Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Prayer was jolted awake by the impact, her head pounding, barely able to breathe, gasping and coughing amongst the scattered boxes. She was seeing afterimages of storms in her vision; legions of glimmering lights that seemed to arc and dance like photo-negative fireflies. She could just about see the handgun beside her and snatched it in her palm.
They’re coming…they’re coming, Becky…and they’re not gonna stop. They’ll take you back there and this time you won’t get out alive. They’ll make you pay for everything you almost achieved. They’ll sacrifice you at the altar of big business, as your magic is reduced to science.
She shook her head to clear it. With a quick blur of movement she tossed the boxes away, breathing deeply. She saw the gold coin glinting at her feet and snatched it up. The back doors hung open, revealing a side view of the car maybe fifteen feet away. She heard the door on the battered police sierra click before she saw it open.
I’m reading now.
She lunged forward through the van, raising the gun as a bearded policeman stepped purposefully into the night. She shot him in the face as she leapt from the back of the Transit, her shape blurring into indefinable shadow on shadow like an animal in lust, her mind collapsing into a slipstream, a girl in love.

From the back seat, Dr James Cullen saw the back of Andrew’s head pop in an arc of blood as he stepped from the vehicle. He was hurled backwards to the ground, dead before he hit it. In the next moment something black and shimmering slammed down onto the bonnet of the police sierra like it had fallen from the sky. There was a resonant boom as it hit, crushing the bonnet, the engine, buckling the suspension instantly.
Cullen gazed up through the shattered windscreen.
He saw a figure standing there, its fists clenched, its mass shifting and flowing within its outline like black mercury. It had no eyes but he was certain it was peering down at him. Behind it a train roared across the railway bridge, lighted windows in the belly of a night snake.
For the first time in six years, Cullen was struck blank and blind. He cried out mindlessly and fired through the shattered windscreen again and again, hearing the silencer grow weaker with every shot until he heard the click of an empty chamber. He lunged for the briefcase beside him. He managed to grasp the quartz key locked into the coil, but in his terror and fury he couldn’t see the thing as it lunged forward like a blur.
And then it stopped inside the car with him, between the two front seats.
A violent buzzing flared in his bones and teeth, like an alien bass-line drilling into the core of his being. Nearly hyperventilating, trying to keep his eyes open, he realised it was watching him. An outline of shoulders and a head; liquid darkness boiling like the surface of an ocean in hell – no eyes, no mouth, nothing except churning ink. With a gasp of some radiant nameless feeling, Cullen felt his bladder and sphincter go as he simultaneously shit and pissed himself. He pressed his eyes shut but they flew open again as the buzzing grew in his teeth, threatening to shake his skull apart. He had no choice but to stare at the thing. And then a voice in his mind, distinct.
A voice that sounded like two voices overlapped; one male, one female.
Scout-walker…? The realisation pierced him like a dagger. This thing was Prayer…this thing was Rebecca Cole. All respectable sanity seemed to fall away in that moment. Ripper…I remember you. Do you see it now? Do you see how these lies burn? They burn for us, Ripper. All of us.
It seemed to raise a quivering, inky hand. There was a gold coin there; long, thin fingers of black mercury curled around it, and then the coin was consumed by an orb of shimmering green flame that swelled in its palm. The sphere of green fire made a staccato crackling sound like burning plastic and Cullen was momentarily lost, but, as if on some deep-seated instinct, he twisted the quartz key that was gripped in his hand.
The ‘coil’ flared bluish-white and the monstrous thing let loose a shriek that seemed to deafen him, so close. The orb of green fire rippled away into nothing, the buzzing vibration ceased instantly, as did the pain, but Cullen was still lost to the moment, watching as the figure began thrashing violently inside the car with him, shifting and blurring and shrieking.
And then it lunged forward between the front seats as Cullen glimpsed the suggestion of inky hands before they slipped around his throat. Death didn’t fall upon him, embodied in the living shadow. He waited, still terrified. He realised the thing’s cries had stopped.
Eventually, he opened his eyes. Dr James Cullen let out a long, shuddering breath and was struck by the realisation that he was afraid to move even slightly, despite what his eyes were showing him.
Rebecca Cole, looking very human, was lying slumped between the two front seats.
After many moments, he reached for his phone.

The second unit was there within two minutes; a metropolitan police van, with a six-man containment crew inside, all dressed appropriately. In under a minute they had the entire road cordoned off at both ends. Moments after he made the call James Cullen removed the needle from his jacket and, hands trembling, injected Rebecca Cole at the base of the throat.
Now he sat on the bonnet of the battered police car, hidden from the road by the high wall of the railway bridge, staring down at his bearded associate. Andrew lay on the concrete like a surprised, disfigured mannequin as containment milled around him, talking quickly and barking orders at each other. The rapid-fire flash of cameras went off. Cullen glanced at the driver’s seat and saw his other associate slumped there, a black hole at his temple, the right side of his face slick with blood and brain that was still warm. The driver looked astonished too.
Cullen felt like a ghost amidst the carnage. Someone gripped his shoulder, “Ripper, we need to move, now…we’re on a deadline.”
He took a trembling breath and nodded vaguely.
In another two minutes they loaded the bodies of his associates into the back of a nondescript brown estate car, transferred the boy and the girl to a blue Honda, sprayed the area with a vapour-solution and drove away the battered Sierra and Transit.
He watched all this from inside the back of the police van, with a containment agent; a pretty girl, twenty-five at most, who checked his blood pressure, the pupil dilation of his eyes, and his ion charge, all with an unfazed efficiency that he would have found surprising at any other time. He sat through this in a numbed silence. It was a wonder that he was still physical at all. He felt wholly incorporeal.
“Welcome to Oz,” he murmured at no one.
Another of the containment team hurried to the open doors of the police van. “They’re being shipped to Branton in Earls Court. C-SOL says you’re to follow.”
Cullen asked quietly, “So they’re alive…?”
“Yeah, both of them. Unconscious. Superficial head wounds. Medic gave them something to keep them out for at least a few hours.”
James Cullen nodded vaguely at the man. “Let’s get out of here.”
The containment unit had been on site for a total of twelve minutes. The cordons were removed and they left, a few puzzled pedestrians standing around on the pavement at the end of the road, watching the succession of police vehicles as they drove away into the night.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

The engine of a police car was purring softly in front of them, perhaps thirty feet away.
“Oh God,” Jobe muttered, feeling his stomach drop at the sight.
“We’re fucked…” murmured Serima as creeping sickness began to seep through her, like blood turning to oil.
They thought they could escape the real world. They were wrong. She was certain now. The police would find the guns on them. They would link the three of them to the Aquinas. Prayer would be taken eventually, perhaps killed. Jobe would be thrown in prison. She would end up alone in some young-offenders unit…or maybe a psych-ward like mum, dead inside, babbling about magic and conspiracies. She would die alone.
But then she realised something, like catching a scent on the wind. The thought froze her for a moment.
This was not a real police car. It was a perfect replica.
The men inside would look and talk like police officers, but they wouldn’t be. Suddenly she was certain of this and an even darker poison seemed to flow through her, right to the tips of her fingers. She shuddered and held back the urge to burst into tears. The car’s neon blue lights began flashing silently, illuminating a halo of sapphire rain around it. She glanced at her brother. Tears were in his eyes too, but he was silent. She tried to say something to warn him, but the words wouldn’t form in her throat.
Jobe was feeling the same oily sickness, though he said nothing. All he could think was that he had thrown his life away. Not just his but Serima’s life too. He couldn’t take his eyes off the car crowned with silently revolving neon. And then a dawning sensation.
“Something’s not right.”
“Jobe,” Serima managed unevenly, “Jobe, they’re not feds. They’re not policemen.”
He couldn’t see the faces of the men inside, his view obscured by the glaring headlights. He looked at Serima. She was hunched over, holding her belly and rocking gently. “Damn it all to hell…”
He put his hand in Serima’s and she gripped it tightly. They waited. Still, no one got out of the car. Both vehicles purred, facing each other, about thirty feet apart. The police car was blocking the way back onto the road.
“Are they gonna kill us?” he heard himself ask. Serima didn’t respond, she just hunched over a little further. Another tide of icy dread tugged at the shore of Jobe’s mind.
“They want her,” Serima managed quietly, glancing tearfully at the purring police car. She’d been right all along. Tonight would be the night they died.
“Give me the gun…” Jobe muttered, then more forcefully, “Give it, now!” She shoved the pistol into his lap and he gripped it immediately, staring hard at her. “Hang the fuck on.” He gunned the engine suddenly, it roared as the Transit lurched forward.

As the two members of the extraction team in the silver police sierra unsheathed their weapons, about to step cautiously from the vehicle, the white van lunged forward, closing the gap between them in moments and slamming into the front edge of the car, clipping it and spinning it; a bloom of orange-white sparks, a metallic shriek.
“Reverse!” barked James Cullen, dropping low on the back seat. The driver tried to do as ordered but the Transit had too much force against them. Engine still roaring, it had them wedged, its bulky back end weaving slightly as the tires slipped around on the cement.
The bearded team-member in the passenger seat quickly raised his gun and fired two silenced shots through the windscreen, shattering it completely and spider-webbing the windscreen of the Transit a few feet beyond. Cullen snapped his gaze away just in time to give him a glimpse of his driver’s face, right temple punched by a fluke returning shot; blood, brain and splintered bone splashing silently across the inside of the sierra. Cullen dived into the foot-well of the back seat, pulling his weapon immediately.

Gunning the engine as hard as he could, trying to crush the car completely, lost in a momentary lust – the windshield spider-webbed. Serima screamed beside him and lunged below the window. The silent shots passed between them, slamming into the soft metal wall behind their heads. Oh, we’re gonna die…
Astonished, ears ringing, Jobe literally stepped on the accelerator pedal, tears streaming down his face at the thought of being killed instantly. With only one hand at the wheel, he shoved the gun’s silencer through the small hole in the ruined windshield and fired twice. We’re gonna die. He realised he was wailing. He threw the van into reverse and then surged forward again. In the time it took to accomplish, amidst the roar of twin engines, something nicked his left cheek without breaking the skin; Jobe’s heart boomed like a drum at the fleeting sensation.
The Transit slammed into the police car again, clipping it and this time spinning it away completely, and the van burst forward into the approach lane. Jobe felt one of the back tires burst, the Transit pitching sideways for a second. Fuck. Jobe was thrown forward by a violent impact – he heard his sister scream as they were both hurled into the dashboard, into sudden blackness.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

They were driving towards St Francis Hospital, Serima realised. She glanced through the partition window behind her seat and saw Prayer clutching the gold coin to her chest. It almost glowed in the semidarkness back there. She turned and stared at her brother. He kept his eyes on the road, not looking at her. “The library is on Queens Avenue, back that way. But you’re driving towards the hospital, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
Serima was scared, but there was nothing new about that. “Prayer told you to go to the library, and you said that St Francis is under military guard…”
“It is,” he said quietly. “That’s what dad told me.”
“Jobe, this is crazy. She killed a man.”
He nodded, “She probably saved our lives…” His eyes were tear-filled but empty, like the night she’d found him in the hallway clutching a knife with their mother’s blood on the blade. His eyes were almost as dead as their mother’s had been. Serima cursed inside, but she knew there was little she could do to stop her brother.
“They’ll kill us, Jobe. Or they’ll arrest us at the very least, which is just as bad…if not worse. And then we won’t be able to help mum, will we?” Finally, Jobe glanced at her. He looked so worn out. He looked beaten, defeated.
“Seri…I’m not gonna sit here while some crypto-fascists are doing God knows what to our mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’m not gonna sit here and feel helpless like this. I’d rather die.”
Serima understood, but she really couldn’t think beyond the madness of the past few hours. In truth she didn’t even see a future for either of them. How could there be a future for them in all this?
“We don’t even know if she’s there,” she told him, trying half-heartedly to reason with him, “I mean, they could’ve taken her anywhere.”
“We have to try,” he said, returning his gaze to the road. “We’ve got weapons now. And we’ve got Prayer.”
Serima shook her head, glancing from the window at the rain falling from the night sky. Her brother was lost in some fervent hope of salvation. It frightened her more than the chaos she’d witnessed. Serima considered herself a dangerous person when pushed to her limits. But Jobe, he lived his life in a very dark private world, a world to which she was only granted access on brief occasions. He lived his life in fear. It was what she’d tried to explain to Anna this morning, a morning that now seemed like years ago; living with Jobe was like living with a sleeping bomb.
“You’ve lost your mind,” she said.
“I wish.”
Serima turned from the window, “Jobe, please…you sound like some movie-psycho. Think about this. I know we’re past the point of no return, but I don’t want to get shot in the face or thrown in prison. She slaughtered that guy back there. We’re aiding a fucking nut-case.”
Jobe kept a steely gaze on the road. “I don’t care. There’s no going back. You know it too, so lets just accept it.”
“No. I will not just ‘accept it’.”
“So what do you want to do?” he asked her, “Go home and take a nap? They’ll kill us, just like in the movies. Do you think for even a second that we’ll be allowed to go back to our lives? From here on in everything is different.”
“Jobe,” she murmured quietly, “I don’t want to die, man...”
“There’s no going back.”
“Accept it,” he said bluntly.
Serima pressed her lips together and took a trembling breath. More than anything she wanted to take away her brother’s pain. She wanted to hold him and soothe away his guilt and shame, show him how transparent it all was. But today’s events had seemed to justify her brother’s fear. And now she was left with no option but to join him in his fear. What else could she do?
“I must be crazy,” she murmured. Fate would not let them live an ordinary life. She’d known that since she was a child, even before the night of the Aquinas fire. Jobe was the one person who would give his life for hers, unquestioningly. He was the nearest thing she had to a hero. Serima had the distinct feeling that tonight would be the night they died. At least it would be together.

It was raining again, a heavy drizzle. Prayer could hear it spattering on the roof as they moved. The guns that she and Serima had discovered were a comfort. Both pistols had been loaded but she found no ammunition for the assault-rifle, and even if she did she doubted she could figure out how to load it correctly. Serima was sitting up front with her handsome brother, no doubt clutching the other pistol and telling herself that she wasn’t afraid.
Prayer was alone in the darkness at the back. She knew that Jobe wasn’t driving towards Wells Gate Public Library. He was driving towards St Francis, because he believed that his mother was there. She probably was, but Maya made her promise not to alter the plan, even at her children’s insistence.
They’re not as scared of me as they were in the beginning. I wonder why? Jobe’s even a little intrigued now. It must’ve been the blood. He saw the blood on my mouth and it was a turn-on, despite himself. He’d made love to her when she lay in his bed, kissing her slowly, passionate and gentle in equal measure; thrilling, but no different to sex with her father. Dad was sometimes just as gentle and strong as Jobe had been.
She thought about the driver at the cinema; how she’d toyed with him.
God, it had been fun, pure and simple, knowing that he couldn’t do a damn thing to stop her. It sent strange currents through her. She had taken his heart.
I can still taste it in my mouth. It tasted like freedom, finely spun, almost crystalline, not gristly and tough like I expected. Like well-cooked meat shot through with some indefinable spirit. Like coming home. Oh, Akin, baby…I hope you tasted it with me. I know you did. You taste everything.
In the dark, surrounded by boxes and weapons, she unravelled the t-shirt just so she could look at her prize again. The large gold coin flashed with an almost supernal luminescence. Like fire solidified, almost alive. It was alive, she supposed. As living as she was. When she saw the images in Jobe’s blood it had filled her with excitement, but also fear. So many had died, unwillingly, to give this thing some kind of form, and even then it remained just beyond the clerics of Interregnum.
She grinned.
It must’ve driven them mad; reaching and grasping…and failing to obtain. And it was me that touched it…me…and I’m little more than a child really…
Prayer laughed to herself. When Victor used to touch her in his own special way she doubted that anything in this world would ever taste sweeter again. As a girl she tried to accept the sour ghost in the back of her throat. But of course, images had begun to move and speak to her, weaving a centre of strength for her amidst the dissonance and dissociation, in which she could stand and see.
Akin. Her demon prince. Her beautiful baby boy.
He showed her there was indeed a greater sweetness to be found in this world. He taught her that she didn’t have to give up her selfhood. Her father could only take that from her if she allowed him. And so she had not allowed him.
I remember the forest. The trees…my God…I still remember. You loved me more than I loved myself. How could you care so much about one little girl…? I remember your tenderness. I know what you are, baby. I know what others would call you. It doesn’t matter to me. You think I’m in love with your face but I’m not. I adore your face, of course, but it’s your heart I love. The mask is just paper. Just words. I love what’s behind the words. We’ll help each other find the words for what’s coming.
Prayer pressed the gold coin to her chest, closing her eyes.
“Tell me you love me,” she murmured. At that moment, as if guided by a malevolent hand, a soft but distinct throb went through her temples. She shuddered and pressed her eyes shut but the throb came again, at both sides of her head, as if creating an interference pattern in her mind. She slumped against the boxes in the back of the Transit, stunned and disturbed. It happened again and her vision blurred. She shook her head to try and clear the sensation but to no avail.
She knew immediately that it wasn’t Akin. He didn’t attempt to contact her in such invasive ways. There was a projected intensity to the strange throbbing at her temples. A streak of dark fear ran through her.
It’s them… She tried to focus against the sensation but couldn’t. It was Interregnum, she knew that. A C-SOL unit was trying to manipulate her somehow. She thought she was beyond their technology and their probing techniques; hours spent fleeing from scout-walkers that got inside her head through a combination of drugs, hypnosis and careful electronic stimulation.
She grit her teeth with anger and confusion.
How was it that they still had a window into her mind? She had beaten them, she sustained all the tortures and abuses with her sanity intact. They expected her mind would be left a ruin, after all they subjected her to. But she had been strong. With Akin’s help she’d survived.
The throbbing continued, growing quickly in its intensity.
No…no…no…Akin, baby, help me! What do I do…? Akin, tell me what to do! Her baby boy didn’t answer, and she didn’t expect him to. He was only able to completely manifest in her dreams. He could affect the physical in many ingenious ways, but he was still held prisoner on the very edge of this frequency band, contained in an inter-frequency, a density of consciousness that lay beyond the realm of human five-sense perception. Though his powers were great he wasn’t able to help her, it seemed. He could keep her safe from a knife in the throat but he couldn’t protect her from this?
It was like they were inside her mind again, like she was back at Ensler with the doctors, and the ones who pretended they were innocent, those bastard doctors who turned their cheeks because a villain with a military ID told them to do it. Prayer’s fear became terror. All of a sudden she was stripped of her uniqueness, her special talents, and was again the rape-victim and spectacular lab-rat that she’d once been. She was Rebecca again, and Prayer seemed suddenly like a paper-thin lie she’d created to protect herself. And if Prayer was just a lie, maybe Akin, too, was a lie.
No…no…they cannot do this to me…I’m beyond them…I am salvation…I am the message…I am truth…
And then it was like a flash-grenade going off inside her skull.

Jobe and Serima heard a wild screaming from the back of the van. They locked startled, fearful gazes. Serima turned in her seat and glanced through the partition window behind her head. Prayer was on her knees in the dark, hands pressed to her ears, screaming in agony. It pierced some invisible barrier for a brief moment, distorting into a shriek of inhuman depth, and then falling back into a more recognisable sound.
“My God,” Jobe heard himself say.
“You’ve got to stop, man…pull off somewhere quiet; we’ve got to help her.”
Jobe was afraid but stunned to hear these words from his sister. He nodded and pulled out from Vassal Bridge Road, dangerously cutting off the traffic, turning down an approach lane that ran parallel to the railway bridge. The lane curved behind a long and narrow building marked ‘C.K. Poppy: Timber & Aggregate Merchant’. Serima stared wide-eyed at her brother, tears rolling down her cheeks. Jobe could only offer a brief glance amidst the shrieking.
Finally, he swung the van into a small open car park in front of a faceless, darkened building of brick and grey corrugated steel. The Transit ground to a halt, the only vehicle in this small corner of empty darkness. Prayer’s mind-numbing screams wavered in and out of pitch, like something deep inside her was momentarily changing shape due to the pain she was experiencing.
Jobe and Serima leapt from the van, into the cold night rain, both racing around to the back and flinging the doors open. Jobe was the first to jump up into the back of the van, lunging towards Prayer in an effort to at least comfort her with physical contact. Prayer’s head snapped up, her screams almost deafening, and Jobe saw her eyes were as black as the night. He faltered at the horrific sight; her sockets were empty and soulless. A halo of shimmering air like a heat haze seemed to be dancing around her.
“Jesus,” he breathed, almost frozen.
Before he could think to do anything more, an invisible compression wave blew him off his feet and back through the open doors of the van, sailing him past Serima in the blink of an eye and dashing him hard on the cold cement. He landed on his right shoulder, the breath forced immediately from his lungs. Stunned and shaken, he rolled over and saw Serima back-stepping from the van, a look of pure shock on her face.
Serima watched Prayer rear up in the dark like a cobra in jeans and a black bra, her face and hands streaked with dry blood, thrashing and twisting until suddenly her strength left her and she seemed to lose consciousness, slumping to the floor of the Transit.
Jobe pulled himself to his feet and stumbled back to his sister. “Shit…” he gasped, gripping a sore shoulder. They were both numbed into silent astonishment at what just occurred. Prayer lay unmoving. They glanced wildly at each other. “Shit…” Jobe muttered again.
It was then that they heard the low drone of a car’s cruising engine.
Someone was coming down the approach lane. Jobe swallowed deeply and took a few steps to his left, risking a glance. Headlights glared at the end of the long ribbon of darkness.
“We’re trapped,” Serima blurted in realisation. Jobe slammed shut the back doors of the Transit, grabbed Serima’s arm and yanked her around to the front. She scrambled up into the cabin, dashing across the driver seat to the passenger side as Jobe hurried up behind her. He slammed the door and locked it.
The engine was still running. Jobe glimpsed the silenced pistol that his little sister gripped earnestly in her hands, and a wave of dread went through him. Tense and yet strangely numb, he hurriedly swung the van around, engine growling in response. His breath seemed to fade when he realised the Transit was now facing phantom headlights flaring in the dark.

Chapter Thirty-Six

Dr James ‘Ripper’ Cullen was seated in the back of the silver police sierra. It cruised smoothly in the rain, fine sheets made visible only in the corona of headlights and streetlights. He was worried, more than he thought possible of a taciturn radical like himself. He grimaced and stared down at the open briefcase on his knees. The device that was dubbed the ‘coil’ lay snug in its black foam casing.
A series of three interlocking mirrored spheres, with a quartz-crystal latticework on its surface like veins of ice. Within the spheres nestled a delicate system of biosynthetic wafer chips, created from Rebecca Cole’s synaptic cultures. The device actually contained, on a fundamental level, the girl’s DNA coding. It was linked to a construct of precious gem fragments; diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire – a highly complex piece of Black-Light technology, light years beyond what was judged as possible, designed specifically for one genetic sequence.
There had been no opportunity to test the thing, due to the pace at which everything was moving. The literature on the device was classified as Eating-Tree; a highly compartmentalised security clearance. Black-Light was classified higher than any other unofficial weapons program. James Cullen didn’t kid himself. He knew the ultimate application of the technology – tools of absolute control.
Tools that would shape the new world, perhaps even stave off the end of days.
He had known this before, as all true initiates do, but now he realised that he too was human. He had never really thought himself part of that equation…as a mere man. The power was thrilling, as any idiot could deduce; absolute, more addictive than any ghost-drug, more consuming than designer whores on-tap for pure indulgence like wine. It was all so mesmerising early in his career, and he’d felt honoured, entrusted with a secret knowledge that had the potential to rewrite modern history.
Now, it was more disturbing than anything else. He no longer felt like he was walking with the gods.
He’d been inside Cole’s mind, traversed the soil of her inner worlds, made privy to things he’d never shared with Interregnum for fear of being deemed insane, or worse, incompetent. He’d been opened to worlds, secrets and possibilities that he couldn’t have cooked up in his fantasies.
Scout-walking was something indescribable. It demolished one’s sense of a stable independent reality. To step into someone’s mind and soul was to realise profoundly that reality was simply a mirror of thought, a mirror of consciousness. The observer and the observed were one and the same, just as the mystics and occultists of old had understood. Anything that could be imagined and conceived could be made manifest, anything. The world was being created moment to moment through the application of conscious and subconscious energies.
That kind of awareness was the place were genuine evil was born.
Or genuine good.
Upon understanding God, nature, reality; whatever label that one chose to assign, people often came to the conclusion that it was so much easier not to care. People were only what they thought, said, felt or did. Because of the innate ambiguity present at the heart of all things, Dr Cullen suspected, people often gave willingly to chaos and set about beautifying the self.
Cullen laughed quietly. Where would we be without pain? We would be less meek servants of God, surely? And the meek existed to serve their purpose, in service to stewards of strength, our older brothers, as they made ready a New World for us; a world in which the strong would give the weak their freedom. Interregnum was going to give Man back his destiny. Man would truly inherit the Earth.
It frightened him, but he supposed sadly it still thrilled him in its way.
He knew of the depths in Prayer’s dreamscape. It was a horrific place but also filled with a tangible sense of awe. Despite her rampant bloodlust, she still held the belief that her work would bring some meaning; that the attendant hordes to human consciousness were sometimes genuine healers, as well as the more numerous corruptive dilettantes. He wondered how this entity called ‘Akin’ would class himself, if coerced. Angel or Demon? Alien or Modern Myth?
Cullen supposed the creature would ridicule the use of such labels but would also be fascinated by them.
Yes, this spirit was fascinated with workings of human psychology, and more likely than not he had a vested interest. If he’d given Cole such ludicrous power that she was able to rip people to pieces, scorch walls and floors, warp the very space around her, it stood to reason that Akin was not too bothered with the sanctity of human life.
But that didn’t make him a perverse dilettante. Perhaps he had placed such power in the hands of a violent sociopath for a very astute reason. Perhaps he was even a poet. Cullen laughed softly to himself. Even Angelina, genius that she was, would be unable to grasp all that he had grasped. Now, strangely, he felt something like shame. A thing like Prayer didn’t deserve to be caged and eventually consumed. Still, he pushed the vague feeling deep down inside himself, where it wouldn’t interfere with the task at hand.
Cullen gazed down again at the coil. Around his neck hung a quartz-crystal key that fitted into the device, without it the coil was useless. He removed the chain from his throat and slipped the key into the interlocking mirrored spheres. Immediately the quartz veining on the device flared with a bluish-white light. He’d expected it to start a sinister humming but the coil was quiet. The crystal latticework held the strange glow, flickering on and off like a silent pulse.
The man in the passenger seat glanced back at the device. He seemed intrigued by the ghostly light but not overly concerned. “Ripper, I think were coming up on the targets. Second Unit is tracking us. All aboard.”
James Cullen glanced at the mobile phone beside him.
The van was only five minutes away.
“Good. We’ll use the coil, then incapacitate the others…I want them all out before we attempt an extraction. All unharmed…if possible.”
The bearded man in the passenger seat nodded. “Yes, Ripper, it’s understood.”
Cullen stifled another wave of uncertainty unusual for a man like himself. He had the nagging fear that this extraction was about to spin wildly out of control.


Streaming lights and an ocean of pain. It seemed to take so long to subside. After what felt to Katherine like an eternity the worst of the pain finally ebbed away, but she was still left with a horrible throbbing in her crotch that spread through her pelvis and halfway up her abdomen. Her hand was throbbing too, from the slivers of the wine glass lodged in her fingers
…it hurts…Jesus fucking Christ…it hurts.
She knew she was lying on Wesley Morgan’s bedroom floor, but her eyes were pressed tight against that world. She also knew she was still alive; the pain had told her that much. Why hadn’t Wes killed her? Was he waiting for others to arrive?
…too much…it’s too much…
She managed to roll onto her back and force her eyes open. She saw a white ceiling and a pale blue lampshade. She turned her head and saw Wesley lying naked beside her, a few feet away. His eyes were open and still, a pool of drying blood around his head. It was like he was staring right at her. Katherine tried to pull herself into a sitting position but a new pain burst inside her vagina. Though God hadn’t cursed her with a penis, she groaned and pressed her good hand to the crotch of her jeans, gritting her teeth against the agony. It felt like someone had lit a fire. She swallowed hard and began almost hyperventilating, squeezing her eyes shut and spilling new tears. She rolled back onto her side but the pain subsided only slightly.
It’s too much…
She wasn’t certain how long she had been lying here like this. Ten, twenty minutes maybe? Time had fallen away the moment he’d kicked her.
Get the fuck up, soldier…get up Little Red. The Wolf is still out there…
Somehow she dragged herself into a sitting position against the dresser, and clamped both hands back to her crotch. She was sobbing, she realised, from the pain, and from the indignity of what Wes had done to her. It seemed like the horrible throbbing would never go away. She tried to focus on the naked body of her ex-lover. It still seemed like he was watching her. He was dead, she finally grasped. She’d killed him somehow. She didn’t remember how. She hadn’t even had time to reach for the gun.
The gun…
It lay beside her on the carpet. She took a hand away from her crotch and gripped the cold steel. Tears were still streaming down her cheeks. The pain was so bad. Katherine shoved the gun into her mouth, her finger trembling near the trigger.
End it…end this whole sorry affair…the pain will go. But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. She was filled with too much boiling rage, even amidst the wild throbbing and burning inside. She hadn’t come this far for nothing. They would have to kill her. She wasn’t going to do it for them.
Hold onto the anger…forget the pain…hold onto the anger. She pulled the barrel of the gun from her mouth and let her hand drop loosely to her side, still clutching it, her other hand clamped firmly on the crotch of her jeans.
Just wait…feel the anger and wait…the pain will go…the pain will go.
Katherine waited.

Chapter Thirty-Five

Angelina Rose was afraid that the whole thing might spin out of control. She was a woman who prided herself on her ability to adapt. In fact, it was this very ability that kept her hovering on the brink of life, at the edge of an abyss, when many others had lost their footing and plummeted into a new frame of reference.
She knew what energy was. She knew that consciousness was immortal. Death was only an inevitable change of form, a discarding of the symbols of physical reality. But she didn’t want that change just yet. She had so much more to do, so much more to take. There were indescribable fruits to be picked from the vines of reason, and she would do so before stepping through the door.
A part of her was aware that she was afraid, of what might await beyond death. Not the fantasy that many called Hell, no, but a wildness, a cruelty that she would have to face when she was finally plunged into the realms of abstract Self.
She wanted to live, for as long as possible. Interregnum taught her that possibility was infinite, bound only by the extent of the imagining consciousness. She would imagine grandly then, if it would stave off the inevitable.
Miss Rose was sitting alone, in a circular room lit by narrow spotlights that illuminated paintings and tapestries ringing the walls. She glanced up at a section of stone, affixed to a standing plinth in the centre of the oak table at which she sat.
The stone was from a tomb that was been unearthed in Iraq during the first wave of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, excavated by a group of Islamic scholars, and hidden. A ‘cosmopolitan’ seeker-cell operating thirteen miles north of Basra had been tipped off about its existence. The group of thirty or so Muslims had been massacred in a joint British-American stalking. The precious section of stone had been retrieved and shipped to New York. Eventually, after much Interregnum deliberation, it had been shipped to Britain. To here in London, where it rightfully belonged.
Many among them came to believe the stone tomb was that of a young priest, but there had been no care for the dead, only dust remained. The inscriptions on the stone were a rudimentary type of ancient Sumerian cuneiform, dating back four and a half thousand years at least, translated again and again by Interregnum affiliates, in the hope that the full meaning of the inscriptions could be known to them.
She had memorised the latest translation. She knew it by heart, if indeed she still possessed such a thing. Sometimes she wondered. The inscriptions spoke of something called a scarlet council, that secretly controlled every aspect of Sumerian society, and of a great change that fragmented the priesthood. This monumental change had been translated by various Interregnum linguists as ‘Chamber of Soul’, as ‘Shell of Voices’, and most recently as ‘Pathlight’.
Many believed that the nameless young priest had somehow sealed himself inside the tomb, that perhaps he had even carved it himself. The legend and the way it was told by those among Interregnum was deeply disturbing.
Miss Rose knew only a portion of Interregnum’s true lineage, but she knew enough. Her imagination, vital as it was, had filled in the rest. Popular reasoning presented the history of Mankind as a wealth of unconnected wars, tribulations and revelations. Reality, however, didn’t conform to such anthropological reductionism.
Nothing was unbroken, only believed to be.
The truth of Man was interconnected, a seamless gestalt of carefully hidden and guarded truths. There were groups that frequently killed to protect the occult history of the world, and these were often groups with far less power than Interregnum.
Man was only useful to other men if the truth was withheld from them, far from the eyes of the majority and shared with a select few. Angelina Rose was one of these chosen, and even she knew merely a fraction of that illusive truth. Oh, how men lusted after knowledge, especially when they suspected it came from a divine source. She had seen it so many times. Men would give their lives; they would trade this confusing world for a knowledge of it that would be useless to them in death.
She laughed emptily at the thought, remembering when she had once been the same. Her parents didn’t believe that she would survive past her first birthday, and then she had lived on a respirator for many years. She suffered every indignity; injected, probed, tested endlessly. Often times she had cried herself to sleep, wondering why the universe had picked her out as a precarious genetic anomaly. Or a ‘freak’, as other children had succinctly put it.
And then one day her biological father, who was a high-ranking military analyst, introduced her to the man that had changed her life forever.
Clarence Miller.
He was a doctor; a brilliantly gifted surgeon, cardiologist and psychologist. He had been all over the world. He had spent several decades in East Africa, the slums of India and Pakistan, South America. Third world countries were perfect places for illegal human research; what was often referred to by intelligence circles as wet-testing. Through years of biological and psychological wet-testing, Dr Clarence Miller had secretly shaped the next fifty years of Black-Light science. To the ‘Eating-Tree’ ghost-ops researchers of NSA and MI6, Miller was an enigma. He was on par with Dr Emil Petrov for revolutionary breakthroughs.
Oh, but he was so much more than that; an Interregnum associate, possessing a science bathed in his unique imagination, a science bordering on magic. One of the true pioneers of Black-Light research. He was something of an urban-myth in many intelligence circles; nobody with a clearance below ‘Eating-Tree’ even knew what he looked like. There were no known photographs of the man and lower level analysts even doubted that he existed. But he did exist. And Clarence Miller was his real name.
He was, quite simply, her guardian angel, her very own Merlin. After her biological father’s suicide, Miller had taken her in and raised her as his own daughter. She had lived with him for five years in Paris, and then another six years in Moscow. She had a love for him that surpassed all else. He was a god to her, this spiritual father, for he had given her the greatest gift imaginable.
He had given her Strength. Courage. Power. And she was proud to be his greatest achievement; a singular human being, unique, unlike all others…even Rebecca Cole and her sisterhood. But good things, just like bad things, came to an inevitable end. She was slowly dying.
She’d been dying since age thirteen.
She touched many since then, in the hope she would find someone that would grant her another year, another five years, another decade. None of them had measured up. She had taken from them, regardless – hungry and needful, but aware that it wouldn’t sate her. Even the other spirals like Prayer, they hadn’t been enough and, because of their constitution, she didn’t dare take from them. But Prayer would be different. She was the heart of all this, the nexus that connected. If she could touch Prayer, Miss Rose knew that it would be enough. She would take and take and take, until all that remained of the girl was an exquisite husk.
If only she’d known beforehand.
“Fuck…” she hissed, picturing Dr Katherine Reece in her mind’s eye. The woman had complicated everything in trying to protect the girl. If Miss Rose had known beforehand that Prayer was a harbinger she would have realised that the girl would be the key. “The key to my heart,” she murmured.
It was then that her cell phone began ringing. She pulled it from her coat pocket and stared at the Caller ID. It was Wesley Morgan. She put the phone to her ear, a grin spreading across her white face.
She could hear a soft moaning, and then, “Oh, God, no…” A heavy thud, like someone collapsing to the ground. A softer, almost ethereal moaning.
“Wes, baby…answer me,” she said into the phone, “What’s happening? Wes!”
There was no reply, just a soft, laboured breath. And then finally no breath at all. She sat alone in the Artefacts Wing, at the oak table, staring at the ancient stone on the plinth at it’s centre, the cell phone pressed to her ear. She couldn’t lose him too. What if her blood wasn’t enough? A wave of fear went through her, and then a wave of anger. And finally a wave of deep, black hatred. There was only one thing she could think to do.
Trembling, she dialled Dr Clarence Miller’s number, and waited.
“Daddy,” she whispered quietly into the phone, “It’s me…”
“Are you okay, precious?”
“It’s all going to hell; I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”
“Just tell me, Angel, what’s wrong?”
“I think Wesley Morgan is dead; I think Katherine is there now, and I can’t lose him. I won’t be able to go on if I lose him…”
“You were lovers?” her father asked after a moment. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Some things are private, daddy. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but…then I saw the way his mind worked, how he was always three steps ahead…top of his game…and it reminded me of me. Like he was my other half. That same intelligence…that same coiled patience that you gave me; I saw it all in him. He was like a black python.”
She heard him chuckle widely at the description, “I’ll bet he was.”
“Daddy, I won’t forgive myself if he’s dead.”
“Don’t worry,” her father said, “You had sex with him. His biochemistry has metastasised. As I’m sure you know. He’s different now; it’d take a serious injury to cripple him. Did you seduce him, naughty girl, with offers of godlike power?”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” she said quietly. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, precious. Life is for living, so relax. He’ll be fine. I’ll call Switchboard and assign a Tracer to Katherine. Now, Angel, is that it? You know how important my time is. You can handle this. You haven’t forgotten your motto have you?”
Angelina Rose smiled, teary-eyed and white-faced. “No, daddy…I haven’t.”
“Well, let’s here it then.”
For a few moments she was silent, and then, softly, “Fly my pretties, fly.”
“Lets hear it with a little gumption, baby.”
A sad smile tweaked her pale lips. “Fly my pretties, fly!”
“And again for all the Rock & Rollers in the audience!”
She laughed darkly and bellowed, “FLY MY PRETTIES, FLY!”
She heard the sound of her father’s warm laughter. “There you go, Angel, you see? As simple as A B C.”
“Okay,” she said quietly, only a little more reassured.
“Listen, precious…when you’ve acquired the girl, I’ll meet you at Branton. I have a surprise for you. Trust me, it’ll be better than anything before.”
“Okay, Dr Miller,” she murmured. “Can’t wait.”
“Love you, Miss Rose.”
“Love you too, daddy.”
And then he was gone. With a sudden cry, she hurled her cell phone at the Sumerian stone and it burst in two, microchips and circuits scattering across the table. Without Rebecca Cole she would die. She didn’t want to die. She pressed her lips together, trembling softly, and stared down at her ghost-white hands.
“I’m a monster…” she murmured, terribly afraid.


The Tracer was about to board a train at Victoria Station, on a visit to see her cousin in Sheffield, when she was contacted, bag packed, standing amongst other travellers looking up at the timetables. She glanced down at the pager on her hip. EDIT. A flush of uncertainty went through her. Her train was boarding on Platform 9 in six minutes.
“You got to be kidding me,” she murmured and snatched the pager from her belt. “Talk about great fucking timing…”
She was a tall brunette, maybe twenty pounds overweight, wearing designer glasses, still very attractive with the extra pounds, dressed in jeans and a black sweater beneath a khaki army-surplus jacket. Twenty-five years old, still single, and she hadn’t seen her cousin in ages. She wouldn’t get a chance tonight. She couldn’t turn down an edit.
Once confirmed, they would immediately transfer an electronically laundered fifteen thousand into her account. It was a standard wage, regardless of the sensitivity. She knew official contracts got paid far more than that per head. She didn’t really care. The money would be a great help. When she was done tonight she could go to the theatre, or buy herself a few tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, in celebration. She could even go on holiday again; catch a flight the day after tomorrow. She’d been to Barbados for the summer and had met a gorgeous bartender. He might still be around.
She laughed at her predicament, standing there with her packed bag. She pocketed the pager and pulled a sleek mobile phone from her jacket, dialled ‘Switchboard’ and spoke to someone who gave her a name and a description. They knew her location at all times, able to track her through her mobile phone via satellite, which meant she happened to be the Tracer nearest to the given location.
“Sorry, Dave,” she muttered to herself, “But work is work.”
She hurried from Victoria Station, across the open bus terminal, bag slung across her shoulder. As she moved, most of her irritation began to leave her. She quickly warmed to the idea of an edit. She could always go to see her cousin tomorrow or the day after that. She hadn’t killed anyone in nearly eight months, and the familiar power-tripping excitement began to creep back inside.
Tracers were usually young and lethal, notoriously unpredictable, as the best of stand-ins always were.
They must be in something of a tight spot to use one.
She found that amusing. Maybe it was the luxury of youth, but she found a lot of things amusing. She never expected that this would be the life she led. Two lives really; her normal life, as a clerical nurse in the TA…and then the life of the Maiden Hand. Her real life, she supposed.
In her teens she had been the cute weird girl; the one that got ‘fed’ quite often by boys who found her strangely alluring but sort of pitied her, the girl who was forced to be witty and dark; the seventeen year old who played piano, was a semi-professional archer and marksman with a near perfect aim. The other girls at Sacred Heart had been jealous, she supposed, and disturbed by her unwavering focus.
Then, one day, during her first year of university at London Metropolitan, she was approached by a tall, bald black woman who introduced her to another world. A world she always secretly believed was real. As it turned out, her father had known about these things all along. As a Sister she had received the singular light. She was born again. Hallelujah. The Maiden Hand connected her with her true creativity, quickly made her a believer.
She had no crippling insecurities these days. She took what she wanted.
Life was a work in progress, a work of Art. She considered herself a sexy, edgy contradiction. She loved being a nurse, being a healer, and she loved her few precious friends, but behind her DKNY glasses, behind her steely, intelligent eyes, lived the soul of a born Tracer.

Chapter Thirty-Four

The girl had eluded her. She felt helpless. And so, Dr Katherine Reece had done the only thing she could think to do. It was frightening how easily the thought of vengeance came to her, growing quickly inside, frightening how at home the idea had felt. She would stave off fear and panic with a swell of righteous rage, hack a path through the rampant chaos around her. She would share a measure of her hatred.
Katherine drove down through London, chain-smoking all the way. Strangely, she thought about buying her dead son a birthday gift. A good horror movie, or maybe a book – something by Ian McEwan? ‘The Cement Garden’, perhaps. Or ‘Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun. Sean had loved all that stuff. He’d always been a voracious reader and an avid film fan. Yes, when all this was said and done, if she was still alive, she would buy him something. Something that he would have liked.

The house was on a corner, only a five minute drive from Victoria Station. Getting inside was not a problem.
She stood silently in the darkness of the hallway, beside a grandfather clock that ticked soothingly. Katherine felt a current of dark excitement go through her. She would enjoy this so much. She couldn’t do this and not savour every moment of it. She pulled the gun from her jacket and disengaged the safety. It made a satisfying click and she began moving softly up the stairs. As she ascended, she heard the low melody of music. Jazz. Something passionate and freewheeling, maybe Miles Davis.
She stepped up onto the landing. The bathroom door was closed but she could hear a shower running.
Gun poised, she treaded carefully into the bedroom. The music was coming from a tiny but expensive-looking sound system. The room was large and plush, decked in pale greens and blues. The bedcovers were unmade and a glass of red wine sat on the dresser.
Katherine walked up to the dresser, listening to the sound of the shower beneath the music, and took the wineglass in her free hand, noticing a mirrored credit card on the dresser-top. She downed the contents of the glass.
She put it back and picked up the mirrored card, thinking, He’s been doing coke…how predictable. Turning it over, she saw there was a red code etched into a black strip. 03330. It wasn’t simply a mirror, she realised, it was a security key-card. Katherine frowned and slipped it into her pocket. She heard the shower stop, and the sound of someone stepping out into bathroom.
She left the dresser and stepped quickly behind the bedroom door.
She waited, perfectly still, breath held. She waited for the bastard, and she was struck by how thrilled she was feeling at this moment. Her employers wanted her dead, and yet the possibility of ensuing violence by her own hands filled her with a disturbing sense of freedom. This wouldn’t be like the men she’d killed for Locus. This wouldn’t be a faceless, meaningless death. No. This would be beautiful.
This would be a piece of fucking art.
Wesley Morgan stepped into the room, a towel round his waist, his muscular brown-skinned torso gleaming like some exotic predator in the lamplight. Miles Davis continued his sumptuous playing. Wesley had his back to her. He pulled open a polished oak closet, searching for fresh clothes, humming along atonally to the music. He seemed to freeze and Katherine tensed. He had glanced at the empty wine glass on his dresser.
A low trembling breath escaped him. Katherine slowly shut the door with a creak of the hinges and she saw him shudder slightly. He didn’t turn to face his intruder. He kept his bare back turned. She had her weapon pointed square at the back of his head, waiting silently.
Eventually he muttered, “Kathy…?” She smiled, knowing he couldn’t see it. “Kathy is that you…?”
“It’s your misplaced conscience, Wes.” He seemed to cringe at the sound of her voice. Although she couldn’t see his face she knew that a tirade of possibilities were coursing through his mind, all of them very bleak. It was delicious. “Turn around, big boy.”
Slowly, he did as he was asked. His eyes met hers and she saw tears in them. He was trembling, afraid. She laughed out loud at the expression on his face.
“Kathy, please…don’t-”
“Shut the fuck up.” Wesley Morgan nodded quickly and did as he was told. She appraised him for a moment. She remembered the feel of him beneath her fingers. “Take off the towel.”
He pulled it and it fell. The bastard stood naked before her.
“Not as big as I remember,” she told him. “Must’ve overestimated it, what with all the myths about black men.”
She watched tears roll down his handsome face. His trembling was worsening.
“Are you afraid, Wes? Are you afraid of me now?” He grimaced and nodded, pressing his eyes shut, as through he were trying to hold back a sob. “Sit on the bed.”
He walked over to the bed and sat on it’s edge, looking up at her with fear in his eyes. He looked like a boy to her now, a big, muscular child. All the confidence and poise was gone.
“Tell me what you know about Interregnum, Wes. And if you lie to me…I’ll paint these walls with your clever brain.”
Wesley Morgan was hunched naked on the edge of the bed. “There’s so much,” he began, and had to look away. “Kathy, please don’t do this…I was only following orders…I swear…I meant you no harm.”
Katherine had to laugh. “You’re a terrible liar, Wes.” She gestured at the bed on which he sat. “Do you remember, babe? We fucked all night on this bed. You wanted to get as deep inside me as possible, remember? You barely looked at me.”
He looked so afraid, like all people do, she supposed, when they realise death is approaching. “You better start talking, Dr Morgan.”
Afraid and naked, water from the shower still wet on his skin, he nodded.
“Interregnum is older than you think. They have lots of power…they’re like a prism. They collect and refract light. Please, Kathy – don’t kill me…”
She stared but he couldn’t look at her. “What do you mean they’re like a prism?”
The naked psychologist began to cry but stopped himself. “They’re…they can travel between worlds…into other dimensions of existence.”
“Bullshit,” Katherine hissed, cocking the hammer of the gun.
“It’s true,” he said quickly, pressing his eyes shut again. “They’re into some very dark things…sacrifices and energy…like stuff from a delusion. I’m not talking about amateur supplication, this is real. They’ll kill anyone that gets in their way, even you, Kathy. Even me. There’s a whole other world that goes on in this city…stuff that would reduce you to despair, and I’ve cried myself to sleep more than once. I know they want Cole for something very important to them. Something they call the dawning of the Altar Sun…the War Of Miracles. Kathy-”
“Stop,” she ordered. “No begging. What else?”
Wesley was shaking terribly now, tears streaming silently. She took a few steps towards him.
“Angelina Rose; the fake albino…she’s not like us.”
“What the fuck does that mean, Wes?”
He shook his head slowly. “She’s dying, I think. She can take things from people. Pigmentation, blood, hormones, even life-energy….all through touch.”
“Are you telling me that woman…is a fucking vampire?”
He nodded fearfully, glancing up at the gun. “She’s a very powerful witch.”
Katherine felt a chill skitter through her and she lowered the gun just a fraction. It was enough.
Wesley Morgan lunged at her like a wild, honed thing, shoving her arm away so fiercely that she felt the muscles in her shoulder pull. No, was all she managed to consciously think. He caught her off-balance and drove a fist deep into her gut, the breath bursting from her lungs. She didn’t have time to pull the gun back round. He slammed her up against the dresser, snatching her hand and pulling her wrist so hard that she dropped the gun.
He had her braced completely, trapped in a position in which she couldn’t move. Fear closed her throat at how easily he’d disarmed her. She’d pissed away her edge by underestimating him. Now she was going to die, murdered by a man she’d slept with, not only slept with but gave herself to him in a way she had never truly given herself to Bobby.
A grin spread across Wesley Morgan’s face.
“Kathy…angry young gal,” he hissed in her ear, pressing himself against her, crushing her against the wall. “Guess what, darling? Interregnum is turning me into a genuine wrath & thunder god. Like the old gods of the mountains. This girl is a precursor to a new world…but it’ll be a world of their design. I have a place in that world. Everyone else, the entire human race, is fucked. Listen to me; they’re here. They’re walking amongst us now. This is what pisses me off; you could’ve been there with me, Kathy. You’ve got bigger balls than any man I know. I could of brought you in eventually but you forfeit that honour, you reckless bitch…”
Those words sent a plume of rage up through her. She could feel his penis against her left hip, rigid, erect.
She head-butt him as hard as she could and he jerked back, just enough for her to grab at the empty wineglass on the dresser at her side. She whipped it round and lashed at his face, the glass exploding, fragments of it driving into his cheek and into her hand. They both cried out.
He stumbled backwards, bringing up a hand to clutch at his ragged, bloodied cheek. Katherine swung, curling her hand into a fist a moment before it connected with the side of his face, driving the glass fragments deeper into his cheek. She cried out too as he staggered and then tripped over the edge of the bed, landing at an angle. The back of his head slammed against the corner of the bedside cabinet.
He grunted hard and was silent, still. Eyes closed.
Katherine realised all she could hear was her pulse throbbing in her ears. She was afraid to move. She glanced down at the gun on the floor. As she reached down to grab it, Wesley Morgan’s eyes snapped open, his face almost feral, and he kicked out brutally with his right leg. He caught her in the crotch as his foot slammed into her sex. Katherine gagged and crumpled to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut.
A white hot pain she had never imagined before; spiralling through her vagina, her entire pelvis, up into her belly – twisting her insides like some hideous torture technique. She gagged again on her own breath as the world fell away, like a dream, into a violent ocean of streaming lights and silent shrieking. Sean…Bobby…Mum and Dad…all of it dissolving around her. The torture that was eating her from the inside went on, relentless and merciless.
She wondered if this was what death was like.

Wesley Morgan watched Katherine Reece shudder on his bedroom floor, her eyes rolled up in their sockets. The back of his head was pounding from where it had caught the corner of the cabinet, and his cheek burned like it was on fire.
He dragged himself into a sitting position and touched the base of his skull. He felt blood, lots of it. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he stared at Katherine lost in her own private hell. But the pounding intensified and his vision began to sparkle with lights.
“No…” he managed at the pain, as if ordering it to stop. He tried to climb to his feet but his legs felt only semisolid. He snatched at his bedcovers and hauled himself halfway up onto the mattress. He saw his mobile phone. The pain at the base of his skull seemed to intensify three-fold. “Oh shit,” he murmured in a breath of agony. More glinting lights swarmed his vision.
She’d fucked like a real whore, a consummate professional, and now the whore had tried to kill him; the redheaded bitch that he actually liked, almost admired. God…the pain was unbearable. Like someone was slowly driving a thin metal spike deeper and deeper into the back of his head.
He reached out and clutched at the mobile phone. The screen swam in and out of focus, obscured by the glinting lights. He punched at the Send button, causing the phone to re-dial the last number he’d called. He could feel liquid warmth rolling profusely down his bare back. And then the glinting lights seemed to fade into an encroaching blackness.
“Oh, God, no…”
Dr Wesley Morgan slumped off the edge of the bed and thudded to the floor, the phone slipping from his grasp and bouncing on the carpet. He lay there, naked, only a few feet from where Kathy was curled in her own private universe. Darkness seemed to be swallowing him whole. And now a real fear, not feigned and calculated, began to fill the dark.
Dad with the belt. The brown dog that attacked him when he was sixteen. Studying for the PhD. Zoe’s slow death from stomach cancer. His first murder. His second murder, his third, his fourth, fifth, sixth.
Meeting Angelina Rose for the first time.
Making love to her for the first time. He was struck by the realisation that he had, in fact, always been afraid. He had lived his whole life in a secret, unacknowledged terror. At this thought his terror parted for a brief moment. He saw a stark vision of himself, as naked as he lay now. He was oddly grateful at this new self-awareness, before the terror collapsed in on him again.
But he was special...he was chosen. Angelina had saved him, loved him. Dark brown hands on milk-white skin. Like making love to a ghost. But Angel wasn’t a ghost. She was a goddess. Wesley couldn’t believe these would be the final moments of his life.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Peter Vesson lived in the large ground-floor flat of a renovated Victorian house. Jobe and Serima had only been there twice since their mother had been sectioned. Those times, both of them had sat in awkward silences peppered with anodyne conversation. Jobe parked further down the road and killed the engine. He stared hard at his sister.
“Wait here, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Serima glanced through the partition window, at Prayer locked in the darkness. The girl was rummaging through opened boxes.
“Are you gonna tell him about all this?”
“No. I just want to make sure he and Charlotte are okay.”
Serima nodded. “Hurry back.”
Jobe left the van, slamming the door behind him and hurrying down the road. It had stopped raining but he could see the suggestion of brooding clouds in the night sky. He buzzed the door and waited. A woman’s voice answered. “Hello?”
“Charlotte, it’s Jobe.” There was a few moments of silence before the door buzzed and unlocked. He hurried inside and saw her standing in the doorway at the end of the hall.
Charlotte was pretty, slightly plump, with plaits tied back from her face, and she looked anxious as Jobe approached. His father stepped into the doorway behind her, drawing an arm around her waist. They’d both been crying.
Peter Vesson was a tall handsome black man with short greying hair. He was now sporting a goatee beard that Jobe had never seen him wear before. It took away from some of his gentleness, making him appear harder-edged, but Jobe could still see the softness in his father’s eyes. He stepped past them both and into the flat. Charlotte closed the door behind him, glancing nervously at her boyfriend.
“Jobe…we left messages on your machine. We tried calling your mobile.”
He turned to face them but then glanced at the television. BBC News 24 was still running the Ensler massacre. He had to look away. His father approached him tentatively and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Son…I finally got through to the authorities. About Maya. Jobe…I’m so sorry. They said…they said that she’s dead. And a girl named Rebecca Cole. We’ve been trying to contact you for hours. I even drove to the flat but you weren’t there. Oh God, Jobe, I’m sorry…”
Dead. Jobe felt as if the word was sinking into his flesh. Dead. A shaking convulsion went through him. His dad tried to put his arms around him but Jobe pulled away, staring at the wall beyond his dad’s shoulder. Dead. No, his mother couldn’t be dead.
As if his worst fear had come to pass. No…I refuse to believe it. It’s a lie.
“It’s a lie,” he murmured.
“Son-” his father began but Jobe raised a hand, cutting him off. He couldn’t listen to this. He couldn’t bring himself to hear any of this. How many times had he secretly wished it? More than he could count or remember. The thought that his wish had finally come true filled him with horror.
“She’s not dead,” he said with a modicum of finality in his voice. Charlotte glanced, anguished, at Jobe’s father.
“No!” he barked, “It’s a cover-up. You said that Charlotte saw soldiers at St Francis…”
“I did,” she murmured.
His father grimaced and nodded, tears spilling down his cheeks. “But I spoke with police…I confirmed it three times. This man, Terry Gaines, he killed her. It’s real, Jobe. I’m so sorry, but it’s real. It’s on the news right now.”
“No,” said Jobe, “I can’t listen to this.” He took a deep breath and glanced at Charlotte, and then at his father. “I wouldn’t stay here if I were you. I’m in the middle of something. I can’t explain it but I needed to know you were okay. Get out of here for a while.” He brushed past them towards the door. His dad grabbed his arm and Jobe turned, glaring at him. “Let go of me…”
His dad had a pleading in his eyes that Jobe had never seen before.
“Son…don’t walk away from this, please. Don’t walk away from me. Not again. We won’t be able to get through this without each other. You know it’s the truth. I know how smart you are.”
Jobe pulled his arm away. “She’s not dead. I’m not like you. I’m not going to give up on her.”
It was like Jobe had punched the man in his gut. He visibly sagged, tears rolling down his face.
“I love you, dad. Serima loves you. Hope to see you soon.”
Jobe hurried from the flat, into the cold night air, but his dad hurried out after him, grabbing his shoulders and spinning him round. “I’m not letting you walk away!” he barked desperately.
With youth and superior strength Jobe shoved him back, but his dad lunged forward and grabbed him again, relentless. Jobe spun and with a balled fist struck him firmly across the face. His father stumbled backwards, staring at him with wild, pained eyes. The blow wasn’t intended to cause much physical pain and Jobe had held back his strength. “I don’t get to live like you do, Peter.”
He turned and walked away. Peter Vesson called out to him, “I loved her just as much as you did. For fuck sakes, Jobe – she was my damn wife. You know it, son.”
Jobe knew it was the truth, but he would rather believe it was a lie.
When he finally rounded the corner he stopped, pressing his back up against the tall metal pole of a streetlight. He took what seemed like a futile breath and glanced at the white Transit. None of this was what he’d imagined it would be. Dead.
How in the hell am I gonna tell her…? I refuse to believe it.
Serima wasn’t in the passenger seat of the van and Jobe’s heart nearly skipped a beat.
He raced round to the back and pulled open the doors. His sister was sitting with Prayer, amongst the boxes, cradling something in her hand. He climbed up, shut the doors behind him and crouched down. He glanced at them both and then realised what Serima was holding.
A gun, with a cruel silencer attached. She gave him a crooked smile. “Silver lining,” she said.
Prayer held up another silenced pistol. “They were in the boxes.”
She hefted something from between her legs and Jobe realised he was staring at some sort of military assault-rifle; black, heavy and imposing. “There’s other stuff too.” She grinned. “Night-vision goggles, how cool is that? We’ve got a rolling arsenal here…”
“Jesus,” he murmured, staring at the assault-rifle.
“We have to get to Wells Gate Public Library,” Prayer said, “So we can do some real damage to these fools, show them that some of us won’t just lie down and play dead. I have to finish what I’ve begun.”
But as Jobe stared at the piece of military hardware in the girl’s hands, the only things he could think about were images of death. There was too much violent, unnatural death in the world. Too much theft of peace. So much fear. He was party to it now. Dead. No. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it for a moment. I’ll find her. A wave of sickening guilt overcame him.