Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Swerve left and dive over a fence, roll once and spring through a gap in a wall, landing in what used to be a lounge, my face inches from a dead someone’s diary. As a former librarian, I can’t help it: I have to read the words neatly written on the page-
There’s a grinding noise nearby that sounds like distorted laughter. Nasser! Move! Seeing the page is the last one with writing, I rip it out and pocket it. One sheet of paper won’t weigh me down.
Out the doorway and through a parched backyard, explode through a chain link fence in a shower of rust and brittle pieces, then over another brick wall, to plunge down into an open cellar. I crash land and the floor gives way. Surprisingly, it’s only a short fall onto a van roof. I wait for the Nasser to descend on me, but things only get quieter as bits cease to fall. Minutes pass and my breathing slows.
“You alright, mister?”
I turn my head and she gasps at facing the muzzle of my gun. Training: aim follows eyes all the time.
Preteen. Bright-eyed. Cleaner than me.
“I’m good, miss. You on your own down here?”
“Had yourself a right good shelter, too. Sorry I made a hole in the roof.”
There’s a tentative grin. Then a smell reaches me. What the-
She sees my eyes widen as I sniff.
“Baking day. Nassers got no noses.”
True. The dreadful clones of a vengeful spaceman see very well, hear badly, have the tactile sensitivity of a car crusher, ignore odours, and I don’t want to know if they can taste things. Duke Benson got left in space when the shuttle fled the arrival of The Ship. Everyone thought he was already dead; he thought everyone had abandoned him. The giant alien manufacturing facility we call ‘The Ship’ may well have been a gift to humanity, an opening overture to eventual contact. Sadly, the first human it met was a mean, unhinged man with a brand-new lust for revenge. Now, ‘Nassers’ are perpetrating an extinction event that only the arrival of The Ship’s creators can prevent. That’s the only scientific conclusion reached: further research and related investigations were suspended in the face of genocidal empirical evidence and an overwhelming need to run and hide.
“I got rolls. Cake in about ten minutes. You want tea or coffee?”
“Dad ran a catering business. I was down in our storage when it started raining Nassers. Dad and Ben, his foreman, reversed big rigs down the entry ramp and blocked it. Nassers got ‘em as they tried to get in. I’ve been alone ever since.”
Two years. She’s been here two years. Barely a mile from what was our camp until a few hours ago, when it became a Nasser-overrun slaughterhouse. Bertrand’s tale about ‘baking on the wind’ wasn’t hogwash. I wish I could apologise to him.
“You ran from Bagnell?”
She knows. I look at her and nod. It’s too soon for words.
“Then you better come in. We’ll be safe, I can drop the security shutters between the carpark and the warehouse. My name’s Greta, by the way.”
I clean up while she makes tea. As I shuck my ruined jacket, that torn page flutters to the floor. I pick it up and read:
‘There is no Judgement.
There is no Qiyamah.
There is no coming back.
There is only the end.
It will be ugly,
And accompanied by laughter.’
Now I wish I’d left it behind.