The lorry and bus were filling up, as many assemblers and printers as they could salvage from this evacuated piece of Yorkshire loaded inside. “Are you sure about this?” Ros asked. She was loading the crates of metal and plastic feeder kits into the few empty spaces she could find. “We really need to get the bloody hell away from here.”
“You’re right, probably should,” Danny Gleeson said, looking into the graying skies. Yorkshire couldn’t be long for this world. He saw one more area of the lorry he was sure he could fill. “Let me go back for one more, yeah?” he said, pushing the cart back into the mini-factory. It was unwieldy, worn down from the many loads of industrial equipment it had carried out. Danny himself was worn down from the same.
“I’ll help you,” she said, guilted by his struggles.
“Hurry up, you two!” Aziz shouted over their interfaces. He started the lorry’s engines. The sound of Ehvow engines was audible from clicks away, but it was hard to tell from the abrasive noises if they were headed this way or circling. “We can’t have much more time.”
“I’m aware,” Danny said. “Raif, you’re filled up so why don’t you get going?”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Raif said, throwing the bus into gear and lumbering the vehicle from the factory space’s loading dock. Both Ros and Danny watched him go.
“And then there were two,” Ros said. Raif, Danny, and Ros had been the last three MI-5 agents in the area. Really, the last three they’d ever known or talked to, their handlers and organizational structure dead or scattered. Aziz was technically MI-6, but he’d surfaced to help when they all got that emergency communique about the printers and assemblers. It had been the only specific orders they’d received from any sort of command.
They heaved the cart as far and as fast as they could with what was left of their upper body strength. They passed emptied rows and severed power jacks from all the manufacturing equipment they’d already raided. The only ones left were toward the back. “Guess we should’ve gone from the back to the front,” Ros said.
“Probably,” Danny said. “This was a maker space, though. People rented out all these printers for small runs of stuff. All the best and most expensive manufacturing tech was in the front. All the low-scale, pre-Tarrare stuff was in the back.” They finally came to the closest remaining printer and a stack of material cartridges sitting for the taking, perfect for the last bit of space they had in the lorry. Ros set about unhooking them from the dead power supplies around them while Danny tried to see if he could heave it into the cart. A hum rattled all the machine racks and wires around them. It intensified into an impact that rippled the walls and ceiling above them, causing Danny to drop the small printer on the floor before he could get it on the cart. The machine smashed open, its components spilling on the floor.
“Shite, we’re out of time!” Ros said.
“I’ve got to fuck off, you two,” Aziz said through their interfaces. “Six doomblooms are overhead already and the territorials said three of those pod bombers were inbound before they went dark.”
Right as Danny and Ros’ feet began to move for the door, the floor cracked and split. A basement storage level opened up around them as they tumbled and fell below. The entire factory space came tumbling down after that, crushing as the sound of Doombloom strafing went from a roar to a screaming wreck.
Both of them landed badly, Danny’s legs twisting under him. When some emergency lights flicked on in the basement, he could see that Ros was crouched with her head bleeding. Piles of wood, plastics, and fibers tumbled into the storage, further showering them with filth and covering the hole they’d fallen through. Danny tried to move, but all he ended up doing was involuntary biting his lip and causing his legs to crack a few more times. By the pool of blood leaking from his pants, they were sliced, broken, or both. Ros tried to get back to her feet in the basement level, stumbling and unable to steady herself.
“Aziz,” Danny said through his interface. “We’re not going to make it.”
They only heard the sound of sighing on the other end. “Go with God, you two,” he said.
“I hope he makes it,” Ros said, leaning against a pile of crushed building components before she lost her footing and sat down, defeated.
“Well,” Danny said. “Are you going to tell me how stupid it was to go back one more time?”
“No,” Ros said, the frown on her face showing even in the dark. “I just hope maybe someone, somewhere can use what we pulled out of this place to make these bloody aliens pay.”
“That’s the general idea,” Danny said. It hurt his neck to look at her, but he did anyway. If he was going to die here, at least she would be the last thing he saw. The collapsed factory shook again, dust turning the emergency light into a fog. “We’re proper fucked now.”
Her frown lifted, the corners of her mouth turning upward. “You ever think about that night? When the MEF ambassador was in for the night and we switched off all the interfaces and comms and took that break?”
“It’s almost all I think about,” Danny said. The two shared a desperate laugh.
“I was wrong,” Ros said. “It wasn’t a mistake.” They felt heat, Danny’s interface filling his peripheral vision with radiation warnings as they both drifted away into darkness.
NASA, ESA, J. Walsh (ST-ECF) and ESO
Acknowledgment: Z. Levay (STScI)