The Girl with All the Gifts—M R Carey

[I this 2014 novel in four sections. I wrote about each section after I had read it, and only then did I read on.]

20 September 2020
Chapters 1-18
A bare outline of the plot so far wouldn’t convey any of this novel’s cleverness and depth. M R Carey lets the childish neediness of the girl in the title gain all our sympathy long before we realise that she’s infected with a fungal pathogen that’s turned her into a flesh-hungry zombie. Over time, we discover that she is a human—or, as the uninfected survivors have it, non-human—guinea-pig, incarcerated with a couple of dozen others like her on a specialised military base. These children are infected, but without having the loss of all mental faculties that usually begins to set in within minutes. 99.999 percent of ‘hungries,’ according to the top-level in-house research pathologist, have nothing human left, their bodies merely hosts to the pathogen. They are dead as soon as they are infected.

But not these children, and especially not Melanie. That’s her name, and she’s learnt enough in the classes at the base—the pathologist is doing research on their brain functions, and the classes are her idea—to know that her name was chosen at random on her arrival. She also knows that ‘Melanie,’ deriving from the word ‘dark’ in Greek, could not be less appropriate. She’s ghostly white. We soon find out that, alongside the pathogen that really has made her bodily functions very strange indeed, she’s also the possessor of a genius-level IQ. This is measured, and known by all the staff. What they don’t realise—or what, in fact, only one of them realises—is that she is also in possession of a childlike but highly developed level of emotional understanding.

Most of this comes out in the chapters that focus on her. The first three are told from her point of view, by way of a sharply-focused first person limited narration. So much so, that when Chapter 4 arrives and we’re inside the consciousness of Helen Justineau, Melanie’s favourite teacher, it’s almost a shock. But this, and a scattering of other chapters focusing on her, and the pathologist, and the NCO in de facto charge of the base’s day-to-day running, give us the background information we couldn’t get otherwise. And insights into three hugely different mindsets. Liberal empathy, cold science and hardboiled military pragmatism. Carey is a good enough writer for us to entirely understand where all three are coming from—and why, for different reasons, they all hate what the others stand for.

And it’s a page-turner. At the point I’ve reached, exactly a quarter of the way through, the ‘hungries’ have just got into the base. We knew something was up—the base has been on high alert for a while—but Carey has had us suspecting gangs of outlaws who refuse to be rounded up into the government’s fortified spaces. And Carey has had some lucky coincidences bring a few things together. Justineau had been in class when she realised that Melanie was missing—which can only mean that Caroline Caldwell, the scientist, is about to slice her brain up for examination. When she sprints to the lab where it’s about to happen, she must be ‘hungry’-proof, having received the daily spray-down of scent-hiding chemical that keeps everyone safe from the children. Good job, because Caldwell has pepper-sprayed her in self-defence just before the hungries arrive—not that it will save her from the them, I’m assuming, because her smell must be normal. And Melanie has just been scrubbed clean—for the first time ever, probably—in preparation for being cut up. The hungries will recognise her as one of them.

So, everything’s set up for—what? I’ve no idea. We know how deadly the hungries are, unstoppable once the smell of human flesh wakes them from a standing state of suspended animation. Warp factor nine in no seconds flat, according to Sergeant Eddie Parks, the man in charge. And we’ve seen what they’re like. Parks gives a demonstration to Justineau to remind her of what she’s working with by washing his arm clean and letting one of the children try to break out of his straps lunging at him. Another time, after he has taken Melanie from the classroom and left her strapped up in her cell, Justineau rescues her—and she’s forgotten that she hasn’t been sprayed with the chemical. Melanie does what hungries do—except she doesn’t, not quite. She has just enough humanity left to overcome the urge to eat, and turns her lunge at the teacher into a strong push towards the door. It takes a long time for her get the smell of flesh out of her mind, and a lot longer for her to get over the shock of what she nearly did to the teacher who is the object of her childish crush.

It’s impressive that Carey has taken a schlock horror genre and turned it into something completely new. Melanie really isn’t human—she is as satisfied by the grotesque weekly feed of bowls of living grubs as the others are, and she is millimetres away from taking bites out of her teacher—but she is sensitive, thoughtful, clever, even insightful. And, in spite of everything, Justineau cares about the human being she has come to know. She, Justineau, had been ready to break every rule in the book in order to save her—like Caldwell and Parks, she hates her life—but I suspect that now the hungries have got in there aren’t going to be a lot of rules to break. I’m hoping Parks will survive the incursion as well, otherwise none of them will.

30 September
Chapters 19-37
Yes, Parks does survive the incursion. And yes, it is a good job, because he saves the lives of all three of the other characters that we’ve got to know. And, while he’s at it, of the wet-behind-the-ears Private Gallagher we’ve met a couple of times. Parks is the one who gets them into a Hummer sitting in the repair-shop and smashes them through the perimeter fence. But, at moments of particular crisis, the character who’s been most adept at getting between them and the hungries is—guess. She runs as fast as they do, and bites into the throats of the outlaws—‘junkers’—as well as they do. The junkers had somehow corralled crowds of hungries to the vicinity of the base, meanwhile protecting themselves with makeshift armour and scent-concealing stuff. Once they had broken through the fence, the reactions from inside had been enough to set the hungries going. All hell breaks loose.

From now on, it’s an odyssey to the only place of safety that exists. Beacon is some kind of fortified city, somewhere beyond London, and it’s 74 miles away. Carey can’t make a novel out of them simply blasting their way through in their armoured vehicle, so it, the vehicle, quickly grinds to a stop. It had been in the repair shop for a reason, and powering over a security ditch hadn’t helped. Which means they are out of immediate danger, but not far enough to make the coming journey an easy one. It’s going to be four days’ march through dangerous territory at least, with not enough food.

Plenty of stuff happens, disturbing or shocking episodes that punctuate their first day or two. But just as interesting is the way Carey presents us with a world made strange in at least two completely different ways. Everything has changed in 20 years, but it isn’t unrecognisable. It’s clear what everything is, or used to be—which goes for people as well as places. There’s enough left of the previously unremarkable landscape of central southern England—so far, they’re staying mainly on the southernmost 40 or so miles of the A1—and the way Carey describes it, we really can believe there’s been 20 years for nature, and decay, and that pesky pathogen to transform everything and everyone.

The other way this world is strange is through the eyes of the characters. In a church they happen upon, Parks finds a discarded handbag in a pew. Inside it, a condom packet and a car-key with built-in locator ‘dazzle him a little, raising the spectre of a time when the worst things anyone had to worry about were unsafe sex and forgetting where they parked their car.’ There’s always something strangely moving about the nostalgia felt by characters living in a terrible future for a time that we readers still inhabit. (I’m writing this in 2020, half a year into the global pandemic of Covid-19, and even the life- and world-changing effects of it seem small by comparison.)

And then there’s Melanie. She’s the one seeing everything for the first time in her life and, combined with the grotesque things she’s discovering about herself, she is almost overwhelmed by it all. But not quite. One of the gifts that Carey has endowed her with is her genius-level capacity for making connections and learning. She gets it that when she sees a road-sign referring to towns whose names she recognises, they no longer exist in the form she learnt about. But that’s nothing. During the break-out, she’s seeing the full, mind-boggling expanse of the open sky for the first time. (I suppose she had caught a glimpse on her way to the lab, but if so her mind was on other things.) Every sense is overloaded. In particular, the sheer richness of the smells of living things, even of the soil itself, is combined with that thing she’s slowly coming to realise. The smell—and when she bites, the taste—of human flesh defines who, and what she is. By the second night of their journey, she understands at last. Hungries are called hungries because they feel what she feels. She is one of them.

I’ve hardly conveyed any of the appalling strangeness of it for her. This little ten-year-old, the possessor of an exceptionally well-rounded sensibility, watches the human beings she is with. Everything about them is different from her. They need to eat, they need water, they… what? They are nothing like her, and she is nothing like them. It was only the day before that she thought she was an ordinary little girl but now, to use her own word, she’s a monster. Now, she isn’t confused by the memory of having wanted to take a bite out of her favourite teacher, she knows that’s what a big part of her is for.

And the others know too. Only a few minutes after the fence came down, she stopped two junkers in their tracks before they could kill any more people, but it doesn’t stop the other survivors knowing what she can do to them. She really, really doesn’t want to hurt them and, one by one—maybe it’s still really only Justineau, now I think of it—they start to recognise this. Parks insists from the start that she must be muzzled and shackled, and has only now beginning to see that an ordinary hungry wouldn’t have saved him as she has just done. She interposed herself between him and two attacking hungries, as he tried helplessly to retrieve his handgun when his machine-gun jams. We know, and Justineau knows, that her conscious mind has all the human qualities you could wish for in a young girl. Even Carol Caldwell, who has only wanted to keep her with them for her research, begins to see. It’s too early for Melanie to change her mind about the woman who wanted to cut her up—she has vivid memories of the scalpel—but we’re only half-way through the novel yet.

It’s still a page-turner—although maybe 460-odd pages might be too many—and there are set-piece scenes of violence and shock that feel cinematic in their intensity. But it’s still Carey’s presentation of individual consciousnesses, often at loggerheads in their opposing views, that I find most impressive. Painfully slowly, they are beginning to recognise the value of each other’s views and experiences, but months and years of prejudice and dislike weigh heavily. Carey handles this really well, often abandoning his earlier technique of having whole chapters dedicated to a single viewpoint. Now, we might see the same event, in real time, as perceived by first one and then another. When Carey needs a bit of old-fashioned omniscient narration, he moves into it seamlessly.

What haven’t I told you? They’ve spent a night in a kind of outhouse-cum-garage, and now they’re on the upper floor of a former care home in Stevenage, relatively untouched because hungries couldn’t get through its locked gates. They have just found a hungry there but, like a female they’d seen pushing her dead baby in a pram, he still retains a tiny vestige of his mind. Old, and practically dead, he sings an old song, fitfully, and tries to look through his card-case of old photographs. Which goes with something else that’s known about hungries. Some of them—perhaps like the murderous shell of a vicar who tried to kill one of them in the church—return to what had once been home. It doesn’t fit with the received wisdom that in all adults, the pathogen takes away every scrap of identity. Maybe humanity isn’t doomed.

But they’re still a very long way from Beacon…

3 October
Chapters 38-58
…and anyway, will Beacon still be there? Is this not really the odyssey that they, and we, all thought it was, but something very different? I’m genuinely unsure that there will be any survivors at all except for Melanie herself, not because she’s going to kill them all—she’s developed very careful strategies for making sure that she, with their help, doesn’t allow this to happen—but because everything has suddenly veered off in a very different direction. At the point I’ve reached, the end of Chapter 58, Melanie has just seen something, or someone, that she is about to tell the others about. We were with her as she heard voices in what she comes to realise is the darkened auditorium of a theatre. As her eyes adjust, very markedly—she wonders if it’s a hungries thing—she sees where the voices, and the familiar-sounding laughter, are coming from. It’s as if kids like her old classmates are there… but, at this point, Carey isn’t letting us see what she sees. What we do know is that she’s pretty sure that she’s crying as she leaves.

Speculation time. Melanie has found other sentient hungries, and they are the ones who are going to repopulate the world. Maybe. I’ve been thinking about John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids during the last few chapters—you’ll see why in a bit—and now I’m thinking about another novel of his, The Chrysalids. There’s a moment near the end of that novel when the girl who is different from most people suddenly understands that there are whole nations of people like her. This is not like that, but some things are pointing to a very uncertain future for the rest of humanity…

…for reasons which I’m going to have to rewind in order to explain. A lot has happened in this third quarter of the novel. In Chapter 38 they’re still in the care home, getting quietly drunk on the Greek brandy Gallagher finds after rummaging around in the kitchen. Maybe, really, this novel divides into three, and our band of travellers is only half-way through the middle third, all about the journey on foot. The final third gets going when they stumble upon the heavily armoured mobile laboratory that Caldwell hadn’t been chosen to work in at the height of the ‘Breakdown.’ I’ll come to that later, because in the lead-up to it it’s as though Caldwell has been preparing for just such an unlikely stroke of luck. In the care-home, she finds some Tupperware boxes, into which she is able to spoon bits of the brain of the half-sentient hungry they discovered, and which Parks has by now unceremoniously shot. Other goodies come her way on the road…

…but getting back on the road turns out not to be easy. They are stranded on the upstairs floor, and the space where the staircase had been before Parks destroyed it behind them is now packed with hungries. Luckily, of course, they have a tame hungry of their own—I mean, really, what would they have done without her?—and she gets herself lowered down into their midst. She makes her way out through the smashed French windows and creates a massive distraction with a live fox she is able to corner. She screams at the top of her voice and releases it, causing every last one of the hungries, those that don’t get crushed underfoot, to follow it. She returns, and they are all good to go. Even Parks is moved to tell her it was a ‘good job.’

From Stevenage to the northern outskirts of London is a day’s journey. They have not too difficult a time of it, largely because of the massive scorched-earth policy of creating firebreaks when the Breakdown was clearly already out of control. For mile after mile they make their way through the blackened, greasy-smelling remnants of what was once a prosperous part of England, and there’s nothing there, including hungries. When they do come out of it, some of the inert hungries they happen upon display graphic evidence of the next stage of the pathogen’s life-cycle. A grotesque, triffid-like growth is sprouting its way out of each these defunct hungries’ chests or backs, and there are the beginnings of bud-like protuberances on some of them. Caldwell, of course, surreptitiously removes and hides one to examine later.

Even Carey has to prepare us for the outrageous coincidence of the discovery of the mobile laboratory. ‘The fourth day is the day of the miracle, which falls on Caroline Caldwell out of a clear sky.’ Carey isn’t the first writer to point out helpfully that he’s about to introduce a deus ex machina—or, as we soon realise, just a machina. Who needs a deus when you have a scientist who likes to play God? Luckily, before finding out that she hadn’t made the cut for joining the crew of the thing, she’d had enough training on it to know where the handy emergency door-opening crank is kept. (I’m not making this up.) Parks is interested in it for his usual pragmatic reasons. Even if he can’t get it going—he spends an evening and the whole night trying to get to grips with the generator—it’s an impregnable shelter for them all…

…or all except Melanie. She tells Parks in private—she doesn’t want Justineau to associate her with anything other than her human side—that she needs to go outside. The ‘e-blocker’ smell retardant is too thinly-spread to be effective now, so it’s hellish for her inside the enclosed space—and, just as important, she needs to finds something to eat. In a later chapter, after we’ve been seeing what Caldwell is up to in the mobile lab but before Melanie’s discovery of the mysterious others, we are with her when she catches a feral cat. The two different sides of her are in agonising conflict as she ‘hollows out’ the insides of the cat, all the while thinking of a poster of a kitten she remembers, and I love little kitty, her coat is so warm, / And if I don’t hurt her…. And so on. OK, she’s a hungry. But it’s the classic animal/spiritual divide human beings have always grappled with.

Meanwhile, Justineau, Parks and Gallagher are in their own circles of hell. Maybe that’s part of the human condition as well. Justineau has told Parks how, just before the Breakdown, she kiled a child who ran into the path of her car at night. She’s never been able to come to terms with the guilt of it. Parks… Parks is who he is, nothing like as bad as Justineau used to think, but still on the opposite side of an abyss as far as she is concerned. Poor Gallagher is OK, she thinks, just totally inexperienced and too young to remember life before the world became shit. He hates the idea of returning to Beacon, which sounds as though it was already falling apart when he left. Worse, for him, he was bullied by his alcoholic father and learnt nothing of any use to anybody. Now, he hasn’t the intelligence of a Melanie to help him see how different parts of this post-apocalyptic world are connected. His needs are simple and, he fears, will never be fulfilled. If the mobile lab is an Ark, then God help humanity.

Which of course she, God—aka Caroline Caldwell—is hoping she’ll be able to do. She is convinced that this is her chance to hatch her own escape plan for humanity, using samples of the pathogen as laboratory material. If Parks can get the generator going, she’ll be able to use not only the electron microscope, but also the state-of-the-art machine that can take microscopically thin slices of brain. She’s never made a secret of the fact that it’s Melanie’s brain she means. But, of course, Melanie has just made a discovery of her own. It’s set things up for a crunch battle, because Caldwell hasn’t got much time. The deep wounds in her hands, brought about during the escape—I didn’t mention them earlier, but I was wondering when they were going to become important to the plot—have led to uncontrolled sepsis. She’s been feeling ill since before Stevenage, and she’s pretty sure the big dose of drugs she’s administered herself in the vehicle has come too late. She’ll never get back to Beacon.

Speculation time, part 2. Caldwell has already been cutting into the bud-like growth that she took from the sprouting stalk of the pathogen. It’s tough-skinned, not at all ready to burst—but she now has it open, safe in the lab’s glass work-cabinet. Inside is ‘a fine, fractal froth of spores … that spills out through the opening she’s made.’ Ah. I might have got this wrong, but this is going to be her bargaining chip. She’s going to die anyway, and if they don’t let her have Melanie, she’ll open her little box of tricks and spread the terrors of the earth. She’s already got Parks thinking about ‘mass extinction,’ because ‘each sporangium contains … from one to ten million spores. They will be airborne and light enough to travel … into the upper atmosphere and … cover continents.’

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Caldwell has her box of horrors, but Melanie, obsessed as she is by the Greek myths, is the one who identifies as Pandora. Her name, of course (not that I knew it before) means ‘the girl with all the gifts.’ Melanie might mean only blackness, but Pandora is the one who brings hope to the world. I’m not just making all this up. It’s all been in the novel from our introduction to the stories in that classroom back at the base 300-odd pages back. Carey is serious about this.

4 October
Chapters 59-72—to the end
I was nearly right. Melanie has discovered her own kind, and they will inherit the earth. And nobody else survives, literally. Except one person, who will finally find redemption. Justineau, for it is she, ‘laughs through choking tears at the rightness of it. Nothing is forgotten, and everything is paid.’ In one of the environment protection suits from ‘Rosie’, the mobile lab, she will be a teacher again. And the people she will teach are the children Melanie discovered in the theatre, the ones who are just like her. But they, unlike her, have been living a Lord of the Flies existence all their lives—except they haven’t temporarily forgotten how to behave, because they never learnt in the first place. They don’t even know how to speak. True, they have evolved a way of living in a kind of community. But there’s a dangerous top dog, an older boy bedecked in face-paint and trophies, like Jack in Golding’s novel. Luckily for everybody, it was necessary for Melanie to kill him with a shot from a flare-gun right in the socket of his eye.

This sort of thing happens all the time once their discovery of Rosie brings their journey to a full stop. Carey must have decided that this really is going to be an action thriller after all—so much more happens than in all the previous chapters, and a lot of it is edge-of-the-seat stuff. He still finds room for the characters to take stock of the existential crisis each one of them is in—I think it’s Melanie that the phrase refers to directly, but it fits them all—and it’s still interesting. Even Caldwell, while remaining utterly lacking in empathy to the end, offers Justineau a tricky conundrum to chew on. If killing Melanie leads to a vaccine, wouldn’t it be worth it to save the lives of millions? Otherwise, of all the characters (except, perhaps, poor Private Gallagher) Caldwell learns the least. She remains determined to find the truth and, if she needs to examine the contents of Melanie’s skull, so be it. She is her specimen, after all. Even after one of the feral children falls into the trap she sets—tell you later—she carries on regardless, and makes efforts to kill Melanie when there’s no need at all. If anybody deserves to die—if such an idea even exists in this universe—it’s Caldwell.

I said that apart from Justineau, literally everybody dies. Everybody in the world, that is—because, as Caldwell is forced to explain to Melanie, there can be no cure, and no vaccine. (Melanie is the only one able to trick her way into Rosie after getting separated from the others.) By this time, clever girl that she is—and because Carey reverse-engineers her education so that she knows about Amazon trees whose seed-pods can only open in a fire—Melanie is pretty sure she knows how to bring matters to a quick end. Most of London is covered with a forest of the triffids and the clouds of gossamer-light filaments they send out to a height of 40 feet. Carey needs it to be big enough so that when Melanie suggests setting it alight near the end, the spores from the mature pods will cover the world. We remember that something else he’s reverse-engineered is the explanation of how this works, some chapters back. It’s like that Bill and Ted movie where Ted goes back in time to leave himself a reminder that will come in handy later. It’s a feeling I got quite often during this last third. We remember Caldwell’s wounded hands—Carey needed a slow but unavoidable death for her.

No doubt I’m being unfair. If you’re going to write a thriller, you need to plan things pretty carefully. But I genuinely had been wondering why those hands needed to be cut so badly, why that forest of triffids needed to be so big. The latter, and their built-in life-cycle of exploding pods that has evolved from nowhere, are needed for a spectacular ending. It’s a good job they’ve found the mobile lab named after Rosalind Franklin and not the other one, the Charles Darwin. Darwin would be turning in his grave.

I’m still being unfair—it’s an adventure thriller, for goodness’ sake, and it’s part of the deal for the reader to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good ride. I think my problem is that I’m used to Carey being more convincing than this. OK, the science is dodgy from the start—the precedent for the pathogen’s life-cycle is a David Attenborough documentary on a fungal parasite that first turns ants into zombies, then kills them with a stalk that sprouts from their heads—but the psychology has been really, really well done. For much more than half the novel, this is what has driven it for me, because it’s both convincing and presented in a way the reader can sympathise with. Once we reach London, the novel is far more driven by events and shocking new discoveries. I don’t have a problem suspending disbelief—I got that way into a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller, didn’t I?—but I feel Carey has to push credibility at least to breaking-point before the end.

So, what happens after Melanie discovers the other kids? She lies about what she’s seen, that’s what happens. She pretends she’s discovered the junkers who infiltrated the base, 50 or 60 of them. Admittedly, they have been seen once since that time, taking a look at the first night’s shelter in the garage, but Melanie’s story is too full of holes. Only poor Gallagher really believes it. He’s already feeling trapped between the claustrophobia inside Rosie and the prospect of returning to a hateful life in Beacon. The idea of a band of gun-toting outlaws sends him over the edge, and he simply decides to walk. He takes nothing with him, is totally unprepared, and he quickly falls prey to an ambush by the feral kids that Melanie didn’t tell them about. It seems he’s one of the red-shirts from Star Trek, and there isn’t much left of him when the others find him. It’s Melanie who insists they burn his remains—by this time, nobody’s pretending the junkers will see the smoke. If there were junkers about, they would have known about it long ago.

Alert readers might wonder why Carey mentions that Parks, ever the assiduous soldier, takes away Gallagher’s walkie-talkie and keeps it safe. What else would he do? It turns out that when they separate—Justineau and Parks to find shelter because Caldwell has driven off alone in Rosie, Melanie to explore the extent of the triffid-forest—it would be a good idea for her to have Gallagher’s old walkie-talkie. Which means that later, clever girl that she is, she is able to try her luck at reaching a radio frequency that Rosie’s antennae might pick up. Not only that, but she will trick Caldwell into thinking it’s a signal from Beacon. And not only that… etc. After a plan that would be well thought-out even if the perpetrator hadn’t spent her short life in a closed bubble—you can see what I mean about suspending disbelief—she ends up inside, with a scalpel in her hand, and with Caldwell at her mercy.

To rewind a little—which, after the others see Caldwell driving by like a lunatic, is exactly what Carey does—I need to tell you about the catching of one of the feral kids. Caldwell sees them outside Rosie after she’s used the absence of the others—she’s pleaded indisposition, which is true as far as it goes—to set it up for her personal use. She had the training, 20 years before, so she can assemble the air-lock, a strongly reinforced extra set of doors. She ends up trapping one of the kids crowded outside, its chest getting crushed and one of its legs preventing the outside doors from closing properly. Carey needs the danger—the other kids are doing their best to force the outer door open—to set up Caldwell’s careering drive through the streets. She is trying, successfully in the end, to scrape them off—but she’s also tiring herself out and, when she comes up against the cloudy grey wall of filaments enclosing the unearthly forest, she simply stops.

She needs every last scrap of adrenalin-fuelled energy to get on with her science, which she does. Using the state-of the-art slicer and microscope, she is immediately able to see why the sentient hungry kids are like they are. They must never have caught the pathogen like everybody else, because it and their brain tissue have grown alongside one another. They must have been born with it. Those adults with a vestige of memory of past behaviours are a red herring, simply people whose brains were not 100% blitzed. If you’re born with it, your brain isn’t blitzed at all. The pathogen lives in symbiosis with it. (That noise is Darwin in his grave, changing up a gear.) There is no hope for the rest of humanity, she realises—although we don’t know this until she is telling Melanie. Caldwell is surprised how much this little girl understands of what she tells her about her findings—all of it, it seems—but, clearly, there’s something about the brains of these new humans. Maybe it’s another superpower to go with her night vision and the bloodhound sense of smell that lets her track Rosie down.

That’s three stories done, leaving only those of Justineau and Parks to finish off. They find  upstairs shelter upstairs in a terraced block, impossible for the old-school hungries to get to, and they have time, finally, to do what a man and woman do when the woman is happy to turn off the torch. But the new kids know how to improvise a way up, and the only escape route is through the skylight. They are quickly followed on to the roof, and are pelted with stones from very effective slings. It’s real adventure stuff, like Caldwell’s encounters in and around Rosie, and Parks has to machine-gun a big hole in the roof to buy a little time. It turns out not to be quite enough, and he gets so badly injured as he carries the now unconscious Justineau—she had a bad fall—he is overtaken, attacked, and bitten. He isn’t a goner yet—that walkie-talkie is useful again, and Melanie has it switched back to the right channel, clever girl—but his days are numbered. He is able to get the unconscious Justineau back to Rosie—Caldwell has done the right thing at last, and allowed the sepsis to reach her cold heart—before he asks Melanie to put him out of his misery. She’s OK with it.

So now it’s just Melanie and her beloved Miss Justineau. And what the ark has able to save is… the best damn’ teacher any embryonic society could hope for. The end.