It took a while before Nathan realised the thumping wasn’t in his head. He stumbled from his chair and headed towards the door. Judging by the state of his mouth, not enough time had passed since he’d gone down.

“Ang on. I can ‘ear you.” His voice sounded odd. Two things occurred to him – the first was that he was probably still drunk. The second was that he couldn’t remember the last time he’s spoken out loud.

He pulled the door open to a collective non of uniforms. “Nathan Jones?” The first one stated.

“Thasm ee.”

The uniform raised an eyebrow and kept going. “Nathaniel P. Jones?”

“Yesh.”

“Come with me, sir. The lights have gone red.”

“I don’t care if they’re rainbow coloured and dancing a jig. You need something better than that, sonny.”

A voice called out from the back of the crown. “Sergeant. If I may. I might be able to help.” A small guy in glasses pushed his way through.

“Nathan. It’s me. It’s Gregory.”

“Gregory! God. Hi! When did we last see each other? Oh, it was that God awful mess. You want to come in?” Nathan was still off.

“Nathan, listen to me. They’ve come back. They want us to guide them in again. We need you.”

There was a pause while that sunk in.

“I’m pissed, Greg. I’ve taken stuff so that I wouldn’t come up until this was all over.”

“So had I.” A uniform in a white lab coat came up and placed a small device against his arm and fired a sliver of solidified blood cleaner in.

“You’ll be ok in a while. The first 30 minutes will kill you, though. They’re cleaning your blood.”

Nathan blacked out.

***

Westerfield was on the spime to as may people as he could get hold of. “I don’t care about the cost – there are explosive devices in your wall. You are not going to open it.”

“He talked into another. “Yes – I want a contingent of officers on the following  Malls. No one is to get in.”

“Yes, I can do that, Sir.” Back to the original. “It will save lives.” He looked across the city at all the red lights. “Potentially millions.”

***

Nathan woke in the back of a helecopter. He’d been given a change of clothes while he was out.

Probably for the best.

“Mr. Jones.” The Uniform from before. “Drink this. It’ll help with the headache.”

“Headahhhhhhh!” Nathan’s head felt like it was being split open. “The alcohol has been removed, but the water your system needs is still missing. This will get you feeling better, faster. You should also lay down.”

He did as he was told, and saw Gregory looking sorry for himself across the way.

He waved him over. “Greg. What’s happening?”

Gregory looked confused. “You know, sir. We told you…the lights are-“

“Not that. What called them?”

“Sir?”

“It takes them time to get here. It’s not like the signal goes up and they appear. That’s why we go in so early. We set up, we call, we monitor. If they’re coming, something changed.”

***

Jody paced her cell.

Westerfield should be pulling strings about now.

***

“Wonderland to RU-D01F. Come in please.”

There was a burst of static, a squeal of data. Machines sat silently, moving parts made obsolete long ago.

A screen pinged. “We are coming.”

“We’re aware of that,” Nathan mutter. “RU-D01F. What is the purpose of this mission?”

The pause. “There was a problem. We have the solution.”

Nathan looked up at Gregory. “This doesn’t look good at all.”

***

Damien slipped out of his bed and into his brothers. The hospital staff seemed to have shut down for the night.

“Aaron…are they coming because we’ve been good, or because we’ve been bad.”

Aaron wasn’t asleep. “Baby brother, I didn’t save you from a mad man with a knife so you could be eaten by monsters. It’ll be ok.”

But he wasn’t sure.

***

Westerfield stood in the cell door. “You assaulted one of my officers?!”

“He took the kids from me.”

“You’d just shot someone!”

“The Bad Guy! I shot the bad guy!”

“First – HE didn’t know that. Second, that’s MY job. Third, you broke his nose!”

“Sorry.”

He stood aside. “Get to the hospital. Be with your kids. I expect to see you Monday morning.”

Jody stopped. “What?”

“Your new job. We start at 9.”

***

“Where…is Derek.”

“Derek is dead. This is Nathan.”

“Nathan. We do not remember Nathan.”

“My year was the year you stopped.”

There was a longer pause this time.

“We did not receive any messages.”

“We had a problem.”

“We have a solution.”

“But our problem is solved now, RU-D01F.”

There was a long pause. Then the screen flooded with images of pain, suffering, hunger, murder, war, riots.

“We have the solution. Guide us in, Nathan, follower of Derek.”

***

That night, across the world, ships were seen in the skies above the landing points.

None landed.

The brightest, largest, most fantastic ship, RU-D01F, flew around the world, tracking the night, so that all saw it.

It, too, did not land.

But something happened.

As day broke, the earth was treated to many glowing balls of light in the sky before, one by one, they flew away, leaving all but one left.

And something had changed.

The listening post stood amongst a small copse of trees.
It was festooned with flags – some had been there for a long time, others had appeared for Shopmas.

The trees were covered in lights that twinkled like the stars.

If it was listening, no one knew. Which was a shame. Because out at the edge of our stars a fleet of ships dropped out of light speed.

Something was coming. And now it was close.

Closer were two children. One, the taller, was lagging behind – as if running was hard.

Behind them twitched a man with a manic grin and a serrated blade.

***

“He’s still there, Aar.”

“Sa…save your,” Aaron was breathing hard. “Your breath.” He knew he had to save his brother, but he didn’t know how long he could go on for. If he could stop the man with the knife. If his brother could escape.

“Quick, Aaron. Up here.”

Aaron looked up. Damien was climbing the tower.

***

Where are the little bastards? They came through here. How can he not see them? The whole fucking place was lit up like a Shopmas fucking window.

Marino peered through the trees until he got to the post.

***

Jody came home to a disaster zone. Broken windows, pans over the floor.

She punched her son’s number.

***

They climbed silently, watching him twitch through the trees. He couldn’t see them. They didn’t need to climb so high. All they had to do is keep quiet, wait until he passed, and they could slip back down to their mum.

Damien’s phone rang.

***

Jody called Westerfield. “Marino’s after my kids. He’s after them. You have to trace this phone. I’m … shit, I don’t even have an idea where they could be.”

“Jody. Listen. I can track you. Pick a direction, head after them. I’ll meet you along the way.”

***

Aaron climbed as fast as he could. Stretching up hurt, pulling himself up hurt more – but keeping Damien on the structure was killi- was hurting a lot too.

He looked down. The man with the knife was getting closer. He looked up. There wasn’t many places they could go.

***

Jody hit the tree line in time to see Damien reach a walkway. He reached down and pulled his older brother up to join him.

Her eyes flicked down, Marino was closing.

She ran into the trees.

***

Aaron lead Damien to the end of the walkway. It wasn’t the best idea. There was nowhere to go from there.

“End of the line, boys. You’ve nowhere else to go. Time to meet the knife.”

The man giggled, waving the knife in front of him.

Aaron looked about, desperate for an escape. There had to be somewhere to go.

“It doesn’t matter. Everyone will die soon. I’ve been so very naughty. They’re going to have to come.”

“Don’t listen to him, Damien. Look. Here, hold round my neck, and hold really tight.”

Damien did as he was told, clambering up his older brother. Aaron’s ribs screamed in protest, but he kept it in. He looked over his shoulder at the knife, and ran.

***

Jody watched in horror as her son’s leapt out, off of the walkway.

With his arms outstretched, he reached for one of the flag ropes, but the weight of this brother was too much, he was falling too fast.

***

His fingers felt the rope, closed round it, and felt the skin burn from his hands as he slid along it.

The rope moved. Aaron looked up, expecting to see the man above them, but the position of the rope had changed.

“Damien, climb onto the rope. You’ll be safer on the rope.”

Damien shifted his weight, climbing over his brother.

The rope shifted again. No. Not the rope. The post itself. Their weight was causing it to swing.

***

Marino wasn’t going to let a small matter of a rope stop him getting his prey. He leapt after the kids, grabbing the rope at a much higher position.

***

The arm of the listening post groaned, and shifted position, locking into place.

***

Jody aimed her pistol, shook her hair out of her eyes and fired.

***

Across the world, listening posts shuddered into life, their arms moving into the same position.

***

Marino hit the ground.

The last thing he saw was a set of lights flick from white to red.

“Damien. Listen. Mummy’s got to go out for a while. I’m going to lock the door. You have my number. Do not let anyone in here. OK?”

***

Storms Hill Bay. Like all buildings, the lower floors were abandoned to vandalism. Post Collapse it was cheaper to just let them go than it was to repair them.

She looked up. As far as she could remember the room was sealed. Which is why she had brought her sledge hammer.

The windows of the room. They were open.

***

He walked from another mall, smiling. He was amongst them again. That’s not why he smiled though. That was his final mall.

Now all he had to do was wait until Shopmas Day.

Oh, they’ll pay attention.

***

She ran her fingers across the wall. The door was gone.

She knocked. Wall…Wall…hollow…Wall..Wall.

Smiled. And brought the hammer down.

It took three blows before someone came and looked.

“WTF do you think UR doin?” The guy was in his 20s. This is how they treat the language.

“Sir. Go back in your room.”

“I arksed you. WTF,” he paused to give the acronym more weight. “Do you think UR doin?”

She brought the hammer down again, this time the plaster gave, with a satisfying crack. She was going to get in. She glanced at the guy. Stupid, with money. Probably worked out. Definitely snorted something before he came out. She could take him.

“What does it fucking look like I’m doing?” She hefted the hammer. “Why don’t you go back inside and call the police, like a good little boy.”

He started walking towards her. She let the hammer swing back, shifting her weight to set it down. It’d been a few years, but she was happy with the stance.

“Oh. You think you’re going to stop me, big man?”

He ran at her.

Jody shifted her weight forward, and low, she brought her rear leg up and planted it to the side of the approaching man.

That surprised him.

She focused on her sons. On her sons being attacked, and brought the palm of her hand into his stomach. He did work out. Not that that stopped him being winded.

She shifted her feet, coming up behind him and drove her elbow into his back. He went down.

She pulled her spime and dialed a number before dropping it at his side.

“Ask for Detective Westerfield. Tell him Jody Walker kicked your arse and he should come and arrest me.”

She picked up the hammer and brought it down again.

She heard a door close.

***

He watched the boat. No one seemed home.

He tried the door.

Locked.

***

She brought the hammer down.

***

He looked in the window. There was one.

The boy turned.

Screamed.

***

She brought the hammer down.

***

He walked around to a window.
If he can’t get in, they can’t get out.

***

She brought the hammer down.

***

He pushed his foot against a window.
She brought the hammer down.

It broke through.

***

She walked to collect her spime and walked into the room.
Scratched into every wall was a count. A tally.

She walked through, horrified at the careful accountancy. For what, she had no idea.

Until she saw the rats in the corner – bodies fused together, misshapen.

She hit redial.

“Westerfield. I know who he is. It’s Marino. Chris Mar-“

She turned a corner.

“Oh my God.”

***

“AARON GET UP. HE’S HERE!”

The twitching parody of a man dropped in, pulling his knife from the back of his trousers. “No pipes now, little boy. And no more being good. They won’t come with presents this time. I’ll show them.”

Damien pulled Aaron’s arm, dragging him up. He yelled in pain.

“Now, now, little one,” the man sneered. “There’s more screaming where that came from.”

He lunged, but they were faster. Damien tried the front door.

Locked.

His mum had locked them in.

***

“Charles. I’m…I’m looking at a wall. It’s full of…lights. The…Shopmas lights.” She read from a headline. “Have we not been good enough? That’s what it says.”

She walked further “Next to that is a map with all the shopping malls on it. With Shopmas Day on it.”

Westerfield said something.

“That’s what he’s counting. He’s tallying up what it would take to be naughty. That’s who he’s showing. Oh shit. Charles. Marino’s trying to get them to come back by being bad.”

***

They had retreated to the kitchen. Aaron locked the door behind him, Damien heated water in a pan.

The both looked for something to break a window.

“Mum had a hammer here! Where is it!” Aaron yelled.

Marino kicked the door.

Damien yelled. “Help me with this.”

The door flew open. Aaron whipped round, grabbed the pan and hurled it at their attacker. There was a scream as the scalding water covered him,

Together, they lifted a small stove and threw it through the window.

Marino heard the smash, and hurried to back into the room.

They had gone.

Watch carefully. We are witnessing the recreation of a trick of the cinema.

***

A fleet of ships is cutting through space, accelerating over time. As they get faster, relative to their surroundings, the stars begin to elongate. The ships start to tilt, forming a spiral as they enter a star field at light speed. The stars, and the darkness, appear to clump to make shapes, to look like

the stones on the sea bed. As the tide receded they were revealed, wet and clung to by seaweed.

Had Jody been looking out her window she would see the red ribcage of the wreckage she had walked through earlier. She was nursing a coffee and looking over crime reports. She perused the assessment of the attack on her bar. They hadn’t done nearly as good a job on it as she would have, when she was still in the game. She sipped her coffee, turned a page –

“MUM! MUM!” Damien was beside himself. “It’s Aaron.”

Jody leapt up and followed her son.

Aaron was face down in the water. Shallow, but deep enough. His filtration mask was on, so the water he was drowning in would be pure. She jumped in, pulling Aaron to her. He was pale, breathing shallow and fast. He had a small cut over his eye where the stones had cut him.

She waded to an ladder, put him over her shoulder and started to climb. Each rung got her a moan. He was a dead weight.

Ten rungs later and the lay him on the ground.

“Aaron. Listen to me. Can you walk?”

Damien stood sobbing as he watched. “It’s not this fault mum. He saved me. There was a man. He had a knife.”

She checked her son. No cuts on the coat. She lifted him again, and got him inside.

“Damien. Kitchen. Under the sink. Green Box. Go.” He stood and looked at his brother. “Now, Damien.” The howling stopped now he had a job to do.

Jody lifted Aaron and took him to the table. Damien came thumping back with the medbox. “Damien – push all the plazz off the table on the floor. Hurry.”

This time he didn’t need telling twice.

Jody lay her eldest down and got him out of his coat. He had a large bruise at his side. She touched it and he winced.

“Aaron, breath in for me. Take a deep breath.”

Fast and shallow. She held his nose. He started panting. She closed his mouth.

He struggled, slammed open his eyes in panic. She let go and he took huge gulps of air in.

Satisfied, she felt around his ribs. Nothing seemed broken, but that was a nasty bruise. She pulled some bandages from the box and wrapped her son, before tending to the cut. All kinds of bacteria could have got in there. She cleaned the wound, dabbed iodine on it, and took advantage of the screaming to shoot a tetanus jab into his arm. Once he had calmed down, she transferred him to the sofa and letting him rest.

“Now, Damien. Why don’t you tell me what happened.”

It took many attempts, going over each element over and over again.

“What’s that?”

“It’s what we were looking at.”

Instinctively Jody jumped back. But if it had been dangerous, the alarms would have gone off by now. Still, she found a glove to flick through the book with.

It was filled with stories of the ships for 54N74. Images on … was this paper? It would have been worth a fortune.

“Darling – what did this man look like?”

Damien described his jerking movements, his mad eyes, his bared teeth, his knife, the way his head twitched.

“Stop. Again?”

“His head twitched and jerked. Like this.” He did his best to impersonate his attacker.

Jody blanched, and turn to her other son.

His eyes were open. “Aaron, is this true?”

He nodded.

“And the guy?”

Another nod. She searched on the floor for a second spime. She held up a picture for Aaron to look at. “Him?”

“Shit, mum. That’s him!”

“From what I gather you did something very brave earlier today. That was very good thinking. But the punishment you’re getting for going there in the first case will be legendary. Do you understand me?”

Aaron nodded.

The boat rocked back and forth, the base scraping itself on the stones. The tide was going out.

“Look. Look at the lights!”

***

He watched them from behind some wreckage, keeping his twitching in. He couldn’t believe it. The lamps all lit! The pages and papers and photographs. The past.

***

Damien poured over the pages of papers and books. If his eyes were any wider, they would have fallen out.

“Just look at them Aaron!”

His gloved hands pawed at the pictures before him. “They’re beautiful! Do you think? Could they be like that again?”

“Maybe, Damien. Who knows. It was a long time.”

“But all we have to do is be good, Aaron. If we’re good they’ll come back.”

The bookcase behind them slammed to the ground with an animal howl. The two screamed, spun round and saw a dirty, twitching man coming at them, knife raised.

Aaron ran towards him, “RUN, DAMIEN. GET OUT.”

Damien froze, the man’s crazed eyes holding him in place. The man’s arm swung across his body, down, catching Aaron’s face with the back of his hand, lifting him, and flinging him across the room.

Damien reached out, grabbed the first thing that made him feel safe and ran. The man changed direction to cut him off, stumbled, and fell to the floor.

“RUN!” Aaron dropped the iron bar that had brought down their assailant and sprinted for his brother, putting a foot in the downed man’s head for good luck. He grabbed his brother by the back of this coat and dragged from from the room.

***

Jody had called for data on the crimes. In the short argument that followed, she persuaded Westerfield to hire her, just for this case, and then put her on a retainer if she helped.

She was staring at the increase in attacks that had taken place of the two years.

She reached for the phone.

“Charles. These numbers are insane. The increase of attacks in the last three months exceeds everything that he’d done in the past two years. Charles. We have to stop him soon.”

***

“What are they doing Nathan? What are they doing?”

They watched the lights on the radar moving away. Nathan was trying every communication method, hailing every frequency. He blinked the tears from his eyes.

“We were too late. We were too late.”

“Nathan?”

“We couldn’t guide them in. Oh God.” He collapsed into a chair. “They’re not coming, Greg. They’re not coming.”

***

When they stopped running, Aaron pulled his brother to him. He was sobbing.

“I told you, Aaron. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Not if I’m there. I told you.”

“I tho..thou..thought he’d hurt you. I thought…”

Aaron coughed. Winced. “No. I’m ok, Damien. But..let’s get home, OK?”

They started off again. Slower this time.

“What you got there, short stuff?” Aaron coughed.

Damien held up a book. It was full of paper cut from other books. All about the Shopmas Lights.

Aaron coughed again. It hurt that time.

“Come on. Let’s get this to mum.”

***

He got to his feet. The bastards had got away. It didn’t matter. He knew where they lived.

And now he knew. They were working against him. Cutting away at his evil with their small acts of good. Well, not for long.

He looked at images of his past. A treasure trove of secrets, of hidden history.

The pages were dry.

He fumbled for his lighter, touching page, paper, photograph.

Cleansing the room. Giggling, mocking the children who were just there. “Look. Look at the lights.”

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