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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Transdimensional Blues

by
Raymond Coulombe
The Wizard's House

by
Jeromy Henry
A Fisherman's Guide to Bottomdwellers

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Michele Dutcher
DONKEY FROGS & PANTRY GOBLINS

by
Richard Tornello

Ultima Ratio: Phase I - Retroviridae

by

John Henson Webb



“Originating from sources such as comets or asteroids, a meteorite is an object that survives the Earth's atmosphere to impact with the planet’s surface. A small percentage are known as ‘iron’ meteorites, comprising mainly iron and nickel, with the majority being comprised of rock (actually a varying combination of elements), which are known as ‘stony’ and classed as either chondrites or achondrites.

It is within certain types of chondrites that minute traces of organic matter have been found. These traces have included intact amino acids. Section Fourteen (i through xiv) of the paper before you discusses the potential for biological hazards to result from meteorite impacts.”

Extract from the executive summary of Lord Ballantine’s September 1969 Green Paper to UK Government on hazards posed by space debris.

 

            In the early years of the third millennium the UK chose to reduce its commitment to the UN and NATO; more specifically to the UN’s multi-national peacekeeping force.  Such a drastic decision came in the wake of atrocities that occurred against refugees in Darfur, Iraq, Ethiopia and the Crimea. The UK then announced the formation and implementation of PAX, a more cost-effective initiative, combining military and civilian components, its stated function to protect and aid those in need.

            In the decade after its inception PAX achieved many notable successes, due in no small measure to the synergy existing between its otherwise disparate components. Then the world began to change.

 

Journal entry: August 31st

As I've discussed at length with the Regional Emergency Council, the problem is that we're still unsure of the exact method of infection. Given the nature of the symptoms and the contrary indications from the initial outbreak, I'm convinced there may be more than one vector and that we're possibly facing several strains of infectious agent.

            It’s been less than three months since the spate of initial outbreaks, in Mombasa, Ulan Bator, Koronadal and Los Angeles; within two weeks the UN declared it a pandemic. Fresh outbreaks continued across the globe and it became apparent that we weren’t dealing with any traditional disease. We’re facing chaos caused by the uncertainty and the public reacted as anticipated when they realised that their governments’ didn‘t have any answers. All international air traffic has now ceased, cities have imposed curfew and roadblocks prevent all non-official travel.

            We’ve received uncorroborated information regarding the ‘pods’ that have appeared scattered across the UK (and further abroad if the information is correct), but there’s no official word on whether they’re linked to the disease.

            We’ve been told to remain on alert and await instructions. Where do we go from here? 

 

            People still spoke of the blazing trails that had illuminated the night sky in early May, about how the Eta Aquarid’s had never burned so brightly or in such profusion. For several nights their coruscation had put the moon to shame; the media ebbed and flowed with awe and fear of the lights in the sky. People were slower to notice and understand the odd occurrences that trailed in their wake.

            Amateur recordings of the numerous meteorites that crashed to earth showed large rock-like objects, which astronomers were quick to realise should have caused far more damage upon impact. Those scientific institutions first to secure a specimen were the first to fall silent. Stories circulated that the meteorites were hollow and monsters lurked within – other stories spoke of people dropping dead when they got too close. The truth was reluctant to emerge and soon lost among the voices already screaming to their governments for help.

 

 

 March 26th

            In a cyclone of decomposing leaves the Aero-XT touched down, hydraulics sighing as they adjusted to irregularities on the gentle slope. For a brief moment there was only the sound of a turbo-fan decelerating, then with a resounding clang the rear hatch dropped open onto the gravel driveway. Six figures in sealed combat fatigues and full respirators dismounted from the air vehicle; each three-man fire team fanning into a loose wedge formation as they approached the isolated farm buildings.

            Definitely aggressive, mused Hawkins. He lay on his stomach in the dusty hayloft above the empty stables, watching through a gap in the brickwork as the soldiers advanced. Reaching out with his left hand he lightly tapped Isobel Hordyk on the shoulder. She pulled her eye from another hole and turned her head to look at him.

            A slow heartbeat passed as Hawkins stared at the smooth, pale skin of her cheek, the straight line of her brow, the delicate curve of her nose. He physically shook himself from the reverie and tersely indicated that she should climb down and head for the door to the stable yard. She complied without making a sound. Hawkins cursed himself for the lapse; if Stukeley was right then now was not the time for losing concentration. Focus, damn it!

            Retrieving the Steyr AUG from where it lay on a bale of hay, he rose and followed her down. From this temporary vantage point he could see Stukeley crouched behind the old oak over near the converted pig house. Stukeley rested against the gnarled tree cradling his bullpup assault rifle in both hands. As ever, he seemed to be muttering soundlessly, either to himself or the weapon. Hawkins wasn’t sure which possibility ought to worry him the most.

 

 

Journal entry: September 19th

            Current estimates indicate 85% probability of infection, with a 61% mortality rate. Just under half that do survive go into coma and, so far, we’ve had no success in reviving even one patient. I’m still hopeful that Fripp will be able to recover useful data from the discs the CDC couriered to us. I have to hope that they had made some useful progress before the communication breakdown.

            Most major cities are now charnel grounds, people left to lie where they fall. There just aren’t enough of us left to deal with all the dead. Everyone’s scared of infection. We seem to have lost all of our leaders and most of our scientists. It’s as if it knows who to take to cripple any response we might try.  PAX Command believes they can hold it all together. For the record, I have to say that I’m not so sure. Though fragmentary, information from Europe and Asia seems to indicate that too many people have used this plague as a cover to settle old scores.

            I’m waiting on more specimens. Teams are out searching for survivors, though most are reluctant to leave the base and I can’t really blame them. One of Edward’s groups brought in a selection of plant materials and a pod, recovered from woodland near Ely. However, as he’s in a different section I haven’t seen or heard any further details.

 

 

            Stukeley wept when he buried the first body; its corrupted chromosomes had twisted it into a knot inside the slick plastic of the bodybag. A week later he stood beside a firepit and watched naked, misshapen corpses burn. An ill-conceived laugh had caught at the back of his throat as the stench invaded his gasmask. We do so smell like overdone pork…

 

 

Journal entry: September 24th

            We have one hope now, the partials, those who have only manifested part of the infection. The majority are either insane or in a coma, but a few are still with us. Without exception they’ve all lost the power of speech and a few have even developed a peculiar thickening of the epidermis, but they’re not dead. If it follows normal patterns, then some of us must be completely immune, but I believe it’s the partials who may hold a key to the virus. I have to believe. We don’t need a miracle, we just need time.

 

 

Journal entry: October 11th

            We’ve had further unexpected results from our tests of tissue samples from the partials we’ve recovered for study. I wasn’t initially certain that the tissue cultures were viable, as they all seemed to be exhibiting a form of cellular degeneration. We destroyed the first batches and recommenced the procedure, making sure we utilised new flasks and fresh nutrient broth. Cell-line cross-contamination was still an issue but we were clear that all processes were correct. However, even allowing for senescence, accumulation of necrotic cells and naturally-occurring differentiation, the results we kept obtaining showed significant deviation in cellular reproduction. Each generation of cells is significantly different from its progenitor. The level of translational frameshift indicated is outside of any I’ve ever encountered previously.

            With such consistent results I’ve asked Dr Fredericks to work up a study on mRNA taken from a random sample of our subjects. I’ll continue a study of the gross changes previously noted. Between us we should be able to get a firm grip on this.

 

            The emaciated woman thrashed face-down on the operating table, threatening to escape her confinement as she fought against the straps that restrained her torso and limbs. Two orderlies co-operated to clamp her head into a surgical frame. Only when the anaesthetic had taken hold did the neurologist finally come forward to prepare the patient.

            Robertson methodically inserted a spinal needle between the 3rd and 4th lumbar vertebrae, carefully applying pressure until the needle reached the subarachnoid space. The lumbar puncture provided another meagre sample of cerebrospinal fluid for his next battery of tests.

            Though he held no real hope of discovering anything new, Robertson refused to succumb to the ennui that had slowed the entirety of PAX-Mission to a laboured crawl. Apathy borne of helpless despair was sapping the strength from everyone.

            A nurse disturbed Robertson’s wandering thoughts. She wheeled a back table into position, then proceeded to re-arrange the surgical steel tools where they lay on a once sterile cloth. At his direction the orderlies turned the woman onto her back and, with no real enthusiasm, Robertson lifted a scalpel. For a second he watched the reflection of an overhead light as it played along the keen edge of the blade. He made a precise incision at the sternum, running from the manubrium to just above the xiphoid process. Folding back the resultant flap of dermis, Robertson bent to examining the odd ridges of bone that distorted the gladiolus, and had extruded through the skin surface. 

 

 

            Hawkins was once a boat-builder, handcrafting small sailing dinghies using traditional materials and techniques polished by generations of craftsmen. It all ended abruptly when the plague arrived. His wife died in hospital wired into a dozen machines in an overcrowded intensive care unit. That was in the early days when the doctors didn’t know any better. His teenage son never awoke from the coma that consumed him. Hawkins was forced to leave him behind when the ragged remains of the British army began rounding up those still alive. They had neither time nor sympathy for the half-dead. When the army finally collapsed in upon itself Hawkins stole what provisions he could carry and what equipment he could use and pushed himself toward home. On that grim odyssey he met Isobel Hordyk. A bond forged of mutual suffering kept them together.

            She had been a schoolteacher and had watched the children in her class disappear one by one. When the Government echoed the UN in declaring martial law she fled to her parents. They were both already gone – a joint suicide in defiance of the creeping death that stalked them.

            The other facet of their triumvirate was Stukeley, and he was still a soldier; a driver from a now fragmented motorised infantry unit. He saved them from a pack of deranged, starving partials and promoted himself to the rank of guardian angel. He scavenged for them, taught them the survival craft the army had instilled into him and showed them how to use the guns he carried. Stukeley saved them again when troopers approached the small community of ragged survivors that had gathered together and were living in the hinterland that was once Essex.

            As PAX-Mission systematically searched the crudely-fashioned shelters, Stukeley had opened fire, scattering the hermetically sealed soldiers into cover. During the ensuing slaughter Stukeley remained true to his calling and led his charges to safety. Behind them people died in grotesque slow motion; falling to the panicked firepower of PAX-Mission troops.

 

 

October 31st

            Once again falling stars lit the skies; visible even in daylight, as streaks of fire reaching down from the blue vault of the heavens. Like the Eta Aquirid before it, the Orionid meteor shower brought more rocks to earth; rocks that split apart to release their biological cargo and accelerate the changes in those organisms already infected.

 

 

Journal entry: November 2nd:

            Edwards has obtained another pod. I understand this one fell in woodland quite close to the facility. I still haven’t seen one of the damn things, protocols are enforced and only the appropriate staff get anywhere near them. Samples have been divided among the remaining research teams – anyone who can handle any of the various pieces of scientific equipment without damaging it has been pressed into service. I’ve been asked to replicate my results in readiness for a cross-disciplinary meeting, the elected Mission leaders want a full briefing on everything we have.

 

 

Journal entry: November 22nd

            The bioscience section is now off-limits. I heard from Edwards that the second pod they obtained has caused some form of biohazard situation and rendered the lab unusable. The rumour-mill puts the blame on a stressed worker not maintaining strict protocols. Poor maintenance of equipment has thrown enough spanners in the works already; people falling apart isn’t going to help.

            We’re going to lose. We’re already acting as if we’re beaten, and in our heads I suppose we are. I think it’s our hearts that haven’t accepted defeat. So we continue this futile struggle, shedding a little more humanity every minute of every day. We’re so wrapped up in our fears that paranoia is strangling us. We have the weapons to fight; we just don’t have the will.

 

 

            From his new position behind a section of concrete-reinforced dry-stone wall, Stukeley inspected the troops fanning out on their way toward the farm.

            Light-weight FN 6mm Kelvar chest and back plates over standard PAX-issue combat fatigues, all in that odd urban camouflage pattern that rendered the wearer highly visible regardless of their surroundings. GEC PRD-919 Caracole field transeivers; only a short-range radio system, but probably encrypted and being boosted by a repeater in the Aero-X. Standard weapons compliment; FN Herstal 2000 assault rifle fitted with visible-light laser-sight; Herstal 9mm pistol in a quick-draw thigh holster. Even well-equipped as they were their body language and slack tactical formation told Stukeley they weren’t expecting opposition.

            Watching until Hordyk settled behind the wall, Hawkins hurried to his own defensive position, beside the non-too-solid protection of the yard’s wooden side gate. Stukeley had spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing their defensive options and likely routes for entry. Now it looked as if his efforts were about to be seriously tested.

            As he waited, Hawkins found his tangled thoughts drifting again. He could still remember all thirteen years of his son’s life, but his wife was just a deepening shadow; even her name had slipped from his grasp, stolen away by the intruder wreaking its havoc in his mind.

 

 

December 7th

            The harsh light bled the colour from Robertson’s light brown hair as he sat at a workbench sorting electrophoresis slides. He found the solitude of the laboratory preferable to the strained camaraderie of the slowly emptying mess hall.

            00:47 and the base slowed toward silence as troops, technicians and civilian auxiliaries dispersed to their beds. More and more, Robertson was finding sleep elusive; an endless nightmare of skinned bodies, grotesque abnormalities and dissected organs. Each morning he awoke exhausted, dragging himself from rumpled bunk to ice-cold shower to cluttered laboratory.

            On the bench before him stood a row of sealed tissue flasks, each containing an isolated sample of virus; eleven in all, and each sample measurably different from the others. Testing had shown that the differences were too regular to be the result of either a point-mutation or a natural frameshift during RNA transcription. Robertson had tried to ignore the obvious implication of his findings, but with each new test he became more certain; the virus and its variants were artificial.

            He placed the slides within their holding container, carefully closing the lid. Walking to an hermetically sealed glass cabinet bearing a yellow-black biohazard warning, Robertson removed several vials of cell cultures. Each had been treated with uvrABC endonuclease to separate the altered DNA sequences from the remainder of the nucleotide strand. Under such crude conditions, cross-contamination of the samples was almost guaranteed. However, Robertson had duplicated the process enough to be convinced that the conclusions were valid.

            Testing had provided Robertson with all of the clinical detail he needed to isolate each of the eleven strains. All were T-even bacteriophages based upon a hijacked Escherichia coli bacterium. Each achieved lysis after 24 minutes; plus or minus 18 seconds. From each there was a mixed release: 88% new T-even phage and 12% a specific strain of the retrovirus. Sampling and testing had shown that each retrovirus induced a frame shift mutation in both animals and plants. The most pronounced effects were in the higher primates and vascular plants.  In primates, once the mutation had kicked in, it led to either degradation or reformation of cells within the amygdaloid complex, situated in the temporal lobe. From the early years of his training, Robertson remembered that the amygdala had some significance in controlling emotional behaviour and psychological motivation. In particular it mediated aggressive behaviour, and as a part of the temporal lobe it also had some function in connection with memory formation and recall. Little wonder the poor bastards went mad.

            In lower animal forms the degenerative neurological processes weren’t moderated by higher intelligence; mice and rats just tore their own kin apart. And for some inexplicable reason the lower animals all displayed an even greater degree of extraneous bone growth and changes to the epidermis. The longer they were left, the greater the alterations. Robertson now possessed two white mice that looked more akin to miniature pangolin; almost their entire skin had changed to denticulate scales. Almost as if they’d been… reformatted. He wasn’t sure where the word had sprung from, but it suited the sheer level of alteration that had occurred. In yet another recently-sealed area of the base a verdant garden of altered plants, both flowering and spore-producing, slowly filled the chamber they inhabited. Like the mice they bore signs of change; leaves or flowers, stems or rhizomes, all grew in profusion, all slowly departing from the initial appearance of the parent plant.

 

            Given their apparently botanical nature, the structures that bloomed from the myriad meteorites had quickly been ‘officially’ labelled as ‘capsules’ or pxyis by scientists, who wasted precious time trying to relate the odd structures to Earthly-counterparts. Whether their interior structures were ‘locules’ or ‘sporangium’ was a moot point beside the initially unseen devastation they were wreaking. As the non-located pods continued to absorb nutrients and other materials from their surroundings and release their cargo into the wider environment, terrestrial or aquatic, a coterie of astronomers and statisticians finally announced that a combined total upward of a million pods may have reached the surface during the two meteor storms.

 

 

February 10th

            Now forced to work in the Chemistry section, Edwards spent much of his time co-ordinating the efforts of the retrieval teams; logging specimens and survivors with equal detachment.

            The lead trooper of Team Two-Two, Sergeant Andy Todd, bombarded Edwards with questions whenever he found himself in the laboratory areas. ‘So they’re ‘programmed’?’ Todd ended his question with air-quotation marks before gesturing at the variously dissected pods stored within one of the lab’s biohazard storage cells.

            Pushing his spectacles up onto his forehead, Edwards hunted for a simple explanation. ‘Not exactly programmed; no. To use an analogy you’re familiar with… The military use the phrase ‘mission variable’?’

            ‘Yeah. It’s when your mission intelligence is limited. You take all the equipment you think you might need for different contingencies, swap to the stuff that best serves your needs on the ground.’

            ‘These pods do much the same. They constantly release spores, similar to fern spores but more aggressive. They also use some environmental feedback system to tailor a virus they release. We’re still not certain what factors are the most important – moisture, UV, heat and the like – but the pods are able to adapt the virus to their surroundings. Those that fell in the ocean eject the virus clothed in an organism similar to the most basic phytoplankton, those on land use cellular structures, mainly a bacterium that can remain viable and airborne for months.’

            Nodding, Todd considered the concept. He wasn’t quite sure how they were supposed to fight a plant. Or its spores. Maybe napalm!

 

 

            As the trooper stepped through the gateway Hawkins shot him. Rising apprehension had caused Hawkins to push the selector too far; he’d engaged fully-automatic. The recoil kicked him hard in the shoulder as the rifle fired. The muzzle climbed rapidly, stitching bullets across the trooper’s thigh and abdomen, chewing into the armour panels lining his fatigues. One round tore through the hip on the inside of the thigh, severing the superficial artery; dark arterial blood erupted from the gaping wound. The man went down as hydrostatic shock took his legs out from beneath him, screaming in pain as abused nerves carried their message of damage to his brain.

            Warned by Hawkins’ movement, Stukeley pushed off from the wall, twisting to lean upon its irregular top and shot almost point-blank into the chest of a second trooper. The Herstal fired a fraction of a second after the Steyr, but Stukeley kept total control, putting a burst into the man’s torso, aiming for the centre of mass. Though failing to penetrate his chest plate, the impact of the slugs transferred enough kinetic energy to knock the man off balance.

            Hordyk tried to emulate Stukeley, jumping to her feet and resting her arms on the upper surface of the wall. The trooper standing directly before her was already swinging up his assault rifle, thumb pushing against the safety selector. Hordyk jerked the trigger again and again, emptying the P7. Her target landed upon his side, twisted and downed by the force of the attack, FN2000 firing wildly into the air. Several of his shots ricocheted from the wall, throwing shards of flint into Hordyk’s face. One deformed bullet, the majority of its fury spent against stone, entered her neck just above the collarbone. She dropped back, scratching at the burning, stinging sensation; the pistol fell forgotten at her feet.

            Stukeley wasted a second to aim and put a burst through the clear glass of his opponent’s faceplate.

 

            The PAX soldiers who had been nonchalantly approaching the farmhouse broke into headlong flight, throwing themselves toward the inviting cover of the front porch. Stukeley hurried them on their way with a series of controlled bursts; his shots digging into the soil or shattering pebbles.

            Having recovered his balance, Hawkins leant out through the gateway to follow Stukeley’s lead. In his haste he failed to see Hordyk’s opponent scrambling to his feet. Seeing a target, the trooper snatched at the trigger. The rifle unleashed a dozen rounds in half a second.

             As Hawkins’ ravaged body was blown back through gate Isobel Hordyk released an inarticulate scream compounded of pain and fear. She began to run, away from the noise and the blood, seeking a hiding place.

            Cursing himself for the lapse, Stukeley swivelled and fired upon the remaining soldier; two bursts, first into the centre of mass, second through the respirator. The man twitched for a few seconds after the last bullet struck his body.

 

            Zulu team broached the farmhouse, going in through the partially open door, hard and fast. Just across the threshold they discovered Stukeley’s handiwork.

            In the four days they’d been camped, Stukeley would never let his people sleep in the farmhouse, though he spent time looting the larder and kitchen cupboards for food and other essentials. He’d even dragged out mattresses to furnish their sleeping quarters in the hayloft. No, to Stukeley the farmhouse had an altogether different use. Out of all the farm buildings he’d considered it the most likely target for an assault. So he’d prepared the proper welcome.

            Home-made pipebombs went off as the lead trooper opened the internal door. The weapons were crude, their method of detonation relatively simple, but they were well-sited and their effect devastating. The first man in was killed instantly, ripped asunder by the bomb’s cargo of nails and screws. The second man suffered severe wounds to his left arm, chest and abdomen. Laying on the threshold he bled to death in just less than eight minutes.

            His legs and stomach torn and bleeding, one trooper staggered back out through the now ruined door, nerveless fingers trying to switch his weapon’s safety selector to ‘fire’. The badge attached to his no-longer sealed suit read ‘Todd, A’. Having reloaded the FN2000, Stukeley took careful aim and put a single shot through the carbon filter of his opponent’s respirator.

            Silence returned to the farm.

 

 

March 26th

            Fripp handed Robertson a sheaf of computer paper, dense with closely printed script. The computer operator scratched his jaw, but said nothing.

            The neurosurgeon held it for the space of one deep breath before he began reading. After the first paragraph his worst fears were realised. By the end of the second sheet, his nerves had failed him and he could read no further. He held up the first sheet again and glanced at the opening lines.

 

EYES ONLY - NOT FOR DISSEMINATION

 Project: Ultima Ratio

Agency: CDC Bureau 13

Authority: United Nations - Overman Alpha One Zero One

Regarding: Sub-project Romeo 224

 

Romeo 224 has proven extremely stable under a wide range of environmental conditions, leading the team to believe that it cannot be a naturally occurring organic molecule. Tests have indicated a number of modifications to Escherichia coli bacterium, most of which require specific interventions at a genetic level. It is also notable that the modified sequences remain stable even as the remaining genetic material undergoes further self-actuated modification. The same process has been observed and catalogued in the other viral strains (R220 to R334).

The purpose of these modifications seems to be in creating a long-lived, stable vector, with which to distribute the genetic material attached to the altered bacterium held within the delivery mechanism of an as yet unidentified virus. Though testing is incomplete at this time, initial conclusions still suggest a genetic sequence is present within the virus which is the cause of the mutation seen in both the test subjects and the study subjects located by the search teams. Annexes 2 through 8 detail a number of ‘self-modifications’ the genetic material has undergone when exposed to different cellular matrices, for example plant and mammal (2-3), and under different environmental regimes, for example heat, pressure and humidity (4-8).

The presence of two sugar-related compounds, glyceraldehydes and glycolaldehydes, both being nucleic acid precursors, indicate that the stable sequences are ‘designed’ (we use the word with reservation) to interfere with the transcription process.

It is suggested that Romeo 224 (and the related strains) is associated with the organic capsules (project name Ultima Ratio) as comparison of the genetic sequencing performed on both has shown a great number of points of similarity considered statistically significant. The Romeo 224 team believe it will be advantageous to expand study to include all of the Ultima Ratio materials and to combine all findings thus far. Attempting to study each of the items in isolation is seen as a potentially flawed methodology.

Our first initial conclusion (documentation attached) is that the capsules, and the materials they release, are specifically designed to insert ‘foreign’ DNA into an existing biosphere. The genetic sequences that have been isolated, and successfully reproduced under laboratory conditions, lead the team to conclude that, given the ultimate limitations of our research, the capsules do not originate from within any currently recognised terrestrial biosphere.

Our second initial conclusion is that - and accepting our as yet incomplete knowledge of the structure and function of the capsules - unless we can quickly identify the locations of all of the capsules that may have reached the Earth’s surface (see Appendices I through XXI for satellite images), it is unlikely that we will successfully arrest the spread of the virus. In consequence we urge the Overman Executive to provide all necessary resources to the UR regional teams and their local representation.

            Ultima Ratio. Robertson struggled to translate the unfamiliar words. Since university his regular use of Latin was restricted to scientific notation and taxonomy. Then he grasped the memory: Ultima ratio regum - last argument of kings. He could vaguely remember from a history lesson that some French monarch had the Latin phrase inscribed on the barrels of his cannons. So ultima ratio meant ‘last argument’. But it could also be translated as ‘last resort’.

            Fripp was startled as Robertson began to sob, head forward and so hard that tears rolled down his sallow, sunken cheeks.

 

 

            Stukeley watched as the Aero-XT climbed rapidly into the sky and fled the massacre, the two-man crew clearly not interested in personal involvement. No doubt PAX Command had already been alerted to the conflict. So he had an hour at most.

            Quickly and methodically he looted the dead; weaponry, ammunition, personal effects. Everything was stowed either in his own rucksack or in the kidney pouches taken from the corpses. All the rifles save two, both equipped with an underslung 44mm grenade launcher, were emptied and discarded. He’d been running low on 5.56mm cartridges, but by the generosity of PAX-Mission had more than adequately replenished his stores. What he couldn’t carry on his back he lashed down alongside the wounded Hordyk, on an old hand cart he’d previously found beneath a tarpaulin in the barn.

            When everything was secure he set off east, in a line away from the PAX garrison situated just outside Cambridge.

 

 

March 27th

            Isobel Hordyk died less than an hour later, though Stukekley didn’t notice until he made camp nearly five hours later. The next morning when he broke trail he left her beside the cold fire. As a corpse she retained none of the qualities which attracted Stukeley’s attention. He followed a weaving path toward the coast. Somewhere there would be more survivors or even a small community in need of protection. He was, after all, still a soldier.

 

…end of phase I…

 

© John Henson Webb 2016


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