Later that afternoon Anya disturbed Sherdan. She had been watching TV since before the broadcast. He put down his laptop and followed her. The Prime Minister was doing a speech outside number ten.
“Dr Sherdan Harper is nothing more than a terrorist.” He paused to look up from his notes before looking back at the podium. “This country doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. We will use the full force of the British army to re-open the closed-off area of Bristol and rescue the people this madman is calling his ‘residents’.”
The journalists gathered in front of the podium shouted questions at him, but Mr Jones ignored them all. He went back inside his house and shut the door. The speech was short and to the point. There would be more attacks.
“The UN will put pressure on him not to attack once we’re recognised. As will other countries,” Sherdan told Anya. He wanted to reassure her.
“If Utopia is recognised.” Anya sighed. She went back to her book. Sherdan sat and watched the news channel a little longer.
When he went back to his study he radioed the command bunker and told them to be prepared for another attack. The commander acknowledged the information but Sherdan noticed the weariness in his voice. After three attacks in four days, the people were tired and it would only get worse for the next few days.
He spent the rest of the evening preparing a speech for the residents. He only spoke to Anya when they ate. She didn’t say much and had been subdued since the second assault. He knew he had given her a lot to think about.
There had also been a lot on Sherdan’s mind so it didn’t come as a surprise when, later that evening, his head throbbed with a large headache. He rubbed his temples. He also had to see Hitchin for more tests but everything non-life-threatening would have to wait until after the expected attempts at invasion.
Anya came through to say goodnight as it passed midnight and the following day began but got no further. The country was under attack again. He took her hand, looking apologetically at her and led her to the command bunker.
She stayed silent during the walk, reinforcing Sherdan’s worry that something was wrong. He couldn’t deal with it at the moment, however.
He was about to leave her in his private room at the command centre as a loud explosion sounded somewhere above them. She flinched and ducked, looking up as if she expected the ceiling to fall on her.
“It’s okay, the force field will have detonated it outside and prevented anything from flying in at speed and causing damage,” Sherdan reassured her. She didn’t look convinced and just curled up back on the bed again, her eyes pointed upwards.
He frowned and rushed into the command bunker. The look he gave the people in there stopped everyone in their tracks. He wanted answers.
“Nothing has been damaged. The shield worked,” the nearest worker said.
“Good. Keep track of what is being sent our way so we can expand our borders as required,” Sherdan replied.
He nodded and went to his station. It took him a few seconds to focus. The reduced sleep and added pressure was taking it’s toll on him.
The explosions continued to be heard overhead and he could not help thinking of the woman waiting for him in the nearby room. He hoped she could get some rest with all the noise and mayhem.
He watched the screens, although little could be seen on them. The darkness made it harder to organise their defences so they had to be extra careful. Thankfully, so far there didn’t seem to be any paratroopers.
Any aircraft over head quickly dropped bombs and flew back to their starting airfields. Other than a small amount of debris, the bombs had no affect on the country. Their shield kept everything safe and all the bombs detonated far above the tops of the homes.
By the early hours of the morning the air raid had stopped. Up rolled more tanks. The explosions flashed just outside the shields and when the smoke cleared the only damage they could see was to the armies own barriers.
The shields not only blocked the incoming projectiles but deflected the blasts back towards the source. One tank which had driven up only a few metres from the barrier set itself alight with the first shot. Sherdan smiled as Graham and a few others laughed out loud.
When the attack finally ceased he noticed spirits had lifted amongst his command team. They had watched for three hours as the army did nothing but waste money and make noise. No guards had been needed and the only concern had been the debris building up on the ground.
Sherdan ordered everyone to get some rest and leave the clean up for the morning. Residents would need to be careful in the meantime, but only to not trip over any of the bomb parts that had fallen through the shield after detonation. None of it could hurt anyone now.
He went to his private room to find Anya had slept, as he had expected. She looked very peaceful, on her side, her hands tucked up under the pillow her head rested on. He wasn’t sure he had the heart to wake her. Instead, he poured a drink and sat down.
It still surprised him that she remained with him. She had the ability to leave and would probably be a lot safer if she did. She had also given him no indication she wanted to progress a relationship with him.
He sighed. He was unsure of his feelings for her and he didn’t like it. Except for one or two occasions he’d always had everything he wanted. There had been one student who had rejected him back in his earlier days at the university. Sandy had dated the astrophysics professor, Paul Carmichael. He had been older than Sherdan and not quite so well groomed, but that evidently had not bothered her.
He just could not work Anya out, no matter how hard he tried. For the first time he didn’t even know if he wanted something, let alone if he would achieve it.
Sherdan didn’t move when he had finished his drink. He continued to stare at the puzzling girl, tucked up in his bed. Slowly he drifted off to sleep, thinking of Anya, and Hitchin’s prophecy.
He remained asleep in the chair until he felt a hand stroking his cheek softly.
“Sherdan,” Anya whispered. He opened his eyes to look into hers. She smiled and stepped away. The bed was unmade and she busied herself making it neat again.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Gone nine. Hitchin turned up half an hour ago but said he’d email you. Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I intended to. I fell asleep.”
“What time did the attack stop?”
“Not until the army realised it was doing no damage at all.” Sherdan smiled as Anya stopped what she was doing.
“They were bombing you, how was nothing blown up?”
“Our shields. They stopped anything but the debris getting through.”
Anya’s mouth fell open and she blinked a few times. Completely lost for words.
“They can detect the velocity of projectiles trying to pass through them. The faster they travel the more it seems like a wall is in the way. The bombs they just dropped couldn’t cope with the forces stopping them so they exploded on impact with it. Anything that remained then passed through the shields to fall on the ground,” Sherdan explained.
“I don’t understand. If it’s based on speed, how are the soldiers who try to walk in stopped?”
“There are two parts to the shield system. The second part stops anyone who doesn’t have the enzyme from being able to pass. You wouldn’t be able to go through it even though you have an ability as your enzyme is different.”
“No one was hurt then?”
“No. No one from our country. I don’t think any soldiers were hurt either.”
Sherdan raised an eyebrow and blinked. It took him a moment to figure out what she meant. He nodded, stopping her from explaining. He didn’t think he wanted her to tell him she didn’t intend to stay and be his queen. They’d been around that circle already and he didn’t want to say anything which might make her leave.
He opened the secret door for her to go back to his house but did not follow her. She’d distracted him enough from his job. His citizens needed him to focus on them and their needs.
The big tasks for the morning were cleaning up the streets and working out the process to expand their country borders in retaliation. Not only did they need to work out exactly how much they should expand by but also where.
Sherdan didn’t want to take territory he couldn’t easily defend. He also didn’t want to upset the British public too much. He’d be making many of them homeless and something like that would need to be done as delicately as possible.
He started with the clean up process. Bomb remains were littered all over the area. The army had chucked a great deal of explosives at them. Ninety percent had been over the central command area but there was hardly a street without some cleaning to do.
The guards were enlisted in the tidying. He wanted the residents to feel like everything was under control. They would have been scared by all the noise through the night. The sooner their world returned to normal the better they would handle the immediate future.
Sherdan was pleased he had thought to write a short speech already. He quickly modified it to suit the aftermath of the last attack and pressed the intercom button.
He delivered a short, comforting message, reassuring the residents that he knew what he was doing and that they still stood strong and unharmed. He even got to mock Mark Jones a little for his incompetence.
When Sherdan was satisfied that his country was all tidy again he allowed his officers some room to breath and retreated to his rest room. There, he finally checked his emails.
Hitchin had emailed as Anya had informed him. The contents were no surprise. Hitchin wanted him to come in for more tests. Sherdan marked the email to reply to it later. It still had to wait.
He also had an email from Ellie’s father. He hadn’t travelled down to see his daughter, not believing it to be safe. Instead he demanded his daughter be returned to him. Sherdan smiled to himself as he wrote his reply.
Every good reason not to allow Ellie to leave was now presentable. Not only was it unsafe for her to go but the British army were highly unlikely to let her. There was even the possibility they would take her in for questioning and she’d be in even more danger.
Sherdan didn’t expect this to pacify the father at all, but he sent the message anyway. He spent the rest of the day working out what buildings he wished to take as part of the country.
He needed more space for all the people arriving on Monday. There were two days to find room for all of them. Only a small amount of housing remained free within the borders as previous expansion had been done very slowly and covertly, using many different company names and representatives to hide that one person was taking over the whole area.
They also needed to be careful not to annoy too many British residents. At the moment they had support from the general population and didn’t want to lose it until they’d been officially recognised as a country. It would be a delicate operation and needed to be started as soon as possible.
Sherdan had already partially planned for this moment. There was a set of instructions to ensure the act of taking more territory went as smoothly as possible. Nathan had been asked to lead the operation to start with and had been briefed on the subject more than once. He had an enormous amount of patience and people warmed to him quickly, so Sherdan felt he was the perfect choice.
Although he would never admit it, Nathan was the closest thing he had to a friend after Hitchin and he wondered if it might be because of the man’s ability. He could hear a lot of Sherdan’s thoughts and therefore knew him better than most other people got to the chance to.
Once he’d finished pouring over the map of the area and pinpointed where they were to expand, he took his suggestion to Graham. He wanted a second opinion about the defensibility of the area as they had to use their shield emitters wisely.
It took another two hours to go over everything with his command team before Sherdan was happy with the preparations. They agreed to get started first thing the following morning and give everyone what would hopefully be another good nights sleep so they were fresh for the challenges the task might present.
Sherdan went back to his retreat to pack up and go home. He hesitated, noticing that the paperwork he’d left behind had moved. He frowned, not sure who could have been in the room.
He was just about to collect everything up when the door opened. A gust of air ruffled the documents on the table as Hitchin walked in.
“I know, I know. I need to come for more tests.” Sherdan held his hands up.
“That’s not why I’m here.” Hitchin smiled, “I’ve had another successful batch of recruits. They’re all alive and have developed powers. One in particular is very interesting. All animals come to her when called. They seem to understand her.”
Hitchin nodded and Sherdan finally gathered together all his loose paper. He had an extra spring to his step all the way back to his home.
Anya was in his study. She hardly acknowledged his presence but continued drawing in a note book.
He had no idea where she’d found either the pretty, flower patterned sketch book or the box of artistic pencils which lay open beside her. He frowned but she didn’t notice.
Sherdan sat down opposite her but she still didn’t say anything so he watched her draw. Her pencil flicked almost effortlessly across the paper in quick, gentle lines. He couldn’t see what she was drawing.
“You left the compound?” he asked. She looked up confused. “To get your art supplies.”
“No. Nathan found these for me.”
“Yes, your security guard. He noticed I was bored and, when I told him I was an artist, he had some materials fetched for me.”
“You talked to my guards?”
“Of course. Both they and I are alone here all day. I talk to them frequently… Will you be here tomorrow? It’s Sunday and I always miss company most on Sundays.”
“I have things to do tomorrow. We are claiming new territory.” Sherdan smiled as Anya looked at him again. She bit her lip.
“What are you going to do?”
“Take new territory. We were attacked,” he explained.
“What about the people living there?”
“They’ll have to move. It’s an unfortunate consequence but it can’t be helped.”
Anya frowned again and went back to her drawing. Sherdan sighed. She didn’t approve and surprisingly it bothered him. It seemed no matter how much time passed she didn’t soften towards him and his plans.
Sherdan contemplated taking some more forceful measures but everything he could think of would drive her to leave instead.
“Why are you still here?” he asked, breaking the silence again.
“I don’t know. I don’t really want to be but I don’t feel like I can leave yet.”
“I cannot stop you, you can leave when you wish… of course I’d prefer you not to.”
“It’s not you stopping me.” Anya smiled very briefly before resuming her picture. Sherdan couldn’t get her to say much for the rest of the day. He gave up after dinner and returned to his work instead.