blow the roof off.’

‘It’s the Stadium’s power!’ said Toshiko. ‘Look at those rows of floodlights in the roof. See how they’re flickering? Gareth’s drawing energy straight from the local grid. Like priming the pump, waiting for the crowds to arrive.’

Jack grinned at her, delighted. ‘You’re right! OK, Tosh, you need to get the satellite link disconnected and switch off the power.’

Toshiko was struggling with her PDA in one hand and the Visualiser device in the other. ‘I need a schematic of the Stadium to locate the Press area. But I can’t get a proper connection with all this background Rift activity.’

‘I can show you!’ Brigstocke’s face was eager, excited.

‘All right!’ shouted Jack. ‘I’ll stay down here and keep Gareth’s attention while you do that.’

As Toshiko and Brigstocke hurried back into the building, Jack began to pick his way cautiously over the springy turf. A motley collection of bizarre creatures danced attendance on Gareth. A scorpion creature arched its fat sting overhead, and snapped its enormous claws spasmodically. A couple of tall antelopes strutted back and forth, their snarling mouths full of drooling teeth. A broad-backed armadillo with a club tail scuttled in a short, angry circle.

Jack drew his revolver, wondering how close he’d need to be for a killing shot. His repaired ankle still throbbed as he stalked closer to the centre circle. It reminded him that he had to stay clear of anything that might completely devour him – even if that was survivable, it would take too long to recover.

Gareth hadn’t noticed him yet. But something else had.

In the grass around him, double-headed flowers were bursting through the surface, like a stop-motion film of a plant lifecycle. Their heads reared, seeking him out, opening their petals and spitting at him. He flung up an arm to protect his face, and the dart-like seeds embedded themselves in his sleeve.

And in the heel of his hand.

He jumped back, stung. His gun-arm already felt numb. He was staggering away from the flowers, his balance abruptly deserting him. His head thumped down on the soft turf as the green light from the centre of the Stadium discoloured and faded and went to black.

Brigstocke said he’d been on enough Stadium tours and Press visits to the Millennium Stadium to know exactly where to find the controls for power and TV transmission. Toshiko was grateful that he hadn’t withdrawn into a helpless, gibbering wreck in the face of the extraordinary events. Extraordinary for him, that was.

She attached remote control explosives to both the satellite uplink and the landline back-up, and keyed them so that she could activate them from her PDA. She would have preferred to run this from the equipment in the SUV, better still from her workstation back at the Hub. But they would be impossible to reach in time, so she had to improvise.

‘Need to switch off the power next,’ she told Brigstocke. The journalist didn’t reply. She looked up from her handiwork on the TV equipment, and saw that he had slipped through a nearby door.

‘Mr Brigstocke? David?’

She pushed the door open and found him in one of the Press boxes. The angled windows offered a magnificent outlook over the whole ground.

Brigstocke wasn’t admiring the view, though. He was facing away from the window, with his hand to his mouth in shock. He barely moved, though Toshiko could hear him taking little panicky breaths.

There were other people in the Press box. Some of them were seated at the commentary positions, others stood looking out over the Stadium. But they were all stock-still. Unblinking statues. Living dead men.

Toshiko heard a soft scraping sound from the window, like a wiper dragged over a dry windscreen. There were two lizards clinging to the outside of the glass, chirruping as they traversed the window with their toe pads. One of them lazily licked its eye with a long grey tongue.

Brigstocke abruptly leaped across the room and twisted Toshiko away from the window. ‘Don’t look at them!’ he hissed. ‘I remember them from the cards I saw in the car.’ He pulled a handful of MonstaQuest cards from his jacket pocket, and shuffled through them with frightened fingers. ‘There, see!’ He brandished one in front of her eyes. ‘Gorgon Gekko.’ Brigstocke uttered a brittle laugh. ‘Funny when you first read it.’ He noticed Toshiko was trying to compare the cartoon image with the real creatures. ‘No! Don’t look at them!’ He ushered her from the room, back into the access corridor. ‘The text explains that they can freeze enemies into immobility, if they make eye contact for long enough.’

‘That’s not plausible,’ she told him.

‘Well, tell that to those journalists in there,’ Brigstocke shouted at her.

Toshiko looked at the card again. ‘This must be one that Gareth invented. But he’s actually brought it to life.’ She grabbed the door handle. ‘We have to see what else he’s doing.’

‘Not from that Press box,’ Brigstocke told her. ‘Try one further down.’

This new Press box was also full of blankly staring journalists. One was halfway through biting into a sandwich. Another was poised with his fingers in mid air above a laptop computer. When Brigstocke spotted a third one with a half-full glass of champagne lifted to his lips, he smacked it out of the man’s frozen hands.

Toshiko hurried over to him in concern. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘It’s Ieuan Walters, the bastard!’ Brigstocke looked furious. ‘Wait till I see Eleri. Mid-Wales Beer Festival, my arse! He’s glugging champagne at the international, the crafty sod.’

Toshiko moved cautiously to the front of the room. ‘No lizards clinging to these windows,’ she noted with relief.

‘They must have made their way along the row,’ Brigstocke suggested.

Toshiko looked down onto the pitch. The tiered seats dropped away towards the pitch in a vertiginous slope. At the centre of the ground, Gareth still dominated the scene with his bizarre alien courtiers.

Brigstocke spread the MonstaQuest cards on the desk in front of him, and began to pick out the creatures he could see.

‘We can’t let this get out,’ Toshiko said. She called up the control interface on her PDA, and set off the remote explosives. The satellite feed and the landline severed instantly. Monitors across the Stadium fizzed into white noise or colour bars. With another remote command from the PDA, she began to shut the Stadium roof.

The green vortex around Gareth faltered, playing out on the closing roof like a strange laser show.

Gareth had noticed what was happening. He rotated in a full circle, as though scanning the entire Stadium with his baleful gaze, until coming to a halt and pointing.

Even at this distance, Toshiko could see what he was doing. With a thrill of horror, she saw that he was pointing straight at her.

A pair of bat-black nightmare creatures flapped their dreadful wings and began to swoop across the Stadium towards the Press box.

Jack whooped in air as he came back to life.

Poison was a tricky one in his long experience of death and resurrection. If it stayed in the system, it kept killing him, and revival was a multi-stage affair. If he was able to metabolise it, like now, his recovery was swift.

Two fat birds, savage crows the size of Rottweilers, were pecking at the sleeve of his coat. He rolled over, but couldn’t shake them off. So he retrieved the Webley revolver from the grass, and took off the birds’ heads with a couple of shots.

Jack tapped his earcomm. ‘Tosh, how are you getting on?’ The hiss of static told him that no signal was getting through.

Gareth was thirty metres away, and apparently engrossed with something way up in the stands. Jack took careful aim at the back of the man’s head. He was applying first pressure to the trigger when he felt a fresh tug on his coat. A flock of the Rottweiler-crows seized his clothes, flesh, and hair in their talons, and lifted him bodily into the air.

Jack couldn’t angle the Webley to hit any of them. The ground vanished beneath him at dizzying speed, and he was soon carried high up above the middle tier of seats. Now wouldn’t be a good time to struggle free, he decided.

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