Authors: Roderick Gordon,Brian Williams
Rebecca One’s eyes burned into the back of Captain Franz’s handsome head as he continued to drive, seemingly oblivious to the exchange behind him.
“You do talk a load of rubbish!” Rebecca Two fumed. “It’s not like that.”
“Oh, sure. I’m your sister . . . you can’t kid me,” Rebecca One retorted, shaking her head. “And I just don’t get it.”
Rebecca Two noticed the look in her twin sister’s eyes — she was genuinely troubled. “Don’t get what?” she asked.
“Well, for starters, what’s so special about him? He’s just another human, same as any of these worthless Topsoiler slugs up here. But, worse than that, he’s been so Darklit, he’s a zombie.” With her tongue lolling from her mouth, Rebecca One went cross-eyed to emphasize the point. “He’s like some broken, empty doll you drag around for kicks, and it’s not healthy.”
Captain Franz brought the Mercedes to a stop before a pair of factory gates. Rebecca One ceased her tirade as she saw where they were. “It’s massive,” she said, taking in the hangar-sized buildings.
“Yes,” Rebecca Two agreed, relieved her sister had other things on her mind now.
A pair of Limiters in Topsoil clothes opened the gates. Having checked who was in the car, they waved Captain Franz on.
Rebecca One leaned forward and prodded the New Germanian roughly in the shoulder. “Hey, lapdog, go around the side. I want to see the warehouses first.”
Captain Franz immediately did as he’d been ordered, steering the car past the small office building, but then he began to slow. “Keep going, dumb-dumb! Take us into that opening!” Rebecca One shouted, then slapped him on the head with such force that he swerved the car. “And watch your driving!”
Rebecca Two clenched her jaw but said nothing as the Mercedes entered the warehouse.
“Stop here,” Rebecca One said brusquely. Captain Franz slammed on the brakes, the tires squealing on the painted concrete floor. As the Rebecca twins stepped from the car, the old Styx and his assistant, their stark white collars visible under their long black coats, were already hurrying over.
“Some place,” Rebecca Two complimented the old Styx as she looked around.
“A total of forty thousand square feet split over three warehouses. Through there” — he pointed to a set of doors in the far corner of the spacious building — “is the field hospital where we carry out the mass Darklighting and the bomb implant procedures,” he said. “Like so many businesses around here, this factory had gone bust, so we picked up the premises for a song. It’s ideal for what we want, and who’d think of looking for us here?”
“And how secure is it?” Rebecca One inquired.
“From yesterday we doubled up on all the entry points. We’ve got both our men and New Germanians on around-the-clock sentry duty,” the old Styx replied. “We’ll also be putting roadblocks on all the approach roads to the estate.”
Rebecca One nodded. “So when will everything be ready for our guests?”
The old Styx smiled, his black eyes flashing with excitement. “This first warehouse will be fully prepped by nightfall.” He fell silent as he and the twins watched a procession of New Germanian troops wheeling hospital beds out across the floor, which they then began to arrange in rows. “With all the NHS hospital closures, we had no trouble obtaining as many beds as we needed,” the old Styx said. “We should comfortably fit around a hundred and fifty in this area, and at least the same number again in the adjoining warehouses. Then we’ll bring in the humidifiers and fine-tune the atmosphere. We want everything to be perfect.” Putting his head back, he sniffed the air, then clapped his gloved hands together. “Our moment is fast approaching. It’s finally coming.”
“Oh, I can feel it, I can feel it,” Rebecca One whispered. While the old Styx had been talking, she’d slid her fingers down the nape of her neck and had been kneading her back between her shoulder blades. As she withdrew her hand, Rebecca Two saw there were tiny spots of blood on it.
And she herself was only too aware of the dull ache at the top of her spine, and the irresistible pull of nature.
Although she and her sister hadn’t yet passed through puberty and couldn’t take part in what was to happen here, the longing was intense. And intoxicating. It was as if some strange electricity rippled through her body, fizzing in her veins. The ancient force was calling her, forcing her, to participate in a cycle that took hundreds if not thousands of years to manifest itself.
Rebecca Two wiped the sweat from her brow. She realized with a start that she was trying to fight the impulse. She was alarmed by this, because why should she want to resist?
That wasn’t natural.
She turned away from her sister and the old Styx in case they were able to somehow sense her internal struggle.
There was a screech and the pipes rattled, then a message arrived with a final clunk. Clutching his stomach, the First Officer lumbered as fast as he could from his office. He located the correct pipe and opened a hatch in it, through which he pried out a bullet-shaped vessel the size of a small rolling pin.
“What’s up, sir?” the Second Officer asked as he came through from the Hold and into the reception area.
“Give me a chance,” the First Officer replied sharply. “I haven’t read it yet, have I?” With all the recent turmoil in the Colony, neither of them had had a proper night’s sleepin weeks, and tempers were seriously frayed.
“I was just asking,” the Second Officer mumbled under his breath.
The First Officer unscrewed the cap from the end of the cylinder and fished out the small scroll from inside. Due to his fatigue, he dropped it and, with a few choice swear words, bent to retrieve it from the floor. As he stood up, he complained, “Oooh, me guts,” and held still for a moment, his hand pressed against his stomach, and his face a little green.
“Still bad?” the Second Officer asked.
As he thought the question was completely unnecessary, the First Officer gave him a sour glance. He finally straightened out the scrap of paper and held it at arm’s length as he tried to focus on the tiny lettering. “Trouble in the North . . . fighting . . . the Styx are asking for all available officers to attend.”
The Second Officer didn’t respond right away, but it came as no surprise that there was unrest in the North Cavern. There’d been numerous incidents concerning Colonists turning on each other, and he didn’t blame them for it. Many had been moved out of their homes, which were being commandeered as billets for the massive influx of New Germanian troops. And all the Styx offered these poor evictees was temporary accommodation in the mushroom fields, where a shantytown of hastily erected huts had been built on the damp earth.
Then there was the severe rationing; a huge proportion of the Colony’s food was being diverted to the troops as they underwent their training by the Styx.
And thrown into this already explosive mix were outbreaks of a disease causing severe diarrhea, most likely as a result of the current chronic overcrowding in the caverns. The First Officer was still suffering from the effects of this.
So, no, the Second Officer wasn’t surprised there was more trouble, nor that the Styx were calling on the Colony police to sort it out.
The First Officer was staring at him, drumming his fingers on the counter.
“I can deal with it if you want,” the Second Officer said.
“I do want you to,” the First Officer replied curtly.
“Righty-ho. If you’re happy to hold the fort.”
Despite the fact that the cells were full to bursting with malcontent Colonists, the First Officer humphed at the suggestion that he might not be able to manage on his own. As he crumpled up the message from the Styx, there was an indescribable sound from his stomach. “Got to go,” he groaned, rushing back into his office and slamming the door.
“Keep your pants on, will you?” the Second Officer murmured. “Or maybe that’s not such a good idea,” he said, allowing himself a small chuckle. His merriment evaporated as, shaking his head, he reached over the counter to retrieve his helmet from where it hung on a peg. He put it on, then reached over the counter a second time for his baton. He might need it where he was headed — the riots were becoming increasingly violent.
Swinging his baton, he pushed through the doors and stepped outside the station, pausing a moment at the top of the steps as he surveyed the houses across the way. By the light of the ever-glowing luminescent orb lampposts, he saw movement in an upper window, as if someone were watching the station. It was probably nothing, but the Second Officer was jumpy. He had never known such a mood of rebellion in the Colony, or such strong antipathy toward the Styx, the ruling class. But the Styx seemed to be so intent on their Topsoil operations that they no longer cared what the Colonists thought, or did — their only priority was to proceed with their plans unhindered.
The Second Officer walked unhurriedly down the flight of steps, and as he reached the bottom, he heard a whimpering noise. He still harbored a vague hope that his Hunter, Colly, would one day come back to him. She’d bolted after the explosion in the Laboratories, an incident for which the Second Officer had received a commendation because he’d valiantly pursued the attackers. At least that was what he’d told the Styx, and they seemed to have accepted his version of events.
But when the Second Officer looked down, he didn’t see his cat but a small albino dog. It was a young greyhound with a coat of the purest white. The dog was standing there, its tail quivering between its legs as it peered up at the large man though its pink eyes. It was obviously hungry, but what unsettled the Second Officer more than anything was that only the well-to-do families in the Colony kept purebreds like this one. Someone must have been so hard-pressed for food that they’d simply abandoned it.
“Poor little chap,” the Second Officer said, offering a hand with the dimensions of a bunch of bananas to the dog. It whined and sniffed his fingers, then came nearer so he could stroke its head.
And when he began to walk down the street, the dog followed right beside him.
Before long, the Second Officer reached the Skull Gate. A Styx, wearing the distinct gray-green camouflage of a soldier from the Division, immediately stepped from the gatehouse. The Second Officer used this route to and from the Colony several times a day, not only to go to work but also for his official duties. Nevertheless, the Styx soldier scrutinized his warrant card, from time to time glancing suspiciously at the greyhound as if the Second Officer were attempting to smuggle contraband past him.
Finally the soldier returned the warrant card and raised his lantern as a sign for the gate to be opened. It trundled into the huge skull carved into the rock above as if the monstrous apparition were retracting its teeth. The Second Officer continued on his way, stepping into the mouth of the skull. As he began down the dark passageway that was the main thoroughfare between the Quarter and the Colony, he welcomed the company of the little dog trotting along beside him.
A thrumming sound filled his ears as he walked through a last turn of the passage and the Colony opened up before him. From this elevated position he could survey the South Cavern, with its endless ranks of houses all covered in a gauzelike mist of warm air and smoke.
“How goes it?” someone shouted.
The Second Officer stopped as he traced the multiple flights of cast-iron steps up the rock wall and located the Fourth Officer right at the very top. The man was on duty at the entrance to the control room for the Fan Stations, from where the low thrumming was emanating. Like many in the Colony police force, the Fourth Officer was a stocky man with a prickle length of white hair. And he was stationed there because the security had been tightened ever since Drake and Chester had used the air system to spread a mild nerve reagent through the Colony.
“How goes it?” the Fourth Officer repeated, more loudly this time in case the fans had drowned him out.
“The usual,” the Second Officer shouted back. “A rumpus in the North.”
The Fourth Officer nodded, then spotted the greyhound. “See you’ve made a friend.”
The Second Officer looked at his new companion and gave a shrug in response before continuing down the rest of the slope.