Within fifteen minutes of PC Merton calling in the death of Sergeant Lawford the Operational Support Group had arrived. Firearms Officers surrounded the house, their boots trampling the freshly cut grass, their harsh radio calls cutting the soft summer morning. Like flies they swarmed, moving in groups to surround the grounds, their faces wrapped in black cloth and eyes covered with overlarge goggles, ballistic helmets smooth and black, with heavy coveralls and body armour they ran quickly and crouched ready beside the windows and doors.
Inspector Stein gave the area a studied gaze. He was cautious and deliberate in his movements. Commanding firearmed officers was no place to be hasty. He had already issued the warning through the loudhailer, receiving no reply from the blank faceless windows. He nodded slowly to his Tactical Advisor, Inspector Hade.
“We have a dead Police Officer and an almost dead hostage?”
“An Officer is down, apparently dead. We’ve got one confirmed hostage in a bad way, maybe more. At least one hostile but it’s a big house and there may be more. A search was made of the upstairs but we have no information about who’s on the ground floor. I’d advise a rapid entry through the front door, spread out quickly and gain access to the upper room. If we’re lucky the hostage won’t have been moved. Simultaneous entry through the back and side doors.”
“Should we negotiate?” Stein wondered out loud.
“Inadvisable. If the downed officer isn’t dead every moment spent negotiating could kill him. By all accounts the hostage is on his last legs as well. We’ve effected a rapid response time, if we go in quickly we may keep the element of surprise.”
Stein paced forward, surveying the AFO’s as they took position. “Lethal force?”
Hade paused, considering. “We haven’t seen evidence of firearms yet. Load the advance with baton rounds. Lethal rounds to support.” Stein nodded slowly, agreeing with his fellow Inspector’s advice. He raised his radio to his mouth and gave his orders, sharp and authoritative. He stood upright, back straight as a rod and watched as his police moved in.
Mark stared calmly through the upstairs window, looking down at the police that swarmed like ants below. Cars, sleeker than he remembered filled the driveway. The men carried devices in their hands, bulky, black metal. They couldn’t be guns could they? If so they were like no guns he had seen before. He did not recognize their clothes; they wore masks and crouched low as they ran. He did not understand who they were, it had been too long since he had lived in the world, too long since he had interacted with others.
He glanced down at the policeman that lay slumped against the wall. He still wasn’t moving. Perhaps he was…dead. He had a memory of death, long ago, before he had found the way out. There were many memories like that; old and faded yet he knew he should know them, he knew they were relevant yet it had been so long since he had had to think of normal life, so long since he had had to live.
He blinked in confusion as he considered what had happened, the blow had struck too hard; he hadn’t realized how strong he was. Yet he had tried to pull the blow as much as possible. He had only wanted to stop the officer. He had only wanted to protect his Sleeper the last thing that remained to link him to the world.
He turned to the inner room, the door still hanging open. It breathed calmly now, slower than anything truly alive, each breath a minute separated, shallow and barely observable. To a casual observer it would seem dead if looked at for only a short time. It had been the shock of having the policeman break into the room that had made the body gasp so harshly. But still it slept, deeper than any man could sleep while still alive. Yet still it lived, barely.
The blood still stained the bare floorboards. Mark had tried to clean it up, calmly and efficiently. Yet he had been stopped when hearing the cars pull up outside. Now he was thinking that perhaps it hadn’t been right to spend so long cleaning, perhaps he should have moved the Sleeper. His thoughts of such matter were sluggish though, time moved too fast. He was used to thinking of things in the natural cycles of days and months and years, not of such brief fractions as minutes.
He watched as the policemen crouched at his front door below. They looked dangerous. He barely remembered danger but it stirred feelings in him long forgotten. The Sleeper twitched in its sleep as he remembered having had to run, the last time he had had to escape. His face, though still serene, showed a reaction for the first time in ages.
Slowly he felt himself coming back, his mind coming down from the heights where he had lived for so long. He had been so close, so close to the split, drifting completely free from the world. But that was gone now. The world had come in, had invaded and as usual it was harsh, painful and angry.
He looked at the body, head split and matted with dark blood. He was dead. Mark knew it now. Such knowledge did not stir him to guilt or fear or worry. Such feelings were beyond him. But he knew danger was close now. He may have to do something. He just didn’t know what. Perhaps he could talk to them. Explain it was an accident.
He couldn’t remember if that was possible, if accidental death was accepted. He could remember very little. All he wanted was to forget everything, to go out in the garden and walk among his flowers, to lift his face to the early sun and feel the warmth on his face, to feel the green grass between his toes and hear the birdcall music of the trees. But he pulled himself back to the world. He would go downstairs, he would explain.
Mark reached the front door just as it exploded inwards, the lock tearing from the doorway under the crashing blow of the ram. The man holding the heavy solid black tube stepped aside as the front man rushed in, his gun raised to Mark’s face, the heavy black Heckler and Koch carbine slung high from his shoulders, tight under his arm, his fingers close on the trigger. The MP5 thrust forward like a dagger as the faceless agent screamed orders that Mark couldn’t register, the violence, fear, anger in the man’s voice overwhelming him. So different to anything he knew.
He froze, caught in the frame of the short black muzzle. Still the shouts rang out, other men pressing in on either side, MP5’s raised high to their covered faces. Mark could see himself in the swollen glasses of the front man, still, calm, yet frozen to the spot.
The man leapt forward and grabbed Mark with a grip he barely felt. Suddenly he was being pulled to the ground. Mark resisted instinctively and rose back up against the man’s grip, pushing his arm away. There was the crack of breaking bone and the man fell back screaming, his arm twisted at an odd angle. Mark’s hand pushed slowly into the man’s chest, yet repelling him away with a force that crumpled the body armour like paper.
There was a loud bark of noise that Mark jumped at, startled, the ceiling crunched as baton rounds slammed hard into it, ricocheting off at an angle. Mark turned and ran and the heavy black guns barked out again. Bullets this time slammed hard against the wood panels of the wall at the top of the stairs, tracing a line of close holes across its oak surface. The banister splintered and leapt like a wild thing as Mark reached the top.
The noise hid the sounds of breaking wood as other doors around the house crashed open. Men ran in, filling the halls and rooms of his house, their guns ready to fire. The second man at the bottom of the stairs, shocked that Mark was still standing, raised his sub-machine gun to his eye, sighting on the running man’s back as he turned at the top. He was a good marksman and his weapon fired its rounds straight towards Mark’s back. And the wall behind Mark erupted in splintering wood.
Mark glanced back down at the milling crowd of black and noise and movement as he ran to the left at the top of the stairs. The figures below shook off their shock and followed, others crowding in behind them.
Too late, far too late. Memories of the before time flooded back as Mark raced into the empty room, past the dead body to the smaller room beyond. He knew now the danger he was in, he remembered running, he remembered the life before, distant and like a dream, yet he remembered it.
How could he have been so stupid? He had ‘murdered’ (the word dragged from the long-locked files at the back of his memories) a policeman and stayed to clean up the blood. He didn’t know what would happen; he didn’t know what could happen. Could the process be reversed, could he go back to the life he had left? He didn’t know but he didn’t want to stay and find out. He had to escape.
He grabbed the Sleeper and slung him easily over his shoulder, as light as paper. He rushed out of the room to face the two policemen in the doorway. They didn’t fire but screamed orders, they yelled at him to put the hostage down.
Mark froze, facing the black-clad men. He didn’t know what to do, the guns didn’t worry him but if they hit the Sleeper… Mark wavered, he could break open their heads like he had done to the other policeman but…he glanced at the body against the wall and he stopped wavering. He didn’t want to kill again. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. Just the thought of it made his Sleeper grunt and gasp in his hands. The men still shouted, but they hadn’t moved forward.
Mark made his decision. He put the Sleeper down and knelt to the bare floor. The police rushed forward.
The cell door stood blank and grey against the front wall of the room. A single bed squatted against the back wall, little more than a shelf with a thin mattress. But Mark did not notice such things, he did not notice the grey walls, the springs that tried to dig into his rear, the harsh cold light of the overhead strip.
He had let them bring him here, let them take away his Sleeper, helpless in confusion as they had bundled him into the white and blue vehicle that had driven him here. Buildings thronged where he remembered wide sweeping fields, people wore clothes he did not recognize. He did remember cars but they had been rare, and slow. This one moved with a smooth grace that carried him faster than any vehicle he remembered.
How long had it been, how many years had he spent dwelling in that house, apart from the world, ignoring the passage of time, delighting only in what he was and the beauty that surrounded him. He did not know but now the beauty had been stripped from him, now he felt feelings long forgotten, dim still, and far away but the memory of them made him concerned that they should come no nearer to him. But he knew they would come back, slowly yet inexorably closer. Confused and without knowing where to turn or what to do now he sat in the cell and tried to think of what to do.
Then he felt it, sudden and bad. Dim yet there, a presence at the back of his mind. His Sleeper, his flesh. He felt what it felt, he touched it. The link was close now, closer than he could ever remember it being. What were they doing to it, how could they bring him back, it couldn’t be.
Sudden fear flashed through him, the strangeness of the feeling, only dimly remembered, shocked him far more than the feeling itself. He shouldn’t be feeling this: it was close, too close.
He leapt to his feet. At the back of his mind the presence twitched and disappeared, then came back stronger. He had to stop it, he had to get his Sleeper back. Panic almost touched him and he turned in the direction where the wasted, sleeping body lay. He faced it, not seeing it but feeling it, closer than distance allowed. He hurried to it as fast as he could.