From ‘Edge of Doom’

From ‘Edge of Doom‘ by E.M. Swift-Hook.

Theana came through with a place to stay — Rota property, kept for use when visitors or stop-over staff needed — a lovely little apartment in an upmarket complex called Riverside. The apartment was designed for a single person with a busy life and the whole complex included its own retail and entertainment zone. Everything you might want or need was provided on the doorstep with some style and elegance. It might not be full on luxury living but it was aspirational and very comfortable. As a quiet and low-profile holiday home in the ‘City, it was pretty perfect.

Charis could stay in and enjoy the views over the river from her window, or wander out to sit on the banks in the local bar or take in a live show from the best local talent in the open-air venue in the heart of the complex. Within a couple of days, she had begun to feel relaxed. Theana was in touch every day and updating her, even if only to say there was no news. If anything bad happened to Foss, Charis was pretty sure Theana would hear about it too and let her know.

A few more days went by and she got to know a couple of the locals, who she used her ‘Charlie Sweet’ ID with and told she was on a rest break from a heavy schedule with Rota. They were good companions for her evenings and the days she spent linked out or with screens, catching up on current affairs, the latest releases and celebrity gossip. Sometimes sitting by the river or on her private balcony or, on dark days, staying in.

One evening — on a light day — she had been out to see a talented dance group with her new friends and went back with one of them for a drink and a chat. When she left to go back to her own apartment, the sun was warm and bright and she took the more scenic route along one of the higher walkways, looking down over the plaza by the river.

The ‘City had its own beauty spots and this view was one of them. The river was wide at this point and had a small chain of islets where some of the graceful bridges that linked the two halves of the metropolis, alighted briefly before taking off in curving parabolas to the other bank. Even when the walkway moved into the residential area, the river view was still there, although at times it vanished from sight behind the elegant blocks of housing.

It was because she was looking ahead to where the next view of the river would appear that she saw him — walking quite quickly and with purpose, and her heart moved from her chest into her throat. Jazatar Baldrik. She had just turned a corner, so unless he looked up and to the side he wouldn’t see her. Instinct made her keep still to avoid triggering his peripheral vision, but she comforted herself that even if he did look up he might well not know it was her. She was in shadow, so not recognisable from that distance. Her first thought was that he must be there looking for her — but that made no sense as her apartment was not even in this section of the complex — she still had a good walk to get back to it.

It was then she saw the other man. He was below her and half concealed by the walkway she was on. What made her notice him was he had just produced an energy snub. His gaze was fixed in the direction hers was, but from where he stood, lower than her, Jaz was no longer in his field of vision and the route the dark haired man was taking wouldn’t bring him back far enough out to be in this man’s range. Without even thinking about it Charis found she had her own energy snub in one hand as she watched the two men below her.

Then the situation suddenly changed. Instead of keeping along his previous route, Jaz crossed the roadway towards the service entrance of one of the residential blocks. He was still invisible to the man with the gun, but would be a perfect target once he reached the service door.

Charis felt her lungs adhere to her ribs.

This was a setup. An ambush. Or in ‘City speak  — a street drop.

There were only a couple of moments to think. She could do nothing and let whatever was going to happen go ahead. That would be the safest path. If she tried to intervene she would draw attention to herself from people she would much rather didn’t notice her. There was also the slight issue of whatever security surveillance the complex had — which was extensive. But not to act would mean letting the man Vitos held to be his closest friend most likely die.

The thought of Vitos conjured him into existence. There he was, moving along a parallel walkway where it looped ahead of her, checking the ground, covering for Jaz. But the angle of the walkway made both Vitos and the man with the gun invisible to each other for a few more vital moments.

She could do nothing, stay safe and Vitos might still see the man and act in time. Or she could place herself at risk and be sure Jaz lived.

She had her own weapon trained on the man below her. She saw him move to adjust his aim as Jaz entered his field of vision and in the same instant, she fired. The man gave a loud gasp and Charis heard the clatter as his weapon fell from his fingers. She had no idea if she had killed him or if he still lived and she had no intention of staying to find out. As soon as she had fired she had stepped back behind the corner. Vitos might have seen her, but with the concealing shadow, should not recognise her. The last thing she wanted right now was to have to explain herself to Jaz Baldrik.

Even as she was thinking through that possibility, she was walking quickly back along the walkway, acutely aware of where the security monitors might observe her. She tried to choose a path that would disguise where she had come from and then changed course a few times after that until she was as sure as she could be that no one was physically following her. Then she called up one of the mini-taxis to run her back to her own apartment block.

Her heart was still hammering when she got through the door and locked it. That was an illusion of sanctuary, of course. If she had been recognised by Vitos or if any interested parties checked the available security surveillance — well, there were too many ‘ifs’ which went against her. There was nothing she could do about any of them so she made herself a mild sedative drink and did her best to get to sleep.

She woke early and over breakfast, a local newslink arrived from the management of the complex. They wished to apologise to anyone affected by the disturbance the previous night outside the Riverwatch Heights apartments. They were still investigating what had happened but, unfortunately, the security surveillance drones and monitors for that sector of the complex had been temporarily offline due to circumstances beyond their control. Any witnesses or those who had relevant information were asked to come forward.

The impact of that was just sinking in when Theana linked her.

“Charity? Sorry to wake you so early but I just got told we are in the clear. Your friend and mine Halkom Dugsdall even came by to apologise in person, but I told him there was no need and I would pass it on to you.”

Charis felt as if she had just broken the surface having been underwater too long.

Edge of Doom is released today as an ebook.

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