to go back for. Her home was flooded, Bran dead, her captain turned against her, and the woman she thought she could build a life around gone.
“What about Tay?”
“She is beyond your help.”
“Is she dead?”
“No, but it won’t be long.”
The door opened and the agent stuck his head in.
“You have to finish up. I can’t extend the window much longer,” Agent Douglass said.
“I believe the detective has made her decision.”
Wyn tucked the photo back in the inner pocket and stood up.
“Out of interest where’s Tay?” Wyn asked Agent Douglass. She caught the nod from Mr Wilkin out of the corner of her eye.
“Last location update was the Pendulum hotel.”
“Last update? Have you had eyes on her all this time?”
“Just the past few days.” Agent Douglass glanced at Mr Wilkin. “I was advised not to give you the location.”
“Wyn, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Forget about her.” Mr Wilkin came around to her side of the table and took her hand. “I need your help. Agent Douglass, she accepts your offer. Please escort Wyn from the sector as soon as possible.”
Wyn stared down at the old man holding her hand, he looked so genuinely pleased that she couldn’t bring herself to say no.
“Okay, but I need an hour.”
“No, Wyn. There is nothing left for you to do. Think of yourself for once.”
“This is non-negotiable. I want to see her.”
“It won’t do any good. She’s probably dead by now anyway.”
“Then it will be a quick visit,” Wyn said coldly. That was the second time he’d been flippant about Tay’s life and Wyn felt her opinion of the elderly man shift.
“Can you make it happen, Agent?” Mr Wilkin asked.
“No more than an hour,” Agent Douglass said checking a timer built into the wrist of his suit. “The gate is set to close in fifty-three minutes.”
“Hurry then. Wyn, I have worlds to show you.” Mr Wilkin squeezed her hand before letting go.
Wyn left the room, the agent right behind her.
“The APC can take you to the hotel, but I warn you the driver has orders to be at the gate on time. They won’t wait.” Agent Douglass had to jog to keep up with Wyn’s long legs. “None of us want to be trapped here when Central seals the gate.”
“I won’t need long.”
“I’m informed that the building is guarded. Just get on board one of the coaches and leave. You’ll love Central. My sister has a restaurant by the river. I could meet you there later, maybe show you around the town.”
“Sounds good,” Wyn said jumping into the back of the APC. “But I have to see her first.”
“I’ll make a reservation.” Agent Douglass beamed as he stepped back to let the towering soldier climb into the door seat. “Take Wyn to the Pendulum Hotel and wait for her as long as possible. She is a high-value asset.”
The driver gave a thumbs up from the cockpit and then the door slammed shut in the agent’s face. He watched as they drove out of the hanger into the torrential rain, a feeling of hope flickering in his heart.