12. What Dawn saw from the ruins.
Dawn felt someone shaking her arm.
Her mouth tasted as if it was full of coal and brick dust, she stirred and tried to push the annoying hands away from her arm.
“Go ‘way,” she mumbled.
“Please Miss,” Dawn slowly recognised the voice as Amy’s, “wake up.”
Blinking her eyes half open, Dawn found she was lying on something hard and uncomfortable in the dark, she took a deep breath and burst into a fit of coughing.
“SSSH!” Amy hissed as she pulled Dawn upright and pounded her on her back forgetting about her slayer strength in her hurry to wake Dawn up and stop her from choking.
“Hey!” croaked Dawn spitting bits of plaster and dust from her mouth, “Hold up there, w-what happened?”
Dawn now had her eyes fully open and she was starting to take in her surroundings. The neat, clean servant’s hall of what felt like only a few moments ago now looked as if a bomb had hit it. The ceiling had mostly caved in and was now lying across the room at an angle of about forty-five degrees. Furniture lay smashed on the floor along with pieces of china, lumps of plaster and other things she couldn’t quite identify. Looking around she saw that a large piece of brick work had crashed into the hall from above. If it hadn’t been for her being mostly under the big table she’d seen earlier, she’d be dead, squashed under tons of rumble.
Breathing a sigh of relief she turned gritty eyes on Amy. Tear streaks cut through the dust on her cheeks, her clothes were dirty and torn in places and her hands here cut and scraped from were she’d obviously been trying to dig them out. Dawn shook her head in an effort to clear it of the ringing in her ears and the cotton wool that filled her brain.
“Okay,” Dawn said slowly, “what’s going on?”
“Oh, thank Gawd you’re alright!” Amy threw herself at Dawn and wrapped her arms around her, “its Mr ‘erbert, Miss.”
Dawn nodded her head and tried to look more alert than she actually felt. Obviously something must have happened to ‘Mr ‘erbert’, it explained the tears and Amy going back to calling her ‘Miss’ after several days of using her name. Dawn patted the girl on the back, before disentangling herself and looking into her tear and dust reddened eyes.
“What’s wrong with Mr Herbert?” Dawn asked in a tone of voice that sounded a lot calmer than she felt.
“‘e won’t wake up!” sniffed the girl.
Crawling on hands and knees Amy led Dawn across the wreckage strewn floor to a small broom cupboard on the other side of the room. Here Dawn found Herbert lying on his back blood seeping from a nasty looking cut on his forehead. Getting up on her knees Dawn tried desperately to remember all the first aid she’d been taught. The mental effort helped clear her head as she thought back to all the slayers she’d helped patch up over the years.
Head wounds always looked worse than they were, they always bled copiously, okay, she told herself time to get to work.
“I need water and something to use as a dressing,” she turned to Amy, the girl nodded silently, turned and crawled off a few feet then disappeared through a hole in the rubble Dawn hadn’t noticed.
While Amy was gone, Dawn loosened Herbert’s collar and tie; gingerly she felt around his head feeling for fractures, there were none that she could find. He’d probably just received a good whack on the head and he’d be fine in an hour or two.
Dawn turned to see Amy’s hand holding out a saucepan full of water, taking the pan, Dawn watched as Amy squirmed free of the hole, she sat and watched as Dawn put down the pan in a safe place.
“Bandages?” Dawn looked hopefully at the girl.
Amy shrugged and shook her head, sighing Dawn remembered all the westerns she’d ever seen.
“Ah!” she pulled up her skirt and started to tug at the hem of her petticoat, “I knew all these stupid clothes would come in useful one day.”
Ripping off a length of cloth she dipped it in the water and cleaned up Herbert’s wound, she’d been right it had looked worse than it was. Tearing off another long strip of petticoat she tied it in a bandage around Herbert’s head. After tying off the dressing Dawn sat back on her heels feeling justifiably proud of her work.
“Alright,” she turned to smile at Amy, “he should be fine, he just needs to sleep it off. Now, Amy wipe your eyes and tell me what’s going on…what happened.”
“You better come an’ see,” Amy crawled over to the hole and started to wriggle through.
Following Amy, Dawn found herself in what must have been the kitchen. She noticed that it wasn’t as badly damaged as the hall, you could easily stand up with out banging your head on the ceiling. A shaft of light cut through the still dusty air from a hole high up in the wall of rubble that blocked off one end of the room. It made the room almost painfully bright after the near murky darkness of the hall.
“Up there,” Amy whispered as she pointed to the hole, “you better look. But be careful and don’t make a sound.”
Slowly and carefully Dawn crossed the room, Amy had obviously been looking out of the hole, there was a pile of bricks and pieces of wood that made a rough platform so you could look out of the opening. Cautiously Dawn placed her foot on the platform to check it would take her weight. Satisfied that it wouldn’t collapse under her she pulled herself up with her hands. As soon as her eyes came level with the aperture she gasped.
“Oh! Freaking hell!” she whispered.
Outside across a mere hundred yards of blasted earth lay the rear end of a Martian Cylinder and standing guard over it stood a war machine. Dawn ducked away from the gap in the rubble when the Martian swung its hood towards her. She realised this was what they’d been doing when the Martian appeared before they took shelter in the house. They’d known the cylinder would be landing and they’d been checking the area was clear and there were no humans around that might try and blow up the newly arrived cylinder.
Dawn stepped down from the platform and looked at Amy with round frightened eyes.
“I know ‘ow y’feel, Miss Dawn,” Amy stepped carefully across the room and took Dawn’s hands in her own. “I nearly wet me self when I saw ‘em.”
Letting out a nervous giggle Dawn clutched hold of Amy and hugged her, it was time to get organised.0=0=0=0
It was almost dark by the time Amy and Dawn had finished their work. They’d carefully picked up every piece of debris from the floor so they wouldn’t make any noise when they moved around. There was a sink, which Amy had discovered earlier, that wonder of wonders, still had a working tap. In a scullery at one end of the kitchen, Dawn found several tins of food and some packets of biscuits. At least they wouldn’t die of thirst or hunger for a few more days.
As a precaution Dawn had Amy fill all the pots and bowls they could find. She made the decision that water was just for drinking and they were to drink out of the receptacles then fill them from the tap. This meant that if the water was to be suddenly cut off they’d still have the water in the bowls to last them a little longer.
Every now and again, while they worked, one of the women would step up on the platform to see what the Martians were doing. The first war machine was joined by a second late in the afternoon and they both stood motionless over the cylinder guarding it from possible attack.
The cylinder itself rapidly cooled and started to unscrew; Dawn guessed that the cylinder was made out of some sort of material that radiated heat more rapidly than metal did, and wasn’t affected adversely by the heat of re-entry. It must have been at about eight o’clock that the end finally fell off the cylinder and the first of the Martians climbed painfully from its conveyance.
This happened when Amy was on watch, she called Dawn over, there was just enough room for the two women to watch through the hole. One of the guarding Martians had come down from its machine (the war machine sank to the ground on telescopic legs allowing it’s driver to climb from it’s seat). Dawn noticed and pointed out to Amy that the Martian from the machine was moving about more easily than the newcomers. The Martians were obviously adapting to earth’s higher gravity.
They watched late into the night as the Martians, there seemed to be about a dozen of them not counting the two in the machines, unloaded their cylinder. The first machine they built was a spider like handling machine like a weird forklift truck. This was used to unload more containers that held more machinery the uses for which Dawn couldn’t even guess at.
The Martians seemed tireless, they never stopped to rest and in the time Dawn was trapped in the house she never saw them sleep. They worked day and night until whatever task they had set themselves was finished then they started on a new one. It was well after midnight when Dawn and Amy decided to call it a day and try and get some sleep. The Martians, however, worked on through the night building their incomprehensible machines and going relentlessly about their work.0=0=0=0
The following morning, after drinking a little water and eating some of their meagre rations, Dawn took first watch at the hole. Amy was in the rear room keeping and eye on the still unconscious Herbert and scratching out a latrine by digging down through the rubble and scraping away at the soil underneath with a large serving spoon.
Overnight the Martians had completed several machines, one Dawn guessed was some sort of telescope like those you found at observatories. There was a large construction of pipes and cylinders that hissed and belched clouds of green smoke or steam. To Dawn it looked for all the world like a huge whiskey still, but she doubted that the Martians were making booze. They’d also completed another two handling machines, as Dawn called them in her head. These scurried around the crater like enormous, busy spiders clearing the rubble from the pit and levelling the surface. Luckily they didn’t appear to be interested in working on the end that hid Dawn’s vantage point.
There was one thing that the Martians had built overnight that worried Dawn more than all the strange machines. It was a simple compound with a high wire fence; it looked ominously like pictures of POW camps she’d seen. The only thing she could think of that the Martians would want to put in the enclosure were people, but she couldn’t think why.0=0=0=0
Dawn had been checking on Herbert, he was beginning to worry her. He’d been unconscious for a good twenty-four hours now. Her first aid was good, but it was more aimed at keeping slayers alive until they could be taken to proper medical care than long term care and treatment. Maybe Herbert had received a fracture, perhaps he’d lapsed into a coma, she started to accept the possibility that he might die. She checked his wound; it had long ago stopped bleeding and the best that she could tell it wasn’t infected.
Shaking her head in worry she took the opportunity to use Amy’s now completed latrine. She was just standing up and brushing down her skirt when she saw Amy’s head poke through the hole.
“Quick!” she whispered urgently, “Come an’ look.”
Seeing the anger and disgust on the young slayer’s face Dawn crossed the darkened room as quickly and quietly as she could and squeezed through the connecting hole. Climbing up onto the platform Dawn looked out of the hole and gasped. Quickly putting her hand over her mouth to keep in the scream that had almost escaped her throat, Dawn watched fascinated despite herself.
Standing over the wire compound was a war machine, this one had one of the huge metalwork basket attached behind its control cabin like the ones she’d seen previously. In the basket were a struggling mass of humanity. All ages, classes and sexes were represented there. The machine squatted over the compound, then with the sound of whirring electric motors the basket opened to deposit its unfortunate passengers in an untidy heap in the prison. The people screamed and cried, it was obvious to Dawn that some had broken bones and other injuries from the way the screamed as they fell.
Watching as the more able bodied crawled away from the struggling mass of humanity; Dawn saw a handling machines approach. Almost too quick to follow an articulated metal tentacle sprang from the back of the machine, reached over the fence and wrapped itself around one of the unfortunates that lay in the compound. With a scream the man was plucked from his prison and handed to one of the Martians that waited patiently in a line near the handling machine. Dawn could feel the bile rise in her chest as she realised what was going to happen next.
Kicking and screaming the man was dragged away by the Martian as it wrapped its tentacles firmly around the man. For all his struggling the man could not escape the monster’s clutches. It shifted him in its hold until he was facing the vile creature, then with a final gurgling shriek the man was impaled on the Martians beak and it started to lap up his blood.
While this was going on the handling machine’s tentacle continued to whip in and out of the compound picking up new victims and passing them to the waiting queue. The injured were the first to be taken as the couldn’t dodge the flashing metal arm. They screamed piteously for help as they were lifted into the air. The more able bodied of the prisoners backed themselves against the wire fence, some even tried to climb over the barrier. At some unseen signal the fence must have become electrified because those near or on the fence screamed in pain and jumped away from it.
After about half of the prisoners had been taken and killed the Martians appeared to lose interest in their prey and went back to their work. Dawn stayed at the hole and forced herself to watch. She didn’t know what she expected to see, but what she did see puzzled her greatly. Having finished with their prey the Martians lost interest with the now empty bodies and cast them to one side. There was no attempt to dispose of the corpses they were just left there to rot.
“Vampires, Miss,” Amy hissed her voice full of anger and hate, “I gotta slay the bastards!”