Dominion, p.9
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       Dominion, p.9

           John Connolly
 

  “You may leave now if you wish, madam,” said Trask. “As you can see, your message has been received loud and clear, and we appreciate your help, but there’s nothing more you can do here.” That was good, he thought: polite, but firm.

  She turned to face him slowly, but made no reply, and her great unblinking eyes seemed to look deeper than his face, far deeper. Up close, he could see the likeness to her daughter, Ani, in those swirling irises of turquoise, vivid as a whirlpool in a glacial lake. After a few seconds she merely nodded, and he found he wasn’t sure what that even meant.

  “I met Ani once, you know,” he found himself saying. “She was an ‘interesting’ girl.”

  “She was,” Fian said. “Is,” she corrected herself, before adding: “I fear she’s running with a bad crowd.”

  Althea had shared with Trask the latest news about Ani and the Sisterhood. As far as Trask was concerned, the term “bad crowd” barely began to cover the Nairenes.

  “I know what you mean,” he said. “I have daughters too, but then my ex-wife reckoned I was the bad crowd.”

  Fian ignored his weak attempt at humor.

  “Is she going with you?” she said. “Your ex-wife; are you taking her with you?”

  Trask looked perplexed.

  “Well, um, I hadn’t really considered it,” he admitted. Quite frankly, the last person with whom he wanted to be trapped in a bunker was his ex-wife.

  “But she’s the other parent to your children—she gave birth to them,” said Fian, and her eyes were cooler now. “Will they not want their mother with them?”

  “We’ve limited space,” Trask blustered. “Very limited. And given that others are leaving behind brothers and sisters, and parents too, I can hardly insist on taking along the ex, now, can I?”

  He found himself wondering why he was explaining himself to her, and so he ground to a halt. They stared at each other. He tried not to blink, then realized it was ridiculous to attempt to outstare an Illyri.

  “And your girls will still go with you, even knowing that you’re leaving their mother behind to die?” asked Fian after a few tense moments. Though she spoke quietly, her chin was tilted in defiance. She was significantly taller than Trask, and he felt very much like she was looking down on him, in more ways than one.

  “Ah, come on now, that’s not fair,” he protested, even as he thought that, actually, yes, it probably was. “Anyway, I haven’t told them what’s about to happen. I haven’t broken the news of what your people are about to unleash on us to anyone beyond the commanders, or there’d be utter panic—and it would cost you your head, I imagine, because my people would look to take their anger out on the nearest Illyri. My girls will find out soon enough, though, and I’m pretty sure they’ll understand. They’re fighters too, you know.”

  Fian looked scornful.

  “But she’s their mother,” she persisted.

  Trask glared at her.

  “Dammit, woman, don’t you see? If I take the ex-wife—who I don’t much like, frankly—I won’t be able to take Althea, who I like one hell of a lot!”

  “Althea’s going with you?” said Fian, and as she spoke her voice faltered.

  “Of course!”

  Fian looked over his shoulder—or rather, over the top of his head—and he turned and saw what she saw: the figure of Althea on the far side of the garage hefting boxes into a trailer, her expression determined. She had stripped to a modest vest, Trask’s shirt tied around her waist, and her hair was falling from its pins. From this distance she appeared younger than she was, and with her arms exposed—something that rarely happened—she seemed unusually vulnerable.

  Frustrated, Trask looked again into Fian’s face, prepared to argue his corner, but then he saw that tears were filling her eyes. They balanced on the rims precariously, and at once he felt a strange, deep sorrow for her. He knew she’d lost her only daughter to the stars, and her estranged husband was a laughingstock; an ineffectual drunk, they said, although Althea’s view of him was very different. As the governor’s wife, Fian was isolated by her position, and her disintegrating marriage was her burden to bear alone. Althea had become her sole confidante, her friend. Fian must have assumed that Althea would leave Earth with her once the warning had been delivered to the Resistance, but she was mistaken.

  “You can come with us too, if you want,” he said, but even as he spoke the words he knew how rash they were, how ridiculous, even. There would be mutiny if he announced that he was adding the governor’s wife herself to the manifest. Anyway, she was an Illyri, and they could presumably still leave the planet when they liked. The rest of them didn’t have that option. Only later did Trask learn how wrong he was.

  Fian smiled weakly, and finally a tear escaped and ran unchecked down her golden cheek.

  “Thank you for the offer, Trask, although obviously that will not be happening,” she said. “But do take special care of my dear Althea. Please. In return, I know she’ll do her utmost to take care of you.”

  “Of course,” he started to say, but whether she heard him or not he would never know, for she turned heel and left quickly, disappearing through the door, briefly forming a silhouette against the brightening dawn sky before the door closed gently behind her. It was only later that he noticed she’d left her overcoat behind on the back of a chair. He held the coat for a second, considering, and then shrugged and tossed it into a corner along with all the other rubbish.

  “It’s nearly morning,” he yelled. “We’re moving out—now!”

  • • •

  It had been the most difficult decision Trask had ever been forced to make, but, in a strange way, also the easiest.

  Meia had warned him before she’d left Earth—although precisely of what she’d been unclear, as she’d only surmised a scenario from things she’d seen and heard, and from her own suspicions—and he knew that the end must be coming when the pace of the Illyri evacuation accelerated. It was no longer just the senior figures who were leaving—the junior consuls, the lords and their retinues—but the rank and file.

  They abandoned the most difficult postings first: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Congo, the southern United States, Alaska. Triumphant communications were passed along the Resistance’s shortwave radio channels, and the sense of an apparent victory spurred an increase in violence against the Illyri forces that remained. Images of the departing ships found their way onto ResNet, the corner of the Darknet that had become an informal message board for the various factions fighting the invaders, where videos of Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq beheading captured Illyri sat alongside recordings of sermons by Christian preachers in the Blue Ridge Mountains proclaiming the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world.

  Political responses to the Illyri withdrawal varied, and it soon became clear that the world’s leaders were as surprised as anyone else by what was occurring. Since the Illyri had kept most democratic institutions—councils, parliaments—in place, even if only as puppet administrations, it wasn’t difficult for most Western societies to begin planning the transition back to human rule, although elsewhere tribal and religious conflicts erupted once again, now that the common enemy was leaving.

  But Trask didn’t pay attention to any of it. He had been preparing for months, assisted by a handful of the most trusted members of the Resistance, many of them from his own extended family. Ironically, given it was the Illyri who were about to attempt the annihilation of humanity, it was to the Illyri deserter Fremd that Trask first turned. Fremd, the leader of the Highland Resistance, but also the figure in the Resistance movement with the most detailed knowledge of the Illyri and the alien parasites they had brought with them to Earth. Fremd had seen the red dust pouring from the dying Grand Consul Gradus, and had witnessed the violent death of Lorac—another Illyri deserter, and a trusted comrade—when the cloud of spores had hit him square in the face, before everything had been destroyed by fire. Fremd knew what might lie ahead . . .

  Before she
left Earth, Meia had told Trask to work more closely with Fremd, and in order to ensure that they both cooperated, she had given each of them one half of a set of GPS coordinates. When they came together and traveled to the spot—an abandoned crofter’s cottage near Aberdeen—they found, sealed in plastic and placed in an airtight box, a book: a first edition of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot.

  “She always was a funny one,” Trask had said as he unwrapped the novel. The interior had been hollowed out to enable two flash drives to be stored in the space. When they were accessed, the drives were found to contain the location of a number of underground shelters: three in Scotland and England, and one on the west coast of Ireland. They were not human constructions, but had instead been built by the Illyri in the early stages of the Conquest as safe havens in the event of some unanticipated disaster. All had advanced solar-powered generators, state-of-the-art decontamination facilities, water recycling and purification systems, and vast “farms” in which herbs, greens, and microgreens could be grown in tiered beds using hydroponics and LED lights. Each could accommodate hundreds of Illyri, but now they would be used as arks for humans. Over the weeks and months that followed, Trask and Fremd set about adding further supplies to them, even adapting parts of the shelters for chicken runs, and assigning trusted operatives in the vicinity to start raising the birds for eggs. The Illyri food systems allowed the vegetables grown to be adapted to all kinds of uses, and Fremd had quickly figured out how to alter them to provide a grain-free food source that would be ideal for chicken feed.

  The question for Trask and Fremd was who to save—the decision that was both easy (immediate family first) and hard (but who else?). Neither made any apologies for picking their loved ones, but after that it was a question of practicality. They chose on the basis of skill sets—farmers, mechanics, electricians, botanists, scientists—recognizing that some of those approached would also want to bring their immediate families. Where possible, they selected single men and women, who were warned to be ready . . .

  And now the hour had come.

  • • •

  By the time the church bells were ringing for the Sunday morning services, Trask and his people were already bouncing across the countryside in trucks, heading for the western coast. Other vehicles joined their little convoy as they drew closer to the shore, until finally they reached the long-defunct ferry terminal north of Cairnryan. The buildings were deserted, what windows remained were broken, and hardy creepers dangled over the doorways, their leaves thin and crumpled. The only sign of life was a lone gull, riding the wind. A small fleet of fishing boats was tethered beside the silent dock, unused on the Sabbath, but they were dwarfed by the rusted hulk of an old Stena Line ferry, its gangplank down as if waiting for them. A figure in a captain’s cap appeared on deck, and other crew members bustled around him: this was Aitken, who had plied this route across the Irish Sea long before the coming of the Illyri. Aitken had been preparing for this day on Trask’s orders, he and his crew secretly readying the old ferry for one last journey.

  Several of the vehicles paused. Men and women clambered out and heated words were exchanged with the Resistance leaders, for the weather was far from fine for sailing, although the heavy winds appeared to be lessening in ferocity. Those protesting most vehemently reached for their loved ones and gathered them near as if to protect them, saying they should leave when the waters grew calmer for it would be much wilder at sea, out of the shelter of the bay formed by Loch Ryan. Stony-faced, their leaders pressed them to board, demanding their trust and insisting on their obedience to the chain of command, even when they were holding their tiny children by the hands.

  Still, despite the best efforts of Trask and others, a truck and a car turned back toward Stranraer, for those inside saw no reason to risk the lives of their dearest ones on the sea, and they did not yet know of what was about to befall the entire planet. Trask had almost been tempted to share his knowledge with all of them at that point, but he needed to hold his tongue for just a little while longer. If they found out the truth now, some of them would try to go back for relatives and friends, or start to panic. It was better that he and his confidants maintain the illusion of flight from a more understandable, if fictitious threat: a second Illyri front, designed to wipe out all Resistance, requiring them to hide themselves away in preparation for a great human counterattack.

  And so, their numbers somewhat depleted, the Scots finally set sail across the Irish Sea.

  They landed at Larne Harbour, surprising the locals with the sudden appearance of a ferry, like a ghost ship after years of no sailings. A small crowd cheered as they docked, but Trask could barely look at them, these walking dead, as they drove past them and inland, across the country and to the West, where the Atlantic winds sent waves crashing endlessly into the cliffs, the islands, and the rocks. Here they met select members of the Irish Resistance, who had been summoned to join them under the same pretext: an impending massive Illyri assault. The Irish contingent had been supplied with the coordinates, but told nothing else.

  “We may have to hide away for weeks, even months,” they were informed. “For safety, bring your husbands, your wives, your children—but tell no others.”

  And they listened and obeyed because they were soldiers of the Resistance, and that’s what soldiers did.

  • • •

  Only when everyone was finally underground in this most secret of bunkers, and the doors secured, was the truth revealed. At first there was shock, then anger. A handful of people made an effort to break out, hopeful of still rescuing parents or friends, but the codes were known to only three of the Resistance leaders, and they weren’t going to share them with anyone, even under pain of death, for if those doors were opened again, then death was inevitable anyway. The escapees tried calling those they’d left behind on their phones, but down here there was no signal. They sobbed wretchedly as they heard the first news reports coming in, then gradually their wails turned to stunned silence as the broadcasts slowly stuttered out, to be replaced by static. Eventually, a kind of resignation came over those in the bunker, allied with a mixed sense of guilt and relief: guilt at abandoning so many others to their fate, and relief that they were not among them.

  And they remained belowground for the first six months, while life on Earth was wiped out by the Others.

  PART IV

  SYL

  CHAPTER 16

  Syl was bewildered. Fara’s words echoed senselessly in her head, as though spoken in a language that Syl only half understood.

  “I can’t destroy the Others,” she protested. “I’m not even sure that they can be destroyed. Who knows how many of them are floating through space on rocks, or sitting in Illyri storage facilities? We could spend thousands of year scouring the universe, and still find only a fraction of them.”

  “You don’t have to find all of them,” said Kal. “Only one.”

  Fara raised a hand to silence him. Clearly she felt that the discussion was moving a little too quickly.

  “You have gifts, Syl Hellais,” explained Fara. “Powers. We sensed you as soon as your ship came passed through the wormhole, and you felt our presence too. You reached out, and you were among us: a being with a physical form, using psychic abilities to move through a mass consciousness. We were, for a moment, vulnerable again.”

  “Are you suggesting that I would have harmed you?” asked Syl.

  “You could have tried,” said Fara. “We would have destroyed your ship, and all on it, before you could do too much damage, but the potential was there.”

  “You’re saying that I could attack the Others in the same way?”

  “It’s possible. They are an interconnected species.”

  Paul intervened, putting aside thoughts of Earth, if only temporarily. Now, more than ever, he wanted revenge on the Others, and to be rid of them forever. If Syl could make this happen, then the subject was worthy of discussion. But even as he spoke, he was already planning their trip
back through the Derith wormhole before too many more days passed in the blink of an eye.

  “Kal said that Syl would only need to find one of the Others,” he said. “But we’ve destroyed some of them in the past, and the species has continued.”

  “Not just any one,” said Kal. “We believe that the Others have a hierarchy. Some of them function like queens in ants’ nests. They’re larger and more powerful than the rest. They transmit and receive information, using it to guide the actions of the species. The infestation of the Illyri was not a random occurrence. The initial contamination might have come about that way, but not what came after. A bargain of some kind must have been struck between the Illyri and the Others, because without a pact the Others would have turned the Illyri into gestation chambers for spores.”

  “It was a meteor,” said Syl. “That’s how the Illyri came to be infected by them. The meteor was brought to the Sisterhood, and whatever was inside—a spore, or a larva—found its way into the Archmage Ezil. She was the one who struck the bargain with them: spare the Illyri, and she would find host races for the Others to use.”

  She had already explained most of this to Paul and Meia, but this was the first that the rest of the Nomad’s crew had heard of it.

  “That’s cold,” said Thula.

  “Ezil underestimated them,” said Syl. “She just wanted to hold them off until she could find a way to destroy them, but they were too clever for her. She was trying to do the right thing, or believed that she was.”

  “That right thing may have cost us Earth,” said Steven.

  “We don’t know that yet.”

  “We don’t, because we’re still stuck here trading stories!”

  He pushed against the fleshy bonds that held him, but they simply tightened a little more. He gave a cry of pain.

  “Let him go,” said Syl to Fara. “Rizzo too. Please. Surely you must understand why they reacted as they did.”

 

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