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Original Sins
by Amy Amy
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© Copyright 2015 - Amy Amy - Used by permission
Storycodes: Solo-F; M/f; wartime; barn; bond; ropes; susp; sex; climax; caught; F/mf; revenge; gun; machine; magnet; accident; dream; cons/nc; XX
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Original Sins Amy Amy Solo-F; M/f; wartime; barn; bond; ropes; susp; sex; climax; caught; F/mf; revenge; gun; machine; magnet; accident; dream; cons/nc; XX
 

Chapter 1: Temptation

Pre-Dawn

August 1944

Dehlia looked back over her shoulder. Out on the moors, the unhooded lights of the approaching car were over a mile away. It wasn’t even dawn yet. It was blatantly illegal to show lights like that. Idiots.

She stopped the bicycle. A solitary lost plane would be enough, just one bomb. Didn’t they realise? She shivered, sweat cold on her skin. Could she hear the distant drone of engines, the approaching whistles of death?

Five years ago, bright afternoon sunlight filtered through the French forest. The siren howl of the Stukas. Afterwards, fragments of the shattered wooden house strewn for yards around, the pain in her leg, and in the distance a wet coughing sound overlaid with a child’s screaming.

No, she wasn’t there. That was behind her. Nothing could bring back the dead. She knew better than to think about it, so why wouldn’t the flashbacks stop? All it did was make her weak.

No bombers tonight, just night-noises and the chattering of her teeth. No bombers for a while now. Why must her memories continue to betray her?

She needed to focus on the present. The car was much closer now, but she still had time to hide. Probably. The only cover in reach was the roadside ditch.

She lowered her bicycle down into the ditch-bed. It didn’t quite reach the bottom. She let go and it landed with a clatter. She hesitated, but there was nobody else to hear it, nobody to notice her. At least it wasn’t a splash. She climbed down after it, clinging to the long dry grass. She couldn’t reach the bottom. Her feet dangled over emptiness. The grass tore free from the earth and she slid down out of control.

She landed with a squelch and sank an inch into the mud at the bottom of the ditch. Her knees were scraped and burned though she’d only slipped a short distance. She lifted a foot. It came up without a shoe and she tottered on one leg. Stupid, stupid. Could she get her foot back in? If she missed it would get covered in mud. She wobbled, arms reaching for the side of the ditch, finding nothing. About to lose her balance, she put her bare foot down with a squelch. Cool, gritty mud oozed between her toes. Now her shoe would end up full of mud if it wasn’t already.

She thought she knew where it was, but she couldn’t find it. Everything was difficult in the dark and the moonlight barely came down into the ditch.

The car roared by, driving faster than it had any right to.

It was long gone by the time she located the shoe. How was she to get her heavy bicycle out of the ditch? She had no choice but to push it along the ditch bed until she could find a place where the climb up to the road was possible.

She walked for a few minutes. There would be a way up soon.

A few minutes more. It was ridiculous. Was the ditch actually getting deeper?

Why would anyone need a ditch this deep in the first place? A few minutes more wouldn’t hurt. It would take much longer to retrace her steps and try the other way. She would be late for sure. Marcus might think she’d stood him up. What if he left before she got there?

Another hundred yards. There was a way up – at last – but she’d never be able to pull the heavy bike up after her. Never mind, she had to be near the outer perimeter of the installation by now, didn’t she? Her bicycle could stay hidden in the ditch. It would have been easier to ride around and take the back way in, but there was another gap in the fence somewhere nearby. As long as no eager beaver had repaired it.

Dawn

Marcus had hoped to avoid Evelyn. She came downstairs in her dressing-gown with their daughter balanced on her hip, awake but grizzling and sleepy.

“Is she alright?” he said.

Evelyn ignored him, fussing with the child as if it were urgent.

One more try. “She woke you up?”

“Of course she did,” she answered without looking at him. “Good thing that she did. You were planning on leaving without saying goodbye?”

Two years old and the girl still didn’t sleep through the night. It would wear anyone out, but Evelyn was using the girl as a shield again; wouldn’t face him.

Marcus reached for his jacket. Better if he left while he still had his temper. “You know I have to set-off early to make the meeting tomorrow. I did mention it last night.” He wanted to grab her by the shoulders, make her look him in the eye, but it just wasn’t worth the trouble. He’d let his emotions run away before. It had only made things worse. Why bother going through that again? It always ended the same way lately.

“Oh yes,” she said. “Of course you did.”Her voice like twigs snapping underfoot.

Marcus exhaled slowly, clenching and unclenching his hands. “Well, I did. I wanted to let you rest.”

Evelyn made a sharp sniffing noise. “Don’t worry about us. Get on with your work. Save the nation or whatever it is you get up to. The sooner we win and put an end to this ridiculous rationing the better.”

“If we win. If.”

“Don’t be such a defeatist Marcus, for God’s sake, you’re always so pessimistic. We’re winning aren’t we? Or at least the bloody Yanks are,” she said.

She turned away from him.

Marcus winced at her language. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”

She didn’t look back. “That will be nice.”

By the time he’d got the car started he’d counted seven things he was guilty of. Half an hour later, he coaxed the car down the farm track and pulled off to the side. His guilty count was up to twenty-one. How many of those things did he actually regret? Now that would be something worth counting.

He parked behind a natural hedge of gorse bushes. It had to be well hidden. There weren’t many people with cars and even fewer with petrol. If the car was noticed then word would soon find its way back to Evelyn.

He ground his teeth. There were always idiots who couldn’t keep their bloody mouths shut. Always some fool yapping when they shouldn’t be. His business was supposed to be top secret, but war or no war, the wagging tongues never stopped.

He could easily have walked here from his house. He could have cut across the moors, following the sheep track, as he’d done in the past. That wasn’t an option now. Evelyn had been suspicious for a while. He did have a meeting tomorrow, but it was in Harrogate, not London. She wouldn’t know he had a day in hand.

His lungs burned from the steep climb up the hill. His breath came in heavy gasps as he threaded his way between the trees. The weak Sunday morning sun hadn’t broken through the clouds. The forecast was for hot and sunny but there was no sign of it yet. The perfection of a day in the barn might be spoiled if the weather didn’t improve.

His foot slipped in the mud and he stumbled against a tree, scraping his hand as he saved himself. This rotten place, even in summer the ground was treacherous. The soil was wretched stuff fit only for growing scrub and twisted, stunted trees. No wonder the farm had failed. Even sheep couldn’t prosper here.

The surrounding moors were even worse, a treacherous bog of heather and bracken in winter, and a fire risk in summer. If there was a summer. He’d be glad when all this was over and he could return to the sanity of London.

There was only a slim chance that the gate guards were awake but it didn’t hurt to take precautions. He squeezed through the hole in the fence at the back of the compound. The hill made it hard to reach and the guards rarely took the trouble to climb up to it. The nearest building was only a few feet from the fence here. They should just have knocked the building down instead of going around; it was a weakness in security.

The research installation was a series of refitted stone-walled outbuildings set around the old farmhouse and barn. The Ministry had fixed up the abandoned buildings, splashed on a fresh coat of whitewash and put up their fences and barbed wire.

The barn was in the centre, furthest from the fences. Seen afresh in the dawn light, it was thoroughly Victorian, created on a grander scale than everything else, demonstrating the bullish ambition of the times. Formed from titanic black timbers, now apparently in a poor state of repair, it brooded apart from the other, smaller, buildings. The older stone farmhouse was a modest cottage in comparison.

He opened the door as silently as he could. He didn’t know why. He had no need to be quiet. Any noise that came from within the fence would be ignored. Only the young lieutenant had clearance to come into the buildings and the barn was off-limits even to him.

He forcefully banged the door closed on purpose. Just in time he stopped himself and didn’t look towards her. Instead he took his time padlocking the entrance.

He centred himself into character and put on his most confident swagger as he approached her. She was waiting for him in the open centre of the floor, Dehlia, the origin of his sins.

The old wooden roof and walls of the barn were peppered with small holes that admitted the sunlight. Motes of dust danced in the web of criss-crossed beams surrounding her, like the setting for a rare jewel.

Her feet were bare and muddy. She turned just her head towards him and a smile flickered across her features before she could hide it. She hunched her shoulders and gazed downwards. Was she pretending to be afraid? The glitter in her eyes didn’t match her posture. If he knew her, it hinted at something more than longing, something more than hunger.

Damn .She was beautiful with that look on her face – bright eyes and soft features – and the body of an innocent twenty year-old. But those eyes had seen too much, the words that came from those wicked lips were too clever.

Normally he’d have no reason to check a staff member’s file, but in her case he’d had every reason. Twenty-nine… Five years older than his first guess. There were other things in that file, besides her age… Other things she never spoke of. If only she’d confide in him, but he couldn’t mention anything. It might have been better not to know.

There were a lot of people almost exactly Dehlia’s age. Evelyn for example. There was no proof, but the theory fit: all the men who’d joined up on impulse at the start of the Great War had one last fling, and from that a wave of babies.

Next year she would be thirty. He would have been eleven when she was born. The difference was a burden; the dreadful weight of the future pressing down on him. People had said he was too old for Evelyn, and she seemed older than her years.  How could Dehlia be right for him?

She gave him that look and reached one hand up to the front of her dress, unfastening it without being asked. She swayed and a shaft of light caught the blackness of her hair. It was still pinned up the way she always wore it, but there was dirt on her face and strands hanging down as if she’d already been half-ravished. Had she made herself up like that on purpose?

She shrugged the dress to the floor, letting it fall into the dusty concrete. Her only underwear, her brassiere, had seen better days. It hardly mattered with such magnificent breasts. She unfastened the clasp and they spilled out. Large, perfectly shaped and adorned with sturdy pink nipples, like one of those dirty postcards, everything in shades of grey apart from a touch of pink added by hand.

He had an urge to walk over there, grab her, push her to her knees and fuck her from behind. Hard and fast. Instead, he kept his distance. She needed more than that and it wouldn’t satisfy him either. There would be a brief pleasure in it, but he couldn’t bear to waste his time with her. They had all day and most of the night together, time enough for fucking, and other things besides. Time enough to do things right. If he was going to betray his wife and child it should at least be done properly.

She let the bra slip from her fingers onto her discarded dress. It seemed careless but the garment didn’t fall on the dirt of the floor. Her top was bare now, those seductive curves fully displayed; caught in a web of natural spotlights as she moved and swayed. His dick throbbed, it was so hard it ached. His pulse quickened at thought of what it must have been like for her to travel from her little cottage, bare underneath that flimsy dress.

She reached up and pulled the pins from her hair. A wave of blackness tumbled down over pale skin. She flicked it back over her shoulders, each motion charged with anticipation. She had forgotten to hide her smile – caught out – she didn’t continue the pretence of fear. She noticed his gaze and cheekily licked the corner of her mouth. About to laugh?

His ropes were stored in an open box behind the bulk of delicate machinery that filled most of the barn. If discovered they’d probably be ignored. At worst, somebody would think they were being stolen, pushed out of the way to see if anybody would miss them.

Her gaze followed him coquettishly around the room as he stalked around her in a wide circle to reach the box. There was a sphere of energy around her, filled with heat, a barrier formed by the critical distance of their mutual lust, and he had to skirt it until he was thoroughly prepared. To step through that wall prematurely would be to step into an inferno. He would have no choice but to fuck her immediately. There would be no alternative but to empty himself inside her in two minutes flat.

He focussed on the handful of ropes and moved up behind her. Anticipation of what he was about to do with those ropes strengthened his aching resolve. He paused to study the soft peach of her behind. A thing of artistic beauty.

She was leaner and more muscular than a Degas nude but she had that same scintillating glow, the sun radiating from within her despite the darkness of the barn.

He took another step closer, about to tell her what to do, but before the words reached his lips, she anticipated him. She reached behind her back and pressed her arms together, squeezing her shoulder blades.

He dropped all the ropes but one.

He readied the remaining rope in his hands; made the first loop around her wrists; pulled it tight, the rope compressing her delicate wrist, not tight enough to do damage. He began to make her helpless, began to make her warm body his.

Chapter 2: Transgression

Dusk

Marcus took deep breaths. His body ached from the sustained effort. He didn’t have an iota of energy left. The ropes suspending Dehlia creaked, though there was no visible movement. She was a pendulum swinging from the vast cross-beams of the barn. It was near dark, the red glow of sunset streamed through the cracks in the walls to outline her sweat-beaded body and pick out the marks and the knots of the rope.

He pulled out of her. He couldn’t remember how long his cock had been limp. He reached down to peel off the condom. He blinked. Looked again, eyes straining in the darkness. There was no semen collected in it. It was empty.

He checked again. Choking, a cough caught in his throat. The condom had split. He coughed again, then released a bitter laugh that he instantly regretted. Dehlia didn’t react.

At last he’d managed the ultimate betrayal. Perhaps his choices would all be made for him? No. The chance was vanishingly small wasn’t it? He yawned. So tired. Shouldn’t he be panicking? He was just so damn tired. Too tired to think about it now.

He circled her, she was more beautiful than ever. His mind kept returning to the split condom. He should make the most of these moments. It might be his last chance to see her this way. There’d been many opportunities over the last few months, and every time it had ended like this. He’d told himself he wouldn’t do it again. But he did. Every time he’d told himself he’d return to his wife, to his infant daughter, and never think of this woman again. Every time except this one.

She was still bound. Helpless. Vulnerable. Her breath shallow in uneven gasps. She had reached her limit and then been pushed well past it. Had he gone too far? Her eyes were wide open, no longer closed in rapture, open but mindless, empty. The light had gone out of them. He had dulled it again, but it always returned, brighter than ever. What would happen if he told her?

She was spreadeagled as if crucified horizontally. Her head pulled up and back by a rope twisted into her thick black hair, salty crust on her chin and the sides of her mouth. A network of ropes restrained her in a cruel embrace that restricted her belly and chest, allowing no means for her to inhale a full breath.

With each creak of the pendulum her face twitched, grimaced, tensed, then went slack; simple mechanical movements, barely human. A strand of drool dangled from her chin, thin and glistening like a spider’s thread, swinging in complex harmony. She wasn’t there: her mind had gone to some other place, transported by pain and exhaustion. However close they were, he couldn’t join her there.

It was his best effort to date. What a tragedy that the craft of rope-bondage was forbidden. If only there were teachers or books that could show him the techniques of the past. He couldn’t be the first to walk this path… It seemed ludicrous. Impossible. A mockery of common sense. There had to have been others before him. He had devised the art for her but it must have existed before.

For thousands of years of human history there had been women and ropes. What an art it might have become if his predecessors had been able to transmit their wisdom. He tried to create beauty, but how could anything grow, cut off, isolated, sliced into single lives and hidden in secrecy?

Did she care? Did the ropes even matter to her? Did anything else matter to her except the rush of adrenalin, the cocktail of endorphins, lactic acid poisoning and near asphyxia that she craved? How would she feel if he told her about the condom?

She had said that that he was the only part of it that mattered. She’d declared her unconditional love on so many occasions that now it felt familiar when she did it. But was she being honest? What person would choose to go through what she endured just to please another?

There was something arbitrary in the stark intensity of her adoration. Why me? Why would this goddess amongst woman want me for anything? Let alone this…

He couldn’t leave his daughter without a father. And yet, despite Evelyn’s jealousy and possessiveness, she was adaptable. Despite his misgivings about Dehlia’s affection, he suspected that his wife, who resented giving up any part of him, would be the one of the two who could most casually replace him if her hand were forced.

No, he was lying to himself to numb the pain. He was more than just an actor who could be replaced if he failed to deliver his lines. There was history, a connection, wasn’t there?

Another one of his various guilts… He had stopped counting after he got to twenty-three… It was wrong to string Dehlia along. Her youth fading while he wasted her time on a twisted affair that was headed nowhere. She was complicit in it but he wasn’t doing her any good by entangling her in his wretched knot of a life. If anyone deserved better it was her.

The condom… He was well aware of the names people reserved for unlucky mistresses and their bastard offspring. If he was a real man he’d tell her right away; tell her he’d stand by her no matter what. But he was in a position where he had to do wrong by somebody. Whatever happened, he’d be to blame for the damage. He might ruin everything and everyone.

She was too exhausted for news like that. She had been through every position and tie he could devise but now it was time to let her down. Maybe later, when she was rested he could work out a way to broach the subject. And now that he thought about it, he was ravenous. Dehlia would be hungry too. It was definitely time to eat.

Evening

Dehlia was walking on air. She ached, but it was a good ache. Every muscle in her body had been stretched and tested to the limit but she wasn’t ready to give up. She’d had almost a day of Marcus to herself and it wasn’t over yet. She wouldn’t waste a minute of him. What they shared was unique. His cow of a wife would never understand it. He was wasted on her; he’d see it eventually.

She’d had some trouble getting the Aga lit, but Marcus had sorted that out easily. She’d felt another little gush inside watching him work with such masterful confidence at something other than the ropes.

The bubbling stew smelled good despite being mostly carrots and turnips. Maybe it was just because she was so hungry she could eat a horse. She giggled at the thought, if she’d had any horse to cook she would have put it in the stew and made the best of it. The days when she could be picky about such things were long gone.

There’d been something different about Marcus today. Usually, he kept his council, hardly speaking except to give orders. This time he’d confided in her, complaining about Evelyn in a way he normally never would. Why shouldn’t she dream that he might leave the witch? Deep down, she knew it was only a dream, but she could pretend. She had caught herself dancing with happiness but there would be enough dark days ahead.

He made her feel like a girl again. She hugged herself. Excitement was leaking out of her and she wanted to hold it all in, every bit of it. He was lying upstairs in a warm bath. The installation was never short of coal but he was using the water that she’d used first. So close. It was like they were living together. Only a fantasy, but… Even now she could feel herself getting wet again. She’d call him in a few minutes when the potatoes were done. He’d come down, his hair still wet, smelling of soap and manliness. Those eyes of his cutting to her soul. Maybe she should call him now anyway?

A knock on the door. It shook her like a blow to the back of the head. Nobody should be here. Nobody could see her with Marcus.

She hurried to open the door. There was no lock, just a latch. If the visitor wanted to enter, there was no way she could stop them.

The blue uniformed shape of Flight Lieutenant Brian Greenman filled the doorway. At the sight of her, he snatched off his cap. “Sorry to bother you Miss. I saw smoke from the chimney, knew someone was in.”

Dehlia’s spine turned to ice. She hid her shaking hands behind her back. “No bother at all Lieutenant. I thought you knew I was here.” If she played it right could she make everything seem normal?

“Don’t know how we missed you coming in,” Greenman said.

She pantomimed a shrug. “Some work to catch up on. I probably shouldn’t be here alone.” She nodded towards the Aga. “The rations here just go to waste.” It was half-true. Would he believe that she’d concealed her arrival because she’d only come in to feast on Ministry provisions?

“I see,” he nodded towards the Aga where the stew was cooking and the potatoes beginning to boil over and make a smell. “Any of that going spare?”

Dehlia cursed inwardly. She could hardly say no. It was plain enough that the price of his silence would be. It would be fine as long as Marcus stayed in the bath. She just had to give the man his food and edge him out the door.

She grabbed a cloth to lift the potato pot from the hot-plate. “Of course. Come in. Make yourself at home.”

Greenman pulled out a chair and settled himself at the kitchen table like he owned the place, though by the way he looked around it was unfamiliar to him.

“You here by yourself?” he said.

It was probably just small talk but she’d dreaded that question. Should she lie outright? She clung to the pot to keep her hands steady. Had he seen something? Did he know Marcus was here? Did he suspect? Had he seen them meet before?

“I’m not sure if anyone else is on site,” she said. Could he hear the quaver in her voice? He had to know she was lying. “I’ve been busy in the barn. Just came in to eat.”

“Nobody in the book,” he said. Could she take that at face value? Was he hinting about Marcus again?

The heat from the pot had soaked through the cloth and was burning her hands. She winced. She ran the pot under cold water then drained it. Could he sense her nervousness? She took her time finding a fork to mash with. He might not ask any more questions if she looked busy.

A thud from behind her… Was it Marcus? She span around. The outside door was open again.

She froze.

Her body was a distant thing. The potato pan slipped from her numb fingers and crashed to the floor, the lid clattering and rolling like a cymbal.

Evelyn had kicked open the door. Now she was standing there, wearing men’s trousers and holding a gun. The figure of a tiny child cowered behind her. Dehlia’s mind spun uselessly, unable to complete a thought. She opened her mouth. Closed it again. What was there to say?

She looked down at the polished copper pan-lid as it rolled to a stop, a distorted view of the room reflected back at her. She was a tiny figure at the edge, on the opposite side Evelyn, barely identifiable – her enemy, hair a red fire in the copper – the obstacle to her happiness.

It was easy to see now that Evelyn had been suicidal for weeks, maybe longer. Why hadn’t she noticed it earlier? Why hadn’t Marcus mentioned it? Dehlia knew the look on Evelyn’s face; had spent years looking at it in the mirror until Marcus banished it. Surely everyone could tell what it was?

Evelyn had come to kill Marcus. It wasn’t so strange. In Evelyn’s shoes Dehlia might have felt the same jealousy. Even now, without a marriage or a child between them, she could imagine dying for him. But Evelyn had good reasons to live. Her husband and child weren’t dead yet, and they didn’t have to die.

She could save three people if she could get Evelyn to focus on her instead of Marcus. If she wrestled her for the gun now it would be enough. But her body wouldn’t move. Why couldn’t she act? What was wrong with her? Why was she so weak?

Night

Marcus had been about to step out of the hallway into the kitchen when he saw Greenman sitting at the table. The young lieutenant was probably attracted by the smell of the cooking food.

Marcus was about to try and sneak back upstairs and wait for him to leave. Then Evelyn crashed her way in and he stopped. There was no light in the hallway and if he remained motionless he was invisible.

Evelyn was holding a gun. His gun… What was she doing with it? How had she got it? Damn the Ministry for forcing him to take the thing.

Evelyn stared intently at Dehlia. Her lips twisted into a sneer. She exhaled with a sharp hiss. “You and The Lieutenant getting comfortable?”

“Mrs Asher?” Greenman said. The leader of men had vanished, replaced with a frightened youth. No surprise, confronted by a mad woman with a gun. A tiny body moved behind her. Had she brought his daughter along as well? She really was insane.

“Sorry. I was looking for my husband. Have you seen him?” Her voice was too calm, too reasonable. Any second now she would explode.

“He hasn’t signed in,” Greenman said. The strain making his voice crack. He must have twigged what was going on.

“Don’t lie to me. I know he’s here.”

“Mrs Asher, rest assured, he couldn’t get in or out of the installation without us seeing him. Isn’t he miles away, headed to a meeting with the Ministry?”

“Didn’t she get past you?” Evelyn said, waving the gun towards Dehlia. His heart missed a beat, his throat tightening so that he could hardly breathe.

“Mrs Asher –”

“Don’t call me that again,” Evelyn said, spitting her words out in pieces. “I heard you before. I know he’s here. I saw the water gushing from the upstairs drainpipe.” Her voice grew louder, almost a screech. “So if that rat weasel bastard can find the courage to come down and face me, I’d love to hear his explanation.”

There was no point hiding any longer. If Evelyn was going to shoot somebody it might as well be him. If he let her work herself up any further she might take it out on Dehlia. If he let her take her anger out on him she’d wind down eventually.

He stepped out of the shadows. “Explain what Evelyn?”

“What you’ve been doing here all day with that whore.”

The remaining blood drained from Dehlia’s face.

“You brought our daughter into this Evelyn. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I could ask you the same thing. Philanderer.”

“Can you blame me Evelyn? When living with you is like being lost in a snowstorm.”

A tear welled in the corner of her eye. Still, he didn’t regret what he said, it was simply the truth. She turned away from him and picked up their daughter, holding her awkwardly in one arm, the gun wavering in the other.

“Did you bring her here to watch you shoot me? What kind of mind do you have Evelyn? What’s wrong with you?”

She ignored his words. “Show me. Show me where you fuck the whore. I know you get up to something depraved in there. I have to see it for myself… The place.”

Marcus winced at Evelyn’s foul language. He hadn’t realised she was capable of it. He’d never seen her so close to the edge. No. Not close. She was over it.

Maybe he’d misjudged things? He had to get her away from Dehlia and Greenman. “Alright then. We can do that, if that’s what it will take. If that’s really what you want?”

“You admit it then?” Her words came out in a snarl.

He held his hands up. The keys to the barn glinted in his palm. An offering. “Let’s just go.”

“All of you are coming. I want to hear what she has to say,” Evelyn said.

Marcus couldn’t feel his body, the cold had spread out from his chest. He stumbled from the kitchen and out into the cooling night air. There was nothing he could do. Evelyn wouldn’t stop with him. She wanted Dehlia too. Poor Dehlia who had already lost so much was going to lose what little remained to her. It was his fault. One more guilt to add to the total, one more honest regret.

“Get a move on. What’s wrong with you?” Evelyn said.

Marcus couldn’t hurry. His legs set their own pace and moved of their own accord. Dehlia scurried ahead. Everything was jarringly sharp. He could count every hair on her head, measure the tense curvature of her delicate neck beneath her perfectly coiffured up-do, and smell the floral scent of her perfume. Her feet were still bare but she’d washed off the mud. He’d never sensed the whole of her so clearly before, not even in the barn. Her hands were wavering, her whole body shaking, her chest heaving with rapid shallow breaths. Déjà vu.

“You too Lieutenant. I can’t let you be responsible for shooting me,” Evelyn said.

She wouldn’t know that Greenman was under priority orders not to bring a gun into the perimeter.

Evelyn split her attention between Greenman and Marcus as he unlocked the barn. He pulled the Judas door open and made to reach for the light switch.

“Slowly,” Evelyn said. She’d seen one too many American films.

The dim glow from the single bulb above the door gathered a crowd of ghostly giant shadows on the dirt floor between the door and the machine.

“Lock us in,” Evelyn said.

He padlocked the door as he had earlier in the day. “You know Eve, it’s risky to bring anything metal in here.”

She clicked her tongue. “Do you think I’m stupid Marcus? There are metal things all around us.”

“No. Nothing magnetic,” he said.

She made a dismissive gesture. “Always so many good reasons Marcus. It always has to be your way. Not tonight. Not this time.”

She didn’t understand that the barn was peppered with holes where the iron nails had been removed at great expense. It was camouflage, bought at the price of thousands of copper nails and weeks of effort. The lights, the wiring, everything non-magnetic, regardless of the cost.

“Now show me,” she said.

He walked over to the main switch and threw it closed with a clunk.

High above, huge banks of lamps burst into life and saturated the inside of the barn in cold, bright metallic light. The shadows slithered back to their hiding places, patiently waiting their chance to return. Everyone squinted at first; the new concrete floor was dazzling like snow. Nothing could remain hidden in the presence of such intensity.

Evelyn gasped, then exclaimed. “Good God. What is this place?”

He’d always kept the true nature of his work from her. She had no idea.

“This is where we unravel the fabric of existence,” Marcus said.

“You’re making a bomb?” Evelyn asked, her voice cracking.

Marcus spoke very quietly. “That would be the goal of the Ministry, yes.”

“But no ordinary bomb…” Evelyn said. “Why do you need all this?” She gestured with her free hand at the glistening column of the machine before them. Above and below it vanished into a fragile mass of complexity; the spreading branches of a metal tree.

“Work has split in several directions,” Marcus said. “This is just one possibility.” Better not to mention Bohr and the atoms to her, the quanta, the zero energy, his hyper-inductors and super-magnets that made it possible, she wouldn’t understand a word of it. It would only enrage her.

“But this one doesn’t work,” Dehlia said. “Years of work. Millions of pounds. Wasted. No doubt, the Americans have something bigger and better anyway.”

“It works but there are difficulties,” Marcus said. Dehlia’s eyes were half-closed. She gave a tiny shake of her head. Was she warning him of something? He hesitated then added, “No. She’s right. Probably we’ll never resolve the problems.”

“I don’t think we should be seeing this,” Greenman said, staring across at the machinery.

The idiot. How dare he? “I built it Greenman. These are my secrets. What lies beneath the surface, I know it all, even if I wish I didn’t,” Marcus said, immediately wishing he had not.

“Even I can tell this thing is death,” Greenman said, his tone pitched too high.

Marcus looked at Evelyn, tried to make his voice apologetic. “You’ve seen it now. Can we go?”

Evelyn didn’t answer. He knew that look. Gears were turning inside that head of hers.

“Evelyn?” he said.

“What Marcus? Was it really worth our life together? If it works, what will it do?”

Before Marcus could answer, Dehlia shot him a look. She stepped closer to Evelyn. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, almost whispering. “It’s an embarrassment. The science is bunkum. It’s only a matter of time before they shut it down.”

He hadn’t noticed before how close the women were in height, accounting for Dehlia’s bare feet. He shook his head. How could he think about such trivia now? Greenman was looking at him as if he were crazier than Evelyn.

“For some reason, I don’t believe you. Never have believed you, Dehlia Hanley. You’re a liar. A liar and a snake. Marcus can’t see it, but I should think that most other people do.”

Dehlia emitted a strangled squeak and turned away. It was not the reaction he’d expected.

“It’s true about the experiments,” he said. “I was going to report on it tomorrow. It’s time we gave up.”

From out of nowhere, Dehlia snatched his wrist. “I’m not a liar Marcus. I’ve always told you the truth.” There were tears in her eyes. They hadn’t been there moments ago.

“Have you ruined many men Dehlia?” Evelyn said. “You’re so good at it. I can’t believe Marcus is your first.”

“Evelyn, please…” Marcus said. “Please stop.”

“Why? Why should I stop? She’s been hurting me for months. I deserve some... Something.”

Dehlia looked up at him, those uncanny pale grey eyes of hers wide, pleading.“I know you believe me.”

“What do you see in her Marcus?” Evelyn said. “What does she have that I don’t?” Her words grew louder, more frantic. “Do you want me to lie to you? Is that what it takes?” Her green eyes were wide too. Too wide… Pupils like saucers. Had she taken something?

Dehlia grabbed him by the shoulders, dragging him close against her. Her tear-streaked face right in front of him. “You believe me. I know you do.”

Marcus put his arms around Dehlia, pressing her against his chest. Her face felt hot. Alive. Real. Her tears soaked through his shirt. “You’re the one who lies Eve. You lie to yourself every day,” he said.

Evelyn let his daughter slip back down to the floor. “Damn you! Damn you Marcus!” Her face white, Evelyn tensed, tendons standing out on her neck. She raised the gun. There was a flash and a deafening crack, followed by a ricochet sound.

Nobody seemed to be hurt. She’d aimed high, or simply missed. The bullet could have gone anywhere.

“We’ll see who’s telling the truth,” Evelyn said. “My word against hers. She says this infernal contraption doesn’t work and I say it does. Let’s do it your way. We’ll conduct a bloody experiment.” She was almost shouting but Marcus could hardly make out her words over the ringing in his ears.

“Eve, be reasonable,” he said. She probably didn’t hear him.

“If you don’t do as I tell you I will shoot myself. If you try to take the gun from me, I will shoot you.”

If he argued she’d dig her heels in. She’d always been stubborn as the devil. If only he could stall until she calmed down.

Evelyn directed him to a position she’d picked out, Dehlia to a spot a few feet away and opposite. He couldn’t decide if he was angry or simply afraid but he needed to do something soon.

He had to say something.  There had to be some words that could stop this.

Words he didn’t know.

Dehlia wasn’t crying any longer. She was chewing on the side of her lip. Beautiful. Dammit. It wasn’t the time to think of such things. He had to save her somehow. There would be a chance to rush Evelyn in a moment. He had to be ready.

Evelyn began to flick switches on the main control panel in a frantic haphazard way. He gaped like a fish. This was no bluff. It was a cold knife in his heart that she would go so far. But did she have any idea what she was doing?

He could tell her she was right, that the machine was real, but then she might shoot Dehlia. Chances were the machine wouldn’t work anyway – not the way she was starting it – but what would Evelyn do afterwards?

“No!” He called out. “Even if it doesn’t work it could blow if you start it like that.”

“Be quiet Marcus. I can’t bear to hear you tell me how things are, again. I’m going to see for myself from now on.”

There was no point arguing with her. She wouldn’t believe him anyway. She never did. That was the difference between her and Dehlia. It didn’t matter which one of them told the truth. Dehlia trusted him. Even now she would be expecting him to do something to save everyone.

Evelyn had found his ropes. She bound Greenman’s hands behind his back and then to a pipe. So much for the military man of action. The main reaction chamber was wound about with a complex web of pipes and ducts and there were ample fastening places.

“Please Evelyn,” Dehlia said. There were fresh tears streaming down her face but she went on. “There’s no need for this. You’re right. I lied about the machine not working. It will kill us all. It will kill everyone for miles around. I lied about everything. I don’t care about Marcus. I’m just a whore and he’s my meal ticket. I don’t deserve him. You were right all along. Shoot me first, but turn the machine off.”

“Shut up, whore, or I’ll shoot him in front of you,” Evelyn said sharply. She wouldn’t even look at Dehlia. Her mouth was a thin line. She seemed to stare right through him.

Evelyn was close. He could see himself reflected in her eyes; Dehlia trusted him, but he hadn’t told her about the condom. Had Evelyn trusted him once?

Marcus tugged at his wrists and found that while he’d been listening to Dehlia plead, Evelyn had started to tie him to the main power channel. Like a fool he’d missed the chance to act. She checked and re-checked that his bonds were secure. Then she moved on to Dehlia.

As Evelyn looped the rope, Dehlia lunged for the gun. Her skirt snagged on a valve.

Evelyn stumbled back, just out of reach.

She raised the gun to shoot Dehlia in the heart. It was done with cold calculation, nothing instinctive about it. Marcus couldn’t look away. Flash. The ear-shattering crack followed instantly. A burst of red sprayed from Dehlia’s back. Dehlia screamed, a red spot appearing on the front of her dress at the shoulder. He let out a breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. Thank God, Evelyn was a terrible shot with a pistol.

There was a loud metallic clang like a pipe breaking. Greenman had seen his chance and somehow the lieutenant was free. Another deafening crack set Marcus’ ears ringing again. Then a second shot that almost blended with the first.

Greenman staggered backwards and collapsed against the reactor. Blood gushed from his neck, spraying across the reaction chamber. His fingers fumbled uselessly to hold it in.

Evelyn had fired twice and still missed the man’s chest. Slowly, ever so slowly, Greenman began to slump to his knees, refusing to fall. Poor unlucky beggar.

Dehlia sat down heavily and pressed her hand against the bloody spot on her shoulder, oblivious to the wound on her back that had already soaked her dress and was dripping blood onto the concrete.

Evelyn ignored her victims; intent on throwing switches on the control panel with no obvious pattern. Rows of warning lights began to flicker an ominous red and she smiled.

The tell-tales showed a pattern he’d never seen before. Odd. Something wrong in the pre-charge system?

He glanced at Dehlia again. Despite her shoulder, she was staring at the same thing as him, recognition in her eyes: too many red lights.

The hum of power resonated in his gut, increasingly powerful. The ground started to shake.

Somewhere up above a pipe burst, coolant sprayed across the room, turning to gas before it reached them. Vacuum tubes blew in succession, popping like a row of bottles on a firing range.

Evelyn had to realise that something was wrong with the machine. Maybe a bullet had damaged one of the inductors? Maybe it was something she had done with the controls? Maybe even the steel in the pistol’s barrel throwing off the alignment. There were so many things that might have gone wrong. He couldn’t think clearly. None of that mattered now because it had gone wrong. They would reap the whirlwind any second now.

Evelyn turned away from the control panel. She moved in slow motion, gradually bringing the gun to bear on his heart. Marcus couldn’t look her in the eye. His gaze was lower. His daughter was there, holding onto her mother’s leg, her huge eyes staring right at him out of her flat little face. Evelyn was going to kill her too.

He screamed at his wife, “The emergency shutdown! Save her!” Evelyn didn’t seem to notice.

Chapter 3: The Tree

She settled her aim on his chest and squeezed the trigger. The gun ripped out of her hands, tearing off her finger, and slammed into the side of the machine where it stuck. The pre-charge field from the machine was tremendous. Even the smallest metal object could be lethal in such circumstances.

Every bit of metal the builders had missed when restoring the barn had been ripped free on the first low power test. It had wrecked the hyper-inducting coils and set them back weeks.

There was no way that this run was on low power.

It was on overload.

His hyper-inductors would overheat and then the explosion…

Evelyn screamed and for a moment she seemed stunned by the unexpected loss of her weapon, or her finger. Then her face twisted up like a demon, her mouth forced into a snarl. She stepped forwards again, reaching for him with bloody hands.

St Elmo’s fire was crawling over the zero-point unit.

Then came the world-ending thump as the core cascaded. Everything went dark. Silent. His heart was numb. Only the void remained.

Aftershock

Dehlia woke with pain in every part of her body. She was on her back looking up at the blurred and spinning roof of the barn. The air reeked of burning insulation and escaped coolant.

She dragged herself into a sitting position. There was a deep ache in her shoulder but nothing unbearable. The back of her dress was heavy and wet. Her limbs were weak, unwilling to obey her. Was Marcus safe? She had to know. She had to sit up.

Opposite her, he lay face-down. His hands still bound together though the pipe he’d been tied to had broken loose.

She shouted but she could hardly hear it through the ringing in her ears. “Marcus! Wake up…”

He stirred but didn’t wake. She called again. “Marcus, you have to wake up.”

Her vision was clearing. Greenman lay motionless amidst a lake of blood. The Asher child sat slumped back against the control console, eyes closed like a discarded doll. Her face had the look of Marcus about it. The child was drained and pale but there were no obvious marks on her; no way to tell if she was hurt. Something else – something important – where was the madwoman?

Marcus didn’t rise, but he turned his head to look her way. “Thank God. You’re alive,” he said.

“I think… I think your daughter is alright,” she said. “I’m not sure. She might be stunned.”

The child opened her eyes, as if she’d been listening. For a moment Dehlia could have sworn they flickered. Then the illusion was gone. A trick of the light, like a cat’s eye.

“Greenman… Oh hell,” Marcus said. “The poor fool.”

He dragged himself to his feet. Dehlia looked over to the door and his gaze followed hers. “The door is still locked. Where’s Evelyn? She has to be in here.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe she left.”

“I just said the door is … You’re… You have to do something about your shoulder.”

“I’m alright. It only hurts a bit.”

“It’s not alright. You’ll die if we can’t stop the bleeding.”

She tried to twist to see the wound in her back, but the pain made her vision go black. Maybe Marcus was right. Was she going to die? It would be alright to die in his arms. Romantic. Like a sad movie. She’d been lucky to get so far, but if she lived? Evelyn had gone. It didn’t have to be a sad movie anymore.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m going to live no matter what,” Dehlia said. “Just find out where she’s gone to.”

She closed her eyes to rest a moment. Marcus was swearing quietly to himself, bumping about, searching around the machine. “There’s no sign of her. She’s not here. The door’s definitely locked. It doesn’t make sense. She can’t have left.”

A noise nearby didn’t sound like Marcus. What was it? She had to see.

Not Evelyn, only the child. The toddler clambered to her feet and looked about her. “Mummy?” She called out. Her legs wobbled and she grabbed onto part of the machine to steady herself. “Mummy?” She called again.

Time ticked past. The child had moved out of sight, Marcus too. She tried to get up but her legs wouldn’t answer her.

Marcus was standing over her, his mouth moving silently. His wrists were free. She felt dizzy. Why couldn’t she hear him?

Flight

After a false start, Marcus managed to get Dehlia over his shoulder.

The bleeding seemed slower. Probably a bad sign but he was no doctor. Not a medical doctor anyway. It was a good thing he had plenty of practice lifting her. If he’d been in the same shape he’d been when they started the affair he would have needed to drag her.

He tried not to jar her as he moved. It wasn’t far to the gate and the guard post but every step he took could make her injury worse.

Where was everyone? There ought to be guards on duty, even if Greenman wasn’t there to keep them in line. Some clown had parked a jeep just outside the gate, blocking the road.

He dragged the gate open. It made a racket but nobody came out to stop him.

He tried not to bump Dehlia’s shoulder as he unloaded her into the passenger seat of the jeep. Her head lolled forward and banged against the dash. A cry escaped his lips but nobody came to see what the commotion was.

He bound up her shoulder with the jeep’s first aid kit. The blood soaked through the bandages as fast as he could put them on. He knew how to apply a tourniquet but that was useless for a shoulder. What was he supposed to do? Hadn’t there been a picture on a poster somewhere? It was no good, he couldn’t remember.

He’d worked on Dehlia for several minutes and somebody should have showed up. He had a bad feeling about the missing guards. They could all have gone to the barn, despite their orders. Somehow he could have missed crossing paths with them. Wishful thinking.

He had to know. He had to make sure. Hurrying, before he ran out of courage, he returned to the main guard post. The door was ajar. He pushed and it swung open.

They were all sitting around the little card table, a poker game in progress.

Slumped.

Motionless.

Dead.

It had happened instantly. They hadn’t known it was coming. They looked as if they were just relaxing. The expressions on their faces natural, almost lifelike. Four young soldiers, barely men. They probably hadn’t even finished their training, poor buggers.

How far did it reach?

A sharp pain hit behind his eyes and didn’t let up. Marcus staggered outside. The pain in his gut was too much. He bent over and a stream of watery vomit splattered onto the road.

He coughed, choking on the bile. He ran his face under the tap by the gate. It all seemed impossible. How could they be dead?

He’d seen death before, and worse. The sight of four dead men hadn’t made him sick, it was the sinking feeling: the dread that wouldn’t let go. Had Dehlia’s speech to Evelyn been a Cassandra prophecy?

He found the keys for the jeep by the guard house door. He couldn’t bear to look back. He drove the jeep up to the barn. His daughter was standing there, seemingly untroubled, talking quietly to herself, words he couldn’t make out. He bundled her into the back of the jeep and for once she came without making a fuss.

A sound came from outside his field of vision. He glanced around, expecting to see Evelyn, but there was nothing there. His ears were playing tricks on him. Too many loud noises recently.

He sat in the jeep for a minute, the engine ticking over. The headache started to ease. There was still no sign of Evelyn. Should he go back into the barn to search for her again? She had been right in front of him when it happened. If she’d been hit by something she’d still have been there. The only thing that made sense was that she had walked away.

“Daddy, Mummy,” his daughter said. She could say more than that, but he couldn’t blame her for not wanting to.

He drove the jeep two miles to the nearest farm. The countryside was silent. No birdcalls, no fox screams. Nothing. Apart from the occasional feverish groan from Dehlia, the only sound was the roar and clatter of the jeep’s engine and the rush of the wind in the darkness.

When the jeep rolled into the farmyard, there was no reassuring barking from the dogs. The chickens didn’t cackle and squawk. The gruff farmer’s wife didn’t walk out in her dressing gown, hair in curlers, and berate him for interrupting her as she was about to go to bed.

They were all dead here too.

It was just like the guard house. Death had come instantly as they were eating supper. His head span from the pain behind his eyes.

He found the phone in the hallway and dialled the operator. His heart jumped into his throat. What if nobody answered the phone? What if they were dead too?

“Hello,” someone said. An older woman’s voice. “You have reached the operator. How can I be of assistance?”

Such relief. He had to pause to breathe and couldn’t answer for a moment.

The voice on the phone was alive, but how far away was the exchange? The town was at least fifteen miles away as the crow flies.

If he took the road across the moor it would be twenty miles of difficult driving, but that was the shortest route. In a jeep, at night, with blackout headlamps, it would take an hour. How long did she have left? An hour? Two? Fifteen minutes? He had to believe she could last. If he pushed too hard and crashed the jeep she would die for certain.

“I think… I think I need an ambulance.”

“Is it an emergency?”

“Yes… No. Never mind. I’ll drive. They’d never get here in time. It’s hopeless.”

“Sir, just –”

Trembling, he hung up the phone.

It started ringing almost immediately. He ignored it.

He had another reason for driving. He had to know how far it reached. Less than fifteen miles. He had that at least.

It took him twenty minutes to reach the village. When he got there it was the same as the farm. He knocked on every door but nobody answered. There was no trace of damage to a single house, barn, lorry, van or car, but nothing had been left alive.

He came back to the pub. It might be shocking, but he had to check inside.

The dead were slumped all over. It was as if the strings had been cut from a town of puppets. Where they were sitting it looked like they’d been replaced with perfectly made waxworks, exactly like real people in every respect apart from the breath of life. The ones who’d been standing looked uncanny lying there on the ground – simply collapsed – as if they’d just fallen asleep. As if they might wake up.

The headache was back. It pounded behind his eyes as he dipped the jeep’s tank. It was almost full and there was a jerry can on the back. Petrol wouldn’t be a problem. He kept driving. The eerie silence was oppressive. When would it end?

His hands were cold on the wheel, so numb he could hardly feel them. Dehlia still seemed to be breathing, still alive despite all his fears. Mercifully, his daughter slept. She was young enough. With any luck she’d never remember any of this.

Somewhere around ten miles out, he hit the edge. It was obvious, if indistinct. He could hear the sounds of life from a distance before he reached them. Within the radius of death even the insects were silent, but somewhere in the distance he could pick out the quiet beginnings of regular nocturnal noises. As he drove on they got louder, until they eventually offered the illusion of an ordinary night.

The night seemed normal now. If it wasn’t for Dehlia in the seat across from him he could pretend the disaster was just a nightmare. It would be a relief to wake up. If only that could happen, if only this wasn’t reality.

He passed the first house on the edge of town and slowed to a stop. If he went to knock on the door, would someone answer? The blacked-out dwelling gave no obvious clue of life within it, but someone had put the blackouts up. Some people did it early, but still…

He looked across at Dehlia. The seat was dark with blood that had soaked through the bandage. He couldn’t tell if she was still bleeding. He checked her pulse. He found it easily. Unexpected. It was strong and regular. It ought to be anything but that. By rights she probably ought to be dead.

“Sick lady,” his daughter lisped. When had she woken up?

“I think she’ll be alright,” Marcus said.

“Yes Daddy.”

“You alright back there? Not cold?”

“Mummy say … that bitch won’t die even if hell freeze over.”

Those words weren’t in her vocabulary. “Where did you hear that sweetie?”

“Mummy shout. Mummy angry Daddy.”

Marcus shivered. He restarted the jeep. Moving on slowly. He didn’t want to miss a sign for the hospital.

Children could be imaginative. The girl was in shock. Any other explanation would be insane.

Why were the three of them alive when everyone else was dead? The guard house had only been a couple of hundred yards away. What did it mean? There was no logic to it. Being closest to the centre, they should have caught the worst of it.

The machine was a test-bed, not a weapon, intended to work on a microscopic scale. It wasn’t supposed to do anything outside the reaction chamber, apart from the magnetism, and that was an unwanted side-effect. Even if a hundred things had gone wrong the power channel didn’t have enough capacity to extend to a ten yard radius, let alone ten miles. Maybe ten feet, and even that would be pushing the limits.

If the machine were to kill he’d always expected it would be an exploding coil, or coolant poisoning. You’d have to be close by for either to catch you.

Dehlia stirred beside him. He reached for her hand, slowing the jeep. She was sweating, despite the cool night air. How long did she have left?

Knowledge vs Wisdom

“Where are we?” she said.

“How do you feel?”

“Not bad considering. My shoulder still aches but my head has stopped spinning.”

“We should both probably be dead,” he said. “You’ve been lucky so far. I don’t know about your shoulder. How much longer… You need a hospital. Soon.”

“No.”

“Don’t get stubborn now Dee, you’ve lost a lot of blood.”

“A doctor then, but one you can trust. Don’t you see it?”

“What? See what?”

She probed around her shoulder with her other hand. “In fact, not even a doctor. I’m fine.”

“Dee, you cannot be fine. You were shot at close range. There was so much blood in the barn I thought you were a gonner back there.”

“Really, I’m fine.”

“That’s impossible. You need stitches, blood.”

“The Ministry are going to blame someone for their project blowing up,” she said. “You’re the director. So, it’ll be you. I don’t matter.”

Of course she mattered. Marcus almost choked, had to wait until the coughing stopped. “It’s worse than that. Some things –” The coughing caught him again and he had to stop talking.

“You’re right. It’s worse than that,” Dehlia said. “You were there when it happened. That will be tantamount to sabotage in their eyes. God only knows what Evelyn will tell them. They’re bound to pick her up. She wanted you dead. She might use them as a second chance at it.”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

Dehlia shook her head. “Maybe you’re right about her. You know her best. She might be remorseful, or she might be afraid of being tried for treason. Will you bet your life on her charity?”

This hard side of her was reminiscent of Evelyn, not like Dehlia at all. But could he blame her after what had happened? She was right, wasn’t she? “How can you talk like that Dee?”

“Talk like what?” She cocked her head at him. Her hand tightened around his. “I told you. I’m fine. Just worried. I don’t need a doctor.”

She’d looked close to death when he bandaged her up. It was impressive she could even carry on a conversation now. Puzzling even… But there was no denying she seemed pretty chipper.

“You shouldn’t be talking. Save your strength.”

Amazingly, she did as he asked, easing back into the passenger seat and closing her eyes.

“Look,” he said. It was easier without her looking at him. “There’s something you need to know. It’s worse than you think. A lot worse.”

“How can it be worse?” she whispered. “Marcus… Honey, you’re scaring me.”

“Dee. Listen to me. It’s like you said. I don’t know how you guessed it. Everyone in a ten mile radius. Everyone except us is dead. Dead, and there’s no doubt that the machine caused it.”

She sat up again and opened her mouth as if about to speak, but no words came out. She squeezed his hand so hard it hurt. She shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sorry. I should have waited to tell you.”

“No,” she said again.

“For some reason, we’re still alive. I think Evelyn is too. Maybe there were other survivors, but I checked a lot of places and I didn’t find any. The boundary line is obvious.”

“Mummy,” his daughter said, her high lisping voice not even part of the conversation.

“Oh God no,” Dehlia said. “How awful. It’s not physically possible, is it? How could it even happen?”

“I’m sorry you got mixed up in this.”

“You don’t need to apologise. It’s not your fault.”

“It is my fault.”

“Marcus,” she said. “For goodness sake, stop it.”

He started to answer, but before he could get out a single syllable, she made a disgusted noise and silenced him. “Evelyn was a grown woman. Tell me, aren’t we allowed to make our own decisions in this day and age?”

“Are you done?” He said quietly. She should have let him explain. He’d done things he shouldn’t have; it was that simple. The original sin began with him.

Dehlia exhaled a long slow breath. “Sorry. I just can’t stand to see you hurt yourself over her again.”

Marcus checked her expression. She was pale in the moonlight. Something moved at the edge of his vision. The headache was back. Maybe he had concussion. He drove on in silence.

She couldn’t stay quiet for long. “But we can’t ignore it. Should we should hand ourselves in? It’s the right thing to do but more than likely they’ll shoot us. It almost feels like justice for me but I don’t want you to die.”

“There was a protocol for this scenario you know?” he said, ignoring the way her words wrenched at his heart. “Code words. Things you weren’t cleared for. Maybe if I’d followed them… But your shoulder. I had to do something. I wasn’t thinking straight, forgot the phone at the installation. Made everything worse.”

“No. You did the right thing… If you want to run, I know someone in London with connections. An old friend. He might help us get papers.”

It would be perfect, wouldn’t it? The two of them together in a new life. Dehlia would probably be good with Heather. Evelyn, wherever she was would get her just deserts – abandoned – alone with her hate. It was too easy. Too good to be true. The ghosts of this disaster would never allow them to be happy. A mass of graves was no foundation for a family.

Uneasy about the suggestion, he glanced at Dehlia, looking for a sign in her face. Could she convince him there was hope?

He couldn’t believe his eyes.

A cloud of black lines was flickering around Dehlia like a halo in negative.

He stamped on the brake. The jeep skidded, throwing them forward until the jeep started to spin and they were thrown sideways, tyres squealing. Was it going to roll? Then it was over. The jeep had stopped.

The engine sputtered and stalled. The jeep sat in the middle of the road facing backwards.

Marcus was shaking, fingers numb on the wheel. He looked across at Dehlia.

Was he hallucinating? Was it a migraine? Concussion? Brain damage from the disaster?

It was still there. There was no frame of reference to describe the things. Nothing like them existed in reality. He had to be seeing things. Sometimes it snapped into a new position, fast as a lightning strike. Sometimes it squirmed and writhed slowly like a bucket of worms.

It wasn’t easy to see – hardly there at all really –and difficult to make out by moonlight, but when it stayed still long enough for him to study, the blackness of it was absolute. It swallowed all light... all sanity. It was the polar opposite of the brightest thing he’d ever seen.

Dehlia stared back at him, her eyes huge in the moonlight. She was half out of her seat, leaning towards him. “Honey, what is it? Are you alright? What was that?”

“I’m sorry. I’m going mad. Seeing things.”

“I thought we were going to crash,” she said. “Did you see something in the road?”

He closed his eyes, unable to look at her. His head was splitting. Agony drilling down his spine. White fire consuming everything.

A distant voice growing louder. Had he been hearing it all along?

Louder.

“Marcus! Marcus you weasel. You rat. I know you can hear me. I know it. Stop ignoring me.”

It was Evelyn’s voice. Unmistakeable. He’d left her behind at the installation. How could she be here?

He opened his eyes. His vision clearing. The sea of black and white dots fading. The weird lines around Dehlia were still there. No, they weren’t around her, they were coming out of her. Looking at them made his stomach turn somersaults.

There was a sound behind him. He jerked round, expecting to see a soldier or a policeman there. At the very least, somebody from the aerodrome.

Evelyn was standing next to the jeep, in the middle of the road. Naked, and glowing an angry red. He could see the road through her. She was made of glowing, wavering stuff… Plasma?

Again, he couldn’t trust his eyes, though there was a perverse logic to it.

Dehlia’s voice called to him from a great distance, “Honey, are you alright?”

“Don’t listen to her Marcus. It’s a trick. All her plots and plans. All her twists and turns. I’ve seen them all. Possible futures. If you don’t listen to me… The things that happened here tonight… It’s nothing. She’ll do it to every person on Earth.”

Marcus shook his head.

Dehlia squeezed his hand comfortingly, her flesh warm, solid. Did she think the denial was meant for her?

Glowing red Evelyn bent down to face him, her eyes full of stars. “I know we’ve had our differences in the past but that’s all over now. You have to trust me. There’s no way I’m losing to that bitch and I’m your only hope. The blue jewel’s only hope.” Her tone was businesslike, efficient, matter of fact. The same old Evelyn with her I’m right and you’re wrong, you just don’t know it yet tone.

“Evelyn?” He said, barely loud enough to hear himself. “What next? Fucking Greenman?”

“What is it honey? What’s wrong?” Dehlia said. There was a pleading tremor in her voice. He wanted to hold her. He wanted to cling onto something real, but those things… Those things coming out of her, what the hell were those?

Marcus groaned, burying his face in his hands. “I don’t think I can drive any further tonight.”

Evelyn, what was she, a ghost? A hallucination? His guilt tormenting him? Even now, the only things coming out of her mouth were poison. Whatever she was, why couldn’t she just go away and leave them alone?

Then he remembered the torn condom.

 

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09.01.15 | updated - 26.04.17

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