Chapter Eleven

Miller

Stand by…stand by…stand by…

— Message on every UK radio and TV channel, midnight-6:00 a.m. GMT, July 29, 2019

Your brother is alive north of here

Lucy-Anne kept on running, enjoying the feeling of harsh breath in her chest, pain burning in her legs. She hit several doors that were locked and bounced from them, falling twice and rolling across the carpet, never growing still, never halting in her headlong flight, trying her utmost to leave behind the grief that had held her in its grasp for so long.

Outside London, she had held it at bay by being rebellious and non-conformist, holding onto hope by giving it wings. And here, now, in the Toxic City, something strange was happening, and her nightmares were becoming real.

Even so, she had fought against the truth.

But now that she knew-she had seen the rictus grins of her dead parents in her mind’s eye, and Gordon had confirmed her vision-there was at least something else for her to grab hold of.

So she ran north, instinctively aware of direction even inside the hotel. When she heard doors crashing open somewhere far below, still she ran. She had stopped screaming now, because good sense told her she would not get very far that way. And she slowed her sprint to a jog; danger had come to visit, and she might need all her energy to escape.

Your brother is alive north of here…

“Andrew,” she muttered, “I’m coming to find you.”

She was leaving her friends behind, but already their memories were growing distant. They were like old dreams fading away, while new nightmares became her whole life.

She descended a staircase, having to slip through a landing door and wait in a deserted corridor when she heard people coming up. They passed her by, scurrying up a few more flights, and the threat they exuded was palpable. Continuing on her way, she reached the ground floor and ran north again, entering the kitchens and pausing for a while by a fire exit.

Motionless, her parents’ dead faces flashed at her again.

“No!” She had to run. Had to move, never grow still, never stop until she and Andrew were together again, because he was all she had left in the-

From deep within the hotel she heard the sound of gunfire.

Lucy-Anne burst through the fire-exit doors into blazing sunlight, and the streets of the Toxic City resounded to the sound of her footfalls.

The Chopper soldier who had come through the door was kneeling, trying to turn his machine gun in the confined space. The one standing in the doorway behind him was far enough back to be able to aim properly, and they were his bullets that struck Gordon in the face and chest. The Irregular fell sideways and tumbled down the stairs.

Jack had only ever seen people killed on grainy internet images, and it was nothing like this. He heard Gordon’s death, smelled it, tasted it as blood splashed the air and landed warmly across his face. He opened his mouth to shout, his voice adding to Emily’s cry of horror.

Something blurred above his shoulder; Puppeteer’s hand. His fingers flexed, knuckles seeming to ripple beneath the skin, and the kneeling soldier was snapped upright into his companion’s line of fire.

Jack saw his second real-life death in the space of two seconds.

The standing soldier stepped back from what he had done, and the door swung shut until it rested against the fallen Chopper’s hip.

Scryer, having dropped onto her stomach as soon as the door opened, threw herself across the dead soldier and fired a pistol through the half-open door. Jack heard a grunt and the sound of something hitting the carpeted floor beyond.

He turned around and looked up to the half-landing between floors 4 and 5. Sparky and Jenna were huddled there, pressed back against the wall, and Sparky’s faced was dusted with plaster from where bullets had taken chunks from the masonry inches above his head. His eyes were wide with shock, but Jack could see that he was still alert.

Scryer crawled over the dead soldier, peered briefly into the fourth floor corridor, then ducked back into the stairwell. “More coming.” A burst of gunfire confirmed her statement.

“Why are they doing this?” Rosemary hissed. She was looking down at Gordon, angry rather than shocked, and Jack wondered just how many people she had seen killed. If they got away from this he would ask her. If they got away, there were many things he had to ask.

“Us,” Puppeteer said. He seemed to be agonising over something, staring at Jack and Emily and blinking rapidly. Then he bent down, snatched up the dead soldier’s machine gun and offered it to Rosemary. “Take them down. We’ll distract the Choppers. They probably don’t even know you’re here, so-”

Scryer fired into the corridor, ducking back and forth from behind the wall to loose two rounds each time.

“They might be coming up!” Rosemary said, pointing down the stairwell.

“That’s why I’m giving you a machine gun.” He pushed the weapon at her and she took it. The tall man stepped past her and drew a pistol from a holster beneath his jacket.

Someone shouted from far away, someone else responded, and an object bounced through the door.

“Stun grenade!” Scryer said. “Cover your ears, open your mouths!” She kicked out at the grenade. It skittered across the landing, slipping beneath the stair railing and falling down the stairwell. Seconds later it exploded.

Jack had never heard anything so loud. The blast wave punched his head, his ears, his eyes, and for a moment afterwards all he could hear was his heartbeat, muffled and fast with the fear pumping through him. Then, with a whine, the sounds from around him came in again, shouting and shooting and someone calling his name over and over again. He opened his eyes and Sparky was there, not more than a hand’s breadth from his face but his voice coming from miles away. Behind him Emily was sitting on a stair, slowly unravelling the carry strap of her camera, looking into the lens, checking every setting methodically as though their survival depended on it.

That brought Jack around, more than Sparky shouting into his face and slapping his cheeks. Emily was in shock, and he had to look after her. He crawled to his sister, grabbed her arm and pulled her quickly past the half-open door. Scryer was still there shooting into the corridor beyond, and Puppeteer watched them go.

There was so much that Jack did not understand. One minute the Superiors were treating him and his friends as less deserving than animals, now they were fighting Choppers to give them a chance at escape. He was certain it was not simply a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It had something to do with their father, and the person called Reaper, and from what Rosemary had said back in that room…

They were one and the same.

Rosemary was already heading down towards the third floor. She carried the machine gun like a baby, and Jack had serious doubts about whether she’d even be able to use it. But the most he’d ever fired was an air rifle when he was younger, and his head was still ringing from the stun grenade.

They passed Gordon, and they could not help stepping in his blood.

“Faster!” Sparky shouted. “Have to go faster!”

Gunfire, shouting, the stink of violence, Emily coming along behind him, seemingly back to reality now but still frighteningly blank-faced; Sparky and Jenna behind her; the tang of Gordon’s blood on his tongue; a scream from above, androgynous in its pain…and they passed the third floor access door without pause.

Rosemary was setting a fast pace for an older lady, and Jack could not help being impressed. But her fear was obvious, and it transferred easily to him.

There was an explosion above them, and the stairwell sang with shrapnel. Something cold touched Jack’s ear. Dust stung his face. He kept running, step after step, holding Emily’s hand with the grim certainty that her survival depended upon it.

“Grenade!” someone shouted, and he heard the metallic clash of something bouncing from the stair railings.

Emily screeched and fell into him. He had no chance, tripping forward with his arms outstretched to break his fall. He struck Rosemary’s back and she fell as well, striking the landing and twisting, rolling, and Jack was down with her, Emily clasping onto his back.

Clang…clang…the grenade still fell, and though he had no idea where it would explode, moving felt better than lying still.

Rosemary had found her feet and was starting down the staircase to the second floor, and Jack and Emily were following, when the explosion came. It did not seem as loud as the first, but it blew him against the wall, snatching Emily’s hand from his and spinning the world around his head. He was being struck from all sides, battered and thumped and cut; falling, or being hit by debris, he was not sure. When he gasped in a huge breath it was laden with dust and smoke. He opened his eyes, saw nothing, and for a few seconds he was terrified that he had been struck blind. But then someone wiped a hand across his face and Jack saw the blood.

“Jack?” Emily said, leaning over him, crying. He smiled and she cried even harder, and he thought, Do I really look that bad? More blood ran into his eyes and this time he wiped it away himself.

His head hurt. Everything hurt.

There was more shooting from up above, but it seemed to be receding.

Someone was shouting-Sparky-and the words faded in as if he was rushing in from a great distance.

“…outside and meet you behind the hotel, find somewhere to hide?”

“Okay!” Rosemary called from much closer.

Jack sat up, and used the wall for support as he found his feet. Looking up, he realised how lucky he was to be alive. The whole flight of stairs they had just come down had collapsed, sending a shower of concrete, tiles and reinforcement rods tumbling below. On the landing above the gap, Sparky and Jenna were already peering cautiously through the door onto the third floor. Jack wanted to say something, but with a quick glance back at him, Jenna was through and gone. She looked terrified, and there was blood on her neck.

“Can you walk?” Rosemary asked him.

“Of course.”

“Don’t worry, dear,” she said to Emily, “it looks worse than it is. Head wounds bleed a lot.”

“Can you fix it?” the girl asked.

“Soon.”

This time it was Emily leading Jack. They went down to the second floor landing, then had to climb carefully over the ruins of the fallen flight to head for the first floor.

“Where are the Superiors?” Jack asked.

“Still fighting, somewhere,” Rosemary said. “But they’re farther away. Must have pushed the Choppers back.”

“So this is a normal day for you, I suppose?”

Rosemary surprised and delighted him by laughing. “This is the first time I’ve ever been shot at, would you believe? And I’ve never in my life fired a gun.”

They passed the first floor door, and with every step Jack was feeling stronger. He used a handkerchief handed him by Emily to dab at the blood running down his forehead, and he even managed a smile when she briefly aimed the camera his way. Glad that survived, he thought, chuckling at how ridiculous that was. Glad we survived!

Jack tried to think tactics, but his mind was not working very well. Blown up, shot at, he was confused and disorientated. He could not recall what the street outside the hotel looked like, and for a few seconds he had trouble remembering whether it was even day or night. Then he remembered Gordon being shot-the blood splashing the air behind him, the way he’d fallen like a chunk of meat in an abattoir-and the present punched back at him.

“Won’t they know we’re in the stairwell?” he asked.

“Maybe,” Rosemary said. She paused between first and ground floors, and for a terrible moment Jack thought she was going to hand him the gun. She shook her head. “It’s all we can do. We can’t afford to get trapped-”

The door a flight below them crashed open. It rebounded from the wall, and Jack heard the squeal as the mechanical door closer pulled it slowly shut again.

Silently, Rosemary signalled, Up!

They climbed back to the first floor landing. The door out of sight below them opened again, slower, and this time they heard footfalls as at least two people entered the stairwell, boots grinding on grit.

“Clear!” a voice whispered.

Jack opened the door, hoping against hope that the hinges on this one were better oiled. He glanced at the corridor beyond, then went through, pulling Emily after him. Rosemary followed, and he waited until she chose which way to go.

The corridor looked exactly like the one on the sixth floor, and that disorientated him even more.

He heard gunfire in the distance, then a muffled explosion that thudded through the building fabric and brought dust down from the ceiling. Rosemary paused, looking up, tilting her head to listen.

“Can you tell-” Jack asked, but then Rosemary clamped a hand across his mouth. She looked at Emily and nodded across the corridor at a door.

Emily had it open in an instant, and Rosemary pushed Jack in after her. It was a basic room, though still quite large, with two double beds, a desk, and an en-suite bathroom just inside the door.

Jack went immediately to the window, careful not to touch the heavy curtains as he peered outside. Emily came with him, and Rosemary remained at the door.

The window looked down behind the hotel, at an area once used for staff parking, deliveries, and service access. He could see no movement, but he concentrated on the areas where people could be hiding: behind the overturned bins; under the verdant bushes that had broken out from the neighbouring garden; inside the three vehicles still parked there, all sitting on flattened tyres and with unreadable graffiti daubed across their doors, bonnets, and roofs.

“What do you see?” Rosemary whispered. She was standing behind the closed door, one eye to the spy-hole.

“Nothing,” Jack said. “Back of the hotel. No movement. They must have come in the front.”

“They’ll have it covered,” she said. “They always…” She trailed off, and Jack watched her slowly raise her hand, then step back and point the gun at the door.

He motioned at Emily to lie between the two beds, then went to Rosemary, waiting for her to act. And then he heard the voices. They were distant at first, muffled and mysterious. But they were coming closer.

“Did you see them?” he whispered. Rosemary did not answer. She looked even more scared than she had before, and the gun in her hand was shaking.

“No,” she said at last, “but I heard him.”

“Him?”

“Miller.”

“Who’s-?”

Rosemary held up her head and nodded at the door.

The voices outside were louder now, and Jack started picking up some of the words. “…here somewhere, they must be, so I don’t want any more…”

“…every floor, from the bottom up.” This was a quieter voice, obviously answering the man in command.

“…stairwell…dead, and blood everywhere, so we must have hit one of them at least.”

“…more than a bullet to kill some of these freaks.”

There was a pause at that, and Jack stepped closer to the door. They must be almost directly outside. He sensed Rosemary shifting so that she could still aim her gun at the wooden door, then he leaned over so that he could see from the spy hole.

Two men and a woman stood just along the corridor to the left, faces and bodies distorted by the door viewer. The tall man and the woman wore the distinctive blue uniforms worn by all Choppers, and they had guns held at the ready. The woman had short hair and soft features sharpened by her serious expression. The other man-shorter, older, black-clad, close-cropped grey hair the last stand against baldness-was obviously in charge. The way the other two looked at him…for a moment, Jack wondered if he was a Superior.

But these were Choppers, and if he had to hazard a guess, he’d name this short balding man as Miller. The name so feared by Rosemary.

“They’re here somewhere,” the short man said to the two soldiers. He looked at a small device in his hand, shook it angrily. “Not clear where, but somewhere. I want at least one of those two kids alive.”

Kids! They’d been seen, or betrayed.

Rosemary glanced at him, eyes wide in surprise. Jack stepped away from the door, suddenly terrified that it would blow in, torn apart under a fusillade of bullets and smoke and chaos, and Rosemary would go down and the soldiers would come in, mindful of their order to keep one of the kids alive and deciding, on the spur of the moment, which one it would be.

“Yes, sir,” the woman said. The other soldier mumbled an acknowledgement as well, and then Jack heard boots thudding away along the corridor.

at least one of those two kids

“Rosemary,” he whispered, leaning in close.

“Not now,” she breathed. “He’s still out there.”

Jack touched the woman’s face and turned her until they were eye to eye. “You owe me.”

Rosemary nodded, averting her eyes, then turned back to the spy hole.

Jack went to Emily, pulling her up to sit on one of the double beds. “We’re okay,” he said quietly, “we’re safe.” And he did not believe a word of it.

“They’re trying to kill us,” Emily said. “I saw that man, Gordon, and his head…his head…” She did not cry, did not sob, yet her words would not come.

“I know,” Jack said. “But we’re going to get out of here, I promise.”

“And then we’ll go and find Mum and Dad?”

“Yeah.” He hugged his sister, and for the first time he thought of how finding their parents alive would change the relationship he and she had developed over the past two years. He hated the selfishness of that idea, and could barely understand it. But they had embarked upon this time of change eagerly, and perhaps now, when everything he knew and loved was under dire threat, was the first time he had truly considered the effects such change would have.

He could still hear gunfire in the distance, and from somewhere far away another explosion vibrated through the building. A large pane of glass in the window cracked.

“He’s gone along the corridor,” Rosemary said. “Jack, a second?” She was waving Jack to her without taking her eye from the spy hole.

Emily squeezed his hand and nodded.

When he reached the woman, she was holding the gun down by her side. But she was still shaking. “Professor Miller,” she said without any prompting. “He’s the head Chopper, from what any of us can make out.”

“He wants me and Emily.”

“What makes you think-?”

“I’m not bloody stupid, Rosemary.”

She sighed. “I know. I know that, dear.”

“What does he want with us?”

“Will you trust me, Jack?” She touched his shoulder, squeezing slightly as though trying to force trust into him.

“After this? After everything you’ve kept from us: the dogs in the tunnels; the Superiors; whatever it is you know about my father?”

“Yes, after all this, I still need you to trust me. There’s plenty you don’t yet know, but…it’ll take some explaining. And now isn’t really-”

More gunfire, this time from closer by. A door opened and slammed, followed by another, and then someone screamed in agony. The screaming went on and on until another gunshot shut it off.

“I’ve never done this before,” Rosemary said, nodding down at the gun. “I’m just an old woman, but I’m doing my very best for you, son. Now that it’s all gone so wrong so quickly, I’m doing my very best. So please, until we get out of here and find somewhere safe to talk…trust me?”

She was pleading. She tried not to make it sound like that, but it was obvious.

Jack nodded. “Okay. But everything I do in here, and every decision I make, is for the good of my sister.”

Rosemary smiled and squeezed his shoulder again. “You’re a good man, Jack.”

Man. No one had ever called him that before. No one but himself.

When they opened the door, all was silent. They crept out into the hallway, Rosemary going first with her gun, and the building sat around them calm and still. They moved quickly along the corridor. It wasn’t until they were closing on the fire exit door at the end that the shooting began.

Jack dropped, turning as he did so to fall across Emily. Rosemary fell against the wall and slid down to the floor, and for a terrible moment Jack thought she’d been hit. He looked for blood, but saw none, and then she turned around, looking past him back the way they had come.

She sighed. “Not this floor.”

Jack shook his head. “This floor, but not this corridor. It’s coming from the other wing. We need to go.”

They moved to the end of the corridor, passing doors that might not have been opened for the past two years. Are there bodies? Jack wondered. A sad story of lonely death behind each door? The hotel smelled musty, though not unpleasant, but he had no idea whether there would still be the smells of rot and decay after so long. He felt as though he were inhabiting two times: the here and now, with people chasing and shooting at them through a deserted building in the dead Toxic City; and the past, where people spent brief periods of their busy lives in a room in one of London’s many hotels.

Rosemary reached the fire escape door first. She looked back past Jack and Emily again, but did not seem to see anything that alarmed her.

“I’ll go first,” she said. “After I know it’s safe…” She trailed off, her eyes went wide, and she brought the gun up in two hands. It was pointing directly at Jack’s stomach.

“Wait!” he said, but she was not looking at him.

This time it was Emily who pulled Jack down. He turned as he fell, looking back along the corridor at the two Choppers who had appeared at its junction with the hotel’s central core. They were the same man and woman he had seen talking to Miller outside the room door.

Bullets ripped along the corridor, slicing into the plaster walls, blowing jagged splinters from door frames, filling their world with violence and noise once more.

Rosemary braced herself against the wall, then looked down at her gun, turning it this way and that.

“Safety?” Jack shouted, because he really had no idea either.

The shooting stopped. “That’s them!” a voice hissed.

“Okay,” the woman said. “Just get the old bitch.” The two soldiers ran along the hallway, guns raised, and when the woman stopped and braced into a firing position, the male Chopper jerked to a halt and shot his companion in the leg.

She grunted and flopped to the carpeted floor, dropping her gun and rolling immediately onto her back.

The tall soldier seemed to be fighting with his weapon, yanking it this way and that as if someone invisibly was holding the barrel. He pointed it at the woman writhing on the floor before him, shaking his head and moaning, “No, no…”

A shape appeared behind him at the corridor junction. Puppeteer.

“No!” the soldier shouted, and he shot his friend again.

Jack turned away, but he still saw her head whip back, and blood splash across the floor and up the corridor walls.

“Come on,” Rosemary said. She nodded briefly to Puppeteer, then pushed the fire exit door open.

Jack hustled Emily through first, following her and turning around. As Rosemary let go of the door and its closer pulled it shut, he saw Puppeteer approaching the remaining Chopper, right hand held out and fingers playing the air.

The soldier screamed as his feet left the floor and his head was crushed, slowly, against the elaborately corniced ceiling.

“Jack,” Emily said, “I should have got that on film.”

“Kids,” Rosemary said. “So resilient.”

Jack barked one loud, harsh laugh, and then followed Rosemary down the stairs.

“Safety catch,” he said.

Rosemary shook her head. “Dear, I honestly don’t know if I could ever shoot another human being.”

“Even if they’re trying to shoot you?” Emily asked.

They reached the ground floor and continued down to the basement level. There were no windows here, no viewing panels in the doors, and the stairwell was dark and functional. Jack took a small torch from his rucksack and lit their way.

“Something has to set us apart from them,” the woman said. And though Jack was still angry with her, his respect for her doubled.

The hotel’s basement corridor was illuminated by a few narrow, dirty windows at high level. They looked out past iron railings at the street before the hotel. Something was burning out there, and Jack thought it was one of the Choppers’ trucks.

“What the hell are those two Superiors doing?” he asked. “How can they take on an army?”

“I doubt there were just two,” Rosemary said. “And they have such powers, Jack! I know of a fire starter, a woman who can confuse senses so that she’s almost invisible, and someone who can change the colour of things.”

The sounds of fighting had ceased for now, but the air was heavy inside the hotel, as though people with death on their minds still stalked its corridors and searched its empty rooms.

“I hope Sparky and Jenna are okay,” Emily said, voicing a fear which Jack had been harbouring since seeing them exit the stairwell. Jenna had been wounded, and he hoped that Sparky would be sensible; no heroics, and no revenge for his dead brother. Not yet.

“They’ll be fine,” he said.

“And Lucy-Anne,” Emily added, but Jack could think of no easy way to respond to that.

“We should leave,” Rosemary said. She was gasping for breath, but looked like she would never give up. “If your friends made it down this far, they’ll be waiting for us behind the hotel.”

The basement was warren of store rooms, cupboards and corridors ending at closed doors. The air was grimy and grey. Emily pulled a penlight from her rucksack and it complimented Jack’s torch, giving them enough light to find their way to a set of doors to the outside.

“Wait,” Jack whispered. He held out his hands for the gun.

“Jack…” Emily said.

“Dear…”

“I’d rather shoot them and be damned, than be dead and morally superior,” he said.

Rosemary handed him the weapon. He’d never fired a gun, but he knew the basics. He checked that the safety was off and held it in both hands, finger resting across the trigger and guard. It made him feel safer. It made him think he could do something to protect Emily, if he really had to.

He remembered Gordon’s head flipping back as the bullets took his face apart.

He thought of the soldier he’d just seen shot, the blood and other stuff splashing from her shattered skull.

Slowly, he nudged the door. It was unlocked. It creaked open into the courtyard he’d seen from the hotel room. They could be hiding anywhere, he thought. Ready to take us to Miller, just me and Emily. The fact that the Chopper had said he wanted at least one of them alive did not make him feel the slightest bit safer.

He listened for Lucy-Anne; crying, shouting, screaming. She was not there.

They heard more shooting. It seemed to come from the front of the hotel, the shots echoing from abandoned buildings and giving them voice for the first time in years. There were shouts, yet more gunfire, and then a heavy whump as something exploded.

“Jack!” Sparky said. He appeared from behind one of the cars, and Jack almost did not recognise him. His denim jacket was darkened with blood, his hands red with it, and the look on his face was that of a child. I’m scared, it said. None of this is happening…none of this is real…take me home…

“Sparky! Where’s…?” But Sparky had already turned and looked down behind the car.

“Oh, shit,” Jack said. He ran across the courtyard, nursing the gun across his chest as he went.

“Jenna?” Emily called. Jack heard her following him, and he hoped that she had put her camera away, because some moments were meant to be private.

Jenna was on the ground behind the car. It was an old Mazda 6, Jack saw, with one of those fish badges on the back that signified the owner was a Christian. Wonder if it did them any good? he thought, because Jenna was a believer too, he knew. And there she was, dying in a pool of her own blood.

She’d been shot in the stomach. Her hands were pressed there now, as if trying to penetrate to remove the foreign object. She could not lie still; her legs were raised and tensed, her shoulders lifting and falling alternately, and even though her eyes were open, Jack was not sure she could see him. She was in an awful amount of pain, biting her lower lip until it bled to prevent herself from crying out.

“Jenna.” He knelt beside her and leaned over, trying to catch her eye. She saw him, and he knew that she saw. But she was doing something far more difficult than trying to communicate. Every breath she had, every shred of strength, was spent trying to keep herself alive.

“What happened?” Jack asked Sparky when his friend knelt next to him.

“We’d made it down to the ground floor. Stupidly thought we should run across the foyer.” Every word was a gasp. “Someone was waiting behind the desk. Started shooting. She…fell. I dragged her into a doorway, down some steps, then I heard more shooting from up above. Screams. Whoever shot at us didn’t follow us down. That’s it. Been trying to stop the bleeding, but…” He shook his head. “You seen Lucy-Anne?”

“No,” Jack said. “Rosemary!”

“Is the bullet still in there?” She stood behind them. Emily was beside her, trying not to look at the blood but unable to look anywhere else.

“Don’t know,” Sparky said.

“Why?” Jack asked.

“If it is, I can’t do anything. Can’t-”

“Don’t tell me you can’t!” Jack stood, cringing at his raised voice but unable to help himself. “After everything, don’t tell me that!”

“If it’s still in there and I heal the wound, it’ll do no good. I can’t take bullets out of people, Jack. But-”

“Can’t you make her better?” Emily asked.

“If the bullet’s gone through, then yes, dear, I can. If not, and I heal it inside, she’ll probably develop an infection and die.”

“Sparky,” Jack said. “Help me.” He searched around on the ground, shifting old leaves aside and picking up a fallen branch from one of the neighbouring garden’s trees. He snapped a short section from it, eight inches long.

“What are you doing?” Sparky said.

“Seeing if the bullet came out the other side.” He pressed the stick to Jenna’s lips, and her mouth opened, teeth biting into the wood. She knew what he was doing.

“Not here,” Rosemary said. “It’s too dangerous!”

“Have your bloody gun back.” Jack lobbed the weapon at her and she caught it, uttering a startled cry. She turned to look up at the tall face of the hotel behind them.

“On three,” Jack said. “One…two…three.” He pushed Jenna up by the arm, Sparky pulled one of her legs, and as she turned onto her side she screamed into the wood, biting down hard enough to crack it and send splinters and shreds of bark spitting out.

Jack looked. Her jacket and shirt were soaked with blood all the way around. He lifted them up, exposing her bare back, and used her shirt to wipe across her skin. The blood smeared and smudged, but he found no exit wound there, and no sign that anything had broken the skin.

He hated doing this to his friend. He could see Emily’s expression as she watched, and he hated what all this was doing to her, as well. It had gone so wrong so quickly that he could not imagine things ever being right again.

The wood snapped in Jenna’s mouth and she screamed, unable to hold it in any longer.

Sparky was in front of her. He looked down at her stomach, turned away, and vomited.

“Not here!” Rosemary said. “We have to take her away, I know someone who might help, but not here!”

Jack leaned across Jenna to see why Sparky had puked, and her wound was pouting, something that could only have been her intestine protruding through the rip in her flesh. He closed his eyes and swallowed his bile, looking up at Emily. Wide-eyed, blinking slowly, pale, he suddenly saw himself in her, courage and love mirrored.

“Help me,” he said, and his nine-year-old sister came to him without question, helping him pull Jenna’s shirt tight across her stomach. Jack undid and unthreaded his belt, then tied it around Jenna. He had no idea whether he was doing the right thing. Rosemary, the healer, was looking the other way, and he hated her right then.

“Who can help?” Jack asked. He wanted to shout, but he could hear voices coming from somewhere far away, or echoing from close by.

“We need to get away,” Rosemary said. A helicopter buzzed overhead, streaking across the hotel. Another one was coming in from the distance, and Rosemary was actually pacing back and forth. “Now!” she said. “We have to leave now! They’ll be bringing reinforcements, and we’ll never get away in one piece if that happens.”

“One piece?” Sparky said, spittle hanging from his chin.

Rosemary looked down at Jenna. “She can still be helped,” she said. “Trust me. If that wasn’t the case, I’d be telling you to leave her where she is.”

Between them, Jack and Sparky lifted the wounded girl. Mercifully she passed out, screaming herself into unconsciousness as Rosemary led the way along a narrow alley stinking of rot and filth, across a narrow street, and through a park where people had once sat to have lunch but which now was home to a band of noisy, angry monkeys.

The deeper they went into the Toxic City, the more Jack doubted they would ever find their way out again.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям