Authors: Mr Mike Berry
Silently, Sofi crossed the room and unbolted the door. She stepped out onto the stairs and began to descend. It didn’t occur to her that in the near-total darkness of the stairwell, normal human eyes would have been effectively blind, and that it was odd that she could see with almost perfect clarity.
She knew the placement of every booby trap they had laid in the stairwell and deftly avoided the tripwires. There were several grenades, set to proximity, that she had to remotely suspend the ready-modes of by use of the transmitter on her bandolier, and these slowed her progress more than she would have wished.
As she neared ground level she began to hear the howls of the changed who roamed the streets outside. A part of her mind was enthused by the sound, comforted even, but mostly she was filled with a cool grey hate. This was how it had to be. She reloaded the assault rifle and clicked the safety off.
Soon she came to a wall on which the greenshit had grown into a thick, twitching mat. They had passed it earlier without thinking. She held out one hand and the slimy mass parted, withdrawing to reveal a heavy metal door that had the word
spray-painted on it. She stood for a moment, composing herself, the gun heavy and cold in her hands. Had she known this was here? Yes, she decided. Somehow she had. And
had also known
was here, hadn’t it? The greenshit had recognised her, parted for her. Filled with renewed determination, she pushed down the rusted bar that opened the door and stepped out into the twisted landscape of the city. This was how it had to be.
Whistler woke with a jerk to the sound of an alarm. Her weapon was in her hand at once. She thumbed the pad that turned its spotlight on and cast the beam around the room. Spider was shaking his huge head, trying to clear the sleep from it and Roland was sitting up, fiddling with the buttons of his watch, from which the sound evidently came.
‘Why are you disturbing my much-needed beauty sleep, Roland?’ she demanded coldly, pinning him in the beam of the gun.
‘Didn’t know I was,’ he replied testily, stopping the alarm.
Spider looked around himself, then leapt to his feet. ‘Sofi’s gone!’ he yelled, his massive voice reverberating in the small room. ‘Sofi!’ he bellowed.
‘Quiet!’ ordered Roland, holding one bony finger up. They fell silent, listening intently. The faint sound of automatic gunfire came from the streets below them. ‘Mag-40,’ he said simply: The gun he had lent to Sofi.
‘No...’ breathed Whistler. ‘Oh no...’ She leapt up to look out of the window and recoiled from it – greenshit was seeping from around the edges of the pane, dripping onto the floor, forming a puddle that had almost touched her as she slept. ‘Eurgh!’ she yelped in disgust, jumping back. The gunfire from below ceased suddenly. They waited in tense silence but it did not resume. ‘Oh no...Sofi...’
‘She’s gone, man,’ said Spider hollowly, replacing the bolt on the door. ‘She’s gone.’
Whistler nodded, numbed, beyond the point of consolation. She knew that the end her friend had chosen was the best she could have hoped for under the circumstances. She had just thought that Sofi would always be around, she supposed – she had seemed the least mortal of them all, in many ways. Even when it had become clear that the GDD was at work inside her, Whistler had harboured a hope, in some desperately resolute corner of her mind, that Sofi’s invulnerability would continue forever. Even when she had known that Sofi was going to change, and to die, she had never really come to terms with the reality of that fact. Why had she not waited to say goodbye?
Roland, using his rocket propellant, had purged the greenshit that had worked its way into the room, leaving the walls where it had touched scarred and melted-looking. He had then curled into a ball in the corner, pulling his coat tightly around himself, and returned to sleep, or at least appeared to do so. Whistler returned to staring out of the window as the tainted stars winked out one by one.
Spider, conscious of the crushing weight of Whistler’s misery, eventually went and sat beside her. She lit up – their last reeferette – and they smoked in silence. Roland slept fitfully, stirring as if his old bones hurt him. Spider watched him for a while then went and threw his jacket over him.
‘I thought he might be cold – he looked cold,’ he explained when he noticed Whistler watching. It was the first time anybody had spoken in hours. Whistler nodded and ground the smoke out on the wall.
In the east the sun was rising doggedly through the ever-thickening green clouds. They watched as sickly daylight spread once more over the city. Roland began to mutter in his sleep, twitching occasionally, eventually dislodging Spider’s jacket. The window looked out onto a nightmare other-world now, the vast towers of the city woven into an impregnable living forest. Whistler tried to remember when she had last seen a moving gravpod. How long had all this taken to happen? A week? She couldn’t remember. She wondered if they were the last real humans alive until she saw, in a far off tower block, a light go on in one window as somebody rose to continue what remained of their life amongst the degenerating architecture of the city. The glimmer of hope that this sight produced, though, was faint indeed.
‘Why is that star getting brighter when the sun is coming up?’ asked Spider suddenly.
Whistler followed his pointing claw. Sure enough, in the western sky a tiny point of light was consolidating, steadily brightening. Whistler watched, perplexed, as its luminescence grew to brilliance.
‘Missile?’ she said. She thought of Debian – how he had been stolen from her – and of her dead friends, and she almost wished for a missile that would end her suffering in one last blaze of glorious light.
‘I don’t think so...I think it’s a ship.’
And he was right: The point grew and grew until it darkened and solidified into the unmistakable hull of a lightpusher – huge and lumpy, bristled with antennae and sensory equipment.
‘A lightpusher. Why is a lightpusher coming in? Do you think they don’t know what’s happening – that they’re coming in to land?’
‘How the fuck could they not see what’s happening down here? Oh no – it’s not gonna make it!’
Tendrils of greenshit were reaching up for the ship like the tentacles of some mighty sea monster, numerous smaller vines and creepers rapidly releasing their holds on the various buildings they had clung to and coiling together, moving more quickly than the watchers had thought possible – huge, slippery fingers of green fumbling as if to catch the massive dark shape and rip it from the sky. But then something began to emanate from the ship – waves of pulsating darkness like clouds of flies or smoke – and these dark ringlets extruded and wormed across the sky to meet the greenshit tentacles above the looming tombstones of the city’s towers and consume them. The greenshit attack faltered and the tentacles crumpled, disintegrated, fell back truncated to writhe across the earth, smashing down skyscrapers in their death throes. The floor of the tower trembled as if the earth was coming to life. The braying of the greenshit monsters split the air in one vast, furious crescendo.
And then the waves of grey snaked down to touch the ground, flowing like rivers of crude oil through the streets of the city, and the greenshit retreated before them or was consumed by them. The humans in the water tower watched amazed.
‘We should wake Roland,’ said Spider, but he stood rooted to the spot.
‘Spidey, what the fuck is going on out there?’ breathed Whistler. She stared at the ship that hung massively over the city now, maybe a mile to the west, like an omen pregnant with malice and promise in equal measures. The clouds of grey continued to pour from its belly and everywhere the greenshit was dying back. It left behind a scarred and twisted landscape that looked as if it had been melted in an immense furnace, but the greenshit was certainly dying back. The colour and quality of the light changed until the sun shone more whitely than it had in days and the green haze slowly filtered out of the air. But gradually it was replaced by a haze of grey as the clouds from the ship disseminated and spread out, covering the streets below like a ground-fog now. And then the greyness began to rise and presently the room in which they stood began to fill with it as if it had passed through solid walls by osmosis – a mist that gently shimmered in the air and tingled on the skin like a mild electrical field.
‘What is that grey shit?’ asked Spider, seemingly of himself, turning around and examining the way it played across his body. He laughed. ‘Greyshit, greenshit, whatever next? Maybe blueshit. Why not.’ He sounded on the verge of hysteria.
‘It’s dying!’ cried Whistler. ‘The greenshit’s dying! It’s the ship, Spider!’
‘Nanotech,’ wheezed a voice from behind her. She turned around and there was Roland, his face pallid almost to translucency with exhaustion, his eyes huge dark haunted circles. He cradled his shattered hand against his belly.
‘Look!’ urged the old man.
The grey fog was swirling up and up, merging into one vast formless mass, pouring from every nook and cranny of the city, tendrils meeting and cohering, twirling and twining like a tornado, rising, rising, spinning about the ship that hung ominous, perfectly still above the city. And then some shape began to emerge in the mass. The cloud began to move away from the ship and flatten, become planar. A huge sheet, a mile square, was coalescing in the air, dimming the growing daylight again as its massive shadow fell across the city. And when a burst of white noise, louder than thunder, came from that sheet it became clear that the thing was a giant speaker.
And then a voice boomed from the speaker. Whistler recognised it at once – it was Debian’s voice, but it was also something else. It said:
‘I HAVE RETURNED.’ The voice was as vast as the sky – it crashed and echoed back from the towering city blocks, becoming a multi-layered chorus of massive noise, enough to split the listener’s head. ‘I HAVE RETURNED TO FREE YOU RULE YOU FREE YOU RULE YOU. I GUESS THE TIME HAS COME TO MAKE A CHOICE.’