Part 7: Enemy of my Enemy
Major Thurlow had apparently been less than pleased at my disappearance. “Where the Devil were you?” he demanded. “You found Phenice, I see.”
The riflewoman said nothing.
“I think,” I said, carefully, “we're running the wrong way.”
Thurlow pointed at the huge crab-like silhouette of Prometheus. “We're running away from that thing. A pretty sensible direction, if you ask me.”
“But one hundred and eighty degrees from the direction I'd recommend.”
Lady Una raised an eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, doctor?”
“There are more mind-locked soldiers heading towards Fortress City than I can count.”
Sigrid sniffed. “No more than two hundred.”
Thurlow tightened his grip on the rifle he was using as a crutch. “Then we move faster.”
“We can't move fast enough,” Sigrid said simply. And with that she turned to scamper over the ruined ground towards Prometheus.
I waited to see that Lady Una and EON-4 were going to follow suit, and then began to move towards the leviathan machine myself.
“This is insanity,” Thurlow called out. “We know we can kill a human body. That thing is unstoppable – all we can rely upon are its good graces and it has precious few of those. Come back, damn you!”
I risked a glance over my shoulder to make sure that the major did eventually decide to limp after us.
When we next crested an embankment of crumbling earth, there was nothing but a few hundred metres of open ground between us and the pistoning limbs of the stolen Sky Spider machine. Its expressionless face - the face of John Kirkham - looked down upon us with no perceptible antipathy or affection.
Lady Una stopped in her tracks and grabbed my arm. “Are you certain about this?” she asked, her voice hushed.
I attempted a smile. “Not in the least.”
She pursed her lips. “Well, at least you're still sane, if not quite sensible.”
“Here it comes,” Thurlow hissed, needlessly.
“Lower your weapons,” Sigrid said calmly. “Let's not antagonise the fella.”
The footfalls rumbled up through the ground and into my stomach. As Prometheus cast its shadow over us, my fears that this might not have been a brilliant idea were tempered by the reality that there was probably nothing I could do to stop Prometheus if it decided to snuff us out of existence.
As Prometheus stepped over us - though at the time I was convinced it was stepping on us - I threw my hands over my ears and ducked. It felt like the vibration would shatter my skull like a rotten egg. I screamed, and couldn't hear the sound leave my throat.
And then the sensation faded. Like a foot lifting from my throat, the shadow of Prometheus left us. Explosive pops sounded, and I looked up to see Prometheus casting electric blue spheres around it. They imploded in the same fashion as those it had fired at us, sucking the mindless soldiers up into the air, where they were trapped in turn by more spheres, and then crushed into tiny points of light that fell upon the battlefield like stardust.
Sigrid uttered an oath that I can recall but not, in good conscience, relate.
Prometheus continued to stomp away from us, in the direction of Unity City. Again and again the air and ground around it imploded, dozens of writhing figures being thrown up into the morning sky.
“Now's our chance,” Lady Una said, brushing dust from her skirt. “We must move past it quickly. Hopefully we will remain unnoticed.”
Sigrid checked the breech of her rifle. “No argument here.”
With what supplies we could carry on our backs, and Thurlow limping heavily, we left the scorched ground surrounding Fortress City. It was not the best start to our journey we could have hoped for, but, with what little civilisation we had to rely upon, it was perhaps the best we could have hoped for.
Gradually, the shell-blasted mud of No Man's Land gave way to more fertile soil. Weeds bearing colourful flowers sprouted up around the trunks of fallen trees, and strange fungi coiled and sprouted in every shadow. Ahead of us, green trees crowded out the horizon, sheltering thick and exotic foliage beneath their leaves.
“This is it,” Thurlow said. “The Twisted Forests.”
Lady Una surveyed the view with her hands on her hips. “And somewhere in there is the Sky Spider installation that EON-5 was despatched to.”
Thurlow jabbed a finger at the forest. “If we head in there, we'd damn well better find what we're looking for. I passed right through the Forests, from one end to the other, with a company of one hundred soldiers. Machineguns and the lot. Seven of us made it to this side. Five of those died within a week of stepping beyond the trees. And the only other survivor besides me is, assuming his condition is unchanged, stark raving mad.”
“A fine place for a stroll, then?” Sigrid suggested.
Thurlow just looked at her through narrowed eyes.
EON-4 stepped ahead of us. “It will be interesting to see,” he mused, “exactly what the Sky Spiders get up to when they decide to start changing the nature of earthly life. We may perhaps learn something about ourselves - about humanity I mean, as much as that includes me.”
Thurlow stood up straight, experimentally putting weight on his injured leg. Satisfied, he began limping towards the forest. “Yes, perhaps we will. Just as long as it isn't our earthly lives that wind up changing.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: What creatures dwell in the Twisted Forests? What relation do they have to life on Earth - or life off Earth, for that matter? And are they friend or foe? Check back in a week’s time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!