Book 6: Harvest
A castle can be made safe from the undead, but not from the people inside the walls.
It is eight months since the outbreak. In the anarchy and chaos that came with the undead, civilisation was destroyed. In the wars that followed, the planet was nearly ruined. Billions died. Only a few thousand survived.
Fifty people have found refuge in the Tower of London. Zombies plague the city outside the old fortress. The wasteland beyond is filled with nothing but radioactive ruins. With nowhere left to retreat to, and in a final attempt to make the ancient castle a place where they can do more than just slowly starve, the survivors take their boat west, searching for food in the abandoned coastal farms. They find something else. They discover that hunger, thirst, and the undead aren’t the only threat they face.
London, 23rd February
“Derry? Corporal Derry? Is that you?”
Derry looked up and saw a man with a vaguely familiar face, wearing a uniform as familiar as her own. “Thompson?” she asked, and the memory came back. “That thing in the Sahara, eighteen months ago, right? And you made it to corporal, too.”
“Because of it, I think. Almost made it to sergeant, then this happened.” Thompson waved a hand, not at the other uniforms in the conference room of a hotel to the north of Whitehall, but as if to take in the chaos outside. “Zombies, can you believe it?” he asked.
“Almost,” Derry said. “Did you hear the rumour that it was a terrorist attack?”
“No,” Thompson said. “Where did you hear that?”
“Yesterday I was on duty at a supermarket. I heard it from the colour sergeant in charge of the detail. He got it from a major who used to work intelligence. He’s a solid source.”
“Right,” Thompson said, clearly weighing up how reliable that made the information. “What kind of terrorists? Fundamentalists?”
“Sounded more like someone who wants to destroy the world just to prove they can,” she said.
“Oh.” Thompson mulled that over, and shrugged. “What does it matter, right? It’s not like we’re the ones going to track them down.” He waved the piece of paper in his hand. “I’m off to an inland farm. What about you?”
“The same,” Derry said. She looked down at her own orders. “Somewhere near Dover, going by the post code.”
“Shame,” Thompson said. “Mine’s in Hampshire.”
“It’ll make a nice change from guarding supermarkets and petrol stations against looters.” She gave her head a rueful shake. “A stint in the countryside will be like a holiday.”
“Sounds like you got the short straw. I’ve just come from the British Museum. And you won’t guess why. They—” But he was cut short by a parade ground bark.
Derry’s feet snapped together as her eyes snapped to the door. A colonel had walked in. At least the man wore the uniform of a colonel. When she’d last seen him, eighteen months before and on the same mission in which she’d met Corporal Thompson, he’d been dressed as a civilian and claimed to be the same. Behind him came a woman she recognised instantly. Jenifer Masterton, an opposition MP who’d been appointed Minister for the Interior in the emergency cabinet.
“Thank you, Colonel,” Masterton said. “At ease, everyone, please. We don’t have time for those formalities. For that reason, I’ll keep this brief. Colonel Cannock has recommended all of you.” She turned to nod at the man wearing the uniform of a colonel. “He says that he has worked with you in the past, and that you are diligent, trustworthy, and loyal. Those are the qualities we need in these dangerous times. We face the very real possibility of the extinction of our country, our civilisation, and indeed, our species. To prevent this, we are establishing a series of fortified farms. Redoubts, if you will, to ensure the nation does not starve now that the global food chain has collapsed. You must protect the farmers and train them to protect themselves. It should be obvious to everyone that there will be no more imports of oil. We will be relying on manpower and…”
Derry tuned out what Masterton was saying. Despite saying she’d keep it brief, the politician was using a lot of words to say what the soldier already knew. She was to prevent the farmers, and the increasingly large number of workers, from stealing any of the food they grew. Walls would be built to keep the zombies out, and it was Derry’s responsibility to ensure any they did see were killed. It sounded like a pretty easy billet, certainly easier than acting as an executioner in the city.
“There are hard times ahead,” Masterton said, drawing her speech to a close. “But with hard work, we will have a future. Thank you.”
It was a weak ending to an odd speech, Derry thought, as the Minister left the room. It was almost as if Masterton had wanted to remind the military that the politicians were still in charge. Perhaps she had, or perhaps she wanted to remind these soldiers who were about to go out to farms where the population would soon rise from dozens to hundreds, if not thousands, that she was one of those politicians in charge.
“That’s it,” Cannock drawled. “You’re dismissed.”
“When are you getting to Kent?” Thompson asked. “Because I’m not leaving until tomorrow morning.”
“In an hour,” Derry said.
“Well, there’s a pub I know of near here. It’s closed, of course, but the landlord will open up for us.”
“Yeah, okay. I can spare time for a drink,” Derry said.
“Then there’s an exit round the back of the hotel. This way.”
They joined the group filing out of the door, but turned right when everyone else turned left.
“You find the ballroom,” Thompson said. “Then you take a left.”
“How do you know?” she asked.
“I asked the girl on the reception desk,” Thompson said. “I had a feeling this was going to be my last chance to get a decent pint for a long while. And what are they going to—” He stopped talking because ahead, they could hear voices.
“I’m surprised you didn’t want to see her,” a man said. Derry recognised it as that of the fake colonel, Cannock.
“I see enough of her as it is. Why was she here?” another man asked. Derry recognised that second voice, though she’d only previously heard it on the news. It was Sir Michael Quigley.
“To give a pep talk to the troops going to those farms you designated for the backup plan,” Cannock said.
“Good God, why?” Quigley asked.
“Who knows? I did offer to deal with her, but you insist—”
“Yes, yes. She’s my problem, not yours. Speaking of your problems, those contacts of yours… I forget the woman’s name, the one your friend works for. You’ve made arrangements for them?”
“It’s all in hand, sir.”
“And you’ve no… difficulty with that?” Quigley asked.
“It’s not personal, sir, just business,” Cannock said. “Always was.”
The voices came through the open double doors of a ballroom. Opposite was a small meeting room. Derry pointed, and the two soldiers ducked inside. From the ballroom came the sound of footsteps, a chair being pulled from a stack, and then the rustling of paper.
“It’s getting late,” Cannock said. “We need to get back to the facility.”
“Not when there’s a chance I’ll meet Masterton on the way out,” Quigley said. “She’s not meant to know I’m in the capital.”
“Look, wouldn’t it be easier if—”
“Cannock,” Quigley said, a warning edge to his voice. “I think you sometimes forget to whom you are speaking.”
“Better.” There was a pause, then a dull knocking sound as if knuckles were being rapped against a hard surface. “They look like suitcases, I suppose. Travelling cases for a musician, perhaps. That’s as good as camouflage here in the hotel.”
“And they’re safe are they?” Cannock asked.
“What do you mean by safe?” Quigley replied.
“Those cases, are they reinforced? I mean, if there was an explosion—”
“Under those circumstances,” Quigley interrupted, “their contents would be the least of our problems.”
“Just in case,” Cannock said, “wouldn’t it be best to have them moved?”
“Where to? Lenham Hill? Caulfield Hall? Or do you want to move them to the fortress? If London gets a direct hit, it won’t be the sole target. No, these will be of no use to us if we don’t have a civilisation to protect. We’ll leave them here, but we should have more than one sentry on duty. When he comes back with my coffee, we’ll go and see about doubling the guard.”
Derry met Thompson’s gaze. He understood. They didn’t want to be caught eavesdropping when the guard returned. She pointed outside and back along the corridor. They left the room, moving quietly but as casually as they could until they reached the junction, then they sped up, both trying to get away from the politician, the fake colonel, and whatever was in the ballroom.
They found themselves in the service side of the hotel, and after a few wrong turns, at an emergency exit. The fresh air felt wonderful.
“You heard what he said?” Thompson asked. “They’re expecting London to get a direct hit.”
“Not just London,” Derry said. “Having walled farms scattered across the countryside makes a lot more sense now.”
“Yeah, but who’d attack us?” Thompson asked.
“I don’t know,” Derry said. “But where’s this pub? I could really do with that drink.”