The Magic Trick Series

A flash fiction series based on a sort of futuristic divergent war in Ukraine. I originally planned and wrote it on the bus into Guildford and typed it up on the library computers.

 

Pt.37

When Yurii felt the girl’s arms stir at first he was glad. But as his breath left him he tried to break away, a little at first, then more, and more. It felt like his chest was collapsing and still she wanted she wasn’t done. Yurii’s eyes bulged, but no matter how much he tried to escape her grip was too strong. Soon he was cold and numb as the freezing water around them. Then she let go; and Yurii Serikbekev sank toward the floor. On the way he saw what the flood had hidden – she had wings.

The plates they’d buried her in were spreading, peeling back like the shell of a beetle and she made short work of what was left. Her movements fast as the waves rolling from her skin. As he watched she shook, split, and shed the metal they’d chained her in. No wonder they hadn’t wanted her loose. The wings spreading from her moved faster than a hummingbirds. But it was the noise they made that drove the torrent back, sending the waves to where they’d come from and the things that had crawled through the gaps mewling for safety before the doors slammed shut.

‘What are you?’ said Yurii Serikbekev.

She was rising into the air now, atoms bouncing off each other with a sound like ciccadas in a field. Warmth was beginning to return to Yurii Serikebekev as the last of the water fled. Only her eyes were still within the storm dancing around her.

‘Amplified. Frequency 528.’

‘Where have you come from?’

‘Inside.’

Yurri had taken a glimpse of the facility’s inner rooms once, the operating theatres that had been filled with equipment stacked so high you could barely move. But he’d never asked what they’d been stealing or where the patients him and his company had delivered to the doctors had come from first. The militia had dealt with the residue; the empty husks and shattered remnants of the people that had been used up. Now he began to understand what they’d been decanting there. Yurii Serikbekev watched the ball of light around her grow as the first ripple passed across his skin and she began to dive.

THE END

 

Pt. 36

What was left of the President didn’t stay on the floor for long as water flooded past them. In moments the tidal wave had reached Yurii Serikbekev’s knees and cracks had begun to splinter through the walls on either side of the slimy boneless thing pushing its way toward them.

‘Why have you let me in?’ said the new arrival through the tentacles surrounding its face. An eye bigger then several people standing on their heads dropped closer and Yurii could see the girl silhouetted against its iris as she answered.

‘I’m cold. Will you help?’

‘Too late. But we can fill it with something else…maybe.’

‘Please.’

‘Then let all of us in. We’ll stop the hurt. Make you forget.’

Yurii wondered how much she could feel with all that machinery wired to her back as it rose around her. He tried moving forward, but there was so much water rushing past he barely made it a couple of steps.

‘No, Yurii Serikbekev,’ hissed the thing and it felt like ice in his mind, cold enough to make him shudder.

Siguls had appeared on the wall now, and door after door followed until Yurii stared down a row that disappeared into the palace’s depths.

‘You will come to us,’ said the creature and the first of its tentacles flickered round the girl’s machinery as she took a step forwards.

The doors slammed wide and soon their owners were on the thresholds too. With their tentacles thrashing and twitching as they looked for the source of the warmth they could feel.

Yurii grabbed the girl.

‘I’ve got you,’ he said although he doubted she could hear him anymore. Her eyes were closed, and hidden inside the gifts she’d been given she looked worse than dead.

Yurii realized what was about to happen the same time the water reached his shoulders. With fingers that were turning white he began to search the plates clamped around her.

‘Talk to me,’ said Yurii.

He could barely see her face underneath all the junk, but the first had begun to loosen and as the metal fell away he saw the scars they’d made at her temples.

Yurii’s mouth clamped on hers.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 35

Serikbekev watched the needle finish rolling into the shadows as the President stared back at him. He didn’t look much different from his picture on TV; a little paler perhaps, and there was something about the way he was staring that made your feet want to back away. When the noise started Serikbekev clapped his hands over his ears. It sounded like someone had pressed the lever on a switch that wanted to shake the world apart.

‘Stay back.’

The door had begun to glow, but the girl wasn’t listening. The pistons stuck through her had spread like the wings and they quivered as she walked toward it.

‘It’s here, at last,’ said the President on his throne.

He’d stood up now with his arms raised and Yurii could see what else he’d missed. It wasn’t just the needle he’d used in his arm. Dozens of syrettes followed his veins, and the black liquid in their vials shook like the fruit of a tree.

‘Please.’

Yurii made a grab for the girl as she passed, but he hadn’t even gotten close before he was knocked off his feet as water that tasted of salt flooded in. It was so cold that in seconds he was shivering hard enough he could barely hold the gun. Yurii braced himself as the President began to speak.

‘All hail…’

The rest of what the man had been about to say was lost as the first tentacle to free itself from the squirming mass squeezing its way into the world slammed on his head. There wasn’t much left when it lifted.

‘Wait…please…what’s to stop it doing that to you?’ Yurii called after the girl.

When she turned back, deep amongst the metal plates they’d tried to drown her in, Yurii Serikbekev saw her smile.

‘It’s here for me.’

They were the first words Yurii had heard her say as Cthulhu‘s vast bulk slammed onto the floor.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 34

The Kremlin looked like it was barely standing, but it’s a break from what the girl in the back had filled the truck with during the drive. Video footage, and snapshots, computer generated and real, of tentacles and things Yurri would have preferred not to see. He switches off the feed showing the trucks interior. The show had quietened since she’d withdrawn her machinery. Now there’s just the last flickers of broken images that vanish before he can get a clear look at them fizzing over those metal limbs.

‘End of the line.’

Yurri mutters to himself as he descends from the cab and see’s how badly damaged the  seat of government has become. There’s holes torn through the rooftops and the walls are shattered like it’s been shelled in the recent past. There’s a plume of smoke above the main building.

‘We’re here.’ Yurii cracks open the back and steps away. He doesn’t know what the kid at the centre of all that steel will feel after a journey like the one they’d just made, but he doesn’t want to be the latest thing she skewers. She can save that for whatever they find inside because he guesses that’s where they’re going.

‘What’s in there?’ say’s Yurii.

But she doesn’t answer and her eyes stay fixed on the entrance. When they get closer he can see why. There’s figures inside clad in uniforms that belong to a past that died hundreds of years ago, and none are moving. Yurii looks up.

‘I’m not going in there,’ but he knows he is because the girl is already way ahead of him with the pistons sticking from her back tapping on the steps like the legs of a spider. They reach a pair of doors so huge they look like the side of a house. A giant’s kicked a hole through their centre leaving them twisted out of shape. Inside is the man they’ve come to find and those spikes through her flesh are going crazy again.

Yurii steps aside. The figure on the throne only has eyes for the girl.

If he can circle round…

‘I wouldn’t Yurri Serikebekev,’ says the man. Yurii can’t see his face, not yet. He’s doing something to his arm. ‘It’s been tried before.’

Yurii is beginning to realise that although the carnage outside was bad it was nothing to what lay within.

His first shot barely makes the President twitch.

‘I told you not to do that,’ say’s the figure on the throne.

Then he stands up letting the syringe that had been stuck in his vein tinkle to the floor.

‘What have you done here?’ say’s Yurii when the ringing in his ears has subsided.

‘Only what was needed to make this country great again. I made a deal, and now you’ve brought me the key.’

The girls machinery is standing on end and Yurri can feel the air move as though a storm were building between it.

‘Key for what?’

‘That.’

This door dwarfs the one they’ve come through, even if it just the outline. The curls and hieroglyphics of its letters make Yurii’s skin crawl. Now he can see why there were so many dead – someone had used their blood for paint.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 33

Yurii was trying to pick glass out of his knuckles the same time as drive. He mashed the truck into the next  gear and nodded as the engine smoothed out. At least it looked like it would get them there. Despite the bullet holes in its sides and the damage where he’d driven through the infected the KRAZ was still in one piece. He banged on the panel behind his head.

‘You alright in there?’

Silence…the truck bounced through another pot hole and Yurii ducked as  a dent appeared in the partition.

‘Careful girl, there’s no one else to drive this thing.’

After what they’d done to her at the facility he doubted she cared. He’d already seen her in action as she walked through the crowd on legs made of pistons and knife edges skewering the infected left and right. The last he’d seen of her before he’d shut the door she’d looked like a spider with all that hardware sticking from her back.

‘Want my help though don’t you?’

Yurii swerved round a wreck slewed across the road.

In the moments before the infected had caught up with them again she’d shown him what she wanted him to do, letting the machinery stitched through her fall like a curtain. She’d only had to say the man’s name one and the row of domino’s lined up in his head had begun to fall.

‘Should have known it before.’

The Russian leader was nominally on their side. Who else would have the power and capability to pull off even half of what Serikbekev had seen? He gave the tiny monitor showing a view of the trucks interior another look. The cops had enjoyed getting off to their own version of riot porn but what she was doing back there now was even spookier than what she’d done to the infected. Amongst the sparks and flashes the girl was pulling into existence were barely glimpsed images that looked like they’d come from a broken TV. God alone knew where she was getting it from; maybe the rumours and stories had always been right and the dead really could listen to the other side. Serikbekev watched as image after image floated before her eyes. But it was the one that appeared last that got his attention. The onion shaped dome with the red star on top was too familiar to be anything else.

‘You want to go to the Kremlin?’

In the back of the truck the girl with so much metal stuck through her she reminded him of a bullet smiled. He’d gotten the message then.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 32

 

(flashback)

 

Him

 

The first had been the hardest,

They’d struggled then,

Kicking and biting,

Clawing and screaming,

Funny how they never knew,

What’s good for them,

As they bleated for their Mummy’s,

And tried to escape,

But he was under orders,

And when all was said and done,

He was on the right side,

God and government,

Truth and justice,

He even had it written on his belt buckle,

So as they clamped the metal in place,

And the machine took shape,

His smile grew,

Till it covered his face.

 

Her

 

The man’s epaulets shone,

And she kept her eyes on them,

As still as stone,

Like they’d asked her,

Since they’d dragged her from the cellar,

Where the families hid,

There hadn’t seemed much point,

In making a fuss,

And as his doctors had explained,

A thousand times,

When they were finished,

She’d never feel anything again,

They wanted to make her better,

And their was peace,

In her surrender,

So as the seeds of her own destruction,

Were locked in place,

And her breath died inside,

She just stared.

 

 

 

Pt. 31

 

Yurri Serikbekev watched the girl standing in the smoke as the first of the figures from the woods filled the station in a flood…and thought…

 

Only humans,

Could make a flinch,

A kiss turned into a punch,

A cold girl,

A porcupine girl,

On a train station platform,

Picking up lies,

On the spikes,

Sewn through her skin,

With a smile as bloody,

As her eyes.

 

 

Pt.30

 

The kid with the gun noticed it first, ‘What is that?’

Flames whip past his face for a moment and the shadows turn it into a skull. Yurii Serikbkev stares back at the night that’s spread through the trees eaves, but beyond the torches he can’t see a thing .

‘There,’ the kid points at some of the furthest pinpricks of light visible through the trees. As they watch they vanish. There isn’t a sound, whatever just happened it was too quick for shouts and shots.

‘I thought you said it was only civilians out here.’

Yurii’s thinking of night vision and thermal camera’s, but if it’s only farmers they were unlikely to have that sort of kit.

‘That’s right, the villagers. They come to steal supplies, sometimes worse.’

The kid nods his head so violently it looks in danger of falling off.

‘Get a move on Anya, I don’t like this,’ say’s Yurii.

They’re headed for a railway yard, Yurii had no idea if there’d be trains there, or how he’d run one if there were. But it was better than sticking around with the smell of all those corpses soaking through the air.

Are we close?’ Anya keeps her voice low like she’s afraid something might hear. Yurii doesn’t blame her. He takes a look at the map he’d found in the camp’s main office.

‘Not far, another five or ten minutes.’

Yurii scans the darkness. This time the kid that disappears manages a scream. It lasts about five seconds.

When they get there, stumbling across gravel and tracks that threaten to trip them with every footstep, he can see carriages stalled on the sidings. The markings looks foreign and their doors are open. Anya, and Serikebekev look at each other.

‘Wonder where they’re from?’ say’s Yurii.

‘Return to sender I expect. People like to come home.’

‘You seen what I told you about before then?’

Anya follows his eyes to the trees.

‘Only from a distance. If what’s out there is what you think it is. They started coming downstream not long before all the trouble started. We pushed them back in.’ Anya shrugged, ‘A few people got bit.’

Behind them in the woods, more screams erupt, and then they’re moving again. Yurii’s got Anya’s hand clasped in his.

He takes one look behind him as the tree line splinters into running figures and the moonlight shows the kid’s terrified faces.

‘Where are we going?’ says Anya as he shoves her up the steps.

Yurii runs faster than he’s a ever run in his life, window after window disappearing down the platform before he mounts the steps and heads for the driver’s cab further up. When he opens the door it’s empty, and he breathes a sigh of relief.

He scans the trains controls, and presses the nearest lever and as the train begins to move he hits the platform hard enough to bruise. Yurii finishes rolling and gets to his feet as lights come on in the carriages and the children’s faces press up against the windows like they’re watching a show. Anya’s with them and she’s got her arms around the nearest. As he watches she pulls them close. She doesn’t wave, but she watches him until a turn in the tracks breaks eye contact.

It’s starting to snow again as the figures from the woods reach the platform.

When he turns round she’s there.

The girl with the metal stitched through her is the same as the one he’d left in the facility. He doesn’t know how that’s possible and for a moment Yurii rubs his eyes like he’s hit his head and not noticed.

‘But, you’re dead.’

As he watches she smiles, and puts her fingers to her lips.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 29

It had taken all day and still the flames were guttering. They’d used one of the huts in the end; although it made Yurii twitchy. But there wasn’t any other way of getting rid of what they’d found effectively. Wasn’t much choice either with all those eyes watching. The room with all the gear in it had been the worst. Yurii finished chucking the last of what he’d found there on the flames and stepped back before the heat burnt more than just his eyebrows from his face.

‘They tell you yet?’ he said to Anya.

‘Tell me what?’

‘The reason why they haven’t left – they think their families won’t let them.’

Anya’s eyes went to the blazing hut.

‘You’re talking about what we just threw in there? There was barely anything left.’

There was a crack as a bone splintered in the heat and the flames spat toward the sky a little higher.

Yurii nodded, ‘They think they can see them.’

He didn’t want to tell her what else they’d told him they’d seen.

‘What are we going to do with them?’ said Anya. ‘We can’t leave them.’

She meant the kids and just for a moment Yurii thought he saw the shadows grow closer.

This time the crackle that ripped through the night had nothing to do with the burning hut. Yurii watched as the kid that had fired switched magazines so fast he could have been fighting alongside him a week ago.

‘Stop that, there could be people out there.’

‘There are,’ said the kid. He had a badly inked swastika on his cheek. ‘We find what they leave behind sometimes.’

‘Yeah,’ said his friend. ‘There was more than twice this many of us at the start.’

‘Survival of the fittest,’ muttered Anya.

‘They want to go to Russia,’ Yurii leant down so only she could hear. ‘Some of the eldest have been telling the others that’s where the rest of their families have gone, and you should have a look at this.’

Yurii gestured for her to follow and they left the blaze and its audience behind. The interrogation room hadn’t been the only thing Yurii had found.

‘Here?’ said Anya as she let her torch travel across the  wall.

Yurri pulled her hand to one side, ‘What do you think that is?’

At first she thought the thing slumped in the huts corner was made from what the kids had found in the woods. It looked roughly like a man, or at least it was humanoid in shape. But there were too many faces peeking from the mud and blood and its head was something else – that was melted together like wax running. Yurii was glad the things chin was on its chest and the roots running from its mouth hid most of it from view.

Anya’s hand jerked and they lost sight of it for a moment. In the cold seconds before it came back into view Yurii thought of the statue he’d found in the woods. Torch light played over the symbols daubed on the floor in front of it.

‘That’s nothing, I want to meet in real life,’ said Anya.

Yurii nodded, ‘Yeah.’

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 28

Serikbekev ran a finger through the dust. It smelled like the cabin hadn’t been lived in for months and there was that thin patina of dirt on everything that told you the owners weren’t coming back in a hurry.

‘There’s no one here,’ said Yurii Serikbekev.

Anya rolled her eyes, ‘Where’s admin? There’s got to be something in that.’

Yurii didn’t waste time showing her. The sun was beginning to set and he was getting less and less keen on spending a night in the former training facility. He kept turning round convinced he’d heard movement, but there was never anyone there. He held the door of the office open and kept his eyes on the trees as Anya rifled through the mess.

‘Goddamnit,’ a folder shot past his nose trailing sheets of paper as Anya swore. ‘He was here, I know it. That’s how I got involved with that thing you took me away from. They said we should have a meeting to discuss missing persons back when they still looked human. They took him after that.’ The sound of shelving being ransacked stopped, ‘I don’t remember much.’

It wasn’t news to Yurii, judging by the way she’d acted when he’d found her none of the group who’d been kneeling at their master’s s feet would remember a thing about it.

‘I think I know what happened,’ said Serikbekev.

There was something about his voice that made Anya stumble outside. She shielded her eyes and followed where he was looking as a flock of crows took off. For a moment Yurii thought they were going to cover the sun.

‘Up there?’ said Anya.

‘Yeah.’

When they arrived Yurii could see he’d been right straight away. The ground looked like an army had marched over it and the soil was sticky underfoot; it wasn’t from water.

‘They must have herded them here,’ said Yurii and walked over the nearest rise retching until he couldn’t bring up any more. When he returned Anya had found her husband, him and about a hundred others. Yurii watched flies crawl over their half-naked limbs surprised there could be so many in weather as cold as this.

‘That’s him,’ said Anya and her voice was barely audible, but it didn’t sound like she was about to break down. Maybe she’d been expecting it thought Yurii as he got closer and saw the line of men and women tied to stakes. Whatever had happened here it must have started when the militia was in the middle of one of their cleansing operations.

Anya pointed at the figure in the middle, a burly man with a beard and dark skin.

Yurii put his arm round her shoulders and made sure he kept his mouth shut. Whatever he had to say he doubted it would help.

She was silent for a moment before pushing him away, ‘Let’s go.’

‘What about him?’

‘He’s dead, all that is is worm food and he always said he didn’t want to go in the ground. Let the birds have him.’

Yurii watched her, but there was no sign of what she’d looked like earlier. She caught him doing it and said, ‘None of your business Serikbekev. Maybe I’ll tell you one day. What do we do now?’

‘We find out who’s causing all this.’

Yurii opened his hand letting the pictures he’d found fall to the floor. The family snaps of parents with kids on their shoulders catching the wind and blowing through the trees; one didn’t get far.

The new arrival brought it to where their face would be if it wasn’t hidden under their hood. A moment later it resumed its journey.

‘Who are you?’ said Yurii cocking his rifle as more figures stepped into the light. ‘Did you do this?’

The nearest shook their head.

‘Yurii…they’re the survivors,’ said Anya in his ear.

Serikbekev realized something else about the group then, not one of them came past his shoulders.

‘You’re their kids aren’t you?’ said Anya.

The figure nodded.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt.27

 

Yurri waits until Anya’s finished waking up and her eyes have found his own again.

‘Behave when I let you go, Ok?’

He’d let it happen in the end, let the sleep steal over her until her head lolled to one side and he’d taken the opportunity to rest as well. He’d never felt so tired. The days since he’d left the front lines eating into his bones with fingers made of nails.

‘Why should I?’ said Anya. ‘I’m not going anywhere with you.’

Yurii wondered if she could see his smile as the emergency lights flickered and cut out. In the darkness he leaned down close so she could hear, ‘You will if I make you.’

‘You said it wasn’t far.’

‘It’s not,’ said Serikbekev, pine needles crunching under his feet as they skirted another abandoned car. Ever since they’d left the city the wrecks had been getting less and the one’s they did find were pockmarked full of holes.

‘How do you know about this place?’ said Anya.

Yurii thought back to the summer when he’d first joined up and life had been different.

‘Training.’

‘You were part of them?’

Anya was looking at a tree where the militia had left its symbol tacked to the trunk. The skull grinned back at her. She was lucky it was just an animals. Serikbekev still remember some of the games the militia liked to play, particularly with those they captured.

‘I am part of them. I swore an oath,’ but Serikbekev’s fist didn’t thump his chest like it would have done back when he’d first started his journey and the girl he thought about every time he closed his eyes hadn’t been dead.

‘You don’t sound so sure.’

Serikbekev didn’t answer her. There wasn’t much point; she didn’t know the people involved, had probably never seen what they’d all witnessed that day on the streets when the government had let it’s creations loose.

‘We had to fight. There wasn’t any choice.’

‘Fight who?’

‘Them…you’ve seen them, or what they’ve become.’

He could see by her face she knew what he meant. At first he’d been worried, after all it hadn’t been long since he’d found her kneeling at the feet of the creature wearing the bureaucrats corpses like a glove. He wondered if there was anything left alive of the men and women who’d been born in the others like that, and then decided there couldn’t be…not with the sort of damage he’d seen to their flesh.

‘They weren’t always like that,’ said Anya. ‘My husband was their enemy too. That’s why they took him.’

He’d be another corpse then thought Serikbekev, but he didn’t say it. Instead he pointed, ‘Look.’

The first of the training camps huts were appearing through the trees.

‘You say this is where they’ll have taken him?’

‘Probably, but if even if they didn’t there’ll be records here.’

Yurii didn’t know that for sure but more than that there might be information buried in the militia’s archives that would tell him why this was all happening. At least away from the carnage unrolling in the nations cities they were reasonably safe.

He never saw the figures running through the trees.

(to be continued)

Pt. 26

 

The bombardment that had been raining down on the city’s ruins had stopped and the emergency lighting had come back on. Yurii glanced at the woman. He’d checked her pockets for ID, but they were empty.

‘She better wake up,’ said Yurii.

He stroked some of the hair out of her face and checked she was breathing before returning his attention to the handset in his fist.

‘Blip, blip, blip.’

The only sounds he’d been able to find amongst the hissing static from his radio sounded like the ticking of a clock. Yurii was beginning to wonder what it was ticking down to.

There was a mutter from his prisoner.

‘You’re awake,’ said Yurii Serikbekev.

The woman had opened her eyes and was staring at the tape he’d used to bind her arms and legs.

‘You attacked me.’

‘I did, but you were first, remember?’

He showed her the teeth marks on his leg, But it was hard to read her in the flickering light, and her eyes stayed in shadow.

‘You deserved it.’

‘I saved you.’

‘I didn’t need saving.’

‘I think you did. That thing you were staring at wasn’t healthy.’

‘Is that where everyone else is? Let me go. I need to get back to them.’

The woman’s thrashing got worse, the chair, rocking now on four legs, now on two its impacts as it feet met the floor rising to match the blips coming from the radio’s handset.

‘Calm down,’ said Yurii as he shoved her back, keeping one hand clamped against her shoulder. ‘What are those things you were listening too?’

Her eyes were wide open now and staring at him.

‘Our representatives, who else?’

‘You mean politicians? They didn’t look like that to me.’

The girl shrugged or tried too but she was strapped down too tight for much.

‘Some of them, some of them were police, bureaucrats , you know…officials,’ she paused, ‘they don’t look much like they did before.’

Yurii was thinking of the statue he’d seen in the trees and the installation he’d destroyed.

‘And what do you think happened to them?’

‘Oh, that’s easy, beamed the woman.’

She had good teeth Yurri noted, no wonder she’d done such a good job on his leg.

‘It got to them. They listened too long.’

‘Listened too long to what?’

The woman’s eyes went to the radio and the blips seemed to grow louder echoing round the carpark like the pebbles of a beach as the waves hit the shore.

‘What’s your name?’ said Yurii.

‘Aanya.’

‘You’re staying with me for now.’

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 25

 

The woman’s feet thumped as Yurii Serikbekev dragged her into the carpark’s depths. The stairs were only badly lit and it felt like they were descending into a mine, not part of a city’s infrastructure. But at least it was below ground and it had been the only place he could find that looked intact. An explosion somewhere overhead brought dust shivering down from a ceiling that had never been designed to move an inch, let alone deal with the tremors running through it now.

Yurii stopped and propped the woman up by the ramp they’d reached.

‘Miss? You awake?’

He watched her eyelids tremble for a moment, worried that what would escape when they opened was the same light he’d seen leaving the hollow shell they’d been worshipping.

‘Who are you?’ said the woman when she’d focused on him before her black hair hid her face.

Yurii felt something catch in his chest, and not just because the eyes that had looked up at him were so pale they almost white.

‘Where am I?’ said the woman.

He put his finger to his lips gesturing up at the noise with his free hand. He was still trying to work out what to do, his eyes scanning the bouncing ducting when he felt her launch herself at his legs.

‘Get off.’

Teeth chewed down on his thigh and Yurii snarled, bucking, and writhing as he tried to throw her off.

She released her hold for a moment and blood spattered on the floor.

‘Where are they?’ screamed his prisoner trying again for another bite, ‘Where are the others? What have you done to them?’

Yurii had her in a headlock before she could say more, and he kept it that way until he felt the fight go out of her.

‘I haven’t done anything to them…’ he hissed in her ear. ‘It was too late.’

Serikbekev picked up her feet and resumed his journey glancing up at the swaying pipes and girders. Whatever was happening up there it was getting worse.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 24

 

‘Son of a bitch’

Serikbekev put his forehead against the wall and tried to catch his breath. Ever since he’d left the room with the – he shook himself – with whatever had been on the screen in the last few seconds before the power had cut he’d been fighting pretty much non stop. Yurii Serikbekev shouldered his rifle and squeezed off another round at a well dressed man with his face missing and that flickering light blazing from the hole where it had been. The creature had dragged a civilian into the air and you could barely see the limp figure in its grip through what was crawling over him. There was a click, and Yurii cursed. He was running out of bullets. He pulled his knife from its sheath and checked the edge. What he needed to do was find transport. There was nothing left for anyone in this ruin of a city. Serikbekev peered over the top of the wall.

‘Army headquarters.’

There had to be a car park there, somewhere he might find keys, not to mention the answers to a few questions. But he’d only gotten a few meters inside the  entrance before he started to regret the decision. The place looked worse than outside.

‘Looks like they fought,’ muttered Yurii.

He didn’t see any people until he reached the cafeteria.

‘There you are.’

Yurii made sure he was quiet, fast he might be, but there was no way he was going to clear the place armed only with a knife. The men and women were gathered round one of the creatures he’d seen feeding off them elsewhere. Although now it looked the other way round. The cafeteria had an outside area and they’d drawn up around it as they stared goggle eyed at the images in the torrent shooting from its head. Serikbekev watched the busy mouths and lips that opened and closed in the column rising towards the heavens. If there was meaning in there you couldn’t hear it, but his skin crawled as if he didn’t have to hear words to know what it all meant.

Yurri waited, watching, hardly daring to breathe and when he saw his opportunity he lunged.

The nearest of the audience’s feet hammered against the floor as he dragged her into the shadows, but it didn’t break her trance.

‘I’m sorry…really,’ said Yurii.

One look at her told you he was right to be concerned the woman’s eyes were so wide they looked like they’d burst and most of what was visible was veins and capillaries that were never supposed to see the light of day.

‘Say something, anything. Are you all right? How long have you been sat there?’

Silence.

Yurii looked at the crowd round the figure with the cracks in its head and slotted one of his last bullets into his gun. The bang when it went off didn’t even make them flinch. The crowd just stared at the empty shell stretched in front of them and followed the end of the column of pallid light as it snapped into the clouds like a rubber band had been cut.

‘Come with me.’

Yurii couldn’t do anything for the others, and it looked like the woman in her office clothes was long past hearing, but he pulled her with him anyway. Her feet kicked a path through the rubbish and he wondered if he was hurting her, he hoped so – it might wake her up.

(to be continued)

 

 

Pt. 23

 

Yurii dropped the barrel of his gun an inch or two and tried to move his sweating finger on the trigger. It must have cramped up as he stared at the hole he’d used to escape. A scream tumbled over the rubble until it reached the man crouched in the shadows and Yurii Serikbekev began to move. That thing outside might not be coming after him but what about when it had finished with the others? He slid over the broken concrete listening to shards sink in unseen water and cursed every noise they made. That man with the light like washed out static spilling from his head might have been human once, but not anymore.

‘Need to find a signal out of here, people need to see what’s happening,’ said Yurii to himself.

He wasn’t sure how much good that would be. The internet was the best way he could think of spreading news and that was already full of half baked lunatics. Each theory crazier than the last as their advocates waved badly photoshopped ‘evidence’ at the camera.

‘What else am I supposed to do?’

Yurii thought of NATO’s armies, the fields of matt grey aircraft that should be flying to their rescue, and scanned the sky through broken windows.

‘Empty.’

He’d begun to reach room after room of abandoned possessions. The last had the remains of someone’s personal computer set up. Serikbekev sat himself down, lighting the workstation with a lamp that looked out of place amongst the debris from the missiles he leaned forwards.

‘Please, no password.’

Yurii breathed a little easier when nothing came up but a frown grew quickly as rows of incomprehensible jargon scrolled across the screen. When it stopped it was on a picture of a man sat hunched over a computer screen, dressed in combats. Yurii paused, just long enough to grab his rifle and then he was rolling out of the seat expecting a bullet between the shoulder blades, or a knife in his guts.

‘Who’s there?’

He scanned the damage through his gun sight, but all he could see were half choked corridors and doors leading into rooms that looked in an even worse state. He stopped, a red light was blinking at him from under a piece of fallen beam. Yurii was already on his belly, and he began to crawl towards it. He hadn’t gone far before he saw the rubberised track peeking from the rubble. They must have sent in remotes.

‘Broken,’ said Yurii.

‘No, not broken.’

Yurii spun round, the voice was coming from the computers speakers.

‘Who are you?’

Yurri was looking at a view from underwater, there were even tiny swirls of sediment as something stirred the current where he couldn’t see.

‘A visitor that’s got locked out. You’ve met some of my servants.’

‘Locked out of where?’

The dirt stirring at the bottom of whatever lake or sea Yurii was looking at shot in all directions as the voices owner surged forward. Yurii caught a glimpse of tentacles as the underwater camera was picked up and then he was staring at an eye so vast the iris looked like the night sky.

‘You’re world Serikbekev, and I want in.’

The image shook for a moment and then the screen went dark. Yurri leant back in the chair he couldn’t even remember sitting in as another plume spat against the clouds outside.

‘Problems, always problems.’

Serikbekev checked the magazine of his gun. He had a feeling he’d be needing it.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 22

 

The road looked like it had been punched, not built, through the building’s that surrounded it. Blast waves had travelled in its wake too taking down retaining walls and roofs until the neighbourhood looked like it was ready to collapse. Yurii Serikbekev stopped and listened for sounds of fighting before chambering a round. It might be quiet, but that didn’t mean there were no people, and whatever was making the columns of light he could see rising toward the heavens had to be using some pretty heavy ordinance. It was bound to be protected.

He was sliding past the remains of cars on the side of the road when he saw the first of them.

‘Stop…where are you going?’

But if the figures running past heard him they gave no sign of it. Heads down, arms pumping, the only thing on their mind was putting as much distance between them and the corner they’d sped round. Yurii was tempted to shoot over their backs but he had a feeling he was going to need the bullets. Instead he grabbed a handful of mouldering cloth and dragged the nearest to a halt.

‘What’s going on? Since when did the city end up like this?’

His prisoner was dressed in tatters, and it looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. For a moment Yurii thought the man was going to attack, and he brought his gun up till it’s muzzle was pointing at his face.

The runner blinked a few times, ‘What do you mean? Months…weeks….I don’t know anymore, none of us do. The clocks stopped ages ago. The same time those things started appearing.’

The man pointed at the columns of light flickering on the horizon. He wasn’t finished either as he struggled in Yurii’s grip and his eyes flicked toward the end of the street. As Yurii watched one of the crowd slipped and fell. No one stopped to help them.

‘What is it you’re running from?’ said Yurri.

For a moment the man with dirt all over his face and the remnants of what might once have been an army uniform stared at Serikbekev.

‘You mean you haven’t seen them?’

‘What?

The man’s eyes went so wide then they looked like they would burst.’

‘Them.’

Yurii was left holding a scrap of ragged cloth as the sound of stampeding footsteps filled the air. The rest of the crowd had arrived; not one of them paused as they sped past.

His feet backed up a little as he scanned the rubble.

‘Ah.’

The thing at the end of the street was far enough away not to have noticed him yet as it tore the spine from one of the fleeing citizens, and threw it in the air like it was chucking a stick for a dog. The next to receive its attention earned a blow to the head that sent it flying from its owners shoulders.

Serikbekev watched the light flickering from the cracks in the things skull. It reminded him of looking through a window at night, and there was movement in there, like something was alive inside. He could see faces too. Their mouths opening and closing too fast as they bit words from the air and rose toward the sky. He didn’t bother trying to shoot. Whatever could survive having its ribs pulled from its back and that sort of damage to its skull wasn’t going to be stopped by a bullet.

The nearest empty building yawned invitingly, and Yurii ducked inside.

(to be continued)

 

Pt.21

 

The seats went way back, so far that the figures in the last rows are barely visible in the light flickering through the rents in the man’s scalp. Voices lap the round eyed audience as what’s left of one of their bureaucrats lets them feel the benefit of his new knowledge. The cogs and gears of governance are at work, waves of newscast wash through the crowd – a shame none of it’s true.

‘You will do it’

The man with the bone splayed from his back doesn’t really expect an answer. That had been robbed from the watching figures long ago, lost in the flood of information flowing through them, every sentence and sound bite mixed and remastered to meet the needs of the thing sitting in Moscow. One of the images flickering in the air blurs for a moment as something that looks like a serpents eye appears in the camera’s lens. Then it returns to what it had been showing and the octopus resumes crawling through its prison.

‘It must spread, it must become a part of how they think. The reaction must be guaranteed,’ says the voice using the secretary as its mouthpiece.

He’d seen what was to come, his new master had made sure of that, and the sight had nearly taken the life from him. The secretary had spent days in his office until even the sound of fighting in the streets outside had dulled as his ears had filled with screams that numbered in their millions.

He glances across the city, out there were other spots of sickly light in the broken windows, other meetings being held with the survivors that had crawled from the ruins. As he watched one flared as the streams spreading from the East surged around it. There are new reporting arcs spliced on to the ends of western propaganda now, new actors in the constant dramas filling the news feeds of the cultures lapping against Russia’s borders.

The clouds glow briefly absorbing what had burst from the ruins.

‘You should go now,’ says the secretary and cocks his head as if he’s listening to something. His audiences eyes follow the movement, the flashes of white in the darkness look like marble.

‘There are still other’s who need to know.’

For a moment the secretary fancied he could hear waves. It had been the sea that had brought the new power to the throne in Moscow, the one that used the President like a puppet and had let its dreams enter his servants heads.

Outside the auditorium, the sky flickers again as his brothers recruit more followers to their cause.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 20

 

The walls are washed in the dull silver spilling from the monitors screen, like the rooms decorators had used ashes instead of paint. The Secretary had been watching the show for a long time now, so long he couldn’t remember exactly what it was about, or how it had started. There’d been trouble he remembered that much when he could be bothered to think.

The man at the desk looked as shattered as the pictures on the walls. His head was knocked back so far he was staring at the ceiling and his cheeks had the sunken look of a sick man. Even his skin was the black colour of gone off meat. The phone rang as snow blew through what was left of his office window covering the drifts of paperwork that had spilled from the cabinets.

‘Yes?’

The corpse moved and beneath the half shut eyelids there was the glimmer of something that might have been life as broken radio waves filled the room. An observor would have clapped their hands over their ears as what was left of the light in the man’s eyes went out, and his ribs began to pop, arches of bone springing open like the vaults of a church. Soon the secretary looked like an eagle, his ribcage splayed wide like he was about to take off and still the work wasn’t done. A voice was crawling through the hissing filling the room, more than one voice.

‘3000 dead…fall back…hold…incoming.’

The man’s fingers fluttered on the table, his bone wings rattling as the voice was joined by another and another.

‘Yesterday at ten o’clock….’

‘The rise of the extreme right wing…’

‘Come in….come in…casualty report….riots have broken out.’

‘No one will help you.’

His eyes shot open at the last.

‘Tell them no retreat,’ the voice wasn’t his own even if it came from his mouth. It sounded like every signal travelling down the fibre optics had been caught at once. He began to twitch and spasm until they became so bad his head banged against the wall like the inmate of a mental asylum and his mouth cracked wide. A blaze of static met the ceiling as his skull began to split. Now the light that had bathed the room was spilling from the cracks running through his cranium as well. Outside the storm blew hard enough to shake the splinters of glass in their frame, and he got up, his ribs scraping gouges in the plaster.

There was work to be done. He’d find the rats hiding amongst the ruins, wherever they’d gone to ground. It was just there was so little time to do it in.

The Secretary of Defence and National Security turned to leave.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 19

 

 

He could hear the hiss of steam behind him as he dodged another branch stuck like a spear at eye level. Whatever had blown back there amongst the array it was a hell of a lot more than girders and beams.

Serikbekev jinked sideways as a rabbit came flying past. It wouldn’t be long now before he’d be at the clearing with the bodies. He could already see the silhouette of the statue up ahead.

‘We told you,’ said the kid at the top.

‘Yeah, told you you’re playing with fire,’ said the second down as the storm behind Yurii became so thick you could barely see what lay within it.

‘You didn’t listen.’

‘Your sort never do.’

Yurii risked a look back over his shoulder. They weren’t joking. The ring of flames was higher than the treetops, something that belonged to a circus trick not a wood in winter. There was a snap and this time he didn’t catch a look at the animal that blundered past before he was face down in the snow. At first he thought the howls of rage were the masts collapsing. But as they came closer he realised what they were.

‘We didn’t sign up for this,’ said the kid.

‘They said we just had to guard the border like before when we were Kings,’ came from the head supporting him.

The statue’s voices dissolved into whimpering’s as it rocked from side to side. Before long it was being dragged toward the ring of fire sat at the heart of the destroyed aerials along with everything else not nailed down, including Serikbekev.

The last thing he saw of them was the child. The four figures that had made up the totem had become separated and it was scrabbling through the dirt as though it could stop its progress toward the hole.

‘Please you’ve got to help us,’ it screamed.

But Yurii was too busy saving his own skin, more importantly keeping it on his back. The vortex that had opened in the flames was hungry enough to uproot trees and he could feel it dragging at his face like he was in a jet plane. If he’d been any closer he’d have tumbled in along with the rest of the forest it was swallowing. A tongue of flame licked out and wrapped itself around the statue and there was noise like a grenade going off.

Yurri listened to the silence as his ears stopped ringing and then a second much louder snap came as whatever had kept that hole open was snatched back into the depths he’d glimpsed at its centre. The blast wave flatted him and it was long moments before he could do much more than stare at the whirling snowflakes as they spat from the sky.

When he got up there was no sign of anything except scrap metal from the explosion.

‘It’s going to be a long walk,’ said Serikbekev as he dragged himself out of the clearing, wincing at the pain from damaged limbs.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 18

 

Darkness had fallen by the time it was finished. Yurii Serikbekev blinked eyes that were filled with broadcasts, rinsed clean by static, and tried to quiet the humming in his head. That was what was headed Westwards, that was what was really riding on the backs of the outrunners they’d sent down the river. He wondered how much misinformation existed inside them or if the thing he’d seen suck the data out of the air like it was squeezing an orange had a monopoly on fake news.

He kicked the body by his feet. The scientist had died hours ago but he wanted to be sure. Yurii didn’t want anything interfering with his work as he laid the first charges he’d found by the man’s side.

‘Lucky.’

He didn’t know where the thing had gone, only that the facility had quietened again now and his head felt like it had been emptied too. As though any thoughts he’d held inside had been stolen. If it could make its own creators shoot themselves it didn’t say much for the chances of the people out there beyond the forest.

But that wasn’t what was really worrying him.

‘How long has this been going on? How far has it gotten into the state? How much was it responsible for the conflict?’

He finished moulding plastic explosive onto one of the larger pylons struts. It would come down he hoped, one after the other like blowing windmills on a plain. But would that stop the thing that spread what they caught? Where would it go next? He thought of the TV stations in the cities, the radio shows, and internet connections.

‘Plenty of people in the towns, plenty of hosts.’

Yurii jogged for the trees eaves, sighted down the barrel of his gun.

‘Plenty of targets.’

The first bullet plowed into the snow. Yurii frowned, the second hit home. He was tempted to hang around and enjoy the heat. It wouldn’t last long, there was precious little to burn if the trees didn’t catch fire. But he had a feeling that would be suicide. Whoever had built the array, and woken those statues in the forest they’d come looking soon, if they weren’t already on their way.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 17

 

The array marched into the distance over the treetops like the skeletons of metal fish leaping over waves of green foliage. Yurii Serikbekev closed his eyes and tried to imagine what else was flying overhead; what the multitude of satellite dishes and receivers were picking up.

‘There.’

Up ahead a shadow had curled through the trees, and his nose wrinkled. The air tasted rank and there was the flicker of ribs as pale as the snow. Whatever the thing was that had fed on the body of the man in the clearing it was nearly at the base of the first pylons.

Serikbekev’s skin crawled, and there was a thumping at his temples. When he came to the first signs with ‘No Admittance’ he didn’t pause. If he stepped on a landmine he was dead anyway, and he needed to know what lay at the heart of this place.

‘You…Stoi.’

The voice had come from a figure in the torn remnants of a bio suit that had collapsed between the trees, but they hadn’t let go of the gun in their hands, and it was aimed at Yurii.

‘What is this place?’ said Serikbekev.

‘That’s restricted information…just get me out of here.’

Yurii thought fast. The man on the ground was dreaming if he thought he was going to take him anywhere. He wasn’t far off death as it was.

‘Of course, of course, my friend,’ Yurii smiled, ‘but why are you in such a state? This is a government facility isn’t it? Isn’t there back up coming?’

The figure on the ground spat something that glistened into the snow.

‘There is no back up against that.’ The rifle’s barrel twitched in the arrays direction. ‘You can’t kill it. It will just find another host and fill that too.’

‘Host?’

‘Vessel would be a better word. It’s designed to sow as much confusion as it can.’

Serikebekev was beginning to see other shapes between the trees. It looked like there’d been a battle. His eyes cleared. The men and women in the drifts had used there guns on themselves.

‘Why are you still alive?’ Yurii asked the man.

‘I built it,’ the figure’s hand tapped an ID tag on its suit, ‘it needed to know how to download.’

‘Built what?’

‘The array,’ there was coughing and blood flecked the interior of his faceplate. ‘What we use to distill and control it.’

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 16

 

Serikbekev caught a glimpse of movement at the clearing’s edge, then it was gone.

‘Told you,’ said the child. Mind you it was quicker this time. They must be getting better at sieving out what they want.’

‘It’ll need to find a home though and fast,’ that was the man crouched underneath and the rest of the statue wasn’t quiet either.

‘Always does, lucky there’s still one all ready for it.’

‘He still alive then?’

There was silence and Serikbekev thought he could see what the statues meant. He’d thought the clearing was carpeted with corpses, but there was at least one that was still moving.

‘Stay and help Yurii, or run and hide?’ the child’s whisper sound like it was in his ear and the tree tops knocked together as a wind travelled through them.

Yurii took a step forward; before that movement at the clearing’s edge stopped him again.

‘You could always take his place Yurii,’ said the child.

‘Yeah you’re in much better condition, than that poor sod,’ said the statues old man.

Yurii’s feet were already moving back over themselves though. He wasn’t running, not yet, but it would wouldn’t be long and when he saw what had come for the man on the ground he nearly broke. It looked like a whirlwind: a biblical tower of smoke filled with flashing teeth and talloned hands. When the man saw it he had just enough time to fling his arms up before it got to work. Yurii had never seen someone unpeeled so fast, but when he’d expected it be over and the screaming to stop it didn’t. Instead the smoke crawled under his ribs until his whole chest looked on fire…and then it got up.

Serikbekev realised what he was looking at.

‘Its the thing from the city.’

The creature that had emerged from the carnage all those days ago, paused, sniffing the air and for a moment Yurii felt his skin freeze. Maybe it knew he was near; and there was no building it had to climb between him and it this time. But as he watched he realised where it was looking. A barrier made from old radio masts peered over the trees. He’d missed it at first with so many other things on his mind.

Branches twitched and swung back into place. Whatever the figure was hunting today it wasn’t him.

‘That’s not a dimension,’ said Yurri, ‘that’s a monster.’

‘From where Serikbekev? That’s what you’re not asking,’ said the child.

‘There used to a be a lot more,’ said another part of the statue.

‘We used to help keep them down. A bit like vermin really,’ said the head in the middle.

‘But times aren’t what they used to be. You ask me, we should still rule around here,’ the old man sounded like he’d said it a thousand times before.

‘We do, it’s just a bit narrower,’ said the child. ‘It makes it easier to guard the frontier if you ask me.’

‘Wait…where’s he going? Hey, you…Serikbekev. You can’t just walk off.’

They’d all spoken at once and Yurii clapped his hands over his ears. It sounded like a shout.

‘Why not?’ said Yurii over his shoulder instead.

He’d been going to ask them about what had happened to his men but he guessed he already knew the answer.

In front of him the barrier strung across the wind crackled.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 15

 

Serikbekev stopped at the clearing’s edge and tried to see the far side. It looked like their were more bodies carpeting its floor than needles.

‘There’s too many,’ he said under his breath.

It couldn’t just be Yurii’s squad to have ended up in the heaps he could see slumped through the clearing, and as the last of the sunlight shot through the trees he could see what else they’d hidden.

‘A statue?’

There were more parts to it than one though, four figures were perched atop each other. The one at the apex being the youngest of the lot and the one at the bottom kneeling with his head in his hands the eldest, and most obviously decrepit. It looked like they’d been crying although the liquid that covered their cheeks wasn’t water, it was too dark for that. Each one was looking in a different direction and at first, he thought it was the four stations of the compass they were watching. But when he followed their eyes they were all slightly off beam as though what they were looking for it wasn’t going to come from the poles.

‘He’s here,’ said the head at the top.

‘Thought he would be. He’s stubborn. You going to shut up arguing now?’ said the middle.

‘You all owe me money,’ that was from the figure at the bottom. He had an old man’s voice and there was a cackle of glee in it. ‘The ones that lose a loved one never get put off by the forest.’

‘Put it on my tab,’ the head at top of the pile had the features of a child; if you made one from rock. Serikbekev, swallowed. His mouth felt like it was filled with dust and he wondered if he’d been shouting and not realised it.

‘What are you?’

At least the low mist that had filled the gaps between the trees was clearing. He gazed out over the slumped forms of the dead soldiers. It didn’t look like they were confined to one side or the other. The totem answered his question without his asking it.

‘It’s not us,’ said the child.

‘We swear,’ said the next head down.

‘We’ve told them to stop, but they won’t listen,’ that was the old man.

‘Like how it feels too much. I can relate to that.’ It was the child at the top again and it had a smile on its face, as Serikbekev watched its tongue reached out and lapped a bloody tear from under its eye. ‘They bring them, they leave them. It does the rest. Helps us see too, so you can’t complain. Gives us plenty of time to tell them it’s coming.’

‘What? What’s coming?’

Serikbvekev screamed, he’d been wandering in circles going out of his mind and now this. One hand went down to his belt. He’d lobbed a few grenades at shadows already, but there were some left.

‘Wouldn’t do that Yurii.’

‘No wouldn’t do that,’ said the old man.

‘We’re the watchers.’

‘Been doing it a long long time.’

‘Longer than you think. Dimensions are hard to spot.’

Dimensions?’ said Yurii Serikbekev as something howled in the forest’s depths.

‘Yeah, you’re squad sounded a bit like you when we told them too.’

Yurii clapped his hands over his ears but that howl wasn’t passing through any ear canal it was echoing in his head, ‘What..what….IS…that?’

(to be continued)

 

 

Pt. 14

 

Yurii’s friends had been,

The gunfire and rattle,

Of politicians lies,

But the fighting,

Had taken them,

And he wondered how quick,

It had been in the end,

 

If they’d fought,

Tooth and nail,

Sharpened spade and gun,

So they could go back to their wives,

And most of all,

He tried to forget,

Her,

 

He’d stolen a kiss once,

In the light from a burning car,

And spent day’s making plans,

Until they’d stepped too far,

And the governments thugs,

Had made their point,

With every hammer blow of their clubs,

 

It’s dangerous to dream,

And the thing he lost,

Was the girl he loved,

Serikbekev closed his eyes,

Hung his head in shame,

Because all that sat behind them now,

Was blood,

 

There was a crack,

In the world,

Somewhere he didn’t want to find,

That swallowed men and their futures,

 

And if the dead sat behind it now,

Maybe one day,

He’d see her face there too.

 

Pt. 13

 

Yurii’s hands were wet. He brings them to his eyes but he can barely see a thing in the gloom, and when he cocks his head he can hear nothing. The noises have stopped now, only that bitter iron tang is left in the air. Yurii cleans the knife on the arm of his jacket and thrusts it back into its holster. They hadn’t expected that when they’d taken his gun from him. He took a step, and kicked something that groaned.

‘Still alive Tovarisch? That’s unlucky. You seen the state of the hospitals these days?’

A curse bubbles up from what’s left of the man on the ground, and Yurii kneels down. If he was alive there’d be information that could be taken in return for a cleaner death. But as he bends toward the wounded figure and thinks about getting his knife out he realises the man hadn’t been cursing at him. He was too far gone for that, even in the darkness Yurii could see that. The figure was looking at a shrine.

‘Cursing God? Right at the end too? He’s not going to look kindly on that.’

Yurii got up, and the humour left his voice.

He was looking at kids, picture after picture tacked to the wall, and the shelf in front of them was stacked with candles. Most of them had gone out, but there was one or two left, enough to provide illumination for their owner’s sons and daughters. They were in what was left of the teachers school.

‘Never said it was full at the time did you?’

‘Full?’ said the man on the ground. ‘It was a feast day, whole families were here.’

Yurii was beginning to realise who the bloody mess on the flags was. He’d thought the teacher had been one of the first to go, but there he was flattened against the wall he’d crawled to with one hand round his guts.

‘You’re still with us? Looks like your trap didn’t work.’

‘No trap, didn’t plan it like that. I wanted to see what would happen when I led a militia man to where they were grieving. Whether the loss of their loved ones makes much difference to which side they support.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Who do you think dropped the bomb? It was us, the rebels. They do it because it makes good news.’

‘You can’t know that. They fire from miles away.’

There was the choked sound of someone trying not to laugh.

‘Normally, I’d agree with you, but this time we’ve got a witness. One of our own came back after his time with the “little green men”. He had quite a lot to say.

Yurii watched the teacher’s eyes in the darkness for a minute…and then used his knife.

After that Yurii didn’t pay much attention to where he was. He had a vague idea that he needed to find the others. Not to tell them what he’d seen and heard, but to find some comfort in what they had to say. He wanted to hear talk about football, and food, and what they we’re going to do to with their women when they eventually caught up with them. Most of all Yurii wanted to drag as much clean air into his lungs as possible. There must have been fifty kids on that wall, fifty that he’d counted anyway before he’d broken.

When he does find their position Yurii nearly shouts for joy, but he manages to stop himself at the last minute. Making  a lot of noise approaching people on the front line was a sure way to catch a bullet between the teeth. But the day’s not finished with surprises. The place’s is emptier than a ghost ship, right down to the coffee boiling on the stove. It’s like the men have been swallowed by the forest pressing in all around.

‘Bodhan? Ilya?’

There’s not even hear the sound of snipers in the distance.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 12

 

They sent him to the front for a long time after the incident with the girl, and Yurii had no complaints on the matter. Out where the snow drifted across the roads as soon as your back was turned his worries were halved and that niggling voice at the back of his head silenced. Whatever was beginning to spread across the West it wasn’t his problem. What was down to him was exacting as much revenge as he could on the men that wanted to destroy his home.

Smoke whipped away from the end of his gun and he saw the figure in its sights jerk and crumple to its knees.

‘Should pick your hiding places better Tovarisch.’

Yurii packed his gear away as quickly as his frozen hands would allow, right down to the last spent cartridge case. He didn’t see any reason to give the enemy clues as to who was stalking them. If he was lucky they’d think it was just another disgruntled local upset at the rape of his daughter, or the theft of his crops. Yurii bent double and fled through the ruins. He still needed to find somewhere to hole up for the night where he could light a fire.

‘Hssst…soldier. You come with me. I’ll see you right. I know where your group is.’

The newcomer was the same shape as one of the buildings nearby and looked in about the same state of repair, But as the light hit them he realised that once upon a time the old man must have been as strong as an ox despite the lines round his eyes.

‘Who are you?’

‘A teacher, I was head of the local school until they dropped a bomb on it. We need to get out of here. They’ll be after you already, you’ve been killing too many of their troops.’

‘They don’t even know it’s me.’

‘Yes, they do, you don’t think they’re chasing you but that’s because you can’t see what’s doing the watching.’

The old man pointed skywards with an odd expression on his face halfway between fear and anger. ‘There’s so much junk flying around up there I sometimes wonder why it doesn’t crash into each other. Now come with me, there’s something you should see.’

With that, he turned and crawled through a shell hole in the wall.

Yurii watched the empty space for a moment as he listened to the first artillery open up. He wanted, needed, another atrocity to mark down with the rest otherwise he might not get up in the morning.

‘Fine, but you’re up and gone at the first sign of trouble remember Yurii,’ he muttered under his breath.

He found the old man two streets over holding the panel up on a building. The owners must have spent some time securing before they ran from the fighting. But the boards would have been more effective if there hadn’t been a gaping hole in place of a roof.

‘Through here, we’ll go to ground in the factory.’

‘You say you know where my group is? How are they?’

‘Oh fine, fine,’ said the old man as he squeezed his way through the gap. ‘One of them stepped on a landmine, got himself blow up, but apart from that casualties have been pretty light considering.’

‘Considering.’

‘Yeah,’ his eyes blinked back at Serikbekev from the buildings shadows, ‘considering what we’re going to do to them.’

Yurii had been getting used to the lack of light, but it still wasn’t enough to save him from the blow that came slamming into his temple.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 11

 

Somewhere out there it was dawn, you could tell by the light leaking through the blood stains on the window. Yurii Serikbekev leaned closer to the observation slit but it was no use he might as well have been trying to see through mud. He didn’t mind though, whatever had happened was over. He’d heard the last victim’s sobs before they were torn apart as he’d finally given up trying to stay awake and let sleep claim him.

‘I’m getting fed up of this.’

Serikbekev stood up and strode to the door.

‘What are you doing?’ said the doctor. ‘Security will be here in a moment.’

Yurii  ignored the man he didn’t need to hang about for a bunch of conscripts who thought they were on holiday from their mother land.

‘Send them in after me then. I want to see what its done.’

‘You mean she.’

‘It.’

Yuriii beckoned the doctor over, ‘Lock me in Ok? You don’t want it running around inside here.’

The gap widened as he finished unlocking the doors mechanism and there was a slap as an arm slid through. It wasn’t attached to anything.

‘Serikbekev…’

‘Stay here, I don’t need to watch your back as well as my own.’

There was a feeling in the air as though it was trying to press down on you as he stepped through. Yurii sniffed, he could smell the blood and filth you got when terrified people found there was a lot more to death than they bargained for. He kicked the arm away.

The first thing he saw was the girl. She was sat against the wall with her hands folded in front of her like she’d thought about praying and given up. He wondered if she knew how. When she’d spat at him in the meat locker she hadn’t looked the type.

‘Where?’

She didn’t need to be asked what he meant. One long arm raised itself from her side and he saw what it was she’d been hiding. The child was crouched next to her. She’d had her in a headlock, jammed in the corner of her arm like a scissor jack. The girl with the struts rammed through her skin like she’d broken every bone in her body, was smiling. She shouldn’t have been able to move with that much metal sewn through her, but she had. He’d seen her before but the fountains erupting from her victims had washed the view from site until all he’d been able to do was listen.

At first he didn’t understand.

‘She would have killed you.’

There was a nod, a tired one, and a thin hand pushed hair out of the woman’s eyes. ‘She could have, but its not what she wanted. She wanted the pain to stop.’ Her gaze took in the facility, the pieces of men scattered over the tiles, and the shadow hiding behind the shower of gore on the observation ports glass.

‘There are easier ways,’ his finger patted the gun in his fist.

‘None that she trusted not to make it worse, particularly from you.’

Yurii supposed she had a point. It was them that had turned her into what she’d ended her days as. Who knows, maybe a bullet would have crippled her, left her with a thirst and no chance of feeding it.

‘Were they…?’

‘The woman nods, ‘We all are Yurii Serikbekev, the whole fucking countryside. They want it empty, they always do.’

For a fleeting moment Yurii has to stop himself from taking a step back but he doesn’t move, instead he says:

‘You know what I have to do. It will be easier like this, the others will only make it worse, a lot worse.’

‘I do, get on with it.’

The echo’s have finished bouncing round the exercise yard when the door slams back a second time and backup charges through. It looks like none of the men missed their steroid intake for breakfast. Yurii ignores the insults spitting into his face.

‘Just a kid, that’s all she was, both of them.’

His gun makes a sad clatter as it hits the tiles and his feet leave bloody footprints in their wake as he leaves.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 10

 

The back of the truck hit the facility’s side entrance with a thud. They didn’t take chances anymore, not after the last escapee.

‘How long?’ said Serikebekev.

The doctor shrugged, ‘I don’t know it depends which one she likes.’

‘What does that mean? You told me…’

‘It means she kills them quick. She can smell the chemicals we used through brick walls.’

Serikbekev thought again about telling him who else they had in the group, but he knew what that would mean for her. Besides if the Russians were so desperate to get their quotas filled he didn’t see why they couldn’t do it themselves. The woods round here were supposed to be full of the ‘little green men’ that had come across the border.

‘Here they are,’ the doctor pointed at the back of the truck. They’d reversed it with the doors hooked open. Yurii supposed you might manage to cram yourself through the gap between vehicle and lintel, but with what was lined up on the tarmac outside there wouldn’t be much point. That left the exercise yard and the little figure crouched at its center. It wouldn’t have seemed all that threatening if he hadn’t seen what happened to the earlier lot, and most of them had been healthy. He wondered how many of them would have breakdowns later.

One of the trucks cargo was looking at the girl and back at the observation slit like he’d seen it all before. It wouldn’t have surprised Yurii if he had, they’d got them from a military hospital after all. In the twilight countries that were one step away from being labeled ‘failed,’ they had a monopoly on all sorts of interesting experiments both sides of the East-West divide.

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Not what we want.’

The man had waved the rest of the group back and was shaking his head. It looked like they were going to leave the girl alone. Serikbekev didn’t blame them, and they hadn’t seen her up close yet. Not that it would do them much good…when she was finished with what she had she’d start again.

‘Jesus,’ Serikbekev looks away for a moment. When he brought his attention back the group had sat down as far from the star of the show as possible. Yurii could feel their eyes watching him even through the mirrored glass.

‘We wait then.’

‘We wait.’

Serikbekev’s head snapped up so hard it the concrete behind him, and he rubbed the back of his head vaguely surprised his fingers didn’t come away wet. There’d been a sound. There it was again – the sound of…running?

He got up and walked to the glass. The doctors still there slumped in the corner. The sun must have gone down hours ago and he can barely see a thing beyond the observation slit. The sound comes again. It is running, and it’s more than one person. The first scream has barely reached his ears before a face is slammed against the glass and a foot erupts from their mouth. It’s the man he’d seen earlier. Serikebekev watches his eyes go bloodshot and cross as the foot’s withdrawn with a pop and he slumps to the floor. Serikbekev’s glad he can’t see the rest. It’s bad enough that he can hear. He claps his hands over his ears and bows his head between his knees as he listens.

‘Russian engineering, nothing like it.’

His fingers follow the scars on his face as he listens to the tool they’d made go about it’s work, and wonders how long the mess will take to clean up.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 9

 

The barrages started up as soon as it got dark, but it was before dawn when things really heated up. It was as if the enemy’s gun crews wanted to give the rebels something they could think about during the day when the international observer’s eye’s were on the security zone, and the fighting had quietened.

Air screeched over a row of bottle mouth’s and the night lit up with fireworks. The men huddled in the trench watched them fall to the earth with their hands over their ears.

‘I’m glad I’m not under that lot tonight,’ said one of the soldiers.

‘Probably nothing there anyway,’ his comrade replied. ‘You know what they’re like, they’ve been bombing farmhouses for the last week.’

‘You think?’ Serikbekev had appeared from a nearby building rolling into the trench in a cloud of dirt. He paused and brushed himself down, ‘their intelligence has been getting better. Even command was hit last night.’

‘How’d you know that? We’ve only just got back from them.’

Serikbekev smiled, it didn’t take a genius to work out what the roll of impact flares meant. But it was a good idea to keep just how much he was guessing to himself.

‘What have we got anyway?’ he said instead.

‘Well,’ the trench flooded with light as a match was lit and the smell of cigarette smoke filled the air, ‘there’s ten left.’

‘What happened to the other two?’

‘Why’d you care?’ there was a cough and the light went out. ‘They were kicking up too much of a fuss, Grigor put them down.’

Serikbekev shrugged, the captives welfare came second to the men that helped keep him alive. Besides the prisoners wouldn’t be their responsibility much longer, all they had to do was get them to the research facility in reasonably good condition.

‘Where’d you put them?’

‘In the meat locker, it’s the only place with a metal door.’

‘Probably warmer than anywhere else inside with the power gone. Let’s have a look.’

When they brought torches up and had got the babbling prisoners to shut up with a few well-aimed rifle blows. Serikbekev counted heads and massaged his knuckles, ‘What is she doing here?’

‘What do you mean?’ said Bohdan. He’d been guarding the door and now he stuck his head inside to see what Serikbekev meant.

‘Didn’t you hear me? I said no women.’

‘Ah, come on, she’s not a woman, not really. Look at her.’

The girl bared her teeth and hissed before spit landed on Bohdan’s face. He wiped it off with the back of his hand and sent her sprawling with a kick.

‘You want I should give her to the men?’

‘No,’ Serikbekev paused, he wasn’t sure he was doing her a favor. ‘We’ve got her now. She’s for the doctor same as the rest. He’ll need as many as he can get.’

(to be continued)

 

Pt.  8

 

‘How many?’

Bohdan hissed through the cellar’s darkness. The last mortar round to go off had taken the room’s electrics with it.

‘A dozen or so,’ said Serikbekev.

‘Then why don’t they come themselves? Don’t they realise we’re going to have to walk her out of here? The trucks got a hole the size of my fist in its radiator, and that’s just in one place. What are they planning on doing with her?’

‘Target acquisition, they want to see if she can spot friend from foe.’

‘Not judging by that last lot.’

They’d all seen the video of that, all the original members of the militia anyway. Serikbekev had been returned to his unit once they’d finally gotten the situation under control. He didn’t like to remember how hard that had been, and there was no calling for Russian support. Their allies were as likely to bomb the militia members as help them with the kid loose.

‘Then let’s get it over with. It’s worse at night,’ said Bohdan. He was one of the oldest members of the militia. During the protests, he’d been the voice of sanity when the going had gotten tough enough to have them whimpering. They could have broken and crept back to their neighborhoods, but the old man had reminded them what would happen after that.

‘You show you’re trouble it won’t be long until they come make sure you aren’t.’

No one had asked exactly who then, they’d been too busy coughing tear gas and dodging batons. But you got to wondering later.

‘Shouldn’t have joined up then grandpa.’ Seikbekev grinned and spoke into his radio as the night began to swallow his men one by one. There was a pool the factory mechanics were running on the life expectancy of each squad sent into the zone. He fingered the few notes he had in his pocket and wondered how much he should put down.

‘Bohdan?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Go carefully tonight, let’s bring as many back as we can.’

‘Always, Yurii.’

There was a thunk as the old man’s fist met his helmet, ‘always.’

 

Pt. 7

 

‘That her?’

‘Yeah, that’s our insurance policy. Doesn’t look like much does she?’

Serikbekev and the man in the doctor’s whites turned back to the narrow concrete aperture and the kid crouched on the ground outside. It had started to snow and fat flakes of dirty white drifted down from the yard’s sky.

‘You ever had an escape from here?’ Serikbekev pointed at the high walls topped with razor wire. There was even a steel mesh strung overhead. He already knew the answer, but he wanted to be sure.

‘No, never, this is a secure facility. The Ukrainians even left us the key’s. The Russian’s did the rest.’

It was a good lie, except it had been Serikbekev and his men who’d dealt with the bodies. The Ukrainians hadn’t exactly left them the keys, people who weren’t breathing anymore didn’t have choices left. Ivan must be worse than he’d thought to be putting his faith in this lot. He turned to the doctor.

‘You’re Russian friend said you’ve been manufacturing since this started. What have they told you?’

‘That this is just the beginning of course.’

Serikbekev noticed the man’s fingers were bitten to the quick and there was blood on more than one as he jammed them into his mouth and began to gnaw.

‘The American expansion will be stopped. We’ll roll it back like it’s made of dust.’ The doctor’s glasses flashed in the half light leaking from the thin window. ‘Russia will be born again  like a phoenix rising from the ashes.’

Serikbekev interrupted, he lived in the region, and he’d already heard plenty of crackpots fantasies since the fighting had started. He just wanted to know the capabilities of the tool they’d have to rely on if it all went wrong. ‘When can we use her?’

‘Soon, we have a few adjustments to make first though.’

The doctor produced a small palm head drill and it’s bit made a sound like a cat purring as he pressed the trigger.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 6

 

‘Ivan’s mad, you all know that don’t you?’

Yurii couldn’t see the faces of the other men in the truck but he heard the reply. As far as he was concerned Ivan had earned it well.

‘You got your whole squad killed,’ said a voice from up front. ‘No one’s forgotten that.’

 

They were in the back of a Kamaz that had seen better days, particularly after it had been requisitioned from the Ukrainian army. It lurched as it hit a pothole.

‘What am I supposed to do with recruits like that? You saw the state of them.’

Serikbekev fingered the scar twisting across his cheek, ‘they were kids. They died well, I suppose.’ He shrugged as they left the trees and what was left of the sunlight spread into the vehicle, but he kept his eyes on the man opposite. He wanted to see their reaction.

The youth’s face never moved. Serikbekev should have known. The ones that had been with the rebels from the beginning had gotten old fast. Up until now, they would have been right to say they’d seen it all before.

‘How long do you think we’ll last if we don’t follow him?’ said a man near the tailgate. ‘You think we stand a chance on our own?’

‘I think we’ll win, and we need the Russian’s help for that,’ said Yurii.

But Serikbekev wasn’t so sure as he sounded anymore. He’d been one of the few to make it off the Maidan alive in the last hours when everything had gone to hell, and the Russians loosed their dogs for the first time. He’d thought it was the government who’d made those creatures but after what he’d seen at the river he knew it went way beyond that.

‘I don’t see why we need them, you ask me.’

The man who’d spoken was sat in a corner and most of his face was hidden behind his beard. The rebels had found Ilya in the deep woods, or rather he’d found them. He’d marched from the trees eaves with a deer carcass on his back and his shoulders slung with bullets.

‘This was supposed to be an independent republic we’re setting up.’ said Ilya. ‘How long do you think it’s going to be before things are exactly the same as before?’ He spat on the floor, ‘Always the same the big boys will move in, muscle us out, and before you know it we’re working for them again. What are those things Ivan made anyway?’

It was the most Serikbekev had ever heard Ilya say, but as he watched his eyes gleam he wondered how much else Ilya saw without talking about it.

‘They’re the hungry Ilya, they’re the one’s for whom there’s never enough and the Russians have made sure they’re going to stay that way.’

‘Then we’re fucked. How long do you think it’s going to be before they come back here?’

‘I’m not so sure they will. The Russians put a lot of work into this. Whatever was in those needles they’ll have worked out how to switch it off. Ivan was working with them for years before the conflict started, he’ll know.’

‘Does he?’ said Ilya.

‘Wait,’ Serikbekev settled back as comfortably as he could manage in the rattling truck. ‘We’re on our way to HQ now. They want to see us at the facility. We’ll find out there.’

A shell burst hit the faces of the men sitting on the seats. They were all looking at him.

‘What facility?’ said Ilya for them.

(to be continued)

 

They were using the river as a graveyard by the time he got back. Yurii watched another line of men fall into the water. The waves mercifully taking the mess from the back of their heads from sight.

‘How many?’

‘A few hundred,’ replied Ivan. ‘We got behind them during the night, never even knew what hit them.’

His commander gestured to one of the militia standing nearby, ‘bring that Doctor up.’

‘What do you need a Doctor for? To check they’re dead? If they’re not already then they will be before long. Look at it.’

The river flowing past them and their prisoners had ice floes bobbing on its surface

‘What do you think you brought back for us from your meet Yurii?’

‘I don’t know.’ Yurii shrugged, ‘money, drugs?’

‘Clever boy,’ there was no smile on Ivan’s face. ‘The cash part is wrong,’ said the commander, ‘and the drugs you’re thinking of are nothing like this. Another man stepped forward and Ivan popped the locks on the case he held toward him. There was a row of syringes inside, each one nestling in a bed of foam.

‘Doctor? Give these to the rest.’

Ivan’s hand waved over the syringes as a figure was pushed to the pier’s front. He had to be on the Ukrainian’s side decided Yurii, he was sweating too much to be anything else, and his hands twitched as he took the case.

‘You promise…?’

‘I told you before you want your loved one’s dead, don’t play. It’s up to you.’ Ivan stage managed a yawn the bones in his jaw clicking as he did so. ‘I don’t want any of this spreading nearby so do it right.’

‘Then you better dispose of the bodies quick. It only takes seconds before it starts to work.’

‘Oh don’t worry about that,’ Ivan grinned as he surveyed the fast flowing waters speeding on their way Westwards. ‘We’ve got the best natural drain in all of the East.’

Yurii had seen a lot as they cleared his homeland of the fascists trying to take away his rights. Good friends had died screaming in agony, limbless, and begging for their mothers to take away the pain. He’d watched a man put a gun to his temple and administer the final medication he’d ever need when they’d shown him his feet after a night spent outside, and there’d been more. But what he witnessed then on the pier didn’t belong in any world Yurii knew.

The first of the captives didn’t struggle, that came later as the drug took hold. But as his eyes turned milky white then black the doctor stepped back the colour was draining from him so fast you’d have thought someone had cut holes in his feet.

‘He bit me. Jesus Christ…he bit me.’

The sound of firing pins being drawn back rattled through the air as the men around the little dispatch committee stepped back. They’d barely even started saying farewell to their prisoners and already it was going wrong. Syringes and vials sprayed into the air as the doctor’s hands searched through the box.

They liked to call the assistance they doled out to the combattants, ‘Non lethal military aid.’ But as Yurii watched one of the struggling figures in the water disappear from view and a bloom of red appear on the surface. It didn’t look that non lethal to him.

‘They must have supplied an antidote, come on…where is it?’

The doctor was still muttering to himself when Ivan’s gun barrel found its way onto his neck.

‘Where do you want it? Spine or back of the skull? It’s up to you.’

‘But…’ The doctor never got far as the second word before the retort that launched him into the river split the air.

‘Ditch em,’ said Ivan wiping blood off his face. ‘I’ve seen enough, there’s nothing the idiot was doing we can’t do ourselves.

There was a series of splashes as the river claimed the captives lined up on the jetty. Some of them had begun to thrash.

Yurii watched the figures bob through the water.

‘How long do you think they can swim for?’

Ivan followed his eyes, ‘I’m not sure it matters.’ A head disappeared from view and didn’t resurface. ‘They’ll walk if they have to, just so long as they don’t land round here. Isn’t that right boys? What they’ve got’s not for us.’

There was a round of laughter and the sound of engines starting up as the militia got into their vehicles.

Most of the town’s inhabitants weren’t paying much attention to the fighting going on on the other side of the sea. What their leaders made promises about rarely meant much to the man in the street. After the initial assaults and shell bursts had provided them with the usual pictures to shake their heads on TV nothing much had been reported by the main stream media and they had other concerns on their minds. Certainly when the heads of the first of Ukraine’s front line troops broke the waters surface they didn’t run. Instead they called emergency services thinking they had a disaster on their hands. They were right, but it wasn’t of a kind they could have predicted. The crowd that had gathered watched as one brave soul tried to rescue one of the survivors.

He realised his mistake when the teeth found his arm.

(to  be continued)

 

Pt. 4

When he was inside his radio crackled into life, and Yurii ducked further into the shadows.

‘Come in.’

He had to fight to get his breath under control. What the hell did Ivan want?

‘You might have company,’ the commander’s voice hissed into his ear through waves of static.

‘I thought you said round here was clear.’

‘I did, but we’ve got one of our drones right above you and the surrounding streets are anything but empty.’

‘Then why aren’t they attacking?’

There was silence for a minute.

‘They might not be hungry enough yet.’

Yurii Serikbekev stared at the handset.

‘You do see anything Serikbekev, you run. Ok? Get the drop off and get out. Do not attempt to engage. I repeat do not attempt to engage.’

Yurii turned the radio off and tried to see past wreckage that jumped as rounds dug its way through the scrap.

‘Better get a move on then.’

 

When he got to it the tunnel mouth looked like the entrance to somewhere he’d far rather not go, at least not while he was still breathing. There were stalled cars in front of it and more than one had a crater where its bonnet had been.

‘Nice place.’

But Yurii was beginning to have a few suspicions as to the nature of what was coming. The zone’s inhabitants were stubborn but the shells on either side were empty of even the last families too poor to move.

‘You don’t want to be seen do you?’

When the air filled with the familiar sound of tortured radio waves and the gabble of voices on the edge of hearing Yurii felt sweat trickle down his back. He knew what that was, although the last time he’d seen it he’d been a few stories up.

‘Lieutenant Serikbekev.’

‘Yes.’

Something that looked the same colour as the tunnel’s depths stepped a little further into the light, or at least I tried to. The illumination that reached it slid off its back as if the two didn’t mix.

‘What have you got for me?’ said Serikbekev.

‘Only this,’ an arm waved in the direction of a metal flight case standing on the tarmac. ‘You should be able to carry it on your own.’

‘I’m going to have to aren’t I seeing as my men are dead. Who are you? Spetsnaz? Special Ops?’

‘Neither, although I’ve had a long relationship with both, let’s say I’m part of a movement whose time has come. You’re going to help us issue in a new era.’

‘I am?’

Serikbekev was at the case hefting it off the floor half expecting an explosion. Except, what would be the point? They were allies, weren’t they?

‘Just take it to your commander Yurii Serikbekev. We’ll be seeing each other again soon enough.’

The figure stepped back into the tunnels depths as the enemy’s guns started up again. In the flashes Yurii saw something like one of the corpses in the cars nearby, a lipless mouth and skin charred so black it looked like it would crumble in a gust of wind. Teeth flashed, and it disappeared.

‘I hope not.’

Yurii Serikbekev tucked the case under his arm and loped for the nearest cover before a shell could paint his own silhouette on the wall.

 

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 3

 

‘All of them?’

‘What do you want me to say? They got all of them Ivan, every last one. The weapons were shit, the ammo was worse, and half the men didn’t know how to load it properly. Next time don’t send me out there with thugs and farmers for company.’

The giant crouching under the rafters spat.

‘You got the best we had.’

‘Then we’ve lost already.’

That earned a laugh, although the shell bursts and gunfire soon drowned it out.

‘We haven’t lost Serikbekev. We’re only just beginning. Don’t you realise what’s behind us. The giant flung a thumb over his shoulder. That’s Mother Russia back there and her army, and they’re on our side.’

‘Where?’ said Serikbekev scanning the bunkers corners, ‘I don’t see them.’

‘You haven’t seen the ‘little green men?’

Serikbekev was about to answer and then he thought again. There’d been figures running through all that carnage hadn’t there? They’d come from the spots he’d thought were in the enemy’s hands too. And the government had had plenty of time to overrun Yurii’s position. Nobody let you hang around until after nightfall, it was too easy to reinforce under cover of darkness.

‘Maybe,’ Yurii shrugged. It wasn’t worth arguing as far as Ivan was concerned he was already a general in Russia.

Far more importantly who had been that figure at the end? There’d been a noise in the air like a fingernail dragging down a blackboard, and the way it had moved? The thing had looked like it belonged in traction not walking down the centre of a street.

‘I want you to go out again. They’ve got a drop for us to collect.’

‘A drop?’

‘A game changer,’ the giant grinned, and Serikbekev decided not to ask. There were plenty of gangsters in the conflict and he knew all about their methods of keeping information locked down.

‘Just pick it up.’ Serikbekev felt a slip of paper shoved into his hands. ‘These are the coordinates. There’ll be plenty of time to explain later.’

‘The tunnel?’

‘Where else? There are more drones in the air these days than stars.’

‘Who’s going with me this time? It better not be another load of your six fingered nephews.’

Yurii watched the giants fingers twitch towards his knife, and stop. Everyone knew Yurii’s reputation, he’d made his own luck in the brickyards where he’d murdered his boss, and he’d do it again if he had to.

‘That’s right, you be careful Ivan. You know what I’ll do, Russian black ops or not. Now, how long do I have?’

The bombing was starting again and the mortar rounds were exploding directly overhead. Yurii watched the lamplight swing underneath his commander’s face leaving his eyes in shadow.

‘Up to you Serikbekev, but if you don’t want to see what gives the orders to that thing that came to talk to you and your lad’s I’d advise you to be quick.

(to be continued)

 

Pt. 2

‘Get out of the way.’

Yurii kicked the old man off the machine gun before he scythed through their own men crouched behind the decaying bandstand. Half his squad were farmers, the other half, thugs from the suburbs where the jobless signed up to avoid starving. He’d already shot two of them for looting, and now the rest were beginning to realise the predicament they were in.

‘Where?’

‘Two streets down,’ his second in command continued, ’they’ve brought up an armoured car.’

Yurii sighted down the barrel and saw the snub nose of a Humvee crouched behind a barricade. He’d gotten off two bursts of automatic fire before the sandbags in front erupted and he backed away blinking stone chips and dust from streaming eyes.

‘Yurii, come with me.’

Serikbekev shrugged off the arm on his shoulder and tried to ignore the firing. He needed to find the note of stillness, the quiet that allowed him to think past the shellbursts and shrapnel like they didn’t exist. They said he was a good leader, although he didn’t see it like that, just that there were things that needed doing and he got them done. But it was that stillness that made it possible. When other men couldn’t think for the screams and gunfire Yurii was in his element. It was only then that he felt at peace.

A man punched backwards from the blockade with a wound in place of his face, and Yurii shouted, ‘Fall back, we regroup there.’

His finger stabbed at the rooftop of a Stalinist era office block with windows as narrow as arrowslits, ‘Get on the roof. We’re going to crucify these bastards.’

They were still there, when the sun began to go down.

‘Yurii?’

‘What? You’re not dead yet stop complaining.’

‘Not far off,’ the farmers lips were turning blue, ‘you promise you’ll do it?’

Yurii glanced at the bodies heaped around the ventilation ducts and black painted windows. They were all there, the entire squad, picked off one by one. One of the thugs had left most of himself spread across the roof in a bloody smear. Yurii frowned. His name had been Boris…it was dead Boris now.

‘I’ll do it. I’ll burn you.’

‘You have to, the farmer’s hand grabbed Yurii’s jacket, ‘his eyes looked like they were going to pop from their sockets.

‘You’ve seen what they’re doing. I don’t want to end up like that.’

Yurii’s breath clouded the air. He’d seen them alright, the piles of twitching figures, civilians and soldiers entwined with each other in death. He wondered if the gas was supposed to be the final solution; the answer to the contested zone’s problems. If there were no more people in it there’d be no more fighting would there? The Russians could just roll right in. Whether or not their supporters, the rabid spittle flecked babushkas that had been imported in Stalins time, knew what was being done was another matter.

Smoke twitched below them as a figure ran through its midst.

‘Fucker.’

Bullets spanged off the shattered cobbles, half the street looked like it had been dug up already.

‘Didn’t get him.’

Yurii looked down confused as to why the farmer didn’t answer. But the wounded man was done saying things. He only stared over Yurii’s shoulder as the squad leader shut his eyes. Out of twenty men Yurii Serikbekev was the last left and God alone knew how many were hidden in the smoke below.

He watched the street. He didn’t have long now; night was on its way already. He glanced at the setting sun, night, and the drop in temperature it would bring. Yurii could barely feel his fingers even in their mittens. It wasn’t a good sign, pain meant you were still in with a chance. He’d seen what was left of the victims after they’d had a run in with frostbite before.

‘Who are you then, do you think?’ Muttered Yurii. ‘Their commander come to talk?’

Yurii drew a bead on the figure who’d appeared down below. The rest of the clouds spilling from the blazing wreckage had stilled. What was hidden in their depths quieting as they sent its spokesman forth.

‘What’s wrong with him?’

Because there was something about the way the man moved like every bone in their body had been broken, and when the gunsight found their face it was blacker than coal, like a dead man’s.

Yurii didn’t wait to find out. As the last rays from the setting sun crawled across the roof he was gone.

(to be continued)

Pt.1

Snow whirled in arcs around gutted concrete buildings. The enemy’s barrages had been particularly savage here and the empty flats had scorch marks above their windows. Even the metal had buckled in the heat. Serikebkev knelt down and picked up a handful of dirt letting it trickle through his finger’s like it reminded him of home. A shell exploding lit him up, making the scars cut by shrapnel look like ravines. He looked like a monster, like something that belonged in a mortuary and it wasn’t just the wounds in his flesh. It was the coldness in his eyes. They were as pallid as one of the frozen corpses around him. Everyone got like that after a while out here on the frontline. He straightened up and for a moment there was a glimpse of the patch sewn into his clothes. It was the death’s head. He was one of the shock troops – the right-wing militia’s that fought against the army without the government’s consent.

***

He should have known better than to get involved thought Yurii Serikbekev as he watched the youth at his side shout defiance through the scarf wrapped around his face. Good, at least they weren’t entirely stupid. There’d be more monitoring equipment aimed at the crowd than a rock concert. A brick sailed overhead.

‘Fascists out’

‘Go back home to your mothers.’

But the line of black-clad military police didn’t budge an inch. Instead, there’s the rattle of batons unholstering. Yurii Serikbekev grins feeling the first bite of tear gas spread on the wind. They’d charge in a minute.

‘Come on then,’ his voice swells with the others as the crowd moves forward and just for a moment he can see the objective over the policemen’s heads. They’d used a school, he supposed the families they’d taken to ensure compliance were lucky it wasn’t the prison. They should have put more thought into what they were doing when they’d gone for help.

‘No,’ Yurii nocks a bottle of water out of a youths hands, ‘you’ll make it worse. The gas reacts with water.’

It looks like the youth’s about to argue, but they’re beginning to run now. The first of the protestors are already yards from the black-clad robocops. His companions never see the first go down. But Yurii’s been through a tougher school than most. He likes to watch the corners – look for what others don’t see. Whatever took that cop out it hadn’t come from the locals.

‘What was that?’

He’s talking to himself as bodies hurl themselves against shields and the wet thunk of batons hitting home starts up. But there’s a gap in the line they’re attacking that’s torn too quick for it to be the work of the poorly prepared youth hurling themselves against it. Another space is torn in the coppers ranks, then another. His comrades aren’t that well equipped, bars and fists, don’t get fully armored state police to run at first contact. When the copper in front of Yurii backs away yammering excitedly into his radio and figures pour from the streets around them Yurii Serikbekev stops.

He doesn’t pause for long as wet arterial blood sprays across his face and one of the new comer’s lifts bloodshot eyes to meet his own.

‘Son of a bitch,’ Yurii covers his mouth before the blood can enter it. The taint would be spreading already, ‘they’ve released them.’

(to be continued)

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