Part 2: Fire - Chapter 3

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Sitting on the front of the car, Dorac tossed his cigarette butt over the edge of the Twisted Bridge and watched the glowing tip fall away into darkness.

'There's a rubbish bin over there, Landa.' Maddy pointed to the bin a few metres away.

'It's over there; I'm over here.'

The crowd was growing restless. The Sirian speaker had been replaced by several others in turn, and each had whipped the protesters into a higher state of excitement. Already the crowd was calling for a march rather than just a static protest on the bridge. Holographic films were playing in the air above their heads, detailing various atrocities by the Elite against the other races, Helot and Sirian, and the off-Earth colonists. Maddy watched one of them, a replay of the explosion aboard the Slowboat colonist ship Santa Maria some months ago. She had been in the Endeavour colony around Barnard's Star at the time. It had never been proven that the Elite had anything to do with the explosion—or the missile attack on Maddy's own home, the Slowboat Endeavour, ten years ago. But that didn't mean the blame for the events couldn't be laid on the Elite. Her father had died in the missile strike; the pain was still deep.

The police, both Sape and Sirian, had formed a cordon around the protest crowd to prevent them marching off before the scheduled time. Verbal abuse and taunting filled the night air.

'We're never getting through this,' said Hera Rani. She was a few metres away, leaning with her elbows on the railing of the bridge, regarding the crowd carefully. 'Let's walk.'

'What about the car?' Dorac eyed the other vehicles and their occupants who were also parked on the bridge, and who were in similar states of anxiety. 'I'm not leaving it to be damaged in some riot.'

'Stay with it, then. I'm going.' She pushed away from the railing and began to walk away from the vehicles and to skirt around the edge of the crowd. Dorac cursed and almost followed her, glanced at Maddy and slumped back onto the car.

'She gets like this,' he said, but Maddy knew that already.

At that moment the crowd moved. Forming a rough marching order, they activated yet more holos which began to scroll through messages and blare slogans that reverberated under the city's cover. Dorac stood up and indicated to Maddy to get into the car—they would be moving soon. He opened the door, but then paused.

'What's wrong?' she asked. This was no place to hang around, and it had been a long, hot day.

Dorac looked at his sister, elbowing her way through the crowd. The men gave way, but the women were more reluctant to let her through. There were several clans represented and Dorac could not see any other members of the Sasha clan.

'We can't let her wander off by herself,' he growled. 'She'll get into trouble. Come on.'

He stalked after Hera Rani. Maddy held onto the handle of the car door for a moment, wondering whether she would be safer hiding inside rather than following the big Sirian into the mob. But he gestured over his shoulder without turning around and she followed, hurrying to catch up before he reached the main throng.

'Stay close,' he muttered as they pushed into the crowd, which was trying to go the other way, marching across the Twisted Bridge towards the route the Nuncio would take to reach his hotel. A holovision display above their heads showed a news report of the official's arrival at the spaceport. A representative of the disgraced Chief had met him, but there had been few formalities before the Nuncio was bundled into his armoured car. A crowd of Sirians had been held back by police at the spaceport gates. The news report was in the Sirian language, of which Maddy knew only a few phrases, but the pictures were enough for her to see that tension was already high.

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