Stella glided up the stairs, her big boots seeming to barely touch the steps. Deads were dealt with carefully but swiftly, each one receiving the tanto’s blade up through its chin and into its brain before it could fully react to her presence. She caught each one, laying it gently on to the steps so as to create no sound, no fuss.
At the top of the tower there was nothing, not simply an absence of a mobile phone mast but nothing, just an empty, sun-striped space, not even any deads. She stared out of the narrow, arched windows onto a silent city. The other tower stood opposite. ‘Good job somebody didn’t just put a couple of dozen deads at the bottom of that tower,’ she said to herself. ‘Oh wait…’
Sighing, she moved back down the stairs, making no effort to cover her footsteps.
At the bottom, she saw the crowd of deads had already started to drift from the room’s doorway. ‘Come on then, guys, let’s go again.’ She ran at the skeleton of the blue whale suspended from the ceiling and jumped at its mouth, grabbing the jaw bone and swinging herself to a sitting position. Taking the tanto from its sheath, she ran the blade along the bones, tap, tap, tap.
The deads’ heads jerked around at the noise and they began their broken journey towards Stella. Already deads were filing out of the room at the bottom of the other tower and making their way towards her.
‘You guys are so cool,’ she said. ‘Look at the way you move. You’d have cleaned up at the break dance competitions.’ Shifting herself on the whale’s jaw, she reached back and gripped a bone. ‘You need this?’ she said to the whale. ‘Didn’t think so.’ She yanked the bone from its socket and pulled it free from the wiring that held it in place. The entire structure wobbled. ‘Woah, Blue. Calm down. I’m not Jonah and I don’t need spitting out.’
The deads looked up at her, shuffling to stand beneath.
The whale’s skeleton shook again.
‘Really?’ said Stella. ‘One bone and the whole lot comes down?’
There was a snap and a jerk. Stella slipped one way, her weight forcing the whale over and snapping more wires. ‘There really wasn’t much consideration for health and safety in getting you up here, Blue.’ She shifted her body, getting her feet firmly on the jaw bone of the creature and snapping more wires. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got.’ She swung down at the deads, their filthy, clawed hands reached out to her desperately, like bloodied front row fans at a rock concert.
Stella brought the bone round in a vicious arc, clubbing the front three out of the way. Their skulls smashed obligingly and Stella leapt back down to the floor, leaving the skeleton swinging wildly. ‘This way!’ she shouted and hurried beneath the swaying bones. She held her own bone up and rattled it along the whale’s ribcage. She could see that more and more deads were filing out of the room at the bottom of the tower. ‘C’mon, guys, this is where the meat’s at. Come and get it!’ She battered the skeleton with her length of bone, beating a rhythm that hypnotised the deads, pulling them beneath the whale.
The skeleton dropped several inches as more wires snapped.
Stella leapt in the air, grabbed the rib cage with one hand and began to swing the construct back and forth, batting any deads that came within reach with her bone. Stella grunted with the effort as she swung on the skeleton and batted away two more deads. As she felt more wires snapping, she gave a great heave and swung the whale away and back at the deads. She clicked her heels together to bring blades from the front of both of her boots and kicked a couple out of the way, stabbing into their brains as she did it, before swinging back again. On this pass, she felt more wires giving way. She allowed the skeleton to reach its peak and then threw her bone down to grip the rib cage as hard as she could before pushing the whale with all her strength back towards the deads and then dropping to the ground.
As she rolled to her feet, the final wires snapped, sending the skeleton crashing into the deads gathered beneath. The clattering noise was deafening as bones pummelled the museum floor and the stumbling monsters, battering them to the ground and tangling them in a skeletal avalanche.
Quickly circling the area, the quiet sound of her knife replacing the clatter of the bones, Stella took out deads with the speed and efficiency that earned her the nickname ‘Killer’ in the Games.
‘Did you hear that?’ said Jared.
‘Could hardly miss it,’ said Hook. He dropped his spade and moved towards the building. ‘Fancy a trip out, Captain?’ he said over his shoulder.
Jared stared. He saw his old camp. Three summers and three winters, barely surviving, watching people dying, killing the bitten, burning the bodies and hiding from the angels. The summers stinking and hot, the smell of rotten flesh permanently in his nostrils, death the only constant. The winters so empty, so stark, the cold like a million deads swarming his body, biting at exposed flesh, pulling at his clothes, stretching them thinner. The hunger gnawing at his insides, the constant ache for food, for comfort threatening to overwhelm him, to consume him, his own body ready to mutiny and devour him whole. The desperate trek back to the city with the few who could make it. The angels. The people’s need. The failure.
‘No worries,’ said Hook. Concern filled his eyes as he looked to Jared. ‘You keep resting and recovering. Although if you could tie off those runner beans, that’d be great.’ The big man smiled and walked away.
In a daze, Jared moved to the runner beans and began tying them to the canes Hook had already put in place.
The images had flashed through his mind in just a few seconds. Now they were indelibly etched into his vision. He couldn’t look at anything without seeing his people sliced by the angels’ lasers, or the face of a dead lurching into their camp, seeing it bite deeply into a girl’s shoulder. As if the flashes of memory were not enough, as if he hadn’t suffered enough, his brain showed him details; the girl was thirteen, her parents dead, the ward of the camp, protected and loved by all. Jared had watched her die and then driven an axe into her skull. Her name was Julie. And Jared had killed her.
‘No,’ he said aloud. ‘It was the deads. We couldn’t stop them all.’
But he couldn’t persuade himself; his vision filled with Julie’s face, twisted in agony as she was bitten. Her face as she died. No peace. Just pain. Her skull cleaved. His hand on the haft.
He flinched, not noticing that he pulled the beans away from the canes.
He screwed his eyes shut, squeezing them as tightly as he could, burying his fists into the eye sockets until he could feel the pain and the pressure on his eyeballs.
He could crush them, he realised. He could force them through his head and into his brain.
He squeezed tighter.
Someone caught him. Their strong arms wrapped around his thin frame and lowered him gently to the ground.
Stella ran to the room at the bottom of the other tower where she had earlier dealt with the three deads. She leapt over the corpse with the huge, old-fashioned monitor still crushing its skull, and made her way up the stairs. The cacophony she had raised with the whale meant that the deads were already coming down to meet her, but she had no trouble dispatching them; her blade was into their heads and their bodies were left to clatter on the steps in half-second attacks.
At the top of the tower there was a mast. Stella knew that it was what she was looking for, covered as it was with antenna and satellite dishes. It stretched from floor to ceiling, and Stella could see that the very top would poke up and out of the roof.
She produced a yellow multi-meter from her pocket and pulled the red and yellow prongs free of the unit. Gregor had already set the device up to measure voltage and told her where to place the prongs and then all she had to do was make a note of the number. The prongs in place, she switched the multi meter on.
She tapped it against her leg.
Nothing. Zero. An actual zero on the small screen. The mast was not operational.
Hook stalked the street outside the Victoria and Alert, smashing any zombies’ heads that came close enough. A couple of dozen had been attracted by the noise but they were spread out. His weapon of choice was a mace; a metre-long shaft of wood and metal topped with a metal orb covered in vicious spikes. It dripped blood and gore and Hook held it firmly in his hands, like a bat.
The Natural History Museum loomed behind him as he cleared enough space to allow himself to turn his back on the zombies and head over to the imposing building.
The zombies’ bodies laid over the sill of the smashed window of the tower on the right drew his attention. He looked over the corpses into the room. Empty.
A noise behind him. Jet packs. Angels.
Hook leapt over the bodies and into the room.