Authors: Roderick Gordon,Brian Williams
“Thought you might be in touch,” the man said as his expression became serious. “I followed up on the three Dominion specimens we lodged —”
“But they’ve vanished from the pathogen banks,” Drake interrupted. “And there’ll be no trace of them on the main database anymore.”
“How . . . ?!” the man exclaimed. “How do you know that?” He began to turn toward Drake.
“No!” Drake warned. “They might be watching.”
The man turned toward the road again, nodding as if he was agreeing with the person on the other end of his phone conversation.
“And that’s why I badly need your help,” Drake went on. “I need you, Charlie, my favorite immunologist, to cook up some more Dominion vaccine for me, then I’ll figure out another way to distribute it. And I’ve got some other stuff I want you to look at for me.”
immunologist?” Charlie repeated with mock indignation. “Bet I’m the
immunologist you can call on, and certainly the only one stupid enough to risk his life for you.” Taking a breath, he asked, “So how do we go about it this time?”
“When you get home, you’ll find a package hidden out back behind your trash bin — I’ve left some more blood samples in it, and also some viral specimens I grabbed from the Colony.” Drake paused as a woman passed Charlie on the pavement, then he resumed. “There’s a really nasty strain in there — a killer — so watch how you handle it.”
“We treat every pathogen as if it’s the Great Plague,” Charlie said.
“That’s uncannily near the truth,” Drake whispered, his voice grim. “Now you’d better not hang around here any longer. I’ll swing by your place in a few days.”
“OK,” Charlie said, pretending to press the button to end the nonexistent conversation before he went on his way again. After a moment, Drake stepped out behind two aged rockabillies schlepping along in their suede shoes and with large quiffs of hair dyed an unfeasibly black black. He kept behind them as they headed toward Camden Tube station, where numerous police vans abruptly pulled up.
London Transport employees were ushering people out of the station, and the trellis gates were pulled across its entrances. More than a dozen police in full riot gear had disembarked from their vehicles with some urgency, only to stand around and look rather confused as to what they were doing there. One was tapping his baton on his riot shield as an announcement came over the Tannoy that the Tube station was closed so a suspicious package could be investigated.
Drake blended into the crowd collecting outside the station and listened to the resentful comments of the commuters. This type of occurrence had become increasingly commonplace in London following the first wave of attacks by the Styx or, more accurately, their Darklit New Germanians.
In the months after the bombings in the city and the West End, the country — already in a precarious financial position — had been tipped into a bleak and spiraling recession. The assassination of the head of the Bank of England had rattled people badly. And while these outbreaks of terrorism by unidentified perpetrators seemed to have petered out, the general unrest continued. The populace had called for a change of government, and an early election had been held. The resulting hung parliament led to a power-sharing arrangement, and a climate of indecision and confusion in which industrial action was rife.
Ideal conditions for the Styx as they forged ahead with their plans. As Drake knew only too well.
“Move along now, people,” a policeman directed the crowd. “Station’s closed. You’ll have to take alternative forms of transport.”
“What d’y’mean?” one of the rockabillies demanded. “Y’mean take the bus? Did y’forget they’re all on strike again this week?”
As people in the crowd began to shout in agreement and surge forward, Drake decided he’d better extricate himself before it got out of hand. He strolled casually away. Following the attacks in the city, he was a wanted man — the Styx had made sure of that. And although he was confident his disguise would help him to avoid light scrutiny, the police might begin to make arbitrary arrests to disperse the mob, and he didn’t want to tempt fate. Not while he had so much to do.
Chester woke up earlier than normal the next morning, racked by a cramp in his leg.
“I’ve overdone it,” he moaned to himself, massaging his calf and remembering how far he and Will had run the day before. All of a sudden he stopped kneading the locked-up muscle and stared into the middle distance. “Growing pains,” he said, recalling what his mother would say when his aching legs made him shout with pain in the middle of the night. Mrs. Rawls would rush to his room and sit beside him on the bed, talking to him in her soothing voice until the pains had subsided. They never seemed to be so bad with her there, and now he had no idea where she was, or even if she was still alive. He tried not to think about what the Styx might have done with her, because that felt worse than any physical pain. He still harbored the hope that she was safe and hiding out somewhere.
Once he was dressed, Chester left his bedroom and went along the hall, taking long paces in an effort to loosen up his legs. He rapped twice on Will’s door as he passed, to let his friend know he was up, but didn’t wait for a response.
Downstairs, there was no sign that anyone else had surfaced yet, and as usual the door to Parry’s study was firmly shut. Chester lingered outside it for a moment; for once the printer was silent, and he couldn’t hear any other sounds from inside.He pushed open the door into the drawing room and entered.
The air was warm from the fire in the hearth, in front of which, sitting cross-legged on a tartan traveling rug, was Mrs. Burrows.
Her eyes were closed and her face blank, and although she must have heard Chester come in, she said nothing. The boy didn’t know what to do; should he announce himself and risk disturbing her, or should he simply slip out of the room and leave her to it?
behind him made him start as Will jumped down the last flight of stairs.
“You’re up early,” he announced to Chester in a loud voice. “Bet you’re —”
He trailed off as Chester pressed a finger to his lips and then pointed at Mrs. Burrows.
“It’s all right,” Will said. “She’s just meditating. She does it every morning.”
“Can she hear us?” Chester asked, still speaking softly.
Will shrugged. “I think so, although she can choose to stay in a trance if she wants.”
Although Mrs. Burrows’s eyes remained shut and she was so still that she seemed not even to be breathing, her jaw suddenly dropped open. What appeared to be freezing cold air seeped from her mouth. Condensation hung before her expressionless face for an instant, despite the raised temperature in the room.
“How does she do that?” Chester whispered.
“Dunno,” Will replied distantly, more preoccupied with the rumbling sounds coming from his stomach. He glanced over his shoulder into the hallway. “I can’t smell anything cooking in the kitchen. I’m starving. I could murder one of Parry’s fry-ups.”
Chester shook his head dourly. “Think we’re out of luck on that front. He’s too busy to cook. Something’s definitely going on.”
“Not according to the news,” Will said. They’d searched the channels the evening before and drawn a blank. He gestured at the blackboard in the corner of the drawing room. “Maybe we won’t be having
In addition to encouraging the boys to get fit, Parry had done his best to keep their minds active by giving them lectures every morning. To do this, he drew on what he knew best, so somewhat bizarrely they were treated to lessons on map reading, military tactics, and combat fieldcraft.
“Choke points and interlocking fields of fire,” Chester said, recalling what Parry had told them about ambush theory.
“My favorite was combat driving techniques.” Will smiled. “Now, that was something they didn’t teach at our school back in Highfield.”
Chester became thoughtful for a moment. “Just think how many lessons we’ve missed in the last year. It all seems like a lifetime ago. I hardly remember anything about it . . . except putting that little squit Speed in his place.”
“I’m still amazed that Parry trusted us with his beloved Land Rover,” Will continued, not really listening to his friend. “I seriously thought it was going to tip over when I powered down those slopes.”
Chester came back to the present with a chuckle. “Yeah. And he wasn’t too happy when I took the sideview mirror off on a tree, was he?”
“Not particularly,” Parry declared from the doorway. Chester looked sheepish as the old man continued, “Afraid you’ll have to look after yourselves this morning, lads. I’ve been up all night, monitoring the situation.”
“So it is the Styx?” Will asked.
“It has all their hallmarks. If I’m right, they’ve just entered the second phase of their initiative.” Parry frowned. “Still can’t quite figure out why there was a two-month hiatus after they stoked things up in the city with those full-frontal attacks.”
“But is this latest stuff serious?” Will asked.
Parry nodded. “And bloody clever.”
The boys exchanged glances, waiting for Parry to elaborate, but he was staring absently at the fire. He appeared to be exhausted, leaning with both hands on his walking stick.
“Is Drake dealing with it?” Will finally said, hoping this might elicit some further information.
“No, he’s gone dark.”
“Gone dark?” Will asked.
“He’s operating on his own, probably in London. I’ve left messages for him to come back here if he ever deigns to listen to them,” Parry replied, beginning to turn from the doorway.
“And my dad — is he helping you now?” Chester inquired hesitantly.
“I’ll give a briefing later on — when I know more,” Parry mumbled as he crossed the hall to his study.
“DOES ANYONE ACTUALLY
in a grot hole like this?” After the car left the motorway, Rebecca One had sat up and begun to take notice of the succession of sprawling commercial areas they were driving through at some speed. “Even the name of the place sounds ugly.
Who thought of that?” She was thrown to the side as the car took a corner. “Oh, look, yet another roundabout. What a drag.”
Rebecca Two didn’t reply. She was peering through the tinted car window beside her, lost in thought as the streetlights strobed her face.
Irritated by the lack of response from her sister, Rebecca One gave a small snort. She began to scrape her sharp little nails on the stretch of seat between them, marking the luxurious hide. “This crush of yours is becoming a little too in-your-face. Don’t think it’s gone unnoticed,” she announced. She had her reaction now, as her sister immediately swiveled around to her.
“What are you on about?” Rebecca Two asked.
“This thing you’ve got for your toy soldier there,” Rebecca One replied spitefully, tipping her head at the man behind the wheel of the Mercedes. It was Captain Franz, the young New Germanian officer Rebecca Two had taken a shine to while they were in the inner world. “We should have one of our own driving us, not your blue-eyed boy all decked out in a chichi chauffeur’s uniform. You don’t even make him wear the cap because then you wouldn’t be able to see his lovely blond locks.”