In memory of Benazir B.

The spiritual well-being gang advanced into the room. Nine of them, all told. Cartoon patriarch beards and close shaven skulls, grim-faced and intent. Three officiators, the colours of the evangelical elect draped blackly across their dull ochre robes and the bioware scopes worn like an ancient pirate patch across one eye. They were locked in on the woman at the bar, bending her way like gulls on a downdraft. Across the room, her uncovered hair must have been a beacon of provocation.

Whether they were out combing the streets for me was immaterial. I’d gone masked into the citadel, synth-sleeved. I had no signature.

But rampant across the Saffron Archipelago, dripping down onto the northern reaches of the next landmass like venom from a ruptured web jelly and now, they told me, taking root in odd little pockets as far south as Millsport itself, the Knights of the New Revelation brandished their freshly regenerated gynophobia with an enthusiasm of which their Earthbound Islamo-Christian ancestors would have been proud. A woman alone in a bar was bad enough, a woman uncovered far worse, but this —

‘Plex,’ I said quietly. ‘On second thoughts, I think you’d maybe better get out of here.’

‘Tak, listen — ‘

I dialled the hallucinogen grenade up to maximum delay, fused it and let it roll gently away under the table. Plex heard it go and he made a tiny yelping noise.

‘Go on,’ I said.

The lead officiator reached the bar. He stood half a metre away from the woman, maybe waiting for her to cringe.

She ignored him. Ignored, for that matter, everything further off than the bar surface under her hands and, it dawned on me, the face she could see reflected there.

I eased unhurriedly to my feet.

‘Tak, it isn’t worth it, man. You don’t know wha — ‘

‘I said go, Plex.’ Drifting into it now, into the gathering fury like an abandoned skiff on the edge of the maelstrom. ‘You don’t want to play this screen.’

The officiator got tired of being ignored.

‘Woman,’ he barked. ‘You will cover yourself.’

‘Why,’ she enunciated back with bitten clarity, ‘don’t you go and fuck yourself with something sharp.’

There was an almost comical pause. The nearest barflies jerked around on a collective look that gaped did she really say —

Somewhere, someone guffawed.

The blow was already swinging in. A gnarled, loose-fingered backhander that by rights should have catapulted the woman off the bar and onto the floor in a little heap. Instead —

The locked-up immobility dissolved. Faster than anything I’d seen since combat on Sanction IV. Something in me was expecting it, and I still missed the exact moves. She seemed to flicker like something from a badly edited virtuality, sideways and gone. I closed on the little group, combat rage funnelling my synthetic vision down to targets. Peripherally, I saw her reach back and fasten on the officiator’s wrist. I heard the crack as the elbow went. He shrilled and flapped. She levered hard and he went down.

Richard Morgan Woken Furies (p. 24)

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