Literary Fiction Science Fiction post-apocalpytic Hard science fiction dystopian


By Gary Gibson
Oct 31, 2017 · 5,173 words · 19 minutes

Photo by Christina Boemio via Unsplash.

Bill tasted the sweet, sharp scent of violence in the back of his throat just a moment before the fight broke out - although calling it a fight was stretching it, given O’Hare was a notorious sociopath from Hut Thirteen and Ade, the object of his ire, was a skinny little guy on crutches who could hardly stand straight, let alone defend himself.

Bill heard O’Hare’s guttural roar as he grabbed hold of Ade and sent him tumbling to the canteen floor, his crutches clattering down beside him.

Bill reacted without thinking. He threw his tin tray to one side and shoved O’Hare in the back as hard as he could with both hands.

O’Hare lost his balance, his cheap prison-issue boots performing a complicated shuffle as he tried to stay upright. He collided with a kitchen trolley, sending dishes scattering across the tiles with a noise like cymbals thrown down a stairwell.

A whistle shrieked, cutting through the yells of the other prisoners. Guards seized hold of Bill, twisting his arms behind his back and dragging him out into the freezing autumn air. They came to a halt and he listened as they unlocked a door before shoving him inside.

He sprawled on icy concrete, listening as the guards locked the door again before retreating back across the compound.

He waited there, shivering and hungry, for three days before another guard brought him a bowl of hot broth that sank down his throat like molten gold. He’d barely had time to taste it before his wrists were cuffed behind his back and he was led back across the prison compound and inside the main building, recognisable by its distinctive echoes. There he waited, the guard’s hand never leaving his shoulder, until a buzzer sounded and he was led through a door.

‘You’re new,’ he said, standing at the threshold of the interrogation room.

‘How do you know?’ The woman’s voice had a slight Scottish lilt to it. ‘It says in your records that you’re blind, Mister Sharpe.’

‘I…’ Bill realised he’d slipped badly. Hunger and cold would do that to you. ‘I just guessed.'

The truth was that Bill knew everyone in the camp by their scent, and hers was unfamiliar, burdened as it was by the unusually rich perfume of the soap she had used that morning.

The guard pushed Bill into a chair. He sat clumsily. He could sense, but not see, the desk before him, and the woman sitting behind it. He pictured her as having very white skin, with narrow lips and red hair pulled back in a tight bun above a National Unity uniform.

‘My name is Hannegan,’ she said. ‘I’m with the Office of Investigations. And you’re correct - I am new. So why don’t we start with you telling me why you attacked O’Hare the other day?’

‘He attacked Ade - I share a hut with him. Ade has to use crutches. It’s a struggle for him to stay upright or even hold onto a tray. I usually help him, but O’Hare pushed between us in line when we got there that morning. I guess he got tired of waiting for Ade to collect his morning ration.’

‘Who is this Ade?’

‘Adebayo,’ said Bill.

‘Ah.’ Bill heard the sound of a pencil pressed against paper. ‘Adebayo Afolayan. An African. Another Senseless.’

‘He’s from Leeds, not Africa.’

The guard, still standing behind him, cuffed Bill across the back of the head. ‘Don’t try and be smart.’

‘And that was reason enough for you to attack O’Hare?’ Hannegan pressed.

‘Ade is on crutches,’ said Bill. ‘How the hell was he going to defend himself? He’s disabled!’

‘Yes, but no one is disabled unless they choose to be,’ the woman pointed out.

‘It’s not his choice to-’ Bill managed to stop himself before the rest of the words slipped out.

Fingers tapped on a desktop. ‘But it is his choice,’ Hannegan continued, with more than a hint of satisfaction. ‘The same as it’s your choice to be blind. Give us even just one name, and I’ll have you taken to the clinic right now and have your eyesight restored.’ He heard her chair creak beneath her. ‘According to these records, you’ve held out on us for two years. I’d almost think, Mister Sharpe, that you like being blind. You can go now.’

The guard pulled Bill up and out of his seat before leading him back across the room.

‘Oh, and if you don’t mind me asking,’ said Hannegan, just before the guard pulled the door open again, ‘how did you know it was O’Hare who attacked your friend, and not someone else?’

Bill didn’t turn around. ‘I didn’t. Someone told me after the fact.’

‘Who, Mister Sharpe? You were immediately placed in solitary for several days. There’s no one who could have told you.’

Bill shrugged, working to make the gesture look casual. ‘I guess someone shouted his name.’

On the way back out, Bill caught Ade’s scent, and guessed he was next to be interviewed.

The guard led him back out past the canteen building, then further uphill to the shale-roofed wooden hut that had been his home on the island for the last hundred weeks. As soon as he was inside and the guard was gone, he felt Owen’s fingers pressing against his bare forearm, tracing out letters.

Big problem, wrote Owen. Someone new coming.

‘I know,’ Bill said, turning to where he knew Owen was. They’d made Owen deaf as well as mute, but he’d learned to be an efficient lipreader. ‘I just met her. Hannegan. She must be the new interrogator.’

Owen shook Bill’s arm violently. No, he wrote. Another Senseless. Tonight.

The words brought Bill a jolt of alarm. ‘In our hut?’

Yes, Owen drew, his scent heavy with fear. Change plans?

Bill licked his lips, scenting even his own fear. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Does Ade know about this?’


Well, that was something, anyway. Ade could at least speak, even if they’d taken away his sense of proprioception.

‘Wait until Ade’s back,’ said Bill. ‘Then we’ll talk more.’

Ade returned an hour later, stumbling like a drunkard even with the aid of his crutches. Bill listened to the sound of his carefully measured movements as he made his way across the hut. He'd been a concert pianist before his arrest, but nowadays he’d be lucky to sit on a piano stool without sliding straight off.

‘There you are,’ said Ade, falling into a chair by the hut's single table. He leaned back, anchoring himself to the back of the chair by hooking his arms over it, his legs sprawled before him at an awkward angle. ‘I saw you back there.’

Bill nodded. ‘You spoke with that new interrogator?’

‘She’s been talking to all the Senseless prisoners, it seems.’

‘What does she look like?’ Bill asked suddenly.

‘Why don’t you tell me?’

‘Red hair, pale skin? Hair in a bun?’

Ade laughed with delight. ‘How the hell do you always know?’

A long time ago - before the plagues, the crop failures, the toxic algal blooms killing the oceans and the concomitant collapse in social order - Bill had read about something called blindsight. In certain circumstances, if their optic nerves weren’t damaged, the blind could see - after a fashion. Even though the visual data wasn’t reaching the conscious part of their brain, they were nonetheless aware of their surroundings on an unconscious level, precisely as if they remained sighted. Somehow, Bill didn’t need to see Hannegan’s face to know what she looked like: on some deep-wired level he just knew.

Bill shrugged. ‘Owen said there’s someone coming to stay with us?’

‘We got the news while you were locked up.’

‘We only have three bunks in here. There's no room!’

‘Does it matter?’ Ade's scent was heavy with anxiety. ‘We’re supposed to be escaping from this miserable shithole - how are we going to do that with somebody new in here with us? How do we know we can trust them?’

‘I don’t know,’ Bill replied. The timing couldn’t have been worse. ‘Maybe let’s just wait and see who we get first.’

Late that night, Bill woke to the sound of someone crossing the muddy ground outside their hut. The door slammed open and Bill counted three pairs of boots thudding across the uneven floorboards. Two were undoubtedly guards, but the third man’s gait was ponderous, stumbling.

The guards left, leaving the stranger alone with them.

Owen wouldn’t have heard them enter, but the freezing wind that came through the door was enough to rouse him. Bill heard his feet touch the floorboards.

‘Jesus,’ Ade swore. ‘Reilly fucking Burns?’

Bill climbed out of his bunk, his heart beating wildly. ‘Are you serious? Reilly, is that you?’

The man gave no answer. But it was Reilly Burns: Bill knew the way he always knew.

‘I think he might be deaf,’ said Ade.

Bill found his way over to their new hut-mate and grasped him by the forearm. ‘I can’t hear anything,’ said Reilly, his words thick and slurred.

‘Over here,’ said Bill, guiding him to the table and helping him sit. Ade’s crutches clicked as he came over to join them, half-falling into another chair.

Owen came to stand beside Bill, rapidly pressing letters into his skin. It’s Reilly Burns.

Bill touched Owen’s face and turned towards him. ‘I know. He’s deaf. Go get your slate - we need to find out what’s happened to him.’

Bill tried to steady his thoughts while Owen hurried back to his bunk. A lot of people had looked up to Burns, until he disappeared during the first wave of arrests.

Owen returned with the small slate board he used to communicate with people from outside their hut. Bill heard the scrawl of chalk as Owen wrote out a question.

‘They caught up with me a couple of weeks ago,’ Reilly said. His voice was slurred and awkward from not being able to hear his own words. ‘I was in a safe house, in Birmingham, helping to organise a strike. Unity troops stormed the place but I was the only one they caught. I refused to give them any names, so they took my hearing away.’

Owen pressed fingers into Bill’s arm. We can take him with us. We can trust Reilly.

‘Of course,’ said Bill. This was Reilly Burns, after all, famous - or infamous, depending on your politics - for his stirring denunciation of National Unity in Parliament, just days before they seized power. If they could trust anyone, thought Bill, they could surely trust him. And yet he felt a powerful sense of disquiet, although he could not yet have said why.

Burns had his own questions, of course. He learned Bill’s blindness was a punishment for newspaper articles in which he’d denounced National Unity. Ade had refused to disclose the names of fellow musicians who’d similarly spoken out. Owen, by contrast, was a computer technician who never learned the reason for his arrest.

‘How long have you all been here on this island?’ asked Burns.

‘Nearly two years,’ said Ade. He spoke for Bill’s benefit, the chalk in his hand scratching on the slate as he wrote the words down for Reilly and Owen to read. ‘We’re stuck here unless we give them names we don’t even have.’

‘What about the rest of the inmates?’

Bill shook his head. ‘Most are regular prisoners - people caught hoarding or scavenging. There are mines on the Greenland coast that opened up when the ice melted. Most of them wind up there after a couple of months.’

Ade paused in his writing. ‘We should tell Reilly,’ he said to Bill. ‘About our escape plan.’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Why not?’ Ade insisted. ‘Reilly Burns is a goddamn hero! Nobody else had the balls to say the things he did, even when he knew what would happen to him.’

‘Let me talk to my contact first,’ Bill insisted.

‘What are you saying?’ slurred Reilly, watching them argue.

‘Tell him we’re trying to figure out why they brought him here,’ said Bill, suddenly realising what had so disquieted him. Reilly’s skin smelled of soap - the same one Hannegan used.

Not that it meant anything on its own, of course. But it was perfumed, and utterly unlike the coarse stuff they gave them in the camp.

‘Ask him,’ said Bill, ‘if he spoke with Hannegan.’

Scritch scratch. ‘No,’ said Reilly, after a short pause.

‘Not at all? A woman with red hair and very pale skin?’

‘No,’ Reilly repeated. ‘I don't know that name.’

Reilly Burns was lying. Bill felt it deep in his bones. They might have taken away his sight, but he’d gained so much more; the helmet had made him into a human lie detector. The same enhanced senses had warned him when O’Hare was about to lash out at Ade. He could smell the deceit on Reilly’s breath, commingled with the perfumed scent of the soap.

Even then, Bill wanted to believe he was wrong. A part of him wondered if perhaps his senses weren’t as accurate as he had come to believe. Perhaps there was some other, perfectly reasonable explanation.

If only he could think of one.

Owen gave Reilly his bunk for the night, taking a thin blanket for himself and curling up on the hard floorboards. Reilly slept like the dead, which made it easier for Bill to slip out before dawn, carefully prying up first one loose floorboard, then another, pausing from time to time when Reilly shifted or muttered in his sleep. He could sense Ade watching him silently in the dark from his own bunk.

Bill climbed down into the narrow space beneath the hut, which stood on pilings. A gorse bush had grown up next to their hut, obscuring a section of the barbed-wire fence that surrounded the camp. Some weeks before, Bill had sneaked down on several successive nights and dug a shallow pit under the fence where the bush hid it from view. There was just enough of a gap that he could squirm his way under the wire.

He emerged outside the camp and scuttled through wild grass, bent low. His blindsight told him it was a moonless night, and he tasted salt from the Atlantic. The freezing wind blowing across the island, somewhere off the coast of Scotland, was enough to shrivel the skin beneath his shirt.

The remains of a village stood just a few hundred metres from the camp. He made his way to a house just above the high tide-line; much of the village had become submerged over the years as the waters rose.

After its original occupants fled, the village had briefly served as an evacuation point for refugees escaping the plagues. Many of them had left their luggage behind, and a few months before, a number of the inmates had been set to digging through the half-rotted suitcases, keeping anything useful and heaping the rest in a pile to be burned.

Owen had found a child's toy computer, and risked serious punishment smuggling it back to their hut. It was a cheap little plastic thing, but it could be hand-cranked, and had some limited voice interactivity. To their shock, it worked on the first try. Owen, who had been a sysop before his arrest, even found a way to log undetected into the camp’s network and send encrypted messages to the resistance on the mainland.

The computer was wrapped in oilskins, pushed to the back of a shelf in the sodden basement of the house. Keeping the computer anywhere inside the camp perimeter was out of the question: there was too much risk of it being found during a raid. And blind or not, in many ways Bill was the least handicapped of the three of them. He brought it up to the living-room and, crouched on the edge of a half-rotted table, cranked the machine’s tiny pink plastic handle until it emitted a tinny bell-like sound.

Owen had set the machine up so that it spoke each letter when he pressed it. He’d had enough practice by now it didn’t take too long to compose an email and send it.

Reilly Burns arrived at camp, he wrote. Took us by surprise. Should we bring him?

The reply came only minutes later. Sometimes he waited hours.

Bring him to evac point if it’s safe. We’ll make room. Is he in good health?

They took away his hearing. Can I give him any news? He thought for a moment. Does he have any family? Anyone on the outside he needs to know about?

Another long wait followed. He blew on his hands, then tucked them into his armpits. Surprise raids on the huts were not unknown, although there hadn’t been one in months. If one was ordered tonight, it would be worth all their lives if they discovered him missing.

The reply finally came. No such news. His family all died in a Unity camp on the Isle of Man two years ago. The computer read the words out in a childish falsetto.

Bill shut the computer down, put it back in its oilskins, then sat back on his haunches, thinking. Planning their escape had taken months. Just twenty-four hours from now, they’d slip under the fence and board a trawler that would carry them to Europe.

Bill made his way back to camp, taking care not to make a sound as he climbed back through the floorboards. He needn’t have worried: Reilly was still sleeping the sleep of the dead.

Reilly accompanied them to the canteen later that morning. Bill held onto his sleeve, so Reilly could “guide” him there. Bill didn’t need the help, of course, but he didn’t want Reilly, or anyone else, to know that.

‘Is it safe to talk here?’ asked Reilly once they were all gathered around a table.

‘It’s noisy,’ Bill said quietly, sipping his broth. ‘That helps.’ He heard Ade scratching the words onto Owen’s slate before showing them to Reilly.

‘Is our hut bugged?’

Bill shrugged. ‘I don’t think anyone cares enough about us out here at the end of the world. Mostly, we get left the hell alone - although I think Hannegan is looking to change all that.’

‘Who is she?’ asked Reilly, reading Owen’s slate.

Bill could taste the man’s evasiveness. ‘She strikes me as the kind of person,’ he said, ‘who thinks she can get results where others can’t.’

‘These people…’ Reilly made an exasperated sound. ‘That thing they call the helmet started out as a medical miracle, you know that?’ Bill nodded. ‘A way to cure blindness, deafness, a list of ailments and disabilities a mile long.’

‘And they turned it into a weapon,’ muttered Ade. ‘That’s Unity for you.’

‘You had a family, right?’ Bill asked, not caring if the question seemed abrupt. 'What happened to them?’

‘I…’ Reilly’s sudden indecision tasted tart and sharp, like he couldn’t figure out the right response. ‘They were arrested and put in a camp. They...they died.’

‘Jesus,’ said Ade. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’m sorry too,’ said Bill, fighting not to show his confusion and anger. Reilly was lying - which probably meant his family were still alive, whatever the resistance seemed to think.

Bill had never had a family of his own, and had no idea what he might be capable of in order to keep them safe. Perhaps he should have felt sorry for Reilly Burns.


Bill and Ade leaned on each other as they walked back to the hut, the others following a few steps behind. ‘Don’t tell Reilly about the escape,’ Bill muttered.

Ade became suddenly tense. ‘Why?’

‘He said his family are dead. They aren’t.’

‘How do you…?’

‘Believe me when I say he’s lying. Unity must have kept them alive, and now they’re using them to control Reilly. We’ve all heard stories of them doing the same thing to other people. We have to assume he’s a spy.’

‘How can you be so damn sure?’

‘The same way I always am.’

Later that evening, the first raid in months was carried out while the inmates were all getting their evening rations. When Bill and the others got back to their hut, they found their bunks pushed aside, their mattresses lying outside on the damp gravel.

Bill got down on his hands and knees and pressed his fingers against the floorboards that gave him access to the outside world. There was no sign they had been pulled up, no scent belonging to any of the guards. He closed his eyes in silent relief.

If Reilly had wondered what he was doing, pressing and sniffing at the floorboards, he didn’t ask. ‘It's Hannegan,’ said Bill, standing back up. ‘Everything’s been different since she arrived.’

If only he could figure out what it was she wanted.

Not long after they’d pushed the bunks back into place and dragged the mattresses back in, two guards came to escort Bill back to the main building. Inside, he scented several other inmates all waiting to be questioned. He was led past all of them and straight into Hannegan’s office.

‘Mister Sharpe,’ she said. ‘We searched your hut.’

He sat across from her, trying not to show how worried he was. ‘And?’

‘We found nothing. But you interest me. The way you move around this camp, I could swear it’s like you can see.’

Bill chuckled to hide his nervousness. ‘Maybe you missed it, but your helmet made me blind. I can’t see a damn thing.’

‘And yet we’ve had one or two reports of Senseless in other camps having their remaining senses extraordinarily heightened following their treatment. You can understand why that might be of great scientific interest.’

‘I don’t see what it has to do with me.’

‘I’ve interviewed half a dozen inmates who witnessed your assault on O’Hare. It’s not the first time you’ve been seen acting precisely as if you were still sighted. As if you know exactly what’s going on around you regardless.’

As she spoke, Bill heard a drawer slide open, slowly, as if Hannegan was working hard to keep it as quiet as possible. He heard her feet move around the desk until she stood to one side of him.

Immediately he knew there was a gun to his head. He could picture its barrel hovering just an inch from his right ear.

‘I have something in my hand, Mister Sharpe,’ said Hannegan. There was a slight edge of strain in her voice, no doubt, he thought, from holding the heavy weapon level with his skull. ‘Can you tell me what it is?’

Bill willed himself not to move, but thinking was far easier than doing. He couldn’t ignore the thrill of alarm surging up his spine, or the shortness of his breath.

‘I don’t know,’ he said, his voice tight.

‘I don’t believe you.’

He knew, just a moment before she did it, that she was going to shoot him. Instinct took over: he jerked away just as she squeezed the trigger, tumbling off his chair and onto the floor.

The breath rattled out of his throat in quick spasms. The gun had made a clicking sound and nothing more. ‘You tricked me.’

‘You’ve been tricking the idiots running this camp for a lot longer,’ said Hannegan. Her voice was colder now. ‘Go back to your hut and stay there until tomorrow morning.’

And then? he nearly asked, but he already knew the answer. Then they’d put him in the one small motorboat the camp authorities kept fuelled by the dockside and send him back to the mainland, to have his brain picked apart.

But he’d be long gone by then - and not a moment too soon.

They let him out on his own, without even a guard to guide him back to his hut. It felt like Hannegan was laughing at him.

‘Jesus,’ said Ade when he walked back in, ‘what the hell happened? You’re shaking like a leaf!’

‘I need to talk to you,’ said Bill, ignoring Owen and Reilly. ‘Alone.’

He led Ade back out into the chill evening air. He could easily imagine Reilly’s puzzled stare as they closed the door behind them.

‘She’s onto me,’ said Bill. ‘She pulled a gun on me without any warning or sound and I flinched away from it before she pulled the trigger. It wasn’t even loaded.’


‘I have an idea. We’ve got no choice but to take Reilly with us. If we don’t and he realises we’re gone, he might alert Hannegan before we can get to that trawler. But we won’t tell him what we’re doing until the moment we do it. If he tries to betray us or stop us, we’ll…do whatever we have to. But if I’m somehow wrong about him, we can still all get away.’

Ade swallowed hard. ‘So the plan’s otherwise the same?’

Bill nodded. ‘A launch will be waiting to take us to the trawler from the beach on the far side of the village, but it’s too risky for them to hang around more than a minute or two. If we’re not there at the exact scheduled time, they’ll leave without us.’

‘I just can't believe Reilly would inform on us,’ said Ade. 'It goes against everything I know about him.’

‘Goddamn it, he lied to us about his family!’ Bill hissed. ‘I smelled the same damn soap on his skin that Hannegan uses. The son of a bitch has been getting preferential treatment. Do you understand? It’s him or us.’

He heard Ade swallow. ‘Sure. I understand.’

Bill didn’t sleep that night. From the sound of their breathing, neither did any of the others - all except Reilly, who still had Owen’s bed. When the time came, Bill rolled out of his bunk and pushed Owen awake. He grumbled and sat up.

Bill held up five fingers. ‘Five minutes,’ he mouthed, then did the same for Ade.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Reilly, when Bill pushed him awake.

Bill pressed a hand over Reilly’s mouth, then put a finger to his lips.

‘What’s happening?’ Reilly demanded, too loudly. ‘What are you doing?’

Bill shook his head, then ignored him, waiting while Owen laced up his boots before doing the same for Ade. Then he helped Bill lever up the two long floorboards.

‘You’re escaping?’ asked Reilly.

‘I’ll go first,’ Bill said, tapping his own chest, then pointing to the gap in the floor for Reilly’s benefit. ‘Then you,’ he pointed at Reilly, and then at Owen and Ade, ’then the others.’

Bill slid down through the narrow gap before Reilly could say anything more. His knees pressed into damp soil and he squirmed beneath the floorboards towards the gorse bush. A body pushed through the gap behind him, and he heard Reilly cursing and muttering as he flailed around in the dark.

Bill crawled under the gap in the fence. Reilly came next, standing up and staring around. Ade followed, half-dragged by Owen.

Bill took Ade’s other arm. It was always going to be slow going; Owen and Reilly at least could walk, but they’d have to carry Ade most of the way.

‘This way,’ said Bill, pointing in the direction of the village.

Reilly grabbed Bill’s free arm. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?'

Bill shook him free. ‘There was no time.’

‘Of course there was time!’ Reilly’s speech was becoming more slurred; he’d been relying on the memory of what his voice sounded like in order to speak, and that memory was fading. ‘You didn’t trust me.’

Bill shook his head. There was nothing more he could say.

They reached the village. Bill felt the water lapping around his feet as they navigated a street. He could sense Reilly’s amazement at the way he moved as easily as a sighted person.

Then they turned a corner, and then another, and Bill suddenly realised Reilly had slipped away. He heard the man’s retreating footsteps as he hurried back in the direction of the camp.

‘Reilly,’ said Ade, his voice urgent. ‘He’s-’

‘I know.’ The words felt heavy in Bill’s mouth. He sniffed the air, cold and sharp in his nostrils. ‘Keep going,’ he told Ade. ‘Make sure you and Owen get to the rendezvous.’

‘But what about you?’

‘Just get there,’ he snapped. ‘If he alerts the camp authorities, it won’t just be our skins - it’ll be everyone on that trawler as well.’

Had he known this moment would come, he wondered? Could things have gone a better way, a way that didn’t end in betrayal and death?

He didn’t, couldn’t, know. There was only this moment, and the next, and the next after that.

He pulled Ade into a tight embrace, then gave Owen a final nod before turning and hurrying back in the direction of the camp. It didn’t take long for him to pick up Reilly’s scent.

It soon became evident that Reilly had got lost in the dark. Bill could hear his laboured breathing, and followed the sound of his splashing feet down a side-street.

Bill stepped towards him and sensed Reilly’s alarm. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Reilly. ‘I got lost. I-’

‘You were trying to make your way back to the camp, weren’t you?’

Reilly clearly didn't need his hearing to guess what Bill was saying. ‘You’re not even blind, are you?’ Reilly demanded, backing away.

‘No, I was blind.’ Bill moved closer. ‘To certain realities, at least. Hannegan wanted you to spy on us, didn’t she? That’s why she put you in our hut.’

Reilly couldn't hear him. It didn't matter. Without even thinking about it, Bill had bent down and scooped up a rock that felt heavy in his hand.

‘You don’t understand,’ said Reilly, his voice thick. ‘My family - they said they would…’ He paused and let out a shuddering breath.

‘I do understand.’ He heard the distant rumble of a motorboat engine as it approached the shore. ‘And I’m sorry.’

Bill could almost taste the adrenaline spiking in the other man’s bloodstream. Building up his courage.

Reilly came towards him then with a roar, splashing through the water. Bill anticipated him easily in the moonless dark, dodging out of his way. Reilly stumbled and fell hard as Bill kicked him from behind.

‘I’m truly sorry,’ said Bill, then brought the rock crashing down on Reilly’s head, again and again.

A little while later, he made his way to the rendezvous and listened to the sound of a motorboat engine growing faint with distance. He sat down with his back to a wall and stared out towards the ocean, letting the rain wash the blood from his face.

Just before dawn came the wail of a siren, and the sound of voices from the camp, coming closer.

This story originally appeared in Shoreline of Infinity.

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