Written for the 2010 TIWF
those moments when time slows? That split second when the
world stops spinning, and if you open your eyes wide enough
you can peer between the spaces in the air, feel every beat of
your heart as it pulses across the surface of your skin?
that moment. An elastic space in time as gravity deserts me
and blood pools sticky and hot on the deck beneath my back. I
can taste metal. Red rust that slides thick across my tongue
and spills from the corner of my mouth.
and I wonder why he is making me wait.
At first I
thought I’d come to the wrong coordinates.
road led straight to a freshly ploughed field, dug up and
littered with clods of broken earth and scraps of decaying
vegetation. I rolled the car to a halt, leaned forward and
squinted up at the grey clouds overhead, checked my watch,
then double-checked the coordinates on the GPS.
place, right time.
sank closer to the ground as I stepped out of the car, and a
dusting of rain spattered in a wave across the field. There
was nothing to see beyond the barren earth and the grey mist
that lowered over everything on the horizon. The wind kicked
cold into my back and I jammed a hand into my pocket, fingers
opening and closing around the data stick that nestled there.
have long to wait.
whine carried across the fields and I turned, the clouds
shuddering as Thunderbird One screamed out of the grey
sky to land abruptly on the sodden field in front of me, the
roar of her engines bringing down a curtain of rain that
hissed and crackled against her superheated manifold.
the car door shut and dashed for the open hatch of
Thunderbird One, clambering awkwardly into the confined
cockpit. ‘Hi,’ I said, looking up at the man in the suspended
pilot’s seat. ‘Daniel Miller.’
the pilot replied, nodding towards the rumble seat beneath
him. ‘Strap in.’
hesitated for an instant, then picked my way through the
debris that littered the cockpit floor. Sludgy boot-prints
mostly, a wad of blood-soaked towels and a tangle of bloodied
gauze. Flipping the seat down I slipped as fast as I could
into the restraining straps.
I called out over the whine of the engines, but Thunderbird
One had already lifted off, lurching abruptly upwards and
rolling to the left before gaining altitude and hitting
supersonic. Ears popping, my body flattened itself into the
seat as the cabin pressure kicked in, the entire frame of
Thunderbird One pulsing through the bulkhead at my back.
moved efficiently in the gimballed seat above, adjusted his
yaw, cupped a hand around his headset mic so I couldn’t hear
what he was saying, his feet twitching on the footplate in
what might have been irritation or impatience. His boots were
caked with mud and sand, the legs of his cover-all damp and
spattered with blood.
up to find a pair of gray-blue eyes staring down at me.
wants to speak to you.’
my tie and straightened in my seat.
I had met
Jeff Tracy only once, over lunch at the Nassau Yacht Club one
of those bright hot days when the sky burns blue and the glare
from the water makes spots dance before your eyes. Tracy had
brought his assistant, Miss Kyrano, with him – at least that’s
how he had introduced her, and wearing an expression that
dared me to doubt him.
grain-fed porterhouse – because Jeff Tracy said he was
entirely sick of seafood – we discussed my military service,
the kind of work I was doing now, the kind of work Tracy now
wanted me to do. And when the dessert cart rolled by Miss
Kyrano produced a wad of contracts to sign, asked for my
account details, turned up her nose at the Cointreau
profiteroles and slipped a platinum credit card to the waiter.
the light from the harbour dancing in my eyes and the
perfectly balanced weight of Jeff Tracy’s pen smooth as a
stone in my hands, I had willingly signed my life away. And
now Jeff Tracy, astronaut, billionaire, philanthropist,
recluse, stared gravely at me from Thunderbird One’s
forward screen, come to claim what he had paid for.
worshipped Jeff Tracy when I was a kid – the man who handed me
his Mont Blanc across the crisp white tablecloth that day so
incredibly familiar from vidcasts, cereal boxes and NatGeo
fold-out specials that he felt like a treasured relative.
this isn’t what we put on your job description, but we’re a
man down and we could do with your help.’
aged since his glory days, been watered down by the years, his
dimples replaced with a stern maturity and an abundance of
laughter lines. But today his face was etched with something
else... Jeff Tracy looked haggard, worn out. Worn down.
pleasure, sir.’ My eyes flickered to the bloodied towels at my
able to obtain the schematics?’
sir.’ Sourcing the schematics for one of Russia’s twentieth
century submarine bases in under an hour hadn’t been as
difficult as I had at first imagined.
Can you give the data to John.’
sir.’ I transferred the data stick to the hand that appeared
above my head, and there was a brief pause as John downloaded
John, we’ve got it.’ Tracy’s mouth hardened as his eyes
focussed on something out of camera range. ‘Okay then. You
know where you’re headed.’
sir.’ Christ. I couldn’t stop with the yessirs, could I.
greyed out. I removed my tie and balled it into my suit
pocket, stared at the blank screen in front of me, focussed on
the screaming, freezing wind buffeting the aircraft, wondered
how Thunderbird One handled the build-up of ice
outside. And then I attempted to break the ice on the inside.
idolised that man as a kid. Had bubblegum cards with his face
was a response from the seat above, I didn’t catch it. I
looked at the bloodied towels again, took a deep breath.
your buddy’s gonna be okay.’
above my head shifted on the footplate, and then John spoke.
‘We’ll be on site in twenty minutes.’
blood. I should have realised then what I was walking into.
light bulb in a cage directly above me. It’s an old-fashioned
globe, twentieth century, yellowed, the wire cage around it
rusted from the seawater that has been seeping in for the last
forty years. A droplet forms and swells on the wire, sets
itself unexpectedly free.
could have prepared me for the size of this.
rested like a great green mountain at the edge of a muddy
tidal flat, her main body raised on four metal legs to reveal
a cargo hold into which John had disappeared at lightning
speed. I followed at a trot, my shoes squelching into the muck
with each step, every dirty slurp releasing the stench of
rotting seaweed and other dead things. Despite a career with
the Navy, I’d never liked the stink of the seashore. I much
preferred the clear clean swell of the ocean, the ozone tang
of salt water as it rushed burning up your nose.
John’s muddy prints up the ramp that was extended from the
hold and skirted along the side of a small DSV that was
secured inside. ‘Thunderbird Four’ was marked across her in
black on yellow, and she dripped a steady stream of water from
her intakes onto the hangar floor.
rear of the hold John had huddled close to two other men. I
could hear snatches of conversation as I approached, the words
‘don’t know’ and ‘dad’ and ‘screw this’ bouncing like bullets
from the curved metal walls. They turned to eye me silently as
I approached, taking in the crop of my hair, the creases in my
shirt, the mud encasing my Harry Contin loafers.
stiffened under the scrutiny, felt myself slipping into an old
skin, years of training sliding smoothly back into their old
places. ‘Daniel Miller,’ I announced loudly, resisting a
sudden urge to snap to attention.
said John. ‘Miller, this is Virgil.’ A smooth-faced man in the
famous International Rescue uniform – blue suit and sash –
wordlessly offered his hand. ‘And Gordon,’ John finished as a
barefoot young man in a wetsuit stepped forward and shunted me
towards a portable monitor butted up against the wall.
up with a plan of attack while you guys were en route,’
Gordon said, sliding his thumb along a touchpad.
said Gordon as he adjusted the screen and motioned for me to
move closer. ‘The station should still be two-thirds viable.
The explosion took out this module’ – he tapped a broken
fingernail on the monitor – ‘but the centre module has a moon
pool.’ He looked pointedly in my direction.
You’re just going to swim in?’ John turned sceptically to
Virgil. ‘And you agreed to this?’
eyes were fixed on an old-fashioned wedge hat he had been
methodically crushing in his hands. ‘It’s that, or we pack up
turned decisively back to Gordon. ‘I’m coming with you.’
we’ve discussed this already. We need somebody who…’
‘We need a
diver. Somebody with…’ Gordon looked at me sideways,
of a better word.
rushed to John’s cheeks and he leant forward, body tensed, as
if he were getting ready to jump. ‘You always forget I spent
three months in a hydrolab.’
you always forget that was for astronaut training!’
Gordon let out a grunt of exasperation and turned,
disappearing into the rear of the hangar.
give me that shit,’ John called to Gordon’s retreating back.
‘Do not give me that shit!’
This was Virgil. ‘It wasn’t our decision. You know that.’
that.’ John looked like he was ready to hit something. Or
somebody. I shifted in my wet shoes uncomfortably.
returned with a bundle in his arms. ‘We ready?’
replied as he and Virgil began securing loose equipment.
Gordon thrust a watch into my hand. ‘It’s a comms device.
Press here. It’s waterproof to 1000 metres. Just in case.’
of what?’ I strapped the watch to my wrist.
we find you floating at the bottom of the ocean,’ he replied
calmly. ‘We can use it to identify the body.’
It was a
I can see
Gordon from where I am lying. He is sprawled limp on the metal
floor, eyes closed, and there is blood on his mouth and in his
man kneeling by his side, and it is he who is laughing.
at the open hatch of Thunderbird Four. Scrapes and
gouges scored the yellow paint, the titanium hull showing
through in a series of bright silver scars. I rubbed the
deepest score with my thumb, a slice of paint coming loose and
drifting to the hangar floor.
hit?’ I asked as I stepped into the rear compartment and into
an inch of murky seawater. A jumble of equipment had been
strewn haphazardly across the deck, and a shredded wetsuit had
been tossed into a corner. Shrapnel. I eyed the jagged
tears in the neoprene. Poor bastard.
is failing.’ Gordon avoided the obvious as he sealed the hatch
behind us. He used his feet to clear some walking space across
the deck and handed me the bundle he’d taken from
Thunderbird Two’s storage locker. I unfolded the wetsuit
he had thrust into my arms. Despite the size, it was pink,
with blue racing stripes. Definitely not regulation issue.
ask?’ I dangled the suit questioningly as I kicked off my
smiled half-heartedly, the first ray of sunlight I’d seen
since I got out of bed this morning. ‘It’s all we had in
storage, sorry.’ He sobered as he turned his attention to
assembling tanks and regulators, setting aside masks and swim
fins as the closing of Thunderbird Two’s hangar door
clanged dimly through the hull. It was followed by the screech
of hydraulics and a juddering vibration that carried all the
way through the metal deck of the sub.
re-clipped the tanks into place and moved into the tiny
cockpit. ‘So,’ he called out, ‘no word on personnel or what
the Russians were working on?’
I shook my
head. ‘The Russians aren’t involved. They sold the facility to
a private research corporation a year ago.’ I stripped off my
shirt and came to stand in the hatchway. ‘Four technical
personnel, at last count.’
activated the comms. ‘Thunderbird Two from
Thunderbird Four. Systems check. And can you download the
seconds.’ John’s voice. ‘Lift off in sixty.’
airlock is useless,’ Gordon tapped a finger on the cockpit
monitor as the schematics appeared on-screen. ‘The outer hatch
was booby-trapped and the explosion would have flooded the
over his shoulder at the screen. ‘Is that what happened to
The compact frame of Gordon’s body tightened visibly as
he studied the specs.
stooped to pick up the wetsuit, the bundle of neoprene in my
hand feeling heavy and suddenly unpleasant. ‘Are you saying
this was a set up?’
get-go.’ He said it calmly, but there was a hard edge to his
muscles of Gordon’s jaw twitched. Only once, but it was enough
to tell me he was keeping something from me. ‘No.’
back into the aft compartment, kicking at the debris that had
butted up against the bilge and began wrestling myself into
the wetsuit. The whine of Thunderbird Two’s engines
filtered through the hull, and the unaccountable sound of
metal sliding against metal. There was an indistinct sensation
of moving, as if we were in an elevator, gently going up.
pilot of Thunderbird One, Gordon proved far more
talkative as he continued with his systems check. ‘World Navy,
Does he think I don’t know International Rescue has a nice fat
file on me?
swivelled slightly in his seat. ‘Were you on Sentinel
knew where that question was going. ‘But I’m assuming that was
you they took on board? I heard you made quite an impression
on the crew.’ I looked questioningly at his unassuming
profile, tried to picture Gordon as the unforgiving SOB that
was talked about at WNHQ for months. ‘The captain went out on
stress leave as soon as he hit New York, you know.’
snorted lightly and returned his attention to the console.
‘What was your last posting?’
But I’ve been in Intel for the last three years.’ Which was
why International Rescue had payrolled me in the first place.
After Sentinel ploughed a missile into the belly of one
of his rescue craft, Tracy realised he needed someone on the
inside to provide a regular update of military deployments
around which he could plot his flight plans. Technically, I
was engaging in treason, but as long as International Rescue
insisted on flying un-transponded aircraft, I had landed
myself a very lucrative sideline.
as long as it had lasted.
at the crotch of the wetsuit and moved into the cockpit. ‘You
were Navy?’ I asked.
shook his head. ‘WASP.’
interesting. WASP commissions weren’t easy to come by,
and they weren’t easily given up. ‘What happened?’
continued to work through a series of checks as I peered over
his shoulder at the console. ‘Lotsa things...’
sure were cagey bastards. But before I could press him
further, the cockpit comms engaged.
target, Gordon.’ Virgil’s voice crackled loudly from
Thunderbird Four’s onboard speaker. ‘Ready to drop on your
swivelled in his seat to look at me. ‘Ah…you might want to
hold onto something.’
I clutched at the back of his seat.
He pointed to the floor. ‘Down there. Brace.’
myself into the corner and tucked my head between my knees.
returned to the comms. ‘Okay Virg. Disengage.’
a hollow popping sound, a metallic clunk that reverberated
through the hull of the sub, and then the world dropped out
from under us as Thunderbird Four, and the hold she was
secured in, went into sudden freefall.
shit!’ My ass lifted centimetres off the floor, weightless,
and then came crashing back to pressed metal as the pod
smacked hard onto the surface of the sea. ‘Jesus Christ! What
the hell was that?’
all business as he powered up the engines, the aft powerplant
emitting a low hum as we idled in position. The pod door
lowered into the sea, letting in the light from a dark grey
sky and an endlessly churning ocean. The swell tossed the pod
violently, pushed leaden waves up the ramp that spilled
foamless across the pod floor, the forward window of the DSV
covered with a film of salt spray before we had even begun to
the acceleration and we shot with surprising speed down the
ramp and into the murky depths of the darkening sea.
passes over me.
head is like a moon eclipsing the sun, a palpable force that
stills my trembling hands. The caged bulb above me flares and
dies, and I am covered in shadow.
seen me tremble and he smiles. Eyes that burn with
satisfaction and suddenly glow bright. My heart flutters in my
chest, but there is little blood to fuel it. My lungs shudder
and I gasp at air that is heavy with the odour of sweat. And
give him the satisfaction.
came to a drifting standstill, pointed nose-down to face the
station though the heavy murk. Decades earlier the Russians
had sunk it into the silt of the sea bottom, perching it a
hundred metres from the edge of a deep undersea trench. It had
been built in sections, three rounded metal cylinders on legs
that linked themselves together via interconnecting airlocks,
a large corporate logo testifying to the station’s current
incarnation as a research facility.
silently in the murk, the only sound the steady ping of
equipment as Gordon studied his monitors. He lifted his head
and stared into the depths ahead of us.
were six lifesigns on that station when we first arrived. Now
I can only find three.’ He recalibrated the scanner,
expressionless, then scooted the sub forward and flooded the
ocean with light.
drifted between us and the station. A grotesquery that was
once a man, eyes wide, hair a bed of dark weed atop a bloated
head, lab coat illuminated starkly by Thunderbird Four’s
floodlights. The body hovered ghost-like, and it had that
look... when the sea sucks all the life and all the colour out
somewhere, had gone horribly wrong.
I had to ask. ‘Is this a rescue, or a retrieval?’
stared grimly at the seascape ahead of us. ‘I don’t think it’s
a rescue, Dan. Not anymore.’
what?’ I studied his profile, the half-light from the sonar
display riming the lines that creased their way faintly around
his eyes and the corners of his mouth. ‘Gordon, listen, I
understand ‘need to know.’ I do. I get it. But if we’re going
to have any chance of getting out of this alive, then I need
drowned technician drifted slowly ahead of us in an invisible
arc, caught in a deep-sea current that pulled him inexorably
towards the darkness beyond Thunderbird Four’s
here,’ Gordon said, in a voice that was edged with
resignation, ‘because there’s a man on that station that wants
silence in the DSV as I digested that bit of information.
because,’ he continued, ‘I can’t be trusted not to kill him.’
of the bloodied cockpit of Thunderbird One flashed into
my brain. ‘Are you saying this is a detainment?’ I watched the
bloated body as it spun slowly into oblivion. ‘If we’re going
to detain this son-of-a-bitch, then I need more information.
Name. Weight. Height. Preferred weapons. Anything. Whatever
you telling me?’
nothing!’ Gordon shook his head. ‘We don’t know what he looks
like, who he is, where he comes from. Nothing.’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
‘He uses disguises.’ Gordon barked a
bitter laugh. ‘I know. It sounds crazy, but we never know
where he’s going to show up, or what he’s going to look like
next. But he’s always at our backs, hounding us like a fucking
curse. And he’s dangerous, Dan. He’ll stop at nothing to get
what he wants.’ He indicated the body as it drifted into the
gloom. ‘Civilians… people… they mean nothing to him.
They’re just obstacles that get in his way.’ A
tremor ran through him as his
hand dropped back to the console, and then he was calmly,
you dealt with him before?’
haven’t!’ Frustration tainted his words with anger. ‘We
haven’t dealt. We’ve skated by on dumb luck. Evaded him
only by the skin of our teeth.’
not take him out of the equation altogether?’
shook his head. ‘Tracy would never go for that. He wants
justice. He needs to know his enemy.’
at the corpse ahead of us. ‘Is that what you’re going to tell
his family? That he died because Jeff Tracy wanted justice?’
hazel eyes slid towards mine. ‘He died because the
son-of-a-bitch on that station wants Jeff Tracy. And
everything he has.’
I met his
gaze, the meaning of his words becoming instantly clear.
Somehow, this man knew who was behind International Rescue. He
represented a breach in security, a dangerously leaking hole
that had to be plugged. I understood now why they needed him
alive, but snatch and grab hadn’t been a big part of my
training. I stepped back into the aft compartment – there had
to be weaponry on this boat somewhere.
locker,’ Gordon called out, intuiting my intent.
found what I was looking for. The pistols were of unfamiliar
design, shorter, stockier, but the standard features seemed to
be in the right places. I returned to the cockpit, dropping
one into Gordon’s lap. ‘No promises. If this thing gets out of
control, I shoot to kill.’
live with that.’ He slid the gun into his belt, slipping off
the safety with a practised hand.
our POA?’ I hefted the weapon experimentally, settled it
comfortably into the sweet spot of my palm.
signs are concentrated here,’ he placed a finger on the
schematics, ‘and the moon pool’s in the centre module. We’ll
enter there. Hopefully undetected.’
much of a plan – we were open to ambush, but he was right. It
was the only way in, short of blasting a hole through the
superstructure and flooding the bastard out. I surveyed the
monitor, processing the layout, memorising the distance from
the pool to the access hatch, putting faith in old man Neptune
that the forty year-old specs were accurate.
I said as movement on the sonar caught my eye. ‘Biological
directly overhead, one point five metres.
He rose from his seat and peered up through the plexi-shield,
jerked abruptly backward as a gloved fist slammed down hard
onto the outside of Thunderbird Four’s forward window.
There was a brief glimpse of a black-clad diver tumbling away
from the sub as my eyes were drawn to the neat package of H-6
that had been attached to the cockpit window.
Gordon shot out from behind the steering yoke and cannoned
into me, hurtling the both of us bodily into the aft
compartment and sealing the inner hatch. There was a muffled
thud and the dull sound of rushing water as Thunderbird
Four tilted nose-down, the weight of the ocean pouring
into her shattered cockpit pitching her abruptly forward. We
tumbled together in a rain of loose equipment as
the sub’s orientation shifted and she began a slow
spiral towards the ocean floor.
Gordon collided with the forward bulkhead as the sub rolled
out of control. ‘Shit!’
scrambled for the masks under the jumble of equipment that had
rained down on us as Gordon unclipped the oxygen tanks from
the wall. We tumbled together again as Thunderbird Four
settled hard onto the ledge over which she’d been drifting,
then toppled slowly onto her side. There was a moment of quiet
in the little hold as we hefted our tanks onto our backs, and
then the sub shifted again, a deep metallic screech
reverberating through the superstructure as the sediment gave
way beneath us and Thunderbird Four slid towards the
edge of the trench.
the regulator into my mouth and gave a thumbs-up as Gordon
cranked open the top hatch, a torrent of frigid water crashing
in and knocking him to the deck. The lights inside the
compartment flickered as connections shorted, then failed
completely as salt water breached their casings and the
compartment filled with black water. Gordon’s mask-light
bloomed in the darkness and he gestured, grabbed my arm and
propelled me towards the open hatch and the shadows beyond.
groan that was felt more than heard, Thunderbird Four
slid over the lip of the trench as I kicked off from the hatch
and into the turbulent vortex left in her wake. Gordon slipped
free as the DSV spiralled down into the depths, the air
trapped in her ballast struggling vainly against the weight of
the ocean that had rushed into her. We watched the sub sink
helplessly into the abyss, the yellow beam of her floodlights
knifing feebly through the murk. And then even they failed,
sputtered, and went out
Up close I
can see the black frame of his eyelashes, track the stubble
that peppers darkly across his chin. For a moment my eyes
wander across the broad expanse of chest, following the
outline of ink that has been traced along the contours of his
body. A black snake curls from shoulder to wrist, fangs bared,
the sharp teeth incised boldly into the golden skin.
his arm. The snake writhes, and I am transfixed.
plateau that supported the research facility was a barren
plain of debris dotted with muddy boulders, and a deep gouge
where Thunderbird Four had rested momentarily before
she toppled over the edge. A hundred metres ahead the
portholes of the station burned yellow in the dark, bright
little beacons luring us like moths to a dangerous flame. The
black-suited diver lay atop the silt where the pressure wave
from the explosion had tumbled him over and broken him against
the sea floor. He’d misjudged the detonation of the H-6, been
caught in the shock wave when it hit. His regulator hose had
been shredded, the mask torn from his face, the exposed skin
of his throat ripped by shards of metal and glass.
hesitated for a moment, turned to survey the black depths
around us, took hold of my arm and steered us towards the
beacons shining in the murk. The station rested stark and
uninviting on the mud, a mass of twisted metal scarring one
end of the superstructure – the blasted portal of the main
hatch, the visible remains of International Rescue’s earlier,
slowly between the station’s support struts, clouds of silt
kicking up beneath us as we headed for the patch of light that
filtered down through the moon pool, illuminating the dull mud
of the ocean floor beneath it. We halted at the threshold,
hovered silently at the demarcation of light and dark, as if
unwilling to leave the safety of the gloom and expose
ourselves to whatever lay above. I signalled Gordon and kicked
off from the bottom, slid silently upwards into the light,
tilted my head to find him following smoothly in my wake.
From beneath the station the pool had
looked calm and inviting, a safe haven of dappled light
shining directly overhead. But from within it was clouded by
shadow, a cumulus of blood that clung in dark tendrils to the
body of a drowned man. His outstretched limbs splayed limply
on the rippled surface, blood casting a dull red umbra upon us
as we passed silently beneath its
myself up the access ladder and stepped over the lip of the
pool, almost tripping over another body slumped in a congealed
puddle of blood. A bullet had punctured the forehead neatly,
the entry wound smooth and sharp and charcoal grey around the
edges. The man’s eyes were closed behind a pair of wire-frame
glasses, and despite the fact that a hole had been carved
through one end of his brain and out the other, he looked at
peace, not a hair on his head out of place.
heaved himself from the pool and stared at the body bleakly.
These poor guys had been bait. Breadcrumbs. Our way had been
marked by a nasty trail, and we were lurching recklessly along
I want to
say it loudly, I want him to know that I know. But my voice
fails, the words catching in my throat, emerging barely as a
close, breath hot on my face, as though a furnace burns inside
said so.’ He smiles, but it is a dangerous smile. Feral. ‘My
own father said those very words the day he left me to the
mercies of the Sarawak.’ His lip curls and he stands, aims a
kick at the white-hot hell inside me.
is blinding, sparks spinning hot across my vision. And when my
eyes clear I see his feet are stained with blood.
away our tanks and masks, stood dripping cold seawater onto a
painted steel floor. Our eyes met, goosebumps rising in an icy
trail along my spine as the hazel eyes quested into mine. I
pulled the gun from my belt, hoping it was the ocean seeping
into my skin that caused the hair to rise on my scalp, and not
some foreboding of whatever lay beyond the access hatch before
promises,’ I reminded Gordon, raising the gun. And then I
cranked opened the hatch.
silence at first, a moment of stillness as the heavy metal
door swung wide and our eyes were flooded with dull yellow
laboratory was lit with a series of antiquated bulbs, the
harsh glare revealing a series of workbenches, fume chambers
and a decontamination station. And one lone civilian, standing
exposed against the far wall. More bait, staring wide-eyed at
us across the sterile room.
on the threshold, hefted the gun in my hand as Gordon pressed
in close behind me. I could feel his desperation to move, his
palpable desire to bring the situation to a close winding him
up tight like a spring. I pressed a hand against his stomach,
pushed him back away from the door.
myself. Three years of intel have made me soft. Dulled my
into the lab, ducked and rolled as a gunman appeared to my
right and fired repeatedly in my direction. I scrambled for
the workbenches and slid behind them, a series of bullets
digging a trail of holes in the floor behind me.
I made a
a pause, the sound of feet scuffing across the steel floor as
the gunman moved closer, and in that moment I stood and pulled
the trigger, a single bullet ripping through the side of his
face and crashing him bloodied to the floor. And then I fired
at him again, right between the eyes.
underestimated the enemy.
seems to come from everywhere, a deep baritone that echoes
around the metal chamber and vibrates through the walls of my
I spin to
find the barrel of a gun mere centimetres from my face.
hell did he come from?
weapon.’ Black eyes gleam from a thickly fleshed face. He is
huge, and he’d peeled down the top of his wetsuit to reveal a
heavily muscled chest, sinews twisting beneath sun-darkened
skin as he tightens the grip on his weapon.
only to raise my arm and pull the trigger.
weapon.’ He says it again, the voice calm and measured.
into the black eyes and tense myself to bring the gun to bear.
The weapon in front of my face lashes out like sudden
lightning, the butt slamming hard into the side of my head, a
powerful kick following through and smashing the gun out of my
not International Rescue.’ It isn’t a question.
fills with blood and I spit onto the metal floor.
twitches in his hand. ‘Who are you?’ The black eyes slide
towards the airlock. ‘And who is still to introduce himself?’
rolls me away from him, and despite the pain I curl inwards,
arms coming up to protect myself. The movement brings the
watch within my reach, and I activate the comms.
bursts from the communicator, tinny and weak, but it carries
clearly over the air filters, and over the breath that rattles
loudly from my lungs.
‘Thunderbird Four from Thunderbird Two. Come in.’
voice galvanises him. His hand darts out like lightning,
grasps my arm and twists, the watch tearing like tissue from
my wrist. He holds it in his hand, triumphant, as if it were
made of solid gold.
gestures silently, backs me up against the wall beside the
technician. Abruptly he fires at my feet, the bullet
ricocheting from the floor and embedding itself into the wall.
There’s a yelp of surprise, the technician beside me jumping
in pale-faced fright.
out,’ he calls angrily toward the airlock, ‘because next time
I won’t miss.’
sweat forming on my lip, can see it glisten dully on the back
of the bald head as the gunman stands with his weapon
outstretched towards me, his face turned attentively towards
International Rescue,’ he says into the air when satisfaction
fails to materialise. ‘Such noble little men.’ I watch as the
thick finger curls inward on the trigger. ‘What happens when
you have nobody left to rescue?’
fires again, the detonation deafening inside the metal
chamber, the scientist beside me propelled off his feet by the
impact of the bullet and slumping to the floor.
deranged?’ I tense, preparing to spring forward.
don’t…’ Gordon’s gun slides into the lab ahead of him, the
warning coming too late as the black eyes turned menacingly in
smiles, a sickening twist of the lips as his expression
dissolves into something very dangerous. He takes a measured
step forward and studies my face closely. ‘I don’t know you…
Therefore, I don’t need you.’
There is a
flash of heat in my gut as the weapon discharges once more,
the close range knocking me off my feet and back into the
‘Son of a
bitch.’ I slide to the floor as the inside of my
wetsuit begins to fill with warm, sticky blood.
swivels again on the thick neck. ‘But you,’ he says to Gordon,
‘I know you as if you were my own son.’
John, I think. A small voice that calls futilely from
thousands of feet above.
Miller?’ A burst of interference. ‘Miller?’
an explosion of static and the voice from the communicator
caresses the watch, his thumb rolling lovingly across its
face. And then he activates the connection and speaks.
roll thick and slow across his tongue. As if he has honey in
his mouth, and he must savour every drop of it.
in my gut is like a burning stone, buried deep and moving
deeper, a lead weight that pins me to the cold floor. I will
my body into motion and lash out, my feet connecting with
ankles like steel pylons as I tangle the huge legs with my own
and the gunman topples heavily to the floor. I slide free as
Gordon leaps across the room and onto the barrel chest, one
knee coming down hard onto the exposed throat. He clamps his
hands onto the enormous wrist and slams it hard onto the metal
deck. Three slams and the gun clatters free, bouncing loudly
across the steel flooring.
There is a
grunt from the big man as he heaves himself out from under
Gordon, his free hand colliding with the younger man’s throat
and lifting him bodily, the massive thighs bringing them both
upright as he raises Gordon high before slamming him down hard
onto the floor. It is a heavy fall and Gordon’s face betrays
his pain, his assailant dropping down and lashing out with a
solid fist. Two hard blows and Gordon sprawls limp upon the
deck, face falling slackly towards me.
man kneels quietly for a moment, presses his knuckles to his
lips and turns to face me, grinning through bloodstained
the wait is over…
crouches by my side, pushes the watch into my face.
them,’ he says, ‘that you need them.’
hell,’ I say. Clichéd, but from the anger that flies across
his face, gratifyingly effective.
see,’ he says, grasping me by the jaw and squeezing my face
tightly between fingers made of steel, ‘that you are going to
need some persuasion.’
down at me, the black pools of his eyes flaring into sudden
brilliance. Above us the yellow bulb flickers back to sudden
life inside its cage, casts a pallid corona around the high
dome of his head.
Death, I think, descending in a blaze of glory.
swells in my labouring chest, a high-pitched giggle that is
bordering on hysteria. Sweat pricks into my eyes and I blink
it away, focus unwillingly on the black eyes that hover above
me, piercing like obsidian into my skull.
about Ming the fucking merciless...’ My tongue is thick in my
mouth, the words slurred almost beyond recognition.
you mercy,’ he says. He’s bored, I can tell. He wanted to
play, and everything has happened far too fast.
He takes hold of the zipper at my
throat, draws it down and exposes the wound, the blood inside
my suit released like a sticky red tide. He immerses himself
in it, slides a palm across my bared chest, probes hard with
his fingers for the centre of my pain. He presses hard against
me and I struggle in
the iron grip, my fingers
latching feebly onto the thick wrists as my eyes flutter
wildly around the room.
Beyond the menacing bulk of his body
there is movement – Gordon stirs, rolls silently onto his
stomach and reaches for the gun he had earlier slammed out of
the big man’s hand. Our eyes meet as his fingers settle around
the stock and he slowly draws the weapon closer, the message
in his gaze as sharp
as splintered glass.
it. The penultimate moment, as the world divides into life or
wildly towards life, my grip on the big man tightening, the
hard wrists beneath my fingers compressing, sticky with blood.
I bring up my legs, kicking wildly as I try to dislodge him
from his position atop me. He laughs at my renewed energies,
breaks free of my grip and brings a forearm down onto my
throat, testing the strength of me with his weight. My body
tenses, chest heaving as air ceases to flow into my lungs,
fingers fluttering wildly as the oxygen drains from my blood.
The world becomes a pale thing, distant
and far removed, the pressure at my throat all encompassing as
he bears down upon me, the black eyes burning into mine as he
concentrates on slowly pressing
the life out of me. Concentration
so fierce that he fails to notice Gordon rising, taking aim,
and bearing down hard upon the trigger.
I close my
eyes, and a rain of blood explodes over me.
There’s a gentle tapping at my face.
buddy. Open your eyes for me.’
breathing?’ Gordon’s hands probe gently across my throat.
going in...’ I cough, a hard spasm that sends a spike of pain
shooting through my stomach.
sits back on his heels, surveys the mess of my abdomen.
‘There’s a hole in you big enough to poke my head through, but
the bleeding’s stopped.’ He grins crookedly through his split
lip, aims a gentle punch at my shoulder. ‘Hard to believe, but
you’re gonna live.’
He says it
so matter-of-fact that I actually believe him. Can almost feel
the strength returning to my limbs, riding on the power of his
words. My eyes light on the bloodied heap beside us. ‘He
fades from Gordon’s lips as he turns to the crumpled body, a
thousand conflicting emotions chasing across his face. ‘No.’
man Tracy got what he wanted.’
spills the contents of the station’s first aid kit across the
floor. ‘The old man always gets what he wants.’
hangs in the air. Silence, the weight of the water pressing on
us from above, the tang of blood and death as Gordon presses
gauze into my gut.
happens now?’ The words emerge rough as sandpaper from my
wasn’t what I meant, and he knows it.
at me, as if I should already know the answer.