I sit up quick. Eyes blurred. Where am I? No chains. Dull gray light. I look around and try to make sense of my surroundings. It's one of the upstairs rooms in the social club. I found these cushions on a sofa downstairs and-

"Are you McCoyne?" the voice asks again from somewhere behind me. Neck's stiff. I look back over my shoulder and see a figure standing in the open doorway.

"Yeah, what's the problem?"

"No problem. Come with me."

He turns and disappears, and I've got no choice but to follow. The building is cold, and I jog across the landing to catch up with him. I recognize him now. His name's Craven. Julia introduced me to him yesterday. I think he's her right-hand man.

We enter the largest upstairs room. Julia and another man are sleeping here. Craven gestures for me to sit down next to him at a table in the corner, where he fires up a laptop. I saw him using it when I first arrived.

"Have we got power here?" I ask, noticing that there's a power cable connected to the back of the computer. Dumb question.

"Sort of," he answers, sounding as tired as I feel. "There's electricity a few streets away. We've just run a cord here to keep the laptop going."

"What, an extension cord?"

He looks at me, dumbfounded. "Yes, a fucking extension cord."

He shakes his head and turns his attention to the laptop. I watch as he logs on to some kind of central database. Is this the same system that Mallon talked about? My knowledge of this kind of thing is limited, and I don't want to piss him off any more than I already have by asking him how the hell he can connect to anything from here, or even what's left to connect to. There are all kinds of things hanging out of the back of the machine-wires running into small black boxes and the like-I guess the secret's there, somewhere. My mind wanders as I watch him working. I stop thinking about what it is he's doing, and instead I just look at the bright display and listen to the sound of the keyboard clicking as he types. I used to hear that noise all day, every day at work. It takes me back...

"Sorry about the early wake-up call," he mumbles, still concentrating on the screen. "Access to the system's intermittent, so we have to make the most of it when we can. They're usually running automatic maintenance at this time of day, so the security's easier to bypass..."

His words fade away as the screen changes and he concentrates on entering more details.

"There... got it."

"Got what?"

He slides the laptop over to me. "We're in. Enter your details."

"What details?"

"Your name, date of birth, last known postal code."

I start jabbing at the keyboard with two fingers. It's months since I typed anything.

"Wait," he says. "Danny short for Daniel?"


"Put your full name in."

I do as he says.

"What's all this about? What are we doing?" I ask.

"Killing you," he replies without a hint of sarcasm.

"Killing me?"

"Thing about this war," he says as he takes the laptop back again, "is that it's made everybody's priorities change. Everyone's worried about their physical safety, and some of the things that used to matter now get forgotten about or overlooked. This is a prime example. This is just about the only national system that's still running outside of defense, and anyone with half a brain can hack into it and make alterations."

"But what exactly is it you're doing?"

"Is that you?" he asks, angling the screen back toward me. I scan the details.

"Yes, that's me."

"Right," he continues, working his way through various menus and submenus. "Ah, good, you're dead already!"


"They've got you down as being dead. Tell me, did you ever have one of those neck tests or a mouth swab?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because that's where most of this information comes from. They used it as kind of a census and tried to test pretty much everyone when everything first kicked off. It's a "who's what," rather than a "who's who," if you get my meaning."

"Sort of. Anyway, I'm not dead."

"According to this you are."

He clicks a button and scans another screen.

"Hunter's Cross. Ring any bells?"

"Doesn't mean anything to me."

"It's a gas chamber. They've got you down as being killed there."

"I ended up inside one of those places, but I got out when it was attacked."

"There you go, that explains it. They probably marked you off as being dead when they sent you down. Close shave, eh?"

"Too close."

"That's it, then," he says, starting to close up the laptop. "You can go back to sleep now."

"Wait a second," I say quickly, putting my hand on the lid of the machine and stopping him from closing it. "Can I...?"

He seems to immediately know what I want. He's probably done this for plenty of other people before me.

"Be quick," he whispers. "If Julia catches me letting you do this she'll have my balls."

My hands are suddenly shaking with nerves. I look down at my details on the screen, but there's nothing on there that I didn't already know (apart from the fact that, apparently, I'm dead).

"How do I...?"

"Looking for family?"

"Yes, my daughter."

"Start there," he says, pointing at the bottom of the screen. I click on a button marked other people listed at this address. There's a pause of several seconds; then a blank screen is returned. My heart sinks.

"How old was she?"


"Either she hasn't been listed or she's listed elsewhere. Try searching on her name."

I enter Ellis's details and press search. Still nothing.

"Was she with anyone?"

"Her mother and brothers."

"Search for them, then."

I try Elizabeth McCoyne-no match. In desperation I try my son Edward. He's listed at an address I don't recognize, as is his brother. They're both marked as being dead, and, just for a second, I feel a sharp pang of pain. It quickly fades when Craven starts making noises.

"Come on," he whispers, "that's enough. Julia will have a fucking fit."

"Wait a second," I say quickly, desperate not to let go of the computer yet.


"Just one more..."

I turn my back to him and cover the keyboard as I type. I search for Elizabeth Parker, remembering that Lizzie only took on my name informally for the sake of the kids. She always used her given name on official forms. I stare at a blank screen and frantically flashing cursor. Craven looks over his shoulder. The faster I need a result, the slower this system seems to get.

"Come on," he says, sounding agitated.

It finally returns a screen full of results-eight Elizabeth Parkers are listed. I scroll down to the right date of birth and click on Lizzie's entry. She's listed at a hotel, and I quickly memorize the address. The Prince Hotel on Arley Road -I think I know it. Pressing my luck, I click the other people listed at this address button once more and just manage to scan down the first part of a huge list of names before Craven wrestles the laptop away from me and slams the lid down. I think I saw one of my cousins' names, Mark Tillotsen, but no sign of Ellis.

I get up and turn around. Julia is standing behind me.

"Whoever it was," she warns, "forget them." Copyright 2016 - 2024