"Who you trying to get hold of?"
Chuck had snuck up on me. Couldn't help myself. I jumped, shaking my head as I half turned to face him. "Just Mam. Sure she's all right, though."
Couldn't remember the last time I'd called her that.
Had the piss taken out of me in University too many times for it, ended up cutting it out. Mam. So simple. Wasn't the only thing they laughed at. Heard, excited, water. All words that brought out the little hint of a Welsh accent I had.
I'd tried to squash it though, except for the girls. The English girls went all weak at the knees, hearing any language they didn't fully grasp. Say anything that sounded remotely romantic and they were all over me. Of course, it was even better with the Welsh ones. Even texting nos da, cariad could turn them to putty in my hands. Mostly, I think that's all girls wanted sometimes. Just to know someone was thinking of them, wasn't it? Just a little reminder. And good night, darling did the job perfectly.
I was sure the last time I called her Mam, I'd been sick. Really sick. One of those epidemics that crop up every so often. It wasn't often I was ill, and this one hit me hard. Had screamed all sorts of horrible things at the nurses. Cried for Mam, convinced that in amidst the hallucinations I was going to die.
It's amazing how much can come out of a human body when there's very little going in.
The nurses had been great, despite me calling them demons from hell. I'd taken a shitload of champagne and chocolates to the hospital afterwards, and scored a date with one of the younger ones. According to her, she'd been quite flattered to be called a demon temptress who, I claimed, was going to drag me to hell.
The words, "I'm not fooled by your beauty," had been especially sweet, apparently.
A few other people at Uni had come down with it. They saw all sorts. Aliens, demons like I did, mass murderers. It had been bad, but luckily it only lasted a week or two once the hospital started treatment.
One of the biggest druggies I'd even known swore off all drugs after he'd been hit.
Amaris had been the ones to find the flu's cure. They came riding to the rescue, hailed as they usually were as scientific saviours.
But the flu, nicknamed equine flu, had been another reason for the straining relationships between east and west. Both sides claimed the other had manufactured the flu, had tested it on horses and had been planning to use it for biological warfare. Problem was, equine flu hadn't just hit the UK. It had spread around the world, and no one had been able to pinpoint a patient zero.
Chuck moved closer to me, and through my haze of memories I could see the concern on his face.
"I'm fine," I said, tempted to ask if he had any theories – or solid knowledge – about the flu. Most people did. Created by the USA to cause hatred towards the east. Created by Russia to destroy the west. Created by Amaris so they could make money from the cure.
Some people thought it had been made in the UK, and an accident had unleashed it.
Chuck's hand fell on my shoulder. I was staring hard at my phone, wishing it would ring, wishing I could hear my mother tell me she and my sister were fine.
What if the conspiracy theorists were right? What if the flu had been part of some biological warfare, and now it was going to be unleashed across the world?
If I hadn't been chained to a bed and heavily medicated, I was sure someone would have been seriously hurt. With the crap I was seeing, if I'd had the chance, I'd probably have killed someone.
That shit could wreck the world, without a doubt.
"Mate? You all right?"
I turned. Chuck was staring at me with wide eyes and I realised my breathing was coming just a little too heavily.
Gently I pushed past him, headed for the nearest empty space on one of the metal benches and sat down. Leaning my head against the cool wall I closed my eyes. Couldn't go down that route. Couldn't start thinking in what ifs and dwell on scenarios I knew nothing about.
Something was happening that was bigger than me, bigger than all of us. I couldn't do anything about it. Whether it was flu or nuclear weapons or Russia or China or America, none of it really mattered. Whatever happened, the cause didn't matter.
"You all right, mate?"
I opened my eyes to see Chuck standing over me. What was it like outside? Were people panicking? Trying to run, trying to squeeze into the bunkers?
There was a poem my dad liked. Just before he died, he'd written it all out. Copied it by hand. My dad's handwriting was all capital letters, clear and concise. Not like Mum's scrawled, barely legible words.
I'd found it when we were going through his stuff. In an envelope, JAKE written across the front. Couldn't remember it now but I'd heard it referenced and mentioned, must have been a million times. Same guy who wrote Jungle Book. I'd cried so much when I read it. It had been, in essence, my father's last words to me. And I'd lost it before I could get my head together enough to memorise it or put it somewhere safe.
Could have looked it up, but it just wouldn't have been the same.
Dad's last words to me, and all I could remember right then, in the bunker, was the stuff about keeping your head when everyone else is losing theirs, about only then being a man. And the words, my son. It kept drifting in and out of my head as I tried to focus on Chuck.
"Fine," I muttered, as he sat beside me. "Just, you know. Freaked out."
If Dad could see me now, losing my head along with everyone else…
Bloody hell. I wasn't a man. I was twenty-three. My nineteen year old self would have proclaimed, happily, that he was a man. But me? I knew better. In my head, I still felt like a teenager. When Dad died, everyone acted like it should have made me grow up, that it should have turned me into a man.
"I know, mate. But we'll be safe in here."
But shit like that didn't make you grow up. How was I supposed to become the man of the house, at seventeen? Nah, it didn't mature me. It set me back. I'd been horrible to Mum in the aftermath, something I only realised when she cried because I was moving away to University.
The way I'd seen it, I still had to live my own life. And I'd been there for Mum, when she'd cried night after night after night. Didn't I deserve to reclaim the teenage years I'd lost in trying to help her get through it?
Maybe I'd never even get the chance to make it up to her. I should have, really. Should have made more of an effort when I was home. But I was out, constantly, chasing girls.
How could he be so sure?
I was about to ask him, when a loud clang drew my attention to the entrance. None of the others looked, too absorbed in each other to care.
The guy who had walked us here stepped in. Following him was a girl, about a year younger than me. Her hair was jet black, green streaks running through it and cut sharp, choppy. My eyes dropped down, admiring her long legs beneath her fishnet tights. On her feet, she wore a pair of big, bulky Doc Martins. A short, tight tartan skirt completed the old-school punk look. On her tank top was the logo, and name, of Universal 66, a fairly new punk band.
She caught my eye and grinned, showing off the metal ring in the middle of her lip.
Maybe things down here wouldn't be so bad after all.
"Think they'll let us outside for a smoke?" I muttered to Chuck, dragging my gaze away from the girl. He shrugged, and moved towards the guy. I followed, deliberately keeping my gaze away from her.
"What's the deal with smoking?" Chuck asked as he reached the pair. The guy gestured to a door behind the shelves of food.
"Special request," he said. "Smoking room."
"Seriously?" Chuck laughed. "Who put that request in?"
The guy grinned. "The soldiers."
"Think we can go up there for one?" Chuck nodded his head up. "Get a last bit of fresh air before we get stuck down here for God knows how long."
The guy shrugged. "Don't see why not. No one around to tell us not to, is there?" His eyes darted around the room. "There should be, though." He shook his head, like he was trying to get rid of some bad thoughts.
"I'm coming," the girl declared, and the guy rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Come on." He led us back through the tunnel, the girl ahead of me and Chuck, looking eager to get back out even though she'd only been down here two minutes, if that.
Chuck fell into step beside me. "You all right?"
"Yeah. Think I might try to call Mum when we're outside."
We reached the ladder and scrambled up one by one, the guy ahead of us, opening it so bright bursts of sunlight filtered down. I cringed away from the sudden light, smiling to myself as fresh air hit. At the top, Chuck reached a hand down and yanked me up.
"Mind if I pinch a cig?" the girl asked, standing close to me.
I handed her one as the guy said something to Chuck, too low for me to hear. Chuck nodded and the pair walked away from us, cutting us out of their whispered conversation.
"I'm Jake, by the way."
"He your boyfriend?" I gestured to the guy. The radio on his belt crackled loud enough for us to hear. She laughed.
She looked like she matched her clothes perfectly, radiating an I-don't-give-a-shit attitude that screamed destruction. Being the masochist I was, I wanted her, badly. It's surprising how spending a lot of time around girls meant I could usually pick up on what they like off the bat. Daddy's girls, insecure girls, confident bitches who'd just as wrap your balls in their hands than fuck you. Broken, beaten girls. Self-destructive girls and then, of course, were the girls who were so damn nice you just never wanted to do them wrong.
I stayed away from the last ones.
"He's my cousin," she said. "Dragged me here against my will."
"You didn't want to come?" I asked, checking my phone quickly. Nothing. Damn. No signal, either.
"If the world's going to end," she drawled. "I want to go with it. What's the point in sticking around if everything else is gone?"
Of course, there were sweet, shy girls I sometimes approached. They weren't easy, exactly, but I knew my way around them, knew how to treat them. Some people called me a prick, but some girls needed an ego boost. Just a little dash of confidence, proof that they were pretty and didn't have to stick to the wall all night sipping their vodka and coke. At times all it took was a little talk, a little flattery to give them the guts to approach the guy they'd been eyeing all night. Sometimes it was a matter of a little bit more, but not too much. Didn't want them to get too attached.
Insecure girls I could deal with. Girls like Madison were a whole other matter.
Despite the fact that we clearly shared similar interests, and I could really picture myself taking her to gigs, imagining her diving into the mosh pit with a smile on her face, she was out of my league. The type of girl in high school I would have approached, and been rejected by. Robbie, despite his average looks, would have had her eating out of the palm of his hands, simply because of his name.
By University I had learned which girls would be flattered by my attention and which girls would have laughed in my face.
But with Madison I was not in the real world. With her, with the world ending, there were really only two eligible men around. And, well, I'd had the phrase "not if you were the last man on earth" thrown in my face when I was a kid.
When faced with the reality…
Girls wanted sex as much as guys did.
There was only one person standing in my way.
The person in question was still standing in the shadows of the trees, talking and laughing with his new friend. The radio crackled again.
"So what do you think?" Madison asked, blowing out a long line of smoke. "Russia going to bomb us?"
"I don't think it's Russia," I muttered, shaking my head. "Cold War was over long before we were born. Why go back down that path?"
"Cos the US are arseholes."
"Really?" I glanced at her, watching the smile hit her eyes. "What makes you say that?"
"They stick their noses into everyone else's business. They've been spying on the world and their own people for years…"
"Like they always have," I cut in. "And like most of the Western world, plus Russia, have been doing. So why pick on them? Why bomb us?" I took a deep breath, realising I was actually voicing my own thoughts, ones I hadn't really wanted to think about. "Why are we panicking when it's the Americans they're pissed at?"
And, in response to that, she had nothing to say.
Unable to help myself, I grinned. Maybe I was a little too smug, because the look that came my way was a death glare.
"I studied history," I explained. And, just like that, all the shit we'd done on espionage and national security came flooding back. "We looked at Cormac Leg, Daniel Thomas. Finn Downs came to the University and gave a lecture."
"Downs?" she muttered. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. Three British spies who all came out just over a decade ago and told us what we'd been overlooking. It's not just America."
It wasn't just the UK, either. It had happened all over the world. What had happened in the second decade of this century had snowballed, turning into a tidal wave of spies and government officials coming out and saying, yep, we're spying on you. Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France. And these guys, they ran. All over the world. By their sheer publicity they became hard to track down, until one by one the governments held their hands up and said, yeah, we know what you're doing when you sit in front of your computer, when you talk to your loved ones on your mobiles, when you're playing stupid games on your tablets.
They knew. And the revolution never came.
There were moments when it looked like things would tip over and the people would revolt. It just never happened. Post-1970s generations were more content to bitch and moan over the internet rather than get up and actually do something.
Those men had tried to stir something in us, tried to instil some sort of passion. It almost worked. Almost. We came out of University ready to take on the world, ready to make a difference.
And realised for that, we needed money and jobs and the real world, well, personally, it just kind of wore me down.
"What was he like?" she asked. "Downs, I mean."
Admiration shone in her eyes. I couldn't blame her. Finn Downs looked like a rock star, all piercings and tattoos. The most charismatic spy since James Bond.
"Amazing," I said, grinning to myself. But it quickly disappeared. The revolution didn't happen.
What if this was it?
What if this was some underground movement fed up with the world, the exact kind of people who would have been labelled terrorists?
What if, rather than suicide bombings, rather than revealing themselves to the authorities who would no doubt track and take them down, they just decided to go for one big bang?
It wouldn't have been hard to convince the world it was about to go to war, not with the internet. Just small hints here and there, watch it snowball. People were paranoid enough anyway. Didn't need much to make our species topple over the edge.
Or maybe they weren't the ones who were setting the bombs. If the US thought Russia were going to press the button, if Russia thought America would or the UK would it would only take one shaking hand, one messed up mind, to decide they were going to watch the enemy go down first.
My head was spinning. Literally. I lowered myself to the floor, frowning down at the grass. Madison crouched down in front of me.
"Hey, you okay?"
I shook my head. "Thinking too much," I said, forcing myself to grin. "Teachers always said I shouldn't."
"You don't look too good." Her eyes moved quickly. "Maybe you should…"
She was cut off by the shouts from both her cousin and Chuck.
"Get in!" her cousin called, and I turned to see them both running from the trees, the guy gesturing to the hatch. Madison grabbed my hand and yanked me to my feet, making me stumble forward into her.
Her eyes were wide. Her hand was still in mine and I could feel it shaking, just before the guy grabbed her shoulders and pushed her towards the hatch. There was real fear there, fear like I'd never seen on another person.
"Jake, go!" Chuck barked, as Madison scrambled down the hatch. I followed, as the guy put his radio to his mouth and spoke rapidly into it. Just before they climbed in, I saw both men glance up at the sky as if expecting to see something.
Once they were both on the ladder, the hatch closed with a slam, blocking the light out.
As the semi-darkness took over, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to the two guys who had met us in the car park.
A/N: As always, I absolutely love to hear what people think. This will be my last Into The Night update for November, most likely, as I will be unable to work on it due to NaNoWriMo. But I will still be returning reviews, and I will post up the NaNoWriMo novel so keep an eye out for that. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll be back with more updates on this in December.