Nights are the worst. At some base level, the shock threw her fight-or-flight response, flooding her system with wave after wave of adrenaline. Hours spent staring at the apartment ceiling, Etienne snoring contently beside her. She waits for the wide-eyed exhaustion to retreat. And, when she does finally drop off, the occasional burst of distant gunfire seeps into her subconscious, warping her dreams. Brotherhood sympathisers, chanting in broken French. NDP leaders melting into the the glittering blue of pirated photovoltaics. Amidst the hollering and raucous applause, only their inane grimaces linger, outlined in fire against a sky of deep scarlet.
Her mind is still reeling, raw and unanchored. A whole world, snatched from her and hundreds – if not thousands – of others like her. If there had been a warning, they could have prepared. On. Then off. Yanked from the data-streams and thrust, bawling, into the angry reality that she’d spent the last six months trying her hardest to ignore.
Fatima’s funeral marks the fourth day since the emp bomb. Four days without the mesh, and three nights of fragmenting sleep and feverish hallucinations. Sam had never been particularly close to Fatima, but the funeral is bearable enough. The gentle drone of family elders is a welcome respite from the smog of superliminal panic. But a couple of hours is all she gets. Despite data blackout, curfews, and gunfire, the various cousins and hangers-on seem all too eager to return home. Politely avoiding Sam’s speculations about recent developments, they make their excuses and leave; a cloud of pursed lips and pragmatic eyebrows, picking their way through the City of the Dead.
Home in time for dinner.
In their absence, she sits, staring out over the graves of those long dead. The sun is low, hanging ominously against the dark smoke of the western horizon. But with a good few hours before the curfew, and Etienne watching over the boys, she can afford to take some time for herself. A couple of minutes to Be, without having to Do.
“Are you okay, Samira?” With someone’s hand on her shoulder, she freezes. “You look- well, like you haven’t slept in weeks.” The voice is rich, smooth, and unpleasantly familiar. Of course, she had heard the footsteps, she must have. She just hadn’t been listening to them. A subtle difference, but an important one. Warily, she looks up.
“Karim.” she says, flatly. “Wasn’t expecting to see you here, of all places.”
He’s taller than she remembers, and his greasy locks are longer. but he still wears that jacket. That grotty, battered leather jacket – by now, as much a part of him as his limbs or head.
“Well, no,” he admits, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. “And under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have come, but-”
He glances over his shoulder, leaving the comment to hang, unfinished. To Sam, he looks downright furtive.
“But what?” she asks, prompting him to continue.
“I don’t think I’ve got much time,” he says, lowing his voice. “And I need to ask a favour of you. If you’re willing, of course.”
Karim waits, hopefully. Eventually, she nods.
He lends her his wearable to look at the files, as they pick their way between the tombs. Nanofab plans for seventeen items. A statue of a husband and wife, a bust of some historical figure, a large urn, and a bunch of other, smaller artefacts. He claims to have acquired them from a former curator at the national museum; a Brotherhood supporter who’d copied the ‘prints after the bomb, but before the NDP recaptured Tahrir square.
“After the bomb?” Sam glances down at her own wearable, fried by the emp.
“I don’t know,” he admits, scratching at his nose, “He said something about ‘Faraday servers’, if that means anything to you?”
Sam shrugs. It doesn’t.
“And what about your kit?” she asks.
“Must have been out of range. The city mesh is just about hanging together, though the emp blew out the core.”
Satisfied by his answer, Sam nods wearily. So, it was just a matter of bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time. No longer urban tragedy, but personal slight. She frowns.
“And what about the IP regime? Don’t you think this, this whole thing is kind of dangerous?”
“Well,” says Karim, “Apart from the last remnants of the SCA, who is there to enforce the molecular rights? Don’t kid yourself, sis, nobody’s going to care about our ‘national culture’ when the city’s burning.”
She looks down at her feet, as he continues.
“I mean, do you have any idea of the market for these kind of-?”
Silence. She looks up, but he’s already gone, darting left, then right, through the narrow alleyways of the dead. On the other side of the clearing, a glint of light reflected off field glasses. Three men in tan uniforms, scanning the landscape for any sign of movement. Acid nausea in the pit of her stomach, Sam leaps back, throwing herself against the rough wall of a crumbling mausoleum. If the blast took out their kit as well, and if she stays put, there’s a good chance the Egyptologists won’t even see her.