Jack grunted with annoyance as the hired car jerked over another pothole and woke him from the doze he had fallen into. He glanced at the Satnav and noted that they were still a long way from their destination. He sighed wearily and looked at Garrett in the driver’s seat. It was twilight and they were in a valley between mountain ridges that cast deep shadows, making it feel even later in the day. Garrett was watching the road ahead with careful concentration. On the back seat, with a pillow for his head and huddled under a travel blanket, Gray looked more comfortable than either of them. He was managing to sleep through the potholes, anyway.
“You know,” he pointed out as they hit another bump in the road. “In the tourist brochure it described Cork as having very well made roads.”
“They lied,” Garrett responded. “And it was you, four hours ago, back in Cork City, who suggested we take the mountain roads and see the scenery.”
“What scenery?” he answered with an ironic laugh. “It’s too dark to see anything, now.”
Their plane had been late. They stopped to eat because Gray was hungry. Then they had to get through the second largest city in Ireland at rush hour and with major roadworks on the main western route. The peaceful drive in the cool of the late afternoon had turned into something of a drudge. They had already phoned Garrett’s ex-wife Annie to warn her they weren’t going to reach Bantry tonight to join her on the planned long weekend holiday treat. Now Jack despaired of reaching anywhere remotely resembling civilisation.
“That’s a pity,” Garrett commented looking at the Satnav. “We’re actually coming up to an interesting bit of historical scenery. We’re on the R585 approaching Beal na mBláth, the place where Michael Collins was shot in 1922.”
“I remember that,” Jack replied absently. “The funeral was massive. Pages of it in the newspapers. Everyone talking about who actually did him in.”
“It wasn’t you, was it?” Garrett asked with the hint of black humour that came with the sort of jobs they both did.
“Not guilty,” Jack responded. He looked with a professional eye up at the section of mountain ridge that Garrett pointed out. Yes, it was a bloody good place for an ambush. Long line of sight down onto the valley road, height advantage and no doubt there were mountain paths somebody with local knowledge could vanish along after the job was done. If it had been him, that’s exactly how he would have done it.
They were debating whether it was an historical black bag operation by Garrett’s forebears in British Military Intelligence when they approached the roadside monument to the assassination, a stone celtic cross surrounded by wrought iron railings. A few yards further on at the bend in the road that had been so crucial to the assassins, Garrett jammed his foot down on the brake. Jack matched him for colourful swear words and then both looked guiltily around at Gray who had woken up as he was thrown forward into his seat belt. Jack turned to make sure he was ok, but there was a more immediate priority outside the car. Garrett was already out of his seatbelt and pushing open the driver’s side door to go and look at what seemed to be a body lying in the middle of the road. Jack glanced up at that mountain ridge again and remembered this was a perfect place for an ambush.
“Stay there,” he told Gray as he unfastened his own seatbelt and moved a little more cautiously. By the time he was out of the car, Garrett was lifting a young woman to her feet. She walked unsteadily, supported by him. Jack couldn’t miss the fact that she was heavily pregnant. He opened the back door of the car so that Garrett could sit her in there next to Gray while he treated her superficial cuts and bruises with the first aid kit from the glove compartment.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” Jack said. “In case there’s anything more serious…”
He reached for his phone and gave an exasperated sigh. There was a mobile phone mast up there on the ridge, but down in the valley below it he was getting the ‘out of range’ signal. So was Garrett who used a different provider. Gray reached in his own pocket for his phone but reported it was the same.
“Might be a payphone further along. Or we can stop at the next village,” Garrett said as he extended the rear seatbelt to its fullest length and fastened it around the woman. “You’re all right, now. Sit tight. We’ll take good care of you.”
It hadn’t escaped their notice that the woman had said nothing. She had straw-blonde hair and green eyes set into a porcelain pale face. She looked either freezing or petrified, possibly both.
“Nearest civilisation is four kilometres back to Crookstown,” Garrett said as he buckled himself into the driver’s seat and turned the car around. As he did, a light from the sky caught them in its beam. Jack wondered first of all if it was a helicopter. Perhaps Search and Rescue were looking for the woman. Then he caught a glimpse through the sunroof of a warp shunt nacelle.
There was an alien spaceship hovering above them.
The woman began to scream and gabble incoherently in a language that didn’t originate on planet Earth. The gist of her worry was clear. The ship above was sending a transmat beam that was trying to pull her aboard. Her body shimmered eerily and she screamed as if she was in pain.
“Not having that,” Jack said. He pulled back his sleeve and opened the leather cover on his wristlet. He tapped at the miniature keypad quickly and the shimmering stopped. The woman breathed deeply as the transmat failed. “Garrett, drive, get us out of here!”
Garrett didn’t need to be told twice. He put his foot down on the accelerator and quickly exceeded the speed limit for an ‘R’ class road.
“The transmat… it’s an old fashioned rexon particle generator. Artron energy disrupts it. As long as she’s near me, they can’t beam her up, but they could hurt her trying. I sent a disrupter signal to discourage them.”
“Michael Collins just had the IRA to contend with,” Garrett said from between gritted teeth as the car took the potholes at speed. “He didn’t have this kind of weird shit.”
“Jack!” Gray cried out. “Jack… she’s… she’s not… Human. I saw her go… weird…”
“Yeah, I know,” Jack answered. “She’s wearing a perception cloak. I wasn’t going to worry about that right now. The fact that there’s a spaceship full of other non-humans after her was my main concern.”
“You realise they could be the good guys and she’s a fugitive from the law,” Garrett pointed out. “If she isn’t really a fragile young blonde mum-to-be then who knows what…”
“She’s definitely pregnant,” Jack confirmed. “She just isn’t a fragile blonde. Go with your first instinct. She’s the one who needs protecting.”
“Jack!” Gray yelped again as an electronic bolt scorched the tarmac behind the car,. “Dad… drive faster.”
Garrett didn’t drive faster. He was already going as fast as he dared. But he did weave into the oncoming lane and back again, making the car a difficult target. The R585 was going to have even more potholes than before, but the car and passengers were safe, so far.
“Does Crookstown have a police station?” Jack asked. “Garda station, I mean.”
“Yes,” Garrett answered. “Small one, anyway. We passed it when you were asleep.”
“Get us there. We need to be under cover. They don’t have any kind of advanced weaponry. If we get inside somewhere with stout walls we should be safe.”
“How do you know they haven’t got advanced weaponry?” Garrett dared to ask.
“Because we’re still alive,” Jack answered. He looked up. The ship was keeping pace with them. He could see the nacelle glowing. He looked at his wristlet again. It was a long time since he used it for anything other than remotely opening the Hub garage or operating the pavement lift. But a Time Agent’s vortex manipulator had a lot of other functions. For one thing it could foul up an unprotected warp shunt engine.
“Yes!” he cried out in triumph as the ship’s engines faltered noisily. Gray yelled with him and twisted in his seatbelt to see the alien craft waver and start to lose height rapidly.
“It’s crashed!” the boy called out.
“It’s hard landed,” Jack corrected him. “They’ll still be alive. And they may be able to call for help. We still need to get to that police station.”
“Then we should do it on foot,” Garrett said. He stopped the car by the roadside. “They know this vehicle. Gray, put your coat on, son. Jack, you take care of her. Come on.”
They weren’t far away from the Garda barracks. They could see it from where they abandoned the car. But Garrett knew what he was talking about. Jack lifted the alien woman in his arms and carried her while Gray hung on to Garrett’s hand. They moved urgently, aware that, if they weren’t already being pursued, they soon would be.
“In here,” Garrett said and he raced for the steps up to the front entrance to the barracks. It was an old building, dating back to the uncertain days of Irish history when rural police stations had to be small fortresses. It was stoutly built of white-washed stone with small windows that would be well over eye level in the ground floor.
But these days it was just a rural police station. The four of them crashing through the door with such urgency startled the two men on duty behind the wide custody desk. One of them was in the act of dunking a chocolate biscuit in a cup of tea. As he turned and stared, part of the biscuit dropped off into the cup. The other officer reacted a little faster. He put down the packet of biscuits he was holding and stepped towards the desk.
The ordinariness of the scene was as startling to Jack and Garrett as their extraordinariness must have been to the two officers. For a few seconds they stood, taking in the simple domesticity of the scene. Then Gray stepped up to the desk and spoke to the sergeant.
“We’ve got to hide,” he said. “There’s aliens after us. They crashed down the road. But they’ll be coming, soon. And they want that woman. She’s an alien, too.”
“Where is your armoury?” Garrett asked, reaching to produce his Military Intelligence ID. “We need to protect ourselves against attack.”
“Our armoury?” The other officer, with the rank of inspector on his jacket, put down his tea and soggy biscuit and stepped closer. He looked at Garrett’s ID critically. “How do I know that’s authentic? And even if it is, this is Cork. You’ve got no jurisdiction, here.”
“To hell with jurisdiction,” Garrett responded. “This is an emergency. We need weapons and ammunition. We need back up. Call U.N.I.T. at Fermoy…”
“I need to look after this woman,” Jack insisted. “Where are your cells? Are they in the basement? She’ll be safe there.”
“I think the cells are where you all belong at this rate,” said the inspector. “Just calm down now and explain what’s going on.”
“There’s no time to explain. They’re coming…”
Jack’s words were punctuated by an explosion somewhere outside. Garrett ran to the door and confirmed that their car had been blown up. At the same moment a younger garda came through from the door at the back of the room and reported that the telephone had just been cut off.
“My mobile is still out,” Gray confirmed. “It’s the aliens. They’re coming.”
“Aliens… don’t be ridiculous. This is….”
The inspector came around the desk. As he did so, there were screams outside and the sound of running feet. Garrett ran outside and returned moments later holding onto a woman and a girl. Two young men and an elderly man ran in behind him. Garrett slammed the door shut behind them and began to bolt it.
“Your armoury, now,” he repeated. “We need guns, ammunition. We need to protect ourselves until help comes. Get back. This room isn’t secure enough. We need…”
“There’s aliens out there!” the woman cried hysterically. “They killed Colm.”
“My dad!” the girl managed to say slightly more coherently than her mother. “They shot him with some sort of electricity and he fell… where they hit him… in the chest… he was burnt….”
“Is everyone going mental around here?” The inspector demanded. “Mrs Farrell… Maire… what is this?”
“Are you completely dense?” Jack snapped at him. “There are aliens attacking Humans in the street. Now, for the love of God, let us all through there and get your armoury open. We need weapons. We need a safe place for these civilians.”
The Inspector made a decision. He stepped back towards the inner door, waving to the other officers to do the same. Jack carried the alien girl and Gray clutched his arm as he followed them. Garrett urged the people he had brought in to follow them as he brought up the rear, watching the bolted door carefully.
“The cells,” Jack repeated. “That’s the safest place for the women. Where are they? Is there anyone in there, now?”
“Down here,” said the youngest of the three Gardai, a fresh faced rookie who pulled open a solid door that led to a flight of steps. “Is it ok, Dad?” He looked at the Inspector who sighed and nodded. Jack followed him. So did the two women and Gray, who had no intention of leaving his side.
“Ok, armoury,” Garrett again insisted as he looked at the Inspector and Sergeant. “You’re right. I am out of my jurisdiction. But believe me, I outrank all of you in experience of desperate situations and doing what I say right now might save your life. Are there any other entrances to this building?”
“Yard, at the back,” answered the Sergeant. “Where the car is.”
“Go and lock it,” Garrett ordered. “Inspector…”
“O’Malley, do as he says,” the Inspector said. “The rest of you, Con, Mick, Mr Sweeney, you come with me.”
The cells were in the basement, as Jack had hoped. A strong ceiling of hardwood and concrete was above his head and the walls were stone. There were no windows. They were in the foundations of the barracks.
“There’s just Gavin O’Rourke in number four,” said the young Garda as they came to the custody suite – a row of four cells. “Drunk and disorderly waiting to see the magistrate in the morning.”
“Leave him there for now,” Jack said. “But open up this one. Are there any blankets, pillows?”
Garrett followed the Inspector to the armoury. It was by no means as big as he might have hoped, being nothing more than a walk in cupboard.
“We’re not regional command,” the Inspector said. “Just a village station. The only time we even carry pistols is when the travelling bank comes on a Wednesday. I don’t even know what they think we want with the rifles. And even on All Ireland Day we haven’t much use for pepper spray and tasers around here.”
Garrett picked up one of the three Steyr SSG 69’s. He examined it with an expert eye before reaching for a five round magazine. There was a sharp intake of breath from the Inspector and the three civilians looked curiously at the stranger who clearly knew how to use weapons. Nobody thought to stop him.
“Mr Sweeney, can you handle this?” he asked holding out the Steyr to the older of the three civilians. “It’s bolt action. You pull back to release the next round between shots. Five round magazine. Reload when you still have one in the breach. Can you manage?”
Mr Sweeney whistled the first line of a song Garrett recognised as ‘The Boys of The Old Brigade’ and took the rifle from him. He gave another to Sergeant O’Malley who joined them after reporting that the back entrance to the barracks was secure. He loaded the third one and slung it on his own shoulder then considered the Heckler & Koch MP7 that looked as if it had never been removed from its moulded foam case. He picked it up and checked it very carefully before slotting in a magazine and passing it to the Inspector.
“You and Mr Sweeney will hold the ground floor,” Garrett said. “What’s your name by the way?”
“O’Neill,” he answered. “Phelim O’Neill. Why?”
“Because when I’m up against it in a life or death situation, I like to know the names of the men who are facing death alongside me. This isn’t what you took a rural job for. But it’s what they trained you for.” He clipped magazines into four of the Sig P226 handguns, keeping two for himself and passing two more to the young men called Con and Mick who looked nervously at the weapons. “Come on, Sergeant. I need to see what the situation is outside. What’s upstairs.”
“The Inspector’s office and the sleeping quarters,” the Sergeant answered him. Garrett was already moving towards the stairs. The still slightly bewildered officer followed him. Garrett pushed open the door to the Inspector’s office and went to the front window. It overlooked the R585 where it ran through Crookstown. In the glow from the smouldering car a hundred yards away he could see the dead man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And he could see the aliens. They were humanoid, standing as tall as an average Human but stockier. They had scaly grey skin and wore pieces of leather and metal that covered the area where he assumed any humanoid had vulnerable parts. They carried weapons that looked far more advanced than anything he had ever seen. From what the girl described he assumed they fired some sort of energy that burnt through Human flesh.
There had to be at least fifty of them moving along the road, spreading out in the way of any military unit approaching any built up area. Not that Crookstown was especially built up. It was essentially a single street with two pubs, a couple of shops, one of which doubled as the post office, and the Garda barracks. It probably wouldn’t even have that if it wasn’t for the two pubs and the travelling bank.
“What are they?” O’Malley asked.
“I have no idea,” Garrett answered. “Jack might know. But… doesn’t really matter. They’re the enemy… the invader.” Something struck him and he laughed softly.
“Crookstown - An Baile Gallda – the place of the invader. If aliens were going to land anywhere in Ireland, I suppose it’s appropriate.”
“We meant the English,” O’Malley answered. “They were the only invader that were ever a problem around here. Until now… They really ARE aliens… from… space…”
“Yes, and they’ve already killed one man and tried to kill us. So assume from the start that they’re not ET or Starman or anything we’re going to make friends with. Keep an eye on them from this window. I need to see where else they’re going. Are there windows on all four sides of this building?”
“Yes,” O’Malley answered. “What do I do if they come near? Do I shoot.”
“No, not yet. They don’t know where we went. They’re scouting around at the moment. If we shoot first, they’ll know. And there’s way too many of them. The longer we can go without making this into a battle, the better.”
It was going to be one, eventually, Garrett knew. If the aliens out there wanted the woman so badly, they were going to come for her sooner or later. And when they did….
Two rifles, one sub-machine gun, a half a dozen handguns, barely enough men to take a gun each, and after that, pepper spray and tasers against creatures with space age ray guns.
He didn’t like their chances one little bit.
The young Garda whose name was Liam O’Neill, found blankets and pillows that made the floor of the cell slightly more comfortable than it might be otherwise. Jack made a sort of nest of pillows for the pregnant alien woman to rest on and had the local woman and her daughter sit down, too. Gray sat next to Jack as he carefully examined the woman in his charge.
“You’re a few months away from full term, I think,” he said. “So we’re not going to have any childbirth dramas on top of everything else.” His voice was calm, and that seemed to help, but she didn’t seem to understand him. “Your translation device is out of whack,” he added. He reached and pushed up the sleeve of her sweater then slightly adjusted what looked like an ordinary digital watch on her wrist. “Can you understand me, now?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Ok, good. Listen, I’m Jack. This is my kid brother, Gray. This is Mrs Farrell and her daughter, Maire, and Garda O’Neill. Do you have a name?”
“Urina. I’m Urina. I… Thank you for helping me. I am very grateful. But I fear you are all in great danger. The Gneass will stop at nothing to reach me.”
“You’re safe here,” Jack responded. “As long as you’re with me, nothing is going to happen to you. I promise.”
“That’s kind of you,” she answered. “And brave. But they will kill you. They will kill everyone to reach me.”
“No, they won’t,” Jack told her. “It’s going to be all right.” He looked around at the others. The woman and girl were hugging each other and sobbing quietly. There wasn’t much he could do for them. The young Garda O’Neill was hovering by the door uncertainly. There wasn’t much he could do for him, either.
“Jack Harkness!” The voice of Sergeant O’Malley echoed through the custody corridor. Jack called back to him as the gate of steel bars at the bottom of the stairs swung open and the Sergeant hurried towards the cells. “Mr Harkness…. Your friend upstairs said to tell you that they’re all over the town, and it’s only a matter of time. He said you have to hold on down here. He said you might need these if it comes to…” He faltered. If Jack needed the Sig P226 he handed him along with a bag that proved to contain tasers and pepper spray along with magazines for the pistol, then that meant everyone else was in desperate trouble. “Liam, you’re to stay down here and help. The Inspector said…”
Garda O’Neill’s expression was hard to gauge. Was he relieved or disappointed that his father, the senior officer in the building, thought he was more use in the last line of defence? Sergeant O’Malley wasn’t arguing about it, anyway. He turned away from the cell door. There was a sound of keys jangling and a cell door opening.
“O’Rourke, Inspector O’Neill says you have to get your drunken arse upstairs. Move it.”
The drunk swore unpleasantly. O’Malley swore back then there was the sound of two pairs of footsteps, one less regular than the other, receding. The barred gate was slammed shut again, the lock automatically engaging and securing them all down below.
The cells seemed eerily quiet afterwards. Jack sighed. Being the last line of defence wasn’t usually his position when there was a fight on. But this time he didn’t have a lot of choice. Urina needed his protection. So did Gray and the two innocent women who had already suffered a grievous loss because of something beyond his control right now.
Garrett watched the aliens uneasily. He was wondering if his tactic of waiting until they made the first move was the best one. They were getting into position around the town. He could see a group of them hiding behind a low wall opposite the police station while others were closing in on the larger of the two pubs.
They didn’t know exactly where their quarry was, only that she was in the town, somewhere.
“Sir, are you sure we shouldn’t shoot them?” asked Sergeant O’Malley as he took up position at the other window. “They’re awfully close. What if…”
Then the ‘what if’ was answered in the worst possible way. Nobody in the barracks opened fire. But two shots rang out from the upper floor of the pub. They were good shots. Two of the alien creatures fell down, dead. But immediately a third returned fire. Garrett saw the body momentarily illuminated, and then it fell from the open window, landing on the pavement below. Moments later two people ran out of the pub. The aliens opened fire on them. One made it back inside, the other didn’t,
“What the fuck are they doing, now?” O’Malley asked. Garrett looked and groaned.
“They’re hiding the evidence that anything is wrong here,” he answered. “They have this town under siege. Communications are cut off. But if any car passes along the N22 they’ll see nothing out of the ordinary except the smouldering remains of a car on the verge. And they’ll put that down to joyriders.”
He looked and noted that the body of the first victim was no longer lying in the road, and at a casual glance from ground level no driver passing through Crookstown in the dark would notice the aliens concealing themselves behind walls, under trees, in the deep shadows of late evening.
“Because there aren’t many of them, and they want to wipe us out and get the girl. If anyone notices something is wrong here and gets a message out, then they’re finished. The army could surround them in half an hour and wipe them out. They’re fanatic, but they’re not suicidal. They’re biding their time, knowing they have the village at their mercy.
The road was lit briefly by the headlamps of a coach that sped by and was gone. Sergeant O’Malley said it was the evening express heading to Bandon. It didn’t stop in Crookstown unless there was somebody waiting outside the QuickPick store.
Nobody was waiting. The Bandon express was gone. The town was silent.
Then the war began.
It certainly felt like a war. It looked like one. Garrett watched in horror and a feeling of utter impotency as the aliens attacked the pub where the first shots had come from. He could hear screams suddenly silenced as the aliens poured into the pub, shooting without pause, without mercy. The lights died inside the building and the windows were lit instead by the electrical arcing of the ray guns. Garett knew they would leave nobody alive in the pub.
“Because they were shot at from there, they assumed that’s where we were,” Garrett said in answer to the unasked question that hung in the shocked silence around him. “When they’ve killed everyone there…”
“They’ll come for us?” O’Malley asked. “Or will they take out the other pub? Will they break into houses and murder whole families…”
“That’s… up to us,” Garrett answered. “We can open fire and draw them onto us. We can make the fight right here. But I don’t need to tell you, the odds are against us. At best we can hold them off for an hour… two…”
O’Malley was competently trained with weapons. So was O’Neill down on the ground floor. Mr Sweeney, the old IRA man, could probably be relied on as long as his eyesight was still what it used to be. The two young farmers knew how to shoot vermin with a shotgun. He didn’t doubt their ability to hit a target. But they had never had a target that shot back before. Did they have the nerve? Could they stand and fight for their lives?
As for the other one…
“O’Rourke, are you sober?” he called out. “Do you know what you have to do?”
“Keep everyone supplied with ammunition and run messages for you,” replied O’Rourke, a small, measly looking man with an unsteady gait. Garrett wouldn’t have trusted him to keep them supplied with potato crisps if he had a choice. But he didn’t. He and O’Malley were watching the windows on two sides of the building from the office. Mick and Con Lynch were watching the back and the other side from the bedroom and kitchen of the living quarters. Garrett was reckoning on the attack coming from the front. The yard with a high wall around it was an extra obstacle at the back which mitigated against the fact that it was darker on that side and lost the attackers any element of surprise.
Apart from anything Mr Sweeney might have done in days long gone by, Garrett was the only one of them with experience under fire. He was acknowledged to be in charge. Their next move was down to him.
He slowly opened the window in front of him. The sash moved smoothly and silently upwards. The slight movement as he slid the barrel of the Steyr forward and took careful aim at the head of one of the partially hidden aliens couldn’t have been seen.
When he fired this shot, he was starting a fight he might not be able to win. The enemy vastly outnumbered those he could count on. He was sealing the fate of everyone in this building, including Jack and Gray and the women hidden in the cells below.
“O’Rourke, go and tell Inspector O’Neill that we’re engaging the enemy and he and Mr Sweeney need to stand ready,” he said. O’Rourke stumbled off.
Garrett took the shot.
“Why are those creatures chasing her anyway?” asked Maire Farrell. “Why are they here? Why are all of you here? You’re not from around here, any of you.”
Urina was asleep. Jack used his wristlet to check her vital signs and those of her unborn child and pulled the blanket around her gently. He sat back and looked at the young woman who had asked the question.
“We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jack answered. “So was she. I’m not going to calculate the odds against her being found by the one person on this entire planet who could actually help her. That’s her one stroke of fortune. If we hadn’t been there, if anyone else had found her in the road, the Gneass would just have grabbed her. Nobody else could have stopped her.”
“But if they’d just taken her, then my husband would be alive,” Mrs Farrell concluded. “And none of us would be hiding down here, waiting for those horrible things to come and kill us all. That’s the truth of it, isn’t it?”
Jack searched for an answer. There wasn’t one. At least not one he liked.
“Yes, that’s true,” he conceded. “Nobody on this planet would know anything about it. Nobody would have to worry about this woman. They wouldn’t have to think about her stomach being slit open while she was alive and fully conscious in order to get to her child. They wouldn’t know that the child would then be dismembered in front of her while she was bleeding to death.”
“Jack!” Gray looked at him in shock. “That’s what they want to do to her?”
“Yes. Sorry. Gruesome stuff for you to hear. But that’s what they have planned.”
“Why?” Garda O’Neill asked. Jack knew the answer. It had all been in the frightened monologue in her own language back when the car was trying to outrun the alien ship.
“Because she’s the last living member of the Gneassan royal family. Something like eighty-seventh in line to the throne before the revolution. You’re a bit young for it, Gray, but do you three know what happened to the Tsar and his family after the Russian revolution nearly a century ago on this planet?”
“There was a film about it,” Maire Farrell said. “They were all lined up… the adults and the kids, even a little baby… and shot. There was a story… about one of the princesses, Anastasia, escaping. But nobody really knows if it’s true or not.”
“Same thing happened on Gneassa. She escaped with her unborn child. She’s been on the run for months. She has supporters who want to restore her to the throne, with the baby as crown prince. But she was cut off from them. Her travel pod soft-landed here on planet Earth, somewhere near where we found her. But the revolutionary guard were right behind her. And that’s why we’re here, protecting her from a terrible fate. Because… because my boyfriend is the sort of man who wouldn’t just drive away and leave her in the road, helpless. Granted, he didn’t know about all this stuff. He thought she was just a lost woman. He wasn’t expecting space ships over our heads, or running for our lives and ending up under siege in a place like this. But if he had known, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. And neither would I.”
“Your boyfriend?” Jack half smiled when Garda O’Neill ignored all the stuff about revolutions on far off planets, space ships and aliens and fixed on the one thing that really didn’t matter right now.
“Yes,” he answered. “My boyfriend… partner… lover. Pick a word for it. Pick one of the nasty words for it if you like. Your dad is upstairs, fighting alongside a confirmed queer who might just stand between you and a nasty death. So get over it right now and let’s concentrate on what really matters.”
“I’m not… thinking of any nasty words,” Liam O’Neill responded. “I…” He reached into the pocket of his uniform tunic and pulled out a small wallet. He showed Jack a creased and well fingered photo of a young man in another rookie garda uniform. “He’s called Daragh. Met him at training. Dad doesn’t know about him. I haven’t… found the right time to tell him, yet. I… hope there will be a time.”
Jack hesitated before answering that. It didn’t matter if Garda Liam had shown him a picture of the most beautiful girl in Cork city or a hot looking young man. He couldn’t promise he was going to be alive at the end of this to kiss his lover again. He couldn’t promise his father would be alive to listen to him break the sort of news that fathers didn’t often take well. If this was a Hollywood film, then at the end of it Liam and his dad would have an emotional reunion and they’d be able to tell each other anything. But this was real life, and it was nastier than that. He wasn’t sure any of them were going to survive.
Garrett’s first shot was true. The alien fell back, dead. He slid back the bolt to engage the next round and aimed again quickly. He did that two more times before sliding in the next magazine with one round still in the breach. All of the rounds hit their targets. There were four less of the enemy to worry about.
Sergeant O’Malley opened fire, too. He was slower with the bolt action, and only two of his first four rounds hit their target, but he was doing his best.
It was quiet at the back, yet. They weren’t trying to come in that way. But his assessment of the situation was right. Now they had engaged fire the aliens knew where their quarry was. They began to converge on the barracks.
“Make every bullet count,” he called out, to the two brothers in the back rooms across the central corridor. “Don’t waste them with wild firing. And keep your heads down, both of you.”
He kept firing. The aliens returned fire. He flattened himself against the wall as the window exploded inwards. He noticed that parts of the shattered glass bubbled as if heated very rapidly. But he was alive.
He heard rapid pistol fire from the back as he shot off three rounds and hid himself from the return fire.
“I told you to make every bullet count,” he called out. “You can’t possibly have hit anything in the dark that way.”
“Sorry, sir,” Con Lynch replied. “Two of them were climbing over the wall. I got them.”
“Good. But try not to waste rounds next time.” He glanced at the Sergeant at the corner window. He wasn’t firing. “O’Malley, are you ok?”
O’Malley didn’t answer. He didn’t move. Garrett’s heart sank. He edged closer and touched the sergeant on the arm, expecting a corpse with a burnt hole in his chest. The Segeant flinched and backed away from the window.
“It’s all right to be scared,” Garrett told him. “But it’s not all right to freeze up like that. You put your life at risk and you leave our flank open.”
“I’m sorry,” O’Malley told him. “The last one… I saw its face… They don’t look like us, but they’re still… living things… and I blew the top of its head off… there was blood… brain tissue…”
“Better his blood and brain tissue than yours,” Garrett said. “Come on. I need you to hold this together.”
O’Malley nodded slowly and turned back to his position by the window. He lined up his sights and took out another of the encroaching enemy. He pulled back the bolt and expelled the empty cartridge so that another round could slide into the breach. He aimed again. He was over the shock, now. He’d do all right as long as he could stay alive. The aliens fired back. Their electronic bolts arced and crackled with an eerie blue light and a smell of burnt out plugs as they shattered windows and melted the stone lintel. Garrett resumed his own position and managed to stop one of them reaching the main door.
Then he heard a scream from the kitchen followed by moans of pain and swearing from another voice.
“What happened?” he yelled out between firing off another two shots and reloading quickly. “Who’s down?”
“O’Rourke,” Con Lynch called back. “The stupid bastard stood up right in the window. He’s not dead. But his arm… his arm was shot off… it’s…”
“O’Malley, watch this position for a minute. I’d better see how bad he is.”
O’Malley left his own position at the side and took the front window stronghold as Garrett slipped back to the kitchen. In the dim starlight coming through the window from the side of the building devoid of street lighting he could see O’Rourke on the floor, moaning in pain. He quickly examined him and saw that the arm was sliced through above the elbow. The wound was instantly cauterised by the electrical charge in the alien weapon. There was no blood. But it was obviously agonising.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do anything for you. Hang in there.” He stood and edged to the window where Con was firing almost constantly. There were a dozen or more aliens climbing over the wall. They were taking the chance that a few of them might get through even though they were an easy target while they were climbing.
“Hold them off as long as you can,” he told Con. “Mick, you too. Keep shooting the bastards. O’Malley, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to leave you to hold the front line. They’re going to break through downstairs any minute. They need help. Just plug as many of them as you can, all of you.”
“Give me a gun and I’ll fight till my last breath,” O’Rourke said.
“Sure you will,” Garrett answered. “You just sit there and keep quiet.”
He felt guilty about O’Rourke. They could have left him safe in a locked cell and he would have slept through the whole thing. But he thought the town drunk might have been useful as a runner, at least.
That was his mistake. He had to live with it.
“So how do you know all this stuff about her?” Maire Farrell asked Jack. “How do you know where she comes from and about the revolution on her world?”
“I speak her language,” he answered.
“You speak alien? Are you… you’re not…”
“No, I’m Human,” Jack responded. “But I work for an organisation called Torchwood. Our job is to monitor alien activity on Earth. Gneass refugees have been turning up on Earth for months. We’ve been rounding them up and questioning them. So have the military and civil authorities in Britain and Ireland, and on continental Europe, too. Most of them are just frightened people who’ve lost everything because they supported the royalist side in the war. We’ve helped them disperse among the Human population. They’re no more trouble than any other immigrant group settling in our cities. We heard what happened to the royal family, and the rumour about Princess Urina. I thought it WAS just a rumour until I heard her story.”
“We… our governments… are helping these refugees to hide on Earth? They’re conspiring to allow aliens to live here…” Mrs Farrell looked at Jack scornfully. “No wonder we’re being attacked. Our government is practically inviting these heathens to fight their battles in our towns and cities. And we’re dying because of it. They shot Colm… they just shot him down... he didn’t do anything to them.”
“My dad was killed by aliens,” Gray said out of the blue. “They shot him. They shot lots of people. I saw them… friends I played with. Other kids… some of them younger than me. I didn’t see dad dying… but I saw so many of my friends…”
Jack turned towards Gray. The boy turned to him and let him hug him as he cried. It was the first time in months he had spoken about that day on Boeshane when both their lives had crumbled to pieces. It was the first time he had cried openly, though Jack knew he had nightmares occasionally and cried secretly in his bed.
“Garrett’s been my dad ever since I came here,” the boy added. “But now… he’s upstairs, fighting aliens. And he might die. They might shoot him, too. And… and… what will I do without him?”
“I’m not sure what either of us will do without him,” Jack answered. “I need him, too. But he’s… He’s a brave man. He had no other thought tonight except to fight for us all. If… if we lose him… then we’ll… we’ll remember him with pride. Both of us.”
“Your man upstairs doesn’t have to die,” Mrs Farrell said. “None of us do. We just have to give HER to the ones that want her. Wake her up. Get her out of here. Give her to them. And let us all rest easy.”
“Mrs Farrell, no!” Liam O’Neill exclaimed. “No, you can’t. That would be a terrible thing to do. You heard what they’ll do to her.”
“I don’t believe that. I think he just wanted us to think she was in real danger. But I don’t believe anything like that would happen. I say throw her out in the street. Let them take her and be done with it.”
“No,” Jack responded. “Sit down, Mrs Farrell and be quiet. Nobody is throwing anyone out.”
“You have no say in the matter,” Mrs Farrell snapped. “This isn’t your town. It’s not your country even. You’re just another foreigner. You don’t belong here any more than she does. I say we decide right now… the three of us who belong here in Crookstown.”
“No,” Liam O’Neill said again. “No. I may not be much use as a Garda. But I took an oath all the same. It’s my job to protect the public. All of them. It said nothing in the oath about not protecting the public if they aren’t Human. We can’t. I can’t.”
“Dad wouldn’t want that,” Maire added. “Mum, stop this. We can’t. It’s not right.”
Mrs Farrell looked at her daughter, and at Liam O’Neill. Both of them had shifted around so that they were between her and Jack and Gray, while they, in their turn, had put their two bodies in front of the sleeping Urina. She was doubly protected.
Garrett moved quickly down the stairs. Inspector O’Neill was behind the desk in the front room with the MP7 cradled in his hands. He was watching the main door fearfully. Garrett could see why. The area around the bolt was glowing red. It was being bombarded by alien ray gun fire. The bombardment slackened a little when O’Malley managed to kill another alien, but he had no doubt it would give eventually.
“They can come through two at a time at best,” he told the Inspector. “You’ve got thirty rounds in a magazine. Just don’t let them get you. Those damn ray guns have a hell of a range.”
“Don’t worry about me,” O’Neill said. “Mr Sweeney could use some help at the back.”
Garrett nodded and wished him luck. He slipped away along the short corridor to the back door. It was darker here. But Mr Sweeney was also lying in wait for the first sign of the enemy breaking through.
Again, there was a chance it was going to happen very soon. The back door was solid, but it was glowing as the alien rays were concentrated on it. They could hear gunfire and the occasional shriek as one of the Gneass was killed by Con and Mick firing down at them from the floor above. But they were coming in force.
“Do you know the story of how a few brave Irish lads fought in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge?” Mr Sweeney asked as Garrett took up a defensive position behind the makeshift barricade of old filing cabinets that the old man had built.
“Everyone died there,” Garrett replied. “We’re going to do better than that. Besides, you’re not THAT old, Mr Sweeney. Don’t kid me.”
Mr Sweeney laughed and called him a young pup who knew nothing. Garrett accepted the criticism and listened to a tall tale about Mr Sweeney as a young IRA man in the 1940s when he was the best sniper in West Cork. He wondered what the old man would say if he knew he was with MI5. He would probably consider him a traitor to his Irish roots. But right now they had a greater enemy and an old Irish rebel and a British secret service man were fighting alongside each other.
The door crashed in and they felt a cold breeze from outside. The enemy broke through the front door at the same time. Garrett heard Inspector O’Neill open up with the MP7. Its semi-automatic rattle was a counterpoint to the sharp crack of the rounds fired from the two Steyrs and the metallic clunk as they pulled back the bolts and fired again.
It was a hard fight. As fast as they killed one alien attacker another one took its place. The bodies piled around the door, but they kept on coming. The enemy returned fire and it was deadly stuff. The floor and walls were scorched. The filing cabinet barricade was bent and buckled by the intensity of the heat from the electronic rays.
Garrett screamed as he was hit in the shoulder with a deflected bolt. The electric shock was lessened by the deflection and the damage to his flesh was superficial, but it was painful, and it made it harder for him to hold the gun steady. Twice he missed the target and forced himself to steady his hand and try again.
Then he heard a scream and the MP7 fell silent. O’Neill was down. The aliens were coming in through the front door.
“I’m sorry,” he said to Mr Sweeney. “You’re going to have to hold them off on your own. I need to help… stop them getting to the cells.”
“Don’t you worry about me, young pup,” Mr Sweeney answered. “I can deal with this lot.”
He probably couldn’t. But Garrett had no choice. He dropped back towards the stairs to the basement. As he did so, two aliens charged through from the front. He shot them both even though the nerves in his wounded shoulder screamed agonisingly as he raised the rifle. He dashed for the door and ran down the steps to the closed gate across the entrance to the cell block. It opened using a code. He didn’t have the code. He couldn’t open the gate. He turned with his back against the metal bars and loaded a new magazine into the Steyr.
“Come on you bastards,” he called out. “You’ve got to get past me.”
Jack heard the fighting coming closer. He hard Garrett’s voice, and the note of desperation in it.
“Jack!” Gray looked at him fearfully.
“Take this,” he said, pulling his wristlet off and fastening it around Gray’s upper arm. It was still loose even there, but it made contact with his skin and it would work. “Keep pushing these two buttons. They’ll disrupt any attempts at transmatting Urina out of here. They’ve got to come down here and get her. And they’ll not do that as long as I’ve got breath in my body.”
“They’ll have to come through me, too,” Liam O’Neill said, grabbing a taser gun in one hand and a pepper spray projectile in the other. Jack bit his lip sadly. If the aliens managed to kill both him and Garrett he wasn’t sure what use those ‘less-lethal’ weapons would be. It would probably be all over by then.
“Garrett!” He couldn’t help the scream of grief as he saw Garrett kneeling against the gate. He was relieved when he got closer and knew he was alive. But the wound in his shoulder was disturbing. He reached through the bars and touched his hand.
“This isn’t right,” he said. “I’m the one who can’t die. I should be on that side, shielding you.”
“Watch my back,” Garrett answered. “They’re coming.”
Garrett fired the rifle twice, screaming each time because it was painful to hold. Jack took aim and fired his pistol. They had a very slight advantage. The aliens couldn’t see them at the gate until they were all the way down the stairs. But they could see the aliens a fraction of a second before when they were part way down. They couldn’t get head shots, but four of them had their scaly stomachs turned to pulp and the bodies started to pile up.
“Garrett!” Jack called out as he saw his lover slump heavily against the bars. He hadn’t been hit. He had just fainted from pain and exhaustion. Jack reached and stroked his cheek gently and then grasped the Steyr from his unresisting hands. He made the last three rounds in the magazine count, adding three more dead aliens to a pile that was accumulating at the bottom of the stairs, then he reverted to the Sig P226. He emptied the magazine and then clipped in the last one in his pocket. Twenty rounds. He had to make every one of them count. If that wasn’t enough…
If it wasn’t enough, then he really didn’t want to wake up again this time. Let him die, too. He didn’t want to wake up to this failure.
He knew that was a forlorn hope. He would wake up again, to find Garrett dead. Gray, too. Liam and the women trapped in the cell would be killed in cold blood, the princess taken and murdered in that sick ritualistic way. And he would have to find a way to live with the consequences of such a failure.
“Jack!” He was down to his last four rounds when he heard Garrett murmur his name. “We’re still alive?”
“Not for long. I’m sorry. We’re almost out of options.”
They could both hear rapid bursts of gunfire and alien voices above shouting orders.
“I’m sorry,” Jack said again. He reached his arm through the bars and hugged Garrett around the chest as he took aim and got ready for what would be their last stand.
Then he heard a Human voice shout down to him. He didn’t lower the gun, but the voice gave him reason to hope that it wasn’t all over for them after all.
Sergeant O’Malley reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped over the pile of alien bodies. There was a stranger with him, carrying a gun exactly like those the aliens had been using and wearing a dark green uniform. Jack knew straight away that the stranger wasn’t Human. He was wearing a perception cloak. The telltale signs were subtle, but Jack could recognise subtle even if he didn’t practice it often.
“Get back,” he said, his finger on the trigger as he trained the P226 on the stranger. “Don’t come any closer.”
“It’s all right,” the Sergeant assured him. “This is… um… he says he’s here for the girl. He says she’s in his care. His men are dealing with the rest of the aliens… they came to help. I think…”
“Disarm him,” Jack said. “He might be for real. But we didn’t go through all this to let the bastards in the front door…”
Sergeant O’Malley did as he said. Then he reached to unlock the gate. Garrett struggled to his feet and stepped through into Jack’s arms. He helped him walk with them to the cell. Liam O’Neill reacted to the sound of footsteps approaching by leaping out of the cell door with the taser gun in one hand and the pepper spray in the other, but he held his fire when he saw the party coming towards him.
“Dad!” Gray yelled fearfully as Jack laid Garrett down on one of the blankets and put a pillow under his head. The boy knelt at his side, calling his name and grasping his hand. Jack held them both as if he never meant to let them go.
“He’s alive, Gray,” he said. “He’s going to be all right.”
“A lot aren’t,” Sergeant O’Malley told him. “Mick Lynch, Mr Sweeney… O’Rourke’s badly injured. The Inspector’s in a bad way, too.”
“Shit,” Garrett swore. Liam O’Neill’s reaction was even more extreme as he ran from the cell. Jack watched him go and hoped he and his dad got their Hollywood ending after all. But then he turned his attention to the stranger as he bent over Urina and woke her. He kept his hand on the P226 and was ready to shoot if the stranger put a finger wrong.
“Your Highness,” he said. “I have been looking for you.”
Urina looked at him as he knelt in her presence. He pressed a button on his wristwatch and his body shimmered. He became a stocky, scaly green humanoid in a dark green uniform. Urina spoke to him quickly. It was perfectly obvious that she knew the stranger. He was one of her loyal palace guard.
She stood and reached for her own wristwatch. Her perception cloak shimmered and she revealed her own true form. Mrs Farrell yelped in horror but her daughter held her arm and hushed her.
“It’s really over?” Maire asked. “Your people have come for you… and it’s over?”
“It is,” Urina answered in a voice that sounded far more alien now. “I am sorry that so many of you suffered.”
“Your own authorities have been informed of what has happened, here,” the royal guard added. “By the time they reach you, we will have gone. So will the corpses of our enemies. It is better for all that way.”
With that the alien princess and her protector stepped out of the cell. Jack heard them walking up the stairs, then he turned back to Garrett. He held him in his arms while Sergeant O’Malley began to apply first aid. It would be half an hour, maybe, before the Human ‘authorities’ – probably U.N.I.T. - arrived to begin the clean up operation. Garrett would get medical attention. So would the other wounded. They would take away the Human victims and concoct some kind of cover story to explain what had happened. Jack idly wondered what that might be. He had no doubt it would be a thorough job. Nobody would ever know what had happened here.
“It’s the only way,” Garrett whispered to him. “It’s how we keep a lid on the madness. But…” He thought about Mr Sweeney. For a very short time he and the old rebel had been comrades in arms. They had understood each other so well. And now he was dead. There were others who were dead, too. He would remember their names and their faces until the day he was the one they were putting into a body bag. But Garrett felt very sorry that the old man was one of them.