The Undead Soldier
A Crowley and Ellwood story
Ellwood felt her legs give way and fell to the cold, hard ground as the world blurred in a sickening fashion all around her. The woman groaned and bit back a wave of nausea as she waited for her vision to clear and the world to stand still long enough for her to focus it. A tall, wiry man was standing over her, looking down at her with cold, icy eyes that had a more then a hint of madness about them, a peculiarly twisted half smile ghosting across his long, sunken face. He extended a long fingered hand, which Ellwood grabbed at, pulling herself up.
"Crowley what the hell happened, where are we?" she asked, breath steaming in the bitter cold as she groggily surveying her surroundings. They were standing in a dugout made of hard, frozen earth. Sandbags were piled high atop the lip of the dugout and she thought she could see the wicked outline of barbed wire. She shivered partly due to the cold and partly due to the tomb like silence that hung over the place.
"Emergency time jump" Crowley explained and looked around with seeming nonchalance though Ellwood knew he was analysing every detail. The gaunt man was walking over to a large, bulky piece of artillery, which stood as a still and silent monument to destruction, its long barrel pointing out the blood red evening sky. He examined it closely "hmm looks like a sFH13 Howitzer" he mused more to himself than to Ellwood "I think we're in the First World War, probably about 1916"
"What?" Ellwood exclaimed. She couldn't quite believe this; she'd been catapulted into the middle of the First World War without any warning. She'd been sitting drinking coffee, curled up with a good book in a quiet coffee shop. Now suddenly she was standing in the middle of a frozen trench in a red leather jacket with hair dyed purple and red. At least she'd got sensible footwear she thought looking down at heavy, solid looking leather boots.
"The First World War- a major conflict in human history" Crowley answered blandly. Ellwood glared witheringly at him.
"I know what the First World War is. I paid attention in school and even read books. I mean why are we suddenly here? What the hell is an emergency time jump?' The woman couldn't keep the note of fear out of her voice
"It means the power that be suddenly scooped us up and dropped us down in the middle of wherever and whenever they think we're needed and there isn't time to explain. Which is often. Usually means there's a crisis or a catastrophe or sometimes an apocalypse" he added, a single hollow, bitter laugh escaping from his lips.
"An apocalypse?" Ellwood arched an eyebrow
"I'll tell you the story sometime, it's an amusing one"
"I look forward to…" Ellwood noticed something out of the corner of her eye and turned to face it, letting out a sharp, sudden gasp. She'd seen bodies before but it was never a pleasant experience. A body, dressed in a tattered soldier's uniform caked in mud, filth and blood was laying face down, stiff and frozen in the dirt. Ellwood moved in for a closer look as Crowley roughly pushed past her.
"We're behind British lines it seems, they must have captured the gun, maybe it's later then 1916" the man muttered as he stooped over the body and made to flip it over. A sharp, sudden crack, the sound of gunfire, tore through the air and he froze in position. "Get away from the body, turn slowly around, raise your hands and explain why you're here". The voice was clear, erudite and youthful sounding with a note of command that it wasn't quite accustomed to. Ellwood complied, in her, admittedly limited, experience it was better to comply when someone pointing a gun in your general direction was bellowing orders. The woman turned around to see a young man with a mess of sandy coloured hair pointing a service revolver at her with shaking hands. Behind him were two soldiers with rifles aimed at them but with their eyes darting around the deepening shadows, looks of barely concealed terror upon their faces. Ellwood stepped away from the body, hands held high, studying the young man. He was tall and handsome in the way one would expect the young hero of a ripping yarn for boys to be. Clean-shaven face without any hint of malice and eyes the colour of a summer sky; except the eyes were bloodshot and surrounded by deep shadows, the face of a man who hadn't slept properly in far too long. "Move away from the body" the young officer, Ellwood assumed, shouted at Crowley again who was still intently studying the body. Ellwood swallowed nervously- this was going to get ugly. Crowley didn't deal well with threats.
"Crowley get away from the body, they've got a gun pointed at your head" Ellwood spoke slowly and calmly. Crowley suddenly stood up and raised his hands in one fluid motion.
"I apologise lieutenant, I was engrossed in my work" the young lieutenant blinked at Crowley with confusion.
"Don't mind him, he's really harmless" Ellwood added in a relaxed, calm and confident tone of voice flashing a quick grim and the lieutenant.
"Secure the body, make sure its dead," he ordered. A look of pure dread spread across the two soldiers' faces as they made for the body. "Stay back, get behind me" the Lieutenant said placing himself between the body, Crowley and Ellwood. Ellwood noticed his revolver was trained on the body the whole time, his mouth set in a hard line; second hand on the handle of the gun, in a vain effort to stop the trembling hands. Ellwood wondered what he was talking about "make sure it was dead" and wondered why they were so scared of a body, it was war, she was sure they saw a lot of them. The next few moments answered her question. With a sudden blur of motion that belied it's stiff, necrotic state the body sprang to life, seizing one soldier by the throat pulling him to the ground where he lay still, windpipe crushed, body jerking with spasmodic death throws as blood bubbled form his lips. It rounded on the second soldier and Ellwood caught a horrific glimpse of an almost melted looking face before it slammed into the man, ignoring the bayonet he'd thrust into its gut as it's distended jaw bit deep into his neck, driving him to the ground. Ellwood turned away in revulsion. Shot after shot rang out as the Lieutenant emptied the revolver into the thing as it tore the throat from the second soldier, oblivious to the bullets slamming into its body.
"Run, it's one of them, run." The lieutenant shouted, his voice breaking. He seized Ellwood by the hand a pulled her down a long, winding trench as she desperately tried make sense of what she'd just seen. A frozen corpse had just sprung to life and killed two men. Behind them, Crowley followed, his long coat swishing about him, a look of utmost and slightly ghoulish curiosity on his face.
The young lieutenant ran through the maze of trenches, dragging Ellwood by the hand until she roughly pulled free and continued to the follow the terrified young man through the failing light and deepening shadows. Behind them, Crowley padded along, keeping one eye open for a sign of the creature, although, mercifully, there was none. The frantic pace slowed as they came in sight of a warm amber glow coming from somewhere above them. Ellwood squinted through the ever-deepening gloom towards the light; she thought she could see a large looming building half hidden in the twilight, though she wasn't sure.
"Almost safe now, follow me" the Lieutenant gasped, a sheen of sweat across his drawn and pale face. He seemed to sway slightly on the spot before looking at the amber light and making his way up a narrow dirt path that lead out of the trench. Ellwood followed, her mind whirling with a thousand questions, shuddering at the terrible image that played across her minds eye of something supposedly dead tearing two young and scared soldiers to shreds. Crowley looked at her with a puzzled, quizzical look that she would have thought was concern if she'd not known better. The lieutenant led them from the trenches towards the large looming structure that rose up before them. It was a large, rambling stone house surrounded by several outbuildings of wood and stone. It had a solid, unyielding sort of look about it and seemed mercifully unscathed by the war, although not untouched by it; Ellwood noticed the machine guns mounted at the gate and the two soldiers standing an uneasy vigil. The two men began to lower their guns then swiftly put them up and jumped to attention as they saw the Lieutenant approaching.
"At ease gentlemen" the lieutenant said returning their salute and then grinning wearily at them "I've found Jenkins" he added and the two men nodded grimly.
"Was he…." The older one of the two answered taking a long draw on his cigarette.
"He was. I'm so sorry. He got Smith and Patch as well" the lieutenant answered in a low, dead sounding voice "he was out by the gun. I found these two out by the gun as well" he added, nodding at Ellwood and Crowley by way of explanation. As they spoke, Ellwood looked around the farmyard. The whole place had obviously been converted for the war effort; boxes and crates were stacked with that kind of precision she'd always seen in military camps. Around several fires were huddled cold, desperate and hungry looking men who watched the exchange at the gate with a curious mix of excitement, confusion, apathy and a kind of fear. Whatever had been going on here, it had obviously been going on awhile, these men looked about ready to break, Ellwood thought as she surveyed the sorry looking sight. The lieutenant finished addressing the men and ushered them into the compound. The soldiers began to stir, fanning out until Crowley and Ellwood were essentially surrounded. The lieutenant abruptly came to a stop and spun around, his revolver in his hand pointed directly at the two temporal operatives. Ellwood stopped dead in her tracks, noticing they were surrounded and that the ever more on edge lieutenant had a gun pointed at them. Better play this carefully she thought, her heart pounding.
"Now that we're out here, tell me who you are and how you got into the restricted zone. Please bear in mind you're surrounded and we will shoot" the young man spoke in such a fashion that he obviously thought he was commanding, impressive and dominating. Instead he sounded much more like a child trying to ape the mannerisms of a father, rather than a commanding figure in his own right. Crowley laughed an abrasive, ugly laugh and looked at the young man with withering contempt.
"Please, you actually used the word 'please' while trying to threaten someone" he mocked. "You're not going to do anything to us are you? So why not just put the gun down and you can answer my questions" Crowley's tone was cold and viciously cutting and he smiled a cruel grin; a ripple of fear ran through the crowd. The lieutenant didn't move, the gun was still aimed at Crowley but he swallowed nervously and his eyes widened. "Now tell me what that thing was"
"Not until you explain who you are and what you were doing in the restricted zone. That place is restricted- you can't go in or out without the direct order of the captain." Ellwood didn't know whether to be impressed or terrified- on the one hand, the young man didn't back down, but on the other hand, scared, stubborn people who were under considerable strain and had guns pointed at your head were never a good mix.
"I don't think so. Now hurry up and explain things, or else take me to the captain. There's something deeply wrong going on here and I mean to solve it and quite frankly I don't have time to argue with a witless boy who doesn't know the first thing about command or how to hold a decent interrogation. So why not drop this pathetic facsimile that you're the one with the power here and just tell me what I need to know" Ellwood cringed at the sudden diatribe. Don't insult the man with a gun to your head she thought, as the lieutenant's composure failed him utterly and he sprang at Crowley, swinging an arching haymaker at the time operative. With a blur of motion, Crowley swatted aside the young man's blow then smashed his fist into the lieutenant's stomach. The Lieutenant doubled over and with a sharp kick and Crowley kicked his legs out from underneath him. The next thing Ellwood saw was Crowley snapping the man's head back, a blackened knife, so thin it was barely visible, was pressed against his throat. A thin drop of blood trickled down his pale flesh.
"What the hell are you doing?" Ellwood demanded, trying to watch both Crowley and the crowd of soldiers, making sure that no one was readying guns or going to try anything heroic. For the moment they seemed to be standing in a state of shock, horror and total confusion; stock-still and frozen in place, watching the apparent insanity unfold before them.
"Getting some information, and getting it quickly. I have a molecular knife up against the young lieutenant's throat and unless you tell me what's going on and tell me quickly the dear boy's going to end up dead" Crowley called out to the assembled crowd, his tone of voice chilling, leaving no doubt he'd follow through on the grim promise without a moments hesitation. There was silence. With one slight twitch of the hand Crowley drew another drop of blood from the man's throat. "Come on now. Tell me what those creature were."
"They're the dead. They were once our men but now… well they're dead and they're hunting us and…" The lieutenant spoke calmly, or at least as calmly as could be expected with a knife pressed to his throat. Ellwood had to smile; he may be scared out of his wits but he damned sure isn't going to show it. There was a sudden crack of gunfire and a bellowed order. Ellwood felt something hard smash into her head which exploded with sharp blinding pain before she fell to the cold, hard stones, the metallic taste of blood filling her mouth before she blacked out.
Crowley wasn't too sure what happened. One minute he'd had the tiresome man by the throat and was just starting to get some answers, then the next, he saw a tall, powerfully built man striding across the courtyard, with a gun aimed straight at him, the man's hand squeezing round the trigger. He'd hurled himself to one side, letting the lieutenant go as a shot fired harmlessly overhead. After that, everything just exploded into chaos. The soldiers had rushed forward as the large man had yelled orders and Ellwood had been clubbed to the ground, unconscious or dead. He couldn't tell which. At that point, the lieutenant tackled him to the ground with the sort of precise brutality that could only be born on the playing fields of a public school, knocking the wind out of him and driving him into the hard, unyielding flagstones. Crowley grunted and gasped and reached for his knife only to have it stomped from his hand in a stab of pain and pop of joints by a booted foot. The boot, which belonged to a hard and lean looking man with iron grey hair and a haggard looking face, was then driven into his already cracked ribs. His vision blurring from the pain, Crowley suddenly felt himself being roughly seized and dragged across the courtyard. He saw the soldiers looking on, the lieutenant watching with a look of murderous rage that was alien to his boyish face. He was hurled down a flight of rough and weathered stone stairs before there was a thud of a door being slammed and the sound of a heavy bolt being driven home, locking him in.
The time operative lay there in pain, staring through the chill darkness, looking at dim, indistinct shapes while he tried to figure out what was going on and then work out an escape plan. First things first Crowley thought, he couldn't do anything with dislocated fingers. With a grimace, Crowley sat up, bracing himself against something that felt like a crate. Then, with one sharp motion, he shoved the fingers back into their sockets. He gritted his teeth together until he clamped down on his tongue. The metallic tang of blood filled his mouth as he let out a short, sharp cry of pain. The pain faded and Crowley flexed his stiff, swollen fingers, slumped against the crates and stared into the darkness as he began to mull things over. The living corpse hadn't surprised him so much, he'd worked out something was wrong with the body the moment he'd laid eyes on it. He'd seen things like that before; the reanimation of dead soldiers was fairly common but not for several hundred years and they certainly didn't move as quickly as that or act so independently. The fact they'd quarantined the whole area suggested a disease- that didn't fit either. From what he'd seen of the practice, it was tightly controlled, not left to spread like some archaic pestilence. He supposed it could be done, but doing so would be sheer idiocy. A sudden flash of light seared through his thoughts, cutting his deductive process short. Crowley swore in a language that no longer existed and looked around for the source of the disturbance. Three men stood over him, the large commanding looking man from before, a slender, furtive looking man who was dressed in army fatigues with a stained lab coat draped over the top, and the lean, grey haired man who'd stamped on his hand. The latter had a rifle trained on Crowley with steady hands and a hard eyed stared that clearly said he'd shoot the time operative dead if he so much as blinked funny. Crowley thought he'd better play it safe; this was not the time for drastic action.
"Well Mr Crowley" the captain, Crowley deduced from the crown and three crosses stitched onto his arm, said "Now it seems you're at our mercy. Why don't you start telling me who you are and why you're here?" The man's voice had a harsh quality that reminded Crowley of two rocks scraping together. The man was tall, powerfully built and had the sort of commanding presence that made one instantly pay attention.
"How do you know my name?" Crowley asked, even his injured state Crowley wasn't about to make it easy for the man. He slumped looking up at him defiantly.
"We asked Miss Ellwood, I must say she's not too happy with you. For a young lady she's got a remarkably filthy mouth" The captain laughed softly at this sounding more impressed than disgusted. A faint smile ghosted across his hard face, bringing a warmth to the stern, unyielding eyes, making him look much more human "Now Mr Crowley are you going to answer my question?" It wasn't really a request so much as a statement of fact. Crowley knew he had no choice. He was injured, disarmed and had a gun pointed straight at him. Not the ideal situation, the time operative thought.
"As you all ready know, my name is Crowley. My associate and I have come to investigate the reanimated corpses walking around here and put a stop to it before everything goes to hell and let me assure you it is about to go to hell"
"Who sent you?" the captain demanded, peering intently at Crowley, who smiled back at him with a ghoulish grin.
"Well that's where it gets complicated. I'm just going to say the powers that be"
"And who are those powers that be then Mr Crowley?" The captain asked. His tone was polite, civilised and even pleasant. The man's expression left Crowley in no doubt that this was an interrogation that could turn nasty in an instant.
"The British government" Crowley replied, hoping it would stick. It seemed plausible enough. After all, it was war. There were always clandestine operations of one sort or another going on. The captain gave Crowley a sceptical squint.
"Now my other question. What do you know about our predicament? You seem to know something" the captain's tone made it obvious that he still had grave doubts about Crowley.
"For the moment I know that somehow the dead are walking and that they're hungry, violent and out of control. What I suspect is that someone was doing something they weren't capable of doing or else were mad and this is the result. Now it's up to someone competent, that is to say me, to solve the problem. Rest assured, captain, I will solve it with or without your co-operation. I would however prefer to do it with your co-operation, as I am after all your…guest" For a moment there was silence and Crowley became acutely aware of the rifle aimed at his head. The captain squatted down and lent in close to Crowley, his flat, squashed nose almost pressed up against Crowley's face. The acrid smell of cheap tobacco lingered upon his breath.
"I'll level with you Mr Crowley, I don't like you nor do I trust you, though I'm sure you worked that out by now. However I think you're the best hope of getting us out of this mess so I'll work with you. However, threaten one of my men again, get anyone killed or otherwise compromise us and…" he slammed his hand against the crate with a sharp, sudden thudding sound "understand?" Crowley twitched his head in affirmation.
"Excellent, Doctor Myer if you'd be so good to see to the man's injuries, I have things to attend to" with that the captain turned on his heel and strode from the room as the man in the white coat made a clumsy attempt at a salute, something Crowley was keen to note. Myer bent down and began examining Crowley, who did his best not to wince and instead paid attention to the doctor. There was something off about him, something that made him seem out of place. Crowley would be sure to pursue that. Myer pulled a needle from beneath his coat
"This should help with the pain" he said as he leaned towards Crowley.
Ellwood found herself lying on a hard, narrow bed with a splitting headache and the tang of blood in her mouth, mixed with her own sense of fury. What had Crowley been playing at? She swore and pulled herself off the bed, head throbbing with a nauseating pain. She steadied herself against the cold, rough wall and looked around. There was nothing in here besides a rickety looking bedside table and a narrow window through which the darkness of the night could be seen. Night brought a bitter chill and Ellwood shivered, watching her breath steam while she began to think what to do next. She didn't get so far with that, as the door flew open and two soldiers burst in, pushed her roughly against the wall and held a pistol to her head. She saw the tall, powerfully built man stride into the room a cold fury etched upon his grizzled, hardened face.
"Who is he? Tell me now or I blow your brains out" he snarled as his eyes flashed dangerously.
"His name's Crowley, I'm Ellwood, now get the fuck off me" she snapped back. She was let go of and the tall man stormed from the room, the two soldiers following at his heels. The door was slammed shut and bolted. Ellwood began to look around, looking for an escape route; angry as she was at Crowley, she thought she should better go get him out. After all, she didn't have a clue what was going on and Crowley usually did. The window was too narrow and the door was locked and most likely guarded. It looked like she was stuck here. The woman swore profusely and aimed a solid yet ultimately ineffectual kick at the bed. Damn it Crowley you couldn't just play it nice and slowly? She was furious but not sure why she was surprised. In the month or so she'd been a Temporal Operative, she'd seen Crowley act in a fashion that could only be described as sociopathic and at least once ended in a bloodbath. She swore again and took a long steady breath, trying to get her temper under control.
"You've got quite a mouth on you for a girl, don't you?" the voice of the young lieutenant sounded behind her, hovering somewhere between shocked and impressed. She jumped, and turned around to see a young man standing there, a bright red mark across his neck.
"Of course I can swear, curse and even blaspheme, pretty amazing huh?' the man laughed nervously "Not sure we got introduced, I'm Ellwood and you are… Oswald was it?" she smiled and extended a hand to the young man who shook it with a very unsure handshake.
"Lieutenant James Oswald, pleased to meet you Miss Ellwood" he sounded awaked, confused by this strangely dressed and improperly forward woman, Ellwood imagined.
"Oh it's just Ellwood" she laughed and the young lieutenant smiled awkwardly.
"So… Ellwood who was the… Gentleman you came here with?" he asked rubbing at the cut on his neck
"That idiot was Crowley, I apologise for him. He prefers the direct approach. He didn't hurt you, did he?" she asked, tone full of concern. This was mostly genuine, he seemed polite, honest and friendly with an almost Biggles-like cast to him; or rather Biggles-like cast if that particularly literary character had been suffering from insomnia and the beginnings of post traumatic stress disorder, she speculated, looking at his bloodshot eyes, as they darted around the room, and his trembling hands.
"Just wondered pride.I let him get to me, lost my cool... it's been happening more and more lately really" the young man muttered with an awkward cough. Ah the old British army stoicism, Ellwood smirked to herself. She'd experienced more of that in her time and she knew just how to crack it.
"It's fine. The man can be an offensive git sometimes. If he wasn't the one in charge, I'd punch him the face" he looked quizzically at her "I've been in a few fights in my time" she added by way of explanation.
"I see, still it's not fine. I'm letting this whole bally mess get to me just a little too much, I mean I'm meant to be a leader here" he sighed, shoulders slumping.
"Sit down tell me all about it" Ellwood patted the side of the bed next to her. Oswald lowered himself to the bed and sat there rigidly eying her like one might eye a strange, exotic and potentially deadly animal. Ellwood rolled her eyes. This must have been a tedious time to be alive in. She placed a comforting hand on his; he looked at it, then at her, then back at his knees and began to speak.
"It all started about six months ago, just after Doctor Myer turned up. A couple of people went missing. We found them dead. Well, we thought they were dead and went out to give them a proper send-off. Good lads the pair of them, only well they weren't dead and…." His eyes went blank and distant for a moment, staring at some old, grim, brutal and bloody scene playing with horrific clarity within the theatre of memory. Ellwood gave his hand a friendly squeeze.
"It's been going on sixth months. There were only a few of them at first...then everyone they killed, well the ones they didn't eat came back as one of them. We were a whole platoon when this started, now there are just a few of us we're hold up here waiting for the end" James spoke with a hollow, numb voice, devoid of any emotion other than weary despair.
"Didn't you send for help? Ask HQ or something?" Ellwood asked, although she was starting to guess the answer.
"Of course. They just told us to deal with it, doubt they were paying attention, got more important things to worry about than us after all" Ellwood couldn't tell if he was being sincere now or not, although looking at his youthful nature it was entirely possible "The Doc said we should set up a quarantine and he'd try and find a cure…well he keeps trying but we're not closer to finding anything. I don't think we even know what we're dealing with and they just keep picking us off, one by one until we're all eaten or one of them. They sometimes attack us here, only at night, only sometimes and we fight them off but it's getting harder and harder and we keep losing more men" He continued in the same hollow, hopeless voice, staring into space. Ellwood was sure now that whatever horrors the man had seen, he'd be seeing them again as he spoke, she could feel his hand cold and shaking beneath hers. Ellwood felt flair of anger and more than a touch of guilt. Her line of work had made its way here and turned what was already a nightmarish chunk of human history into something else entirely, something worse. "We've lost so many" his voice broke then, "my friends, my…" he trailed off, head slumping downwards, hunching up into himself "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" he muttered to himself again and again. Ellwood slipped an arm round his shoulders.
"James, James look at me" she said soothingly, comfortingly squeezing him slightly. No response, she repeated herself this time with the snap of command in her voice. Military training kicked in then and the young lieutenant got a hold of himself enough to look at her.
"Yes Ma'am" Ellwood had to smile at that one.
"I'm not a Ma'am just an Ellwood. I promise me and Crowley will get to the bottom of this, we'll solve what's going on and get you all out of here in time for… well I don't know what it'll be in time for but you won't be stuck here forever. This isn't fair; you just got caught up in this and whoever, whatever started it… well I promise you we'll make sure they get what's coming to them. Sound like a plan?
"Yes Ma'…. I mean yes Ellwood" the lieutenant replied with a sudden spark of life, a grin spreading across his face "I'll make those dead blighters rue the day they crossed Lieutenant James Henry Oswald". At that moment the door flew open and Crowley stood there, his gaze flicking between Ellwood and Oswald, who were both laughing, sprawled on the narrow bed.
"Come on, we've got things to be getting on with" He said. Oswald had stopped laughing and got up, taking a step towards Crowley, who hardly paid him a second glance.
"Come to apologise to James have you? No, wait. That would mean you're a functioning human being wouldn't it?" Ellwood snapped, getting up and walking over to Crowley, who merely shrugged.
"The captain's agreed to work with us, which means everyone else here has as well. Now if you could go out there and bring me a live one would you?"
"Go get a live one, such as it is. I need to know what we're working with" Ellwood stared incredulously at him. Then again, this was Crowley; of course he expected her to do this and she wondered why she let it shock her.
"What kind of man are you? You can't send a woman out there, it's just not done!" Oswald yelled out.
"I'm the man who's going to save this miserable band and save a whole bunch of other things as well" Crowley replied with a withering stare at the lieutenant, who looked ready to take another swing at him.
"I can more than take care of myself," she said to James, laying a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Fine Crowley, but I'm not doing it alone" she responded and began to leave the room, calling back over her shoulder "Lieutenant aren't you coming? After all, you couldn't let me wander around here on my own could you? I might need your help" Oswald waited for a moment and followed her out of the room, shooting one last venomous look at Crowley before shutting the door behind him.
Myer stood over a hospital bed in the centre of a shady room, a needle and syringe in hand. On the bed a young soldier laid, his body and most his face was swathed in stark white bandages now soiled by seeping, congealing blood. The wounded man jerked spasmodically, straining against the thick leather strap that held him to the bed, before falling back into his almost death like repose. With the deft and precise grace of one who'd performed a task countless times, Myer drew blood from the body and looked at the tar like blood before raising it to his lips and squeezing a single drop into his mouth. A feint electric tingling danced across his mouth as nanobots began to scrub and scan the incoming material, near instantly projecting their analysis across his field of vision. Myer squinted at it and sighed; the results indicated further conversion. If this continued, well, the good doctor dreaded to think of the consequences. He sighed and began examining the man. The flesh felt cold and stiff beneath the doctor's hands; the eyes were still and staring with wide empty pupils looking sightlessly upon the world. "Doctor Myer, where are you? I need to discuss things with you" a cold, clipped sounding voice called out. It was the voice of Crowley. The doctor shuddered. He was sure the man was an Operative. That would explain his sudden appearance and the molecular knife he'd been handed. This didn't bode well for Myer, who quickly checked the leather straps and went to meet the man. As the doctor left, the one reaming eye of the wounded corpse snapped open, just for a second, the gaze roaming hungrily around the room.
The stone outbuilding that had become the command hospital was deserted and, like everywhere else in this place, deadly cold. The fire that warmed the ward had burnt away to forlornly glowing embers. Crowley looked around for a sign of Myer and tried to concentrate on what to do next. This was remarkably difficult, considering the injection of whatever Myer had given him during his brief examination. The compound had numbed the throbbing pain in his hand and ribs but had caressed his brain with a wonderful sense of bliss that made it almost impossible to concentrate on anything. Still, Crowley had a job to do and at least the nanobots in his blood had scrubbed enough of the narcotic from him to allow him to at least think somewhat. When it was apparent there was no sign of Myer, the operative began to search around the makeshift hospital looking for a clue that Myer might be something more then he seemed. The fumbled salute, the furtive bearing, all of the signs pointed to a man out of place and desperately trying to hide it; and Crowley was determined to find out just how he was out of place. Alas, the cold stone room, with its empty, unused beds, revealed nothing untoward. The sparse store cupboard contained exactly what Crowley would expect, as did the tiny cramped office of the doctor. The simple wooden table was covered in paper work but none of it was of any particular interest- just reports, inventories and other such things. Crowley did find one thing of note, a locked door at the far end of the room. He tried the handle a couple of times and then gave up. Normally he would have just picked the lock but he doubted he could concentrate on that at this moment, looked like he'd just have to talk to Myer.
"Doctor Myer where are you? I need to discuss things with you" he called out in clipped, cold tones that suggested he was in complete control. Crowley wasn't about to let a potential enemy know he could barely pay attention to what was in front of him. He had to admire the man's cleverness, giving him the drug just as he was about to scan him for any of the telltale signs of temporal flux. He must be loosing his touch; time was he'd have never fallen for such a cheap trick. Crowley's mind was snapped back to the moment as the locked door opened with a click and Myer stepped out, tucking something into his pocket and shutting the door hurriedly behind him as he saw Crowley. The man's eyes darted nervously around and his body tensed like a spring; he was about to run for it Crowley noted as he watched Myer.
"Doctor Myer, you've been here since this all started haven't you? So I imagine your pretty well informed and have some ideas on what's going on, care to share them?" as he spoke, Crowley moved to block the man's path to the doorway. In his current state it was slow, sluggish and painfully obvious what he was trying to do.
"I have some theories" Myer continued to look nervously around, doing anything but meet Crowley's eyes, his hand started to edge beneath his lab coat. "I suspect the Germans were experimenting with some new kind of gas in this area before we captured it and this is the end result…" his hand darted beneath his lab coat, Crowley made to grab it but, in his drugged state, he missed. Myer snatched out a short, thin baton that danced with incandescent electricity before ramming it into Crowley. His nerves exploded with blinding agony, he felt himself double over the bitter taste of bile filling his mouth as he retched from the sudden pain and pitched to the ground, body convulsing, unable to move, unable to stop Myer dashing across the room and away into the night. The baton lay on the flagstones now, dull and lifeless. Neural disrupter, single use, Crowley thought as he lay staring at it through a haze of pain. Clever bastard he thought with a mix of admiration and anger, must have realised he was a Temporal Operative from the outset. With tremendous effort he lifted a hand and brushed it against his ear, activated the sub dermal comm. Link all TSA operatives were fitted with, hoping that Ellwood hadn't all ready set off or that the neural disrupter hadn't completely fried it.
"Ellwood, get into the hospital now, plans have changed, Myer's not who he seems. He's bolted off someplace" turned out he was in luck on both counts.
"Great" came Ellwood's irritated sounding response "on my way now" she abruptly closed the comm. link and Crowley lay there waiting for the burning agony coursing through his nerves to subside.
As she stepped into the hospital, Ellwood noticed the smell of ozone in the air and saw Crowley sprawled on the floor next to a thin, metal baton. She sighed and went over to help him up and he winced and sagged against her. The door opened again and Oswald looked around first at Crowley then at the neural disruptor.
"He got me with a neural disruptor. He'd stuck me with some sort of narcotic- I was slow and couldn't stop him"
"So who was he? Time traveller?" she asked shifting her weight to better support Crowley. Oswald went over to the neural disruptor and squinted down suspiciously at it, then picked it up before anyone could stop him. He turned it over in his hands.
"It's a neural disruptor- piece of technology quite common in certain sectors of 32'nd century life," Crowley explained to a look of complete confusion from the lieutenant "and yes, we assume he was a time traveller since he has 32'nd century technology. Now enough, Ellwood or Oswald, I don't really care which, go and open that door" he nodded at the locked door at the end of the room. Ellwood noticed that it was reinforced with solid looking metal studs and that a viewing slit, currently closed by a metal shutter, was set into the door. She helped Crowley to the bed.
"You could at least ask nicely" she chided, some of her anger evaporating as she saw how pitiful he looked about now.
"No time for politeness, we need to know what's behind the door. Oswald or Ellwood get it open" the man snapped. Ellwood sighed and got up, walking over to the door. Oswald bounded after her in a fashion she was sure he felt was heroic, but she felt was rather condescending, and placed himself between Ellwood and the door.
"Miss Ellwood I believe this is more my area of expertise" he said, his voice dripping with sincerity. Ellwood rolled her eyes, biting back a clever retort. She was more than capable of forcing the door but realised the young lieutenant needed to feel useful right about now. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the door.
"When we came here, we found the farmer had a key for pretty much everything, Captain McNeal decided it was best for me to hold onto a set" he added by way of explanation and swung the door open. "Ladies first" he gestured theatrically into the small room. Ellwood made her way into the room, Oswald following her and Crowley limping in behind her. There was a bed in the room, to which a hideously wounded soldier, swathed in bloodied bandages, was bound with thick, strong leather restraints. A number of drips of colourless fluid fed into the man. There was a faint, sickly smell of rotting flesh in the air, mixed with the burning smell of Phenol. Ellwood looked at the man with morbid curiosity, his flesh was grey and dead looking but his body twitched and she swore she saw his one visible eye twitch beneath the bandage. Oswald was studying the man with a look of horror then suddenly let out a shocked cry of recognition.
"Perkins!" he yelled out, elbowing his way past Ellwood and kneeling down by the bed "we thought you were dead or one of them" the young lieutenant exclaimed, his voice resonating with a confused mix of shock, horror, relief and joy. He reached out with one hand, Ellwood made to stop him but find herself stayed by Crowley. Perkins seemed to twitch more violently, the eye snapping open as Oswald's hand closed on Perkin's arm.
"Oswald, get back!" Ellwood shouted and suddenly she felt Crowley dragging her from the room just as Perkin's eye snapped open and he jerked upright, snapping the leather restraints. Perkins' eye fixed on Oswald with an empty, bestial and hungry look as the young lieutenant simply started uncomprehendingly at the thing that used to be his friend. With its other hand the dead thing reached up and tore the bandages from its face, revealing a hideous ruin of congealed blood and blackened necrotic flesh from which the fetid stink poured. Perkins surged towards Oswald with a speed that belied the choric nature of its movement, tearing drips from his flesh leaving minute trails of nameless drugs and tar-like blood. Ellwood shook Crowley off and sprang forward just as Perkins slammed Oswald into the wall, its mouth stretching far wider then any human mouth should, revealing curiously fang-like teeth that plunged down into Oswald, who struggled vainly against Perkins's vice-like grip. Crowley staggered from the room and slammed the door shut and Ellwood heard the key turn in the lock as she kicked at Perkins' knee. The creature was distracted and her blow connected as the knee went out of line and Perkins staggered and fell, unable to support its own weight. It dragged Oswald down with him as both man and monster flopped to the floor. Ellwood looked around and saw the long metal drip stand and seized it up, whirling it around and slamming it into Perkins' head, snapping the creature's head back, knocking it from Oswald who lay there shaking, his neck a bloody mess. It sat upright only to meet with another swipe from Ellwood who brought the drip stand round, slamming into the thing that was once Perkins again and again until at last it stopped moving its head, a broken and bloody pulp. Ellwood stood staring at the broken creature, at Oswald and at her blood covered, shaking hands as sweat poured from her and she gasped for air in short, ragged breaths. She stared at the door, the viewing slit was open and she could see Crowley staring in. It dawned on her then he'd locked them both in there to die. Ellwood knew she should be disgusted, shocked, appalled at the bloody carnage all about her, instead she was simply a rush with adrenaline, the blood thundering in her ears. The bloodied Oswald was lying there staring up at Ellwood like she was some terrible red-handed goddess from the grim and distant past. The woman swung the drip stand at the door with a furious angry force.
"You bastard Crowley, you locked us in here to die" she yelled, her voice shaking with rage
"I assumed you could handle yourself and you did, well done." he responded, calm and collected, although with a note of smug self-satisfaction "In fact it was most useful. I learnt a lot about the creature from that brief exchange". Ellwood stood stock-still and let the drip stand slide from her hand with a clatter as the adrenaline suddenly drained from her. She began to shake in earnest now and reeled back from the door "I needed to see what the creature would do upon awakening, It appears it's paradigm was to propagate itself, I guessed as much. It seems Myer introduced or created independent self propagating Morte to the First World War" he continued, Ellwood glanced down at Oswald who was lying holding his neck and whimpering softly to himself. Poor man she thought. "As to why, we don't know but we need him back to try and work out a cure. I suggest you tie the young lieutenant to the bed, as he should be invaluable…" Ellwood was too busy watching the lieutenant's hand move towards his gun to listen to Crowley.
"Oswald what are you… no, put it down!" Ellwood cried out as a deafening crack of gunfire ricocheted around the room and Oswald slumped dead to the ground, a smoking gun falling from limp fingers. The door unlocked and Crowley strode in, looking at Ellwood, Perkins and Oswald with a look of annoyance.
"You should have stopped him, he would have been invaluable" he remarked. Ellwood stood in shocked silence, staring unbelievingly at Crowley. She knew the man could be cold hearted and pragmatic but this… she couldn't believe even Crowley could be so cold. A sudden wave of raw emotion hit her and she stormed from the room, biting back the tears as she swept from the makeshift hospital and out into the chill of the night. Ellwood looked around the darkness, before sagging to the ground, huddled against a wall, face pressed against her knees, letting the tears fall.
How long she sat there, she didn't know. All she knew was when she finally looked up, her eyes raw and red from the tears, she saw the sun was raising on a pale and frozen mourn. Ellwood had seen death and destruction a fair few times and, on more than a few occasions, had to get herself out of a sticky situation or several, but this was different, this was primal, sickening and unnatural and she'd got a life on her hands. That's what really got her, that's what made the young time operative weep. What made it worse was she could have stopped it. If she'd got less caught up in the fight or paid less attention to Crowley's smug, self satisfied ranting then maybe she could have seen what Oswald was about to do and stopped it. The young lieutenant had seemed a good man; he hadn't deserved to have a hideous death sentence placed upon him by a creature that was once his friend. He hadn't deserved to see friends and comrades slowly consumed by dead things that had once stood shoulder to shoulder with him. Ellwood sighed and rubbed her sore and swollen eyes. She'd long since cried herself out and walked across to the farmhouse wall to watch the sun rise and bathe the rat's warren of the trenches in a mournful, anaemic light. Somewhere, the man responsible was out there and she was going to find him.
"We need to find Myer" Crowley said beside her and she could feel him looming behind her. Ellwood didn't turn around she didn't want to look at him.
"Go away" she snapped, her voice was hollow and numb sounding, she felt betrayed and hurt, although why was a mystery to her. Crowley saw the world in terms of players and pawns. She knew that an act of betrayal for a greater good should come at no surprise to her and yet it did.
" I've figured out some of what's been going on, if we can find Myer I can stop this spreading any further, I need Myer and his equipment. We couldn't find the nanites, one assumes there with him" Crowley's voice was unreadable, detached, Ellwood would normally argue, normally take a swing at him, but for now she just stood there staring at the bitter dawn before her. How appropriate, she thought a cold and bitter dawn for cold and bitter thoughts.
"I'll track him down then" she responded, voice wooden, her mind on autopilot. She knew what she had to do, she had to venture out into the trenches and drag Myer back. There was a heavy silence, Crowley turned to leave, and then Ellwood spoke again.
"Why, Crowley, why lock us in that room, why push Oswald over the edge. You could have got the information any other way?"
"Because you were the most useful tools for the job. I needed information and throwing you and the young man into such a situation was the way to get it. I admit the man's fate was undesirable but this is war, such things are common. He wasn't the first to snap and he won't be the last. If it helps, you handled yourself wonderfully against the Morte" with that, Crowley stalked away as Ellwood clenched and unclenched her fists, reeling from the callousness of the man. For a while longer she continued to stare across the trenches and then she took a deep, steadying breath and walked across the compound and once again back into the trenches. Time to find Myer she thought, a grim smile playing across her lips.
The operative cautiously picked her way across the frozen ground of the trenches, feeling remarkably exposed and glad for the rifle slung over her shoulder and the knife tucked through her belt. There'd been some argument with the soldiers about an unarmed woman going out into the restricted zone. She'd just claimed the captain had sent her to find Myer and if they were so concerned about her being unarmed then they'd just have to find her a weapon. One look at the expression on her face had made them jump to it. Ellwood was now picking her way through the winding warren of trenches and barbed wire, the soft crunch of her booted feet upon the frozen earth unnaturally loud in the still air of the frozen morning. It was all too quiet, too still, no sign of life yet. Ellwood couldn't shake the feeling that something was watching her, following her as she tried to find Myer. Ellwood had no idea where he might have gone, the ground was far too hard for any tracks to be left so she was wandering blind in a place infested by flesh eating creatures. Good going Ellwood the woman thought and smiled a sardonic smile as she rounded a corner and stopped dead in her tracks, throwing herself against the cold, earthen wall of the trench. Mortes were hunched against the sloping wall, cowering in the meagre shade it offered, emitting soft, whimpering sounds as though the anaemic light of the morning sun caused them pain. With one smooth motion, Ellwood removed the rifle from her shoulder then, with a quick, certain movement, snapped the safety off and walked slowly past the cowering Mortes, rifle ready. There was a sorrowful, dirge-like timbre to the muted wailings of the Mortes. It put Ellwood in mind of a funeral service or a silent vigil for the dead. A memory ghosted through her brain.
An ancient church loomed over an overgrown graveyard. In the cold and bitter rain a gaggle of black clad mourners gathered around the looming maw of an open grave. The mourners looked on with stony faces and bleak, empty eyes, a pall of hopeless despair draped across them. At the side of the grave, a little girl knelt, her slender body shaking with wracking sobs. In one trembling hand she held a pale, white rose, which she held as tightly as she could, until the thorns cut into her flesh. The girl looked up at the tall, hook-nosed man beside, who nodded, hard-set lips twitching in the faintest of smiles. With that, the girl stood and leant over the grave and let the rose fall.
Ellwood shook her head, no, not now, not today! She screamed in the vaults of her mind and blinked, focusing on the here and now. Three Mortes lurched, slow and sluggishly from their shady repose, staggering towards her. Ellwood smiled and raised the rifle. One shot rang out, and the first Morte fell, its head blown open. She brought the rifle round and another shot rang above the moaning dirge and the second Morte fell. The rifle was empty now; the third Morte was almost upon her. Ellwood was ready and plunged the bayonet straight through its neck; it fell twitching, the curiously tar-like blood oozing over the dulled, steel blade. Ellwood jerked the blade free and wiped it clean, already the metal was pock marked and pitted. The operative scanned the length of the trench; Mortes as far as the eye could see, all huddled away from the light of the sun as the air filled with the sound of their whimpering dirge. Again Ellwood saw the church from the corner of her minds eye, blurring across her vision. What the hell was this? The woman thought, biting down on her tongue, the sudden pain and tang of blood anchoring her in the present, to see the slender, stooped shouldered and furtive form of Myer making his way towards her.
"Come with me" He said, his tone frantic, urgent and louder then necessary. Ellwood noticed he'd stuffed thick fabric into his ears. He was looking at the Mortes with panic "they could wake up any moment." Ellwood stood there; focusing on the blood in her mouth and the stinging pain, trying to push that most terrible of memories back down into the deepest recesses of the subconscious where it belonged. Myer held out a thin, long fingered hand to her and she took it and like the lost child amongst the wolves from some ancient tale, Myer led her from the trench.
This would be impossible; there was no cure, no way out of this that didn't end in blood and destruction. He stood alone in the hospital room, the bloody remains of Perkins strapped to the bed and Oswald's body laid across the table, splayed open and dissected, an overpowering aroma of human waste and offal rising from the open body. Crowley stood, the surgical apron and his hands were splattered with blood, as were the pages and pages of notes all around him, and the blood was rapidly turning to a thick tar- like substance; the last action of the experimental nano-machines Myer had used for this procedure. Crowley's initial suspicion was right- someone had been crazy enough to make self perpetuating Mortes; but it was worse thanthen that, Myer had made them stronger, quicker and managed to loose control of them; leaving the undead soldiers to operate under the paradigm of kill, survive, proliferate. He'd read the notes, performed his own analysis and, well, he couldn't do anything. The whole thing was too far-gone, there was only one way out of this now and it wasn't pretty. Crowley sighed a heavy, world-weary sound, removed the bloody apron and tossed it over the meticulously dissected remains of Oswald.
"Well it seems it was all in vain after all" he said to no-one in particular, plunging his hands into a bucket of ice cold water. Vigorously scrubbing them with hard yellow soap until they were red and raw, then he held his hands for longer until they ached from cold. Crowley thought for a moment. Myer had been too good, too good to undo his own work, too good to make it undoable by anyone. It was a Gordian knot and now the only option to Crowley was to take the role of Alexander the Great and cleave the knot in twain. Crowley laughed a hollow, bitter laugh at this idea. He brushed the comm. link in his neck
"Ellwood have you found Myer?" he asked, trying to sound enthusiastic and hopeful as though he might have found a cure. It was important Ellwood believed that.
"I'm with him now, how's things at your end?" she asked, she sounded sad and scared. For a fleeting moment he felt something resembling compassion.
"Fine, I know what we need to do now. Bring Myer back and make sure you bring whatever he used to get here, that's the important thing".
"Ok, we'll be back before you know it." Ellwood killed the comm. leaving the man alone save for the two corpses and resigned to what he must now do. Same old, same old he bitterly thought gathering up Myer's notes, looking over the cramped, spidery script upon the yellowing paper and tucking them beneath the long, black coat draped around his gaunt frame.
Myer hurried Ellwood through the trenches past the ghoulish choir, leading her by the hand as the time agent stumbled between the present and the realms of memory, paying no attention to where she was going. She felt the comm. in her neck twitch and brushed a hand against it, talked to Crowley as much as she was able, then killed the comm. Ellwood was far too occupied with quashing those memories to hold a conversation. The wailing stopped and all was silent and Ellwood's attention snapped back to the present. Myer was leading her into a half collapsed dugout. She ducked down and felt a slight jolting sensation, almost like a temporal jump though nowhere near as disorientating. She felt her eyebrows rise as she looked around; the place was bigger on the inside and not much like a dugout. A large room built of a slate grey material that looked something like a laboratory and an operating theatre if the six hovering surgical tables surrounding a central column were anything to go by. The memories faded and Ellwood was alert again, her eyes searching for clues, for dangers.
"So you have TARDIS?" she asked incredulously, time travel hadn't been much like Doctor Who so far Ellwood laughed to herself as she looked around the room. In response Myer whirled around, pulling a revolver from beneath his coat. Ellwood half expected this and grabbed his arm, forcing him to drop the gun and forced him to the ground, one arm pinned behind his back.
"You're not very good at this are you?" she asked, her tone curiously polite as she shifted her weight, elbow painfully pressed into the small of his back. "Should have tried to take me hostage when I was distracted by your little pets" she forced his arm upwards slightly and Myer winced in pain.
"I-I was trying to find a cure, I know it got out of hand. I was trying to find a cure, but it's impossible" he gasped, fear evident in his voice.
"Do you know how many people died, how many people suffered because of you?" Ellwood snarled and leaned closer to him, her breath on the back of his neck. With a flare of vindictive pleasure, Ellwood felt him quiver. Later she would feel guilt, for now she wanted to hurt this man; good men had died because of him and she was damn sure he was going to suffer!
"Yes. Why do you think I disguised myself as a doctor? Try and find a cure, try and help those that were left. I'd fucked up; I'd been too good. My Mortes worked too well, they proliferated, they were independent and they were deadly. So don't talk to me about how many people died" he spat this out trying to shift his weight, throw Ellwood off his back. He was sincere, she could tell that much.
"Why do it? Why here? Don't you think they suffered enough already here without you meddling in it?"
"Because this is where I ended up, I left in a hurry, I pissed off some powerful people and I needed out so I just jumped and ended up here" There was deep and sorrowful regret in the man's voice. Ellwood had no doubt he was genuinely disturbed by the events that had unfolded here.
"Why not just tell us?" Ellwood asked, "We could help you- Crowley claims to have worked out what's going on, that he can use your research to find a cure. We could help, no-one wants a bloodbath" Myer let out a harsh and bitter laugh just then.
"I said there's no cure, I did my job too well, I thought I could find a cure. It's why I faked the quarantine order from HQ; try and keep this contained. It's going to spread; the only way to put things right now would to be to perform a temporal scour." Myer's voice was bitter and broken now, his face a mask of numb and hopeless despair.
"Temporal scour?" Ellwood asked
"I use the time machine here to essentially scrub this little bit of the timeline clean, remove it from reality along with everyone here" Crowley answered from the doorway. Ellwood glared up at him, loosening her grip on Myer and jumping to her feet. The doctor rolled over laughing a shaking mirthless laugh; he looked between Crowley and Ellwood, a mad look dawning in his eyes.
"You lied to me, you said you'd found a solution, this isn't a solution- it's mass murder!" She shouted, walking towards Crowley, who merely shrugged.
"When I sent you to find Myer, I thought I might be able to find an alternate solution" he stated "This was not the case, a temporal scour is the only option" Ellwood stared into his two ice chip like eyes, trying to see a sign of remorse, regret, guilt but there was nothing just cold, iron hard certainty.
"Bullshit, you just went with the most expedient solution, you don't care about these people- to you they're just pawns to be sacrificed for the greater good. Well they're not just pawns, they're people with lives and hopes and dreams. You can't just…" Ellwood yelled, voice reverberating around the lab, hands clenching into fists. Crowley suddenly knocked her to one side and she slammed hard against the central pillar just as Myer lunged forward with a bayonet, stabbing it into Crowley, who crumpled and fell, hand clutched to his belly, bright red blood spilling out over his fingers. Ellwood's eyes fixed upon the revolver now and she made a dive for it, ducking beneath Myer's misplaced slash and snatched it up as she rolled to her feet. Myer sprang towards Ellwood as she pulled the trigger and the man fell to the ground, dead. Ellwood cast the gun aside and went to the fallen Crowley whose face was beginning to turn an unhealthy shade of grey.
"You saved me" she said incredulously, unable to believe that Crowley had thrown himself in harms way, saving her. "Thank you" his eyes snapped open and for a moment Ellwood was sure a smile played across his face, just for a fraction of a second before it were replaced with his usual inscrutable expression of sardonic cynicism.
"Go to the central console" he said, his voice weak and thready sounding as he pointed with one shaking hand to a doorway leading off the main building "If I'm right, just disable the safety override with the key in my left pocket" Ellwood reached into his pocket and pulled a small hexagonal key about two inches long and smooth to the touch "That should do it, and we'll be pulled out just before everything goes nova down here" he grunted for a moment as Ellwood stood up "Get a move on would you. I'd rather not die in this miserable pit of history' Ellwood's jaw set in a grim and determined line and she darted towards the control room.
In some dark and shady bar in some disreputable area of The City, Ellwood sat in a secluded corner, a bottle of something colourless, flavourless and most certainly not water standing beside her with an empty glass. She listened numbly to the thumping music and hardly saw the dozens of alien species all around her as she morosely played the events of the last mission through her mind again and again. Was this her life? A lonely, bloodstained life where every decision cost her more and more of her soul until she ended up a bitter broken husk who saw the world in terms of ends, means, players and pawns? She grasped the bottle and poured herself another glass, knocking it back in one, hardly feeling the fiery caress of liquid as it slipped down her throat.
"I never wanted to" Crowley said, sitting down beside her, a drink in hand, wincing slightly. They'd patched him up and shot him full of healing stimulants but it'd be a few days until he'd be fully functional. Ellwood shrugged. "I did what needed to be done, I might not like it, but I had to do it. I took no pleasure in it, it was just another mission that needed doing, I hope you know that" his voice was softer thanthen normal; somewhat stripped of its usual coldness, there was a strange expression on his face. Was it guilt? Regret? Boredom? Ellwood could never really tell with him.
"That's cold comfort Crowley" she muttered, pouring herself another shot.
"Sometimes that's all there is" Crowley replied, pensively sipping at his drink. For a moment a heavy silence hung in the air, then Crowley raised his glass "To James" he said. Ellwood blinked then raised her glass and clinked it with his.
"To James and all the rest" she echoed and together they drank to the memory of those who no one would remember.