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Thebombhadbeentimedtogooffatexactlyhalfpastthree.

Strangely,themanithadbeendesignedtokillprobablyknewmoreaboutbombsand
terrorismthananyoneelseintheworld.Hehadevenwrittenbooksonthesubject.
LookingAfterNumberOne:FiftyWaystoProtectYourselfatHomeandAbroadmightnot
bethesnappiestoftitles,butthebookhadsoldtwentythousandcopiesinAmerica,andit
wassaidthatthepresidenthimselfkeptacopybyhisbed.Themandidnotthinkof
himselfasatarget,butevensohewasalwayscareful.Asheoftenjoked,itwouldbebad
forbusinessifhewasblownupcrossingthestreet.
HisnamewasMaxWebber,andhewasshortandplumpwithtortoiseshellglassesand
jetblackhairthatwasactuallydyed.HetoldpeoplethathehadoncebeenintheSAS,
whichwastrue.Whathedidn'ttellthemwasthathehadbeendroppedafterhisfirsttour
ofduty.InhisfortieshehadopenedatrainingcentreinLondon,advisingrich
businessmenonhowtolookafterthemselves.Hehadbecomeawriterandajournalist,
frequentlyappearingontelevisiontodiscussinternationalsecurity.
AndnowhewastheguestspeakeratthefourthInternationalSecurityConference,being
heldattheQueenElizabethHallonthesouthbankoftheThamesinLondon.Thewhole
buildinghadbeencordonedoff.Helicoptershadbeenflyingoverheadallmorningand
policewithsnifferdogshadbeenwaitinginthefoyer.Briefcases,camerasandall
electronicdeviceshadbeenforbiddeninsidethemainhall,anddelegateshadbeenmade
topassthrougharigorousscreeningsystembeforebeingallowedin.Morethaneight
hundredmenandwomenfromseventeencountrieshadturnedup.Amongthemwere
diplomats,businessmen,seniorpoliticians,journalistsandmembersofvarioussecurity
services.Theyhadtofeelsafe.
AlanBluntandMrsJoneswerebothintheaudience.AstheheadanddeputyheadofMI6
SpecialOperations,itwastheirresponsibilitytokeepupwiththelatestdevelopments,
althoughasfarasBluntwasconcerned,thewholethingwasawasteoftime.Therewere
securityconferencesallthetimeineverymajorcitybuttheyneverachievedanything.The
expertstalked.Thepoliticianslied.Thepresswroteitalldown.Andtheneveryonewent
homeandnothingchanged.AlanBluntwasbored.Helookedhalfasleep.
Atexactlytwofifteen,MaxWebberbegantospeak.
Hewasdressedinanexpensivesuitandtieandspokeslowly,hisclippedvoicefullof
authority.Hehadnotesinfrontofhimbuthereferredtothemonlyoccasionally,hiseyes
Ark Angel
fixedontheaudience,speakingdirectlytoeachoneofthem.Inaglassfrontedprojection
roomoverlookingthestage,ninetranslatorsspokequietlyintomicrophones,justasecond
ortwobehind.Hereandthereintheaudience,menandwomencouldbeseenwithone
handpressedagainsttheirearpiece,concentratingonwhatwasbeingsaid.
Webberturnedapage."Iamoftenaskedwhichisthemostdangerousterroristgroupin
theworld.Theanswerisnotwhatyoumightexpect.Itisagroupthatyoumaynotknow.
ButIcanassureyouthatitisoneyoushouldfear,andIwishtospeakbrieflyaboutit
now."
Hepressedabuttononhislecternandtwowordsappeared,projectedontoagiantscreen
behindhim.
FORCETHREE
Inthefifthrow,BluntopenedhiseyesandturnedtoMrsJones.Helookedpuzzled.She
shookherheadbriefly.Bothofthemweresuddenlyalert.
"TheycallthemselvesForceThree,"Webberwenton."Thenamereferstothefactthat
theearthisthethirdplanetfromthesun.Thesepeoplewouldn'tdescribethemselvesas
terrorists.Theywouldprobablypreferyoutothinkofthem asecowarriors,fightingto
protecttheearthfromtheevilsofpollution.Broadlyspeaking,they'reprotestingagainst
climatechange,thedestructionoftherainforests,theuseofnuclearpower,genetic
engineeringandthegrowthofmultinationalbusiness.Allverycommendable,you
mightthink.TheiragendaissimilartothatofGreenpeace.Thedifferenceisthatthese
peoplearefanatics.Theywillkillanyonewhogetsintheirwaytheyhavealreadykilled
manytimes.Theyclaimtorespecttheplanetbuttheyhavenorespectatallforhuman
life."
Webberclickedagainandaphotographflasheduponthescreen.Therewasastirinthe
auditoriumastheaudienceexaminedit.Atfirstsight,theyseemedtobelookingata
pictureofaglobe.Thentheysawthatitwasaglobesittingonapairofshoulders.Finally
theyrealizeditwasaman.Hehadaveryroundheadwhichwascompletelyshaven
includingtheeyebrows.Andtherewasamapoftheworldtattooedonhisskin.England
andFrancecoveredhislefteye.Newfoundlandpokedoutoverhisright.Argentinafloated
aroundonesideofhisneck.Agaspofrevulsionspreadaroundtheroom.Themanwasa
freak.
"ThisisthecommandingofficerofForceThree,"Webberexplained."Asyoucansee,he
caresabouttheplanetsomuch,he'sratherletitgotohishead.
"HisnameoratleastthenamethathegoesbyisKaspar.Verylittleisknownabout
him.ItisthoughthemightbeFrench,butwedon'tevenknowforcertainwherehewas
born.Nordoweknowwhenheacquiredthesetattoos.ButIcantellyouthatKasparhas
beenverybusyinthelastsixmonths.Hewasresponsiblefortheassassinationof
MarjorieSchultz,ajournalistlivinginBerlin,inJuneheronlycrimewastowriteanarticle
criticizingForceThree.Heplannedthekidnappingandmurderoftwomembersofthe
AtomicEnergyCommissioninToronto.Hehasorganizedexplosionsinsixcountries,
includingJapanandNewZealand.HedestroyedacarmanufacturingplantinDakota.And
Ihavetotellyou,ladiesandgentlemen,heenjoyshiswork.Wheneverpossible,Kaspar
likestopressthebuttonhimself.
"Inmyview,Kasparisnowthemostdangerousmanalive,forthesimplereasonthathe
believesthewholeworldiswithhim.Andinasensehe'sright.I'msuretherearemany
peopleinthisroomwhobelieveinprotectingtheenvironment.Thetroubleis,hewouldkill
everysingleoneofyouifhethoughtitwouldhelphimachievehisaims.ThatiswhyI'm
issuingthiswarning.
"FindKaspar.FindForceThreebeforetheycandoanymoreharm.Becausewithevery
daythatpasses,Ibelievetheyarebecomingamoreseriousanddeadlythreat."
Webberpausedasheturnedanotherpageofhisnotes.Whenhebeganspeakingagain,
thesubjecthadchanged.Twentyminuteslater,atexactlythreeo'clock,hefinished.There
waspoliteapplause.
Coffeeandbiscuitswerebeingservedinthefoyerafterthesessionended,butWebber
wasn'tstaying.Heshookhandsbrieflywithadiplomatheknewandexchangedafew
wordswithsomejournalists,thenmovedon.Hewasheadingtowardstheauditoriumexit
whenhefoundhiswayblockedbyamanandawoman.
Theywereanunlikelypair.Therewasnowayhewouldhavemistakenthemforhusband
andwife,eventhoughtheywereaboutthesameage.Thewomanwasthinwithshort
blackhair.Themanwasshorterandentirelygrey.Therewasnothinginterestingabout
himatall.
"AlanBlunt!"Webbersmiledandnodded."MrsJones!"
Veryfewpeopleintheworldwouldhaverecognizedthesetwoindividuals,butWebber
knewtheminstantly.
"Weenjoyedyourtalk,MrWebber,"Bluntsaid,althoughtherewaslittleenthusiasm
inhisvoice.
"Thankyou."
"WewereparticularlyinterestedinyourcommentsconcerningForceThree."
"Youknowaboutthem,ofcourse?"
ThequestionwasdirectedatBlunt,butitwasMrsJoneswhoanswered."We'veheard
aboutthem,certainly,"shereplied."Butthefactis,weknowverylittleaboutthem.Six
monthsago,asfaraswecansee,theydidn'tevenexist."
"That'sright.Theywerefoundedveryrecently."
"Youseemtoknowalotaboutthem,MrWebber.We'dbeinterestedtolearnwhereyou
gotyourinformation."
Webbersmiledasecondtime."YouknowIcan'tpossiblyrevealmysources,MrsJones,"
hesaidlightly.Suddenlyhewasserious."ButIfinditveryworryingthatourcountry's
securityservicesshouldbesoignorant.Ithoughtyouweremeanttobeprotectingus."
"That'swhywe'retalkingtoyounow,"MrsJonescountered."Ifyouknowsomething,I
thinkyoushouldtellus"
Webberinterruptedher."IthinkI'vetoldyouquiteenough.Ifyouwanttoknowmore,I
suggestyoucometomynextlecture.I'llbetalkinginStockholmacoupleofweeksfrom
now,anditmaywellbethatIshallhavefurtherinformationaboutForceThreethen.Ifso,
I'llbehappytoshareitwithyou.Andnow,ifyoudon'tmind,I'llwishyougoodday."
Webberpushedhiswaybetweenthemandheadedtowardsthecloakroom.He
couldn'thelpsmilingtohimself.IthadgoneperfectlyandmeetingAlanBluntandthe
Joneswomanhadbeenanunexpectedbonus.Hefumbledinhispocketandtookouta
plasticdiscwhichhehandedtothecloakroomattendant.Hismobilephonehadbeen
takenfromhimwhenhewentin:asecuritymeasurehehimselfhadrecommendedinhis
book.Nowitwasreturnedtohim.
Ninetysecondslaterheemergedontothewidepavementinfrontoftheriver.Itwasearly
Octoberbuttheweatherwasstillwarm,theafternoonsunturningthewateradeepblue.
Therewereonlyafewpeoplearoundmainlykidsrattlingbackandforthontheir
skateboardsbutWebberstillcheckedthemout,justtomakesurethatnoneofthemhad
anyinterestinhim.Hedecidedtowalkhomeinsteadoftakingpublictransportorhailinga
taxi.Thatwassomethingelsehe'dwritteninhisbook.Inanymajorcity,you'realways
saferoutintheopen,onyourowntwofeet.
Hehadonlytakenafewstepswhenhismobilerang,vibratinginhisjacketpocket.Hedug
itout.Somewhereinthebackofhismindheseemedtorecallthatthephonehadbeen
switchedoffwhenhehandedittothecloakroomattendant.Buthewasfeelingsopleased
withhimself,withthewayhisspeechhadgone,thatheignoredthissinglewhisperof
doubt.
Itwastwentynineminutespastthree.
"Hello?"
"MrWebber.I'mringingtocongratulateyou.Itwentverywell."
Thevoicewassoftandsomehowartificial.Itwasn'tanEnglishmanspeaking.Itwas
someonewhohadlearntthelanguageverycarefully.Thepronunciationwastoo
deliberate,tooprecise.Therewasnoemotioninthevoiceatall.
"Youheardme?"MaxWebberwasstillwalking,speakingatthesametime.
"Ohyes.Iwasintheaudience.Iamverypleased."
"DidyouknowthatMI6werethere?"
"No."
"Ispoketothemafterwards.TheywereveryinterestedinwhatIhadtosay."Webber
chuckledquietly."MaybeIshouldraisemyprice."
"Ithinkwe'llstickwithouroriginalagreement,"thevoicereplied.
MaxWebbershrugged.Twohundredandfiftythousandpoundswasstillagreatdealof
money.Paidintoasecretbankaccount,itwouldcometaxfree,noquestionsasked.And
ithadbeensuchasimplethingtodo.Aquarterofamillionforjusttenminutes'work!
Themanontheotherendspokeagainandsuddenlyhisvoicewassad."Thereisjustone
thingthatconcernsme,MrWebber..."
"What'sthat?"Webbercouldhearsomethingelse,inthebackground.Somesortof
interference.
Hepressedthephonemoretightlyagainsthisear.
"Inyourspeechtoday,youmadeanenemyofForceThree.Andasyouyourselfpointed
out,theyarecompletelyruthless."
"Idon'tthinkeitherofusneedworryaboutForceThree."Webberlookedaroundtomake
surehewasn'tbeingoverheard."AndIthinkyoushouldremember,myfriend,Iserved
withtheSAS.Iknowhowtolookaftermyself."
"Really?"
Wasthevoicemockinghim?ForreasonsWebberdidn'tquiteunderstand,hewas
beginningtofeeluneasy.Andtheinterferencewasgettinglouderhecouldhearitinhis
mobilephone.Somesortofticking.
"I'mnotafraidofForceThree,"heblustered."I'mnotafraidofanyone.Justmakesurethe
moneyreachesmyaccount."
"Goodbye,MrWebber,"saidthevoice.
Therewasaclick.
Onesecondofsilence.
Thenthemobilephoneexploded.
MaxWebberhadbeenholdingittightagainsthisear.Ifheheardtheblast,hewasdead
beforeitregistered.Acoupleofjoggerswereapproachingfromtheotherdirection,and
theybothscreamedasthethingthathadjustmomentsbeforebeenamantoppledover
intotheirpath.
Theexplosionwassurprisinglyloud.Itwasheardintheconferencecentrewhere
delegateswerestilldrinkingcoffeeandcongratulatingoneanotherontheircontributions.
Theyalsoheardthewailofthesirensastheambulanceandpolicecarsarrivedshortly
afterwards.
Laterthatafternoon,ForceThreecalledthepressandclaimedresponsibilityforthekilling.
MaxWebberhaddeclaredwaronthem,andforthatreasonhehadtodie.Inthesame
phonecalltheyissuedastarkwarning.Theyhadalreadychosentheirnexttarget.And
theywereplanningsomethingtheworldwouldnotforget.
THEBOYINROOMNINE
Thenursewastwentythreeyearsold,blondeandnervous.Thiswasonlyhersecond
weekatStDominic's,oneofLondon'smostexclusiveprivatehospitals.Rockstarsand
televisioncelebritiescamehere,shehadbeentold.TherewerealsoVIPsfromabroad.
VIPsheremeantveryimportantpatients.Evenfamouspeoplegetsick,andtheoneswho
wantedtorecoverinfivestarcomfortchoseStDominic's.Thesurgeonsandtherapists
wereworldclass.Thehospitalfoodwassogoodthatsomepatientshadbeenknownto
pretendtheywereillsothattheycouldenjoyitforawhilelonger.
Thatevening,thenursewasmakingherwaydownawide,brightlylitcorridor,carryinga
trayofmedicines.Shewaswearingafreshlylaunderedwhitedress.HernameD.
MEACHERwasprintedonabadgepinnedtoheruniform.Severalofthejuniordoctors
hadalreadyplacedbetsonwhichofthemwouldpersuadehertogooutwiththemfirst.
Shestoppedinfrontofanopendoor.Roomnine.
"Hello,"shesaid."I'mDianaMeacher."
"I'mlookingforwardtomeetingyoutoo,"theboyinroomninereplied.
AlexRiderwassittingupinbed,readingaFrenchtextbookthatheshouldhavebeen
studyingatschool.Hewaswearingpyjamasthathadfallenopenattheneckandthe
nursecouldjustmakeoutthebandagescrisscrossinghischest.Hewasavery
handsomeboy,shethought.Hehadfairhairandseriousbrowneyesthatlookedasif
theyhadseentoomuch.Sheknewthathewasonlyfourteen,buthelookedolder.Pain
haddonethattohim.NurseMeacherhadreadhismedicalfileandunderstoodwhathe
hadbeenthrough.
Intruth,heshouldhavebeendead.AlexRiderhadbeenhitbyabulletfiredfroma.22
riflefromadistanceofalmostseventyfivemetres.Thesniperhadbeenaimingforhis
heartandifthebullethadfounditstarget,Alexwouldhavehadnochanceofsurviving.
Butnothingiscertainnotevenmurder.Atinymovementhadsavedhislife.Ashehad
comeoutofMI6'sheadquartersonLiverpoolStreet,hehadsteppedoffthepavement,his
rightfootcarryinghisbodydowntowardstheleveloftheroad.Itwasatthatexact
momentthatthebullethadhithim,andinsteadofpoweringintohisheart,ithadentered
hisbodyhalfacentimetrehigher,ricochetingoffaribandexitinghorizontallyunderhisleft
arm.
Thebullethadmissedhisvitalheartstructures,butevensoithaddoneplentyofdamage,
tearingthroughthesubclavianartery,whichcarriesbloodoverthetopofthelungandinto
thearm.ThiswaswhatAlexhadfeltwhenhewashit.Asbloodhadpouredoutofthe
severedartery,fillingthespacebetweenthelungandthethoraciccage,hehadfound
himselfunabletobreathe.Alexcouldeasilyhavediedfromshockorlossofblood.Ifhe
hadbeenamanhealmostcertainlywouldhave.Butthebodyofachildisdifferenttothat
ofanadult.Ayoungperson'sarterywillautomaticallyshutitselfdownifcutdoctorscan't
explainhoworwhyandthiswilllimittheamountofbloodlost.Alexwasunconsciousbut
hewasstillbreathing,fourminuteslater,whenthefirstambulancearrived.
Therewasn'tmuchtheparamedicscoulddo:IVfluids,oxygenandsomegentle
compressionaroundthebullet'spointofentry.Butthatwasenough.Alexhadbeen
rushedtoStDominic's,wheresurgeonshadremovedthebonefragmentsandputagraft
ontheartery.Hehadbeenintheoperatingtheatretwoandahalfhours.
Andnowhewaslookingalmostasifnothinghadhappened.Asthenursecameintothe
room,heclosedthebookandsettledbackintohispillows.DianaMeacherknewthatthis
washislastnightinhospital.Hehadbeenherefortendaysandtomorrowhewasgoing
home.Shealsoknewthatshewasn'tallowedtoasktoomanyquestions.Itwastherein
largeprintonhisfile:
PATIENT9/75958RIDER/ALEX:SPECIALSTATUS(MISO).NOUNAUTHORIZED
VISITORS.NOPRESS.REFERALLENQUIRIESTODRHAYWARD.
Itwasallverystrange.ShehadbeentoldshewouldmeetsomeinterestingpeopleatSt
Dominic's,andshehadbeenrequiredtosignaconfidentialityclausebeforeshebegan
work.Butshe'dneverexpectedanythinglikethis.MISOstoodforMilitaryIntelligence:
SpecialOperations.Butwhatwasthesecretservicedoingwithateenageboy?Howhad
Alexmanagedtogethimselfshot?Andwhyhadtherebeentwoarmedpolicemensitting
outsidehisroomforthefirstfourdaysofhisstay?Dianatriedtopushthesethoughtsout
ofhermindassheputthetraydown.MaybesheshouldhavestuckwiththeNHS.
"Howareyoufeeling?"sheasked.
"I'mfine,thanks."
"Lookingforwardtogoinghome?"
"Yes."
DianarealizedshewasstaringatAlexandturnedherattentiontothemedicines."Areyou
inanypain?"sheasked."CanIgetyousomethingtohelpyousleep?"
"No,I'mallright."Alexshookhisheadandforamomentsomethingflickeredinhiseyes.
Thepaininhischesthadslowlyfadedbutheknewitwouldneverleavehimcompletely.
Hecouldfeelitnow,vagueanddistant,likeabadmemory."Wouldyoulikemetocome
backlater?""No,it'sallright,thanks."Hesmiled."Idon'tneedanyonetotuckmein."
Dianablushed."That'snotwhatImeant,"shesaid."Butifyouneedme,I'llbejustdown
thehall.Youcancallmeanytime.""Imightdothat."
Thenursepickeduphertrayandwalkedoutoftheroom.Sheleftbehindthescentofher
perfumeheatherandspringflowersintheair.Alexsniffed.Itseemedtohimthatsince
hisinjury,hissenseshadbecomemoreacute.
HereachedforhisFrenchbook,thenchangedhismind.Tohellwithit,hethought.
Irregularverbscouldwait.Itwashisownfuturethatconcernedhimmore.
Helookedaroundattheneat,softlylitroomthattriedhardtopretenditbelongedtoan
expensivehotelratherthanahospital.TherewasaTVonatableinthecorner,operated
byaremotecontrolbesidethebed.AwindowlookedoutoverawidenorthLondonstreet
linedwithtrees.Hisroomwasonthesecondfloor,oneofaboutadozenarrangedina
ringaroundabrightandmodernreceptionarea.Intheearlydaysafterhisoperation,there
hadbeenflowerseverywhere,butAlexhadaskedforthemtobetakenaway.They'd
remindedhimofafuneralparlourandhehaddecidedhepreferredbeingalive.
Buttherewerestillcards.Hehadreceivedmorethantwentyandhe'dbeensurprisedhow
manypeoplehadheardthathe'dbeenhurtandhowmanyhadsentacard.Therehad
beenadozenfromschool:onefromtheheadonefromMissBedfordshire,theschool
secretaryandseveralfromhisfriends.TomHarrishadsenthimsomephotostakenon
theirtriptoVeniceandanote:
Theytoldusit'sappenercitisbutIbetitisn't.Getwellsoonanyway.
TomwastheonlypersonatBrooklandwhoknewthetruthaboutAlex.
SabinaPleasurehadsomehowdiscoveredhewasinhospitalandhadsenthimacard
fromSanFrancisco.ShewasenjoyinglifeinAmericabutmissedEngland,shesaid.She
washopingtocomeoverforChristmas.JackStarbrighthadsenthimthebiggestcardin
theroomandhadfolloweditupwithchocolates,magazinesandenergydrinks,visiting
himtwiceaday.Therewasevenacardfromtheprimeminister'sofficealthoughit
seemedtheprimeministerhadbeentoobusytosignit.
AndtherehadbeencardsfromMI6.OnefromMrsJones,anotherfromAlanBlunt(a
printedmessagewithasinglewordBLUNTsignedingreeninkasifitwerea
memorandumnotagetwellcard).Alexhadbeensurprisedandpleasedtoreceiveacard
fromWolf,thesoldierhehadmetwhiletrainingwiththeSAS.Thepostmarkshowedithad
beenmailedinBaghdad.ButhisfavouritehadbeensentbySmithers.Onthefrontwasa
teddybear.Therewasnomessageinside,butwhenAlexopenedthecard,theteddy
bear'seyesblinkedanditbegantotalk.
"Alexverysorrytohearyou'vebeenhurt."ThebearwasspeakingwithSmithers'voice.
"Hopeyougetbettersoon,oldchap.JusttakeiteasyI'msureyoudeservearest.Oh,
andbytheway,thiscardwillselfdestructinfiveseconds."
Sureenough,tothehorrorofthenurses,thecardhadimmediatelyburstintoflames.
Aswellascards,therehadbeenvisitors.MrsJoneshadbeenthefirst.
Alexhadonlyjustcomeroundaftersurgerywhensheappeared.Hehadneverseenthe
deputyheadofSpecialOperationslookingquitesounsureofherself.Shewaswearinga
charcoalgreyraincoatwhichhungopentorevealadarksuitunderneath.Herhairwas
wetandraindropsglistenedonhershoulders.
"Idon'tquiteknowwhattosaytoyou,Alex,"shebegan.Shehadn'taskedhimhowshe
was.Shewouldhavealreadygotthatfromthedoctors."Whathappenedtoyouin
LiverpoolStreetwasanunforgivablelapseofsecurity.Toomanypeopleknowthelocation
ofourheadquarters.We'regoingtostopusingthemainentrance.It'stoodangerous."
Alexshifteduncomfortablyinthebedbutsaidnothing.
"Yourconditionisstable.Ican'ttellyouhowrelievedIampersonally.WhenIheardyou'd
beenshot,I..."Shestoppedherself.Herblackeyeslookeddown,takinginthetubesand
wiresattachedtotheboylyinginfrontofher,feedingintohisarm,nose,mouthand
stomach."Iknowyoucan'ttalknow,"shewenton."SoI'llbebrief.
"Youaresafehere.We'veusedStDominic'sbefore,andtherearecertainprocedures
beingfollowed.Thereareguardsoutsideyourroom.There'llbesomeonetheretwenty
fourhoursadayaslongasnecessary.
"TheshootinginLiverpoolStreetwasreportedinthepressbutyournamewaskeptoutof
it.Youragetoo.Thesniperwhofiredatyouhadtakenapositionontheroofopposite.
We'restillinvestigatinghowhemanagedtogetuptherewithoutbeingdetectedandI'm
afraidwe'vebeenunabletofindhim.Butrightnow,yoursafetyisourprimaryconcern.
WecantalktoScorpia.Asyouknow,we'vehaddealingswiththeminthepast.I'msureI
canpersuadethemtoleaveyoualone.Youdestroyedtheiroperation,Alex,andthey
punishedyou.Butenoughisenough."
Shestopped.Alex'sheartmonitorpulsedsoftlyinthedimlight.
"Pleasetrynottothinktoobadlyofus,"sheadded."Aftereverythingyou'vebeenthrough
Scorpia,yourfather...Iwillneverforgivemyselfforwhathappened.Isometimesthinkit
waswrongofusevertogetyouinvolvedinthefirstplace.Butwecantalkaboutthat
anothertime."
Alexwastooweaktoreply.HewatchedasMrsJonesgotupandleft,andheguessed
thatScorpiamusthavedecidedtoleavehimalone,becauseafewdayslaterthearmed
guardsoutsidehisroomquietlydisappeared.
Andnow,injustovertwelvehours,hewouldbeoutofheretoo.Jackhadalreadybeen
planningtheweeksahead.ShewantedtotakehimonholidaytoFloridaorperhapsthe
Caribbean.ItwasOctoberandthesummerwasdefinitelyover,leavesfallingandcold
breezescominginwiththenight.JackwantedAlextorestandregainhisstrengthinthe
sunbutsecretlyhewasn'tsosure.Hepickedupthetextbookagain.Heneverthought
he'dhearhimselfsaythis,butthetruthwashejustwantedtogobacktoschool.He
wantedtobeordinaryagain.Scorpiahadsenthimasimple,unforgettablemessage.
Beingaspycouldgethimkilled.Irregularverbswerelessdangerous.
Therewasamovementatthedoorandaboylookedin."Hi,Alex."
TheboyhadastrangeaccentEasternEuropean,possiblyRussian.Hewasfourteen,
withshortblondhairandlightblueeyes.Hisfacewasthin,hisskinpale.Hewaswearing
pyjamasandalargedressinggownwhichmadehimseemsmallerthanhewas.Hewas
stayingintheroomnextdoortoAlexandreallyhadbeentreatedforappendicitis,with
complications.HisnamewasPaulDrevinthesurnamewassomehowfamiliarbutAlex
didn'tknowanythingmoreabouthim.Thetwoofthemhadspokenbrieflyafewtimes.
Theywerenearlythesameage,andtheonlyteenagersonthecorridor.
Alexraisedahandingreeting."Hi."
"Ihearyou'regettingoutofheretomorrow,"Paulsaid.
"Yes.Howaboutyou?"
"Anotherday,worstluck."Hehoveredinthedoorway.Heseemedtowanttocomein,but
atthesametimesomethingheldhimback."I'llbegladtoleave,"headmitted."Iwantto
gohome."
"Whereishome?"Alexasked.
"I'mnotsure."Paulwascompletelyserious."WeliveinLondonalotofthetime.Butmy
father'salwaysmoving.Moscow,NewYork,theSouthofFrance...he'sbeentoobusy
eventocomeinandseeme.Andwehavesomanyhouses,Isometimeswonderwhichis
myhome."
"Wheredoyougotoschool?"AlexhadpickeduponthementionofMoscowand
assumedthatPaulmustbeRussian.
"Idon'tgotoschoolIhavetutors."Paulshrugged."It'sdifficult.Mylife'ssortofweird,
becauseofmyfather. Becauseofeverything.
Anyway,I'mjealousofyougettingoutbeforeme.Goodluck.""Thanks."
Paulhesitatedafractionlonger,thenleft.Alexgazedthoughtfullyattheemptydoorway.
Perhapshisfatherwassomesortofpoliticianorbanker.Onthefewoccasionstheyhad
spokenhe'dgottheimpressionthattheotherboywasfriendless.Hewonderedhowmany
kidswereadmittedintothishospitalwhohadfatherswillingtospendthousandstomake
thembetter,butwhohadnotimetovisitthemwhiletheywerethere.
Itwasnineo'clock.Alexflickedthroughthetelevisionchannels,buttherewasnothingon.
Hewishednowthathehadacceptedthesleepingpillfromthenurse.Alittlesipofwater
andhewouldhavebeenoutforthenight.Andoutofthehospitalthenextday.Alexwas
lookingforwardtothatmorethananything.Heneededtostarthislifeagain.
Hewatchedhalfanhourofacomedythatdidn'tmakehimlaugh.Thenheswitchedoffthe
television,turnedoffthelightandcurledupinthebedonelasttime.Heratherwished
DianaMeacherhadcomebacktoseehim.Brieflyherememberedthescentofher
perfume.Andthenhewasasleep.Butnotforlong.
ThenextthingAlexknew,itwashalfpasttwelve.Therewasaclockbesidethebed,its
numeralsglowinginthedark.Hewokeupreluctantly,tryingtoclimbbackdownintothe
pitfromwhichhehadcome.Thetruthwas,itwasdifficulttosleepwhenhehaddone
nothingtomakehimtired.Alldayhe'dbeenlyingthere,breathingintheclean,
conditionedatmospherethatatStDominic'spassedforair.
Helayinthesemidarkness,wonderingwhattodo.Thenhegotupandslippedintohis
dressinggown.Thiswastheworstthingaboutbeinginhospital.Therewasnowayout,
nowheretogo.Alexcouldn'tgetusedtoit.Everynightforaweek,he'dwokenupatabout
thesametime,andfinallyhe'ddecidedtobreaktherulesandescapefromthesterilebox
thatwashisroom.Hewantedtobeoutside.HeneededthesmellofLondon,thenoiseof
thetraffic,thefeelingthathestillbelongedtotherealworld.
Heputonapairofslippersandwentout.Thelightshadbeendimmed,castingnomore
thanadiscreetglowoutsidehisroom.Therewasacomputerscreengleamingbehindthe
nurses'stationbutnosignofDianaMeacheroranyoneelse.Alextookastepforward.
Therearefewplacesmoresilentthanahospitalinthemiddleofthenightandhefelt
almostafraidtomove,asifhewasbreakingsomesortofunwrittenlawbetweenthe
healthyandthesick.Butheknewhewouldjustlieawakeforhoursifhestayedinbed.He
hadnothingtoworryabout.MrsJoneswascertainthatScorpiawasnolongerathreat.He
wasalmost
temptedtoleavethehospitalandcatchthenightbushome.
Ofcourse,thatwasoutofthequestion.Hecouldn'tgothatfar.Buthewasstilldetermined
toreachthemainreceptionwithitsslidingglassdoorsandjustbeyondarealstreet
withpeopleandcarsandnoiseanddirt.Byday,threereceptionistsansweredthephones
anddealtwithenquiries.Aftereighto'clocktherewasjustone.Alexhadalreadymethim
acheerfulIrishmancalledConorHackett.Thetwoofthemhadquicklybecomefriends.
ConorwassixtyfiveandhadspentmostofhislifeinDublin.He'dtakenthisjobtohelp
supporthisninegrandchildren.Afterthey'dtalkedawhile,AlexhadpersuadedConorto
lethimgooutside,andhehadspentahappyfifteenminutesonthepavementinfrontof
themainentrance,watchingthepassingtrafficandbreathinginthenightair.Hewoulddo
thesameagainnow.Maybehecouldstretchittohalfanhour.Conorwouldcomplainhe
wouldthreatentocallthenurse.ButAlexwassurehewouldlethimhavehisway.
Heavoidedthelift,afraidthatthenoiseofthebellasitarrivedwouldgivehimaway.He
walkeddownthestairstothefirstfloor,andcontinuedalongacorridor.Fromherehe
couldlookdownonthepolishedfloorofreceptionandtheglassentrancedoors.Hecould
seeConorsittingbehindhisdesk,readingamagazine.EvendownheretheLightswere
dimmed.Itwasasifthehospitalwantedtoremindvisitorswheretheywerethemoment
theycamein.
Conorturnedapage.Alexwasabouttowalkdownthelastfewstairs,whensuddenlythe
frontdoorsslidopen.
Alexwasbothstartledandalittleembarrassed.Hedidn'twanttobecaughthereinhis
dressinggownandpyjamas.Atthesametime,hewonderedwhocouldpossiblybe
visitingStDominic'satthistimeofnight.Hetookastepback,disappearingintothe
shadows.Nowhecouldwatcheverythingthatwashappening,unobserved.
Fourmencamein.Theywereintheirlatetwenties,andalllookedfit.Theleaderwas
wearingacombatjacketandaCheGuevaraTshirt.Theothersweredressedinjeans,
hoodedsweatshirtsandtrainers.Fromwherehewashiding,Alexcouldn'tmakeouttheir
facesveryclearly,butalreadyheknewtherewassomethingstrangeaboutthem.Theway
theymovedwassomehowtoofast,tooenergetic.Peoplemovemorecautiouslywhen
theycomeintoahospital.Afterall,nobodyactuallywantstobethere.
"Heyhowareyoudoing?"thefirstmanasked.Thewordscutthroughthegloom.Hehad
acheerful,cultivatedvoice.
"HowcanIhelpyou?"thereceptionistasked.HesoundedaspuzzledasAlexfelt.
"We'dliketovisitoneofyourpatients,"themanexplained."Iwonderifyoucantellus
whereheis."
"I'mverysorry."Alexcouldn'tseeConor'sface,buthecouldimaginethesmileinhis
voice."Youcan'tvisitanyonenow.It'salmostoneo'clock!You'llhavetocomeback
tomorrow."
"Idon'tthinkyouunderstand."
Alexfeltthefirststirringsofnervousness.Anoteofmenacehadcreptintotheman's
voice.Andtherewassomethingsinisteraboutthewaytheotherthreemenwere
positioned.Theywerespreadoutbetweenthereceptionistandthemainentrance.Itwas
asiftheydidn'twanthimtoleave.Oranyoneelsetoenter.
"WewanttoseePaulDrevin."Alexheardthenamewithashiverofdisbelief.Theboyin
theroomnexttohis!Whywouldthesemenwanttoseehimsolateatnight?"Whatroom
ishein?"themaninthecombatjacketasked.
Conorshookhishead."Ican'tgiveyouthatinformation,"heprotested."Comeback
tomorrowandsomeonewillbehappytohelpyouthen."
"Wewanttoknownow,"themaninsisted.HereachedintohisjacketandAlexfeltthefloor
swaybeneathhimasthemanproducedagun.Itwasequippedwithasilencer.Anditwas
pointingatthereceptionist'shead.
"Whatareyou...?"Conorhadgonerigidhisvoicehadrisentoahighpitchedsqueak."I
can'ttellyou!"heexclaimed."Whatareyoudoinghere?Whatdoyouwant?"
"WewanttheroomnumberofPaulDrevin.Ifyoudon'tgiveittomeinthenextthree
seconds,Iwillpullthetriggerandtheonlypartofthishospitalyou'lteverneedagainwill
bethemorgue."
"Wait!"
"One..."
"Idon'tknowwhereheis!"
"Two..."
Alexfelthischesthurting.Herealizedhewasholdinghisbreath.
"Allright!Allright!Letmefinditforyou."
Thereceptionistbegantotaphurriedlyatthekeyboardhiddenbelowthetopofhisdesk.
Alexheardtheclatterofthekeys.
"He'sonthesecondfloor!Roomeight."
"Thankyou,"themansaid,andshothim.
Alexheardtheangrycoughofthebulletasitwasspatoutbythesilencer.Hesawablack
sprayinfrontofthereceptionist'sforehead.Conorwasthrownbackwards,hishands
raisedbriefly.
Nobodymoved.
"Roomeight.Secondfloor,"oneofthemenmuttered.
"Itoldyouhewasinroomeight,"thefirstmansaid.
"Thenwhydidyouask?"
"Ijustwantedtobesure."
Oneofthemsniggered.
"Let'sgoandgethim,"anothersaid.
Alexwasfrozentothespot.Hecouldfeelhiswoundthrobbingangrily.Thiscouldn'tbe
happening,couldit?Butitwashappening.Hehadseenitforhimself.
Thefourmenmoved.
Alexturnedandran.
EMERGENCYTREATMENT
Alextookthestairstwoatatime,ahundreddifferentthoughtstumblingthroughhismind.
Whowerethefourmenandwhyweretheyhere?WhatdidtheywantwithPaul?The
nameDrevinmeantsomethingtohim,butthiswasn'tthetimetoworkoutwhatitwas.
Whatcouldhedotostopthem?
Hecametoafirealarminaredboxonthewallandstoppedbesideit.Forafew,precious
secondshisfisthoveredovertheglass.Butheknewthatsettingoffthealarmwoulddono
good.Forthemoment,surprisewasallhehadonhisside.Thefirealarmwouldonlytell
thementhattheyhadbeenseen,andthentheywouldgoabouttheirworkallthefaster,
killingorkidnappingtheboylongbeforethepoliceorfirebrigadearrived.
Alexdidn'twanttoconfrontthefourmenonhisown.Hewasdesperatelytemptedtocall
forhelp.Butheknewitwouldcometoolate.
Hecontinuedupthestairs,onesmallpieceofknowledgespurringhimon.Themenhad
shownthemselvestobesinglemindedandruthless.Buttheyhadalreadymadeone
mistake.
Whentheyhadsetoff,theyhadbeenmovinginthedirectionofthelift,andAlexknew
somethingtheydidn't.TheliftsatStDominic'sweretheoriginalbedlifts,almosttwenty
yearsold.Theyweredesignedtocarrypatientsupfromtheoperatingtheatresonthefirst
floorandhadtostopwithouteventheslightestshudder.Forthisreasontheywerevery,
veryslow.ItwouldtakeAlexlessthantwentysecondstoreachthesecondflooritwould
takethemenalmosttwominutes.Thatgavehimoneminuteandfortysecondstodo
something.Butwhat?
Heburstthroughthedoorsandintothenurses'areainfrontofhisroom.Therewasstill
nobodyaround,whichwasstrange.Perhapsthefourmenhadcreatedsomesortof
diversion.Thatwouldmakesense.Theycouldhavegotridofthenursewithasingle
phonecallandrightnowshecouldbeanywhereinthehospital.Alexstoodpantinginthe
halflight,tryingtogethisbraintowork.Hecouldimaginetheliftmakingitswayinchby
inchtowardshim.
Hewaspainfullyawareoftheunevennessofthecompetition.Themenwereprofessional
killers.Alexwouldhaveknownthatevenifhehadn'tseenthemmurderthenight
receptionist.Itwasobviousfromtheirbodylanguage,thewaytheysmiled,the
conversationhe'doverheard.Killingwassecondnaturetothem.Alexcouldn'tpossibly
fightthem.Hewasunarmed.Worse,hewasinpyjamasandslipperswithachestwound
heldtogetherbystitchesandbandages.Hehadneverbeenmorehelpless.Oncehewas
seen,hewouldbefinished.Hedidn'tstandachance.
Andyethehadtodosomething.Hethoughtaboutthestrange,lonelyboyintheroom
nexttohis.PaulDrevinwasonlyjustfourteeneightmonthsyoungerthanAlex.These
menhadcomeforhim.Alexcouldn'tletthemtakehim.
Helookedattheopendoorofhisownroom numbernine.Itwasexactlyoppositethelift,
andwasthefirstthingthemenwouldseewhentheysteppedout.PaulDrevinwasasleep
inthenextroom.Hisdoorwasclosed.Theirnameswerevisibleinthehalflight:ALEX
RIDERandPAULDREVIN.Theywereprintedonplasticstripsthatfittedintoasloton
eachdoor.Underneath,alsoonstrips,weretheroomnumbers.
Suddenly,outofnowhere,aplanstartedtoforminAlex'smind.Wonderingifhehadleft
himselfenoughtime,hedartedforwardandsnatchedateaspoonfromacupandsaucera
nursehadleftonthedesk.Usingthespoonhandle,heprisedhisnameandroomnumber
outoftheirslots,thendidthesametothenextdoor.Ittookanotherfewsecondstosnap
theplasticstripsbackintoplace.NowitwasAlexRiderwhowasasleepinroomnine.The
doortoroomeightwasopenandPaulDrevinwasn'tthere.
Alexranintohisroom,pulledopenthecupboardandgrabbedashirtandapairofjeans.
Heknewwhathehaddonewasn'tenough.Ifthemenglancedatthedoorsmorethan
briefly,theywouldseethetrickthathadbeenplayed,becausethesequencewaswrong:
six,seven,nine,eight,ten.Alexhadtomakesuretheydidn'thavetimetoexamine
anything.
Hehadtomakethemcomeafterhim.Hedidn'tdaregetdressedinsightofthelift.He
hurriedoutwiththeclothespastthenurses'station,awayfromthetworooms.Hecame
toacorridorleadingoffatninetydegrees.Itranabouttwentymetrestoapairofswing
doorsandanotherstaircase.Therewasanopenstorecupboardononesideofthe
corridorandnexttoitatrolleywithsomesortofmachine:lowandflatwithaseriesof
buttonsandanarrow,rectangularTVscreenthatlookedlikeithadbeensquashed.Alex
recognizedthemachine.Therewerealsotwooxygencylinders.Hecouldfeelhisheart
poundingunderneaththebandages.Thesilenceinthehospitalwasunnerving.'How
muchtimehadpassedsinceConorhadbeenkilled?
Swiftlyhestrippedoffthepyjamasandpulledonhisownclothes.Itfeltgoodtobe
dressedagainaftertenlongdaysandnights.Hewasnolongerapatient.Hewas
beginningtogethislifeback.
Theliftdoorsopened,breakingthesilencewithametallicrattle.Alexwatchedthefour
menwalkout.Quicklyhesummedthemup.Twowereblack,twowhite.Theymovedasa
singleunit,asiftheywereusedtoworkingtogether.Hegavethemnamesbasedontheir
appearances.ThemanwhohadshotConorwastheleader.Hehadabrokennosethat
seemedtosplithisfacelikeacrackinamirror.AlexthoughtofhimasCombatJacket.
Thenextwasthin,withcrumpledcheeksandorangetintedglasses.Spectacles.Thethird
wasshortandmuscular,andobviouslyspentaseriousamountoftimeatthegym.Hehad
aheavydullmetalwatchonhiswrist,andthatgavehimhisname:SteelWatch.Thelast
manwasunshaven,withstragglyblackhair.Atsomepointhe'dbeentoabaddentist,
whohadlefthismarkveryvisibly.HewouldbeSilverTooth.
Allfourweremovingquickly,impatientafterthelongwaitinthelift.Thiswasthemoment
oftruth.
CombatJacketregisteredtheopendoorandtheemptybedinside.Hereadthename.At
thatmoment,Alexappeared,walkingdownthecorridorasifhehadjustbeentothetoilet
andwasreturningtohisroom.Hestoppedandgaveasmallgaspofsurprise.Themen
lookedathim.AndimmediatelymadetheassumptionthatAlexhadguessedtheywould.
Eveniftheyknewwhattheirtargetwassupposedtolooklike,theycouldn'tseehisfacein
thesoftlight.HewasPaulDrevin.Whoelsecouldhebe?"Paul?"CombatJacketspoke
thesingleword.
Alexnodded.
"We'renotgoingtohurtyou.Butyou'regoingtohavetocomewithus."
Alextookastepback.CombatJackettookoutagun.Thesamegunthathehadusedto
killthenightreceptionist.Alexturnedandfled.
Ashisbarefeetpoundedonthehospitalcarpet,hewasafraidthathehadleftittoolate,
thathewouldfeelthewhiteheatofabulletbetweenhisshoulderblades.Butthecorridor
wasrightinfrontofhim.Withafeelingofrelief,hethrewhimselfroundthecorner.Nowhe
wasoutofsight.
Thefourmenwereslowtoreact.Thiswasthelastthingthey'dexpected.PaulDrevin
shouldhavebeensoundasleepinbed.Buthehadseenthem.Hehadrunaway.Asone,
theysurgedforward.Theirmovementsseemedclumsytheydidn'twanttomakeany
noisebuttheywerestillmakingfastprogress.Theyreachedthecorridorandsawthe
swingdoorsahead.Oneofthedoorswasstillclosing.Theboyhadobviouslypassed
throughsecondsbefore.WithCombatJacketinthelead,theypressedon.Noneofthem
noticedthestorecupboardontheirleft.CombatJacketpushedthroughthedoorsSteel
WatchandSpectaclesfollowed.SilverToothwasleftbehindandthatwaswhenAlex
madehismove.
Alexhadrunthefulllengthofthecorridor,flungopenthedoors,thendoubledbacktothe
storecupboard.Thatwaswherehewasnow.Movingontiptoe,heslippedout.Nowhe
wasbehindSilverTooth.Hewasholdingsomethingineachofhishands,acirculardisc,
padded,trailingelectricwires.
ThemachinehehadseenonthetrolleywasaLifepak300defibrillator,astandardpiece
ofequipmentinmostBritishhospitals.Alexhadseendefibrillatorsoftenenoughin
televisiondramastoknowwhattheydidandhowtheyworked.Whenapatient'sheart
stopped,thedoctorwouldpressthepadsagainsttheirchestandusetheelectriccharge
tobringthembacktolife.Alexhadconectedupthisdefibrillatorinthelastseconds
beforetheliftarrived.Itwasdesignedtobeeasytouseandreadyinaninstantthe
batterieswerealwayskeptfullycharged.Grittinghisteeth,heslammedthepadsagainst
theneckofthemaninfrontofhimandpressedthebuttons.SilverToothscreamedand
leapthighintheairastheelectriccurrentcoursedthroughhim.Hewasunconscious
beforehehitthefloor.
Thedoorsswungopenagain:Spectacleshadheardthescream.Hecameback,half
crouching,runningforward,aknifeinhishand.Hisfacewastwistedinanuglysneerof
anger.Somethinghadgonewrong.Buthow?Whyhadn'ttheboybeenasleep?
Hedidn'tevenmakeithalfwaydownthecorridor.Thefullforceofatenkilogramoxygen
cylinderhithimrightbetweenthelegs.Hisfacewentmauveandhedroppedtheknife.He
triedtobreathe,butoxygenwastheonethinghecouldn'tfind.Hecrumpled,eyesbulging.
Alexdroppedthetank.Ithadtakenallhisstrengthtoswingit,andheranahandacross
hischest,wonderingifhehaddamagedhimself.Butthestitchesseemedtohaveheld.
Leavingthetwounconsciousmenbehindhim,heranbackpasthisroomandovertothe
mainstairs.Heheardtheswingdoorscrashagainstthewallastheotherscameafterhim.
Atleasthe'dhalvedtheopposition,evenifitwasgoingtobemoredifficultfromnowon.
Theremainingtwomenknewhewasdangeroustheywouldn'tletthemselvesbe
surprisedagain.Alexconsidereddisappearing.Thereweredozensofplaceshecould
hide.Butthatwasn'tthepoint.Heforcedhimselftoslowdown.Hehadtoleadthemaway
fromroomseightandnine.
Theysawhim.Heheardoneofthemswearasingle,tautwhisperofpurehatred.That
wasgood.Theangriertheywere,themoremistakestheywouldmake.Alexrandownthe
stairs.Hefeltdizzyandforamomenthethoughthewasgoingtopassout.Afterspending
solonginbed,hisbodywasn'treadyforthis.Hisleftarmwashurtingtoo.
Thearmremindedhimwherehewasgoing.Thephysiodepartmentwasonthefirstfloor.
Alexhadbeentheremanytimesithadbeenanecessarypartofhistreatment.
Thebulletthathadslicedthroughhisarteryhadalsodoneseriousdamagetohisbrachial
plexus.Thiswasacomplicatednetworkofspinalnervesleadingintohisleftarm.The
doctorshadwarnedhimthatthearmwouldhurttherewouldbestiffnessandpinsand
needlesperhapsfortherestofhislife.ButonceagainAlexhadyouthonhisside.Aftera
fewdaysoftherapy,muchofthepainhadsubsided.Inthattime,hehadbeenputthrough
aseriesofexercisesstaticresistance,stretching,reactionandspeedwork.Bytheendof
theweek,Alexhadgottoknowthephysiodepartmentbetterthananyotherdepartmentin
thehospital.Thatwaswhyhewasheadingtherenow.
Hehalfstumbledthroughthedoorsandstoodforamoment,catchinghisbreath.First,
thereweretwocubicleswithbedswherepatientswouldliewhiletheywereputthrougha
seriesofexercises.Ahumanskeletonveryrealisticbutinfactmadeofplastichungona
metalframeopposite.Thecorridordoglegged,thencontinuedpastaseriesofdoorsand
cupboardstoanotherpairofswingdoorsatthefarend.Alexknewexactlywhathewould
findinthecupboards.Oneoftheroomsleadingoffthecorridorwasafullyequippedgym
withcyclingmachines,dumbbells,heavymedicineballsandtreadmills.
Thecupboardscontainedmoreequipment,includingchestexpandersandrollsofelastic.
Eachday,thephysiotherapisthadcutoffalengthofelasticandgivenittoAlextousein
simplestretchingexercises.Thesehadbeengentleatfirstbuthadbecomemore
strenuous,usingthickerlengthsofelastic,ashehealed.
Heopenedthefirstcupboard.Hehadworkedoutwhathewasgoingtodo.Thequestion
wasthesameasbefore.Hadhelefthimselfenoughtime?
Fortysecondslater,thedoorsopenedandCombatJacketcamein.Hewasbreathing
heavily.Hewasmeanttobeincommandofthisoperation,andonedayhewouldhaveto
answerforit.Twoofhismenwerelyingunconsciousupstairsoneofthemelectrocuted.
Andwhatmadeitworsewhatmadeitunbelievablewasthatbothhadbeentakenout
byakid!Theyhadbeentolditwouldbesimple.Maybethatwaswhytheyhadmadeso
manymistakes.Well,hewasn'tgoingtomakeanymore.
Hecreptforwardslowly,hisfistcurledaround anugly,squarenosedhandgun.Itwasan
FP9,asingleactionpistolmanufacturedinHungary,oneofdozenscominginillegally
fromEasternEurope.Therewerenolightsoninthispartofthehospital.Theonly
illuminationcamefromthemoonlightstreaminginthroughthewindows.Helookedtoone
sideandsawtheskeletonstandingtherelikesomethingoutofacheapfairgroundride.
Theholloweyesocketsseemedtobestaringathim.Warninghim?Themanlookedaway
indisgust.Hewasn'tgoingtoletitgivehimthecreeps.
Heglancedintothetwocubicles.Thecurtainsweredrawnbackanditwasobviousthe
boywasn'thidingthere.CombatJacketwentpasttheskeletonandturnedthecorner.
Nowhefoundhimselflookingdownthefulllengthofthecorridor.Itwasverydarkbutas
hiseyesadjusted,hemadeoutashapestandingatthefarend.Hesmiled.Itwastheboy!
Heseemedtobeholdingsomethingagainsthischest.Whatwasit?Somesortofball.
Well,thistimehe'dmadeabigmistake.Hewasn'tgoingtogetachancetothrowit.Ifhe
somuchasmoved,CombatJacketwouldshoothiminthelegandthendraghimtothe
car.
"Dropit!"CombatJacketcommanded.
AlexRiderletgooftheball.
Itwasamedicineballfromthegym.Itweighedfivekilogramsandforasecondtime,Alex
hadbeenafraidhewouldsplithisstitches.ButwhatCombatJackethadn'tseenwasthat
Alexhadalsotakenalengthofelasticoutofthecupboard.Hehadtieditacrossthe
corridor,fromonedoorhandletoanother,andthenstretcheditallthewaybackwiththe
medicineball.Theballwasnowamissileinanoversizedcatapult,andwhenAlex
releasedit,itshotthefulllengthofthecorridorasiffiredfromacannon.
CombatJacketwasonlyfaintlyawareofthegreatweighthurtlingoutoftheshadows
beforeithithimsquareinthestomach,rocketinghimoffhisfeet.Thegunflewoutofhis
hand.Thebreathwaspunchedoutofhislungs.Hisshouldershitthefloorandheslidfive
metresbeforecrashingintothewall.Hejusthadtimetotellhimselfthatthiswasn'tPaul
Drevinthatthiswasnoordinaryfourteenyearoldboybeforeheblackedout.
SteelWatchhadjustenteredthephysiodepartment.Heheardthecrashandturnedthe
cornerincombatposition,hisownweaponreadytofire.Hedidn'tunderstandwhatwas
happening,butheknewthathehadlosttheinitiative.Whatshouldhavebeenasimple
snatchhadgonehorriblywrong.Therewasafiguresprawledonthefloorinfrontofhim,
itsnecktwistedandfacedrainedofcolour.Alargemedicineballlaynearby.
SteelWatchblinkedindisbelief.Hesawoneofthedoorsattheendofthecorridorswing
shut.Thattoldhimallheneededtoknow.Hefollowed.
Twentypacesaheadofhim,Alexwasoncemoremakinghiswaydownstairs.Itseemed
theonlywaytogo.Thestairsledhimbacktothegroundfloor,whereithadallbegun.The
receptionareawasunnaturallysilentapartfromthesofthumofarefrigerateddrinks
dispenser.WhitelightspilledovertherowsofCokeandFanta,throwinghardshadows
acrossthefloor.Threedesksfacedeachotheracrosstheemptyspace.Alexknewthere
wasadeadmanbehindoneofthem,buthecouldn't
bringhimselftolook.Hecouldseethestreetontheothersideoftheglassdoors.Should
hemakeabreakforit?Getoutsideandcallforhelp?Therewasnotime.HeheardSteel
Watchcomingdownthestairsanddivedbehindthenearestdesk,searchingforcover.
Amomentlater,SteelWatcharrived.Peeringroundfromhishidingplace,Alexcouldsee
thetimepieceglintingonhiswrist.Itwasahuge,chunkything,thesortdiverswear.The
manhadanunusuallythickwrist.Hisentirebodywasoverdeveloped,thevariousmuscle
groupsalmostfightingeachotherashewalked.Althoughhewasthelastsurvivor,he
wasn'tpanicking.HewascarryingasecondFP9.HeseemedtosensethatAlexwasnear.
"I'mnotgoingtohurtyou!"hecalledout.Hedidn'tsoundconvincingandmusthave
knownit,becauseasecondlaterhesnapped,"ComeoutwithyourhandsuporI'llputa
bulletinyourknee."
Alextimedhismoveexactly,racingacrossthemainreception.Somethingcoughedtwice
andthecarpetrippeditselfapartinfrontofhisfeet.Thatwaswhenheknewtheruleshad
changed.SteelWatchhaddecidedtotakehimdeadoralive.Anditlookedlikehe'dprefer
dead.ButAlexwasalreadyoutofsight.Hehadfoundanothercorridorwithasignreading
RADIOLOGYandheknewexactlywherehewasgoing.Hehadcomeheretwiceatthe
startofhisstayinthehospital.
Therewasalockeddooraheadofhim butAlexhadwatchedthecodebeingentered
onlyafewdaysbefore.Asfastashecould,hepressedthefourdigitnumber,willing
himselfnottomakeamistake.Hepushedandthedooropened.Thispartofthehospital
wasdesertedatnightbutheknewthemachinesontheothersideneverslept.Theywere
keptactivatedaroundtheclockincasetheywereneeded.Andtheyhadneverbeen
neededmorethannow.
AlexcouldhearSteelWatchcomingupbehindhim,butheforcedhimselftostaycalm.
Therewasanotherlocktodealwith,thisonetrippedbyaswitchconcealedunderoneof
thenurses'desks.Alexbreathedasilentprayerofthankstothehospitalorderlywhohad
madeajokeaboutitashehadwheeledhimin.Therewasalarge,heavydooraheadof
him.Itwascoveredwithwarningsignsbeneathasingleword:MAGNETOM
Alexknewwhatthewarningssaid.Theorderlyhadtoldhim.Heopenedthedoorand
wentin.Therewasanarrow,paddedbenchinfrontofhim.Itledtoalargemachinethat
remindedhimofatumbledrier,aspacecapsuleandagiantdoughnutallrolledintoone.
Therewasaholeinthemiddleofit,theinnerrimrotatingslowly.Thebenchwasdesigned
sothatitcouldberaisedandpassedslowlythroughthehole.Alexhadbeenplacedon
thebenchwhenhefirstcametoStDominic's,andthedoctorhadtoldhimexactlywhatit
did.
ItwasanMRImachine.Thelettersstoodformagneticresonanceimaging.AsAlexhad
passedthroughthehole,ascannerhadtakenathreedimensionalimageofhisbody,
checkingthemuscledamageinhischest,armandshoulder.Herememberedwhatthe
doctorhadtoldhim.Heneededthatknowledgenow.
Therewasamovementatthedoor.SteelWatchhadfollowedhimin.
"Don'tmove,"SteelWatchordered.Hewasholdinghisgunatchestheight.Thesilencer
waspointingatAlex'shead.
Alexlethisshouldersslump."LookslikeIwentthewrongway,"hesaid.
"Well,nowyou'recomingwithme,youlittletoerag,"themanreplied.Heranhistongue
overhislip."Theothers...maybetheydidn'twanttohurtyou.Butifyoutryanything,I'll
putabulletinyou."
"Ican'tmove."
"What?"
"I'mhurt..."
SteelWatchstaredatAlex,tryingtoseewhatwaswrong.Hetookastepforward.And
thatwaswhenithappened.
Thegunwastornoutofhisgrip.
Itwasgonesofastthathedidn'tunderstandwhatwashappening.Itwasasifapairof
invisiblehandshadsimplyrippedhisweaponaway.Itwaswhiskedintothedarkness,
nothingmorethanablur.SteelWatchcriedoutinpain.Thegunhaddislocatedtwoofhis
fingers,almosttearingthemrightoff.Therewasaloudclangasithitthemachineand
stayedthere,asifgluedtothesurface.
AnMRIusesanincrediblypowerfulmagneticfieldtoscansofttissue.Thestrengthofthis
machinewas1.5Teslaandthenoticesonthedoorhadwarnedanyoneapproachingthe
roomtoremoveallitemsmadeofmetal.AnMRIcanpullasetofkeysoutofapocketit
canwipeacreditcardcleanattwentypaces.SteelWatchhadfeltitsenormouspowerbut
hestillhadn'tunderstood.Hewasabouttofindout.
AlexRiderhadadoptedthekaratestanceknownaszenkutsudachi,feetapartandhands
raised.Everyfibreofhisbeingwasconcentratedonthemaninfrontofhim.Itwasa
challengetoSteelWatchtotakehimonwithhisownbarehands,andSteelWatch
couldn'tresist.Hetookastepforward.
Andscreamedashisheavysteelwatchenteredthemagneticfield.Alexwatchedin
astonishmentaswhatisknownasthemissileeffecttookplace.Themanwasliftedoffhis
feetandhurledthroughtheair,draggedbythewatchonhiswrist.Therewasahorrible
thudashecrashedintotheMRImachine.Hehadlandedawkwardly,hisarmandhead
tangledtogether.Hestayedwherehewas,halfstanding,halflying,hislegstrailing
uselesslybehindhim.
Itwasover.Fourmenhadenteredthehospitalandeveryoneofthemwaseither
unconsciousorworse.Alexwasstillhalfconvincedthatanysecondhewouldwakeupin
bed.Maybehehadbeengiventoomanypainkillers.Surelythewholethingwasjustsome
sortofghastlymedicateddream.
Butitwasn't.AlexwentbacktoreceptionandtherewasConor,sprawledbehindhisdesk,
asinglebulletwoundinhishead.Alexknewhehadtocallthepolice.Hewasamazed
thathehadn'tseenonesinglenurseduringtheentireordeal.Heleantoverthedesk,
reachingforthephone.Acoolnightbreezebrushedacrosshisneck.
Thatshouldhavewarnedhim.
Fourmenhadcomeintothehospitalbutfivehadbeenassignedtothejob.Therewas
anotherman:thedriver.Andifthemaindoorshadn'tjustopened,therewouldn'thave
beenabreeze.
ToolateAlexrealizedwhatthatmeant.Hestraightenedupasfastashecould,butthat
wasn'tfastenough.Heheardnothing.Hedidn'tevenfeeltheblowtothebackofhishead.
Hecrumpledtothefloorandlaystill.
KASPAR
You'reinpain.That'sallyouknow.Yourheadispoundingandyourheartisthrobbingand
youwonderifsomeonehasmanagedtotieaknotinyourneck.
ItwasafeelingthatAlexRiderknewalltoowell.HehadbeenknockedoutbyMrGrin
whenhewasattheStormbreakerassemblyplant,bytheviciousMrsStellenboschatthe
AcademyofPointBlanc,andbyNileattheWidow'sPalaceinVenice.EvenAlanBlunt
hadgotoneofhismentofireatranquillizerdartintohimwhenhehadfirstinfiltratedthe
headquartersofMI6.
Anditwasnodifferentthistime,theslowclimbbackfrom nothingtotheworldofairand
light.Alexbecameawarethathewaslyingdown,hischeekpressedagainstthedusty
woodenfloor.Therewasanunpleasanttasteinhismouth.Withaneffortheopenedhis
eyesandthenclosedthemagainasthelightfromanakedbulbdanglingoverheadburned
intothem.Hewaited,thenopenedthemasecondtime.Slowlyhestraightenedhislegs
andstretchedhisarmsandthoughtexactlywhathethoughteverytimeithappened.
You'restillalive.You'reaprisoner.Butforsomereasontheyhaven'tkilledyouyet.
Alexdraggedhimselfintoasittingpositionandlookedaroundhim.Hewasinaroomthat
wascompletelybare:nocarpet,nocurtains,nofurniture,nodecoration.Nothing.There
wasawoodendoor,presumablylocked,andasinglewindow.Hewassurprisedtosee
thatitwasn'tbarred,butwhenhestaggeredovertoit,heunderstoodwhy.
Hewashighup,sevenoreightstoreys.Dawnwasonlyjustbreakinganditwashardto
seethroughthedirtyglass,butheguessedhe'dbeenunconsciousforafewhoursand
thathewasstillinLondon.Itlookedlikehewasbeingheldinanabandonedtowerblock.
Therewasanotherblockoppositeand,lookingup,Alexcouldjustseeahugebanner
strungbetweentwowiresrunningfromthetopofonebuildingtotheother.Thefirstwords
wereoutsidehisfieldofvisionbuthecouldmakeouttherest:
TOWERS
SOONTOBEANEXCITINGNEWDEVELOPMENTFOREASTLONDON.
Hewentovertothedoorandtrieditjustincase.Itdidn'tmove.
Hisleftarmwasachingbadlyandhemassagedit,wonderinghowmuchdamagehehad
donetohimself.Thiswasmeanttobehislastnightinthehospital!Howcouldhehave
allowedhimselftogetinvolvedwithagangofmurdererswhohadbrokenin...?Whatfor?
Alexrestedhisshouldersagainstawallandslidbackdowntothefloor,cradlinghisarm.
Hewasstillbarefootedandheshivered.Hissingleshirtwasn'tenoughtoprotecthim
againstthechilloftheearlymorning.Sittingthere,heplayedbacktheeventsthathad
broughthimhere.
FourmenhadcometoStDominic's,buttheyhadn'tbeeninterestedinhim.Theyhad
askedfortheboyintheroomnextdoor:PaulDrevin.SuddenlyAlexrememberedwhere
hehadheardthename.He'dseenitinthenewspapersbutnotPaul.Nikolei.Thatwasit.
NikoleiDrevinwassomesortofRussianmultibillionaire.Well,thatmadesense.Themen
musthavewantedhissonforthemostobviousreason.Money.Buttheyhadaccidentally
kidnappedhiminstead.
Whatwouldtheydowhentheyfoundout?Alextriedtoputthethoughtoutofhismind.He
hadseenhowthey'ddealtwithConor,thenightreceptionist.Somehowhedidn'tthink
they'dapologizeandofferhimthetaxifarehome.
Buttherewasnothinghecoulddo.Hesatwherehewas,slumpedagainstthewall,
watchingtheskyturnfromgreytoredtoadullsortofblue.
Hemusthavedozedoff,becausethenextthingheknew,thedoorhadopenedand
Spectacleswasstandingoverhim,anexpressionofpurehatredonhisface.Alexwasn't
surprised.Thelasttimethey'dmet,Alexhadslammedatenkilogramoxygentankintohis
groin.Iftherewasanysurprise,itwasthatjustafewhourslaterthemanhadfoundthe
strengthtostand.
Spectacleswasholdingagun.Alexlookedintotheman'seyes.Theyglintedorange
behindthetintedglassandgazedathimwithundisguisedvenom."Getup!"hesnapped.
"You'retocomewithme."
"Whateveryousay."Alexgotslowlytohisfeet."Isitmyimagination,"heasked,"orisyour
voicealittlehigherthanitusedtobe?"
Thehandwiththeguntwitched."Thisway,"Spectaclesmuttered.
Alexfollowedhimoutintoacorridorthatwasasdilapidatedastheroomwherehehad
beenconfined.Thewallsweredampandpeeling.Manyoftheceilingtilesweremissing,
revealinggreatgapsfilledwithatangleofwiresandpipes.Thereweredoorseverytenor
fifteenmetres,someofthemhangingofftheirhinges.Once,theywouldhaveopenedinto
people'sflats.Butitwasobviousthatapartfromratsandcockroachesnobodyhad
livedhereforyears.
CombatJacketwaswaitingforthemoutside.
Hehadrecoveredfromhisencounterwiththemedicineballbuttherewasanuglybruise
onthesideofhisheadwherehehadhitthewall.ThetwoofthemmarchedAlexdownthe
corridortoadoorattheend.
"In!"Spectaclessaid.
Alexpushedopenthedoorandwentthrough.Hefoundhimselfinalarge,openspace
withlitterstrewnacrossthefloorandgraffitieverywhere.Therewerewindowsontwo
sides,someofthemcoveredbybrokenblinds.Alexguessedhewasinsideoneofthe
flats,althoughthepartitionwallshadbeensmashedthroughtomakeasinglearea.He
couldseeanabandonedbathinonecorner.Inthemiddle,therewasatableandtwo
chairs.Amanwassittingthere,waitingforhim.SpectaclesproddedhisgunintoAlex's
back.Alexsteppedforwardandsatdown.
Withashiver,heexaminedthemansittingoppositehim.Hewasdressedinwhatmight
oncehavebeenauniformbutthejacketwastornandmissingbuttons.Themanmust
havebeenaboutthirtyyearsoldbutitwasimpossibletobesure.Hisfaceandheadhad
beentattooedallover.AlexsawtheUnitedStatesofAmericareachingdownonecheek,
Europeontheother.Hisnoseandtheskinabovehislipswereblue,thecolourofthe
AtlanticOcean.BrazilandWestAfricatouchedthecomersofhismouth.Ifthemanturned
round,AlexknewhewouldseeRussiaandChina.Hehadneverseenanythingquiteso
strangeorsorevoltinginhislife.
Withdifficulty,Alextorehiseyesawayandlookedaround.CombatJacketandSpectacles
werestandingoneithersideofthedoorway.SilverToothwaslurkinginacorner.Alex
hadn'tnoticedhimintheshadows,butnowhesteppedintotheLightandAlexsawthat
hisneckwasswollen,twoangryredmarksburnedintotheskin.Therewasnosignof
SteelWatch.Perhapsthey'dbeenunabletopeelhimofftheMagnetom.
Themanwiththetattoosspoke."Youhavecausedusagreatdealofannoyance,"he
said."Intruth,youshouldbedead."
Alexwassilent.Hewasn'tsureyetwhattosay.
"MynameisKaspar,"themancontinued.
Alexshrugged."Youmean...likeCasperthefriendlyghost?"
Themandidn'tsmile."Whywereyououtofyourroomlastnight?"
"Ineededsomeair."
"Itwouldhavebeenbetterifyouhadsimplyopenedthewindow,"Kasparsaid.Whenhe
spoke,wholecontinentsmoved.ItoccurredtoAlexthatifhesneezeditwouldsetoffa
globalearthquake."DoyouknowwhoIam?"heasked.
"No,"Alexreplied."Butitwouldbeusefultohaveyouaroundinageographyexam."
"Iwouldn'thavethoughtyouwereinanypositiontomakejokes."Kaspar'svoicewasflat
andunemotional.Hegesturedattheothermen."Youhavecausedmycolleaguesagreat
dealofpainandinconvenience.Theywouldlikemetokillyou.PerhapsIwill.""Whatdo
youwantmefor?"Alexdemanded."Iwilltellyou."Kasparranafingerdownthesideof
hisface.IttravelledfromNorwaytoAlgeria."Icanseethatyouaresurprisedbymy
appearance.Youmaythinkitextreme.ButthesemarkingsrepresentwhoIamandwhatI
believein.Weareallpartofthisworld.Ihavemadetheworldpartofme."Hepaused.
"Iamwhatyoumightcallafreedomfighter.ButthefreedomIbelieveinisaplanetfreeof
theexploitationandpollutioncausedbyrichbusinessmenandmultinationalswhowould
destroyalllifesimplytoenrichthemselves.Wehaveglobalwarming.Theozonelayerhas
beendecimated.Ourpreciousresourcesarefastrunningout.Butstillthesefatcats
continueliningtheirpocketstodaywithnothoughtorcarefortomorrow.Yourfatheris
suchaman."
"Myfather?You'vegotitallwrong"Themanmovedincrediblyquickly.Hestoodupand
lashedout,hittingthesideofAlex'sheadwiththebackofhishand.Alexsnappedback,
morestartledthanhurt."Don'tinterrupt!"Kasparcommanded."Yourfathermadehis
fortunefromoil.Hispipelineshavescarredthreecontinents.Andnow,notcontentwith
damagingtheearth,heisturninghisattentiontoouterspace.Fourspeciesofwildbirds
havebeenmadeextinctbythelaunchofhisrocketsfromtheCaribbean.Apesand
chimpanzeeshavebeentheunwillingvictimsofhistestflights.Heisanenemyof
mankindandhasthereforebecomealegitimatetargetofForceThree."
Kasparsatdownagain.
"Therearethosewhothinkofusascriminals,"hewenton."Butitisyourfatherwhoisthe
realcriminal,andhehasforcedustoactthewaywedo.Nowwehavedecidedtomake
him pay.Hewillgiveusonemillionpoundsforyoursafereturn.Thismoneywillbeused
tocontinueourstruggletoprotecttheplanet.Ifherefuses,hewillneverseeyouagain.
"ThatiswhyyouweretakenfromStDominic'slastnight.Youwillremainwithusuntilthe
ransomhasbeenpaid.Idonotpersonallywishtoharmyou,Paul,butwehavetoproveto
yourfatherthatwehaveyou.Wemustsendhimamessagethathecannotignore.And
I'mafraidthatwilldemandasmallsacrificefromyou."
Alextriedtospeakbuthisheadwasreeling.Itwasallhappeningtoofast.Beforehecould
react,hisrightarmwasseizedfrombehind.CombatJackethadcreptuponhimwhile
Kasparhadbeentalking.Alextriedtoresist,butthemanwastoostrong.Thecuffofhis
shirtwasrippedopenandthesleevepulledback.Thenhishandwasforceddownonthe
tableandhisfingersspreadoutonebyone.Therewasnothinghecoulddo.Combat
Jacketwasholdinghimsotightly,hisfingerswereturningwhite.SilverToothapproached
fromtheotherside.Hehadtakenouthisknife.HehandedittoKaspar.
"Wecouldsendyourfatheraphotograph,"Kasparexplained."Butwhatwouldthat
achieve?Hewillknowbynowthatyouhavebeentakenbyforce.Therearestronger
waysofmakingourdemandsknown,waysthathemayfindmorepersuasive."Helifted
theknifeclosetohischin,asifabouttoshave.Thebladewasfifteencentimetreslong
withaserratededge.Heexaminedhisreflectioninthesteel."Wecouldsendhimalockof
yourhair.Hewould,I'msure,recognizeitasyours.Butthen,hemighttakeitasasignof
weaknessofcompassiononourpart.
"AndsoIapologize,PaulDrevin.Itgivesmenopleasuretohurtachild,evenawealthy,
spoiltchildsuchasyourself.ButwhatIintendtosendyourfatherisafingerfromyour
righthand..."
AutomaticallyAlextriedtopullback.ButCombatJackethadbeenexpectingit.Hisfull
weightpresseddownonAlex'shand.Hisfingersweresplayed,helpless,onthetable.
"Thepainwillbegreat.Buttherearechildrenallovertheworldwhohaveonlyeverknown
painandstarvation,whileboyslikeyoulanguishintheplaygroundoftherich.Doyouplay
thepiano,Paul?Ihopenot.Itwillnotbesoeasyaftertoday."
HereachedoutandgrabbedAlex'slittlefinger.Thatwastheonehehadchosen.The
knifebeganitsjourneydown.
"I'mnotPaulDrevin!"Alexspatoutthewordsurgently.Hiseyeshadwidened.Hecould
feeltheblooddrainingfromhisface.Theknifewasstillmoving."You'vemadeamistake!"
heinsisted."MynameisAlexRider.Iwasinroomnine.Idon'tknowanythingaboutPaul
Drevin."
Theknifestopped.Itwasmillimetresabovehislittlefinger.
"Doit!"CombatJackethissed.
"Iwasawakelastnight,"Alexinsisted.Thewordscametumblingout."Iwascomingback
fromthetoilet.Isawyourmenoutsidemyroom.Oneofthempulledoutagun,andthen
theybeganchasingme.Ididn'tknowwhatwashappening.Ihadtodefendmyself..."
"He'slying,"CombatJacketsnarled."Iaskedhimhisname."HeturnedtoSpectacles.
"Tellhim."
"That'sright,"Spectaclesagreed."Wesawhisroom.Roomeight.Itwasempty.Thenhe
appeared.Wecalledouthisnameandheanswered."
Kaspartightenedhisgripontheknife.Hehadmadeuphismind.
"Iwasinroomnine,notroomeight!"Alexwasshoutingnow.Hisheadwasswimming.He
couldalreadyseetheknifecuttingthroughfleshandbone.Hecouldimaginethepain.
Thensuddenlyhehadathought."WhatdoyouthinkIwasin
hospitalfor?"hedemanded.
"Weknowwhatyouweretherefor,"Kasparreplied."Appendicitis."
"Appendicitis.Right.Thenlookatmybandages.They'renowherenearmyappendix."
Therewasalongpause.AlexcouldfeelCombatJacketstillpressingdownhard,longing
forthecuttingtobegin.ButKasparwasuncertain."Openhisshirt,"heordered.Nobody
moved."Doit!"
CombatJacketwasstillholdingAlexastightlyaseverbutnowSilverToothstepped
forward.HereachedoutandgrabbedholdofAlex'sshirt,tearingthetoptwobuttons.
Kasparstaredatthebandagescrossingoverhischest.Alexcouldfeelhisheartstraining
beneaththem."Whatisthis?"Kaspardemanded."Ihadachestwound.""Whatsortof
chestwound?""Anaccidentonmybike."ItwastheonelieAlexhadtold.Hecouldn'ttell
themwhathadreallyhappened.Hedidn'twantthemtoknowwhohewas."ImetPaul
Drevin,"headmitted."He'sthesameageasme.Buthedoesn'tlookanythinglikeme.
Justmakeaphonecall.Youcanfindouteasilyenough."Hetookadeepbreath."Youcan
cutoffallmyfingersifyouwant,buthisfatherisn'tgoingtopayyouapenny.Hedoesn't
evenknowIexist!"
Therewasanothersilence.
"He'slying!"CombatJacketinsisted.
ButKasparwasalreadyworkingitoutforhimself.HehadheardAlexspeak.PaulDrevin
hadafaintRussianaccent.ThisboyhadobviouslylivedinEnglandallhislife.Kaspar
sworeandstabbeddownwiththeknife.Thebladeburieditselfinthetablelessthana
centimetrefromAlex'shand.Thehiltquiveredashereleasedit.
AlexsawthedisappointmentinthefacesofSpectaclesandSilverTooth.ButKasparhad
madehisdecision.
"Letgoofhim."
CombatJacketheldhimtightlyforamomentlonger,thenreleasedhisarmandstood
back,mutteringsomethinguglyunderhisbreath.Alexsnatchedbackhishand.Hisright
armwashurtingasmuchashisleftone.HewonderedifKasparwouldsendhimbackto
thehospital.Bythetimehegotoutofhere,hewouldneedit.
Butitwasn'toveryet.
SpectaclesandSilverToothwerewaitingtoescorthimout,butKaspargesturedforthem
towait.HewasexaminingAlexasecondtime,reassessinghim.Itwasimpossibletosee
behindthemarkingsonhisface,toknowwhatwasgoingoninhismind."Ifitturnsout
thatyouarewhoyousayyouare,"hebegan,"ifyoureallyarenotPaulDrevin,thenyou
areofnousetous.Wecankillyouinanywaythatweplease.AndIthinkitwill
pleasemymentokillyouveryslowlyindeed.Soperhaps,myfriend,itwouldhavebeen
betterforyouiftherehadbeennomistake.Perhapsthelossofonefingermighthave
beentheeasierway."
SilverToothwasgrinning.Spectaclesnoddedgravely.
"Takehimbacktohisroom,"Kasparcommanded."Iwillmakethenecessaryenquiries.
Andthenwe'llmeetagain."
FIREESCAPE
ItwaslateafternoonwhenthedooropenedandCombatJacketcamein.Alexguessed
thathehadbeenintheroomforeighthours.Hehadbeenallowedoutoncetousea
chemicaltoilet,andataroundmiddayhehadbeengivenasandwichandadrinkbyan
unsmilingSpectacles.Thesandwichhadbeentwodayspastitssellbydateandstillin
theplasticwrapping,boughtfromagarage.ButAlexwolfeditdownhungrily.
CombatJackethadbeensenttofetchhim.HeledAlexbackdownthecorridortotheflat
wheretheinterrogationhadtakenplace,hisfacewithitsugly,brokennosegivingnothing
away.TherewassomethingaboutthewholesetupthatAlexdidn'tunderstand.Kaspar
hadtoldhimtheywerefreedomfightersecowarriorsorwhatever.Theywerecertainly
fanatics.Thetattooswereampleproofofthat.Butthewaytheyweretreatinghim,the
threats,thedemandsformoney,seemedtobelongtoadifferentworld.Theytalkedabout
pollutionandtheozonelayerbuttheyactedlikethugsandcommoncriminals.Theyhad
killedthenightreceptionistfornogoodreason.Theyseemedtohavenoregardatallfor
humanlife.
Bynow,Alexguessed,theymustknowthetruth.Sowhatweretheygoingtodowithhim?
HerememberedwhatKasparhadsaidandclampeddownonhisimagination.Instead,he
searchedforawaytobreakoutofhere.Itwasn'tgoingtobeeasy.Thefourmenhad
alreadytestedhimonce.Theyknewwhathewascapableof.Theyweren'tgoingtogive
himasecondchance.
Kasparwaswaitingforhim.Therewasanewspaperonthetableinfrontofhimbutno
signoftheknife.SpectaclesandSilverToothwerestandingbehindhim.AsAlexsat
down,Kasparturnedthenewspaperround.ItwastheEveningStandardandthefront
pageheadlinetoldthewholestoryinjustthreewords.Wrongboykidnapped
Nobodywastalking,soAlexquicklyreadthearticle.TherewasaphotographofSt
Dominic'sHospitalbutnopictureofhimorPaulDrevin.Thatdidn'tsurprisehim.He
rememberedreadingsomewherethatPaul'sfatherNikoleiDrevinhadmanagedtoget
anembargoonanyphotosofhisfamilybeingpublished,claimingitwastoomuchofa
securityrisk.And,ofcourse,MI6wouldhavepreventedanypictureofAlexbeingused.
Hedidn'tevengetamentionbyname.
Asecurityguardwasmurderedinthesmallhoursofthemorningduringaruthlessattack
onanorthLondonhospital.Itseemsalmostcertainthattheintendedtargetofthegang
wasfourteenyearoldPaulDrevin,sonofoneoftheworld'srichestmen,Russian
businessmanNikoleiDrevin.Drevinmadetheheadlinesearlierthisyearwhenhebought
StratfordEastFootballClub.Heisalsotheguidinglightbehindthehundredbillionpound
ArkAngelprojectthefirsthotelinspace.
Inanastonishingdevelopment,policehaveconfirmedthatthegangmanagedtokidnap
thewrongboy.Thisotherboy,whohasnotbeennamed,wasdiscoveredtobemissing
fromhisroomfollowingmajorsurgery.Speakingfromthehospital,DrRogerHayward
madeanurgentpleafortheboy'sfastreturn.Hisconditionissaidtobestablebutserious.
Alexlookedup.Kasparseemedtobewaitingforhimtospeak."Itoldyou,"hesaid."So
whydon'tyouletmego?I'vegotnothingtodowiththis.Iwasjustnextdoor."
"Yougotinvolvedonpurpose,"Kasparsaid.
"No."Alexdenieditbuthismouthwasdry.
"Youswitchedroomnumbers.YouansweredtothenameofPaulDrevin.Youcrippled
oneofmymenandinjuredtheothers."
Alexsaidnothing,waitingfortheaxetofall.
"Idon'tunderstandwhyyouchosetobecomeinvolved,"Kasparwenton."Idon'tknow
whoyouare.Butyoumadeyourdecision.YouchosetobecomeanenemyofForce
Threeandsoyoumustpay."
"Ididn'tchooseanything.""I'mnotgoingtoarguewithyou.Iamfightingawarandinany
wartherearecasualtiesinnocentvictimswhojusthappentogetintheway.Ifitmakesit
anyeasier,thinkofyourselfasoneofthem."Kasparsighedbuttherewasnosadnessin
themapofhisface."Goodbye,AlexRider.Itwasapitythatwehadtomeet.Ithascost
meamillionpoundsinransommoney.Itwillcostyourathermore..."
BeforeAlexcouldreact,hewasgrabbedfrombehindanddraggedtohisfeet.Hedidn't
speakashewasforcedbackoutoftheroomanddownthecorridor.Thistimehewas
thrownintoanotherroom,smallerthanhispreviouscell.Alexjusthadtimetomakeouta
chair,abarredwindowandfourbarewallsbeforehewasshovedhardinthebackand
sentsprawlingtothefloor.
CombatJacketstoodoverhim."Iwishhe'dletmehavealittletimewithyou,"herasped.
"IfIhadmyway,we'ddothisdifferently"
"Moveit!"Thevoicecamefromoutside.Oneoftheothermenwaswaiting.
CombatJacketspatatAlexandwalkedout.ThedoorclosedandalmostatonceAlex
heardtheunmistakablesoundofhammering.Heshookhisheadindisbelief.Theyweren't
justlockinghimin.Theywerenailingthedoortotheframe.
Onceagain,heexaminedhissurroundings.Hewonderedwhytheyhadchosenthis
particularroom.Thebarsonthewindowmadenorealdifference.Evenifthewindowhad
beenwideopen,hewasatleastsevenstoreysup.Hewouldn'thaveDeenabletoclimb
out.Andwhatexactlyweretheyproposingtodo?Theyobviouslyweren'tplanningto
comebackandgethim.Weretheysimplygoingtoleavehimheretostarvetodeath?
Theanswercameaboutanhourlater.Thesunwasbeginningtosetandlightswere
comingoninbuildingsallovereastLondon.Alexwasbecomingincreasinglyanxious.He
wasonhisown,highupinaderelicttowerblock.HehadafeelingthatKasparandthe
othershadgonehecouldhearnothingatallontheothersideofthedoor.Thesilence
wasunnerving.HeknewthatMI6wouldbedoingeverythingtheycould,searchingthecity
forhim,butwhathopedidtheyhaveoffindinghimhere?Hecouldn'topenthewindow.
Theroomwasempty.Therewasnowayhecouldattractanyone'sattention.Foroncehe
reallydidseemtobecompletelyhelpless.
Andthenhesmelledit.Seepingthroughthefloorboards,comingfromsomewheredeepin
theheartofthebuilding.Burning.
Theyhadsetfiretothetowerblock.Alexknewitevenbeforehesawthefirstgreywisps
ofsmokecreepingunderthedoor.Theyhaddousedtheplacewithpetrol,setitalightand
lefthimnailedinsidewhatwouldsoonbetheworld'sbiggest
funeralpyre.Foramomenthefeltpanicblackandirresistibleasitengulfedhim.More
smokewascurlingunderthedoor.Alexsprangtohisfeetandbackedovertothewindow,
wonderingiftherewassomewayhecouldknockouttheglass.Butthatwouldn'thelphim.
Heforcedhimselftoslowdown,tothink.Hewasn'tgoingtoletthemkillhim.Onlyeleven
daysago,apaidassassinhadfireda.22calibrebulletathisheart.Buthewasstillalive.
Hewasn'teasytokill.
Therewerejusttwowaysoutoftheroom:thedoorandthewindow.Bothofthosewere
obviouslyhopeless.Butwhataboutthewalls?Theyweremadeofhardboardandplaster.
Intheflatwherehehadbeeninterrogated,theyhadbeenknockedthrough.Maybehe
coulddothesamehere.Experimentallyheranhishandsoverthem,pushingandprobing,
searchingforanyweakspots.Histhroatwassoreandhiseyeswerebeginningtowater.
Moreandmoresmokewaspouringin.Hestoodback,thenlashedoutinakaratekick,his
footsmashingintothecentreofthewall.Painshotuphislegandthroughhisbody.The
walldidn'tevencrack.
Thatjustlefttheceiling.Alexrememberedthecorridoroutside.Ithadbeenmissingsome
ofitsceilingtilesandhehadseenagapunderneaththepipesandwiresthatranabove.
Theceilinginthisroomwascoveredwiththesametiles.
Andtheyhadlefthimachair.
Hedraggeditovertothecornernearestthedoorandstoodonit.Thefloorhadalmost
disappearedbeneathaswirlingcarpetofsmoke.Itseemedtobereachingupasifit
wantedtograbholdanddevourhim.Alexcheckedhisbalance,thenpunchedupwards
withtheheelofhishand.Thetilesweremadeofsomesortoffibreboardandbrokeeasily.
Hepunchedagain,thentoreattheedgesoftheholehehadmade.Dirtanddebris
showereddown,almostblindinghim.Butwhenhenextlookeduphesawthattherewasa
spaceabovehim.Ifhecouldreach,hecouldhaulhimselfup,overthedoorandjump
downtheotherside.
Herippedoutmoretilesuntiltheholewaswideenoughtosqueezethrough.Hecould
hearsomethingafewfloorsbelowhim afaintcrackling.Thesoundmadehisskincrawl.
Itmeantthatthefirewasgettingclose.Heforcedhimselftoconcentrateonwhathewas
doing.Thechairwaswobblingunderneathhim.Ifhefellandtwistedanankle,hewas
finished.
Atlasthewasready.Hetensedhimself,thenjumped.Hefeltthechairtoppleandcrashto
thefloorbuthehaddoneit!Hishandshadcaughtholdofanoldwaterpipeandnowhe
wasdanglingjustbelowtheceiling,hisarmsdisappearingintothespaceabove.Once
againhewasalltooawareofthestitchesinhischestandwonderedbrieflyiftheywould
hold.God!Thephysiopeoplehadtoldhimheoughttokeepuphisstretchingexercises,
buthedoubtedthey'dhadthisinmind.
Grittinghisteeth,Alexsummonedallhisstrengthtopullhimselfupintothecavity.His
facepassedthroughacobwebandhegrimacedasthefinestrandslacedthemselves
overhisnoseandmouth.Hisstomachtouchedtheedgeofthehole.Hewashalfinand
halfoutoftheroom.Thecrawlspacewasinfrontofhim.Thewallwiththedoorwas
underneathhim.Dozensofwiresandinsulatedpipesraninchesabovehishead,
stretchingintothedistance.Duststunghiseyes.Whatnow?
Alexdraggedhimselfalongthepipe,bringinghisfeetupintotheceilingrecess.Hekicked
downwithhisheels.Moreceilingtilesfelllooseandhesawthecorridorbelow.Therewas
adropofaboutfourmetres.Awkwardlyheswunghimselfforward,thenlethislegsand
torsohang.Finallyheletgo.Hedroppeddown,landinginacrouch.Hewasinthe
corridor,ontheothersideofthelockeddoor.Withasighofrelief,hestraightenedup.He
wasoutoftheroombuthewasatleastsevenfloorsupinanabandonedbuildingthathad
beensetonfire.Hewasn'tsafeyet.
Thecracklingoftheflameswaslouderoutinthecorridor.Theblockofflatshadseemed
dampandmustytoAlexbutitwasgoinguplikeatorch.Hecouldfeeltheheatintheair.
Theendofthecorridorwherehehadbeeninterrogatedwasalreadyshimmeringinthe
heathaze.Wherewasthefirebrigade?Surelysomeonemusthaveseenwhatwas
happening.Alexnoticedafirealarmsetinthewall,buttheglasswasalreadybrokenand
thealarmbuttonwasmissing.Hewouldhavetogetoutofhereonhisown.
Whichway?Heonlyhadtwochoicesleftorrightandhedecidedtoheadawayfrom
theinterrogationroom.Hehadn'tseenastaircasewhenhehadbeentakentheretomeet
Kaspar,buttheremightbeoneintheotherdirection.Smoketrickledupthroughthe
floorboards.Ithungeerilyinthedoorways.Soonitwouldbeimpossibletosee.Verysoon
itwouldbeimpossibletobreathe.
Hesprintedpastthefirstroomwherehehadbeenheldandcontinueddownthecorridor,
passingasetofliftdoors.Hedidn'teventhinkabouttryingthelift.Nothinginthebuilding
workedandthedoorswereweldedshut.Butnexttothelifthefoundwhathewaslooking
for:astaircaseleadingupanddown.Thestepsweremadeofconcrete,zigzagginground
behindtheliftshaft.Herestedhishandbrieflyonthemetalstairrail.
Itwashot.Thefirewasnear.
Buthehadnochoice.Hebegantorundown,hisbarefeetslappingagainstthecement.
Hewouldjusthavetohopehedidn'tcomeacrossanybrokenglass.Thereweretwenty
fivestepsbetweeneachfloorhecountedthemwithoutmeaningto.Heturnedacorner
andsawadoorleadingintoasmokefilledcorridor.Definitelynowayoutthere.
Thefurtherdownhewent,theworseitgot.Twentyfivemorestepsandhecameto
anotherdoor.Thecorridorontheothersidewaswellalight.Therewerebrilliantredand
orangeflames,tearingintothewalls,leapingupthroughthefloor,devouringeverythingin
theirpath.Alexwasshockedbytheirspeedandelementalstrength.Hehadtoputupa
handtoprotecthimself,tostophischeeksfromburning.
Hecontinueddown.ForceThreehadstartedtheblazeonthegroundfloor,allowingthe
airtocarrytheflamesupwards.AsAlexreachedthethirdfloorandbeganthenextflightof
stepsdown,hecouldbarelybreathe.Thesmokewassmotheringhim.Hewishedhe'd
thoughttosoakhisshirtinwater,tocoverhiseyesandmouth.Butwherewouldhehave
foundwaterinthebuildinganyway?Anothertwentyfivesteps.Thenanother.Alexwas
choking.Hecouldfeelthesweatdrippingdownhissides.Itwaslikebeinginsideagiant
oven.Howmuchfurther?
Hesawdaylight.Adoorleadingoutontothestreet.
AndthatwaswhenCombatJacketappeared,anightmarecreature,steppingoutof
nowhereasifinslowmotion,hisgunraisedinfrontofhim.Alexsawthemuzzleflashand
threwhimselfbackwardsasabulletshotpastcentimetresabovehim.Helanded
awkwardlyonthestairsandhewasalreadyrollingasasecondbulletspatintothe
concrete,sendingfragmentsofcementflyingintothesideofhisface.Somehowhe
scrambledtohisfeetandbegantoclimbupagain.CombatJacketfiredtwicemorebutfor
abriefmoment,thesmokewasonAlex'sside,andthebulletsmissed.Alexturneda
corner.Hedidn'tstopuntilhewasbackonthefirstfloor.
Hefeltsickamixtureoffuryanddespair.He'dalmostmadeit.WhatwasCombatJacket
doingthere,waitingforhim?HadheguessedthatAlexmightsomehowmanageto
escape?Itmadenosense.Buthecouldn'tthinkaboutitnow.Hewasstilltrappedinsidea
burningbuildingandhewasrapidlyrunningoutofoptions.Itwasgettingharderand
hardertobreathe.Helookedalongthecorridor.Itwasafurnace.Hecouldn'tgothatway.
Hecouldn'tgodown.Thatonlyleftup.
Wearily,hestartedtoclimb.Hemadeittothesecondfloorwithjustsecondstospare.As
hecontinuedup,therewasasuddenrushofflamesandacrashaspartoftheceiling
collapsed.Burningwood,metalandglasscascadeddown.Thefirehadreachedthe
stairs:nowthewaydownwaspermanentlyblocked.Hewouldhavetotrytomakeittothe
roof.Perhapshewouldbelucky.Thepoliceandfirebrigadewouldbeontheway.There
mightbehelicopters.
Alexkeptclimbing.Hishandswereblackhisfacewasstreakedwithtears.Buthedidn't
stop.Attheveryworst,hewoulddieintheopenair.Hewasn'tgoingtoletthefirefinish
himhere.
Hewasnolongercountingthesteps.Hislegswereachingandthebandagesaroundhis
chesthadcomeloose.Heranpasttheeighthfloorwithagrowingsenseofdespair.This
waswherehehadbegun.Forcinghimselfon,hecontinuedtoclimb,pasttheninth,the
tenth...eleventh...twelfth...Hewasawareoftheflameschasinghim,fillingthestairwell,
lickingathisheels.Itwasasifthefireknewhewasthereandwasafraidoflosinghim.At
lasthecametoasoliddoorwithametalpushmechanism.Heslammedhispalmsagainst
it,terrifieditwouldbelocked.Butthedoorswungopen.Thecooleveningairrushedto
greethim.Thesunhadsetbuttheskywasabrilliantred,thesamecolourasthefirethat
wouldbewithhimalltoosoon.
Alexwasclosetoexhaustion.Hehadbarelyeatenallday.Hewasmeanttobeinbed.He
almostwantedtocrybutinsteadheswore,once,shoutingouttheuglyword.Thenhe
wipedagrimysleeveacrosshisfaceandlookedaround.
Hewasontheroof,fifteenstoreysup.Hecouldseeawatertankinfrontofhimanda
brickbuildingthathousedthecablesforthelifts.Well,therewerenoworkingliftsand
therewasprobablynowatereither,soneitherofthemwouldhelp.Atsomestagebuilders
musthavecarriedoutsomeworkuphere.Theyhadleftafewlengthsofscaffoldingand
plasticpipingaswellasacementmixerandtwosteelbuckets,bothhalffilledwithcement
thathadlongagodriedandsolidified.Alexrantotheedgeoftheroof,searchingforafire
escapedown.Hecouldfeelthetarmacagainstthesolesofhisfeet.Itwasalreadyhot.
Soonitwouldbegintomelt.
Therewasnofireescape.Therewasnowaydown.Hecouldseethestreetfarbelow.No
cars.Nopedestrians.HewasinsomesortofindustrialdistrictineastLondon.Thewhole
arealookedlikeitwascordonedoff,waitingforthemoneythatwouldmake
redevelopmentpossible.Thebuildingoppositewasidenticaltothisone,similarly
condemned.Itstoodlessthanfiftymetresaway,connectedbythebannerthatAlexhad
seenwhenhewokeup.
HORNCHURCHTOWERS
SOONTOBEANEXCITINGNEWDEVELOPMENTFOREASTLONDON.
Ifhehadcomehereinayear'stime,hemighthavefoundhimselfstandingonthebalcony
ofafabulouspenthouseflat.Alextookintheview.HecouldseetheRiverThamesinfront
ofhim.TheMillenniumDome,unwantedandunloved,satonaspuroflandwiththewater
bendingroundit.Aplanedippedoutofthesky,makingforCityAirport,whichhecould
seeoverhisshoulder.Alexraisedhisarm,wavingforattention,butheknewatoncethat
itwasnogood.Theplanewastoohighup.Itwasalreadytoodark.Andthesmokewas
toothick.
Hehurriedbacktothedoor.Hewouldhavetoheaddownagainandhopethattheupper
corridorswerestillpassable.Maybehecouldtrytheothersideofthebuilding.Hepulled
thedooropencarefully.ItseemedimpossiblethatCombatJacketwouldhavefollowed
himallthewayup,buthewasn'ttakinganychances.Butasthedoorswungwide,he
realizedthatCombatJacketwastheleastofhisproblems.
Afistofflamepunchedathim.Thestairshadbecomeaninferno.Atthesamemoment,
therewasanexplosionandAlexwashurledbackwardsbyathousandfragmentsof
burning,splinteredwoodwhichhadbeenblastedupfrombelow.Helandedpainfullyon
hisback,andwhenhenextlookeduphesawthatthedooritselfwasnowonfire.Itwas
theonlywayofftheroof.Hewastrapped.
Alexstoodup.Thetarmacwasdefinitelygettinghotter.Hecouldnolongerstaytoolong
ononefoot.Blacksmokewaspouringoutofthestairwell,billowingintothesky.Nowhe
heardthesoundhehadbeenhopingforthewailofsirens.Butheknewthatbythetime
theygottohim,itwouldbetoolate.Therewasanotherexplosionbelowhim.The
windowswerebeginningtoshatter,unabletotaketheheat.Nowaydown.Whatcouldhe
do?Thebanner.
Itwastwentymetreslong,aboutahundredmetresabovetheground,alifelinebetween
thisbuildingandthenext.TheadvertisementforHornchurchTowerswassuspended
betweentwosteelcablesthetopcablewaslevelwiththeroof,boltedintothebrickwork.
Alexranovertoit.Couldhestandonthelowercableandholdontothehigherone?It
wouldbelikeaswingbridgeinthejungle.Hecouldslowlyinchhiswayacrosstotheother
sideandsafety.Butthecablesweretoofarapartandthematerialwasflappinginthe
wind.Itwouldknockhimoffbeforehewasevenhalfway.
Couldhesomehowcrawlacrossonhishandsandknees?No.Thecablewasabouttwo
centimetresthick.Itwasn'twideenoughtosupporthim.Hewouldlosehisbalanceand
fall.Thatwascertain.Sohow?Theanswercametohiminaninstant.Everythinghe
neededwasthereinfrontofhim.Butitonlyworkedwhenheputitalltogether.Couldhe
doit?
Anotherwindowshattered.Behindhim,theexithaddisappearedinawhirlwindofflames
andsmoke.Hewasstandingonagianthotplateanditwasbecomingmoreunbearable
witheverypassingsecond.Alexcouldseethefireengines,thesizeoftoys,speeding
alongabouthalfamileaway.Hehadtotry.Therewasnootherway.
Hesnatcheduponeofthelengthsofplasticpiping,weighingitinhishands.Itwasabout
sixmetreslongandlightenoughforhimtocarrywithoutfeelinganystrain.Hehadto
makeitheavier.Movingmorequickly,heexaminedthesteelbuckets.Theywerehalffull
ofhardenedcement,andweighedaboutthesame.Somehowhehadtoattachthemto
thepiping.Buttherewasnorope.Hechokedandwipedsweatandtearsfromhiseyes.
Whatcouldheuse?Thenhelookeddownandsawthebandagesflappingaroundhis
chest.Hegrabbedanendandbegantotearthemoff.Sixtysecondslaterhewasready.It
wasIanRiderhehadtothank,ofcourse.AvisittoacircusinViennasixyearsagowhen
Alexwasonlyeight.Ithadbeenhisbirthday.Andhestillrememberedhisfavouriteact.
Thetightropewalkers.
"Funambulism,"IanRidersaid.
"What'sthat?"
"It'sLatin,Alex.Funismeansrope.Andambulareistowalk.Funambulismistheartof
tightropewalking."
"Isitdifficult?"
"Well,it'saloteasierthanitlooks.Notmanypeoplerealizeit,butthere'satrick
involved..."
Alexliftedtheplasticpole,themiddlepressedagainsthischest,aboutthreemetres
stretchingouteachside.Therewasaheavysteelbucketattachedtoeachend,tiedin
placewithatornbandage.Everysecondhewaitedhecouldfeeltheheatincreasing.His
soleswerealreadyblisteringandheknewhecouldn'twaitanymore.Hewalkedtothe
edgeoftheroof.Themetalcablerunningabovetheadvertisementstretchedoutintothe
distance.Suddenlytheothertowerblockseemedaverylongwayaway.Hetriednotto
lookdown.Heknewthatwouldmakeitimpossibleforhimeventobegin.
Thiswashowitwasmeanttowork.ThiswaswhatIanRiderhadexplained.
Thewireactsasanaxis.Ifyoutrytowalkacrossthewire,youwillfallthemomentthat
yourcentreofmassisnotdirectlyaboveit.Onewobbleandgravitywilldotherest.
Butalongpoleincreaseswhatiscalledtherotationalinertiaofthetightropeartist.It
makesitmoredifficulttofall.Andifyouaddenoughweighttoeachend,youwillactually
shiftyourcentreofgravitybelowthewire.ThiswaswhatAlexhaddonewiththetwo
buckets.Providedhedidn'tdropthepole,hewouldfinditalmostimpossibletolosehis
balance.Hehadseentoysthatworkedonthesameprinciple.Itshouldbeeasy.
Atleast,thatwasthetheory.Alextookastep.Hehadonefootontheveryedgeofthe
brickworkandonefootonthemetalcable.Allhehadtodowasleanforward,transferring
hisweightfromonefoottotheother,andhewouldbewalkingthetightrope.Ifthelawsof
physicsworked,hewouldmakeitacross.Iftheydidn't,hewoulddie.Itwasassimpleas
that.
Hetookadeepbreathandlaunchedhimselfoffthebuilding.
Hecouldfeelthepoleflexingasthebucketshungdown,oneoneachside.Foraterrifying
momenttheworldseemedtolurchsidewaysandhewascertainhewasabouttofall.But
heforcedhimselfnottopanic.Heclutchedthepolemoretightlyagainsthischestand
focusedonthecableaheadofhim.Brieflyheclosedhiseyes,willinghimselfnottofight
forbalance,toletthelawsofphysicsguidehim.
Anditworked.Hewasn'tfalling.Hecouldfeelthecablecuttingintohisfeetbut
miraculouslyhewasstable.Nowhowmanystepstotheotherside?Theflameswere
warminghisback.Itwastimetomove.Onestepafteranother,hemadehiswayacross.
Hewantedtolookdown.Everynerveinhisbodywasscreamingathimtodojustthat,
andhisneckandspinewererigidwithtension.Butthatwastheonethinghemustnotdo.
HetriedtoimaginethathewasbackonthesportsfieldatBrooklandSchool.Hehad
walkedalongthepaintedwhitelinesoftenenough.Thiswasexactlythesamejustabit
higherup.
Hewasabouthalfwayacrosswhenthingsbegantogowrong.Andtheywentwrong
spectacularly.
First,thepoliceandfireenginesarrived.Alexheardthescreamsofthesirensdirectly
beneathhimand,beforehecouldstophimself,helookeddown.Itwasamistake.Hewas
nolongerwalkingacrossasportsfield.Hewasstandingonawire,insanelyfarabovethe
ground.Hesawpeopleinuniformpointingupathimandshoutinghecouldjustabout
heartheirvoices.Oneofthefiretruckswasextendingitsladdertowardshimbuthe
doubteditwouldreachhimintime.
Thewholeworldbegantospin.Hefeltarushofpanicthatseemedtodissolveevery
muscleinhisbodyandlefthimsoweakthathethoughthewouldfaint.Atthesametime,
thewindroseandthebannerbegantoflutterlikethesailofayacht,thecableswaying
fromsidetoside.Alexknewthatonlytheweightsontheendsofthepolewerekeeping
himupright.Hewasparalysed.Therewasnothinghecoulddo.
Andthatwaswhentherooftopexploded.Theflameshadfinallybrokenfree.Afireball
burstthroughthetarmac.Thepoliceandfiremendivedforcoverasbricksandpiecesof
metalraineddown.Thewholetowerblockwasclosetocollapse.Alexfeltavibration
travelupthroughhisbodyandrealizedwithhorrorthatthemetalstanchionholdingthetop
cablewasabouttocomeloose.Hecouldn'twaitforthefirementoreachhim.Hehad
perhapssecondsleft.
Theshockoftheexplosionbrokehisparalysis.Alexran,pushingagainstthepole,likea
sprinterbreakingthroughthefinishingline.Thebucketsswungmadly,heldfastbythe
bandages.Anotherexplosion,louderthistime.Hedidn'tdarelook
round.
Theotherbuildingwasgettingnearerbutitstillwasn'tnearenough.Hisarmswere
aching,barelyabletoholdtheheavyweight.Thecablewascuttingintohisfeet.Hewas
beingbatteredbythewind.Hewasn'tgoingtomakeit.Andthenthecablesnapped.Alex
heardasoundlikeacrackofawhipandknewthathislifelinehadbeensevered.Witha
cry,hedroppedthepoleandthrewhimselfforward,reachingoutfortheroofjustafew
metresaway.Thecableandthebannercrumpledunderhisfeet.Hishandsmissedthe
edgeofthebuildingandhebegantoplungedown.Butnowhewastangledupwiththe
banneritwasfoldingitselfaroundhim.Alexgrabbedholdofthematerialandgaspedas
hecrashedintothewall.Hisfeetweredanglinginspace.Thecablewasunravelling
beneathhim.Butitwasstillattachedtotherooftopjustafewmetresabovehishead.Alex
waiteduntilhewassurenothingelsewasmoving.Then,painfully,hebegantopull
himselfup.
Twoofthefiremenhadmanagedtoreachtheroof.Theywerestandingthere,watchingas
thebuildingoppositecompleteditsspectacularcollapse.Theyheardanoiseandlooked
down.Aboyhadjustcrawledupovertheedge,rightbytheirfeet.Hisshirtwasinrags,
andafewtatteredbandagestrailedfromhischest.Hisfaceandhandswerecoveredin
soot.Hishairwasblackwithsweat.
"Whatthe...?"Theygrabbedholdofhimandpulledhimtosafety.
Alexsatdownheavily.Hegazedattheremainsofthebuildingwherehehadbeenheld
prisoner.Therewasverylittleofitleft.Sparksleaptintothedarkeningsky.
"Nicenightforawalk,"hesaid,andpassedout.
R&R
JackStarbrightmadethebestscrambledeggsintheworld.Thesecret,shesaid,wasto
useonlyfreerangeeggs,mixthemwithunsaltedbutterandalittlemilkandthengetthe
wholethingoverwithasquicklyaspossible.Shedidn'tenjoycookingandonlyused
recipesthatcouldbepreparedinlessthantenminutes.Thisbreakfast,forexample,
wouldgofromfridgetotableinexactlyeightandahalf.
Sheheapedtheeggsontotwoplates,addedgrilledbacon,tomatoesandtoast,and
carriedthemovertothekitchentablewhereAlexRiderwaswaiting.Itwaseleveno'clock
inthemorningandthetwoofthemwerebackinthehouseinChelseawhereAlexhad
oncelivedwithhisuncle.3ackhadfirstcomethereasastudent,payingforherroomby
lookingafterAlexwhileIanRiderwasaway.Graduallyshehadbecomeasortof
housekeeper.
NowshewasAlex'slegalguardianandalsohisbestfriend.
AlexwaswearingtracksuittrousersandalooseTshirthishairwasstillwetfromthe
shower.TwodayshadpassedsincehisconfrontationwithForceThreeandhewas
alreadylookingalotlikehisoldselfalthoughJacknoticedthathewasstillmassaging
hisleftarm.Sheputtheplatesdownandpouredtwomugsoftea.Neitherofthemspoke.
Alexhadbeentakenstraightbacktohospitalafterhisdramaticescape.Noneofthe
firemencouldbelievewhattheyhadseen,andassumedtheyhadbeensenttorescue
someonewhohadtrainedatthecircus.Onceagain,MI6hadbeenforcedtoclampdown
onthepressreports.PhotographsofAlexonthewirehadappearedinnewspapersall
overtheworld,buthehadbeentoofarawaytoberecognizedandhisnamewaskeptout
ofit.Anambulancehadrushedhim awaybeforeanyjournalistsarrived,andbyteno'clock
thatnighthewasbackinhisoldbedatStDominic's.Hefellasleepatonce.
Thenextmorning,hewaswokenbythenurseDianaMeachercomingintohisroom.
"Howareyoufeeling?"sheasked.
"Tired,"Alexreplied.
"Wasthatreallyyouontheroof?Isawitonthenewslastnight."Shewentovertothe
windowand
raisedtheblinds."Everyone'stalkingaboutitalthoughwe'veallbeentoldwe'renot
allowedto."Shecamebacktothebedandslippedathermometerintohismouth."And
thosemenwhobrokein!Weallknowwhatyoudidandwethinkyou'reincrediblybrave."
"'Ankyou,"Alexsaidwithdifficulty."I'dwatchout,though,ifIwereyou.DrHayward's
hoppingmad.Hesayshedidn'tspendhoursoperatingonyoujustforyoutogetnearly
killedasecondtime.He'llbehereshortly."Sheremovedthethermometerandexamined
it."Yourtemperature'snormal,thoughI'dsayit'stheonlythingaboutyouthatis!"
Laterthatmorning,DrHaywardcameinandhecertainlyseemedlessthancheerful.He
gaveAlexathoroughcheckup,startingwithhisbloodpressureandpulserateand
movingontoexaminehiswound.Hebarelyspokeawordashedidit.
"It'sluckythatyoukeepyourselffit,"heremarkedatlast.Helookedandspokelikealong
sufferingheadmaster."Allthoseshenaniganscouldhavecausedyouseriousdamage,but
itlooksasifyourstitcheshaveheldandyou'regenerallyinonepiece.""WhencanIgo
home?"
"We'lljustkeepyouhereuntiltheendoftheday.I'mafraidthepeopleyouworkforwant
tospeaktoyou."
"Idon'tworkforanyone,"Alexsaid.
"Well...youknowwhoImean.Anyway,there'salwaysachanceyoursystemwillreact
againstthebeatingyou'vegivenit.SoIwantyoutostayinbedtodayandI'llcomeinand
haveanotherlookatyouaftertea."
Hestoodup."Andonelastthing,Alex.I'mgoingtoprescribeyouatleasttwoweeks'rest
andrecuperation.Iabsolutelyinsistonit."
"CanIgobacktoschool?"
"I'mafraidnot.Oustoveraweekagoyouwerehavingmajorsurgery.Iknowyou'vemade
anamazingrecoverybuttherearestillallsortsofrisksinfectionandalltherestofit.Two
weeks'holiday,Alex.Andnoarguments!"
DrHaywarddepartedandAlexwasleftonhisown.Tokillsometime,hewentforawalk
downthecorridoV,pastroomeight.Itwasempty.NobodyhadmentionedPaulDrevinand
itseemedthattheotherboyhadgone.
Thereisnothingworsethanbeinginhospitalwhenyoudon'tfeelyouneedtobethere,
andbyeleveno'clockAlexwasinabadmood.Jackrangandhetoldhernottocomein
hewouldseeherwhenshecametocollecthim.Hisnextvisitorarrivedjustbeforelunch.
Itwasn'tthepersonhehadexpected.
HehadrealizedthatMI6wouldwanttoknowwhathadhappenedatHornchurchTowers
andthattheywouldsendsomeonetodebriefhim.HehadexpectedMrsJones.But
insteaditwasJohnCrawley
whoarrived,dressedinanastyblueblazerwithacrestonthepocket,andholdingabox
ofRoseschocolates.Crawleyhadonceclaimedtobeapersonnelmanager,andAlexstill
wasn'tquitesurewhathedidatMI6.Hewasinhislatethirtieswiththinninghairanda
ratherworriedlookingface.Helookedlikethesortofmanwhocountedpaperclipsand
kepthispencilsinaspecialdrawer.
Hesatdownbythebed."Gotyouthese,"hesaid,handingoverthechocolates.
"Thankyou,MrCrawley."Nowthathewascloser,Alexcouldseethatthebadgeonthe
jacketbelongedtoRoyalTunbridgeWellsGolfandCroquetClub.
"MrsJonesapologizedfornotcomingherself.She'sinBerlin.Sheaskedmetofindout
what'sbeengoingon.Thepolicewantedtotalktoyoutoo,butI'vehadawordwiththem
andtheywon'tbebotheringyou.Howareyoufeeling,bytheway?Wewereallvery
shockedbywhathappened.IhadaruninwithScorpiaabouttenyearsagoanditnearly
didforme.Anyway,let'sgetbacktoForceThree.Whatexactlyhappened?"
Crawleytookoutaminiaturetaperecorderandlaiditonthebed.Quickly,Alextookhim
throughtheevents,startingwiththemomentthefourmenhadwalkedintothehospital.It
occurredtohimthatCrawleyhadletslipalittleclueabouthispast.Hetoohadfought
againstScorpia.Hadheoncebeenafieldagenthimself?Alexdescribed
thefightinthehospital,hismeetingwithKasparinthederelictflat,theransomdemand
andhisescapefromthefire.CrawleyblinkedseveraltimesasAlexspokebutdidn't
interrupt.
"Well,that'squiteanadventure,"hecommented,whenAlexhadfinished."Iremember
whenyouandIfirstmet.Icouldseestraightawayyouweresomethingspecial.Iknew
yourfather.Iwasn'tallowedtotellyouthatbefore.Iworkedwithhimacoupleoftimes."
"Inthefield?"
"Yes.Thatwasbefore..."Crawleyranahandthroughhishair."Well,Igothurtandhadto
stop.Butyou'rejustlikehim.Remarkable.Anyway,IhaveafewquestionsandthenI'll
leaveyouinpeace."Hehadturnedthetaperecorderoffnowheswitcheditbackon.
"Themanwhointerrogatedyou.YousayhecalledhimselfKaspar.Canyoudescribe
him?"
"That'seasy,MrCrawley.Hehasn'tgotthesortoffaceyou'dforget."
"Tattoos?"
"Yes."Alexdescribedthemanwhohadcomesoclosetoremovinghislittlefinger.
"AndhedefinitelytoldyouthatherepresentedForceThree."
"Yes.Hetalkedalotaboutglobalwarmingandthatsortofthing."
"Iwouldhavesaidheratheraddedtoitbysettingfiretothebuilding."
"Ithoughtsotoo."
"Whatelsecanyoutellmeabouthim?Didhespeakwithanaccent?"
Alexthoughtback."Idon'tthinkhewasEnglish.HemighthavehadaslightFrench
accent.I'mnotsure."
Crawleynodded."Justonemorequestion.Theotherthreemeninthetowerblock.You
callthem CombatJacket,SpectaclesandSilverTooth.Didyouhearanynames?""No.
I'mafraidnot."
"Thankyou,Alex."Crawleypressedabuttononthetaperecorder.Therewasaclickasit
stoppedturning.
"SowhoisKaspar?WhoareForceThree?Whatwasitallabout?""It'salongstory.""I'm
notgoinganywhere.""Well,"Crawleybegan."Let'sstartwithNikoleiDrevin.Isuppose
youknowwhoheis."
"I'veheardofhim.He'saRussianmultimillionaire."
"BorninRussia,yes.Buthe'smoreofamultibillionaire,asamatteroffact.Anabsolutely
wonderfulman.HelivesinEnglandalotofthetime,andhe'smadeitclearthathelikesto
thinkofhimselfasEnglish.""Heboughtafootballclub.""StratfordEast.That'sright.
Nobodyhadeverheardofthembuthe'sforkedoutforsomeofthe
bestplayersintheworldandnowthey'reinthePremiership.Hehasahugeplacein
Oxfordshire,apenthousenearTowerBridgeandhousesallovertheworld.Heevenhas
hisownislandoutintheCaribbean.FlamingoBay.That'swherethelaunchestakeplace."
"ArkAngel,"Alexsaid.
"ArkAngelisthenameofthespacehotelthathe'sbuilding.It'sbeingputtogetherpiece
bypiece,andhehastosendrocketsupeverynowandthenwiththenextcomponent.
Youmaynotknowthis,Alex,buttheBritishgovernmentarepartnersintheprojectandit
meansagreatdealtothem.Thefirsthotelinspaceandit'llbeflyingaBritishflag!Ten
yearsfromnow,commercialspacetravelwillbeareality.Infact,italreadyis.An
Americanbusinessmanhasalreadygoneintoouterspace.Paidtwentymilliondollarsfor
theprivilege.OnceArkAngelisupandrunning,morewillfollow.Themostpowerfuland
influentialpeopleintheworldwillbequeuingupfortickets,andwe'llbetheones
supplyingthem."
"Kasparmentionedouterspace,"Alexsaid."Hedidn'tseemtoohappyabouttheidea."
"Kasparisafanatic,"Crawleyreplied."It'struethatafewwildbirdsgotwipedouton
FlamingoBaywhenthelaunchpadwassetup.Asamatteroffact,therearen'tany
flamingosthereanymore.FriendsoftheEarthandtheWorldWildlifeFundgotabitupset
aboutit,butyoudon'tseethem
goingaroundmurderingpeople.ForceThree'sadifferentmatter."
"Whatdoyouknowaboutthem?"
Crawleyscowled."Notalot.Beforethisyear,nobodyhadeverheardofthem.Thena
womaninGermanywroteanarticleabouttheminDerSpiegelandafewdayslatershe
wasshotinthestreet.ThesamethinghappenedinLondonjustoveraweekago.Achap
bythenameofMaxWebberdenouncedthemataconferenceoninternationalsecurity
andgotblownupasaresult.We'relookingintobothdeathsrightnowthat'swhyMrs
JonesisinBerlin.ForceThreeseemstobesomethingquitenew.Ecoterrorists...I
supposethat'swhatyou'dcallthem.It'sallveryalarming."
"WhataboutKaspar?"
"Apartfromwhatyou'vetoldus,wehardlyknowanythingabouthim."
"Well,heshouldbeeasyenoughtocatch."ItwassomethingthathadpuzzledAlexfrom
thestart.Thetattoos."Withafacelikehis,you'llbeabletospothimamileaway."
"Atleastweknowwhatwe'relookingfor.AsforDrevin,hecantakecareofhimself,I
imagine.He'sgotplentyofsecurityoutonFlamingoBay.OurrealworryisthatForce
ThreemighthaveacrackatArkAngel.They'vealreadyblownupacarmanufacturing
plant,aresearchcentreandquiteafewotherinstallations.Ofcourse,they'llhavetheir
workcutout.Afterall,ArkAngelisthreehundred
milesupinouterspace.Butnoneofthisisanyconcernofyours."
Crawleystoodup."Youdidasuperbjob,Alex,"hesaid."I'msureDrevinisenormously
grateful.Iwouldn'tbesurprisedifalargechequedidn'tturnupinthepost.Atthevery
least,youmightgetacoupleofticketstoseeStratfordEastplay."
"Idon'twantacheque,"Alexsaid."Ijustwanttogohome."
"Ihearthedoctorsaysyoucanleavethisevening."Crawleyslidthetaperecorderintohis
pocket."I'vestayedlongenough,"hesaid."Verygoodtoseeyou,Alex.I'msurewe'll
meetagain."
I'msurewe'llmeetagain.
Alexrememberedthewordsnowasheatehisscrambledeggs.DidCrawleyreallythink
hewouldeverworkforMI6again?Ifsohewasverymuchmistaken.Thestrangething
was,hecouldthinkofdozensofboysatBrooklandSchoolwhoprobablydreamtabout
beingaspy.They'dimagineitwouldbefun.Alexhaddiscoveredtheunpleasantreality.
He'dbeenhurt,threatened,manipulated,shotat,beatenupandalmostkilled.He'dfound
himselfinaworldwherehecouldn'tbelieveanybodyandwherenothingwasquitewhatit
seemed.Andhe'dhadenough.IntwoyearshewouldbetakinghisGCSEs.Fromnowon
hewasgoingtokeephisheaddown,andthenexttimefourterroristkidnappers
brokeintoahospitalhe'dsimplyturnoverandgobacktosleep!
JackStarbrighthadalmostfinishedeatingandAlexrealizedshehadn'tsaidawordsince
shehadsatdown.She'dbeenveryquietwhenshepickedhimupfromhospitaltoo.
"Jack,areyouangrywithme?"heasked."No,"shesaid.Butthesinglewordtoldhimthe
exactopposite.
Alexputdownhisknifeandfork."I'msorry."Jacksighed."Idon'tknowwhattosaytoyou,
Alex,"shesaid."I'mnotsureIcanlookafteryouanymore."
"AreyougoingbacktoAmerica?""No!Idon'tknow."Shelookedathimsadly."Youhave
noideawhatit'sbeenlikeformerecently.Firstyoutellmeyou'regoingonvacationin
Venice.ThenextthingIknow,you'vegotcaughtupwithsomeinternationalbandof
criminalsandthenyougetshot.HowdoyouthinkIfeltwhentheytoldme?Butsomehow
youpullthroughandyou'reinhospital,andanyotherkidwouldjuststaythereandget
better.Butnotyou!Youhavetotakeonagangofkidnappersandnearlygetkilledallover
again."
"Itwasn'tmyfault,"Alexprotested."Itjusthappened."
"Iknow.That'swhatItellmyself.Butthefactis,Ifeelcompletelyuseless."Shefellsilent.
"AndIdon'twanttobesittingherenexttimewhen
theytellmeyoudidn'tmakeit.Icouldn'tbearthat."
Alexwentovertoher."Thereisn'tgoingtobeanexttime,"hesaid."Andyou'renot
useless,Jack.Idon'tknowwhatI'ddowithoutyou.There'snooneelsetolookafterme.
Andit'snotjustthat.Isometimesthinkyou'retheonlypersonwhoreallyknowsme.Ionly
feelnormalwhenI'mwithyou."
Jackstoodupandgavehimahug."Justmyluck,"shesaidruefully."Allthefourteen
yearoldsintheworld,andIenduplookingafteryou."
Thephoneranginthehall.
"I'llgetit,"shesaid.
Alextooktheplatesovertothedishwasherandbegantostackthem.Abouttwominutes
later,Jackcamebackin.Therewasanoddlookonherface.
"Whowasit?"heasked.
"Itwasforyou.Idon'tbelieveit!ThatwasNikoleiDrevin."
"Heranghimself?"
"Yes.He'sinvitedyoutohaveteawithhimthisafternoon.He'sgivingapressconference
attheWaterfrontHotelandhewantedtoknowifyou'dcomealongandmeethim
afterwards."
"Whatdidyousay?"
"Well,ItoldhimI'daskyouandhesaidhe'dsendacar."Sheshrugged."Iguesshe
expectedyoutosayyes."
Alexthoughtforamoment.MrCrawleyhadsaidthatDrevinwouldprobablygetintouch.
"DoyouthinkIshouldgo?"
Jacksighed."Idon'tknow.Isupposehewantstothankyou.Afterall,yousavedhimone
millionpounds.Andyoustoppedhissongettinghurt."
AlexrememberedPaulOrevin.Hewonderediftheotherboywouldbeatthehotel.
"Icouldcallhimbackandsayyou'retootired,"Jackadded.
Foramoment,Alexwastempted.Thelasttimehe'dmetamultimillionaire,ithadbeen
DamianCrayandtheexperiencehadnearlykilledhim.Ontheotherhand,thiswas
different.Drevinwasatarget.ItwasthemancalledKasparwhowastheenemy.Andit
wasfairenoughthatDrevinshouldwanttomeethimafterwhathadhappened.Alexfelt
awkwardaboutsayingno.
Sometimesit'sthetiniestthingsthatcanmeanthedifferencebetweenlifeanddeath.A
fewcentimetresofkerbhadsavedAlexwhenhesteppedoffthepavementonLiverpool
Streetjustasasniperfiredathim.Nowtwowordsweregoingtodraghimbackintothe
worldhethoughthe'dleftbehind."Let'sgo."
ATTHEWATERFRONT
TheWaterfrontHotelwasbrandnewasilverandglasstowerrisingabovetheThamesat
StKatharine'sDock.Lookinguptheriver,AlexcouldseeTowerBridgewithHMSBelfast
moorednearby.Hedidn'tlooktheotherway.Hewasonlyafewmilesfromwherehe'd
beenheldprisoner.Hedidn'tneedanyreminderofthat.
Behindhim,JackStarbrightsteppedoutoftheordinaryLondontaxithathadbroughtthem
here.Atfirstshehadbeenalittledisgruntled."SowhathappenedtotheRollsRoyce?"
shewonderedoutloud.ButintheendsheagreedthatDrevinhadmadetheright
decision.Thelastthingeitherofthemwantedwastomakeagrandentrance.
Theywalkedintoafoyerwhereeverythingseemedtobewhiteormadeofglass.Ayoung
womanwaswaitingtheretogreetthem.
"Hi,"shesaid."YoumustbeAlexRiderandJack
Starbright.MrDrevinaskedmetolookoutforyou."ShespokewithanAmericanaccent.
"Myname'sTamaraKnight.I'mMrDrevin'spersonalassistant."
Alexcastaneyeoverherastheyshookhands.TamaraKnightwastwentyfive,although
shelookedmuchyounger.Shewasnotmuchtallerthanhewas,withlightbrownhairtied
back,andattractiveblueeyes.Alexfeltthattheformalbusinesssuitandbrightlypolished
leathershoesdidn'tsuither.Healsowishedshe'dsmileabitmore.Shedidn'tlookatall
pleasedtoseehim.
"MrDrevinisstilltiedupwithhispressconference,"sheexplainedassheledthemacross
thecentralatriumofthehotel.Silverandglassliftsroseandfellaroundthem,travelling
silentlyonhiddencables.AgroupofJapanesebusinessmenwalkedacrossthemarble
floor."Hesaidyouwerewelcometolookinifyouwantedto.Oryoucanwaitforhiminhis
privatesuite."
"I'dliketoknowwhatasuitecostshere,"Jackmuttered.
TamaraKnightsmiledcoldly."Itdoesn'tcostMrDrevinanything.Heownsthehotel."
"Let'stakealookatthepressconference,"Alexsaid.
"Ofcourse.He'stalkingaboutArkAngel.I'msureyou'llfinditinteresting."
Sheledthemupawideflightofstairsandalongacorridoruntiltheycametoapairof
smokedglass
doors.Twolargemeninsuitswereguardingthisentrance."We'llslipinattheback,"
Tamarawhispered."Justtakeaseat.Nobodywillnoticeyou."
Shenoddedandoneofthemenopenedthedoors.
Alexwentthroughandfoundhimselfinawide,imposingroomwithlargewindowsgivinga
panoramicviewoftheriver.Therewereaboutahundredjournalistssittinginrowsfacing
alongtableonaplatform.ThewordsARKANGELhadbeenspelledoutinsolidsteel
letters,eachonetwometreshigh,andtherewerephotographsoftheearth,takenfrom
space,suspendedonthinwires.Threepeoplewereseatedbehindthetable.Onewasthe
ministerforscienceandinnovation.Theotherlookedlikesomesortofcivilservant.Alex
didn'trecognizehim.ThemaninthemiddlewasNikoleiDrevin.
Drevinwasunimpressive.ThatwasAlex'sfirstthought.Ifhe'dbumpedintohiminthe
streethemighthavemistakenhimforabankmanageroranaccountant.Drevinwasa
seriouslookingmaninhisfortieswithwatery,greyeyesandhairthathadoncebeenfair
butwasnowfadingtogrey.Hehadbadskintherewasarasharoundhischinandneck
asifhe'dhadtroubleshaving.Allhisclotheshissuit,hisshirtwithitsbuttoneddown
collar,theplainsilktielookedbrandnewandexpensive.Buttheydidnothingforhim.He
worethemwithasmuchstyleasamannequinin
ashopwindow.Alexnoticedagoldwatchononehand.Therewasaringmadeof
platinumorwhitegoldontheother.
Drevinseemeddwarfedbyhissurroundings.Hewasphysicallysmallerthanthetwomen
whoweresharingtheplatformwithhim.Theministerhadbeenansweringaquestion
whenAlexcamein.Drevinwasfidgetingnervously,twistingtheringonhisfinger.Tamara
gesturedtoaseatandAlexsatdown.Theministerfinishedtalkingandtheotherman
lookedaroundforanotherquestion.
Oneofthejournalistsraisedahand."IunderstandthatArkAngelisnowtwomonths
behindscheduleandthreehundredmilliondollarsoverbudget,"hesaid."I'dliketoaskMr
Drevinifhenowregretsgettinginvolved."
"Youaremistaken,"Drevinreplied,andatonceAlexcouldheartheaccentinhisvoice.It
wasmorepronouncedthanhisson'shadbeen.Hespokeslowly,accentuatingeachword.
"ArkAngelisactuallythreehundredmillionpoundsoverbudget.ThisisaBritishproject,
youmustremember."Therewasamurmuroflaughteraroundtheroom.Drevinshrugged.
"Somedifficultiesweretobeexpected,"hewenton."Thisisthemostambitiousbuilding
projectofthetwentyfirstcentury.Afullyfunctioninghotelinspace!ButdoIregretit?Of
coursenot.Whatwearetalkingaboutisthebeginningofspacetourism,thegreatest
adventureofourlifetime.Ahundredyearsfromnow,itwillnot
onlybepossibletotraveltotheedgeoftheuniverse,itwillbecheap!Maybeonedayyour
greatgrandchildrenwillwalkonthemoon.Andtheywillrememberthatitallbeganwith
ArkAngel.Itallbeganhere."
Anotherhandwentup."Howisyourson?Doesitconcernyouthatthepeoplewhotriedto
kidnaphimarestillatlarge?"
JacknudgedAlex.Theyhadarrivedattherighttime.
"Idonotnormallyspeakaboutmyfamily,"Drevinreplied."ButIwillsaythis.Thesepeople
ForceThreeclaimtheyarefightingfortheenvironment.Itistruethatthewildlifeon
FlamingoBaywasdisturbedwhenwelaunchedourfirstrockets,andIverymuchregret
that.ButIhaveonlycontemptforthesepeople.Theytriedtoextortmoneyfromme.They
arecommoncriminalsandIhaveeveryconfidencethattheBritishorEuropeanpolicewill
soonbringthemtojustice."
"Absolutely!"agreedtheminister.
"Wehavetimeforjustonemorequestion,"thesecondmansaid.
Abeardedmansittinginthefrontrowraisedanicotinestainedfinger."Ihaveaquestion,"
hesaid."I'veheardrumoursthatthefederalgovernmentoftheUnitedStatesiscurrently
investigatingMrDrevin.Apparentlythey'relookingintocertainfinancialirregularities.Is
thereanytruthinthat?"
"MrDrevinisnotheretoanswerquestionsabout
hispersonalaffairs."Thecivilservantscowledandtheministernodded.
Drevincutin."It'sallright."Hedidn'tseemconcerned.Helookedthejournaliststraightin
theeye."Iamabusinessman,"hesaid."Iam,youmightagree,afairlysuccessful
businessman."Thatproducedafewsmiles.Everyoneintheroomwasawarethatthey
werebeingaddressedbyoneoftherichestpeopleintheworld."Itisabsolutelytruethat
theCIAarelookingintomyaffairs.Itwouldbesurprisingiftheyweren't.It'stheirjob.
But..."hespreadhishands"Ihavenothingtohideindeed,Iamwillingtoofferthemmy
fullcooperation."Hepaused."Itispossiblethattheywillfindsomeirregularities.Iwentout
tolunchlastweekandforgottokeepthereceipt.Iftheydecidetoprosecutemebecause
ofit,I'llmakesureyou'rethefirsttoknow."
Thistimetherewasreallaughterandevenascatteringofapplause.Themanwiththe
beardblushedandburiedhimselfinhisnotebook.Theotherjournalistsstoodupand
begantofileout.Thepressconferencewasover.
"He'ssuchabrilliantspeaker,"TamaraKnightsaid,andAlexcouldn'tdoubtthe
enthusiasminhervoice.SheledAlexandJackbackthewaythey'dcome,thenacross
theatriumandovertooneofthelifts.Onceinside,sheproducedakey.Thebuildinghad
twentyfivestoreysthekeyactivatedthebuttonforthetopfloor.
Thedoorsclosedandtheywerewhiskedupwardsatspeed.Alexfelthisstomachsinkas
theatriumdisappearedbeneaththem.Twentyfloorsup,theliftenteredasolidshaftand
theviewwasblocked.Anotherfewsecondsandtheysloweddown.Theliftstoppedand
thedoorsslidopen.
Theyhadarrived.
TheywereinahugeroomwithwindowsontwosidesgivingbreathtakingviewsoverSt
Katharine'sDock,theyachtsandcruisersrestingattheirmooringsfarbelow.Tower
Bridgewascloseby.Itlookedunreal,atoyreplica,sittingintheafternoonsun.Alex
lookedaroundhim.TheroomwassimplybutexpensivelyfurnishedwiththreePersian
rugsspreadoverlightwoodfloorboards.Thefurniturewasmodern.Ononesidestooda
diningroomtablewithadozenleatherchairs.AcorridorranpastablackBechsteingrand
pianotoacloseddoorattheend.Therewasasunkenareainthemiddleoftheroomwith
threeoversizedsofasandaglasscoffeetable.Teasandwichesandbiscuitshad
alreadybeenserved.
"Quiteaplace!"Jacksaid.
"ThisiswhereMrDrevinstayswhenhe'sinLondon."TamaraKnightpointedoutofone
window."Youseetheboatthirdfromtheleft?TheCrimeanStar.Thatbelongstohimtoo."
Jackgasped.Thevesselwasgleamingwhite,thesizeofasmalloceanliner."Haveyou
beenonboard?"sheasked.
"Certainlynot.MyworkwithMrDrevindoesn'tallowmetoenterhisprivatequarters,"she
explainedprimly.
JustthenthedoorattheendofthecorridoropenedandNikoleiDrevincamein.It
occurredtoAlexthattheremustbeasecondlift,bringinghimuptoanotherpartofthe
penthouse.Hewasalone,handsclaspedinfrontofhim,hisfingerstuggingatthering.
"Thankyouverymuch,MissKnight,"hesaid."Youcanleaveusnow.""Yes,MrDrevin."
"HaveyoumadethearrangementsforSaturday?""I'veleftthefileonyourdesk,Mr
Drevin.""Good.I'lltalkwithyoulater."TamaraKnightnoddedatAlex."Itwasgoodto
meetyou,"shesaidbutwithoutalotofenthusiasm.Thensheturnedandwalkedback
intothelift.Thedoorsclosedandshewasgone.
Forthefirsttime,NikoleiDrevinseemedtorelax.HewalkeduptoAlexandrestedahand
oneachshoulder,andforasecondAlexwonderedifhewasgoingtokisshim.Instead
Drevinheldhimfirmlyinwhatwasalmostanembrace."You'reAlexRider,"hesaid."Iam
very,veryhappytomeetyou."HeletAlexgoandturnedtoJack."MissStarbright."He
shookhandswithher."Iamsogladyouwereabletocome.Please,willyousitdown?"He
ledthemtothesofasandpickeduptheteapot."Tea?"heasked."Thankyou."
Nobodyspokewhilehepoured.Atlasthesatbackandstudiedhistwoguests."Icannot
tellyouhowgratefulIam,Alex,"hesaid."AlthoughIhopeyouwillpermitmetotry.You
quitepossiblysavedmyson'slife.Certainlyyousavedhimfromaterribleordeal.Iam
verymuchinyourdebt."
"Howishe?"Alexasked.
"Pauliswell,thankyou.Please,helpyourself..."
JacktookasandwichbutAlexwasn'thungry.Hewasfeelingalittleuncomfortablebeing
thisclosetoDrevin.Themanwasonlyafewinchestallerthanhewas,andstillseemed
veryordinary.Andyetheradiatedpower.ItwasthesamewithalltherichpeopleAlexhad
met.Theirmoney,thebillionsofpoundsintheirbankaccounts,spokebeforetheydid.
"Ishouldbeaskinghowyouare,Alex,"Drevinwenton."Iunderstandyouwererecovering
fromachestinjury.Abikeaccident?"
"Yes."Alexhatedlyingbutthatwasthestorythathadbeenagreed.
"Alexisveryaccidentprone,"Jackmuttered,holdinguphersandwich.
"Well,itwasveryluckyformethatyoushouldendupintheroomnexttoPaul.Istillfindit
hardtobelievethatyouactedthewayyoudid.Butletmegetstraighttothepoint.Iam
sureyouknowwhoIam.Idon'tseekattention,butthepapersliketowriteaboutme,
especiallywhenmyteamloses.Iamaverywealthyman.Ifthereisanythingthatyou
wantintheworld,Alex,Icangiveittoyou.Idon'tsaythisasaboast.Imeanit.Youhave
donemeagreatserviceandIwouldliketorepayyou."
Alexthoughtforamoment."There'snothingIreallywant,thankyou,"hesaid."I'mgladI
wasabletohelpyourson.Butitjustsortofhappened.Idon'tneedanyreward."
Drevinnodded."Ihadafeelingyoumightsaythat,andI'mafraidIcan'tacceptitasan
answer.SoIwouldliketomakeaproposition."Hepaused."Ispoketoyourdoctorthis
morning.DrHayward.YoumightliketoknowthatIhavemadeadonationoftwomillion
poundsonyourbehalftowardsanewcardiologywingatStDominic's."
"That'sverykindofyou,"Alexsaid."Solongastheydon'tnameitafterme."
Drevinsmiled."Don'tworry!DrHaywardtellsmethatyoumustnotreturntoschoolfora
coupleofweeks.WhatIwouldliketoproposeisthatyoucomeandstaywithme,asmy
guest.I'dbeverygladtolookafteryouwhileyourecuperate.Iemployafulltimemedical
staff,soyouwillbeinsafehandsifanycomplicationsshouldarise.Moretothepoint,my
chefisworldclass.Everythingyouwantwillbegiventoyou.MissStarbrightisalsovery
welcome."
"I'mnotsure"Alexbegan."Please,Alex!"Drevininterrupted."There'ssomethingI
haven'tmentioned.Myson,Paul.He'salmostyourageandhetoldmethatyouspoke
togethera
fewtimesinhospital.Iknowhewouldwelcomeyourcompany.Pauldoesn'tmeetmany
otherboysthat'slargelymyfault.I'mafraidforhim.There'salwaysthedangerthat
someonewilltrytogetatmethroughhim.WhathappenedatStDominic'sisproofofthat.
Hemetyouandlikedyou,anditwouldbegoodforhimtohavesomeoneelsearoundfor
awhile.You'dbedoingmeafavourifyouagreedtocome."
Hepaused.Alexfeltthegreyeyesexamininghim.
"Iwanttoofferyoutwoweekswithmoreluxurythanyouhaveeverknowninyourlife.
We'llstarthereinEngland.Ican'tleaveuntiltheweekendIhavebusinessand,more
importantly,we'replayingChelseaonSaturdayandIcan'tmissthat.AfterthatI'mflyingto
NewYork.Ihaveanapartmentthere,andagainthereissomebusinessIhavetotake
careof.Yousee?Paulisalwaysonhisown."
Heputdownhiscupandleantforward.Althoughhistonehadn'tchanged,Alexcould
sensehisenergyandexcitement.
"Butinjustoveraweek'stime,there'ssomethingyoureallycan'tmiss.Wehavealaunch
atFlamingoBay.Haveyoueverseenarocketbeingfired?It'sanunforgettable
experience.Iftheweather'sright,it'llblastoffatexactlynineo'clocklocaltimeon
Wednesdaymorning.It'llbecarryingtheobservationmoduleforArkAngel.It'stakenus
threeyearstobuild.ItwillbetheveryheartofArkAngelthecommunicationscentre,a
windowlikenootherwindowintheworld.Paulwill,ofcourse,bethere,andIwantyouto
betherewithhim.Ihaveahouseontheislandandthebeachesarespectacular.Afterthe
launch,youcanstayforaslongasyoulike."
Alexsaidnothing.Hewantedtogo.Hehadneverseenarocketlaunchanditsounded
likethesortofadventurehecouldactuallyenjoywithoutanyonetryingtokillhim.And
yet...
Drevinseemedtosensehisuncertainty."I'msureDrHaywardwouldagreethatabitof
Caribbeansunwoulddoyougood,"hesaid."Please!Don'trefuseme.Ihavetotellyou,
I'vealreadymadeupmymindandI'mthesortofpersonwhoisusedtogettinghisown
way."
AlexturnedtoJack.Hestillwasn'tsure.Andhewasvaguelyawarethatsomethingwas
botheringhim.ItwassomethingDrevinhadsaid.Itdidn'taddup."Whatdoyouthink?"he
asked.
Jack'seyesweregleaming.ShehadobviouslybeenimpressedbyDrevin,thepenthouse,
theCrimeanStar."Ithinkit'sagreatidea,"shesaid."Acoupleofweeksinthesunare
exactlywhatyouneed.AndI'msureMrDrevinwilllookafteryou.""Youhavemyword."
Alexnodded."OKthen.Thankyou."Hetookasandwich."ButIthinkIshouldwarnyou:
I'maChelseasupporter."
Drevinsmiled."Thafsallright.Nobody'sperfect.I'llsendadrivertocollectyoushallwe
saythedayaftertomorrow?He'lldriveyoudowntoNevergladethat'smyhousein
Oxfordshire.Paulistherenow.Imustcallhimandlethimknowyou'recoming."He
glancedathiswatch."Andnow,ifyou'llforgiveme,Imustleaveyou.Ihaveameetingat
theBankofEngland."
"Isthatwhereyouhaveyouraccount?"Jackasked.
"Oneofthem."Hestoodup."MissKnightwillshowyououtwhenyouhavefinishedand
she'llalsoarrangeacartotakeyouhome.Thankyouagain,Alex.Iknowyou'renotgoing
toregretthis."
Anothertwistofthering.Alexhadnoticedthathishandswereneverstill.Drevinleftthe
wayhehadcomein.
Therewasalongsilence.
"Wow!"Jackexclaimed.
"FlamingoBay..."Alexmurmured.
"It'sexactlywhatthedoctorordered,Alex."Shehelpedherselftoanothersandwich."It
couldn'thavecomeatabettertime."
"Sure..."
ButAlexwasn'tsure.Whatwasitthatwasbotheringhim?
Yes.Thatwasit.
PaulDrevinwasatarget.ThatwaswhatDrevinhadsaid.Hewasalwaysindanger.
Sowhyhadhebeenonhisown?Thatnightatthehospital,fourmenhadbrokeninto
kidnaphim.Theyhadknownhewasthere.
Buttherehadn'tbeenasingleguardinsight.
THELAPOFLUXURY
WelcometoNeverglade,"PaulDrevinsaid.
Alexsteppedoutoftheluxurycarthathadbroughthimhereandlookedaround.Hehad
seenwealthbefore.Hehadoncegoneundercoverasthesonofasupermarketmagnate,
whichhadmeantspendingaweekinamansioninLancashire.Butthisplacewas
somethingelseagain.
HisfirstsightofDrevin'scountryestatehadbeenaprettybutveryordinarygatehouseon
acountrylaneabouttwentymilesnorthofOxford.Butevenhere,Alexhadnoticedthe
highwallsandwoodlandsurroundingtheestate,andtheclosedcircuittelevisioncameras
rotatingdiscreetlybetweenthetrees.Thedrivewaymusthavebeenamilelong,emerging
fromthewoodsintofieldssoperfectlymownitwashardtobelievetheyweremadeof
grass.OnonesidewasalakewithtwojetskisandaLapwingwoodensailingboat
moored
besideajetty.Ontheother,partlyhiddeninaslightdip,aminiatureracingcircuittwisted
andturned,withitsowngrandstandforspectators.FourofthemostbeautifulhorsesAlex
hadeverseenweregrazinginapaddock.Thesunwasshining.Itwasasifthesummer
hadreturned.
AndtherewasNeverglade.Itwasn'tahousebutafourteenthcenturycastlewithitsown
moat,battlements,towersandoutlyingchurch.Itwasbuiltofgreystone,withdarkgreen
ivyspreadingdiagonallyacrosstheface.Alexcaughthisbreathastheydrovetowardsit
andcrossedthedrawbridge.Thecastledidn'tseemreal.Itwaslikesomethingoutofa
picturebook.Andwhyhaditbeenbuilthereofallplaces?Hewonderedwhyhehadnever
heardorseenpicturesofitbefore.
AlexwishednowthatJackStarbrighthaddecidedtocome.
ShehadseemeduneasyanddeepinthoughtinthetaxihomefromtheWaterfront,butit
wasonlylaterintheeveningthatsheannouncedherdecision.
"I'dlovetocomewithyou,Alex,"shesaid."AndI'dlovetowatchthisrocketbeing
launched.ButIcan't.Ihaven'tseenmymumanddadfornearlyayear,andIneedtogo
backhometoWashingtonDC.It'stheirweddinganniversarynextweek,andthiswouldbe
agoodopportunitytotakeavacation.You'resafe,andyou'regoingtobewelllooked
after.Anyway,you'vegotPaulDrevin.He's
yourageandyouwon'twantmehangingaround.Sogoandenjoyyourself.Andjustyou
makesureyoudon'tgetintoanymoretrouble.Restandrecuperation.That'swhatthe
doctorsaid."
NikoleiDrevinhadsentauniformedchauffeurtopickAlexupandthistimehehad
arrivedinaRollsRoyce,apaleblueCornichewitharetractinghood.Theyhadcruised
outofLondonanduptheM40,the6.75litreV8engineeffortlesslyglidingpastallthe
othertrafficasiftheroadshadbeenbuiltexclusivelyforitsuse.Nowthecardisappeared
roundthesideofthehouseasPaulDrevincameouttogreethim.
ThelasttimeAlexhadseentheotherboy,hehadbeenwearingadressinggownand
pyjamas.Nowhewasdressedinjeansandaloosefittingjersey.Helookedalothealthier
thanhehadinhospitalbuttherewasmoretoitthanthat.Hewasmoreconfident.This
washishome,histerritory,andonedayhewouldinheritit.Alexhadtoremindhimself
thatthisboywasprobablyamultimillionairehimself.Hisweeklypocketmoneyprobably
arrivedinasecurityvan.SuddenlyAlexwonderedifcomingherehadbeenagoodidea.
"Quiteaplace,"hesaidastheywalkedtowardsthefrontdoor,theirfeetcrunchingonthe
gravel.
"Myfatherhaditbuilthere.ThecastleusedtobesomewhereinScotland.Itwasfalling
downsoheboughtitandshippedithere,piecebypiece,
andthenputitbacktogetheragain.Comeon,I'llshowyouyourroom."
AlexfollowedPaulintoanentrancehallwithflagstones,tapestriesandafireplacebig
enoughtoburnabus.Astheyclimbedupamajesticstaircase,theypassedpaintingsby
Picasso,Warhol,HockneyandLucianFreud.NikoleiDrevinobviouslylikedmodernart.
"Whatyoudidatthehospitalwasamazing,"Paulsaid."Didyoureallymeantotakemy
place?"
"Well,itjustsortofhappened..."
"Ifthosemenhadkidnappedme,theyweregoingtocutmyfingeroff!"Paulshuddered
andAlexwonderedhowheknewaboutthat.Theexactdetailsofwhathadhappenedat
HornchurchTowershadn'tbeeninthepapers.ButheassumedthatforamanlikeDrevin,
eventhemostclassifiedinformationwouldn'tbehardtoget."Theynearlykilledyou
becauseofme,"Paulwenton."Idon'tknowwhattosay."
"There'snoneedtosayanything."
"I'mgladyouagreedtocome."
Alexshrugged."Yourdadmadeitdifficultformetorefuse."
"Yes.He'slikethat."Theyhadreachedthetopofthestairs.Paultookoutaninhalerand
puffedatittwice."Ihaveasthma,"heexplained.
"That'sbadluck."
"Thisway..."Theywalkeddownacorridorwithornatewoodendoorsatintervalsoneither
side.
"Therearethirtybedrooms,"Paultoldhim."Idon'tknowwhyweneedsomany.They're
neverfull.I'veputyounexttome.Ifyouwantanything,justpickupthephone.It'slike
livinginahotel,exceptyoudon'thavetopay."
Theycametoanopendoorandwentintoabedroomwithwindowslookingoutoverthe
lake.ThechauffeurmusthavecomeinthroughanotherentranceAlex'sluggagewason
thebed.Theroomwasmodern.Alextookintheplasmascreentelevisionmountedonthe
wall,theconsolewithDVD,videoandPlayStation,thephonewithaboutadozenbuttons
forthedifferentservicesitprovided,ashelfofbooksallbrandnewbythelookofthem
thebathroomwithbath,powershowerandJacuzzi.Drevinhadpromisedhimaluxurious
lifestyleandhehadcertainlybeentruetohisword.
"Whatdoyouwanttodo?"Paulasked.
"Youtellme."
"Well,wecangohorseridingifyoulike.We'vegottwoswimmingpools:indoorandout.
Laterwecanwatchafilm.There'sacinemaandDadgetsallthenewreleases.Wecan
playtennisorgolf,orgoclaypigeonshooting.Yousawthelakewecangojetskiingor
sailingorfishingorwhatever.IsupposeI'dbetterstartbyshowingyouaround.That'lltake
mostoftheday,andDad'shavingdinnerwithustonight.It'suptoyou."
Alexdidn'tknowwhattosay."Idon'tmind."
"Well,I'llshowyouthehouseandthenwecangrabacoupleofquadbikesandI'lltake
youroundthegrounds.Thereareabouttwohundredacres.Areyouhungry?"
"No.I'mfine."
"Thenlet'sgo."
"Right."Alextriedtosoundenthusiastic,butsomehowhecouldn't.
Paulhadpickeduponthis."Iguessthismustbeveryweirdforyou,"hesaid."Youdon't
knowmeandyouprobablydon'tevenlikeme.Notalotofpeopledo.TheythinkI'ma
rich,spoiltbratandiftheycomehereatallit'sonlybecauseofallthefreestuff.Myfather
invitedyoubecausehewantedtothankyouforwhatyoudidatthehospital.Butitwas
morethanthat.He'shopingwe'regoingtobefriendsandit'stheonethinghecan't
actuallybuy.Friendship.ButI'llunderstandifyouwanttotakeyourbagsandgetthehell
outofhere.SometimesIfeelthesame."
Alexthoughtforamoment."No,"hesaid."I'mgladtobehere.Ican'tgobacktoschool
andI'mmeanttoberestingforthenextcoupleofweeks,andtobehonest,I'vegot
nowhereelsetogo.Soifyourdadwantstotreatmelikeamultimillionaire,I'mnotgoingto
complain."
"OK."Paullookedrelieved."We'regoingtoNewYorkonSundayandthat'llbecool.And
thenthere'sFlamingoBay.Haveyoutriedkitesurfing?"
Alexshookhishead.
"Icanshowyouhowtodoit.We'reontheAtlanticsidesowegethugewaves."Paulhad
suddenlybecomemoreanimatedandAlexfoundhimselfwarmingtohim."Let'sstartin
thecinema,"hesaid."Wecanworkourwaydown..."
Twohourslater,theystillhadn'tfinished.Alexhadseenmorewealththanhecould
possiblyimagine.Thiswasn'thowtheotherhalflived.Therewereprobablyonlyahandful
ofpeopleintheworldwiththeresourcesofNikoleiDrevin.Anythinghewantedhecould
havefromthemedievalsuitofarmouroutsidethediningroomtothetwoPolarisMSXjet
skisoutonthelake.HehadalsolearntalittlemoreaboutPaul'sbackground.Hewasan
onlychild.Hisparentshaddivorcedwhenhewassixandhismotherwasnowlivingin
America.Hesawheracoupleoftimesayear,butsheandhisfatherneverspoke. When
Paulwasyoungerhehadgonetoanordinaryschool,butintheendtherehadbeentoo
manysecurityproblemsandnowhewasbeingeducatedbyprivatetutors.Partofthe
househadbeenconvertedintoaschool.Alexhadseenitandfeltsad.Therewerebooks
andblackboards,desksandcomputers.Butnoschoolchildren.Noshouting.Noreallife.
Atfiveo'clockhewentbacktohisroomanddozedforanhour,thenshoweredand
changedfordinner.HehadseenthegranddiningroomatNevergladewithitschandeliers
andantiqueoak
tablelongenoughtoseattwentyandhewasrelievedthattheywouldbeeatinginthe
conservatorynexttothekitchen.Thiswasaprettyroomwithmarblecolumns,Italiantiles
andexoticplantsinhugeterracottapots.NikoleiDrevinwasalreadytherewhenhe
arrived.
"Pleasecomein,Alex.Takeaseat."Drevinwasdrinkingwine.Hehadchangedintojeans
andadenimjacket,andAlexcouldn'thelpthinkingthattheclothesdidn'tsuithim.Hewas
somehowtoooldforthem.Hewasamanborntowearasuit.
"Willyouhavesomewine?"Drevinasked."Orperhapsabeer?"
"Waterwillbefine,"Alexreplied.
"InRussia,childrendrinkalcoholfromanearlyage."
Thedooropenedandayoungwomancamein,carryingthefirstcourseonatray:melon
andserranoham.AlexhadnoideahowmanypeopleworkedatNevergladetheservants
hadtheknackofstayinginvisible,exceptwhentheywereneeded.Hehelpedhimselfto
icedwater.Paularrivedandsatdownwithoutspeaking.Theservantleftandthethreeof
themwerealone.
"HasPaulshownyouaround?"Drevinasked.
"Yes.It'squiteaplace."
"IboughtitwhenIfirstcametoyourcountry.TheoriginalNevergladewasasixteenth
centurymanorhouse.There'sastorythatQueenElizabethIstayedthereandsawa
productionofTwelfthNight
inthegreathall.ButIwasn'tfondofthearchitecturalstyle.Thehousewastoodark,andit
onlyhadelevenbedrooms.Itwastoosmall."
"Whathappenedtoit?"
Drevinsighed."Adreadfulaccident.Itburneddown.Thispresentcastleroseoutofthe
ashesorrather,Ibroughtithere.IlikeditthemomentIsawit.Theonlyproblemwasthat
itwasinScotland.ButhappilyIwasabletodosomethingaboutthat.Havethetwoofyou
decidedwhatyou'regoingtodotomorrow?"
"Ithoughtwemightgoforawalk,"Paulsaid.
DrevinturnedonhimandAlexsawsomethingflashinthegreyeyes.Itwasverybriefand
hecouldn'tbecertain,butitwasalmostalookofcontempt."Surelyyoucanthinkof
somethingmoreadventurousthanthat!"hesaid."Whydon'tyoutakethehorsesout?Or
thedirtbikes?Ofcourse,you'rebothrecuperating.Paulfromhisappendixoperation.And
you,Alex"theeyescametorestonhim "fromyourcyclingaccident."
"Yes."WasDrevinquestioninghisstory?"Iwentoverthehandlebarsandhitafence."
"Youmusthavebeengoingveryfast."
"Iwas,untilIhitthefence."
"Thenperhapsdirtbikesaren'tthebestidea."Drevinthoughtforamoment.Hisfingers
weretuggingathisringbuthisfacegavenothingaway.Thiswasamanwhowasusedto
keepinghissecretstohimself."I'lltellyouwhat/'hesaid.
"Ihaveaconferencecalltomorrowmorning.Withthelaunchjustoveraweekaway,I
havetokeepinconstantcontactwithmyownpeopleaswellasNASAand,ofcourse,the
Britishgovernment.Butintheafternoon,howwouldyouliketoraceagainstme?"
"Onhorses?"
"Gokarts.YoumayhaveseenIhaveatrackhere.IbuiltitforPaul,althoughI'mafraidhe
seldomusesit."
"Idouseit,"Paulprotested."Butit'snofunwhenyou'venoonetoraceagainst."
Drevinignoredhim."Ihaveseveralkarts,"hewenton."You'llfinditquiteexhilarating,
Alex.Youagainstme.Whatdoyousay?"
"Sure."Alexdidn'tmuchlikethesoundofitbuttherewassomethingaboutthewayhe
wasbeingasked.He'dfeltthesamewhenDrevinhadinvitedhimtostay.Hewasn'treally
beinggivenachoice.
"Andtomakeitmorefun,whydon'twehaveabet?Ifyoubeatme,I'llgiveyoua
thousandpounds."
"I'mnotsureIwantathousandpounds,"Alexsaid.Itwasn'tthemoneythatbotheredhim
hejustwasn'tsurehewantedtotakeitfromthisman.
"Well,inthatcaseI'llgiveittoanycharityyoucaretoname.Butyoudon'tneedtoworry.
Thereisabsolutelynochancethatyouwillwin.Paulcanbetheflagman.Shallwesaytwo
o'clock?"
"Allright."
Drevinpickeduphisknifeandforkandbegantoeat.Alexnoticedthathissonhadn't
touchedhisfood.Alreadyhecouldsensethegulfbetweenthem.Itwasobviouswith
everywordthatwasspoken,everymomentthattheyspenttogether.Onceagainhe
askedhimselfwhathewasdoinghere.Andonceagainhefoundhimselfwonderingifit
hadbeensuchagoodideatocome.
Twohourslater,Alexwasmakinghiswaybacktohisroomonhisown.NikoleiDrevinhad
goneoutintothegardentosmokeacigar.Paulhadannouncedhewastiredandhad
alreadygonetobed.
Hewaswalkingdownthemaincorridoronthegroundfloor.Therewasafullyequipped
gymnasiumandanOlympicsizedindoorswimmingpoolatthefarend,andAlexwas
temptedtogoforaswimbeforebed.Hewasn'ttiredanymore.Hewantedtodiveintothe
warmwaterandwashawaysomeofthememoriesofhisfirstdayatNeverglade.Hewas
temptedtoringJackStarbright.ShewouldhavearrivedinAmericabynow.Hewasstill
sorryshehaddecidednottocomewithhim,andhewasworriedhehadletherdown.
Maybeheshouldhavegonewithher.
HispathtookhimpastthedoubledoorsofDrevin'sstudy.Paulhadpointeditoutearlier
buttheyhadn'tgonein.Onanimpulsehestoppedandlookedleftandright.Thecorridor
stretchedon,empty,inbothdirections,itsblackandwhite
tilesgivingittheappearanceoftheworld'slongestchessboard.Heturnedthehandle.The
dooropened.Withoutquiteknowingwhathewasdoing,Alexswitchedonthelightand
wentin.
Thestudywasenormous,dominatedbyamassiveglassandsteeldeskshapedlikea
crescentmoon.ThewoodfloorwaspartlycoveredbyaPersianrugthatmusthavetaken
yearstoweave.Behindthedeskwereglassdoorsleadingoutontothefrontlawn.Alex
countedfourphonesonthedesk,aswellastwocomputers,aprinter,severalpilesof
documentsandaseriesofclocksshowingtimezonesallovertheworld.Therewasone
smallpictureofPaulinasilverframe.
IfAlexhadhopedthatthisroomwouldtellhimalittlemoreabouthishost,hewas
disappointed.NikoleiDrevinwasveryrichandverypowerfulbuthedidn'tneedan
oversizeddeskandastackofexpensiveequipmenttotellhimthat.Oneofthewallswas
coveredwithphotosandAlexwentovertothem.Thiswasmorelikeit.Hehadatleast
foundonetinychinkintheman'simpressivearmour.Vanity.Thewallwasagalleryof
celebrities.
TherewerephotographsofDrevinwithpopstarsandactors,photographstakenatglitzy
partiesanddeluxehotels.Heshowedlittleemotioninanyofthem,butevensoAlex
couldtellthathewasquietlypleasedtobethere.HerewasDrevinwithTomCruise,
DrevinwithJuliaRoberts,DrevinchattingtoStevenSpielbergonthesetofhislatestfilm.
He
wasinWhitehallwiththeprimeminister(whowassmilingcheesily)andinWashington
withthepresidentoftheUnitedStates.HerehewasshakinghandswiththeRussian
presidentAlexwassurprisedtofindhimselflookingatthebloatedfaceofBoris
Kiriyenko.ThetwoofthemhadmetwhenAlexhadbeenaprisonerontheislandof
SkeletonKey.
ThepopehadgivenDrevinanaudience.SohadNelsonMandelainCapeTown.Someof
thepictureshadbeentakenfromnewspapers,andtheheadlinestoldthestoryofhislife
inbold,simplestatements:
DREVINMOVESTOTHEUK
DREVINRICHERTHANTHEQUEEN
DREVINBUILDS50MILLIONOXFORDSHIREHOME
DREVINBUYSSTRATFORDEAST
ThisLastheadlinewasaccompaniedbyaphotographofDrevinwithAdamWright,the
Englandstrikerwhohadbeenhisfirstmajorpurchaseforhisnewteam.Alexglancedat
theotherarticles.
DREVINANNOUNCESARKANGELPLANS
DREVINBUYSWATERFRONTHOTEL
DREVINMOVESINTOLONDONPROPERTYMARKET
Therewasamovementbehindhim.
NikoleiDrevinhadcomeintothestudythroughtheFrenchwindows.Hewasstillholding
hiscigarandwasexaminingAlexcuriously."Alex?Whatareyoudoinginhere?"There
wasnoangerinhisvoice.Heseemed,ifanything,justalittleperplexed.
"I'msorry."IttookAlexafewsecondstofindthewords.Heknewhewastrespassing.On
theotherhand,thedoorhadn'tbeenlocked."Iwasjustonmywaytobed.Ihadn'tbeenin
hereandIthoughtI'dtakealook."
"ThisismyprivatestudyIwouldpreferitifyoudidn'tcomeinhere."
"Ofcourse.IwasabouttogobutthenIsawthesepictures."Alexgesturedatoneofthem.
"You'vemettheQueen."
"Severaltimes,asamatteroffact.Shespokeagreatdealaboutherhorses.Ididn'tfind
herveryinteresting."
"AndNelsonMandela."
"Ah,yes.Agreatman.Hegavemeasignedcopyofhisbook."
Silenceandsuspicionhungintheairbetweenthem.
"Well,I'dbettergoup,"Alexsaid.
"Canyoufindyourway?"
"Yes.Thankyou."Alexsmiled."Goodnight."
"Goodnight."
Alexwasfeelingdizzy.Hisleftarmwasthrobbing.
Heleftthestudyascasuallyashecouldanddidn'tstopuntilhe'dreachedhisownroom
onthesecondfloor.Hesatdownheavilyonthebed.Heknewwhathehadjustseen.But
hecouldn'tmakesenseofit.
ThelastnewspapercuttinghadshownDrevinwearingafluorescentjacketandhardhat,
standingoutsideaderelictbuildingineastLondon.Alexhadrecognizeditatonceand
hadn'tneededthebanner,stretchingouthighinthebackground,totellhimitsname.
HornchurchTowers.
Thebuildingthathadburntdown.Thepicturehadbeentakenjustafewdaysbeforehe
hadalmostdiedthere.
EitheritwasanincrediblecoincidenceorKasparandhismenthegroupthatcalleditself
ForceThreehaddeliberatelytakenhimtoablockofflatsthatDrevinhadjustpurchased.
TheyhadthoughthewasPaulDrevin.Theyhadbeenplanningtoransomhimforthesum
ofamillionpounds.Sowhyhadtheytakenhimtoabuildingthathisfatherowned?
Alexundressedandgotintobed.Hecouldn'tsleep.Hehadthoughthewasmeanttobe
havingtwoweeksinthelapofluxury.LookedafterandsafethatwaswhatJackhad
said.Hewasbeginningtofeelthatbothofthemmightbewrong.
SHORTCIRCUIT
ThebuildingwasinSoHo,atthesouthernendofManhattan.Itstoodbetweena
delicatessenandaparkinggarageinastreetfullofconvertedwarehouseswithmetalfire
escapes,andboutiquesthatfeltnoneedtoadvertise.Therewerenoskyscrapersinthis
partofNewYork.SoHoprideditselfonitsvillageatmosphere,evenifyouneededacity
salarytoaffordanapartmenthere.Theentireneighbourhoodwasrelaxed.Peoplewalked
theirdogsoratetheirsandwichesintheautumnsun.Therewaslittletraffic.Itwaseasyto
forgetthenoiseandthechaosjusttwentyblocksnorth.
CreativeIdeasAnimationfittedinperfectly.Itsoldcartoons:cellsfromtheSimpsonsand
Futurama,originaldrawingsfromDisneyandDreamWorks.Itonlyhadasmallfront
windowandthereweren'tmanypicturesondisplay.Unliketheothergalleriesinthearea,
itsfrontdoorwas
locked.Visitorshadtoringabell.Evenso,peoplewouldoccasionallywanderinoffthe
street,butoncetheywereinsidetheywouldfindthatthegirlwhoworkedtherewas
unhelpful,thepriceswereridiculousandtherewerebetterselectionselsewhere.Inthe
twentyyearsthegalleryhadbeenthere,nobodyhadeverboughtanything.
Whichwaspreciselytheidea.ThepeoplewhoworkedatCreativeIdeasAnimationhadno
interestatallinartofanysort.TheyneededabaseinNewYorkandthiswaswhatthey
hadchosen.SoHosuitedthemnicely.Nobodynoticedwhowentinorout.Notthatit
matteredanyway.Theyownedthegaragenextdoorandusedasecretentranceround
theside.
Atsixo'clockthatevening,fivemenandtwowomenweresittingroundaconferencetable
inasurprisinglyspaciousandwellappointedroomonthefirstfloorjustabovethegallery.
Thetablewasarectangleofpolishedglassonachromeframe.Thechairswerealso
madeofchrome,withblackleatherseats.Clocksshowingtimezonesaroundtheworld
linedtwoofthewalls.Alargeplasmascreencoveredathird.Thefourthwasasingle
plateglasswindowfacingarestaurantontheothersideofthestreet.Theglasswasone
way.Nobodyattherestaurantcouldseein.
Allthepeopleintheroomwereformallydressedindarksuitsandcrispwhiteshirts.Sixof
themwereyoungandfittheycouldhavejustcomeout
ofcollege.Theseventh,attheheadofthetable,wasmorecrumpled.Hewasasixty
yearoldblackmanwithsunkeneyes,grizzledwhitehairandmoustache,andalookof
perpetualtiredness.
Oneoftheyoungermenwasspeaking.
"IhavetoreportadevelopmentinEngland,"hewassaying."Itmaynotberelevant,butas
youareaware,sixdaysagoNikoleiDrevinwastargetedbytheenvironmentalgroup
ForceThree.Theywereplanningtoabducthissonandholdhimtoransombutthey
capturedthewrongkid.Itseemsthisotherkidgotinthewayonpurpose.Heactuallygot
himselfkidnapped.Canyoubelievethat?"Hecoughed."Whathappenednextisstill
unclear,butsomehowthekidmanagedtoescapeandDrevindecidedtorewardhimby
makinghimpartofthefamily.Sonowhe'sonhiswayoverhere.He'llbetravellingwith
DrevinandDrevin'ssondowntoFlamingoBay."
"Doesthiskidhaveaname?"someoneasked.
"AlexRider."Itwastheoldermanwhohadspoken."Ithinkyoushouldtakealookathim."
Therewasanunmarkedfileonthetableinfrontofhim.Heleantforward,flippeditopen
andtookoutaphotograph.Hepassedittothemansittingnexttohim."Thiswassentto
melastnight,"heexplained."Thisisthekidwe'retalkingabout.Thewomanwithhimis
hisguardian.Hehasnoparents."Oneafteranother,thefourmenandtwowomen
examinedthephoto.ItshowedAlexRiderandJackStarbrightastheyenteredthe
WaterfrontHotel,andhadbeentakenbyaconcealedcameraatgroundlevel.
"ThefactthatAlexRiderhasgottenhimselfinvolvedchangeseverything,"theolderman
wenton."I'msurprisedDrevinhasn'tcheckeduponhim.Itcouldbehisfirstandhis
biggestmistake."
Oneofthewomenshookherhead."Idon'tunderstand.WhoisAlexRider?"
"He'snoordinarykid.Andletmesaystraightoffthatthisistogonofurtherthanthis
room.WhatI'mtellingyouisclassifiedbutitseemswe'reinaneedtoknowsituation."
Hepaused."AlexisanagentworkingwithMI6SpecialOperations."
Amutterofdisbelieftravelledroundthetable.
"But,sir..."thewomanprotested."That'scrazy.Hecan'tbemorethanfifteenyearsold."
"He'sfourteen.Andyou'reabsolutelyright.TrustMI6tocomeupwithanidealikethis.But
it'sworked.AlexRideristhenearestthingtheBritshavetoalethalweapon."
"Sohowcomehe'sgothimselfmixedupwithDrevin?"theotherwomanasked.
Theoldermansmiledtohimselfasifheknewsomethingtheydidn't.Infact,hewasonly
justbeginningtoworkitout."Maybeitwasacoincidence,ormaybeitwasn't,"he
murmured."Buteitherwayifsawholenewballgame.AlexRider
metKaspar.He'sbeenattheheartofForceThree.Andnowhe'sclosetoDrevin."
"Youthinkhecanhelpus?"
"He'llhelpuswhetherhewantstoornot."Themangazedatthephotoandsuddenly
therewasahardnessinhiseyes."IfAlexRidercomestoNewYork,Iwanttoseehim.Do
youunderstand?Ifsanumberonepriority.Useanymeansnecessarytogetholdofhim.I
wantyoutobringthatboytome."
Overthreethousandmilesaway,atNeverglade,Alexhadjustfinishedtwosetsoftennis
withPaulDrevin.Tohissurprise,he'dbeenthrashed.
Paulwasabrilliantplayer.Ifhe'dwantedto,hecouldhaveservedaceafteraceandAlex
wouldn'tevenhavehadachance.He'dpurposelysloweddownhisserve,butdespite
Alex'sbestefforts,thescorehadbeenthreesixinthefirstset,foursixinthenext.Alex
wouldhavehappilyplayedon,butPaulshookhishead.Hehadslumpedonthegrass
withabottleofwater.Alexnoticedhe'dalsobroughtouthisinhaleragain.Attheendof
thelastsethe'dbeenstrugglingtobreathe.
"Youshouldjoinacluborsomething,"Alexremarked,sittingdownnexttohim."Couldyou
playcompetitively?"
Paulshookhishead."TwosetsisallIcanmanage.Afterthatmylungspackin."
"Howlonghaveyouhadasthma?"
"Allmylife.Luckilyit'snottoobad,butthenitkicksinandthat'sit.Mydadgetsreallyfed
up."
"Youcan'thelpitifyou'reill."
"That'snothowheseesit."Paulglancedathiswatch."He'llbeatthetrackbynow.Come
on.I'llwalkoverwithyou."
Theylefttheracketsbehindandwalkedacrossthelawntogether.Amandrovepastona
tractorandnoddedatthem.AlexhadnoticedthatnoneofthestaffeverspoketoPaulhe
wonderediftheywereallowedto.
"Aren'tyougoingtorace?"heasked.
"Maybelater.Ifitwasjustyouandme,Iwouldn'tmind.ButDad..."Paulfellsilentasif
therewassomethinghedidn'twanttosay."Dadtakesitveryseriously,"hemuttered.
"Howfastdothesekartsgo?"
"Theycandoahundredmilesanhour."PaulsawAlex'seyeswiden."They'renottoys,if
that'swhatyouwereexpecting.Myfatherhadsomebusinessfriendstostayafewmonths
ago.Oneofthemlostcontrolroundacornerandthekartflipped.Theycandothat.Isaw
ithappen.Hemusthaveturnedoversixorseventimes.Hewasluckyhewaswearinga
helmet,otherwisehe'dhavebeenkilled."
"Howbadlywashehurt?"
"Hebrokehiswristandcollarbone.Hisfacewasallcutuptoo.Andyoushouldhaveseen
thekart!Itwasawriteoff."Paulshookhishead."Bevery
careful,Alex,"hewarned."Mydaddoesn'tliketolose."
"Well,Idon'tthinkI'vegotanychanceofwinning."
"Ifyouwantmyadvice,youwon'teventry."
TherewasaquestionAlexhadbeendyingtoaskhimallmorningandhedecidedthiswas
probablytherightmoment."Whydoyoulivewithhimandnotwithyourmother?"
"Heinsisted."
"Doyourparentsreallyhateeachother?"
"Henevertalksabouther.AndshegetsangryifIaskherabouthim."Paulsighed."What
aboutyourparents?"
"Idon'thaveany.TheydiedwhenIwassmall."
"I'msorry."Theywalkedonforawhileinsilence."IwishIhadabrother,"Paulsaid
suddenly."That'stheworstofit.Alwaysbeingonmyown."
"Can'tyougotoschool?"
"Ididforabit.Butitcausedallsortsofproblems.IhadtohaveabodyguardDadinsisted
soIneverreallyfittedin.Intheendhedecideditwaseasierformetohavelessonsat
home."Paulshrugged."IkeepthinkingthatonedayI'llbesixteenandmaybeIcanwalk
outofhere.Dad'snotsobad,butIwishIcouldhavemyownlife."
Theyhadcrossedthelawnandtherewasthetrackaheadofthem:akilometreof
twisting
asphalt,withseatingforaboutfiftyspectators,andsixgokartswaitinginasidebay.
NikoleiDrevinwasalreadythere,checkingoneoftheengines.Therewereacoupleof
mechanicsonhandbutnobodyelse.Thisracewasgoingtohappenwithoutanaudience.
"Goodluck,"Paulwhispered.
"AhAlex!"Drevinhadheardthemapproaching.Helookedup."Haveyoudonethis
before?"
"Acoupleoftimes."AlexhadbeenontheindoortrackatKing'sCrossinLondon."Idon't
thinkthekartswereaspowerfulasthese."
"Thesearethebest.Ihadthemcustombuiltmyself.ChromeMollyframesandRotax
FormulaEengines125cc,electricstarter,watercooled."Hepointed."Youstartthemby
pressingthebuttonnexttothesteeringwheel.Ihopeyouhaveaheadforspeed.They'll
gofromnoughttosixtyin3.8seconds.That'sfasterthanaFerrari."
"Howmanycircuitsdoyouhaveinmind?"
"Shallwesaythree?Ifyoucrossthefinishinglinefirst,yourfavouritecharitywillbericher
byathousandpounds."DrevinpickeduptwohelmetsandhandedonetoAlex."Ihope
thisisyoursize."
Alex'shelmetwasblueDrevinwouldbewearingblack.
Alexslippedhisonandfasteneditunderhischin.Thehelmethadavisorthatsliddown
overhisface,andprotectivepadsforhisneckandthesidesofhishead.
"Thisisyourlastchance,Alex,"Drevinsaid."Ifyou'renervous,nowisthetimetoback
out..."
Alexexaminedthegokarts."Theywerelittlemorethanskeletons,atangleofwiresand
pipeswithaplasticseatinthemiddleandtwofueltanksbehind.Whenhesatdown,he
wouldbejustinchesabovetheground.Andtherewassomethingelsemissingapart
fromthefloor.Hehadalreadynoticedthat,unlikethekartshehaddrivenatKing'sCross,
thesehadnowraparoundbumpers.NowheunderstoodwhatPaulhadtoldhim.Thecars
werelethal.Thecoursewashemmedinwithbalesofstraw,butifhelostcontrol,ifoneof
histyrescameintocontactwithOrevin's,hecouldalltooeasilyflipoverjustlikethe
friendPaulhadmentioned.Andiftheenginescrapedalongtheasphaltandsparkshitthe
petroltanks,thewholethingwouldexplode.
Drevinwaswaitingforhisanswer.Lookingathimcasuallyholdinghishelmet,onethumb
hookedintohisdesignerjeans,Alexfeltaspurtofannoyance.Hewasgoingtoracethis
man.Andhewasgoingtowin."I'mnotnervous,"hesaid.
"Good.We'lldotwopracticecircuitsbeforewestart.Paulcansignalthefirstandlast
circuitswithaflag."
Alexexaminedthecourse.Itwasaseriesoftwistsandsharpturnswithtwostraight
sectionswherehewouldbeabletopickupspeed.Partofthetrackrosesteeplyonmetal
legsandthen
slopeddowntheothersideitformedabridgeoveranothersectionofthetrackbelow.
Alexrealizedhewouldhavetoslowdownashetookit.Hewouldbeaboutsixmetresup
andalthoughthesidesofthebridgewerelinedbyaprotectivewallofrubbertyres,he
didn'tliketothinkwhatwouldhappenifhetostcontrolandhitthem.Afterthebridge,there
wasalongtunnelwiththefinishinglineontheotherside.
Heclimbedintohiskartandpressedtheignitionbutton.Atoncetheengineburstinto
noisylife.AlreadyAlexfelthorriblyexposed.Thekarthadnosides,noroof.Hewassitting
withhiskneesbent,hisfeetstretchedoutinfrontofhim.Hepulledaseatbeltoverhis
shoulderandattachedit.Itwastoolatetobackoutnow.Drevinhadstartedhiskartand
wasmovingoffsmoothly.Alextestedthepedalsoneithersideofthesteeringcolumn.
Therewerejusttwo.Theleftfootoperatedthebrake,therightfootthethrottle.Hiskart
leaptforward,theengineanxioustoblasthimontothetrack.Drevinwasalreadywell
ahead.Alexgrittedhisteethandpressedhisfootdown.
Noughttosixtyin3.8seconds.Alexdidn'tgoasfastasthatonthefirstpracticecircuitbut,
evenso,thepoweroftheenginetookhimbysurprise.Therewasnospeedometerand
beingsolowitwashardtojudgehowfasthewasreallygoing.Heguessedhewasdoing
aboutfortymilesanhour,
althoughitfeltalotfaster.Thetrackwasablur.Thewholecircuitseemedtohave
contractedashisvisiontelescoped.Hesawthegrandstandwhippast.Themechanics
hadstoppedwhattheyweredoingandwerewatchinghisprogress.Hisentire
concentrationwasfocusedonhishandsgrippingthewheel.Hisarmswereshuddering.
Hecametoacornerandtwistedthewheelright.Hefeltthetyresslidebehindhimand
almostlostcontrol.Hewasoversteering.Quicklyhecorrectedhimself.Thekartentered
theraisedsectionandhefoundhimselfclimbing.Halfwayoverthebridge,thetrack
corneredsharplytotheleft.Alexswervedroundandthewallofblacktyresshimmered
past.Hehadalmosthitthem.Alreadyheregrettedacceptingthisabsurdchallenge.He
hadonlyjustcomeoutofhospital.Onemistakeatthisspeedandhewouldbeheading
rightback.
Hecompletedhisfirstcircuitandbegananother.TherewasnosignofDrevin,andAlex
wonderedifhehadleftthetrack.ThentherewasaroarbehindhimandtheRussian
overtook,hisfacehiddenbeneaththeblackhelmet.Hehadmanagedtwocomplete
circuitsinthetimethatAlexhaddoneoneandahalf.Therewasclearlygoingtobeno
contestunlessAlexputhisfootdown.HowfasthadPaulsaidthekartscouldgo?A
hundredmilesanhour.Madness!
AndtherewasPaul,positionedonthegrandstand,achequeredflaginhishand.Drevin
had
sloweddown,waitingforAlextocatchup.Theracewasabouttobegin.Well,atleastAlex
hadhadachancetotesttheworstcomersandbends.He'dbeguntoworkouthisrace
line.AnditoccurredtohimthathemighthaveonebigadvantageoverDrevin.He
weighedalotlessthanhim.Thatwouldgivehimtheedgewhenitcametospeed.
Buttherewasnotimeforfurtherthought.Theflagfell.Theywereoff.
Fortymilesanhourfiftysixty.Justinchesabovetheblurofthetarmac,Alexpressed
hisrightfootdownasfarasitwouldgoandfelttheburstofpowerbehindhim.Hequickly
caughtupwithDrevin.Theycametoabend.Drevintookittight,huggingtheinside.Alex
shotroundtheoutsideandsuddenlyhewasintheleadashescreamedthroughthe
tunnel.Sohewasright:hisweightwouldmakethevitaldifference.Nowallhehadtodo
wasstayaheadforthenexttwolapsandhewouldwin.
Hehadjustbegunthesecondcircuitwhenhiskartshuddered.Foramoment,Alex
thoughttheenginehadmisfired.Thenithappenedagain,harderthistime.Hefelthimself
beingjerkedbackinhisseatandthebonesinhisneckrattled.Thetyresslewedandhe
hadtofightforcontrol.Athirdknock.Atthisspeeditfeltasifhehadbeenhitbya
sledgehammer.Heglancedbackandrealizedwhatwashappening.Drevinwasbumping
him
frombehind.Hewasbeingquitemethodicalaboutithewasn'ttryingtoovertake.They
weredoingseventymilesanhour,suspendedinthemiddleofabaresteelframethat
offerednoprotectionatall.DidDrevinwanttokillthemboth?
AlexbrakedandimmediatelyDrevinsoaredahead,shootinguptheraisedsectionofthe
track,Alexfollowed,lookingforanopportunitytoslippasthim.ButDrevinwascheating
again,zigzagingleftandright,refusingtogivehimanyspace.Theyroareddownthe
slopeandontothestraight,thenplungedintothetunnel.Afterthebrightsunlight,itwas
verydarkinside.AlexacceleratedanddrewlevelwithDrevin.Drevintwistedhiswheel
andcrashedsidewaysintoAlex.
Thewholeworldleapt.Sparksexplodedinthedarknessasmetaltoreintometal.The
wallsofthetunnelrushedpast.DesperatelyAlexfoughtforcontrol,andasthetwokarts
burstoutintodaylight,hedroppedback.OnceagainDrevinhadthelead.
Outofthecornerofhiseye,AlexsawPaulwavetheflag,signallingthethirdandfinal
circuit.TheraceseemedtohavelastedonlysecondsanditlookedasifDrevinhaditin
thebag.Alexthoughtaboutlettinghimgo.Whatdiditmatterwhowon?Afterall,thiswas
Drevin'stoy.Drevinwaspayingthebills.Itmightbepolitetolose.
Butsomethinginsidehimrebelledagainsttheidea.Hestampeddown,urginghiskarton.
Once
morehedrewlevelwithhisopponent.Nowthetwokartsweresidebyside,headingup
therampforthelasttime.AlexsawDrevinglanceacrossandthenwrenchathissteering
wheel.Alexunderstoodatoncewhathewasdoing:Drevinwastryingtoknockhiminto
thetyresandovertheedge!Forahorriblemoment,Alexsawhimselfsomersaulting
sidewaysinhiskart.Hesawtheworldturningupsidedownandheardthegrindingof
metalashehitthetarmacbelow.WouldDrevinreallykillhimjusttowinarace?His
nervesscreamedathim.Stopnow!Thiswasstupid.Hehadnothingtoprove.
Drevinslammedintohimagain.Thatwasit.TherewasnowayAlexwasgoingtoletthe
Russianbillionairewin.Hetouchedthebrake,asifacceptingdefeat.Drevinshotahead,
swervingroundthecorner.ThenAlexaccelerated.Buthedidn'tturnthewheel.Insteadhe
aimedstraightforthewalloftyres.Hehitthemheadonand,yellingoutloud,soaredinto
theair.Forabriefmomenthehunginspace.Blacktyrescascadedallaroundhim,
spinningawaylikeoversizedcoins.Thenhewasfalling.Thetarmacrusheduptogreet
him.Therewasaboneshudderingcrashashehitthetrackbelow,andAlexwas
slammedintohisseat.Thesteeringwheeltwistedinhishands,tryingtopullawayashe
struggledforcontrol.Somehowthekartkeptgoing.Tyresbouncedallaroundandhewas
forcedtoswervewildly.Buthehaddoneit.Hehad
cutthecornerandnowhewastenmetresaheadofDrevin.
Thetunnelloomedinfrontofhim.Heroaredintothedarknessandouttheotherside,
acrossthe,finishingline.Heslammedonhisbrakes.Toohard.Thekartslewedroundin
anuncontrollablespinandstopped.Theenginestalled.Buttheracewasover.
Alexhadwon.
Afewsecondslater,Drevinpulledupnexttohim.Hetoreoffhishelmet.Hewassweating
heavilyhishairwasplasteredtohisscalp.Hewasfurious.
"Youcheated!"heexclaimed."Youmissedpartofthetrack."
"Youpushedme,"Alexprotested."Itwasn'tmyfault."
"Wewillraceagain!"
"Nothanks."Alexhadremovedhishelmet,gladtofeelthebreezeonhisface."Itwasalot
offunbutIthinkI'vehadenough."Heclimbedoutofthekart.Themechanicswere
hoveringbesidethetrack,wonderingiftheyshouldapproach.
Paularrived,stillcarryingtheflag."Ican'tbelievewhatIjustsaw!Thatwasamazing,Alex.
Butyoucouldhavebeenkilled!"
"Theraceisvoid,"Drevinsaid."Ididnotlose!"
"Well,youdidn'twineither,"Alexmuttered.
Paulstoodtherehelplessly,lookingfromonetotheother.Drevinconsideredfora
moment.
thenshookhisheadslowly."Itwasadraw,hemuttered.Thenheturnedandwalked
away.
Alexwatchedhimgo."Iseewhatyoumean,"hemurmured."Hereallydoesn'tlikelosing."
PaulturnedtoAlex,hisexpressionserious."Youshouldbecareful,Alex,"hewarned.
"Don'tmakehimyourenemy."Heranafterhisfather.
Alexwasleftstandingalone.
INJURYTIME
BySaturdaytheraceseemedtohavebeenforgotten.NikoleiDrevinwasinagoodmood
ashewaitedforanotherofhisRollsRoycesthisoneasilverPhantom tobebrought
roundtothefrontdoor.Itwasanimportantdayforhim.StratfordEast,theteamhehad
boughtfortwentymillionpounds,wereplayingChelseainthePremiershipand,although
theyhadbeencomprehensivelybeatenthreenilbyNewcastleonlytheweekbefore,
Drevinwasinhighspirits.
"HaveyoualwayssupportedChelsea?"heaskedAlexastheyleftthehouse.
"Yes."Itwastrue.AlexlivedonlytwentyminutesfromStamfordBridgeandhehadoften
gonetogameswithhisuncle.
"TheclubwasalmostbankruptwhenitwasboughtbyRomanAbramovich."Drevinlooked
thoughtful."ImethimafewtimesinMoscow.
Wedidnotgeton.Ihopetodisappointbothofyoutoday."
Alexsaidnothing.TherewasanintensityinDrevin'svoicethatsuggestedthat,asfaras
hewasconcerned,thiswasmorethanagame.TheRollsRoycepulledupandthetwoof
themgotin.
PaulDrevinwasn'tcoming.He'dhadabadasthmaattackthenightbeforeandhisdoctor,
whowasbasedtwentyfourhoursadayatNeverglade,hadsaidheneededaday'srest.
AndsoAlexfoundhimselfalonewithDrevininthebackofthecarastheyweredriven
downthemotorwaytoLondon.
"Youhavenoparents,"Drevinsaidsuddenly.
"No.TheybothdiedwhenIwasveryyoung."
"I'msorry.Anaccident?"
"Aplanecrash."ItwaseasyforAlextorepeattheliethatMI6hadbeentellinghimallhis
life.
"Youhavenorelations?"
"No.JustJack.Shelooksafterme."
"Thatisveryunusual.Butthenitseemstomethatyouareanunusualboy.Itwouldbe
interesting,Ithink,tohaveasonlikeyou."Drevinlookedoutofthewindow."Howareyou
gettingonwithPaul?"heasked.
"Fine."
"Helikesyou."Drevinwasstilllookingaway,avoidingAlex'seye."Iwishthathewasa
littlemorelikeyou.Heseemsso...aimless."
"Maybehe'dbehappierifyoulethimgotoanordinaryschool,"Alexsaid.
"Thatisnotpossible.""Doyoureallythinkhe'sinanydanger?""Heismyson."Drevin
spokethewordswithnoemotionatall.HehadsummedPaulup.Therewasnothingelse
tosay.Heforcedathinsmiletohislips."Butenoughofthat,"hewenton."Myteamwill
beatyourteam.Thatisallthatmatterstoday."
Anhourlater,theyturnedontotheFulhamRoadandwereforcedtodriveatasnail'space
throughthethousandsofpeoplewhowerearrivingforthegame,theChelseafansinblue,
theStratfordEastsupportersinredandblack.AlexwasgladthatDrevin'sRollsRoyce
hadtintedwindows.Nobodycouldlookin.HehadcometoStamfordBridgeahundred
timesonfootandhe'dalwayslovedthesenseofbelonging,thatmomentwhenhe
becamepartofthecrowdbattlingitswaythroughrainorsnowinthehopeofseeinga
homewin.Thiswastoocomfortable,tooisolated.Hewouldhavefeltembarrassedif
anyonehadseenhim.
Theyturnedintothecomplexofhotels,restaurantsandhealthclubsthathadcometobe
knownasChelseaVillage,thensweptawayfromthefans,followinganarrow
passagewaytotheweststand.Thecarstoppedinfrontofarevolvingdoorwiththewords
MILLENNIUMRECEPTIONinsilverabove.Theygotout.
DrevinhadbecomemoretensetheclosertheygottoLondon.Hiseyesandmouthwere
three
narrowslitsandhewastwistinghisringinshort,jerkymovements.
"HereisMissKnight,"hesaid,andAlexsawTamaraKnight,theoverefficientpersonal
secretaryhehadmetattheWaterfrontHotel.Shewasstilldressedsmartlyinajacketand
shirt,eventhoughshewasatafootballmatch.Alexnoticedshewaswearingblackand
redearrings:atleastshehadn'tcompletelyforgottenherteamcolours.
"Goodafternoon,MrDrevin.Alex..."Shenoddedatbothofthem."Lunchisbeingserved
onthethirdfloor.Ihaveyourpasses."ShegavethemtwosecuritypassesmarkedALL
ACCESS+T.
"WhatdoestheTstandfor?"Alexasked.
"Ipresumeitmeansyoucangothroughthetunnel,"Tamaraexplained.Shesounded
uninterested."Infactyoucangoanywhereyoulike,exceptontothepitch."Sheturnedto
MrDrevin."Goodluckthisafternoon,"shesaid.
"Thankyou,MissKnight."
Theywentintowhatcouldhavebeenthefoyerofaverysmarthealthclub,withadark
woodendesk,aturnstileandawidecorridorwithtwooversizedlifts.Auniformedsecurity
guardandareceptionistwatchedthemasTamaracalledthelift.Theytravelleduptothe
thirdfloorinsilence.
Alexrealizedthathewasenteringhallowedground.Thiswaswherethedirectors,
chairmen,managersandcorporatesponsorscame.Normallyhewouldn'thavebeen
allowedanywherenear.
Yetstillhefeltillatease.Drevinmighthaveforgottenthekartracebuthehadn't.It
seemedtoAlexthatthemorehelearntabouthim,thelessattractivehebecame.An
absolutelywonderfulman.ThatwashowCrawleyhaddescribedhim.Well,MI6hadsaid
muchthesameaboutDamianCray.AlexknewthatDrevinwasabadloser,andhehad
darkfeelingsaboutthismatchwhichhecouldn'tshakeoff.
"HowareyouenjoyingyourstaywithMrDrevin?"Tamaraaskedsuddenly.
"It'sfine."
"Ihopeyou'rekeepingoutoftrouble."
Wasshetryingtotellhimsomething?Alexexaminedtheattractiveblueeyes,butthey
weregivingnothingaway.
Theliftdoorsopenedandtheywalkedoutintoacorridorlinedwithdarkwoodenpanels,
andintoadiningroomwithabuffettableononeside.Waitresseswerecirculatingwith
champagne.Unliketherestofthecomplex,theroomwasoldfashionedwithamoulded
ceilingandaseriesofornate,smokedglasswindows.Butforthetwowidescreen
televisionsmountedonthewalls,itcouldhavebelongedtothenineteenthcentury.
Drevinacceptedaglassofchampagneandsatdownatoneofthetableswhereabouthalf
adozenpeople,includingtheStratfordEastchairmanandacoupleofthefootballers'
wives,werealreadyseated.Therewereaboutfiftypeopleintheroom.
AlexrecognizedacoupleoftelevisionactorschattingtotheChelseachairman,who
unlikeDrevinlookedcompletelyatease.AwaitressgaveAlexaglassoflemonade,and
hesippeditinsilence.
HefoundhimselfstandingbesideTamaraKnight."Areyouafootballsupporter?"he
asked.
"No."Shelookedbored."I'veneverreallyunderstoodtheBritishobsessionwithfootball.
Ofcourse,IwantMrDrevintowin.ButotherwiseIdon'treallycare."
Alexfoundhimselfgettingannoyed.Tamaralookedlikeamodeloranactress.Butshe
seemeddeterminedtoactlikeacoldbloodedbusinesswoman."Howdidyoucometo
workforMrDrevin?"heasked.
"Oh,anagencyrecommendedme."
"Doyouenjoyit?"
"OfcourseIdo.MrDrevinisaveryinterestingman."Shewasunwillingtosayanymore
andlookedrelievedwhenthedoorsuddenlyopenedandayoungwomancamestriding
in.Alextookintheblondehair,thepermanenttan,thediamondcollarnecklaceandthe
perfectteeth.Herecognizedherinstantly.Herfacewasrarelyabsentfromthetabloidsor
thetelevisionscreen.
HernamewasCayenneJamesandshehadoncebeenamodelandanactress.Then
shehadmarriedAdamWright,oneofthecountry'smostfamousstrikersandamemberof
theEnglandsquad.WrighthadmadetheheadlineshimselfwhenDrevinhad
paidtwentyfourmillionpoundstobuyhimfromManchesterUnitedhewasnowthe
captainofStratfordEast.Alexwasn'tsurprisedthathiswifehadturneduptoseehimplay.
HewatchedasshewentovertoDrevinandkissedtheairclosetohischeeks,thensat
downandhelpedherselftochampagne.Theconversationintheroomhadquietened
whenshecameinandAlexwasabletoheartheirfirstexchange.
"Howareyou,Niki?"Shehadaloud,schoolgirlish,voice."SorryI'mlate.Ijustpopped
intoHarrods.It'sonlydowntheroad."
"Wasyourhusbandwithyou?"
"No!Don'tworry!"Shegiggled."Adam'sbeenconcentratingonthebigmatch.Henever
comesshoppingwhenthere'sagamecomingup..."
Morefoodwasserved.Alexwasfeelingincreasinglyoutofplace.HewassorryPaul
hadn'tbeenabletocome.Itwashalfpasttwo.Hewishedthegamewouldbegin.
Halfanhourlateritdid.Thesmokedglasswindowsanddoorswereopenedandeveryone
walkedout.Alexwentwiththem,emergingontoastandwithaboutahundredseats,one
tierup,exactlyoppositethetunnel.AndatthatmomenthewasabletoforgetDrevin,
Neverglade,gokartingandalltherestofit.Themagicofthestadium,momentsbefore
kickoff,overwhelmedhim.
StamfordBridgehasroomforoverfortytwothousandspectatorsandtoday,in the
bright
afternoonsunlight,everyseatwasfull.Musicwaspoundingoutofthespeakers,fighting
withthefans,whowerealreadychantinggoodhumouredly.AlexwatchedasaMexican
wavetravelledinahugecircleinfrontofhim.HehadbeengivenseatA10,perfectly
placedbetweenthetwogoals.Therewerenopolicemeninsight.Chelseahasitsown
armyofstewardsbutitdidn'tlookasifanyonewasinthemoodfortrouble.
Thentherewasaroarastheteamsemergedandformedtwolines,eachone
accompaniedbyasmallchild.Therefereeandthetwolinesmenjoinedthem.
"You'renexttome,"TamaraKnightannounced.
Alexsatdown.Hewasdeterminedtoenjoythenexthourandahalf.
Butitwasobvious,almostfromkickoff,thatitwasgoingtobeahard,unfriendlygame.
Afterjusttenminutes,oneoftheChelseaplayerswasbroughtdownbyavicioustackle
thatimmediatelyearnedStratfordEastayellowcard.Itwastobethefirstofmany.
Chelseadominatedthefirsthalf,andbutforthehardworkoftheStratfordEastkeeper,
theywouldhavesoontakenthelead.Then,halfanhourin,therightwingergatheredthe
ballandsentitinaperfectcrosstothepenaltyareaandasecondlaterithadbeen
headedintothegoal.Thecrowdroaredthespeakersblared.Itwasoneniltothehome
side,andjustfiveminuteslatertheChelseacaptainbeattwodefendersandpoweredthe
ballintothebackofthenet.
StratfordEastwentintothebreaktwogoalsdown.
ThereweremoredrinksservedinthediningroomduringtheintervalbutAlexwascareful
toavoidNikoleiDrevin.Herememberedhowhe'dbehavedattheendofthekartrace.
Thiswasathousandtimesmorehumiliating.Thegamewasbeingshownalloverthe
country.Drevinhadspentasizeablefortunebuildinguphisteam.Andthefactthathe
wasbeingbeatenbyChelseaownedbyanotherRussiansomehowmadeitallthe
worse.
CayenneJamesdidn'thelp."Nevermind,Niki,"shesaidinhersilly,highpitchedvoice.
"It'snotoveryet.I'm sureAdamwillbetalkingtotheboysinthedressingroom."
"Itwouldbeniceifyourhusbandweretotouchtheball,"Drevinreplied.Hehadaglassof
champagnebutwasholdingitasthoughitwerepoison.
"Hedoesseemabittiredtoday.Maybehe'ssavinghisstrengthforthesecondhalf."
Infact,AdamWrightwasbarelyvisiblewhenthegamebeganagain,andAlexwondered
whythemanagerdidn'tpullhimoff.Hewasplayinginthecentrebutneverseemedtobe
anywhereneartheball,andwhenhedidtakepossessionhedidn'tcreateasingle
opportunity.AlexknewthattheStratfordEastcaptainhadbeengivenabadridebythe
press.HeshouldneverhaveleftManchester
1C9
United.Hespentmoretimemodellingclothesandadvertisingaftershavethanplaying
football.HislastoutingsforEnglandhadbeendismal.Halfthecountryhadturnedagainst
him,andperhapsitwasnowaffectinghisgame.
Thenextgoal,whenitcame,wasmoreofaflukethananythingelse.Therewasanuntidy
scrabbleinfrontoftheChelseagoalandforamomenttheballwasinvisible.Thena
StratfordEastplayergothisfoottoit.Theballdeflectedoffanotherplayer'sthighand
sailedpastinchesawayfromtheChelseakeeper'soutstretchedfingers.Itwasn'tpretty
butitmadethescoretwoonewithfifteenminuteslefttoplay.
Afterthat,ChelseararelylostcontroloftheballAlexfoundhimselfwillingthemon,hoping
theywouldkeeptheirleaduntilthefinalwhistle.Heknewitwasungenerousofhimhe
washereasDrevin'sguest.ButChelseawerethebetterteamandhe'dbeenablueallhis
life.Hekepthisemotionstohimself,though,resistingthetemptationtojointhehome
supportersastheyurgedtheirteamon.
Fulltime.ItseemedthatChelseahaditinthebag.Butthen,outofnowhere,three
minutesintoinjurytime,camethechancetoequalize:afoulinsidetheChelseapenalty
area.OneoftheStratfordEastplayerswentdown,grippinghisleginagony,andalthough
Alexsuspectedhewasfaking,therefereebelievedhim.Therewasablastofthewhistle.
Anotheryellowcard.Aroarofdisbelieffromthe
crowd.ButStratfordEasthadbeenawardedthepenalty.Ithadtobethelastshotofthe
game.
AdamWrightsteppedforwardtotakeit.
Hecouldn'tmiss.HehadtakenpenaltiesforEnglandcountlesstimes.Alexhadwatched
himperformbrilliantlyagainstPortugalinthelastEuropeanChampionships,firingtheball
intothenetwithbreathtakingease.Surelyhewoulddothesamenow.
Apeculiarhushhaddescendedonthestadium.Aftermakingsomuchnoise,itwas
astonishingthatoverfortytwothousandpeoplecouldbesoquiet.AlexglancedatDrevin
sittingfourseatsaway.Theman'sentirebodywastensebuttherewassomethingcloseto
asmileonhisface.HeknewtherewasnowayStratfordEastcouldwinthisgame.Buta
drawwouldbeenough.Therewasnohumiliationinadraw.
AdamWrightsettledtheballonthepenaltyspot.
TheotherStratfordEastplayerswererangedbehindhim.TheChelseakeeperwas
crouching,rubbinghishandstogether.Themomentseemedtostretchouttoaneternity.
Thecrowdhelditscollectivebreath.
AdamWrightranhishandsthroughhishair.Itwaslongthisseason,withblondhighlights.
Therefereeblewhiswhistle.Asingle,shortblast.Wrightranforwardalmostlazilyand
kicked.
Alexwatchedindisbelief.
Somethinghadgoneterriblywrong.Thekeeperhadbeenmisdirectedandhaddivedto
theleft,buttheballhadn'tgoneanywherenearthegoal.Aclumpofgrassandmudsailed
inonedirectionwhiletheballsoaredintheother,passingatleastayardoverthe
crossbar.AdamWrightrealizedwhathadhappenedand,evenatthisdistance,Alex
thoughthecouldseetheshockinhiseyes.Then,slowly,everythingseemedtounfreeze.
Thekeepergottohisfeet,punchingtheairwithbothfists.TheotherStratfordEast
playersstoodwheretheywere,stunned.TheChelseafansroaredtheirpleasurethe
visitingsupporterssatinparalysedsilence.
AndDrevin?Hehadgoneverypale.Hishandswereclaspedtogether,hiseyesempty.
Afewseatsawayfromhim,CayenneJamesgigglednervously."Ohdear!"shesquealed.
DrevinturnedtolookatherandAlexcouldseethathemadenoattempttodisguisethe
contemptinhisface.
Andthenitwasallover.Therefereedidn'tevenbotherwithanotherkickoff.Heblewthe
finalwhistleandthetwoteamscametogether,shakinghandsandswappingshirts.More
musicpoundedoutasthescreensflashedupthefinalscore.TwoonetoChelsea.The
stewardsreappearedandthecrowdstartedtotrickleoutofthestadium.
Drevinwassuddenlyverymuchalone.AsAlexwatched,hedugahandintohistrouser
pocketand
tookoutamobilephone.Hepressedaspeeddialbuttonandspokebriefly.Alexgotthe
feelingthathewastalkinginRussian,butevenifithadbeenEnglish,hewouldn'thave
beenabletohearabovethegeneraldin.Drevin'sfacewascolourless.Whateverhewas
saying,Alexdoubtedhewassendinghisteamacongratulatorymessage.
Drevinputhisphoneawayandstoodup.HeseemedtonoticeAlexforthefirsttime.
"I'msorry,"Alexmuttered.Hedidn'tknowwhattosay.
"Therewillbeothergames."Drevin'svoicewasheavy."Ifyoudon'tmind,Alex,Iwillask
MissKnighttoaccompanyyouhome.Thedriveriswaitingoutside.Ihavesomebusiness
toattendto."
Tamaranodded."Whateveryousay,MrDrevin."
Drevinwentbackintothediningroom.Alextookonelastlookatthestadium,atthegreat
rectangleofbrightgreengrass,atthedepartingspectators.Heknewitwasunlikelyhe
wouldeverhavethisviewofStamfordBridgeagain.
Somethingcaughthiseye.
Thesunglintingoffsomething.Somebodyinthecrowd.
No.Itwasn'tpossible.
Alexlookedagain,thenhurrieddownthestepstotheedgeoftheterraceandlookedmore
carefully,hiseyessearchingthemillingcrowd.Heknewwhathehadseen.Hejusthoped
hewasmistaken.
Hewasn't.
SilverToothwasstandingontheedgeofthepitch.Alexlookeddown,shocked.Theman
he'dknockedoutwiththedefibrillatorandwhohadbeentherewithForceThreewhenhe
wasinterrogatedwasthere,inthecrowd!Hehadbeenwatchingthegameasifthatwas
whathedidonaSaturdayafternoonwhenhewasn'tkidnappingpeople.Alexwatchedas
heslippedsomethingintohisjacketpocketandthenbeganmovingslowlytowardsthe
southstand.
TamaraKnightcalledouttohim."Alex?"
Whatshouldhedo?Alexdidn'twantanymoreinvolvementwithForceThree.Hewas
meanttobeonholiday,recuperating.Buthecouldn'tjustletthemanwalkaway.
Hemadehisdecision.Heturnedandranpasther."I'llmeetyouatthecar!"hecalledout.
Andthenhewasgone,throughtheglassdoorsintothediningroom,searchingforthe
waybackdown.
BLUEMURDER
ForceThreewerehereatStamfordBridge.
AsAlexburstoutintotheopenair,heknewtheyhadn'tcometowatchafootballmatch.
TheyhadalreadyattackedDrevinoncethroughhisson.Wasitpossibletheyweregoing
totryagain,thistimebytargetinghisfootballteam?
Alexreachedtheedgeofthepitchandlookedaround.Thecrowdwasslowly
disappearingthroughthevariousexits,likesandtricklingoutofaleakingbucket,butthere
muststillhavebeenatleasttenthousandpeopleinthestadium.Nowthathewasat
groundlevel,hewonderedifhewouldhaveanychanceofspottingthemanheknewonly
asSilverToothagain.
Uponthegianttelevisionscreens,AdamWrightwasbeinginterviewedaboutthemissed
penalty.TheStratfordEastcaptainhadaboyishfacehecouldhavebeenaboutnineteen.
Helookedand
soundedasifhewassulking.
"...soIdon'treallyknowwhathappened,"hewassaying."Ithoughttheballmovedjust
beforeIkickedit.Thesoilwasabitsoftaroundthepenaltyspot.Idon'tknow.It'sjustone
ofthosethings,Isuppose.There'salwaysnexttime..."
Alexglancedawayfromtheimageandthatwaswhenhesawhim.SilverToothwas
wearinganorangeGoreTexjacket.Perhapshethoughtitwasgoingtorain.Therewasa
largegapbetweentheterracesandthepitch,andAlexsawSilverToothasheseparated
fromthecrowd.Hewaswalkingpurposefullyroundthefrontofthesouthstand,not
makingforanyoftheexits.Alexwasabletoexaminehimproperlyforthefirsttime.He
wasinhistwenties.NotEnglish.HislookswereMiddleEastern.Hishairwaslongand
dirty.Itwasn'tjusthisteeththatneededattention.Alexfollowedhimbehindthegoaland
towardstheplayers'tunnel.Whatwasthemandoinghere?Heturnedthequestionover
andoverinhismind.
SilverToothreachedthetunnelanddisappearedfromsight.Alexquickenedhispace,
gratefulforthesecuritypassaroundhisneck.Acoupleofstewardsglancedhiswaybut
neitherofthemtriedtostophim.ItoccurredtohimthatSilverToothmusthaveapasstoo.
Ifso,howhadhegotit?Orwashissimplyforged?
Hereachedthetunnel,whichwassurroundedbyaseaofemptyblueseatswiththepress
boxjust
above.Ninestepsleddowntoanoldfashionedmetalandwiregate.Innormal
circumstancesAlexwouldhavegivenanythingtobehere.Hehadwatchedhisteam
emergecountlesstimesfromrightwherehewasstanding.Hecouldpicturethespectators
intheirthousands,hearthechantingandclappingswellingintoaroarofexcitementasthe
playersappeared.Thisreallywasthelion'smouth.Buthecouldn'tfeelanyexcitement.
Despiteallhisresolutions,Alexknewthathewasgettingintotroubleonceagain.Trouble,
itseemed,justwouldn'tlethimgo.
Alexenteredamodern,surprisinglyemptyareawithaceilingsolowitwasoppressive,
andgreytilesonthefloor.TherewasnosignofSilverTooth.Therewereacoupleof
gleamingsilverbinsandabenchwhereinjuredplayerscouldreceiveimmediatephysio.
Theairwascoldandsterile,endlesslyrecycledbyapowerfulairconditioningsystem.
Everythingsmelledbrandnew,andAlexrecalledthattheownerofChelseahadspent
hundredsofthousandsofpoundssmarteningtheplaceup.Hepushedopenadoorand
foundhimselflookingintothepressroom,arectangularspacewithabouttwentyseats
facinganarrowplatform.Thejournalistshadalreadyleft.Therewasanouterroomwith
twowallscoveredincarefullyplacedadvertisementsandherecognizedthespotwhere
AdamWrighthadbeeninterviewedonlyafewminutesbefore.
Hetriedanotherdoor.Ashepusheditajar,heheardvoicescomingfrominside.Onewas
alltoofamiliar.Heheldthedooropenacrackandlookedthrough.Yes.CombatJacket
wasthere.ThelasttimeAlexhadseenhim,hehadbeenshootingathimwithanFP9
singleactionpistol,blockinghisescapefromablazingbuilding.Nowhewasstandingwith
hisbacktothedoor,handsonhips.SilverToothandSpectacleswerewithhim.They
weresurroundingafourthmanwhowassittingonabench,atowelwrappedaroundhis
waist.
ItwasAdamWright.Thiswasthevisitingteam'schangingroom.Peeringthroughthe
narrowcrackAlexdidn'tdareopenthedooranywiderhetookinthebluepadded
benches,thelockers,thevendingmachinefilledwithwaterandLucozade,theultra
modernshowersandtoiletsonthefarside.Theceilingwaslowheretoo.Alexcould
almostfeeltheweightoftheseatinginthestanddirectlyoverhead.
TheStratfordEastcaptainwastheonlyplayerintheroom.Theothersmusthaveleft
whilehewasbeinginterviewed,gettingoutasfastastheycouldafterlosingthegame.
AdamWrightwaslookingupatthethreementoweringoverhim.Hewasclearlysurprised
toseethem.
"Ifyouguysdon'tmind,"hesaid,"Iwasjustgoingtotakeashower.Wedon'tusuallyhave
visitorsintheplayers'changingroom."
"WerepresenttheStratfordEastSupporters'
Club,"CombatJacketsaid."Andwehavesomethingforyou."
"Athankyoupresent,"Spectaclesadded.
"That'sright.Tothankyouforeverythingyou'vedonefortheteam."CombatJackettooka
sealedplasticboxfromhispocketandhelditout.
AdamWrighttookit."Well,that'sverykindofyouguys.Butifyoudon'tmind,I'llopenit
later."
"We'dpreferyoutoopenitnow."
AlexwasonlyafewmetresawayfromtheStratfordEastcaptain,whowassittingfacing
him.Hewatchedastheplayeropenedtheboxandtookoutagoldmedalliononachain.It
wasanappropriatepresent.AdamWrightworemorejewellerythanmostwomen:
earrings,braceletsandadifferentnecklaceeverydayoftheweek.Butnoneofthismade
anysense.Thethreemeninthedressingroomwerekillers.Whatweretheydoing
offeringgiftstoafootballerwho'djustblownagame?
"It'sreallynice,"theStratfordEastcaptainsaid,holdingupthemedallion.Itwasround
andchunky,aboutthesizeofaminidisc.Therewasafigureengravedonthefront.
Himself,headingaballintoanet."It'sgreat!"heexclaimed."Canyoutellthefansthat,
youknow,Ireallyappreciatethis."
"Aren'tyougoingtoputiton?"CombatJacketasked.
"Sure!"Wrightslippeditoverhishead.Themedallionrestedonhismuscularchest."It's
quitelight. What'sitmadeof?"
"Caesium,"CombatJacketsaid.
AdamWrightlookedblank."Isthatrare?"heasked.
"Ohyes.Gettingholdofitcanbemurder..."
SomethingnudgedthebackofAlex'sneck.Alexsteppedbackwards,allowingthedoorof
thechangingroomtoclose,andheheardnomoreoftheconversation.
Thereissomethingaboutthetouchofagunthatisunmistakable.It'snotjustthecoldness
ofthemetalit'sthewhisperofdeaththatcomeswithit.Veryslowly,Alexturnedround.
Hesawthegunclaspedintwohands,oneofthemswathedinbandages.Heknewthat
themanwhoheldithadbrokenatleastacoupleofhisfingers.Alexrememberedhim
fromthemagneticresonanceimagingchamberatStDominic's.Hewasshortandvery
wellbuilt.AlexhadnicknamedhimSteelWatch,butthewatchwasnolongerthere.It
musthavebeenbrokenwhenthemancrashedintotheMRImachine.Alexwasalittle
surprisedthatthesamethinghadn'thappenedtohisneck.
"You!"SteelWatchwasshockedtoseeAlex.
Alexraisedhishands."Idon'tsupposeyou'vegotthetime?"heasked.
SteelWatchgrimaced.Heseemedunsurewhattodo.Hehadbeenabouttoenterthe
changingroomtheothermembersofForceThreewerewaitingforhim.Buthehada
personalscoretosettlewithAlex.
Hemadeuphismind."YouandIaregoingtoleavequietlytogether,"heordered."Iam
goingtowalkbehindyou.Thegunwillneverbemorethanafewinchesaway.Youwillnot
speakyouwillnotstop.IfyoutryanythinganythingIwillputabulletinyourspine.Do
youunderstand?"
"Wherearewegoing?"
"There'savan.I'llshowyou.Nowmove."
Alexhadnochoice.HecouldseethatSteelWatchmeantexactlywhathesaid.Hewas
goingtoforcehimoutofthestadiumandmakehim aprisonerforasecondtime.Alex
knewifhegotinthevan,he'dbedeadanyway.BothCombatJacketandSteelWatchhad
ascoretosettlewithhim.Theywereadults.Professionalkillers.Hewasachild.Buthe
hadbeatenthemtwice.Theyweregoingtoenjoymakinghimpay.
SteelWatchgesturedwithhisgunandAlexwalkeddownacorridorleadingawayfromthe
tunnel.Hehadnoticedthatthemanwaswearingasecuritypassjustlikehis.Ithadtobe
fake.Therewasnobodyaround,butevenifoneofthestewardsdidappear,therewould
benothingAlexcoulddo.Ifhecalledforhelp,SteelWatchwouldkillhimandthenrun.
TherewerestillhundredsofpeoplemillingaroundStamfordBridgeitwouldbesimpleto
disappearintothecrowd.
BrieflyAlexthoughtaboutAdamWrightandwonderedwhatwasgoingoninsidethe
changingroom.Buttherewasnothinghecoulddoforthe
footballer.Hewasmoreworriedabouthimself.
Theyleftthebuilding.Theeaststandwasnowbehindthem,theterracesslantingupatan
anglefromtheground.Therewasahighwallstraightahead.Alexknewthattherailway
ranbehinditthewallhadbeenbuilttokeepoutthenoise.Ontheothersideofthetracks
wasacemetery.Alexhadbeentherewhenhisuncle,IanRider,wasburied.Hehadto
think.Ifhedidn'tdosomethingtoon,hemightwellendupjoininghim.
SteelWatchjabbedthegunintothesmallofhisback,deliberatelyhurtinghim.Hehad
seenacoupleofpolicemenstandingontheothersideofthegatesthatledintothe
FulhamRoad.Therewasanendlessqueueofpeoplefilteringslowlyoutofthegates.The
bars,restaurantsandhotelswereopen.Alexpaused.Hecouldn'tbelievetheywereabout
towalkthroughthemiddleofitall.
SteelWatchsensedhishesitation."Wearegoingtostartwalkingnow,"hehissed.
"Remember.Thegunisoutofsight.There'llbeoneshotandnobodywillknowwhereit
camefrom.You'llbelyinginthegutterandI'llbegone.Headoutofthegatesandacross
theroad.Iwilltellyouwheretogoafterthat."
Alexbegantowalkwiththewallonhisleft.He
turnedthecornerandsawtheticketboothsand
souvenirshopjustahead.TheStratfordEastfans
seemedtohavegone,takingtheirdisappointment
withthem.ButtheChelseasupporterswereinno
hurry.Itwasamildeveningandthiswastheplacetobe,meetingfriends,savouringthe
victory.Alexknewthathissituationwouldgetworsewitheverystephetook.Righthere,
now,theremightbesomethinghecoulddo.Therewerethetwopolicemen,chatting
together,unawarethatanythingwaswrong.TherewouldbedozensmoreontheFulham
Road.ButonceAlexmovedawayfromthecrowds,hewouldbetotallyexposed.Steel
Watchhadmentionedavan.Aleximaginedthesteeldoorslammingshutbehindhim.At
thatmomenthewouldbeasgoodasdead.
Hehadtodosomethingnow,beforeitwastoolate.Heglancedoverhisshoulder.Steel
Watchwasbeingcareful,keepingasafedistancebetweenthem.Themanhadhishands
tuckedunderhisjacket.Itdidn'tevenlookasifthetwoofthemweretogether,butAlex
knewthatthegunwastrainedonhim.Ifhetriedanything,SteelWatchwouldfirethrough
thefabric.Hecouldn'tspeakhecouldn'tturn.Hehadtokeepmoving.
Thegatesweregettingcloser.TheFulhamRoadwasbeyond.Oneofthepolicemenwas
givingsomebodydirections.Buttheyweren'tgoingtohelphim.Whataboutthecrowd?
Aheadofhim,nexttotheexit,hecaughtaglimpseofredandblack.TwoStratfordEast
supportersinteamshirts.Oneofthemwasaskinheadwithsmall,redeyesandaruddy,
pockmarkedface.HewasscowlingatthedepartingChelseafansandAlexcouldseethat
hewouldlovetocausetrouble.Hewasswayingonhisfeet.He'dprobablybeendrinking.
Butthereweretoomanypolicemenaround.Allhehadwasattitudeandhewasshowing
asmuchofitashecould.
AlexwasheadingstraighttowardshimwithSteelWatchclosebehind.Andsuddenlyhe
hadathought.SteelWatchwaskeepinganeyeonhiseverymovement.Buthecouldn't
seehisface.Hecouldn'tseewhathedidwithhishands.
ButtheStratfordEastsupportercould.
Alexsloweddown.
"Keepmoving,"SteelWatchorderedinalow,uglyvoice.
Alexstaredattheskinhead.Hehadoncereadsomewherethatifyoustaredatanother
personhardenough,they'dbecomeawareofyou.Hehadtrieditoftenenoughwhenhe
wasboredinclass.Nowhefocusedallhisattentiononthemanevenashecontinued
walkingforward,weavingthroughthecrowd.
Themanlookedup.Itwasn'ttelepathytherewasnorealwayhecouldavoidhim.Alex
wasaboutfifteenmetresaway,gettingcloserallthetime.Peoplewerecrossinginfrontof
him fatherswiththeirsons,couples,fansdressedintheblueChelseastripbutAlex
ignoredthem.HiseyesdrilledintotheStratfordEastsupporter.
Theskinheadnoticedhim.Hisowneyesnarrowed.
Alex'shandwasagainsthischest.Withhisgazestillfixedontheman,heraisedtwo
fingersslowlyanddeliberately,thendroppedoneofthem.UnseenbySteelWatch,hehad
signalledthescore:twoone.Andhehadlefthismiddlefingerstandingoffensivelyupright.
Alexsneeredatthesupporter,tryingtolookasaggressiveashecould.Thesupporter
stared.Alexrepeatedthesign.Thiswastheworstinsulthecouldthrowatthemanwithout
openinghismouth.
Alexhadbeenright.TheStratfordEastsupporterwasdrunk.Hehadwatchedhisteam
losewithalmostasmuchdisgustasDrevinhimself,andthebotchedpenaltyinthefinal
secondshadenragedhim.Andherewassomecockylittlesod,aChelseasupporter,
makingfunofhim!Well,tohellwiththepolice.Tohellwiththecrowd.Hewasn'tgoingto
standhereandtakeit.Hewasgoingtosorthimout.
Helumberedforward.Alexfeltaspurtofexcitementashesawthathistactichadworked.
Behindhim,SteelWatchhadn'trealizedwhatwasgoingon.Thingshadtohappenvery
quicklyAlexneededtheelementofsurprise.
TheStratfordEastsupporterstoppedinfrontofhim,blockinghispath."What'syour
problem?"hedemanded.
AlexcametoahalthehadnochoiceandhefeltSteelWatchbumpintohim.There
wasnolongeranydistancebetweenthem.
"Isaidwhat'syourproblem?"
Alexsaidnothing.Hehadbeeninstructednottotalk.Insteadhetwistedhisfaceintoa
sneerofamusement,mockingthemanwhostoodinfrontofhim.
Itworked.Thesupportersworeathimandlashedoutwithhisrightfist.Alexducked.The
fistflewpasthisheadandslammedintothethroatofSteelWatch,whohadbeenstanding
rightbehindhim.Thegunwentoff.ThebullethittheStratfordEastsupporterinthearm,
spinninghimround.Panicerupted.Suddenlyeveryonewasscreamingandrunning,
awarethatsomebodyhadbeenshotbutnotknowingwhohadfired.Thetwopolicemen
chargedinthroughthegates.Behindthemathirdpolicemanappearedonhorseback.The
horsewhinniedandbegantopushthroughthescatteringcrowd.
TheStratfordEastsupporterwassittingontheground,claspinghisinjuredarm.Alexfelt
sorryforhim,buthewasn'tgoingtohangaround.Theinstantthegunhadbeenfired,he
haddartedaway,divingintothecrowd,weavingleftandright,hopingSteelWatch
wouldn'thaveachancetoshootagain.
Hehadtimeditperfectly.SteelWatchdidn'tdaretryanothershot.Therewerealreadytoo
manypeoplebetweenhimandAlex.Andhecouldn'tbringoutthegunwithoutdrawing
attentiontohimself.Therewerepoliceeverywhere.Therewas
nothingmorehecoulddo.
Alexranon,pasttheChelseashopandontowardstheentrancewherethecarhad
droppedhimbeforethematch.TamaraKnightwasstandingthere.Shewaslooking
alarmed,andAlexwonderedifshehadheardtheshot.Thenherealizedshewasstaring
athim.Shecouldtellfromhisfacethatsomethingwaswrong.
"Alex?Whatisit?"shedemanded.
"Gethelp!"heexclaimed."Callthepolice.Whatever."Hetookadeepbreath."You'vegot
tosendsomeonetothechangingrooms.AdamWright.Ithinkhe'sintrouble."
"What?Whatareyoutalkingabout?"
"ForceThree."Itwastoocomplicatedtoexplain.Drevin'spersonalassistantwaslooking
athimasifhewerederanged.Wherewashemeanttobegin?"Justtrustme,"hebegged.
"Youneedtogetsecurityovertothechangingrooms.Please!Believeme..."
Tamaragazedathimforafewmoreseconds,summinghimup.Shedidn'tlookasifshe
believedhim.Butthenshenodded."Allright,then.There'sastewardinside."Sheturned
andhurriedbackintotheweststand.
Butitwasalreadytoolate.
Thethreemenhadleftthechangingroom.AdamWrightwasonhisown.Hefingeredthe
newmedalliontheyhadgivenhim.Hehadmorethana
dozenofthem ingoldandplatinum.He'dalwayslikedmedallions,evenwhenhewasa
boygrowingupinEssex.Hethoughttheysuitedhim.
Itwasstrange,though.Receivingagiftafteragamelikethat.AdamWrightthoughtabout
themissedpenaltyashewentovertotheshowers.Howeveryoulookedatit,hewasn't
havingagoodseason.Maybeitwastimetothinkaboutanothertransfer.Hehadtobe
careful.Ifhisgamebegantoslip,hemightlosesomeofhisadvertisingandsponsorship
deals.Andifthathappened,howwouldhepayforhisnextFerrari?
Hedroppedhistowel.Glimpsinghimselfinamirror,hesmiled.Hehadaperfectbodyand
helikedthewaythenewmedallionlayagainsthischest.Hewaslookingforwardto
showingittoCayenne.
Heturnedtheshoweronfull.Hotwaterblasteddown.Hesteppedintothesprayand
waterbatteredhisneckandshoulders.Heturnedround.
ThemenwhohadgivenAdamWrightthemedallionhadtoldhimthatitwasmadeof
caesium.Whattheyhadn'ttoldhimwasthatcaesiumisanalkalimetalfoundingroupone
oftheperiodictable.Itdoesnotoccurnaturally.Ithasonlyoneelectroninitsoutershell.
And,likeallalkalimetals,itreactsextremelyviolentlywhenexposedtowater.The
medallionhadbeengivenacoatingofwaxtoprotectitfromtheatmosphere,butthewax
wasnowmeltingintheshower.
AdamWrightknewtherewassomethingwrongwhenhefeltanintenseburning.Fora
moment,hethoughtthewaterwastoohot.Thenhelookeddownand,tohis
astonishment,hesawabrilliantflameburstingoutinfrontofhim.Heopenedhismouthto
scream,andatthatmomentthecaesiummedallionexploded.Thescreamdiedinhis
throat.Withthewaterrushingdown,hefelltohisknees,hishandsoutstretched,andfora
briefinstanthelookedjustlikeakeepersecondsafterhehaslettheballintothebackof
thenet.Thenhepitchedforwardandlaystill.
Twominuteslater,thedoorofthechangingroomcrashedopenandagroupofsecurity
menrushedin.Therewasnothingtheycoulddo.AdamWrightwaslyingonthefloorwith
waterallaroundhim.Smokewasrisingupbeneathhischest,creepingthroughhis
armpits.
TheStratfordEastcaptainandEnglandstrikerhadtakenhislastpenalty.
Andthepeoplewhohadcomeforhimhadn'tmissed.
EXPIRYDATE
Ihefollowingday,AlexwasplayingtabletenniswithPaulDrevin.OnceagainPaulwas
beatinghim.Thescorewasfifteeneighteenanditwashisserve.Hefiredtheballdown
thetable,tryingtoputsomespinonit.Paullobbeditback.Alexwentfortheslamandgot
it.TheballhitthecornerofthetableandbouncedoverPaul'sbat.Sixteeneighteen.He
wasinwithachance.
ThetwoboyswereplayinginthemostextraordinaryroomAlexhadeverbeenin.Itwas
morethansixtymetreslongbutonlysixmetreswide,anoversizedcigartubewith
portholewindowsrunningalongthewholelength.Partoftheroomwascarpeted,with
luxuriousleatherchairsarrangedaroundacoffeetable,adrinkscabinetandawidescreen
TV.Thentherewasthegamesarea:completewithtabletennistable,snookertable,
PlayStationandgym.Nexttoitwasasmallbutwellequipped
kitchenand,ontheotherside,closedoff,astudyareawithalibraryandconferencetable
whereNikoleiDrevinwasnowworking.
Andthewholethingwasthirtysixthousandfeetabovetheground.
AlexandPaulwereontheirwaytoAmerica,flyinginDrevin'sprivate747whichhehad
adaptedtohisownneeds.Forgetcrampedseatingandmicrowavedfoodonplastictrays.
Theinteriorofthisplanewasbeyondbelief.Butforthenoiseoftheenginesandthe
occasionalturbulence,itwouldhavebeenhardforAlextobelievethathewasintheair.
HewasgladtobeoutofEngland.
ThedeathofAdamWrighthadnaturallymadethefrontpageofeverynewspaper.Ithad
alsobeentheleadstoryinallthenewsprogrammesonTV.Thistime,Alexhadnotbeen
involvedandforthathehadtothankTamaraKnight.Shealoneknewthathehadseen
andfollowedoneofthekillersatStamfordBridge,andwhenthebodyintheshowerhad
beendiscovered,shehaddecidedtokeepthisinformationtoherself.AsshesaidtoAlex,
he'dbeenthroughenough.ForceThreehadalreadyclaimedresponsibilityforthemurder,
explainingthatthefootballerhadbeenanothervictimintheirwaragainstDrevin.What
differencewoulditmakeifAlexwasdraggedintoitonceagain?
Tamarawasontheplanetoo,sittinginoneoftheLeatherchairs,readingabook.Alex
hadglanced
atthecoverandseenthetitle.Shewasreadingahistoryofspacetravel,obviously
preparingherselfforthelaunchthatwastotakeplaceinjustthreedays'time.She
glancedupbrieflyashepreparedtotakehisnextserve,thenturnedapage.
Alexlosttheserveand,twopointslater,thegame.Hewonderedifthey'dreachedthe
coastofCanadayet.IthadbeenalmostfivehourssincetheyhadleftHeathrow,andeven
withallthecomfortsofthe747,hewasawarethathewasinthatstrange,emptyspace,
hoveringontheedgeoftheworldbetweentwotimezones.
"Areyouhungry?"Paulaskedhim.
"Nothanks,"Alexreplied.Theplanehadacookandtwostewardesses,whohadserveda
brunchoffreshfruit,coffeeandcroissantsjustaftertheyhadtakenoff.
"Wecanwatchafilmifyoulike."
"Allright."
Paulputdownhisbatandslumpedintooneofthenearbychairs."It'sashamewewon't
havemoretimeinNewYork,"hesaid."Ireallywantedtoshowittoyou.It'sacoolcityjust
towanderaroundin.Andit'sgotgreatshops.Iwasgoingtobuyawholeloadofgear."
"Howlongarewetherefor?"Alexasked.
"Dadsaysjustoneday.He'sgotsomepeopletoseeorwe'dbegoingstraightto
FlamingoBay."Paulpressedabuttoninthearmofhischairandamomentlateroneof
thestewardessesappeared.
"Canwewatchafilm?"heasked.
"Ofcourse."Thestewardesssmiled."I'llbringyouthemenu.Andwouldyoulike
somethingtodrink?"
"I'llhaveaCoke.Alex?"
"No.I'mfine."
AlexsatdownoppositePaul,avoidingtheotherboy'seye.ItseemedtohimthatPaulwas
morelikehisfatherthanperhapsherealized.Despitehisprotests,hefittedcomfortably
intothisbillionairelifestyle,takingtheprivateplane,thehousesallovertheworldandthe
completefreedomforgranted.Rightnowthetwoofthemshouldhavebeenatschool.
AlexthoughtofBrooklandandabigpartofhimyearnedtobewithhisfriends,larking
aroundandgettingintotroublebackintherealworld.
Hewasfeelingguiltybecause,althoughhe'dsaidnothingtoPaul,hehadalreadymade
hisdecision.AssoonashearrivedinNewYork,hewasgoingtoleavetheDrevin
household.HefeltsorryforPaul.Moreandmoretheotherboyseemedtoberelyingon
hisfriendship,takinghimforgrantedlikeeverythingelse.Paulhadn'tchosenanyofthis
buthewasstuckwithit,andonedayitwouldbehimjettingaroundtheworld,makingall
theimportantdecisions.
ButAlexhadhadenough.NikoleiDrevinhadnothinghewanted.Morethanthat,Alexwas
becomingincreasinglyuneasy,awareofaninvisible
netclosingin.HehadnowencounteredForceThreetwice.Hemightnotbesoluckya
thirdtime.WhatevertheirargumentwithDrevin,hedidn'twanttobeanypartofit.
AndthentherewasthequestionofDrevinhimself.Therewassomuchaboutthe
manthatdidn'taddup.IfhewassoconcernedaboutPaul'ssafety,whyhadn'theputany
guardsinplaceatStDominic's?Andwasitjustcoincidencethatthekidnappershad
takenAlextoabuildingthatDrevinoroneofDrevin'smanycompaniesactually
owned?AlexthoughtabouthismeetingwithKaspar.TheForceThreeleaderhadbeen
abouttocutoffoneofhisfingersandwouldhaveifAlexhadn'tconvincedhimwhohe
reallywas.IfPaulDrevinhadbeenkidnapped,hewouldhavebeenmaimed.Why?Was
theresomesortofprivatevendettabetweenNikoleiDrevinandKasparthatbothmen
werekeepingconcealed?
Alexdidn'ttrustDrevin.Thatwasthesimpletruth.Whentheyhadracedagainsteach
other,Drevinhadtriedtokillhim.IfAlexhadflippedoverinsidethetunnel,hemighthave
beencrushedandallbecausetheRussiandidn'tlikelosing.Hehadlostagainat
Chelsea,andasaresultamanhaddied.WasDrevinresponsibleforthattoo?Alex
rememberedseeinghimtalkingonhismobilesecondsafterthegamehadended.And
whenAlexhadspottedSilverTooth,hehadbeenslippingsomethingintohispocket.
Couldithavebeenaphone?
WasitpossiblethathehadbeentakinghisordersdirectlyfromDrevin?
Well,hehaddecided.AssoonashearrivedinNewYork,hewasgoingtocallJack
Starbright,whowasonlyacoupleofhoursawayinWashington.Heknewshe'dbehappy
forhimtojoinher,especiallyifshethoughthewasinanydanger.HewouldtellNikolei
Drevinthathewashomesick.Itdidn'tmatterwhatexcusehemadeup.WhenDrevinand
hissonflewtoFlamingoBay,theywouldbetravellingwithouthim.
"Iseverythingallright,Alex?"
AlexlookedupandrealizedthatTamaraKnighthadbeenexamininghim.Hestillhadn't
workedherout.Shehadneverbeenparticularlyfriendlytohimandseemedcompletely
devotedtoNikoleiDrevin.Ontheotherhand,asfarasheknew,shehadnevertold
DrevinabouthisinvolvementinAdamWright'sdeath.Rightnow,shewasstudyinghim
suspiciously.Maybeshewastryingtoworkhimouttoo.
"I'mfine,thanks,"Alexsaid.
"Areyoulookingforwardtothelaunch?"
Alexshrugged."Isupposeso."
Paulhadchosenafilm.Thelightsinthecentreofthecabindimmedandafewminutes
lateritbegan.
Itwasjustafteroneo'clock.NewYorktime,whentheytoucheddownatJFKAirport.
NikoleiDrevin
hadcomeoutofhisstudyforthelasthouroftheflight,dictatingalettertoTamaraand
chattingtoPaul.PartoftheconversationwasinRussianandAlexgotthefeelingthat
fatherandsonweretalkingabouthim.
The747taxiedtoaholdingarea.Lookingoutofawindow,Alexsawachauffeurdriven
limousinewaitingtomeetthem.HeguessedthatamanasrichandinfluentialasDrevin
wouldn'thavetoqueueupatimmigrationwitheveryoneelse,andhewasright.Thedoor
oftheplaneopenedelectronicallyandtwomeninsuitscustomsandimmigrationwere
shownin.Oneofthemhadametalattachecasewhichcontainedacomputerandanold
fashionedpassportstamp.
"Goodafternoon,MrDrevin,sir,"themansaid.Hewasyoung,cleanshaven,withshort
blondhairanddarkglasses."WelcometoNewYork.""Thankyou."Drevinheldouthis
passport.Themanranitthroughthescanneronhiscomputerwithoutsomuchas
glancingatit,thenstampedoneofthepages.HedidthesameforPaulandTamara.He
tookAlex'slast,gazedatthephotographandlowereditbehindthelidofhiscase.Fora
momentitwasoutofsightashescannedit,butthenhewasholdingitupagainwitha
lookofpolitepuzzlement.
"I'msorry,sir,"hesaidtoDrevin."Wehaveaproblemhere.""Whatproblem?"Drevinwas
annoyed.
"Thispassportisoutofdate.Itexpiredtwodaysago."
"That'snotpossible."Drevinreachedforthepassport.Helookedattheexpirydate,then
atAlex."Themaniscorrect,"hesaid.
"No."Alexwasshocked.Itwastruehehadn'tlookedcloselyathispassportforalong
time,buthewascertainhe'donlyhaditfouryears.Therewasanabsurdphotographof
himagedtenherememberedgoingwithJacktohaveittaken."Itcan'tbe!"heprotested.
Drevinhandedhimthepassport.Alexstudiedit.Itwasthesamephoto.Theterrible
haircutembarrassedhimasitalwaysdid.Therewashissignature,andIanRider'sname
andaddressasnextofkin.Buttheimmigrationmanwascorrect.Hispassporthad
expiredthedaybeforeheleftLondon.
"Buthowcanithavehappened?"Alexasked.Hecouldn'tbelievehe'dbeensostupid.
"Whydidn'ttheynoticeatHeathrow?"
"Iguesstheydidn'tlookcloselyenough,"theAmericansaid.
"Whatdoesthismean?"Drevinasked.Hisvoicewascold.
"Well,sir,I'mverysorrybutwecan'tallowyourguesttoentertheUnitedStates.Innormal
circumstanceshe'dbesentbackhome,butIguesswecanworksomethingout.Howlong
doyouplantobehere?"
"Lessthantwentyfourhours,"Drevinreplied."Weleavetomorrow."
"Inthatcase,wecanholdMrRiderhereattheairport.It'llbelikehe'sintransit.Youcan
pickhimupagainwhenyouleave."
"Butthechildonlywishestostayhereonenight.Surelyhecan'tbesuchathreatto
Americansecuritythatyouwon'tallowhimtostaywithme!"
"I'mverysorry,MrDrevin.It'slikeIsay.ReallyheshouldbeonhiswaybacktotheUK.
I'mstretchingthingsasitis.ButIcan'tallowhimin."
"Idon'tunderstandit,"Alexinsisted."IonlygotitfouryearsagoI'msureofit."Hewas
feelingwretched.BothDrevinandhissonwerestaringathimasifthiswereallhisfault,
which,hesupposed,inawayitwas.
"Itseemswehavenochoiceinthematter,Alex,"Drevinsaid.Heturnedtothe
immigrationofficer."Wherewillyouholdhim?"
"Wehaveroomshereattheairport,sir.He'llhaveaTVandashower.Icanassureyou
he'llbefine."
"Thenitseemswe'llhavetopickyouuptomorrow,Alex."
Drevingotupandlefttheaircraft.PaulandTamarafollowed.Theassistanthadsaid
nothingthroughoutthediscussion.Alexlookedoutofthewindowastheygotintothe
limousine.Amoment
latertheydroveawayandhefoundhimselfalonewiththetwoAmericans.
"Doyouhaveanyhandluggage?"theimmigrationmanasked.
"No."
"OK.Myname'sShulsky,bytheway.EdShulsky.You'dbettercomewithme."
AlexfollowedtheAmericandownontothetarmac,thecustomsofficialclosebehind.
TherewasanothercarwaitingforthemandAlexclimbedintotheback.Shulskytookthe
frontseat.Theothermanstayedbehind.
"Justrelax.Thiswon'ttakelong,"Shulskysaid.
Thedoorshadlockedthemselvesautomatically.Feelingfarfromrelaxed,Alexsatback
andwatchedwheretheyweregoing.
Theydroveoutoftheairport,passingthroughadoublebarrierandagate.Thatalready
struckhimasodd.Hadn'tShulskyjustsaidhewasgoingtohavetospendthenightat
JFK?ButitseemedtheywereheadingforManhattan.Thedriverjoinedthetrafficonthe
freewaythatledtoBrooklynBridge,andsuddenlyAlexfoundhimselflookingacrossthe
watertothemostfamousskylineintheworld.Evennow,eveninthesecircumstances,
theviewcouldn'tfailtothrillhim,themagnificentarroganceoftheskyscraperspacked
togetheronthecramped,chaoticislandamonumenttopowerandsuccessandthe
Americanwayoflife.
Alexleantforward."Wherearewegoing?"hedemanded.
"We'llbetheresoon,"Shulskyanswered.
"Ithoughtyousaidwewerestayingattheairport."
"Relax,Alex.We'lllookafteryoujustfine."
Alexknewsomethingwasgoingon.Therehadbeennothingwrongwithhispassport.He
wassureofit.Buttherewasn'tanythinghecoulddo.Hewaslockedinacarontheother
sideoftheworldandhemightjustaswellsitbackandastheAmericanswouldsaybe
takenfortheride.
Helookedoutofthewindowastheycrossedthebridgeandturnednorth,headingpast
theterribleemptyspacewheretheWorldTradeCenterhadoncestood.Hehadvisited
NewYorkacoupleoftimesandhadhappymemoriesofthecity.Nowhewasbeing
driventhroughSoHo,insouthManhattan.
Thecarsloweddownandhenoticedanartgallerywithawindowfullofcartoons,itsname
printedingoldlettersontheglass.Theyturnedintoaparkinggarage.Alexsighedand
shookhishead.Nowheknewexactlywherehewas.
InMiamitheyhadcalledthemselvesCenturionInternationalAdvertising.Thegalleryhere
inNewYorkwascalledCreativeIdeasAnimation.Twodifferentnamesbutthesame
threeletters.
CIA.
Thecardroveuptothefirstfloorofthegarage
andstopped.ShulskygotoutandopenedthedoorforAlex."Thisway,"heannounced.
Alexfollowedhimtoabaremetaldoorthatcouldhaveledintoastoragecupboardor
perhapsanelectricgeneratorroom.AkeypadwasbuiltintothewallandShulskyentered
asevendigitcode.Therewasabuzzandthedooropened.Alexwalkedthroughintoan
emptycorridorwithaclosedcircuittelevisioncamerapointingdownathimfromabove
andanotherlockeddoorattheend.Itswungopenasheapproached.
Therewasacomfortablereceptionareaontheotherside,and,beyondthat,openplan
officesfilledwithphonesandcomputers.Twotelephonistssatbehindthemaindesk,and
menandwomeninsuitswalkedalongthecarpetedcorridors.Ablackmanwithwhitehair
andamoustachewaswaitingtogreethim.Alexrecognizedhimatonce.Hisnamewas
JoeByrne.HewasthedeputydirectorforoperationsintheCovertActionsectionofthe
CentralIntelligenceAgencyofAmerica.
"Nicetoseeyouagain,Alex,"hesaid.
"I'mnotsosure,"Alexreplied.Herememberedhowhispassporthadbrieflydisappeared
intoShulsky'sattachecase."Youswappedmypassport,"hesaid."Theoneyoushowed
Drevinwasafake."
JoeByrnenodded."Comethisway.Letmeshowyoutomyoffice.Ithinkit'stimeyouand
Ihadalittlechat."
THEBIGGESTCRIMINALINTHEWORLD
Dyrne'sofficewasidenticaltotheonethatAlexhadvisitedinMiami.Ithadthesame
ordinaryfurniture,thesameblankwalls,thesameairconditioningturneduponenotchtoo
high.Onlytheviewwasdifferent.Alexguessedheprobablyhadsomethingsimilarinjust
abouteverymajorcityinAmerica.
"Youfancyadrink?"Byrneaskedashesatdownbehindhisdesk.
"Somewater,thanks."Therewereacoupleofbottlesonasideboard.Alexhelpedhimself.
"It'sgoodtoseeyouagain,Alex."Byrnesoundedtired.Helookedasifhehadn'tbeento
bedforaweek."IwasneverabletothankyoufortheworkyoudidforusonSkeleton
Key."
"Iwassorryaboutyouragents."
"TomTurnerandBelindaTroy.Yeah,itwastoobad.Iwassorrytolosethem.Butthat
wasn'tyour
fault.Youdidagreatjob."ByrneranhiseyesoverAlex."Youlookingoodshape,"he
wenton."IwassorrytohearyougothurtinLondon.Itoldthatbossofyours,AlanBlunt,
thatitwasn'tagoodideagettingakidinvolvedinthissortofwork.Ofcourse,hedidn't
listentome.Heneverdoes.Inaway,that'swhyyou'reherenow."
"WhyamIherenow?"
"WehadtogetyouawayfromDrevinwithoutalertinghimtothefactthattheCIAwas
involved,"Byrneexplained."Likeyousaid,weswappedyourpassport,sonowhethinks
you'retiedupwithcustomsandimmigration.Thatgivesusachancetohaveatalk.Asa
matteroffact,Iwasratherhopingyoumightbeabletohelpus."
"Forgetit,MrByrne."Alexshookhishead."I'dalreadymadeupmymindbeforewe
landed.Idon'twantanythingmoretodowithDrevin.Soifyoudon'tmindputtingmeona
planetoWashington,I'llsaygoodbye."
"Washington?"Byrneraisedaneyebrow."It'sfunnyyoushouldmentionthat.ButI'm
afraidyoucan'tjustwalkoutofhere,Alex.Apartfromanythingelse,you'reanillegal
immigrant,remember?"Hequicklyraisedahandinaconciliatorygesture."Justhearme
out.WhatI'vegottosaymaybeofgenuineinteresttoyou.AndwhenI'vefinished,then
youcantellmewhatyouthink.Thetruthis,rightnowyou'reinauniquesituation.You
could
beveryusefultous.Andyouhavenoideahowmuchisatstake."
Alexsighed."WherehaveIheardthatbefore?"Heopenedthebottleofwaterandsat
downoppositetheCIAman."OK.Goahead."
"Well,asyou'veprobablyguessed,thisisallaboutDrevin,"Byrnebegan."NikoleiVladimir
Drevin.Byourcount,he'sthefourthorfifthrichestmanaliveand,ofcourse,theBritish
justlovehim.He'sboughtasoccerteamhe'sabigbusinessmanhegivesmoneyto
charity.Andthenthere'sArkAngel.Thankstohim,youBritisharegoingtocornerthe
marketinspacetourism,andthat'saprizeworthhaving.ButI'mafraidit'snotaseasyas
that.Yousee,forthelasteighteenmonthstheCIAandtheStateDepartmenthavebeen
investigatingDrevin,andwe'vediscoveredthatheisn'tquitewhatheseems.I'mtalking
aboutorganizedcrime,Alex.Andallroadsleadstraighttohim.Toputitinanutshell,we
thinkhe'sjustaboutthebiggestcriminalintheworld."
Byrnepaused.Alexshowednoreaction.Afterallhe'dbeenthrough,henolongerhaditin
himtobesurprised.
"It'scomplicated,"Byrnewenton."AndeventhoughyouflewoverhereonDrevin'ssky
palace,Iguessyou'reprobablyjetlagged.SoI'llgiveittoyouinbroadstrokes.
"TounderstandDrevin,youhavetogobackto
thebreakupoftheSovietUnionintheearlynineties.Communismwasfinishedandthe
wholecountrywaslookingforwardtoafreshstart.Buttherewasaproblem.Thenew
Russiangovernmentwasbroke.Itneededmoneybadlyanditdecidedtoselloffallits
assets,whichistosay,itscarmanufacturingcentres,itshydroelectricalplants,itsairline
andmostcrucialofallitsoilfields.Theysoldthemcheap,oftenforafractionoftheir
realvalue.Theyhadnochoice,becausetheyneededthemoneyfastandtheyneededit
upfront.Inthenextfewyearsanewgroupofbusinessmenappeared.Theywereinthe
rightplaceattherighttimeandtheysawthatthiswasafantasticopportunity.These
peopleweren'tgoingtobecomemillionairesovernight.Assharepricesrose,theywere
goingtobecomebillionairesandthat'sexactlywhathappened.
"NikoleiDrevinwasoneofthesepeople,buthewasverydifferenttotherest.Wedon't
knowalotabouthispast.It'shardtofindoutanythingthat'shappenedinRussiainthe
lasttwentyyears.WebelievethatDrevinstartedoffinthearmy.Hewascertainlyasenior
figureintheKGB.Thenwelosetrackofhimuntilhereemergeswithasuccessful
businesssellingofallthingsgardeningequipment.Healsodabbledinshares,
particularlyoil.Hewasdoingwell,butnotthatwell,andwhenthesaleofthecentury
startedhedidn'thaveenoughmoneytocuthimselfaslice.
"Andthiswaswhenhehadhisbigidea.HisworkwiththearmyandtheKGBhadbrought
himintocontactwiththeRussianunderworldI'mtalkingaboutthemafiya.Heknewall
thebignamesandsohewenttothemforaloan.Yousee,hewasarespectable
businessman.He'dseenthefuture,andwiththeirsupporthecouldbuyintoitbigtime.He
neededabouteightymilliondollars,enoughtobuyacontrollinginterestinNovgerol,one
ofthebigRussianoilcompanies.Themafiyametwithhimanddecidedtheylikedhim,but
theydidn'thaveenoughmoney,sotheyturnedtotheirfriendsinJapan.You'veheardof
theyakuza?Well,theywereinterestedtoo,andjusttoroundthingsoff,theChinesetriads
alsodecidedtojointheparty.Betweenthethreeofthemtheyraisedthefinanceand
Drevinwasin.Suddenlyhewasamajorplayer.
"SoheboughtintoNovgerol.Hegotitforasongandthepeoplewhosufferedintheend
weretheRussianpeople.Itwastheiroilanditwasmoreorlessstolenfromthem.Idoubt
thatDrevinlostanysleepoverthat.Hissharesdoubledandtrebledandmultipliedby
aboutahundred,andhewasabletopaybackallhiscriminalfriendswithinterest,and
thatwastheendofthat.Ofcourse,therewerepeoplewhogotinhisway.Therewere
protesters.Thepolicelaunchedaninquiry.Anddoyouknowwhat?Theywereall
murdered.YouonlyhadtosneezeatDrevinandsomeonewouldcallround
atyourhousewithamachinegun.Killyou.Killyourfamily.Killeveryonewhoknewyou.It
waseasiertokeepquietand,believeme,afterawhile,peopledidjustthat.
"SoDrevinisinwiththemafiya.He'sinwiththeyakuza.Andhe'sinwiththetriads.Andof
course,oncethesepeopleknowhim,they'renotgoingtoleavehimalone.NotthatDrevin
cares.He'sgotasmuchmoneyasanyonecouldpossiblywantbutthefunnythingis,
peoplelikethattheyalwayswantmore.Sohekeepsworkingwiththem.Hebecomes,if
youlike,thebankerforhalfthecriminalorganizationsintheworld.Theyakuzaareselling
RussianenergeticsweaponstoterroristgroupsthetriadsarerunningdrugsoutofBurma
andAfghanistanthemafiyaaremovingintodrugsandprostitutionthroughouttheWest:
Drevinprovidesthecashflow.Iwouldsaythataroundtheworldtherearehundredsof
dirtydealsdoneeverydayandDrevin'smoneyisbehindjustaboutallofthem."
"Ifyouknowsomuchabouthim,whydon'tyouarresthim?"Alexasked.Hisheadwas
spinning.Hehadjustspentalmostaweeklivingwiththismanandhewastryingtomarry
whatByrnewassayingwithwhathehadhimselfobserved.HehadguessedthatDrevin
wasnosaintbuthehadneversuspectedanythinglikethis.
"We'regoingtoarresthim,"Byrnereplied."Itoldyou.We'vebeeninvestigatinghimfor
overa
year.Butwhenyou'redealingwiththereallybigcriminals,Alex,it'snotaseasyasyou
mightthink.Imean,lookatAlCapone.HewasoneofAmerica'sworstgangsters.Nobody
knowshowmanypeoplehehadkilled.ButdespitealltheworkoftheFBI,intheendall
theycouldgethimforwasfiddlinghisincometax.It'sthesamewithDrevin.
"He'scleverhe'scoveredhisback.Adealhere,adealthereheleavesnotrace.Weget
whispersandhintsthathe'sinvolved,butit'sliketryingtobuildacastleoutofindividual
grainsofsand.Witnessesaretooscaredtotalk.Anyonewhocomesforwardgetskilled.
Evenso,slowlybutsurely,we'vebeenbuildingacaseagainsthim.TheStateDepartment
hascollectedovertwothousanddocuments.Therearetranscripts,tapeandvideo
recordings,photographs.There'sbeenateamofthirtypeopleworkingroundtheclockfor
monthstherestillis.Andthey'veallhadtobeprotected.Fromthestart,we'vebeenafraid
thatDrevinmighttrytogettothem.Hemightevensendpeopleintodestroythe
evidence.Mercenaries.Suicidebombers.Iwouldn'tputanythingpasthim.Sowe've
storeditallsomewherereallysafe."
"Where?"
"That'swhyIwasinterestedjustnowwhenyoumentionedWashington.Thecaseagainst
DrevinisLodgedinprobablythesafestplaceintheUnitedStates.InsidethePentagon."
Byrnegotupandhelpedhimselftoabottleof
water.Allthetalkinghadmadehimlookmoreexhaustedthanever.
"WeplantoarrestDrevinoneweekfromtoday.Ihardlyneedtellyouthatthisinformation
ishighlyclassified.TherealproblemisArkAngel.TheBritishgovernment'sinvested
billionsinthespacestation,andwhenwearrestDrevin,thewholeprojectcouldcollapse.
That'swhywe'vehadtowait.We'vehadtobeabsolutelysurethatwe'vetiedupallthe
looseendsbeforewemakeourmove.
"Ofcourse,MI6knowwhatwe'redoing.There'snowaywecouldstopthemfindingout.
We'veshownthemtheevidencebuttheydon'twanttobelieveit.Theycan'taffordto
believeit.WhenDrevingoesdown,there'sgoingtobeascandalthat'llripthewhole
financialmarketapart.Butthat'stoobad.Themanisacrookhebelongsinjail."
"Sowhydoyouneedme?"Alexasked.
Byrnesatdownagain."Becausesomething'shappened,"headmitted."Somethingwe
don'tunderstandandyouseemtobeinthemiddleofit."
"ForceThree."
"Exactly.Here'sagroupofpeoplewhocallthemseLvesecowarriorsandwhoseemto
havepickedafightwithDrevin,supposedlybecausehewipedoutafewbirdspecieson
FlamingoBay.Butwedon'tknowwheretheycamefrom.Wedon'tknow
whotheyare.WeevenwonderifDrevinhimselfisn'tusingthemassomesortofdiversion
todistractusfromourinvestigation.YourMrsJonesistryingtogettothebottomofitright
nowbutwe'rerunningoutoftime.I'mworriedDrevinisgoingtopullsomekindofstunt
inthenextsevendaysandslipthroughourfingers.Maybehe'sgoingtodisappear.He
couldheadofftoSouthAmerica,ortherearepartsofAustraliawherewe'dneverfindhim.
Amanwithhisconnectionswouldn'tfinditdifficulttobuildhimselfanewidentity.Weneed
toknowifhe'splanningtoleaveand,ifso,wherehemightbegoing.That'swhereyou
comein.
I'vealreadygotoneagentinsidehisorganization,butthat'snotenough.Drevin'stoo
careful.He'snotgivinganythingaway.Butyou'redifferent.You'rerightinthemiddleof
thefamily.You'rebuddieswithPaulDrevin.Andthebestthingis,theydon'tknow
anythingaboutyou.You'reabovesuspicion.Theycertainlydon'tknowaboutyour
connectionwithus.
"Tomorrowthey'regoingtotakeyouwiththemtoFlamingoBay.It'slikeSkeletonKeyall
overagain.Wecan'tgetanyoneinthere.He'sgottherocketbaseonthesouthofthe
islandandthewholeplaceisprotectedbyhisownprivatesecurityforce.It'snoteven
Americansoil.TheislandistenmilesoffthecoastofBarbadosanditjusthappensto
belongtotheBritish.Drevinleaseditfromyourgovernmentwhenhebuilthisspace
centrethere.Sowecan'tgostormingin.
"AllI'maskingisforyoutohanginthereforonemoreweekandreportbackifyousee
anythinggoingon.It'lljustbeavacationasfarasyou'reconcerned.You'reDrevin's
guest"
"IwasDrevin'sguest,"Alexcutin."Itoldyou.I'mleaving."
"Why?"
Alexshrugged."Whatyou'vetoldmeabouthimIdidn'tmuchlikehimanyway.AndnowI
don'twanttogoanywherenearhim."
"Youwon'tbeinanydanger."
"That'swhatyousaidlasttime,MrByrne.AndInearlygotkilled.Twoofyouragentsdid
getkilled."
"Andifyouhadn'thelpedus,thousandsmorepeoplewouldhavediedtoo."Byrnelooked
genuinelypuzzled."What'sthematter,Alex?Areyouscared?Isitbecauseofwhat
happenedwiththesniper?"
Alexfeltatwingeofpaininhischest.Ithappenedeverytimeanyoneremindedhimofhis
bulletwound.Perhapsitalwayswould."I'mnotscared,"hesaid."Ijustdon'tlikebeing
used."
"Weonlyuseyoubecauseyou'resodamngood,"Byrnereplied."AndthistimeI'mnot
lyingtoyou.You'renotworkingforMI6andyou'renotworkingforus.Ijustwantyouto
continuewithyourvacationandifyouseeDrevinpackinghissuitcasesorifasubmarine
turnsupinthemiddleofthenight,
giveusacall.I'vealreadytoldyou,I'vegotanagentontheislandandthere'llbeaback
upteamjusttenmilesawayonBarbados.You'llbewatchedallthetime.Nothing'sgoing
tohappentoyou.I'monlyafraidthatsomehowDrevinisgoingtogetoffthehook.Seven
moredays,Alex.Thenwecanmakethearrestandyoucangohome."
"WhataboutPaul?"ItwasonlynowthatAlexthoughtaboutPaulDrevin.Hewonderedif
heknewthetruthabouthisfather.
"Nothingwillhappentohim.He'llbewelllookedafter.Iguesshe'llgobacktohismother."
Alexdidn'tspeak.Hewantedtorefusebutsomethingwasstoppinghim.Hedidn'twant
Byrnetothinkhewasafraid.Maybeitwasassimpleasthat.
"Oneweek,"Byrnepromised."Drevinwon'tsuspectathing.Andjustincaseyoudorun
intotrouble,we'vegotsomeoneherewhomightbeabletohelpyou."
"Who?"
"He'swaitingforyououtside."
HestoodupandAlexfollowedhimoutoftheofficeanddownacorridortoanopenplan
area.TherewasamansittingatatableandAlexrecognizedhiminstantly.Itwouldhave
beenhardnotto.Themanwasenormouslyfat.Hewasbaldwithablackmoustacheand
around,smilingface.HewaswearingabrightlycolouredHawaiianshirtthatcouldn't
havelookedmoreinappropriate
amongthedarksuitsoftheCIAoperatives.Alexhadneverseensomanyflowersonone
pieceofmaterial.
"Hello,Alex!"themanboomed.
"Hello,MrSmithers,"Alexreplied.
"Whatagreatpleasuretoseeyouagain.You'relookingtremendouslywell,ifImaysay
so.MrsJonessendsherbestwishes."
"SheknowsI'mhere?"
"Ohyes.We'vebeenkeepinganeyeonyou.Asamatteroffact,itwasshewhosentme
here."Smithersloweredhisvoice,althoughitcouldstillbeheardacrosstheroom."We
thoughtyoumightlikeoneortwonewgadgets,andalthoughtheAmericansdoproducea
fewoftheirown,Iratherthinkweleadthefield.Notthatthey'dagree,ofcourse!"
"Gadgets..."AlexwatchedasSmithersreacheddownandliftedabriefcaseontothetable.
"Absolutely.Itwouldn'tbeanyfunwithoutgadgets,wouldit?AndI'vecomeupwithsome
quiteinterestingideas.This,forexample."HeproducedanobjectthatAlexrecognized
immediately.Itwasaninhaler,identicaltotheonePaulDrevinused."Now,wehappento
knowthatDrevin'ssonhasoneofthese,"Smithersexplained."Soifanyonenoticesthisin
yourluggage,they'llsimplyassumeit'shis.Butit'sfingerprintsensitiveandI've
programmeditforyourpersonaluse.Whenyoupressthecylinder,it'llsendoutapuffof
knockoutgas.Effectiveuptoaboutfivemetres.Alternativelyyoucantwistthecylinder
roundtwiceclockwisethatturnsitintoahandgrenade.Fivesecondfuse.Itestediton
oneofmyassistants.PooroldBennett...heshouldbeoutofhospitalinacoupleof
months."
Hepasseditacrossanddivedbackintothecase.
"Eavesdropping,"hewenton."PartofyourbriefistolistentoanythinginterestingthatMr
Drevinmaybesaying,andforthatyou'llneedthis."Hebroughtoutaslimwhiteboxwitha
setofheadphones.Alexpickeditup.ItwasaniPod.Atleast,itlookedlikeone."Thisuses
microwavetechnology,"Smithersexplained."Pointthescreenatanyoneuptofiftymetres
awayandlistenthroughtheheadphones.You'llheareverywordtheysay.Youcanalso
useittocontacttheCIA.Rotatetheclickwheelthreetimesanticlockwiseandspeakinto
it.I'vegotanotherversion,bytheway,packedwithenoughplasticexplosivetoblowupa
building,butMrBluntsaidyouweren'ttohaveit.Shame,really.IcallittheixPlod.
"Andonelastthing.FlamingoBayisatropicalislandwithlotsofcreepycrawlies.Sothis
mighthelp..."Onceagainhereachedintothecaseandthistimecameoutwithaglass
bottlemarked:
STINGO
Junglestrengthmosquitolotion
"Mosquitorepellent,"Alexsaid.
"Absolutelynot,"Smithersreplied."Thisisaverypowerfulformulationanditactuallydoes
theexactopposite.Itattractsmosquitoes.Infact,onceyouopenthebottle,it'llattractjust
abouteveryinsectontheisland.Youmightfinditusefulifyouneedadiversion."He
closedthecaseandstoodup."I'mofftoStLucia,"heannounced."Alittleholidayandit'll
givemeachancetotestmysharkrepellentswimmingtrunks.SoIwon'tbetoofarawayif
youneedme,althoughI'msureyouwon't.Chinchin!"
Smitherswanderedoffdownanothercorridor.AlexwasleftwithJoeByrne.
"Sowillyoudoit?"Byrneasked.
Alexstaredatthethreegadgetsonthetable."Itlookslikeeveryone'salreadymadeupmy
mindforme."
"That'sgreat,Alex.Thankyou."Byrnegesturedandtheblondhairedmanwhohad
broughtAlexfromtheairportcameover."You'vealreadymetSpecialAgentShulsky,"he
said.
"CallmeEd,"theagentsaid.Withoutthedarkglassesandtheintimidatingmanner,he
seemedalotmorepleasant.Alexguessedhewasstillinhistwentieshelookedasifhe
hadn'tlonggraduatedfromcollege.
"AgentShulskywillbeheadingthebackupoperation,"Byrneexplained."Heandadozen
peoplewillbebasedonBarbados.That'swhereyou'llbe
landing,bytheway.FlamingoBaydoesn'thaveitsownairstrip.Themomentyoucall,
they'llcomerunning."
Shulskysmiled."It'sarealpleasuretobeworkingwithyou,Alex,"hesaid."Theyshowed
usyourfile.Ihavetosay,it'smorethanimpressive."
"Isthereanythingelseyouwanttoknow?"Byrneasked.
"Yes.Thereisonething,"Alexsaid."ThisallcameaboutbecauseIjusthappenedtobein
theroomnexttoPaulDrevinatStDominic'sHospital.Butitwasnocoincidence,wasit?
MrBluntputmetherebecausehehopedI'dmeetPaulandbecomefriendswithhim."
Byrnehesitated."Ican'tanswerthatforsure,Alex,"hesaid."ButIwillsaythismuch:Alan
Bluntdoeshaveaknackofmakingeventsworkhisway."
Soitwastrue.AlexcouldhavebeentakentoanyhospitalinLondon.Butevenashelay
therebleedingwithabulletinhischest,theMI6chiefhadbeenplanningahead,
engineeringhisnextassignment.Itwasalmostbeyondbelief.No.WhereBluntwas
concerned,itwastobeexpected.
"Shulskywilltakeyoubacktotheairport,"Byrneadded."We'llsortyououtatemporary
passportandDrevinwillpickyouuptomorrow.GoodluckonFlamingoBay."
"Justdon'texpectanypostcards,"Alexsaid.
HeandEdShulskylefttogether.Byrneshookhisheadandwalkedslowlybacktheother
way.
FLAMINGOBAY
ThesixseaterCessna195seaplanecircledtheislandalmostlazilybeforeitcameinto
land.Alex,alongwithPaulandhisfather,hadbeenflownfromNewYorktoGrantley
AdamsInternationalAirportonthesoutheastcornerofBarbados.Fromtheretheyhad
beentakenbycarafewmilesupthecoasttoRaggedPoint,wheretheseaplanehad
beenwaitingforthefinaltenmileflighttoDrevin'sprivateisland.
Alexcouldseeitnow,hisfacepressedagainstthewindowwiththesinglepropeller
buzzingnoisilyandthestarboardwingstretchingoutabovehishead.Fromtheair,
FlamingoBaylookedasridiculouslybeautifulaseveryCaribbeanisland,thecolours
almosttoointensetobetrue.Therewasthedazzlingblueoftheocean,theimmaculate
whitebeaches,therich,elementalgreenofthepinetreesandrainforest.Theweather
couldn'thavebeen
moreperfectforthecominglaunch.Astheplanearcedforasecondtime,tiltingtowards
thestretchofwaterthatwouldbeitslandingstrip,brilliantsunshineblazedinthroughthe
window.
"Thereitis!"PaulDrevinleantpastAlexandpointed."Youcanseethelaunchsite!"he
exclaimed.
Theislandwasabouttwomileslongandshapedlikealeapingfish.Therocketgantries
stoodwheretheeyeshouldhavebeen.Thereweretwoofthem,rightnexttothesea,with
aboutadozenbrickbuildings,manyofthemsurmountedwithsatellitedishes,abouta
quarterofamileaway.Thegroundinthisareawasquitebare,allthevegetationburned
away,presumablybyrocketexhaust.AlexrememberedwhatKasparhadtoldhimwhen
hehadbeenaprisonerofForceThree.Fourbirdspecieshadbeenmadeextinctonthe
island.Hewassurprisedithadn'tbeenmore.
Iftheheadofthefishwasnaked,therestofitwascoveredwithdenserainforest
separatedbyanarrowtrackwhichranthefulltengthoftheisland.Thetrackledtoatall
fencerunningnorthtosouth,withacheckpointandaseriesofwoodencabinsnearby.
Thiswastheonlywayintothelaunchsite.Therewerewatchtowersallovertheisland,
makingsurethatnobodycouldapproachunseenbysea.
Drevin'shousehadbeenbuiltonwhatAlexthoughtofasthefish'stail.Itwasasimple
whitestructure,andevenfromthisdistancehecouldseethatitwasultramodernwith
giantglasswindowsgivinguninterruptedviewsofthesea.Thearchedbellyofthefish
wasonelongbeachwithpalmtreesleaningtowardsthewater.Astheplanedippeddown,
Alexsawabrightlypaintedwoodenjetty,threemotorlaunchesandacoupleofsailing
boatsanchoredintheshallows.Hecouldn'thearmusicfromsteeldrumsorsmelltherum
butitwaseasytoimaginethem.
"Fastenyourseatbelts,"Drevinsaid."Weareabouttoland."
Drevinwassittingontheothersideoftheaisle,wearingapaleyellowopenneckedshirt.
Hehadn'tspokenmuchonthejourneyfromNewYork,notevenwhenhehadfetched
AlexfromthedepartureloungeatJFK.AlexgottheimpressionthatDrevinblamedhim
personallyforthemixupoverthepassport.Orperhapshewasannoyedwiththe
Americanauthoritiesforinconveniencingoneofhisguests.Nowhewasdeepinthought,
tuggingathisring.Inthebrightsunlighthisfacelookedmorepalethanever.
Alexwasgratefulforthesilence.Hewasn'tsurehowtobehavewithDrevinanymore.
EverythingJoeByrnehadtoldhimwastumblingaroundinhishead.Inthespaceofjusta
fewdays,Drevinhadgonefrombeingareclusivebillionairewhodidn'tlikelosing,tothe
biggestcriminalintheworld.Hewasinvolvedwiththemafiyaandthetriads,whoonlya
fewmonthsagohadtriedtokillAlex.Peoplewhogotinhiswaydied.Hewasanother
monsterandherehewas,sittingjustafewseatsaway.
TheCessnasweptdownandlandedsmoothly,watersprayinguptowardsthewindows.It
taxiedtowardsthejettyandcametoahalt.PaulDrevinwasthefirsttostandup,followed
byTamaraKnight,whohadbeensittingdirectlybehindAlex.Theymadetheirwayoutinto
thesoftheatoftheCaribbeanafternoon.
Therewasanelectricbuggywaitingforthem,thesortthatwasnormallyusedongolf
courses.Drevinhadalreadyexplainedthattherewasverylittlepetrolontheisland
electricvehicleswereeasier.Nowthathewasbackonland,heseemedmorecheerful.
"We'llgotothehousefirstandchange,"heannounced."Alex,I'msureyou'dliketosee
aroundtheisland.Wecandothatbeforedinner.TomorrowI'llbebusywithpreparations
forthelaunch,sothetwoofyouwillhavetoamuseyourselves.Butthere'splentytodo.
Swimming,scubadiving,sailing...Welcome,youmightsay,toparadise."
DrevindrovethemtheshortdistancetoLittlePoint,thecorneroftheislandwherethe
housestood.ThebuildingwasasimpressiveinitsownwayaseverypropertythatDrevin
owned.Itwasalmostfuturistic,whitewithhugewindowsthat
retractedintothewalls,sothatatthepressofabuttonitcouldbeeitheropentothe
elementsorenclosed.Ithadbeenraisedabouthalfametreabovetheground,
presumablytoallowtheairtocirculate.Thick,woodenlegssupporteditonarockyshelf
facingwest.Alexguessedthatthesunsetswouldbespectacular.Therewereonlythree
bedrooms.Tamarawouldbestayingontheothersideoftheisland.Alexwasnextdoorto
Paul.Hisroomhadtwosinglebeds,anensuitebathroomandplentyofspace.
Tenminuteslater,dressedinaTshirt,kneelengthshortsandsandals,Alexwasbackin
thebuggynexttoPaul.Itwasearlyintheafternoonandthesunwasstillstrong.Drevin
drovethemalongthesingletrack.Althoughtheislandcouldn'thavebeenmorethanhalfa
milewide,theseahaddisappearedfromview,lostbehindaseeminglyimpenetrable
screenofvegetation.Heretheatmospherewasdampandheavy,andAlexcouldhear
thousandsofinsectsalreadyativeamongtheleaves.
TheypassedthecabinsthatAlexhadseenfromtheair,andimmediatelyafterwardscame
toanelectricgatewithacheckpointandthreeguardsonpatrol.Theywerethefirstguards
Alexhadseen.Theyweredressedinpalegreyoverallswithalogoapairofwingsanda
streakoflightprintedontheleftsideoftheirchest.Theyworecombatbootsandcarried
blackMiniUzi19mmsubmachineguns.Seeingtheviciousweapons,Alexfeltatwingeof
unease.JoeByrnehadmadethisvisittoFlamingoBaysoundverysafeand
straightforward.HewastheretomakesureDrevindidn'trunaway.Nothingmorethan
that.Butifsomethingdidgowrong,ifDrevinfoundoutthatAlexhadbeenincontactwith
theCIA,hewouldbetrapped.Hehadnodoubtthatthemotorboatswouldbeneutralized
atnight.Theplanehadalreadyleft.BarbadosandtheCIAbackupteamweretenmiles
away.OnceagainAlexfoundhimselfsurroundedbyanenemyarmyand,asusual,he
wasonhisown.
Thebuggystoppedandamanappeared,dressedinthesamegreyuniformasthe
guards.Hewasanuglyman,agedinhisthirties,withroundcheeks,thicklipsandcurling,
gingercolouredhair.Therewassomethingabouthisfacethatdidn'tlookquitereal.His
skinwasdeathlypale,asifheneversteppedoutintothesun.Alexcouldseetheman's
paunchpressingagainsthisoveralls.Hewasn'tjustunfit.Helookedill.
"Goodafternoon,MrDrevin,"hesaid.Hisvoicesuitedhisappearance.Thewordscame
outinastrained,unpleasantwhisperasifhehadsomethingcaughtinhisthroat.
"Goodafternoon."Drevinturnedtothetwoboys."Thisisoneofthemostimportantpeople
ontheisland,"heexplained."HisnameisMagnusPayneandhe'stheheadofsecurity."
Helookedat
Payne."Youhaven'tmetmyson,Paulandhisfriend,AlexRider."
ThesecuritymannoddedatAlex."Nicetomeetyou,Alex,"hesaid,andatthatmoment
Alexwasconsciousoftwothings.Althoughheknewitwasimpossible,hewonderedif
he'dmetPaynebefore.Andtherewassomethingelse.Somethingthatfeltwrong.But
what?
"IshouldwarnyouthatPaynehascompletecontroloverthissideoftheisland,"Drevin
wasexplaining."Youmustdowhathetellsyou.Andpleasedon'ttrytogetpasthere
withouthisauthorization."
"What'sthepointofasecuritybarrier?"Alexasked."Thisisanisland.Ifsomeonewanted
tobreakin,theycouldjustswimround."
"Razorwire,"MagnusPaynerasped."Underthewater.Theycouldtry,butitwouldbe
ratherpainful."
Heraisedahandandthegateslidopen,activatedfrominsidethecheckpoint.Payne
climbedintothebuggynexttoDrevinandthefourofthemcontinuedtothelauncharea.
Alexhadseenmanyamazingthingsinhislife,butthesightbeforehimwassomethinghe
knewhewouldneverforget.
Therocketwasrightinfrontofhim,ontheedgeofaflat,emptyarea,pointingtowardsthe
skyandsupportedbytwosteelarmsreachingoutfromahugegantry.Itwasatleastfifty
metrestall,
slenderandmorebeautifulthananythingAlexcouldhaveimagined.Hehadseenrockets
inmuseumshehadwatchedlaunchesonTV.Butthiswasdifferent.Itwassurroundedby
avast,blueskywhichseemedsuddenlyendless.Andyet,sittingthere,itseemedto
radiatethepowerthatwascontainedinthefoursolidrocketboostersthatwould,very
soon,blastitintospace.Abouttwentypeoplewereworkingaroundit.Therocketdwarfed
them,makingthemlooktiny.
"WecallitGabriel7,"Drevinsaid,andhecouldn'tkeeptheexcitementoutofhisvoice.
"It'sanAtlas2ASrocket.Youcanjustmakeoutthepayload."Hepointedtoabulging
shapeclosetotherocket'stip."It'scoveredwithanaerodynamicfairing,"hewenton."It
hastosurvivetheascentthroughtheatmosphere.Butunderneath,there'saglassand
steelobservationmoduleweighing1.8tonnes.ItwilltaketheAtlasjustfifteenminutesto
carryitintospace,andthedayaftertomorrowit'llbeupthere,threehundredmilesabove
ourheads.TheheartofArkAngel!"
Paulshookhishead."It'sreallycool!"
"Cool?"Drevinsnapped."Idespisethismodernteenageslang!Youuseghettolanguage
todescribewhatyoucan'tevenbegintoimagine.Coot?Isthatallyoucansay?"
"Whatabouttheotherrocket?"Alexasked.
Hehadseenthesecondgantryfromtheplane.Itwasfurtheralongtheshore,aclear
distance
fromtheAtlas.Thesecondrocket,slightlysmaller,alsoseemedtobewaitingforblastoff.
Morepeoplesurroundedit,workingonthefinalpreparations.
"MrPayne?"Drevinturnedtohisheadofsecurity.
"We'vebroughtforwardthelaunch,"Payneexplainedinhisraspingvoice."Weplanto
senditupimmediatelyafterGabriel7."
"Why?"Alexwondered.
"Weareinvolvedinaseriesoflongtermexperiments,"Drevinsaid."Weneedtoknow
moreabouttheeffectsofweightlessnessonthehumanbody.Thesecondrocketisa
SoyuzFregat.Itwillcarryamodelofthehumansystemintospace."
"Whatdoesthatmean?"Alexasked.
"Anape."
"Ididn'trealizeyouwerestillallowedtouseanimals."
Drevinshrugged."It'snotideal.Butthere'snootherway."
Theydrovetothefirstofthebrickbuildings.Itwasthelargestinthecompound,withthree
satellitedishespointingupatthesky."Thisisthecontrolcentre,"Paynetoldthem."The
otherbuildingsareforstorageandconstruction.Wealsohavesleepingquartersand
recreationfacilities.Therearemorethansixtypeopleworkingontheisland."
Theywentin,alongacorridorandintoalargeroomwithslantingwindowslookingout
ontothelaunchsite.Abovethewindowswasagiantscreen.
blankatthemomentbutreadytotransmitpicturesofthelaunchitself.Therewereabout
twentycomputers,arrangedintwogroups,facingeachother.Onegroupwasmarked
COMMAND,theotherTELEMETRY.ToonesideAlexnoticedaconferencetable,a
dozenchairsandanotherscreen.Ahugeboardwithhundredsoflightbulbsspeltout
variousinformationincludingLTSTlocaltruesolartimethespaceequivalentofGMT.
TherewaslesstothecontrolcentrethanAlexhadimagined.Inmanywaysitwaslikean
oversizedclassroom.
Amanhadstoodupastheycamein.Hewasshortbutthickset,andlookedeither
ChineseorKoreanwithneatblackhair,wireframedspectaclesandapencilmoustache.
Hewasdressedlikeabusinessmaninasmartjacketandtie.Theclothescouldn'thave
beenlessappropriateonaCaribbeanisland,butofcoursetheclimateinthecontrolroom
wasconditioned.Alexcouldfeelthesterileairblowingcoldonhisbarearmsandlegs.
Drevinintroducedhim."ThisisProfessorSingJooChan,theflightdirectorhereon
FlamingoBay.WewereveryluckytobeabletorecruithimfromtheKhrunichevSpace
Centre."
"Howdoyoudo."SingspokewithaculturedEnglishaccent.HeshookhandswithAlex
andPaul,butthedarkbrowneyesbehindtheglassesshowednointerestinthematall.
Theywerechildren.Theyhadnoplacehere.Thatwaswhattheeyesseemedtosay.
"Thisiswhereitallhappens,"Drevinwenton."We'llbecontrollingboththelaunchandthe
dockingprocedurefromhere.Ofcourse,mostoftheprocedureiscomputerized.Butwe
haveacamerafittedintoGabriel7'snose.Travellingthreehundredmilesatthespeedof
light,ittakesabout0.001secondsfortheimagestoberelayedbackhere.It'sabitlikea
giantcomputergame,exceptwhenyoupressabuttonhereyou'remanoeuvringabout
fourtonnesofequipmentinouterspace.Youcan'taffordmistakes."
Singshookhishead."Therewillbenomistakes,"heassuredthem.
"Havewehadthelatestweatherreports?"Drevinasked.
"Yes,MrDrevin.I'vegoneoverthemeteorologicalchartsmyselfandtheconditionsare
exactlyaspredicted."
"Good."Drevinwaspleased."Nineo'clockonWednesdaymorning.It'sasightyouboys
won'tforget."
"Can'twegetanycloser?"Paulasked.
ProfessorSinglookedaway,asifthequestionwastoostupidtoanswer.Alexwondered
whatitwasaboutthemanthathedidn'tlike.Perhapsitwashiscompletelackof
enthusiasm.Therewasnoemotioninhisfaceandnoneinhisvoice.Howcouldhebein
chargeofsuchahugeprojectandnotfeeltheexcitementofit?
"Ifyouwereanycloseryou'dbedeafened,"
Drevinsaid."WhenGabriel7islaunched,thevibrationlevelswillbehuge.They'ddestroy
youreardrumsifyouweretooclose.Eveninherewe'llneedtobecompletelyinsulated."
"I'mafraidImustaskforsometimewithyou,MrDrevin,"Singinterrupted."Ineedto
discussthelaunchtrajectorydispersions."
DrevinturnedtoAlexandPaul."Magnuswillshowyouaroundtherestofthebaseif
there'sanythingelseyouwishtosee.We'llmeetagainatdinner."
"Sure."Alextriedtosmile,buthedidn'tlookup.Hecouldnolongertrusthimselftomeet
Drevin'sgaze.Andtherewassomethingelsethatwasworryinghim.Themorehesawof
theislandtherockets,thelaunchpad,thespacecentrethemorehefeltanameless
senseofdread.Itwashardtoexplain,butAlexwasbeginningtothinkthatJoeByrneand
theCIAhadgotitallwrong.Drevinwasn'tbehavinglikeamanabouttorunaway.Hehad
somethingelseinmind.Alexwassureofit.
Therewerelessthanfortyfivehoursuntilthelaunch.Thatmightbeallthetimehehadleft
tofindoutwhatitwas.
Butlaterthatafternoon,Alexwasabletoforgetsomeofhisworries.Paultookhimdown
tothebeachand,aspromised,gaveAlexhisfirstlessoninkitesurfing.
Thesport,verysimply,combinedsurfingandkiteflying.AsPaulsaid,youstoodona
boardandflewakite,andthewinddidtherest.Ofcourse,therewasmoretoitthanthat.
Thekitewasactuallyagiantpolyesterwingninemetresacrosswhichhadtobeinflated
withapump.ItwasconnectedtoAlexbyfourlineswhichclippedontoarubberharness
aroundhiswaist.Thentherewastheboard,similartoasurfboardbutwithfourfinsand
twintips,makingitbidirectional.Andfinallytherewasthecontrolbar,whichheheldin
frontofhim.Themechanicsweresimpleenough.Thecontrolbarwashissteeringwheel,
whichhecouldraiseandlower,turnleftandright.Therestwasbalanceandnerve.
Alexwaslucky.Therewasn'tmuchwindandtheseawasfairlycalm.Butevenso,he
soonfeltthepowerofthenewsport.HestartedontheedgeofthewaterwithPaulabout
twentymetresbehindhim,holdingthekite.PaulreleaseditandAlexquicklybroughtitup
untilitreachedthezenith,directlyoverhishead.Whileitwasthere,thekitewas
essentiallyinneutral.Carryingtheboard,Alexwadedintotheseauntilthewaterwasup
tohisankles.Heputonefootontheboard.Thenheloweredthekiteintothewind.
Andhewasaway.Itwasanincrediblesensation.Hecouldfeelhisarmsstrainingattheir
sockets,hiswholebodytensingagainstthepullofthekite.Beforeheknewit,hewas
movingvery
fast,skimmingoverthesurfacewiththesprayflyingintohiseyes.Theboardwas
incrediblyflexible.AllAlexhadtodowaspullonthecontrolbarandhecouldchange
directioninstantly. Withthelateafternoonsunbeatingdownonhimandthepalmtrees
rushingpast,allhisworriesaboutDrevin,theCIA,ArkAngelandForceThreewere
forgotten.Forthenexttwohourshewashappy,finallyenjoyingtheholidayhehadbeen
promised.
Afterthetwoboyshadexhaustedthemselveswiththekite,theyfloppeddownontothe
sandandwatchedasthesunbeganitsdescent.Itwasstillverywarm.Thebreeze,
blowinggentlyacrossthebeach,carriedthescentofpineandeucalyptus.Fromthispart
oftheislanditwasimpossibletoseethelaunchpadandthetwowaitingrockets.Asingle
greyheronperchedsedatelyontheendofthejetty,itseyesfixedonthewater,searching
forfish.Thesailingboatsandmotorlaunchesbobbedupanddown,jostledbythewaves.
Alexwaslyingonhisback,enjoyingthewarmthofthesettingsun.Heglancedsideways
andnoticedPaulstaringathisbarechest.Thescarleftbyhissurgeryhadhealedquickly
butitwasstillveryred.
"Youmusthavereallyhurtyourself,"Paulsaid.
"Yes."Alexwasreluctanttotalkabouthisfakebicycleaccident.
"You'vegotlotsofothercutsandbruisestoo."
Alexdidn'tevenlook.EverytimeMI6hadsenthimoutonamission,hisbodyhadcome
backwithmoresouvenirs.HesatupandreachedforhisTshirt."I'mstarving,"hesaid,
changingthesubject."When'sdinner?"
"Notforanotherhour.Butwecangrabasnack,ifyoulike."
"No.I'llwait."
Alexpulledonhisshirt.Thesunwasaperfectdisc,cutinhalfbytheedgeoftheworld.
Theseahadturnedbloodred.
"Doyoulikeithere?"Paulasked.
"It'sfantastic.Reallygreat."Alexdidhisbesttoinjectsomeenthusiasmintohisvoice.
"Itmakesarealchangetohavesomeonelikeyouhere."Paulstaredatthehorizonasif
searchingfortherightwords."Itmustbeawfulnottohaveparents,"hewenton."Butyou
don'tknowwhatit'slikehavingadadlikemine.He'sgotsomuchmoney,andeveryone
knowswhoheis.ButsometimesIthinkIdon'tevenknowhimmyself."
"Doyouenjoybeingwithyourmother?"Alexasked.Hewantedtosteertheconversation
awayfromDrevin.
Paulnodded."Yes.Iwishhe'dletmeseemoreofher.Anditdoesn'thelpbeingonmy
ownallthetime.IsometimeswonderwhatI'mdoinginthemiddleofallthis.Itwouldbea
loteasieriftherewassomeoneelsearound."
Alexwasfeelingincreasinglyuneasy.Paulhadnoideathathisentirelifewasaboutto
selfdestructandthatheAlexhadbeensentheretohelpmakeithappen.Inlessthana
week'stime,theCIAwouldarresthisfather.AllDrevin'sassetswouldpresumablybe
seizedbytheAmericangovernment.Drevinwouldgotoprison.
AndwhatwouldhappentoPaul?Thestorywouldbeonthefrontpageofevery
newspaperallovertheworld.He'dhavetochangehisname.He'dhavetobeginallover
again,adaptingtoacompletelydifferentlife.Somehowhe'dhavetogetusedtothefact
thathewasthesonofaruthlesscriminal.Akiller.ButnoneofthiswasAlex'sfault.He
forcedhimselftorememberthat.AndPaulhadamotherwho'dbetheretolookafterhim
whenthiswholethingexploded.He'dgetthroughit.
Thesunhadalmostdisappeared.Agreatshadowseemedtostretchoutacrossthesea,
andAlexwatchedastheheronflewoff,soaringeffortlesslyoverthepalmtrees.Paradise?
Perhapsthebirdknewotherwise.
Alexstoodup."Let'sgoin,"hesaid.
Theywalkedalongthebeachtogether,thewaveslappingsoftlynearby.
Ontheothersideoftheisland,anotherconversationwastakingplace.
Theheadofsecurity,MagnusPayne,wasstandinginalargeofficeoverlookingthe
launchsite.
Drevinwassittingonaleathersofa,readingtheemailthatPaynehadjusthandedhim.
"AlexRiderisanMI6agent,"Paynewassaying."Hemaynotbeworkingforthemnow,
buthehascertainlyworkedfortheminthepastandnotoncebutseveraltimes.Ifthey
knowheishere,itisquitepossiblethattheyhavealreadyapproachedhimandaskedhim
tospyonyou.Ihavesearchedhisluggageandfoundnothing.Butthatdoesnotmeanhe
isn'tequippedinsomeway."
Drevinloweredtheemail."It'snotpossible!"Hisfingersbegantoplaywithhisring."A
spy?He'sfourteen!"
"Iagree,ofcourse,thatitisunusual."Payne'slipstwistedinasneer."ButIcanassure
you,MrDrevin,thatmycontactiscompletelyreliable.Afterwhathappenedatthehospital,
thenatHornchurchTowersandathirdtimeatStamfordBridge,Ifeltthattheboywas
simplytoogoodtobetrue.Therewassomethingabouthim...soImadeenquiries."He
gesturedattheemail."That'stheresult."
"Thebicycleaccident?"
"Infactabulletwoundfromhislastassignment.That'swhatmycontacttellsme."
Drevinfellsilent.Paynecouldseehismindatwork,turningoverthepossibilities,making
evaluations.Itwasallthereinthewaterygreyeyes.
"ThatbusinesswiththepassportinNewYork,"hesaid.Hesnappedhisfingersangrily
andswore
brieflyinRussian."Theymusthavewantedtomakecontactwithhim.Hewasoutofmy
sightfornearlytwentyfourhours.Theycouldhavebeenbriefinghim,tellinghimwhatto
do."
"They?"
"TheCentralIntelligenceAgency."Drevinspokethewordswithloathing."They'rehandin
handwithMI6.Theboycouldbeworkingwitheitherofthem.Orboth."
"Thequestionis,whatdoyouwanttodowithhim?"
"Whatdoyousuggest?"
"He'sdangerous.Heshouldn'tbehere.Notnow."
"Wecouldsendhimaway."
"Orwecouldkillhim."
Drevinthoughtforalittlelonger.Hebarelyseemedtobreathe.MagnusPaynewaited
patiently.
"You'reright,"Drevinsaidsuddenly."Paulwon'tbetoohappyaboutit,butthatcan'tbe
helped.Seetoittomorrow,MrPayne."
Hegottohisfeet.
"Killhim."
DEEPTROUBLE
Itwasanotherperfectday.AlexRiderwaseatingbreakfastwithDrevinandhissonona
terraceperchedontheedgeofthesea,thewaveslappingbelowthem.Aservantallthe
staffhadbeenbroughtinfromBarbadoshadservedthemcoldmeat,fruit,cheeseand
freshlybakedrolls.TherewasajugofBlueMountaincoffeefromJamaica,oneofthe
mostdeliciousandexpensiveblendsintheworld.Thiswasthemillionairelifestyle,all
right.Astunninghouse,aprivateisland,Caribbeansunshine...asnapshotofanother
world.
Drevinwasinanunusuallygoodmood.ItwasthedaybeforethelaunchandAlexcould
sensehisexcitement."Whathaveyouboysgotplannedfortoday?""Doyouwanttotake
thekiteoutagain?"PaulaskedAlex."Theremightbeabitmorewind."
Alexnodded."Sure."
"Whydon'tyoudosomewaterskiing?"Drevinsuggested.
"Wecoulddothattoo."Paulwasobviouslypleasedthathisfatherwastakinganinterest.
ItseemedtoAlexthatifDrevinhadsuggestedasandcastlecompetition,theotherboy
wouldhaveagreed.
DrevinturnedtoAlex."Haveyoueverdived?"
"Yes."Alexhadbeenaqualifieddiversincehewastwelve.
"Thenwhydon'tyougooutthisafternoon?Wehavealltheequipmentyouneedandyou
canvisittheMaryBelle."Alexlookedpuzzled.Drevinwenton."It'sanoldtransportshipit
wassunkintheSecondWorldWarwhilecarryingsuppliestotheAmericanbasesinthe
Caribbean.Nowit'sanexcellentdivesite.Youcanswimintosomeoftheholds."
Alexhadbeenonwreckdivesbefore.Heknewthattherewasnothingmorestrangely
beautiful,moreeerie,thantheghostofanoldship.HeturnedtoPaul."Doyouwantto
come?"
"Ican't,"Paulsaid."Myasthma..."
"ScubaisoneofthemanythingsPaulisunabletodo,"Drevinsaid."ButIcanaskoneof
theguardstobeyourbuddy.Itwouldbeashamenottoseeit."
"Don'tletmestopyou,Alex,"Pauladded."EveryonesaystheMaryBelleisamazing,and
I've
gotsomehomeworkI'msupposedtodo.Soyougoahead."
Atthatmoment,TamaraKnightappearedontheterrace,dressedinalinenjacketand
trouserswithapairofsunglassesdanglingaroundherneck.Shewascarryingabulging
file.
"You'vegotsomeimportantcorrespondencetodealwith,MrDrevin,"shesaid.
"Thankyou,MissKnight.I'llbewithyouinafewminutes."DrevinnoddedatAlex."Enjoy
thedive,"hesaid,andwentintothehouse.
"You'rediving?"Tamaraasked.Shesoundedsurprised.
"Yes."Alexwasn'tsurewhattosay.
"Where?"
"TheMaryBelle."
"Ohyes."Tamarastillwasn'tsmiling."You'dbetterbecareful.Iunderstandit'sverydeep.
AndIhopeyoudon'tseeanysharks."
Afterbreakfast,Alexwentbackuptohisroomtofetchhistrunks.Theshuttershadbeen
drawnbackandthewindowswerewideopen.Hehadaspectacularviewofthewholeof
LittlePoint.Lookingout,AlexsawDrevinstandingbyhisbuggy,talkingintosomesortof
phone.Alexthoughtforamoment,thenwentovertohiscaseanddrewouttheiPod
Smithershadgivenhim.Heputontheheadphones,turnediton,thenpointedthescreen
inDrevin'sdirection.Almostatonce,heheard
Drevin'svoice.Itwassoclear,hecouldhavebeenstandingrightnexttohim.
"...forthefinalpreparations.Iamgoingovereverythingagaintoday.Iwantallthe
programmingtobedoublechecked."Apause."Theboatiscomingintonightateleven.
NotatLittlePoint.Thewesterntipoftheisland,behindthelaunchsite.I'llbewaitingforit
there..."
Therewasamovementatthedoor.ItwasPaul."Whatareyoudoing,Alex?"heasked.
Alextookofftheheadphones."Nothing."PaulsawtheiPod."Areyoutakingthatdownto
thebeach?"
"No.I'mjustcheckingit'sworking."Thetwoofthemlefttogether.Fortherestofthe
morningtheyswamandsnorkelledandwentoutwiththekite.Thistimetherewasalittle
morewindandPaultaughtAlexafewtricksjumpsandthehandlepass.ButAlexfound
ithardtoconcentrate.Allhecouldthinkaboutwastheconversationhe'doverheard.A
boatwasarrivingthatnightateleven.Why?Drevinobviouslydidn'twantittobeseen.
Thatwaswhyhewasn'tusingthejettynearthehouse.Coulditbethathewasplanningto
leave,and,ifso,shouldAlexalerttheCIAnow?No.Itwastoosoon.Bettertogetoverto
theothersideoftheislandoncedarknesshadfallenandseeforhimself.Thatwasthe
reasonhewashere.Itwouldmeanslippingpastthecheckpoint,butofcourse,hecouldn't
swimround.
Alexrememberedwhattheheadofsecurityhadtoldhim.Therewasrazorwireconcealed
inthewater.Therehadtobeanotherway.
Lunchwasatoneo'clock:deliciousshrimprotiservedwithsaladandrice.Thenthey
restedforanhour,avoidingtheworstheatofthesun.Athalfpastthreetherewasaknock
onAlex'sdoorandayoungblackmanappeared,wearingthegreyoverallsofthesecurity
staff.
"MrRider?"heasked.
Alexgottohisfeet."I'mAlex."
"MynameisKolo.MrDrevinsaidyouneededadivingbuddy."
"Thafsright."
"Youacertifieddiver?"
"Yes."
"Thenlet'sgo!"
Paulwasn'taround.AlexfollowedKolooutsideanddowntoanequipmentstore
underneaththehouse.Itwasalargeroom,acrossbetweenagarageandaboathouse.
Heretherewasspareequipmentforthevariousboats,afewnetsand,inaseparatearea,
scubatanks,BCDs,wetsuits,finsandeverythingelseneededtogodiving.
"Thewater'swarmoutthere,"Kolosaidashehauledoutacoupleoftanks."ButtheMary
Belleisdeep,abouttwentytwometres.SoI'mgoingtogiveyouahalfbodywetsuitand
I'llcheckoutsomeweights."
Halfanhourlater,Alexwasdressedinabrightblueneoprenewetsuitthatcamedownto
histhighsandhalfwaydownhisarms.Kolowasdressedinblack.Carryinghisequipment,
Alexstaggeredoutontothebeach,whereaboatwithaBajanskipperwaswaitingtotake
thetwoofthemouttosea.
"Goodluck,Alex!"
AlexturnedtoseePaulDrevinstandingontheterraceabovehim,waving.Hewaved
back,thenclimbedintotheboat.
Thejourneyonlytookafewminutes.Inthattime,Alexwentoverhisequipment,running
throughtheusualchecks.Hismaskfitted.TheBCDwasbrandnew.Heturnedonhisair
supplyandcheckedhisgauge.Hehadbeengivenjustunder3,000psi.Alexmadea
quickcalculation.Thedeeperhewent,themoreairhe'duse.Buthewasalightbreather.
Attwentytwometres,thedepthoftheMaryBelle,heguessedhewouldhaveabottom
timeofatleasthalfanhour.
HenoticedKolowatchinghimashefinishedhispreparations.Alexhadbeenlooking
forwardtovisitingthewreck,butsuddenlyhefeltuncomfortable.Hehadbeendiving
manytimeswithhisuncleandoncewithfriends,andeachtimeithadbeenahappy,
sociableaffair.Nowhewasinaboatwithacaptainwhohadn'tsaidawordandabuddy
whohadbarelyspokeneither.Twohiredhandstakingtherichkidforaride.Fora
moment,he
understoodthelonelinessthatPaulmusthavefeltallhislife.
Theboatsloweddownandtheanchorwaslowered.Thecaptainraisedaflagredwitha
whitestripesignallingthattherewerediversinthearea.KolohelpedAlexputonhis
equipment.Thenitwastimeforthebriefing.
'TheMaryBelleisrightunderneathus,"Kolotoldhim."We'llenterthewateroverthisside
andthenifeverything'sallright,we'llgostraightdown.Thesea'salittlechoppytodayand
visibility'snotsogood,butyou'llsoonseethewreck.We'llstartatthestern.Youcansee
therudderandpropeller.Thenwe'llswimupthedeckandintothesecondhold.There's
plentyoffishdownthere.Glassfish,hatchetfish,groupersmaybeyou'llbeluckyandsee
ashark.I'llsignalwhenit'stimetocomebackup.Anyquestions?"
Alexshookhishead.
"Thenlet'sdoit."
Alexdrewhismaskoverhisface,checkedhisrespiratoronelasttime,thensatonthe
edgeoftheboatwithhishandscrossedoverhischest.Kologavehimathumbsupand
hetippedoverbackwards,splashingdownintothesea.Itwasamomentwhichhealways
enjoyed,feelinghisshoulderspushingthroughthewarmwater,rollinginacocoonof
silverbubbleswiththefracturedlighthighabove.ThenhisBCD,partlyinflated,dragged
himbacktothesurface.Hewasbobbing
inthewater,facetofacewithKolo.Thecaptainwaswatchingthemoverthepulpitrail.
"Allright?"Koloshouted.
Alexgavehimtheuniversaldiver'ssign:fingerandthumbformingan0,theotherthree
fingerspointingup.EverythingOK.
Kolorespondedwithaclenchedfist,thumbpointingdown.Descend.
AlexreleasedtheairinhisBCDandlethisweightbeltdraghimdown.Thewaterrose
overhischin,pasthisnoseandeyes.Gentlyhebeganacontrolleddescent,listeningto
thesoundofhisownbreathingamplifiedinhisears.Itwasonlynowthatheremembered
hehadbeenoperatedonjustthreeweeksago.WhatwouldDrHaywardthinkabouthim
scubadiving?Well,atleastitwasn'tsomethingthathadbeenforbidden.
Atriggerfishgreenwithbrilliantyellowstripesandayellowtailswampast,takingno
noticeofhim.Thewaterwasadeeptropicalbluethatbecamedarkerandmurkierthe
furtherhedescended.Helookedathisdepthgauge.Elevenmetres,twelvemetres,
thirteen...Hewascomfortable,infullcontrol.Kolowasafewmetresabovehim,legs
crossed.Greatbubbles,eachonecontainingapearlofusedair,roseinclusterstothe
surface.
AndsuddenlytheMaryBellewasthere,appearinginfrontofhimasifprojectedontoa
screen.Itwasalwaysthesameunderwater.Objects,evenonesasbigasasunkencargo
ship,seemedtoloomoutofnowhere.AlexsqueezedalittleairintohisBCDtoslowhis
descent.Hecheckedthathehadneutralbuoyancy,thenhekickedforwardandswamto
examinethissilentwitnessfromtheSecondWorldWar.
TheMaryBellelayinthesand,slantingtooneside.Itwasintwohalves,separatedbya
jagged,brokenareathatcouldhavebeenmadebyaGermantorpedo.Itwasabouta
hundredandthirtymetreslong,twentymetreswide,thewholeshipcoveredinalgaeand
brightlycolouredcoralthatwouldonedayturnitintoanextraordinaryartificialreef.Ashe
swamoverthedeck,headingforthestern,Alexlookeddownonthedarkgreensurfaces,
thetwistingladdersandrails,theanchorwinchesandblastroof.Hepassedtworailway
freightcarslyingsidebyside.Partofalocomotivelayshattered,afewmetresawayon
thesand.Atthefarendhesawwhathadtobeanantiaircraftgun,nowpointing
helplesslyattheseabed.Once,thedeckwouldhavebeenfulloflife,withyoungmarines
runningbackandforth,thetannoysystembarkingorders,thewindandtheseaspray
blowingintheirfaces.ButtheMaryBellehadbeenhit.Ithadlainhereforoverhalfa
century.Therewasnothingintheworldmoresilent.Itwastheverydefinitionofdeath.
Alexnoticed Kolosignallingtohimandheswamunderthestern.Hehaddisturbeda
shoalofsnapperswhichdartedaway,zigzaggingrapidlyoutofsight.Thepropellerwas
directlyabovehim.Whentheshiphadbrokenintwo,thesternhadturnedonitsside,
otherwiseitwouldhavebeenburiedinthesand.Kolosignalledagain.Areyouallright?
Alexglancedathisairsupply.Hehadused500psi.Hesignalledback.Fine.
Slowlytheyswamroundthesideofthewreck.Alexhadhisarmscrossedoverhischest,
hishandsclaspingoppositearms.Thiswashowhealwaysdived.Ithelpedretainbody
warmthandstoppedhimbeingtemptedtotouchanything.Theyroseupoverthebridge
andfollowedaladdereachrungencrustedwithnewlifebacktotheupperdeck.Kolo
pointedatanopeningbesideoneofthefreightcarsAlexhadnoticed.Ahatchway,witha
ladderleadingdown.Itwastheentrancetothesecondhold.
ItseemedthatKolowantedhimtogoinaheadofhim.Alextookouthistorch,thenkicked
downandcautiouslyswamthroughtheopening,headandshouldersfirst.Wreckdivingis
entirelysafeprovidedyouknowwhatyou'redoing,andAlexknewthattheonlyreal
dangerwasgettinghisairpipescaughtorslashingthemonasharpedge.Thesolution
wastodoeverythingveryslowly,checkingforanyobstructions.Butthehatchwaseasily
wideenoughforhim.Hefollowedtheladderdown,turnedonthetorchandlookedaround
him.
Hewasinalarge,cavernousspacewhichranthefullwidthoftheshipandabouttwenty
fivemetresofitslength.Aghostlygreenlightstreamedinthroughaseriesofsmall
portholesandAlexflickedoffthetorch,realizinghewouldn'tneedit.Thelightilluminated
anarrayofobjectsinstantlyrecognizableevenaftersixtyyearsbeneaththesea.There
wasaJeep,parkedagainstawall,astockpileofWinchesterrifles,arowofboots,apair
ofmotorcycles.ItoccurredtoAlexthatifhehadcomeupontheseonland,theywould
havebeenrustingandugly,nothingmorethanjunk.Buttheirlongstayunderwaterhad
giventhemastrangebeauty.Itwasasifnaturewastryingtoclaimthemandmagically
transformthemintosomethingtheyhadneverbeen.
Soundisalsodifferentunderwater.
Alexheardtheclangofmetalhittingmetalbutforamomenthewasunsurewhereithad
comefrom,orindeedwhatitwas.Heglancedleftandrightbutnothingwasmoving.Then
helookedbackthewayhe'dcome.TherewasnosignofKolo.Whyhadn'ttheotherman
swumintothehold?ThenAlexrealized.Thehatchthathehadcomethroughhadbeen
closed.Ithadswungshutthatwasthesoundhehadheard.
Hetwistedroundandswambackuptheladder.Hewasn'twearingglovesandhewas
afraidofcuttinghimself,butwhenhereachedthehatchheputhishandagainstitand
pushed.Itdidn'tbudge.
Itwassosecurelyfasteneditcouldhavebeencementedintoplace.
Whatthehellwasgoingon?Alexfeltthefirststirringsofuneasewhichcouldalltooeasily
becomepanic.Butheknewthemostimportantruleofscubadivingwastoremaincalm,
andheforcedhimselftobreatheslowly,totakeeverythingonestepatatime.Thesupport
holdingbackthehatchmusthavebroken.Butitdidn'tmatter.Koloknewhewashere.
Therewasadiveshipdirectlyoverhead.He'djusthavetofindanotherwayout.
Alexbackedawayfromthehatchandswamthelengthofthehold.Hecametoasteel
wallontheothersideofthetruck,andalthoughitwaspittedwithholes,somebigenough
togetanarmthrough,therewasnowaytherestofhisbodywouldbeabletofollow.But
therewasadooranditwasajar.Onceitwouldhaveallowedthecrewaccessfromone
holdtoanother.NowitwastheexitthatAlexneeded.Heswamovertoitandpushed.The
dooropenedaboutfivecentimetresbutnomore.Ithadbeenchainedshutontheother
side.Alexsawsomethingglint.Thechainwasbrandnew.Thatwaswhenhereallybegan
toworry.
Anewchainonanolddoor.Itcouldonlybethereforonereason.SomehowDrevinhad
foundoutwhohewas.Alexhadthoughthewassoclever,eavesdroppingwithhisiPod
andsnoopingroundtheisland.Buthehadletthemputhimonaboat
andtakehimouttosea.Hehaddoneexactlywhattheywanted,swimmingdownintothis
deathtrap.Andnowtheyhadlockedthedoor.Theyweregoingtoleavehimhereto
drown.
Fury,blackandirresistible,surgedthroughhim.Hisheartwasthunderinghecouldn't
breathe.Forabriefmomenthewastemptedtotaketheregulatoroutofhismouthand
scream.Hewashelpless.Atthemercyofasinglepipeandadiminishingsupplyofair.
ThenextninetysecondswerepossiblythemostdifficultofAlex'slife.Hehadtofightfor
control,twentytwometresbelowsealevel,awarethathewasquiteprobablyinhistomb.
Somehowhehadtochannelhisangerawayfromhimself,backtowardsDrevin,whohad
dealtwithhimasruthlesslyasanyoneelsewhohadevercrossedhispath.
Anothersound.Anengineoverhead.Alexfeltaflickerofhopebutquicklyclampeddown
onit.Itwasn'tthesoundofsomeonecomingtorescuehim.Kolohadreturnedtothe
surface.Hehaddonehisjobandnowhewasleaving.
Sureenough,thenoisefadedanddiedaway.
Alexwasalone.
Therewasonethinghehadtoknow,althoughhedreadedlooking.Hereacheddownfor
hisinstrumentconsole.Howmuchairhadheused?Theneedletoldhimtheworst.He
had1,750psileft.At500psi,thegaugeturnedred.Atthat
point,aspringoperatedshutoffvalveinsidethetank'sJvalvewouldclose.Hewould
haveafewminutesleft.Andthenhewoulddie.
Whenhewassurehewasbackincontrol,heswamforwardagain.Alexknewthatatthis
depth,hewouldsoongetthroughwhatairhehadleft.Butmovingtoofast,usingtoo
muchenergy,wouldonlyquickentheprocess.Howlongdidhehave?Fifteenminutesat
most.Alreadyheknewthathissituationwashopeless,andheforcedhimselftoignorethe
darkwhispersinhismind.Nobodyknewhewashere.Therewasnowayout.Buthestill
hadtotry.BetterpeoplethanDrevinhadtriedtokillhimandfailed.Hewasgoingtofinda
wayout.
Thehatchwassealedshut.Thewindowsweretoosmall.Thefloor,theceilingandthe
wallsweresolid.Therewasjustthesingledoorthatmightleadhimtosafety,andthatwas
chained.Alexlookedaround,thenpickeduponeoftheWinchesters.Therewasno
chanceitwouldfireafteralltheseyearsunderwater,butitmightstilldo.Carryingtheold
rifle,heswamovertothedoorand,holdingontothestock,slidthebarrelthrough.He
woulduseitasacrowbar.Maybehecouldprisethedooropenthechainwasnewbutit
wasattachedtoahandlethatwasoldandmightberotten.Usingallhisstrength,Alex
pulled.Brieflyhethoughthecouldfeelthemetalgiving.Hepulledharderandjerkedback
assomethingsnapped.Therifle.Hehadbrokenthebarrelinhalf.
Heswamovertothepileandpickedupanother.Hecouldfeelhisgaugesdragging
behindhim,buthedidn'tlookatthemagain.Hewastooafraidofwhathewouldsee.He
couldhearhiseverybreathitechoedinhisears.Andeverytimeheopenedhismouthhe
couldseehispreciousairsupplydisappearinginacloudofbubbles.Hewashearingand
seeinghisowndeath.Itwasbeingcarefullymeasuredoutallaroundhim.
Thesecondriflebrokejustasthefirsthaddone.Foramoment,Alexwentmad.He
graspedthedoorwithhishandsandwrenchedatitasifhecouldtearitoffitshinges.
Bubblesexplodedaroundhishead.Blacknessswirledaroundhiseyes.Whenhecalmed
down,littlehadchanged.Hisfingerswerewhite,andhehadcutthepalmofonehand.
Andhisairsupplyhaddroppedto900psi.Onlyminutesleft.
Hehadtomovefast.No,movingfastwouldonlybringtheendcloser.Buttherehadtobe
anotherwayout.Heexaminedthewindowsagain.Thelargestofthemwasirregularin
shapesomeofthemetalhadwornaway.Alexcouldjustaboutfithisheadandhalfhis
shoulderthroughthegap.Butthatwasit.Evenifhetookoffhistank,hiswaistandhips
wouldnevermakeitthrough.Hejerkedback,fearfulthathewasgoingtogetstuckand
cutthroughhisownairpipe.Hehadn'tachievedanything.
Andhissupplywasnowdownto650psi.The
needlewasonlyamillimetreabovethered.
Alexwascold.Hehadneverbeensocoldinhislife.Thewetsuitshouldhavebeen
trappingsomewarmthforhimbuthishandsandarmswereturningblue.Therewasno
sunlightinthehold.Hewasatthebottomofthesea.Butitwasmorethanthat.Alexknew
hewasgoingtodie.Hewouldbefoundfloatinginthishellishplace,surroundedbyrusting
machineryandmemoriesofawarlongover.Thistimetherewasnowayout.
500psi.
Howhadthathappened?Hadhesomehowmissedthelasttwominutestwoprecious
minuteswhenhehadsofewleft?Alexforcedhimselftothink.Wasthereanythingelsein
theholdthathecoulduse?Maybetheshiphadbeencarryingartilleryshells.Hehadseen
anantiaircraftgunonthedeck.Couldheperhapsblowhiswayoutofhere?
Hebegantosearchdesperatelyforammunition.Ashedidsohefeltsomethinginhis
throatandknewthatitwasbecomingmoredifficulttobreathe.Hisairsupplywasfinally
runningout.Hewonderedifhewouldfaintbeforehedrowned.Itseemedcompletely
unfair.Byamiracle,hehadsurvivedanassassin'sbulletinLondon.Andwasitjustfor
this?Foranotherevenworsedeathjustafewweekslater?
Somethinggreyflashedpastoneofthewindows.Alargefish.Ashark?Alexfeltasense
oftotaldespair.Evenifbysomemiraclehedidfind
awayout,thecreaturewouldbewaitingforhim.Perhapsitalreadyknewhewasthere.In
justafewbriefseconds,hissituationhadbecomedoublyhopeless.
Butthenhesawthegreyshapeagainandwithashockofdisbeliefrealizedthatitwasn'ta
sharkatall.Itwasadiverinawetsuit.
Someonewaslookingforhim.
Hehadtoforcehimselfnottocryout.Hekickedhardwithhisfinsandreachedthelast
windowjustasthediverwasabouttoswimby.Alex'sarmpushedthroughthejaggedgap
andhecaughtholdofthediver'sleg.Thedivertwistedround.
Brownhairfloatingloose.Blueeyesfullofworrybehindthemaskthatcoveredthem.The
diverhoveredontheothersideofthewindow,andAlexrecognizedTamaraKnight.
Desperatelyhemadethedistresssignalthathehadbeentaughtyearsbefore,chopping
withhishandinfrontofhisthroat.Outofair.Help!Hewasfindingitmoreandmore
difficulttobreathe,strainingtodrawwhatwasleftinhistank,awarethathislungswere
nevermorethanhalffilled.TamarareachedintothepocketofherBCDandpulled
somethingout.Shepasseditthroughthewindow.Alexwasconfused.Hewasholding
oneofPaulDrevin'sinhalers.Whatgoodwasthat?Thenherealizedshemusthavetaken
itfromhisroom.ItwasthegadgetSmithershadgivenhiminNewYork.Howhadshe
knownaboutit?
Andwoulditworkunderwater?
Dizzy,barelyincontrol,Alexswamovertothechaineddoor.Hehadtostruggleto
rememberhowtheinhalerworked.Twistthecylindertwiceclockwise.Whyhadn'tTamara
setitoffherself?Ofcourse,shecouldn't.Itwasfingerprintsensitive.Alexhadtodoit.
Breathe!Nowtheinhalerwasarmed.Heresteditonthechain,thenswambackfurther
intothehold.
10psi.Theneedleonhisairgaugedidn'thavemuchfurthertotravel.
Thedoorblewopen.Therewasaballofflame,instantlyextinguished,andAlexfeltthe
shockwavehithim,throwinghimagainstthetruck.Hewasn'tbreathinganymorethere
wasnothinglefttobreathe.WherewasTamara?Alexhadassumedthattherewasaway
outthroughthenexthold,butwhatifhewaswrong?
Everythingwasgoingblack.Eithertheblasthadknockedhimoutorhewassuffocating.
ButthenhefeltTamara'sarmsaroundhim.Shewaspullinghisregulatoroutofhismouth.
Itwasuseless,andheletitgo.Hefeltsomethingtouchhislipsandrealizedshehad
givenhimasecondregulator,theoctopusattachedtoherowntank.Hebreatheddeeply
andfelttherushofairintohislungs.Itwasawonderfulsensation.
Theystayedwheretheywereforafewminutes,theirarmswrappedaroundeachother.
ThenTamaragentlynudgedAlexontheshoulderandpointed
up.Henodded.Theywerestillalongwaydownandwiththetwoofthemsharingasingle
tank,itwouldn'tbelongbeforeTamara'sairsupplyalsoranout.
TamaraswamthroughthebrokendoorandAlexfollowed.Therewasanopenhatchand
theyslippedthroughit,travellingslowlyup.Theypausedwhentheirgaugesshowedfive
metres.Thiswasthesafetystopthatwouldallownitrogentoseepoutoftheirbloodstream
andpreventthemfromgettingthebends.Fiveminuteslatertheycompletedtheirascent,
breakingthroughthesurfaceintothebrilliantafternoonsun.
AlexhadnoairtoinflatehisBCD,soheunfastenedhisweightbeltandletitfall.Thenhe
toreoffhismask.
"How...?"hebegan.
"Later,"Tamarasaid.
ItwasalongswimbacktotheislandandTamarawantedtomakesuretheyweren'tseen.
TheyallowedthecurrenttocarrythemroundLittlePoint,thenkickedinfortheshore
behindthehouse.Tamaracheckedtherewerenoguardsinsightbeforetheyranacross
thebeachandintotheshelterofthepalmtrees.
Alexheavedoffhistankandthrewhimselfdownontotheground.Helaytherepanting.
Tamarawaslyingnexttohim.Inherwetsuit,withherhairlooseandwatertricklingdown
herface,shedidn'tlookanythinglikeapersonalsecretary...andsuddenly
Alexrealizedthatshehadneverreallybeenone.
"Thatwastoocloseforcomfort,"shesaid.
Alexstaredather."Whoareyou?"heasked.Butalreadyheknewtheanswer."CIA."
Ofcourse.JoeByrnehadtoldhimhehadsomeoneontheisland.
"I'msorryI'vehadtobesounfriendlytoyou,"Tamarasaid.Shegavehimadazzling
smile,asifitwassomethingshehadbeenwantingtodoallalong."I'msureyou
understand.Itwasmycover."
"Sure."Itallmadesense."Howdidyoufindmejustnow?"heasked.
"You'dalreadytoldmewhereyouweregoing,"Tamaraexplained."Idon'tknowwhy,butI
wasnervousandIdecidedtofollowyou.Iwentintoyourroomandgrabbedtheinhaler.I
thoughtitmightbeusefulandIwasright.ThenIswamout.Iwasjustnearingthesiteof
thewreck,whenIsawtheboatheadingbackwithoutyouandIguessedwhatmusthave
happened.SoIcamedowntofindyou."
Thankyou."Alexwasfeelingdrowsy.Thelateafternoonsunwasbeatingdownonhim
andhewasalreadydry."Sowhathappensnow?"heasked.
"Youtellme."
"IthinkDrevinmaybeplanningtoleavetonight."QuicklyAlextoldheraboutthephone
callhehadoverheard.
ButTamaralookeddoubtful."Ican'tbelievethat,"shesaid."Thelaunchtomorrow...Ark
Angel.
Itmeanseverythingtohim.He'sbeenworkingonitformonths.Whydisappearnow?"
"Iagree.Buthedefinitelymentionedaboat.It'sarrivingateleveno'clock."
"Thenwehavetobethere.There'sabackupunitwaitinginBarbados.IfDrevintriesto
leave,wecancontactthemandthey'llbehereinminutes."
"Whatdowedountilthen?"
"You'dbetterwaithere.I'llgobacktothehouseandgetyousomeclothes.Andsomething
toeatanddrink."ShestudiedAlexclosely."AreyouOK?"
"I'mfine.Thanks,Tamara.Yousavedmylife."
"It'sgreattobeworkingwithyou,Alex.Joetoldmeallaboutyou."
Tamaraslippedaway,leavingAlexonhisown.Hewatchedthewavesbreakinggentlyon
thewhitesand.Thesunwasbeginningtosetandthefirstshadowswerealready
stretchingout,reachingtowardsAlexandsilentlywarninghimofthedangersofthe
comingnight.
TROPICALSTORM
Atteno'clockthatnight,AlexandTamarawerewaitingontheedgeoftherainforest,
lookingdownthetracktowardsthewoodencabinswheretheguardsgotwashedand
changed.Bothofthemweredressedindarkclothes.Tamarahadpickedoutcombat
trousersandalongsleevedblackTshirtforAlex.Hewastoohot.Thenighthadbrought
withitaclammyheatthatclungtohisskin,andhecouldfeelthesweatsnakingdownhis
back.Butthiswaytherewaslesschanceofbeingseen,andhewasprotectedfromthe
worstofthemosquitoes.
Tamarawasalsoinblack.Fromsomewhereshehadproducedagun,aslimBeretta,
whichshewaswearinginaholsterunderherarm.Shealsohadaradiotransmitterwith
whichshewasplanningtocontacttheCIAbackupteam althoughshewasworried
aboutthereception.Thecloudswerethick.
obscuringthemoon,anditlookedasifitwasgoingtorain.Gettingadecentsignalinthe
middleofatropicalstormwouldn'tbeeasy.
Alexwasgladshewaswithhim.Hehadbeenalonetoolonganditseemedtohimthat
thetwoofthemwerewellsuited.Tamarahadtoldhimthatshewasoneoftheyoungest
agentsworkingforJoeByrneshehadbeenrecruitedwhenshewasjustnineteen.She
didn'tlookmucholderthanthatnow,crouchedbesideagiantflamboyant,theumbrella
shapedtreecommontomuchoftheeasternCaribbean.Hesensedthatthiswasonebig
adventureforher.Maybethatwasthedifferencebetweenthem.Sheenjoyedherwork.
Therewerethreecabins,connectedbycoveredwalkways,besidethetrack.Theywere
fairlyprimitive:darkwoodenplanksforwalls,roofsmadefrompalmfronds.Abouttwenty
metresfurtherdown,Alexcouldmakeouttheelectricgateandthecheckpointguarding
thelaunchareaontheotherside.Therewerethreeguardsonconstantpatrol,oneof
theminsidethecontrolbox,theothertwoshufflingbackandforthinfrontofthetenmetre
highmetalfence.Thewholeareawasilluminatedbyaseriesofarclightsshiningdown
frommetalwatchtowers.Alexcouldseehundredsofmothsandmosquitoesdancingin
thebeams.
Theguardswererelievedattenfifteen.AsDrevin'spersonalassistant,Tamarahadbeen
abletoseetherosterandsheknewthatthesecond
nightwatchwouldbearrivingatanymoment.Alexglancedbackdownthetrackinthe
directionofDrevin'shouse.HethoughtbrieflyofPaul.Presumablyhewouldhavebeen
toldthatAlexhaddrowned...aterribleaccident.HewonderedwhatPaulwouldbe
thinking,andhewassorrythatTamarahadn'tseenhimwhenshe'dgonebacktothe
housetofetchhimsomeclothes.
Buthecouldn'tworryaboutthatnow.Itwastime.Thetrackwasstillemptytherewasno
signofanyelectricbuggiescomingeitherway.Tamaranudgedhimandhecreptforward,
keepingclosetotheundergrowth,makinghiswaytothefirstofthethreecabins.Very
carefullyheopenedthedoor.Therehadbeennosoundormovementfortwentyminutes,
butevensotherecouldstillbesomeoneasleepinthere.
Thecabinwasempty.Alexslippedinsideandfoundhimselfinasmall,rectangularspace.
Therewereacoupleofoldsofas,afridgeandatablewithemptybeerbottles,some
pornographicmagazinesandadeckofplayingcardsstrewnacrossthesurface.Afan
stoodinonecornerbutitwasswitchedoff.Theroomreekedofstalecigarettesmoke,and
theairwassluggishandstill.
Hepassedthroughthiscabinandintothenext,anevensmalleronewithfourshower
cubiclesandarowofwoodenbenches.Thefloorwastiled.Damptowelshungonhooks.
Again,therewasnobodyinsight.
Itwasinthethirdcabinthathefoundwhathewaslookingfor.Thiswaswheretheguards
gotchangedforwork.Uniforms,freshlyironed,hunginmetallockerspolishedbootswere
neatlylinedupagainstthewall.ExactlyasTamarahaddescribed.
Alexcouldn'thelpsmilingtohimselfashereachedintohispocketandtookoutthebottle
thatSmithershadgivenhim.HeglancedatthenameonthelabelSTINGOthen
openeditandsprinkledthecontentsovertheguards'uniforms.Theliquidwascolourless
anddidn'tsmellofanything.Theguardswouldn'thaveanyideawhatwasabouttohit
them.
Heheardalowwhistlefromoutside:awarningfromTamara.Therewasaseconddoor
leadingoutofthecabinandAlexslippedthroughitintothedarkness.Outside,heheard
anapproachingbuggy.Perfecttiming.
Itwasthechangingoftheguard.AsAlexrejoinedTamara,abuggydrewupandthree
mendressedinbaggyshortsandTshirtsgotout.Alexrecognizedoneofthem.Itwas
Kolo,thediverwhohadlefthimtodie.Hewaspleased.Ifanyonedeservedtosuffer,it
wasKolo.
"Isthisgoingtowork?"Tamarawhisperedasthethreemendisappearedintothe
changingroom.
"Don'tworry,"Alexreplied."Smithershasneverletmedown."
Aboutfiveminuteslater,thethreemenreappeared,nowdressedintheirgreyoveralls.
Alex
andTamarawatchedastheyapproachedthecheckpointtoswapplaceswiththethree
guardsthere.Theyexchangedafewwordsinlowvoices,thentookuptheirpositions.The
threewhohadbeenrelievedwentbackintothecabintochangeanddroveoffinthe
buggyafewminuteslater.
"Lefsgetcloser,"Alexwhispered.Hewaskeentoseewhateverwasgoingtohappen.
Kolowassittinginthecontrolbox,infrontofabankoftelephonesandmonitors.The
windowwasopensothathecouldcommunicatewiththeothertwo,whowerenowarmed
andstandingtogetherinfrontofthefence.Itwasathanklesstask,Alexthought,hanging
aroundallnight,waitingforsomethingtohappen.Andalthoughnoneofthemknewit,it
wasabouttogetworse.
Alexnoticeditfirst.Thecloudofinsectsvisibleinthebeamsofthearclampshad
thickened.Beforetherehadbeenhundredsofthem.Nowtherewerethousands.Itwas
impossibletotellwhatkindofbugstheywere:beetles,flies,cockroachesormosquitoes.
Theywerejustblackspecksmadeupoffranticallybeatingwings,antennaeanddangling
legs.Thereweresomanythatthelightwasalmostobliterated.
Koloslappedhisface.Thesoundwassurprisinglyloudinthethickheatofthenight.One
oftheotherguardsmutteredsomethingandscratchedunderhisarm.Koloslappedhis
faceasecondtime,thenthebackofhisneck.Theothermenwerebeginning
toshufflearoundedgily,asifperformingaweirddance.Oneranthestockofhismachine
gundownhischest,thenreachedoverhisshoulder,usingittoscratchhisback.Inside
thecontrolbox,Kolowasswattingattheairinfrontofhisface.Heseemedtobehaving
troublebreathing,andAlexcouldseewhy.Theairallaroundhimhadbeeninvadedby
thousandsandthousandsofinsects.Kolocouldn'topenhismouthwithoutswallowing
them.
ThemosquitolotionthatSmithershadcreatedwasawesome.Everyinsectontheisland
hadbeenattractedtothethreeunfortunatemen.Thetwooutsidewereoutofcontrol,
slappingthemselves,whimpering,jerkingaroundlikeelectricshockvictims.Kolo
screamed.Alexcouldseeahugecentipedeclingingtohisneck.Verylittleoftheman's
skinwasvisiblenow.Hewascoveredinamassofbiting,stinginginsects.Theywere
crawlingintohiseyesanduphisnose.Stillscreaming,hepunchedhimselffrenziedly.The
othertwomenweredoingthesame.
Therewasasmallexplosionandashowerofsparksasoneofthetelevisionmonitors,
invadedbyinsects,shortcircuited.Itwasthefinalstraw.Blindandswearing,Kolo
staggeredtohisfeetandtumbledoutofthecontrolbox.Theothertwoguardsfellonto
him,clingingtohimforsupport,andthethreeofthembegantogropetheirwaytowards
theshowersandthechangingroom.
Ahugecloudofinsectsfollowedthem.
Suddenlyeverythingwassilent.
"Youwereright,"Tamaraobserved."YourMrSmithersisprettygood."
Thetwoofthemhurriedpastthenowdesertedcheckpoint,throughthegateandalongthe
trackontheotherside.Therainforestsoonendedandtheycouldmakeoutthegantries
withtherocketsahead.Therewasstillnomoon.
Tamaralookedup."We'regoingtogetwet,"sheannounced.
Shewasright.Afewminuteslater,thecloudsopenedandtheywereinstantlydrenched.
Therainwaswarmandfellfromtheskyasifpouredfromanenormousbucket.Asheetof
lightningpulsedoverthesea,reflectedinthegroundthatwasbeingchurnedupallaround
them.Everythinghadbecomeblackandwhite.
"Whatwillhappentothelaunch?"Alexshouted.Therewasnolongeranyneedto
whisper.Tamaracouldhardlyhearhimagainstthecrashingrain.
Sheshookwateroutofhereyesandshoutedback,"Itwon'tmakeanydifference.The
rainwon'tlastlong.Everythingwillbedrybytomorrowmorning."
Infact,thestormcouldn'thavebrokenatabettertime.Thelaunchareawasaquarterofa
mileofcompletelyopenlandandAlexhadwonderedhowtheywouldcrossitwithout
beingseen.Hehadnodoubtthattherewouldbeotherguardsonpatrol
andprobablyclosedcircuitTV.Therainprovidedperfectcover.Intheirdarkclothes,he
andTamarawereinvisible.
Thesecondjettywasonthewesternpointoftheisland,connectedtotherocketgantries
andthevariouscontrolbuildingsbyawhitecementtrack.AlexandTamarawerejogging
towardsitwhenalightsuddenlyburstout,cuttingthroughtherain.Itwasmountedona
boatthatwasheadingtowardstheshore,fightingitswaythroughthetumultuouswaves.
"Thisway!"TamarayelledandpulledAlextowardsabrickoutbuildingwithatangleof
metalpipesandgaugesoutside.Astheyran,shetripped.Alexmanagedtocatchher
beforeshefell,andafewmomentslatertheyweresafelyconcealedbehindawatertank.
Thejettywasrightinfrontofthem.AlexwonderedifDrevinwasabouttoappear.
Theboatreachedthejetty.Therainwascomingdownevenmoreheavilyanditwas
difficulttoseewhatwashappening.Someonejumpeddownwitharope.Morefigures
appearedonthedeck.AlexhadthoughtthatDrevinwasplanninghisexitfromtheisland,
butitlookedasiftheboathadbroughtnewarrivalspeoplewhodidn'twanttobeseen.
AlexheardasoundbehindhimandturnedtoseeMagnusPayneandtwoguardsdrive
downthetracktowardstheboat.Thegingerhairandlifeless
skinoftheisland'sheadofsecuritywereunmistakableeveninatropicalstorm.They
reachedthejettyandPaynegotout.Fourmenclimbeddownfromtheboat.Alexgrabbed
holdofTamara,shocked.Heknewwhothemenwere,eventhoughhehadneverlearnt
theirrealnames.
CombatJacket.Spectacles.SteelWatchandSilverTooth.
ForceThreehadcometoFlamingoBay.Butwhy?Whatdiditmean?MagnusPaynewas
shakingtheirhands,welcomingthem.Thiswastheterroristgroupthathadswornto
destroyDrevin.Buttheywerebeinggreetedlikeoldfriends.
Andthenavoicecrackledoutofthestorm,amplifiedbyhiddenspeakers,echoingall
around.
"Donotfire!Weknowyouarethere.Dropyourweaponsandcomeoutwithyourhands
up."
Thefivemenfroze.Twoofthempulledoutguns.Butthewordsweren'tbeingaddressed
tothem.
IfAlexhadanydoubtsthatitwasheandTamarawhowerebeingtargeted,theywere
dispelledafewsecondsLater.Fourmorebuggieshadcomeracingoutoftherain.They
slidtoahalt,facinghim,theirheadlightsdazzlinghim.Adozenblackshadowscame
tumblingoutandtookuppositionsaroundthem.NexttohimTamaratensed,thensprang
intoaction,drawinghergun.Therewasasingleshot,firedfromoneofthebuggies.
Tamaracriedout.Hergunspunaway.Bloodbegantoseepfromawoundinhershoulder,
spreadingrapidlydownhersleeve.
"Thatwasyourlastwarning!"thevoiceboomed."Standupandmoveslowlyforward.If
youresist,youwillbeshot."
Howhadtheybeenfound?AlexthoughtbackandrememberedTamarastumbling.A
tripwire.Thathadtobeit.Astheyhadrun,shehadtriggeredanalarm.
MagnusPaynepushedhiswaythroughthelineofguards.ThefourmembersofForce
Threefollowed.Thewholeareahadbeenemptyonlyminutesbeforenowitwas
swarming.Tamarawasclutchingherwoundedshoulder.Alexstoodnexttoher,sickat
heart.
AndthenNikoleiDrevinappeared,dressedinalightraincoatandbizarrelyholdinga
brightlycolouredgolfingumbrellathatshieldedhimfromthedownpour.Heseemed
relaxed,asifhe'dsimplydecidedtogoforalatenightstroll.HestoodinfrontofAlexand
Tamara.Therewasverylittleemotioninhisface.
"MissKnight,"hesaid,andalthoughhespokesoftly,thewordscarriedevenabovethe
soundoftherain."Ialwaysdidhavemydoubtsaboutyou.Orrather,Isuspectedthatthe
CIAwouldtrytoinfiltratemyoperation,andyouseemedthemostlikelychoice.Howvery
sadIamtohavemyfearsconfirmed."
"Theboy..."MagnusPaynehadreachedDrevin'sside.
"Yes.Itseemsyourmandidn'tquitefinishthe
job."DrevinsteppedforwarduntilhewascentimetresawayfromAlex.Alexdidn'tflinch
rainstreameddownhisface."Tellme,Alex,"Drevinasked."I'dbeinterestedtoknowwho
you'reworkingfor.IsitMI6ortheCIA?Orperhapsboth?"
"Gotohell,"Alexrepliedquietly.
"I'mtrulysorrythatyouchosetomakeyourselfmyenemy,"Drevincontinued."Ilikedyou
fromthestart.SodidPaul.Butyouhaveabusedmyhospitality,Alex.Agreatmistake."
Alexwassilent.NexttohimTamarahadgoneverypale.Shehadonehandclampedover
herwoundandwasobviouslyinpain.Butshewasstilldefiant."TheCIAknowwe'rehere,
Drevin,"shesaid."Youdoanythingtous,they'regoingtobecrawlingalloveryou.You're
notgettingawayyou'vegotnowheretogo."
"WhatevermadeyouthinkIwasplanningtogoanywhere?"Drevinretorted."Lockthegirl
up,"heordered."Idon'twanttoseeheragain.MagnusbringAlexRidertothemain
hangar.Iwanttotalktohim."
Drevinturnedandwalkedaway.Itonlytookthreepacesandhehaddisappearedintothe
rain.
PRIMARYTARGET
Themainhangarwashuge.PerhapsthiswaswheretheCessnawaskeptwhenitwasn't
inuse.Theroofwasagreatcurveofcorrugatediron.Onewallslidbacktoallowaccess
tothelaunchsite.Therewerevariouspiecesofmachineryandafewoildrumsscattered
around,butotherwisethehangarwasbare.Alexwastiedtoawoodenchair.Drevinwas
sittingoppositeMagnusPaynewasstandingbesidehim.CombatJacket,SilverTooth,
SpectaclesandSteelWatchweregroupedtogetherashortdistanceaway.Theyhad
beeninvitedtothepartybutitwasclearthatDrevindidn'texpectthemtojoinin.
Therainhadstoppedassuddenlyasithadstarted.Alexcouldhearthewaterstiltgurgling
intheguttersandtherewereafewlastdropspatteringontheroof.Theairinthehangar
waswarmanddamp.Hewassoaked.Paynehadusedalength
ofelectricalwiretobindhim tothechairanditwascuttingintohisflesh.Hishandsand
feetwerenumb.
Drevinwaswearingalightbluecashmerejerseyandcords.Hewasrelaxed,holdinga
giantbrandyglassinonehand,twocentimetresofpalegoldenliquidformingaperfect
circleinthebottom.Heraisedittohisnoseandsniffedappreciatively.
"ThisisaLouisXIIIcognac,"hesaid."It'sthirtyyearsold.Asinglebottlecostsmorethan
athousandpounds.It'stheonlycognacIdrink."
"Iknewyouwererich,"Alexsaid."Ialsoknewyouweregreedy.ButIdidn'tknowyou
wereboringaswell."
"TherearefivemenherewhowouldbeonlytoogladtodealwithyouifIweretoallowit,"
Drevinrepliedmildly."Perhapsyouwoulddobettertokeepyourmouthshutandlistento
whatIhavetosay."
Heswirledthebrandyandtookasip.
"Ihavetoconfess,I'mfascinatedbyyou."ThegreyeyesstudiedAlexclosely."When
MagnustoldmeyouwereanMI6agent,Ilaughed.Isimplycouldn'tbelieveit.ButwhenI
lookbackovereverythingthat'shappened,itmakesperfectsense.ImetAlanBluntonce
andthoughthimamostdeviousandunpleasantindividual.Thisconfirmsmyimpression.
Evenso,Ifindithardtoacceptthathesentyouafterme.Isthatwhathappened,Alex?
Wereyouplantedfromtheverystart?"
"He'dbeenshot,"Paynegrowled."I'veseencopiesofhishospitalrecords.Thatwasreal
enough."
"Thenperhapsitwasnomorethananunhappycoincidence.Unhappy,thatis,foryou.
ButI'mgladwehavethistimetogether.AlthoughI'mafraidthatbothyouandMissKnight
mustbedispensedwithsoon,atleastI'vebeengiventheopportunitytoexplainmyselfto
you.Yousee,Alex,I'dlikePaultoknowaboutme.I'dliketotellhimeverythingI'mabout
totellyou.Buthe'sweak.He'snotreadyyet.HemightevenenduphatingmeforwhatI
am.Butyou,Iknow,willunderstand."
Drevinloweredhisnoseintotheglassandbreathedindeeply.
"Iam,asyoumentionedjustnow,arichman.Oneoftherichestmenontheplanet.I
employateamofaccountantswhoworkformefulltimealltheyearround,andeventhey
areunsurequitehowmuchIamworth.Youhavenoideawhatit'slike,Alex,tobeableto
haveanythingyouwant.Icanwalkintoashoptobuyasuitanddecideinsteadtobuythe
shop.IfIseeanewcarorshiporplaneinamagazine,itcanbeminebeforetheendof
theday.AtthelastcountIhadelevenhousesaroundtheworld.Icansleepinadifferent
countryeverydayoftheweekandwakeupinyetanotherlittlebitofparadise.
"Ofcourse,asyou'veprobablybeentold,thiswealthdidnotcometomeinawaythatyou
might
describeashonest.Suchtermsareofnointeresttome.IamacriminalIfreelyadmitit.I
havekilledmanypeoplepersonallyandcountlessmorehavediedasaresultofmy
orders.Manyofmyassociatesarecriminals.Whyshouldthistroubleme?There'snota
successfulbusinessmanalivewhohasnotatsometimecheatedorlied.Wealldoit!Ifs
justaquestionofdegree.
"Ihavebeenhugelysuccessfulforthepasttwentyyears,andIfullyintendtobecome
richerandmoresuccessfulintheyearstocome.However"Drevin'sfacegrewdark
"abouteighteenmonthsagoIbecameawareoftwosmallproblems,andthesehave
forcedmeintoaparticularcourseofaction.Theyarethereasonwhyyouareherenow,
Alex.TheyareproblemsthatcouldalltooeasilydestroymeandwhichIhavespenta
greatdealoftimeandmoneyseekingtoovercome."
"Whyareyoutellingmeallthisifyou'replanningtokillme?"Alexasked.
"ItisbecauseI'mplanningtokillyouthatIcantellyou,"Drevinreplied."Therewillbeno
dangerofyourepeatingwhatyouhear.Butpleasedon'tinterruptagain,Alex,orIshall
havetoaskMagnustohurtyou."
Heclosedhiseyesbriefly.Whenheopenedthemagain,hewasfullycomposed.
"Thefirstproblem,"hesaid,"concernstheStateDepartmentoftheUnitedStates,which
decidedtoinvestigatesomeofmyfinancialdealings.
particularlythoseinvolvingtheRussianmafiya.Ofcourse,Ihavebeenawarerightfrom
thestartthattheywerebuildingaeaseagainstme.Ihavealwaysbeenacarefulman.I
avoidwrittenevidenceandmakesuretherearenowitnesseswhomightincriminateme.
Butevenso,itwouldnotbepossibletoactonthescalethatIdowithoutleavingsome
traceofmyself,andIknewthattheAmericansweresquirrellingawaythebitsandpieces,
talkingtoanyonewho'devermetmeandthatsoonerorlatertheywereplanningtobring
metocourt.
"TheobvioussolutiontothisseemedtobetodestroytheUSStateDepartmentandin
particularthemenandwomenwhosejobithadbeentomeddleinmyaffairs.Itoccurred
tomethatinonerespecttheywereactuallybeingquitehelpful.Theyhadgatheredallthe
evidencetogether:acaseofputtingalltheireggsinonebasket!Withasingle,wellaimed
missile,Icouldkillalltheinvestigatorsanddestroyallthetapes,files,scrapsofpaper,
telephonerecords,computerprintoutseverything!Icouldbeginagainwithacompletely
cleansheet.ThemoreIthoughtaboutit,themoregratefulIbecametotheAmericansfor
whattheyweredoing.
"Ofcourse,itwasn'tgoingtobeeasy.Because,yousee,theinvestigationwasbasedin
oneofthemostsecurebuildingsintheworldthePentagoninWashington.Theplaceis
nothingmorethana
hugeslabofconcreteandmuchofitunderground.Itemploysanantiterroristforcethat
operatestwentyfourhoursaday.Everyformofmonitoringdeviceyoucouldimaginecan
befoundthere,andsince9/11,nocommercialplanecangetanywherenear.The
Pentagonisthoroughlyprotectedagainstchemical,biologicalandradiologicalattack.I
know,becauseIconsideredthemall.Butevenabriefexaminationshowedmethatany
suchapproachwasdoomedtofailure.
"Andnow,ifyou'llpermitme,I'llmoveontothesecondproblemthatImentioned.Itmay
seemcompletelyunrelatedtothefirst.Foralongtime,Ithoughtitwas.Butyouwillseein
aminutehowitallconnects."
Alexsaidnothing.HewasawareofMagnusPayneandthemenwhomadeupForce
Threewatchinghim.Hewasstillwonderinghowtheyfittedintoallthis.Andwherewas
Kaspar,themanwiththetattooedskull?Evennow,nothingquiteaddedup.Alexshiftedin
thechair,tryingtogetsomefeelingbackintohishandsandfeet.
"MyotherproblemwasArkAngel,"Drevinwenton."Spacetourismhasalwaysinterested
me,Alex,andwhentheBritishgovernmentapproachedmetogointopartnershipwith
them,ImustconfessIwasflattered.Iwouldbenefitfromthemoneytheywouldputinto
theproject.Iwouldbeattheforefrontofoneofthemostchallengingandpotentially
profitableenterprisesofthetwenty
firstcentury.AnditwouldprovidemewiththeonethingImostneeded:respectability!The
Americansmightviewmeasacriminal,butitwouldgivethempauseforthoughtwhen
theysawthatIwashavingsupperwiththeQueen.Itoccurredtomethattheymightfindit
rathermoredifficulttodragmeofftoprisonwhenIwasSirNikoleiDrevin.OrevenLord
Drevin.Sometimesithelpstohavetherightcontacts.
"AndsoIagreedtobecomepartnerswithyourgovernmentintheArkAngelproject,the
world'sfirstspacehotel.It'saboveusrightnow.It'salwaysaboveus.AndIcannever
forgetit.Because,yousee,ithasbecomeanightmare,acatastrophe.Evenwithoutthe
Americansandtheirinvestigation,ArkAngelcouldeasilydestroyme."
Drevinfrownedandtookalargesipofbrandy.
"ArkAngelisbillionsofpoundsoverbudget.It'ssuckingmedry.EvenwithallmywealthI
cannolongersupportit.Andit'sallthefaultofyourstupidgovernment.Theycan'tmakea
decisionwithouttalkingaboutitformonths.Theyhavecommitteesandsubcommittees.
Andwhentheydomakeadecision,ifsalwaysthewrongone.Ishouldhaveknownfrom
thestart.LookattheScottishparliament!TheMillenniumDome!EverythingtheBritish
governmentbuildscoststentimesasmuchasitshouldanddoesn'tevenwork.
"ArkAngelisthesame.It'slate,it'sleakingand
it'slostanyhopeofeverbeingcompleted.Thewholethingisfallingapart.Andformonths
nowI'vebeenthinking,ifonlythewretchedthingwouldsimplyfalloutofthesky.Icould
scrapebackatleastsomeofmymoneybecause,likeeverymajorproject,itisinsured.
Morethanthat,I'dbeabletowipemyhandsofit.I'dbeabletowakeupwithouthavingit,
quiteliterally,hangingovermyhead.ThereweredayswhenIseriouslyconsideredpaying
someonetoblowitup.
"Andthat,Alex,iswhenIhadmybigidea.It'sasItoldyou.Twoproblemsthatcame
togetherwithonesinglesolution."
DrevinleantforwardandatlastAlexsawquiteclearlythemadnessinhiseyes.
"Iwonderhowmuchyouknowaboutphysics,Alex.Evenaswesitherenow,thereare
hundredsofobjectsorbitingaboveusinouterspace,fromsmallcommunications
satellitestogiantspacestationssuchastheISSandMirbeforethat.Haveyouever
wonderedwhatkeepsthemthere?Whatstopsthemfromfallingdown?
"Well,theanswerisafairlysimpleequationconsistingoftheirspeedbalancedagainst
theirdistancefromtheearth.Youmightbeamusedtoknowthat,theoretically,itwouldbe
possibleforasatellitetoorbittheearthjustafewmetresaboveyourhead.Butitwould
havetogoimpossiblyfast.ArkAngelisthreehundredmilesaway.It'sthereforeableto
maintainitsorbitalvelocityatjust
seventeenandahalfthousandmilesperhour.Butevenso,everyfewmonthsithastobe
reboosted.ThesamewastrueforMirwhenitwasinorbit,andfortheInternationalSpace
Stationnow.Everyfewmonths,rocketswhichareknownasprogressvehicleshaveto
pushalltheselargesatellitesbackintospace.Otherwisethey'dcomecrashingdown.
"Infact,someofthemdoexactlythat.TheRussianspaceprobeMars96felloutofthe
skyon17November1996andthepiecesraineddownacrossSouthAmerica.InApril
2000thesecondstageofaDeltarocketnarrowlymissedCapeTown.Theworldhasbeen
veryluckythatsofartherehasbeennomajorcatastrophe.Well,almostthreequartersof
theplanetiswater.Therearehugedesertsandmountainranges.Thechancesofapiece
ofspacejunkhittingapopulatedareaarerelativelysmall.Evenso,mostastronomers
wouldagree,itisanaccidentwaitingtohappen.
"Areyoufindingthishardtofollow?I'llmakeiteasyforyou.Imagineswingingaconkeron
apieceofstringaroundyourhand.Ifyouslowdown,theconkerwillfallandhityourhand.
Andthereyouhaveit.Theconkeristhespacestationyourhandistheearth.Itdoesn't
takeagreatdealtocauseonetocrashintotheother.
"AndthatisexactlywhatIintendtodo.
"Tomorrow,whenGabriel7blastsoff,itwillbecarryingabombwhichhasbeenexactly
timedand
whichmustbeexactlypositionedwithinArkAngel.Everythinghasbeenworkedouton
computersandtheprogramislockedin.Ifyoulookatamap,youwillfindthat
Washingtonispositionedataroundthirtyeightdegreesnorth.Theangleofinclination
followedbyArkAngelitsflightpathisalsothirtyeightdegrees.Thismeansthatevery
timeitorbitstheearth,itpassesdirectlyoverWashington.
"ThebombwiltgoofftwohoursafterGabriel7hasdockedwithArkAngelatexactlyhalf
pastfour.ThiswillhavetheeffectofknockingArkAngeloutofitsorbit.Thespacestation
willbegintotoppletowardstheearth.Itwillentertheearth'satmosphericdragandafter
thatthingswillbegintohappenveryquickly.Themoreatmospherethatsurroundsit,the
fasteritwillfall.Soonitwillbetumblingoutofcontrol.Orthatishowitwillseem.Infact,I
havesecretlyprogrammedwhatareknownasdeorbitmanoeuvresintoArkAngel.
Althoughitwillseemtobemovinghaphazardly,itwillbeasaccurateasanindependently
targetednuclearmissile.
"Canyouimagineit,Alex?ArkAngelweighsaboutsevenhundredtonnes.Ofcourse,
muchofitwillburnupasitreenterstheearth'satmosphere.ButIestimatethatabout
sixtypercentofitwillsurvive.That'saboutfourhundredtonnesofmoltensteel,glass,
berylliumandaluminiumtravellingataroundfifteenthousandmilesanhour.The
Pentagonistheprimarytarget.Thebuildingwillbe
destroyed.Allthepeopleworkingtherewilldie,andeverylastscrapofinformationwillbe
incinerated.IrathersuspectthattheshockwavewilldestroymostofWashingtontoo.The
Capitol.TheWhiteHouse.Thevariousmonuments.Theparks.Ashame,becauseI've
alwaysthoughtitaratherattractivecity.Butverylittleofitwillbeleft."
Alexclosedhiseyes.JackStarbrightwasinWashington,visitingherparents.Maybeshe
wouldsurvivethehideousexplosionthatDrevinhadplanned.Butthousandsofpeople
hundredsofthousandswouldnot.OnceagainAlexfoundhimselfwonderinghowhehad
gothimselfintothis.Haditreallyallbegunwithadoctororderinghimtwoweeks'R&R?
"AndnowImusttellyouaboutForceThree,"Drevinsaid.
"Youdon'tneedto,"Alexreplied.Hehadworkedthispartoutforhimself."Youneed
someonetotaketheblame.ForceThreedon'texist.Youinventedthem."
"Exactly."Drevinwavedhisglassatthefourmenstandingnearby."IconsiderForce
Threetobethemostbrilliantaspectoftheentireoperation.Obviously,ifArkAngelis
sabotaged,ifitfallsonthePentagon,Iwillbethemainsuspect.SoIhadtocreatea
scapegoat.IhadtomakesurethatIwasabovesuspicion.
"IcreatedForceThree.Ihiredthemenyouseeherenow.Undermyinstructions,they
committed
severalactsofterrorismthatseemedtobedirectedagainstcapitalistconcerns.Theyblew
upacarmanufacturingplantinDakota,afactoryinJapan,aGMresearchcentreinNew
Zealand.IalsopaidajournalistworkinginBerlinandalecturerinLondontospeakout
againstForceThree,towarntheworldaboutthem.Ithenpromptlyhadthemmurdered.
Doyousee?Iwascreatingtheillusionofaruthlessgroupofecowarriorswhohated
anyoneinvolvedinbigbusinessandwhoparticularlyhatedme."
"Youkidnappedyourownson!"Alexexclaimed.Atlasttheeventsatthehospitaland
HornchurchTowerswerebeginningtomakesense.
"Itoldyou.Ihadtobeseentobeabovesuspicion.TheworldhadtobelievethatForce
Threeweremyenemy.Whatsortoffatherwouldallowhisownsontobekidnappedjust
daysafteranoperation"
"Buttheygotitwrong,"Alexinterrupted."Theytookmeinsteadofhim."Hethoughtback
tothetimewhenhehadbeenheldprisonerandhisheadswam."Theyweregoingtocut
offPaul'sfinger!Didyoureallyorderthemtodothat?"
"Ofcourse."Forthefirsttime,Drevinlookedtroubled.Alexcouldseehimstrugglingwith
hisemotions,forcingthemdown."Thethreathadtobecredible.IfPaulhadbeenmaimed,
nobodywouldhavesuspectedthatIhadanythingtodowithit.AndwhenForceThree
attackedmehereon
FlamingoBay,Iwouldbethevictim."
"Butthat'smonstrous!"Alexprotested."He'syourson!"
"Maybealittlepainwouldhavetoughenedhimup,"Drevinretorted."Theboyistoosoft.
Andonedayheisgoingtoinheritbillions.Thewholeworldwillbehis.Isonelittlefinger
toomuchtoaskinreturn?"
"Itmustbegreathavingyouasadad!"Alexsneered.
"Youwilldieverypainfullyifyoucontinuetospeaktomeinthatway!"Drevinfinishedhis
brandy.Hewassuddenlyflushedandoutofbreath."TheonlymistakeImadewasnot
providingKasparwithaphotographofPaul.Weknewhisroomnumberweknewthere
wouldbenosecurityatthehospital.Howcouldweknowthatanotherboyyouwould
decidetogetinvolved?"
"Isthatwhyyoutriedtokillmeinthefire?"Alexasked.
"No."Drevinshookhishead."Weneededyoualive.Thatwasthewholepoint.Paulhad
beensavedfromhisordealbutwestillneededsomeonetotelltheworldthatitwasForce
Threebehindthe.kidnapattempt.Killingyouwouldhavebeennousetousatall.You
weremeanttoescape.Therewasachairintheroomsothatyoucouldclimbupthrough
theceilingandoverthewallintothecorridor.Thefirewasdeliberatelystartedawayfrom
thestairwellsothatyoucouldgetoutofthebuilding."
"Butoneofyourpeoplewaswaitingformewithagun."Alexlookedatthemanheknew
onlyasCombatJacket.Thiswasthemanwhohadshotthenightreceptionistatthe
hospital.HewasgazingatAlexwithwateryeyesthatweretoosmallandtooclosetohis
brokennose.
Drevinwasobviouslyhearingthisforthefirsttime."Isthistrue?"heasked.
"He'slying,"CombatJacketsaid.Itwasthefirsttimehehadspoken.Tlethimgolikeyou
said.Ineverwentnearhim."
Alexunderstood.He'dhumiliatedCombatJacket.Andthemanhaddisobeyedordersto
gethisrevenge.Hewastheonewhowaslying.Itwasobvioustoeveryonetherethey
couldhearitinhisvoice.
Drevinshrugged."Itmakesnodifference,"hesaid,andCombatJacketrelaxed."Youmay
bewonderingwhyForceThreehavecometotheisland,Alex.It'sbecauseIhaveonelast
useforthem.Thelaunchistimedfornineo'clocktomorrowmorning.Thebombwillgooff
athalfpastfourintheafternoon.AndasArkAngelcomescrashingdownonWashington,
afightwillbreakouthereonFlamingoBay.Intruderswillhavebeendiscovered.Mymen
willshoottokill.Andwhentheauthoritiescomecallingandtheinvestigationbegins,Iwill
beabletogivethemthefinalproofthatForceThreewereresponsible.Youhave
describedthemenwhokidnappedyou,Alex.Tomorrowtheirbulletriddenbodieswillbe
ondisplay."
NowitwasSilverToothwhospoke.SpectaclesandSteelWatchwerealsolooking
uneasy."Howareyougoingtofakethat?"heasked.
Drevinsmiled."WhosaidIwasgoingtofakeit?"
ThechatterofgunfirewassoloudandsoclosethatAlexnearlytoppledoverinthechair.
Thefourfaketerroristsdidn'tstandachance.Theyweredeadbeforetheycouldreact,
blownofftheirfeetontothecoldconcretefloor.Alextwistedround.MagnusPaynewas
holdingoneoftheMiniUzis.Therewasadreadfulsmileonhisface.Acloudofsmoke
hoveredaroundhishands.
"You'reinsane!"Alexspatoutthewordswithoutknowingwhathewassaying."You're
nevergoingtogetawaywithit!They'llknowitwasyou..."
"Theymaywellsuspectitwasme,butit'sgoingtobealmostimpossibletoprove,"Drevin
retorted."I'mafraidI'mthevictiminallthis."
"Butwhataboutme?WhataboutTamara?Ifyoukillus,theCIAwillcomeafteryou!"
"TheCIAarealreadyafterme.Whatdifferencewillanothercoupleofbodiesmake?I'm
afraidyouandMissKnightwiltbefoundonthebeach.Accidentallycaughtinthecrossfire.
Aterribleshame.Butnotmyfault."
"AndwhataboutKaspar?"WhyhadAlexthoughtofhim?Hewastheonepiecemissing
fromthiscrazyjigsaw.IfForceThreehadbeenworkingfor
Drevinallalong,thensohadKaspar.Butwherewashe?
"Showhim,"Drevinordered.
MagnusPayneputdownthesubmachinegun.Hereachedupandtookholdofhisginger
hair.Awig.Hepulleditoff,thenrippedathisskin.Alexshouldhaverecognizedthelatex.
Hehadrecentlywornasimilardisguisehimself.Hewatchedindismayastheheadof
securityseemedtotearhisownfaceapartandthedreadfultattoosappearedunderneath.
Injustafewsecondsthemagictrickwascomplete.MagnusPaynewasgoneKaspar
stoodinhisplace.
"Thetattooswereratherpainfulandunpleasant,"Drevincommented."Butwehadto
createaterroristleaderpeoplewouldremember.I'dsaywesucceeded,wouldn'tyou?"
Alexfeltutterlydefeated.HerememberednowhisfirstmeetingwithPayneonFlamingo
Bay.Theheadofsecurityhaddisguisedhisvoice,ofcourse.Butevenso,Alexhadbeen
surehe'dseenhimsomewherebefore.AndPaynehadknownimmediatelywhohewas.
BothheandPaulhadbeeninthebuggywhenDrevinintroducedthem,andPaynewas
supposedtobemeetingthembothforthefirsttime.Buthehadknownimmediatelywhich
waswhich.Ofcourse.HehadrecognizedAlex.
"We'llarrangethebodiesonthebeachafterthelaunch,"DrevinsaidtoKaspar."Andwe'll
addtheboyandthewomanthen."Heputdownhisglassandstoodup."Goodbye,Alex.I
enjoyedmeetingyouverymuch.Iwouldhavelikedtogettoknowyoubetter.ButI'm
afraidwe'vereachedtheend."
Hetuggedathisringonelasttimeasiftherewassomethinghehadforgottentosay.The
menwhohadpretendedtobeForceThree,andwhosenamesAlexwouldneverknow,
laysprawledonthefloor.
Kasparsteppedforwardandgrabbedholdofthechair.Alexwashelplessashischairwas
tiltedbackwardsandhewasdraggedaway.
WINDANDWATER
KaspardroveAlexacrossthecompoundtoaflat,rectangularbuildingwithbarred
windowsandadoorwithstepsleadingdown,justbelowtheleveloftheground.Alex
couldnolongerthinkoftheothermanasMagnusPayne.Drevin'sheadofsecurityhadn't
botheredtoreplacehiswigormask,andeveninthedarknessthehideousmapofthe
worldstillglowedlividonhisskin.Alexwonderedhowmuchhehadbeenpaidtodisfigure
himself.Whateverthesum,itwouldprobablycosthimjustasmuchonedaytopayforthe
lasersurgerytoremovethetattoos.
Alexhadbeenuntiedfromthewoodenchairbuthishandswerestillbound.Astheygot
outofthebuggy,hetestedthewire,attemptingtofindsomeslack.Itseemedtohimthat,
giventime,hemightbeabletofreehimself.Notthatitwoulddohimmuchgood.The
buildinginfrontofhimlookedlike
aprison.AndKasparknewwhathewascapableof.Hewasn'tgoingtomakeanymore
mistakes.
Theywentdownthestepsintoalargeareafilledwithelectronicequipment,computers
andworkstations.Amodelofaspaceprobegleamingsteelwithcircuitryspilling
everywheretookupmostoftheroom.Alexnoticedtwosetsofwhatlookedlike
tracksuitshangingonarail.TheybothhadtheArkAngellogostitchedontothesleeve.He
supposedtheymustbetheoutfitswornbyastronauts.
"Thisway,"Kaspargrunted.Hegesturedwithhisguntowardsanotherflightofstairs
leadingdown.
Alexobeyedandfoundhimselfinawidecorridorwithtwosolidlookingcagesoneither
side.Ashesteppedforward,heheardascreechingandjabberingfromthefirstcage,and
tohissurpriseanorangutanboundedtowardshim,crashingitsfistsagainstthebars.
Thenheremembered.Drevinhadsaidhewasplanningtosendanapeintospacesome
sortofenduranceexperiment.
"MeetArthur,"Kasparsaid.Therewasanuglysmileonhisface.
"Isheanyrelation?"Alexasked.
Theremarkearnedhimasharpjabwiththegun.Butthepainwasquicklyforgotten.He
hadlookedintothenextcageandseenTamaraKnight,stillverypalebutalive.She
smiledatAlexbutsaidnothingwhileKasparopenedthedoorofthecageopposite.
"Inhere,"heordered.
Alexhadnochoice.HesteppedinsideandwaitedwhileKasparlockedthedoorbehind
him.Helookedaround.Thecagewasabouttwometressquare.Thebarsweresolid
steel.Thelockwasbrandnew.Alexhadnogadgetsonhimandhishandswerestilltied.
Hewasgoingnowhere.
Kasparremovedthekeyandslippeditintohispocket."I'llleavethethreeofyoutogether."
Heglancedathiswatch.Itwasalmostoneo'clockinthemorning."You'llheartherocket
launch,"hesaid."Andassoonasit'sgone,someone'llcomeforyou.They'lltakeyouto
thebeachandthat'llbetheend."ThecornerofWestAfricatwistedinagrimaceofpure
hatred.
Alexhadseenitallbefore.Thebiggerthecriminals,themoretheyresentedbeingbeaten
byateenager.AndAlexhadbeatenKaspartwice."I'mjustsorryIwon'tbetheone
holdingthegun,"Kasparwenton."ButI'llbethinkingofyou.Ihopeitwon'tbetooquick."
Hewalkedaway.Alexheardhisfootstepsonthestairs.Themaindooropenedand
closed.Arthurtheorangutanstalkedtothebackofhiscageandsatdown.
"Charmingguy,"Tamaramuttered.
"Tamara,areyouOK?"Alexhadbeenworriedabouther,andhewasrelievedtoseeher
now.
"I'vebeenbetter,"sheadmitted."WasthatMagnusPaynejustnow?"
Alexnodded.
"IthoughtIrecognizedhisvoice.Whathappenedtohishead?"
Alextoldher.HealsotoldherabouthismeetinginthehangarandDrevin'splanto
destroyWashington.Tatnarawaskneelingagainstthedoorofhercage,listeningclosely.
Whenhefinishedtalkingsheletoutadeepsigh.ItseemedtoAlexthatevenmorecolour
haddrainedfromherface.
"Wethoughthewasgoingtocutandrun,"shesaid."Wethoughthewasfinished.We
neverfiguredhewasgoingtocomeupwithsomethinglikethis."
"Canhereallydoit?"Alexasked.
Tamarathoughtforamoment,thennodded."Maybe.Idon'tknow.He'dhavetowork
everythingoutrightdowntothelastsecond.Theexplosion.Alltherestofit.But,yes...I'm
afraidheprobablycan."
"WehavetocontactJoeByrne."
"Theguardstookmyradiotransmitter.Iimaginethey'llhavetakenyouriPodtoo."
"Whataboutthephones?"
"ThereareradiophonesontheislandbutDrevinwillhavedisabledthem,justincase.
Andordinarymobilesarenogoodyoucan'tgetasignal.Idon'tknow,Alex.Eitherwe're
goingtohavetostophimourselvesoroneofusisgoingtohavetogoforhelp."
"Barbados..."
"It'sonlyabouttenmilesfromhere.EdShulskyiswaitingatHarrisonPointhe'sgotplenty
ofbackup.Maybeyoucouldstealaboat."
"Whyme?Whynotbothofus?"
Tamarashookherhead."I'msorry,Alex.ButI'vegotabulletinmyshoulder.I'donlyslow
youdown."
Alexlashedoutatthecagedoorwithhisfoot.Thebarsrattled.Itwasobvioustohimthat
hewasn'tgoinganywhere,andhesaidso.
"MaybeIcanhelpyou,"Tamarasaid.ShewaswearingtrainersandasAlexwatched,she
reacheddownandpulledoutthelaces."Catch!"Sheslippedheruninjuredarmbetween
thebarsofhercageandthrewthelacesovertoAlex.
"What"
"You'renottheonlyonewithgadgets.There'stungstenwireinsidethelaces.Diamond
edged.Youcancutthroughthebars."
"That'sneat,"hesaid,thoughsecretlyhewishedthattheCIAhadcomeupwith
somethinglessclumsyandperhapsalittlemoreefficient.
"Theyremovedmyexplodingearrings,"Tamaraadded,asifreadinghismind.
Alextookoneofthelacesandexaminedthedoor.Thesteelbarswerestrongbutthey
werethinandhewouldonlyhavetocutthroughthreeofthemtosqueezethrough.Hisjob
wouldn'tbemadeeasierbythefactthathishandsweretied,butperhapshecoulddeal
withthattoo.
"Howmuchtimedowehave?"heasked.
"Notmuch.Itgetslightaroundsix,andifyou'renotoutbythen,Idon'tthinkyou'llhave
muchchance."
"Right."
Alexloopedthelaceoverthewirebetweenhiswrists,thengrabbedthedanglingends
withhisteeth.Hepulledthelacetightandbegantojerkhishandsinavaguesawing
motion.Inlessthanaminutehiswristswerefree.HesawTamarasmile.Nowhecould
beginworkinearnest.
Thebarsweren'tsoeasy.Ittookwelloverhalfanhourtomakethefirstcut,andAlexwas
disappointedtodiscoverthatevenafterithadbeenseverednearitsbase,thebar
wouldn'tbend.Hehadtomakeasecondcutanotherhalfhour'sworkbeforeitfinally
felltothefloorwithaclang.Alexcursedhimself.Iftherewereanyguardsupstairs,the
noisewouldhavealertedthem.Buthewaslucky.Nobodycame.Itseemedthatthetwoof
themwereontheirown.
Tamarahadn'tspokenwhilehewasworkingbutnowshenoddedathim."Keepgoing!"
sheencouraged.
"Whattimeisit?"
"Idon'tknow.Theytookmywatch."
Thatwastheworstofit.AsAlexstartedonthesecondbar,hehadnoideahowmuch
timehadpassed.Allheknewwasthathewaswornout.Heneededtosleep.Andhehad
blistersonhis
thumbs,hisfingersandtheheelsofhishandswheretheyhadrubbedtogether.
Thenightdraggedon.Hesathunchedupinthecage,sawingbackandforth.Tamarawas
watchinghim.Theorangutanhadturnedhisbackonbothofthemandseemedtobe
asleep.
Atlastitwasdone.Thethirdbarcameloose,leavingenoughspaceforAlextoslip
throughintothecorridor.HewentovertoTamara.
"I'mgoingtogetyouout,"hesaid.
"No,Alex."
"Ican'tjustleaveyouhere."
Tamarashookherhead."Youdon'thavealotoftime.GettoBarbados.FindEd."She
leantback.Althoughshewastryingnottoshowit,Alexcouldseethatshewasinalotof
pain."I'llbeallright,"shewenton."I'vegotArthurtokeepmecompany.Nowgo,before
someonecomes."
Alexknewshewasright.Hepickeduponeoftheloosebarsandclimbedbackupthe
stairs.Lookingthroughthewindow,hewasalarmedtoseestreaksofpinklightstealing
acrosstheinkysky.Itmustbewellaftersixo'clock,lessthanthreehourstothelaunch.
Hewentovertothedoorandopeneditacrack.Therewasaguardsittinginachair,
wearinggreyoverallsandacap.Alexsmiledtohimself.Foronceluckwasonhisside.
Themanwasfastasleep.Hegrippedthemetalbarmoretightly.Hehadthoughtitmight
comeinuseful.
Tenminuteslater,dressedintheguard'suniformandwiththecappulleddownlowover
hisforehead,Alexdroveanelectricbuggybacktowardsthecheckpoint.Withoutslowing
down,heheldouttheguard'sID,anglinghisarmsothatitcoveredmostofhisface.He
waspreparedtocrashthroughthegateifhehadto,andhewasrelievedwhenitopened
tolethimpass.ItseemedthatsecurityonFlamingoBayneededaseriousoverhaul.But
thenagain,heandTamaraweresupposedtobelockedup.Theplacewasanisland,ten
milesawayfromthenearestland.WhatwasthereforDrevinoranyoneelsetoworry
about?
Thebuggywaseasytodrive,withonlytwopedalsacceleratorandbrakeandnogears.
Heputhisfootdownandspedthroughtherainforest,awarethattheskywasgetting
lighterallthetime.Drevin'shouseandthefarendoftheisland,LittlePoint,appearedin
thedistance.Alexturnedthewheelandspunoffthetrack,steeringthebuggydown
betweenthepalmtreestowardsthebeach.Itmadeitabouthalfwaybeforeitgotstuckin
thesand.ThatwasgoodenoughforAlex.Hejumpedoutandrandowntothejetty.
ThereweretwocanoesandaboatmooredthereaPrincessV55motorcruiser.Acanoe
wouldbetooslow.Buttheboat?Itwasabeautifulcraft,verylowinthewater,itsbow
shapedlikeaknife,builtforspeed.Alexlookedforthekeyinthe
ignition.Whynot?Oneguardhadbeenasleep.Anotherhadn'tevenlookedathimashe
drovepast.Athirdmighthavemadetheclumsiestmistakeofall.
Butthistimehewasdisappointed.Therewasnokey.Hesearchedallthecupboardsand
lockersinthemaincabin,buttherewasnothing.Frustrated,Alexrestedhishandsonthe.
wheelandforcedhimselftothinkcalmly.Drevin'shousewasinsight.Hewastemptedto
stealinandtrytogetholdofatelephone.ButTamarahadwarnedhimthatallthephones
ontheislandwouldbedisabled,andAlexbelievedher.MighthefindakeytothePrincess
inthehouse?Itwaspossiblebuttheriskwastoogreat.Alexlookedup.The"skywas
brighteningrapidly,thedarknesstricklingawaylikespiltink.Dawnhadbroken.Drevin
mightwakeupatanymoment.
Nophones.Noboats.Barbadoswastenmilesawaytoofartoswimortopaddleina
canoe.Alexknewwhathehadtodo.Hehadworkeditoutwhenhewassawingthrough
thebarsofthecage,buthe'dhopedhewouldbeabletofindanotherway.Well,therewas
nootherway.Hemightaswellgetonwithit.
Hejumpeddownfromtheboatandranalongthebeach,makingforthehouse.Buthe
wasn'tgoingin.Instead,hewentroundthebacktotheequipmentstorewhereKolohad
takenhimbeforethedive.ItoccurredtoAlexthathemightfinda
keytothemotorlaunchsomewhereinside,buthewasn'tgoingtowasteanymoretime
looking.ThestorewaswherePaulDrevinkepthispowerkiteandboard.Thatwaswhat
Alexhadcomefor.
Butevenashefoundthekiteandbegantobundleitout,hewonderedifitwouldbe
possible.Tenmileswasalongway,andafterthestormtheseamightberough.Atleast
therewasastrongbreeze.Alexhadfeltitwhenhewasonthejettyanditwasalso
blowingoffshore.Mostkiteboardersavoidanoffshorewindit'slumpyanddifficult,and
there'salwaysadangeritwillblowyououttosea.ButthatwasexactlywhatAlexwanted.
Heneededtogetaway.Fast.
Hereachedfortheboardandatthatmomentthedoorswungopenbehindhim.Alexwas
alreadyspinninground,hisfistsraised,preparingforakaratestrike,whenPaulstepped
inside.
"Alex?"Theotherboyhadobviouslyonlyjustgotup.Hewaswearingshortsandnothing
else.HestaredatAlex,shocked."Whatareyou..."Hecouldn'tfindthewords."Ithought
you'dgone,"hesaid.
"I'mafraidnot."Alexwasn'tsurehowmuchPaulknew,andhedidn'tknowwhattosay.
Hewasawarethatthewholesituationhadchanged.Wheredidhegofromhere?
"What'shappenedtoyou?"Paulasked."Whatareyoudoinghere?Andwhyareyou
dressedlikethat?"
"I'msorry,"Alexsaid."Ican'ttellyou."HedesperatelywishedPaulhadn'tfoundhim."How
didyouknowIwashere?"
"Icouldn'tsleep.Iwenttothewindowtogetsomeairandthereyouwere,onthebeach."
"Doyouhaveakeytotheboat?Doyouknowwhereitis?"
"No."AllofasuddenPaulwasangry."Dadtoldmethatyou'dbeensentheretospyon
him.Isaidthatcouldn'tbetrue,buthewassureofit.HesaidhehadenemiesinNew
Yorkandthey'dpaidyoutocomehere,tomaketrouble."
"Didhetellyouwhathedidtome?"Alexcutin.Hewasgettingangryhimself.Herewas
Paul,accusinghim.Butheknewnothing.
"Hesaidheputyouontheplaneoutofhere."PaullookedatAlexuncertainly."Isittrue,
Alex?"hedemanded."Areyouspyingonus?"
"Ihaven'tgottimetotalkaboutthisnow."HetookastepandPaul'sarmshotout,his
handreachingforabuttonbuiltintoapanelonthewall.Alexhadn'tnoticeditbefore.
"Thisisanalarm,"Paultoldhim."IfIpressit,there'llbeadozenguardshereinlessthan
aminute.Iwantyoutotellmethetruth.Whatareyoudoinghere?What'sbeen
happening?"
"Ifyoupressthatbutton,I'llbekilled."
"You'relying..."
"Yourfatherwillkillme,Paul.He'salreadytriedonce."
"No!"PaulwasstaringatAlexandnowtherewassomethingelseinhisface.Itwasn'tjust
disbelief.Itwasanger.AndAlexunderstood.Therewasnothinghecouldsay.Hecould
tellPauleverythingheknewaboutNikoleiVladimirDrevin,anditwouldmakeno
difference.
Drevinhadliedtohim.Hehadtauntedhimandshownhimlittleaffection.Buthewasstill
Paul'sfather.Itwasassimpleasthat.Andnomatterwhatthefeelingswerebetween
them,Paulwoulddefendhim.BecausehewasDrevin'sson.
AlexknewthathehadonlysecondsbeforePaulsoundedthealarm.Heraisedhishands,
palmsupward,asiftoprovethathemeantnoharm."OK,Paul,"hesaid."I'lltellyou
everything."
"Don'tcomeanycloser..."Paul'shandhoveredcentimetresfromthealarm.
Alexriskedanotherstepforward."It'snotwhatyouthink.Yourdadwaswrongaboutme.
Soareyou.Yourmotheraskedmetocomehere."
"What?"
AlexhadmentionedPaul'smotherbecauseheknewtheeffectitwouldhave.Paulfroze,
uncertain,andinthatsplitsecond,Alexlashedout,drivinghiselbowintotheotherboy's
temple.PaulcrumpledinstantlyAlexcaughthim andloweredhimtotheground.Hehad
beenlearningkaratesincehewassixyearsoldbutthiswasthefirsttimehehadstruck
anyonethesameageashimself.Hefeltashamed.AllPaulhadeverwantedwas
afriend,someonehecouldlookuptoandithadcometothis.Butwhatelsecouldhe
do?Hehadtoleavetheisland.HehadtopreventawhoLecityfrombeingdestroyed.
Heforcedhimselftoignoretheunconsciousboy,pickedupthekiteandtherestofthe
equipmentanddraggeditdowntothebeach.Thesunwasalreadywellabovethe
horizon.Alexpumpedupthekiteandlaiditoutalongtheshore,allthewhilelookingout
foranyapproachingguards.HowlongwouldhehavebeforePaulcameround?Fifteen
minutes,perhapstwenty.Nomatterwhichwayhelookedatit,hewasrunningoutoftime.
Andtherewasstilltheproblemoflaunchingthekite.Withtwopeopleithadbeeneasy.
Onhisownitwouldtakemoretime.QuicklyAlexstrippedoffthegreyuniformunderneath
hewaswearingswimmingtrunks.Hepickeduptheharnessandclippediton.Itwasa
MysticDarkrider,madeoutofblackrubberwithafoamshell.Paulhadchosenallthe
equipmenthimselfandhe'dmadesurehe'dgotthebest.Ifonlyhecouldhavebeenhere
tohelpAlexwithit.
Howtodoit?
Alexcheckedthewinddirection,thenlaidthekiteoutonthegroundwiththelines
stretchingtowardsthewater'sedge.Hescoopedupseveralhandfulsofsandanddumped
themontheupwindtipofthekite.Theothertipheleftfree.
Hepickeduptheboardandcontrolbarandbegantowalkbackwardsintothesea.The
water,surprisinglycold,lappedaroundhisankles.Thekite,shapedlikeacrescentmoon,
waslyingflatbehindhim.Itwasalreadyflappinglikeawoundedanimal,tryingtoriseup
intotheair.Onlythesandwasholdingitdown.
Alexlaidtheboarddownbesidehimandpulledoneofthelinesattachedtothedownwind
tip,gentlynudgingitintothebreeze.Almostatonceitbegantorise,andthekiteinflated,
thewindrushingthroughthevents.Alexsteppeddeeperintothewater.Thekitewas
pullingmorestrongly,thefabricjerkingandthrowingoffthesand.Andthen,suddenly,it
rose.Alexsteereditcarefullyintotheairandneutralizeditabovehishead.Ithadtaken
himseveralminutestogettothispointandhewaspainfullyawareofthetimeticking
away.Buthehaddoneit.Hewasreadytogo.
Hehookedthecontrolbartohisharnessandthensteppedontotheboard.Carefullyhe
loweredthekiteintothewind.Almostatoncehefeltthepull,fierceandirresistible.He
leantback,lettingittakehim.Hewaspoweredup.Amomentlater,hewasaway.
Thekitewasflyinginfrontofhim,aboutfifteenmetresabovethesea.Despiteeverything,
AlexexperiencedthesameexhilarationthathehadfeltwithPaulwhenthetwoofthem
werefoolingaround.Heseemedtobegoingincrediblyfast.
Thewindwasrushingoverhim,thesprayalmostblindinghimasitsweptintohisface.
Thesunwasalreadyhothecouldfeelitbeatingdown,warminghisarms,chestand
shoulders.Ifhewasoutheretoolong,hewouldburn.ButAlexknewthatwastheleastof
hisproblems.Somehowhehadtocoverthetenmiles.AndDrevinwouldbecomingafter
himverysoon.
HewasheadingpastLittlePointonceroundithewouldfindhimselfinlessfriendly
waters.Heeasedthecontrolbar,raisingitslightlytoslowhimselfdown,thenpulledon
thetwofrontlines,tiltingittotheleft.Themomentheroundedtheheadland,hefeltthe
difference.Thewavesweresuddenlymuchlarger.Theviewaheadwasobstructedby
solidbluewallsthatroseupwithalarmingspeedandthreatenedtocomecrashingdown
onhim.Somehowhemanagedtoclimbthem,oneafteranother.Buthisarms,taking
mostofthestrain,werealreadyaching.Andwhenhedidcatchabriefglimpseofthe
horizon,therewasnothingonit,notevensomuchasaspeck.Barbadoswasstillalong
wayaway.
Tenminutespassed.Alexwasagoodsurferbuttheexperiencewasverydifferentwitha
kite.AllhisconcentrationwasfixedonthesoaringblackandwhiteFlexifoilwing.Ifhe
allowedittostrayoutsidethewindenvelope,heknewitwouldfallintothesea.Hewould
cometoanimmediatehaltanditwouldbealmostimpossibletolaunch
thekiteagain.Hehadtostayupright.Hewasexhaustedfromlackofsleep.Ignoreit.Stay
focused.Grittinghisteeth,hewilledhimselfon.
Thewindwascomingathimsidewaysnow,gustingataroundthirtymilesanhour.The
spraywaslashingintohim.Hewonderedifhewasgoingintherightdirectionandriskeda
glancebehindhim.FlamingoBaywasalreadysmallanddistant.Hefiguredthatsolong
ashekeptitoverhisleftshoulder,hemustbeheadingmoreorlessstraight.
Helookedbackagain,andfeltasickeninglurchinhisstomach.Hehadtofighttokeep
hisbalance.Hemusthavetravelledatleastfivemiles,hewassureofit.Buttherewas
stillnosignofBarbadosandtheworsthadhappened.
Hewasbeingpursued.
Paulmusthavecomeroundandraisedthealarm.Eitherthatorsomeonehadspottedthe
kiteandguessedwhathadhappened.ThePrincessV55wasknifingthroughthewater,its
sleekformpoweringtowardshim.Itwasincrediblyfast,movingatalmostthirtynineknots.
Fortyfivemilesanhour.Itwouldn'ttakeverylongtocatchupwithhim.Andtherewas
moretocome.Thereweretwosmallerboatswithit.AsAlexriskedanotherglancebehind
himhesawthempeelawayfromit,leapingaheadandrapidlyclosingthedistance
betweenthePrincessandhim.
TheywerebrandnewBella620DCspeedboats,Finnishmadeandshippedouttothe
Caribbean.
Theyweretwentyfeetlong,squatandmeanlookingwithsilverpulpitrailsshapedlikethe
nostrilsofanangrybull.Eachonewasequippedwithasingle150horsepowerMercury
OptimaxSaltwateroutboardandAlexknewthattheyhadtobegoingalmosttwiceasfast
ashim.Theywerelessthanaminuteaway.
Therewasnothinghecoulddo.Hishandswereclampedtightroundthecontrolbarand
heloweredthekiteasmuchashedared,desperatelytryingtopickupspeed.Nowhe
couldhearthemotorsabovethewind.Morewallsofwaterroseupinfrontofhim.Hislegs
trembledwiththestrainashefoughthiswayoverthewaves.Theboatsflewalong,
carvingthroughthem.
Thereweretwomenineachofthem,onesteering,theotherholdingamachinegun.They
hadn'tcometocapturehimandtakehimback.Theywereheretokillhim.Alexheardthe
firstrattleofmachinegunfire,almostlostintheroarofthewaves.Heslammedthebar
intohischest,steeringthekiteup.Atthesametime,hetransferredhisweighttotheflatof
theboard,tensedhimselfandjumped.Nowhewasintheair,tenmetresabovethewater.
Thebulletspassedunderneathhim.Thehangtimeseemedtostretchonforever.Hewas
flying,hiswholebodytiltedbackwards,thesolesofhisfeettowardsthesky.Themenin
thespeedboatshadbeentakenbysurprise.Thrownaroundbythesea,theywereoff
balance,halfblindedby
OQ3
thespray,unabletoaimatatargethighabovetheirheads.Forafewseconds,Alexwas
safe.
Buthecouldn'tdefygravityforever.Alexbracedhimselfforthesplashdown,tryingto
ignorethetwoboats,whichwerehorriblyclose.Helandedbetweenthem,bendinghis
kneestoabsorbsomeoftheimpact,loweringthekitetomaintainspeed.Ifhetoppled
over,hewoulddie.Butwhileheremainedstanding,themencouldn'tfire.Therewastoo
muchriskthattheywouldhiteachotherinthecrossfire.
AndthenAlexsawBarbados.Itwasthere,aheadofhim,nobiggerthanaonepenny
piece.Ifhecouldsurvivejustafewmoreminutes,hewouldbeallright.
Hewasbeingpulledalongbetweenthetwoboats,allthreeofthemdoingthesame
speed.Hewassoclosetothementhatbutforthescreamoftheenginesandthe
boomingofthewaveshewouldhavebeenabletocallouttothem.Hecouldsensehis
strengthbeginningtofailhim.Hisarmswereaching.Allhismuscleswerestraining.He
couldbarelyfeeltheboardbeneathhisfeet.
Andthentheboatonhisleftedgedahead,allowingtheoneonhisrightaclearlineoffire.
Alexsawtheguardraisehismachinegun,preparingtoshoot.Hewasasittingduck
skimmingacrossthewater,totallyunprotected,justacoupleofmetresawayfromtheman
whowasabouttomowhimdown.
Alexdidtheonlythinghecould.Onceagainhetooktotheair,butthistimehedidn'tjump
ashigh.Themanwiththegunmightthinkhe'dmiscalculated.ButAlexknewexactlywhat
hewasdoing.Everythingdependedonsurprise.
Ashetookoff,heletgoofthebarwithonehandandreacheddown.Therewasahandle
inthemiddleoftheboardandhegrabbedholdofit.Hewashangingintheairandthe
boardfellaway,comingfreeofhisfeet.Holdingittightly,Alexswungitbeneathhimlikea
club.Theboardslammedintotheman'shead.AlexknewthatitwasmadeofKevlar,the
samematerialthattheSASusedfortheirbodyarmour.Forthemanwiththemachine
gun,itwaslikebeinghitwithaslabofmetal.Hecrumpled.Buthisfingerwasstillonthe
trigger.Alexsawthemuzzleflash.Bulletstoreintothedeckoftheboat,shatteredthe
windscreenandhitthedriver.Hejerkedandfellforward.Theboatwentoutofcontrol.
Alexslidtheboardbackunderhim,andmanagedtogethisfeetintothestrapsasecond
beforehehitthewater.
TheBella620DChadanunconsciouspassengerandadeaddriverslumpedoverthe
wheel.ItperformedafantasticSbend,veeringfirsttotheright,thenbacktotheleft,
crossedtheopenexpanseofwaterandsmashedatfullspeedintotheotherboat.Alex
watchedasthetwocraftcollided.Therewasanexplosionofsplintering
metalandfibreglass,andthesecondboatwasflippedintotheair.Forabriefmoment,it
seemedtohangthere,andAlexglimpsedthefaceoftheterrifieddriver,upsidedown,as
hegazedathisowndeath.Thenitpancakeddownandtherewasahugesplash.
Itwasover.Alexallowedthekitetodraghimoutofdanger.Hewassuddenlyalone.
Butnotforlong.ThePrincesshadbeenhangingback,waitingforthetwospeedboatsto
finishtheirwork.Nowitsurgedforward.Aswellasthedriver,itwascarryingthreeguards
armedwithmachineguns.Themen'hadseenwhathadhappenedtheywouldbemore
careful.Alltheyhadtodowasmoveintorangeandtheywouldbeabletocuthimdown.
Alexdidn'thavethestrengthforanotherjump.Barbadoswasloomingupinfrontofhim
but,asiftauntinghim,thewindhaddieddown.Hecouldfeelhimselflosingspeed.He
broughtthekiteaslowashedaredbutitmadenodifference.Therewasnothingmorehe
coulddo.
Hebracedhimself,waitingforthechatterofthegunsandthesearingagonythatwould
follow.
Therewasanotherexplosion.Ablastofsmokeandburningpetrol.Alextoppledsideways,
deafened.Hewonderedforthebriefestofmomentsifhehadbeenhit.Thenheplunged
intothewaterasfragmentsofbroken,blackenedfibreglassricochetedallaroundhimlike
aswarmofbees.Hishandsnolongerhadthestrengthtohangontothecontrolbar.He
wassuckedbeneaththesurface,twistingroundandround,broken,finished.
Hesurfaced.
ThePrincesswasonfire.Therewasnosignofthedriver,nosignofthethreearmedmen.
Theboatswerved,trailingblacksmoke,andbegantoslowdown.
Alexwaschoking.Hecoughedupwaterandtwistedround.Anotherboathadappeared,
somesortofnavalvessel.Therewasamanstandinginthebow,holdingabazooka.Alex
recognizedtheblondhairandchiselledfeaturesofEdShulsky,theCIAagenthehadmet
inNewYork.
"Alex!"Shulskycalledout."Youwantaride?"
Alexwastooweaktorespond.Hisshouldersandfacehadbeenburntbythesunbuthe
wasshivering.Theboatdrewupalongsidehimandhewaspulledonboard.Therewerea
dozenmenonthedeck,allyoungandtoughlooking.Someoneproducedalargetowel
andwrappeditaroundhim.
"Wewerewatchingtheisland,"Shulskytoldhim."Wesawyoucoming,althoughwedidn't
knowitwasyouatfirst.Tobehonest,wecouldn'tbelievewhatwewereseeing.Istill
don'tbelieveit!Sowecameovertohelp..."
ItwasalltheexplanationAlexneeded."DrevinhasTamaraKnight,"hesaid."She'sa
prisoner.Andthere'ssomethingyouneedtoknow"
Justthen,ithappened.
Ablindinglightsobrightthatitseemedtoblotoutthesun,suckingtheblueoutofthesea
andthesky,turningthewholeworldwhite.Anoiselikeanexplosion,onlytentimeslouder
andmoresustained.Ashockwavethatshiveredacrossthewater,sendingnewwaves
punchingintothesideoftheboat.TheveryairseemedtovibrateandAlexfeltaboltof
paininbothears.
Heturnedintimetoseeasilverpencilblastingintothesky,flamescorchingoutofits
base,risingasifonacushionofsmoke.Itwastenmilesaway,tiny,butevensoAlex
couldsenseitsawesomepowerandmajesty.Hewatchedasitdisappeared,effortlessly
penetratingtheupperatmosphere.
Hewastoolate.Gabriel7hadbeenlaunched.
ThebombthatwasgoingtobringArkAngelcrashingdownontoWashingtonwasonits
way.
THEREDBUTTON
ItsometimesseemedtoAlexthatthewholeuniversewasagainsthim.Gettingawayfrom
FlamingoBayhadalmostkilledhim.Ithadbeenanexhaustingstruggleagainsttime,the
elementsandDrevin'sfirepower.
Andnowhewasgoingback.
ItwastheCIAagent,EdShulsky,whohadmadeithappen.
"Alex,youknowtheplace.Ineedyoutotellmewherethey'reholdingTamara.Youcan
givemethelayoutoftheisland.Anyway,wedon'thavemuchtime.Yousawforyourself.
Therocketisonitsway,andifwhatyou'vetoldmeistrue..."
"Itis."Alexfeltaspurtofannoyance.WhyshouldtheAmericandoubt,evenforamoment,
whathehadsaid?Wasitperhapsbecausehewasonlyfourteen?
Shulskynoticedhisreaction."I'msorry.Thatwasoutofline.Butthisplanofhis,ArkAngel
...Washington..."Heshookhishead."It'sbeyondanythingwecouldhaveimagined.And
that'swhywehavetotakehim out.Rightnow.Wedon'thavetimetodropyouoff."
"Butyou'retoolate,"Alexargued."Gabriel7hasgone.Whatareyougoingtodo?Shootit
down?"
Shulskysmiled."There'snoneedforthat.Allwehavetodoisfindtheredbutton."Alex
lookedpuzzled."Theselfdestruct!Ifsomethingwentwrongwiththelaunch,Drevinwould
havehadtohaveafallback.We'llbeabletoblowitupbeforeitgetsanywherenearArk
Angel."
AlexwasstandingatthebowofthearmourplatedMarkVSpecialOperationsCraft,the
sleek,streamlinedvesselusedprimarilytocarrySEALcombatswimmersintooperations.
Itwasequippedwith7.62mmGatlinggunsandStingermissilesandthedozenmenhad
beendraftedinfromtheSpecialOperationsForce,fullyarmedandreadytoinvadethe
island.
Hewaswearingcombatclothesthatwerealittletoobigforhimsomeonehadfounda
sparesetonboard.Nowhewatchedastheislanddrewcloser,thefamiliarlandmarks
comingintofocus.Thestrangethingwas,deepinside,heknewthathewouldhave
wantedtocomeback,evenifShulskyhadn'tmadeanyargumentpointless.Tamara
Knightwaswaitingforhim.Andthentherewas
PaulDreyin.Alexwantedachancetoexplainhimself.Hestillfeltbadaboutwhathe'd
done.
"Twominutes!"Shulskycalledout.
Themenbegantochecktheirweaponsandbodyarmour.Theywereheadingfortheold
woodenjettynearthehouse.Shulskyintendedtoapproachthecontrolcentrethroughthe
rainforest.Itwouldmeanaforcedmarchalongthelengthoftheislandandwouldtake
longer,butafterAlexhaddescribedthelauncharea,Shulskyhaddecidedafrontalattack
wouldbetoorisky.Therewasnosheltertheywouldbecutdownthemomenttheyleftthe
boat.
ShulskyrejoinedAlexatthebow."Iwantyoutostayonboarduntilthefighting'sover,"he
announced.
"Whatdoyoumean?"Alexprotested."Ithoughtyouwantedmetohelp."
"Youhavehelped.Thankstoyou,weknowwherewe'regoingandwhatwe'regoingtodo.
Butthisisgoingtobeawar,Alex.AndIcan'taffordtohavemymenworryingaboutyou.
Stayontheboatandstayoutofsight."
Itwastoolatetoargue.Theyhadreachedthejetty,andAlexhadtoadmitthatShulsky
wasrightaboutonething.Thissideoftheislandwasdeserted.IfDrevinhadseenthem
coming,hehadconcentratedhisforcesaroundthelaunchsitenobodysomuchas
blinkedastheboatdrewupatthejetty.AlexwatchedthethirteenAmericans
disembark.Theystompedacrossthebeachanddisappearedthroughthepalmtrees.He
stillwishedhehadgonewiththem.HehadtoldthemwheretofindTamarabuthewould
haveLikedtobetheonetoreleaseherhimself.
Hewasleftbehind.Forgotten.HecouldseeDrevin'shouseinthedistance,thesunlight
sparklingoffthewindows.Someonehaddumpedsomewaterskisandtwotowropeson
thesand,butotherwisethebeachwasempty.TheCessna195wasbobbinginthe
shallowsbuttherewasnosignofthepilot.
TheCessna.
Ithadn'tbeentherewhenAlexhadsetoffwiththekite.Hefeltasenseofmisgiving.If
DrevinknewthattheAmericanswereontheirway,hisfirstthoughtwouldbetosavehis
ownskin.Shulskyandhismenhadrushedoffwithoutstoppingtothink.Theyshouldhave
disabledtheseaplanefirst.
Alexlookedaround,searchingforaweaponoranythinghecouldusetodothejob
himself.ButtheAmericanshadtakeneverythingandhehadnodoubtthattheGatling
gunswouldbelockedintheirmountingpositions.Whatelse?Nothing.Justthetwo
canoessittingpeacefullybesidethejetty,thewaterskiingequipment,andapelican
watchinghimfromadistantwoodenpost.
Thesilencewasbrokenbyarattleofmachinegunfireandthepelicantookoffinfright.It
had
begun.Alexlistenedastheshootingintensified.Therewasanexplosionandacolumnof
flameroseupbrieflyabovethetrees.Amovementcaughthiseye.Abuggywasracing
alongthetrack.Alexglimpseditbetweenthepalmtrees.Thenitbrokeoutintotheopen
andhefroze.ThebuggywasbeingdrivenbyNikoteiDrevin.Hewasalone.
AlexassumedDrevinwouldmakefortheseaplane,buthecontinuedtothehouse.Maybe
therewasasafethere.Maybeheneededtopickupafewlastthings.Orperhapshe'd
comebackforPaul.Alextriedtoworkoutwhattodo.Hewishedmorethaneverthat
Shulskyhadtakenhimwithhim oratleastleftoneofhismenbehind.
Fiveminuteslater,heapproachedthehouse.
Alexknewhewasmakingamistake,buthehadtoseeforhimselfwhatDrevinwasdoing.
Anyway,itwasagainsthisnaturetositthere,skulkingawayinanAmericanboatwhilethe
fightingcontinuedallaroundhim.Hecouldsmellburning.Blacksmokewasdriftingacross
theforest.Therewasmoregunfire.Alexhurriedacrossthehotsand,knowingthathehad
arrivedattheendgame.Thelastmoveswereabouttobeplayed.
Hereachedthesideofthebuildingandpressedhimselfagainstthewall,keepingoutof
sight.TheterracewherehehadeatenbreakfastwithDrevinandPaulwasdirectlyabove
him.AwoodenstaircasecurvedupfromthebeachandAlexwasjust
consideringwhetherhecouldriskclimbingittolookinthroughthewindow,whenDrevin
appearedroundthesideofthehouse,anattachecaseinonehand,anautomaticpistolin
theother.
HesawAlexandstopped."AlexRider!"heexclaimed.Hiseyeswerecuriouslyempty.In
thelastfewhoursheseemedtohaveshrunk."Whydidyoucomeback?"
Alexshrugged."Iforgottosaythanksforhavingme."
"Iamgladtoseeyouonelasttime.Iwonderwhatitwasthatbroughtyouandme
together.Wasitfate?Wasitdestiny?"
"IthinkitwasAlanBlunt."
"MI6?Well,they'vefailed.Gabriel7willreachArkAngelitcan'tbestopped.Thebomb
willexplodeandWashingtonwillbedestroyed,alongwithalltheevidenceagainstme."
"Theydon'tneedanyevidenceagainstyounow,"Alexsaid."Theyallknowyou'remad."
"Yes.Itwillbenecessaryformetodisappear.Butitwillbeeasy.Amanwithmywealth,
withmycontacts..."
"Theworld'stoosmallforsomeonelikeyoutohide."
"We'llsee."Drevinraisedthegun."Butonethingiscertain.Wewon'tmeetagain."
Hefired.
Alexhadbeenreadyforit.Hediveddownontothesand.Hefeltthefirsthailofbullets
pass
centimetresoverhisheadandknewtherewasnowayhecouldavoidthesecond.
Drevingroaned.
ItwasthemostterriblesoundAlexhadeverheard,ananimalcrythatseemedtocome
fromtheverydepthsoftheman'ssoul.Helookedup,brushingsandoutofhiseyes.He
sawDrevinstandingthere,quitelimp,hiseyesstaring.Thenhelookedbehindhim.
PaulDrevinhadcomeoutofthehouse.Hemusthaveheardthemtalking,andwalked
roundthesideofthebuildingjustasDrevinhadfired.Alexhaddivedoutofthewaybut
Paulhadn'tbeensolucky.Hehadtakenthefullimpactofthebullets,andhewaslyingon
hisback,armsandlegsspreadwide,bloodsoakingintothesand.
"You...!"Drevinscreamedthesingleword.Thenhebegantobabble.NotinEnglishbut
Russian.Hisfacewaswhite,twistedinpainandhatred.Tearswereseepingoutofthe
cornersofhiseyes.HepointedthegunatAlexoncemore.ButthistimeAlexwasready
forhim.
BeforeDrevincouldpullthetrigger,Alexbegantoroll,spinningoverandover,propelling
himselftowardsthehouse.Bulletskickedupthesand,thenslammedintothenearest
wall.ButDrevinhadbeencaughtbysurprise.Stillrolling,Alexdisappearedintothecrawl
spaceunderneaththehouse.Itwascoldanddamphere.Theremightbespidersor
scorpionsnestlinginthefoundations.Buthe
wasinthedark,outoftherangeofthebullets.Foramoment,hewassafe.
Drevinhardlyseemedtonotice.Hefiredatthehouseuntilthegunclickeduselesslyinhis
hands.Ittookhimawhiletorealizethathehadrunoutofbullets.Then,withacurse,he
threwthegundownandstaggeredovertohisson.Paulwasn'tmoving.Inthedistance,
heheardshouting.Abuggywasapproachingthroughtherainforest.Drevinturnedand
ranacrossthebeachtowardsthewaitingplane.
Lyingonhisstomach,Alexlookedoutthroughthegapbetweenthebottomofthehouse
andthesand.HesawDrevinreachthewater'sedgeandknewthathewasn'tcoming
back.Slowly,dreadingwhathewasgoingtofind,hecrawledbackoutintotheopenand
wentovertoPaul.
Therewasalotofblood.Alexwascertainthattheboywasdead,andhewas
overwhelmedbyafeelingofsadnessandguilt.Butthen,tohissurprise,Paulopenedhis
eyes.Alexkneltdownbesidehim.Nowthathewaslookingcloselyhecouldseethat,
beneaththeblood,thedamagemightnotbeasbadashehadfeared.Paulhadbeenshot
intheshoulderandthearmbuttherestofthebulletsmusthavepassedoverhishead.
"Alex..."herasped.
"Don'tmove,"Alexsaid."I'mreallysorry,Paul.Thisisallmyfault.Ishouldneverhave
comehere."
"No.Iwaswrong..."Paultriedtospeakbuttheeffortwastoomuch.
AlexheardthesoundoftheCessna'sengineandturnedroundintimetoseetheplane
movingawayfromthejetty.Drevinwaspilotingit.Alexcouldmakeoutthecrazed,
distortedfacebehindthecontrols.Atthesametime,abuggyscreechedtoahaltinfront
ofthehouseandEdShulskyandtwomenjumpedout.Alexwasrelievedtoseethat
Tamarawaswiththem,stillpalebutlookingstrongerthanwhenhehadlastseenher.
"Alex!"shecalledout,thenstopped,seeingPaul.
Shulskysignalled,andthetwomensprintedovertothewoundedboy,pullingoutmedical
packsastheyran."Whathappenedhere?"heasked.
"Drevin,"Alexsaid."HehitPaulinsteadofme."
"Howbadisit?"Shulskyaddressedoneofthetwomen.
"Ithinkhe'sgoingtobeOK,"themanreplied,andAlexfeltasurgeofrelief."He'slost
blood,andwe'regoingtohavetohelicopterhimoutassoonaspossible.Buthe'lllive."
ShulskyturnedtoAlex."We'vetakencontroloftheisland,"hetoldhim."Drevin'smen
didn'tputupmuchofafight.ButwelostDrevin.Whereishe?"
Alexpointed.TheCessna195hadreachedfullspeedandwasrisingsmoothlyoutofthe
water.Bizarrely,impossibly,twocanoeshadrisenup
behindit,asiffollowingitoutoftheseaandintothesky.
"Whatthe"Shulskybegan.
ItwastheonlythingAlexhadbeenabletodointhetimehe'dhad.Usingthetowropes
fromthewaterskiingequipment,he'dtiedthecanoestotheseaplane'sfloats.Hehad
thoughtaboutsecuringtheCessnatothejetty,butDrevinwouldhavespottedthat.Partof
himhadhopedthattheplanewouldn'tbeabletotakeoff,buthewasdisappointed.Itwas
alreadyhighup,abizarresightwiththetwocanoesdanglingunderneathit.Alex
wonderedifDrevinhadevennoticed.Well,whateverhappened,itwouldmaketheplane
easiertospot,andwhenitlanded,withabitofluck,thecanoesmightcauseittooverturn.
ButthenDrevinmadehislastmistake.
AlexwouldneverknowwhatwasintheRussian'smind.Didhethinkhissonwasdead?
DidhethinkAlexwastoblame?Itseemedhehaddecidedtotakerevenge.Theplane
swungroundandsuddenlyitwasheadingbacktowardsthem.Withnowarning,before
therewasevenanysound,thesandleaptupallaroundthemandAlexrealizedthat
Drevinwasfiringatthem,usingamachinegunmountedsomewhereontheplane.The
detonationscameamomentlater.Everyonedivedforcover,thetwomaleagents
crouchingovertheinjuredboy,protectinghimwiththeirownbodies.Bulletssmashedinto
thesideofthehousewood
splinteredandoneofthegreatglasswindowsfrostedandcascadeddown.Theplane
roaredoverheadandcontinuedtowardstherainforest.Thecanoesbumpedandtwisted
justbehind.
DrevinhadmissedthemonthefirstpassbutAlexknewtheywouldn'tbesoluckyonthe
second.HelookedatShulsky,wonderingwhattheCIAagentwasplanningtodo.They
mightbeabletomakeitintothehouse.ButwhataboutPaul?Movinghimtooquickly
wouldkillhim.
Theplanebegantoturn.Thecanoesdippeddown.Drevinwasdirectlyovertheforest.He
hadn'tseenthecanoes,sohadnoideahowlowtheywere.Thereweretwotreescloseto
oneanother.AsAlexwatchedwithashiverofhorrorthecanoescollidedwiththetrunks
andbecamestuckbetweenthem,caughtsidewayson.
Theplanecametoanabrupthalt.Itwasasifithadanchoreditselfinmidair.Therewas
thesoundofbreakingwood.Thecanoeshadsmashedbutsohadthefloats.Infact,the
entireundercarriageoftheplanehadbeentornaway,andDrevinwasleftsittingonthin
air,surroundedbyhalfaplane.Onemomenthehadbeenflyingforward.Thenexthe
simplyrotatedninetydegreesandswoopedverticallydowntowardstheground.There
wasascreamfromwhatwasleftoftheenginetheCessna'spropellerturneduselessly.
Alexsawtheplanedisappearintotheforest.Therewasacrashandthen,secondslater,a
ballofflame.Itleaptup
intotheskyalmostasifitwastryingtoescapefromthedevastationbelow.Twomore
explosions.Thensilence.
Forwhatseemedlikeaneternity,Alexstaredtowardsthecrashsite.Afirestillraged
amongthetreesandhewonderedifitwouldspreadacrosstheisland.Butevenashe
watched,theflamesstartedtoflickeranddiedown,tobereplacedbyaplumeofsmoke
thatroseupintheshapeofafinalexclamationmark.Drevinwasdead.Therecouldbeno
doubtaboutthat.
Alexfeltanimmenseweariness.Itseemedtohimthateverythingthathadhappened,
fromthemomenthehadmetNikoleiDrevinattheWaterfrontHotelinLondon,had
somehowbeenleadingtothismoment.HethoughtbacktotheluxuryofNeverglade,the
gokartrace,thefootballmatchthathadendedinmurder,theflighttoAmerica.Drevin
hadbeenamonsterandhe'ddeservedtodie.Washingtonwasnolongerinanydanger.
Gabriel7andthebombitwascarryingwouldbeblownuplongbeforeitreachedArk
Angel.
ButAlexcouldn'tfeelanysenseofvictory.HelookedbackatPaulDrevin.Thetwoagents
werebusyworkingonhim,oneofthemwrappingpressurebandagesaroundhiswounds
whiletheotherfedanIVneedleintohisarm.Paul'seyeswereclosed.Mercifullyhehad
slippedintounconsciousnessandsohadn'tseenwhathadjusthappened.
Alexturnedbackandwatchedthesmokespreadthroughtheair,andsuddenlyhewanted
tobefarawayfromFlamingoBay.HewantedtobewithJack.Thetwoofthemwouldtake
aplanehome.
Itwasfinallyover.
HerealizedthatEdShulskyandTamarawerestaringathim.
"Whatisit?"heasked.
ThetwoCIAagentsexchangedalook.ThenShulskyspoke."Iwishyouhadn'tdonethat,"
hesaid."WewantedtohaveawordwithMrDrevin."
Alexshrugged."Idon'tthinkhewasplanningtohangaroundforachat."
"Youmayberight,"Shulskyagreed."Butwestillneededtospeaktohim."Hepaused.
"YourememberthatredbuttonIwastellingyouabout?"
Alexnodded."Yes."
"Well,itseemsIwaswrong.Thereisn'tone.Wecan'tblowupGabriel7.There'snothing
wecandotostopit."
"What?"Alex'sheadspun."Butyoujustsaidthatyou'reincontroloftheisland.There
mustbesomethingyoucando."
Tamarashookherhead."Afterthelaunch,Drevinlockeddownallthecomputersystems,"
sheexplained."Hewastheonlyonewiththecodes.It'snotyourfault,Alex.Bythetime
we'dcaughtupwithhimitprobablywould'vebeentoolate.ButrightnowGabriel7ison
itswayandwecan'tcommunicatewithit.Wecan'tbringitbackandwe
can'tdivertit.It'sgoingtodockwithArkAngelinlessthanthreehoursfromnow.The
bombisonatimer.It'sallgoingtohappenexactlyasDrevinplanned."
"Sowhatareyougoingtodo?"Alexasked.
Tamaradidn'thavethehearttosayit.SheglancedatShulsky.
"Alex,"hesaid."I'mafraidweneedyourhelp."
ARKANGEL
"No,"Alexsaid."Noway.Forgetit.Theanswerisno!"
"Let'sgooverthisagain,"EdShulskysuggested.
TheyweresittinginthecontrolcentreonthewesternstretchofFlamingoBay.Alexhad
beendriventherefromDrevin'shouseanditwasclearthatShulsky'smenwerein
command.Verylittledamagehadbeendone.Theguardhouseandthegatehadbeen
blownupthatwastheexplosionAlexhadheardbutitseemedthatDrevin'smenhad
surrenderedquickly.NoneofthemhadknownwhatDrevinwasreallyplanning.Theyhad
beenpaidtohelplauncharocketintospace:Drevinhadnevertoldthemwhattherocket
actuallycontained.
AtleastPaulDrevinwasoutofit.HehadbeenflowntotheQueenElizabethHospitalin
Bridgetown,onBarbados.Alexwasrelievedto
hearthathewasgoingtobeallright.Hehadalreadybeengivenbloodandthedoctors
werewaitingforhisconditiontostabilizebeforehewasflowntoAmerica.Hismotherwas
apparentlyonherwaytoseehim.Alexwonderedifthetwoofthemwouldevermeet
again.Somehowhedoubtedit.
Nowtherewerejustfourpeopleintheroom,surroundedbycomputers,videoscreensand
theblinkinglightsoftheelectronicdisplayboard.Aseriesofblueprintshadbeenspread
outonthelargeconferencetable.TheyshowedtheoveralldesignofArkAngelwiththe
differentmodulesadozenofthem extendingineverydirection,upanddown.Itwas
likeanenormouslycomplicatedtoy.
Alexwasslumpedinachair,hisfacegrim,stilldressedintheborrowedcombatclothes.
EdShulskyandTamaraKnightweresittingoppositehim.Tamaralookedexhausted,grey
withpainandfatigue.She'dacceptedashotofmorphinebutnothingelse.Shewasn't
leavingAlexuntiladecisionhadbeenmade.
ThefourthpersonintheroomwasProfessorSingJooChan,themaninchargeofthe
Gabn'ei7launch.Theflightdirectorseemedacompletelydifferentperson.Hehadlosthis
calmandselfpossessionandlookedasifhewasonthevergeofaheartattack.Hisface
waspaleandhewassweatingprofusely,dabbingathisforeheadwithalargewhite
handkerchief.Likeeveryoneelse,heclaimed
toknownothingaboutthebomb,nothingaboutDrevin'srealplans.Hehadpromisedto
cooperate,todoanythingtheCIArequired,andforthetimebeingShulskywasgivinghim
thebenefitofthedoubt.ButAlexwasn'tsosure.Theprofessorhadbeenrecruitedby
Drevinhehadbeeninchargeoftheoperationfromtheverystart.Alexwascertainhe
knewmorethanhewaslettingon.
"Thisisthesituation,"Shulskysaid."Gabriel7willdockwithArkAngelathalfpasttwothis
afternoon.It'scarryingabombwhichwillgooffexactlytwohoursafterthat."Heglanced
atAlex."Drevintoldyouthathimself."
Alexnodded."That'sright.Halfpastfour.That'swhathesaid."
"Now,asIunderstandit,therearethreedockingportsonArkAngel."Shulskypointedto
thediagram."Twoofthemarepositionedattheverycentre...here.Butthat'snotwhere
Gabriel7isheading,becauseifthebombblewupthereitwouldsimplyripthewhole
spacestationapart."Hereachedoutandtappedasectionontheotherside,attheendof
alongcorridor."Gabriel7willdockhere,"heexplained."Rightontheedge."
"Yestheveryedge!"Singagreed.Alexnoticedthattheprofessor'seyeswerewideand
unfocused.HewastakingcarenottoLookatanyonedirectly."That'showitwasdecided.
That'swhatMrDrevininsisted."
"Thebombmustbeinsidetheobservationmodule,"Shulskysaid."AndIguessit'llbein
exactlytherightposition.Mostoftheforcefromtheexplosionwillgooutwards.It'llhave
theeffectofapushinthewrongdirection,propellingtheentirespacestationbackto
earth."Hetookadeepbreathandforamomentsomethinglikepanicflashedinhiseyes.
"Thehellofitis,there'snothingwecandoto stopit.Wecan'tblowupGabriel7.And
accordingtoProfessorSinghere,wecan'taccessthecomputerstoreprogramit."
"Youcan't!"Thewhitehandkerchiefwasoutagain."OnlyMrDrevinhadthecodes.Only
MrDrevin"
"I'vecheckedit,Alex,"Tamarasaid."It'strue.Theentiresystemhasbeenshutdown.It
wouldtakeusdayspossiblyevenweekstohackintoit."
"Iknowitsoundscrazy,butthatleavesuswithjustoneoption,"Shulskywenton."We
havetosendsomebodyuptoArkAngel.Believeme,Alex,it'stheonlyway.Someone
hastofindthebombandneutralizeitbywhichImeanswitchitoff.Andifthatisn't
possible,thentheyhavetomoveit.Theyhavetocarryitintothemiddleofthespace
stationandleaveitthere.Thatway,theforceoftheexplosionwillhaveacompletely
differenteffect.It'lldestroyArkAngel.Whatpiecesareleftwillscatterandbumupinthe
outeratmosphere."
"YouwilldestroyArkAngel!"ProfessorSingwhisperedthewordsasifhecouldn'tbelieve
whathehadjustheard.
"Idon'tgiveadamnaboutArkAngel,Professor!"Shulskyalmostshoutedthewords."My
onlyconcernisWashington."
"Movethebomborswitchitoffwhatdifferencedoesitmake?"Alexasked."Howis
anyonegoingtogetthere?"
"That'sthewholepoint,"Shulskysaid."TheSoyuzFregatisreadyforlaunching.Itwasall
settocarryArthurintospace."Hepaused."Butthere'snoreasonwhyitshouldn'tcarry
you."
"Me?Youreallywanttosendmeintoouterspace?"
"Yes."
"I'mnotanorangutan."
"Iknow.Iknow.Butyouhavetounderstand!Whatwe'retalkingabouthere,it'snotas
complicatedasyouthink.Imean,arocketisaprettysimplepieceofmachinery.It'sjust
likeatank.It'snotasifyouhavetocontrolitoranythingthat'salldonefromhere."
Shulskygesturedaroundtheroom."Westillhaveaccesstotheflightprogramsforthe
SoyuzFregat.ThecomputersmarkedCOMMANDtelltherocketwhattodo.Thedocking,
thereentry...everything.AndthosemarkedTELEMETRYallowustomonitorthehealth
andwellbeingofthepassenger.You."
"Notme."
"Thereisnooneelse,"Shulskysaid,andAlexcouldhearthedesperationinhisvoice.
"That'sthewholepoint,Alex.We'readults.We'realltoobig!"HeturnedtoProfessorSing.
"Tellhim!"
Singnodded."It'strue.WeplannedtoputArthurtheapeintospace.Imadeallthe
calculationspersonally.Thelaunch,theapproach,thedockingallofit.Butthefirst
differentialistheweight.Theweightofthepassenger.Iftheweightchanges,thenallthe
calculationshavetochangeandthatwilltakedays."
"WhatmakesyouthinkIweighthesame?"
Theprofessorspreadhishands."Youweighalmostthesame,andwecanworkwithina
margin.It'spossible.Butit'snotjusttheweight.It'sthesize."
"Thecapsulehasbeenmodifiedandnoneofuswouldfitinside,"Shulskyexplained.
"Thereisn'tenoughroom.You'retheonlyonewhocango,Alex.Heavenknows,I
wouldn'taskyouotherwise.Butthereisnootherway.Ithastobeyou."
Alex'sheadwasswimming.Hehadn'tsleptforalmostthirtyhourshewonderedifthis
wholeconversationwasn'tsomesortofhallucination."ButhowwouldIevenfindthe
bomb?"heasked."AndifIdidfindit,howwouldIknowwheretoputit?"
"Youputithere."AgainShulskypointedatoneofthemodulesinthediagram."Thisisthe
sleepingarea.You'llpassthroughitonyourwayto
Gabriel7.It'stheveryheartofArkAngel.Thisiswherethebombhastobewhenitblows
up.I'vegoneoveritwiththeprofessorandheagrees.Ifithappenshere,Washingtonwill
besafe."
"I'mjustmeanttocarryitfromoneplacetoanother?"
"It'llweighnothingatall,"Singremindedhim."Youseeit'szerogravity!"
Alexfeltweak.Hewantedtoarguebutheknewthatnobodywaslistening.Theyhadall
madeuptheirminds.
Tamarareachedoutandtookhishand."Alex,I'dgoifIcould,"shesaid."I'mjustabout
smallenoughandIguessIweighthesameasyou.ButIdon'tthinkI'dmakeit.Notwith
thisbulletwound..."
"Ithoughtmostkidswouldgivetheirrightarmtogointoouterspace,"Shulskyadded
unhelpfully."Haven'tyoueverdreamtaboutbecominganastronaut?"
"No,"Alexsaid."Ialwayswantedtobeatraindriver."
"Statistically,theSoyuzhasanexcellentreliabilityrecord,"Tamarasaid.Alex
rememberedseeingherreadingaboutspacetravelonDrevin'splane."Hundredsofthem
havegoneup,andtherehavebeenonlyacoupleofhiccups."
"Howlongwillittakehimtogetthere?"Shulskyasked.Asfarashewasconcerned,Alex
hadalreadyagreedtogo.
"He'llbelaunchedalongtheplaneoforbit,"ProfessorSingreplied."Ican'texplainitallto
younow.Buthe'llfollowatrajectorythatexactlymatchestheinclinationofArkAngel.
Eightminutestoleavetheearth'satmosphere.Andhewilldockinlessthantwohours."
"AndtheSoyuzFregatisready?"
"Yes,sir.It'sreadynow."
ThatstruckAlexasodd.Heknewthatthesecondlaunchhadbeenbroughtforwardbut
whyhadDrevinbeenpreparingtosendtheapeintospaceatall,justhoursafterGabriel
71Ifhisplanhadworked,ArkAngelwouldhavebeendestroyedsoonafterthesecond
rocketarrived.Notforthefirsttime,Alexwasawarethattherewassomethingtheydidn't
know,somethingthateveryonehadoverlooked.Buthisthoughtswereinsuchconfusion
thathecouldn'tworkoutwhatitwas.
Tamarawasstillholdinghishand."Iknowit'stoomuchtoask,"shesaid."Iknowyou
don'twanttodoit.But,believeme,wewouldn'taskyouiftherewasanotherway.And
you'llbesafe.You'llmakeitback.Iknowyouwill."
Suddenlyeveryonewassilent.Theywerealllookingathim.Alexthoughtofthebombthat
wasclosinginonArkAngelevennow.Hethoughtofanexplosioninouterspace,andthe
spacestationplungingtowardsWashington.WhathadDrevinsaid?Fourhundredtonnes
ofitwouldsurvive.Theshockwavewoulddestroymostofthecity.
HethoughtofJackStarbright,whowassomewhereinthemiddleofitall,visitingher
parents.AndheknewthatjustlikeArthurhedidn'thaveanychoice.
Henodded.
"Let'sgetyousuitedup,"EdShulskysaid.
Afterthat,thingsmovedveryquickly.ForAlex,itwasasifhisworldhaddisintegrated.He
wasawareofbitsandpiecesbutnothingflowed.Fromthedayhe'dmanagedtoget
himselfcaughtupwithMI6,hehadoftenfoundithardtobelievewhatwashappeningto
him.Butthiswassomethingelseagain.Heseemedtohavelostanysenseofhisown
identity.Hewasbeingsweptalong,outofcontrol,edgingcloserandclosertosomething
thatfilledhimwithmorehorrorthanhehadeverknown.
Hewasmadetoshoweranddressintheclothesthathehadseeninthebuildingwhere
heandTamarahadbeenimprisoned:awhiteTshirtandabluetracksuitwiththeArk
Angellogostitchedontothesleeve.Strapspassedunderhisfeettoholdthetrousersin
placeandthereweresixpocketsfastenedwithzips.Suddenlyhewassurroundedby
peoplehehadnevermet,allofthemgivinghimadvice,preparinghimfortheterrible
journeyhewasabouttomake.
"Youneedtowatchoutforwhatwecallthebreakawayphenomenon!"Thisfromaman
in
glasseswithhaironhisneck.Somesortofpsychologist."It'safeelingofeuphoria.You
maylikeitsomuchuptherethatyouwon'twanttocomeback."
"Isomehowdoubtit,"Alexgrowled.
"We'llbeattachingEKGandbiosensorleads..."
"We'regoingtogiveyouaninjection."Thiswasablondehairedwomaninawhitecoat.
Shewasholdingalargehypodermicsyringe."Thisisphenergan.It'llmakeyoufeel
better."
"Ifeelfine."
"You'llalmostcertainlythrowupwhenyoureachzerogravity.Mostastronautsdo."
"Well,that'ssomethingyouneverseeonStarTrek,"Alexmuttered."Allright."Herolled
uphissleeve.
"Notyourarm,Alex.Thisgoesinyourbutt..."
Hewonderedwhytheyhadn'tgivenhimaproperspacesuit,thesortofthinghe'dseenin
oldfilmsofthemoonlandings.ProfessorSingexplained.
"Youdon'tneedit,Alex.Arthur,also,wouldn'thavewornaspacesuit.Youwillbeinsidea
sealedcapsule.Iftherewasaleak,it'struethatyouwouldneedaspacesuittoprotect
youbutthat'snotgoingtohappen,Ipromiseyou.Trustme!"
Alexlookedatthedark,blinkingeyesbehindthespectacles.HeknewthatSingwas
ingratiatinghimselfwiththeCIA,tryingtopersuadethemthathehadbeeninnocentfrom
thestart.HewassurethatEdShulskyandTamarawouldbewatchinghim
throughouttheentirelaunch.Buthestilldidn'ttrusttheprofessor.Hewascertainthere
wassomethinghewasn'tbeingtold.
Theygavehimaheadsetandradioandwireduphisheart.ItseemedimpossibletoAlex
thatanyonecouldgointospacelikethis,withoutmonthsoftraining.Tamaraneverlefthis
side,tryingtoreassurehim.Afourteenyearoldwasmoreadaptablethananadult,she
said.Itwasgoingtobeabumpyride,buthewouldcomethroughitcomfortablybecause
hewasyoung.AndmaybeEdShulskywasright.Itwouldbesomethingtotalkabout.An
experiencehewouldneverforget.
AndthenhewasinanelectricbuggywithTamaraandProfessorSing,feelingstrangein
histracksuit,thematerialsoftagainsthisskin.Therocketwasaheadofhim.Helookedat
itbutdidn'tseeit.Itwasasiftheconnectionhadbeenseveredbetweenhiseyesandhis
brain.Itwashuge.Thecapsulethatwouldcarryhimintospacewasattheverytopofa
silvertankastallasanofficeblock,suspendedbetweentwogantries.Waterwas
cascadingdown.Wasitraining?No,thewaterseemedtobecomingfromtherocket.He
couldhearthemetalcreakingasifitneededahugeeffortjusttokeepitinplace.There
werecloudsofwhitesteampouringoutboilofffromthepropellant.Alexsawadeep
trenchrunningfromthelaunchpadtowardstheseaheguesseditwould
carrytheflamesfromthesolidrocketboosters.Itseemedimpossibletohimthatthis
oversizedfireworkcouldactuatlyriseupandcarryhimintospace.
Inalift,climbinghigherandhigher,stillwithTamaraandtheprofessor.Hecouldseethe
wholeisland,theseastretchingoutanamazingblueandtherewasBarbadosinthe
distance.Hewasstillbeinggivenadvice.Somanywords.Buttheydidn'tactually
penetrate.Theyjustflittedaroundhimlikemoths.
"...doeverythinglightly,doeverythingslowly.Don'tlookdirectlyatthesun.It'llblindyou.
Don'tevenlookatthecloudsaroundtheearth.Thesunreflects...SomepartsofArk
Angelwillbehotsomewillbecold.Therehavebeenproblemswiththeairconditioning...
You'regoingtofeelstrange.Don'tworryifyourfacebecomespuffyorswellsup.Ifyour
spinestretches.Ifyouneedtogotothetoilet.It'sthesame'forallastronauts.Yourbody
hastoadapttozerogravity..."
Whowastalking?Weretheyreallybeingserious?Howcouldanybodyexpecthimtodo
this?
"You'llneedtoaccesstheobservationmoduleofGabriel7togettothebomb.There'sa
hatch.Yousawitonthediagram.YoumoveittowhereEdshowedyouandthenyouget
backintotheSoyuz'sreentrymodule.Don'twasteanytime.We'llcontroleverythingfrom
here.You'llfeelitdisengage..."
Andthenhewasinside.Theyhadcertainlybeenrightabouttheamountofspace.No
adultwouldhavebeenabletofitintoit.Hewaslyingonhisbackinametalboxthatcould
havebeensomekindofcomplicatedwashingmachineorwatertank,hisfeetintheair
andhislegssotightlypackedinthathiskneesweretouchinghischin.Thereweretiny
windowsoneithersidebuttheywerecoveredwithsomesortofmaterialandhecouldn't
seeoutofthem.Therewerenocontrols.Ofcoursenot.Arthurtheorangutanwouldn't
haveneededcontrols.ProfessorSingwaswiringhimup.Moremonitors.NowAlexwas
theonewhowassweating.Theyhadtoldhimhewouldsweatevenmorewhenhewasin
outerspace.Becauseoffluidsmovingup,thebody'ssaltconcentrationbeingupset.Alex
triedtoputitoutofhismind.Hedidn'tevenbelievehewouldgetthere.Hedidn'tthinkhe
wouldsurvivethejourney.
TamaraKnightleantoverhim.Hewasstrappedintohisseat.Hisstomachwasclenched
tightandhehaddifficultydrawingtheairintohislungs.Hecouldmovehisarmsbut
nothingelse.Hewasalreadycrampedandhehadn'tevenstarted.Herfacewasvery
closetohis,fillinghisfieldofvision.
"Goodluck,Alex,"shewhispered.Nothingmore.Shewavedahandwithfingerscrossed.
"Youwillhearthecountdown,"ProfessorSingsaid.Hewassomewherebehindher."You
havenothingtoworryabout,Alex.Wewillguideyou
throughitall.You'llhearusovertheradio.We'lllookafteryou."
Theysealedthedoor.Alexfelttheairinsidethecapsulecompress.Heswallowed,trying
toclearhisears.Apartfromthesoundofhisownbreathing,everythingwassilent.
Hewasalone.
"Tminusthirty."Acrackleandahissofstatic.Thedisembodiedwordshadcomethrough
theheadset.Whatdidtheymean?Thirtyminutesuntilblastoff.Inthirtyminutes'timehe
wouldbeleavingtheplanet!Alextriedtomakehimselfmorecomfortablebuthecouldn't
move.
"Howareyoudoing,Alex?"ItcouldhavebeenEdShulskytalking.Alexdidn'tknow.The
voicesechoedinsidehisheadandtheyallsoundedthesame.
"Tminustwentyfive...Tminustwenty..."
Hecouldonlysitthere,doubleduponhimself,asthecountdowncontinued.Thestrange
thingwas,itfeltthattimehadgonewrongtoo.Aminuteseemedlikehalfanhour.Yethalf
anhourwaspassinginonlyminutes.Heconcentratedonhisbreathing.
"Tminusfifteen."
InsidethecontrolroomEdShulskywaswatchingSingandhisteamofthirtyastheywent
throughthefinalpreparations.Hewalkedovertotheprofessor.Hewaswearingagunin
aholsterslungoverhisshirt.
"Idon'tmeantoworryyourightnow.Professor,"hemuttered."ButIwantyoutoknowthat
ifAlexRiderdoesn'tcomeoutofthisinonepiece,Iwillpersonallyripyourgutsout."
"Ofcourse!"Singsmilednervously."There'snothingtoworryabout.He'llbefine!"
TamaraKnightsatmotionlessinfrontoftheobservationwindow.Smokewasstillrising
fromtherainforestwheretheCessnahadcrashed.Therewerenobirdstobeseen.The
wholeislandseemedtobetensingitselfforthemomentoflaunch.
"Tminusfive."
WhathadhappenedtoTminusten?Alexwasfeelingsick.Theinjectionhe'dbeengiven
hadn'tworked.Hecouldhearsomethinginthedistance.Wasithisimaginationorwas
somethingrumblingfarbelowhim?
"Tminusfour...three...two...one."
Itbegan.
Atfirstitwasslow.Alexfeltashuddering,vaguetostartwith,butsoonitwasall
consuming.Theentirecapsulewasshaking.Hewasn'tsureifhewasmovingornot.
Therewasathudastheclampsholdingdowntherocketwereautomaticallyreleased.The
shudderinggotworse.NowthewholecapsulewasvibratingsocrazilythatAlexcouldfeel
theteethbeingshakeninhisskull.Thenoiselevelhadrisentooitwashowaroarthat
poundedathimwithinvisiblefistsand,lyingonhisbackwithhislegsbentinfrontofhim,
therewas
nothinghecoulddo.Hewasdefenceless.
Andstillitgotworse.
Hewasdefinitelyrisinghecouldfeeltheforceoftherocket'sthrust.Hewasbeing
pushedintotheseatnotpushed,crushed!Hisvisionhadalmostgone.Hiseyeballswere
beingmercilesslysqueezed.Hetriedtoopenhismouthtoscreambutallhismuscleshad
locked.Hefeltasifhisfacewasbeingpulledoff.
Andthentherewasadeafeningexplosionandhewasslammedforwardinhisseat,his
neckstraining,thebeltscuttingintohischest.Alexpanicked,thinkingithadallgone
wrong,thatpartoftherockethadblownupandanymomentnowhewouldbeeither
incineratedorsentplummetingbacktoearth.Butthenherememberedwhathehadbeen
told.Thefirststageoftherockethadburntoutandbeenejected.Thatwaswhathehad
heardandfelt.Godhelphim,hereallywasontheway.Fromnoughttoseventeenanda
halfthousandmilesanhourineightminutes.
Everythinghadbeencalculated.Thereshouldhavebeenanapeinsidetheorbitalmodule
insteadtherewasaboy.Tothecomputersitmadenodifference.Atexactlytheright
second,thenextstageignitedandonceagainhewasthrownforward,thegforces
pulverizinghim.Howlonghadpassedsincethecountdownhadended?Washeinouter
spaceyet?Itseemedtohimthattheshakingwasmoreviolentthanever.Thewhole
capsulehad
becomeadistortedmassofjagged,flickeringlines,liketheimageonabrokenTVscreen.
HewasatmaxQ,sittingonfourhundredandfiftytonnesofexplosive,beingrocketed
throughtheskyattwentyfivetimesthespeedofsound.Themainenginewasburning
fuelatoveronethousandgallonsasecond.IftheSoyuzwasgoingtoblowup,itwould
happennow.Hewasonfire!Blindinglightsuddenlycrashedintothecapsule.Anuclear
explosion.No.Thefairingsonthewindowshadcomefree.Theyweren'tneededany
more.Hewaslookingatthesun,whichwasstreamingin,dazzlinghim.Wasthatbluesky
orthesea?Howmuchlongercouldhisbodystandthebatteringitwasreceiving?It
occurredtoAlexthatnothingintheworld,noamountoftraining,couldhavepreparedhim
foranexperiencelikethis.
Therocketstopped.Thatwaswhatitfeltlike.ThenoisefellawayandAlexfeltaquite
differentsensation:asick,lightheadedfloatingthattoldhimhehad,inaninstant,become
weightless.Hewasabouttotestitbutthenthethirdstagekickedinandonceagainhe
waspropelledforwardonthisimpossiblefairgroundride.Thistimeheclosedhiseyes,
unabletotakeanymore,andsodidn'tseethemomentwhenhebrokethroughtheonion
peeloftheearth'satmosphereandwentfrombluetoblack.
Atlastheopenedhiseyes.Hewantedtostretchbutthatwasimpossible.Alexlookedout
ofthewindowandsawstars...thousandsofthem.Millions.Onceagain,hehadnosense
ofmovement.Washereallyweightless?Hefumbledahandintooneofthepocketsinhis
trousersandbroughtoutapencilafewcentimetreslong.Heletitgo.Thepencilfloatedin
frontofhim.Alexstaredatit.Beforeheknewwhathewasdoing,hewasLaughing.He
couldn'tstophimself.ItreallywaslikeoneofthosecheapspecialeffectsinaHollywood
film.Buttherewerenohiddenwires.Nocomputertrickery.Itwashappeningrightbefore
hiseyes.
"Alex?Howareyou?Areyoureceivingme?"EdShulsky'svoicecrackledinhisear,and
thestrangethingwasthatitsoundednodifferent,nofurtherawayeventhoughAlexwas
alreadyalmostahundredmilesfromtheearth'ssurface.
"I'mfine,"Alexreplied,andtherewasatoneofwondermentinhisvoice.Hehadsurvived
thelaunch.Hewasonhisway.
"Congratulations.You'vejustbrokenaworldrecord.You'retheyoungestpersonin
space..."
Hewasinspace!Withtheshockofthelaunchbehindhim,Alextriedtorelaxandenjoy
theview.Butthewindowsweretoosmallandinthewrongplace.Theearthwasbehind
himandoutofsight,buttherewerethestarsandtheinfiniteblacknessallaround.How
strangeitwas,thissensethathewasgoingnowhere.Thepencilwasstillinfrontofhim.
Hetoucheditwithhisfingerandwatchedit
spin.Roundandrounditwent.Alexwashypnotizedbyit.Nothingelseseemedtobe
moving.Thiswasn'tarideatall.Hefeltasifeverything,hisentirelife,hadstopped.
AndthenhesawArkAngel.
Atfirsthewasawareofsomethingshapedlikeaspiderappearingintheperiscope
attachedtothewindowinsidethecapsule.ItLookedlikeastar,butmuchbrighterthanthe
others.Graduallyitdrewcloser.Andsuddenlyitbecameclear,anawesomeconstruction
ofsilvermodulesandcorridors,interlocking,crisscrossing,hangingfromwhatlookedlike
thetowerofacrane,withmassivepanelsstretchingoutineverydirection,absorbingthe
energyofthesun.Itwashugeitweighedalmostsevenhundredtonnes.Butitwas
floatingeffortlesslyinthegreatemptinessofspace,andAlexhadtoremindhimselfthat
everypieceofithadbeenlaboriouslyconstructedonearthandthencarriedupseparately
andassembled.Itwasanengineeringfeatbeyondanythinghehadeverimagined.
SlowlyArkAngelfilledhisvision.Bothheandthespacestationweretravellingat
seventeenandahalfthousandmilesperhour,sofastthattoAlexitmadenosenseatall.
Butheseemedtobegoingveryslowly.ThenaboosterrocketfiredandtheSoyuz
accelerated,movinginonthecentraldockingport.ItwastheonlywayAlexcould
measurehisprogressthroughouterspace...a
fewmetresatatime,gettingcloserandcloser.TherocketswerecontrolledfromFlamingo
Baybuttheywereaccuratetoafractionofamillimetre.Alexsawthecurvingmetalplates,
theintricatepanelworkthatmadeupthespacestation.HesawapaintedUnionJackand
thewordsARKANGELprintedingrey.
Thelastpartofthejourneyseemedtotakeforever.Thespacestationwasswallowing
himupandhehadtoremindhimselfthatifsomethingwentwrongnowitwouldhavethe
impactofabussmashingintoawall.
Therewasaslightjoltnothingcomparedtowhathehadfeltearlier.Thatwasit.Avoice
crackledinhisheadsetandhethoughtheheardapplauseunlessitwasradiostatic.
WhateverhismisgivingsaboutProfessorSing,itseemedthattheflightdirectorhadbeen
truetohisword.Alexhadarrived.
Helookedathiswatch.Someonehadgivenittohimwhenhegotdressedforthelaunch.
Threeo'clock.Hehadoneandahalfhourstofindthebombandeitherturnitofformove
it.Buttherewassomethingwrong.ForasecondAlexpanicked.Hadtheoxygensupply
stopped?Heswallowedhard,threeorfourtimes,gaspingforair.Hecouldfeelhisheart
hammeringandhewascertainhewasgoingtodie.Butitwasn'tthat.Therewasstillairin
themodulehejusthadtodrawitin.Alexforcedhimselftocalmdown.Whatwasit?
Ofcourse.Thesilence.Nobodywastalkingtohim.Eitherhewasonthewrongsideofthe
planet,outofrangeofthecontrolcentre,ortheradiohadbrokendown.Thesilencewas
total,absolute.Hehadneverfeltmoreempty,morealone.Butitdidn'tmatter.Hedidn't
needanyonetotalktohim.
Heknewwhathehadtodo.
Heunstrappedhimselfandreachedforthecircularhatchjustabovehishead.Itwashis
firstexperienceofzerogravityandheknewatoncethathe'dmadeamessofit.Herose
outoftheseatfartooquicklyandhisheadthuddedintothemetalwall,knockinghimback
downagain.Heendedupwherehehadbegunbutwithabruisedforeheadandthetaste
ofbloodinhismouth.Abadstart.
Everythinghadtobedoneslowly.Hereachedupagainandfoundthehandle.Hepulledit
outandturnedit.Thehatchswungoutwards.
Alexbracedhimself.Iftherewasanyerror,iftheairlockwasn'tsecured,hewouldbe
exposedtothemostlethalenvironmentknowntoman.Andhewoulddiethemosthorrible
death.Theairwouldbesuckedoutofhislungsandhisbloodwouldboil.Allhisinternal
organswouldseizeupandhewouldberippedapartbythetotalvacuumofspace.He
triednottothinkaboutit.Itwasn'tgoingtohappen.Inlessthanninetyminuteshewould
beonhiswayhome.
Hefoundhimselflookingintoatunnel,about
eightycentimetreswideandacoupleofmetreslong.Thiswastheentrancetheycalledit
thenodebetweenhiscapsuleandthereceptionareaofArkAngel.Reconditionedair,
coldanddry,blewintohisface.Hepushedupwithhisfeet,thelightestmovement
possible.Effortlessly,herose.Itwasjustlikehehadseenincountlessfilms.Hewas
flying.
Thenodeledintothefirstmodule.ArkAngelhadbeenbuiltfortourists.Itcalleditselfa
spacehotel.Butofcourse,itwasintruthaspacestationverysimilartoMirortheISS,
withverylittleroomandeveryavailableinchcrammedwithcupboards,lockersandallthe
wires,pipes,dials,gauges,switches,circuitsandotheressentialsneededtokeepits
inhabitantsalive.Eachsectionwasacylinderaboutthesizeofanordinarycaravan,lit
withaharshwhitelightandjammedwithequipmentandhandrailsonthreesides.There
weremorehandrailsandVelcrostrapsonthefourth.Alexunderstoodthattostophimself
floatingoffhewouldhavetohookhishandsorfeetintothefloor.
Hehadexpectedtheinteriortobesilent.Insteadhewasawareofthehummingoftheair
conditioners,thethrobofpumpscirculatingliquidcoolantsthroughthewalls,thegrinding
ofmetalagainstmetal...tonnesofitboltedtogetherevenasitspunroundinorbit.He
breathedindeeply.Theairwasverydry.Hewonderedhowitwas
produced.Diditcomeoutofabottleorwasthereamachine?
Alexfloatedortriedto.Onceagain,hepushedtoohardwithhisfeetandtheentire
chamberturnedupsidedownashespunhelplesslyaround,totallyoutofcontrol.Despite
theinjection,hewassufferingfromwhatNASAcalledspaceadaptationsyndrome.In
otherwords,hewasabouttothrowup.Hetriedtosteadyhimself.Oneofhishands
caughtthewall,sendinghimspinningtheotherway.Henolongerknewwhatwasupand
whatwasdown.Hecouldn'tevenseethecapsulethathadbroughthimhere.
Hereachedoutandmanagedtohookafingerintooneofthestraps.Thatslowedhim.But
thewholeexperiencesofarhadbeenhorrible.AlexhadseenStarWars.He'dwatched
HarrisonFordblasthiswayacrosstheuniverse,andlikemillionsofothershe'dbought
intothedream.Therealitywasnothinglikeit.Hisbodywassendinghisbrainweird
signals.Hewassweating.Thebalanceofhisinnerearhadgone.Hisbones,nolonger
needed,wereleakingcalcium.Hisbackwasachingbecauseoftheelongationofhis
spine.Insidehisstomach,hisgutswerefloatinghelplessly,andbecauseoftheshiftinhis
fluidlevel,hefeltadesperateneedtogotothetoilet.Noneofthishadeverhappenedto
HarrisonFord.
Anditgotworse.Alexstoppedspinningandfoundhimselffloatingintheverycentreofthe
module.Eitherhewasmovingveryslowlyorhewasn'tmovingatall.TherailsandVelcro
strapswerenowuselesslyhighabovehishead.Hestretchedouthisarmsanddiscovered
thatthewallswereacoupleofcentimetresoutofreach.Itwaslikesometerrible
nightmare.Everytimehestrainedforward,hisbodymovedback.Hewasquiteliterally
stranded,floatinghelplessly,goingnowhere.
Whatnow?Howdidhemakehimselfgoupordown?Hejerkedhisbodyandpedalled
withhisLegs.Itdidn'thelp.Hetriedwavinghisarmslikeabirdinabadcartoon.Nothing.
Alexstartedtopanic.Nobodyhadwarnedhimaboutthis.Hewasstuckinzerogravity
andhebegantowonderifhewasn'tdoomedtoremainlikethisuntilArkAngelblewitself
apart.Hecouldn'tmove!
Ittookhimwhatseemedlikeaneternitytoworkitout.Itwasamazingreallythataphysics
lessononadampWednesdayatBrooklandSchool,shouldsuddenlycometomindand
savehislife.Hetookoffhisshoesandthrewthemwithallhisstrength.Theforward
motionproducedanoppositereaction,abitliketherecoilfromagun.Alexwasthrown
backandmanagedtograbholdofahandrail.Heclungthereforamoment,breathing
heavily.Ithadbeenanastymomentandhewouldhavetobeverycarefulitdidn'thappen
again.
Hehadtogetmoving.Hehadn'tbeenableto
seetheobservationmoduleandtheremainingstagesofGabriel7onthefarsideofthe
spacestation,butheknewtheywerethere.Therockethaddockedautomaticallyalmost
anhouragoandhadbroughtwithitanactivatedbomb.Helookedathiswatchagain.
Twentyfiveminuteshadpassed!Therewasbarelyanhourleft.Ifthebombexplodedat
therighttimeandintherightplace,hewouldbevaporized,andafourhundredtonne
missilewouldbeginitsdeadlyjourneybacktoearth.AlexthoughtbacktothemapofArk
Angelhehadbeenshownandknewthathehadtonavigatehiswaythroughan
interlockingseriesofmodulestoreachhisdestination.HerememberedwhatEdShulsky
hadtoldhim.
"Don'ttrytodefuseitunlessyou'resureyouknowwhatyou'redoing,Alex.Youpressthe
wrongbutton,you'llbedoingDrevin'sworkforhim.Justmoveitintothesleepingarea.
That'sallyouhavetodo.Moveitandthengetthehellout.Fast."
Itwastickingrightnow.Alexcouldimagineit.Justthetwoofthem.Himandabombona
spacestationorbitingtheearth.
Hewasabouttosetoffwhenheheardsomething.Theclangofahatchclosing.Itwas
quiteunmistakable.Hestoppedandlistened.Nothing.Whatnext?Martians?Hemust
haveimaginedit.Alexpushedoffwithhisfeet,asgentlyaspossible,tryingtosteer
himselftowardsthenextmodule.Onceagainhehadpushedtoohard.His
shoulderhittherooforthefloorofthenodeandforasecondtimehefoundhimself
spinningoutofcontrol.
Hereachedoutwithhishandstosteadyhimselfandfoundhimselfholdingontoalever
thatjuttedoutofthewall.Itwasashutterrelease.Unabletocontainhiscuriosity,he
openedit,wonderingifitwouldgivehimaviewoftheearth.Butthespacestationwas
facingthewrongway.Alexreeledback,almostblinded,asbrilliantLightburstintothe
module.ProfessorSinghadwarnedhimnottolookdirectlyintothesun.Eveninthatbrief
instant,Alexhadalmostblindedhimself.
Heclosedtheshutteragainandwaitedforhissighttoreturn,thencontinued,gentlyflying
intothesleepingarea,thebunksattachedverticallytothewallwithstrapstokeepthe
crewmembersorguestsfromdriftingoff.Inspaceyoucouldsleepsideways,standingor
upsidedownitmadenodifference.Therewasalong,brightlylitcorridorstraightahead
fourorfivemodulesboltedtogether.Everythingwaswhite.ThiswastheveryheartofArk
Angel,withthediningroom,theexerciseroom,theshowersandlavatories,alivingroom
andtwolaboratoriesalllaidoutnexttooneanother.Gabriel7wouldhavedockedatthe
farend.
Alextensedhimself,preparingtomakethenextleap.Hereachedoutwiththepalmsof
hishands.Andfroze.
Amanhadappearedinfrontofhim,dressedinanidenticalsuittohisown.Themanwas
wearingaskullcapbut,seeingAlex,hetoreitoff,revealingamirrorimageoftheworld
threehundredmilesbelow.
Kaspar.Ofcourse.
Alexhadforgottenabouthim.Sohadeveryoneelse.ButProfessorSingmusthaveknown
thatKasparhadbeenonboardGabriel7thatwastheonepieceofinformationhehad
beenkeepingtohimself.Why?HadhebeensoscaredofKasparthathecouldn'tbring
himselftorevealthewholetruth?
ItlookedasifAlexwouldneverknow.Kasparhadseenhim.Hewasonlytwentymetres
away,attheotherendofthecorridor.Hehadn'tspokenawordbutnowexpertly,asifhe
hadbeentrainedhepushedforward,floatingthroughtheairtowardshim.Hewas
confident,inperfectcontrol.
Andhewasholdingaknife.
REENTRY
Itwassomethingstraightoutofanightmare.Itwaseverynightmarerolledintoone.The
hideouslytattooedface,theknife,ArkAngel,outerspace...Alexcouldonlywatch
helplesslyasKasparheadedtowardshim,flying,armsoutstretched,legstrailingbehind.
Whatwashedoinginthespacestation?
AndsuddenlyAlexunderstood.
Thesecondrocket,theorangutan,Drevin'ssocalledexperimentinweightlessnessthey
hadallbeenpartoftheplan.Therewasnoexperiment.Thereneverhadbeen.
KasparhadgoneupinGabriel7.AndAlexknewwhy.Hisownexperienceofthelaunch
shouldhavemadehimseethatitwouldhavebeencompletelyinsanetotrysendingan
armedbombintospace.Theterriblevibrationswouldhavesetitoffbeforeithadevenleft
theatmosphere.Onlywhenitwas
inspacecoulditbearmed,andthathadmeantsendingsomeoneupwithit.Kaspar.But
nowheneededtogetbackagain.Thatwasthepointofthesecondrocket.ProfessorSing
musthaveknownallalong.TheSoyuzhadbeensentuptocollecthim.AndKasparwould
surelyhaveleftinstructionsbehind.Ifanythingwentwrong,iftherocketdidn'tarrive,the
professorwouldhavebeenkilled.Nowonderhehadlookedsonervous!Intheend,he
hadmadeachoice.Sendtherocketandletthetwoofthemfightitout.
ThatwassomethingelseAlexunderstood.Therewerenowtwooftheminthespace
station.Buttherewasonlyoneseathome.
Kasparpassedthroughthefirstnode,wherehewasbathedmomentarilyinsoft,pinklight
beforeheemergedintotheglareofthenextmodule.Heseemedtobeadeptat
manipulatinghimselfinzerogravity.Hehadaimedcarefullyandpushedofflightly.One
handtouchedawalltocorrecthimselftheotherstillclaspedtheknife.Hewastakinghis
timebutthenheknewAlexhadnowheretohide.Justsecondsremainedbeforethey
wouldcomefacetofaceinamodulebarelylargeenoughforthemboth.
Alexsearchedaroundhimforaweapon,anythinghecouldusetodefendhimself.But
everythingwaspackeddowntooneatly.Thecupboardsandlockerswereclosed.Hewas
stillfeelingsickanddisorientatedandeverymovementhe
madethreatenedtopropelhiminthewrongdirection.Ifhelostcontrolandwentinto
anotherspinhewouldbefinished.Kasparwouldcuthimtopieces.
Kasparpassedthroughthenextnode.Inafewmomentshewouldarriveinthesame
moduleasAlex.Thesleepingarea.ThiswastheplaceProfessorSingandEdShulsky
hadshownhimonthemap.TheheartofArkAngel.Itseemedanappropriatemeeting
point.MaybehecouldreasonwithKaspar.Themissionwaspointlessnowsurelyhe
wouldseesense?
ButAlexdoubtedit.Kaspar'seyeslookedempty,mad.Therewasatwistedsmileonhis
lips.TheknifehewasholdingwasaSabatier,thebladeasinglepieceofhighcarbon
stainlesssteel,handhonedandabouttencentimetreslong.Wherehadhegotitfrom?He
couldn'tpossiblyhavebroughtitwithhim.ThenAlexremembered.ArkAngelwasahotel.
OnedayitmighthaveachefcuttingsirloinsteakforsomeAmericanmultimillionaire,and
someonehadmadesurehewasproperlyequipped.Kasparmusthavepickedupthe
knifeashepassedthroughthekitchen.
AsKasparenteredthesleepingarea,Alexdidtheonlythinghecould.Hecrouchedlow,
thenkickedout,propellinghimselfalong,afewinchesabovethefloor,asifhewere
swimmingunderwaterinapool.HismovementcaughtKasparunawares,andtheman
sailedpastabovehim.Alexrealizedthat
therewasonethingyoucouldn'tdoinzerogravity:changedirection.Kasparcontinuedto
thefarwall,butashepassedhimheslasheddownwiththeknife.Alexfeltthetipcutinto
thesuitbetweenhisshoulderblades.Hewaslucky.Anotherfewmillimetresanditwould
havedrawnblood.Ithadslicedthesuit'smaterialbuthadn'tpiercedhisskin.
Kasparreachedthefarwallandclungontooneofthehandholds.Alexcontinuedthrough
intothenextmoduleandmanagedtostophimself.Hefoundhimselfsurroundedbygym
equipment:atreadmill,apairofchestexpanders,arowingmachinebutnothinghecould
throwatKaspar.Whereweretheweights?Ofcourse,therewasnopointhavingweights
inaweightlessenvironment.Alexscrabbledforoneofthelockersandthedoorfellopen.
Thereweretoolsinside.Ahammer,acuriouslyshapedratchet,somesortofbolt
tightener.Hegrabbedthehammer,pulleditfreeandhelditinfrontofhim.
AlexturnedandsawKasparpreparingtolaunchasecondattack.Themanseemed
crazed,asifhewereondrugs.Perhapshewas.Orperhapshefoundtheexperienceof
beinginspaceasterrifyingasAlexdid.
"Kaspar!"Alexwasn'tsurewhattocallhim.Whatwashisrealname?MagnusPayne?But
thatwasn'thowthetwokneweachother."It'sover,"hewenton."There'snopointinthis.
Drevinisdead.
TheCIA'sincontrolonFlamingoBay."
"You'relying!"
"HowdoyouthinkIgothere?There'snothingforyoutodo.DroppingArkAngelon
Washingtonthere'snopoint.Drevin'sdead."
"No!"
TwocontinentstwistedinangeranddisbeliefasKasparkickedoff,thistimetravelling
diagonallydown.Alexknewtherewasnopointtryingtoreasonwithhim.Whateverhad
happenedonFlamingoBay,KasparneededtheSoyuz.Alexstoodinhisway.SoAlex
hadtodie.
Kasparflewtowardshim.Alexbroughtthehammerroundandthrewitwithallhis
strength.Foramomenthethoughtitwouldtravelinslowmotion.Wasn'tthatwhat
happenedinfilms?Butitdidn't.Thehammerspunatfullspeedthroughtheairandhit
Kasparontheshoulder.Butwouldthehammerdoanydamageifitweighednothing?
OnceagainAlexthoughtbacktohisphysicsclass,startingworkonhisGCSEs.The
hammerpickedupenergybecauseofmotiontheenergywasdispersedwhenitcameto
rest.Inthisinstance,itcametorestbecauseithadhitKasparsquareon.Kasparhowled
anddroppedtheknife.Energydispersedequalledpain!
ButtheforwardmotionwasenoughtosendAlexstumblingback,andforamomenthe
lostcontrol.Hisshoulderscrashedintoawall.Orperhapsitwastheceilingorthefloor.It
madeno
difference.Kasparhadleaptforward.Heplungeddownasifhehadbeenfiredfromagun,
andasecondlaterhewasontopofAlex.
Theblueandgreenskinoftheman'sfacewasjustinchesaway.Eyesfullofhatredglared
athim.Kaspar'shandsclosedaroundhisthroatandbegantotighten.Themanwas
stranglinghim.AndtherewasnothingAlexcoulddo.Hehadnogadgets,noweapons.He
couldn'tevenmove.Hecouldfeelmetalplatesagainsthisshoulders,oneofthelockers
pressingintohisback.Kasparwasfloatinghorizontallyabovehim,connectedtoAlexonly
byhishands.ThebreathwasnolongerreachingAlex'slungsthegripwastootight.He
feltdizzy.Inafewsecondshewouldpassout.
Barelyknowingwhathewasdoing,hescrabbledbehindhim.Hisknucklesbrushed
againstsomesortoflever.Whatwasit?Evenashisconsciousnessbegantoleavehim,
Alexremembered.Heknewwhattheleverdid.Butnowhecouldn'tfindit.Desperatelyhe
lashedoutandhisflailinghandcaughtholdofit.Hepulleddown.
Theshutteropenedandthelightthathadalmostblindedhimbeforeexplodedintothe
moduleasecondtime,shaftinginoverhisshoulder.Thewindowwasfacingdirectlyinto
thesunandthelighthadaphysicalforceasitburstin.Alexcouldfeelitburninghisneck
andshoulders.Thewholecapsuleseemedtodisintegrateintoabrilliantchaosofwhite
andsilver,allothercolourssuckedout.
Kasparscreamedasthelightsearedhiseyes.Itwasasifhehadbeenpunchedinthe
facebythesunitself,andhishandsfellaway,instinctivelycominguptoprotecthimself.
AlexbroughthislegsupandkickedhisfeetslammedintoKaspar'sstomach.Alex'sback
wasagainstthewall,andKasparwassenthurtlingtowardstheothersideofthemodule.
TheSabatierknifewasrightbehindhim.
Ithadbeenhoveringthere,itsdeadlypointaimedatKaspar'sneck.AsKaspartravelled
backwardsitwentwithhim,butthenthehandlecameintocontactwiththewall.Theblade
enteredthecityofBeijingandcontinueditsjourney,burrowingintotheworld'ssurface.
Kaspar'sbodyjerkedasifhehadbeenelectrocuted.Thenhewasstill.
Lyingunderneathhim,Alexwatchedindisbelief.Kaspar'sarmswerehangingdown
towardshim.Hewasinthemiddleofthemodule,nottouchinganysurface,suspended
there.Astringofbrightcrimsonmarblesappearedandbegantoorbitaroundhishead.
Theygrewlarger.Nowtheyweregolfballs,trailingaway,glisteningred.
Theknifehadseveredanartery.Kaspar'sbloodhungaroundhimlikeagrotesque
Christmasdecoration.
Alexhadhadenough.Themodulewasheatinguprapidly,stillexposedtothesun,andhe
reachedoutandclosedtheshutter.AshadowfellacrossKaspar'sface.Themarbles
darkened.
Withhisskincrawling,wantingtogetawayfromtheobscene,floatingbody,Alexdragged
himselfintothenextmoduleusingaseriesofVelcrogrips.Hefoundhimselfnexttoa
spacetoilet,agreyplasticboxwithsomesortofconedevicefloatingattheendofapipe.
Heneededtouseit.Hewasgoingtobesick.Grimlyheswallowed,forcinghimselftostay
calm.Hedidn'twanttofindoutwhatvomitlookedlikeinouterspace.
Thebomb...
Howmuchtimedidhehaveleft?Alexlookedathiswatch.Oneminutepastfour.Just
twentynineminutesleft.Hehadtomovequickly.Tohavecomesofar,tohavebeen
throughsomuch,onlytodienow!Heforcedhimselftoconcentrate,tocontrolhis
movements.Herememberedthemaphehadbeenshowninthecontrolcentre.Heknew
wherehehadtogo.
ThehatchleadingintothecapsulethathadbroughtKasparintospacewasopen,and
Alexsawthebombatonce.Itwasshapedlikeatorpedo,black,withsixtinyswitchesand
aglasspanelwithadigitalreadout.Thewholethingwasstrappedtothewall,heldin
placewithVelcro.Withaghastlysortoffascination,Alexloweredhimselfintothemodule
andfloatednexttoit.Therewasasixfiguredisplay,rapidlycountingdown:27:07:05.Alex
checkeditagainsthiswatch.Yes.Threeminutespastfour.Hehadjusttwentyseven
minutesleft.
Couldheturnitoff?Alexexaminedtheswitchesbuttherewerenosymbols,nothingtotell
himwhatfunctiontheyperformed.Didhedarepressone?Ifhemadeamistake,he'dbe
blowntosmithereens.Hereachedoutafinger.Hismouthwasdry.Beingsoclosetothe
bombfilledhimwithhorror.Buthehadtotry,didn'the?Drevinmighthavepervertedthe
geniusofArkAngelbut,evenso,thespacestationwasatechnologicalmiracle,
completelyunique,theworld'sfirsthotelinorbitaroundtheearth.CouldAlexreallyallowit
tobedestroyed?Hisfingerrestedagainstthetopswitch.Allhehadtodowasflickit.It
mightdeactivatethebomb,butitmightsetitoff.Thequestionwas,didhedaretakethe
risk?
Thenumbersinthedisplaywerestillcountingdown.Nowtheyshowed25:33:00.
Alexswore.Whydidn'ttheyhavesomesortofrubbishchute?Thenhecouldgetridofthe
bomb,jettisonitintoouterspace.ThereprobablywasanairlockonArkAngel,buthehad
noideahowtooperateit.Anyway,therewasnotime.Hisfingerwasstilltouchingthe
switch.Oneofsixswitches.Aoneinsixchanceofgettingitright.
Notgoodenough.
Alexletoutalong,shudderingbreathandwithdrewhishand.Hetookholdofthestill
tickingbombandgentlyunfastenedit,theneaseditupthroughthehatchandbackinto
thecentreofthe
spacehotel.EdShulskyhadtoldhimwheretoleaveit,butAlexmadethedecisionfor
himself.Thetoilet.Somehowitseemedafittingend.Heloweredthenoseofthetorpedo
intoitandleftitthere.
Itwastimetogo.
Hepushedhimselfoffasgentlyashecouldandwasrewardedwithaslow,careful
progressionbacktowardsthewaitingmoduleoftheSoyuz.Hepassedunderneath
Kaspar,takingcarenottolookup.Inafewminutes'time,thedeadmanwasgoingtobe
givenoneofthemostspectacularcremationsanyonecouldaskfor.Itwasmorethanhe
deserved.
Thedockingstationwasaheadofhim buttherewasonelastthinghehadtodo.He
lookedathiswatch.Elevenminutespastfour.Therewerejustnineteenminutes
remaining,andAlexknewitwasmadnesstowasteevenafewseconds.Buthewould
neverhavethisopportunityagain.Hefoundanotherwindowontheoppositesidefromthe
sun,openedtheshutterandlookedout.
Andthereitwas.
Planetearth.Seenfromouterspace.
Hisfirstthoughtwashowbigitwashissecond,howsmall.Ofcourse,hehadseen
imagesoftheearthtakenbyastronauts.Butthiswasdifferent.Hewasseeingitwithhis
owneyes.Andhewasmoving.Ashecrouchedinfrontoftheporthole,hewastravelling
sofastthatitwouldtakehimjust
ninetyminutestogoallthewayround.Nowonderitseemedsmall.Andyettheearthfilled
hisvision.Allthelifeintheuniverse,fivebillionpeople,wasconcentratedthere.Andthe
thoughtofthatwasenormous.
Hewasstruckbythecolours.Nophotographscouldhavepreparedhimforthesheer
iridescenceoftheplanet.Itlookedasifitwerelitfrominside.Atfirstitseemedthat
everythingwasblueandwhitemostoftheplanetwaswaterandAlexremembered
lyingonhisbackwhenhewassmall,staringataperfectsummersky.Ifhecouldhave
turnedtheskyintoaball,thatwaswhathewasseeingnow.Butashegazeddownhe
begantomakeouttheshapeofthecoastlines,athinlineofemeraldgreenandthenArk
AngelturnedthecorneroftheworldandtherewasAfricaallofAfricaaheadofhim and
suddenlyhewasseeingintensegold,yellowandred...mountainsanddesertsbutno
cities.Nothingmoving.Andhewondered,ifhewasanalienandcameupontheearth,
couldhepassbywithoutbeingawareoftheteeminglifebelow?
ButthendaybecamenightandhefoundhimselfoverthewesternMediterranean
seaboard,andevenfromthreehundredmilesawayhecouldmakeoutthousandsof
electriclightsthathadtobemanmade.SpainandGibraltar,.Turkey,Tunisia,Algeriaand
theLebanonallofthemwerevisibleatonce,thetinylightsblinkinglikefireflies.There
were
stormsoverEurope.Alexsawthelightningshimmerthroughtheclouds.
Itwasn'tjustthattherewaslifeonearth.Thewholeearthwasalive.Alexcouldfeelit
pulsatingbeneathhim,andsuddenlyheknewthatforallitstechnology,ArkAngelwasa
sterile,deadplaceandhedidn'tcarethatsoonitwouldnolongerexist.Hehadmadethe
rightdecision.Atthatmoment,Alexfeltasenseoflonelinesshewouldrememberforthe
restofhislife.Hewantedtogohome.
HemadehiswaybacktotheSoyuzmodule,tryingtocontrolhisprogressbutstill
crashingintothewalls.Onlybyholdingontothehandrailsdidhepreventhimselffrom
goingintoanothersickeningspin.Hehadaragingthirstandwishedhe'dfoundhimself
somethingtodrinkbeforeheleft.WhathappenedwhenyouopenedacanofCokein
space?Hewouldneverfindout.
Somehowhereachedtheentranceandfoldedhimselfin.Hewasoperatingonautomatic.
Allhewantedwastogetaway.Hereachedupandclosedthehatch,turningtheleverto
lockitbeforeblastoff.Thiswasthecompartmenthehadtravelledupin.Butitwasgoing
tostaybehind.Therewasasecondhatchunderneathhimandheopenedit,passinginto
thereentrymodulebelow.Therewasmoreroomhere.Ofcourse.Thereentrymodule
hadtobebigenoughforKaspar.Hestrappedhimselfintotheseat,foundanother
headsetandputiton,wonderingifitwouldwork.
"Alex?Whatisyourstatus?"ItwasTamara'svoice.Hehadneverbeenhappiertohear
anyone.
"Thebombisstillactive,"hesaid.Helookedathiswatch.Twentyfivepastfour.
"ProfessorSingliedtous,"hewenton."Kasparwashere.AndnowI'veonlygotfive
minutesleft.Getmeoutofhere."
Anotherburstofstatic.Adisembodiedvoicewasmutteringhalfwordsthatmadeno
sense.Therehadtobesomethingwrongwiththeradio.Alexwonderedwhatwould
happennext.Howlongwouldhehavetositherebeforehedisengaged?Andwhatwould
happenifhedidn't?Thesecondhandonhiswatchtickedround.Itseemedtobetaunting
him,movingfasterthanitshould.Thetimenowwastwentyeightminutespastfour.
Alreadyhewassweating.Huncheduponhisbackwithnoview,hehadnoideawherehe
was,howmuchfurtherhewasaroundtheworld.Twentynineminutespastfour.Hadhe
reachedthelastsixtysecondsofhislife?
Hefeltasuddenjolt.Foraterriblemoment,hethoughtthatthebombhaddetonated.
Thenherealizedthatwasimpossible.Hehadn'theardanythingbuthewassuddenly
awarethatthemodule'sretrorocketsmusthavebeenfired.Hetwistedhisheadround
andpeeredthroughtheperiscope.ArkAngelwasalreadyamileaway,vanishinginto
spacelikeapebbledroppedintoawell.
Andthenitexploded.
Thebombblewup,aburstoforangeflamethatrippedtheentirespacestationapart,
sendingthedifferentmodulesspinningindifferentdirections.Thearmswiththesolar
panelsfellaway.Thereweretwomoreexplosions.Ashowerofbrilliantsparksanda
dazzlingburstofwhitelightthatstretchedoutinsilence.
Alexfeltasenseofeuphoria.Hehadsucceeded!Hehadputthebombinexactlytheright
place,andinsteadofpropellingArkAngeltowardsWashington,ithadsimplydestroyedit.
Therewasnothingleft.Afewpieceswerefallingthroughspacebuttheywouldquickly
burnup.Atlastitwasover.
Hefell.
Thecrackleontheradiostoppedabruptly.Alexfoundhimselfinthegripofasilenceso
completethatforamomenthethoughthemighthavedied,andhehadtoremindhimself
hewasn'thomeyet.Hewasplummetingdown,feetforward,movingateighteenthousand
milesanhour.Fivemilesasecond.Thiswasthemostdangerouspartoftheentire
journey.Ifthecontrolcentrehadmiscalculated,hewouldbeincinerated.Alreadyhewas
awareofapinkglowoutsidethewindowasthemodulebegantorubagainsttheearth's
upperatmosphere.
Andthenhewasonfire.Thewholeworldwasonfire.Theveryairwasbreakingup,being
smashedtopieces,theelectronsseparatingfromthenuclei.
Themodulehadbecomeafireball,andAlexknewthathislifedependedonthehundreds
ofthermaltilesthatsurroundedhim.Hewasintheheartofalivinghell.
Heyelledout.Hecouldn'thelphimself.
Thenthereddisappeared,likeacurtainbeingtornapart.
Hesawblue.
Therewasasecond,backbreakingjoltastheparachutedeployed.Theworldseemedto
shimmerontheothersideofthewindowandAlexsawthePacificOceanspreadout
beforehim.
Asplash.Steam.Waveslashingatthewindows.Sunlightturningthewaterintodiamonds.
Andatlastsilence.
Hewasrockingbackandforth,ahundredmilesofftheeasterncoastofAustralia.The
wrongsideoftheworldbutthatdidn'tmatter.
AlexRiderwasback.