Part One
The Greatorex Imperative

Synopsis

A series of mysterious disappearances is causing concern to
police forces along the coast of Florida. Several oil tankers
are sunk in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, evidently by
bombs planted by eco-terrorists. In Pakistan, al-Qaeda
militants plan a coup d’etat with the help of weapons an
international arms dealer, posing as a worker for an aid
agency, someone is smuggling into the country.
These seemingly disparate matters cannot possibly be
connected; or can they? When an IPL tanker is lost, Caroline
Kent is sent to investigate the sinking, and soon discovers
that they are. The disappearances, the bombings, and the
terrorists are all strands in the web of intrigue and deceit
woven by a frighteningly powerful multinational company,
whose head with a plan to reshape the world for the
better…..a plan which is dangerously misguided….


ONE
He was an ordinary-looking man, easy to ignore.
Every few days he would spend an hour or so wandering about
the streets and plazas of Miami, strolling lazily with his
hands in his pockets and letting his eyes roam over the
crowds in a disinterested fashion.

He was an ordinary-looking man, and he dressed rather
shabbily because he wanted them to think he was just an idle
loafer, no doubt unemployed, with nothing to do but plod
about gazing vaguely at everyone. There were such types.
Nobody spared him more than a brief initial glance before
looking away, and then forgetting he had ever been there.
And when he entered the crowd he became lost in it like
everyone else. To others he ceased to exist as an individual,
which made his task a lot easier.

When the crowds were particularly thick no-one could see
what he was up to. He could do the job and then be gone, just
one of hundreds of people going about their daily business in
the streets of the city, before anyone fully realised what
had happened, and linked the incident to a particular face.
After a while he had managed to perfect the art of observation, studying people in a manner casual enough not to arouse any suspicions. He would wait till the crowds were at their densest,
then select his target and zero in on them. If by then they
had moved too far away, or he'd simply lost them, there would
usually be some other suitable candidate within reach.

There had to be some criteria. The younger the people were
the better, although a healthy middle-aged person would
usually do if no-one else was available. Otherwise, he made
the choice purely at random. It couldn't be done too often or
people would become wary and sooner or later catch him in the
act. But it was now a couple of weeks since the last time.
Today he was on the look-out again, mingling anonymously with
the dozens of bodies in bustling motion or occasionally
finding a little niche in a doorway or someplace where he
stood watching, waiting and from time to time fingering the
smooth, cold, slender, sharp metallic object in his pocket.



You may or may not have heard of chaos theory.
Basically it holds that a given system, whether it be for
the organization of an entire nation, an industrial concern,
or a single event such as a business conference, is more
likely to go wrong the greater the number and complexity of
the different tasks involved. Because the more complex
something is, the more the number of ways in which it can
malfunction. And in an imperfect world, malfunctions are
always on the cards.

Society has undoubtedly become more sophisticated during the
last couple of hundred years, technologically and socially.
People have become more sophisticated, in the way they think
and behave, their needs and desires; in each person's social
and professional life there are a multitude of conflicting
considerations which have to be met.

In each case, some of the problems may be peculiar to the
concern in question. Other, external factors which are
nothing to do with the internal structure of the operation
are also at work, the inherent weaknesses of the system
interacting with the imperfection of the world in general.
The errors, wherever they may be found, are of various
different kinds. There is human error, of course. And machine
error; for machines, being themselves complex, are no less
prone to go wrong than people (who of course designed them in
the first place). There are problems resulting from long-term
policies which have a certain justification but at the same
time can be extremely dangerous in their consequences. Hiring
cheap labour in order to cut costs leads to falling
standards, as does demoralisation among old hands due to the
sense that with such a policy one's own job is not safe.
There are faults, foreseen or unforeseen, in particular
individuals or items of equipment. And finally there is pure
chance. Any two or more of these factors can combine to
create a disaster, joining up with one another to form the
fault lines along which the structure will split open in a
crisis.

It was a sunny, but at the same time chilly, spring day and
the oil tanker Atlantic Herald was cruising steadily through
the English Channel bound for the terminal at Fawley near
Southampton, on the last leg of her return journey from Baton
Rouge, Louisiana, in the south-eastern United States, where
the oil had been pumped on board. Britain was no longer a net
exporter of the black stuff, her native supplies having
dwindled considerably in recent decades though not yet to the
point of exhaustion. She imported it now, one major source of
the commodity being currently the United States. The Herald's
cargo of black gold came from the extensive oilfields in the
vicinity of Houston, Texas.

The Herald was a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier), 335 metres
in length - longer altogether than the Eiffel tower and
almost as long as the Empire State Building - and 57 in
width. With her holds full of the oil she weighed altogether
some 50,000 tons.

In an hour or so the massive vessel would slow, and its
enormous bulk turn ponderously through ninety degrees before
heading up Southampton Water to Fawley and there discharging
its load to be refined into petroleum for use in cars,
aircraft, trains, buses, plus a whole range of miscellaneous
industrial products.

At the same time that the Herald was just passing Land's End
another tanker, the Alicia from Rotterdam, was heading in her
approximate direction, bound for Nigeria.

Built in Hong Kong, the Alicia was owned by a Maltese and
registered in Panama. After the disaster the blame for what
had happened was to be shunted back and forth between the
owner, the authorities in the country under whose flag the
ship had been sailing, and the Dutch-based body set up to
check that all vessels using Holland’s ports were properly
maintained, causing the accident investigators no end of
frustration.

The Alicia was an old ship, constructed twenty-five years
before and now experiencing various mechanical and structural
problems, as were other ships built at the same time and as
part of the same batch. She ought to have been retired from
service long ago, or at least undergone a major refit. But in
order to drive down soaring freight rates, safety factors
were being pared to the bone. It was cheaper to operate an
ancient vessel crewed by cheap foreign labour, men who were
often poorly trained, did not speak each others' languages
and did not fully understand how to operate radar systems and
other vital equipment. The ship's Dutch captain was far from
happy with the situation, but didn't complain to the heads of
the shipping company because he was afraid of losing his job.
Such scenarios are not uncommon in the world of shipping;
indeed in many other branches of industry, sad to say.
Eventually, however, the Dutchman did complain - and lost his
job.

Despite their faults the crews did work hard, especially the
Filipinos and other Asians whose respectful and obedient
attitude to authority was always appreciated by those in
command. And to give him his due the Dutchman's replacement,
Polish-born Captain Stanislaus Krasowski, did his best with
the material he had to work with, running things as
efficiently as possible and stepping in personally to handle
things whenever a subordinate proved incompetent – which
added dangerously to his workload and subjected him to levels
of stress that may have impaired his judgement at a critical
moment.

The technical defects, and the poor communications between
crew and officers, probably had something to do with what
occurred. More directly, it was due to an unfortunate
combination of several adverse factors. There had been a
fault with the radar, which was repaired just before
Krasowski took over as master of the Alicia. It had not been
his responsibility to oversee the job, for he had not been
captain then; he naturally assumed it had been done
correctly, when in fact it wasn't. At the same time poor
weather obscured visibility for several miles. The officer of
the watch, whose job it was to maintain a visual lookout as a
kind of failsafe should the electronic "early warning"
systems malfunction, was not at his post when he should have
been. The reason was that he was depressed over the impending
breakup of his marriage and thus somewhat preoccupied.
When the Herald came suddenly bearing down out of the fog,
Captain Krasowski did not respond as quickly to the emergency
as he might have done if less tired. The order to change
course was given just too late to avoid a collision.
The Alicia was a few thousands tons lighter than the Herald,
but still big enough for the impact to do considerable
damage. The Herald struck the other ship at a slight angle,
its sharp prow ripping a several-hundred-foot long gash in
her side, exactly at the point where her oil storage tanks
were located. Under anti-pollution rules laid down by the
International Maritime Organisation all tankers built after
1993 had a double-skinned hull to prevent oil leakage should
they run aground or collide with another vessel. But the
Alicia, built before that date, did not have a double-skinned
hull. Seven of her eleven tanks were ruptured and immediately
the thick, viscous black liquid began to gush out into the
sea. Five of the Herald's were also punctured and soon a vast
lake of oil surrounded both ships. It was extremely fortunate
- miraculous, one might say - that nothing happened to ignite
it, as then hundreds of men would have burnt alive in their
great steel coffins.

The crews of both tankers were airlifted to safety by
helicopter. No human lives were lost. But that wasn’t the end
of the matter, by any means.

Oil is too viscous to mix with seawater and be diluted by
it, but instead floats. Soon the stuff had formed a heavy
black skin on the surface, an ugly stain which gradually
spread across the blue-grey waters like a growing cancer. The
wave action on that particular day was enough to move the
slick in the direction of the Cornish coast, but not enough
to break it up before it got there.

Marine birds which settled on the water became covered in
it, and either drowned or lost their natural insulation and
died of exposure. Distressing images were soon being shown on
TV of a seagull floundering in the water, flapping its wings
furiously as it struggled in vain to take off, dragged down
by the coating of black slime that matted its feathers. But
it was diving birds such as puffins and guillemots which were
most at risk.

Of course there was a clean-up operation but it came too
late to prevent crippling ecological damage, as the black
contagion poisoned and suffocated the things in the sea. Soon
dead seals were being washed up in scores and fishermen were
reporting a decline in catches. Whole colonies of animals
disappeared as not enough individuals remained for them to be
viable. This upset the ecological balance of the region.
The oil in beds of mussels got up the food chain, which had
already been weakened by the general effects of the spill,
and was ingested by predatory seabirds who began rapidly to
die off. With nothing to control their numbers the
herbivorous species multiplied until they were eating so much
that vast areas of shore and seabed were almost denuded of
plant life.

Then there were the economic, the human, consequences of the
disaster. Apart from the damage to the livelihood of
fishermen, holiday beaches were ruined and the tourist
industry dealt a shattering blow. It would take several years
at least for things to recover.
All in all, you might say it was a bit of a mess.



In jeans and lumberjack shirt Ted Alberman walked deep in
the woods of Northern California with his two Alsatian dogs,
a shotgun over his shoulder and a brace of dead rabbits
hanging from his belt. He’d decided the rabbits would do
nicely for his supper that evening. Some of them he’d shot,
some the dogs had caught. He felt no qualms about adopting an
existence where he had to personally kill his food in order
to survive. After all people who ate the processed remains of
cattle, sheep, pigs or poultry which had been slaughtered on
a farm were committing much the same crime, if crime it was.
And death – living things preying on each other for
sustenance or to defend their territory – was part of Mother
Nature’s grand scheme. That scheme was perhaps not fully
comprehended by Man, maybe never would be, but although
nature was harsh you knew where you stood with her, as long
as you took the trouble to understand her. The main point was
that she never meant to harm you, unlike people. Animals
respected you, humans didn’t. He could say without fear of
contradiction that he’d got more loyalty out of his dogs than
from any man or woman.

And that was why he sought nature’s company and avoided that
of his own species. Except, of course, for those of its
members who were of like mind to himself. Though he hadn’t
been actively involved with the Resurrection Men for some
time, deciding to batten down his hatches and await the
oncoming holocaust rather than take part in a fruitless
struggle against the impregnable power of big industry and
its allies in the political establishment.

When the time came, and we finally destroyed ourselves,
nature would reclaim its own. Nature would be the victor and
his best chance of survival would be to throw in his lot with
it. Once again, he paused to breathe in the cool, fresh,
unpolluted air of the forest and felt good. While the dogs
waited patiently he stood for a few moments listening to the
chatter of birdsong, the only thing that disturbed the
peaceful silence of the forest he had made his home. Then he
moved on, back towards the little log cabin that served as
his home.

Outside that cabin a station wagon was parked, with two men
in the front. Waiting for Alberman. They felt a certain
apprehension; maybe the guy had gone crazy, living all alone
in the middle of these woods miles from anywhere with only
animals for company, and if he’d been associated with a bunch
of crazies like the Resurrection Men….

Both men wore casual clothes, since the sight of a suit and
tie would immediately excite the hostility of the man they
wanted to speak to. It would smack too much of
“civilization”.

“You’re sure he’s not in?” one said to the other. “Maybe he
just isn’t taking any calls. The way he’s trained himself, he
probably spotted us a mile off.”

“We’ll give it a while,” his companion grunted. “This is too
good an opportunity to lose. Hey – I think I can hear someone
coming.”

They waited, listening. Suddenly two large dogs burst from
the trees to their left, at the fringes of the clearing where
the cabin stood, and then skidded to a halt, eyeing the car
balefully and growling.

They heard the tramp of heavy, booted feet and a little
later saw Alberman emerge from the woods, stiffening on
catching sight of them. He put down the rabbits, levelled his
shotgun and approached the car, eyes narrowed, lips tightly
set in an expression of pure hostility.

Assuming Alberman was still basically sane, he wouldn’t be
likely to shoot them, would he? Risk a murder charge? But
then right out in the middle of this dense wood, with no-one
else about…he could wait until nightfall and then bury the
bodies….

The dogs were prowling round the car with low, menacing
snarls. Alberman shouted a series of commands and they ran
back to him, sitting themselves down at his feet. By now he
was in earshot of the car. “What do you want?” he snapped.
One of the men got out of the car and went towards Alberman
with a friendly smile on his face, spreading his arms to show
he wasn’t carrying any weapons. “Mr Alberman?” The ex-soldier
noted that he spoke in an English accent, though not the sort
the Queen or the Prime Minister had.

Alberman could sense the nervousness behind the smile. The
man obviously guessed that he was keyed up to shoot at the
merest hint of aggression. “Yeah?” he rasped.
“I wonder if we might have a word with you?”
“Who are you?” he demanded, his voice cold and hostile.
“How’d you know my name?”

“We have our sources.” The remark was a tad clichéd, and
told you absolutely nothing. Alberman’s face grew darker. “Oh
yeah? You gonna leave it at that? And I asked who you were,
pal, in case you’d forgotten.”

The man wasn’t going to reveal who he worked for at this
stage, just in case Alberman decided not to play ball. They
intended of course to kill him if he didn’t, but there was
always the chance something might go wrong. “Nowadays it's
not too difficult to find out something about someone, if you
put your mind to it,” he said.
True, Alberman thought.

“As for who we are, that doesn’t matter right now.”
“They always say that when they’re out to get you. I’m not
fucking stupid. Either give it to me straight or get the hell
out of here, unless you want a coupla bullets in you.”
There was simply no way of telling if the threat was serious.
This was the moment when the man would be putting his life
on the line. He swallowed, braced himself. “We know about you
and the Resurrection Men.”

Alberman frowned. He could shoot these guys here and now,
but if they were to vanish the others in this mysterious
organization would tell the cops what they knew. “Fair
enough,” he grunted. “Checkmate. What do you want me to do?”

“Shall we go inside and talk about it?” The Englishman
gestured towards the door of the cabin.

Silently, Albermann unlocked it and went in, the two German
Shepherds bounding after him, eager for their supper. The
Englishman and his colleague followed. On entering and
looking around they saw the guns of various kinds – rifles,
shotguns, pistols, revolvers – lying about the room, along
with the catalogues that had advertised them, or hanging on
the wall as trophies. The collection included old-fashioned
Webleys and Smith and Wessons as well as, going to the other
end of the scale, the M16s and Uzis and Kalashnikovs used by
modern soldiers; with his connections it probably wouldn’t
have been too difficult for Alberman to lay his hands on
them.

Alberman pushed forward a couple of rough-hewn wooden chairs
and gestured to his visitors to sit. A third was positioned
by the log fire in the corner, and Alberman lowered himself
into it, sitting so that his gun was aimed at a point about
halfway between them. The dogs took up position on either
side of their master, crouched on their haunches, no doubt
ready to attack at his command.
“OK, shoot,” he grunted.

“Mr Alberman, bearing in mind your opinions as to where the
world is heading I think you’ll be interested in the
proposition I’m about to make,” the Englishman said. “A
better one than being on the run from the law, or having to
hide yourself away here all the time. The FBI will probably
find out about your connections with the Rezzies, sooner or
later. You're lucky we happened to get to you first. You may
no longer be actively involved with them but I doubt if
that’d make any difference.

"The Resurrection Men are a proscribed organisation. They’re
officially listed as a terrorist organisation. Being a member
of it alone would land you in prison, maybe for life. But
more than that, you took part in a series of bombings it
carried out of government buildings in the 90s, in which
quite a few people died. That’d mean the death penalty.”
Alberman’s finger curled round the shotgun’s trigger. “Stop
threatening me and tell me what this is all about.”

So the man explained his organisation’s plans. It took some
time for Alberman to be convinced; every now and then he
would shake his head slowly and say the whole thing was
completely nuts. But the fact that they’d known where to find
him illustrated clearly that they had the sources, had the
power, had the means, and it wouldn’t be wise to defy them.
Then there was his visitor’s obvious sincerity about it all.
And it wasn’t the sincerity of the insane; Alberman could
tell when he was dealing with a nutcase. Besides, he liked
what he was hearing, the whole idea of it. It made sense.
Whoever these people were, he certainly couldn't hate them
more than he did the society which had made an outcast of him
just because of one stupid, drunken act of rowdy behaviour,
despite his fine record in the first Gulf War.

“It’s your choice, Mr Alberman,” the other man said when his
colleague had finished. “But you’re just the sort of person
we’re looking for. And I can assure you you won’t regret it.
You’d like the chance to use all your old skills again,
wouldn’t you? And in a good cause too. Of course, there might
have to be one or two sacrifices.”

That night, tears in his eyes, Alberman took the two dogs
out and shot them. The trusting look in their eyes, up to the
moment he pulled the trigger, rent his heart in two. But
there hadn’t really been any other way, he told himself. So
he got on with the task of burying them and then collecting
together a few personal belongings before spending his last
night ever in the little shack. The following morning the
Englishman was back to collect him. His feelings were mixed
as they drove out of the forest and onto the main highway
going south. He’d decided to leave the hut as it was, perhaps
to moulder away gradually until it was reclaimed by nature,
unless anyone else decided to make it their home. If they did
they would find no clues as to where he had gone.

At about the same time that they left the shack, Jesus de
Santo was lying in bed in his tenement flat in one of the
poorer suburbs of New York, staring fixedly at the crack
running the length of the ceiling and morbidly contemplating
the bad turn his life had taken. Because there was little
else left to do, these days.

An exemplary record of serving his country, risking his life
for it, in Iraq (twice), Somalia and Afghanistan; and now
here he was, out of a job, with barely enough money to pay
for the rent of the apartment, eviction seeming a likely
prospect in the near future. It had started when he’d been
diagnosed as suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and discharged
from the Army, to re-enter civilian life as a clerk in a
government department. In time he’d got over the trauma which
had rendered him unfit for military service, but the Army
refused to take him back, as if he was somehow contaminated.
It was that, more than anything he’d suffered in Iraq, which
caused him to freak out. In the Army there had been the
thrill of combat, the buzz that came with the knowledge you
were going into action, and you had no idea how things were
going to turn out, how many kills you’d make if any. When you
did take out one of the enemy it was exhilarating in a way he
liked to think wasn’t cruel and could be enjoyed with a clear
conscience. He’d relished any chance to strike a blow for his
country, against regimes which stood in the path of truth and
justice....at least that was how he had seen it. Then there
was the feeling of belonging to a team, the sense of
comradeship with a bunch of good guys doing a job you could
take pride in.

And above all the Army gave purpose and order to his life.
Admittedly, you got that as a bureaucrat, but it was order
without any accompanying joy. Where was the thrill in getting
washed and dressed, having breakfast, then going to work
every day in an office where the worst thing that could
happen to you was being killed by a falling box of paper
clips, maybe. Performing humdum, repetitive, soul-destroying
tasks, and listening to boring people drone on and on about
their personal problems until you felt like smashing their
faces in only of course you couldn’t.

People thought the army dehumanised you by making you just a
number, nameless cannon fodder, a faceless cog in the whole
vast military machine. That was bullshit. He had only
really found himself there. He’d been someone whereas now he
felt a non-person, an empty husk from whom all the energy,
the motivation, the zest for life had drained away. He wasn’t
a man.

He simply couldn’t adjust. The anger and frustration had
built up until he'd begun to make mistakes, snap at people.
There'd been one or two unfortunate incidents and he'd been
asked to leave his job. From then on he’d been unemployable,
forced every two weeks to join the line of miserable,
slouching figures queueing up to receive their cheques at the
local benefit office, to live in this cramped little shithole
where there was mould and damp on the walls, the
bathwater was lukewarm, and the central heating didn’t work
properly in winter or the fridge in summer. This was how he
was rewarded.

It was hopeless. The Army had abandoned him, the government
had abandoned him, his family had abandoned him. Nobody had
any interest in him any more, because no-one had any time,
any respect, for losers in this country. He didn’t even have
anything worth stealing. Which was why he was surprised when
his morbid reflections were interrupted by someone knocking
on the door.

Thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, a
former member of Britain’s Parachute Regiment who worked in a
small café in one of the seedier districts of Glasgow was
approached by two men while about to get into his car in the
car park at the rear of the premises and go home, late one
night after the establishment had closed. They had been
careful to choose a moment when no-one else was around. They
informed him they had proof he was not who he said he was,
but rather a wanted criminal who had been on the run since he
was identified as the ringleader in an armed robbery south of
the border a couple of years earlier, in which a man had been
killed, and was living under an assumed name, his appearance
changed by the shaving off of his facial hair plus a little
plastic surgery. He had turned to crime because in his view
the Army had failed to provide for him adequately after his
discharge from service.
"Are you blackmailing me?” he demanded.

“We’re simply offering you a choice,” they said. “Between us
turning you in and you agreeing to work for us. After all
it’s not nice, is it, living a lie; going to the bother of
making up a false identity for yourself and hoping nobody
sees through it. Always the fear that somehow they’ll find
out who you really are, track you down and take away your
freedom. And I don’t think you were ever really happy except
in the Army, were you? Of course, this won’t be quite the
same thing. But it’s better than any of the alternatives. And
where you’re going nobody will ever find you, believe me,
however much they know and however hard they try.”

Ronnie McGuigan was intrigued, if nothing else. “Tell me
more,” he said.


TWO
The tanker's name was the Herbert Rutherford. She was 200 feet wide and 1300 long, and when fully laden with oil weighed 550,000 tons. At the moment though her tanks were empty, for she was about to embark on the outward journey from Fawley to Baton Rouge to pick up the equivalent of another two million barrels.

The terminal authorities and the local agents for both International Petroleum Limited, the crew’s employers, and the company who owned the tanker had been notified that sailing was imminent, and the pilot and tugs summoned to attend the vessel in readiness for her departure. The engines, communications systems, radar, navigation lights, gyroscopes and magnetic compasses were checked to see that they were in proper working order, and the results of all these tests recorded in the deck and engine room log books. Needless to say, the personnel carrying them out bore the fates of the Atlantic Herald and the Alicia very much in mind.

Meanwhile the ship was taking water into her ballast tanks; this was essential in order to ensure she was sufficiently heavy to immerse the hull deep enough in the water for her propellor and rudder to function effectively, and that she was stable, able to ride the waves without undue pitching and rolling and therefore safe.

Once the company's agent had delivered his port clearance certificate to the Rutherford's captain, the unberthing procedure and outbound passage had been discussed with the pilot and any possible problems identified and dealt with, the crew were called to their stations. Resplendent in his braided peaked cap and white short-sleeved shirt with shoulder flashes, Captain Rob Hemmings stepped aboard.

The tugs were made fast, any loose equipment secured, the anchors raised, and finally the Rutherford was ready to leave. The route she would follow was the shortest distance to her destination after taking into account the weather and the density of other marine traffic.

It was dark when the ship slid smoothly from her berth, moving at a steady pace down the Water towards the open sea. At the top of the tanker's superstructure, located near the stern with most of the vessel's length stretching away before it into seeming infinity, Captain Hemmings stood leaning on the safety rail, reflecting on the period of shore leave that had just come to an end and on another voyage just begun.

He wondered vaguely if anything interesting would happen during the passage. It usually didn't, but in any case excitement was not the reason why he liked his job; rather, it was the feeling of being sole master of the mighty ship beneath him. And because of the solitude of being so far from land most of the time, despite the presence of the crew and his ability to get on well with them all.

Hemmings was better provided for than the pioneers of intercontinental sea travel, hundreds of years ago; nowadays each crew member, from the captain to the galley boy, had his own en-suite cabin. But he felt just as remote from "civilisation" with all its manifold stresses. It was a job where from time to time you could stop and contemplate your life, and in the process remember who you were.

You couldn't explain why the sea got into your blood, the mystic attraction it held over some people. Nobody could.

The lights of the terminal, and of the refinery over to the west, clustered together like a colony of glow-worms, surrounded by a strange pearly mist like stardust. And in a few weeks' time, he thought, that fairytale scene would welcome him home again. He gazed at it dreamily, listening to the comforting monotony of the engines' steady throbbing, and felt at peace.

Hemmings’ one source of dissatisfaction with his life as a sea captain was the long weeks, sometimes months, it kept him apart from his family. And also, he thought with a wry smile, it was a little more difficult these days to find the relief and recreation you sought while on shore; to do some of the things you couldn't thousands of miles out to sea, separated from your wife or girlfriend. He was getting too old for that sort of thing anyway, but understood how the younger men felt.

Eastward, the lights of Southampton were scattered like glinting jewels upon the night’s dark blanket. The sight of them brought back wistful memories. There was a time when a fair portion of a merchant seaman's wages went towards buying relief from sexual tension in the red light districts east of the city centre. Now the girls had gone from there, and from Portsmouth too, driven out by police "clean-up" campaigns and increasing public hostility. He saw the locals' point of view, but all the same a part of him still wistfully regretted what had happened. The girls had been quite nice, some of them at any rate, and usually organised crime to give it its due had kept things from getting out of hand. Altogether the area had had a certain seedy character, which was now totally destroyed.
But times changed.

Contemplating life and what it was all about, in so far as you could know, Hemmings gazed down at the reflection of the lights, dancing like a swarm of fireflies on the moonlit surface of the water as it rippled gently beneath him.

Once the Rutherford was out in the Solent the tugs cast off, the pilot disembarked and the giant tanker continued on her pre-planned course, swinging slowly round to face towards America several thousands of miles away. The anchors were secured in place and the pipe where the anchor chain entered the deck structure covered with tarpaulin and cement to ensure there could be no water ingress in bad weather.

Hemmings couldn’t help thinking about the Atlantic Herald, but he had little doubt that such a catastrophe would not happen on this voyage. IPL were as powerful and, he was sure, as ruthless as any other multinational company but they looked after their employees - recognising of course that it was in their own interest to do so. They had made absolutely sure every item of equipment was in perfect working order, and that all foreign crew members understood both the basic and the technical functioning of the ship, so there could be no danger of a collision or any other accident jeopardising its safety or that of the souls on board her.

The radar equipment on the bridge comprised two sets, one of which was an ARPA (automatic radar plotting aid), a computer-controlled system for collision avoidance. It automatically calculated and plotted the position of other vessels or possible collision hazards and graphically represented their projected course on the radar screen. Also located on the bridge were radio and satellite communication systems, course recorders, gyro- and magnetic compasses, and sensors which automatically detected any fire and activated the extinguishers. Each of these systems had a backup in the event of failure.

During the voyage routine maintenance of all the ship's systems would continue, along with continuous training for the crew in health and safety procedures, sea survival, fire fighting, life saving, and accident management. When the weather made it unwise to go out on deck, lectures were held and videos watched in the comfortable warmth of the ship's interior.

The purely human factor in the equation caused Hemmings no worries. The Rutherford carried a crew of 28 - surprisingly small, one might have thought, for such a huge ship, but all that was needed given the high degree of computerization and automation. It meant they were a tightly-knit, fairly friendly bunch, though divided to some extent by differences of nationality and culture. And they had no reason to complain about their lot. When off duty they could enjoy such facilities as satellite TV and video, computer games, stereos, table tennis, a swimming pool and library. By themselves these things could only go some way towards relieving the tension of being cooped up in an all-male environment on a sea voyage which might last several months, albeit followed by a changeover of crew and six to eight weeks’ leave for each man. Contrary to popular supposition, merchant seamen were not all gay. Some were. The gays and the straights maintained good relations, each side keeping apart from the others' sexual politics. No questions were asked, no complaints made. He had no idea what the gays did exactly, but between ports the straights worked off their frustration over girlie magazines in the privacy of their quarters or the head. The crew quarters were liberally plastered with posters, or pages cut from the aforementioned magazines, depicting nude or scantily-clad women. They usually never got to see them anyway, but the few women crew members were tough enough and sensible enough to see that were these outlets for people’s natural urges not available, there would be trouble; fights, always dangerous on a ship, and inappropriate behaviour. To be blunt, there was no room for prudery.

He strolled about the ship for an hour or so, looking things over. They seemed to be going well. He retired to his cabin, aware that the ship’s automated systems meant his constant presence supervising things and issuing orders was not required. He could leave it to the computers and to the Officers of the Watch, the latter assisted by a rating who acted as lookout or helmsman when required. The rest of the crew were by now relaxing over drinks in the ship’s bar, or in bed. On autopilot now, the Rutherford cruised on her way, moving despite her vast bulk with a smooth ease that always astonished and awed observers. There were none around right now, of course. Occasionally the lights of another ship could be seen, but otherwise the sea around and beneath her was calm and still and empty. And therefore, it was hoped, safe.

Army General Headquarters, Islamabad, Pakistan
Parking his car in the space reserved for him in the central compound, Colonel Parviz Sharifah alighted and crossed over to the main barrack building, a solidly built red brick complex dating back to the days of the British Raj. Once inside he headed for a room at the back of the building which had been set aside for miscellaneous social gatherings, returning the respectful salutes of the junior officers and NCOs he met on the way.

He entered the room to find them all seated there waiting for him, eyes alight with interest. Sharifah studied them thoughtfully for a moment. Though passionately united in a common cause, they were nonetheless a mixed gathering. Some, generally the officers, wore beards - always a sign of strict adherence to Islam - while others including himself did not. Growing them when one had not done so before might arouse suspicion of radicalism, but so would shaving them off, which could be viewed as too obvious an attempt to appear safe in the eyes of the mainstream.

There was nothing wrong in their being Muslims, or in their meeting together here, as such. That their Islam was of a politically militant kind had on the other hand to be kept very secret. They were doing alright so far. No-one spied on them, no-one bugged their meetings, because no-one suspected what they really were.

It was still a strain to conceal everything from their colleagues and from all the other people they came into contact with in the course of their jobs and social lives, but they could stand that if it was for Allah’s sake. Their kind had always been patient. If the war they were fighting should lasted for a thousand years, with neither they, their children or even their great-great-great-grandchildren tasting the sweet fruits of victory, then so be it. And, of course, if they did persevere with it they would one day be rewarded in heaven. That was why the infrequency of major strikes against the West since the great day of September 11th, 2001, did not dishearten them.

The principle that underlay both their activities against the West, and a lot of the quarrels that went on among themselves, was: if you commit a wrong against me and I am unable to avenge it, my grandson will avenge it in fifty years' time. It carried with it the disturbing, to others, principle that the descendants of the original wrongdoer were to be regarded as just as guilty as their forebears and therefore legitimate targets.

Like many of the brotherhood, Sharifah had fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and the experience had radicalised him. With the growing belief among Islamic radicals that it was the West, their former sponsor, which should now be considered the enemy, something deep in his heart yearned to return to the hills of Afghanistan to join the Taliban or al-Qaeda. But instead, he had decided to stay in Pakistan to further the militant cause there.

Instead of an endless cat-and-mouse game in the mountains and foothills of Afghanistan, which neither side would ever win, it was better to concentrate on turning countries like Pakistan into proper, fully-fledged Islamic states. That was the sort of thing which would hurt the West. So Sharifah had set up a Koranic study group in his officer's mess and founded an Islamist newspaper for distribution to the troops.

Because this sort of activity was in itself perfectly innocent and legal, the military authorities did not probe too deeply into what went on at the group's meetings. And Sharifah kept scrupulously secret his links with groups such as Tablighi Jamaat who were openly calling for Islamic revolution.

Over recent years the army had become gradually more and more radical. The shortage of jobs in the civilian sector and the diminished prestige of the military after their poor performance in the war with India in the 1970s meant that a career as a soldier became less attractive to the social elite, and more so to young men from lower middle class, urban families many of whom were basically conservative in their views, hostile to the West and far more receptive to religion. Elements in the army were forging ever closer relationships with Islamic militant groups or Jihadis, some of which were made up entirely of retired army officers.

Despite the imperviousness of the bulk of the army to radical Islam, there had gradually come into being a not inconsiderable element within it from which a coup d'etat could conceivably be mounted against the corrupt, anti-Islamic, and pro-Western regime of President Pervez Musharraf. But as an institution it remained loyal to him, indeed had it not been for their support he would not in the first place have been able to stage the coup which brought him to power. Sharifah’s group was small in size, and so it had to be decisive and careful in what it did if it was to seize power where others had failed to do so.

This was a special meeting to which only a few members of the group, the most fanatical and the most trusted, had been invited.They needed to be sure they weren't going to be betrayed, as had happened before.

"Peace be with you, my brothers," smiled the Colonel.
"And on you be peace," they chanted.

Sharifah sat down, feeling their eyes on him as they glanced at him expectantly. "My brothers," he began. "I have asked for us to meet here today because I intend, as promised, to outline the details of how we will strike our great blow against the infidels."

He could feel the anticipation, the excitement, like an electric current. They knew he was a sensible man and not a fool; that he wouldn’t have called this meeting, embarked upon the entire project, unless he felt they had at a reasonable chance of success.

There had been one previous attempt at an Islamist coup, led by a high-ranking officer, in 1995. The plan was to storm the army's General HQ during a meeting of all the top commanders and kill them. The rebels would then have been able to establish control. It was planned to infiltrate thirty armed militants from the Harikat ul Ansar organization, dressed in commando uniforms, into the building. The attempt was foiled when someone tipped off the police and one of the coup leaders was stopped at a checkpoint and found to have a cache of rifles and rocket launchers in his car boot.

"First of all, the target," began Sharifah. "It has to the President himself. The traitor who has stood in the way of all that is just in the eyes of Allah, and prostituted our country and our faith before the American Satan." A murmur of agreement rippled round the room, several people shaking their fists in the air and shouting out imprecations against Musharraf, until Sharifah had to quieten them for fear that someone would get suspicious. Radical Muslims were furious at the way the President had tried to interfere with the running of the Islamic schools called madrassahs, which tended to serve as a hotbed for Islamic militancy, and at his alliance with the United States, which had allowed corrupt American money to flood into the country. He had also offended Kashmir separatists by offering India a compromise over the disputed province.

He had already been the target of several assassination attempts. In December 2003 a bomb blew up a bridge in Rawalpindi seconds after his motorcade had crossed it, and shortly afterwards two suicide bombers in vans full of explosives tried to ram his car (he was saved by a brave policeman who blocked their path at the cost of his life). Worryingly, the assassins seemed to have known the exact details and timing of Musharraf's movements, ignoring a dummy motorcade which had taken a different route.

Only one man, Colonel Hussein Attah, made any objection. "My brother, I feel to stake it all on killing Musharraf would be a mistake. Because we might not succeed, and if we don't we will have wasted our time."

"We will succeed," the Colonel assured him. "Our agent within the President's entourage knows his every movement. He will see that when the moment is right, the traitor and those who have collaborated with him in the suppression of Islam shall die."

"But Musharraf is just one man. How can killing him necessarily help us? This is a struggle of regimes, of ideologies we are fighting."

A second officer, Major Kamal Talifah, added his support. "His successor will merely continue the same policies, with the backing of the American infidels. Nothing will have changed."

The Colonel shook his head decisively. "Not so, my brother. Musharraf's death and that of the ministers will cause disruption and demoralisation among the government's supporters. And it will be a signal for our brothers across the country and in Kashmir to rise." They needed to begin with a single devastating strike which would throw everything into a state of confusion; essentially what their co-religionists had been aiming to achieve in 1995. "All we have to do is attack the government at its source, then the whole regime will fall."

He went on to explain precisely how the job was to be done. "Once Musharraf is dead we will launch an assault on General HQ, on the lines of the one planned in 1995; only this time, it will succeed." Once the news of events had had time to sink in, the militant cells in Islamabad would act to seize government buildings in the capital and take over airports, radio and TV stations and telephone exchanges. "All international flights will be stopped and any Westerners who then become trapped in Pakistan taken hostage, to be executed if their countries fail to meet our demands." Those demands were to disengage completely from the Muslim world. At the same time prominent government supporters would be arrested and put on trial for their crimes against Islam.

There would be various local uprisings centred on the madrassahs and joined by militants from other countries, including those Western nations which had large Muslim communities. Others would flood in from Kashmir and Afghanistan to help secure the most important provincial towns. The rebel forces would be strengthened further by the mujahideen from Afghanistan, many of them in possession of guns, who had been prevented from returning home by the civil wars there, settling instead in the North-west Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

With the aid of the Taliban, Sharifah’s group had already been carrying out a major recruitment drive in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, persuading the Pashtun tribal people from whom many of the militants came to launch a renewed Jihad.

Within those areas controlled by the rebels, and ultimately the whole country, Islamic law would be imposed. Bans would be announced on films, music, interest payments, contraception and photographs of women. An Islamic Council composed entirely of religious scholars would take over the running of the country, determining in minute detail every aspect of the public's behaviour with regard to dress, eating habits, sex and marriage, cultural activities, choice of literature, etc.

It all sounded very appealing. But several around the table were still not convinced it was practicable. "Can we rely on the different national groups to help us?" asked Hussein Attah.

"Some will, some will not. It would be better not to involve them unless they are Muslims. Let those in the provinces who are of the Way come to our aid, if we so decide, and the rest do what they will - until we are in control, of course. In the meantime the instability may help our cause."

Theirs was a young nation which had still not got over its teething problems; problems which, it had to be admitted, were exacerbated by its complex ethnic map. The name Pakistan was supposedly an acronym of Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, Sind and -stan meaning "land". As well as the tensions between secularists and Islamicists, and civilians and the military, which had caused the country to alternate between parliamentary government and martial law, there was unrest between different ethnic groups, most notably in the province of Sind. This restiveness had been the cause of trouble in the past. Generally there was also tension between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority, as well as significant divisions within the Sunni community itself. Not all the ethnic groups would be happy with a Muslim takeover. There were plenty of fault lines along which the whole country could split open. The rising could unleash a general anarchy which would make it difficult for them to maintain control once in power.

But they could not let that deter them from their cause, because the cause - nothing less than worldwide Islamic revolution - had to be everything. It must be furthered whenever there was an opportunity, and Pakistan was the ripest fruit.

"Altogether, my brother, I am not sure there will be the necessary support," Major Talifah said. It was true there were plenty of grievances common to most Pakistanis, regardless of race or religion. As well as its complex ethnic map Pakistan suffered from having been born with few natural resources and little manufacturing capability. It was a poor country plagued by widespread corruption, low standards of education and a high illiteracy rate, soaring unemployment, an inefficiently-run industrial sector and unequal distribution of wealth with the country’s tiny middle class grabbing most of the profits. Most Pakistanis, Sharifah knew, these days felt a sense of hopelessness and despair. It was that feeling which he and his friends must seek to exploit. And yet many people would also be afraid of the death and suffering which might be inflicted upon the country if an al-Qaeda government came to power and aroused the hostility of the West, leading to war.

"I know what you are all thinking," Sharifah said, smiling reassuringly at his listeners. "You feel that we may only succeed in creating discord, and by so doing complicate our task. But I assure you I know what I'm doing. The instability will itself frighten the West enough for it reconsider its disrespectful attitude towards Islam. And the West will find it difficult to intervene here in Pakistan while trying to hold down Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time. Even if ultimately we fail, we will have exposed the flaws in their plan for global domination. It will be a victory for us and a shattering defeat for our enemies. They will have to either let us win in Pakistan or withdraw from the other occupied lands, allowing us to triumph there."
Again a murmur of assent, louder and more sustained this time. They could see his way of thinking and liked it.

"But there is no point in striking the first blow, the death of Musharraf, until we are ready to take advantage of the confusion it will cause. The weapons we need must all be in place." To some extent they already were. Musharraf's plans to de-militarise Pakistani society had encountered the problem that no-one wanted to give up serviceable weapons, in case it put them at a disadvantage to those who did not. It meant that there was no shortage of disaffected militants with access to guns. But on their own the existing weapons would not be sufficient to ensure victory.

"And when will they be in place?" someone asked. They were all impatient now to get started.
"Soon, my brother."

"But where are we to find the arms? Who is there that will supply us?" Hussein Attah still couldn’t see how it could possibly be pulled off.

"Some will come from Iran or Syria. There are elements in Tehran and Damascus who are not unsympathetic to what we are doing.”
"But will they be enough?"
"Probably not, but - "
"Then who will help us?"
"Do not worry," Sharifah smiled. "I know a man who will take care of all that."

The Herbert Rutherford
It was just after noon on the second day of the tanker’s crossing to America, and the weather so far was behaving itself; not that it could inflict much damage to a sturdy vessel like the Rutherford. A collision didn’t seem likely either, for they were right in the middle of the Atlantic now, the least likely point at which they might encounter another vessel.
Captain Hemmings was taking a walk around the deck of his ship, plodding on at a slow, steady pace with his hands clasped behind him in businesslike fashion. Rounding a corner of one of the buildings that made up the superstructure, he bumped into young Mark Tredinnick, the cadet they’d taken on straight from school at the start of their previous voyage. Tredinnick had lived by and loved the sea from an early age, which had made it an appropriate choice for a career, though there had also been the chance to get a taste of the world beyond his sleepy little Cornish fishing village.
“How are you getting on, Mark?” Hemmings asked.

“Fine, Sir, thankyou Sir." There was no real need for Tredinnick to call him "Sir", merchant ships nowadays being much less formal than they used to be, but he did so anyway out of deference. He was still a bit overawed by everything. Just a few months past his sixteenth birthday, and relatively inexperienced in the ways of the wider world, he was in some respects little more than a boy. Hemmings remembered the day he’d first set foot, wide-eyed on board the Rutherford, overwhelmed and even intimidated by the sheer size of the massive supertanker.
“So what are you up to now then?”

“Just doing my regular inspection, Sir; getting to know where everything is. I thought I’d look in on the engine room, see if they needed any help there.”
“Good man. So have you decided if you want to stay with us, yet?”
The young man shrugged. “Don’t see why not, Sir.”
“The voyage itself can be a bit boring at times, of course. Not that I don’t like the job, but although it seems odd to say so I often think the best thing about it is the time you spend in port.
“You can learn a lot from it. You’ll get the chance to see a bit of the States when we put in at Baton, though not for long. Looking forward to that?”
“Oh yes, Sir.”

Hemmings grinned in a way Tredinnick was as yet too unsophisticated to understand. He could guess what would happen when they went ashore; the youngster’s crewmates would take him to certain establishments where he could be initiated in the ways of men, for a price. Hemmings sensed he hadn’t had that experience yet, and wondered how he’d find it. Strange, most probably, and a little scary, but a necessary breaking-in. It had been that way with himself, many years before.

“Well, I’ll let you get on with it.” With a brief nod Hemmings moved on.

On finishing his circuit of the deck, Hemmings immediately started another. It was a good way of getting fit. He walked the length of the tanker, and back, three times in all, then climbed to the observation deck atop the superstructure, where he stood looking down on the vast expanse of deck and on the tiny figures of the crewmen moving about there.

A thunderous, booming roar of sound tore through his head and the ship gave a violent lurch to starboard, a shuddering tremor running through its entire fabric from bows to stern.

Hemmings’ grip on the rail was broken and he was flung sideways, to strike his head sharply on the metal floor of the deck. Briefly stunned, he was yanked back to full consciousness by the strident electronic screech of the emergency siren. He scrambled to his feet, and for a moment glanced about wildly, his senses thrown into confusion by the suddenness and violence of what had happened. He could hear the blare of several different sirens, the shouts of terrified crewmen, the sounds of feet ringing out on metal ladders.

The ship rose and dipped under his feet, then settled. He saw that everything was listing slightly to starboard. Cramming his cap back on his head, he ran for the nearest of the doors into the superstructure. Flinging it open, he scrambled down the ladder onto the bridge. The first mate and officer of the watch were already there to meet him.
He snatched up the intercom from the main console. "Captain to Chief Engineer.”
"He's on his way down here, Sir," the engine room replied.
"Tell him I'm on the bridge.”

Hemmings turned to his fellow officers. “Could we have collided with something?” A whale maybe, partly submerged.

“There’s nothing out there, Captain,” the radar operator replied, checking his instruments. “Or under there either, according to the sonar.” And if there was, the equipment would surely have picked it up.

“It sounded more like an explosion,” said the first mate.
“That’s what I thought,” Hemmings nodded. “But how…“

“It was a big one, anyway,” said the first mate. “Must have done quite a bit of damage.”
"We're listing at about thirty-five degrees," observed the Second Officer.
The Intercom bleeped. "Chief Engineer to Bridge."
"Captain here,” said Hemmings. “Any idea what happened?”
“Not yet, Rob. But we’re shipping water, lots of it. Eight bulkheads flooded. I reckon she's had it."
Eight bulkheads. The ship would sink in about half-an-hour.

The floor of the bridge lurched downwards and sideways, causing them to stagger. The list was becoming more and more pronounced and before too long it would be impossible to stand upright. They heard some loose object clatter on the floor.

There was no time in which to think about what had caused the explosion. Hemmings’ immediate concern was the safety of the personnel on board. He made a quick decision, the only one he could in the circumstances. They had to assume the ship was lost.

He began shouting into the intercom, this time speaking to everyone on board. "This is the Captain speaking. We are abandoning ship, I repeat abandoning ship. Everyone to assemble on deck immediately. Radio Room, send out an SOS!"

It took fifteen minutes to get everyone out on deck in their survival gear and gathered by the lifeboats. By that time the list had increased to forty-five degrees. And at the same time that she was listing, the Rutherford was sinking ever lower in the water, spray beginning to lash over the rail and onto the deck. It couldn’t be long now, Hemmings reckoned.

Their mood was grim, but without any alarm or fear. They had
every expectation of surviving. Emergencies like this were what he had been trained for. It was a disaster, yes, for the oil and shipping companies but for Hemmings and his crew not irreparable.

It took ten minutes to get everyone into the boats and lower them into the water. By the time the last man was got off the deck was rearing and plunging like a stallion at a rodeo.

Hemmings hardly dared to turn and look back at the ship. The end, when it came, was an awesome spectacle. The 550,000-ton mass rose up like a giant steel finger thrusting into the sky, moonlight gleaming off the smooth plates of its hull. As it tilted slowly into a near vertical position stanchions, pylons and gantries broke free from their mountings and shot down the slanting deck, colliding with one another in a tangled mass of debris which bobbed up and down on the surface of the water like some huge clump of floating seaweed.

Then with a hideous grinding of tortured metal the whole ship slid slowly and smoothly beneath the surface. The sea had claimed what Man had created in a bid to master it.

The churning waters gradually settled, and a strange silence fell over the men huddled in the lifeboats. It was a full minute before any of them uttered a word.

Hemmings breathed a sigh of resignation. Such things as this were always a possibility and every tanker crewman and officer lived with the constant awareness that it might happen on the next voyage he undertook, or the one after. There was really no point in regrets. And at least they were safe now. The only question was how long they’d have to wait before Air Sea Rescue came to pick them up.

Looking round, Hemmings was relieved to see that no-one was injured. The whole evacuation procedure had been carried out swiftly and professionally, as he’d known it would.

They began to talk, in low murmuring voices. “It couldn’t have been a collision,” someone said, “unless there was something wrong with the equipment.”
“It was checked thoroughly.”
“Yes, but someone could have made a mistake..”
“Of course they could.”
“If it was an explosion, then what the hell blew up? I don’t see…”
“But that’s the most likely thing. The question is how.”
“I’d say an accident was possible,” ventured the officer of the watch, who was in the same lifeboat as Hemmings and the first mate. In merchant shipping as elsewhere, there were always things that happened without apparent explanation.
“Should be interesting to find out the truth, whatever it is,” the first mate said.
“Perhaps they never will,” Hemmings grunted.

None of them dared mention that of which the thought was in everybody’s mind, the word almost on the tip of their tongue. Sabotage. Hemmings wondered darkly whether one of the Muslim crewmen, from Indonesia or Kuwait or the Phillippines, could have…or was that too unfair, too paranoid?

"Well," he muttered, "this is going to shake a few people up, I reckon." Young Mark Tredinnick was certainly getting a first hand view of the dangers of life as a merchant seaman, he thought. Hemmings’ main worry was that this was something new, something which for all they knew might become a regular occurrence. That would have implications, and rather disturbing ones.

“Do you think they’ll keep us together?” a crewman asked anxiously. They each had little doubt they’d be sailing again on a new ship before too long, but wanted it to be with the men they’d got to know and like over the past few months, in some cases years.
“If they’ve any bloody sense they will,” Hemmings replied.

He shifted uncomfortably, frowning.
Beneath his feet, the metal of the lifeboat's bottom was hot. He could feel it through the thick rubber soles of his boots, and smell the smoke from them.

The next thing he realised was that the heat was increasing. He glanced round in alarm, searching for an explanation. The others were doing the same. "What's happening?" someone shouted. "What the fuck - "

Hemmings had no idea what it meant, but once he had gathered his wits the instinct for self-preservation kicked in. A fire, if that was what this was, on board a lifeboat...

"Into the water!" he yelled. He swung his legs up onto the bench, twisted round and scrambled up over the gunwhale, to jump feet first into the sea. He hit the surface, sank a little with the force of the impact and then rose up, supported by his jacket. All around him other bodies were dropping into the water, splashing him.

The water was slightly warm from whatever was heating up the fabric of the lifeboat, and Hemmings felt uneasy. Looking around, he saw that the other boats too were being hurriedly evacuated. The sea around him was a mass of bodies bobbing up and down in their life jackets.
Somebody cried out in alarm.

Their heads whipped round just in time to see a man disappear beneath the water. Then another, a Czech called Fusek, gave a sudden cry and his head jerked sharply backwards. He too vanished beneath the waves. Neither man reappeared.
"Oh my God," Hemmings shouted. "What the bloody hell is this?"

Something had grabbed the two men and pulled them down, something that had been lurking unseen beneath the surface of the sea. Hemmings' last thought, before the same thing happened to him, was that they’d assumed whoever had blown up the tanker would be satisfied with that and not bothered about harming its crew.
The assumption, it now appeared, had been rather naive.


THREE
IPL UK Headquarters, London
The Herbert Rutherford was insured, of course. The real damage to the fortunes of International Petroleum Limited stemmed not from the loss of the tanker itself, which in fact was owned by a shipping company, but from the long-term consequences of the disaster, which was why a very important meeting was taking place in the London office of Marcus Hennig, Managing Director of the British-based company.
Hennig was in his forties, plump, his slick dark hair not yet flecked with grey - the question of whether it was dyed was one that frequently exercised the minds of his subordinates. Two people sat facing him across his expansive desk. One was Jimmy Naish, the ex-Army Sergeant who was now IPL's head of security. Like many men with very fair hair Naish was now almost completely bald, his great glistening dome of a skull gleaming in the sunlight slanting through the office window. He had a thin gingery-blond moustache. The bunch of keys he carried on his belt made him look like a prison warder. He seemed a forbidding figure but in fact, though Naish was tough when he needed to be, he was also mild and easy-going most of the time. It was the woman sitting on his left who you didn't want to cross.

Caroline Kent was the company's chief troubleshooter. Hennig always found it useful to have her sit in on meetings like this, in case she ended up investigating the matter in hand. Still in her late twenties, and extremely well designed and put together, she had the sort of looks you tended to associate with film stars and supermodels. It had made Hennig uneasy for a time, until eventually he succeeded in getting himself to think of her as a colleague and nothing else. All the same, there were times when he couldn't help stopping to admire that classically beautiful face, that impressive mane of naturally blonde hair - she never let anyone forget it was natural - and more or less perfect figure. Should she chance to meet his eye while he was doing so Caroline would respond with a brief, politely quizzical look before going back to whatever it was she happened to be doing.

She had brains as well as beauty, or she wouldn’t have survived in her job; she would never have let anyone promote her simply because of her looks. Her kind were a rare combination, perhaps. But she was proof they did exist, humans being after all creatures of infinite variety. Those who did dismiss her as a dumb bimbo were invariably proved wrong sooner or later, sometimes to their cost.

Today she wore a dark suit with knee-length dark skirt and stockings. She sat with her arms folded and one shapely leg hooked over the other, listening attentively to Hennig's account of the Rutherford's loss. There was anxiety in her face but it was combined with the keen interest which the scent of a challenge worthy of her abilities had aroused. He could tell she was already analysing his words carefully, assessing the nature of the problem and deciding how she could deal with it.

They could tell he was worried, and also angry. He was particularly annoyed because the ship had been named after the company's founder. It seemed a massive insult to IPL's prestige, and therefore to his own.

"They've started recovering the wreckage," he was informing them. "It's still too early to say for sure, but there are fracture patterns on one of the hull plates which suggest a bomb - a limpet mine - attached to the ship below the water line. And their radio message did mention an explosion."
He paused to let the implications sink in.
"Shit," whispered Naish.
"Yes, quite," Hennig agreed.
"They've ruled out a fire?" Caroline asked.

"It's not very likely." Like most tankers her size the Rutherford had been fitted with an Inertial Gas System which pumped in exhaust gas from the vessel's boiler to fill the tank space, for the sake of buoyancy, when its tanks were empty. But this gas contained less than five per cent oxygen, preventing the possibility of a fire or explosion in any of the cargo spaces. "And of course the ship wasn't carrying any oil at the time. She was on the outward voyage.

"I need hardly tell you that all the crew were fully qualified in safety procedures," Hennig went on. Those procedures were internationally regulated and extremely strict. Nowadays any tanker crewman caught smoking near a place where flammable materials were stored would be in for big trouble once his ship returned to its home port.

"If it was a bomb, how could they have attached it to the hull?" Caroline asked Naish.
"Well, it could have been done while the tanker was in dock. Security at Southampton and Fawley is pretty good but it wouldn't do any harm to review it. Not that this was the sort of thing anyone could have expected."

Hennig nodded vigorously. "Yes please – review it. I want to find out how this was done and make sure it doesn't bloody well happen again."
"How could they have done it at sea?" Caroline again.

"Well, there's an obvious advantage in that," Naish answered. "It's difficult to patrol thousands of miles of open ocean. But the mechanics of the job are another matter. For one thing there's the speed the tanker was going. A diver might be able to fix explosives to an object stationary in the water, it's been done plenty of times during the Second World War and since, but a moving ship is more tricky.

“If it was done at sea, they must have been operating from a submarine. But even if it was possible, I just don’t see who, out of all the people who’ve got the equipment, would have wanted to do it.”

“Who are we assuming was responsible? A rival company? I doubt if they’d own an ocean-going submarine.”

“Exactly,” put in Hennig. “And nor do the Children of Gaia or anyone like that, thankfully.” The Children of Gaia were a militant, anti-capitalist environmental organization with whom Caroline had had a run-in a year or two back when they’d tried to blow up one of the company’s North Sea oil rigs.

The troubleshooter was frowning. “Seems like it has to be a nation state, whose motive must be to damage the Western economy. But the most likely candidate, I suppose, would be somewhere like Iran or Syria; I mean, they’re hostile towards us because of our foreign policy, or rather our leaders’ foreign policy, and especially our support for Israel. But even if they were crazy enough to go that far, they just don’t have the hardware.”
“China?” suggested Hennig.

“I think they’re too sensible to do something like this. And right now,” she went on ruefully, “they don’t need to in order to be a rival to us.”

“It could just be America someone’s out to get. Maybe France, or Russia, is jealous of her domination of the Western world. Certainly neither of those countries has been that happy with her of late.” Hennig thought again. “But as with the Syrians and the Iranians, even if they might want to do it I’m not convinced they’d take the risk. The retaliation if they were found out would be massive.”
“Al-Qaeda?” ventured Nash.

Caroline shook her head. “Again, the technical means isn’t there. They could have got hold of some kind of minisub, I suppose. But that itself would have to be launched from a mother ship because it wouldn't have enough power to travel so far out.”

Hennig nodded. “The Rutherford was slap bang in mid-Atlantic when she was hit. Safer for those responsible in terms of not being noticed, but less easy to get to. Anyhow, as far as we can establish there was nothing else in the area at the time. Their last routine transmission didn't mention another ship and that was just a few minutes before the explosion; not long enough for our saboteurs to have got into position. The ocean within a radius of a hundred miles of the disaster zone was completely empty. The bomb could have been planted a while before. But what I say goes for the whole of the Rutherford's journey from Fawley to where she blew up. Nothing unusual or significant was reported from the moment she left dock up to the time of the explosion."

“So it couldn’t have been a sub,” Caroline mused, “firing a torpedo or deploying divers. Or some small craft, packed with explosives and either remote-controlled or manned by terrorists on a suicide mission, which rammed the Rutherford. But then what was it?”

They seemed to have reached an impasse. “It just doesn’t make any sense,” sighed Naish. “Weird, that’s what it is. Really weird.”

Caroline smiled to show that what she was going to say wasn’t to be taken too seriously. "There is a rumour that during the Cold War the Russian Navy experimented with using dolphins to carry bombs - as live torpedoes. Wouldn't suprise me if the Americans had done the same."

“So you think somebody....." Hennig looked disdainful of the idea, and Caroline stiffened a little. “It was just a suggestion,” she protested, allowing a hint of frost to creep into her voice. “I wasn’t – “

Naish came to her support. “Actually, there’s no reason to suppose it couldn’t have happened. Certainly, the people responsible wouldn’t have been bothered about any harm coming to the dolphins, if they were ruthless enough.” Not for the first time he studied Caroline in something like awe, marveling at the fact that she had known about the matter. The way she bothered to read up about everything, on the basis that every tiny scrap of knowledge could come in useful one day – because knowledge empowered you, gave you the ability to influence things – was almost scary.

"However,” he went on, “the story is the dolphins weren't that co-operative. Dolphins aren't stupid, they probably realised there was a catch somewhere. Then there'd be the reaction of the public once people found out. People like dolphins, don’t they?”
"That would hardly have stopped the Soviets. Or al-Qaeda."

“So dolphins kidnap people, do they?” sniffed Hennig. “Dolphins grab people and pull them underwater? First I’ve heard of it.”

“Merely turning over the various possibilities in my mind,” Caroline said brightly.

Hennig drew himself up sharply. “Look, someone did it,” he snapped. “And that’s the fact of the matter, however unlikely it seems. A hostile power, a rival company, an environmentalist organization; it’s got to have been one of those, and we need to find out which. If it was the first – by the way, I’m including organizations like al-Qaeda in the definition of “hostile power” - then that complicates matters a bit. Things’d be best left to the security services. If it Was the second..well, there are ways of finding out for sure.”

They knew he was talking industrial espionage. "I'm sorry, but I don't want anything to do with that," Caroline said. The polite but firm tone of voice and the look in those clear blue eyes made plain she wasn't to be swayed.

"If they're out to nobble our operations, then we have every right to move to the other side of the tracks," Hennig said angrily.

"Not everyone would agree with that," said Caroline, meaning that she didn't.

Hennig ignored her. “It’s the same with any ecoterrorist set-up. Mind you, MI5 have probably got tabs on those people already, so it may just be a case of a quick phone call to the right person.”

“I guess the Atlantic Herald thing got the ecoteurs’ blood up,” said Naish. “Maybe they decided to deliver a really big strike against the industry. They blew up the tanker on its outward voyage, when it wasn't full of oil, otherwise they'd've been fouling their own nest."

"An oil slick doesn't do much damage that far out," Hennig reminded him.

"Right," nodded Caroline Kent. If anything, marine pollution by oil had declined in recent years. It was the land-based pollution that was the problem." Oil spills only really caused damage to coastal areas, where they washed up on the beaches. And for that they had to happen reasonably close to them. At deep ocean they didn't do that much harm, just formed a skin on the water which eventually broke up partly because of wave action and partly because it was natural in origin and therefore biodegradable. It was gone long before it could reach any vulnerable areas.

Oil was a mixture of many different compounds - which made it difficult to predict the exact effect a spill would have on the marine environment - and although some of them were toxic they were also the ones which dissolved more easily in sea water, especially once marine bacteria had got to work. The toxicity of the oil residue was therefore limited, and the residue itself disappeared within a year at the most – usually a lot quicker.

"And the Gaia people got on board the rig from a minisub," Caroline said, returning to the matter in hand. "Which was launched from a ship. There wasn't one in the area when the Rutherford exploded."

"We've established that," Hennig said crossly. Naish saw the girl's face freeze over, the Marilyn Monroe lips tightening. She looks beautiful when she's angry, he thought.

"I know," she said with dignity. "But no-one knows what to think about this business, do they?"

Hennig didn't reply, but secretly he had to concede she was right. They were going round in circles.

Naish broke the silence. “The evidence from the pieces of wreckage we’ve so far been able to recover from the lifeboats
suggests a laser of some kind was applied to them. My people are trying to figure out who owns that sort of gear. As for limpet mines powerful enough to blow a hole in a double-skinned hull…well in the past, by which I mean up to the end of the Cold War, only a national navy would have stuff like that. Now there's a heck of a lot of it, mostly ex-Soviet issue, available on the black market for anyone who's interested. Or it could simply have been stolen, because Russian security is pretty crap. This applies to a lot of the equipment you might need for an operation like the attack on the Rutherford, but whether it goes as far as a full-size, fully functional submarine – considerably bigger than the one Gaia were using - I wouldn’t like to say.”

"It might throw some light on things if we consider the fact that the Rutherford’s crew were kidnapped,” Caroline Kent suggested. “I mean, it has to be fact. If they were dead we’d have found a few bodies by now, surely, and we haven’t. Unless our friendly saboteurs took them with them, and I don’t see why they would.”
"Why would they be kidnapped?" asked Hennig.

"Perhaps the Gaia people took them for re-education. Wanted to indoctrinate them with all that stuff about how capitalism's ruining the planet. Some of these environmental groups are pretty fanatical, pretty nasty, and I can see them operating in that way."

"So we can expect them to turn up somewhere at some point, alive and well and spouting eco-propaganda? Handing people flowers?" The idea of some big, bluff, tough merchant navy captain doing such a thing caused Hennig to chuckle.
"They'd know too much," Caroline pointed out. "They couldn't be let go."
"But if it was Gaia, wouldn't they have claimed responsibility?" This from Naish.

"They don't always. There's a certain psychological value in leaving people in the dark as to who’s done these things. Creating fear and uncertainty. It makes it a bit more likely that Gaia did it and not al-Qaeda. Qaeda tend just to kill Westerners, not bother about re-educating them."

"Perhaps they took the bodies because somehow they might have provided a clue to how the thing was done," Hennig suggested.
Caroline shrugged. "Perhaps."

“They jumped into the water," mused Hennig, "and then something or other took them." Morosely he regarded the model of an oil tanker that sat on his desk, and which he often liked to play with. He picked it up and hefted it carefully, supporting it with a hand under each end. The loss of such a magnificent piece of engineering upset him, not least because of the expense involved in replacing it.

At length he put it down and slumped back into his chair. "I really don't like what the world's coming to," he complained.

"What do we do about it?" asked Caroline practically. “That’s what counts in the end.”

"Well, I've suspended tanker operations until we know for sure how they did it. But we can't confine our entire tanker fleet to port indefinitely. Nor we can resume them; if there's another attack like this one, the crews will start asking for danger money. At least."

"Only other option's to have a naval escort on every tanker journey,” said Jimmy Naish. “Warships with radar. If the MOD would agree to it. The trouble is I don’t think – “

His mobile phone rang; probably someone from his department, with whom the urgency of the current situation meant he needed to be in contact 24/7. “I see…..when did this happen? Right…..OK…..keep me informed if you find out anything more. OK, bye.”

Naish stowed away the phone. "It’s just been on the news. Two more tankers have gone down: neither of them ours. One of BP's and one of Lion Petrochemicals'. The story's exactly the same. They think it's a bomb, but no idea how it could have been planted. And no trace of any of the crew."

Silence while they absorbed the information, and what it meant. Finally Caroline Kent pursed her lips and said, “this makes it a bit less likely it’s another company.”

“Unless they’re trying to secure a monopoly. But then I suppose they’d be making it a bit obvious.” Hennig brightened suddenly, eyes gleaming. “One thing’s sure, after this the Navy will be that much keener to help. Now it’s not just the fate of one company that’s at stake, it could be the economy of the whole Western world – a major part of it, anyway. There’ll be nothing questionable about them lending a hand.” He was already reaching for the phone. “Better go through the Department of Energy first.”

The mood in the office was now somewhat different. Each person in the room sensed an air of expectancy in the others, because now something had happened to provide an opening, a chance of influencing the situation for the better.

All the same, Caroline glanced uncertainly at Naish. “They won’t be able to do it for every tanker that leaves port, especially when they may have commitments elsewhere at the same time. So the saboteurs would simply target the ships which were unescorted."
“You’re right,” he agreed. “But we’ve got to make the effort.”
“Of course.”

“I’m sure you agree that these developments give a whole new complexion to things,” Hennig was saying. “So we’d very much appreciate your assistance in the matter….yes, I’m sure you will. OK, if you can get back to me as soon as you’ve spoken to them….Yes, I will. Thankyou, ‘bye.” He hung up. “I think they’re still digesting it,” he told his companions. “But I get the impression they’ll play ball. I mean it’s bound to have got them rattled, don’t you think?”
They bobbed their heads in agreement. “I’d have thought so,” Caroline agreed.

Hennig flexed his entwined fingers until the joints cracked. There was a dangerous look in his eyes. “What I like least about this whole business is that someone at the company or at the terminal must have known the tanker was starting to sail and where it was going. I don’t know what they’re up to but if I ever get my hands on them....”

“Their records would have been thoroughly checked when they joined the company,” Naish said. It was one of his department’s responsibilities. “But they could have been bought since.”

“If you can, do a bit more prying,” Hennig told him. “You never know what you might find.”
With that, he declared the meeting closed.

Caroline left in higher spirits than when the meeting had begun, but could sense the black cloud that still hung over all of them. After all, if the Navy’s involvement didn’t prove sufficient to deal with the problem, its implications would go a good deal further than the survival or otherwise of International Petroleum Ltd.


As she walked briskly down 28th Boulevard, Miami’s major shopping precinct, with her friends Shannon Williams was trying hard to forget the row she had with her parents earlier that evening.

"Dad, I'm nearly fifteen, for Chrissakes."
"Don't talk like that please, Shannon."
"I mean, I'm sure you can count."

"Shannon!" Her Mom was glaring at her from the doorway. As in "don't speak to your father like that."

Her father put on a deliberately calm and reasonable tone of voice, like he was dealing with a Goddamn kid. "Fifteen isn’t sixteen, Shannon. And you’ve still a while to go before you get there, anyway. Now, you know we don't like you staying out so late. You know it worries us. Last time you didn't come back until a quarter to four, and when you did come back you were - "

Shannon tried to stop herself from going red. "Yeah, OK OK. I'm sorry," she mumbled. Hadn't they pissed about like that when they were her age, for God's sake?

“When you’re drunk you can do silly things, Shannon. Dangerous things. And someone could take advantage of you. If you’re as grown-up as you like to think you’ll know what I mean by that.”

“None of my friends would do that,” she said angrily. Though to be honest, there were one or two she had her doubts about. There was that time when…..

“Are you sure, Shannon? You know, I really don’t like some of the people you hang around with. I’ve told you what I think of that Pete Dexter. Didn’t he stab some kid he was in a fight with, not so long ago?”
“That’s what they say,” she replied. “I don’t believe it.”

“There’s too many rumours going around for my liking. You’ll have heard it said there’s no smoke without – “

“Fire, yeah. Of course I have. But you can start up rumours about just around anyone.”

“I’m not just telling stories, thankyou Shannon. I know when someone isn’t right. You’d be better off having nothing to do with him. And that Leanne, the way she dresses…”
“She’s nice.”
“She may be nice, but – “
“So are you saying I can’t go out tonight? Is that it?”

“I’d rather you didn’t. Not going by the way you’ve behaved in the past.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, well I’m sorry about that, OK? I won’t do it again.”
“Won’t you?”

In truth, she was rattled because she loved them and didn’t want to leave them feeling upset and worried about her. But as usual, the discussion had been broken off in anger and she stormed out of the house, shouting at the top of the voice that she was going out with her friends and there was nothing they could damn well do about it.

The problem was that as far as they were concerned she was still a child, despite the changes that had taken place in her body during the last couple of years and which everyone could now see. She was just well-developed for her age, that was all. The physical changes were not in their view matched by mental ones. To them she was trying to be what she wasn’t. Shannon knew different.

And yet she always felt bad after having one of these arguments; guilty. They weren't bad people, not really, just a bit too straight for her liking.

What the hell. She decided to forget it all and just enjoy her night out with the girls. After doing some shopping together, they'd had a meal at a diner and were now on their way to what was said to be one of the hottest nightclubs in town, where there were sure to be plenty of good-looking guys. The club was located on the top storey of the shopping complex.

A fit of craziness overcame them and they started performing little pirouettes every few seconds, whirling around as if in anticipation of the fun to be had on the dance floor later on and singing, or rather shouting, the words of a popular song, whooping deliriously with the sheer joy of being young. Shannon was forgetting her troubles, alright.

She'd make it up with Mom and Dad, and start doing some serious studying. Tomorrow.

At one side of the vast atrium, his back to the wall, the man in the shabby overcoat stood watching the crowds. As usual, they weren’t taking any notice of him. So they failed to note the way his eyes were scanning them intently, as if trying to pick out a single individual from among the great jumble of bodies in motion.

To the few who noticed he seemed to come to a sudden decision, leaving his position and moving off towards the other side of the atrium, his route taking him straight through the main body of the crowd.

Gently he eased his way through it, trying not to jostle and shove more than was inevitable, and so attract hostility, while all the time attempting to keep in sight the girl on whom his eyes had chanced to rest, the girl with the dark brown hair and the spangly top. She was about ten yards ahead of him, although it was hard to judge distance accurately in the crowd. That they were going towards each other helped because he could keep her face in view, except of course for the moments when someone passed between them and blocked her from his vision. She was going in a line slightly at an angle to him, an uneven line because of the bodies surrounding her, forcing constant changes of direction for which she then compensated, and looking a little to his left. She probably didn't register him as he approached; at most he was a vague blur at the corner of her eye.

As they were about to draw level, he reached into his pocket. His fingers found the needle and slid it out, in the same fluid movement easing off the safety cap.

Shannon's friends barely heard her startled yelp, half of surprise and half of pain, amid the babble of voices and the rushing, rustling sounds of many bodies in motion. Turning sharply towards her, they saw her stop and hold up her left hand, examining the wrist just above the hem of her sleeve.

She looked round in baffled indignation. But there were dozens of people in immediate sight and any one of them might have done it. Was it possible that someone had happened to be carrying something sharp and she’d accidentally brushed against it in the crowd?
Or had it been deliberate?
But why would they.....who'd want to....
Give 'em the benefit of the doubt, yeah?

The others gathered round her anxiously. "Shannon, are you OK?" asked Rhoda.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she answered. "Just felt this pain like something pricked me." The sensation had lasted only for a second, but was nonetheless unpleasant.
Rhoda examined the wrist. A little blob of blood had welled up there and Shannon wiped it away with her handkerchief, leaving a tiny red gash which they supposed didn’t look particularly alarming.

She frowned, still more puzzled than anything else. The others continued to hover uncertainly, disquieted.
"Looks like a jab from a needle," Leanne said.
Rhoda noticed the look on Shannon's face. "You sure you're OK?"
For a moment her friend didn't reply. Uneasy glances passed among the group.
Finally, with a brief impatient shrug, Shannon started to move off. "It's OK, let's go."
The benefit of the doubt, then.
Of course by then the shabbily-dressed man, who looked like a tramp but in fact was not one at all, had moved on too. He had a bit of work still to do.


In all it took about thirty minutes, spent gazing either at the television or through the big French windows into the garden and pondering the situation morosely, for the Minister to make up his mind. He lifted himself stiffly from the sofa and went into the kitchen.

"I'm just going out for a walk," he sighed. He thought he heard his wife mumble something in acknowledgement, but wasn't quite sure. She got on with her ironing.
Woodruffe turned from her, and a few moments later the front door slammed shut behind him.

At first he just wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, down one road and up the next, hands deep in his pockets. Then, steeling himself again, he set off with a grim purposefulness in his expression and movements for a row of shops a few streets away, outside which he knew there was a phone box.

Before opening the door of the booth he almost looked round to see if anyone was watching him. For God's sake don't do that, he commanded himself, shaking his head fiercely. Don't look shifty or you'll give the whole thing away.

The door closed behind him. He lifted the phone from its rest and placed it on the ledge; took out and unzipped his wallet, extracted a twenty pee coin from it and popped it in the slot. Then with trembling hands he dialled the number he had copied down the previous day from the card in the newsagent's window, hoping that while he stood there no-one would pass by and see what was on it. As he waited for the reply he was uncomfortably aware of his heart beating faster; sometimes, when they didn't want to see you for any reason, they pretended they didn't know what you were talking about or slammed the phone down hard, making you feel slighted.

It leaped into his mouth when he heard the click as she picked up the phone. A pleasant Home Counties voice said, "Hello?"
"Hi, Kelly?"
"Yes?" she answered, a false smile in her voice.

He had long ago worked out what seemed to him the right formula. "Saw your advert. Can I make an appointment for this afternoon?"

"Yes, certainly." He found himself reassured by her polite and friendly tones, as no doubt she'd intended. "What time are we talking, exactly?"
"Around three o'clock?"

"Let me just check..." He heard her fumble about for a moment. "Oh yes, that should be alright."
"Great. Where shall I find you?"
"24 Montagu Road.”
"And how much is it, please?"

"Twenty pounds minimum, fifty pounds maximum." She didn't elaborate on what "minimum" and "maximum" entailed.
They agreed on fifty. "I'll see you at three, then," he finished.
"Look forward to it. 'Bye."

It was done. The first stage in the process was concluded, and he felt relaxed and relieved. It occurred to him that he shouldn't be nervous, having done this kind of thing several times in the past. But it always left him with that cursed feeling of guilt, that awful nagging fear of discovery.

The hour-and-a-half interval allowed time for his nerves to steady, which was good. He wanted to be able to perform well, and so avoid any embarrassment.

He wandered about town psyching himself up for a while. Then he looked at his watch and saw it was twenty to three; time he was making his way in the direction of number 24 Montagu Road.

The area was genteel, but now run to seed a bit. An estate of rather tatty 1960s detached houses, built on a slight rise. He found the place, and again felt his heartbeat increase dangerously as he walked up the path to the door. He rang the bell and a moment later heard her footsteps on the stairs. A figure became dimly visible through the pane of frosted glass in the door.

She opened it to him. "Young and attractive" was perhaps stretching it a bit, but all in all she wasn't bad-looking. He put her age as somewhere in the mid-thirties. Blondeish, dumpy figure, but still nubile with fat in just the right amounts and places.
"Kelly?"

"Hi, come in," she beamed, greeting him altogether like a long-lost friend.
"Thanks," he grinned back nervously.
"Well, if you'd like to come upstairs?"

He followed her up the steep staircase to the upper floor, where she led him down a short passageway to the door of one of the rooms. "It's in here," she said, pushing it open.

It was a spare bedroom, cramped and a little moth-eaten, with the bed jutting out from one wall, a table with a reading lamp beside it, and against another a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. She left him there for a minute or two, explaining she had another customer to see to. He doubted somehow whether that was the reason. Or was business really that good? But then she surely wouldn't be away for very long. He suspected the "other customer" was a male of her acquaintance, probably some heavy engaged to be on the scene in case any of her clients got nasty. She was just checking he was ready to move if Woodruffe gave any trouble. It unsettled him slightly, but he kept his composure. For his own part he had no intention of harming her and he doubted she would be stupid enough to have anyone harm him. That kind of thing would only scare the punters off.

Of course, the man might be her pimp. This thought made the business seem all the more degrading. The impulse to leave now came upon him in a sudden rush, but he was too far into it and he didn't like to think what might happen if he backed out. Once they found there was nothing they could get out of you, they sometimes turned nasty.

And then she was back. "If I can just take some money off you..." He handed her the wad of ten pound notes. She peeled them off to make sure they made up fifty and stuffed them in the pocket of her jeans.

For a moment she contemplated the curtain which covered most of the single window, attempting to decide whether it sufficiently obscured whatever might be going on in the room from the street outside. "Oh, I should think that'll be alright."

She turned to him with another broad smile. "Right, if you'd like to get your things off I'll be with you in a minute." Her professional manner, carefully cultivated, was that with which one might handle any legitimate business matter. It was what he found turned him on most about these encounters.

Twenty minutes later he emerged from the house and set off homeward. The experience had been satisfying enough, quelling the raging fire which had been burning in his loins for weeks. He found this time that he had no sense of having done wrong; it had occurred to him while he was lying on the bed being serviced, and thinking, that his marriage to Angela had deteriorated beyond the point where it could be retrieved and if he did find himself another partner it wouldn't be for a while, because such things were rarely accomplished overnight. In the meantime, his basic desires would need to be gratified.
All the same, if anyone found out about this.....

Get a hold on yourself, he thought. There's no reason anyone would have known you were going there, and anyway you might have had a perfectly legitimate reason for doing so. It's just between you and your own conscience. The operation's been completed satisfactorily, and no-one's noticed.

But then he hadn’t seen the two men in the car parked directly opposite the road from the house, one of them observing him very closely through a telephoto lens.


FOUR
“You want to go out again?”
“I met this really nice guy at the club yesterday. He’s asked me to meet him there tonight. Anyway all my friends will be there, so why shouldn’t I go?”

“There are lots of “nice guys” about, Shannon. Are they someone you’d be happy to settle down with, a responsible father for I children?”

“For God’s sake,” Shannon said incredulously, “I’m still young – a kid. Ages to go before I need to think about things like that.”

“Yesterday you were making a big thing about how adult you were.” She fancied her Dad looked smug at having caught her out, although she could have been mistaken.

“I wanna be free, enjoy myself a little,” she declared. “Anyway, I’m often being told you shouldn’t rush into these things, or you’ll screw it up and end up getting divorced. So if you want people to get married to somebody and stay with them for the rest of their lives, you’re breaking your own rules by trying to push me into it – aren’t you?” She smiled smugly, glad to have caught him out and determined to let him know that she had.

“Shannon,” he sighed, “I’m sure you think you’re mature and sensible enough…”
“I am.”

“But you’re not. And because you think you are, you’re going to get involved in things you can’t handle. You’re going to end up pregnant or with some disease that could kill you.”

Shannon shook her head angrily, causing her mop of dark brown curls to cascade wildly about her shoulders. “You think I’m stupid enough to let that happen? Why can’t you ever credit me with any God-damn brains? I tell you I know what I’m doing.”

Her mother, who’d been hovering uncertainly in the background, decided to speak. “Shannon, darling, can’t you see that we’re only saying these things because we care? We’ve been around a lot longer than you have. We know how easy it is to get hurt and we don’t want it to happen to you.”

“Nice of you both to be concerned. But you don’t need to be so worried about me, honestly. Anyhow I’ve got to be let out to fend for myself someday.”

“And another thing,” her father said, brushing her protestations aside. “You’re falling back with your studies. You know your teachers are concerned. You’ve got a big exam at the end of the week and it doesn’t seem to me you’ve done enough studying to be sure of a good grade.”
Inwardly Shannon winced, because she knew he was probably right.

“And if you are going out, you’d better make sure you’re decently dressed.” He had never liked the colourful top she usually wore, thinking it would attract the wrong kind of person, not least because it showed a little too much of her fully burgeoned breasts.

He gave a world-weary sigh. “There are too many kids nowadays who act like adults when they’re not, and I’ve seen the damage it can do. We don’t want you to go the same way, because we love you.”

“It isn’t as if you can stop me going out whenever I want to,” she informed them, defiantly. She had no fear or that. It was being moaned at all the time, whenever she was at home, that pissed her off. Scarcely a day of her life went by without some tedious lecture on the lines of that she was currently being subjected to. What upset them the most, she knew, was what she got up to, or what they thought she got up to, while hitting the town. She had had her first sexual experience a few months before. She hadn't really enjoyed it, but felt it was the kind of thing she might nonetheless like to do again. And it was better the second time, she found, although not as good as being with someone you really loved.

Did she love anyone? There was Tom....she wasn't quite sure about him, though. He seemed nice enough, but hadn't he ditched Ellie O’Brien for another girl, just a couple of days after they'd first gone out together? The guy at the club the night before, Pete; would he turn out to be the same? How could you tell?

She just knew that it would be worse if she wasn't allowed to experiment; explore to the full the joys and wonders of growing up, whatever the attendant dangers. She didn’t sleep around that much, in any case, and always took the right precautions. According to her view that made it OK. “Most parents don’t treat their kids the way you do, not these days. I mean, get real guys. This is the twenty-first century. There aren’t many girls under eighteen who haven’t…you know…..but it seems to me it’s proving a bit hard for the message to sink in.”

“You’re a little too much under eighteen. And if that’s what the world’s like nowadays then it’s a sign of falling standards. We mean to set an example.”
“Using me as a guinea pig, yeah?”

Her father rose to his feet. “Go out tonight if you like. We’re going out ourselves in any case.” They’d some kind of office party lined up. “But every evening for the rest of the week – at least – you’re coming straight home from school and you’re not leaving your room until you go to bed, except to eat.” He jabbed a finger at her. “Got that? And if I do have to lock the damn door to keep you there, I will.” She knew he was quite capable of carrying out such a threat.

"You can't do that,” she shouted at them. “It’s against my rights. ‘Cause I am an adult now, OK? Hello?”

“Go upstairs,” her father snapped. “And preferably stay there.”

Scowling, Shannon turned on her heels and walked very fast out of the lounge. She stomped up the stairs to her own room where she sat down heavily on the bed, breathing hard.

Her gaze travelled vacantly around the walls of the room, the posters of film stars and pop idols which covered them. The posters, the stuffed mouse toy sitting on its shelf above her desk, the pen holder in the shape of a green plastic frog all burnt themselves into her brain until she was sick of the sight of them. She lowered her head to get a different view, and the discarded clothes, paperback novels and other things littering the floor soon did the same. She rested her elbows on her knees and cradled her chin in her hands.

A while later, she heard the front door open and then shut, leaving her alone in the house, her elder brother being away at summer camp.

They were good people really. But sometimes she wanted something else, something different.

Once more she sighed in vexation. Idly, she examined the tiny puncture mark on her wrist. Right now it looked totally inoffensive, nothing that could cause any kind of harm. And yet....

She still wasn't quite sure why she hadn't gone to the police, or to the doctor for a check-up, following the incident. Why she'd ignored her friends' constant urgings, stemming from obvious concern, that she do so. She'd heard of sickos, serial killers who went round stabbing people with hypos, injecting them with some poison or other; maybe the needle had been used, dirty, and someone had just given her AIDS. She really couldn't explain why she wasn't as worried about it as she ought to be; she only knew that somehow, it would be very bad thing if she did report the matter. Just don't worry, Shannon, a voice inside her head seemed to be saying. Just chill out. Everything's gonna be all right....all right.....

Probably, it was just someone being nasty but not meaning to seriously harm her. There were people like that. She dismissed the whole subject from her mind, thoughts turning instead to the difficulties she was having with her parents. With everything, so it seemed at times.

School seemed dull, exams seemed dull. Parents seemed dull. Suddenly she wanted to be away from it all. Away from school and exams and parents and all those people who told her to concentrate on her classes and not worry about boyfriends and relationships and that. She was sick and fed up with....
With everything.
God, I feel....weird.....

She buried her head even deeper in her hands and tried to make sense of the strange sensations she was getting. Everything seemed dry, dead, devoid of moisture. Like when you were thirsty, only it was her whole body that was crying out for the life-giving liquid. Every cell of it ached dully, the way she had sometimes yearned for a lover when alone in bed at nights. And there was a rushing noise inside her head, coming upon her like a sudden gust of wind....no, not a wind, it was more like...whatever it was like, it made it hard to think straight.
Jesus, what's going on?

She wanted to feel cool water on her skin. To relish the sensual pleasure of its kiss, drowning in it forever.

A heat like that of the desert was burning her lungs, scorching the breath from them. The very air around her was the blast from an enormous furnace, suffocating.
She became aware that her heart was beating faster. And faster.

She could still breathe, but only with an effort that had begun increasingly to hurt.
What's happening to me?

All her problems seemed to come to a head in a giddy thrust of anger and frustration. I don't belong here any more. Not in this world.

Again there came the rushing noise in her head. Like waves. That was it - waves.

Her head was pounding, the sound filling she was sure every minute particle of her brain, every tiny corridor of mind and soul.
Pounding, like waves breaking on a shore.

Someone had once said, the ocean is a mighty mother on whose breast one can forget anything.
Mother, she whispered.
Anything...including all one's troubles.

The ocean was big. She wanted to lose herself in it, swimming freely in its awesome vastness, just like a fish. She recalled how sometimes she would go to the beach to get away from her parents, and sit watching the waves, fixating on the comforting monotony of their motion. Trying to decide if there was a pattern in their rise and fall; trying to make sense of things.
And now, it seemed, she had succeeded.

The sea was a warm, wet, comforting cocoon. A womb. And fascinating, she thought. Its dark mysterious depths could contain just about anything, and that was what enthralled her.
It isn’t as if you can stop me going out whenever I want to.

Don't tell anyone what you're doing, where you're going. They'll try to stop you. Try to spoil it all.

Shannon jumped up off the bed and hurried from the room. She hurried downstairs and let herself out. The craving that impelled her on turned her into a robot, her movements unthinking and automatic. But it was only her body which was affected in this way. Her mind remained very much alert.

Try and look normal. You mustn't give anyone the slightest reason to suspect anything. You're just out for a little stroll, that's all. At a brisk, yet relaxed pace she walked down the hill to the bus stop, where she waited patiently for the 119. While she was standing there one of her friends walked past. She smiled, nodded and said "hi", but turned away when the girl tried to engage her in conversation.

At length the bus came, and she climbed on board and paid her fare to the beach. It was now early evening, and she guessed most people would be at home having their supper in front of the TV.

When she got to the beach it was still light, but the lonely stretch of sand was deserted apart from a couple out for a walk with their dog. She found a bench and sat down to wait until they'd gone.

She was lightly dressed and the evening chill had crept in while she was on the bus but the temperature was bearable, the sun still beating down from the blue summer sky though with less ferocity than earlier.

By the time the couple with the dog had passed out of sight it was a little colder and darker. There was no-one else about that she could see, and no sound of vehicles from the road behind her.

Slowly she rose to her feet and, her gazed fixed unblinkingly on the sea before her, began to walk through the gathering dusk towards it. She went on walking till the waters closed over her head.

She had the money to spend on it, and the youth. After work Caroline Kent flitted about among the nightlife of London like some graceful, spritelike night bird. Sometimes at a club or a disco she would take to the floor and dance until the early hours of the morning, with an almost indefatigable energy that left her friends astonished.

Tonight, she had arranged to meet a couple of them in a pub by the Thames not far from the House of Commons. Both the friends lived and worked in the city, though one was only there when the administrative side of his job demanded it.

The threesome sat drinking together in a secluded corner of the oak-panelled, rather gloomy bar, trying not to attract undue attention to themselves or at the same time make it too obvious that that was their intention. Because one of Caroline's acquaintances, a tall woman some years older than herself whose dark hair was tinged with natural red highlights, was a Case Officer with MI6, Her Majesty's external security service and the other, a ruggedly handsome man in his early thirties with close-cropped blondish hair, a snub nose and - perhaps unfortunately - the square jaw of the archetypal action hero, a Major in the Special Boat Service (SBS).
"How's the job?" Rachel Savident was asking Caroline.

"Not as exciting as yours," said Caroline. "Most of the time anyway." She put an emphasis on this last bit.

Briefly Rachel glanced at the SBS man, who looked impassive. “I can clear off and leave you both to it, if you'd rather," he said solemnly.

The two women laughed. There was little point in excluding the Major – as he was almost universally known - from the discussion. Effectively, all three of them were on the same side. And each of them, in his or her own way, understood the need for secrecy and was scrupulous in preserving it.

All the same, Mike Hartman moved off to chat up the busty beauty behind the bar. If there was no immediate need for him to know then he'd rather he didn't. The Major didn't like carrying too many secrets around inside his head; the more were there, the greater the probability one would accidentally slip out.

"You weren't by any chance talking about those tankers, were you?" Rachel asked as he passed out of earshot.
Caroline smiled mischievously. "I might have been."
"Have you found out anything?"

"Not yet, no. There might not be any need, with the Navy now in on the business. But just in case that doesn't work, I wondered if your people might be able to lend a hand somehow."

"We're already on the case, as it happens." As soon as it became clear this was not just a nasty little quarrel between the oil companies, but something which could eventually bring down Western civilisation if it went on long enough, MI6 had started taking the matter seriously. "Right now the assumption is that it's al-Qaeda, although our surveillance of them hasn't unearthed any clues so far. Nor has the Americans'. We don't know how they're doing it or even, if you want my honest opinion, if it's them at all."
"What about the Children of Gaia?"
"We're looking into them too. Again, no luck as yet."

"If we - " - she meant IPL - "should have any, I'll let you know straight away." Rachel nodded.

The conversation turned to those things which women normally talked about once business matters had been dealt with. After a while Hartman returned from the bar and Caroline transferred her attention to him. While they chatted Rachel went on sipping at her Beaujolais, losing herself in her thoughts.

Caroline was a complicated person, she thought. Sometimes she acted the scatty blonde, sometimes the competent and assured professional. The ability to switch between the two personas with ease never ceased to astonish Rachel. It was hard to tell, much of the time, which was the real Caroline; maybe both were. If the scattiness was an affectation, it appeared to stem primarily from a sense of fun - except, of course, when it could be turned to her advantage.

Whatever the truth of the matter, she always seemed an unlikely secret agent. The fact was, though, she had joined MI6 only because the skills she could gain while working for them were needed for a specific purpose of hers, something very important and very personal. Once she had achieved that purpose, Caroline promptly resigned. Afterwards, it had not proved possible to stop her from getting involved.

Thirdly, whether from luck or design, her activities had a habit of turning out for the best. Even that business with the Yakuza in Japan had worked out alright, if in a roundabout sort of way. It was all extremely fortunate for Caroline because had she proved more of a liability than an asset in the long run she might well have ended up dead in the mangled wreckage of her car, stabbed to death at her home in what could easily be made to look like aggravated burglary, or lying with her wrists slashed in some remote country location, suicide of course. Whether Princess Di, Hilda Murrell or Dr David Kelly had really been murdered by the security services remained a mystery; that someone might be if they transgressed certain rules, written or unwritten, wasn’t.

All the same MI6 never used her unless it was absolutely necessary. Usually it was her operations for IPL that unearthed some threat to the national – sometimes international –interest and demanded their involvement. She came to them, not the other way round. For every incident, every major international conspiracy Caroline was involved in, Rachel asked her to send in a full report, and subjected her to intensive grilling.
She listened to the conversation between Caroline and the Major.
"For my money, it’s got to be a rogue state, maybe working with the ecoterrorists," Hartman was saying. "I just don't think anyone else would have the resources. They’re pitching things a bit high, though.”

On the subject of the tankers they'd now reached something of a dead end. "It's a long time since we've had a proper chat," Caroline said. "Are you...OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he assured her. "As long as I've got my job."

"They're not going to pension you off yet, though are they? You're still young enough to..." She looked round to make sure no-one could hear her. "Abseil down walls, run around shooting at people et al."
“If you put it like that,” he said.

Not that she liked the idea of him shooting people but there wasn't any point engaging in deep philosophical discussion, or anguished soul-searching, about the ethics of it. Until he got over the loss of Gillian - and she wasn't sure he had yet - his job was the only way of keeping him from sinking into a bottomless morass of depression.

He answered her question. "No, I don't think so. The Army's too short of people these days, and badly overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan."

“If anything, you seem to have reinvented yourself,” she said.
“I like to think so. Though I’m not sure if the SBS count as part of the Army or the Navy.”
“What made you want to transfer?”
"I think a change of scenery every now and then does a soldier good. I want some time with the boat boys before I pack it all in.”
“So how are you finding it?”
“Great fun. You know, most of the lads transferred with me.” It showed how highly Hartman was regarded by those under him. “That’s certainly helped. And the things I get to do…well, it’s different.”

“I should think it would be fantastic, myself. Something in me's always wanted to play about with boats.” She took another sip of Asti, swallowed, relishing the taste of the fizzy liquid as it went down her throat. “Are you going to, then - leave the Forces?”

“Not yet. The day’ll come, of course.” He looked pensive for a moment.

"Have they accepted you then? You didn’t have any problems?" Though it wasn’t really the reason why she’d asked the question, she knew that to some people Mike Hartman might come over as too gung-ho, too much like the traditional old-fashioned, public school-bred, hale-fellow-well-met British army officer; who perhaps had never actually existed, although if that was the case it seemed rather a pity. They’d never really wanted people like that in the SAS. He’d survived there because his superiors knew, as she knew, it was just an act. The real Hartman wasn't like that, at least not entirely.
They had a lot in common, if you thought about it.

The Major shrugged. "I’ve already done did a lot of training in boats with the Regiment.” “The Regiment” was how members of the SAS commonly referred to it, partly as a way of keeping quiet about what they did for a living. “I guess that helped.”

"No, I mean, they still don't know about...about Gillian." The Major nodded in affirmation.

The business of Hartman’s American fiancée, who had caught the wrong plane on the wrong day and ended up being flown into the World Trade Centre, had been kept painstakingly secret from the Army top brass, because if the effect it was still having on him were to be known to them he might be gently retired from the kind of work he loved doing, on the basis of being too emotionally involved.

She wondered if he had had any luck with the barmaid. One-night stands were, she supposed, a very different matter from emotional commitments of the sort Hartman was reluctant to enter into for the time being. It started her thinking about that whole subject, and led her to broach it with him, as a talking point more than anything else. "Still on your own?" she enquired.

The Major lowered his head. "Not yet," he whispered. "You know why. Please don't talk about it. Please.”

Caroline sat back, murmuring an embarrassed apology. Shit, she thought. I really should have known better.

The question had set Hartman thinking, but his thoughts on the matter were much the same as they had always been. The chilling way in which Gillian had died on 9/11 made it even more of a sacrilege to put her behind him the way finding another woman would imply. He wasn't sure he could ever get over the whole traumatic affair, not in this life anyway.
There was a second reason why he didn't want to talk about it. There was really only one other person who he had seriously considered as a replacement for Gillian, and she was sitting right next to him.


Meanwhile in Pakistan, General Parviz Sharifah was paying a visit to a madrassa in a small town some forty miles from Islamabad. Outwardly respectable, it was the home of the radical Tanzeemul Ikhwan movement, made up almost entirely of retired army personnel, and claiming to have the support of various serving officers as well. The supreme leader of Tanzeemul Ikhwan, Mohammed Akram Awan, wanted nothing less than world Islamic revolution, but it had to begin here in Pakistan because only there were the conditions right. "We can extend Jihad beyond our boundaries," he had once said, "only after we have achieved our objective at home." In December 2000 he had openly threatened to storm Islamabad so as to bring about an Islamic revolution.

So far President Musharraf had utterly failed to reform the madrassas. His plan to get them to include English and science in their syllabus foundered because the regime was unable to recruit enough teachers, a symptom of the country’s growing educational crisis. The education they offered was heavily biased towards religion and dependent on mediaeval and classical writings for its source material.

All this reflected a general increase in religious conservatism within the country. Growing numbers now attended mosque regularly, were sporting beards or, if women, taking care to cover their heads both in private and in public. In 2000 Musharraf had had to back down from an attempt to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws, whereby anyone could be imprisoned for anti-Islamic behaviour simply on the basis of an accusation from a member of the public, after pressure from the religious parties, whose influence in the country exceeded the number of votes cast for them at elections.

There were now between seven and eight thousand madrassas in Pakistan, constituting a parallel education system and increasingly radical in their philosophy, compensating for the banning of the militant organisations set up by both Sunni and Shia Muslims and the arrest of many of their members by Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI. They were becoming filled by the kind of people who after September 11th took to the streets in Quetta, Peshawar, Karachi and Islamabad in their thousands, swearing loyalty to their Taliban brothers in Afghanistan and calling for the downfall of the West. Not protesting at the horror and callous cruelty of the atrocity, but rather calling for more like it, as the opening of a war against the culture which it despised. One of them had been a 25-year old from Peshawar, Mohammed Ali.

Ali had started his religious education when he was six years old. His parents, landless farmers who could not afford to send him to a mainstream school, had handed him over to the madrassa. Since Ali would get free meals and lodging, it was one less mouth for the family to feed.

By the time Ali was 25 he knew the Koran off by heart and for as long as he could remember his life had consisted of prayer and nothing else. His only possessions were the clothes he stood in: a pair of sandals, cotton shirt with matching trousers and his little white hat. Religion provided the only opportunity he could see for social and professional advancement; he hoped by the age of thirty he would become a mullah, and thus a respected figure in his local community. He had left his home city just once in his life, to go on a month-long Islamic study tour in Saudi Arabia. He absorbed all the vicious prejudices his teachers had sought to ingrain in him from an early age. Pakistan's rulers were and always had been power hungry, hedonistic, corrupt traitors to their faith who stood in the way of a pure Islamic state and must therefore be destroyed. Ali disdained those who frittered away their days on worldly pleasures. He thoroughly endorsed the ban which had been placed on the madrassah’s members watching television, playing cricket, drinking alcohol, listening to music, dancing, or wearing ties (the latter because a tie was thought to resemble the Christian cross, and therefore be un-Islamic). Come the revolution he would take the greatest pleasure in extending these regulations to the whole country.

The madrassa was more or less the only life Ali had ever known, which was why he accepted and championed its values. They gave him a sense of purpose and of something to aim for. Not just respect within the Islamic community, but maybe at some later date the excitement of actually taking part in the armed struggle against the Prophet’s enemies. And if that struggle should involve his martyrdom, even better. He would be able to enjoy eternal bliss in Paradise, tended by beautiful virgins and drinking from the cool water of sparkling fountains, while any unbelievers he had killed would burn in hell for evermore.

Along with Mohammed Awan, the other senior clerics, and about thirty or forty of the madrassah’s student population, all gathered in the main meeting room of the building, Ali listened enthralled as General Sharifah explained his plans for the coup. But he was not without misgivings. "Do we have the active support within the country?" he asked afterwards, when the meeting was opened to the floor.

Sharifah had of course met with such objections before, but declared that he understood why the population of the madrassah felt the need to raise them. Though many people gave moral support to the radical religious parties, they couldn’t motivate themselves to actually join or vote for them.
"Which is why only guns can serve our purpose," Mohammed Awan said.

“Indeed,” General Sharifah nodded. “Guns and faith, of course.” He looked directly at Ali and smiled. “I can understand why you are concerned our enterprise will fail, my son. But I believe we have no choice but to persevere with it, praying to Allah that he will be on our side when the day of reckoning comes. It is the necessary next phase in our war against the enemies of Islam.” His eyes, burning with his passion, travelled slowly across the group of people before him, their gaze drilling into the soul of each one. “You will find this a strange remark to make, I know. But I would argue that until now, all we have done is to inflict pinpricks. In relative terms, they are massive and devastating ones. But pinpricks nonetheless.”

A murmur of protest rippled through his audience. “Pinpricks?” Ali gasped, incredulous. “You would call the attacks of 2001 pinpricks?”

“Relatively. They turned the infidel into a mad dog, who at first succeeded in disguising his madness because from the invasion of Afghanistan could be viewed as justified retaliation for September 11th. But the madness went much deeper than was at first supposed; after Afghanistan there was Iraq, just as in years to come there will be Iran and Syria. What they call “nine-eleven” was significant because it led to the opening of the holy war which will be required to purge the enemy from the planet, or at least give us the power to properly defend ourselves against him. But it did not necessarily give us victory in that war. The security measures which have now been put into place will make it all but impossible to repeat.” For one thing, attempt an airliner hijack and the passengers would resist, fearing they were going to be crashed into a skyscraper and coming to the conclusion that they had nothing to lose. You could seek to get round the problem by shooting them, but as soon as you started the result would be panic and a very messy situation. You could tie them up, assuming they would let you do it, but you’d need so much rope that it would arouse the suspicion of Customs – as would any substance with which they might be gassed, Sharifah’s preferred method – even supposing that you had room for it all. “We kill the infidels on planes and in skyscrapers, in bars and hotels, on buses and at railway stations. But outside Iraq and Afghanistan it is always their civilians who die, because we do not have the weapons with which to take on their armies and win. And it is the armies that should be the target, because without them the enemy is powerless. Besides, all these attacks simply stiffen the infidels’ resistance, their determination not to give in to what they see as a threat to their freedom and way of life. After our attacks on London comparisons were drawn with the Blitz during the Second World War and the IRA’s bombing campaign; now the British were showing once again that they would not submit to “evil” and “violence”.”

“But the attacks probably increased opposition to the policies of the British government, to their support of the American Satan in its occupation of Iraq,” Ali said. “Which was seen as having been the immediate cause of the bombings. So they did work.”

“But did the government listen?” snorted Mohammed Awan. “They are too afraid of Israel and America to change their ways. Instead, when the official report into the causes of the bombings was being compiled they sought to silence those who sought to establish a link with the Iraq war.”

Sharifah nodded vigorously. “Exactly, my brother. This is the problem. We cannot change things by the means we have been using up until now, ever. Of course if we are patient, time will bring us what we want. The law of probabilities means that eventually we will obtain the equipment and knowledge necessary to build a weapon of mass destruction.” Again the passion burned in those piercing eyes, but combined with it was an emotional appeal. “But how long must we endure the wait, sacrificing lives which need not be lost if there is a better way of achieving our objectives?”

Suddenly Ali saw what he meant. “You mean to use our own country’s nuclear weapons? Take over the missile sites?”
“If we can.”
“And what do we do with them once we have them?”

“It does not matter if we don’t actually say to the West, “do this or we will destroy you.” Or if we don’t even know how we should make best use of them. Merely because they know we have the weapons, the infidels will revise their policy towards us. They will think twice before carrying out a military attack upon a Muslim country, and be less inclined to automatically grant Israel whatever favours she demands. Whatever demands we do make should be kept “moderate” and “reasonable”, for example the creation of an independent Palestine rather than Israel’s destruction. Whether in the long run we can go any further than that remains to be seen. We must have the patience to take one step at a time.”

“The Crusaders and the Zionists will never let us do it,” a student insisted.

"I am not so foolish I cannot see that,” Sharifah smiled. “But just to come close to it will give the infidels a serious fright. It will perhaps persuade them to treat us with a little more respect. And others will imitate what we have tried to do. If they even half succeed in their aims, it will have the same effect. That is the opinion of The Base, with whose leadership I have recently spoken.” “The Base” meant al-Qaeda, with whose aims Sharifah of course sympathized, and vice versa, although he did not belong to the organization in so far as it had anything like a formal membership anyway. He had recently made an unscheduled, yet in view of his responsibilities entirely legitimate, visit to Kashmir.

He paused reflectively. “We may not even need ordinary guns; not so many of them, at any rate. When you are out in the streets protesting, the soldiers are unlikely to fire on you. Some of them may even join you." In the past Pakistani army officers had always said that if called to fire upon civilians during a mass protest, they would not do so. The situation might lead, at best, to a split in the army, and at worst to its standing aside from the conflict. An encouraging sign was the failure to arrest or even caution the armed bodyguards who attended every rally held by religious radicals. “Of course the risk of death is one we must be prepared to take for Allah’s sake.” Rows of heads bobbed up and down in agreement.

Sharifah told them that it would take time for the amount of weaponry they needed to be amassed; during that period he could not divulge details of how it was being acquired, except for the small group of people whom it was absolutely necessary to tell. The possibility of someone blurting out what they knew to an informer could not be discounted.

With that, the meeting was concluded. After a round of prayer lasting over an hour it broke up and people drifted slowly back to their work, their studies. Ali went and sought out General Sharifah just as the latter was leaving the building. “General, if I may speak with you,” he asked politely, his voice stopping the military man as he was about to pass through the door.

Sharifah turned. “Yes? Mohammed, isn’t it? What may I do for you?”

“General, I have been thinking,” Ali said. “We are all aware of the importance of our struggle. But there are other issues which matter as much. All kinds of conflicts around the world over food, wealth, scarce resources, political freedom. They happen even within Islamic societies. If we were to rule even half of the globe, it would be our responsibility to deal with them. And if we do not, they may between them all destroy humanity.”

“Of course,” nodded Sharifah. “Of course. I believe Allah will show the way.”

“May his name be praised. General, I was thinking most of all of the environment, and the need to generate energy in ways which do not pollute the world Allah has created. Even in the West, some are saying it is a thing even more important than the “War on Terror”. Global warming could kill us all, or drive us back to the Stone Age, the jihad apart. What is to be our policy on this matter?”

“The pollution is the consequence of Western greed,” Sharifah answered. “A world Islamic state would be organized very differently. All the same….” He pondered for a moment. “All the same, I think you are right. It is a matter which does require some thought.”


The strictest possible security had been maintained at Fawley up to the very last minute before the Knight Of The Seas’ departure. Now, finally, the giant tanker cast free from its moorings and slowly at first, then with gradually, imperceptibly increasing speed, slid from its berth into Southampton Water.

Patrol boats, equipped with radar and echosounders, escorted it to where the channel opened into the Solent, and where the two two Royal Navy warships, HMS Relentless and HMS Valiant, which had left Portsmouth a couple of hours earlier, waited to rendezvous with it, anchored a mile or so off the coast. As the tanker entered the range of his binoculars the rating on watch on the Valiant, whose captain was to have overall command of the operation, radioed the bridge.

From the Knight a siren boomed out in greeting, the two warships sounding theirs in acknowledgement. The Valiant’s Commander hailed the tanker: “Ahoy there, Knight, this is Valiant. Good morning to you. We’ll be starting off in just a couple of minutes.”

"Roger, Knight, we are receiving you,” replied the tanker’s captain. “Good morning to you too. Glad to have you with us, and I mean it. All the same, let’s hope it’s an uneventful journey.”

“Well, with any luck we’ve managed to scare them off, Knight. Out.”

The warships raised their anchors and started up their engines, and as the Knight began to pass between them all three ships turned slowly to the left, moving westward through the English Channel towards the Atlantic.

Both Relentless and Valiant had radar, sonar and echosounding equipment, plus an assortment of other visual and electronic aids. The radar might not be much use if the saboteurs had developed a stealth boat, as had been suggested, or were using some other craft made from a non-reflective material. But any surface vessel would certainly be spotted by some means or other. And if it tried anything, the warships' guns would blow it out of the water.

In case the threat should come from beneath the surface, both ships were carrying depth charges and anti-submarine missiles. Though detection by sonar was always a hit-and-miss affair, any hostile underwater craft should be picked up by one or the other warship or by the submarine HMS Neptune, which a couple of hundred feet below was conducting her own sweep of the sea bed in case something unpleasant was lurking there waiting to strike at either the Knight itself or one of its escorts. If it was, either the depth charges or one of Neptune's torpedoes would finish it off.

Half an hour after the Knight had entered the Solent, the trio passed the western extremity of the Isle of Wight. A further two hours later they were mid-way between the coast of Cornwall and the tip of the peninsula of Brittany; not far, the Knight's captain thought solemnly, from where the Atlantic Herald and the Alicia had so disastrously collided. Hopefully, he thought, there would be no disaster on this mission; man-made or otherwise. It all depended on how far these mysterious terrorists, or whoever they were, had anticipated the Navy would take a hand and whether it made any difference to them.


The Miami office of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, like many FBI stations around the country, was a nondescript building you wouldn’t normally have looked twice at. Located a hundred yards down a side street in the city centre, it was a functional sixties office block of glass, metal and grey concrete which ostensibly was a branch of the local department of social security.

The office was normally fairly busy. It would have been even busier had its responsibilities extended to dealing with Miami’s not inconsiderable crime rate, but that was handled by the Police Department. The Bureau’s remit was strictly confined to such matters as espionage, sabotage, terrorism, kidnapping, bank robbery, civil rights violations, fraud against the government, and conducting security clearances. It specialized in crimes which constituted a threat to the state, or were of an unusual nature.

A matter had just come up which seemed to fall into the latter category. It could be a case of kidnapping or murder, but if so nobody was quite sure which. Two Special Agents, Moses Jameson and Paul Hurtwood of the Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Department, had been summoned to Assistant Director Calvert’s office.

Moses Jameson was thirty-two, married, and one of the five per cent of Special Agents who by law had to be black. From time to time it pricked Jameson's conscience that a white guy who might have really wanted the job, and have been every bit as good as he was, maybe better although he liked to think FBI agents were all equals in terms of calibre, had been turned down in favour of him. He eased that conscience by telling himself he needed to have a job, and couldn't be absolutely sure he'd got it because of positive discrimination. He had always said he'd much rather get on through hard work, however arduous, than through political correctness, which was why the latter annoyed him, even though he suspected it would have taken him a lot longer to have got where he was now without it.

There were still cases of old-style discrimination, along with all the things that had gone on in the past, but Jameson felt no bitterness. He felt no bitterness. After all, things were nowhere near as bad as had once been the case. Besides, reason told him white people couldn’t be demons with forked tails, whatever they might have done. And you couldn’t live for hate, for resentment. It just wasn’t possible. So he concentrated not on trying to prove he was better than his white colleagues but on building bridges between the two communities, allowing himself to be used in any operation involving close contact with Miami’s black population – it made sense – and working to win its trust. He had served in the local police before joining the Feds, and knew many of its officers, which was an additional help.

As an individual, he certainly deserved to go far, and knew it even if he was too modest to say so. He had the degrees in law, accounting and auditing which all Special Agents needed. He had passed the rigorous training courses at the Academy in Quantico, with its long hours, tough physical regime including several hours a week spent jogging, working out in the gym, taking lessons in unarmed combat or charging over rope bridges, and insistence on giving participants complex legal problems, which required considerable mental dexterity, to solve at the end of a hard day engaged in all the above activities. It was a bit like being in the British SAS, for example, and Major Mike Hartman would certainly have empathized and felt a sense of comradeship with him should the two ever chance to meet and compare their experiences.

So Jameson had passed, to become one of the four hundred – out of ten thousand original applicants - to receive their gold badge and go up on stage to meet the Director and receive their diplomas in front of their proud families. He hadn’t looked back since. He felt a sense of pride at belonging to the finest law enforcement body in the world – that was how it liked to regard itself. You could go further and say that the Special Agents were an elite within an elite, the people who did all the real work within the Bureau, except he knew this would be a slur on the thousands of analysts, scientific advisers and clerical staff who backed them up.

There was a downside to it, of course. He suspected uneasily that as he rose up the promotional ladder he’d become increasingly a faceless, office-bound bureaucrat, losing touch with the real world that working on a case brought you all the time into contact with. But that was in the future. At this present stage of his career, the real hassle was the monotony of much of an agent’s life, the long hours spent on stakeouts with little result and extensive questioning of reluctant or unsatisfactory witnesses. Occasionally the boredom was relieved when he took part in a hostage rescue operation or got caught up in a gun battle with a felon; the danger was exhilarating, though he never allowed the excitement to affect his judgement, when you faced it in a good cause. At the other end of the scale there were periods when nothing much happened, and paperwork took up the vast majority of an agent’s time. It had been a bit like that lately; but now, it seemed, this particular tedium was about to be broken.

“Got an interesting case for you two,” Calvert began. “Could be important.” They waited expectantly for him to continue, eyes lighting up keenly.

“Over the last few weeks a number of people, all residents of Miami or outlying districts, have been reported missing. Of course we know it’s not uncommon for people to disappear each year, especially in a big city like this. Now at first, the police thought they could handle it and didn’t think it was worth calling us in, especially as a lot of these people turn up again after a while safe and sound. But after a while things got to the stage where they became suspicious.

“There seems to have been a slight rise in the figures, enough to make them slightly higher than average. But so many people have disappeared they decided it ought to be referred to us. What’s interesting is that they’re all from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds, and both sexes, yet none of them is above fifty years old; the youngest was a fourteen-year old girl. We’re more or less talking young adults, or people in early middle age. I’m saying there is a kind of pattern to this, one which makes this business highly intriguing. It suggests the same person or group of persons is responsible, one with their own particular MO.” Jameson nodded his agreement.

All social backgrounds; if the victims had all been black, or from the lower end of the social spectrum, it’d have been less likely anyone would get interested, Jameson thought. He kept it to himself.
“Do the victims have anything else in common?” he asked.

Calvert shook his head. “Nothing. That’s just it. There’s nothing that can give us any clue to why these people should all disappear, or be abducted. If the victims were all female, and they were kidnapped, I would say the motive was sexual. Some sort of white slave trade, maybe. But looking at the photographs, many of them aren’t especially what you’d call beautiful or handsome. They’re just ordinary people. And if they’ve disappeared voluntarily, why should they do that? There are reasons, but what I don’t understand is why there should suddenly be an increase in it.” It was pretty scary in a way.

He opened the folder sitting on his desk and pushed it forward. The two agents pored over it. Photographs of the missing people, each inside a plastic sleeve which also contained typed notes giving as much detail as was available on the subject’s history and personal details. Some of the files had red tabs attached to them. Like Calvert had said, a mixture. One girl was astoundingly beautiful, one guy – obviously a tough case - had a face which might have given little kids nightmares. But mostly, ordinary people.

“The circumstances vary. Couple worried because their daughter failed to return from a trip to the beach; mother on the phone to the cops, hysterical because her son didn’t come home from school and he wasn’t at any of his friends’ houses; businessman finished work for the day then got himself lost somewhere between his office and home and still hasn’t turned up. A lot of the cases are probably the same as you’d get anyway, but others….there’s a definite pattern starting to emerge, and it’s got to be significant. I’ve mentioned the broad age range but there’s one other thing, too. Going by the times and places they were last seen, the subjects disappeared when there either weren’t a lot of people around, or too many for anyone to notice what was going on. Night-time, or very late in the afternoon, seems to be a popular choice.”

“Which could mean either that they wanted to vanish or that they didn’t,” Hurtwood said. “Either way somebody wouldn’t have wanted it to be obvious. It’s not very helpful.”

“Whatever the reason, nobody’s noticed anything suspicious. Someone says they saw a woman walking into the sea near Henson Point one evening a week or so ago. They were too far away to get there in time to stop her. Her description matched one of the missing people, although the witness couldn’t be sure. The area's been searched, they sent a couple of divers down, but found nothing. Of course if she’d drowned herself the body could have been swept out to sea. That means it'll probably turn up someplace eventually.”

“Sure sounds like suicide to me,” said Jameson. “Could that be it? Some kind of mass - ”

“Maybe.” Calvert tapped the file, which Hurtwood had by now replaced on his desk. “Quantico have sorted out the ones which fit the pattern I’ve described; that’s what the red tabs are for. It’s those cases I want you to concentrate on, the others can be left to the Police Department. They go back about a year.

“I want you to interview the families, find out if there’s anything which might give us a clue to why those people should vanish so completely. Any new boyfriends or girlfriends suddenly acquired, anyone whose behaviour towards them gave cause for concern, any personal problems or mental health issues that might be significant. I should add that in none of the cases have there been any positive sightings, and nobody’s withdrawn any money from their bank account or used a credit card.”

Jameson’s lips were pursed in thought. “I’m figuring if they were forcibly abducted, there’d be some trace of it. People would have heard screams, sounds of struggle. Something would have been disturbed.”
“So you’re going for the voluntary disappearance theory?”

“I would, if some guy was pointing a gun at my head and saying he’d kill me if I had to give my honest opinion on this business. But there’s something about it which don’t make sense somehow, you kind of feel it in your soul. I’m wondering if this ain’t one for the X-Files.”
It may be, Cal
vert was thinking. “Well, I don’t know about that,” he said. “For the moment, let’s just see what we can find out, shall we?”


On the observation deck of HMS Valiant, high up on the vessel’s towering superstructure beneath the whirling radar scanner, Midshipman Stuart Rogers was scanning the grey sea in front of him through a pair of binoculars and finding nothing there which seemed to merit his concern. Not that he’d much chance of spotting it with such basic, compared to the sophisticated electronic aids every warship now boasted, equipment. He was merely keeping up an ancient tradition, as well as providing what’d hopefully be a safeguard in the event of the more advanced methods failing. Some hope of that, he thought. In any event, the threat was more likely to come from below than from a surface vessel. Down there, some
stealthy hunter killer was prowling; unless of course they knew the Navy were on the case and thought it prudent to stay away. Booted feet rang out on the deck, and Rogers turned to see the Officer of the Watch, Sub-Lieutenant McKinlay, who technically had "Charge" of the ship, and was responsible for its safe passage, during each of his stints of duty. Rogers lowered the binoculars, which were on a strap around his neck, letting them fall against his chest, and saluted.
McKinlay returned the gesture. “All well, Rogers?”

“All well, Sir.” He shivered slightly, despite his thick overcoat and pullover, and not just from the evening chill. It was growing dark as well, and a feeling deep in his bones told him their enemy was more likely to strike under the cover of night than at any other time.
“What’s up?” asked his superior.

“I guess I’m a bit nervous, Sir. I mean, you just don’t know what’s going to happen, do you?”

“We can’t be any more protected than we are,” McKinlay reminded him. “Anyway, if it comes to the worst at least we’ll know what hit us. Our sonar’s a bit more advanced than a tanker’s.” With a final nod he turned away, leaving Rogers to his lonely vigil. There was an hour to go before he was due to be relieved, during which the infra-red night sights attached to the binoculars would enable him to see anything important that was there to be seen.

McKinlay stepped through a door into a short, narrow corridor ending in a flight of stairs which took him down to the level below, where the bridge was located. He rapped on the door and made the traditional request for access. "Officer of the Watch, permission to come on the Bridge, Sir!"

“Permission granted.” McKinlay opened the door and stepped onto the long, low, brightly lit bridge. Captain Raymond Hurst swung round from one of the consoles to face him. “Anything to report?”
“No, Sir, everything’s fine.”

“Good,” Hurst nodded, and with a smile resumed the conversation he had been having with the Commander. The Commander, who reported directly to the Captain, was the officer responsible for the routine running of the ship. Also present, seated at their various controls, were the Navigating Officer, the quartermaster, the latter a senior rating who steered the ship under the direction of the Officer of the Watch, the Signal Yeoman, responsible for exchanges of signals between the ship and other vessels, and the two Radio Operators who assisted him, a Sonar Operator and finally the Bosun’s Mate, a junior rating responsible for manning the Valiant’s onboard telephone system.

The Captain often appeared to do little in the routine running of the ship, for his officers were men of great ability in their own right to whom there was very little that couldn’t be delegated. He was just standing there casting a benign eye over the proceedings, ready to exercise actual and overall command, which he could do very effectively, as soon as an emergency arose. On this occasion he had decided to be on the bridge at all times, given the vital importance of their assignment.

He surveyed his instruments with a proprietorial pride. Along the forward face of the bridge stood the main console, which besides the telephone, intercom, wheel and engine controls was fitted with a clock and instruments giving the ship’s speed and that of the prevailing wind. To the right of the console was a CRT display showing the readouts from the ADAWS computer in the Operations Room. This used data from radar to calculate the closest point to which other vessels would come in relation to the convoy. All those approaching within 15 miles of it would automatically be picked up on the radar and information on their course, speed and closest point of advance appear on the bridge display.

The other consoles incorporated a variety of additional radar and computer systems, all connected to the aerials, scanners and satellite dishes mounted above the superstructure, and used in conjunction in case of a flaw in one of them. They would enable the three ships in the convoy to keep track of one another, and of the enemy, in conditions of poor visibility. One of them showed information collected by the Valiant’s sensors on any aircraft detected in the vicinity.

To the left of the radio operator's console was a board on which the disposition of friendly ships, together with their callsigns, had been marked using a chinograph pencil. A number of illuminated strip readouts, mounted in overhead pallets, gave the Valiant’s own course.

On the Quartermaster's console a panel showed the readings from the Type 182 Foxer sonar array which was being streamed astern from Valiant, helping the ships to stay in contact with Neptune at all times and to detect unidentified submarine activity. A similar array was being towed along behind HMS Relentless.

Against the rear bulkhead, mounted on an array of lockers and shelves containing the maps for the area, was the chart table where conventional course plotting could be carried out using pencils, rulers and dividers. Amid the masses of modern navigation equipment surrounding it it looked out of place and old-fashioned, but was anything but. Information from SINS, the Ship's Inertial Navigation System, in the chart house abaft the bridge was relayed to the chart table by SNAPS - Ship's Navigation and Processing System - which determined the Valiant’s own position with the help of other systems such as Omega, Decca and SatNav, and where necessary visually-derived information, in the form of a moving point of light projected from below onto the table’s glass surface. Mounted on the bulkhead above it were the Omega, the ship's main satellite navigation system, and the Type 778 Depth Finder, a continuously moving chart which displayed the depth under the keel.

There was something comforting about the gentle green glow of the LCDs and VDUs that illuminated the room, the steady pinging of the sonar. A light rain spattered against the bridge windows, with equal monotony. As always at Cruising Stations, the atmosphere was one of relaxed competence. The Captain was reminded of the work done escorting convoys across the Atlantic during the Second World War, protecting them from U-boats, and felt a thrill of pride that he was doing something similarly important.
He decided to step out onto the observation deck for a few minutes, nodding affably at Midshipman Rogers who was still doing his stuff. Through the metal fabric of the deck he felt the vibration as the ship's engines throbbed away beneath him.
The night was starless, but vision was clear, with no clouds. He stared down at the dark, gently rolling sea, flecked with patches of white gleaming in the moonlight. The dark sheet of water stared back at him impassively, like a bottomless unfathomable abyss. Was there something beneath there right now that was waiting to attack the Knight, and maybe the three naval vessels as well? If there was, he felt reasonably insulated against the threat. With the assortment of state-of-the-art equipment each had on board, they surely couldn’t go wrong.

After a moment he turned, went back inside and approached the sonar operator. “How’s it going, Adams?”

The man looked up from the screen in front of him. "Nothing registering, sir. Apart from a lot of fish, of course."

Hurst grunted. He knew that sonar was an imperfect medium. It was limited in range by the general muffling effect of the sea, bending of the sound waves caused by temperature differences between water layers, and extraneous noises including reflections from the ocean bottom.

"'Bout time we gave everyone another bell," he told the Signal Yeoman. “Just ask them if everything’s OK.”

“Aye aye, Sir.” The Signal Yeoman spoke to the leading Radio Operator, whose fingers played over the keys on the console, tapping in the code for communication with the Knight of the Seas. He spoke into the microphone attached to his headset. "Knight, this is Valiant. All well?”

“You’d know that better than we would, Valiant,” came the reply. “But I guess so. I’ll put you through to the captain.”

“It’s well as far as I can see,” the captain said. “The lads are a bit nervous, I think, but that’s to be expected.”
Next they called the Relentless. “Anything to report?"

"No, not a sausage. Nothing’s moving down there, as far as we can see. Or out there or up there, either.” Nor had the submarine detected anything unusual or alarming. Hurst decided that as nothing much was going on he would retire for a time to his suite of cabins aft, catch a bit of shut eye. In the morning they'd stop and he’d go over to the Knight for a chat, to give the tanker’s captain the reassurance of continued friendly contact and discuss any vital matters that may have come up.

Having advised Sub-Lieutenant McKinlay of his intentions, he was on his way to the door when the thunderous bellow of an explosion reverberated throughout the ship, the floor trembling beneath his feet.

The shock of it, physical and mental, froze him rigid. No, he thought. It can't be. It can’t.

The Intercom bleeped and Rogers’ horrified voice came through. "Something's just ripped the whole of the side out of the Knight!" he shouted. He had seen the surface of the sea on the tanker's starboard flank erupt, the column of water spurting a hundred feet into the air with the force of the blast, and the Knight give a violent lurch to port. The tanker settled, listing at a forty degree angle, while the sea around her tossed in protest at the explosion.

Followed by McKinlay and the Commander, Hurst scrambled up the stairs to the observation deck. Shouldering Rogers aside, they ran to the starboard end, almost colliding with the safety rail. For a Hurst stared at the spectacle in sheer, horrified, outraged disbelief. Then he sprang into action. They had to help the tanker's crew get to safety, if that was possible.

Back on the bridge, McKinlay gave an order to the Quartermaster, who rushed to the boom mike on the steering console and ordered the ship’s Control Centre to cut the engines.
“They’re abandoning ship, Sir,” announced the radio operator.

“Stand by to receive survivors,” bellowed Hurst. The Relentless, he knew, would be doing the same, without needing to be prompted.

A sickening feeling of dread welled up inside him. If they couldn't stop the saboteurs from blowing up the Knight they might not be able to save the crew from being taken, either. And would they now be attacked themselves? They hadn’t planned for this, assuming that their presence would deter the enemy from trying anything. Now they had to take the chance.

He ran back up to the observation deck, snatching Rogers’ binoculars from him. Through them he saw the Knight lower her lifeboats, each one filled to the brim. He ordered the ship to move in closer so that a harness could be lowered to each man for him to be hoisted on board.

This time, the crew of the tanker were saved. Every single man was got safely on board one or other of the warships. By that same token, it didn’t seem anyone had targeted the three naval vessels, which in the end all returned to port unscathed. But it was too late to save the pitching, yawing Knight Of The Seas. Gradually she sank lower and lower in the water. Helplessly, the captains of the two ships watched as the tanker's bows dipped beneath the surface and its stern rose high into the air like a vast metal monolith, the moonlight gleaming off its hull plates, before disappearing from view in one smooth plunging motion.

On their radar screens a green blip flickered, faded and vanished as the dark sea closed over it forever.

*

"So there we are," finished Marcus Hennig. He slumped back in his chair and gazed blankly at Jimmy Naish and Caroline Kent, appealing to them for suggestions. "All the most up-to-date gear and they still couldn't stop it. Neither the warships nor the submarine detected any other craft, of whatever sort, up to less than a minute before the explosion.”
"At least this time they didn't take the crew," said Naish.

"Didn't want to be hanging around with the Navy on the scene, I guess.

"Well," Hennig sighed, "it looks like we really are sunk, if you don't mind me putting it like that. For the time being anyway."

The salvage team had by now found all they could be expected to of the Herbert Rutherford's remains; no-one ever found everything, of course. There was nothing that gave any clue to how someone had succeeded in placing the bomb unseen. But there was no doubt the giant tanker's demise had been due to some sort of very powerful limpet mine. A piece of the device itself had been found, and from their examination the scientists had concluded that it was of a make used in underwater demolition, but normally to be found only in the possession of national navies. It would probably be the same with the Knight.

At the same time, Naish had completed his enquiries at Fawley and concluded that security there was as good as could be expected on the day the Herbert Rutherford left the terminal on its ill-fated voyage. None of the security guards, or any other employee of the oil company, or any of the ship's officers who had been maintaining watch while she was in port, had observed any suspicious activity, found anything out of place.

The security services were working hard at the problem, but so far with no luck. Rachel had told Caroline thre was some equipment, still on the secret list, which could have been used in carrying out the attacks but she didn’t see how any of the usual suspects could have got hold of it. And as of yet IPL had failed to unearth any mole within its ranks.

Hennig breathed hard. He fell silent, and for a minute or so the only sound in the room was the rhythmic tapping of his pen on the desktop. Outside, the evening shadows were beginning to draw in. The fact that the other oil companies were in the same boat – so to speak - didn't make any difference to their feelings.

"We’ll just have to carry on with the investigation,” Naish said. “It’s the only thing we can do."

"And suppose we don’t get anywhere? At this rate the company'll go bust in a few months.” He waved towards his computer screen, which showed the current state of the firm’s accounts. “Both the North and the South American end of our operations are effectively shut down.” Hennig and his fellow directors had been happy for the oil shipments to continue if the tanker crews were willing to take the risk, but they weren’t. They had now gone on strike, and of course you could hardly blame them. It wasn’t every shipment that was hit, but no-one could tell if, and when, the enemy was going to strike. “We’re losing something like a hundred thousand pounds each day.”

Geography dictated that over half the 3,000 million tones of oil produced in the world each year was transported from well-head to consumer by sea. There was no way of getting round the problem by using some some other means of conveyance. You couldn't carry oil by air because a plane full of the stuff, in addition to the fuel it needed for its own propulsion, was a flying bomb, and the thought of one coming down on a populated area made Hennig shudder.

Caroline saw that Hennig was looking at her as if to say: come on, Wonder Woman, think of something. You’re the management’s blue-eyed girl, literally.

"This might be the opportunity, you know," she said, "to consider branching out more into renewables."

Normally Hennig would have been irritated at this reference to one of Caroline's pet projects. This time, however, he was more receptive. "We may have to," he replied. "But remember they’re a relatively new industry and no matter how much effort we put in it’ll still be some years before they’re really profitable. They may never be if we can't get the technical difficulties ironed out. Until then we’ve got to hang on to the oil, and we know it.”

Silence descended on the room again, while outside it continued to grow darker, matching the gloomy mood within the office. Caroline's head was tilted onto one side.

This had been her first proper job, and she was proud at having kept it. She hoped she would still be with the company when she retired, perhaps even its head. She knew that even if she didn't get that far, even if she stayed in her current position for the next twenty, thirty, forty years she would rather not work anywhere else. If she left and got a job with another company, even one that wasn't in the oil business, her track record with IPL would look good on her cv and help to promote her in her new environment. But it would still hurt to leave.

She remembered her first day at work here, a little nervous despite her consciousness of her own intelligence and ability, the knowledge that the high expectations people had of her would motivate them to give her every possible support. Since then she'd become very much part of the team, difficult for anyone to dislodge, and fully competent in all her varied responsibilities, which included running the British section’s personnel and PR sections and overseeing its regular recruitment drives when she wasn’t off troubleshooting.

The job was tough at times. There were people she didn't like, of course, who made life difficult for her because they resented her success, her meteoric rise to a senior management position, and her interfering in the affairs of their departments even when it was part of her brief to do so. They dumped work on her, sought to persuade Hennig to deny her funding, even spread false rumours about her private life and professional conduct in the hope of discrediting her. But there were good people here too; people she liked, or at any rate had no cause to dislike, with whom it was nice to unwind over a drink or two in your free time. She thought of them all: Chris Barrett, her fellow troubleshooter and number two at PR, a loyal friend; Sheila her secretary, always ready to work that little bit harder in order to ease what she knew could for Caroline be a very stressful job; Iain Jardine, Hennig’s redoubtable Scots deputy, who always put in a good word for her; jolly and red-faced Bill Tenant at Admin, a sort of second father with an entirely innocuous interest in her, who she allowed to be more familiar with her than most other colleagues, tolerating his outrageously crude jokes because they helped to lighten the mood when things were stressed; poor little Natasha at Personnel with whom she always seemed to be at loggerheads and who was perpetually in a state of utter terror in case Caroline should decide to sack her, despite constant reassurances that there was no intention whatsoever of doing so; Miss Gibbings (as everyone still tended to call her) in Accounts, the in-house Dot Cotton, not such a bad old soul despite her bossiness and old-fashioned prudery.

It was her company, and she was proud of all she had achieved for it. And through it the world in general, or so she liked to think. Keeping the oil flowing so that people could hold on to their jobs. So that everyone could get to work on time, and ambulances carry the seriously ill and injured to hospital; not just here but theoretically, at any rate, in the developing world too. Now it seemed all that was going to fall apart.

No. No way. It couldn't be allowed to. But she came out of her reverie none the wiser. There just didn’t seem to be any solution to the problem.

Then there were the missing tanker crews. If possible, they wanted to find out what had happened to the kidnapped people and if they were still alive return them in one piece to their anxious relatives, who would obviously be going through a pretty awful time. But how, if they didn’t know who the enemy was or how they were operating?

A wind had sprung up and was whistling mournfully about the windows. Yes, quite, Caroline thought.

They all seemed utterly crushed. With a bitter sigh, Marcus Hennig attempted to pull himself together. "Has anyone got any ideas?" It was a last desperate plea for help.

For a long time no-one answered him. Caroline didn't seem even to have heard him; she was lost once more in some private mental world.

Then all at once she stiffened, drawing in her legs and sitting up straight as her manner changed completely. Those blue eyes were sparkling with something like triumph.
She's on to something, thought Naish.

Apart from anything else, it was as if she'd suddenly made a commitment, a decision not to be defeated. Taking in her change of mood, Marcus Hennig looked at her enquiringly.

"Well," she began, "providing an armed escort for the tankers isn't working and it's also very expensive. I think it would be best to deal with the problem at its source, by finding out who's doing it and why."

“We’ve been through all that,” Hennig said wearily. “We don’t know who or why, even though we’ve been thinking it over till our brains are on the point of busting. Unless you’ve come up with some revolutionary new theory?”

"I just don’t think we’ve been looking at the problem the right way. The Rutherford and the Knight were both going to Louisiana - in the States. And the Sea Ranger to Colombia via the Panama Canal." A third ship had been sunk early that morning. "Now what about the Lion and BP tankers?" She turned to Jimmy Naish for the answer.

"The Lion ship was bound for their terminal in Venezuela. The BP one, America."

"Excuse me a sec," said Caroline. She rose and crossed to the world map hanging on one wall of the office, showing the location of all IPL's refineries, terminals and other installations as well as the main tanker routes. They shifted their chairs round to follow her.

She traced an invisible line with her hand from the British Isles to the Louisiana coast. "The ships that were sunk have got one thing in common. They were all taking the Atlantic route to or from North or South America. No other tankers have been attacked."

"We've established why," Hennig said irritably. "Al-Qaeda – let’s use the term to stand for any nation or terrorist group that’s hostile to the West - would be concerned to cripple the American economy, so would environmental terrorists. America is the world's number one polluter, pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year and contributing to global warming." He looked a little uneasy, realising he was sounding rather like an environmental activist himself.

Caroline turned from the map, smiling graciously. "Point taken. Both al-Qaeda and the….ecoteurs have motives for disrupting the oil trade between America and the rest of the world. But why would either attack shipments to South America? Al-Qaeda's got nothing against the region, there's no large Muslim population there which can be seen as under attack, in one way or another, by the West and it’s not considered geopolitically important at the moment. And if the US is Gaia's number one target why would they waste time in also attacking ships going to Venezuela and Colombia? If it was the entire global oil industry they were trying to disrupt we'd expect them to be targeting shipments to, say, south-east Asia which would have gone by a different route. But they're not."

Naish was nodding slowly, thoughtfully, in agreement with her. "I think I get your drift."

She began to pace the room in the manner of a schoolteacher enlarging on a point. "So - it's not political, and we established earlier that it's not commercial rivalry. That leaves environmentalism as the only motive."

"But you just said it couldn't be the Gaia people," objected Hennig.

"If it isn't America someone's trying to bring down, or the world economy in general, then they must be worried about the effect of an oil spill on the particular area of sea which the tankers would have to pass through to get to where they were going."

She stopped pacing and stood with her hands clasped behind her, a patient smile on her face as she waited for her words to sink in. Her listeners looked intrigued. Then Marcus Hennig frowned. "Why?" he snorted. "Ecological activists don't usually confine their activities just to one relatively small part of the world. Especially if they've gone to the trouble of buying, or making, expensive specialised equipment like limpet mines and submarines."

To Caroline's dismay she saw Naish's head bob in agreement with him. She felt her resolve crumbling for a moment, then rallied.

“So there must be something in the area which matters to a particular person or group of people, enough for them to start blowing up oil tankers.”
“That’s it,” Naish agreed. “It’s the only explanation.”

"Hang on a minute," objected Hennig. "What if the tankers going to South America were attacked by mistake?"

"If the saboteurs knew the Rutherford and the Knight were going to Louisiana - how I'm not quite sure - they'd also have known where the others were headed. There'd've been no mistake about it.

"Now the ships were all blown up in mid-ocean, so whatever it is can't be there. Obviously our saboteurs wouldn't do anything that'd cause exactly the kind of disaster they wanted to prevent."

Hennig decided to admit defeat, proceeding on the assumption that her whole analysis was correct. "So what we're looking for is in the Western Atlantic. It'd have to be before the point where a ship would change course to make for the South American terminals.

Caroline was becoming steadily more and more excited. She returned to the map. "Not necessarily. I think we can boil it down a bit further. Out of the tankers which were attacked, three - the majority - were going to places on the south-west coast of America." Her finger jabbed at the relevant points on the map. "To get there, they'd have to go...." Again she drew her finger across the map, tracing the route the stricken ships would have taken had they been fortunate enough to complete their journey. "Through here." She indicated the relatively narrow stretch of water between the Florida peninsula, sticking out like a finger into the Caribbean, and the string of islands which made up the Bahamas. The ships would have rounded the tip of the peninsula and then headed in a roughly north-westerly direction for their various destinations. "Tankers don't always follow exactly the same route, do they? Any ship going to Colombia or Venezuela would normally ignore the western Caribbean and go straight on south, or south-west to the Panama Canal for several of the Colombian terminals. But sometimes they might go out of their way a bit, into the area we're looking at, because of weather conditions, other shipping, all kinds of other things. That's why they had to be bombed too, to get the message across."

The more Naish thought about all this, the more it made sense. There's no doubt about it, he mused. She's good.

He was looking at the map and making a calculation. "The America-bound ships might also have to go out of their way, for much the same reasons. So it gives us an area of hundreds of square miles of ocean. Roughly the whole of the Caribbean."

"But most probably," Caroline said, "what we're looking for is in the Bahamas-Florida-Gulf of Mexico region."

"It couldn't be out at sea," Naish said. "Or that far from the shore if it was. You remember what I said the other day about oil spills only really affecting coastlines."

"I still can't see," Hennig said, "why someone would go to such lengths just to protect the ecology of a particular area. There's something rather sweet about it, but it doesn't make any sense.”

Caroline put on a winning smile. "Well," she said chirpily, "we won't find the answer by sitting in an office in London, will we?"

She returned to her seat. "Of course, it’s going to be a pretty big operation."

"You're telling me," Hennig groaned. "Virtually the whole of the West Indies, plus the coastline of Venezuela, northern Colombia east of the Canal, and all of eastern Central America. That's what it amounts to."

"We're going to have to work with the other oil companies on this," Naish told him. "It's too big a job for us to do on our own."

Hennig agreed. This was far too serious a problem for the normal commercial considerations to get in the way of solving it. Caroline too nodded, seeing the sense in this. Working for IPL did not mean she had a passionate and overriding determination to promote its interests at the expense of others'. It was simply her job, that was all.

"What about the politicians?" Naish asked. "How far do you think they'll help?"

"Well, in view of the seriousness of the situation they should be fairly amenable. It depends on whether they agree with Caroline's reasoning. With all due respect to her, it is just a theory. There isn't enough solid evidence as yet.

"We'll see if we can put pressure on the governments of the region through America. I think if I were to make a trip to the States myself it could have some effect. In any case that’s where the AGM is being held. You’ll be coming, of course.”

“You ought to go,” Naish told her. “You’re pretty popular with the Americans; they’re very impressed with the way you operate. I’m sure they’d like to see you again.”

"In that case yes, I’ll be there,” Caroline said. It was always wise to maintain your links with those whose favour you’d earned. “More than that, why don't I stay on in the area afterwards, and check out one or two likely places? It makes sense."
"Which places did you have in mind?"

"I thought I might nip off to the Bahamas. It's not too far from America to there by air."
Hennig gave her an odd look.

"I hope you don't think it's just an excuse to sun myself," she said indignantly.

“Of course not,” Hennig smiled. He had to admit the thought would be uncharitable. He knew her well enough by now. Whatever her faults, she knew where her duty lay, and never shirked it.

"It's a smaller area in terms of land, which means that if the answer's there it won't take so long to find it. A few days might be all I need to establish whether there's anything dodgy going on. We can divide up the rest of the area between ourselves and the other companies."

"Will you' need any help? I mean, aware as I am of your undoubted abilities...."
"I can take Chris Barrett along, with your permission."

"You can take whoever and whatever you want," he said. "Just sort it out, I don't care how. OK?"

"OK." She was shifting about in her seat, eager to get started. Better let her get on with it. "I think that's all," he finished. "Thankyou, both of you."

Hennig sat alone in the room for a while after they'd left, reflecting on how the meeting had gone and feeling a comforting sense that things were finally moving, until he saw the time and decided he’d better make a move for home, if he wanted to be spared his wife’s wrath.

On his way across the building’s spacious foyer, he paused before the statue of Herbert Rutherford and saw a man in the clothes of a 1930s business tycoon, whose face to his mind had a look of shrewd cunning, allied to delight at being able to make lots of money, but at the same time wasn't entirely selfish. There was something genial in it, suggesting Rutherford had thought he was doing something genuinely useful in setting up the company. As no doubt he had.
We won’t let you down, he thought. She won’t.

She's sorted out problems everyone else thought were hopeless. No-one ever thought she'd be able to do it, but she did. So let her have a go. We might as well, there's no other option left. It's all up to her now. Because if she can't do it, no-one can.


FIVE
The SBS (Special Boat Service), formed in 1941 as the Special Boat Section, was a division of the Royal Marines; the amphibious branch of the Army, trained for service at sea. Its main duties were to carry out attacks on enemy shipping and coastal installations and reconnaissance prior to amphibious assaults, defend naval bases and offshore oil platforms, and deal with hijackings or hostage situations at sea. All of that appealed to the Major. It was what he'd only been doing on land, and for some years now. Because he had mixed feelings about the decision he had taken, he told himself he was only joining the maritime equivalent of the SAS. But although that was how the public at large tended to see it, not everyone would have agreed with the perception. The SBS themselves certainly didn't. The two units had the same gruelling selection procedure, often worked together, and operated to the same exacting standards. But the SBS were more closely integrated with the Marines and with the rest of the Commando Corps whereas the SAS were an entity in their own right, not just organisationally separate but socially something of an exclusive club. Which made them, the Major had to admit, a trifle big-headed at times. There was a rivalry between the regiments which had made the Major a bit apprehensive about joining the SBS, who considered themselves easily the better of the two. Their view was that the SAS had become too conceited, too complacent, for their own good and others’. There had certainly been mistakes, he reflected, and in what was obviously a dangerous business they tended to cost lives.

All he could say was that he tended to discourage such things himself; he cared neither for the human damage they led to or the harm done to the Regiment’s professional image. Nor did he relish the current trend of putting your experiences into print and making as much money as possible out of the resulting bestseller, sensationalism helping to increase sales. All the same, he reflected with a smile that it might be interesting for him to publish his own memoirs at some stage, once he’d finally retired. There’d certainly be some juicy stuff to tell people, provided they could believe it.

The SBS felt they were more sensible than their terrestrial counterparts, had a greater sense of humour, and enjoyed better officer-NCO relations (one of the comments frequently made by critics of the SAS was that its HQ at Hereford seemed to be run too much by the latter). The Major felt the criticisms were unfair. But he and those who had transferred with him certainly encountered a good team spirit within the SBS and had never had any aversion to injecting humour into his work. It was how you survived in a tough job, and he had a particular need for it after Gillian. The SBS was certainly a small, tightly knit, highly professional body, with no more than a hundred active or "badged" men.

At one point there had been some attempt to merge the two organisations, though that hadn't happened yet. It had been pointed out that in many respects they were merged anyway, since after initial selection most SBS training was carried out at Hereford, the trainees being placed for its duration under the overall command of the director of Special Forces. But they weren't one in any spiritual sense. Some argued that any merger would be purely a cost-cutting measure, more likely to impair than improve military effectiveness.

If the Major were starting in the SBS anew, he would first have had to join the Royal Marines and complete basic training with them, then serving a two-and-a-half-year commission with a Commando unit. As he and his men weren't entirely new to the game, they were spared a lot of that. However, they had still had to undergo a 33-week selection course which covered among other things survival skills, parachuting, scuba diving, underwater combat, jungle and demolition training, a great deal of swimming and canoeing, small boat handling, survival at sea, and all aspects of submarine work. A lot of it had been done before but it proved a useful refresher.

The Major was a bit worried that at thirty-two, a greater age in the Army than in most other walks of life, he might be a bit past it, even though he had kept himself in top-notch physical condition and passed each of the regular medical checks every soldier had to undergo. The fear turned out to be unfounded. Perhaps it was because people were ageing better, retaining their faculties longer, than in the past. Relatively speaking.

The first few days were taken up with strenuous physical exercise, getting up at dawn for half-mile runs from the officer's mess to the building where each activity was being held. They then had to plunge into an ice-cold lake to toughen themselves up. It all brought back nostalgic(?) memories of his initial selection procedure for the SAS.

The training took them to various locations around the coast, including the naval bases at Portsmouth and Gosport and the Royal Marine barracks at Eastney, Falmouth, and Chatham, the latter serving as the base for raiding exercises on mock enemy installations and disused ships moored in the Thames Estuary. At Portsmouth they swam in a 1500 metre-long tank where, sometimes wearing trunks and sometimes diving suits, they found out how long they could hold their breath and how fast they could swim in how short a time. They learned all the skills needed to make a good diver, including how to get into the diving suits as quickly as possible and so, in some situations, make the difference between life and death.

They also had to know how to get out of a submarine in a hurry. This meant frequent visits to the Royal Navy submarine evacuation test tank at Gosport, where escapes from subs at depths of up to 100 feet were simulated. He understood from the experienced submariners who coached him that even they did not much care for this part of the course. When in the tank they felt cut off, isolated from the rest of the world, like those people who took part in sensory deprivation experiments and in some cases had gone mad as a result. You were trapped, for a few scary minutes at least, in a silent, eerie, unnerving environment. Several times the Major almost panicked and asked himself what the hell he was trying to prove by doing all this. His one thought was to get out of the tank as quickly as possible. But then, of course, that would be the whole idea.

When the training was completed the surviving candidates took a two-week aptitude test. They then repeated the Joint Special Forces Selection Course in the Brecon Beacons, which they’d done when first training for the SAS. Then the swimming, boating and other tests were also repeated, which took a further three months. All the time the Major swore and cursed at the instructors, who in their capacity had the right to be bully him a bit although of lower rank. And had a drink with them in the bar afterwards. There was comradeship among the people on the course, a chance to forge new friendships.

It was intensive, strenuous, monotonous work, pushing them all to the limits of their mental and physical endurance. Only seven of the twenty-plus who started completed the course. But among them were Major Mike Hartman and his squad. At the end of it all, they had earned their SBS badges and were assigned to the Regiment’s 2 Squadron, based at Poole. They had done it; they had got there. And it had been fun.
It would be a great pity, the Major thought, if they never got the chance to put their new-found skills to the test.


Their employers having generously told them to take a couple of weeks off, after which the situation would be reviewed, Pat and Melinda Richards were both at home when Moses Jameson called. Pat was busy preparing dinner when she heard the doorbell ring. She swallowed, her heart leaping into her mouth, and at first stood very still, breathing deeply, steeling herself for what she knew might be bad news. The bell rang again. She realised the caller might think there was no-one in and panicked a bit, hurrying from the kitchen and down the hall to the door. She got there quicker than her husband, who had been upstairs sorting out some junk in the attic as a way of taking his mind off…it.

Melinda put the chain on its hook, opened the door as far as she could and peered through the gap. She saw a handsome, smartly-dressed black man in his thirties who was flashing some sort of ID at her.

“Mrs Richards? I’m Agent Moses Jameson of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. I’m calling about your daughter’s disappearance.” His tone was politeness itself.

“Oh come in, come in.” Her fingers were shaking so much she had to stop and force herself to calm down before she could thread the chain through its eyelet and open the door. “Is there any news? Have you found her?” she gabbled as Moses stepped through into the hallway.

He saw her husband come up behind her, the gleam of hope in his eyes. “Not yet, I’m afraid ma’am. We’re doing our best, of course. I just need to ask you both a few questions as part of our investigation.”

“Come on in,” Pat said, and Jameson followed the two of them into the living room. While Melinda fetched them all some coffee, Pat and the FBI man sat and made small talk, in as far as such was possible. Richards kept on breaking off to stare out the window, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of his daughter through it, returning home safely from whatever mad escapade she’d gotten herself involved in. At such moments Jameson took the opportunity to glance round the room. It was clean, tidy, and simply but tastefully furnished, not especially luxurious but reflecting like most of the homes in this outlying district of the city a comfortable, satisfactory middle class prosperity. There was no shortage of photos of Shannon: as an exuberant five-year old seated on her father’s knee at some family celebration, clapping her hands and grinning joyfully as she sang along to something or other; on the beach at about the same age, with bucket and spade, standing proudly beside the sandcastle she’d just made; as a teenager, her back to the safety rail at the top of what he guessed was the Statue of Liberty with the skyline of New York behind her, the wind ruffling her hair; in costume as one of the dancers in a school production of some Broadway musical; sitting for the camera in what was obviously a specially commissioned shoot, wearing smarter and more conventional clothes than in some of the other pictures.

“I, uh, I was sorry to hear about what happened,” Moses said once they were all sat down together, sipping at the coffee. Melinda smiled to show she appreciated this, Pat merely nodded, his face deadpan. “Let me assure you every effort is being made to locate your daughter.”

“I’m sure,” Melinda smiled. Jameson studied them both, trying to establish just how sensitive he needed to be. They were taking it badly, the man woman giving the impression of coping better than the man, though beneath the surface her pain must be every bit as keen. They looked to be in their mid-forties, though prematurely aged, he guessed, by the strain they were under. There were bags of wrinkled skin under the woman’s eyes that you normally found in much older people, and the crow’s feet at their corners seemed especially prominent. At least her dark hair retained its natural colour, whereas her husband’s was flecked with little dashes of grey around the temples.

Melinda’s face tightened, drawing all the wrinkles and creases together so as to emphasize them all the more. “I, I understand that a lot of other people have gone missing too, just these last few months.” It had made her think serial killer.

“We don’t know that Shannon disappeared for the same reason as all the others,” said Jameson. “Do you have any idea what it might have been?”

Melinda sighed and cast her eyes down. ”Well, actually, yes we do,” her husband said quietly. “She wasn’t too hot on us around the time she vanished.”

“Would you, uh, like to elaborate on that? It may be important.”

“Yeah, sure, I understand. Well…there’d been disagreements. The sort of thing teenage girls usually argue with their parents over. We didn’t like her choice of friends, the way she sometimes dressed, certain things about her lifestyle, and I’m afraid Shannon resented that.”

Jameson’s lips twitched, and he chuckled softly. It was not the kind of laugh which could have been called offensive in the circumstances. “I think I know what you’re talking about, I’ve got a teenage daughter myself. There’s no need for you to say any more.”

But they seemed to prefer to talk about it. “I….think we may have misjudged Shannon. She had a wide vocabulary, and she was…is…..” For a moment Melinda’s lips quivered, and Pat reached out to squeeze her hand. “Quite smart. She always went around with girls, and boys, older than herself. But I don’t think we realised just how mature she’d become these last couple of years, even though she was only fourteen. She was often mistaken for a grown-up, and I think she was one…more or less. I believe the phrase is “young adult”. Maybe it was her manner, the way she talked, as if she didn’t care…so free and easy. But we thought she was trying to be what she wasn’t. Being silly, irresponsible that way; when I think she was just experimenting to see what she liked, the way all kids do.”

“We should have got counselling,” her husband said. “That’s where we went wrong.”

“We tried to lock her up in a cage, and of course you can’t do that with a teenager these days. That night, I think it got a bit too much for her and she just snapped and ran off. Like a lot of kids do when they’re not happy.” Her manner changed, became lighter. “A lot of them turn up alright in the end, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” Jameson nodded. “They do. Of course I, I wouldn’t wanna raise your hopes too high. But we shouldn’t fear the worst, not until we know a little more. And what we do find may be good.” He paused long enough to let the words of reassurance take effect. “Now, is there anywhere you can think of that Shannon would have gone?”

“No…not really,” Melinda said. That’s why it’s so worrying. That’s why I think she must have done something stupid…or someone’s taken her and…..oh God…” Jameson waited silently while her husband comforted her, the outburst of grief exhausting itself, composure then gradually returning until she was able to articulate her thoughts.
“You checked with all her friends, I guess?” Jameson asked.

“Uh-huh,” answered Pat. “One of them says they saw her waiting for the bus, the one that goes to the beach from the bottom of the road here, at about half-past six. That was the last time anyone saw her.”

That we know of, Jameson thought. They obviously didn’t know about the woman supposedly seen walking into the sea, or Melinda Richards would have been even more distressed, and he wasn’t about to tell them. Trouble was, if he didn’t they might well get to hear about through rumour.

He made a mental note to check whether that bus only went to the beach from where Shannon’s friend had spotted her, or there were other stops before or after it that she might have got off at.

“But you don’t know of anyone who might have wanted to harm Shannon? Anyone she was afraid of?”

They both looked aghast at the suggestion. “Of course not, no,” said Melinda. “Shannon could be thoughtless at times, but she never meant any harm to anyone, not really. No-one had a bad word to say about her. Always so popular…” She was on the verge of tears again.

"Did anything unusual happen in the days before she disappeared?
They both frowned. “Not that I can think off,” Melinda said.

Pat shook his head. “She was just being her usual difficult self.”

“We’ll have a word with some of the friends. Do you have their addresses about the place by any chance?”
“I’ll see if I can find anything,” grunted Pat, and rose.

An idea came to Melinda. “I was thinking maybe she could have got mixed up with one of these cults you hear about.”

“Been known to happen,” Jameson said. “Look, thanks for your help. We’ll be in touch if we do find out anything. Until then..well, we’ve put out a nationwide missing persons alert. There’ll be lots of weird calls and false alarms, of course, but you always get those in cases like this. You got the number of the support helpline, by the way?” They nodded. “Well, I’d better be on my way then. If you can come up with those addresses, or think of anything else which might help the investigation, let us know right away.”

Melinda nodded, blinking away another onset of tears. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I can’t help thinking….I mean, we did everything for her. She’d no reason to complain. And I know she did appreciate it really, just didn’t always think to say so…and now we can’t tell her, can’t tell her that we’re sorry….”

Pat returned from Shannon’s bedroom with an address book in his hand, just in time to comfort her as she broke down again. Jameson took the address book with a nod, rested his hand briefly on Pat’s shoulder, and saw himself out.

Afterwards he sat in the car for a while, turning the case over in his mind. Yeah..people disappeared all the time. Sometimes it was voluntary, a way of escaping from boring and stressful lives, and no harm necessarily came to the missing. He doubted if Shannon’s situation had been different from that of lots of other teenage kids. Sometimes, of course, tragedy resulted. They committed suicide on an impulse or, more frequently, harmed themselves to attract attention, perhaps doing more damage than they intended and ending up on a mortuary slab.

It didn’t look good when you thought about it. Shannon had last been seen about to catch a bus to the beach, and one woman – not her, this was on a different day – was later spotted walking into the sea. But if you wanted to kill yourself why not just take a few tablets, make it as peaceful and painless as possible, instead of drown yourself when drowning was not, by all accounts, a particularly pleasant death? Unless Shannon had been suffering from mental illness, and there was nothing in her medical records or her parents’ account of things to suggest it.

It sure was the weirdest case he’d ever come across or, he suspected, was likely to.


Kashmir, Northern Pakistan
The camp was a makeshift cluster of concrete and corrugated iron boxes, huddling together as if for protection in a fold of the foothills. A few Red Cross vehicles, ambulances, pickups and Land Rovers, were parked here and there and near one of the buildings a pile of rubbish was steadily growing in size. Little groups of refugees, some with the bags in which they had collected together the few possessions they had time to lay hands on beside them, sat on the bare ground talking in low voices; or just sat on the ground, their eyes dull and listless, if they had lost loved ones in the earthquake. The mood of those who hadn't often was not a lot better.

There was a rumour, running round the camp's population like an earth tremor, that a second quake was on the way. If that happened, the population of the camp would swell to bursting point. They needed more food and medical supplies, and fast. Trouble was that the international community, wearied and in some cases overstretched by the constant succession of disasters whose victims it was being asked to fork out for, was being agonisingly slow in responding to the appeals for money. Volunteers there were a-plenty, but cash was short.

Zulfikar al-Anwari, the camp superintendent, came out of the hut, slightly larger than the others, that served as the administrative headquarters for the relief organisation in charge of the camp, which was also the reception and distribution centre for aid in the region. He crossed the earthen central compound to a concrete bunker which stood some distance away from all the others. On the way he met the reporter from the English newspaper. “Any idea when the next load’s going out?” the man enquired.

“The trucks should be here very soon." They’d been needed on a genuine relief operation; the pretence had to be maintained.

al-Anwari shielded his eyes from the blazing sun with the edge of his hand and scanned the low, gently undulating countryside around them. It was rocky and barren with only a few stunted trees and clumps of vegetation visible at intervals.

On the far horizon a faint black line, which appeared to be moving from side to side like a serpent, was discernible, a cloud of dust hanging in the air above it.

"Mind if I go along on this one?" the reporter asked, his eyes lighting up eagerly. "I'd like to see how the actual distribution of aid is carried out.” The Englishman had been kicking his heels here for some time now, and was impatient for a story.

Al-Anwari appeared to think about it, before shaking his head firmly. “I’m sorry, not on this one. It wouldn't be a good idea at the moment."

“Why's that?" the Englishman enquired, politely enough though he was obviously annoyed at the situation and irritated by the stifling heat. al-Anwari wished he could find some way of getting rid of him.

"The camp we are taking the aid to is in a politically sensitive area. The rebels - seperatists - are active there, as you know. Any Westerner they see is likely to be killed on sight, or taken hostage." These parts of the world were becoming dangerous for Westerners. A place where they went to die. Soon, they would not want to come out here any more, and the people of these suffering regions would be without help.

"Then why do you go?" the BBC man asked, trying as an Englishman would to keep the resentment out of his voice.
"Because someone has to,” the Pakistani shrugged.
"What are you going to do now?"

Zulfiqar supposed it was the reporter's business to be nosy. “I’m just checking everything’s in order,” he said.

The reporter lingered momentarily, then to al-Anwari’s relief moved on, permitting him to resume his journey to the bunker. He paused at the door to glance over again at the convoy of vehicles, now clearly visible a mile or two away in the bright sunshine.

He unlocked the door and entered the cool, dark interior of the bunker. Light streaming through the single window fell on the dozen or so stout wooden crates that had been shoved against the far wall.

Selecting a crate at random, he fiddled with the fastenings on the lid until it came free. Lifting it, he looked down and smiled at the crate’s contents in keen anticipation, running his eyes lovingly over the stacks of Kalashnikov rifles, mortars, grenades, anti-tank guns and RPG launchers.


Miami, Florida
To an observer, there might have seemed a kind of solemn purposefulness about Louise Reiner as she parked her car, having found a space between two others that was just big enough to allow easy access and exit, alighted from the vehicle and walked a couple of hundred yards along the street to the bar which she now visited almost every night, as soon as her supper had had time to go down. She used to, and occasionally still did, spend evenings like this playing bridge or going to the cinema with her girlfriends, but what grated with her about such fixtures, even if they didn’t actually bring their husbands or boyfriends along, was the knowledge that each of the women she cheerfully socialised with was happily married.

It was about here that uptown Miami ended, and downtown Miami began. The bar itself seemed to reflect a certain ambiguity, as if uncertain just what kind of joint it was trying to be. The furnishings were tasteful enough, not too garish, and well-maintained, but the place always seemed bathed in a murky gloom whose cause was difficult to establish.

She entered the main room of the bar and paused to scan it carefully, deciding where to sit. She was early tonight; no-one there except a couple of guys she didn’t like the look of, and so sat as far away from as possible. She knew what to do if one or the other decided to make an approach; just look hard and either say nothing or grunt unintelligibly.

One leg hooked over another, she puffed away at her cigarette, staring fixedly in front of her. God, she felt like a hooker waiting for custom. Surely there was some better means of doing it than this. But with dating agencies you had no sure way of knowing what you were going to get, of avoiding embarrassment or disappointment.

As always, she tried to avoid looking too obviously falsely cheerful, or too weary and dispirited. Either might have put a guy off, depending on how desperate he was. But it was getting increasingly difficult.

Sometimes these nights ended in a catch, sometimes they didn’t. And usually it was nothing more than a one-night stand. There had been relationships which lasted for a few days and then fizzled out as she or the other lost interest because at heart, despite everything, they much were too afraid of the big C; of Commitment.

The purely carnal needs had been met, at least for a time. But that, of course, was not everything.

Suddenly a spasm of coughing shook her. Harsh, guttural coughing, whose raucous sound and unexpected violence sent a chill of alarm through her. She realised now what she was doing to herself. Drop the cigs, maybe? The damage to her health was to be avoided, especially when she wasn’t getting any younger. At thirty-five she still had it, especially when she dolled herself up. But how long would “it” last? And then there was the question of how long it was safe to leave it before having a….having a……

Yes, she was still attractive, with a good figure and glossy brunette hair which had not yet begun to show the first faint traces of grey. But if looks were enough then why the fucking hell was she still single?

By now the bar had filled up a little. One man seemed to be eyeing her nervously, trying to pluck up the courage to go over to her. She wasn’t sure if she liked the look of him or not. Finally taking the plunge, he half-rose from his seat; then she saw him sit back again heavily, his face stricken by disappointment. She glanced round and saw the thickset blond guy standing beside her, looking down at her and smiling, beerglass in hand. “Hi, mind if I join you?”

She had been getting impatient with the lack of action, and on impulse said “Yeah, OK.” He smiled his thanks and took the seat next to her, his eyes alight with pleasure and interest.

Louise studied him closely, and liked what she saw. He was kind of cute, with the fair hair and cherubic face, reddened by exposure to the sun, and those lovely brown eyes; but at the same time adult and masculine, a mountain of rigid muscle, like the golden hunks you saw all the time on the beach here or in California. God, the thought of having that inside her, being taken by him and filled to the hilt by his thrusting hardness….she realised he was some years younger than her, probably mid-twenties, but that would only serve to make her feel rejuvenated herself.

A guy like him shouldn’t need to cruise really, but then nor, of course, should a girl like her.

“I’m Frank,” he said, shaking her hand. “You come here often?”
“Oh, every now and then,” she replied. Banal, but it was a start.

His eye fell on her empty glass. “Shall I get you another drink?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. I’m Louise, by the way. Call me Lou.”
“Lou, right. See you in a minute.”

When he came back they talked about their jobs and how they both spent their spare time, Frank laughing at the jokes and amusing stories she told. He had a pretty good repertoire of gags and anecdotes himself, picked up on his journeys round the world as a travel rep. An interesting job that produced an interesting person, she thought. It beat her dull and depressing life as a clerk in the local tax office, to whose boredom promotion to a higher grade had made no difference.

Hey, it looked like she was onto something good. He seemed a real nice guy, funny and sexy, and genuinely interested in her. He sympathized with her over all her problems, telling her not to do herself down, that it wasn’t too late to make something of her life and that there were still people out there who could see something of merit in her. Made her feel really important.

From time to time he offered to top her up, and she always accepted; drink was a stimulant, up to a point anyway, and she wanted only to keep the flow of chatter going, continue really enjoying herself for what felt like the first time in years.

After a while she began to sway, her head jerking forward in quick darting movements as she stabbed the air with her cigarette to emphasise a point. “I dunno about this Iran thing that’s come up, but it seems to me that all the political people are saying…they’re saying……” She burped loudly. “Ah, excuse me….s-sorry…..”

The waiter paused by their table and looked hard at Frank. “You’d better look after her.” He’d noticed that the blond man seemed to have avoided drinking quite as much as his companion had. “If you’re driving, that is.”

“It’s OK, don’t worry. I’m taking her home now. I’ll make sure everything’s fine.” He turned again to Louise. “Hey, sweetheart, I think we’d better go now. You gonna come back to my place for a bit, yeah?”

Louise managed a vague nod, not really hearing what he said. He took her arm and gently lifted her up with him as he rose. She started to collapse back into her seat and he tightened his grip, at the same time transferring it to her waist, to steady her. “Hey, c’mon.”

A man seated on one of the bar stools raised his glass to them in salute. “Hey, well done pal! You scored!” The blond grinned at the drunken compliment; he certainly had.

It suited him to do it in places like this bar; he could combine business with pleasure. As long as he didn’t use this method too often, at least not in the same places. In fact, although he commuted between here and Nassau fairly regularly, he spent most of his time in the latter place; this job was a one-off, necessary because they had to make up the numbers. Any case, he liked to think he moved around too much for anyone to get a fix on him. Even though he wasn’t a travel rep at all. His name wasn’t Frank, either.

Walking slowly and carefully, he steered Louise to the door and they passed out into the cool night air. She was just about able to remain standing as he directed her to where his car was parked.

By now she was so drunk she hardly felt the prick of the needle as it sank gently into the flesh of her wrist, leaving just a tiny blob of blood which soon dried, and a mark small enough for her to give it scarcely a thought, should she even happen to notice it.


Some of the trucks were a military dark green, others white with the Red Cross symbol on them. They lurched and shuddered as they wound their way over the rocky ground towards the “camp”, a cluster of rock formations in which rain and wind had over the millennia excavated a network of deep caves.

In the passenger seat of the lead lorry, Zulfiqar al-Anwari muttered a quick prayer of thanks to Allah for granting them a safe journey to their destination. Although once the crates had been loaded into the lorries there had never been any danger of spy satellites or reconnaissance planes detecting what was really inside them, because as yet such equipment was still incapable of seeing through walls. The real problem would be if the Americans were watching the area of the camp. It would just have to be assumed they weren’t.

They came out of their caves like a swarm of rats, thought al-Anwari a little disparagingly, scrambling over the rocks to greet him as the lorry juddered to a halt and he climbed down from the cabin. Their leader, robed and turbaned, stepped forward, his teeth bared in a broad wolfish grin, his dark eyes gleaming bright in the sunshine. They embraced like brothers. “My friend, it is good to see you again,” the Afghan beamed. “There was no problem?”

“No problem. All the equipment is there. I have checked it myself, several times.”

“I think we had better be sure. Can we really trust this man?”

“He is one of us. A strange convert perhaps, but there are others like him. Or do you think he is only pretending? It’s a ruse by the infidels to trap us?”

“Who knows? But it is a chance we cannot turn down. Still, there is no harm in making sure.”

“Indeed.” The Afghan began issuing instructions to the men gathered around him. At a signal from al-Anwari the men in the lorries got out and opened the rear doors of their vehicles, lowering the tailboards. The militants converged on the lorries and started to lift out the crates, carrying them over to the foot of the nearest rock formation and dumping them down. Zulfiqar watched a group of them select items from the crates at random, one of each type of weapon, and go off towards an area of open ground to the east where they could safely be tested.


The lorry drivers were leaning idly against their vehicles, watching the proceedings in a casual, disinterested manner. He noticed that one of them was smoking, and felt a surge of anger. But perhaps he ought to understand. Plenty of their people smoked, even though they were not supposed to. He himself had not always been a good Muslim. Even after his conversion to the cause of Osama bin Laden he had often slept with Western women, whores mostly, although quite prepared to kill them if they should get in his way. He knew his attitude towards the West to be ambivalent, confused, but he did not care. He just wanted to do something which would shake people up, even more so perhaps than 9/11 had, and so bring about a change in the current order of things.

He heard a series of loud explosions, whose echoes reverberated among the rocks for several seconds. Then the four militants came into view, grinning, one with the empty launch tube of the RPG slung over his shoulder. Their bobbing heads signified that the weapons had each been found to be in perfect working order. One gave a thumbs-up sign, joyously shouting out words of praise to Allah.

The leader clapped al-Anwari on the shoulder. “Our thanks, my brother. Now will you stay and take refreshment with us?"

Zulfiqar bowed his head sorrowfully. "I am afraid that is not possible. I must not be away from the camp too long, or people will ask questions.”
“Is there reason to think anyone is suspicious?”

Zulfiqar thought of that nosy reporter snooping around. "It may be necessary to arrange for a certain person to have an unfortunate accident.”

“Then do it, my brother. And may Allah forgive this – infidel?” His companion nodded. “This infidel his unbelief, and comfort his family in their loss. Let them turn to the one true Way so that their salvation will be compensation for his eternal suffering in Hell.”
“Allah is the Merciful, the Wise, the Compassionate One.”

On their way back to the camp, al-Anwari wondered not for the first time whether their security was really as watertight as he’d been assured. What if someone found out that the real refugee camp had not received the supplies it had asked for, at least not at a time which tallied with the convoy’s departure from the Centre? He told himself the Englishman was the only one who’d bother about it, and that little problem would soon be taken care of. He’d have his trip out into the mountains, alright, only he wouldn’t come back from it. At the right moment the unsuspecting man would be shot in the back, and afterwards they could always blame the killing on the militants. It amused Zulfiqar to think they would actually be telling the complete and utter truth.

His doubts had more to do with the person who was supplying them with the equipment. Where could it all be coming from, he wondered? Someone must surely realise what was going on before very long. And yet their friend in Geneva seemed to know what he was doing. Probably it was only because the man was a European by ancestry that he was the object of suspicion among the brotherhood, so in the end al-Anwari forgot these qualms, while still thinking from time to time that they might be happier if they knew a little more about him.


Offices of the Samaria aid agency, Geneva Airport, Switzerland
“I think there should be a delay of at least a couple of weeks before we make any more shipments,” Alois Kretzmer told the man at the other end of the phone. “We don’t want to give them too much too quickly, or they’ll decide to go ahead before the time is right.”

“Sensible thinking,” his boss agreed. “The one we sent you this morning goes through, of course. Has it arrived yet?”
“It should be due any minute.”

“Excellent.” They agreed a date for the next shipment, then the boss asked him about security; had the authorities in Germany or Switzerland been showing any undue interest in his operation? There was nothing unusual about an aid agency being privately owned and run, because so many things were these days; but did anybody, for whatever reason, suspect this one was not quite what it claimed to be?

“I’ve had the customs and health and safety people poking around, of course. But they seem satisfied, as far as I can tell. And I think I’d know if anyone was spying on us.” Their counter-surveillance techniques were as advanced as was possible for them.

“I hope so. Well, I suppose you’re doing all you can. Just let me know if you have any problems. Auf wiedersehn.”
“Goodbye.”

Kretzmer, or Khalid al-Islami to give him his Muslim name, now busied himself with a bit of paperwork until the sound of a lorry drawing up beneath the office window heralded the arrival of the latest consignment. He opened it and looked down to see the driver disembark from the huge vehicle and go round to the rear doors to open them. The workmen were already converging on it while nearby the doors of a capacious warehouse stood open.

On its side the lorry bore the name Cobus Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of the main company. It was meant to be carrying drugs for use in treating people injured in the Kashmiri earthquake. Of course the crates within actually contained something very different, which was normally used to destroy lives rather than preserve them. Kretzmer rather hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. But it might, which was why he had to keep the trust of the faithful in Islamabad. So far he seemed to have succeeded. Funnily enough, he was actually a Muslim, and not just an actor doing a very good impression of one - he didn’t think he could have pulled it off otherwise. It wasn’t his opinion that what they were doing was necessarily against Islam; given its motives, which were good, he felt on the whole that Allah would approve of it, though some among the faithful might disagree.

Of course he had the power, if he chose, to betray the plotters to the authorities and bring the whole thing crashing down. Or on the other hand, let it go right ahead.

He smiled amusedly to himself at the thought of it. All it would take was one telephone call.


SIX
The venue for the AGM, at which the opportunity was being taken to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of IPL America, was a hotel on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, into which those attending had booked for the duration of the conference.

It lasted five days in all. The assembled executives discussed a wide range of matters, and ended up concluding that IPL’s finances were in as healthy a state as could be expected, all things considered. Relations with local people in all the countries where they had some kind of presence were good; in fact they were doing better in that area than most of the other big companies, which Caroline liked to think was due in no small measure to her own efforts. The renewable energy scheme wasn’t proceeding as fast or as smoothly as she’d have preferred; just have to keep on badgering them, she thought. There were other long-term issues which remained a cause for concern, such as the rise in oil prices and its implications, but so far had still not, if the term was appropriate in the circumstances, exploded.

The general mood within the conference room was subdued. At the end of the fifth and final session of the conference the President of the company, Sir Charles Stamford OBE, KG, took the platform. "Well I think that concludes our business, ladies and gentlemen. As I said, the main worry right now is the tanker sinkings, but as you know the matter is being looked into."
"They'll find out who's behind it, eventually," someone said.
"Hope so," grunted Hennig.

Stamford then launched into a flowery speech paying tribute to the founding fathers of the company and all those who had worked so hard of late to make it a success. As each person’s name was mentioned the gathering dutifully erupted in a thunderous burst of clapping. As always there were those who felt they should have been included in the roll of honour and would darkly resent it for the whole of the following year, at least.

One executive in particular was looking a bit miffed at having apparently been missed out. Then, after a brief pause, Stamford resumed talking. “We finish tonight with our annual Executive of the Year award. This year, the honour goes to Caroline Kent, Director of Personnel and Public Relations at the London branch, and also one of those highly valued men and women whose job it is to pound the globe making sure everything’s in order at each of our many refineries, terminals, rigs, pipelines, drilling sites, soft drink dispensers…..”

Caroline’s jaw had dropped and her eyes were popping from her head. Her enemies were trying not to look sour, her friends beaming at her affectionately. Hennig, Chris Barrett was pleased to note, had the decency to look genuinely appreciative. There followed a list of all her spectacular achievements, the revolutions she’d averted, the strikes she’d brought to an end through patient negotiation and a simper or two at the right moment, the corrupt officials she’d exposed. If her smile had been any broader it’d have split her face wide open.

“It’s a difficult job at times, and a dangerous one as I don’t need to remind you.” For just a moment Caroline shuddered, breathing hard, at one or two particularly unpleasant memories. “Yet in the end it’s what keeps the oil flowing and the wheels of society turning. Yes, I keep on thinking that people like Caroline are the real heroes of the company, though I’m sure that with their usual misplaced modesty they’ll be at great pains to deny it.” Chris seemed for a moment to be choking on something.

“We don’t, I’m sure. So it only remains for me to say - congratulations Caroline.”

She had been tipped to win it, but all the same it came as a surprise and a delight. Chris Barrett, seeing her eyes shine with pleasure, tears brimming in them even, felt proud and happy for her. God, how fantastic her folks will feel when they hear about it, he thought.

“If you’d like to come to the table to receive the award…” With a discreet peck on the cheek, Stamford handed her the framed certificate. She contemplated it for a moment then, managing to compose herself, gave a short and rather shaky speech thanking all her colleagues for their support – even the ones she didn’t like, although Chris knew the bastards wouldn’t appreciate it in the slightest. It wasn’t one of her best efforts, though he was sure it’d have sounded much more impressive had she been less overcome by her emotions. He treated her to a brotherly hug as she returned to sit beside him.

They gravitated to the bar while the room was cleared out and made ready for the meal which was to follow the conference. The company having contributed much to the prosperity of the locality, IPL were always well received and feted whenever they met here.

Hennig's wife appeared, laden down with four bags of heavy shopping most of which he guessed would be souvenirs. Oh God, moaned the MD inwardly, how much did all that cost?

The meal, eaten in the hotel’s spacious banqueting hall, which had a stage at one end where speakers and a piano had been set up, was rich and filling. Caroline sat a couple of places from Hennig. Between them was his wife, a small woman with peroxided hair and a nasal Jewish accent. Caroline rather liked her, and the two of them often did aerobics together.

The food had now been cleared away, and the diners were finishing off the last of the drink. It was a fairly warm Southern evening, and somewhere a window was open letting in the soft, fragrant night air, as cool and sweet as a mint julep.

"What happens now?" Myra Hennig asked. At half-past eight there was still plenty of time to kill before going to bed.

"Nothing much," her husband sighed. "I expect everyone will just go to the bar or watch TV."

In the past the men, Hennig included, had often relocated to one of the seedier bars in the area following the conclusion of the day's business, to watch "exotic dancers" - strippers, of course - strut their stuff, or patronise what in bygone days would have been referred to as a "house of ill repute." And although you wouldn't get that sort of thing in a respectable establishment like this, at another hotel expensive prostitutes had been bussed in to provide an evening’s entertainment.

Caroline Kent and the other female executives usually absented themselves at that point, retiring to a room somewhere for what was more or less a hen party. Rumours that Caroline had stayed behind to personally "entertain" the men were untrue although once her disapproval of what went on was met by a reminder from Chris of an embarrassing incident when she'd had a bit too much to drink and he'd needed to forcibly intervene to prevent an incident which might have done considerable damage to her career. This shut her up for a while.

On this occasion, however, Myra’s presence meant there could be no mucking about. He resented this, just as he resented the close friendship between her and Caroline. Hennig wondered bitterly if they hadn't arranged it between them in order to spoil his fun. Bet she's told her all about my...indiscretions, he thought with a scowl. He was aware she knew a few things about him which he wouldn't want his wife to hear.

His better side dismissed the thought. He knew Caroline wouldn't tell on him; give her her due, she wasn't like that. Especially at times like the present. Right now, they were all in this business together. All in the same b....curse these nautical metaphors that nowadays seemed to be creeping into their thoughts, their speech. It was as if the sea was somehow taking over their whole lives, washing over them in a dark gloomy tide of depression which carried them helplessly along with it.

On the subject of Myra, he wondered if Caroline really needed to spill the beans on him anyway. Myra probably guessed what he got up to on business trips and fact-finding excursions, but had decided to put up with it. And then again, maybe I'm getting a bit too old for that sort of thing anyway, he thought wistfully.

On hearing that he was off to America for the conference, Myra had said oh wouldn't it be nice if she could come with him for a change. Apart from holidays, they didn't often get the chance to go away together and for her to see what he actually did at meetings like this. He tried to put her off by saying it would all be boys' talk etc, but she refused to be deterred. "But Caroline will be there, and I'm sure there's plenty of things to see and do in town." In the end he'd had to give in because the more he put her off the more it would only increase her suspicions as to what he might be doing after dark.

The conversation continued in a desultory sort of way. "Don't they have singers at these places?" Myra said. "I think that'd be nice."

"A cabaret, you mean? I don't think anything’s been booked,” replied her husband, playing idly with the stem of his wineglass. "No-one’s really in the mood." Someone else clearly had done; they could hear the faint strains of a Country and Western song drifting gently to them from another room.

The seat beside Myra having been abandoned, Caroline had decided to requisition it so that the two of them could talk more easily.

"It's because they're cheesed off at not being able to dip their wicks," she muttered into her friend’s ear. Myra nodded silently, a sardonic look on her face.

"It's been mentioned," someone told them. "I don't know if anyone's got it seriously in mind."

"We could do some jokes and sketches," suggested Chris Barrett. "The IPL Revue. The oil executive's ball."
"Mmmmm," grunted Hennig.
"I mean, I don't see why not. We do need some light relief."

Hennig continued to toy with his wineglass, rotating it by its stalk and running his fingers along the curved grooves cut into the surface. Myra noticed his expression. "Do cheer up," she urged.

"I'm not miserable," he insisted. "I'm just.....I don't know."

"Where's Caroline?" someone asked, seeing the lady in question was no longer in her place.
"Gone to the loo I expect," Hennig said vaguely.

They had more or less run out of small talk, and silence reigned for a bit until Myra broke it, just loud enough for all to hear what she was saying, whether intentionally or not was hard to figure out. "I think it's disgraceful the way you treat that girl sometimes," she told her husband. "I really do. After all she's done for the company." Hennig winced. Without specifically meaning to, Caroline must on plenty of occasions have made it clear to Myra what a horrible chap he was.
"So you've said," he muttered. "Lots of times."

Chris, embarrassed by the exchange, turned away and began chatting to one of the American executives.

The gathering seemed to be breaking up. Then a Master of Ceremonies in a tuxedo and tailcoat suddenly appeared and mounted the stage, positioning himself at a microphone. The orchestra came in and took their seats.

"Oooh," said Henning, glad of the distraction. "What's going on now, I wonder?"

The MC clapped his hands. "Ladies and gentlemen, we thought we'd provide a little something for your entertainment tonight. I understand the lady who's going to be providing the vocals tonight needs no introduction to you."

He stepped aside with a flourish. Then to everyone's astonishment Caroline Kent entered, crossed the room and stepped up onto the stage, taking the MC's place at the mike. She had changed into a rather stunning blue silk dress, whose cut allowed just a tasteful hint of cleavage above which the pearl necklace she had been given by her mother as a birthday present glimmered against the soft pink-white flesh of her throat.

She lifted the mike from its stand. The orchestra started playing and before the eyes of the assembled throng she began to sing, in soft breathy tones very like those of the late, great Karen Carpenter.

As we eye
The blue horizon's bend
Earth and sky
Appear to meet and end
But it's merely an illusion
Like your heart and mine
There is no sweet conclusion

"I don't believe it," Sir Charles Stamford was heard to gasp, wide-eyed.

I can see
No matter how near you'll be
You'll never belong to me
But I can dream
Can't I
Can't I pretend
That I'm locked in the bend
Of your embrace
For dreams
Are just like wine,
And I am drunk
With mine

An instrumental interlude followed. Altogether it wasn't what you'd call a cheerful song, but instead of gloomy was more whimsical; perhaps the right kind of number for the situation the company was in. For some reason everyone felt compelled to stay rather than retire to their rooms or the bar. She was an accomplished performer, moving about the stage with an ease and self-confidence that somehow entrapped the eyes.

"So she can sing as well," one executive observed, adding disgustedly "is there anything she can't do?"

Chris Barrett grinned. "She's a lousy cook. I've tried her chili con carne; it is absolutely lethal. And every time she tries her hand at a spot of DIY she usually ends up creating chaos. She's at her best under pressure, I'd say."

Rowson, the American Chris had been talking to, was staring at Caroline as if mesmerised, unable to take his eyes off her. "Jeez, she is fit," he remarked.

"What the hell does she want to be in a job like ours for?" the man next to him said with scorn. "I'd say from this she could be a megastar."

"With a bit more training, yeah. Well, she's quite a character," said Chris. "Besides, the showbiz life's not what it's cracked up to be. I think she had the sense to see that."

"It's not a good deal less stressful than what we do," Rowson pointed out.

"She thinks women are already pretty accomplished in that field," Chris went on. "Not so much in business. And she doesn't want to be in a job where she can have everything she wants just because she looks good. She'd rather be valued for more than that."

All the same, Rowson marvelled at how someone could subject
themselves to the boring, or alternatively hectic, life of a business executive just to prove a point.

It wasn't as if her job wasn't exciting at times. In fact, it could be a little too much so. Another thing Caroline wasn't good at was staying out of trouble.

Rowson shook his head. "An oil exec and a singer....no. I don't get it. Sorry."

"It's just something she likes to do. I think she could make money out of it, but doesn't need to, with what she's already getting. I've known weirder things than that. These days, nothing really surprises you. I heard about a woman who earned thousands of pounds as a top-ranking executive and still worked as a prostitute on the side."

One of the Americans got up from his place, went over to Chris and bent to whisper in his ear. "You know her, right?"
"Have done for years."
"Are you and her, uh....."

"Actually no," Chris smiled. "No, she's great but she’s just a friend, that's all."

"Oh, right. Well in that case, maybe you can answer me a question." The man was grinning slyly. "Do you reckon if I slipped her a fifty dollar bill or two, she'd...."

Chris turned slowly to face him, staring hard. "Fuck off," he said.

The American remained gazing blankly at him for a second or two, crushed, then slouched from the room.

The orchestral interlude came to an end and the haunting, melodious strains of Caroline's voice started up again. Removing the mike from its stand she descended the stage and began moving about the room, gliding with seemingly effortless, ghost-like grace.

I'm aware
My heart is a sad affair
There's much disillusion there
But I can dream
Can't I

Can't I adore you
Although we are oceans apart
I can't make you open your heart
But I can dream
Can't I

Can't I adore you
Although we are oceans apart
I can't make you open your heart
But I can dream
Can't I

She held the last note for a few moments. As it died away the entire room erupted in applause. She bowed, her eyes as well as her mouth smiling with pleasure.

The orchestra struck up another tune, and again Caroline began to sing. This time it was a rousing number from the Beach Boys.

“I still don’t see how she can sing like that when you consider the mess we’re in at the moment,” Hennig grumbled.

“Yes,” smiled Chris, with just the faintest trace of sardonicism. “But then of course she’s going to sort it all out – isn’t she?”


SEVEN
The evening had ended with another Carpenters song, Masquerade; Caroline wasn’t sure it was really the best choice, since it appeared to suggesting everyone was falsely making out things were fine when of course they weren’t. But she’d judged the mood of the party correctly, and no-one seemed to mind. They all knew the charade was necessary.

Immediately after breakfast the following morning the IPL delegation went to their rooms to pack. A little later Caroline joined them in the foyer, where they were waiting for the bus that’d been chartered to take them to the airport, to say goodbye. There were kisses and hugs from Myra Hennig and various others; she even got one from Hennig himself, which was unusual.

She went over to Chris Barrett and gave him a sisterly peck on the cheek. "Well, I'll see you soon." Chris would be flying to Nassau in a couple of days, having some work to finish off in England first. But since he would be covering a different part of the islands, they wouldn't be setting eyes on each other again for a while yet.
He returned the kiss. "Take care."

"Of course I will." It was on old familiar ritual they were going through.

It was perhaps best to think of him as a sort of brother. It served to some extent as a substitute for Douglas, and besides any other relationship with him would either be uneasy or inappropriate.

The bus turned up, collected them all and left. Caroline stood looking after it as it disappeared down the drive, feeling sad for a moment at being left behind. Then she turned and strode back inside purposefully. Well, she thought, this is it. Now maybe I'm going to get a chance to find out if I was right.

She thought of the jobs that would be lost, the livelihoods wrecked, the disruption caused if the oil did not get through; the millions of people who would be unable to do what they most wanted, or needed, or die because cars and other motor vehicles were out of action and electricity could not be generated to power life-support machines. It was for all those reasons that she was off to the balmy Bahamas; plus the fact that she'd never been there before and always felt an exhilarating sense of joy at exploring a new territory.

The night before they left England she had sat cross-legged on her bed until late studying a map of the Caribbean which showed the Bahamas, even though they were actually in the Atlantic. Did the answer really lie there somewhere, among that 750-mile string of 700 islands and nearly 2500 smaller islets, or cays, stretching from the northern coast of Haiti almost to the southern tip of Florida and covering roughly 100,000 square miles of ocean?

Where did she start? It occurred to her that what she was looking for was most likely to be on Grand Bahama or Abacos because those were the two most northerly islands, the closest to the route an oil tanker would be taking to get to and from the Louisiana terminal.

But suppose it wasn't? Her main concern was that they might find something which looked like a lead but in fact was a red herring, the real answer lying somewhere else. It could result in a disastrous waste of time, for which the company certainly wouldn't thank them. Once they had seen the whole picture, they could then make a decision as to what most required investigation.

She grinned delightedly to herself. It would be an excuse for a bit of sightseeing, and maybe other leisure activities too. Dedicated as she was to her work, there was no reason why she shouldn't have some fun while doing it. Regard this as a business holiday.

She'd start with New Providence, on which was located the capital, Nassau, followed by Grand Bahama. That would be where the action was going on, where she'd be more likely to learn something. Meanwhile she'd have Chris cover the Family Islands, plus the Turks and Caicos. Altogether they would visit all the larger islands over the next few weeks; she didn't think it was worth bothering with the smaller ones unless there turned out to be no clues anywhere else.

Later that morning, she touched down at Miami and had a snack at the airport cafeteria. With some time to kill before her flight to Nassau, she decided to spend a couple of hours on the beach.

She had always loved the beach. She enjoyed the feel of the sun beating down on her back, the water sparkling in the sunshine, the kiss of the gently rolling waves on her skin. There were other attractions, too. Though she wouldn't have admitted it, she was secretly hoping some hunk with a surfboard would take a fancy to her. Perhaps she'd seen too much Baywatch.

As it was she had to run the gauntlet, enduring the wolf whistles and constantly noting the appreciative looks that were cast in her direction. She supposed she was asking for it by going about in a bikini, with a body like hers. But she couldn't resist the temptation to experience the vaguely wicked sensuality of swimming semi-naked in the warm soothing waters, on which the sunbeams danced and scintillated. Then there was the possibility of getting a tan. She wanted her skin to turn a creamy brown colour, like cafe au lait, while the sun bleached her hair even blonder than usual, to an almost Scandinavian whiteness. So she found herself a bathing hut and changed into her costume.

She had decided on a pair of tie-sided hipsters. Though she had a whole collection of bikinis at home she preferred this type and was glad they had come back into fashion. She felt they revealed enough to be sexy while still preserving an element of decency, unless you objected in principle to the female form divine. The other kinds tended to look ugly, especially the front view, the way they exposed part of the crotch and pelvic bone. Me no Lycra.

The beach was pretty crowded which was a nuisance, but she was able to find a relatively secluded spot, spread out her towel and lie down.

Mmmmmm, she thought as her body began to soak up the solar rays. This is the life.

She alternated sensibly between the beach and the water, not spending too much time exposed to the sun, and coated herself liberally with suncream; a wise precaution for someone of her skin type and colouring. Whenever the heat got too much she lifted herself from her towel and padded down the gently sloping sand before her to offer herself to the sea.

Caroline loved swimming, despite having nearly been drowned off Newquay when a child, venturing out too far while her parents had been occupied dealing with one of Douglas’ tantrums. After this near tragedy it had been decided it would be best for her to take swimming lessons. Her fear of the water had taken some time to overcome, but by her teens she was thoroughly proficient in it. She often thought she might have taken it further than mere recreation. Though not the sort of person to be embarrassed about her body, and indeed proud of it, she sometimes regretted that her bust was just too big for her to be an Olympic standard swimmer. Small breasts created less friction to slow you down. Champion swimmers had the best physiques of all athletes, but not always in terms of what was considered sexually attractive.

Step by step she waded out, the warm water, stirred up by her movements, lapping against her flesh. Once deep enough, and clear of any other bather, she threw herself forward, arms outstretched, like someone embracing a lover.

She struck out, all the muscles needed for swimming, in her arms, wrists, shoulders, legs, feet, elbows, knees, back and buttocks contracting and expanding to push her forward, competing against the resistance of the water. Soon she was ploughing along fairly smoothly, at a slight angle to the coast.

She wasn't a trained athlete but she was young, healthy and very fit. She exercised regularly - swimming included, at the local pool and in the sea during the summer months - and ate a sensible diet which included plenty of orange juice, fruit and vegetables, full of vitamins and giving the right balance between water, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. As a result, and because of her genes, she possessed a trim slim figure. All this told in her favour as a swimmer.

Of course as a woman she didn't have quite the same muscular strength as a man. Her legs were similarly powerful - as one nasty character had discovered at his loss when he had tried to rape her a few years back – but her arms weaker. She made up for this by possessing more body fat and thus buoyancy, leaving her free to use more of her energy for propulsion. At the same time her smaller muscle and bone mass made her lighter and faster.

All the same she could feel the water dragging her limbs back, the bow wave created by her passage pressing against her sides and slowing her down. The drag increased the faster she swam. Soon she was breathing harder and faster from the exertion, but as she got into her stride ceased to notice it. In fact, her breathing and heart rate gradually steadied.

She tried a variety of different styles: front crawl, breast-stroke, backstroke and butterfly. She found the first two were the most strenuous, the third and fourth actually the most difficult.

She'd always been a little better on her back than on her front; for one thing the water didn't get into your mouth. And with the backstroke there was a relaxing feeling that the water was buoying you up. Sometimes it was nice just to stop swimming, lie back and let the waves rock you gently to and fro for a while, like a baby in its cradle. She did that for a bit, then tried the breaststroke again, covering quite a distance before realising she had gone a little too far out and turning back towards the shore.

A few minutes later, tired but happy, she staggered onto the sand, panting and gasping from her exertions. Flopping onto her towel, she stretched out taut and offered herself once again to the sun.

A few hundred yards away Louise Reiner was just stepping out from her bathing hut. She weaved her way in and out of the crowds until she reached the wet sand near the water's edge. Then she stopped and looked around for the lifeguard. Good; he was still looking the other way.

Louise sighed in sensuous pleasure, feeling her bare feet splash in the warm liquid as it lapped the shore. Her arms held out to balance her against the waves set up by other swimmers, she waded out till she felt the water slap against her chest. Then she launched herself forward and struck out with her head thrown back and mouth open in a cry of sheer, animal ecstasy.

Her arms swung up and down, her legs kicked out. Soon she was leaving the other bathers far behind, ignoring the buoys with their warning messages bobbing up and down on the Atlantic swell. Her only thought, only desire was to keep on swimming.

So she did. And by the time her arms and legs started to tire several pairs of hands were taking hold of her and drawing her down, one clamping the oxygen mask in position over her face as she sank deeper and deeper into the warm, comforting, life-giving sea.


FBI HQ Miami
At the desk he shared with Hurtwood in a corner of the open-plan office where most of the Special Agents worked, Moses Jameson sat back from his computer to ponder what he’d learned from it so far that morning. He glanced briefly at the screen erected against the wall nearby, to which had been taped copies of the notes and photographs from the file on the case. The victims’ faces were starting to haunt him. And Shannon Richards’ most of all, for some reason he didn’t yet fully understand.

He’d cross-checked with the records of every other FBI station in the country, plus the police forces of a range of other countries including Scotland Yard and Interpol, going back the last twenty years. And it seemed there’d been nothing like this case ever before, not on such a scale and within the broad parameters the perp appeared to have set himself, or herself. The Behavioural Sciences Unit at Quantico had come up with a psychological profile of the kidnapper – or killer, whatever – concluding that they were a highly intelligent but withdrawn and socially maladjusted individual who believed that by making people disappear they were demonstrating their power over the rest of society, getting their own back for having been excluded from full participation in it, as they saw things. They were probably not working alone, in view of the difficulties involved in an operation of this size, but were the driving force behind what was going on, the planner and instigator.
But who were they, and how were they doing it?

One possible clue to the means had come up while he was interviewing a couple of Shannon Richards’ friends. They had told him that while their group were out on the town the night before her disappearance, walking through the main shopping centre to get to their favourite dance joint, someone or something seemed to have pricked her sharply on the wrist. It was like a jab from a hypo, leaving only a small mark and causing no lasting pain. It was typical of Shannon not to have bothered telling her parents, in whom like any rebellious teenager she didn’t care to confide much, about it. And if they had pressed her to have a proper medical check she probably wouldn’t have listened.

Hurtwood came in and sat down opposite him. “Any luck?” Jameson asked.

“Maybe. I’ve interviewed about half the families now, and it’s the same old story. One or two of them had..issues, reasons why they might want to take a hike or kill themselves - same as with any bunch of people. But the rest seem to have been normal, balanced individuals with no reason to be pissed off with life. And no-one had seen anything suspicious or knew where their relatives might have gone if they were specifically intending to disappear.”
“I ain’t had any different. “But you said “maybe”.”

“There is one thing. According to people they’d been with, not long before they disappeared a couple of them reported incidents where they felt a sharp pain in the hand for a moment, like they’d been pricked with some kind of needle. It usually happened when they were in a crowded place.”
Jameson started, sitting bolt upright. “You don’t say?”
“Uh?”

“I had that with one of mine.” He described what he’d learned from Rhoda and Leanne, Shannon’s pals. “Smells like a lead to me, the only one we got right now.”

"Yeah. Some nut is going around injecting people with something, a drug that makes them want to disappear...it’s abduction, got to be. Later they get picked up somewhere by whoever’s behind it. It’s clever, means there’s no need to use force and risk drawing attention to yourself. I’ve never seen it done this way before.”

“In a crowded place,” he added, “there’s less chance anyone’s gonna see what you’re doing.”

“If they thought they mighta been injected with something, why didn’t they go and see a doctor to check they were OK? Some sicko mighta been trying to poison them.”

“That’s what I can’t figure out. None of them seem to have done so. I’ve a feeling this business is going to get weirder the more we know about it.”

“So what do we do? Put out an alert saying someone’s going round stabbing people with a hypo? That’d cause mass panic.”

“We just have to catch this guy,” Hurtwood said softly. “Would help if we knew what the stuff was. But since none of the victims went to the doctor to report it, and got a medical examination, we’re in the dark there.”

“They’ve got to stop this thing,” Jameson muttered.
“It’s not our decision anyway. In any case he or she is one of millions of people in this city. There's no way we'd know what they were going to do before they did it. And if they’re not local it’ll be even more difficult. We’ve just got to carry on with the investigation and hope we can get somewhere before too many go missing.”

“When’s there meant to be “too many” of something,” Jameson wondered. “I’d say there’s too many already.” How long would the disappearances continue, he wondered? Hadn’t the perpetrator proved their point by now?

Hurtwood reached for his copy of the case file. “I’ll have another look at Quantico’s report, see if we can relate it to anything unusual that’s been happening, anyone noticing a neighbour behaving strangely.”

“Uh. Me, I’ve got one or two calls to make, once I know who they’re to.” Jameson went back to the computer, the light reflecting from its screen seeming to glint off the steely determination in his eyes.

*

While Jameson was looking up the addresses he wanted Caroline Kent was catching her taxi back to the airport, where she later boarded an American Airlines flight to Nassau. She wore a loose-fitting, lightweight cotton blouse, T-shirt, white slacks and sneakers. In her suitcase were a pair of flipflops, lightweight casual shoes for evening wear, and a light sweater for wearing at night when it could get suprisingly cold. And of course she had come well protected with suncream.

The flight took just thirty minutes. It was uneventful xcept for when they ran into a spot of turbulence and the other passengers began wailing "Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord Jesus!", crooning His name softly in an appeal for protection against the wrath of the elements. She spent most of the time reading a potted history of the islands.

They rose out of the sea from the Bahama Banks, a vast flat underwater plateau which was part of the Atlantic oceanic plate. Its original human inhabitants were the peaceful Lucayan Indians, who lived primarily off the sea, making bread from manioc and growing corn, yams, and other vegetables, weaving cotton and building boats. They lived in egalitarian communities in caves and worshipped various gods, who were thought to control the rain, sun, wind and hurricanes.

Then in 1492 Columbus had come and planted the Spanish flag. He was followed by an army of colonists who enslaved the Indians, working them all to death, and then departed. The islands them-selves were not deemed suitable for settlement in the long run, but once explorers discovered the Aztec and Inca civilizations of Central and South America, greedily coveting their vast wealth, the galleons were soon passing by laden with treasure for Spain. Many foundered in the shallow reef-encrusted waters which soon became littered with wrecks, many of whom still remained there, to the delight of both recreational divers and underwater archaeologists.

Tales of this sunken treasure lured pirates and other adventurers, including Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh. The archipelago, with its hundreds of islets, cays, and complex shoals and channels, was an ideal base and hide-out for the pirates. In the age of sail, still lacking accurate maps and subject to the vagaries of the weather, hundreds of ships foundered here, often at the hands of wreckers who placed lights on the reefs to guide them to their destruction, afterwards helping themselves to their cargo.

During the next two hundred years the islands were variously claimed by Britain, France and Spain, actual possession going to whichever country happened to be most powerful at the time. In 1629 King Charles had granted the Bahamas to his attorney general, his son Charles II later dividing them up among six of his nobles. The thin Bahamian soil wasn't conducive to growing root crops, at the then level of agricultural technology, and little profit was to be gained from tilling it. The English grandees proved to be absentee landlords, and soon seafaring rogues came to the islands in large numbers to fill the vacuum. The population of the largest settlement, Charles Town, was soon almost entirely made up of pirates, prostitutes, wreckers and other sordid elements, who had the final say in who should be the islands’ governor. Sometimes the governor was a pirate. Since the Royal Navy couldn't effectively patrol the Caribbean the crown sponsored privateers to do the job, capturing French, Dutch or Spanish vessels, and piracy became a lucrative profession for ambitious miscreants, political refugees and escaped criminals.

Spain attempted to suppress the buccaneers and on at least four occasions attacked and razed Charles Town, beginning in 1684 when the settlement was destroyed. However it was promptly rebuilt, soon resuming its wicked ways.

Whenever peace broke out, pirates suddenly became outlaws. These were the days of Henry Jennings, of Edward Teach, the notorious "Blackbeard", who terrorised his victims by wearing flaming fuses in his hair and beard, "Calico Jack" Rackham, so called because of his fondness for calico underwear, and Rackham’s Amazonian sidekicks Mary Read and Anne Bonney. Eventually direct rule was imposed from London and a Governor (himself a former pirate) appointed who suppressed the pirates.

In the later eighteenth century loyalists who fled the United States after the revolution settled in the islands, bringing their slaves with them. After parliament ended slavery in 1834 many of the plantation owners left, often bequeathing their lands to their former slaves, who turned like the free blacks around them to fishing and subsistence farming. The turmoil of islands such as Jamaica, where the wealthy vigorously opposed emancipation, was avoided.

For most of the nineteenth century the economy muddled along based on subsistence agriculture, fishing, wrecking, smuggling, and diving for sponges. An illicit rum trade grew up during the Second World War. The islands did not remain a backwater during that conflict; in 1940 joint US-UK naval bases were established on five of the islands because German U-boats were hiding in the canyons between them. In those days the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII and a known Nazi sympathiser, was Governor and certain rumours surrounded the appearance of one such vessel in the neighbourhood.

Since the war the islands had made their living mainly from tourism. During the 1980s there had been a similarly lucrative but less legitimate trade, that of narcotics, until the damage to the country's reputation abroad prompted a massive crackdown with the help of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Now the Bahamas draw thousands of foreign yachters, anglers and scuba divers each year, a good many of them American.

The Bahamas had a population of approximately 290,000 people. About 85% of them were black, this figure including those who had multiracial ancestry. Whites constituted about 14%; most were of British descent but there were a few Americans, Irish and Greeks. And a few Chinese, Middle Easterners or Haitians. In fact, the vast majority of Bahamians were to some degree of mixed ancestry and distinctions were sometimes muddied. Finally there were the thousands of North American expatriates whose houses were dotted throughout the islands.

Outside Nassau most whites lived in a few settlements where they formed a majority, such as Man O'War Cay and Green Turtle on Abacos. The population of each was descended from just one family. Most of their inhabitants could claim descent from the earliest English settlers, Loyalists who fled the American Revolution – or, occasionally, from the former English ruling elite. A far greater number were descended from pirates and vagabonds. In Nassau they formed a clannish community dominating the upper echelons of economic life, in which the British in particular excelled.

The Bahamas had been likened to a string of pearls, shimmering in the sun. Certainly, as Caroline looked down from the window of the plane's cabin that day, the sea beneath her seemed shot through with filigree patterns of light, like the surface of some great gleaming jewel; a delicate tracery not unlike a giant spider's web glittering in the sunlight. The Bible spoke of the sea passing away after the Day of Judgement when all things were reshaped; she rather hoped this passage was meant in some way to be metaphorical, rather than literally true, because right now it seemed rather a pity. The clear and unpolluted appearance of the sea was due to the nutrient-rich waters of the Gulf Stream, which current moved in a northward direction preventing Florida’s rain and river run-off, containing effluents from industry, from reaching here.

It was the height of summer in the islands, and the weather would be breezy but sunny, as indeed it was most of the year, leading George Washington to call them the “Isles of Perpetual June.” They were well into the tourist season, but the effects on the world economy of the tanker sinkings would have had a knock-on effect on people’s private purses, meaning there wouldn’t be quite so many holidaymakers about as normal. All the better, because it meant she could move around more freely; and have the beaches to herself.

From the airport she caught a taxi into town where she booked into her hotel and unpacked. Once these tasks were accomplished the first thing to do, she thought, was to get the feel of the place. So for a while she wandered around among the quaint colonial-era buildings, the clapboarded houses painted in a variety of different colours. Everywhere prosperity was evident; a prosperity that derived from tourism, plus banking, and benefited from the close proximity of the United States, enabling the Bahamas to be far more developed than the rest of the Caribbean (though strictly speaking, the Bahamas was not geographically part of the region). It was reflected in the elegant clothes, the expensive new cars. Things were different, she understood, in the Family Islands, still relatively backward. But even here in Nassau there were poorer people evident as well; they were the ones in the polyester suits with white tie over black shirt, alligator shoes and fedora, baggy jeans and ostentatious gold medallions and wristwatches.

It was a colourful, bustling place. In the main street a Goombay dance band was performing, the musicians and dancers of both sexes dressed in bright flounced costumes. She paused to listen and to try and identify the different styles of which Goombay was a blend; calypso, African folk songs, English folk songs, and slave folk songs developed in the cane fields to ease the backbreaking labour. The musicians beat on goatskin drums, rattled castanets, played flutes, rang cowbells and blew through conch shells. It was a fast-paced, sustained, infectious tune and without making a conscious decision to do so she suddenly found herself dancing along.

"Hey, snow white!" someone shouted. "Snow white" was a colloquial term for a white woman, not here being used derogatorily. "Soul sister!"

She appeared to have arrived right in the middle of an election. It was a time when outrageous charges - sexual competence was a favoured topic - were made by competing candidates. Everyone seemed to be wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the emblems of their party, badges were being handed out, and posters were plastered on every lamp-post and tree. Voters were packing the streets, jostling one another and arguing noisily; surprisingly, the arguments rarely ended in fisticuffs.

Turnout for the last election, she understood, had been 90%. It provided an astonishing contrast with Britain, where apathy was now reaching alarming proportions.

Another thing that struck her, and it seemed to her encouraging, was that although the blacks and whites didn't intermarry much, no doubt because whites being in the minority were afraid of losing their identity and culture, they did get on OK despite all the slavery and racism there'd been in the past. Here the whites had never expected to be anything but a minority from the start, and so didn't regard the blacks as a threat to their way of life.

In some ways she was to find Bahamians terribly British. They were peaceably inclined and not likely to lose their tempers when things went wrong. Everyone had an air of casualness, going about their affairs with a benign, nonchalant calm. But an American influence was also very much in evidence, in the accents she heard on the streets and through the doors of fast-food outlets. Everywhere you go they're taking over, she thought. It was two-way however; at this time of year many Bahamians visited south Florida for either business or pleasure.

She was to find that Bahamians appreciated a sense of humour, especially if the joke was on the bawdy side. They liked to make fun of people, but without any malice. Although they didn’t care for being pushed around, they didn’t mind if the joke was on them and if anything respected people who gave as good as they got. They wouldn’t be gratuitously rude to a foreigner, of course; they appreciated that tourism was their lifeblood. The only real irritant for the visitor was that their easy-going approach to life meant planes and boats didn’t always arrive when they were scheduled to, the response of airport staff when asked when the next flight from Miami was due to arrive often being that it would get here when it got here.

Generally she felt safe. Apart from the mysterious murder of Sir Harry Oakes during the Second World War, which according to some theories was tied in with the Mafia, the Bahamas had never been renowned for crime. Whether male or female, you should be alright on your own as long as you avoided places that looked dodgy and exercised discretion when giving lifts to strangers.

She divided her time between the beach or sightseeing, in the mornings and afternoons, and the bars at lunchtimes and in the evenings. She was careful not to patronise the same establishment too often; for then it was possible people would think she was cruising for a sexual partner, and she would either be treated disparagingly and shunned or attract the wrong kind of attention.

Bahamians were so fond of gossiping that once she had hired a car in order to get around fast it wouldn't take her long to find what she was looking for, if it existed. She had excellent hearing, as many a colleague who muttered something rude about her under their breath as they left her office with their tail between their legs had discovered. Wherever she went, and not just in the clubs and bars, she chatted to the local people at every opportunity, from time to time gently probing in order to find out whether anything interesting or unusual had happened in or around the islands
recently.

She enjoyed her time in Nassau. But after a few days spent there without learning anything of particular significance, she decided it was time to move on. And so, with her usual feeling of pleasure at the prospect of acquainting herself with somewhere new, Caroline Kent set off for Grand Bahama.

*

Jameson had checked with all the establishments, whether private or government-owned, where a drug of the sort that might produce irrational or uncharacteristic behaviour could be developed. But although there were various things it could have been, no samples of them were known to be missing.

The perp would run out of the stuff sooner or later, wouldn't he? Either that would be the end of their kidnapping spree, or they’d try to obtain a further supply. Security at these places was already as tight as possible, and there was little chance of anything being stolen or of any employee with the right knowledge manufacturing the drug secretly at some other location. In fact, everyone Jameson spoke to was puzzled as to how the kidnappers could have got their hands on the stuff in the first place.

They’d now interviewed all the families of the victims, including the two more who had been reported that morning. Nothing they’d learned gave them any clues. And the numbers were continuing to rise, with nearly a hundred cases where the circumstances suggested something strange was afoot.

Where the hell were they putting all the bodies, live or dead?

While Hurtwood continued to work on the psychological report from Quantico, Jameson was going through the case file attempting to identify some further factor which all the victims – they were victims of something, that was for sure – had in common, scribbling down extensive notes in the process.

After going through the file several times, he was none the wiser. Perhaps he needed to employ a bit of lateral thinking, or follow a hunch rather than try and work it out through any rational process. Did he have a hunch yet? The cause of it would have to be something which made a kind of sense, could be significant, but remained unproven.
There was just one thing.
He had a sudden flash of intuition.

In one case a girl had disappeared after a trip to the beach. Shannon Richards had last been seen waiting for a bus that would have taken her there; although there were other stops on the way, that was where she had been observed to get off. And then there was the woman someone had observed, or thought they’d observed, walking into the sea.
The sea.

An idea began to take shape in his mind. But there wasn’t enough evidence at the moment to give it credence. Could just be coincidence.

Not yet, he told himself. Not just yet. He shoved the theory to the back of his mind, to wait until anything turned up to buttress it, and went to make them both a cup of coffee.


The only really fast and convenient way to get around within the Bahamas was by air. Caroline had had the foresight to get the Bahamasair Great Value Airpass, which was good for travel to up to eight flights and could be used to island hop. The only hassle was having to go through customs upon arrival at each airfield because of the country's drug policy. That and the consistent lateness of the flights. Everything seemed to move at a slower pace here than anywhere else in the West; the phenomenon was known as "BT" (Bahamian time). With so long to wait before anything much happened, it was why she didn’t feel guilty about spending so much time on the beach.

Grand Bahama was a long, thin island, 85 miles long and 17 across at its widest point. It was the second most popular tourist destination in the Bahamas. It had good beaches, two nature parks, a good social life in the town of West End, as well as diving, day-cruise excursions, and plenty of opportunities to indulge in some duty-free shopping. She took advantage of all of these. She thought it best to avoid the casino, since she didn't want to gamble away the money IPL were spending on her assignment; one could guess what Hennig would say about that. Although money was cabled to her regularly by the company for necessary expenses, on leisure activities she was careful to spend only her own.

On her first day on the island she visited a Marine Life Centre where following a two-hour educational lecture she stood waist-deep, supervised, in a pool where the semi-wild creatures swam around her, smiling as she felt their sonar checking her out, trying to decide if she was friend or foe; perhaps inviting her to communicate in the same way, which of course she couldn't. Rather a pity, that. And no feeding or touching was allowed; it was rather disappointing really.

She was warned her to take care should she ever encounter dolphins in the wild. Despite their cheery smiles they were animals, and unpredictable, which was the reason for the precautions visitors to the Centre were obliged to take. It was not unknown for them to attack people. You had to remain still if a dolphin approached you and not swim, chase after or touch one; they might perceive you as a threat and bite you. If a dolphin became aggressive you should exit the water slowly. The guide told her the creatures were far more approachable with snorkels than noisy scuba gear, the vibrations from which tended to alarm them.

She declined the invitation to swim among sharks while a diver in a chain-mail suit hand-fed them with fish meal to take their mind off the human flesh which would otherwise have monopolised their attention.

In spite of its varied attractions, Caroline did not like Grand Bahama. It was too developed and touristy with very little of the traditional Bahamian culture in evidence. Freeport, the main settlement and the nation's second-largest city, was a soulless collection of concrete blocks as was the other main town, Lucaya. There were too many American tourists who just wanted to lounge on the beach and gamble and shop. The whole place had adopted their culture. She gathered the Family Islands were much more interesting; perhaps Chris was having the better time of it. Their laid-back, simple lifestyle contrasted with the Bondian world of casinos, water sports, luxury yachts, golf courses and grandiose mansions that was Grand Bahama or New Providence.

Though the rest of the island was not quite so prosperous even the little fishing villages, she was to find, lacked character, colour, and energy. It was all so tacky, she thought snobbishly.

Freeport and Lucaya were popular with day-trippers arriving on cruise ships from Florida and with college students enjoying their spring break. They liked to consume copious amounts of alcohol, resulting in rowdiness that was an annoyance and an embarrassment to the locals.

But you could get away from it all if you needed to, on the ever-present beach.

Like the other islands Grand Bahama was uninhabited except around the coast where all the activity went on, the interior being one huge pine forest with an underfloor of dwarf palms and scrubby bushes. This meant she could concentrate her search, and that it might not take her long to get the information she wanted.

It was now her third night on the island, and she was sitting in a bar in Freetown sipping at her Daiquiri, and listening to the cheerful banter of the other customers; relaxing, affecting without strain a casual disinterested manner the way only an actress could. For she had trained as an actress at one point, before deciding such a career wasn’t for her. The main reason she gave it up, and a source of friction with her teachers at drama school, was her refusal to take on roles for which she felt no sympathy.

The room was just beginning to fill up. Most of those present were men but a group of women sat apart in one corner, talking volubly about weight, hair, clothes (whether theirs or someone else's wasn’t clear), when they weren't complaining about the infidelities of their menfolk. Nearer her, a couple of men were discussing the general election. Or at least they were until that topic exhausted itself and they turned their attention to her, not caring it seemed about whether or not she could hear.

"Hey, check out that blonde chick."
"Which one - oh, her." The Bahamian took a long, whistling breath. "See what you mean, man."
"Look at that hair. That's angel hair, that is. And that ass, them titties. Hey, you reckon she easy?"
The other hesitated, thinking, then shook his head firmly. "No, she ain't easy. You can tell."
"Oh yeah? How you so sure?"
"Man, you ain't never learned to read a woman's body language. She’s saying “leave off me, I don’t wanna know.””
"You reckon we should ask her? Won’t do no harm.”
"She looks the kind who won't just jump into bed 'cause you want her to. She's choosy 'bout 'oom she sleeps with. Reckon we should leave her alone."
"I say we ask. Only way we gonna find out, man."
"Forget it, she's too hot." They abandoned the subject of Caroline, although the conversation still centred on sex and who was copulating with who, along with fast cars and money.

Caroline smiled to herself. Despite the commonly held local belief that foreign women were free and easy with sexual favours, she wasn’t in any danger of being seriously molested. It was true, however, that in spite of their Christian beliefs Bahamians were relatively sexually promiscuous, starting from an early age. Couples might marry as young as 15, with parental consent, and even 13-year olds could if given special permission by the courts. The pleasure of sex seemed to be regarded as one of God's blessings, which it was a sin not to enjoy. Extramarital affairs were common, as were unmarried are unwed mothers. 57% of all births in the Bahamas were to single women, and 24% of those mothers were teenagers. But rape was almost unknown.

In any case it was the indigenous women who were most aggrieved by it all. Their disgust at their husbands’ behaviour led them to seek a better man, with whom they would engage in secret liaisons, thereby contributing to the trend. After all, it took two to tango. There was no stigma attached to illegitimacy, the child being accepted into the father’s home if he were a married man. However a woman who became pregnant by another man was usually thrown out of the house. The standard joke was that you could ask who your mother was but not who your father was. These tendencies became more pronounced the further you ventured from Nassau, and it was also claimed that the whites - the "Conchy Joes," as they were called - were less promiscuous than the blacks.

Although making major strides in politics and business, women still complained about their husbands’ infidelity – which the men roundly resented – and of being generally treated like cattle, expected to do nothing more than keep the house in order and cook the next meal. I’d soon sort out all of that, Caroline thought with a contemptuous curl of her lips.

From behind the bar came the clink of beer glasses being stacked, and the melodious strains of a popular song. "Mama look up in daddy's face all night long…." She grinned at the deliberate double entendre. Most Bahamian popular ditties had a sexual content, sometimes subtly disguised, sometimes not.

She finished her drink and went to the bar to order another, this time selecting a Malibu. The barman fetched a clean glass and proceeded to fill it.

"It's a beautiful island you've got here," she remarked, perching herself on one of the stools. "Hope nothing ever happens to spoil it.”

"Oh, we don't get no trouble from pollution. That ain't the problem round here these days, never has been."

She paid for the drink and gently twisted it from his grasp, holding it between thumb and forefinger. "Oh? What is the problem, then?"

"Well, this oil thing, the tankers goin’ down and all that, ain’t too good for the tourists. An’ fish stocks been goin' down to, no-one knows why. There's a guy from America lookin' into it but he had a bit of a setback a while ago; two kids that were helpin' him got killed."
Her eyes lit up with interest. "Killed? How?"
"Them just vanished. Drowned, I 'spect."

"But they must have been experienced divers." He'd said kids, but anyone too green surely wouldn't have been allowed in the water, at least by any self-respecting outfit.
"You can't be too careful out there. Make just
one small mistake somewhere, and well, the sea ain't too forgivin'. It's one big mean mother and you've no idea just what's in it." The corners of his mouth turned down wistfully. "I guess one of them got into trouble, the other went to help them and they both bought it."
"Oh dear," Caroline said, eyes closed.

The man nodded in sympathy with her. "Too right. They were young folks straight from College, so I heard."

She rested her elbow on the bar and her chin in her hand and sipped thoughtfully at the Malibu while the barman got on with polishing his glasses. She let a few minutes pass before asking her next question – it was a question, though you might have taken it for a casual remark, uttered more or less on whim.

"I don't suppose a lot happens out here." Grand Bahama was more lively than most of the other islands, but on a global scale still a backwater.

As she had anticipated, he didn't take this as offence. "Guess you're right there. Ain't all like that though. Some company or other got somethin' goin' under the sea, 'bout ten miles out." Any new development counted as newsworthy in a place like this. "Dunno a lot about it, 'cause they don't have much to do with the local folks. Can't even think a' their name, offhand. A coupla their people come ashore every now and then to one or other o’ the bars, but otherwise they keep themselves to themselves."
"What are they doing under the sea?"

"Can’t say, but you sure don't see them above it very much. Just a coupla guys and a boat, sometimes a helicopter, sort of patrolling to make sure folks keep well away from their territory.”

"Interesting," she commented. "It seems they guard their privacy very well."
"Guess it does."

Again a pause for a moment or two. "So who's this American guy who's trying to find out where all the fish have gone?"

"Dunno his name but he's over at Indian Quay, got a boat there. Big feller."
"Is he?"
"No, ah'm talkin' 'bout the boat."
"Oh right," she grinned.

She remained in the bar for a good hour or two more. If she'd left as soon as she’d been told all the things which might be regarded as particularly interesting, it could have got people talking. And until she knew exactly what was going on here, she didn't want the Bahamian predilection for gossip drawing attention to her.

"So it’s having a bad effect on the economy, all these disappearing fish?" she said as she rose from her stool and shouldered her bag.

"Not that much. We make enough cash from the tourists to get by. But we still have to eat the fellers." Caroline presumed he meant the fish. "There's plenty of folks make their living from the sea and nothing else. S'always been like that. They wouldn't know what to do with all these Americans, that's for sure."

"It's a shame this company you were talking about can't put something into the local economy. I mean, from what you say it doesn't look as if they do."

He shook his head. "That's right. They ain't done us no harm but they ain't done us no good either, if you see what I mean. I just can't figure them out....funny people." He broke off from his work to stare intently into space as if looking for some answer to the puzzle; and somehow it seemed to Caroline as if he was searching for it not in the ether but rather in the dark, mysterious depths of the sea. "Funny people."


Southampton, England
"I still think the tanker bombings were not necessary," said Igor Putyachev.

"It could have happened," Sir Edward Greatrix insisted. It was always something that had worried him, right from when he had first conceived of the project fifteen years before.
"Would have been a pretty slim chance," the American grunted. "Maybe not one in a million, but in quite a few thousand I'd say."
"Not really. Remember what I said about chaos theory."
"Even with chaos theory. You got a thing about chaos theory, haven't you Ed?"
"If you say so, Bert."

"We shouldn't have blown the whole plan just because it might have happened sometime in the future," Bert Hammerstein growled.
"So are you of the opinion that I have "blown" the whole plan?" For the first time during the conversation there was an edge to Greatrix's voice.

The routine business had been got out of the way fairly quickly; in the long run none of it would matter anyway, if their long-term goals were successfully achieved. All the company's national branches reported that profits were increasing, or at least holding steady.

"Surely all we have done is draw attention to ourselves," the German woman said. "It is taking too big a risk at this stage.”
"So you agree with Mr Hammerstein, then, do you Gerda?"
"I am not saying that."

"And what does your colleague think?" enquired Greatrix, casting his eyes to the other German present, a bear-like character named Otto Kleistmann.

"I am inclined to agree with Frau Wenge," Kleistmann replied. "The danger of exposure is far greater than that of an oil spillage in the area of the project. The risk of attracting attention to ourselves was not justified.”

“There’s no danger, believe me. We should be able to avoid any repercussions until it’s too late for them to ever damage us. After all, the unfortunate matter of Mr Kobenhavn didn’t cause us any problems in the end.”

He felt himself deflate as he threw himself back in his comfortable chair, fed up of arguing for the time being. “Now may I suggest we all relax a little, and enjoy some liquid refreshment? We can’t afford to start falling out, not when the completion of the project is in sight.”

On a table at the side of the room a buffet lunch had been laid out, including half a dozen bottles of wine, with glasses neatly set out in a row. At first no-one moved, then the mood of the gathering changed, calmed to some extent by Greatrix’s reassurances, and the executives left their seats and gravitated towards the food and drink. Hammerstein, as usual, uncorked the wine and poured for everybody.

Everybody except Greatrix, who didn’t immediately join them; he didn’t really feel like it. Instead he got up and went over to the window, looking out at the view across the grounds.

Yes, it had been a gamble. He didn’t know at the time whether it had been the right decision, couldn’t have done. But now he’d have to face the consequences of it, whatever they were. If there was any trouble, they’d be all the more angry because he hadn’t told them what he was planning.

From this height it was just possible to see the sea, shimmering between two clumps of trees. He gazed at it for a long time, thinking how much he’d loved it as a child. Whenever it was calm and peaceful, such serenity had always seemed the more sublime because he’d always suspected it hid a fathomless well of fascinating mysteries. Answers, maybe?

There was only one other thing he had loved so much during his life; well, two things to be honest. Their photographs sat facing him on the desk in his office, a reminder of his past he couldn’t bear to be without no matter how much it hurt him. It made it all the more terrible to think that he might have thrown everything away by the tanker sinkings. But then perhaps there’d been an equal risk either way. All they could do now was take things as they came.


EIGHT
Caroline dreamed she swam in warm, crystal-clear seas, liquid glass through which the slanting sunbeams danced; in just her swimsuit and snorkelling gear, and buoyed up both physically and mentally by the warm pillow of the water she felt happy and free, totally relaxed.

Until from the Stygian depths below something huge and monstrous rose up, seeking prey. It had a mass of writhing tentacles, huge bulging eyes that glared malevolently, and an enormous mouth filled with razor-sharp sharklike teeth. The tentacles curled around her body, seizing it in a grip she could not break, and began slowly to squeeze tighter, crushing the life out of her. And at the same time, drawing her remorselessly towards those terrible jaws.

Then suddenly out of nowhere another diver appeared, streaking through the water like a bullet, propelled by the kicking of his powerful muscular legs. He had a spear gun, and just as she felt sure her ribcage would crack open from the pressure of the squeezing tentacles the harpoon shot from the muzzle and embedded itself deep in the mass of pulpy flesh that was the beast. Abruptly the creature let go of her and swum away.

She felt strong arms wrap around her and bear her upward. The next thing she knew she was bursting through into open air, gasping for breath as she stumbled from the water. Her rescuer held and steadied her while she recovered her wind.
"Are you alright?" he asked in a Scottish accent.
She nodded without speaking, still a little breathless.

"That'sh got "shot" of him," the man joked. He was tall, handsome, well-built, and darkly good-looking. There was a scar down one cheek which made him look cruel but in an incredibly sexy sort of way. She took in the hairy barrel chest, the bulging biceps, the muscular washboard-flat stomach.
He studied her closely. “You sure you’re OK?”

“Yes, thanks,” she replied in a sort of strangulated sob, unable to take her eyes off him. “Must be..delayed shock…..”

“Perhaps you’d better lie down for a bit. I know a nice spot near here where we – where you won’t be disturbed. Will you be alright on your own?”
“Well…I suppose so,” she answered without much enthusiasm.
“Only I didn’t want us to…get on top of each other.”
“Oh, I don’t mind, really,” she gasped.

She followed him up the slope of dazzling white sand which swept majestically down to the water to a sunlit lagoon fringed by palm trees gently waving in the sea breeze. At its edge they sank slowly to their knees, and he put his arms around her again, holding her tight and close. She returned the compliment, drinking in the warmth of his embrace and the scent of his maleness. His mouth came down hard on hers, and they kissed long and passionately. She felt him reach behind her and fumble with the knot of her top as she lay back, sinking gently onto the soft carpet of sand beneath them....
And it would bloody well have to be then that she woke up.

With a wistful sigh she threw back the bedclothes, heaved herself to her feet and padded across the room to the shower.

After the meal had gone down she left the hotel in her hired Dodge Neon headed for Indian Cay. On the way there she passed a school party, and noted with benign approval the line of smartly dressed children, moving in an orderly well-behaved fashion - presenting to say the least a strong contrast with how the scene might have looked back home - and smiling cheerfully at the world around them, white teeth flashing in dusky faces. A mile or so on a preacher was giving a sermon underneath a tree, complete with amplifier and speakers; his powerful booming voice held his audience spellbound. There was no doubt religion mattered to Bahamians. On Sunday all the churches seemed packed, yet another marked contrast to the UK, and she was frequently to see processions of women in high heels, silk dresses and fancy hats, accompanied by men and boys in suits and ties - in England it would mostly have been casual wear – on the way to pay their respects to the Lord, all the time hanging on tight to their Bibles.

A funeral was taking place at a roadside church, where the car park was filled with people in smart new clothes, probably bought specially for the occasion. All were wailing and keening inconsolably. Bahamian funerals often lasted for a whole day, which was why they were almost always held at weekends, and like everything else were a source of gossip. Indeed it seemed to her that any religious gathering here was as much a social event.

Leaving Freeport she drove on along the long, straight, seemingly endless coast road, with the sea on one side and the forest on the other, which linked the main centres of population. Finally she came to the sleepy fishing village of West End, on the island's western tip. Here there was a store that sold fishing gear and other aquatic supplies, with a sign in the form of a plaster swordfish swingling gently above the door, a few other shops, a bar, a jumble of clapboard cottages, and beyond all of that the quay. Visible for some time before she reached her destination, gleaming white in the sunshine, had been the boat. A huge affair, it bristled with masts and aerials and satellite dishes and there was a thing like a crane mounted on the stern.

A few vehicles were parked on the quay. She stopped the car, got out and went towards the boat. The salty, fishy tang of the sea filled her nostrils.

The survey ship dwarfed all the other vessels moored at the quay. On its upper flank near the prow it bore the name Oceanus. In Greek mythology the god of the primeval waters, as she was later to learn.

A middle-aged black man sat on an upturned fish crate mending a net. His right leg ended below the knee in a wooden pole. He looked up at her curiously as she approached. "Hi!" she smiled.

A nice smile, the man thought, rather childlike somehow. The healthy white teeth flashed brilliantly in the sunshine. "I'd like to speak to whoever's in charge round here," she beamed.

"Oh, yeah?" His manner changed, Caroline feeling wariness cut in like a shield descending with a thud between the two of them. "Do you mean Doc Ivarson?"

"If that's his name." She suddenly realised she was being unconsciously sexist - her, of all people. "Or hers."
"Oh, he's a he alright. What's it about?"

"Matters of mutual concern, let's say. It'd take a long time to explain."
"Uh-huh. Who you from then?"
"I'm with International Petroleum Ltd."

The man frowned and pursed his lips. His eyes rolled skyward. “Nothing wrong with that, I hope," said Caroline.
He lifted himself to his feet. "I'll just see if he's free." From his expression he clearly doubted whether the approach would have much chance of success.

She hovered by the gangplank while he ascended it onto the boat, the wooden leg clattering on the planks.

Not exactly encouraging, somehow, Caroline thought apprehensively. She turned away and stared began studying the flat expanse of sea to the west, psyching herself up for the forthcoming encounter. A little later she heard the gangplank creak and looked round. A tall, bespectacled, bearded man was descending it with the slow, ponderous tread of someone who resented being disturbed from whatever it was they had been doing. She sized him up. He looked every inch an academic, yet at the same time clearly relished the outdoor life. He had the tanned, healthy complexion of someone who spent a great deal of time on the coast or at sea. The dark hair and beard were flecked with grey in a way that made him look distinguished. He seemed about fifty - give or take a few years each way - but for his age was clearly in good shape, the arms well-muscled and the stomach youthfully trim beneath the white T-shirt.

He looked decidedly sour. She kept up her friendly expression as he came down the last few feet of the ladder and swivelled stiffly to face her, staring hard. The look on his face clearly said, if you reckon because you’re a babe you’re gonna be able to twist me round your little finger you better think again, honey.

"Dr Ivarson, hi. I'm Caroline Kent from IPL." She put out a hand for him to shake. He contemplated it dubiously for a moment or two, as if it might in some way contaminate him if he touched it, then accepted it indifferently.
"May we go inside?" she asked.
"Is it important?" Ivarson grunted. "I'm very busy."
"Oh it's extremely important, I can assure you."

Gesturing curtly for her to follow, he reascended the gangplank. Once they were on the deck he stopped and swung round to her aggressively. "So what's all this about? What do you oil people want with me?"

“Well, I guess this will seem a bit odd to you but we think there may be something going on in this area which is connected with the oil tanker sinkings - you'll have heard about them, I presume. I just wondered if you'd noticed anything unusual."

Ivarson thought. "If I had," he said finally, "don't you think I'd have told somebody?"
"Maybe you haven't noticed it yet," she smiled, "but you might do."
"How'd they be connected, anyway?"

"The tankers that were hit were all going to America by the Bahamas. We reckon that's the key; someone's worried about the effect of an oil spill on the local ecology."
"Maybe it was me," he said drily. "I'm an ecologist."

"Well can I ask you to stop it, then? I mean, it's a bit naughty really."
Something in her manner elicited the ghost of a smile - a good-natured smile - from Ivarson. His frosty demeanour melted just a little. "So you want me to keep a look-out for anyone who might be out to blow up your ships?"

"Well....if you could. Anything unusual, anything at all. I mean, it is damaging people's livelihoods. So if you can see your way to helping...."

"I'm not here to bail out the oil barons," he told her, the hostility returning. "You should go and work in some other industry. One that doesn't pump millions of tons of poison into the atmosphere."

Suddenly the thought occurred to her that perhaps it was Ivarson sabotaging the tankers, or at any rate mixed up in the business somehow or other. She couldn't rule it out. If she did seem to win him over, would it just be a ruse of his?

Unsettlingly, it flashed into her mind that she might be putting herself in danger. Then again, if it wasn't him, and they were going to be co-operating on this, she'd need to trust him and to show that she did.

He couldn't have the right connections, surely. But the Children of Gaia had, and if he was a secret member of theirs or of some similar organisation....

She was trying to decide whether he was the type to be capable of such activities when his gruff voice cut through her thoughts. It was tinged with bitterness. "You think I did it. And while you do, you won't leave me alone. I know you people.”

Now it was her turn to get a little frosty. If anything, she suspected, he preferred that to an obviously artificial pleasantness. "I can assure you we wouldn't accuse anyone without proof."

"You have done in the past," he snapped. "Big companies like yours. Got up nasty rumours, planted evidence. Don't tell me that's not true, it happened to some people I know. Good people."

Something in his tone caused a pang of sympathy in her. Her voice dropped a fraction or two. "Well, I won't deny that goes on. I was asked to do something of the sort myself once. Of course I refused."
"Of course?" He sounded sceptical.

"I did. I told the person concerned where to go and reported them to senior management. I got threatened for my pains, I'll have you know." No-one was going to dirty her hands by involving her in criminal activities.

She folded her arms. "You don't have to help me, Dr Ivarson. I'm not trying to encroach on your time, I'm sure you're doing lots of valuable work here. But please understand I've a job to do, just as you have, and my reasons for asking your assistance."

Again there followed one of the long silences that seemed to punctuate the conversation from time to time. Caroline waited patiently while he evaluated all she had said, inwardly more than a little annoyed.

Eventually he spoke. "So," he began; his voice soft, steely and unnaturally calm. "You work for an oil company."

"Correct. And you don't like the fact, do you? Because of the pollution?"

"Too right it's the fucking pollution," he snarled, his anger breaking surface. "The God-damn global warming, the oilspills. If someone's blowing these tankers up at sea, where the oil doesn't do so much damage, then as I see it they're doing Mother Earth a big favour. Getting rid of the problem with no harm done."

A little more ice crept into her voice. "People have been killed, Dr Ivarson. Or at any rate, they've disappeared and we can't be sure they're still alive. Humans are living things too, aren't they?"

The harsh lines in which his face had set shifted. His expression changed, and he let his head droop slightly. "Yeah," he muttered. "Yeah...I guess you're right. Sorry."
"You're welcome."

After a brief pause, Caroline spoke again. "You may not like the oil companies," she said gently, "but they're at least trying to show they care about the ecology. They have to, for the sake of their image. So sometimes they lend organisations like yours equipment or money, for help in your research. You couldn't do without their help."

Another silence. Then the American's head jerked up. as something of his former assertiveness returned. "Let me ask you something, honey. If there was a company which had found a way to make renewable, non-polluting, energy work, and it made you an offer, would you resign from your....International Petroleum Limited and take a job with it?"
"I expect so," Caroline shrugged. "If it paid enough."
"So it's mainly the money you're concerned about."
"I have to make a living."
"So do we all," muttered Ivarson.

"You can't help wanting to have as high a standard of living as possible, that's only natural. But if there was a company which paid its staff just as much, and into the bargain didn't pollute the planet, I'd go for that company rather than stay where I was.

“But at the moment there isn't such a company. Whether you could make renewable energy work, in the long run, I don't know. It could do with a bit more investment, I'm sure. Of course," she added wryly, "the oil barons would try to stop that."

"I mean," she went on, "the oil itself is nothing to me. It's just the way I earn my keep, I don't have a fetish for it." She pulled a face. "Personally I hate the stuff. Yuk."

She looked guilty. "Actually I'm not sure I....I mean, to leave all the people I'd worked with for so long..it'd be a hard decision."

"Well, we'll worry about it when you have to make it," he grunted.

"So," Caroline finished. "In the end, I'm just doing my job. Someone's got to, because if we had to go back to the Stone Age we wouldn't have the resources any more to support everyone, would we? I'll say it just once more, Dr Ivarson. You don't have to help me but I'd be jolly grateful if you would. So what's it going to be, eh?"

Ivarson was in deep thought again. He rubbed his chin for a moment. Then he spun on the balls of his feet and made for a door in the superstructure of the ship. "This way."

She followed him along a central corridor to what was obviously his office. It was comfortably furnished, with a carpeted floor, but not ostentatiously luxurious. She saw a desk with two computers on it, one of them a laptop; bookshelves filled with works on marine biology; a framed degree certificate from the Institute of Oceanography and Marine Biology, Kennington, New Jersey. Illumination was provided by a porthole window in one wall. Various bits of paper were pinned to a notice board.

He pushed a chair forward for her, then turned his round so he could face her, and sat down, leaning forward slightly.

"I don't know what this has to do with your oil tankers. But just lately, fish populations in this part of the Atlantic seem to have been going down. We came along to try and find out why, because as with you and your oil, someone's got to. The local economy's starting to suffer. Goes without saying that fishing is one of the principal ways people round here earn their keep. And there's plenty of folk fish for recreation, mainly from the States. The tourist industry will be hit bad, if it goes on long enough."

"Pollution?" Caroline suggested. “But I was told these waters were relatively clean.”

"Well I sure dunno where it could be coming from. No major oil or chemical spills in recent years, and the nearest big industry is hundreds of miles away in the States. Of course, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen somehow.

"I've already taken some water samples, but I'll need to check the whole of the area within a fifty mile radius. Trouble is, that's going to take a while. And I can't do it without an assistant, preferably two. Devon’s a good guy but with that leg of his, quite frankly he's no damn use at all. I can do a little bit of it but that’s all. To be honest I was on the point of packing up and going home, though they seem quite happy to keep me on here doing next to zilch.

"When I started I had a couple of students from the Institute to help me. That's them over there." He nodded towards one of the photographs pinned to the wall. It showed two young people, smiling and cheerful, in wetsuits and scuba gear. A blonde girl in her early twenties and a darker man, of similar age. From the way they were smiling, and sitting so close to one another, you somehow knew they were "together." Caroline's eye fell on another photo of the couple, this time with Ivarson on the deck of a ship which was presumably the Oceanus, all three grinning happily at the camera. A portrait of a team.

"I...I heard they died," Caroline said softly, clasping er hands together in her lap. "Er, what, what happened to them?"

"I don't know what happened," said Ivarson. It sounded like a plea for help from someone or something. "All I know is they disappeared. Went down diving one day to fetch a core sample and didn't come back."

His voice broke as the words were forced from him, painfully. “And seeing as it’s been so long now, I don't think they ever will."


NINE
"I'm sorry," Caroline said awkwardly. As always at times like this, words were never entirely adequate.

They must have been keen, motivated, full of enthusiasm for their work...and now they were dead.

Ivarson took a deep breath. "Nothing anyone can do about it now. They're gone for good, least I assume they are. The sea's a dangerous place however good a diver you are."
"And they were?"

"You bet. Young, but pretty smart. Wouldn't have let them go down otherwise. They were the best, those kids. I don't just mean at diving. Always ready to help out....and always so careful. It just ain't fair."

"So what do you think happened to them?" she asked softly, breaking the silence.

Ivarson shrugged. "Anyone's guess. Doubt it was something wrong with the gear, though. We were pretty careful how we stored it; sure to keep it all clean and dry."

"'Course," he mused, "someone could have got on board the boat and messed about with it. But you always check your gear thoroughly before going on a dive, if you're sensible. Any sabotage, they'd have spotted it right away."
"Who'd've wanted to do it?"
"I dunno," Ivarson said. "It was just a thought."
"I suppose it could just have been an accident?"

"Sure. They happen in diving same as anywhere else. Anyone, anyone at all, can make mistakes; I'd never begrudge 'em that right. And there's some things you just can't foresee." Unconsciously he echoed the words of the barman Caroline had spoken with the night before. "I expect one of 'em got into difficulties, the other went to help - they would have done - and bought it too."
"And no-one's found their bodies?"

"No. That's funny, if you ask me. My feeling is the sea always gives up its dead sooner or later, like she's trying to say "this is what happens if you mess with me." But we did a big search of the bottom and didn't find any traces. ‘Course they couldn't have vanished into thin air, or thin water if you like. We'll know the answer one day."

"Perhaps something...got them," Caroline suggested. "A shark?"

"That would normally leave some remains. Plus you don't often get great whites, which are the really dangerous kind, in these parts." He got to his feet, crossed to the porthole and gazed reflectively out through it. "A shark's most likely. Could be something else, but what exactly..."

He seemed about to voice a thought, until Caroline spoke and dismissed it from his mind. "The question is," she said, "whether it's the sort of thing that plants bombs on oil tankers."

Ivarson took her at her word. "Well you can train some animals to do that, so - "

"I was being rhetorical actually. What I'm saying is that your two assistants could have been murdered. By other divers. Who then took away the bodies to hide the evidence."
"It's possible. Why, though?"

"To stop you from finding out what's causing all the fish to disappear. And which may be the same thing that blew up those tankers."
"Where's the connection?"

"That's what we're going to have to find out," she said briskly. "I was going to ask you; I understand there's a company in the area who have some kind of operation going under the sea?"

"Oh yeah, Marcotech they're called. It's been going for about five years now. Experimental project; some sort of revolutionary new process for farming the sea. Mineral extraction, too. They don't talk about it much."
"Probably scared of industrial spies," Caroline suggested.

"They've been at it for a long time. You'd've thought by now they'd've got far enough to be able to make the results public."

"Very mysterious," she said, her voice dropping to an eerie whisper.
"You think they're up to no good?"

"Well it sounds pretty dodgy to me. The place might be worth checking out."

"I shouldn't think they'd let near it, not with their obvious aversion to publicity where this project is concerned."
"I was told they don't mix much with the locals, either."

"That's pretty much how it is. There's a guy you see around the island who they say is with them, but that's about all."

"So. They've actually got a permanent...installation on the sea bed off Grand Bahama?"
"That's how it looks."
"How do they supply it?"

"By submarine from their onshore place near Miami. Would have to be, since it’s all underwater. Also helps them to keep a low profile."
"From Miami? That's quite a distance to travel."

"Not sure what sort of a sub they've got. Or the personnel at the base may be semi-permanent, unless it's all automated.

"No, there's no way of proving they're up to something. But I'll tell you this." Ivarson's eyes narrowed. "The decline in fish stocks got suddenly worse around the time they first set up that place."
"Have you spoken to them about it at all?"

"They said they couldn't offer any assistance; I think they thought that somehow or other it would mean making public the exact details of what they were doing down there. But as far as they could tell, nothing to do with the processes they were using was causing it. Without any proof we couldn't press the matter at all, force an official investigation."

"Hmmmm. And what would the effect of an oil spill here be on their project, have you any idea?"

"Without knowing more about it I can't say. But it would be worse than in mid-ocean, because here the water's not so deep. The word “Bahamas” comes from Baja Mar, Spanish for "great shallow sea"."

"So," Caroline said, "where do we go from here then? As far as we can tell the answer, whatever it is, is at the bottom at the sea here. But if we haven't got enough staff we can't even begin to look for it. Can't they send you some replacement assistants?"

"Institute doesn't seem willing to send me any more people or equipment. Funding's been cut lately, which doesn't help. Even with the four of us it was hard to manage at times. But the main thing is, they don't want to risk any more lives until we find out exactly how Kate and Ryan died. And I can’t do that unless I get more help, so it’s Catch-friggin’-22. As for the people round here, they're mostly too damn superstitious. They probably think there's a curse on the expedition and anyone involved with it."

A sudden mischievous gleam appeared in his eyes. "Two could do it, just about."

Caroline realised what he was saying. "Er, you don't mean...?"
"I mean, have you ever done any diving yourself?"
"Er....."

Her immediate thought had been "who, me?" Then she sat back, tight-lipped, realising that her reaction was making her appear scared.

"If you're really serious about helping, you might have to," Ivarson told her.
She gulped.

The idea didn't seem...she was alright on the surface, or underwater for just a few minutes at a time, but more than that...
But with the company losing millions of pounds every day....
Oh, Lordy, she thought. What have I just gone and done.
Did she really have to.....
But it was their only lead.
"I don't blame you for chickening out," he said.
"I'm not chickening out," she protested immediately.

"No shame if you are. The sea's a dangerous place, like I said." It wouldn't be fair of him to goad her into it. "But I need a hand and I doubt if anyone else is going to offer one. I can't stick around here forever waiting for the Institute to come up with the money." He contemplated her thoughtfully. "Can you snorkel?"

"Yes, actually I can," she said enthusiastically, her manner changing as she saw the point he was about to make.

"Then it shouldn't be too difficult. Think of it as an extension of what you can already do. Only this time you'll have your air with you so you can stay down longer. It's just a matter of checking your pressure gauge regularly to make sure you don't run out."

"Someone'll still have to teach me. There's more to diving than that."

"I'll do it. I'm not as young as I used to be, but I can still dive alright. In fact, there's people taking it up for the first time who are much older than me. I'm not qualified as an instructor, but I don't need to be. Any trained diver can make another, given enough time. So - you can swim, let’s say, 200 yards nonstop?"
"That's right."
"Using any style, or a combination of them?"
"Uh-huh."

"You're obviously comfortable in the water, then. That's more important than being able to swim fast. What about your health, is it good?"
"Never felt better."

"You're not the sort who catches colds easily?" A cold when diving could prove fatal, obstructing the airways and increasing the risk of an embolism.
"I don't get them more often than anyone else."

He looked uncertain. "'Course, strictly speaking I'd be breaking the rules. You should really be properly qualified." He didn't want another tragedy so soon after the loss of Katie and Ryan. Another young life extinguished.

"Mmmm," said Caroline absently, her resolution wavering. She was someone who believed in living life to the full; who knew what she liked and wanted to have it. She didn't like being defeated in striving for it. But the difference between snorkelling and scuba diving was greater than Ivarson had seemed to suggest, and he must be aware of it.

It was a nightmare she had often had, a nightmare of drowning, not being able to breathe. In snorkelling you could simply surface whenever you ran out of air. But diving....God, if you were really deep down, and something went wrong with your breathing apparatus and you had no way of getting to the surface in time....

She almost hoped Ivarson would decide he couldn't allow it. "It could be dangerous. Only right to warn you."
If she backed down, Ivarson wouldn't blame her, and there was no reason anyone else should know about her failure of nerve. But would she forgive herself?

Conquer your fears, she thought. It was what she'd done in the past.
What if one day she had to dive for some reason or other, she didn't know what....

For Ivarson's part, the scientist was wondering if he was subsconciously trying to put her off, so that he wouldn't have to make the decision. Because although he’d been trying to convince himself he didn’t like her, he’d completely and utterly failed?

That apart, he'd have to be mad to do it. He was jeopardising his reputation, his career, and if she wasn't really as brave as she was trying to be that could be dangerous in a real diving scenario.

He was about to say no when Caroline finally made up her mind. "All right," she said firmly. If any residual misgivings remained she was doing a good job of hiding them.
The moment had passed. "Great. You'll do it?"

In the long run, it was to be her determination to take on the task despite her obvious terror that won him over. Something in it aroused admiration, along with a certain tenderness he couldn't quite have described in words.
"I'll have a go," she said.
"It's not about "having a go,"" he cautioned.
"Sure."

"But if we do meet a shark, or anything like that, do you have a harpoon gun or something?"
Ivarson gave her a look of some distaste. "A harpoon gun?"
"You mean you don't?" she gasped in alarm.

His eyes narrowed. "What do you think this is? We're into conservation here. We save living things, we don't kill them."
"But what happens if - "

"If a shark goes for you," said Ivarson, "you just bop it on the nose."
"R-r-r-really?"
"Really. As for anything else, nothing nasty will happen to you if you're sensible. You leave it alone, it'll leave you alone."
"Oh," she said, unconvinced.

"Besides, it could be the real problem's human sharks. We were talking about them earlier."

"There's nothing we can do about that," she said wearily. It was an issue which always came up when she got involved in something like this, and she wasn't prepared to go through any more anguished soul-searching over it.

She shot a glance at him. "But you’re prepared to take the risk?"

"We don't know it's people who're causing the trouble. Till then we may as well give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if they killed Kate and Ryan I want to settle accounts with them."

Caroline bit her lip. She had left the most worrying issue till last. "There's one other thing. I know it sounds silly but...but if anything did go wrong...if I really was in trouble, and I couldn't see a way out, I...."
"Say it."

"Is there any way I could kill myself…. to stop myself drowning?" It seemed an incredibly stupid thing to say. But there were forms of death she could think of that might be preferable to the agonising pain in the lungs, the sensation that they were on fire and being crushed in a giant vice at the same time.

"Well," said Ivarson, "you could shoot yourself with your harpoon gun."

"It's not funny," Caroline snapped. She was angry because she was getting cold feet again, knew it, and was rattled.

"Yeah, well I didn't invite you on board," Ivarson retorted bitterly.
"Alright, alright," she scowled.

He softened a bit, understanding her fears. "You'll have a knife with you. You could use that. I mean, if you really wanted to..."
It won't happen, she told herself.

But if it did, and she didn't use the knife, she would probably die anyway.

Would she have the courage to use it, though? Would she be able to stay cool and collected when the only value in doing so was that she could end her own life?
She nodded, her mind to some extent relieved.

"Well, if that’s settled there’s one thing I ought to let you know about before we go any further. Blue holes.”
"What are those?"

Blue holes, Ivarson explained, were giant sinkholes, formed by rain and seawater dissolving the soft limestone rock on which the Bahamas rested. Most islands in the chain had them, usually located on or near the coast. They were water-filled, circular pits that opened into submarine caves and went down as much as 600 feet. At a certain depth the fresh water met saltwater that had seeped into the rock from the sea. Here bacteria broke it down, generating heat in the process and colouring the water orange, resulting in an eerie and unnerving environment for divers. The bacteria produced sulphuric acid, not necessarily poisonous but quite corrosive. Further down in the gloom of the underwater caverns, unique creatures suited to that environment, such as a species of blind pigmentless fish, had evolved as well as the more familiar forms of marine life. According to local lore even stranger things - mermaids, mermen and sea monsters - lurked in many of the holes. Some of the caves were accessible from the sea, others weren’t.

Many commercial dive operators offered blue-hole dives for certified scuba divers. It certainly wasn't a pastime for amatueurs. The strength of the incoming and outgoing current could be colossal, sucking a diver inexorably down, and the waters below a certain depth could be dangerously cold. Diving was legally restricted to 80 feet and you had to remain within sight of the exit at all times. To go down further you needed a special cave-diving certificate.

"Upshot of it is, they're very dangerous. You ever heard of Alan Palmer?"
"No."

"The expert on blue holes, mapped the entire cave system. The most experienced and knowledgeable person there ever was on the subject. Used to dive blue holes all the time, wrote the definitive book about them."
"And?"
"Well, he's dead." Ivarson left it at that.

"Oh," he added by way of an afterthought, "and watch out for the octopus."

"I didn't know they were supposed to be dangerous," said Caroline.

"I don't know if this one is. But it's said to live in one of the blue holes and it's pretty big - bigger than all the others. Just a legend, that's all."

They returned to the subject of her induction into the world of diving. "I'd feel happier if I'd done a spot of snorkelling first," she said. "Just to warm myself up."
"Well, when you're ready come and find me."
"I'll pop along tomorrow morning."

"You do that, and we'll make a start. But I warn you, I've got serious doubts about this."
"It's your choice," she told him.

He saw her off the boat. At the bottom of the gangplank, she turned and looked at him searchingly. "Don't tell anyone too openly I've been talking to you. Just in case."

"I wasn't born yesterday. Well, see you tomorrow then. Oh - " He had been about to turn away, but now hesitated. "I guess I owe you an apology. For being a bit hard on you in the first place."
"That's alright," she laughed.

"You see, it was the oil industry which killed my wife. In a way."

Caroline regarded him in shock. She realised she knew nothing whatsoever about any family he might have. "What happened?" she said quietly.

"My wife was fond of going on demos, that sort of thing; a little too fond. But she was that sort of person. She and some of her friends were picketing AOC, the American Oil Corporation, 'cause of some of the things it was doing in Nigeria. They were trying to stop the tankers, road tankers, or any other traffic from getting into one of its refineries in the States. This top exec of the company happened to be there and he didn't like it. Francine had an argument with him and ended up saying just what she thought about it all; she wasn't economical with strong language when she got really mad about something, was my Francie. Well, later on this guy was leaving the plant in his car and he saw they were all still there and decided to teach them a lesson. They were standing at the side of the road, shouting out slogans and holding up placards, etcetera. Once he'd picked up enough speed, this...this asshole suddenly changed direction and went straight towards them. Maybe he only meant to shake ‘em up a bit, I dunno, though several people reckon he was laughing as he drove on. Fact is he knocked down Francie and a couple of the others and drove right over them. She died in hospital an hour later."

Ivarson had gone very quiet and his head had tilted to look down at the ground. Quite involuntarily, Caroline reached out to touch him gently on the wrist. "That's horrible," she whispered.

For the first time it penetrated her consciousness that there had been a photograph of a rather plain, but pleasant-looking, dark-haired woman amongst the others in Ivarson's office. A woman who if Caroline had known she would probably have liked, politics apart, from what he’d said about her.

Ivarson swallowed. "He was arrested and put on trial, but managed to get off. Money, big money, crept along and had a quiet word in someone's ear. The company transferred him to another position overseas, but reinstated him in his original job once they reckoned the public and the press had forgotten the whole thing. He's still earning about two hundred thousand pounds a year."

Ivarson felt her go cold. The coldness extended to her eyes, turning the irises into points of such intense blue that it somehow screwed up your mind to look at them. Thank God, he thought, that she was one of the good guys - he was certain of that by now.

"If anyone was working for me and they did something like that," she said slowly, "I'd kill them." He wasn't sure she didn't mean it literally.

"Well," he sighed eventually, "let's just hope it doesn't come to that in this business."


Moses Jameson sat at his computer typing up a report on the progress so the case so far. It had reached something of a dead end, and until they got any more leads or something else came up that required the Bureau’s attention a lot of their time would be spent doing routine paperwork.

Every now and then the words came back to him. It’s too late now to say we’re sorry….

His eyes went to Shannon’s photograph again, and lingered there for just a moment.

So far Hurtwood’s investigations had produced only a series of dead ends. There were always people who behaved strangely, but none of them seemed to be the serial kidnapper. A few arrests had taken place but the suspects were all released after a day or so in custody, or charged with quite different offences.

He was alone, the other staff who used the room having by now gone home. He wondered if there was any point in staying here till he finished the report; it would keep till the morning. And few things were more depressing than working late in an otherwise empty office.

He could have gone for a burger and coffee with Hurtwood in the canteen, which always stayed open for a while after hours. Hurtwood was OK, but the two of them didn’t really gell outside of work, and after a time had more or less stopped socializing altogether. Jameson didn’t know if it was just what Hurtwood was like, or there was some other, darker reason behind their failure to hook up. You could never tell, because so often nowadays white people weren’t allowed to be racist. Sometimes that only succeeded in driving the problem underground.

Get home to Arlene and the kids, he told himself. If they don’t see enough of you, things will start to fall apart. He saved his work, logged off the computer and shut down. And was just about to grab his briefcase and leave when the phone rang.

“Agent Jameson? Lou Constantinos here.” Constantinos was his contact in the local Police Department. You wanted us to tell you soon as anything came up. Well, we might have a lead for you.”
“Go ahead and shoot, Lou.”

“About Louise Reiner.” The latest one, thought Jameson. Last seen leaving work early one Friday evening; reported at a singles bar downtown the previous Tuesday night, in the company of a blond man with whom she ultimately left the premises, looking apparently a little the worse for drink. But in Jameson’s view there was too big a time lag between then and Reiner’s failure to turn up at the office Monday morning. No-one had turned up any trace of her drinking companion, who might not have been local and wasn’t easily distinguishable from a fair number, ha ha ha, of other American men. Reiner lived alone, which meant there wouldn’t be that many people who could account for her movements during her free time.

“Seems a lifeguard at the beach on the Saturday afternoon saw a swimmer out too far, a woman he thinks, but lost sight of her. Some people blocked her from his view, and when they moved on she was gone. At least, he didn’t see her again. It was bothering him a bit so he had his people do a search of the area. They didn’t find anything. There were a lot of people about, but he was certain he saw her. It was like she was there one moment, and the next…”
“And no body’s turned up?”

“No, not yet anyway. The thing is, it was only when he was told no body had been found that he started to doubt. He was pretty sure before and he must have had a reason to be. See what I mean? Like there either was someone there, or he was hallucinating, and he’s got a pretty good record, don’t drink or take drugs.

“The point is, it could have been Louise Reiner. I wasn’t sure if you ought to know but you did say anything, so….”

“You did alright,” Jameson told him. “OK, thanks. You’d better send us the report, for our files. Just in case.” He rang off.

He lingered in the office for a while, thinking about the call. If someone had drowned or been attacked by a shark then the body, or pieces of it in the latter scenario, ought to be found sooner or later. A trick of the light couldn’t be ruled out on a very bright sunny day. Like Lou had said there might be nothing in it.
Or, he thought, there might be everything.


TEN
They had a few classroom sessions first, on the Oceanus, in which Ivarson taught Caroline the basic principles of diving, the various hazards involved in it, and how to care for and maintain scuba equipment. A lot of the main points were the same as for snorkelling, which helped.

To adapt to diving you needed to learn to use your legs for swimming and your body angle to control direction. These actions freed your hands for other uses underwater; they were not needed for propulsion.

Water temperature altered the rate and rhythm of your heart, as did physical and emotional stress. Diving needed considerable fitness and stamina, but also caution. Your ability to exert yourself was not as good in water as on land; heart and lungs did not function as well as normal when under pressure. When you became excited or began moving quickly, your respiration increased and affected your buoyancy. Breathing underwater required more effort than above it and there was a danger of doing it faster than your regulator could supply the air or of inhaling some water, causing you to choke and gasp. Stress could cause you to overexert, make mistakes, breathe too hard and fast using up too much oxygen. The factors responsible for it were cold, illness, exhaustion, injury, fear, equipment problems, loss of air supply, lack of light, currents and disorientation.

Changes in pressure with depth could cause discomfort and injure the air spaces within the body unless you kept the pressure within them equal to that of the surrounding water. If you didn't, you risked permanent hearing loss or ringing in the ears. The pressure was particularly great when you were nearing the surface during an ascent. If you came up too rapidly after a dive, the gases in your system could turn into bubbles before it could be diffused into the lungs and eliminated; this resulted in decompression sickness, also known as the bends. Failure to allow expanding air to escape from the lungs could damage them and cause an embolism, which had the same effect as a stroke, resulting in paralysis or unconsciousness.

As you went deeper the amount of gas dissolved in your body increased. At depths of 100 feet or more the higher nitrogen levels could bring about nitrogen narcosis or "rapture of the deep". The symptoms were euphoria and/or terror, both of which reduced your awareness and ability to respond to an emergency. With frequent diving experience reduced your susceptibility to it, and it could be rapidly relieved by ascending, though not too fast of course, to a shallower depth.

You had to be watching your buoyancy all the time. It increased by a few pounds when the lungs filled with air, and decreased when they deflated. You could vary the amount of air in them by adding to it or venting it from an inflatable device called a buoyancy compensator. When you descended in an exposure suit pressure compressed the suit and reduced its volume so you became less buoyant; as it inflated the compensator made up the loss, so maintaining a balance which kept buoyancy constant. You weighed exactly the same as the amount of water you displaced, and so neither floated nor sank; you could rise to the surface, sink to the bottom, or hang suspended between the two.

Your buoyancy was affected by your physical size - as a woman Caroline had an advantage there, possessing less bulk than a male, and fat in all the right places providing vital insulation - your lung capacity, the equipment you wore for diving and any items you had to carry. If you lost control of buoyancy for any reason you could slow your rate of ascent by flaring - arching your back, extending your arms and legs, and positioning your fins so they were parallel to the surface.

You chilled quickly while diving, since water conducted heat 25 times faster than air, and the problem increased the deeper you went. An exposure suit insulated you to some extent but it didn't protect you from losing body heat with the evaporation of moisture from the lungs that occurred when you breathed underwater. Small people chilled more quickly in water than large people, since they had less muscle mass to generate and store heat. Caroline was about average in build, perhaps a fraction above it in height, for a woman, so didn't have anything much to worry about there.

As you got colder you would lose strength and feeling in your muscles, maybe suffer cramp in the feet and lower legs - dangerous in a diving situation. A friend would have to be present to help remove the cramp by rubbing the affected muscle.

If suffering from heat loss you would of course start to shiver, in order to restore heat through muscular activity. However the water conducted away the heat produced by the shivering and you got colder. If the shivering became uncontrollable, you had to get out of the water and return your body temperature to normal with the help of warm, dry clothes, generally warm surroundings, and warm nonalcoholic drinks, until you perspired since that was the only way to be sure. Seasickness was dangerous because of the likelihood you would choke on any vomit. If you felt nauseated, the answer was to surface immediately. If you had to puke underwater it was vital you didn't do it through the regulator by which you breathed. You had to hold the second stage of the hose of the regulator against one corner of your mouth and depress the purge fully while you vomited. You should get air instead of water if you gasped. When you had finished throwing up you placed the second stage in your mouth, cleared it and resumed breathing again.

It was dangerous to hold your breath, particularly when ascending. On the way up the compressed air in your lungs expanded as the surrounding pressure decreased, which could cause your lungs to rupture even with an ascent of just four feet, say, unless you allowed the excess air to escape. You must overcome the natural instinct to hold your breath underwater, which was hard. The best way to do it was to swallow three times in rapid succession. If you must cough – an unwise thing to do as the expulsion of air reduced buoyancy - do it through a regulator so you would inhale air rather than water. The latter could cause you to experience illness, nausea or diaorrhea. If you swallowed several mouthfuls of it when diving, you had to terminate the dive.

You must prevent excessive dehydration because the condition made it more likely you would suffer injuries while diving. This meant keeping your regulator well maintained, avoiding diuretic drinks and medications, and frequently drinking non-alcoholic liquids before and between dives in order to replenish body fluids.

If you had been making repeated ascents and descents - which should be avoided if possible - you might need decompression, particularly if your final ascent was at a fast rate. You would also need to decompress if you had been below a long time.

Such were the basics of the trade. Of course you could only really learn them thoroughly when in the water.

She already knew from her snorkelling how to fit a facemask and dive from the surface. Now Ivarson taught her how to remove the mask underwater, should she have to; how to breathe using a regulator, to change from snorkel to regulator and back, share a regulator with a friend if one of you had run out of air, plus the art of buoyancy control, checking depth and pressure gauges, making ascents, all the different signals.

Every morning she went down to the Oceanus for a intensive training programme, followed by a time generally assisting Ivarson on the boat, to help get her sea legs. Sometimes the session extended into the afternoon, sometimes it didn't and she spent the rest of the day on her trawl for information around the islands.

They did four pool sessions, and then four scuba dives in open water, progressing from each of these stages to the next with initial skills taught at standing depth rather than in deep water. Each time they agreed on the maximum duration and depth for the dive – taking into account the effects of residual nitrogen, which could remain in your system for twelve hours – and what the points of entry to and exit from the water were to be. Much of the training consisted of seeing and doing. Ivarson would demonstrate the proper way to use the snorkel and other equipment by doing it himself, then she would imitate him.

In case of trouble, it was vital to practise the art of breathing underwater without a mask. They tried it first of all in very shallow water with her holding on to a secure handhold. She commenced breathing from a regulator and, once a regular rhythm was established, slowly squatted down in the water until it covered her mouth and nose. Should any difficulty ensue, she only had to raise her head a short distance to be able to breathe normally through the nose. As confidence was gradually gained, she was able to submerge the whole of her face underwater and breathe through the regulator for longer and longer periods.

It was also necessary for her to learn to clear a mask underwater. Each time she introduced just a little more water until it was full. The final step was to fully remove the mask to simulate a situation where it became dislodged underwater.

To clear a mask while scuba diving you needed to develop the skill of breathing through your mouth with your nose exposed to water. First you tried inhaling through the mouth and exhaling through the nose, and then inhaling and exhaling through the mouth only; if you feel any water going up through your nose you exhaled immediately to keep it out.

With the technique mastered she was taken into slightly deeper water where she could no longer immediately stand up to regain the surface; this reassured her that it worked equally well irrespective of depth.

Again from the snorkeling, she already knew how to handle the effects of pressure change; how to open the Eustachian tubes leading to your ears at will, at the point where they connected with the throat, allow air to pass through them and equalise the pressure in the air spaces of your middle ears, by blocking your nostrils, closing your mouth and swallowing. When you heard a "cracking" sound in your ears she you knew the tubes had opened. You had to equalise the pressure before descending and about every two feet for the first fifteen feet of descent, about every three feet from fifteen feet to thirty feet, and as needed thereafter. Initially, whenever she ascended she did so in a rather jerky fashion until she become fully accustomed to the technique.

No skill identified a scuba diver's ability as much as buoyancy control. With your buoyancy adjusted to the point at which you could pivot on your fins on the bottom, you pushed yourself about two feet off it and remained motionless. You might or might not remain in a horizontal position, but that wasn't important. You maintained your depth by controlling your average lung volume, but remembering to breathe continuously. If you were sinking, increase the amount of air in your lungs. If you started to rise, reduce it using the buoyancy compensator. With practice she was eventually able to hover motionless just off the bottom, conserving more energy and more air in doing so.

They did some of the pool training at the Underwater Explorers Society HQ at Port Lucaya Marina, the best-equipped dive facility in the area. By agreement with the facility Ivarson, who was well known there, continued to be responsible for her training during those sessions; it would disrupt the rhythm, the rapport that had built up between them, if they changed instructors now.

They aimed not to make more than two dives per day over a period of several weeks, initial training time totalling thirty to forty hours of instruction. The time between class sessions allowed Caroline to reflect upon what she’d learned and absorb and retain the knowledge better than with a more concentrated schedule.

For their first open dive, they chose a stretch of shore where the bottom sloped gently, which would allow her to gradually increase her depth. It was free from the effects of currents and strong tides, and they had made sure they were adequately marked with a diving flag and a surface marker buoy. Ivarson taught the best places from which to dive: you needed sites with good clear water, reasonably deep yet close to shore, preferably sheltered and with easy access. There should be a minimum of currents.

They took the boat out from the Oceanus to the point they had selected as the most suitable one for the dive, and started to unpack the equipment.

It was colour-coded and the yellow flippers and yellow-painted aluminium cylinders matched Caroline's hair, she thought pleasingly. The buoyancy compensator was a bladder mounted on a harness together with the pair of oxygen cylinders, and worn on the back. She put on the harness over her swimsuit, which she had been wearing underneath her clothes. She had seen people so clad in the illustrations in a diving manual in the Leisure section of her local library, back home. Ivarson turned from putting on his own gear, saw her and frowned.

"Oh, I expect that'll be OK," he grunted after a moment. It didn't matter quite so much in initial training.
"Sure?" she asked.

"Uh-huh. You just need to make sure your harness is a bit tighter." He adjusted it for her, taking scrupulous care to ensure his fingers didn't brush her bare flesh.

At the end of the dive, they climbed back onto the boat. Caroline took off her gear and began to towel herself down. The sunlight glinted off the wet material of her bikini bottom. She happened to turn, and at once he had a full-frontal view of her semi-naked body.

There wasn't much left to the imagination. With a speed that took him completely by surprise, Ivarson felt himself swell into erection. A conflicting, confusing jumble of thoughts chased themselves round the inside of his head. Then with a sudden pang of horror he turned sharply away from her, desperate to conceal the bulge in his trousers from her view.
Oh shit, he thought feverishly. If she saw it....

He wished he'd insisted on her wearing a wetsuit. He hadn't thought of it while they were training, because his mind was on the task in hand, but now she was awakening desires in him he had thought forever buried. To his surprise, delight and shock he was harder than he had been for a very long time. Even when he was young, it had rarely felt like this. Caroline did tend to have that kind of effect on men.

He risked a glance at her. Her manner as she struggled into her T-shirt and buckled on her jeans was normal. She hadn’t been flaunting it, but wasn't abashed either. She didn't seem to have noticed the hard-on, or maybe was just too calm and collected to give any sign of it. All the same Ivarson was still shaken by the incident. Careful, he told himself severely, or you'll blow the whole arrangement.

After that he suggested to her that she wear something more...enveloping, because it was generally safer; he didn't of course tell her the other reason why it might be a good idea. She studied what was available, and eventually settled on a one-piece Spandex wetsuit. It was light, thin and stretchy, but comfortable, and provided both insulation and protection against sharp coral, the bites and stings of poisonous animals, and sunburn when out on deck preparing for a dive. It had a detachable hood for use when required.

Exposure suits tended to increase buoyancy, so to offset that the suit had a weight belt of heavy nylon webbing, filled with lead shot, around the waist. It had a quick release system for discarding it in an emergency and thus being able to adjust buoyancy or ascend more quickly. They wore neoprene socks to protect their feet, but no gloves, in case these harmed any marine animals they might handle. Avoiding damage to your bare hands from coral or aggressive wildlife had to be a matter of common sense.

Weights mattered because most submerged objects, including the human body, tended to rise to the surface. Adjusting the weights to a diver's natural buoyancy and air tanks was a skill which took some time to learn.

The aluminium cylinders contained 80 cubic feet of compressed air - not pure oxygen. There was no CO2, for even a small amount of that in your tanks could poison you or cause respiratory problems. The flow of gas from the tanks to the regulator was controlled by an on-off valve, surrounded by a soft circular ring called an O-ring, and channelled into a snorkel tube.

The function of the regulator was to reduce high-pressure air to a breathable level. It was in two stages, the first attached to the valve of the scuba cylinder, reducing the high pressure to an intermediate pressure of about 140 psi and connected via a hose to the second stage which contained the mouthpiece. The hose was flexible but with rigid metal connectors crimped on the ends. It was a demand system, delivering air only when you wanted it by inhaling. There was a failsafe system which turned it into a free-flow one in the event of component failure. The second stage was shaped like a cup with a pliable diaphragm across the top, a mouthpiece attached to the bottom, and a purge valve on the lower side.

It took effort, needed to overcome resistance to breathing, to inhale and exhale through a scuba regulator, and Caroline found it hard to manage at first.

Both of them wore various items on the wrist. There was a depth gauge in the form of a hollow, air-filled, transparent plastic tube sealed at one end and placed around a circular dial. A waterproof watch helped them to keep track of how long you dive, how long they were are at the surface between dives, and how many dives they made. Integral with the depth gauge were a diving compass and a pressure gauge indicating how much air was left in your tanks. The compass was necessary because of the inability of the human eye, in most conditions, to see for more than a hundred feet underwater. If you dived without a directional reference you could end up a long way from your planned exit point. The compass was also useful for relocating a precise area underwater and as a surface navigation device.

You could best find your way about underwater by a combination of natural and compass navigation. With the former you used light, shadows, plants, rock formations, water movement, and depth to determine where you were. As you moved about you had to note your surroundings, asking yourself which way you were going relative to the movement of the water, sand ripples on the bottom, and the angle at which the sun’s rays slanted.

One or the other of them always carried, in a pouch attached to the belt around the waist of their suit or clipped to the belt itself, a spare equipment and first aid kit. It included a knife for use in freeing yourself from seaweed, fishermen’s nets etc.

Caroline marked all her personal equipment so that it could be identified, carving "Caz" in the metal of the cylinders with a penknife.

Ivarson was pleased with the progress she was making. She was a quick learner, often working things out without having to ask him too many questions, except when it was as well to be sure of something. She mastered it because she wanted to, bearing that in mind and letting it override any fears she might have. She chose to look upon what she was doing as just an extension of snorkelling, which helped. By self-control she learned to stay calm, to control her breathing, to not become disorientated and panicky when weightless in a dimly lit environment, as so often happened. Under some conditions you might have difficulty telling which way was up if you relied on your sense of balance. To prevent this she learnt to recognise clues to her orientation in the water; ascending bubbles, water in your mask settling to the lowest point. Whenever she did feel disorientated she grasped a solid object to use it as a point of reference until the feeling passed. Ivarson told her that if suspended in the water and overcome with vertigo she should hug herself to reduce its effects, although she found this never happened because the water usually felt like a cushion buoying her up, rather than a medium through which she was falling.

With time and experience she adapted to low light levels and magnified vision underwater; in fact she adapted so quickly that she had to readapt to the changed conditions when surfacing from a dive, a problem commonly encountered by divers. At the end of a dive, the distance to a boat or to the shore could look much greater than it was.

They did a couple more dives to bring her up to the required standard. At the end of it all, Ivarson declared himself satisfied with her progress. The three of them – he, Caroline and Devon - celebrated with champagne back on board the Oceanus. The only problem was, there could be no certificate to proclaim her new-found skills to the world, since Ivarson hadn’t gone through the proper channels and didn’t want to advertise the fact too widely. He was guilty about not having told the whole truth to the guys at Fort Cumbernauld.

Fort Cumbernauld was the local diving centre, which as well as a whole range of other activities provided equipment and training to those exploring the depths for scientific or recreational purposes.

"If anyone asks where you learned it all," he told her, "you're going to have to be very circumspect."

“Don’t worry, I can stand that,” she said. She was used to keeping secrets. It was yet another thing she couldn’t tell anyone about. What will I be remembered for in the end, she wondered? Being a good oil executive, plus that business with Saddam Hussein and those white slave traders which had got into the press and made her famous for a time, the full details being suppressed by Six (as she still thought of her one-time employers)? It wasn’t quite enough, in her view. Oil executives weren’t glamorous, judged by the work they did, nor were they popular.

But she was young, still, and the rest of your life, spread out before you like a whole new realm waiting to be discovered, was a long time for things to happen in.


Moses Jameson stopped the car and glanced to his right, towards the beach now gradually starting to fill up with people. And the calm, tranquil sea beyond it. He sat there gazing at it and thinking for a very long time.

It couldn’t be, could it? And if it was, then how? Not to mention the still-niggling question of why.

Maybe he was getting in too…too deep. He smiled faintly at the analogy. Not that this was funny, of course. Some of the anxious relatives didn’t care much what had happened to their folks; you got that sometimes with these cases, especially if there’d been some kind of family falling-out. And quite a few of the missing were down-and-outs from the poorer districts of the city; easy to spirit them away, and not quite so likely that anyone would care about their fate anyway. But some people did care, while the others certainly ought to. Maybe it was partly because Jameson had been born into relative poverty himself that he felt this way.

He tried to see it from the point of view of richer people, who of course didn’t matter any less, as people, than those who you might have more reason to feel sympathy for politically and economically. Perhaps in a way it was worse for them, because they lived secure and easy lives and weren’t accustomed to tragedy, being thus ill-equipped to deal with it when it hit them. He knew it was better for him to think that way, because it stopped him from disliking them.

Crossing the road to the beach, a youth in jeans and T-shirt passed in front of the parked vehicle, and Jameson registered the look on his face. It seemed to him too rigid, too immobile, and he frowned, wondering whether the guy was planning on popping somebody. You saw a similar expression on many serial killers, although it didn't necessarily mean he was out to commit murder. He just looked...strange.

It proved nothing. After a moment Jameson started up the engine, trod on the accelerator and drove off.

The stretch of beach was many miles long and there was no way all of it could be constantly patrolled. Which was good, thought Wayne Parelli, because if the life guard spotted him and decided he was putting himself at risk, they might interfere. And he didn't want anyone interfering.

He already had his costume on underneath his clothes. Stripping down to it, he left them in a pile on the sand and walked into the sea. He swam out until he was beyond the range of human eyesight, then dived. As it happened one or two people did see him disappear beneath the waves, but then they looked away again and went on chatting to their friend or just relaxing in the sunshine with their eyes closed against it, and forgot all about him. And when his disappearance first came on the news the following today they made no connection with what they had seen.

As for why he did it, he didn’t really know. He had no particular reason to be dissatisfied with his life; stable family background, plenty of money, secure job with a one of the big insurance companies, steady girlfriend. He just knew that if he went down to the beach, stripped off, and when no-one was looking walked right into the sea things would be even better.


ELEVEN
Having schooled Caroline in the basics of diving, the next step was to discuss the various hazards you might encounter while doing it. How to free yourself from nets or seaweed if caught in them; and how to deal with dangerous animals.

"I expect the ones you're most worried about are the sharks. Fact is, though, sharks aren't as bad as people make out. Apart from the great whites maybe, and that’s a moot point aming us marine biologists, they'll usually leave you alone unless you provoke them. Same as most animals." What he was saying was that attacks by sharks on scuba divers were rare. If anything, sharks generally avoided an area where humans were active, as if scared by them.

The shark, of course, had a vital role at the top of the food chain - it was as crucial a part of the marine ecology as any other living thing. Sharks were a fascinating species, and a very old one. And despite their fearsome appearance they were motivated merely by a desire to survive, another score on which they were no different from other members of the plant and animal kingdom, Man included.

You were possibly in more danger from turtles and moray eels, which could deliver a serious bite when angry. That of sea snakes was potentially fatal. All three species needed to be treated with respect.

Some animals stung. The sting might merely be annoying, as with fire coral or stingrays, round flat creatures which tended to lie on the seabed and cover themselves with sand, blending into it as camouflage, and which you had to be careful not to tread on. Ditto the sea urchin, whose long, thin spines could penetrate an exposure suit and break off in your flesh producing a red, swollen wound. The stings of jellyfish were sometimes more serious, that of the Portuguese Man O’War proving fatal or permanently debilitating if not immediately treated.

Then there were scorpion fish and stonefish, which had spines like the sea urchin on the base of which were sacs filled with venom, capable of causing serious illness; the bristle worm, whose fine silky hairs became embedded in the skin resulting in a painful burning sensation; and various others.

Once she was fully conversant with how to handle animals, and avoid the dangerous ones, they could go down again for her to familiarise herself with the various species, although she already knew them to some extent from her snorkelling. "You've picked a good time to do it,” Ivarson grinned. Diving was especially fascinating at this time of the year, the season when marine things tended to spawn in vast quantities, filling the waters with seething life.

He took the opportunity to fill her in on the environmental issues currently facing the region. “Fortunately, as I said we don't get too much pollution. Some harm gets caused to the reef by boats dropping anchors, or fishermen squirting chlorine into those little channels and crevices in the reefs to drive out lobsters. But on the whole Mother Nature does a lot more damage - hurricanes and the like.

"Species can get hunted to extinction for commercial reasons. We're likely to lose the conch if we're not careful, although I expect they'll bring in legislation to protect it. That's where people like me come in, checking every now and then to find out whether the numbers of any species are dangerously low."

The subsistence needs of the Lucayans had had little effect on the ecology of the islands. The discovery of the West Indies by Europeans changed all that. The vast aquatic herds of turtle were now much reduced through development and tourism, leading the Department of Fisheries to put a ban on fishing them during the egg-laying season. The shells of hawksbill turtles were popular for their value as jewelry, but you weren't allowed to catch them for that reason, or buy the products. That wasn't to say it didn't happen, of course.

"In the last hundred years or so we've lost the Caribbean monk seal and the West Indian manatee." There were still the humpback whales, though, passing through the waters windward of the islands en route to their mating grounds south of the Turks and Caicos. Blue whales were also frequently sighted, and dolphins. "The Bahamian crocodile's gone, though."
"I'm glad to hear it," said Caroline.
"Crocodile's a living thing same as any other," he replied.
"I know," said Caroline. "I'm still glad."

Ivarson returned to his theme. "Recently everyone's become a lot more eco-friendly, because they know tourism depends on it. There’s now twelve national parks and protected areas, and a lot more slated to be created in the next few years.”

Her eye caught by the pink conch shell resting on Ivarson's desk, Caroline began handling it absently. Ivarson nodded towards it. "They mate sexually, you know. The penis is considered a bit of a delicacy by eels. They come along while the conches are...you know....and start eating it."
"You’re disgusting," said Caroline.

He returned to his theme again. “Outside the national park system there is some overfishing, plus commercial poaching by Dominicans and Cuban-Americans which has become more of a problem in recent years.”

"Do you think that explains the drop in numbers that was worrying the Institute?”

"That's what I'm trying to find out. Maybe; but I don't think so somehow. It's all happened too suddenly for that."

"Well," she said, "we won't find the answer by sitting around in here. So if we've quite finished the lession in ecology, I'm willing to go down again."

So later that day they did a wildlife filming session, which provided an opportunity for her to see all the creatures they'd been talking about at close quarters. As well a video camera or waterproof Nikonos, equipped with a powerful flash unit for use at greater depth or at night, she took with her a torch, waterproof pen and plastic writing slate for recording information, all contained in a pouch at her waist.

She found the equipment cumbersome, restricting her freedom in a way a swimsuit didn't, but with her own air supply, not needing to surface regularly to breathe she could stay down longer, and see more; she had time to study, and to interact with, the marine life. Weightless and able to move in all directions, up and down, she felt free as a bird; especially with the sunlight streaming down through clear water, bathing her in a celestial radiance not unlike that which must shine upon the inhabitants of Heaven, it was a fantastic feeling, all but beyond the power of words to explain. Uplifting and at the same time soothing. A sense of peaceful solitude within your own "inner space" – a realm just as fascinating and rewarding, if no more so, as any which astronauts might explore. She recalled spending some time in a flotation tank once; but this was better. Even more so than on that occasion she felt totally cut off from the nasty things going on on the surface, in this strange, silent, bizarre, alien, underwater world. There was an easing of stress which brought with it a sensuous, almost sexual pleasure. If only one could swim forever among the coral reefs, the kelp forests, the incredible rock formations. She was captivated as a child would be by this place where plants like delicately woven lace handkerchiefs, or Spanish mantillas, swayed gently to the rhythm of the currents, where fronds of seaweed spread their fingers up towards the light, reaching out like all things to the life-giving sun, where an astonishing variety of fish swam in and out of the winding valleys within the convoluted, brain-like mass of the coral. Some of the fish were grotesque, comical, others beautiful and graceful in their movements. Over the days that followed she came to know all of them: moray eels, grunts, barracudas, stingrays, queen triggerfish, sand tigers, angelfish, snappers, bonito, kingfish, jewelfish, deep blue Creole wrasse, inflatable porcupine fish, moray eels, the parrotfish with their bodies of irridescent plum-purple and blue-green.

At night this underwater world became even more ghostly and eerie; fish darted away from the beam of her torch, flitting about sprite-like, and tiny bioluminescent life forms swarmed like fireflies.

Ivarson explained to her how the ecosystem here functioned. The coral reefs were formed by colonising polyps - tiny animals, that looked like plants but weren’t, which secreted calcareous external protective skeletons, production of which was dependent on the algae living inside their tissues. They reproduced by releasing clouds of spermatozoa that turned the surrounding sea milky white. Dispersed by the current, the larvae went on to form new colonies elsewhere, and so the reef grew in size. It was composed of scores of different species of coral, each occupying its own niche and with its own characteristic shape. The staple diet for all of them was plankton.

The reefs were a complex and sensitive ecosystem which took thousands of years to form. When a polyp died its skeleton turned to limestone which another polyp might use to cement its own reef, composed of a layer of living coral colonies growing on the surface of older, dead material. This happened at just a fast enough rate to replace the coral eaten away by parrotfish and other predators.

Coral reefs had been referred to as the rainforests of the sea; partly because, like the rainforests, they were home to an enormous variety of animals and plants. A single large reef system might support around two hundred species of coral and the reefs in turn were believed to support a third of all living fish species. The high productivity of the area around a reef, which explained its ecological richness and diversity, was due to the corals' efficient cycling and re-use of nutrients.

Aquatic life could be divided into three categories: that which drifted with the currents - called zooplankton if animals, phytoplankton if plants - those that swum freely and were able to move against the currents, and those that dwelt on the bottom. But there was another way of classifying them and that was by their place in the food chain. The drifters, the microscopic zoo- and phytoplankton, were at the bottom of the scale. The small animals like the copepods, little crustaceans whose constantly moving limbs sweep their prey towards their mouths, ate the plankton and the large animals, fish up to the size of sharks and whales, ate the small animals. That was basically how it worked but such an analysis didn’t do justice to the full complexity of the system. Zooplankton preyed on phytoplankton and predation could occur within each branch of the animal kingdom, the smaller fish falling victim to groupers, sharks, tarpons and barracudas.

Each level of the sea had its own ecosystem, the number of carnivores relative to herbivores increasing the further you went down as there was less sunlight for plants to photosynthesise. It was here, in the shallower parts of the ocean, that they were most common and where, consequently, the ecosystem was most diverse.

There must be millions of plankton multiplying in the rich, warm, nutrient-filled water. Ivarson had told her that sometimes they multiplied too far and the vast red blooms which resulted, known as red tide, coloured the water destroying visibility while the toxins they produced poisoned other animals, making clams and mussels unsafe for consumption.

Like above this was a harsh world, concerned only with reproducing itself. Many of the smaller octopuses and squids died after mating or spawning, having served their purpose. No less than ten times a year the female conch laid eggs in huge masses of 300,000 or more, ear, but only a fraction survived to adulthood the majority being eaten by rays, turtles, octopi, fish or crustaceans. As long as enough creatures survived for each species to fill the role allocated to it in the ecosystem, while leaving enough food to go around.

Animals obtained their prey in a variety of ways. Some actively sought it out, sensing the vibrations from its motion as they travelled through in the water. Fish and large mammals hunted in this way, just as they were also alerted to the presence of predators through the latter’s movements. Barnacles, which remain throughout their lives attached to rocks and unable to bodily move, swept their limbs in and out to draw suspended particles into their mouths. The tentacles of sea mosses performed a similar function, while those of corals were armed with stinging cells which immobilised the prey before transferreing them to the mouth. Crabs, lobsters, sea urchins and brittle stars grazed among the sediments on the ocean floor which contained large numbers of the bacteria on which they thrived. Corals were "grazed" by crown-of-thorns starfish, which extruded their stomachs over the surface of a mass of coral, drawing out the polyp from the skeleton and sucking it in.

The protection strategies were varied too. Some sea slugs stored the stinging cells collected from corals they ate and used them for protection against other predators. Anemone fish were so called because when threatened they darted behind the protective cover of an anemone’s stinging tentacles, which they themselves always seemed to avoid being harmed by. Many reef animals were brightly coloured, advertising the fact that they were distasteful or poisonous. These techniques, which didn’t always work, were part of a complex system of checks and balances designed to avoid over-predation.

As well as being finely balanced, the system was also thrifty. When the large animals died their remains sank to the bottom and decomposed. The decaying matter was eaten by animals lower down, or rose towards the surface becoming food for the plankton on the way, and the cycle began again. Nature never wasted anything.

It was a joy to watch the diverse denizens of the deep as they went about their daily business, and interact with them wherever possible. She laughed at the rather comical queen conch, a marine snail which looked like a large mossy rock crawling along the sea floor, and instead of gliding like most snails used its muscular basal foot to hop along. Wondrously, she reached out to touch an octopus, a large blue lobster, a five-foot stingray, letting the latter take food from her hand while she stroked it gently. Mindful of the fate of Steve Irwin, she was careful not to allow her knowledge that the creature could be dangerous to alarm her, which would have an effect on her body language, the stingray maybe misinterpreting it as aggression and responding likewise. She told herself that even dogs were unpredictable and could cause serious injuries, but that didn’t stop people from patting them on the head. However if no trouble occurred with the stingray it was because, having conquered enough fears to master diving, she found it easy to manage the required self-control in other matters. Caroline wasn’t really a dog person.

She would place some food on a rock close to the surface and film the fish and other creatures as they came to eat, taking care to keep perfectly still in the water and not startle her subject by making sudden movements or splashing with her fins. If you needed to approach them more closely you had to do so carefully so as not to stir up the water and alarm them or cause a cloud of silt which could choke and kill some organisms, preferably moving by sculling with your hands and keeping your fins still. All the time she observed the conservation rules: don't leave litter, don't take too many immature members of a species for examination as it would be likely to die out, don't feed them things they wouldn't normally eat. And don't chase the fish; apart from the danger of startling them, causing them to start to avoid divers and making them difficult to approach, you wouldn't be able to catch them anyway.

As well as studying the local wildlife they explored a sunken freighter and various other of the numerous wrecks scattered about the area; did a wall dive down the sheer rock face at the edge of the Bahamas Banks, an exhilarating experience. Always they took care not to go further down than was safe. After 185 feet the effects of pressure and nitrogen narcosis began to appear, and they couldn’t stay at these depths more than a few minutes.

The camaraderie she was developing with Ivarson was good. It must have been great when Kate and Ryan were there, she thought. That sense of fellowship which had bound the three of them together came from helping each other progress within a harsh and dangerous environment where teamwork was important. But Kate and Ryan weren't there, not any more, and she reminded herself that they needed to find out why.


“Jesus, what the hell’s got into you?” said Arlene Jameson. “You’re sure letting this case get on top of you.” Since coming home that evening her husband had said very little, eaten his dinner without much enthusiasm, and was now staring fixedly at the television.

“Someone’s got to stop it,” he replied. She knew by now what “it” meant.

“So you keep on saying. Look, sooner or later these guys are gonna make a mistake, and someone’s gonna notice something. You’ve just got to be patient, keep working away at it. That ain’t the same as getting a fixation with the business.”

Jameson looked round at her, meeting her eyes. “You take care…and Georgia. Seems they go for anyone.”

“It ain’t the first time you’ve said that, honey. We got the message, you know.”

“I’m off now, folks,” a voice piped up from the doorway. They looked round.

Georgia, their eldest daughter, stood there in jeans and a denim top, a handbag with a snazzy kaleidoscopic design on it slung over her shoulder. Her midriff was bare almost up to her chest, and a silver star glimmered in her navel.

Jameson’s eyebrows shot up. It was the first time he’d seen her like that. She mimicked his goggle-eyed expression. “What’s the matter? You don’t like my outfit?”
“Georgia, where are you going?” he asked.

“Out with the girls, that’s all. We’re going to a club, then back to Roxanne’s to watch some movies on CD, then we’re going out for drive…”

“You ain’t gonna go around like that all the time, are you?” he asked her.

“Well, not at home,” she smiled.

“You think you look sexy like that,” he snorted. ”I’m telling you you don’t. That thing you got in your belly button is a real turn-off.”

“I don’t care what guys think about it,” she said. “It’s just the way I want to be.”
“Just be careful,” he muttered.

She looked at him peculiarly, then trilled goodbye to them both and walked proudly out the door. Arlene turned to her husband worriedly. “Hey, it’s you I’m worried about, not her. You growing old before your time?”
“Probably,” he muttered absently, things still on his mind.

Did he really need to have been so prudish to Georgia? To dress the way she did was so common now it oughtn’t to bat an eyelid, let alone be an incitement to rape. And it was happening all over the country, if not the whole Western world. He certainly couldn’t stop her doing it, just as he couldn’t stop her sleeping around.

They had found some cocaine in her room once. It had been some time ago, and to their knowledge there had been no further dabbling in drugs since. Or it’d probably show in her appearance, her behaviour. She’d just been experimenting. Lots of people had flirted with drugs, hard or soft, back in the sixties and were now totally respectable, wouldn’t dream of touching the stuff. It had been a rebellion against decades of repression, which in most people’s case exhausted itself within a few years.

Personally he suspected Georgia would grow out of it all; Arlene seemed to think she would. You could never be sure, though. Hard to tell, these days, what was just changing fashions and what was genuinely harmful.

Again and again a mother’s words kept coming back to him. It’s too late now to say we’re sorry….


Marty’s Bar and Disco, Seafront, Freeport
In long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and trainers, Caroline was dancing to a vibrant Gloria Estefan number when a man came up to her. She found it hard to know whether to classify him as a light-skinned black or a dark-skinned white.

"Excuse me," he shouted above the blare from the jukebox, "may I have this dance?"

She nodded, seeing nothing wrong in itself with the proposal. So they bopped together to Miami Sound Machine for a couple of minutes, smiling blandly at one another whenever their eyes met.

Then, seeing that her face was turned away from him, he slipped behind her and suddenly she felt him cup her breasts and squeeze them, while grinding his loins hard against her backside as if performing a rear entry.

She broke free, whirled round and delivered him a hefty slap across the face, then went on dancing as if nothing had happened. All the people in the bar, white and black, cheered loudly while the man went back to where he had been sitting, grinning sheepishly as he nursed his stinging cheek.

The commotion had attracted the attention of a man sitting at the bar, a well-built man in his twenties in a T-shirt and jeans. He came over and sat down beside her as she sipped coolly at her Tequila Sunrise. Like many white Bahamians he was blond, his hair bleached by constant exposure to the Caribbean sun. His green-brown eyes and the slight freckling of his skin identified him as a "Conchy Joe," probably from one of the Family Islands.

"You look like a lady who can take care of herself," he said. The incident had provided him with a useful chat-up line.

"Too right I can." She allowed just a note of warning to enter her voice.

"What are you here for?" he asked.

"I'm on holiday. But you're from round here, judging by your accent."

"Well, sort of. I'm from the Bahamas originally. But my Dad was American." With that he seemed to regard the subject of his background closed.

"What do you do for a living?"
"I work for a travel firm. I thought I'd just check out the place while I was here, for a brochure we're doing."

"How do you find the place?” she asked. Might as well try and get some information out of him. “Does there tend to be a lot going on?"

"Not between general elections. But people are worried about this problem with the fish, I can tell you. Though we're all dancing the night away and trying to forget about it."

They talked for a while, but without her learning anything of real value. "What about this company who've just moved into the area - Marcotech or something, isn't it?"

The blond man shrugged. "I don't know much about them." He paused, and said "do you want to, er, meet me here again tomorrow night?”

"I'm sorry. I'm going to be flitting around a lot while I'm in the islands. I shouldn't think I'll have the time." It was quite true; she wanted to cover as much ground, and in as short a time, as possible and there was no room in her schedule for amorous liaisons.

"It doesn't have to be here. Do you have a card or anything? If you can't manage it while you’re here I could look you up later sometime - if that's OK."

"That's very sweet of you, but I'm afraid I've no plans to change my way of life at the moment. I'm quite happy the way I am. Sorry to disappoint." She smiled sympathetically.

His face clouded over. "Oh....OK. Well, er, nice to have met you. Take care."
"And you." They shook hands.

He got up, crossed to the bar and leaned on it, his expression wistful. After a while he seemed to buck up, and went over to chat up an attractive American tourist who had come in in the meantime. Caroline recalled the look on his face when she had turned him down, and felt her heart go out to him. There had been nothing untoward, nothing sinister, in the approach. Not for the first time she felt genuinely sorry for the male sex. It was they who had to do the asking and when, as so often happened, they were rejected their vulnerable emotions took a battering.

And was she really so happy the way she was? Had she just missed out on an opportunity? There’d been something about the guy she liked, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on….

With a busy life like yours you've no time to think about these things, she told herself, aware it was an excuse that would grow less convincing, and more and more tedious, as the years went by.


There was nothing wrong, by and large, with Moses Jameson’s marriage. He and Arlene disagreed, usually over something to do with Georgia, but no more so than millions of other couples. Kids usually were one of the main causes of friction. He doubted they’d ever split up, at least not for that reason. Certainly, when after Georgia had retired for the night Arlene appeared in a see-through negligee, smiling seductively and suggesting he forget all about the case and come to bed, it had worked. There was still that chemistry between them which the physical side of their relationship both added to and itself profited by. The sex did help him to forget about the case, at least for a while.

Afterwards they hugged each other in a tight embrace, to lie in that state waiting to go to sleep so that they would awake in it the following morning, each person’s first sight being of the other. Arlene drifted off first, which was just as well as otherwise, after a time, she would have felt him grow cold and unresponsive as he started thinking about the case once again. In bed was one of the best times for being able to think straight, if not the only one.

He doubted if Quantico’s profile would be of much help in the end. Because here the person or persons responsible weren’t like your average serial killer or kidnapper. Though some psychologists would disagree, he couldn’t accept that those people were in any way normal, to do what they did. Something about the pattern, the fact that there were parameters and yet within them the perp’s tastes were so catholic, suggested there was a rational reason why the victims were being taken. This had all been planned, with a particular motive behind it.

Serial killers killed because someone reminded them of their mother whom they had hated, because they sought sexual pleasure and then to prevent their victim being able to tell the police anything useful, because they didn’t like black (or perhaps white) people, or gays; or they slaughtered purely at random. None of these factors seemed to apply here.
But it had to be a case of abduction and not murder. If it was murder, at least some of the bodies would have turned up by now, because they nearly always did. Maybe they were to be killed eventually, which was one more reason why the mystery had to be solved as quickly as possible. But so far, the abductees were probably all still alive.

And he was still baffled as to how the victims were able to vanish so completely, leaving not the slightest clue, the merest trace of what had happened or the manner in which it had taken place. It didn’t make sense unless they were being whisked off the face of the earth by some magic ray from a flying saucer, or…..

The other possibility did seem marginally less crazy, so Jameson continued to flirt with it. It was the reason why he had started to walk the beaches a lot, sometimes late in the day – or during it, in the case of the lonely ones where people didn’t go quite so often. He could always make the excuse that he’d been on Bureau business. But if people saw him, they’d think he was going crazy or had something on his mind, and try to work out what the problem was. If they knew him, the word would go round that much faster. Arlene would think he was seeing someone else. To be honest, she was already getting a little concerned – he could sense it - about the way he was spending more and more time away from home, even if she attributed it to the case rather than some other, less understandable reason.

That was it. He had to bring matters to a head or the marriage would suffer. And although Georgia was old enough now, just about, to cope emotionally with the shock he somehow didn’t think it’d have too good an effect on her.
He decided it was time to share his suspicions with Calvert.


TWELVE

Caroline was taking a short break from her underwater activities, remembering she was supposed to be on a mission for her company to find out some clue to the identity of the mysterious oil tanker saboteurs. She had spent some time in Abacos and was now checking out Bimini. So far, though, all her efforts had turned up no clues; nor had Chris' in the other parts of the archipelago, or Lion Petrochemicals' in the Gulf of Mexico region and the area around the terminal at Louisiana. There was absolutely nothing of any interest to report. MI6 were attacking the problem by generally investigating the global arms trade, which was a part of their brief anyway, but they presumably hadn’t got anywhere or Rachel Savident would have been in touch.

It was getting late, and she was walking the beach a short distance from the guest house where she was staying, in search of a quiet spot in which to reflect on what she’d achieved so far and the use to which it could be put.

A party was going on on the sand, with a barbecue and a steel band in full swing. To find peace and solitude was difficult because after work the native Bahamians tended to avoid the tourist beaches in favour of more secluded spots like this one. They spent a lot of time just hanging about in the water; the ocean shallows were favourite places for making love, it was rumoured.

She strolled along munching a mango, savouring the feel of the grains of sand between her toes. She had a bikini top on and a flowery skirt swept down from her waist. The flower in her hair completed the image she felt appropriate.

At length the pounding of the music receded into the distance, and it looked like she had got away from it all. She sat down under a coconut palm, her back against the trunk.

Bimini wasn't too bad on the whole. The beaches were no more than OK but there was snorkelling and diving to be had, and a couple of good nightclubs, although they tended to be too full of college kids from Florida. That afternoon a guide had taken her out deep-sea fishing, and she had managed to catch a marlin and a swordfish among other things. She threw all the fish back in afterwards, unharmed.

Whatever its faults, the island had been a favourite of Hemingway's. He had loved the Bahamas, along with Ian Fleming who made them the setting for Dr No and Thunderball. It had been there that James Bond had hauled in big cash in the casinos of Nassau, had encountered Honeychile Rider in the famous scene where she had emerged Venus-like from the sea with her conch shell, met Claudine Auger's Domino in an undersea coral garden and swum with her to a perfect beach to make love on the sugary sand beneath the shade of the tall palms. Ah, romance....adventure....

People didn't seem to have adventures any more. Except me, she thought a little ruefully. They had sometimes been dangerous and frightening.
But fun.

She never solicited them, not really. Odd the way things always seemed to lead for her. Was that her fault or was it something else, some sort of unfathomable Destiny?

She thought again of Hemingway, Papa Hemingway. His kind were rare nowadays. He had been an adventurer; he had also been a bully, and in her opinion overrated as a writer. There was no real depth to his novels. But what you did get from them was a wonderful sense of the rawness of life when lived hard and fast; to the full. Despite his faults she couldn't help admiring him because he didn't take any crap from anyone.
Neither did she.

Caroline sat watching the setting sun stain the sky and sea with red and listening to the faint sounds of music from the beach party while the darkness gathered around her, enfolding her in a warm comfortable cocoon.

She gazed out over the water, towards where she knew her home to be, thousands of miles away to the east. In the night sky and sea blended together, into one mysterious unfathomable blackness. It was hard to see just where one began and the other ended.

There was one way of telling, of course. Higher up, the darkness was speckled with glimmering points of silver-white light. She remembered a trip to Australia as a small child to visit her aunt's family, when for the first time she had looked up into the night sky and seen the stars of another constellation.

A cool night breeze, bringing with it the salty tang of the sea, stirred the leaves of the palm trees. The beautiful strains of a Calypso tune drifted to her on it, mingling with the gentle rhythm of the waves breaking on the shore.

I want to stay here for the rest of my life, she thought. But wouldn't it get boring after a while?
She wasn't bored yet.

It was a paradise: beaches like fine talcum powder, some dazzling white, some peachy pink, and all washed by waters that seemed like liquid light. That was how the guide book had put it, and the description wasn't far wrong. It seemed to her that the Bahamas, however you regarded it, must somehow remain its own unique, barmy self whatever happened to the rest of the world. And that was precisely what attracted her to it. She understood the appeal it had held for Hemingway, Zane Grey and a host of other literary figures. Had they been alive today they would appreciate it even more. The remainder of the globe was a hectic confused mess, dissolving faster and faster into bloody chaos, but here in this heaven on Earth, far distanced from the increasingly nasty and alarming conflict between the West and Islam, from the crawling horror of the Russian school siege, you felt you were a world - a galaxy, a constellation, a universe - away from all that. One tended to forget places like this existed; to think they ever could exist.

It wasn't quite perfect, it couldn't be. But compared to everywhere else....

If only everyone could come and live in the Bahamas. But then, of course, it wouldn't be the Bahamas; it would be spoilt. And that would be a tragedy because it was one of the nearest things in this life to Eden. To the kind of world we had once, if you took the Bible literally. The kind we certainly wanted; the kind which perhaps we might one day have again.
One could dream.

Under the vast dome of the star-studded heavens, and conscious of the immensity of the sea stretching away around her, she felt very small. It was the kind of sensation which caused you to reflect on your life. It had been a funny life, in which she had known great happiness and great sadness.

I've plenty of achievements to my credit. And I’ve been to so many places, met so many people, made so many friends in so many countries....I've talked with kings, presidents, prime ministers, seen wonders most people could barely dream of, had so many weird, wonderful, scary, exciting, fantastic, incredible adventures.
But what's it all about?
I don't know. Does anyone know?

She thought of James and what he might be doing now, of whether she had been right to break away from him. If she hadn't, they might now be married, with children.

She knew that hard as it was, she had been right to do it. But it had been good when they were together, and she would always remember that.

Almost unconsciously she found herself breaking into song as another Carpenters tune came suddenly to mind.

I'm going way down south to Louisiana
Well, I'll just close my eyes
And everything's alright
And though I'm really far away
I'll make my getaway
And no-one need really
Know that I've been gone
One more time, for the good times
That far outweigh the bad
One more time, for the good times
When love was all we had

I'm going way down south to Baton Rouge
Well, I'll just close the door
And turn out all the lights
And all the images dance by
Of folks and friends Who lie
Back home where things are slow
And easy going

One more time, for the good times
That far outweigh the bad
One more time for the good times
When love was all
When love was all
When love was all we had
One more time.

She sat there wrapped in her thoughts until the "no-see-'ums," the tiny insects with a bite quite out of proportion to their size, drove her away and it was time to go back in.


“I’m trying to make sense out of what you’re saying,” smiled Assistant Director Calvert.

“I know it sounds crazy, Sir,” said Jameson apologetically. “But I’m thinking it’s the only way we’ll ever crack this. It’s the only reason that comes to mind why all these people are just…vanishing. This drug or something that’s being injected into them, it’s making them walk into the sea. And it’d explain why we haven’t found any bodies; the sea’s a big enough place to put them.”

Calvert’s corrugated brow and narrowed eyes made plain he wasn’t convinced. “You’re right, it sure does sound crazy,” he muttered. “You’re positive you’ve explored every other possibility?”
“Yes, Sir,” said Moses patiently.
“A drug….”

“It’s obviously not a side effect because it’s happening to everyone who’s being injected by it. They’re meant to do it. God knows what it’s all about. I’ve done a check to see if there’s anything on the market, or off it for that matter, that could have this kind of effect on someone. Result, negative. But there are a few sources of information, mainly military, that are classified and I’d like permission to access them.”

“I’ll do my best to get the authorization. Of course some records will be out of bounds even to us.” For just a second he squinted at Jameson, scrutinizing him closely as if trying to establish what he was thinking at that moment. “So who do you think might be responsible for it?”

“I don’t know, Sir. I don’t see why any government department would do this kind of thing. But then you do hear stories.”

“I know what you mean, Agent Jameson.” Calvert gave an enigmatic smile. “Uh, does Agent Hurtwood support you in your theory, might I ask?”

“I don’t think his mind is quite made up yet, Sir.” Hurtwood had stared at him as if he was mad.
“So what are you suggesting we do?”

“I think we should start patrolling the beaches, Sir,” Jameson said. “Regularly. So there’s always someone looking when they decide to take a dip.”

“Well, like I said I’ll see what I can do about that authorization. But I dunno about patrolling the beaches.”

“If people still go on disappearing it’ll prove me wrong. But I think we have to know.”

“It means expenditure of time and resources. I suppose we could let the Police Department do it…OK, let me think about it.” He nodded briefly to show that Jameson was dismissed. The agent rose and left the room, with the feeling that at last he was getting somewhere towards preventing any more disappearances like that of Shannon Richards.
But something about Calvert’s manner had bothered him.


Now that Caroline was to all extents and purposes a fully qualified diver, she could help Ivarson with his research. So the two of them along with Devon took the boat out to a part of the area he had not yet covered. Though they might not need to do any actual diving, Caroline and Devon nonetheless inspected the cylinders and other equipment first to make sure they were free of the corrosion caused by saltwater, while Ivarson checked the weather forecast, the wind speed, air temperature and other factors. Strong winds and turbulent currents weren't ideal conditions for diving. The current could be estimated by looking for telltale signs such as kelp bent over, the presence of a wake around their anchor line, the speed at which objects drifted on the surface, how long it took floating objects to move the length of your boat. It all seemed OK, so off they set.

Caroline had found and appropriated a yachting cap she had found somewhere, perching it on her head at a jaunty angle. She wore a striped T-shirt, shorts and sandals.

She rested her elbows on the deck rail and leaned over it, gazing at the sparkling sea before her and listening to the pleasantly monotonous chugging of the boat's engines. A pair of dark glasses shielded her eyes from the sun's blinding glare; you improved your ability to see underwater by avoiding bright daylight before a dive.

They rounded the north-west tip of the island and turned eastwards. All along the shore at this point were mangrove trees, their thick tangle of roots, which compacted the silt and formed a barrier protecting the shoreline against erosion, looking like enormous tentacles. After a while the trees gave way to wetlands where she glimpsed birdwatchers moving about stealthily with their binoculars and notebooks trying to spot guinea fowl, coots, herons or gallinules. A large seagull, with that spot of red on its bill that looks disturbingly like blood, alighted on the rail for a moment then flew off again before she could make friends.

Ivarson came and leaned on the rail beside her. Glancing at him, she noted the broad grin on his sunburnt face, the way his eyes twinkled with the joy of living.
"Great day," he smiled. "Isn't it?"

Caroline nodded. "You really love the sea, don't you?" she commented.

It was pretty obvious he did, but Ivarson didn't react with sarcasm. "Sure. It's....well, the truth is you can't really say why you like it, any more than those guys who like old trains, that sort of thing, can explain what they do, though it's those types who get thought of as a bit crazy. I just love the sea for what it is. And I guess I'm fascinated by what it may be able to tell us. Only a third of it’s been explored. And even with all our technology, satellites, sensing equipment and the like there's still a lot we don't understand about the ocean, the way it influences climate and weather." His face darkened for a moment. "And how global warming fucks it up."

"But it does," she prompted, feeling this was something about which she ought to know more. ""Fuck it up", I mean."

“Uh-huh. Now oceanography’s a relatively young science. We still don't know enough about how the ocean functions and that's why we've got to be careful in the way we treat it.”

It seemed she had hit on one of his favourite subjects. "There's something called the air-ocean interface, and it matters to us or ought to. Let me give you an example. You heard of El Nino? The winds off the coast of Peru drive the surface water west across the Pacific and draw up colder water. Then the warm water flows back - partly because of global warming - and the cold water becomes trapped where it has a bad effect on the productivity of underwater plants and plankton. It also affects the climate over land, causing high rainfall in Latin America and the western Pacific. Global warming makes the winds stronger and the whole problem worse. The sea's important because so much depends on it. Like the food we eat – not enough fish if there ain’t enough plankton – and our safety from floods and other natural disasters."

A flock of seabirds was circling not far to their west, indicating the presence not far below the surface of a school of fish.

"By the way, we're in the Bermuda Triangle here," he grinned suddenly.

"Oh, thanks," said Caroline, feeling a certain shiver of unease. She wasn't mollified to realise he'd only been winding her up.

He became serious again. "Actually, I think all that's just a load of crap. Least it is if there's supposed to be anything supernatural about it. Here's one of the few places where the magnetic compass points due north. Confuses pilots, screws up their navigational instruments, that's why you get all those planes being lost. Nothing to do with UFOs or time warps. Still there's plenty of things going unexplained, I'll admit. Plenty of mysteries. Especially under the sea; it's so big I don't think we'll ever know just what's down there."

"While on the subject of mysteries," he added, "the Bahamas claims part of the lost city of Atlantis."
"Who knows," Caroline said.

By now they were quite some distance from shore. "We're near the Marcotech site here," said Ivarson. "You can just about see the marker buoys."

“Let’s have the binocs.” Borrowing them, she took off her sunglasses and peered through the lens to see the buoys bobbing gently up and down on the waves. As the Oceanus drew nearer you could make out the large red warning letters they bore. "RESTRICTED AREA. KEEP OUT. BY ORDER THE GOVERNMENT OF THE BAHAMAS AND US DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE."

"So they've got an arrangement with both the Bahamian government and the Americans," she commented.

"They probably didn't have any trouble fixing it. Got a lot of bite with the big boys. And," Ivarson muttered solemnly, "there's no doubt the Bahamas is home to a lot of funny money."

The throbbing sound of a motor carried to the boat on the sea breeze. Squinting against the sun, Caroline watched an indistinct blob in the distance gradually resolve itself into the shape of a motor launch. It was heading in their direction.

She took the binoculars again and scanned the approaching boat. On its side were the words "MARCOTECH INTERNATIONAL".
"Will they mind us being here?" she asked.

"Shouldn't think so. We're outside the exclusion zone. There's not a lot they can do."
"What if they think we're spying on them?"

"We're just going about our normal business. Any case, they can only tell us to piss off."
"What does Marcotech mean? Is it an acronym?"
Ivarson frowned. "Marine technology consortium, I think. There's about ten companies involved. One of the biggest and most powerful commercial organisations on the planet. Other than that, I don't know very much about them."

The launch had cut its engine and was drifting. Marcotech had no reason to suspect they were up to anything, but all the same it stayed where it was for several minutes, during which the two men in it seemed to be observing them closely. One was peering at the Oceanus through what they assumed to be binoculars. They were just too far away to see that it was in fact a Camcorder, fitted with a telephoto lens.

They heard the droning, chattering sound of a helicopter, and glanced skyward. The chopper had "Marcotech" on its side above the company's logo, a globe within which three wavy blue lines presumably stood for the sea.

"I see what you mean," Caroline said. "Very security conscious."

The helicopter hovered fifty feet or so above the Oceanus and they had the distinct impression it, too, was observing them. After a moment it tilted and swung sharply away from them, taking off into the vast blueness of the sky.
"How big is their site?" Caroline asked casually.
"Seems to extend over about fifty square miles."
"That's pretty big," she said, startled.

"Uh-huh. It's some operation, whatever they've got down there. I'd sure like to know more about it but they've always refused to work with anyone else, even though I dropped one or two hints the Institute might be keen to help."
"But we're definitely talking some sort of - installation?"

"That's the rumour anyway. There've been experiments with undersea habitats before; a bunch called the Marine Resources Development Foundation set one up off Key Largo, Florida, in 1984 and as far as I know it's still going. It's mainly for scientific purposes, meant to be a permanent undersea laboratory. The same guys had a similar project going off Puerto Rico for a while in the 'seventies. What Marcotech are doing is supposed to be different from either of those set-ups."

He straightened up briskly. "I’ll go and fix us something to eat, then we’ll get started." He headed for the galley, leaving Caroline alone with Devon.

She turned to the black man. "It's a shame you can't dive with us," she said, though wondering if it was tactful to remind him of his disability in that way.
"I used to," he sighed nostalgically. “Used to a lot.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have – “

Devon smiled. “That’s OK. These things happen..happen all the time. They’re a part of life and you just got to ‘cept that. Fate, mebbe. What happened was, I used to work at the harbour in Freeport. I was supervising something being loaded when a rope broke, I dunno why, and a crate fell on my leg..crushed it…..now I just help out anyways I can. Doc Ivarson seemed by my recknin’ to be doing a good job, so I tagged along with him.”
“You did the right thing. Do you like living here?”

"Yeah, sure. There’s no trouble most of the time, least there wasn’t before this fish thing. Y’see, folks’ll help each other out when things is bad, like they all got together to raise the money when had my accident and couldn’t work no more, couldn’t s’port my family. That’s what counts.”
“You have a wife and children, then?”

“Shevaughn’s gone now, buried her a year ago this Christmas. My two boys is grown up and workin’ the fishing boats going out of Freeport. One got married last year and’s due for a chile soon, by my recknin’. Life goes on.”
"But it’s really all right here then?"

"I wouldn't live anywhere else. It's my home." He left it at that.

"I sort of meant, is there any trouble because of....er...." She flushed a little with embarrassment. Devon raised his greying eyebrows quizzically.

"Oh, I get it," he grinned. "You'm talkin' 'bout white folks and black folks."
"Well, yes."

"No," he answered. "Not really. We got over that a long time ago. Round here we measure folk not by the colour of their skins but by their character. Everyone can hang out together. That's not to say folks don't see colour as a mark of….of status, don't try to "lift" theirs by marrying a white person – whiter, anyways. Often it's the darker people who are poor, you see." Which rather begged the question, Caroline thought.

"The whites, 'specially the old families who came over hundreds of years ago in George Washington's time, won't often marry a black person but I guess it's ‘cause they're afraid of getting’ bred out. You can understand that. What counts is that folks get on well with each other, and generally that's the case.

"The ones who really get it bad are the Haitians, 'cause they're darker than everyone else, white or black. Also, they come over here looking for work ‘cause their country's so poor and of course folks think they're gonna take all the jobs."

Devon turned away slightly from her, to gaze out over the gleaming ocean. "The way I look at it, it don't do no good to hate or to worry about other folks hatin’ you. I just sit and look at the sea and feel happy. Better that way."

"Easier to do it here than in London or New York," she sighed.

“Uh-huh. You know why things are so peaceful? Because nothing much seems to change here, not the way it does in America or Europe. There's some who'll still eat goat shit ‘cause it's s'posed to cure the whoopin’ cough. And if you ever see a new-born Bahamian baby with a black cord tied round its wrists, that's to guard against the evil spirits."
"Do you believe in them?" she asked.

"I dunno. Don't think they're all evil, though." He looked a little strange, or perhaps thoughtful, for a moment. "Sometimes I think I can hear the souls of the Indians, the Lucayan people, sighing in the wind."
"Are they angry or just sad?"
"Both, I think."

He hummed a few bars of a traditional sea shanty. He had a beautiful voice, deep yet somehow soft at the same time.

The spirit beliefs, he went on to explain, were rooted in the animist religions of West Africa, which had become mixed up somewhat with Christianity. The spirits were supposed to inhabit inanimate objects, like rocks or stones or trees, most of the time but could communicate themselves directly to humans, who would use them for either good or bad purposes depending on what sort of person they were. People who were cantankerous, difficult, and overbearing tended to attract evil spirits; those who were kind and thoughtful, good ones.

"Now you," he said, studying her with interest, "I wonder what kind of spirit you'd attract?"

Caroline's eyebrows drew together suspiciously. "What kind were you thinking of?"

"There's all kinds," said Devon. "Not bad ones, that's for sure." He beamed broadly, giving her a genuinely friendly wink.

She replied with the kind of smile that said they were quits. He'd sussed her out quickly enough.
"But people out here do believe in God," she said.

"Most of them say they do. Mix in a little obeah with it from time to time, even the priests." Obeah was a term meaning spirit worship. "Everything good or bad that happens to someone is either the work of God or of Satan. Everyone carries a Bible around with them." Church affairs made headline news in the Bahamas, while major international affairs were often relegated to the inside pages. "Them politicians are always talkin’ ‘bout how God's on their side and we got to do the right thing by Him."

He gave a dry little laugh. "There was plenty of God-fearin’ people involved in the drug trade during the eighties. They're still doin' it now, by my reckoning. Then there's all the sleepin’around...."

"That sort of thing tends to happen on small island communities," she observed.

"All the same, " he grinned, "at the funerals, they say such nice things about the feller who's died that you reckon you ought to check the coffin to make sure they been talkin' 'bout the right person."

He was teaching her a few of the folktales, stories which dated back to the slave era and were similar to those of black residents of the southern US, when Ivarson appeared and announced that lunch was ready. They had their coffee and sandwiches and then went straight into the core sampling.

The problem was either in the water or in the plankton which the fish ate; or both. Some foreign substance there was acting like a poison. It need not be harmful to the plankton themselves, but it might harm the fish. And of course if the plankton did die then the fish would too, being the next link in the food chain, the next rung up on the ecological ladder.

The water sampler consisted of a cylinder, open at both ends, on the end of a cable. Devon lowered it slowly into the water, and once a gauge on the cable showed it had reached the required depth he dropped a weight down a guide line, causing the two halves of the cylinder to snap shut.

After a moment he tugged on the cable, and gradually it began to rise. They waited patiently. Suddenly it tautened with a sharp jerk, and stopped rising. Devon gave it several sharp tugs but still it refused to budge.
"Reckon it's stuck," he called out.

The three of them pulled on it together, but it remained caught.

"One of us'll have to go down and fix it," Ivarson said, and grinned at Caroline. "This is your chance to put it all to the test." It was at moments like these that their diving skills were most likely to prove useful. As long as the sampling equipment was functioning properly, there was usually no need to make a dive.

Caroline could probably have done it on her own, but to be accompanied was generally safer. A friend provided reminders and assistance in an emergency and saw things that you might not, notice that you were about to make a mistake. For that purpose divers needed to remain close at all times, each constantly checking the other’s position. It was a bit of a nuisance, she supposed, despite the companionship.

She checked her buoyancy compensator was working properly by first inflating, making sure it didn't leak, and then deflating it. She put it on, inflated it again, then donned her wetsuit, buoyancy compensator and weight belt. Finally Ivarson helped her put on the harness with the scuba tanks. They each inspected their own equipment, then the others', to make sure it was functioning properly. After checking the buoyancy compensator, valves and regulators they made sure their weights were in place, the quick release working OK, and their tanks full.

Glancing briefly at Caroline, Ivarson noted her quick, deft movements, the brisk efficiency with which she carried out these tasks.
They sat on the platform on the Oceanus' stern, backs to the water. Breathing through her regulator and holding her mask and its strap securely in place with both hands, Caroline leaned backwards, holding her knees close to her chest to turn herself into a ball. She felt herself somersault as she plunged towards the water, and experienced a giddy feeling of disorientation.

She hit the surface, sank a little and then bobbed up, regaining her bearings. Ivarson came up beside her.

They set a reference on their compasses, made sure their depth gauges were at zero. Their faces in the water, they exchanged their snorkels for their regulators, first clearing them of water.

Once they had pressurised their ears to begin the equalisation process, Ivarson gave the signal to descend and she acknowledged with a thumbs up. They vented their buoyancy compensators once more then went down, each holding the valve in their left hand throughout the descent so they could add or release air from it at any time.

They stayed close together throughout the descent. Once near the bottom they hovered while they added more air to their compensators to increase buoyancy, so that the weight of their equipment would not drag them too close to the ocean floor, the action of their fins raising a cloud of silt that would reduce their visibility. There was no need to check on their air, as they shouldn't be down for very long.

They levelled off, tilted themselves into a swimming position and set off to where the sampler had touched bottom, Ivarson beckoning her on with a jerk of his thumb.

They found the sampler appeared to have snagged on a charred, twisted piece of metal several feet across; a piece of wreckage from what Ivarson thought was a World War Two American fighter plane - a Mustang. Another victim of the Bermuda triangle. It was a fragment of the wing, he reckoned, carried along the sea bed from the original crash site by currents.

Ivarson could exert considerable strength for his age, and Caroline was no weakling. Between them, they managed to shift it enough for the cable to come free.

Ivarson gave the ascent signal, and she acknowledged. After noting the depth and the amount of air remaining to them, they vented their compensators and began rising slowly. All the time they made sure to keep breathing at a continuous, steady rate, their gaze darting between each other and the depth gauges on their wrists. They were rising at the maximum recommended rate, which was quite slow - about 0.5 feet per second. Anything above this was potentially dangerous. Although their instruments would warn them if they started to exceed this limit, it had been better for Caroline to learn to stay within it without recourse to them, just in case they should malfunction. This had needed particular concentration.

As they neared the surface they looked up at it, rotating through 360 degrees to check there were no obstacles visible. They made sure to come up close to the warning flag they had put up to serve as a signal for boats to keep at least 100 feet clear of the exit point.

On breaking surface they reorientated themselves, looking out for any hazards, then inflated their compensators to establish buoyancy. Glancing over at the Oceanus, Ivarson gave Devon a thumbs-up. The Bahamian tugged on the rope, and a couple of minutes later they saw the sampler break the surface.
Switching over to their snorkels to conserve the air in their tanks, they struck out towards the Oceanus. Reaching the ladder on the stern, they climbed up it onto the deck. Weighed down by the cylinders on her back, Caroline stumbled a little with the rocking of the boat. She held on to the handrail to steady herself, moving slowly and carefully so as not to overbalance. She shut off the valve on her tanks, disconnected the hoses from them to the regulator, disconnected the regulator from the tank and the tanks from the buoyancy compensator, then slipped off her harness. Finally she sat down on the bench which ran part of the length of the deck and began to remove her flippers.

Ivarson glanced at her once or twice while she divested herself of her equipment. He almost wished he hadn't insisted on the wetsuit. The tightly clinging rubber material emphasised far too much the taut firm buttocks, the perfectly formed thighs and calves, the flatness of her stomach, the curves of her hourglass figure and narrow waist. If possible it was even more erotic than the bikini.

They made their way to the equipment store, where the various items of gear were stowed away carefully in separate lockers so that they would not bump against each other, and cause damage should rough seas buffet the Oceanus. Before doing this everything was rinsed in clean, fresh warm water to get rid of sand and dirt; it didn't take long for the corrosion they caused to render a scuba tank, valve or regulator unusable and dangerous.

They changed back into normal everyday gear, washing their wetsuits until thoroughly soaked and then hanging them up to dry in the cool, dark interior of the cupboard set aside for the purpose.

Everything would be checked at regular intervals to make sure it was working properly; wetsuits examined for tears, and the O-ring on each scuba cylinder valve, which formed a high pressure seal between the valve and scuba regulator, for nicks and cuts and dirt. It was a time-consuming and monotonous business, but it was better than drowning.

Devon detached the sampler from the cable and carried it into the laboratory. Then they lowered another cable with a series of nets along its length, for trapping plankton at different depths, into the sea. They used thermometers to measure the temperature of the water. They took samples of sand from the ocean floor, using a drill on the end of a cable which contained a piston that moved up inside it as the drill bred through the sediment, creating a vacuum which sucked up the debris. The technique had been copied from technology developed for the oil industry, as Caroline was keen to remind Ivarson.
"Yeah," he smiled. "I know, honey."

When they had all the samples they needed, Devon started the
engines and the Oceanus swung back round toward Grand Bahama, chugging away from the scene at a reasonable pace. Somehow, Ivarson preferred not to remain under the eyes of the Marcotech helicopter for longer than was necessary.

They looked back at the aircraft. It hovered for a while, as if satisfying itself they were really going. The patrol boat was motionless too, the men on board staring fixedly after the disappearing ship. Finally as if deliberately synchronizing their actions both vessels turned away at the same time, to resume their constant patrol.

Over the next couple of days the Oceanus’ crew repeated the various tests at different locations within a fifty mile radius and at different points along it. At the end of that period Ivarson thought he had enough to provide a representative sample for the area of his study.

One day he called Caroline into the laboratory and showed to her a large plastic test tube, full of sea water, with a gauge on it where a green light was winking. "See that? There's nothing toxic in this water. The salt level is normal. Its chemical composition is unaltered from what it should be. The samples I took before with Kate and Ryan were the same. So whatever explains the decline in fish stocks, it isn't pollution."
"What about the plankton?"

"No change there. The numbers of specimens per each layer of water are constant. Nor is there anything wrong with them. In fact, there's just too darn many plankton down there, because the fish aren't around to eat them. It's upsetting the ecological balance, which is why this thing's got to be sorted out."
"So if it's not pollution that's the problem, what is?"

She saw him draw himself up slightly, compressing his lips. His voice dropped an octave or two. "There's only one explanation; predation. Something is eating those fish. Something too large for the plankton to be enough of a meal for it.

"There's something down there...something that hasn't been there before. Something big. By my calculations very big, to have disposed of that much fish." He paused briefly, seeming to stare down once again into the dark, unfathomable depths of the sea. "Very big indeed."


THIRTEEN
It was late evening, and Caroline stood looking out of the window of her room at her guest house on Grand Bahama, which she had opened wide to let in a warm, gentle night breeze.

The scents of jasmine, honeysuckle, passionflower and corallite mingled in the air and turned it fragrant. It rang to the whirring of cicadas and other insects, and from the church over the road there floated on it the beautiful sound of a negro spiritual. The ghostly form of something that might have been a bat, or perhaps a giant fruit moth, darted about the building’s wooded grounds.

The mobile phone on her dressing table shrilled. It was Marcus Hennig, his smooth tones sounding exaggeratedly polite and friendly. "Ah, Caroline. I just thought a call to you was long overdue. Had any joy? Thanks for the postcard, by the way."

"You're welcome," she said. “Had any luck with the government in the States, yet?”

“They’ve been looking at who might have the kind of equipment the saboteurs would need. No leads so far.” He paused. "So what, er, what are you actually doing out there, might I ask?"
She told him.

"I see. Well I certainly didn't send you out there to study marine biology," he grumbled.

"Oh come on, Marcus, you know me. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't think there was something in this disappearing fish business. It's the only lead we've got, there has to be a connection. It's not as if anything's come up anywhere else, is it?"

Hennig had to admit this was true. All the same, he clearly wasn't convinced by her reasoning. "Listen, Marinegirl, I'm gonna make a deal with you. I'll give you another couple of weeks. If you haven't turned up anything by then you're coming straight home, got it? You'll find your cash flow suddenly cut off, at any rate."

"When we started on this business," she said, "you told me that as far as you were concerned I was on company business until the matter was cleared up. However long it took. I had carte blanche to do whatever I liked."

"A little less cheek from you if you don't mind, young lady. I'm not paid to sit here listening to you tell me what an awkward bastard I am."
"I'm sorry," she said sweetly.

"It's just that I find it hard to believe our friendly sea monster is also an explosives expert. In any case, it's the people above me you have to watch out for. One or two of them are already making noises to the effect that you’re just lying back and having a lovely time in your little earthly paradise while the company's falling apart around us. Pretty soon they'll be shouting for action."

"Well I suggest they leave me to get on with it," Caroline said, "then they might see some."

A long drawn-out sigh issued from the phone. "Just remember what I said, OK? Prove you’re worth your Executive of the Year award." Then Hennig rang off.

For a while she sat and thought about his last words. “Too right I will,” she murmured softly. “Too right.”

She returned to the window and stood gazing out into the night, lost in her meditations. You had to admit, a connection did seem unlikely. Wasn't it probable she had made a mistake, that the presence of some large unidentified sea creature in the waters through which the tankers would have to pass to get to America was merely coincidence?

At least, she told herself, if there was a connection they had taken a step further towards discovering it.


Beneath the moon and stars, Donald Ivarson stood at the rail of the Oceanus looking out over the sea, the sea he liked to roam just as his Viking ancestors had many centuries before; thinking not only of them, but about himself and Caroline. How he felt about her, not just her physique but her personality. Obviously there was still life in the old dog if she could arouse such responses in it. He was surprised, pleased, and also a little shocked by it all.

Oh, to be young again, he thought. And in a way, he was. It wasn't just his enthusiasm for the project she had revitalised. Her youthful keenness, which reminded him a little painfully of his two vanished assistants, and her general presence made him feel rejuvenated himself, and he was sure the physical consequences of that were good. Mens sana, etcetera. But there were dangers there too.

He continued to search for inspiration, for some resolution to his dilemma, amongst the vast immensity of sky and sea.

Yes, that was it. He had to remarry; he had to start again. Otherwise, if he met another girl like this one there was no telling what might happen. Something nasty and embarrassing, maybe. It meant he'd have to snap out of the rut he'd been stuck in these last few years.

No reason why it couldn't be a younger woman, someone of similar age to Caroline. Such things often happened, and perhaps it was the best way of satisfying his desires legitimately. Young or not, it would be an opening, a new beginning, a regenesis. The doctor could prescribe Viagra, and then....

Time to live again. He grinned in a way which he hadn't for a very long time, his eyes gleaming. O beautiful creature, he whispered. You have touched my life in ways you could hardly imagine.

His thoughts turned back to his work, and the meeting he'd had that afternoon with the Bahamian Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Local Government. "Something is eating the fish," he had said.
"An animal? Do you know what sort?"

"No, but it'll help once I do. Trouble is it's probably dangerous and I dunno how I'm going to get close enough to photograph it. Or do anything else to it, for that matter. I've put in a request for more equipment from my Institute and I can only hope it'll be forthcoming." It should be, he reckoned. The Institute had been on the point of sending him home, but now he seemed to be making progress they ought to view the whole enterprise in a new light. It was just a matter of waiting for their call.


Early the following morning, a man climbed into the brightly-coloured beach buggy parked outside the house in Freeport of the woman with whom he had been spending the night - a wealthy young heiress whose activities proved that Bahamian whites could be no less promiscuous than their black compatriots - and drove off very fast towards the main coast road, his long blond hair trailing behind him in the slipstream.

People thought he was just a drifter, and wondered where he got the money from to drive around in fast cars, usually accompanied by a pretty girl or two. In truth he was Marcotech's agent in the islands, keeping an eye on anything that happened there in case it affected the enterprise they had established off Grand Bahama. He spent most of his time hanging around the clubs and bars at the company's expense.

After thirty minutes he left the coast road a few miles west of the town, turning off down a short and bumpy access road to the rented beach house where he lived and loved. Marcotech's generosity had stopped short of actually buying him the property. The house was a two-storey building with a wooden upper section above a lower one of massive stone blocks cemented together with lime. There was a balcony at second floor level, supported by wooden stilts to allow airflow beneath the living quarters on the upper storey and keep them above water level should a hurricane result in serious flooding. It stood more or less alone – there was a similar structure about a couple of hundred yards away - with a scrubby little garden to its rear.

He parked the buggy on the concrete forecourt and dismounted. Inside, he climbed the stairs to the upper floor and entered a little room at the back of the building which was bare except for a table, a chair and a pin-up calendar several years old hanging on the wall. Scores of dead flies lay scattered about.

The main purpose of the room was to contain, and conceal, the apparatus which sat on the table. It was like a radio set with a telephone attachment, and was connected to the Marcotech installation off Grand Bahama by a system known as Gertrude and officially in use only by the US Navy. The submarine cable had been laid by the company itself, with the full knowledge and co-operation of the appropriate authorities within the Government of the Bahamas.

Pulling down the venetian blind against the dazzling sunshine, he seated himself at the Gertrude unit, picked up the phone and tapped out a number on a keypad. A red light came on to tell him he was connected.

He picked up the receiver and spoke into the mouthpiece. "Shore to Seabed. Got some news for you. Something I thought you ought to know."
"Anything serious?" the radio operator asked.

"Might be, I dunno. There's a woman been going round the island, also Abacos and the Biminis, asking about the country, what it's like living here and if anything interesting's been happening. Seems to be deliberately scouting the clubs and bars. I thought she was looking to be fucked, till she turned me down. And she asks the same questions everywhere she goes."

As part of his job for the company he tried to alternate between different bars, in order to get as much information as possible; his employers rebuked him severely whenever he spent too much time in the same one. He had his favourites, whose pull was sometimes very hard to resist. In any case it probably didn't matter because the Bahamian love of gossip usually ensured that any useful information was soon spread far and wide.

"The boss is here, I'll just get him," the radio operator said. A couple of minutes later Greg Bromhead, the installation's supervisor, came on line. "Charlie? You did right to report this. I don't like the sound of it." Ivarson they could deal with, but somehow what Charlie had said about the girl gave Bromhead an uneasy feeling. "What d'you reckon, could she be a journalist?"

"I dunno. She's claiming to be just on holiday, but she's already spent quite a lot of time out here, going by what I've picked up from all the bar talk. I don't think she's telling the truth, somehow."
"What does she look like, this girl?"

"Quite tall, blonde, nice-looking. I tell you, I wouldn't mind screwing the fucking ass off her."
"Yeah, yeah." Charlie heard the other turn away from his Gertrude and speak to someone nearby. "You said Ivarson's boat came pretty near to the perimeter the other day, and there was a girl on it."
"Yeah, that's right. Looks like he's found himself a new assistant. They've been diving together."
"Did you get that, Charlie? We'll send a picture over. You may not be able to tell, though. I mean, all pretty blondes look much the same."
"Well, they're not the same," Charlie replied. "No-one is."

He heard sounds of movement and muffled conversation, then Bromhead's voice again. "Charlie, the boss has just walked in. He'd like a word with you about this."

"Hello, Charlie," said Edward Greatrix. "You say you've actually spoken to the girl yourself?"
"Once. Gave me the brush-off."
"I expect she did," Greatrix muttered.

"So I don't think she was cruising. Seemed to be more interested in picking up the bar talk than in anything else. No, you can tell she's here for a very special reason. And her body language, her whole behaviour; she's trying to find out something. The whole thing sets an alarm bell ringing in my head.

"I'm sure I'd recognise her if I saw her again. She's got...she's got presence. I dunno how else to describe it. She ain't a bimbo like so many of the others. Hang on, the picture's just coming through."

The fax machine in the corner whirred and clicked, and the photo shot out. The quality was as good as you’d get with any conventional, terrestrial transmission system; better in fact. It showed a blonde girl in a striped T-shirt, shorts and sandals standing on the deck of the Oceanus beside Donald Ivarson. She had pushed her sunglasses up onto her forehead, allowing a full view of her face.

Charlie studied the image closely for a second or two, then returned to the Gertrude. “Yeah, that’s her alright. I’d swear my life on it.”

“Right,” breathed Greatrix. He made a clicking noise in his throat. “I don’t like the feel of this at all. I think we need to know more. Find out exactly what it is she’s up to.”
There was a sly relish in Charlie’s voice. “You want me to pump her?”

“I know exactly what you mean by that, Charlie.” He weighed the thought in his mind. “Ah….maybe, eventually. If you think it might prove useful, and if you can somehow contrive to get back into her good books. In the meantime, this is what you can do.”


FOURTEEN

FBI HQ Miami, the Assistant Director’s Office
Calvert gestured to Moses Jameson to sit down. “I’ve got answers to some of the questions you were asking. Those sources you were talking about are still classified. However I’ve spoken to the State Department through Quantico, and they assure me they’ve got the case very much in mind. They’ve carried out a thorough check of all the places where something like this mystery drug could have been manufactured, and they’re certain nothing’s been stolen or that there’s any covert programme going on.”

That’s great, Jameson mused, as long as we can take their word for it. It was, of course, a simple matter to deny you were doing something, if no-one had any means of knowing you were lying.

Calvert seemed to compose himself. “Uh, I’m not sure you’re gonna like this somehow. It’s the sort of thing no agent ever does.”

Jameson steeled himself to receive bad news. What could it be? He hadn’t done anything to be fired, disciplined or transferred somewhere else, not that he could figure out. Unless it was part of some departmental reorganization.

“We’ve been asked to suspend our investigation into the disappearances,” Calvert said.
Jameson stiffened. “Mind my asking why, Sir?”

“Well, there just don’t seem to be any leads – unless you’ve found out anything since we last spoke?” Jameson shook his head. “You see, that’s just it. I know you’ve put a lot of effort into this case, Moses. But there’s no point in wasting time on a case which simply can’t be solved. That’s Quantico’s reasoning, and mine.”
“What about patrolling the beaches?”

“Not enough evidence to support your theory. I did put it to them but they decided there wasn’t enough evidence to justify the cost in terms of time, human resources and money.”
“May I ask on whose authority this was done, Sir?”
“The head of the Agency himself.”
“Couldn’t we ask for help from the Police Department?”

“They say they’re overstretched. I mean, there’s a lot of crime in this city.” Which was true, Jameson had to agree. “They haven’t got the resources to spare for testing what you must admit does must seem a pretty wild theory..” He coughed. “No, that’s not what I meant to say. A shot in the dark…if an understandable one.

“So,” he sighed, “all we can do is ask the Coastguard to keep a close watch on the beaches.”
“Sir, I figure that’s not gonna be enough. If these people really wanted to do it, they’d find their moment. The Coastguard don’t have the resources or the personnel to cover every mile of beach all the time.”

“OK, so maybe it isn’t going to be enough. That’s just too bad, I’m afraid. We can’t do it if Quantico have told us not to, can we?”

Moses sat up straighter. “Sir, we can’t just let it go like that. There are families being screwed up, torn apart by this thing. We’ve got to stop these kidnappings before there’s any more heartbreak. Any lead that comes along, we should grab at it.”

“Agent Jameson….” It was “Agent Jameson” now, not “Moses”. “I think you’re perhaps getting a little obsessive about this case, I’m not sure why. I know we’re human beings deep down, we can’t be emotionally entirely distant from the public we serve, but there are other cases out there that need our attention, and maybe can be solved if we don’t allow ourselves to be diverted down a dead end.”

“There’s never been anything like this before, that affects so many people.” Jameson’s voice was rising in agitation. “What about an appeal to the Department of the Interior? Or even the President?”
Calvert eyed him oddly. “By who?” he demanded.

Moses realised he’d overreached himself. “Well, I guess if the families….”

“That’s up to them,” Calvert snapped. “You surely weren’t thinking I’d go over the Director’s head?” He fell silent, and the atmosphere in the room became distinctly uncomfortable.
“Uh, no, Sir,” Moses gasped. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t step out of line,” the AD warned darkly. With a curt jerk of his head he indicated that Jameson was dismissed.
“I won’t, Sir.” Moses lingered for a moment, crushed, then with a respectful nod to his superior left the office. He paused just outside the door, trying to absorb all he’d just been told. Then his face darkened, twisting into a scowl, in line with his thoughts.


When Caroline returned to the hotel she found her room had been burgled. Fortunately she had had her wallet and all her valuables with her; the only thing missing was her personal organiser-cum-address book, but that angered and upset her because it had people's private phone numbers in it as well as her own personal details other personal details in it and she was worried in case whoever had it tried to ring them up, for which she would feel personally responsible. It was all the more annoying because she couldn't see what possible use it would be to them.

She instituted an immediate inquiry, demanding to see the manager who interviewed all the staff. No-one reported seeing or hearing anything suspicious. There was no way of telling whether they were telling the truth. She had no reason to think corruption didn't exist on the Bahamas as it did everywhere else, especially given the islands' history. Hopefully the missing item would be found, but in the meantime all she could do was put it behind her.


"Her name's Caroline Kent," said Charlie. He was seated at the Gertrude, Caroline’s personal organizer open on the table beside it. Her name had been written inside the front cover. "There's lots of addresses and phone numbers; mostly friends of hers, I guess, but there are two numbers which are separate from all the others and one seems to be for a workplace. D'you wanna note them down?"

He read them out. Bromhead rang off and a few mintues later called back sounding agitated. "Charlie, those numbers. One's some company in London called Global Datasystems Incorporated.” The name was in fact a cover for MI6, but of course they didn’t know that. “Presumably people she does business with somehow. But the other - Charlie, she's IPL. International Petroleum Limited. Obviously some kind of troubleshooter."

"That's what I thought. Anything else there we ought to worry about?"
"Not that I can see. She seems to have quite a lot of friends, though. A lady with connections."
"It's obvious why she hooked up with Ivarson." Charlie whistled through his teeth. "Looks like she took up scuba diving just so she could get to the bottom of it all. Literally." He felt a surge of admiration. "Quite a character."

"And a problem. The Boss thinks we ought to have a little talk with her."
"You mean warn her off?" Charlie quite liked the idea of having a chat with Caroline, but didn't want it to be in the form of a threat. Even if the company's interests demanded it.
"There are better ways of doing these things than by making threats. We don't know how she'd react to that, it might just make her more determined to stick her nose in."
"But we're not going to hurt her." He sounded anxious.

He heard Greatrix's plummy tones again. "Not if it can be avoided. No, I've got a better idea; and since you're so keen on her you can handle this, Charlie. Pin your ears back...."

*

Whatever else might be said about Grand Bahama the beaches, all of them on the south shore of the island, were top-notch. Stretching in an unbroken line for nearly 60 miles, their sheer length meant that despite the crowds of tourists you were not short of places where you could sit and think, or just lie in the sun and wind down. As private as your innermost thoughts, the Lonely Planet guide had described them. And startlingly beautiful.

This one was no exception. The fine white sand, like sugar, gleamed brilliantly in the rays of sunshine, which almost dazzled you as they scintillated off it.

Caroline had felt safe leaving her clothes tied up in a bundle underneath the shade of a mango tree while she swam. She was quite unaware of the man watching her as she rose from the waves and padded through the shallows toward dry land, her long hair hanging down in a wild tangled mass about her shoulders, the sodden tresses darkened a little from their immersion.

An ochre-coloured crab scuttled away from her as she stepped from the water. She paused for a moment to savour the view, her gaze following the dramatic sweep of the coastline to as far as the eye could see. She felt again the sense of inhabiting a Paradise on earth.

There was only one thing missing. A smile played across her face, and softly she began to sing. "Underneath the mango tree...."

She decided to walk a short distance along the beach and see what she could find. Spotting a starfish washed up on the sand, she threw it back in the water. A little further on she came across a conch shell, and picked it up and studied it, noting the patterns on the whorled shell, the clockwise way in which it had grown. It was of a mature adult, with the distinctive upward-pointing spires. To her delight she found a large pink pearl inside it; another souvenir of the Bahamas to put on her mantelpiece at home.

Out of the corner of her eye she registered the man walking along the beach towards her, but at that moment had no reason to spare him more than the briefest glance.

The water was still trickling down her to form little pools in which her feet splashed. Feeling the need to dry out, she returned to her tree, got out her towel and spread it out on the sand, just beyond the shade of the mango. She sat down and stretched out on it, offering her body to the sun. There wasn't much she and Ivarson could do until the extra equipment arrived from the Institute, so she may as well relax. Bugger Hennig.

She heard the sound of feet scuffing in the sand, growing louder as their owner drew near to her. A shadow fell across her, and a cheerful voice said "Hi there." A male voice.

She sat up sharply, annoyed because he was blocking her sun, and eyed him in some disapproval. He was not dark but fair, and spoke with an American - it sounded most like that anyway - rather than a Scottish accent. She realised it was her would-be paramour of a few nights before.

"Can I help you?" she asked in her snooty voice, tense from the natural wariness of a woman caught not wearing very much.

"Sorry to disturb you, but I needed to get you alone," he smiled.
"Did you now," she muttered.

He was a handsome blond hunk with a tanned, well-muscled body. Had the circumstances been a bit different, she might not have said no. But something wasn't quite right here.

She got up and walked over to the mango. The Bahamian followed her, either not clocking her body language or deliberately choosing to ignore it.

She began taking her clothes out of the bag, intending to put them on over her costume. His hand shot out and connected with the trunk of the tree, only a few inches from her head. She winced.
"How are you then?" he inquired.

"Haven't changed much since the last time we met," she said. There was intended to be a message in the remark.

He took her at her word. "So are you enjoying your stay in our country?"
"It’s alright."
"What have you got lined up for today?"

"I thought maybe a bit of sightseeing. Then I'm going to have lunch, do some shopping, do some more sightseeing, have supper, write some postcards, go for a drink or two, then finally go to bed. So you see I'm going to be very busy. So if you wouldn't mind...."

"Uh-huh." He hesitated, then his lips parted with a smacking noise. "Listen, I've a proposition to make to you."
"Oh yes?"
"You work for an oil company, don't you?"

Caroline stiffened. Letting go of the bag she turned round slowly, locking her eyes with his. "How did you know that?" she asked in a clipped icy voice.

He lowered his voice sheepishly. "Because it's in your address book," he grinned.

The blue eyes seemed to flash at him, like a camera taking a snap of his very soul. "It was you stole my things?"

"Can't be too careful these days. We needed to find out just who you were and what you were doing in the Bahamas."
"Oh, I see. And who's "we?", might I ask?"
"We are Marcotech International. You may have heard of us."

"Oh, a few times. But I'm really not very impressed with your company right now. If my employers went round stealing people's personal possessions I'd sack them, I really would."

"It's a cut-throat world, baby. The big companies are always spying on each other. If you're not in that sort of business yourself then you're at a disadvantage. We're just rooting for ourselves, like everyone else."

"I see. Do you do this as a matter of course, or was there any particular reason you chose to pick on me?"

"It's quite obvious," he said, "putting two and two together, that you reckon we've got something to do with the tanker sinkings. So, how did you decide the answer was here in the Bahamas?"
She explained the reasoning which had led her there.

"That's good thinking," he said admiringly. "Maybe the answer is here, I dunno. But it's got nothing to do with us, I can tell you."
"I'm not saying it is," she said sincerely. "But hang on." Her eyes glinted and she smiled triumphantly. "You're obviously trying to warn me off. And you wouldn't be doing that unless you really were up to no good."
He seemed to be winking at her.

She wriggled into her T-shirt. "You've got some kind of project going on here, under the sea."
He grunted an affirmative. "You were checking it out earlier, weren't you? So you are interested in us."
"We just happened to be in the vicinity," Caroline answered honestly. She buckled on her shorts. "And since it started, your project, there's been a major decline in fish stocks."

He shrugged. "We've been looking into that but we can't see how anything we're doing can have been causing it."
"And are you telling the truth there?"
"'Course I am." He looked the picture of angelic innocence. "But you don't look convinced," he said plaintively.
"I'm not." She sat down and started pulling on her socks. "What if I was to go to the police and tell them you'd admitted to stealing my address book?"
"All we'd have to do was deny it. You've no proof. However, we can arrange to return your address book any time.”

“Because you’ve got what you want, you know who I am now. And what would I have to do? Promise to stay off the case? It's not up to me in the end, you know. I'm here because my company sent me."
"I'm not making you a deal. More of an offer. How'd you like to work for us?"
She regarded him in amazement mingled with distaste. "What, after you stole from me?"
"Like it or not, babe, everything's a matter of money these days."

She was about to retort indignantly that that didn't apply to her, and don't call me babe, but stopped herself just in time. This might be an opportunity to learn something.

He noticed the change in her expression and smiled. "Tell me, how much do you earn per year?"
"About fifty thousand."

"We can better that. Would a hundred thousand suit you? You’re obviously a professional kind of lady. With your experience, your abilities, I'm sure you deserve it. They still don’t pay woman executives anywhere near as much as the men.” True, thought Caroline. “We don’t happen to think that’s fair.”

She had sat down at the base of the tree with her arms folded. He squatted down beside her. "We're a large firm and very powerful. And I think we're maybe less scrupulous, on the whole, than IPL - than you personally, certainly. I'm not saying we'd do anything bad to you, but..." He was clearly hinting that he might if it was considered sufficiently necessary. "You'll find us a tough bunch to take on. As an alternative, it might be worth your while to consider a career change. We're in a developing field which is going to be very important in the future. And everyone likes a change of scenery after a while."

Caroline tried to look as if she was thinking about it. She waited about a half-minute before speaking. "Tell me more."
"We've just had a vacancy come up for an International Operations Supervisor."
"Where would it be?" she enquired, trying to sound interested.
"All sorts of places. It’s a troubleshooter job, basically. Just like what you're doing now with IPL. We need someone who can butter up governments – Japanese governments, German governments, American governments, British governments - when they won't give us what we need. You could be sent anywhere. A lot of your time will be spent travelling, but you'd be based at our British HQ if you'd prefer. You are English, aren't you?"

"Definitely," she said firmly, nodding with vigour. Her patriotic pride felt somewhat insulted; of course she was bloody English.
"So, you like the idea then?"
"I'll think about it," she said guardedly.

"No hurry. Now why don't you call in at our British office sometime for a chat? We'd be delighted to see you."
"Where is it?"

He produced a scrap of paper and scribbled down the address and telephone number, with a few directions as to how to get there. "There you go." She nodded as he handed her the flimsy.

"My name's Charlie, by the way." He held out a hand, which she shook. "Nice to have met you. We'll look forward to seeing you at Southampton." He stood up, prompting her to do the same.

"Enjoy the rest of your holiday," he smiled, and with a final wave departed, leaving Caroline to her thoughts.

Play devil's advocate, and under threat as well. Never. With a disdainful sniff she dismissed the proposal from her mind and as soon as Charlie was out of sight stripped off again, baring her body once more to Sol.


Moses Jameson stashed away the folder he’d been compiling in the filing cabinet in the corner of the office – the Bureau thought it best to have a manual backup for everything in case the computers crashed, although that defeated the goal of economizing on space – and returned to his desk to begin work on his next assignment. Another audit. At the moment most of the work he was doing was of this kind; not, he thought, what he’d slogged his guts out trying to get this job for.

He wondered how the families felt at being told the Bureau was suspending the investigation. To them it could only mean its profile was being diminished, that it wasn’t such a priority anymore. And that could only be bad news. They were bound to make a fuss. Perhaps he ought to just wait and see what happened. Meantime, there were one or two phone calls it wouldn’t do any harm to make.

That evening, he waited until everyone else had left the office, bound for home and the canteen, and then rang Constantinos at Police Department HQ. “Lou, it’s Moses here. I gather you know we’ve been taken off the case.”
Jameson was puzzled by the silence which followed.

“No, I didn’t know,” Constantinos replied. “Was someone from your setup meant to have told us about it?”

“You mean no-one did?” He felt himself grow cold. “I saw AD Calvert yesterday and he sort of gave me the impression he’d seen your boss to ask if you could help, and been told you couldn’t spare the time or the people to do the job yourself.”
But evidently Calvert hadn’t spoken to the Commissioner. Why would he lie?

“I’d have known about it if he had,” Lou answered. “What the hell’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t understand it. But Calvert didn’t ask you if you could take over the investigation because he didn’t want you to. I think there’s some kind of cover-up going on.”

“Shit,” said Constantinos. “We gotta go carefully. I could speak to the Commish and let him know he’s been sort of misrepresented. That won’t go down well with him. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“Not yet. We need to think hard about how we’re going to do it. I’ve a feeling we could be in big trouble if we put a foot wrong. I mean, you hear stories.”
“A government conspiracy? Is that what you think it is? Jeez…..”

“Looks that way. So….can you take it on the case, d’you reckon? I guess I felt better hearing it from your own mouths. I thought it might be an idea if you could set up a regular patrol of the beaches.” He explained why. “No, I ain’t gone mad. Please Lou, just don’t argue. Can you do it or can’t you?”

“Well, I dunno. It ain’t my decision. I could always put it to the Chief. But you ain’t thinking straight, buddy. If we do, it’ll mean someone put in a good word where they weren’t supposed to. You could be in the shit and so would I, for talking to you.”

Jameson realised he was right. “OK, Lou. Don’t do anything about it right now. I’ll be in touch sometime. ‘Bye now.”

Calvert hadn’t said that he’d actually spoken to the Coastguard people, so Moses could see nothing wrong with calling them himself. In the event, not entirely going along with his theory about the abductions, they were reluctant to step up their regular patrols, which would entail significant administrative and logistical readjustments, without specific endorsement of Jameson’s approach by Calvert. That put the kybosh on it.

Better to wait and see whether the families could do anything before he put himself in danger. But if those doing the covering-up knew what they were about, most likely the families wouldn’t get anywhere at all.
And then what the hell was he going to do?


FIFTEEN
Virtually all the Bahamas were surrounded by coral reefs or sandbanks. Caroline had been thinking that she ought to keep her snorkeling hand in, and decided to check out the barrier reef around the northern shore of Grand Bahama in her hired gear. Yes, she could snorkel, and in fact had a qualification in it which she kept proudly displayed on her wall back home along with all her other achievements. She had earned it through a course of instruction, which lasted a mere three hours, and when on her holidays took every opportunity which came along to teach herself. She had built up her endurance in a swimming pool before attempting longer dives in open water. The ability to dive deeper and stay down longer had come gradually with practice. She could now make simple breath-holding dives down to a depth of 2 or 3 metres.

Before choosing the right place for the session she had checked with the local diving association that the weather, wind direction and strength were right, so that the sea was fairly calm with no waves to throw her against the rocks with the risk of serious injury. There were no dangerous undertows and currents, and as for dangerous animals she didn't reckon there'd be any this far in to the shore.

The spot was a sheltered lagoon with rocky cliffs or headlands running out from a gently sloping beach. The turquoise shallows and the blue water beyond looked clear and inviting. Scanning the horizon with keen eyes, shielding them from the sun with her hand, she saw no fishing or other vessels nearby. Literally, the coast was clear.

Stepping down from the car, she chose the best spot from which to enter and leave the water, and stripped down to her bathing costume. Strictly speaking, she should be wearing a wetsuit. But she enjoyed the sensuous feel of the warm water on her bare flesh. It was a delicious, slightly wicked sensation. She also found wetsuits restricting and uncomfortable in hot weather. She told herself she'd be OK as long as she didn't go too close to the reef - the sharp coral could cause unpleasant cuts - or stay for too long in the water. Even at a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit it could chill you dangerously, leading to hypothermia, within an hour or so and the more she exercised the more she would increase the rate of heat loss. And time could pass very quickly in warm water with so much to see; you could chill much faster than you realised. All in all, she would have to be careful.

Sunburn was another hazard, and she daubed herself thoroughly all over with waterproof suncream. The water itself would act as a sunscreen to some extent.

Taking her gear from her bag, she spat on the inside of the lens of her mask and wiped it with her finger so it wouldn't mist up with her breath or perspiration, then rinsed it in the sea. She also wet her fins before putting them on, slipping her feet into the shoe part and fastening them in place with the strap. The blade of the fin was made of plastic, which was lighter than rubber so that less effort was required to move her legs, with no loss of performance.

Pushing her hair off her forehead she donned the mask with its snorkel tube, causing the hair to bunch up. Now there was a watertight compartment around her eyes and nose so she would be able to see clearly underwater. She passed the strap around her head, binding her hair in place, and adjusted it with both hands. Then she inserted the rubber mouthpiece, gripping its two lugs between her teeth with the flange under the lips and on top of the teeth and gums. The mouthpiece was fitted with simple one-way valves which assisted in eliminating water from the snorkel. The latter had an exhaust valve which allowed the water to drain out from its lower end or be blown out by your exhaled air.

On one wrist she wore a digital waterproof watch and a magnetic compass in a waterproof case. In the pouch attached to the belt around her waist was a diving knife in a sheath, for use in freeing herself should she become tangled up in rope, discarded fishing line or nets. It was made from stainless steel with a handle of rubber and plastic.

Briefly she squatted down in the water, glancing around for any sign of submerged rocks. She shuffled slowly forwards into the sea, feeling for obstacles with her feet, and when it was up to her waist dived forward.

Arms held straight by her sides she cut through the water fairly fast, her fins giving her the ability to move about, both on the surface and under the water, far more smoothly and with less effort than in normal swimming. They added to the power available from the leg muscles, so that there was no need to use her hands. This had the effect of streamlining the body and reducing drag.

Breathing into her mouth through a snorkel, holding her breath and then exhaling so she cleared the water from it, had required a conscious modification to her normal breathing pattern, which meant practice. She had had to stand in chest-deep water and bend forward to submerge her face until the ears were just beneath the surface, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling through the mouth only. The snorkel made surface swimming much easier since she had no need to keep twisting her head out of the water in order to take a breath.

Some water entered the tube and she blew it out with a short explosive exhalation. Her next intake of breath was cautious in order to avoid inhaling any residual water remaining in the tube. A second blow cleared it completely. Tube-clearing was one of the first skills she had learned, again practising in chest-deep water so she could stand up and recover her breathing if necessary. It had to be done every time you went under, because the tube flooded as soon as your head was submerged.

She stayed at the surface for a while, swimming now on her back and now on her side, and turning whenever she wished to by bending her body so that it acted like a rudder. Then she decided it was time for a look down below.

Lying face-down, her arms stretched out in front of her, she took a deep breath and held it. Bending her body at the waist with the arms pointing downwards, lifting her legs clear of the water so that they were in a straight line with the arms, their weight pushing her under, and at the same time pulling herself down with a breaststroke motion of her arms, she slid beneath the surface in a single graceful movement, down to around ten feet. The momentum of her dive carried her a little further. She swung her legs in a wide arc, propelling herself forward fifteen metres in as many seconds.

When first learning snorkelling, her initial aim had been to feel comfortable for thirty seconds before ascending. This was then gradually extended to one minute; more than that was not recommended. The longer you could hold your breath, the deeper you were tempted to dive and that wasn't a good idea. Coming up was always a lot harder than going down, especially when you were getting short of air. Even when not wearing protective clothing you would suffer from loss of buoyancy due to the effects of pressure on the lungs, and there was also the ever-present danger of chilling.

Your initial target was a depth of seven metres. Where the water was clear and warm, like this, fifteen or even twenty might be possible. So that was as far down as she ever went. There were some people who could go further, to as deep as 160 metres – but they were a very exceptional breed, and were taking enormous and to Caroline quite horrendous risks by what they were doing. One had died. They had to gulp so much air into their lungs before descending that they risked passing out - oxygen became increasingly toxic with depth. The very thought of it made her shudder.

It was a pity she couldn't go down any further. Because you could only stay below for very short periods, you were prevented from seeing that much of the marine life. Still, the water was warm and soothing. And she was able to catch glimpses of brilliantly coloured fish darting to and fro among the coral and rock formations, looking like sheets of stained glass reflecting all the colours of the rainbow as the rays of sunlight caught them. Occasionally she might see an eel, a turtle, or some small and harmless variety of shark; she ignored them and they ignored her.

Then there were the wrecks of ships that had sunk or been stranded on the reef. They were fascinating places to explore, from both a historical and a zoological point of view. Fish of all kinds flitted in and out of them. Often, no longer entirely recognisable because of the growth of coral and barnacles, they were easily mistaken for some huge, weird, grotesque rock formation or marine life form.

There loomed up before her the ghostly outline of an Elizabethan galleon, its shape barely discernible, most of its spars and timberwork rotted away. The sea was shallow at this point and in the sand on the bottom she found a gold doubloon the treasure hunters had somehow missed, slipping it into her belt pouch. A little further away she came upon the rusting hulk of a German U-boat, perhaps the one which had allegedly come to pick up the Duke of Windsor and take him to join his friend Adolf in Berlin only something or other had gone disastrously wrong. She and Ivarson had investigated this one the other day. With the fish they’d swum in and out of its abandoned, empty rooms, taking great care to avoid sharp protruding metal surfaces. Without a wetsuit it would be a lot less safe to explore.

Between each dive she lay on the surface and finned to keep herself afloat, all the time looking around to make sure there were no boats nearby.

Once more, she thought. She took another deep breath and went down in a barrel roll, a graceful, twisting dive that carried her halfway to the bottom.

She became aware of a shape in the water beside her; a dolphin. It seemed to be interested in her. She knew that several individual dolphins, such as "JoJo" in the Turks and Caicos, had taken a fancy to divers in the wild. The animal circled her warily, and as before she smiled as she seemed to feel the sound waves caress her skin, causing the water around her to ripple and tickle the flesh deliciously.

She was just trying to decide whether she should risk attempting to pat it on the head when suddenly the dolphin spun round and shot away, with such haste that she felt the water displacement buffet her. She gazed after it with a rather sour look. I'm not that bad, surely.

Then she realised with a cold thrill of fear that the dolphin had been afraid of something.

Instinctively, she turned to see what it was. And got one of the biggest shocks of her entire life.

The sight almost caused her to gasp in horror, but some instinct kicked in just in time and she caught her breath before the precious air could be expelled. Travelling straight towards her with frightening speed was a huge mass of writhing tentacles, curling and twisting like a nest of serpents in a manner whose apparent purposefulness sickened her.

And at its centre a cruelly sharp, parrot-like beak was opening and closing rapidly while something inside it, barely seen, darted hungrily backwards and forwards.

Two of the tentacles were longer than the others and ended in club-like appendages whose surface was covered in thousands of tiny hooks. At the angle the thing was travelling towards her she could just make out, party hidden by the tentacles, the cylindrical head and body with its two stabilising flukes at the far end. She was looking at something she had heard about but never seen in the flesh, dead or alive, a creature that still seemed partly mythological and not entirely real; the giant squid, Architeuthis Dux. And this one was not only very much alive but intended she was sure to do her harm.

The tentacles alone must be at least thirty feet long. No, more like forty. She caught a brief glimpse of an eye bigger than a dinner plate and disturbingly, if superficially, like the human in appearance.

As she watched, paralysed by awe and terror, it changed direction slightly, putting itself on a line with her. She was later to realise that it couldn't have outswum the dolphins, which were by now too far away. It was wondering if she might be a better proposition. Unfortunately for her, she couldn't move quite so fast.

Stay calm, Caroline thought. If she panicked she would use up the air stored in her lungs. Stay calm and think.

She should surface immediately, but supposing the thing grabbed her with one of its tentacles before she could reach the top, or while she was swimming for the shore, and pulled her down. Did they do that?

The thought was terrifying. And in case her fears were justified, it seemed more sensible to make for the nearest place down here where she could hide. The U-boat.

But her air; she had none except what she had gulped in before going down and that was running out steadily. If she made the wrong decision it could well prove fatal.

She who hesitates is lunch. Caroline turned and swam for the hulk of the U-boat as fast as she could, her legs kicking out behind her and churning the water into a froth of bubbles.

The hull of the sunken submarine loomed closer and closer. Nearly there.

Then she felt something cold and slimy start to curl around her body, and again had to suppress the urge to panic. The underside of each tentacle was covered with enormous suckers, at least as big as dinner plates, and their edges looked razor-sharp. She had no idea whether they could puncture a wetsuit, but the effect on exposed flesh didn't bear thinking about. She twisted round, keeping her body straight to avoid coming into contact with the suckers and in the same instant reaching for the pouch at her waist, unzipping it.

She yanked out the knife and slashed savagely at the tentacle. Briefly she felt resistance, then the flesh yielded and a cloud of bluish fluid billowed from it. She saw the tentacle withdraw sharply, corkscrewed back onto her front and kicked off towards the U-boat again.

This time she made it. The hatch in the U-boat's side hung open and she swum through, darting off to the left down the corridor beyond. She had chosen that direction at random and only hoped it was the right choice. By now her lungs were starting to hurt.

The corridor came to an abrupt end in a solid bulkhead, but a door in the side was open and she swam through it, entering a largeish compartment which was bare except for some piping running along the wall just under the ceiling.

She seemed suddenly to become very aware of her own weight, and felt herself dropping towards the floor. Her heart leaped - that could only mean she was entering an air pocket. Her only hope had been to find one inside the submarine, and now it seemed she was in luck. Thankyou God.

The air was pretty foul, but breathable. Just. She sat down against one wall, hugging her knees to her chest, and waited,
trying not to retch at the stench of diesel oil. With any luck she had given the squid a bit of a shock. It would remember the pain, as all living things did, and leave her alone. And she'd literally won herself some breathing space. The air in here was enough to enable her to reach the surface. And presumably the squid would now give up and go in search of other prey. Happening to glance down, she noticed a slight cut on her upper right arm. The flesh inside it was red and raw. Shit, she breathed. One of those suckers must have nicked her. If there were sharks about.....
How long did the smell of blood last in water?

She thought she heard a sound, a kind of slithering and scratching, and jumped up in alarm.

Slowly, very slowly, the tip of something soft and red and glistening inched into view. One of the squid's tentacles.

It knew she was in here. It hadn't given up. With a sudden chill, she thought the creature was almost intelligent.

It was too big to come in after her, not the whole of its body. But that tentacle alone was enough to do the job.
It must be pretty hungry.

She backed away to the far wall, pressing herself hard against it. The tentacle continued to inch towards her, all the time twisting and coiling like a snake. Again she drew her knife and waited until it was just within reach.

She stabbed at it viciously. As before the tentacle darted back immediately, vanishing from sight. It wasn't to reappear.

Caroline sat huddled at the base of the wall, by now seriously frightened. She told herself the squid was sure to go away eventually.
All the same, the longer she stayed here the better.

After a while she felt her stomach churn with the first pangs of hunger.

A person could survive for days without food, she knew that. But not without drinking water. And although a search would no doubt be mounted for her, once people got worried, would they necessarily trace her to the U-boat in time to save her life? Another consideration was the poor quality of the air in here. She was sure it wasn't doing her any good. Too much exposure to it would sap her energy and prevent her making it to the surface. And she would probably need medical treatment soon, to be on the safe side.

All in all, the arguments against remaining here for much longer were formidable. She'd have to chance it.

She dared not look at her watch to see how long she'd been down.

Finally she tucked the knife back inside its pouch and got to her feet. She took a last long, deep breath, hoping it wouldn't be the last one she ever did, and left the chamber.

She swam out the hatch, looked around fearfully, saw no sign of the squid. It looked as if she was alright; but she was still unsettled by the thought of being grabbed by the thing on the way up. Was there any other way of reaching the surface? She glanced about for inspiration.

Then she saw it, or thought she did. Was there an opening in the rock wall, the base of the cliff that rose from the sea, a roughly circular hole about ten feet across?

She remembered what Ivarson had said about blue holes. But could she possibly reach the surface in time? And the dangers involved. It was bad enough for a diver, but a snorkeller....

She swam over to take a closer look. Yes, there definitely seemed to be a hole there. But how far in did it go? She swam inside and found herself in what seemed to be a tunnel, but everything was dark and it was quite impossible to see how far along it went.

No, the risk was too great. And she was losing valuable time and air. Mentally she said a prayer and swung her body round, kicking herself back towards the mouth of the tunnel.

Then a vast, dark shape seemed to descend over the opening before her, and she knew what it was.

The squid had waited for her to emerge from her hiding place inside the U-boat, or been engaged on other business when it noticed she'd reappeared. It was academic. What mattered was that she was now trapped inside the tunnel. She had no choice but to go on. Turning round again, she swam off in the opposite direction.

She felt her stomach turn over. She could not think about how long she had to go before she reached the surface. She only knew she had to keep on swimming and not stop until she did. There was no more air except what she had taken into her lungs on the U-boat, not until she reached the top. With a sickening certainty she realised the next few minutes would determine whether she lived or died.

How far inside could the squid's tentacles reach? She kept going at a rapid pace, consoling herself that if the thing did catch her her end might, if sufficiently quick, be better than drowning.

She fancied she felt a tentacle brush her leg, but just kept going, suppressing the ice-cold pang of terror. Trying to be an automaton, a machine with no fears or worries, no concern except an urge for survival that was purely instinctive, not emotional.

She must be a fair way down the tunnel by now. Safe from the squid. Hopefully, anyway; and of course the squid was not her only worry. The tidal currents in these blue holes could trap her so that she was prevented from getting to the top, or suck her out to be devoured by the monstrosity lurking outside.
How long would her air last?

At every second there was the ghastly thought of finding a dead end. And the faster she swum, the more she used up oxygen. Catch-22.

Ivarson had said some of the blue holes went down six hundred feet, if you took the access shafts from land and from sea, and the subterranean caverns, all together.
Six hundred feet.
She'd never make it.

How long did that distance take to cover, in minutes? And how long could she keep the air in her lungs? She didn't know and didn't want to, because the answer might have made her give her up there and then. And when the air was gone...well, she knew from Newquay what drowning must be like.

Ahead of her the tunnel curved upwards slightly. That spurred her on, gave her additional reserves of courage.

She followed the curve, kicking upwards with her flippers and using her hands from time to time to haul herself up the now almost vertical wall of rock. Gradually she became conscious that the shaft was broadening out into a cavern.

As she emerged into the huge water-filled cave she suddenly felt a sense of disorientation, and for a brief moment nearly panicked. Where was the opening of the shaft that led to the surface? Would it be directly opposite to the one she had just left, in the roof of the cavern? Or somewhere else entirely?
She'd waste valuable time looking for it.

Glancing around, she saw the hole in the other side of the cavern, thirty or forty feet above the level of her head. Or what she thought was a hole. It was gloomy in here and there was no way of being sure. There were a few hollows and depressions which might have been the mouths of other tunnels, but no time to check each in turn.
Jesus, if she’d picked the wrong one......

She made towards the opening. She was vaguely aware of strange, ghostly shapes flitting about, weird-looking fish and other life forms, but had no time to take a closer look.

She suddenly became conscious of a shape in the water above her, something that hadn't been there before. Something big, a vast billowing sac descending towards her as if to smother her in its heaving, undulating folds. She was aware of a multitude of suckered legs and thought for a moment the squid had somehow found a way in here. But no, the shape, the whole outline looked different. Vaguely some words of Ivarson's filtered through to her conscious brain.
It wasn't a squid but an octopus. A giant octopus.

The pouch of the monster was opening to swallow her, unfolding like the bell of some huge, deadly flower. Stay calm, keep holding your breath, if she panicked she’d start gasping and lose her air...and then she would drown, she knew she would....

Without thinking, she drew out her knife and slashed with blind savagery at the probing tentacles: once, twice, several times. At once the water around her was filled with a dense swirling cloud of black ink.

She could only assume that that had done the trick and the octopus was deterred. She didn't stop to tuck it back in her belt, just let go of it and let it drop away towards the floor of the cavern. Nor did she bother about the fact that she couldn't see because of the ink. She just kept on going towards where she knew the opening to be, blindly, until she was clear of the cloud.

She remembered the sulphuric acid in the water here. Mild but quite corrosive, especially on naked flesh.

Perhaps speed was the key. If she was quick enough....but then she couldn't move any faster than she was moving right now.

She made it through the hole and along the shaft to where it
started to bend upwards. By now she was getting dangerously short of oxygen. But she couldn't be far from safety now. The thought of failing, of dying, just when she was on the very last lap angered her; it seemed like someone's nasty, sick joke though she wasn't quite sure whose. And made her all the more determined to survive.

The foul air she had breathed in on the U-boat, and now the sulphur in here, must be sapping her energy, at the same time that her exertions were using up oxygen. Perhaps it was simply adrenalin that drove her on, sheer adrenalin, or willpower.

She had to spur herself on with a savage determination to survive, move as fast as possible, yet at the same time not lose her cool and panic. It was the greatest test she had ever had to face, a trial of both mind and body. She set her mind grimly on the task and banished all other thoughts from it.

On she went, half swimming, half scrambling up the sloping wall of the shaft, levering herself up with hands and feet. Her flippers, too clumsy for the purpose, scraped against the rock wall and she kicked them off savagely, unable to stop to unfasten them.
The shaft was starting to narrow.

Her lungs bursting, her mouth tightly shut against the desire to gasp for breath, which would serve only to choke her lungs with water, she carried on up and up; her fingers clawing at the rock of the shaft wall, seeking to find the cool freshness of empty air.
The next yard...or the next?
It must be soon, surely.

The cruellest thing, the very worst thing, would be to get right to the top of the shaft with her chest on the brink of exploding and then find no opening.

The tightness in her chest was increasing, the fire in her lungs agony to endure. It would have to be in the next few seconds; maybe the next minute. Maybe.

The human body wasn't trained, wasn't designed to put up with this kind of stress.

Seconds ticked away, yards of rock flashed by, and still nothing...nothing...Please, let me make it. Don't let me die just because of a few seconds. It's not fair, not right....
Her chest felt tighter, tighter....
Still nothing.....
Another few feet....
and another...
and another...
No good. I've lost.
She dared not look up to see how much further she had to go. Finding it was too far was quite simply unthinkable.

In a few moments she'd fall back and sink, thrashing about helplessly and from instinct only, knowing she was powerless to save herself from an agonising death.
How many moments was a few?
One?

This pain is so cruel, so unkind. Nothing like this should be permitted to happen, ever.
Two?

I've come this far. You can't let me die now, you can't you can't you can't you can't you...
Three?

In another second - just one second - she was sure she would....

And then her head burst through into open air and blazing sunshine and sprang back, her mouth open in a gasping, shuddering cry of triumphant relief, working instinctively as it sucked in the precious life-giving oxygen. Flailing about wildly, her arms encountered something solidish and she grabbed hold of it tight, pushing herself further up into the daylight. She clambered shakily upright and staggered blindly forward, feet squishing in what felt like wet vegetation.

Realising she was on firm ground, more or less, Caroline paused and stood with her body bent forward and her hands on her knees, breathing in in great sobbing gasps, almost crying with joy at the knowledge she was going to live. As her lungs finally ceased their convulsive heaving she straightened up and looked around, to find herself standing on a patch of marshy, waterlogged ground among tall reeds and thick clumps of grass. To her right was the sheet of water which hid the entrance to the blue hole; she took one look at it and turned away with a shiver.

Not far away the undergrowth thinned out to terminate at the side of the road. She had no idea where the road led to, having completely lost her bearings. Making a quick scan of her surroundings, she realised she was some way from the beach where she had left her clothes. With a groan, she set off in what she thought was the right direction.

A family of tourists were sitting on the grass verge where they had parked their car, or lounging against the vehicle, smoking and chatting. "It would have to happen to me!" she shouted at them, angry and upset by her ordeal. The tourists, all of them German, stared at her in blank incomprehension.

A little later she heard a vehicle draw up beside her with a screech, amid a chorus of whoops and yells from the people in it, all young men. The man in the driver's seat leaned through the window and called out to her in an American accent.
"Hey, fancy a ride honey?"
"Hoo, boy! Check her out!"
"Oh, yeah!!!! Whooooo!!!"
"Bikini heaven!"
"Titty city!"

Ignoring their offer Caroline trudged on her way, water still pooling around her feet. She was tired and hungry and in no mood to put up with that sort of thing just now, thankyou very much. The American trod on his brakes and sped away, his friends all the time wolf-whistling and shouting out lewd propositions.

A mile or so on she heard something pull in to the side a few yards behind her. She gave it no heed. Then a door was opened and shut, and a thickly accented voice called out, "Excuse me?"
She turned to see one of the Germans, a young man with a blond beard and glasses who looked like a student, coming towards her. His manner was concerned. "Perhaps you are in some trouble, yes? May we help?"

Caroline thought for a moment. She still had a while to go before she reached her destination and to be honest had a nasty suspicion she was going entirely the way. "Well," she began, "since you're asking I wouldn't mind a - "

She broke off, staring dumbly at him, swayed and with a thud collapsed right at his feet, very unconscious.

*

Caroline came round in the Germans' car to find herself on the way to the hospital at Freeport, wrapped tightly in a blanket and supported between a motherly, sturdily built Frau and her enormous bodybuilder of a son. They dropped her off at the hospital, saying she could keep the blanket. Thanking them for their kindness and politely refusing their offer of further assistance, she bade them goodbye and made her way over to Reception, still clutching the blanket around her semi-naked body. When she told the girl at the help desk what had happened horrified staff converged on her immediately and rushed her off to an intensive care ward.

They had pumped the worst of the stuff out of her, carried out various tests, rubbed all sorts of ointments into her skin. The doctor who saw her decided they'd better keep her in for several days, until certain there was no lasting damage. But from then on she made a fairly rapid recovery, despite being sick once or twice.

Ivarson came to see her the following morning. "That's incredible," he remarked, once he'd heard the story of her desperate race against time up the blue hole. "And you're not even a trained athlete."

"Perhaps it was just willpower," she suggested with a shrug. "I wanted to live. And...well, I did."

"All the same, you're a very lucky young lady," he told her. "Lucky the tide was out, for a start. Then there's the phosphorus in those tunnels. When I heard, that was what I was most worried about, especially as you weren't wearing a wetsuit. But it doesn't seem to have done you much harm. Could be you weren't down far enough.

"If you were a cat, you'd have lost a life. More than one, I'd say." He frowned. "I really can't figure out how you made it."

"Well, personally I'm glad I did," she replied acidly. And added that it wasn't without cost or she wouldn't be lying here in a hospital bed.

"Could have been a lot worse. Fortunately your body's young, you're strong and fit and your immune system's pretty efficient. That must have helped some."

His tone hardened just a little. "If you don't mind me asking, what the hell were you doing in there in the first place? I told you all about those blue holes, how dangerous they were. You mean to say you thought you'd - "

She interrupted him curtly. "If you think I was doing it just for fun you're mistaken. I...." She realised the news might cause panic if it spread too far and too fast. "Could we talk about it in private?"

Ivarson indicated to the nurse he wanted the screens pulled around the bed. Once they were isolated, she told him about the squid. And the octopus. He listened with growing horror, tinged with awe, and when she had finished her story sat back in deep thought, absorbing its implications.

"A squid," he murmured, and nodded slowly. "I thought it might be, actually."
"Might be what?"
"Might be what's eating the fish," he said grimly.
"You didn't say so."

"Guess I was hedging my bets. With the giant squid there's a lot you can't be sure about."
"But now we know," she muttered.

"Yep. Now we know." He looked directly at her. "I think you've had a very lucky escape."
She shuddered again at the memory.

"I know I keep saying it, but I still don't understand how you...."
"Because I wanted to," she said simply. "I've told you that already."
"'Course," he smiled. "I'm glad you did." He closed the subject, tone and manner changing. "So how big was this thing, roughly?"
"I honestly couldn't say. Just....huge."
"And the octopus? How big was that?

"Again, I don't remember." A distinct touch of sarcasm crept into her voice. "I was actually trying to get away from it, funnily enough."
Ivarson grinned at her annoyance. "But it was pretty big?"
"You could say that."

He tried to prompt her. "The largest octopus has arms no longer than twelve inches and rarely longer than thirty-nine. But some with a body length of eighteen feet and an arm span of thirty have been recorded. From time to time the remains of something which might be an even bigger one get washed up, but it always turns out to be some other kind of animal. There was a case recently.”

Caroline frowned. "Thirty feet sounds about right to me. It was probably more, though."

"Overall, it sounds like a Pacific giant octopus," he said. "A particularly big one. But there's no reason why you shouldn't get outsize specimens from time to time."
"I didn't think they normally attacked people."
"It may just have thought you were invading its territory. I doubt if it was trying to eat you."
"That's some consolation, I guess," she remarked drily.

Ivarson leaned back and stretched. "Well, well, so there is some truth in the old legend."
"There usually is in legends. That's how they start."
"Anycase," he said, "I'm more worried about the squid."
"What do we know about them?" she asked.

"Not as much as we'd like to. Until relatively recently the giant squid was thought to be mythical. The first proof it existed was in 1861 when the crew of a French warship hauled in part of one. Since then, over time, there've been sightings and strandings in all sorts of places - East and West coasts of America, British Isles, Scandinavia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, southern tip of Africa, the Azores and Canary Islands region, the central Pacific. Of course sea animals can stray from their usual territory because they're ill or the currents have carried them there. But on the whole there's nothing unusual about finding one here. We think there are about five different species in the North Atlantic."
“But it's still pretty elusive?"

"Like the blue whale. Of course the whale's rare because it's hunted, but big fierce animals generally aren't common. Too many of them and they'll eat so many of the smaller ones that it upsets the ecological balance. No giant squid's ever been caught and put in an aquarium, or studied closely in the wild. And not many have ever seen a live specimen in its native habitat – in so far as we know what its native habitat is – or at all."

"Perhaps they just keep away from people," said Caroline. "If I were a squid that's what I do."

Ivarson nodded. "They've got sense. Yeah, the giant squid's still a bit of an unknown quantity, relatively speaking. We don't know much about their lifespan, for example, although we think they take about four to five years to reach their full size.

"They probably live on or near the bottom, at a depth of at least a thousand metres; otherwise I guess they'd be seen more. The evidence comes from squid tissue found in the stomach of a deep-sea shark, but it isn't conclusive because some bottom-living sharks often come off it to feed. Squid are quite happy in fairly shallow waters, like here, less than a hundred metres deep.
"But it doesn't usually come in so close to the shore?"

"No, which is worrying. That could mean it's hungry. Eaten up too many of the fish, I expect.”
"Did you ever think it might attack a human?"

"This is the first time one's done so before, that we know of. We could never rule out the possibility. But the squid would never normally meet a person, and I figure if it was getting enough of its food from fish and that sort of thing it wouldn't bother to come looking for us."

He dropped unconsciously into a lecturer's tone. "We don't know what it eats; when something’s found in a squid's stomach, the chances of identifying it are slim because the beak and the radula - that's the tongue - reduce the prey to small pieces and the digestive enzymes work pretty fast. But on the basis of what we have found, probably fish and smaller squids."
"And how big are they - normally?"

"They're the largest living invertebrates, but no-one's quite sure how big they get exactly. The largest found until now was over sixty feet. Much of that length was those two extended tentacles, which in dead specimens - the only ones we've been able to examine - tend to stretch easily."

"But it is the squid that's been hogging all the fish. Agreed?"
"It's the only explanation I can find at the moment."
"Why hasn't this been a problem before, though?"

He was looking reflective. "I told you no-one knew for sure what the squids' natural habitat was. It may be they live in the deep canyons on the edges of the continental slopes, which are too far down for nets, and that's why fishermen don't often bring one up. Or it could be they're just rare. But there's a theory the squid are coming to the surface more, or into shallower waters than they usually frequent, looking for new prey. That's why the number of sightings has increased in recent years. World fish stocks are dwindling; mainly because of overfishing, which is a particular problem in the North Atlantic, perhaps also because of pollution and, here, the squid’s own depredations. And the crittur's gotta eat. So it starts going higher, and when it does it's gonna meet other potential sources of food, ones it never knew about before.”

Caroline thought she knew what he was getting at. A cold chill started to creep up her spine. "You mean....people?"

"Yes," said Ivarson, his voice dropping to a low murmur. "People."
In her mind Caroline saw the photo of Kate and Ryan.


A retired couple from Santa Barbara, California, were fishing from their yacht at rest off Cross Cays when without warning the monster struck. The woman had gone inside to make some coffee for them both. From the deck she heard her husband cry out in alarm, the sound of something being knocked over; then he was shouting frantically for help. As she rushed out to see what was the matter his screaming abruptly cut off.

She found the deckchair on which he had been sitting lying on its side, and no sign of him anywhere. With a sob of horror she ran to the guard rail and looked over it. All she could see was his floppy-brimmed sunhat floating on the surface, the water around it turning rapidly blood-red. The sea was rising and falling, gradually settling, as if something big had come up out of it and then submerged.

Off the coast of Abacos a cruise ship was passing a fishing boat when the smaller vessel seemed to rock violently, causing the two men on board to lose their balance and fall to the deck. Several of the passengers on the cruise ship then saw a thing like a huge snake, or maybe an enormous tentacle, thrust up from the water and coil around one of the fishermen as he struggled to rise. It plucked him screaming from the boat and in less than an instant had dragged him down to the depths from which it had come.

At the refugee camp in Kashmir delivery was taken of another batch of supplies for the thousands displaced by the earthquake. Only one of the crates contained not food but bags of fertilizer, nitrate-based, such as were often used by terrorists in manufacturing bombs. The name on this particular bomb was Pervez Musharraf.

A man made a call from a phone booth in a street in a leafy suburb of South London. "Hello, is that Suzy?"
"Yes, that's me."
"I wondered if I could pop in and see you tonight sometime. About eight?"
"Eight...yes, OK, I seem to be free then."
"Where is it, can you tell me?"

"Come to the corner of Allerton Road and I'll meet you there. What do you look like?"
The man gave a brief description of himself.

Two hours later he stationed himself on the corner as agreed and waited, several times glancing nervously at his watch or along the road to see if she was coming.

Some minutes elapsed. It seemed something or other had detained her. Maybe he should......

He was about to leave when he decided to take one last look up the road, and saw a girl coming towards him on the other side. She stopped and gave him a cheery wave, her smile flashing in the darkness. He hurried across to meet her, totally unaware of the black-clad man concealed invisibly in the shrubbery at the edge of the playing fields a hundred yards away, filming the encounter through an infra-red telephoto lens.


SIXTEEN
“We're going to tell the authorities here about this, of course," Caroline said.
"Of course," Ivarson agreed. "Though at the moment I'm not sure what they could do about it. I don't know how you hunt a giant squid, no-one's ever done it before. But I expect there's a way."
"You don't mind killing it?"
“It's not good for the ecology, eliminating too many fish from the food chain. Not too good for humans either, on top of the decrease there's already been.”

He paused. “Matter of fact, the deficit can be made up to some extent with farmed salmon, but I doubt if that’d be enough to meet the demand on its own. No, it’s not good.”
"I'm sure. But what concerns me most of all is whether a squid could plant a bomb on an oil tanker."
She wasn't being entirely serious, but to her surprise he took her at her word. "For my money I'd say it'd be quite possible to train one."

He explained that the complex nervous system and brain of the cephalopods, the family to which squid and octopi belonged, gave them an intelligence unique among invertebrates. There were reports of octopi placing stones between the valves of clams to prevent their closing, so the octopus could get at the soft flesh of the creature within. They displayed considerable cunning in hunting for prey. In laboratory tests they had displayed remarkable learning abilities, responding well to aversion and reward-and-punishment therapy, and distinguishing and remembering a variety of different shapes.

"Maybe they'll rule the world after we've gone," Caroline said.
"So octopuses, then - "
"Octopi."
"Abducted, kidnapped. Octopi, then, are pretty smart. But squids..."

"I wouldn't rule it out. No-one knows how clever they are because no-one's had the opportunity to do any tests."
"How could you capture a giant one, anyway? It'd be a bit of handful."
"You could do it when it was young. But you'd have to know where to find one. I'm not sure it would be worth the bother when there are smaller species of squid that would be easier to get hold of.

"Well, we're going to have to sort this thing out somehow. And were are not going to do it," he said, looking straight at Caroline, "in a bikini." She glared at him.

"Yes, alright. Marcotech must have something to do with it, though. I mean if the squid is the cause of all the vanishing fish, and they started to disappear just after the company set up its base here...."
"Well, we'll see. Maybe now the government can be persuaded to get off their asses and do something."
"We'd better try and keep my name out of this. If I attracted too much attention to myself, someone might probe and maybe find out what I'm really doing here. And I guess I'd feel safer if they didn't."

"Marcotech know already," he pointed out. "And that means you could be in danger."
"Oh yes, I'm really scared," she replied bolshily. Ivarson looked long and hard at her, concerned.
Her expression changed. "I'm thinking. Do you reckon there are more than one of these things around the place?"
"Well it depends on how much a lone giant squid gets about. But yes, I'd say it's quite possible."

"Then we could be looking at one very big problem, couldn't we?"
"We sure could. It'd make things a lot more difficult. Might be years before we anyone sorts it out."
"Then in that case," said Caroline thoughtfully, "it might be a good investment for me to take Marcotech up on a little offer they made me a while back."


Major Mike Hartman was walking in the Brecon Beacons, as he had become accustomed to during his time in the SAS. The walks were a time for relaxation but also, because they helped keep him in trim, an extension of the training exercises he had undergone while with the Regiment. Many SAS members walked in the mountains, either to get away from it all or to accustom themselves to the solitude they might have to endure if trapped and alone behind enemy lines, in an inhospitable environment.

He was climbing Pen-y-fan, the highest mountain in the range. He had almost reached the summit and was only slightly out of breath, his whole body throbbing pleasantly with the energy generated by the exercise.

At the top he let out a bellow of triumph, punching the air with his fist. He found a rock, stood on it and looked out across the valley before him, as well as down into it. He smiled broadly, feeling like the guy in that nineteenth-century painting with mist-wreathed mountain tops suspended below him, surveying the world and reflecting on his place in it. He felt literally on top of the world, a king in this remote wilderness untouched by the hand of Man. Able to view everything from atop a pedestal, and so see it in perspective. Assess it all and make a decision.
The Major smiled, and was happy.

The one thing which right now swept away all his troubles and granted him a sense of peace was the beauty of the natural world. But it was only in places like this that you could really get that sublime feeling of total solitude. Everywhere else people were building, destroying the character of the countryside, because they couldn’t control the rise in population, the immigration, the social fragmentation which meant the breakdown of the traditional family unit.

What was the point in fighting for a world which was becoming physically less and less attractive, and thus less a source of pride? And which was going to fall apart altogether in a few years’ time, the way things were going? Global warming, overpopulation, poverty, crime, were all threatening to destroy stability and security if not the actual survival of the human race, in a way the Cold War could never have done - he saw that now. And Britain, the land of his birth, the object of his pride, was no longer sure of what it was in a fast-changing world. The majority of its inhabitants, who had been there for a thousand years or more, faced the problem of adjusting to a "multi-cultural" society in which, eventually, they would no longer be the majority. They had to redefine their perception of themselves, and of their status in society, in a way which would surely be psychologically traumatic. Everyone was British, but what constituted Britishness? Identity was difficult to define and yet without it there was no focus for patriotism, no objective to fight for. You were killing people and wading through a lot of blood and guts and shit for nothing. And yet the alternative, civil war and perhaps the British National Party coming to power, didn't appeal to him either. He could find no answer, and that was why his soul cried out in anguish.

Britain had lost its former power, its role in the world, and not yet found anything to replace it. Couldn't do anything without the say-so of the bloody Yanks...sorry, Gillian.

He wanted something else. Again he gazed down into the valley, at the outstanding natural beauty stretched out before him, at peace within his soul, a feeling enhanced by the stillness of the air and the total absence of any other human being.

In truth he wasn’t quite at peace. His worries about his future in the Army, including whether or not he wanted to remain in it t all, continually nagged at the back of his mind. But out here he could at least think, sorting out his problems more easily without the distractions of the “civilized”, urban world getting in the way.

It was a very long time before he jumped down from his rock and began the long journey back down the mountain, with a solution - of sorts - coming together slowly in his mind.

Yes, he thought he knew what he should do. He had remembered an advertisement seen on a billboard in a London street some weeks before, a website he’d checked out while browsing the Net. And decided he wanted to know more.


"So you reckon it's a squid, Dr Ivarson?" began the Bahamian Minister of Fisheries.
"Uh-huh," the scientist grunted.
"On what do you base this theory?"

"A giant squid is the only possibility, taking into account the scale of the depredation. There's nothing else that big."

The Minister looked incredulous. "I know it sounds like something out of Peter Benchley," Ivarson said. “But the thing does exist. My assistant had a narrow escape from it yesterday, in fact.”

“It would help if I could have her account of the incident,” said the Bahamian.

“The experience shook her up a bit. She’s, uh, still recovering in hospital and doesn’t want to see anybody at the moment. She did manage to give me the salient points, however, and I’ve typed out a report of what happened for your perusal.” He pushed a couple of sheets of paper across the desk. "If you don't want to swallow the squid thesis, let's just say there's something pretty big in the waters off the northern Bahamas and it's eating all the fish. The rate of depredation seems to be increasing; whether that means there are more and more of these creatures coming to the surface, I don't know. But if it continues to increase it could be a serious threat to the livelihood of your people."
The Minister compressed his lips.

"And not only fish. Pretty soon, at a guess, this thing is going to start eating people too, if it hasn’t already. Which means tourism's going to suffer. It won't be just a matter for your department, it concerns the whole island. If I were you I'd get the Prime Minister in on this."

The Minister still didn't seem to have fully absorbed what Ivarson had said. He was still looking a bit shocked. "Until we have more evidence..." he began, pulling himself together.
"What kind of evidence do you want? Believe me, if you don't have it now you'll have plenty of it in the future."

Someone knocked on the door. "Come in," the Minister shouted. A secretary entered with a buff envelope tucked underneath one arm. "This is for you, Sir," she said politely. "Urgent. A fax from the Coastguard Department."

The Minister grunted his thanks, and she withdrew, quietly closing the door behind her. The Minister tore open the envelope and shook out the piece of white paper within onto the desk. As his eyes travelled down it Ivarson saw them widen in amazement and horror.

Absorbing what it said, he handed the message to Ivarson. "I think you had better see this," he said quietly. The American took the fax and started to read.

From: Coastal Patrol HQ Fort Royal
To: Minister of Fisheries

REPORTS COMING IN SUGGESTING LARGE UNIDENTIFIED MARINE ANIMAL RESPONSIBLE FOR TWO FATALITIES OFF NORTHERN COAST OF GRAND BAHAMA AND ABACOS EARLIER TODAY

13.10 AMERICAN TOURIST MISSING PRESUMED DEAD, APPARENTLY TAKEN FROM DECK OF YACHT

14.55 PASSENGERS ON CRUISE SHIP REPORTING ATTACK ON FISHING BOAT BY OBJECT DESCRIBED AS LIKE ENORMOUS SNAKE OR TENTACLE OF SQUID/OCTOPUS. ONE MAN MISSING PRESUMED DEAD

REQUEST INVESTIGATION.

Ivarson put down the fax and sighed, long and hard. "It's just what I expected."

The Minister was biting his lip thoughtfully. "Dr Ivarson,” he said, "would it be relatively easy to hunt down this animal and kill it?"

"That's just what I can't say at present. No-one's ever had to deal with this kind of thing before. I'm going to have to consult my Institute back in the States."
"Is it possible the matter could be dealt with fairly swiftly?"

"I've no idea. Apart from giant squid hunting not being a common pastime, it depends on how many of these things there are. You remember I said it might not be on its own."

Ivarson regarded the politician keenly. "It's particularly important to you that we sort it out soon, then?"

The Bahamian spread his hands. "Well, of course. The damage to our people's livelihood....you mentioned it yourself. But it might also be important to resolve things before, before the public mind becomes unduly agitated."

"You mean before too many people get to know about this." Ivarson’s lip curled slightly. "They've a right to. Unless we warn everyone they'll be putting themselves in danger; tourists and local people alike. I'd suggest you hold a public meeting and give them the facts."
"But if you can kill this thing -"

"I've no idea how easy that'll be or how long it'll take. And you can't cover up the truth forever."
"I have no intention of doing that."

"Then tell them. Business will suffer, but it'll suffer anyway if the problem isn't dealt with. Sure, there'll be some panic. But I think the consequences will be worse for you if people die because they weren't properly informed."

The Minister looked hard at him for a moment. "Very well. I will bring it to the attention of my colleagues. Was there anything else you wished to say?"

"No, that's it. If you'll leave me to arrange things with the Institute, I'll leave you to organise that public enquiry. I'll need to be there myself, so if you'd let me know when you've fixed a date."

Ivarson shook the Minister's hand and left, feeling hopeful that he'd managed to achieve something. But then of course you never knew with politicians.


“It’s very kind of you to come and see us,” said Melinda Richards as she opened the door to Special Agent Moses Jameson.

“I just thought I oughta check how you folks were.” Studying her, Jameson saw that the grey was much more prominent in her hair than before, as were the wrinkles and folds in her skin. She looked twenty years older than she really was. Time wasn’t healing the physical and mental stresses she was suffering, because with time the probability of Shannon reappearing increased, and there was always the dreadful thought that when she did it might be as a corpse.

Her husband was out, and Shannon’s brother at school. The two of them sat and talked over coffee, mostly about things totally unconnected with the case, until Melinda mentioned that she had joined forces with the parents of some of the other victims to start a support group. “Our first proper meeting’s in a week’s time. We’ve already met informally, most of us, a couple of times. But it’ll be great to really get things going.” The whole idea seemed to be giving her some vestige of hope, judging by the new brightness in her manner. That was something, at any rate, Jameson thought.

“Pity about the investigation being closed,” she said. “Have you any idea why they’d do that?” She looked at him searchingly, confident that as an agent for the FBI he must be able to provide the answer.

“I’m afraid our superiors tend to be a law unto themselves, ma’am,” he told her. “Truth is, I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“We were going to write a letter to the President to let him know how we felt.”
“Well, that’s your right I guess.”

“And the papers, too. Everyone who might be able to help. I know it’s not your fault, Mr Jameson, but I must say I’m disgusted at the whole business. The police, your people, the politicians, they’ve all just given up. Still, there are one or two of our group who aren’t without influence. They’ll get something done, I’m sure of it.”

There wasn’t much else for them to talk about, not regarding the case; until the support group, apparently also a pressure group, badgered some results out of Washington – if they did – the matter was at a dead end. As soon as he’d drunk one whole cup Jameson made his excuses and left, urging Melinda not to let anyone know he’d been to see her. He wasn’t supposed to be getting too involved socially or emotionally with the relatives of the victims in a murder or kidnapping case, especially after he’d been taken off it. It wasn’t professional, not even at the best of times. And if there was a top-level cover-up going on, Moses Jameson stood to lose his job. Or worse.


As soon as she came out of hospital Caroline held a conference on the Oceanus to discuss the progress of the investigation. She rose with a smile to greet Chris Barrett as he entered Ivarson's cabin with the scientist, swaying slightly on his feet. Chris was a stockily built, broad-faced young man with a slightly boyish air to him, and a quiff of dark hair which seemed permanently to be plastered limply to his forehead, in a way that made him look disheveled. It belied his effectiveness as an executive.
"Hi," she grinned. "Are you OK?"
"Of course I am," he answered, trying to look bemused.

She sniffed pointedly. She had detected the smell of beer in his breath the moment he'd walked in.

"Oh, I get it," Chris said. He beamed at her winningly. "I have been doing some work, honest."
"Of course you have," she simpered.

"And you have to have a drink in your hand all the time, because you can't really talk to people otherwise."
"Especially girls," she suggested.

"You have to spend most of the time with them because they're the ones who gossip so much," he hit back.
"Fair comment."

Ivarson waved him to a seat. "Take a pew, son. I'll go and get us something to drink."
Sitting down, Chris glanced across at Caroline. "What's this I hear about you running into a bit of trouble?" She told him the full story.

He listened in horrified concern. "You should have told me," he protested.
"I thought it'd spoil your fun," she said.
“It wouldn’t have,” he vowed, his tone making it clear he was sincere.

They got down to business. "And you haven't found anything so far?" she asked seriously.
"Not really, no. Despite hanging round all the right places, taking an interest in all the right things. Has anyone else had any luck?"
"Well, I certainly haven't. Nor have the others according to London; I called them earlier today."
"I suppose the general situation's getting worse?"

"You’ll have seen the news." The disruption to oil supplies had brought the world to the brink of recession, and it would tip over that brink if things continued the way they were for much longer. Across the globe thousands of people had already been made redundant and at least one multinational was about to go into liquidation. The more physical consequences were not likely to be felt for some time yet, since enough emergency supplies had been stockpiled to last a couple of years. But sooner or later they would start to dwindle, and the fabric of modern civilisation crumble. Millions would die and there would be serious social and political unrest, resulting either in anarchy or the imposition of martial law.

Chris preferred to change the subject. "I'm sure of one thing, they wouldn't be trying to buy you off if they didn't have anything to hide," he said. "Unless they just liked your face."

"Unless they just wanted to shag me, you mean," she muttered. People had tried to recruit her, she was sure, for just that reason.

"No," she said, "it's more than that. These people know what they're about. And they're almost certainly hiding something. Of course it could be it's got nothing to do with the tankers, but whatever it is they don't want me stumbling on it."

"I can't see what this squid business has to do with them, that's for sure," Chris said. "It's probably just these things coming to the surface because the fish are dying out."

"Of course. But they're up to something weird down there, you can bet, and this could be our chance to find out what.”
“What about that equipment you said you needed?” he asked.

“Still waiting for it,” Ivarson grunted. “But that’s par for the course with the Institute.”
"Chris, I think we can assume the cause of the trouble is somewhere around Grand Bahama,” Caroline said. “I honestly don't think there's any need for you to stay on in the islands. You may as well go home now. If you've finished enjoying the highlights of Nassau, that is."

"Don't worry, I've seen enough of this place to last me the rest of my life," he grunted. The remark was uncharitable but reflected a certain truth. The Bahamas was the kind of place you got bored with after a while, unless of course you actually lived there. Maybe it was the same with all places.

"What should I do?" asked Ivarson, who had been frowning in the background.
"You may as well carry on doing your own thing. Stay here and see if you can take care of the squid. Maybe Marcotech will think they've managed to separate the two of us from each other, and you're less of a threat on your own."
"Makes sense," he nodded. "All right."

"So you're definitely going to take up Marcotech's offer, then?" Chris asked.
"I don't know. At the moment it's just an opportunity to check them out." The last word was said as a yawn. "I think I'd better be getting back to the hotel and into bed."
"And me to mine. See you back in London, then?"
"I expect so." Chris said his goodbyes to her and Ivarson and left.
The scientist enfolded Caroline in an affectionate bear-hug. "'Bye, sweetheart. Good luck with Marcotech. And don't forget to take a long spoon, will you?"


Like all its kind, the shark lived mostly in the relatively shallow waters of the continental margins and around the offshore islands, though it rarely ventured anywhere near land. Until now it had fed on fish, including other sharks if small enough, turtles, birds, sea lions, crustaceans, rubbish thrown from ships; and where it was it could always guarantee a regular enough supply of these items. It did not, in fact, experience hunger in the normal sense of the word, being stimulated to attack, kill and eat by the smell or appearance of prey. It had never thought about food as an essential requisite for survival.

But now, something was different. The shark was conscious of changes within its body, its metabolism; it could not explain them, could not have conceived what was happening to it, only knew that if it did not feed it would die. And like all other living things, its prime directive was to survive, whatever else did or didn’t matter.

The shark was hungry. And it knew the things it had eaten in the past would not be enough to satiate it.

It had to look further afield; search for larger prey. And it would have to do that on its own. Often it was the presence of other sharks, sensing prey, that stimulated it to eat, fighting savagely over the prize with its rivals. But it could no longer afford to wait for this to happen. In any case, the other sharks now seemed to avoid it, sensing there was something different about it, and that it was dangerous to them. That did not bother it, since its kind were not particularly social animals. No, all that mattered to it was to go on living.
It began to move closer to the shore.


SEVENTEEN
Caroline stood in the busy departure lounge at Nassau Airport waiting for her flight, hands folded comfortably before her, surveying her fellow creatures with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and occasional annoyance.

Her eyebrows lifted on seeing a hand raised in greeting and the guy from the beach walk swiftly towards her, a broad grin lighting up his tanned face. "Hi," he panted. He'd been walking so fast he'd clearly tired himself out. "How you doin'?"
"I'm fine, thanks," she answered, politely enough.

"Heard you decided to accept our offer. I think you made the right decision."
"Well, we'll see," she said non-commitally.
"Just off, then?"
"I'm just off."

He paused, shifting a little awkwardly. Then he drew himself up and smiled. "You know, I'm not trying to hassle you or anything; but would you like to come for a drink sometime? Seriously?"
She was used, of course, to approaches like this.

It suddenly occurred to Caroline that he really did like her. She ran her eyes over him appraisingly. There were some people who thought blond men effeminate; she couldn't quite see where such a notion came from. Looking at the guy, there was nothing that could be considered remotely feminine about him. His torso and limbs wwere well-muscled, his bearing and body language typically masculine. As for his preferences, assuming there was any reason to question them, the twinkle in his eye made it abundantly clear where they lay.

For a moment Caroline didn't know what to say. Her indecision must have showed because a look of hope came over his face and he shifted again, this time from excitement.

The PA system crackled into life. "Flight 145 to Miami is now ready to depart. Will all passengers wishing to board this flight please make their way to Gateway Three.”

She was about to say something, then drew in her breath sharply. "If we're going to be colleagues, there's one thing you ought to know. I prefer to keep my private life and my work separate. Ciao." There was a little more ice in her voice than she afterwards thought was fair.

Flashing a brief smile at him, she did an about-turn and strode off to join the others forming a queue at the entrance to the boarding tunnel.

For a long time Charlie looked regretfully after her. Then he turned away with a helpless shrug and went off, back to the bars and the beaches and the girls.

*

The public meeting was being held in the plush surroundings of the old colonial-style town hall in Nassau. The reporters clustered outside it surged forward to greet Ivarson as he stepped from the taxi and made his way towards its pillared portico.

"What have you found?" they demanded. "Any truth in the rumour that it's a giant squid?"

Ivarson waited until they'd finished, run out of steam. "Let's wait till we get inside, shall we," he smiled, and moved on.

The smile was a false one and hid his dismay and annoyance at what he had found out earlier that day; that the Institute weren't prepared to lend him the gear he needed, insisting it was required elsewhere.

When he entered the room it was already packed. As well as concerned local residents there were prominent businessmen, a church minister or two, representatives of the press. A lot of the people there seemed to be Americans.

All eyes turned to him as he went to the table behind which the panel were seated, and took his place with the Fisheries Minister, the island's chief coastguard officer, the Minister for the Interior and a prominent local dignitary who was acting as the meeting's Chairman.

This alluminary banged on the gavel with the hammer, shouting for quiet. The babble of voices died down.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thankyou all of you for attending this meeting. We are here to address a serious and growing problem. People are disappearing. The fishing and tourism industries are suffering. Nobody will go diving, deep-sea fishing, boating if they think something's gonna come up and have them for supper. If this goes on we'll be bankrupt.

"Now we have here today Dr Donald Ivarson from the Institute of Oceanography at Kennington, who as you all know has been carrying out an investigation into this matter and is going to brief us on what he has found."

Ivarson rose to his feet. "I believe the animal which is responsible for the recent incidents and for the decline in fishing stocks recently observed in the vicinity of these islands is a giant squid. The sightings confirm it." He went on to outline, in simplified language, everything that was known about giant squids. "What we don't know at the moment is how to deal with it."
"Some frigging use," one man muttered to his neighbour.

“I’ll be going into that later.” Ivarson sat down, giving the other members of the panel speak. At this stage they were confining themselves to general statements professing their willingness to do whatever was required to solve the problem, for the good of the people of the islands. When each of them had said their piece, the meeting was opened to the floor.

One of the reporters raised his hand. "Dr Ivarson, is there more than one of these creatures, do you think?"

"Impossible to say at present, but I should think so in view of the scale of the depletion."
"So what do we do about it?" interjected one of the Americans.
"There's several ways. I'm working on the basis that although it's over sixty feet long, it's still a squid. We could lure the thing to the surface by collecting tons of dead fish and dumping it in the water. Or using a decoy, a fake male or female squid, depending on what sex the animal is, which is something I don't know yet. It's possible to simulate the pheromones given off by certain animals when, uh, aroused.

"We'll need spotter planes with high-resolution photographic and sonar equipment. Once it's near enough to the surface we can kill it with a depth charge dropped from an aircraft, or maybe even a warship if the Navy'll let us have one. We could try and get it with a harpoon carrying an explosive charge, from a boat. Or torpedoes.

"We'll know if there's more than one if there are further sightings. If there are, we carry on until there are no more and we can assume the thing's been killed."

Members of the audience made various alternative suggestions, some of them eccentric, as to how to kill the creature. Ivarson politely brushed these aside.

"So if you know how this thing can be got rid of," growled another American, "why why don't you just go out there and ice it?"

"I don't have the right equipment," Ivarson said with a shrug, palms upturned. "I came here aiming to preserve life, not kill it."

"This thing's got to be killed," the expatriate snarled. "It's wrecking our livelihood. I've no time for your God-damn pinko ideas."

"Oh, sure, I understand. If killing it's the only way, then that's how it's got to be. I'm just saying I don't have the right gear."
"What about your Institute?"
"They don't have the right gear either. Not all of it. They've got better echosounding equipment than the stuff on the Oceanus, maybe other things that'd come in useful. But they aren't able to lend it to me at the moment, so they say." Ivarson made no attempt to conceal the annoyance he still felt at the Institute’s response. He was puzzled, too; it had not altogether been what he expected. They were tardy at coming up with things, true, but the goods were usually delivered in the end. Apparently the equipment was required for “some project in the Pacific,” about which they’d been curiously evasive.
A number of people were heard to mutter disapprovingly. "Sounds like they're really keen to help out."

"And as for bombs and torpedoes, you want the Navy. The US Navy, with all due respect to you folks." The Bahamas had no army, navy or air force of its own. The Royal Bahamas Defence Force, created in 1980 and comprising approximately twelve hundred members, was an armed body with its own coastguard and air wing, but its main role was one of maritime law enforcement, and particularly drug-traffic interception. You didn’t need bombs and the like for that, not yet.

At this point a man in the front row of seats raised his hand, at the same time standing up importantly. He had the air of someone who knew his sense of his own status really was justified. He was a rare type nowadays; one of those people whose obvious self-esteem didn't invite resentment. He was a distinguished-looking, if now somewhat tubby, man in his sixties with greying hair and a ruddy face tanned by the Bahamian sun, suggesting a regular visitor to the islands.

"Excuse me," he began, "I have a bit of weight on the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Maybe I can help."
"Could you tell us who you are, Sir?" the Chairman asked.
"I'm Senator Sam McIlree," he said without pomposity. A murmur of interest rippled round the room.

"I'm sure we'd appreciate your help, Senator," said the Chairman, pleased.
"You'll still need me to advise," Ivarson pointed out. "It's partly a matter of science."
"I don't think we'd have any objection to that, Dr Ivarson," smiled the Chairman. "You are well known to be a friend of these islands."
"Why don't we get the Marcotech people in on this?" someone asked. "I mean, they must have their own problems with the squid. If not, they will sooner or later."
"They aren't here today," the Chairman said. "At least I don't think so." He raised his voice. "Are there any representatives of the Marcotech Consortium in this room?"
No-one answered. "Seems not," Ivarson grunted.

"It’s worth a try anyhow," said McIlree. "Whether it'll do any good I don't know."
"They didn't offer to help before, when we first realised there was a problem with the fish stocks," pointed out the Chairman.
"Yeah," someone said loudly.

"But this matter is becoming international news. That's bound to focus attention on it and create pressure for a solution. Marcotech will have to do something."

Heads nodded in agreement. In something of an atmosphere of hope, the meeting started to break up.

Why they were bothering so much about the business when the world economy was about to go down the spout anyway, because of the tanker sinkings, might well be asked. But of course, life had to go on.


Like the homes of all the wealthy, the former plantation building with its trellised windows and shady verandahs was built of huge sandstone blocks, cemented in place with lime produced by burning conch shells. The massively thick walls, along with the inner partitions which didn't quite reach the ceiling, were designed to keep the building cool during the heat of midday.

It was set in lush, gently undulating green grounds where many a good game of golf could be had. On the lawn before the house the Bahamian national flag flew from a tall pole. The design was a black triangle against a background of three horizontal stripes, two of gold and one of aquamarine in between. Black signified "the vigour and strength of a united people", the triangle their enterprise and determination, while the gold and aquamarine represented the land and sea.

Not far away the man known as Charlie and a prominent member of the Bahamian government were walking together at a leisurely pace. The politician's skin was pale, but with a brownish hue to it suggesting mixed ancestry a while back.

"You know I don't like this whole business, sometimes," he was saying, glancing unhappily at the ground with his brow knitted in a deep frown.

"Guess I can understand," Charlie said, clapping him reassuringly on the arm. "But remember one thing. You think you can stick it out here because you're an island, well you can't. When the big crash comes it'll bring America down with it too, sooner or later. And remember America's where you get all your money from. Without it you'd be nothing." That was the reason why the government would gain nothing in the long run from pressurising Marcotech, even if they had wanted to. What was happening was as much an American concern as anyone else's and if they weren't prepared to force the issue, that was it.

He stopped walking, forcing the man beside him to do the same, and turned. "I, uh, don't really like to say this, but if you were thinking of...if you were thinking of casting off from us, don’t try it. You're too far into it to back out now. Just remember the money we paid towards your election expenses - congratulations on your victory, by the way."

"Don't think I'm not grateful," his companion muttered. "It's just that things are starting to get a little hot. There's that Ivarson guy poking around, for one."

"He won't get anywhere, we'll make sure of that. Anycase, it'll all be over long before the balloon would have gone up. You wouldn't be expected to sort it all out anyway. All you have to do is sit tight. We'll take care of any problems that do come up."
"Are there any?"

"Not that we haven't been able to take care of so far. Questions will be asked in Parliament..." Charlie meant the Bahamian Parliament, of course. "But as far as I can see you're safe. Someone might could complain to the Privy Council if they thought we weren't doing enough, but they won't get anywhere." It might be seen as outdated imperialism if a body representing the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland intervened in the internal matters of what was now an independent, sovereign state.

"Uh-huh," grunted the politician. He was still looking unhappy, and after a brief hesitation turned to face Charlie again. "It'd be more than just my career at stake, wouldn't it, if I said I'd had enough of all this. Be honest now."

Charlie smiled. "All right I'll be honest, yes it would. But it's your choice, you can either take it or leave it."

But he'd take it, Charlie knew that. He was bought now; just as Caroline Kent would be, before too long. Hopefully.


The shark felt something like a growing sense of excitement as it neared the beach, its directional mechanisms telling it land was close. Its powerful sense of smell detected the mass of moving bodies in the water, the distinctive odour they gave off. It had rarely preyed on their kind in the past, because it hadn’t needed to; besides which something had always told it they were dangerous and best avoided if possible, because of the way they could organize to defend themselves. But the need to nourish its growing bulk overrode any other consideration, and the shark quickened its pace as the smell grew stronger, cutting through the water with streamlined ease. Soon other stimuli began to operate on its senses, guiding it to the prey; their shouting and yelling to one another, the vibrations they gave off as they swam and kicked and splashed about with carefree abandon, unsuspecting of the danger moving smoothly and remorselessly towards them.

In time it could see them, too; dim, hazy shapes with two legs, sometimes clustered together thickly, sometimes dispersed into individual swimmers. For a moment, the abundant choice of prey, the jumble of different sensations coming at it, confused the shark. Then the sensory pores located in a lateral line along its side assimilated the data it was being presented with and identified which of the bathers was nearest.

The shark changed direction and made straight for the group of swimmers, its jaws protruding, the daggerlike teeth erecting and locking into position. It cannoned into them like a battering ram.

Its mouth opened, found the wildly kicking leg of one of the swimmers, who had been knocked clean off balance by its attack and was struggling frantically to right himself as the water poured into his nose and mouth, and snapped shut. The shark twisted, tearing out a huge chunk of flesh and releasing a thick gout of blood. The bather, unaware for a moment of what had happened, continued trying to lever himself into an upright position, but fell back helplessly and sank to the bottom. The powerful bite had taken with it pieces of tendon, muscle and nerve.

In a frenzy now, the shark bit and bit again until the young man’s leg was stripped to the bone. It gulped down the hunks of rich succulent meat, wet with the red liquid, one by one while the man’s companions, back on their feet now but still stunned and uncomprehending, stared down stupidly at the blood-red water all around them.

Then in terror the penny dropped, and a woman screamed out loud with all the breath in her lungs: “Shark!”

The cry was taken up by one bather after another as her panic infected the others in the water and they started to run, knocking over one another in their haste to reach the safety of the beach.
“Shark!” “Shark!” “Shark!”

Meanwhile the great white was ripping at the drowning body sprawled helplessly on the sandy bottom, shredding and devouring tissue and organs until little more than a skeleton remained. By now the water was a churning mass, thrown into turmoil by the scores of running people, saturated like something charged with electricity with the vibrations from their flight.

It shot towards one of the many pairs of legs in rapid motion, brought their owner down, and began to feed.

By the time the water was clear of people two more were dead. Sensing that further prey was beyond its reach, the shark turned and swum off, out towards the deep ocean.
But it would be back.


EIGHTEEN
IPL Headquarters London
"Do I gather you might be leaving us, Caroline?" asked Marcus Hennig.
"Oh no, no chance of that," she replied.

Hennig had mixed feelings at the thought. It would be a relief in a way, but he had spent so much of his time arguing with her that he couldn't adjust to her not being there. He was suddenly very resentful at the whole prospect of her going and all the inconvenience it would cause, in terms of finding a replacement.

"No, don't worry," she smiled. Hennig laughed inwardly at this, thinking of his frequently felt desire that she would leave. "I'm just going to play them along and see what happens. If that's alright."

"Worth a try. So what do you think their game is?" Hennig asked. "I think it's something to do with their underwater base. Other than that - "
"I meant them trying to headhunt you."

"They could just be trying to get my measure. Means I can get the measure of them. Or it's an attempt to neutralise me as a threat, turn poacher into gamekeeper. They want to see if I can be bought off." They obviously don't know me, she thought proudly.
"And can you?" Hennig asked.

"Of course not," she shot back immediately, too quick for her hurt at his lack of confidence in her loyalty to be concealed.

Although to be honest, the salary was higher. And somehow with that Charlie bloke, she'd had none of the hassle you got from Hennig.

"I'm only going to let them think I can," she went on. "It's all acting." Everything is acting, she thought with a certain disdain. That had been one of the first lessons she had learned on entering adult life. Her father had made sure it sank in. "Mind you," she said thoughtfully, "if I pretended to be working for them, when in fact I was spying for us..."

Hennig shrugged. "Well if you wanted to do that. As you say, it's all acting."

She looked doubtful. It was the sort of thing she'd done before, and on one occasion while doing it had made a very silly mistake which nearly cost her her life; which could have resulted in something even worse than death, perhaps. The error was not something she wished to repeat.

"No?"
"No," she decided. "I don’t think I could keep it up for long enough."
"If you did leave, of course, we'd just appoint someone to take your place," he said. In truth this hadn't been the first time someone had tried to headhunt her.
"Well, they can't do it to all our supervisors," she remarked.
"Indeed not. It stops with you, Caroline."

"Certainly does," she smiled, and made for the door. "I'm off to do a bit of research."
He dismissed her with a nod.

Back in her office, she stationed herself at her computer and called up Google. In a moment she was perusing Marcotech's website with interest.

The company had grown out of Springfields, an old established armaments firm which specialised in designing submarines and other underwater hardware for the Royal and US Navies as well as for use in peaceful scientific research. In the late 1980s, under its new Chairman Edward Greatrix, it had branched out into pharmaceuticals, capitalizing on the boom that sector was then enjoying, and the then relatively new science of genetic engineering; at the same time it was renamed Marcotech (Marine Technology Consortium). A few years ago, Greatrix had been knighted for his services to British commerce and also, though essentially from a business background, to the advancement of science. Under his leadership Marcotech had grown into one of the biggest and most powerful of international companies, with head offices in all the major industrial nations. Its headquarters were in Southampton, but it also had important bases in the United States - probably its biggest customer - Germany, Russia and China. Its phenomenal success was due to its pioneering of several revolutionary drugs which had been shown to either cure or delay the progress of cancer, as well as extend the lives of AIDS patients much longer than had hitherto been possible. From this side of the business alone, they were making something like 50 billion a year in British pounds, which meant their annual turnover must be colossal: though impossible to estimate accurately, it could be as much as a staggering 100,000 billion.

They'd also patented genetically modified crops and farm animals which were able to survive in a wider range of conditions than normal members of the same species. It didn't seem they’d ever been doing so without a licence, which was what she’d suspected - not that anyone knew about anyway.

Meanwhile the company had continued in its traditional line of work, taking advantage of the economic philosophy of the 80s and after which was to farm as much work as possible out to private companies. They’d designed a system for enabling submarines to dock underwater, a form of underwater radio, a perfected version of the submarine telephone network known as Gertrude, and various computer programs for use in guided missiles. All these plus a number of other innovations had been eagerly adopted by the navies of all the leading maritime powers. The trust which governments seemed to display in Marcotech, the close relationship it enjoyed with them, was a sign of the times; the enhanced role that big business private industry played in the global economy, and the meeting of society’s diverse needs, ever since Margaret Thatcher.

Marcotech, of course, would only put on the Net what they wanted people to know about them. She returned to the Google homepage and scrolled down the list of sites until something caught her eye and she tensed with excitement, clicking on the link.

The site was one of several maintained by an investigative reporter. On the first page was a precis of an item from one of the broadsheet newspapers, dated 29th March the previous year.

Mystery disappearance of accountant in Marcotech enquiry

"The investigation into the affairs of international consortium Marcotech took a shock new turn yesterday with the apparent disappearance of Anders Kobenhavn, 36, chief accountant at the British-based company, in circumstances the police have described as giving cause for concern."

A photograph appeared of a pleasant-looking man with metal-framed spectacles and fair hair rapidly receding from a high-domed forehead.

"Mr Kobenhavn's car was found abandoned in a wood near his home in Chichester yesterday. There has been no trace of him since Friday, when he failed to turn up for work at the company's Southampton offices, and friends and family are growing increasingly worried.

"A spokesman for Sussex police told reporters last night that so far there was no firm evidence of foul play. However Mr Kobenhavn was not known to have been suffering from any illness, or under stress, although a friend is understood to have said he had the impression the Danish-born businessman was concerned about certain aspects of the company's financial affairs.

"A few months previously an enquiry by the Monopolies Commission into the depth and range of Marcotech's activities, said to be a cause of concern, had decided there was insufficient cause for action to be taken."

Interesting. She printed off the information and moved on to the next page, which was a more recent extract from the Guardian.

"The police enquiry into the disappearance of the businessman Anders Kobenhavn has decided there are no suspicious circumstances relating to the matter. A senior Scotland Yard detective said the case was now considered closed for lack of evidence.

"An international investigation spread across fifteen countries has failed to turn up any trace of Mr Kobenhavn. Here, police combed a hundred acres of woodland and fifty miles of coastline in a vain attempt to find him.

"It is understood that shortly before he vanished, Mr Kobenhavn had become concerned about certain irregularities in the affairs of Marcotech Ltd, for whom he worked as an accountant.

"Mr Kobenhavn's family and friends say they are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, and will continue to call for a full enquiry into the affair. At his home in Viborg, Denmark, yesterday Mr Kobenhavn's father Nils said he believed Marcotech Ltd had questions to answer. "I know my son and I can tell you he would not have killed himself or deliberately gone missing for any reason. There is something going on here we are not being told about."

Evidently the family had succeeded in their goal of forcing an enquiry; because the next item detailed how it had failed to find against the company. Its chairman, former Assistant Chief Constable Roger Venables, told a press conference: "I am satisfied there are no irregularities in the affairs of Marcotech International Limited or that any foul play was involved in the tragic disappearance of Mr Anders Kobenhavn."

Like hell, Caroline thought. There was no proof Marcotech weren't completely innocent, and yet to her things were starting to add up.

Anders Kobenhavn's sums hadn't. He'd found out, during a regular review of the firm's accounts, that the money from all Marcotech's diverse activities didn't amount to quite the sum he would have expected. There was rather less in the bank than there should be, given the firm's remarkable success, and the difference was enough to cause the conscientious Scandinavian some alarm.

What had the missing funds been spent on? From what Caroline could see Marcotech hadn't suffered unduly from their loss. The company was doing so well that it didn't need them. Yet Anders Kobenhavn had seen it as his duty to look into the irregularity. He'd begun asking his employers searching questions, and they had proved reluctant to give straight answers.

Concerns had been expressed in a number of countries about the manner in which contracts for various services between the government and Marcotech's rivals had been blocked. Sometimes the rival firm pulled out at the last moment, for no apparent reason, from what would have been a highly lucrative deal. Hmmmm.

Next she looked up undersea habitats. A typical example, although there weren't very many of them in existence, was the installation off Florida which Dr Ivarson had mentioned. Basically MarineLab, as it was called, was a surplus steel water tank sixteen feet long and eight feet in diameter with an observation port at one end and an observation sphere, a converted test hull for a US Navy mini-submarine, at the other. It (the minisub) was designed for submerged operations down to a hundred feet. The whole assembly rested on a concrete and metal base weighted down with ballast. Inside were a combined work and rest area, with three bunks one of which could be converted into a workbench, a microwave oven, a refrigerator and a sink, and a "wetroom" containing a shower and portable toilet. There were two entry/exit hatches, the main one located in the wetroom while the second, for use in emergencies, was at the opposite end of the main lab.

There were no decompression facilities on board the lab, so air for diving operations had to come from hoses mounted on rigs lowered from the surface. Air was supplied to the lab itself by a low pressure compressor via a cable from a van stationed on land. The humidity and temperature were controlled from on shore to properly condition the lab environment. The surface van also provided hot and cold water and power for heating, lighting and cooking, although there were twelve-volt batteries in the lab for use in emergencies. Electricity was supplied to the van itself by a commercial 220-volt three-phase circuit with a diesel generator as backup.

Communication between the lab and the support van on shore was provided by a VHF radio. There was also an Intercom, a set of sound powered phones, and closed circuit TV, power for which came, again, from the support van.

The lab had to be located close to the shore, and in relatively shallow water (27 feet), for the cables from the support van to reach it. The van housed bunks and a desk for the supervising member of staff or watchperson, first aid supplies, dive logs, emergency diving equipment, spare parts and tools.

It all seemed very basic, she thought; very crude. A far cry from the underwater cities of science fiction. Not the basis for a project as advanced as Marcotech's must be. They couldn't be investing so much time, money and effort in protecting that. No, the installation on the bottom of the sea off Grand Bahama must be something very different. And now maybe she was about to find out what.

Marcotech Southampton
Sir Edward Greatrix studied the photographs of Caroline, and other information relating to her life and career, laid out on his desk. "A blonde with brains," he commented. "Dangerous."

"Do you reckon she'll play ball?" asked David Latimer. Latimer was the company's chief troubleshooter, doubling as its head of security - which in many ways amounted to the same thing.

"She seems to want to. My guess is she's out for what she can get, like everyone else these days." He compressed his lips in disapproval.
"And weren't you when you started this business?"

Greatrix shrugged. "I suppose I was. Later I learned there were more important things in life than money." Briefly he gave his subordinate a hard look. It wasn't there long enough to demand some kind of response from Latimer, and he pretended he hadn't noticed it.

He took another look through Caroline's files. "What a little clever clogs."

Latimer stuck his hands in his pockets and contemplated the floor. "I've got my doubts about this," he muttered.
"It's better than killing her."
"Are you saying that just because you like her looks?"

"One is always reluctant to kill a woman. Especially a young one with all her life before her. And, yes, it makes a difference if she is attractive. Don't tell me it doesn't make a difference to you." Latimer attempted to look nonplussed. "We men are like that. We can't possibly do anything about it and there's no point in constantly chastising ourselves over the matter." Greatrix put down the file and leaned back in his chair, hands clasped over his lap. "Besides, there's a more practical reason. Someone with her abilities could be a major asset to us.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” grunted Latimer.

His boss smiled consolingly. “We’re not sacking you. If anyone asks we can just say you wanted to move on. You’d just be taking a little break for a while, on full pay.” He leaned forward suddenly. “I’ve every confidence in your abilities, Dave. You didn’t doubt me on that, did you?”
“Of course not.”

Latimer stopped pacing the room and slumped into a chair. “We can’t buy out everyone IPL might send along,” he said morosely.

“We could have a damn good try. Like I said, it’s all money these days. And even if we can’t, bringing Miss Kent into the fold may buy us a little time. That’s really what it’s about.”

“I’m still not happy. What if she pretends to be a loyal employee, but carries on working for IPL behind our back? Trying to find out what we’re doing so she can rat on us to them?”

“I assure you I’ve thought about that. There shouldn’t be ny problem. If she’s working for us, we can keep an eye on her.”

“And besides,” Greatrix muttered, “to double-cross us like that would be a most unwise thing for her to do.”

“She’ll have to be told what we’re up to sooner or later. What if she doesn’t buy it?”

“The same applies. We dispose of her, one way or another.” Again he picked up one of the photographs and contemplated the beautiful face before him, his expression difficult for Latimer to read. “I hope for her sake she isn’t so stupid.”


NINETEEN
"No deal, I'm afraid," Sam McIlree told the Bahamian Minister of Fisheries over the phone.
The Minister was astonished. "They won't lend the equipment?"

"No. They said they were too busy and it was needed elsewhere. Some top secret project or other. I didn't enquire further."

"But that's crazy," the Minister gasped. "Surely an organisation like the US Navy would have plenty of equipment to spare." His initial anger abated a little, to be replaced by puzzlement. "They've been happy to help out in the past. Plenty of times.”

"As a matter of fact they were keen to help this time. It was the Chairman of the Allocations Committee blocked my request. You ask me, I reckon someone's been using a bit of influence." He exhaled wearily. "I'll keep on trying. That's all I can promise."

After McIlree had rung off, the Minister called Donald Ivarson. "This is scary," was the scientist's verdict. "It seems to go right up to the top."

“Indeed. And as if that isn’t enough, there seems to be a great white going around - a killer. We’ve had a report of several fatalities from the beach at Freeport.”
“Shit,” breathed Ivarson. “I’d say that’s about all you need. A shark, are you sure?”

“It’s usually sharks that kill people off beaches. I thought at first it might be your squid, but I guess bearing in mind the size of it someone would have noticed something.”
“What state are the bodies in?”
“Let’s just say the thing didn’t leave much of them.”

Ivarson whistled. “That’s unusual.” Sharks rarely attacked humans, and when they did it was usually because they had mistaken them for some other animal. They weren’t thought to like the taste of human flesh anyway, because they let go after the first bite. This particular specimen had obviously been hunting for food, and didn’t care what it tasted like. It could no longer guarantee a regular and adequate food supply, and was getting hungry. Because the squid was eating all the fish.

“I’ve a feeling it might have been a big one,” the Minister told him.
“I’ll take a look at those bodies sometime. As for what we’re gonna do about it, it depends on whether we can get hold of the right equipment, like with the squid. And just now that seems to be a mite difficult.”
“We are thinking of appealing to your President.”

“Knowing him he'll probably either forget about it or say he's got better things to do," Ivarson grunted. “What about the British?”
"They gave much the same reply as the Americans."

"We'll just have to keep asking around. I'm sure we'll get lucky eventually. Meantime, I'm going to have a word with Marcotech."

"Perhaps it would be better if the approach came from a member of our government. We have been generous in the past in granting them permission to use our territory and helping them maintain their security. The way I see it, they can’t refuse us.”

That depends on whether all your colleagues have the same agenda, Ivarson thought. If Marcotech had a hold over important people in the States and Britain, they could exercise the same kind of influence even more easily in the Bahamas. That was why they’d been able to establish their installation here in the first place.

"Maybe you’re right,” he said. “But I'm gonna have a go anyway, on behalf of the scientific fraternity. I wanna keep from sitting around on my ass all the time."

"Well I can't stop you, Dr Ivarson. Oh by the way, something that might interest you. Marcotech have stopped their surface patrols, though they’ve still got a helicopter going over the site every few minutes. They must be worried about the squid.”

"Or perhaps they’ve finished whatever it is that was so important they needed to scare people away from the place."
“You think they’re responsible for the squid turning up in these waters, somehow?”

“I don’t know quite what to think actually, but it’s quite high on my list of possibilities.”
"Is there any way you can prove they’ve been involved in anything illicit, Dr Ivarson?"

"Not without a little spying, and I'm not the guy for that sort of thing,” said the scientist. “It all depends on whether a little lady I know has delivered the goods.”


The morning of her interview, Caroline made sure her hair was immaculately groomed and shining before applying a touch of lipstick and putting on her best business suit and skirt. Then she got out her beloved Peugeot and drove westwards out of London towards the M3.

The British headquarters of Marcotech International lay several miles to the east of Southampton, just off the A27 to Portsmouth. She turned off the motorway and then, a couple of minutes later, down a service road through pleasant landscaped grounds bordered by woods. The place was a couple of miles from the sea, although it wasn't visible from here. You could smell it, though.

She drove up to the security barrier, where the guard rang through for permission to admit her. Said permission having been granted, he lifted the barrier and waved her on into the car park.

The building was the usual jumble of concrete, steel and glass. Passing through a pair of sliding doors into a spacious foyer, she went up to the reception desk.

The receptionist was an attractive, smartly-dressed girl in her twenties, unfailingly polite and utterly professional in her manner. Just the sort you'd find in hundreds of other top or middle-ranking companies throughout the country. She greeted Caroline with a friendly smile, listening attentively as she explained why she was there.

She was asked to sign her name on a register, giving the time of her visit and stating the nature of her business, and given a pass to wear. The girl phoned Greatrix to tell him she had arrived, then directed her to a waiting area with a sofa and a number of chairs grouped around a coffee table.

"He won't be long. Shall I get you some tea?"
"That'd be nice," Caroline said.

The girl nodded and went off. Caroline sat with her hands folded in her lap, examining her surroundings with keen interest.

Everything was spotlessly clean and tidy, the atmosphere welcoming. The foyer and reception area were spacious, airy and well-lit with the antiseptic, slightly cloying air of well-maintained business premises everywhere. On one side was an atrium with a fountain at its centre, water spurting in gleaming arcs from the base of a glass sculpture of King Neptune with glass mermaids and dolphins disporting around him. On the wall was a quotation from someone or other, The ocean is like a mighty mother on whose breast one can forget anything. Here and there stood glass cases containing sectioned models of submarines and survey ships. There were even a couple of waxwork figures, one in an old-fashioned diving suit with great domed brass helmet, the other in modern scuba gear. Tropical fish swam about inside a tank built into one wall.

She picked up one of the regulation magazines from the pile on the coffee table and leafed casually through it.

The receptionist returned with her cup of tea, and she sat sipping it thoughtfully. Trying to look as if she was merely curious, Caroline let her eyes roam over the people moving about the foyer: the clerks and executives in their suits or shirt-sleeves, the postman pushing before him a trolley laden with bags and parcels, the cleaner whistling a cheerful tune to himself as he swabbed the parqueted floor with his mop. And the receptionist, now back at her desk and filling in various forms in order to look busy. If there was anything seriously wrong here, any illicit activities being planned, did these people know about it? Could they know? There was simply no way of telling, which gave her a creepy unsettling feeling.

On an impulse, she abandoned her tea for the moment and crossed over to one of the models in its display case. Such works of engineering always fascinated her, though the precise intricacies of their design were beyond her understanding.

She studied it for a few seconds, then moved away. As she turned one of the fish in the tank caught her eye, for no particular reason. Its face was pressed to the glass, the eyes regarding her with their fixed unblinking stare, the mouth opening and closing without a sound. She fancied it was appealing to her though there was, of course, no real emotion in its expression. It just looked sad, that was all.

The fish continued to gaze out at the world through the glass of its tank, gulping at her. She gulped back at it, then with a reassuring smile left it to its own devices.

She heard several pairs of feet ring out on the flight of stairs to her left as someone came down them in brisk, businesslike fashion. Looking round, she saw two men approaching her. The older of them extended his hand. "Miss Kent? I'm Edward Greatrix. Delighted to meet you." His voice was deep, rich, authoritative. Its plummy tones inevitably suggested to her a public school background, though it was always possible she was mistaken.

She shook the proferred hand, returned his smile. And cast her eyes over the man standing before her, appraising him. He was an impressive figure, huge and bear-like, who reminded her a little of her father, also Edward. About fifty-five, she reckoned, and tending a bit towards plumpness though not unhealthily so. Still blond, but with streaks of grey much more prominent than are usually found in hair of that colour, giving him a badger-like look. Despite the comfortable paunch creeping gradually forward over the hem of his trousers he gave an impression of fitness and strength, enhanced by a ruddy, healthy complexion which suggested the outdoor life and the benefits to be gained from it. He had an intelligent face that seemed perpetually thrust forward inquisitively. Eyes every bit as clear and keen as hers returned her gaze with interest.
“How do you do,” she said.

Greatrix indicated the man beside him. "And this is Dave Latimer, our International Operations Manager." Latimer was in his early thirties, quite dishy-looking, with short brown hair and a stocky build. The twinkle in his eyes suggested a certain sense of humour, unless he was just thinking about how much he'd like to screw her; always a distinct possibility.

"I'm the one you'll be replacing," he smiled. Unlike his boss he spoke with a strong London accent.
"It's nothing personal," said Caroline.

"Of course not. I just wanted a change of scenery, that's all. There's a managerial post in the States just become vacant."

"I thought we'd show you round the place before having a little chat," Greatrix said to Caroline.
"Fine," she agreed.
"Alright then, if you'd like to come this way?"

There was no mention of what had taken place in the Bahamas. It was like any other interview for a top executive position.

Escorting her through a pair of double doors, they showed her the social and leisure facilities first - the canteen, gym etc., all of which seemed well-appointed - then visited the cloakroom for them all to put on the regulation white coats before entering the first of what was to prove an extensive complex of laboratories.

"This is our Pharmaceutics Section," Greatrix said, as they came up to the door. Caroline peered into the long, low room through a wall-length reinforced glass window. "What sort of stuff do you make there?" she asked.

"It's mainly for use in medicine. Sedatives, drugs to reduce stress and alter mood. They can only be given to those who ask for them, of course. And vaccines which slow down the progress of AIDS and other diseases." Greatrix fed a card into a slot in the wall, and with a click and a hum of electronics the door swung slowly open.

Inside scientists in white coats or protective coveralls were busy at centrifuges, autoclaves and workbenches; sterilizing instruments, heating various unidentified liquids over Bunsen burners, pouring them from beakers into test tubes or mixing them together in agitators. A man was sitting on a stool with his sleeve rolled up being injected with a syringe by one of the scientists, evidently quite happy to act as a guinea pig in whatever experiment was being carried out.

On some of the benches were stacked wire mesh cages containing rats, hamsters, a monkey or two. Greatrix nodded towards them. "We don't like using animals in our tests, but sometimes there's no option. Better they’re inconvenienced than humans, if you have to make a choice. I….don't know what your views on the matter are."

Caroline wasn't entirely at ease with the practice, but she had no way of refuting his arguments. She did however know what she thought of activists who would persecute someone simply because they happened to be a member of the family of a person known or believed to be carrying out experiments on animals. She contented herself in the end with a few non-committal noises.

Greatrix explained that each animal was being injected with the genes responsible for a particular disease, providing an opportunity for scientists to experiment with methods of treatment and prevention which it would be unethical to use on a human in view of possible side effects.

They moved on to the Oceanographic Section, where the scientists were examining water samples and fragments of rock under their microscopes. A chart of the world's oceans occupied a large part of one wall. Laid out on trays were assorted nodules of rock more or less circular in shape and ranging from one to two inches in size. A scientist picked up one of them and carried it over to another bench where she clamped it in a vice and set to work on it with a high-powered drill.

"Here's where we test the suitability of the waters in a given part of the ocean for agriculture. It's also our mineralogical laboratory. There's a lot of manganese on the sea bed, in the form of those nodules you see over there, which also contain titanium, chromium, copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc, though not always in the same amounts. Separating the different minerals is a complicated business, but we have the technology to do it.

"Mining from the sea was first proposed as long ago as 1872. There wasn't much interest in it until the 1950s, because there were much richer ore deposits on land. But eventually many of them were worked out.

"Under the sea is a rich and untapped source of mineral wealth. Quite a few companies are interested but we were the first to do it on a really large scale. We've been granted a special license by the International Seabed Authority to mine the deposits in the North Atlantic and Caribbean.”
"Is that what you do at your Bahamas place?"
"Among other things, yes, although we also have one or two sites elsewhere. Most of the minerals are processed for use at the installation itself, but some of the stuff goes to the terrestrial building industry.

"The main problem at the moment with mining the seabed is the cost. Essentially it involves two processes: you have to collect the ores from the bottom and then get them to the surface. The way that's been suggested is to use an unmanned - it would have to be unmanned because that way is normally cheaper - vehicle to do the collecting, and then lift the nodules by suction or dredging. You could use a deep-water trawl but that would be too expensive because the energy it takes to raise the stuff is just too great, and you'd spend more time dropping and picking it up again than you would processing it, or collecting it in the first place.

“Afterwards you’d load it onto a ship and convey it by sea, then road or rail, to a factory on land. That’s a very expensive method, though. Better to do the process them on the sea bed itself, not far from the point of extraction, and then get the finished product to land.”

“And you’ve managed to perfect that particular process – by suction?”
“More or less. Of course all our techniques are still in their relative infancy. You’re privileged to be told all this, by the way.”
“Thankyou. What about the cost? I guess if anyone can afford it you can.”
“We think we can meet it, once the project has been proved to be technically and financially viable.”
"There are also," he went on, "deposits of mud near the mid-ocean ridges which contain minerals. They’re more abundant but difficult to mine economically at the moment because they’re too far out; we’re working on the problem.”

Next they visited an aquarium, which provided many of the plant and animal specimens the company used in its experiments. Some of the species were endangered, and housed here for their own protection; preservation of the ecology was an important aim of the company's, Greatrix assured her, and in the past it had worked on a number of important marine conservation projects. As with all such places the dim lighting in the room and the thick, close air made Caroline feel slightly nauseous.

Then the Hydroponic Centre where plants grew totally immersed in tanks filled with sea water; some of them resembled seaweed, with long tangled ribbon-like strands, others looked more like the sort of things that usually grew on land. Adjacent to the Hydroponic Centre was the genetics laboratory. The equipment here was similar to that in the Pharmaceutics Section with the addition of refrigerators, incubators and stacks of culture dishes each coded with the little black markings that looked like Hebrew characters.

"We do a lot of general research into genetics here, but mainly the work is directed towards getting food plants to grow more efficiently underwater, by hybridising the terrestrial species with aquatic ones using gene therapy. We use the same method to improve their ability to trap sunlight, so that depth matters less. Generally we're talking about transfer from one variety of plant to another, but sometimes the genes may be taken from an animal; I take it you have no qualms about that?"

"Oh no," said Caroline. "I mean, it's progress isn't it?" In
truth genetic engineering was something she had never been quite sure about. Some of its applications might prove harmful, others entirely beneficial. But there surely couldn't be anything wrong with taking genes from one plant species and giving them to another. Animal-to-plant seemed somehow a different matter; there was something grotesque, not always definably so, about it. But today, of course, was all about acting the part.

"With plants we take the gene we want, that enables a species to be grown underwater, makes seaweed nutritious, or improves the efficiency with which a plant photosynthesises, splice it into a bacterium and introduce it into a single cell which is then grown into a new plant. By this means we’ve developed a type of high-protein seaweed, and a species of grain which is capable of being grown and harvested underwater, eventually on a large scale."
“And is this done at the Bahamas site?”
“Oh yes, on quite a big scale.”

"Does anyone actually buy the stuff?" She realised this might sound a bit rude. “I mean, who buys it?”
“We farm it at our own offshore or coastal sites here and overseas. Unfortunately neither the public nor the national governments have shown much interest in purchasing our products. It tastes all right, but there’s too much prejudice against genetically-modified crops. People think we’re breeding something unnatural and wicked which is either wrong in principle or is going to poison everybody.”

One other serious flaw in the rationale behind the whole scheme suddenly occurred to her. It was so obvious that she stopped dead for a second, frowning, although if Greatrix noticed he didn't give any sign.

What was the point in what Marcotech were doing here? Because you could just as easily improve the kind of plants that were grown on land. There didn't seem to be any purpose in the agro-engineering unless it was for the benefit of the Bahamas base itself, the personnel who worked there. Unless people were themselves living under the sea, on a permanent basis. Otherwise, to allow wheat or a substitute to be grown there would simply mean the countryside would be impoverished as the agricultural sector moved away from there.

She contented herself to asking whether any of the mariculture was for the use of the staff at the base. "Some of it, yes of course," Greatrix replied. "Makes sense, after all. Better than having to ferry the stuff out."
"So there are people there? It's not automated then."
"It's not automated. Or at least not totally."

"It's all very interesting," she said. "But you weren't the first people to experiment with mariculture, were you?"
"Oh, it isn't new," Greatrix said. "They've been doing it in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years, with molluscs, crustaceans, fish and seaweed. About two-thirds of the world's aquaculture output comes from there, and in some countries in the region up to sixty per cent of dietary protein is from farmed marine organisms. And mariculture's on the increase throughout the world. In Europe there are mussel and oyster farms, in North America clam farms, in Asia and the Pacific seaweed farms. And fish farms in Norway, Chile, the Faroe Islands, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong. Krill have been harvested commercially for animal feed for a long time.

"The benefit of mariculture is that you get a higher yield than land-based farming. That's why it's the future. It's partly due to the natural food chain. Mussels and other molluscs don't need feeding because they just eat the plankton in the water. As long as pollution doesn't affect the productivity of the sea you have a self-sustaining harvestable ecosystem."

"Is pollution a problem at all?" She decided to risk the question.
"Can be. But not at the Bahamas base. That area is relatively clean compared to some."
"Do you think this could be the answer to the world's food problems?"
"Not at present, but I believe it will be in the future. Nobody previously has used genetic engineering in the matter, at least not as successfully as ourselves, and that's what makes it more productive. Of course I can't tell you the exact technique we use until I'm certain you'll be joining us."
"Is there ever a danger of over-farming?"
"Not if the whole thing's properly managed."

"To be honest it isn't without its problems," he admitted. "If you pen a lot of plants together underwater, within a relatively restricted area, the waste they produce builds up until they kill the bacteria and reduce the oxygen content of the water. You can get round that to some extent by siting the farms in areas where water flushing reduces the waste. And the farm isn't large enough itself to produce enough fish to sustain the culture, so you have to rely on the wild as a source for them and that's where over-fishing is a problem."
"But you've managed to overcome that?"
"Our place in the Bahamas covers a much wider area than other similar projects. Of course the water has to be fairly warm for what we're doing. That's why it's where it is; that and because we already had a base at Miami, which the installation could be supplied from."
"Is the site off the Bahamas the only one, then?”
"At the moment, yes. The only one of its size, and where farming and mining are both carried on together. We intend there will be others."

"Most mariculture projects I've read about seem to be sited quite close to the shore," she observed. "Why is yours so far out?"
"Partly for conservation reasons. If you rip out a mangrove swamp, say, to build a mariculture centre you destroy the very habitat which produces the animals on which the industry depends. And partly for security. Naturally we don't want potential rivals finding out what kind of process we use and copying it. If you did join us, you'd have to sign a contract promising not to reveal what you knew to anyone."
“Fair enough,” she said. “But I come from a different branch of industry altogether. How could IPL be your rivals?”

“They aren’t, in a commercial sense. But your interests and ours might nonetheless be thought to conflict. Over the question of the environment, I mean, although I trust such a perception of things is mistaken. And things can always leak out.”

They said nothing for a while. Then Caroline asked, "where does the electronics side fit in with all this?"
"Most of that's to do with offshore and underwater structures, ships and submarines. We do a certain amount of confidential work for the Ministry of Defence and the US Navy."

They passed a door with a sign on it in large red letters: "SPECIAL PROJECTS SECTION - NO ADMITTANCE TO UNAUTHORISED PERSONNEL." "What's in there, or is it secret?" she asked.
"It's secret," replied Greatrix. "When you've worked here for long enough you'll be given clearance."

"Now these are our main workshops," he announced. They passed through yet another door into a vast, cavernous chamber with thick concrete walls. There were damp patches on the concrete and the salty, fishy smell of the sea permeated the air so thickly she wrinkled her nose. The chamber was equipped with a dry and a wet dock and a submarine pen. She saw diving bells, bathyspheres, minisubs and DSRVs – Deep Sea Rescue Vehicles - in various stages of manufacture. The hissing of gas filled the air and a shower of sparks erupted from a welding torch as it played over the edges of one of the hull plates on a half-completed midget submarine. Further away a diver was swimming about in a tank testing some new kind of scuba gear. A crane lowered a huge sheet of metal into place over part of the ribbed framework of a spherical structure she didn’t quite recognise. At the far end of the room from where they stood a worker in goggles and protective overalls was extracting something from the glowing mouth of a furnace with a pair of tongs. Nearby in giant presses pieces of metal of varying size and section were being tested to see if they could stand up to the pressure encountered at extreme depths, or being machined in giant lathes.

There was nothing that could be viewed as out of the ordinary for a place like this. But then if it there had been, they wouldn't have showed it to her.

Moving on again, they passed down a succession of featureless corridors until they came to an exhibition hall. Caroline guessed it was near to the reception area, and that they had come more or less to the end of the tour. The hall was spacious and dimly lit like the aquarium, except for the illuminated showcases and display panels and a row of computer terminals each with VDUs.
She picked up a few brochures from the rack on the wall which held them.

On some of the VDUs and on wall-mounted screens were computer-generated diagrams and simulations of bizarre-looking, futuristic underwater craft. "These are still at the experimental stage. Essentially we're looking at unmanned, untethered, computer-controlled vehicles able to operate at any depth, and with a range of hundreds of miles, to service our Bahamas base and any other undersea installations we might build in the future. They’re cheaper and less time-consuming because they don't require surface support, can do most job themselves with a lot less supervision and maintenance. So they can cover a much wider range. But they can be operated by a human where that should prove necessary.”

She studied the image on one of the wall screens. According to the legend on the display board beneath it it was a completely automated – in other words, robotic – electrically powered mini-submarine with a variety of profitable applications. It could be used in the mining process and in the construction of offshore and sea-bed installations. The simulation showed an ovoid, elongated, cigar-shaped object with a bulbous front end in which was mounted a single huge lens, like a giant eye, with beneath it a number of jointed arms each ending in a pincer-like grapple, which according to the legend could be replaced and various other appendages substituted if desired. Altogether it looked very like some huge crab or underwater insect.

There was a small sub for travel between domes, a much larger one with a rotary blade mounted in a bucket suspended from its nose, which looked like a marine version of a combine harvester, and a tracked tank-like vehicle capable of travelling across the sea bed itself.
"Have you actually built these things?” she asked. They must have done, if the base itself was up and running.

“Oh yes,” Greatrix smiled. “You’ll we see when we take you over the place – if we get that far.”
“Is this it?” What had attracted Caroline most when she first entered the room had been a scale model of what she could only assume was the installation off the coast of Grand Bahama. She examined it in fascination. The main part of the installation was a collection of domes with one very large one in the centre, and about a dozen slightly smaller structures arranged in a circle around it, connected to it and to each other by a series of tunnels, roughly teardrop-shaped in section, which radiated out from the main dome like the spokes of a bicycle wheel from the hub, the whole construction looking not unlike a spider’s web in appearance. A few additional buildings, differently-shaped, were situated a short distance away, likewise connected to one or other of the domes by tunnels and thus spoiling the symmetry of the arrangement somewhat.

“An approximate representation anyway.” A diagram showed how everything worked. The fish farming was done in a row of huge concrete pens, each a giant tank covered with a glass roof, and all interconnected by enclosed walkways so as to form effectively a single structure. It was the same with some of the plants; others were out in the open, on the sea bed, forming great forests of kelp and other species and giving the impression of having been planted there, though she couldn’t see how.

“It’s very impressive,” she said admiringly. “But very expensive too, I imagine. From what I gather, any undersea habitat is going to be very costly, for all sorts of reasons.”

“Not if it’s self-sufficient in terms of food, generates its own electricity for heating and lighting, and is supplied entirely by submarine so there’s no need for surface support other than for security purposes. If we need to get out in a hurry we leave by sub. That’s the dock where they’re kept.” He pointed to a massive construction like an aircraft hangar.

“But the initial construction costs would still be very high. Then there’s the maintenance afterwards. Making savings in other areas compensates for that to some extent, but you must still be spending an astronomical amount of money.”

“Money’s something we’re not short off,” Greatrix grinned. “And it’s also a matter of dedication. We’ve plenty of that.”
“Next question. There would seem to be certain difficulties involved in fish farming. Most species of fish are very difficult to breed and rear in captivity. Only a few have low enough mortality, a high enough growth rate, sufficient resistance to disease. I take it those are the ones you farm?”

“Not the only ones. You’re forgetting our expertise in genetic engineering. An easy matter for us to take genes from the best species and splice them into others. That way we can produce seafood to suit a variety of tastes - the spiny dogfish for consumption in Europe, where it is popular, and dried squid and stewed jellyfish for the Chinese – and in the right quantities to satisfy demand."

"What are these things here?" She indicated a pair of fan-like structures each partly enclosed within a faired semicircular cowling.

"They're hydro-electric turbines, powered by the currents. They generate about ten per cent of the electricity the colony needs for heat, warmth and light. Strictly experimental, and not very efficient I’m afraid, except at times of strong wave activity. They’d be more effective on the surface, of course, but then they’d be too noticeable. Probably most of the colony’s energy will be produced by a hydrogen reactor eventually.”

“But at the moment it uses an ordinary generator most of the time?”
“A very big one. We thought at one time of using solar power, but the water diffuses the sunlight too much. As for the environmental systems, well it’s pressurized of course, and air-conditioned. Apart from a few supplies that have to be imported from land it is an entirely self-contained, self-sufficient agricultural and industrial complex. Where one day people will be able to live and work under the sea on a permanent basis."
"The same people, you mean?"

"Not at the moment. We have to work on a rota system, as they do on space stations. There is a psychological as well as a physiological limit to the amount of time any one individual can spend underwater. We hope to increase it, however.

"But even if that never happens, there are still all kinds of ways the sea can be useful to us."
Caroline became aware that he was fixing her with a hard penetrating stare. There was nothing aggressive or threatening in it, however. His manner was more like a prophet in communion with God, eyes alight with the fire of his convictions. He was searching her very soul, trying to get her to admit she was a sinner and wanted to be something better. "The sea could be the saviour of Mankind. The resources of the land are fast being exhausted, and there are too many of us squabbling over them, starting wars over oil. If we wish to have a future we may have to make changes in our whole outlook, big changes. Do you understand what I mean - Caroline?"
She decided to look non-committal for the time being.

"The ocean is a vast untapped reservoir of food, of energy, of minerals, which we're in danger of ruining before we have even begun to fully exploit it. In a few years it may be too late. How much do you know about marine biology?"

"Oh, a fair amount." It was part of Caroline's job to understand the environmental effects of the oil industry and how they could be avoided, both for the planet's sake and to stop people complaining about them.

"Then you must be aware of the damage pollution does to the oceans. Chemicals, pesticides, sewage, CFCs released into the atmosphere in aerosols and gases. Radioactive waste discharged from ships or power stations. Litter thrown overboard by careless sailors or left on the beach by holidaymakers. Heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead; of course some marine organisms concentrate those elements naturally, but they know what they're doing.

"Animals, seals and turtles and diving birds, become entangled in the litter and drown. Antifouling agents like organotin compounds interfere with the biology of shellfish so that they cease to reproduce, or too many females are born relative to males. Radionuclides from atomic waste get into a swimmer's bloodstream and cause iodine deficiency, leukaemia, bone marrow disease. There are hundreds of other ways in which our activities with the sea damage both ourselves and our fellow creatures.

"In the past two decades pollution has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine mammals in the North Sea. In warmer areas, the nitrogen and phosphorus in the contaminants act as nutrients, which you might think is a good thing but actually causes "red tides" and algal blooms - overpopulation of algae. It ruins beaches. And when the organisms die and sink to the bottom the bacteria which feed on them, causing them to decompose, use up more of the oxygen in the sea, killing more of the living things within it. At the same time the contaminants cause the algae to produce toxic substances which are then reproduced in the animals who eat them as part of the food chain - a chain which ends ultimately in Man.
"And then there are the problems of overfishing and overwhaling.

“Our understanding of the marine ecology is not yet sufficient for us to estimate their full impact upon it, which is why we have to be careful how we treat it. But it's known that the almost complete removal, in certain areas, of some species of fish breaks the food chain there and causes other animals to die. And of course if the present rate of depletion continues stocks will soon exhaust themselves, with serious economic and other implications.

“Before long we won’t be able to eat fish at all, except in tightly-controlled conditions as at our installations. That does not concern the fishing industry because all that matters to it is the short-term gain, in line with the whole business philosophy that of late has come to dominate the West.

"The seas should be free; instead the different needs and ambitions of different nations lead to conflict and overexploitation of limited resources. Too many people wanting to be fed and otherwise provided for, plus technological advance which is taking place far too quickly. Apart from the pollution it causes, it enables the sea to be exploited, despoiled, at an even faster rate."

"I think you could say people are trying to get their act together," objected Caroline. "There've been all sorts of laws, international conventions, to limit discharging wastes at sea and cut down on pesticides."

"They don't always work," snorted Greatrix. "In fact if you ask me they barely scratch the surface. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste are still being illegally dumped. The pollution and the other problems are still with us and getting worse. Within the next few decades I can see us being unable to eat seafood at all, assuming there’s any of it left.

"We are exhausting the capacity of the oceans to supply us with our needs through normal means. The tourist industry will suffer if the water and beaches are not clean, if there are no coral reefs to swim around. The consequences become particularly apparent if you consider that around 60% of the world's population lives on or near the coast.

"Did you know that the present levels of pollutants in the Baltic, Black and North Seas are already estimated to be above that where irreversible damage is done to the marine ecosystem? As much as ten per cent of coral reefs have already been lost; within the present century more than two-thirds of the remainder will suffer complete ecological collapse."

"All that's bad, of course," Caroline agreed. "My company does as much as it can to reduce the waste from all its operations. But does any of that really affect the oceans that much? The worst pollution, from oil or any other source, is in coastal areas, around beaches bays and harbours, or seas that're partly enclosed. The pollutants don't tend to get washed out further than the continental shelf."

"They still do a lot of damage. Including to bathers. You like swimming, don't you? Ever wondered what you might have picked up when in the water and don't know about?"
Caroline found the thought disqueting. It had the effect of shutting her up for the time being.

"Doctor Ivarson has probably told you all this before, but sometimes I think we really don’t appreciate just how vital the sea is to life on Earth. When water leaves the oceans through evaporation, it causes rain; that cool, refreshing rain we need for our crops to grow and our planet to be green and fresh and beautiful. And just as importantly, the oceans act as a heat reservoir, storing it during the day and releasing it at night.

"In the tropical Atlantic Ocean solar heating makes water evaporate from the surface and so causes a rise in salinity and hence in density. It also affects currents, some of the water flowing north and passing between the coasts of Iceland and Britain. There it gives up its heat to the atmosphere which, because the winds in this area are predominantly from the west, carries warm air across western Europe. This flow of heat results in the relatively mild winters we get here whereas other places on the same latitude, in Canada and Russia, are much colder. A delicately-balanced heat exchange system with which global warming is interfering.

"In tropical areas, where the sea is hottest, heat and water vapour are discharged to the atmosphere and the warming of the air causes stronger winds and sometimes hurricanes. And as with global warming the sea gets hotter, storms become more severe, with a more destructive effect on property and lives. Eventually an English winter will be as hot and uncomfortable as Italy in August, when it’s not as lethally cold as Siberia. Finally a large amount of the carbon which is a constituent of all organic compounds, essential to life on Earth, is found dissolved in water and fixed there by the photosynthesis of algae.

“If all these processes are disrupted in some way there’s no telling what effect it could have, is already having. The sea influences everything; our climate and weather, our health, the food we heat, our leisure. We all of us depend on it, wherever in the world we may live. It was in the sea that life itself at first began. And yet we insist on abusing it."

She sensed that he’d come to the end of his diatribe. He seemed in no way out of breath for it. So, Caroline thought, what do you do for an encore?


TWENTY
Sussextown, New England, USA
Having just enjoyed a game of golf together Hyman Davison, Assistant Secretary for the Navy, and William Vaughan, the Secretary for Defence, were drinking Tia Maria on the verandah of Vaughan’s eighteenth-century mansion in New England. Davison was perusing the Foreign News section of the Washington Post.
"Seems this giant squid problem they're having in the Bahamas is getting worse," he remarked.

"Weird that the Allocations Committee vetoed our getting involved in this. Personally I'd have like to give those folks a hand."
Davison nodded. "A torpedo or a depth charge would take care of one of those things." He put down the newspaper with a frown. "You know, I really don't understand it. Why we aren't being allowed to help."

"They said the Bahamians could get hold of the equipment from somewhere else and it didn't represent a sensible allocation of resources. The matter didn't adversely affect US interests in any way."
"They probably could get hold of the equipment eventually," Davison said. "But it'd take a while."

"Why don't they ask the Brits? Aren't they still a British dependency, officially?"
"It says here they tried and got the same result. All the people with the equipment to do it don't seem to want to help. Makes me kind of suspicious."
"Maybe it's money problems. The Brits have had their fare share of 'em lately, so have we."

"Does it really concern us anyway?" Davison shrugged, dismissing the business from his thoughts. "Our job's protecting the country against al-Qaeda, or Iran, or North Korea. Major threats to US national security. Giant squids don't seem to come into that category."

"Well, I was figuring if this thing starts to spread...I'm not a conservationist or a biologist but I know enough to know that if marine animals - any animals - start getting too big, eating too many other things, it fucks up the ecosystem."
"At the moment it's only affecting the Bahamas area."
"Even if things stay that way, lots of people from here go on holiday to the Bahamas. Politically it's an issue. Someone's probably made a direct appeal to the President already."

"If they did, I haven't got to know about it. Someone in his office could have stopped it from reaching him. Then again, maybe he's not interested or he's forgotten. You know what he's like."
The two men exchanged looks of weary resignation.

"All the same,” said Vaughan, “you kind of find yourselves thinking this can't go on forever without someone doing something. If someone's behind this, I don't see what they're aiming to gain out of it."


In the mortuary at Freeport, Donald Ivarson examined the partly-eaten bodies recovered from Freeport beach and concluded that this was definitely the work of a great white shark, if only because he couldn’t think of anything else it might be. He was uncertain because the almost total consumption of one of the bodies was not, in fact, typical of a shark. They’d need further evidence to be sure.

It can’t be, he thought. Sharks don’t eat humans, their digestion is too close to cope with our high ratio of bone to muscle and fat. If people die from a shark attack it’s usually caused by loss of blood from their injuries.
Please God say it can’t be.

Marcotech had a shore base on Grand Bahama, but it was just a small boatyard with a helipad for their chopper, and the four or five guys who ran the place were there mainly as security guards. They weren’t in a position to help Ivarson with his enquiries, so he caught the next flight to Nassau, from there going on to Miami, further using up his scarce funds in the process. He called at the company’s US headquarters entirely unannounced, reckoning that was the best way to proceed. If he had phoned them they might have been perpetually busy. As it was he got the same result.

Eventually, however, when it became clear he wasn't going away, the manner of the woman at the front desk changed. Suddenly, it seemed a meeting was after all possible. Ivarson was invited into the office of Wayne Goertz, head of Marcotech's operations in the US with special responsibility for the Bahamas site.

"So what can we do to help you, Dr Ivarson?" Goertz opened, taking his seat.

"You'll have heard about this giant squid problem Grand Bahama seems to be having."
"Yes, I had. Do you think we could help in any way?"

"Well, I don't know," Ivarson said. "But I thought I'd ask if you had any equipment we could use in hunting down these creatures. Anything you thought you might be able to spare." He outlined his requirements. "I understand your firm prefers to think of itself as conserving the marine environment, but you'll appreciate these creatures are dangerous; not only to people but to the marine ecology itself."

Goertz seemed to think about the request. "I don't think we have anything we can lend you at the moment. I'm sorry about that. The nature of our operation, the processes being used, is such that we need them all the time. Is there no-one else you could ask? I would have thought the Bahamian government, or perhaps our own..."
"We've tried that. No luck, I'm afraid."

Goertz's eyebrows lifted a little. "That's weird. I would have thought they'd've been quite happy to lend you a hand, especially as the Bahamas are a popular place with our tourists."

"That's how I figured it," Ivarson said. "Tell me, have you had any trouble with the thing yourselves?"
Goertz shook his head. "I'm pleased to say we haven't, although we've stopped our surface patrols as a precaution." He seemed to consider again and then looked up. "I don't normally release details of any of our projects, but I can tell you our site is protected by a fifty-mile long fence with sensors which can detect the presence of any large, possibly dangerous marine life form."

"A fifty-mile fence? Underwater? That's quite an engineering achievement." Ivarson was genuinely impressed.
"Thanks," said Goertz graciously.
"Is this fence solid, or are there gaps in it?"

"It's not solid. It has to be open to the sea so that fish which enter the site can be captured and farmed. It's designed to keep out anything larger. Why do you ask, Dr Ivarson?"
"I'm just interested. So is there no way the squid could get in?"
"It's probably too big for that."
"It probably is," Ivarson agreed. "But surely you've at least spotted it lurking about?"

"We have underwater cameras, for security reasons. But no, we haven't spotted it lurking about. However I understand giant squid are rare, and rather elusive."
"This thing's certainly been making its presence felt. I'm curious to know how you manage to avoid a visit from it."
He shrugged. "Perhaps some by-product of the processes we use, getting into the water, is putting it off. Just a guess. But I would point out, Dr Ivarson, that the main thing is not to find out why it isn't attacking us, but to stop it attacking other people."

"Which is just where you can't help," Ivarson said bitterly.
"I'm afraid not."
"Can't it get in over the top of the fence? I mean, the place isn't completely enclosed, is it?"
"It's completely enclosed. Although as I said, it is not solid."
"Then it isn't enclosed," Ivarson pointed out.

"And it can be opened in places to allow our supply submarines to enter and leave, or in case there's an emergency and we need to reach the surface quickly." He gave Ivarson a quizzical look. "You're asking a lot of questions."

"I'm just curious, I guess," he said, trying to look apologetic. "I mean, what you've been doing down there...it's quite a set-up."
"As you will gather we need to maintain secrecy because of industrial rivals. That's why I can't tell you more."
"So when do we get to see the end result?"
"In good time, Dr Ivarson. That's all I can say. The decision wouldn't be mine. It'd rest with our Head Office in England.
"At a very rough estimate, we'll be finished in another three years. But it could be a good deal longer. That's the nature of what we're doing. Again I can't give the full details."
"But it's obviously something you need to put a lot of effort into," commented Ivarson.
"Yes, it is. We're very proud of it."

"You say the base is supplied by submarine. What happens if it can't enter leave the place because the squid might attack it?"
"The base produces its own food, so frequent visits aren’t necessary. And we intend the base to be permanently manned."
"But not by the same guys all the time. You'll need to change the shift eventually, won't you?"
"Oh, I expect the problem will be taken care of by then."
Ivarson looked hard at him. "Let's hope so."

"I'm sorry to hear about all the disruption this thing is causing. If it turns out there is any way we can help you, then of course we will. We'll be following the matter with interest." Goertz stood up, terminating the interview.

"One last thing," said Ivarson, remaining seated. What's that fence made of?"
"Solid tungsten. Nothing can break it down. Now, er, if you'll excuse me I'm a little busy..."
Without a word, Ivarson turned on his heels and left.


"...Giant clam mariculture takes the process of working with the natural ecosystem one stage further, since the clams contain their own primary producers; in the form of symbiotic algae, attracted to them once they are mature, which produce the nutrients they live on. The clams need feeding only during their larval stages; once mature, they are placed in shallow water where they can then be left to grow rapidly."

After watching a demonstration of Marcotech’s revolutionary sub-to-shore and inter-sub communications system, Caroline had spent some time watching computer simulations of their various underwater vehicles at work, having plenty of fun operating interactive models of them, and trying out using another model the company’s new system for enabling submarines to dock underwater. Finally they had persuaded her to accompany them to a small cinema, where she was now sitting watching Marcotech’s promotional video.

"In the Philippines the milkfish is a popular mariculture species. The adults spend most of their lives at sea but return to shallow coastal waters to spawn. There, they are collected by fishermen who sell the fry to the farms. The fish can be harvested at all stages of their growth; the adults are eaten as a main course while the fry are fried and served as a side dish." The film showed a Filipino family tucking into their supper with broad smiling faces.

"Some thirty different species of seaweed are grown in farms; and not just for food either. They are widely used in the chemical industry. And there are a whole lot of health benefits you can get from mariculture - drugs to fight cancer, as well as agar jelly which is used in medicine as a growth medium for bacteria. The numbers of useful chemical products which can be extracted from the marine organisms who concentrate them in their bodies is vast - and at present hardly tapped. With companies such as Marcotech International at its forefront, prospects for this growth industry in the twenty-first century look very promising indeed. Why not join us and help to make them a reality?"

With a bubbly little jingle the video came to an end. "Enjoy that?" asked Greatrix pleasantly as the screen blanked out and the lights came on.
"Very interesting," said Caroline. And in truth, it had been.

"Right, if you'd like to come with us to the office...." They took her upstairs to an interview room, spacious and comfortably furnished, where she was questioned by Greatrix, Latimer and the firm's Human Resources Officer, Jim O'Brien. The interview was a fairly brief affair, since it was obvious she wouldn't have any trouble with the work itself – and that there wouldn’t be any other applicants.
"Your cv's very impressive," O'Brien began, poring over a copy of it. "I see that you speak French and German."
"They're needed for the European side of our operations."
He looked again at the document. "Oh, and Arabic.
"For the Middle East jobs."

He asked her a few relatively brief questions about her career and experience. It was obvious they already knew most of what there was to know about her. Except, of course, for what was on MI6's files.

He outlined the requirements of the post. "We need a trouble-shooter, like yourself, who also has administrative and management skills. There’ll be some Human Resources work involved here, but you'll get plenty of opportunity to travel about a bit, commuting between our different sites around the world. The genetic engineering is done in the USA, the drugs bit and the hardware in the UK, the electronics in Germany, various other things in Russia or China. There are a number of subsidiary companies who contribute in one way or another to our work.

"We're looking for someone who can deal with politicians and lobby for us where necessary. It means taking on companies whose activities might be damaging to us in terms of pollution, in the courts, at Westminster and occasionally...." He smiled. "By other means."
Caroline smiled back. She disapproved of the kind of thing he meant, but knew it was better to pretend she didn't.

"By and large, it's exactly what you've already been doing at IPL.” He outlined the various benefits and perks that went with the job. "It would mean relocating to Southampton."
Caroline didn't look enthused by the prospect, and Latimer grinned. "Don't worry, it's not so bad these days."

“We’ve got links with the University, and the local Chamber of Commerce,” he went on. “I’d like you to take charge of our relations with those bodies along with your other responsibilities, and you seem quite good at balancing different tasks. We want the public, and especially young people, to be closely involved in our activities. Something tells me you’d be good at that sort of thing.”

"So, are you interested?" asked Greatrix when the others had done their bit.
"I'm certainly that," she told them. She allowed all the corner of her mouth to turn down slightly. "Of course your representative in the Bahamas has already explained the situation to some extent."

"Caroline, it's entirely your choice," said Greatrix. "But believe me, we'd much rather we were working with you than against you; have you here on the inside and not on the outside, as an enemy. It really would be a pleasure."

"Well, you certainly made a few good points back there," she said. "About the pollution, I mean. I'll need to chew them over."
"I understand," he said. "Take your time." He started to get up from his chair. "Well, we've had a busy morning. I expect you'll want to be getting home now."
They escorted her downstairs to Reception.

"Oh," Caroline said suddenly as they were approaching the doors. "Could I just use the Ladies'?"
"Sure. It's just through there." Latimer indicated a door in the wall on their left.
"I'll find my own way out." She shook his hand. "Goodbye and thankyou."

"It's been a pleasure. We'll look forward to hearing from you." With a final smile he turned away from her, transferring his attention to Latimer. “Dave, I’m going into town now to do one or two things, so I won’t be in my office for a while…”
Good, thought Caroline, overhearing this. She went through the door Latimer had pointed out and along the corridor, ignoring the toilets on her left. As she had hoped there was a staircase at the end leading up to the floor above.

There, she made her way down the passage to where Greatrix’s office had been. She had memorised the layout of the place perfectly during her tour.
There didn't seem to be anyone about. If she was spotted, and asked what she was doing, she could always say she was lost and looking for the way out.
Nor did she see any security cameras anywhere. Probably a cost-cutting measure; uninvited guests wouldn't have got past the first line of defence anyway.

It was here in the MD's office, she guessed, that all the big decisions were taken. No sound came from within. She saw that the door was slightly ajar, and cautiously eased it fully open.

The room was empty, emphasising its spaciousness. The broad sweep of the single huge window looked out over the skyline of Southampton, with the harbour complex visible in the distance as a forest of cranes, gantries and storage tanks. Positioned with one end flush with Greatrix's huge desk was a long table with a number of chairs placed around it.

Caroline paused, listening keenly. She could just make out a faint babble of conversation from one of the other offices on this floor.

She crossed to the table and squatted on her haunches beside it. Taking from her pocket a piece of metal and plastic about the size and shape of a sugar cube, she snapped it into position on the underside of the table. Since no-one would normally look underneath there there wasn't much likelihood of it being discovered. The table had a flange on each side which would serve to screen it from view.

She straightened up, and left the room as quietly as possible. A few minutes later she was getting into her car, congratulating herself on a job successfully accomplished.

After a couple of days she would write Marcotech a brief note politely declining their offer of a job. The decision would of course have been reached reluctantly and after careful consideration.

Beside her on the passenger seat sat the receiving device, a small black box fitted with an aerial. A red light had lit up on it to show it was recording.
"Well I hope she bites," she heard O'Brien say.

Latimer spoke next, a lecherous grin in his voice. "That could be a little painful. Hope she sucks, though."
Fat chance, Caroline muttered to herself.

Then Greatrix, sounding disapproving. "Yes quite, Dave. Any-how...have you got those figures I asked you for, by any chance Jim?"

What followed was just routine business, a bit of social chit-chat mixed in with it from time to time. She soon lost interest and concentrated purely on her driving, deciding to listen to the rest of the conversation at her leisure.


Marcotech Limited’s Miami Headquarters consisted of administrative offices, outbuildings serving as the canteen, accommodation for security guards and storage space for stationery and sundry domestic items, and a vast workshop and warehouse, partly sunken below ground. The latter structure was positioned right at the water’s edge and from it a steel-clad, hangar-like structure hundreds of feet long extended out to sea, until the point was reached where it was deep enough for a submarine to be invisible from above the surface, with the naked eye anyhow. The sea bed had been artificially deepened to allow ease of passage for the supply subs leaving the base for the complex off Grand Bahama.

A section of the workshop served as docking facilities for them. A huge hole had been dug in the ground, lined with concrete and then allowed to fill with water. In the channel thus created several submarines, ex-US or Royal Navy diesel-electrics, were currently moored. Although adapted for peaceful purposes they also possessed defensive armament – just in case of any complications which might require the use of force to resolve. They weren’t supposed to, but that was another reason why Marcotech didn’t want anyone to see their submarines as they left or returned to the base.

A hatch in the side of the submarine was open, and two men were carrying a heavy crate up the gangplank and onto the vessel. It contained food and toilet articles for the personnel at the Bahamas base. Other crates, stacked against the far wall of the huge echoing chamber, held spare machinery parts or medical supplies.

One of the men was Ted Alberman, formerly of a log cabin in the woods near Hunter’s Creek, Oregon, the other Ronnie McGuigan from Glasgow. Jesus de Santo, the third of Marcotech’s latest recruits, was just about to finish his shift at the Bahamas base, and would be returning with the sub when it had finished delivering its cargo. The whole of the shift would be changed, except for Bromhead who didn’t seem to mind being there more or less all the time – scary, McGuigan thought. Maybe he had more to hide from than any of the others.

As de Santo was finishing his shift, McGuigan and Alberman would be about to begin theirs, to McGuigan’s relief. He felt happier when he was underwater. On the surface there was always the possibility, however slight, that someone might spot and recognize him. The only thing that worried him was that Greatrix, if he wasn’t careful, might just succeed in blowing the whole set-up wide open.
“You’re not looking too happy, pal,” Alberman remarked.

“Some of the things we're doing right now are too fucking risky,” his friend grumbled. “We’re gonna attract too much attention to ourselves.”

"I’d say it's necessary,” Alberman replied. “Myself, I can't stand the thought of an oilspill wrecking everything, not when we’re so close to success. In any case, they’ll fix it somehow.”

McGuigan said nothing. He sometimes wondered whether it wouldn’t be better to go to the police, make a clean breast of it. But he appreciated the comradeship, and the sense of purpose, which he had been able to know again in Marcotech’s service. Apart from that he’d nothing to lose, either way; the death in London had been accidental, but he still stood to receive a lengthy sentence for manslaughter. And the one person out of Marcotech’s unofficial workforce who had attempted to betray them to the authorities had soon been taken care of.
It would probably all be over soon, anyhow, one way or the other.

This was meant to be the last shift unless the company had to radically revise its plans; within a month from now, it was estimated, those plans would be complete.

He, Alberman and de Santo were the latest, and would probably be the last, of Greatrix’s recruits as far as the heavy work was concerned. Any more would be both superfluous and a security risk. Not that he couldn’t do with as many supporters as possible, provided they could be trusted to keep their mouths shut.

They carried one more crate onto the sub, remaining on board once they’d dumped it down in the storage hold. The sub’s captain called the control room to notify them he was fully laden with cargo and a signal, a high bleeping electronic note, was sounded over the PA system to inform the rest of the relief shift it was time for them to board the vessel. They abandoned what they were doing, whether working or relaxing, and forming a more or less orderly queue filed into the docking chamber in their smart blue tunics and trousers, braided in white at the shoulders and wrists in an attempt, conscious or otherwise, to imitate the uniform of a national navy. Each man or woman sported an armband with the Marcotech emblem.

They marched up the gangway and into the sub, the hatch closing behind the last man and the gangway then retracting. The clamps holding the sub in position also retracted, disappearing into the wall of the dock, and the diesel engines started up. The sub began to move off down the tunnel, which sloped downwards gradually as deeper water was entered. Ahead of the sub, and ten feet or so below the surface, the great steel door over its mouth slid aside leaving it open to the ocean.

The vessel slid out into the waters of the Atlantic, after a mile or so turning to the east – towards Grand Bahama. On its bows had been painted, in large white letters, a design consisting of an upside-down triangle above two circles. Beneath this protruded a long, stout rod like the bowsprit of a ship. It was particularly vital no-one outside the organization saw these features, as otherwise they might just make an intelligent guess as to why they were there; and that could be very dangerous.


Cornelia van Leyden of London, New York, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo, Cannes, St Moritz and a whole host of other places lay in bed in the arms of the man who seemed to be known only as Charlie, sunlight streaming through the windows of the former colonial mansion where she lived and dappling the sheets of the genuine eighteenth-century four-poster bed, which until a few moments before had been groaning and creaking under the strain as their entwined bodies rolled and thrashed about, convulsing violently in the last stages of ecstatic sexual intercourse. They ought to be careful, she reflected. The valuable antique wasn’t likely to survive another night like that.

Opening his eyes, Charlie smiled down into the pretty, rather elfin features he had come to know and like over the past few months. More than anyone else’s features?

Cornelia stirred, gently prised his arms from around her and sat up, reaching for the packet of cigarettes on the bedside table. She offered one to Charlie and the two of them sat and smoked for a little while, their bodies still effervescent in the afterglow.

“See you again tonight?” she asked. Her accent was Home Counties English, belying an ancestry Charlie knew to be rather mixed, though primarily Dutch American.
“Maybe,” he said. “I dunno.”
“What have you got lined up for today?”
“Oh, beach and booze I expect,” Charlie drawled. “That’s all there is most of the time.”

The woman tossed her head back sharply, dislodging a lock of shining black hair from one eye. “Only because you haven’t got anything else to do.” As far as she knew, Charlie was living the life of a playboy, kept here in a state of relative comfort and able to indulge his passion for drink and women whenever he chose, because of the money sent by his family in the States. They kept him in clover here in the Bahamas, so that he’d stay there and never bother them again. The money meant he didn’t need to work, although should it dry up for any reason he could still get by through charming his way into the beds of wealthy women like herself.

“If you know I haven’t got anything else to do than that, then why ask me what I’m going to be doing?”
“Merely post-coital chit-chat. You know Charlie, you really ought to settle down and get a job of some kind.”
“Who’d employ me?” he grinned.
“True.”
“Watch it or I won’t sleep with you again.”
“You would, and you know it,” she said wickedly.
“In any case, I like things this way.”

“I gathered that. But you know, Charlie, if ever the opportunity does come your way you’ve got to take it. If you have any choice in the matter, go for something that’ll allow you to see more of the world outside these islands. Travel broadens the mind and all that. You’d have more to tell people about then, and it’s more likely some nice girl will want to settle down with you.”
“Aren’t I interesting enough already?” he snorted.

“Of course you are,” she said soothingly, her fingers gently stroking the golden-brown hairs on his chest. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

They lay together silently, Cornelia from time to time playing idly with his penis, until suddenly he spoke again. “Anyway, you promised to take me with you on that trip to Europe.”

“That’s right, I did. But you’re the one who keeps putting it off, saying you’ve got this or that to do on the island. I don’t quite understand you, Charlie. One thing I can tell you, at this rate it’s not very likely to happen.”

Inwardly Charlie sighed. If only he could tell her the truth. It wasn’t that he was uninterested in the project, only that he’d have to wait until his next period of leave - unofficial leave, of course, because officially Marcotech didn’t employ him in any case – came along.
“Talking of settling down,” he said, “why don’t you?”

The remark stung her a little. “What does that mean?” she sniffed.
“I mean you spend most of your time doing – “

“If you’re going to get all puritanical on me, then I’m not sure I want you around,” she told him.
“I was only kidding,” he protested.

“Good.” She hopped off the bed, Charlie following the movements of her lithe body as she went to where her dressing gown hung on a peg on the door. He felt himself harden again at the sight of her tanned, perfectly formed buttocks but told himself she wasn’t in the mood.

Wrapping herself in the gown, she moved to the window and threw it open, letting the fresh air cleanse the smell of their earlier coupling from the room. “I’m going to take a shower,” she announced, and made for the door.

She’d almost got there when his voice stopped her in her tracks. “Oh, Cornelia…”
She turned enquiringly. “Mmm?”
“Were you thinking of taking the boat out anytime?”
“Why, do you want to come?”
“Were you?”
“Well – maybe. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t reckon it’s safe to go out to sea right now. Not while this thing, this squid is around. Please.”

His obvious concern dispelled her huffy mood. But she was puzzled. “It isn’t big enough to overturn a yacht, is it?”
“Well – I dunno,” he muttered. “I suppose it might be.”

“There’ve never been any reports of that happening. No, there’s nothing in the sea that can do that. You’re very sweet, Charlie, but there’s really no need to worry about me. I’ll be quite alright.”

He gazed imploringly at her from the bed. “Don’t take any chances. You take it from me, there’s things out there that are dangerous. More things than we could ever guess at, I reckon.”

Cornelia squinted at him oddly, sensing something strange in his manner, as if there was something he urgently wanted to tell her but couldn’t. Eventually her shoulders twitched in a shrug. “I’ll bear it in mind,” she sighed, and left, Charlie gazing at the door for a long time after it had shut behind her.


Caroline was at her computer again, this time trying to find out as much as possible about undersea mineral exploitation.

There was an International Seabed Mining Authority, established as part of the UN Law of the Sea, and a Convention which set out detailed provisions for deep-sea mining. Part 11 declared the ocean bed and its resources to be "the common heritage of Mankind," which went against the preference of large companies - whose influence had prevented a number of industrialised countries from ratifying the convention - to operate under national rather than international jurisdiction. Or perhaps it was truer, in this day and age, to say that they operated under their own jurisdiction. You got the impression that Marcotech did; or at least were very good at exercising influence. How had they managed to secure that special license from the ISMA, she wondered.

The density of the nodules that contained the mineral ores varied, the greatest concentrations being in the Pacific and at depths of 13,000 feet. Not, it seemed, in the Bahamas region on the inner edge of the Continental Shelf, at a depth of only 600 feet.

The opinion of most of the experts was that the mineral deposits in the Atlantic were of limited economic value. There weren't quite enough of them. At present most mining took place in shallow waters near the coast; you could exploit those resources which lay beyond the continental shelf, but if Marcotech were doing so at the moment - and they must be among the few people who had the resources - Greatrix would surely have mentioned it. It was like they weren't bothered at this stage. Because it wasn't yet economical; but then neither was anything else Marcotech were doing off Grand Bahama, by her reckoning.

And there were serious problems involved in extraction on a large scale, which should surely concern an avowed environmentalist like Sir Edward Greatrix. The disturbed sediment would become suspended in the water, where it would be harmful to marine life.

Apart from anything else what was to stop the mineral reserves from being used up, worked out, in a relatively short time just as those on land had been? The mariculture was maybe a more profitable investment. But that too had serious drawbacks, as she had soon realised. Away from reefs, water at shallow depths was not very productive. That was why it was so clear.

No, the mining and farming being carried out at the Bahamas base had to be for the benefit of the base itself – at most.

That something extraordinary was going on there, which Marcotech didn't want the authorities or the general public to know about, was beyond doubt. But she couldn't prove anything - yet.

All the time they had been sizing her up, trying to decide how far she would put salary before any other consideration. Whether she was the sort who prioritized a quiet life over everything else.

She went and saw Hennig, who had been prevented from getting in until then due to an extended stag night with some fellow old boys of his school. "You put the bug in?" he asked.

"Mmm hmm. Haven't heard anything interesting yet, though. Just the usual boys' talk about sex, sex and more sex. It seems Greatrix is a bit of a hypocrite where smut's concerned. At one point they were all lusting over a pile of porn mags he'd got hidden away in his desk drawer...." She broke off in embarrassment. Not that long ago she'd gone into Hennig's office to leave some papers there for him, thinking the room was empty, and caught him surreptitiously leafing through back copies of Penthouse and Men Only.

Hennig coughed. "Er yes, yes," he muttered. "Well, keep listening." The tone of his voice changed. "Jimmy Naish says Marcotech were one of the companies using a laser of the sort which could have been applied to the lifeboats from the bombed tankers."

Caroline compressed her lips. "It all seems to be fitting into place. There just isn't any actual proof, so far."
"So what are you going to do now?" Hennig asked.

"I think I'll stay on here for a while. See if we can learn anything useful from the tapping."
A sudden thought occurred to Hennig. "Do you suppose there's any chance Marcotech might be bugging us?" he asked uneasily.
"More than likely," Caroline said.

"However," she announced brightly, "I have the answer." From her handbag she produced something that looked like the flight recorder on an airliner, with a needle and gauge set into it.
"What's that?" he asked curiously.
"Bug detector."

"I bet I can guess where you got that from," he muttered. "Same place as the bug." He was well aware of her MI6 connections and not, if the truth be told, entirely happy about them.
He softened. "Caroline, you're an angel. I don't know what I'd do without you."
She went through a variety of extraordinary expressions in her heroic attempt to appear modest.


Once again, Moses Jameson waited until all his colleagues had left the office and then rang Shannon Richards’ parents. This time he got the father.

“Just wanted to see if you had any luck with the President,” Jameson told him.

“No, I’m afraid we haven’t,” Pat sighed. “Letter came back saying it wasn’t his brief to intervene in such matters, as he saw it. Wasn’t even signed by him. Trouble is, unless you just go force your way into the White House and demand to see him, which you can’t these days, you have to fight your way through a whole army of God-damn two-bit officials.” He sighed again. “I don’t understand it, though. Some of us are wealthy people, powerful people, folks with influence; one’s a congressman, for God’s sake. Normally that makes a difference. But this time….”
“I guess you got no joy with the Department of the Interior?”

“None. We’ve tried the press too, but a lot of the papers don’t seem to want to print the story. Some do, but I’m worried it may not have the kind of effect we’re hoping for. I mean, this President has ignored so many calls for him to damn well do something about this or that….there’s a lot of people, more than there were two or three years ago, who say his foreign policy’s crap and has got to change but he ain’t taking a blind bit of notice. All I can say is, I didn’t vote for him, not the second time round.”
“Well all I can do, Mr Richards – “
“Call me Pat.”
“All I can do, Pat, is wish you luck. Keep hanging in there.”
“You’re alright, Agent Jameson. See you round, maybe.”
“Maybe. Ciao.”

Once again, Jameson was left with much to think about. The trouble with this President, with a good deal of his sort past and present, was that you never know whether to attribute these things to incompetence, conspiracy, bureaucracy, or some combination of one or more of them. If there was a conspiracy, that confusion worked to its advantage, something its members knew to be the case. Apart from anything else the sheer complexity of the task of government these days meant a vast bureaucracy whose importance gave it power – real power, whereas the increasing need to delegate meant the influence of the presumed leader of the nation gradually slipped away. It was the senior officials and civil servants who made a lot of the decisions; the Pres might never even have got to see that letter. And when conspiracies infiltrated that bureaucratic structure, the trend became particularly dangerous.

Of course, the conspiracy couldn’t include everyone. But it derived its power from your inability to know who was or wasn’t a part of it. You had to watch your back.

He had to do something. He had to. People were still disappearing. And who knew, one day it might be his wife or his daughter….

Images of Georgia, from birth through to her current dysfunctional adolescence, flitted through his mind. And yet again the words came back to him. It’s too late now to say we’re sorry….


TWENTY-ONE

International Petroleum, London, office of the Managing Director
"Nothing," sighed Caroline. "Absolutely nothing."

Each night she had spent a few hours playing back the recordings from the phone tap, listening carefully to the conversations that had taken place that day between Greatrix and his staff. It had been a laborious, boring task, most of the time anyway. But she had persevered with it, sitting with the earphones on and intense concentration etched into her face, from time to time tapping her fingers rhythmically on the table as she listened carefully to what was being said and tried to pick out anything of interest.

She had learned a few things about Greatrix. He seemed to have no family apart from an elderly mother, now in a nursing home, whom he called occasionally. Regarding a wife and kids, a study of his entry in Who’s Who had supplied all the relevant facts.

"Married Shrivanati Jayawala, deceased. One son, deceased." "Oh no," she whispered, feeling a pang of pain and sympathy. Whatever Greatrix might be, nobody deserved that.

He had interests: sailing, swimming, diving, marine biology, anything in fact to do with the sea. There were one or two close friends with whom he indulged these hobbies. He appeared to have a good relationship with his staff.

It all assisted in building up a picture of the man. But there was nothing whatsoever to help in identifying what it was Marcotech were ultimately up to. The discussion had been about either business or pleasure, in both cases entirely legitimate.

It didn't appear he used the office much, anyway. A busy schedule must keep him away from it a large part of the time. That was true of quite a few bosses, though.

Whenever he had been out of the room and someone had phoned, the answering machine had redirected the call to his mobile phone.

There was one item of interest. Someone had rung from the Miami plant and they had mentioned the "Special Projects Room" there. It was clear that whatever went on in the place was vitally important, though apparently duplicated at Southampton.
It was all they had to go on.

"Do you suppose it's possible we could be wrong about Marcotech?" Hennig asked.

Caroline shook her head. "Not a chance. I told you, they wouldn't be so keen to win me over to them if they were clean. They're in it up to their teeth."
"I think Caroline's right," Jimmy Naish said.

Arms folded, Caroline paced the room restlessly, impatient with the failure of her surveillance efforts to produce anything. Well, she wasn’t going to learn anything by sitting around on her arse. “We might learn more by taking a look inside the base at Miami,” she said. “There’s got to be something there of interest. If it supplies the colony.....”

The following morning she went to see Naish in his office. “There’s some equipment I need to borrow,” she told him, and explained her requirements.
“What do you want it for?” he asked, eyes widening.

She had a feeling it might be better not to tell him, or Hennig, what she was planning to do, but decided in the end to take the risk. “Can you keep a secret?”

*

Marcotech HQ, Miami
There was just one single road running the length of a narrow spit of land which curved out into the sea. And the only place it led to was the Marcotech base, which would be more or less deserted at this time of night. She should be able to get down to business undisturbed. She turned off the road and stopped the car in a patch of undergrowth, screened from view from the base by a clump of trees. Through a gap in the vegetation the plant was clearly visible across the flat swamplands, about a quarter of a mile away up the road after it turned to the left. The lights were all on, as a measure to make people think there was someone in the building, and the yellow glow from the windows had the effect of emphasising its outline against the deeper blackness surrounding it. She parked the car so that it was out of sight from the place.

She was already dressed in a body-hugging black tracksuit, black trainers, and black gloves. Now she dug into the bag on the passenger seat and took out a black balaclava helmet, openings cut in it for the eyes and mouth and nostrils. She had made it herself the night before, and was very proud of her handiwork. She gathered up her hair at the back, tied it and put the mask on.

Taking something else from the bag, she crept from the car towards the break in the foliage, blending in perfectly with the night. The only sound was the croaking of the frogs, and occasionally the sound of a car engine on the road. Far away in the swamp something big made a splash as it submerged.

She went down on one knee and raised the telephoto lens with its infra-red nightsight to her eyes.

Like many security people Jimmy Naish was ex-SAS, and thus had some idea what kind of equipment would be needed for an operation like this, and how it could be obtained. She could have asked Rachel, but never liked to beg her indulgence too often.

The strange, surreal, ghostly image showed a section of the wire fence which protected the buildings from intruders, and inside it the concrete apron which extended around them on all sides, as well as part of one of the main buildings, a featureless concrete block with ventilator ducts projecting from the walls at points but no windows.

After a few minutes, she saw a security guard in uniform and peaked cap appear around the corner of the building. He was walking slowly up and down with his hands behind his back. He walked as far as the corner of the perimeter fence, then turned sharply on his heels and walked back, the building once again hiding him from view.

She remained where she was for several hours, during which period the guard appeared three times, walking to the end of the fence and back as before. She was certain it was the same guy all the time. Only one guard, then; and no dogs, it seemed.

All in all, their security procedures weren't that good, she thought disparagingly. This should be fairly easy.

There were the cameras, of course - although she couldn't see them, they must be there. But she knew very well that people didn't sit staring fixedly at screens for hours on end, moving not a millimetre from their seat. Only a robot could do that. That was why the guard had to spend at least half his time pacing about the place, the idea being that if anyone was trying to break in he would thereby catch them in the act.

The camera might spot her, but as long as it didn't see her face there'd be nothing to give a name to the intruder. She'd have to move fast, though. When the guard was far away, but before he finished his round and got back to his screen, which no-one else would be watching up until then because they’d take it in turns and he seemed in fact to be the only person on the premises.

She had carefully noted the guard's behaviour and the times at which he appeared and disappeared, and was able to work out roughly when to make her move.

If she could just get into the Special Projects room, photograph what she found there and then make her escape....she didn't think it'd be safe to linger any longer than that. That'd be pushing it a bit.

After the guard had moved out of sight for the third time, she removed a pouch from the kit bag beside her and clipped it to the belt at her waist. Then, slowly and stealthily, she crept like some hunting animal from the cover of the bushes and across the marshy, but at this point firm ground to the fence.

Fortunately it wasn’t electrified. They must be cutting costs to make up for the vast amounts of money they’d expended in other areas. Swiftly, using the wire cutters, she made a hole in the mesh large enough for a person to enter, carefully lowering the cut-out section to the ground. Slipping through the gap, she crossed the apron to one of the doors in the side of the windowless building. A couple of minutes' work with the lockpick and it clicked open. She found herself in a corridor with walls of white-painted plaster and a floor of smooth parquet. The lights were on so she didn't need to use a torch.

Moving slowly, cautiously, a step at a time, listening every second for the sound of a footfall, she came to a T-junction, and on an impulse took the turning on the right. After a while she came to another turning where there was a notice on the wall saying "SPECIAL PROJECTS SECTION," like at Southampton, and an arrow pointing to the left. She followed the arrow, and a few hundred yards along came to a pair of green-painted metal double doors.

Picking the lock, she pushed them open and stepped inside, to find herself in what seemed a spacious room, shrouded in darkness. She shone her torch around, the circle of ghostly light playing over the walls and floor. And revealing nothing, for the Special Projects Section was completely empty.

With alarming suddenness and quite unexpectedly the lights came on, flooding the room with their harsh yellow glare. She dropped down in a protective crouch, freezing in that position.

When on this kind of assignment, she found herself thinking like an agent again. Becoming a completely different person.
An automatic timer? Possibly. But then with a rather sinister swish of compressed air a steel shutter descended from the ceiling, slamming down just in front of the door. She ran to it and tried to shift it, but the six-inch thick slab of metal wouldn't budge.

A voice rasped from a speaker whose location she couldn't for the life of her work out. "All right, Miss Kent, if it is you underneath that mask. Move into the centre of the room and stay there."

Caroline felt her spirits sink. With a sigh she obeyed the order.

She sat down to wait, hugging her calves in what was probably a protective action.
Some minutes passed.

"Get a bloody move on," she shouted. She wondered if they were deliberately keeping her waiting. "What if I want the Ladies’?" she shouted out.
"You tried that last time," said the tannoy.

A few more minutes passed. "All right, then I'll do it all over n your nice clean floor," she yelled. She would have, as well.

Then she heard footsteps in the corridor and drew herself up, preparing for the confrontation about to take place. With a click the automatic locking system disengaged and the door swung open, inwards, to reveal Greatrix and Latimer flanked by a couple of massive tough-looking security guards.

Latimer stepped aside to let the guards enter. They moved swiftly towards her. "Take your hands off me," she hissed.

She dodged round them and threw herself at Latimer, who was blocking the doorway. He caught her by the wrists and pushed her back into the room.

The two guards grabbed her in a double armlock. She squirmed and twisted in a futile attempt to break free, but soon gave it up. Latimer walked up to her and yanked the mask from her head. In the process he dislodged her hairclip, and the golden waves tossed about her shoulders.

"Thought so," he said. He took something from his pocket and held it up in front of her. "Recognise this?"

The light glinted off a small round metallic object. To her astonishment Caroline recognised the bug she'd planted at Marcotech's Southampton offices. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.
"You fell for our little trap, didn't you? You aren't so clever."

Caroline knew the last bit was said with the specific intention of annoying her. All the same she rose to the bait, stiffening with rage and glaring daggers at Latimer. She renewed her attempts to break free from the guards, again without success. Latimer smiled. "We've been keeping an eye open for you ever since you put in the bug - which we found almost immediately, by the way. The cameras were on you from the moment you entered the building."
"I didn't see any cameras," she protested. “There or here.”
"They're very cleverly concealed."

Caroline admitted defeat, her shoulders slumping. "You deliberately made me think you wouldn't be in the office, didn't you? Then once you found the bug you deliberately tried to avoid the place, and when you were there to say anything that might be of too much value to me. And you told any callers not to leave messages on the answerphone."

Edward Greatrix's face creased in a sly, mischievous smile. Then his manner changed abruptly. "Industrial espionage is a very serious matter, Miss Kent. I think perhaps we ought to continue this conversation in my office." He turned with Latimer towards the door, and the rest of the group followed him out, the two guards frog-marching Caroline before them.

They went along a corridor, up a flight of stairs to another corridor and then along it to a door. Greatrix opened it to reveal a small office, sparsely furnished as the one at Southampton had been. Once they were all inside the door was slammed shut, and at a signal from Latimer the guards let go of Caroline. Greatrix gestured towards a chair.

She sat down, eyeing Greatrix warily as he took his place behind the desk. The two guards remained solidly in the background, arms folded.

Greatrix leaned back in the comfortable swivel chair and fixed Caroline with a hard stare. "So this is how you repay our generosity. We offered you a job with us, on a higher salary than you are presently accustomed to, and....." Caroline looked impassively back at him. "So what have you got to say for yourself, young lady?"

Caroline resented being spoken to like a naughty schoolgirl. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

Greatrix's eyes lit up with interest. "Really?" he said politely. "How fascinating."

His tone hardened. "You appear to have convinced yourself, without the slightest evidence, that we are responsible for all your company's current problems. We've been attacking oil tankers with our trained giant squids, is that it? We've been breeding monsters in our underwater base."

Caroline chose her words carefully. She strongly suspected that the more they knew she'd worked out, the less likely it was she'd be allowed to leave here alive. "I think something's going on," she said. "Now I have a brief to protect my company's interests. So I have to find out what it is."
"But what reason do you have for suspecting us?"

She scowled, suddenly angry. "Look, all this is play-acting. It's what you've been doing from the start. You wouldn't have made the approach to me if you hadn't thought I might be about to expose something you'd done, something you'd rather people didn't know about. That's what put me onto you.
“I wanted to know why the squid were leaving your base alone. Why they seem to be avoiding that basic area."

"And you don't think that the assurances we gave Dr Ivarson were quite satisfactory?"
"I didn't know what to think, because you wouldn't give us enough information. I decided to find it out for myself."
"You do realise, don't you, that what you did was against the law?"
Caroline didn't reply. Greatrix let the silence endure, deliberately prolonging her discomfort.
So they knew she and Ivarson had been working together. "You leave Don alone," she said.

"So far all he has done is to ask questions, which he is quite entitled to do. And so long as he refrains from further meddling in our affairs he'll be quite safe.
"I can't tell you what you wish to know. But I assure you it's got nothing to do with the tankers."
"Honest?"
"Honest."
And for all she knew, he might indeed be telling nothing but the truth.

Silence again while she pondered the disclaimer. She was still doing so when Greatrix broke it. "You've no proof, Miss Kent. On the other hand you are clearly guilty of breaking and entering."

"You more or less threatened me back in the Bahamas. What if that came out in court?"
He smiled. "Did you have a tape recorder concealed in that bikini?"

"I'll have to consider carefully what steps to take regarding your behaviour,” he told her. “If we do decide to press charges, the evidence will be on the CCTV tapes. So I should be careful if I were you, Miss Kent. You don't have a leg to stand on.

"I regret the damage that is being caused to people's livelihoods from this matter. But I assure you it's nothing to do with Marcotech." He rested his elbows on the desk, steepled his fingers. "I shall be writing a strong letter to your superiors. In the meantime, you'd be advised to stay clear of here, and of the whole Bahamas region. Well clear."
"Or else what?" she challenged.

Greatrix got to his feet. "These gentlemen will escort you from the premises. I presume you have a car somewhere nearby?" Caroline nodded sullenly.
He shot Latimer a glance. "Don't be too rough with her, Dave."

The guards moved to take hold of her. She rose quickly to her feet, pre-empting them, and in a neat pirouette turned to face the door. "Let's go then, shall we?" she said, and strode off.
They grabbed her by the arms as she passed them, and bundled her out. She scowled.

Latimer held open the door for the three of them. "Thankyou," she said graciously.
"Any time," he beamed.

Once outside they marched her in the direction of the gates, Latimer falling in behind.
"How did you find the bug?" she asked him, anxious to know why she had failed.
He sniggered. "I'm hardly going to tell you, am I."

At the gates he motioned to the guards to stop, and moved to stand before her. "Look, sweetheart. We're not so bad as you might think. What we're doing will be of great benefit to a lot of people, believe me."
"Then why can't you tell anyone about it?"
"You ask too many questions, that's your trouble." One of the guards went into the little hut by the gates and activated a remote control. They started to swing open.

He reached out and pinched Caroline's cheek between thumb and forefinger, in what was meant to be affection. She flinched away, pulling a face. "I don't like to think of you getting hurt. So just stay out of it, OK?"

The gates now stood wide open, and Latimer gestured politely at them. She refused to budge, instead staring hard at him.
He began to stare hard back. "You really should be grateful," he told her. "There are other things we could do than give you this warning, but you might not like them. For example I could dump your car in the swamp with you in the boot and no-one would ever know. Or…I was thinking about your new-found interest in diving. How'd you like to inspect the bottom of the sea at close quarters, with a couple of weights round your ankles?"
"Your boss would never let you," she said.
"Perhaps you're right. He's a decent sort, is Sir Edward. Perhaps too decent."
If I did have to kill her, he was thinking, would it be so bad as long as I could have some fun with her first?

Caroline didn't care for the look in Latimer's eye, or the vibrations she was getting from him. Suddenly she turned and strode briskly through the open gates into the night.

Ten minutes later she was driving through the darkness along the road towards Miami, her face expressionless, eyes fixed squarely on the road ahead. I should have guessed really, she thought. An electronics company. But then it's not really what they do. It's the way they behave.

Whatever happens, she told herself, this isn't the end. It can't be.

*

When Caroline got back to IPL she was in a foul mood, smarting from the setback to her plans and the general humiliation. She only hoped too many people didn't get to know about it.

As always, she could confide in Chris. To her annoyance, however, he seemed to find the whole affair rather amusing. It was a whole minute, if not two of them, before he stopped laughing.

She held her hard stare for a moment longer, then sank down wearily into her chair. "I don't know what we're going to do now. They're pretty well clued up, this lot. They've got incredibly sophisticated anti-surveillance equipment; it's almost at the level of what you'd expect from a national intelligence agency."

"Where do you suppose they got it from?"
"Developed it themselves, I'd imagine. They're into electronics, after all." She resumed gazing blankly at the wall, lost in her sulk.
"Come on, snap out of it," he ordered harshly.

She gave him a dirty look to save her face, but he knew that at heart she was grateful for his support and that sooner or later she would show it, in her own way.

She picked up her phone and dialled an internal number. "Oh well, I suppose I'd better get this over with."
Hennig's secretary answered. "Hello, Linda,” Caroline said. “Is his Lordship in?"
"Yes, he's here. He'd, er, like a word with you if that's OK."

Hennig glanced up from his desk as she entered his office, and pushed a sheet of letterheaded paper across it. "Have a peek at that," he said grimly. "It arrived just this morning."

The letter was addressed to Marcus Hennig, Managing Director International Petroleum (UK) Ltd, and signed by Edward Greatrix himself. After describing what had happened at the Miami base it went on, "We assure you that our company has nothing to do with the recent oil tanker sinkings, contrary to what your representative's actions would seem to imply you think. If there is any repetition of this incident legal proceedings will be instituted. I am sure you do not wish to incur a bad reputation in the eyes of the public."

"I had to disassociate the company from your behaviour," Hennig said. "Don't do anything like that ever again. Or I might have to....reconsider your position with the company."

"If I may say so, Marcus, that's not really fair," Caroline objected.
"Oh? Why not?" he demanded aggressively.
"Well," she began, trying to sound as tactful as possible. "Didn't you suggest we do something of the sort yourself, a while ago?"

Hennig fell silent. He regarded her keenly through narrowed eyes. "Is this moral blackmail, Caroline?"
"Of course not," she replied, the picture of angelic innocence. They both knew very well that she was morally blackmailing him. Or at least that she hoped he thought she was.

“In any case,” he said wickedly, “I seem to remember you saying you didn’t want anything to do with this sort of practice. Beneath your dignity, etcetera.”
Her face might have been carved from solid granite.

He decided to change the subject. "I suppose you wangled all the equipment off your spook friends."
Caroline mumbled an affirmative. She wanted to keep Naish out of trouble if at all possible.
"So, what are we going to do now?" she asked.
"Well we can't give in, can we? We'll just have to try something different."
"I'd better be getting back to Dr Ivarson," Caroline said. "Don't want my recently acquired skills to go rusty."

"I don't think on its own that's a good enough reason for you to go back there, especially when Marcotech have warned you against it. Or have you got some bright idea that's going to get us out of this mess?"
"I've got an idea, yes," she smiled.
"Care to share it?"

He saw her shift awkwardly. "Is it because you know I'd stop you?" he asked, eyes narrowed again.
"It's not illegal," she said. "I'm not actually going to burgle anyone. Honest."
"Well," he said after a moment, "you know the score. If you do get into trouble with the law, there's no way we're going to bail you out."
"It's not illegal," she repeated. "At least I don't think so."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Shouldn't be," she answered, with more confidence than she felt.

"The same applies," Hennig muttered darkly. "I'm not responsible for your safety should you choose to act on your own initiative in this matter. Anything goes wrong, you're on your own. So whatever it is you're up to, Caroline, for God's sake don't mess it up."


UK offices of Marcotech International, Southampton
"So, we've got our answer. We can't rely on her."

There was an element of "I told you so" in Latimer's tone. Greatrix chose to ignore it. So much simpler, he'd always thought, than to get ratty.

"No, she's too loyal to her company," he said. "You have to admire that."

"Pity," Greatrix mused. "A great pity. She could have been useful in so many ways."

He snapped out of his reverie. "From now on we'll have to keep a close eye on her. I want to know everything she does, do you understand? Everything."
"You can leave it to me," Latimer said.

"Just don't hurt her," Greatrix ordered. He decided it was time to assert his authority a little. "If you can avoid it. If you can avoid it but you don't you'll be in serious trouble, Dave. Alright?"
"Yeah, alright," Latimer said crossly.
"And don't be inclined to go easy on her just because she's a pretty girl."
"Make up your mind, Boss. One moment you think I'll go and do something nasty to her, the next - "

"Don't question me all the time," Greatrix snapped. "Just go and do as you're told."
Without a word, Latimer left. The door closed after him and silence enveloped the office, broken only by the sound of Greatrix's steady breathing as he sat there deep in thought.

He rooted among the papers on the desk, found Caroline Kent's file and flicked through it at random until he came across the photograph copied from IPL's publicity material. He looked at it for a long time. If he had had a daughter, by a white woman, perhaps she would have looked something like that.

No, he corrected himself firmly. Don't think such things. He could never love another woman like had loved...her. Any new relationship he did enter into would be simply for the sake of convenience, to stop him from getting bored.

All the same he went on gazing at the photo for some time, whispering softly to it as if the image on the strip of celluloid could hear his voice and respond. “Please don’t make me hurt you….please….please..”


TWENTY-TWO
That night, in England, Caroline rung Dr Ivarson from her home and filled him in on all that had happened. "So," she sighed, "that's about it. I'm afraid Marcotech will be on the lookout for me now."
"Least you tried."
"How've things been over there?" she asked.

"Pretty bad. At this rate the whole of Grand Bahama and Abacos will be depopulated." He explained how someone seemed to be blocking any attempt to deal with the squid. "The plot thickens," Caroline muttered.

"If this goes on for much longer I'm gonna have to pack up and go home." Ivarson sounded weary, defeated, and much older than when Caroline had last set eyes on him just a few days before.
"Well, I'm not ready to give in just yet," she declared.
"But what the fuck can either of us do?"

“Well, we need conclusive proof that Marcotech are involved. That means getting a close look at whatever they've got down there. But if they won't let anyone near it…" She remembered something. "You said they said it was enclosed, anyway."

She heard him snort. "It can't be. Plenty of light would still penetrate, but for the best results there couldn't be a roof to the enclosure. You want the maximum amount of sunlight. Guess I should have put that to them."

"I know what they would have said. It doesn't matter because it's a revolutionary new process - one they can't or won't explain. Anyway: we can't approach via the surface, it's too well patrolled. The helicopter would spot us. What about doing it from beneath the surface?"
"They must have someway of guarding against that."
"We won't know until we've tried it."

"We haven't got the equipment. The Institute's still refusing to lend it to me. For all I know that's Marcotech's doing."
"It'll be alright," she said craftily. "Just leave things to me. It only needs a phone call or two."


Jameson finished typing out his statement, printed it off and tucked it inside the folder on the multiple paedophile case, smacking his lips in satisfaction that the affair had been successfully concluded. That was one sicko who wouldn’t be wrecking innocent lives ever again, or at least not for a very long time. It wasn’t all bad.

He sensed someone approach the desk and glanced up to see Calvert. “Agent Jameson, if I might see you in my office for a moment?” The AD’s tone was ominous.

Jameson followed him there, and was told curtly to sit down. Calvert stared hard at him for a moment, trying to unsettle him, then spoke. “I gather you’ve been visiting the parents of one of the kidnap victims.”
Moses stiffened. “How did you know that, Sir?”
“Because you were seen doing it, that’s why.”
“You’ve been having me followed?”
“I thought it was wise to take certain precautions.”

“For what reason do I not have your trust, Sir?” Moses said quietly.
“You’ve been getting more involved in this case than is professional, Agent Jameson. That’s been quite obvious to me from the way you clearly feel about it.” He put a gravelly hardness into his voice. “What’s most serious, you’ve been speaking to the Police Department without my permission and planting the idea in Captain Constantinos’ head that I’m involved in some nasty conspiracy.”

Jameson gave an angry start. “Have you been tapping my phone?” he demanded.

“The way I see it, I’m entitled to do that if an Agent has been acting in a manner which is detrimental to discipline within the Bureau. We can’t function effectively if everyone’s working to their own agenda behind the scenes. I see you didn’t have the guts to make that call before everyone else had gone home.”

Jameson’s whole body quivered with rage. He had to take a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. “Smart as much as you like, you’re in the wrong here and you know it,” snapped the AD. “As for Constantinos, I don’t know what’s got into his head but if he’s saying I never spoke to the Police Department about the case then he’s telling lies. Got that?”

“Sir,” Jameson said politely, controlling himself with another massive effort, “I’ve known Lou Constantinos long enough to be sure he’d never tell lies.”

“You realise what you’re saying, Agent Jameson? You’re implying I was the one doing the lying. Make another suggestion like that again and you’ll be out of a job, understand?” He jabbed his finger aggressively at Moses. “To my knowledge you’ve made at least two visits to the Richards’, that I know of..”
“Budget doesn’t stretch to a round-the-clock watch, then?”

“Speak out of turn like that, agent, and I’ll have your ass. You’ll be doing some low-grade filing job on less than half the pay you enjoy now. It won’t be much better than being fired.” He changed his tone slightly. “You’re a good guy, Moses, I don’t want to lose you. You’ve had a brilliant career so far and I want you to go on having one. But if there’s any more insubordination you’ll be facing a disciplinary charge, at the very least. OK, dismissed.”

Jameson opened his mouth to speak, then decided it was better to let things rest there. “Yes, Sir,” he breathed, and left.

Was it worth appealing to higher authority? It all depended how far up the conspiracy extended. Of one thing Jameson was certain, now he thought about it; the resort to banalities, indeed Calvert’s whole tone and manner, had made it clear he was acting a part. Doing it not out of anger but because he had to. But they’d got to him, somehow or other; maybe threatened him. He felt softer towards the man, but it didn’t take away the bitterness it engendered in him against somebody.

He wondered who Calvert had got to tail him when he was visiting the Richards’. Other FBI agents? It hardly mattered. What mattered was that there was something going on here which he couldn’t fight against. Or could he? There must be a way, surely, if only he thought about the problem for long enough.

What the hell. Right now he was tired, dispirited and angry and just wanted to finish the day’s work and go home. Let tomorrow take care of itself.


They drew up silently alongside the Oceanus in their rubber dinghy, which they had rowed there down the coast from the shore base. The night was pitch dark and they were approaching from the sea but they were taking no chances; they were clad from head to foot in tight-fitting black wetsuits, including hoods that covered the whole head, with openings for the nose and mouth and eyes. Over the latter they wore infra-red night vision goggles. Once the boat was bumping gently against the vessel's hull, the rope ladder with its rubber-coated grapnels was thrown up, hooking soundlessly on the deck rail. Nimbly they scurried up it and over the rail onto the deck, switching on their torches and shining them around until they had located the nearest of the doors on their side of the superstructure. Bodies held in a crouch, they crept silently towards it in their rubber-soled shoes - moving as would men professionally trained in this sort of activity.

If Ivarson awoke, they would simply give him a warning not to interfere and then knock him out while they did their work and left. As it happened he didn't wake. He went on sleeping soundly as they flitted like black ghosts about the ship, carefully placing the small electronic devices in each of the rooms Ivarson would be most likely to visit, in places where they would not be easily discovered.


Dumping her shopping bag on the floor, Caroline took from it a transparent plastic screw-top bottle filled with a reddish liquid, plus a couple of other items, and went upstairs to the bathroom.

Stripping off her dress and blouse, she emptied some of the liquid from the bottle into the palm of her hand and began carefully massaging it into her golden locks.

Half an hour later she straightened up and examined herself in the mirror, nodding in satisfaction. She was now a rather striking, natural-looking redhead, her hair swirling flames of deep auburn. It occurred to her that she could quite get to like the look.

In a leather case on the ledge above the sink was a little plastic sheath, from which she tipped out a pair of contact lenses into her palm. Carefully she placed the two pieces of soft flexible plastic in position over the pupils of her eyes, which the lenses would turn brown.

She'd been told that eyes could be recognised even if the colour was changed, indeed someone had said that very thing with respect to her own. It might be wise to wear dark glasses when stepping off the plane at Nassau, and for as much of the time afterwards as possible. It would be thought a reasonable precaution for someone to take in such a climate, especially if they were sensitive to sunlight.

Next she inserted a pair of cotton wool pads in her mouth to push her cheeks out, totally changing the profile of her face. She might still be recognised, but only if you looked closely enough and only if you had some reason to think it was her in the first place, and hopefully no-one would. The voice was more of a problem, but could be disguised by drawing on her repertoire of accents. She recalled her thoughts on the beach at Bimini, about the various avenues a person's life might take. How different things would have been, she mused, if she'd made the decision to really pursue an acting career?

At least people would know what I did, she thought wistfully. I could do things which would bring me fame, recognition, publicity. Praise. Instead of which I can't talk about half of what I do because I'd probably end up dead.
But the choice had been made. It was too late now.

She would leave for the Bahamas first thing in the morning of the day after tomorrow. But before that there was something else she wanted to do.


Cornelia van Leyden stretched out her slim body on the sunbed and sighed blissfully as she felt the warm sea breezes, heated by the sun, begin to wash over her.

The sensual feel of it made her think of sex, and an image popped into her head from the night before; herself with Charlie. She hadn't been able to see him, of course, but could picture the scene and certainly recall the wonderful thrill of the whole experience; that muscular body, built it seemed of solid rock, slamming against her buttocks as he thrust home repeatedly, Cornelia down on her hands and knees with her head thrown back and her mouth stretched wide open as a roaring cry of animal ecstasy tore itself from deep in her lungs.

During the time they had known each other they had done just about every sexual act thing that was physically possible. God, it had been fantastic. They had smoked pot together once, too, but so far had refrained from trying any of the harder stuff. For Charlie, sex was such a fantastic thing that you shouldn't need drugs to enhance it, and Cornelia could certainly see his point of view.

Sooner or later, of course, a condom would split on him. He'd better be careful. But then again, by more or less the same token so should she.

Not for the first time she thought of settling down with him. But of course he wasn't quite her type; too rough. Something that could only be sampled whenever you happened to fancy a taste of it, on a casual no-strings-attached basis. As a person, though, she really did like him. The feeling appeared to be mutual, or he wouldn’t have warned her so earnestly to be careful when she went out to sea. She was still puzzled about that a little. In any case, she wanted her peace and quiet and she was going to get it. Because there were things she needed to think about. That was why she had taken the yacht and piloted it, all by herself, to where it was now moored five miles off the northern coast of Grand Bahama, far away from the bustle of Freeport or Nassau.

In material terms Cornelia lacked nothing that she really wanted. Her only problem was that there were times when she didn't seem to have a lot to do. The sex and the drugs didn’t entirely fill the gap. She wondered whether marriage would really solve the problem. From all accounts, it became itself tedious and stale after a few years. Those of her friends who were married didn't seem to have a high opinion of it. The trouble was, she could see the kind of life she led now becoming boring as well.

Cornelia was not to find the answer she was looking for. That was the trouble with the weather nowadays; when it was hot it was too hot, preventing you from thinking. Mental activity was best performed in cold or temperate climates. She sometimes wondered whether the latter really existed these days, and whether the only places you could now go to to get away from it all - to think – were the polar regions. The thought occurred to her that somehow they wouldn’t be around for much longer, so maybe she should actually go out there, make the most of them while one could. It wasn’t as crazy an idea as you might think.

She decided to take the yacht back to port, once she’d had something to eat. She put her clothes back on, slipping into a pair of jeans and tying the hem of her shirt in a knot over her bare midriff. Then went down to the galley and made herself a meal of coleslaw and a jacket potato, followed by a glass of champagne from the ice bucket.

Afterwards she collected the potato peelings and other food waste in a bucket and tipped them over the edge into the sea.

She was about to set off for shore when suddenly she felt the lure of the sun again. What the hell…why did she need to think about anything? Why couldn’t she just lie there and forget all her troubles, enjoy this beautiful summer’s day, and leave the thinking till when she was in bed or something like that? There were plenty of times to think if only you bothered to seek them out.

So once again she stripped off, daubed herself with lotion and lay down on the sunbed on the deck. Forgetting all her troubles.

Until her peace and quiet was suddenly shattered when something very big slammed into the yacht causing it to lurch violently to starboard. The boat rose and fell sharply, with a plunging sensation that made her feel queasy and dizzy.

The sunbed slid to the right, scraping on the wooden planking, then down the slanting deck towards the stern of the vessel. The yacht tilted a little further and Cornelia was tipped off the bed to shoot down the deck at an angle, her fingers scrabbling on the planking as they sought something to gain a hold on. She snatched at the railing but it was a foot or so out of reach.

Her head slammed into a stanchion and she felt her skull reverberate with the sharp, ringing pain. For a few moments she more or less lost consciousness, then came round. She slid, or rather rolled, a little further; then something soft but tough at the same time arrested her progress, the friction bringing her to a halt.

Shaking her head furiously, Cornelia struggled over onto her side and sat up, blinking around. It took a few moments to register that she was not longer on the yacht, but on some smooth white surface that shifted and flexed beneath her, not like inanimate matter at all. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed that it seemed to slope, as if she was on some kind of mountain growing out of the sea.

Her gaze fell on the yacht and she gasped in horror. The deck was rising vertically out of the water before her, blotting out the sun. She realised that the vessel was lying on its side a few yards away, apparently intact but not likely to be going anywhere just yet.

She glanced down again and with amazement and fear realised she was sitting on top of a living thing; a giant living thing. A vast, rippling mountain of flesh rising out of the water. It must be at least forty feet across; no, fifty, sixty...

Jesus, this can't be happening, she told herself, heart pounding. She looked around to try and work out what it was, to catch some glimpse of a head, or limbs, then decided she'd rather not. It also occurred to her that if whatever it was decided to submerge, she'd be in big trouble. She was a strong swimmer but at this distance from the shore would never make it there. Perhaps if she could climb up the now sheer deck of the yacht, and hang onto something until a plane or another boat spotted her....

The matter beneath her shifted, dipped, and she found herself treading water. The creature had dived. Instinctively Cornelia flipped over and struck out for the yacht. Ahead of her she could see a section of the deck rail bobbing up and down, emerging and then submerging from the water. If she could manage to keep hold of it, maybe work her way round to the stern and then climb up it like a ladder....yes, that was it! She knew now that she had a chance. She was going to survive.

But what if the creature attacked the yacht again? Worry about that when it happens, she told herself firmly.

For the first time she became aware of the warm liquid running down the side of her head, and realised she must have cut herself where it had banged on something as she hurtled helplessly down the inclined deck. Not that it mattered, it didn't seem she was seriously injured. Just you concentrate on staying alive, Cornelia. She swam on towards the yacht, oblivious to the swirling cloud of blood spreading outwards through the water from her.
Nearly there.

A massive wave hit her and flipped her over onto her back, knocking her right off course. Something was churning up the
surface, causing it to swirl like a whirlpool; it was as if the creature that had attacked the yacht had swung its massive body right round, displacing the water.

For a moment Cornelia floundered, the buffeting of the waves preventing her from righting herself. Then another big one carried her almost up to the hull of the yacht as an enormous shape broke the surface, soaring high into the sky.

Cornelia found herself staring into a vast, yawning red cavern the size of a house; at least it seemed that big to her feverish brain. Wildly she thought she was looking straight into the mouth of Hell, and that those long, curved, gleaming, silver-white things were like the bars over the window of a prison cell. Only of course they were teeth, and in her very last moment of life she finally realised - with a feeling of incredulity, which was strange because she ought not to be dwelling on anything other than her imminent demise - what kind of monster this was.


Lecture hall of a London medical college
The room was starting to fill up. Mike Hartman sat in the fifth row back, his arms folded, glancing round at his companions with interest.

They seemed a pretty mixed bunch, ordinary-looking businessmen in smart suits and ties mingling with eco-fanatics in beards and kaftans, strings of beads hung round their necks; though most people wore ordinary casual clothing, falling midway between the two extremes. There was no real reason for the Major to be uncomfortable, and yet he felt out of place and uneasy.

Next to him sat a group of men all of whom had been wearing anoraks when they came in. Some were pushing middle age, others seemed little more than spotty youths. Several sported enormous and clumsy-looking spectacles. They were clearly intelligent yet their expressions were to the Major nerdish, even moronic.

Many of the people here were from the Underwater Society of Great Britain, a body of which the speaker was Honorary President, and under whose auspices the event was taking place. Its membership was well known for sharing his aims.

The President of the Society introduced Greatrix to the audience and withdrew. As the man rose from his chair and crossed to the podium, the burst of sustained clapping which greeted him showed he was already familiar, and highly popular, with many of the attendees.

As he talked on, the Major felt himself become more and more sceptical. And yet Greatrix spoke with such passion and sincerity that it communicated itself to his audience, even those who at the end of the day were still unconvinced. He really does believe all this, thought Hartman. They do, at any rate. He took in the rapt looks, the shining eyes, the whole body language, of the members of the Underwater Society.

Greatrix seemed to think that if people lived in big enough structures on the sea bed, in which a breathable atmosphere could be simulated, they would be happy and comfortable. The technical problems could in time be easily overcome.

The gist of his speech went something like this. "The problem is that there are simply far too many of us. And we occupy only a small fraction of the world's total surface. So many millions of people crammed into such a small area; it's a recipe for serious conflict, and it grows worse as numbers increase and make us more and more aggressive, squabbling with ever greater violence over fast dwindling resources.

“If we are to survive we must make full use of the facilities nature has provided for us. There are still realms we have barely begun to explore, yet alone colonise. It is true that outer space may offer valuable, and certainly enticing, opportunities. I believe however there is a more effective solution closer to home. The sea occupies two-thirds, some seventy per cent, of the Earth's surface.

“Painful as it may be to make the change, we must adapt or survive. If we live and work on the sea bed, farming it and making use of its vast reserves of raw materials, we enter a whole new mode of existence in which I believe there will not be the pressures, the conflicts, that at the present time threaten to destroy us. Our species, all species, has survived in the past by adaptation. We must not let that ability fail us now, or it could be fatal.

“We don’t make as much use of the sea as we ought to, considering it covers so vast an area. It could be the answer to our problems in so many ways. If we desalinated sea water on a large scale we could solve the future problem we will have with water shortages, which will otherwise result in the death of millions, have harmful environmental consequences and provide another excuse for nations to fight devastating wars with one another – yes, that is predicted to happen.

“And if wind engines are essential to combat global warming, yet visually an environmental nuisance when sited on land, then build them out to sea with undersea cables connecting them to substations on land. Have permanent installations out there to service them, if necessary.

“We might even relieve housing shortages, or alternatively pressure on the traditional character of the rural environment, by building homes out at sea. We must not of course try to develop the oceans in the same way as we have the land, cover them with concrete – the pollution generated and the overall environmental consequences would be an incalculable disaster – but they are none the less a useful place to put things. In any case the sea would disappear far less quickly than the countryside is doing, because there is so much more of it than there is of land.

“Where is the spirit of Brunel? We should be harnessing our technological, scientific and engineering skills to exploit the untapped areas of our planet, which are huge, rather than invest everything in what, to my mind, is the dead end and also, in view of their harmful consequences, Pandora’s box of the Internet and mass media…”

The Major had decided to see if his curiosity to know more would overcome his scepticism about the whole thing. The more he heard, the less certain he was whether it had. Many did seemed to agree with Greatrix, though; and not all, he noted, were from what he regarded as the screwball fraternity.

Again his eyes strayed idly over the rows of his fellow listeners. He didn't recognise the young redhead, with a face that was attractive in a plump sort of way, sitting as unobtrusively as possible in the back row. Caroline had found out about the talk from her trawling of the Internet in search of information on Marcotech. She was there because it might help to understand what Greatrix was about, how his mind worked, and also because she liked the idea of spying on him without his having the slightest suspicion of it. As long as she kept a low profile while she was here, it wasn't likely Marcotech would make any connection if they saw her in the Bahamas.

A little after Hartman’s gaze had drifted from her she saw him, and straightened up sharply in her chair, causing it to shift a fraction. Her mouth opened in surprise. She felt a shock of dismay, accompanied by a cold sensation of unease.

Then she began to relax, but her lips remained tightly set, her face drawn with tension. She returned her attention to Greatrix. He finished his speech, and the President invited questions from the audience. The Major tensed, keen to see if the tycoon’s claims could be shot down as easily as he suspected. As it happened Greatrix fielded his interrogators deftly, although the answers involved a lot of technical stuff which was above the Major's, or indeed most people's, head. Blind 'em with science, eh?

Afterwards the President thanked Greatrix for accepting the invitation to speak, and everyone else for attending. All rose, and a few began clustering round Greatrix in an attempt to buttonhole him regarding this or that business. The Major joined them, deciding it might be worthwhile having a word or two with the great man if he could get it.

As he stood there waiting for his chance, he felt someone tug at his sleeve, and looked round enquiringly. He was intrigued to see the girl with the red hair, regarding him with an anxious and slightly annoyed look.

Caroline leaned forward. "What are you doing here?" she whispered fiercely.

For the moment the Major just stared at her, puzzled and wary. Then he frowned, sensing something familiar about the woman which he couldn't quite place.

"It's me," she hissed. "Caroline." His eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Can we go somewhere quiet?" she asked. They went out into the corridor, where she led him to a secluded little corner beneath a stairwell.
"What are you doing in that get-up?" he said.

"Investigating. Listen, you're not joining the opposition are you?"
He pursed his lips in bewilderment. "I'm not with you, love."
"I don't think it would be wise to get involved with Sir Edward Greatrix. There are one or two things you ought to know about him and his company." On an impulse, she told him what they were.

She felt a shiver of unease. Was it wise to be telling him this, if he might have….joined the opposition?
Her face changed as a sudden thought occurred to her. "You're not working undercover, are you?" She knew members of the Special Forces sometimes did. "They haven't decided to investigate Marcotech?"

The Major shook his head. "No, not as far as I'm aware. All you've said is very interesting, but until they tell us we're needed I don't think it's anything to do with me."

"So why are you here?" Caroline locked eyes with Hartman, imploring him to tell the truth.

"I...I was looking for a new aim in life. I guess after Gillian, and all that...it's hard to put into words. And I was thinking about my future in the Army. It was lots of things really. Then I found out about the talk. You know, a lot of what Greatrix said back there made sense. About the damage we were doing to the world and how we needed to change the way we lived if we were going to put it right."

Hartman seemed disappointed by her revelations, and she felt herself relax a little. "Are you sure it's all true, what you're saying?" he asked crossly.
"Well I can't prove anything, not yet. But it does seem they're up to something."
"I wouldn't get involved in anything I shouldn't," he snapped.
"No, I don't think you would," she decided. "So you’re not thinking of leaving the military and joining...this lot?" She waved a hand at the diverse bunch now filing out of the lecture hall.
At first, Hartman didn't reply.

"Honestly, Mike, it'd be best to avoid them for the time being. Until we're certain they're nothing to do with it."
He sighed, and was silent for a moment or two. "I'll bear it in mind," he said finally. "Are you in any danger right now?" As always there was genuine concern in his voice.
"I shouldn't be, if I keep my wits about me," she replied.
"Make sure you do that," he said. "Seriously."

He'd guessed what had been worrying her. He found himself taking both her hands in his and squeezing them tight. "Look, whatever happens...even if I was in with these people, I wouldn't do anything to hurt you, OK? Not you." Their eyes met.

She smiled, and gave a little laugh. "I know you well enough by now to know that's true."
"Good luck, sweetheart. And take care." They embraced briefly.

"Come for a drink?" he suggested as they drew apart, the idea having come to him on the spur of the moment. He had the time.

Caroline thought about it. "All right," she said brightly. "Where shall we go?"
"Well, there's a nice place not too far from here..." They turned towards the exits.

It was then that the Major saw the bearded man. He'd spotted him earlier, but not got a full frontal view of his face. Now he had one.

The man stood looking straight at them. He must have only just noticed the Major, because there were very good reasons why he wouldn't want to hang around staring at him.

The face Hartman was seeing shouldn't have been there. It should have been gazing out at the world through the window of a prison cell. It now had a beard and moustache, and its whole profile seemed somehow different; plastic surgery maybe? But the Major knew who it was from the fixed stare of those penetrating eyes, which had always secretly unnerved him.

The brief look of alarm on the bearded face evaporated and the man moved away, walking at a steady pace down the corridor towards the building’s spacious foyer. The Major gazed after him.

"What's up, Mike?" he heard Caroline say. "Who was that chap?"
"I'm afraid," Hartman muttered, "that drink will have to wait. Catch you later."

Running or walking fast would alert his quarry. Who had been trained in the same way that he had. But the need to move at a normal, unhurried pace slowed him down, and by the time he got through the doors into the foyer Beardie was almost out of the building.

The Major’s eyes flashed to the revolving doors in the glass front of the building, saw the bearded man pass through them onto the pavement. Shit, Hartman thought. In a second he might be lost in the crowds.

Once outside Hartman looked around; to his left, to his right, across the road. There was no immediate sign of the man he was searching for; the mass of people was simply too dense. If he walked in one direction, and it proved to be the wrong one, he would have lost his quarry by the time he had decided to try the other.

All he could do was let the police and Hereford know right away. Though they probably wouldn't find the man.

And when the Major returned to the College, Caroline was gone too. All he could do was turn and trudge off sadly in the direction of the Tube. She'd probably pop up again sooner or later, as she had a habit of doing.

His thoughts turned to the former Sergeant Frank Bruton. So Bruton had gone all environmental. Maybe he was a nice guy now, into love and peace and caring for the lonely, beautiful planet on which we live. But the Major didn't think so. If he was a nice guy he'd go to the police and turn himself in for what he had done. And then there had been the eyes.


On the afternoon of the following day Flight 349 touched down at Nassau. As it happened, Marcotech were watching the airport. They had stationed a team of agents there who according to a rota system sauntered about the foyer of the main building, their eyes roving over those who passed through the terminal doors. But as Caroline had expected, they didn't connect the redhead in the dark glasses, with a face that was pretty in a plump sort of way, who got off the plane with the blonde who'd been causing them so much trouble of late.

She stepped down onto Bahamian soil at about the same time that a special delivery for Dr Ivarson from IPL arrived at Indian Quay.


As his train began to wind its way out of Paddington mainline station, bound for Hereford, the Major cast his mind back a year or so to the incident which had torn Frank Bruton violently from the bosom of Her Majesty’s armed forces and plunged him into a dark and terrible new world where things lurked that a sane man didn’t care to contemplate.

The SAS took care not to employ people who were psychotic. There was, of course, no sure way of knowing what a man was bottling up beneath his apparently calm and normal surface. Dark thoughts and evil desires, maybe, born of the bitterness engendered by broken homes, violent fathers, prostitute mothers, bullying schoolmates.

Generally those who had such desires did their best to keep them hidden. But every now and then something or other might unexpectedly happen to trigger them off.

Bruton was in the Major's squad as a sergeant. They had been working their way towards the Iraqi positions, with the aim of sneaking past them and breaking into the radio station by which the local Iraqi commander maintained communications with his troops. Secrecy and stealth were all-important.

The squad had split into two groups. Bruton was in command of one, the Major of the other. Bruton's group concealed itself in a wadi, a dry ditch of the kind with which Middle Eastern deserts are criss-crossed, and began working their way along it towards their goal. The two young shepherd boys had stumbled on their hiding place while looking for lost members of their flock. Admittedly the SAS could not have been sure where their loyalties lay, indeed weren't to this day. But at the time, as one of Bruton's men later told the Major, they just looked like two frightened teenagers.

Bruton's reasoning was this. Even if not virulently anti-British, they might still consider it their duty to report what they had seen to the military authorities. That could blow the whole operation. It was also the case that the Iraqis didn't treat their prisoners too well. Saddam was quite capable of using them as hostages and blaming anything nasty which might happen to them on their own side. They hadn't realised, at that relatively early stage of the war, that he and his sons had more or less given up. In retrospect, the whole war seemed a little pointless, since at the time it broke out Saddam did not in fact possess the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. But the Major had his orders.

It had always been Bruton's opinion that Saddam should have been twatted years before; and, therefore, that no opportunity to get rid of him as quickly as possible should be lost now. Perhaps that had something to do with it, too.

When the two groups met up after the successful attack on the radio stations, the Major detected the current of unease among those who had been in Bruton's. It was in Bruton too. He said nothing until one of the squad approached him in private, hesitantly, and told him what had happened. Afterwards when the fighting was over the Major had gone to the spot where they had been ordered to bury the bodies and dug them up. A medical examination found that they had each been killed by a single bullet, of a type in widespread use with the British Army, in the back of the head. There had not been time for them to be cut out of the two bodies, hopefully removing the incriminating evidence. Bruton was placed under arrest, and at the court martial every man who had been in his group gave evidence against him. Hartman testified to having found the bodies and also come across certain other evidence linking Bruton to the crime. The Major remembered the eyes like knife blades staring at him as he gave that evidence; evidence Bruton had implored him to keep hidden, employing emotional blackmail by reminding him of a time when he had risked his life to save Hartman’s and demanding the favour now be returned. The Major was having none of that.

While on his way to prison to begin his life sentence Bruton managed to escape from his guards, using the skills he had learned in the Regiment to free himself from his handcuffs and overpower them. He was a clever bastard, make no mistake. Soon all trace was lost of him. But he was out there somewhere, disguised and living under a false name, earning his keep from the proceeds of crime.

Suddenly, with no further need to discipline himself for the Regiment's sake, the pent-up aggression and hatred within Bruton exploded. When he reappeared it was as the leader of a gang who specialised in attacks upon the rich, on the people who enjoyed a life of ease while they themselves felt disadvantaged and ignored. Their most notorious crime took place at the country house of a wealthy City businessman. Bruton's experience in the SAS made it easier than for your average nasty criminal to plan such things and, for a time at least, get away with them. They burst into the house, overpowered the businessman and his family and ransacked the place of all its valuables. After they'd had their fun with the wife and daughter, everyone was taken off to a disused factory where, several weeks later, their bound and gagged bodies were found in the flooded basement, roped together. The post-mortem confirmed the family had been still alive when dumped in the water. Forensic evidence found at the scene of the crime led the police to the gang’s hideout, where all but one of them were arrested and charged with multiple murder.
All but one. Once again, Frank Bruton had disappeared.


A ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) is a small, unmanned, highly manouevrable submarine about four feet across, equipped with various sensors and capable of transmitting TV pictures via a fibre optic cable. The cable is one of a cluster which form an umbilical cord linking the little craft to the mother ship, and via which instructions are transmitted to it altering its course, speed and attitude in the water. "What do you use this thing for?" asked Dr Ivarson.


"Inspecting the bottoms of oil rigs, mainly," said Caroline.
I know someone whose bottom I'd like to inspect, he thought, and automatically reprimanded himself for it. Think of her as like a daughter. Not as someone to make love to. After all, you're old enough to be...

The ROV was fitted with thrusters, manipulator arms, gyroscopes and its own inbuilt sonar and navigation systems. Along with its other sensors, which provided continuous and comprehensive information on the machine’s environment, the images on the ROV’s cameras, whose angle could be adjusted, would help its operator on the mother ship to gauge its position and reorientate it as necessary.

At its stern the Oceanus already had a launch platform for an ROV, from which the little sub had a few minutes ago been lowered into the sea by winch, and a control centre adjacent to it within the superstructure where Ivarson now sat at a console operating the machine by means of a joystick. They were moored about six hundred feet – about the limit to which the ROV’s tether could extend – from the Marcotech warning buoys. So far their presence here was not being objected to. The ever-present helicopter had circled overhead for a few minutes, but they didn't think its pilot had seen them actually lowering the ROV into the water. If they had, and were upset by that, then it was for them to complain.

Caroline was staying inside as much of the time as possible, just in case Marcotech’s long-range scanning equipment, which could get a more detailed view of something than the naked eye at close quarters, spotted her and saw through her disguise. She was very much aware of Marcotech’s warning. That they were still on her and Ivarson’s case was undisputed; three nights ago while Ivarson was sleeping someone had got on board the ship and sabotaged the diving gear, cutting the regulator hoses, snipping the O-rings with scissors, and putting sand in the cylinders. Happily Fort Cumbernauld, which didn’t seem to have been got at by anyone yet, had loaned them replacements.

Would Marcotech try anything out here? Caroline wondered uneasily. No, she decided, it was too open. They were outside the exclusion zone, or at least the Oceanus itself was, and a passing aircraft or boat might easily come along and notice. Besides, at the first sign of trouble they’d radio the Coastguard, plus a lot of other people if time, and let them know exactly what was happening. After all, there surely had to be a limit to how secret one could keep these things.
"Reckon you've thrown them off your trail?" Devon asked her.
"I hope so," Caroline said.

They were watching the view from the ROV’s cameras on the monitor screens, Caroline sitting beside Ivarson, Devon standing in the background with his arms folded.
"You sure you oughtn't to get out of this now?" Ivarson asked again.
"I'm sure. Remember, we want to find out what's happened to those tanker crews. They've got families, remember. There's that to bear in mind if nothing else."

"They're probably watching the boat," Ivarson told her. "Though I haven't seen anything. They'll probably guess what we're up to."
"We should find what we're looking for very soon. Then maybe we can wind the whole thing up and go home."

They fell silent, watching the ROV as it cruised smoothly along just above the bottom. Ivarson glanced at one of the screens, saw a sheet of rusted metal from another wartime wreck appear just in front of it, and pulled the joystick to the right, the ROV moving with it.

Since one square metre of sea bed looked much the same as another, they soon started talking again to relieve the boredom. "Do you think we'll see the squid?" Caroline asked.

"Not if it really is avoiding the Marcotech place. And I'm not sure why it would. If it is I want to know the reason for that. Because it must be or they'd be a bit more worried than they are."

The screen was fuzzy and not that clear, as with many underwater pictures. It gave the underwater landscape before their eyes a weird, surreal look.
“Two hundred yards to go,” Ivarson announced.

They waited, tense with nervous excitement. Finally a hazy, ghostly shape loomed up out of the gloom, encrusted in places with barnacles. This must be the grid which surrounded the Marcotech installation and kept unwelcome intruders out of it. Beyond that they couldn't see.

Ivarson's fingers played over his control panel. One of the openings in the grid grew steadily larger as the ROV approached it, until it took up the whole of the picture. The minisub passed through it.

The three of them glanced delightedly at each other. In a moment, perhaps, they would find the answers they had been looking for.


It waited behind the rock until it sensed the intruder was close, and then slid silently out from its hiding place, gliding smoothly through the water like a shark, or other fish, hunting for its prey. The lens at the thing's front end focused on the ROV as it approached, but it made sure to keep itself at such an angle to the minisub that it could not itself be seen.

The ROV's image was relayed onto its VDU, where cross-hairs appeared around it. Data scrolled up and down the screen as the computer which served as the hunter's brain calculated the distance to the target.

The stubby tubular protrusion beneath the lens telescoped out, and the miniature torpedo, containing a small but very powerful explosive charge, streaked from its muzzle, striking home in little more than a few seconds. In a shower of bubbles the ROV blew apart.

On the screen before Ivarson the picture suddenly vanished, breaking up into a blur of crackling static.
Angrily he bounded from his seat. "What happened?"
"Dunno. We just lost it," Devon said.

Ivarson's fist slammed down on the edge of the console. "Shit!" He collapsed heavily into his chair, glaring at the wall in helpless rage.

“Could have been some animal or other,” Caroline said.
“Yeah. Or maybe Marcotech detected the ROV and knocked it out somehow.” He drew a soft, bitter breath.
“So how are we going to find out what’s down there now?” Devon asked practically.

No-one seemed to have an answer to this, until suddenly Caroline broke into a smile.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve got just the thing.”

The Major had reported his sighting of Frank Bruton to his superiors and the police. They thanked him for the information, said they were noting it down and told him they’d be in touch if anything came to light. Somehow the Major didn’t think it would.

As it happened their quarry was already out of the country, although he had not yet set foot in another, being at that moment thousands of feet above the Atlantic in a Boeing 747. As soon as he had realised his disguise was blown he had gone straight to the airport and bought a ticket to Miami. From there he intended to catch another plane, this time to the Bahamas.

Before boarding his flight he had spent some time in the men’s washrooms shaving off his beard.

During what remained of the journey to America, he reflected on what he had seen earlier in the day at Greatrix’s talk. The way the Major’s and the girl’s voices had dropped, as the voices do of people who have a good relationship with each other when they are discussing matters they wish to be kept confidential. But their tone and inflection when they spoke, together with their body language, suggested to Frank Bruton’s mind something rather more than that.

Frank Bruton pursed his lips in a businesslike fashion, filing the knowledge away in a corner of his mind for future reference. Altogether, what he had witnessed between the couple was interesting. Very interesting. And potentially useful, maybe.


TWENTY-THREE
Ivarson had gone into Freeport to buy some supplies. When he returned there seemed to be some kind of commotion going on on the quay.

He trod on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt, and got out, regarding the spectacle in amazement and disbelief. A giant mobile crane was parked on the quay, its boom extended high above the deck of the Oceanus, and carried in the sling suspended from its hook was a DSV - Deep Submergence Vehicle - which the crane was in the act of lowering onto the ship. Beside the 18-wheeled juggernaut stood the flatbed truck, equally massive, which had brought the submersible here. aroline had insisted on directing operations, and was jumping about excitedly, waving her arms around and shouting out directions Ivarson was sure were quite unnecessary.

Ivarson watched as the crane's forty-ton load settled gently onto the ship's deck, and two overalled workmen from the haulage company set to work detaching the sling from the craft. She'd deliberately kept it a secret from him so he'd be more impressed. He didn't mind in the least.

Essentially a two-person minisub, the DSV could operate under its own power using a diesel-electric motor and ballast tanks which enabled it to descend and ascend as required. It could go down as deep as 13,000 feet if necessary.

He studied it with affection. The craft looked like an enormous yellow bug, with its rounded, bulging front end in which a single observation port was mounted, and the two manipulator arms, each ending in a pincer-like claw, with various other appendages below. It was about fifty feet long.

He guessed Caroline’s reasoning: if they were down there themselves they could be more in control of the situation. And they'd be safer from a giant squid attack in a DSV, for the creature's beak wasn't quite strong enough to bite through solid metal. They weren’t planning on leaving it, although it had a pressure chamber from which divers could enter and exit.

He went over to her. "Well done," he grinned. "Where the
heck did you manage to get hold of that?"
"From our people at Houston," she said. "I told them we'd made a strike here. And anyway, it was company business."
"All the same, it must help to be a pretty blonde," he observed, with more than a hint of cynicism.
"If that was a solution to everything, we wouldn't have a problem with Marcotech," she pointed out.
"Guess not."
"And if it’s that much of an asset, then it’s a pity there aren’t more of us,” she suggested.
Ivarson didn't commit himself on this point. “I guess you use it for general underwater surveying?” Plus rig maintenance, if for some reason it wasn’t possible to use either an ROV or a human diver.

She nodded. "It doesn't get used much, except when the unmanned vehicle breaks down. Super though, isn't it?" Again she grinned, and as always it seemed to light up the whole world, or so Ivarson felt. “Another thing you have to thank the oil industry for. Normally they wouldn't have been so happy to part with the thing, though. We'd better take good care of it."
“That means letting me do the driving.”
“Well, you know how to handle these things. When shall we go down?"
"How about tomorrow? We couldn't get through the fence in that thing though. It's too big."
"We might be able to go over the top. Anyhow, the only way of finding out will be to do it."


These days, with the hot weather extending into September and October, a lot of people were taking holidays in their own countries. But to John Howard from Manchester, England, that seemed silly. Why go to somewhere you already knew, which would be bound to become boring after a year or two? So against his wife Mary’s wishes he’d insisted they save up for a holiday in the Bahamas, having heard good reports about the place from one or two people who’d been there.

They might not have picked the right time, with the growing recession because of the problems the oil industry was having. And somehow the place seemed dead, dispirited, everyone whether tourist or native going about their business in a lethargic, mechanical way which suggested they were merely doing the honours.
What had gone wrong?

Today, having spent enough time on the beach over the past few days, John had decided they should go for a cruise around Grand Bahama and Abacos. The boat wasn’t as full as they had expected, but that was OK for it gave them a bit of peace and quiet. Boarding, the four of them – John, Mary, twelve-year old son Ricky and daughter Helen, fifteen, found a table on the promenade deck and took their places.

As they moved off along the southern coast of Grand Bahama, and Mary Howard glanced idly over to the landward side of the vessel, she saw that there weren’t many people on the beaches either, and remarked on this to her husband.

The man sitting at the table next to theirs overheard. “There’s a shark about apparently, a big one – great white. It’s killed one or two people, so I hear.”
“Thanks, pal,” grumbled John, glowering at him.
“I should think we’ll be alright here,” his wife said reassuringly, trying to smooth things over.

Immersed in her I-Pod, Helen was oblivious to the conversation, gazing vacuously out to sea in an amiable daydream.

John leaned back luxuriously, stretching out arms and legs as far as they’d go. “I feel like a drink,” he announced, but stayed sprawled in his chair, making no move to go and get it. The bar was right at the other end of the deck.
“Well shall I go, dear?” Mary suggested.
“If you like,” he answered, yawning.

“Dad, can I get it?” piped up Ricky excitedly. It seemed a very grown-up thing to do. It would be almost the first time he’d ever budged from the sight of a parent or teacher. Ricky had been what you might call a late developer.
John’s eyes narrowed. “You’re too young,” he said.
“Oh please, Dad.”
“He’s only going to the bar, dear. I doubt if anything’s going to happen to him in that time.”
“You take care,” said John darkly.
“Will you get us a Diet Coke and a –“ Mary glanced enquiringly at her husband.
“I’ll have a Shandy if they’ve got one. If not, a Coke. Pint, in a a glass.”
“Me too,” Mary told her son.
“Can I buy a drink for myself too, afterwards?” Ricky asked.
“As long as it’s only Coke. Or Lemonade.”
“They don’t serve alcohol on these trips anyway,” Mary pointed out. “For safety reasons.”

John glanced briefly at Helen, then decided not to bother. “Off you go then,” he grunted to Ricky. “And take care. Don’t talk to anyone except the barman, of course.”

“Oh, thanks Dad! Thanks, Mum!” Ricky turned excitedly and scampered off.
“The money!” John bellowed after him.
“I’ve got enough,” Ricky shouted, and went on his way. John kept his eyes on the boy throughout his journey to the bar and back, leaving Mary to bury herself in a paperback Joanna Trollope and Helen to listen to whatever rubbish that wretched machine was playing.
By now they had rounded the western tip of the island.

As Ricky came up to the table with the two brimming glasses in his hands, he seemed to sway and stumble. Some of the contents splashed onto the floor, and some onto John’s sleeve. “Careful, you idiot,” he bellowed.
“Sorry,” Ricky gabbled nervously.

Mary turned to her son. “Do be careful, love,” she said gently.
“It wasn’t my fault,” the boy protested. “The boat moved.”
His father looked sceptical.

Then the ashtray on the table shook and rattled, travelling an inch or two towards its edge, without any need of a helping hand from Ricky.
“See, I told you so!” the boy said triumphantly.

The boat gave a slight lurch, noticeable this time. Helen merely frowned, but John and Mary glanced at one another anxiously.
“Probably hit a swell,” John grunted. “Nothing to worry about.”

The vessel lurched a third time, much more violently. Now everyone was looking to their neighbour uneasily, a current of fear travelling along the deck from one end to the other. That was more than just a swell, surely.
"We've hit something," a woman suggested.
"You mean, like a wreck?" That would be dangerous, surely.
They waited for some announcement from the crew.

“I’m going to see if I can spot anything,” declared John, as if he might be able to remedy the situation if he could. He heaved his body from the chair and waddled over to the safety rail.

The ocean looked as calm and still as a millpond. He walked all the way round the deck but could see nothing strange or alarming.

Then he happened to glance down and saw in the water, rising to just a few feet below the surface, a vast, grey-white, mountain-like shape. He couldn’t be quite sure but it looked as if it was moving, flesh shifting and rippling, and from that and the general sensation it gave off he knew the thing was alive.

Its sheer size was awesome, terrifying. He stared down at it, a cold sweat breaking out all over him as he realised it was big enough to sink the boat. If that happened he would be helpless in the water, miles from shore, and….

He spun round from the rail. “There’s some kind of animal down there!” he babbled. “A whale or something. It’s huge!”

Immediately his manner began to affect the rest of the passengers. Women screamed and leaped from their seats, men tried to take charge or ran off to find the nearest steward. A waitress was hovering uncertainly.

Then the creature slammed into the boat with an impact that tilted it through ninety degrees, sending waves of terror through all those on board. In the salon plates and food slid off the table, bottles fell to the floor and smashed.

The ship tilted again, this time in the other direction. And again. The passengers were thrown about helplessly, screaming in fear and pain and panic. People were slammed into walls, trampled underfoot, buried by the bodies that sprawled on top of them, cracked their heads against tables and lost consciousness. They screamed for their children, their parents, their mothers and fathers and husbands and wives. The stewards were running confusedly in all directions, shouting to one another. “What is it? What’s going on? Does anyone know?”

The captain was already sending out a distress signal. But he dared not evacuate the vessel, because he knew that whatever was causing this must be alive and very big and once in the water, in the lifeboats, they would all be helpless and at its mercy. He couldn’t risk that. There was nothing they could do but stay here until help came. But the passengers were yelling at the stewards to do something, and all efforts to calm them down were failing. The captain’s message over the tannoy, instructing everyone not to panic but keep hold of their children and wait for the Coastguard to arrive went unheeded. In any case, he thought despairingly, what could the Coastguard do when they got here, without the right equipment? This thing was big. It was……

The creature continued to ram the Spirit of the Isles in a bid to overturn it. It was not the ship itself it sought to devour, because despite the vibrations from the propeller and engines it knew this was no living thing. What it could sense was the scent from the flesh and blood bodies packed tightly together inside it. Maddened, it opened its jaws wide and ripped savagely at the belly of the Spirit, tearing it open like a sardine can.

The water flooded along the corridors and into all the rooms, its weight dragging the ship down. It washed over the deck and into the salon until the passengers were ankle-deep in it. Children sobbed and shrieked in terror, infected by their parents’ own fear and helplessness.

Suddenly the Spirit keeled over onto its side and began to sink. The water continued to pour in through the door of the salon, swamping bodies that lay unconscious or stunned, or trapped beneath other bodies and unable to move. Some passengers, John Howard included, had already abandoned their families and thrown themselves into the sea in blind hysteria. Soon everyone else had joined them, for there was nothing else left to do. Those who could not swim grabbed frantically at floating fragments of debris, or at other passengers who fought them off savagely, afraid of being pulled down.

Somehow, Mary Howard had managed to keep hold of Ricky throughout, jumping into the water with the boy in her arms. Fortunately both of them could swim. Her husband, floundering in the water with all four limbs thrashing about spastically, wasn’t so lucky. Mary thought she glimpsed him for a moment, some distance away, going under and then bobbing up again for a second before their view of him was blotted out by the massive shape which erupted from the water, a great red door opening in it as it rose up over the sinking wreck of the cruise ship. It plunged down, causing a massive wave which tore mother and son apart and sent them spinning helplessly through the water for yards and yards. When it came up again there was no sign of John Howard, or of a dozen others.

The creature snapped at the bodies in the water, once devouring about a dozen at the same time, until its appetite was sated and it disappeared back beneath the surface. When it had gone only eight were left alive. Among the lucky few were Ricky Howard and his mother (the creature had swallowed Helen whole, I-Pod and all). But Mary knew she would be haunted until the end of her days by the memory of that monstrous shape bursting from the sea, the mouth like a great furnace and those eyes glaring with what seemed a very real malice, as if she was living on borrowed time and the thing was making up for her escape from it, waiting until she drew her last breath to claim her as its own.


TWENTY-FOUR
His ebony features screwed up in a puzzled frown, a Coastguard official beside him, Rod Sherman walked among the assorted pieces of debris laid out on a cordoned-off section of the seafront at Freeport, pausing every now and then to scrutinize one carefully. Sherman worked at the Diving Centre at Fort Cumbernauld. Although he wasn’t a marine biologist by training, like Donald Ivarson, his work did involve a certain knowledge of the marine animal and plant life around the Bahamas. So since Ivarson was off doing a very important survey when news of the loss of the cruise ship had come in, they’d roped him in to hopefully give some initial pointers to the cause of the disaster.

“It looks from the eyewitness accounts and from the distress call they sent out as if something attacked the ship, some large animal,” the Coastguardman had told him. “Unfortunately the survivors are still in a state of shock, we can’t get much sense out of them right now. But they’re babbling about something big coming out of the sea and swallowing people up. We’ve recovered what looks like a half-eaten body, which is in the mortuary over there. We’d like you to take a look at it later.” The man sounded subdued and worried beneath his businesslike tone. After all, nothing like this had ever been reported before, anywhere. What was there in the sea that could sink an entire cruise ship?

“According to one eyewitness it had lots of teeth,” he’d added. “That’s about all we can say about it at the moment.”

“Doesn’t sound like our friendly giant squid,” Sherman frowned. “I don’t think it’s quite big enough to do something like this, anyway.”
“What, then? A….a sea serpent?”

“I may be able to tell you once I’ve had a look at the evidence. Of course if it’s some kind of completely new animal, we won’t have a heck a lot to go on.”

He halted by the largest of the chunks of wreckage, a torn and twisted fragment of metal thirty feet long, and knelt to examine it. “That came from the underside of the hull,” the Coastguardsman said. “What do you reckon?”

“If it was a squid I guess I’d be looking for sucker marks, but I can’t see any. Only I don’t know what sort of an imprint they’d leave on metal.” The edges of the fragment were serrated, divided into a number of sharp projecting sections each of which seemed slightly curved. Sherman ran his finger carefully over one. “This was done by teeth, all right.” Teeth set in rows parallel to the jaw. And the way the fragment was buckled also struck him. After ripping open the hull the creature had grasped the edge of the hole it had made and twisted.

He went very quiet, overcome with amazement at what he was seeing. Eventually he stood up. “The general pattern of the damage,” he said slowly, “seems to suggest a shark attack. Probably a great white.”

The Coastguardman reeled visibly, all colour draining from his face. His eyes bulged, his jaw dropped. "That big?"

“Uh-huh,” Sherman nodded, his voice a soft murmur. “That big.”

He saw that the other was sweating. With fear. “B-but to wreck a boat this size, it’d have to be….have to be getting on for a hundred feet. At least.”

“That van Leyden woman,” Sherman muttered. They’d thought a freak wave had overturned the yacht, causing her to fall into the water where she either drowned or was killed by a shark. Certainly some predator had made short work of her body, judging by the few fragments of flesh and bone that had been found. “It fits.”

There seemed to be a pattern involved. As the shark grew, it needed more and more food. A normal-sized great white could go without nutrition for long periods, and afford to be choosy in what it selected as prey. A monster like this, however, needed to be constantly fed. It was not good, not good at all.

With an effort the Coastguardman succeeded in regaining his composure. He turned away and stared out to sea. “First the squid and now this,” he muttered. "What's going on down there?"


Devon at the controls, the crane on the platform at the rear of the Oceanus swung its load out over the sea. Slowly it lowered the DSV, with Caroline and Ivarson inside, into the water. The sling came away, Ivarson released a little of the ballast, and the craft sank beneath the surface to a depth of about twenty feet. Ivarson started the motors, and it started to move off towards where they judged the Marcotech base to be, travelling smoothly through the clear water at approximately five miles per hour.

Let’s hope nothing goes wrong this time, thought Caroline nervously. She hadn’t told IPL she’d already lost one expensive item of equipment, as then they’d have been most unlikely to lend the DSV. God, she was pushing her luck here.

They sat and stared through the window, seeing nothing but fish and other, usually small marine animals, plus the thousands of particles swirling in the water and occasionally obscuring visibility. A quite big fish sneaked up on a smaller one, suddenly darting towards it with jaws open wide and swallowing it in one gulp. "Ugh," Caroline winced.
"You still can't get used to it, can you?" Ivarson remarked.

"I suppose as a woman I don't like the idea of things killing each other. I guess it's because we give birth and all that; we're accustomed to bringing life into the world."

He shot her a sly, sideways glance. "But you'd eat fish for supper. Or chicken kiev." A sudden thought occurred to him and he looked apologetic. "Or are you a vegetarian?"
"I follow a sensible balanced diet."
"But you're not a vegetarian - in the normal sense of the word?"

"No way. I wouldn't be happy if I couldn't sink my teeth into a nice juicy piece of steak once in a while. And if you enjoy your food then you feel better generally. Actually some vegetarians I know are pretty unhealthy.

"It's OK if you want it. But not everyone can live that way, and the people who say you can are falling into the trap of thinking what's good for them is good for everyone else. And how do we know a plant doesn't feel pain when you uproot it? Deciding it's OK to eat some living things but not others is like playing God, when you don't have His omniscience.”

"Guess so,” Ivarson grunted. “If some animals eat plants it's only so that they can be eaten by other animals. The whole system's designed for that to happen." He seemed reflective. “It’s all so complex and clever, you’re tempted to conclude it was designed by a creative intelligence.”

Caroline thought of the patterns on the conch shell she had found on the beach. Could such intricate design, such an exquisitely fashioned work of art, really be just the result of an accident?

“But whether I'd like to meet him or not, I dunno. I mean, what sort of character would make a world where things had to eat each other to survive?"
"Perhaps he had to do things that way," Caroline said.

"I thought God was supposed to be able to do everything," Ivarson grunted. "I’m sure He could've figured out a better solution."

"But he can't, can he? I mean, if he could do everything he'd be able to make a stone that was too heavy for him to lift, and then he couldn’t do everything. So maybe there are other things he can't do. Maybe he can't create an ecosystem in which animals don't have to prey on each other all the time."

"I see. So what's it going to be like in Heaven? Are animals gonna be eating each other there too?"
"Well Heaven will be different. That's what I'm told, anyway."
"So he can make Heaven without any suffering in it, but not this world."
"Seems so."
“Why’s that, then?”

“I don’t know. I’m told Original Sin infected the whole of Creation, and was allowed to do that as a punishment for eating the Forbidden Fruit. Maybe the suffering’s meant to be some kind of test. If animals “suffer” when they’re killed, and that’s something we don’t know. Whatever the reason is, it would be a bit unfair if the animals were exempted from it and people weren’t.”

“No argument. But what I can’t stand is people killing animals for pleasure.”

“Let me ask you something, then. You’re a bit more left-wing than I am, I suspect.”
“Well, I vote Democrat.”

“I’m no longer a card-carrying member of the Tory Party. But anyway, you’d be defensive of people like the Red Indians – so sorry, Native Americans – who’ve tended to stay at home and mind the ecology while all us nasty honkies are aggressive, imperialist polluters.”
“Guess I would,” he agreed.

“Only the – Indians thought they’d be killing animals in Heaven, when surely they’d have no need to. The Happy Hunting Ground and all that. And nobody finds anything wrong with it. But if white people in England want to hunt foxes the left-wingers goes on about how cruel it is."
"And where do you stand?"

"I don't like fox hunting," she answered. "I just think people should be consistent. I don't like hypocrisy either."

"Maybe the hunting's part of an uptown Brit’s culture," he suggested. "Like it was for the Indians."

"Maybe," she said. They returned their attention to the screen. “Not far to go now," Ivarson commented.

The DSV’s sonar equipment had started pinging, and a faint light trace had appeared on its screen. “Looks like a sub,” Ivarson muttered, studying the readings. “Big. Must be the one that delivers supplies to the base.”

“If we can pick them up on our sonar,” Caroline said, “they must be able to pick us up on theirs.”

“But we might be a large animal of some kind,” Ivarson pointed out. “Like that squid.”

She saw him stiffen. "What's up?" she asked nervously.
"I just thought I saw something. Something big."
"It wasn’t the - "

"Maybe. Not sure if it was moving." They continued to watch the white sandy floor of the sea bed pass by.
"What's that?" Caroline yelled suddenly, and pointed.

It looked like a huge mound on the sea bed, an underwater mountain; except that the shape seemed wrong. A great mass of something or other, smoother in outline than most of the rocks on the sea bed and a hundred times bigger. Its surface was rough and encrusted with barnacles. There was something odd about it, something which suggested it ought not to be there.

"No idea," breathed Ivarson softly. He was clearly fascinated. "I'm gonna take us in closer."
They studied it closely. And suddenly realised, with awe and astonishment, what it was they were looking at.
"Shit," Ivarson gasped. "It's a blue whale. A Goddamn blue fucking whale."

They saw the flipper-like appendage hanging limply at the thing's side, the huge jaws with the baleen plates, the enormous fluked tail, and one huge eye the size of a car staring glassily at them.

"It's even bigger than they normally get," he whispered, not quite able to believe what he saw.
"How big's that?"
"Hundred feet. But this one's more like two hundred, I'd swear."

"It looks dead to me." The comment was barely necessary. The vast hulk of the creature continued to lie on its side, utterly still, while tiny fish clustered around it, beginning to feed on its blubbery tissue.

Slowly Ivarson breathed in, then out. "Wow," he whispered. "Holy mother of God." Collecting his thoughts, he took on a lecturer's tone. "You know why it's dead? Because it's too big to support itself. An animal that size, the nerve endings would be so long that messages would take ages to travel from the brain and back. Couldn't swim fast enough to catch its food; must have have been barely able to move at all."
"This can't be a coincidence," said Caroline.

"Whales move about a lot. But I guess it was here when whatever happened that made it so big. First the squid and now this. Something's been making the marine life grow."
"And the octopus?"
"That too, at a guess. Most probably it's still growing."

"Marcotech," Caroline said softly as the truth hit her. "They're hoping everyone's going to be too scared of all these monsters, or too busy trying to hunt them, to bother about what's going on at their base."

"Yeah. Dunno how they did it exactly. By growth hormones, or genetic engineering, often it amounts to the same thing. Or something they’ve been putting in the water. They'd have the know-how."
"What about the whale? Whales aren't usually dangerous."

"I guess that was an accident.” His face twisted with anger. "The stupid assholes, do they have the slightest idea what they're doing? They say they're into conservation, but if this thing spreads it could screw up the whole ecosystem."
"Greatrix seemed like a man who knew what he was about," Caroline mused.

"We must get proof of this.” Ivarson adjusted the angle of the DSV’s cameras, and took a quick shot of the enormous corpse. Then the craft moved on.
"Not a lot of fish about," observed Caroline.
"Because these things are eating them," Ivarson said.

A shoal of fish suddenly erupted into view from nowhere, or so it seemed, the water around and ahead of the DSV filling with them.
"Where did that lot come from?" Caroline asked.
"At a guess, from the Marcotech place." Ivarson glanced in the direction they were heading.

On another screen a light was flashing on and off, in synch with a pinging note slightly different from that of the sonar. The DSV’s echosounders had detected something large a short distance ahead. “That’s it,” said Ivarson.

The outline of the grid surrounding the Marcotech base loomed up before them. They saw a fish brush against one of its stanchions. Suddenly and violently it recoiled from the metal surface, thrashing from side to side. Then, seeming to lose all buoyancy, it sank slowly to the bottom where it twitched a couple of times and then lay still.

Generally most fish, they realised, seemed to be avoiding the structure. "It's electrified," said Ivarson. "One way of keeping out the squid. There's probably a sensor which turns on the current whenever it detects vibrations in the water, meaning something is approaching."
"But it could get in over the top."
"Only if it's completely enclosed."

"It’s more proof," Caroline said. "If it were needed. They've made sure that whatever happens it won't attack them."

"Let's see how far up it goes," Ivarson said. He pulled on the joystick; the DSV quivered then began to ascend slowly. The gauge on the console showed five hundred feet, four hundred and fifty, four hundred.

Suddenly the fence came to an end. "Looks like Marcotech were lying," Ivarson said. "Still quite a way to go.”
"So the squid could get in that way?"
"If it came to the surface at all, and they do."

So we could, she thought, and then immediately lost enthusiasm for the idea. “I think we ought to go back now. Something tells me we’ve seen all we need to.”

Ivarson met her eyes, grunted in agreement. “No point in stirring up any shit.” The cameras had been running all the time since they’d found the whale; they had enough evidence now.
The DSV continued to rise steadily.
“Besides….” Ivarson looked suddenly afraid.
“Besides what?”
"Shit," he gasped.
"What?"
"If the whale was two hundred feet long," he said slowly, "if it could get that big, then the squid....."

It was at that very moment that the water around them seemed to fill with the darting shapes of fish. This time they were fleeing from something.
The sonar was going haywire.

"Look!" she screamed, jumping from her seat and pointing at the screen, onto which the camera on the DSV’s tail was relaying a picture of everything in its vision field. "Look!"

Ivarson too sprang from his chair. "The Goddamn size of it!" he shouted.

They stared in horrified fascination at the shape on the screen as it shot through the water towards them, tentacles rippling…. If it was the same one that had attacked Caroline, it must have grown considerably since their encounter. Then she had been unable to work out the size, but she could have sworn on her mother’s life that this was much, much bigger; over a hundred feet in length, at least. And capable of doing them quite considerable damage.
That was the thing I saw, Ivarson suddenly realised.

"It's coming straight for us!" Caroline screamed. "It's going to attack!"
They could see, at the centre of the mass of tentacles, the fearsome beak, obscenely like that of the more familiar parrot, and on either side of the head the huge eyes, now some ten feet across.

Ivarson twisted the joystick, slewing the DSV to the left until it was at an angle to the squid’s attack. If the impact shattered the window....

With terrifying, nerve-shredding force the squid slammed into the DSV. As they were thrown from their seats they felt the submarine lurch sideways through the water, its whole fabric shuddering from the impact.

For a few seconds the DSV bucked madly, the floor jerking up and then down to send them shooting all over it, quite unable to stand up. Violent tremors ran through the structure of the craft and through them. Then it steadied, the juddering ceasing. Ivarson scrambled to his feet and ran to the observation window. Its screen was completely blocked by the body of the squid, a squirming, shifting mass of pulpy tissue pressing itself against the glass.

He glanced at the instruments. They weren't sinking, but weren't moving either. The squid had got hold of them with its tentacles.

He boosted the engines to full power. The sub lurched backwards and forwards as the motors struggled to pull it free of the monster's grip, without success. They heard the hideous groaning and shrieking of metal under stress as it tightened its grip.

They only just managed to keep their balance as the sub began shuddering again. "What can we do?" Caroline shouted.
"Dunno! I Just hope it can't...."

Then to their horror, a section of the cabin wall began to crumple, bulging inwards. Ivarson broke out into a cold, sticky sweat as he realised what was happening. "It's trying to bite through the hull!"

Thin jets of water spurted into the cabin from all directions, cris-crossing over one another, as the metal distorted and fractured, rivets popping from their sockets.

The groaning and screeching all around them was getting louder. "The hull's not gonna stand it," Ivarson yelled. "It'll go any moment."

Caroline thought fast. "Get your kit on!" she shouted to him. They ran to the back of the cabin where the scuba gear was stored. Though they hadn't planned on any extra-vehicular activity, it had been taken along in case of trouble.

There was no time for Ivarson to ask what she had in mind. Hurriedly they donned their buoyancy compensators, tanks and masks, inserted the mouthpieces of their regulators between their lips. Something told them there would be no time to struggle with the clumsy flippers, so they left them where they were.

In one sudden, terrifying moment the hull burst open, water cascading into the cabin, and in the jagged hole appeared the razor-sharp parrot-like beak of the squid, surrounded by a heaving, pulsating, twitching mass of muscle. The rasping tongue darted backwards and forwards. It was all Caroline could do to stop herself from screaming.

Fortunately, the body of the squid was more or less blocking the hole as it tried to thrust itself in. But water continued to pour in from the edges, forced through by pressure. In moments it had formed a frothing, swirling pool around their feet.

The beak made a clacking noise as it snapped at them hungrily. They could see the rows of chitinous teeth that studded the rasping tongue. The squid struggled to get at its prey, more of the hull peeling back as it forced its body through inch by inch. Gradually, more of the pulpy pink-white mass was revealed as the opening grew bigger.

Caroline ran to the rear wall of the DSV’s cabin and snatched one of the two fire extinguishers from its place there, gesturing to Ivarson to grab the other. She aimed it straight at the monstrous beak, and as it snapped open once more squeezed the trigger.

The jet of ice-cold CO2 shot from the nozzle at high pressure, right down the monster's pulsating gullet. Ivarson joined her, giving it a second blast in the same place.

As Caroline had hoped, the squid didn't like it. They heard a shrill, high-pitched screech and in an instant it was gone, the folds of blubbery tissue vanishing from view.

In less than a second the water had flooded into the cabin and filled it. The swirling torrent hit Caroline and Ivarson and tossed them about. Instinctively they put up their hands to protect their faces, as it slammed Ivarson against the wall and Caroline the instrument console. Then it washed them out, sucking them through the hole.

The wounded submersible sank slowly with the weight of the water filling it, sending up huge clouds of silt as it hit the bottom and tilted over onto its side.

They tilted themselves up into a vertical position, then kicked upwards as hard as they could, propelling themselves towards the surface.

The squid would be out of action for a moment, disorientated by the shock to its delicate invertebrate nervous system. At least that was what they hoped. But Caroline doubted whether it would have been anywhere near enough to kill it. As soon as it recovered, it would presumably go after them. It wouldn’t take it long to realise the DSV couldn’t be eaten.

Kicking out every few seconds, they rose steadily higher. Caroline remembered the drill for an emergency surface ascent. Stay calm and breathe normally. Don't try to conserve air until you got to the surface, you might just black out instead; and don't panic.

It seemed to be working. She was ascending smoothly, buoyed up by the water and by the fact that she had just the tanks and the buoyancy compensator, with no weights to slow her down.

I can do this better than I thought, she realised with a momentary thrill of pleasure.

She had no time to glance at Ivarson to see how he was coping with the sudden ascent. She just concentrated on getting to the surface as fast as she could, but not too fast.

She reckoned she was almost there now. She stopped swimming and flared her arms and legs, relaxing, letting the buoyancy alone carry her to the surface.

Finally she burst up through into the sunlight, feeling the cool fresh air on her face. She waited for a moment till Ivarson's head bobbed up beside hers.

Both splashed around for a moment while they struggled to free themselves from their scuba equipment. Its weight would only hinder them while they swam to the Oceanus.

Caroline yanked the regulator from her mouth. "Make for the ship!" she yelled to Ivarson.

He was gasping for breath, and for a moment didn't seem to hear her. Then he nodded. They struck out overarm for the Oceanus, which had all the time remained close enough to be of assistance in any emergency.

As they neared the survey vessel Ivarson stopped swimming, tilting back into an upright position, and waved to Devon on the deck. The Bahamian had been standing there watching them cautiously. Ivarson removed his mask for a second and shouted out to him. "Devon, it's us! Get the boat out, quick!"

Architeuthis Dux was actually a rather poor swimmer. Its musculature was relatively weak, which together with its huge bulk caused it to move fairly sluggishly in comparison with the smaller, faster varieties of squid. There was no way it could outrun a motorboat with its engine going at full speed.

Better to make for the shore in the boat, Ivarson decided. If the squid could bite through the hull of a DSV, designed to withstand the pressures of far deeper waters than these, it'd make short work of the Oceanus.

They went on swimming as fast as their arms and legs could propel them. Her head coming up out of the water, Caroline saw the motorboat race towards them, then veer a little to the right of their position before starting to slow. She changed direction, making for it.

Devon cut the engine and waited for them to reach him, the boat bobbing gently beneath him on the ocean swell. Caroline, younger and slimmer and fitter, got there first. He helped her clamber over the side into the boat. She turned to look for Ivarson; he was a few yards behind, but not doing too badly.

A minute later he too was scrambling on board. Having made sure they were both OK, Devon turned to the engine.

Caroline screamed as a massive tentacle snaked out of the water and stabbed towards the boat. Devon ducked as it swished through the air just above his head, almost decapitating him.

The tentacle curled round the boat, seized it and with one sharp pull tipped it clean over, spilling its three occupants into the water. Momentarily they floundered helplessly, still in shock from the attack. One thought filled Caroline's mind. Their only chance was to swim for the Oceanus and hope that at least one of them could make it while the squid was finishing off the others. It was harsh but it was better than them all getting it.

Then with a thrust of horror she remembered. Devon with his wooden leg couldn't....

She turned over in the water, keeping herself afloat by paddling her hands and feet, and looked round for him. She saw him splashing about in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, shouting for help. And then disappear suddenly beneath the waves, his scream abruptly choked off by the water filling his lungs. He was gone so fast they knew at once what it was that had claimed him.

There was nothing they could do now except save themselves. With no time to reflect on the horror of Devon’s death Caroline twisted over onto her front and struck out for the Oceanus. She assumed Ivarson was doing the same.

Behind them, the sea where Devon had been filled with red as the squid began to feed. The Bahamian was literally pecked to death, the monstrous beak biting chunks of flesh from him until there was not enough left to keep him alive. The bolting movement of the radula forced the chunks one by one into the squid's buccal cavity, where the muscular oesophagus fed it into the stomach by contractions, acting like a conveyor belt. The enzymes began to break it down.

Caroline and Ivarson continued to plough through the water towards the Oceanus, savagely banishing from their minds the thought that they might not make it. Lose heart now, slacken their pace, and they certainly wouldn't. Don't think about the squid, Caroline kept telling herself. Just don't think about it. They swam on blindly, reduced to mere machines with just one overriding purpose, that of reaching the boat and surviving. Caroline was only vaguely conscious of the dye streaming from her hair and staining the water with red.

By the time they did reach the Oceanus, there was little more than the will to survive keeping them going. Their muscles were screaming in protest as they pushed themselves forward in a desperate bid to cover the last few yards. All they knew was that they were still alive. They daren't stop, couldn’t stop, to think why. Perhaps Devon had satisfied the thing's hunger. Poor Devon...

He’d had lowered the ladder in case of an emergency. Caroline shot out a hand and grabbed the lowest tread. For a moment she hung from it limply, on the point of exhaustion, then with her final reserves of strength clambered up to the deck and collapsed on the planking in a sodden heap. She spat out the pads in her cheeks, which had become dislodged.

She knew she wasn't safe yet. The squid could pluck them effortlessly from the deck with one of its tentacles if it felt so inclined. And where was Dr Ivarson? Had he made it? He wasn't young, after all....

She looked round for him, but it was something else entirely that caught her eye. For the first time she became aware of what had saved them, of what she had been quite oblivious to because of the need to gain the safety of Oceanus. The sea was tossing and churning violently, its surface torn up into a frothy white mass of foam by two massive bodies as they rolled about locked in savage combat. She saw the sleek, evil snout of the great white shark thrust high into the air, making clear by its size that the animal must be well over a hundred feet long; the enormous gaping mouth filled with curved razor-sharp teeth. She saw the squid, its tentacles wrapped tightly around the shark's body, biting savagely at its flesh with its beak. The shark was covered with circular red weals where the suckers on the tentacles had bitten deep into it.

It was an awesome, breathtaking, astonishing spectacle. For a while she could only stand and stare at it open-mouthed, utterly spellbound. The entire sea seemed to be blood red.

A camera, she thought suddenly. I must get my camera. But the battle held her transfixed and she remained where she was, all thought of recording the scene for posterity completely forgotten. The squid went on tearing at the shark with its beak, ripping away huge bloody chunks of meat. The great white thrashed about furiously in a bid to dislodge it, its efforts becoming more and more frenzied as the beak stabbed home repeatedly.

A massive wave surged towards the Oceanus and for a moment Caroline was terrified it would overturn the boat. She had to get to the radio, send out a distress signal.

Again the vessel was rocked violently and she stumbled, tripping and sprawling head-first. She twisted round and stared back at the battle, slightly stunned.

The shark thrust upwards, lifting the glistening pulpy mass of the squid high out of the water. For a moment Caroline saw the whole of the great white's body, water streaming down its sides; the enormous tail, the wickedly pointed dorsal fin as high as a house. One balefully glaring eye seemed to meet hers.

The shark slammed down into the water with an impact that seemed to shock the squid. The tentacles loosened their grip and as the shark went on struggling, breaking it altogether, they fell away. For a moment the squid lay motionless on the surface, stunned. As the shark submerged the massive displacement of water buffeted it, tossing it about helplessly.

Then the shark surfaced again, its massive head, tapering to a blunt point, slamming into the squid with a force that must be equivalent to a pile driver's. The squid was tossed through the air, tentacles flailing, to splash down in a limp shapeless heap. Before it could recover the shark's terrible jaws had snapped shut at a point just above its eyes, biting most of the head and body clean off. The battle of the giants was won.

With a single fluid twisting movement the shark disappeared beneath the surface, dragging its prey down with it. Caroline stayed where she was for some minutes, awestruck by what she had witnessed. Finally snapping out of her daze, she became aware of the strange calm which had descended over everything. The sea was still and calm, though the blood that stained it and the chunks of flesh floating on the surface bore witness to the titanic struggle which had just taken place. She gagged at the sharp, disagreeable tang of ammonia.

She turned at the sound of someone scrambling up the ladder. To her delight the head and shoulders of Donald Ivarson came into view, water dripping from the scientist's beard onto his sodden clothes. He was grinning broadly. He'd lost his glasses at some point, but otherwise didn't seem the worse for their ordeal. She ran to hug him.

"Yeah, I'm OK," he said, patting her on the back. "How about you?"

"Fine. But Devon..did you see?"
Ivarson stared at her, remembering. "Shit," he said, collapsing weakly onto the bench. He didn’t seem to have fully comprehended what had happened. “Shit…oh shit. He was….a good guy.”

His expression altered as he started to absorb the shock. It was clear what he was thinking. This is costing too many lives.

They sat in silence for a moment more. Then Caroline got up, saying they were still in danger and she was going to call the Coastguard. Ivarson nodded dumbly, and she left him to his thoughts.

She returned a couple of minutes later, the task accomplished. Again they fell silent. “Well, we’re still here,” Ivarson observed, smiling weakly. He knew Devon would have wanted them to celebrate the fact rather than go on moping over his death.
"I was worried you wouldn't make it," Caroline said.

"I might not have," he said seriously. "But those waves did me a favour; kept me from sinking." That way Ivarson had conserved the valuable energy he might otherwise have expended in swimming. "What happened?" he asked in puzzlement. "The sea seemed to go mad."

She explained. "I missed that?" he gasped, annoyed and dismayed.
"'Fraid so. I didn’t get a photo of it either. Still, the main thing is we're safe and well. Jolly lucky the shark fancied a taste of calamari. I think its appetite must have been whetted, there's no sign of it at the moment."

"Guess you did the right thing, though. We'll stick around till the Coastguard people get here, and let 'em escort us back to harbour. These seas are getting too dangerous. Besides, we really ought to go into decompression; we did a pretty rapid ESA and there's no telling what it might have done to us. They've got the gear over at Fort Cumbernauld." There was a decompression chamber on the Oceanus itself, but due to Ivarson's staffing problems they had no resident medic to oversee the process.

"We both seem OK, but I guess it's best to be sure," she agreed.
Ivarson glanced at her. She was still soaked to the skin, and the outline of her breasts, her nipples, her wasp waist, and the washboard flatness of her stomach all showed through the tightly clinging wet T-shirt.
Think of her as like a daughter.

"Let's get changed into something drier," he suggested. Once they had done that, they went to the crew room, where they sat in silence sipping from glasses of water. You were advised to drink plenty of the stuff prior to going into decompression, and not to move around too much. So they just stayed where they were remembering Devon, Caroline thinking of his beautiful voice as he sang the old folk songs to her.

As well as Devon they had also lost the DSV. I'm really in the shit now, Caroline thought. Another God knew how many thousand pounds' worth of valuable IPL equipment gone.

"The pictures we took, they went down with the DSV," Ivarson observed gloomily. "And I don't fancy going back down there again."

"But we know now, don’t we? It's obvious Archie-whatever...that the squid was there as a guard."

"Yeah, I think I see what they're doing." The full realisation penetrated his consciousness. "My God! They let the squid start to exhaust the food stocks, then....."

"Then they release the fish into the water so it gets a meal – instead of starving to death, which wouldn’t be any use to them. And afterwards it's often to be found hanging about the fence because it knows that’s one of the places it’s most likely to get food."

"The base covers quite a large area of sea. And over time they'll have penned up a lot of the fish there. At regular intervals they release them so it has a guaranteed food supply."
"But only at regular intervals."
"Right. That's why it's prowling around attacking people and giving them something other than what might be going on at the base to worry about. But it's here enough of the time to dissuade anyone from trying to break in. In any case it doesn’t need to be right on the doorstep, because to get here you’d have to pass through its territory.

"If the squid attacks the base it gets an electric shock. But if it attacks anything trying to enter the base - except the Marcotech sub, which it's probably been taught to recognise somehow - it gets a reward. Lots of tasty fish courtesy of Marcotech Ltd."
"So they have trained it?"

"Probably when it was a juvenile. It hasn't forgotten the lesson as an adult. The knowledge stays with it. It’s probably the same with the shark.”

“Populating the seas with giant mutated monstrosities, as a warning to the curious,” Caroline mused. “But wouldn't they use up all their fish stocks pretty quickly? I mean, how much would you need to keep animals that size properly nourished?”
"Rather a lot, I’d have thought.”

"It's stupid, unless there's a special reason why they have to do it, at least for a time." She seemed to be pursuing a particular train of thought. "Do you reckon that base is meant to be anything permanent, or just a rehearsal, a preparation for something?"
"That's what an experiment is, I guess," said Ivarson.
"That's not quite what I meant."
"No," said Ivarson thoughtfully. "I don't think it was."

"They're waiting for something," she said. "They want to keep everyone from finding out what's going on here until...until something happens which makes it academic. What, though?"
"I sure as hell haven't a clue."

"Anyhow, what are we going to do about it now? Our last hope went with the DSV."
"And in the meantime, my company and in fact the whole global economy is losing millions of pounds every day."
"Any ideas, then?"
"We can always go to the government with what we know."
"You don't sound too sure that'll work."

"On past experience it probably won't. Marcotech are very good at pulling strings. They'll have covered every eventuality." She seemed to be thinking very carefully. After a while his words penetrated through to her consciousness. "It seems we aren't going to get to the bottom of this in the normal way."
"And what's the abnormal way?"

"There are some friends of mine," she said at length, "who have been taking an interest in the tanker sinkings – which are clearly connected to everything that’s going on here, I’m sure of it now. They haven’t had any luck so far. But now we have some very interesting information to present them with. Since we’ve come as far as we can, it’s all up to them now.”

Ivarson raised his eyebrows. “And, er, what kind of friends are these?”

She put a finger to her lips. "It's better you don't know.”
He smiled indulgently. "Oh, right."

"So I'm flying back to London in the morning," she announced. "I'll be back for Devon’s funeral, of course. Let me know when a date's fixed, you know where to get hold of me."

"Uh," he grunted, rather offhandedly. She looked at him in surprise. "You OK?"

She saw him wince and clap a hand to his heart, and bounded from her chair in alarm. "What’s wrong?"

Ivarson was breathing very fast, almost gasping with the effort to draw the air into his lungs. His hand remained pressed firmly to his chest. "I dunno," he answered, clearly frightened. "Oh my."

His face spasmed with pain and he staggered, losing his balance. She ran to him in horror as he keeled over backwards and crashed to the floor.

"Oh no," she wailed, almost in tears. "Oh no...." She crouched over him helplessly. "Don....Dr Ivarson? Can you hear me? Can you hear me? Please answer!"

He stared up at her vaguely, eyelids flickering. He tried to speak but only a low moan, barely audible, came out. His breathing had steadied but was very shallow.

It was with a thrill of indescribable relief that she heard the chatter of rotors as the Coastguard helicopter arrived on the scene.


TWENTY-FIVE

Fort Cumbernauld Diving Centre, Freeport
Wrapped in a towel, Caroline stepped out of the decompression chamber, a massive cylindrical structure which had a door with a porthole window at one end and an array of valves, pipes, dials and gauges on one side. Within it, the pressure had been gradually increased and then decreased in order to get rid of any excess nitrogen in her bloodstream.

A medic was studying some readings on an instrument panel, and marking off the results on a form attached to a clipboard. "You've passed with flying colours," he told her. "You must be pretty tough."
"What about Dr Ivarson?"

"He's out of danger. But I guess we'll have to keep him in for a while."
Her hope had been that despite his age Ivarson's relative fitness and health would enable him to pull through. It seemed to have been well-founded. "That's great. Can I see him?"

"He's still out. We'll let you know when he wakes up. Meantime, you're free to go home."
"I'd still like to see him."

She sat by his bedside for quite a while, holding his hand and studying his face for signs that he might be about to come round. His expression was relaxed and peaceful, his breathing regular. He’d come through. But it had been a close-run thing. Nearly another life lost.

It's time there was an end to this, she vowed, and rose purposefully to her feet.

*

Offices of the Bahamian Coastguard Authority
Caroline had transferred her Bahamian base to a guest house, as this was likely to be less conspicuous than a hotel, and so more difficult for Marcotech to track her down to. The establishment was run by local matriarch Mama Columbus, as she liked to style herself. Mama was the kind of person who, if Freeport had been rather smaller than it now was, would have known everyone’s secrets without needing to pry unduly. She liked to gossip, but with discretion. She had clearly guessed that Caroline was up to something, that red wasn’t her natural hair colour and that she had chosen to disguise herself, in this and other ways, for some special reason but didn’t consider it her business to know what it was, or discuss the mystery with others, in case it was something that ought to be kept secret. A friendly wink had been all that was needed to establish trust between them.

She came down to lunch to find set before her a bowl of brown soup in which a mess of some unidentifiable substance sat and steamed. It didn’t look particularly appetizing. “What’s this?” she asked.

“Conch chowder,” Mama replied. "You got a young man you sweet on, sugar?"
"Not at the moment," she replied.

"Well, when you do, you give him this, and he won’t ever lose love life. You’ll both of you have a great time, right till you’m old and grey.”

“Oh, I see," said Caroline. "Yes, I'll remember that alright." She was sceptical about whether such things worked, but too polite to say so. She wondered what effect the aphrodisiac was supposed to have on her.

It took a great deal of badgering on her part before an official at the Bahamian Coastguard Agency had eventually agreed to see her. She settled herself into a chair before him, mentally bracing herself for a confrontation should there need to be one.

She had decided to take a calculated risk. She was seeing him as Caroline Kent, though she had reapplied the henna and the contact lenses – they’d been lost during the encounter with the squid, but she had a spare pair - as a precautionary measure. If the official was in Marcotech's pay he might report her presence in the islands to them. But if he was in Marcotech's pay she wouldn't make much progress anyway.

"Obviously you'll have heard about the squid business already," she began.
The man nodded politely.

"Well, I have some information that may be of interest to you."
Again he nodded. "Uh-huh?"

She described the previous day's events. "That thing was a kind of guard. No wonder it's not attacking the Marcotech base.” She also told him about the whale.

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a bit. "Do you have proof, Miss Kent?"

Caroline sighed. "Unfortunately, it’s at the bottom of the sea right now. And any recovery operation would be dangerous while there are monsters like these roaming around.”

"Then in that case, I'm sure you'll appreciate we have no way of verifying your story."

"Maybe so. But don't you think it's time there was a full investigation into Marcotech's affairs? I mean, the islands are suffering badly from all this, and all the evidence seems to point to them as the cause. If they've been interfering with nature in this way it's a pretty serious matter. We need to find out exactly what they're up to.”

"We can't take action without evidence. And besides, I might ask what the two of you were doing in a restricted area. The surface signs, the marker buoys would have made clear that no diving was permitted within the area defined by them."

Caroline brushed this aside. "Surely that's not so important as what we found when we did?" She hoped her moral logic was correct.

His voice hardened. "Miss Kent, I understand this isn't the first time you've broken the law with respect to Marcotech's affairs."

"At least this time I was honest enough to admit it," she said, rather lamely.

"You shouldn't have been there anyway. Whether Marcotech are aware of this most recent case of trespassing I don't know; they haven't pressed any charges as yet. But if they did, I might have to at least request that you leave the country."
"I was going anyway," she answered with dignity.

"And I only have your word and Dr Ivarson's that Marcotech may be involved in illicit activities."
"And what's wrong with our word?"

"Dr Ivarson is a conservationist. I've no doubt he's keen to find out what's been causing these mutations to suddenly appear, and he thinks Marcotech may be responsible. You, well you're acting in what you think is your company's interests because you want to find out what's causing the tanker sinkings, and you think the answer lies somewhere in this area. Forgive me for suggesting it, but I, ah, I don't think you're either of you entirely impartial witnesses."
"And I don't suppose I can change your mind on any of this?"
"I'm afraid not, Miss Kent."
"This isn't very helpful, you know," Caroline sighed.

"Maybe it's not. But I'm sorry, I've said all I can about the matter." He stood up to show the interview was at an end. "Pity I couldn't help you more."

"Yes, it is. I'll see myself out, thanks." Caroline was out of the room before he could rise from his seat.

The next thing she did was to ring the US Department of Commerce and demand to speak to the Secretary personally. In view of the economic links between the US and the Bahamas, she thought he might be interested in doing something about the problem. It didn’t seem prudent for America to have connections with an organization whose activities were clearly harmful to the common good. She wasn't able to see the Secretary himself but spoke to an official from whom she got much the same response as his Bahamian counterpart. No can do, because no evidence. And he, too, seemed to know about her breaking into Marcotech's Miami HQ.

It only served to convince her that the course she had decided the day before on Oceanus was the correct one.

She had called the Institute that morning and explained the situation. It didn't look like Ivarson would be doing any more diving for a while so someone would have to come down and look after the boat, and check from time to time on his progress, until he was more or less recovered. Meantime someone from the Coastguard Agency had brought the ship in to shore.

She told the Institute what she and Ivarson had learned from their foray into Marcotech territory, whereupon they seemed interested but made only noncommittal noises re doing something about it.

Before leaving she went back to the ship to pick up some stuff of hers that was there. She took one last look around the crew room of the Oceanus, which had been in a way her home these last couple of weeks, then sadly took her leave of it, slinging the bag containing her belongings over her shoulder. They had been fun, these last two weeks.

She'd look in on Ivarson one more time, then try and grab a place on the next cruise ship going to Port Canaveral in Florida. It was unwise to fly so soon after coming out of recompression, because of the pressure changes, and at the same time jetlag had been starting to get to her.

From Port Canaveral she would make her way to Miami; and from there by boat or plane to London, where the matter could be left in other hands.

She could have rung Rachel at some point yesterday, but the affair was so bizarre that it was best explained to her in person, face-to-face.

She crossed the quay to where her hired car was parked, climbed into it and drove off down the coastal road towards Freeport, along the narrow spit of land with nothing but sand and sparkling blue sea on either side.

The road always seemed interminably long, which annoyed her right now because she was impatient to get back to London and start things going. At least the scenery changed after a while, the sea giving way on her right to thin scrubby vegetation.

And it seemed to bend in that direction about a quarter of a mile ahead, which puzzled her because it wasn't something she'd noticed before. Either that or it came to an end, which she knew for a fact it didn't. As she drove on, she saw it to be an illusion created by there being something directly in the middle of the road; a car, parked across it at a sharp angle.

Her heart missed a beat, and the floor of her mouth suddenly went dry. It was an old trick. But there was no reason why it shouldn't work.

The car was a red Chrysler and there were two men with it; one standing in front of it signalling to her to stop, the other squatting down to examine the right rear wheel, making it look as if it had had an accident and skidded.
Perhaps it had done.
She couldn't take any chances.

Briefly she thought of reversing back the way she'd come. But some protective instinct told her she'd be safer in the town.

Instead of slowing down, she yanked the steering wheel hard to the left. The Neon swerved and slewed off the road onto the beach, its spinning wheels kicking up sand and pebbles. She turned the wheel again, to the right this time, bringing the car parallel to the road.

She shot along beside the road, slowed down a little by the sand. The two men with the Chrysler stared in astonishment as she came towards them.

A spray of sand lashed the windscreen of the Neon and pebbles rattled against it. She had a nasty feeling it was going to shatter.

Passing the two men, Caroline swung the car back onto the road. It gathered speed, racing away into the distance. Behind her the two men jumped back in the Chrysler and started its engine. In a moment they were coming after her, fast.

Through her rear view mirror she saw them gain on her rapidly.

She gunned the engine up to maximum. Fine by me, boys. Let's keep this up until we reach town. You'll have to stop then, won't you, because there are too many people there who might see what's going on.
No good. In a moment they would draw level with her.

Then they would try to force her off the road, into the undergrowth. She could abandon the vehicle and attempt to lose herself in the dense pine forest which began a hundred yards ahead. But with all those bushes to obstruct it and foul the wheels the car might crash, leaving her injured and perhaps unconscious. Was it worth the risk? She'd had enough warnings. This time they'd be sure to kill her.

Right now there were no other cars in sight. Her pursuers had more or less a free hand.
Hold out as long as possible, she told herself.

She glanced to the right again, but saw only a dense jungle of trees and ferns. Too late.

On her left the spit of land stretched out to where she could see buildings, parked vehicles. But it was still too far away. Much too far.

The other car slammed side-on into her, knocking her towards the grass verge. She rammed them back.

She caught sight of the driver's face. It looked like blondie from Marcotech again, and he was smiling mischievously as if enjoying himself. Then the smile melted away and he looked completely different, as if he didn't like what he was doing but was equally certain he was going to do it anyway.

Again the Chrysler smashed into her and the Neon shuddered violently, then veered off towards the forest. Momentarily shaken, Caroline recovered her wits and rammed them a second time, just as they lurched sideways towards her once more. The two cars met each other half-way, lessening the impact.

She cut her speed, falling back, but the Chrysler did the same, slowing until it was level with her.

She trod down hard on the brake and the Neon accelerated forward rapidly, leaving the pursuing vehicle some way behind. Glancing through her rearview mirror, she saw them increase their own speed to catch up, the distance between the two vehicles steadily narrowing.

Now. She'd have to do this very, very fast if they weren't to clip her rear and flip her over.
She yanked the wheel to the left, swerving once again towards the beach.

Charlie saw the tail of the Chrysler swing round and with a yell of alarm pulled sharply to the right, missing it by less than a foot. A tree loomed up before him and he corrected immediately. The Chrysler scraped along the edge of the forest, its wheels churning through the bushes and whipping up clouds of dirt, soil and leaves. He slammed his foot down on the brake and it screeched to a halt.

He watched in astonishment as Caroline shot across the beach, her engine going at full throttle, making straight for the sea.

As it rushed towards her she cut the engine, reducing her speed, in case the impact knocked her out or worse. And braced herself.

The car hit the water with enough force to jar her nerves painfully. It threw up a little wave which lashed against the windscreen, broke and streamed down it in broad rivulets.

The car ploughed on through the water, its momentum carrying it quite a way out before the drag slowed it and the water in the engine clogged it up, making it splutter and die. The water was up to the windows and beginning to seep into the interior of the car.

She undid her seatbelt and fumbled with the latch on the door. It came open and then she was struggling to force it open against the weight of the water. With a final heave she slipped through the gap.

The driver of the Chrysler trod hard on his brakes and brought the vehicle to a skidding, screeching halt. He spun it round, drove onto the beach and pulled to a halt a few yards from the water. Both men jumped out and stood looking after Caroline indecisively. They could see her as she cut through the water with her arms windmilling furiously.

Charlie’s companion drew out a pistol. "No, you idiot!" the blond man hissed, grabbing his gun arm by the wrist and holding it still. "The boss don't want her hurt."

"I'm just gonna shake her up a bit." He pulled himself free, aimed the gun at the sea near Caroline and opened fire.

Bullets churned up the water around her, all of them falling well clear. She wasn't even aware of them, her mind being taken up entirely with the thought of escape.

"Go in after her," his companion ordered. He looked round, checking they were not being observed.

A car was coming towards them from the direction of Holmes Rock, the nearest village. At the moment it was just a black blob in the far distance, but it was a moving black blob. It would get there just in time to see them drag a struggling Caroline to shore.
"Hold it," Charlie snapped. The other pocketed his gun.

They waited until the car, slowing, drew level with them and stopped. The driver wound down the window and leaned out. "Anything wrong?" he shouted. "There been an accident?"

Charlie went over to him. "I dunno what happened...just lost control of the car, went right off the road. Got out just in time to save ourselves a soaking. We've called the breakdown people."
"Sure you don't need any help?"
"No, it's OK. Thanks for the offer."

The man gave a thumbs-up sign. As he drove away he caught sight of the swimmer out in the bay, but saw no reason to connect them to the two guys with the car.

The Marcotech agents hovered indecisively. They had lost valuable time. Was there any chance of catching her now?

Charlie shielded his eyes and gazed out to sea. "I think she's making for the headland." A couple of hundred yards from where Caroline was a finger of rock, dotted with clumps of grass, jutted out into the bay.

"Get round there and head her off," he ordered his colleague. He studied the figure in the water, now a surprising distance away. She was doing well. But she wasn't a professional swimmer; before long she'd start to tire, and then there could only be one possible outcome to the affair. Or two.

As his companion ran off he pulled out his cellphone and started to dial.

The fear they might shoot her while in the water was uppermost in Caroline's mind. She was diving every few seconds, staying down as long as possible, so that no part of her body presented a clear target.

The red dye was washing from her hair again, and she hoped no passing shark would mistake it for blood and think a meal was in the offing.

She reckoned she might be far enough out to be beyond gunshot range. Taking the risk she stopped swimming, flipped over onto her back and, keeping herself afloat by paddling her arms and kicking out with her legs, scanned her surroundings.

She saw the running figure on the headland; saw it come to a stop and stand there, looking across the bay towards her.

There was only one direction she could go now. Out to sea. Then left down the coast, back to Indian Quay and the Oceanus. If she could make it. She had just enough strength left to change course, reorientating herself in the water and then kicking out to propel herself in the direction she wanted to go.

In her haste to reach safety she banished the thought that the current might carry her too far out or smash her against the reef. There was nothing to lose.

Before long her arms and legs were aching, and her chest hurt from the furious pounding of her heart. Her mouth kept filling with water, its cold salty taste making her cough and retch. Soon she began to feel nauseous from it. She was sure she'd swallowed more than the several mouthfuls which was considered safe.
But she'd no choice; she had to go on.

She could just see the ship, about a quarter of a mile away. That was too far, much too far.
She wasn't going to make it.

She had no choice now but to give herself up to the man on the headland, throw herself on the mercy of Providence. But even that was now beyond her capacity. Her strength would have ebbed away well before she could reach him, or his colleague on the beach.
Her numbed legs could no longer obey her. She was sinking.
Sorry Mum. Sorry Dad.

I know it was so cruel, so irresponsible of me to put myself in danger when you'd already lost one child. But nothing can prevent you from being yourself. I just couldn't help it.

She would not let the sea take her without a fight. On she swam, every few seconds breaking the surface, water streaming from her mouth as she gasped frantically for air, and then going under again.
She felt something tug at her right leg.

The thought flashed into her mind that another swimmer had seen her in difficulty and come to her aid. At once she stopped struggling.

Not one, but several pairs of hands - if they were hands - seemed to catch hold of her. By her other arm, her left leg, her right leg. She was being pulled down beneath the surface.
A giant squid?
No. Not that, please. Not that horrible beak.

Her head went under, and then she was sinking at a steady rate, down, down, down...

Down into a twilight world where the water stung her eyes and blurred their vision. She couldn't see what had got hold of her, not properly; there was just an impression of vague, indistinct shapes of human-like bodies and limbs. Marcotech divers must have caught up with her and were trying to drown her.

She tried to hold her breath. Stick it out as long as you can, Caz. Have your money's worth.

And then she realised she was breathing. Perfectly normally. Her eyes opened wide in surprise.

Something had been slapped over her face; some kind of oxygen mask. She could hear the soft hissing sound as a sweet-smelling gas was pumped into her nose and mouth.

The grip of the hands that held her was firm, but gentle as they steered her towards their destination, carrying her down, down...to what? She only knew that to resist, to break their hold and dislodge the life-giving mask from her face, would be foolish, would mean death.

For a moment she felt a strange sense of calm and peace. Then as the gas, which among other things must serve as a narcotic, took full effect there was nothing. Nothing at all.


As Moses Jameson saw it, they couldn’t object to him taking a walk along the beach if he wanted to. Lots of people did that in their spare time.

There was no doubt he had been getting an obsession with this. Something about it was drawing him helplessly into it like the suction from a whirlpool. That was why he was here. Along with the thought that if he could just catch one of them in the act of walking into the sea, get them to hospital where a blood sample could be taken and the drug analysed, then people would know. It’d be a lot more difficult for whoever was behind the conspiracy to cover up the truth. They’d probably still try and pull something, but if the hospital authorities made sure news didn’t leak out too soon, maybe there was a chance.

This lonely stretch of coast, not often visited by the public and therefore not regularly patrolled, seemed a likely place for it to happen.

He’d been doing this a lot recently. The obsession was becoming dangerous, because if they, whoever they were, were still keeping an eye on him they’d realise what he was up to. He’d already been threatened with dismissal. Next time…..

Make this the last one, he decided. Concentrate on all those other cases that need your attention and where you can do good.

These people surely can’t go on disappearing forever. And hopefully this thing’ll stop before it reaches someone you love.

He stopped walking suddenly, and became very still, staring into the distance. A couple of hundred yards ahead he could see a young man walking very fast towards the water.
Fully-clothed.

Jameson broke into a run. It was possible he'd got the wrong idea. The man might just have seen something on the sand, or in the water, which had caught his attention. But there seemed to be something very purposeful about his movements. He was marching like a soldier, arms swinging backward and forward in a mechanical zombie-like fashion, staring fixedly ahead at the gently rolling waves.
There was only one way to find out. "Hey!" Jameson shouted. "Hey, buddy!"

The man went on walking, not looking round or in any other way indicating that he'd even heard the cry. Jameson's face tightened.

Arms and legs pumping like pistons, he pushed himself to the limits of his strength and stamina, gasping and panting as he sought desperately to close the gap between them. The man was in the shallows now, his feet kicking up gouts of water which spattered his clothing, and showed no sign of stopping. Nor did his expression change in the slightest.

Jameson veered to the right, into the water, and cursed as he felt it slow him down. Sheer speed and sheer desperation carried him up to the other man just as it started to lap at their crotches.

He shot out a hand and grabbed the youth by the shoulder, jerking him to a halt. Frowning slightly, he began struggling to break the detective's grip.

"Hey man, I got to talk to you!" Jameson yelled. "Just hold on there a minute!"

With what seemed like superhuman strength, the youth pulled free of Jameson, then swung round to face the detective, eyes staring, face set in a rigid mask from which all emotion was absent.

His fist smashed like a sledgehammer into Jameson's nose, striking a shower of blood from it. The force of the blow sent the detective staggering back, stunned. He lost his balance and toppled backwards into the water, disappearing beneath the surface.

The shock of immersion, plus fear that he might be drowned, brought him back to his senses. He sprang to his feet, head and torso breaking the surface.

The thought flashing into his mind was that the youth's urge to immerse himself in the water was so strong that nothing, but nothing, could be allowed to stand in his way.

Jameson saw the next blow coming and dodged it. Before the youth could deliver another, the detective drove his fist hard into his stomach. The youth gasped and doubled up, clutching it tightly. Jameson followed up with a blow to the side of the man's head. He lurched sideways, stumbling and almost falling.

Jameson wrapped an arm round the man's shoulders and hustled him towards the shore. The two of them staggered onto the sand, and Jameson let the youth collapse at his feet. He snatched out his cellphone, hoping the water hadn't damaged it, and started to key in the number of Police Department.

He heard a soft thud, then another, and felt something spatter over his trouser leg.

Bullets were tearing up the sand around him, but leaving him untouched. As if someone didn't want to kill but rather to warn him.

He looked round for their source and saw, out to sea, the shape of a motorboat ploughing through the water towards him at an angle. It was about a hundred yards from the shore. One of the men in the boat was crouching down pointing a rifle at him; as it drew closer he could see the sunlight flash off the muzzle.

Taking the hint, he spun on his heels and ran up the slanting beach towards the road. The youth would have to be left behind, would only slow him down. Shit, he was going to lose this one.

The bullets had stopped coming. It was difficult to hit a target when firing from a motorboat going at top speed. In any case, they'd scared him off now, or so he presumed. He didn't stop to call the Police Department in case he was wrong.

Behind him the motorboat pulled in to the shore. One of the men inside jumped out, ran over to the young man, who was just getting to his feet, and bundled him into the boat.
"I'll take care of our friend over there," said the other.

Jameson had almost reached the coast road when he heard more shots ring out. A voice shouted out something but he didn't hear the words, his main concern being to reach safety.

The next bullet took him in the leg, and he stumbled and fell flat, pain lancing through him from the wound. Twisting round, he saw through a haze of pain the man walking steadily towards him with his rifle in his hand.
"I did tell you to stop," the man said.

"Who the heck are you?" Jameson gasped, gritting his teeth against the agony. "What the hell are you playing at?"

Keeping him covered with the rifle, the man looked at the wound in his leg. "That'll need surgery. But I guess you'll live."

He produced a handkerchief and tied it tight round Jameson's leg as a tourniquet, staunching most of the blood flow. It didn't get rid of the pain; Jameson guessed a bone or two had been shattered. The man shouldered the rifle, guessing he wasn't going to be able to do much in his present condition.

"Stand up," the man ordered. "I'll give you a hand." He placed an arm under Jameson's and helped the detective lift himself slowly to his feet.

Gently he swung Jameson round. "OK, off we go." He started to lead Jameson off towards a derelict beach hut which stood a short distance away. The wooden construction was leaning at an alarming angle and a number of its boards were missing, but it would provide cover.
"You...gotta get me to hospital," Jameson winced.
"Don't worry," replied his captor. "That's being taken care of."

They came up to the door. The gunman gave it a push, and it swung open with a mournful drawn-out creak. He laid Jameson gently on the floor, then pulled it to.

Jameson saw him take something from his trouser pocket, an oblong black object like a cellphone or TV remote control. He touched a key on it and it gave out a high-pitched warbling sound. Then he placed the device on the ground and stood back against the wall, waiting.

Jameson’s face twisted suddenly. “You gotta give me a sedative or something.”
“We will. In good time.”

He began drifting in and out of consciousness. After a while he was dimly aware of someone coming into the hut, pushing open the door and walking towards him. Just for a second, his vision cleared and he got a full frontal view of them.
He wondered if the pain was causing him to hallucinate.

It was a man; at least he supposed that was how it should be described. It, or he, was tall, muscular, and naked except for a brief pair of trunks, made of some material like Lycra and incorporating a belt which encircled the waist, with a sheath attached to it from which protruded the haft of a knife. The physiognomy was human, more or less. But from head to foot the smooth, hairless skin was a gleaming silvery colour, with a slight bluish tinge, and composed of thousands of tiny, fine scales like those of a reptile or a fish. The fingers and toes were joined, the former at the knuckles, by sheets of semi-transparent membrane and on either side of the neck were several large slits, inside which something he couldn’t quite see pulsed and twitched rhythmically.

It had hair, dark with a tinge of green, which hung down wet and limp over its forehead, plastered thickly to the skin. There was something funny about the eyes.

In one of its webbed hands the creature was holding a gun with a short, compact barrel, pointed straight at him. It squeezed the trigger. He felt a short sharp pain in his shoulder, then it faded as the tranquiliser began to take effect.

His final thought before he lost consciousness was that the face of the creature was vaguely familiar. No…he knew who it was, without a doubt. Those were the features of Wayne Parelli, one of the people whose mysterious disappearance he had been trying to solve these last few weeks. And now, he had.


TWENTY-SIX
Not for the first time in her life, Miss Caroline Kent recovered from being knocked out to find herself in a state of bondage.

This time she was lying on a padded couch, webbing securing her to it by wrists and ankles. Electrodes were attached to her temples by adhesive pads, and terminated at an instrument console a few feet away. The instruments seemed to be monitoring her heart rate and brain activity; a pinging noise was coming from the console and blips of light were moving in succession across a screen, each flaring up into a zig-zag every second or two. The room was well-lit and spotlessly clean, the walls were covered with plain white tiles and the air filled with a sweet, cloying, sterile smell. Was she in hospital, or....

A man in a white surgical gown who had been standing at the console turned to her with a smile. He was in his fifties, balding and bespectacled with a plump moon face, and what did remain of his hair was grey.

"How do you feel now, Miss Kent?" He had one of those refined East Coast American accents which sound almost English.

"I'm all right," she said automatically. She glanced down at her restraints and coughed. "So, er, I think you could probably let me go now."

"If you mean as in leave the building, I'm afraid that's not possible right now. Mind you," he mused, "walking out of this building would be a bit difficult at the best of times."

The sense of unease began to grow in her. "What do you mean?" she demanded, stiffening protectively. "Why have you strapped me down? I am in hospital, aren’t I?”
"Well, not exactly," the man said.

It came to her in a sick rush of dismay. "You're Marcotech, aren't you?"

"Yes, we are Marcotech. Aren't you grateful to us for saving your life?"

"I suppose so," she said ungraciously. "Er, I hope you don't mind my asking, but what exactly are you going to do to me?"
"There are several options. Sir Edward will explain the position to you in a little while."
"But I presume you mean to keep me under wraps for the time being."
"I think that would be best."
"All the same, do you think you could let me go? I mean as in undo these straps."
"If you promise to be a good little girl and not try to escape, I'll be only too pleased to release you."
"I won't try to escape," she lied.
"Good. Would you excuse me a moment."

She lay back, still a little weak from the effects of the sedative, and waited while he moved to an Intercom on the wall and spoke into it. "She's come round. No ill effects."
A voice came from the speaker. "Great. We'll be over in a minute or two."
"You heard that," he said to Caroline. "In the meantime, just lie there and relax."
"Thanks," she muttered dubiously.
Her eyes travelled the room, scanning it in more detail. Ominously, it had the look of a laboratory rather than a surgery.
A remark he had made earlier penetrated through to her consciousness. "When you said walking out of here would be difficult..."
He grinned at her mischievously. "You'll find out what I meant in due course."
He went back to his work. Her eyes followed him as he moved about. "I have family, you know," she said. "People who will be worried about me."
He answered without turning round. "Don't worry, that's being taken care of."

A bleep from the door interrupted him in his work. He crossed to a control panel built into the wall beside it and pressed a button. It slid open and four men stepped into the room. She recognised Greatrix, Latimer and a couple of heavies in shirt sleeves, each with the butt of a handgun protruding from his trouser pocket. The shirts had some kind of braiding at the shoulders, like in a naval uniform.

The scientist unfastened Caroline's straps and moved away from her. Stiffly, she sat up. She shifted to the edge of the couch and perched there for a moment, rubbing her forehead. Then she levered herself off it and stood facing them all expectantly, her manner interrogative yet also wary.

As he studied her Greatrix had an impression of a cornered tiger, and felt suddenly uneasy.

Latimer spoke first. "As Dr Zuckermann will have explained to you, you'll find trying to escape from here won’t be easy. All the same, if we have to shoot you we will, so don't do anything stupid."

Greatrix stepped forward. "I'm sorry to have had to kidnap you, Miss Kent, but you left me very little choice." He gestured at the door. "We're going on a little guided tour, if that's alright by you?"

She gave a curt nod. The heavies positioned themselves behind her as the group moved off, Greatrix and Latimer in the lead. She found herself in a featureless, seemingly endless corridor.

She presumed she was in the Marcotech base at Miami. All the time she was looking round, noting everything she saw, assessing the likelihood of escape, anything that might help her achieve that goal at some point in the future. It registered with her that there were no security cameras anywhere; not that she could see, anyway.
They can't keep me here forever, she thought.

After a while the corridor finally broadened out into a kind of atrium, with abstract mural on the walls and a few pot plants standing about. Most of one wall, from waist height to just below the ceiling, was taken up by a huge glass screen. Through it she could see fish swimming about in clear water, a sandy floor dotted with rocks and clumps of tall, waving sea-grasses.

Greatrix led them right up to the screen, grinning at Caroline. "Take a look at that," he said.

She stared through the glass, and it suddenly dawned on her where they were. "We're underwater," she gasped.

Her eyes widened further as she took in the whole of the scene before her. She ought not to be able to see so far or in such clear detail, not through water, so some form of revolutionary, enhanced artificial lighting system must be in operation somewhere. She was vaguely conscious of huge domed structures in the background, and little shapes like submarines moving about; water; but the first thing that really caught her eye was the human-like figures swimming about, from time to time diving down to the sea bed as if their attention was caught by something there. They were completely naked, silver-grey in colour, and wore no diving gear whatsoever; no breathing apparatus, no masks, no wetsuits, no flippers. Some were male, some female, and all biologically accurate.

There was an innocent sexuality, a perfectly natural eroticism, about the scene, like something out of an underwater garden of Eden. The creatures moved with a sinuous agility, travelling through the water with total ease. When making a turn they twisted and wriggled in a fluid, effortless fashion, very unlike a human swimmer. Their beauty and grace were captivating.
"Are they....are they people?" she gasped, astounded.

"Essentially, yes," Greatrix said. There was a broad smile on his face and his eyes shone with proprietorial pride. "We call them aquanoids. A ghastly term, too science-fictioney for my liking, but I couldn’t think of anything else.”

She realised the creatures were not quite nude, each wearing a belt at their waist with a pouch attached to it.

One of them, a male, happened to swim close to the screen. She saw the scales covering its - his body, exactly like those on a fish, the gill slits in his neck. And that he didn't need flippers because effectively he already had them. There were broad sheets of membrane connecting his fingers and toes, turning hands and feet into compact units ideally suited for propelling their owner through the dense medium in which he lived.

She also noticed his eyes. There seemed to be some sort of grey-white membrane, transparent and almost invisible, covering them, no doubt to protect them from irritation. He appeared to be young, with Caucasian features. Physically he was a perfect specimen, with a broad muscular chest and flat stomach the muscles of which could be seen rippling as he pushed himself through the water. The arms and legs were equally powerful. Apart from the scales, the eyes and the webbed hands and feet he appeared entirely human, which was why she was able to estimate his age. That she could see, he had no hair other than what was on his head.

An aquanoid woman swam into view beside him, her hair billowing out behind her in the current. Her eyes seemed to be sweeping over the sea bed beneath her, scanning it keenly. Suddenly she dived with a kick of her powerful legs which carried her right down to the ocean floor, further than a human could have achieved in one go. Caroline saw her pick something up off the sandy floor and place it in her belt pouch.

Several different ethnic groups seemed to be represented among the creatures. One was black, or at any rate had features you might have described as negroid. Another was Asiatic and smaller than the rest, though well-muscled. All of them appeared young in human terms, or at least youngish.

One of the females seemed curiously familiar. She looked again, frowning, and with a shock suddenly recognised the girl. The features were unmistakeable, despite the changes that had been made since the photograph in Ivarson's study on the Oceanus had been taken. Surely that was his former assistant, Katie Phillipson? She looked around for the boyfriend, Ryan Kotz, but couldn't see him anywhere. But wherever he might be, Katie's disappearance at any rate was now explained.
"What are they doing?" she asked.

"Collecting manganese samples. The work could be done mechanically, by robots or manned vehicles, but it's necessary to give them something to do. Most of the nodules in this sector of the colony have been collected by now, but occasionally you still find one that was missed, or carried here by the currents. When they exhaust a particular area they move on."

"It's incredible," she breathed. "So that's what you've been up to down here. I guess we are in your base off the Bahamas?"

"Correct. As I told you at Southampton, it’s effectively an underwater colony, the first true example of one ever established. Virtually self-supporting with its own farm, a factory for processing the minerals from the sea bed, and all other facilities both the aquanoids and the human staff who look after them need to survive."

"And these - aquanoids. How did you do it? Genetic engineering?"
She was interested in spite of herself.

"Partly genetic engineering and partly surgery. We took the genetic material from fish - tuna, because they're among the best swimmers, as well as warm-blooded. We didn't want to change the basic human metabolism more than was necessary. I'm not sure a cold-blooded human is feasible, anyway. There's a limit to what you can do in genetic engineering, as with any other branch of science."

Caroline reflected that she had known plenty of cold-blooded humans in her time. But was that really Greatrix's problem, or something entirely different?

"Anyway," he went on, "we took genes from tuna fish, also seals, and implanted them in the subjects. We used seals because they, along with other marine mammals like whales and dolphins, have a high red blood cell count which is what allows them to dive fairly deep and stay underwater for longer periods than a human. The red cells are better at storing oxygen. We found the gills by themselves are not very efficient. In any case, we prefer on the whole to work with the existing mammalian cardio-vascular system. Marine mammals are excellent divers; toothed whales regularly go to depths greater than a thousand metres, the Weddell seal 500 – and stay submerged for nearly an hour. Seals also have a lower heartbeat and so they exhaust their oxygen supply less quickly.

"We also used genes from other human beings. The Moken people of South-East Asia can narrow their pupils further than any other humans, making them some twenty per cent smaller than a European's, say, and change the shape of the lens so they can see underwater without wearing goggles. And they're generally good swimmers and divers. We've now identified the genes which enable them to do all those things.

"And finally, from viruses. That was necessary for the changes to spread to the whole body. In each case the virus DNA was modified to make it harmless, where it wasn't already. Some of its genes were removed and replaced with the ones we wanted to implant, then it was injected into the subject. The bloodstream did the rest.

“We gave them gills, a swim bladder so they could stay buoyant all the time they were in the water, and webs between their fingers and toes, which come from a species of frog. All grown from stem cells taken from the relevant species.

"It's remarkable," said Caroline, genuinely impressed. Had she not already seen some very strange things in the course of her young life, she'd have been even more so. "You're very clever, I'll grant you that. Er - did they have any choice in all this?"
Greatrix looked rueful. "I'm afraid not," he smiled.

"No wonder you didn't want anyone to know about it, then. It's immoral. What makes you think you have the right to - "

"Rights don't come into it, to be brutally frank. They can't be allowed to.

“That’s a very, er, authoritarian statement.”
“I know what I’m doing,” he replied.

“So what’s it all for, then? To provide a cheap labour force for your enterprise, yeah? One you don't have to invest in diving equipment for?"

"Partly. But not for the colony’s own sake. Profit wasn’t the main reason I did all this, nor scientific curiosity even.” He seemed hurt.
"You're ruthless, certainly."
"Perhaps I should be judged on my motives."

"The end doesn't always justify the means. Sometimes, maybe. You have to be able to tell when."
"And are you implying I can't?"
"Yes."

Greatrix decided to ignore her. “You wanted to know why, so let me tell you. It was a question of simple necessity; the future of the human race depends on it. Miss Kent, we live in a far from happy world. It is unhappy because there are too many of us squabbling over finite resources which will probably be exhausted within the next couple of centuries. I suppose you could say it's all the West's fault because of the demands it makes on the rest of the planet, but they arise from its very nature as an advanced industrial society, a nature that cannot be changed any more than a rain forest tribesman can be expect to give up their own native culture.

"The main problem is numbers. In the Third World people are starving because there are too many mouths for all to be fed. In the West itself there are hundreds, thousands, millions of people trying to cram themselves into far too small a space. Towns, cities and villages becoming hideously overcrowded, or growing until they swallow up the countryside, leaving fewer places where one can relax, be alone. It is what creates crime, and the problem is made worse by racial and social tensions and the sheer complexity of society in the twenty-first century.

"The pressure on resources, leading to poverty or the overstretching of public services; the legion of demands that cannot be met, the conflicting interests that cannot be reconciled. Eventually the discontent it all breeds will erupt in social unrest and runaway crime. Law and order will break down altogether and anarchy follow. In that situation all the old conflicts will come to the fore, with nothing to restrain the opposing sides, and they will be fought with the deadliest weapons science has made available to us - nuclear missiles and plague viruses. By the middle of this century, if not before, the human race will be extinct." He glanced at her to see if she understood what he was saying.
"How can you be sure that'll happen?" she said.

"Don't kid me it won't." He looked her straight in the eye, and she found herself shifting uncomfortably. "Is there any sign of a solution? All the effort politicians, economists, scientists and sociologists have put into finding an answer to all the world's problems, do you see any result from it? No. And by the look on your face I can tell you agree with me, however much you might deny it.

"The solution will clearly have to be something radical. Something we've chosen to ignore in the past because we're uncomfortable about it.

"The oceans cover seventy per cent of the Earth's surface. Down here there's plenty of room for everyone. Of course no-one's going to agree to what I'm suggesting in any case. But whatever happens the aquanoids down here will survive. This place was the test bed for the experiment. Now we know that underwater colonies for humans are viable; the aquanoids eat the fish, and the plants, and that enables them to survive."

"There's got to be a choice in the matter," Caroline said firmly.

"If I'd asked them whether they wanted it, do you think they'd have said "yes"?" He sounded bitter.

"So how do they feel about it now?" she asked, studying the graceful swimming figures outside. They gave every impression of creatures existing happily in their natural habitat. And yet she couldn't imagine them getting used to it so easily.

It hit her with a surge of revulsion. "You've got them drugged!"
"It's necessary. Otherwise they might find their new existence difficult to adjust to. The drug suppresses their higher faculties, their reason and emotions, their memories of their former lives; and so they simply adapt to their new environment, as any successful species does in the wild."

"It also makes them a more compliant source of labour," Caroline remarked.
"As I said, they might as well be gainfully employed. And the idea eventually is that people should do this sort of thing all the time."
“Are they kept permanently drugged?”
“Yes. Of course the drug has to be readministered at intervals, or they start to come round, which we don’t want.”
“Of course you don’t,” she muttered.

Greatrix looked hard at her. "With life on the surface destroyed, we might have to become aquanoids. Then there wouldn't be any question of...adjustment. The psychological barrier would be overcome.

"When people have no choice but to live under the sea, when everything above the surface has been destroyed, rendered uninhabitable, then we'll stop administering an antidote to the drug. The aquanoids will have the choice of resuming their previous, human lives or of remaining as they are."
"And suppose they don't want to stay as they are?"

"They will," he said. "It'll be much better, Miss Kent, believe me. Look at the conflicts which religion, for example, causes; is causing now in the Middle East and globally. Now I often find myself thinking, could an aquanoid be a Muslim? Or a Christian, Hindu, Sikh? What would the implications of the change be for the different religions, for their rituals?

"But if our biology was different we might not believe in religion at all; I think it's a state of mind, something determined by the structure of a person's brain and its interaction with the physical body, and their genes, rather than an objective belief about the nature of the universe."

"I know a few people who'd give you an argument on that," said Caroline.
"Are you a believer, then?" Greatrix asked curiously.
Caroline was suddenly embarrassed. "Er, no, but...."

He turned away to stare out through the window again. "It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter whether people believe in religion at all, as long as they don't tread on each other's toes too much." He gave a little chuckle. "Underwater Muslims. The idea is amusing somehow.

"Underwater mosques, underwater churches; if it came to the worst I'd be quite happy to build them. And in the end there'll be underwater everything else; parks, libraries, museums, leisure centres. Life will be quite interesting down here."

Suddenly he turned to her with a smile she thought was genuinely kind. "It's possible the change need not be permanent. If we can find some solution to all our terrestrial problems, there's no reason why we shouldn't return to the land. We'd just have bought ourselves some time, that's all."

"And then you'd be in trouble for the way you did it," she muttered.

He grinned. "I should be a hero. It'd be difficult to lock me up, anyway."
"It's still not right, Sir Edward," she said. To her own ears it sounded like there was an element of doubt in her tone.
"Neither right nor wrong but necessary. Perhaps that's the correct way of looking at it."
"That's rather an interesting philosophical argument," she commented.

"Where did you get your aquanoids from?" she asked, leaving deep ethical issues to one side for the moment.
"Some were crewmen on the tankers we sunk." He noticed her expression and smiled. "Yes....now you know. Later I'll explain precisely why we targeted those ships in the first place.

"Others were kidnapped in the Bahamas or America; mostly America, because the larger and more populated a society is the less people seem to worry about what happens to their fellow creatures. We developed a form of the drug which is really rather clever in the way it operates. It introduces a craving, partly subconscious, for the sea – which is after all where we came from originally. The subject begins to feel ill, physically and psychologically, while on land and desires to return to their ancestral environment. The beauty of the drug is that although the urge is blind, impulsive it leaves the rational mind unaffected to some extent, harnessing it to its service. The vict – the subject avoids telling anyone that they were injected, and chooses the right moment, from the point of view of secrecy, at which to immerse themselves. One or two people were drunk when given the injection, but the drug took effect once they’d sobered up.

“By discreetly following the subjects around, and keeping a watch on the beaches, we generally knew when they were going to do it. Once or twice I regret we weren’t able to get into position in time and the person drowned. Another time, we made a mistake; they were actually intending to commit suicide. We gave them new life.”

“If the person was drowning, wouldn’t their survival instincts cut in and cause them to get out of the water double quick?”
“They couldn’t. That’s how strong the drug is.

“We took just enough people to make the colony viable. There are nearly two hundred aquanoids here, almost the total required. Although a few more wouldn't do any harm, if the opportunity arose.

“There were questions asked, of course, but so far we've managed to use our influence to prevent the authorities getting too close to the truth.

"I would have you know that not all the people who pull strings for us have had to be bribed or blackmailed. When I gave a talk about needing to live and work under the sea or else die out because of overpopulation etcetera, various important people got to hear about my ideas and were hooked. Those people, who are in a position to protect Marcotech from any investigation into its affairs, were let into the secret and liked what they heard.”

"If you wanted to do this sort of thing, why didn’t you just
build a great big hole in the ground? After the holocaust you could come out of it and rule the survivors."

"Someone might have noticed us digging it," Greatrix answered. "There's not so many people about at sea. Besides I don't think people would be happy living underground all the time, never seeing the light of day."
Caroline gave a little laugh. "They aren't seeing it now."

Again she gazed out at the aquanoids swimming, and at the little craft moving about among them, seeming to avoid colliding with them with perfect ease, sensing their approach and moving aside well in time. Each about ten feet long, they had a blind appearance, with no windows for an operator to look out of, and although they wobbled slightly with the currents something about the way they moved told her they were robotic rather than manned. Each was roughly cigar-shaped, with projecting rounded areas on each side, a single huge camera lens at the front like an enormous bulging eye, and various grabs, probes and other appendages clustered beneath it. Something about them recalled the models and computer simulations she had seen at Marcotech's UK headquarters. This, evidently, was the finished product.
They seemed to be following the aquanoids as they swam about. Keeping an eye on them, you might say.

Greatrix had followed her gaze. "We can't allow them to reach the surface or someone would spot them."
"Would they try to, if they could?"
"I expect so. Natural curiosity."
"What happens if one did go too close to the fence?"

"A sensor would detect it if the guard sub didn't. Either way they'd get a severe electric shock. You might think it'd be better to make the fence completely solid; well apart from the fact that the top has to be open to allow enough sunlight in for the plants, so they could still get out that way, you don't need to. They learn in due course what's expected of them. As long as they think something painful's likely to happen, they won't dare try to escape."
"So how do they spend most of their time?"

"When not working they either play with one another or just rest. They're good workers, got plenty of energy. Trouble is, they have to alternate between water and an aerobic environment, switching over every hour or so. Even with genes from both fish and seals, they're not as efficient as we'd prefer. We're hoping to get round the problem somehow."
"What happens when they need to sleep? I presume they do?"
"That's taken care of. You'll see how later on."
"Why are they naked?"

"Because they don't know what's going on. They're not ashamed. All their human inhibitions have been removed. They wouldn't see any need for clothes anyway. It'd be something unnatural and foreign to them. We sometimes give them an altered version of the drug to make them wear something if they need to visit the surface for any reason; that way they’re a bit less likely to attract attention.”

She thought of another question. "Why did you build the colony here?"
"It couldn't be too close to land, as someone might have found out what was going on, but it couldn't be too far out either. Here we're at the point where the continental shelf begins to fall away towards the ocean floor; the edge of the plate on which the continent of North America rests. About 600 feet down. Much deeper than that and sunlight can't penetrate the water – the limit’s about 650 - and make the plants grow. They can't photosynthesise. Apart from a colony of plants which lives close to a thermal vent in the sea floor, there's no other way a marine organism can thrive. So our ecosystem gets disrupted.

"There's another consideration. The deeper you are the harder the human body finds it to function properly. More nitrogen is absorbed into the blood, requiring a lengthy decompression period. Much further out from here, our human divers wouldn’t be able to function, not without special suits which would seriously restrict their movement, so they wouldn’t be able to supervise what was going on where necessary. The aquanoids be able to manage better, but I wouldn't want to risk it. They're still at least partly human in their make-up.
“At the same time, if the base was too far from the shore, or we wouldn't be able to keep an eye on things, to service it and ensure its security.”

Caroline tried to absorb everything she'd heard. Whatever the ethics of it, you had to admire Marcotech's achievement. The colony was exactly what Greatrix claimed: self-contained and more or less self-sufficient, for the moment. In comparison with it the previous efforts to set up undersea base seemed almost laughably primitive. This was nothing like MRFL's effort, laudable though it was.

Greatrix gazed dreamily out of the window. “In time, I hope people will see reason and there will be hundreds more colonies like this, exploiting mineral resources over the entire ocean and processing them in factories like the one we have here.”

"But if you can't build that far out, doesn't that mean your plan is wrecked? You could only have your underwater colonies along the shorelines."

"That may not matter. You could get most of the world's population onto the Isle of Wight, with a bit of a squeeze of course. The total extent of the world's coastlines is a lot greater. There should be plenty of room for everyone, depending on how great the aquanoid population eventually becomes.”

"Hey, I've just thought of something. Why don't you build the cities on the sea?"
"It's something we've got in mind," he smiled. "Unfortunately at the moment I think the technical difficulties, along with the cost, would be prohibitive.

"Besides, there's a way of getting round the problem." He smiled. "An underwater colony could be built just under the surface, on a platform supported by legs resting on the sea bed, like one of your oil rigs. Just now the cost of such an operation would be too great, given the technical problems, would be prohibitive. However, if the human race does insist on more or less wiping itself out that won't be a problem. The survivors would simply take the materials they needed and make use of them how they pleased."
"The survivors would be you, of course. Marcotech and its personnel."
"Those of them who can be trusted to know what's going on down here. Plus the aquanoids, of course."
"So you'll all be safe down here when the time comes?"
"That's the idea. As soon as things get particularly alarming, we’ll all start gradually making our way in this direction.”
"All right for some."
"There are radiation suits and decontamination equipment stored here. And in a nuclear catastrophe not everywhere would be affected. But there'd be anarchy, a breakdown of law and order, and in those conditions it'd be easier for us to take what we wanted."

"I see," she sighed. “Anyway….you might be able to solve the problem of overpopulation by what you’re planning. But the colonies couldn’t be collection and processing centres for the minerals, because of the depth factor.”

“We could still carry out the extraction of the minerals and their transport to the colonies using special equipment. A few people would probably still remain human, and they could do the work if the aquanoids couldn’t.”

“It seems to me,” Caroline pondered, “that either everyone would want to be an aquanoid or nobody would.”
“We’ll see,” Greatrix smiled. He didn’t seem to want to go into that particular question, so she changed the subject, reminding him that he was going to explain to her why he’d been sinking the tankers.

"Ah, yes. We couldn't ignore the possibility that an oil spill might threaten the ecology of the colony. The sea is relatively shallow here. That's why so many ships were lost in Elizabethan times, why the bottom's littered with wrecks. There are all kinds of navigational hazards. Submerged rocks very close to the surface; sunken temples even, apparently. A relatively narrow stretch of water, a fairly shallow part of the ocean.....it could have happened.

“Especially when there are too many ships sailing which are old and badly maintained and should have been scrapped years ago, like the Erika, which broke up in heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay and leaked thousands of tons of oil. Where the crew members don't speak each others' languages, there's poor morale due to unpaid wages, leading to inefficiency, safety factors are pared to the bone, crews aren't properly trained, and captains are leaned on by executives, often travelling with them to make sure they do what they're told, who don't know the first thing about how to handle a ship.

“Another example is the Braer; Liberian-registered, broke up off the Shetlands in 1993. Wages in arrears, a multinational crew. A number of pipes were stacked on deck and one broke loose in bad weather, knocking into one of the vents which let air out of the ship's fuel tanks when they are being filled, and in as the fuel is burned in the main engine and generators, and damaging it. Rain and seawater got in and mixed with the fuel. The Captain wasn’t told about the accident until some time after it happened, and when he was he had to call the head office of the shipping company to discuss the cost of ordering a tug to tow the ship to safety. Eventually one was sent out but by then the engines had broken down altogether and the ship drifted onto rocks which holed it. It didn’t help that the Captain was overworked and made mistakes because of the tight schedules he had to meet.

“There are also ships which sail when they shouldn't, in seas so rough any self-respecting captain will avoid, because they're on illicit - but highly profitable - gun-running missions. Or are taking dangerous short-cut routes in order to save money.”

“In warm seas like these,” Caroline said, “and with the kind of climate you get here, an oil slick tends to decompose and lose its toxicity fairly rapidly.”

“I didn’t want to take risks, however slight. Now oil doesn't do much damage to the human body, not directly. But the aquanoids are no longer entirely human. Their metabolism has been altered. We couldn't be sure the oil wouldn't harm them, even in small quantities, if particles were carried down to the sea bed in conditions of turbulence, or by currents, or marine life forms which had been at the surface and then dived. And the heavier components of the oil do sink to the bottom eventually.”
"In any one part of the seas, the chances of an oilspill are pretty slim," Caroline persisted.
"But not non-existent, despite all the precautions taken nowadays. There are all sorts of ways one can happen.
"Consider the Exxon Valdez. She was passing out of Prince William Sound, Alaska. The navigational equipment had detected icebergs ahead and they were given permission to change to the incoming shipping lane, which was vacant. Unfortunately that took it beyond the range of the Coastguard's radar system, so no-one on shore detected the submerged rocks she ran aground on. The ship's crew didn't spot the danger until it was too late to change course. Result, she ruptured her tanks and we all know what the environmental consequences were.

"People aren't infallible. They're not omniscient, they can't plan for every eventuality because you can't be aware of all possible dangers all the time. The Exxon Valdez disaster was the result of an unfortunate, and unforeseeable, conjunction of several different factors. They were doing everything possible to avoid a collision but merely succeeded in achieving exactly the opposite outcome. When such things can happen we can't afford to take chances.

"Of course the distance between here and the US coast is a lot greater. There's less chance of a collision between two ships. But it could still happen. There are too many variables in the equation, when all factors are taken into account. If it happened at night, say, and the radar was faulty.....

"I didn't like to think that something might happen that'd wreck all we'd built up. We knew we didn't stand much chance of getting the oil companies to change the route, not if it meant serious delays, loss of profit. The oil giants always get their way. So we had to do something. And the tanker crews also provided a source of aquanoids for the colony.”
"How did you get the bombs onto the tankers?" she asked.

"Can't you guess?" He nodded towards an aquanoid as it swam by the window. "They don't give off a big enough sonar trace to be taken for anything other than a large fish, or a school of little ones. Training them was a simple matter. Of course the drug helps to ensure total compliance."
"They didn't swim all the way out to the tankers from here though, did they?"
"No, that would have been beyond even their capabilities. A submarine took them out to where it was just beyond sonar range, and remained there to pick them up - along with the tanker crews - once they'd completed their mission."

Having by now absorbed the spectacle of the aquanoids, Caroline’s eyes ranged from them over a complex of buildings, some domed and others in the form of a rectangular cuboid, and all linked to one another by short square tunnels, made no doubt from prefabricated secions welded together, just as in the model she had seen at Southampton. "How did you get all this built?"
"The segments were floated out and then sunk with pressure detonators and assembled on the sea bed with the help of robots or manned vehicles.”
There was, Greatrix told her, a control centre, living quarters for the colony's staff, a leisure and recreation centre, laboratory, medical centre, sewage treatment and water filtration plant, a power plant for the colony's lighting and heating etc., kitchens, guest suite, submarine pens, a workshop for repair and maintenance of the manned and unmanned vehicles. Apart from the main complex were located the fish farms, the beds of crops, the giant wave-powered turbines, and finally a building like some kind of industrial plant with silos and huge domed tanks, all covered in piping, and an impeller device like a giant fan rotating within its cowling. “That’s the desalination plant,” Greatrix said. “Uses suction to draw in the water. As I’ve often said, we don’t use the sea enough for our needs.”
“Should be about time to knock off work,” he commented, glancing at his watch.

Sure enough, in a response to some unseen, unheard signal the aquanoids stopped what they were doing, sinking to the bottom where they lay or sat resting. Two of them, a man and a woman, caught Caroline's attention. The woman was young, not much more than a teenager in appearance, and quite attractive. The man seemed a good deal older, though still young. Though in his new environment he no longer needed glasses, she recognised him from photographs on the Net and in the newspapers she'd consulted at Colindale. He was Anders Kobenhavn, the financial expert who had blown the whistle on financial irregularities at Marcotech, now working for Marcotech in a very different capacity. Not having known of her, Caroline didn't recognise his companion as Shannon Richards.

They had seemed to be working as a pair, co-operating on every task. Now they swum towards each other. Before their expressions had been blank, but now the looks on their faces seemed to suggest pleasure; if not signifiying real emotion, they were certainly a close analogy of it. On each aquanoid's face was a joyous smile.

They paused, suspended in the water. Each reached out to the other, lovingly, stroking their hair and touching them lightly on the face. Then they embraced, gently running their hands over each others' bodies, their lips pressed tightly together.

In that state, they sank slowly to the ocean bed. As they touched bottom they seperated, and the woman let herself fall back, stretching out flat on the sandy floor with her legs parted. In a clear state of arousal, the man proceeded to mount her. Again they clasped each other tightly, the woman's mouth opening and closing rapidly as her partner moved up and down on top of her.

The entwined bodies writhed and twisted in ecstasy, the expressions on their faces certainly consistent with orgasmic pleasure. Caroline found herself staring at the spectacle in amazement. "Fully functional, I see," she observed. She turned away in sudden embarrassment, thinking one really ought not to be watching.

"Did those two, ah, know each other before..." she asked Greatrix.

"No, or we wouldn't have allowed any contact between them. It might remind them of their former lives, you see."
"I imagine that's why you keep Katie Phillipson and Ryan Kotz apart. I assume Ryan's here somewhere?"
"Yes. They're both safe and sound, but they don't have any memory of each other. It's probably kinder that way."

Caroline nodded towards the copulating couple outside. "If they weren’t already together, isn't it a bit unethical to put them in a position where they might….do it?" She could feel her disgust and anger rising steadily.

"I believe in letting true love take its course," he replied. "It's inevitable. With the drug suppressing their higher faculties, they're working on basic instinct only."
He smiled. "Those two have been together for some time now. It's quite sweet, really."

"I don't suppose they can breed, can they?"
"It hasn’t happened yet, but we think the genetic changes can be passed on to any children they might have. Only the offspring will have to have the gills and stuff grafted on or implanted, which is best done when they’re a bit older. They're meant to breed. At the moment it's the only way the colony can replenish itself, especially since their lifespan is limited. It's generally the large, slow-moving animals which live longer. Elephants, the bigger reptiles. Fish are generally smaller and move faster, using up a bit too much energy in the process."
"Then what you've done to them is cruel."
"Better than not living at all. Because we'll all be dead pretty soon, once the wrong people get their hands on weapons of mass destruction."
"It just seems sick somehow. Like they're breeding stock." This time Greatrix didn't bother to reply.

"Can they breed with humans?" she asked.
"It should be possible. I can't see what there is to gain by it, though. The resulting child's efficiency as an aquanoid would be halved. We could operate on it of course, to make it a full one. But apart from having to postpone the surgery, it could be done just as well with normal adult humans."
"But you could have sex with one?"
"All the, er, equipment is there. Why do you ask, Miss Kent?"
She had noted how attractive the female aquanoids looked. "It occurs to me," she said darkly, "that someone might try to take advantage of them."
"I assure you anyone who attempts to sexually interfere with the aquanoids will be severely punished."
"I should jolly well think so. What would you do to them, by the way: feed them to your giant squid? Oh yes, and I was going to ask about that too. How did you manage it?"

“It was through a stroke of luck that we were able to capture a male and female giant squid and breed from them. It’s very difficult to do that, as with a great white shark, but if you really need to, and you put your mind to it, it can be done. We’ve had this all planned for years, you see. We made the young grow to an even bigger size than they normally would by giving them the genes that govern growth in a redwood tree – the largest living thing on this planet. In case anything happened to our gate guard we did the same with a few other marine animals – a shark, a jellyfish, an octopus. All creatures which are potentially dangerous, especially when they’re bigger than usual and very hungry.”

She told him about the dead whale she and Ivarson had come across. “So what happened there?”
Greatrix frowned briefly, looking none too happy at the information, then shook his head as if to clear the feeling from his mind. “That would have been a mistake. We were studying whales for other reasons, mainly to do with trying to make aquanoids more efficient. Looking at their growth and development. Someone thought the embryo was to be injected with the growth hormone, and the whale released into the sea when old enough to fend for itself, as with all the other animals.”

"And you trained the animals, didn't you?" She had a way of asking questions, one after another, that made it seem as if she was the one in control and not he. “You trained the squid to come here for food. And you made sure none of these monsters attacked your own subs when they were entering or leaving the area?"

"Correct. They were trained as juveniles to attack a mock-up of a sub which had a certain design painted on the front. It looked like a large fish, a potential source of food, or another shark – a possible rival – so that they’d probably go for it anyway once they were large and aggressive enough. There was a gadget on the front of it which then gave them an electric shock. It was a form of aversion therapy.”
“So all your subs have this design on them, which the shark recognizes and avoids?”

“Correct. We’ve fitted the sub with a sort of taser, so they’ll still get a shock if they decide to have a go nonetheless. And if all else fails, the sub is equipped with torpedoes.”
“How on Earth did you get away with that?”
“People will give you anything, or be prepared to make it, provided you can convince them the world will end if they don’t.”
“You’re probably right. But your aim was to try and keep people away from the colony?”

“We realised we’d need to devise some effective means of doing that. It became even more important once we started blowing up the tankers and attracting the attention of people like yourself. But by then our plan was well under way.”
“You’ve been killing people.”
“That was bound to happen. I regret it, of course.”

“I’m sure you do. And besides, if you know as much as you like to think about marine biology then I shouldn't need to tell you it's causing all kinds of damage to the marine environment. Once your mutants exhaust all the food around here they’ll start eating each other, or go off elsewhere. You’ll be left without any defences. And before that happens, they’ll be so desperate for food they’ll attack your subs anyway and have to be killed. You must have scientists working for you on this, they’d have told you it it’s all going to go pear-shaped.”

“They do as they’re told. They wouldn’t if they didn’t believe it was all justified in the end. Besides, to deal with the objections you raise: (a), the marine ecology will recover in the long run once the mutants are dead; (b), nothing will affect what’s going on here because it’s a controlled environment; (c), we had to send the sub out to pick up something that was accidentally left behind at Miami, but we don’t intend to make any more journeys there in the immediate future. We won’t need to.”

"I'd say you've attracted attention to yourselves anyway. Just as you did with the tankers. You think it doesn’t matter, though, do you, because you’re obviously planning something else, that you haven’t told me about.” Greatrix said nothing.
"You're not answering that because you're afraid I might be more likely to try to escape," she challenged.
“If you were, it would be more likely I’d have to do to you something I’d rather not. So let’s not go there. Of course, I'd rather things were no more difficult for us than necessary. Which is why you're something of a problem for us at the moment. Especially as you seem to have some interesting friends."
"What do you mean?" she asked innocently.
"We bugged the Oceanus. That’s why your disguise didn’t fool us. At one point you told the good Dr Ivarson you knew some people who might be persuaded to take an interest in the matter, because all other means had failed. You said it was better he didn't know who they were. That was when I decided it was time to end this little charade and bring you in for a bit of questioning."

Caroline fell silent. Greatrix gave a hollow chuckle, then looked hard at her. “Must we leave this question hanging in the air? I'm dying to know who these "friends" might be. Please tell me, because I do like to clear up loose ends."

Caroline remained obstinately silent. Greatrix shrugged. "Oh well. It doesn't really matter, I suppose. As long as you don't have the opportunity to tell your story there shouldn't be any damage done."

"So," he said expansively, "what exactly are we going to do with you? That's the big question. I don't want it to be anything unpleasant, if that can be avoided." He seemed as if he meant it.
"To be honest, we never really intended to kill you. If you had died at any time it would have been as the result of your own stupidity, as when you attempted to investigate this establishment in a DSRV and ran into our little pet. I decided to see if it would take care of you. In some ways I’m rather relieved it didn’t.”

"I am not stupid," she said icily. "And even if you did try not to kill me it's still wrong for you to keep me here."
He waved this away impatiently. "Yes, yes, I'm sure. No, I don't want to kill you, nor do I wish to keep you locked up in a cage all the time. It'd be a bit of a responsibility. There's a better option."

Turning back to the observation window, he nodded towards a nearby aquanoid. "I believe the expression is, "If you can't beat 'em...."”

Caroline froze. She stepped back a couple of paces, her mouth wide open in horror.
Greatrix gave an enigmatic smile. "You'd make a beautiful aquanoid."

After a moment she found a voice. "You...you can't do that,"
she gasped, white-faced. "You can't interfere with my...my biology....change what I am just like that, without my consent...pump me full of drugs....."
The mental slavery, she felt, would be worse than any kind of physical bondage. Apart from the indignity of not being able to even think as one wished she could not have any consciousness awareness, unless her will was free. No concept of personal identity unless it was her doing this or that, and not some factor over which she had no control. It would be like eternal sleep, eternal darkness.

"It's either that or we kill you. You'd prefer that, would you?" he snapped.
"Of course not," she snapped back.
"Actually there is a third option. You can have the treatment without the drug, if you so desire."
She jumped at this. "Yes please. But I'd rather not have the
treatment at all actually."
"You may have no choice. Quite frankly you're a nuisance and a problem to me right now. You should be grateful I'm not killing you. Perhaps I should have done so when I had the chance."
Your mistake, Caroline thought.

"Personally I'd advise you to take the drug. Then there'll be fewer problems of adjustment. The change to your metabolism, your appearance, I imagine it'll all be quite a shock. Physically you should be alright; for one thing age is on your side. Mentally, well that's a different matter. We can't be certain how you'd adapt to an underwater existence, especially in a tightly controlled environment like the colony."
"I'd manage," she said swiftly.
"Sure?"
"Perfectly."
Their eyes locked.

He winked at her knowingly. "I know what you're thinking. You won't take the drug because if you're still your own boss you'll stand a better chance of escape than if you're an obedient zombie."
Caroline made no reply, but the corner of her mouth turned up ever so slightly.

"I wouldn't bank on it," he warned her. "Now: you realise that if anything bad happens, because you’re suffering too much stress at your situation, it'll be entirely your own fault."
"I'll sign the form if you like."

“Humour even in a situation like this. I like it. You know, Miss Kent, my offer of employment with us still stands. In some other capacity than that." He nodded again at the aquanoid.
"Uh-uh," she said, raising a hand to silence him. "I think we've done that particular subject to death."
"So you've decided to go for it, then? To have the operation?"
Again the thought of what she was signing up to filled her with a queasy, disorientating sensation.
"W-w-well," she stammered, swallowing, "the alternatives don't sound much more appealing."
"Quite so. I think you've made the right decision. It's what I'd do."
"But you don't have to actually make the choice," she pointed out.
“Since, as I have explained, the option of a return to the land remains open, it is not necessary that everyone become an aquanoid.”
“And if we can’t go back to the land?” she asked, then decided not to bother. "How long would I be staying down here for, anyway?" she asked hopefully.

"Until our plans are complete," he informed her. “Now, I want to make it clear that if you do become severely distressed, maybe unbalanced, we'll have no option but to administer the drug to you. You might harm yourself or become a danger to the other aquanoids, and we couldn't have that."
"I understand."

"Dr Zuckermann will explain in more detail what the operation involves.”
Caroline nodded mechanically, biting her lip. She felt a sudden thrill at the thought of being so changed; the experience of becoming what was effectively a different species. It was terrifying but at the same time strangely exhilarating.

At least they'd given her a choice. And it would be less degrading, something told her, than to be drugged. She bore in mind what Greatrix said about sexual interference with the aquanoids being forbidden, but all the same she didn't trust his henchmen to obey the injunction. Men were men, after all.

There was one question she still hadn't put to him, and she knew why. The thought of the answer made her feel sick. With a thrust of courage she managed to steel herself. "Er, is...is it reversible?" she asked nervously.

"Oh, yes. It'd be a tricky business, like the original operation; but quite feasible." She lurched backwards again, eyes tight shut, breathing a deep sobbing sigh of relief. “We don’t want to rule it out altogether; that’s why we’ve kept samples of everyone’s DNA, from which anything we get rid of can be replaced. But I don't think it's very likely you will ever regain your human form, not in the foreseeable future. We’re not working on that assumption, anyway.”
"We'll see," she replied. It was a challenge.

"Oh, one more thing. I'd rather not be naked if you don't mind," She said firmly.
"I'll see if we can find you something to wear. You might have to be patient, though. To be honest, we weren't banking on this kind of thing happening."
She tried one last appeal. "I have a family. People who will be worried about me."
Latimer, who all this time had been standing listening to the conversation in patient silence, suddenly spoke. "Don't worry," he smiled. "If you just tell us where they live, we'll make sure they know you're OK."

"Of course," Greatrix said, "we could bring them out here. If they're healthy middle-aged they could probably survive the operation. The psychological shock is always a problem, of course, regardless of age group."
"My Mum's a bit...neurotic at times." She looked hard at Greatrix. "In fact if she's told I've got myself into trouble again it'll probably send her right over the edge."

"Can't be helped. You chose to take on a very difficult and dangerous job. Now you're paying the consequences." He thought for a moment and then shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea. Trouble is, if we start lugging too many unconscious bodies about the world eventally someone's going to do something about it."

“Suppose so,” agreed Caroline. “Oh by the way, I was at that talk you gave in London.”
“I expect you were,” said Greatrix, unfazed.
“I don’t suppose there are any members of the Underwater Society down here, are there?” she enquired.
“One or two,” Greatrix nodded. He glanced significantly out at the aquanoids. “It was a little cruel, really.”

He broke into a charming smile. "Well, if you've made up your mind these gentlemen will escort you back to the laboratory." The two heavies nodded, indicating she should come with them. Greatrix waved her on with a flourish.

There was really nothing else she could do, as she was later to tell herself time and time again. With heart sinking steadily lower and a face like stone, her body still quivering with suppressed terror, she let herself be led to her fate.


TWENTY-SEVEN
“I say we should have given her the drug," Latimer said after Caroline and her guards had gone. For a moment Greatrix looked as if he didn't entirely disagree with his subordinate.
“I don’t want to,” he said.
"Why not?"
"Because she's very brave and very motivated. I respect that kind of personality. You must admit, it seems degrading to pump her full of drugs and turn her into some stupefied zombie. Oh, she'd have had to have it eventually, if necessary. But I felt I ought to give her the chance, at least, to hold out as long as she could. That’s not the only reason, though. It’ll be useful for us to see how long a normally functioning, fully conscious mind can cope with the change. Especially if everyone is going to be doing this at some point – and willingly, preferably.

"She'll give in sooner or later. She'll have no choice. In the meantime, I want her out there where there's just sand and rocks and plants, and the guard subs can monitor her all the time. In here there's too much she might use to cause trouble."
“What about when she goes in for her meals?”
“She’ll be under constant supervision.”
"I still think we should have installed cameras."
"I keep on telling you, there's no need for them. Not where we are. It wouldn't be cost-effective. It's an enclosed space, easier to keep things under control.
"I'm just not happy with her wandering around in here, fully aware."
“Even if she could get out of the actual building, she couldn’t get out of the colony itself, the guard subs would stop her. It’s the same with the other aquanoids, even more so. They didn't know what was going to be done to them. If the drug should suddenly wear off, the shock of finding out what's happened will knock them for six. It'll be ages before they can get their wits together. That's why I didn't tell them."

"It seems a shame to change her," Latimer said.
Greatrix sighed. "In some ways I'm inclined to agree with you. I keep telling you, Dave, if we are all to survive we will have to abandon traditional concepts of beauty."
"I mean, they're not bad lookers, but....."
"Just you keep your eyes off them."
"You really think I'd..." Latimer's face tightened angrily.
“We all could. That’s why we have to be careful.”
“I see you didn’t tell her about our trump card.”
“Well, if she does succeed in escaping, the less she knows the better. Come on, let’s go.”


It seemed to Caroline that she counted every step on their journey to the laboratory, the sound of each echoing hollowly inside her head with perfect clarity. Disturbingly the idea of a tolling bell came to mind. It only added to her tension.

They came to a junction with another corridor. From down the
passage on their left came the sound of female chatter and laughter, quite a lot of it, as if someone was having a hen party. It would have seemed odd and incongruous to her if she hadn't been too preoccupied with other things.

A little further on they stopped at a door. One of the heavies spoke into an Intercom. “We’ve brought you the latest subject.” A buzzer sounded, he pressed a button on the wall and the door slid open. They stepped through into the laboratory. It reminded Caroline of the one she had visited at the Southampton site; autoclaves, incubators, refrigerators, and workbenches stacked with culture dishes, racks of test tubes, pipettes, microscopes and other traditional lab equipment. The walls were covered with charts and diagrams, one series of which showed the anatomy and metabolism of a male and female human, a fish, a seal, a frog, various other animals, and finally an aquanoid. Others showed the human genome, and the position of various genes within different species; linkage maps, they were called. There was a list of various minerals and vitamins and the substances in which they were found, plus information on how much of each a human and an aquanoid, respectively, required. Yet more charts showed the chemical constituents of sea water and the performance of various animals - a fish, a whale, a frog and a human - in it, with arrows indicating the upward force – buoyancy - of the water, the downward one exerted by the weight of the organism and of the water above it, and the amount of H2O the organism was displacing.

A model of the DNA helix stood on a desktop. Several computers occupied one of the workstations, their monitor screens illuminated. On one the DNA spiral twisted around itself endlessly. On another, the image of a half-fish, half-human creature was constantly shifting and changing, assuming a variety of different forms while remaining roughly a combination of the two species; attempts at a projection of what the aquanoids should ultimately look like?

There was a large tank at the far end of the room, taking up almost all its width.

Dr Zuckermann, Greatrix's chief scientist, came forward to greet her as they entered. "Hello again, Miss Kent."
"Hello," she replied without enthusiasm.
"Don't be like that. We're trying to help you, you know."
"How'd you like it if someone tried to turn you into a...a fish," she said bitterly.
"Not really a fish," he answered, in a tone of reproach. "In some ways more like a seal or other marine mammal. Or maybe a frog. It's hard to define what they are exactly."
"A frog," Caroline muttered. "Yeuch."

"I find frogs quite fascinating, myself. All life is." He steered her to a chair. "Now I'll need to take a cell sample first, in case there's anything in your genes that might react adversely to the changes."
She felt a flicker of fear. If there was, and they couldn't carry out the operation, did that mean they'd have to…..

He took a scalpel from the petri dish in which had been sterilising, checked it was properly clean, and moved towards her. "If you'd roll up your sleeve, please." Silently she complied.

Gently he pricked her on the arm. Turning away with the sliver of skin clinging to the point of the scalpel, he placed it gently on a specimen slide and carried it across to a microscope.

In a sick thrust of apprehension she counted the number of test tubes in the rack on the bench nearest to her. Her attention focused on them, she didn't see Zuckermann, inspecting her DNA sample thoughtfully, frown as if seeing something that shouldn't be there. After a moment he dismissed it from his thoughts, deciding it shouldn’t make any difference to things, and went on studying the sample.

She waited, growing more and more tense by the minute, until at last he straightened up from the microscope and came back to her.

"All right," he smiled. “Now the blood test.”
The result was the same. Finally he took her blood pressure, which he found to be somewhat higher than normal, but this wasn’t unexpected in the circumstances. "I think we're ready to begin the operation," he announced.

"You'll be unconscious all the time, of course. Afterwards you'll feel a little strange, but you'll soon get used to the change.”

How do you know that, she thought, if all the people who’ve had the operation in the past have been drugged?

"Does it have to be a man performing the operation?" she asked. Normally she wouldn't have minded, but since the whole business was illicit anyway it did seem particularly objectionable.

"I'm the one most qualified. But if it helps, Dr Ivanova here will be assisting." He addressed himself to the woman assistant who hovered nearby; she had red hair of the kind that was obviously and hideously died, colour that could not possibly exist in nature, and metal-framed spectacles. "Is everything ready?" The woman nodded.

"What will I look like when it's finished?" asked Caroline suddenly.
"You've seen Katie Phillipson," Zuckermann said. "I think we made rather a good job of it, personally." He answered her question. "I take your point. Well, much the same as you are now, apart of course from the changes you have already seen in the other aquanoids. We are aiming to conserve, not wantonly destroy. Although I should really get rid of your bust; it makes the female figure less streamlined, and creates too much drag in the water. However we're not aiming for perfection right now, just survival."

Caroline thought about this. The idea of losing that which to her defined her sexuality did not appeal. If you'd been flat-chested from the start, as she occasionally wished she had, it wouldn't have mattered. She told herself that it didn’t make you any less a woman, or a person.

She guessed the breasts acted as a sexual lure, as always in nature. If she wasn't naked that might not matter. What she was apprehensive about was the possibility one of the male aquanoids would try to mate with her; it wouldn’t be a problem if she had to be given the drug, because Greatrix had Promised to respect her wishes after that. Some consolation, at any rate.

"You still don't look very happy," Zuckermann observed. "Just remember, things could be worse."
"I could be dead. That's what you were going to say, wasn't it? Everyone else has."
"No, I didn't mean that." He nodded towards one of the diagrams on the wall. "To be honest we're still learning here. At the moment, to adapt really effectively to a marine environment the true form of a human being would have to be something like that."

Caroline had seen something similar to the creature in the diagram in a book called Man after Man. Its whole theme had been that in order to ensure his survival Man would eventually abandon his traditional concepts of attractiveness, and even his humanity, by using genetic engineering to shape himself so as to live in permanent comfort in environments such as outer space and underwater without the need for expensive and cumbersome specialised equipment. The pictures in the book had rather repelled her. Would people really go that far? Not willingly, she decided.

The creature had huge bulging eyes and a wide gaping mouth with downturned corners, flipper-like hands and feet, and a broad, flat, blunt head emerging directly from the body with no suggestion of a neck. It was streamlined but ugly. Its expression seemed sad and mournful and she couldn’t help feeling sorry for it. "I shouldn't think anyone will want to look like that," she said. "Would you?"

"It won't be necessary," he replied. "Now then, I really think we should be getting on. If you'd come this way?"

He led her to the far end of the lab. For the first time she noticed a padded couch surrounded by masses of complex equipment, and with a robot arm suspended over it in what seemed a menacing fashion. The whole sight of it caused her resolution to waver and she stopped dead, her fingers flying to her mouth.

Zuckermann's face wore the look of a benign father. "You know, it's still not too late for you to change your mind."
With a determined effort Caroline rallied her spirits. "Let's just get on with it, shall we," she snapped.

She stood by the couch, and Zuckermann pulled a folding metal screen into place around the apparatus, turning the section into a separate room from the rest of the laboratory. "Would you take your clothes off please, Miss Kent, and lie on the couch."

Without a word she undressed, leaving her clothes in a pile on the floor, then climbed up onto the couch. Stretching herself out, she stared impassively at the ceiling. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ivanova gather up her kit and drop it into a plastic bag.

Then the Russian woman attached a thing like a bracelet to her wrist, with leads from it going to a free-standing piece of equipment which looked like a kidney dialysis machine. Ivanova switched on the machine and figures appeared on an LCD; presumably they were monitoring her heartbeat and blood pressure.

Zuckermann draped a plastic sheet over her body, which hung down to the floor on each side, then moved to a nearby work surface where lay a face mask of transparent plastiglass, connected by a flexible rubber hose to a tall cylinder standing on a wheeled base. "I'm just going to put you to sleep," he told her.

The bleeping of the machine went up a few octaves, and the figures changed faster. Her pulse had gone up. "Now relax," Zuckermann urged.

This is the last moment where I can back out, she thought. When I can do something. When I can say no.

From all they had said to her, it wouldn't work unless she calmed down.

She took the plunge, leaped into the abyss. At the bottom of which she knew not what she would find, not really.

"If you'll just lift your head up a bit..." He fitted the mask over her mouth and nostrils. He fastened the strap of the mask behind her head, then slowly turned one of the knobs on the cylinder.

Gently, almost inaudibly, the anaesthetic gas began to hiss from it into the air space around Caroline's face. She closed her eyes.

Be brave, she thought. It's your best chance of survival. Let's see what it turns out like, at any rate.

Again she forced herself to relax, to forget her fears and worries. Work with the gas.

It took some time but eventually, despite her subconscious Attempts to resist it, the gas began to triumph. Her thoughts jumbled together into a hazy blur, and it became hard to focus on anything even if she tried.

Her eyelids closed, and she drifted peacefully into unconsciousness.

Zuckermann taped electrodes from the instruments which would monitor her breathing, heartbeat and brain activity, and also serve as a life-support system while she was undergoing the operation, to her forehead and wrists. He looked down at her, watching the steady rise and fall of her chest.
Greatrix came in. "What's the verdict?" he asked curtly.

"Well, she's young, healthy and fit. No reason why she shouldn't survive the operation. Incidentally, she's as perfect a specimen of the human female as you're ever likely to meet. A suitable case for study."

Ivanova looked up from her equipment. "Breathing normal. Heartbeat normal. Brain activity normal." He grunted an acknowledgement, turning towards a bench where lay a row of culture dishes, some of which contained the viruses he used in the operations, others the various organs and tissues, grown from stem cells, that needed to be implanted in Caroline or grafted onto her.

In a nutshell, genetic engineering meant finding specific genes, cutting them out of their chromosomes using enzymes and splicing them into chromosomes of other species. Generally it was a case of implanting the DNA within the single cell from which a plant could be grown in a laboratory, or the fertilised egg of an animal organism. With animals, the egg was placed in the womb having been fertilised outside it using IVF. It then developed into embryo and foetus, and was born, in the normal fashion. This would be the method used with humans if it ever became legal. Working with an egg, of course, meant that you could control its development right from the start, allowing nature to take its course once a few relatively simple changes had been made, in order to produce the kind of result you desired. Here, something much more difficult and complex was being attempted; the changes were being made to an existing adult organism. A human one, besides. Before such a thing could be contemplated the whole gene pattern, not only of humans but of certain other species - the ones they were particularly interested in - had had to be mapped. That was what Marcotech, along with others, had succeeded in doing. They now knew the location in the chromosome of each of the thousands of genes which made us what we were, and what they did. Before Marcotech had embarked on their project, nothing like the transformation of humans into aquanoids had ever been done before, not on such a scale. Because of the problems involved, part of the job had to be accomplished using surgery. Zuckermann had performed many such operations as these and only once had the patient failed to survive. But it was always complex, always tricky. Sometimes he'd made a mistake and that was why the patient had died. Too rapid a change to the metabolism, to the cellular structure and chemical composition of the subject, could have a traumatic
effect.

The hundreds of careful, delicate changes he had to make to the anatomy and metabolism, until what resulted was a finely engineered, finely balanced hybrid between the two - in some ways, a totally different organism - it took it all out of him. Which was why he needed to calm his nerves, psych himself up, before an op by sleeping for a couple of hours and drinking plenty of coffee. Every time he dreaded the fear that something might go wrong. He had flirted with the idea of cloning from a single aquanoid - they had the technology, more or less - but eventually dismissed it. Cloning might turn out to have its uses, but both he and Greatrix were suspicious of it. Cloned tissue tended to have defects, besides which their aim was essentially to preserve the existing individuals.

The method by which Zuckermann brought about the transformation of a human being into an aquanoid was already widely employed in medicine, although not with quite the purpose that he had in mind. It used viruses as the vector, the agent which carried the foreign DNA to the parts of the body where it was meant to go. A virus changed the cells of its host body, or that part of it which it infected, to its own nature, and also tended to reproduce very fast: at the same time copying the genetic material which had been inserted into it.

Zuckermann would inject the gene for each desired characteristic into a sample of a virus, which either affected the whole body or just a part of it, as desired. This technique was the basis for manufacture of the drugs and vaccines by which Marcotech and other pharmaceutical companies generated a substantial percentage of their vast profits. In this way, the two sides of its work complemented each other. The effect of the treatment would be to change not just the body itself but the way it manufactured proteins and hormones, so that bodily functions were regulated the way a fish's would be.

Removing the lid of one of the culture dishes, he took a hypodermic needle, inserted it into the contents of the dish and gently depressed the plunger, the point of the needle sinking into the coating of jelly. After a moment he released the plunger and returned to his patient. Carefully he inserted the needle into the flesh of her forearm, just above the wrist.

This first injection was of a gene which would stimulate Caroline's body to produce "transplantation antigens", proteins that helped it to accept transplanted tissue and organs. In this way, the genetic engineering complemented the surgery Zuckermann would later perform. The second increased her buoyancy by altering the chemical composition of her cells, so that they had a lower salt content and a higher amount of lipids, factors which both reduced density.

Over the next few hours Zuckermann made five more injections. First came the one to alter the composition of her blood, using genes taken from a seal. The next would give her the red muscle tissue of a fish. The third enabled her to contract the lenses of her eyes in such a way as to generally see better underwater, courtesy of the Moken. The fourth transformed the cells making up her skin. The fifth and final injection made certain changes to her kidneys, ensuring that they would excrete little water, checking the process of osmosis by which a fish tended to lose water while still maintaining a proper balance of its internal environment, and excreting the salt which they absorbed in potentially dangerous quantities from the sea water they were constantly swallowing, secreting waste nitrogen through the gills as ammonia.
Then Dr Zuckermann reached for his scalpel.

And implanted the swim bladder, the organ by which a fish maintained and adjusted its buoyancy, below and to the right of the stomach. It had been developed from stem cells taken from a tuna, to which, as with the other organs to be transplanted, a gene had been added that enabled it to be grown to the required size. The swim bladder absorbed or secreted gas, mostly oxygen, to maintain neutral buoyancy and thus conserve energy. The gas was secreted into the bladder, and absorbed into the bloodstream, by special glands, which Zuckermann implanted at the same time as the bladder.

Once the swim bladder was installed he implanted a pacemaker to take the place of Caroline's heart while it was removed and replaced with one from a fish, grown to the size of a human's and containing a few of the same cells.

Ivanova glanced at the LCD on the machine. "Breathing regular. Heartbeat a little too fast."
"Inject more sedative. About 10 grammes."

Now came perhaps the most tricky operation of all. He made an incision, opening into the windpipe, in her neck in which he implanted the gills. They would function by flapping so that water passed over them, and they then extracted oxygen from it, which haemoglobin in the blood would transport via the circulatory system to the tissues as in a human being. They would not be very efficient. Designing a human with gills, able to breathe underwater in the same way as a fish, involved certain problems. Size, in itself, was not one of them; after all a whale shark, which was considerably bigger than a human, merely had slits in its side, at the point where the neck would be on a person. But the complexity of the human physiology, vascular system included, demanded that the gill structure be complex likewise, as well as very large, to allow for the necessary gas exchange. It was best situated outside the body, to allow it to make room for other things. It would be delicate, very heavy for the body to support, and liable to injury, catching easily on things. Had natural evolution ever produced a humanoid creature with such an appendage, it would very soon have died out. There was another reason why humans couldn't have gills. Evolution was very conservative in that new structures rarely appeared. Essentially evolution modified what was already there, rather than create anything radically different. It would be left to science to do that.

Humans actually had gills already, or at least had possessed them as embryos. They had been lost or modified during growth into other structures: the jaws, the skeleton of the face, the middle ear, various blood vessels and parts of the respiratory system. To alter the human form would involve removing one or more of them. The aorta would have to go; also the carotid arteries, necessitating a smaller or differently structured brain which would require less blood.
Caroline’s gills could only extract and store a limited amount of oxygen from the water, so sometimes an aqualung might be needed to supplement them. She could of course use her lungs on the surface, just like a normal human.

Marginally less delicate than the reconstruction of the respiratory system was the implantation in the skin, by microsurgery, of sensory receptors, connected up to the nervous system and thus the brain, which detected vibrations in the water caused by, for example, pressure changes, currents and the presence of other life forms, much more efficiently than a human diver who would of course be insulated within a protective suit; one other good reason why the aquanoids didn’t wear an awful lot of clothes. If people were to permanently inhabit a marine environment they would some way of protecting themselves from the predators which lurked there.

It was a relief when these more difficult aspects of the job were out of the way. The two remaining tasks were relatively simple. Incisions were made in the skin between fingers and toes and the webbing was grafted onto it; here Marcotech had made a little adaptation of their own, designing the sheets of membrane to be retractable so that when not needed for swimming they wouldn’t make it difficult to carry or manipulate objects by hand. Then cells from a fish eye, grown to form a thin membrane, were placed over the subject’s pupils to protect them from the irritation that resulted from prolonged exposure to salt water – and enable them to see for more than a hundred feet, the limit for an average human, while in it.
Throughout all this Caroline dreamed. In the dream she saw herself as human. It was not one dream but many, a series of disjointed fragments from her past life; playing in the park with her brother when they were both children, winning a beauty contest at the age of sixteen, being photographed standing between her proud parents at her graduation, plus one scene she couldn’t tie down to any particular place or time, an image of herself diving deep down to the bottom of a lake of crystal clear water.

At some point they must have stopped administering the anaesthetic, if only for a brief time, because she seemed to hear faint voices, coming to her as if across a great distance, one so vast and unfathomable they sounded disembodied and unreal.
"Keep her moist."
"Brain activity normal. Heart rate still a little too high."
"Relax, Miss Kent."
"Adrenalin levels increasing."
"More anaesthetic, please."

Something was being placed over her face. They must have taken the mask off and now they were putting it back again. The sweet smell of the gas as it filled her nostrils made her feel light-headed.

"Breathing normal."
"Good. I think we can withdraw the tube now." After that she knew nothing for a while, and certainly not any sense of time.

In the real world, Zuckermann saw her twitch and writhe from side to side, mouth opening and closing.
"All right, put her in the tank."

She was dimly conscious of being lifted up and carried a short distance, then she had a sensation of being suspended in water, similar to that she had experienced while diving with Ivarson; floating in a pleasant, dreamlike state.
"I think the anaesthetic's wearing off again," someone said.
"OK, take her out."

She was lifted out of the tank, and a moment later oblivion swallowed her up again. She thought they put her in the tank once more, but couldn't be quite sure. She felt a vague dreamy sense of detached wellbeing, in which nothing much seemed to matter.

"All readings normal," reported Ivanova. Normal for an aquanoid, anyway.

Zuckermann looked down at Caroline for a moment. "She's made it," he announced with a touch of pride. "She's gonna be alright." The operation had taken five hours in all.

It was at this point that they would have administered the drug. But this time they weren’t going to do that. Now all they had to do was wait for the changes to take full effect.

He nodded to Ivanova. She gathered up the blood-spattered plastic sheeting, the polythene bags containing Caroline's clothes and the various items of medical waste including her original heart, and carried them off to the incinerator.


TWENTY EIGHT
Vaguely Caroline's eyes registered the pattern of the tiles in the ceiling of the operating theatre, and she realised she was conscious.

A giddy thrill travelled like an electric shock through her body. Unless perhaps she had awoken by accident, they must have completed the operation. What would she feel when she saw herself?
It still didn't feel possible. It couldn’t be, surely.

She felt someone remove the mask from her face, and saw Zuckerman standing over her smiling benignly down. "Congratulations, Miss Kent. You've come through alright."
Her heart gave a sickening lurch.

"C-can I get up now?" she asked. Her voice sounded strange in her own ears; harsh, alien, a bit frightening. She actually gave a little start.
"If you like."

Slowly, tentatively, Caroline sat up. She could see the room around her with perfect clarity, and in the way one normally would. It served to reassure her.

She still felt human; it was the same thing, she supposed, as thinking you still had a limb when in fact it'd just been amputated. Probably her brain was telling her she was biologically that because she’d never been anything else. This must surely be good. It meant she'd adjust to the change gradually, without experiencing any serious physical or mental shock. It must help that she was still warm-blooded, with little change to her nervous system and no alterations made to the structure of the brain.

All the same, she hardly dared to look down at herself. But she couldn't stay in this position forever.
She lifted herself off the couch and straightened up. She steeled herself and glanced down.
At first there seemed to be no change. She felt at the same time surprised, relieved, and amused, even a little annoyed that she had been so scared.

Then, examining herself a little closer, she realised her body was covered with a fine growth of tiny scales. She noticed first one, then another, and another, until the reality of what had happened to her sank in fully. They were everywhere except for the softer regions such as her breasts, buttocks, stomach, the palms of her hand and the soles of her feet. Silvery-white in colour, they were exactly like the scales on a fish.

Having seen the aquanoids, she had been able to picture herself as one and had concentrated on the image, the more to better prepare herself for the change. In the end nothing really could. She staggered, her head swimming, and clapped her hands to her head with a gasp of amazement and shock.
Zuckermann and Ivanova stiffened warily.

After a moment she composed herself, lowering her hands. She still couldn't quite believe someone had actually succeeded in doing it, but the shock had now been succeeded by curiosity.

She ran her hands over her sides. Altogether the sensation was quite pleasant, and she smiled. The skin was cold and also smooth - the scales seeming to overlap only slightly, if at all - to the touch; slightly moist, but not so that it caused discomfort.

Next she examined her hands, splaying out the fingers; they too felt comfortable, the sheets of membrane stretching easily as she flexed them.

She touched her neck, and felt a finger slip inside one of the gill openings. It felt wet and slimy, and she withdrew the finger sharply, crying out in shock and revulsion.
"Are you alright?" asked Ivanova, professionally concerned.
She nodded. "It's OK," she muttered, not quite so pleased now.
"You will adjust to it in time, believe me," the woman smiled. Her concern was almost motherly.

"Have - have you got a mirror?" Caroline asked.
"I'll see if I can find one." Ivanova moved away, and Caroline sat down again. Zuckermann was entering data onto his computer, probably recording the results of the operation. His back was to her and briefly the thought of making a run for it popped into her mind. Then she realised the futility of it and sighed.

Ivanova returned with a small hand mirror and offered it to her. Taking it, she studied her image in the glass. It was like something out of a sci-fi movie, and she almost dropped the mirror in shock on seeing the scales all over her face. And her eyes; they were no longer quite blue, more a sort of grey-brown, because of the membrane covering the pupils like a contact lens. It was odd to see that face still framed by a luxuriant growth of blonde thatch. Presumably the cells of the skin on her scalp were still mammalian, producing mammalian hair. It looked as if two very different species had been oddly combined; the result wasn't unattractive, if still not in her view looking quite right.

Then she thought of herself as she had been, and suddenly broke down. The tears running down her cheeks felt hot, and smelt and tasted salty.

Ivanova placed a sympathetic arm on hers. "It's all right, my dear."
Whatever happened in the future, she knew that for the moment she would just have to adapt to her new form, her new environment. There was no choice.
"OK now?" asked the Russian woman.
"Y-Yes," she sobbed, her chest heaving and shuddering. "It's just....a bit of a wrench, that’s all."

As Zuckermann had promised, she couldn't find a scar anywhere from the implantation of the swim bladder. She was pleased about that at least.

She sat down on the couch again, head in hands, once more reeling from the strangeness of it all. On top of that, she had lost all concept of time. She could have been under the anaesthetic for a few hours, or a few years.

A minute or two went by. "If you're ready," said Zuckermann gently, "We need to acclimatise you to being in the water. But first, I’d better warn you.” She looked at him questioningly.

"It is not impossible," he said, "that you could drown psychomatically. You're accustomed to breathing air. You can hold your breath underwater for a certain time, but that isn't the same thing. In your new form you can withstand immersion perfectly comfortably for several hours. But does your metabolism know that? At first, you will believe you are drowning. To all intents and purposes, you will be drowning because that is what your brain will be telling you. That's the consequence of not taking the drug. Even if the body could have survived the shock, the mind may not. And if the mind reacts adversely the body will follow. If you don't drown, panic may still induce heart failure."
"Thanks for making my day," Caroline said.

"If anything bad does happen it will be entirely your responsibility. Do I make myself quite clear?" It was their way of exonerating themselves from blame for all they were doing. She nodded impatiently.

"If you don't go," he said, "we'll have to dump you out there ourselves. In any case, I should remind you that you'll have to go in the water before long, or you'll die. You can't survive in an aerobic environment for more than a couple of hours." A fish needed to be exposed most of the time – or at least half the time in Caroline’s case, since she was not fully either one thing nor the other - to a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, not to air only, its metabolism requiring a delicate balance between the two elements. Out of the water its gills could not control the oxygen intake and it received a lethal overdose of the gas, experiencing the equivalent of what in aerobic organisms would be drowning.

She swallowed, her bravado instantly evaporating. For a moment her head hung down dejectedly. Then she closed her eyes, rested her hands on her knees, and began breathing in and out very slowly and gently.
"What are you doing?" Zuckermann asked.
"Breathing exercises," she said. "Don't disturb my concentration."

They sat down and waited for her to finish. After all, if it helped.....
Obviously, she was preparing herself mentally and physically for the test that lay ahead. It was probably best that she did. They knew that if they lost her, it would be on their conscience for a long time afterwards.

For some minutes there was no sound in the laboratory except the soft, hissing breath of the new aquanoid. Finally Caroline opened her eyes and looked up.
"OK?" Zuckermann asked.
Caroline considered. "Not yet."

She remained where she was a while longer, while Zuckermann began to pace about the lab impatiently. Then she decided that if she wasn't ready to try it yet, she never would be.
"Let's go," she said, and got up from the couch.

The guard opened the door, and they led her to an airlock where he spun the wheel which disengaged the locking bars. With a click the reinforced steel door swung slowly open.

Caroline stepped inside. She found herself in a confined, cylindrical space with ribbed metal walls. A door identical to the one she had just come through was directly opposite it in the far wall. There was a control panel beside it, presumably for closing it from the inside.

“We’ll leave it for a few minutes,” Zuckermann said. “By then you’ll need to go in the water, which will help to overcome the psychological barrier.” He pointed out the controls for opening the outer door, explaining that they could be overridden from the control centre. "It’s got to be timed properly, you aren’t going out until we want you to. You can walk out this way if you like, but you’ve only got about ten minutes to make your mind up. Then the automatic locking system will cut in and the chamber start to flood. Once that happens, we aren't letting you back in until you're fully acclimatised."
"Good luck," he said, and left. The door was slammed shut and bolted.

Well, now was the moment of truth.
She sat down in the corner, legs crossed like a Buddhist meditating, arms wrapped around her body. And waited.

Could she really do it? Could she really breathe underwater unaided? The thought of it was fantastic. The trouble was that part of her still thought she was human, and she wasn't. Not entirely.

Outside Zuckerman, Ivanova and Greatrix were watching her through the security camera in the airlock. "That’s it, Miss Kent," murmured Greatrix. "Be a brave girl." There was tension in his face.
This, thought Zuckermann, was an experiment in itself.

Caroline meanwhile was contemplating her immediate future without relish. If she stayed like this she would die, according to Zuckermann. Yet if they pumped the water in and it went wrong, she might drown. Which would be worse? She could imagine drowning, at least. Images of Newquay, so long ago now, came to mind. Splashing about helplessly, screaming with terror at the thought she was going to die, struggling to expel the water filling her lungs. But to die from not being immersed...what human being had ever experienced that, ever?

Soon she began to experience the first pangs of pain. It was a stabbing, and also a hot kind of pain, coming from somewhere deep in her guts, right up into her craw. Gradually it got more and more severe.

The sensation was weird, like nothing she'd ever felt before, and unsettling. Like being thirsty, terribly thirsty, yet this time it wasn't just her throat, her mouth and lungs, but her whole body which craved for the moisture, the water; she wanted to feel it on her skin, her flesh, soaking into every single tiny cell of her body.

There was a roaring furnace inside her, a blast of heat drying out all her tissues and driving the breath from her lungs. She tried to master it, to tell herself it was ridiculous and she didn't need the water like this. But her body didn't seem to agree with her. It felt like it was being jabbed full of tiny red-hot knives.
Could she overcome it with sheer willpower?

Faced with two equally unappealing options, she felt herself start to panic. Then something told her that would only make things worse.

If it turned out she could walk out of here without having to immerse herself in H20, Marcotech might simply keep her here as a drugged, helpless prisoner. She didn't fancy that option much either.

But in any case Zuckermann must know what he was talking about. She'd seen the aquanoids, for God's sake. If they could breathe underwater without scuba gear, which was fantastic enough, then they could also die out of it.

She felt as if the stress of the choice would itself kill her. Fish must have high blood pressure, given the speed at which they moved. She had to be careful.
With willpower, maybe it wouldn't. But what her will told her to do her reason ruled out.

Will alone might help her to survive immersion. But out of the water, if Zuckermann was right, no amount of it would save her. You couldn't ignore the laws of biology, and the fact they had just been drastically rewritten made no difference to that.

She heard a whooshing noise, and jets of water spurted from vents in the wall of the chamber.

She swallowed, a hand over her mouth to stop herself retching. Oh God, it was too late now.

The water began to flood the airlock. It formed a pool around her feet, one that grew bigger and bigger, rose higher and higher, with terrifying speed.
In just a second it had reached her ankles.

She stood there, ignoring the pain still racking her lungs and innards, and waited, forcing herself to stay calm, steadying the rate of her breathing.
The water was up to her knees now.

It was just as it was when she had been learning, as a human, to dive. Then she had been frightened at times that something would go wrong and she’d drown. Think of this as being no different.
Her waist.

What was frightening was the knowledge that the water would go on rising, and that she couldn't get out of the airlock. She had to stay here till it was above her head.
And she had no mask, no snorkel, no oxygen tanks.
She still felt too human, that was the problem. Too human not to drown.
Her chest.

Again the panic rose within her. Relax, she told herself. Stay calm. She fought to suppress the violent pounding of her heart. You want to get out of this, don't you? Survive it, for your friends and family's sake as well as your own. Never panic in the water. That was what Doc Ivarson had told her when she first started lessons with him.
She wouldn't let him down now.
Her chin.

She tried to imagine this was just an extended breath-holding dive. But in snorkelling, she had always had the option of surfacing when she wanted to. Not now.

A little of it lapped into her mouth. Now she really was afraid, seriously afraid.

Take a deep breath.....no, that was stupid. It wouldn't help her now. Probably kill her, if anything. They'd told her the gills on their own weren't enough to do the job.
She could hold her breath for a long time...
A long time......
She fought the instinct to do it.
The water was filling her mouth. Oh, God.....

Swallow it. Don't panic, don't choke, just swallow it. That's right.

Stay calm and relax. Again she drew on her meditative techniques, taught her by a Chinaman who had been a practitioner of such things. His name was Tsien Ho and he was dead now, poor chap. A lot of the people who became involved with her ended up dead, she thought miserably. Might serve her right if.....

Or rather, maybe she owed it to them to come through OK. Then the sacrifice would have been worthwhile.

She kept her breathing shallow but steady, as he had taught her, until she was barely conscious of it.
You can do it...you can breathe underwater. Forget about the land, that's all in the past. Adapt to your new existence.
Above all she focused on the urge to survive, telling herself time and time again that if she panicked she would die.
I am NOT going to drown. I am NOT going to drown. I am NOT going to drown. I am NOT going to drown I am NOT I am NOT I am NOT I am NOT I am NOT I am NOT I am NOT
Focus on that thought, make it the still centre. To the extent that you forget about everything else. Including breathing. Let the breathing be unconscious, autonomic. Then her new gill system could kick in, and take over. Do the job for her.
I am a fish, she thought.
No. That was ridiculous. I'm not a fish, I'm a.....
That was the problem. What was she? Neither one thing or the other. Nothing she could focus on.
That's rubbish. I know very well what I am.
I am me.
That is what I am. Just me. Whatever you may do to my biology. And I want to live, am going to live.

It seemed her heartbeat had steadied. Then with a shock that almost made her lose control again, she realised the water was above her head.

Don't panic. You haven't got anything to lose now, have you? You may as well stick this out.
How long before I drown?
YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DROWN!!!!!!!!!

She was using both the meditative exercises and her own willpower. Together with any luck they’d see her through.
Open the door. Someone open the door, please!
NO. They won't open the door, not until they're satisfied it's worked.

She stayed like that, focusing on the still centre, for a very long time. That was how it seemed. And then it hit her that she was still alive. Glancing down she could see her chest heaving rhythmically, showing that her lungs were still functioning. She just hadn't been conscious of them, that was all; which you weren't anyway, when breathing. At the same time her gills were starting to flutter as they took in oxygen from the water.
Wow, she thought, I can do it.

Remembering that she should have neutral buoyancy, she kicked off and swam up to the roof of the airlock.
It’s working.

"Fascinating," breathed the watching Greatrix. "She's done it." There was admiration, a kind of pride almost, in his voice.

They saw her go to the camera and look up into its screen. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
Zuckermann lip-read the words. Can I come out now?
The scientist grinned. "She's ready."

He activated a control which would let the water out of the airlock. A couple of minutes later he opened the door and Caroline stepped out. She saw Greatrix and the others coming towards her. "Well done, Miss Kent," he smiled. "Later we'll see how you perform outside. That's a little more scarier, you see. Too much to do all in one go. In the meantime, congratulations."
And despite everything, Caroline grinned.


THIRTY
In 1987 the two main squadrons of SBS had been amalgamated to form a single section, M Squadron, whose role in peacetime was basically one of counter-terrorism; in war it specialized in sabotage of enemy coastal and offshore installations. Its principal base was at Poole in Dorset, with another at RAF Arbroath, Scotland, to cover the North Sea oilrigs, always considered a potential terrorist target. It was divided into three troops, Red, Green and Blue. Following their induction into Red Troop the Major and those of his SAS unit who had joined with him took up residence in the barracks at Poole, along with their wives if they had the fortune or otherwise to be married.

Their training was still not quite over. A lot of it was “on the job” – often the best way to learn. In any case, constant practice was the only way to keep themselves up to standard. They spent a lot of time parachuting into the water from Hercules transport planes or Chinook helicopters, along with the RIBs (Ribbed Inflatable Boats) often used in their operations. They would then climb into the boats and be directed by radio from a Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft to a decommissioned cruise liner or cargo freighter, where they would simulate a hostage rescue or anti-gun-running operation. Sometimes the exercise had to be carried out in strong winds and high seas, with the crews of the RIBs fighting to keep them stable so they could position the ladders against the sides of the violently bucking ship. For shore raids, usually carried out at night, they would use either dinghies offloaded from a submarine or SDVs, Swimmer Delivery Vehicles, which were silent electrically-driven minisubs moving at a maximum of six knots per hour, to get reasonably close to the target and then swim the rest of the way. The vehicles were always full of water when submerged, making it necessary for its occupants to wear masks. They were difficult to control, having only rudimentary controls consisting of an aircraft-type joystick, two foot pedals and a sonar device.

They went into action wearing balaclavas and assault suits, as on their SAS missions, donning wetsuits were necessary, and equipped with MP5 sub-machine guns and SIG-Sauer pistols.
Mike Hartman wondered which of these activities they would be performing when they first saw serious action in their new role – as he hoped they would - or if it would be something else entirely. At present they were attached to the Royal Navy submarine HMS Nelson, which every now and then would stop at a location somewhere around the coast, under cover of darkness, and deliver a Commando team consisting of themselves to row, then swim, to land, place limpet mines on a disused blockhouse or lifeboat station which was doubling as an Iranian naval base and blow it up. These exercises also had the purpose of accustoming one to life on a submarine. It had been decided to extend them to include a three-month voyage around the Atlantic, with a goodwill visit to the American submarine base at Groton.

The idea was for them to gain an understanding of what life was like in the Navy, and share in the privations and hardships sometimes experienced by those on board a sub. “So we don’t get too cocky,” the Major told his comrades. He supposed it couldn’t do any harm from the point of view of bridge-building, though all the same he doubted whether there was really that much need for it. While on the Nelson they ate in the same mess as the enlisted men, but tended to all sit together, which was natural since they were colleagues, friends, and were also a sort of (frequently resented) elite. At first there had been some distance, some edginess, between them and the Navy personnel, but the ice was gradually beginning to melt.

The Nelson was due to set sail on its transatlantic tour of duty the next day. As this would be their last night on dry land for some time, they had decided to make the most of it. After finishing that day’s exercise they had changed from berets and khaki into civvies and gone into town for a night out at one of the more lively local pubs, often frequented by sailors from the Devonport naval base where Nelson was currently stationed.

Now they were were sitting talking cosily, the way friends did, in the warmth of the bar, listening during pauses in the conversation to the babble of voices that filled the room, giving them that special sense of comfort which comes from the presence in large numbers of other humans. The juke box was belting out a selection of hits from various eras; a few of the lads decided to add one or two contributions of their own.

Everyone’s mind was on the long voyage due to commence just after sun-up the following morning. “We are sailing, we are sailing," sang Bob Moretti, a short dark-skinned man with a fierce-looking moustache, in a rather tuneless voice.

The Major bought a whisky and soda for himself and a gin and tonic for Bryant, the Nelson’s captain. They found a reasonably quiet corner and sat down to chat. Instinctively they talked in low voices, wary of the danger of letting slip military secrets.

Roger Bryant was a young-looking forty-five. He probably had a good few years to go yet in the Navy, because the nature of his command meant he wouldn’t normally have to engage in direct physical combat. For the Major, now in his early thirties, it was different. Those on active service had to be at the very peak of their physical fitness, and in the Army thirtysomething was a much greater age than it would be in other professions.

“So how long do you think you’ll stay with us then?” Bryant asked.
“I’ll probably be in the SBS for the rest of my active service. I think I quite like the life, all in all.”
“Ever thought what you might do after that?”
“Well I certainly don’t want to be a penpusher,” said the Major with distaste.
“Better to take an instructor’s job, or something like that.” The Major nodded his agreement. It was best for those who had left the Army, where they’d often been mentally and physically in a state of combat readiness, all keyed up to fight, to take a job which would be similar to what they’d done in the forces, involving a lot of physical activity. It helped them to adjust to their new circumstances, their new role. With some, who left the profession not knowing what to do with the rest of their lives and found a civilian existence hard to adapt to, the pent-up aggression, suddenly denied an outlet, manifested itself in dangerous ways.

While the Major was talking to Bryant, the others were congregating at the bar to order the next round of drinks. One of them, Phil Jenks, was talking loudly and animatedly about some of his past sexual conquests, in the process attracting attention to them.

Jenks handed over the cash and took his glass of Newcastle Brown. “I reckon that’s your last one, Phil,” said Steve Ferris, the Londoner who’d been the Major’s sergeant in the SAS and was effectively his second-in-command in any enterprise on which the group of them embarked together.

“Fuck off,” growled Jenks. “The fun’s hardly…hardly started yet. Six hours to go till closing time.” He was already beginning to sound slightly slurred.
His companions looked at each other worriedly.

A tall, handsome blonde came over to the bar and bought a drink. She had a female friend with her but no fella. Jenks’ eyes lit up on seeing her. “Hiya, sweetheart,” he grinned, raising his glass in salute.
She smiled back noncommittally.

“Hey, great tits.” She greeted this remark without expression.
“Ah, don’t be so stroppy. Hey, can I walk you home afterwards? You and your mate.” The other girl wasn’t bad looking either, he decided.

The woman smiled. “Thankyou for the offer, but I don’t think my husband would approve.”
“Sorry, love, I can’t help it. Tell you what, why don’t the three of us find a nice quite place somewhere and have a….what do they call it, a menagerie a trois…”
“I can help it very much indeed, thankyou,” said the blonde, and the two companions moved away. Jenks gazed wistfully after them, disconsolate at his snubbing.

Moretti sidled up to him and whispered fiercely in his ear. “What are you doing, you dickhead? She’s an officer’s wife. From the base.”

Jenks frowned, but otherwise didn’t seem unduly concerned by his gaffe. Again they exchanged concerned glances.

They wouldn’t tell the Boss. That was sneaking and Hartman himself wouldn’t have approved of it. But if it got around that he’d propositioned her, and she happened to see him around the place and recognized him….

The pub employed strippers, though only on certain nights, like this one, and after nine o’clock. Their superiors didn’t object to their visiting such an establishment, taking the view that boys would be boys. There’d be no trouble as long as they followed the house rules, which meant among other things no physical contact with the performers. That, the master of ceremonies informed the clientele, could earn you a stiletto in the head.

When the time came most of the women customers drifted away, and the MC came on to announce the start of the performance. The hi-fi struck up a racy, pounding tune and a tall, healthy-looking girl with glossy, flowing dark hair strutted on and began to twirl herself around the pole in the centre of the stage.

She proceeded to assume a variety of provocative poses, every few seconds divesting herself of an item of clothing until she stood nude except for the thong which only just covered her pubic region and left her generous buttocks entirely exposed. Then she moved to the edge of the stage and bent down to thrust her vital assets almost in the punters’ faces. The SBS party went over to get a closer look.

Jenks stared up at the girl, enraptured. Suddenly he reached up and began to paw her breasts.

“Get off!” she shouted. “Put your hands down, now!” But he went on mashing her chest, grinning vacuously. She drew away from him sharply whereupon Jenks scrambled up onto the stage and made a grab for her.

“Jenks!” roared the Major. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, man?”

In the end he didn’t get a stiletto in his face. Instead two tough-looking young men who had been standing at the side of the room with their arms folded bounded forward and seized him. They started to bundle him from the room. He tried to break free, yelling abuse, and almost succeeded.

Christ, thought the Major. He’s going to make a fight of it. “Come on, lads,” he shouted.

As one the SBS contingent hurled themselves on Jenks and brought him down. As he disappeared beneath the pile of bodies the Major turned to one of the bouncers and spoke firmly, authoritatively. “It’s alright, we’ll handle it.” Realising he was armed forces, the bouncer stepped back and signalled to his colleague to let it go, a silent understanding forged between himself and the Major. Still thinking he was in the grip of the bouncers, Jenks went on struggling vigorously and noisily, and it took all six of them to drag him out. Hartman turned apologetically to Captain Bryant, who was trying to look politely bemused.

This wouldn’t make for good relations between the SBS and the Navy. If people thought it was a Navy man who’d done it….
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll….I’ll deal with it.” He went out to see how the others were getting on.

They found a bench and steered him to it. He sat down heavily and shook his head to clear it, dazed and frowning, already looking a little shocked by what he’d done.
“You fucking idiot,” said Steve Ferris.

“Why d’you have to go and do that?” Bob snapped. “You really lost it, didn’t you? You could have landed all of us in the shit!”

Jenks lifted his head and looked at them vaguely. “S…sorry, boys, I……”

“I want a word with you,” the Major told him once he seemed to have recovered his wits. He gestured over his shoulder at the mouth of a dark little alleyway between the pub and the next building along. There was no-one nearby who might overhear them. There, the Major turned to speak to him. In the light from a streetlamp Jenks could see the look on his face quite clearly. “Well, why did you have to go and do it? What the hell were you playing at?”

Jenks swallowed. ”It…it’s like this, Sir. My bird….she’d been moaning for a long time about how the job came between the two of us. She didn’t like it because I was away for so long and couldn’t talk about it and all that….”

She should have known what she was letting herself in for, the Major thought. It was another reason why he himself was single.
Still, the story wasn’t unfamiliar.

“You know she didn’t want to come and live with me here..said she might move in later. Then a few weeks ago she met this bloke…….I got a letter from her a few days ago saying we were finished as far as she was concerned. To be honest, Sir, I don’t think I can take it.”
“You should have told someone,” the Major sighed.

Jenks burst into tears, turning his face to the wall so the Major couldn’t see them. He wasn’t a tough Special Forces soldier any more, but a vulnerable human being who’d just had a very nasty shock.

Hartman waited. Finally Jenks turned slowly round to look at him. “I’ll do what I can to make sure you stay in the Army,” the Major promised. “They’ll find something for you, I’m sure. And Counselling can help with your…your problem. But you’re finished in the Regiment now. You realise that, don’t you?” Men had been thrown out for less. Just a wee drop too many, then a slight accident, disgracing yourself on someone’s carpet…that was all it took. Because you’d lost control, and by doing so let the side down.

“No,” wailed Jenks, his head buried in his chest. “No. Oh God, no. They can’t…they can’t. They just can’t!” He was almost hysterical, remembering the feeling of pride, shared with loving parents, when he passed his SAS training and was presented with the famous badge.

“I’m sorry,” whispered the Major. “Really I am.” But there was nothing he could do.

They walked back to join the others, Jenks’ head hanging low like that of a child caught in the act of committing some misdemeanour.
“You’re for it now,” one man said.
“What shall we do to him lads?”
“Keelhaul him!”
“Throw him overboard with weights tied to him!”
“Cement shoes, like in the Mafia!”
“Use him as an anchor!”

”Lads, lads!” shouted the Major, spreading his arms wide in an appeal for calm. “He’s had a bit of a shock.”
They went quiet. “Do you want to tell them, Phil?” Hartman asked.
Jenks told them. “Poor bastard,” murmured Steve Ferris, who knew only too well what his fellow soldier was going through, his own marriage having come close to collapse for much the same reasons.
“Sorry, mate….”
“Sorry, Phil. Jeez, that’s hard…”
They meant it, too.

“One of you take him home,” Hartman ordered. Ferris led the offender away, the others gazing after them for a long time before finally trooping heavily back into the pub. They bought a new round of drinks but could only sip at them in a half-hearted fashion, barely exchanging a word for the rest of the evening. The Major was the most preoccupied of the lot. After all, it would be his responsibility to report the matter to higher authority.
Yes, it was hard. But there was nothing he could do.


Once again Caroline stood in the airlock. She saw the door begin to slide open, and the water start to fill the chamber. This time she felt no fear or stress.

She drifted out, out into the sea, arms spread wide. The sensation was a bit like being in a flotation tank. She concentrated on the pleasant sensations she was getting, and not on any thought that she might drown.
The airlock closed behind her.

They were testing her ability to remain underwater over a greater distance and period of time. She understood why Greatrix had told her it might be a bit more scary. The sea was vast, there was a lot more water than there had been in the airlock and if she went too far, if she had a panic attack and the airlock wasn’t open ....

For a moment her control slipped. She swam for the airlock door, intending to hammer on it until they let her in, but couldn't quite make it. For a few moments she thrashed about blindly in the water, then sank to the sea bed, face contorted in pain, and lay there writhing and twisting.

A group of aquanoids working nearby noticed her distress, broke off what they were doing and gathered round her, their faces showing what seemed to be concern. It was the herd instinct, thought Greatrix, watching from the observation window. React to the distress of your own kind, help them in time of trouble. Co-operate for the good of the whole colony.

The aquanoids stared at her blankly, confused because they wanted to help but didn't know how. Their gills twitched as if in agitation.

I am NOT drowning, Caroline told herself. I'm not drowning, do you understand?
The still centre. Find the still centre.
I can swim like a fish. I can do anything. I'm indestructible.

You want to be able to do this, don't you? Breathe underwater unaided. You'll lose the chance if you don't try. Think how you'll feel if you manage it. You've overcome everything life's thrown at you so far, haven't you? And think of your friends and family....you've got to make it, for their sake. Put your mind on a different plane from your body. Then whatever form the body takes will have no influence on it. That's the way. Every time she went out that was what she would tell herself, until by that means she got used to it.

Feeling her nerves steady and her heartbeat return to normal, she stood up. The other aquanoids lost interest and drifted back to work, their faces impassive now.
"She's made it," Greatrix said admiringly to Latimer.

For the next few minutes Caroline just swam about, enjoying the sheer bliss of her situation. It was a liberating sensation to swim about freely with perfect ease, without the encumbrance of heavy, clumsy diving equipment, or indeed clothes of any kind. And no fear of your air running out; they'd let her back in as soon as that happened. No fear of a sudden accident depriving you of your scuba gear, your lifeline. When she was diving before one of her constant fears had been that something might happen to make her lose the regulator, yank it from her mouth or cut the pipe, or that she might forget to equalise pressure. Now, she didn't have to worry about any of that. Not having to hold your breath, or rely on the supply of gas in a tank, which something might cut off, made you fully relaxed. At the same time the feeling that she had adapted successfully to a completely new existence gave her a wonderful sense of triumph. I can do it!

She began to explore the colony, a couple of Marcotech divers keeping close to her all the time. After a while an aquanoid woman caught sight of her, broke away from the group she was with and swam over to her. She reached out a webbed hand and stroked Caroline's hair, in what was obviously meant to be a friendly greeting. Caroline responded likewise, smiling a little awkwardly. Then suddenly the aquanoid's expression changed and she twisted round and shot away as fast as possible, anxious it seemed to put as much distance between the two of them as she could. Caroline frowned, feeling not unreasonably a little hurt.

Further away another group of aquanoids were performing a display of synchronised swimming, a graceful underwater ballet; some kind of ritual? She tried to join in, but they saw her coming and in a flurry of movement dispersed and swam off in different directions, like a school of fish suddenly disturbed.
Oh well, be like that, she thought.

What on earth was the matter with them? They seemed to have sensed, in a flash, that there was something different about her. Something they didn't like.

She swam on past the submarine pens, the giant electricity-generating turbines. A harvesting vehicle with an aquanoid operator glided in front of her.

Then she saw one of the Marcotech divers was signalling to her, jerking his thumb in the direction of one of the domes. She swung round and kicked off towards it.

With an odd feeling she realised she was moving through her liquid environment with an instinctive ease, as if totally accustomed to the water, and in a decidedly non-human manner. It was as if she was thinking like a fish, behaving in exactly the same way as it would, without prior deliberation.

The Marcotech divers had reached the airlock, which slid open to admit them. She swam in after them. The three of them waited until the water had been pumped out and the inner door swished open, to reveal Zuckermann standing there. Gasping, the divers removed their gear.
"You did it again," he said to Caroline.

"Thanks," she replied, sincerely. "But why did they avoid me? The other aquanoids?"

"Because they can sense you're different. You haven't taken the drug, you see. It seems to make them uneasy."
Perhaps it stirred within them vague memories of what they had once been, breaking through the influence of the drug.
"Yes," she sighed, looking at him reprovingly. "Well."

"Now you've fully acclimatised, we'd better find something for you to do." Once again, he was changing the subject.
Caroline realised she was hungry. “Could I have something to eat please?”
“Of course. If you’d come this way?”

At that moment Dave Latimer appeared, placing himself directly in front of Caroline. He was grinning broadly and there was a twinkle in his eye which she ought to have found engaging, but didn't.

"Well well well," he smiled. "You've changed a bit since we last met."
"Yes," Caroline said, looking down at herself. "I suppose I have."

"Didn't make too bad a job of it, did they?" he remarked, running his eyes appreciatively up and down her body. "You know, you'd look beautiful even if you'd been carved up in a major road traffic accident."

She felt the same disturbing vibrations she had got from him at the Miami base, and shuddered. "Thankyou. But you shouldn't really be eyeing up a naked woman like this, you know."
"It doesn't count," he replied. "You're not human any more."

"It does to me," she said, and moved on past him. The two divers, now acting as Caroline’s guards, looked uncertainly at Latimer, who gave a curt nod and stepped aside. The party moved on, and the Head of Security was left standing there and staring after it, thoughtfully.


As the doorbell rang at The Pines, the house on the outskirts of Dorking where Caroline's parents lived, her father put aside his copy of the Daily Telegraph – a good paper for news, if a little snooty at times – and went to answer it.

"Mr Kent?" The man was young, brown hair, smartly-dressed, classless accent. Like thousands of other men.
Edward Kent grunted an affirmative. "What can I do for you?" he asked gruffly.

"It's about your daughter. I wonder if I could come inside?"
Edward's immediate thought was that something had happened to Caroline. "Is something wrong, then? Who are you?"

"Could I come inside please, Mr Kent?" he repeated, firmly but politely. He put on a reassuring smile. "You yourselves are in no danger, I can assure you of that."

Edward's heart had become a dead weight which he could feel sinking down to the pit of his stomach. He hesitated briefly, then stood aside to let the young man enter. Margaret, his wife, had come into the hall and was hovering anxiously in the background, hands clasped before her. "This fellow wants to talk to us about Caroline," Edward muttered.

He heard her breathe in sharply. As he’d guessed, she could tell from the atmosphere that something wasn’t quite right. She stepped a little closer to their visitor. "Who are you? Is she in trouble? What do you want?" The note of hysteria was already there in her voice.

The young man smiled a charming smile, the sort some smooth-talking door-to-door salesman might employ. "Oh, Caroline's in no danger, Mrs Kent. Nor will she be in the future, all things being equal. There are just a couple of things I ought to make clear to you."

Margaret swayed slightly, her eyes closed. "Oh God. Oh God please, no."
Edward's stocky body tensed and his blue eyes, so very like Caroline's in their intensity, locked with the young man's. He balled his massive fists. "If it's money you want, I'm quite prepared to pay. But you'd better deliver her up safe and sound once it’s all over, because if you don't, you slimy stinking little rat...."

The young man kept his cool, the expression on his face barely changing. He raised one hand in a placatory gesture. "You're jumping to conclusions, Mr Kent. If you'll let me explain..."
Edward nodded towards the door of the living room. "All right.”

"I don't mean to be rude, Mr Kent, but there's really no need. I won't be staying very long. All you need to know is this. I'm afraid Caroline's company's interests and our own have come into conflict. She has information which we don't want to become public knowledge just yet, because it could prejudice our future plans. So I think it's better if we keep her….under wraps, as she herself said, for the time being. You'll see her again, I promise you. I can't say when, unfortunately; it depends when our plans are finally complete. In the meantime she's being well looked after.” "This isn't the white slave trade, is it?" God forbid it should be that, thought Edward. Not after that business with….

"I assure you it isn't, Mr Kent. We're not like that. By the way, she sends her love and asks you not to worry."
Edward took a deep breath. "If you really have got her,” he said, “then send her ours. Tell her we’re thinking of her all the time. She's not to fret about us."

"We'll make sure she gets the message. I expect you'd like to be able to speak to her - "
"Please," urged Margaret.
"Unfortunately that won't be possible right now. I can't explain why."
"Oh yeah?" Edward moved threateningly towards him. "If I've any reason to think she's dead, then there's nothing to stop me from ripping you apart with my bare hands."

"If she was already dead, we wouldn't bother going to see you at all. We have ways of...dissuading people from investigating our affairs. That’s why I'd advise you not to go to the police or tell anyone, anyone at all, about this meeting. If you do, then both yours and your daughter’s lives will be…compromised.”

"And I don't suppose you'll tell us who you're working for?"
"All you need to know, Mr Kent, is what I've just told you." His tone had hardened slightly, just enough to remind them he meant business. "Please bear what I say in mind." With a smile and a nod he turned to the door and undid the latch. "Goodbye now. Please don't try to follow me, or…well, you know what’ll happen.” Edward and Margaret Kent stood in silence listening to the sound of the man's footsteps on the pavement outside. They heard him get into a car, start the engine and drive away.

Edward reached for his wife, and the two of them collapsed into each other’s arms. They each took a couple of deep sobbing breaths, eyes screwed tight shut in pain.

After a while they separated. "Well," Margaret sighed, "what do you think?"
Her husband was frowning intently. "I don't quite know what to make of it, love. It's weird, but I had the feeling he was telling the truth. They don't mean to harm her."

"Come on, let's go and sit down." They returned to the living room and sat down on the sofa. "She's found out these people are up to no good and they want her out of the way until they've fixed it so no-one could do anything. They're keeping her alive until then because it means less flak for them.

"It sounds like the security services. She's found out something which they'd rather wasn't common knowledge, because of the political consequences." He bowed his head. "Trouble is, that could be years from what I've heard about them." Neither of them knew, as yet, that Caroline was already closely connected with MI6.

“Or it might not be them. Why not go to them and ask for help?"
"You're forgetting, Maggie love. The people who’ve got Caroline may find out about it, take fright and kill her. It's different this time, I can feel it. These aren't bad people we're dealing with, not really. We might only succeed in buggering things up if we get involved.”

"They've still no right to keep her a prisoner," snapped Margaret.
"Look, Maggie, the main thing is we know she's alive and well. Now - "
"Are you sure they're telling the truth?"
"If she were dead I don't see why they'd have bothered paying us a visit. No, I'm positive she's alive.. We've just got to bear that thought in mind and try and get by. Let's just hope she doesn't muck it up by trying to escape."
Anxiously Margaret looked him in the eye. "But she will, won't she?"


It was the third time that day that Pat Richards had gone into the lounge and found his wife staring fixedly at Shannon’s photograph on the side. At other times she might get out some of their daughter’s personal belongings and go through them, remembering the times when they’d all done this or that together until she finally broke down and wept. Torturing herself.

At his approach she put down the photo and went to him, collapsing in his arms and crying until physically and emotionally drained. Then they sat on the sofa together, hand in hand, and just lost themselves in their thoughts for a while, saying nothing. The same old routine.

Suddenly Melinda broke the silence. “It’s all our fault, Carl. We have to face it. We didn’t treat her like an adult, we didn’t realise how much she’d changed…that she wasn’t really a child any more.”

Carl didn’t reply, but not because he disagreed with her. He just found it all so much harder to admit. And they’d been through all this hundreds of times before.

“We were too protective..tried to keep her locked up in a box. It was wrong. But maybe we did it because we loved her…” Melinda’s voice quivered and for a moment she was on the verge of breaking down again. Pat squeezed her hand tightly. It was time to sound a reassuring note, he thought. “If she’s run away, then at least she’s still alive. That’s what counts. If we really love her then we shouldn’t want to possess her, even if we mean well by it.”

“If only she’d get in touch,” his wife sobbed. “She’s had plenty of time. That’s how I know something bad’s happened to her. I know it….Carl, do you think she’s gone and joined one of those weird communes someplace?” Visions of Shannon in the hands of some demented religious fanatic, and of her life ending in a botched rescue operation by the FBI, like at Waco in ‘93, swam before Melinda’s eyes.

"All sorts of other people have gone missing too," Carl pointed out. “They couldn’t all have joined communes, by my reckoning.”

Melinda’s voice rose an octave or two. “Then what’s happened to them?”
“We don’t know Shannon went missing for the same reason as the others.”
“Shannon wasn’t a bad girl, not really, she never meant any harm. If she was alright, she’d call us to say so. That’s why I know she’s not. Maybe…” Melinda was hesitant. “Maybe we should just accept she’s not coming back.”

But that would give them no peace of mind, and they both knew it.
The worst case scenario was that she’d been kidnapped by some pervert. If it was the case, then they didn’t like to think about what might be happening to her. They’d heard about people kept chained up in boxes for years, subjected to all manner of obscene degradations. They’d tried to lock Shannon in a box….and now maybe she was….

Don’t torture yourself. But it wasn’t so easy to take that advice in the end.
The argument they'd had just before she disappeared made it clear to him that she'd run away. But to do what?

And young folks who took off like that often did fall in with the wrong kind of people.
When she came back they'd have a good long talk about everything, straighten it out once and for all. The agony was that they might never get the chance.
Oh Shannon, Pat whispered just above his breath, I'm so sorry, honey. Please forgive us, wherever you are.
Wherever you are……


"I was expecting her back this morning," Marcus Hennig told Chris Barrett at IPL the following day.

"But so far, no sign of Caroline," he sighed. “I've rung her parents but they say they haven't the slightest idea where she is either. As you can imagine, I'm now getting a little worried."

So Chris made some enquiries, and found out that Caroline had not returned to her guest house the night before, or as far as anyone knew gone back to the Oceanus. Nobody had booked a flight out of Nassau in her name. Most of her personal possessions were still at the guest house but as yet there was no sign of her car anywhere, although the last time anyone had seen her she had been leaving Indian Quay in it making for Freeport - the only direction one could go in from Indian Quay, as it happened. Again he felt the same familiar, but still dizzying cocktail of feelings rushing to his head. The irritation, the anxiety, the same comforting thought that she'd probably be alright because she always had been in the past, hadn't she?

"Looks like she's disappeared again," Hennig sighed. "Right in the middle of a very important assignment."
"Who knows where Caroline is and what's happening to her?" Chris shrugged. "For all we know it's part of some plan she's got in mind. She'll probably turn up again just as unexpectedly."
"Or she might not," said Hennig moodily.

"The thing is, if her suspicions about Marcotech were correct, I don't think the police will be any use. They seem to have everyone in their pocket."
Hennig nodded. "Yes, she's given me all the details. It's going to be a right bitch."
"I'll go out there and see if I can learn anything," Chris said eventually. "Have a word with Ivarson. I'd like to know what exactly it was she had in mind."

"Can't do any harm." Hennig stood up to indicate the meeting was over. "All right, young Barrett. Let me know how you get on."

"Will do." With a respectful nod, Chris left to make the necessary arrangements. He'd need a cheque from Accounts to cover the cost of the flight. With any luck, accommodation and other expenses could be paid out of his own money. IPL weren't disposed to spend a great deal of money just now on their troubleshooters, not after Caroline's little escapade with the DSV.

In his office, Marcus Hennig stared at the door for a few minutes before going to the box file which sat on his desk and taking from it a brightly-coloured brochure on renewable energy.


In his office, Dave Latimer sat turning over in his mind the thoughts Caroline Kent was arousing in him right now. It was a totally different standard of beauty. Not quite, though.

The poise and grace with which she carried herself, the sway of her breasts, the gentle undulation of her buttocks as they flexed with her motion as she walked, were exactly the same as on any attractive and self-possessed human woman. And yet in everything else...

Human and yet not human. It was why Latimer felt confused and, if he were honest enough with himself to admit it, alarmed. It was like he was getting a glimpse into a new world, with enticing new possibilities to be found in it, that really ought to be sampled. But something about the urges he was experiencing didn't feel right. He seemed to himself dirty, perverse, degraded. Odd. He had his fantasies of course, and people were a lot kinkier in their desires than they usually cared to admit. But this wasn't quite the same. It was totally unlike anything he'd ever thought before, and he wasn't sure he knew how to cope.

If anyone could have seen him at that moment they would have noted that the twinkle was absent from his eye, and he wasn't wearing his usual rogueish grin.

And what the hell, Latimer thought, was going to happen after....after.......


Donald Ivarson lay in his hospital bed thinking. He knew very well he would disregard any advice from the doctors to avoid diving for a while. It was not diving that would finish him off, if anything. All the same, the narrow escape he'd just had had given him pause for thought.

On hearing someone approach the bed, he turned his head to look and saw it was the nurse. "Dr Ivarson, you have a visitor," she smiled. "Is it all right if he has a word with you?"

The man with her came forward. "Dr Ivarson? It’s Chris Barrett, we met not so long ago."

"Hi, son," said Ivarson. "And it’s good to see you again. Any friend of Caroline's a friend of mine." He looked at the nurse. "It's OK, you can leave us." With a brief nod she went away, and Chris seated himself on the chair beside the bed.
"You found me all right, then?" Ivarson grinned.

"I called in at Indian Quay, found your boat gone and asked around. I understand you...had a little trouble."
"Yeah, but I'm OK now. If it hadn't been for your troubleshooter lady I'd have been even worse - and we're talking floating around at the bottom of the sea as squid shit." He told the story. Chris smiled, filled with a certain pride for Caroline.

"Now is there something I can do for you, son?" Something in Chris' manner filtered through to his consciousness. "Is anything....."
Chris bit his lip. It occurred to him that it might not be a good idea, in Ivarson's current condition, to tell him the truth.
"Brace yourself," he warned.
"I'm pretty tough."

"I'm afraid Caroline's disappeared," Chris said, and proceeded to elaborate. The police had called him that morning to say her car had been found in the sea, and a few of her belongings recovered from it. They’d searched it for clues but other than that she'd been in it recently, there wasn’t a lot it could tell them.

Ivarson closed his eyes, and his head fell back onto the pillow. "Oh shit," he whispered softly. "Oh shit. It don’t look good.”

He forced himself to stay calm. He knew it wouldn't help matters if he gave himself another heart attack, perhaps a fatal one.

Chris moved fast to reassure him. “Believe me, turning up alive and well after having apparently drowned wouldn’t be out of character for her. Who knows, maybe she faked her death to throw Marcotech off the scent. They still haven’t found a body.”

"Dr Ivarson," he began, leaning forward urgently, "where exactly was this place you said Marcotech had?"
"You think that's where she is?"
"Maybe. And if they've killed her, I'm gonna see they pay for it sooner or later."

"You see that case lying under the bed? The charts and everything are in there." Chris ducked underneath the bed and fished it out.

"Keep it, son. There's nothing really important in there, except those charts." Ivarson had insisted that the case be brought to the hospital so that he could keep it beside him at all times. This had been strictly against hospital regulations but he had insisted, to the point of getting visibly agitated, which in his condition might prove dangerous. Alarmed, the hospital authorities had no choice but to relent.

Ivarson didn't feel safe entrusting it to the care of the Institute, about whom he already had his suspicions. It couldn't be ruled out that influential figures within the organisation were in the hands of Marcotech, since everyone else seemed to be. Probably they had secured obedience by threatening to get the organisation's funding cut.

Chris sat down again with the case on his lap. "I don't know what I can do, but...."
"I don't reckon you'll have much luck," Ivarson said. "Everyone seems to be in their pocket. I could go to my Congressman, I suppose. Or the White House even, but...."
"You don't think it'd work?"

"No. But there are good reasons to suspect Marcotech. And seeing as the oil's so important to America, your country’s bound to do something before long."

Ivarson snorted. "There's plenty of evidence for global warming, which I'd say is just about the most important issue facing the planet. But people are still acting as if it's all a myth. With Marcotech, I guess it's that people can't believe a private company could have so much power or be able to do such things in its own right.

"We found out something else about them," he went on, and told Chris everything that had happened on the expedition in the DSRV. "But there's still no fucking "conclusive evidence" to shove up the authorities’ asses."

"I know about that business," Barrett said. "Dr Ivarson, what I really wanted to ask - "
"Don."
"Don, was whether you knew what Caroline was planning to do next. She just told us she was coming home because she hadn't had any luck out here. It's just that I've never known her to give up easily, and I can't help thinking she had something up her sleeve when she vanished."

Ivarson looked thoughtful. "Well as a matter of fact, she said she had some friends who might be able to help where nobody else could. Only she was kind of reticent about who they were."
Chris pondered this for a moment, then went very quiet.

Of course, he muttered beneath his breath. Why didn't I think of that before?

Perhaps because the idea of such a course of action had seemed fantastic, and a little scary. At any rate, Chris thought he knew exactly who it was Caroline had been talking about.


THIRTY-ONE
On returning to England and IPL the following day, Chris sat alone in his office for some time then, telling himself he was doing this for Caroline, went off to have a word with Marcus Hennig. He’d touched down at Heathrow quite late in the afternoon and had almost not bothered to come in. Most people had already gone home. But such were the responsibilities incumbent on the senior management of a major international company that Hennig often worked long hours. Sure enough, the MD was "in".

"Ah," he said. "I didn't realise you were back." He was annoyed Chris hadn't already been to see him. "Any luck?"
"Well, sort of," Chris began.
Hennig waved him to a seat. "Uhuh?"

"I know where Marcotech's base is. I mean I've got maps of the area which Ivarson's marked it on."
"That won't do us any good unless we can get into the bloody place," Hennig grumbled. "And no-one's had any joy there."

"No, but the thing is....the reason why I've been so long in getting back to you...well to be honest I was thinking over something."
"Don't keep me in suspense."
"A while ago," Chris began, "Caroline told me...."
"Oh yes?"

"She later told me she'd told it to you, and that she'd told you she'd told me."
"Er - sorry?" frowned Hennig, rather confused.

Chris came to the point. "It seems she's, er, connected with certain people."
Hennig nodded slowly. "Meaning the security services. Yes...I must say I was never happy about having a spook on my staff. But go on."

"Caroline may already be dead." His stomach turned over at the thought. "If she is, we can at least carry on where she left off. But we won't beat Marcotech by going through the normal channels. Or by breaking and entering their premises, for that matter."

"You're saying we should contact her friends at MI6, or wherever it is, and get them to employ a little skullduggery on our behalf?"

"It's the only way now. The only way to find out what Marcotech's game is and maybe even get Caroline back. We've no choice but to enter....deep waters, if you'll pardon me saying so just now."

Initially Hennig was undecided. Then, reaching what must clearly have been a big decision, he picked up the phone, dialled Directory of Enquiries, and asked for the number of the External Security Service, alias MI6.

Later, he told himself it was the only decision he could possibly have come to, in the end. The company demanded it.

"Incidentally, if she does come out of it alright I er, I hope you won't be too hard on her,” Chris said while they were waiting for MI6 to reply.

"I'll decide," Hennig told him sharply. "But you needn't worry about her. As she was on company business when it happened there wouldn't be much point in bollocking her - this time."

"That's good," Chris said. "I appreciate that." Caroline would appreciate it even more, no doubt.
If she was still alive.

He suddenly thought of her Executive Of The Year award, and it was all he could do to keep the tears back.


For what might, for all he knew, be the last time Donald Ivarson stood at the deck rail of the Oceanus gazing at the distant horizon, wrapped in his thoughts.

The Oceanus would return to the Institute. Two people from there would be coming down tomorrow to bring it back. That was the end of it as far as he was concerned. He saw no point in risking any more young lives; to do so would be criminal.

Because that was what had happened. Three good kids who had only been doing what they enjoyed, and believed to be right, had been lost from the world. And then there was Devon.

Though of course tinged with sadness Devon's funeral had been a merry affair, as was the custom round here. All his extensive extended family had turned up for a massive party. It had been a time not for sadness but for rejoicing in the continuation of life.

Yes, life would go on. But who could tell what would happen in it? Would the oil companies now turn to renewable energy, and if so would it work? Maybe if you had to do it, all obstacles would be overcome. For the world at large, perhaps this thing would turn out for the best.

No, he couldn't say that. Not when IPL's failure to protect its interests might have resulted in Caroline Kent's death.

For a long time he could only remain where he was, looking out to sea while the sky gradually darkened above him, the dying sun staining it and the waters stretching away to the horizon with its blood.

He remembered what Caroline's arrival on the scene had done for him. He owed it to her to get on with his life, his work, his studies.

Sadly he turned away, feeling the tears pricking at the corner of his eye, and trudged back to his cabin with the sun sinking slowly behind him. Into the sea.


Hennig had had some reservations about personally visiting MI6. The whole business made him uneasy, seeming to represent a raising of the stakes so high that he couldn't shake off the thought he might be mysteriously murdered if something went wrong. He hadn't the slightest idea how to handle such matters, anyway. And it might not be good for the company's reputation, probably attracting attention from investigative journalists and articles in Private Eye, if he were spotted and it was learned that IPL had become enmeshed in the lurid world of espionage.

So Chris Barrett offered to go instead. That after all was what executives were for, to handle important matters on the company's behalf. The morning after their meeting Chris, instead of going to work, took the tube into central London and at nine forty-five arrived at MI6's Vauxhall headquarters. He rang the bell and spoke to a porter in suit and tie, to whom he explained the purpose of his visit. The man asked him to come inside and wait in a corner of the lobby while he made a call on a mobile phone.

Chris found himself gazing around the vast, echoing room, which filled him with a sense of awe even though it wasn’t the first time he’d been in it. This, after all, was where decisions were made which might decide the fate of nations.

A few minutes later, a girl came over to him and handed him a pass to wear. Mention of Caroline's name, and of Rachel Savident's, seemed to have been sufficient to get him clearance. She asked him to follow her.

He was taken up in the lift to the fourth floor, and shown to an office. The messenger knocked on the door and a moment later Rachel Savident opened it. "Hi there. How are you?" "Fine," smiled Chris.

He studied Rachel briefly. Her dark hair had an attractive reddish tinge and her features, although sharp, were not unpleasing. She always had a look of total professionalism, level-headedness and self-confidence. It was all the more remarkable given the nature of her job, the stresses it must impose in terms of personal danger and the burden of maintaining secrecy. She must lead a most abnormal life. Yet she enjoyed her job, found it fun even, without in any way compromising her professionality and ability to be responsible and discreet. This is the kind of woman I like, Chris thought.

She was a few years older than him, but didn't look it; brunettes often aged well.

The pleasantries concluded, Rachel dismissed the messenger with her thanks and gestured to Chris to enter. The office was just like any other, with a computer and touch-tone telephone on the desk, a couple of pot plants, a filing cabinet, a shelf unit stacked with bulky lever arch files. They took their seats. "Now what can I do for you exactly?” Rachel asked. “Did Caroline ask you to come and see me?"

"I'm afraid something's happened to her," Chris said. "Again."
Rachel closed her eyes and for a moment said nothing. Then she looked up at him. "Go on."

He told her the whole story, when he’d finished sitting back with a deep, heartfelt sigh. "I don't know if you believe all that.”

"After having known Caroline for a while,” Rachel said, "nothing surprises me any more."
She took a deep breath, absorbing what Chris had told her. "Right. So you think these Marcotech people may have kidnapped her to stop her from interfering?"
"Or done away with her, God forbid."

"It's what the evidence suggests - that she's been kidnapped, anyway. Caroline goes to investigate the tanker sinkings, and it all seems to point to Marcotech in one way or another. She gets on the wrong side of them, disappears. There must be a connection.

"She wasn't able to get anywhere near them. There seems to be some sort of conspiracy to protect them. And they seem...." His mind went back to something Caroline had said to him at IPL. "They seem to have some pretty sophisticated anti-surveillance equipment, and a lot of very powerful contacts. They're more like you lot, in some ways - a national intelligence agency - than a private company. So I guess that, if nothing else, makes you our last resort." There was an appeal in his voice.
"We did think of the FBI and CIA," he added. "But somehow I didn't like the idea."

Rachel nodded in sympathy. "You were probably wise," she told him.

A long moment passed before she spoke again. “Have you approached our own government? Marcotech is British-based."

Chris had discussed the possibility with Hennig at one point. "They've got too many friends in high places. It needs something special to make a difference."

“Yes…I think I agree with you.” Rachel stood up and paced about the office, arms folded. “If it’s Marcotech, they’ve covered their tracks well. None of our own investigations into the sinkings – we have been concerning ourselves with the matter, to some extent - have uncovered any connection with them. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”
“But you’ve been looking into it? That’s marvellous.”

“My superiors decided that in view of the damage to the world economy, we should do something. So yes – I’ll be keen to help.”

“After all,” she smiled, "I'd say these days the big companies and the intelligence agencies are in much the same line of work.The things some firms get up to...and industrial espionage has always been going on.”

She resumed her seat, crossing a pair of elegant dark-stockinged legs in a manner which might have turned Chris on had he not been too worried about Caroline. "Did Caroline say exactly where this place of Marcotech's was?" she asked.

Chris lifted his briefcase up onto his lap, opened it and took out the charts Ivarson had given him. "It's all here," he said, handing them to her. She studied them briefly then put them to one side. “Do you think that’s where she might be?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to Chris before. “I don’t know. It’d be a good place to hide her, I suppose. But if we don’t find her there, we’ll find other things. Answers.”

Rachel was thinking hard again. “Trying to get in there by force is a non-starter. If all you say is true we’d never be able to persuade anyone to do it. We’ll have to use other methods; which ones exactly, well that’s something I’ll have to figure out. It’ll need great care because anyone we approach for help could have been suborned by Marcotech.”

“They can’t have everyone in their pocket,” Barrett insisted. “That’s just not possible. They’re not all-powerful, omniscient. They don’t have some sort of sinister hypnotic influence.”

“They’ve got some people in their pocket,” Rachel said. “And we don’t know who. And there’s another consideration. If we look like we’re getting close to Marcotech, it may endanger Caroline’s life.” She was setting out her own thoughts rather than expressing a change of heart. “So we’ll need to be very, very careful.”


THIRTY-TWO
It was impossible to say how Caroline would have performed as an agent in the long run, had she stayed with the Service. But one thing Rachel could have said with certainty was that she trusted her friend's judgement, in so far as she didn't get onto someone in the first place without having some good reason to suspect them.

After Chris had gone Rachel seated herself at her computer and looked up Marcotech Consortium on Google. It was really the same company all the time, plus various subsidiaries.

The name wasn't unfamiliar to her. Marcotech; hadn't there been some kind of major scandal to do with them, a year or so ago?

They certainly had their fingers in a lot of pies. Biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, marine engineering, arms manufacture, defence hardware, electronics; it was something many people had commented on in the past, the astonishing and quite unparalleled range of their activities.

You tended to wonder what pharmaceutics could possibly have to do with arms manufacture. Until you realised that drugs could be used to kill or incapacitate enemy soldiers and civilians, perhaps also make a soldier into an even more effective killing machine by raising his aggression levels - although the ethics of that were questionable. Altogether, in fact, across-the-board applications were plenty. For example, marine engineering and the design of submarines sounded as if they might go together.

And why shouldn't Marcotech branch out? Not for any moral reason One could see, and in economic terms it certainly made sense. In itself it signified nothing worth worrying about, because there was no solid proof Marcotech were involved in anything dodgy. Sir Edward Greatrix was regarded as a loyal servant of the state, as several eminent people had put it during the controversy over claims that Marcotech had been supplying arms to Saddam Hussein.

The rumours had turned out to be completely unfounded. That Marcotech were up to something, however, Rachel did not doubt, even if it was rather late for Saddam’s purposes.

She consulted the website on the Kobenhavn affair, and found it very interesting. They had feared the Dane might decide to blow the whistle. So they had him killed, or maybe kidnapped. At any rate no body, alive or dead, had been found. As had been the case with Caroline Kent.

And Marcotech had managed astonishingly well to get themselves out of trouble; not only over this affair, but quite a few others too, it seemed. Her whole instinct told her something was wrong. All the people on whom a final decision rested had invariably judged in the company's favour.

Just how did they do it? It would be by several different methods, or a combination of them. Bribery, blackmail, threats to family members, intimidation....methods they had employed, she suspected, both here and overseas.

She tried to assess what she’d learned, and make a decision. The point was to get Caroline back safe and sound, if possible, and at the same time find some kind of chink in Marcotech’s armour, so that it would be a more equal contests. She must put the screws on them somehow, get close enough to them to give them a real fright. She thought she knew how. By methods the police couldn't really use, but which the security services perhaps could.


Caroline had now been at the colony for several days. She was closely watched all the time, more so than the other aquanoids. Most of her day, apart from mealtimes and rest periods, was spent working on the farms and assisting in the mineral extraction, with divers and guard subs always close by should she attempt any mischief. Gradually, this intensive supervision was to be scaled down, although the subs remained constantly present as a guarantee against any escape attempt. Of course every aquanoid was closely watched whenever entering or leaving the colony buildings for any reason. During work shifts, there was usually a diver accompanying them who at the right intervals, or if an aquanoid indicated they needed to go inside, would escort them to the airlock.

At nine o'clock each morning after breakfast she collected her packet of seeds from the guards, filled her belt pouch with it and then left the dome which housed the aquanoids' living and sleeping quarters by the main airlock, joining the other aquanoids filing out through it, and until noon was busy planting the seeds, seeds, which had been grown in Zuckermann's lab at the colony or at Southampton, to replace those harvested. Occasionally she would operate the harvesting equipment herself. The afternoon was spent gathering the mineral nodules. She was not entrusted with maintenance tasks around the base in case she attempted sabotage. Much to her relief she had now been equipped with a diver's exposure suit, which she wore over her torso like a bodice. She had thought of asking for a waterproof watch, but decided there was no need since the burbling note of the sirens would tell her when it was time to start and finish work, eat and go to sleep, etc.. They were always clearly audible, sound carrying in some ways much better in water than in open air.

The scales now covered her entire body, including the softer parts, and had turned from silvery-white to blue-grey. Her hair had darkened to a mousy brown from constant immersion in the water, which surprised her. She hadn't thought hair of her shade of blonde would do that, but whatever the reason for it it did match the hue of her scales more than a bold yellow would. Perhaps that was the idea.

Apart from the monotony of the work, there was much to be said for this kind of existence. Continually she found herself reflecting on the joy of swimming about with total ease, and with no fear of drowning or the bends. As long as she remembered when to go back inside, and her new metabolism would automatically tell her when to do that, if nothing else did, she was completely safe.

Sometimes when resting it was nice just to hang there, suspended completely motionless in the water, comfortably cushioned by it. Though she didn't have to she would flare like a human diver, spreading her arms and legs wide and throwing her head back with a blissful expression on her face, thoroughly exhilarated. When she tired after a burst of swimming activity she would let herself sink - the swim bladder seemed keyed to her biorhythms, a sign that Dr Zuckermann knew his stuff - but then simply stay on the bottom until she had recovered her energy and kick off upwards.

She forgot any worry or resentment at her captivity as she explored the possibilities inherent in her new metabolism, interacting with other marine life that had strayed into the colony. From the observation room Edward Greatrix would watch her as she swam, always feeling that sense of proprietary pride.

Without any sexual interest whatever he noted the gentle undulation of her buttocks as she swam, the flexing of the muscles there and in her back, the smooth, fluid twisting motion with which she made a turn. Every few moments she performed a wriggling movement just as a fish would, throwing her body from side to side in undulating waves to produce forward thrust.
This is the future, he thought. Or at least he hoped so.

All aquanoids could manage the front crawl and breaststroke with ease, which was basically how they moved underwater, instinctively using their limbs to propel themselves along without having to be trained first. They would need to be taught the backstroke or butterfly, as in normal circumstances they were never intended to visit the surface and so never used them, but for that same reason it wasn’t necessary.

Each was stronger than the human swimmer, regardless of build, though all tended to slim down somewhat once they’d adjusted to the diet on which they were fed here. Those who were obese wouldn't have survived the operation anyway. The performance of normal humans in the water tended to vary for one reason or another, one factor being ethnicity; for some reason black people, though excelling in all other branches of athletics, were notoriously poor swimmers. With the aquanoids all these differences were eliminated, although as with normal humans females were slightly better at it than males, and training and exercise were not necessary to build up their strength and skill. By maintaining neutral buoyancy, simply remaining suspended in the water when not active, they saved energy which could later be used for rapid propulsion. They didn't suffer from muscle strains, torn ligaments, swimmers' ear, stiffness of muscles from overuse, etcetera because fish didn't. And they produced hormones, and proteins such as glycogen, in precisely the right quantities to avoid fatigue and accumulation of waste products like lactic acid, thereby remaining energetic and healthy.

Despite all this though they were not a great deal faster than an Olympic champion, and never would be. Man at his best is never as proficient a swimmer as the fish. Because their basic configuration was still human, the aquanoids suffered from various fundamental disadvantages. Their limbs created drag and turbulence and slowed them down. The ideal form was something streamlined, smooth and blind, and with fins, acting as rudders and stabilisers, rather than arms and legs. Besides which to achieve efficient forward movement a swimming animal needed a source of propulsion located behind its centre of mass; in other words a tail.

Their very active metabolism meant the aquanoids had to eat more or less every two hours, once they had begun work at 9 am. There was a two–hour break – something necessary to prevent the work of mineral extraction from being completed too quickly, leaving them with nothing to do – between 1 and 3 pm, during which they either ate or rested. A meal was not normally necessary at 3 since they would have been resting much of the time. They indulged in recreation, or rested, from 5 to 12 and slept from 12 to 7 am. The human guards worked shifts so that someone could be constantly supervising the aquanoids, or any other aspect of the base’s functioning, twenty-four hours a day, though only a skeleton staff were needed at night. There were clocks in the colony, of course, and that and the work patterns helped to maintain everyone’s sense of time.

At night the guards herded the aquanoids into the sleep chamber, and each climbed into a cylindrical casket made from transparent toughened glass and lay down. Water, constantly recycled, was pumped automatically into the tank every two hours, allowing their gills to breathe it, and pumped out whenever they approached drowning point.

When inside the actual colony buildings, the only places the aquanoids were allowed to go were the dining, rest and recreation areas, the toilet cubicles and the sleep chamber. Except for when they were in the toilet, the guards watched them all the time. Since their basic anatomy was the same as a human's the design of the lavatory facilities, Caroline saw, differed not at all from the norm.

On returning to the domes, having exhausted their time outside, an aquanoid either rested or carried out essential maintenance tasks. Since no-one was in too much of a hurry to get everything done there was no disruption to the work schedules. If it wasn't possible to go back into the domes for some reason, or they aquanoid needed to remain outside for extended periods, they were issued with scuba gear. By the time the air in the tanks ran out they should be ready to breathe only water again.

In the afternoon Caroline would comb the sea bed looking for mineral nodules, picking them up and stowing them away in her belt pouch. When the pouch was full she returned to the dome, banging on the airlock door for admission, and deposited her load in one of a number of baskets that had been left lying around. A human worker then picked up the baskets and loaded them onto the back of a small wheeled vehicle, powered by an electric motor, like the little baggage trucks at airports and stations, which another then drove off down the corridor towards the factory where the minerals would be processed into equipment that the colony needed.

It occurred to Caroline that there couldn't be very many of the nodules left to collect. What would happen when they were finally exhausted?

During the rest periods the aquanoids played games, which Caroline was not allowed to join in, or just sat motionless on the bottom or one one of the natural rock formations dotted around the colony, only their breathing and blinking making clear that they weren’t some kind of strange underwater statue. With nothing much to do Caroline either went to sleep or simply lost herself in her thoughts. Sometimes she just swam about at random, roaming over the extent of the colony, although more often than not she had begun to tire a little by then from all the work, and was too tired to swim any more. As long as she didn't go near the perimeter fence the guard subs weren't interested in what she might do.

The incredible stamina of her new body meant that the work was not strenuous. It was boring, however. But it did have a certain therapeutic effect, helping her put her worries about her family, and her eventual fate, to one side.

The aquanoids ate a mainly seafood diet, as a fish would: crabs and lobsters, small squid, and other fish – which struck her as a bit revolting, like it was cannibalism. However their hybrid metabolism meant they could cope to some extent with human food, as long as it was fairly sensible and designed for someone with high activity levels and thus energy requirements: fruit, soya milk, eggs, bread, a selection of green vegetables, the high protein seaweed that Marcotech were manufacturing at the colony. It was highly nutritious, and tasted much the same as it had always done. They ate with their hands, except where it was easier to use a knife and fork; it wouldn't have occurred to them to do anything else. Caroline asked for a set of cutlery to use because she felt uncivilised doing it otherwise, and said so. The meals were eaten in silence, and she sat apart from the others because they all moved away whenever she tried to approach them. Nor did the guards speak to her much. They seemed to avoid her gaze if possible. They just watched over their charges impassively, faces showing no emotion. Very rarely did they betray with their eyes or body language any flicker of sexual interest in the female aquanoids. They were well-disciplined, if nothing else. On her first night there there she tried to strike up a conversation with one. "Tell me something," she asked. "Why are you doing this?"

"I have my reasons," he told her, speaking in a curt monotone. He seemed to have hesitated before deciding to speak at all. There was little change in his expression. "That's all you need to know."
Was there just the faintest trace there of an enigmatic smile?

"Do you really think it's right to keep all these...these people here like this, without their say-so?"
"I'm not paid to have an opinion on that."

She wanted to ask him how he came to be here himself, what if anything he was doing before he became involved with Marcotech, and why he was going ahead with the whole questionable scheme. But she supposed the more she knew the less likely she'd eventually be able to leave alive. And the guards certainly never volunteered any information.

She guessed Greatrix had decided that the less contact, the less communication, they had with her the better. There would be less temptation to do what was inappropriate.

One did ask her once how she was coping. She found herself talking at length about how she was finding the whole experience, opening up to him her innermost thoughts. Before long she sensed he’d stopped listening. Glancing at him, she saw he was standing there observing her without emotion, like a massive tree carved out of stone. "You know, people will be worried about me," she challenged.

His lips parted. "It was your choice to get involved," he said, hardening.
"Is that all you can say?"
Evidently, it was.

From then on she decided not to bother trying to speak to them at all. It wasn’t that they were totally without compassion. It just wasn’t worth it.

On one occasion mealtime was enlivened. Caroline was sitting at her table, gazing vacantly at the wall, when she sensed some sort of commotion was going on nearby. She saw that the aquanoids at the next table were shifting away from one of their number, a woman. Reacting to the disturbance, the guards focused their attention on her.

She was blinking around, her head swivelling from side to side as if she had suddenly woken from a deep sleep and wasn't quite sure where she was. Her face no longer wore the impassive look of the other aquanoids but was rather dazed and confused.

Caroline saw her put a hand to her forehead and wince. She shook her head furiously, trying to clear it. One of the guards moved towards her, frowning.

With a shock Caroline realised what had happened. The drug was wearing off.

One guard shouted to another to fetch Zuckermann. As his colleague ran off he turned his attention back to the aquanoid woman. She was regarding her companions in amazement, horror and disbelief.

Slowly and fearfully she spoke, her voice sounding a little slurred at first. "What...what the hell is this? Where am I? What are those things? Who...."

She remembered....an injection. A sharp pain in her arm...going home and feeling funny. After that, she couldn't recall anything until....until THIS.

She noticed one of the guards, and gasped in relief on registering that he at least appeared to be human. "What’s going on?" she demanded. "What am I doing here?" A note of sarcasm crept in. "You don't have to answer that if you don't want to."

"It's all right," smiled the guard, who seemed to have run into this kind of problem before. "Just stay right there and someone'll be along to help you. There's no need to worry."

"If they want to help me they can do it by telling me where this place is and why you've brought me here. You kidnapped me or something? And what the Jesus H Christ are these things?" She was so angry she hadn't yet realised that her voice sounded different. "You put me in among a load of.....well, whatever they frigging are. Listen, Mister, I don't know what this is all about but I'm gonna start making my way out of here double quick. And when I tell the cops, or how about my Congressman, you can bet there's gonna be a whole heap of shit hitting the God-damn fan so if I were you I'd better - "

She stood up, and as she did so caught sight of herself for the first time.

Her voice died away in a strangled gasp and she started, going quite rigid with shock. She stared down at the scales covering her limbs and torso in utter horror, eyes bulging and mouth agape. Speechless, she examined her hands and the sheets of webbing between the fingers, turning them over to inspect the palms. Gradually the realisation of what had been done to her started to dawn. Strangled whimpering noises came from her throat.

Caroline jumped up and began moving towards her. "It's OK," she said. "It happened to me too. I can help. Let me explain - "

The nearest guard thrust his gun - in reality a taser capable of delivering a harmless but unpleasant electric shock - towards her, motioning her to get back.

The woman hadn't heard her. She just stood there whimpering and staring down at her augmented body as if trying to convince herself it was all some ghastly dream. Suddenly she snapped.

She screamed out loud, a shrill piercing sound of sheer terror and anguish, and ran for the door, knocking the other aquanoids in all directions. "What have you done to me? What have you done? Lemme out! Lemme out! Lemme out lemme out lemme out lemme out lemme - "

Two guards ran forward to intercept her, seizing her tightly between them. She kicked and thrashed frenziedly, still sobbing hysterically and shrieking at the top of her voice. A third guard hurried over to her and pressed his taser to her left shoulder. The tip lit up red and she gave a violent lurch, head snapping backwards, before slumping unconscious to the floor.

Dr Zuckermann, Ivanova and a couple of aides burst into the room and ran to her, Zuckermann brandishing a hypodermic needle. They gave her the injection, then waited. A couple of minutes later she got to her feet and went back to where she had been sitting to resume her meal. A brief, vague look of puzzlement was the only sign she gave that anything had happened to disturb her state of mind.

She was lucky. It happened on one other occasion that Caroline knew of, just a few days later. The aquanoid was outside at the time, gathering up manganese nodules. Caroline saw him suddenly freeze, his expression change, and then thrash and flail about in blind panic, repeatedly swallowing. The other aquanoids, plus a couple of Marcotech divers, swum over to help. But by the time they got the unfortunate man inside, he was dead.


It was a nondescript, slightly scruffy suburban street. The proprietors of the establishment he was about to visit had sited their business there precisely because of its unremarkable aspect; its dull, anonymous uniformity. Most of it was residential but there were a few shops, and a church at one end. The buildings dated back mostly to the late nineteenth century, sturdy but grim-looking Victorian houses with tiny front gardens so little to speak of that people didn't bother keeping them in good repair.

He parked the car about halfway along the street. Alighting, he walked down it a little way then, pausing to check there were no cars coming, he crossed the road to his destination, trying his best not to look nervous and furtive.

The place was located at one end of a drab concrete terrace, the ground floor of which housed various shops and other businesses, some of which were now closed as the boarded-up windows testified. It appeared to have no name; there was no sign above the door or on the wall, nothing to proclaim the nature of its business, yet it was clearly not residential. The window of the small flat above it stood open.

The folding metal trellis which covered the entrance of the premises when it was not in use had been pushed back, revealing a wide doorway inset a little from the pavement. Through the glass door he could make out a section of short, bare-walled passageway but no other details. A little alleyway ran down the side of the building to some lock-up garages, dividing it from the next block.

He rang the bell and waited. A moment later he heard an inner door open and someone come along the passage. A woman in her late thirties appeared and opened the outer door to him, smiling with professional friendliness on meeting his eyes. She was vaguely attractive, he supposed, busty and had blonde hair which might have been dyed or might have been natural. Greeting him with a breezy "Hi," she asked if he would like to come in.

The two of them disappeared inside the building. As the door closed behind Chief Justice Roger Venables, the man who had pulled into the kerb just after him and been unobtrusively watching the proceedings drove away again, allowing himself a brief smile of satisfaction.


THIRTY-THREE
Roger Venables put down the glass of wine he’d poured himself and glanced at his watch. Nearly time.

His wife was away visiting relatives in the country, which meant he would be able to watch the X Channel without fear of being disturbed.

He was just reaching for the remote control when the doorbell rang. Annoyed, he went to investigate. A blurred figure was visible through the vertical pane of frosted glass in the centre of the door; two blurred figures. He put the chain on, then opened the door as far as it would allow. Peering through the gap he saw two burly young men in suits, flashing ID cards at him.

"Mr Venables? Police, Sir. We wondered if we might have a quick word with you."

Venables' heart gave a sickening lurch. But he hadn't done anything wrong, surely? Why did they.....
"What's it about?" he demanded, nerves making him abrupt.

"I'd rather not say it out here, Sir. It's a bit confidential. Could we come inside please?"
"All right," he grunted, and unfastened the chain. Opening the door, he ushered them in curtly.
Once they were all seated in the living room he turned to them enquiringly. The older one of the two drew himself up and spoke.

"Yesterday evening, Mr Venables, you were seen visiting a certain premises in South London. A premises which turned out on investigation to be a massage parlour."

Venables blanched as white as a sheet, and for a moment could only stare at his visitors open-mouthed. He felt the cold sweat break out on his forehead and struggled hard to maintain his composure, his dignity.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he spluttered.

The man answered in a deadpan, matter-of-fact tone. "Sorry, Sir. We've been tapping your phone for the last few days. We heard you ring to make the appointment. "Hello, are you free tonight at about seven o'clock...." It was just possible it was something perfectly legitimate, so we had to be certain of our ground. One of our people tailed you there and saw the woman let you in. Then, just to make sure, we answered certain advertisements in the local paper for this area, rang each of the numbers and arranged an...appointment. One of the places turned out to be the establishment you visited."

Gradually the reality of what was happening sank in. Venables was more more angry than abashed, on the whole. "All right, so I visited a...a prostitute. May I ask what business it is of yours? It isn't a crime you know, what I did. So why should you be interested?" A chill even more terrible than the first froze the blood in his veins. "You can't be police. Who...who are you?"

His nerves steadied a little as he thought he understood. "Private detectives? You realise it's an offence to impersonate a police officer, don't you?"

The younger of the men grinned slyly at him. "Except that you're not going to report it to anyone, are you?"
Venables' chin sank onto his chest.

"Besides, Sir, in our line of work it might be considered part of the job."
"No, we're not police, and we're not private detectives either,” said the elder, in a more kindly tone of voice this time. “Just listen carefully to what we've got to say and you'll understand."

Venables wasn't reassured. "Are you MI5, then?" he asked warily.
"If you like, Sir." Venables knew this meant "yes". "We're not out to censure you. But we think you might just be a security risk right now."
"But how can national security possibly be involved? I'm afraid I don't understand.”
"Someone's been blackmailing you, haven't they?" the younger agent said.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Would it be the Marcotech Consortium, by any chance?"

The startled look on Venables' face told his callers they'd hit pay dirt.
"They got off a bit too lightly in the Kobehnhavn case, didn't they? They seem very good at fixing things in their own interest. If you're wondering what put us on to you in the first place, well we just had a hunch, that's all. Or rather our friends in MI6 did."
"MI6?"
"This doesn't just affect the security of the United Kingdom."
"Why not?"

"Marcotech are simply getting too powerful for everyone else's good. It’s too easy, the way they win contracts and avoid any enquiry into how they conduct their business. There have been certain inconsistencies with their accounts and we have reason to believe they're involved in other illegal activities. On top of that there are further reasons, which I can't explain at the moment, for taking a keen interest in their activities right now.”

"I'd advise you to co-operate, Mr Venables,” urged his superior. “We have photographs of you entering the premises and tape recordings of the phone calls. If we have to, we'd be quite prepared to release them to the tabloids.

"You will co-operate, believe me. Because I'm afraid that if you don't we'll have to let your wife, and the press, know what you've been up to while she's at her choir practice. We can always deny putting any pressure on you, since there's no proof. But the photographs and the tapes will be indisputable evidence of your....extra-curricular activities, shall we say."

He fell silent, allowing Venables time to assess where he stood. Gradually, the judge managed to compose himself. "What...what do you want me to do?" he asked flatly.

"Firstly, we want confirmation that Marcotech blackmailed you into returning a favourable verdict in the investigation you headed against them. A taped confession, just for the record. I have the equipment right here in my pocket. There's no need at present for anyone beside ourselves to hear it and we'll try and make sure there never is. We just want to know what's been going on."

They sat back and waited for Venables to reply, their eyes fixed piercingly on his. He shifted to avoid their gaze.

"You wouldn't be doing that unless you were prepared to release the tape at some point," he said bitterly. "Do you think I want that? Do you think I want everyone knowing the kind of things I've been doing? The shame, the disgrace...a lot of people wouldn’t care less but in the circles I move in, it could still ruin someone.”

"Like we said, Sir, it may not be necessary." And then the younger man's eyes seemed to freeze over. "But if you don't co-operate with us, we'll do it for certain."

He waited for Venables to respond. When the judge did, his manner was subdued, crushed. "Well, you've certainly let me know where I stand," he murmured. "What else did you want from me?"

The senior agent explained carefully what they needed him to do. When he’d finished Venables, looked tense and agitated. For just a moment he looked on the point of refusing. "You'll protect me from any...any reprisals?" he asked.

"Of course." The man's tone had softened again, reflecting pity more than anything else. "I'll say again, Mr Venables, we aren't out to censure you. We just want to save someone's life."
"But if it comes to court, and..."
Again the change in tone. "Just remember what I said."

"You might be grateful, Mr Venables," the senior agent said darkly. "We could do worse than wreck your career if you didn't play ball. I think you know what I mean."

“The two men stood up to leave. "That's about all, Mr Venables. We'll be keeping a close eye on you from now on, in case Marcotech should think of permanently shutting you up. Don't worry, you'll be quite safe."

"We don't really like resorting to these methods," the other assured him. "Unfortunately, sometimes there isn't really any choice."

"All the same," Venables snapped, "I bet you don't say that to your new recruits. You let them find out when it's too late what they've signed up for."
"That's what life's all about," the agent observed wistfully. "The things we never say."

*

Slumped heavily in one of the living room chairs, Roger Venables stared down at the phone with glazed eyes. Once again he tried to remind himself of what would happen if he didn't go ahead with this.

In a sudden savage burst of rage he snatched up the receiver and dialled a number scribbled in an old exercise book. After a moment a friendly female voice answered him. "Hello, Marcotech UK?"

"I'd like to speak to your head of security, please." It would have been someone in that or a similar role who had called on him the day after his visit to the place in Croydon.
"May I ask what it's about, Sir?"

"It's about the meeting I had with a representative of your company a while ago. Certain...allegations he made."
She answered with professional politeness. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Sir."

"Well I'm sure the head of security does. If I was to disclose what passed between us the consequences for Marcotech could be most unpleasant. They might even mean the end of the company." He paused to let the effect of his words sink in.
"I'm going to keep on ringing until you put me through to them," he added.

"Just one minute, Sir." He heard the musical tone as she transferred him.
A crackle and a click. Then a voice: "I hear you wanted to speak to me, Mr Venables."
"Yes, it's about our little arrangement." Venables' heart was pounding painfully and the nervous trembling of his body was causing the table to shake. "I've decided that if I'm to keep quiet about the fact that you blackmailed me, I ought to have a bit more out of this. Basically, I'm talking money."

A pause. "Do you really need it, Mr Venables? You've enough cash to spend on Bollywood Beauty over in Hounslow." No section of the community was immune nowadays from the onrushing tide of moral depravity, and Venables had always been catholic in his racial preferences where such matters were concerned.

"It's the way we live now, old boy. I'm just out for what I can get. I also don't like people who think they can twist me round their little finger."

"Mr Venables, you must realise the consequences to yourself if you go back on our agreement now. I told you so when we met. Do you really want to take the risk?"

"I need the money. My company is about to go bankrupt.” When he’d retired from the High Court earlier in the year, Venables had been offered and accepted a seat on the board of directors of a leading aerospace company. “When you check its accounts to find out whether I'm telling the truth they'll seem pretty healthy to you, but that's because we've been fiddling the figures like everyone else. I don't have a lot to lose. As for my wife, all that went cold a long time ago." Which was true, actually.

Another pause. "How much are you asking from us, Mr Venables?"
"Ten thousand pounds to start with. We can negotiate, I suppose. There are other things I should like to talk about."
"Such as, Mr Venables?" His manner was wary, but still composed.
"I don't discuss such matters over the phone. I want a face-to-face meeting; I've found it's more effective in impressing on people just where they stand. There's a restaurant in Soho I sometimes go to. I'll see you there tonight at seven-thirty, alright?"

"If you wish. But you may well come to regret this, Mr Venables."
"So might you. Now the bar is called Twilites and it's in Old Compton Street. Got that?"
"Yes, Mr Venables, I've got it."

"Good. One last thing; don't even think about doing something nasty to me to shut me up. I've hired some people to make sure you'll suffer if you do. And if I do happen to die in mysterious circumstances, or disappear, they'll see the blackmail business gets into the papers. I won't be around to care about it, but you will. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly, Mr Venables."
"Goodbye then," said Venables, and cut him off.


Offices of Marcotech UK, Southampton
"What did you make of it?" Latimer asked. "It's taking a bit of a risk for him."

Greatrix sat with fingers steepled, absorbing the alarming news Latimer had just confronted him with. "If what he told you on the phone is true, he's got nothing to lose. I can't see any other reason why he'd play with fire like this."

"They could have been cooking the books like he says," Latimer said. “But when all’s said and done he’s still got his judge’s pension. They'd still let him keep it even if did mail the evidence of what he’s been up to to the Sun. And I don’t think he’d take the risk just to save his reputation. It is a risk, because he’s not to know we wouldn’t kill him if it was necessary to get us out of trouble.”

"When did he say he wanted to meet?"
"Tonight, seven-thirty. He doesn't want to give us any time to think, the bastard. And he'll make sure he's out and about before then, so we won't be able to get to him and take care of him."
"We'd better keep the appointment. If we don't things might get a lot worse."

"You're probably right." Latimer dropped heavily into a chair, face sullen. "It doesn't make sense. Venables hasn't the guts to do something like this. I thought he was a pathetic lying little sod but not the sort who'd fight back this way."
"You think he's been put up to it?"

"That's what I suspect. Someone's found out we were blackmailing him and is using it against us."
"Who would it be? The police?"

"Someone would have to have lodged a formal complaint of wrongdoing against us. And it doesn't seem anyone has. Besides, they might be in trouble for using underhand methods. They have been before.”
“I was thinking....." began Greatrix.
"Yes, Boss?"

"I was thinking it might be the security services," he said hesitantly. "They use much the same methods as we do. And if someone, somehow, has an inkling of what we're up to..."
"They can't arrest people," Latimer pointed out.
"Maybe not. But they tend to be a law unto themselves. If they can find proof of what we're doing, we'll be in serious trouble."
“Look,” Greatrix clipped, “the bottom line’s this. Something's going on here which I don’t like, and the best way to find out what it is is to keep the appointment. So let’s do that.”


It was on the fourth day that Caroline began to experience feelings of depression.

At first it had been nice just to swim about, finding out what her new body could do. But now that she had become accustomed to her aquatic mode of existence the never-ending daily routine was becoming monotonous.

The trouble was that one part of the sea bed looked much the same as another; was much the same. Yards and yards of sand, clumps of rock, clusters of sea grass. By now she had explored every square inch of the colony - that was how it felt, anyway - and knew all the different species of marine life, so that they had ceased to interest her. She felt jaded from keenly scrutinising miles and miles of white sand, her eyes ranging over it in search of those dull-looking, unimpressive chunks of mineral, which by now were few and far between anyway. All the other tasks she had to perform had got boring too. As for the food, yes it was nutritious and tasted as no doubt a healthy diet should but all the same she pined for steak and chips.

From the boredom her sleep periods were her only release. What made it so much worse was the knowledge that this would be her lot for the rest of her life; presumably anyway.

The water was clear, and enough sunlight penetrated down to prevent it being too dark and gloomy. What she missed was the feel of the wind, the fresh open air, on her face, her skin.
Man is not meant to live like this, she thought.

If she could just see the surface, even for a few minutes at a time, talk to real people, things wouldn't be quite so bad.

Then there was the company. The other aquanoids still refused to let her mix with them. Every time she made an attempt at communication they just swam off, in their quick darting movements so much like real fish, and after a while she was to give up trying. She doubted they'd be much company anyway, lacking independence of thought or individuality. And since they communicated primarily by gesture and facial expression, there wouldn't be much scope for conversation. The one good thing about all that was that none of the male aquanoids sought to make advances towards her, as she had at one point feared might happen.

As for Greatrix's henchmen, they too continued to keep their distance. They weren't allowed to talk to her, in case she learned something that might be to her benefit, helping her to escape from here. In case she played on their emotions, and won them over somehow. Because so little happened down here, she wouldn't in any case have had much to say to them. She marvelled at their dedication.

She was trying to avoid talking to herself. Again, she had suddenly when inside begun to babble at random about everything, before stopping herself suddenly, afraid that they'd think she was going crazy and give her the drug. She hadn't decided yet whether she wanted it. For one thing, once she'd be completely at their mercy, all hope of escape gone.

And yet it was all driving her gradually out of her mind, living in this strange silent world where she had virtually no communication with any other intelligent life form.

It seemed that her perception of sound was different, because she was spending half of her time, when not sleeping, in the water, and because when out of it she rarely heard the sound of other people's voices - and she herself did not speak to either the aquanoids or the guards, there being no point. It felt a bit like she was going deaf. And then of course there was the thought of her family and friends and how they must be worrying about her.

Her movements had become sluggish and listless, just like those of the other aquanoids.

She had done well to last this long. The question was, could she keep it up?

She had finished work for the time being and was just swimming about aimlessly. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of a face watching her through an observation porthole of one of the domes. For want of anything better to do she twisted over and hung in the water, staring fixedly back at it.

Her eyes met those of Charlie, the Marcotech shore agent. His face was taut and strained from the effort of keeping out of it any emotion whatsoever. They looked at each other for a long time, neither changing their expression, until Charlie turned slowly away and disappeared from her view, and leaving her once again to resume her aimless wanderings.


Twilites, Old Compton Street, Soho
When Latimer entered the bar and looked around Venables was sitting at a table in a far corner of the room, the one furthest from the door, trying to look as inconspicious as possible.

He went and sat down opposite to him. The man looked nervous, and struggling hard to hide it. Did he really need the money enough to put himself through all that torture?

"So, Mr Venables, you wanted to talk," Latimer began, instinctively adopting a low whispering voice.
"Yes. I believe I said ten thousand pounds."
"And how much will you be demanding next time?"
"What do you mean?"

"If you should keep on upping the price, you'd become a serious nuisance to us. And then…well put it this way, the risk would be worth it. Just thought I'd warn you."
"Don't worry. I'm not that stupid."
"So, what were these other matters you wanted to discuss?"

"One moment." Venables raised one arm high in the air, snapping the fingers. Latimer thought he was signalling to the waitress for some more wine.

Two men detached themselves from the crowd of people at the bar and came over to their table, planting themselves on the two vacant chairs. Their movements were disturbingly purposeful.

"What's going on?" demanded Latimer. "Who are these two?"
“If we can just have a quick word with you, Sir," said one of the newcomers.
Latimer's mind raced. Were they police? Had Venables decided to do the decent thing, and expose the blackmail at the same time?

He remembered what Greatrix had said; play it cool. If he bolted for the door it it would only attract attention, making it look to potential witnesses as if he was guilty of something. Instead they had to find out just what exactly was going on here.

If they were MI5 or 6, had they been bugging the conversation? He felt under the table, encountered something metallic attached to the woodwork and ripped it away. In the palm of his hand was a tiny receiving device of just the sort he often used in his own work. He stared at it for a moment, then dropped it on the floor and stamped on it hard, smashing it to a tiny crumpled scrap of metal and wiring.

He looked at the two spooks. "What's going on? That was a fucking bug, wasn't it?"

"And why did you think we might have bugged you, Sir?" There was a challenge in the man's voice.
The other spook leaned forward. "We need an urgent talk with you."
"What about?" Latimer continued to act as if thoroughly mystified.

"First of all, you've been putting a little pressure on Mr Venables here. And you know what I mean by that."
"'Fraid I don't." Latimer shook his head in bafflement, face totally blank.
"We're talking blackmail."
"He's just a friend, that's all," insisted Latimer.

In his mind he was rapidly rehearsing what he would say if Venables denied it. But the judge chose to say nothing, just sitting woodenly in his chair and occasionally glancing at the other customers as they ate or chatted at the bar.

"Marcotech, aren't you? You seem to have some very powerful friends."
"I still don't know what you're talking about, mate."

"He's told us everything, and we've got it all on tape. We recorded the conversation between the two of you when he rang to extract his price."
"How do you know he didn't make it all up? You've only got his word for it."
The other agent spoke for the first time. "Does the name Caroline Kent mean anything to you?"
"No."
"She's a troubleshooter with International Petroleum. Thought you might be connected with the tanker sinkings and decided to investigate that mysterious place of yours out in the Bahamas. Now she seems to have vanished. Unfortunately for you she had a friend who happened to work for MI6; she didn't know what they did, of course." A doctored version of the truth would enable them to avoid blowing Caroline's cover. "This friend asked us if we could help.

"We want to know what's happened to her. And if you have been blowing up these oil tankers, you've caused massive disruption to millions of people's lives.

"I guess you'd kill the Kent girl if you thought we were getting too close to you. So we'll make you a deal, OK? Let her go, and tell us what you're up to, what you've been spending all that money on and why, and we’ll take it from there. Whatever happens, if you don’t play ball and if the girl’s not back with her family safe and sound within the next few days we’ll give the information to the police.

"We've worked out how you operate and we're on your case. We think we know who else you've been blackmailing, or will know in due course. And I wouldn't advise attempting to guarantee their silence by bumping them off, because we're watching them all night and day.

"We can leak what we've found, all of it, to the press - anonymously of course - at any time. We won't leave off ntil you agree to negotiate with us. There'll be a full enquiry into your affairs, a proper one this time, and then people will find out what you're really up to. So perhaps it's time to start being reasonable." He locked eyes with Latimer, attempting to stare him out.

"This is all bollocks," Latimer snapped and sprang to his feet. He turned on his heels and stormed out of the bar.
Mr Justice Venables followed him with his eyes. "What'll happen now?"
"I think all that was just an act," said the older spy. "We've given him something to think about. He'll go back to his boss and report what's happened tonight; and then we'll sit back and wait to see what happens."
Venables nodded vaguely, still far from happy. "And me?"
"As I said, we'll be watching you."
"All the time?"
"As much of it as possible. But you shouldn't have anything to worry about, Mr Venables. Marcotech won't take the chance now they've been warned to stay off you." Venables considered this for a moment, then finally relaxed, deflating like a balloon as the tension left him. Breathing out long and hard, he swayed gently from side to side, eyes closed like someone in a trance.

The agent leaned forward. "You've had a bit of a shock, haven't you. Well if I were you I'd see a counsellor; or, if you really can't stand the missus anymore, find someone else. Anyway, she doesn't have to know what you've been up to as long as you don't do it again."

He smiled kindly at the judge. "Drink? Or shall we be on our way?"
"I, I think I'd like to go now if that's alright," Venables gasped.
They saw him home, then parked the car on the opposite side of the road to the house, settling down to watch it until the next shift came to relieve them.

"Do you really think all this is worth it?" asked the younger agent. "Just for that girl, whatever her name is?"
"On the whole, yes," answered his colleague, his tone showing he'd had to think about it for a bit first. "She's been useful to Six in the past and if she's useful to them then she's useful to the country. It's in the national interest, and all that stuff. Then there's those tankers.”

"But would people like Marcotech really be able to do something like that? Or have the motive? I just can't believe it somehow."

They stared out at the gathering darkness, thoughtfully. "So," murmured the younger man, "what do you think they're going to do now?"


Sir Edward Greatrix listened in silence to Latimer's report of the meeting at Twilites, his face becoming steadily graver as the story unfolded.

"So, now we know now it's definitely the spooks," Latimer finished.
Greatrix nodded slowly. "This proves she's connected with the intelligence services. I don't believe that story about her just happening to have a friend who worked for MI6. What she said to Ivarson suddenly makes a lot of sense."

After that neither said anything more for a while. It was Greatrix who finally pulled himself together, breaking the silence. "This is serious," he observed.

Latimer grunted his agreement. "We can scare off an investigative reporter or two. But the security services are another matter."

"They can't expose any of those people," Greatrix said; it sounded like an appeal to someone or something. "Or nobody will agree to co-operate with them in the future, not in things like this."

"They won't have much choice but to, Boss. If they don't go along with it they might end up dead. The spooks are that ruthless, believe me." He got to his feet and started to pace around. "So what do we fucking well do?"

"I don't know if the security services are buyable. They've always revelled in being nobody's stooge but their own. They have the power to make and unmake governments, decide whether or not we go to war with someone. If they let themselves be bought they throw all that away.

"If the Kent girl tells them what we're doing, they'll try to stop it. They'd have to, unless we could win them over somehow and there's no way of guaranteeing that. And we can't abandon everything we've built up over the past few years; can we?"
Latimer shook his head.

"From now on they'll be watching us very closely. They know what we're doing. They can beat us at our own game."
"It’s not good, Boss,” Latimer sighed. “Supposing we don't play ball and the spooks tell the police, and the government, that we've been blackmailing people in order to get off being investigated. That obviously there's something we need to hide. They'll arrest us, wind up all our affairs in this country." For an MI5 or MI6 agent to testify in court presented certain problems. But if the matter was considered sufficiently important, the police would be able to get hold of their evidence somehow. By leaking information to the press, MI5 could use them to create such a storm that the authorities would be forced into doing something about Marcotech, no matter what.

He brightened a little. "But I guess the really important stuff is over at the colony, in the Bahamas. Our people in America will protect us from anything that could risk exposing it."

"If the British government launches a full investigation into this company, the Americans will have to do the same," Greatrix said. "Besides, I don't wish to be stuck in prison, on land, when this world starts to seriously go down the spout. I want to be safe under the sea. As I am sure do you."

Latimer scratched at his chin thoughtfully. Greatrix had a point.
"You know what this means, Boss?" he said.
"Yes," Greatrix muttered. "Yes Dave, I do."

"I was hoping not to have to do this. But it would help," he said quietly, and with a very grave expression on his mobile face, "if we could give our spook friends something else to think about."

Latimer nodded, and reached for the phone. The number he dialled belonged to Alois Kretzmer, alias Khalid al-Islami, at the Samaria aid agency in Geneva. The aid agency which was not an aid agency at all, or at any rate was supplying something very different from food and medical equipment to the Pakistani border region of Kashmir.