And then it was just N'buli and Max.
After watching Val go, N'buli made his way back to the safehouse. On the way, he made one phone call and felt a tiny bit better about leaving Val on her own when he was done.
Max was awake again when N'buli got back to the safe house, and was nibbling on some comfort chicken. He obeyed N'buli’s directions without any fuss and they were off and moving in five minutes.
They caught a taxi out of the city. Max liberated a Mitsubishi Evo from a dealership on the edge on Amsterdam and N'buli made sure he left a receipt, so LOVE could cover the costs. The organisation might be hunting him like a dog, but it always paid its debts.
They avoided going out onto the freeway, and – with Max driving - started taking a torturous route through the countryside that avoided any town or city, heading east.
They got three hundred kilometres before N'buli spoke. 'I can’t trust you, Max.'
Max didn’t take his eyes off the road. 'That’s not very fair.'
'I know, but I don’t even trust myself. And I like myself very much.'
'You always were an egotistical bastard.'
It was another fifty kilometres before Max spoke again. 'So we keep heading east?'
'Head into the sunrise, Max. Just keep on going. Stay away from any town or city. Stay away from everyone, really. If they can turn Val, they can turn anyone.'
Max just nodded. 'East. All right. Well, you get some sleep, and then you can take over in a few hours. That way we can keep moving, and we’ve got a long way to go.'
'Good idea,' said N'buli, closing his eyes and trying to get comfortable in his seat. The Evo was a beautiful car, but N'buli was too tall for it.
Max got his small headphones out of his jacket pocket, plugged them into his mp3 player – they had long disposed of their trackable phones and were resorting to the cutting edge technology of 2003 - and cranked up the music. He drove on, in search of a dawn, grooving to Ennio Morricone music.
Val had several hundred Euros in her pockets, so when she stumbled into the Amsterdam rail station, she had enough money to pay for a seat on a train. She didn’t even ask where the train was going, she just threw money at woman behind the ticket counter until she gave her a ticket on the first train heading south.
Her head was still ringing, and she could hear somebody whispering indistinct words as she found her place on the train and curled up into her seat.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to push out the ringing and whispering, but the more she pushed it out, the more the horrible truth kept flooding in.
She had killed her youngest son. They had used her as a weapon, and she had killed Stevie.
Val didn’t hear the train leave the station. She was in hell.
They had to ditch the Evo to cross the border into Germany and Max almost cried as they left it abandoned on a country road. He wasn’t much happier when all N'buli could find for breakfast were some over-ripe apples.
They slipped across the border without any fuss, liberated an old farming truck and carried on, heading further east.
She was in hell.
The train passed through Belgium and into France and Val didn’t even remember showing her passport, but found it sitting on the empty seat next to her 100 kilometres into the French countryside.
She had spent the entire journey curled up in her seat, trying to shut her own mind down. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t move, she couldn’t do everything.
And the memories were starting to bleed through. For the first time, she remembered leaving the Sydney hotel room and walking to the street where Stevie and Dave had been parked up. She remembered knowing she would find the gun in a nearby letterbox and she remembered the lack of surprise when she did find it there. She remembered walking up to the car and raising the gun.
She remembered firing it.
And if it wasn’t the horrible memories, it was the voices in her head. She could feel them skirting around the edges of her perception, trying to get a hold on her mind, and she could only just hold them off. But she couldn’t avoid the endless whispering.
She tried to retreat into the meditative bliss they had taught her in her first year at LOVE academy, but each time she concentrated on any kind of mantra, she could hear the whispers getting louder, and began to recognise the voices.
It was mainly Mrs Goodson, speaking in a calm and clear whisper, telling her that everything was going to be okay, that she just needed to calm down and take it easy. But there were other voices as well, dozens – hundreds – of quiet voices, just out of her range of hearing. She couldn’t tell what they were saying, but knew they were a multitude of different tones and dialects.
Val couldn’t help hearing the whispers, but she was damned if she was going to really listen to them. Every time she started to think that Mrs Goodson was right and that she should just calm down, she saw the face of her son as he lay in the mortuary of an Australian hospital, and saw the look on her husband’s face when he told her what had happened. All that pain was tearing her apart, but it was the only thing really keeping her together.
And when that got too much, when the pain was so strong it felt like her body was on fire, she went to the source of the pain and remembered where it all came from. It all came from her love, the love for her children, and for her husband, and for her friends. It was the love for them all that led to the pain she felt now, and the worse it felt, the more she knew her love was real.
She stopped thinking about the night she killed her son, and started thinking about every other night. Stevie had been her youngest, born in the oldest hospital in Vladivostok in 1975, and she had loved him every day of his life. She remembered his smile, and his laugh, and his stupid dreams, and while she knew she would never hear his voice again, she counted herself as blessed for hearing it at all.
That love was more powerful than anything, even the voices in her head, and she faded away into a deep sleep as the train carried on into the French night.
'No, no, no,' said Max as he stabbed at the stereo of their latest stolen car. 'I’ve heard enough Pink Floyd to last for a lifetime.'
N'buli didn’t know where they were, but he knew they were still heading in the right direction. They had started parking up in quiet and remote spots during the day, to avoid contact with any other people, and while it was a necessary security precaution, Max and N'buli were starting to get a little sick of each other. They were arguing over almost everything, from the best route to Mongolia to the choice of music in the stolen vehicles.
The only they did agree on was that they had to go to Mongolia to sort everything out. There was never any question about that.
So N'buli didn’t say anything when Max threw the Pink Floyd CD out of the car, even though he really, really wanted to. They had a long way to go yet. Farther than the dark side of the moon.