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something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

Furey had a device that she kept with her at all times and referred to frequently. She wore it on her wrist, and I'd seen similar gadgets being used back at the farm in various forms - the Lynts had an equivalent standing on the kitchen work surface, while Grant had his mounted on his head, protruding out from behind his ear.

"How does that work? Is it like an electronic diary?"

Furey smiled. "It's nothing like an electronic diary."

I waited but she wasn't forthcoming with any further details. This was something I had figured out pretty fast about her: she was ever so slightly a little bit of a bitch. That was my reading, anyway. She didn't speak much and when she did it was usually to take the piss, or make some kind of snide remark.

She was really annoying.

I'd said as much to Marv, under my breath when she'd disappeared through the crates to the back of the container, and he'd suggested that it was just because I didn't like not being the only girl on the team. I didn't appreciate that response, especially as I suspected he might be right.

Honestly, for months I'd not even thought about it - I'd been in the gang, with Cal and with Marv, and we'd just got on with it. I mean, I was squamata, and that took precedence over any kind of gender bias. People knew you weren't for messing with when you had poison glands and super-fast muscle reflexes. But now everything was different: Cal had disappeared and Furey had been foisted upon us whether we liked it or not. She made me feel about ten years old and like I had no idea.

Truth was, I didn't have a clue. Anything I knew about the world I'd left back on Locque. Here, everything about being squamata was an instant ticket to getting shot or put in a zoo or a lab. I had no play, no strategy or big idea. In the moment that Cal had vanished my entire purpose and any illusion of power had disappeared along with him.

"I hear you ran into Holt," Furey said as the afternoon dragged on, that day we were holed up in the truck.

"The scarred guy? Likes guns?"

"Sounds like him."

"Oh yeah," Marv said, shifting his torso so that his stump angled towards Furey, "we met that dude a couple times."

"You're lucky to be alive."

"He's got a strong handshake," Marv said, always deadpan.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"Muscle," Furey said, "but clever muscle. He's one of their top operatives. Only a handful are cleared for operations on Locque and he's one of them. If something needs doing that the natives can't handle, or if they need a bit of persuading, they send Holt in, or someone like him."

"Did you ever," asked Marv, "think about making contact? Saying hello like ordinary people, and seeing what we could all do together? Happy families?"

Furey smiled. She seemed to do that when she was thinking something mean. "When you get a moment, read up on our history. We ran out of indigenous people to fuck up on Earth, so we came after you guys."

That night the truck stopped for ten minutes so we could stretch our legs and find a nearby bush. Furey seemed to check something on her device, as she then announced that the coast was clear. Sidestepping through the narrow gap in the crates - it was a good job me and Marv were both pretty slim - we got to the back of the container and Furey flicked a wall switch to raise the rear sliding door.

We'd stopped on the edge of a forest, which was a dark wall behind us. In the opposite direction was a long, flat heathland with occasional thickets of wiry vegetation. Darker shapes roamed back and forth, sometimes cows, sometimes horses. They were all wild, according to Furey. The sky was clear and the stars crisp. It looked like a nice place for a picnic.

I walked quickly away from the truck and the others, leaping over a couple of bushes until there was a suitable density of trees between me and them. I undid the clothing which I'd been given back at the farmhouse and crouched down, making sure I wasn't going to pee onto my own shoes.

Camping was something I'd tried precisely once, which was enough to figure out that it really wasn't for me. Now here I was, having not had a proper roof over my head for far too long. The thought of the bed back at the farm clawed at me. I wanted to run away from the truck and find my way back, somehow, and just hide out there forever, until Holt and co had forgotten to keep looking for me. I found tears slipping down my face, each one irritating and also serving to encourage another to drip out of my stupid eyes. I let it all out for a few seconds, hoping that the others couldn't hear me. I thought of Rachel, back home, wondering where we'd all gone. She'd probably been interrogated. I thought of my mum, alone now. Probably for the better. I thought of being bored in lectures, of going to diners and drive-ins after school. I thought of slinking through the Black Jasmine, feeling like I'd found my tribe. I thought of all that, and how I'd lost it all, and how my life had turned to shit, all because I thought I could make a difference.

Then I got back in the truck.

Furey had been waiting for me, waving me to hurry up as I returned and clambered into the container. We squeezed past the crates to the hidden space.

"You took too long," Furey said. Marv was already sat on his sleeping bag, face looking blank.

"I know," I replied, looking her in the eyes. "You said we needed a plan. I've got a plan."


"How far east can you take us?"

Furey shrugged. "How far you want to go?"

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