“We can’t hold it!” Sergeant Kilmedes bawled, tears streaming down his face. He was smeared with blood. His face and body with the red kind. His feet with the dark-green sludge from Ehvow.
“For fuck’s sake,” Chief Inspector Downes shouted back at him. He didn’t really have anything to follow that exclamation up with as his verbal and mental arsenals were very much out of ammunition, much like the single clip left in his gun.
“We’ve been fighting these damn Ehvow for almost a week,” Private Liz Jameson said. “We’ve lost every piece of ground we’ve stood on. Typical that we’d die here. Backed into godforsaken council flats that’re almost an exact replica of the building I grew up in.”
“South London isn’t exactly where I planned to end my days either,” Downes replied. They’d started out under command of some Captain in the SAS, pulling in territorial military, police, basically anyone he could into some impromptu militia. Of course as soon as they’d really engaged the Ehvow the dashing SAS officer’d been killed promptly. Their group of hundreds had fallen to 18.
“Trying to think of everyone else,” Jameson said. “Those civilians hiding a few floors up. There’re almost a hundred of them. We’re all that stands between them and those things out there.”
“No way in hell we can save them,” Private Roarke said. “Or ourselves.” Downes had thought Roark a psychopath when they’d first met. He still did, but psychopathy was starting to sound more and sensible.
“It’s all bollixed up,” Bob Finch, an MI-5 agent with them mumbled. “The chain of command’s become so diluted no one’s really in charge anymore. Take our merry little band. Highest up is technically the Sergeant over there, and he’s clearly broken. We can’t even follow the orders to evacuate and disband or rendezvous with other poor sods still in this city. Nowhere for us to go that doesn’t involve cutting our way through hundreds of those Aliens out there, and there’s no way the civilians left in this high rise can follow us through that even if we could make it out alive. We have no choice but to make a stand here.”
A chugging whir started outside. Eric Downes crumpled even further to the floor as the Ehvow guns pulverized the walls and windows near him, the Thornseeds firing into the building from the streets. “Christ,” Private Jameson said, trying to cover her ears even over her helmet. The sound was like hundreds of tiny jet engines coming at them. “If I survive this there’s no way I don’t go deaf from those guns.” It stopped after awhile, like it always did.
“Like I said, all bollixed up,” Bob Finch said. He was the only one who’d kept them alive this long. He really knew the city, leading them around passages and back-alleys not even Downes knew from all his years on the force.
“What are they doing?” Jameson asked.
Downes decided to be the brave one. He slid across the floor and peeped out a gaping hole in the exterior wall. “Nothing,” Downes said. “They look like they’re waiting for something. Maybe more so they can charge the building.” He counted around thirty outside, far more than their group could handle and certainly more than the unarmed civilians in the floors above them could face.
“Probably doing their equivalent of calling in an airstrike,” Private Jameson said.
“She’s probably right,” Finch said. “Last I checked the MI-5 feeds they were hitting military and civilian convoys trying to leave the city. Only remainders like us left now.”
“Wait,” Downes said, seeing two new Thornseeds arrive, each of them holding something. The other Thornseeds tried to take up a more defensive posture around them. “They’ve got boxes of some kind and they’re headed into the lobby.” There were two loud pops as the improvised bombs they’d placed in front of the lobby entrance went off, taking a few more Thornseeds down in a splash of sludge and glowing particles.
“They’re really coming in,” Roarke said. “I think this is it.”
“Whatever they’ve got must be explosives,” Finch grumbled, after thinking it over for a minute. “For all we know, they’ve got tactical nukes or worse.” Finch rose to his feet. Everyone did the same, following him instinctively at this point. The group gathered themselves, all of them smelling ripe from the blood and sweat they hadn’t had a chance to wash off for the past week. “Territorials, you’re the best armed so I’m going to need you to go first.” Kilmedes had gotten back to his feet, but looked shaky as he lurched toward the stairwell.
“Yes sir,” Private Jameson said, pushing ahead of her Sergeant. Downes followed them, marveling at the pyramid-shaped tunnels taken out of the walls and stairwell from the barrage of the Thornseeds’ guns. The cheap construction wouldn’t stand for much longer.
Downes thought he could almost taste his heart beating in his throat, his London police uniform and riot gear looking worse than the soldiers’ given all the filth he’d waded through. He heard the gunfire, remembering his tactical training as the territorials lit into the room. They were using old Thunderbolt caseless assault rifles. Eric himself just had one of those new SMGs they’d deployed a few months ago. He wasn’t up on gun manufacturers, but they seemed to be at least slightly effective.
The gunfire resumed, the Thornseeds doing the usual and barely taking defensive positions. Casualties didn’t seem to matter to the Aliens. As he fanned to the side and leveled his gun he saw Kilmedes take a direct hit from a Thornseed weapon. It took his body completely apart, some of it splashing off the wall and onto the side of Downes’ head. His interface on the right side was clouded with a red film. The combined fire from the soldiers was precise, drilling into the Thornseeds’ midsections in squeals and toppling bulks. They’d learned a lot from all the skirmishes they’d had with the Aliens, Downes himself cutting into the middle of one in a way that burst it open and painted the big windows at the front of the lobby a dark brown-green. As he found his way to a small hallway near the elevators. Cover was minimal, a few load-bearing columns and drywalls all that protected them in the lobby. His weapon stopped firing, the last of his ammunition gone as he ducked through a half-collapsed maintenance room.
The Thornseeds began to back away, retreating with shrill warcries. “Got them!” Private Jameson shouted. When Downes crawled from the maintenance room he saw everyone backed as far from the lobby entrance as they could, clouds of spectral yellow-green bits floating around. They settled to the ground after a few minutes, fading to a harmless dull. “I think we took down four of them,” Jameson said. The broken remains of three of the plant-based creatures were on the ground leaking everywhere.
“They got six of us,” Private Roarke said. Downes scanned with his interface, identifying Kilmedes among the loss, four others, and then a name in critical condition that made him stop.
“Fuck!” Downes shouted, seeing Bob Finch’s body on the ground trembling. Downes looked down at Finch’s body, watching blood leak from his eyes, nose, and mouth. The glowing spores pulsed under his skin as they filled his bloodstream. He was dying.
“He almost made it,” Private Jameson meditated. “It’s not enough that they shoot you, when you’re lucky enough to take them down that happens.”
“That may be the least of our worries,” Downes said, realizing that they’d overlooked the obvious. The two boxes the Thornseeds had dragged into the building were opened, a floating orb popping out of them. The orb was spinning faster and faster. “Anyone have a clue how we shut something like that down?”
Jameson went to his side, the other soldiers starting to back away. He searched through his police interface and found the the bomb disposal application. “Alien Object Detected” was all it said back. “Really now?” Downes said, pounding his fist into it. There were no buttons, no control panel.
“I’m out,” Private Roarke announced, sprinting out of the building as fast as his legs could carry him. Downes didn’t think as he watched the energy in the orbs grow brighter and their spinning orbit turn blindingly fast. Instinctively did the same as Roarke, scrambling out of the lobby. The Thornseeds were running in the opposite direction down the street, uninterested in taking any shots at them.
Downes ran a hundred meters or so in a blur before he stopped. No one was with them, the other soldiers and police officers all still in the building. Then he remembered the civilians. He’d just run, leaving all those families in there. He’d abandoned everyone. Roarke kept running, leaving Downes far behind.
A flash, brighter than any Downes had ever seen, rumbled the council estates building as it pulsed out of every one of its windows. It hurt Downes eyes even though he hadn’t been looking directly at it. Heat and wind flowed up the street. He had expected the whole building, maybe even the streets to be disintegrated or on fire or covered in spores or some other deadly scenario.
His interface began to flash warnings, everyone in the council estate’s life signs flickering out. His own body began to fail him, heart racing as his skin flared in itches and then burns. He turned back in the direction Roarke had run and saw that he’d slowed down. “Warning: Lethal Radiation Levels,” Downes’ interface told him, far too late for him to do anything about it. He fell to his knees as his legs ceased to work and all he could feel was fire, pain, and nausea. His eyes settled on the completely intact buildings around him as he started to go into spasms before they went blind.