The deluge turned King Street into a river and forced the beggars to huddle in doorways. Gutters overflowed, unable to cope with the seemingly endless rain, and waterfalls spilt from the rooftops driving those brave enough to venture out back into the pubs and keeping them there. The curtains pulled against the dour night while those left outside huddled under plastic shawls.
Tay limped down the centre of the street, feet splashing in the puddles and droplets falling from the brim of her new cap. The carrier bag gone, plastic gun refilled and stashed in a not quite deep enough outer pocket, toothbrush safely tucked away alongside the half-empty tube of minty fresh in an inner. She was travelling light but still felt weighed down by unwelcome thoughts. Crossing over the scene of the young lad’s murder only adding to her doubts and concerns, forcing her to face her role in his death. A witness that did nothing but give thanks that it wasn’t her on the tracks. If they had worked together, could they have helped him?
Tay struggled with the idea of caring about others and not simply running away when there was a problem. When she was trapped, by circumstance or the environment then working together struck her as a primal choice, it was the only way forward. None of them could escape, and anyone that tried to go it alone soon found themselves isolated. But working with others didn’t come naturally to Tay. For most of her life, the pack had been something to fear. Groups had hierarchy and orders that she struggled to understand and often failed to obey, not because she was a rebel but more that she just failed to grasp the simple motivations that lay behind such groups. She liked people, wanted to be around them, but she didn’t need them, didn’t crave acceptance, at least she hadn’t.
She had the memory of the water upon her skin, of a need seeping in through her pores. Each drop that ran down her cheeks was a life that she’d never known, come back to remind her of her part in everything. Her inner core struggled with the feeling. In there she was prey, never the hunter. She ran and hid; it was her answer to any threat.
As a small child, different, not hated but shunned, she had filled her mind with stories gleaned from the edges, from snatched conversations, and people had become windows into other worlds. Always watching, but any truth lived only being by accident. Love a thing that happened to her, hatred coming from outside, anger met with confusion.
She thought of Mara as she walked down the street, rain dripping from her sleeves. She wanted to have been in love; she wanted to be angry at her death, her murder, but she found uncertainty where earlier there had been conviction. Years had passed where the time spent running through the colony tunnels had been about lust, a feral need that didn’t have to be about anything bigger. The memory couldn’t hurt her because it wasn’t real, and she wasn’t unlovable because it had never been about love. But now that she was dead, Tay was free to construct a new memory, one that didn’t need to contort itself to match reality. She could love Mara truly, give herself to the lie without fear of rejection or abandonment. The memory of Mara could live within her, her voice added to the others.
Tay was tired and desperate for sleep. Her head was full of a rhythmic humming that rose and fell, mirroring the quick beat of her heart, the steady flutter of the valves opening and closing. But for the involvement of Tony, she would have passed up the meeting and gone straight to the sunken mall and left Osiris for another day. Tony wouldn’t have business with Osiris if he could help it and that meant something was wrong.
A drunk stood at the door to the Takoma, struggling with the handle and slapping the wet wood in frustration.
“It’s shut,” he slurred before stumbling off. Tay ignored him and tried the door herself, but it refused to open, even for her. There were no windows to Tony’s subterranean tavern, no way of seeing if the lights were on, or if anyone was at the bar. Tay banged on the door and stepped back.
The drunk was having trouble negotiating the three steps up to the kebab shop that sat over the Takoma, a bored-looking woman stood behind the counter watching him. Tay's stomach rumbled.
A text pinged into Tay’s phone, ‘Around the back, Oz’.
There was a side gate next to the communal bins that led to the rear of the property. The back door to the Takoma was propped open with a brick and Tay took a moment to listen before going in.
“Oz?” Tay called out as she descended the short flight of stairs and come out next to the bar, dim lights, and no music.
“In here,” Osiris shouted back.
Osiris was sitting on a high stool at the bar, leaning forward with a beer bottle before her. The only light on was the one over the till leaving the rest of the pub in deep shadow. Tay took her hand from the plastic gun’s hilt, letting it settle back into her pocket.
“Where’s Tony? Not like him to close up early?”
Osiris turned her head, revealing a split lip and a bruise high on her cheek.
“What happened to you?” Tay asked, stepping forward. “Did you get jumped? Where’s Tony? Tony!”
There was no answer, but a tall, bearded man loomed out of the shadows. He moved with a deliberate menace that triggered a memory inside Tay.
“I’ve seen you before,” Tay said.
“Yeah, you have,” the man snarled as he raised a meaty fist. Tay scrabbled for her gun, pulling it free only for it to be knocked out of her hand. The plastic shell splintering as it hit the vinyl flooring, components scattering under the tables.
“My gun!” Tay shouted, ignoring the fist that was barrelling towards her face. She tracked the dragon head as it slid under a chair, the fist only coming into focus moments before it connected with her face. She slammed into the bar only to bounce off, back into the man's club of an arm. This time he hit her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her lungs. She sagged, but before she hit the ground, her attacker and a second man grabbed her and threw her into a chair. She landed heavily, eyes bleary from the pain and gasping for air.
“That's enough. I want her conscious,” a woman said from somewhere behind Tay.
Tay tried to find her in the shadows but struggled to focus on anything other than the pain.
“Oz?” Tay gasped, rubbing at her eyes, screwing them shut, then opening them again. The light behind the bar was too bright, throwing concentric circles around everything.
“What’s she doing?” the bearded man asked.
“You punched her too hard,” the other man said.
Tay’s vision slowly returned to normal, focusing on Osiris, her back to the room, the bottle still in front of her. She glanced furtively over her shoulder but wouldn’t look Tay in the eye. “Osiris?”
“Don’t talk to her,” the big man growled.
“Why not? You going to punch me again?”
“I’m going to do more than that.” The bearded man loomed over her, grinning.
“You owe me a gun.”
“That fucking toy?” the bearded man grunted.
“My fucking toy,” Tay said, part of her sure the gun was the important thing to be focusing on.
“Tay?” the woman spoke again, and Tay twisted about, trying to find her in the shadows. Someone was sitting behind her, small and delicate, childlike, their eyes flashing brightly in the reflected light. Whoever it was they were drumming their fingers on a table and staring right back at her.
“Who the fuck are you?” Tay asked.
The shadow shot to her feet and Tay recoiled as the woman swiftly covered the distance and struck Tay on the cheek. Tay cried out and would have toppled over if it weren’t for the big man shoving her back into her seat.
The woman carried on past Tay to stand behind Osiris, her slight frame trembling with rage, coiled ready to strike but the blow never came. Osiris stayed perfectly still as if sensing the imminent danger right behind her. The woman slowly straightened up, stretching her back and flexing her shoulders.
“It took some work tracking the two of you down,” the woman said, speaking with a high-pitched voice that quavered with barely restrained emotion.
“You don’t seem happy about that,” Tay rasped, before coughing and clutching her stomach.
“Tay,” Osiris pleaded.
“Happy? We are what's left of the armed revolutionary resistance council,” the woman said. “It has fallen to us to exact vengeance on behalf of our comrades.”
Tay mouthed the word ‘resistance’ even while she tried to understand what scene she had stumbled into.
“Didn’t you all die?” Tay asked, glancing up at the big man. “Now I get it. You were there when we met Mara.”
Tay recoiled as he raised his fist and took a step towards her, but the blow never came.
“Keir survived the attack,” the woman said. “His actions saved many that day. He is a hero of the revolution.”
“Thank you, Sona. I wish I could have done more,” Keir said sombrely, bowing his gigantic head. The second man stood at the end of the bar, an outsider Tay realised, maybe as confused at all this as she was.
“Osiris, you want to tell me what's happening?” Tay said.
“The two of you killed my comrades,” Sona said, her voice rising in anger. “You didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger, but you were part of it.”
“That’s not why we were there. We were making a delivery. I thought they were going to kill us. Tell her, Oz.”
The woman stepped closer; the shadows falling across her face, accentuating the sharpness of her nose and the keenness of her eyes. “But they let you live, didn’t they. They killed everyone else but the two of you. How do you explain that?”
“Lucky? I don’t know, I ran. They dragged Oz off and I thought they’d killed her. They had guns, and they were threatening to kill everyone.” Tay wondered just how much Osiris had told this crazed terrorist, not the entire story, or they would be dead already. “I had to fight to get out.”
“Mara made the mistake of trusting you and she paid for it with her life.”
“You’ve got this wrong. We did nothing,” Tay pleaded. “Osiris, why aren’t you saying anything?”
Sona looked from the silent Osiris, frozen to her stool, to Tay, squirming in her chair. She studied Tay closely before speaking. “What happened to your leg?”
“Nothing,” Tay said, sitting up straighter.
“You were limping on the way in.”
Osiris turned her head slightly and watched from the corner of her eye.
“I got shot.”
“Who shot you?” Sona asked.
“I don’t know who she was.”
“People don’t just shoot strangers; they like to have a reason.”
“She didn’t like me following her.”
Keir grabbed Tay’s jacket collar and pulled.
“She’s militia,” Tay gasped and clawed at her throat. Keir eased off. “I recognised her from the metro and wanted to stop her.”
“It wasn’t enough that they killed my friends, they had to kill innocent people as well,” Sona said.
Tay shook her head. “It wasn’t them that attacked the Arcists.”
“Street Apostles,” Osiris interjected. “It was a Martyr operation, but they gave it to the Street Apostles. It was them that killed your friends.”
“How do you know it was the Martyrs that gave the order?” Sona asked.
“I recognised them. They’re the personal gang of one of the nine.”
“Oz, don’t,” Tay said.
“And how did they know the location?” Sona directed her question at Osiris but kept glancing at Tay.
“They followed us,” Osiris said.
“You led them there?”
“Not me!” Osiris shouted. “I didn’t know what she had done. I loved the ARRC, I wanted to join. I offered to be the go-between because I wanted to impress Johansson. He was a great man.”
Tay’s mouth hung open.
“She led them to the hideout?” Sona gestured to Tay and Osiris nodded.
“No, Oz. Why are you doing this?” Tay said. She made to stand up, but a meaty hand landed on her shoulder and Keir pushed her back down.
“Why did she do it?” Sona asked Osiris.
“Her uncle is—”
“Don’t fucking do it, Oz!” Tay shouted.
Sona pulled a gun from her belt and pointed it at Tay. “Who is your uncle?”
“I don’t work for him.”
“Erik Garson,” Osiris said.
Sona’s eyes bore into Tay's and her lips curled back, revealing small, sharp teeth.
“I didn’t know.” Tay strained against the hand. “I loved her. I wouldn’t have done—”
“Stop lying to me! You were working for the Martyrs,” Sona said. She glanced at Keir, and he gave an almost imperceptible nod. “As the provisional commander of the armed revolutionary resistance council, I sentence you both to be executed for treason.”
“No!” Osiris was the first to shout. “I had nothing to do with it.”
“You can’t do this,” Tay said as Keir clamped a hand around her neck and hauled her from the chair. “No, you’re making a mistake,” Tay gasped. She could feel her bones grating together as Keir squeezed her neck. “Please don’t kill me.”
“You did this to her,” Keir snarled.
“You touch me, and I’ll bite your nose off!” Tay lashed out, kicking him in the shin, but the big man responded by ramming his knee into the back of her left thigh. The pain brought tears to Tay’s eyes, and she struggled to stay on her feet.
Osiris slipped from her chair and walked meekly to the stairs with the second man a few steps behind her.
“Stop, you don’t have to do this,” Tay begged, but the big man didn’t relent. She slapped at his hands as he dragged her down the stairs. “I’m not going down there!”
Sona followed just out of Tay’s reach, the gun at her side.
“What are you doing?” Tay shouted. “I would never have betrayed Mara; she was too important to me.”
Keir threw an arm around Tay, holding her tightly from behind and whispered in her ear. “I know all about you. How she loved you, but you abandoned her. She’d want me to let you live, but I can’t let that happen. You deserve more than a bullet.”
Tay slipped on the stairs and gripped the bannister, but Sona darted forwards and rapped her knuckles with the butt of her gun. Tay screamed and tried to kick her, but Keir pulled her from the stairs and towards a lit room at the end of a dark corridor.
“Tony!” Tay shouted, and then kicked the office door as they passed it. Someone groaned on the other side and rubbed at the bottom of the door. “Tony! I’ll get you out.”
Keir threw her into the end room and Tay crashed into a chair. She rolled over but quickly came back up and rushed the door. A heavy boot caught her in the knee, and she collapsed. Rough hands turned her around and shoved her into the corner, forcing her down onto her knees. Osiris knelt passively next to her.
“They’re going to kill us if we don’t escape,” Tay hissed, but Osiris refused to look at her.
“Please don’t hurt me,” Osiris begged. “It was Tay that betrayed you. She lied to me too.”
“Quiet,” Sona barked.
The two men drew their weapons. Keir pointed his gun at Tay's head, the other man at Osiris.
“I’m going to kill you,” Tay snarled, but Keir looked at her stony-faced.
Sona stepped forward, dwarfed by the two men flanking her.
“I am confident that both of you follow the orders of the Martyrs and that they killed our brothers and sisters. It is now a standing order of the ARRC that we will take no Apostles as prisoners.”
“What is this shit? I am not a fucking Apostle,” Tay said as clearly as she could, but the woman ignored her.
“She is,” Osiris blurted. “I didn’t know her plan, I swear, I would have never betrayed the ARRC. I support your cause. It was Tay that did it, I had nothing to do with it.”
“All Martyr soldiers are to be executed. Do you have anything to say?” Sona said.
“Yes, I fucking well do,” Tay said, reeling from Osiris’ betrayal.
“Let me join,” Osiris cried, “I’ll swear loyalty to the ARRC.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Tay said, struggling to recognise the person next to her. Gone was the cocky thief, replaced now by a fearful creature intent on betraying the only person in the sector that had ever had her back.
As Sona pronounced the decision, both men steadied their aim. Osiris wailed and Tay gritted her teeth. Her knee hurt, as did her jaw, her stomach, her nose, every part of her if she let it, but it would all be over in a blink. Everything she ever was, ever would be, all wound up in the split second it would take for the bullet to pass through her skull. She felt an emptiness, and then the void within her spoke and she knew the answer.
“Dump my body in the river,” Tay said and closed her eyes.
“This is for Mara,” Keir said.
The moment extended, silence filling the room, all but for Osiris’ sobbing, and the beeping of a phone.
“Hold,” Sona said and then left the room to answer the call.
“We doing this or not, Keir?” The other man asked, but Keir just shook his head at him.
Tay opened her eyes and her vision shifted from the muzzle of Keir’s gun to the hallway where Sona was pacing back and forth, an angry look on her face. She gave a curt reply to whoever was on the other end and then hung up.
“Change of plans. Get them up,” Sona said.
“We’re not going to shoot them?” The smaller of the two men said.
“Don’t sound so fucking sad about it!” Tay shouted but shut her mouth when the end of Keir’s gun twitched.
“We have to, Sona. They murdered them,” Keir said, his hand shaking as he pleaded with his commander.
“Keir,” Sona said with a tenderness that surprised Tay. She placed her small hand on the big man’s arm and gently pushed the gun down. “There’s been a development. We need to wait for further orders.”
“Orders, from who?” Keir asked and locked eyes with Sona. She nodded and the big man’s eyes widened.
“If you're going to kill us, you do it now,” Tay shouted, anger overcoming her fear. “Shoot me now. Just do it.”
“Tay!” Osiris said.
Tay lashed out, punching Osiris in the back of the head. The two men tried to break them up, Keir grabbing Tay and pulling her away before she could hit Osiris again.
“Will you bloody well stop,” Keir said as he hoisted Tay onto her feet and dragged her back to the stairs. “Some people would be happy they’re not getting shot.”
The office door rattled as they passed, and Tay struggled to get free.
“Tony!” Tay shouted and then twisted to look up at Keir. “I will come back and haunt you if you touch him.”
“Gods, what is wrong with you?” Keir said, pushing her up the stairs. “He’s not our target, so he won’t be hurt. If you’re lucky, you might not be either.”
“What happened? Who was that on the call?”
“You heard what I heard. Now shut up or I’ll shoot you, orders or not.”
Tay resisted the urge to head-butt him and allowed herself to be taken outside into the chilly night air. The rear door of the fast-food place flew open, the sounds and smells of the kitchen filling the yard, but whoever had opened it changed their mind. The door slammed shut and Keir lowered his gun.
“You’d kill a kitchen hand?” Tay asked.
“Shut up,” Keir said.
They left by the gate and got into a waiting van that Tay recalled dismissing on the way in. Sona started the engine while Keir and the other man bound Tay and Osiris with rope.
“Use the hoods,” Sona ordered from the front.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Tay struggled against her bound hands, but Keir shoved the sack over her head and put his mouth close to her ear.
“I want you to think of her,” Keir whispered. “For your last thoughts to be of her. You will answer for your betrayal.”
Tay held her tongue and listened to the van as it pulled away.