‘Hurry,’ the soldier growled. ‘The swarm is just the other side of those trees.’
I looked to where the soldier was pointing. The still morning air was filled with a horrific howling wail as the viros closed on the station. I was petrified but the soldier seemed very calm. ‘Head on up that path,’ he said ‘and don’t stop until you hit the main road.’ He looked back at the trees. ‘Now hurry!’
I grabbed the handles of the barrow and with Amber in front and Abe behind, we went through the gate and turned right onto the path. Two viros were in right in front of us but the soldier made short work of them with his pistol. They fell to the ground and we started to run. It was heavy going with the barrow but I managed to find a rhythm. Ellis had her catapult loaded and was watching for targets. Amber held her mop in both hands ready to strike. A concentrated burst of gunfire from behind us meant that the first wave of the swarm had hit the station.
‘Move it,’ I yelled to Abe. ‘We’ve got to get out of these gardens.’ He nodded and as I looked behind him I could see that the station was now surrounded. The first soldier was up on the roof firing furiously but it looked hopeless. ‘There’s too many of them,’ I yelled but I knew it was pointless. I saw the soldier look back at us briefly as he removed a grenade from his belt. He threw it into the swarm and I lost sight of him as it exploded. ‘Come on,’ I puffed more to myself than anyone else. ‘We can’t stay any longer.’ I could feel myself getting tired from the effort and I closed my eyes to try and block out the pain. Ellis screamed. I opened my eyes.
Amber was holding a viro at bay with her mop. The viro was tall with thick angry shoulders and looked very strong. Ellis fired her catapult and the stone bounced off of its shoulder. ‘Hold on,’ I shouted to Ellis and charged towards the viro, smashing into its legs with the front of the barrow. I heard a crack. The viro’s right knee buckled and it went down. Amber pulled her mop away and kept going. The viro tried to stand up but couldn’t. Abe ran alongside me.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘ I couldn’t get there in time.’
‘We’re in it together forever,’ I said. ‘Now let’s keep going.’
The battle was still going on behind us and as I kept running I heard several loud explosions one after the other. They were followed by another burst of gunfire and then all I could hear was the cruel din of the swarm. I didn’t want to imagine what happened to the soldiers. I really didn’t.
We ran on for a while in silence, expecting to be jumped at any time by swarms of vicious viros. But nothing happened. The streets were deserted. We slowed down to a walk as we crossed the small bridge that spans the River Ouse. Abe looked at me.
‘The sound of the gunfire must have attracted any viros in the area.’ He shuddered. ‘I hate to think what has happened to the soldiers.’ I looked over my shoulder.
‘I know. Hopefully, they got away but I doubt it.’
Abe shook his head.
‘There’s no way they got away. The station would have been overrun.’ Neither of us said anything. I started to feel every guilty.
‘I hope it’s not our fault?’
Ellis looked up at the two of us.
‘They were brave and professional and doing what they had been trained to do,’ she said. ‘They were following orders. You heard them say that evacuation wasn’t possible. That decision was nothing to do with us.’
‘We owe those soldiers our lives,’ said Amber, ‘and the best way that we can repay them is to find your brother and your mum and then get to safety.’ We were approaching the main roundabout at the edge of town. It was brightly lit and very exposed. ‘St. Dunstan’s is second left at the roundabout and then about two miles down the ring road,’ said Amber. ‘It is just past the swimming centre.’ She suddenly stopped talking. ‘We’ve got to get off the road,’ she hissed and pointed.
Approaching the roundabout from the direction of the retail park was another swarm of viros. There were so many bodies tightly packed together that the swarm boiled as it moved, rolling and swaying but moving forward relentlessly like some terrible tidal wave of despair. As the wave poured forward the roundabout filled rapidly and the angry shadows of the swarm beneath the sodium glare of the streetlights made everything look a scene from an old-fashioned horror film.
‘Quick, under the bridge,’ said Amber. ‘We’ll try and get round them by following the footpath on the riverbank.’
There was a small path to the side and we raced down beneath the bridge. The water was dark and loud and flowing fast. The footpath led towards the caravan park. Trees and bushes formed a solid shadowy wall along the left hand side. It was dark and didn’t look like a good idea. I hesitated but Amber raced on ahead, Abe following her. Ellis looked at me.
‘You’re really brave and really strong, Jake. You’ve got me this far and you can get me the rest of the way.’
I picked up the handles.