The Fury is a huge book, but it was almost even huger (is that a word…?)! We ended up cutting a few chapters to keep the pace up, but I’d still love for you guys to read them! This chapter is from the middle of the book, and although it’s a stand alone chapter with no major spoilers, it may give away some of the twists in the book, so be warned!
London, 09.14 am
Captain Harry Botham’s stomach flipped the way it always did on take off, but it had settled by the time he banked the chopper round and pulled it out of Portsmouth Naval Base. The Apache’s monstrous Rolls Royce engine growled, the whump of the blades settling into him like a heartbeat as the ground shrank and the sky opened up.
‘Coordinates locked,’ said Simon Marshall. The gunner was sitting in front and below him, but his voice was fed through Harry’s helmet speakers. ‘North, we should be there in twenty minutes.’
Harry checked the heads up display then pushed the throttle, taking the bird up to 1,000 feet and 180 miles per hour. Up here sunlight poured into the cockpit like liquid gold, his visor darkening automatically to cut out the glare. Two blips appeared on his radar, moving fast, and a second later a pair of RAF jets screamed overhead. Their contrails were the only blemish against the blue, an absolutely flawless summer day. God knew they didn’t get many like this, not even in the middle of summer, and Harry had been sunning himself outside the barracks when he was called up. As much as he loved being airborne, he could have done with another couple of hours R and R. Especially as nobody had told him why the RAF’s entire fleet was being mobilised.
‘It’s the Chinese, I’m telling you,’ said Marshall, reading his mind. ‘They’ve finally decided they want to rule the world.’
‘Don’t be an idiot,’ he replied, his voice fed back into his own ears and making him sound not quite real.
‘What then?’ he replied. ‘An exercise?’
‘They told us this wasn’t an exercise,’ Harry replied. His commanding officer had made that very clear, but the man’s hurried briefing hadn’t provided any information other than the fact that something was going down in London. Something big.
‘Probably terrorists,’ he replied with a shrug.
‘Well wait till they get a load of me,’ Marshall said, patting his control panel. Harry smiled. The Apache was fully loaded – a 30-millimetre chain gun under the fuselage, capable of pumping out 625 rounds per minute, and a sweet mix of Hellfires and Hydras mounted on the hardpoints. Whatever was waiting for them, it was about to get blown to kingdom come.
So why was there still a tickle of discomfort in his stomach, one that had nothing to do with the motion of the helicopter? He’d flown on two tours in Afghanistan and hadn’t once felt like this, not even when he’d been clipped by a ground-fired RPG out in Helmand and had to crash land. Back then the adrenaline had stripped every shred of fear from his system, had turned him into a machine. This was different, he felt way too human, way too vulnerable. Maybe it was because he was flying over home ground, the fields and towns of England floating below like debris on a slow, green river. Maybe it was because he was flying into London, the city he’d once lived in. Maybe. He gulped down more air, suddenly uncomfortable in his seat.
All they had been told for sure was that there had been some kind of attack on the capital. The order to scramble had come from General Stevens himself, which was a good indication how serious it was. That dude didn’t get out of bed for anything less than a world war.
‘Identify and intercept the target,’ he’d said over the comm. And that was that, their orders, five words they had to obey even if it meant life and limb.
‘Ours is not to reason why,’ he said, the only poem he’d ever committed to memory. They all had, everyone in the unit.
‘Ours is but to do and die,’ Marshall finished. ‘Hell yeah!’
Harry checked the coordinates, nudged the stick a little to bring the bird back on course. They were over Guildford, a minute or two off the M25. The Apache just ate up the miles.
‘Whoa,’ said Marshall. ‘What the…’
Harry squinted through the narrow window, past the sweeping colours of his HUD. Something had a hold of the horizon, a fist of black smoke. The chopper rocked in a bout of turbulence and Harry had the sudden idea that the clenched, knuckled hand was shaking the world, trying to rip it free from its mounting. He glanced at their position, still a good twenty miles away from ground zero, surely too far away to get a visual. He felt his guts squirm again, his hand twitching, wanting to bring the bird around one-eighty. He had to force himself to keep moving forward.
‘That thing is… It must be huge, Harry.’
‘Base, we have eyes on,’ he said, knowing that the command centre had an open line into the chopper. ‘Looks like some kind of explosion. How should we proceed?’
There was a sharp hiss of static, then the XO’s voice fed through.
‘As ordered, Captain. Investigate and intercept. Maintain a perimeter, five miles. We don’t know how dangerous this thing is.’
‘Roger,’ he said, slowing the apache down and lifting her to 2,000 feet. Whatever was down there, he wanted to be as high above it as he could get without entering RAF airspace. Nothing would kill him half as fast as a mid-air collision with a jet. ‘Do we go weapons hot?’
Another pause, then, ‘Yes, weapons hot.’
Harry felt his skin go cold and prickly. Any hope that this was an exercise had just been obliterated – there was no way in hell that they’d be given weapons hot status above the biggest city in Europe unless this was real.
The windscreen was gradually filling with smoke, so thick and so dark that it looked like a huge granite mountain sprouting from the city. No, it was more like somebody had hacked a section out of the sky. Harry’s polarised visor compensated for the dimming light and he found himself craning forward in his seat trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
‘There’s nothing there,’ Marshall said, his voice whispered into Harry’s ear. ‘Oh Jesus, there’s nothing there.’
Of course there’s something there, Harry thought. There had to be, with all that smoke. Only it wasn’t smoke, he realised as they closed in. It was things. It was a spiralling cloud of matter – there were buildings in there, crumbling into pieces as they churned upwards. He could make out glinting shapes that might have been cars, and smaller, darker ones – not people, those can’t be people – that twitched and struggled as they rose. The tornado spun relentlessly, maybe five miles across, sucking everything towards…
What was that? There was a shape in the chaos. Everything spiralled around it, like filthy bathwater circling a drain, sparking off fingers of lightning that were dark instead of bright, which left huge black scars against Harry’s retinas. He didn’t blink. He didn’t dare close his eyes for even a second in case this thing, this impossible nightmare, came for him. He just stared at the figure in the centre of the storm – because that’s what it was, a man. Huge, yes, and deformed, as though his body was a balloon pumped up almost beyond recognition, but still unmistakably human. And the worst thing was its mouth, immense and gaping, breathing in everything with an endless howl that could be heard above the chopper’s engines.
Harry was throwing up before he even knew it, ripping off his mouthpiece just in time, his breakfast hitting the reinforced glass screen that separated him from his gunner. The chopper banked hard, the ground looming up in the right hand window.
‘Christ, Harry,’ Marshall yelled, and Harry realised he’d dropped the stick. He grabbed it, levelled out, bringing the Apache to a standstill and wiping his free hand over his mouth. He spat acid, his whole body drenched in sweat and his stomach cramping hard.
There was a rip of thunder as a jet flew by overhead, the hiss of two sidewinders being launched. The missiles hurtled into the morning night, impacted right in the middle of the storm. An explosion bubbled out of the chaos, the shockwave making the chopper bounce. But the fire didn’t last, sucked into the man’s vast, dark gullet, extinguished as though the missiles had been fired underwater. If anything it seemed to make the tornado churn faster, harder, more of the ground peeling away and carried up by the vortex. And the man still hung there, his eyes two pits of boiling pitch, his mouth sucking in everything it could.
‘Fire,’ Harry screamed, feeling a creeping tickle of madness in the corner of his mind. He had to destroy this thing – not to save London, but because he understood that if he had to look at it for much longer then his brain was going to short-circuit. ‘Fire goddammit!’
Marshall didn’t hesitate, unleashing the chain gun. A deafening rattle filled the cabin, streaks of tracer fire cutting a path towards the man in the storm. The barrage tore through some of the spiralling debris before finding its target, but the rounds dissapeared into the carnage. There was a soft hiss, the chopper rocking as four missiles blasted outwards. Harry counted the seconds – one, two, three – before they detonated in a ball of rippling gold. Once again the explosion was swallowed up, pulled into the man’s cavernous mouth along with the constant stream of debris. Marshall tried again, emptying the Apache’s payload and turning the sky to fire.
‘It’s not working,’ the gunner said. But Harry wasn’t listening. The smoke was clearing, and more of the world had been erased. It wasn’t just black, the way things disappear in the dark, it was gone. It was utterly empty. Just looking at it made his head hurt, because there was no way he could comprehend what he was seeing. It just didn’t make sense.
‘Harry, get us out of here,’ Marshall shouted. He had turned around, his eyes wide and white. ‘Harry!’
Something popped, like a canon blast, and the chopper lurched downwards. It took Harry a moment to realise that it was the pressure changing as air was sucked into the storm. They were being pulled towards it, caught in the flow, the chopper’s demented alarm ringing into his headset. Marshall was banging on the window that separated them, but Harry couldn’t pull his gaze from the windscreen. The bird was tilting downwards, giving him a perfect view of the streets below. They were breaking up, dissolving like sand sculptures in the wind. Buildings and cars and people alike exploded into powder, sucked up into the tornado.
‘Harry, please,’ said Marshall. Harry felt the chopper buck. It turned slowly, the engines whining, but the force that was pulling them was too strong. It was like they were in a boat heading for a waterfall. No, it was more like they were in a space ship, being wrenched towards a black hole. There was nothing they could do, he realised. It was over.
‘Ours is not to reason why,’ he said. The Apache shook, so violently that his head smacked against the top of the cockpit. Metal groaned, then the rotors ripped free overhead, spinning off into the darkness. Marshall was shrieking, and Harry tore off his helmet, suddenly drowning in the howl of the storm and that same endless inward breath from the hanging man.
‘Ours is but to do and die,’ he went on, louder now. ‘Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die,’ again and again, like a chant, like a prayer, as the front of the chopper began to come apart, breaking into pieces like a kit model. Then Marshall, his arms and legs and head coming loose, hanging there against a backdrop of boiling black skies. Harry looked down, realising that he was no longer inside the helicopter. Pieces of it floated beside him, suspended in the turbulence a mile above the vanishing ground. He’d dreamed of this as a child, night after night, of being able to fly. That memory blew out the fear, and even though he could see his own flesh begin to unravel, layers of pink then red then white trailing out like sherbet, he found himself smiling.
‘Ours is not to reason why,’ he said through crumbling lips. Then his mind ruptured into white noise and black light, and everything that was Harry Botham was pulled into the abyss.