Chapter Twenty

THE DOOR FLIES OPEN, and Mallon barges into the room. He's carrying something with both hands and holding the light beneath it. The combination of searing light and dark shadows stops me from seeing anything. He doesn't look at me, must be focused on whatever it is he's going to do to me. He turns his back and puts something down on the chair; then he puts the lamp on the floor in the corner of the room.

What's that smell? Christ, it's beautiful. Smells like hot food... some kind of soup, I think. But it can't be, can it? Can you imagine a smell? Is this another trick my tired mind's playing on me? Mallon turns around and moves closer. He's left a tray on the chair. There's a bowl on it with steam snaking up, and next to it is a plastic bottle full of water. My stomach starts to growl and churn.

"You must be damn hungry," he says, his deep voice filling the room. I stop myself answering with the words on the very tip of my tongue, remembering at the last second what he is and what his kind have done to people like me. "You look hungry. You must be starving."

He leans over me, and I instinctively strain against my chains to get to him. Maybe this time I'll reach him...

My arms and legs hurt too much, and I quickly drop back down. Bastard doesn't even flinch. He knows I'm not going anywhere.

"You smell of piss," he says, laughing at me and shaking his head. "You're in a bad way, big man! Lost, all alone, chained up, and soaked with piss!"

I can't help trying to lunge forward again, but the pain's intense, and this time I hardly move. He looks me in the eye and raises his hand. I screw my eyes shut and tense up, ready for him to hit me-but the pain doesn't come. I feel him tugging on the wide strap across my forehead. He loosens it slightly, then steps back. I still can't lift my head up, but at least I've got some side-to-side movement now. The freedom is bliss.

Mallon picks up the tray and sits down on the chair opposite. He sniffs the soup or stew or whatever it is, then takes a spoonful and holds it up to his lips. He stops just before he eats it.

"You want some of this?"

Fucker knows how much I want it. He's playing games with me again, and I have to resist. I won't give him the satisfaction of a response. Won't lower myself to speak to him. I watch his every move as he blows steam away, then takes a mouthful. He closes his eyes and shakes his head with pleasure, deliberately overdoing it for effect.

"Oh, that's good... You know, Danny, it's getting harder and harder to find food like this these days. I'm betting it's been a long time since you've tasted anything as good as this soup."

He eats more. I want him to stop. Please don't eat it all...

"It's chicken, you know. It's out of a can, of course, but man, you can still taste the meat. I don't even know if it really is meat, but oh, this is damn fine soup."

He puts down the spoon and opens the bottle of water. My mouth and throat are dry. My tongue feels ten times its normal size, like it's too big for my mouth. He takes a huge swig of water, then gasps with overstated pleasure when he's done. My eyes are fixed on him, and he knows it. My stomach churns again.

He gets up and carries the tray over. I stare at the steam coming from the soup and watch it disappear into the air, trying to imagine what it tastes like. Can't remember the last time I ate hot food...

"You can have this," he tells me, putting the tray down on my chest. I watch it going up and down with my fast, nervous breathing. I feel the heat from the soup on my body. "You can have all this and more; you just have to do one thing. You know what that is?"

I don't react. Don't know and I don't want to know. I don't have anything this sick fucker could want. But if there is something, something I haven't thought about that matters, then I know he'll keep pushing. And the longer I act dumb, the harder he'll have to push. If I stay silent long enough, he'll have to tell me something to keep this bullshit interrogation moving along. He clears his throat to speak again. Predictable bastard.

"All you have to do, Danny," he says, leaning closer, "is talk to me. We don't even have to have a proper conversation. You can just tell me to fuck off if you like. All I want is to hear your voice. I just want you to respond to me..."

I won't do it. I'd rather starve. He waits, looking at me hopefully. Keep waiting, fucker.

And he does.

"Seems strange to me," he eventually whispers after he's been watching for a couple of minutes, "that someone like you who's obviously so hungry and thirsty can't bring themselves to just do one small thing to get what they need so badly. No one else is going to know about it, Danny. No one's watching..."

Stay focused. I look up at the ceiling and count the cracks.

"You really are strange, strange people. If I had the time and inclination to wait and watch, I think you really would rather lie there until you die than drop your guard. Crazy behavior..."

He leans over me until his face is all I can see. I start to tense my body again, but he gently pushes me back down with one hand, and I know there's nothing I can do. I make eye contact and refuse to break it. I'll kill him when I get out of here. I'll rip his damn body apart, smash his face into the wall...

Mallon sighs. He shakes his head with feigned disappointment, then picks up the tray and puts it back on the chair. I stare at the bottle of water, still three-quarters full, and watch the few last wisps of steam rising up from the soup. He stands in the open doorway with the lamp.

"All you have to do is talk to me. Just say something... anything..."

Another pause; then he shakes his head again and leaves. He slams and locks the door, and the room is plunged back into total darkness.

iv

THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE Hate were vast and incalculable. While the impact was predominantly felt by the surviving population-those remaining on both sides of the Change-its effects reached much, much further.

The very nature of the division that had unequally split the human race in two had caused irreparable damage to every area of life where two people or more were expected to work together. Basic services had faltered and collapsed within a matter of days. There then followed a frantic, barely coordinated period of reprioritization as the remaining Unchanged resources were diverted to the maintenance of vital services and defense. Within weeks, however, even the most basic of public services had either fallen apart or been brought to its knees. A government of sorts (with a civilian mouthpiece but under military control) continued to try to coordinate what remained of the country's infrastructure. City and district councils either were dissolved or collapsed. All schools were closed. The hospitals and the health service couldn't cope. What was left of the police force and fire brigade were absorbed into the military.

The concentration of huge masses of refugees in hopelessly unprepared locations also presented a constant string of enormous, virtually insurmountable, logistical and practical problems.

The lack of food, shelter, and adequate medical care aside, water, gas, and electricity supplies failed with astonishing speed as power stations, pumps, and pipelines were abandoned, destroyed, or disabled. With every single person without exception being dragged into the war, those installations and facilities that remained operational longest were frequently those that could function unmanned.

The evacuation of the Unchanged masses to city center camps simply concentrated and exacerbated the problems faced by the authorities. Extremely limited utility supplies were maintained, with all available water, gas, and power being diverted to the military as priority. Fuck the civilians, there's a war to be won.

Without adequate supplies of clean water and basic medical care, the refugee camps quickly became breeding grounds for disease. Previously easily curable ailments rapidly became killers, and small outbreaks and infestations quickly became epidemics. Most bodies were collected and burned, but scores of others inevitably remained undetected. The almost total lack of sanitation compounded the problem dramatically.

Within the cities, the closely confined masses of refugees continued to produce vast amounts of garbage, none of which was collected or treated. As well as quickly becoming a physical hazard, the huge quantities of waste that quickly gathered also contributed to the acceleration of disease. Rats and other vermin benefited from suddenly plentiful supplies of food, and those drains and sewers that had not been damaged by the fighting instead became blocked with debris.

From late May onward, an increase in temperature combined with frequent heavy downpours of rain to further accelerate the decline in conditions in the refugee camps.

Every available scrap of indoor space had been utilized to house the displaced, but inevitably the demand far outweighed what was available. As a result, huge numbers of people were left outside. Some were housed in tents, RVs, and trailers, but most made do with temporary shelters constructed from whatever materials they could find. More than 30 percent of the total population of the refugee camp was forced to live outdoors-hundreds of thousands of exhausted, vulnerable, malnourished people left to the mercy of the elements.

"Block it up!" Mark yelled as rainwater poured in through the broken top-floor hotel window. The room was dark, almost pitch black despite it normally being bright at this time in the morning. The stormy dawn sky over the city was swollen with rain. It had been falling with the force of bullets for more than fifteen minutes already and showed no signs of abating. The guttering and drainpipes serving the dilapidated old building couldn't cope with the sheer amount of water flushing through them. A blocked section of gutter had overflowed, and the water had seeped behind a rotting fascia board, then flooded through the window frame. More water seeped through a broken pane of glass.

"Block it with what?" Kate shouted, using a bucket, a wastebasket, cups, and whatever else she could find to catch the water.

"I don't know. Stay there. I'll go and find something."

"Don't go outside," she pleaded, struggling with her heavily pregnant bulk to turn around and stop him. "Please, Mark."

"Just to the end of the hall, okay?"

He didn't give her time to answer. He weaved around the bottom of the double bed, where Katie's traumatized elderly parents lay terrified, cold, and wet, then ran past the permanently locked bathroom door. He unlocked the main door, took off the security chain, and put his head outside. Just a handful of people out on the landing-a rain-soaked woman from the room next door (who obviously had problems similar to his) and the Chinese guy with his three kids who slept in the broken elevator. Mark looked up and down, then spied a wooden hatch on the wall between two of the opposite rooms. The fire hose that used to be hidden behind the small square door was missing. He pulled at the hatch, then pushed down on it from above, feeling the hinges begin to weaken. A few seconds of violent shaking and pulling and he yanked it free with an almighty splintering crack. He ran back to room 33 with it, stopping only to pull the one remaining curtain down from the side of a large gallery window overlooking the street below. Jesus Christ, things looked bad down there. Crowds of people were pressed up against the sides of buildings, desperate for whatever shelter they could find, woken without warning by an early morning deluge of ice-cold rain. The main street itself, Arley Road, a wide, relatively straight, and gently sloping strip of pavement, looked more like a river. A fast-moving, debris-carrying torrent of rainwater surged down it toward the center of town.

Back in the hotel room, Mark threw the curtain to Kate, who started mopping up the water that was still cascading down the glass, then spilling down the windowsill and soaking the carpet.

"Who's that?!" Kate's elderly, confused father yelled in panic, lifting his head off the pillow for the first time in hours. "Is it one of them?"

Next to him, her mother lay on her side, sobbing, the dirty bedclothes pulled up tight under her chin.

"It's just Mark, Dad," Kate shouted.

"It's me, Joe," Mark said, leaning closer to the old man so he could see his face. He'd lost his glasses weeks ago. Mark didn't know whether he recognized him or not.

Mark leaned the hatch door against the window over the broken glass and used a phone directory to wedge and hold it in place.

"Save the water," he said to Kate.

"What?"

"The rainwater... save it!"

"Where?"

"In the bathtub."

The flow of water into the room temporarily plugged, Kate carried the half-full bucket across the room, her bare feet squelching on the damp carpet. She knocked on the bathroom door.

"Let me in."

There was a brief pause; then the latch clicked and the door opened. Another adult refugee appeared, her face drawn and haggard-looking.

"Everything okay?" she asked. Kate nodded.

"Mark said we should try to save the water in the tub."

The woman nodded and took the bucket from her. Mark passed her several water-filled cups that he'd collected from by the window.

"Makes sense to try to hoard as much as we can," he said, taking back the empty bucket. She nodded but didn't answer.

The flood stemmed temporarily, Kate walked away and sat down exhausted on a rain-splashed chair next to her parents. Her mother continued to sob, but Kate couldn't face trying to comfort her. Instead she closed her eyes and ran her hands over her swollen stomach.

Mark picked up the last pot of water and carried it to the bathroom. The rain seemed to finally be easing. The woman in the shadows took it from him and emptied it into the tub.

"Thanks, Lizzie," he said.

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