While I’m thinking about Mum and what might have happened to her, a screen in front of my bed jumps into life and positions itself directly in my view. At a perfect focal distance. Very clever. A face appears on the screen.
‘Hello Dan,’ says a very official looking lady on the screen, ‘I’m sorry if we worried you.’
‘That’s fine,’ I reply. ‘But what’s going on? And where is my family?’
‘Sorry Dan, there’s a lot to explain,’ she continues. ‘Would you prefer to get some food first, then I can brief you fully on what’s been happening?’
I’m really hungry and I’m never very good on an empty stomach. The thought of sitting down with a plate of decent food and getting some answers is just what I need right now. But I want to know about my family first.
‘Where is Dad?’ I ask. ‘He must be here with David and Harriet still. Is this the same bunker or have I been moved?’
‘Dan, your dad and your brother and sister are fine, but I’m afraid we can’t let you see them just yet,’ replies the lady. ‘You’re in a classified military area; we have to follow certain protocols, I’m afraid,’ she continues. ‘But let me reassure you, they’re absolutely fine.’
‘And my mum?’ I ask, relieved that at least I seem to be safe now, and things are looking more hopeful by the minute.
The face on the screen changes slightly. She tries to hide it, but I can see that she is suddenly concerned. I have caught her out; she wasn’t expecting that question.
‘Dan, were you with somebody else when you got caught in the bunker? Other than your brother and sister, and your dad?’
‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘My mum.’ I’m concerned now; I don’t like the look on her face. She’s referring to somebody off-screen, as if she hopes that they’ll give her an answer. This doesn’t feel like it’s going to be good news.
‘Dan, there was nobody else inside the bunker when the doors closed, where was she?’ the woman asks me uneasily.
‘She was outside,’ I reply, ‘running towards the blast doors.’
‘Oh,’ is the only word that she utters.
He was pretty surprised when the recruitment call came. He was ex-military. Struggling to return to civilian life. It’s a big change when you leave the Army. One minute you’re in a foreign country being shot at, verbally abused and fearing for your own life and the lives of your colleagues. The next you’ve been made redundant and your military life is over. The routines, the discipline, the friendship. It takes some adjusting to.
It had only been three weeks when the call came, but he was ready for it. A few trips to the job centre and he’d known that civilian life was going to be a struggle. How can you be a waiter in a pizza restaurant when only a few weeks ago you were dodging sniper bullets and trying not to step on a landmine? So he was eager to get involved when they contacted him.
It was almost as if they’d been waiting. When they asked him to sign up, he was desperate to get back in action, there was no way he was saying ‘no’. Trudie would understand. And at least nobody would be in danger. Or that’s certainly how it had looked at the time.
‘Uncomfortable’ is not a good word to use to describe the person who’s responsible for medical procedures, especially if they involve you and your body.
But the woman had not really had a choice. When they put it the way they did, what else could she do? If it was your family, wouldn’t you be able to make tough decisions if it meant them being okay? And this didn’t seem too bad, it certainly hadn’t hurt at all. She’d had more discomfort from a filling at the dentist. Only once you’d had a filling it was all over and done with. And if you went easy on the sweets and drinks, you could even avoid it happening again if you really wanted to.
But she had a feeling that sitting here in this office, having this thing – whatever it was – placed into her body … she had a feeling that this was the easy bit.
Although the darkness had the appearance of an accelerated nightfall at first, if viewed from space, it would have looked much more startling. This had nothing to do with the sun, or the light that is cast over the planet, depending on where you are in the world, at certain times of day. This blackness fell over the entire planet.
From space you would have seen no land, no sea, no mountains or clouds. You would just have observed those familiar forms slowly darkening, until completely obscured by blackness. Nothing – just an orb of darkness – and no signs of life.