Part 2: Fire - Chapter 7

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Maddy tugged on the final strap of the cheap backpack that contained all her possessions.

'Not much of a choice, is it?'

Dorac, sitting in the window-alcove of Maddy's bedroom, fidgeted with the dagger she had neglected to pack, spinning it around in his six fingers with the skill acquired by years of practice. Outside the window was a live holographic feed from the top of a hill, sent down to make it look as if the house was outdoors.

'You're right there. Not much at all, I'm sorry, but I couldn't gainsay the Clan-father.'

'Gainsay? What kind of word's that?'

He held the dagger out like he had in the meeting, hilt towards Maddy.

'You should keep this. You might need it.'

She shook her head. 'I'm leaving it behind deliberately. It's not my kind of thing, you know. Thank you for the honour of letting me wear it, but it's, well...'

He put the knife back in its sheath. 'I know. It's a reminder. I'm sorry Eridu didn't work out for you as a home. So where do you think you'll go?'

When her exile had been announced, she thought immediately of returning to Barnard's Star. The Endeavour colony would be more firmly established and she might be able to pick up the ragged edges of her old life. But it hadn't taken long to dismiss the idea: too many memories there as well, too many open wounds.

'I don't know yet. What about you?

He shrugged. 'Somewhere quiet. I don't have to leave until Friday. Neither do you. Wherever it is, you could...I don't know...would you like to come with me? I mean, we make a pretty good team. Your intelligence and common sense, my rugged good looks and...yeah, rugged good looks.' He unsheathed the dagger and began spinning it again.

Maddy kept her head down, seriously thinking about it. It was tempting. Dorac had proved her only friend for a long time. But there was a lot against such an idea, too. Perhaps it would be good to take a break, go somewhere all by herself. She meant to say that, but for some odd reason her refusal of his suggestion came out differently.

'You need a girlfriend of your own species.'

The silence that followed went on for a long time, and the dagger stayed still all the while.

Eventually Dorac cleared his throat. 'Why have you packed already? You don't have to rush off.'

Because she wanted to get out of the presence of Maru and Hera Rani and all the other Doracs who spat at her and talked about her behind her back. Sometimes Dorac could be so dumb.

'Shut up, Landa.'

She caught a glimpse out of the window at the landscape beyond, at the planet she was leaving. A volcano on the horizon smoked ash into the air; maybe it would explode one day and bury the Sashas and the other clans and families and the whole damn city and she could finally forget the place.

'There's something I never asked you,' he said, 'although I suspect the clan-parents did: how did you manage to hack into a police AI and tell it to release us? That was pretty neat.'

Maddy was about to say that it was more than pretty neat, it was a fantastic piece of electronic skill, a perfect example of why she was an amazing engineer—but of course, that would be a lie.

'I didn't hack in,' she said, snapping the locks on her backpack. 'No one could do that. Zeus controls the security for Elite police AI's, and you know how efficient Zeus is at things like that. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just fooling around trying to find anything that might work.'

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