Monday, 31 October 2016
I’m not entirely sure what happened next. I can still feel the jerking of my gun reverberating through my fingers, shaking my body, knocking me back and forth with its terrible force. It was a strange sensation because of its familiarity. When I was a boy, the same grandfather that had forced me to the bell tower had also forced me to the graveyard. I remember asking why. His response was still seared into my memory. “Someone has to mow the lawn, my lad. Better us than them.” He replied, jutting a thumb towards the graves.
The sensation of the gun thundering in my hands was the same as the thrumming of the lawn mower that I heavily pushed between the graves in a macabre circuit. I remember going home that night, drenched in sweat from a hard day’s work, only to then collapse of exhaustion. Maybe that’s what happened to me after firing the gun. It tired me so much I blacked out straight away.
I don’t know what happened immediately, but I do know that I awoke with a start, sweat dripping down my forehead, running down my cheeks and dancing across the cables puckering across my flesh like tentacles.
I breathed in a few times, trying to calm myself, only to realise I wasn’t having a panic attack. I was perfectly fine. I think I found that slightly more worrying than my surroundings.
Despite the darkness, I instantly knew where I was. The metal beneath me was soft and pliable and I could feel an electrical buzz along side the strong metallic smell in the air. Add that to the claustrophobia I was experiencing and I knew almost for certain that I was in one of the conversion pods. This time, however, I knew Percival and Demon wouldn’t be coming to save me.
I sat up. My back screamed at me and my skin felt as if it was tearing as the cables pulled against it, but I managed it. Evidently, the lawn mower ladies weren’t expecting their victims to wake.
A wave of nausea passed over me, my head spinning, my eyes aching. At least they aren’t shining. Katy appeared in the centre of my mind and with her came the realisation that she was dead. Just as Percival was dead and just as they’d probably taken Demon. I felt a tear attempted to prise its way from my eye but it couldn’t. Tentatively, I raised a hand, patting across my face. There were rubber patches covering them. No wonder I couldn’t see.
My nails felt longer than I had remembered them being but that wasn’t too much of a bad thing; it allowed me to dig my fingers under the patches and tear them off. I instantly wished I hadn’t. My assumptions of where I was had been wrong, but much nicer than the truth.
I was sat in a cavern. The air was unnaturally warm, despite the dew running down the jagged stone walls. The cables covering my flesh dangled from the ceiling with such intensity than I felt I was in a jungle. They covered every inch of my body, except it wasn’t my body I was looking down towards.
I was dressed in pink and my flesh was too smooth. The rough stubble of a shave three days ago was gone, replaced by the soft, delicate flesh of a house wife. My hands were pristine and manicured and the perfect nails connected to the perfect fingers moved through the tight curls of my newly blonde hair with swift precision. I looked down and saw that my size twelve River Island boots- more knackered than a retired horse- were gone, replaced with pink heels. I gulped, but my Adam’s Apple didn’t bob as I did because I didn’t have an Adam’s Apple to bob.
I breathed in and out heavily, my lungs heaving and my heart hurting. But they weren’t my lungs nor my heart. Chris Marten was gone, wiped away like an equation from a chalk board. They’d taken the one thing I had left. My identity.
I grabbed the cables, which somehow managed to pass through my clothes, in huge clods and tore them out. It was painful and there were flecks of blood but I saw the pink clothing flicker and that just urged me on.
Have you ever sewn something? You know the sensation of the needle beneath your flesh, jiggling about as you pulled it free? Imagine that sensation but the needle is alive. The cables, like tentacles, fought viciously beneath my flesh, trying to wrap around my muscles and bones but I didn’t let them. My new identity flickered, morphed and boiled as I tore at the cables infiltrating my body and I just kept pulling harder.
I tore the last wire out of my feet. It tore a chunk of flesh with it and blood began to soak into my sock but it was worth it. The new form had become foggier and foggier and now it popped, almost like a soap bubble, for my body to reappear. I’ve never liked my body. I mean, the first sixteen years of my life were spent telling other kids that I didn’t play basket ball and that I wasn’t tall, they just suffered from dwarfism. The years after that were spent telling other adults the exact same thing. My feet were so freakishly large that I couldn’t buy shoes from any normal dealer and my face had resulted in no invitation to any party ever. It also didn’t help that my mother had told me I looked like a vase when she accidentally walked in on me getting changed once- something to do with the way my legs awkwardly curved outwards. Despite my continuous annoyance with it, I was very glad to have my body back.
I hauled myself off the pad I was sat on. It was uncomfortable and metallic, probably where the smell was coming from, and suspended by unseen legs in a vat of oily liquid. The floor beneath the liquid was solid stone, but there seemed to be creatures swimming through it. Occasionally, one would slide past my ankle and send a shiver coursing through my body. I kept on regardless.
The caves were big but unnatural. There was a fresh sheen to the jutting rocks that made me believe they’d been carved. I could hear a distant thundering sound, like the ground was being torn apart below. I suddenly realised where I was. Inside the hill I’d pitched the tent on, the hill which held the village on one side and Condor on the other. But why were they mining?
There were hundreds of other streams of cables falling from the roof, surrounding thousands of other stretchers. One of them must have held Katy, another Percival, maybe Demon and Lizzy on others. I was the only one left, the only one still alive. I had to end this. I had to kill the hive mind. I had to-
I felt a hand clamp around my mouth, pulling me back and down. I struggled and fought but the only thing I could smell was the scent of leather polish and flesh. I felt my body slipping into the oily liquid and then a soft voice telling me to shush.
There was nothing but the thudding of my heart in my chest and the distant dripping of water. The hand around my mouth was tight and the body it belonged to was hard against my back. I sat in terrified silence for a few moments longer and then the hand released. “They’re gone.” She whispered.
“Who? Who have gone?”
“The Pussy Cat Dolls- who do you think? The bloody pink ladies. They’ll be back soon so we need to be quick. What’s the last thing you can remember?”
“Who the hell are you?”
The hands on my shoulders pulled me around and I saw that I was talking to Lizzy, the green haired woman from the Sanctum. She had a burst lip- her piercing was gone- and a black eye but, besides that, she looked just as scruffy as ever. “It’s me. The one with the green hair. We don’t have long, so answer my bloody question. What’s the last thing you can remember?”
“Katy was turned and there were loads of lawn mower people in the village and Demon was unconscious and Percival was turned and-“
“Okay, okay.” She said. “I get the picture. Just take some breaths, calm yourself down.”
I couldn’t quite tell whether she was speaking to me or herself. I decided to assume it was me and took some breaths. She blinked a couple of times, took a few breaths of her own and then said, “Percival and I were on our way here when the lawnmower people ambushed us. I managed to escape but they got him. I was hoping he might have been able to escape but evidently not. I followed them here from a distance. It seems they’re drilling a mineshaft into the earth but I’m not entirely sure why. I need to go find Percival and Demon; they’ll be around somewhere. You need to get the hell out of here.”
“No.” I said, my voice breaking as I did. I took a deep breath, grew a little more of back bone and repeated it. “No. I want to stay and help you. Find Katy.”
“No chance.” Lizzy said. “You’re a liability and a danger. Ge the hell out of here. If you want to be helpful, take these,” she passed me the Sanctum keys, “find a car, go back to the Sanctum. There’s a phone on my desk, where all the computers are. It’s voice activated. Just tell it you want Mark Cartwright. You’ll need to speak clearly; it’s tuned for my voice. Just say, “Call Mark Cartwright.” When he picks up, tell him I sent you, tell him that Percival and Demon are down, tell him there are androids. Tell him to hurry. Okay?”
I nodded in the dark. “It was Lizzy, right? That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“Yep, that’s me. You’re named after the guy from Coldplay aren’t you?”
“It’s a different spelling of Marten but yeah, pretty much. Good luck, Lizzy.”
“Good luck to you too, Chris.” She said. “Live long and prosper. Now, run!”
I did just that, jumping up and chasing through the water. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew I was going to get there quick. My arms brushed past cables, knocking them and sending shivers up towards the roofs. The pink ladies lying in the centre momentarily disappeared, the facade flickering, but as soon as the cables settled, the individuality was gone.
An army was being bred around me and there was nothing I could do but run as fast as possible from it.
I saw a flash of light from my side. I skidded through the water in my attempt to turn towards it, hauling myself up and racing as fast as I could. The churning caw of the rotors far beneath intensified, as if the ground was preparing to chew me up.
The crack in the light grew larger as I approached. I threw myself through it, tearing my plaid shirt as I passed. The world around me exploded into daylight, blinding me momentarily. Then I was sinking, splashing into water, rocks pulling at my face and mud seeping into my clothes.
I hauled myself up and clawed at my face, pulling away the cover of mud, attempting to dry myself with dripping hands. My eyes blinked furiously, becoming accustomed to the light. It took a few seconds and then I realised exactly where I was.
Katy and I had been planning to trace the river back up to its source atop of the hill, where the ship had crashed. I’d emerged from one of the five waterfalls my map mentioned on the way up the hill. From here, there was a maximum of ten minutes of walking before I could get to the village. Cartwright. Cartwright. Mark Cartwright.
There was another waterfall, a much bigger one this time, leading from the river I’d fallen into. The waters were rushing and white. I wandered if I could climb down it and decided against it. If my memory of the map had been right, there was a stile in the fence somewhere along here and I could easily use that to access a footpath which would lead me straight down.
I felt a shadow fall over me from behind. “Hello Chris,” said a voice.
I turned, slowly, carefully, wishing I had the machine gun that Demon had given me, no matter how juddery it made my arms. I turned fully and saw, with complete horror, Katy stuff before me. The way the light fell on her back cast her in darkness so I could only see her silhouette and the glow of her LED Eyes. The eyes lifted as she smiled. “My name is Samantha.”
She’d given Chris orders. Her arms were still shaking, her lips still fluttering. Despite the blood oozing from her cuts, she felt incredible. She’d had power, and she’d used it. Admittedly, she’d been terrified every moment but now it was over, she felt like a new woman. Elizabeth Dunstan, hero and leader. If only Annie could see her now.
She left the huge cavern and entered a small tunnel on the type of gradient she’d expect. The Hive Mind probably knew she was coming. It had a connection to every android and in every android was a octacore processor. With that much computing power, it would no doubt have worked out her logical course of action. She had two options, of course. Find Percival and Demon or find the Hive Mind. The Hive would no doubt expect her to go after Percival and Demon, humans were so sentimental like that, but she knew that was the wrong course of action. The two of them were probably converted by now and finding them amongst the crowds of pink attired, blonde housewives would be impossible. No, instead she’d find the Hive Mind and force it to release them. If she could.
She was absolutely soaked through, firstly because it had been raining when the Bugatti had crashed, secondly because she’d spent the last twenty minutes wading through the oily liquid of the central cavern, searching for Percival before she realised it was a pointless plan. The liquid was gloopy and metallic smelling but quite ingenious. It was an electrolyte solution, which meant that it was full of free flowing ions and electrons, ready to conduct electricity. She was lucky the Hive Mind hadn’t turned it on; it would have killed her with the flick of a switch. She liked to imagine, or rather the part of her mind that had binged on Hammer Horror movies as a kid liked to imagine, that its purpose was to electrify the converted victims into life. That was why metal turned into a liquid of sorts in your average conversion matrix.
That’s right, Elizabeth. Try to baffle yourself with science to take your mind off the impending doom.
What impending doom? She was Lizzy Dunstan and she’d just taken control! She was going to save the world with nothing but a semi-automatic handgun, a pair of Vegan Doc Martens and her Spotify playlist of Rock, personally curated- none of that fancy ‘Daily Mix’ nonsense. She stopped, leaning against the stone wall as she untangled her earphones. She concentrated better when she had them in. They were white pods at the end of white cables. She’d had some rainbow striped ones that Annie had bought her at a Pride Festival a few years back but she didn’t like wearing them now. They made her think of Annie’s perfect, caressing hands running across the rough sides of her green hair. She didn’t like to think of that.
She plugged the jack into the bottom of her phone and opened Spotify. There wasn’t a connection but a UniDays account got her reduced Premium Membership so she had all her music downloaded. She hit shuffle on the Rock Playlist and felt her ears fill with the Arctic Monkeys. “Stop making the eyes at me, I’ll stop making the eyes at you,” said a familiar Northern voice.
Lizzy set off in the direction of the Hive Mind with her gun in hand, ready to kill.
The phone was screaming a bit of My Chemical Romance by the time she reached the top of the tunnel. It emerged into the centre of the hexagon of houses. The pink ladies were still mowing, still rotating in their ever lasting tyranny of order. She pulled back the slide barrel of her semi-automatic and shot two of them in the head. A pang of self doubt reminded her they could be Percival or Demon but she ignored that. Only the best androids would be put in the circles and, in the two hours it had been since the car crash, there was no chance Percival or Demon could have risen the ranks that quick.
The women all turned and began to mow towards her, quicker than ever. She spun, emptying her gun in rapid procession. The bullets all found their marks, tearing away chunks of the androids’ heads, their hair, their bodies and even their lawnmowers. When she was out of bullets, she dropped the magazine and loaded another in the blink of an eye. Her hand grabbed the top of the gun, pulling back the slide barrel and preparing to fire again. In the time this action took, a few of the androids had collapsed. Only two were still standing.
“Samantha, right?” Lizzy demanded. She felt that same rush of power she had when she’d been speaking to Chris but with it came the fear. A bead of sweat from her forehead ran and soaked into the cut on her lip where the piercing had been torn out. It stung badly but she ignored it. She couldn’t show pain. Not now. “I’m Lizzy. I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Bad news first, I’m afraid. You’ve really p[CENSORED]d me and my friends off. The good news? My friends aren’t here right now so you might have a couple seconds longer to live. I have a request and you’re going to listen to it. Understand?”
“Yes.” The two women said in unison, their voice deep and computerised. “What is your request?”
“Take me to your leader.” She grinned.
They led her through the door of one of the houses. She kept her gun in hand, ready to shoot them out or shoot herself should there be any funny business. It didn’t look like that would be the case. They led her towards a tunnel in the far corner which led straight down into the rocks beneath the muddy ground. There was a distant glow that was as ominous as it was warm.
About halfway down the sloping tunnel, the mud and rock exploded away, turning instead into metal. They’d entered the spaceship. Despite having dealt with this kind of thing throughout her adult life, she still got the chills on entering a ship. It was the technology of the Gods, of the future. It was as if she’d walked straight into tomorrow.
Her heart beat grew faster the further down they went until it was almost in time with Dave Grohl in the background of Smells Like Teen Spirit, thudding in her ears. She fingered her gun, wondering if a simple gunshot would solve all the problems. Of course not. This isn’t America.
She slipped the gun away and reached up to her earphones, pulling them out and tucking them in a wild scramble into her pocket. She wiggled her fingers, flexed her muscles and said a quick prayer to God. Her leg wanted to bounce against the floor with everything it had but she forced it to stay where it was. Her heart thudded faster and faster.
A pair of doors were in front. The two women stopped. “We go no further.” They said, their voices synchronised perfectly. “You will speak to me in my true form.”
“Then open the doors.” She said. “Unless you’re scared.”
Oh, the bloody cheek of you, young lady. The bloody cheek.
The doors hissed open like the Devil’s jaws, waiting to swallow her up and digest her way to Hell. She stepped forwards, her gun slipped away into her trousers. It took every effort of her soul to keep her walking in a straight line. She could feel her fingers twitching, her hands shaking. She wanted to cry, wanted to collapse, but she didn’t let herself. Instead, Lizzy Dunstan kept walking as if she owned the room because, generally, if you believe you do, so does everybody else.
In front of her was the cockpit of the crashed ship. It wasn’t too damaged- did they have crumple zones in outer space?- but it wasn’t exactly in the best condition, either. Most of it had been stripped down and dissected for spare parts. There was nothing left, in fact, apart from a huge glass screen and, in the centre of it, was a battered and bloodied face.
Whoever the woman was, she wasn’t looking good for it. Instead, she looked as if she’d been four rounds with an angry gorilla. There were bruises and blood covering the scarred face. For a moment, Lizzy felt a pang of body positivity and then the fear returned as the face spoke.
“Hello Elizabeth. My name is Samantha.”
“Why?” Lizzy asked. You’ve seen how I work, Lizzy. Percival said in her memories. Take control of the room. Never play to their intentions. If you own the room, you own them. Now do it.
“You have come here to beg me, not ask questions.”
“I have come here to tell you what you’re going to do, Samantha, and your first job is to tell me why you chose that particular name.”
“I have your friends. I own their lives. You mustn’t waste my time or I will waste their souls.”
This is it, Lizzy. This is the moment when you take control. Stand up and show that that pilfering arse weasel of a back stabbing monster of a coward, son of a gun and bloody idiot just why you’re the best thing to have ever happened to that Goddamn shop!
“The only thing I mustn’t, love, is get any more annoyed. Do you know where I’ve been the last twenty or so minutes? Planting bombs in that cavern of yours.” She purposely let her voice crack. If she controlled it, he’d know she wasn’t talking normally and that would tell him she was bluffing. She couldn’t have that. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, I’ve got an army down there. I’ll wake them up, get them to check for me. That’s a no go, my friend. You switch them on, you electrify the liquid and that activates the bombs. We all go up. So, you listen here, you don’t waste my time, otherwise you waste all our souls.”
The face said nothing. She took that as a good sign.
Taking a very deep breath, she continued. “I’ve got three questions and a request. Question One: What do you want with the Earth? Question Two: Why are you mining? Question Three: Who are you? I’m going to keep the request until the end, just to keep you in suspense.”
“We want Escape.” The face said, its computerised voice disconnected to the movement of its lips. “We are mining for Escape. We are the Great Confederacy. We are the Empty Monks. The Overlords demand Escape and we will gain it for them. I care not for your request for it is built upon the same lies as your bombs. I watch your every movement. I know you have no bombs, just as I know the child Christopher is escaping as we speak. I have one simply question for you, Miss Dunstan, and then we can begin our work in earnest. Who is Annie?”
Any soft veneer of confidence that Lizzy might have fostered was instantly lost, replaced instead by terrible paralysis. She stood there, staring at the face, wanting to cry. And then she felt the cables twisting around her legs and her arms, creeping over, up towards her neck, She felt herself being pulled back and consumed, the metal drilling through flesh and searching for muscles, nerves, anything it could exploit.
The face began to laugh. “This Earth shall become our conquest until we can find the Escape. Then, your ashes will fill space and time, our universe opened for the next. The Orchard will burn and from its charred remains shall rise another. The end will be avoided for a new beginning.”
“Has anybody ever told you how melodramatic you sound?” She asked, tears rolling down her face. Her entire body was shaking now, the only thing keeping it from falling apart were the cables. “You want to destroy the Earth. Well, guess what, so does every other bloody race, including our own. You aren’t anything special. You aren’t anything important. You think that just because you’ve got a fancy name and a divine calling you’re any different? Well, you’re not! We’re all small! We’re all tiny but we each have our own force of gravity, all mass has, no matter how small. The bigger an object, the larger the mass, the greater the gravity. When we’re together, we have the power to control the oceans. When we aren’t, we can’t even pull a paper clip, no matter how many Doomsday Ultimatums or nuclear bombs we have. You understand that, being a hive mind and all. You understand unity. It is the greatest superpower there is. Together, we can do anything. Together, we can… we can…”
We can live happily ever after, Lizzy. Will you marry me? Oh come on, don’t give me that silence. What’s your answer? That ring cost me a lot.
Annie’s laughs echoed through Lizzy’s head as the cables mined deeper and deeper into her flesh, scratching at her bones. She let out a scream of terror as they pushed her to the ground. The face stared down at her, that terrible, bloodied face.
“Together, we can save the Universe, Lizzy. The intention of the Great Confederacy is just that. We will save the Universe but first we must destroy the Earth. I will grant you one wish before you die, Elizabeth Dunstan. The wish is an answer to your earlier question. Why Samantha? Why this face? Simple. This face is that of the first person we killed. The farmer of Condor. Samantha is her name. Say it. Act in memoriam.”
“Sa-maaan-thaa.” Lizzy struggled. She tried to fight back but she couldn’t. She couldn’t overcome the powerful force making her say that name. “Sa-maan-thaaa.”
“Our name is Samantha.” The voice thundered. “And the end is nigh.”
Lizzy felt her eyes beginning to glow, burning inside her skull. “My name is Samantha.”
She thought of Annie and she cried.
My grandad made me watch Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy when I was little. Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood. I’d hated it as a child- Woody was my favourite cowboy. Growing up, however, it’d had quite an impact on me. From my facial hair at the age of fifteen- modelled over enthusiastically on Blondie’s- to the stories I wrote for the Creative Writing module of my degree, it had become a large part of my life. It was no surprise, then, that I saw the obvious symmetry between those movies all those years ago with the moment I was undergoing now.
Here was I in the shadow of an adversary with an angel’s eyes and there was she, standing over me, ready to strike. I gulped, my Adam’s Apple bobbing this time. I had no gun to draw, no Ennio Morricone to sound awesome to. All I had was my wit and my charisma- which came in short supply- and my best friend to kill or be killed by. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any worse…
Truth is the greatest weapon. Somebody had probably said that once, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or one of their ilk. It didn’t matter who’d said it. It was right and I was going to exploit that. “Katy?” I asked. “Are you still in there?”
“Yes.” She said. “But I am more than that now. I am powerful. I am unified. I am Samantha.”
“You’re Katy. Katy McDonald from Bispham, Blackpool, who was too frightened of clowns to go up the Blackpool Tower but mocked me when I wouldn’t go in the Dungeons. Tell me you remember that. Tell me you remember shouting at me for jumping at every explosion in every movie we ever went to see.”
“I remember.” She said, her face blank. “I want to forget.”
“Why? Because it makes you smile? Because it makes you cry? Why do you want to forget, Katy? Is it because it’s too much of a good memory? It’s the best memory I ever goddamn had. Better than going bloody camping. You were so annoyed when I suggested that. Do you remember? Everyone else going skiing and backpacking and there was us, camping in a farmer’s field in Yorkshire. Do you know why I chose this particular site? This particular part of Yorkshire?”
Katy stared at me, uncaring. I took a deep breath and told her what I’d been rehearsing in my head since the day I’d called the straw haired farmer to book a pitch. I’d always been worried she’d kill me when I told her but I never thought she might actually do it. “I booked this particular part of Yorkshire because of the walk. At the top, there used to be a waterfall. It’s gone now, probably crushed by the crash landing. Meant to be one of the most beautiful secret spots in the whole of the North. I was going to take you there and when we sat down with our thermos flask and our sandwiches,” a tear ran down my cheek, “I was going to tell you the other greatest secret in the whole of the North. The one I’ve been hiding from you since Year Nine. Are you sitting comfortably, Katy? It’s one hell of a shock!”
She didn’t reply.
“The secret is that I love you. With every last fibre of my being. And when those idiots used to come up to us and ask if we were dating and you’d instantly begin denying it cause, of course, we weren’t, it used to break my heart every time. I’ve loved you since we met but I only realised then and I’ve spent the last eight years telling myself that I was wrong. That it wasn’t really love. That it was just me not understanding friendship whilst you went out with all those lads who weren’t me and tried to set me up with all those girls who weren’t you and I let you try because I didn’t want to upset you because I love you. I love you so much.” The tear dripped from my cheek and fell into the fast moving water. “I’m sorry.”
She said nothing. Then, very slowly, very calmly, she walked down a muddy slope and onto the shore side where I’d exploded from the cavern. We stared at each other, across the river, and for a moment I thought my Katy, the one I’d closed my eyes to the thought of every night for the last eight years, had returned. Then she said, “I don’t have a choice, Chris. I don’t want to kill you but I have to.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. They asked you to be Head Girl at High School but you turned it down because you didn’t like the tie. You can do anything you want.”
“I can’t, Chris. He’s forcing me to. The voice in my head.”
“Fight it. Please.” More tears rolled from my eyes. My vision became blurry. “Fight it for me, please.”
“I can’t. It feels good to give in.” She smiled like she had on that beach all those years ago, high on drugs and enjoying it. “It gives me a fuzzy feeling when I make him proud.”
“What does he want you to do?” I asked.
“And if you don’t?”
“The fuzzy feeling ends and I don’t want that, Chris. I don’t want that at all.”
“You make it sound like you’re high.” I raised a hand and rubbed the tears from my eyes but they kept coming. The part of my mind that didn’t take anything seriously muttered, It’s like Toy Story 3 all over again.
“Maybe I am, Christopher.” She said. Her old voice was back for just a second and then it was the computerised version again. For a moment, her eyes flickered and my Katy was stood in front of me but then she was gone again. “It doesn’t matter. He wants me to kill you and I have no choice. I just want you to know…”
A tear trickled down one LED Eye, before dropping to her cheek and continuing its journey across her fluxing flesh. Her t-shirt flickered, turning momentarily into a pink dress, her auburn hair momentarily becoming blonde. She came back and I saw her and then she was gone. The voice that spoke held none of the Lancashire tones of a girl from Blackpool. Instead, it spoke, “You will join us, or you will die.”
“I figured.” I said, my voice breaking with the tears. She stepped into the water towards me, her hands outstretched, ready to crush the air from my lungs. I threw myself towards her, knowing what I had to do. I didn’t think of the girl I’d known and loved, I didn’t think of the way her cheeks turned red when she laughed. I didn’t let myself think of her mother, sat in an armchair watching Homes Under the Hammer, insisting that I call her Christine whenever I went round to Katy’s house, nor of the way that woman would cry for hours when I told her her daughter was dead. Instead, I thought of what I needed to do no matter the cost. Survive.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that when I first played Boxing on Wii Sports, I was knocked out every time. It wasn’t exactly my forte. Considering this, it wouldn’t be too surprising that I hadn’t managed to land one punch before I was in almost crippling pain.
Katy hadn’t been very good on the Nintendo either but now she was almost a Kung Fu master. Her fists were made of iron and every punch found the flab of my awful body. I felt my muscles screaming and huge blue bruises swelling into life. My arm broke, my ribs broke and I felt my heart failing to thud. My eyes slipped shut and, no matter how hard I tried to open them, I couldn’t.
By the time I’d forced them open, Katy had me on the floor, forcing my face into the water. Her vice like hands were squeezing my neck with such force I could feel my windpipe collapsing. I tried to breathe but what little I could take in was nothing more than water. Meanwhile, Katy brought my head down over and over again, breaking my nose against the muddy rock, cutting my cheeks and my forehead on the rock. I felt myself slipping in and out of consciousness, bright explosions of psychedelic light filling my view. I tried to reach up to wrestle her off me but she pushed my hands back down again as easily as she would swat a fly.
It all went black for far too long. When I opened my eyes again, my mouth was full of water. I tried to breathe but I couldn’t. I screamed and bubbles flew through the water choking me. She forced me further down, burying my face in the mud and the rock. I felt myself on the verge of blacking out but, this time, I suspected it would be permanent. My body began to shake, the last dregs of life leaving it. My legs shot up and kicked her in the back. I didn’t mean to do it but I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. She stumbled forwards and kicked her again, knocking her into the water. I rolled away, pulling my face out of the water. Blood poured down my neck and into the soaked material of my shirt. I didn’t think about it, instead pulling myself to my feet and wrenching up water and mud. My stomach growled and my throat burnt but by the time Katy was running towards me again, I’d recovered.
I swung out a punch and broke her nose, in the process fracturing my knuckles. It felt as if the skull and muscle covering it had been gilded in iron. I swung out my other fist. This time it seemed to have an effect. I grabbed the sides of her head, like I had done in a thousand fantasies, and swung my own head forwards. I stumbled back, slightly dazed, but it had more of an effect on her. Her skin was cracked, her LED Eyes cracked. She tried to speak but her head just cocked to one side, looking confused.
“Katy,” I moaned, my entire body screaming at me, “give in. Please.”
“My name,” her head cocked to one side, a fizzle of electricity passing down her, momentarily changing her form, “my name is, man, my name Sa, na-THA-me, SA, my name, AGH, my name is SA, sa, SA, man, Sasasasa, MAAAAAAN, tha. My name is Samantha.”
“I’m sorry. I love you.” I said and kicked her straight in the stomach.
She stumbled backwards, losing her footing, tripping and being pulled back by the force of the water. The last sight I saw was her head tilting up, her LED Eyes fading, replaced by her normal view. She mouthed something, maybe my name, and then she was gone, washing over the edge of the fall and lost in the white splash of the river far below.
“CHRIS!” Screamed a deep warble from my right. “GET DOWN!”
I turned but it was too late. Somewhere, a gun fired. I felt my shoulder explode and then I was falling once more, into the water where my running blood turned the water rushing past me crimson.
There was another gunshot and the sound of a body thudding into the ground. A thundering patter of footsteps echoed against the roaring of the water and then I felt strong arms wrapping around me, pulling me out of the water and carrying me to the shore.
Once I was safe on the ground, there was the cocking of a gun and then that deep warble spoke, “Stay down, Percival. Don’t make me shoot you again.”
I opened my eyes and tried to sit up but my entire body was on fire with crippling pain. I tried to roll over but I discovered I couldn’t. My shoulder was numb, my arm was numb, hell, that entire side of my body was numb. At least your mind isn’t. Katy’s is.
I began to cry.
“Graham, oh thank God, put that gun down and deal with the boy will you?” I heard Percival’s voice say. “I’m fine. I’m fine. That bullet grazed me.”
“No offence but I’m not going to take your word for it. What’s your name?”
“Percival Archin. I was born in 1944 and I’ve got an awful headache. Robert Turner adopted me in ’53, I lived with him and Michelle Addams until he died in ’71 and since then I’ve led the Institute in his place. You’re Graham Cooper, the kid I just shot is Christopher Marten and, oh God, our ward Lizzy Dunstan just took on a Hive Consciousness. Sort out the boy then deal with me. I promise I’m unconverted.”
I heard Graham kneeling down, placing his gun on the floor and then doing something or another. I twisted my eyes as far as they would go and saw that he was prodding Percival’s face. After a few seconds, he nodded. “You’re back to normal all right. Stay there whilst I deal with Chris.”
He wandered over to me and knelt down. “On a scale of Eastenders to Coronation Street, how bad do you feel?”
“Which one is worse?”
“The very fact you have to ask that question tells me you’ve got a concussion.” He reached into a small bag on his side and pulled out a syringe. “You a heroin addict?”
“Good.” He said. “Mind needles?”
“So long as they aren’t being stuck in me.” I tried a smile but it stung like hell. “Is Katy dead?”
“Depends. Is she a Victorian detective?” He slipped the needle into my arm. “You’re going to feel a bit spaced out in a minute but don’t fight it. You’re going to need to feel that way.”
I felt myself beginning to drift ever so slightly.
“Have you spoken to Lizzy?” Graham asked, taking off his bespoke suit jacket and pressing it down into my wound. “Do you know where she is?”
“She said she was going to find you guys. Should I feel like I’m floating?”
“Yes. Can you feel this?”
I shook my head. I couldn’t feel anything at all. “What did you do?”
“I just stuck my index finger into the wound in your shoulder.” I saw him staring at the bloody finger and then wiping it on my shirt. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to get rid of that shirt.”
“Who shot me?” I said, with the tone of voice that asked whether I was going to be angry with them or hug them.
“That was me, I’m afraid.” Percival called. “The Hive Mind forced me. If it’s any consolation, Graham did just wind me with a very good shot.”
“And how come you’re not dead, big man?” I asked, a pleasant smile crossing my face.
“Whilst you were shooting, I was able to carry myself away.” Graham said. “You saved me, little one. Now let me return the favour.”
“Is it okay if I go to sleep?” I asked. I tried to think about everything that had happened but I couldn’t. It was just a wall of milky whiteness, drowning me. I let out a massive yawn, my face resembling the lion from the beginning of James Bond films. “I’m feeling very tired.”
“Sleep my friend.” Graham smiled. “We’ll wake you up when we need you.”
With a content smile and the memory of the horrors I’d experienced safely banished, I closed my eyes and slept away my pain.
She sat in the corner of the cockpit with blood covering her arms and tears on her face. The huge screen was shattered, the face gone. It hadn’t been able to cope. That was the thing about a hive connection. It worked both ways.
Lizzy had closed her eyes and embraced the Hive, allowing its ordered, fixed beauty to enter her mind. And then she’d thought about her life and messed it up. She’d thought about the messy sprawl of her hoodie against the bedroom floor, about colouring pencils out of a clean spectrum and the page of a favourite book creased unnecessarily creased by an uncultured borrower. She thought about the uncertainty of a ringing phone and the disappearance of one’s beloved, of a doorbell that never rung the way you wanted it and a cafe you could never return to because the memories were too painful. Just when the Hive Mind couldn’t take the everyday chaos of humanity anymore, she thought of Annie. She thought of hair so short she could barely run her fingers through it but oh how she’d tried as they’d kissed all night long. She thought about books with lovingly crafted book marks and a bedroom they’d joked looked like it had come straight from Pinterest. She thought about Christmas markets and holding hands, mugs of hot chocolate and milky moustaches. She thought about dancing to Paramore and teasing her for knowing every word in Star Wars: A New Hope. She thought of all the happy times and all the smiles. And then, she thought of how they were gone and the disordered, uncertain, chaotic misery of never knowing if Annie would return.
The Hive Mind felt her emotion and extrapolated it to every processor it had access to. The overwhelming agony was too much. The screen shattered. The walls shook. Samantha was gone.
They found her sat in the corner of the cockpit, shaking and crying. She’d torn the cables out of her flesh with her bare hands and now her arms were covered in blood. More scars to add to her collection. Graham had stood, holding Chris in his arms, whilst Percival knelt down and took hold of Lizzy’s hands. “You saved us.” His voice was soft and quiet.
“She’s dead. Isn’t she?”
“Yes, I believe so.” Percival said, looking over his shoulders. “Seems you killed Samantha and not a moment too soon."
“No.” She sobbed. “Annie. Annie died and that’s why she hasn’t come back to me. He knew her name, Percival. He taunted me with her. How could he know unless he killed her?”
“Come here, you daft thing.” The old man wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, allowing her blood and her tears to soak into his waistcoat. “Annie loves you and she’ll always love you. She just isn’t here right now.”
Lizzy said nothing, just cried into his shoulder. He held her tight, felt the pumping of her heart through his chest. He held her and he thought of that night, what felt like an eternity ago, when Annie had told him the secret and he had told her to leave. He looked down at the nest of green hair before him and decided he couldn’t tell her now. She didn’t deserve that kind of torture.
Eventually, Lizzy stopped crying and let go of him. She looked up to where Graham was holding Chris in the corner.
“Where’s the girl?” She sniffled. “The annoying one?”
“I thought you were here, Liz?” Graham grinned, displaying his horse teeth.
“Funny.” Lizzy said, struggling up. She pulled off her hoodie and used the threadbare sleeves to rub away the blood. It stung badly but not nearly as badly as it had done, a long time ago. “What was her name? Kathy? Kaitlin?”
“Katy.” Percival said. “Katy McDonald. Chris killed her before she could kill him.”
“About twenty minutes ago. If he’d just hung on a few seconds longer, Samantha would have been killed and Katy would have been free.”
“If he’d hung on a few seconds longer,” Graham pointed out, “he’d be dead. He did what he thought was the right thing to do. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Lizzy asked.
“With time.” Percival said. “And our help. Perhaps, hm…”
Lizzy ignored this. She’d just remembered something equally important as Chris’ future. “The Hive Mind said it was the Great Confederacy. It wants to destroy the Earth.”
“We have defeated the Hive Mind, Lizzy. You defeated it. They’re not going to bother us again.”
“But what if they do? A confederacy is normally made of more than one group.”
Graham shrugged, readjusting Chris in his arms. “The girl’s got a point.”
“Well then,” Percival said, “we’ll need all the extra help we can get. The Institute works better when there’s at least four of us.”
“No.” Lizzy said, shaking her head. “Not after Annie. We’re stronger just the three of us.”
“He’s already proved his bravery and courage, Elizabeth.” Percival said. “Where’s the harm in offering him the job? We need someone else.”
“Then help me track down Annie! Don’t go get some stranger!”
“Annie doesn’t have a grudge with the Great Confederacy but this man does. They effectively killed his girlfriend, they nearly killed him. He’s a lost soul because of them and lost souls are who we deal with best. Yes, I think it is wise. When he wakes up, we’ll offer him the position. Chris Marten can join the Fenwick Institute.”
Lizzy said nothing.
“And, once he’s made his decision, then what?” Graham asked. “Are we going after the Great Confederacy?”
“I think so.” Percival nodded. “We’ll track them down, see what they want. We shall negotiate if we can.”
“And if we can’t?”
“We’ll teach them the simplest lesson in the Universe.” Percival smiled. “Humans may be dysfunctional, suicidal and even perhaps a little ridiculous but they are protected.”
The Fenwick Institute will return.
Thursday, 27 October 2016
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth?”
The Bugatti twisted through the slowly greying landscape of rural Yorkshire, the clouds overhead unneeded as the sun sank behind the horizon. To Lizzy Dunstan, it all seemed the same. Nothing more than dry stone walls and swarms of flies, ready to bite and buzz her into an early grave. The only redeeming feature of this land without Reddit, Spotify or proper flood defences was the memories of that slip of paper, the one from the Estate Agents, the one that showed the stone walled cottage with the vegetable patch and the small farm yard, the one that showed a house which would have a post box reading ‘Dunstan-Brooks’ but it didn’t. It never would; the Brooks was gone and now this apocalyptic landscape of a world without advancement was nothing more than a cruel reminder of how God hadn’t so much dealt her a hand as give her Doctor Who Top Trumps in a game of Poker.
That old but smooth accent pulled her out of her meditation, allowing her momentarily to see the reflection of a green haired punk in the Bugatti’s window. She turned, the leather chair creaking beneath her, to face Percival in the driver’s seat. “What is it?”
“You seem upset.” He replied.
“I always seem upset.” She sighed. “It’s part of my identity.”
“People who always seem upset aren’t necessarily always upset. You, my dear, seem to actually be upset at this current moment. So, I shall repeat my question from earlier, what’s wrong, Elizabeth?”
“Nothing.” She sulked. “I’m fine.”
“I switched off the Beatles cassette about two miles back and allowed pop music to play on the radio.” He said it with the type of grimace that said he was as pained by this development as she should have been. “You haven’t noticed yet.”
“I had noticed, I just didn’t feel the need to point it out.” She said.
“You nearly slapped Graham when he put Rock FM on by accident last week.”
She said nothing.
“Lizzy, you can trust me.” Percival said. “I’m just worried about you.”
She couldn’t tell him. He’d hate it. He’d lose the little respect he had for her. He’d see her for the joke she truly was. She couldn’t cope without Percival’s love because not to have Percival’s love would be to have no love in the world at all. Not that it feels like there’s any love in the world. Not with Annie gone.
“I…” Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t tell him, could she? He’d pull over and make her get out of the car. He’d hate her forever. She sighed. She supposed she didn’t have a choice. He’d find out eventually. “I lost my job.”
“What!” He cried.
She felt a tear run down her cheek and the rest was easy. “It wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry. Malcom fancies Leanna and he hates me because I’m hideous and I am and I know I should have argued but I couldn’t and I hate myself so much.”
“You would choose the moment when I can’t easily give you a hug to need one.” Percival sighed. “What was his exact reasoning, Lizzy?”
“He,” she sobbed, her words drowned out for a second. She cleared her throat and then continued, “He said I was too punk.”
Percival started laughing. He raised one hand from the wheel and wiped away a tear slowly bleeding from the corner of his eye. “Oh good God. That’s excellent.”
“I lost my job.”
“In a Doc Martens shop, Lizzy. You were too punk for a Doc Martens shop.” He laughed. “That’s absolutely brilliant. That’s worth getting fired for, just so you can claim that story.”
“But I lost my job. Just like I lose everything. Like I lose control of myself when people are looking at me and like I lost my parents and like I lost Annie.”
“And unlike how you’ll never lose me or Graham.” Percival smiled. “It’s all going to be okay. Maybe losing this job is the best thing to happen. You can go get another, maybe at a bookshop or that vinyl shop of yours. Or, alternatively, you could just stay at the Sanctum all day, programming, reading, doing whatever the hell it is that you want to. It’s not the end of the world, Lizzy. We’ve seen the end of the world plenty of times and, in the vernacular of you modern youths, we kicked its butt. So stop worrying. I’ll care about Lizzy Dunstan, no matter how punk she might be.”
Lizzy smiled and, for the first time in what felt like eternity, she didn’t feel self conscious about her lip piercing as she did.
The ‘Under Sanctum’ as they called it was chilly. It might have been a result of the stone walls or perhaps pathetic fallacy at the prospect of the fate awaiting us. When we were driving away from the village, I was more than happy to never return. The concept of driving back wasn’t my idea of fun.
We were helping Graham load up an inconspicuous white transit van in the garage. There were several cars down here, including a Ford Escort and what looked like a Bentley, but we got the transit. Yay!
The plan was to attack in two formations. Lizzy and Percival would go for the hive consciousness and Graham, Katy and I would take out any androids left hanging around. Graham explained to me that this was secret code for: Katy and I would sit in the van whilst he took out any androids left hanging around. I can’t say I really had any complaints, besides the fact that the van could do with an air freshener of some sort. I made such a comment to Katy but she didn’t take the chance to make a snarky reply. I instantly knew something was wrong but there was a greyness to her eyes that made me unwilling to push it.
Once we’d packed up, Graham checked a wrist watch that looked more of an iron manacle than a fashion accessory. “Ahead of schedule.” He humphed with the merest hint of approval. “Percival doesn’t want us setting off for another ten minutes. Either of you want a cup of tea?”
I’m personally more of a Hot Vimto kind of guy so I politely shook my head. Katy said nothing and Graham took that as a, “No thank you. I’d rather drink digestive juices produced by a seagull’s small intestines and strained through a homeless man’s socks than drink your tea.”
“Suit yourself.” He replied with his deep warble, padding up a few steps and out of the garage. Katy sighed and wandered over to a bench next to a wheel-able Snap On toolbox. I frowned and followed her. “Mind if I sit down?”
I sat down. She looked away, concentrating on her reflection in the balcony. My face was distorted by the stretched bodywork. I tried pulling a funny face at her but, if she noticed, she didn’t laugh.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“That the sky is blue because of the refraction of light and the space between my socks and my trouser ends is chilly down here.”
“Are you struggling to deal with what’s going on right now?”
“What? The alien invasion in a small country village? Yes, I am struggling with that a little bit and I’ve got a banging headache and I don’t understand how you can accept any of this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at you. Hey, Graham, can I help you carry this box of guns? Hey, Percival, is that an atomic spectroscope? I sure do love helping out with that kind of thing. How can you be so calm and controlled when everyone is dead?! Murdered, by androids from outer space they’d have us believe! How can you just go, “Oh well,” and get on with everything?”
“Do you really think I’m fine with it?” I asked. “We’re living in a Jon Pertwee era serial made by Hammer Horror! Evil aliens have landed and want to take over the world with a bloody BBC continuity announcement and we’ve got the white section of your average diversity group- the goth and the old person- running around with machine guns telling us we need to save the bloody universe! I’m not fine with it. I’ve never been further from fine. Why am I acting like I am? Well, because I’ve got no bloody choice have I? We’re about to go to the land of the Body Snatchers and we’re not allowed guns because we don’t have a flipping licence so the only thing I’m going to have to keep me going is my stiff upper lift and boy am I going to use it. Is that okay?”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she let out a giggle.
“What?” I asked, allowing a smile to dissolve my stiff upper lip.
“Do you remember when we went to Brighton in the Easter Holidays of Lower Sixth?”
I nodded. “How could I forget? I got pneumonia.”
“No!” She argued. “That was when we went to Grimsby. No, you got stoned when we went to Brighton. All three of us did, me, you and Mike. On that beach, watching the storm coming in from the far distance, those huge clouds. And behind us, the distance sirens of police cars. We didn’t know if they were coming for us, we didn’t care. We were just rooted to the spot whilst the sea and the storm came for us from in front and the coppers were coming from us behind. And the whole time, we felt as if we were in a dream. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” I nodded.
“You know what I don’t get?”
“The fact that I feel like I’m sat on that beach now. The tide’s coming and so’s the storm yet here we are, letting it approach, feeling like we’re just trapped in a dream gone badly wrong.”
Graham Cooper drank his cup of tea. I like to imagine he had a cup with a picture of a pink unicorn printed onto it and I also liked to imagine that he carefully placed it into the sink of the little kitchenette in the main hall of the Sanctum. Then, I like to imagine he picked up his machine gun from the side counter and softly marched towards the garage.
“Get in the van.” He said and complied himself. I shrugged at Katy and climbed in. She sat in the back; as I learnt from the Year Eleven Berlin trip, she suffered from motion sickness when stressed. The seats in the front were comfortable if not cold and the radio was tuned to BBC Radio 3. I didn’t have Graham down as the type to listen to music but, then again, I suppose I didn’t need to.
Cooper may have climbed into the van but Demon turned the key
Maybe it was the sudden tenseness of his shoulders or the sudden stern glare of his eyes. Maybe it was the way that the van violently jolted into life or the way that the light glinted in the right angle to show his thick wealth of bristle. Whatever it was, Graham Cooper was gone, replaced by the man they called Demon.
He drove quickly but carefully, paying almost delicate attention to traffic lights and other cars on the road. There was not once a flash of anger or irritation at the plight of other drivers, merely the conscientious disapproval of someone who knew he had no power over the lives of others and wasn’t willing to waste his time attempting to interfere.
We reached Yorkshire after a short while. He didn’t speak much, accept to occasionally ask if I was comfortable and then to shout through to Katy to see if she wanted him to stop so she could get in the front. She ceased replying after a while but the occasional flutter of her lips as she snored stopped me from worrying. It had been a tiring few days so I wasn’t surprised she’d fallen asleep.
As we wound through yet another claustrophobic village, this one a little less hostile than the one we’d been camping in, Demon’s deep voice warbled. “Ask it.”
“Ask what?” I replied.
“I don’t have a question.”
“Yes you do.” He sighed it with the same exhaustion I used in response to those who thought I was a basket baller or inquired as to the weather up here. “Everybody has the question.”
“Why does Percival call you Demon?”
“It’s my operational name. I use it when I’m on operations.”
“Percival doesn’t have a different name.”
“He doesn’t want a different name.”
“Why do you?”
“You much of a gamer, Chris?”
“Does MarioKarts count?”
“Then no, I’m not.”
“Neither am I. Give me some knitting any day. My kids used to play video games, though. It used to appall me. They’d sit in their room all day, firing virtual machine guns, tearing virtual zombies apart, and then they’d come downstairs to eat whatever I’d cooked them for tea. I never got how they could do it, so I asked them. ‘Dad, it’s just pretend!’ That’s what they said.” He sighed. “I have an operational name because Demon isn’t real. When Demon shoots these aliens on general principal, it’s just pretend. It’s not Graham Cooper, it’s not a real human being. And that way, when we go back to the Sanctum, when we sit down to enjoy the evening, Lizzy at her computer, Percival with whatever book he’s borrowed from the local library and myself with a ball of yarn, if the bloodied faces of whoever I’ve killed that day come to my mind, it’s nothing more than my kids thinking about their virtual zombies and their virtual Nazis, because one part of the equation isn’t real so none of it is.”
“Do your kids know what you do?”
“No. I don’t have kids.” For a moment, those carefully attentive eyes clouded over, losing their detailed focus on the road ahead. And then he was back in the cab of the van. “Not any more.”
I didn’t probe him on the subject. I think he felt as if he’d told me too much as it was. We continued to drive in silence for a while, before his low warble broke the silence again. “You have a girlfriend, Chris?”
“Me and Katy aren’t going out.”
“I know. You told Percival. I didn’t ask about Katy. I asked if you had a girlfriend.”
“Yes, yeah, of course.” I replied. “And, no, in answer to your question. I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Good.” Demon said. “Going to a place like this, it’s not easy if you love someone.”
“I can imagine.” I said, but my mind was elsewhere. I might have said I don’t have a girlfriend but I never said I didn’t love someone.
“I want to talk about Annie.” Lizzy said.
Percival sighed. He didn’t know what to say. He’d been avoiding that conversation for so long. Should he tell her the truth of why the girl had really left, or should he just listen to Lizzy’s sobs and try to console her? Should he continue her suffering or should he doom himself?
“What about her, Lizzy?”
“Why did she lea- Percival, watch out!”
It was like the glare of a car suddenly approaching from the other side of the road. Percival swore and twisted the wheel. The Bugatti spun but the glare encompassed it from all directions. Lizzy reached for her gun but it was too late. The glare grew brighter.
The village loomed up in front of us, with its little sign declaring a population of one hundred. Below, it said, “Please drive responsibly.” Demon seemed to see this and grin, pressing down on the accelerator. I watched the speed dial as the small hand rose in its clockwise rotation, passing from twenty to thirty, forty, fifty then up to sixty. The wing mirror brushed over a dry stone wall and chipped it but he kept moving.
“Is this such a good idea?” I asked.
“Yes.” He said. “Hold on.”
We skidded around a corner, braking momentarily, and then he hit the pedal even harder and we shot forward. I was thrown back into my seat. I became momentarily aware of my lips quivering as they attempted to form a prayer. I’d been an atheist since the age of eight and there I was, in what I believed to be my final moments, praying. It was a funny world.
Despite the walls creeping up on other side, we didn’t stop. The bonnet found the corner of one of the stone walled cottages, tearing the wall apart and spraying debris all over the artistic monument. I saw the Sun Inn flash by as Demon spun the wheel. We careered off, across the limited space before we crashed into the entrance of the Green Dragon.
“Damn.” Demon muttered. “My door is blocked.”
“What the hell was that?” I cried. “Couldn’t you have given me some warning?”
“It felt like the right thing to do.” He said. “You’re going to need to get out of your side and let me climb over.”
“Yes, right.” I muttered. “Of course. Katy?! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She moaned, but her voice sounded a bit croaky. “Urgh.”
I clambered across the seats and kicked my door open, jumping down to the floor and beginning to head towards the back of the van. Demon jumped out after me and, momentarily admired his handy work. One cottage looked on the verge of collapse, the artistic monument was lying on the floor smashed, the Green Dragon looked as if it had already collapsed and somewhere, shattering the uneasy silence of the countryside, a car alarm was crying.
He contributed to the destruction by firing his machine gun into the air.
“Bloody hell!” I shouted. “Are you trying to get their attention or something?”
“Yes, Chris.” He said. “That is the idea. To distract them from Percival and Lizzy’s actions, remember?”
“Yes.” I sighed. “Of course.”
“Good.” He emptied another magazine and then loaded a fresh magazine before hanging his gun from a strap on his back and closing the door. He wandered a few steps towards the Sun Inn, smelling the air. “They’re coming.”
“Of course they’re bloody coming. You just put a klaxon next to a sleeping teenager.”
“A beautiful analogy, my friend. A beautiful analogy.”
I wandered around to the back of the van, reaching for the black handle when I heard the sudden buzz of electric motors. I looked up in their direction and saw six women in pink approaching. Except, as my eyes focused, I realised they weren’t all women. Sure, their bodies and their posture were feminine but their faces weren’t yet done morphing, the facial hair hadn’t all fallen out, the hands were still a little too long. As they approached, I saw them changing, shrinking, their shoulders becoming less broad, their faces softening. They were on the other side of the bridge at first, but by the time they’d crossed it, they were different people, their skin rearranged and their bodies shifted.
“Demon!” I shouted. “They’re coming!”
He ran over and nodded. “Get yourself and Katy to the bell tower. Lock yourself in and wait my call. I’ll protect you.”
“There’s six of them.”
“I’ve got a big gun.” He said and aimed it at them. “Come on. We haven’t much time.”
The motor sounds suddenly got louder. I turned around and saw another six approaching, these even less transformed than the others, yet still pushing the lawnmowers with roaring rotors and slicing metal. “Demon, there’s more.”
“Got Katy to the bell tower. NOW!”
I grabbed for the door of the van, tugging on the black handle but it wouldn’t open. The door wouldn’t give. “I can’t open it.”
“Hold this.” He said, passing me the machine gun. “Honestly, kids nowadays. Don’t know how to do anything.”
I watched as he reached for the black handle, pulling on it softly and causing the door to come swinging open. There was a loud creak and then the door had swung open. “Come on, Katy. We haven’t got lo-“
A fist flew out and sent Demon flying, stumbling into the window of the house opposite the Green Dragon. I didn’t turn to watch the glass shatter and the frame corrupt around his massive hulk of a body. Instead, I stared at the sight on the other side of the door. “Katy?”
She stared down at me, her body rigid, her clothes slowly becoming pinker, her hair burning away the auburn for blonde, her eyes glowing the whole way through. “Katy, what the hell are you doing?”
“I am not Katy.” She said. Then, her voice joined with a hundred others in announcing, “My name is Samantha. My name is Samantha.”
I raised the gun as they circled me, coming closer and closer. Katy stepped down from the van and stepped towards me, the glow of her eyes burning on my face. “My name is Samantha. Samantha. Sa-sa-samantha.”
The chorus became louder and louder as the others grew closer. The opening that led to the church was occupied by yet another lawn mowing woman. I look towards the Sun Inn but there were slowly changing villagers coming from there too. I looked in every direction but there was no where to go. The tide and the storm were coming and I was stood there, letting it approach, like it was all a bad dream gone horribly wrong, as if any second I’d wake up to the dark of my bedroom, a cold sweat on my forehead. Yet it wasn’t dark around me, it was bright white, the glare of shining eyes and the chorus of that awful voice. “My name is Samantha.” Said the transforming villagers, their corpses stalking the home they had lost.
“My name is Samantha.” Said my childhood friend, her identity slowly burning away.
“My name is Samantha.” Said a voice of Received Pronunciation louder than all. I looked over my shoulder and saw, amid the sea of approaching doom, Percival, his eyes shining bright, his identity lost as he began to change.
“My name is Samantha.” They said in unison, a cacophony of conflicting voices slowly beginning to morph against their will to unity. I raised my gun and got ready to fire.
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
“Over here!” Screamed a voice. “Over a here!”
I knew that voice. It was the perky yet satirical Lancashire broad of my good friend, Miss Katy McDonald. She screamed a little louder, adding their names. “Samantha! I’m here!”
I think it was the increased volume that drew their attentions. Their shining eyes had a strangely distant quality to them which, to me at least, suggested they were far too spaced out to recognise the calling of their names. With the assortment lawn mowers screaming, they twisted around and faced Katy.
“Demon, get the car.” The old man said. “And quick!”
Nodding, the big man with the machine gun ran around the side of the house behind us and disappeared. I looked around frowning. The watch on my wrist was cracked but the hands still crept their fourth dimensional imprint. It announced that it was six in the evening. The sun should have been beginning to dip yet it was still high, like it was midday. If the metal baths, the men with guns and the evil pink ladies of death didn’t have the effect enough, I found the unwelcome sunshine unsettling.
The old man cocked his gun and pointed it at the ladies. He fired six shots. Five of the bullets found their mark, tearing open the housewives’ heads. The sixth shot flew over the six housewife’s head and smashed a window in one of the houses. He fired the other four shots, one at the unharmed housewife and the other three at their legs. The legs tore open, spraying white foil and wire over the floor. I frowned. Then I realised I shouldn’t have been frowning at that. I should have been frowning at the fact that their heads had been torn open by bullets and yet they were still approaching Katy, ready to kill.
“Chris!” She shrieked. “I’m the Damsel in Distress for once, okay?”
“Samantha!” I shouted to a discerning, almost angered look from the old man. “Over here!”
“Did you not hear me when I told you to be quiet?” The old man asked. His gun clicked as he dropped the empty magazine and reached for another from his pocket to load it. He did it with the same calm detachment as that I exhibit when solving a Rubik’s Cube- it was more a case of muscle memory than actually knowing what he was doing. Meanwhile, the Samanthas split. Three continued to approach Katy, the other three turning to approach us. The impact of the bullets on the back of their heads was aesthetically evident; the small capsules of lead had torn through the soft material of their heads and fragmented the interior contents, forcing it to explode forwards and change the exterior shape of their faces. For two of them, it simply caused strange lumps and bumps. For the third, it meant a huge gash had opened where their forehead had been and one of their eyes was hanging out. “I was worried they’d do that.”
“What, split up?” I replied.
“No.” The old man said. “Learn. They must have witnessed me sending Demon off and estimated it was a logical strategy.”
I didn’t really hear what he said after that because I was too busy concentrating on Katy screaming. She was moving, jumping from one side to another but the Samanthas jerked their heads to follow her, shifting with imperceptible speeds to prevent her running. They appeared to study her, growing to know her more and more until they could predict her movements quicker than she could make them. The result of this was that they closed in on her, their lawn mowers ready to tear her apart.
“We need to do something!” I cried.
The old man nodded. “Everything is in hand.”
I frowned, ready to argue but I was rudely interrupted. There was the roar of an engine and then the flash of blue and black. The three housewives approaching Katy suddenly exploded, torn apart by a racing car. The part of me that had grown up spending evenings on a sofa beneath shelves full of kit car and touring car models instantly recognised it. That was the natural mating call of a straight eight engine, creating the sounds of three valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. I heard the guzzle of its 5.4 litre big combustion chambers and the smell in the air told me they should sack their mechanic; it was running a bit rich. The paint scheme was the clinching factor before it pulled to a stop but I knew, for a fact, that the car before me was a Bugatti Type 46 Coupe. And it was pretty awesome.
The sound of its engine was joined by the sudden explosion of the old man’s gun. He emptied the magazine onto the three remaining housewives, who weren’t quite sure what to do. Their heads shattered and, although it didn’t stop them, they seemed no longer able to see or hear and that gave us an advantage.
“Come on!” The old man cried, running quickly enough to put me to shame. He pulled open the passenger door and threw himself in. I pulled open the back and climbed in, whilst shouting, “Katy! Get in!”
“Stranger danger, Chris!” She replied. “What about stranger danger?”
“Screw it.” I replied. “What about lawn mowing monster women off of the BBC?”
“It could be worse.” The big man called Demon said. “It could be lawn mowing monster women from the ITV.”
“This is hardly the time nor the place.” The old man said. “Miss? Are you coming?”
Katy, with eyes that told me we would be having words about this later, ran towards the car, jumped in and closed the door with a surprising thud. She turned to me as Demon began to accelerate the car out of the clearing and down the side of the hill. In the distance there was the sound of lawn mowers striking up but it wasn’t as attention catching as the sight before us.
The artificial sunlight ended in twenty metres, at which point a grey grimness took over. The car was moving at such speed that we exploded from the light and into the dark between one blink and the next. Metaphorically, it felt like the opposite way around. We were only just escaping the darkness.
Before I could voice this opinion, Katy had exclaimed over the roar of the engine, “What the freaking hell is going on?”
The old man shifted in his chair, once more reloading his gun with a magazine from, I noticed, a stash in the glovebox. “What’s your name, Miss?”
“Katy.” She said. “Yours?”
“My apologies. I was meaning your surname. Such informality as your first name isn’t befitting of such a young lady.”
“Chris,” Katy said, “you know when you took me to that festival and it turned out to be a celebration of nudist knitting because you’d read the website wrong?”
“And I nearly hit you when you suggested we make the most of a bad situation.”
“If you suggest we make the most of this bad situation I will kill you. To death. With my hands.”
“Miss, I really must press, what is your surname?” The old man said.
“Miss McDonald, as I was explaining to Christopher-“
“How come he gets a first name but I don’t?” Katy asked.
I rolled my eyes. Not even getting mortally threatened by robots and then abducted by gun toting strangers would distract her from the pursuit of feminism.
“Miss McDonald,” said Demon from the driver’s seat, taking his eyes from the road, “would you just go along with it? I don’t think anyone currently present has the stomach for a breakdown of the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties.”
Katy humphed. The old man went on. “Miss McDonald, as I was explaining to Mr Marten here, I believe the village you were staying in as somehow undergone a terrible transformation, potentially by alien invaders. I know it sounds ridiculous but you must trust me. I and my companion here are amongst the country’s utmost authorities on the concept.”
“And who are you and your companion here? And how come you have guns? And what the hell were you doing there?”
The old man rolled his eyes and remarked, to Demon, “Do you remember the days where having this accent just gained you unquestionable authority? I do and I miss them desperately.”
Creaking once more in the leather of his chair he spoke to the two of us directly. “My name is Percival Archin. Our driver is Graham Cooper, codenamed Demon. We’re representatives of the Fenwick Institute. I don’t imagine you’ve heard of us and, I’m afraid, now that you have, life is going to get a hell of a lot more complicated. I’ll explain more when we get back to the Sanctum.” He turned back to attend to a map Demon, or rather Graham, had handed him.
I mouthed ‘Sanctum’ to Katy and she shrugged in such a way that said, “Considering the day we’re having, that’s normal.”
She heard the phone ringing. It was on the other side of the room. Its electronic trill broke the heavy envelope of her slumber. She opened her eyes and stared at it. The blue bulb on the top was flashing unapologetically. She considered getting out of bed.
There were maybe three metres between her bed and the desk on which the phone was perched. She could cover it in four strides- three if she was willing to stretch- but she didn’t want to. Next to it was the frame, face down, dust mingling between the glass and the veneer of her flatpack desk.
The bed was warm, the sheets crumpled. The duvet was draped over her thin green hoodie. She’d knocked her Doc Marten boots off, pushing them beneath the bed and revealing her Batman leggings. She was lying in the foetal position, screwed up tight into herself so she took up less space.
The phone continued to ring. She wondered how long it would take before it rang out but she knew the answer. She’d programmed it especially as not to go to answer machine if there was someone in the room. The motion sensor was above the door and she considered whether she could shoot it out but the answer came to her pretty quickly. Her gun was in the armoury, so of course she couldn’t.
It wouldn’t be that hard. All she had to do was get out of the bed, cross the carpet and pick it up. But what if it’s Malcom? What if he wants to formalise your redundancy, huh? What if it’s Antonio wanting to know what’s going on? Do you want to explain what’s going on?
Of course, these weren’t the questions having the biggest effect on her. The question that was gnawing away at her mind, like the woodworm in the belfry, was much more horrific. It was a question she didn’t want to contemplate because doing just that would cripple her, chain her to the floor, prevent her from moving.
What if it’s Annie?
The phone stopped ringing, the light stop flashing. Twenty rings and the game was up. Leave a message after the tone. BEEP. She’d never know who was on the other end of the line, she’d never know who was so desperate to speak. The part of her that knew she could never be happy reminded her of the uncertainty, the lack of knowledge, how it wouldn’t be perfect. It made her think of paper pulled from a ring bound book by an overzealous idiot, the paper all torn and creased, the thin dotted line ignored. She cringed and she grimaced, her body shaking ever slightly. The uncertainty, the lack of knowledge. She could see a glass of coke falling through the air, tumbling slightly, smashing and shattering against a newly cleaned floor, making everything sticky, making everything unsafe. And then the flies came, buzzing, screaming their unified screech, sharing their eternal pain in a monotonous hum. And from the swarming flies Lizzy saw her mother and she screamed.
The phone began to ring again. The noise was so loud against the silence of the Sanctum, like a hiccup in an exam hall, all eyes twisting slowly towards the source, burning a hatred of being interrupted, distracted, despite the exam conditions. The heavy thud of an examiner's footsteps as he marched over, court marshalled her for her interruption, her distraction, grabbed her paper, tore it straight through the middle. That imperfect ruin of freshly printed pages, destroyed, obliterated, violated, the staple falling and the final questions, the ones she was too stupid to understand, too stupid to even consider, never to be seen, always to be uncertain. And all the while, every eye in the entire room was fixed on her, grinning, smirking, whispering behind her about how stupid and insignificant and awful she was.
The phone continued to ring. She fought so hard to get out of bed, swearing to herself, damning herself when she was in a good mood, when she was deciding on how to make sure she acted properly when down. Why had she decided twenty rings? She’d change it. Fifteen rings. No, less. Ten rings. Five rings. Four. Three. Two. One ring and the game was over. Leave a message in the answer machine. One ring and the world was changed. Well, Lizzy? What’s your answer? That ring cost me a lot.
She looked at her hand, the hand Annie should have been holding, she looked at the finger, the fourth from the thumb, where that tan line should have been as she climbed off the aeroplane but it wasn’t. It was pale and ghastly and misshapen like every other inch of her body and she hated and she just wanted to climb back into her bed but she forced herself on until she picked up the phone and put it to her ear. For better or for worse.
“Lizzy?” Asked Percival. “Are you there?”
It was Percival. Thank the Lord it was Percival. Anyone else, she would have hung up and gone to the armoury but it was Percival and she could trust him. He looked after her. He was on her side.
“Lizzy? This is an auditory device. I can’t see any of your amusing facial expressions right now.”
He was stressed. She didn’t like it when he was stressed. The nails of her other hand dug into her palm, leaving their crescent moon imprints in the soft flesh. It was better than the blotchy red horizontals tracing up and down her forearms.
“I’m here.” She said, her voice breaking, but she gained a little confidence and allowed it to be deeper. “What’s going on? Was it a crash?”
“I’m not entirely sure what it is.” He replied. “We’re on our way back to the Sanctum with readings now. I need the Spectrometer warmed up and a forensic analyser ready for the front of the Bugatti. I’m hoping we’ve got some remnants.”
She cradled the telephone on her shoulder and grabbed a pencil, quickly scribbling Percival’s instructions onto a pad. “Remnants of what?”
“I’m not entirely certain but I should think some sort of android life form.”
“That might be an understatement.” Percival replied. “Call Richmond. Tell him to block off all roads going towards Condor Farm and Dentdale in Yorkshire.”
“That’s outside of his constituency, y’know.”
“Oh I know.” He said this in such a way you could tell there was a grin on the other end of the line. “That’s why I asked for him. We’re about forty minutes away. See you then.”
“I can’t wait.” Lizzy said and hung up. She dropped her pencil, looked over the notepad and then marched back over to her bed to grab her shoes. The stone floor could be chilly this time of year and, no matter how awesome they might be, Batman leggings weren’t that warming.
“Did you tell Lizzy about the passengers?” Graham Cooper asked, his voice the deep warbling of someone befitting the nickname, ‘Demon.’
“No.” Percival said. “I didn’t want her worrying.”
“She won’t thank you for that.” Graham said. “Firstly because it’ll annoy her. Secondly because she’ll refuse to talk.”
“She didn’t answer the first ring which we both know means something is wrong. Telling her there are going to be strangers in the Sanctum is not going to make the situation any easier for her.”
“Who’s this you’re talking about?” I asked from the rear of the Bugatti. It was a wonderful car and, even if it was running a bit rich, the mechanic had done a wonderful job on the suspension.
“Elizabeth Dunstan.” Percival said. “My, well, I suppose my ward if you will. I apologise in advance for how she reacts to your presence.”
“No offence, mister, but we nearly got chewed up by evil lawnmower ladies from Mars earlier. I’m sure your ward, if that’s a word that’s been used since the mid sixties, won’t be that scary.”
“Young lady, I shall remind you of that when you have attempted to have a conversation with her.” Percival said. “And, may I add, the ‘lawnmower ladies’ are not from Mars.”
“Did you know that Mars is the only planet in our solar system entirely populated by robots?” Graham piped up. Nobody said anything.
We didn’t talk much on the road. It was a strange situation to find yourself in and dialogue didn’t spring eternal. Instead I concentrated on the road signs, one declaring we were entering Manchester and another one declaring the government hadn’t paid for anyone to wipe the graffiti off their signs. “We’re not in Blackpool anymore, Toto.” I muttered to Katy.
It turned out that ‘the Sanctum’ was located about ten minutes from the Arndale centre- “We heard the bombing. God, it was awful.” - and thus we had to undergo the rigours of driving through a busy city centre before we could park. We parked outside a dilapidated old church, sandwiched between two gleaming skyscrapers. They looked incredible. The type of building you could imagine posh men and women in suits marching around, making decisions that would ‘affect the future of the free world.’ “You guys own one of those?” I grinned.
“No.” Graham said. “We own the one that looks like it’s falling down.”
“Oh, don’t be so harsh on her.” Percival said, climbing out of the car. “That church has stood there since before either of us were born.”
“So since the Battle of Bosworth then?” Katy asked.
“Miss McDonald,” Percival replied, “I might remind you that you’d be bloody confetti if not for our intervention so perhaps it would be in your best interest to show some manners.”
Katy looked like she was ready to sulk. I frowned. There were a lot of words to describe her but sulky wasn’t one of them. Maybe she wasn’t happy that she couldn’t be the knight in shining armour for once.
Percival and Graham led us across the pavement and through the gate, up several steps, past some brambles and then around the side of the old church and towards its wooden doors. The key looked like something from a medieval dungeon and this semantic field of old creepiness was further assisted by the creaking of the door as it swung open, revealing stone tiled floor. There was a spiral staircase to the left and a wrack of keys to the right. Graham hung up his keys and we walked straight onwards, into the church body proper.
I was no stranger to Anglican churches. The last one I had visited had involved a dead vicar (See Part One if you’ve forgotten- I know I haven’t) but the majority of features were identical in its kin. This one was completely different, as if it had been redecorated by an atheist interior designer. The choir stands were replaced with computers and complicated looking gizmos I doubted I could begin to understand. The organ was replaced with a single workstation that appeared more complex than the interior workings of a politician’s brain in the process of lying. Where there were once pews, there were a range of different things. A lounge area, more computers, a kitchenette and a small lab.
Standing in the lab was, well, Lizzy Dunstan. She was maybe five foot eleven with striking dark green hair in a pixie cut. She had a lip piercing and a nose piercing and was wearing a green hoodie with Batman leggings and a pair of Doc Martens. I didn’t need the iPhone in a docking station behind her to tell me the muffled hum of My Chemical Romance was emanating from her direction.
She looked up at us from where she was assembling a device- it might have been the Spectrometer Percival had mentioned on the phone- and stopped. There was a half formed smile for Percival and Graham which disappeared as soon as she saw Katy and I. She simply stood there and stared.
“Lizzy, have you got the analyser set up?” Percival called, his voice echoing slightly against the stone walls.
Lizzy said nothing. There was a momentary tremble in the lip holding her piercing. Then it was gone. She went back to holding herself completely still, like a golem with green hair.
“Lizzy? You haven’t enabled the holograms again have you?” Percival chided.
There was still no reply.
“I told you she wouldn’t like it.” Graham said. “Let me talk to her.”
We watched the big man stroll across the stone floor, stepping between the various sections of the central church and over towards the lab. Lizzy must have seen him approaching, he crossed her line of sight twice, yet she didn’t move. It wasn’t until he finally got to her, his warbling voice calling her name, that she realised he was there.
“Is everything okay, Elizabeth?”
“New people. Who are they?”
“Victims. Lost souls. People who need our help.”
She continued to stare at us, then said, “I don’t want to talk to them.”
“You don’t have to. Just put up with them for a bit. And then, once this case is over, you never need see them again. Just smile. Can you do that?”
“You don’t smile. Ever.”
“That’s because I look like constipated horse when I attempt to smile.” Graham Cooper said. That simile made Lizzy grin and so Graham patted her on the back. “See. Wasn’t too hard, was it?”
She smiled a little more and Graham gave Percival a nod to approach. He led us towards the laboratory where he placed down a tablet from his pocket alongside a small evidence bag of samples from the front bumper of the Bugatti.
“Good day at work?” Percival asked, reaching for the forensic analyser.
”Well, I suppose that’s a little more positive than our day.” Percival said. “An entire village dead, Lizzy, and we had no idea. How do they do it?”
“Who are ‘they’?” Katy asked.
They, I presumed, were the monstrous, murdering psychopathic death machines that had nearly shredded her and had left the entire village completely dead. I didn’t really want to find out any more about them because to do so would be to admit that they existed and I really didn’t want to do that.
“Graham, would you like to do the speech?” Percival asked.
“No.” Graham said. “I’m the big one who kicks doors open. You’re the inspiring speech ones.”
Percival sighed before gesturing over to the lounge area opposite the lab. “It might be best if I explain this whilst you’re sat down.”
“No.” Katy argued. “I’ve had it up to here with you being all enigmatic and concealing. Tell me what the hell is going on or I’ll-“
“You’ll do what, young lady? Try to intimidate a group of extraterrestrial investigators with a childish tantrum?” Percival asked. “We are the Fenwick Institute, the organisation tasked by the government to investigate and contain alien threats. I’m Percival Archin, physicist and team leader. This is Graham Cooper, mechanic and mathematician and this is Lizzy Dunstan, our resident programmer. The building you are standing in is our base of operations, nicknamed the Sanctum. I and Graham were in the right place at the right time to rescue you because we were investigating reports of a crash landing at Condor Farm. The crash seems to have been perpetuated by androids disguised as the pink adorned housewives of that BBC ident clip. I’m not entirely sure why. From first impressions, it would appear they are hostile, however I believe they are adapting quickly and will soon begin to convert human beings into extra troops to deal with the six we have destroyed. Any questions?”
I tentatively raised my hand.
“When did we walk on the set of Torchwood?”
Lizzy stifled a mild giggle. I took that as a small victory.
“This is no joking matter, Chris.” Percival said. “There were clear signs of conversion. The liquid/permeable metal in your holding cell, the awful heat despite the time of year and, of course, the number of housewives.”
“Why the number of housewives?” I asked, frowning.
“There were six, correct?” Percival replied.
“Then how come in the TV clip there are only two?” He asked. “Furthermore, the spectroscopic readings of the gases emitted by the ship on entering our atmosphere, according to the spectroscope Lizzy set up for us, show that the ship must be a certain size. According to the Turner Chart, it’s most likely to be a dual piloted ship. Such a ship can carry a maximum of four androids at the most, so we know at least two of the pink ladies were conversions.”
I suddenly remembered the gardens next to the newsagents, opposite the park with the dead little girl. “There were four men mowing their lawns in unison just before I got knocked out.”
“Those men were turned into pink ladies, then.” Percival said.
“How?” Katy frowned.
“By a conversion matrix, duh!” Lizzy retorted as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“But if they can convert middle aged men to look exactly like them in the course of a day, how can we ever hope to defeat them? They’re going to have the technology of the Gods.”
“We’re the ones with a base in a church, Chris.” Graham pointed out.
“We have the advantage at this current moment.” Percival said. “All of their soldiers are destroyed and the analysers, that Lizzy is currently running on the android debris from the Bugatti, are devising us a characteristics sheet. If we can return some point in the next day, whilst they’re still rebuilding, we can hunt down the hive consciousness and destroy it once and for all. Simple as that.”
There was a loud beep and then the sound of printing paper. Lizzy let a smile cross her face for a second but it quickly died before she turned and heading over to the printer. She passed four double sided pieces of paper to Percival. He flicked through them briefly and then handed them over to Graham. The big man read through them and then nodded. “We’re going to need some big guns.”
“Are those the characteristics?” I asked.
Percival nodded. “We’re going to need some very big guns.”