It's raining outside. Its gentle cadence soothes my heart, softening the jagged claws of dread burrowing into me, reminding me Maddox will soon leave me alone, trapped in this festering cesspool of a city. Morose, I gaze at the window, following the passage of the rainwater down the cracked panes. Maddox's grip tightens around me as he shifts closer from behind. A kiss, soft, against my neck.
'You awake,' he asks, quiet, his voice husky from sleep.
I nod and turn to face him. He strokes my face, tender, his eyes moving over me, drinking in the sight of me, memorising me. Every time he does this. Looks at me like it's the last time he will ever see me. I hate it, because I'm afraid it is. I close my eyes.
'Blue,' he says, pressing a kiss against my brow, 'I am going to get you out of here. For good.'
I open my eyes. Never once has he talked like this before. 'How?' I ask.
'I have food credits, been saving up since I met you. Used all my bonuses. It's a lot.' He pauses and looks at the window, then back at me. 'Those guys at the club, they're thugs. Scum like that can always be bought.'
Thugs. If only he knew. A slash of guilt rips through me for my deception, for what I have stolen from him. He trusts me. He thinks I'm just a bartender in a grotty bar run by gangsters. I force a smile, hoping it's convincing. Zee is going to lose his shit. As soon as Maddox makes his offer, he's a dead man. He might be a GC Delta Force captain, but I belong to Zee. Everyone knows it—no one more than I.
'I know they are making you sleep with other men,' he says low, his eyes sliding back to the rain-soaked window panes. 'You have bruises where you shouldn't.' His grip tightens on me, possessive, yet gentle. 'Bastards. You have no idea how much I want to take them out, but I'm unarmed against men who are. I have to play it cool if I want to keep you safe. But once you are safe . . .' He doesn't finish. He doesn't have to. I know what he's thinking, because I have thought of it often enough. Revenge. If he came back prepared, they wouldn't stand a chance.
I don't let myself dwell on it. It's better not to get my hopes up. I close my eyes, resigned, defeated. It's madness. He'll never get past his offer. This is all we will ever have, everything else is a fantasy. Silence falls between us, a silken curtain separating us, dividing us into our worlds, the haves, and the have-nothings. I sense he is walking corridors known only to him—dark, dangerous ones, if the tension in his body is anything to go by.
'Listen to me,' he says after several minutes of steady rainfall, 'I have a job coming up. A big one.'
I know. He already told me. Lubochnia, Poland. Zee is going wet himself. It's the deep intel the UFF have been waiting for. The kind that's going to hurt GC. Hard.
'My bonus for this one is going to be massive. A year's salary,' Maddox continues, oblivious of what he's said under the influence of the R7. 'It will be more than enough to get us out of here. I heard things are better in Helsinki. We could go there.' He hugs me, his tenderness tangible, heartbreaking. 'Would you like that?'
I nod, bravely blinking back tears, admiring him for his act. For trying so hard to hide from me who he really is and where he really lives—Omega V, Nunavut, in the restriction zone. The beautiful, safe, clean, prosperous world from my childhood, a world so far from the one I have been living in for the last thirteen years it feels like a dream. How many times have I gone over the moment I decided to tell my class about the flood in China? Thousands, at least. How naive I was. I thought I was being helpful. If only I could go back in time. I would tell myself to keep my mouth shut no matter what. I have learned the hard way my ability to see things has alienated me. I'm a thing, a tool. A weapon. No one has ever been my friend. No one, that is, until Maddox. And how do I repay him? I betray him.
'Just hold on a little longer,' Maddox whispers, leaning in to brush his lips against mine. 'I love you Blue. More than anything.' His kiss deepens, and I answer him, clinging to him, willing him not to leave.
His hand goes between my legs, and he probes me, careful of my injuries, finding a way to pleasure me, despite my pain. A clatter comes from outside the bedroom. I look up, startled, fearing Carney is coming. Maddox continues his work, intent, focussed.
'Did you hear that?' I whisper.
Maddox doesn't answer. He doesn't even seem to hear me.
A curse comes from outside the door, muffled, agitated.
Maddox takes my face in his hands and kisses me. I try to pull away, to warn him, but my body is heavy, shot through with paralysis. I scream, panicking, desperate to stop what is to come. Silence shears from my throat. I taste blood.
I open my eyes. Sultry orange sunlight washes over me. At the foot of an enormous bed, Miro is a tight ball of fur, curled up on a thick woollen blanket, sound asleep, her chest rising and falling, slow, steady.
'What the—' I scramble to sit up. Opulent luxury surrounds me, wealth beyond my wildest dreams. Everything is beautiful. A sumptuous white duvet covers me. Rich, dark fabric surrounds the window, the excess material arranged into artful pools on the hardwood floor. Elegant furnishings dot the room, sculpted pieces of art, made of real wood, not metal or plastic like the stuff we had when I was a child. I pinch myself, suspecting I have been caught in one of my layered nightmares, a dream within a dream. Pain shoots through me, accompanying the familiar dull ache of hunger, a hollow, deep inside. No dream, then. I look around, taking in my surroundings, disbelieving, wondering if I have been drugged to think it's real.
I leave the bed and go to the window. The view is breathtaking. Snowy, blue-capped mountains bask in the clean light of a crisp winter sunrise. Disorientation assaults me. I know enough to know there hasn't been snow on the planet in decades which means I have no idea where I am. I touch the window. It's cold, just like the pristine landscape. I swallow a surge of panic, forcing myself to find calm. I breathe in and out, desperate to slow my thundering heart, fear caging me. For a wild, panicky moment I wonder if I'm dreaming, deep in cryogenic sleep, shipped off-planet to god knows where.
As the sun slips over the edge of the jagged range, its stately rise soothing me, memories slip, disconnected, past my mind's eye. The Jackpot. The GC soldier raping me at the bar, and again against a rank dumpster, forcing himself, savage, into my anus, tearing me open, making me bleed. The long, painful climb up the stairwell, fuelled by a deep dread for the violence I knew would soon be done to me. And from out of nowhere, a grisly thud, the heat of blood on me, the weight of a dead man dragging me down. A soldier whose face I can't see. Miro. A shuttle. Escape from London. A sedative. The sensation of being cradled in my rescuer's arms, his lips brushing against mine, calling me Blue. The dream of Maddox. A sunrise.
Another muffled curse comes from outside the bedroom. A faint knock, low enough if I were still sleeping it wouldn't wake me.
'Ms Vallis?' a man calls, soft.
'I'm awake,' I answer, keeping my eyes on the sunrise, savouring it. The door opens. Footfalls approach, heavy, yet hesitant, accompanied by a thin, quiet tinkling—a sound I don't recognise. My curiosity gets the better of me. I turn.