Part One

An interesting by-product of having access to a machine that can send you absolutely anywhere in time and space is that TV loses its appeal. X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice… why bother with them if I can go to a time machine and send myself back to see Elvis Presley in 1956 or Frank Sinatra in the forties? Hell, I can go back and see Mozart or Beethoven if I want to. I am definitely – definitely for one hundred percent totally sure and certain – going back to see the Beatles play in the Cavern in ’61 or ’62.

      I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. Quietly. I didn’t tell people about it much when I was a kid. Who wants to wear the tag of ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ or ‘saddo’. By the time I realised that anybody who would a) think liking science fiction was enough reason to insult somebody and b) actually insult somebody with any of those terms wasn’t actually worth knowing, life had caught up and I’d lost interest in being one of the cool kids. Us Geeks have our own kind of cool. Smart-cool. Geek-chic.

      I’d caught a bit of classic Star Trek on YouTube (the remastered ones with the gorgeous new special effects) while I was waiting for Matt to get ready to go out. He was spending the night at a friend of his. It was a friend I knew, nice family, and the friend’s mum was always a good laugh so I was okay with it.

      I was also just not in the mood for another of his “You’re not Mum, Andy. You’re only my sister!” rants. I know he’s a teenager, I know he’s been through a lot and I know it’s not easy for him dealing with how life is now.

      But does he have to be such a dick?

      I think he’s started looking at stuff he shouldn’t online. I don’t want to spy on his browsing habits but the autofill in Firefox on the laptop has been telling tales on him. Blondes with pneumatic knockers, most of them. Never understood those huge breast enlargements myself. They just look sore. I’d be scared they burst when I rolled over in bed. God knows, I wear a D cup and I have trouble enough with them. Those blondes must be up at GG or FF – which I assume stands Good God or For Fuc… let’s not go there. Still, I do need to talk to Matt about that.

      Really looking forward to that.

      Almost as much as telling him about my taste in women. He’s not ready for that conversation.

      Neither am I.

      I cycled across to Ibrahim and Helena’s flat at about ten in the morning. It was one of those brilliant Saturdays when I wasn’t working in the café. The students would have to bug somebody else for their bacon rolls… but never at ten in the morning on a Saturday. No chance. Half of them wouldn’t have made it to bed yet.

      Well, not their own beds anyway.

      I’m never quite sure what time Erimem will surface from her bed. ‘Whenever she feels like it’ would seem to be the answer. Helena says Erimem is a nightmare to get moving for Uni some mornings. Other days she’s bouncing about like Bambi on acid.

      ‘Good practice for when we have kids,’ I saw Helena tell Ibrahim once.

      He almost choked on his coffee.

      Helena’s always taking the piss out of him. But they should have kids. They’d be great parents.

      This was one of the days when Erimem was up early. By the time I arrived she had already been swimming in the Nile (okay, the replica of the Nile I programmed into the grounds of her Habitat. After that she’d been to the shop and had managed to buy milk and fruit – using real cash money which she is getting the hang of – and she’d done it without falling out with anybody. Moving to another country would be difficult enough for anybody. She’s moved to a different country and a different time where there’s almost nothing recognisable from her own. It’s no wonder she seems a bit dour and grumpy sometimes. Truth is she’s got a wicked sense of humour when she relaxes.

      She was in the kitchen with Helena when I arrived. Ibrahim was on his way out for a run. I told him it was starting to rain. He ran back indoors.

      ‘Didn’t really fancy a run this morning anyway,’ he said, shutting the door behind us.

      In the kitchen Helena pointed at a chair and told me to sit down. Erimem offered me some fruit. I said no, but then started picking at bits of fruit from her bowl. She just looked at me with a raised eyebrow then shoved the bowl between us so we could both pick at it.

      ‘What are you planning to do today?’ I asked Erimem.

      She popped a strawberry into her mouth and smiled. I knew what the smile meant. She was going to use the time travel system in her Habitat to go exploring.

      I was hoping she would say that.

      ‘Future or past?” I asked.

      Erimem smiled cheerfully. ‘I have no idea. Yet. Do you have any suggestions?’

      I tried to sound nonchalant. ‘It’s not my time machine,’ I said. ‘It’s your decision.’

      She just looked at me. Eyes wide in that look that says she’s not taken in by the act.

      ‘Oh, all right,’ I admitted. ‘I’ve always wanted to see the future.’

      ‘Stay alive for a long time,’ Helena said, without looking up from her copy of The Guardian. ‘That way you’ll see plenty of the future.’

      ‘What’s the point in having a time machine and not using it?’ I asked.

      ‘Less chance of being viciously killed,’ Helena said. From the expression on her face I think it came out sharper than she intended. ‘You’ve both been through a lot lately,’ she said in a more conciliatory tone. ‘I just don’t like the idea of you walking into danger again,’

      Erimem squeezed Helena’s hand. ‘We will be careful, I promise you,’ she said.

      Helena just snorted. ‘In a pig’s eye you will,’ she said sourly.  ‘I know you two.’

      ‘You could come with us,’ Erimem suggested lightly. It was somewhere between a joke and a challenge.

      Helen looked at Erimem over the top of her paper. ‘I wasn’t born yesterday,’ she said slowly. ‘And my mother didn’t raise me to be mug enough to go looking for trouble.’

      The kitchen door opened and Ibrahim wandered in. He had changed into jeans and a shirt that looked really comfortable. ‘What are you all talking about?’ he asked.

      ‘You,’ Helena replied quickly. ‘And what a coward you are for not going on that run.’

      Ibrahim ignored the good-natured jibe. ‘I’ll get my fill of sport in front of the telly. Cricket, football… god bless Sky Sports.’ He smiled hopefully at Helena. ‘Care to join me?’

      ‘Sorry,’ Helena answered. ‘Spending the way with the girls.’

 

Half an hour later, Erimem and Helena were watching as I brought up the co-ordinates of the places Erimem had visited or would visit in her life. I have to admit, she gets around a bit.

      Erimem looked with interest at a location far off in deep space but something closer had caught Helena’s eye. ‘Earth,’ she said, struggling to interpret the data she was looking at. I made a mental note to make things clearer. ‘Within fifty or seventy years of now.’ Her eyebrows lifted thoughtfully. ‘It would be interesting to see what advances have been made in medicine in that time.’

      ‘In society in general,’ I agreed. ‘Have we improved at all?’

      We both looked at Erimem expectantly.

      ‘We should go and find out,’ she said.

 

My first thought on seeing the future was ‘What? Is this it?’

      It looked exactly like the London we had left behind.

      Only with added grunge. A lot of it.

      And pissing rain. More crappy weather. Actium and here both had rain, Stalingrad had snow and freezing cold… I started to wonder if Erimem had ever been anywhere with decent weather.

      It looked like we had landed in one of the crappiest parts of a big city. As a first experience of the future… underwhelming. Which makes me think… we can be over whelmed and underwhelmed… cane we just be whelmed? No idea why I thought of that.

      Helena had a huge grin on her face. I wondered what was wrong with her. If she wanted weather like this all she had to do was stay put in England. Then it clicked. This was the first time she had travelled through time. It was my fourth journey and Erimem seemed to be an old hand at it. But for Helena… it was all fresh. It was exciting for her. Okay, it was exciting for all of us but this was her first time, her maiden voyage if you like. And she was loving it. Even the rain.

      I was for going exploring but Erimem put a hand on my arm. She was looking up at the windows on the buildings around us and her head was tilted to the side, listening.

      ‘What is it?’ I asked.

      ‘I do not know, but something is wrong here.’ She pointed at the windows. All of them were barred or shuttered, though the shutters all looked different, like they had been made by the people living in the buildings. ‘This is not a safe place,’ Erimem said.

      I believed her. Just along the street there were a a couple of burned out shells of cars, Blackened metal and a few melted bits of plastic were all that was left. It was like something from Mad Max crossed with the anti-Thatcher riots of the early 80s. A lot of the houses had scorch marks as well, on the walls and especially around the doors. Somebody liked taking a light to this place.

      That was a depressing thought. Half a century on, we still had arseholes who got their jollies by being complete tossers.

      I thought I caught sight of somebody moving one of the shutters up on the second floor of one of the buildings but when I looked it was all still. Erimem had looked up in the same direction.

      ‘I saw it as well,’ she said.

      ‘Somebdy’s watching us?’ Helena asked.

      Erimem nodded. ‘I believe so.’

      Helena was looking at the various shutters. ‘But they don’t want to talk to us?’

      ‘Or they are too afraid to do so,” Erimem said softly. She forced herself to smile and glanced at me. ‘I believe Andy may be so fearsome a sight that they are hiding.’

      I knew she was trying to lighten the mood so I smiled. ‘Been to two battles,’ I said. ‘Survived them both.’

      Erimem started to smile but then something froze her expression.

      ‘What is it?’ I asked?

      She held up her hand for quiet.

      A couple of seconds later Helena spoke. ‘I hear it.’

      I didn’t and said so. They both shushed me.

      I heard it a few seconds later. The mix of an engine and shouting voices. Angry voices. A mob. It was getting closer. Jesus, I didn’t like the sound of it. The closer it came, the wilder it sounded. Out of control and screaming.

      ‘We should get away from this place,’ Erimem said.

      Helena agreed. ‘Off the street for sure.

      We hurried along the street, trying doors and windows. We could see people inside. None of them tried to help. They just cowered away from the window.

      We were in trouble.

      We all knew it.

      The noise was getting louder.  We could hear running footsteps in with the shouts and the engine. It sounded like a motorbike.

      ‘Everything’s locked,’ Helena said. Her eyes kept glancing at the end of the street where the noise was coming from.

      ‘There are people inside but they are too afraid to let us in,’ Erimem said quickly. ‘Whatever is coming terrifies them.’

      That meant it terrified me. ‘So?’ I asked.

      Erimem was already moving. ‘We run,’ she said.

      The street stretched maybe fifty metres ahead of us. There were burned out wrecks of cars and assorted piles of rubbish scattered on the street – wherever this was, nobody ever cleaned here. There was no sign of anywhere to hide among that lot. The doors and windows offered nothing either.

      The noises behind us were getting louder.

      We kept running.

      Helena had no trouble keeping up with us. She was in good shape.

      The noise behind us suddenly grew louder. I risked a glance back over my shoulder. Stupid move. Something north of thirty men were chasing us. They were filthy. They looked wild. Not the wild look of a football crowd. Wild like they had left civilisation behind. Thrown it away. They looked like animals.

      Keep running, Andy.

      There was one on a motorbike. He looked worse than the rest. Bigger. He carried a Japanese sword. A katana. I could hear him screaming loudest of all. That was their leader. No doubt.

      Just keep running.

      The end of the street was maybe twenty metres away. We didn’t know what was at the end. Whatever it was couldn’t be as bad as what was behind us.

      Run, Andy.

      They were getting closer. I could hear them.

      We got to the end of the street. To the right of us was blocked by a right-angled building so we turned left and ran.

      We stopped after a few steps. It was a dead end. A blank brick wall faced us twenty metres ahead. The buildings on either side leading to the wall had the boarded over fronts of long dead shops and businesses. There was no way we could get through them.

      ‘We can’t go back,’ Helena said. ‘There’s nowhere to hide.’

      I agreed.

      Erimem held up her thumb, showing the time travel ring she wore on it. ‘Then we go home,’ she said.

      I nodded, but as we prepared to take the quick route back to 2015, one of the heavy locked doors on a business opened. A woman’s voice spoke to us urgently.

      ‘This way. Quickly.’

      I would probably have twisted the ring and headed home anyway, but that’s not Erimem’s way. She was already running for the door. ‘If it is a trap,’ she called over her shoulder ‘return home.’

      The door led into an old shop front. It was too dark inside to see what the shop had sold. Boards nailed across the windows blocked most of the dull light from outside. All I could see was an old counter with some empty shelves.

      ‘Follow me.’ Our rescuer was already moving through to the back of the shop. ‘I locked the door but if they see any sign of us they’ll break it down quick enough.’

      We followed her.

      She led us through a door and into a small passage way that ran along the back of the shop. From there we went us a set of stairs to another short passage then down into the cellar of a building. Small openings had been knocked through between the various cellars creating an underground warren she seemed to know instinctively.

      After fifteen minutes of this we were tired and dirty, with more than a few cuts and scrapes, but we were sure we had left that gang behind. The woman who had saved us led us back up above ground from a cellar into another back-shop area. From there we went upstairs, along a short passageway and then down into what looked like a soup kitchen from an old movie. Or maybe a refugee centre off the News.

      There were dozens of them, mostly women or kids but there were some old people and some men there too.  Rough cots were obvious in a few corners and blankets were piled around. Food was being passed out by some of the cleaner and healthier-looking women. It felt like a shelter.

      Our rescuer led us through a couple of rooms, all of them with people being fed or packing away their beds.

      ‘A sanctuary of some kind?’ Erimem asked.

      ‘Seems like it,’ Helena agreed. ‘It’s a shelter.’ Her eyes were focusing on the signs of illness and injury. She had looked at the elderly man with a broken arm and a pair of weak-looking children with sunken features and grey, lifeless skin. ‘If the future’s full of children with malnutrition you can stick up your arse,’ she said.

      ‘The accents are British,’ I said. I waggled the time travel ring and then tapped my ear. ‘These are British accents,’ I said, pointing at an old woman. ‘Scouser. I heard a Brummie earlier.’

      ‘Names for people from different parts of the UK,’ Helena explained for Erimem.

      ‘I thought they were called Bloody Scousers?’ Erimem said blandly.

      That took Helena by surprise. ‘What?’

      ‘My fault,’ I admitted. ‘There was a re-run of Liverpool shagging Arsenal at Anfield a few years ago. I may have called the bloody scousers.’ Well, that’ll teach me to watch my mouth around somebody who’s got a tendency to be literal and so soak up information. The little glint in Erimem’s eyes showed she had a wicked little sense of humour.

      Our rescuer led us to a smaller room. It was busy but quieter than the other rooms. There seemed to be more people working and doing the caring in here than actually in need of help. They were preparing meals, washing clothes and bed-linen by hand, getting kids dressed… the woman who had found us led us to the corner of the room where a blonde woman of about twenty five was tying a little kid’s shoes. The shoes had been repaired more than once. She looked relieved when she saw us.

      ‘You got them.’ She said to our rescuer. ‘Well done.’

      ‘No worried, Angela,’ the other woman replied. In this better light I could see she was younger than me. I doubt if she was twenty but she had a hard look about her face that aged her. She gave us just the slightest nod and disappeared into the shelter.

      The woman she had called Angela sent the kid on his way and stood up. ‘You were lucky,’ she said. She wasn’t condemning us or having a pop, just stating the obvious.

      ‘We could have escaped at any time,’ Erimem said with a smile. I call that her Sphinx smile. It’s not genuine, just one she wears when she needs to.

      ‘Really?’ Angela did believe we could have got away on our own and we weren’t for telling her how we’d do it. ‘I’d like to have seen that. Razor’s gang aren’t kind to women who arrive here.’ She smiled tightly. ‘Fresh meat is a premium in here.’

      ‘Meat?’ Helena asked flatly.

      Erimem was more blunt. ‘You mean they eat human flesh?’

      Angela smiled. It made her look really young. ‘Rarely.’ Her face became more serious again. ‘They do much worse, believe me.’

      ‘We do,’ I said. ‘I assume Razor was the guy o the bike?’

      She nodded. ‘His gang runs everything north of the Divide.’

      ‘What about the police?’ I asked.

      She looked at me like I was an idiot. My question had genuinely shocked her. She looked around all three of us. ‘That can’t be a real question.’

      ‘Why not?’ Erimem asked, about a heartbeat before Helena or I could ask it.

      Angela shook her head in genuine shock. ‘Because everybody knows there aren’t any police inside The City.’

      ‘Not everyone,’ Erimem corrected her. ‘We did not know.’

      ‘And which city?’ I asked her. ‘We’re a little lost.’

      ‘Everyone in The City is lost,’ Angela said. She tilted her head back and smiled. ‘But some of them find hope.’

      I honestly didn’t know what to say. It was bizarre. She looked at us with that big smile. I thought she must have been a god-botherer or something. You know the sort. When you’re at your lowest ebb they tell you god will take all your problems away. They not so keen on telling you why their god gave you all this crap to deal with in the first place. It’s usually ‘a test’ or him ‘moving in mysterious ways’ or even better ‘it’s not for us to judge god’. You know something, given the state of the world and the amount of suffering in it, and the mental behaviour he showed in the Bible, I think he really needs questioned a lot. At least I thought that when I still believed in a god. Now… I don’t care what you call your magic sky pixie, I don’t believe in any version of him/her/it. I really hoped we hadn’t walked into some future version of those missions they had in America in the twenties and thirties.

      The moment passed. I could see that both Erimem and Helena had been weirded by it too, but they didn’t say anything.

      ‘Are you saying you really don’t know anything about The City?’ Angela asked. ‘Really?’

      ‘Yes.’ I answered patiently. ‘Really.’

      ‘Then how did you get here?’

      ‘We were not sure exactly where we were going,’ Erimem explained. It was a half truth but close enough.

      Angela nodded her understanding. ‘A lot of people found themselves here without knowing where they were going.’ She tilted her head curiously. ‘But most of them have at least heard of The City.’

      ‘We’ve been off the radar for a bit,’ I explained.

      Apparently it didn’t explain enough.

      ‘You must have been off the planet,’ Angela said.

      I smiled. ‘Not yet.’

      She looked puzzled but shrugged it off.

      Erimem interrupted. ‘Tell us about The City,’ she said. ‘Please imagine we are completely new to the world and know nothing.’

      ‘We get all sorts of people in here,’ Angela said, ‘but you would be the first aliens.’ She didn’t sound unkind at all. Just bemused. ‘But I will tell you what you ask.’

      And she did tell us. She offered us tea, which we all accepted more out of politeness than anything. Then she started to talk.

      ‘Decades ago, the government decided that everyone in the country had to pay their way. Nobody was getting anything for nothing anymore.’

      I snorted and made a comment the government we’re lumbered with. I’m not a fan. I don’t think Helena is either. Erimem doesn’t know much about our politics yet. But I do know she doesn’t trust politicians. Not a bit.

      Angela ignored our comments and carried on. And what she said actually stopped me dead. I’ve been shocked and repelled by things that I’ve seen in Greece and in Stalingrad, but those were in the past or in the middle of a war. This was in the UK, and it would happen while I would still be alive.

      ‘Faced with a struggling economy, rising unemployment and crime, and with the media full of scare stories of immigration and asylum seekers who want to steal your jobs, take your houses and do who knows what – eat your babies or something, the government put the people with nothing to work, building a city in the North to take the influx of new citizens. They built it around an old mill town. When the city was built, they kept on building, this time putting a wall around it. Once the wall was finished, they poured people in there. The unemployed, immigrants, prisoners who should have gone to jail, vagrants, the mentally ill, and some people who were just poor and hungry. They shipped them into the city and closed the wall around them.’

      ‘They just locked their problems away?’ Helena sounded angry. Really angry.

      Angela shook her head. ‘But they weren’t finished. In the building of the city they had put cameras everywhere. Everywhere in the city was covered. At first they said it was for security. A year later they sold the cameras and their feed to a TV company. What happened in The City became an entertainment for the people lucky enough to be on the outside. On TV, on the internet, on their tablets, phones and watches. They keep up with what’s happening in The City. Some of the citizens here in The City become popular. They’re celebrities and have the chance to win a way out. Others became villains. The network is always coming up with new ideas.  Do something to boost rating and your family get extra food for a month.’

      She opened a door and pointed through into one of the bigger roims. A little globe with a red light on it was up in the corner of a wall.

      ‘Everybody in The City is watched. I agreed to have that installed last winter when we had hundreds starving. They gave us enough food to get everyone through… just.’ She sounded like accepting the camera hadn’t come easy to her. ‘If they have jobs – and there are enough jobs in the city to keep the pretence of a normal economy going – people are on camera as they eat their breakfast, go to work, do their jobs and come home. If they’re ill, they’re ill on camera. If they make love to their wives or husbands or lovers, they know a camera was pointed at them.’

      Angela shut the door very softly. ‘We’ve become a TV network’s commodity in a country that had chosen to deal with its problems by turning it into a circus.’ Angela smiled wryly as she finished telling the tale. ‘Razor is one of the best fed people in The City,’ she said. ‘He murders, rapes and attacks people for no reason, but every time he does it ratings take a spike and they reward him with food or a new toy like his motorbike.

      ‘Are there no police here?’ Helena demanded. ‘There must be some law.’

      The way Angela looked at us you’d think we had come from a different planet. We might as well have done, I suppose.

      ‘Don’t you ever watch The City channel?’ she asked. She sounded genuinely surprised. Incredulous even.

      ‘I have never seen this channel.’ Erimem answered. She carried on before Angela could ask why the hell we didn’t watch this crap on TV. ‘You were going to tell us about the police?’

      ‘Pardon? Oh, right.’ Erimem’s sidestep pushed Angela back on track. That’s a trick Erimem is very good at. ‘Yes, we have police,’ Angela picked up, ‘but they aren’t equipped to do anything. They aren’t armed, they don’t have the manpower. All they can do is keep themselves alive.’

      ‘This is evil,’ Erimem said flat out.

      Helena shook her head, horrified by it all. ‘I can’t believe the government can allow this. Or the people.’

      ‘The government makes a lot of money from The City,’ Angela said quietly. ‘So do the network. They pay the government a huge licence and the people subscribe for the network. Everybody profits.’

      ‘And the people in here?’ Helena asked angrily. ‘She got there half a second before I did.’

      ‘Some of us get out,’ Angela answered. ‘I honestly don’t know if it’s better on the outside than in here. We certainly have enough people volunteering to come into The City.’

      ‘People volunteer?’ I beat Helena to it this time. ‘Are they mental?’

      Angela shrugged. ‘If the public really take to somebody in here, they can get out and make a lot of money. That’s a chance some people are willing to take.’

      Helena pushed her chair back noisily and stood up. She looked at Erimem and me. ‘I’ve had enough. I think it’s time for us to go.’

      I agreed. Erimem looked more puzzled. She wasn’t much into TV and she was a half beat behind in making sense of all of this. The looks on our faces must have known it was time to go.

      ‘You will explain this to me later.’ she said. It was part question, part demand.

      ‘Definitely,’ I agreed.

      Erimem looked at Angela. ‘Thank you for your hospitality and your kindness,’ she said, ‘but it is time for us to take our leave.’

      ‘Where will you go?’ Angela asked. ‘It’s dangerous out there. Especially for newcomers like you.’

      Erimem smiled tightly. ‘We will be in no danger, I promise you.’

      Angela was going to argue. It was obvious in her expression and body language. She didn’t have time. A door opened and a young woman looked in, urgently.

      ‘What is it, Jane?’ Angela asked.

      The woman pointed out into the small room. ‘You need to see this.’

      We all followed her through.

      ‘What’s happened?’ Angela asked.

      The woman just pointed at the TV. A gang – the same gang that had chased us less than an hour earlier – was gathered at building. It looked like a business of some sort. The feed switched to another camera. It was a café. Through the glass windows the staff and customers looked terrified.

      ‘Where is that?’ Angela asked. ‘It looks like Ruby Square,’

      The woman who had fetched us answered. ‘It is.’

      Angela shook her head. ‘Razor’s never gone so far past his own territory before. That’s at least two kilometres from his boundary.’

      The man on the motorcycle who had chased them earlier was clearly the leader, Razor. On screen they saw him beckon one of his lackeys forward. An overweight man with a limo and sporting a multi-coloured mullet hurried forward. He handed a bottle to Razor. Nobody thought he was interested in having a drink. He stuffed a rag into the top of the bottle and sparked a lighter at the rag’s end. It took light quickly.  Following Razor’s lead, half a dozen other members of the gang produced their own Molotov cocktails and lit their rags.

      ‘Home-made bombs,’ I explained to Erimem. ‘Whatever the liquid is, it’ll be something that burns.’

      She understood instantly. ‘How is it you can see this happening?’ Erimem asked Angela.

      ‘Everyone in The City can see the main feeds. We don’t get the indoor channel feeds, though. Not unless they want to have someone see something that could boost ratings.’

      ‘But your police will see this?’ Erimem continued. ‘They must take action.’

      Angela shook her head sadly. ‘They might, because it’s in the better part of The City but… no, they won’t. They wouldn’t stand a chance if they did.’

      ‘What about the people in the café?’ I asked.

      Erimem finished my question. ‘Do they stand a chance?’

      ‘No,’ Angel admitted miserably. ‘Probably not.’

      ‘Do you know where this place is?’ Erimem demanded, staring at the TV. ‘Where this is happening, I mean.’

      ‘Of course.’

      ‘You can take me there?’

      ‘Well, yes.’

      ‘Erimem, no.’ Helena tried to catch Erimem’s arm, but Erimem was already pushing Angela towards the door.

      ‘What weapons do you have?’

      Angela looked flustered even by the question. ‘None,’ she answered. ‘we try to live away from the violence in here.’

      ‘So do the people trapped in that building. Is there a way to help them?’

      Everyone was looking at Angela. She knew it. I got the feeling everything in this place relied on her. Revolved around her. How much weight was that to carry? How much pressure on her shoulders? When she nodded, I was sure she did it because she didn’t want to let down any of the people who were looking to her for leadership. ‘I think there is.’ She said, ‘but it’s dangerous’.

      ‘More dangerous than being burned alive?’

      ‘No.’

      Erimem turned to Helena and me. ‘Stay here. I will be back as soon as I can.’ She hurried Angela away.

      Helena and I exchanged a look. ‘You staying here?’ she asked.

      ‘Don’t be daft.’

      ‘Nor me,’ she answered sourly, hurrying after Erimem.

      ‘Shit.’ I ran after them both.