Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The lights reflect from the gleaming chrome and glossy Union Jacks on the lines of matt black all-terrain cars. Typical over-indulgence: four-wheel drive is hardly necessary to drive down a thirty-mile, two-lane strip of tarmac.

They sent me down ten days before it all went to hell, not because they thought I was worth saving, but because I was the mechanic. They wanted their fleet of getaway vehicles ready to go.

I had just finished servicing the one-hundred and twentieth car, making sure it’s batteries were charged from the reactor far below, its petrol engine was functioning and its heated leather seats were perfectly aligned. The onboard computer was fully up and running too. I was doing my last check by lying in the fully reclined rear seat and playing solitaire on screen when I felt a tremor. Then eight more.

I jogged down the line of vehicles to the master board. As I hit the ‘prepare’ button, I saw the lights flash on the platform of the evacuation line. Minutes later, as I covered the other duties that a team of eight should have been here to do, a single four-unit train whistled in and came to a standstill. The doors remained closed, each with the hackle-raising red glow of a contamination light above it.

After five minutes, I dared to go up onto the carpet of the platform and investigate. Inside the first carriage the floor was covered in sludge. It soaked the thousand-pound suits and lapped against the briefcases locked to skeletal wrists. The government and their favourites were chunky soup.

The vomiting fit passed and I went along the carriages, looking for any signs of life. I couldn’t have got in, even if I wanted to. The override codes for the doors were above my clearance.

In the last carriage, a single man sat by the window, dried blood under his nose, ears and mouth. He looked at me and shouted, blood flecking the glass.

“Can you get me out?”

I shook my head.

He smiled. “Can’t or won’t?”

I shouted back. “I don’t have the codes.”

He nodded. “Anyone else make it?”

I shook my head again.

“Guess you’re it, then. What section are you with?”

“Secure vehicles, engineering unit four.”

He laughed; more blood on the window. “Typical. A mechanic is the only one we save.”

With one hand, he wrote a sequence of numbers and letters on the glass.

“That’s the access code. Select ‘untrained’ from the menu and the system will run in idiot mode.”

With that, he coughed hard and most of his face came off. I backed away quickly and sprinted to the main board. The code got me a lot of functions that the ‘idiot mode’ helped me with. I sent the train back out into the tunnel, then retracted the rail and closed the steel and cement iris doors. Straight away I fired up a car and headed for the sanctuary.

After six miles the downward slope of the road ended in a tunnel-shaped lake of still, dark water. So I drove back.

I’ve got a hundred and twenty cars, each stocked to keep six people alive for a month. I have access to thousands of books, films, games and music tracks, but it is a closed system with no access to the outside – that was available from the sanctuary; this was just a stopover.

Once a week I play thrash metal really loud for as long as I can stand it. Hopefully someone will hear before I die of old age or go insane.

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