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       Execution, p.21

           Alexander Gordon Smith
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  It didn’t make it far, a missile from the apache reducing it to chunks of wet flesh. I called out to it, remembering the way it had nuzzled against my hand, just a child desperate for contact. But there was no response, all it was now was a gaping absence in my head.

  There was another bone-jarring eruption of fire as a jet screamed overhead, but this time the air strike missed its target. If anything it seemed to confuse the army, the troops splitting up in all directions, trying to find cover in the superheated smoke. Picking them off was easy, like shooting fish in a barrel.

  Chaos gripped the island in a fist of fear and flame. Through every set of eyes I saw death and murder, claws and bullets flying. One of the berserkers took a round in its eye, dying instantly. Another saw what had happened and I could feel its pain and its fury at the loss of one of its brothers. I didn’t need to tell it what to do, it sought instant revenge, dashing the murderous soldier against the rock.

  Things were no better in the water, four more leviathans joining the first. They had scuppered most of the smaller boats and I ordered them to attack the ships. They looked like vast, spindly crabs as they scaled the sides of the battle cruisers, ripping the soldiers from the decks. The ocean around the island churned red. Some of the boats were turning, heading back to the mainland, but I was determined to make sure that none of them made it, directing my soldiers after them.

  And all the while I could feel the stranger whose blood flowed in my veins, the one who had made all of this possible. He didn’t speak, didn’t make a sound, and yet I could sense his rancid glee in every fibre of my body. He was delighted with me, his new host. Never had I felt such malevolent joy, such cruel, sadistic happiness.

  I was distracted by Simon’s thoughts, and I observed through his eyes as he, Zee and Lucy ran through the unguarded front door of the mansion.

  ‘I’m downstairs,’ I said, showing Simon a mental image of the chamber. ‘It’s safe here.’

  I heard him repeat the message to the others, his voice sounding strange as it echoed inside his own head. He led the way across the hall and down the corridor. Both Zee and Lucy were bombarding him with questions but I didn’t stop to listen, returning my attention to my troops as the island came under yet another assault.

  The second Chinook had managed to land, masked soldiers pouring out into the smoke. Half set up suppressing fire, a wave of bullets which cut down another two berserkers. The rest used the cover to clamber into the house, some through the door and others throwing themselves at the windows. Once they had setup position they started shooting out across the island, allowing the rest of the soldiers to enter.

  It was impossible to identify the men and woman behind the masks, but somehow I knew she was one of them, Panettierre. I felt my pulse quicken, pumping the stranger’s blood around my system, the noise so loud that it was as if the very earth had a heartbeat. I called on the remaining berserkers, telling them to return to the mansion, to find her.

  There were still two berserkers here in the chamber and I ordered them to intercept her. Panettierre and her army would be pinned between two unstoppable waves. The creatures bounded past me, giving me a glimpse of myself – a demon crucified to a machine. In seconds they had reached the top of the steps and were running down the corridor on all fours. There was a weird moment when they passed Simon, the same event seen from two different angles. My friends fell back against the wall, Lucy knocking a painting loose, but of course the berserkers weren’t interested in them and kept running.

  I saw what happened next through six sets of eyes, three creatures from outside leaping through the windows onto the soldiers. A fourth tried to get in through the door but somebody had rigged up an explosive, the blast sending it flying back out, dead before it hit the rock.

  Even so, what followed next was a massacre, the five surviving berserkers attacking from all angles, giving the army no chance. The soldiers didn’t know which way to turn, some of them firing in wild circles, killing their own friends. They scattered, a few vanishing through doors or throwing themselves back outside. Most were too slow, though, screaming for mercy.

  They received none.

  ‘Nobody survives,’ I told the berserkers, relishing their excitement. They were an extension of my own body – when they tasted blood so did I, the warmth gushing down my throat; when they lashed out with their monstrous limbs my own arms twitched, my new fingers gouging at the air, my blade slicing. Never had I felt power like this. I truly was a god. My delight echoed that of the stranger, our strength unmatched, unsurpassable.

  There were only a handful of men and women left, both inside and outside the mansion. All but a couple of the boats had been destroyed as well, the rest already out of sight over the horizon. There were still helicopters in the air, the jet a gleaming sliver of light in the distance, but other than that the only evidence that the army had been here were the corpses which carpeted the smoking ground.

  I watched as the berserkers inside the house chased down the last few survivors, killing them in ways that I never could have imagined possible. I saw one approach a woman. My heart drummed, thinking it was Panettierre, but when she pulled off her gas mask in an act of defiance I saw it wasn’t. This was a girl, barely older than Lucy, her features grey with terror.

  The berserkers moved in for the kill but I held them back, my bloodlust fading. This soldier wasn’t Panettierre, she wasn’t evil. She was just following orders. Her eyes were so wide that the whites seemed like glowing rings, the pupils dilated by terror. They flicked between the berserkers as they surrounded her, but each time it seemed as though she was staring right at me.

  ‘Go to hell,’ she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘All of you.’

  Too late I realised she was holding a satchel in one hand, her other reaching inside. I drove the berserkers forward, but even these goliaths of muscle and nectar couldn’t get to the girl fast enough. She closed her eyes and flicked a switch, the C4 detonating loud enough to rain dust down on me from the ceiling of the chamber.

  The senses of those creatures were ripped away from my own so fast that it felt as if part of my soul had been torn out. The darkness that flooded into the vacuum where those living, breathing things had been was so overpowering that I thought for an instant I’d gone blind and deaf, my entire body numb. Gradually, however, the light and the noise crept back. I let my mind fly out to find the remaining berserkers. There were only three of them left on the whole island, two of them fatally wounded. I did my best to mute their pain, but their bodies were broken beyond repair and they seemed to know it.

  I felt my anger grow, seeming to make the new blood inside me boil. It wasn’t right that the berserkers had to die, they were just children. Panettierre would pay for this. They would all pay for this.

  I cast my mind out wider, over the ocean to the mainland. There were a small number of blacksuits left on the coast, the seaside town where we had caught the boat, and they were fighting with more soldiers. I sensed berserkers nearby, directing them to the battle, unleashing them on the men and women in camouflage. I could feel them all, thousands of berserkers and blacksuits across the country, each of them unique, each of them mine to control. I could even get inside the minds of the rats, although there was so little there – nothing but a tornado of violence which shook them to their core – that all I could do was point them in the right direction.

  I sent out a message, a clarion call to arms. And I heard their answer, a battle cry that rose up from every last one of my soldiers. They would never stop fighting, and neither would I.

  I had made a promise to Furnace. I would see his creations win this war, eradicate every inferior being so that we could start again, so that we could create a world of equals; a world populated only by the children of the nectar; a world where the wickedness of human nature would be no more. It would be our planet, for us alone, a Fatherland for the Soldiers of Furnace.

  It would be a paradise.


  I don’t know how many people I saw die, how many I killed. Thousands? Tens of thousands? A million?

  The parade of slaughter was endless, waves of berserkers working together under my command, unleashing the full force of their fury against my enemies. It was as if I was watching countless television screens at once, hundreds of acts of violence packed into every second, each one as personal as if I had committed it myself – which, in a way, I had.

  More than anything else it reminded me of the screening room in the prison, watching reel after reel of film showing humankind’s worst sins against its own species. Only instead of having to spend days tied to that chair, my eyelids pinned, I was seeing it all in an instant, every beat of my heart containing enough horror for a hundred hours of film.

  And the truth was, I was enjoying it.

  My anger was so overwhelming that I almost lost myself to it completely. Every time I felt a berserker or a blacksuit or even a rat die, my thirst for revenge became more insatiable. These were my children, and seeing the darkness, the abyss inside my head where they had once been, was unbearable. Every time a soldier was torn apart, though, I howled with laughter, delighted that there would be one less human to stand in our way.

  Even though my mind existed in my troops there must still have been a part of me inside the chamber back on the island, because I realised that I wasn’t alone. My friends had arrived, and I saw myself through Simon’s eyes – an impossible creature whose gaze blazed down on them. If it wasn’t for the fact that one of my arms was a blade, and that Lucy’s silver necklace glittered past the collar of my shirt, I wouldn’t have recognised myself.

  ‘Alex?’ said Zee, stepping forward, his face warped by sadness, tears rolling down his cheeks. The wheezers in the room moved to intercept them but I held them back. ‘What have they done to you? Where’s Furnace?’

  I looked at the bundle of desiccated flesh and broken bone to my side that had once been Alfred Furnace. Without the stranger’s blood inside him time had quickly caught up with his corpse, reducing it to little more than ash. Clumps of it crumbled from the straps that had held him, drifting lazily to the floor. Only where his body had been plugged with tubes and wires, anchoring his flesh in place, did he still resemble anything human.

  ‘He is dead,’ I said, and my voice didn’t seem to come from my throat, but from all around me, as if the entire room was speaking. My friends took a step back, their jaws dropping. ‘I killed him.’

  Even as I spoke I was still fighting, commanding the berserkers and the blacksuits in battle. It felt as though I was living a thousand lives at the same time. I was still hunting for Panettierre, but with only a single set of eyes left on the island I wasn’t having any luck. Hopefully she was already dead, killed during the massacre in the mansion.

  ‘But what happened to you?’ Zee asked. A wave of annoyance passed over me at the sound of his voice, the whine of a fly. There was no time for this. I wanted to order the wheezers to attack, to take care of Zee and Lucy. They were enemies, after all. Humans. Or maybe I could delve into Simon’s thoughts, force him to kill his own friends. Manipulating him would be as easy as breathing.

  Something held me back, the knowledge that I had shared a life with these people. But the memories of them were leaking from me, driven out by the stranger’s blood. That life seemed like an age ago, so distant now that I couldn’t believe it had actually happened. The past was no longer important.

  ‘It was the only way,’ I answered, the walls and the floor trembling at the sound of my voice. ‘To kill him I had to take his blood.’

  Zee shook his head, swallowing his fear and walking closer. He stopped right in front of me.

  ‘You’re not him, Alex,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’

  ‘We need to get out of here, before those things find out where we are,’ said Lucy.

  ‘I wouldn’t worry about that,’ replied Simon, looking nervously at the wheezers. ‘Alex is controlling them all.’

  ‘Is that true?’ Zee asked. ‘Are you doing this?’

  My remaining berserker on the island was hunting down the last of the soldiers, a few of the survivors trying to hide in the forest. One threw himself over the cliff, preferring to die by his own hand than be killed by his enemies. Another used his final breaths to fire a rocket, the missile missing the berserker and hitting the east wing of the mansion. We could all feel the explosion down in the chamber, the impact causing Furnace’s remains to disintegrate further. Brick dust rained down from the vaulted ceiling and Zee wiped it from his eyes.

  ‘His powers are now my powers,’ I replied. ‘His war is now my war.’

  Zee looked at the others, appalled, but they had no help to give him.

  ‘You have to stop this,’ Zee said, turning back to face me. ‘This isn’t right. Furnace was the enemy, his creatures, the wheezers, the suits, they said they were on your side but they’re not. Think about it, Alex. Remember the prison, remember your old life. If you do this then there’s no going back, not for any of us. We’ll all die.’

  ‘I cannot die,’ I said, feeling the stranger’s blood surge through me. It would keep me alive for centuries, long after the last human had been devoured by worms. The thought of it made my pulse quicken, but there was something else, something bad at the back of my head, something that the blood wouldn’t let me make any sense of.

  ‘You can die,’ said Lucy, walking to Zee’s side. ‘Maybe not your body, but the real you can die.’ She stood on her tiptoes, placing her hand on my chest, over my heart. ‘This can die.’

  I tried to ignore her words, my mind back inside my creatures, urging them to destroy.

  ‘Alex?’ Zee again, pulling me back into the chamber. ‘Please, make it stop.’

  ‘Why?’ I demanded. ‘Why let the humans live? You know as well as I do that they will use the nectar, they will create demons of their own. Sooner or later this world will end; there is too much evil in humanity for it to survive. It is better for their occupation to finish now, with us as the victors. That way, when the new dawn breaks, when the new Fatherland rises, there will be no more war. When only the strong exist, when we are all Soldiers of Furnace, who will be left to fight?’

  ‘That isn’t you talking,’ Zee said. ‘It’s Furnace. He’s still there, somewhere inside you. He’s making you say this.’

  ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Furnace is dead. There is only me.’

  Furnace was dead, there was no doubt about that. These were my words, my thoughts, weren’t they? I struggled to put them into some kind of order, but the thunder of the stranger’s blood was just too loud.

  ‘You remember the prison?’ Zee went on.

  His words sparked memories, him and me inside an elevator being carried to the bowels of the earth, making a promise to each other that we would find a way out.

  ‘You remember Donovan?’

  Of course, how could I forget him? I could see him now, sitting beside me on my bunk, his laughter echoing out over the yard, making me feel like maybe I could survive inside, that this didn’t have to be the end. I could hear it, that laughter, infinitely different from my own, because it had been so human.

  ‘You remember our jobs, the chipping, the laundry?’ Zee said.

  ‘The stink,’ Simon added. And I could see myself, Donovan and Zee sitting in the canteen, Zee’s face a portrait of utter disgust as he described having to clean the toilets – well next time you do it can you try to miss the seat. I shook my head, attempting to chase the images away. They weren’t important, none of it was important. How could it be? I wasn’t even that kid any more, I wasn’t Alex Sawyer, I was a god laying the foundations for a new race.

  ‘You remember slop?’ Zee went on, his voice cutting through the storm. ‘The leftovers we had to eat. And Monty’s meal, that time he cooked for me and you and D in the kitchen?’

  I could see it as if I was back there, scoffing down that heavenly stew of beef and peppers a
nd tomatoes, the best meal I think I had ever had. I remembered how Donovan had cried, because it had been so long since he’d last tasted real food. The memory bled into another, me and D standing in the kitchen having an argument, him stuffing a glove full of rancid chicken and throwing it at me. That’s what had given me the inspiration to get out, the idea of filling the gloves with gas and using them to blow the floor in the chipping room.

  ‘And Toby,’ Zee said. ‘You saved him from killing himself.’

  He had been going to jump, and I had stopped him by telling him about the plan. In the end he had died during the escape, the heat of the explosion ravaging his body and the merciless cold of the river finishing him off. But he had still been free. Each memory seemed to multiply, other thoughts blossoming from them like a flower in bloom. I saw us standing on the lip of the hole, the rock still smoking, the river raging beneath us, our own personal expressway out of Furnace. I saw myself smiling as I jumped, not caring if I died, only that I had beaten the prison.

  Zee was looking at Simon, urging him to help.

  ‘Solitary,’ the bigger boy said. ‘You remember the first time I pulled you out of your cell, you broke my nose?’

  With a head-butt, because I had thought he was a rat.

  ‘When we talked to each other by banging our toilets,’ Zeeadded, and incredibly he was grinning. ‘That time we played I Spy, even though we couldn’t see anything.’

  Donkeys, I had guessed, and dog crap.

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