A burning woman stalks along the streets. Ten stories tall, naked body a whirling holocaust of fire. Terrified people on Bursary Street crumple into carbon at her passing, leaving behind only black char curled into fetal shapes. The heat she radiates is so powerful that structures burst into flame as she passes. A storm of paper, sucked out of buildings by uncontrolled drafts, spiral toward her and are consumed. Uncontrolled rivers of flame pour from her fingertips. Windows blast inward at her keening, at the eerie, nerve-scraping wail that pours from her insubstantial, fiery throat. In a city that girdles the world, all-devouring fire is the worst thing imaginable.
Aiah hears the sound first, a scream that raises the fine hairs on the back of her neck. She gazes in shock out of the office lounge and sees the woman turn the corner onto the Avenue of the Exchange; and for a moment she sees the woman tripled, multiplied by the mirror glass of the Bursary Building and the Old Intendancy, and for a horrified second gazes into three burning faces, three hollow sets of flaming eyes, three expressions of agonized torment in which she can read the woman’s last remnant of blasted humanity begging for help, for an end to pain ...
Aiah turns to run and the window blows inward with a breath of wind that sears Aiah’s neck and flings her to the floor, and at the same moment she hears the first shriek from Telia’s baby and the foolish, urgent ring of the phone—
The burning woman’s scream rises to Aiah’s throat.
GRADE A PLASM LEAK IN FINANCIAL DISTRICT.
143 DEAD. 2000 INJURED.
PLASM AUTHORITY INVESTIGATION ANNOUNCED.