The wait for José was, thankfully, brief. Maria had managed to find a crate filled with rucksacks and had me help her fill them whilst Luis made ready to set the headquarters alight. In each room, he gathered together everything that wasn't useful and doused it liberally in Petrol. My injuries made it hard to bend down, but I forced myself to check in every cupboard and crevice for documents or valuable equipment. Suffering for the Cause was something I would need to get used to if Maria and I were to continue its operations.

Eventually, when She was satisfied we'd recovered everything we could, Maria told me head downstairs and find Luis. She wanted time to say goodbye to the building she'd called home for so long, and who was I to deny it from her? Secretly though, I was glad to be leaving. Though I'd always been made welcome at that house ( Carlos and his outburst notwithstanding ), it was not a place I could have worked in for long. It was eerie to see it so completely emptied of people where before it was crammed to bursting. The floor was slippery; I had to lean on the walls to keep myself from falling as I made my way down the corridor. Luis had poured all the fuel he could find onto every surface available, filling the house with a noxious haze of flammable vapors. I found him in the kitchen, breaking open the pipe that supplied the cooker with gas using a pickaxe. There was a hiss as the gas rushed out and began to fill the room, and the soldier stopped to admire his handiwork.

"You do not want to be in here when this place goes up." he said panting from the exertion.

"How do you plan to light it?" I asked. He pulled out a lump of what looked like a crumbly yellow putty with wires hanging out of it.

"I still have some C3 left, though to be honest the gas'll do more damage than the bomb will. Level the whole place, set off all the fuel, leave nothing but a pile of rubble burning so hot it'll scorch the lungs of anyone that tries to get close. And it'll burn for days, like a funeral pyre."

"Or a beacon of hope."

"Yeah... right. How long till your man gets here?"

"Not long now."

The smell of gas was beginning to become noticeable, even amid the petrol fumes. A foul smell, but like so many odours it was merely a warning that something far more deadly was hanging in the air rather than a threat in itself. I knew we could not afford to linger too long in the volatile cloud, not only due to the risk of a premature blast, but because soon it would reach toxic levels that would begin to suffocate us. I already felt light headed, though whether this was due to the gas or my injuries I could not tell.

Maria appeared at the doorway, struggling under the weight of three large, heavy bags. Luis and I both took one, though my back was not yet ready to bear such loads and I was forced to let mine dangle at my side. She seemed to be wearing everything she owned underneath her green worn denim jacket, and had disguised her hair with a dusty woollen hat, of the kind fishermen wear. She was crowned by a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses that was tucked into her ears, the lenses sat comfortably over her forehead.

"It stinks in here." She sniffed. "We should wait outside."

"And risk being seen?" asked Luis.

"I'd rather die quickly at the hands of the enemy than choke to death slowly in here." Maria replied "Besides, I think I hear a car."

As we stumbled through the oil-soaked hallway towards the door there was indeed the familiar rumble of an engine coming from the driveway. As a child, I would listen to the traffic passing by my window whenever my father was away, which as a policeman he so often was, waiting intently for the telltale sound a car makes as it slows down and turns in to a garage. The sound was uniquely comforting to me, signifying safety, security, an end to my anxiety. Of course, in this case, it represented the beginning of even greater anxiety, but as soon as I saw José unbuckle himself and step out from behind the wheel I couldn't help but feel relief.

"Miguel!" he shouted, running over to us " How badly are you injured?"

"I'll hold, but Luis needs to get to a doctor, preferably one that doesn't ask questions. Did you bring everything I asked for ?"

" Yes, it's in the trunk. Be careful, there's enough anthrax in that envelope to wipe out an entire platoon. You should be safe so long as you get out of the room before he opens it. As for Luis, I know a good surgeon who works on the black market. We let him keep going in exchange for him faking the death certificates on the prisoners who... don't make it through interrogation."

"It'll have to do," growled Luis "now c'mon, we need to move."

We bundled into the car, packing the bags hurriedly into the footwells. I sat up front next to José, with the others curled up in the back, keeping their heads down. Luis had his hands firmly clasped around a large brick of black plastic with an aerial sticking out of it, ready to flick the switch that would ignite the bomb and destroy the HQ. José started the engine, revving it fiercely to build up enough traction to get off the gravel and then speeding onto the street. The road was deserted, clearly the news of Carlos' actions had reached the capital. I wondered if Isabel had managed to escape the carnage at the church, and if she had been able to maintain her cover. The consequences of her being discovered did not bear thinking about.

"Luis, are we clear?" Asked Maria.

"Clear of what?" asked José, worried.

"Clear!" answered Luis, bringing his hand down over the detonator and almost snapping the little switch right was a noise like the groan of a dying star and in an instant the ground trembled and shook like an earthquake . All around us, the windows of the nearby houses shattered, bringing down a rain of broken glass. Roof tiles and other debris came crashing down, pummelling the pavement and the road and bouncing off the roof of the car. The glare from the blast created a blinding flash in the rear view mirror, and as I turned to look out the rear window my eyes were filled with thousands of tiny cyan and magenta blindspots that popped in and out of existence, making it impossible to focus.

All I could make out was a vast spire of roaring orange flames, an inferno, clawing at the sky and billowing dark, malevolent clouds of pure black smoke hundreds of feet high. People began to step outside to witness the horror, their forms obscured by the dust and the wavering panicked haze as the air rose and fell with the intense heat, melting them into shapeless blobs looking on in terror. The paint on the back of the car began to blister and melt, fizzling and popping, spitting thick drops of coal-black that slid slowly down the window, leaving ugly streaks of dirty brown as they did so.

Even as the car reached the end of the road and turned the corner there was no getting away from it. Though the wreckage was hidden from view by the other houses, the column of smoke was impossible to miss. Ash began to waft slowly to the ground, the books of Maria's father's collection incinerated and falling like hot, sooty snow. Every so often we passed a charred brick or some other piece large debris, thrust violently onto the pavement many blocks from the house they where once part of. These were just the things I could see.

The screaming had started just after the explosion. Surprisingly, the boom of the blast had not caused any, the shock and disbelief such a thing could happen without either warning or reason rendering people mute with fright, but soon after:the sound of howling and wailing, the cries of men, women and children in a choir of terror, a symphony of sorrows, following us, carried on the wind. Inescapable.

Sirens wailed ahead of us. Police. Fire department. Ambulance. It was not inconceivable that someone, some innocent bystander, might have been injured or even killed by the blast. Worse, what if someone had tried to go inside looking for survivors? The thought kept everyone in the car silent, save for Maria, who was sobbing gently to herself, curled uncomfortably into a sort of fetal position in her seat.

Finally, José broke the silence. "That was... quite a blast."

"Yeah..." nodded Luis. "I guess it was."

"They're bound to notice it soon, we'd better go over the plan before Jackson gets wind of it. Hopefully he'll be still up at the Cemetery, you know, tagging Carlos' body or something. Making sure he's dead. That's what I'd do, anyway." Said José, changing gear as he did so.

"Maybe," I agreed. " but it's unlikely he'll linger there any longer than he has to. He's smart, he'll be expecting a move on the capital."

"Good thing Maria didn't have time to send the broadcast," added Luis. I didn't bother to correct him."otherwise there would have been one."

"What about Carlos' men in the countryside? Will they know to stand down?" I asked.

"When they hear of Carlos' death they will."Luis answered. "The loyal ones will head back to the encampments in the hills to await orders from whoever takes command of the capital cell. That was what Carlos' told us to do if he was killed in action. Never expected us to actually do it though, of course. You realise that means one of us will have to take charge, don't you?"

"What?" asked Maria, indignant despite her tears. " Carlos told me I was to take over from him if... if this happened. He wanted me to lead."

"I know..."said Luis, carefully. "But you don't know the men Carlos kept out there. A lot of them think you're a...weak link...in Carlos command structure. They think you're just a favourite Carlos' keeps...kept...around as eye candy. They'd rather be lead by a man , preferably one with military experience."

"So what are you saying...?"

"Look, I don't agree with them alright? I'm just saying it'll be difficult to persuade them to follow you, that's all-"

"I am an Estete, Luis! I was born into this!"

"This is all very interesting,"José interrupted "and I for one am all for equal opportunities in the opposition but we really need to start talking about a plan please, people. Jackson won't wait for us to be ready."

"José is right." I said. "we can discuss this later. Right now we need to focus on getting everyone to safety. Now for the moment my apartment will be safe enough, but once I deliver the anthrax they'll come after me too. We need a more permanent safehouse."

" There is an old farmhouse we once used to house people on the run from the intelligence service, you could go there. it's about twenty minutes from here."

"No good. By that time the army and the police will be everywhere, we'll never make it out of the city."

"Damn it Carlos! why couldn't you have told someone where the safehouses are?" Luis moaned.

"Blaming him isn't going to help us," Maria retorted "What about one of your RIS safehouses? You know where those are, right?"

"Yes, but when they realise I'm the one that killed Jackson they'll search all of them. After my house, it's the first place they'll look."

"Not necessarily, sir. You built the RIS into what it is today sir, don't forget that. An awful lot of people there would side with you over Jackson any day of the week, especially if they heard you were the one that bumped him off. If you wanted, I reckon you could get them to turn a blind eye to wherever you were hiding, for a while at least."

"I'm not sure..."

"It is a gamble, certainly," José continued "but having friends pays off sir. You've often said it. With Jackson gone you'd be most senior, non-military cabinet figure left standing and, like it or not, people are going to be looking to see what you do next. Killing Jackson won't bring the house down, but dividing it against itself might."

"I see." I said. I could see what he was getting at. "You think I could trade sanctuary for favours. No. That is a dangerous game and one which I have no intention of playing. It's simply not worth risking everything for such a small chance of success. The more people who know where we are means the more people who could betray us. We'll have to find another soloution."

"Understood. No nonetheless Miguel, the RIS is on your side, should you need it."

"Isabel's parents Might know somewhere." Maria piped up. "They're no fans of Carlos, or of me for that matter, but they've always been loyal to the Cause. They might be willing to help, though we'd need Isabel to contact them."

"Why?" asked Luis.

"They refuse to speak to anyone else."

"Oh."

"I can handle that for you Miguel," Maria added "You just... focus on what you have to do."

" Thankyou." I told her "that's a load off my mind"

"We're here."

We had indeed reached the familiar cul-de-sac that led to my apartment building . As the car pulled up I looked carefully around, scanning the area for evidence of our enemy's presence. The coast looked clear, though of course there was no way of knowing for sure. Our agents were trained to remain hidden from sight until the target had no chance to escape, and they were very good at it. for all I knew, an entire swat team could have been hidden away inside, waiting to strike. I decided to get out the car with the others, I wanted to see them safely inside. I opened the door for Maria, taking her hand to help her out. So much had changed since the first time I'd done that, back at Jaurez' villa. Luis moved ahead of us, his gun aimed squarely at the rooftops.

"What are you doing?" I hissed.

"Checking for snipers." He called back, lowering his gun and looking at me as if I'd asked why he was breathing.

"Are you mad? What if someone sees that gun and calls the police!"

"What if someone shoots us?"

I did not bother answering the question, instead sheltering Maria under my arm and pushing on into the apartment building. The ground floor was, mercifully, empty. We swept through the aged glass and metal doors and into the elevator, the only witness to our presence a pair of felt-cushioned chairs and a solitary cheese plant that seen better days, keeping a silent vigil from the garishly painted pot in which had been planted when the building had been opened.

The elevator moaned slowly upward, heaving itself up the three storeys to my floor. looking into the mirrored panels I could finally see for myself the damage Carlos had done to my face. My left eye was swollen, bloodshot , and the skin around it had turned dark red, purple, and black. My nose was still in its original shape, though it too was bruised badly. Most worryingly of all , however, was a long, ugly scab that ran vertically down from my cheekbone until it was parallel with my upper lip. I put my hand up to it, feeling the stone-like roughness, like running my fingers over a relief map of a mountain range that had been grafted to my flesh. It stung a little, causing the muscles on that side of my face to contract in a sort of half-wince. I could feel little specks of dried blood flake off, and as I looked down at my hand I could see it was coated in a thin layer of rusty powder. I wondered how such a wound might have come about, such a sharp, clean line sliced into my face. a steel toed boot perhaps? No, such injuries were usually far more horrific, peeling the skin away jaggedly and spilling the fatty layer beneath to form a hideous gash that rendered speech agonising if not outright impossible. I could only think that the skin had split open, the amount of pulling and stretching it would have had to endure as the result of repeated kicks from multiple sides.

How odd it must seem, to be analysing ones injuries in such a way, performing one's own post-mortem while still alive. But in a bizarre way, it fulfilled a need I had developed since waking up, A need to understand what had happened in the hours I couldn't remember, to reclaim the time I had lost while unconscious.

Ding. The elevator came to a halt having at last reached its destination, pulling its doors apart slowly and with great effort. I found my number and reflexively tapped in the door code before twisting the knob and ushering everyone inside.

" Where's your bathroom?" Luis Inquired. "I need a piss."

"On the left, next to the kitchen." I answered, Gesturing in the direction of the bathroom. Maria wandered ahead of me into the sitting room, taking a seat on the soft green sofa. I followed her in, picking up a remote control off the desk and switching on the television set.

"Do we really have time for this ?" Maria asked, staring blankly as the set warmed up.

" I just want to see the news," I replied. " It may tell us if Isabel escaped."

"Our main story continues to be the ongoing terrorist attacks unfolding both on the outskirts of and it now seems within the capital itelf," came the report from the government-appointed anchorman. The words "Remain indoors unless instructed otherwise by a security officer- report suspicious activity immediately." Scrolled across the screen in bold red letters. "A state of emergency has been declared by his majesty in the wake of an attempt by communist guerrillas to assassinate the high cabinet and reports have been received of a large explosion that has caused considerable damage to the downtown area.

At present the death toll is still unknown but is believed to be high, we'll keep you informed as new figures reach us. Chief of Defence staff General Alexander Jackson has ordered all forces within the city to remain on full alert and has marshalled the air force to provide surveillance and surgical strikes against any and all large groups of people sighted on the streets. In a statement made immediately after the downtown blast, he called for calm and for the public's full co-operation with the police and intelligence services."

"Yes,yes" I thought "but what about Isabel?"

"National News Network now goes to our reporter André Suizo who is at the Public Information Office building where a press conference is due to be held. André, what's the latest?"

The scene changed to a skinny, bearded reporter standing in front of several rows of chairs filled with other Government-appointed reporters, all waiting to receive the latest government-sanctioned soundbite. In front of the chairs was a small step leading to an empty podium. Clearly an official response had yet to be organised.

"Gracias, Juan. The latest is that we are still waiting for someone to tell us what is going on. We're not even sure who is going to talk to us. The expectation is that it will be either the domestic secretary Guido Bertiz or Public Information Official Isabel Arroyo-Lopez, both were present during the incident at Santo Lorenzo though neither is thought to have been harmed. Interestingly, there are also rumours that either General Scholl or even His Majesty himself may give a speech momentarily, although that hardly seems likely what with the general being deployed –"

"I hate to interrupt André, but something appears to be going on behind you, can you tell us about that?"

The was indeed some sort of movement occurring behind the reporter. The camera quickly shifted its focus, blurring a little as it zoomed in on the stage. A pair of men where helping a visibly shaken Isabel up the step and on to the podium, though helping was probably not the right word. Dragging was perhaps a more accurate term for what they were doing , hauling her up by her arms and marching her into the waiting gaze of the photographers, cameramen and other hacks.

It was clear by the way she looked that the team backstage had been forced to prepare her to face the cameras in a hurry, small locks of hair that had escaped the brush sticking awkwardly out of a slapdash bun at odd angles.

Her jacket was a Gunmetal pinstripe affair, sitting over a creaseless white blouse that showed far too much cleavage, not the sort a person would wear to a funeral. I supposed the idea was to convey the sombre mood of the occasion without the inherent morbidity of the colour black, but the execution was appalling. As Isabel began to speak, I walked over to the TV and switched it off.

"Why did you do that?" asked Maria

"She's alive. That's all I wanted to know."

"But she was going to say something. Quick put it back on, she might tell us what happened to the others, the ones that went with Carlos. Maybe we can still help them!"

"I doubt it. By now those that didn't escape will either be dead or one their way to an interrogation camp. Once in there... there's nothing we can do for them. No, we're lucky Isabel escaped as it is. It'd be suicide to think of going after the others when we aren't even safe ourselves."

She looked down at the floor and sighed. After a little while she nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking."

"You don't have to apologise for wanting to help your friends. Believe me if there was anything I could do for them I would do it in a heartbeat, but I can't see any other option apart from taking out Jackson then heading for the hills."

" I suppose that's all we can do."

"I think I know another option." Said Luis, appearing at the doorway. " How about you leave Jackson alone and get yourselves out of here while you still can."

"I beg your pardon?" I asked.

"I'm just saying, why risk your life to kill Jackson now when you can come back and do it any time you want. This house is perfectly safe while he still thinks you're on his side. It seems kind of stupid to risk it all like that, like Carlos did."

"Jackson murdered Carlos, Luis!" shouted Maria, more angry than I'd ever seen her before.

"I know, I was there!" he replied. " but killing Jackson won't bring him back. Miguel please listen to reason, You don't have to put everything at risk to satisfy her juvenile need for revenge. Just, go to your office and say you had an accident, lost the file or something."

"Juvenile? Juvenile? How fucking dare you! First you try and usurp me now you want to just let Jackson walk? Are you a fucking coward, Luis? Miguel please, You know why you have to do this, please , for me!"

"What did you just say? Oh god so it's like that is it. well you two lovebirds are welcome to go down together but I'll Have no part of it –"

"Both of you shut up!" I yelled. Both fell silent, their bickering cut short . They looked to me, in much the same way they had looked to Carlos when he had entered the night before. " I think you've both lost sight of what's at stake here. The freedom of our nation depends on our actions today, and that is far more important than either of you or your personal hang ups. Luis, you need to accept Maria as your superior or by god you will have me to answer to and believe me, you have no idea what I am capable of when crossed.

Maria, Carlos is dead and I'm sorry but you need to try and accept that. Now I am going to kill Jackson, today, not because you want me to but because he needs to die for the greater good of the Cause."

I paused for breath. It was a good speech, If I do say so myself.

"I'm going now," I said, barging Luis out of the way. "and I'm leaving you two here to think about whether or not you can work with one another until I get back with Isabel. I suggest you do so."

"Yes, sir." Said Luis, crestfallen.

"Yes, sir" echoed Maria.

I reached for my security pass in the pocket of one of my jackets that was hung up in the hallway. I had put both of them in their place, and had established myself as the leading personality among them. It was the first step to becoming the new leader of the cause, and it was certainly a big one. I opened the door and got about halfway down the corridor before becoming struck with a curious. In hindsight, it was silly, embarrassing, not at all statesmanlike, but at the time it made perfect sense. This could have been the end of me, after all, and there was no time to be coy. I ran back to the door and popped my head through.

"Maria..."

"Yes?"

" I love you."