Slow River - Nicola Griffith Page 0,2

taxi driver might recognize her. He would know what they had done to her. He would have seen it. Everyone would have seen it. They would look at her and know. She could not call her family. They had all seen her suffer, too. Every time they looked at her they would see the pictures, and she would see them seeing it, and she would wonder why they had not paid her ransom.

Her hair was plastered to her head. The rain sheeted down. She crawled into a doorway, realized she was whimpering. She had to be quiet, she had to hide. She had to lose herself. Think. What would give her away? She pulled herself up to her knees and tried to look at her reflection in the shop window, but the rain made it impossible. She scrabbled around in the corners of the doorway until the dirt there turned to mud on her wet hands. She smeared the mud onto her hair. After thirty days, the nanomechs coloring her head and body hair would be dying off and the natural gray would be showing. Only the very few, the very rich wore naturally gray hair. What else? Her Personal Identity, DNA and Account insert. But when she held out her left hand to the flickers of light flashing in the doorway she saw the angry red scar on the webbing between her thumb and index finger. Of course—the kidnappers would have removed the PIDA on the first day to prevent a trace.

She was alone, hurt, and moneyless. She needed help but was afraid to find it.

It was almost dawn before she heard footsteps. She peered around the doorway. A woman, with dark blond hair tucked into the collar of a big coat, walking with a night step: easy, but wary. One hand in her pocket.

“Help me.”

Her voice was just a whisper and Lore thought the woman had not heard, but she slowed, then stopped. “Come out where I can see you.” The kind of voice Lore had never heard before: light and quick and probably dangerous.

“Help me.” It came out sounding like a command, and Lore heard for the first time the rounded plumminess of her own voice, and knew that she would have to learn to change it.

This time the woman heard, and turned toward the doorway. “Why, what’s wrong with you?” The hand shifted in its pocket, and Lore wondered if the woman had a weapon of some kind. “Stand up so I can see you.”

“I can’t.” Trying to imitate the slippery street vowels.

“Then I’ll just walk along home.” She sounded as though she meant it.

“No.” Lore tried again. “Please. I need your help.”

The woman in the long coat seemed suddenly to shrug off her caution. “Let’s have a look at you, then.” When she stepped closer to the doorway and saw Lore’s muddy hair and nakedness, she grinned. “You need to get rid of the boyfriend or girlfriend that did this to you.” But when the light fell on Lore’s bloody back, the woman’s face tightened into old lines, and her eyes flashed yellow and wise in the sodium light. She fished something out of her coat pocket, slid it inside her shirt, and took off her coat. She held it out. “This might hurt your back, but it’ll keep you warm until I can get you home.”

Lore pulled herself up the metal and glass corner of the doorway, and stood. The woman caught her arm as she nearly fell.


“No.” It was numb now.

“It will.” That sounded as though it came from experience. “It’s too cold to stand around. Just put this on and walk.”

Lore took the coat. It was heavy, old wool. The lining was dark silk, still warm. “It smells of summer,” and there were tears in her eyes as she remembered the smells of sunshine on bruised grass, a long, long time before this nightmare began.

“Put it on.” The woman sounded impatient. She was glancing about: quick flicks of her head this way and that. Her hair, free of the coat collar now, swung from side to side.

Lore struggled with the coat. She flinched when the warm silk touched her back, but all she felt was a kind of stretched numbness like the opening of a vast tunnel. “My name. . .” Shock made her dizzy and vague. “Who. . .”

“Spanner.” Spanner was scanning the street again. It was noticeably lighter. Another taxi skimmed by. “Fasten the damn thing up. And hurry.”

On that