Part Two
THIRTY-FOUR
And later that evening, Alois Kretzmer made a call to General Parviz Sharifah in Islamabad.
“General? It’s Khalid.”
“Hallo, my brother. How are you?”

“I’m fine. General, I’m calling to tell you there will be no more shipments. I think the authorities here are getting suspicious. They’re asking questions, checking a few of the crates at random. I’m hearing rumours that they know what’s really in some of them. We’ll have to call a halt to things for the time being.”

Silence fell at the other end while Sharifah digested the news. “We might have enough for the plan to succeed,” he mused. “I’m just not sure. The result may be a little less than we had intended. I would have preferred a bit more time.”

“I understand that, General, but I can’t help it. We’re going to have to close down the supply line through Kashmir, until things die down. Hard to say at present when that’ll be or if I could start up the operation somewhere else. I’ll just have to let you know. What to do with the stuff you’ve already got is up to you, of course. But we can’t risk the plot being exposed and you ending up in prison for quite a long time.”

“Indeed not.” Sharifah took a deep, sighing breath. “All right, my brother. Do what you see fit. We will make our decision soon, one way or the other. Where may I contact you if I need to?”

“It’s best if we don’t have any contact with each other at all, for the moment, in case it leads them to you. I’ll be in touch once I’m sure I’ve shaken them off.”
“All right. I suppose it is wise.”
“I must go now. Insha’allah.”
“Insha’allah.”

Kretzmer put the phone down. Then he took his briefcase and overnight bag, into which he had already packed all his personal belongings, and left the office, making his way straight to the airport where he caught the next flight to London. Altogether, he thought as he took his seat on board the plane, things had worked out well. There had in fact been no danger whatsoever of the arms being discovered; no suspicion on the part of the Red Cross or the Swiss authorities that things weren’t quite as they should be, no sudden unannounced searches of the premises. He’d kept the lid on it well and good. No, there was no likelihood of the plot being exposed; but Parviz Sharifah was not to know that. It all depended now on what Sharifah did; but Kretzmer had a reasonable expectation that things would turn out OK or he wouldn’t have bothered making the call to Islamabad in the first place.

He would have to re-establish contact with Sharifah at some stage, in case the Pakistani got suspicious. If the General suspected he was being used he might send a hit-man along. Meantime his aim would be to keep out of sight for as long as possible, minimizing any chance of the arms being traced back to Marcotech Ltd.


General Parviz Sharifah had a decision to make.
If it turned out they didn’t have enough equipment for the coup to succeed, they faced imprisonment and maybe execution. But he was certain they could make enough of an impact for the risk to be justified. In any case, to delay things any longer would also risk discovery. The warning would be sounded and the Musharraf loyalists move to arrest the coup’s leaders and impose extra security measures, so that they’d have no chance of succeeding anyway. As Kretzmer had said, they’d no idea how long it would be before the shipments could be restarted, especially if they had to find some other, probably less convenient route.

In his quarters at the barracks in Islamabad, he knelt and prayed to Allah for guidance. Then he rang the first of the people on his list and gave them the news of his decision.

“My brother,” he told each man, “it is time to move. You know what to do. Allahu Akbar.”

*

In his office at the Presidential Palace Pervez Musharraf looked round at the ministers assembled at the big mahogany table and raised his voice. “I think we could begin now, gentlemen.” They all fell respectfully silent.

“First of all,” began the President, “I would like to discuss the forthcoming visit of the emissary from the Vatican.” The Pope was attempting to build bridges following a few controversial remarks which had angered Muslim opinion around the world. “I needn’t have to tell you all that security must be flawless. Has an itinerary been drawn up yet?”

“I have the papers here, Mr President,” said the Minister for Internal Security, General Jafaari, seated on the opposite side of the table from Musharraf and to the his right, a couple of places from the end. “I’ll pass the photocopies round.” His briefcase was already resting on the table in front of him. He leaned forward, took hold of the two brass catches which opened it and flicked them.

Being on the President’s staff, General Sharifah was often about the place on official business. He had made sure he was in the washrooms, close enough to the Cabinet Room to hear the explosion, when the bomb went off. As soon as he heard it he made the call to the other leaders of the coup on his cellphone, assuming Musharraf was dead.

Then he stowed the phone away and ran out into the corridor, shouting at the top of his voice. “What is it? What’s going on? What was that explosion?” It would be some minutes before his men could surround and occupy the Presidential Palace. Until then he had to act the concerned loyalist, horrified at the President’s murder and determined to ensure security in the aftermath of the atrocity, or they’d realise and maybe avenge their leader by executing him on the spot.

He could hear shouts, screams, running feet, a general commotion.

The reverberations from the blast started to die away. A young staff officer came running along the corridor and Sharifah stopped him. “What’s going on?” he repeated. If he made straight for the Cabinet Room, if he knew where to go, it might suggest inside knowledge of the plot.

”I…I think something is wrong in the Cabinet Room,” the man replied. “I-I was just going to…”

“Come with me,” Sharifah ordered. They hurried over there. The door had been blown off its hinges and a thick pall of smoke was pouring out into the passage. They skidded to a halt, coughing, and Sharifah ran to a window and yanked it open. When the smoke had dissipated somewhat, though its smell still hung in the air, they stepped cautiously into the room. They saw that body parts and organs were strewn over the walls and floor, and the young officer retched, almost vomiting.

Sharifah looked round as four or five other officers, all of them Musharraf loyalists, came hurrying in. He affected to look suitably horrified and concerned.

Bits of bodies were scattered on the floor along with smashed and toppled furniture. The table had been splintered into matchwood, and all the windows had shattered. Everyone who had been sitting on the right side of the table, including obviously Jafaari, the suicide bomber, was dead, although a couple of the bodies were surprisingly intact. The entrails of a third steamed on the floor beside it. On the opposite side of the room several were still alive; the Minister of Defence lay covered in blood and groaning, half-conscious, while nearby the dazed Foreign Minister, his clothes tattered and smoking, was sitting up trying to support a wounded Pervez Musharraf. The President’s glasses were gone and he was moaning softly, his head lolling from side to side, eyelids fluttering. His jacket and trousers had been blown off and there were bloody gashes where splinters and other flying debris had struck him, but for the moment at least he was quite clearly alive.

Sharifah stopped dead, staring in horror and dismay. He should have made sure he had his gun with him, then he could have finished the job, and damn the consequences to himself. Perhaps he could still….no, it was too late now, with all the loyalists rushing to the scene. And already the message that Musharraf was dead would have gone out to the newspapers and TV stations, both foreign and domestic. He could only hope that it would have the desired consequences.

Someone shouted for a doctor, and hurried arrangements were made to get the President to hospital. His wounds were dressed and he was made as comfortable as possible pending the arrival of an ambulance. The chief of the President’s personal guard placed a cordon around the Palace while an investigation was carried out into the bombing, allowing no vehicle to leave or enter apart from the ambulance ferrying Musharraf to hospital.

Meanwhile rumours were spreading, as the militants had planned. Within minutes of the message getting out the local rebel leaders, assuming it had done its work, went into action. Lorries crashed the gates of the Presidential Palace and other government buildings in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Rawalpindi, and armed men leaped out of the back firing their Kalashnikovs, Uzis or MP5s in the air and shooting anyone in uniform whom they happened to come across. Simultaneously, TV and radio stations and telephone exchanges were seized, and in the barracks the movement’s supporters among the soldiers, who had beforehand contrived to ensure that they were all together in the right place at the right time, guarding strategic places or at any rate in reasonable proximity to them, made their move. Seizing the armouries, they equipped themselves with all the weapons they could carry and went on a killing spree, not stopping until they had full control of the building.

The militants attempting to storm the Presidential Palace, to which news of the coup had by now filtered through, were beaten back by the president’s special guard long enough for Musharraf’s entourage to smuggle out the seriously wounded Pakistani leader in an Army truck, which roared out through the gates al-Qaeda had earlier demolished, and took advantage of the very confusion their enemies had created to head for the provinces where the group would remain in hiding while the Musharraf loyalists in the military and elsewhere fought to wrest control back from the Islamists. The President was drifting in and out of consciousness and needed constant attention from his personal doctor, but he would live. He was a tough nut to crack.

Meanwhile, it was not immediately possible for the majority of the population to determine what had happened to him. Undeterred, the militant-controlled TV stations put out messages announcing that the traitor and American lackey Musharraf was dead and al-Qaeda, the Base, now controlled the country. Those who could tune into the BBC World Service or any other foreign news channel were soon receiving the same information. A couple of the stations remained in the hands of the government until some time later and informed the peole that Musharraf had been smuggled to safety and would live, but here the government’s system of censorship worked against it, since it meant people doubted it was telling the truth and were more likely to believe the al-Qaeda version, whether or not they felt any sympathy for the militants’ aims.

A lot of them did not, and ventured onto the streets to protest at the coup, angry and fearful at the fate they knew awaited them under al-Qaeda rule, which was to be forced to live like the population of Afganistan under the Taliban. However, they were soon sent scurrying back indoors by the gun-toting rebels who drove up and down the main streets in their commandeered vehicles, shouting out Islamist slogans and firing their rifles into the air where necessary. It was the same principle that allowed any other totalitarian state to function; the majority could overthrow their rulers by sheer weight of numbers if they chose, but did not so choose, knowing that in the process some of them – including perhaps oneself – might be killed.

In the state of confusion caused by the suddenness of the coup, the airports fell swiftly. A couple of flights, their crew realising what had happened, took off without permission and were thus able to escape the tragedy that followed. The next was grounded and crew and passengers ordered off the plane. The aircraft’s occupants thought they were being hijacked, panicked and tried to rush the gunmen, who themselves lost their nerve and started blazing away, killing dozens of people before they were overpowered. The survivors were captured as they tried to flee the airport premises. The militants had been planning to allow one aircraft to land and then seize its occupants, but after this incident they simply stopped all international flights.

Meanwhile they dug themselves in at the places they had taken over, delegating some of their number to drive up and down the streets proclaiming the revolution and warning everyone to stay indoors, and waited for their reinforcements to arrive.

Either due to ineffiency or secret sympathizing with the extremists by some of their number, the Pakistani security forces had always lacked the will or the ability to properly seal off the border with Kashmir and Afghanistan. Militants now flooded into the north and centre of the country from the camps established in the border regions, on either side, in the two years following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, and whose population had been swollen by recruits from the madrassas. Ignoring the rural areas instead of staying there to win hearts and minds – and thus leaving in their rear populations who were either apathetic or hostile to them, which worked to their disadvantage – they made straight for the cities to assist their brothers in establishing control there.

News of all these events had been broken to the Western public early in the afternoon of the first day of the coup. The BBC reported it thus in a Newsflash:

“We're getting unconfirmed reports that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has been killed in a terrorist attack. Eyewitnesses say they heard an explosion from the Presidential Palace and saw a vehicle full of armed men break through the main gates. There are reports of fierce fighting near the border with Afghanistan. We hope to bring you more information on that story later.”

By the evening, when more details were known and a full report of events could be given, the mood at BBC Television Centre was more calm, composed and professional than it had been at first, but when they spoke to the cameras the graveness of the newsreaders’ tone made it quite clear how they were feeling underneath. “Good evening. Islamic militants have seized control of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad following rioting. The militants have occupied all government buildings as well as airports and communications centres.

“Fighting has broken out within the army between supporters of President Musharraf and those sympathetic to the militants. We're also getting reports of fighting in other parts of Pakistan, particularly the border regions where hundreds of militants are pouring into the country from Kashmir and Afghanistan.

“The whereabouts of President Musharraf remain unconfirmed. One source reports that he has been killed in the fighting, another that he is still alive but seriously wounded.

“The militants have set up a provisional government within the former Presidential Palace. All foreign journalists have been banned from entering or leaving the country, apart from representatives of the Arab news agency al-Jazeera, by whom the following scenes were filmed.” Images were shown of petrol bombs being hurled at tanks, of bearded and turbaned militants brandishing their rifles and yelling in triumph from the roofs of cars and lorries. One fell off, which caused some amusement and lightened the mood to some extent.

“A spokesman for the militants told an al-Jazeera reporter…” Cut to a bearded, screaming face whose eyes blazed with madness and hatred. “This is the Day of Judgement for Islam’s enemies! The Great Satan and its allies Britain and Israel are trembling before us! Islam will dominate the world!”

Back to the newsreader. “The current situation of each of the five thousand or so Westerners, including some six hundred Britons, believed to be in Pakistan isn’t known but the spokesman did say that his group had taken Western hostages and that they would be killed if demands for an independent Palestinian state and the removal of all American businesses and military bases from Muslim countries were not met.

“The situation with regard to Pakistan’s nuclear missile bases remains unclear. Reports of fighting in the area of the bases can’t yet be confirmed.

“It’s understood that a crisis meeting is now being held at the White House between US President George Bush and his Chiefs of Staff. The Prime Minister will be flying to Washington tomorrow morning for an emergency summit with the President, and in New York the United Nations has gone into emergency session. Heads of government of EU member states are already meeting in Brussels.

“For those worried about friends or relatives who may be trapped in Pakistan, here's the number to ring.” The Foreign Office emergency hotline came up on the screen.

Fears for the safety of loved ones known to have been in the country when the coup occurred were already growing like a creeping tide. They were well justified. The militants had been told to seize any Westerner they could lay their hands on and take them hostage, whether journalists, tourists, diplomats, businessmen, aid workers, or Christian missionaries. About half managed to hide, sheltered by sympathetic families, until they could be safely smuggled out of the country, disguised so as to conceal features which would have identified them to al-Qaeda as members of the enemy culture. But hundreds were captured, many of them at the airport where they had been queueing up in search of a flight, and moved to secure locations around the country. At first it was difficult to keep so many people locked up or at gunpoint, and some escaped. But the arrival of the renforcements from Kashmir, Afghanistan and elsewhere provided the manpower necessary for the job. White non-Muslim Britons frequently found themselves the prisoner of a non-white and Muslim compatriot from London or Birmingham, who might show no recognition of a shared nationhood or culture, simply sitting and staring at them, gun in hand, with cold eyes that lacked any emotion except hatred. The rebels’ definition of “Western” in fact included any country not wholly Muslim, and there were black Africans and Japanese among their prisoners as well as Americans and Europeans.

The experiences of the hostages varied. Some were treated surprisingly well. One hostage was murdered when it turned out he was Jewish, while another Jew formed a close and friendly relationship with his captors and was eventually released unharmed. A militant from Leeds was observed laughing and joking with a fellow inhabitant of that town, forgetting altogether about differences of religion or colour, both of them speaking in broad Yorkshire accents. On the whole female hostages fared better than men, although there were cases of women – and children - suffering appalling cruelty, or being forced against their wishes to wear the veil. Many of their captors belonged to the new breed of Islamic militant who felt a visceral hatred for all Westerners regardless of age, gender, occupation or any other such consideration. Conversion to Islam – where it was not forced – might ensure better treatment and many took this course, some sincerely and some merely as a means of survival. The new followers of the faith were treated by their captors with some wariness, which would never quite disappear. Those who retained a Christian belief were strengthened by it in adversity and sometimes succeeded in communicating it to their fellow captives. But whatever factors might serve to give the hostages some comfort, things remained dire at the best of times. The difficulty of attending to the needs of such a large number of people meant that food was awful and toilet facilities rudimentary. And however pleasant those guarding them might be on occasions, they knew nothing could change the militants’ rock-solid determination to kill them should their demands not be met within the month, or any attempt be made at hostage rescue. Except for the lucky few who did manage to escape despite the presence of the Kashmiris and Afghanis, or were released after negotiation, this life was a nightmare, one which would end in they knew not what. It didn’t help when the al-Qaeda leadership decided to disperse them more evenly around the country, many of them bound and gagged and handcuffed while in transit, to make it easier to guard them and harder to locate them. In this way friends and loved ones were split up and denied the solace of each others’ company.

It was a nightmare too for their families, who were distressed by the way they were being treated and feared never to see them again. They knew al-Qaeda’s demands were unlikely to be met, that a rescue operation would be extremely difficult, and that their relatives were in the hands of ruthless people to whom their lives ultimately meant nothing. Every time a video was shown on al-Jazeera of a hooded and chained hostage kneeling helpless before an armed militant, it left them feeling cold and sick inside.

From time to time there were dire threats that captives would be burned alive – regardless of age, gender etc. – and although, as far as was known, because a hundred of the hostages were to vanish without trace, this threat was never carried out it could never be dismissed out of hand due to the viciousness of the militants' anti-Western hatred, adding to the anguish of those at home.

The coup had been so sudden and unexpected, and was so frightening in its apparent implications, that real fear was spreading around the world. A gloomy depression settled over everything, ruining holidays and special events, no doubt to the militants’ delight for they saw themselves as waging a kind of psychological, as well as physical, warfare against the West. The questions asked on current affairs programmes reflected the profound anxieties the coup had given rise to.

“What people are asking is, how could this possibly have happened?"
“What does this mean for the preservation of global peace and security and the conduct of the war on terror?”
"Of course for many the real fear will be the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons....."

The Prophets of Doom had a field day. The Stock Exchange crashed and this, on top of the oil crisis resulting from the tanker sinkings, plunged the world into recession. There was rioting and serious social unrest. Sympathetic coup attempts took place in Indonesia and Philippines, though these were dealt with successfully by the governments of those countries, with support from Australia which therefore invited a repetition of the Bali bombing. International tension mounted as the Indian Prime Minister made it clear that any nuclear attack on his country by its traditional enemy, now in danger of being taken over by those most likely to hate its predominantly Hindu population, would be met with immediate retaliation in kind.

Situation Room, White House
"This is the worst crisis we’ve ever had to face," observed President Bush solemnly. “But we’ll beat it, like we’ve beaten everything else.” Those around the table nodded.

“So, what’s the situation, Condy?” Bush asked the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
"Still no news of President Musharraf, Sir. We’re trying to make contact with his supporters. Al-Qaeda are in control of the northern cities, indeed the whole northern part of the country, but the Army’s rallied and taken back control of the south plus Lahore and Karachi. However, there’s anarchy in the provinces which were always a bit difficult for anyone to run effectively in any case. The rival tribal groups are taking advantage of the situation to start uprisings against each other. But none of them seem disposed to support the militants. All in all, I’d say things are working to our advantage.

“Another good thing is that because the militants from Kashmir and Aghanistan are mostly concentrated in the northern cities helping to defend them, the border regions they came in by are largely free of them. It should be fairly easy to restore order there, eventually. Militants are also coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan proper, which means those places will be easier for us to hold down.”

“So we’re not likely to be overstretched dealing with this thing, like we thought at first,” the President nodded, pleased.
“I’d say al-Qaeda are taking a heck of a gamble,” remarked the National Security Adviser.
“I guess it was worth the risk if they could get hold of Pakistan’s nuclear capability,” said Condoleezza Rice.

“Well, we gotta go in and sort ‘em out, anyway,” said the President robustly. “Is that gonna be easy? Don?” He looked to the Secretary of State for Defense.

“I think I know how it can be done,” nodded Donald Rumsfeld. “Because of the difficult terrain there, and geographical and geopolitical factors, if we’re aiming at a fairly swift occupation of the capital and the other big cities any invasion will have to come from the south.”
“And it’s the northern areas which are the main problem?”

“Yes. I’m confident we can take them before we get seriously bogged down, but it’s not gonna be easy going, all the same. The sections of the Pakistani army controlled by al-Qaeda won’t be that much of a threat; we all know our military capability is superior to that of any Asian nation except possibly China. The real danger will be the militants, the mujahiddeen sort of people, because of the way they operate. Along with their fanaticism they have this ability to improvise lethal weaponry and to hold up the advance of a conventional military force. We’re gonna meet suicide bombers, all that sort of thing.”

As for standing aside altogether and letting the pro-Musharraf factions in the Army restore order by themselves, that was clearly out of the running. They didn’t have the strength to do so, anyway.

The President asked the question everyone had been waiting to hear. “What about the missile bases?”
“Securing them is gonna have to be a priority,” said Rumsfeld. “Fortunately it isn’t going to be easy for al-Qaeda to maintain its hold on the north and try to take those bases at the same time. That should give us an advantage.

“A few years back, because he was worried about extremism, Musharraf had his missiles relocated to six secret locations throughout the country. He’s now had no option but to disclose their whereabouts to us. Four of them, fortunately, are in government-held territory.” He gave a nod to an aide who switched on the overhead projector, displaying a detailed map of Pakistan on the screen. Then he got up and crossed to the screen, pointing out the location of each of the remaining sites with a ruler. "The other two are here, and here, under the Chagai mountains in Baluchistan province, where the test sites were. In this region at the present time neither side is fully in control.

“There are a few other places we need to include in our calculations. There’s a nuclear plant at Chashma, south of Islamabad, technology and materials from which could easily be diverted to military ends. A research reactor at Joharabad in the Punjab near Lahore – ditto. A plutonium production facility in Rawalpindi – same again. Fourthly the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta, just outside Islamabad. Kahuta was the research and development HQ for the nuclear programme, and it’s there that the Ghauri-3 missile, which will have a range of approximately 3000km, is being built: fortunately it’s still far from complete. But I recommend we bomb the place straight away.

“We must assume all these facilities are already in rebel hands, and so have to be taken out as soon as possible, with the exception of Chashma. If we go for Chashma we could just precipitate a meltdown, accidental or deliberate. I expect you’re all worried they’ll threaten to do that anyway if we invade. Well, I’m sure they’ll threaten. But in the first place, we have to take the risk. It’s the missile sites which are most dangerous, and the only way to secure them is to secure the whole country. And secondly, if they caused a meltdown and killed scores of innocent Pakistanis, many of them hostile to their aims, who they want to win over, just because they were a bit sore at losing, they’d be shitting in their own nest, if the lady present will pardon by bad language. They wouldn’t do it.

“There is a second nuclear power station near Karachi, but since that’s well into government territory and right near where we’ll be setting up our main base, I don’t think we need worry about it.”

“Tell you what worries me,” said Dick Cheney. “What if they threaten to cause a meltdown at Chashma if we invade?”
“We can’t guarantee that the militants don’t know where the missile bases are,” Donald Rumsfeld continued. “It’s been known for a long time that they’ve got supporters within the government who can feed them inside information. My guess is they’re already making their way to Baluchistan fast, so we’ll need to lose no time in parachuting Special Forces and other troops into the areas around the installations, where they will assist the security forces in defending them against rebel attack. The guards were put on full alert as soon as news of the coup broke, but they may not be able on their own to prevent a full-scale assault by those fanatics.”

“Well, as Commander-in-Chief, I’ve already put all our forces on full alert,” said the President. “We’re gonna have to throw everything we’ve got into this.”
“What are we defining as our aims in this matter?” the NSA asked Rumsfeld.
“I think they should be: firstly, to secure the nuclear bases against takeover by al-Qaeda. Secondly, the expulsion of all al-Qaeda forces from the country and the restoration to power of President Musharraf. Thirdly, the rescue of all United States and other Western citizens being held captive within Pakistan. Are we agreed?”

They agreed. In a crisis like this, there was very little time for delay or dissent.
“Some troops may have to be diverted from other theatres. We’ll have to call up reservists and maybe bring in those in non-combat roles. But with maximum assistance from the British, which I think we can rely on, and from the international community I’m confident we can support engagement in a third theatre of operations, provided we put on hold any attack on Iran for the moment.”
“One good thing is that this time everyone’s gonna be behind us,” grinned the President. “No-one in their right mind wants those loonies to get hold of Goddamn weapons of mass destruction.”

If they ever did, the consequences, if restraint were not shown, didn’t bear thinking about. Over the past couple of decades both India and Pakistan had built substantial arsenals of nuclear missiles. They were designed primarily for use against each other, but with a few modifications the Pakistani Ghauri and Shaheen could probably hit targets in Israel, if not further afield. The keys to arm the warheads were in the possession of President Musharraf and a senior general whose loyalty could be relied upon, and both men were now safe at the government’s provisional headquarters in the loyalist-held south, but it could not be assumed that al-Qaeda didn’t have the technical knowledge to make their own versions.

“It’d take time, once they’d secured the missile base itself, to make the keys,” Condoleezza Rice pointed out. “We’d have retaken the installations by then.”
“But there’s information at the other sites which could be of use to them and I wouldn’t want to see it falling into their hands,” Rumsfeld said.
“Not much more information than is already available on the Net,” observed Dick Cheney.
“Altogether, I really don’t think we have much to worry about.”
“All the same,” said the NSA, “we should consider dropping propaganda leaflets to let the Pakistani people know how much they stand to lose in the event of a nuclear conflict. We’d make the whole country uninhabitable by way of retaliation if Qaeda used those missiles in anger. They’d rise and overthrow them to stop that happening.”
“There are ways of trying to get the message across,” said Cheney. “But according to our experts on Pakistan we’d be dealing with a largely illiterate population, which kind of presents a problem.”

“The CIA can work through our supporters in the country on a hearts-and-minds initiative. I also think it’s important to try to restrain the Indians, also the Chinese, from taking any pre-emptive action. Of course if we can stop the militants from taking over the bases it won’t be an issue anyway but I wouldn’t like to leave anything to chance.”

Rumsfeld nodded his agreement. ”In order to avoid stirring up tensions, it’s best if we ask the Indians to keep out for the moment, and not commit any troops to the invasion. After all, there’ll be plenty of other countries wanting to get involved.”

“OK,” said the President. “Condy, I want you to liaise with all our allies, especially the Brits although I think we can take their support for granted, and anyone else who comes forward offering support. London will have to be told we’ll need the use of Diego Garcia. Don, you get together with the defence chiefs and draw up a battle plan. The Pacific Fleet will be put on full alert and I think we'll need one of our nuclear boats sent to the area, just so’s al-Qaeda know to expect retaliation if they do get hold of any of those missiles and fire them. And I want everyone to know what we’re doing. Will you see to that, Barbara?” This last was said to the White House Press Officer.
“Yes, Mr President,” she replied.

“I just want to say, I think we can be confident of ultimate victory in this,” said the National Security Adviser.
“Oh, I don't doubt we'll win,” agreed Donald Rumsfeld. “But we can’t afford to be complacent or they may end up with those missiles after all.”
“al-Qaeda must have known we’d do everything to stop them,” Dick Cheney said. “It’s all been calculated mainly to scare us. And as far as public opinion is concerned it’s working. So we need a speedy resolution to this business.”
"Sure, Dick,” said the President. "And we have to show these guys they just can't mess about with us."
“I can’t see an al-Qaeda government lasting for long in Pakistan anyway,” said Condoleezza Rice. “They don’t have a lot of popular support.”

The NSA pointed out that the Taliban in Afghanistan had had little popular support or experience of government but had nonetheless survived against all odds and established a firm grip on the country in defiance of the will of the people. It would be a bit like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, with the exception of the hostile population. In the end the Taliban could only be dislodged by American and British military intervention. You had to admire their determination, if nothing else.

“So we’ve got work to do,” declared the President. “Let’s get down to it, folks.”
“But there’s got to be an enquiry,” sighed the NSA. “Into how this whole damn thing could happen in the first place. Looks to me like someone’s been selling arms to the wrong kind of people. One thing’s sure, whoever’s behind it are a bunch of major league assholes and if I ever get my hands on them I’ll….”


THIRTY-FIVE
By midnight the invasion of Pakistan had a codename, Operation Rapier. The Allied forces were to thrust like a sword deep into the heart of Pakistan and despatch the rebels quickly and cleanly.

Telephone lines between a dozen capitals buzzed as political and military leaders worked through the night to co-ordinate every aspect of the operation. At US Central Command in Qatar and on the British naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean a rapid build-up of troops and aircraft began. Two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers which had been stationed in the Arabian Sea raised anchor and begun making their way east, while a third headed west from Pearl Harbour along with two warships and a nuclear missile submarine. US and British Special Forces had already been airlifted into the regions where the nuclear bases were located, while a further SAS unit was on standby for hostage rescue operations. France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, Russia, Japan, Croatia and other Eastern European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all supplied their own relatively small but useful contingents of troops, heavy vehicles and aircraft.

By the afternoon of the following day, the Allied forces were landing en masse in southern Pakistan, where they were met by government troops and a few sympathetic anti-al-Qaeda tribesmen. Airfields were quickly constructed in the province of Sind near the cities of Hyderabad and Karachi, with prefabricated Portakabins serving as accommodation for the soldiers and air crews. Tank and troop transporters touched down and unloaded their cargoes in rapid succession. The hardware at the Allies’ disposal included Abrams and Challenger tanks, Apache helicopter gunships, Tomahawk cruise missiles, F16 warplanes and B52 and Hornet bombers.

Overall command of the expeditionary force lay with US Central Command to whom the British and other nationalities were effectively subordinate, and whose headquarters were located at the airbase at Karachi. The US forces consisted of V Corps, part of the 3rd Army, divided into various Infantry and Airborne Divisions, and First Marine Expeditionary Force which included amphibious assault brigades, battalions of Marine Engineers and an aircraft wing. Britain was represented by the 1st (UK) Armoured Division, which encompassed within its umbrella famous regiments such as the Armoured Brigade, the fabled “Desert Rats”, the Black Watch and the Duke of Wellington’s. The idea was that the Americans, with help from Russian, French and Spanish forces, would undertake the main push towards Islamabad and the other principal northern cities while the British, with their long experience of pacifying operations, dealt with any pockets of resistance in the south before later, perhaps, moving north to assist the Americans there.

The mood of the troops was buoyant. This time, they had no doubts that what they were doing was right or that they had the support of most of the people back home. It made a crucial difference. And, of course, they knew what was at stake if they failed.

Conference Room, MI6 HQ London
The meeting, of course, had been to discuss the al-Qaeda coup attempt in Pakistan. It wasn't as if anyone felt like talking about anything else, or even thinking about it. If al-Qaeda did succeed in getting hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons it could be nothing else would matter anyway.

"Obviously this affair is of considerable concern to everyone,” the Director had begun, with a tendency to understatement Rachel Savident had found was typical of her.

It certainly is, Rachel reflected to herself. The PM was running round like a headless chicken arranging summit meetings with every head of state under the sun, hoping no doubt that he'd be able to take the credit for resolving the crisis.

"However,” said Sophie Cameron-Davies, “it's not clear at the moment, from an intelligence point of view, what can be done other than by finding out if anyone at our end has been supplying the rebels and if there is a chain recruiting radical Muslims in Britain for the conflict and helping them get to Pakistan. They needn't have had British help, of course. There are, we know, militant Islamist cells in many different countries. And it would be mostly the responsibility of our colleagues at MI5, in any case.

“Nevertheless the Joint Intelligence Committee has requested that we work closely with them, the Americans and Israelis, and other overseas intelligence services, on this matter using personnel both here and abroad. We need to find out if any of the people on our list of those considered hostile to Western interests, here or abroad, were involved in the planning of the operation, and also to deal with the possibility that militants in the Middle East, North Africa or South-East Asia will try to stage copycat coups.” In short, they’d been asked to pull out all the stops. “All our departments will be expected to give the matter top priority.” The Director caught Rachel’s eye. "This, er, this means we may have to suspend other projects," she told the gathering. For the moment, Rachel said nothing.

Later, as the meeting broke up and the other senior officers began to disperse, Rachel went over to her. "May I have a word with you, Ma’am?"

Still seated, Cameron-Davies glanced up sharply, in a rather birdlike fashion, from the papers she was sorting. "You're worried about your friend, aren't you Rachel?"

"We were getting somewhere with our investigation into Marcotech. We'd proved they’d been using blackmail to get out of trouble over their financial affairs, and the Kobenhavn disappearance."
"But you still don't know what's happened to Caroline?"

"We know where the Marcotech base is, more or less. The information's common knowledge.” Rachel sighed ruefully, aware she was playing devil’s advocate. “But there's no proof she's there, I'm afraid, or that it's the centre of anything..clandestine."

"Hmmm." Cameron-Davies shifted uneasily, then took a deep breath. "I understand your feelings, and I know it’s important. But you must admit this business is even more so. Quite frankly, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm at the moment for anything else."
"It won't take up all our time, Ma’am. There'll be some to spend on other things, surely?"
"Not a lot, I'd have thought. As I said just now, all our Sections are fully occupied dealing with the current crisis and its various angles."

"I understand that. But if we beat al-Qaeda and then find there's no oil, the victory celebrations are going to be a little muted."

Rachel could see she was thinking. At length, she drew herself up and looked at her straight in the eye. "I'll make a deal with you, Rachel. If you can prove Marcotech are doing anything illicit we'll get on to the Americans and ask them to apply a bit of pressure. But I don't want to spend too much Service time on it right now, so I’m afraid you'll have to do it on your own. I can relieve you of all other duties, if you like."

Rachel wondered whether this was intended to serve as a prelude to easing her out. "That's very kind of you, Ma’am, but I don't know if that'll be necessary at the moment. We'll see."

"We may be able to help from time to time, if resources allow. I can't promise anything. Meanwhile you have my authority to request assistance from any other organisation you think might come in useful. I suppose the Navy might be interested, but they're all tied up in the Indian Ocean at the moment, assisting the Americans."

She treated Rachel to the kind of smile that was designed to soothe subordinates’ feelings. "All right?"
"It's less than I'd hoped for. But thankyou anyway, Ma’am."

Cameron-Davies inclined her head briefly. As Rachel moved off she was unaware of the Director’s eyes following her all the way to the door, the professional smile gradually fading.

“So tell me then, Charlie,” beamed Sir Edward Greatrix, “how are things going up top?”
The Bahamian gave a shrug. “Same as usual, I guess.”

The two men were in Greatrix’s office at the colony, sharing a bottle of sherry. Had the Project, as it was usually referred to among those participating in it, been a normal business enterprise Charlie supposed they wouldn’t have had such intimate social contact. But there weren’t many people in the world who shared Greatrix’s unique vision, or were prepared to go to such lengths to actually put it into practice. And Sir Edward liked to make sure everyone involved in the execution of his plans was happy about them.

The millionaire’s face might have been a bit more florid than usual, and there seemed to be a strange kind of gleam in his eye, but only afterwards was either to fully penetrate Charlie’s consciousness. Just then he wasn’t in a particularly receptive mood.

Suddenly he straightened up from gazing dully into the contents of his glass. “Boss, don’t you think we’re going a bit too far right now? We might just have started a God-damn fucking nuclear war.”

Greatrix gave a watery smile and patted him consolingly on the arm. “I can understand the way you feel. Believe me I never thought we’d actually have to do it. The blame lies solely with our little friend from International Petroleum.”

“Whoever’s fault it is, I…” Charlie looked him hard in the eye. “I just ain’t sure it’s gonna be worth it all, in the end. I just don’t think your little scheme will work.”

Slowly, Greatrix lowered his right arm, the one holding the glass, to his side. The blue eyes were clear now, their gaze steady, and when he spoke the edge of steel in those cool, precise, English tones registered with his companion immediately. “You realise, Charlie, that if I thought there was the slightest possibility you might tell the authorities what we’re doing here, there’d be no way I could let you leave alive.”

Charlie glared back at him. “’Course I realise,” he scowled. “That’s why I’m not gonna fucking well do it, am I?”
Greatrix relaxed.

After a moment he thought he’d try to sweeten the pill. “Something had to change, Charlie. Things weren’t right in the world. Everyone knew that, and you could sense they knew, however much they tried to deny it. But in the end we were the only bunch with the guts to actually break the mould. Thinking about that does something very good to me, Charlie. And I want you to feel that way too. You know, maybe in the future we’ll be remembered as heroes. Don’t try to kid me the thought doesn’t appeal to you.”

Charlie grunted, and went on sipping at what remained of his sherry, for the next few minutes saying nothing. “Better be going,” he said finally, and put his glass down on Greatrix’s desk. He turned towards the door, then paused to look back at his employer.

"Oh, by the way," he said. "They reckon it was the shark that killed Cornelia."

"I assumed it was,” Greatrix replied, and looked sad for a moment. “A pity.” His eyebrows lifted quizzically. "Do I take it you're a bit upset?" The real reason for Charlie’s mood now became apparent.
The Bahamian held eye contact. "She was a friend."

"I see," Greatrix muttered, looking away for a moment. "Well in that case I'm very sorry. But I honestly thought your interest in her was purely physical."

Charlie himself seemed uncertain on that score for a moment. Encouraged, Greatrix pressed home his point. "You're better off not being involved with her, anyway, bearing in mind the kind of life she led."

Charlie’s lips pursed, and his gaze dropped to the floor. "I don't know,” he said quietly, momentarily lost in his thoughts. "She wasn't a bad person. Not really."
"I take it you did warn her to be careful going out to sea?"

"Of course. But I couldn't really tell her why without blowing the lid on this whole business. I....I'm not sure she would have listened, anyway."

"Then what happened was entirely her own fault. We've no reason to blame ourselves." Greatrix smiled as if that resolved the matter once and for all.

For a second or two, Charlie was silent again. "No," he muttered, "I don't suppose we have." Then he spun on his heels and left.

MI6 HQ, London
"They've gone for a compromise," Rachel said. "I thought they would."
"What kind of compromise?"

She perched on the edge of the desk to address Chris Barrett, her arms folded. "I'm allowed to go looking for Caroline - and investigating Marcotech's activities, which would seem to amount to the same thing - if I like but it's to be entirely my own thing. They can't spare any other personnel.

"It'll be counted as annual leave, and if anything goes wrong it's no concern of theirs. I'm to sink or swim. Likewise if my cover gets blown."

"That washes it out, doesn't it," Chris said bitterly. "And they know it does. There's not a lot you can do by yourself."
Rachel smiled. "Or you."
Chris saw what she was getting at.

"You're suggesting we should work together on this?" he asked.
"Well, it'd seem a good idea wouldn’t it?”

Chris perked up, breaking out into a delighted grin. "Hey, you're right." The thought of working with Rachel sent a pleasurable thrill racing through him, like an electric current.

"I mean," he went on, "it's not the first time I'll have put myself out to help Caroline."
"So I gather," she smiled. "Of course, it can't involve my letting you into any Service secrets. In fact they won't be happy about you being brought into it at all. It's just that there's no choice."
"I've signed the Official Secrets Act before," he reminded her, thinking back to another time when Caroline's machinations had ensnared him helplessly. "I'm sure I can do it again."
Rachel returned to her seat. "Well if that's settled, the question is how exactly we're going to go about it."

"Have you got any ideas?"
"Yes, actually I have. The trouble is, it involves one of us exposing themselves to actual danger."
"I'll do it," said Chris firmly. The words leaped from his mouth on an impulse. It had suddenly seemed very undesirable to him that Rachel Savident should come to any harm.
"What did you have in mind?" he asked.

She told him. “We obviously can’t do it entirely by ourselves. There are a few who might help if we explain to them exactly what's going on. For...certain aspects of it, we might need Five's help. I'll have to see if they can spare anyone."
"I'll leave it to you and your bosses to arrange, then,” Chris said.

Rachel bit her lip uncertainly. "It’s probably better I stay here to co-ordinate things with the Service, where necessary."
"Makes sense. But I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to do it. We don't know what happens to the people who get kidnapped. One thing's obvious, none of them have come back." He was looking gloomy. "'Fraid I don't see how it's going to work."

"It might," she answered, and proceeded to explain her plan in a little more detail.


Greatrix strode briskly into the observation room. "How's our Miss Kent shaping out?"
Dave Latimer was at the window. "Still holding out. But I think she's having a rough time of it." He described the results they’d gained from observing Caroline's behaviour. “Do we give her the drug yet?”
"Only when she asks for it. Not before." Greatrix sighed regretfully. “She could have been useful in many ways.”

Joining Latimer at the window, he studied the swimming figure in admiration. “She's done well to last this long," he said, echoing Caroline’s own thoughts. “It’ll only be a matter of time, though.”
He wondered what was going through her head right now.


I'm a freak, Caroline thought miserably. I don't fit in here.
As time went by she had felt herself withdraw more and more into her own tiny, self-contained world, unable to communicate with anyone, like a severely autistic person. Much more of it and she might as well take the drug.

No, a part of her screamed out in protest. Do that and you've lost all hope.

How did she know that once she was under its influence, Greatrix wouldn't mate her with another aquanoid? Would he refrain from doing that out of respect for her?
Yes, she decided. He would.

In any case though, to go for God knew how long as a barely conscious zombie...she didn't relish losing a big slice of her life like that.

How long did aquanoids live, anyway? Greatrix seemed to think the problem of a shortened lifespan would be solved before long, but was that just wishful thinking?

To die that way, deep down in the depths of the sea, not even knowing that she was dying and being able to prepare for the end? Or would she sense it, the way some animals did, and just lie down on the sea bed and wait?

How long? Another ten, twenty, thirty years? What the hell would have happened by then?

Freak out, she told herself. Then they'll have to give you the drug, and you won't be faced with the choice.
But then if you feel that way you might as well take the drug anyway.
And it’s exactly what I'm doing right now - going crazy.
What a choice....it was so unkind, so cruel.

In sudden desperate frustration she kicked off and sped straight for the boundary fence, not caring what the guard subs would do. The fierce determination in her face turned it into a mask, set in solid stone.
Greatrix and Latimer saw the guard sub change direction and shoot after her.

Caroline didn't get far before she felt coils of a cold, metallic material wrap themselves around her body. They tightened their grip, and abruptly she was jerked to a halt. Then a sharp pain like an electric shock - which was what it was - stabbed through her, throwing her nervous system into disarray, and she convulsed violently. The pain lasted little more than a second before it faded into all-embracing, empty blackness.

For a moment she hung from the cable which the guard sub had extruded, arms and legs dangling down towards the sea bed, rocking gently to and fro in the water. Then the cable relaxed its grip, and she sank slowly down to the sand. The cable retracted, disappearing into the body of the sub, which then moved away. A couple of aquanoids examined her for a moment, then swam off. She would lie there until she had recovered consciousness, and afterwards the memory of the shock would remain as a deterrent against further futile escape attempts.

"She tried to make a break for it," Charlie observed, joining Greatrix and Latimer at the window. "She must be getting desperate."
"Indeed," Greatrix mused, but said no more than that.

Charlie turned on him. "Do you really think it's right to be treating her like a friggin’ lab rat?" he asked.
Greatrix snapped out of his reverie. "I pay you to do as you're told, Charlie, and not to criticise."

"Let's hope I live to collect my next wage packet," the Bahamian muttered. "Let's hope we all do." He shot one more dirty look at them. "I guess what we're doing to her ain't quite as serious, all told, as what we've just done in Pakistan."

"That’s the hundredth time you’ve said that. As I said, I pay you not to criticise." Abruptly Greatrix went off, shouldering his way past the others.

Once back in his office, he didn't move from his desk for almost an hour. He glanced at himself in the mirror, and saw bags under his eyes he hadn’t noticed before. His heart leaped as if he'd had a defibrillator applied to him. The sensation was unpleasant and painful.

He stared at the face in the mirror as if hypnotised. And noticed something else; the grey areas in his hair seemed larger, spreading out and joining up like cracks.

Eventually he left the office and turned right down the corridor.
He paused by one of the doors at the end, on the left hand side, and pressed the button set into a recess in the wall next to it. He heard the buzzer sound within the room, simultaneous to the door sliding open. Stepping inside, he locked the door behind him so he wouldn't be disturbed.

The room was large and sprawling, with a plush red carpet covering the floor, several luxurious sofas and half a dozen comfortable armchairs arranged in a semicircle around a glass table with an ashtray and one or two other items resting on it. As everywhere else on the base there were smoke detectors plus a hidden sprinkler system in the ceiling.

The walls were decorated in bright pastel colours. In one was a row of numbered doors, which opened into small rooms each containing a bed and a chest of drawers, shower and toilet facilities.

Various women were sprawled languidly on the sofas or seated in the chairs, smoking or just gazing vacantly at the wall. There were a dozen of them in all, of different races and nationalities, catering to all tastes. Their mode of dress ranged from halter top and shorts to jeans and loose-fitting T-shirt.

Those who could got to their feet as Greatrix entered, and stood waiting for him to make his choice, either grinning vacuously or contemplating the the air before them without emotion. The other women lay with mouths gaping open and wide eyes fixed sightlessly on the ceiling; at first sight a stranger to the colony might have thought they were dead, until a sudden violent trembling of the nerves down one side of a girl's face told him otherwise.

The air was filled with the sweet incense-like smell of something that was decidedly not cigarette smoke. Briefly Greatrix's eyes flickered to the joss sticks in the bowl on the table, from which wisps of vapour were curling up to the ceiling. No, he told himself firmly, the effect it’ll have on you will only make things worse.

He thought of the face he had seen in the mirror. Would it really make a great deal of difference?

It penetrated his consciousness that the girls were still standing waiting patiently before him. What the Hell, he thought wearily.

His eyes ranged over them until finally settling on a slim blonde with an exquisite bone structure. As their eyes met, he nodded. Her expression didn't change as she took him by the hand and led him to where he would be able to forget his troubles, for the next half hour or so at least.


THIRTY-SIX
Caroline had long ago exhausted the stock of mental games she had been playing to take her mind off her boredom. They in their turn had become monotonous and unrewarding. By burying herself in her deepest thoughts, she had learned much about the person she was. But she had sunk so deeply into that person that they had become a prison; trapping her within the featureless grey walls of a cramped little cell, a self-contained world isolated from the rest of the universe and now drained of all life and colour.

There was nothing more that either body or mind could do to help her cope. She felt depression, even madness, start to overwhelm her.

There was only one possible outcome to events. She knew she would have no choice soon but to take the drug and hope something would happen to get her out of this. It was kinder to herself, on the whole, to do so. Then there would be no misery, no stress. Yes, it made sense on the whole.

Nearly three weeks had now passed since her capture. Just one more day, she told herself. Hold out for one more day.
But was there really any point?

And then the following morning something happened to break the monotony. She was swimming up near the top of the colony, in her usual sluggish bored fashion, when she became aware of something a few yards ahead of her; a vast, looming dark shape that hadn't been there a few minutes before. Curious, she swam closer until she was able to make out its details more clearly.

Suspended in the water before her was a huge, blunt-nosed form which seemed to be encrusted with barnacles. She gazed up at it in awe. Its whole outline gave it a fantastic, incredible, Stygian appearance. She noted the pair of flippers situated towards the front of its body, the massive fluked tail. Despite her gloom, she smiled in delight as she realised what the creature must be.

It was a whale; a humpback - Ivarson had taught her to recognise the different species - and by the look of it not quite fully grown, small enough just about to pass through the openings in the fence. Its thick, blubbery flesh must have insulated it against the electric shock.

It was a mammal, like her; or at least she was more or less still a mammal, despite everything. And closer to her in intelligence than any other non-human life form on the planet. A sign of the adaptability and success of her branch of the animal kingdom.

Mammals rule OK, she thought with a surge of pride. She felt a kind of kinship with the whale.

There must be a school nearby. Perhaps somehow it had been become separated from the other whales, or gone off to look for a mate. No, that couldn’t be the reason; this wasn’t the breeding season and at this time of year the whales should be at their special feeding grounds hundreds of miles from here, near the North Pole. Though you did occasionally come across strays. Whatever the reason, it seemed something here had attracted this one’s attention, leading it to go way out of its territory.

In the observation room Edward Greatrix and Dave Latimer had noticed the whale and were regarding it a little uncertainly. "We ought to kill it," said Latimer.

"Don't you dare," Greatrix snapped, looking at him disgustedly. "They're an endangered species."
"It could cause damage," Latimer protested.

"Let's just keep an eye on it. If it does anything dangerous, very well we'll kill it. But until then I'd prefer it if it wasn't harmed."

Latimer turned back to the window. "What's it doing?" he asked. "What's it here for?" At the moment the humpback was just hanging there perfectly motionless, doing absolutely nothing.

"Perhaps there's something here it wants," suggested Greatrix.
"Like what?"

"I haven't the slightest idea. Who cares, anyway? It isn't doing any harm so leave it alone."

"Why didn't it avoid the fence? All the other big animals do." Because it was something obviously artificial, alien and unnatural, something that bore the hand of Man.

Greatrix peered more closely through the reinforced glass at the whale, fascinated. "Well, if it wanted whatever it was badly enough..."

It might have been his imagination but he could have sworn the creature's head was cocked slightly, as if listening for something.

At the moment the guard subs were ignoring the whale; since as Greatrix had pointed out, it wasn't doing any harm. A group of the aquanoids, about four or five, clustered round it and examined it curiously.
"It's interrupting work," Latimer complained.

"Give it a while longer. We can compensate for the disruption to work schedules by using the Harvester.” Not that it makes a lot of difference anyway.

The great head dipped and the whale prodded one of the aquanoids gently with its nose. Then it seemed to lose interest in them, becoming still again, and after a while they swam away. As they disappeared a few more came along, and they too proceeded to swim around the massive creature, studying it with that simple, almost childlike curiosity of theirs and appearing fascinated by its huge size and bulk. Caroline made to join them.

Then something astonishing happened. Completely ignoring the other aquanoids, the whale swung round with a flick of its tail and made straight for her, seeming to suddenly become aware of her presence and react to it. The aquanoids scattered. Caroline too swam out of its path, alarmed at the thought of that massive body colliding with hers. It'd break a bone or two, at the very least. She could move faster than the humpback, and after the initial burst of speed felt safe to turn to see what it was doing. It was suspended motionless once again, facing her squarely.

Cautiously she approached it. Why was it so interested in her, and not the other aquanoids? After all the only difference between her and them was.....

And then she felt it, like vibrations in the water. The sensation was similar to that of the dolphins checking her out with their sonar.
Only this time she could hear it too.
She frowned, and looked around in puzzlement.

There was only one source it could be coming from, and only one thing it could be. She was hearing the song of the humpback whale, a haunting, eerie series of sounds, whoops and booms and clicks, that she knew were a form of communication.

The humpback was calling out....calling to her. And she wasn't just hearing the whalesong, she was understanding it. After a fashion. Because she heard it not only with her ears, but with her mind.

What she felt was perhaps more like an emotion than a thought. And what she was picking up wasn't the thought - or emotion - itself, but the trace it gave off. Like with radar. But somehow, in a way she could never have found the words to describe, she knew what it was saying.
Come play with me.

She stared at the whale in amazement and delight. It was talking to her, in its own fashion. But of course she couldn't talk back.
Or could she?

If she could receive...messages from it in this way, surely she should be able to send them too.

The song changed in pitch and tone. Who are you? WHAT are you?
I'm Caroline, she said - or rather thought.

Whether it understood what "Caroline" meant she had no idea, but after a moment the reply came back, a burbling note she could only interpret as a greeting, and a friendly one.
Hello.
She grinned. This was fantastic.
But how could she.....

And then with a shock of delight, a wondrous sense of awe, she realised fully what had happened to her.

The dulling of her normal senses, in this silent and for her lonely underwater world where she rarely spoke to anyone or they to her, had heightened other ones. Ones she had long suspected she had; which all people probably had, buried deep down. And because she wasn't drugged and could think for herself, she could use them. Had probably been using them without realising it.

She knew now why the whale had ventured into the colony; it had been picking up her thought patterns. Homing in on her telepathic emissions. In a way, she had been saying "Hi". And now the humpback was saying “Hi” back.
Hello, she replied. Who are you?

There was no answer to this. Probably because whales didn't have names. That sort of self-awareness only came with sentience, and she still couldn't accept the whale as being on the same level as Man, whatever contrary evidence there might sometimes seem to be.

If this was intelligence it was not of the same kind as Man's, but the emotional impulses she was receiving corresponded to thoughts, or at least that was how it seemed. Weren't they the same thing? After all, emotions sent messages; anger meant "this is bad", happiness "this is good".

Animals might not think, but they did have feelings, after a fashion; and the whale's brain was among the most developed, perhaps the most developed, of non-human species. Yes; perhaps emotions and the understanding of them were what constituted intelligence for its kind. If this wasn't intelligence, it was surely analagous to it.

On an impulse she swam until she was right up to the whale. The great blunt nose swung down towards her, and she smiled. She swam around it. The creature turned with her, and as it did so its massive body slammed side on into hers. Although the blubbery matter cushioned the impact to some degree, it left her briefly stunned.
Hey, steady on!

Gently the whale prodded her with its nose, which she stroked in a friendly fashion.
But please be careful, she warned. You might hurt me.

It occurred to her that it might be trying to mate with her; that it thought she was another whale, or something like that. No, no, she cautioned. You're a lot bigger than me, aren't you? You might do me some damage.

It seemed to get the message, sensing her alarm and reacting to it. Turning slightly away from her.

Gently she reached out and patted its warty hide, and the subtle change in the pitch of the whalesong told her it appreciated the contact. Had it been careless, or deliberately aiming to harm her, it could have shattered every bone in her body. Instead it nudged her very lightly, with a gentleness she would never have thought possible in such a huge creature.

Tightly she hugged the great blubbery body, pressing her head against its own, at the point where its brain would be. Joining her thoughts to his (somehow she knew the creature was a he).
I like you, she told the whale. You're beautiful.

I like you too, he said. It was something on those lines, anyway. Come play with me. Please.

She sensed that although pleased, the humpback was also puzzled. It still didn't understand just what kind of creature she was. Like the soft-skinned ones which travelled on, and from time to time ventured underneath, the surface in things which it thought looked a bit like other whales, and occasionally hunted its kind, and yet unlike them.
It wasn't that bothered in the end.

At the window, Greatrix and Latimer had seen what was going on. One of the aquanoids appeared to be cosying up to the whale. "Which one's that?" asked Bromhead. "It looks like a woman."

"I think it's the Kent girl," said Latimer. "What is she doing?"
They continued to watch in fascination.
"Well, as long as there's no harm in it," Greatrix said.

"The thing'll have to go soon or it'll run out of air. They don’t stay this far down for long.”
Eventually they got tired of watching Caroline with the whale and moved away.

Caroline had decided to call the whale Marcus - after all he was fat and blubbery, and had made advances towards her. But then she decided that would be a bit of an insult to the whale. And on second thoughts, she mused, Hennig wasn't that bad.

The humpback evidently liked the sensations he was receiving from her; the benign, friendly thoughts with which she had filled her head. Unfortunately she was on the point of running out of conversation.
What the hell sort of things did you say to a whale?

They seemed to be getting on all right, though. And a wonderful, incredible idea came to her.

She put on a sad look, though unsure if the whale would react to facial expressions. I'm a prisoner here. They want to keep me here, keep me prisoner, forever – well, more or less. I don’t want that.

She suppressed all conscious, reasoned thought and concentrated solely on the emotions she felt. Her sadness at being imprisoned, her desire to see her parents again.
I want to swim free. Like you.
It's not good here. I want to leave. Do you understand?

She looked round. None of the human divers was close to her just now or looking in her direction. That might change at any time so she had to move quickly or lose her opportunity. But at the moment, there was only the guard sub some hundred yards away.
Help me.
Let's go. I'll come with you.

All right, said the whale. She sensed he liked the idea in any case.

Slowly, ponderously, the massive body began to turn. Hurriedly she moved out of the way as the huge tail swung round.

Kicking off, she swam behind the whale so that its bulk was between her and the guard sub.

The robot was no more than a programmed machine, with no conscious intelligence, no ability to reason. Its logic was of the simplest possible kind. All she had to do was keep the bulk of the humpback between herself and it. It had been programmed to watch for aquanoids who strayed too close to the perimeter poles, not for any other eventuality. So if she didn't so much go where she wasn't supposed to as suddenly vanish from its view, that wouldn't bother it and it wouldn't be unduly concerned as to whether or not she subsequently reappeared.

Glancing behind her, she saw one of the subs change direction, and swam the other side of Marcus, putting herself out of its eyeline.

Let them get well clear of the colony, and they'd be alright. Marcotech wouldn't follow her then, hopefully.

The sensor was activated as they passed through the opening in the fence. The robot registered the signal, but assumed it was only the whale.
Yes!!!!!

After a few moments Marcus signalled that he wanted to surface. Caroline kept well clear of him as he did so, not wishing to be caught in the wake, but close enough for him to screen her from the view of anyone at the colony.

Her head burst from the water and for the first time in what seemed like aeons she felt fresh air wash over her face. She almost cried. Throwing back her head, she let out a yell of sheer exhilaration. Then thirty feet away the huge mountain of flesh that was Marcus erupted spectacularly into view, water streaming down his sides, an impressive spout of steam jetting from his blowhole.

She had no idea how far they were from the colony. She twisted round, paddling her limbs to help keep afloat, and looked to see if she could spot the marker buoys at the perimeter. There they were, a bit too close for her liking. And there was the Marcotech helicopter, circling overhead about a quarter of a mile away.

She swum up to Marcus and once more pressed her head to his. Danger. The thing in the sky. It must not see me. We must get away from here, far, far away.

She submerged, and swum underwater for a while, until she reckoned they were at a safe distance from the colony. All the time she was conscious of Marcus’ presence above, below or beside her, his thoughts like a low humming in her ears, akin to the sound from some piece of electrical equipment in constant operation.
This should be far enough.

A wave, a big one, hit her and flipped her over, disorientating her until her balance mechanisms compensated. The shock waves surging through the water buffeted her body, tossing her helplessly about like a limp rag doll. Then she felt Marcus' massive snout brush her, with enough force to knock her over again. She was left dazed, but only for a second or two. Her augmented body seemed better able to withstand the shock than she guessed a human would.

For the third time he rammed her, pushing her several yards through the water. The fourth, the fifth.

She was certain he meant her no harm. The sensations she was receiving from him told her that. But what was he doing?

Then she realized; he was playing with her. Now you try! Come on, what are you waiting for? He seemed puzzled, and a little hurt, that she wasn’t responding.
All right then.

Her agility and speed enabled her usually to swim out of the way in time, but not always, which was where the fun lay. They would circle each other and then either Marcus would lunge at her, sometimes scoring a hit and sometimes missing, or she would get in first, scything through the water at him to punch him playfully on the flank.

It was something like a game of tag. See if you can catch me! Sometimes, to Caroline’s impatience – come on, make your mind up - he would hesitate before making a go at her, in the manner of a chess player carefully contemplating what should be their next move.

It was rather like playing with an overgrown human child. Eventually Marcus tired of the game, probably because Caroline won every time, and swam off. Caroline followed him because for the moment she couldn't think of anything else to do.

Then she heard the whalesong again, and through it sensed his thoughts. He had gone too far out of his way. He was signalling to the rest of his school, far, far away; telling them he was coming. To the feeding grounds in the far North, around what she would have called Greenland and northern Canada. Since she had no idea how her aquanoid body would stand up to cold climates, and didn't particularly want to find out, it was imperative they parted company at some point. She had a nasty suspicion he wasn't going to let her go.

And because when all was said and done he was still an animal, if a very clever one, you couldn't reason with him. Not that you ever could with men.

But after a while, she sensed he had lost interest in her, the need for the company of his own kind, and to obey the migrating instinct, overriding the magnetism of her telepathic field. She swam beside him, putting her head to his once more, and wished him a mental goodbye and safe journey. Then she slipped away.

She found the exposure suit had become irksome and restrictive, and wriggled out of it. Somehow she felt it prevented her from enjoying to the full the sensual feeling of liberation she was experiencing. And more practically, from making best use of her modified aquanoid body. The friction it created was slowing her down; and this far out to sea, there was no-one to see her naked. Sooner or later of course the problem would have to be faced. But she'd deal with that when she came to it.

Again she lifted up her head and yelled out in pleasure and triumph. Hah! Freedom! No more Marcotech! Out in the open ocean, far from her former captors and hopefully from anyone else who might have unwelcome designs upon her. The whole sea felt like her kingdom.

Eventually this euphoria was succeeded by a more practical frame of mind. "Marcus" was gone, but the current was still carrying her on, on to where the cold would eventually freeze her to death. And certainly away from where she wanted to go.

She had no idea how far she’d gone, or how much time had now passed since her escape. She only knew she had to reach land. It would probably be unwise to head back towards the Bahamas, because of the danger of Marcotech recapturing her. Instead she must get to America. There, somehow, she would seek help. Though who she should approach, and how, presented a bit of a problem. Walking about like this might cause a bit of a shock. She certainly had no intention of approaching the US authorities. If the wrong people got to hear the story...she didn't trust the CIA or FBI, the more so because of what she’d learned while with MI6, plus various top level conspiracies going back several decades.

Probably most people, if she approached them with her story, would try to help her. But they would do so by telling the authorities, and that was what she didn't want.

She had to get it right. To some people she'd be an interesting guinea-pig for them to open up and poke around in.

She needed to head more or less north-west. To her amazement she found she had no trouble in working out which direction that was; she knew without really thinking about it. It must be some further property of her new metabolism; hadn’t she read somewhere that fish, along with other animals, were sensitive to the earth’s magnetic fields and could align themselves with them instinctively?

But what good would it do her, if the Gulf Stream was carrying her inexorably northwards? She couldn't swim against it. She could of course move about freely within a limited area, but couldn't change her general direction.

The only solution was to hitch a lift. To get on board a ship, whose engines could carry it against the current where a living organism had no choice but to go with the flow.

Before that, there was an even more pressing need to be met. She was getting hungry.

There was a plentiful supply of food, of course. She realised with a surge of nausea what she was going to have to do. And almost hated Marcotech for what they had done to her.

She dived, and swum until she came upon a school of fish. She tried to move in a way that wasn't threatening, so that to them she was just another form of marine life. Then suddenly she darted straight towards them, causing them to disperse in panic.

She selected one at random and made for it. As a human, she could never have hoped to catch it. But now she could. The speed and agility with which she moved were beyond the power of any normal swimmer to manage.

She shot out an arm and grabbed the fish. It almost slipped from her grasp as it thrashed about furiously. She squeezed tighter, consolidating her grip.

She let herself descend, the fish clutched firmly in her hand. Sinking to her knees on the sea bed, she looked down at her catch. It was still wriggling and squirming frantically in her grip. Because it wanted to live.
"No," she thought. "Please, no."
But if she didn't, she'd starve. It was either her or it.

She continued to gaze down at it unhappily, while its struggles grew steadily weaker. She tried to steel herself to take the first bite, a cold sick feeling surging up through her innards from the pit of her stomach.

Wouldn't it be better to wait until she was really desperate, because that would override any qualms she had?

In a sudden sick impulse she decided to get it over with. One swift movement brought the fish to her mouth and she opened it wide and sank her teeth into it. She swallowed in revulsion as the blood billowed out. Immediately, and thankfully, the fish stopped wriggling. Steeling herself womanfully, Caroline began to chew at it.

She picked it to pieces with her fingers, tearing the white flesh into chunks, stuffing them in her mouth and gulping them down, until it was stripped to the bone. She didn't much care for the taste; what she enjoyed was the feeling she got afterwards, once she had ingested the rich vitamin-filled tissue. A sensation of being energised, saturated with health and vitality. But she also felt degraded at what she had done; regressed to something primitive, savage, animal. She was aware of warm, salty tears flowing down her cheeks. So, she thought, aquanoids could cry.
"Sorry, little fish," she murmured, with genuine sympathy.

She bit the next one just behind the neck. It died instantly, at which she was immensely relieved.

She knew that one fish would not be enough to meet the energy requirements of her new body. So she continued to swim around, catching fish and eating them, until she felt satiated. Sometimes they escaped, sometimes they didn't. She didn't blame them for trying.

She decided to vary her diet as much as possible. She knew thanks to Ivarson which species were poisonous and should be avoided, although she thought it likely her altered metabolism wouldn't be harmed by them. She found tuna tasted best, but wondered rather queasily whether this counted as cannibalism. Squid seemed rather bland, though nonetheless filling.

She knew that if she remained too long in one part of the ocean, the living things there would start to avoid her; because they would have identified her as a predator. She had been made a part of nature, savage and cruel.
In time she got used to it. Because she had to survive.

The changes to her appearance made little difference to her interaction with other marine life. Some were curious, others plain uninterested. She was able to handle and stroke a small octopus, or some other non-harmful creature, as before. Otherwise she left them alone and by and large they reciprocated.

Her appetite whetted for now, Caroline swam on with a tireless animal endurance, stopping to catch something whenever she felt hungry and every now and then surfacing to look for any sign of a ship. From time to time she would spot one; a cruise liner, which unfortunately was going in entirely the wrong direction, a cargo ship ditto, a couple of fishing trawlers. Better watch out for their nets, she thought. But she soon realised she didn't have much cause to worry. If a vessel was reasonably close, she found she could sense the vibrations travelling from it through the water - if it was a big one, from quite a long way off.

She found she could swim just as well on the surface as beneath it. Better, in fact, since she wasn't entirely surrounded by dense liquid which created drag. And better than she had ever done as a human. The energy stored within her powerful muscles was phenomenal. She just ploughed on, cutting through the water like a knife. She could do all the different styles, just as a human could; normally she used freestyle, or backstroke which was better because she could keep her face above water and breathe in the air when she needed to, though she gave it up after a while because she couldn't see where she was going.

She could go at it non-stop for hours, and knew that when she did get tired she wouldn't drown. She could just float pleasantly, buoyed up by the waves, bobbing gently up and down on the ocean swell; or let herself sink and rest on the bottom for a while, suspended in her warm, comforting cocoon of liquid till she got her energy back. She simply alternated between the surface and the depths, avoiding spending too much time in either environment. She could switch between them either on an hourly basis or in dribs and drabs, whichever was covenient; knowing that her body would always tell whenever she was in danger of drowning or of suffering what the Marcotech scientists had called hydrodeprivation. Whenever she felt in need of air she just surfaced, took a few deep breaths, then floated or swam till it was time to dive again.

Often when she broke surface she would throw her head back and cry out in sheer exulation at what her new body could do; then look round at the sparkling expanse of blue surrounding her and smile, thinking again, probably because there was no-one else about for miles and miles, that it was her domain, belonging to her alone. She was the conqueror of her environment.

She heard a droning sound in the sky and looked up; an airliner, on its way to America or Europe. Gloriously useless to her right now, of course.

She must surely be far away from Marcotech by now. The nagging fear still remained that they would come after her, but so far they hadn’t shown. She must have had too much of a head start.

If only she could find a ship. Until she did, there was nothing for it but to keep on swimming. She told herself she was bound to find something eventually. And for the moment anyhow, everything seemed to be alright.
And then with an icy thrill of horror she remembered.

What would happen when she needed to sleep? Now there was no special tank for her in and out of which the water could be pumped as required, maintaining the equilibrium, the chemical balance of her augmented body. Surely she'd drown. Greatrix hadn't told her what might happen in an eventuality like this because he'd never planned for it.

Gripped by panic she swam on desperately, thinking that her only hope was to find that ship, no matter what sort it was and wherever it was bound for, and get on it. She felt her heart pound even faster, her whole body tensing from fear and stress and the blood coursing through it at express train speed. But it only served to tire her out more quickly. As she pushed herself to the very limit she felt her limbs begin to ache and a creeping blackness descend on her brain. Against her will her body relaxed as the flow of blood slowed, the heart unable to keep pace with the demands being made on it. Some safety mechanism was cutting in to prevent her over-reaching herself dangerously.

Keep going, she thought. Keep going keep going keep going keep going keep....

Her arms and legs had turned to dead stone weights. A heavy load was pressing down on her mind like a thousand-ton crusher and squeezing the consciousness from it. With a final sob of fear she gave in and let the darkness overwhelm her, feeling she was being pulled down into a yawning black abyss with no idea what was awaiting her, if anything, at the bottom.


THIRTY-SEVEN
“You’re not going to like this, boss,” began Dave Latimer.
“Why, what’s happened?” said Greatrix into the intercom. To Latimer he sounded wary, but not particularly pissed off. Things had been going quite well lately, on the whole. They had managed to insulate themselves from any trouble over the tanker sinkings or the disappearance of Caroline Kent. The Pakistani gamble had paid off; there had been no further contact from MI6. Greatrix felt he could stomach one or two things going wrong, because it was par for the course that at some point they would. Besides of course a successful businessman needed a steady hand.
“She’s gone,” Latimer said.

“What? Who’s gone? What do you mean?” Greatrix’s voice had risen in alarm. He more or less knew who Latimer was talking about. Right now “she” could mean only one person.

“Little Caroline. She didn’t come in at the end of her work shift and we’ve searched the whole colony but not found her. I think it must have been something to do with that whale. I told you we should have – “

“Never mind what we should have done,” yelled Greatrix. “Find her! Find her, do you hear me?”

“She’ll be too far away by now. It was nearly two hours ago. Boss…boss, are you there?”

Latimer heard Greatrix’s deep breath whistle down the Intercom. “Yes…yes, I’m here. We…we’ll just have to tell everyone to keep looking out for her.” He sounded hollow, lifeless, subdued. “She probably won’t reach land. We….we may not have anything to worry about.”

“But if she does…if she goes to the authorities, or is captured by them, they’ll have the living proof, won’t they? They’ll just go straight in and arrest all of us.”

“Everyone will be too busy dealing with Pakistan to bother about it.”

“The Pacific Fleet might be. The Atlantic’s a different matter. Boss, shall we….”
“Shall we what?” snapped back the reply.
“Do what you said we’d do if….”

Greatrix considered it, lost his nerve. “Not yet. Not until we know she’s still alive to tell anyone. Get our spies to try and find out.” He cut the connection and let his head slump into his hands. After a moment a stream of curses and obscenities began to pour from him. He slammed his fist down on the desk, yelling out in a fury of rage, pain and grief.


Caroline awoke, to find herself rising and falling gently on the surface, arms and legs splayed out and supported by the water. She gasped in heartfelt relief.

Unless something else had interrupted her slumber, it was clear what had happened. Her metabolism was designed to revive her should there be any danger of drowning while sleeping and she was denied access to the sleep tank for any reason. A safety measure Zuckermann had had the foresight to build in.

So she had slept for no more than an hour at the most. It worried her that she might not be able to get the rest she needed; she'd just have to manage as best she could. She stayed where she was for a bit, recovering her strength, then resumed her monotonous, seemingly endless journey. Aware that it was getting cold here on the surface as the day drew on, she dived down to the bottom and continued her journey underwater.

After a while she sensed the presence of some large living creature, and stiffened. It felt very large. Her unease was heightened because she couldn't tell what it was; not a whale, that was for certain.

Perhaps something that normally would be too small to cause much of a vibration anyway, and so wouldn't be recognised when it was a lot bigger.

She was about to swim away from the vibrations when she decided the thing wasn't on the lookout for a meal. In fact they seemed feeble and sluggish, surely signifying no imminent threat to her whatsoever. She continued on the same course as before.

Minutes later she saw it, and although of course there was no air down here gave an instinctive gasp of astonishment. It was quite beautiful. A vast translucent dome, grey-white in colour and over a hundred feet in diameter. The surface of the object was undulating gently, and simultaneously rising and falling like a lung, rippling and billowing at the edges like a delicate lace ruffled by some soft underwater breeze, if there could be such a thing. It seemed lit from within by a silver radiance, like some great gleaming chandelier. Below the enormous bell of the main body was a mass of trailing, ribbon-like tentacles. She was seeing a gigantic jellyfish, by the look of it a Portuguese Man-Of-War.

One of Greatrix's creations, which had strayed much farther than it was supposed to. She earnestly hoped there weren't enough of these giant mutants for them to breed. The thought of the whole ocean swarming with them made her shudder.

As she watched the light faded and died, the jellyfish sinking slowly to the bottom in a limp lifeless mass, dull and dead in colour. She looked at it sadly for a moment. Oh Mr Greatrix, what have you done, she sighed.

She saw many other wonders on her journey, helping to relieve the boredom. She saw a battle between a squid and a sperm whale, watching the clash of the giants in breathless awe. She saw a blue whale, a live one this time; a rare privilege and one neither she or anyone else might ever have again, for all she knew. By the standards of nature this was the largest form of animal life on the planet, and now one of the rarest, whose numbers were once reckoned in thousands but now down to only a couple of hundred. Though normal-sized, it was still gigantic and Caroline was spellbound as she watched it erupt from the surface, water cascading down its flanks like Niagara Falls, an geyser of steam spurting high in the air from its blowhole, like an oil strike. Submerging again it swam off in the opposite direction to her, on its way to breed or feed.
"Go well," she breathed. "Take care."

She played with a family of dolphins, whom she noted treated her no differently from any other human, managed to help a scientific survey team recover a lost sampling device without being spotted by them, was overcome by sadness and awe as she came upon the wreck of a famous ocean liner. It was all very nice, but what she really wanted was a chance to reach shore, and so far none had come along. Soon she began to suffer from feelings of depression, just as she had done in the Marcotech colony. One part of the ocean looked just the same as another, whether you were on the surface or below it. And she craved for the sensation of dry land beneath her feet, its comforting solidity. For earth baked hard by the sun. She'd had quite enough of flowing liquid and shifting sands.
Go on, Caz, keep going. Don't give in.

And the current was still carrying her on to a freezing death, though it would some time yet before she was in any danger. By that time she was sure something would have happened, though she didn’t have the slightest idea what it might be.

At least she wasn't trapped below. She could surface any time she liked, feel the air on her face, be directly exposed to the sunlight. Once it rained, and she lay on her back and laughed as the drops of liquid pattered lightly over her skin.

Whenever the weather got too bad and the sea tossed restlessly, buffeting her and preventing her from swimming in a straight line, she had simply to dive deep. She ducked her head beneath the water, the rest of her following, sliding smoothly under the surface.

She dived until she was below the level where the agitation of the surface would make itself felt, and carried on swimming. She ploughed on quite happily until a violent tremor surged through the water around her and she felt the sound waves wash over her flesh. It couldn't be from the storm, not this far down. Some large and heavy body was moving steadily in her direction.

It was coming at her from the right. Putting on a burst of speed, she veered off leftwards at a sharp angle. But she could still feel the vibrations, and they were growing stronger. The faster she moved the more she disturbed the surrounding ocean, her own movements leading whatever-it-was to her. It picked up speed as it homed in on them.

By now she thought she could recognise the vibes given off by different species as they traversed the watery environment in which they lived. This thing cruised along with the ease of something perfectly designed for it, intended only to exist in such a habitat. And to hunt and kill there.

It was a much better swimmer than she was and would catch her up in a minute or so. Feeling safer if she could see it, and so perhaps know how to deal with it, she slowed and turned. Her eyes bulged and the muscles of her face tightened in horror. Coming straight towards her was an enormous great white shark, its vicious dagger-like teeth jutting aggressively from the gaping maw of its mouth.

It must have been over thirty foot. She had no idea whether nature had meant it to be that size or it was one of Marcotech's mutants. She simply didn't have time to think about things like that.

For a moment she hung there, paralysed with fear at the sight of it. Through her whole body coursed an indescribable shudder of primeval dread. It seemed that the creature's glassy eye regarded her with a very real malevolence, as if the thing wanted to kill and eat her, didn't just have to. I need to eat you, but I also hate you. You have no other right to exist, and no value, except as food for me and if at the same time I nourish myself and keep me alive I can get rid of your disgusting presence from my sight, then so much the better.

Then the survival instinct cut in and she snapped out of her trance. But she didn't stand a chance, surely. There were no wrecks in the vicinity where she could hide, nothing to hand she could use as a weapon against the monster.
Think, Caroline.

Something Donald Ivarson had told her, what now seemed a very long time ago, flashed suddenly, desperately, through her head. She wasn't sure if it would work. But if it was to stand the remotest chance of doing so, she must keep calm. And time it just right.

Moving so she was on a line with its oncoming snout, she hovered before the great white as it sped on towards her, waiting for the right moment. It meant to butt her with the huge blunt projection of its nose, stunning her so that she was helpless, then seize her in those horrible teeth and bite off enough to kill or incapacitate her.

She was smaller than the shark but had the advantage of speed and agility. It took all her concentration, all her nerve. With the shark's head barely a moment from slamming into her she darted to the left, moving so fast the shark didn't have time to stop and reorientate itself for another go, and as it shot past her kicked out at the tip of its nose with one of her powerful legs.

The result was astonishing. The shark veered crazily from side to side, churning up the water, its nervous system apparently thrown into confusion. Caroline had to move quickly out the way to save herself from being hit by the massive tail as it thrashed about.
Attaboy, Doc, she grinned.

Losing no time, she took off as fast as she could. With any luck she had taught the shark a lesson it wouldn't forget in a hurry. But in case she was wrong about that, it would be inadvisable to hang around.

Some minutes passed with no indication of pursuit. She began to feel a relaxing sense of relief. Then to her dismay she sensed the vibrations again. The shark was back. It had recovered its wits and decided to take a chance. Or maybe this was a different one; the distinction was academic.

She wasn't sure she could pull the same trick off again. Trying hard not to panic she swam on, deciding to leave it till the shark was right behind her. Her fear mounted as the vibrations grew stronger, telling her the creature was closing the distance between them.

Then she was picking up another set of vibrations, coming from somewhere ahead. Originating from a different sort of creature entirely. It was moving steadily towards them, without the effortless speed of the shark but no less purposefully.
She knew what it was.

She sensed the voice inside her head telling her, do not worry, I will help you. I won't let you come to any harm. A burst of hope filled her heart. For a moment she thought it might even be Marcus, though there was no sense of recognition.

The shark was almost upon her now. She daren't look round because it would have meant slowing down. Not that she wanted to anyway.

It must be only a few years behind now. She felt sick with fear as she realised she was going to have to turn and face it. As she did, she saw the humpback ram the shark from the side, its huge blunt head slamming into the great white's flank with sledgehammer force. The shark lurched sideways, thrashing in disorientation, and the whale butted it again.

She didn't think the humpback was quite fully grown, but the two animals looked evenly matched in size and bulk and it seemed likely the struggle would go on forever. The humpback went on ramming the shark with the force of a pile driver, each time disorientating it before it could fully recover from the previous attack. She fancied there was an impotent rage in the shark's expression, while the humpback seemed to be grinning in triumph.
Go on, Caroline thought. That's it, you show him.

It occurred to her that she ought to be taking advantage of the distraction to get away. And at that very moment, to her distress, the shark seemed to rally itself and twisted out of the humpback's path before lunging at it and snapping with its powerful, deadly jaws at the whale's side.

In fact, there could only have been one outcome in the end. The shark was simply too agile, too fast. The whale swung round ponderously to meet the attack, and the shark’s teeth bit into it at an angle.

The humpback's skin was tough and warty, but they ripped clean through it nonetheless, tearing away red blubbery chunks of flesh. The humpback arched in the water, thrashing convulsively, and for a terrible moment Caroline could feel its pain. A swirling cloud of blood, looking in the water more like vapour than liquid, billowed around it, expanding like a giant puffball. Excited, the shark bit home again and again.

She couldn't bear to watch. She wheeled around and shot off, tears running down the scales of her cheeks. Her face was screwed up in pain from the humpback's agony, a mask of anguish and distress. Then suddenly the pain was gone.

And now sharks were coming at her from all sides, far more of them than she could possibly hope to deal with. The sea seemed full of their sleek darting shapes, travelling through the water like arrows; attracted by the bloody red cloud which continued to spread as the humpback was torn to shreds. But she realised they were ignoring her, making straight for the whale's mutilated carcase without thought for the smaller prey in their midst.

The last of them went past her, and she risked a brief glance over her shoulder. They were swarming round the body in a feeding frenzy, ripping apart the mass of flesh and blubber until it was unrecognisable, snapping also at each other as they fought over the prize morsel.

She wouldn't have any more trouble from sharks for a while. All the same she made off at top speed, wanting to put as much distance between herself and the scene of carnage as she could. The humpback had risked its life for her, whether it knew what it was doing or not. It was more than you got from most humans.

East Ham, London
The young man in jeans, T-shirt and windbreaker slipped unobtrusively into the snack bar at the end of the high street, making straight for the counter. Catching the eye of the girl who stood behind it with her arms folded and resting on the top, gazing before her with vague, disinterested eyes, he bought himself a can of Coke.

He turned and scanned the room for a moment, appearing to be selecting a place to sit. He took in bare pine-boarded walls, a floor covered with peeling lino, and grimy formica-topped tables which ought to have been replaced years ago, on which were laid out hideous chunky plastic cutlery, plates and cups, all a vulgar bright red or blue. The thick air within the room, saturated with nicotine, made him feel queasy.

It didn't take him long to spot the man he had come here to talk to. He was sitting alone in a corner of the room, pressed right up against the wall, as if he specifically wanted to avoid the company of people he didn't know. He stared down at the surface of the table with one corner of his mouth turned up and set in an expression like a half-smile, though in reality it was no kind of smile at all. Smoke curled from the fag gripped between his thumb and forefinger, and a can of beer sat before him.

As Coulter crossed to join him, he saw there was little change from the photograph he'd seen at HQ that morning. The man's skin was smooth, white and almost completely hairless, and the puffiness around the eyes and mouth gave him the look of someone who'd had plastic surgery after being badly disfigured in an accident, even though he hadn't. He could Have been any age between twenty and fifty.

The man looked up at his approach, his lips compressing in a scowl deliberately designed to off-put. Coulter sat down beside him. "Dave Mellis?" he enquired pleasantly.

Mellis gave a curt motion of his near-shaven head. "Yeah," he grunted, "What d'yer want?" Coulter could physically feel the barriers coming down around the man, Mellis shutting him out and also interrogating him at the same time. The clear, glinting blue eyes cut through him like a knife.

"Got a proposition to make to you," Coulter began, lowering his voice.

"You tell me who you are first," Mellis said. "Otherwise it's a no go, whatever it is. Understand?"

"You don't need to know who we are, just that you'll be well paid for it. It means going out on a ship, an oil tanker. From Milford Haven to Louisiana in the States."

Mellis dropped his cigarette and stared open-mouthed at the MI5 agent. "You're fuckin' joking, mate!" he gasped, his voice rising several octaves.

"Shhh, keep it down," whispered Coulter. "Now before we go any further, Dave, I think I ought to warn you. It's important no-one knows I've spoken to you, or what we’ve been talking about. Wouldn't be in your best interests to tell them, you see."

"You threatening me?" Mellis spoke in a kind of low growl, like a guard dog warning off an intruder.

"If you like, Dave, yes. We know where you live, where you like to hang out, all your personal details. That's how we found you. You can't get away from us, whatever you do. Try to change your identity, start a new life somewhere else, we'd track you down sooner or later. That sort of thing’s how I make my living."

Realisation dawned. "You're a spook," Mellis said, hawking and spitting into the ashtray.
"If you like."

"Well, I'm not gonna do it," Mellis snarled. "Not when someone's going round blowing up tankers and running off with the crews. Got it? You must be crazy if you want me to go on a fucking suicide mission.”

"Listen. There's no evidence those people have actually been harmed. What exactly has happened to them, well that's one of the things we want to find out. But you'll be dead for sure if you don't do it. Or maybe we won't kill you, we'll just make sure any prospective employers know about your criminal record. The whores you've beaten up in various ports around the world. You also spent a few years in a Spanish jail for GBH, didn't you? Maybe the guy was a pimp, but what happened doesn't put you in a very good light either. Not many jobs on offer in the shipping industry right now, because of the sinkings. But it shouldn't be too long before you find something else; only no-one will want to know you once we've put them wise as to what sort of a character you are."

"Don't be too sure of that," Mellis leered. "There's plenty of bosses who wouldn't give a toss."

"There's also plenty of hard cases who'd like to get back at you because you carved them up, or carved up one of their friends or family. The ones who can't afford to pay for the plastic surgery will probably be scarred for life. Suppose we tell them where you are right now, it won't be long before they find you and dump your bits and pieces in the river. That's globalisation for you. Plus cheap airline tickets; or maybe we'd pay their fare.

"Like I said, we know all your details. Including the ones you don't dare tell anybody."

He paused to let it all sink in. Mellis stared at him for a moment and then went back to contemplating the table top, absently flicking ash from his cigarette onto the formica. Coulter watched him with all the patience a trained agent had learned to muster.

A burst of sneering laughter erupted from the group of girls at the table by the door as they slagged off some absent acquaintance who was either too old or too unfashionable for their liking.

Vaguely Mellis thought of the all the nasty things currently going on in the world; the oil crisis and the trouble in Pakistan. It was pretty frightening, but as long as he could go on doing all the things he liked none of it bothered him much. Once he couldn't...well, whatever would be would be.

Grim-faced, he straightened up and looked hard at Coulter, crushing out the fag end against the lip of the ashtray. "Alright, you win. When do we sail?"

"As soon as we've got a full crew together. There's one more person we have to see; if he proves open to persuasion you should be ready to go first thing on Thursday morning. We'll let you know. On the day you’re to turn up outside the terminal offices and someone will be there to meet you.”

He smiled. "It should be fun, Dave. You'll be meeting a few of your old friends again, I should imagine."
From Mellis' face the thought seemed to please him. Then he became sombre again, and stood up to leave.
"Just one moment," Coulter said, his tone hardening. Mellis sat down again.

"It's bad enough we sometimes have to kill good people who just happen to get in our way, or find out a bit too much. You I'd drop dead in a quiet little alleyway without a second thought, if I had to. Just remember that."

Mellis' lip curled. He spun on his heels and stalked out of the room, leaving Coulter to sip at his Coke and perhaps mull over the issues raised by what he'd just said.


On the fifth day after she had escaped from Marcotech, Caroline got lucky. Surfacing for air she spied, miles away in the distance, a white shape like a swan, gleaming and pristine in the sunshine. She swam towards it, repeatedly twisting her head out of the water to gulp in air, and once close enough tilted up and back to get a better look.

The rays of light glinted off TV masts and aerials, even a satellite dish. It was a luxury yacht, a big one, the property of some millionaire on a deep-sea fishing excursion or simply enjoying a pleasant cruise. Not an ocean-going job, so it must be bound for shore, which meant America. She couldn't have gone too far out, surely.

The yacht was at anchor, but for all she knew might at any moment move off. But she couldn't go any closer in case the people on board spotted her. She could see the ant-like figures moving about on the deck.

So she stayed where she was, admiring the yacht's sleek, graceful lines, waiting patiently until the first mild twinges of pain told her it was time to go under. Fortunately, when she came up again it was still there.

She dived once more, and swam on just beneath the surface, coming up every few minutes to get her bearings. Once she was sure she was on the right course she stayed under until the yacht's keel came into visual range, then took a chance and broke surface, just her eyes above the water, drawing in the precious liquid through nose and mouth.

The vibrations from vigorous movement travelled through the water to her.

A ladder had been lowered down the side of the yacht, and a swimsuited girl was descending it gingerly. Two other girls and a young man were already in the water, splashing about with carefree abandon. A second man had got a rubber dinghy out, equipped with an outboard motor, and was sitting up in it tossing a beach ball to one of the girls. He was there also to keep an eye on them, in case the current swept them away. She still didn't think it was a good idea.

A fourth girl, a bronzed blonde in the minutest bikini possible, appeared on deck. She sat down on the edge of a sunbed, and once she had finished splashing lotion over her body stretched out luxuriously.

Caroline felt the vibrations from the swimmers' movements cease, and saw them head back towards the yacht, the dinghy following. The girls clambered up the ladder, the man following suit once he had secured a line to it from the dinghy. They lifted the dinghy on board, deflated it and stowed it away in a locker.

The party disappeared inside the superstructure of the yacht, apart from the blonde who stayed where she was.

The ladder remained down. While the blonde's eyes were closed in bliss against the sunlight, should she try and sneak on board? No, too risky. The woman might get up suddenly.

She swam round the yacht, but there seemed no way of getting onto it other than the ladder. It was in any case advisable not to make the attempt in daylight. But they were sure to raise the ladder sooner or later.
By now it was time to submerge again.

When she came up the yacht still hadn't moved. She had surfaced some distance from it, for fear of being seen from the deck. But it was possible to make out the figures seated there, one reading a book, one fishing, one apparently asleep.

The evening chill began to creep in, and Caroline saw them go back inside.

Swimming to the rear of the vessel, she saw the ladder still
hadn't been raised, either because they'd forgotten to do it or were just being extremely careless. But it would be best to wait a while longer before making her move.

Gradually, the china blue of the sky turned to deep purple, then jet black, and the stars appeared, studding it like sequins. Red and green navigation lights came on on the yacht, warning other vessels it was there.

It lay motionless under the starry sky, the pounding of some disco number from within, muted by distance, being the only thing that disturbed the peace and stillness of the night. She struck off towards it, guided by the warning lights and the yellow glow from the portholes and cabin windows.

As she neared the yacht, again swimming just under the surface, the awful thought came upon her that they might decide to start off before she had got on board, and she'd be caught up in the propeller and cut to ribbons. It almost made her give up the idea; but she had no way of knowing how long it would be before she got another chance, and earlier had felt the boredom start to tip her over into hysteria, as at the colony.

Her heart was beating furiously all the way to the ladder. But she made it there OK. Surfacing, she grasped one of the lower rungs and pulled herself up.

She'd leave wet footprints behind her. Webbed footprints. But that couldn't be helped and with any luck they'd have dried before anyone saw them.

She scrambled up onto the deck and briefly to think. The engines would be shut off but there would still be the generator supplying the vessel with lighting and heating. A blast of hot air was coming from a louvred hatch in the deck near her feet.

At the moment she could see no way of getting down to it, but there must be one. Her body crouched low so as to be out of sight from any of the windows, she crept along the deck towards the boat’s mid-section. From the stateroom she could hear the clinking of knives and forks and the sound of voices as the yacht's occupants chattered over what was no doubt a sumptious meal.

As she'd expected, she soon came to a stairwell within which a metal ladder led down below decks. She descended it backwards to find herself in a short, narrow passageway ending in a ribbed metal door from behind which could be heard the deep, vibrating tone of machinery.

It was unlocked, and she stepped cautiously inside to see the generator chugging steadily away at one end of a long, wide room whose ribbed walls were lined with piping. Skirting the machine, she sat down in the narrow space between it and the wall, hugging her legs to her body. It was giving off enough warmth to dry her out, so she wouldn't leave any more footprints, but without leaving her dangerously dehydrated.

She had no idea what the people on the yacht's plans were. No idea who they were, what they were like, if they would help her. There were no doubt plenty of other places she could hide. But she might have to be there a long time, depending on when they intended to return to land. And sooner or later she'd need to go back in the sea. If she kept coming and going between the yacht and the water the chances were someone would eventually spot her. They must surely be intending to set sail in the morning; they wouldn't be spending too much time in this one spot. One bit of ocean.....

Caroline waited until she was fully dry, then got to her feet. By now, she guessed, the yacht's occupants would have finished their meal and retired to one of the staterooms, to chat over drinks or watch TV until it was time to turn in.

It was taking a risk, but she had to leave her place of concealment and explore until she found out what she needed to know.

Padding softly from the generator room she scrambled nimbly up the ladder to the upper deck, and worked her way along it until she came to a door.

It opened into a plushly carpeted corridor with fake oak panelling on the walls. She moved along it a step at a time, listening keenly for any sound that might indicate someone coming in her direction. The soles of her bare feet made little noise on the soft carpeting.

Voices were coming from behind a door at the far end which stood slightly ajar, light spilling from it into the corridor. The voices were raised in raucous laughter, punctuated every few seconds by a burst of girlish giggling.

If anyone did see her, she reckoned, they'd probably be rooted to the floor in shock for a good few seconds, giving her ample time to make it out on deck and jump over the side. Yes, it was worth the risk. At the door she squatted down and peered through the gap into the room. She risked opening it an inch or so wider, very slowly so the creak of the hinges wouldn't alert the room's occupants.

She glimpsed a section of panelled wall like in the corridor and a balding man in his forties sprawled in a chair with a bimbo in a bikini top and a brief pair of shorts which only just covered her backside perching on one arm of it, cuddled against him. The man’s face wore a look of relaxed contentment, lips set in a faintly mocking smile. His woollen shirt had ridden up to expose a considerable paunch, over which his hand strayed absently from time to time. His other arm was around the bimbo, the fingers sliding gently down her exposed flank, following its contours, to play idly with the hem of her shorts. The piggy eyes in the heavy, fleshy face gleamed slyly beneath the rim of the baseball cap he wore.

Someone was talking in a slurred drunken tone which sounded to Caroline as if its owner was suffering from the effects of something more than alcohol. At least two other voices could be identified, one of them female and both sounding drunk to some extent.

A wealthy businessman on a booze cruise with a few friends, plus a bimbo or two brought along to provide some entertainment, probably at a price.

She drew back a little. If Moneybags’ companion saw her she'd start screaming and give the game away. As long as she could hear what was being said there was no need for her to actually see these people, thankfully.

She cocked her head, listening to the conversation, and having to grit her teeth a bit because of its nature.

"Hey Cassie, will you let me fuck you if I lend you that money?" someone asked.
"No."
"Suck me, then?"
"No!"
"Aw, c'mon. I'll pay you extra for it."
"How about you just let her keep the money?"
"Suits me fine. How 'bout it?"

A silence followed. Someone roared with laughter. "Hey, she's thinking about it!"
"You gonna have the shag or the blow job then, Shane?"
"Both. Hey Cass, I'll let you keep the money and give you extra. Whaddya say?"
"Maybe," the girl said teasingly.
"So, do you swallow or spit it out? I mean, if we're gonna - "

A lot of sordid crudity and meaningless babble; but nothing about what their plans might be, their itinerary. Though she couldn’t be quite sure, the man in the chair was the only one who seemed unaffected by drink or drugs. But the sensations she was receiving from him were decidedly unpleasant. She wondered what his attitude to her might be if he knew of her presence on board. She had some idea, probably not entirely fanciful, that he'd put her in a cage in his private zoo and show her off to all his dodgy friends, who would pay for the privilege of gawping at her. An exhibit in a freak show, a money-making curiosity.

Nor could she learn anything of value from him. Though she could pick up emotions, especially strong ones, she could not yet identify specific thoughts.

Then a man said, "When we get back to shore tomorrow first thing I'm gonna do is book that trip to Nassau. Those island girls are easy, I tell ya."

Caroline stiffened. She went on listening, trying to pick up clues from the desultory chatter.

“That’s not what I’ve heard,” someone was objecting. “When women talk like they do, black women or white women, it don’t necessarily mean they’re gonna hop into bed with you. It’s just the way they are. You think you’re gonna get laid but it never happens, and if you go so far as to pop the question they either slap you or pretend they’re married to scare you off. Ain’t like it is in the books.”

Sadly for men, this was often true. But what really concerned her was that they'd be going back to port sometime tomorrow, early probably. All she had to do was stay on board, hidden, until then. But how, if at some point she would have to return to the water?

Suddenly the man in the chair belched, loudly and vulgarly. Immediately afterwards, as if in sympathy, someone broke wind and at once the girls fell apart in wild hysterical laughter.

Caroline sensed there was someone in the room who wasn’t saying very much. He was just sitting there in moody silence, unimpressed by all he was seeing and hearing. There were about nine people there altogether, one of whom she only had a vague awareness as if something had clouded his mind and preventing it from transmitting or receiving any messages from outside. She could guess what that might be.

"Hey, ya should be on the bridge, man!" one of the men yelled suddenly. "Ya the captain! Ya neglecting ya duty, John!"

For the first time John spoke. "We aren't going anywhere right now, are we? And there's such a thing as an autopilot, if you remember."

All the same, this reminder of his responsibilities brought about a change in the captain's manner. "Hey, did you guys make sure to put the ladder back up after you'd been for your dip?" he asked suddenly.

By now Caroline could sort of picture what was going on in her mind. There was a puzzled silence as the yacht's passengers looked at each other blankly. She saw Mr Moneybags frown darkly, his relaxed mood suddenly disturbed.

"You left it down?" The captain sounded weary, annoyed and alarmed in equal measure.

"'S'alright, John, no hassle. Who'd want to get on board?"
"Pirates?" someone suggested.
Moneybags glared hard at the speaker, meaning why the hell did you have to go and say that?

"Not in these waters," one young man said firmly, trying to reassure himself.
The captain was galvanised into action. "I'll go and get that ladder up," he announced, rising.

Oh no, thought Caroline, her heart plunging sickeningly. She'd be able to get off the yacht OK, but now getting back on it would present something of a problem.

Fortunately the captain went out through another door, in the opposite wall of the stateroom. His footsteps receded gradually from Caroline's hearing.

She sat back on her haunches and thought for a bit. She'd have to turn to one of them for help, but who? Moneybags...the thought of trying to enlist his aid made her shiver. The captain? He seemed an ordinary, sensible chap, not like the others. But something inclined her not to approach him, all the same. He was the sort who wouldn't sell her to a travelling circus, but lock her up and call the police instead.

The bimboes wouldn't be much use. That left one of the other
men.

But apart from their stoned condition, it wasn't very encouraging that they'd let themselves get into that state in the first place.
She realised it would be time to return to the water soon.

The people in the room had fallen silent. She wondered if most of them were now in a drunken sleep. Clearly Moneybags was unobserved because he now, without waiting to gain the privacy of the lavatory and still fully clothed, unzipped his fly, pulled out his organ and began to move his hand up and down it.
Yes, thought Caroline. That's just what you are.

When she next risked a glance at him she saw he had fallen asleep. The captain hadn't returned from hauling up the ladder. Probably he was on the bridge, or in his cabin. Just as long as he stayed there.

Every so often the tycoon's hand strayed to his crotch in his sleep. She noticed he hadn’t bothered to readjust his clothing.

Someone spoke, awakening the tycoon. The voice was thick and hoarse and it was only just possible to make out the words. "Gonna hit the sack," it mumbled.
"What, so soon Baz?" another man jeered.

"Leave him," the tycoon growled impatiently. "He's had a bad trip. He'll get over it."

The unseen man climbed shakily to his feet and moved to the door, walking with the stumbling, heavy tread of someone barely in possession of their faculties. He seemed to take a whole minute to reach the door. By the time he pushed it open and stepped out into the corridor Caroline had concealed herself in an cupboard about ten feet away. She crouched down in the darkness within, buried among cleaning equipment and fire buckets, and listened as he turned stiffly, heels scuffing on the floor, and shambled off. He probably wouldn't have seen her anyway.

After a moment she eased open the door of the cupboard and slid out. Glancing down the corridor she saw the back of a head of curly hair, a T-shirt filthy with stains whose origin she chose not to contemplate, faded jeans and a pair of grubby trainers.

Slowly and silently she followed him to a door, the second of three in the wall on that side and numbered two. This must be his cabin.

In the stateroom the howls of merriment and raucous chattering had resumed, and something told Caroline the tycoon and his companions wouldn't be moving from there for the time being, immersed as they were in their own murky little world.

As he turned to put the key in the lock she saw his face in full for the first time. She guessed he wasn't by nature particularly handsome, but whatever it was he was taking had certainly not done his appearance any favours. His eyes were half closed and his mouth hung part open, stupidly.

He thrust the key at the lock and it missed, scraping against the varnished wood of the door and leaving a visible scratch. Money-bags wouldn't be pleased about that. Eventually, by luck more than judgement, it went in. As he continued to fumble it came out again. He frowned as if surprised that this should happen, and seemed to gather his wits in one massive thrust of will, face screwed up in concentration. He reinserted the key and twisted it, and this time the lock clicked. He stumbled against the door, pushing it fully open, and lurched forward into the room. Through the opening Caroline could just discern the vague, shadowy outline of his arm moving again and again over the wall as he tried to locate the light switch.

As with the door he eventually succeeded. He moved further into the room and she heard him clamber onto the bed and lie down. He had either forgotten or wasn't bothering to lock the door and turn off the light.

She waited a little while before stepping softly inside, closing the door behind her. The cabin was luxuriously appointed with TV, shower cubicle, bathroom, and bidet. A sculpture of two copulating lovers, tasteless rather than erotic, stood on a table. The man was lying flat on his back with one arm across his chest and the other parallel to his side. His eyes were shut and he was breathing deeply and hoarsely, mouth wide open.

Moving away from him slightly, her eyes fell on the china bowl which rested on the bedside table, and whose contents finally confirmed her suspicions. It was filled with a white powdery substance, the colour of snow, from which stuck out a thin metal pipe. There was more cocaine in a plastic bag a little further away, beside which lay a syringe and a metal spatula. Caroline's face twisted in loathing.

The man wasn't used to the stuff, to the effect it was having on his system. The combination of drugs and booze, on top of a heavy meal, had proved too much.

She contemplated the prone figure on the bed. She wasn't too proud of what she was about to do, but couldn't see any other option at the moment. Not if things were to really get moving.

She crossed to the bed, bent over the unconscious figure and seized him by the shoulder, shaking him gently at first and then with a little more vigour. He blinked rapidly, fitfully, for several seconds before his eyes flickered open to stare glazedly at the ceiling. His lips worked soundlessly and his head moved slowly from side to side as he tried to focus.

A low, guttural sound came from his throat. Gradually it acquired some semblance of coherence. "Wassamadder," he moaned. "Wassamadder.....who......whozat....." Shaking his head fiercely, he attempted to struggle into a sitting posture.

Caroline stepped back and stood so he could get a clear view of her. She imagined her dim shape resolving itself before his eyes into something like clarity.

He seemed to have succeeded in focusing on her, for he was staring directly at her with a puzzled, dazed expression in which she could detect just the tiniest twinge of comprehension.

The staring eyes widened. He had realised that there was something odd about the figure standing before him but hadn't quite worked out what it was yet. Because of the confused state of his mind it was impossible to tell just what he was thinking, just how fully he was aware of his surroundings. The look on his face was partly of wonder, partly of astonishment; but there was no fear or alarm there, at the moment.
"Who...who are you?" he muttered thickly.

Caroline bent forward. "I am Oceania, Queen of the Deep," she answered, speaking in a low, urgent whisper. "You must help me."
"Help you," he breathed. "Help you....yeah."

"The other surface creatures want to harm me. They captured me but I escaped. I must return to the sea. But first I must find my children. The terraineans have taken them to use in their cruel experiments. You must help me get to shore so that I can search for them.

"In the morning just before the yacht is due to sail, go out and lower the ladder. Do not let yourself be seen. Make sure the captain has already checked to see that it is raised, then he will suspect nothing.

"If you do this I will reward you. You will live with me in my palace under the sea, where all is silent and beautiful. Do you understand?

"The other humans must not know I was here. They will hunt me down and torture me, like they did my children. You are a good man, Barry, you cannot allow this. Please help me."

He was sinking back into his drugged stupor. His head lolled to one side, and with a deep shuddering breath he lost consciousness.

She searched the cabin until she found a notepad and a Biro and scribbled down the instructions she'd given him, leaving the sheet of paper by his bedside where he'd see it. Then she crept from the cabin and back down the corridor to the door by which she'd entered from the deck. The remainder of the yacht's population, with the probable exception of the captain, continued to be busy in the stateroom. Loud music was playing, and she thought she could make out orgasmic noises among the drunken laughter.

Out on deck, she crossed to the safety rail, climbed over it and dived head-first into the water. The impact stunned her slightly, but she soon recovered and swam back to her vantage point.

Everything depended on what Barry would now do. There was no telling how he'd react, whether he'd even remember what had happened. People whose minds were scrambled by drugs weren't entirely predictable.

Meanwhile the Captain was making one last tour of inspection before going to bed. He looked in on the stateroom, where two of the men were flat out drunk, missing all the fun while one of the girls was making the beast with two backs with Shane and the bikinied bimbo was attending to his boss, her head in his lap and moving about like a gearstick. Used condoms lay about and there were semen stains on the carpet, along with those from the discarded food that had been trodden into it.
He turned away.


Oceania, Queen of the Deep. Her image swam enticingly before Barry, radiating an exotic sensuality he could hardly believe it was possible to encounter, not in all his wildest fantasies. Yet evidently it was.

Ooh yeah, baby. He was screwing her now, their arms and legs entwined, their bodies locked in a tight embrace as they sank
deeper and deeper, down down into the silent beautiful underwater world that was her home, leaving behind all the cares and stresses of the world above. Pure ecstasy surged through every nerve and fibre of his being in a raging white-hot torrent. He began to experience the raptures of the deep, a sense of floating in a womb of warm soothing water, buoyed up high by it; drifting to Heaven on some celestial breeze that seemed like liquid air. Beautiful mermaids serenaded them as they descended, Oceania’s train of sea nymphs parting to make way for the couple as they dived together right to the bottom, there to make love again on the soft carpet of the ocean’s sandy floor.

He swam with her in and out of beautiful coral gardens, through eerie echoing submarine canyons, past vast fantastically-shaped rock formations, until the idyllic vision abruptly faded and there was nothing but a sort of hazy emptiness.

Barry stared at the ceiling for a long time before finally realising he was awake and the trip had come to an end.

Was that real, what had just happened to him? Or something from a dream, a fantastic, incredible dream? It was quite impossible to decide. The sight of the weird, unearthly figure standing right in front of him was still vivid in his mind. It had seemed real enough, both at the time and now. But then he'd been...he'd been.....

He levered himself from the bed and sat down on it heavily, his head falling forward into his hands like a dead weight. For a long time he remained in that position, oblivious of anything around him, including the scrap of paper lying in full view on the bedside table.

All at once, without warning, the nausea surged through him like a tidal wave. He sprang to his feet and raced for the bathroom door. He only just made it before the vomit whooshed from him and spattered over the shiny white porcelain of the sink and the mirror above it.

He remained crouched over the sink with his hands resting on it to support him, gagging and swallowing, his chest and throat heaving convulsively, until the nausea finally passed. He wiped the vomit from the glass with a damp flannel, retching at the putrid smell, and once it was clear regarded himself in it blearily.

He jerked up and back with shock at the apparition confronting him. It was haggard, pale and old-looking; not at all the image of a man in his twenties. There were bags under the bloodshot, sunken eyes that hadn't been there the previous day, that was for sure.
Jesus.

He was still trembling involuntarily, and as he stood there the fingers of his right hand suddenly clenched tight as if they'd acquired a life of their own.

He took a shower, then wrapped a towel around his waist and went back into the main cabin. His eye fell on the bowl of cocaine.

These attacks didn't last...did they? He knew it came and went. And people carried on taking the stuff all through their lives, so surely it needn't be fatal. Besides he'd felt good, so good, when he'd had it the first time, and all the other times too. Hadn't he?

Suddenly the full horror of it hit him. He'd actually thought he'd seen...she had seemed real, so real, and yet of course she couldn't be. All that stuff about Oceania Queen of the Deep...it couldn't possibly be true but for a while he really had thought...

Oh shit, he said aloud. Oh shit. Oh God. He felt the violent trembling return, this time for a very different cause. Rivulets of cold sweat poured copiously down his face and dripped onto his chest and shoulders. He lost all sense of time, of reality almost, while he sat on the bed and let the image of the wall burn itself into his brain, mouth wide open in shock.

Again his eye fell on the bowl of white powder. Slowly but firmly he shook his head.
Never again, he told himself. Never, ever again.

Then he noticed the scrap of paper on the table, and the words which had been written on it.


THIRTY-EIGHT
Wrapped up in his Kapok protective coat, balaclava and safety helmet, Chris Barrett was pacing restlessly about the deck of the Atlantica. To steady his nerves he stopped and grasped the safety rail tightly, gazing out to sea.

The balaclava left his face exposed and the biting North Atlantic wind sliced across it like a knife, making his eyes sting. For the umpteenth time he reminded himself why he was doing this. But did he really care about her so much now? After all, there was Rachel.

He told himself that wasn't the way to look at it. First of all it was a bloody callous sort of thing to be thinking. And more ruthlessly, there was the need to restore and safeguard the precious flow of oil.

Chris was agitated and irritable. He supposed he really ought to be joining in the odd jobs that always needed doing around the ship, making himself useful, instead of moping about like this. But he wasn't at ease in the company of the other crewmen, for he knew what they were and what they'd done. There were a few exceptions, who either hadn't done anything wrong in their time, regretted it if they had, or were the likeable sort of villain – something very rare nowadays. But only a few. And the risk they were taking hung like a looming great black cloud over their heads. The mood on board was sullen, with little feeling of comradeship. Meals were eaten and films watched in silence. People hardly ever spoke to each other, but just got on with their jobs, letting the work take their mind off things to some extent.

They had made a thorough search among their own employees, and found one or two who declared themselves willing to go ahead with it. It was notable that none of them were married, or had relatives dependent on them. And they had nonetheless expressed reservations. But Chris told them it was the only way to perhaps restore some normalcy. With any luck, it would not be at the price of any harm coming to them. This time, maybe, things were going to be different.

The tanker wasn't sailing with a full complement of crew - just the maximum that was absolutely necessary to ensure she made it to America and back. They hadn't been able to get one anyway. Hopefully this would arouse no suspicion on Marcotech's part, supposing they had the means to find out. They'd merely conclude that some, at least, had grown impatient with the situation and decided for the sake of their livelihood to take a tanker out, perhaps because they needed the danger money. Besides, Caroline had not had time to tell her friends at MI6 what she suspected of Marcotech.

They might also, he guessed, decide that everyone was too busy worrying about the crisis in Pakistan to put much effort into exposing them. Chris was worried, certainly. He couldn't imagine anyone letting al-Qaeda get hold of nuclear weapons. All the same, that they had been prepared to go this far proved how frighteningly dedicated they were.

He heard trudging footsteps draw near to him and turned to see the tanker's captain, Donald Tarrant, coming along the deck towards him. A man of few words at the best of times, he had said little since they left Southampton a couple of days before. Nor had anyone else on board for that matter, Chris included.

"Well, we're all right so far," Chris remarked brightly, doing his best to put on a brave face. The Captain nodded.

Tarrant was not himself a criminal. They needed a good man for this job, a reliable one, who hadn't been sacked or put in jail for negligence. Captain Tarrant was simply very brave. His view was that the sea was a dangerous place anyway, and it was therefore worth taking a risk while trying to deal with a major threat to global prosperity and security. He was also being paid danger money for this, but Chris reckoned he was entitled to it. Every single penny.

He found he could guess what Tarrant was thinking. Sure enough, the captain paused to scrutinize him keenly and said, “Tell me something. What made you want to do it?"

"There's someone I...care about who may be in danger somewhere," Chris answered, adding brusquely "that's all I want to say right now."

"Well for my part, I must be damn crazy," said the captain. "It’d better work, that's all I can say." With a friendly nod he sauntered off.

Chris glanced at his watch, and felt a sense of dread. They were getting near the point in the journey where the Herbert Rutherford had been attacked. That didn't mean anything nasty was going to happen just yet. The tankers had not all been hit in exactly the same location; a ploy by the saboteurs to make sure the authorities didn't know where to look for them.

That they would be attacked was virtually certain. The Atlantica was an oil tanker, exactly the same as the Herbert Rutherford and the Knight of the Seas, which would be returning from America laden with crude oil. She was there, all four hundred thousand plus tons of her, and presumably as much a target for the saboteurs – to Marcotech, if it really was them behind it all - as her sister ships had been. They surely could not just ignore her.

Half of him hoped nothing would happen, that they would reach America safely, take on their cargo and set sail for home, after which point it would be against the saboteur's interests to attack them, if the motive was environmental. The thought of such an outcome seemed farcical, after all this tension, and Chris laughed. But it was no way to resolve the matter.
And if they were attacked?
Would it work, the plan? The whole thing was a gamble, and an incredibly risky one.

The weather continued to deteriorate. The wind was stronger now, and the sky beginning to darken. Every few minutes a squall of rain lashed his face, almost blinding him. The rain pattering on the metal deck was making it dangerously slippery.
No sensible person should be outside in conditions like this.

Chris started making his way back to the cabin which had been allocated to him. On the way he paused to look in on the engine room, lingering there for a moment. There was something comforting about the steady monotonous throb of the engines and the warmth they were giving off. An engineer carrying out some minor repair looked up from his work and caught Chris’ eye. Barrett thought it best to move on. He knew what they thought of him for not mucking in.

In his room he clambered onto the bed, turned over and lay down. He flicked through a few pages of the girlie magazine he had found at the bottom of the chest of drawers beside the bed, then tossed it wearily aside, crossing his arms behind his head.

Chris reflected on what Hennig had said a few days previously, when he had explained Rachel's plan to the MD. "They've let one of their agents, who knows her quite well, take on the case," he had explained. "But she'll need a bit of a hand, so I was wondering if I could...."

"Have the time off?" All of a sudden Hennig's ill temper seemed to have evaporated. "Listen, son, if it's for the company I don't mind how much time you can have off. In fact you can count it as official business."
"That's very kind of you."

Then Hennig's face clouded over again. "They could only spare one of their people, then?"

"They’re a bit too busy right now with Pakistan. But my contact tells me that if we can prove it’s Marcotech her bosses will take some kind of action.”

“Well, I’d better let you get on with it. And for goodness’ sake take care.”

Chris dug into his pocket and took out a small waterproof metal case. He opened it and looked down at the tiny disc-shaped object within. It was giving off a faint, almost inaudible bleeping noise.

The object’s presence was comforting, because there was indeed a need to take care. They were without the protection of the Navy; on this occasion, it was vital their enemies were not scared away.

HM Signals, Portsmouth
"Here we are," said Lieutenant George Cassidy, the Chief Signals Officer, leading Rachel over to a corner of the tracking room where a Wren sat huddled over a hooded screen on a console situated apart from all the others, and bristling with what seemed an impossibly complex array of instrumentation.

The operation represented a relatively small diversion of resources. Because of that and because the tanker problem was still important despite the need to focus on the situation in Pakistan, the Navy had agreed to help with her investigation.
"How's it going, Jackson?" Cassidy asked the Wren.

"Well nothing's happened yet, Sir," answered the girl. “Here’s hoping.”

The green glow from the screen bathed Rachel's face as she leaned over to see what was on it. The VDU showed a computerised graphic representation of the northern Atlantic, with the coasts of North and Central America on one side, and Europe and North Africa on the other. In roughly the centre of the screen a glowing point of red light showed the position of the tanker as it continued on its journey to Louisiana. A faint pinging was coming from the Wren's headset.

"It's transmitting OK, Sir,” she said. “Some interference due to the weather, but otherwise the Atlantica is maintaining a steady course for America."

"We're in constant radio contact with the tanker," said Cassidy. "If anything does go wrong, we'll know what it is."

On the grid of the VDU the blip of light carried on its way. Rachel took one last look at the glowing, flickering screen. "I'll be around," she said. "Let me know the moment anything happens."

If whoever was behind the sinkings blew up the Atlantica and kidnapped the crew as they had done with the other ships, the homing device Chris was carrying would enable them to track him to wherever the crew were being taken; perhaps to the underwater base Marcotech had established off the Bahamas. If so, there would then be no doubt about it. It would also be ironic that the device was a development of something Marcotech had themselves invented, part of their groundbreaking advances in underwater communications. Only of course to reflect on that irony, and actually find out what they were up to and stop it, were not the same thing.


The others were sitting down eating their breakfast when Barry, still a little unsteady on his feet, came into the lounge and dropped heavily into a vacant chair. The glazed expression hadn't quite left the girls' eyes and Tom and Shane, though more or less compos mentis, looked pale and haggard. His eyes wandering idly over them, Don Hadley, owner of the Seabird II, gave a noncommittal shrug. If that was what they chose to do...

He himself was always careful not to take the drugs, because he didn't feel any need to. It seemed crazy to him. Why kill yourself with drugs when you could get all that mattered to a man from a good fuck, was his philosophy.

"You OK, Baz?" ventured Shane, seeing Barry slump into the chair.
"Uh, yeah," Barry grunted back.
"Bad trip?"
"Uh, I dunno," answered his friend.
"Good trip, then?"
"I said I dunno," Barry answered curtly.
Tom and Shane shrugged.

The captain came in and joined them, taking his seat without a word. He proceeded to tuck into his plate of fried kippers.

Barry took a folded scrap of paper from the pocket of his jeans, opened it out and pushed it into the centre of the table. "Any of you guys know anything about this?" Though his voice remained slightly slurred, the hint of steel in it was clearly evident.

Shane took the piece of paper and studied the writing on it. His eyes widened, and as he read on his jaw dropped progressively further.

"Jesus Christ, what the hell is this?" At once brightening up, he gave a little chuckle, which then turned into a raucous belly laugh. "Hey take a look at it, folks!" He passed the note round the table. Tom and Brad laughed, while the girls and the captain were bemused. Claire, Gail and the bimbo started to giggle.

"Oceania, Queen of the Deep!" Shane exclaimed. "What kind of trick has someone been playing on Barry here?"

Barry's face was quite expressionless. He glanced at each of his companions in turn.

"I want to know," he said. With a determined effort he struggled to clearly express his feelings. "I wanna....I want to know what's going on here."

He described his whole experience of the night before. By the time he had finished Shane was laughing again. "Sounds like a trip to me. Quite a good one, I reckon."

"It wasn't a trip, the letter proves it. I don't think this is particularly funny. You knew I was stoned so you took advantage of it to play a joke on me."

Suddenly he frowned. His companions were all looking at him with what seemed genuine puzzlement.

The captain sensed trouble. "I think we better sort this out," he said firmly, looking hard at the young people around him. "Whose handwriting is that?" he demanded, pointing to the flimsy.

"Well it ain't mine," Don Hadley grunted, shaking his head firmly. "I'd swear to it. Tom?"

"No, no way." Tom took the flimsy and studied it. "I think it's a woman's."

The captain turned to the four girls, all sitting together, and saw them glance at one another, uneasily but without any hint of guilt.
He preferred to make sure. "Gail?"

Slowly and firmly, the blonde girl shook her head. "No," she said quietly. "I swear I didn't do that."
"Me neither," said Claire. "I'd know my own handwriting."
“Cassie?”
“Not guilty, honest.”

Everyone was looking at the bimbo. She gave a brief curt movement of her head, pouting indignantly. The captain studied her suspiciously for a moment longer, then decided she was telling the truth and shifted his attention to Barry.
"This happened last night? What time?" Then it occurred to him the kid probably wouldn't remember.

Hadley took a hand. "So you're saying someone went into your room, wrote out this note and left it for you to see?"

"They dressed up in some weird costume, told me they were..." he nodded at the flimsy. "It's all there. I thought it was because I was...I was..."

"Yeah, well never mind that." The captain leaned back in his chair, pondering the situation.

He frowned. Come to think of it, he thought he'd noticed a strange smell in the corridor when he left the stateroom to do his rounds. A fishy sort of smell, with a hint of something sharp and acrid, a bit like ammonia. It might have been stronger if the stench of sex, sweat and rotting flesh hadn't masked it. "So they wanted you to lower the ladder?"
"That's what the note says."

The captain thought for a bit more. "Well," he said at length, "I suggest we don't do that. If there was some joker on the yacht last night playing tricks, they only got on board because you left it down before. I also recommend you all stay off the white stuff from now on, OK? We need to have our brains working properly right now. It looks like someone got onto the yacht, dressed in some fancy outfit, and played a trick on Barry to get him to lower the ladder in the morning. So that they, or someone else, could get onto the boat then. From a dinghy, which was how they managed it last night I guess."
"What the fuck does it all mean?" Hadley growled.

"I dunno, but it could be serious. I just don't know what these people want. I mean, unless we swallow this story about a Queen of the Deep....." Still bemused by it all, the captain tried to clarify his thoughts by speaking them aloud. "I don't want to alarm you, but you remember that guy Maxwell, Robert Maxwell? The Brit newspaper boss, disappeared from his yacht in the Canaries and was later found floating. It was back in '91. They reckon someone got on board his yacht and killed him. The theory is they injected him with a lethal vaccine then dumped him overboard."

Hadley’s eyebrows shot up and he clapped a hand to his chest by way of a disclaimer. "Who'd want to murder me?" he gasped. "Or any of us? I mean, I'm not political or anything. You're talking terrorists, yeah John?"

"Terrorists...well, maybe. Maxwell tended to get involved with the wrong kind of people, that's for sure. They were afraid he'd start shooting his mouth off about what he'd been up to, become kind of a liability to them. But what this could be, I just dunno. Maybe pirates, like Brad said last night. Somehow doesn't make sense their playing such a weird kind of stunt, though."

"We could call the Coastguard," Shane began, before tailing off lamely.

"Yeah, exactly. There's a very good reason why we don't want the Coastguard here." The captain narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips tight just so there could be no doubt at all what he meant. The Coastguard officers would have to come on board at some stage, and if they did they'd notice one or two things and his job, if not for the foreseeable future his freedom, might be forfeit.

"I don't think we should take any chances. We'll sail as soon as everyone's ready. Meantime let's just keep a lookout, stay off the drugs and make sure that ladder stays up until we hit land. OK?"

They ate the rest of the meal in silence. As the captain downed the last of his coffee and got up to go to his cabin, Barry rose too, following him from the stateroom.

The captain sensed his presence, stopped and turned. His eyebrows lifted in enquiry.

"Listen, John," began Barry. "Were....were the girls all stoned last night? When I went to bed, I mean."
"What time was that?"
"Uh, I, I can't remember."

"Well, you were in the stateroom when I left, about ten. I came back about half an hour later and you'd gone. But I kept looking in from time to time, just to make sure everyone was OK. And yeah, I'd say all the girls were stoned, or pissed or both." It hadn't prevented them being busy doing it doggy style, but he saw no need to go into that. "Everyone was stoned except Don."
"What time did you go to bed?"
"'Bout twelve. Midnight."

And by then, Barry thought, the girls would be so intoxicated they couldn't have done anything much. They still hadn’t quite recovered from its effects now, he reckoned. So none of them could have written that note, or put on a freaky costume and gone to his room pretending to be the "Queen of the Deep". From what John was saying none of them could have worked the hoax either on their own or in collusion with another member of the party. A practical joke required planning, with the perpetrators in full possession of all their faculties.
"You were certainly stoned," the captain commented.

"Yeah, alright, alright," Barry snapped. He stood deep in thought. "Then they were all telling the truth. It wasn't one of us."

“That’s clear. There’s something going on which I just don't understand. Don't worry about it, Barry. Just do what I said, keep a look-out for anything suspicious and report it to me rightaway." The captain wasn't sure what effect it would have if he mentioned the smell to anyone, so he didn't. "Now excuse me, I got work to do."

Barry went back into the stateroom and sat down. His companions were still there, discussing the strange events of the previous night. "So what do you make of it?" he asked.
"I'm scared," said Claire.
"I'm scared too," said the bimbo. "I want out."

"You can't get off a yacht in the middle of the fucking ocean," snapped Don Hadley. "We'll be OK when we reach land."

"I think someone's out to rob us, maybe kill us too," Claire went on. "They were spying on us and they took advantage of Barry being stoned."

"Could they know everything that was going on on the yacht?" Cassie asked. "How'd they know Barry was going to be stoned, or...or any of us for that matter? I don't see...." Whatever else she might be Cassie wasn't stupid, at least not all the time.

"If the ladder was down," pointed out Tom, "all of them could have got on board, not just one.”
"And planted a bomb or something - "
This only served to cause more alarm.

Don Hadley raised his hands in a placatory gesture. "Hey hold it, hold it. A, if they only wanted to get on so they could plant a bomb they wouldn't have bothered dressing up as a fish to do it. It's a clever kind of trick to play on someone. But if they were clever enough to do it they wouldn't have needed to, that's my reckoning. They'd have just sneaked up the ladder. B, if there's more than one of these people they could have killed us all without any bother, before we had time to call the Coastguard. C, they wouldn't need the ladder to get on board, they'd have rope ladders, grapnels and all that. D, they'd wait until we'd all gone to bed so there was no chance of anyone spotting something. E, they couldn't be sure what Barry would do once he'd got over his trip."

Tom chipped in. "And why'd they wait until morning when we were about due to sail, why not get on at night? It'd be the better time."

"Right,” said Hadley. “No, they could have boarded us last night without going to the bother of dressing up as some…thing, and all that. It's clever but there ain't no need for it, I reckon. I don't believe this Queen of the Deep story but I figure someone's up to something."

"Why don't we let them come on board and catch them?" Gail suggested. "Just so we can find out what's really going on?"

"I like the idea, but it's too friggin' dangerous. We'd need help from the Coastguard and we all know why that's out."

Hadley thought for a moment. "I don't believe in this Queen of the Deep business either, which is why I think something bad is going on. It's all too weird for my liking. Might be better if we have nothing to do with it, OK folks?

"I can tell you one thing," he growled. "No-one's gonna hitch a free ride on my yacht without my say-so. Or waste my time with stupid fucking practical jokes. They might be trying to scare us for a kick, but if that's the case they can just fuck off." He looked hard round the group. "You heard what John said, make sure that ladder stays well and truly up."

Barry went back to his room and sat down. As his head became clearer it was easier to think things out.

No, definitely not terrorists, or pirates. He was certain there was no danger to the crew of the yacht from whatever it was that had come into his cabin last night. But if not a terrorist, then what was she? Was she really a...merwoman?

Did undersea mer-people use pens? Evidently they did. Water-proof ones, no doubt....
It was weird, yeah, but was it bad?

Of her reality he was by now totally convinced. So could everything she'd told him be true?

At any rate he doubted there was anything harmful afoot. If she wanted the ladder down, because she needed to be on the yacht at a certain time, why shouldn't he oblige? Give her the benefit of the doubt. And if her story was true surely he ought to do something to help her?

Best not to get on the wrong side of Don, though, even if Barry was determined to have no more to do with him. He was a bad guy to cross.

Forget about this whole thing. Put it behind you. It's kind of a pity, but.....

Then he remembered how he had felt on waking that morning, remembering what he had seen, believing at that point it had been a hallucination but realising he had been convinced it was real. Briefly he thought of the white powder in the bowl by his bed, then shook his head firmly, shuddering with revulsion.
Reckon I owe you a favour, he thought. Whatever you are.


They were almost ready to set off. After the revelation of last night's events, Hadley was keen to put as much distance as possible between themselves and these waters. The mood on board was subdued, everyone going back to their cabins and staying there.

The one exception was Barry, who went out on deck and began to saunter about casually, hands in pockets, whistling a cheerful summery tune.

As he had expected, he soon caught sight of the captain coming along the deck, on his way to make sure everything was as it should be. "'Morning, John," he shouted.
“Morning,” the captain grunted.

He leaned against the railing and gazed over at the horizon, listening to the captain's footsteps as they gradually died away. He knew when John was finished as this was a regular routine whenever they were about to set sail after being moored somewhere for a while.

In the water Caroline waited, her eyes peeping just above the surface. She reckoned she was just close enough to reach the yacht before the engines started up and the propeller began to turn. She ducked underwater as the captain appeared at one end of the deck, then a little later tentatively resurfaced and saw that he was gone from view.

Some minutes passed, and the ladder remained raised. They must be about to set off soon, she reckoned.

Maybe it hadn't worked. Maybe in his still dazed state the druggie had forgotten what she'd asked him to do, even though she’d taken the precaution of writing it down. She felt her heart sink.
Come on, she breathed.

Then she saw someone come into view from behind the superstructure and go to the ladder. It was him. A wild thrill of hope sent her blood racing.

He unhitched the ladder and slowly lowered it until the last couple of rungs were in the water.

Before going back inside Barry gazed once out to sea again. Just for a moment he thought he saw an arm thrust up out of the water, a grey-blue coloured arm, giving him the thumbs-up sign. Then it was gone.
He turned away.

Caroline sped through the water as fast as her augmented body could carry her. To her alarm she felt the vibration, transmitted from the fabric of the boat to the water, as the yacht's engines rumbled into life. Just in time, she covered the last few yards to the ladder and took hold of the lowest rung, hanging on tight with both hands. No sooner had she consolidated her grip than the vessel started to move off.

Now as long as she didn't relax her grip...one slip and she would be sucked into those churning propellers. And as long as nobody noticed that the ladder was down again.

Seabird II cruised steadily through the Atlantic towards the Florida coast with Caroline hanging from the bottom of the ladder, every hour or so lifting herself up so that her head was above water and she could breathe in the cool fresh air.

In the end nobody did notice that the ladder was down. They still didn't feel like leaving their cabins.

After a while, looking to her left, Caroline could see the shore. For now it was just a thin, faint black line on the horizon.

As the yacht drew nearer she could make out buildings strung along it; boathouses, a cluster of holiday bungalows, a fishing village with clapboarded houses and a stone quay, where a few vessels were moored, jutting out into the sea. A little beach a quarter of a mile on. And beyond that, a cluster of masts like a miniature forest, no doubt the millionaire's private marina. The yacht turned gradually to the east until it was on a line with it. Twenty minutes later it cruised gently into its berth. Caroline waited until it was stationary and she could no longer feel the vibrations from the propellors. Then she let go of the ladder and dived.

Hugging the bottom, she swam off towards the open sea. As she left the yacht behind her, she thought again of Barry; knowing that she'd had no choice but to do what she'd done, but also that it wouldn't make her feel any better.

Once past the entrance to the marina she turned to the left, selecting that direction at random, and swam along the coast, keeping as close to land as possible to avoid being swept too far out by the current. She also took care to stay fairly deep, wary of being hit and mangled by a motorboat or water-skier. The vibrations would probably warn her in time, but she didn't like to take chances.

Every now and then she came up, just the top of her head and her eyes above the water, to literally see how the land lay. She didn't want to surface too close to the village. Although at this distance she would look like just another swimmer.
A gull bobbing on the surface saw her and took off in alarm.

She had to get ashore, reach a phone booth, and ring Rachel Savident – the only person with any authority, she guessed a Case Officer with MI6 counted as authority, who would be willing to help her without any strings attached. Then suddenly it hit her, and the absurdity of not having realised it before almost made her laugh. She didn't have any money.

She couldn't very well walk up to somebody and ask to borrow some. I'm going to have to steal it, she thought. Oh well.

A few minutes later, she surfaced for a third time and looked around. The coast was clear – so to speak. She had come up near a short stretch of sandy beach in between two outcrops of rock jutting out into the sea. A road, long and straight, ran along beside the water and on the other side of it was a patch of dense woodland, which might be described as small forest. A few houses could be made out a long way off. At the moment there were no cars in sight, or any people. In any case, at this distance she would look like just another swimmer.

A lonely spot. Which was handy in some ways, but not in others. She didn't want to cause a stir, but where there were no people there would be nobody to steal from.

She couldn't go too far inland, because she'd need to get back in the water quickly if she was surprised, or got hydrogen deprivation.

If she could reach one of the houses, somehow break in and steal the money. It was risky, but the only option available to her.

She struck out for the shore, towards a line of rocks, covered with slime and seaweed, which stretched some way out from the beach. Making sure to keep behind them until the last moment, she carried on until she felt her feet scrape the bottom.

She stood up, looked round again, and stepped cautiously onto terra firma.

She tensed, dropping into a crouch, at the sound of a car engine in the distance, faint but clearly audible. It was coming along the road in her direction.

She scrambled back behind one of the rocks and waited. She heard the engine noise grow steadily louder until the car must be about fifty yards up the road from here. Then it changed in pitch as the vehicle slowed, finally turning off the road onto the beach, shingle crunching underneath its wheels.

The suspension creaked as the car juddered to a halt. She heard the doors thrown open and the occupants climb out.

She peeped out cautiously from behind her rock. A family, by the look of it. A plump middle-aged woman, with dark hair greying at the edges, her husband, a teenage boy and girl. They were complaining loudly about the facilities available, or lack of same.

"There's no locker anywhere, where are we going to put our clothes?"
"We won't go in. We'll stay here and look after the things."
"Well I wouldn't mind going in actually."
"Later, honey. We can all take it in turns."

They sat down on the sand, unrolled a tablecloth and laid it out. The mother prised the lid off a plastic box and began handing out some sandwiches. The boy bit into his greedily. "You shouldn't eat too much before going in the water," his mother chided.
"It's just a snack, that's all."
"But bearing in mind how much you eat - "
"Aw, Mom, chill out."

Caroline waited while they ate their meal, waiting patiently for her chance.

"We're going in now," she heard the girl announced. She and her brother had their costumes on underneath their clothes, and stripped off. They sprinted for the water and were soon up to their waists in it, splashing about happily. The parents sat down by the picnic hamper, to bask in the sunshine.

"We should have changed before we came out," said the woman, in such a way as to suggest it was her husband's fault for not thinking of it.

"Well we didn't. Anyway we can change in the car, no-one'll see us."
"Later. Let's get some rest first, I’m tired."

"What about all the stuff?" She nodded towards the picnic hamper, the collection of beach accessories spread out on the towel.

"No-one'll steal it while we're right here, sweetheart. You worry too much."
"What about your wallet?"
"It's in the bag. Thought that was safer'n' leaving it in the car. Wouldn't be the first time someone's stolen from cars."

“But you could easily fall asleep in this sun,” Mona Weissburger protested. Freddie Weissberger, his hat over his eyes, grunted vaguely and lay back with his arms crossed behind his head. Mona glared at him and snorted in annoyance.
After a while, she fell asleep in the sun.

Cautiously Caroline crept from her hiding place. She glanced towards the boy and girl out to sea, and saw that their backs were to her. Nor were there any boats in sight which might spot her.

She crept over to the sleeping couple, moving slowly and stealthily. Every few seconds she glanced out to sea, but found the two kids still occupied in tossing a beach ball to one another.

She squatted over the beach bag, and slowly pulled the zipper back. It came open, and carefully she sifted through the contents, turning over each item of clothing in search of a pair of shorts or trousers. Presumably the wallet should be in one of the pockets.

I don't want much, she told them mentally. Just a couple of cents. I'll pay you back someday, if I can.

Mona was vaguely aware of a shadow falling over her, blotting out her sun. Then she heard a faint scuffling noise and supposed it was Sheryl or Jason and they wanted something from the bag. Pity they didn't have the decency to ask.

Best to check though. Frowning, she managed with some difficulty to sit up. Alerted by the movement, Caroline stiffened, glancing round just as Mona’s eyes blinked fully open.

For an instant the woman was staring right into her face. She went pale despite the sun, her eyes widening, and screamed. The scream echoed out across the bay, causing her husband to sit up in alarm.

Caroline took off, sprinting through the sand and across to the other side of the road. In a flash she had vanished into the thick foliage, which rustled for a moment then settled.

Wildly Freddie glanced in all directions. "W-w-w-what the hell was that?" he spluttered, having caught a glimpse of the strange-looking figure as it disappeared. He turned to his wife, whose body was shaking like an enormous jelly, her eyes wide and staring. He scrambled over and put his arms around her. "What's the matter, honey? Are you OK?"

At first all she could manage was a medley of incoherent whimpering noises. Then with an effort she pulled herself together, sort of. "Th-th-th-there was this....thing...."

The children came running up, dripping wet from their swim. "Mom! Dad! What happened? We heard Mom scream...."

"I...I heard someone going through the bag and I looked round to see who it was…and then…” She shuddered. "I don't like to think about it!"

"I just saw someone go across the road and into that wood," Freddie said. "They moved so fast I couldn't get a good look at them. But they were a funny colour...sort of grey all over.” He turned to the kids. "Did you see anything?"

"We saw the same as you, Dad," Sheryl said. She looked at her brother, who nodded in confirmation.
"You OK now, honey?" Freddie asked his wife.
"Y-y-yes," she answered. Fear seized her again. "Let's go, in case it comes back."

"Yeah," said Jason. "Let's find another beach, there's plenty around." He was shaken by the incident, though also intrigued.

"It was horrible, horrible," Mona wailed. "It wasn't human, I swear. Like nothing on earth. Its eyes..."

Sheryl sniffed, wrinkling her nose. "Eurghhhh, what's that smell? Like fish."
"It must have come out of the sea," Mona said.

"It looked like it was wearing a swimsuit, maybe some kind of body stocking." Freddie was about to press Mona for more details of the creature's appearance, then decided she wasn't in a fit state for it.

"Sure it wasn't some sicko in a suit, trying to scare people?" He bristled at the thought. "I'm not gonna stand for it, I tell you. I'm gonna call the police."
"If we do they might just think we're crazy," said Jason. "Are you saying it was some kind of monster, Mom?"
"I don't know. It was just......horrible."

Jason was thinking. "You said it was going through the bag. I don't know why they'd do that if they just wanted to scare people."
"I tell you it was....oh, I can't find the words."
Freddie was by now thoroughly bemused. The main concern, he decided, was his wife's nerves. It'd be best if they got her away from this place as soon as possible.
"Put on your things and get in the car, kids," he ordered, taking charge. "We're going."

The children obeyed. Freddie started the engine and they roared off down the coast in search of a place where hopefully they wouldn’t be molested by srange unearthly apparitions. As the sound of its engine died away the foliage at the fringes of the little wood began to move. The leaves parted with a rustle, and Caroline looked out.

They'd all gone. She drew back into her hiding place with a deep sigh of annoyance. That's that well and truly messed up, she thought.

Would the family tell anyone what they saw? It was difficult to say. Meanwhile, she'd just have to try again.

She could go further down the coast, or attempt to break into one of the houses she'd glimpsed from the sea, as had been her original plan. After a moment she decided on the latter option.

She moved stealthily through the wood, tense and alert, going into a rigid crouch at any loud and sudden noise. She found herself savouring the cool freshness of the place, the smell of earth and rotting leaves, and the sunbeams slanting down through the canopy of leaves above her.

After a while she came to a break in the trees. Through it she saw a cluster of little wooden houses, bungalows with verandahs. The wood went almost right up to them, which was helpful.

A few minutes later, she stepped gingerly from the covering vegetation onto the gravel drive of one of the houses. Cautiously she made her way up it. With any luck there'd be no-one in. If it was all locked up she'd have to find something to break a window with, a stone maybe.

If there was anyone there; guiltily she realised that if it was old folks or someone with a nervous disposition, she might give them a heart attack.

She stopped dead on hearing a dog bark, and hovered indecisively.
With alarming suddenness a massive German Shepherd came hurtling into view around the corner of the house, onto the forecourt in front of her. On seeing her it skidded to a halt, claws raking the gravel, and began to bark furiously.

The dog probably wouldn't attack her, or it would be kept chained up. All the same she didn't feel inclined to take the chance. Dogs were not her favourite animal. Apart from their tendency to do something dirty and disgusting when least desired or expected she was a little scared of them, always had been. The thing was there to frighten people away, and it was working.
It also depended on what the animal saw her as.

Sensing her fear the dog took a few steps towards her, emboldened. It bared its teeth in a menacing snarl. The same to you, she thought.

She took a determined step towards the house. The alsatian padded forward until it was just within arm's length, forcing her to stop. She tried to move around it but it headed her off. It began to circle her warily, in such a fashion that she wasn’t able to get away, all the time snarling and growling. In particular, she sensed, it was her strange appearance which seemed to be upsetting it. Every single hair on its back was standing on end.

Then she remembered. Trying a new tack, she squatted down before the animal and gave it a friendly smile. She filled her head with benevolent, canophile thoughts. Good boy. I don't mean any harm. I won't hurt you. I'm a friend, you understand? Friend.

She stretched out her hand, inviting it to be patted. It stopped circling her, instead studying her in a confused kind of way, its head jerking from side to side. It took a couple more tentative steps towards her, until she was close enough to stroke its muzzle, but still seemed uncertain.

They aren't stupid are they, animals? He knows I'm only trying to win him over so I can get into the house, invade his territory. He can sense it. This only works if you tell the truth.
They're a damn sight better at spotting a lie than people are.

As with the whale she could sense the dog's thoughts, although it couldn't have expressed them in human language. What exactly are you up to? It growled again, suspiciously.

Then from inside the house she heard sounds of rapid, urgent movement. The owner of the place had heard the dog's barking and was going to investigate. Should she try to explain the situation to them?

While she stood there biting her lip the door was flung open and a man appeared, wearing a cowboy outfit complete with stetson and carrying a rifle. He saw her and stopped dead, blood draining from his face. His grip on the gun slackened, its barrel drooping towards the ground.

"Holy fucking mother of God!" he gasped. "What the fuck are
you? What are...."
They stared at one another.

She could sense the waves of fear emanating from the man. And he had a gun.

There was only one thing to do. She spun on her heels, away from him, and sprinted off down the drive, the dog bounding after her.

The stalemate was broken. "Hey!" shouted the man. "Hey!" He took off in pursuit.

Caroline turned off the path and hurled herself into the cover of the wood, disappearing beneath a mass of shrubbery. The dog abandoned the chase, having seen her off, and stayed where it was barking after her to make sure she’d got the message.

Pete Ostrand contemplated the blanket of foliage now hiding the apparition from view, wondering whether to go in after it. The unsettling idea occurred to him that there might be more of these things lurking around. The dog’s reaction told him this wasn’t a hallucination, as he had briefly wondered.

He tried to decide if he should he tell anyone about the encounter. Would they just think he was stark raving buggo?


In the wood, Caroline found a bush and buried herself as deep within it as possible, considering her options. She hoped desperately the man didn’t decide to pursue her. If he did, the dog would sniff her out.

If it came to the worst, she'd just have to tell him the truth and hope for the best. In any case she didn't want to stay an aquanoid forever, eating fish and having to dash in and out of the water all the time. At some point she'd have to find some money to make that call with, or go to the authorities and tell all. But she didn’t want to.
So far she wasn't having much luck, was she?
If the guy went and told all his neighbours, or the police...

She sat down, drew her knees up and wrapped her arms tightly around her calves, curling into a foetus-like ball. She remained in that state for some time, attempting to will herself out of her depression. And aware she would have to return to the water again soon.

Then she heard the faint sound of a car engine. As she listened, she realised it was heading in the approximate direction of her hiding place. There must be a track that led through the woods from the main road. Fortunately she couldn't be seen from it, the greenery here was too thick.

The rumbling of the engine grew steadily louder. Suddenly it changed in pitch; the car had turned off the track and was bumping along the floor of the forest. She heard it judder to a halt, doors opening and shutting as its occupants got out.

Footsteps, accompanied by two voices, those of a man and a woman; both sounded quite young. They weren't moving like hunters, and so couldn't be looking for her. And yet their behaviour was furtive.

A little way from the car the footsteps halted. "That looks like a good place," the man said. "That little hollow over there, behind that bush. I know it from when I played in here as a kid. Nice comfy little hole."
"You sure no-one will see us?" the girl asked anxiously.
"Don't worry. There's no-one about for miles."

A wry smile turned down the corners of Caroline's mouth. It was quite obvious what the couple had come here for. So much for the chastity pledge, she thought.

They wouldn't allow themselves to be disturbed. If she moved very slowly and carefully, making as little noise as possible....

She heard the girl speak again. "What if someone hears us?"
"Not much they can do anyway," the boy assured her. "We ain't breaking the law. This ain't private property. It's not public either, not really. 'Sides, the wood's a big place. Chances of someone finding us are pretty slim."

She heard them fumble with their clothes, stripping them off. The foliage swished and rustled as they snuggled deep down within it. The young woman giggled wickedly. "Hey, you're right. It is comfy here."
"Told you so. OK, let's boogie."

They fumbled with the condom, to the accompaniment of further giggling from the girl. A moment later low moans of pleasure began drifting across to Caroline's hiding place.

She slid out from her bush. Guided by the sounds of intercourse, the stacatto gasping and panting from the man and the soft moaning of the girl, she padded over to the hollow and crouched down low. If she did make a noise they probably wouldn't hear her, engrossed as they were on the task in hand.

The cries of the two assignants rose steadily in pitch and the foliage thrashed with increasing violence as their writhing bodies agitated it. "Oh yehhhh, baby, that's really good....oh yeah...real good. Oh yeah.....oh God. Oh Jesus....."

She saw a large bush which appeared to grow from a shallow depression in the ground. They had left their clothes in two untidy heaps close by it. She tried the man's: as she had hoped his wallet was in the trouser pocket and she unzipped it and sorted through the contents. As before, a few cents was all she needed. With any luck he'd never realise it was missing.

She replaced the wallet and arranged the bundle of clothes so it wouldn't look like they had been gone through. Then, the coins grasped firmly in her clenched fist, she scurried nimbly away from the copulating couple and lost herself once again in the dense darkness of the forest.

Behind her the orgasmic noises rose to their ecstatic crescendo. "Oh! Oh! OH! AH! AH! AH! AAAAAHHHH.......AH! AH-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH......AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!! ARRRRRRR
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.....AAAAAAAAAAA.....mmmmmmmmmmmm."
The post-coital silence fell, and for the moment peace and quiet reigned in the little wood.

Caroline scampered through the trees to emerge more or less where she had gone in. Once again she peered cautiously out from the bushes at the stretch of road before her. Good, no-one about.

The quicker she moved, the less chance there was of being seen. She burst from the bushes, darted across the road and onto the beach, and plunged into the water. She waded out a few yards and then dived.

She swum up the coast for a mile or so, every few minutes popping up to take a look around. She had put the coins in her mouth, there being nowhere else for them to go, and was doing her very best not to swallow them.

Eventually she saw, standing alone by the road on the seaward side, what looked like a phone booth. She guessed the local authorities had deemed it wise to site them at intervals in this lonely spot, in case someone broke down there and was afraid of being stranded.

She remembered it would be very late in the evening by now, in England, and Rachel would probably have gone home. So she waited until, by her reckoning, Rachel would be back at work – until what back home would be the following morning.

Again there didn't seem to be anyone in sight. She rose from the water, and with a quick glance to reassure her she was unobserved hurried over the sand to the booth and slipped inside. She inserted a coin in the slot and dialled the number of Global Datasystems Incorporated, London England. Alias MI6.
"Hello, Security Services?" answered the telephonist.

"I'd like to speak to Rachel Savident please, if she's available. My name's Caroline Kent.”

The woman hesitated,puzzled by the strange, alien-sounding voice. “Er yes, of course. Hold the line, please.”

Caroline had to pop another couple more pennies in the slot before Rachel finally got to the phone. "Caroline! We've all been terribly worried about you. Where on Earth are you? And what exactly's been going on?"

"To answer your questions in that order, (a) I'm calling from somewhere in America, and (b), you'd have to see it to believe it."
Rachel sounded anxious as well as baffled. "Your voice - are you ill? What's happened to you?"

"I haven't time to explain, the pips are about to go. Right now I don't know where I am exactly, you'll just have to try and trace the call. Meet me here as soon as possible, I'll be keeping an eye open for you."

"Oh, er, right. OK. But I must say I'm looking forward to it."
"Try not to involve your bosses, at least not until we’ve spoken. And I'm not ill, not exactly. But I need help pretty quickly - "

The pips went, and Caroline hung up. She stepped out of the booth with another furtive glance to right and left, then ran down the beach and threw herself into the water. This time she would stay there until Rachel arrived. She wasn't going to put herself to any further risk.

One thing was sure, she knew Rachel would be over here as quickly as humanly possible. Rachel had never let her down. It was just a question of waiting, and of hoping that she didn't have to do it for too long.

The Atlantica
As he knew he would in the end, Chris had decided that being a part of the team was the only way he could stop himself thinking about what might be about to happen to the tanker and its crew. He was in the engine room helping fix a pipe which had become loose in its mounting when in his pocket the radio integral with MI6’s homing device started to bleep. “Excuse me a minute,” he told his companions, and abandoned what he was doing. He could sense several of them glaring after him as hurried off.

He found a deserted corner of the engine room, concealed himself behind a generator housing and got out the homing device. Switching to reception mode, he whispered into the receiver grille. “Rachel, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me. I've heard from Caroline."

Chris' heart leaped. "Oh, that’s great! Where is she? Is she alright?"
"She’s ringing from a beach on the Florida coast. Couldn't stay on the phone too long because she didn't have enough money. I don't quite know what's going on, but there seemed to be something wrong with her voice. It sounded like something out of the Exorcist, gave our telephonist a bit of a turn. No doubt she'll explain everything when we meet."
“Did she seem ill, then?”

“No, not really. I didn’t know what to make of it but I don’t think she’s in any immediate danger, not if I can get to her soon enough.”

Chris felt suddenly very disinclined to go on putting himself at risk. "Do you suppose there's any point in..."
"I still don't know exactly what's going on. It'll have to wait until I see Caroline, which should hopefully be sometime within the next couple of days. But I’ve no way of knowing what she’s going to tell me.”

She heard him whistle through his teeth. "I'll stick at it," he said eventually.
“Good. Take care. I’d better go now, if I’m to catch the next flight to America. See you soon, I hope.” She rang off.

Chris came out from behind the generator and went back to his work, ignoring the bemused or disapproving looks of his colleagues. He told himself he was too far into this to turn back now.

The submarine was an ex-Soviet Navy Kilo Class, built in the early 1980s. She was shorter and stubbier than a modern American or British boat, less streamlined, though with her double hull fairly resilient. 240 feet long, she could accommodate a crew of around 50, though at the moment it wasn’t necessary for her to be carrying more than about half that complement. She had a top speed was 16 knots per hour and could stay at sea for a maximum of 70 days non-stop. Although when Marcotech bought her she was without her armament of six 21-inch torpedoes, they had soon been able to make good that deficiency. They had the contacts.

Once they were on the right bearing 23 degrees SSW of the tanker’s current position, the captain gave the order to shut down the engines and adjust the sub’s buoyancy until she was hovering motionless just fifty feet above the seabed.

The escape hatch in the top of the conning tower opened, swinging upwards, and the creature that had once been Katie Phillipson, assistant to Dr Donald Ivarson, swam out vertically, clutching in both hands a smooth, white, egg-shaped object rather bigger than a rugby ball but at sixty pounds light enough to carry with ease, and fitted with a curved Perspex shield like the windscreen on some motorbikes, plus two lugs which served as handlebars. About two feet long, it was a water scooter, similar in principle to those used in recreational diving but with a much more powerful motor. The right handlebar incorporated the starter, an on-off toggle switch like the trigger of a gun, pressure on which could control the speed at which the scooter was travelling. The shield prevented the slipstream knocking off the operator's face mask, if they were human, or their hands from the controls.

Useful as it was, the scooter did not have nearly enough power to reach the tanker’s location from the colony, or from the nearest land, so the submarine was necessary for the greater part of the journey.

Her swim bladder automatically adjusting her buoyancy, Katie tilted forward into a prone position and hit the starter. She shot away from the Kilo, legs stretched straight out behind her in the current generated by the waterscooter’s passage, but able to kick them enough to give herself added propulsion. The other aquanoids on the Kilo would take her place if any accident should befall her.

She could sense the tanker’s presence without needing to be guided there by the radar on the Marcotech sub. Half an hour later she saw the dim outline of the Atlantica’s keel appear two hundred yards ahead. She gradually decreased the pressure of her hand on the starter button, the scooter’s speed reducing with it, and finally cut the engine. She let go of the device and it sank slowly onto the seabed to be retrieved later.

She swam the rest of the way, and once directly underneath the mid-point of the keel lifted herself back into a vertical attitude, her buoyancy easier to control now the weight of the scooter was not affecting it, and kicked upwards.

When she was right up against one of the metal plates of the tanker’s hull she reached down and unzipped her belt pouch, taking out a plain, flat metal disc a few inches across. Kicking to help keep herself upright, she placed the disc against the hull plate and immediately the magnetic bolts locked it in position. She had no idea why she was doing this, except that she had been told to and could see no reason why she should not obey, especially when there would be rewards for doing so once they were back at the colony, such as an extra helping of food or the chance to mate with the male of her choice. And outings like these made an interesting change from the usual monotonous, if familiar and comforting, round of tasks that made up so much of life at the colony.

Twisting sinuously, she turned her body through a half-circle and pushed off with another powerful kick of her webbed feet. When she had reached a safe distance from the tanker, having picked up the scooter on the way, she descended to the bottom and waited. The other aquanoids were already gathered there, awaiting the moment to move in.

When the limpet mine exploded the ship gave a violent lurch to starboard, at the same time tilting over enough to send Chris Barrett rolling off his bunk to hit the floor with a crash, wrenching him abruptly from his sleep. He disentangled himself from the duvet. At first he wasn’t fully aware what had happened, then heard the alarms and the running feet, the banging on doors, and realised with a cold stab of fear that it had.

Ah well, better rise to the occasion, he thought queasily, and hurriedly dressed. Minutes later he was huddled along with everyone else on the deck of the pitching, rolling tanker, while a roll call was taken and life jackets passed round. It would be some time before the tanker finally sank, so they were in no immediate danger. Not from the sea, at any rate. He could sense the fear and the tension emanating from the other crewmen, seeming to electrify the cold night air.

The evacuation went smoothly enough. Once Captain Tarrant was satisfied everyone was accounted for, they clambered into the lifeboats and were lowered into the fortunately calm waters surrounding them.

Chris got out MI6’s little gadget and called Rachel. “We’re in the water. Something blew the bottom out of the ship, just like all the others.”

He could detect the repressed excitement in her voice. “Right. Keep calling me every half hour or so, if you’re in a position to. If you don’t, I’ll know something’s wrong. Good luck.”

They sat in the boats and waited, for either rescue or whatever other destiny was in store for them. Again Chris found himself entertaining the thought that they might be spared this time. After all, it had been a while since a tanker had last been sunk… maybe the enemy had turned their attention to other things.

Then all at once the fabric of the lifeboats began to heat up alarmingly, as if they were on fire, and along with everyone else Chris was tumbling into the water, desperate to escape from the searing heat. For a few minutes he bobbed up and down in his life jacket, comfortably insulated from the chilly waters by it plus his protective clothing, but now sickeningly aware that they were not to be spared. Whatever significance a development like this had could only be a sinister one.

For a moment he thought he caught a glimpse of a green scaly arm, ending in a webbed hand, thrusting out of the water a few feet away.

He felt powerful arms seize him, start to drag him down. Instinctively he began to struggle, then remembered that he wanted to be captured.

Resist it, he told himself. They’ll think something’s going on otherwise. He resumed his struggling, to no avail whatsoever. The diver’s grip was incredibly strong.

Then the mask was clamped tightly over his face, and the narcotic gas began to hiss into his system. He tried to keep his mouth firmly shut, but there was little he could do about his nostrils. After a moment he gave in to the gas.

This had better be worth it, was his last thought as consciousness slipped away. He had had such sentiments on plenty of other occasions during his acquaintance with Caroline.

The aquanoids formed themselves into pairs, each holding one of the sailors tightly between them, and carried their prisoners down to where the waiting submarine hovered a few feet above the bottom. Its outer airlock slid gently open, and the aquanoids with their unconscious burdens disappeared inside.


THIRTY-NINE
Sheriff's office, Dawsonsborough, Shuttleford County, Florida, USA
Sheriff Gus Benson eyed the man before him sceptically. "Right, let's get this straight. This...fishman..."
"Actually I think it was a woman."
"OK, this fishwoman...." An amused smile had established itself on Benson's face. "You say she was making a telephone call...."

"I saw it with my own eyes," said Larry Boortzin. "I was birdwatching from this hide I'd made. I looked out, saw this thing come out of the water a couple of hundred yards away."

"Maybe she was ordering a pizza," suggested "Chip" Corrigan, Benson's deputy.
"No, not that," Benson said. "Guess she'd want a fish supper."
Boortzin was angry at the police chief's flippancy. "I tell you, I saw her."
"Suppose you did see her, Mr Boortzin. The way I figure it, there's no constitutional amendment which says it's illegal to go around dressed as a fish."
"If that was a disguise, it looked pretty convincing to me," Boortzin said. "The thing is, she could scare people's kids. I wasn't sure if I ought to report it to you but...." He was even less sure now.

Benson seemed happy to let the joke run. Dawson's Bay was a fairly quiet, peaceful, boring place. Now something had happened to liven it up.
He suppressed a childish giggle. "So anyway, she came out of the water, went into the phone booth and then..."
"Well, she made a call. I didn't catch what she was saying, it was too far away, but I’m certain she spoke English."
"Really?"
"Yeah. With a British accent."
"This really beats it," Corrigan said.

"Oh they come in all sorts, these fish people," Benson said cheerfully. "I met a French one the other day. And an Arab one - was gonna run her in as a suspected terrorist. Say, come to think of it, d'you suppose this is some new plot by al-Qaeda?"
"You guys aren't taking this seriously. I tell you, I saw her. The fish woman."
"Yeah, right. You're positive you saw this...mermaid..."
"She wasn't a mermaid. She had legs just like you and me, 'cept she was a sort of a grey-blue colour, with webbed hands and feet. And scales all over her body."
"Oh," he added. "And she wasn't wearing any clothes."
"She was naked?"
"Yeah, butt naked. As naked as the day she was born."
"That's something we could arrest her for, I guess," said Benson, glancing at his deputy. "What d'you reckon, Chip, public indecency? Corrupting the morals of the nation's youth?"

Boortzin went on undeterred. "And she gave off a funny smell, like...well, like fish."
"So when exactly did this happen?" Corrigan was scribbling down notes in a desultory fashion.
“About two o’clock, I think it was."
"Well, I guess we'd better make a note of it," Benson said. "Meantime we'll ask all cars to keep a look out for Fish Woman, first name unknown. Subject is about five foot ten, with webbed hands and feet, and covered in scales."
"I'll see to it right away, Chief," nodded Corrigan, solemnly.
"How do you know it was a woman?" Benson asked Boortzin.
He coughed. "Well, she had....you know."
"Oh, I see."

The birdwatcher brightened. "She left a good set of footprints in the sand. I went back later and took a photograph."
"How do we know you didn't fake them?"
"I suppose you don't," admitted Boortzin lamely.

"'Course," he added with a sigh, "the tide will have washed the prints away by now."
"Very convenient."
"I'm telling you I saw it," he muttered. "Well, if you guys have quite finished with me?"
"Yeah, I reckon that'll be all, Larry. Thankyou for bringing this to our attention like a public-spirited citizen."

Boortzin left. The door closed behind him, and the sound of his footsteps died away. The two lawmen looked at one another and immediately burst out laughing.
"Silly season," remarked Corrigan.
"Guess that's it," Benson agreed. "No, I don't think we need to bother about this somehow."
They could have checked the story, found out who the fish woman was ringing, but he decided it wasn't worth it. All the same, when Benson turned on the TV the following morning and settled down before it with his wife to watch the news over their breakfast, he got a considerable shock.

“Honey, I’m home,” Wayne Goertz, head of all Marcotech Ltd’s operations in the United States, called out as he turned from shutting the front door of his home in a fashionable suburb of Miami.

“Oh, hi,” shouted back his wife. She didn’t sound terribly keen to see him.

Goertz entered the living room to find her sitting gazing abstractedly at the wall. Putting down his briefcase he went up to her, bent and kissed her on the forehead. “You OK?”

Lucy muttered something he didn’t quite catch. “Was that an affirmative or a negative?” he asked.
She got to her feet, looking him straight in the eye. “Wayne, I think it’s time you and I had a talk.”
He affected to look nonplussed. “Oh, sure. What about?”

She took a deep breath. “About which matters most to you right now, me or your job. I’ve hardly seen anything of you these last few months. And when we are together, you seem to spend most of the time sitting staring at the God-damn wall.”
“Like you were doing just now.”

“I had an excuse. I want to know what yours is.” Her manner softened and she stood up, placing her hands gently on his shoulders. “Honey, if something’s eating you why not tell me what it is? A wife’s meant to be a friend, and that’s what friends are for – sharing troubles.”

Goertz said nothing. He looked away from her eyes, focusing on the dark strip at the roots of her hair, travelling straight down the parting.

Falsity. But it was the kind of falseness which had an excuse, because in a relatively harmless sort of way it actually made you feel better about yourself, comfortable with the image you presented. Other kinds had exactly the opposite effect.
“Is it something at work?” she persisted.

Gently he moved her hands away and turned to the TV. “Let’s watch the news,” he suggested. From a glance at his watch he guessed it would be about halfway through.

Lucy gave a sigh of weary disgust. “Yeah,” she said bitterly. “Let’s watch the news.” She collapsed back into her chair.
Her husband switched the set on and took his seat, watching with an exaggerated look of keen interest.

He was similarly fascinated by the television at breakfast the following day. As the usual sorry tale of war, violent crime and domestic dysfunction unfolded he affected to look suitably concerned. After the national news had finished the regional programme came on and Goertz watched that too even though he didn’t usually bother. The presenters started running through the headlines, which didn’t seem particularly interesting and Goertz wondered if it was really worth going to such lengths to maintain his charade.

"We also report the latest sighting of what has already become known as the Fish Woman of Dawson's Bay,” the male newsreader announced.

As Lucy saw her husband give a start and sit up straight, his eyes suddenly alight, she did the same. Her depression evaporating for the moment, she watched him intently as he waited for the full item to come on, clearly impatient. His manner was now entirely different.

Finally they got there. "Yesterday several people reported sighting a strange figure, described as half-woman, half-fish, in and around the coast and neighbouring woodland in Dixon and Shuttleford Counties, Florida.”

Goertz was perched right on the edge of his seat, leaning forward, listening to every word the newsreader said. He could feel his heart pounding with nervous excitement.

"While sunbathing at Hackman’s Point to the north of Miami, a tourist was disturbed by the Fish Woman who seemed to be going through her possessions. When challenged, the apparition ran off into nearby woods."

The picture changed to a talking head of Mona Weissburger, who attempted to describe what she had seen. "It was horrible," she wailed. "I've never seen anything like it in all my life. Oh God."

"A short time later, local resident Pete Ostrand came face to face with the Fish Woman when she approached his house. He believes she may have been attempting to break in."

Ostrand: "I was watching TV when I heard my dog barking, making a helluva noise, so I got me my gun and went out to see what the trouble was. I saw this...this creature or woman or whatever. We stared each other out for a while, then she took off and went into the woods."

A rugged outdoor type told viewers, "I was out walkin' in the woods when I saw somethin' was spookin' my dog. I looked and saw this figure or whatever it was, a few yards away. It looked to me like a woman, stark naked and, er, well-endowed if you'll excuse me. She was moving very carefully, like she didn't want to be seen. I hid behind a tree and kept very still. She kept looking around all the time, but I don’t think she saw me. I didn't realise until later, but it must have been the Fish Woman." He struggled for the words to describe what he had seen: the sylph-like figure moving about its verdant surroundings with the grace and agility of a deer, like some vision from an Edenic paradise.

“The next sighting was by well-known local figure Larry Boortzin, who saw the creature emerge from the sea and go to a phone booth where she appeared to be making a call.” The tone of the newsreader's voice changed to convey the humour of this. Let the viewers make of the business what they would; as long as they were watching, that was what counted.

"From all the various eye-witness accounts, it seems the Fish Woman looks something like this...." They showed an artist's impression of a long-haired female figure covered from head to foot in scales like a reptile's, with fangs and claws. The breasts were omitted for the sake of decency.

"Some have dismissed the whole affair as a hoax. It is understood that local police authorities remain sceptical. But as news of the Fish Woman spreads, more people are coming forward with their stories. A beachcomber reports sighting some mysterious footsteps in the sand, which appeared to have been made by webbed feet and to lead into the sea, near where Larry Boortzin saw the Fish Woman.” A photograph was shown. "Similar footprints have been reported from Kendon, just a few miles down the coast."

The newsreader shuffled his papers. "Well, I don't know what to make of this, but it seems we have here a mystery to rival Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Write, phone or e-mail us with your suggestions as to what the Fish Woman might be." A number flashed up on the screen.

Goertz felt his excitement - and alarm – continue to mount. An aquanoid. It had to be an aquanoid. It was possible he was mistaken, but...

The Kent girl; it had to be. They'd informed him of her escape and told him to look out for her, just in case she’d come his way. He sat thinking for a bit, then got up and headed for the door. “Excuse me a moment.”
Lucy stared after him in astonishment.

Goertz went upstairs, trying to move at a slow unhurried pace, and then up a further flight of steps between two of the bedrooms to the house’s roomy attic. Part of it served as a spare bedroom, the rest was used for storing assorted items of junk; the two sections were divided by a sliding partition.
He shut the door at the bottom of the steps before ascending.

Once he was sure no-one could hear him, he made a call on his cellphone. “Listen, I think we've found her. It's all over the local news: reports of a "Fish Woman" being sighted around the coast north of Miami."
"What? Where exactly?" demanded Edward Greatrix, almost gabbling in his haste.
“I know the county. I'll get as much information as I can, try and pinpoint a more precise location."
"Do that. As quickly as you can, please."
"Seems she hasn't gone to the authorities," Goertz observed. "Lucky for us."
"She wouldn't. They’d want to take her apart to see how she worked. Maybe she’ll get her mysterious friends to sort it out. Anyway, we’ve got to get her back before she changes her mind.”

Greatrix was bristling with excitement. It would be a long and difficult, probably futile, task to search for Caroline Kent in hundreds of miles of ocean. On land it was a different matter. "We must get to her before anyone else does. What are you waiting for, Wayne? Get moving."

Lucy, standing just outside the door which opened onto the attic stairs, moved softly away on hearing his footsteps pounding down them. She went into the west bedroom and started pottering around there.

Since he hadn’t actually told her where he was going, by her reckoning he couldn’t complain if she came upon him suddenly and disturbed whatever it was he was doing. She had searched the house, intending if questioned to pretend she was looking for something, and soon traced him to the attic room, having found no sign of him anywhere else. She had been about to open the door when she’d heard faint sounds of conversation – unless he’d started talking to himself, he must be phoning somebody – and paused to listen. Before she could make out any of the words, he was on his way down.

“Sweetheart? Lucy? You in there?” He came into the bedroom. Without speaking she turned to face him.
He touched her lightly on the arm. “Honey, I’m really sorry but I gotta go.”
This time she looked merely resigned. “Uh-huh,” she mumbled, nodding slowly.
“Something’s come up back at work, something I have to organize,” he explained.
“You’re going back to the office?”
“Yeah, there’s stuff I need there. Hey, how about we go out for a meal together when this is finished?”
“All right,” Lucy said, trying to sound enthusiastic. Maybe he was sincere about trying to make up. Or maybe it was just a token gesture. Whatever the true state of affairs, the mood of helpless gloom which had enfolded her these last few weeks had gone away now. She couldn’t for the life of her understand what was going on, but somehow felt that at last she might just have the faintest possible indication of an answer.


“Just ring the bell if you want me, Ma’am,” smiled the porter, and went off. The door closed behind him.

Left alone, Rachel Savident stood looking round her rather cramped but smartly furnished surroundings, a momentary feeling of sadness coming over her. Her life with MI6 was often like this; an endless round of hotel rooms she would never see again, people she’d smile at or share a joke with and then forget about as the demands of a job which could take her almost anywhere in the world whisked her along with them.
Was it all getting a bit much for her, perhaps?

For now banishing the thought from her mind, Rachel lifted the strap of her overnight bag off her shoulder, placed it on the bed and unzipped it. Taking out her mobile phone, which had been switched off during the flight from London in accordance with safety regulations, she turned it back on again. Immediately it started to ring.
Rachel sat down to answer it. “Hello?”

It was Commander Bailey. “The signal’s changed course. It does seem to be heading roughly towards the Bahamas area, although it’s still too early to say if that’s where it’s headed.”

“Alright. Keep tracking it and call me immediately anything happens.”
“Will do, out.”

Rachel put down the phone and began rooting about in her travel bag for the map she had bought at the airport. She hoped she hadn’t just condemned Chris Barrett and the crew of the Atlantica to death. At least if she had, it wouldn’t be in vain. Meanwhile…..

She unfolded the map, spread it out on the desk in the corner and drew a circle in felt tip around the area of Dixon and Shuttleford counties, Florida.


Headquarters of Marcotech Miami
Wayne Goertz spread out the map on his desktop, his eyes roving over the area around Miami until he found the spot he was looking for. He tapped it with his finger.

"It was somewhere off here. Going by the reported sightings, we should concentrate our efforts in this area." He produced a marker pen and drew a triangle encompassing the strip of coast between the northern fringes of the city and and the state border with Georgia, plus the adjacent sea for about five miles out.

One of the men gathered round the desk with him nodded. "That's not too far away," he said. "We can have the equipment flown over from here. I’ll see to it.”


Caroline was in the water up to her chest, her sodden hair plastered to her face and forehead. Coming up for air, she had heard the babble of many voices drifting to her on the sea breeze. She glanced landward and saw the crowds gathered on the sand, hoping no doubt to catch a sight of the fabled Fish Woman. Evidently the news was travelling fast.

On the beach the people were milling about in their dozens, chatting sociably. The common interest in the Fish Woman had engendered a kind of comradeship among people who normally didn't talk to one another.

Cameramen, some from the media, some making home videos, were going around filming the scene. A reporter was buttonholing people and asking them questions. There were also a couple of investigators from the Society of Cryptozoology.

People waved to their parents at home, shouting out cheery greetings. Some were there purely so they could get their face on TV or in the papers, and from time to time would stop and stare long and hard at the camera. Others had simply seen the mass of humanity already congregating on the beach and been overcome by an irresistible urge to know what was going on.

The NBC news reporter selected a disparate group of people who were clustered together talking, and did his stuff. "Tell me," he asked one erstwhile citizen, "what do you think of this Fish Woman business?"

"I dunno,” said the man. “Seems she hasn't really done any harm. Reckon they ought to just let her be."
"Why doesn't she show herself?" someone nearby asked.
"Perhaps she's scared someone will put her in a zoo," suggested a ten-year old boy. "I would be."
"What do you think she is exactly?" the reporter asked them.
"I think somebody's been experimenting on people," said one conspiracy theorist, unknowingly stating the exact truth of the matter.

Caroline noted that some of the watchers had binoculars trained on the sea. Hurriedly she ducked out of sight beneath the water.
Bugger it, she thought. Rachel isn't going to show when there are all these people hanging about.
She was trapped by her need to stay close to the water, and to the same basic spot. It made her more vulnerable in the event of something happening to foul things up.

She swam a little further out. With people watching the coast, she was bound to be spotted whenever she surfaced. At the same time, she couldn't go too far out or Rachel might miss her. She swam to what she reckoned was a safe distance and waited.

It wouldn't be safe to leave the water for the time being. At the same time, she knew she'd have to risk it eventually.
She'd just have to be patient.

On the beach some kind of disturbance was going on. One man had suddenly given a shout and pointed out to sea. "Hey, I thought I saw her just then." Immediately they all gathered round him. "You saw her?" said the reporter.
"I dunno," he frowned. "Looked like a person...but I can't be sure. Could have been a big fish, I guess."
They moved away from him.

Caroline swum a bit further up the coast and surfaced again. There were less people here. They were harder to make out at a distance, but she sensed the waves of excitement emanating from them. After a while they began to drift off, having been unsuccessful in catching a glimpse of the Fish Woman. She guessed they'd be back.

A pleasure boat came chugging along, its decks crowded with sightseers. It seemed some enterprising character had already begun chartering special "Spot the Fish Woman" tours. The boat was patrolling up and down the coastline, the people on board scanning the surface through their binoculars. Whether they were serious investigators or just having a bit of fun she had no idea.

She had exhausted most of her underwater time. She had to keep surfacing, but if she did the boat might at some point spot her.

She waited until it had disappeared behind an outcrop of rock and she couldn't be seen from it. Then, before it came back, she dived and swam towards the shore, with the powerful strokes and speed of a human fish.

Once there, she dashed across the coast road and into the woods. She found a little hollow and settled down to wait, pulling the surrounding leaves and branches over her. Nice and comfy, she thought.

After a while she found herself getting hungry again. Her eye fell on a cluster of juicy-looking red berries and she contemplated them with an aching stomach. But who knew, they might be poisonous and in any case she wasn't sure what effect it would have on her altered metabolism.

She heard a rustling in the foliage nearby, and glanced around for its source. She made out a small furry body and a pair of bright gleaming black eyes regarding her curiously. Some kind of shrew or vole.
She could have moved fast enough to catch it.
Oh no, she told herself firmly. I'm not going to do that.
The animal regarded her for a second or two more, whiskers twitching, then turned and scurried off.
Leaves should be OK. She plucked a few and munched them for a while. Nutritious, no doubt, but not very tasty. Unless you were a rabbit.

She waited there in the heart of the wood until the first mild pangs of hydrodeprivation came. She rose and crept away, at the edge of the wood crouching down and once again parting the vegetation around her and peering out.

The sightseers were back. It was becoming a regular thing, a chance to meet people and have some fun. In time it would lose its novelty and they'd find some other source of entertainment, but she didn't want to have to wait until that happened.

It seemed some people were taking it in turns to watch, operating a sort of rota system. One guy seemed to be there all the time, observing the water from a makeshift hide through a pair of binoculars mounted on a stand.
Go on, go away, she muttered beneath her breath. Don't work too hard.
There was no sign of the boat, mercifully. It must have given up for the time being. She waited for it to come round again but it didn't.
She couldn't get to the sea while all those people were massed there. She'd just have to remain where she was, to try and stand it as long as possible. So she went on waiting, eyes fixed on the crowd through the gap in the foliage.
One of them turned, and to her horror she realised he was looking straight at her hiding place. Had he seen her?

Slowly she drew back, easing the leaves gently back into place, and quietly crept back to her hollow.
She stayed there until she could no longer ignore the pains. They were coming more frequently now, and much more sharply. With a hissing sigh she got to her feet again, relieved that necessity had made up her mind for her. Once again she told herself that if it came to the worst she'd just have to tell the truth and ask for help, then take things as they came. With any luck the worst part would be the reporters trying to interview her.
She padded softly back through the forest. In her need to get back in the water as soon as possible, she took less care this time.

She didn't sense the men lying in wait for her until it was far too late. One jumped down from the branches of the tree up which he'd been concealed and landed squarely on the path in front of her. "Whoooooo!" he yelled.

She jumped back with a startled cry, feeling her heart go into overdrive.

She made to dodge round him but he seized her by the wrist. She tried to pull free and almost succeeded but then felt someone grab her from behind, wrapping their arms round her waist. The first man let her go and stepped back. "We got her, boys!" he shouted. "We got her!"

Caroline and her captor staggered all over the place as she struggled savagely to free herself. "Hey, she's strong," the man gasped. "Lend us a hand, guys."

With a desperate heave she broke away from him, stumbled and fell sprawling. Scrambling to her feet, she found herself surrounded by about half a dozen men, casually dressed and rough-looking, who had appeared from the foliage in which they'd been hiding. They formed a tight ring around her.

She recoiled from the strong smell of beer on their breath. It was clear most if not all of them were a little under the influence. Oh no, she breathed, bracing herself to make a fight of it. She could see how it must have begun. A drunken bet; let's see if we can catch the fish woman. We know she comes ashore sometimes and that wood's the only place big enough for her to hide in.

The drink must have worn off a bit by now, but they were too far into this to back off. One of the men, a bearded fellow who seemed to the leader, took a step towards her, a broad grin splitting his face. His eyes gleamed with the sly cunning of the drunk.
"Well, well, waddya know. Look what we've got here, guys. It's the fish woman all right."
"Ain't no mermaid, that's for sure. She's got legs.”
"Great. So we can...."

Another of the men moved a little towards her. "We bin waiting for you, sweetheart."
"Don't be stupid," she snapped. "I've got to get back in the water or I'll die."
They weren't really listening. "Hey, it talks!" shouted the one who had been hiding in the tree. "Love the husky voice, honey. Real sexy."

"So what're we gonna do with her, boys?"
"Just let me go, will you? I can't stay out of the water for too long or I suffocate. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Some hope.

"Guess she's not from round these parts," one man commented, noting the English accent beneath the hissing tones of the Fish Woman’s voice.

To her further alarm Caroline saw that one of the men was carrying a coil of rope. He made purposefully towards her, but one of his friends put out an arm to hold him back. "Wait, let's screw her first. I wanna see what sex with her is like.”

A roar of derision went up from several of the others. "Screwing a fish? You're sick."
"I'm not a fish!" Caroline shouted. "Listen, I - "
"Whatever she is, she looks OK by my book," someone grinned.
"Are we sure it's a woman?"
"It's got titties. And a nice ass. Check out that sweet juicy pair of peaches, will ya?"
"I vote we screw her. Any takers?"
"You try and you'll regret it!" Caroline hissed, snake-like.

"Oh! Oh! Oh! We'll regret it? Hear that, boys? Hey, I'm shakin' in my shoes!"
"That's a suit she's wearin', I tell you. Look closely and you can see the zipper. Whaddya wanna dress yourself up like that for, sweetheart?"
"I don't see no zipper."
"Let's see if we can find it," leered the bearded man.

"What film set you wandered off, babe? Waterworld? Creature from the – no, you ain’t that, are you? Just as well or I couldn’t stick my pecker in you. Say, are there lots of other chicks like you down there in the deep? If there are I’m gonna take up scuba diving. Gonna go diving for a bit of tuna ….“
The inane comments started falling thick and fast.
Caroline felt herself start to panic. "Look, let me go!"

One of the rednecks, not too bright but more sober than the rest, shifted uneasily. At first it had been a bit of fun, hunting the fish woman. He had certainly not meant to hurt her. In all he had simply been curious. "Hey boys, this is going a bit too far," he shouted. The others ignored him.

"Guess there's only one way to find out if she's real or not," the bearded man said. He moved closer still.
"No! Leave me alone, you fool!" Caroline shouted.
"She can't be a fish woman, she talks just like us."

"I am one of you.” She backed away from him, eyes darting from one man to another, her body bent in a protective crouch. "Listen. Marcotech - the marine engineering company - they did this to me. They're...."

"So why don't you tell the cops? We'll take you down the station if you like. Fancy a ride?" They snickered at the deliberate double meaning.
"I don't want people finding out. They'd use me as a guinea pig, experiment on me. You understand what I'm saying?"

She didn't mention that an officer of the British Secret Service was on their way to meet her. These were the kind of people in whom a little knowledge could be dangerous.
They weren't taking any notice of her, anyway. Except, that was, for the guy who had tried to argue them out of it. She looked directly at him, her eyes saying help me.
The man who had got her round the waist, was examining his fingers where they had touched his flesh. "I dunno," he said, referring to the question of intercourse. "She feels sort of cold, slimy."
"That's just what I like. Hoo boy! The wet look really turns me on."
Someone sniffed. "And she smells of fish..."
"Won't bother Doug. He's inta fish, ain't you Doug you pervert?"

Evidently their leader was tired of all the talking. "I'm gonna find out whether she's a real red-blooded woman. Hold her for me, will you boys?"
Against several of them together she was powerless. In a moment they had seized her and wrestled her to the ground, pressing down hard on her shoulders and arms to keep her there. To her rage she felt two of the men grab her legs and start to prise them apart.

The bearded man was ripping off his clothes with frantic speed. "I'm comin' for ya, baby!" he shouted. “I'm comin' for ya!" His friends whooped with laughter, shouting out their encouragement and almost visibly drooling with anticipation.

The man who had tried to call a halt to the proceedings wrinkled his nose in disgust. Unable to hold back any longer, he rushed at his leader and tried to pull him back. Two of the others grabbed hold of him and pulled him off Beardie, furious that he was trying to spoil their fun. He tore free, landed a punch on one of them, and a fight broke out. Meanwhile Beardie was advancing on Caroline, naked from the waist down and very obviously in a state of arousal.

It was proving difficult to hold her down. She wriggled and thrashed with terrifying fury, several times nearly throwing them off. Suddenly one of her powerful legs broke free, and just as Beardie dived on top of her she delivered a savage kick to his jaw, putting behind it all the proportionate strength and stamina of a human-sized fish.

They heard the crack as her foot connected very hard with the side of his face and saw him collapse over her with a high-pitched scream of agony. Both his hands flew to his chin and he leapt to his feet howling like a little child. Such was the others' astonishment that they relaxed their grip on Caroline, forgetting about her for the moment. She bounded to her feet and ran.

Beardie lurched and staggered in all directions, a succession of incoherent half-words, alternating with shrill whimpering noises, issuing from his throat. What he was trying to say was that she had broken his jaw.

One of the rednecks, still gaping at the scene in amazement, was blocking Caroline's path. Before he could recover his wits she punched him full in the face. The blow sent him reeling back, twin streams of blood jetting from his nostrils. He clasped both hands to his injured nose, immediately feeling the warm liquid ooze over his fingers.

She pushed past him and ran on, crashing through the shrubbery where it encroached on the narrow path. Enraged, he flew after her bellowing at the top of his voice. "Hey, you don't do that to me OK?" As if on cue his friends joined the chase, leaving Beardie still crashing about the clearing, naked from the waist down and letting out mad cries of pain and rage. And hearing a nasty squishing sound whenever his jaw moved.

Caroline's one thought was to get back in the water as soon as possible. She was barely conscious of them hurtling along the path after her. Several times she staggered to a halt, gasping and panting, overcome by the pain. It felt like red hot knives stabbing deep into her guts. And whenever it struck it seemed worse than before. Again the fire in her chest was driving the air from her lungs, choking her. Her skin too felt like it was burning.

They had almost caught up with her when she burst from the foliage and sprinted across the short strip of scrubby grass separating it from the road. There were still a few people on the beach but Caroline was barely aware of them; she didn't notice them turn to see what the commotion was, and stiffen in both excitement and astonishment.
"Jesus, it's her! It's the fish woman!"
"Hey, look at her go!"
"Looks like something's spooked her."
Then the excitement turned to horror and alarm. "Look out!"

She could never have seen the station wagon speeding along the road towards her. The driver was conscious only of a figure dashing across the road in front of him, quite oblivious of the danger. Instinctively he slammed his foot down hard on the brake, yelling out a startled expletive. With a squeal of tortured rubber the car screeched to a stop.

The people on the beach saw the bonnet of the car slam into the "fish woman" and send her staggering. She lost her balance, fell and lay sprawled on the road for a moment, apparently stunned. Then she was up and running again, moving at the pace of an Olympic champion. In little more than the wink of an eye she was on the beach, her feet kicking up little spurts of sand, knocking people aside as she raced for the water. One or two tried to grab her but she moved too fast for them.

One punter did manage to seize her by the arm as she flew past him, but she broke free with an angry snarl.By now the hydrodeprivation was sapping her energy. Her pace slowed and she lurched forward in a staggering motion. Losing her way, she stumbled blindly this way and that, before managing with a fierce scowl of concentration to regain her bearings.
"Head her off!"
"Go for it!" someone shouted. "Go go go!"

She tripped, collapsed in the sand and lay there gasping and panting, twisting and writhing. Like a stranded fish.
A woman approached her cautiously and bent over her. "Are you alright?"
"Leave me!" Caroline shouted, struggling to rise.

Realising what the matter was, a solidly built young man in a donkey jacket ran to her. Turning to the others, he thrust out his arms to keep them away. Another man, with an intelligent but vacuous expression, was leaning right over Caroline examining her with interest. He would be blocking her if she tried to stand up.
"Leave her alone," snapped Donkey Jacket. "She needs to get to the water." The punter ignored him.
"I said leave her alone, you asshole." With a resentful look the man stepped back from her.

Caroline picked herself up and ran on, into the sea. She staggered on a few paces, then they heard the wild, ecstatic cry of pleasure as she dived, disappearing beneath the surface with a resounding splash.
A strange silence fell. After a moment a murmur of conversation started up as everyone began discussing excitedly what had just happened.
On seeing the crowds on the beach Caroline's pursuers had skidded to an abrupt halt. Unanimously and without a word to one another they decided to break off the chase, quickly disappearing back into the woods, all except the one who had tried to help her. He waited until the others had gone and then went to join the crowd. Anxiously he began asking people what had happened.

A reporter became aware of his presence and hurried over to him. "Did you see what happened, Sir?"
"I spoke to her," he said. "She said some company or other had made her the way she was. She said she was scared to tell anyone in case they, you know, did tests on her and things."
"Who were those people who were chasing her, do you know?"

He hesitated. If he got his friends into trouble over this, he'd been in trouble with them. "I've no idea. Sorry."
"I swear one of them was bleeding,” the reporter heard someone say. “Looked like something'd bopped him on the nose."
"She's dangerous? Violent?"

"Is there anything else you can tell us, Sir?" the reporter asked.
"Uh, no," said the redneck. "That's all." Several people frowned, sensing he wasn't giving them the full story.
But his words were travelling round the crowd like a ripple, an electric current.

Meanwhile Caroline, head above water, was observing the scene from a safe distance. God, she'd really stirred things up now. Best not to return to land for the time being, and keep well out to sea. Unless maybe she moved on, went further up the coast. But she could guess what would happen if she was spotted. It was quite likely the news would soon be all over America, if not the whole world.

They'd hunt her like an animal. Which is just what I am not, she thought savagely.

And she'd have to make another call to Rachel, to let her know the rendezvous point had changed. That meant stealing more money. But the thought of going through all that hassle again, perhaps getting caught….
Jesus, how long was she going to have to stay like this for?

How long would it take Rachel to get to her? She tried to work it out. Assuming there were no hitch-ups....

Rachel would have the sense to hang on until all the fuss had died down before making contact, and would expect her to do the same. Once again, she thought with a hiss of frustration, there was nothing she could bloody well do in the end but wait.


When Wayne Goertz got home that evening and turned on the TV, the story was on the national news, having by now spread to every corner of America. "New developments in the story that is gripping the nation: the the saga of the Fish Woman of Dawson’s Bay, Florida. About a hundred people who had gathered on the beach there for a glimpse of the strange figure saw her appear from a neighbouring wood and run across the road to the beach, surviving a collision with a car on the way. She seemed desperate to reach the sea, and despite attempts by several of the crowd to catch her eventually succeeded in doing so.

“One local resident spoke of a meeting with the fish woman in which she told him that a company had experimented on her….”

This time there were pictures. Still photos plus a film someone had taken of the Fish Woman as she ran hell-for-leather through the crowd, uncaring about anything but the need to reach the water. She was moving too fast for you to see her face, but it looked like it could have been Caroline Kent alright.

A zoological expert came on to give his opinions on the matter. "Too many people have seen her for it to be a hoax,” he told viewers. “A mass hallucination...possibly. But I don't think so.”

“Couldn’t someone be dressing up in order to play some kind of joke?” asked the presenter.
“There are people who would do that sort of thing, certainly. But I’d say they were taking too much of a risk exposing themselves to all those people on the beach. If they’d been caught, the hoax would have been over.” Unless, of course, they really did need to get to the sea because they really were a Fish Woman who could only spend a limited amount of time on land.
“Is it possible to tell from the film we’ve just seen?”

“Whether she’s real? I’m afraid not. She certainly moves the way a human would. But we’d need an actual physical examination to be sure, so unless she’s willing to oblige…”
“What are we to make of these rumours about a company experimenting on her?”
“Well if she really does exist, the Fish Woman, then the story about the experiments could be true also."
"Could somebody really have done that?"

"I…I really don’t know. If they could, they must be pretty good at their job, that’s all I can say. It’s….feasible, maybe.”
We’ve got to find her fast, thought Goertz.

He was still lost in anxious thought when the programme came to an end. The sound of his wife’s voice caused him to snap out of it. “Wayne…”
“What’s up, honey?” he smiled, turning to her.

“Wayne, if you wouldn’t mind just turning off the TV for a moment…there’s something I have to tell you.”
“What’s that?” Goertz asked, uneasily.
“I’m leaving, Wayne. I’m sorry but I’ve had enough. I’m going to stay with my mother for a few days, and then….well I, I don’t know right now. But I’ve had enough.”

He gave a start. He hadn’t been planning to lose her just yet. Or at all, really.
“Lucy, I thought we’d agreed to try and sort things out. We were going out for a meal tomorrow evening. What the heck’s going on?”
Lucy shifted awkwardly, biting her lip. “I…I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I just think we…we’ve grown too far apart lately. I want to start all over again. I don’t think – “ She didn’t sound that convincing; certainly not to him, and probably not to herself either.
“I’m going to pack a few things together and then leave,” she said firmly, turning quickly away. “I’d be grateful if you didn’t try to stop me.”

He stared after her as she hurried from the room, puzzled and unsettled by this wholly unexpected development. Then he got it. Lucy had noticed his reaction when they first heard about the Fish Woman; and now they’d said on the news she was rumoured to be the product of genetic engineering by some company. Perhaps a company like his, which would certainly have the know-how if anyone did.

Lucy felt she was getting in too deep. She wanted to tell someone about her suspicions that Goertz was mixed up in something unethical but was afraid what he might do if he guessed them. He made his decision there and then, knowing that if there was a struggle and she cried out the neighbours might hear.

Moments later he burst into their bedroom, where Lucy was hurriedly cramming various items of clothing and other personal possessions into a suitcase on the bed. “Lucy,” he cried. It was a better tactic than creeping up softly behind her, which would only alert her if she sensed his presence or a loose floorboard gave him away.

“I told you not to try to change my mind, Wayne,” she sighed, not turning round. “I think it’d be better for both of us if you just ….”

In his hand was the silver statuette he had been given as a prize for leading his high school baseball team to victory in the annual Divisional Tournament, years ago. He smashed it down on the crown of her head, causing her to fold in two and crumple to the floor, dead or unconscious. Then he hit her again, and again, and again, until he was sure from the amount of blood that she was gone. She was just small and light enough for him to bundle her into the suitcase; the bloodstained carpeting and bedclothes he crammed into several plastic bags. Later, at three o’clock in the morning when he knew the neighbours would all be asleep, he carried it all out to the car and put it in the boot.

He had spent the interval trying to think of a suitably lonely spot where the body could be disposed of, eventually settling for a patch of woodland about ten miles away, where he and Lucy used to walk together. When he got there the place was completely deserted, as it ought to be at such an hour. With the aid of a torch he managed to find his way to a clearing in roughly the centre of the wood where the two of them had once lain down and made love, one balmy summer night not long after they were first married. There he dug the hole and consigned his wife to her last resting place, beneath the ground where their bare feet had once seemed to laugh as they tripped over the soft springy grass, savouring the deliciously natural feel of it against exposed skin.

He lingered at the spot for a while, without quite knowing why, before returning to the car and driving back towards home. On the way he started to think about how best to explain his wife’s disappearance. Marcotech would help, of course. What they couldn’t do was to make him feel better about what he had just done. But of course there’d been no choice. No choice….


FORTY
Sheriff Benson plodded along the beach, hands in pockets, trying to decide what to make of this Fish Woman business. All manner of conspiracy theories, many of them fantastic, were being put forward. She was one of a lost race of Atlanteans, or an alien from a planet whose surface was entirely under water, or a mutation caused by the dumping of radioactive waste at sea. For his own part Benson didn't know what to think, in the end; when all was said and done he could have only one concern in the matter, and that was to do his job.

For events had taken what might be a nasty turn. Benson had thought it wise to request regular coastguard patrols, with helicopters, and station officers on the beach armed with guns firing tranquiliser darts. The place had been cleared of sightseers, who’d probably have gone away soon in any case as the novelty of the affair wore off.

This was a small town, little more than a village, in which everyone knew everyone else and nothing out of the ordinary escaped notice for long. What a doctor couldn't tell him because of the rules on confidentiality Benson could pick up from rumour and gossip. At about the same time as the incident on the beach a local resident named Kenny Montane, a real bad character, had been taken to hospital by some of his friends suffering from a broken jaw. He was notably reticent about how he'd come by the injury.

If the fish woman, who personally he had nothing against, had smashed in Montane's kisser then bully for her. But he'd his duty to consider. There might be other incidents like this, incidents in which people could get hurt. He understood the Fish Woman's fears but he had a brief to protect the public, as well as ensure her own safety.
Why had she come ashore, anyway? What did she want?

If they caught her they'd try to help her, of course. But he reckoned that after what had happened in the woods and on the beach, and the subsequent police activity, she'd probably avoid the area from now on.

He wondered who she was, had been before someone interfered with her biology. If that was the explanation for all this. It was certainly the weirdest thing he'd ever had to deal with in twenty years of law enforcement.

Benson frowned. He should have spotted Hanrahan, the officer detailed to patrol this section of the beach, by now. But there was no sign of the guy. What the hell had happened to him?

He looked up at a droning noise high in the sky. There was the helicopter, at least.
Again he frowned. He couldn't tell for sure at this distance, but those didn't look like police markings.
He could see the patrol boat out in the bay. He could see at least three patrol boats in fact, which puzzled him. They hadn't asked for more than one. And their markings, like those of the helicopter, seemed unfamiliar.


For the first time he became aware of the sound of an engine, and saw the distant shape of a beach buggy moving in his direction. He carried on walking until, a few minutes later, it came to a halt just in front of him. In the front sat two men in the uniforms of the National Guard. The non-driving Guardsman dismounted and walked towards Benson.

"National Guard," he said unnecessarily. "Sorry, Sheriff, but we're taking over this job from you."
Benson's eyes widened. "Uh, I see," he muttered. "Mind if I ask why? At present I think we're fully able to handle it."
The man smiled helplessly. "I'm don't know why, Mr Benson. But those were my orders."
What the heck is going on? Benson thought. Weird as this business is, it's not as if it was a Goddamn national emergency.
"How did you find out about it?" he asked.

"Well, it has been on the news quite a lot," smiled the Guardsman. The tone of his voice changed ever so slightly. "Now if you wouldn't mind."
Benson stared at him, shrugged. His not to reason why, he supposed. If they wanted to take it off his hands, that was their concern. He did feel a little disappointed, though.

With a curt nod to the Guardsman he turned on his heels and stomped off. "Oh Hanrahan, I forgive you," he murmured once out of earshot, and got out his cellphone. Calling the station, he was told that the Guardsmen had arrived at the scene a few minutes our before he did and ordered everyone clean away, simultaneously with the National Guard Bureau phoning the station to give notification that they were taking charge.

He was later to learn that no such call had been made, as far as was known, from the Bureau’s office, and certainly no authorisation had been given for the Guard to take over the Fish Woman case from the local authorities. Like Benson, the Bureau were frankly puzzled as to why anyone should ask them to do so.

Caroline had sensed the vibrations from the launches, the sounds of their engines in the water, and seen both them and the helicopter when surfacing, although on that occasion they had not seen her as far as she could tell.

She glanced towards the shore, and saw the men with guns now standing there, the patrolling buggy.
Her heart sank and she swore softly. Damn. They wouldn't go away, she was certain of that; not just yet. And while they were there they would prevent Rachel from getting to her. Her only chance was to keep trying to evade them, prolong the chase long enough for them to get tired and give up; or for someone to get suspicious and realise what was going on.

They must be Marcotech, she guessed, and Marcotech were operating without the consent of the legitimate authorities, if not beyond their control altogether. Her only other option was to try to reach the small town she could see nestling in a kind of natural harbour several miles to the north. This time she'd go to the police, or to somebody, and tell them everything. She'd had enough running around. But whatever happened she wasn't going back to the colony.

She could swim beneath the launches, of course. And when on the surface she would know where they were from the currents they set up. But though faster than any human swimmer, she still couldn't outrun them. One consolation was that they couldn't easily shoot from a fast-moving boat, only head her off.

Her best hope was to stay underwater, which apart from anything else would prevent her being spotted, and there lay the problem. She was getting dangerously short of air time.

She submerged, held her breath for as long as possible, and then surfaced again, to stay above as long as she dared, diving whenever any of the launches or the helicopter turned in her direction; she could usually tell if they did so by the pitch of their engines, even if they were out of her eyeline. As she kept on doing this the distant town grew steadily larger before her.

Meanwhile, the driver of the buggy was calling his colleagues in the helicopter. "Any sign of her yet?"
The pilot's voice crackled back. "No. You?"
"The same."
"OK," he said and cut off.

The buggy was there mainly to keep people off the beach, but at the same time his passenger kept scanning the sea for any sign of Caroline, the peak of his baseball cap shielding his eyes from the sun.

They passed a specially built hide where two more men, one of several pairs stationed at intervals along the coastline for some five miles, were pointing their binoculars towards the wood. The buggy pulled to a halt beside them. "Any luck, boys?" he shouted out.
One of the two lowered his binoculars. "No, nothing. It looks like she's avoiding the land from now on."
"Keep at it. We gotta make sure." He trod on the brakes and drove on.

A couple of hundred yards out the helicopter circled above the bay, every few minutes sweeping low over the water. And the launches, eight in all, continued to comb the area of their search, some patrolling its perimeter while the others criss-crossed the sea within, the men on board training their binoculars on the water.

The bay had been cleared of all non-Marcotech vessels and the road cordoned off for four miles in either direction. All in all it wasn't likely they were going to be disturbed.

Altogether the forces of Marcotech were spread out over an area of about thirty miles. That was about as far as they could cast the net. Any wider and they might be spreading themselves too thinly, running the risk of missing her. Of course, it was possible they already had.

The man in the passenger seat of the buggy continued to scan the waves before him with a precise, almost inhuman patience, the sort that can only be ingrained by rigid discipline.

It was when she surfaced for air that Caroline would be most vulnerable. A brief moment or two was all it would take to get a fix on her.

In one of the launches Kevan McDermott, the ex-Delta Force man in charge of the operation, tossed his spent cigarette over the gunwhale and watched it drift lazily away.
"Remember what Mr G says about pollution," warned his companion, a former Marine named Calvin Westman.
"He ain't here to complain about it," snorted McDermott, and resumed his watch of the sea around them. A minute or two passed. "Hey!" he shouted suddenly.
Westman sat up sharply. "Got her?"

"I saw something that looked like a swimmer. They surfaced for a moment then went down again. They're staying under longer than you normally do."

Westman grabbed for his radio. "Did you get that, guys?" The radio was multi-way so those in the helicopter and the launches and on the beach could all hear what was being said at the same time. "Sure did," they chorused.

"Bearing 35 degrees NNW." Above the launch the helicopter wheeled and changed direction.
Again McDermott lifted the binoculars to his eyes. And gave a start of excitement. "There it is again!"
"Sure it wasn't a seal?"
"Could have been. Bring her in a little closer, will you? 'Bout fifty yards."

He grabbed hold of the side of the launch to steady himself as it turned sharply, heading towards where he thought he had seen the fugitive. Again he glimpsed the dark, rounded object break surface, and this time he was certain. A little of the body was also visible and he noted the fluting of the back which gives the human form its distinctive, and aesthetically pleasing, outline.
He gave a whoop of triumph. "Think we got her."
"Yeah, we saw her too," said the chopper pilot.

The launches slowed to a halt, cut their engines. In each, one of the occupants swiftly donned a diving suit and then picked up the waterscooter which lay at his feet. Once each man was fully kitted up he sat on the gunwhale, the scooter cradled in his arms, and fell over backwards into the water. He twisted over onto his stomach, kicking to keep himself afloat, grabbed the scooter and hit the start button.

The divers streaked along underwater at the maximum speed a human could endure, converging on the point where Caroline had been spotted. Each man carried spearguns, firing tranquiliser darts, attached to his belt.

The launches started up again, and they too converged on the point where Caroline had been seen, the divers taking care to keep well below them. The idea was to trap her inside an ever decreasing circle, launches on the surface and the divers with their waterscooters beneath.


In the water Caroline sensed the vibrations and felt a pang of dismay. Divers; lots of them, coming at her from all directions, and travelling with a smoothness which suggested some kind of powered assistance. Probably water scooters, able it seemed to go a lot faster than those currently on the open market. With those, they could travel through the water every bit as fast as she could.
Bad news.

Had she been spotted already? If they had a fix on her position, it would only be a matter of time before she was cornered.
She guessed that since Marcotech, to give them their due, preferred not to kill people unless absolutely necessary the guns probably fired some kind of tranquiliser dart. But once they were within range, they would use them.

Well, let's give you a run for your money, she thought. Diving again, she kicked off towards the distant town. Just before she went down she noticed that the men standing up in one of the launches had a net strung out between them.

After a minute, the need for air drove her to the surface again. She swam on in a powerful breaststroke, gulping in as much air as she could every time her head was out of the water.

Ahead of her and to the west she saw the outline of something big emerging from the water, a huge grey mass of rock rising straight up from the bottom. A small island. She'd noticed it earlier when surfacing to take a look around. It was joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway submerged except at low tide; and the tide right now was high.

The helicopter buzzed her, the downdraft from its rotors flattening out the waves and driving her beneath. The pilot was skilled: a foot or two lower and he'd have taken her head off. She could guess their intent. Give yourself up or we'll force you to stay below until your air runs out, as they knew it must eventually.

She had no idea whether any of the divers had spotted her yet. One of them - no, two - were within a few hundred yards of her, and closing fast. The others were some way further off.

Should she make for the coast? They probably had that covered too. If she surfaced to make sure they'd see her. And once she was out in the open....

She came up again, gasping for breath. And again the helicopter banked towards her, driving her below.
She was running out of time, out of air, out of luck.

Only one chance. As the helicopter swung away, prior to making its next approach, she surfaced once more, took several very deep breaths, submerged again. And made for where she knew the island to be.

She swam round the huge jutting mass of rock, keeping it between her and the Marcotech vehicles. By the time she was sure she was in the right place, her heart and lungs were on the point of bursting. She came up with a great shuddering cry of relief and once the painful heaving of her chest and lungs had subsided took a look around. She couldn't see the helicopter or the launches, the island hiding them from her view. Which hopefully meant they couldn't see her.

Before coming up she had sensed the other divers, further away now but positioned between her and the town, cutting her off from it, in case she decided to make for there.
But they must have anticipated she'd head for the island. Maybe no-one was stationed there because they didn't want to spread themselves out too thinly.
It didn't offer much scope for concealment. They'd be bound to catch her in the end. Unless perhaps....
She rose dripping from the water and stepped onto the rocky little beach which fringed the island. It seemed she was out of sight from the watchers on the shore, at the moment.

Hugging the wall of rock, she began to work her way cautiously around it. She found a fold in the rock where there was a kind of crevice and slipped inside it. It would shield her from the view of anyone in the helicopter, should it decide to circle the crag. Or from the launches if they did the same. But she hadn't bought herself much time, because they'd surely work out what she’d done eventually.

She listened to the sound of the helicopter's rotors, and heard the aircraft sweep by the island. She slid out from her crevice and continued to work her way round the crag, her wet feet slipping and sliding on the rocks and stones beneath them.

She rounded a corner of the crag and tensed with excitement. Her supposition was confirmed. She'd thought she'd seen it when she first noticed the island; a deep indentation in the rock, ten feet high and fifteen wide, within which only a mass of blackness was visible. A cave; it looked just right for her purposes although from here there was no way of telling how far in it went. And it was between two projecting spurs of rock which screened it from the beach unless you happened to be looking at a particular angle.

She waited by the cave mouth, listening. Whenever the sound of one of the launches, or of the helicopter, suggested it was approaching close to the island she darted inside and buried herself deep in the darkness, pressed against the wall and listening, until she was sure it was safe to venture out.

"OK, thanks. Keep searching for another half hour." McDermott stowed away the underwater cellphone. "No luck," he sighed. They've had no sign of her. Can't figure out why, she'd need to come up for air by now." He surveyed the sea around them, and the coast, with a frown of annoyance.

Calvin Westman was doing the same. Suddenly he yelled out in triumph, pointing, as his eyes fell on the the thrusting mass of rock over to the west. "The island! That’s where she must be!"

"We should have put someone there," McDermott said. He reached for the cellphone again. "We think she's on the island. Might be trying to get to the mainland, by that causeway. Two of you - Frank and Johnny - get over there right now. Gino, go stand on the causeway to cut her off."

"Sure thing," the three men answered in unison. Gino, who had been among the watchers on the beach, ran to the causeway and took up position half way along the curving finger of masonry. Frank returned to his launch, then Johnny gunned the motor and sent the boat round in a wide arc towards the island. The rest of the divers would continue their own search for the moment, just in case Westman was wrong.

It could be a shark had got Caroline, or she'd met with some accident, maybe become caught on a wreck - there were a few about the coast at this point - while trying to hide from them in it. They'd go on looking until they were sure.

In the cool, damp darkness of her cave, Caroline waited. It seemed she still hadn't been spotted, but her luck was bound to run out eventually.

The cave was quite large, but the rear wall was solid apart from a narrow fissure nowhere near wide enough to admit her. She’d have to come out sometime in any case.

She heard the sound of a launch approaching the island from the other side. It slowed, the engine cut off and died away with a splutter. Just one launch, with hopefully no more than a couple of men inside it. But they'd guessed where she was, alright.

With any luck the other guys would have been told to go on searching elsewhere. They wouldn't be keeping an eye on the island right now.

She heard the sound of someone getting out of the launch. Leaving her hiding place she moved cautiously in the direction they had come from, towards a ridge of rock which projected forward just to the left of the cave, partly overhanging the narrow path formed by the sparse beach of shingle and pebbles around the island. She trod carefully, anxious not to scuff the pebbles and make a noise.

There were enough ledges and indentations in the sloping fold of rock for her to lever herself up onto the overhang. Fortunately the sun had dried her out a bit so she wasn't quite as slippery. Moving as far back as possible, she went down on all fours and waited, heart pounding with nervous tension.

Eventually the men's voices became audible. One was American, the other English with a London accent.
"Must be round the other side."
"Maybe she keeps moving round the island, so we'd never spot her."
"Nah, the others would see her too easily. She's round here, I'll swear to it."

They came round the left-hand spur into her view. One of them was still wearing his exposure suit. On seeing the cave they stopped. "She must be in there," said the American.
"Best place," the Englishman agreed. "OK, let's take a look. Better be careful though."
They made towards the cave, ignoring anything that might be crouched on the overhang, above their eyeline.
Caroline was crouching almost flat, her grey-blue skin blending in with the surrounding rock and giving her an element of camouflage. Her lips had curled back in a mocking grin of triumph. Stupid men.

She sprang, leaping through the air with ape-like agility to land right on top of the pair, knocking them both to the ground. The speed and suddenness of the attack took them completely by surprise. They dropped their stun guns and before either of them could react Caroline had jumped back, as she did so snatching up one of the weapons from where it had fallen and kicking the other out of reach.

As Frank, the English one, started to get up Caroline shot him with the stun gun. She heard the "phutt" of compressed air as the dart left the muzzle and embedded itself in his neck just above the hem of his wetsuit. He crumpled and lay still. The American just had time to glance around wildly for his own weapon before she did the same to him, the dart penetrating the thin nylon of his shirt and sending him into oblivion.

She dragged the unconscious bodies into the cave, making sure they were right inside and so less likely to be spotted. Then, taking the stun gun, she crept round the island in search of Frank and Johnny’s launch.

On the causeway, watching the island through binoculars, Gino saw her appear from behind the left-hand spur. He was too far away to shoot her with his stun gun. He called Frank and Johnny, and was concerned to receive no reply. Guessing what had happened, he began creeping along the causeway towards her, aware that if he ran she'd hear him. Once she was within range....

Now that she wasn't screened by the spur of rock, Caroline knew she was at greater risk of being spotted. She glanced anxiously to her left, saw Gino and broke into a run. Gino did the same.

Her feet slithering over the wet pebbles, on which she was constantly slipping, she rounded the south-west corner of the island, just as an anaesthetic dart missed her by inches and lodged in a crevice in the rock. She was out of the Marcotech man's view now, hopefully buying herself precious minutes. How many minutes exactly she couldn't say. But he'd catch up with her before very long. And the helicopter or the launches would now be sure to spot her, if not perhaps immediately. But before her in a little cove she saw the launch, bobbing gently up and down. She waded through the water as fast as she could, jumped into the boat and started the engine.

It took her a moment or two to master the controls; though she'd been in one of these things before, as a passenger, her ideas of how they worked were a bit vague. She relied on her good memory and the truth that being in a desperate situation tended to concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Caroline swung the boat round, revved the engine up to full throttle and pressed the starter lever. Gino came round the corner just in time to see her shooting away into the distance, out of range of his dart gun.

He radioed his friends, to find they'd already spotted her. He decided to go and look for Frank and Johnny, and McDermott agreed.

The other launches were converging on Caroline's from all sides, attempting to surround and head her off. She was sure she felt a knockout dart zip through the air close by her. Her one advantage was the difficulty of hitting a moving target. But sooner or later she knew they'd get lucky.

In the bottom of the boat was the water scooter. She picked it up and inspected it briefly. She'd used one of these things before, not so long ago, while snorkelling. Any skilled diver could operate one after just a few minutes of instruction. She had gained some valuable air time on the island, and could stand being submerged for a while. Holding the scooter out before her, she jumped from the speeding launch into the water and dived. She gunned the scooter's motor up to full, and grinned in delight as she streaked away, scything through the water at an exhilarating pace. Nippy little things, these. Must try it again sometime, if I ever get out of this.

Normally, a scooter towed divers at no more than two to three miles per hour, about the same speed that you could attain using your fins. The Marcotech divers must be men of exceptional strength and fitness, specially selected to use these high-powered versions. It seemed her augmented body could handle the stresses even better, giving her another crucial advantage.

Generally the device was easy to handle. By angling it slightly, or even just turning your head, you could get it to tow you in any direction.

With the advantage of speed the odds had been evened. And now there was a gap in the ring of divers encircling her, because she had knocked out two of the enemy; Frank and Johnny weren't available. To make up for it Marcotech had to spread themselves out further, and that gave her a chance to slip through their net.

If she could just get far enough up the coast to be beyond Marcotech's cordon, before her air ran out again...

Minutes passed with no sign of pursuit. She decided it was time to surface and take her bearings, to find out how close she was to town. She made the mistake of stopping the scooter straight away instead of first slowing it down. The sudden abrupt halt sent a jarring shock through her body and caused her to let go of the scooter. She was catapulted some distance through the water, arms and legs flailing.

Recovering, she swam back to where the scooter had sunk to the bottom, lying half buried in the silt. That was one valuable lesson learned, she thought. Treat these things with care.

She surfaced, taking a deep breath for good measure, and glanced to land. She was about three miles from the little town; with the scooter it wouldn't take her long to cover the rest of the distance.

Once there she should be safe, from Marcotech at any rate. They wouldn't want to attract too much attention.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw the helicopter swing round and dip towards her. Uh oh, she thought. It's seen me. She submerged again, started up the scooter and shot on her way.
The helicopter pilot immediately sent out the alarm. "Just spotted her, bearing of 47 degrees north."
McDermott considered his next move. "Everyone back on board the launches," he ordered. The boats cut their engines and waited. Minutes later the divers appeared at the surface, their scooters having covered the distance to the launches in no time. They clambered on board, and McDermott told the launches to converge on a point a few degrees north of where Caroline had been seen.

The scooters were fast, but the launches were faster. Even if Caroline guessed their intent she couldn't outrun them, not without doing fatal damage to even her modified body.
"You're sure she's still heading this way?" asked Westman.
"Yeah. She's trying to reach the town," McDermott said.
When they reached the spot he had indicated the divers took their scooters and went down again.

Twenty feet below them, Caroline's brain sensed a confusing jumble of signals that threatened to overwhelm it. They'd picked up her trail and were all converging on her position. She stopped, this time remembering to slow first, reorientated herself and restarted the scooter, shooting off to the right.
On land she'd be a sitting target. She had to lose them in the open sea.
Then suddenly it seemed the water around her was full of divers. They were coming at her from each side and from behind, and their speed of course matched hers.

She presumed they carried stun guns on them somewhere. Their problem of course was that to use them, they'd have to stop or let go of the scooter. Emboldened by this thought, she sped on. Several of them tried to get off a shot at her, but she moved out of range too fast for the darts to find their mark.

She found a Marcotech diver drawing level with her. Suddenly he let go of his scooter and as she started to flash past him grabbed her tight around the body, pinning her to him in a savage bear hug. The pull of her scooter broke his grip and she slipped from his grasp, leaving him far behind.

Another diver, managing to get a couple of yards behind her, let go of his scooter, its momentum carrying him on a little further and compensating slightly for the loss of speed. He drew the stun gun from his belt, aimed it at her and fired.

And got lucky. A second before she would have passed out of range the dart struck home, and Caroline felt a sharp pain in her leg.
To her horror she realised what it was.

All at once the leg felt numb, lifeless. And the wooden, dead sensation was creeping steadily throughout the rest of her body.

Teeth gritted, she held on even tighter to the scooter's handgrip, letting the machine carry her on, and fighting the effect of the dart every inch of the way. She ploughed blindly on, leaving her pursuers far behind, before her numbed fingers finally lost their hold, slipping from the handgrip.

The chilling thought that she might drown before Marcotech could locate her galvanised her into action, sending adrenalin coursing through her body and for a moment overriding the effects of the drug. With a desperate burst of strength she kicked upwards.

Her head and shoulders broke surface and she splashed about frantically, arms windmilling as she sought to attract the pursuers' attention, wherever they might be. She kicked out, performing rapid circular movements with her legs in her frantic struggle to stay afloat.

It was one of the launches which spotted her first. The man in its bows saw her surface, then sink, then surface again, floundering.

The launches slowed as they closed in on Caroline, forming a circle around her. The man in the nearest launch threw out a net and she felt its folds wrap themselves around her, entangling her arms and legs. A diver scrambled onto the boat and joined him, the two of them pulling hard on the ropes and drawing the net tight until their catch had been hauled up over the side and into the boat. She thrashed about for a moment or two, then one of them bent over her with a metal rod in his hand, like a cattle prod.

He touched the taser to her shoulder. Caroline jerked sharply, her mouth opening in a cry of shock, and went limp. Her eyelids fluttered, then closed.
McDermott called the helicopter. "It's OK, Jim, we got her."
"Yeah, I saw. Well done, boys."

All the divers were soon back in the boats. "I guess we can all go home now," McDermott announced. "We'll meet up on the beach. You can get back to base now Jim," he told the chopper pilot.

The man had fallen silent, as if something had happened to distract his attention. "Hey Jim, you there?"

"Yeah, I'm here alright. It looks like the boss guy's sent some reinforcements. Shame they got here a little too late."

McDermott turned to see the three motorboats heading towards them. As he did so he noticed, at the periphery of his vision, something in the sky to the east that hadn't been there a moment before. Another helicopter.

The other boats slowed, then just before stopping turned so they were side on to the Marcotech boats. Like the chopper they lacked insignia. But instead of T-shirts and jeans, he saw that the men on board wore black military-style combat jackets. He certainly didn't know any of them.

And what was more, they were all carrying M16 assault rifles, held ramrod-straight and aimed point blank at him and his companions. The Marcotech employees stared at them in shock. "Hey, what's going on here?" McDermott demanded angrily. "Who the hell are you?"

His words were drowned by the boom of a thunderous explosion. He spun round, to see the wreckage of the Marcotech helicopter falling towards the sea in blazing fragments.

It registered that just before the explosion he had been aware of a whooshing noise as of something travelling very fast through the air towards the chopper. Ground-to-air missile, he thought feverishly. Probably fired from a vessel out to sea.

The men in the black combat jackets opened fire, spraying the cluster of Marcotech boats with their bullets. McDermott staggered against the gunwale, keeled over it and fell into the water. One of the Marcotech men managed to get off a wild shot with his dart gun, but it failed to find its target. Then a hail of bullets slammed into his chest and ripped it to pieces, the impact flipping him over backwards. He fell sprawling in the bottom of the launch, other bodies landing on top of him as his comrades dropped like flies.

The operation was precisely co-ordinated. At exactly the same moment that the helicopter exploded, and the men in the boats were slaughtered, other shots fired from the woods took care of the watchers on the beach and in the buggy. The Marcotech men patrolling the woods were ambushed while on their way back through them to rejoin McDermott’s party.

Having found the unconscious bodies of Frank and Johnny, Gino had stayed by them waiting for them to come round. The sound of the explosion had drawn him from the cave. As soon as he appeared on the other side of the island, looking round for its cause, he too was shot down.

The newcomers boarded each of the boats, checking that everyone on them was dead. Then one by one they rolled the bullet-ridden corpses into the water, joining those that were already there.

When the job was done their leader spoke into his three-way radio, calling first the man in the helicopter. “Coast clear, Don?”
“Yeah, no problem. You got her then?”

“We sure have. Opposition well and truly eliminated. How about you guys on the beach?”
“We’ve taken care of them all. No sign of movement anywhere.”
“Guess we can all go home then. See you back at base.”

He signalled to a couple of his men, who stepped onto the lead Marcotech boat, picking up the net with Caroline in it between them. They passed their burden to two of the men in the lead launch, who laid it gently down in the bottom of the boat. The leader studied Caroline’s unconscious form for a moment and grunted, satisfied she wouldn’t be causing any trouble for now.

While his colleagues returned to their own boat he seated himself at the controls of his launch. Starting the engine, he wheeled it round till it was facing out to sea, then raced away at top speed, the other boats following just a few yards behind.

Gradually the sound of their engines receded into the far distance, and silence fell across the bay. The water lapped gently at the abandoned Marcotech boats, and at the dead bodies of their occupants.

The wake left by their passage disappeared and the waters of the bay settled, peace and quiet reigning over it once more.


FORTY-ONE

Prior to the main invasion of Pakistan members of the SAS and of Delta Force, its US equivalent, infiltrated the rebel-held north of the country to make contact with Musharraf supporters there, win hearts and minds and organise resistance against the militants.

Then shortly afterwards, at 09.00 hours GMT, the Allied forces with the Americans in the lead had begun moving north along the main highways through the Indus Plain towards Islamabad. Simultaneously air attacks began on rebel strongholds and training camps in the west, in and around Quetta, Kalat, Drug, Kharan, Dalbandin, Nokkundi, Pishin and Chaman. Great care was taken not to stray over the Iranian border and further inflame tension in the Middle East through causing “collateral damage” there.

The advance towards Islamabad was thought unlikely to present major problems, since the low-lying countryside permitted speed and the Pakistani army wasn’t much to speak of in comparison with the US or British. It would simply take time, that was all, because of the overall distance to the capital. The flat terrain did however expose the invaders to long-range fire from groups of armed militants, especially when some obstacle slowed down the advance. However there wasn’t much these people could do against a tank or armoured personnel carrier. They blew up bridges, of course, but where the rivers could not be crossed by amphibious vehicles the Royal Engineers or their American equivalent soon built new ones, though quite a few personnel were killed or injured by sniper fire while engaged in this work.

The main problem would be the guerilla-style fighting needed around Quetta and the nuclear sites in the Chagai Hills and Baluchistan, where the terrain was not suited to conventional military campaign and particularly not the use of tanks. The very difficulties of operating in this area, combined with the knowledge of what was at stake, made the Allies all the more desperate and determined to win, and the fighting here was fierce and bloody, not least because the enemy were fanatical Pashtun tribesmen, the scourge of colonial armies in the nineteenth century, who saw the war as a re-run of an old conflict with Western imperialism and were more likely to support al-Qaeda than any other ethnic group. Almost every day Chinook helicopters ferried more and more troops to this theatre of conflict, the hope being that by sheer numbers they would succeed in overwhelming al-Qaeda and their allies and compensate for the disadvantage of their lack of familiarity, except where the Special Forces were concerned, with this kind of ground and the style of warfare needed to win it.

One blessing was that the traditionally troublesome Kashmir and Afghan border regions, along with Afghanistan itself, could be safely ignored as all the militants were in Pakistan. But thanks to their help, al-Qaeda were in control of the whole of that country north of a line running through the Chagai and the province of Baluchistan and then east via the Suleiman Range to the Indian border, cutting Pakistan more or less in two. To say that they were in control of it was a bit of an exaggeration, for in many places outside the capital anarchy reigned. But they had come dangerously close to the missile sites in the Chagai, the Allies arriving only just in time to beat them off and safeguard the installations for the time being.

The nuclear facilities at Rawalpindi, Kahuta, Chashma and Joharabad had already been bombed to destruction by the B52s, but the likelihood was that a certain quantity of uranium and plutonium had already been smuggled out, to perhaps be used one day in the making of an atomic bomb. There was nothing that could be done about that. In any case, it had long been a foregone conclusion that (a) nuclear material had already fallen into the wrong hands, due to the incontinence of security in the former Soviet Union, and (b) al-Qaeda or a similar group were bound to end up in possession of the bomb sooner or later and the West would just have to take things as they came. One consolation was that although they might be in possession of the right materials it would be a while, so the experts thought, before they could acquire the expertise and facilities to put them together.

In the mountainous western areas, ground troops were supported by aerial bombardment from Apaches, Fighting Falcons and B52s. US planes carpet-bombed rebel front lines and defensive positions with 15,000-pound “daisy cutter” bombs. Apart from the nuclear facility at Kahuta there was no bombing of the northern cities because it was not thought necessary to secure them and there was an acute awareness of the danger to the Allied cause which too high a level of civilian casualties could inflict.

Since the eastern half of the country was mostly low-lying (the Indus Plain) and, beneath the line of demarcation, under the control of Musharraf supporters there was little obstacle to the passage of troops and armoured personnel carriers northward along the main highways towards Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar, assisted by the pro-Musharraf forces who fought bravely. The militants threw several squadrons of aircraft from the rebel-controlled Pakistani Air Force into the battle, but they proved no match for the Tornados, Eurofighters and F15s of the RAF and USAF. Among other things, they suffered from a shortage of skilled personnel and there was not enough time available in which to train them. It was the same with their tanks, which were quickly mauled by the Abrams and Challengers.

Most of the opposition to the Allied advance came from teams of suicide bombers. As soon as they crossed the line of demaracation the Allies were attacked by groups of militants – fedayeen – with rocket launchers and grenades. The rebel positions were bombed by US and British warplanes, which were occasionally shot down with SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles. Roadside bombs killed a number of soldiers. Casualties were by no means negligible but although they slowed the Allied advance significantly, they could not halt it. Just three weeks from the opening of the conflict the forces of the free world, as it was euphemistically called, were well inside enemy territory and had split into two groups, one making for Lahore and Faisalabad in the Punjab while the other pressed on to Peshawar and Islamabad.

Parties of fedayeen arrived in the northern cities and took over whole sections of them, siting their headquarters in civilian areas so that the Allies would either be deterred from attacking them or would be vilified because of the resulting casualties. The Allies in fact made quick progress down the main boulevards leading to the city centre; it was in the narrow streets of the suburbs and outskirts that they faced the greatest problems. Since saturation bombing from the air was out, they had to clear each district slowly and with precision, street by street and house by house, in constant danger from snipers and booby traps. When the Americans were joined by the British, who had gained plenty of experience of this sort of thing in Northern Ireland, progress was much faster.

Each platoon would make its way carefully along the street, hugging the buildings on either side, until it came to a known or suspected enemy hideout, when the door of the house would be blown off its hinges with a shotgun or blasted open with explosive, and the soldiers rush in and sweep each room with rifle fire. The work was carried out by the infantry with support from tanks and Warrior armoured cars as well as, where appropriate, helicopter gunships and warplanes. In cases where particular stealth was needed Special Forces were brought in. They were already heavily involved in the fighting in the west, but due to the large number of countries, each of which had their own equivalent of the SAS or Delta Force, taking part in Operation Rapier there were just about enough of them to go round. Many Western hostages were rescued from the buildings where they had been held prisoner, though an equal number had been killed by their captors when the invasion began.

Surveillance from the air, along with information supplied by sympathetic locals, enabled the Allies to identify the rebel strongholds and take them out without causing too much suffering to innocent civilians, using smart bombs and guided missiles from B52s and the B2 Stealth bomber. Snipers took out individuals who had been identified as leaders of the resistance. It proved fairly easy to destroy key administrative buildings, such as local government offices, barracks and the Presidential Palace in Islamabad.

Here as in the main thoroughfares the militants erected roadblocks to slow the Allies down, but these were easily pushed aside by tanks. Though the tanks and other armoured vehicles were often hit with RPGs and shells, they were rarely disabled and in cases where it did happen the crews were usually able to escape unharmed.

At key strongpoints barriers were constructed by combat engineers against ramming by cars driven by suicide bombers, and these usually worked. Generally the militants, keen though they were, were poorly trained and no match for the professional soldiers of a variety of nations. They were still converging on the cities in their hundreds, but soon the flow of reinforcements stopped as a cordon was thrown up around them by the Allies. It was to remain in place indefinitely, and every now and then suicide bombers would succeed in blowing up one or more of the soldiers detailed to guard it.

Along with the support of most ordinary citizens of the country, except where people had been accidentally killed or injured by Allied bombing or gunfire, the Americans and their allies were helped in the north by the fact that most militant activity was concentrated in the west, where al-Qaeda rightly or wrongly believed the missile sites to be. However this did mean that pacifying the West would take a very long time and perhaps never be fully achieved. The militants were so excited by the prospect of capturing the missiles that the fall, with the exception of isolated pockets of resistance, of the northern cities had little effect on their buoyant morale. The destruction of rebel positions merely drove the thousands of militants still alive into hiding in caves and bunkers within the hills and mountains where food and weapons had been stockpiled. A cat-and-mouse game, that seemed never to end, followed in which al-Qaeda would emerge from hiding, carry out hit and run attacks on Western or Pakistani forces and then disappear back into their caves, gloating at having killed a few more infidels. The attacks did slacken off after a while, as the equipment they had stockpiled began to run out; their main source of guns and ammunition must have been cut off at some point, leaving their infrastructure susceptible to natural wastage. But there were always be sympathizers who would be keen to supply them with as much as possible of what they needed, and although the Allies might succeed in keeping them away from the missile bases they would never winkle them out of the region altogether. But in the north the religious police force set up by al-Qaeda had stopped their regular patrols and the outbreak of looting signified the collapse of the militant government’s authority. Soon the invaders’
principal task would be that of restoring order.

By now, it was possible to argue that the Allies had more or less won, and in a shorter time than they had triumphed in Iraq. They had done it while keeping the moral high ground, in spite of accidental bombings of mosques, Red Cross warehouses or friendly villages in the west. Of course victory had not been achieved without a cost, to either side. Apart from the several thousand Allied soldiers and Pakistani civilians killed – or who would die in subsequent peacekeeping operations – the temporary cessation of Western aid and the disruption to public services proved crippling to an already struggling economy. As well as a permanent US military presence Pakistan would need massive economic aid and a major humanitarian effort was required to bring food and medical supplies to the starving.

There were quite a few “Private Jessica” situations, out of which the media, who of course covered the war extensively, made rather a lot; sadly, however, in many cases the captured Allied servicemen and women were not treated as well as had been the case in Iraq, and several didn’t come out of it alive. It served to remind everyone that about a hundred hostages still remained in captivity somewhere in the country, threatened with death unless the soldiers of their home countries vacated Pakistani soil immediately. Since this wasn’t likely to happen, no-one gave much for their chances of survival.

But most people could breathe a sigh of relief, including moderate Muslims who were as uneasy as most Westerners at the thought of al-Qaeda with a nuclear capability. The missile sites appeared secure, the meltdown at Chashma had not occurred, and the public were not told about the likely theft of bomb-making materials from the other facilities. Once again, it seemed the world and all its peoples had been spared from nuclear disaster.


FORTY-TWO
Johnny came round to find himself, frighteningly, surrounded by total blackness. In a moment of horror he fancied he'd died and gone to hell. Then as he glanced fearfully about him he saw the daylight streaming in through the mouth of the cave twenty feet away, and with a sense of utter relief relaxed.

He saw Frank struggling to sit up and went to help him. "You OK?"
"Yeah," muttered his friend thickly. "Yeah, think so." With an effort he managed to stand up.
Johnny realised he had a splitting headache. "What the fuck happened?"
"The bitch jumped us...knocked us out." Frank called McDermott to tell him what had happened but got no reply, just a faint crackling of static. Johnny tried his own radio, with the same result. "What the hell's going on?" he snarled.
"Let's go and find out," said Frank practically.

They made their way back to the launch, to be further put out by the discovery that it had gone. Skirting the island, they saw the cluster of boats, apparently empty, and what was clearly the wreckage of a helicopter floating on the surface over to the west. The larger fragments of fuselage looked like pieces of a giant eggshell, gleaming white in the sunshine.

"Shit, what the hell's going on?" repeated Frank. "What the fuck's happened here? Stay there, I'm gonna take a look at those boats."
"How about I search the beach and the woods?"
"Fine, but be careful."

He swam over to the launches and proceeded to inspect each one, climbing into it and searching it briefly. Once he had finished he returned to shore, to be met by a stunned Johnny. "They're dead. Everyone's dead. What did you find?"
"The same. No sign of the girl anywhere."
"Maybe she got away."

"She might have done. Or maybe whoever killed the others took her with them. Shit, I dunno what this means but I'm pretty certain it ain't good."
Johnny shook his head in disbelief. "Jesus Christ, someone.....someone blew up the 'copter and……and killed...but who?"
He shook himself back to his senses, breathing hard. "We gotta let Greatrix know about this right away."


The 18-wheeled articulated lorry was hermetically sealed as if carrying canisters of plague bacilli. Its body was made from reinforced, armour-plated steel and on the inside it was lined with metal and plastic ribbing and fitted with baffles to act as shock absorbers, all covered with a thick padded material designed to insulate everyone and everything within from the jolts and vibrations suffered by any land vehicle in motion. Most of the interior was taken up by a huge water-filled tank made from specially strengthened glass. A network of straps and webbing braced the tank to the internal walls. The water surged and rippled with the movement of the lorry, especially when it had to negotiate a turn, but none of it sloshed over the top of the tank.

The remainder of the space was partly filled by a padded couch and the array of scanning equipment surrounding it, leaving just enough room for the people in the portable laboratory to move around comfortably. Caroline Kent lay on the couch, secured to it by webbing at her wrists and ankles just as she had been at Marcotech. Electrodes, attached to her chest and forehead by adhesive pads, led over to the instruments on the console nearby.

The four people occupying the compartment wore Paramedic-style uniforms. One of them, name of Dr Graham Hendricks, was at the console watching the pulsating blips of light on its various screens intently, and listening carefully to the high pinging the equipment was giving off. The others stood a little way behind.
“How is she?” someone asked.

“By her own standards, fine,” replied the scientist. “I don’t think the anae they injected her with did her any harm. They’d have known that, of course.”
He peered again at his instruments. "Heart rate steady, but slightly faster than ours. For all we know that could be completely normal for her. Breathing ditto.”

One of the men in combat jackets appeared from the other, smaller of the two compartments into which the body of the truck was divided. Hendricks turned to him as he came up to the group. "How long has she been out of the water now?"
"I think about an hour. She doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects - yet."

Hendricks gazed down at Caroline. "Presumably she's amphibious, since she can breathe on land; the evidence suggests she needs to alternate between both environments, but I don’t know on what basis.”

The pinging of the instruments changed in pitch and frequency, becoming much louder, the intervals between each note shorter. A red light started flashing. Hendricks studied the zig-zag patterns on the screens before him.
A second scientist joined him at the console. “Massive increase in adrenalin levels,” she announced.
“Heartbeat and breathing rate increasing rapidly,” Hendricks said. “She’s going into overdrive.” He spoke into a hand-held recording device. "Subject showed signs of distress after approximately one hour within an aerobic environment.”

Caroline was twisting from side to side, her body straining against the straps that held her down. Her breathing came hard and fast.
Hendricks came to a decision. "Put her in the tank,"

Two of them unstrapped Caroline from the couch and removed the electrodes. With professional gentleness one picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. He went over to the tank, climbed the ladder at its side onto a narrow platform, and deposited his burden carefully in the water, face down. She thrashed about for a moment, then turned turtle and dived to the bottom where she lay flat, gills rippling as they took in the precious liquid.

Hendricks studied the steady rise and fall of her chest through the glass. "Breathing continues autonomically when she's underwater, just as it does in air. This is fascinating."
He turned to his colleagues. "The moment she shows any signs of discomfort, get her out of there. We don't want to lose her."
"Is it all natural, or engineered?" asked the woman.

"I don't know yet. I'd rather wait until we’re in normal lab conditions before I take any samples. But it depends how you look at it, I guess. Bit of both, perhaps. Genetic engineering involves manipulating what nature's already provided."

He stood watching Caroline intently, not taking his eyes off her for a second. After a few minutes her eyelids fluttered and she began to stir. "I think the injection’s wearing off."

They saw her clamber into a kneeling position. She saw them staring through the glass at her but didn’t react. She kicked upwards off the floor of the tank, propelling herself to the surface. Grasping the edge of the tank she heaved herself over the top onto the platform and stood looking down at them.

Weary resignation in her face, she came slowly down the ladder. "I suppose you'll have to give me the drug now, won’t you?" She frowned. "Don't recognise you lot. High staff turnover rate, or is this just a different shift?"
Hendricks looked at the others. "Engineered."
He turned back to Caroline. "Who did this to you, honey?"

She started visibly, feeling a surge of hope. "You mean you're not Marcotech?"
"Marcotech?" said Hendricks. "You mean as in Marcotech Consortium?"
"That's right. Who are you?"
"I, er, think it's better you don't know for the moment. Not until we've...made certain arrangements."

Caroline's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Now look, I've already been held prisoner and experimented on by one bunch of dodgy characters. I hope you aren't thinking of doing the same." There was a distinct warning note in the unearthly voice. She seemed to be tensing herself for a fight.
"We want to help you," said the woman scientist, smiling in a motherly fashion.

"Oh yeah, sure. You mean you want to carry out lots of interesting experiments on me. Well don't expect me to be a nice obedient little guinea pig. I want to live like a normal person again, and not have to run around from people like you all the time, or get caught and have electrodes stuck up my arse." Her lip curled suspiciously. "Are you CIA, by any chance? FBI?"
The man’s reply was guarded. "Not...exactly."
"What does that mean?"

"I'm not free to tell you," he said. "None of us is. I'm afraid you're asking of us what we can't deliver. Wouldn't it be better if you just co-operated with us, and then we'd all get along nicely."

“Look, let’s stop playing silly games. Marcotech have got a whole colony of drugged slaves down there under the sea. Genetically engineered without their permission, to turn them into..." She pointed to herself. "To this. It's not right, what they're doing. We've got to - " She suddenly realised the information she was giving these people might be dangerous in their hands, and broke off helplessly.

Her attention focused on Hendricks and the woman, she didn't notice that one of them had managed to slip behind her. She felt the prick of a needle against the flesh of her upper arm, the brief pain as it sank in, before consciousness drained away and she folded slowly in two, collapsing gently at Hendricks' feet.

He knelt to examine her. "Different metabolism," he said reprovingly. "You might just have killed her."
"Only way," the man shrugged. "Besides, anything we do to her medically is bound to carry some degree of risk."
They dried her down and lifted her back onto the couch, reattaching the electrodes. A brief examination showed she was suffering no ill effects from the serum in the hypo.
"That should last until we get back to the Centre," Hendricks told the others. He grinned at them delightedly. "Did you hear what she said? A whole colony of these things. I have a feeling this’ll turn out to be very interesting."


Greatrix listened in silence as Latimer explained to him what had happened. He looked graver and more subdued than Dave had seen him for a long time.
"Who do you think it could have been?" Latimer asked.

Composing himself, Greatrix pondered the question for a moment. “There are various possibilities. But whoever it was, they'll find out what we're up to and try to use it for their own ends. Once she comes round they'll make her tell them where the colony is, and then they'll be down here straight away."
"We don't know they've got her," Latimer pointed out.

"We don't know they haven't. I'm not the sort of man who takes chances."
"Does it really make any difference if the Americans get hold of the technology?" Latimer was assuming the people who had taken Caroline were American. "What's the difference between them using it, and us?"

Greatrix gave him a long, hard, suspicious stare. "It makes a lot of difference," he snapped. "We're interested in saving lives. They're only interested in power, of the sort you get from knowing how to kill people. Control. I won't have that."
"Have you ever wondered," Latimer said, "whether they've been thinking about what's going to happen in the world, and coming to much the same conclusions as we have? Preparing for a new way of existence, a new order."
"They're not doing it for altruistic reasons. You know what
They're like. The whole spirit behind it will be wrong."

He sat up straight in his chair, galvanised into action. "Hard to say how long we've got, but at a guess they'll be over here fairly soon. We'd better make it quick."
"Make what quick?" asked Latimer.
"Strategy C," said Greatrix. "We're going to have to implement Strategy C." His voice seemed flat, dead, toneless.
Latimer gaped at him in horror.
Greatrix met his eyes, unrepentant. "There's no choice," he said simply. "No choice."
Latimer was silent for a moment, then remembered something. "Oh, Doc Zuckermann reckons we've got all the aquanoids we need to make the colony fully viable. The crew of the Atlantica will be the last."

Greatrix nodded vaguely, but didn't seem to have really heard him. Concluding he was dismissed, Latimer turned and walked out. Whatever happened, he told himself, it would be preferable to a life in prison. He went off to implement the arrangements he knew Greatrix expected him to make, having discussed them with him on numerous occasions during the past few years.

After a while Greatrix snapped out of his trance-like state. He began making calls to the heads of each of the companies which made up the consortium, summoning them to the colony for an urgent meeting. It was so urgent they must immediately abandon whatever they were doing, however important, and make their way to Miami where the submarine would ferry them out to the colony. He couldn't explain why because it would take too long and there simply wasn't enough time.

Having acquired a monentum of its own, the whole plan was now unfolding steadily before his eyes, like a beautiful but deadly flower.


FORTY-THREE
Rachel Savident shivered in the chill evening air, thrusting her hands deeper into the pockets of her overcoat as she trudged sadly up and down. It wasn’t quite clear what had happened here; there was evidence that someone had set up a cordon closing off the beach, road and also a stretch of nearby woodland, which had later been taken down. But certainly there was no sign of Caroline. Something must have gone wrong, surely.

She heard the sound of a car engine in the distance and turned to see the vehicle coming along the road in her direction. It looked like a big job. It slowed as it neared her, and she felt her heart quicken.

She waited apprehensively while the sleek black Buick drew to a halt beside her and four men in suits got out. They were all young, or in early middle age, and tough-looking. Rachel stiffened, her fingers instinctively searching for the butt of the handgun in her pocket, tightening around it. She had the disquieting sensation that they’d expected to find her there.
"Did you want something?" she asked politely.

"May we ask what you're doing here?" said the older of the four men.
"I'm waiting for somebody," Rachel said. "It’s, er, not a problem I hope?"
"So you're waiting for somebody," the fortysomething man replied. "Would it be anything to do with this Fish Woman business, by any chance?"
Rachel stared at him. "The……Fish Woman? I'm sorry, I don't understand."
A disturbing suspicion began to gnaw at her.

"Don't you know about it in England yet, honey?" one of the younger men asked. "Let me explain." He told her the full story. Something clicked in Rachel's brain. Marcotech were into genetic engineering, weren't they?
You’d have to see it to believe it…..and I’m not ill exactly, but I do need help pretty quickly.
Then there had been the sound of her voice.
Was it possible...
Oh Caroline, what have they done to you?

She became aware the American was speaking again. "Believe it or not, this "Fish Woman" was seen making a call from that phone booth over there. We checked it out. It was to Global Datasystems Incorporated - otherwise known as MI6 or SIS, the British external security services."

Rachel looked them up and down. "Would you mind telling me who you are?"
"Don't play the innocent with us. Among your people we tend to be known as The Company."
The slang term MI5 and 6 used to refer to the US Central Intelligence Agency - the CIA. "Well, for the time being I'll have to take your word for it," Rachel said solemnly.
She nodded to show they were in business. "My name's Rachel Savident and I'm a Case Officer with MI6. What's your interest in this Fish Woman business?"
"What's yours?"

A pregnant silence fell. As if someone had thrown a switch and turned on the gamma rays, the four suits all fixed her with a hard penetrating stare, which she met impassively.
She let the stalemate continue for a moment longer, then spoke. "I can cause an awful lot of trouble for you, you know. Unless you're planning to get me out of the way somehow, and I wouldn't advise it. Not a good idea to make a habit out of bumping off agents of your number one ally, especially when everyone else isn't too happy about the way you're trying to run the world's affairs."
All the same, she felt very vulnerable right now on this lonely stretch of road.

"We'd no intention of doing that, ma'am."
"Personally I wouldn't put it past you," she muttered. Because you've got too much to protect. It makes you paranoid, and therefore ruthless.
She thought hard and fast. Her prime consideration was Caroline's welfare; and also if she could to prevent the Americans getting hold of anything which might be dangerous in their hands. On the second count, she might already be too late.

She took a deep breath. "It's about Caroline, isn't it? Caroline Kent. She's the Fish Woman, isn't she? Someone’s...operated on her.” And that someone had to be Marcotech, Rachel reasoned. The company Caroline had been investigating when she'd disappeared, who knew rather a lot about such things as marine biology and genetic engineering.
"She didn't tell you what had happened?" asked a third American, a man in his early thirties with close-cropped ginger hair.
"No, just that she was in trouble and needed help. That was the gist of it, anyway."
"Why'd she ring you?" The older man spoke now.
"Because she's one of our agents." Their superiors would probably know that already, from the other incidents Caroline had been involved in. "Or was. She still comes in useful to us from time to time. That's why you'd better not touch her."

He ignored the threat. "And she didn't want anyone but her own people to know what had happened."
Because she doesn't trust you, Rachel thought. In fact Caroline didn't entirely trust MI6 either, apart from herself. "She was afraid she'd be experimented on to find out what makes a "Fish Woman" tick. She contacted us because she knew me and hoped I could help somehow." What they could actually do was a moot point; Caroline couldn't be returned to normal without someone or other finding out what had happened.

"Have you got her?" Rachel challenged. "Is that why she hasn't turned up?"
The suit hesitated before answering. "All right, we've got her. And you're not having her back unless you co-operate."
"How do I co-operate?"
"Make sure your people stay off our backs until we've finished with her. There may be a lot we can learn from what was done to her. We'll try to see she doesn't come to any harm. We might even share the knowledge with you one day, if you're lucky."
"If you don't fulfil your part of the bargain," Rachel said, "we just might let everyone else know what you're doing."
"How d’ you mean, our part of the bargain?"

"That you return Caroline to us safe and sound. And let us share in the technology. It'll have to be OK'd by my superiors, of course. But I imagine that's what they'll say."
The man nodded, seeming satisfied with the arrangement. After all, he wasn’t paid to anticipate what his bosses might or might not agree to.
“It’s the Marcotech Consortium who are behind this,” Rachel said. The American indicated he knew this already. “And behind the tanker sinkings, we think.” If they could enlist the Americans’ help in the matter, so much the better, although it was always possible the company’s influence might have penetrated even the CIA.

“Your friend will confirm it,” he said. “She’s already told us all she knows. We’d been looking into the sinkings ourselves, but we haven’t found anything yet. If it’s Marcotech, they’ve been covering their tracks well. But we’ll sort ‘em out, once this Pakistan business is cleared up.” In the meantime, it seemed, the Fish Woman had appeared sufficiently interesting to provide a distraction from events in the Indian subcontinent, all-important though the latter business was.

Interesting, though, for all the wrong reasons. Rachel didn’t like the idea of the Americans taking over Marcotech’s base and copying their biotechnology, using it for God knew what military purposes. For that reason she didn’t tell them about the operation she’d been carrying out together with IPL and the Royal Navy. With events beginning to move fast, she’d rather have some time to think before sharing everything with an ally whose behaviour caused as much harm as good in the world.

“I’d like to see Caroline,” she said. “Just to confirm she’s all right. Where is she?”
A pause while the cold, calculating brain behind the American’s steel-grey eyes weighed up the request. “We’ll be in touch,” he said. "You’d better give us a phone number. Meantime, I’d suggest you get on to your friends in London and give ‘em the gen. And I'd advise you that if you tell anyone else there’'ll be trouble.”

Without a word, Rachel scribbled the number of her cellphone on a scrap of paper and handed it to the American. As one the four suits turned, got back into the Buick and drove off. Rachel walked back down the road to her hired car where she sat thinking very carefully about what she was going to say to London.


The technology programme of the US Navy was under the co-ordination of the Office of Naval Research, which had established a research laboratory at San Diego in California. It was here that the Navy’s ongoing Marine Mammal Research Programme – since this was the nearest thing to what Caroline was, although some disagreed, thas wat where she was taken – was based. Since the 1960s it had been carrying out detailed research into the physiology and behaviour of whales, dolphins and sea lions to see if their hydrodynamic efficiency could be applied to the design and development of torpedoes; whether their auditory and echolocation systems could be copied to make a better sonar with which to detect enemy submarines; and how they might be trained to carry messages and perform tasks more effectively than human divers, who were handicapped by the limited time they could remain submerged, poor visibility the further they went down, the effect of water currents, and the need for extensive and expensive medical and surface support, or submersibles. They had successfully used dolphins to retrieve lost hardware and carry equipment and messages between the Sea Lab project and the supporting shore base, but had so far not made much headway in turning the dolphin into a weapon of war – either indirectly or, as was sometimes rumoured to be their intention, in more controversial ways.

In a lab somewhere deep in the heart of the sprawling complex Dr Graham Hendricks watched as a team of medics performed various scans and X-rays on the unconscious Caroline, who was once more strapped down to an operating table. The man standing beside him was from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the branch of the Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. Though it existed to serve all three branches of the armed services there had always been close links between it and the Navy, several of the latter's key personnel having worked for it at one time or other.

It was often whispered that DARPA had become a power in their own right, acquiring whatever information and materials might be of use to their clients through means normally used only by the military themselves or the intelligence services.

"The spooks seem to have fixed everything for us,” the DARPA representative was saying. “The British won’t poke their noses in unless we decide to let them.”
“Good,” the scientist nodded.

"Could a private company really have done this?" the DARPA man asked. He looked annoyed, if not very angry, at the thought of it.
"Well if they have they've stolen a march on everyone, ourselves included."
"But how is that possible?"
Hendricks sighed. "I dunno....but they’d have to be very clever, and very wealthy, which they are. And to have…dedication."

"Whatever the facts of the matter, it'd be to our advantage to know exactly how they did it. It could have...applications."
Moving a little closer to the table, they saw the surgeon gently insert the point of a scalpel beneath one of the scales on Caroline’s arm, just above the wrist. A drop of dark red blood bubbled out, and he sucked it up with a pipette before squeezing it out into a test tube. Then he removed a small sliver of skin and placed it carefully in a petri dish.

He examined the samples under a microscope, at the same time making notes and drawing sketches of what he saw on a notepad, consulting the textbooks where necessary, while from time to time his colleagues, who were going over the data they’d obtained from the X-rays, would fill him in on the results. The DARPA man went away for a while, then came back, to find Hendrix staring at his notes with a dream-like expression of wonder on his face.

“It’s incredible,” the scientist remarked. “The readings we’ve been getting….her whole metabolism is like that of a human fish. The liquid content of her cells, the respiratory and cardio-vascular systems, the composition of the blood and muscle tissue, the kinds of hormone and other substances her body is producing and the amounts of them….there’s a swim bladder, gills forming in effect a secondary respiratory system..it’s unbelievable. We have just got to find out how they did it.”

Caroline's eyes opened, then she closed them again with a sigh. It really was getting tedious.
The scientists standing over the monitoring equipment were the same ones as in the lorry, only now they were all wearing white lab coats. The woman looked up from the machine and addressed her colleagues. "She's come round."

"Very observant of you," Caroline said. Hendricks moved to stand over her. "How do you feel?" he smiled.
"Fine thanks," she answered wearily.
"You don't sound it."
"I seem to have the habit," she observed, "of getting into these situations."
"Know the feeling," he said vaguely.
"What are you going to do with me in the end? Have me stuffed?"
"Please don't be afraid, Miss Kent, you're in no danger. While you're here we're gonna look after you and do all we can to help you."
"I'm not afraid," she said angrily.
"OK, so you're not afraid. Sorry."

"And I don't believe you. Look, despite all they’ve done to me I’m a human being, OK, not some…animal you can experiment on for the sake of your own curiosity.”
“Actually, it’s difficult to know what to classify you as,” he told her. “Genetically you’re part primate, part fish, part seal, part frog and part virus.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said.

"Cheer up," smiled the DARPA man. "One of your friends is coming to see you."
Caroline perked up a bit at this. "Who?"
"Lady by the name of Savident, Rachel Savident."
She smiled delightedly. "Rachel! Does that mean you're going to let me go?"

"I'm afraid not, not yet. For one thing we'd like to ask you a few questions."
"I'm not answering any of them until I've spoken to Rachel."
"I'd better make one thing clear, Miss Kent. Whatever happens you'll still have to co-operate with us. We'll be making sure Miss Savident understands that. Eventually it may be possible to let you walk out of here safe and well, and hopefully restored to your natural form. But there's no chance of that unless you do what we say."

It was clear to Caroline she had no choice. "Fire away then," she said sulkily.
"This place of Marcotech's; the one where they operated on you. Where is it exactly?"
"And what are you going to do with that knowledge, may I ask?"
"Let's just say we're motivated by considerations of national interest."
"You mean you want the technology Marcotech used so you can make more....fish people like me. Genetically engineered aquatic humans. Because you think it'll benefit you somehow. How exactly I don't know and I don't think I want to. Who are you anyway?"
"US Navy Intelligence Division, if you must know. That's all I'm prepared to tell you right now. Now are you going to start talking?"

By her reckoning she’d been breathing air for some time now. "Listen, if I'm not put back in the water soon...."
"Don't worry, we'll see to that. He put a touch of steel into his voice. "It's like this, Caroline. If you don't play ball, we'll ban anyone outside this facility from seeing you. We'll also deprive you of food, or keep you out of the water until you die. Whichever you'd prefer."
"Don't threaten me, please."

"And remember, we may need access to Marcotech's laboratories if we're to get you back to normal. So...." He paused to let the full implication of her position sink in.
Suddenly overcome with anger, she lifted her head and spat at him.
"Oh and by the way," she added, "an aquanoid's saliva is poisonous. All it takes is for it to get in through one tiny pore in the skin, and you'll probably be dead in a little while."

Hendricks smiled and shook his head. "Sorry. We took most of the samples we needed while you were unconscious. There's nothing toxic in your body chemistry."
"You should have asked me first."
"No more stalling, please." The spy studied her thoughtfully. "You know, I think there's only one way you're going to get the message."

He nodded to his companions, who followed him automatically as he made for the door. "She can't get out of those restraints, and we'll make sure the door's locked," he said to them. "The instruments will record how long it takes her to die and what the exact physiological effect is." Everything about his tone and manner was deadly serious. He paused and looked back at the helpless Caroline. "So long, honey. At least we'll gain some interesting data."
His fingers closed around the door handle.

"No, wait!" she shouted frantically, twisting and thrashing against her restraints, but to no effect. This time, they were of solid metal.
He turned from the door and slowly walked back towards her.

"I...don't exactly know where the Marcotech base is," she said.
"Sure you're telling the truth? Remember, if there's the slightest doubt about it we're gonna cut off your water supply. I don't know what that's like for you; painful, I should imagine. Now it can't be too far from where you disappeared, can it?"
"All right," Caroline sighed. "It's off Grand Bahama. In the Bahamas," she added.
"I'd never have guessed. How far off there and in which direction?"
"About ten miles north off Indian Quay. That's a rough guess." "How did you find out it was there?"

"I just asked around, went round the bars picking up the gossip. The place isn't mentioned in any of their publicity so you might not know about it except from rumour. They’ve got plans, brochures, but they’re trying to keep it under wraps that they’ve actually built the place.
"They got to know what I was doing and decided I was getting too close to them," she added wistfully.
"What about their other bases around the world? You know if there's anything there?"
"No, I don't. I don't think so."
"And the tankers? The reasons why they blew them up, and how they did it? Just in case it's anything we ought to know."
"They thought a spill might damage the ecosystem of the colony, so they had to knock out the transatlantic oil trade. As for how they did it, well you don't have to find out from me. Once you've taken over the place you'll have all the answers you need."

He considered this for a moment, then gave a satisfied nod. "Well, I guess we've got enough to go on for now."
"You may already know about the mutations; the giant squid, the shark. Marcotech were responsible for that as well. I'd watch out for them, if you're going to pay the place a visit."
"I expect a few torpedoes should take care of those monsters." He made a quick call on his mobile. "Thankyou for your co-operation," he said when he'd finished it.
Caroline glared up at him. "If I wasn't tied down like this I'd...."
Hendricks perched himself on a stool beside her. "Right. Now we need to carry out a few tests, if that's OK with you."
"It wouldn't make any difference to you if it wasn't," she said bitterly. She turned her head to look at him, warily. "What sort of tests?"

"You'll see. We'd also be grateful if you could oblige us with stool and urine samples at some point."
"What if I don't?"
"Then I'm afraid we'll just have to get them by force."
"Bollocks."
"'Fraid so. Now when you were with Marcotech, what did they feed you on?"
"Fish, mostly."
"I'll make sure you get a regular supply of them."
"Where am I going to live while I'm here?"
"We're preparing suitable quarters for you right now. You'll have to stay there all the time, except when you're allowed out to exercise - under proper supervision, of course. Incidentally, I should advise you there's no point in trying to run away. You'll find the security here's much too tight for that."
"Can you get me something to wear?"
"That shouldn't be a problem."

He got up from the stool. "You'll have to stay here for the time being, I'm afraid. We'll come and fetch you when your accommodation's ready."
She grunted an acknowledgement. "One last thing," she said. "Do you stay in this job because you like it?”
He thought about this. “Partly,” he conceded. “But as I see it I’m also serving my country.”

“Nothing wrong in being patriotic. But I think you and I ought to have a little chat about ends and means.”
“I see. You’re saying one can’t legitimise the other?”
“No, I’m saying it depends on the circumstances. Right now – “
“I’m sure I’d like to have a fascinating philosophical discussion with you sometime,” he smiled, “but right now I’m afraid I’m a little busy. Catch you later.”

They went out, closing and locking the door behind him. Alone, Caroline stared blankly up at the white tiles on the ceiling. Rachel will do something, she thought. She's got to.


"This is getting more and more hard to believe, Rachel," observed Assistant Director Roger Bullard, Rachel Savident's immediate superior at MI5. Rachel was sitting on her bed in her hotel room, filling him in on the situation over her mobile phone.

"My sentiments entirely, Sir," she replied. She had explained what had happened as truthfully as she could.
"Though I suppose it's no more weird than that Ishtar business. For one. And you can't say exactly what it is they've done to her?"
"Not at the moment, Sir."
"So what's going to happen now?"

"I'm on my way over there first thing in the morning, Sir. It, er, might be best if you had a look yourself." Then he could believe it, and stop moaning all the time.
"Have you reached some kind of agreement with the Americans?"
"Not as such. But now we know what's going on, sort of, they're going to have to come to some form of arrangement. That's why I think you ought to come over."
"Too right I will. I'll let you know when as soon as possible. OK, was there anything else?"
"Not really, Sir."

"I wish we didn't have to keep on baling out this bloody Kent woman," he sighed. Rachel said nothing. "Well, I suppose we'll have to wait until we know a bit more before we decide what we're going to do. Speak to you soon."
"Goodbye, Sir," said Rachel. Bullard cut her off.

She drew her legs up onto the bed, and sat there with her arms around her ankles for a long time. It would be simpler if they could make a call to the White House, or someone high up on the staff there, and tell them everything. But that would be going against an unwritten code of conduct, as well as setting a dangerous precedent. Both they and the CIA kept things from their governments, probably because it was better that way at times. Firstly, politicians couldn't be trusted to act on the information in the most sensible fashion. Secondly, they didn't have as much control over affairs as they liked to think. And the more they opposed what the security services saw as the best way to run the country, the more they were putting themselves at risk. The CIA were quite capable of arranging the downfall of a President whose policies they considered dangerous to the country. Quite likely that was what had happened to John F Kennedy.

She got out her map, marked the position of the Naval Research Facility on it, then turned in for the night.


Pity about Caroline Kent, thought Charlie. He'd been told what they'd had to do to her. Still, it was better than dying. But when he learned that she had escaped a part of him was glad, as well as admiring. It didn't alter the fact that he was supposed to keep a lookout for her, but much to his relief she did not seem to have come back to the island. He didn't think she would.

Charlie was a drifter. He'd gone to the States because there was too little going on in the Bahamas; it had seemed too much of an ossified backwater. He wanted to see the wider world. But he hadn't fitted in in the States, which was why he'd come back here, where characters like himself abounded. Perhaps he wouldn't fit in anywhere; anywhere but here, and sometimes he wasn't quite sure about that.

He did know that he didn't want to live anywhere else. Out here things were free and easy and he could have more or less the kind of life he wanted, provided he kept his bosses at Marcotech happy.

That life revolved around drink and women, and of late he’d felt he needed the solace they provided more than ever. It was a good job he never drank to the extent that he became a security risk, because if there had been the slightest possibility of that Marcotech would have….the thought made him shudder. Then he dismissed it and concentrated his attention on the task in hand.

He had been enjoying himself in Maxie’s on the waterfront at
Lucaya, a pretty girl cuddling against him. They'd been sitting together chatting and drinking the whole evening and although she wasn't quite pissed as yet the flow of alcohol had put her in the sort of relaxed, easy mood where she might feel well disposed towards him.

He decided the moment was now right to pop the question. "Hey," he said brightly, "you wanna come round to my place for a while? Just for a couple more drinks, maybe some music..." He made it sound as if he’d only just thought of it.

She smiled blandly and said "Yeah, OK," without really thinking about it. He realized she was a bit more drunk than he’d supposed, and felt a twinge of guilt at what he was doing. But he was already slightly drunk himself and by his reckoning that made it quits.

Then he fell sombre again, his shoulders slumping and his head with them, until the varnished floorboards occupied all of his field of vision.

The girl was staring at him with a mixture of bewilderment and impatience. “You OK?” he thought he heard her say.

The cellphone in his pocket rang. He had to be on call all the time, nuisance though it was, in case Marcotech should have urgent need of his services. In fact it wasn’t a nuisance. Because right now he didn’t really care, to be honest.

The call jerked him back to full sobriety. "'Scuse me a moment," he muttered, and left the bar. Outside, he searched around until he found a little dark alleyway between two shops, both now closed for the night, and answered the call.

It was Dave Latimer. "The balloon's gone up. You need to get down to the colony as soon as possible. Get over to Miami and take the next sub out. This definitely will be the last one. We're fully stocked up here and by the time supplies run out it probably won’t matter.”

"Why? How's the balloon gone up?" Charlie asked, feeling tension grip him like a vice constricting his chest. "What's happened?"
Latimer told him. "Just keep your cool and do as I say." He paused. "If you don't you know what'll happen, Charlie."
"We're going to put Strategy C into operation," Latimer went on.
"Do you mean you're really going to...." Now that the moment of truth had come it suddenly seemed an unbelievable, unacceptable risk to be taking.
"'Course not. The threat of it should be enough. Now get going, Charlie. I'll see you - whenever." He heard the click as Latimer cut him off.

The threat should be enough. Oh yeah....so why then were they warning him to go down to the colony?
What the hell, he’d no Goddamn choice anyway. They were probably watching him right now, had made sure they had men in position before Latimer made the call.
Charlie just stood there for a moment, attempting to absorb the impact of developments. He looked back towards the open door of the pub, the chatter and sound of music coming from within, the girls....

The island girls; they were the nearest thing to a family that he had. Something in him ached to warn them but he knew he couldn't, that it wouldn't be wise. Had that not been the case, it was most unlikely Marcotech would ever have let him join their little operation.

Finally, Charlie pocketed the phone and walked away into the night, leaving his date to wonder vaguely what had become of him.


FORTY-FOUR
The following morning the US Navy warship Augusta, fitted with echosounding equipment and a selection of depth charges, and the aircraft carrier Andrew Jackson left their home base of Norfolk, Virginia and began cruising at a steady pace towards the Bahamas. Below the surface three US Navy nuclear submarines, each equipped with torpedoes, and one with a team of Seals (the name given to the waterborne wing of the US Special Forces) on board, were also converging on the Marcotech base, their orders to blow it out of the water unless its personnel agreed to surrender.

A few days before news of what had been happening at the colony reached DARPA, the CIA and through them the White House, the USS Strategic Ballistic Missile Submarine Connecticut (SSBN-685) had left the olde-worlde New England charms of the naval base at Groton, in the state after which it had been named, to the tearful goodbyes and handkerchief-waving of the wives and children of the men on board. The Connecticut’s mission was very different; nothing more than a routine, though essential, patrol of the North Atlantic, just to make sure that although the Cold War was now over the SSBNs were still there, prowling the depths ready to respond immediately and lethally in the event that anyone did decide to reopen hostilities with a vengeance.

One of the ten nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed Ohio class, a vital component of America’s naval defence capability, she had been built by General Dynamics Corporation’s Electric Boat Division at Groton in 1979 and refitted several times since. Displacing 16,700 tons, 360 feet long - larger than most modern cruise liners - and 33 in diameter, she carried 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles in launch tubes located to the rear of the sail. They were Trident D5s, the most powerful, and accurate, items in America's nuclear arsenal; each was twenty-six feet long and consisted of a three-stage rocket booster, with propellant, and between eight and twelve independently-targetable re-entry vehicles with 475-kiloton warheads, 15 times more powerful than the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. With a maximum range of 12000 kilometres they would have been capable of obliterating the whole of the former Soviet Union. The missiles carried by the Ohio class subs constituted the bulk of America's strategic nuclear strike power.

Launching from out at sea, or under it, was cheaper than a land-based delivery system, and a submarine much harder to detect than a ground installation or aircraft. A modern nuclear sub could remain hidden beneath the surface of the oceans for months at a time, and travel for distances up to 600 miles, at high speed, before the core of her reactor required refueling. For defensive – and, where necessary, offensive – purposes she was equipped with an armament of 22 torpedoes.

To withstand the pressures of the deep she had a strengthened steel double hull of high grade, high tensile steel, approximately three inches thick with the space between the pressurised inner hull and the outer hulls providing room for water ballast, plus the fuel tanks and missile tubes. The hull was composed of a series of rings welded together at the building yard.

Within the sail structure, or conning tower as it used to be known, were housed the retractable periscopes, radar and radio antennae, and snorkel tubes. The structure also provided a platform, or bridge, for the navigating officers and lookouts when the submarine was on the surface.

In all Connecticut carried a crew of 155 men, led by Captain Harlan R Scobee, a handsome dark-haired man in his forties with the coppery skin and high cheekbones of his Cherokee Indian mother, and despite being well aware of the deprivations which the creation of the American nation had meant for her people fiercely loyal to his country. If you found it odd that that should be so, then perhaps you didn’t understand America.

Right now Scobee was standing at the very top of the great black sail jutting up out of the water to a height of nearly seventy feet, looking out over the vastness of the surrounding Atlantic. He watched the bow wave set up by the sub as it cut through the sea, water streaming down the vessel’s sides; felt the wind blowing into his face, the thrill of being in command of such a powerful and majestic machine as this, and smiled. It was for moments like this that he’d joined the Service.

Scobee had got to where he was now by a route somewhat different from that of the enlisted men who served under him. The Navy insisted that those who commanded a nuclear submarine had to have degrees in science and engineering. That was no problem for Scobee, for he had been interested in those subjects from an early age and had already had degrees in them. Scobee had gone through the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, before spending a year at a special college for would-be commanders of nuclear boats; it was deemed vital that such people had the same detailed knowledge of their vessels’ workings as the engineers. Once this was completed he was then put on the three-month Submarine Officers Basic Course at Groton. There had followed a further gruelling series of courses and trial periods of service on various submarines and surface vessels, during which any mistake however slight could have resulted in his disqualification, before he had finally achieved command of his first sub. When the class to which it belonged had been declared obsolete and withdrawn from service, he was appointed captain of the Connecticut.

It was a harsh life in many ways. Not much room, an eerie disorientating silence within the relatively confined space of that metal tube far below the surface of the sea, very little noise, very little news from home and virtually no privacy. But you got used to it after a while. However, to stand the initial stress of such an environment you had to be one of a special breed of men. The knowledge that you could all stand it, and stand it together, resulted in a compensating esprit de corps.

Scobee liked the loneliness of the submarine commander, which was as great if not greater than that of the captain of, say, an oil tanker. There was also the knowledge he was protecting his country; though he often wondered what he would do if it actually fell to him to be asked to fire his vessel's missiles. That seemed, for the moment at any rate, unlikely since for geographic reasons it was the Pacific Fleet who were dealing with the Pakistan crisis. Conversely, it riled him at times that he was doing a job which often seemed gloriously unnecessary, though he also felt unpatriotic thinking so. With the end of the Cold War - God, to think that was over fifteen years ago - it was a matter of some debate what the Ohios and the other SSBNs, or the SSNs, the hunter-killer attack subs, were needed for. No new ones were likely to be built when the current generation started to become worn-out around 2015 (they had been designed for a service life of thirty-five to forty years). Cuts in spending had already meant the withdrawal termination of other, relatively less essential submarine types.

There had been an assumption that in the foreseeable future at any rate, no nation equivalent in military power to the Soviet Union would arise to challenge the global domination of the United States and threaten her vital interests. There were no hostile nations with an equivalent nuclear arsenal, the inclination to use it, or the ability to wage a conventional war outside a fairly limited area. Rogue states like Libya had got the message when America invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein on the pretext, real or fabricated, that he might be developing weapons of mass destruction, and abandoned their own efforts in that direction. In reality, however, there were several areas a renewed threat could potentially come from. That was the problem and the frustration, not knowing which of them it was likely to be.
Russia herself was supposed to be friendly these days. But apart from that being something you could never entirely take for granted – there had been some friction lately - there was North Korea. China might be a problem at some point. And this current Pakistan crisis, above all, showed why the Ohios were still needed. Scobee was glad of it in a way. The trouble had been that until such a threat did emerge the submarine crews were merely keeping their hand in, important as it was to do so. Inevitably, with no clear and present danger looming on the horizon it had all begun to seem a bit stupid. This would breathe new life into the whole thing.

Time to see how things were getting on down below. Scobee lowered himself through a small hatch into the tiny, cramped area of what was really the bridge. Here a ladder led down three storeys to the port side passageway. A few feet aft from there was the control room.

It was brightly lit, the air clean and fresh, full of people stationed at consoles, and packed with equipment; the bustling, beating heart of the ship, humming and throbbing with power. In the centre of the room was a raised platform with the periscopes mounted on it. Forward of this stood the console where the officer of the watch sat scanning the room with eagle eyes, supervising all its many functions; the fire control stations - that is, the weapons control consoles for the BSY-1 combat system, the sonar system, the ship control area from which diving and surfacing and trim were regulated, and all down the port side the various navigational systems: the Navstar GPS, deriving its accuracy from a network of twenty-four satellites in low earth orbit, the SINS with its gyroscopes, and the new microwave communication system designed and installed by Marcotech, which rendered the others more or less obsolete although it had still been thought wise to retain them as a backup. The VDUs on the navigational consoles showed the exact longitude and latitude of the Connecticut's current position in relation to the nearest landfall on a computer-projected map of the world, and changed constantly. All these systems were controlled by the battery of computers beneath the consoles.

At the rear of the control room were the tables where the sub's movements could be plotted manually if necessary. Beside it was the communications console, containing the radio and radar equipment plus Marcotech's improved Gertrude. It was from there that contact was maintained with the satellites, and encrypted messages sent to families and to the shore base.

The Gertrude was now more or less a satellite phone, which made it additionally secure as a means of communication; codes transmitted by it were hard to break and it could only be intercepted if you happened to be at a particular point in the submarine’s immediate vicinity. It was ideal for communicating both with a shore base and another submarine, irrespective of where in the world the latter might be.

Scobee’s eyes rested for a moment on the BSY-1 controls, on the same console as the sonar systems with which they were more or less integrated. The BSY-1 handled navigation and fire control for torpedoes and missiles. Information was fed into it by the sonar systems, principally the fifteen-foot spherical sonar array located in the bow which had both active and passive (listening) modes. Signal processors and other equipment translated the sounds emitted, or collected, by the sonar into the data displayed on the console VDUs. There were four consoles in all, three occupied each by a technician and the fourth by the sonar watch supervisor.

Scobee saw that in the room chatting to the Officer of the Watch was his second-in-command, Chief of the Boat Rick Samuels. Samuels had joined the Navy as an enlisted man, wishing to see something more of the world than the small and somewhat rundown village in rural Kansas where he’d grown up. So he’d applied to his local recruiting office, where during his initial interview it was learned that he had an aptitude for machinery of any kind, something gained repairing tractors and combine harvesters on his father’s farm. Six months at the Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Florida, were followed by six of training on a sub with a prototype reactor. From there Samuels progressed to Submarine School at Groton, after which he spent a couple of years on an SSN before joining the crew of the Connecticut.

The submarine service treated their enlisted men well. New recruits were immediately made petty officers, which gave them enough money to get married, start a family and provide for it. And those who were keen stood a good chance of further promotion. All the same, Samuels had done well to attain the ultimate prize of COB. He was often held up as a shining example to would-be recruits, many of whom came from poverty-stricken backgrounds where there was not much hope of advancement, and relished the chance to gain some kind of status as well as the sense of purpose their current lives often lacked.

Scobee went up to him, and Samuels broke off his conversation with the Officer of the Watch. “Everything alright?” the captain asked. It was part of the COB’s job to motivate the enlisted men who made up most of the lower ranks, get them involved; and to listen to any worries they might have.

Samuels drew him aside. “Yeah, no worries. Garbage compactor was giving trouble earlier, but it’s fixed now. I was a little worried about Thomson after his girlfriend ditched him – not sure how that slipped through the censors – but he seems to be OK now.”

Scobee nodded. "Reckon we could dive now," he told the two officers. He crossed to the Intercom on the wall panel. "This is the Captain speaking. We are about to dive. Would any personnel currently on the bridge please evacuate the area immediately. Close all hatches, repeat close all hatches."

They waited. A couple of minutes later, the diving officer checked the status boards in front of him to make sure all external hatches had indeed been closed, and that the air banks had the right amount of air pressure. He turned to Scobee and nodded.

The diving officer gave an order to the two enlisted men, the planesman and helmsman, who sat strapped in to their seats at the ship control console, and whose job was to operate the diving planes and rudder. Consulting their dials and gauges, they began to turn the aircraft-style control wheels in front of them.

The ballast tanks were flooded to allow enough water to enter them to make the sub slightly heavier than the water surrounding her: in other words, negatively buoyant. Once she had sunk to the required depth the amount of ballast would be adjusted further so that she weighed the same as the water, making her neutrally buoyant. Then the diving planes mounted on the conning tower were inclined to the correct, computer-determined angle.

The Connecticut descended to about a hundred and twenty feet, the whole process taking about fifteen minutes. Until recently subs had normally stayed at around sixty – periscope depth. But with the innovations introduced by Marcotech, she did not need to do so to establish contact, when required, with base. She could go down much further, to the bottom if necessary.

From now on the diving planes, along with the forward motion of the sub, and regular pumping of water in and out of the ballast tanks under the supervision of the officer of the watch, would maintain the sub at the correct depth. And so the Connecticut could cruise gently along at twenty nautical miles per hour, a thousand feet above the bed of the Atlantic.

"We're under way, boys," Scobee announced. He thought for a moment or two. It was unlikely that an al-Qaeda Pakistani hunter killer submarine would try to knock her out, but all the same Connecticut needed to spot any potentially hostile vessel. He ordered the sonar boys to start pinging, for the moment in passive mode.

It was vital the Connecticut was not detected herself. With this aim in mind the hull was coated with anechoic tiles, made from a soft rubbery material which both absorbed sonar pulses and reduced the noise made by the sub's internal machinery.

In fact the whole design of the submarine was intended to minimise any extraneous sound. There were no unnecessary excrescences or protuberances which would disturb the water flow and thus create noise. The huge seven-bladed propeller was made of a special bronze alloy designed to prevent cavitation. Each piece of equipment that moved or made noise, such as the turbines which drove the vessel, was mounted on rafts that isolated them from the hull and damped out the vibrations that could be transmitted to it and from it, out into the water. Noise-monitoring sensors alerted the crew if anything was loose or malfunctioning and therefore liable to create a din. People walked around in eerie silence, or whispering like ghosts, having learnt after a while the art of keeping their voices low all the time. Each man went about the tasks assigned to him with scrupulous care, knowing that slamming a toilet seat too hard could bring an enemy down on them in seconds. And once the sub got under way there was little or no sensation of movement. It was the kind of environment which could drive certain people mad, especially if they were also claustrophobic into the bargain. But then that kind of person never made it into the Service.

The air on board the sub was the usual one of comfortable monotony, people bustling around cheerfully on their various jobs. Deciding he could leave things to run themselves for the time being, and deciding to grab a few hours’ rest, Scobee nodded to Samuels and went off to his cabin, located just forward of the enlisted mess on the second level. This level contained most of the living space aboard the boat – apart from the mess area there was a lecture room, cafeteria, cinema, games room, soft drink dispenser, berthing spaces. The Connecticut was well-appointed, the recreational facilities serving to break the gruelling monotony of life on a sub. There was also a conference room and dining area for senior officers, who of course also had the prerogative of using the facilities in the enlisted mess, meaning that officers and men ate together creating an atmosphere of unselfconscious informality. The food provided was good.

Scobee’s cabin was not large, but still the best room on the sub, being considerably less cramped and affording more privacy than the berths for the enlisted men, who slept in bunks and were allowed only a few personal posessions to cram into their lockers. The smallness of the rooms was designed to strengthen the feeling of togetherness and comradeship.

This one contained a bed, a desk, and a safe for classified documents – which also held one of the two sets of keys needed to arm the ballistic missile firing system, the other being in the possession of the COB. On the wall was mounted a multifunction display, tied into the combat system on the bridge, which kept Scobee updated on the position, course, speed, heading, and depth of the sub as well as the current tactical situation, which could be either neutral, green alert or high alert. On the desk and pinned to the walls were a few postcards and family snaps.

He made himself a cup of coffee, then threw himself on the bed with a book from the vessel’s library, which he read for an hour or so.

He decided it was time to send a “Familygram” home. The need for stealth and secrecy meant that personal messages to and from family and friends were limited to a once weekly batch each consisting of no more than forty words. Scobee also knew that the messages would be heavily censored by Groton, but he had no worries. It was a necessary precaution designed to avoid the kind of problems they might have had with Thomson had he not proved in the end strong enough to cope with them. And the captain was totally at ease with his job. In any case if the censor did detect any sign of future trouble, they would call him in for a genuinely friendly chat and try to sort things out. Because the Service looked after you.

The transmitter looked and functioned like a fax machine, only the messages were transmitted through water and relayed to the Base via satellite, courtesy of Marcotech Ltd. Scobee sat down at the desk, switched the device on and started to key in the message.
523. DOE LTJG 23/8: HI ALL. HOPE THE THREE OF YOU WELL. EVERYTHING OK HERE. AFRAID NOT MUCH TO REPORT BUT GLAD KIDS ENJOYED FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL. BEEN THINKING OF YOU, GUYS. MUST CELEBRATE: HOW ABOUT A WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY WITH GRANS WHEN I GET BACK? KNOW YOU’D LIKE THAT. DAD.
CARRIE: THINKING OF YOU TOO. BY THE WAY YOUR COOKIES WENT DOWN VERY WELL WITH ALL ON BOARD. CAN YOU DO SOME MORE?
ALL FOR NOW. ILY, HARL.
With that Scobee lay down on the bed again, closed his eyes and went to sleep.

*

The Connecticut like all the US Navy’s submarine fleet ran a shift system, in which a crewman worked six hours on and twelve hours “off" spent eating or sleeping, carrying out essential maintenance or studying for further qualifications. There wasn’t much opportunity for relaxation. One of the ways the Navy helped the sub crews to keep their minds off their loved ones back home, plus any problems they might have, was to work them hard. Every day the officers and men stood watches, tended equipment, performed fire and evacuation drills, attended lectures, and pored over books in the library. All the time the COB would tread the corridors of the submarine casting a keen eye over everything that went on and intervening to reprimand or to help out wherever necessary. Just now he was in the port forward passageway, about halfway along the sub, on his way to the control room.

A few yards from there he stopped suddenly, thinking he had heard something scraping against the outside of the hull.

Could have been any one of a number of things. Dismissing it from his mind he resumed his tour of inspection, unaware that outside a laser beam was cutting out a shallow trench in the metal of the hatch in the conning tower beneath which where the escape trunk, the submarine’s airlock, was located. It was held by a scaly, blue-grey hand webbed hand with retractable webs between the fingers.

In the control room a red light flashed on one of the environmental control consoles, and the pinging sound of an alarm cut through the low humming of the other systems, as the equipment detected the change in pressure.

"Slight leakage in escape trunk, Sir," the crewman at the console explained.
The Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant Dan Terlezski, frowned. "How serious is it?" he asked.
"Well it seems to increasing, Sir."
Terlezski made an announcement over the Intercom, asking Scobee to come to the bridge. Once he was there, they apprised him of the situation. Scobee made his decision fast; they couldn’t risk this developing into something that would compromise the structural integrity of the sub and the safety of those on board.

He gave the order to surface so that the affected area could be inspected and the breach repaired by welding. He had no idea of the cause of the leak, but the most likely explanation must be a slight fracture in the metal of the hull.

The airlock was used as a means of access or exit in an emergency, by any Seals personnel the submarine happened to be carrying on a mission, and by the four qualified divers among the crew when carrying out external repairs such as the clearing of fouled propellers. Designed to accommodate two men at a time, it was essentially a pressure vessel forming a cylindrical chamber about eight feet tall and five in diameter. Once the sub was on the surface Terlezski and the COB entered it through a door in the wall on the uppermost level of the conning tower, and stood looking around. A narrow rivulet of water was trickling steadily down the wall on the far side of the chamber.

They heard something hit the floor at their feet with a soft plopping sound. Then were aware of nothing at all as complete, all-enveloping blackness descended on their brains.

Five minutes later a man stepped through into the control room of the Connecticut, briefly studying the unconscious bodies lying on the floor or sitting slumped over their consoles before giving a businesslike nod of satisfaction.

He was a tall man with mid-brown hair, a straggling beard and strange, intense, burning eyes.


One hundred and fifty miles further north HMS Poseidon, built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness a couple of years earlier and based at Plymouth Devonport, the Royal Navy’s principal submarine base, was maintaining her own regular patrol of the oceans, or of the North Atlantic anyway, just to let everyone know that Britain was still a world power with its own more or less independent nuclear deterrent.

After the US the largest builder and operator of nuclear submarines in the Western world was the UK. Currently the British had twelve SSNs and four SSBNs. These vessels owed their existence to two things: Britain’s natural desire to preserve something of the power she had enjoyed in the days of Empire, in order as much as anything to protect herself in a turbulent and sometimes unfriendly world, and America’s need to use that power to strengthen her own, taking advantage of the “Special Relationship” where it suited her. The sharing of technology still went on, for the sake of maintaining that relationship, even though Britain’s closeness to potential points of conflict in Europe was no longer a factor of importance following the end of the Cold War. There might also have been some in the corridors of power at Westminster and Whitehall who felt for the UK to abandon Trident would be to leave more and more power in the hands of America, that ally whose friendship was increasingly a double-edged sword and whose policies were causing so much conflict and instability in the world. Something, you had to admit, that the CND and Stop the War people didn’t take into account enough. Its Commander, Adam Hillyard RN, would certainly have agreed with this; and what gave him an additional buzz was that potentially hostile countries, it was said, still feared British submarines and their crews as the most lethally professional bunch in the business, more than the Americans. The Argentines in the Falklands conflict had certainly had cause to. That was why Hillyard had become a submarine commander and remained in the profession.

From the Royal Navy Academy at Dartmouth Hillyard had gone on to the Navy's submarine school at Portsmouth, HMS Dolphin, graduation from where was known in the trade as qualifiying for one’s "dolphins". Like his American counterpart Harlan Scobee he had familiarized himself in detail, while serving as a Seaman Officer on his first tour, with the technical functioning of the kind of vessels he hoped in due course to be commanding.

He had risen up through the hierarchy to become first a Navigator and then an Officer of the Watch, impressing his superiors enough for the Chief of Staff, Submarines, at Northwood to send him on the "Perisher", the Navy's submarine command qualification course. It was an emotionally brutal regime, and on average as many as forty per cent of trainees didn’t make it. Had he dropped out he would have been barred from ever stepping on board a British submarine again, though only after they’d given him a bottle of whisky and escorted him back to shore. It was said the burden of being a failed Perisher would always weigh you down. But the course did produce, he liked to think – with all respect to the Americans – the finest submarine commanders in the world.

Once a Perisher trainee had graduated he was assigned as the first lieutenant of a Royal Navy submarine. Hillyard had served on, and then commanded, in succession a diesel boat, an SSN, and finally an SSBN; the latter, of course, was HMS Poseidon.

She belonged to the V-class of British SSBNs, like the Vengeance or Victor or Valiant, but was called Poseidon because no-one could think of any more names beginning with “V”. Part of the 2nd Submarine Squadron, she carried a crew of twelve officers and 97 enlisted men; plus, forward of the conning tower, sixteen launch tubes for her Trident ballistic missiles, of the same time and with the same capabilities as those carried by the Connecticut. Like her American sister, she was powered by a PWR-2 pressurized water reactor.

Unlike her American counterparts Poseidon was built not so much for speed as for stealth. She was smaller than they and shorter, around 250 feet long. And quieter, not least because unlike the American boats she had no propeller, instead being fitted with a device called a pumpjet propulsor which looked like a lampshade attached to the stern. It worked like a fan drawing in water and pushing it aft to drive the boat forward. The system was less noisy than the American and operated more smoothly, with no increase in vibration when changing speed. Altogether she was more stable in the water and more manouevrable than the long, narrow hull of Connecticut. Though appearing stocky and compact in comparison she was in fact more streamlined, the only protrusion being the sonar dome forward of the conning tower. Like the Connecticut and her sisters she was covered in anechoic tiles. Her hydroplanes were on the forward part of the hull, not the sail as was the US practice. She had a top speed of about 30 knots at depth.

She took about as long to dive as Connecticut, but was somewhat easier to trim. Generally she steered very well, responding quickly to the slightest change in the attitude of her rudder. She increased and decreased speed equally quickly and smoothly, with no noticeable sound or vibration.

Returning from a few minutes spent above breathing in the sea air, Hillyard descended into the roomy conning tower, which housed the array of periscopes and masts and the dome for the Racal ESM (Electronic Support Measures, that is electronic warfare) system, then through the narrow and cramped stair shaft into the control room. The landing for the conning tower ladder could be converted to a chair for the Commander to sit in when he came down, and this had been done. Taking his seat, Hillyard settled down and surveyed the equipment laid out before him, which was much the same as on the Connecticut: the radar, radio and Gertrude - the last two linked courtesy of Marcotech to a network of communications satellites owned either by the Americans or the European Space Agency, the fire control and sonar consoles, the plotting area, the two periscopes, the mast for the Racal, the Global Positioning System and the SINS. In the past not all these systems had been together in the same room, on either the British or the American subs, but when the various Marcotech adaptations had been made the opportunity was taken to integrate everything into a single, immediately accessible unit.

On the port side of the room was the ship control area, with one man controlling the bow and stern diving planes from a single position. The ballast control panel, where the diving officer was seated, was to the right of it.

The ratings went about their tasks with an exaggerated solemnity, born of nervousness at knowing Hillyard’s eyes were on them all the time. Becoming aware of this after a while, the Commander left them to it. They were a perfectly capable bunch and if anything would perform better without his constant supervision. Besides, it was nearly time for lunch.

Leaving the control room, where the Officer of the Watch would remain in charge in his absence, Hillyard descended the ladder to the second deck where the cabins and dining areas for the crew were located. On the port side were the officers' quarters and wardroom; to starboard, the berths for the enlisted men, cramped and uncomfortable by comparison but still pleasantly snug and cosy. The only thing that really rankled with the crew was having to share with somebody; every cabin apart from those allocated to the most senior officers was equipped with bunk beds. The officers and ratings ate separately.

One thing which the top brass had sensibly allowed to relieved the comparative austerity of life on board a British submarine, and for which Mike Hartman and his lads on HMS Nelson were especially grateful, was that they were allowed to bring beer and wine on board, though woe betide anyone who drank to excess. The Navy’s philosophy was that if a man was responsible enough to go to sea at all, with its risks of a horrible death by drowning, he should not be denied the basic pleasure of a drink if he wanted it. In fact, most of the alcohol on board was consumed when the subs were in port; the sensible sailor generally never drank while at sea, being well aware of the attendant dangers. Every now and then, however, Hillyard and his fellow officers felt themselves entitled to splash out. Their wardroom, along with the senior ratings’ mess, both possessed the luxury of a bar where Foster’s Lager and John Courage could be had on tap.

As with Connecticut the daily routine on board the submarine included plenty of drills of all varieties. The US practice of “Familygrams” was also followed. Hillyard dashed off a quick missive to his wife and children, then made his way along to the wardroom where the Commander and Sub-Lieutenants had already taken their seats around the dining table, beneath an oaken plaque listing all previous Royal Navy vessels to carry the name Poseidon, with their commanding officers and the battles they had taken part in. The floor was carpeted unlike that of any other room on the sub, the walls panelled in varnished wood.

Stepping in, Hillyard nodded affably to his colleagues and took his place, removing his peaked cap and placing on the table before him. Now, as at all other times on board, he kept on his blazer uniform with yellow stripes and “porthole” insignia at the cuffs. The other officers wore white short-sleeved shirts with epaulettes and, except at times like this, usually a cap as well. It was in some contrast to the American preference for informality, where just the short-sleeved shirt with its “medals” and other insignia, the cap only occasionally, was the order of the day.

An orderly appeared and dished out their ration of steak, sautee potatoes and mushrooms in gravy, to be followed later by chocolate ice cream and finally champagne, the glasses for which were already laid out. With nods of thanks to the man, they proceeded to tuck in.
“Wonder how things are going on in Pakistan,” said Hillyard.

“I expect they’ll tell us if it’s the end of the world,” grinned Hillyard’s first lieutenant and Number Two, plus fellow “Perisher” graduate, Commander Derek Winton.

“Hope so,” joked the Captain. They all had visions of the Poseidon roaming the seas for all eternity like the Flying Dutchman, constantly sending out messages to a dead world, messages to which no-one would ever reply.

“It won’t come to that,” said the sub’s Navigator. “They’d never have let the rebels get anywhere near those nukes, and al-Qaeda must have known that. Makes it all rather pointless really. Though I suppose someone somewhere must have known what they were doing.”

“Tell you one thing,” grunted Hillyard through a mouthful of his steak, “I’m still glad it doesn’t fall to us to launch a strike on them if it comes to the worst.”

“It’d never have done. They need us round this neck of the woods – of the seas.” Though a British sub off Pakistan would not have gone unappreciated, it wasn’t really necessary; the Allied presence in the region, in the air, on land and at sea, was already sufficient for al-Qaeda to get the message. In so far as they were people who could be reasoned with.

“I’m rather more worried about this squid thing that’s supposed to be lurking around,” a Sub-Lieutenant said anxiously. “I wonder how big the bloody thing’s going to get?”

“I think that’s some way down south,” Hillyard reassured him. “But what still bugs me most of all is those oil tanker sinkings.” That the Navy had been quite unable to prevent the attacks was a major blow to its pride. “I still don’t understand it. With all that new Marcotech equipment on board all three vessels – and especially the Neptune – should have been able to detect whatever it was stuck the bomb on the Knight.”

The Sub-Lieutenant was suddenly struck by something. “Unless they designed the equipment in the first place. Then somehow they’d know how to…” He put down his fork with a clang as he realised what he was saying.
“You don’t suppose Marcotech – oh come off it, Jim. That’s quite absurd. What possible reason would they have to – “
The Intercom on the wall bleeped. Hillyard got up and went to answer it. “Captain speaking.”
It was the Officer of the Watch. “Sorry to disturb you, Sir,” he said. “But it looks like we’ve got a slight leak in the bridge area."


USS Connecticut
"OK lads, let's get to work," said the man with the burning eyes. "Make it quick, now."

He’d already taken the two keys from the unconscious bodies of Scobee and the COB. Now the two technicians, both carrying bulky plastic toolboxes, moved over to the control panel. They set to work with spanners and screwdrivers, removing the cover on the console to expose the wiring and circuitry within. With surgical precision they removed some wires and cross-connected others. Then they removed from one of the boxes a complex-looking arrangement of circuits and microchips and proceeded to wire it into the workings. They worked hard, but with precision; the operation was a delicate one and in the end took almost an hour. When it was finished, however, they had what they wanted. The "manipulator" they had installed would allow them to fire as many of the missiles, at any time and in any way, that they desired.

Meanwhile their colleagues on the Poseidon were doing much the same thing.


US Navy Research Facility
In the main laboratory Admiral Edward A Feakins, US Navy, and Graham Hendricks stood watching a CCTV screen which showed Caroline Kent sitting on a bed in the room which had been allocated to her, reading a book. She now wore a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, but her feet were bare. Happening to glance up from the paperback, she noticed the camera and stuck out her tongue at it.

At length she rose, stretched, stripped down to a bikini and went through a connecting door to the pool area beyond. There, she dived into the water and struck out for the other end of the pool with smooth, powerful strokes.
"Fascinating," said Hendricks. "She behaves just like a normal human being. And yet she isn't, is she?"
Feakins noted the effortless grace with which Caroline moved in the water, the speed with which she covered the length and breadth of the pool. "Not as far as we're concerned," he said bluntly.
"It's astonishing," Hendricks reflected, "to think that a private Company, without the resources of the state behind them, should have been able to achieve something like this all by themselves."

"Fortunately they aren't the only ones who can pull strings," Feakins said. "Still, it means we've got to be careful in future." He swung round to face the scientist. "I don't think they did it entirely by themselves. They had help from within the Federal government, the governments of Britain and the Bahamas, probably the Florida state authorities. I think it was them who vetoed us helping out with that giant squid business. They may also be the reason why we didn't get very far with our own investigation into the tanker sinkings."

His gaze returned to Caroline. "Now all that's gonna stop," he said harshly. "Because they've got something we want." Whatever happened they would need access to Marcotech’s laboratories. They could work out how to do it all themselves, given time. But it made sense to speed things up if possible.

He just couldn't take his eyes off her. After all, the advantages of it were obvious. Divers who could breathe underwater for far longer than an ordinary human, who could outswim other divers, who could cover vast stretches of ocean without tiring, who would register on sonar and radar as a shoal of large fish, not as some kind of enemy submarine. And who with the aid of drugs would be fully controllable.

Hendricks wondered whether he ought to say what he'd found in Caroline's DNA sample, and in the end decided he shouldn't. He had a feeling it might just complicate matters.
"Of course some people would have ethical objections to what we're thinking of doing," he ventured.

Feakins snorted to show just what he thought of them. "They’d just want the technology for themselves. That includes the Brits. She's one of them, remember; MI6. That means we've got to think twice before letting her go.

The Admiral's cellphone trilled. While he answered it Hendricks continued to observe Caroline carefully: the time she spent underwater, the ease with which she performed the different swimming styles, how long it took for her to complete X number of lengths or breadths of the pool. He had a digital stopwatch in his hand.

"What?" he heard the Admiral exclaim. "Are you sure of this? I see....right. But how could they....oh right, yes of course." He fell very silent, then seemed to gather his thoughts. "So what's being done about it....uh-huh. Well, make sure you keep me informed. You know where to find me." He stowed away the phone.
Hendricks was regarding him anxiously. "What's up?"

"A little complication's come up," Feakins told him. "It...it's pretty serious actually." He took a deep breath, obviously shaken. "Let me tell you precisely what Marcotech have just gone and done."


Marcotech’s underwater colony, ten miles north of Gran Bahama
One by one the executives filed into Greatrix’s office. Their manner was a little apprehensive, but composed. Then they registered the armed men standing against the wall, and Greatrix sensed the alarm and tension in them as they became unsettled. They glanced nervously at one another.
"Is there anything wrong?" Putyachev asked Greatrix.

"If you'd all care to sit down, I'll explain," the millionaire said, taking his seat at the head of the table.
Slowly they sat down. The eyes of every one of them went to him, anxious and questioning.
He cleared his throat. "Strategy C has had to be put into effect. A British and an American nuclear submarine, both armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles, are now under our control. I have warned the authorities to leave the colony alone or we'll fire the missiles. You...will of course understand the implications of this development."

For a few silent moments the executives were busy digesting the information. Once it had sunk in there were looks of dismay, anger and concern on their faces. The Japanese, Kobyusato, rose stiffly to his feet. He spoke for all those concerned. "You have allowed us no time to collect our families, our personal belongings. We demand an explanation." The others nodded vigorously, a murmur of agreement rippling through the group.

"Why did you not inform us in advance?" demanded Otto Kleistmann. "That was our original agreement." His stocky body tensed for a confrontation.

"You'll forgive me I trust, gentlemen and lady, but things have moved faster than I expected. One of the aquanoids escaped and I believe is now in the hands of the authorities. She will tell them about the colony, and everything that's going on here. They'll want to make use of our project for their own purposes, which I cannot allow."

The Indian, Rajani, was frowning. "But surely, if she was treated with the drug..."
Very slightly Latimer's head turned in Greatrix's direction, and his lips tightened.
"The drug appears to have worn off," Greatrix said. "We're not sure why. It happens, sometimes."

"If there's anything I can do about your families I will," he promised. "There was no time to collect them. But after all the years we have spent working together, I thought the least I could do was to ensure your own personal safety."

None of them seemed mollified by this. "And if you can't help them?" said Bert Hammerstein. The tone of his voice was dangerous. "What happens if they're on a plane, driving a car, or anything like that when we decide to move on to Strategy D?"
"They'll be safe, I assure you."

"Can you guarantee that, Mr Greatrix?" the Chinaman Kai Ling asked in his soft, melodious Oriental voice.
"I said I would do what I could. In any case, I think it's very unlikely the authorities will be so stupid as to attack the colony while we have their submarines under our control. There will be no holocaust."
"But as Mr Hammerstein has just pointed out, when Strategy D is put into operation there is a possibility our loved ones will die."
Gerda Wenge suddenly spoke up. "Herr Greatrix, could not the safe passage of our families to the colony be made an additional demand?" Her manner was polite and reasonable.

Greatrix answered at once, showing he had anticipated the request. "It would mean a certain amount of contact with the authorities. If there is too much of that, we create too many openings, too many opportunities for something to go wrong. It increases the number of points of weakness, the probability of complications. What if someone exploits the arrangement to get into the colony? This installation must be a closed system, a fortress no-one is allowed to get in or out of. It's quite likely the US Navy are already surrounding the base."

"I am sure we would not compromise the security of the project," Wenge assured him, frostily.
"Nevertheless, it would be best in the meantime if you all remained here."
"This is not in order," protested Kleistmann. "We should decide these matters democratically. It must be a majority decision by the board of management."
Silence fell. The executives each looked at Greatrix, he eyed them all back. There was a lot of embarrassed shifting.

"It's too late for that now," the millionaire said suddenly. "It'd take far too long." He nodded to the chief of the guards. "If you could escort our friends here to the guest suite."
Without a word the executives stood up and made for the door, knowing there was no point in resistance. Their faces were ashen.
The guards followed them out, keeping no more than a pace or two behind them.

"Can we do anything about their families?" Latimer asked once they had all gone.
"You heard what I said about creating dangerous openings."
"We could ask the Americans to stand off."
"They must have some kind of presence on the spot. It's a concession we must allow them. If they don't they may get worried things are happening which they have no power to stop."
"Of course," he smiled, "we very much hope they won't stop it."
He buried himself a little deeper in his chair. "It would have taken too long to get their families together, and then over here," he insisted. "I didn't want to leave them any time to get cold feet in. What if they'd come along, found the whole operation wound up and the colony surrounded by the Navy, and panicked? They might have decided to make a clean breast of it to the authorities. They might have told them about our...last resort."
"You didn't tell them the whole truth there," Latimer said.

"What I did tell them would sound alarming enough to the world. All the same, the thought crossed my mind. But it's always possible they might like it even less than what they think is the alternative."
"They're still pretty pissed off. They thought they'd have time to get their loved ones down here safely. I mean, you promised them."
"I don't break promises without a good reason. If the authorities knew about Strategy D they might decide to take the colony whatever the consequences. And I don't want to unleash a major nuclear holocaust, Dave. Not if I can help it. It would mess up a lot of things, and that's putting it mildly. Our "last resort" might not be any help then, although we can't be entirely sure."

Latimer leaned close to him, grinning slyly. "You never wanted to tell them the truth about Strategy D, did you? Because you don't want to admit that when push comes to bloody shove we don't want it done to us or ours. We're a bunch of right bloody hypocrites. Listen, for your information I couldn't give a toss one way or another. Nor could any of the lads. That was why you picked us, wasn't it?"
"As long as their families were here with them they wouldn't have minded."
"But that hasn't happened," Latimer reminded him. He changed tack. "Anyway, we've probably fucked up everything as it is. What happens if those al-Qaeda loonies get hold of the Pakis' nuclear weapons?"
"You mean the Pakistanis' nuclear weapons. And they won't. I knew that when I first had the idea for our little Asian adventure. The West will never allow it, purely and simply." It was why the executives hadn't been too worried about Strategy B’s ultimate consequences. "No, right now only we have the power of life and death over the world. Only we can bend everything and everyone to our will, decide the fate of the entire human race. Only we."

Greatrix was staring fixedly at the wall of the office, his face blank and impassive like someone in a deep trance. Latimer knew that whenever his boss was in this mood it was best to leave him alone.
He remembered something. “Charlie’s arrived safely. And Wayne Goertz.”
“Oh good,” muttered Greatrix.
Latimer decided he might as well continue. “I should warn you Wayne’s a bit upset. He, er, had to kill his wife.”
“Really? Whatever for?”

“He reckons she twigged what we were up to down here. Heard about a Fish Woman on the TV and put two and two together.”
Latimer saw Greatrix wince, a trace of emotion showing briefly in his face. “It would have been preferable if that had not been necessary.”
“He says he thought about telling her everything and trying to get her involved. But he’s not sure she’d have approved. The thing is, it’s sent him over the edge a bit. He’s still sobbing his heart out and praying for forgiveness.”

“It would be understandable if he were to experience feelings of remorse.”
“Yeah, sure. But I reckon he’s….”
Greatrix meditated on the news. For someone to go seriously off the rails in a closed environment like the colony could only be dangerous for the others there. “Just make sure he’s securely locked up. Separately from anyone else, preferably. In due course he’ll find out whether it was all worthwhile. If it comes to the worst we can always make an aquanoid out of him.”

Latimer nodded. He took one last look at his boss’s face, and decided it was time to go. "Got a few things to do," he grunted, and went.
Greatrix barely noticed him leave. After the door had closed behind him, the millionaire reached forward and picked up the photograph of the little boy from his desk. Holding it in both hands he stared down at it for some time with his hollow, haunted eyes.


FORTY-FIVE
The Poseidon was the first to go off the air, the Connecticut following a few minutes later. When the subs failed to make their regular routine calls to base air and sea searches were instigated by their respective countries. They failed to find any trace of the vessels on the surface. Each power thought that something had gone wrong with its sub's communications equipment, or some kind of accident had disabled the craft. The latter was a pretty alarming scenario, not least because of the possible consequences if the reactor was damaged. But when it was learned by one that the other had had problems too, the dread thought began to creep in that this could be no coincidence.

Was it possible that someone had hijacked the subs and was going to use it to attack the West? Could al-Qaeda have...whatever the explanation, it was all pretty alarming. First Pakistan, and now this.

The uncertainty was ended when a radio message, apparently originating from somewhere in the Bahamas, was broadcast on all US and British government frequencies, to be picked up immediately by Fort Meade and GCHQ at Cheltenham. In Britain the special committee known as Cobra, which met at times of national crisis and whose membership varied according to the nature of that crisis, met at 10 Downing Street. On this occasion it consisted of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and several other senior Cabinet ministers, the Chief of the Defence Staff and the other heads of the Armed Forces, including the Flag Officer, Submarines, for the Royal Navy, Vice-Admiral Sir Gordon Pemberton, and his Chief of Staff, Submarines, Commodore Roger Farries, who together commanded the British submarine fleet from the Joint Command Operations Centre at Northwood, Middlesex. If necessary the government’s civil defence supremo, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and one or more of the Chief Constables would be added to the team.

The President of the United States called a meeting of his senior aides and military chiefs of staff in the Situation Room at the White House. It would be followed in due course by a joint meeting of the heads of NATO in Washington. Among the civilians present apart from George Bush himself – though in one respect he was not a civilian, being overall commander-in-chief of the armed forces - were the Vice-President, National Security Adviser, Secretary of State and the Secretaries for Defense and the Navy. In their military rather than their civilian capacity, the latter were represented by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Harrison Baker.

A tape of the message was played back. "This is Marcotech Consortium Limited speaking to the governments of Britain and the United States of America. We have taken over two of your submarines, HMS Poseidon and USS Connecticut, and will fire their nuclear missiles at populated areas in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres if any attempt is made to raid our undersea installation off Grand Bahama. For the sake of millions of lives we hope you will heed this warning. We are engaged in an enterprise which will be of immeasurable benefit to humanity, and for humanity's sake must be allowed to complete it. There are those who would seek to pervert what we are doing for their own unethical purposes and we cannot allow that.

“The crews of the submarines have not been harmed and will be released, alive and well, at the earliest opportunity." The tape came to an end.
The President spoke. "Are we sure this isn't a hoax? Could Marcotech really do this sort of thing?"
"They designed the computer codes," Admiral Baker reminded the meeting. "Built all the hardware."
"Oh shit," said Bush.

The National Security Adviser said, "I wouldn't rule it out, considering the line of work they're in. They’ve created some pretty advanced stuff for the defence industry. The code for launching the missiles and the associated software was designed by a subsidiary of theirs. They've probably installed some means of making sure they can fire the missiles whenever they want. Or maybe just taken the keys.
“Right now the Brits are carrying out a full investigation into Marcotech, and we're doing the same over here. We've raided all Marcotech's onshore bases around the world, and we're questioning the key personnel. The ones we could find, anyway."
"The ones you could find?" asked the Vice-President.

"Quite a few of them seem to have disappeared, including Zuckermann their chief scientist, Latimer the head of security, and Edward Greatrix himself. I think they were the people who really knew what was going on. The others seem mystified about the whole business, and I don't think they're putting it on.

"The company's been suspended from trading while an investigation's been carried out into its affairs. It's not the first time it's been investigated, actually. This time there wasn't any option but to get tough."
"I guess all these people disappearing prove it is them behind it all," said the President.
The NSA nodded. "And no-one else has come forward."

“Are we going to ignore the Marcotech base altogether, then?” asked the Secretary of State. “For the time being anyway?”
Admiral Baker answered her. “My Second Fleet have effectively put a cordon around it and are maintaining a watch of the area. So far Marcotech haven’t made any objection. But we can’t do much more than that. The submarines have been withdrawn and all ships and aircraft are staying at least ten miles away from the colony. But it looks like they must have something else in mind because they know they can’t maintain the stand-off forever.”

"We won't know the answer until we can get inside the base, and that's precisely what would incite Marcotech to fire those missiles,” said the Secretary for the Navy glumly.
"Before we go any further, there's something that's worrying me more than anything else,” the President said. “How did they know where the submarines were in the first place?"

"That's something we'll need to look into, of course. One thing's clear, they must have had inside information. Either someone in the Navy or someone high up in Joint Chiefs of Staff administrative structure. That’s a serious matter but we’ll have to deal with it later.”
Wearily, they turned their attention to the question of what to actually do about the problem.
"Those subs can stay at sea for months, maybe years. And we wouldn’t know where they were.”
“Yeah, but sooner or later whoever's on board will need food and other essentials. The reactors will require refuelling..”

"We may receive a demand in the next few weeks that all the right materials be supplied to them. And if we try and take the chance to seize the subs they’ll launch the missiles immediately.”
"All the same, they can't expect to keep this going forever. Spend too much time cooped up on board one of those boomers and you go crazy. And the longer it goes on for the bigger the likelihood something'll happen to mess up their plans. You’re right, Admiral, they’ve got to be waiting for something. I don't know what, but it's sure worrying me."

"What's this "enterprise which will be of immeasurable benefit to humanity?", do you suppose?”
“Seems to me that's got to be the clue. It's something at the Bahamas base, and that's why they don't want anyone to raid it."
"Unless they tell us, I don't reckon we'll know."
"We’ve been raiding all their other assets. They don’t seem too bothered about that, as if they’ve already passed some point of no return.”
“They did that the moment they took the subs,” growled the NSA.

“Marcotech were involved in work on a revolutionary new mariculture project. It might be something to do with that."
"To find out we'll have to get in there. And if anything went wrong, they'd panic and fire the missiles."
"It'd be just as risky to try and retake those subs. Either by force or by stealth."
"Can we do that anyway?"
"Nothing like it has ever been attempted before. Of course the British Special Boat Service are pretty good, as are our own Navy Seals. We're looking at possible options right now. The job of retaking the Poseidon will be down to the Brits, since it's one of theirs. Re Connecticut, the Seals are already on standby.

"But of course we’d first have to find the subs, and that’s going to be difficult. They've got millions of miles of ocean to hide in and trying to locate them by sonar is always a hit-and-miss affair even if we happened to be fairly close to them. We could try, of course. Marcotech didn't say we couldn't. Second Atlantic are looking for the Connecticut as we speak and the British are doing their best to get a fix on Poseidon.”
“And there’s been no luck so far?”
“None at all.”

Admiral Baker continued. “My guess is that the Poseidon will be somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the Connecticut the Southern. But if we do manage to get a more precise fix than that, it’ll be by pure luck. Of course with the new system they don't need to surface to make radio contact or to check their position, so it’s almost impossible to track them.” The process involved what was not, strictly speaking, a form of radio but rather microwave radiation emitted by a satellite, which could penetrate water more easily than either radio waves or laser beams. It removed the need for a sub to surface to raise an ELF mast, thereby risking giving her position away. Information vital for navigation could be communicated by the same means.

“We could monitor their transmissions but it’s difficult with the new system – that was the whole idea. And who designed it with Marcotech themselves? As for shutting down the satellites, we know they’ve got their own and the radio link’s probably been rerouted to them.”

"What about knocking out their satellites with an ICBM?" the Vice-President suggested.
"That might be possible,” the Defense Secretary told the meeting. “Trouble is, Marcotech have said that if the subs lose contact with their base they’re to launch their nukes immediately. Also the satellite might be at too high an altitude. And there’d be a whole heap of trouble if it came down in the wrong place.”
“And we don’t have the slightest idea what to do when we have found them,” sighed the NSA.

"We could only attack if we were certain of knocking both subs out at the same time.” The moment one was neutralized, the other would retaliate. “But we couldn’t be. And they’re probably going too deep for depth charges anyway.”
“Who do we think is in command of those subs right now?” asked the Secretary of State.
“They've obviously replaced the original crews with their own,” replied the Chief of Naval Operations. “Mercenaries, probably. People with some military training and probably technical expertise."

"I just hope they do know what they're doing,” muttered Admiral Baker. A nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine isn't a toy."
"They know exactly what they're doing," the NSA grunted. "They have the knowledge and the expertise. And they've been planning it for years, you can tell."
The meeting seemed to have lost its way a bit. “All the time they were secretly developing the knowledge, the hardware, for their own uses, and we never realised it,” mused the Vice-President, wonderingly.

“That’s not the issue,” snapped Admiral Baker. “At least, not at the moment. The point is to actually do something about this little problem, and it seems we’re nowhere near making a decision.”
“I suggest we wait until the last possible moment, and then if there’s no other way out we send in the Seals,” argued the Vice-President. “If we’ve found the Connecticut by then.”
“But we won’t know when the last moment is,” the Secretary of State pointed out. “Because we don’t know what Marcotech’s ultimate game is.”

“I’d suggest a provisional deadline of two weeks from now, to be brought forward or postponed depending on whether we can acquire additional information.” The heads around the table considered this, then nodded. “Sounds like a good idea,” the President agreed. “We’ll need to liaise closely with the Brits of course, know exactly what they’re doing. For all we know it could be New York or DC that the Poseidon’s got in her sights.”

“I’ll see to it,” said Condoleezza Rice. “In the meantime, do we tell the public?”
"There's no immediate likelihood of the missiles being fired, that we can see,” said the Vice-President. “Until there is it's not worth the panic it'd cause. Things would spiral out of control.”
They left it at that. Like all politicians they had a history of being economical with the truth, whether for fair or foul reasons, and they weren’t going to suddenly change now.

"What notice would they give us, do you think?" asked the President.
"Let's just hope it doesn't come to that," the Vice-President sighed. "I certainly don't think there's any reason to suppose Marcotech will fire the missiles on an impulse. If we don't do anything stupid..”
"They may just want time to relocate the base somewhere else," said the Secretary for Defense.
"I don't think it's that. The Navy have already surrounded the area, and so far Marcotech haven't told us to pull them out.”

The political leaders would, of course, be evacuated to their own personal shelters, whether beneath the capital or out in the country, within minutes of it becoming clear that an attack was likely.
It was always possible, thought the Vice-President, that Marcotech’s ultimate plan was something harmless, something genuinely beneficial which they wanted the freedom to do but which people acting from selfish or wicked motives might seek to frustrate. If that were the case, storming the subs would be to risk Armageddon for nothing. And if Armageddon happened….

Briefly his eyes lingered on the President. Does that man really have the ability to make the decision, in the end, he wondered. Or the right decision?


US Navy Research Facility, San Diego
Though abundantly lit by the arrays of fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, the vast laboratory somehow had the dingy, slightly nauseaous air of an aquarium. It certainly had the look of one, partly due to the enormous tank at one end, filled with saltwater that had been specially shipped in. It was designed to reproduce exactly an underwater environment, with sand and silt at the bottom, rocks, the fronds of sea plants undulating gently in the current set up by an electric motor. It had everything except artificial bubbles and a model of a sunken galleon, Caroline thought drily. Nearby scientists stood or sat at a bank of instrument-studded consoles examining computer-generated diagrams of her anatomy and metabolism.

Below floor level her pool was glassed in on three sides to form a sunken tank which projected into the the laboratory on the level below. There was no way of entering or exiting the pool other than the connecting door to her quarters.

All the previous night technicians and workmen had been busy demolishing walls, erecting partitions, moving equipment in and out. They had also installed a sleep tank similar to the one at Marcotech, for her to use when necessary.

In the tank Caroline swam about listlessly, looking bored and miserable. Hendricks came in and paused by the glass, once more studying her in fascination as she swam about. He noted the rippling motion of her gills as they drew in water, and the play of her muscles as they flexed with each swing of the arms, each kick of the legs.

He went over to his chief assistant, Yoshiro Saito. "How long has she been in there now?"
"Just under forty-five minutes. We said an hour...."
Hendricks waited a bit longer. "All right. Seal off the top of the tank."
With a hum of electric motors a steel cover slid slowly into place over the tank, a fraction of a millimetre above the surface of the water. Caroline didn't notice it at first.

The scientists saw her swim upwards, making straight for the surface. Time to get some air.
Her eyes widened in horror as she realised she was trapped within the tank. She swum to the glass and banged on it with an angry expression. Silently she mouthed the words, what the hell are you trying to do?
They stared back at her without emotion.

She dived to the bottom of the tank, and crouched there on all fours for a few seconds, gathering her energies. Then she sprang, shooting up through the water in a spectacular leap, propelled on a little further by furious cycling movements of her legs. She put up her arms to protect her head and they slammed against the steel lid, the impact appearing to jar her painfully. The sheet of solid metal stayed firmly in place, not even the slightest vibration noticeable.

She tried again, with the same lack of results. Instead of making another attempt she remained at the top, kicking to help keep afloat and trying to suck in air from the tiny space between the water and the metal surface above it. She used it up in seconds.

Sinking back down, she went to the wall again and this time stayed there, hammering on the glass with increasing desperation.

By now there was a painful burning sensation in her lungs, like they were being squeezed in a red hot vice. And it was getting worse minute by minute.
The scientists went on scribbling in their notebooks, observing her with clinical detachment.
Subject exhibited signs of distress after approximately one hour in the tank....
Caroline had realised what they were trying to do. If I do you'll be in serious trouble, she mouthed.
Maybe they couldn't lip-read.

Frantically she continued to pound on the glass, her lips working soundlessly in a wordless appeal for help.
Still the scientists regarded her with that look of studied detachment, Hendricks' pencil recording everything he saw in his notebook.
After five minutes rapid movement of the diaphragm, and of the gills, was observed accompanied by convulsive swallowing motions….

The pain was incredible. The water in her lungs was choking her, she was losing consciousness. Again she swam up to the top of the tank, her hands running rapidly over the smooth metal surface as if trying to locate an opening that wasn't there. She made them into fists and punched at it furiously.
"All right, remove the cover," Hendricks shouted. "We don't want to lose her just yet."

In her distress she didn't feel the faint trembling as the lid began to retract. But then suddenly her fingers were clawing empty air and with a sobbing cry of relief she kicked up, into the open. She flipped over and backstroked to edge of the pool, to hang from it sucking in the precious oxygen with great wheezing gasps. The look on Henricks' face was one of utter fascination.
Saito came up to him. "Another test?"

"Leave it for a bit," he said. "Too much stress in too short a time could kill her."
Caroline sat by the pool with her head buried in her knees, breathing steadily. Some time passed. Then Hendricks nodded to Saito. “She’s had long enough to recover. I think we can try the next test.”
“It’s not quite time.”
“I don’t think a few minutes either way will matter.”

Caroline was stretched out by the pool with her arms crossed behind her head, thinking of nothing in particular, when a couple of the guards came along, one motioning to her abruptly with his rifle.
"Get back in the tank," he ordered.
"Since you ask so nicely."
"Get back in the tank," the man repeated.
She dived in, making sure she splashed a good deal of water over the guards. Her head broke surface for a moment. "Oh, sorry," she smiled, and popped under again.
Several more guards appeared, each carrying a couple of buckets filled with a dark red liquid. They went to the edge of the pool and began emptying the contents of the buckets into it. Another began tossing in chunks of raw meat.

Caroline suddenly realised the water around her was turning blood red, saw the pieces of meat and had a nasty suspicion as to what they were planning.
The cover was sliding back into place again. She made for the edge of the tank and clambered out. "What's going on?" she demanded.

The nearest guard raised a taser threateningly. "Get back in the tank. You know this can hurt you."
"That's nothing to what I'd do if I...."
His patience snapped. "Get back in the fucking tank," he snarled, advancing on her with the taser. His companions joined him and together the five of them herded her back towards the pool. The cover was now more than halfway closed. She stood about a couple of feet from the edge.

She hesitated, then jumped in, diving to avoid being crushed between the cover and the edge of the tank. With a dull thud it connected with the top of the far wall.
Now what, she wondered.
In the main lab Hendricks spoke into an intercom. "All right, open the gate."

The tank was really one of a number of tanks, all connected to one another by a series of metal doors which were normally kept shut. The one in the far wall of Caroline's tank began to open vertically and a huge, white, deadly shape, streamlined for killing, swam through the opening into her view.
Maddened by the smell and taste of the blood in the water, the great white made straight for her. She froze in terror, staring as if paralysed into the shark’s face. That horrible face.....

In just seconds the shark was too close for her to orientate herself to kick it, or so she judged. She corkscrewed, twisting round and over onto her front in the same movement, and shot off towards the opposite end of the tank in one single, fluid, darting motion. The shark streaked after her.
To her relief she saw that the gate in the wall there was opening. Veering off to the right a little, she sped on towards it. The change of direction had caused her to slow down fractionally and she pushed herself even faster in order to compensate.
To the watching scientists it seemed she reached the opening in little more than the wink of an eye. She swam on through it and the gate slammed down behind her like the blade of a guillotine.

The shark was going too fast to stop in time, and its nose slammed straight into the gate. It rebounded from the metal and for some minutes swam crazily about, lurching from side to side, evidently stunned. Serve you right, thought Caroline, who by now had acquired a visceral dislike of sharks.

She stared out through the glass at the scientists, accusingly. Hendricks turned away, not wishing to meet her eye. "Her speed...did you see her go? That's what we want, alright."
Saito was looking unhappy. "What if it had caught her?”

"She was never in any danger," said Hendricks. "She couldn’t be sure we’d open the gate, that’s all. Besides, that's how you find out these things."


General Parviz Sharifah strode purposefully along the corridors of the upper floor of the barracks near Karachi which had been taken over by the legitimate – if you could call a regime which had seized power in a military coup and kept it by stage-managing elections in which its leader was the only candidate legitimate – headquarters.

Sharifah was no supporter of democracy, of course. Had Pervez Musharraf been politically more to his liking, he would have heartily approved of the coup which had brought that man to power.

But that was not the case and so Musharraf had to die. Most likely Sharifah would lose his own life in the process, but that of course didn’t deter him from his task. Or rather he felt the fear, but was utterly determined to do it anyway.

There were always two soldiers guarding the President’s bedroom. He would go up to them and say that he urgently needed to see the President, the reason if he needed to give one being that he had uncovered a conspiracy among Musharraf’s retinue and that an assassination attempt was being planned this very moment. When he had killed the President they would probably kill him, and so any prospect of escaping with the casket that contained Musharraf’s copy of the key was out. A pity. But the assassination of Musharraf would cause alarm and concern throughout the West, so he would have achieved something. He was a solid bulwark against what they insisted on calling “Islamic extremism”, and the man whom they would prefer to lead the country in the aftermath of the war, supposing that they won it.

Sharifah turned a corner into the passage that led to his destination, and stopped dead in his tracks, startled. There were no guards outside the door of Musharraf’s room. He was puzzled, and for a moment uneasy. Something was wrong. But it wasn’t likely he’d get another chance to kill the traitor, still less take the casket, so he pressed on. He came up to the door, turned the handle and gently pushed it open.

Stepping in, he closed the door behind him and drew his silenced automatic pistol from his holster with one hand, the other groping for the light switch. Click.

As the light flooded the room he looked around and saw the casket on the table beside the bed. It was heavy, really a small safe, and no doubt only Musharraf knew the combination to lock it. But there were ways of breaking it open, once he had managed to smuggle it out to one of the rebel strongholds. Getting it out of here was the tricky part; he’d just have to call his comrades, giving them the signal to move, and while they mounted a determined, suicidal attack on the barracks sneak from the building with it, somehow without anyone noticing. He’d better stay here for the moment, in case someone came across him while he was lugging the casket down the corridor to his own room. If discovered, he could claim to have heard a sound and gone to investigate, discovering to his horror that the President had been murdered.

Musharraf’s death would throw everything into confusion, so maybe he needn’t worry too much. He raised the pistol, aimed it at the huddled form on the bed and fired twice. It seemed to jerk under the impact.

He stared at it for a few moments, then took a step towards it, the beginnings of a frown wrinkling his brow. Something wasn’t quite right…he could sense it…..

The object on the bed was no more than a bundle of blankets, arranged so as to suggest a sleeping human form. He’d been tricked.

“Please do not move, General.” The voice came from the corner of the room, beyond his field of vision. “We have you covered.”

Briefly he considered resistance, but decided Allah would not thank him for throwing his life away in vain. He dropped the gun and looked to one side to see one of the guards training a rifle on him. The man must have stood far enough away from the door to be out of his vision field.

Footsteps approached him from the right; the other guard, also covering him point blank with a rifle. Then the door to the balcony outside was opened, and from the darkness General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, stepped into the room. His movements were still a little shaky from the after-effects of the explosion, and his face bore fading scars, but his bearing was that of the soldier he’d always been, and there was a grim determination in his face. “So,” he said. “You. I couldn’t have known, but I’m not altogether surprised. It seems anyone can turn out to be an extremist, these days.”

The President had always known, of course, that there were spies within his retinue. It was a constant danger and problem he would have been glad to be rid of. The assassination attempt at the cabinet meeting, which had led to a coup d’etat, war and the effective partition of the country had been the final straw. By employing a little deception, he had now succeeded in smoking out at least one of the conspirators. And maybe through Sharifah he would be able to learn who the others were.

“You will torture me, of course,” the General said. “I will not talk.”
“We’ll see,” Musharraf replied.
“If you cannot break me, and I live, what will you do then? Execute me, turn me into a martyr? That would be most unwise. Because there will be others who seek to kill you and depose your unholy regime, whatever happens. You are a slave to everything a true Muslim despises. A servant of the Americans and the British.”

Pervez Musharraf threw back his head and laughed. “You think it is like that? How little you understand. I have had plenty of cause to be angered by their arrogance and their foolishness, the way they seek to bend the world to their will. The Americans threatened to bomb us once, if you remember. It has not been an easy relationship. But they know my patience becomes strained at times and are careful not to offend me, because they know how vital I am as an ally in their war on terror. I could make things very difficult for them if I wished. It is my choice to go on supporting them – mine alone – because I know what you would seek to do is even worse.”

“And what do you think will happen to our nuclear weapons, after this? The Americans will demand we surrender them. There will be no Islamic country with the means to rival Israel and the West. We shall be weak and powerless, which is what they desire. You have lost everything.”

“We shall not lose our nuclear arsenal. Muslim opinion – and my opinion – would not permit it. Besides, if both we and the Indians have such weapons it is less likely one side will do anything to antagonize each other. In the long term fear of the consequences will force us to settle our differences. There will be a proper balance of power, which is how things should be.”

“You are interested only in power for yourself. You are a brutal tyrant, a butcher. You have consigned the majority of our people to poverty and denied them any right to express their opinions.”

Musharraf shrugged his shoulders sadly. “Pakistan is still not ready for democracy. It suffers too much from the circumstances of its birth. Perhaps if we had never been under British rule things would have been different, but it’s beyond our power to turn the clock back. For now the country needs the rule of the army. Say what you like about me, General; but I’m a practical politician, I deal in the possible. There is much that is wrong with Pakistan; it may be the West’s fault, or perhaps we are simply different from them; but to do things your way would be worse. And believe me, I have the country’s best interests at heart. And Islam’s. Let history, and God, decide. But not you.”
Then he told the soldiers to take Sharifa away.


Having run out of things to do, Caroline was sitting cross-legged on the bottom of her tank, motionless as a statue of some underwater Buddha. Through the glass one of the scientists caught her fixedly staring eye and smiled, whereupon she pulled a sour face.

She went on watching them at their work. Over time she had got to know all their individual mannerisms, their body language and what it signified. People really were a most fascinating species. In a way it's you who're the fish in the tank, she mused, and me who's gawping at you. The thought gave her some considerable satisfaction.

She could sense that the way she sat and silently watched them made them uneasy. Oh what a shame.
It was a pity the telepathy didn’t seem to work on humans anywhere near as well as it did animals. It might be because she was talking to people a bit more, even if she didn’t entirely care for the company. It might also be because they had lost such abilities, along with for the most part the related properties of intuition and second sight, when they evolved into creatures who (supposedly) used reason to work things out, and found their brains didn’t have the capacity to accommodate that and the telepathy as well. It was widely believed, though not yet scientifically acccepted, that animals – who used instinct rather than reason - had some kind of telepathic faculty, and her own experiences now proved this was true. In humans the power was still there but it was weaker, preventing them from receiving her own transmissions or themselves transmitting on a frequency she could pick up.

It was a pity because she relished the thought of knowing all their dark secrets, which of them was a secret sexual pervert or having an affair with that attractive junior technician who brought in the coffee and cookies every couple of hours. Still, there was a lot you could suss out without the aid of telepathy, and without needing a great deal of time in which to do so.

Meanwhile, Hendricks was sitting at his desk at the side of the room drawing up a report which summarized the findings so far from the tests they’d been carrying out on their subject.
“Subject needs to alternate between land and water on hourly basis.
“Heartbeat and breathing rate higher in water than on land. In a terrestrial environment, or when motionless in water, pulse rate averages at 75 beats a minute (human normal 60-70 beats), and rate of respiration at 15 breaths a minute (human normal 12 to 14 breaths); when swimming, pulse rate is 220 beats per minute (human normal, for a young adult female, is 200-210) and rate of respiration 200 breaths per minute (more or less the average for a human). This takes into account the fact that when immersed a swimmer’s heart rate may drop by 5-8 beats per minute, water tending to facilitate the return of blood to the heart and thus reduce the work the cardiovascular system needs to do. Were it not for this I suspect the figures I have given might be higher and indeed are, particularly in water, when the subject is exposed to stress or needs to perform rapid physical movements:


Land Water Human average

Heart rate (bpm) 165 185 160(l), 200(w)*
Breathing rate (pm) 40 40 35

* depending on age and fitness levels

“The subject is of average muscular development for a woman, by human – or at any rate humanOID – standards, but the various adaptations she has undergone make up for this. However she is not significantly faster or stronger in the water than the average human swimmer, except when under threat and therefore experiencing the adrenalin rush.

“Buoyancy - excellent. Visibility in water - excellent. Hearing ditto, though no doubt assisted by ability of water to carry sound waves.

“Extreme sensitivity to vibrations in water. After a safe interval the experiment with the shark was repeated, this time with the subject being allowed no indication of what was planned until the vibrations from its motion reached her. Without actually seeing the animal, she immediately moved as quickly as possible away from their proximity. The hatch was then closed, denying the shark entry to her section of the tank, as the object of the experiment had been achieved. It was repeated a third and fourth time with harmless marine mammals, a dolphin and a young humpback, with entirely different results. The subject showed no alarm, even manifesting signs of pleasure, indicating she can recognise the vibrations given off by different marine species without needing a visual fix. Over how great a distance this faculty can operate would require actual marine conditions to assess, which is not practical at present.

"Sensitivity to pressure acute. One of the experiments involved simulation of conditions prevailing at extreme depths; its termination was necessary after five minutes as the psi could have proved fatal within seconds. Indicates subject unable to function at depths of below 1,000 feet, and therefore possesses a still partly human metabolism.”

He looked up on hearing footsteps approach him in a brisk, stacatto, military fashion. It was Admiral Feakins, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. “How did that temperature test go?”

Hendricks read from his notes. ““Subject exhibited signs of discomfort at 10-15 degrees centigrade. Suggests some form of protective clothing necessary in polar regions, which would impair effectiveness.” Above that level, she’s fine. Tunas have a high resistance to cold; they’re found over all the world’s oceans, except for around the North and South Poles. She doesn’t need to wear anything, except scuba gear if she needs to stay under for a bit longer. Just as well, because it slows her down like it would a normal diver.” The Navy man grunted his approval.

“I think I’ve more or less worked out what Marcotech did to her and how. And I’m convinced there's an application.” He handed the sheaf of notes to Feakins, who read through them approvingly. "But..." he began once the Admiral had finished.
"But what?" Feakins demanded, his expression changing.

Hendricks led the way over to the tank and gazed up at Caroline, who was swimming about again. "I don't think they could be very efficient as water breathers. Everything she's told us is true. She can only stay under for about an hour before she starts to get uncomfortable. I think she finds it a bit of a raw deal having to switch between the two environments all the time."

"It doesn't really matter. We're only interested in the military application."
"It could get in the way of that," Hendricks pointed out. "It depends how long they'd need to be in the water for. It could render a sustained operation non-viable. They'd need an artificial backup. There'd be no savings in terms of cost and it might even turn out to be more expensive."

The Admiral grunted again by way of reply, clearly not happy at this. "But if we built on what Marcotech have done," he said, "couldn't we get round the problem somehow?"
"You could give them proper gills like an axolotl, say, has; but what you'd be left with wouldn't be human. The whole physiology would have to be changed to match. You might as well try to train a real fish to do it."

The Admiral sighed, still not very happy. "What's an axolotl?" he asked vaguely.
"It's the larvae of a species of salamander, found in a series of lakes near Mexico City."

"However," Hendricks went on, "your basic suggestion's sound. We'd simply use different genetic material to create a more exact human-fish hybrid. As long as it had limbs like ours, and the sort of brain that could be trained, it could plant a bomb on a ship, in dock or at anchor, or an oil rig. And fish DNA would give it the right swimming ability. Only problem's the gills, like I said. They'd be a bit unwieldy, might catch on things. I'm not sure how you'd get over that."

"What about...." Feakins frowned. "What about something exactly like a fish, but human arms and legs? Or is that what you’re suggesting?”

"Well if we could get rid of the external gills, give it a tail for added propulsion, and limbs in addition to fins..it’s worth a try. It wouldn't have to have a human intelligence as long as it was clever enough to be trained. You can teach some quite simple life forms to do things. Of course we've tried something like this before, with dolphins, only people didn't like it."

"They wouldn't like this if they knew about it," Feakins replied.
"To be frank it's not our brief to worry about the ethics of the matter."
Hendricks scratched his chin thoughtfully. "We might be able to drop the legs, as long as the arms didn't upset the balance...."
Feakins nodded towards the tank. "Do we use her as the subject? The template?"
"Maybe. Seems a shame to spoil her looks, though. It'd be simple enough to find someone else."

"I'm sure it would. But if we've already got an existing specimen, why not use it?" Feakins continued to study Caroline thoughtfully. "You tried her in chlorinated water?"
"No. With her altered metabolism it could very well prove poisonous to her."
"What about freshwater?"
"That too. I think they're designed mainly for a saltwater environment."

"I wanna find out. Just think if one of these things could sneak up river from the sea, and blow up a power station, say, or some other enemy installation…"
"It could kill her," Hendricks persisted.

"I want to find out." Feakins enunciated every syllable precisely. "Make that the next test, will you? If she dies we'll just have to find someone else, like you said."
He looked round as a security guard came up to them. "Excuse me, Dr Hendricks, but that Savident woman’s here."

The scientist glanced at Feakins. "Show her in," grunted the Admiral, then stood deep in thought until Rachel was ushered into the laboratory, gazing around her with interest. They went over to meet her. Curtly the three of them exchanged formalities.
Rachel continued to look round the vast room in some awe. She saw Caroline and froze in astonishment, staring open-mouthed.
Catching her eye, Caroline waved at her. It was partly a greeting, partly an appeal for help.
Recovering from the initial shock of her appearance, Rachel strode briskly over to the tank. Caroline dropped to her level and swam up to the glass, pressing the palms of her hands against it with the fingers splayed out. On the other side of it, Rachel did the same.
Caroline's jaw was working soundlessly. She lip-read the words.
Get me out of here. If you can.
I'll try, Rachel mouthed.
They're carrying out tests on me. Tell them to stop.
What sort of tests?
Horrible ones, Caroline replied.

If the Americans realised they were having a silent conversation they might get suspicious. She turned to speak to them and saw they had come up behind her, obviously intending to listen in.
"Well?" she said tersely.

"She says there's a whole colony of these, ah, beings down under the sea off the Bahamas. They're all being kept drugged. Some sort of crazy experiment."
"Can you get her back to normal?" Rachel asked. "I mean, I don't suppose she wants to stay like that."
"I dunno at this stage. Besides it may all be academic. You'll have heard what Marcotech have just done?"
"Of course. Our government's pretty worried about it, but so's everyone else. The thing is, it seems they just want everyone to leave the colony alone."

"There's more to it than that," Feakins said darkly. He added, "we wouldn't mind knowing how Marcotech managed to hijack those subs."
"Perhaps by the same means they attached the bombs to the oil tankers," Rachel suggested.
"We were figuring maybe they used something like this." He nodded towards the swimming figure in the tank. "We've tried asking her, but she claims she doesn't know exactly how it was done." It was clear he was convinced Caroline had been lying.
"Perhaps she reckoned you knew too much as it was," Rachel said.
Feakins ignored this. “We were thinking you might be able to persuade her to open up a little.”
“Or you’ll do what?”
Feakins coughed. "In view of the relationship between our two countries - "

"You don't want to jeapordise that relationship by pushing your luck," Rachel warned. "There's little danger of a big falling-out while the present government are in power, but it's always possible something could leak out to the general public. There'd be an outcry, particularly when it was learned you'd been experimenting on a British citizen against her will.” She locked her eyes with the Admiral’s.
"Who'd believe you?" Feakins sneered.

Rachel realized she had no answer to this. She could only hope her political superiors could be persuaded to make a fuss, publicly or otherwise, if Caroline seemed likely to come to any harm.

"We can't let her go just yet," Hendricks told Feakins. "We still know too little about how Marcotech did, the exact process they used, to be able to reverse it. We've got to get into their base somehow."

Rachel decided to drop the subject of Caroline's fate for the moment. "There's something I ought to tell you before we go any further. Another oil tanker was attacked last night and the crew kidnapped. Whoever did it used some kind of submarine, and we've been tracking it. We've got a man on board with a homing device.

"We were trying to prove that it was Marcotech who've been attacking the tankers, and now we know we were right. The submarine was heading south-west through the Atlantic, on a course which might have taken it to the Bahamas. Then suddenly it did a detour and went east - to where the Poseidon was when she was hijacked. So it must have been the craft which did the hijacking. The submarine's now back on its previous course. And now we know where it is, we may be able to intercept it."

"What good'll that do us now? We can't touch Marcotech at all, now while they've got those subs under their control."
"I think there might be a way to get back the Poseidon, at least.” Rachel explained her plan. “Then Marcotech wouldn't be able to cause quite so much devastation."
"How are you going to get on board the Poseidon in the first place?" He said “you”. After all, the Poseidon was a British sub and therefore a British responsibility. There was no point in his country bothering with something if the Brits were going to do it for them. They’d better be damn sure not to muck it up, that was all.

"It means using Caroline,” Rachel said. “You gave me the idea just now when you said how Marcotech might have got on board the subs. An aquanoid."
"It could work," Hendricks said thoughtfully.
“What about the Connecticut?” asked Feakins. “Could we take that the same way?”
“That might be a bit more difficult. Let’s just take it one step at a time.”
“It’d be a good way to test her,” suggested Hendricks brightly. “Just the kind of job we want these things to be doing.” He looked uncomfortable for a moment, wondering if he’d given too much away.

“I’d already guessed,” Rachel said. “And Caroline isn’t a “thing”.”
"Our people will have to be in on this," Feakins told her. "Just to make sure you don't get up to any tricks."
“So it’s on then?”
“I guess we don’t have anything to lose.”
“Right. All this has got to be for some reason. Marcotech are waiting for something, and I bet all your little games pale into insignificance beside it."

Hendricks looked at the Admiral. "They told us to steer clear of the colony. They didn't say we couldn't try to retake the subs. Let's do it."
Then he frowned. "I don't see how she could get close enough to the sub without getting sucked into the propellers. Whatever did it would have to be powered. She hasn't got a built-in electric motor."

"Wait a minute," Feakins snapped. "Brit subs don't have propellers. They've got a pumpjet propulsor instead, it’s not quite the same thing. It’s enclosed, so it’s less dangerous. And what about those things we’ve been working on, the Seasprites?”
Hendricks’ eyes lit up. "Of course! It might be possible. Worth a try anyway.”
Feakins indicated Rachel by a brief bob of his head, and sighed. “We’ll have to let them in on it.”
“Sorry if that’s a problem,” Rachel said.

"We'll have to get the all-clear for this from Washington," Feakins told her curtly.
"I'll have to get the all-clear from London," she said. “OK. We'll leave discussing what's going to happen to Caroline until later. And now if you don't mind, I'd like to speak to her."
Hendricks banged on the side of the tank, and Caroline gave him an enquiring look. He jerked his thumb upwards, signalling to her to get out of the tank.


Towelling herself down, Caroline dressed and made her way back to her room. There she flung herself down on the bed and leafed through a book until a knock on the door announced Rachel's arrival. The guard slid back the hatch and shouted through it. "You got a visitor." He opened the door to let Rachel enter, then withdrew, slamming and locking it behind her. Caroline sprung up from the bed and they hugged each other joyfully.

Rachel couldn't help wrinkling her nose and drawing back a little as the ammonia smell hit her. "Is it that bad?" Caroline said, a trifle hurt.
"Sorry," said Rachel hastily. "It's a bit hard to get used to. I couldn't believe it when I saw you for the first time. How are you feeling?"

"I'm OK right now. Just at bit bored, I suppose. It was fun at first but I think I've had enough now. I want to be back the way I was."
"I'm sure you will be, eventually," Rachel said, trying to reassure her.
She looked round the little room. It was a plain, sparsely-furnished affair with a bed, a table and a chair, and a toilet cubicle in one corner. A few paperbacks lay on the table.
There was always a guard just outside the door, which was nevertheless kept permanently locked. It was a combination lock and they had made her turn away when they keyed in the number, so she couldn't tell an accomplice what it was. It looked like you had to press an Intercom button whenever you wanted something. There had been a number of cameras positioned at intervals along the corridor, as well as the one in the room.

Caroline gestured to Rachel to sit on the chair, while she perched herself on the end of the bed. "Do you know what they did to me?" she said quietly. “The people here, I mean.”
"You mentioned some tests."

She told Rachel everything, and especially the incident with the shark. Rachel stiffened with anger, her face tightening.
It was a moment before she was able to speak. "I'll take that up with our government. I'm afraid the Americans won't let you go until they've got all they want from you. However, I've tried to make clear there'll be repercussions if you're harmed in any way."
"Do you realise what they did to me?" Caroline snapped, her anger rising to the fore. "The indignity, the humiliation..."
"Let's be realistic. There's nothing we can do to change their minds. All I can do is make sure you come out of it still alive and in one piece."
"I know too much, don't I?"
"You're one of us. I think you can be trusted to keep quiet."

She looked at Caroline warningly. It needn't be Rachel's doing, but if there was any suggestion that she might not keep quiet then something terminal might well happen to her.
"I'm not stupid," Caroline said huffily.

Rachel drew herself up. "That’s not the only thing we have to worry about. A lot's been happening while you've been underwater."
As she explained about the hijacked submarines Caroline could only gawp at her, almost falling over backwards in her astonishment. "He's gone crazy," she gasped. "Really flipped this time. He must have."
"We think you may be able to help recover the Poseidon, and maybe the Connecticut too. I mean, if Marcotech used the aquanoids to sabotage the tankers and hijack the submarines..." she looked enquiringly at Caroline, who was biting her lip thoughtfully.
She outlined what she had in mind. "What do you say? They'll
probably make you do it anyway, of course. And there is rather a lot at stake.”
“Is it going to be dangerous?”
“Possibly.”

Caroline sucked her teeth. “Well,” she sighed, “it’s better than being cooped up in here all the time.”
“That’s what I was thinking. So – you’ll do it?”
“I’ll do it. I’m just not happy about the Yanks knowing how to do what Marcotech did to me.”
“If it wasn’t them it’d be us, or the Russians, or the French, or the Chinese. Or any number of people one might think of, given time.”
Rachel suddenly realized she hadn’t told Caroline about Chris yet.

Caroline absorbed the information in horror. When Rachel had finished she stood up straight, a gleam in her eyes of a kind the agent had seen before. “In that case yes,” she said softly. “Oh yes. I’m going to do it alright.”


FORTY-SIX
In a storeroom deep in the heart of the Facility, Feakins and Hendricks were standing at one of the series of metal racks which lined the walls; Hendricks had pulled aside a length of plastic sheeting to to reveal a larger version of the standard make of water scooter, fitted with one or two adaptations the commercially available model did not possess. It was almost identical to the ones Caroline had said Marcotech used, which was not surprising since that company had been instrumental in designing it in the first place. Only Marcotech had actually succeeded in perfecting their version. “I’d say it’s ideal for the job,” Hendricks declared. The Seasprite, as it was called, was probably too small to register on sonar, besides which the body of its operator would mask it so that the system would think it was a large fish. Nonetheless, the precaution had been taken of coating it with anechoic material.

“I should have realized before,” Feakins said. “Marcotech thought of the damn things in the first place, didn’t they? They must have secretly built some for their own use and that’s how they got onto the Connecticut.”

Hendricks nodded. “The aquanoids can breathe for longer underwater but they might still need powered assistance to get around quickly.” Drag imposed limits to the speed of any marine life form, which could only be overcome by artificial means.

"If we've got these things, we may not need the girl," Feakins mused.
"They're experimental, remember. This'll be a great opportunity to test them. She should be able to stand the stresses a bit better. It’s preferable to risking the lives of our own men."
Feakins gave a short sharp nod of the head. "OK, then it’s settled.”


White House Situation Room
“The more I think about it,” the Vice-President said, the more I’m convinced Marcotech must have had something to do with the Pakistan business.”
The President breathed in sharply. “Wow….they managed something like that all on their own?”
“It wouldn’t be any more incredible than some of the other things they’ve done,” pointed out the Defense Secretary. “It just shows what you can achieve if you’re sufficiently….ruthless.”

The National Security Adviser nodded his agreement. “I think I can understand what they were about. This Greatrix guy wanted to cause as much disruption as possible on land so that while everyone was busy dealing with it he could get up to whatever he liked under the sea. And so they engineered a crisis; the most serious anyone could think of in today’s world."

It was all falling into place now. Over the years Marcotech had diverged into all the branches of industry they needed to be proficient at for Greatrix's plan to succeed; drugs, marine engineering, mariculture, genetic engineering, arms (to enable al-Qaeda to mount a serious challenge to the Pakistani government), underwater technology (to reach the tankers and the submarines undetected and override their security systems), and electronics/computers (to operate the subs' missile control systems, and probably modify them to ensure that any commands given them could not be overridden). It was all very clever, and now you could see the overall picture it made sense.

"Well,” sighed the Chief of Naval Operations. “First of all, I think the suggestion that we use the Kent girl makes sense. The Brits have cleared it at their end and someone from MI6 will be coming over as an observer and to make sure nobody tries anything stupid.

“As the Poseidon is a British vessel, the actual operation had better be carried out by their Special Forces. But we’ll have a few of our own people on board the sub that’s going to take the Poseidon, with arms, in order to guarantee our interests should they be jeopardized by anything the Brits do."
“What about the Connecticut?” asked the Secretary of State.

“That’s another matter,” replied Admiral Baker. “We don’t have a trace on it. Her last reported position was about a hundred miles east of the West Indies. Other than that, we’ll just have to keep looking and hope we get a lead.”


In the Planning Room of the Joint Command Operations Centre at Northwood, Middlesex, UK, Vice-Admiral Pemberton and Commodore Farries, in full Naval uniform, were studying a chart of the North Atlantic on the overhead projector while Nigel Haverhill, an Executive Officer with MI6 and Rachel Savident’s immediate superior, looked on.

“I’m sure your plan’s perfectly feasible,” Pemberton was saying, addressing the MI6 man. By you he meant Haverhill as an individual. The spy had been talking at great length about the scheme as if it had been his idea, rather than Rachel Savident’s.
“The Chief of Staff certainly like it.” Haverhill beamed smugly.

They had the colony on all their charts, from Caroline Kent’s information. “There it is,” said Farries, indicating it with a ruler. “Now my guess is they're on the way there to drop off the crews of the oil tanker and the Poseidon. Working from the approximate time at which contact was lost with the Poseidon, and the maximum speed of a modern nuclear submarine, we know roughly where Poseidon must be now.” He described a large area of sea with his ruler. “But only roughly. It’s a pretty big area, a radius of at least a hundred nautical miles. No chance of getting a fix on it, and as for Connecticut…” He sighed. “So to get our foot in the door, we’ll need to take that submarine.

“We need to intercept it before it reaches the colony. That means moving pretty fast. Fortunately it’s lost time detouring to hijack the Poseidon. And judging by the speed it's going it's a diesel electric, not a nuclear. A good deal slower.”

“I understand a diesel electric submarine needs to surface every now and then to raise a snorkel to draw in air for its engines,” said Haverhill, keen to show off his knowledge. “Why can’t we – “

“Spot it when comes up? We’d still have to know roughly where it was to do that. And we know anyway, because of your homing device.” Pemberton spoke a little impatiently, and Haverhill felt crushed.

“Now fortunately one of our subs, HMS Nelson, is already in the area,” Farries continued. “Since speed is of the essence, we'll have to use it. We'll have it make a detour to the submarine base at Groton to pick up the girl and certain other equipment that will be needed. It'll have to be adapted to carry her tank, but I reckon that if we move fast we can just about do it.

“Equally fortunately, there happens to be an SBS unit on the sub at this very moment,” he smiled. “They can carry out the actual operation, with help from Navy personnel when required. The men were seconded from the SAS and have been going through a pretty rigorous training course. Doing very well, so I understand. Of course I’m not happy about using people who are still in training, but in the circumstances there’s simply no alternative.”

Pemberton nodded. "I take it we all agree to the presence of CIA agents on board?"
"We haven't much choice," Haverhill said.

It was a crazy scheme anyway, Pemberton thought, because it was probably pointless. But then we’re British, aren’t we? It was the kind of spirit which had seen the country through the Second World War: do what you can, whatever its chances of succeeding, because it’s better than nothing. And who knows, everything might just turn out alright in the end.


HMS Nelson
Mike Hartman’s squad, minus the Major himself, were sitting together at one of the tables in the enlisted men’s messroom, laughing and sharing jokes over non-alcoholic drinks. Bob Moretti was now singing the theme tune from Yellow Submarine, without much improvement on his impersonation of Rod Stewart.

They had now settled completely into life on the submarine. The edge between them and the Navy men was now gone, although they still tended to sit apart from them out of habit, and sometimes for reasons of confidentiality.

There was an underlying current of tension beneath their relaxed and carefree manner. The announcement had come just a few minutes earlier: “Captain to all personnel. We have orders to proceed to the US Navy base at Norfolk, Virginia, for briefing on an urgent mission. Would Major Hartman please report to my cabin immediately. The Officer of the Watch will address the rest of the crew shortly.”

The Major entered and strode over to them. “We’re about to see some action, boys. A lot sooner than we expected.”
“What’s up, Boss?”
The Major explained. “Fuck me,” gasped Steve Ferris.
“You’re not serious,” said Dan Riordan.

“It’s vital we don’t put a foot wrong. I know this puts a lot of pressure on us. But this sub’s the nearest to where the action seems to be taking place.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Captain Bryant had asked him. “Of course we bloody are,” he’d laughed. “Our training’s more or less finished. It’s our job to do these things, anyway.”
“Having said all that, it’s not clear if we’ll actually be needed,” he told the squad. “But we’re to remain on standby just in case.”
“Oh, right,” Moretti growled. “So we’ll just stand around looking pretty, then. If you want to bark why not use your fucking dog?”

“They didn’t give me the full details,” said the Major, “but there’s someone very special being entrusted with the job. Apparently there’s something about them that makes them particularly good underwater. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about but I’m sure we’ll find out in due course.”


US Navy Research Facility, San Diego
Quite frankly, Graham Hendrix would be glad when the tests were over. Caroline Kent had been a difficult subject, constantly complaining and generally refusing to co-operate as much as possible.

Right now she was racing a dolphin; the dolphin, Hendrix noted, was still faster. He began scribbling away on his notepad. Interaction with other marine life…

They had also tried her with a sea lion – the two had spent many happy hours tossing a ball to one another - a seal and a young humpback. The animals had all been happy to play along, seemingly unfazed by her weird and unfamiliar appearance. But then animals often were. They’d take to people no matter what they looked like, which was more than you could say for people themselves. Indeed Caroline seemed to have an astonishing empathy with the specimens, the reason for which he couldn’t quite explain.

After some minutes the guard went and banged on the side of the tank, signalling the end of the game. Sensing the dolphin’s sadness that it was over, Caroline gave it a consoling pat on the head.
Hendricks was there to meet her as she stepped out of the pool. “Enjoy that?” he enquired.
“Uh huh,” she grunted. She started to towel herself down. ”Oh and by the way, he says the water in the tank is too cold. Could you turn the thermostat up, please?"
He laughed. "Hey, that's very good!"
"I'm not kidding," she said, fixing him with her steely stare, which being an aquanoid hadn't made any difference to. "Do it."
He stared at her in amazement. "How did you know....."
Oh shit, she thought.
Don't let them know you're telepathic. Don't EVER tell them
that. She didn't care to think what the results might be.

"All right, so I am kidding," she said. "How d'you expect me to get by in this situation without a sense of humour? But turn the thermostat up anyway; I felt it."
Hendricks gave the necessary order to a technician. "Time to go," he told Caroline. “They’re ready for you.”

Escorted by half a dozen guards, plus a couple of Hendricks’ colleagues, she went outside to the lorry that had brought her to the Facility a couple of days before, for the long journey to the other side of the country during which she could immerse herself in the tank whenever required. Shortly after it left the Centre, HMS Nelson docked at Groton and work immediately began on adapting one of the submarine’s storage holds to take the tank which had been designed for her use while on board.

Meanwhile the two Marcotech submarines continued on their way back to the colony. That which had taken the Connecticut would take longer to reach it in any case, since the SSBN’s position had meant she had to travel a greater distance. The other didn’t have so far to go but was delayed by the need to surface for air and at the same time stop to recharge its electric batteries. At its present speed, it would reach the base in about another two days.

The following morning Major Hartman and his squad, along with Captain Bryant and his senior officers, assembled in the briefing room at Groton. The briefing, as it turned out, was given not by a representative of the SBS or the Navy, or even a civil servant, but by an MI6 officer; a sure sign there was something very intriguing going on, the Major thought. They weren’t told the man’s name or anything else about him. Seated at the side of the room and looking on stonily were a couple of high-ranking US Navy men and several characters in suits who, the MI6 man explained in due course, were members of the CIA. In view of the “special relationship”, although he stopped short of actually putting it in those terms, it was thought appropriate they should accompany the British team for the duration of the mission. Rachel Savident was there too, but seemed to have decided it was best just to look on for the time being.

“It’s essential that a high level of security be observed throughout the operation,” Nigel Haverhill began. “You’ll be carrying a very special passenger, someone who's ideally suited to carry out this mission. At present her existence is classified and therefore it's important to keep quiet about it. As it's going to be impossible to keep her concealed from you, I'd better introduce you to her.

"We've given her the codename Ariel. Her real name will not be disclosed, again for security reasons. I'll explain fully in a moment." He went to the door and opened it, nodding to someone who had been standing outside. Caroline stepped into the room, the two armed ratings who had escorted her from her quarters moving forward into the doorway and taking up position on either side of her, one closing the door behind them.

Everyone froze in astonishment. They stood gaping at the exotic figure as it came to stand before them, its expression deadpan.
"What the hell is that?" one of the Major’s squad gasped, quite unable to suppress his astonishment.
"She," said Caroline. "I'm a she." Haverhill shot her a look, indicating that it might be best if she kept quiet.

Mike Hartman frowned, thinking there was something familiar about the figure’s face, its voice. He peered a little closer, and beneath the covering of blue-grey scales made out to his astonishment the features of Caroline Kent. He gave a little start.

It couldn't be, thought Hartman. But then was this any more incredible than any of the other situations Caroline had got into during the time he’d known her?

She caught sight of him and reacted immediately, her surprise and delight evident to the others in the room. He wouldn’t let her come to any harm, surely.

She steeled herself to hide her feelings. If they realised she knew him it might cause problems.
"You'll all have heard of genetic engineering,” Haverhill said. “What you see before you is the result. I don't like it, but she's vital if this mission is to succeed."
Caroline stood there saying nothing, allowing no expression to creep into her face.
Ariel, thought the Major. After the central character in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, presumably.

Haverhill explained what her role in the operation was to be. “After the Marcotech submarine is taken we’ll then hand over to Major Hartman’s team, but she’ll be kept on standby in case she’s needed.”
He nodded briefly to her, and she turned and left the room with the two ratings marching on either side of her. Something about the spectacle was not to the Major's liking.

Later, as the meeting broke up, Haverhill took the Major aside. He bent to mutter into the SBS man’s ear. "Do you know her by any chance, Major?"
"As a matter of fact yes I do, Sir."
Haverhill bit his lip, cursing inwardly at the unforeseen complication. Someone must have known about the connection, but it seemed to have simply been overlooked, partly due to the pressure of events and the speed at which they’d moved. But it wasn’t as if it made any difference. There wasn’t time to assign a different unit to the job, not now.
"You realise you'll have to keep quiet about this?” he whispered.
"Yes, Sir," answered the Major woodenly. "Of course I do." Hide your true feelings, he told himself. Like you did when Gillian died.
“I expect she’ll be returned to normal when all this business is over. In the meantime I need hardly remind you that as a serving member of the Armed Forces we’ll be expecting your full co-operation. Alright?” With that Haverhill left him to his thoughts.

As they went out to the sub the scales of Caroline's body gleamed brilliantly in the morning sunshine. She was flanked by two ratings with taser guns. They walked along the gangplank onto the hull of the submarine and she felt the anechoic tiles give under her feet, a pleasantly springy sensation.

She was followed on board by the CIA and MI6 minders, the SBS unit and then Nigel Haverhill. Rachel was about to join them when Haverhill, still in the doorway, stopped, barring her way, and turned to face her.

"Sorry, Rachel," he said. "I've decided it's better you keep out of things for the moment."
Her face fell. "Why, Sir?"
"You and the Kent girl are on friendly terms with one another, aren't you?"
"You could say we're mates, yes."
"Well then you're emotionally involved. I'm not sure that in truth you really approve of what we're doing."
"She's quite happy to go on the mission, Sir, if it means we can stop - "
"I wasn't talking about that, and you know it. I was talking about what happens afterwards. I'm not sure I can trust you to stay in line." Rachel was silent.
"You don't like the idea of anyone experimenting on her. Well, you think about it. If you spill the beans on this one, the same kind of thing will happen to someone else; assuming you're believed. People will know it's possible and set about trying to do it themselves.

"Look at this way. If not Caroline it'll be some other unfortunate, or unfortunates, once we work out how it's done. Maybe tramps, homeless people off the streets..nobody would notice anything. Or would that be better?"

It was a question Rachel knew was impossible to answer. Nonetheless she opened her mouth to protest further, but Haverhill forestalled her. “Please. I don’t want to hear any more of it. You’ve taken too many liberties already and I don’t think you should push your luck any further. You're a good agent and I wouldn't want to have to lose you." He smiled broadly in a bid to make her feel better. “I’ve already promised we’ll do our best to ensure her welfare. So don’t worry.”
“I’ll try not to, Sir.”

“That’s the spirit,” he said encouragingly. “Well – all things being equal, I’ll see you back at HQ.” With a final brief nod he hurried along the gangway and disappeared inside the submarine, leaving Rachel to make her lonely way back to London.

On board the sub Mike Hartman led his unit to the room which had been assigned to them for when they needed to confer together, as on the start of a mission like this one. He made sure the door was firmly shut so that no-one could hear what he was about to say and then cleared his throat. "If I could just have a word with you all, lads," he said.


To Caroline every inch of wall on board the submarine seemed
festooned with wires and cables, lined with piping, or studded with valves and junction boxes. Everything was painted a uniform pale green colour, a little drab but not unpleasing to the eyes.

They halted outside the door of her specially prepared quarters, and without a word one of the ratings produced a key and opened the thick steel door. She stepped through it, momentarily catching his eye as she did so.

The door clanged shut behind her, the key turning in the lock. She surveyed the room for a moment. It was large and spacious; had to be in order to accommodate the tank in the corner, which like the one in the lorry was full of salt water. Otherwise the place was sparsely furnished with a bed, chair and table, and toilet.
Proper little home from home, she thought.
She climbed into the tank and lay floating on her back on the surface, more for relaxation than because she needed to.

What now? she thought, and then decided it was no use moping about that. After all the dangers and stresses she'd been through over the past few days, she had no more mental energy to spare for worrying. Let the future take care of itself.


MI6 HQ, Vauxhall Bridge Cross, London
Sophie Cameron-Davies listened with a frown as Nigel Haverhill poured out his worries to her down the phone. “But Hartman, and several members of his squad, know her.”
“It’s too late to do anything about that now, Nigel,” she sighed.
“I’m aware of that, ma’am. I just thought you ought to be told.”
“The SBS," she said, "are an elite unit. And to be one, they have to be highly disciplined. Which means they'll do what they're told with no questions asked." And that, as far as she was concerned, was the end of the matter.

*

Normally, the order to launch any of America’s nuclear arsenal could only come from the President, and the captain and senior officers of the submarines involved had to agree that the command had indeed come from him. Once they were satisfied it had, several keys had to be turned simultaneously to arm and then launch the missiles. No one person had possession of all of them at the same time, a precaution to prevent a madman starting World War Three. The British procedure was more or less the same; even, though it was a matter of some conjecture how far the principle would actually be followed in the event of a serious disagreement between the two powers, to the extent of obtaining Presidential authorization, since it was at the moment unlikely Britain would take such a drastic step as to bring about Armageddon without America’s say-so.

But once the missiles had been armed the launch sequence would begin; the doors to the missile tubes would be opened, the tubes flooded, and the whole of the sub’s hull shudder would shudder as the missiles were blasted free by compressed air. Their first-stage rockets would ignite a second after they broke the surface, carrying them up into the higher atmosphere, where the second and then third stages cut in to boost each missile into a sub-orbital trajectory, just beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Three minutes after launch the third stage would burn out and the missile enter its post-boost phase. The submarine's navigational systems would interface with the missile's own guidance system, which took navigational fixes from the stars, to direct it to the right point above the Earth from which it should release its cluster of warheads. These warheads - Multiple Independently-Targeted Re-entry Vehicles - were each programmed to land exactly in the centre of a major enemy city. The error margin their designers had felt constrained to allow was no more than about 20 metres.

The disaster supremos in London and Washington had already worked out the most likely scenario to follow, as had Sir Edward Greatrix sitting in his office/study in his base at the bottom of the sea off the Bahamas. He imagined four missiles, each with a warhead of between 200 and 300 kilotons, landing on London. With no prior warning, the catastrophe would catch everyone completely by surprise, however directly or indirectly they were affected. Without warning the warheads would explode simultaneously in the sky above Central London, within a two mile radius of Trafalgar Square. Where exactly did not matter. But those within the radius would see a towering pillar of fire soaring up in all its terrifying majesty toward the heavens from which the messenger of death had come, lighting up the sky with its unearthly, unnatural radiance. Those not close enough to be blinded would stand staring at in first awe and then, as they realised what it was, utter terror. Fleeing, screaming crowds would trample underfoot anyone unlucky enough to be knocked down in the rush, crushing them to a pulp. Cars and lorries and cyclists would crash, killing or seriously wounding their occupants and many of the pedestrians crowded on the pavements. Men and women alike would foul themselves in their terror, a terror which the children would pick up on and which would be all the greater for them because they could have no idea what was going on. Animals would be thrown into panic, dogs attack people in a mad frenzy. Those of a religious frame of mind would fall to their knees in prayer, pleading that whatever God they worshipped might deliver them and their fellow humans from whatever catastrophe this was and praying for everyone’s soul in case it presaged the end of the world and the Day of Judgement. Some would stare in rapture at the pillar of fire, which would resemble indeed some Biblical apocalypse, welcoming the disaster as the execution of God's will. Others would hop about madly shouting at people to repent, informing them that this was their just punishment for all their sins.

Those at the epicentre of the blast would be instantly vaporised, charred into shapeless heaps of radioactive dust the wind would later blow away. Within three kilometers from it the force of the blast would shatter their bodies into fragments so tiny they would never be found. Buildings would be reduced to rubble or, further away, left gutted and windowless, so badly damaged they were unusable, or not restorable without extreme cost. The imprints of running figures would be burnt indelibly into the walls of shattered buildings, as at Hiroshima. At twelve kilometers many would be left alive, but hideously burned and screaming in agony. Those who lived would either be scarred for life or have to undergo expensive surgery. A considerable number would be permanently deafened. All the older people would probably perish from shock.

All in all, two million people would be killed and many thousands left permanently ill or disabled. The cost of treating them and of burying the bodies of the dead would permanently bankrupt the National Health Service, even supposing it could cope with the scale of the disaster, which it couldn’t. The cost of reconstructing the built environment would also be astronomical. And the death and injury toll would rise as the winds blew the fall-out over a wide area, until it began to disperse sufficiently for the damage it caused to be reduced to manageable proportions. Furthermore the electromagnetic pulse which followed the detonations, and the interference with radio and satellite communications, hampered efforts at reconstruction and co-ordination in the aftermath of the disaster.

All London's great landmarks would be destroyed. The psychological effect on the British of the destruction of their past, and of their capital, the focus for their national identity, would be a profound and extremely damaging one. It would contribute in no small measure to the problems which followed.

Of course contingency plans would have been drawn up long before the disaster occurred. An Emergency Committee would be set up, headed by the Prime Minister and including senior ministers and civil servants and heads of the armed forces, to oversee the distribution of medical aid, rehousing and eventual reconstruction. The Royal Family would have been evacuated to Balmoral, Windsor and probably Sandringham being considered too close to the fall-out zone. In the long run the loss of population, the reduction in the number of mouths to feed, would actually make the task of governing a small yet densely populated country a lot easier - until floods of immigrants came in to replace those killed, at any rate. But that assumed all things were to be equal, and unfortunately they would not. The holocaust exposed the strains inherent in complex modern societies with a host of underlying social problems which remained unresolved.

A Trident missile from a sub in the Irish Sea, say, could hit anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. And if you had two subs at your disposal….what happened in London would be repeated in all the world's major cities. Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Sydney…. In each nation the loss of the capital would cause massive disruption, however careful the emergency planning had been - and in some areas it was lamentably deficient, as studies into the ability to respond to a major terrorist incident or environmental disaster had revealed. The physical disruption was accompanied by psychological disruption. Perhaps no-one had quite envisaged a disaster on this scale, because the people who it was thought might want to create it did not yet have access to the right equipment.

The effect on economic life was so severe as to plunge an already shaky world economy into outright recession. The job losses and the resulting poverty added to the misery caused by overstretched public services, the general shock of the disaster, the loss of loved ones in the holocaust, and feelings of fear for the future.

There were riots as law and order broke down. In each of the countries directly affected martial law had to be imposed and the police, assisting the armed forces, given extra powers. They were authorised to shoot to kill. First Britain, then France and Germany, then throughout Europe and the United States democracy crumbled away like sand. The sacrifice of freedom didn’t even fulfil the purpose it was intended to achieve. The centre proved incapable of restoring its authority and each country broke up into what was effectively a host of independent fiefdoms, ruled by criminal bosses or local politicians who had arrogated to themselves absolute power and were forced to use autocratic methods to cope with the scale of the problem, executing looters or indeed all those who were suspected, often wrongly, of committing some offence. Frequent uprisings broke out against this kind of rule.

In some areas totalitarianism reigned, in some anarchy, and in yet others the two alternated. But no-one anywhere was quite safe in their home, unless they assumed responsibility for their own personal safety, defending themselves with makeshift clubs or knives or stolen guns, which they carried around with them quite openly. Criminals engaged in violent clashes with the police, as well as bloody turf wars among themselves. Vigilantes took advantage of the situation to seek out and kill those known to have committed crimes, or personally wronged someone, both before and after the catastrophe. Ethnic minorities and immigrants were targeted by racists and many of them were forced to return to the lands of their ancestors, not always a good thing from an economic point of view.

Gangs of concerned citizens affected by the collapse of public services took the law into their own hands and commandeered buses and trains, further adding to the disruption and confusion. Hospitals couldn't function as normal, and people died. Fuel depots, shops and supermarkets were raided, people taking whatever they could grab, the hard cases among them beating anyone who objected into submission. Crime careered out of control.

Essentially, the capitalist economy ceased to be able to function. Only a completely planned society, effectively a totalitarian dictatorship, could run things efficiently, but not even the most efficient and ruthless state apparatus, and many dictatorships were in fact clumsy and unwieldy, could cope with the scale and extent of the problem. The state was no longer able to provide its citizens with the food and other essential commodities they needed, and as a result they continued to die. The severity of the situation was aggravated by the crowds of refugees from the nuclear devastation in the cities. In the general disorder it was hard to keep track of known or suspected terrorists, some of whom mistakenly believed their fellow travellers had struck the first blow and hurried to emulate them. They let off their bombs freely, in particular targeting fuel installations and transport networks. And sooner or later, such was the anarchy that the authorities were no longer able to safeguard nuclear power stations and bacteriological research centres.

While the national governments remained in control of nuclear weapons (and they had taken steps right at the beginning of the crisis to ensure this would be the case), or the precise situation could not be ascertained, no one country took advantage of the crisis to invade another. There were no wars; rather, nations fell apart from within.

Eventually only a few pockets of law and order would remain, a few scattered communes trapped in a mediaeval or stone age way of life. Those who were not accustomed to such a decline in the standard of living and could not adjust to diminished expectations tended to kill themselves. The heads of local government, trade union leaders and gang bosses survived in their fortified private houses while the ordinary inhabitants of their localities died, but eventually they too succumbed. There were not enough people left to maintain society in its modern, technological form, just as a colony of animals that fell below a certain size could not survive. The same situation would eventually occur in the countries indirectly affected, as the trouble spread like a chain reaction, a domino effect.

Just as lethal in the long run as the socio-political collapse, and certainly contributing to it, were the combined effects of the nuclear blasts on the global environment. Depletion of ozone in the atmosphere let in more ultraviolet radiation from the sun, bringing about a massive increase in skin cancer. And so delicately balanced was the global ecosystem that the massive increase in atmospheric temperature caused by multiple simultaneous nuclear holocausts was followed by a decline in global surface temperature which badly hit commercial wheat growing in the Northern hemisphere, so that even a return to an agriculture-based pre-industrial economy would bring no benefits.

Over the miserable years to come thousands of people and animals, including among the latter those on whom the livelihood of farmers depended, or organisms which played a crucial role in the ecosystem, would die from increased radiation or radiation-related illnesses. There would be sterility and genetic mutations, an increase in levels of cancer and leukemia. The very young and very old would be most vulnerable. Children would be born deformed or mentally retarded, in many cases because they had inherited the diseases contracted by their parents. Many species of birds, insects, plants, and important or beneficial kinds of bacteria would disappear.

The effects on the developed, and traditionally relatively wealthy, regions of the world would be nightmarish enough. Those on the poorer countries of the South did not bear thinking about. From a combination of all these different factors, about three-quarters of the entire human race would eventually die out.


FORTY-SEVEN
The northern Atlantic Ocean, approximately five hundred miles north-east of the Bahamas
On HMS Nelson everyone was in the control room, gathered round the sonar screen. Caroline now wore the bikini suit that had been designed for her for the operation, which would create much less friction than full diving gear.

The weird note of the sonar, sounding to her like a giant heartbeat, filled the room and an eerie green light bathed her face as she leaned forward to take a closer look at the data on the screens. One of them was dsigned to display data transmitted by Marcotech’s new underwater communications system. A little blob of white light represented the signal from the homing device MI6 had given Chris Barrett.

"It’s still transmitting normally," remarked the Major. "That means Marcotech don't know it’s there.” It also suggested Chris was unharmed, much to Caroline's relief.
“How far away is it now?” asked Captain Bryant.
On the screen a second blip of light stood for the Nelson, while superimposed over both blips was a grid on which a line of figures were constantly flickering and changing. “About ten miles, Sir,” said the radio operator. “Bearing 47 degrees north-northeast.”
The blip from Chris’ signal seemed to be growing brighter, the pinging from the instrumentation louder. “The signal’s definitely getting stronger, Sir.”

They waited with their eyes fixed on the screen, feeling the tension steadily mount, because for the moment there was nothing else to do. Caroline was suddenly very conscious of the millions of tons of water all around them, in which almost anything might exist, and which at a certain depth could crush and suffocate you. The thought of a leak, and the submarine flooding, didn’t cause her any anxiety because she knew she could survive if it came to the worst. She felt sorry for the ordinary humans on the craft, who weren’t quite so lucky. She had always wondered how they stood it.

They had no idea whether the enemy was using its own sonar – perhaps they did not anticipate anyone would be so foolish as to actually attack them – but didn’t want to risk it. So as always, noise was being kept to a mimimum on board the Nelson, which at the same time was specifically designed to be quiet. The smoothness of the submarine’s running, and the way everyone was so quiet, moving about with ghost-like silence, resulted in an atmosphere that was eerie and unnerving till you got used to it; like a tomb or a graveyard. Which is what it would be if the sub sank and they were trapped in it, she thought uneasily.

The signal from the transmitter could not in any case guide them right to the enemy’s exact position. Despite all Marcotech’s wonderful innovations in underwater technology, you still needed sonar for one sub to locate another. But using this method had always been a hit-and-miss affair; a case of constantly looking out for the signals indicating the presence of your quarry amongst the thousands of others given off by wrecks, undersea life forms etc, and hoping to get lucky. The likelihood of detecting it was affected by a variety of factors such as the temperature and salinity of the sea, depth and pressure, and currents and waves, the vibrations from the latter often travelling down quite a way in the event of a big storm.

Passive sonar often wasn’t much of a help, because of course enemy subs were always careful not to be detected. In addition it wasn’t good at detecting diesel-electric subs like the one they were tracking, which were very quiet once they were submerged and the electric motors in operation. Active sonar risked being detected and could be heard at least five times farther than it could pick up a target.

Fortunately with Chris’ gadget to home in on, and Caroline, they didn’t need sonar.
"This is as close as we can go without being in their sonar range, Sir," said the radio operator.
“You know what to do?” the captain asked Caroline. She nodded curtly.
"Good luck," they chorused. She smiled over her shoulder at them. “Thanks.”

She hurried from the control room to the foot of the vertical metal ladder leading up to the airlock in the conning tower, and the compartment beside it where the Seasprite was stored along with scuba gear should she need it. Like American subs, British ones were equipped with an escape trunk for emergency transfer to a DSRV, diver access, or emergency ascent escape by the crew from depths down to 600 feet.
When she was ready she called the control room over the intercom.
The circular hatch in the top of the conning tower opened upwards and she burst from the airlock in a shower of bubbles.

Two SBS divers followed a moment later, both equipped with their own Seasprites, loaned by the Americans since the Royal Navy did not yet have its own version of the device. The Major and his men had already received some brief training in their use and found they could master them in just a few minutes, and without any great difficulty. The Americans didn’t mind sharing the technology and expertise since it had been more or less agreed that they would do when the time came. All part of the Special Relationship.

For a moment she hovered motionless in the water, head cocked, listening and concentrating, every sense in her body attuned to the different sounds of the underwater world.

The Marcotech sub was too far away for her to be able to see it, even dimly, but with a metabolism altered to suit her to an underwater environment she could sense the vibrations it was giving off, if only faintly. Those from a diesel-electric sub were different to the ones from a smoother-running nuclear vessel, and she knew at once they’d struck lucky. It was part of the reason they were using her to carry out the operation.

She knew for sure it wasn't a whale. They moved very differently, possessing their own unique signature like every other species of marine life. The signals she was picking up were from something that moved too smoothly through the water to be natural. A man-made, mechanical structure. And from their relative strength, very big.

She turned round, switched on the Seasprite's engine at full power and swam in the direction they seemed to be coming from. They had been growing fainter as the sub moved away from her, but now became gradually stronger.

The SBS men followed her, moving a little more slowly. The chances were they couldn't stand the stresses of this kind of travel as much as she could. They needed to keep some way behind in any case.
The Seasprite carried her smoothly through the water like an arrow, her body stretched straight out behind it. Its speed matched that of the submarine, in fact slightly exceeded it. She should have time to complete the operation before she started to run out of air and had to return to the Nelson.
Twenty minutes later, she saw the whale-like bulk of the Marcotech sub looming up ahead.
Keeping a tight grip on the handles of the Seasprite, she swam along the length of the sub until she was level with the airlock.

In the Marcotech sub's control room its Captain, Rod Knox, himself an ex-Royal Navy petty officer, was sitting in his command chair idly watching his crew go about their business. Since they weren’t likely to be attacked there wasn’t really much for anyone to do until they reached the colony, except keeping an eye on the sonar so that it could alert them to impending collisions with whales, undersea mountains and the like. The submarine had high-resolution cameras which functioned effectively like monitor screens, installed by Marcotech of course, but no-one bothered to watch these most of the time since the sonar would warn of any serious hazards and anyway nobody was prepared to sit gazing at what was more or less the same picture for hours on end. Usually they were turned off to conserve power.

Knox glanced up at the man standing beside him, an ex-Para named Frank Linslade whom he’d trained to perform the duties of an Officer of the Watch. “Tell me honestly,” he said, “When all this is finished what are you going to do?” There was no formality in his manner; Marcotech’s private army were enough of a brotherhood for exact military-style discipline to be unnecessary, although some of the ex-officers drifted into it from instinct.
“Enjoy myself, that’s what,” Linslade answered honestly. “The world’s gonna be our oyster, isn’t it”
“How are you going to enjoy yourself?”
Linslade looked suddenly blank. “Well…..dunno really. How about you?”
“I don’t know either. The plain truth is none of us has any idea what’s going to happen – afterwards. Have we?”
Linslade thought of something, and grinned broadly. “I’ll get hold of all the booze I can lay my hands on and drink myself to death.” Greatrix had banned alcohol, along with drugs of any sort, from the colony. Smoking was out too, though mainly for safety reasons.

“Everything will be ours for the taking,” he went on. “As for not knowing where to start, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll just be glad not to be cooped up underwater all the frigging time. We all will.” But whatever happened, it would be at least marginally better than sitting begging outside Kings Cross station.
He saw that Knox had stiffened. "What's up?"
“Did you hear something just then?”

“No,” Linslade frowned. Then a loud "clunk" sounded clearly inside the control room.
"That's coming from outside," Knox said. “Maybe we’re grating against a wreck.”
“There’s nothing on the sonar,” a technician called out, overhearing them.
The sound was repeated, once, twice, three times. “Something's tapping on the hull, near the airlock."
"Maybe it wants to come in," said Linslade vaguely.
They glanced at each other uncertainly. "What do you reckon it is?"
The tapping sounded again. Tap tap tap tap tap tap TAP
Tap tap tap tap tap tap TAP
There was a definite rhythm to it. So it must be caused by a person.
The sonar technician, Maitland, looked worriedly at Knox. "Someone's found us."
"They couldn't know where we were."
"A diver?" suggested Linslade.

Maitland glanced up from his screen. "It can't be more than one, or they'd show up on the sonar. Right now all it's picking up is the fish."
"They couldn’t know where we were,” repeated Knox. All the same he told Maitland to try the scanner.
The scanner was a little more powerful than most cameras, but the technology was still in its infancy and the image therefore a little hazy. It might still have been able to pick up whatever was now causing the noise, depending on the latter’s position.
"Nothing,” he reported. “It must be too close to the hull, right up against it."
There was a pause. "I don't like this," Knox muttered.

One should be easy to deal with. He considered for a moment, biting his lip. Then he hurried to the intercom. "This is the Captain speaking. It looks like someone’s trying to get into the airlock from outside. Two men get down there with a couple of rifles."
"Open the outer door," he ordered one of the men at the consoles.
Outside Caroline saw the hatch cover swing up, and swam in.
The tapping had ceased. Presumably, this meant whatever had been making it was now inside. "Close outer door."

Caroline waited while the water was drained from the airlock. Then she stood just to one side of the inner door and took something from the pouch at her belt. She tensed herself, heart pounding.
"Open inner," ordered Knox.

The inner door slid soundlessly back, and she tossed the pair of white capsules onto the floor at the feet of the two Marcotech men. They exploded with a bang and immediately the two men were surrounded by a cloud of dense white vapour. Instinctively they dropped their guns and clapped their hands over their streaming eyes, coughing and gasping and choking. Then they folded in two and collapsed, alive but quite unconscious.

Mask on in case she wasn’t immune to the gas, she watched as the stuff was sucked into the submarine's air conditioning, the trails of vapour disappearing through the grille over the ventilation duct just below the point where the ceiling met the wall. In just a few seconds, before they could warn their base, everyone on the sub apart from herself would be unconscious. The plan for retaking a nuclear submarine that had been hijacked had been worked out long ago.

She waited a bit longer, then cautiously ventured out into the corridor. A few yards down she could see the unconscious body of one of the Marcotech crewmen.

She took an underwater radio from her belt pouch and called the Nelson. "It's OK, I’m safely on board. It looks like the gas worked." A little later she heard the tapping on the hull that told her the SBS divers wanted to be let in. Guided by the Major over the radio, she found her way to the bridge, identified the airlock control and opened the doors.

They started to explore, the Navy men keeping close to Caroline at all times, their orders not to let her out of their sight at any cost. One of the Navy men got out his own radio and called the Nelson. “I think it's an adapted ex-Soviet Kilo class. Shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out how everything works.”

They made their way to the control room and took up their positions. They brought the sub to the surface, and twenty minutes later the Nelson surfaced alongside it. An extendable tube telescoped out from the British sub’s conning tower until it overlapped the rim of the Kilo’s by a foot or two. A door in the end of the tube slid open and Mike Hartman, Roger Bryant and a few SBS and Navy men stepped out onto the Kilo, Captain Bryant leading the way down the ladder.

"Let's take a look around," said the Major. The Navy and SBS men fanned out and began to search the submarine, rounding up the unconscious Marcotech personnel as they did so and transferring them to the Nelson, except for the captain and a couple of his officers. A couple of them stayed with Caroline in the control room, just to make sure she didn’t run away.

In a compartment on the lower level, a section of which was walled off in plate glass and filled with water to form a tank, Steve Ferris and Bob Moretti found the half-a-dozen aquanoids, swimming about peacefully. In the next room about thirty or forty men were lying on rows of bunks, asleep or unconscious. Among them was Chris Barrett.

Ferris examined them briefly. "They've been sedated," he said. "I’ll get the doctor to take a look at them. Bob, stay here.”
He reported back to the Major in the control room. “They should be alright. And it looks like we’ve taken care of all the crew, they’re well and truly KO’d.”

"Well done, Caroline," said the Major. He looked down at the unconscious body of the Marcotech captain lying crumpled at his feet. The man was just starting to come round. Groggily he picked himself up and blinked at the dim figures gathered round him, waiting while they grew gradually more and more distinct. On realising who they were he started, face tightening as he took in the situation sunk in.
"Slept well, did you?" the Major beamed. "Good, we've got a job for you."

Nigel Haverhill and the two CIA men suddenly appeared, stepping forward. "Marcotech must know the standoff won't last forever,” Haverhill said. “So what are they waiting for? I want to know."
Knox stared back at him blankly. "We don't know," he said simply. "We were just told to take the subs, transfer our own people to them and then head for base.”

The Major eyed him suspiciously, then decided he was telling the truth. "Well here’s what you're going to do. You're going to send a message to the Poseidon saying Marcotech have changed their plans. You're to shadow them just in case anyone tries to storm the sub.” It was the sort of thing, he supposed, that he might might conceivably do if he was in Greatrix’s position. “OK?"
"And what if they check that with our base?"
"They've no reason to doubt you're telling the truth."
"What happens if I don't do as I say?"

The Major glanced at Linslade, Maitland and the technicians, now also recovered from the gas and looking on solemnly under the guard of several Navy ratings. "Then I kill you, so that when I tell one of your crew to do it they'll know I mean business."

Knox fell silent. He had no idea whether Hartman was telling the truth or not. It was the level, menacing stare, the glint in his eyes, the frightening expression of grim dedication in which his square jaw was set, which invariably did the trick. "All right," he said finally.

"All the same, it'll be blown if Marcotech decide to ring in to check everything's OK," Bryant muttered in the Major’s ear.
"As long as they think it is, there's no reason why they should," Hartman answered curtly.
“Will Greatrix be able to track our movements?” asked Caroline. “If he notices we’re not where we’re supposed to be, he’ll smell a rat.”

A Navy technician answered her. “He monitors his subs’ positions by homing in on a radio signal they send out. But we’ve turned it off now.” It was one of the first things the Navy men had done on boarding the Kilo.
“But he can still contact the subs when he needs to talk to them?”
“Yes, and the subs each other, using a different frequency.”

“So chummy here is going to contact his base and tell them there’s a fault in the radio,” the Major explained. “Since they’ll have got a mite suspicious when the signal stopped moving. Aren’t you, chummy?”
“Got no choice, have I,” grunted Knox.
“You are of course working hard to repair the fault.”
“Of course.” Under the watchful eyes of his captors, Knox made the call. The radio operator at the colony seemed satisfied nothing was wrong.

Roger Bryant was rubbing his hands briskly. “Right, let’s get going.” It would be his job to pilot the Kilo to the Poseidon, as the SBS men weren’t deemed to have quite the right experience yet.
In the meantime, there was a lot to do.


Chris Barrett saw a green scaly face staring down at him as the haze in front of his eyes cleared. At first he thought he was having a nightmare and sat up sharply, with gasp of alarm.
"It's alright," said the face. "It's me, Caroline."
He stared at her stupidly, still slightly befuddled. "Caroline?"
"Yes, that's right," she smiled patiently.

"Like the new look," he grunted. He shook his head furiously, not entirely sure he wasn't still dreaming. "If you don't mind me asking, what are you got up in fancy dress for? You look like something out of - "
"It isn't fancy dress," she said softly. "It's real."

He sniffed, registering the fishy smell for the first time. It wasn't unpleasant, but it did seem odd that a human being could give off that sort of odour.
She held out her arm. "Feel that."
He was sure nothing artificial could have that smooth, slippery, slightly moist feel. "Shit," he breathed, letting his hand fall away. "What - how did - "
"Marcotech experimented on me. They turned me into..." she spread her arms helplessly.
Finally Chris felt himself start to absorb the shock of it all. "The bastards!" he hissed, clenching his fists. "They had no right to do that. If I could get my hands on them....."
"Oh, it's not so bad sometimes," she said. He looked at her curiously. "And how are you?" she asked. "They didn't hurt you?"
He drew his hand across his forehead a couple of times. "No, I seem to be in one piece. So what's been going on then? Did Marcotech - "

She told him everything that had happened from her abduction to the capture of the Kilo. "I don't know what's going to happen to me in the long run, but you know how it is; you'll have to go along with it or else." Chris suddenly became very aware of the two armed ratings flanking her.
"The Major's here, by the way," she said. As if on cue Hartman entered the room, giving a nod and a smile on seeing him. "Alright, son?"
As the Major was only a few years older than him Chris found this term of address a little patronising. "Alright, Dad."
"You're welcome."

Caroline returned her attention to him. "Rachel told me what you were doing,” she said, touched that he’d put himself to such risk just for her.
"Only for the best," he murmured. She smiled with pleasure.

"So what's happening now?" Chris asked, turning to the Major for an answer.
"We're going to get the Poseidon back," Hartman said crisply. "That's what." He looked at Chris. "There really isn't any need for you to stick around here. I'm sure we can handle it."
"We're staying together," Chris said, nodding towards Caroline.

There wasn't much time for Hartman to make up his mind in. They needed to get the Poseidon back before Greatrix realised they’d retaken the Kilo, as he surely would before long.
The Major glanced warily at the two ratings. "As long as you realise you've got to keep quiet about everything you see," he told Barrett, saying it as much for the Navy men's benefit as anyone else's. "And that I'm not going to be responsible for anything that happens to you."
"If you can handle it OK, I'm not going to be in any danger am I?" said Chris cheekily.

"Then nor is Caroline," the Major countered with a smile. "Look, just remember what I said."
“I’ll consider myself under your orders,” Chris said seriously. It was best, he knew, for the professionals to be completely in control of what happened. “But I’m not going to stay shut up in a submarine while all the action’s going on.”


In the control room of the Kilo ex-Chief Petty Officer Knox was speaking into the submarine’s Gertrude. Modified, the system performed more or less the same function as the underwater radio.
"Kilo Two calling Poseidon."
After a moment the voice of Teague, the Marcotech radio operator on the Poseidon, answered him. “Poseidon here. Anything wrong?”
“Greatrix has decided he wants us to shadow you for the moment, just in case anyone does anything stupid like trying to recapture you. You'll have to cut your speed of course, but that doesn't matter as long as nobody knows where we are."
“I’ll hand you over to Sam,” said Teague.

"What about the prisoners?" asked Sam Kovich, the captain, and Knox could detect the frown in his voice.
"It'll be alright. There's enough provisions for everyone.” Kovich would know it was possible to vary the dose of sedative so the prisoners could feed themselves when necessary. “We'll just have to be careful they don't try anything. Besides, they’ll still be under the influence of the drug.”
And if it comes to the worst and we have to ditch them, so be it, Kovich thought.
“Anyway, it’s the boss’ orders.”
The paranoia was typical of Greatrix, Kovich reflected. “OK,” he said. “Can you get a fix on us from this transmission?”
“Sure. Once we’re in range, use your sonar and we’ll home in on that.”
“Be seeing you then. Out.”

Bryant glanced at the computerized plotting screen. “About one hundred and fifty miles to the east of here. Should take us a while to get there.”
“Then let’s not lose any time,” said the Major.
The crew of the Atlantica, most of the captured Marcotech men and the six aquanoids were already on board the Nelson. From what Caroline had told them, its crew knew the aquanoids would more or less do whatever they were told, as they had at Marcotech. They were to be taken to the research facility at San Diego passage to America, while it was decided what to do with them. They could use Caroline’s sleep tank during the journey, and Caroline the tank on the Kilo. In truth she might not be needed on the forthcoming mission, but they couldn’t be sure. Afterwards, unless it proved possible to use her to recover the Connecticut she would be returned to San Diego, remaining there until a decision was taken on her future.

Once the Nelson’s second officer had assumed command of it, leaving Bryant and a few of his men to join the SBS team, together with the CIA and MI6 agents, on the Kilo the latter filled its tanks, dived and set off eastward towards its rendezvous with the Poseidon.


FORTY-EIGHT
Kilo Two
As on the Nelson, everyone was clustered in the control room watching the various screens. Friendship naturally made Chris stand close to Caroline. He studied her with interest. From almost constant immersion in the water her hair had darkened to a mousy brown; it was a nicer colour than people tended to think, and he found it very attractive. He thought it showed her from a completely different angle. She had just come from the sleep tank and it was hanging down in a tangled mass like seaweed, slightly tinged with green.

"Greatrix was right,” he said. “You do make a beautiful aquanoid."
"Why, thankyou," she replied, pleased despite her reservations at all Marcotech had done to her biology.
“But presumably you don’t want to stay like that forever. Is there any way of reversing it?”
“They’ve kept tissue samples from various parts of me in their laboratory. They also have stem cells you could grow a new heart from. And somehow they’ve solved all the problems you get with tissue rejection. Yes, it should be possible; Marcotech certainly seemed to think so.”
"We should be within sonar range now,” Maitland announced.
“Then start pinging,” ordered the Major.

A moment later they heard the warble of the sonar and saw a vertical white bar appear on the grid on its screen.
Maitland switched to the Poseidon’s frequency. “Kilo Two to Poseidon. We have you on the sonar, so we’ll be with you in just a few minutes. Got any supplies to spare for the prisoners? As we're going to be at sea longer than we expected..."
There was a pause while Teague conferred with Kovich, then he came back. "There should be enough. You wanna send someone over to collect it?"
"Yeah, will do."
"Right. We'll send a couple of the guys over to meet you."

Ten minutes later, the Kilo was manouevring into position above the Poseidon. From its underside the docking tube, identical to that which subs now used to dock when on the surface, extended downwards to connect with the hatch in the top of Poseidon’s conning tower. The clang as the two met reverberated throughout the Poseidon.

The Poseidon’s inner airlock door swished open, and the two Marcotech crewmen heard the clatter of booted feet as the men from the Kilo descended the ladder. They seemed to pause halfway down. Then two small white capsules landed on the floor in front of the Marcotech men and burst.

Two SBS men in black Nomex assault suits with integrated masks and helmets, each incorporating a respirator, jumped the last few feet of the ladder and turned to regard the unconscious bodies of the two crewmen. Stepping over them, one went to the nearest ventilator duct, took a couple of the white capsules from his belt pouch and shoved them through the grille, crushing them as he did so. The two soldiers waited until they knew the gas would have dispersed, then one of them radioed the Kilo, informing them it was safe to board. The gas would spread faster than the life support system could filter it out.

As an additional precaution the pair each had a gas gun, a stubby-looking weapon rather like an oversized pistol, attached to his belt. The Major had specifically requested it just before the Nelson had left Groton.
A couple of minutes later the Major, accompanied by the rest of his squad, and Captain Bryant stepped through into the Poseidon’s control room, grinning in triumph. A little hesitantly Chris and Caroline followed them on board, since no-one had specifically told them not to.

"Well done, boys," said the Major, presumably to the two men who had taken out the Marcotech crew with the gas. He scanned the room. It was now a little full up; besides the rest of his squad, Bryant and his men, and the US and British intelligence chaps, the Poseidon's real crew had now recovered and were standing looking on. A chorus of triumphant clapping and shouting broke out.

Nigel Haverhill was rubbing his hands gleefully. "Well done, Major, well done!"
The Major nodded in acknowledgement, smiling blandly. A rather strange silence fell, as if no-one had any idea what to do next.
Haverhill beamed at him as if prompting a child what to do next. "Well I think you can bring your men back on board now, and leave the Poseidon to Commander Hillyard."
The Major said nothing, just remained standing where he was. His face was expressionless. The Poseidon's crew were eyeing one another uncertainly; one or two took a couple of steps towards the door, then halted.
"What's going on?" demanded one of the CIA agents.
Haverhill frowned. "Major? Is there a problem?"
Hartman's lips moved. "Sorry, Sir, I'm afraid that's not possible."

Haverhill realised that the two SBS men with the gas pellets were now back in the room and had taken up position on either side of the door, aiming a pair of gas guns into the centre of the room. Both had their respirators still on. He saw the Major and the remaining SBS soldiers move out of their line of fire.

Suddenly the two CIA agents had their handguns out. But before they could properly aim them, the twin streams of grey-white vapour had knocked them unconscious. The blast caught several of the Navy men, who fell limply across the Americans' bodies.

The rifles of the other SBS men came up and they shuffled backwards into a position from which they could cover the whole room. Having known what was going to happen they were in a position to move faster than the armed Navy ratings, who hadn’t.

Haverhill could hardly believe what he was seeing. For a timeless moment he was quite unable to speak, his mouth hanging open and gaping helplessly at Hartman. In fact it was Captain Hillyard who broke the silence. "Major, would you mind telling me what you're bloody well doing?"
"I'm taking command," announced Hartman. "It's as simple as that."
"What?"
"I said I'm taking command."

“You can’t be serious, man,” gasped Roger Bryant. “Have you gone stark raving mad?”
On the sidelines, Caroline's face lit up joyously. She’d known the Major wouldn't let her down.
Haverhill finally managed to compose himself. "I see." It was clear he thought the Major was unbalanced. "For what reason are you doing that, Major?"
The Major nodded towards the aquanoid standing at the side of the room. "She's not going to have to run around like a hunted fugitive. Nor is she a test bed. On past experience, and reading between the lines as it were, I think I can guess what’s been happening and if your hunch is that I don’t like it you’re absolutely right.”

Haverhill's eyes narrowed. "You assured me earlier, Major Hartman, that you weren't emotionally involved in this matter."
"If it were anyone else I'd probably still do it," Hartman said, though unsure if this was actually true. "I'll do what I must for my country as long as it isn't involved in anything unethical. It isn't right to treat someone who's helped us in the past in this way. I can guess the sort of things you'll do to her while she remains in your hands. She's a good person and she doesn't deserve any of that." He told those who didn’t already know as much as he could about the whole Marcotech affair, all that had happened to Caroline, and the various reasons why she didn’t deserve it. He kept looking at Hillyard as he said all this, making sure the Commander was included in the conversation. The Navy man looked extremely uneasy.
"Have you any idea what you're doing, Major?" Halliwell snapped. "You could lose your job for this, or worse."
"I'm not doing it lightly, Sir."

"You'll be court-martialled, probably end up in prison. Mutiny, disloyalty, insubordination; stealing a Royal Navy vessel, that's what it amounts to; treason, maybe. Are your men backing you in this?"
"I've told them I'll take the flak, Sir."
"That's not what I asked you," Haverhill snapped.
"No, but you can take it as a "yes" if you like."

Haverhill shifted indecisively for a bit, then smiled, regarding the Major with a friendly expression. "Major, the regiment's overstretched as it is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are too many people leaving it. Now you're a good officer and we don't want to lose you."
"Then don't, Sir," the Major said woodenly.
Meanwhile the Poseidon's crew had been looking on in increasing astonishment. The Major glanced towards Adam Hillyard. "Where do you stand, Commander? If you don't want to go along with this, we'll surface and put you adrift on a life raft. I'll make sure our people know where to pick you up. But the Poseidon's mine."

"You'll find it hard to operate the sub on your own," said Commander Hillyard. "For one thing, you'll need a sonar operator."
"I think we’ve picked up enough of the know-how already,” the Major said, hoping he was right. "We could do it."
"Not as well as us. Besides, you really need a full crew. With just the twenty or so of you, you couldn't really cope."
The Major smiled charmingly at him. "Like I said, Captain Hillyard; if you don't like it you don't have to stay."
"I think I'd better. I'm a little concerned you're likely to smash up millions of pounds of expensive hardware, harming yourselves and probably others in the process." He shuddered at the thought of anyone else in charge of his beloved Poseidon.
That did the trick, the Major thought, permitting himself the ghost of a smile.

"I think it's advisable, Sir," Hillyard told Halliwell. The other Navy men, Bryant’s and Hillyard’s, still looked puzzled and uneasy.
The MI6 official looked sharply at him. Then he seemed to relax a little, concluding that as he didn’t have much choice in the matter there wasn’t any point in resisting. It was Hartman’s head on the block, not his. “Just don’t think you can manage to avoid the consequences of this forever,” he snapped.

Hillyard’s men also seemed to be accepting the situation, feeling the easiest way out was to take the line that the responsibility didn’t lie with them. "Right, if that's settled," the Major said briskly. His manner changing, he turned to Roger Bryant. “I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Sir. Me and my lads have spent a lot of time lately with you and your crew, and I’d just like you to know we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Hartman’s squad murmured their assent. “I hope you’ve enjoyed having us. But I’ve my reasons for what I’m doing and if anything bad happens as a result of it, I’m quite prepared to face the consequences.”
It was a moment before Bryant replied. “You’d better be, Major. But alright. To avoid anyone getting hurt, I won’t resist.”

Hartman moved towards Commander Hillyard. "A word with you in private, Sir, if you don't mind." The other gave a curt nod, and the two of them stepped out into the corridor. Hartman led the Commander down it until they were out of earshot from the control room. "All right, Commander. You're hoping to turn the tables on us when you get the chance, aren't you? To jump us when we're not expecting it. I think that was what our spook friend was banking on.”

The Commander's face showed no emotion. Hartman gave him a knowing wink. "We can pretend you tried and failed, once we get back to port and have to face the music. But do I have your support or don't I?"

"You can guess my feelings, Major. It's all highly irregular and I'm not happy at being asked to participate in what is effectively an act of treason." Hillyard's face changed, and the Major saw the doubts troubling him beneath his impassive surface. "However I must confess I’m a little uneasy at simply carrying out my orders without protest, after what you said about the girl. The other consideration was my utter horror at the thought of leaving the Poseidon entirely in your hands."
The Major grinned wryly at him. "Was?"

Hillyard sighed. "Alright; I'm prepared to go along with this whole crazy escapade. But don't blame me if anything goes wrong. Or if you end up clapped in irons."
"We won't be, if we manage to take care of Marcotech," the Major told him.
"I take it you've got some plan in mind, then,” Hillyard said as they re-entered the control room, “and that we aren't just going to merrily sail the seven seas until someone eventually catches up with us. For one thing, the food and drink won't last forever."

He had a family to get back to. So, the Major knew, did most of his own squad. "No, we aren't,” said Hartman. “We’re going to do two things. Firstly, Caroline's only hope of being returned to normal is to go back to Marcotech. Once she's fully human again she'll have no value for the Americans. Secondly, we'll need to pay the colony a visit if only to find out what it is Marcotech are waiting for. It's worth a try. If we can sort this whole problem out, they’ll look a bit more kindly on us when we get back home."

“You reckon," muttered Steve to Bob Moretti, who nodded solemnly. Moretti had a girlfriend he’d quite like to see again one day, and preferably not through a security screen with some hard-faced military policeman looking on to make sure they didn’t get too intimate.
"We'll have to go back sometime, Steve," Hartman told him.

Hillyard stood so that he could address all his men, raising his voice. "I'm going to permit each of you to express his own opinion on the matter." He knew he was taking a rare step, something rarely done in combat circles. "Those of you who do not wish to be part of this we can send to the surface with a dinghy.” He glanced at the Major, who nodded his agreement. “But I recommend we should stay. We can say the Major forced us to help him."
"I'd back you up on that," Hartman said.
"Thankyou, Major. But those of you who don't agree, for goodness' sake say so and we'll put you on a life raft.”

The junior ratings stayed silent, shifting uneasily. Both Hillyard and First Lieutenant Winton sensed their confusion and discomfort, and it troubled their conscience. Hillyard sensed it would be wrong to make them do it, in defiance of higher authority, just because he said so.

A senior rating spoke out. "If you don't mind me saying so, Sir," he began, addressing himself to both commanders, "it just doesn't seem the right thing to do. I mean, all the training we've had...it's taught us to be patriotic, and put the interests of the country first. That means going by what the book says, even if we don't like it."

"Maybe," said the Major. "But if we don’t this girl will be handed over to the Yanks to be used like a laboratory rat. The whole principle of it is wrong, besides something might go wrong and she dies. If our country can connive at things like that, then it isn't worth fighting for. If we knew more about some of the things it has done, I expect we'd be pretty shocked. If you don't like it, all I can say is you’re free to get out now if you like. I tell you this, sailor; the day a man's conscience becomes subordinate to a signature on a dotted line we may as well all join al-Qaeda."
Hillyard turned to the others. "OK everyone, you know the score. Time to make your mind up."
"I'm with you, Sir," nodded Winton. After a pause, the WO also indicated his assent. A few others nodded too. Gradually, a murmur of assent ran like a ripple through the Poseidon’s crew.
The Captain went over to Hartman. "All right, Major, it’s settled. You’ll be in overall command, with me as your second." He lowered his voice, bending to mutter into the SAS man's ear. "Because I'm not taking the responsibility. Understand? It’s the last time I’ll say it."
Briefly the Major bobbed his head.
"I just hope you do know what you're bloody doing." Hillyard turned away from him.
The Major noticed Chris Barrett. "I guess you're sticking with Caroline?"
"Of course," Chris said. Hartman nodded briefly.
He felt something wet and slimy touch him on the arm, and flinched in revulsion. He saw it was Caroline and felt guilty at his reaction. She withdrew her hand, seeming to understand. "Thankyou," she said simply.

So far Captain Bryant and his men had not been asked for their opinion. “I’m putting you adrift,” the Major said. “With enough food and supplies to last until you’re picked up. It’s not fair you should be dragged into this.”
“You’ll send a radio message telling them where to find us?”
“Of course.”
“I should warn you they’ll be able to identify your current position from it.”

“We’ll have a head start. We’ll also have rejigged the equipment so they can’t track us by any other means. Besides, you can tell them that if anyone tries to catch us I’ll launch the missiles. After all, I’m supposed to have lost my sanity.” He gave a manic grin.
"You've certainly lost your job,” Hillyard told him. “Yes, I’d say you’ve just blown your career sky-high. Right out of the water, no pun intended.”

“Let’s sort out Marcotech and see what happens,” he replied.
“After that – well, these things can stay submerged for a long time and the ocean's a bloody big place. They may never find us."
“Just as long as you don’t expect us to come along for the ride,” Hillyard said.
"So what exactly are we going to do now, Boss?" asked Steve Ferris. “Just how do we sort out fucking Marcotech, exactly?”
The Major smiled benignly at them all. "Gather round, children, and I'll explain."

Once he had finished, he asked all the Navy men to hand over their rifles. They complied, and the weapons were then locked up in the armoury. Then the SBS team, now in possession of all the guns on the sub, divided, half of them remaining on the Poseidon while the other half escorted Captain Bryant and his crew back to the Kilo. The two subs then separated, Bryant bringing the Kilo to the surface, the Poseidon following a moment later. They linked up and the Marcotech men, to whom the drug used to keep the Poseidon’s real crew sedated during the journey to the colony had been administered, were transferred to the Kilo, a task more easily carried out above than by lugging senseless bodies up a completely vertical ladder, as the surface docking tube was of course horizontal. They were followed by Nigel Halliwell and the CIA men, still silently fuming. The SBS men remained in control of things at all times, making sure their Navy counterparts made no attempt to turn the tables while the Poseidon and the Kilo were separated.

The Major and Bryant saluted one another before Bryant left the Poseidon, then shook hands. Before ex-CPO Knox was put under, a brief exchange passed between him and Hartman.
“Thankyou for your co-operation,” the Major smiled.

“I had no choice. After all, you’ve won this round, haven’t you – Sir?” Knox smiled wryly.
“Sir?”
“I believe you outrank me, comparatively. You’re a Major, yes?”
“Are you ex-Forces?” asked Hartman curiously. They should have guessed, he supposed, from the way the man was standing to attention.
“Yes, Sir. Chief Petty Officer. Served in destroyers for years.” He swallowed, looking contemplatively down at the floor. “It wasn’t being discharged that broke me. I could cope with that. But then my business failed…my wife left me…” He composed himself with a deep breath, straightened and saluted. The Major returned the gesture. Then Bryant nodded to one of the ratings, who indicated politely that Knox should follow him. He did so with resignation. A part of him, a tiny part, had never had much faith in the success of the project. It was funny how, now everything for him at any rate had collapsed, those feelings had come to the surface. He wondered what would become of him, if they put him on trial, and whether he ought to tell them about Marcotech’s ultimate intentions. No, he decided. He still had enough loyalty to Greatrix not to want to do that. After all, he wouldn’t have got involved in this in the first place if he hadn’t been convinced it was necessary. He was prepared, of course, to suffer any adverse consequences that might ensue from Greatrix’s plans, or the backup schemes he had devised for implementation in the event of their failure. They all were.

Bryant and his crew, along with Halliwell and the Americans whom the Major didn't want the responsibility of having to look after them throughout the entire voyage, were set adrift on the rafts, to be retrieved by either the US or British Navy once the Poseidon well clear of the area. The two submarines dived, and the Kilo turned slowly away from the Poseidon until it faced towards the Bahamas several hundred miles away. It started to move off in that direction. The Poseidon remained hovering above the sea bed for a while, then it too swung round and set off after the Kilo, keeping a distance of twenty to thirty miles behind it.


Someone knocked on the door of Greatrix's office. “Come in,” said the chairman of Marcotech Consortium Limited.
Latimer entered, looking worried. Greatrix glanced up from his work, and frowned at his subordinate's expression. Please don't say something's gone wrong. "What's the matter?" he snapped.
"Tracking room's lost contact with the Poseidon," Latimer said.
"They still can't raise Kilo Two either. Neither of them are responding to any calls."
Greatrix sat up straight, stiffening. His mind began to absorb the information. "What about the Connecticut? Or the other Kilo?"
"No problem there."
He steepled his fingers and thought. "Two of our subs at the same time. It can't be a coincidence."

Latimer opened his mouth to say they couldn’t be sure of that, then realised it was hopeless. In all probability Greatrix was right. "You reckon the Navy might have taken the subs somehow?"
"Possibly." Greatrix fell silent, his face dark and troubled by indecision. His fingers began tapping out a staccato beat on the desktop.
A nasty thought occurred to Latimer. “What are we gonna do then?" he asked nervously. “If the crews have been captured, what if they decide to tell all?”

Greatrix didn't seem to hear him. He thought it likely the crews would stay silent. But could he be sure? Besides, something had taken both the Poseidon and the Kilo, and at the moment he had no idea how. It meant the same could happen to the Connecticut, for all he knew. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed one half of his nuclear capability had been eliminated and the other might well be removed from the equation too.
Should he fire the Connecticut's missiles now?

He still had a vital hold over everyone. The Connecticut's missiles alone would cause enough devastation for the threat of using them to be sufficient leverage. But should he not act now before he lost that too?

The images of nuclear devastation flashed before his eyes. Images of chaos and suffering such as had never been known before.

You didn't do all this for nothing. Have the courage of your convictions. But…
The images again.

It was still possible contact had been lost through some accident, some mechanical or electrical fault. Unlikely, but possible.

Should he give it the benefit of the doubt; go for a good old British compromise?
But those compromises satisfy no-one.
The images.....

Latimer was hovering nervously beside him. Surely Greatrix wouldn't actually give the order to launch the missiles; and if he did should he, Latimer, refuse to go along with it?
"What are we going to do, Boss?" he urged.
Greatrix came out of his musings. "I think I'd be happier if the Connecticut were where we could keep an eye on it. Tell it to start making its way here, and Kilo One to rendezvous with it to act as escort. Both need to keep a look-out for any danger. They’re not to take any risks: anything that looks suspicious, just avoid it. I don't know how they took the other subs, if that's what's happened, but I don't want to lose these ones too."
"What about the squid?"
"I expect the Connecticut's torpedoes are quite capable of taking care of it."

Latimer felt himself relax. "So we're not going to press the button just yet?"
"No, not yet," Greatrix assured him. "I just want the Connecticut here."
He was hoping he'd made the right decision, and hadn't just gambled away their only chance of success.
“It’ll be a while before the rendezvous,” Latimer said.
Greatrix grunted impatiently. "Please leave me," he ordered. Silently Latimer withdrew, leaving him to his thoughts and to the photograph sitting on the desk before him.

The message went out. Hundreds of miles away in the deep ocean the two subs changed direction, putting themselves on a line with each other. By far the faster, the Connecticut would make contact with Kilo One when it was already a relatively short distance from the colony. But what mattered was that it should be under their watchful eye, and had the additional protection of the other sub’s torpedoes for the rest of the journey. It just felt safer that way.


Control room, HMS Poseidon
So far, thought the Major, everything was going…swimmingly? Ouch.
Steve Ferris and the other SBS men had learned enough about submarines over the past few months to be able to handle the Kilo competently, with the assistance of a couple of Hillyard’s crew who had been sent over with them. Although there was no sleep tank on the Poseidon, they could simply put Caroline in the airlock and flood it whenever she needed to be immersed. The homing signal by which the Navy at Portsmouth could track their movements had been switched off, along with the equipment Marcotech had installed for the same purpose when they took over the sub. There remained one more thing to be done. "We've got to make sure the missiles can't be fired, in case anything goes wrong and Marcotech get hold of the sub," the Major told his companions.

"I've got the key." Hillyard handed it over, nodding to Derek Winton to do the same with his copy.
"We need these off the sub." Hartman summoned over one of the ratings. "Get rid of them. Take them to the airlock and flush them out."
"We'll need to do more than that,” Hillyard said. “It's possible they could rejig the firing system if they're well enough up on electronics.”

“Then the most effective solution,” the Major grunted, “will be the simplest. Someone find me some tools.” Once that had been done, he selected a wrench and used it to rip off the outer casing of the missile firing console. Reaching in, he pulled out all the wires he could find, then attacked the circuitry with a spanner until it was completely wrecked.
"Tut tut," muttered Dan Riordan to the man beside him. “Sabotaging Britain's nuclear deterrent."
"Shut up," said his comrade, but the man’s face was grave. Fucking Hell, he was thinking. We're going to get crucified for all this.

Meanwhile a couple of men had gone to the Poseidon's armoury, where the rifles taken from the Marcotech and Navy crews had been stored. They removed the cartridge from each one, took out the bullets, and then put it back.
Hillyard was pacing up and down anxiously. "If we try anything they may tell the Connecticut to launch her missiles."
"Marcotech have got something up they're sleeve they're not telling anyone about," Hartman said. "For all we know it could be worse. And they'll have guessed that we'll have guessed that."
"They'll still fire the missiles."
"Then we'll just have to be very careful."

The Major crossed to the communications console and picked up the Gertrude. "OK, Steve. The first chance you get."
Ferris' voice crackled back. "Right, boss."

Kilo Two
Steve radioed the man who was in the forward hold, where the sedated Marcotech prisoners were being held. "Are they starting to come round yet?" It had been a while since the men were first injected with the drug.
"Yeah," the man replied. "It looks like it." He watched as several of the unconscious men began to stir, their eyelids fluttering spasmodically. He described what he was seeing.

"Give it a few minutes more," said Steve. He returned to the instruments on the navigational console. The sonar had picked up a large stationary body, probably an underwater rock formation, a few degrees to the west of their current position. He gave the order to change course. A few minutes later it came into view on the scanner, a large irregularly-shaped body of rock jutting up from the sea bed.

Steve studied the instruments carefully. “OK, several degrees right," he told the Navy man who was acting as helmsman.
"This is going to have to be calculated just fine," said the sailor. "Or else…."
"I've no doubt you can do it," Steve said. He waited.
The sub changed course again, and the mass of rock on the screen loomed closer. "Too close for my liking," said Steve. "A degree or two to the left."

The helmsman made the correction. "That's about as near as we can go," he said warningly. Ferris nodded.
He looked at the screen, made another calculation, judging distance and speed. "Right, now."

In the hold the Marcotech men, by now recovered, were sitting up and gazing at the wall, a little bewildered. They hadn't expected to come round before they were back on shore and in custody.
The door of the hold unlocked with a click and three SBS men came in, one carrying a parcel which they guessed contained food. The others were covering them with their rifles. Evidently their jailers didn't know the dosage of the drug could be varied so that it was still possible for them to eat.

The trooper with the parcel bent and placed it on the floor in front of them. "Grub's up." He and his comrades began backing out of the room slowly.
They hadn't quite reached the door when the entire room gave a violent, shuddering lurch, the floor dipping slightly and then rising again, and a tremor ran through the hull of the submarine like an electric current. The impact was enough to send the three SBS men flying, crashing into the wall and slumping heavily down it. The Marcotech prisoners lost their balance too, sprawling on the floor and becoming entangled in each others' arms and legs. Several of them were knocked out, a couple more stunned.

Knox managed to lever himself into a kneeling posture. Glancing at the three SBS, he realised they were all unconscious. Not only that, but they'd lost their grip on their rifles which lay on the floor beside them, Marcotech’s for the taking. He felt a rush of excitement at the reprieve fate had gained him.
No need to spill the beans, then.

After all, they might as well take the chance. He turned to Ross and Caine, the two Marcotech men who were still conscious. "Get their guns!"

Ross and Caine snatched up two of the rifles while Knox took a third. He rooted about in the SBS men’s pockets until he found a set of keys. Signalling to the others, he led them out into the corridor, locking the door as they left. They each glanced about them cautiously. A couple more unconscious bodies met their view, one lying flat on the floor and the other in a half-sitting position at the base of the wall.
"We must have hit something," Caine whispered. "It's knocked them all out."
"It can't have knocked them all out. We need to get to the armoury, quick. With any luck they'll have put all the guns back there."
One of the bodies in the corridor began to stir feebly. Ross gave the man a tap on the head with his rifle butt, sending him back into oblivion.

As they ran off the other trooper lifted his head to gaze briefly after them, then let it fall back. His lips twisted in a faint smile twisted his lips. He'd been more lucky than Chris Barrett beside him, who really had been knocked out.

Losing no time, the three Marcotech men hurried to the armoury. While Ross stood on guard outside it, Caine and Knox moved on to the room where the breathing apparatus was stored for use in the event of a fire. Having equipped themselves with the masks and other equipment they searched for the knockout capsules, which they found them stowed away with other things in a spare storage hold.

There seemed to be just a skeleton crew on board, the minimum the sub needed to be piloted to the nearest suitable port. It made it more likely that everyone had in fact been knocked unconscious by the accident.

They returned to Ross, supplied him with a respirator, and then Knox cracked a couple of the capsules and thrust them through a ventilator grille. The gas would take care of anyone who was still conscious or about to regain consciousness. Not that they seemed to be.

They rounded up the unconscious SBS men and locked them away in the room where they themselves had been imprisoned until a few minutes before. In the control room, Knox stood looking round in satisfaction. "Fantastic," he grinned. “We’re back in the saddle now, boys. Is there any damage to the sub?"

"It doesn't look like it,” Caine said, examining the instruments. “Whatever it was, we must have brushed it just enough to knock out the opposition without doing any serious damage. What a stroke of luck."

Knox laughed scornfully. "They should have looked where they were going. Right, you be the radio operator until our boy comes round. Let Greatrix know we're on our way back to him, and with a new consignment of prisoners."


On the Poseidon's underwater radar screen the Major's eyes were trained on the signal from Chris Barrett's homing device, which they had placed on Kilo Two just before it had separated from them, hidden away amongst a maze of piping and wiring in the bowels of the sub's engine room. It was travelling slowly across the screen from right to left.

As they watched, it suddenly changed direction, moving instead gradually towards the bottom of the screen. In the direction of the Bahamas.
"Your plan must have worked," said Caroline. "Congrats."
The Major smiled. He had known from the American submarine that had struck an underwater mountain and survived, not so long before, that the Kilo probably would not be fatally damaged. Although a few of the 127 men on board had been injured, some seriously, the sub had been able to return to its home port safely.
Commander Hillyard gave an order to the helmsman and the Poseidon changed course too, all the time taking care to keep that safe thirty miles behind the Kilo.


“They got control over the Kilo and used it to retake the Poseidon,” Latimer explained. “Looks like they’ve got hold of the aquanoids and taken them back to the States.”
“Well, if the Kilo’s back in our hands that’s something,” Greatrix said.
Latimer was frowning. "I don’t understand how they got on board the Kilo though. If it was moving...."
Greatrix saw what had happened. "How did we get on board the Poseidon? Or plant the bombs on the oil tankers?"
"An aquanoid," Latimer said quietly. "It's the only way. Are you thinking what I'm....."
They looked at one another. "Kent," said Greatrix. "They're using her. We'd better warn the Connecticut. I'm not having them try the same trick again."
"They don't know where the Connecticut is," Latimer pointed out.
Greatrix swung round and looked at him hard. "I don’t see how they could have known where Kilo Two was, but they did. In any case, I've taken far too many chances already in this business."


FORTY-NINE
Kilo One, the sub which had taken the Connecticut, continued on its way to the colony while its real crew lay tranquilised in the brig, as the room set aside for holding members of the crew who had committed some serious breach of naval discipline was traditionally known.

It was the job of Kenny Williams from Brisbane, Australia, to ensure that at three-hour intervals they were to be given another injection of the drug. After a necessary period of rest and relaxation in the mess room, plus some time spent carrying out various duties necessary to the running of the sub, he would make his way to the brig to administer the next dose. Unfortunately, on this occasion he didn't get his timing quite right. He was a little late in reaching the brig than was normally the case.

Seaman “Tiny” da Suiza was bigger and stronger than anyone else among the prisoners, as well as being like the rest of them in top physical condition. Perhaps that was why he recovered consciousness a little before anyone else would have done.

The last thing he remembered was there being some kind of security alert....then nothing. Annoyed to find himself apparently lying down on his job, he sat up, his joints creaking painfully from their long period of inaction.

Blearily he scanned the room in which he found himself. The rest of the sub's crew were lying on the floor; still alive, as he could tell by the rise and fall of their chests, but for the moment very unconscious.

This didn't look like anywhere on the Connecticut. And yet from the pulsating note of the engines, and of the life-support and other systems, he was sure they were in a submarine.
What the hell was going on? It looked like someone had....

He tried to shake the man next to him awake, but got no answer. Groaning, he heaved himself to his feet. He tried the door but it was locked. There was nothing he could do but wait.

Some minutes later, he heard footsteps approach the door. Moving as quietly as possible, as one normally did on a submarine, he positioned himself far enough to the right of the door to not be immediately seen by anyone entering the room.

A man came in and began to examine the unconcious bodies of his friends, injecting them with something, not yet aware that one of them was missing. When no-one else entered, Tiny stepped forward and wrapped an arm around his neck. He reached behind and closed the door.
"OK, what the hell is going on here?"
"Let me go, you're choking me."
"Asked you a question, pal. Where is this place?"
"It's a submarine," Williams gasped.
"I know a submarine when I see the inside a one. Whose is it?"
"We're the Marcotech Consortium."
"What have you done with the guys?"
"They're OK, just unconscious."
"Where are we going?"
"To our base.”
“And where might that be?”
“It’s just off the Bahamas. You're choking me."
"You guys took over the Connecticut. What the hell for?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try me."

After seeming to hesitate at first, Williams told him. Tiny almost let go of him in amazement, his eyes goggling. "You gotta be friggin' joking, man."
“You did say I could try you," came the sardonic reply.

Keeping one arm wrapped tight round his neck, holding him powerless, Tiny drew out the man's gun from the pocket of his trousers and tapped him hard on the crown of his skull with the butt. The man went limp and Tiny let him slide to the floor. As a further precaution he retrieved the syringe from where it had fallen when he'd grabbed the guy and carefully injected him with it.

Tiny pondered his next move. There wasn't a lot he could do on his own, so he decided to wait for the others to come round, all the time turning over the crazy story the man had told him and trying to decide if it could possibly be true.


“You think they may try to retake the Connecticut the same way?” asked Latimer.
“It’d be taking a risk,” Greatrix said. “They may guess we’ve worked out how they got on board the Kilo.”
“Anyway, they’d expect us to have the Connecticut shadowed by Kilo One, because it’s closer. It’d make sense.”
“And if they’ve turned off their homing signal so we can’t track them, then they can’t track any of our subs either, unless they happen to be close enough to be in sonar range.”
“What do you think the Poseidon will do now?”
“No idea. We won’t know what it’s doing, unless it happens to approach close to the colony. Then our own sonar will pick it up.”
“Would they come here?”
“They might. But they’d be advised not to try anything stupid.”
Greatrix came to a decision. “We should have Kilo One shadow the Connecticut. I think I’d feel safer that way. Have Communications tell them to do it, will you?”


Captain Harlan Scobee awoke to see the massive figure of Tiny da Suiza gazing down at him. Blinking in puzzlement, he slowly lifted himself into a sitting position, rubbing his head. "Tiny, what's going on? Last thing I remember was - "
"You'll find this hard to believe, Sir. We're on another sub. Seems it belongs to some company called Marco- something or other."
"Marcotech," said Scobee. "The people who designed a lot of the electronics and hardware for the Connecticut. Carry on."
"Well, 'cording to this guy over here they've hijacked the Connecticut and transferred us here. Must a used some kinda knockout gas. They've got some kinda underwater base off the Bahamas where they’re up to something big, and they're threatening to fire the Connecticut's missiles unless everyone stays off it."
Scobee regarded him blankly. "Uh, I see," he muttered.

He surveyed the room. It certainly didn't look like anywhere on the Connecticut. He shook his head dazedly, still not quite taking in what had happened.
"Well one thing's clear, we've got to do something," he grunted. "There's no way we're gonna sit back and let some nut unleash a nuclear holocaust."

The others were by now more or less recovered and on their feet. They were clearly waiting for a lead from him. As best as he could he explained what had happened. “I’m still not sure whether I believe it, but something’s going on and it doesn’t seem right to me.”
"What do we do?" asked Rick Samuels anxiously.

Scobee was thinking. For all they knew the enemy, the crew of this sub, outnumbered them. On the other hand, as far as the enemy knew they were still out cold.
He came to a decision. "We wait a bit."

A few minutes later they heard a noise from outside, and the handle of the door started to turn. Probably someone had come to see why their colleague hadn't returned from his job of readministering the drug.
Tiny da Suiza and Rick Samuels were already standing on either side of the door. As the Marcotech sailor came in they jumped him, seizing him by the arms and shoving him forward. Tiny slammed the door shut, then took his gun.

Scobee was pointing the gun Tiny had taken from the other Marcotech man at his chest. "You make one sound and you're dead, pal."
"You're crazy," the man said in a British accent. "You'll be caught before you get very far."

"Shut up and listen. There must be an armoury on board, a place where the guns are stored. You’d need them to keep us in order if we woke up when we weren’t supposed to. Now you're gonna take us there. You're also gonna tell us where the breathing apparatus is kept.” All submarines had oxygen cylinders and masks stored in a designated place in case of fire, always a submariner’s nightmare, breaking out at some point. He didn't want the crew sabotaging any attempt at a takeover by the same means with which they had gained control of the Connecticut.

His face twisted in a menacing scowl. "And you'd better be telling us the truth and not leading us on a wild goose chase, because if I find you are I will personally shoot you dead."
"You wouldn't," sneered the man.

"I would, because it's the only way of showing your pals I mean business. If it turns out that I can’t bring myself to do it, I can always give the job to someone who would."
The Englishman gave in. "All right, I'll take you to the armoury. The breathing apparatus is with the diving gear, in a compartment next to the airlock. Amidships on the next level up."

The Americans split into two groups, one, led by Scobee with the gun making for the armoury, the second, with Samuels in charge armed with the other gun, making for the airlock and the breathing apparatus.

There seemed to be very few of the enemy about. Scobee guessed the sub was operating with the minimum crew needed to keep it functioning. Some of them were probably busy on various tasks, or relaxing. Once they turned a corner and were confronted by a startled crewman who immediately ran off, but Scobee shot him before he could reach an alarm. Each time something like this happened one of them took the man's gun.

They managed to reach the armoury safely, and gathered up the guns. There weren't enough to go round, but that couldn't be helped.

No sooner had Scobee begun distributing them than they heard the strident pinging of an alarm. Someone had discovered they were missing. They'd only just made it to the armoury in time.

Meanwhile Samuels’ group had found the compartment where the breathing apparatus was located. The men put on the masks, each connected to the cylinders worn on the back by a rubber hose, while Dan Terlezski and another sailor covered the door with their guns, keyed up ready to shoot anyone the minute he came through it.

Scobee's party began to spread out, moving in all directions. The sub was a small one compared to the Connecticut and it didn't take long before they were too widely dispersed for it to be possible for the crew to seal off just one or two sections and pump knockout gas into them. The Americans overpowered their enemy by sheer weight of numbers, those who didn't have guns using their fists where possible. They were spurred on by courage, desperation and the impulse to protect their country. The Marcotech crew fought back with equal determination and soon the bodies, dead or unconscious, were piling up on both sides.

Scobee and a few of his group, unaware of their own success, decided to join up with Samuels’ to back them up at the store for the breathing apparatus. Just before they got there, four or five Marcotech men burst into the room in a determined attempt to stop the Americans already there. Two fell dead to Dan and his colleagues' bullets. The others opened fire spraying the Americans in the room with lead and killing them in seconds. Then Scobee and Tiny arrived and the Marcotech men were either shot dead or physically overpowered.

In the control room the captain shifted indecisively. Should he tell Greatrix? What was the point? There was nothing base could do, not this far away. As long as the Connecticut was still safe....

In five minutes the Americans had overwhelmed the mess room, the engine room and the forward torpedo room.

If he told Greatrix of this further setback, it would increase the pressure on him. It might panic him into firing the Connecticut's missiles.

He hesitated a moment longer. And then four or five Americans, all armed, were in the room leveling their guns at everyone. “OK, none of you move.” He cursed Greatrix's’ weakness; the prisoners should all have been killed.
None of them moved.

In less than half-an-hour Scobee’s men had taken over completely and the Marcotech crew were locked up amidships, except for a few in the control room.
Scobee stepped slowly into the room, his eyes glittering. His gaze swung in a wide arc round it. "Alright, which of you's in charge here?"
The captain came forward. "I am," he said flatly.

Scobee locked eyes with him. "OK, pal. I still dunno what the hell this is all about but you killed a lot of good people back there. So you'd better start playing ball. And if I find out anything you said's a lie, you're gonna go for an underwater swim without scuba gear.

"I’m serious, pal. We’ve all been in a real mean mood since 9/11. Those guys at Guantanamo Bay aren't having too good a time right now. And then there's Abu-Ghraib." Personally Scobee didn't approve of some of the things that had been going on there, but as long as the threat worked, that was all that mattered right now.

He wasn't sure it did. The guy didn't seem the sort who scared easily. Scobee had some idea he might be ex-armed forces.
The captain continued to stare back at Scobee impassively.

Scobee found what appeared to be the Intercom and spoke into it. "Would Chief Engineer Houlden please come to the bridge at the first available opportunity, depending on the situation there." “Mouse” Houlden, so named because his small size enabled him to crawl into all kinds of tiny spaces while repairing machinery, was their technical wizard.

They waited for Houlden to arrive, all the time aware of the Marcotech men's eyes on them. "Why'd you do it?" Scobee snapped, to cover his nervousness as much as because he wanted to know.
"You wouldn't understand," the Marcotech captain replied.

“Well I hope you find something to tell the judge, that’s all I can say."
Samuels came in. "Everything's OK, Sir. They're all locked up safely. We took quite a few casualties, though. Martin, Kandinsky, Pete Wang and Roy Sampson.” Scobee winced.
“And, Sir..well, this is really weird. We’ve found a tank with a couple of…..things swimming about in it. That is, they’re people…but they’ve got gills, and webbed hands and feet, and scales all over their bodies, like fish.”

Scobee exhaled like a deflating balloon. ”Jesus Christ. It looks like our Australian friend was telling the truth after all.”
Houlden was with Samuels, and took a look round the bridge. "I'd say it's an old design that's been modified. Ex-Soviet Navy Kilo class." He went to the main console and inspected the array of state-of-the-art instrumentation which had been built into it. "Not too different from the stuff on the Connecticut. It's all Marcotech's work, anyway. We should be able to contact base easily enough."
"Are we gonna head for home then, Sir?" Samuels asked.
Scobee seemed momentarily uncertain. "Well, I guess so."

And then the Captain spoke. "We'd been told to shadow the Connecticut and escort it back to the colony. If we don't make that appointment, Greatrix will realise something's wrong."
"I thought you were just taking us straight to your base. That's what one of your buddies told me a while back. He didn't say anything about shadowing the Connecticut."
"Because if you'd used the rendezvous to try and retake her, she might have fired her missiles. Whether or not Greatrix wanted her to. If I know her captain she would."

Scobee considered the implications of this. "I see," he murmured.
His head snapped up. “What’s your name, pal?”
“Coughlan, Bob Coughlan.”
“American?”
“That’s right.”

“I’m ashamed of you, but we’ll let that pass right now. So, we’re on our way to rendezvous with Connecticut. Well, why don't we go and do that, hey Bob? You're gonna stay here and answer any calls your buddies might decide to make. And if you tell them what's going on you know what'll happen."
The man looked hard at Scobee. "If it looks like anything's wrong, they'll fire the Connecticut's missiles.

Scobee returned his gaze with equal intensity. "But you don't want that, do you?" He came to his own conclusion. "No, I don't think you do somehow. So just don't tell them anything is wrong. OK? Just answer any calls this Greatrix guy, or the Connecticut, happen to make and tell them everything's fine. Now you've got supplies of knockout gas on this sub, haven't you? You used it to put us out."
Coughlan nodded.

"Judging from the effect it had on us, the gas'll knock them out in seconds. They won't have time to hit the red button." Scobee raised his voice to address his crew, most of whom were now in the room. "Listen, fellas. If we don't keep that appointment with the Connecticut, they will think something's wrong. And if we just surrender to them like that they'll think we're up to something. That's my reasoning. But I’m gonna check with base first.” He nodded at the communications console. “Mouse, you think you can raise them on this set-up?” Mouse was going to have to double as electronics and communications expert, as well as engineer, since the officers who normally performed those functions on the Connecticut were both dead. He blinked at the apparatus for a moment through his big round spectacles. “Yeah, I should think so. It’s much the same as on Connecticut.”

“Then we’re in business,” Scobee smiled. “And with any luck, we’re gonna get a chance to kick some more ass.”


FIFTY
Control room, HMS Poseidon
“We’re past the Continental Shelf now,” reported the Navigator, looking at the screen on which the data from the various navigational systems was displayed. “I don’t think we can go much closer to the colony.”
“Uh-huh. How long before the Kilo gets there?” the Major asked. The navigator looked at the blip on the screen from Chris’ homing device. “They should get there any minute now,” he replied.

Caroline appeared from the airlock. "They've got to find out what Greatrix is doing, somehow,” she heard the Major say. “Find out and report back here." He began pacing up and down, his hands clasped behind his back. Caroline could see he was worried by the possibility something might go wrong, and bit her lip uneasily.

He really shouldn’t have let Chris go along on the mission. Then again, they might need all the help they could get.

“It’s taking too much of a risk,” said Hillyard. “What if something goes wrong? We need some kind of a backup."
His words seemed to give the Major an idea. His face brightening a little, he turned to Caroline. "Do you think you could bear to go back to the colony?" he asked.
She could guess what he had been thinking. The idea didn't appeal to her. But Moretti, Ferris and the others were putting themselves in danger and if there was the slightest thing she could do to help...besides if suspicions that Marcotech had something nasty still up their sleeve were correct, they might have nothing to lose.
She finished weighing the pros and cons and sighed. "Alright."
"You don't have to do this," he told her.

She brushed this aside impatiently. "It makes sense. I can get there faster than any human diver, and I don't need scuba gear - not for the whole of the journey. Also they won't be on the lookout for an aquanoid returning to the colony. I stand a better chance. Do you want me to knock them out with the gas capsules, put them in the air conditioning like on the subs?"

"Only if there's no other choice. We don't know what it is they're waiting for; it could be something that's ticking away like a time bomb as we speak. If there's the slightest chance we can find out, then the sooner we do the better. And only they can tell us.”
The radar operator looked up from his screen. "Sir, I think they’re there." The pulsating blip of light that showed the Kilo’s position was now stationary.
"Take us a little closer – about five miles.” That would be suitable for their purposes but far enough away for them not to be spotted either by the colony’s own detection systems or the Americans’. The Navigator nodded.
They waited until the VDU showed they had reached the required position. “OK, take her right down.”

Commander Hillyard gave an order to the Diving Officer, who in turn ordered more water to be pumped into the ballast tanks. The Ship Control Officer adjusted the angle of the hydroplanes, and slowly the Poseidon sank until she was resting motionless on the bottom of the ocean, the impact as she settled proving a surprisingly gentle one. A slight tremor ran through the fabric of the hull, but no more.
"OK Caz, do your stuff," said the Major.

Since they were some distance from the colony, and her air would run out before she got there, Caroline would need the scuba gear. She hurried to the outer airlock where it was stored, and donned the harness, tanks, mask and regulator. She didn't need flippers, of course, her webbed feet performing much the same function. Finally she selected a Seasprite from the pile of equipment. It would help her to get there a good deal sooner. And with her own inbuilt navigational systems, plus a little help from the homing device/compass she wore on the wrist - by which her progress could be tracked from the Poseidon – she should have no trouble keeping on the right bearing.


“Well done, Captain,” said Admiral Baker.
“Anytime, Sir. Now this weird story they told us – “
“I can confirm it’s all true. I can also tell you the Brits have retaken the other sub.”
“Good for them. The thing is, Sir, what do we do now?”

“Well like you said, Commander, if you don’t keep your appointment with Connecticut Greatrix may get jumpy and press the button. Make the rendezvous and then stick with her until you get to the colony; you might be able to cause some trouble there. Only don’t do anything that’ll push them into starting Armageddon.” He paused. “I, er…I want to stress that you don’t have to do this. After all there’s a considerable element of risk involved.”

“It’s alright, Sir. Whatever they’re up to, these guys have no right to steal an American submarine and use it to hold the world to ransom. I’ve lost some good men thanks to their stupid games. If there’s the slightest chance of doing something to sort them out we’ll take it, and I know I’m speaking for the rest of the guys there. Only trouble is, sooner or later Marcotech will realise something’s wrong. I’ve got a few of their goons here and I’ve made sure they’re on their best behaviour, but even so we can’t maintain the deception forever.”
“Then do it for as long as possible.”

“Yes, Sir. Uh….what about firing on the Connecticut? This crate’s got torpedoes. They won’t be suspecting anything, so we can get up close to them and fire a shot at them from behind.”

But they both knew that unless the Connecticut was completely taken out by the first hit, which couldn’t be guaranteed, she could still fire her nuclear missiles. “Only as a last resort,” Baker told him. “I’d prefer to try some other means of dealing with the problem.”

“Well we’ve got knockout gas here, Sir. I’d say that was a better option. Trouble is, we’ll have to think of an excuse to come on board the Connecticut.”
“You work on that, Captain. Keep us informed of what happens.”
“Yes Sir.”
“Very good, Commander. Carry on, and may God be with you.”


Kilo Two slid smoothly along the tunnel into its pen, the great metal gate which served as the structure’s door to the sea closing slowly behind it. As at the shore base at Miami, metal arms swung out to fasten onto the submarine, and Knox gave the order to cut the engines.

In their cell, a few of the SBS men were doing exercises to relieve tension. The others and Chris were just sitting and waiting, psyching themselves up for whatever was going to happen to them. They felt the vibration as the sub stopped moving, the whirr of the pumps as the pen was drained, and glanced at one another.
The door was thrown open, revealing half a dozen Marcotech crewmen, all armed. "We're home now," Knox told them. "So let's go. Put your hands on your heads, please."
"What are you going to do to us then?" Chris asked.
“Don’t worry, you won’t come to any harm. Now move. Form a single line.”

Silently they got to their feet and trooped from the room, hands on their heads as requested. The lead guard indicated with his rifle the direction they should go in. They set off down the corridor to the airlock, with two Marcotech men on each side and two more at the front and rear respectively.
"Left, right...." there was a mocking tone to the lead guard’s voice. They guessed he’d been in the Forces himself and hadn’t liked it.

They were ordered up the ladder to the exit hatch in the conning tower, along a docking tube and then down another ladder to the concrete apron surrounding the six docking bays. Then their guards marched them across the concrete and through a door into a bare-walled corridor.

They came to the end of the corridor and a door slid open to reveal a kind of atrium with a tiled floor, on the far side of which, directly opposite them, was an arched opening in the wall and a further corridor beyond. They must now be inside the colony proper. Their guards marched them up to the opening and one by one each man filed through it.

The last man in the line was Bob Moretti. Because he was the last man in the line, nobody noticed what he now did. As he came up to the opening he suddenly stopped dead and with the speed and smoothness of a ballet dancer spun round on his heels to face his guard. A look of surprise flashed across the mercenary's face, then his lips tightened.

The man had time to bring his rifle up and fire, but the trigger clicked harmlessly. The man just had time to realise someone had sabotaged it before Moretti shot forward an arm and jabbed two fingers into his throat, just to the right of the adam's apple.

Immediately his eyes glazed over and he fell without a sound, folding slowly in two. Moretti snatched his gun before it could clatter on the floor, then set off down one of the corridors which led off from the atrium on the left-hand side, in the opposite direction to the guards who continued to herd their prisoners on, unaware that anything had happened. He took the rifle with him. While nobody knew that it didn't work it gave him some clout.

They could all have made a break for it, taking their guards totally by surprise, with nothing to fear from their useless weapons. But a score of SBS soldiers on the loose in the colony might panic Greatrix into doing something they didn't want. This way, with just one man, it was a lot easier.

He hadn't gone very far down it when he heard feet coming towards him from behind a corner about fifty yards ahead.
There was nothing for him to do but keep on walking, because if whoever it was heard him stop suddenly, and then stay where he was, they might guess he was planning to jump them. He shouldered the rifle, aware that if the man saw it pointing at him and fired he’d be at a distinct disadvantage.
The guard came round the corner, and Moretti registered that his weapon was shouldered; he hadn’t anticipated needing to use it. In a flash his own rifle was in his hand and pointed at the man’s chest.
"Throw your gun on the floor," Bob ordered. "And I should warn you mate, my reflexes are pretty sharp. So don't try anything."
Slowly the guard unslung his rifle from his shoulder. He tossed it on the ground between the two of them. He didn't speak or change his solemn expression.

"What's Greatrix got in mind?" demanded Bob. "It's more than just the submarines, isn’t it?"
"I don't know, he hasn't told us."
Moretti stared at him. The man could well be lying, knowing he had no way of being sure. How dedicated was he?
Ah, fuck it, Bob thought.

He told the man to turn round. All the time keeping his eyes fixed on the guard, the Englishman bent to pick up the rifle. He checked it and was pleased to see it wasn't one of those they'd nobbled. Slinging it over his shoulder, he discarded his own gun, but not before he had slugged the other man on the back of the head with it.
There didn't appear to be any CCTV cameras, that sort of thing, around that he could see. Probably Greatrix didn't expect that at the bottom of the sea there wouldn’t be that many burglars about.

He moved on. For a while he encountered nothing but corridors and more corridors. He had been hoping to find this laboratory that Caroline had mentioned, where it occurred to him he might find some valuable clues. And probably Greatrix had an office somewhere in which important stuff would be kept. But neither seemed to be in this part of the base, and there was a high probability he’d be caught before he found one or the other. It wouldn’t be long before they discovered the bodies of the guards he had killed and knocked out.

He noted there were a lot of fire alarms about. In an isolated, enclosed structure like this, at the bottom of the sea miles from anywhere else, the fear of fire would be ever-present. If he smashed one, caused a bit of panic, it’d serve as a much-needed distraction. But someone would come rushing to this point and once they realised it was a ruse, track him from there.

A last resort only, he decided. There were enough of the things around should he need one.
He turned yet another corner and found himself in a corridor with a carpeted floor and beige-painted walls. Strangely, this area had the general look and feel of a luxury hotel. On one side he saw a row of doors of varnished wood, each with a number on it. He tried the first and found it unlocked; it opened into a cramped but comfortably furnished bedroom.

Further along from all the others was another door with a combination lock instead of an ordinary Yale. He thought he could hear faint voices from within but wasn't sure.
He tried the handle but it wouldn't budge.
The door was locked. Which suggested to Moretti that there was something very important concealed inside. It must be important if Greatrix didn't allow even his own staff access to it. And in the light of his mission, which was to find out whatever he could about Marcotech's plans, it assumed a crucial importance.

Blasting the lock with his rifle, if someone heard the shot, might be fatal to him. He could wander about in search of something with which to force the door, but there was always the danger of being discovered before he found it. His luck wouldn't hold out for much longer.
There was a fire alarm beside the door, he noted with satisfaction.

Taking a chance, he stepped back, levelled the gun at the lock and pulled the trigger. The shot blew the entire lock away, leaving a smoking hole the wood around which was charred and splintered.
He pushed open the door and stepped through it.

He was in a spacious, plushly furnished room which reminded him of some sort of guest suite - that, it occurred to him, was what it was. Armchairs, a sofa, ankle-deep Persian carpet, hangings on the walls and a row of numbered doors in the far one, again just like a hotel.
About a dozen people, all male with one exception, were sitting or standing about, looking directly at him as he entered. All had expressions of surprise on their faces, which were replaced with something like hope as it sunk in that he wasn't one of Greatrix's men. They'd been held prisoner here, in this gilded cage.

A man in his forties, dark hair flecked with grey, came forward. "What is happening?" he asked in a thick Germanic accent. "Who are you?"

Moretti considered a moment before answering, and the people in the room shuffled uneasily. He was trying to decide if he should say who he was from. One thing was clear, this lot weren't here from choice. Which meant they'd be on his side. But they might give him away, unintentionally, by doing the wrong thing.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am Otto Kleistmann of Marcotech Germany." Kleistmann turned to the woman beside him. "This is my colleague, Frau Gerda Wenge."
One by one they came up and said who they were. When they'd finished Moretti thought he had a pretty good idea what had happened. "They're keeping you here?" he asked, intrigued. “Against your will?”

Each of them nodded vigorously. "You must help us get out of here," said Gerda Wenge.
"Do I take it you didn't agree with what they were up to?"
There followed a brief uncertainty, as if they were not sure exactly how to reply, and trying to reach some unspoken corporate decision. Then Otto Kleistmann broke the silence. "Terrible things," he said sombrely. "They are doing terrible things."
"You tell me all about it," Moretti said consolingly.
"First you must say who you are."

He had to get them to trust him. "OK. I'm with the British Special Boat Service, don't know if you've heard of us. We've come to find out what's going on here."
They sat down. There wasn't a spare chair so Moretti leaned against the wall, arms folded.

"Marcotech are developing a virus which attacks the nervous system," said Kleistmann, who seemed to be the spokesman for the group. "It will soon be ready. They are going to release it into the sea from this base. It reproduces in water at a very fast rate. In days, maybe weeks, it will spread around the world. It will cause immediate unconsciousness, accompanied by temporary paralysis. It will affect the entire population of the earth. One it has caused enough disruption Marcotech will be able to take over."

As the impact of it sank in Moretti made a long, low, soft whistling noise.
"And what's their plan?" he asked. "When they’re in charge, what are they going to do? Is it just power they're after?"
"They want to turn everyone into...” Kleistmann broke off helplessly. “You will not believe me.”
"I think I’ve seen it,” Moretti said. “Are you talking about these aquanoid things?”
“You know? How?”
“I’ll have to leave that till later. So you didn’t agree with their little project?”

"It is wrong," Kleistmann said, shaking his head. After first hesitating briefly, the others nodded in assent.
"And how long before this virus thing is ready?" Moretti asked.
Bert Hammerstein spoke. "They said at most a few weeks; maybe a month."
"There will be disruption everywhere," said Kobyusato. "It is possible our families might be harmed."

Moretti decided not to ask whether the executives had been kidnapped elsewhere and shipped out to the colony, or had already been there when the disagreement arose. He suspected they’d been in on it to a greater extent than they were admitting, at the start anyway. But it would cause too much trouble to raise the matter at this stage.
He straightened up. "Look, I'll have to tell the Boss about this. Our top brass will decide what to do. Best if you all stay here meanwhile."
"Why?" demanded Rajani.
"You might panic Marcotech into doing something we wouldn’t like. Did you know they'd gone and hijacked a bloody nuclear submarine with bloody intercontinental ballistic missiles?" From their lack of reaction, he guessed they already did.

"What will the authorities do if they find out about the virus?" The Indian sounded agitated.
"I haven't a clue, mate, it's not my responsibility," Moretti said, although he was just as worried as they were. "Look, just do as I say, folks. Please. I know you're worried but - "

Kleistmann and Wenge seemed prepared to wait, though still anxious. The others weren't. "You go and do your stuff, pal," growled Hammerstein. "We'll do ours. Too right we're worried, we got our goddamn families to think about. So have you."
He strode towards the door. Emboldened by his manner the others, with the exception of the two Germans, went with him.

Moretti ran and stood in front of the door, aiming his rifle at them. Too late he realised that Putyachev, the Russian, was a little to his right, already moving behind him with the ornamental statue from the table in his hand. The sculpture crashed down on the back of his head. It shattered, but the impact was enough to knock him out. He went limp and slumped to the floor.

They turned him over, laying him gently on his side. Then they hurried from the room, Putyachev snatching up the rifle. "No! We must wait!" cried Kleistmann, but none of them took any notice of him. Gerda Wenge hesitated, torn by loyalty to her superior. Their eyes met, and Kleistmann shrugged. He muttered something to her in their native language, and they hurried after the other executives. They might as well try and do something to minimise the damage. If it wasn't already too late.


“I was thinking,” said Latimer. “You don’t think they’ll send little Caroline to break in here, do you?”
“Their priority will be to recover the Connecticut,” Greatrix said.
“But if they can’t find her, they may try to knock out the colony instead. I still think you should make an announcement. Make sure everyone’s looking out for her.”
Greatrix nodded, seeing the sense in it. He clicked on the Intercom. “This is the Director speaking. Would all personnel
please watch out for the aquanoid formerly known as Caroline Kent. It is believed she may be attempting to break into the base and sabotage it in some way, probably at the instigation of the American or British authorities. Please be vigilant. That is all.” He straightened up and looked at Dave Latimer. “Alright?”
“Alright,” said Latimer. “Better to be safe than sorry. Like you said, we’ve taken too many risks in this business.”


So far, Caroline’s luck was holding; no sign of any of Greatrix's giant squids (she'd already warned the Major to beware of them). Maybe she was just lucky. If that luck ran out, could she possibly outrun the squid with an Seasprite?

She was almost there now. Divesting herself of her scuba gear, she dug a hole in the sand on the bottom, excavating a hollow in which she buried all the stuff plus the Seasprite. With her enhanced senses she should be able to find the spot again later. She supposed she ought to get rid of the bikini, since it wasn’t standard Marcotech issue, but decided to take a chance. She’d spent a little too much time recently going around naked.
The radio she took off and tucked inside her belt pouch.

She swam on until the perimeter fence of the colony loomed up before her. Fortunately she was small enough to swim through the openings in the fence without touching the electrified metal stanchions. She saw a guard sub and realised its huge bulging eye was looking straight at her. Her heart seemed to miss a beat. Then it turned away from her and she continued on her way, into the heart of the colony, passing schools of aquanoids engaged in their work. Nobody challenged her. There were few human divers about, because there were the guard subs to look after the aquanoids who wouldn’t try to escape anyway. As she'd expected nobody was looking out for an aquanoid returning to the colony since no-one had ever expected it to leave, except in one of the company's submarines on a mission to blow up oil tankers or something. Nonetheless, if any of the human divers happened to spot her they might get suspicious. She sought to keep out of their way, and out of that of the manned harvesting machines, although since they weren’t used very often there weren’t that many of them about.

There were the security cameras, but as on land no-one would sit religiously staring at them all the time, unless they had infinite patience.

No-one giving her more than a cursory glance would have noticed any difference between her and the other aquanoid women, especially with the pouch at her belt. Aware that the other aquanoids would know she was different and alert the guards by swimming away from her, she put a blank expression on her face, a robotic listlessness into her movements, and tried to keep her mind free of any thoughts or emotions. It seemed to do the trick. She joined a group of aquanoids busy at their work. She had the impression most of the manganese nodules seemed to have been exhausted now. How much else was there for the aquanoids to do?

You couldn’t enter the colony via the airlock unless you were one of the staff, because of the security measures in force. She’d have to wait until feeding time before she could get inside.

Eventually the booming note of a siren, distorted by the water, carried to her ears. A guard signalled to the group of aquanoids, who began to follow him towards the nearest of the domes. They filed in through the airlock and then down the corridor to the dining area, Caroline all the time keeping the vacant drugged expression on her face.

They hadn't noticed that the work party had acquired an extra number because they hadn't been expecting her to come back and so hadn’t been looking out for her. Perhaps also they had other things on their mind, worries that were causing them to make mistakes. Some of them were trained soldiers, who wouldn’t have committed those errors; and others merely common criminals, who perhaps would.

Whatever the reason, she was doing alright so far. She couldn't keep it up forever, though.

They weren't watching the aquanoids too closely because, being drugged and obedient, they didn't need to be watched. The only exception to that rule was her; and again, they hadn't expected her to come back.

Then suddenly, she thought she realised what had happened. At some point she had been recognized and it was concluded she had returned to the colony, either to carry out some act of sabotage or because she had nowhere else to go, been captured and this time drugged so as not to take any chances.
She ate for a while then, seeing she was unobserved, got up and slipped away. What was she to do now? Where would she look for the answer?
The lab, she thought. Why not the lab? There must be something there. And maybe she could do something to prevent Chris and ther others from being turned into aquanoids, which was bound to be their fate sooner or later.

There would of course be Marcotech personnel there, but she decided to press on regardless. If all else failed, there were the capsules in her belt pouch. If she broke one, the gas would be sucked into the ventilation system within a few minutes even if they weren't near a duct. The only drawback was, the colony covered too wide an area for it to knock everyone out before the installation’s filtration systems took care of it. She could only deal with one or a few people at a time.
A guard was coming towards her. She had no option but to bluff it out and walked on, the blank look on her face. The man saw her face and stiffened, evidently recognising her. Then he moved on, the two of them passing each other without incident.


"Where are we going?" asked Kai Ling.
"To find Greatrix," snapped Bert Hammerstein. "If we stop that virus being released he might decide to go ahead with the nuclear option instead." Obviously a nuclear holocaust would be far more likely to kill their loved ones than the other contingencies. "We've got to make sure he's where we want him."

Suddenly the strident wail of an alarm started up. They glanced at one another nervously, but continued on their way. They weren’t to know it was not their escape which had been discovered, yet, but that of Bob Moretti.
A guard came round the corner. He stopped when he saw them, raising his gun, but Putyachev was already covering him with Moretti's rifle. For a long, tense moment there was a standoff. Then slowly he lowered the rifle, face impassive.
"You're coming with us, bud," Hammerstein told him.

They turned the corner and into the passage that led to Greatrix's office. Hammerstein pressed the button beside the door, and they heard a bell ring inside within the room.
Greatrix's voice issued from a speaker grille. "Who is that?" he demanded.
Hammerstein bent to speak into the grille. "It's all your old pals come to have a little word with you, Ed."
It was a moment or two before Greatrix replied, astonished. "How the hell did you get out?"
"Tell you later. Now let us in or we're gonna use this gun on somebody." All it needed was for Greatrix to be unsure whether he meant it or not.
"You do that," said the millionaire, "and I'll launch the missiles. All I have to do is press this button on my desk in front of me and I'll be speaking to my people in command of the Connecticut.”

"You wouldn't," said Hammerstein, trying to hide any uncertainty he felt. "You don't want to, anyhow. Don't try and kid us you do. Anyway, we've got one of your goons hostage. If you don't open that door right now we're gonna kill him."
"Why don't we just talk about this?" Greatrix said.
"I'd much rather do it properly than over an Intercom,” Hammerstein replied.
"No."
"Let us in or we'll ice this guy."
"There's too much at stake. I can't let you in here, I’m sorry."
"Oh, I see. So what happens if we let this guy go, and he tells his pals you were prepared to kill him to save yourself a bit of trouble? Is he really that loyal?" The hostage's face showed no emotion.

"If you aren't prepared to kill him, let us in." The silence resumed.
“Look, Ed, we’re gonna cause as much trouble as possible before we’re caught.” Hammerstein continued in a softer tone of voice. "Just let us in so we can talk. Things are going a bit too far."
The stand-off lasted for a moment more. Then they heard Greatrix say, "all right."
The door hissed open. One by one they entered the room, pushing their hostage before them. "Close the door, Ed," Hammerstein ordered. Greatrix obeyed.
Hammerstein occupied one of the other two chairs in the office, while Kleistmann let Gerda Wenge take the second. He and the remaining executives, and their hostage, positioned themselves against the wall, Putyachev keeping an eye on the guard.

Hammerstein leaned forward, sighing sadly. "Ed," he said gently, "don't you think you’ve let things get just a bit out of hand?"
"We always knew it might come to this," Greatrix replied. "Now it has, why are you losing your nerve?"
No-one said anything. Greatrix smiled triumphantly.

"I told you things moved too fast for your families to be collected,” he said. “It was beyond my control...I couldn't have anticipated what happened. We all knew that Mankind was facing a major crisis. If things go on as they are your families will die anyway, along with everyone else."
"We can't be sure of that," said Hammerstein.
"You were sufficiently sure to back me in this project. Now your own flesh and blood are threatened you're climbing down. Chickening out." His face contorted in disgust. "Don't the rest of humanity matter as much?"
Then he brightened, his expression changing. "However," he told them, "you may not have to." It was as if he’d come to a sudden decision.

"What do you mean?" asked Otto Kleistmann.
"I wasn't entirely honest with you regarding the virus." He hesitated, took a deep breath, and looked round at them all. "Now, however, I think it might help if I told the truth."


Greg Bromhead inserted his token into the dispensing machine in the canteen and keyed in the codes for a cheeseburger and a can of Diet Coke. Both shot down the chute into the tray at the bottom. Bromhead took his purchases and went to sit at the nearest of the tables. As he began tearing at the plastic wrapping of the cheeseburger, he wondered gloomily how long they had before the colony’s supply of such items ran out.

He took a bite from the burger then washed it down with a swig of Coke, feeling the ice-cold liquid soothe his nerves as it went down. He had needed this break.

His deputy and friend, a former London gang boss named Pete Ulrich, came along and sat down opposite him, clutching a sandwich in one hand and a 7-Up in the other. Bromhead nodded vaguely in acknowledgement. Ulrich returned the compliment and for a while the two men ate and drank in silence. Then the Londoner leaned forward and spoke to Bromhead in a confidential whisper. ”Do you really think it’s all going to work out OK?” “It” meant the enterprise in general.

“We didn’t start it all for nothing. Let’s keep it going for as long as we can. That was our philosophy back in the Seals, more or less.”
“Makes sense, I guess.” Ulrich had had this kind of conversation with his colleagues many times before and the banality of it was beginning to pall. He wished there was something more one might say on the subject. But down here, with contact with the outside world kept to a minimum for security reasons, there wasn’t a great deal to inspire conversation anyway. “I tell you something, I wish I’d had your training,” he told Bromhead.
“Then you could have stood it better?”

“I dunno….maybe.” Ulrich gulped down another mouthful of 7-Up. "I see Kent's back. The one they didn’t drug, and got away. She came back because she couldn't stand being on the run all the time. Or maybe like the boss said, the Navy or someone made her break in here to find out what was going on.”
Bromhead stared at him. "What?"

He repeated what he’d said. “Looks like she ran out of luck and got caught.”
Bromhead continued to stare. "In that case," he said slowly, "I would have known about it."
He stiffened. "She's tricked us. Find her, and fast!"


Once again Greatrix hesitated, took a deep breath. "The virus doesn't cause mass paralysis. It transforms people into aquanoids." He let them digest the information.
"Everyone?" asked Gerda Wenge. "Including our families?"
"Everyone," Greatrix nodded. "Presumably, anyway. There may be a few exceptions. But most will succumb. They will experience a powerful, primeval urge to return to the sea, simultaneous with the physical changes the virus induces. And return to it they will; in their hundreds, thousands, millions. The virus will be spread in the way I described."
"But it is not yet finished?" Kobyusato asked.

"No. But along with the antidote it should be ready in a matter of weeks, if not days; certainly long before we or the Connecticut run out of supplies."
Kai Ling made a soft, derisive noise. "Ah. So, you think we should be pleased for our families to become aquanoids, yet there is an antidote, presumably for yourself and your henchmen."
"Some must be unaffected, so they can remain in control of the operation."

Putyachev snorted. "You would have been happy to administer this antidote to our families, if there had been time to bring them here, despite your scoffing at our lack of objectivity."
"I had to ensure your continued support. If possible."

Greatrix resumed his explanations. "At first the aquanoids will probably remain close to the shore; they'll feel safer that way. They may be confused, frightened, by what has happened to them. But we'll look after them. The virus incorporates the features of the drug, so they won't resist us. We’ll help them adapt to an amphibious existence, carry out the surgery to complete the transformation. We'll build homes for them, structures like this colony. No-one will object to our taking the materials, of course. We will build colonies all over the seas, if necessary on platforms resting on the bottom."

"Will they remain under the drug permanently?” Rajani demanded.
“That is not envisaged. After a while it will be impossible anyway for them to revert to their previous mode of existence. They will be so acclimatised to their new bodies, their new way of life, that it would simply not be in their interest."

Kleistmann frowned, considering the implications of it all. "Something...something not human...how can one hug such a thing, take it in one's arms? Kiss it?" He grimaced in revulsion at the thought. Something whose skin was wet, scaly, slimy...
"What do....what do they smell like? Feel like to touch?" asked Gerda.
Greatrix shrugged. "Like fish. After all, that's what they are, in part. I haven't actually got that close to one of them.
“Very old people won’t survive the change; but they’d probably have died soon anyway. Otherwise…it'd still be your wife, your child, your brother or sister, mother, father whatever.”

"Perhaps you should take the antidote too, then?" Kleistmann said. “Then you can be just like your loved ones.”
“There’s only my mother left, and she’s seriously ill with Alzheimer’s.” Greatrix hadn’t cared for the mocking note in Kleistmann’s voice. “But you would have been happy to let others be converted,” he said, “as long as your own flesh and blood weren’t affected.”
"Will we be able to communicate with them?"
"Yes of course, once the drug wears off."
"Why did you not tell us this before?"
"I couldn't be sure you'd like it."

Hammerstein walked a couple of paces towards Greatrix. "We want to see one of these creatures at close hand. Speak with it."
"You wouldn't get much out of it. They're drugged, remember. It's essential to stop them escaping and to avoid any shock to their mental health. We had to take the first subjects against their will, but once everyone else is like them there'll have no choice."
"You are certain they will do it?" said Kleistmann.
"As I said, they'll have no choice."

Hammerstein shook his head. "People being what they are, we can't be sure it'll work like that."
"Why bother with the colony if the virus could do what you say?" Putyachev asked.
"Because we needed to be sure the experiment would work. Think of the colony as a testing ground. If somehow the virus failed to work, at least the ones here would survive. To one day be the nucleus of a new species."

"Would they not be suspicious, if we did not take the antidote?" Kleistmann asked.
"We'll explain it to them somehow. Look, I'll admit there are problems. But it's better than the human race becoming extinct. As it will do when al-Qaeda get hold of nuclear weapons, as is bound to happen sooner or later. If you won’t let me go ahead with the aquanoid project, I might as well fire those missiles - is that what you want?"
"Is the operation reversible?" demanded Putyachev.

"No," Greatrix lied. "The shock would almost certainly be fatal. Would you want to reverse it, anyway?"
"But you admit your little scheme is flawed?"

"It's worth a try, surely. The alternatives aren't particularly nice, you see. I say again, would you rather I fired those missiles?"
"You won't do that, Ed," said Bert Hammerstein, shaking his head. He nodded towards the gun in Putyachev's hands. "You'd be dead before you could give the order."
"I think it should be tried," Greatrix insisted.
After a moment, Wenge and Kleistmann nodded in unison. “There is some sense in that argument,” Kleistmann told the others. “As a short-term measure until a better solution can be found. You are sure the operation is not reversible?”
“It…it might be,” Greatrix said after a moment. “We..we’ll have to work on it.”

“And you must make sure that our families are among those collected and provided for before the virus is released.”
Greatrix nodded. “I could delay things until they’d been moved to a safe location near the sea.” This seemed to help reassure the two Germans. Kai Ling too looked as if his misgivings might have been quelled, although for a Westerner his flat, impassive Asiatic features were not easy to read.

"I'm still suspicious," Hammerstein said. "I mean, he's already admitted he lied about exactly what the virus did." All the same he went to stand with Greatrix and the Germans, taking sides.

"You have said it yourself, he will not fire those missiles while we are holding a gun on him,” Putyachev said. “We have nothing to lose."
“What need is there to hold a gun on him?” said Kleistmann, now entirely won over.
Rajani and Kai Ling moved to stand beside Putyachev, emboldening the Russian. "I'm going to stop this," he declared Putyachev. He levelled the rifle at Greatrix. "Tell your guards to give us a clear path to the laboratory, and the people there to let us in when we get there. Or we’ll kill you."

Greatrix’s allies hesitated, unwilling to challenge the Russian while he had the gun.
Greatrix clicked on the intercom. "Dan, this is Edward.” He explained what was happening, urging Zuckermann to carry out Putyachev’s instructions. “We’ll have to take things as they come, there’s no choice.”

He switched the intercom off again. "Good,” said Putyachev. “Now you're coming with us, in case any of your guards try anything."
He had not been aware of Kleistmann edging gradually closer to him and was taken completely by surprise when the German suddenly grabbed the muzzle of the rifle and with a savage wrench tried to tear it from his grasp.

He was conscious of a couple of people running to help Kleistmann. In panic he pulled the trigger. Whether Kobyusato had been one of those going to assist Kleistmann or merely looking on Putyachev couldn't tell, but he saw the Japanese man spin round with a cry of pain as the bullet smashed his shoulder and stagger against the desk, clapping a hand over the bloody wound. Grimacing in agony, Kobyusato crumpled and fell, his blood soaking into the carpet.

For a moment or two everyone was frozen in shock at what had happened, staring at the Japanese as he writhed in agony at their feet. Putyachev recovered his wits first, aware he had to take advantage of the confusion. He ran for the door, prompting Rajani and Kai Ling to follow him. Once there he paused, remembering something, and turned. He raised the rifle and riddled the intercom on Greatrix's desk with bullets, wrecking it.

The fusillade of bullets tore the other executives from their daze, causing them to throw themselves on the floor in blind instinctive terror. Wisps of smoke curled upwards from the shattered control panel and a smell of burning plastic fouled the air.

Putyachev flung the door wide open and bolted from the room, sprinting down the corridor towards the laboratory with the Indian and the Chinaman close behind him.


FIFTY-ONE
Caroline passed some unsupervised aquanoids on an errand, who took no notice of her. Then she saw a guard coming towards her with a gun. Deciding she needed some protection, she waited until he’d passed her, then donned her mask and cracked a knockout capsule.
She took the rifle from his unconscious body and resumed her journey to the laboratory. The corridor she was in looked familiar, and she had a feeling her destination couldn’t be far away.
Soon she came up to the door of the room; of the place where just a few weeks before she had been transformed into an aquanoid. A shiver ran through her. She unbuttoned her belt pouch and took the SAS lock-picking gear from it.
A couple of minutes later, the door came open and she stepped through it.

Dr Zuckermann turned from one of the benches in surprise to see an aquanoid pointing a gun at him. He realised who it was and his eyebrows shot up even further.
Caroline saw that Chris Barrett, Steve Ferris and the rest of the SBS squad were lying strapped to the operating tables, apparently unconscious. They didn’t seem to have been touched yet.
Reaching behind her she closed the door. Keeping far enough back to be able to cover everyone, she raised her voice. "All of you stop what you're doing," she ordered. "Right now. Or I'll start shooting." In the circumstances the eerie hissing voice held a note of menace.
Zuckermann smiled ironically. "Welcome back," he said.


Bob Moretti's eyes opened and began hazily to focus. He struggled to his feet, conscious of a dull throbbing pain at the back of his skull. It seemed to be his lot to get knocked out on these missions, he thought.
The strident blare of an alarm added to his headache. It sounded like they’d realized things were not as they should be.
He looked round the empty room and sighed. Bloody fools, he thought despairingly. They'll wreck everything.

At least now he knew what Greatrix's trump card was. He had to let the Major know, and quick. But he had no radio – they’d been searched on capture, of course - and wandering around in search of one, even assuming it could be attuned to Hartman's frequency, ran the risk of being discovered before he got lucky. Better to make for a definite objective, the laboratory, and get there – hopefully – before the executives did. Because that was where the virus would be, and they might well try to destroy it.

Only he might be captured by Marcotech before he got here. No, better to try to find that radio, or some means of escaping from the colony.
If he was to stand the slightest chance of succeeding he had to cause some kind of distraction, or add to the confusion already going on. Any risk that it might actually lead to his being discovered had to be taken.
There was a fire alarm in the room itself, a glass panel over a recess with the button in it. He drove his fist into the glass like a pile driver. The harsh grating of the alarm signal assailed his eardrums.
Next he ran to the one just outside the door, and broke that too. Then he sprinted down the corridor smashing one alarm one after another, their wailing adding to the general din and chaos.


On hearing the alarm, Putyachev and his companions again assumed it was a signal to the guards that they had escaped. Ignoring it, they hurried on blindly.
A number of guards and technicians came running into view, cannoning into them. Most ran on; a few stopped and stared at them, then hastened after their colleagues. "There's a fire alarm!" one shouted back. "Go to the assembly point!"
Rajani and Kai Ling hung back. “Come on!” Putyachev yelled, and after a moment they made up their minds and followed him. Seconds later Greatrix, the two Germans and Bert Hammerstein came round the corner. They too were ignoring the alarm, desperate to stop Putyachev and his allies from reaching the laboratory.

The guards were now in a state of some disorientation. Not only were there a rogue aquanoid and an SAS trooper on the loose, but a major fire had evidently broken out somewhere, and to cap it all there seemed to be some kind of disturbance in the vicinity of Greatrix’s office. Agitated, they ran backwards and forwards between one task and another, unable to deal with all these various crises at the same time and unsure which they should concentrate their attention on.

As a result of all the disruption, many of the aquanoids did not receive their regular injection of the drug when they should have done.


Zuckermann regarded Caroline Kent with genuine admiration. "Congratulations," he said. "You made it all the way back here."
There wasn’t time for her to explain that she had had a little help, even had this not been damaging to her ego. She nodded towards the men strapped to the benches. “Untie them.” Zuckermann and Ivanova hastened to undo the straps holding them down. “How long before the drug wears off?” she asked curtly.
“About half an hour,” Zuckermann informed her. “But by then you’ll almost certainly have been recaptured, so I don’t think there’s any point in planning an escape. If I were you I’d have stayed away.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “Now, there's something going on here which you haven't told us about. Isn't there? Some master plan you can put into operation while you keep the nuclear standoff going."

None of the scientists chose to answer her. She compressed her lips, her piercing eyes flickering between them. "You weren't planning to take the opportunity to relocate somewhere else, because you're all still here. What's going on?"
Again silence. She levelled her rifle at the nearest instrument panel. "Unless someone tells me soon, I'm going to start shooting up your precious equipment. If you try to rush me, I'll start shooting you."
She saw Zuckermann's lips twitch ever so slightly. "You wouldn't," he smiled. "Not unless there's a direct threat to your safety. I think I've got the measure of you."
"Wanna try me?" she retorted, hoping she sounded braver than she actually felt.
I'd never have made a good agent, she was thinking wistfully. Not in the long run. In cold blood....

Zuckermann frowned. She was nervous, hesitant, torn by conflict. In that state she'd be more likely to suddenly pull the trigger.
Maybe it'd be better to...

Then a fire alarm sounded. And a second, and a third. There followed an awkward silence.
"We ought to leave," said Zuckermann.
"We're staying here," Caroline said determinedly.
"That wouldn’t be safe."

"Then tell me now, before we all burn alive. What's your secret weapon and where is it? The truth, please."
She heard running feet in the corridor outside, and assumed they were fleeing the fire, or making their way to some predesignated assembly point. It caught her unawares when the door was flung open, slamming into her shoulder and knocking her off balance, and Rajani, Kai Ling and Putyachev burst in. On an impulse Zuckermann rushed at her and they collided, the scientist grabbing her gun arm and trying to wrench it sideways. Emboldened, several of his colleagues ran to help him. For the moment the executives stood and looked on, unsure what exactly was happening.

With her other arm Caroline gave Zuckermann a powerful shove which sent him staggering away. The other scientists immediately turned and ran back to where they’d been standing before, apart from one who had managed to get behind her. He grabbed her around the upper body with both arms, pinning hers to her sides. With a cry of rage she broke free, spun round and seized him by the wrists, heaving and twisting. He found himself sprawling flat on his back on the floor. Later it penetrated Caroline’s consciousness that as he struggled to rise he looked not unlike a stranded fish, which in view of what had been done to her she found acidly amusing.

She looked round wildly in case anyone else was about to have a go, and registered the three executives standing just within the room, one of them with a rifle in his hand. She saw the gun rather than the person carrying it, and had no time to realise that he didn’t look like a guard. Had she done it might have given her pause for thought. As it was, she was afraid he might shoot her on seeing her own weapon.

She had still not fully reorientated herself and her rifle was loose in her grasp, pointing down at the floor. She dropped it and stepped back.

She looked curiously at Putyachev and his friends. Something told her they didn't like what they had just witnessed.

Putyachev was regarding her with fascinated interest. His eyes flickered for a moment to Zuckermann. "Lock the door," he commanded.
Caroline spoke up. "You can't," she told him. "I've just bust it."
The Russian's eyebrows lifted with interest. "Have you? Now why did you do that?"
She eyed him warily. "Any chance you could tell me who you are?"
Somewhat to her surprise, Putyachev told her. She absorbed the information with interest, trying to calculate its implications.
"What exactly is going on here?" The Russian's steely tone made it clear he expected an answer. A big bad strong-arm man in the Putin mould, she concluded.

It might be to her advantage to enlist his aid, and in any case the gun suggested she might not have any choice. Alright then, she decided.
She was about to speak when the door, which Rajani had closed, burst open again. In came Greatrix, the two Germans, Hammerstein and a couple of guards they had met on the way and taken along with them. Dave Latimer followed after a moment or two.
The guards trained their rifles on Putyachev. "Put the gun down, Igor," Greatrix snapped.
With a shrug the Russian let his weapon slip from his grasp, stepping back. Zuckermann picked it up and placed it out of his reach on one of the benches.

"Now let's have no more of this stupidity, please," Greatrix said. Hammerstein turned to face the millionaire and his allies. "Before you march us back to our nice cosy little cell, there's something you ought to explain."
"And what's that?" demanded Greatrix.

Hammerstein pointed at Caroline. "When we came in, she was fighting with him…” He indicated Zuckermann. “He was trying to get a gun off her. It doesn't look to me like your aquanoids are a happy and contented little bunch." All the time he said this, Hammerstein was looking pointedly at the executives who'd sided with Greatrix. "I think we'd like a word with this young lady. You remember we wanted to talk to one of them? Well, it seems she's pretty well compos mentis. Might have some interesting things to tell us."

"She's the one the drug wore off," Greatrix explained. "I think the authorities must have forced her to help them infiltrate the colony.”

One of the guards' radios bleeped. He listened to what the caller had to say. "Yeah, he's here."
The guard handed the radio to Greatrix. It was Bromhead. "They've just caught one of the SBS people roaming about. And there's no fire; looks like he just set off the alarms as a distraction."
Greatrix grabbed the radio from him. "Bring him here," he snarled. "And make sure there are no more of them around the place. Oh, and tell everyone out there that if there are any other foolhardly attempts to infiltrate the colony the Connecticut will let fire with all she's got."

His attention shifted to Caroline. "I was concerned when I heard you’d escaped,” he told her. “When I was told you’d come back I felt….relieved.”
“Thankyou,” she said, not ungraciously.
“But now I think we'd better have you under wraps for the time being, Miss Kent. You've caused me quite enough trouble."

A thought occurred to Gerda Wenge. "Why did the drug wear off her?" she asked Greatrix. "Did you attempt to find out? That would be essential, surely."
"He didn't give me it," Caroline said. "I think it was because he liked me, I don't know. But also because he wanted to see how an aquanoid would cope without it. Otherwise he mightn't have taken the risk of me escaping."

For the executives it was an awesome, fascinating experience. For the first time they were close up to one of the creatures. And this specimen still had free will, a conscious intelligence which had not been suppressed by the drug. They could talk to it just as one could an ordinary human.
"And did you cope?" Gerda asked.
"Not entirely," Caroline said darkly. A look of alarm flashed across Greatrix's face.

"Let's go," snapped the millionaire. He told Zuckermann to readminister the drug to Caroline, then addressed the guards. "Now if you could just escort these people back to their quarters..."
Gerda was looking hard at him. "I've a feeling you don't want us to hear what she has to say. Now why is that, may I ask?"

Kleistmann came to her support. "I think you should let the girl speak." He put enough steel into his voice to make it clear there might be trouble if the request was not met.
By the looks on their faces, Greatrix's other supporters among the executives agreed with the Germans. The millionaire shifted uncomfortably.
Why should it matter? he asked himself. It's me and my guards who've got the guns. It won't do any harm just to keep them happy.
Two guards bundled Bob Moretti into the room between them. They lifted him onto the remaining unoccupied table and strapped him down. Ivanova moved towards him with the hypo and in a few moments he had slipped into unconsciousness like the others.

Greatrix nodded curtly to Caroline. She took a deep hissing breath, gathering her thoughts, and spoke. "It....it's OK some of the time. Quite fun, actually. But I can only spend a few hours at a time in one environment. Then I start to drown, or to get what these people here call hydrogen deprivation, and that's not very nice. Do you know why the other aquanoids don't mind it? How they can put up with the discomfort, the annoyance, the stress of having to pop in and out of the water all the time? They just don't think about it, because of the drug. Everything they do is automatic, programmed into them like robots."

She eyed each of the executives searchingly. "How much do you people understand about this side of the business? What are your lines of work?"
"This discussion isn't getting us anywhere," Greatrix said.
"No, wait," said Gerda Wenge, raising a hand. "She must be allowed to tell her story."

Caroline went on. "I guess you must handle the electronics, the pharmaceutical side, the defence technology. It was your weapons that have been arming al-Qaeda, so Eddy here could start a nice little crisis that'd keep everyone occupied while he got up to - to all this. Your computer software that allowed him to take over the submarines, your drugs he used to make the aquanoids behave. If you knew anything about biology, you'd realise this whole project, the thing it's all been directed towards, is a complete dead loss. Suppose we did all start living under the sea, permanently? Effectively there’d be a new predator in the oceans - Man - whose demands would have a depletory effect upon the ecosystem there. He’d be getting most of his food from animals caught in the sea, not on land. He’d also exhaust the ocean’s mineral resources fairly quickly.

"And you know a human with gills isn't viable. I'm not very efficient as a water-breather, or an air-breather either come to that. Instead of a fully functional underwater human you've got something that doesn't work properly in either environment. My efficiency as a biological entity, a viable organism, is halved. Then there's the mental damage. Unless you drug them there's no way the aquanoids can get used to their new modus vivendi. The drug did wear off a couple of them, and I saw the result; it wasn't very nice to watch, I can tell you. One of them died. I wonder whose father, husband, brother, or son he was?"

The executives' faces were growing steadily graver by the second, while Greatrix remained impassively silent. "She's lying," he insisted. Caroline ignored him.

"He hasn't found a solution to the problem. I know because he told me so. He's just hoping one'll pop up out of the blue. It was quite clear he hadn't a clue how to make people live permanently underwater without any hitches. Because you just can't do it. Not unless you stay stuck in a habitat like one of these domes, which would be boring and stressful and’d lead sooner or later to psychological problems – depression, or madness. People don’t like being imprisoned in a confined, artificial environment.

“Oh, there might be a way round the problem, one day; something we just haven't discovered yet. But - "
"That's just it," interrupted Greatrix. "There might be. It's worth a try, surely. Better than extinction; because that’s what faces us if we don’t use our science to help us adapt to the changes, the damaging changes, which our own nature – things we can’t help, the desire for prosperity and progress – brings about on this planet. Science is as natural for Man as spinning a web for a spider, or building dams a beaver. What I am doing is no more than the next stage in our evolution.”

At first Caroline seemed thrown by the argument. “But not like this. It’s too much of a gamble, like everything else about this business has been. If it doesn't pay off, do you think he'll want you to see that, and make trouble? Any of you? He probably had some means worked out of taking care of you once it became apparent things weren't going as planned and you were unhappy; you'd have outlived your usefulness to him by then, you see.

"Perhaps he thinks that while everybody's a drugged prisoner, some magic solution will come along that'll make it possible for us to get back our free will without messing things up the way we're doing at the moment. Has there ever been anything like that, in all of human history? No, of course not. What makes you think one's going to be conjured up now? And if it does come along, it'd be Marcotech's solution, because they'll be the only people with free will, the only people who can run things. Since they're only human, how do we know it'd be the right one?”

She swayed slightly, her eyes closed. The executives thought she seemed to be showing signs of discomfort. But she ignored them, regaining her composure with a start. There was too much she wanted, and needed, to say to these newcomers.

"I guess you thought your families would be spared my fate, whatever else happened. You certainly thought it would be a good idea for other people to go through it. But it’s not so hot when you see it at close quarters, is it?

"There is one way he might solve the problem." She pointed to the diagram on the wall, the creature whose face wore an expression that seemed very human, but which in overall appearance looked more fish than man. The thing with flippers for limbs, the blunt fishlike head, and those huge sad eyes. "That's the only way to make it work, in the long run. But would you call it human? I wouldn't."

Otto Kleistmann turned slowly to look at Greatrix. "And is this," he said quietly, "what you are planning to do to our loved ones? First of all you will drug them, then you will turn them into...into...."
"I told you we couldn't trust him," Hammerstein said.

"It's not true!" Greatrix gasped, shaking his head vigorously. "It was just a preliminary sketch….I gave up the idea in the end. A fancy, a conceit, call it what you will. I was just playing around, speculating..letting my imagination run free a bit, I suppose.”

Caroline thought he was telling the truth. But no-one believed him. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what she’d intended.

"So," said Gerda Wenge slowly. "Either a zombie or a....”
Hammerstein finished the sentence for her. "A....thing."
Kai Ling was looking similarly unenthusiastic. As for Putyachev and his allies, they looked like those whose dark suspicions had just been clearly confirmed.
Kleistmann shook his head decisively. "It would be worse than death. I could not bear to see it."
He turned sharply to Greatrix. "We cannot allow this. You must destroy the virus."
Caroline thought she ought to know about this. "Virus?"

Kleistmann turned to her. "He has a virus which will be released into the sea from this colony once the antidote is ready. It will trigger the changes that turn people into aquanoids. The whole world will be affected."
Caroline stared in shock and dismay. "How...how long before it's ready?" she whispered.
"He said weeks if not days."

She gave a sudden violent twitch, breathing in and out rapidly for a few seconds. Gerda Wenge went up to her. “Are you all right?” she asked, placing a hand on her arm in motherly concern.
Without meaning to be rude, Caroline shook her off impatiently. “Yes, I’m….” She gasped. “I’m fine. This virus…....once it strikes, how many...how many people will die before you can get to them? Because they have to abandon their jobs, important jobs that people's lives may depend on, to get to the nearest stretch of sea, which they might not manage to do in time anyway. What happens if the pilot of an airliner, thousands of feet above ground - or water for that matter – or a surgeon carrying out a vital operation, suddenly gets hydrodeprivation and goes into a coma?"

“You can't destroy what I have built up," Greatrix pleaded. “Not after all the effort I’ve put into it, all the planning. I did it for us…for all of us. Not for the sake of the sea and its life forms, not because I have a fetish for anything marine, but for the survival of the human race. Calling the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.”
"It would be worse than any nuclear holocaust," said Kai Ling. "Much worse."

“At least your families would survive," Greatrix insisted. “I’ll tell the authorities to allow them safe passage to the colony, or I’ll fire the missiles.”
There were tears in Kleistmann's eyes. "Even if they did...to know they were living on as zombies, with no proof they could ever be returned to normal...I could not stand it."
“I can make an exception in their case,” Greatrix promised.

“He doesn’t have to,” Caroline pointed out. “He’s the one in control. What if he changes his mind?” She wasn’t entirely sure Greatrix would, but she had to get them on her side. And in fact, she had an idea she’d already succeeded. The seeds of doubt had been planted too deep for anything Greatrix said to make a difference now. “He’s a fanatic, and fanatics tend to think they can do what they like, especially when they’re the ones with all the guns.

“Modern society can’t function without the large population that’s grown up within the last three hundred years,” she said, drawing on all her knowledge of sociology and economics. “It’s too complex, it’s got too many needs and desires to be met – “
“That’s what I’ve been saying all – “ began Greatrix.
She silenced him with a hiss. “It’s the reason why you want to do all this, and also the reason why it won’t work. It needs thousands, millions of people to run it. Life on the land wouldn’t work if it was just a small elite, a human elite, living there and running things. You couldn’t use the aquanoids as a labour force on land because they’d have to keep popping in the sea all the time; at most, they’d have to stay permanently close to the coast. It would make them very inefficient as a workforce. So in the end we might as well all be stuck down here.”

Caroline steeled herself against the stabs of pain which were coming with greater and greater frequency now. She rounded on Greatrix. “Everything you've done has only succeeded in messing up the ecosystem even more. Making marine life grow to unnatural sizes, with all the effects on the ecological balance, creating a life form that ignores the natural evolutionary process. Then there's the trouble you caused in Pakistan, just so you could distract everyone from your crazy and misguided little project."

"al-Qaeda won’t get hold of those missiles. But if they did, and created havoc with them, then at least the world will have a chance to start anew,” said Greatrix passionately. “The law of probabilities suggests that sooner or later they’ll acquire weapons of mass destruction anyway. We may as well break the omelette and make the egg. If the land is poisoned by nuclear holocaust, the solution to the problem is simple: return to the sea. The colonisation of outer space may save us but it’s not advancing fast enough, isn’t keeping pace with the rate of our decline.”

Caroline decided on one last try. "Even if it could work out as planned, scientifically, does that mean everything will be so wonderful once Marcotech are in control? I don't think everyone's as altruistic as Sir Edward here.” Just for a moment her eyes rested on Dave Latimer, standing in the doorway watching what was going on in solemn silence.

"And now you know all I've told you," said Caroline, "he's going to turn you into those things; it's either that or kill you. He can't possibly risk you escaping."

Several of the executives stiffened in alarm, their faces whitening.
Sir Edward Greatrix looked round at them in appeal. "I had to do it," he said quietly. "I had to. It will be a new world...silent...peaceful.....beautiful....."
He snapped out of his reverie. "Right, she's had her say," he said savagely. "There's been enough talking. I've come too far to abandon it all now. Dan, give her the jab. Hold her, someone."

The two guards lunged towards her. She made a grab for her gun but one of the scientists had picked it up. The guards seized her by the arms while Zuckermann came towards her with the hypo. She twisted and wriggled desperately but they were built like tanks and this time she seemed quite powerless to break free.

Her face showed fear and distress at the thought of losing her free will. "No!" she sobbed, her voice coming out as an anguished shriek. The executives were glancing at one another in horror.

Suddenly with a strength borne of sheer desperation she tore herself away from the guards and backed against the wall, crouched in a defensive posture. The scientist with the gun was now pointing it at her. “I’ve had enough of her interference,” Greatrix told him. “If she won’t co-operate, shoot her.”

And then Caroline began to gasp and clutch at her gills, staggering. "What's the matter with her?" Kleistmann demanded, alarmed.
Then they realised. She’d said she couldn’t stay out of the water too long before...
Her face was contorted in pain and the cries she was uttering were dreadful to listen to. The executives’ faces tightened. “Stop this madness now!” shouted Kai Ling. “We have seen enough!”

“It’s alright, let her get to the water!” Greatrix shouted to the guards. They stood back as Caroline lurched around the room in an attempt to find the door, disorientated by the pain. For just a moment everyone’s attention was focused on her. Kleistmann hurled himself at one of the guards, arms flung out in an attempt to grab his gun. The man jumped back and fired. The German was blasted backwards by the impact of the bullets, which took him squarely in the chest, ripping through it and out the other side. Gerda Wenge screamed.

Then pandemonium broke loose. The other executives went for the nearest guard, who panicked and fired back. Hammerstein and Kai Ling fell, the former badly wounded, the latter dead, his side torn open, but Putyachev managed to snatch a gun from one of the guards while Rajani tackled the man from behind. He began firing in blind panic, killing one guard and wounding another.

Zuckermann's eyes darted to the rifle lying on the workbench, and he hesitated. He was a scientist, not a soldier and carrying arms didn't come easy to him. And if he grabbed the rifle, someone might shoot him. He threw himself down beneath one of the benches. Caroline had finally located the door and was on her knees hammering on it with her fists. Rajani, who not having a gun was crouched at the side of the room trying to keep out of the fighting, saw her and in a burst of courage, his conscience pricked, scrambled across the floor to the rifle lying beside the body of the guard Putyachev had killed, where it had fallen from his nerveless fingers.

Still lying flat, he aimed it at Zuckermann who was still hugging the floor underneath the bench, along with Greatrix. "Open the door!” Both men hesitated, afraid to leave their hiding place.

“Open the door or I’ll fucking kill you!” yelled the Indian.
Zuckermann inched himself from under the bench, raised himself into a crouching posture and scurried terrified to the door. Rapidly his fingers tapped on the keypad, and it slid open. Caroline staggered out into the corridor.

She lurched away down the passage towards the airlock, fighting to think straight so she could find it. She had to get out of here, warn the Major about the virus. There was no time to call him, or to locate a ventilation duct and break the gas capsules inside it. She might lose precious minutes; even seconds might be crucial. Her one thought to get out of the base, to reach the life-giving water, she broke into a fitful stumbling run.


Moses Jameson felt consciousness begin dimly to return, which puzzled him since as far as he could recall he hadn't been planning to go to sleep in the first place. He'd been up and about and busy with....
What exactly was it he'd been busy with?
Gradually it started to come back to him. On the beach trying to stop that guy from walking into the sea. The disappearances. He'd been investigating those disappearances….
Then two guys had turned up and......

They'd taken him prisoner, and must have injected him with something. Then he'd seen the...the thing....the fishman, or whatever it was. Jesus, that that had been weird. Had he been hallucinating because of what they'd given him? Must have been, yet the sight had seemed so vivid, so real.....

He looked round at the metal walls enclosing him, registered the sterile antiseptic smell of the place. Must be their base, whatever it was.

Well, it seemed like the drug had worn off. Evidently they hadn't expected it to, as they'd been letting him walk about as he pleased, which was why he now found himself standing in this corridor. Anyway, he had to get out of here somehow.
He still felt a little strange, but put it down to the effects of the drug. No doubt it'd wear off in a little while.
As he moved off he suddenly noticed that his body was covered with a layer of fine overlapping scales, just like the creature he’d seen at the beach hut, and stopped dead.

"Shit," he ejaculated, going ice cold. For a few moments he reeled helplessly from side to side, feeling giddy and nauseous. It couldn't be...it wasn't possible.....

He stared down at his webbed hands, spread and examined them in a mixture of horror and fascination. "Hey, man," he murmured. "This is far out."

Weird or not, he told himself after a while, it was real and he had to do something about it. The thing at the beach hut had been no mirage, he now realised, because they'd gone and done the same thing to him. That was what they were up to, making people into these mermaid things or whatever they were. Somehow they'd been getting folks to walk into the sea, probably through drugs, and then picking them up and taking them here. He'd sure as hell like to know what it was all for.

For the first time he became aware that there were alarms going off everywhere, accompanied by the sound of lots of people running about. Something was going on.

It didn't really concern him what, unless maybe he could turn it to his advantage. He had to get out of here. Whatever these guys were doing it wasn't right, because for one thing they weren't asking the people they were kidnapping - that was what it amounted to - for their opinion. He certainly hadn't been asked for his and he wasn't happy with what had been done to him in any case, beyond a certain feeling of curiosity. And if he was to escape he couldn't just go up to them and ask what the fuss was all about. He had to find a way out and that meant, in the first instance, not letting them know he was back to full consciousness.

He put a mechanical stiffness into his movements, adopted a blank expression and set off, doing his best to look as if he was oblivious to the commotion taking place around him. It was what they'd expect if he was under the drug.

In the wall beside him he saw a circular observation window, paused to look out and saw the figures swimming about, figures of creatures just like that he’d been turned into.

They were underwater. And if those things could breathe with ease when submerged, as seemed to be the case, then obviously so could he. He needed to get outside.


Caroline lurched on towards the airlock, her breath tearing itself from her lungs in great wheezing gasps. From time to time losing her way and staggered blindly in first one direction and then another, several times colliding with the wall.

She cannoned into three of Greatrix's guards as they came hurtling around a corner. They saw who she was, at the same time registering her distressed state. "Leave her," one of them said. "She's got HD. She needs to get outside." He called Security and told them to open the nearest airlock. "We'll sort her out later." They ran on towards the lab.

Caroline struggled to remember where the airlock should be; not too far away now, she told herself. Hopefully. She staggered down a couple more corridors, feeling her heart was about to explode.
She sensed a figure moving towards her, and a concerned voice saying "Hey, lady!" A pair of strong hands took hold of her by her biceps and steadied her. "Lady, you OK?"
Not really hearing his words, she broke free with a violent twist of her body and stumbled on. "Let me go!" she snarled. "I must get to...get to...."

Moses Jameson gazed after her thoughtfully. It'd be best not to interfere. All the same, after a moment he set off after her, keeping all the time a couple of yards behind. He wanted to see what was going on here.
Caroline saw a red arrow-shaped sign on the wall, pointing down a side corridor, and above it the word AIRLOCK. Thank God….thank God….
In the Control Centre they were tracking her on a monitor screen. The guard watching it frowned and called out to his colleagues. “Hey, there's another aquanoid following her. He doesn’t look as if he’s got HD.”
"Maybe he's taken a fancy to her. It happens, sometimes."
“Shall we let them out?” They could flood the airlock but not open it to the sea.

"How come the drug hasn't worn off him?" By now it had the other aquanoids within the base, and the guards were occupied in trying to round them up and inject them, as well as deal with whatever crisis was going on in the laboratory.
"Maybe he got an extra big dose by mistake. Leave it for the moment.” If there was anything funny going on, the guard subs would prevent either of them escaping. “We've got other things to worry about right now."
A couple of minutes later, at the limits of her endurance, Caroline staggered up to the airlock to see that the door was already open. She staggered inside, and Jameson slipped in after her.
The chamber began to fill with water.

Jameson suddenly realized that in a minute or two he would be completely submerged. He quailed at the thought, his stomach turning over, but then told himself it was his only chance to get out of here and tell someone what was going on. His job as an agent was to stop it and so he had to see the business through.
This was going to be tough.

He took a deep breath, steadied his nerves, reminding himself that he shouldn't have anything to worry about.
The woman had squatted down so that her entire body was immersed. Clearly it was causing her no discomfort. They obviously couldn't stay out of the water for too long: interesting. As was the fact that she clearly hadn't been under the drug.
If she can do it so can I, he thought.

The airlock door opened and they swam out into the open sea. Something seemed to be causing him to float without having to use his arms and legs much; it was an exhilarating sensation.
She still wasn't aware of his presence. He saw her kick out and wheel away from him, her body language normal. Clearly she was no longer in distress. He swam after her – it was funny how easily he moved through the water, he’d never been particularly good in it – and caught her up, tapping her on the shoulder. She didn't respond, seeming concerned only with getting away from him. He tapped her again. This time she turned round and stared hard at him.

Caroline registered that the zombie-like expression was absent from his face and reacted, showing surprise and delight.
Jameson hoped she could lip-read. We've got to get to shore, he mouthed.
She nodded towards one of the strange little submarines he could see gliding about all over the place. They'll stop us. We have to knock out their control system. He nodded to show he understood. Where is it?
I'm not sure. But one of us will have to go and look for it. Do they suspect you're normal?
I don't think so.
Then it must be you. Quickly before they realise. She didn't feel like explaining all about her links with the SBS; carrying out a prolonged conversation underwater by lip-reading was a difficult and strenuous business.
Jameson nodded. How do I get back in?

Go to the airlock and bang on the door. We'll have to chance it. She unclipped the pouch from her belt and handed it to him. There are knockout gas capsules in there, and a mask. Use them if you have to.
What you do after that is up to you. I can’t wait for you, sorry.
As he turned to go she put a hand on his shoulder. He looked round and saw her mouth to him, don't tell anyone the drug ever wore off. Understand?

He was puzzled for a moment; it was quite obvious he shouldn't. But there was no time to dwell on it so he kicked off back towards the airlock. He glanced back briefly to see her make off to the left, presumably for where there was some kind of exit from the place.
He returned to the airlock door, passing within the viewfield of the security cameras positioned on either side of it, and hammered on the metal.
"He's back,” said the guard in the control room. “Looks like she wasn't impressed."
"Bad luck, pal," said another.
They drained the airlock and opened it. The male aquanoid stepped out, and walked mechanically off down the corridor. It was not unknown for certain....natural urges to get in the way of their duties, overriding their programming. Once those urges were satisfied, or it was clear they could not be, the aquanoid resumed the task he or she had been ordered to carry out.
The guards turned away from the screen.


The laboratory was a mess. Benches had been overturned in the struggle and all kinds of equipment strewn across the floor, much of it smashed. Pools of liquid from a shattered flask stained the white tiling.

The arrival of half a dozen or so guards had tipped the balance. Putyachev was dead, and his body had now been removed along with that of Kai Ling. The badly wounded Kobyusato had been brought in and laid alongside Hammerstein. Gerda Wenge and Jagdev Rajani sat propped up against a wall, heads tilted to one side, their eyes glazed and staring from the drug.

Dr Ivanova looked up from examining the American and the Japanese. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do for them.”
“We’re too busy to bother about that anyway,” Greatrix told her. He looked down at the floor, sighing long and hard. “A regrettable business. Extremely regrettable.”
At that moment the sound of the various alarms cut off. A strange kind of silence fell over the room.
"Right,” Greatrix snapped, “get everything back under control as quickly as possible." The guards nodded and went off, leaving Dr Zuckermann and his colleagues to clear up the mess. It would take a few minutes for things to get back onto an even footing after all the disruption, but before long they’d be back in control of the situation.
He thought of Caroline. But the guard subs should take care of her if she tried anything.

Greatrix breathed out deeply, his shoulders slumping. He was beginning to get extremely annoyed with Caroline Kent. Whether as a human or an aquanoid, she was a pain in the arse. Even now he had a strange feeling that she’d muck things up somehow, unless of course he put a stop to her nonsense once and for all. Maybe they should have killed her while she was disorientated by the HD. At any rate, he’d send out a party to recover her once they’d rounded up all the aquanoids.

He raised his voice, addressing Zuckermann and the other scientists. They broke off their work of clearing up to listen to him. “I want you to concentrate on completing the antidote so we can release the virus.” He indicated the two remaining executives, plus Chris Barrett and the SBS soldiers. “Leave these for the time being.”
The sooner they could get it all over and done with, he reasoned, the less time there’d be for anything more to go wrong.


FIFTY-TWO
The shark had roamed all over quite a wide area, gulping down fish of all kinds and the occasional seal, whale or dolphin in a bid to satisfy its ravenous appetite. But there weren’t enough of them to satisfy it, not any more. And in any case they shot away in all directions on sensing its approach, vanishing into the far distance. They could detect it a mile off, and in catching enough of them to meet its needs its huge overgrown bulk was a disadvantage, slowing it down considerably. Impairing its effiency as a predator.

At one point the shark could sense large objects moving about on the surface, much bigger than anything it had ever encountered before. Vibrations from their motion were travelling down to it through the water, suggesting they must be of enormous size, larger even than itself. The vibrations had stopped after a while then started up again, confusing it. In any case, the shark sensed danger. Whatever these things were, they would be difficult for it to drag down and eat, and would be quite capable of harming it if they decided to fight back. Apart from the fact that they moved, it hadn’t even been sure at first that they were living, because they hadn’t given off the odour that a living thing does. Then a bucket of food waste had been thrown into the water from one of them and the shark had smelt it. The shark now associated the object on the surface with organic material, and knew that there was nourishment to be found there.

Over time, at regular intervals, more food had been dumped in the water from both of the objects, further confirming it in its impression that they or something about them was organic. For a while the instinct for self-preservation overcame the urge to eat. But as it grew hungrier the shark had less and less to lose. And as it grew bigger, it became more and more confident.


Captain James Harden of the USS Augusta was grabbing what he regarded as well-earned rest. It was well-earned in the sense that there wasn’t much for him or his crew to do anyway, at the moment. They and the Jackson had just been told to stand off, patrolling the area at a safe distance from the Marcotech colony and awaiting further orders before taking any action against it with their depth charges. There was no telling how long it would be before those orders came. All they could do was fall back on the same boring and gruelling round of drills and lectures to prevent morale from suffering unduly. Every man and woman on board knew, of course, that it was never all fun and games and excitement in the Navy. All the same, tension was mounting and there’d already been one or two unpleasant quarrels which had almost resulted in physical violence. After giving the matter some thought, he decided to send a message to Atlantic Command requesting that another ship be sent to relieve them ASAP. No doubt the captain of the Jackson was at least considering doing the same.

As Harden began to stir himself from his bunk the intercom on the wall went off. It was the Communications Room. “Sir, we’re picking up a moving sonar contact,” the officer in charge there told him. “I think you’d better come down and take a look at this.”
“Be right with you,” Harden grunted.

He descended a level and hurried along the central corridor to the Comms room. There, he ran to the sonar console where one of the technicians was listening carefully through his headphones to the high-pitched warbling of the apparatus with the Communications Officer, Ericson, standing beside him.
“It’s pretty big, whatever it is,” Ericson told him. Harden studied the vertical white line moving slowly across the screen. “Got to be a sub, yeah?”
The young sonar operator’s face showed puzzlement, also unease. “I don’t think so, Sir. It’s too big for one, ‘sides the signature’s all wrong. Might be a whale, I guess, but again the signature….”

Harden too felt a cold chill creep through his body. “If it’s not a whale then what the hell is it?” The realization came. “Must be one of those monsters Marcotech have been breeding. How big is it exactly, can you tell?”
“At a guess, Sir, I’d say it was about…” He made a calculation, and threw himself back in his seat from sheer amazement. “Two hundred and fifty feet long….no, three hundred….Jesus Christ!”
“That big?” Harden’s voice came out as an awed whisper. “I don’t believe it.”
The technician’s voice was shaking with fear. “I…I think it’s heading straight for us, Sir.”
Three hundred feet…..”We gotta depth-charge it,” Harden snapped.
Ericson looked at the screen again. “It’s too late,” he shouted, feeling panic overwhelm him. “It’s right on top of us!”

The impact threw everyone on the ship to the floor and sent every small loose object, and many larger ones, flying too. Those on the aircraft carrier watched in astonishment as the massive 10,000-ton Augusta pitched and yawed like a child’s toy boat on a pond, sending huge waves crashing against the hull of the Jackson, drenching those out on deck and washing one or two of them overboard. Before their unbelieving eyes she rose and fell, fell and rose, at one point almost her entire hull lifting out of the water. The shark’s dorsal fin burst into view, water pouring down it, and just below the surface they could see a mountainous expanse of smooth, rippling, grey-white flesh.

The Jackson’s captain knew at once that he and his crew were equally at risk. He sent out a distress signal and then issued the order to abandon ship. With the sea tossing about in agitation like this there was no hope of safely flying the aircraft off.

The sailors gathered on the Jackson’s deck watched as the Augusta veered round in the water through a hundred and eighty degrees, while listing sharply to starboard. They saw some heavy object crash through the safety rail and plunge towards the water.

Harden would already have sent out an SOS. But what else could he do? They couldn’t easily get off in the lifeboats, not with the ship in constant violent motion, in all planes. And once they were in the water the thing would simply snap them up…

Which meant he’d made the wrong decision. In horror, Captain DeFalco immediately cancelled the order. All they could do was wait until the shark gave up. After all it couldn’t actually bite through the hull of a warship, it surely couldn’t…

They saw the snout of the great white, the cavernous mouth and fearsome daggerlike teeth, emerge briefly from the water. Another massive wave rocked the aircraft carrier as the shark twisted round, attempting to gain a purchase on the underside of the Augusta’s hull with its teeth. Figures were falling, or jumping, off the warship’s deck and into the water.

On the Augusta Harden had ordered everyone to stay where they were and hold tight, guessing it was their best chance of safety. In the engine room they grabbed onto whatever fixed projecting surface they could find as the ship lurched violently from port to starboard. One man lost his grip on the section of piping he was grasping and was flung clean across the room, blood spurting from his head as it smashed against a bulkhead.

The Chief Engineer too was sent flying, to collide with one of the engine casings. Stunned, he slumped onto his backside. An almighty crashing and clattering reverberated through his head as machinery broke free from its mountings and slid all over the slanting floor, crushing everyone and everything in its path.

His eye was caught by a section of the floor just in front of him. It was ripping open, peeling back like a sardine can, leaving a jagged rent through which water began to gush and pour, rising to his chest in seconds.

When they saw the other ship swing up into a perpendicular position, water gushing from the hundred-foot tear in its keel, Captain DeFalco and the crew of the Jackson knew the only thing left for them to do was pray.


"Any word from Caroline?" the Major asked.
“No, Sir, not yet,” said the Poseidon’s radio operator.
The Major grunted an acknowledgement and turned away. It had been a long time. If she was in the water she obviously couldn't speak to him, but she could transmit a signal on her radio.

There had been nothing from any of the squad, either. This was the worst part of the job for the Major; the fear that he might have lost good men who he’d known and lived and worked with, some of them for a long time; with whom he wanted to go on sharing a drink and laughing, rather than have to tell their wives that they wouldn’t be coming back again.

The radio operator looked up suddenly. “Hang on, Sir, she’s transmitting!” A light-trace was pulsing steadily on his screen.
"That must be to let us know she's OK. Is the signal moving or stationary?"
"Stationary. Whether that means they've captured her or not, I don't know."
The Major gave a curt nod. He rather hoped that wasn’t what had happened. If he had to attack the colony, it might put him in a difficult position.


Caroline had now reached the far perimeter of the colony. She settled down to wait. As long as she didn't appear to be trying to leave it, the guard subs would ignore her.

Meanwhile, looking for their control room, Jameson heard someone come towards him, and tensed. The guard saw him but carried on walking, his expression unchanged. Only an aquanoid on some errand. By now enough of them had been recaptured and tranquilised for the sight of Jameson’s blank impassive face to arouse no suspicion.

He maintained his zombie-like expression until the man had passed him. Then he whirled round and grabbed the unsuspecting guard from behind, taking him round the neck with one powerful arm. Since the man couldn’t use his gun he let it fall.

"OK, buddy," said Jameson. "How about you tell me where they control all those little subs from?"
The man thought. "You want to try and get out of here?"
"Sure I do. I don't fancy being kidnapped and turned into a fish, then kept here 'gainst my will. No more'n you would if someone did it to you."

The guard reached a decision. If the guy just wanted to get out of the colony, let him. There was nothing he or anyone else could do while they had the Connecticut's missiles at their disposal. "OK, you win," he said. "It's at the end of the third corridor on the right from here.”

“We’re gonna go there together, and if I find you’re taking me for a ride I’m gonna get mean with your gun.” The man said nothing, proving to Jameson he had been telling the truth.

He asked about the airlock, and the guard confirmed that it was the only way out of the base. Opening and closing it was overseen from within the Control Centre at all times, which meant you couldn’t just let yourself out whenever you wanted. Someone there had to open and close them for you, so unless he had an accomplice who could hold the guards at gunpoint and force them to do it, and he didn’t, it was a no-go. It was the same with exit by submarine, although his best chance was to still to try and get out via the pens.

Jameson let go of him, and gave him a shove in the back which sent him staggering forward several paces. Before the man could recover he’d snatched up the fallen rifle and clouted him hard on the head with the butt. The guard collapsed like a lead-filled sack at his feet.

Jameson didn’t want the hassle of having to keep the man at gunpoint all the way to the Control Centre, revealing his hand to anyone who might see them – as the guard knew it would. The man had taken the chance and told the truth because he guessed he had nothing to lose by doing so.
He moved on.


Now that things were back to normal, the guard in the Control Centre suddenly remembered his earlier suspicions, forgotten in the heat of the moment, about the aquanoid - the black one - being still drugged when it had worn off all the others. He shared his suspicions with Bromhead, who ordered a search. The trouble was, recapturing the other aquanoids was just as much a priority. Most were running around in a mad hysterical panic, smashing things and sometimes causing serious damage to vital equipment. The few who had kept their head, and were therefore just as dangerous, had banded into small groups who were looking around for a way out.

It was just as the guard clicked off the intercom from speaking to Bromhead that Jameson took a deep breath, put on his mask and pushed open the door of the Control Centre. At the same time he tossed four of the gas capsules into the room, where they hit the floor and shattered. The technicians at their consoles looked up in astonishment, then toppled or slid from their seats, knocked out before any of them could realise what was happening and raise the alarm.

The room was dominated by a free-standing console in the centre, bigger than all the others, studded with various buttons and keys. One section of the console had the lettering “Guard Sub Control” above it. Jameson took out a wrench from one of the compartments into which the belt pouch was divided, and with much heaving and grunting managed to insert it into the tiny gap between two of the panels on the console. He gave a massive heave and one of the panels came away, clattering on the floor.

Inside he saw a maze of wiring and circuitry, plus several bunches of thick cables. He had no idea which did what so he began to rip out wires at random, and smash all the circuitry with the spanner. The more damage he could cause the better. Finally he took a screwdriver from the belt pouch and unscrewed each of the cables from their mountings.

As he straightened up from his work he heard booted feet clattering down the corridor and reached for the packet of knockout capsules. As the four guards came running into the control room he tossed the capsules onto the floor. The grey-white vapour came pouring out, and the guards twisted and fell unconscious beside their colleagues.

Jameson packed everything hurriedly back into the pouch and left. They knew he was at large now and it was vital he got out of here as soon as possible or, failing that, found somewhere to hide. With any luck he’d caused enough disruption by his sabotage to cover his tracks.

Caroline saw the guard sub veer crazily from side to side, then give a violent lurch and sink slowly towards the bottom, the red glow of its enormous eye fading and dying. Further away several others were doing the same. Her new friend had done his stuff. She hoped he was alright.

She stood up and kicked off towards the fence, slipping with ease through the gap.


HMS Poseidon
"Her signal's moving, Sir," said the radio operator.
“Good,” said the Major. The sooner Caroline was back on the sub the better; then she would be safe and he wouldn’t have to make a difficult decision.
“But I’m picking something up on the sonar,” the RO went on. “Something big.”

In the water, Caroline stopped suddenly. The vibrations were coming at her hard and fast, vibrations from something very large, undoubtedly living, and moving very quickly. It didn’t feel like the squid, so it must be….

Dimly ahead she could just glimpse the monstrous outline of the giant great white shark, hunting for food. She was appalled at how big it’d become. It didn’t seem to be aware of her yet, but in a few moments she was sure the behemoth would sense her presence. There was only one place she would be safe and that was back inside the colony. Bugger it, she swore, though of course only bubbles came out.

She wondered whether, now that the shark was so big, it would be bothered about such small fry as her. She didn’t feel like chancing it. Maybe it was so hungry by now it would gobble up absolutely anything that moved. She did an about-turn and shot back the way she had come, uneasily aware that the faster she moved the more the shark was likely to detect her.


“I think it’s one of those ghastly beasties they’ve been breeding,” said Derek Winton. “Let’s hope she doesn’t run into it.”
Hillyard pointed to the signal on the screen. “She’s going back towards the colony. Must have reckoned she’ll be safer there.”

It might have been better to have had a team of divers escort her to the colony and back, the Major thought. But if they had been attacked by one of the giant mutants, nothing would have been likely to save them. Better to risk just one person’s life, had been his calculation. It was a sound military strategy. They could have brought the Poseidon in closer to the colony but that might have panicked Greatrix into doing something nasty with the Connecticut’s misiles.

It occurred to him that he couldn’t care that much about her, to be so ruthless about it. Could he?

He fixed his eyes on the screen, on the moving light-trace that represented Caroline Kent, and willed her to make it. Please.


Caroline shot through the opening in the fence with seconds to spare. She felt the vibration as the metal stanchions shuddered with the impact of the shark’s enormous nose crashing into them.
She flipped onto her back to take a look, and immediately wished she hadn’t, chilling with fear at the sight of the monster’s cavernous mouth yawning open before her. It must be the size of a cathedral, surely, she thought with a shudder.

She swam on, keen to put as much distance between it and her as possible. After a minute or two she dived to the bottom and from there looked back at the fence. The shark was ramming its nose repeatedly against it, trying to break down this barrier which prevented it reaching its food supply. The structure quivered, but remained standing firmly upright. Greatrix must have calculated the creature wouldn’t have been able to penetrate it, even at the maximum limit of its growth, or he might have have thought twice before tinkering with its biology. Perhaps.


“She’s still signaling,” the Radio Operator reported. “Must be OK.”
“What’s the other trace doing?”
“Seems to be stationary.” To the Major’s horror the two traces had seemed about to merge, then they separated again as if something had created an obstruction to the larger one’s progress.

Hartman stopped his pacing about and wheeled to face Hillyard and Winton. “We need to know whether she’s found out anything. I’m going to take her close up to the colony.”
“And if Marcotech get the jitters? You know what’ll happen then.”

“It’s for them to tell us to bugger off if they don’t like it. We’re not going to attack them, just get Caroline back safely. The risk’s justified; for all we know Marcotech may be up to something even worse than a nuclear holocaust in there. If the stakes are so high that they need to steal two nuclear submarines, it probably is.”

Hillyard saw his reasoning, and nodded. Insubordinate, and maybe a little crazy, the Major might be but he wasn’t the sort who did anything without a purpose. Perhaps that was why he’d survived so long in his job.


Through the observation window Greatrix and Latimer watched the shark bang itself against the fence, the cruel mouth with the viciously sharp teeth seeming to be scowling at its failure to knock it down. Latimer shivered and went pale every time the structure flexed and trembled with the force of the attack. “You sure it can’t get in?”
“Of course I am. Or I wouldn’t have let the thing grow so big. And it’ll be dead soon, anyway.” Having served its purpose; now that they had the Connecticut, they didn’t need the mutants to scare people off. So they had stopped feeding them. The creatures appeared less frequently now, though it seemed they were still around.

Latimer had a further disquieting thought. “They can’t breed, can they?” The consequences of that would be terrifying indeed.

“I told you, all the specimens we injected with the growth gene were male. I’m not quite as stupid as Miss Kent seems to think. Speaking of her, isn’t it time we brought her in?”

“None of the lads is going to go out there while that thing’s still bashing away at the fence,” Latimer said firmly. “Despite what they say. Besides, they’re still busy rounding up the aquanoids.”
“Yes,” mused his boss. “You know, I really don’t like it when things fall apart like this.”
Latimer said nothing.

Suddenly something penetrated through to Greatrix’s consciousness. “Where are all the guard subs?”
Bromhead appeared and hurried over to them. “Someone’s smashed most of the equipment in the control room. They’ve knocked out all the scanners, the radio and communications equipment, the defence systems - and the guard subs.”
“So the Kent girl could have – “ Greatrix turned a remarkable shade of beetroot red. A nerve above his left temple started pulsing. “Get it fucking well fixed, do you hear me?” he bellowed. “Now!”

“The technical guys are working on it already,” Bromhead said, his voice quavering a little. “I’ll – I’ll go and see how they’re getting on.”
“Who did it?” Greatrix snapped. “Was it – her?”
“I’ve a feeling it was the cop, Jameson. But he had some of her knockout capsules on him, that’s how he took out the guys in the control room. Fortunately our filtration system is better than the one on the submarines.”

Greatrix’s unnaturally calm voice issued from between tightly clenched teeth. “Just put on some gas masks and find him, will you.”
Bromhead thought of pointing out that the other aquanoids were equally dangerous whilst at large, and that he might not be able to make Jameson’s capture a priority. But he didn’t.

“Your men are slipping up,” Greatrix snarled. “They’re starting to make mistakes. We can’t afford to have that happen, not at this stage in the plan. Understand? Anyone who fouls up will end up taking a dive without an aqualung; there’s plenty of water around.”

Latimer shuddered and turned away, staring silently out through the observation window. He relaxed a little; at least, to his not inconsiderable relief, the shark seemed to have gone away.


Caroline too felt relieved when the monster finally gave up and swum off, its huge tail whipping round as it turned and rattling the fence as it collided with it. She watched it gradually disappear from sight.
Best to stay where she was for the time being. While it was still in the vicinity there remained the danger she might run into the shark and end up as its dinner.
Of course, the longer she stayed here the greater the danger Marcotech would recapture her. It was a matter of opinion, she reflected, which was worse.


Having failed to break into the colony, and secure for itself the rich food supplies it had sensed there, the shark was simply cruising around taking whatever it could find.
It sensed something travelling through the water in roughly its direction, though not quite on a line with it. The shark didn’t know what it was but it was big, very big, and might just serve to keep it satiated for the next few hours, until the hunger pangs began to gnaw at it again.

It was still some distance away, but coming steadily closer. The shark changed course and made straight for it, quickening its pace as the primaeval urge to feed drove it on. Such was its desperation to nourish itself that it was prepared for a fight if whatever it was tried to put up one.


The damaged equipment in the control room failed to detect the Poseidon as she moved smoothly and at top speed towards the colony.
The submarine’s sonar picked up the shark as it ploughed through the water towards it. “I think it’s the same trace as before,” said the operator. “And it’s heading our way. God, it’s enormous!”
The Major felt his guts twist themselves into knots of solid steel. “Speed?”
“About ten miles per hour.”
“Range?”
“About one mile.”

“Must think we’re good to eat,” Hartman said. “Well let’s see how it likes a torpedo down its gullet.”
Hillyard swung round to the fire control technician. “Well, you heard that.” He snatched up the intercom. “Torpedo room, stand by to fire Spearfish One.”

Preparing the torpedos for firing, before the target had been identified and its exact position established, was always the very first stage in the process. It meant they could be launched without a second’s delay as soon as that information was programmed into the controlling computer. For sometimes, there might not be much time in which to respond.

The Poseidon was fitted with two torpedo-launching tubes, twenty-one inches in diameter and twenty-one feet long, located horizontally in the bow on either side. Each had doors at both ends so that the inner one could be opened when the outer was closed, and vice versa, allowing firing and reloading without water entering the sub. The torpedoes, stowed on hydraulically-operated loading racks, were slim grey cylinders each with a bulbuous black head containing the 660-pound warhead and an acoustic homing device which allowed the weapon to home in on its target by sonar once it was fired.

On receiving Hillyard’s orders the Chief Weapons Officer down in the torpedo room moved to his control console, situated between the two rows of launch tubes, and his hands darted over the keys programming in a series of instructions, among other things selecting the tube they were going to use – on this occasion, the starboard one.

His deputy ran to the door of the tube and opened it. The hydraulic rammer, a pallet with a hinged arm suspended from it, mounted on overhead rails, slid across to one of the racks and selected a torpedo from it. The arm descended, the clamp on its end snapping into place around the body of the torpedo. Then the Spearfish was lifted up, aligned with the tube and shoved into it.

Meanwhile in the control room the technicians at the fire control consoles were watching the plasma displays on their screens, reading off information on the target’s range, speed and bearing into the intercom. Down below the Weapons Officer then programmed it into the torpedo’s guidance system.

Someone yelled an expletive as the shark appeared on the scanner, and they got a head-on view of the monstrous head and mouth as it.
Hillyard shouted down the Intercom. "Fire One!"

A jet of water forced into the torpedo tube at high pressure expelled the torpedo from its tube in a shower of bubbles. It streaked through the water to its target, striking the shark right on the point of its huge blunt nose and exploding. The shark's entire head burst apart in a spectacular shower of blood and gore. The decapitated body swam on for a moment then began to sink, spinning slowly down to the bed of the ocean and raising a massive cloud of silt as it struck it. The men in the control room cheered.

"That's that taken care of," the Major announced with satisfaction, aware as he was that the creature had only been trying to survive. “Christ, it must have been bigger than a football pitch. Any more of those things lurking about, by any chance?”
The sonar operator consulted his screen. “Nothing, Sir. Not at the moment, anyway.”

“Right, we’ll take it from here. We’ve got the Seasprites, we don’t need to go any closer to the colony. We’ll take a chance and send a squad of divers out to pick up Caroline; I’ll be going with them.” Hillyard felt his respect for the Major mount. It was his way of showing everyone that if he was going to risk anybody’s life he was also prepared to suffer the consequences along with them, if needs be. Without it, he couldn’t have kept the loyalty of those under him. ”You’re in charge, Commander. And if you do come across any more of those things, then blow them to blazes.”

He proceeded to select his team. “Dan, Steve, Josh, Frank and Billy.” He checked Caroline’s position on the screen; she still hadn’t moved from the colony. It would be better if she stayed there, as it gave them a stable reference point to make for. However if she did deviate from her course the sub would detect the change and notify them over the radios within the helmets of their diving suits, so they could reset their compasses.

Minutes later the six of them were streaking away from the Poseidon towards the colony, confident that their small size compared to a submarine, and the anechoic coating of their Seasprites, would prevent Marcotech’s instruments registering them. And at the moment it seemed the Poseidon itself remained undetected; as far as they knew, anyway.

Control Centre
The console had been partially dismantled and Greatrix looked on impatiently as the technicians hurried to wire in the new circuitry from the spare parts crate a couple of them had lugged into the room earlier, sweating and straining, and connect up the wiring. “How long is this going to take?” he demanded.
“About an hour I’d say,” the chief technician answered, glancing up from his work. “We’ll do our best to make it sooner.”
“You’d better. While none of this is working we’ve no idea what’s going on in the outside world. I don’t like it, I just don’t like it.”
Bromhead appeared. “Things are still a bit confused out there, but we’ve rounded up most of the aquanoids and tranquilised them. I reckon we can spare a few people to look for the girl.”
“Then do that. But don’t…” Greatrix sighed. “Don’t kill her unless you have to.”


Moses Jameson was hurrying down the latest in what seemed to him an endless series of corridors. Up till now his luck had held. The guards were busy dealing with the other fish things who’d escaped, though no doubt they’d been told to look out for him as well. From time to time he glimpsed small groups of the terrified creatures running about, pursued by guards who were shooting them with what he guessed were tranquiliser guns. He guessed their recapture was the priority for the moment, and that he’d be safer on his own, as long as he didn’t bump into any of his former captors.

He saw a sign in the form of a pointing arrow which said “SUBMARINE PEN”. That looked promising, but before he got much further he heard shouts and running feet from ahead and paused. Guards. In case they started moving in his direction he turned and ran back the way he’d come.

The route to the pens was blocked for the moment. He’d just have to keep on searching either for a way out or some means of contacting the mainland. Thing was, he wasn’t sure how you could do that from underwater. There was the equipment he’d seen in the control room but he hadn’t had the faintest notion how to use it.

Apart from that, his only hope was to stay free for as long as possible and hope something would happen to lead the authorities here. Maybe the girl could fix something.


Once more Caroline glanced uneasily behind her. Still no sign of Marcotech. There was none of the shark either, but she was so terrified of running into it she didn’t feel like leaving the safety of the colony.
On the other hand, she wasn’t doing the Major any good by staying here. And she’d need air before long. Swallowing her qualms, she launched herself up and forward, towards the fence.
Then she felt the disturbance from the rapid movement in the water behind her. One, no several swimmers coming after her very fast; they must have Seasprites. They were closing rapidly.
She had waited too long. Now there seemed no chance of evading her pursuers. Still, she could give them a run for their money. She carried on straight for the fence, her one desperate hope being that she could reach the spot where she’d left her Seasprite. With it she might just be able to outrun them.

She started as the six SBS divers shot into view through one of the gaps in the fence ahead, then registered that they were friend and not foe. She saw them cut the power to their Seasprites on seeing the Marcotech divers and relinquish them, each tilting up and drawing a speargun from his belt pouch. She looked back to see the Marcotech men – also six in number - doing the same. Not wishing to be caught in the middle she changed direction, streaking off to the right.

One of the Marcotech men got off the first shot. The harpoon streaked through the water and embedded itself in the chest of the man beside the Major, penetrating the fabric of his diving suit. A cloud of blood billowed from him and he went limp, the eyes behind the mask glazing over.

The Major saw a Marcotech diver level his speargun at him and dodged to one side. He felt the displacement of the water as the harpoon shot past him, missing by a couple of inches. As he reorientated himself, visually checking out the enemy, he saw another Marcotech man jerk backwards violently, stiffening as an SBS harpoon found its mark. The shaft of it jutting from his stomach, he began to spin away lazily, arms and legs splayed out; performing a kind of macabre underwater ballet, a submarine version of the Dance of Death.

Unfortunately, the spear guns both sides were using only fired one shot at a time. If you missed, you then had to reload, selecting a new harpoon from the quiver at your belt, and could be shot while doing so.

The Major got off a shot, wounding one of the Marcotech divers in the side and in one stroke eliminating him from the battle. Immediately Hartman dived, knowing their opponents' reactions would be as sharp as theirs and therefore wanting to be away from the spot where he was currently standing as fast as possible. He hurriedly reloaded, knowing he would have to take the risk he might be shot while in the act.

A Marcotech man let off a shot and missed. While he was reloading an SBS arrow took him in the throat. Another, named Sorenson, also fired and missed, but as the SBS man in front of him raised his speargun to shoot a Marcotech harpoon flashed through the water and ended the Briton's life.

There were now two gaps in the SBS line. On an impulse Sorenson broke away from his colleagues and dived for where his Seasprite lay on the bottom. While the SBS and the rest of the Marcotech squad fought it out, he grabbed the twin handles and started the motor, speeding off in the direction he had seen Caroline go.

The Major saw him shoot away, but if he turned to follow one of the enemy might take the opportunity to fire at him. He had to take care of the opposition first. He reorientated himself, and found he was presently unthreatened. A dead Marcotech body was floating in the water before him. He saw one of the enemy about to fire at Dan Riordan, who was just turning from dealing with another of their number, and shot him.

The battle had been swift, but bloody. There was now only one Marcotech diver left alive, apart from the one who had gone after Caroline, and only two SBS; himself and Riordan. The Major made a sudden decision and dived for his Seasprite, leaving Riordan to deal with the surviving mercenary. The thought uppermost in his mind was of Caroline's safety. Hopefully Marcotech meant to recapture not kill her, but he didn't want to leave it to chance. Riordan finished reloading, fired at the Marcotech man and missed. He dodged as the mercenary fired back, the harpoon nicking the shoulder of his exposure suit, but fortunately doing no damage to the material. Moving with lightning-fast reactions, the mercenary reached for another harpoon from his quiver.

Suddenly Riordan changed tactics. Propelling himself forward with a series of powerful kicks, he launched himself straight at the mercenary, just managing to cover the distance between them as the man slitted the harpoon into his speargun and raised it to fire. As Riordan tilted upwards his hand shot out and grabbed the mercenary’s gun arm by the wrist, forcing it aside. With his other he seized the flexible tube connecting his opponent’s regulator to his oxygen cylinders and pulled, yanking out the mouthpiece. Immediately the water around them erupted in a froth of bubbles as the mercenary made a frantic grab for the tube. Deliberately Riordan let go of it, and he snatched it back. As he struggled to reinsert the mouthpiece Riordan's hand went to his kit pouch and snatched out his diving knife. The second that the Marcotech man thrust the regulator back into his mouth, his teeth locking around it, Riordan slashed at the tube, severing it neatly. There was another eruption of bubbles as the air escaped rapidly into the water.

Riordan kicked away from the drowning mercenary and swam to where his Seasprite had come to rest on the bottom, leaving the man thrashing furiously about in panic, his flailing limbs churning up the water.
He sank slowly to the bottom, his struggles growing weaker and weaker each second, and died.
Caroline meanwhile had reached the other side of the fence and was looking around for the spot where she’d hidden her Seasprite earlier. She found it, dug it out and took hold of the handles. She was about to start the motor when she sensed the Marcotech diver pursuing her, glanced back and saw him. The SBS didn't seem to be following him, obviously busy dealing with his comrades.

He must have a dart gun on him somewhere. Or maybe he’d use a harpoon instead, aiming to kill her this time. One thing was clear, if he caught her out here, away from the SBS, there would be nothing they could do to help. The vibrations suddenly ceased and she decided her pursuer had stopped, possibly to change his speargun for a dart gun, if he didn’t mean to harm her. Taking maximum advantage of it, she gunned the scooter’s motor up to full and took off, not towards the Poseidon but instead on a course parallel to the colony’s perimeter fence. After a few moments she changed course and swung round in a wide arc, the scooter barely slowing as it did so. She was now heading straight back towards the fence.
She shot through one of th
e openings in it, narrowly avoiding a collision with one of the horizontal girders. Now she was back inside the colony. She must keep her pursuer occupied in chasing her until the SBS, hopefully, were able to take a hand.

Seconds later Sorenson came streaking after her. She had moved too fast for him to get off a shot with the dart gun. Somehow he had to get close enough to use either that or the speargun; probably the latter as a harpoon would be more stable and travel faster in water, over long distances, than the tiny tranquiliser dart. But it would be better to knock her out if he could. Then if the SBS were taken care of, he would return her to the base. If they weren’t, he could summon help from the colony and then use her as a hostage, threatening to kill her if they came along before the reinforcements arrived.

She was still some way in front of him and if he stopped there was the risk he’d lose her. Looked like it’d have to be the speargun. Sorry, darling, your luck’s run out.

The Major was looking around for Caroline, wondering where she could have got to, when he saw her shoot into view through the fence, Sorenson close behind. He changed direction and went after them.

Caroline changed course yet again, bringing herself closer to the fence. To go too deep into the heart of the colony would be dangerous.
To her dismay she felt the scooter start to slow, the pitch of its engine changing. The power-pack must be about to run out, she realised. The long journey from the Poseidon to the colony had almost exhausted it.

As it continued to slow she let go of it and swum on as fast as she could without it, pushing herself to the very limit of an aquanoid’s strength and stamina.

She felt an invisible force tug sharply at her, yanking her sideways. She looked to see what it might be and stiffened in horror. She had gone too close to one of the giant fans that drew in water from the sea for desalinization. She had been unaware of it at first in her frantic efforts to escape her pursuer and now she was caught up helplessly in the current it created. She thrashed desperately with both arms and legs, but there was nothing she could do to break its pull. Inexorably she was being sucked towards the whirling, churning blades. They’d batter her to pieces.
No, she thought wildly. No, it can't end like this. There are still too many things I want to do...people I have to say sorry to....
Sorenson saw her pulled sharply off course and realised with a chill of horror what had happened. He cut the scooter's motor and hung suspended in the water, watching in a kind of helpless paralysis. And yet he could do nothing to save her, he'd just be sucked into the fan himself. The current it set up was stronger than the pull of the scooter. He could use the underwater radio to tell them to turn off the fan, but he’d have to be quick…
He reckoned it was better this way. She’d caused them too much trouble….
He felt the vibrations from an Seasprite and turned to see an SBS diver ploughing through the water in his approximate direction. Confronted by a direct threat, he snapped out of his daze and sprang into action, raising his speargun.

The Major twisted to the right and felt the harpoon shoot past him, missing by less than an inch. He carried on his way, the face behind the mask set in grim determination.

Sorenson was about to reload when he suddenly realised the Major wasn't going for him. He was making for Caroline Kent, hoping to save her. The fool, Sorenson thought. He'll never do it. It's suicide.

Caroline was now less than ten feet from the fan, fighting in vain against the pull of the current. Sorensen could see the fear and anguish in her face, and suddenly realised he should shoot her with the speargun, put an end to her distress. But what if there was a chance the SBS man really could save her? What was he trying to do?

He saw the Major draw level with her, then suddenly let go of his Seasprite, wrapping both arms tight around her waist. The scooter hurtled on, its engine still at full throttle. As Sorenson watched it smashed into the spinning blades of the fan, which suddenly stopped turning as the mechanism juddered to a halt.

The suction was abruptly cut off and Caroline and the Major sank to the ocean floor together, locked in a tight embrace. The scooter was wedged tightly within the mechanism, a mass of twisted and crumpled metal. Several of the blades of the fan were also bent out of shape. The machine jerked and shuddered as it strained against the obstruction, making a hideous grinding and clanking sound as it struggled to eject it.

The Major and Caroline parted, swimming a little away from one another. Caroline recognised the face behind the mask and smiled her thanks and delight.

Sorenson knew his job. The pair being just out of range at the moment he kicked off towards them, taking another harpoon from his belt pouch and loading it into his speargun as he went.

He sensed the vibrations from another rapidly-moving Seasprite but swam on, knowing he had to take the Major out first in case he shot him while he was dealing with the newcomer. Then he breathed in hard as the Seasprite smashed into his side, jarring the speargun from his hand. Dazed, he spun helplessly in the water for a moment before managing to reorientate himself. He snatched at the floating speargun, grabbed it, and turned to close with his attacker. As his finger tightened on the trigger of the speargun the diver before him fired, impaling him through the stomach. The gun slipped from Sorenson's lifeless fingers, spinning slowly down to the sea floor below.

Dan Riordan glanced towards Caroline and the Major, meeting Hartman's eyes. The Major smiled with them, gave him a brief nod of thanks, and the three of them swam off together, back to the safety of the Poseidon.


FIFTY-THREE
“Kilo One to Connecticut, we’re coming in alongside you.”
“Roger, Kilo. See you when we get back to base.”
The smaller sub moved into position below and to the right of the larger, its sonar and other systems maintaining it all the time at a safe distance from the Connecticut.

On the Kilo Scobee called his superiors. “We’ve rendezvoused with Connecticut, Sir,” he told the Admiral. Everything seems to be going fine right now. Only trouble is, as I say, I doubt if we can maintain the deception for too long. And I can’t be sure our little ruse is going to succeed anyway. We could say we needed some more supplies for the prisoners, but we’re not that far from the colony now and there must be plenty there. They’d wonder why we needed some.” And if they did think anything was amiss, it’d blow the whole plan. “I’ll have to give some thought to what exactly we’re going to do.”


Hearing a crowd of aquanoids, plus the pursuing guards, stampeding in his direction Jameson had found an empty storage cupboard and concealed himself in it while they ran past. After they’d gone he decided to stay there for a little while, before trying again to reach the submarine pens. Somehow it seemed safer right now to remain hidden rather than move about in the open.

But he knew that once things had calmed down they’d conduct a more methodical search, and before long find him there. He also sense that in trying to evade the guards he’d moved some distance away from the pens. Which meant he’d have more ground to try to negotiate in making his escape.

He felt a sudden stabbing, fiery pain in the chest, like a heart attack, and guessed what it was. He'd need to get back in the water soon, or give himself up. Obviously the time he'd spent outside earlier hadn't been long enough. It looked like his only option was to surrender.
Being a fighter, he decided to leave it till the last possible moment. And for the time being, stayed where he was.

White House Situation Room
“I’m not at all sure this is going to work,” said Admiral Baker.
“And if it doesn’t…” With his hands the Secretary of the Navy described the shape of a nuclear mushroom cloud in the air.

The President was looking really rattled. He’d never had to face anything quite as serious before. It was even worse, all told, than nine-eleven. His head kept moving from side to side and up and down, as if he thought there was something in the room which might solve the problem if only he could spot it. “Gosh,” he kept on murmuring. “What are we going to do? Wow….”

The Admiral was tapping out a rhythm on the table like a pianist, helping himself to think. “Only one thing I can suggest. A two-pronged strategy. We try both plans so that if one fails, the other will still succeed. Thing is, it means getting in touch with this Hartman guy. And from what they tell us he’s gone apeshit and taken the Poseidon off on a little cruise.”
“Well if you think it’ll work,” the President said, relieved to have found a straw to clutch at. “I guess we’d better get on and try it.”


Together, Kilo One and the Connecticut continued on their way towards the colony. Soon, their echosounders detected the submarine canyons at the edge of the continental shelf, where two of the tectonic plates on which rested the Earth’s land masses met. Here the ocean floor sloped away from 500 feet, just beyond the Bahamas, to 12,000. The canyons were narrow but deep steep-sided valleys, formed many thousands of years ago at times of lower sea level and enlarged over millennia as the action of the currents wore away the rock. They were every bit as vast and bottomless as anything on the surface.

Scobee wondered if they’d ever been explored properly; what secrets might lie at the bottom of them. He’d quite like to find out one day, but guessed he wouldn’t get the chance. Not yet, anyhow, with immediately more important things on his mind.


On the Connecticut Frank Bruton felt a little more relaxed now, with the Kilo to help keep an eye on things and fire on any enemy vessel which might attempt something stupid. If it was the Kent girl who was the trouble, they’d soon sort her out. If it was anything else, he was confident that with the subs’ combined armament they could deal with any hazards quite effectively on their own.

However the radio operator didn’t share his mood. Whenever he spoke to his counterpart on the Kilo, or another member of its crew, to maintain contact and check that everything was fine their affirmative response was somehow too calm, too controlled. As if, under the surface, something was in fact not quite right.


HMS Poseidon
Because the Poseidon was nearer this time Caroline was able to get to the submarine before suffering any serious ill effects, but she was nonetheless starting to feel uncomfortable by the time the three of them staggered from the airlock. She leaned against the wall, resting on her outstretched arms, and waited while her breathing returned to normal.
“You alright?” asked the Major.

Eventually she turned to face him. Now at last she was actually able to speak. “Yes, I think so. Mike, I’ve got something to tell you.”
Still a little breathless, she explained all about Greatrix’s virus, while Riordan and the Major listened in growing horror.
“Let’s get back to the control room,” said Hartman.

“Are you sure about this?” asked Commander Hillyard when she had finished her story. “They’ve got this virus - ”
“That can turn everyone into an aquanoid, like me. Yes, I’m sure. I’ve no idea when it’ll be ready, but probably soon.”

Silently, the Major looked round at his companions: the submarine crew, the SBS men on the bridge. It was an appeal as much as anything else. He wanted to know what they thought he should do.
None of them had any suggestions. They just turned and looked at one another.
"They won't let us try anything again," Hillyard sighed.
"I don't think I can make the decision," Hartman said finally. Grim-faced, he moved to the Gertrude. None of them objected, for they all knew he was right. None of them could have made the decision either.

It looked like his superiors had been trying to contact them anyway, going by the light flashing on the Gertrude’s console. Though they couldn’t track the submarine’s position they could still broadcast radio signals to it on the correct frequency, and hope he would answer.
The Major pressed the key to open the channel to Northwood. "This is Major Hartman on HMS Poseidon calling Joint Operations Command. Major Michael Hartman calling......"
The voice of a rather startled radio operator answered him. “Major Hartman? Shall I put you through to Admiral Beckett, Sir?”
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Donald Beckett was the effective head of the Royal Navy, administratively and for command purposes.
“I’d be grateful if you could,” said Hartman.
A moment later he heard Beckett’s crusty tones address him. "Major! What the hell did you think you were doing? You're in serious trouble, you know that?"
"When the time comes I'll face the music, Sir. Right now I think you'd better listen to what I have to say."

Beckett listened. After the Major had finished his explanation, it was a moment or two before he said anything. “It…it seems totally incredible. And that’s what the girl says?”
“We know these people are wizards with drugs, genetic engineering, bacteriology, lots of things. I’d say it’s no more incredible than the aquanoids themselves.”

”I’ll have to let the government know about this. They’ll have to decide what to do. As a matter of fact we’ve been trying to contact you.” He told the Major about the recapture of the Kilo and what Captain Scobee and his crew were now doing. “But they may need help, in case it doesn’t work. I wondered if your aquatic friend could swim over there and take out the Marcotech people with a few knockout capsules.”

The Major glanced at Caroline. She had already been through one trying experience in the last few hours and he didn’t like to subject her to another, should things not go according to plan. “Well, I don’t know, Sir. I can ask her.”
“Make it an order. At the moment she’s under your command.”

The Major frowned to himself, not sure if Caroline would see it that way. “Like I say, Sir, I could ask her.”
“You’re an insubordinate bastard, Hartman.”
“Yes, Sir. But let’s worry about that after we’ve sorted out
Marcotech, shall we?”

“If you say so, Major. But first you’ll have to take care of that overgrown shark that’s prowling about. It’s already sunk both the American warships; not a single survivor.”
The Major whistled. “I hope something like this never happens again. Fortunately we’ve already dealt with Jaws, gave it a torp right in the gob.”
“Then as soon as the Connecticut’s in range, she’s to get going.”

Caroline was hovering nervously beside him. “What does he want me to do?”
The Major told her. “I need a break,” she sighed.
“That’s what I was thinking. But there is rather a lot in the balance and as the man says, we can’t let everything hinge on whether the Americans can pull it off. Will you?”

If it does go pear-shaped and I could have prevented that, but I wasn’t there, I’ll never forgive myself, Caroline thought. And I don’t want anyone to be able to say I let it happen.”
“Yes,” she said flatly, “I’ll do it.”

White House Situation Room
The team had now been joined by two experts from the Disasters Committee, one of them was an environmental scientist from Hale University, Dr Stephen Kaplan. “The thing is,” Kaplan was saying, “I think we could cope with the effects of a major nuclear incident.” He meant, of course, “global nuclear catastrophe”. “After a fashion, anyway. If key personnel are evacuated to the bunkers in time, then government can go on, and we have a basis from which world order could eventually be restored. It’d take a while, but we’d do it. The extent of the devastation and the chaos might actually work in our favour because with emergency powers we’d be able to do things we couldn’t in a normal situation.” Kaplan reflected rather guiltily that people like himself, whose skills would be needed in any case, would have nothing to worry about. The destruction of law and order might give them the opportunity to reconstruct things on a better basis. They could emerge from the shelters where they had been safely hiding and take the credit for being pioneers of the brave new world.

The President was nodding enthusiastically. “Gosh, I don’t really like the idea of it. But I guess you’re right.”
“On the other hand, if Marcotech release this virus, the chances are anyone could die who didn’t happen to be near a source of saltwater. We’re not quite sure if these aquanoids can survive in fresh or chemically treated water. People living near the coast would probably be alright. But everyone else; there’d be mass panic, a rush to get to the sea in which thousands would be killed. Of course, a lot of big cities – like New York, San Francisco or LA – are near it anyway. But people here in Washington, including ourselves – “ - this was the crucial factor - “ - would die. I’d say the consequences of this virus being released would mean more people dying than in a nuclear holocaust, given that Mankind is a very resilient species and many of those caught out in the open when the balloon went up might find a way of coping. If you look at Chernobyl - I know that’s the only example of an actual nuclear meltdown that we’re aware of, and it wasn’t deliberate - but there weren’t anywhere near as many people killed or badly affected as you might have thought.” He decided against admitting that he was only talking about the short-term effects of the radiation leakage. The long-term ones were still not fully understood. But even if he had done, it would have made little difference. From their faces it looked like they’d already made their minds up.

“And I’m not too optimistic about those who actually would make it to the sea in the event of the virus release. In their drugged state they’d be entirely dependent on Marcotech, and there’s no indication they could actually succeed in enabling humans to adapt to an underwater existence. There’s a problem, both physiologically and psychologically.”

“But Marcotech must be hoping they could get round it eventually?” asked the President.
“I assume so. However if it can’t, I don’t see them packing it all in, turning everyone back they way they were and just saying sorry for all the trouble they’d caused. Everyone would be after their blood. They’ll keep the drugged aquanoids on as a labour source providing them with food and other commodities, manufactured at sea because they’re dependent on sea water for survival, then shipped to the land by their human workers. By staying in control, they avoid any reprisals for what they’ve done, both before and after this business.”

Silence fell. “The British are meeting to discuss the matter at the moment?” asked the Secretary for the Navy.
The Secretary of State nodded. “I can confirm that. I’ve just been speaking to them.”
“It’ll have to be a joint effort anyway,” said Admiral Baker. “The Poseidon must attack the colony while Captain Scobee tries to retake the Connecticut. We don’t want that virus to be released but we don’t want those missiles to be fired either if we can help it.” The Chief of Naval Operations indicated his agreement.
“We’ll need
to time everything just right for this to work,” the Vice-President remarked. “What happens if the Poseidon reaches the colony before Connecticut’s near enough for the Kent girl to take it out?”
“Scobee will have to manage without her, that’s all.”

“We need to strike now,” insisted the Defense Secretary. “Because we don’t know when that virus will be ready. We’ve been trying to contact Marcotech but we can’t seem to be able to, and I doubt if they’d tell us anyway.”

“We’d better wait until the Brits have finished discussing this. They’ll have their own experts. Then we’ll make our move, whatever’s been decided.”
A light flashed on the internal telephone which sat on the desk beside the President. ”Yes?” he answered.
An aide’s voice came through. “Call for you from London, Sir. I think it’s the Prime Minister.”
Ten minutes later, the Poseidon was moving stealthily towards the colony like some sleek, deadly shark itself. In London, the politicians had made their decision.


FIFTY-FOUR
In the Control Centre of the colony a technician rose from the repaired main console. “Everything’s working now, Sir,” he announced thankfully. Greatrix breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief.

“Boss, look!” yelled a guard, and pointed to one of the console screens. On it a large blip of white light was registering, not far from the cluster of illuminated pixels representing the colony. “I think it’s a submarine, a big one. And it’s coming this way.”
“It’s not Kilo One or the Connecticut?”

“No, there they are.” He indicated the twin blips showing on another screen. “Looks like they’ve joined up.”
Greatrix was rubbing his chin worriedly. “It could be the British sub, the Poseidon. She’s a little too close for my comfort.” His voice hardened to solid steel. “Open all channels. Tell them to turn round and head right out of the exclusion zone or the Connecticut blasts away with everything she’s got. Alright?”


“So basically, we’re going over to blast the colony to pieces with our torpedoes unless they surrender?”
“That still applies,” the Major grunted. “Whatever else happens in the meantime. The virus could be ready right now for all we know.”
“We could just cause it to be released,” Caroline said anxiously.
“They’ll release it anyway if we do nothing.”
“You think everyone’s made the right decision?”

The Major snorted. “It’s partly because the politicos don’t want to cop it when the virus starts messing up everything. But there’s more to it than that. I think they’ve opted for the lesser of the evils.”
One thing was clear, it was all up to them now. With the Augusta and the Jackson both on the bottom, there was no chance of depth-charging the colony.
“How do you think they’ll release the virus?” asked Commander Hillyard.
Caroline shrugged. “I suppose all they’d have to do would be to break it inside one of the airlocks, wearing protective clothing, then open the outer door.”
“How far from to the colony are we?” the Major asked the Poseidon’s navigator.
“About five nautical miles, Sir.”
The radio operator put up a hand to catch Hartman’s attention. “Sir, I think someone’s hailing us. Could be Marcotech.”
The Major seemed undecided whether or not he should reply. Then he made up his mind. “Put them through.”
The RO clicked a switch, and a moment later the smooth, clear English voice issued from the console. “This is Sir Edward Greatrix, chairman of Marcotech International, calling unidentified submarine. You have violated the exclusion zone delineated by us around our colony, despite having been warned of the consequences should you do so. Turn around immediately or the Connecticut will fire its missiles.”

The Major leaned over the Gertrude. ”This is Major Michael Hartman of the Special Boat Service, in command of Royal Navy submarine HMS Poseidon. We acknowledge your warning but regret it cannot deter us from obeying our orders. You have a virus which will alter the biology of every single human being on this planet and in the process cause immense devastation and loss of life. You will surrender to our boarding party or we will fire on your installation, as we will if you attempt any treachery. We are prepared to risk the lives of the boarding party if needs be.”

For a moment Greatrix didn’t answer, and when he did the panic in his voice was obvious. The urbane upper-crust English manner was beginning to crack. “You must understand that if you don’t back off I’ll fire those missiles…..”
Then why don’t you? thought the Major.

“Major Hartman, please….” The Major didn’t reply. They heard the radio go dead.
“Won’t that just make him more determined to finish the virus before we arrive?” objected Hillyard, frowning.
“From what the scientific experts told our leaders, a virus will be ready when it’s ready. It’s not the sort of thing you can push.” He smiled at them wryly. ”And we’ve learnt something very valuable from that conversation. Firstly, I’m not sure he’s really prepared to launch those missiles in the last resort. Secondly, the virus isn’t ready, not yet. So we have some time.”
“For what?” Hillyard demanded.
“To send out that boarding party and round them all up, so that I don’t have to settle this through violence. Maybe.”
“It depends how far we can be sure that virus still isn’t ready,” muttered the Commander.
“Apart from that,” the Major said, again beaming disarmingly, “I have to confess that I really don’t know.”
Then the sonar operator gave a shout. “Sir, I think I’ve got a contact.”
“Another giant shark?”
“No, Sir, the profile’s completely different. Take a look.”

The Major and Hillyard scrutinized the readings on the screen. “There are two traces actually,” the sonar operator said. “And it looks to me like they’re both man-made, as well as pretty big. Got to be subs.”
Two traces, one partly muffling the other. Two submarines. One was noticeably bigger and longer than the other, bulky but streamlined. The smaller had to be Scobee and the Kilo. And the larger…..
"That's the Connecticut," Hartman said.


Dave Latimer rounded fiercely on his boss. “If you aren’t prepared to bloody well do it when it comes to the crunch, then let’s just call a halt to this bloody circus here and now! I’m sick and tired of all this pissing around!”
“Don’t you talk to me like that,” Greatrix snarled. “I’m in charge here and I won’t have it, understand?” As he spoke he was conscious of how feeble he sounded.
“Let me do it if you can’t,” Latimer said.
“Would you?” Greatrix looked at him searchingly and Latimer fell silent, suddenly quelled.

After a moment Greatrix called the Connecticut. “Frank, I want you to arm the missiles. Not fire them, just arm them so you can launch the moment I tell you to. OK?”
“OK, boss,” came the reply. There was only the slightest, barely perceptible hesitation beforehand.
“I’m glad someone’s doing what they’re told.” Greatrix looked up at Latimer. “Satisfied?”
“It’s something,” Latimer said.
Greatrix called the laboratory. “Dan, how are you getting on? Is it ready yet?”

”It should be another half hour before we get the results from the test,” replied Zuckermann. “In the meantime we’re concentrating on working on the antidote.” A note of reproach crept into the American’s voice. “You shouldn’t rush me like this, Ed. This is a tricky enough business as it is, especially when I’m trying to develop the antidote alongside the actual virus. Doing it like that instead of waiting until you’ve got the one and then starting on the other has never been tried before.”

“If anyone can do it, you can. That’s why I hired you so let me have my money’s worth.” He might have added about the approaching submarine, but if Zuckermann rushed it he’d only make mistakes.
“We could abandon the antidote later on and work only on the virus itself, if that helps.” Zuckermann said this very hesitantly.
“I decided we wouldn’t do that, remember,” said Greatrix, with a glance at Latimer. He’d had to. No-one wanted there to be any accidental infection of Marcotech personnel, not that couldn’t be cured.
“Why the hurry anyway?” Zuckermann sounded puzzled.
“Never mind, just get on with your work. I don’t want to disturb you.” Greatrix clicked the intercom off.
Latimer persisted.”If it isn’t ready before that sub’s here, we’re finished. And if we do fire those missiles it’ll be for nothing.”
Greatrix took a deep breath. ”I know, Im know. Let’s just leave it until the last possible moment before we have to – “
“Which means you won’t do it,” Latimer sniffed.
Greatrix’s fists clenched. “If there’s any more trouble out of you, Latimer, I swear I’ll – “
“Boss! Boss!” shouted the radar operator. “Look at the screen!” Greatrix heard the excitement in his voice and looked. “It’s the Connecticut!”
Greatrix made a calculation. The Connecticut should reach the colony pretty soon. He rounded triumphantly on Latimer, his eyes gleaming. “Deliverance!”
He swung round to the communications technician. “Tell them to blast Poseidon out of the water if it fires on us. And make sure Hartman knows where he stands.”
Latimer was unrepentant. “Suppose it happens the other way round? We’ll lose all our nuclear deterrent. And what if it doesn’t make any difference to him anyway?”
”We’ll be lost anyway if we don’t stop the Poseidon.” Greatrix’s voice rose in exultation. “This means we’ve got no choice now. We have to go on with this, don’t you see Dave? We have to.”
Latimer took in the look on his face, and his guts turned to ice water.


Bruton inserted his key in the slot in the missile launch console and twisted it. They heard a click, and the words “MISSILES ARMED” appeared on the VDU beside it, illuminated in red.
He turned to his Second Officer. “Lou?”

Holtz inserted his own key, formerly Rick Samuels’, in the slot and turned it. The computers in the warhead of each missile were now programmed to activate it at the required stage in the launch sequence.
“Well,” Bruton said softly, “let’s just hope we don’t have to use them.”

Moses Jameson decided it was time to leave his hiding place and gently eased open the door of the cupboard, peering out cautiously. No-one in sight just yet.
Somehow he had to reach the submarine pens and get out of here, before he had to give himself up. Somehow; and he was running out of time. The pains were getting more frequent and more acute.
He remembered the effect the water starvation had had on the girl, and shuddered.

“Stupid of them to let themselves be spotted,” remarked Hillyard.
“Considering what she can do if anyone attacks her, I don’t think she’s much bothered whether anyone finds her or not.” The Major turned to the aquanoid beside him. "All right, Ariel - I mean Caroline. Off you go. If we can knock out the crew of that sub before they fire their missiles, that'll put paid to any risk of a nuclear holocaust."
Once again she made her way to the airlock, slipped the harness on over her suit, took a Seasprite and exited from the sub.

There was little chance of her getting over to the Connecticut and knocking it out of the equation before they reached the colony. However the Major knew they could afford to stand off from attacking it for a while, and so give her a chance to pull it off. He called Beckett to let him know how things were going, among other things telling him about the warning they’d just received from Marcotech. "If you have an excuse to fire on the Connecticut and maybe knock her out before she launches the missiles, you may as well do so,” the Admiral said. “Whatever you do don’t attack her unless it’s in defence, or Greatrix will…you know.”

“I realise that, Sir. Let’s hope our secret weapon turns up trumps. She’s done alright so far. In the meantime, we’re keeping away from the colony.” He explained his reasoning. “She’ll need a bit of time if it’s to work.”

He waited rather anxiously for Beckett’s reply. “All right,” the Admiral said at length, clearly not entirely happy. “I’ll leave it to your judgement, Major. There’s a risk either way. But if you make the wrong decision it’ll be on your conscience for the rest of your life, if you still have a life.”

“I know that, Sir. Er, I was thinking..if we do take out the colony what will the people on the Connecticut do, if neither Caroline nor the Americans manage to take care of them? Nuke everything out of revenge?”

“Many of them are wanted in their own countries for various crimes; which in some cases means the death penalty. They’ve got nothing to lose by starting a holocaust and then seeing what happens. Of course, they could fall out with each other over the business. Anyway, let’s worry about it later.”


Kilo One
“What d’you reckon about this virus?” Scobee asked Rick Samuels.
“I dunno,” Samuels muttered. His sister and her family lived in Palm Beach, right next to the sea. They’d probably survive if the Marcotech virus was released, whereas it was a bit more doubtful they’d survive a nuclear holocaust. He had the impression their superiors had been hesitant about telling them about the virus in case they made what Washington would consider the wrong decision. But Hartman, with whom they were constantly in touch, knew and so it was impossible to keep it a secret from them.

“Let’s just hope the Brits will knock out the colony before it’s ready,” Scobee said. He’d weighed the pros and cons of it carefully himself. “We’re just here to make sure they don’t retaliate by going nuclear.”

Fortunately for his peace of mind Tiny da Suiza had no relatives who lived near the sea. “It’s even more important now we stop this,” he declared, clearly impatient to get started.

“Wait until the girl gets here,” Scobee told him. Their superiors had been keeping them informed about the British plan and its progress. Scobee had been told how Marcotech had managed to hijack his sub and the Poseidon, even if he still didn’t entirely believe it. “She may succeed in knocking out the Connecticut before we board it. If not,” he muttered, “things are gonna have to be timed real fine.”


FIFTY-FIVE
HMS Poseidon
"I've picked up a fourth trace, Sir, heading towards the Connecticut,” announced the sonar operator. Looks like a - "

“A fourth trace? What is it?" Hartman snapped. What the bloody hell could this be? No more complications, please.

“It can’t be the girl, she’s too small to register on the sonar. Whatever this is, it’s huge.” The sonar operator shook his head, his forehead deeply corrugated. “The echo I'm getting, I don't...I don't think it's a sub...."


The Seasprite was taking Caroline to where she wanted to go much faster than she would get there under her own power.

The air in her tanks was exhausted now. She would have to rely on her own ability to extract oxygen from the water. She took the regulator from her mouth, slipped off the harness with the tanks, and let it fall gently to the ocean floor beside the scooter.

She felt herself stiffen. There were vibrations coursing through the water, bouncing off her like the sonar of a dolphin. It was a pleasant sensation, vagely sensual, but it also meant danger.

There was something very big roaming about not far away. Not exactly roaming about but heading straight for her, homing in on her own vibrations.

She glanced back over her shoulder and saw it. A shadow rather than a distinct shape, its monstrous outline visible for the moment only in silhouette. A shadow with a multitude of arms that writhed and twisted like snakes.
The squid.

Not of course the one the shark had killed, but another of Marcotech’s giant mutants, and by the look of it even bigger than any they’d encountered previously. She pressed the accelerator hard, increasing the scooter's speed to maximum, squeezing the handgrips tightly as she shot forward like a bullet, feeling the water displacement on her skin on either side of her as it parted.

The squid being a poor swimmer, the Seasprite should be able to outrun it easily. At least, she hoped so.

She briefly considered using her telepathic powers on the squid, trying to persuade it not to eat her. But (a) she had no idea if they’d work on a mindless invertebrate, with a less complex brain and nervous system than any mammal, and if they didn’t she might end up in its stomach. And (b), her small size compared to the monster’s might mean it couldn’t sense her thoughts, any more than a human ever heard the voice of an insect. If it worked that way; there was still so much she didn’t know, that nobody knew, about how such powers functioned.

Not daring to glance back at the horror behind her, concentrating only on maintaining her grip on the Seasprite, she streaked on her way towards the Connecticut. As it was traveling towards her at the same time she was travelling towards it, the journey time should hopefully be halved, even though Connecticut would have cut its speed so that the slower Kilo could catch up with it.

Soon she could see the massive bulk of the submarine, itself like some awesomely huge creature of the deep, a Leviathan. Beside it, looking to her mind like a young whale swimming with its mother, was the smaller Kilo. Well timed, she thought; she would need to be back in an aerobic environment before too long.

She could still sense the vibrations from the squid, though only faintly, and there was no visual sign of it when she looked back. But she doubted that it had given up. It was still out there somewhere, lurking in wait for any unsuspecting life form big enough to provide it with a decent meal.

Was it too big now to regard her as that? She jolly well hoped so.

She was just beyond the subs’ scanner range. She slowed the scooter, stopped the motor, and let it go. Then she kicked off towards the leviathan.

Kilo One
Scobee put down the Gertrude. “That was Hartman. It looks like she’s here. Of course they may not let her in. Anyway, I think we should make our move now.”
The boarding party had already assembled in the control room. Scobee told them to put on the breathing apparatus. Tiny da Suiza was equipped with a few of the knockout capsules that Marcotech had used to take over the Connecticut originally.
If they didn’t come back, if anything appeared to have gone wrong, Harris and Cochrane had orders to disengage from the Connecticut and then blast her with the torpedoes.
“Everyone ready?” said Scobee. “Right, let’s go to the airlock.”

Connecticut
Frank Bruton was lost in his thoughts. If necessary, he was quite prepared to go on roaming the seas until the submarine needed to be resupplied. But it wouldn’t be necessary once the virus, from which they’d be safe in the sealed environment of the sub as long as they were careful, was released.
The intercom bleeped and the radio operator, Joe McGeer, answered it.

"Kilo One to Connecticut,” said the Kilo’s RO, Walters. “Listen, we got a problem.”
“What’s wrong?”

“One of the prisoners - he’s started reacting badly to the drug.” McGeer knew this sometimes happened. “If we give him another dose he might die. Can the doc take a look at him?” Scobee knew Marcotech would have ensured there was at least one medic on board, in case anyone fell suddenly ill or suffered some accident.

Of course McGeer couldn’t see the guns being pointed at Walters’ head and that of Bob Coughlan, the Kilo’s real captain by Lieutenants Harris and Cochrane of the US Navy, who Scobee had left in charge while he boarded the Connecticut.

“Can’t it wait until we reach base?” he said. “We’re almost there.”
“He might be dead by then, for all I know. The captain thinks it would be best.” It was an innocent enough thing to say, and no-one reacted to it.

On the Connecticut McGeer was frowning, puzzled and uneasy. The ex-soldiers and convicts, himself included, who Greatrix had assembled to act as Marcotech’s military wing were a pretty pally lot. They usually referred to each other by their first names. Why had Walters said "the captain" and not Bob?

”I, I guess you’d better,” he said after a moment. “Hang on, let me have a word with Frank.” He cut the connection.
McGeer called Bruton over. “Anything wrong?” asked the ex-SAS man, his eyebrows raised. McGeer told him what the problem was.
Bruton’s eyebrows lifted again. “So?”

McGeer told him of his suspicions. “I thought there might be something wrong before. Now this seems to prove it. Somehow it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure they’re really in control back there.”

Bruton shared his feelings with Holtz, his second-in-command. “We can’t let them dock,” Holtz said, shaking his head.
He and Bruton glanced at one other, each aware of the other's thinking. Bruton shifted indecisively, trying to make up his mind. One of the technicians, Fenner, gave a shout from the scanner. "Boss!"
Bruton whirled round angrily, hoping this wasn't some new problem coming up. "What is it?"
"Thought I saw something just then. Looked like some kind of big fish, only it had arms and legs."
"It's an aquanoid, you stupid shithead," Bruton snapped. "It's Caroline Kent. It must be. She's trying to get on board. You remember Greatrix warned us about that."

For the moment they concentrated on their more immediate problem. “If Joe’s right,” Bruton mused, “then they may decide to fire on us if we don’t let them in.”
“And if he’s wrong,” said Holtz, “they may think we’ve abandoned them. They might fire on us anyway. Or do God knows what.”
Bruton scythed the air with one hand in a gesture of rage at the complication. ”I don’t like this,” he snarled.


“Why don’t they Goddamn answer?” snapped Lieutenant Harris.


Caroline swam up to the conning tower of the Connecticut and banged on the metal plates as loud as she could.
"Something's tapping on the hull," said McGeer.
The sound reverberated through the interior of the submarine, as loud and clear as if she had been in the room with them.
"Must be her," said Fenner.
They heard her bang on the hull again, and again, and again.
“It's getting on my nerves," said Bruton. She was forcing them to listen by annoying them. The sound was echoing inside his head, pounding away at it relentlessly and making it hurt. He had enough worries at the moment without this awful racket.
"She's going to stick at it until someone answers,” said Holtz.
Caroline went on banging away as hard as she could.
"Listen," McGeer said. "There's a pattern to it. It's a code." Three hard bangs in quick succession, then two lighter ones, spaced several seconds apart.
"What's it saying?" demanded Bruton.
Holtz found a scrap of paper and stood listening carefully, translating the code and scribbling the words down on the flimsy. “NAVY CAPTURED ME. DID TESTS ON ME...HORRIBLE THINGS. ESCAPED. TIRED OF RUNNING. TAKE ME BACK TO COLONY...PLEASE. WILL TAKE DRUG.
NAVY MADE ME DO THIS FOR THEM. BUT I DON’T LIKE THEM ANY MORE THAN I DO MARCOTECH – MAYBE LESS.” Meanwhile, Caroline was wondering whether the last bit wasn’t absolutely true.

But was there really any chance they’d let her on after what happened at the colony? Given what was at stake it was worth a try, that was all.

"I'm getting her on the scanner," announced Fenner. She must have shifted position, bringing herself within its range. They saw her face on the screen, blurred and slightly distorted, looking weird and inhuman. She seemed to be staring straight into the glass, lips working as she silently mouthed her appeal, the gills in her neck moving with her speech.
Fenner lipread. "PLEASE ANSWER. PLEASE HELP ME, PLEASE. YOU ARE ONLY HOPE."
They looked to their commander, to see Bruton shake his head emphatically. "No. We can't take the risk that it's a trick. It's a pretty safe bet she's how the Navy managed to get the Poseidon back."
No-one said anything, but one or two of them were looking doubtful.
"No," said Bruton.


Why didn't they answer?
She banged and banged until her knuckles hurt, increasingly desperate. Her air would run out within twenty minutes at the most and she doubted she would make it back to the Poseidon in that time.
Still nobody seemed to be listening.
And still the Kilo hadn’t docked with the Connecticut. Come on, Captain Scobee….


AIR RUNNING OUT. WILL DROWN. LET ME ON BOARD.
"No," said Bruton again.


Captain, thought Don Coughlan. Walters had said captain, not Bob.
He saw what the radio operator was trying to do.


“Why don’t they answer?” muttered Scobee suspiciously. Did they suspect something?


Caroline could feel the vibrations again, and this time they were stronger.


"What's keeping them?" growled Scobee. The atmosphere in the Kilo’s airlock was paper-thin.
"Try and raise them again," he ordered Walters over the Intercom.
"Hey, are you still there, Joe?” Walters asked McGeer.
"Er - yeah, sure," he answered. "We just got a little problem, that's all. Something wrong with the door mechanism, I think. Means we can’t dock just yet.”
On the Kilo, Scobee frowned suspiciously.


If there was something seriously wrong on the Kilo it had to be flushed out, thought Bruton. He called them. “Er, can I have a word with Bob for a minute?”
A moment later he was speaking to Bob Coughlan. “Bob, is there anything wrong over there?”
“No,” said Coughlan, sounding surprised. “There’s nothing wrong at all, Commander.”


“OK,” muttered Bruton.
“Why?” he heard Coughlan say. The Navy men would have expected him to ask.
“Don’t worry. It’s nothing, nothing at all.”
Bruton straightened up from the radio. “There is something wrong on that fucking sub.”
Holtz came up to him with Caroline’s latest message. “Frank, you ought to see this.”
GIANT SQUID ABOUT. LET ME IN, PLEASE.


Caroline would feel a lot safer from the squid inside a three-inch-thick steel tube armed with torpedoes.
But they still didn’t seem to be listening.


"Another trick," Bruton was saying to his crew. "It's only 'cause the first one didn't work that she's trying this. Sorry, sweetheart, but you don't fool me."
There was a different pattern to the bangs now. They were not only louder and more rapid, but there was no interval between each any more. The pattern indicated mounting urgency and the face on the screen, too, showed clear signs of distress.
“What if she’s telling the truth?” insisted Holtz.
“Then we’ll send a torpedo up the thing’s arse,” Bruton replied. “Look, this is important. We gotta decide what to do.”


Outside, Caroline continued to pound on the airlock.


“Let them get on,” Bruton said to Holtz. “We’ll just have to put the gas masks on just in case. And we can use our own gas on them.”
“They’ve probably taken the same precautions.”
Bruton sighed. “I’d better tell Greatrix about all this.”

Kilo One
“The girl hasn’t knocked them out yet,” said Tiny.
Scobee lost his patience. "Give ‘em five more minutes, then we open fire."


Connecticut
Caroline's energy was fast running out. She abandoned hammering on the hull for the moment, letting her strength return. After a while she started up again, hopelessly.
The first pangs of air deprivation hit her, and she sobbed in terror.


"There’s obviously something wrong," Bruton told Greatrix.
"You think the Kilo might have been taken over?" Greatrix was silent while he tried to digest the information. Then he swore loudly and savagely.

Dave Latimer saw the look in his boss' eyes, the little nerve quivering in his forehead next to where a lock of hair was plastered to it and darkened by sweat. Again he felt cold and shivery.
With a massive effort Greatrix seemed to draw himself up, physically and mentally, and marshal his thoughts. "If you don’t let them on board they may fire on the sub."

"At least let them dock, then they can't engage us. That gives us a bit of time." But as he said it Bruton knew it was a poor argument. The Connecticut couldn't engage until undocking was complete, either. It was an equal contest. His sub had a higher complement of torpedoes, but a couple fired from the Kilo could do a lot of damage if they hit the right place. He'd have to be sure of knocking the other sub out straight away.

"In a dogfight you might get too badly damaged. We might be forced to fire the missiles and I want to avoid that if I can."

All this was what Bruton had been thinking himself. "If they are enemy, they'll try to knock us out anyway," he said. "They probably know about the virus."

He thought he heard the wicked grin in Greatrix's voice. "The answer's simple. If they want to come on board, let them. Stand by to repel them and make sure you've all got your masks on in case they try the gas trick. At the first sign you're losing the fight, launch those missiles."
He cut off.


For a long moment Bruton just stood where he was. Then he collected himself, remembering why he'd started on all this in the first place, and raised his voice. "All right, lads. The boss man says to let them on board. But put your breathing masks on first, and make sure you're all armed, just in case." He flicked on the intercom and repeated the message to the whole vessel.
"Don, Jamie, take about a dozen guys and get down to the airlock. Let me know as soon as you're in position." The men he had selected hurried off.
Have I made the right decision, he thought.
He called the Kilo. “OK, you’re cleared to dock. The problem’s sorted.”
“Thanks,” came the reply.


Caroline saw the Kilo move into position above the Connecticut.
It was a delicate manouevre, but the subs were at the same speed, and the helmsman knew his job. A little obscenely, the boarding tube extruded down from the Kilo’s belly and fastened onto the top of Connecticut’s conning tower with a clang.
With a thrust of horror she saw she couldn't use the airlock anyway while the two subs remained mated to each other. Was her fate now sealed?


Holtz nodded towards the scanner, where Caroline Kent's distorted face was still visible, gills fluttering in agitation. "What about her?"
The insistent tapping on the hull was now becoming a serious nuisance, preventing Bruton from thinking clearly. "Oh, let her in," he said. "We'll have our masks on. If she's got gas capsules on her they won't do us any harm. Ken, you’re the Morse expert. Tell her to use the torpedo tube."
Holtz went to the wall and started to bang on it.
Outside, Caroline had abandoned her tapping and was exploring the smooth hull of the submarine, probing for a way in. The torpedo tubes were her best bet but they could only be opened from the inside, whenever a torpedo was fired.
Her heart pounded wildly as she heard the sound from within the submarine. She listened carefully to the message.
YOU MAY COME ON BOARD. USE TORPEDO TUBE.
She swum round to the point on the bow where the tubes were located. The port of one of them was open.
Did they mean to get rid of her by luring her inside and then firing the torpedo? The thought made her chill, dangerously.
Another sharp stab of pain set her heart beating in a stacatto rhythm, like a machine gun.
Fearful in case the port should close again, knowing she'd drown in a few minutes if she didn't get on board the sub, she simply had no choice. She swam towards the open port, wriggling with fish-like ease through the hole. Behind her the port closed with a dull, muffled thud and she heard the rushing, rumbling noise as they started to pump out the water.
The air in the tube was thin, almost non-existent. She scrambled along in quick darting movements, keen to get inside the oxygenated environment of the sub as quickly as possible.


"Everyone ready?" Bruton said.
"Yes,” his men chorused back.
Meanwhile Scobee, Tiny and Samuels were now at the end of the boarding tube. They had already opened their own outer airlock and were looking down at the hatch in Connecticut’s sail.
Bruton was about to give the order to open it when a technician looked up from the radar screen. "Sir, something's coming towards us!"
"Another sub?"
"No I don't think so, it's moving too fast. It’s – “
“Holy shit!" they heard Fenner exclaim.
"What?"
Fenner pushed his chair back and jumped to his feet. "The scanner! Look at the fucking scanner!" Words failed him and he just pointed dumbly at the picture before him, mouth agape.
Everyone in the room spun round and looked at the scanner screen. They saw what was on it and reacted instantly.
"Merde!"
"Scheisse!"
"Fuck me!"
"I don't believe it, I don't fucking...."
A torrent of ejaculations in various languages poured forth as each man forgot himself and reverted to his native tongue.
On the screen was the monstrous, utterly terrifying shape of the giant squid.
And it was several times as big, at least, as when anyone had last seen it; two hundred, if not three hundred, feet long from the tips of its to the blunt tip of the elongated head, and at least half as wide.
At the same moment, the Navy scanner operator on the Kilo saw it too. "Look! Look! Look!" he screamed. For a moment sheer astonishment reigned on board the two subs. Then fear kicked in, because it was an inbuilt survival technique and basic instinct brought it to the surface. On the Kilo Walters sprang to their feet, shivering like a jelly. "It'll smash us to bits! It'll kill us! It'll – “
The squid was moving at a steady pace and unmistakeably in the direction of the two subs. The creature was intelligent yet mindless, acting only from instinct. The urge to survive. Which right now was telling it it was hungry.
It was now far too big to satisfy its ravenous appetite, and in danger of starving. The fish had either already been eaten, or had fled. Or soon would be. And before long in any case the squid would be too big for its brain to function properly, the nerve impulses having too far to go to reach whatever part of its body they were travelling to. Its movements would become sluggish and uncoordinated. Unable to move about in search of food, it would eventually die after which its decaying corpse would lose buoyancy and sink to the bottom, where it would itself become nourishment for the life forms that would move back into the area once it had gone, nature abhorring a vacuum.
As yet it did not know all that. It just wanted to go on living for as long as possible; the prerogative, and the motive, of all species. Together, the two subs presented to it an outline that was totally unfamiliar to it. It had no idea what this thing was, this bloated monstrous creature of a like it had never encountered before, only that it was big enough to provide it with a decent meal. Its desperate hunger overrode any thought it might have had that the object was dangerous.
On the Connecticut Bruton like everyone else was still staring helplessly at the nightmarish image on the screen. He managed to tear himself away from it, thinking fast. He hadn't expected anything like this but to his racing mind it did seem the squid was deadly, big enough to cause catastrophic damage to either of the two subs. Or even destroy them.

The squid was approaching at an angle of roughly forty-five degrees. Out of alignment with the torpedo tube ports.

It was closing fairly fast, but there was still time to reorient the Connecticut and bring the torpedos to bear on the oncoming monster. Pushing aside Holtz, he grabbed the radio and called the Kilo. "Kilo One, you saw that thing? Put me through to whoever's in charge there, right away!"

He'd said "whoever was in charge". But in the circumstances nobody registered it. "Yeah, we did! We gotta disengage so we can – “

Then Bruton heard a different voice cut in. “Let our people in, now! Open the airlock, then we can disengage. We can't do a thing while we're still docked with you." The subs would have to undock before either could fire at the squid. Locked together, they constituted a huge, ponderous, 25,000-ton mass far too unwieldy to turn swiftly.

But it would have to be the Kilo which took the initiative.In Marcotech’s new docking system the sub that locked on effectively trapped the other until it voluntarily disengaged. And it was the smaller sub that locked on to the larger, rather than the other way round, because otherwise the larger might damage it.

They couldn’t disengage until Scobee and his men were on board the Connecticut, at least. Unless they could take her, she would torpedo the Kilo once she’d dealt with the squid. Because now the secret was out.

The monster was coming remorselessly closer. The eyes of everyone in the room were locked on it as it as if transfixed.
"Disengage, for Chrissake!" yelled Bruton. "There's no fucking time!"
Harris saw his chance and pressed it home. "Then let us in!" he shouted.
Scobee called him from the airlock. "What's going on in there, Pete? Why aren't they opening the door?"
Harris almost gabbled in his haste. "You won't believe this but there's some kind of giant squid coming right towards us. We'll have to disengage before anyone can fire a torpedo at it. Whadda we do, whadda we do?"
Scobee had been trained to think fast. "I don't trust them. I reckon they know we're in charge of the Kilo and they just want to keep us out. We've got to get on board and take them out before we have to risk starting a nuclear war to sort this thing. That matters more than the squid."
Bruton was screaming into the radio. "I said disengage! What the fucking hell do you think you're doing? That thing could kill us all!"
"Open the door!" Harris shouted back. "Open the door, now!"
In the airlock Samuels turned to his commander worriedly. "Sir, oughtn't we to back off? That thing could smash both subs to pieces."
"Then they can't fire their missiles!" Scobee retorted. "We'll take the chance!"
The distance between the squid and the two subs was closing fast.
The Kilo remained stubbornly where it was.
The squid was coming closer....closer…. It was now about five hundred yards away. Four hundred....
In a few moments it would be too late to turn in time.
Three hundred..
Bruton tried one last time. "Disengage!"
No reply.
With a yell of pure rage, he ran to the airlock door release and slammed his fist down hard on the button.
The door swished open.
The Americans had been pointing their rifles down at the hatch. As soon as it was wide enough they began firing down into the airlock, at the same time as the Marcotech men were firing upwards. Men screamed, twisted, and fell down into the vertical tunnel beneath, bodies landing at the bottom with a soft, wet plop.
The Americans might have been at a disadvantage, because the enemy could easily pick them off as they came down the ladder. But the Marcotech avant garde and the first wave of attackers more or less massacred each other. On the Americans’ part it was a desperate, suicidal rush. The sound of rifle fire was deafening as it ricocheted around the confined space.
Scobee sensed the man beside him jerk and then crash down into the pit below. Holding tight to his rifle, he jumped down into the airlock, the heap of dead bodies on the floor cushioning his fall.
Behind him, the second wave of Americans were scrambling down the ladder. Scobee started to pick his way with difficulty over the pile of dead and dying bodies, reflecting that it was a miracle he was still alive. Meanwhile more of the mercenaries were fighting to get into the airlock chamber, handicapped by the mass of corpses blocking their way. As they struggled to heave them aside Scobee and his men opened fire, bringing them down.
Scobee realised the enemy were all wearing breathing masks. The gas would be useless against them. Connecticut would have to be taken violently, with bullets. Not what he really wanted.
The one consolation was that the breathing masks impaired the enemy’s vision. But that applied equally well to both sides.
He yelled into the radio built into his mask. "Disengage!" he ordered Harris. They couldn't wait any longer.
The airlock door began to slide shut. Get back!" Scobee yelled, seeing a few more of his men trying to force their way through the door. They didn’t respond. He gritted his teeth and opened fire, mowing them down.
The boarding tube came free, retracting into the underside of the Kilo's hull as the sub pulled slowly away from the Connecticut, turning ponderously as it did so.
On the Kilo Harris glanced at the scanner. The squid was starting to blot out the screen.
On Connecticut Bruton had already given the order to load the torpedoes. Now he was shouting further instructions down the intercom to the torpedo room, at the same time that the sonar operator was feeding them the target data.
"Five degrees left...” The helmsman yanked the joystick to adjust the rudder.
“Target now dead ahead, range one hundred yards. Prepare to…”
Too close! The squid was too close for them to fire at it! If they did they'd blow off the front of the sub.
Frantically Bruton yelled into the intercom. "Don’t fire! Don’t fire!”
Then the squid's massive bulk slammed into the Kilo and spun it round through a half circle. Harris was sent flying, his head slamming into a bulkhead. He felt his consciousness explode into a kaleidoscope of spinning lights that flashed on and off like pulsars. The sub was lurching in all directions, up and down and from side to side. It was almost impossible to stand up. Slightly stunned himself, Cochrane stared stupidly down at Harries’ unmoving body. From all around hideous groaning and screeching noises assailed his ears. A medley of different warning sirens were sounding. He became aware he was treading in something wet and looked down. The floor was awash with water, swirling round the unconscious Harris. Water, water everywhere, pouring down the walls and flooding in under the door. The hull must be ruptured.
To his horror he realised he couldn't breathe. He was surrounded by the water, completely immersed in it, taking it into his mouth and lungs and nostrils, feeling its crushing pressure squeeze the life out of him.
Mercifully, a tentacle then seized him and thrust him towards the monster's snapping beak. He was dead before he got there.


The squid released its hold, and slowly the shattered hulk of the Kilo sunk towards the ocean floor. One by one as the bodies were sucked out of the sinking hulk the squid, sensing the presence of food in the water, snatched them up and thrust them into its mouth. The six aquanoids, realising their danger, tried to swim away. They, too, were seized in the massive tentacles and instantly crushed to a pulp before being fed to the beak. All alike were food, and the squid wasted no time in finishing them

Connecticut
The alarm sirens filled the air on board the submarine. “Everyone to the airlock!" Bruton yelled to his men. All hurried to obey the order, including those in the torpedo room. Initially the Americans triumphed by sheer force of numbers, as they swarmed down the ladder and burst from the airlock, shooting down any of the enemy who appeared. Scobee and his party staggered to a halt and glanced around rapidly, getting their bearings. They heard running feet come down the corridor towards them.

“Split!” he yelled. According to a prearranged plan the group broke into three and ran off in different directions with Scobee, Tiny, Samuels, Mouse all staying together. Their group started to make for the rear of the vessel, while the other two headed for the control room and the living areas respectively.

The Americans were dispersing throughout the sub, trying to cause confusion. An enemy that wasn't all in one place, that you couldn't keep your eye on and so perhaps contain, was an enemy that rattled and disorientated you. And to make things worse for the Marcotech crew – but for the Americans too - something was churning the water around the Connecticut into a turbulent, swirling mass that buffeted and rocked the sub, so that you had to struggle to keep your balance.
Bruton’s powerful voice boomed out over the tannoy. "Surrender or we'll fire the missiles! Surrender!"
But in the thick of the fighting no-one heard him. They were all too busy trying to kill before they were killed. Those who weren't shot down were felled by fists, or by a blow to the back of the head with a rifle butt.

The fact that every now and then everyone was sent flying to sprawl on the floor by the lurching of the submarine added to the confusion. Tiny da Suiza got off a wild shot at a Marcotech sailor before falling over. Lying on the floor he was being forgotten about, trampled on. He brought his hands up to protect his head. Fortunately, his huge size and bulk protected him from serious injury.

As three or four Marcotech men came running along the corridor towards them Scobee and his companions opened fire, bringing them all down, but not before several of their group were killed. There was no time to stand around mourning them. "Come on!" Scobee yelled to the others.

They pounded down the corridor that led to the control room. And skidded suddenly to a stop. Ahead of them the narrow passage was packed with a mass of struggling bodies. And it looked like Marcotech were gaining the other hand. If they tried to force a way through they might be overpowered or shot before they reached their objective.

“About turn!” Scobee shouted. They ran back towards the airlock, seeking a different route to their destination.

In the control room the radar operator jerked suddenly rigid in his chair, aghast. "The Kilo, it's not registering!"

They looked at the screen, and saw that the other submarine’s light-trace had vanished. There was nothing on the scanner either.

Bruton paled, and cold sweat broke out all over his body making his clothes stick to his skin. "It..it's gone! That thing must have fucking....must have...."
They'd be next.
Again he hurried to the PA system. "Ted, Ronnie, Carl, get down to the torpedo room!"

There was a lull in the fighting, which was a confused business anyway, and they heard him. Searching the wardrooms for any of Scobee’s men, the three men stopped dead. Ted Alberman glanced at Carl Schweitzer, the Weapons Officer. "He told us to - "
“Better do as he says!" Schweitzer snapped, and hurried to obey Bruton’s order.

Bruton was hoping earnestly that the Kilo had been destroyed because it hadn't had time to engage the squid, and not because the thing was impervious to torpedoes. He hoped to fucking Hell it wasn’t.

The torpedo room crew struggled to force their way through the heaps of bodies, bracing themselves against the constant rocking of the sub.


Caroline had reached the end of the torpedo tube and was banging furiously on the door, feeling the panic rise as her air ran out. "Please, let me out! Please!"

Had they forgotten about her? Were they just going to leave her here to die? Was that what they had intended all along? Or might they flood the tube and drown her?

She banged again, aware that she was using up her air, her energy, even more quickly by doing so. Catch-22.

"Please let me out of here!" she shouted, on a rising note of hysteria. "I can't....can't breathe....."
She could have called the Major for help but it was too late now. By the time he got there she’d have suffocated. Should she use the last of her air in calling him to let him know what was happening, or continue to bang on the door in case someone responded?


Scobee had a nasty feeling not enough of his men had managed to get on board to succeed in taking over the sub. Everything depended on whether they could get to where he was making for and barricade themselves in.
“Nearly there!” he shouted.
They turned a corner to find himself facing half a dozen of the enemy, all carrying rifles. They'd guessed where he was making for, and made sure they'd get there before he did.

Outnumbered. Shit. Briefly the thought of surrendering flashed through his mind. Then he saw the four mercenaries level their rifles at them and realised that this time they were taking no prisoners.


“What’s the situation?” Bruton demanded.
“Not sure,” Holtz answered. “It’s very confused. Not clear how many of them there are exactly.”
“Right,” Bruton hissed, and made for the console where the firing button for the missiles was. “We had our orders. Now I’m going to carry them out.”


Alberman, McGuigan and Schweitzer ran into the torpedo room and skidded to a stop at the sound of the banging coming from inside one of the tubes.
"What's that?" asked Alberman.
"Something's inside number four," said McGuigan. For a moment he feared the squid had managed to get one of its tentacles inside the tube; or was it too big for that? He suddenly realised what was making the noise. "The girl! Christ, we've forgotten about her."
"Get her out of there," ordered Schweitzer.
In the tube Caroline was reaching for her radio. Her consciousness already slipping away, she seemed to hear the faint sound of babbling voices, coming to her as if from a long way off. Then she heard the fumbling and clattering of bolts being drawn back, catches released. Her heart sang out in relief as the door was swung open and she felt the precious air on her face.

She felt several pairs of arms grip her and help her out of the tube, lowering her gently to the floor. She lay there for a moment, breathing in and out in great wheezing gasps. Then shakily she lifted herself to her feet, to find herself facing the three Marcotech sailors. Schweitzer was already loading the torpedoes.

She broke away from them, running for the ventilation grille on the wall, her fingers reaching for her belt pouch and he bag of knockout capsules within. Alberman made a grab at her arm, missed and caught her round the waist instead, locking his arms tightly about her body.

It was then that the sub gave a massive, shuddering lurch to starboard. The two of them staggered and Alberman’s hands, seeking to maintain their grip on Caroline, clawed at her and found the belt of the pouch. It came off and fell to the floor. She broke free from him and gave him a shove which sent him reeling, but before she could snatch up the pouch the butt of McGuigan's rifle smashed down onto her skull and blackness overwhelmed her. Slowly she folded in two and collapsed at his feet.


Bruton was flung away from the missile launch console as if by a giant hand as the floor dipped sharply beneath his feet.


The movement of the sub sent the four mercenaries staggering, almost dropping their weapons. It was Scobee who recovered his wits first. He sprayed the men with bullets, cutting them down instantly.
The Connecticut gave another violent lurch, then steadied.

Scobee listened. He could hear voices shouting in alarm and confusion. The sub was steady, but he could hear faint creaking and groaning sounds like the hull was being subjected to an enormous amount of pressure.
In the control room Bruton and Holtz were picking themselves to their feet. "What happened?" said Holtz shakily.
Bruton stood very still and listened for a moment. "We're not moving."
He called the engine room. "What’s happening? We ain’t going nowhere."
"We can't. Something's stopping us from moving. The motors are at full throttle but I can't budge her an inch."
Bruton whitened. "You mean the squid....."
They looked at the scanner. It was completely blotted out by something: a shifting, squirming, heaving, rubbery mass of tissue.
"That thing's got hold of us," McGeer said quietly.
Bruton swore savagely, smashing his fist against the bulkhead beside him. Too late! Too fucking late!
"Christ, if it's that close...." He snatched up the Intercom and gabbled down it. "Carl, don't fire! Listen, whatever you do, don't fire!"
"What's going on?" Schweitzer replied. "We felt that bump.."
"Yeah, so did we. The squid's got hold of us. It must be right up against the hull. You fire one of those torps and you'll blow us all to fucking Kingdom Come."

In the torpedo room Schweitzer looked at the row of indicator lghts, each representing one of the torpedo tubes, on the wall. None of them was showing an obstruction. All the ports were clear at the moment, which meant the squid wasn't anywhere near them, so they couldn't have hit it even if that had been a sensible thing to do. He reported this to Bruton.

"We can't launch the missiles either," said Holtz, studying a winking red light on the firing console. "It must be right over where the tubes are."
"This is a right fucking cock-up," Bruton snarled, somehow feeling that was a bit of an understatement.
Schweitzer came through again. "The Kent girl's safely on board. She caused a bit of trouble but we managed to deal with it."
"She's not our problem right now. That thing will crush us like an egg, like it did the Kilo. It's trying to split the hull open so it can get at us."
"We're still alive," Schweitzer pointed out. "We'd be dead already if it could do it that easily."
"It'll do it in the end," Bruton said. The Connecticut was larger, sturdier, than the Kilo. It meant they would last a while longer; but how long.
If it pecked a hole in the hull with its beak….
"The reactor," he gasped. If there was damage to the reactor...
"The safety systems will have cut in," Holtz reminded him.
“Yeah, it’s scrammed,” confirmed the technician at the environmental control console. The reactor automatically shut down whenever there was any damage to the sub, anything the computers interpreted as likely to lead to a meltdown. The safety margin was a wide one. The violent impact as the squid seized the Connecticut, the pressure on the hull, had been identified as a hazard. As a result the reactor, and therefore the engines, were no longer functioning and for the time being, anyway, they weren’t likely to be going anywhere.
“I’ve a good mind to finish off that stupid Kent bitch,” Bruton snarled. He wanted someone to take it out on.
“Greatrix won’t like that,” Holtz muttered.
“Who’s gonna tell him?”
With a sigh Bruton moved away. He knew this was no time for petty revenge. Later, maybe. “I’m gonna call base,” he told them.


In the torpedo room Schweitzer looked down at Caroline’s unconscious body. “If she comes round, give her another tap with the rifle.
“I’ll see if I can find something to tie her up with,” said Alberman. He started moving about in search of some suitable material for the job.
“Hold it!” shouted the captain. He thrust out his arms to hold Alberman back. Lying on the floor just in front of him was a small white cylindrical capsule. “That comes from the pouch she was wearing. It’s what they used to knock out the Poseidon. We don’t want to tread on it.”
He scooped up the capsules and dropped them into his pocket. “That’s sorted out her little scheme, at least.”


“You idiots!” roared Greatrix. “You’ve really gone and damn well blown it!”
“Let’s just hope it gives up,” said Bruton, rather feebly.
“Yes, let’s,” Greatrix snarled. “There’s nothing we can do to help you at the moment, we’re under siege. Only the Poseidon could….” He reflected on the irony of it. “And I doubt very much if she will.”
“So what do we do then?” Bruton asked, helplessly.

“As you say, we’ll just have to hope it gives up. Meanwhile if it turns out we can help you after all, we will. Whatever happens, as soon as it becomes possible to fire those missiles, do so. Just one of them will be enough for the time being.”

“Alright,” said Bruton tersely, and cut off. He realised he hadn’t mentioned the capture of Caroline Kent, but decided it didn’t matter. She wasn’t the problem right now and anyway had been taken care of.

Greatrix slumped like sack in his chair, his dull eyes staring blankly at the wall. The virus still not ready, the Poseidon threatening to blast them into oblivion, and now this.

His eyes found the photograph on the desk, and it began to burn itself deep into his brain, as it always did.


FIFTY-SIX
Bruton’s voice issued from the tannoy again. "Scobee, for God's sake pack it in! This is no time to fight. We're all in serious trouble. That thing's got hold of us and it's gonna crush us to a pulp."
Hearing this, Samuels paused, looking at his superior uncertainly. "Shouldn't we do that, Sir? Give it up, I mean.”

"No way, sailor," grunted Scobee. "It's just what they want us to do."
They pressed on. From time to time they came across dead Navy or Marcotech bodies, some unconscious having been knocked out when the squid attacked, or a party of Marcotech sailors with whom a brief gun battle followed. Each time Scobee’s party won, but at the cost of several more lives. Scobee noted that Mouse, primarily an engineer and clearly terrified, was handling his rifle with as much skill and courage as any of the others. They’d all had the training, after all.

In a few minutes they came to a point where the corridor divided into two, the left-hand passage being little more than a low, narrow tunnel just big enough for someone to stand up in. They hurried down the tunnel, which was only a few yards long, and soon found themselves on the threshold of the chamber containing the nuclear reactor.

“Will we meet any opposition in there, do you suppose?” asked Samuels.
“Doubt it,” said Mouse. “There’s too much vital equipment in there they don’t want to damage.”

They found the reactor chamber empty. This wasn’t suprising; the danger of absorbing emissions of radiation from the equipment, always a possibility, limited how long someone could stay there or in the transit tunnel. Fortunately, as they had suspected the reactor appeared to have shut down.

The Marcotech reactor technicians had been hiding from the battle in the control area for the reactor and turbines, located in the engine room beyond, along with the crewmen who worked there. The technicians wore blue coveralls with a tiny flashlight on the left breast, which lit up whenever the radiation reached a dangerous level. Three or four of Scobee’s men were deputed to stay there and guard them.

Back in the reactor chamber Scobee looked round the banks of control consoles, the spherical housing for the nuclear reactor that indirectly drove the submarine’s engines, the raft on which the two main engines and the electrical generators were mounted, the workbenches and machine shop used when any vital equipment needed repairing. At the far end of the room the massive propeller shaft could be seen disappearing through the wall. Various warning notices were clearly displayed.
His gaze settled on the reactor.
“So what are we gonna do now, Sir?” asked Mouse, a little nervously.
"What did you think we were gonna do?" Scobee said, gravely.
Mouse stared at him. "S-s-sabotage the reactor? B-but....."

“It’s our only chance,” Scobee told him. “With any luck we won’t need to go that far.” They could smash the machinery in the engineering spaces. But that wouldn’t stop the missiles from being fired, or for that matter the crew escaping to the surface through the airlock.
“Won’t they try to stop us?” persisted the little engineer.

"No-one knows we're here. It’s still a confused situation outside, and besides the captain’s got that squid to worry about as well.” All the same, he had stationed four ratings on guard at the entrance to the transit tunnel. “We’ll just have to get it finished before they manage to root us out.”
"It's crazy," said Rick Samuels flatly. "Sir."
"It's all we can do," said Scobee. "Personally I'm inclined to agree with you, Rick. It's crazy. But we can't just sit here and let these guys blow up the world."
"So we're gonna threaten to start a meltdown unless they give in?”
“They may already have taken care of the rest of our boys. This is going to be retaliation if they do launch the nukes. We’ll make sure they have time to think again.”
“They may not,” said Rick. “We’ll get ourselves killed for nothing.”
"Maybe we will. But if it's the end of the world and I haven't done a God-damn thing about it, I..I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.” It was a stupid remark, but no-one cared.
"Me too, Sir," said Mouse.
“And me,” chorused Tiny and Rick.
Scobee contemplated the reactor. Through controlled nuclear fission, the reactor generated an enormous amount of heat which was then transferred to a series of pipes, containing the pressurized water needed to cool it for safety reasons, to a heat exchanger. Flashed into high-pressure steam at a temperature of hundreds of degrees, the water passed through a second series of pipes to drive the engines, which in turn drove the propeller through reduction gears and also provided electrical power to the Connecticut and its various systems.

The reactor had a core of highly-enriched Uranium-235 surrounded by heavy shielding consisting of alternate layers of lead and chemically-treated plastic, with an external cladding of stainless steel. The atoms of uranium within the core were continually being bombarded by electrically-charged particles called neutrons. Whenever a neutron penetrated a uranium atom and struck its nucleus the atoms would split and release two more neutrons, this process involving the release of energy as heat. When the released neutrons each penetrated more uranium atoms there would be a further and proportionately greater discharge of energy, and so on, the total power multiplying as the process continued. In an uncontrolled or supercritical fission reaction, such as happened when an atomic bomb was deliberately detonated, the explosion of energy would ultimately be highly dangerous to anyone in its immediate environment, melting through the reactor casing and releasing deadly radiation. Obviously on a submarine the process had to be controlled.

The uranium in the core was arranged in a series of plates, called fuel elements, which had to be in close juxtaposition to one another for the reaction to be continuous. Between each was a space for one of a series of rods, made of a material called cadmium which could safely absorb the neutrons, to drop into. The rods were hydraulically or electrically operated. Lowering in all of them together would stop the nuclear reaction. They could also be used to control it, by lowering in only some of the rods or partially retracting them all. They were designed to all fall automatically into place and shut down the reactor, in the event of a serious malfunction. At present about half of them were lowered, which was the normal state of affairs.

If all the rods were removed the reactor would go from a critical state, one in which the rate at which the neutrons were absorbed equalled the rate at which they split the uranium atoms, to a supercritical one, where the rate of fission exceeded that of absorption and meltdown, would occur before long unless they were replaced. The control of reactors required the continuing measurement and adjustment of their condition, by altering the position of the rods.

So things could be made to go supercritical by simply withdrawing the control rods. But there were other things that had to be done first. The reactor was equipped with scram systems to allow it to be shut down, either automatically or by the crew in the control room, in the event of radiation leakage, loss of coolant or accidental removal of the control rods. Each of the automatic systems had at least one backup.

Scobee looked straight at Mouse. “We’re gonna have to override the scram systems, and the backups, so we can restart the reactor – without them cutting in again when we take out the rods - and so the reactor can’t be shut down from the bridge. Reckon you can do that?”

Mouse wiped his forehead. “I’d say it’s possible. The last bit will be the trickiest. That sort of thing hasn’t been done very often.”
“Well if anyone can do it you can,” Scobee told him.

“I don’t think Marcotech allowed for anyone wanting to do it. But it wouldn’t be any less clever than a lot of the things they’ve done.” Mouse was being uncharacteristically immodest, but right now he deserved it.

Tiny was looking up and around them, listening to the faint groaning and ceaking of the hull. “That squid thing has obviously got hold of the sub. If they could fire those missiles they’d have done it by now, we’d have heard the warning sirens. It must be blocking the launch tubes.”
“And what if it changes position, or gives up?” Samuels reminded him.
“Once the Brits have dealt with the colony they’ll be over here to take care of the Connecticut. Perhaps we’d better wait.”
“There’s no knowing what will happen in the meantime,” Scobee told him. “So let’s get to work.”
Tiny went through into the engine room and told the Navy men there, and their prisoners, what was going on. There was obviously a risk involved, but he wasn’t going to let the prisoners go free to cause trouble, probably come back later with guns. They could of course make a break for it and be shot. It was their choice.


In the Control Room of the colony Greatrix was crouched over the radar screen. He had fallen strangely, and annoyingly, silent during the past few minutes, as if accepting their fate with resignation.
”I’m not sure why, but they seem to be standing off,” Bromhead remarked, speaking of the Poseidon.
“How long for?” Latimer made for the door. “I’m getting out of here. I’m surrendering now before I either get drowned or blown to pieces.”
Greatrix heard this and looked up sharply from the screen. “No submarine leaves this base without my permission.”


Poseidon
Mike Hartman hurried onto the bridge, returning from a few minutes’ rest in his cabin. "Any word from Caroline?" he asked anxiously, not much reassured by the brief break.

"No, 'fraid not Sir," said the radar operator. “Er – I think something’s happened which you ought to know about.” He glanced at the…operator, giving him his cue.

“It looks like the Connecticut’s stopped moving,” said the man, inviting the Major to inspect the screen. It was blank except for a single large, fuzzy, stationary blob.

The Major went rigid. “It could be they’re preparing to fire the missiles.”
“I’m not sure what’s happened exactly, Sir. At one point there were three traces on the screen. One was the Americans, the third I’m not sure about. Now there’s only two and they seem to have merged, as if they’re very close together.”

“So one of them’s been destroyed,” Hartman muttered, almost to himself. He felt a prickly sweat break out all over his body.
“Could be, Sir. But I don’t think it was the Connecticut. I could have sworn the Americans’ sub just vanished from the screen as if the new trace, the third one, had - ” He fought for words. It had been like the new arrival just swallowed the Kilo up.

The Major thought of Caroline. By his reckoning they should surely have heard from her by now, if she’d succeeded in knocking out the Connecticut’s crew.

He paced about for a few moments, troubled by indecision. Then he remembered his duty. “We’ll deal with it later. Our priority is to knock out the Marcotech base.”


The squid knew that the fabric of the submarine itself could not be eaten. What it was interested in was getting at the abundance of food it could sense moving about inside. It wouldn’t give up until sheer weakness, brought about by starvation, caused it to let go.
“That thing isn't going to give up," said Bruton.

A red light flashed on the environmental monitoring console. "There's a leak in number four storage hold,” said a technician. “Not a big one, but – "
"You should be able to pump it out. Do that."
“What about the Americans?” Bruton asked Holtz.
“Not sure yet. The situation’s still pretty – “
“I’m getting tired of hearing that the situation’s still pretty confused,” Bruton snarled.
“Yes, Sir. I’m sure everyone’s doing their best.”
“Make sure they keep on looking for them. We may as well keep ourselves busy while we’re stuck here.”


“Hartman’s on the move again,” announced Bromhead. “In our direction.”
“That’s it,” snapped Latimer. “I’m going.”
“Hold on a moment,” said Greatrix. “I’m thinking.”
Of a name that somehow seemed familiar. Hartman…..


Poseidon
They were now less than a mile from the colony.
“What happens if they evacuate the base?” Hillyard asked.
“We fire on any sub that leaves,” the Major answered curtly. “What if it’s got a supply of that virus on board?”
"We’re nearly there,” announced the Navigator. The Major barely acknowledged the information. “Right,” he said. “Tell Weapons to get ready to fire the torpedoes.”

“You ought to let the rest of the blokes know what’s happening,” said Latimer. “It isn’t fair to let them all cop it. You can’t sacrifice them for the sake of…” He gestured at the guards and technicians in the control room. “What do you suppose these ones think of it all? You’re signing their death warrant.”

Greg Bromhead stepped towards Greatrix, his rifle coming up to point at his boss. “Sorry, boss, but I really think - ”

“Wait,” shouted Greatrix, his voice cutting through the air, the authority in it causing them to stiffen. “I think I can see a way out.”
There was a crafty smile on his face, which Latimer found appealed to him. He paused at the door, turning back. “What is it?”
Greatrix called the Poseidon on the Gertrude. “Major Hartman, please listen to me.”
Hartman’s tones were unsympathetic. “I have been ordered to attack your base, regardless of the consequences, if you do not surrender to me immediately. And I would advise you that if you fire the Connecticut's missiles we will likewise retaliate. I await your reply. It should be to open one of your airlocks to signify that our boarding party can enter.”
"You won't do it, Major," said Greatrix.
"I have my orders."
"A common excuse," Greatrix said.
And besides, Hartman thought, I've already disobeyed one order in the last couple of days. I don't want to tempt Providence any further.
“I should warn you my people on the Connecticut will fire its missiles anyway because they’ve got nothing to lose, once the colony is destroyed.”
“Well we’ll deal with them later.”
“Major, the virus still won’t be ready for a while yet.” Hartman could tell he was speaking the truth. “There’s time for us to talk about this. I know you’re on my side really. I know because you went to one of my talks, didn’t you?” There followed silence, as if something about the information had set the Major thinking. “One of my men, a mutual acquaintance of ours, saw you there.” That could only be Bruton, the Major realised. “It’s a pity you’re doing this, is all I can say, because you and I have a lot more in common than you’re willing to admit.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.” Hartman felt a brief twinge of unease, then realised the others on the bridge couldn’t have heard what Greatrix was saying.

"I also have a number of your men here plus several innocent civilians. Perhaps if I said they would be killed if you don't back off, it might make a difference to you. Because they will be."
"You're mistaken if you think I'd let that interfere with my duty." The Major's tone changed. "Killing them won't stop me, so let them live, OK? You won't gain anything."
"Very well, I won't kill them. But I still say you won't do it."
"Maybe this will change your mind."

With an eruption of bubbles the first Spearfish streaked from its tube, sleek and deadly. It struck a main stanchion of the perimeter fence and exploded. The blast dented the metal of the fence and fractured the stanchion. The helmsman brought the Poseidon up to the damaged section of the fence. It nudged it with its nose, and the section broke away and toppled slowly into the sand. The Poseidon nosed its way through the gap.

A second torpedo streaked on its way. It struck one of the giant turbines. The whole massive assembly, blades and shaft together, came away from its mounting, swayed, then fell forward with a crash, throwing up a huge cloud of sand and silt and clouding the water. “I’m giving you a little while to think about it,” Hartman told Greatrix. “But if I keep on like this, you won't have a colony left. If you fire those missiles, life on the surface may become impossible; your idea was that whatever happened, this colony will survive. Well it won't at this rate." There was no reply from Greatrix. After a couple of minutes another missile shot from the Poseidon, a wake of bubbles trailing behind it, to smash into one of the domes. A massive hole was blasted in its side and aquanoids and people were sucked out. The people drowned, as did the aquanoids who were still acclimatising to air and had had too much of the water for the time being.


Greatrix was staring impassively into space. Around him everyone was running for the door, their nerves finally shattered. From outside he could hear the guards yelling at everyone they met, and each other, to go to the submarine pens.


Yet another distraction, thought Moses Jameson. What the hell was going on? Not that it really mattered as long as everybody was too busy running to take any notice of him, as they seemed to be.
He heard someone hurrying along the corridor behind him, turned and planted himself directly in front of the man. "What the hell's going on?" he shouted, grabbing the guard by the shoulders and shaking him.
“We’re all heading for the sub pens. You too. They’re attacking the colony.” The man broke free and ran on, not noticing or caring that Jameson was back to normal. Jameson ran too.

He heard a rumbling noise like an explosion, a thunderous, deafening roar, and then water was rushing down the corridor towards him at express-train speed, a river almost the height of the ceiling. In a moment he realised his worries about water deprivation were abruptly over.

He let the oncoming tide slam into him and knock him over, carrying it with him as it raced unstoppably forward. For a minute or two the impact left him stunned. He became aware of other aquanoids being carried along beside him, apparently under no stress; they must have been due to re-enter the water in any case. And a couple of the human guards, their eyes bulging from their sockets, powerless to resist as the choking tide carried them on. There was nothing he could do for them.

The pull of the current was carrying him out into the sea. He felt it cease as the pressure equalized, and looked around. He saw the massive hole in the side of the dome, its edges jagged. Had it ruptured? Looking around a bit more, he saw further away at the limits of his vision the ghostly outline of a huge whale-like shape; a submarine.

For a moment he hung in the water undecided. If the vessel was attacking the colony then those on board must be good guys; at least, he hoped that followed. A slight uneasy doubt gnawed at him.

He weighed the pros and cons. If he went back to the colony he'd be caught for sure, sooner or later. He could try and swim back to shore but it occurred to him that he might meet a shark or some other hazard. No, let's give these cats the benefit of the doubt, he decided.

He struck off towards the submarine, bearing in mind what the girl had said to him just before she left.


Perhaps it was all meant to fail, thought Greatrix. Perhaps it was too wild a scheme ever to have a real chance of succeeding. And yet surely fate would never have let him get as far as he had unless….
There must be something he could salvage from the ruins, that’d make it all worthwhile. But what?
Latimer lingered for a moment. “Come on, Boss,” he urged. “There isn't any point in staying here. Is there? We've lost."
"All because of that blonde bitch," snarled Greatrix, forgetting that at that moment Caroline was not a blonde. "If I could get my hands on her....."
"We had the chance," Latimer said quietly. "Several times. We didn't take it."
“Well next time, if there ever is a next time, we won’t be so lenient,” Greatrix said.


Holtz left the intercom and went over to Bruton, his face grave. “It looks like Scobee and Co have barricaded themselves in the reactor room.”

Bruton considered this new development. “They can’t do anything to stop us firing the missiles. The reactor’s shut down, anyway. If they did start messing around with it we could close it down from here. Let’s forget about them for the moment and worry about that squid.”


Dan Riordan winced and jumped away from the wall as a loud banging reverberated through the inside of his head. "Something's knocking on the hull," he told Hillyard. The sound came again.

"Let's look at the scanner," Hillyard said. Their eyes turned to the screen. The technician adjusted its vision field and they saw the aquanoid pressed against the hull, hammering on the metal with the knuckles of one hand.
"It's one of those things," remarked Winton. "Those…people."

"Probably trying the same trick we did," suggested Hillyard. "He’s probably got a few knockout capsules on him."

The Major looked thoughtful. "Don’t think so somehow. They must know we'd be daft to fall for the same trick again, especially when we played it on them. We’d better put the gas masks on just in case."
“You’re going to let him on board?”
“Provided we’re on our guard, I don’t see that it can do any harm. And I want to know what’s going on.”
Hillyard raised his voice. “Open the hatch."

Outside Jameson saw the bubbles bursting from the top of the conning tower and swam towards it. Minutes later he stepped through from the airlock to find himself facing three guys wearing gas masks. They were all beefy, military-looking types, clad in combat fatigues and pointing rifles at him. Though he couldn’t see their faces he had the impression they were sizing him up.

Don’t tell anyone the drug ever wore off. He had been putting on his dumb look, trying to pretend he was still under its influence.

She’d have meant him to keep it up until presumably someone restored him to normal; but how long would that be? Surely not forever, he couldn’t go on doing it indefinitely without being found out. What if they decided to keep him as he was, as some kind of interesting guinea pig? But hopefully, if these were the good guys….should he take a chance?

“Don’t suppose you could tell me who you folks are?” he asked, letting the muscles of his face relax.

Cautiously the guy who seemed to be in charge removed his mask, though he shook his head at the other two to indicate they should not do the same. “I’m afraid in my case that’s classified information. These other two are Royal Navy.”

“Then I’ll assume you’re not going to do anything to me I wouldn’t like,” said Jameson, and explained his situation. “Was the lady I met back there a friend of yours by any chance?”
“I suppose you could say that. Can’t tell you any more on that score, I’m afraid.”
"Well I hope you can give me some kind of explanation for this." Jameson held up a webbed hand.
“All in good time,” said the Major. He suddenly looked deeply thoughtful, as if an idea was in the process of occurring to him. After a moment’s silence he spoke again. “Do Marcotech know the drug’s worn off you?”
The American nodded. “Jumped a guard so’s I could make him tell me where their control room was. What’re you getting at?”
“Things must still be a bit confused in there right now. Do you reckon you could go back there and maybe do one or two things for us?”
Jameson's eyebrows shot up. "You want me to go back?" What the hell was the point in escaping then, he thought.

The Major explained what he and his colleagues had been attempting to do. “We’d like you to find that virus and destroy it, if you can. And also rescue the rest of my squad. My guess is they’ll be in much the same place. There’s still a while before the virus is ready so we have time to try some solution that doesn’t involve blowing the place to smithereens. I don’t know how easy it’ll be for you all to escape afterwards; for one thing my men will probably all be drugged. You might be able to find the antidote for it if there is one. But if you can make it to one of the submarines, or find some breathing apparatus and manage to get out through one of the airlocks, we’ll give you cover all the way back to us. By that time we’ll have returned from dealing with – certain unfinished business.”

Jameson looked distinctly sceptical. So, he thought, did the two naval ratings. “Huh. You realise it ain’t got a cat in hell’s chance of working?”
“There is a chance. I think we ought to try it. I’ve thought of a way you could get back inside.” He told the American what he had in mind.
“That might do it,” Jameson conceded. “But after that it’s a bit of a gamble. And what the hell happens if I get caught?”

“I don’t think you’ll be harmed. The guy who’s doing all this thinks the aquanoids are Man’s only hope of survival. At most he’ll put you back under the drug. And if we come back and start blasting everything to bits again, my guess is he’ll let you go rather than risk you getting hurt.

“All the same I’m going to issue you with a radio so you can keep in touch with me at all times. If….” Hartman made a quick calculation in his head. “If two hours have gone by, you still haven’t found what you’re looking for and we aren’t around to help, and you need to get back in the water again, then get the hell out of the place if you can.”

Jameson still looked skeptical. “Well….I ain’t got much faith in it, to tell the truth. But if there’s guys back there who are in trouble I guess it’s got to be.” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Will you make sure I get back to normal again afterwards, s’posing I come through it all alive?”

“I’ll do my best,” the Major said sincerely. If he wasn’t going to allow Caroline to be turned into a scientific guinea pig, then nor could he let it happen to anyone else.

Jameson was starting to feel uncomfortably hot and dry inside. He guessed the time he’d spent in the water on the way from the colony to the submarine had done some good, but not enough. “Let me get you that radio,” the Major said, noticing his discomfort, “and then you’ll be away.”

Ten minutes later Jameson emerged from the airlock and began swimming back towards the colony. Once he was clear of it the Poseidon turned round and began moving away in the opposite direction.

“Do you really think this is going to work, Sir?” Riordan whispered into the Major’s ear. For one thing, Jameson couldn’t move until he had spent all his allotted time in the water. That could mean a fatal hold-up.
Hartman mumbled something Dan didn’t quite catch.

The Major saw Commander Hillyard moving towards him. ”Well,” said the Commander, not sounding entirely at ease, “I must confess I’m not at all sure this plan of yours is….watertight, if you’ll pardon my choice of words.”

He patted the SBS man on the shoulder. “But I’ve always sensed you’re the sort of chap who knows what he’s doing.”

The Major sank deep into thought as Hillyard left his side. Do I? he wondered.
If nothing else, he’d found a way to ease his conscience over the course of action he had decided on. Hadn’t he?


“Hartman's moving away from the colony," said Latimer. Everyone had returned to their posts once it had become clear the danger was over.
The pulsing speck of light on the screen was travelling away from them at a steady pace. "What's his game?" Latimer frowned.
"Maybe he's had second thoughts,” Greatrix said. “Or it's a change of orders."
"He may have gone to check out the Connecticut. At any rate it looks like we’re safe for the time being.”
Greatrix leaned over the tannoy. “This is the Chairman speaking to all personnel. The emergency is over, repeat over. The Poseidon has left the area. For the moment all normal activities are to be resumed. Work on the virus and the antidote is to continue.”
“What’s the damage to the colony?” he asked Bromhead.

Bromhead had been watching lights flash on and off on a plan of the colony, listening to the reports coming in from his men. “Leisure and Recreation and Engineering sections completely destroyed, also one of the turbines,” he said. “All flooded areas now sealed off.”

Latimer sniffed. “The physical damage isn’t the main problem. I reckon it’ll only just be possible to get them all back to work. I’ll go out and talk to them if you like but….” He paused. “If that sub comes back you’ll have to pull the plug on all this. There’ll be no choice…boss?”

Wearily Greatrix looked up at him, the bags beneath his eyes now even more prominent. “All right,” he sighed, accepting the inevitable. “But there’s still time.” His gaze ranged upwards to the clock on the wall. “Still time,” he whispered, more or less to himself.

Connecticut
“Hey Boss, I think there’s a submarine approaching,” said the sonar operator. They ran to take a look at his screen. On it, a light-blip was moving steadily towards them. “It’s going quite fast. Must be a nuclear, like us.”
“If it is a sub. Let’s hope it’s not another giant squid.”

“No animal can be that big and move so fast at the same time. It’s got to be a sub.”

“Must be the Poseidon,” said Bruton. One thought flashed immediately into his mind. It was going to take advantage of their little problem to attack them.

The groaning of the hull as the squid tried to crush it with its tentacles and puncture it with its beak was now audible in the control room. At the moment the squid was losing. But as it grew more desperate, maddened by its gnawing hunger, it would renew its efforts with a vengeance. Would it give up and go away in the end, or keep on squeezing and crushing until it the hull burst open?
Everyone on the bridge guessed what he was thinking, and shared in those thoughts.
At the moment only the Poseidon could rescue them from their predicament. “Do we fire on them, Sir?” asked Holtz.
Bruton considered.
“Sir?”
Bruton still didn’t reply. “Sir, please!”
Suddenly the ex-SAS man spoke. “No,” he said, smiling strangely as the first beginnings of a thought started to occur to him. “Not yet.”


FIFTY-SEVEN

Poseidon
The submarine’s a sealed environment, the Major thought. The virus wouldn’t affect us here, as long as there wasn’t any leakage.
“They’re still not moving, Sir,” said the radar operator.
“And still nothing from Scobee,” the Major reflected. The American’s superiors had tried to contact him several times in the last hour but with no luck. Either he was preoccupied, or he’d been on the Kilo when whatever it was that had destroyed it, destroyed it.

What had happened to Caroline? Maybe she hadn’t managed to get on board, had tried to swim back to the Poseidon and run into some nasty creature of the deep, one of Greatrix’s mutants. Or been failed to knock out the crew and been taken prisoner. If so, had they harmed her? Her radio was still signalling but that didn’t necessarily mean she was still alive.

If the virus was destroyed, and Greatrix and his henchmen seemed likely to be taken prisoner – if their whole scheme was blown – would they kill her in revenge?
“We should be getting something on the screen any moment now," the scanner operator said. “Yes, there it is - oh bloody Hell!"
They gathered round the screen, staring in amazement at the awesome spectacle of the Connecticut clasped in the tentacles of the giant squid, so far resisting the monster’s efforts to crush it. The battle of the giants.
"Good God," ejaculated Hillyard.
"Fuck me," gasped Dan Riordan, who hadn't the benefit of an Eton upbringing.
They stood and stared for a while longer before turning and looking at each other, one question uppermost in all their minds. Hillyard's attention was fixed on the Major. "What are you going to do?"
"Firstly, make sure we're out of their firing line," said the Major. "You can't tell from this distance but I think some of the torpedo tube ports are still clear."
The helmsman checked. “I think we’re alright, Sir.”
"They won't fire on us, surely," said Hillyard. "They need us to take care of the squid for them."
"Yes, and what happens after that?" grunted the Major.
"We could finish them off right now," the Commander said. "A couple of hits might do it."
"Yes, and if we didn't get it right first time they'd launch the missiles."
"They can't. It looks like the squid's blocking the launch tube ports, or they might have done it already, before it was too late. As it is they'd just blow themselves up."
"I can see that," the Major snapped. "But what if it decides to give up?"
"Then for Heaven's sake, man, strike now before it does!" Hillyard shouted, his anger and frustration suddenly breaking surface. They had to deal with the Connecticut and then stop all this nonsense and get back to the colony to sort out what as far as Hillyard was concerned was the real danger.

Naval ratings and SBS alike held back from the quarrel between their superiors, stony-faced.

Was this the moment, Hillyard wondered, to try to take back command of the sub? Would the SBS resist? They'd probably be loyal to their commanding officer in the end. Did that mean a fight?

The squid was unaware of the Poseidon's approach, locked in its mad struggle with the Connecticut. Or perhaps it reasoned that if if the new arrival proved just as difficult to crack open there would turn out to be no point in engaging it. If the creature could think like that at all.
"If it damages their reactor...." began Hillyard.
"They'd have shut it down," Hartman said absently.

He stood with his eyes fixed on the screen, while Hillyard stared at him, in astonishment and disbelief. Why was he so reluctant to fire on the Connecticut?
Then suddenly the Commander saw the reason why; indeed, the reason behind Hartman’s entire strategy. The girl.

Connecticut
"You don't suppose he's going to get rid of the squid for us?" someone asked.
"What do you think?" Bruton snarled. "Like I said, he's got us where he wants us."
The creaking and moaning of the hull seemed louder.
Greatrix called. "What's happening right now?"
"The Poseidon's here. Thing is, she seems to be standing off right now."
"Right, well I've had enough of this pissing about. As soon as that squid is taken care of I want you to fire those missiles. OK?" This time there was absolute certainty in Greatrix’s voice.
Bruton wavered for a moment. Then he said "OK, boss," and put down the radio.
Would the squid be taken care of? Perhaps Hartman was just waiting to see if it would finish off the Connecticut, so he didn't have to worry about them.
Something told him it wouldn't be that long before it did.
"What are we going to do?" asked Holtz.
"I'll show you," smiled Bruton. It was a decidedly sinister smile.

Poseidon
"We need to make up our minds soon, Sir," said Riordan gently.
The Major nodded impatiently, then went back to his thoughts. They said you should never be emotionally involved. But as far as he knew Caroline was on the Connecticut. He realised that in the tension, the repressed anxiety and fear of the last few hours, he'd lost all sense of time. He'd no idea how long she had been in the water but surely she would need air pretty soon, even allowing for the supply that had been in her tanks. And if he fired on the Connecticut, supposing the squid hadn't finished it off by then, they might retaliate by killing her.
He made a sudden move towards the Gertrude. "I'm going to try and talk to them."


In the Connecticut’s reactor room Mouse Houlden had removed the covers from several of the consoles and from a couple of the junction boxes on the wall of the chamber. Now he was busy disconnecting some wires, and cross-connecting or re-routing others. Deactivating some sensors, leaving others still functioning.

He had already disabled the scram system and its various backups. Now he had to rewire them, and indeed the whole apparatus, so that the positions of the control rods, the whole functioning of the reactor including startup and shutdown, could be operated only from the main console in the reactor room, while ensuring that warning of any meltdown would still register on the environmental systems console in the sub’s control room.

It was a difficult and lengthy job, and every now and then they heard Mouse curse and swear just above his breath. They just stood and watched him fixedly, trying not to think about what would happen if they really had to sabotage the reactor.

It would mean certain death if they sent the reactor into meltdown. The nuclear fuel, the enriched uranium, it contained had several million times the amount of stored heat of a comparable quantity of fossil fuels. For them, closest to the danger zone, death would be instant as the melting of the reactor casing released a lethal combination of radiation and super-heated steam. They’d either be scalded to death or vaporized. Then the radioactive slag would melt through the hull and cause the sub to partly flood, killing many of the crew and short-circuiting vital equipment or rendering it inaccessible as sections were sealed off to contain the rising water. As her engines and life-support failed the Connecticut would sink to the bottom, where those trapped on board would slowly asphyxiate in their cold, dark, steel tomb.

The risk of death was permanently at the back of every sub-mariner’s mind. Now that it seemed certain, it wasn’t quite so easy to face.


In the control room of the colony a guard noticed a light winking on one of the consoles, telling him someone wanted to come in through Number Four airlock. He switched on the CCTV and Moses Jameson’s face appeared on the screen. He was clearly agitated, face taut with stress as he banged furiously on the airlock door.

"It’s Jameson. He's got air dep," said the guard. "Better tell someone to let him in." He looked away from the screen.

A couple of minutes later Jameson staggered out of the airlock and collapsed to his knees before two of the guards, gasping for air. They stood on either side of him, waiting for him to recover.

They barely had time to realise what was happening as he sprang to his feet, both fists shooting out and taking them on the chin with the force of a piledriver. They lurched backwards and then fell to their knees, stunned. It would be a moment or two before either fully recovered. In the back streets of downtown Miami you learned to take care of yourself.

Jameson grabbed each man’s rifle and hit him over the head with the butt. He keeled over sideways and lay unconscious. Taking one of the guns, the detective crept away, grinning to himself. Looking after yourself where he came from meant using your brains as well as your fists.

These guys are losing their touch, he thought. Now as long as nobody had seen what had happened, he should be OK for the moment. He saw a diagram of the layout of the colony on a board on the wall. The laboratory was some way off, but he began making his way gradually towards it.

Some time passed. He’d need to go in the water again soon. The period he’d spent outside hadn’t quite been enough; he could have stayed out there longer but decided not to delay any further, in case the guys on the sub lost valuable time. And he still hadn’t found the laboratory.

He heard someone come towards him, hidden for the moment by the angle of the wall, and paused, looking around for somewhere near enough for him to hide in before they saw him. He didn’t want to kill them if he could help it. The more he killed, the more he would make his capture a priority.

His eye fell on a door in the left-hand wall, marked “REST CHAMBER.” It was his only chance. He dashed to it, tried it and found it unlocked.

He slipped inside to find himself facing a row of transparent tanks, some of them filled with liquid and all containing the recumbent forms of aquanoids like himself. Pumps started up with a steady throbbing note, and as he watched the water level in one began to drop, sinking further and further until the tank was completely drained. The tank next to it started to fill up, till the aquanoid within was completely immersed.

For all he knew the person he had heard coming towards him could be making for this very place. Quickly he scanned the room, and saw in one corner a pile of crates and metal canisters containing assorted chemicals. He concealed himself behind it, crouching down on his haunches. Hearing the door open, he peered through a narrow gap between two of the canisters and saw one of the guards enter the room with a female aquanoid. She had been white, was a little below average height, and looked not unlike Shannon Richards; for a brief moment he thought it was her.

She must be here somewhere. But even supposing she hadn’t been drugged, he couldn’t yet think about getting her to safety. They had to sort out the guys who were in charge of this set-up first, make sure all were safely locked up where they belonged.

The guard led the aquanoid to one of the tanks and gestured to her to climb in. She obeyed, lying down with her eyes closed. The guard went to a small console built out from the wall and adjusted a series of controls. The water began to flood into the tank.

He moved on to another tank and stood looking at the instruments on the control panel beside it, studying also the sleeping form of the aquanoid within. After a moment he twisted a dial. The aquanoid stirred, opened his eyes and got to his feet. He climbed out of the tank and went towards the door, the guard following.

Jameson heard the door shut and then their footsteps recede steadily away down the corridor. He left his hiding place and crossed to the empty tank. He operated the controls he had seen the guard using. When it was full, he climbed in and immersed himself, lying flat on the bottom of the tank with his eyes shut.

At one point a guard came in, but spared the aquanoid in the tank no more than a passing glance. That there should be an aquanoid in the tank caused him no surprise, because that was what the tanks were for.

Not only a place to take in the valuable water, but also a place to hide. That’s it, boy, he thought, offering a silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty. Just you keep blessing Mr and Mrs Jameson’s little boy’s ass.


The Major raised the Gertrude to his lips. "This is Major Michael Hartman of the Special Boat Service, in command of Royal Navy submarine HMS Poseidon, calling the USS Connecticut. I'd like to speak to your captain."
The others in the control room saw Bruton start as if he’d just received an electric shock. Hartman.
Then the evil smile played slowly across his face, and his eyes lit up scarily. "Well, well well,” he said with relish. “If it isn't the Major himself. Good old Mike Hartman. I was just about to call you, actually."
The Major heard the familiar, hated voice. "You," he said simply. "Me," agreed Bruton.
"So you've decided to take to the water. Versatile, aren't you?"
"I had a spot of SBS training earlier on. I decided I ought to make use of it. Rather a shame to let it go to waste, don't you think?"
Hartman made no comment. "It seems you have a bit of a problem."
"Yes, but I'm sure it'll be resolved one way or the other. Eventually."
"And what happens after that?" The Major's voice hardened.
"Well, that depends." Bruton sounded far too cocky, far too confident, for the Major's liking.
"On what?"
“You’ll see,” Bruton said teasingly.
The Major hesitated, then seemed to brace himself. “Where's Caroline Kent? Is she on board with you?"
"Your assumption is correct."
"How is she?"
"Oh, she's fine....at the moment." Bruton put a chilling emphasis on the last three words.
"Listen to me, Frank - "
"Oh it's Frank now, is it?"
"I want you to disable your missile firing system - permanently. And I need Caroline to confirm to me that you've done it."
"How would you know she wasn't lying?" Bruton jeered. "I could be standing there pointing a gun at her."
"It's quite simple," the Major said calmly, "if anything happens to her, something very nasty will happen to you."
Bruton's voice was soft, mocking. "You wouldn't. Not out of revenge." He laughed, and it was a cold, chilling sound the Major had heard before and hoped never to hear again. "Not like me."
"It wouldn't be revenge. I'd do it in case I found myself in that situation again and word had got around that I didn't keep my pronises. I'd then be at a serious disadvantage, you see. It wouldn't be very nice but it'd be better than killing purely out of hatred."
"And your boys would back you up?"
"They would, and you know it."
Whether the Navy people might was a different matter altogether, Hartman was thinking. He’d know sooner or later.
"You really think you're better than me?" Bruton sneered. "You think you don't kill the innocent, the people who are just doing their jobs? How many times in your career have you done exactly that? I have my job to do, like you."
"There's no comparison. I kill when I have no choice, you because it's the easy way out. And now...how can you ally yourself with a lunatic cause that'll only screw up this world even more than it’s screwed up already?"
"Because it's all that stands between me and a life sentence. After the virus is released, or those missiles go off, or whatever, everything will be different. If you were in my position you'd do the same."
"Harm Caroline in any way and you won't live to see your brave new world. If the squid doesn't finish you off, I will."
"That wouldn't deter me from doing my - my job. I've got my finger on the little red button, Mike....Sir." The last word was spat out like an oath, saturated with anger and hate. "Once I press it, there'll be just twenty seconds to go to Armageddon."
"Do it and I'll blow you out of the water."
"I'll take the risk, and so will my lads."
"The ex-Forces ones might. But the rest are just a bunch of common criminals and screwed-up misfits. They haven't got the guts or the commitment to see it all through whatever the cost. They might not be too happy if they realise you've just signed their lives away."
Bruton was well aware of the men shifting restlessly around him. For now he banished the thought of them from his mind. "I'm getting bored with all this frigging about, Mike. I'm gonna give you an ultimatum: you deal with the squid for me, and then we'll take it as it comes. May the best man win."
"Honour, eh? You never understood the meaning of the word. What if I don't agree to your little proposal?"
"Hang on a 'sec," said Bruton, brightly. He made a call to the torpedo room.
There, Caroline sat at the foot of the wall, still out cold and bound tightly hand and foot with a seaman’s knots. Schweitzer put back the Intercom and nodded to Alberman, who scooped her up in his arms and stood waiting. “Right, OK,” Schweitzer said. He swung open the door of one of the torpedo tubes and signalled again to Alberman, who began to feed Caroline's unconscious body into the tube, head first.

On the Poseidon the Major heard Bruton speak again, with the gloating triumph of a man who had just whipped his trump card from up his sleeve. "Mike, I've just put your little friend in one of the torpedo tubes. If you don't do as I say, the next one I fire will have her on the end of it.
"If she lives, she'll have a place in the new world we're going to create.” It was exactly what the Major had been thinking. “If you force me to fire that torpedo she'll just be so much fish paste. Now don't tell me you don't sympathise with what we're doing, deep down. Where was it I first saw you again? At one of Greatrix's meetings, yeah?"
It was as if Hartman had suddenly gone off the air.
"So it's not worth losing her, is it?" Bruton said, ramming the point home. "Don't make me do it, Mike, for your sake. She's changed a bit since I saw the two of you getting all lovey-dovey with each other, but I imagine you're still soft on her.”
“How did you know it was her?”
“According to Mr G she likes a new look now and again. She was a redhead not long ago, apparently. And it seems she boasted to him she’d been at the talk in London, in disguise. Well I sort of put two-and-two together.
"Now I'll give you five minutes to think about it. No more." With that Hartman heard him cut off.
The Major stood horrified, the receiver of the Gertrude hanging limply from the cord clutched in his hand, staring dazedly at nothing in particular.
Oh shit, he whispered to himself, not quite loud enough for the others to hear. Oh shit. Shit shit shit shit shit.
What the bloody hell have I just gone and DONE?
He'd been trying to protect Caroline but now had only succeeded in putting her in more danger, perhaps signed her death warrant. And not only hers, perhaps. He had precipitated a choice he might not be able to make.

Connecticut
Holtz went over to Bruton and gently nudged his shoulder. "Uh, Frank, the reactor's started up."
Bruton frowned, then stared unbelievingly at him. "What are you talking about? How could it have done?"
Holtz indicated the flashing light on the ES console. "That's what the display says. I think they’ve rejigged the wiring so they can do it independently of the bridge."

Bruton started, realising he had totally forgotten about the Americans still at large on the vessel. "What are they playing at?"
“He’s trying to sabotage the sub. He’s trying to stop us from firing the missiles.”
“We can’t fire the frigging missiles! Jesus, at a time like this….Shut that fucking reactor down!”
“I’m trying to!” shouted the technician at the ES console. “He’s locked off the bloody scram systems!”
Bruton called the reactor room. “Scobee, listen. It’s OK, you’ve won. Shut down the reactor. Just give us some time to get off the sub so we can have a head start on the Navy.”
Scobee’s voice came over the intercom. “You think I’d buy that, you’re crazy.” He cut off.
Bruton set the intercom to all frequencies. “All personnel except those in the control room, go to the reactor room immediately and engage hostile forces there.” He repeated the order twice, then clicked the intercom off. That was that done. Now he could focus his attention on his other problem.


"Load torpedo," ordered Schweitzer.
Ronnie McGuigan selected a torpedo from one of the racks, attached it to the ram and loaded it into the tube. Normally at this point the guidance wire and data transmission link cable would be attached so that the course of the missile once fired could be plotted and its behaviour controlled. On this occasion, however, such was not necessary.
The inner door was slammed shut. Alberman then checked that it and all other connections and seals were properly set. He looked at Schweitzer and nodded.
“Flood tube,” said Schweitzer.
“Won’t she be drowned?” McGuigan asked.
“I don’t think so, she got enough air before we put her in there. Anyway, all that matters is that Hartman thinks she’s still alive. Yeah?” It would be all that mattered to Bruton, anyway.
Once the tube was flooded,Schweitzer reported to the control room that this had been done. “Good,” came Bruton’s reply. “I’m turning firing over to you. Do it as soon as the deadline runs out. Four minutes.”
McGuigan took up position by the console, ready to press the firing button and direct a jet of high-pressure air onto a piston to force water out of another tube and through a slide valve in the rear of the torpedo tube, ejecting the torpedo out into the sea at six times the force of gravity. All they had to do was wait, and that not for very long now.
Still unconscious, Caroline remained mercifully unaware of her danger.


Not everyone was able to obey Bruton’s order to go to the reactor room. After the initial bloody gun battles, a cat-and-mouse game had ensued between the Americans and Bruton’s men, groups of sailors from both sides stalking each other among the rooms and corridors of the sub. The Americans had been repelled from the area of the control room, and from the living areas, but were still roaming around, either individually or in groups of two or more, firing at the enemy on sight. By now plenty from both sides were dead and the corridors of the Connecticut were strewn with bloodstained bodies, some dead and some seriously injured.

When they heard the order to go to the reactor room, the Americans realised what had happened. Scobee was there and needed help. They started making their way towards it, firing on any Marcotech people they saw. At first concentrating only on obeying the order and getting to the reactor room, Marcotech were easy prey and a number of them were gunned down. Others, forced to stand where they were and fight back, did so. It was a chaotic, confused, bloody mess.


Mouse looked up from his work. “That’s it, Sir. I’ve isolated the shut-down circuits from the control room. Now all we have to do is take out the control rods.”
Scobee’s voice sounded faraway and disembodied to his own ears. “Then do it.”


Mike Hartman still hadn't moved.
To the others on the bridge it seemed he was paralysed. Riordan moved up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. "Sir...."
Hartman stayed where he was, lost in his thoughts like a shipwrecked sailor on a raft. Dan tried again, a little more forcefully this time. "Sir...."
"I'm thinking," the Major snapped.
If the Poseidon took on the Connecticut and lost, so would everything else be. Greatrix's mad scheme couldn't work, just couldn't, and if the submarine fired her missiles the consequences wouldn't be much less disastrous.
But what about Caroline?
Don't be emotionally involved. Don't be. Don't be, don't be, don't be....
How long had Bruton said? Five minutes. With a crawling sense of horror he realised his sense of time had gone again. Maybe at any moment she would be blasted from the torpedo tube for her disintegrated remains to join the other detritus on the ocean floor, feeding the millions of tiny organisms which would go on mindlessly living after her own existence had been terminated. Maybe she already had been.
The thought shook him at once out of his trance-like state. But the dilemma didn't go away with it.

Connecticut
A couple of lights, a red and a green one, began flashing on and off on the EMS console.
"Sir, I think the hull's going," said Holtz.
Bruton's men were clustering round him, demanding to know what was going on. He told them. "There's nothing we can do while the squid's got us. We'll just have to hope he gives in."


In the reactor room, Mouse’s fingers darted over the instruments on the main console like those of a pianist.
Slowly, very slowly, the first of the four control rods began to rise up out of its socket, retracting from the core of the reactor.
From not far away they could hear shooting.


Hartman heard feet ring out sharply on the floor as Hillyard marched up to him. "Major Hartman, I'm sorry. You cannot put the life of one person before millions of others." The sailor's tone was kind but firm, and Hartman knew everything it said was true. "I'll have no option but to report this to your superiors. Even if we all get out of this alive you won't survive in the Forces if it's known you prioritise the safety of individuals over the general good."
Still the Major went on staring down at the Gertrude, hanging limply on its cord.
"Major, if you're ill I will have no option but to take command.” Hillyard broke off and glanced round uncertainly at the SBS men.
Suddenly Hartman snatched up the Gertrude's receiver. "Bruton! Are you there? Can you hear me?"
After a moment, he heard the click as Bruton answered him. "Yeah? What do you want? You going to see reason?"
"Frank, listen. If you give it up now I'll see all charges against you are dropped." It might be the last chance. "I'll see you're allowed to go free with a new identity. Is that a deal?"
"I've no guarantee you'll keep that promise, have I Sir?"
"No! I'm not kidding. There's too much at stake for me right now, isn't there?" The note of desperation could not be hidden now. "That doesn't matter to me as long as we're all safe."
"Sorry, but I can't guarantee everyone else will be as sweet and reasonable as you. Now I think the time for talking's over, don't you? Like they say, don't call again. And by the way, I think I should tell you you've only got two minutes left before we send her on a one-way ticket into eternity. 'Bye."


Inch by inch, with what seemed an excruciating slowness, the control rod continued to rise. The process had to be slow, had to be done with precision. They needed to give Bruton time to think, to decide if he wanted to start evacuating the sub rather than stay and fire its deadly payload.
They couldn’t be sure he would, so they had to stay in the reactor room until the radiation killed them. But at least they’d save the world. They hoped.


In the torpedo room Schweitzer stood with his hand poised over the firing button, watching the clock.
One minute to go.
Outside the squid shifted, consolidating its grip still tighter.


A red light flashed on the console before Schweitzer. He snatched up the Intercom and called the control room. "Sir, the squid must have changed position slightly. It's blocking the remaining torpedo tubes."
Bruton knew they couldn't fire any of the torps now without doing serious damage to the sub. "Then take her out of there and shoot her. Just fucking shoot her, you hear me?"

Poseidon
The Navy and SBS men were ranged behind their leaders, who stood facing each other across the control room. The Major’s face showed no emotion, while his subordinates shifted uneasily, their resolution wavering. The Navy men looked one hundred percent behind their leader. The air in the room felt paper-thin.

Commander Hillyard went on shouting at Hartman, the inter-Service rule that you should never argue with another commander in front of his men totally forgotten. "This is unprofessional, irrational and treasonous. For God’s sake Man, you’re a serving officer in the British Army. For all we know the survival of the world’s entire population could be at stake and yet you are determined not to discharge your responsibilities satisfactorily. You can’t expect me and my men to be parties to this…this…..” His voice changed to a harsh whisper, like a strong gust of wind dropping to a gentle but chilly breeze. "I'll give you thirty seconds, Hartman. Then I'm taking back command, whatever the consequences. I’ll give your men a fight if they want it, with bullets. Understand?"


Hartman stiffened. The threat forced a decision from him and crystallised the thought which had already been taking shape, half-consciously, within his mind.
Then his heart sank again, bitterly. He couldn't be sure the plan would work.


“Drain the tube,” Schweitzer ordered McGuigan.


Come on, come on, Scobee whispered savagely. You can’t fucking go on forever, can you? A fraction more of the control rod’s length had emerged from the reactor casing. Just a fraction.
Around them the hull was continuing to distort under the squid's attack. It was a hideous, unearthly, chilling sound, like the moaning of a lost soul, protesting in helpless anguish at its damnation.
Another inch of the rod’s smooth, shining surface came into view.


The tube was now drained. Now they had to withdraw the torpedo so they could get Caroline out. McGuigan opened the door to the torpedo tube and swung down the ram’s hydraulic arm, locking it onto the end of the missile.


A few Marcotech men had managed to reach the transit tunnel to the reactor chamber. On catching sight of them the Americans stationed there opened fire, mowing several of them down. Then more of Scobee’s men arrived and attacked them from behind. The whole corridor was packed with men screaming and dying and shooting at one another, as if all Hell had broken out on USS Connecticut.


Hartman gave a brief nod to Hillyard, sufficient to get him off his back for just a moment or two. Then he grabbed the Gertrude, just as Bruton's voice came issuing from the receiver again.
"Listen, Mike, it seems we can't fire the torpedo. So I'm just gonna shoot her instead, OK? One more minute. You can tell I mean business, can't you?"
The Major could. The image flashed into his mind of a terrified Iraqi boy pleading for his life, tears streaming from his frightened eyes as Bruton stood over him with his knuckles whitening as they squeezed the trigger of his rifle a little tighter....just a little tighter...
He summoned up all his remaining energies, all his emotions, for one last desperate try. "Frank, listen, for the last time; for everyone's sake I'm telling you to see sense. If you've got just a scrap of humanity, or simple common sense, left in you - "
"Don't waste your breath. You know the score, if you don't do as I said your bit of crumpet’s gonna pay the price, whatever she is. You've got about thirty seconds – “
Then he broke off with a short gasp. In the background the Major could hear men shouting and running about in alarm as a whole host of alarm signals suddenly went off, adding their shrill din to the blare of those already sounding. The radio went dead.
Something else had happened. Something had distracted them. The Major moved fast. It was the only chance he might get to put his plan into action and if he let it slip away everything might be lost. In an instant the hesitancy, the agonised indecision, evaporated like a snowball suddenly exposed to the burning heat of the desert.
The orders came pouring out thick and fast. "Full speed ahead,” he barked. “Tell torpedo room to prepare to fire.”
Hillyard was onto the engine room. “Forward at maximum speed!”
The helmsman, the diving officer, the other technicians all looked at their screens, shouting information to one another and down the intercom to the torpedo room. “Range five hundred yards….right two degrees….target now dead ahead, side on....”
The Poseidon hurtled towards the Connecticut at full speed, the engines screaming and shuddering, along with the submarine’s whole hull, as they were pushed towards the very limits of their endurance. Still in the grip of the monster squid, helplessly stationary, their target loomed larger and larger on the screen.
The Major stood with his eyes locked on it, his whole body rigid, his face tense with concentration as the men at the consoles continued to rattle off data. This had to be timed right or they’d blow the Poseidon’s bows off.
“Target acquired!”
“Fire at my command!” Hartman yelled.
“Four hundred yards!” shouted the sonar operator.
“Prepare to fire!”


The blare of a multiple different alarm sirens now filled the Connecticut's control room, cutting clean through everyone’s head. The sound was deafening and painful.
“What the hell’s going on?” shrieked Bruton.
"The reactor!” gabbled the ES technician. “One of the rods is out!” Lights of all different colours were flashing on and off in front of him and the wail of the sirens grew louder as the temperature in the reactor began to rise past the safety margins.
"What?" Bruton snapped, confused. He felt himself start to panic.
"The reactor, Sir! It’s gonna go into meltdown!"
Again Bruton screamed down the intercom. “Get Scobee out of there now, do you hear me?”
Amid the bloody confusion reigning in the area of the reactor room, no-one did.
Sheer determination and pressure of numbers brought the Marcotech forces to the threshold of the access tunnel, shooting down the American ratings firing from that position. But the bodies of both Marcotech and Navy men blocked the narrow passageway, preventing access. They struggled to heave them aside.


“Three hundred yards…two hundred and ninety…”
"Fire!" roared the Major.
With an explosion of bubbles the torpedo streaked from its tube, shooting through the water at a hundred miles an hour, straight for the massive bulk of the squid.
It struck the monster squarely just above the enormous bulging eyes, blowing most of the head clean off in an eruption of blood, ink and pulpy matter. The tentacles uncurled and slid limply from the Connecticut’s hull while the huge blubbery main bulk of the squid sunk heavily towards the bed of the ocean, the blood billowing from it turning colourless as it died.
On the Connecticut Bruton and his crew felt the vibrations from the blast start to die away. At the same time several of the warning sirens cut off. A light on the ES console stopped flashing.
"It's gone!" the technician shouted. "The squid's gone!"
Bruton launched himself at the missile control panel and slammed his fist down hard on the firing button. The red figures on the screen changed, and began flashing on and off. Yet more alarms filled the ship as the launch sequence was activated.
Twenty seconds.


The Poseidon’s rudder swivelled and it turned several degrees to the right.


The doors to the Connecticut’s missile tubes began to open. Water started to flood rapidly into them.


Bruton whirled round, his gaze darting across to the scanner, and saw the Poseidon still streaking towards them at top speed, going as fast as her reactor and engines could push her, above the line of fire of his torpedoes.


Commander Hillyard was staring at Hartman in horror. "What are you – no!"
"Only chance," the Major shouted. “I know what I’m doing!”


In the same instant Bruton, too, suddenly realised what Hartman was going to do. “Raise trim! Blow the tanks!” He had to not only avoid being rammed but ensure Poseidon was in his line of fire. The diving planes mounted on sail inclined, and Bruton felt the Connecticut shudder as the ballast tanks were voided, giant bubbles swelling rapidly into existence around it with the displacement of the water. Ascending and descending to any great extent took some ten to fifteen minutes to bring off but for this kind of manouevring only a small change in trim was needed.
The Poseidon hurtled on towards them, speed and momentum carrying it on like an express train, its long narrow hull eliminating drag. “Turn to engage enemy!” Bruton ordered. The Connecticut’s – thousand ton bulk swung round to face the Poseidon, slowly. Too slowly. The huge hull of the American sub was faster, all told, but less manouevrable than her British sister who was built for agility if not speed.
Fifteen seconds to launch
The Poseidon was now too close for the Connecticut to fire a torpedo.
Bruton aborted the manouevre, the Connecticut ceasing to turn.


On Poseidon the Major barked another order and again the sub veered to the right, compensating for the Connecticut’s change of attitude.
Ten seconds to launch
The Poseidon had slowed slightly and was venting its tanks, raising its own trim, but maintaining its basic course.
Five seconds to launch
The tubes were now almost completely flooded. When they were, the missiles would fire.
The Poseidon was within Connecticut’s turning circle…
“Dive!” screamed Bruton. “Fill the tanks!”
The Connecticut dipped, only slightly but just enough to avoid the collision.


“Lower trim!” bellowed the Major. Then the Major shouted for everyone on board to throw themselves down, in the same instant that Bruton on the Connecticut did the same.
The Poseidon dipped, just a fraction, towards the sea bed.


And its nose slammed with a hundred times the force of a sledgehammer into the hull of the Connecticut, behind the sail where the openings of the missile tubes were located, buckling them and crumpling the surrounding metal into a twisted, shapeless mass. The letters on the screen of the firing console changed suddenly, flashing in brilliant red.

MISSILE TUBES 5 TO 12 OBSTRUCTED

SAFETY PROCEDURES ACTIVATED

LAUNCH PROCEDURE ABORTED

REPEAT ABORTED

On both subs the shuddering impact of the collision flung anyone who still happened to be standing violently to the floor, including those still alive in the corridor leading to the access tunnel to Connecticut’s reactor. Others slid across the floor into walls, or consoles and other equipment, smashing their heads against them and blacking out. One or two never got up again.

The Marcotech sailors were hurled back from the entrance to the reactor chamber, to lie sprawled on the floor of the tunnel and the corridor leading to it. Tiny, Mouse, Scobee and Samuels ended up on the floor to. Once again, Tiny was the first to recover. He opened fire on the enemy as they struggled to get up, peppering them with bullets.
Scobee, Samuels, and finally Mouse, joined him and the three sailors, firing straight down the tunnel, emptied their entire load into the surviving Marcotech men.

In the torpedo room of the Connecticut Caroline Kent regarded the unmoving bodies of Schweitzer, McGuigan and Alberman through bleary eyes. The jolt which had shaken her back to consciousness had knocked them out. Caroline blinked, uncertain for a moment where she was. She looked round for her bag of knockout capsules but couldn't find it. She stood up and tried to move forward but instead fell flat on her face, because someone had tied her ankles together.
There were lots of warning sirens going off. What was happening?
Might be a good idea to find out. She waited for the Marcotech men to recover consciousness. As she watched, Schweitzer came slowly back to life and managed shakily to stand up.
The two of them eyed each other warily. "I don't suppose you'll be good enough to tell me what's going on," Caroline said with dignity.
"Reactor malfunction," he told her, still sounding a little dazed. "There was a...reactor malfunction..then your friends must have twatted the squid. We were...we were going to fire the missiles, and then....Jeez, I dunno what hit us..." It dawned on him. "They must have rammed us..must have..."
By now McGuigan was on his feet too, rubbing his head where it hurt. "The missiles haven't fired." That particular warning was no longer sounding. "They must have knocked out the system or something."
"Are we in any danger?" Caroline asked.
"Dunno,” said Ted Alberman. “The reactor should have scrammed, but something's stopping it doing that. Not good."
He picked up the intercom. "Torpedo room to bridge, what's going on up there?"


The Major had got his hands up to protect his head just in time. He removed them from it and struggled into first a kneeling and then a standing position. As far as he could see no-one was badly hurt, although quite a few were still unconscious. The submarine itself must have been quite severely damaged; but there’d been no way of avoiding that.

Had he knocked out all the Connecticut's missile tubes? That had been his hope, also that Bruton and his men would be too disorientated by everything to respond fast enough to what he did.

He looked round for the helsman, who was just scrambling to his feet, and yelled an order to him.

If this hasn't worked, he thought, a court martial will be a cert – among other things. But then if it hasn’t worked there might not be anyone to court-martial me.

Bruton had only just managed to stand up. He looked round and saw Holtz pick himself up; Fenner and McGeer and a few others appeared to be unconscious. He himself still seemed to be in one piece. He looked at the screen on the firing console and saw the flashing letters with their message. They hurt his eyes and gave him a headache, especially combined with the howling of the alarms.
"What happened?" Holtz demanded.

"The bastard rammed us," Bruton replied. "He's knackered the launch tubes." Slamming his fist down on the console, he let forth a torrent of savage expletives.
"So we can't fire the missiles?" Holtz asked practically.

Bruton examined the display of lights on his console. "Twelve of the launch tubes are jammed. We try to launch those birds, we'll blow ourselves all to fucking Kingdom Come." He went quiet, assessing the situation, all the time aware of the insistent pinging of the alarm systems, warning them that the reactor was going critical and threatening all their lives.

The purpose of the failsafe, once something had triggered it, was to give him time to think. About whether he really wanted to risk blowing himself up; or indeed the whole range of consequences, for himself and others, of a nuclear strike. And time to deal with whatever had caused the failsafe to cut in, if possible.
It wasn't possible. The Connecticut would need major repairs before the other missiles were operable.
He glanced again at the message flashing on the VDU. The computer was offering him the option of firing the remaining missiles, the ones whose tubes had not been buckled out of shape by the Major's attack. They'd still cause a lot of damage.
"We'll launch the other missiles," he decided swiftly. It wouldn't take long to reprogram the computer. "Then let's get out of here before the reactor blows."
"We'd better find out what the Poseidon's doing," said Holtz. Bruton realised to his alarm he’d completely forgotten about their enemy. He looked at the screen. The bulk of the British sub hung before him with its front end crumpled and distorted, bent almost out of shape by the collision. The corrugation of the metal made it look as if it was encrusted with barnacles. It reminded him of a humpback whale or some other, huge and grotesquely deformed, undersea life form.

It must have come off worse than they had, but was clearly still functioning, and the mis-shapen bow was pointed straight towards them. The torpedo tubes looked smashed in but it was hard to tell at this distance, such was the extent of the damage. If just one was working....

The Gertrude crackled. "May as well find out what he wants," said Bruton, and snatched up the receiver. "Hi, Mike. Thanks for taking care of the squid for us. We can all sit back and watch the big bang now."
The programming of the functional missiles remained unchanged. Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg and Beijing.
"I don't think so," Hartman shot back.
"I've still got one functional torpedo tube left, Frank," he lied. "And the torpedo is aimed right at your escape hatch. A couple of hits there and you'll be stuck at the bottom of the sea forever, whatever happens."
The Major had got in first.
"All we have to do is get back to the colony, after we'd finished you off, and we'll be safe," Bruton sneered.

"Can you be sure you'd finish us off? We're more manouevrable than you, and we're already in the right position. You're not."
"You forget, I've got your girl on board with me."
"Even if I was likely to let that stop me - and I shouldn't be - I've got a whole bunch of Navy people here who aren't so emotionally involved with what's happening. They've threatened to take command if I don’t get my priorities right." That, he thought, would enable him to put the wider considerations before Caroline's safety and still salvage his conscience.
Bruton's men were gathering around him again. "What's going on, boss?"
Bruton rounded on them. "WILL YOU FUCKING SHUT UP!!! I'm trying to think."
"Boss, the reactor...." There was mounting panic in Holtz’s voice. The alarm signal was much louder now and a second light was flashing on the ES console, signifying that two of the four control rods that had been lowered were now withdrawn.
Bruton suddenly smiled. "Back in a tick, Mike," he told Hartman.
Replacing the receiver, he returned to the missile launch console and his fingers began to play over the keypad.
A moment later he straightened up and went back to the Gertrude.
"Listen, Mike. A little improvement Mr Greatrix built into the equipment, something we never told you about. I've just put the launch system on the timer. We've got about an hour before all the missiles take off and blow the sub to pieces, thanks to you. I shouldn't like to think about the environmental effects of such a big bang. Twenty-four nuclear missiles going off, plus the fuel in the reactor. I imagine you'd get a massive tidal wave which would wreck the East coast of America, and maybe cause a lot of trouble in Europe as well. By the time everyone'd finished cleaning up the mess the virus would be ready."
"You're crazy," breathed the Major. It was a banal riposte but he just couldn't think of anything else to say.
"We’re very clever at Marcotech. There's no point in trying to disable the firing system, because it's programmed to launch the missiles immediately if anyone interferes with it, either by trying to change the program or by smashing the works. You could open fire on us, but you'd have to be sure of surviving the fight and even if you did, and you didn't cause any harm to the computer, there wouldn't be any point in it.
“Greatrix will confirm it if you like. Anyway, the only way you could find out if I'm telling the truth is by taking a pretty big risk.”
"Why are you telling me this, when you know I could kill you over it?"
"Because I don't think you're that vindictive, not really. Despite what you say, I don't think you'd kill just for the sake of revenge. There's never any point to it. Especially when I've still got the lovely Caroline in my clutches."
A weary, drawn-out sigh issued from the Gertrude. "Hang on a minute," said the Major.
"Don't be too long," pleaded Bruton. "Our reactor's just about to go into meltdown."
He turned from the Gertrude with a look of triumphant. "You heard all that, boys. We can still do it."
"They'll fucking lynch us," snarled McGeer.
Bruton merely shrugged. "Too late now."
"What about the colony?"
"Greatrix prepared for that. The colony could stand the shock of a tsunami. There'd be some damage, but it could be repaired."
He became aware that the intercom was bleeping shrilly. McGeer answered it. "Torpedo room are calling, Sir. They want to know what's going on."
"Tell them it's being sorted," Bruton said.
"And they want to know what to do with the girl. She's just come round."
"That too," Bruton told him.
A moment later Hartman was back. "I've discussed things with my Navy friends and we’re prepared to let you off the hook. But you realise you've probably condemned us all to death anyway?"
"No I haven't. If your sub's still in one piece, apart from the bad nose job, then there's time to take us back to the colony. We should be able to sit things out there. We'll worry about what happens afterwards....well, afterwards."
"On the other hand, we could use our escape systems to reach the surface where the Americans will pick us up."
"No way. You're taking us to the colony. We'll have our guns on the girl at all times - before and after we get there - and unless you do exactly as I say, she dies." A slight note of panic entered his voice. "Remember our reactor’s about to go haywire, so I'd advise you to hurry."
"All right," said Hartman tonelessly, accepting defeat. "You win. We're coming over. Just one thing; as for trying to use the missiles on the Poseidon to carry out your little Doomsday Plan, it wouldn't do you any good because I disabled the firing system some time ago."
“I thought you might. As I said, it’s doesn’t affect our plans in any way.” Bruton swung round to Holtz. "Tell Scobee he can stop whatever he's doing to the reactor and come out of there. The meltdown won't make any difference to those missiles going off."
Holtz made the announcement. But there was no reply from the intercom in the reactor room.
He tried again. Still no reply.
"Christ, he doesn't believe us," Holtz said. “He thinks it’s a trap.” The beads of sweat broke out on his forehead.
"He might listen to the girl," Bruton said. "Get her over there right away. And hurry!"
A third light came on on the ES console. Only one control rod now remained in place.
In just a few minutes they would suffer lethal radiation exposure.

On the Poseidon they heard the clang as the Connecticut’s boarding tube connected with the sub’s airlock. In the control room, the Major had ensured that a number of the SBS and naval ratings were stood in the background, armed.

Bruton called Greatrix and filled him in on all that had happened. "We’re coming your way with a lot of Navy and SBS people. You'd better have the lads on guard in case they try anything." He'd make sure the Major and Hillyard knew Greatrix had been forewarned.

Keeping just inside the door to the reactor unit, Scobee peered out. He saw no sign of movement except from men who appeared to be obviously dying, or at any rate out of the action. He couldn’t hear anything either, but that was because of the hideous screeching and wailing of the sirens.
Mouse was back at the main console. The fourth and final control rod was rising slowly out of its socket. Once it was free they would have five minutes before meltdown occurred.
“They're all dead," Scobee reported. “I think.” By now the sirens were so loud that they were having to shout.
“What if someone’s just lying low?” said Samuels.
“We’re waiting for them,” Scobee growled.
The fourth control rod came free.
That’s it, he thought. More or less.
For a long moment they were all silent.
“What if they're telling the truth about the missiles?” Tiny said.
“What if they’re not?” replied his commander gloomily.
They’d be dead anyway in a four minutes. Possibly lethal radiation was seeping through their bodies even now, from the time they’d already spent in the chamber. They’d quite forgotten about that, and the thought that it was probably too late to change their minds was somehow consoling.
Three minutes.
Scobee stiffened as something entered his field of vision, a human head by the look of it. A woman’s, with long hair. Her skin was a strange kind of colour…..Jeez, what the hell was this?
Whoever – or whatever – the woman was, she was smart enough to know that if she stood, thus seeming more likely to be in a position to shoot if she had a gun, she might be killed on sight. So she was crawling towards him over the heap of dead bodies, wincing in distaste at having to do so.
He couldn’t see a gun anywhere. Did that mean she was friend not foe, or was this another trick? Playing safe, he let her get right inside the chamber before addressing her instead of going out to meet her. He stepped back and she got to her feet. All four of them did double-takes at their first full frontal view of her.
Wow: an exotic fish woman in a bikini. Was this to be the last thing they saw before they died? You could do worse.
Could this be the girl who…although they hadn’t told him the full story, he now thought he understood why, he knew she had some sort of unique diving ability but this….
“Captain Scobee?” She had raised her voice but he could barely hear it because of the noise. He guessed she couldn’t shout, not really. At most, it was more of a sharp hissing sound.
She indicated that they should step out into the corridor where the sound of the alarm wasn’t quite so all-pervading. Scobee hesitated, then turned to Tiny and the others. “If there’s any double-crossing, if they take me as a hostage, don’t let that stop you, OK?” They nodded as one.
Not that it would matter in a minute or two.
“Captain Scobee, my name’s Caroline Kent,” said Caroline. “I was captured by the Marcotech people and experimented on. Listen, we've all got to get out of here. The Poseidon is standing by to take us all to the colony. The missiles have been set to fire and some of the launch tubes are jammed." She left it to Scobee to work out the implications of this.
One minute to go.
“Are you telling the truth?” Scobee looked hard at her, eyes narrowed.
Slowly, in case he thought it was a gun, Caroline took out her underwater radio and switched it on. She offered it to Scobee. “Major Hartman will tell you it’s no trick.”
Scobee raised the radio to his mouth. “Hello? Major?”
He listened while Hartman explained the situation, his expression slowly changing. As the Englishman finished speaking he spun round to Mouse Houlden. “Mouse, get those control rods back in!” he gabbled, white-faced. “NOW!”
Thirty seconds.
Mouse’s fingers flickered over the console like a touch-typist’s.
With a smooth humming sound the four control rods started to descend, faster than Mouse had withdrawn them.
Twenty seconds.
They weren’t coming down fast enough.
Ten seconds.
Down, down, about an inch per second….Scobee and his men watched them as if hypnotised.
Five….
Four…..
Three….
The rods disappeared inside the reactor casing.
Two
One
With a thud the rods slammed into position, locked.
The alarm cut off, its echo dying away. The lights stopped flashing. The dials on the gauges on the console spun crazily round as they fell back rapidly towards zero.
They were safe.
They breathed in and out deeply, glad to be alive, alive to go back in one piece to their families...maybe.
“You just came within a millimetre of being turned into radioactive dust,” Scobee told Caroline.
“I gathered we were on a tight schedule,” she said. “Oh, well.”
“It's true what you said about the missiles?"
"Everything."
"Those birds are going to launch and we can't do a thing?"
"I'm afraid not."
"How long have we got?"
"About an hour, I think. I'm not quite sure."
The Americans fell silent, looking at one another.
Scobee's mind was on the full consequences of the disaster. The tsunami would swamp the East Coast and he had family there. And there were millions of other people who would be killed, or injured, or made homeless. Not just in America, but probably elsewhere too. Even if they sent out a warning now it would be too late to get them all evacuated in time.
And there was nothing they could do. Nothing. Not reprogram the computer, nor do anything else to prevent the explosion. They were completely powerless.
“Captain Scobee?” Caroline prompted gently. They couldn’t afford to spend a great deal of time lingering.
He was still brooding. “Well I’m not going to hang around if you are,” she said firmly.
Rick Samuels touched his captain gently on the arm. “Sir….” he began, swallowing. “Sir, I, I think I might have the answer.”
Scobee's head jerked up, his eyes alight.
"Harl, those submarine canyons we passed on the way over here. The submarine canyons, remember?"
"Are you saying..."
"It might work. All those underground nuclear tests people have done, they never did serious damage to anything. This should be the same."
"Hopefully," Scobee muttered.
Suddenly he made up his mind. "You get the hell out of here," he told Caroline.
“You’re gonna do it, Sir?” said Tiny. “You’ll need help – “
“I’ll do it alright,” Scobee snapped. “On my own if I have to.”
Not quite knowing why, Tiny responded immediately. “I’ll come, Sir.”
“And me,” vowed Rick Samuels.
Mouse swallowed, then drew himself up to his full height, such as it was. “Sir, you uh…you’ll need someone to help out if there’s any technical hitches.”
“You don’t have to do it, mouse.”
“I will, Sir.”
“Good guy.”
“But we’ll need a helmsman, a navigator, a sonar operator. I don’t think that many of the guys are still alive.”
“We’ve all been trained in each other’s jobs, to some extent. And we’ve had plenty of time to observe. I don’t think anything’s going to go wrong, not in the hour or so it’ll take us to get over there.” His voice broke slightly.
He realised he’d forgotten about the people in the engine room, and looked in there. The ratings were sitting covering the Marcotech engineers, who were slumped listlessly at the base of the opposite wall, with their rifles. A few dead bodies were dumped in a heap in the corner and there was blood all over the place. He guessed the prisoners had tried to jump their guards when Hartman rammed the sub, but his men had recovered their wits in time to deal with the rebellion.
“OK, guys, you can go,” he said. “Get over to the Poseidon. We’ll be right behind you.” He stepped back into the reactor room.
Caroline was staring at them in horror. “Are you really going to – “
Scobee rounded on her savagely. "I SAID GET OUT OF HERE!"
She cast one last, anguished glance at them then spun on her heels and ran.
The evacuation was already under way, everyone running or walking very fast in the direction of the airlock in the conning tower. Those not fatally injured were being hustled or carried along as fast as possible. Speed was of the essence and there was no time to check who was there and who wasn't. So nobody noticed that Scobee and a few of his men were missing.
Caroline arrived at the hatch into the conning tower to find a man with a beard standing there, covering her with his gun. For the moment she didn’t recognize him. "Where's Scobee?" he asked curtly.
She thought fast. "He's coming. A couple of his men were injured when the Poseidon rammed us and they're having to carry him."
"Well they'd better be quick about it." The man motioned her into the airlock with his gun, then went in after her, taking hold of her arm as he did so. She thought it best not to resist.
A few minutes later they were all crowded into the control room of the Poseidon, apart from a few who had spilled out into the corridor. Bruton saw the armed soldiers and sailors with their guns levelled, but decided they wouldn't try anything, not with Hartman worried about the girl. Nor could they do any good once they got to the colony, because then they'd be outnumbered.
"Is everyone here?" the Major snapped. He looked round for Caroline and to his relief spotted her, though the sight of Bruton with his gun aimed at her head made him feel sick.
"I think so," Bruton said vaguely. "No time to worry about them if they're not."
The Major had to agree. "Right, let's go," he ordered. “Disengage from Connecticut.”
They heard the boarding tube retract. Orders were shouted to the engine room over the intercom, and they felt the vibrations as the Poseidon turned to face in the direction of the colony. It began to move off.
The radar operator looked up from his screen, puzzled. The Major noticed his expression, caught his eye. "What's up?"
"The Connecticut's moving away," he announced.
Bruton started. "What?" he gasped, his lips twisting in a snarl that transformed his face into a very ugly mask of rage. “It can’t be.”
"It's moving away. It's going in the opposite direction from us."
"It's not possible," Bruton insisted, shaking his head furiously.
A sudden terrible suspicion clutched at him and he looked round at everyone. "Scobee and his lot. They did make it on board, didn't they?"
Glances were cast this way and that. “Well I don’t see them here,” someone ventured.
Caroline realised Bruton’s gaze was focused on her in particular. She didn't care for the look in his eye. "I don't know, I suppose so," she said. "I said they were slowed down because one of them was injured and - "
"I think you're lying to me," Bruton hissed.
"If you kill her, you'll be asking for trouble," the Major warned him, stepping forward. "And with her dead there'll be nothing to hold us back."
He turned to his friend. "Actually I think we'd all like to know what's going on, Caroline."
She told them. Letting go of her, Bruton glared at the young woman through narrowed eyes, slits through which an evil light gleamed. "You didn't say....."
Pocketing his gun, he hurled herself towards her in an explosion of savage rage. Two of the SBS men grabbed him and held him back.
"I should have killed you when I had the chance!" he screamed.
Caroline folded her arms and smiled at him insolently. "Your mistake," she said.
"I'm afraid there's not a lot you can do," the Major told Bruton. "Since our torpedoes are out of action, we couldn't fire on them.”
“But I thought you said one was – “ babbled his former sergeant desperately.
“Ah now,” the Major smiled, lifting an admonitory finger. “You shouldn’t believe everything people tell you. They were all knackered when we rammed you.”
The Marcotech mercenaries shifted, unsure whether or not to intervene. Then they shrugged, accepting the situation, and lowered their rifles.
“You could run, of course, but you’d have to make landfall somewhere before the reactor ran out. It couldn’t be in what we euphemistically call “civilization”, because a 300-foot nuclear submarine would be a bit conspicuous there. So it might take you a while to get home and when you did you’d have only enemies waiting for you.”
Bruton saw that Caroline had moved to stand closer to the Major. A couple of people were between her and those of his men who still looked bent on resistance. The hardliners were outnumbered, anyway.
Captain Hillyard broke the silence. "I'll have you know," he told Bruton, "that whatever happens I don't being turned into a...Fish Person." he glanced over with Caroline. "With the greatest of respect to this young lady here."
"That's alright," she said. "I didn't ask for it, remember."
"None of us would," the Major said. "Especially if you have to be drugged all the time for it to work. So if you want a fight you've got it, mate."
“What’s the point?” shrugged one of Bruton’s men. “There’s nothing to stop the Yanks taking over the colony now.”
“I’m aware some of you were in this out of desperation,” the Major said. “I’ll try and put in a good word for you.”
“Does that include me?” smiled Bruton sweetly. Everyone ignored him.
His tone changed, becoming urgent. "You realise that if Scobee's plan doesn't work or he can't get there in time we're still going to be in trouble? We've got to make it to the colony."
“Too late,” Caroline said. “You’ve lost the initiative.”
Bruton wouldn’t give in. “We’ve got to – “
"Uh-uh," said Hartman, folding his arms and shaking his head. "I’ll make sure there are Navy helicopters waiting to pick us up up top. If there's going to be a tsunami on a scale that'll make all other tsunamis look like a ripple in a kid's paddling pool then in the air's about the safest place to be."
He nodded towards Bruton. “Take his gun please, someone.” One of the Navy ratings moved to obey.
"You wait, Hartman," Bruton told the Major. "You wait long enough, and I'll pay you back for all this. I'll get you for what you did to me. I'll get her." He nodded at Caroline. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Caroline, who'd had threats from all sorts of people in her time, Middle Eastern dictators, al-Qaeda terrorists, Mafia dons, South American drug barons, to list but a few of them, was distinctly unimpressed.
"Our relationship isn't what you think it is," Hartman told Bruton.
The mercenary's lips twisted slyly. "Oh yeah?"
"Commander, you’re back in charge,” the Major told Halliwell. “But we need to tell the Yanks to come and get us.”
“And about that tsunami,” the Commander added grimly. “Though let’s hope there isn’t one.”
While the message was being sent out, the helmsman piloted Poseidon into slightly shallower water, about four hundred feet down; the maximum depth at which they could use the breathing apparatus needed when untrained divers made an emergency escape from a submarine. They cut the engines and the wounded Poseidon sank slowly to the bed of the ocean, like a dying warrior to their last resting place. It slithered and skidded along the bottom for a short distance before finally coming to rest.
The Major paused for a moment, looking down in silence at the blip on the radar screen that represented the Connecticut as it travelled steadily towards the edge of the picture and out of range. He could guess what everyone else on the bridge was thinking at that moment, the ones with any decency in them at least. An idea occurred to him as to what they should do but he was afraid Bruton and his mob would take advantage of it to jump them.
He straightened up sharply. "All right, lads - and lass. Everyone to the airlock." But just for a moment after everyone else had gone, Hartman himself stood over the scanner with bowed head, eyes closed and hands clasped before him in what might have been prayer.
They had to carry out the operation fast, because it would be a long job and only two people could use the escape trunk at a time.
On each occasion there would be no more than a minute in which to flood the trunk and for the men to get out. Any longer and they risked getting the bends on the way up.
Apart from Caroline, who didn’t need breathing apparatus, everyone put on a Mark 8 exposure suit, which functioned as a life jacket with a hood, fitted with goggles and an air reservoir, covering the head. Some time was lost in explaining to the American sailors, used to a different system, how it worked. Commander Halliwell’s main worry was that there wouldn’t be enough exposure suits to go round. But they had spares, of course. And besides a great many of the Connecticut’s crew, both Navy and Marcotech, were now dead.
Each couple entered the escape trunk, closed the bottom hatch, charged their exposure suits with air from a reservoir in the wall of the chamber, and opened a flood valve. The upper hatch opened and they floated out. On the surface life rafts were inflated and a dozen or so men clambered onto each.

The US Navy Sea Stallion helicopters, six of them in all, arrived half an hour later. The men on board the choppers saw the black blobs of heads bobbing on the surface, and the people in the rafts, and banked their craft, hovering approximately a hundred feet above the water. From each of the helicopters a harness was lowered down to one of the people in the water, and he or she winched up into the belly of the craft.

Caroline waited until last. The time she’d spent on the Connecticut made it necessary to stay in the water as long as possible. She thought of making a break for it, but what the hell would be the point? It’d just mean running, or rather swimming, again….this had to be over, now. She guessed the Navy people would have been made aware of her special requirements and would make provision for them, so her welfare was assured – for the moment at least.

As strong hands grasped the Major and swung him up into the hold of the helicopter, his main thoughts were on those of his men still being held prisoner at the colony. And on the virus; he’d blown that, hadn’t he? Unless the Americans could get to the colony in another submarine and blow it to blazes, before the virus was released. He told himself that it either would be or it wouldn’t and if it was then things would be so different all the old worries would be cancelled out. Better to live in hope.


FIFTY-EIGHT

Moses Jameson felt himself start to choke from the water in his lungs, and decided it was time to leave the sleep tank. Dripping, he climbed out and returned to his hiding place in the corner, where he’d put the gun, there to dry out.

Once the moisture had evaporated, to leave no tell-tale traces on the floor, he left the sleep chamber and continued on his way towards the laboratory.

He made it down the next couple of corridors without any trouble. Then he turned a corner and to his alarm came face to face with one of the guards. He stepped back a little, reaching for the bag of knockout capsules and then realising to his dismay that he’d run out of them. The two of them stared at one another.

Jameson had assumed the other was a guard, but now he wasn’t quite sure. For one thing he wasn’t carrying a gun. He was a big guy, the sort of musclebound type you might encounter on Miami Beach, with long rather flowing blond hair. He was regarding Jameson keenly, obviously realising from his posture and expression that he wasn’t under the drug and wondering what he might be up to.

Jameson was tough enough to have taken him on and maybe beaten him, and tensed himself to attack. But something in the blond’s expression suddenly stopped him. He had an idea the man must have been moving in a slow, unhurried, listless sort of fashion for Jameson not to have heard him coming.

Charlie smiled broadly at him, and shrugged his shoulders helplessly, the palms of his hands turned upward. “You do what you want to, pal,” he said wearily, his voice flat and hollow. “I don’t care any more, really. I just don’t care.”

Jameson shifted uncertainly, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. A ruse? But the blond man just went on looking at him impassively and after a time Jameson made up his mind and moved on, leaving Charlie to his own devices.


Scobee glanced morbidly at the countdown clock on the firing console. It read 30.50; thirty minutes and fifty seconds before the missiles launched, or tried to.

“How far to go?” he asked Rick Samuels, who was functioning as navigator, with Tiny as helmsman and Mouse as sonar operator. Nothing had gone wrong with the sub’s various systems during the journey, leaving them all free to perform these respective tasks. He himself was on hand to operate any other functions of the sub as required and to generally oversee the proceedings.

“About five miles,” Rick said. It was the first time any of them had spoken for ages.
In all they had said very little since parting from the Poseidon.
Did they really have to do it? The authorities would have been warned anyway, and many lives might still be saved even if they failed in their mission. Why not give it the benefit of the doubt?
But many more lives would not. The devastation would be too great for that to be avoided. And even a few lives were worth the sacrifice, if every person was an inestimably valuable commodity. Then there was the massive economic damage. Or was that not the same thing?
There was really no way of quantifying, of analysing what they were doing, drawing up a balance sheet to assess its cost-effectiveness. Scobee wondered if the others were thinking the same.
The sonar was pinging. It looked like the echosounders had picked up the undersea canyons. Silently Scobee moved over to the scanner and waited.
The depth gauge read 600, 1000, 1200 feet.
Scobee’s mind had wandered a little, and Samuels saw it first. There, before them on the screen, was a vast black gash in the ocean floor, stretching away further than the scanner could see. A steep-sided chasm, with walls of sheer rock, folded and pitted and seamed from millions of years' weathering by currents.
"There it is," said Scobee softly. “We’ve arrived, boys.”
For a moment or two, the Connecticut hung suspended over the yawning chasm. "I'm taking her down," said Scobee, assuming the role of diving officer. He blew the tanks, and the Connecticut began to sink.
1500, 2000 feet
The countdown clock read 20:15.


The legend on a door in the wall on his right caught Jameson’s eye. “MAIN POWER UNIT.”
He stiffened. That was it. In this isolated, confined environment some distance from the shore the consequences of cutting off all power, all heating and lighting and electricity, would be disastrous.

He pushed the door open and went in. The room was dominated by a massive generator with thick cables leading from it to junction boxes on the walls. He found a plastic box full of workman’s tools; things to smash other things with. As soon as the balloon went up, they’d all be running over here to find out what had caused the trouble. He had to make this quick if he was to get away before they caught him.

He went around smashing the controls with a spanner, pulling out and cutting wires, riddling the control panels, dials and junction boxes and the generator itself with bullets, in a mad frenzy. The steady, monotonous hum of power from the machinery changed to a jarring, discordant note as some vital component or wire was hit.
The lights in the room began to flicker.

They flickered in the control room, the laboratory, and in Greatrix’s office. They flickered everywhere on the base. Then they cut off, plunging the whole installation into darkness. Aquanoids panicked and milled or ran about in terrified confusion. Guards stopped and looked at one another, sighing, thinking “What the hell has gone wrong now?”

All over the base vital equipment broke down. Including the life-support system for the aquanoids, the sleep tanks and associated equipment, with the result that some of them died.
Greatrix yelled into an intercom. ”Maintenance, what the hell’s going on? Get the back-up system working! And get over to the Power Unit and find out what happened!”

“Will do, Sir. The auxiliary power should have cut in automatically, so I think the sensors in the main unit must be out. As soon as they’re repaired we should be up and running again.” Guards stumbled around in the dark, trying to find their way to the Power Unit with the aid of torches. Once more chaos and confusion reigned.

Greatrix called the lab, hoping for some good news to console him. “Dan, how’s it going? How near are you to perfecting the virus?”

“We’ll know in another ten minutes,” said Zuckermann. “There are just a couple more tests to carry out. We’re having to work by the emergency lighting but we’re coping.”
Greatrix’s head was swimming. “Excellent,” he breathed. “Excellent.” This news would change everything. The guards must be told right away.


"How deep are we now?" asked Mouse, dully.
Scobee looked. The depth gauge showed 2500 feet.
17:12
"Another two miles to go, Sir," said Rick.
The vast, wounded bulk of the Connecticut cried out in protest as the pressures of the deep began to bear on it, the hull groaning like an animal in pain. It’s dying, Scobee thought. My ship is dying.
3,000 feet.
They’d already each sent Familygrams to their folks. Finding the right words to say had been the most difficult job of Scobee’s life. CARRIE, DOUG, JOE….I DON’T REALLY KNOW HOW TO SAY IT..I GUESS THERE ARE OTHERS WHO COULD DO A BETTER JOB OF IT THAN ME.
THEY WON’T HAVE TOLD YOU EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN GOING ON – THEY MAY NEVER DO. IT’S UP TO THEM WHETHER THIS GETS TO YOU AT ALL. JUST TO SAY SOMETHING BAD, SOMETHING CRAZY WAS IN THE PIPELINE BUT ME AND THE BOYS STOPPED IT. He guessed they would have done, if his family got the message.
WE’RE NOW ON A MISSION FROM WHICH WE HAVE VERY LITTLE HOPE OF COMING BACK ALIVE. WE’RE IN THE HANDS OF GOD. I KNOW THEY ALWAYS SAY WHEN YOU LOSE A LOVED ONE, “HE WOULDN’T HAVE WANTED YOU TO BE SAD.” CORNY, HUH? HOW DO THEY KNOW? WELL I JUST WANT TO SAY, AS A FATHER AND A HUSBAND, THAT IT’S TRUE. REMEMBER ME WITH LOVE, OF COURSE, AS I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU, IF I’M LUCKY ENOUGH TO GET TO HEAVEN, UNTIL THAT GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY WHEN HOPEFULLY WE WILL ALL MEET AGAIN IN HIS KINGDOM. BUT GET ON AND ENJOY LIFE, GUYS – IT’S A GREAT WORLD OUT THERE, WHEN WE DON’T MESS IT AROUND TOO MUCH, AND WE GOT TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT. I LIKE TO THINK WE SAVED IT TODAY, ME AND THE BOYS ON CONNECTICUT, AND THAT I DID IT FOR YOU AND ALL THOSE MILLIONS OF OTHERS WHO WANT TO LIVE AND BE HAPPY IN PEACE AND FREEDOM, WEALTH AND PROSPERITY. THERE’S A LOT MORE I’D SAY IF I HAD THE TIME BUT I DON’T. JUST MAKE THE MOST OUT OF LIFE, DON’T TAKE ANY CRAP FROM ANYONE AND DON’T GIVE IT UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.
THAT’S ALL.
ILY. HARL.
After thinking about it for a while he sent a second note to Carrie only, telling her he was casting no doubt on her love for him by urging her to find someone else to spend life with, should she feel the need at any time in the future. True love was not possessive.
12:07
4,000 feet.
"We're nearly there," said Rick.
All around them, they could hear the mournful moaning and creaking of the hull as it buckled and twisted. Soon it was hideous to listen to. They wondered how much longer it could hold out; it was a miracle it hadn’t gone already.
“Hold out just a little longer,” whispered Scobee. “That’s right.”
The Connecticut, already damaged by the collision with the Poseidon and the squid's attack, was being subjected to pressures far in excess of what it had been designed to withstand. It was going deeper than any submarine had ever gone before. She was exceeding her "crush depth", the depth most submarines were built to survive down to, and which could be twenty to thirty-five per cent greater than their usual maximum. But not much more, surely?
The warning sirens started up again, adding their wailing to the sound of the hull slowly compacting. But soon their ears ceased to be hurt by the din, or even fully aware of it.
What about the reactor, Scobee thought. They’d reconnected the scram systems so they could shut it down if necessary. He decided it should hold until they got there.
The Connecticut sank deeper and deeper into this strange, twilight world; into the murky, Stygian depths of the underwater canyon. On the scanner they could see weird fish and other life forms, many of which were totally unfamiliar, as they swum around the sub, curiously investigating this strange intruder from the upper reaches which rarely if ever ventured down this far. An enormous angler fish; a shark nearly two hundred feet long, not one of the mutants but every bit as huge only naturally so; a creature like an enormous slug or leech but with a long neck and serpent-like head crowned by two stubby horns.
A giant squid, far smaller than any of Greatrix's creations but still huge. There seemed to be a lot of them about. Donald Ivarson would have been glad to have his theories confirmed.
5:03
They must be somewhere near the bottom of the abyss by now. Probably their task was done. The millions of tons of rock all above and around them would muffle the force of the blast, contain it. But better to make sure.
Mouse consulted the sonar read-outs. "We'll be scraping the bottom in a minute."
“Level off, Tiny,” Scobee commanded. He didn’t want them to be holed, not just yet.
"How long can the hull hold out?" Tiny asked, having to shout now as the screeching from the hull rose suddenly higher.
"Not much longer, I reckon," Mouse said.
Rick gave a shout and pointed to the scanner. "I think there's an opening in the wall over there - look."
There did indeed seem to be the mouth of what looked like a cave, just wide enough to let the submarine through. “I wonder where that goes?” Scobee said, vaguely.
“Shall I take her in?” asked Tiny.
Scobee looked at the clock. “Might as well.”
3:53
Tiny piloted them straight towards the opening and they passed through it without encountering any obstruction. They were in a kind of tunnel, a crack in the earth that water had filled, leading…where?
There was no way of knowing how far it went in.
Then up ahead it seemed to open out. The Connecticut limped along just above the bottom, occasionally bumping off it, towards this second opening, and Tiny took her through it.
“Wow,” breathed Mouse. They were in a vast, water-filled cavern beneath the ocean bed, forming in effect an underground sea. It seemed the water didn’t go all the way up to the top, and Scobee had an impression of huge weirdly-shaped rock formations. It all seemed to have a strange beauty about it, rendered ethereal and ghostly by the haziness of the image on the scanner.
The interior of the cavern was like a cathedral’s, and each men instinctively fell silent. After a moment they found the words to speak.
“It's incredible,” said Scobee.
“Yeah,” said Mouse. “We’re privileged, guys. I doubt if many people get to see this kind of thing, ever.”
Their voices seemed to echo in the all-enveloping silence. It was silence because again they had lost all awareness of the screaming of tortured metal.
2:00
In front of them the tunnel seemed to end, a bare rock wall blocking their progress. "Is this as far as it goes?"
"I think so,” Rick replied.
"How long have we got?"
Mouse glanced at the clock. “A minute and a half.”
“Well, I guess this'll do," Scobee said.
The Connecticut’s death cries rose to a screaming crescendo. "She's going," Rick said.
Scobee told Mouse to shut down the reactor. The dying sub began to sink, then they heard the dull clang as it scraped on the bottom. The closing of the lid on their metal coffin.
Scobee swallowed. "Well, this is it."
They were silent for a moment.
"Great knowing you all, boys," said Scobee.
They each shook hands.
Conversation was now impossible, but nor was there any more need for words.
1:09
Scobee swallowed, tears for the Connecticut filling his eyes. He wept for that which was about to pass away and for that which would be left behind, to survive thanks to his efforts and those of his friends. Scenes from his past life flashed before his eyes.
Scenes from childhood, the teen years, early manhood. His first date…..his passing-out at the naval academy. His proud parents flanking him at his graduation. He thought of his widowed mother sitting at home by her fireside, waiting anxiously for news.....of his proposal to Carrie, their wedding, the birth of their two sons, the photograph of them which sat on his table in the cabin.
He thought of them gathered on the dockside at Groton along with the other wives and families and girlfriends to wave and cheer each time a vessel returned safely to port, as they had done on so many occasions in the past, but never would again.
We did good, didn’t we? Did what seemed to be right. Defended America against her enemies.
He could tell as if by some form of telepathy that his companions were all thinking and feeling just the same as he. They were dying for their country, the country of which they were proud to be citizens, the country which whatever its faults was Scobee’s love, his life, along with home and family and the God he now commended himself to, begging forgiveness for his sins and asking in all humility, without any pride or selfishness, that his sacrifice be regarded as atonement for them.
0:30
The hull would go at any second, Scobee was sure. It didn't matter which happened first, that or the countdown ending.
God bless America. Land of the free….
0:25
They were standing facing ahead with their hands clasped before them, mouthing softly the words of various passages from hymns and the Bible, some only vaguely or half-remembered, but uttered now with sincerity.
For those in peril on the sea……
Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale I fear no ill….
For Thou art beside me, thy rod and staff
My comfort still….
0:15
My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
0:10
Into your hands I commend my spirit
0:5
For thine is the Kingdom
Four
The power and the glory
Three
For ever
Two
And ever
One
Amen
None of them felt anything when the Connecticut blew apart in an enormous fireball, the blast of intense heat vaporising the sub and everything on board it in a matter of seconds and turning the surrounding water into a cauldron of superheated steam.

Pakistan
All but one of the nuclear sites had now been fully secured, and an unbreakable cordon placed around each to prevent any future attempt to seize it. Small groups of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters had tried to break into the remaining installation but the Allies were already there in force, even if they had not yet managed to consolidate their hold on the place by building extra fortifications around it, and the attackers were repelled with ease.

Now a renewed attempt was being made by some two to three hundred militants. The attack was met with fighter bombers and helicopter gunships, plus ground troops armed like their opponents with grenades and rocket launchers. Under this pressure the militants broke up into small, scattered groups who tried to work their way slowly forward towards the installation, aware they now presented a more difficult target for the aircraft to hit. Perhaps it was better to do things this way. The Allied pilots had to be careful to avoid hitting their comrades on the ground, always a possibility despite the precision bombing made possible by state-of-the-art technology.

Mohammed Ali from Peshawar was among the al-Qaeda forces making gradual progress from cover to cover towards their goal, despite the fierce opposition from around and above. Casting his mind back, whenever there was a brief lull in the fighting, to that first meeting with General Sharifah - what seemed a very long time ago now – he felt a wild thrill of joy at the thought they were nearly there. He hadn’t dreamed they would ever come this far. Allah was surely smiling upon them.

He heard the dull thud of an explosion and saw a cloud of white smoke billow into existence a few yards ahead of them, hanging in the above the target site. Rocks, fragments of same and particles of soil and dust rained down upon them. He had no idea if anyone had actually been hit. But the explosions seemed to be all around them, the noise almost deafening as the air rang with them and with gunfire, the unearthly shriek of shells and grenades whooshing from their launchers, and the screams of dying soldiers.

Once he saw an Apache helicopter burst into flames and drop like a stone as mortar fire hit some vital component. There was no time to pause and cheer.

He also saw a bomb land directly on the spot where he knew another group of rebels were hiding, sending blood and body parts flying through the air. A severed head rolled among the rocks.

Ali felt no fear. Lying flat and wriggling forward on his stomach when he needed to, shooting at an Allied soldier whenever he got the chance, handicapped by the RPG strapped to his back, he was by a combination of luck, courage and faith working his way closer and closer to the complex. His group’s prospects received a major boost when a US platoon whom they would have at one stage to pass were hit by friendly fire and all but wiped out. This triumph was somewhat marred when one of the group stood up to shout out his thanks to Allah and was immediately taken out by an Allied sniper. Ali and the other surviving member of the group, Ibrahim, managed in time to scramble behind a rock, the sniper’s bullets whining like angry insects as they bounced off it. Now they were out of his sight and screened by the boulders for the next hundred yards or so.

They had almost made it to where the rocks thinned out when a bomb landed just a few yards away, the boulders on either side trapping and intensifying the blast, which blew off one of Ibrahim’s arms and the whole of his leg below the knee. Ibrahim rolled about screaming in agony, blood gushing from the stumps. Ali knew he would die long before medical aid would get to him.

Ibrahim fell back, his screams subsiding to a low moan. Ali crawled over to his friend, who managed with a superhuman effort to compose himself enough to speak. “You must go on, my brother,” he gasped, eyes closed, teeth gritted. “Remember, Allah is with you.” Ali got out his knife and slit Ibrahim’s throat, ending his pain.

Crawling on, he caught sight of a lone Western soldier; the man had his rifle pointed in front of him but wasn’t looking at Ali, focusing on some other target. Ali took aim and fired, hitting the man in the side. He saw him keel over and fall, disappearing from sight behind a cluster of rocks. Must be dead, or dying….perhaps it would be best to make sure.

The man was dead, all right. He was very young and Ali felt sorry for him. But he had insisted on fighting on the wrong side, so….he became aware that the aerial bombardment had more or less stopped. They must have killed most of his brothers, leaving just a few scattered survivors who would present less of a clear target. Rather than waste their remaining bombs, the infidels would leave it to the troops on the ground to deal with. It would not take long for them to spot and kill him.

The wall of the complex was a hundred yards off. Easily close enough for him to use the RPG, but not so close that the recoil and shock wave together would kill him. Trouble was, it was all open ground from where he stood to his destination, but if he moved fast enough…

He stood up, unfastened his burden from his back, aimed it at the nearest of the steel doors in the wall and fired.

With a flash of fire and a deafening rush of displaced air the rocket streaked from the muzzle, slammed into the door and exploded. The door was blown off its hinges, buckled and twisted, to crash down among the rocks some distance away. When the smoke and dust cloud cleared, Ali saw that a large section of the wall had been blasted to rubble, leaving a jagged gaping hole in the concrete about ten feet cross. Dropping the RPG launcher, he sprinted towards it. He could hear the shouts and yells from inside the building.

Clambering through the hole, he ran off to the left, away from where the sounds were coming from. According to their contact in the Pakistani military, the control room was in roughly this direction; he just needed to take the first turning on the right, some fifty yards on, then the left….

He heard feet pounding along the corridor behind him. His pursuer could not yet be close enough to shoot him, for he was still alive. Ali faced a choice. Did he carry on running, and risk being shot in the back, or stand and face the enemy, which might result in his death before he could manage to reach the control room?

Ali hesitated for just a moment too long. As he made up his mind and started to turn the spray of bullets riddled him with bloody holes, extinguishing his life in an instant. He felt neither joy or grief, for he had not known how it was going to turn out. He simply died, just a couple of corridors away from the missile control room.

The Pakistani soldier radioed his colleagues, who began a hurried search to make sure no other rebels had managed to get inside the building. He stood guard over the hole in the wall, but no more came, and as time passed the sounds of explosions and gunfire from outside faded.

What the militants had planned to do, what they had hoped to achieve, once inside was difficult to say. But any rate, it looked like the facility was safe.

Afterwards he returned to Ali’s body and looked down at it in silence. It was sad, in a way.

They were saying they still didn’t know how al-Qaeda had been able to get hold of all those guns and ammo. Rumours had filtered down to him and his comrades that some private company was responsible, and that the people concerned were not really Muslims at all, let alone extremist ones. It sounded weird, but there must have been some truth in the rumour or it would have been so unbelievable there’d be no point in spreading it.

Scary. Perhaps their aim had been to give the West a fright and bring about changes to a foreign policy which was sowing conflict and instability. He doubted the crisis would have that much effect, knowing what politicians were like. But at least the explanation made some kind of sense.

Otherwise, it was hard to see what the point of it all could be.


The emergency lighting was dim, and several times a guard blundered past Jameson without noticing who he was. It didn’t hinder him that much in finding his way there, because of the way his vision had been augmented. Indeed he seemed to see just as well as in normal conditions.

At last he came to what must be the door of the laboratory. He got out the gadget the people on the sub had given him and picked the lock.

The lights brightened, and suddenly everything was visible with perfect clarity. They must have repaired the damage he’d caused, which meant they were now back in full control, or soon would be. Gotta work fast.

He stepped into the room and was confronted by several rows of trolleys, on which a number of men lay strapped down, twisting and straining hopelessly against their bonds. These must be the people on the sub’s buddies. Also an Asian man, a European woman and a European man, who looked to be civilians. They too seemed to have recovered from the effects of the drug. There was no-one else in sight.

One of the SBS men twisted his head to look at Jameson as he came forward. “Blimey…another one.”

“We gotta get out of here," Jameson said, and began unfastening the man’s straps. Immediately the others broke out into a babble of questions. ”What’s going on?” asked Chris Barrett. “You’re not…..”

“Ain’t no time to talk,” Jameson said. He released the first man, then Chris, then Steve Ferris, Gerda Wenge and Bob Moretti. He was about to attend to Jagdev Rajani when the door to what looked like a separate, inner lab within the main one slid open. They all stiffened.

Into the main laboratory stepped Dr Zuckermann, Dr Ivanova and several of their colleagues. Zuckermann held a white plastic capsule in each hand.

The scientists stopped and stared at the scene in front of them.

Jameson snatched up his rifle, which he had placed on the floor while he released the prisoners. “OK, none of you move,” he snapped. His eyes met Zuckermann’s. “That ain’t the famous virus you got there in your little hand, by any chance?”

“Yes it is,” said Zuckermann, tightening his grip on one of the capsules. ”And if you don’t put that gun down I’ll smash it.”

Checkmate, the detective was thinking. “Are you prepared to die then?” he asked, though far from convinced he’d be capable of shooting the guy.

“Oh yes,” said Zuckermann. “Quite prepared, I assure you. And to become like you are, if needs be.”
After all, he thought, we’ve got the antidote.

Jameson wasn’t sure he believed him. “Give that here or I’ll shoot.” Zuckermann’s colleagues were eyeing one another nervously.

“There’s no point,” said Zuckermann. “You’ll be outnumbered in a minute. There’s no time for you to destroy the virus. And if you did you wouldn’t get out of here until we wanted you to.”

The door slid open, and Sir Edward Greatrix came running in, accompanied by Latimer, Bromhead and a score of guards and other personnel. They stopped dead on seeing Jameson with the gun.

Their rifles were shouldered, but he couldn’t keep his attention on all of them for long, and if one of them managed to aim at him…

Besides, there was a new spirit among them. He sensed they were keyed up, ready for action; they’d regained their touch. He dropped the gun and stepped back from it.

“Very sensible, Mr Jameson,” Greatrix said. His eyes were shining in exultation.
"I got your message,” he told Zuckermann. “The virus is ready? And the antidote?"
"They're both here." Zuckermann held up the two capsules. “Let me have them,” said Greatrix. He couldn’t resist it. He cradled them lovingly in his arms, the means of his apotheosis.

“Well what are we waiting for?” he said, emerging from his reverie. “Let’s go to the airlock.”
“Hey, just wait a minute, pal,” said Moses Jameson. “You’re going to release that virus, right? And it’s gonna turn everyone into things like this – like me?”
“That’s right,” said Greatrix, smiling benignly at him.
“Well there’s a lot I still don’t understand about this business,” said Moses. “It was clear you were running some kind of crazy scheme and now I know what it is. But one thing they ain’t really told me is why. And since I don’t really appreciate what you’ve done to me, I reckon I’d like to know.”

Greatrix stared at him. ”Would you?” he said, his manner suddenly different. “Would you?” He swallowed, and they saw that his eyes were moist. “Very well, then. I suppose you have a right to.”

He took a deep breath. “I’m doing it for two reasons. The first is for the sake of the human race. The second…” They saw him lower his head. The guards and scientists looked as if they’d already heard the story a hundred times and were putting up with it politely. Everyone else listened in solemn silence.

“If you were to enter my office here, Mr Jameson, you would see that there were two photographs on the desk.” Latimer had seen those photos many times, and knew the story behind them. One was of an Asian woman, in her thirties or early forties, with a fringe of straight black hair and the soft, gentle brown eyes of the Tamil. The other showed a little boy, brown-skinned, dark-haired and brown-eyed like his mother of whom he was the spitting image; proud and smart and smiling in his new school uniform. Just like any other little boy about to start his first day at a new school; and not expecting he was going to be bullied. "The woman was my wife," Greatrix told them. "The boy my son." He had gone very quiet, casting his mind back through the years.

She had been a refugee from persecution in Sri Lanka. She was clever, and within a few years of her arrival in Britain had secured a place at University to study physics. That was where Greatrix, doing his degree in economics and business management, had met her.

"He was our only child. Not long after he was born she contracted a rare disease that made her infertile.

“He looked 100% Asian; shouldn't have done, with a white father. Especially one with my looks. Odd, that...maybe it's why I became so interested in genes. But he was our pride and joy.”

Again the photograph, though not there before him, burnt into his brain. That charming smile, the white teeth flashing in the grinning, dusky face.

Simon had been excited on his first day at school, if a little nervous underneath. But he had a responsible attitude to things, would make the best of his time there. He worked hard, got good results in all his exams, and appeared to be getting on well with everyone.

After a while though, he seemed to become quiet and withdrawn. The quality of his work deteriorated until it began to cause his teachers concern. At first he refused to say what the problem was. Finally, under pressure, he gave in in a flood of tears and told a story which shocked and horrified them.

It had started with cat-calling – “Paki,” “Sooty” and “Chocolate”, that sort of thing – then progressed gradually from the verbal to the physical. He was taken from his bed in the middle of the night, stripped and made to take cold showers, was poked and prodded with broom handles, had his personal property damaged or stolen. Part of the problem was that too many of the school's pupils were from nouveau riche families who had bullied their way to the top, tramping on the weak or defenceless because that was seen as the quickest way to succeed: a philosophy their sons were now putting into practice, keeping up the family tradition.

Despite his parents’ complaints, the school authorities didn't do enough about it and in the end they had had no option but to remove him from the place. To his annoyance, the scandal was afterwards hushed up. Anyhow, Greatrix had come round personally to the school and had an angry confrontation with the headmaster following which he’d gone round to collect Simon from the classroom where he was having lessons, having no compunction about bursting in on the proceedings or of taking the opportunity to tell everyone there just what he thought of their alma mater, and taken him away.

That same night, by way of a sort of celebration, they'd gone to see a film; Who Framed Roger Rabbit, his favourite. He'd been so happy; the sparkle had gone back into the eyes, the life into his face. It was one of the most vivid and pleasant memories Greatrix had from that time.

A school was found for Simon where he was a lot happier, and did much better academically as a result.

One day he was old enough to go into town on his own, to ride on buses and trains unaccompanied. And as with starting school, pleased the first time he had done so.

One evening he'd gone to visit a friend – a white friend, as it happened. That was how he came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There had been a lot of racial tension in the area recently, as happens when one ethnic group begins to displace another demographically, changing the character of the area in a way some found it hard to adjust to, challenging their traditional conception of their identity. Things were still pretty tense. Perhaps Simon had been wrong, had been foolish, to go there before they had entirely calmed down, or at all. But he’d got to the age where you don't think it's right for you to be locked up all the time, or to be afraid of what others might say or do to you.

So on that fateful evening he had taken the bus into town and spent several hours at the friend’s house, where he stayed until getting on for nine o’clock, afterwards walking back to the bus stop through what was now darkness.

And then from the shadows the catcalls had started up again, just as they had all those years before at the school. He must have withstood them bravely, not losing his cool until suddenly he found himself pursued by a crowd of about half a dozen white youths, baying for his blood. He ran, but the gang had appointed some of their number to get ahead of him in advance of the main attack and cut him off. They caught him and, unmoved by his frantic, terrified screams beat his head to a bloody pulp before stabbing him repeatedly in the stomach.
He died three hours later in hospital.

His mother did not long survive the shock of her loss. Her hair turned grey, then white, her face cracked into a San Andreas fault of lines and wrinkles, the bags under her eyes lengthened until she looked more like an elderly basset hound than a human being. They’d turned her into something grotesque, monstrous. He nonetheless cared for the ghostly shell of what had been a beautiful woman with utter devotion, in so far as you could do anything to help someone who had lost the will to live and could only spend their time staring at the wall or shambling aimlessly about the house, gazing ahead of them with blank, dead eyes.

After a while she seemed to rally. But it ended with Greatrix coming home one evening to find her slumped over the kitchen table, dead from an overdose of the medication she’d been taking. As often happens, on an impulse she had let her suppressed grief and anguish overwhelm her.

"It tore her apart,” he whispered. "The fact that the future she’d built for herself in this country had been wiped out so cruelly. That was what it amounted to. The future is a child and if that child is taken from you…..and she felt…..she felt betrayed….

“I think some of them knew he was my son and didn't like the idea of a white person having an Asian child. It was the ultimate form of racial pollution, the dilution, the denial of our genetic being, as if we must be something other than what we were to have brought such a thing about. Well all I can say is….”

The millionaire's eyes were glistening. A drop of moisture welled from one eye and traced a glistening path down his cheek. “We went to the park one day. He was playing on a wall…quite a high wall, but there shouldn’t have been any danger…and maybe you have to let them get hurt if they’re to learn, I don’t know…. hadn’t been properly repaired after some accident, I think a lorry went into it or something…..Simon suddenly realised it was unsafe, it was crumbled badly in one place and starting to shake. He got frightened and tried to jump down but wasn’t quick enough. He was knocked out and for a time we were really afraid.

“His little head was swollen like an egg. We managed to get the Council charged with negligence, and sued them, but it took ages. I sometimes felt it wasn’t worth the bother but I had to do what was right by Simon.”

The tears were flowing thick and fast now. “Everything was just like it would be with any other little boy. You share in all the joy, the sadness…in their triumphs and pleasures….you laugh with them when it’s all going well, you pick them up when they fall.....it's all right, all right...don't cry.....don’t cry….Daddy's here....."

Christ, thought Steve Ferris, he’s losing it. He looked at Bob Moretti, standing next to him, to see how he was taking all this and saw the horror and pity in the face of the tough SAS man.

Greatrix's shoulders gradually stopped heaving and his breathing steadied. "It was a long time before I could accept his death as due to anything other than the hatred of a few racist bastards..." On the last word his voice rose to a strangled, agonised shriek. "But after a while when I'd finally managed to....come to terms with it, sort of, I saw there was more to it than that. To admit as much was very difficult and something that could only come with time.” His manner was perfectly rational now.

His gaze travelled round the room taking in everyone within it. “Do you know what our problem is, gentlemen, Frau Wenge? What the real threat is to humanity in the modern world? It’s that numbers make us aggressive, the same as with any other species. We’re still animals, you see. And there are too many of us treading on each others’ toes, competing for limited resources, placing impossible demands on the food supply in the Third World and on public services in the West. And blaming each other for the problem, when really none of us can be criticized for wanting to have children or emigrating to another country in search of a better life.

“Numbers make us aggressive. Numbers along with difference. When you get the two together...we need to belong to a tribe, to identify with a particular community and protect its way of life, its wellbeing, against deprivation and against outsiders. That’s part of Nature too. Of course there are those who are motivated purely by hatred but there are always underlying….currents, deep-rooted factors which help to set them off and which they can of course exploit.

"As it is, we can't live together. It’s a sad fact but an obvious and unchangeable one. But if we moved to a new environment where there really was room for everyone…and if our biology, our behaviour patterns, were altered to suit it…everything else would be different too. It’d have to be.”
How do you know, thought Chris Barrett.

“Our whole way of looking at things would change. It just seemed to make sense, somehow. It’s our only chance and I was the one man who was prepared to take it. Because I didn’t want anyone else to suffer as my son had done.”

Chris spoke. “What you did to Caroline and the others was still wrong,” he said. “And it won’t work. Not unless everyone agrees to it and they never will. There must be some other way.”

"They won't have any choice now," Greatrix told him, raising the hand with the virus capsule in it. "I'm sorry it had to be like that, though."

“I’m no scientist. But you’re saying the environment conditions the way we think….”

“To some extent, anyway. Enough to make a difference. Look, I’m not prepared to be lectured on the rights and wrongs of all I’ve been doing. I had enough of that from your friend. I think it would be better if I just got this to the airlock now and – “
The floor began to shake.

At first it was barely noticeable. Then they felt the slight trembling beneath the soles of their feet.

Christ, it's an earthquake, thought Steve Ferris. A bloody underwater earthquake.

A second tremor caused them all to stagger. Greatrix was looking round in wild alarm. What could have caused this? It shouldn’t be so powerful, not unless something had happened to….to…..

The third tremor ran right across the floor, the solid surface beneath their feet shifting and throwing them clean off balance. Latimer fell back against the wall of the laboratory and slid down it. Greatrix was flung violently sideways, losing his grip on the capsule containing the virus. His legs twisted beneath him and he crashed down, his body landing on top of the capsule as he fell.

Disorientated by the lurching of the floor, the others didn't hear the crack as the capsule shattered. They recovered their balance, those who had fallen scrambling to their feet again, to see Greatrix lever himself back into a kneeling posture, exposing to view the shattered flask from which the genetically engineered microbes were now leaking into the air around them. Each man scrambled back hurriedly, looking at his companions in horror. For a moment everyone was frozen rigid.

Shakily Greatrix managed to stand up, gazing down blankly at the shattered capsule as if not fully comprehending what had happened.

Then he brought his hands up and stared at them through eyes wide in what might have been astonishment. The skin on them, and on his face, was already taking on a grey-blue tinge, the texture also starting to change, becoming mottled as if covered with thousands of tiny little scales. The others looked on in helpless, horrified fascination.

Greatrix stared down at himself until the realisation of what was happening to him finally dawned.

He let out a short, gasping cry, which turned into a shout of alarm and horror, and thrust one hand into his pocket, scrabbling desperately until the antidote came out, clutched tight in his trembling fingers. Moving with frantic speed he ran to one of the workbenches, where he slammed down the little capsule and rapidly unscrewed the lid from it. He pushed back the sleeve of his shirt then snatched up a syringe and inserted the point of its needle into the capsule’s contents. Steadying himself with an effort, he pressed the point of the needle to his flesh and plunged it in.

Greatrix replaced the antidote in his pocket and looked down at his hands again, his breathing still rapid. As the others watched his skin began turning slowly back to pinkish-white, the fine scales disappearing. He waited, breathing steadying a little, until all traces of the infection were gone.

He stood there for a few seconds, still gazing down at his hands. Then he threw his head back and let out a long drawn-out wail of anguish.

He turned and ran from the laboratory, the others ignoring him as they rushed to the bench and clustered round the phial of antidote, each one in turn plunging the syringe into the contents and injecting themselves. The tremors had stopped but now started up again, violently enough to make the job difficult.

Moses Jameson hovered uncertainly. Presumably the antidote could return him to normal along with the others. But some of what had been done to him was due to surgery and would have to be reversed the same way. And then there were the words the girl had said to him while he was helping her escape from the colony.

Hurry up, thought Chris Barrett. He could already feel his skin tingling, as if it was shifting like something insubstantial. A million tiny needle points were jabbing into his flesh, a million prickly goose pimples...

When all those standing had been injected Steve Ferris, now taking charge, pointed to the men still strapped to the benches, who were shouting frantically for someone to release them, alarmed by the shuddering of the floor and the ominous rumbling sound now coming from outside. “And them too!”

He found himself facing Dave Latimer, who was trying without much success to look confrontational. “Look, we’d better be getting out of here!” Steve shouted at him. As if to reinforce what he was saying a tremor far more powerful than any before it shook the whole room, rattling test tubes and beakers. They heard something roll off one of the benches and hit the floor.

Latimer tried to think what to do. They’d no idea how serious the tremors would get, what kind of damage the quake could do to the colony. They just hadn’t expected anything like this.

He made the decision there and then, running to the intercom. “Everyone out. We’re evacuating the colony. Everyone to the submarine pens, now. Take along any aquanoids still within the base.” The ones outside would have to take their chances.

He ran for the door, the guards immediately following. The remaining SBS men and the two Marcotech executives were by now free and out of the room.

Helplessly Dr Zuckermann and his colleagues stood where they were for a moment, stricken. Then Zuckermann began dashing around snatching up notes, samples and other things and trying to cram them all into his pocket. Ivanova and the others left him to it.

Chris ran to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Before you do that, I want Caroline’s DNA culture. Tell me where it is or I’ll bloody well kill you.”

Zuckermann nodded curtly towards the door of the inner lab. "In there. I’ll get it for you."

They dashed into the little room. Zuckermann ran to a stack of what looked like filing cabinets, divided into many small compartments. He fished in his pocket, pulled out a key and unlocked one of the drawers. Chris saw the legend on it:
GENE SAMPLE
KENT, C M
Zuckermann pulled it out and took from it a metal canister the size of a jam jar, with a label bearing the same information as on the drawer.
“The other one’s, too,” said Chris. “What’s his name, Jameson?”
Then there were two more, weren’t there? Caroline had mentioned Ryan someone and a Katie Phillipson.

Zuckermann already had Jameson’s sample out. Chris grabbed the key from him and unlocked the drawers containing the two others. He was forced to give them to Zuckermann, not being able at the same time to carry Caroline’s and Jameson’s samples, which he managed to cram into his pockets.

There was no time to collect any of the others, supposing the aquanoids concerned even survived the tsunami. They ran back into the main laboratory, where the remaining prisoners had now been released and given the antidote. Everyone was rapidly disappearing through the door, apart from Moses Jameson who was attacking the fuse box for the lab’s sprinkler system with a spanner.

“That virus will be spreading everywhere!” shouted the American. “We gotta burn it out, man!”

He wrenched off the cover of the fuse box and pulled out all the wires. Chris looked round for something to start the fire with.

The lurching of the floor was sending objects sliding off the benches, glass retorts and whole racks of test tubes shattering on the floor. Several nasty-looking pools of liquid, one of them smoking, began to flow across it. He heard a “woof”, a sound just like the barking of a savage dog, as something burst into flames.

They might not need to bother, thought Chris. He scanned the nearest of the workbenches and saw a Bunsen burner, with a box of matches lying beside it. He turned the gas on full, struck one of the matches and lit it. A tongue of flame spurted from the nozzle of the burner.

A spare lab coat was hung over the back of a chair. Chris rolled it up into a ball, letting one of the sleeves hang loose and touching it to the flickering yellow flame. As it caught fire he flung the burning bundle into the spreading pool of smoking fluid a few feet away.

With a hungry roar the liquid ignited, and a blast of intense heat caused him to recoil, the flames slashing at his face like red-hot knives and singeing his hair and skin. “Get out!” he yelled to Jameson. He ran for the door, hesitated, ran back to where the capsule containing the antidote lay and snatched it up. Chris was alarmed to find they’d lost sight of the others. “Which way to the submarine pens?” he shouted. “Do you know?”

“This way, I think.” Jameson led him towards them, retracing the route he’d taken when he’d tried to reach them before and failed.

As they hurried on they could hear the pitiful sobbing cries of Sir Edward Greatrix, growing steadily fainter. He seemed to be going in the opposite direction to everyone else. Chris paused, trying to gauge where they’d come from. Jameson saw his intent and hustled him on. “No, there ain’t time! We’ve hung around too long already!”

Chris knew he was right. Reluctantly, they resumed their breakneck dash for the submarine pens, afraid they might already be too late.

Greatrix burst into the now empty control room and ran over to the airlock controls, putting Number Three on timed opening. Then he broke again into a staggering, stumbling run which took him from the room and down the several corridors to the airlock. A couple of guards, straggling behind the others, saw him and tried to grab him but he broke free with an angry snarl.

Tears streaming profusely from his eyes, he lurched through the already open door and fell against the wall. Still sobbing uncontrollably, chest and shoulders heaving, he waited as the water began to pour into the chamber, swirling around his feet.

He remained totally still and calm as it rose past his ankles, knees, and waist. Then, the tears springing forth again, he took an automatic pistol from his jacket pocket and pressed the barrel to his forehead, squeezing the trigger.

The sharp pain exploded inside his skull. Then his consciousness evaporated and he slid slowly down the wall into the rising pool of water.

It continued to rise until it filled the chamber. The airlock door swished open, and Greatrix's body seemed to rise as if of its own accord, possessed of an eerie life, like a puppet whose strings had been pulled. It rose almost to its feet and floated gently out of the airlock and into the sea, arms stretched straight out, twisting and turning endlessly in its strange slow-motion underwater ballet.

The laboratory was now a blazing inferno, the corridor outside a tunnel of flame. The tongues of fire licked along ventilation shafts and ducting, igniting wires and cables, and spread from corridor to corridor, room to room, destroying the microbes in the air as they multiplied. As they ran a chorus of shrieking fire alarms cut through the air around Chris Barrett and Moses Jameson. Chris noticed water seeping into the passage from under a door, its source unidentifiable.

Some way ahead of them a mixed group of guards, scientists, screaming bimbos from Greatrix’s harem, and aquanoids caught up in and infected by the panic swept on its way to the submarine pens. Once there some people made for the Kilo, others for the supply sub. The pens had already been timed to flood, and the doors to open, from the control room. Within a few minutes of each other the two submarines emerged into the ocean proper on the first stage of a journey to no-one yet knew quite where.

On the Kilo, Dave Latimer was wondering like everyone else what the hell was going to happen now. Should they run or give themselves up to the authorities, do the decent thing? They’d be bound to get into some kind of trouble for all they’d done. On the other hand, how much of it had been bad rather than misguided - was that how he should look at it? People might be prepared to forgive, and if that was so there seemed little point in the hassle of changing his identity or looking for a place to hide.

He was still trying to make his mind up when the tidal wave hit the sub and tossed it about like a child’s toy. He was briefly conscious of a tangled, suffocating mass of limbs and bodies, swallowing him up and crushing him, then his head smashed against a bulkhead and a searing pain filled his skull for an instant before blackness engulfed everything forever.

Chris and Moses Jameson caught up with the rest of the former prisoners just as they skidded to a halt at the door to the submarine pen. On the panel beside it a row of illuminated letters were flashing on and off.

"The subs have already gone!" Steve Ferris shouted. "We're too late!" It'd be crazy to try and get out in a sub anyway.
Chris felt himself chill. "Is there any other way out of here?"
Dr Zuckermann was still with them. "Yes - escape capsule. It's this way."
He spun on his heels, ran back down the passage a short distance and then towards a side corridor. Losing no time they shot after him, slipping and sliding on the shuddering floor, every minute or so sent sprawling as the tremors grew more and more violent. Chris paused to risk a brief glance through one of the observation windows. What he saw froze him to the spot in awe.

Huge clouds of silt and uprooted undersea vegetation filled the water, obscuring vision. The rain of debris lashed against the window with a savagery that made him step back.

The blades of the giant turbines were spinning wildly, totally out of control. The currents surging through the water tossed fish and other marine life all over the place. Some were killed instantly by the shock, others just carried along helplessly. A sea anemone, a large blue lobster and a small octopus, its tentacles streaming out behind it, sailed past the window. Clumps of vegetation were bowled along the ocean floor like tumbleweeds. Those plants not yet uprooted were thrashing about in a frenzy.

Chris saw an aquanoid disappear into the whirling blades of one of the turbines, to explode in a billowing cloud of red. Others shot by him with their arms and legs stretched straight out, like matchstick figures. It was hard to tell whether they were dead, killed by the shock of the tidal wave, or just caught in the grip of the current.

That current hit the supply sub, in which Bromhead and Dr Ivanova among others were attempting to make their escape, like a hurricane. It veered off course wildly, hurling those on board against the walls with terrifying, bone-shattering force.

The wave swept it into the wildly spinning blades of the turbine, where it lodged. The giant fan suddenly stopped turning, the mechanism jammed. For a moment the sub hung there bizarrely, like a fly in an enormous metal spider's web. Then the whole giant mechanism toppled and fell, taking the sub with it as it vanished from sight into the spreading chasm that had opened up in the ocean floor, silt and sand cascading down its sides.

The colony's buildings were standing up to the tsunami well enough. But it wasn't the tsunami that was the problem. As Chris watched in fascinated horror a huge area of sea bed heaved up and then fell back, as if there was a giant worm moving beneath it.

A section of the fence twisted, crumpled and collapsed in a
spaghetti tangle of girders. A whole complex of domes suddenly disappeared from sight, there one moment and gone the next. They were followed by one of the tracked seabed vehicles. Everything was vanishing into the widening crack in the sea bed into which the water was draining away, the suction pulling the surviving aquanoids down with it. Another of the turbine structures tilted, toppled and fell, raising up a huge silt cloud.

The submarine pens were breaking up, the concrete girders separating from one another and crashing down in a jumbled heap. A sub broke free from its mooring, sank onto the ocean floor and turned over.

Huge bubbles appeared, clustering against the screen; Chris felt they were pressing against it as if trying to break in. An aquanoid smashed into it to hang for a moment with its hands pressed flat against the glass, mouth opening and closing in what Chris felt sure was wordless appeal.

The convulsion in the sea bed snaked and rippled towards the colony, seeming to be heading straight for him. He felt a meaty hand descend on his shoulder and heard Bob Moretti's voice, awakening him roughly from his horrified daze. "Come on you fucking idiot, don't just stand there!"

Chris galvanized himself into action, pelting after the others. Up ahead he saw first one and then a second set of sliding doors swish open, revealing the inside of a circular chamber fifteen feet in diameter whose walls, floor and ceiling were all padded.

It seemed the capsule was designed to be launched independently of the control room in an emergency. Once they were inside Zuckermann pressed some keys on a control panel in the wall and told them to brace themselves.

Above them, a panel in the roof of the dome they were in slid open. They heard a low rumbling sound begin as the power built up, growing steadily louder until the capsule started to shudder. Then the rockets ignited and the capsule was blasted free of the structure seconds before it sank, flipped over and dropped like a stone into the yawning abyss, the remaining buildings of the colony following it one by one.

The shock waves sent the capsule veering all over the the place as it shot up towards the surface, the power of the rockets fighting against the buffeting of the tsunami. Its occupants tried to brace themselves against the walls but were still flung all over the place, tripping and falling over one another. Chris thanked his lucky stars for the padding, without which they’d probably be smashed to bits like an insect caught in a roulette wheel. As it was, it was a bumpy ride.

The capsule had a single observation window. Through it Chris caught a glimpse of blue sky through the gouts of water splashing against the glass.

The capsule shot about twenty feet out of the water, then fell back to the surface as the rocket motors cut out, hitting it with a jarring impact that rattled their bones. Immediately the turbulent sea began to toss them about. It was probably for rough conditions like this that Greatrix had put in the panelling and Chris was extremely grateful that he’d done so.

Again he thought of those awful anguished screams. We should have saved him….shouldn’t have left him….we should have tried.

He wondered how long they could survive the merciless buffeting. Then he glimpsed a black insect-like shape in the top left-hand corner of the window; a helicopter. No, two of them. Three.

The pilot of the lead chopper had spotted the white drum-shaped object bobbing in the water and thought it looked like some kind of escape capsule. Taking the craft in closer, he thought he could see faces clustered against the single window, looking out and shouting to him.

Marcotech had made provision for air sea rescue, a small protrusion on the roof of the capsule to which a cable could be attached. The helicopter hovered a hundred feet or so above it and the cable was lowered down, together with a man in a harness. Attaching it was a near impossible task, especially in the high winds whipped up near the surface by the turbulence of the sea, but eventually they managed to thread it through the eyelet and clamp it in place.

The people inside felt the capsule shudder as the cable pulled taut, lifting it out of the sea and out of danger. The helicopter turned and flew away with its burden, leaving the sea below to gradually settle, until no trace was visible to human eyes of the holocaust which had taken place beneath it.

In the lead helicopter Caroline sat with her head between her legs, gazing at the floor.
One of the Americans put away his radio and turned to where the Major was sitting. “Your friends have just been picked up. They’re all safe and sound.”
The Major’s eyes lit up and his shoulders slumped as some of the tension left him. “That’s fantastic.”
"But we can't account for that Bruton guy."

Hartman stiffened. "You can't account for him? He's not on board any of the other helicopters?"
The sailor shook his head. "No, Sir. We just can't find him. Not anywhere."
"So you missed him somehow?"
"Perhaps he tried to make a break for it. If he had, the tidal wave would have got him. Must have done."
The Major nodded silently, and like Caroline stared down at the floor, his mind a blank slate.

Commander Hillyard leaned towards him and patted him gently on the shoulder. “Listen,” he whispered. “I’ll try and put in a good word for you. In as far as I can. OK?”
Hartman glanced up sharply, suddenly reminded that he had other things to worry about beside Bruton. Then he nodded his thanks.
“My men too,” Hillyard said. But the Major only grunted, lost once again in thoughts as deep and unfathomable as the sea they were leaving behind them.
In the cabin of the helicopter, out of earshot from those huddled in the hold, two CIA men sat talking while the pilot, paid not to repeat what they said or even be listening in the first place, stared impassively before him. Both agents wore smart suits under their thick overcoats.
“So,” one said to the other, “now begins the clearing up. What’s gonna happen to everyone?”
“Won’t be for us to decide. However….I don’t know about the British girl, but Jameson looks as if he’s still under the drug; same with Katie Phillipson, Ivarson’s assistant. They’ll have no idea what’s happened to them. It’ll be OK to put them back into circulation."
"Return them to normal, you mean?"
"If we can."
"Will they need the anaesthetic during the op?"
"Guess so. I mean, once you start carving somebody up they tend to feel it."
"I was figuring maybe it might be dangerous on top of the drug."
"Then we wait till the drug's just worn off, and give them the anaesthetic before they've fully realised what's happened to them. Got to time it right, though."
"OK."
"The drug has to be readministered at intervals, of course. I guess Zuckermann will be able to tell us what sort they used. We'll keep doing that until it's time for them to be operated on."


"Looks like we made it," observed Steve Ferris.
"Yeah," said one of the soldiers, "and what happens now?"

"They'll want to interrogate us, I expect. There's not a lot we can tell them though, we were out cold most of the time."
“Oh, you'll be alright," said Dr Zuckermann resentfully. "You're not on the wrong side, like me. So you won't be going to prison."

"Oh, I don't think you'll be going to prison, mate," Steve replied. "You know very well what's going to happen to you. You'll be dealing with a bunch of guys who are every bit as hard as we are - worse, I reckon. And something tells me you'd be very useful to them right now. You won't be going anywhere except where they want you to - ever."

"I know what you mean," Zuckermann replied. "And it doesn't really bother me. I'm a scientist, I spend most of my time in laboratories anyway."
But all the same, he shuddered. And the SAS men saw it.

"At least you meant well," said Chris. "It was only your methods that were wrong. But in their hands everything you've ever done will be perverted. They'll force you to do all sorts of nasty things with one aim behind them, to make better fighting machines. And you won't be able to do anything about it, anything at all."

Zuckermann realised he had been trying to ignore the whole truth of what they’d been saying. Now it hit with a force every bit as crushing, in its way, as the tidal wave they had just escaped. And before everyone's eyes he screamed out loud, and fainted.


FIFTY-NINE
US Navy Research Facility, San Diego
"How are you feeling?" Rachel Savident asked.
"Oh, OK," said Caroline wearily, feeling the stress of the last few weeks gradually pass from body and mind. ”So…what’s happening, then?”

"They've got all most of what they want from Zuckermann, from you and from the other captured aquanoids. Who won't remember anything of what happened to them, because of the drug. So you'll be operated on to return you to normal – along with Katie Phillipson, Moses Jameson and any more aquanoids who should happen to turn up."
"Do you think they were all killed?"

"I don't know," Rachel shrugged. "I hope not." It was all anyone could say on the subject. Briefly Caroline gazed up at the ceiling, then tore herself away from it, telling herself moping wouldn't do any good. “The aquanoids they’ve already got – apart from me, and Katie, and Moses - they’re going to go on experimenting with them? Carry on from where they left off with me?”

“No, they’ll be operated on and then released. They’ve already done one more test, just one more, to see if the aquanoids performed as well in fresh water as salt. The subject became distressed after only a couple of seconds – fortunately the effects didn’t last – and was taken out of the tank. They decided to leave it at that.”

“How can they return them to normal if they don’t have DNA samples for them?”

“They’ve got DNA for all the missing people, from the investigation. Taken from their clothes or other personal possessions. Where there’s any uncertainty, it’s simply a matter of doing a match. The aquanoids’ DNA will have been altered, of course, but it should still be possible to tell who’s who.”

“The ones that came back here on the Nelson, do we know who they are?”
“Only the British ones. A woman tourist from London and a seaman cadet from one of the oil tankers – young lad called Tredinnick, I think.”
“And they’ve got all the scientific stuff they want now?"
"They think they will have, in the long run. That was the impression I got."
"And in return we've all got to keep our mouths shut about this."
"That's about it."
"Same as usual," Caroline remarked drily.
"Yes," Rachel replied. "Same as usual."
"Did you have to cause a fuss to get our side to agree to the deal?"
"I did. They didn't want to lose me so they gave in eventually, with a token warning about overstepping the mark. They could have, er, got me out of the way if they'd wanted to but I think the principle is that if you leave too many mysteriously dead bodies around - or even if the people concerned just disappear - it's sure to rebound on you eventually."

"What do you think they'll do to Mike?"
"I should have thought that was obvious. He won't be sacked because he's too good at his job and they're too overstretched. Besides, he's needed right now in Pakistan. So I think things are tied up as well as they possibly could be."
Caroline's face was long. "I'm just not happy about, about what they know. It means the whole business could start up all over again, sooner or later."
"They'll be careful," Rachel said. "I don't think they'll put it to any actual use, not yet. If too many people start turning into aquanoids the public will notice. It'd be too controversial; even they would baulk at the consequences. They're going to sit on the knowledge until they feel there’s a definite need to use it. At most they want just a few aquanoids for military purposes. Whether it develops into anything more than that we'll just have to see. Of course they can manufacture their own version of the Marcotech virus from the antidote Chris took, with Zuckermann’s help.” In many ways she’d have been happier if he’d left it behind, but they had to guard against the possibility some of the virus had escaped into the sea. “But right now, I don't think anyone wants a world where they have to keep popping in and out of the water every hour or so."

"But who knows what's going to happen in the future?" Caroline said.
"Who indeed," Rachel agreed.
“But I guess this is the end for Marcotech."

"Well, it was only a few of the top management, plus the hardcases they’d hired for their secret army, who were in on it. Bit of an embarrassment, though. All I can tell you is the firm was put into liquidation this morning.”

"What's the damage to the Bahamas?"
"It could have been a lot worse if poor Scobee hadn't done what he did. As it is quite a few people were killed in the tidal wave, and there'll probably be a certain amount of radiation leakage." The actual force of the explosion had been contained by the masses of rock surrounding it, but some radiation was bound to seep out and no-one knew what the long-term effect would be on the ecology in that part of the ocean.

"It sounds like a promising subject for a research grant," Caroline mused. "Dr Ivarson will be kept busy for years. And now he's got Katie to help him again.” It was just a pity about Ryan Kotz. He was presumably dead at the bottom of the sea along with the other aquanoids, killed by the tsunami. They were keeping his gene sample safe, but without him it was utterly bloody useless.

She smiled. "That reminds me, I must give him a call when all this is over, tell him I'm OK."

She fell silent, and Rachel gave her an odd look. "You do want to get back to normal, don't you?"

"Yes," Caroline said, but not immediately. To Rachel's mind she seemed to be searching for something that could take her mind off the subject. "What happened to the Marcotech executives?”

“Wenge and Rajani? My gut feeling is they’ll be alright as long as they don’t talk to anyone.” Rachel would have been in the business long enough to know. “I can tell you one thing, though. Where a business like this is concerned, the Yanks have a way of tidying up any loose ends.” Caroline nodded, shuddering queasily. “Perhaps it’s best not to ask too many questions.”


The commander of British forces in this part of the city had carried out a series of interviews with local people sympathetic to the allies, who said they thought some Western people were being kept prisoner in a house two or three streets from one of the main roads running east out of Rawalpindi. The Major’s squad had now been observing it for some time. And during that time, at regular intervals, they’d seen men leave and enter with guns, once caught a brief glimpse of a Western face at a window before it abruptly vanished into the shadows beyond.

Some of the hostages had escaped, some had been killed, some had been rescued, some released by their captors. Many of the women and children had been freed on grounds of humanity; not all the militant groups who had come together to stage the coup belonged to al-Qaeda or were as viciously nasty as they. So far a little over half had turned up safe and sound, one way or another. The rest had probably been murdered as al-Qaeda pulled out, to show that victory over them could not be won without a price. Any resolution of the hostage problem was always likely to be messy, the Major thought despairingly. But a messy outcome was better than total disaster. At any rate, he reckoned the ones already rescued were about all you were going to get; along with this lot in here, if things turned out all right.

They had warned him that the place could be wired, so that it could be blown up and the hostages killed, along with their rescuers, if it were stormed. That had happened already in a number of cases. The risk would have to be taken. But they had to knock out the militants inside before they could detonate the explosives, and thought they knew how.

The trick had been tried a couple of times before, and saved many lives. It could not be repeated too often, or al-Qaeda would realise. They had used SAS personnel, or members of the Pakistani security forces, who either looked or were Asian and knew enough about how al-Qaeda operated to pretend to be militants, on the run after being driven from another of their strongholds by the Allies. These four men had infiltrated the group, been entrusted with helping guard the hostages. And so they came to be acquainted with the layout of the building, where the hostages were being kept, where the guards were positioned. When a safe opportunity came along, they called the Major on their mobile phones and told him all he needed to know. A plan of the interior of the house was drawn up, memorized. Spies had reconnoitred the environs of the building, the layout of the street it was in.

Some of the infiltrators would arrange to be keeping watch so that they could let the SAS men in, allow them to climb up a neighbouring building and then jump onto the roof of the hostage house. Then at an opportune moment they would suddenly leave their posts, if necessary – risking exciting the suspicion of the militants, but hopefully too late for them to do anything about it – seek out their “colleagues” and shoot them, the sound of the gunshots acting as the signal for the SAS to move in. The infiltrators were taking an incredible risk; once the British were in the building there would be no way for them to quickly distinguish between their friends and their enemies, since both were the same race and wore the same clothes. They were the real heroes in this business, Hartman thought, somehow feeling guilty. Let’s hope they get their due recognition, posthumously or otherwise.

The closer they were known to have got to the hostages, the more likely it was al-Qaeda would kill them. And the longer things went on, the greater the possibility Qaeda would notice something that aroused their suspicion. So the Major decided to move as soon as his contacts within the house confirmed that one or more of them was in the best position to make their move. Meanwhile he and his men waited, concealing themselves in the hiding places the infiltrators had earlier identified. There were six militants in the building besides their allies, who they had to assume would not fire on them, and seven SAS men.

“Had to assume”; the SAS wore the same clothing as the militants and had been blacked up a little. The disguise wouldn’t pass a close inspection, but they didn’t intend to be seen anyway. Basically it was a precautionary measure against a brief, chance glimpse at some point suggesting to a passer-by that they weren’t what they seemed, even though it still might look odd if they seemed to be hiding. Pale skin would suggest Westerers, and they couldn’t be sure of the loyalty of any one member of the local population, other than the ones they knew. A couple of SAS men were lying flat on the roof of the building behind a bunker, visible only from the air. Another couple, including the Major, were crouching down behind a pile of rubbish-filled sacks, trying hard not to gag at the stench of refuse. The final three soldiers were in the back of a van which one of the infiltrators had earlier driven up to the front of the building. As the moment drew near, all of them donned their gas masks with ear protectors.

As always the Major felt a tense expectancy; wondering how this mission was going to turn out, a triumph or a cock-up or a fifty-fifty, if there would be any friendly lives lost, with the same underlying unease that you might be tempting providence too far and this would be your last mission. That was all part of the game.

He glanced at his watch. By now the men in the van should be in position. He could get no further message to the three infiltrators without betraying them all.

The Major knew he had to move fast once the signal came, or brave men would lose their lives. Good men. Once inside they had to take out all the X-rays, as the enemy were termed, as quickly as possible; because one of them had a remote control with which he could detonate the bombs at the first sign of trouble. They knew from the infiltrators that there were lumps of plastic explosive or something like the bombs used on the London underground, all wired to one another and to the detonator. He guessed the job had been done and got out of the way before the hostages were installed in their new prison so they wouldn’t see the wiring, now concealed behind walls or beneath floors, guess what their fate might be and panic.

They’d been in position for half an hour and nothing had happened. Had something gone wrong, or were their allies just waiting for the right moment?

They had already placed the plastic explosive against the rear windows and the skylight in the roof. It would be detonated by remote control when the time came.

If it came. The Major stole another glance at his watch, wondering if perhaps there was a traitor among the infiltrators, who sought to lead him and his men into a trap….

Then from inside the house came the sound of a gunshot. The Major pressed the button in the remote control.

With a dull “crump” and a tinkling of shattered glass the windows and skylight blew out. The sound of the explosions ought to further disorientate and alarm the militants inside the house, among other things giving the SAS time to knock out any remaining fragments of glass and scramble through the opening into the building.

At the same time the doors of the van burst open and the three SAS men jumped out, ran to the front door and kicked it in, hurling in their stun grenades before opening fire with their MP5s.

Once through the downstairs windows the Major and Steve Ferris began kicking down doors, throwing in stun grenades. One room was empty, another full of cowering hostages; they used the grenades anyway in case any militants were hiding among them.

Ahead of them was a T-junction where the corridor joined with another, down which they could hear a panicked militant running, blazing away indiscriminately with his rifle. The easiest kind of opponent to deal with, because he was no longer thinking, but at the same time the most dangerous.

The two soldiers threw themselves flat, and the second the man came into view fired at his legs, bringing him down. Steve shot him a couple of times in the head, finishing him off.

In the central corridor they found several bodies, some just lying on the floor apparently undamaged, others riddled with bullets and staring wide-eyed in death.

They realised the firing had stopped. A door was flung open and two of their fellow troopers sprang through it. On seeing who they were Steve and the Major lowered their rifles a fraction, and the two soldiers nodded briefly in acknowledgement. “All taken care of out the front,” one said.

Bob Moretti, who had gone in through the skylight, came running down the stairs, meaning all was well on the top storey. Dan Riordan followed a moment later.

There were two rooms still to check, one at each end of the corridor. The Major took the one on the left, Steve the other.

The Major raced down the passage to the door and flung it open. On the floor he saw two bodies, both covered in blood and one obviously dead. He recognized the dead one as one of the infiltrators. The other body was still alive, though only just. It had managed to draw a gadget like a TV remote control from the pocket of its jeans with one hand and was reaching for the button with the other, struggling against the pain which threatened to overwhelm it. Its face was a sweating mask of savage concentration.

The militant leader’s finger was a fraction from the button when the Major opened fire and the dying body slumped back, the control device slipping from its nerveless grasp. The head rolled onto one side, face frozen into a death mask.

The Major looked at it for a moment, then knelt down over the body of the dead infiltrator and gently closed his eyes. He turned and walked back down the corridor to where his men were waiting for him, Steve Ferris included. “Is that it?” Hartman asked.
Steve nodded, smiled. “That’s it, Boss.”
“What was in that room?”
“A few more hostages. They’re gonna be all right.”
“And the infiltration squad?”

“One still alive, though he’ll need a bit of patching up. Uh…” Steve paused and bowed his head. “Derry Johnson didn’t make it, I’m afraid.”
The Major nodded. The squad stood in silence for a moment. This is what I hate most about the job, Hartman thought. He’d liked Johnson, and now Johnson was dead.

They could take off their masks now, but had to stay where they were for the moment, until they knew for sure the Allied forces had full control of the district. It shouldn’t be long until they did.

The Major’s radio bleeped; it was the local commander of the Duke of Wellington’s, the regiment entrusted with the job of securing the area. “Major Hartman?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“How did it go?”
“Enemy all dead, Sir. And two of the lads. Otherwise we’re OK. All hostages safe.”
“Alright. We should be with you pretty soon. Out.”

Steve stayed with the wounded Pakistani and Dan Riordan and another soldier kept watch while the Major and the others went to see to the hostages. By now they were starting to recover from the effects of the stun grenades. He hoped none of them would suffer any lasting ill-effects; one or two were quite old. Sooner a doctor got to them the better.

They did their best to comfort those who were distressed. The Major saw Bob Moretti chatting up one of the more attractive female hostages, and grinned. No problem there. Some were crying, whether as an after-effect of the stun grenade or from sheer relief you couldn’t say. Others just sat and smiled at them, unable to find the words to express their feelings on realising they were safe. Once the initial relief at their deliverance had passed they began talking quietly amongst each other, a multiracial, multinational group thrown together by adversity and now bound by ties that had overcome any language barriers there may have been between them.

One of the hostages was a little boy about five or six years old. He wandered over to the Major and stood looking up at him, seeming awed by Hartman’s size. He studied the Major’s face intently.

“Have you seen my Daddy?” he asked at length, having satisfied himself the Major was not the parent in question.

They could find out whether the boy’s father was accounted for, or among those listed as missing. Whatever happened, at least the boy would live.

The Major went down one knee, bringing himself to the boy’s level. “No, son, I’m afraid I haven’t,” he smiled. The boy looked sad. “They sent my Daddy away,” he explained.
“And your Mummy?”
“She’s at home.” The kid eyed him searchingly. “What’s your name?”
“I can’t tell you,” Hartman said.
“Why not?”
“Because someone might want to kill me.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m a soldier. It’s like that sometimes in the Army. What’s your name?”
“I can’t tell you,” said the boy mischievously. Then he changed his mind and said “Scott.”
“Well, Scott, what do you want to be when you’re older?”
“I want to be in the Army, like you,” said Scott.
“That’s very good,” said the Major. “Why do you want to be in the Army?”
“Because then I can be like you and help people who are in trouble.”

Hartman nodded approvingly. “That’s very good,” he said again. “But you know you might get killed if you’re in the Army? Sometimes, you see, the bad soldiers shoot at the good soldiers, people like me…” He had no option but to simplify matters. ”And if you’re unlucky you’ll die.”
The boy seemed uncertain now. When he’s an adult he’ll make his choices, the Major told himself.

“Have you ever killed anyone?” Scott asked, a little uneasily the Major thought.
The boy seemed to have taken a shine to him. Hartman was just wondering how he’d react if given the true answer, when thankfully Dan shouted out “they’re here!” and he heard the rumble of APCs in the street.

The Major stood back and raised his voice to address the former hostages. “Time to go, folks,” he said.

Returning to Scott he stooped down, took hold of the boy and gently lifted him onto his shoulders. “Come on, son. Let’s go and find your Daddy.”

One by one they emerged into the daylight they thought they’d never see again; some of them supporting each other, others assisted by the SAS soldiers, and walked to the waiting APC, all of them bearing the scars of their captivity but very much alive. And at the head of them, the Major with Scott on his shoulders. When the soldiers waiting by the APC caught sight of the two of them, they burst out into a chorus of clapping and cheering. The Major grinned back triumphantly.
But I want to leave the Army, don’t I, he reminded himself. I want to……
Do I hell.


When they had come to readminister the drug to him Jameson was relieved, since he didn't think he could maintain the deception for much longer. To relieve the stress he had tried to look as if he was just starting to come out of it, rather than still completely drugged.

He let himself go under. He felt no anxiety, knowing from what he’d overheard them saying that they planned to restore him to normal. Well I've no objection to that, guys, he thought.

A little later he felt consciousness begin to return. "Looks like it's wearing off," he thought he heard someone say. He seemed to be lying on a couch in a room like a surgery, its walls covered in plain white tiles. He fluttered his eyelids, looked dazed, and moved his head about like someone just recovering consciousness after being knocked out, not entirely sure where they were or what was happening. He let a soft moan escape his lips.
"Now," said the man looking down at him.
They began to pump the anaesthetic in.

As his consciousness slipped away again, Moses Jameson smiled to himself inwardly. He guessed it would be unwise to go around telling everyone about the whole fantastic, incredible experience which had occurred to him. But he knew, if no-one else did. And maybe, one day.......


Chris and Caroline needed to be debriefed by the Americans, and the interrogation took place at the naval research facility because it had all the equipment needed to keep Caroline alive in her altered state. Afterwards she remained there until the scientists were ready to carry out the operation. As this was a tense and anxious time for her, bearing in mind the possibility something might go wrong with the process, and the presence of friends would be reassuring, it was decided to let Chris and Rachel stay at the Facility with her. The Americans weren’t happy at having to put them up as if it was a Goddamn five-star hotel but having been leaned on by Caroline’s people and by their own superiors, agreed grudgingly to do it.

The three of them played games to pass the time, racing each other the length of the swimming pool and back until exhausted, Chris and Rachel complaining it wasn’t much fun because Caroline always won – which she did. "Hey, Caz, you could make a lot of money out of this,” Chris suggested.
“Could I,” she answered vaguely.

To relieve the boredom and tension Caroline would play tricks on them, splashing them mischievously when in the pool with Chris or Rachel sitting beside it reading. Sometimes one or the other of them would find a wet, webbed hand suddenly clamped across their face or on their shoulder, causing them to scream and jump; it still had the power to startle. They got their own back by finding the newspaper article on the “Fish Woman”, with the artists’s impression, and making a presentation of it to her. Caroline noted the fangs and claws, the burning red eyes. “Hmph,” she sniffed, offended, though more by the artist than by Chris and Rachel. “Love you too.”

The staff at the Facility were treating her with a bit more consideration now, partly from political pressure but partly also from familiarity. If anything, she felt them actually start to like her, and herself reciprocate the sentiment. Meaning well, they presented her with a photo of herself as an aquanoid taken on the beach at Dawson’s Bay. One for the family album, she thought wryly.

The photo had already appeared around the world. Although, fortunately, it was not of particularly good quality several people at IPL later remarked that it looked like Caroline.
But then it couldn’t be. Could it?

Those weren’t bad times. But like everything else they had to come to an end eventually, and one morning a uniformed orderly, accompanied by a Secret Service agent, came to tell her everything was set up for the operation and it was time to transfer her to the genetic research laboratory in Maryland where it would be carried out.

For a moment Caroline stayed where she was, conflicting thoughts chasing themselves round and round the inside of her brain. "Miss Kent?" prompted the orderly politely.

Then she smiled weakly, got to her feet and allowed herself to be led off. There never had been another way, not really.
It had taken some time, but with her gene sample, recovered from the laboratory at the colony, and from all Zuckermann had told them they were now able, they felt, to reverse what had been done to her. Any scars left on her by the operation could be got rid of by taking cells from another part of her body, or from someone of the same skin type, and grafting them onto the damaged area, growing the new tissue over it. The operation was to be performed by Dr Zuckermann. “You’d better get the hair right,” she told him. “You make a mess of the hair and your life won’t be worth living.”
“I’ll remember that,” he answered shakily.

With Rachel waiting anxiously outside the door of the operating theatre, they set to work. She lay down on the table, the mask was clamped over her head and the anaesthetic administered, just as at Marcotech. As she felt the gas start to hiss softly into her nose and mouth the fear that something might go wrong once again gripped her. But on the other hand, the psychological damage she would suffer if she remained an aquanoid would be as dangerous as any complication arising from the operation. She let the anaesthetic do its work, preventing her from thinking about it.

For the next few hours she knew nothing, and when she woke up again; yes, she was back to normal. It felt as strange and disorientating as being an aquanoid had initially. She looked down at herself, realised she'd made it back and grinned in triumph and pleasure.

The nurse asked her how she felt, and she replied that she was fine. She sat up stiffly, perched herself on the edge of the table and waited till she had fully adjusted, both mentally and physically. The nurse then showed her to a cubicle, screened by a curtain, where a set of clothes lay folded neatly on the floor. A mirror took up most of one wall. Suddenly feeling a disorientating sense of unreality, she proceeded to dress.

She looked at herself in the glass, fingered her flowing blonde tresses and smiled. Then came the feeling of regret at what she had lost, and for a time she wept. Sensibly the nurse let her cry until the outpouring of emotion had exhausted itself. In time it did, and she straightened up, dried her eyes with a handkerchief and stepped from the cubicle. For better or worse it was all behind her now.

They kept her there for a few weeks more, until they were certain she was suffering no lasting side effects. Then she was told she could go home. A special flight would be arranged to a military airbase in the UK. Rachel and Chris would accompany her and afterwards drive her home from the airport. Rachel told her that she would probably be kept under observation for a time, covertly, to observe how she adjusted in the long term to the resumption of a normal existence. By now Caroline was used to that kind of thing, and just nodded wearily. They had their job to do, as she had hers, and they were all too caught up in them for there to be any point in rebelling against the situation.

She was silent throughout the flight, while her thoughts alternated from joy, not really expressible in words, at being back to normal to that constantly returning sense of unreality. It wasn't until she got back home and was back in the living room at her home in Kingston with a cup of tea, the typical British remedy for situations you didn’t know how to react to, that she could begin to marshal her thoughts clearly.

It was incredible to think that for a time she had actually been, strictly speaking, a different species. And comforting that all the way through she had felt herself to be human, whatever a scientist might have called her.

There wasn't any more the stress and annoyance of having to shilly-shally continually between the water and the open air; she was free of all that, thank God. She also came to fear the water a little more. As an aquanoid the knowledge she could breathe in it, if only for a time, had made it seem less frightening. But now to be submerged for more than a few minutes, if anything went wrong, meant she would drown. Whereas previously, for part of the time at least, the water had been a sort of friend.

She was to suffer attacks of depression at regular intervals over the next few weeks. But in time the trouble passed.

The morning after her return home she was back at work, of course. She thought it best to call in on Hennig at the first opportunity. His response was typical. “You caused me a great deal of trouble by getting yourself kidnapped,” he moaned. “Not that it’s the first time it’s happened. And I’d better not ask what you’ve been doing in the meantime. However you did take care of Marcotech and stop the tanker sinkings, so I suppose I should be grateful.”
Yes you bloody well should, she thought.
As she was going out the door he called her back. “Oh, Caroline…?”
“Yes?”
“Thankyou,” he grinned, sincerely. It was a rare compliment, but appreciated all the more for that.

The reaction she got from her parents was less to her liking. A little to cover her nervousness she came bursting into their house like a tornado. "Hi Mum, Hi Dad!" she shouted cheerfully.

Her mother slobbered over her as usual, while her father stood in the background patiently waiting his turn. The hug he gave her was affectionate enough. "So how are you?" he asked genially.
She shrugged. "As well as I've ever been."

"Look, love, I think we'd better sit down and discuss one or two things.” His tone was grave.
"Like what?" she said, alarmed.
"Just come on in," he told her, indicating that she should follow them into the living room.

"I don't suppose you'd care to tell us exactly what happened," he offered, more as a by-the-way than because he was really bothered.
She knew of course that it was weariness rather than lack of concern which explained his attitude.

"You'd have to have been there to see it," she told him, thinking it best somehow to leave it at that.
"I suppose everything's all sorted out now?"
"Of course," she said confidently.

“Jolly good.” He leaned back in his chair, took a deep breath, and got down to business. "You might think it gets easier because you always come back home in the end, safe and sound. Well, it doesn't."
If only because my mother's so bloody neurotic, thought Caroline.

"And besides," he said gently, "we never can tell, can we?"
“No,” Caroline admitted with a sigh. “I don’t suppose you can.”

Edward fished out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “I always meant to bring up the subject of this with you one day.” He showed it to her. It was a letter she had left for them to read before she had gone off on another of her adventures, motivated by a burning need to redress what was undoubtedly a glaring injustice, in which she apologized for putting herself in danger but told them she couldn’t help it as it wasn’t in her nature to let people get away with that sort of thing. It was some time before they had got to read it, because the three of them had been kidnapped by the white slave traders Caroline had been trying to expose leading to another hectic adventure in the course of which the missive was forgotten about, but the hospital where she had been recovering from the treatment she’d earlier received at the enemy’s hands sent it on.

“I appreciate your honesty. But it doesn’t make a great deal of difference.
"Don't think we're not proud of all you've done. We are, more than you could ever imagine. But it's all becoming a bit too hard to bear. Your Mum..."

Caroline glanced over at Margaret, who was sitting blank-faced letting Edward do all the talking, and for the first time really noticed the changes that had taken place in her since they’d last set eyes on each other. The face was gaunt and haggard, the cheekbones more prominent than before, and the dark hair laced with strands of silver-grey. She felt a pang of distress and guilt at having spoiled that beautiful glossy black mane.

"She's not going to last if this goes on. She's been to the doctor's several times since you went missing. Had more than her usual share of funny turns. At one point I was seriously worried for her.

"I've no power over your actions. I can't lock you up, can’t dictate how you should organize your life, not any more. I'd just ask you to consider the effect it's having on people."

Frowning, Caroline pondered the implications of what he was saying. She was none too pleased. It meant she would have to give up the troubleshooter post, or at the very least look very carefully at the way she did her work. But that meant making changes which she had always felt went against the way she was.

The mystery of how Marcotech had been able to know whenever IPL’s tankers had put to sea, and where they were going, and from that to pinpoint their approximate position had been solved by the disappearance, at the time Marcotech went underground, of several port officials who would have had the information in their possession. What puzzled the IPL management most was that despite the hiring of a firm of private detectives to maintain surveillance on them, no evidence had been found of them passing it on to unauthorised parties. It was scary, Caroline thought; but it was over. As for the ultimate fate of the missing men, Chris recalled seeing all kinds of people running headlong for the submarine pens in the confused situation which resulted when the seaquake hit the colony; whether they’d been among them and whether, if they were, they had been left behind or perished on one of the doomed subs was another question that would remain forever unanswered.

The next time she was in America Caroline paid a visit to the Sea Life Centre at Miami. There, she went over to one of the tanks where the animals were kept and pressed herself right against it with her palms flat on the glass, ignoring the puzzled looks of other people, and gazed sadly up at its occupant.

She gazed at it for quite a while, but there was nothing. She fancied there was a vague expression of curiosity, perhaps bemusement, on the humpback’s face but that was all, no matter how hard she concentrated. With the return to a normal environment and the physical changes involved in the operation, any surviving vestiges of the power had gone.

The two of them contemplated each other for a bit longer and then the whale swung its huge bulk round and swam away. With her hands in her pockets Caroline trudged off to wander for an hour or so around the gardens in which the Centre was set.
She still wasn't at peace with herself. She had to do something.

There were several people she could have confided in, but for some reason she felt the only one who'd really understand was the Reverend Charles Barrow. He was the vicar of her local church, into which she popped from time to time whenever she felt like it. She found him a little stiff, a little dour, but he was a good man nonetheless and one who knew his job. As a priest he would respect confidentiality. She had already acquainted him with the details of all her adventures, and appreciated enormously being able to do so, although she sometimes had the uneasy feeling he wondered whether she wasn't a bit delusional but was too polite to say so. They sat on a bench in the grounds of the church and talked about her most recent escapade.

"I quite enjoyed it at times," she confessed. "But I'm not sure whether I'd have stayed one, if they could have really made it work in the long term."

Of course they couldn’t have. But she sensed the question would always remain. She was happy with what she was, female Caucasian, Nordic type (British version); or was she?

Yes, she was. “Will there be blondes in Heaven?” she asked nervously.
Barrow laughed, as if little was to be gained by asking such questions. "I don't see why not. I can imagine worse scenarios. Of course, I don't suppose things will be exactly the same as they are now. Certainly the pains and illnesses would have to go, also the improper urges, although with the latter it might depend on what people's interpersonal relationships were."
"But there'd be some sort of physical existence?"

"I would imagine so. The material world is not...is not evil, in itself. Merely inadequate for our true needs. After all, it is the work of God. Most authorities, ancient and modern, would take a similar view. My own thinking on the matter has undergone a number of changes over time. At one stage I thought the soul in Heaven was just a disembodied mind, which it occured to me might in some ways be liberating. I'm not sure it'd be much of a life, though. To see or to touch something implies some kind of structure to see and to touch with. Some mechanism by which the delights of Heaven can be experienced and our senses relay that experience to our minds. The more I think about the more I am convinced there is a physical body. That's what it all supposes.

"If you can believe in the benevolence of God you may rest assured he will do whatever is good, whatever is right. He wouldn't destroy the beauty of the physical world unless he was going to reconstruct it at some point, or replace it with something even better.

"The accounts of the Resurrection may provide a clue, but they're a little ambiguous in certain respects. The resurrected Christ seems to have had pretty remarkable properties, flitting about from place to place all the time, but he did some pretty remarkable things before that – walking on water or turning it into wine, and all the other miracles. The disciples didn't recognise him at first, of course, but that could just have been because they weren't expecting him to have risen from the dead; such things didn't happen very often, after all. He actually sat and had a meal with them at one point. And he disproved any suggestion that he was a phantom, an insubstantial being, by pointing out that "a spirit does not have flesh and blood as you see I do." However, a flesh and blood resurrection might have been chosen on that occasion for a specific purpose. If it happened within the terms of reference of people accustomed to an Earthly, material existence its impact would have been all the greater. It may have been rather the ascension into Heaven which marked the real change. This is, of course, pure speculation." These were deep matters, but he knew she was intelligent enough for her to understand the gist of what he was saying without being a trained theologian.

“If we’re all lucky enough to get to Heaven, will I be....as I am now?" she asked.

"Well as I said, you couldn't be quite like you are now. Something would have changed but I'm not entirely sure what. Exactly how different or similar, or in what way, our Heavenly bodies will be from our Earthly ones, whether people in the afterlife have the same bodily and sexual functions as they do now, whether they eat or sleep; no-one can answer those questions. Not yet, anyway. Maybe the soul in Heaven is a wonder we just aren't meant to see yet."

He thought for a moment or two. "I think we will be all the things we are now, without the sin and the pain and the wickedness, plus a lot more besides; things whose nature we can only guess at. Does that satisfy you?"

Caroline considered this for a while. "Yes," she said finally, "I think so."

She fell back into reflective mode. "I'm happy the way I am, but I wouldn't want to be like that all the time. I wouldn't want to be trapped by it."

"In Heaven you wouldn't be. By definition Heaven would be anything it was acceptable to desire. Each of us could be what we wanted to be, when we wanted to be, and for as long as we wished, free from the tyranny of genes."

She was sure he was dropping a hint as to the spiritual and other rewards to be derived from attending church regularly. It wouldn't have been the first time he had done so.

What the hell. She found she still couldn't answer any of the big questions which seemed to have a bearing on the matter. Her life was so busy she never seemed to find the time. On the other hand it was possible that she was just making excuses.

For the umpteenth time, she told herself she would do it one day. In the meantime, the world wouldn't be a better place. But I can dream, can't I.

"One last thing," she asked. "Will the sea ever really pass away, like it says in Revelations?”

“In its present form, anyway,” he said. “I think that's what it means. Yet another thing about which we can't be sure, I'm afraid."

She thanked the Reverend Charlie for his time, said goodbye and set off on the walk home. She felt a little more cheerful now but at the same time there were still a couple of things that preyed on her mind.

A part of her felt like never again saying that people who voted for the BNP were excused by out-of-control immigration or the lunacies of political correctness. But she knew it wasn't that straightforward and that some people did so for reasons she could understand, such as a feeling that in their own country, where their own ethnic group had been for a thousand years or more, minorities were being overpromoted while their own need for jobs and decent housing and public services was ignored. Maybe Greatrix was right; maybe we couldn't live together – not the way things were now, at any rate. Maybe those things had to change. But in what way exactly, and how, was a question to which she still sought the answer.

She couldn't help thinking of all those who had fallen under the spell of Sir Edward Greatrix. The men whom Marcotech had recruited to help them implement their vision were people with no stake in the "system", who would therefore be willing to help with their whole apocalyptic design. People on the run from the law. Already to some extent beyond the pale, they would now be even more so. If they had survived the holocaust which had taken place off the Bahamas they would have to acquire new identities and new homes somewhere. To be fabricated people, whose past was an invention; people you might brush past and smile at without ever guessing who they really were, what secrets they had to hide, though you could aways wonder, before they moved on and were lost from sight. Ghosts.

Walking down the busy street she stopped suddenly, a shiver travelling down her spine, and stared into the crowds of people bustling around her. For a moment she thought she saw a face among them gazing fixedly out at her, a familiar face fringed by wavy golden hair. It was Charlie, Marcotech's Bahamian shore agent, or appeared to be. Then in a moment it had melted back into the crowd and was gone. Like a ghost.


Pat and Melinda Richards looked sadly round Shannon’s bedroom for the last time, resolved never to set foot in there again while they lived in the house, because it would mean only pain to do so. They surveyed the mess of clothes, books and other personal possessions strewn over the floor with affection now rather than annoyance. They’d decided to leave it exactly as it was on the night she disappeared.

Gently Pat closed the door and they went downstairs to the living room, where for some time they sat silently holding hands, more conscious of how much they needed each other than ever before. They had now more or less come to accept that she was dead. But a part of them, a tiny little part, would never give up hope. Not really.


Moses Jameson was glad that he had had a part to play in the affair, now that it had been resolved as satisfactorily as it could be for the time being. Now his lone figure stood rock-like on the deserted beach gazing out to sea, hoping that Shannon Williams and all the others would come walking out of it into the arms of their delighted relatives. But there was nothing, no pattern, no answer in the constantly shifting, reforming waves.

Every now and then Caroline still went down to Brighton and stood and stared into those waves, unable to forget what she had been for a few incredible, danger-fraught, exhilarating weeks, and all that had happened to her while in that state.

When he could get the time Major Mike Hartman would do the same, go down to the beach and look at the sea; it was strange somehow, he mused, to think it was the same one that Frank Bruton had disappeared into, only thousands of miles away. Once in a while, he seemed to see a face in the waves, the leering face of a bearded man whose eyes burned with hatred and evil. Only he could never be quite sure.

Caroline, Moses Jameson and the Major, all staring into the
sea and looking for something there but never finding it, until the day when it would pass away.


She wasn’t sure how exactly she had come to be there. She'd woken to find herself sprawled face down on soft, wet sand, spray pattering over her and hot sun beating down on her bare back. Consciousness had come very slowly, as if from a deep sleep her mind had not wanted to awake from.

She could hear the cries of seabirds wheeling overhead. Standing up, she looked all around her and took in the broad expanse of sky and sea, the stretch of gleaming white beach, and the dense curtain of jungle before her, which rang to the chirruping of a myriad insects and the raucous cries of brightly-coloured birds. Wow - a tropical paradise. Somehow she knew this was a remote place, hundreds if not thousands of miles from "civilisation."

The last thing she remembered was sitting in her room at home feeling pissed off because Mom and Dad were being such pains. Thinking she wanted to get away from it all....and now it looked like she had.

The next thing she realised was what someone or other had gone and done to her. She became aware of the scales covering her body, the webs between her fingers and toes, the gills in her neck. She screamed out loud, shocked and horrified and frightened. Once over the initial jolt she walked all the way round the island, shouting for someone to come out and show themselves and explain just what the hell they thought they were playing at. But no-one responded to her cries, and eventually she'd been forced to concede that there were no people on the island, or very few. Later she explored the jungle and found no signs of human life there, confirming her supposition.

She looked at her reflection in the water and studied it sadly. Well, it looked like she was stuck this way, for the time being at any rate, so she'd better make the most of it. There was plenty of fruit, and maybe other things too, to eat here; enough for her to survive upon until hopefully someone came along, or a plane flew over and she managed to attract its attention.

She had no way of knowing if that would be days, or weeks, or months, years even. Or at all. Better get used to it.

It could even be fun. All in all, there were worse places to be. It'd get boring after a while, but she could stand it. She didn't have any choice.

In due course she found out that she had to switch between the land and the water every two hours or so. It was a pain in the ass but she got used to it. The worse thing was not getting a proper night’s sleep, but in her new body she didn't seem to need it quite so much. She found the food adequate, filling even, and was able to make an outfit for herself to wear part of the time, out of leaves and the skins of dead animals. What she didn't remember from books she'd read about survival in the jungle, she learned from experience.

She'd sure as hell like to know how she came to be washed up on the shore here, turned into something out of a sci-fi movie. For some reason vague images flitted fitfully through her mind from time to time, of herself swimming with her lover in what looked like some fantastic underwater city. Again she saw him perish in the blades of the giant fan, felt the anguish at his bloody and violent death and the acheing sense of bereavement that followed.

What it all meant she hadn't a clue. One day she might find out. In the meantime she had to make something of her new existence, maybe even get to like it. She owed it to herself.
And to the life growing steadily bigger and stronger inside her.

I Can Dream Can't I
Words and music: Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain
Copyright (c) 1973 Chappell & Co Ltd