Chapter 1

Once I get outside I'm fine.

All the nervousness, the trepidation and the apprehension disappears in seconds. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

People ask me why I run but I never give them a straight answer. I never give them an honest answer. I give them all the usual bullshit about keeping fit and healthy and I might tell them that I run because it's good to get out and find all those places you can't get to by car. When you're running, I sometimes tell them, you're everything and you're nothing. You don't matter to anyone but yourself. You can run past a hundred people and none of them know how far you've run or how much you're hurting. I tell people that I like to run because I like the quiet. I tell them I like to be on my own. I sometimes tell them that I like to think, but I never tell anyone what I think about.

I left home just under half an hour ago. There were a few grey clouds on the horizon. Now the entire sky is almost completely black and I know that in a couple of seconds the sun will disappear. There's a lone pocket of blue sky above me which is about to be swallowed up by dark clouds attacking it from all directions. I've seen this happen before when a storm's been brewing. The clouds suddenly stop following each other and start to criss-cross the sky at different heights and different speeds. Unpredictable and unstoppable. My legs are aching and my head is pounding. The atmosphere is heavy and oppressive and there's a cold wind suddenly gusting all around me.

Christ, here it comes. I've done almost four miles and I'm soaked with sweat and now here comes the rain to make the last mile and a half home even more difficult. I've run down sheltered streets lined with buildings and footpaths covered by a canopy of trees but it's only now that I'm out here with no protection that the rain is really beginning to pour down. There's nothing I can do but keep on running. The harder I push myself, the sooner I'll be home.

Bloody hell. Now this is the real reason why I run.

I must have followed this dirt track a hundred times but it still takes my breath away. The rain's ice-cold and it's crashing down all around me now but it doesn't seem to matter. The view here is incredible. The muddy path is never more than a couple of feet across even at its widest point and it's hard going - boggy and uneven - but it's worth it when I reach the top of the hill. I'm out on the edge when I reach the top of the hills, following the line of the cliffs. A two hundred foot drop and nothing to see but the ocean.

The rain's so heavy now that it's almost like a mist. There's the first growl of thunder - a low, ominous rumble that I can feel through the ground. I can feel it in my legs and my belly. Exhilarating and humbling. A sudden split-second flash of electric blue light and another crack of thunder and now I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm in trouble here. I'm out on my own with no protection. I'm cold and wet and I feel as exposed as an electricity pylon. I might as well be playing golf as running.

There's another flash of light. This time I'm looking in the right direction, straight out over the ocean. The lightning seemed to hit the water just past the first rocks of the Devil's Peak. If I close my eyes I can still see it in negative. But closing my eyes is the last thing I want to do up here. Shit, almost lost my footing. I've got to concentrate. One slip and I've had it. It was a bloody stupid idea to come up this way today.

I never stop when I'm running. It's hard to get going again once you've slowed down. But something's not right. I can't put my finger on it. The rain's even colder now I'm standing still but that's not important. I can hear something over the noise of the sea and the storm. I can hear a new sound. A different sound.

There's a jet.

No, wait. There's more than one.

They don't usually fly much at this time of day, and certainly not in this weather unless there's a damn good reason. There are five of them flying in an arrowhead formation. When they fly along the valley they're a hundred times faster and nowhere near as loud as this. They're never usually this close to each other.

There are even more of them.

I can see seven jets now, sleek and dark, still flying in formation but they're getting lower. One by one they're emerging from the heavy cloud cover. They're well away from the land now and out over the ocean.

There's something else behind them.

They're leading it out of the clouds. Jesus Christ.

Whatever this thing is it's huge. It's black and it's fucking enormous. Fucking hell, I've never seen anything like it. It's silent. All I can hear are the jets surrounding it. This thing is immense and it's not making a bloody sound. It seems to be going on forever - hundreds and hundreds of metres of Christ knows what stretching down through the clouds and out over the ocean. It looks and moves like a fucking submarine carving its way through the turbulent air. Its vast belly is black, smooth and featureless but for a few bright pinpricks of light towards the front. I can't even begin to estimate the size of this thing.

There are jets surrounding the entire machine. They look so small that they're like the shadows of scavenging birds against it. I can see the back end of it now - there's a huge brilliant ball of blue-white light behind the ship. That must be what's powering it. How can it be so quiet? Christ, how can something so big move without making a sound? All I can hear are the jets and the storm.

I can't look at the light. It's so bright and powerful. Jesus, I can feel my skin beginning to prickle and tighten with the heat. The rain and sweat is evaporating and there's steam snaking up from my skin.

The distance is deceptive. The whole convoy is moving at speed.

Just a couple of minutes since the first jet appeared and the last one is now disappearing from view. All I can see is the ball of light moving out to sea.

A second of silence, and then the sound of the waves on the rocks below and the driving rain returns a thousand times louder than before.

I've got to get home.

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