Monday, 31 October 2016
LED Eyes (part 6)
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.