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       The Roar, p.31

           Emma Clayton

  ‘I can’t do this much longer!’ Mika shouted. ‘I’m going to hit something!’

  ‘Watch out!’ Audrey yelled, and she closed her eyes and bit her lip as they shaved the roof off one pod then swerved to avoid hitting another. ‘Hide somewhere!’ she cried. ‘Find somewhere to hide!’

  Mika shot down to ground level and they flew along New Regent Street towards New Leicester Square. The riot was still in full swing below them like a boiling mass of batons and fists. But as Mika banked down the curved street, the mob froze and ducked and covered their heads as he nearly scalped them at two hundred kilometres per hour.

  ‘Oops,’ Audrey whispered.

  In New Leicester Square, he stopped dead.

  ‘They’re right above us!’ Audrey said, looking up. ‘Go in there!’ She pointed towards the foyer of a large cinema. The doors had been smashed by the mob leaving an opening large enough to fly through. Slowly and skilfully, Mika manoeuvred the craft inside the foyer with only centimetres to spare. Inside everything was broken and the floor was strewn with sweets.

  ‘What are we going to do now?’ Audrey said, desperately. ‘They’ll find us in no time.’

  ‘I don’t know,’ Mika replied, ‘but I can’t keep flying through the city like this, it’s too dangerous.’

  ‘I wish there weren’t so many people around,’ Audrey said. ‘I’m afraid to use my guns in case I hurt someone. But we’d be safer if I could destroy the weapons on the Pod Fighters chasing us. Perhaps we should leave the city. There won’t be so many people outside London so we’ll be able to defend ourselves better.’

  ‘We could,’ Mika said, hesitantly. ‘But where can we go? If we leave the city we’ll be over refugee towns. There won’t be so many people, but they’ll be able to get a better shot at us.’

  ‘Why don’t we go down to The Shadows?’ Audrey suggested. ‘We could use the pillars for cover and try to hide until the riot is over. When we know it’s safe, we could fly back to the apartment so Gorman realizes we weren’t trying to run away.’

  ‘I’m not sure,’ Mika replied. He closed his eyes and found himself in a dark place.

  Ellie. He could hear her. For the first time he felt as if he was sitting right next to her and she was whispering to him. Rocking in the darkness. Pulling her hair.

  ‘So what should we do?’ Audrey asked. ‘Where will we be safe?’

  Mika opened his eyes and rotated the Pod Fighter so it was facing out of the cinema.

  ‘Over The Wall,’ he replied.

  He pulled back, the engine roared and the Pod Fighter shot through the doors like a bullet, banked sharply up the back of the New National Gallery and into the night sky.

  * * *

  As they left the glowing city behind them, Mika felt increasingly anxious. The further he flew from his new apartment in London, the further he felt from his promise to Mal Gorman. But at least now they could defend themselves; over the concrete spread of refugee towns Audrey faced out of the back of the Pod Fighter and took out the guns of those chasing them with surgical precision. The damaged Pod Fighters dropped and looped away to inspect their wounds, but there were always more to replace them and Mika and Audrey flew and fought as if their lives were balanced on a knife edge.

  It took only minutes to reach the south coast of England, and soon they were flying into milky darkness, the moon low, silver tipping the waves.

  ‘They’re falling back,’ Audrey said, surprised, watching the Pod Fighters drop away. ‘Why are they doing that?’

  * * *

  ‘Mr Gorman, sir, we think they’re heading for The Wall.’

  ‘The Wall?’ Gorman repeated, pressing his temples. ‘How could they know?’

  ‘They don’t know. I think they’re just desperate and looking for somewhere to hide.’

  ‘Dammit!’ Gorman cursed. ‘This is the worst thing that could happen, the WORST! Why on Earth would they want to go over The Wall?’

  ‘What do you want us to do, sir?’

  ‘You’ve got to kill them before they get over it and see what’s on the other side,’ Gorman said.

  ‘But what if we can’t stop them, sir? What if they do get over?’

  ‘Then you’ll have to follow them.’

  The crackling of the fire filled a shocked silence.

  ‘A lot of men will die, sir.’

  ‘I don’t care,’ Gorman replied. ‘If a thousand men die going over The Wall to stop those children finding out The Secret, it will be worth it. Tell them I’ll send their wives a medal.’

  * * *

  For a while The Wall looked like a grey ribbon and the moon hung over it as if it had come to watch.

  ‘They’re catching up with us again,’ Audrey said, seeing a mass of Pod Fighters suddenly appear to the north. ‘Fly faster.’

  Mika accelerated until the clouds above them and the waves below merged and they felt as if they were slipping through a silver-threaded void. The Wall grew until the moon and the sky disappeared and all they could see in front of them was a looming mass of salt-stained concrete with guard towers and razor wire along the top of it. Mika slowed down, suddenly plagued by doubt. They were going over The Wall and he knew that because of all the chemicals used to kill the animals and plants on the other side, it was so poisonous they’d die just touching the barren dust. His hands began to tremble and his guts churned and he bit his lip so hard he made it bleed.

  But Ellie told you to go there, he thought, desperately, she must know something we don’t.

  Then everything happened at once – The Wall was upon them, and so were the men behind, and the night air lit up with laser bolts. For a fraction of a second, Mika saw the enormous metal Ghengis Borgs in the guard towers as they swung their guns and began to pump what looked like balls of lightning towards them. Audrey screamed and everything came together like elements in a chemical bomb. For several terrifying seconds they couldn’t see anything but flashes of light and spinning fragments of Pod Fighter as most of the men on their tail were blown to pieces. They almost crashed into The Wall – Mika pulled up, gagging with fright, so close to it, they fried its salt-crusted surface. Up, up, hugging the concrete with the Ghengis Borgs pumping above them, then with a flick and a spin they were over like a dolphin through a hoop.

  The moon. On the other side of The Wall they saw the moon still watching them over a calm sea.



  It was so quiet. No, not quiet, Mika thought, their Pod Fighter engines were hardly quiet, more . . . peaceful, calm. It was a still night, barely a cloud in the sky and no wind. The sea rolled as if it was half asleep in a rocking chair. The sky above looked as deep as it was, and they had never seen so many stars – they were accustomed to looking up at the sky through a haze of light pollution that ruined the view over Barford North even when there were no clouds. And there was no traffic, no factories, no televisions.

  ‘We’re alone,’ said Audrey, quietly, scanning the mapping system for red dots. ‘We made it.’

  ‘I don’t understand why the Ghengis Borgs tried to kill us,’ Mika said. ‘They’re supposed to be there to protect us.’

  ‘Well, that can’t be true,’ Audrey said. ‘They killed all Gorman’s men. I don’t think they were protecting us, they were trying to stop us getting over The Wall.’

  ‘But why?’ Mika wondered. ‘If there’s nothing over here but poisoned dust, what are they protecting?’

  ‘Maybe there is something over here,’ Audrey suggested.

  Their hearts began to beat faster as they turned this idea over in their minds.

  ‘Let’s look,’ Mika said.

  They were flying south over the Atlantic. He turned east and made for the coast of southern France.

  ‘Damn,’ Audrey said, seeing a cluster of red dots in her visor. ‘There’s a squadron of Pod Fighters just west, about three hundred kilometres. More of Gorman’s men have come down from space.’

  ‘Game on,’ Mika sa
id, grimly.

  ‘Stop!’ Audrey yelled. ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’

  Mika brought the Pod Fighter to an abrupt halt so they were hovering over the sea.

  ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, fearfully.

  ‘I saw something in the sea!’ Audrey said. ‘Go back a bit.’

  Mika hadn’t seen anything, but he remembered that Audrey’s borg eyes could see better in the dark than his.

  ‘What was it?’ Mika asked, turning the Pod Fighter back the way they’d come.

  ‘I don’t know,’ Audrey said, excitedly. ‘But it was huge and it rolled over just beneath the surface of the waves.’

  Curiosity overwhelmed caution and they spent a whole precious minute searching for the strange object in the sea.

  ‘We shouldn’t be wasting time doing this,’ Mika said at last, scanning anxiously for Gorman’s men.

  ‘It’s gone, anyway,’ Audrey said, disappointed. ‘We’d better go.’

  * * *

  ‘I need to sleep,’ Mal Gorman said. Even though everything had gone wrong and he had just given the order to kill two of the children he’d spent weeks trying to find, his eyes felt as heavy as bowling balls and he was struggling to keep them open. It was as if his brain couldn’t cope with any more stress and was shutting him down like an overheated hairdryer. ‘Just half an hour, Ralph. Wake me up in half an hour and let me know what’s happening.’

  He walked unsteadily from the dressing room fire to his bedroom, and the butler followed at a respectful distance, ready to catch the old man if he fell. The bed was a huge antique, salvaged from a stately home that had been knocked down to build refugee towers, and Gorman looked small sitting on the edge of it, like a skeletal Tom Thumb. He shivered, pulled open the drawer on the elegant bedside cabinet and took out a knife with a long blade.

  ‘Do you want me to look after that, sir?’ Ralph asked, eyeing it nervously. ‘I expect Chef’s missing it from the kitchen.’

  ‘No,’ Gorman said. ‘Go away.’

  Ralph left the room, shutting the door quietly, and Gorman got into bed with the knife clutched to his chest.

  * * *

  ‘Land,’ Mika said, seeing a dark strip on the horizon. They gained on it quickly. The moon had disappeared, so it was just a featureless black mass to Mika, but Audrey gasped.

  ‘What can you see?’ Mika asked impatiently.

  ‘I must be dreaming,’ Audrey replied.

  ‘Tell me then, noodle head!’

  ‘Trees?’ Audrey said, cautiously. ‘At least, they look like trees. I can just see the tops of them, like humps, and there are loads, really close together.’

  ‘You mean – a forest?’ Mika asked.

  ‘Yeah, one of those!’ Audrey replied. ‘Like in history programmes.’

  They were quiet for a moment.

  ‘But that’s not possible,’ Audrey said, unable to accept what her eyes were telling her. ‘All the trees are dead. They told us they were killed by poison during the plague.’

  ‘They told us lots of things,’ Mika replied sceptically. ‘Like Fit Mix is good for us. Let’s fly lower and have a proper look.’

  He slowed down and cruised over the dark, lumpy landscape and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, his heart began to pound. It was impossible, but true; they were trees! He could just make out the leaves and branches of the forest canopy stirring as they flew over it.

  ‘I can see them,’ he said, quietly. ‘You’re right. It’s all forest. As far as I can see.’

  ‘And look!’ Audrey said. ‘What’s that over there?’

  They could see patches of light in the distance, spread out like glowing fires through the forest. They flew quickly towards them, their hearts pounding faster by the second.

  ‘Houses,’ Mika said, incredulously. ‘Huge houses. There are people living here!’

  They flew towards the nearest house and Mika slowed down as they passed over an enormous pair of gates. It was built in the style of a French chateau, with turrets, courtyards, fountains, landscaped gardens with topiary and mazes and five swimming pools, two of which had pink water and bubbled like jacuzzis.

  ‘How can this be possible?’ Audrey said. ‘How can there be trees and houses and people here? It’s supposed to be poisoned dust!’

  ‘It’s not possible,’ Mika replied angrily. ‘But it’s true. We’ve been lied to, Audrey, about everything.’

  They flew over another enormous house, this one more modern in style, like a huge heap of white cubes with a beautiful garden around it. ‘Look at it,’ he said angrily. ‘People are dying in The Shadows because there isn’t enough space, while on this side of The Wall, people are living in mansions surrounded by forest!’

  ‘Oh no!’ Audrey cried. ‘Gorman’s men have found us!’

  On their visors they watched swarms of red dots flying towards them from every direction.

  ‘We’re surrounded,’ Audrey said.

  ‘Don’t panic,’ Mika replied. ‘We’ll wait for them, then move in at the last moment and take them by surprise.’

  With their hearts in their mouths, they waited, but just as the first of their pursuers flew over the dark horizon, something completely unexpected happened.

  ‘Oh frag!’ Audrey cried. ‘WHAT are they?’

  They rose from the dark forest, their metal wings arched and their talons reaching forward as if to pluck their Pod Fighter out of the air like a sparrow. They were giant eagle hawks, but a hundred times bigger and more powerful than the real birds they were designed to mimic. On the outside they were coated with silver flex metal, which was impenetrable to all weapons, and they moved with deadly speed and agility. Mika rolled the Pod Fighter and only just managed to escape a closing pair of metal talons. Red eyes blazed, they heard an angry screech, and then came the familiar sound of laser bolts. Gorman’s men had arrived, and over the dark forest, their laser fire looked like strings of luminous spaghetti.

  Mika banked sharply, just in time to see one of the giant eagle hawks catch a Pod Fighter in its silver beak, bite it in half as if it was a jellybean and drop the pieces into the forest below. Then more giant eagle hawks came, their great silver wings carrying them up from the dark trees. Mika took advantage of the distraction and flew a few kilometres away, turned off their lights and hid in the darkness so they could watch a battle more bizarre than anything they could have imagined.

  The Pod Fighters swarmed around the giant hawks, which flashed in the darkness as bolts of laser fire hit them and bounced off again. Some of the hawks hovered over the fray, then dived and plucked the Pod Fighters clean out of the air, squashing them like bean cans with their talons. Others thrashed in the midst of the battle, their beaks taking chunks out of the fighters that flew past them.

  ‘They make our borgs look like toys,’ Mika said.

  ‘They’re guarding the mansions,’ Audrey observed. ‘The people living here are so rich they’ve got giant borg hawks for security. Those poor men! And look what’s happening to the trees!’

  They watched in horror as the forest began to burn where the Pod Fighters crashed into it and exploded like bombs as they hit the ground. They were so distracted by watching the battle, they forgot they were part of it: a solitary Pod Fighter snuck up behind them and they didn’t even notice. It was a terrible mistake – the first bolt of laser fire took out their engine, the second, their left wing, and the third, their right. Both wings burst into flames, and as the Pod Fighter plummeted towards the forest like a black Icarus, the cockpit began to fill up with deadly smoke.

  * * *

  Gorman heard the vines slither under the bedcover like snakes, but before he’d had the chance to move a muscle, they’d found his ankles and wound around them with anaconda ease. He began to lift his head, then heard two more coming for his arms. He lashed out with the knife and cut and sliced and cried for Ralph to save him.

  Ralph was making tea in the dressing room. He was just about to wake Gorman from his nap. He heard his mast
er’s cry, set down the teapot and ran quickly to the bedroom. The first thing he saw was blood, blood everywhere, all over the bedcover, all over the floor and all over his master, who was sitting in the middle of a big puddle of it holding the knife. He had deep cuts all over his arms and legs that were bleeding profusely, and the first thing Ralph felt was surprise that so dry a carcass could contain so much fluid.

  ‘The pollen-ripe bees are plundering the catkins,’ Gorman whispered, with a faraway look in his eyes. ‘You must stop them!’

  ‘Yes, sir,’ Ralph replied, gently removing the knife from Gorman’s hand. ‘But I think I ought to call a doctor first.’

  Gorman woke, suddenly, as if his soul had returned to his body.

  ‘I’ve killed that boy,’ he said. ‘And I needed him.’



  The burning Pod Fighter fell nose down into an oak tree. The smaller branches at the top gave way immediately, crack, crack, crack, as the burning craft fell through them, but fortunately, although the tree was old, it was also strong and its lower boughs were as thick as giant’s arms. The tree caught the Pod Fighter about five metres above the forest floor and broke Mika and Audrey’s fall with a gentle bow.

  Mika hung face down in his harness for a few moments, panicking as he fought for breath. The hard yank of the straps as the Pod Fighter hit the tree winded him and his lungs were full of smoke he couldn’t exhale. Then, as if he was drowning, he breathed out then dragged in another lungful of poisonous smoke. He hadn’t taken a breath of clean air for far too long and he felt his brain and his body scream. He could feel the heat of the fires, hear the sound of the tree burning and for the second time since he was shot through the leg, he visited the place where you stand with one foot in life and the other in death. Audrey was silent and Ellie was crying. Blinded by smoke he reached forward and bashed the icon to open the windshield. It juddered back about ten centimetres then caught on the dented body of the fighter, but air came in, and he coughed and coughed and was born again. He could see the forest floor beneath him as the dying fires flickered light over the fallen leaves, and he felt as if they’d crashed on an alien planet, so strange a sight it was. He pushed the windshield fully open, undid his harness and stood in the nose of the cockpit. The Pod Fighter creaked against the branches as he shifted his weight. Then he pulled himself up and over his seat so he could reach Audrey and take off her headset. Her arms dangled limp as she hung from her harness and he felt like Peter Pan when Tinkerbell’s light began to fade, as if his heart was cracking like the old wood of the tree. Her pale elf face was smudged with soot from the smoke and her eyes were closed. Mika patted her cheek, loving her so much he felt his legs melt.

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