like I did. The only way to be safe is to nuke the lot of them, and that's what I'm going to do. So you need to drive away now, Sir. Get to a safe distance.'

I was thinking furiously. I couldn't let him die, I wouldn't. But as I was about to try again to persuade him, the Stryker started to move.

'Sue,' I shouted. 'What the hell are you doing?'

'You heard the boy,' she yelled back. 'I'm getting us out of here.'

'Dammit, turn us around, that's an order!'

'You're not the boss of me, Lee.'

'Jack,' I cried, 'stop her!' But the boy king just sat there looking scared.

I hit the transmit button again. 'Rowles, please, don't detonate, just give yourself up. We'll come back for you again, I promise.'

'Sorry, Sir,' he replied. 'I just…' I heard a sharp crack over the radio and Rowles grunted.

'Rowles? Rowles?'

Blythe's voice cut through the static. 'Forget the boy. He's gone. Keep driving Keegan, 'cause I'm coming for you, and I'm going to kill you all myself. There's nowhere you can hide, son. This land belongs to me now!' Then his voice was muffled as he turned away and barked 'Launch the Apaches!'

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.

Jack looked at me, terrified. 'What do we do now?'

'Faster, Sue,' I yelled. She didn't reply; she was concentrating too intently, driving like a lunatic, trying to put as much distance as she could between us and our relentless, unstoppable pursuers.

Then the radio crackled again and I heard Rowles whisper, 'I am so fucking sick of people in uniforms telling me what to do.'


I leapt forward to the control panel and shoved Sue to one side, causing the Stryker to veer wildly. As she regained control, I began hitting the touch screen. 'Where is it? Where is it?' I shouted in fury until finally I found the button I needed. I stroked the glass panel and heard the CBRN system sealing us in and preparing us for a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack and then…

The ground shock once, violently, throwing us back in our seats. There was a second's pause and then the shockwave hit. Incredible noise, like the Earth itself was roaring in agony. And then the Stryker was flying. Picked up and tossed through the air at the front of the blast wave, a sealed metal can holding four people who were tumbled and thrown, screaming and yelling, crashing into metal surfaces and edges, tossed against each other like rag dolls in a tumble dryer, cooked and deafened and shaken. I felt the awful lurch of freefall in my stomach as the stryker soared through the air, riding the wavefront, spinning madly, cooking us alive, deafening and blinding us, makes our senses reel and spin.

We began to descend and then an enormous crash as we hit the ground. I smashed, face first, into the metal floor and felt Jack and Tariq flop on top of me. Then we bounced, up again into the air, pitching and yawing and cresting the top of our arc, leaving us floating, momentarily weightless, before we began to fall again and crash again and bounce again. In ever decreasing arcs we leapfrogged across Salisbury Plain for what felt like a lifetime, feeling our bones crack. Eventually we stopped taking to the air and just tumbled along the ground, rolling across the landscape like a kicked toy. First we rolled side over side but then the nose dug in and we pitched across the ground front to back, end over end. It was endless, like the worst fairground ride you could imagine.

But eventually the rear of the Stryker dug into the ground and we gouged a deep scar across the plain, slowing until we stopped with a shattering crash that sent us all flying to the back of the vehicle in a smashing tangle of limbs.

The noise didn't stop when we did, nor the heat. The shockwaves of the explosion, weakened now that its greatest fury was spent but still fierce enough to strip the flesh from the bones of any poor soul caught in its path, swept across our craft, nestled in the soil now, dug in for protection against the onslaught.

But in the end that faded away too. The explosion passed over, leaving us broiled and broken, deaf and burned and shattered, heaps of disarticulated flesh in a hot metal stove, unable to see or speak, barely able to feel.

But alive.



We saw the light in the sky as the nuke obliterated Blythe and his forces. Even though that had been the plan, I knew deep down that something had gone terribly wrong.

When John Keegan left Fairlawne in pursuit of his son, I didn't think I'd ever see him again. Lee should have been back long ago, and John should still have been in bed recovering from his wounds.

I suppose I should have learned by now not to underestimate the Keegan men.

He was gone for two days, but on the morning of the third, he pulled up in a people carrier with the four most broken people I've seen in my life.

I worked on them for two days straight, setting bones, performing transfusions, cauterising wounds, treating burns and stitching them back together. Lee had broken every single rib, punctured a lung and shattered his jaw so badly that I had to wire it up; Jack had broken both arms, legs and collar bones in multiple places; Sue had had both an ear and a hand ripped off.; Tariq's guts were a mess.

A few days after the first round of surgery was completed it became clear that some wounds would not heal properly and I had to make the awful decision to amputate.

I removed Tariq's left arm below the shoulder and Jack's left leg just above the knee.

I kept them all in chemically induced comas for two weeks, eventually rousing them one at a time when the medicine ran out. When she regained consciousness, Sue just wasn't there any more. She could breathe and open her eyes, but she was gone, brain dead apart from the most basic autonomic functions.

I euthanized her as soon as I realised. Another death on my conscience.

John sat beside Lee all day, every day, holding his hand, reading him stories, playing his favourite songs on an old battery-powered CD player. I wanted to sit with Lee too, but I felt I would be intruding. So I busied myself with the day to day running of the school and only allowed myself to sit with my poor damaged boy when his father had fallen asleep. I sat there, stroking Lee's hair, fighting back tears, willing him to pull through.

Then one wet, grey day, John came running to find me. I was teaching a first aid class to a group of juniors when he burst into the room.

'He's awake,' he said, and I didn't need telling twice. I ran as fast as I could down to the room we'd put aside for recovery and there was Lee, lying in bed with his eyes open. He mumbled something unintelligible and I felt a rush of fear – what if he was brain damaged? But then I remembered the metal in his jaw.

'Don't try to speak, Lee,' I said softly. 'Your jaw is wired up to help it repair.' I saw the understanding dawn in his eyes and I realised he was still in there.

John hugged me hard, crying into my shoulder saying 'thank you, thank you,' over and over. I hugged him back, looking down at Lee, knowing that he would live but unsure how he would cope with the long, slow process of recovery and adjustment. Half deaf, crippled, held together with wire and plaster casts; his biggest fight was only just beginning. For Tariq and Jack, too.

But there were no soldiers coming after us, no armies left to do battle with. The land was free of military rule.

We were free.


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