Chapter 19

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The mob has panicked. A human tide sweeps Danielle back and forth, lifting her bodily off her feet for fifteen or twenty seconds at a time. Arms jab painfully into her and are replaced by new ones. Fingers clutch desperately at her for purchase. She feels herself step on someone who has fallen, stumbles and almost joins them, but the press of the mob saves her, delays her plunge long enough that she can grab at a shoulder and pull herself upright. Then the tear gas hits, she doesn't know from where, the police must have fired canisters at them. It feels like acid has been poured into her eyes. Sobbing, she rubs at her eyes with one hand, she knows it doesn't help and may harm but she can't stop herself, and tries to use the other to hold her space in the solid, seething crowd of blinded, terrified humanity. Somebody grabs at her head, but their fingers slide out of her hair. A violent current of flesh carries her along, propels her shoulder into someone's face hard enough that she feels and hears their nose break. Then something hard, an elbow, hits her in the back of her head. Dazed, she drops to her knees, and a hand smacks her in the face hard enough to bruise, she flails about, tries to pull herself up but pulls someone else down instead. She manages to get to her feet again, back into the press of bodies, hellish but better than being trampled. All she can hear are screams. Her eyes feel aflame, and she is coughing and sobbing, she doesn't seem to be able to breathe enough, there isn't enough oxygen in the air, and there are hands and bodies all around her, crushing her, she scrabbles furiously but can't break free, all she can think about is her need to breathe, but she can't, she can't move at all, then the crowd shifts and she gets half a breath, the air here is mostly tear gas, it's like breathing white-hot poison but that's still better than breathing nothing at all, but the crowd has surged back, she is being crushed again, caught between two opposing currents.

With a violent, spasmodic effort, Danielle somehow dislodges herself, steps into a somehow uninhabited niche amid the crowd, and takes a mercifully deep breath of almost clean air. And she is swept up in the crowd again. There is no use fighting. She will go where it takes her. She holds her arms over her head to protect it, learning from the previous blows. Then she stumbles and almost falls, because the crowd is no longer propping her up, she is once again responsible for standing unaided, and the people around her are dwindling away, and the air is clear and fresh. Somehow she has broken free of the riot, it has spat her and those around her out and surged back to where it came.

Danielle stumbles away from the screams and clouds of gas, weeping so heavily she cannot see, and bumps into something hard. It takes her a moment to identify it as the same metal statue Angus and Laurent lounged against earlier, what feels like hours ago, when the protest was still a peaceful assembly. She leans back against it, lets herself slide to a seated position on the ground, and weeps until the last of the fiery tear gas has been washed from her eyes, until her nausea and dizziness subside enough that she can stand without wavering.

The mixed smells of tear gas and burning gasoline are still so pungent that her eyes water and her nose throbs, but at least she can see. If it weren't for the statue she would have no idea where she is; the gas and smoke have merged into a thick fog that limits visibility to maybe fifty feet in all directions. The ambient human noise reminds her of a football game or hockey match, the sound of a crowd at some violent and highly emotional sport when a disputed or dirty play has gone uncorrected. A few people mill about her in little clusters, protestors all, frightened and angry. Almost everyone has pulled their shirts up over their faces, and Danielle follows their example. She is surprised by how well she can see through the thick cotton.

Her senses are so heightened by adrenaline that the tugging sensation in her pocket makes Danielle start as if someone just kicked her. But it is only her cell phone. Her vision is still too blurred to read the number. She answers.

"Danielle," Keiran says. "Where are you? Are you okay?"

"I guess," she manages. Her gas-choked voice sounds like someone else's. "I'm on the Esplanade."

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