‘I think the cockroaches are on the march, Doc.’
Through the gun sights I can see them, specks of life darting back and forth on a dune a mile or more away. All in black, they could be a colony of bugs. Something shimmers, reflects the sun like a searchlight.
‘Doctor Connell, for your safety I’ll ask you to stop what you’re doing and come with me.’
I don’t want to look at my watch, don’t want to take my eyes off the bugs, but there must be at least fifteen minutes until the shuttle is due to pick us up. Fifteen minutes too long.
‘Doctor Connell. Now sir.’
He’s not a bad man – one of the more down to earth bods at the settlement – but he gets out of breath climbing the stairs, is at least 40 pounds overweight and doesn’t know a semi-automatic from a hole the head. If we’re attacked, he’s dead and I don’t want a dead boffin on my conscience.
‘What is it?’ He’s on his feet, pulling on the bullet proof vest I said he could shed to stop him passing out in the heat.
Smart cookie, see?
‘We have company,’ I say, just as another glint catches in my sights, the glare making me flinch. They can’t have binoculars, not after fifty years living in this crap hole, but still … ‘See the dune behind us? The one with the ruined church?’
I’d recced the church earlier – roof gone but walls still standing, passable staircase up to the tower.
‘Yes.’ The word comes out as a gasp.
‘We’ll go in the church, out of sight. I’ll radio the shuttle, shift the pick-up location a few degrees.’
He’s scrambling at his instruments, stuffing dials and gizmos in the crates we brought with us.
‘Leave ‘em, Doc.’
‘But my findings ‒’
‘The crates are heavy. You can’t carry them alone and I’m not putting this rifle down for no one. They can send a shuttle for them another day.’
‘But ‒’ He takes a step back.
There’s a flash and I’m blind and flying and I hear Connell scream. Agony – flames licking my skin – and I hit the ground, can’t breathe, can’t see, screaming, screaming and a ticking, screaking sound, like giant bugs …