Melvin Burgess


The first book in the Bloodtide series, 1999

For Oliver



The top thirty floors had broken away a long time ago, but the Galaxy Building was still the tallest in London. Engineers had cleared it up so it was safe up there – sort of. A man with close, curly white hair was standing on the viewing platform, pointing out landmarks. His face was a net of fine, soft wrinkles and hard lines cut across by a Y- shaped scar over one eye. He was dressed in a loose suit, rolled up at the sleeves. As he leaned forward to point out Big Ben, St. Paul's, Tower Bridge, Docklands and beyond, the man's jacket hung open. Under the suit was a shoulder holster. You could see the neat, deadly shape tucked inside.

This was Val Volson. He owned half of London.

By his side, following his finger, was a tall, wiry girl aged fourteen. She was wearing a short skirt and leggings and a little green jacket which hung open to reveal another shoulder holster containing another, smaller gun. It was handmade for her – girl-sized. But just as deadly.

You could see it all from up here – the buildings of London, its hills and peaks as far as the suburbs and the Wall. Beyond the Wall, dappled in the distance, lay the halfman lands – acres of rubble and tumbling walls, and the trees turning yellow on this mild autumn day, pushing their way through the tarmac. After that, the world began.

And far out of sight to the northwest, Ragnor. Its towers and buildings were said to dwarf Old London. Halfman captives said of it that it seemed to float on the air, made of glittering stripes of light and glass and dark stripes of shadow. At night it shone like a bright little galaxy in the great world Outside. Its very existence was a reminder that London was locked out of the world.

'And when we've got the test of London just like that,' said Val. He pushed his thumb down hard onto the palm of his other hand to show just where he wanted the rest of London. 'Then, my girl, we'll break out into the halfman lands. And after the halfmen it's the fields and the farms and the villages and the towns. And after that we take Ragnor itself and deal with the security forces…'

'But the halfmen!' cried the girl, in an agony of delight and terror.

'That's the easy part. They'll be all dead and gone by then. Then… England… Europe. Be part of the nation again. We'll bethe nation. Yeah. Not long now. We're getting so close, Signy!'

The girl stared greedily outwards. She had heard these stories all her life. They had been crooned to her like lullabies in the cradle even before she could understand the words. Now it was all coming true.

'But we all gotta make sacrifices. D'you see -?'

Signy ground her toe onto the platform savagely. 'I don't want to go away,' she said.

'But you will.'

The girl looked briefly up at her father's smiling face, then away.

'You can win as much for us like this as I have in fifty years of fighting.'

'I wanna be in the bodyguard.'

'You can be in Conor's bodyguard.' He thumped his chest 'I'll insist!'

'I hate Conor.' Val – King Val, he was being called these days – stood upright and shrugged. Love… hate. So what? 'This is family,' he said. 'This is business.'

Val was disappointed in his daughter. He didn't expect her to want Conor, but he did expect her to want to do as he said.

The girl turned her chin up. 'There are better ways for me to fight for us,' she argued. 'I'm better than any of them. You know that.'

'Ben and Had and Siggy wouldn't whine when I gave them a task.'

'That's not fair! This isn't a task, it's a lifetime. You wouldn't ask them to go away and whore for you.'

Val hissed dangerously between his teeth. 'They'll marry whoever I tell them to.'

'This is different.'

'Because you're a girl?' teased Val.

'That's not fair! I only want to be treated the same. This isn't the same.'

Val glared back at his angry daughter. It was she who was being unfair. 'You'll be like a spy…' he said.

'You can't be a spy every second of your life, that'sstupid.'

She said the word slowly as if she liked the taste of it. Val's hand dashed out to beat her round the head but she was out of the way before his hand was raised.

'I'm a fighter! Catch me if you can!'

Val stood and watched her dance around. He was getting tired of this.

'But you are a girl,' he said sulkily. 'I can't help the way dungs are.'

'I thought you were the one to change the way things are!'

Val turned away. 'You'll do it anyway,' he said flatly.

Signy put her little handgun back in the soft holster under her arm and growled, 'I'll do it – because I follow orders. But I hate it. Promise me one thing, then.'

'Name it. You know I'd do anything.'

'That you'll give me the chance to kill Conor when the time comes.'

'This is a treaty. There'll be no such time. But if it does… I promise.'

Signy nodded. 'Conor never kept a treaty yet.'

The two of them turned to go down. Val put his arm protectively around his daughter. 'I know it's hard.'

Signy smiled sweetly up at him. 'You'd have killed anyone who dared to touch me, and now you hand me over to him to do anything he likes,' she said.

'Don't think I like it either.'

'Poor you!'

'… but every father has to give his daughter away.'

'Conor has some funny appetites, I bet.'

Val turned a cold eye on her.

'I wonder what'll turn him on? I wonder how he'll enjoy using Val's daughter?'

Val was suddenly furious. He pushed her from him violently so she stumbled on the stairway.

'You don't care for me at all!' she shouted furiously. 'You'd never let the others leave your side… never!' She pushed past him and ran down the long winding stairs. How was it possible to hate and love and admire her father so much all at the same time?

'But I love you!' She heard his voice crashing down the stairs after her. It made her cry all the more because she knew it was true.

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