Dominion, p.8
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       Dominion, p.8

           John Connolly
 

  “Reinforcements, my sorry arse,” said Althea, surprising Peris even further, although nobody else seemed taken aback by the governess’s language. She really had changed. There even seemed to be a distinct Scottish lilt to her cussing.

  “And those?” asked Peris, pointing to a series of flight numbers on Balen’s screen.

  “Corps vessels departing Earth over the next twelve hours,” said Balen resignedly. “It’s an exodus. They’re leaving us to die.”

  Peris thought of Syrene, and her desire to see him head to Earth. Even then she must have known: he had been sent to the planet to perish alongside Danis, Fian, Althea, and everyone else who had ever crossed her, including the entire human race.

  “What about Edinburgh?” said Danis. “Are we due a special landing too?”

  “No,” Balen replied. “But there’s a large ship scheduled to land at somewhere called Dunsop Bridge. Why there?”

  “Dunsop Bridge in Lancashire?” It was Althea who spoke. “I remember it from Syl’s geographical studies. It’s often said to be the dead center of the United Kingdom. If those ships contain spores, then the ideal thing would be to start off-loading them right in the middle, and let the wind do the rest.”

  “Will that work?” asked Peris.

  “In due course, although the prevailing winds come from the southwest, so the south and Wales should be spared for a while. Ireland too. They clearly didn’t do their homework properly.”

  “No,” said Peris. “They’ll have prepared well. This has to be just the first stage. They’ll keep returning with more spores until they’re done.”

  “And Edinburgh?” asked Danis.

  “If the first drop is at Dunsop Bridge, then it’ll buy Edinburgh a few days, at best, maybe a little longer for the Highlands,” said Althea. “It depends on the speed of the wind.” She turned to Fian. “Now we have to get the word out.”

  “And how are you going to do that, exactly?” asked Danis, who felt that this was his last stand in the effort to make his wife and Althea behave—as he saw it—sensibly. “It’s not as if the Corps will give you access to the television and radio transmitters.”

  “We’ll use the Resistance’s network,” said Althea.

  Danis had long known that Althea had contacts—and perhaps more than that—in the Resistance. He had even used her to open channels of communication on occasion, mostly by discreetly mentioning some detail in the knowledge that she would pass it on, but he had always been careful not to openly acknowledge her divided loyalties. He thought for a moment.

  “Do what you must,” he said, resigned now to the inevitable. “Balen and I will try to get word to the Military commanders we have left. Perhaps they can break out their forces from the barracks and try to stop the landings, or stall them. At the very least, it’ll give them time to seize ships and start evacuating.”

  But even as he spoke, he knew that there was little hope. Any unscheduled craft trying to leave the planet over the coming hours and days would be blown from the skies by the Corps, either by remote weaponry on Earth or their fighters above. By the time the ships carrying the spores began to descend, he would be surprised if there was a single Corps official or Securitat left on Earth.

  A hand touched Danis’s arm. His wife was beside him. She leaned forward and kissed him gently, then laid her head upon his shoulder. It was as close to intimacy as they had come in many months.

  “Let’s give a chance to as many as we can, Illyri or human,” she said. “I will see you back here when we’re done. I promise you, Danis.”

  And then she and Althea were gone.

  CHAPTER 14

  Overnight, Danis, Peris, and Balen contacted everyone they could think of to warn them of what they believed to be coming, but for the most part their concerns were met with polite bafflement. More often than not, they received raucous laughter in response.

  “Have you been drinking again, Danis?” asked more than one base commander. The governor cringed at the “again.” How little weight his supposed authority wielded; how fractured the Military chain of command had become here on Earth, how insubordinate. The sense that they’d been left to rot was pervasive among those who remained on the blue planet, and they were more concerned about their vulnerability to superior Corps forces than of crazy talk from a washed-up figurehead who was known to be too well acquainted with the bottle.

  “You say there are spores being sent from space to destroy us?” repeated Rupe, a former member of the castle guard who now headed up the Military detail in Santiago. “Alien spores, Lord Danis?”

  He sounded worried, and for a moment Danis thought he’d finally found someone outside of Scotland who was taking him seriously, until Rupe added: “Perhaps you should see a doctor, Governor. You’ve been under a lot of pressure.”

  There was no more that he could do. He could only hope that Fian and Althea were having better luck. Danis did manage to call in one favor, though. He succeeded in contacting Junior Consul Steyr, the Diplomat who had overall command of the European continent. To Danis’s surprise, he had always found Steyr reasonable, even honorable, and they had worked well together during Danis’s time as governor. Steyr was on his way to a departing shuttle, fleeing like the rest, when Danis got him on-screen.

  “You’re leaving us, Consul?” said Danis.

  Steyr smiled at the older Illyri. There was a hint of sadness to it.

  “All Diplomatic personnel have been ordered to leave the planet,” Steyr replied. “Our time here is coming to a close.”

  “And Military personnel?”

  Steyr’s smile faded.

  “For the most part, they are to remain on Earth.”

  Danis trod carefully. This was not a secure channel.

  “I have a feeling that those left behind may have cause to regret their posting,” he said. “I would consider it a great personal favor if the restrictions on Military travel could be relaxed to permit some of my staff and family to join the exodus.”

  “Those are not the orders we have received.”

  “We are all Illyri,” said Danis. “And my people have done nothing wrong, or nothing that merits their abandonment on this world.”

  He held Steyr’s gaze. Danis knew what was coming, and Steyr realized that he knew.

  “Certain individuals were named as ‘essential’ to the new Illyri presence on Earth, and were not to be permitted to leave,” said Steyr. “The list included your name, and those of a number of your immediate associates and family members.”

  “At whose command?”

  “The Archmage Syrene,” said Steyr. But . . .” He paused. “I don’t take orders from the Sisterhood. Anyway, in the midst of such a chaotic situation as we have here, errors can be made.”

  Steyr consulted briefly with one of his aides while Danis waited, his life and the lives of those for whom he cared most hanging in the balance.

  “One ship,” said Steyr. “Those on board will join me on the Oxion, but they will officially be prisoners. Do you understand? There’s no other way.”

  “Thank you,” said Danis.

  Steyr nodded, and killed the link.

  • • •

  In the morning, the reduced castle staff—or the Illyri staff, at least—were informed of the impending evacuation, and told that a ship would be ready to take them off-world. They would be permitted to bring with them only what they could carry. By noon, Althea and Fian had not returned. At one o’clock precisely, as a precaution, the castle entrance was sealed, for there was limited space available on board the waiting craft. Only those inside could be saved.

  Still, Danis did not give up hope, muttering to himself as he circled the courtyard near the gate, repeatedly urging the remaining guards—who were themselves itching to leave—to keep a lookout for the missing Illyri females, and particularly Fian.

  “Still no sign of them,” said one guard. “But a mob has formed outside. Humans are demanding to get in. They’ve seen the Corps ships
leaving, and want to know what’s happening.”

  “Keep them at bay,” ordered Danis, “but don’t fire unless absolutely necessary.”

  By twenty past the hour, news reports started to trickle in, quickly becoming a deluge, faster and faster from all over the world. Large, unmanned craft had entered Earth’s atmosphere, massive silver cargo transporters the likes of which had not been seen before. They were unmarked and apparently automatically piloted, for all attempts at communication were ignored, and refusal of landing permission under threat of Military defensive strikes proved no deterrent to their progress. As soon as they reached their optimum altitude, the silver ships’ plump underbellies merely opened and clouds of red-tinged dust—the harvested alien spores—were released onto the world below. Those beneath the craft, Illyri and human alike, rushed to escape the strange mist, and many were killed in the ensuing stampedes, although none would be alive to count the victims, for what panicked feet had started the spores would go on to complete. Those who inhaled the spores instantly began to choke and convulse, falling atop the crushed remains of the trampled, their bodies swelling as the spores did their work, turning their victims into gestation chambers for the Others.

  This was the first wave.

  As word spread, the living fled; cars jammed highways, and boats took to the water with scant supplies, their human cargo looking back appalled at their infected lands, and at those leaping desperately into the sea, swimming after the retreating boats, until sinking exhausted beneath the water, and still the clouds spread. Galateans tore into their Illyri masters and the Illyri responded by mowing them down in their thousands. Those Agrons that hadn’t yet died of disease took off into the side streets to escape, frenzied with fear, but as they fled and their panic abated, the hot, iron aroma of spilled blood called to them, and they paused and lapped at it, and became distracted by feasts of fresh flesh, eating their fill until they too succumbed to the threat from the red sky.

  Some of the remaining Military craft that tried to leave were swamped by panicked crowds, while others were shot down on the instructions of the Corps. Order collapsed in those cities that had been spared the immediate arrival of the transporters as news reached them of what was happening elsewhere, and the realization grew that they would be next. There were street battles, and looting. Chaos spread.

  And in Edinburgh, as in other major cities, the last Illyri craft departed from their pads and bays, heading through the heavy clouds and into space, making for the larger carriers that would begin transporting them to the wormhole, and out of Earth’s solar system. The citizens looked up, and they raged as their oppressors abandoned them.

  Only the small carrier in the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle did not leave, but by midafternoon the crowd outside the castle gates had swelled to such proportions that there was no hope of Fian or Althea making it through. The carrier was packed with anxious Illyri, whatever valuables they could carry crushed into lockers, or held between their feet. There were children and adolescents among them, all frightened, all looking to Governor Danis for guidance, for hope.

  “Cowards!” the people outside screamed, and they were joined by furious Galateans, the two races briefly allied in abandonment and rage.

  “Cowards!” the people cried again. Aided by the might of the Galateans, they tried to storm the gates, but the bullets of the remaining guards mowed the first waves down. The mob faltered, and regrouped.

  Danis heard the shooting, and watched the throng from a screen in the carrier’s cockpit. Time was running out.

  “Minimal force,” he said to Balen, who sat beside him, a sheaf of papers on his lap. “Please—they must use absolute minimal force.”

  Helpless to act for his master, Balen simply fiddled with the paper clip holding his documents together, and they slid to the floor. He let them go.

  “We must leave soon,” said Peris. “We have a narrow window of departure.”

  Danis stared at him. “We can’t. What about Fian? And Althea?”

  “Can’t we locate them with their trackers?” said Peris, but Danis just shook his head.

  “Gone. They removed them.” He stared vacantly through the glass of the cockpit window, his thoughts far from the castle. “Did you know that Althea has a boyfriend, a human?”

  Peris didn’t but, having seen her last night, he wasn’t surprised. She was an altered creature.

  “A member of the Resistance,” Danis continued. “Someone quite high up in the chain of command, or so I’m told.”

  “I guess that’s why she had her tracker removed, then.”

  “Had it removed?” Danis laughed bitterly. “She removed it herself, Peris—dug it out with a blade long ago. Fian followed her example, although a little more recently. You know, things weren’t good between us, Peris, between me and Fian, after Ani left. Sometimes I wondered if my wife had somebody else too; a human, perhaps, just like Althea. She denied it, of course. Said she just wanted to be free of Illyri surveillance, and free of me too, I suppose.”

  Peris was at a loss for words. “I’m sorry, Danis,” he said uselessly.

  There was quiet in the cockpit for a few moments, until fresh volleys of gunfire sounded from the gates, followed by a series of blasts. A guard’s voice sounded over the internal speakers.

  “They’ve broken through the first perimeter!”

  “Danis!” said Peris. “We must leave. Give the order!”

  More blasts, more shooting. Through the glass of the cockpit window, they watched as the last guards commenced a fighting retreat to the carrier, and the first of the mob appeared.

  “Danis!”

  “Start the engines,” Danis ordered the pilot, and there was desolation in his voice. “As soon as the last soldier is on board, take us up.”

  The gunner on the carrier began to lay down covering fire, forcing the humans and Galateans to run for protection and giving the guards enough time to make the ship. The final one had barely gotten his feet in the door when the carrier began to rise. Danis was weeping, but his tears fell silently as the pilot turned the craft away, pointing it into the sky, upwards toward the safety of the twinkling stars.

  CHAPTER 15

  When Althea, Trask’s Illyri lover, came banging at his door in the middle of the rain-sodden night, calling his name, he hurried to let her in. He noticed immediately that she was wearing one of his plaid shirts and realized, with a rush of affection, that she must have purloined it from his wardrobe when she’d left him in the dark hours of that morning.

  He moved to embrace her, but dropped his arms when he noticed another, taller figure behind her, and then Fian, the governor’s wife, stepped out of the shadows and into the puddle of light on his front step.

  “What the . . . ?” Trask started to protest, angry that Althea had risked his security by bringing her here, but then he saw that Althea’s normally placid, smooth face was grave, and furrowed with worry, and Fian was trembling with nervous energy, and at once he knew. He stepped back to let them in. The time had come.

  “They’re coming, right?” he said.

  Althea nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said.

  “How much time have we got?”

  “We think they’re due to start arriving tomorrow. Ships filled with spores.”

  As soon as they had revealed what they knew, Trask contacted the Illyri deserter and Resistance leader named Fremd, known to many as the Green Man, and with heavy hearts they set their plans in motion. Those humans already chosen were given one hour to get their families and belongings together. No contact beyond immediate kin—husbands, wives, children—was permitted. Pets were abandoned to the kindness of neighbors, although those leaving them were as yet unaware they’d never see them again. Grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, friends—so many would be left behind. Notes of love were slipped beneath doors and through letter boxes, declaring that they’d return soon. Perhaps they believed it, at the time.

  In the large garage beside Trask
’s house, final preparations began. He and his group had the longest trek ahead of them because they were heading for the bunker in Ireland. Althea nodded grimly when she heard this: prevailing winds meant this was probably one of the safest places on the planet, she told him, for the spores would be carried like pollen or seeds, a genocidal pollution borne around the world by currents of air. On that basis, the rugged, windswept coastline of the west of Ireland would be less vulnerable than most places, at least for a while.

  Fian—the Lady Fian, Trask reminded himself—stood to one side while other groups arrived, bustling past her, packing, repacking, arguing and talking over one another. She leaned against a wall, watching them, looking lost. She appeared reluctant to leave, yet remained unmoored and alone as Althea dug in with the work that was needed, alternately murmuring information and issuing instructions in the vague direction of Trask’s daughters, Jean and Nessa, seemingly oblivious to her friend’s continued lonely presence. Well, either she was oblivious or she chose not to notice, thought Trask. Althea was that kind of a woman—if he could call a female Illyri a woman, for he was never entirely sure if the word referred exclusively to human females, although she certainly felt deliciously all woman when held close and warm in his arms late at night. Whatever, Althea was very focused on the task at hand, almost schoolmarm-like, but that probably came from her years as a governess. Trask shook his head in awe as she corralled his reluctant offspring, and went over to speak to Fian himself. She had no business being here, he felt. While the Resistance members had grown used to Althea, the wife of the governor was another matter entirely. Fian would be lynched as soon as the nature of the catastrophe that was about to befall the entire planet became known. Even Althea might not be entirely safe.

 
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