The compound looked a little like a wartime landing field. On the asphalt, beyond a fifteen-foot high chain-link fence, stood at least half a dozen aeroplanes – or at least, what looked like aeroplanes, though they seemed to have more wings and engines than Dax would have expected. One of them had skidded upon landing and slewed across the field, crashing into the others. Now the nose of one plane rested on the ground, while another’s engines were dark and sooty, long burned out and cold. Oil was pooled on the ground, glistening in the torchlight as white beams played across the scene, casting stark shadows.

Standing on a half buried piece of pipe to make herself taller, Kaire rested her fingers on the chain link fence, her eyes focused and her jaw set. “We’re here.” She peered through the gloom. “Explains the debris on Lailenus Street. The one that crashed must have come through the buildings.”

Torch in hand, Dax was looking at the wrecked aeroplanes one by one, shaking his head in disbelief. “Kaire…what happened around here? Why is everything in ruins? Was there a war?”

She didn’t turn to him. “No. Not a war.” She pushed away from the fence. “An attack, a long time ago. Later, okay?”

“Right. Time of the essence. I know.” He looked up at the gate, built into the fence with barbed wire looping on top. “I’ll have a look in the guard hut.”

The hut stood beside the gate, but the doorway was blocked by debris which had fallen from the roof. Tucking the torch into the waistband of his jeans, he began pulling it to one side, wincing as a splinter dug into his palm. As he pulled the last plank aside, there was a dusty clatter from inside and something that had once been a person fell out, almost on top of him.

Dax sprang back. The skeleton smashed on the concrete in front of him, brittle bones still dressed in some ancient uniform. Through the dust, he glimpsed a heavy piece of metal lodged in the ribs. It must have broken off from the crashed aeroplane, pinwheeled through the hut’s window and killed the luckless guard.

A touch on his shoulder made him jump. “He’s dead,” Kaire told him. “We’ve got a living man to save.”

Still jumpy, the smell of old bone dust in his nose, Dax leaned delicately past the skeleton and looked at the control panel it had been sitting behind. There was a key set in the panel, and there were two buttons, red and green, on one side: one read GATE RELEASE. He twisted the key, then hit the release button with the heel of his palm.

There was a tired juddering sound as the old mechanism came to life. The lock on the gate pulled back and the hinges let out a loud creak. For a moment Dax thought the whole thing was going to freeze up and come to a grinding halt, but finally it came loose and slowly swung open, rust dropping onto the ground beneath.

Beyond, he could see what Kaire had seen, on the other side of the compound – rubble that had fallen and broken down the fence, with what must be Lailenus Street on the other side.

 

previous | archive | next