"Maybe you ought to wait in the cab. I'll go meet Miller."
Amanda shook her head, "You didn't bring me here to sit around and do nothing," she murmured.
"Okay," Han said, "If you're sure."
Amanda put her hands in her pockets and headed towards a set of stone steps. But she didn't climb up them and join the queue, she vaulted over the metal banister and cut to the front, meeting with the bouncer. There was outcry from the others who had been waiting in line since what might have seemed forever to them. The bouncer folded his arms and gave Amanda a stern look.
"Who are you?" he asked her, "The Prince's long-lost sister, twice removed?"
"Amanda Cross," she replied.
The bouncer checked his clipboard, "Sorry, sunshine. Name's not on the list," he turned up his nose, "Now get to the back of the line before I put you there."
"I have business with Miller," she told him.
The bouncer frowned a little, "Miller?"
"Miller," Amanda repeated herself.
The bouncer stepped aside to allow her through. Amanda gestured to Lisa and Han, and they rushed ahead to enter with her - leaving a very fiery and flustered crowd in their wake. The sound of pounding music slammed against their eardrums as they delved deeper through the sweaty mass of people lost in their drunken stupor. Amanda gestured for Lisa and Han to stay put (Lisa ignored her and went off to get a drink). Amanda shut her eyes and just breathed for a moment, trying to find calm in this wretched and noisy place. Finding a sense of direction, she opened her eyes and nodded to Han. He followed her as she cut a path through the dancing horde - pushing and shoving out of the way, never uttering a word of apology. Amanda paused at a corner, holding her head. Han knew it wasn't just the music that was bothering her. He saw her jerk - as if gagging - before she composed herself and went on in her direction. She barged into a ladies' bathroom. Although it was marked with an 'Out of Order' sign, Han hesitated before he too went charging in. Han saw Amanda push through the third cubicle and - in the place of a bathroom stall - was an entire section of a room, with mint tinted walls and black-and-white tiled floors. In the centre, on a single chair, sat Miller - one leg over the other, hands held together on her knee.
She looked up at them and smiled.
Amanda shut the door behind them.
"I'm disappointed," Miller said, putting a finger to her chin, "Honestly thought you'd find me sooner."
Han looked around the place, "I knew ladies' bathrooms were nicer, but having whole living spaces in here?" he asked.
Miller scoffed, being over-sarcastic and patronising, "Oh, that's cute, that is," she said, "Where's your little blond friend?"
"Will you go find her and bring her here, before she gets piss drunk?" Amanda requested Han.
Han nodded and went off to find Lisa.
The two women let a moment pass. Then Amanda paced around Miller. Miller stood up and took a position behind her chair.
"I don't get it," Amanda replied, not allowing her gaze to leave Miller.
Miller kept just as much focus on Amanda, "Get what?"
"What...? What is it...?" Amanda murmured.
"What are you talking about?"
"You," Amanda said, "There's something... different about you. Compared to all the others out there. Something inherently different... What is it?"
"I have an effect on everyone, not just you," Miller retorted.
"No... Everyone doesn't see what I see," Amanda said, "Who are you?"
Miller sighed, "We are not going through this again."
"There's a connection between us," Amanda mumbled, ignoring Miller, and pacing around her but not looking at her, "Something so faint... eroded, by time, but strong. Like I'm looking for something right in front of me... but I can't see it."
"Uh... Yeah," Miller reminded her, "We have met before, Amanda. In Philly, throughout the flight here, I fed you at the airport. It's called deja vu."
Amanda giggled, "Don't patronise me, Miller," she laughed. She then looked around her, her eyes following something Miller couldn't see, "Ravens..." Amanda mumbled, brows furrowed, "So many ravens... Why ravens?"
Miller looked at the ground and sighed, "Han wasn't fucking around when he said you were batshit insane."
Just then Han came in, dragging Lisa behind him.
"But this is my favourite song!" she protested as he shut the door behind them.
Han chucked her in front of him and said, "Priorities, Anderson. Priorities."
"Amanda!" Lisa cried out, and then drew up short, "Oh... Hi, Miller," Lisa looked around at the room behind the ladies' bathroom, "That's... weird," she commented.
Miller looked over at Han and then back at Amanda, "Remind me why you brought this liability with you."
"Hey!" Lisa scowled.
Amanda shrugged, "Andy has her uses."
"As what?" Miller asked.
"Entertainment," Amanda said, "Now, can we move along?"
Miller stared at Amanda for a moment. For the first time in a long time she was spooked. She tried her best not to show it, though, and threw down the chair. The room began to shift in a circle. A section of the wall came apart and the room turned into what seemed to be a different building. It was dark. Miller pulled out her cellphone and used it as a torch, leading them through the darkness.
"London is a strange place," Han commented.
"This has less to do with London," Amanda told him, "And more to do with paranoia and what it does to people."
"Spoken like one of the cliched architects that built this place," Miller replied, moving ahead, "But it has its purposes. We're nearly there," she turned her head to address them, "Word of warning: keep your possessions close to you. I'm not paying reparations for theft."
The tunnel lead into a place with beaming lights irregularly placed at the edges of a raised ceiling. There was sound of life echoing all over the place and people were everywhere. If all the people were freely walking around, it might have resembled a market-place. But as it was, it looked more like a hangout for a secret army - makeshift tents were strewn from one end of the tunnel to the other, arm's dealers at regular intervals, drug dealers even more frequent. There were rows of people caged and chained in place - many women, scantily-clad. And large squared cages in which two heavy-set opponents fought against each other, people cheering and shouting around them. Amanda watched as every person, free or not, looked up at Miller and greeted her as she passed.
"I misjudged you," Amanda said, "You're not just a petty thug, are you?"
"Welcome to the underworld, Amanda," Miller said, "But your people have given me wealth enough to supply you with arms and a vehicle that can house you. I'm not paying petrol expenses, though."
Han said nothing.
Amanda looked at him, "Did you know about all this?"
"Perhaps," he replied.
"Just when I thought I could stand being near you," Amanda spat.
"I guess I deserve that."
"Oi," Miller called her, "It's just a job, Amanda. Like any other."
"You do jobs for NihilCorp as well?" Amanda challenged her.
Miller walked up to her, "We work for anyone who has the dosh to pay," she clarified, "Now let me show you this vehicle and you can get outta my face. Got work to do," Miller turned and led them.
* * * * *
The vehicle in question was a large trailer-van, large enough for three people to comfortably live in as they drove from place to place. Amanda sat quietly, a flask of steaming coffee between her palms, as the scene at the window shifted and zipped away before she could store it in memory. Bradley. Only a few hours away. As the van bumped along the road, Amanda couldn't calm herself. She sipped her drink, the hot beverage burning her lips and tongue, and tried her best not to complain or question. She just accepted that this was something she had to do. Her memory of Dann soothed her somewhat, but the fear and anxiety of what may or may not come of this mission could not be covered by soothing thoughts of old reminiscences.
Lisa and Han sat at the front - Han was driving - and they listened to the GPS as it guided them, only very rarely talking. At some point, they must have decided to stop and get food, so the vehicle slowed and lurked as Han parked it.
"Amanda, do you want anything?" Lisa asked.
Amanda just raised a hand and waived her question away.
Lisa paused before she opened the door, "I'll get you a snack anyway, yeah?" she said.
Amanda shrugged, not looking her way. Lisa grimaced, before she stepped out and snapped the door shut.
Han got out of his seat and made his way towards Amanda. He sighed and sat next to her. Amanda acknowledged his presence and passed him the flask of coffee.
Han gave her a look, "Coffee? At this time of night?" he asked.
"It's decaf," Amanda murmured back.
"No, its not," Han said.
"You're right," Amanda scoffed, speaking softly as if she was afraid someone other than Han might hear them, "I lied."
Han passed back the flask and didn't question it further. He held his knees and leaned his head back against the rest. He looked over at Amanda from the corner of his eye, and observed her hunched-over, huddled posture - as if she was freezing.
"Are you cold?" he asked her.
"No," Amanda said, sipping at the coffee, "Yes. I don't know."
Han sighed, not knowing how to reply. His phone buzzed and he picked it out of his pocket. He smiled and answered the call.
"Hey, sweetie. How are you?" he spoke, answering the small mumbling voice on the other end, "Oh, yeah? That's great... How's your mother?" he laughed, "You know what I mean... Alright, fine, step-mother. How's your step-mother?" he shook his head, "Come on, Elina, she's not that bad... Alright, alright, enough of that, how's school? Really? Good," he paused to listen for a moment before he looked over at Amanda, "Yep, Amanda's here... You have? She didn't mention it to me... You want to talk to her?" Han caught Amanda raising her hand and shaking her head, "Sorry, sweetie, she's... She's not feeling too good at the moment. Maybe some other time... Yes... Yes, of course, I'm sure she'll give you a call or a text as soon as she's feeling better... Okay, I'll tell her... Okay... Okay... Yeah, love you too. Bye," Han tapped his phone and put it away. And then addressed Amanda, "That's odd. You're usually quite eager to talk to Elina. She says 'get well soon', by the way."
Amanda shut her eyes, "Han..."
He sat up, "Yes?"
She sighed and shook her head, "Do... do you realise how lucky you are to have Elina?" Amanda asked,"To have someone. Someone close, that will never forget you. Immortalised in their memory..." she bit her lip, "I don't have anyone like that."
"What are you talking about?" Han said, "I'll never forget you. Lisa won't. God knows, Briar won't."
"It's not the same," Amanda went on, "It's like how I'll never forget Dann. It's like a stain on my memory, a blemish on my heart that I'll never be able to erase no matter how hard I might try. You could forget me if you wanted to, and Lisa, and Briar. But Elina will never forget you - whether you treat well or not. And I'll never forget Dann. But me..." she scoffed, "Me..."
Han didn't know what to say. He didn't know what all this meant. "Amanda, don't talk like that..." he murmured.
"Han..." Amanda breathed, sniffing and blinking tears, "I'm terrified. I'm afraid of what's waiting for me in those woods."
"Amanda... You know I wouldn't let anything bad happen to you if I could help it."
"That's just it," Amanda pointed out, "You can't help it. It's an inevitability," she wiped the tears from her face, "I'm going to die and nobody... will remember me. Nobody will miss me. And it's not the dying that I'm scared of. It's what might be waiting for me after."
Han pondered Amanda's words. That strange sense of guilt rose up out of his sense of duty and he shuddered.
“I'm sorry,” he said, as if that might help, “You know that, don't you?”
“I've told you,” Amanda scoffed, humourless in her composure and appearance, “You don't know the meaning of those words.”
She drew up short. Her brows became furrowed and Han noticed her breaths become slight and quick. Amanda stretched her neck and stood up, dropping the flask, the coffee spilling and seeping into the fronds of the carpet.
“What is it?” Han asked.
Amanda's fingers trembled as she watched Lisa running the length of the pavement towards them, her arms covering her head. Amanda reached for the door, tore it open and pulled Lisa inside violently, just as she made it to the van. Lisa toppled inside and Amanda didn't wait a second too long to shut the door.
“They're coming,” Amanda said, sitting in the driver's seat, revving the ignition and speeding off without warning. Hanflew back as Amanda drove at an insane speed.
“What are you doing!” he barked, “Are you mad!”
“Han!” Lisa cried, panting for breath as she tried to explain why she had been running, “Guns! Men with guns!”
A spray of bullets hit the side of the van, smashing a window. Han pulled Lisa next to him and raised his arm over them to protect himself and Lisa from the falling shards. Amanda drove, the breakneck speed gaining with every minute. Han pulled himself to the passenger seat and, still standing, he saw a number of men – four or perhaps five – standing in the middle of the road, arms outstretched as if to stop the moving vehicle. Amanda showed no signs of stopping.
“Amanda, there are people there,” Han thought that pointing out the obvious might make Amanda slow, “Amanda, you're going to hit them.”
Amanda looked over at him, “Han,” she said, “Ravens.”
Seconds remained before the men in the middle of the street were hit. Han ignored her strange reply and said, “You need to stop. You're going to kill them and – be extension – us. The collision will kill us.”
“They obstruct us knowing they'll die,” Amanda said, “I think you know that.”
“Eyes on the road, Amanda!” Han ordered.
Amanda tilted the wheel to her right and they veered wildly off-road, missing the line of suicides. Amanda controlled the vehicle with ease – as if she had known where she would go and how she would get there before hand – and, even if the journey was bumpy, Amanda got the van back on the road and slowed down when she felt they were far enough.
She got out of the seat and nodded at Han. Han stared at her, flustered and shaken from the excitement of the past few minutes. Amanda shrugged and sat back down, continuing the drive. Lisa pulled herself out of the back, her hair a ruffled mess as she did so, and took a seat behind Han's.
“What the bloody hell was that about?” she asked.
Han buckled his seatbelt and refused to speak. He was upset and thought that saying nothing and sulking in silence might hide that fact. Amanda said nothing for a long time, and just focused on driving. She turned on the radio and listened to some annoying music that was completely ironic to the mood and mutual feeling within the van.
“Oh, sugar,” Amanda sang along, ignoring the rather unwelcome breeze coming from the shattered window, “Oh, honey, honey,” she smiled, slowly putting this memory in the back of her mind, completely and utterly ignoring it, “You are my candy girl, and you make me want y-o-u!”
“Amanda,” Lisa said, her mood quite confused and irritable and, of course, terribly frightened.
“Hmm?” Amanda replied, glancing back at her with the hints of a grin and turning down the volume of the radio.
“What did you mean? Why did those people stand in the middle of the road, knowing they'll die? Why do you assume that?” Lisa asked, as calm as she could manage.
“Because that's what they do,” Amanda replied.
Lisa sighed in a growling manner, “Why?” she asked, angrily.
Amanda giggled, “Why are you getting so upset?”
“Because I don't understand what just happened!” Lisa burst out.
“So?” Amanda replied, “You brought yourself here and so brought this on yourself. That being said, make sense of it on your own.”
“I can't! That's why I'm asking you!”
“Why ask me?” Amanda said, “Clearly, you won't listen to anything I have to say, hence I'm not saying it. If I say anything now, given my conditions and what you know about them, you'll question them. Question them until you can no longer question or I can no longer answer. I dn't fancy such a lengthy discussion. I just want to forget.”
“Why? Why would you want to forget that this happened?”
“And so the questioning continues!”
“Just answer my question!”
“The first bloody one!”
“Fine. Then will you leave me alone?”
“Your first question was 'What the bloody hell was that about?'. The bloody hell that that was about was a group of misguided men shooting at us and trying to obstruct us with their own lives on the line. Nothing more than that,” Amanda replied.
“You know that that's not what I meant!” Lisa cried, near to tears.
“Regardless,” was all Amanda said, “I will say nothing else about this. There is nothing else to be said,” she turned the music back up and sang along, while Lisa wept silently behind her.