Stephen Baxter: Flood

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Stephen Baxter Flood
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Flood: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Stephen Baxter




Mean sea-level rise above 2010 datum: 1-5m


July 2016

Every pothole and every crevice in the road was flooded. As the truck swerved through the streets of Barcelona the water sprayed up over Lily in her pallet under the chassis, stinking, oily stuff that worked its way under the parcel tape that covered her eyes and mouth. It was raining, too, a hard persistent rain that hammered on the truck’s metal roof, adding to the engine’s roar and the distant rattle of gunfire.

Another jolt slammed her body into the metal surface above. Grunting, her lips working against the tape over her mouth, she tried to wriggle, to relieve the pain in her shoulders and neck, from arms pulled behind her back. But each twist only shifted the ache somewhere else.

There was one other hostage under here with her, trussed up with tape and stuffed under the body of the truck, the pair of them head to foot like sardines. Lily thought it was Helen. Lily straightened her legs a bit, as gently as she could given the jolting. Her shoes had been taken away, and her bare toes touched hair. But Helen didn’t respond. Lily had taken these rides seven or eight or nine times, and she’d learned that each of the others, Helen, Gary, John and Piers, had their own way of dealing with the experience. Helen’s way was to just take whatever came. All that mattered to her was getting her baby back again at the end.

The truck juddered to a halt, its engine idling. Lily heard rapid speech, a jabbering in the Spanish she knew a little and the Catalan she understood not at all. One of the voices was Jaume’s, the fat, sweating young man who grew nervous easily. He was probably negotiating their way through a toll barrier erected by some militia or other. Still the rain rattled on the truck walls and hissed on the tarmac, and spattered noisily on the clothes of the talking men.

Lily heard Jaume clamber hastily back into the truck. Gunfire spat. A round thudded into the body of the truck. The driver hit the gas and the truck shot away, jolting her shoulders again.

Wrenched around, the fleeing road surface just centimeters below, Lily wriggled like a fish in the silver tape, barely able to move, struggling against the pain and the rising panic. Helen didn’t make a sound.

Lily was one of the longest held of the hostages.

Spain had already been collapsing five years ago, when Lily had first come here on assignment to the American embassy. The country was riven by its own unique separatist and ethnic tensions, spanning hundreds of years from the legacy of the Muslim invasion of the eighth century to the toxic divisions of the twentieth-century Civil War. Now all this was exacerbated by an influx of migrants from a desiccating Africa. The tipping point into disintegration was a right-wing coup against the monarchic government.

As the peacekeepers and aid charities labored, the great shapers of the global scene had moved in, aggressive corporations and financial institutions seeking profit in the remaking of a crumbling state, and on the other hand sponsors of grassroots anger stirring up revolt and terrorism. The splits fissured and overlapped, and Spain became a shattered, fractal state, a Lebanon of the west. By now, it seemed, even great cities like Barcelona had been taken over by armed factions.

If you were in the middle of it, the kaleidoscope of conflict and fragile alliances was bewildering and fast-moving. Lily had in fact been taken by a fundamentalist Muslim group, all those years ago, when her Chinook had been shot down. Now she was held by Christian extremists. She had been passed from hand to hand over the years like a parcel in a children’s game. And still it went on. Here she was bundled up in tape and shoved under a truck, once again.

After a few more minutes the truck stopped again. Doors banged. Lily heard Jaume and the other guards moving around the truck, talking rapidly and softly.

Then she was grabbed by the ankles and hauled out from under the truck. She was dumped on her back on a hard, wet, lumpy surface-cobbles? It hurt. Rain battered down at her, soaking her belly through her T-shirt and her bare legs between the strips of tape. She could see nothing; she had no idea what was happening to Helen.

Then she was picked up by rough hands at her feet and armpits. She was lifted like a child, turned upside down and thrown over a shoulder, and an arm clamped over her bare legs. She was carried at a half-run. Whoever it was must be strong, Lupo or Severo. But the running jolted her again, yanking at arms still bound tightly behind her back, and her head lolled. The rain beat down on her back. Her feet were cold. She felt old, older than her forty years, weak in the grip of the man’s strong youthfulness.

She was brought into an enclosed space, out of the rain. The texture of sounds changed, the running footsteps echoing. Somewhere big, roomy, empty? The guard tripped over something, jerking Lily, and he cursed in Catalan. He hurried on. Down steps now, into another echoing space, a cellar maybe. The steps were solid, like stone. Her head brushed some kind of lintel; she was lucky not to get hurt.

The guard, breathing hard, leaned forward and tipped her off. She braced, expecting to fall to the floor, but she clattered onto a chair, hard, wooden. A knife worked its way up her body, slitting the tape over her legs and torso, then behind her back to release her arms. She felt the blade’s hard tip, but she wasn’t cut. There was hot breath before her face, and she smelled the tang of cheap fatty food. It was Lupo, then; he liked his hamburgers.

When her arms were free she longed to stretch, to massage the aches out of her muscles. But she knew the routine. She held up her right arm and extended her right leg. The shackles closed tightly over her wrist and ankle, the metal cold and constricting. She gave an experimental tug. A chain rattled, only a short length of it, firmly anchored.

She was still blinded, her mouth still covered. But the guard moved away, and she heard the others elsewhere in the room, the guards’ muttering conversation, grunts from the manhandled captives. She lifted her hands and pulled the tape down, freeing her mouth, and gasped at the air. Then she fiddled until she found the strip ends and pulled the tape away from the rest of her head. She kept her eyes clamped tight closed in case the tape dragged at her eyelids. The back of her head stung, but her shaved scalp didn’t allow the tape much purchase. She dropped the bits of tape at her feet.

She was exhausted, every muscle aching. She looked around.

This wasn’t the usual basement. It was like a vault, stone-walled, grimy, very old, cut in two by a row of twelve arches. The only light came from a dry-cell electric lantern sitting on the floor. There were carvings on the walls, images of some wretched woman suffering torments, and she glimpsed sarcophagi. A crypt? There was a smell of damp. Lily saw water stains on the walls, and a slow seeping from beneath the arches, and dusty puddles on the floor.

She was sitting on a hard, upright wooden chair, and was shackled to an antique-looking radiator. Three guards stood in the middle of the vault, Jaume and Lupo and Severo, their Armalites slung over their shoulders, smoking anxiously. Even in the dark Severo wore his sunglasses-in fact they were Lily’s USAF-issue sunglasses, taken from her on the day her Chinook was downed, when everything she possessed was stripped from her.

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