Richard Pierce


Day 248


the morning has an edge of the ill-defined about it.
last night’s rain has evaporated into imagination
and loss, the lightning an illusion of the dark,
a lie of the clouds, a magic trick to draw
the eye away from the real apocalypse,
stars invisible in the light.

the dry ground cracks
at the slightest touch, brittle motion,
the grass turns to sand in the bitter wind,
where the hedges sharpen their hawthorn claws
to feed from animal succulence, fresh blood drips,
and the day struggles to escape the voracious morning.



‘You and Cassie must be wrong.’ And now Aggie realises they can’t know about the flashbacks she’s been having, can’t realise that she knows she’s one of those poor children in those files, that she must be a survivor, that she’s not just an albino, but that she’s the result of one of those experiments.

Marion shakes her head. ‘Cassie will have told you this, but I’ll say it again. You’re like the kids in those files, those poor kids. You may not have been one of them, but you’re like them. And you’re some sort of brilliantly gifted warrior, that much we know as well from what you’ve done in that there York. The thing she hasn’t told you is that she’s sure those experiments are still going on, but that nobody but Valentine and whoever else is in his cabal knows where and why and how. The English and American governments certainly aren’t involved anymore. And I know. We know.’

‘But Cassie’s in Russia, isn’t she? She can follow the thread from there, surely.’

‘I have no idea where she is or why she’s where she is. All I get is the odd encrypted message. And she’s got her hands full. She needs to find Valentine before he finds her.’

‘He’ll be where the experiments are happening.’

‘I think that’s a simplistic view, girl,’ Marion says. ‘He’s got irons in so many fires his hands must be burning. And you’re holding him up. He didn’t expect you to find his main collaborator in the UK, nor did he expect you to still be alive. When Cassie hired you, he thought you were just some idiotic and ignorant Polish girl who’d do his bidding – or their bidding when he still thought Cassie was on his side.’

‘Then why did she break cover?’

‘Ukraine. As simple as that. The straw that broke the camel’s back. Cassie knows this is the opening salvo in Valentine’s bid for world domination. He’s woken up his army of half robots. Once Russia’s overrun Ukraine and started a war with the West proper, he’ll just get rid of his puppet czar and move on to wrapping China round his little finger, and so on and so on.’

‘You mean he’s not scared of nuclear war?’

‘I don’t think he’s afraid of anything. He’s a madman. And he knows that the west won’t push the button first, which means he doesn’t have to either. The whole nuclear thing was never a deterrent, you know. Ill-conceived from the start. The more nukes you have, the less likely it is you’ll use them. Stalemate. Weakness. He worked that out early on, clever boy, in a way neither the West nor Russia nor any of the others did.’ Marion tuts. ‘They should have listened to those of us who marched against nukes.’

Aggie laughs, incongruously. ‘You marched against nuclear weapons?’

Marion’s eyebrow moves again. ‘I’ve not always been old, you know.’ She chuckles. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as disrespectful as you. And I like that. Makes me feel more alive. Moving in diplomatic circles always puts a stop to being able to say what you really think. Being an ambassador was as much a curse as a blessing. I quite like being the grandma in the hoodie.’

‘Without the drug dealing, though.’

‘Without the dealing, yes.’ Marion laughs again. ‘Although I guess it would pay well.’ She sits up straight. ‘Ah, looks like we’re here.’ The car has stopped by a neo-Gothic red brick palace. ‘This is Georgetown University.’

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