“Stephen, wake up now!”
Stephen’s eyes snapped open instantly. Never in all the time he had known Tom Ryan had he heard such a tone of anxiety in his voice. He looked across the bedroom to see Ryan lifting the rocket launcher out of the corner, hoisting it across his shoulder and aiming it towards the window.
“What’s happening?” he asked, trying to clear his head.
“Get up and get dressed. Then get the mortar from the living room and bring it in here.”
“Ryan, what the hell is happening?” Stephen asked.
“No time to explain. Just get it now,” Ryan replied sternly, busy checking the launcher.
Stephen threw himself out of bed, dragged on his jeans and a T-shirt and hurried into the living room to get the mortar. Carrying it into the bedroom, he looked at Ryan’s face. Dammit, the man looked scared.
“Put it down there,” Ryan ordered, pointing with one foot to an area of the floor nearby. “Aim it towards the window.”
“What’s out there?” Stephen asked quietly, as he obeyed the instructions.
“It’s on the lawn,” Ryan answered. “We have to deal with it, and quickly.”
Stephen, who was kneeling on the carpet as he set up the mortar in what he hoped was the right position, raised his head and craned to see through the window, but Ryan put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him down again. Stephen was appalled to realise that Ryan’s hand was shaking. He put his own hand over it, trying to reassure him.
“Ryan, Management would never allow anything dangerous in here. They may do some crazy things to us occasionally, but they’d never let anything in that could hurt us.”
“Well this bastard got in somehow, and Management aren’t answering the intercom right now,” said Ryan grimly. “It’s got to be killed, and fast.” He turned and looked down into Stephen’s eyes. “You have to understand, we’re in more danger now than we ever were when we were out in the world where the others live.”
He turned and steadied the rocket launcher on his shoulder. Stephen fought off a shudder. He had stood side by side with Ryan on many occasions as they faced down all sorts of dangerous creatures, and never in all that time had the soldier shown the slightest sign of fear. But now his eyes were wide, his face was covered with sweat and, from the movement of the launcher, he didn’t seem to be able to stop his hands from trembling slightly.
“Ryan, I need to see it,” Stephen told him quietly. “For one thing, I need to know what I’m aiming at.”
Ryan swallowed nervously. “All right, but make it quick.”
Bracing one foot underneath him, Stephen stood up from his kneeling position and glanced quickly into the garden. He just had time to focus on the creature on the lawn when Ryan pushed him back down onto his knees again.
“Stop it!” Stephen said in irritation. “I didn’t get a chance to see it!”
“Yes you did. It’s right out there!”
“You mean, that’s the danger? There isn’t something else out there?”
“Oh, it’s the bloody danger, all right,” said Ryan harshly.
“It can’t possibly hurt us!” Stephen protested. “Management probably sent it so we’d have something to play with - sort of like a pet!”
Releasing the rocket launcher with one hand, Ryan seized the top of Stephen’s T-shirt and pulled him closer, glaring down into his face. There was still a tremor in his hand as he spoke.
“It’s not a pet,” he growled. “It’s a bunny. And we have to kill it before it gets any ideas.”