* * *
Alix awoke in a cold panic.
Her eyes snapped open, pupils seeking courage in round black pits. Frightwaves shimmered down her nostrils: always there, just eluding her. Inside her head hundreds of dead feet pounded and pounded, a million neural bombs detonating as she tried to sit up.
Gasp by gasp, awareness returned to the dim room. The bedcovers burned grey as broken concrete, sweat smeared across the pillow in gory glowing streaks. For a moment the sound of foreign breathing shocked her, and she considered waking the man beside her and warning him it was near morning.
Then she remembered he was her husband, and they lived together in an apartment in the middle of Manchester. No train; no fire; no boy and his father.
An endless ring of moon gloated through the gossamer curtains. Alix shuffled out of bed, the clammy undersides of her feet smooching the lino as she crept to the window. Something urged her to defy tactility and diffuse through the glass and up into the void, but Alix sealed immaterial escape with the heavy blackout blind.
Growing somewhere within her was a child: a child destined for life, destined for great and wonderful things. For destiny Alix had only respect. Though the day she found her courage would be the day she died.
A draught sent a shiver up her lean spine, and she glanced at the room’s remaining orifice: electric light smouldered day and night in the apartment stairwell, spilling into the room through the cracks round the doorframe.
Conscientiously she blocked out the light with rags from the washing basket. A backward step. It was enough. It had to be enough.
But no mind can rule its demons. Alix’s pursuers battered through every barrier, surrounding her, calling out to her, cursing her child just as they’d cursed her…
Again they had found her. Again would they destroy.
The stocky shape in the bed stirred and grunted.
“Herbert,” said Alix, “it’s time to move on.”