The sub-station was located at the very edge of the gardens and we arrived there without any further incident. The station was a squat concrete building with a large chain-link fence all the way around it. A streetlight stood tall beside it and bathed everything with a grey hue. The soldier took a key from his pocket, unlocked the gate and then once we were all through he locked it again. He then unlocked the metal door that led into the station. ‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘We’d best not be seen by those things.’ We all did what he said. Once inside, he locked the door. ‘I’ll take first watch,’ he said gruffly. ‘Get some rest as we’ll be moving out at first light.’
We were in a large concrete room. A table and metal chair in one corner served as a crude command post. The second soldier helped his wounded colleague to lay down on a dirty mattress beneath a boarded-up window. He removed his gas mask and put it on the floor beside him. He then carefully moved the soldier’s leg to get a closer look at her wound. The soldier looked at Abe.
‘Pass me that med kit and the penlight beside it.’
Abe did what he was told. The soldier turned the penlight on, held it between his teeth and opened the med-kit. He put on a pair of surgical gloves, took out a pair of scissors and cut the soldier’s trousers to get a better look at the wound. She grunted.
‘You know it’s no use, don’t you?’ she hissed. ‘I’m going to turn.’ The soldier shook his head.
‘Not everyone does,’ he replied. ‘Only almost everyone.’ She tried to smile but couldn’t. The soldier turned to us. ‘This is going to take a while so why don’t you sit down and grab something to eat from that box beside the desk.’ He motioned with his head. Ellis sat down straightaway. Amber sat down next to her. Abe and I went over to the box. I grabbed a handful of cereal bars. Abe came back with some ready meals.
‘Chilli con carne or all day breakfast?’ he said.
‘They come with a ration heater so you don’t need a fire,’ said the soldier. ‘My ‘favourite’ is the chicken curry but I’ve had it four times this week already.’ He grimaced. ‘I think I might stick with chocolate for now.’
We sat for a while eating the rations. I can’t say they were particularly tasty but I was starving. Occasionally, the silence was disturbed by static crackling on one of the radios but this was about the only noise. I know it sounds odd but a strange sort of peace descended up on us.
The wounded soldier dozed for a while and as I watched her I could feel my eyes closing. I woke to find the gruff soldier sitting on the floor eating. Everyone else was asleep. He looked at me in the gloom.
‘How are you doing?’ he asked and I was surprised by the kindness in his voice. “I’m impressed that you have all managed to stay alive for this long. Those things are vicious.’ I looked at my sleeping friends.
‘Thanks to them,’ I said truthfully. ‘Ellis rescued me and then Abe and Amber rescued us.’ I looked concerned. ‘I don’t think that I have been much help so far.’ The soldier shook his head.
‘You were brave enough to break cover back there and risk being shot. That took real courage, especially as we have been fighting all day until we got lost.’ The soldier laughed. ‘It was silly really but the three of us got separated from the rest of our unit by a flash swarm that suddenly appeared. The rest managed to escape on a series of trucks but we weren’t so lucky. We were forced to set up base here and then try and establish contact with other units patrolling in the area. We were just out on our last patrol of the day when we bumped into you.’ I nodded my head.
‘Ellis and me saw the trucks earlier this evening. They saved us from the viros.’ The soldier laughed.
‘Viros,’ he said. ‘Is that what you call those things?’
‘What are they?’ I asked. ‘What has happened to the world?’
‘At this moment no one is really sure. I’ve heard all sorts of stories about terrorist attacks, dirty bombs, death cults, radioactive waste, global warming and genetic warfare. All I know is that last week all the armed forces were put on high alert and we were posted here.’
‘Why here?’ I asked.
‘Dungeness,’ replied the soldier, ‘the nuclear power station just down the coast. Two brigades have been moved into the region to protect sensitive resource sites and the power station is where our main force is stationed.’ The soldier sighed. ‘The country is out of control. With each passing hour more and more people are being infected.’
‘What happens once someone is infected?’
‘I’m not totally sure. People either turn straight away, take a while to turn or don’t turn at all. The virus is some kind of pathogen which once it enters your blood stream causes you to crave warm blood.’ I shuddered. The soldier’s radio suddenly burst into life.
‘Fox Two, this is Fox Four. Standby.’ The soldier lifted the handset to his mouth. I fell silent.
‘Fox Four. Come In.’ The soldier spoke clearly and the sound of his voice woke everyone. Ellis rubbed her eyes. Abe yawned.
‘Roger Fox Two. Be advised multiple targets in your sector. Swarm pattern emerging. Over.’
‘Roger Fox Four. Request immediate casevac. Plus four children.’
‘Say Again Fox Two.’
‘Request immediate casevac. Plus four children.’
‘Negative Fox Two. Repeat. Negative. Sector compromised.’
‘Roger Fox Four. Fox Two Out.’ The soldier looked worried. ‘You need to leave,’ he said. ‘Things are going to get very sporty round here.’ The first soldier came back from outside.
‘It’s getting mighty crowded out there. We need to move.’ The second soldier looked at his colleague.
‘We’re not going anywhere. She can’t be moved and we can’t leave her here.’ The first soldier nodded and then looked at us.
‘You need to get away from here. Things are going to get nasty.’ I gulped. Ellis looked worried. Amber and Abe nodded.
‘Can’t we help?’ I asked. Both soldiers shook their heads.
‘You’re brave kids,’ the first soldier said, ‘but there will be nothing here from now on but pain. We will hold the station while you get away.’ His colleague agreed.
‘The swarm is approaching from the south of our position so you can slip out and as long as you keep this place between yourselves and the swarm you will be safe. Make your way to the power station if you can. That’s the closest safe place I can suggest. It’s twenty-odd miles from here but there isn’t anything closer.’ He went to go back outside. ‘Take what supplies you think you can carry and get going. I’ll keep watch and cover your escape.’
Abe and I picked up a box of rations and placed it in the barrow. Ellis hobbled over to the door and went out. Amber followed her. As I passed the second soldier he put his hand on my shoulder.
‘I’ve got a son just like you,’ he said. ‘Stay brave and stay together.’ I could feel my eyes start to fill with tears. ‘Good luck,’ said the soldier. ‘Stay safe and I hope you find your mum.’
We stepped outside to find that it was getting light. The first soldier was standing by the gate, ready to open it.