Thursday, 29 September 2011

Episode 84

Agents Mercury, Othello and Prada looked up guiltily as the door opened. They had been going through the few drawers and cupboards in the conference room, looking for a plug-in telephone after Othello had spotted a socket for one on the wall.

Agent Moon walked in.

“Moon! Tell your goons to let us go!” Prada was on her feet and shouting before the door was even closed behind him.

“Agent Prada,” warned Mercury, “let’s just stay calm and see what Moon has to say for himself.” He looked enquiringly at the latter. “Well?”

Prada slumped grumpily into a seat and began to worry at a hangnail with her teeth. Moon perched himself on the corner of the long conference table and surveyed the three of them. He looked different somehow, more confident, more mature and self-assured.

“Look,” he began, “I realise that this looks really bad –“

“Ya think?” muttered Prada, which earned her a frown from Mercury.

“- but, please believe me when I say that what’s going on here, what I’m involved in, is one of the most important projects this world has ever seen.”

“That’s a bold statement,” said Othello, “Care to elucidate?”

Moon took a moment to scratch at his temple as he composed his thoughts.

“I’d be more than happy to, believe me, but first I need some information from you guys.”

“Oh?” said Mercury, guardedly.

“Yeah, it’s just a small thing really, but I really need to know where Agent India and your pet demon are right now.”

Mercury, Prada and Othello looked at each other briefly, then Mercury spoke.

“And why would you need to know that, Agent?”

“We’re at a very sensitive stage in our work here,” Moon replied, “We really can’t afford to have unpredictable elements running about the place, disturbing things. It’s just too important.’

”You don’t seriously expect us to tell you, just like that, surely.” Said Prada.

Moon sighed. “I suppose not, but I thought it was worth while to ask, anyway.”

“So what now?” said Prada, “You going to start threatening us? Get one of your goons to shoot one of us like you did to Emerald? Like you did to Box?”

Moon’s face reddened.

“Those things were never meant to happen like that, I swear.” He said fervently. “A few people misunderstood what they were supposed to be doing and …” he trailed off, and suddenly, for a moment, he was the Moon they recognised - young, uncertain.

“Did whoever it was who planted the bomb in the warehouse misunderstand as well?” asked Othello, “Only, it seems to me that setting up something like that would take a certain amount of premeditation. Firing a gun can be a spur of the moment thing, but not planting explosives, that takes planning. You’re going to have to do better than that, Moon.”

Moon showed his palms in a conciliatory gesture. “You’re right, of course. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to have done and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry, I really am. It’s just that what we’re doing here is so very important.”

“Look, Fallen and Loyal alike have disappeared completely,” said Mercury, “Gone. Vanished. Not dismissed – which was always sufficient before now, but vanished. Are you destroying them somehow? And why target the Loyal when they’re on our side, for pity’s sake! Don’t you realise that you’re upsetting an ancient arrangement that has stood the test of time for centuries?”

“I understand that there are serious implications to what we’re doing here, believe me,” said Moon, “We appreciate that neither the Basement nor the Penthouse is going to be happy with what we’re doing here, but – “ he stood up and began pacing, as if about to deliver a speech.

“Humans have always been stuck in the middle between the two of them, at the mercy of either temptation from the Basement or whatever crumbs of bounty the Penthouse sees fit to bestow.”

“But that’s how it’s meant to be,” interrupted Prada. “If it – “

“Let me finish, please,” said Moon, cutting her off. “The Fallen and the Loyal have abilities that none of us humans can match and yet they hardly ever use them. There’s so much good they could do in the world but they don’t. Why? Because of some ancient agreement – to which we were not even party!”

“Moon, you know perfectly well why they can’t get involved in human affairs,” said Mercury, a not of irritation creeping into his voice. “Any one of them could rule this world without hardly lifting a finger if it so chose. The arrangement is for our protection, so that we are free to conduct our affairs as we see fit. They can try to influence us – that’s all. Our free will is what’s at stake here.”

“I know that!” Moon was beginning to sound angry himself now, “But is it an infringement of anybody’s free will if they get cured of cancer, or if a drought-stricken region suddenly get some rain for once? If a starving kid gets a bowl of rice? They see all this misery and they stand by and do nothing! If somebody saw an old lady fall down in the street and hurt herself, and yet just walked on by, we would be outraged at their lack of compassion. If we mortals can act altruistically, then why can’t they? It would be nothing to them.” He stopped, a little out of breath.

“I’m sure the Loyal at any rate would agree with you,” said Othello, “And I’m sure they very much want to help, but where do you draw the line? You can feed a single starving mouth easily enough, you might even feed a village or a town. Then you might just say to yourself, well, I can end starvation in this whole land altogether by getting the government to stop fighting internecine civil wars with their neighbours. Oh, and while I’m at it, I should get the neighbour governments to improve their human rights records. Pretty soon, if you go down that road, you’d be running the whole place. So it’s best not to even start down that road – hence the arrangement.”

“Well, I think it’s time things changed.” Declared Moon. “If they can’t – or won’t - help then –“

“- you’ll wipe then out.” Prada finished for him, flatly.

“No. That is not what’s happening here – the last thing we want is for any of them to be wiped out.”

“Then what?” asked Mercury.

For a moment, it looked as though Moon were actually going to tell them, but he obviously thought better of it. He shook his head.

“Sorry,” he said, “As I said, I’ll tell you gladly, but only when India and the demon are secured.”

He moved to the door. “Have a think about it and if you change your mind, just tell the guard. In the meantime, I’ll have some drinks and sandwiches sent in.”

The door closed. Mercury, Prada and Othello looked at one another.

“So,” said Mercury, “Do we give him what he wants?”

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Episode 83

“You have absolutely no right to keep us here! Let us go!” Prada’s pale face was flushed with anger.

“Please sit down, miss, and stay calm.” Said Nugent, patiently. “I’m sure everything will be fine, but we have our orders. Someone will be along to speak to you soon.” He closed the door firmly behind him, leaving Prada, Othello and Mercury alone together for the first time since their capture.
Othello waited a few moments and then went over to the door. He eased it open a crack, glanced out and quickly closed it again.

“Two guards outside,” he said. “Armed.”

Mercury, meanwhile was checking the windows.

“These can’t be opened,” he sighed. “Looks like we’re here for the duration.”

“And since they have our phones, we can’t even let India know what’s happened.” Said Prada. The guards of units Three and Four had searched them quickly and professionally before ushering them into what looked like a perfectly ordinary conference room.

“She’ll know something’s up when we don’t make the check-in call.” Mercury looked at his watch, “in about ten minutes or so.”

“Were the guys that nabbed you wearing Predator-suits as well?” asked Prada.

“Predator suits?” Mercury inquired with raised eyebrow. “Oh! The fancy invisibility things? Yeah, they flat-footed us quite handily. What I wouldn’t give for a few of those things!”

“They’re some seriously advanced tech,” said Othello, “Military maybe. There’s a pile of money being spent here. I think we’re definitely on to something now.” He turned to Prada, “ So what happened to the demon? Did they capture it?”

Teatime crouched under a hedge, straining his tiny eyes and ears to the maximum to reassure himself that there were no perishing humans about. The car they had all arrived in earlier that evening sat, apparently undisturbed, just in the spot they had left it. During their earlier planning session at Mr Teeth’s, it had been decided that the car was the place to meet up if anything untoward happened. Well, untoward was certainly an understatement. A supposedly low-risk recce mission had turned into a complete shambles.

Teatime hoped Harold had a) got away safely and b) remembered this part of the plan. He was a good-hearted chap but, honestly, sometimes he could be such a complete duffer. Besides, it would be colossally inconvenient if the silly oaf had got himself captured. Not only would the investigation be severely hampered, but Teatime would have to explain things to Harold’s father. Not a pleasant prospect.

Harold had not forgotten the plan. It had taken a while, but he had eventually managed to find a service ladder and climb out of the culvert. As soon as he had emerged, he had tried calling Mercury’s phone to let him know what had happened. It had just rung and rung and then gone to voicemail. So had Othello’s. He even called Prada just in case, somehow, she had managed to escape herself, but the result was the same. This did not bode well. Maybe all the agents had been captured then. Well, all except one. India. His number one fan. With some trepidation, he dialled her number.

“All of them?” India cried, incredulous.

“It would seem so, I can’t raise any of them on their cells.”

“But you managed to escape. Just you.” Her voice had a hard, suspicious edge to it.

“Well, Teatime too, probably. We got split up in all the confusion.”
India rubbed her eyes. She needed to think. This was one scenario they had not rehearsed. She was effectively in charge now all of a sudden. This was only her first proper mission. She was the most junior member of the team, she couldn’t be expected to tackle this level of responsibility. It just wasn’t right. Get a grip, she told herself sternly. She took a big breath.

“OK, demon, try and find the monkey-thing and then both of you get back here, so we can figure out what to do next.“

“Will do.”

The line went dead. Well that went surprisingly well, Harold thought as he put the phone away. He had been expecting much more of a tongue-lashing than that. She must be softening.

Right then, back to the car and hopefully a reunion with Teatime.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Episode 82

Harold dropped the twenty feet or so into the culvert, landing lightly. He trotted over to the crashed truck. Some kind of liquid was leaking from somewhere and spreading in a dark pool around it. Harold hoped it wasn’t fuel or anything else flammable: he’d seen lots of movies and TV programmes since coming to earth and vehicles inevitably seemed to go ka-boom shortly after crashing. If motor vehicles were so dangerous, why on earth did humans routinely trust their lives to them? Harold wasn’t afraid for himself; his clothes would be ruined, of course, if the truck blew up, but he would be basically unharmed – if a little weak and in need of pizza. The humans inside would not fare so well, however, so chop-chop, old bean, he told himself in his best mental imitation of Teatime.

The truck’s rear end was closest to him and one of the doors, having burst open in the crash, was lying invitingly open on the ground, providing a handy means for Harold to scramble in.

The inside of the truck was a shambles. There had clearly been a lot of complicated and delicate equipment in here, but most of it had been torn from its mountings in the crash and was smashed and scattered all over the place. Bits of broken glass glittered everywhere. Thankfully, there was no electrical sparking – indeed, all was eerily quiet. Harold’s night vision, demonically good as it was, soon allowed him to spot the rear compartment’s lone occupant.

The man was unconscious with a sizeable gash on his forehead which was bleeding freely. He was lying sprawled on top of a small heap of busted up equipment. Further examination, however, was hampered by two large silvery equipment cases which had tumbled onto the man’s body and legs. Harold grabbed the handle of the nearest one and unceremoniously slung it out through the door-hole, where it landed with a clatter on the concrete beyond. The second one followed suit shortly after.

Harold crouched next to the man. He was quite young by the looks of it, which was good as it meant that he would be strong and healthy. Humans’ bodies were so terrifically delicate, though. One wrong move from Harold and a bad situation might become much, much worse. Harold had seen fly-on-the-wall documentaries about hospital ERs and knew that broken necks and spines were bad news. If he moved the man… He wracked his brains for a moment, wrestling with the beginnings of an idea, then shrugged to himself: it was worth a try, surely?

He tentatively reached out his hand and, using the same facility that had allowed him to sense the locks on the various doors he had opened, he tried to ‘see’ if anything was broken in the man’s body. The rush of sensation he received in return was very odd indeed: humans, it transpired, were basically a big bag of warm squishy with a bony frame. Fortunately, the man seemed to be undamaged apart from the knock on the head he’d received.

Harold carefully manoeuvred the limp and distinctly uncooperative form out through the door hole and dragged it far enough away (he hoped) from any potential ka-boom. Not knowing anything about recovery positions or anything much else of First Aid (the Basement did not have this subject on its curriculum for some reason), he made the fellow as comfortable as he could, then headed back to the van.

As he trotted past them on his way to the front of the truck, Harold glanced at the two bulky cases he had ejected so carelessly. They bore the Rainbow Industries logo as well as some other black stencilled lettering: RI-180-A Smart Camouflage (Medium). Harold felt a stab of excitement: if those cases contained what he thought they did, then getting Prada back might be a tad easier.

There was no time for that now, however.

Harold scrambled up onto the passenger side of the vehicle, which was now effectively its roof, and made his way over to the driver’s compartment. Through the broken passenger side window, Harold could see that both airbags had gone off and then deflated, leaving their fabric draped in pale folds eerily reminiscent of a shroud, over the occupants, neither of whom was moving.

Harold stood up and tried to tug the passenger door open, but it was badly buckled and refused to budge. Favouring the universe with a gimme-a-break-already sigh, Harold crouched down again and used his abilities, just as he had done on Mr Peck’s cable-tie handcuffs, teasing the molecules of the twisted metal apart bit by bit, so as to avoid sparks and subsequent unwelcome ka-booms.

The door now open, Harold reached in and gently lifted the air-bag material out of the way, the better to see the two men. A hand-scan (as he suddenly decided to called it) revealed that the passenger had a broken arm and a couple of cracked ribs, as well as a large egg of a bump on the side of his head – no doubt the cause of his unconsciousness. He tried to reach down to the driver to check on him, but the bulk of the passenger’s body prevented it.

The passenger himself was probably not in too great a danger from his injuries, Harold thought (so, you’re a Doctor all of a sudden, taunted his own inner voice), but clearly the man would benefit by not being in the truck any longer than was necessary.

But how to get him out safely?

The truck’s front windshield was a spider web of cracks, but was, miraculously, still more or less in one piece. If Harold could just remove it, there would be a nice big aperture through which rescue could be effected. He was just starting to congratulate himself on his own inventiveness when the sound of a passing siren drifted down from the highway above.

He smacked himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. You idiot! he told himself, you should have rung for an ambulance before getting stuck in!

He reached for his phone, but, as his fingers curled around its cool smooth plastic, he suddenly remembered all those NO MOBILE PHONE signs displayed so prominently in filling stations. Mouthing a silent phew at his lucky escape, he jumped down to the ground.

Once he got to work on it, the windscreen all but fell out of its own accord and, with the large gap it left, Harold was now able to check on the truck’s driver at last.

The driver’s corner of the truck had borne the full brunt of the vehicle’s high speed impact with the unyielding concrete of the culvert’s wall. There was nothing anyone could do for the driver now.

Shaking his head, Harold carefully eased the passenger out of the truck and dragged him as gently as he could over to where he had left the other man, laying him down beside his comrade. He then dialled 911 and gave brief details of the men’s injuries and the location.

That done, he suddenly felt quite drained. All the tearing about at high speed, followed by all the scanning and cutting of metal and glass had apparently taken its toll. What he wouldn’t give for some pizza right now! No rest for the wicked, though, he told himself.

Slinging the straps of the two cases over his shoulders, Harold started walking along the culvert and away from the crash site – it wouldn’t do to be around when the medics (and Police, probably) showed up. Now, there had to be a service ladder or something around here somewhere.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Episode 81

Harold found himself running across an area of rough ground, mostly loose, dry dirt with the odd tussock of scrubby grass dotted here and there. Behind him, he could hear the truck’s engine being revved and what sounded like a very bad-tempered clash of gears as it was hastily slammed into reverse. Hopefully, the Infinity Recycling crew would waste a lot of precious time getting the truck back out of the loading yard and onto the road again, time he could use to his advantage.

He looked back to see if any of them had followed him over the fence, but could see nothing except the sweep of the truck’s lights as it swung around, and even these disappeared as it drove out of the yard.

Where would they go?

Harold’s mind raced: having seen him run off into the dark, they would try to find a way onto this open area as soon as they could. He wasn’t out of the woods yet by a long chalk. Heh, woods would be quite handy in his current predicament.

Then he had an idea. Whipping out his phone, he called up Google Maps. It took a maddeningly long time for the app to work out where he was and display the map of the area, but eventually it appeared.

Up ahead, about half a mile off, Harold could see a line of moving lights. So that would be the highway indicated on the map just there then. So, that bit was the business park and there was the loading yard. Harold zoomed the image out to get the whole of the rough ground onto the screen. It looked like there was just the one place that a vehicle could get through and was it just over there….

Sure enough, as if on cue, like the eyes of some malevolent creature, the truck’s headlights appeared and began to grow larger as the vehicle bounced and bumped its way onto the field.

Harold headed for the lights of the highway. Maybe he’d be able to persuade someone to stop and give him a ride (unlikely! he admonished himself), but even so, once he actually was on the well-lit main road, surely the IR people wouldn’t be able to try and capture him without drawing a lot on unwelcome attention. It was definitely the best bet at this stage.

The truck’s engine roared as the driver floored the accelerator. Harold risked a look back and saw that the truck was on a somewhat oblique course to his; it looked like the truck’s occupants didn’t exactly know where he was at this point, which was fine by him.

The highway lights drew steadily closer. He might make it yet.

Suddenly, the truck accelerated past Harold on what was now almost a parallel course, albeit a hundred yards to the side. Darn it!  They must have figured out the highway was his best bet and were trying to get there before he did. That was not good news: the open ground was a rough wedge shape with the narrowest part abutting the highway. If they did get there in time and got their freezing machine going again there was no way he was getting past them. He slowed to a stop; no point in running straight into their trap. The obvious thing would be to head back the way he’d come, putting maximum distance between himself and them.

He turned and began to run back.

Behind him, the truck’s engine, which had been a more or less constant roar suddenly rose in pitch, giving out a tortured mechanical scream. This lasted but a moment, however, before being cut off by a horrendous crashing sound, followed by the nails-on-blackboard screech of something heavy and metallic sliding against something very hard and very rough.

Then all at once there was silence.

Harold whirled round.

The truck was gone.

He stood there for a few moments, at a loss. In his experience, trucks did not just disappear. After a while, though, a new sound came to his ears, an irregular ticking interspersed with the occasional spong of cooling metal.

Harold made his way over to where the noise was coming from. The mystery of its sudden vanishing act was solved.  A twenty foot wide, twenty foot deep solid concrete drainage culvert ran more of less parallel to the highway. The truck’s driver simply hadn’t seen it in time.

The truck lay on its side at the bottom of the far wall. It must have hit at an angle, its momentum flipping it round a full 180 degrees given that it was now facing back the way it had been going. From what Harold could see of it, the driver’s side was completely staved in and the rest of the truck looked pretty bent and battered. It wouldn’t be following anyone anywhere now.

For a moment his spirits soared. This was his chance! He could get away, hook up with Teatime, Othello and Mercury and figure out how to rescue Prada.

But, a more level-headed thought insisted, there were people in that truck. If they had survived the crash, they were very likely to be needing medical attention.

So call an ambulance and leave them to take care of it.

But an ambulance could take ages, those people needed help now.

But if they weren’t that badly injured after all, he’d be walking straight into their arms.

Not badly injured?  Seriously?  The truck was a mess.

Harold gazed at the crumpled truck for a moment longer and then with a sigh, walked to the edge of the culvert and jumped down into it.