still Tuesday, Halgary 23rd
33. Ambrose Of Nottridge Begins His Run
A fleet of five JL-90 jetfoil craft edged away from Sanvo, heading out from the group of islands which sprawls up to fifty miles from the western coast of the county of Stanton. As they plunged into a black night, Ambrose Mellbury was sitting crouched over the radar screen in the darkened wheelhouse of the lead vessel.
His decoy fleet of two ageing cabin cruisers, under the command of young Armand Rivaud, had just reached the horizon, making a mere fifteen knots on muffled engines. Both fleets were running at a slight angle to the rolling ocean surges, making for Astrik Bay on the border between the counties of Lesham and Westel.
The radio operator bobbed up from his cramped compartment to deliver a signal and to have a look at the night. He had intercepted what appeared to be a random scrap of conversation. But the time and the frequency had told him that Ambrose's second in command had left Haitain on time with his cargo of spirits. "Bekker's on his way. No problems," he reported.
"Let's hope it stays that way," replied Ambrose, tightening one of the straps of his seat web as a defence against the erratic motion of the jetfoil. It was most stable at the highest cruising speed.
"Looks nice out there." Finding the pressing blackness of the overcast night unappetising, the radio operator retired below to his equipment and a cup of synth-café.
"Good night for it," remarked the helmsman, peering into the darkness. In spite of all the advanced instruments, offensive and defensive radars, jamblers for unfriendly electronics and other products of the modern age, he still preferred to keep a good pair of eyes in reserve.
34. By Moby To Lesten Island
Marco sounded both relieved and tired when he announced, "We're here."
Sovershend dropped the stub of his fourth cigarette into the snuffer and lifted his eyes from the radio dial. "Can't see anything. Oh, yes! I can now." About three hundred yards ahead, according to the radar, he could see a dark hump against the darker sky, and a line of something lighter in front of it.
"Right on the button." Marco pointed to the clock, which was showing: 23:44 - 35.
The Mobys crossed the shore line and headed for a torch and the stream of rapid dots flashing in their direction. They landed in a grassy crater, entering via an opening on the seaward side. Tiger called an enthusiastic greeting to the three men standing beside a dark Range Rider four-wheel-drive vehicle. They hurried over to her Moby to confer rapidly, then two of them got busy with the refuelling operation.
An electric pump powered by batteries in the back of the Range Rider transferred jet fuel from a series of fifty gallon drums. The pilots and Sovershend watched from a safe distance, smoking John's cigarettes and exchanging shop talk about the performance of their machines.
A cold wind from the sea made them clip the seals on their outer garments up to the neck. When Andrayem blasted his cigarette end into the air, the wind seized it and lifted it over to the refuellers. Fortunately, neither of them noticed the glowing missile hurtle past them.
"Looks like the weather's on the way," John remarked in Camerlish coloured with both Belldan and Ferran accents.
"It's weird to want rain when you're flying," added Marco.
Andrayem lit another cigarette and snorted his contempt for the weather.
Sovershend decided that the Belldans had received one of the get-you-by electronic language implant courses, which concentrate on vocabulary, grammar and speech patterns, but pay little attention to other than the basics of pronunciation. ‘Get the words right, no matter how they sound', was the policy of some language courses. And enough people agreed with them to make their authors rich.
The Mobys were ready to continue within fifteen minutes. Tiger Farges whistled imperially to the other pilots. When the light mounted on the backs of the Range Rider went out, Sovershend found that he could see nothing outside the cockpit of his Moby.
Making no attempt to maintain formation, the Mobys drifted to the shore, striking wide gaps in the breakers. They resumed their stations as they began to outrun clouds of spray from a rising sea. Air-speed integrators wound up to cruising speed. Sovershend felt his nerves stringing tighter as the Mobys set course for the estuary of the River Capse.
Driving rain came down to blot out the faint running lights of the other Mobys. All that remained of them was three firmer blobs on a display next to the radar screen, which was showing mainly mush. The blue light on a device plugged in to the radar control panel began to flash and intermittent glass-breaking sounds clashed from the dark blue box.
"Does that mean we're about to crash into something big and solid? Or drop to bits?" Sovershend asked lightly, pointing to the cigarette packet-sized device.
Marco cackled in sheer delight. "You Camerlish! What imaginations you've got! That's the radar jambler, which is keeping us off the coastguard screens."
"We're that close, eh?"
"Too late for second thoughts. Is there any food?"
"Couple of tartines left. Duck and cress, I think. I wonder if I could get a bottle out of one of the containers to make this synth-café drinkable?"
"I'll hold the door while you climb out," offered Marco.
"S'vogan, shev," laughed Sovershend.
"What?" Marco leaned closer to hear better.
"Not till we're safely back on the ground, maccar," Sovershend improvised.
Aha! he thought. Another slip of the programming. Our friends from across the water haven't been supplied with the fashionable Heitainan naughty words. I wonder what they do for swearing?
Wednesday, Halgary 24th
35. Ranks Of Ambuscade
A heavy overcast had brought almost total darkness to the Nealan coast but the incoming rain was still over the Inland Sea. There was a marked lack of activity at the half-built yachting marina but it was by no means deserted. Three men were sitting in a blacked-out hut, waiting for the arrival of Bekker, Ambrose Mellbury's second in command. Two of them were playing cards. The third was reading an obscure novel by an even more obscure wordsmith. His companions had inspected the paperback and dismissed it as rubbish. It lacked sex, sadism and slaughter in the desired quantities.
Less than one hundred yards from the hut, the vanguard of a National Temperance Front assault force was waiting impatiently for action. Many of the fifty were feeling distinctly mean, nasty and wound up. Dudley, the leader of the expedition, had forbidden the smoking of javon until afterwards to keep them in that state. But with the wind blowing inland, away from the hut, a few had chosen to disobey the order. They had nothing else to do at one-fifteen on a dark summer morning.
Spread out in a wide arc behind the crescent formation of Lawsonites, the legion of the Church of His Aweful Satanic Majesty lurked passively. CHASM itself was not as strongly represented as the NTF, but it had a greater force. Each of the five True Followers commanded a squad of nineteen NeoKirlans. Heavily armed, the warriors were sitting or lying, according to available cover, filled to the ears with hypnotic control drugs and waiting to be given the antidote and pointed towards what could be their last battle.
The NeoKirlans would enjoy the bloody conflict and their masters would derive their pleasure from thwarting the Lawsonites. While not being able to bring pleasure to all, the True Followers of CHASM intended to follow their creed to the best of their ability by catering for the majority.
36. Up the Dungard Ship Canal By Moby
Four Mobys entered the River Capse in line astern, running slightly to the south of the central channel. Their air-speed integrators showed 25 mph, and they had reduced height to a bare two yards above the relatively fast-flowing water. Four apparently more violent patches of rain headed invisibly for the tidal locks at Hamstede, gateway to the Dungard Ship Canal. An effortless, soaring glide took the Mobys over the lock gates. Tiger Farges, in the lead vehicle, took her speed up to 60 mph. Strung out over a quarter of a mile, the Mobys raced for Dungard.
"This must look quite impressive during the day," remarked Marco as they sped past the seemingly endless oil and gas installations at Wallstan.
"I've always been meaning to take the floatcraft tour of the canal," said Sovershend. "Perhaps I will: if I survive this one."
"You can always get out and walk," laughed Marco.
More hops took the convoy over the locks at Dymond, Mirton and Cross. Sovershend decided that the worst part of their journey was going under rather than over bridges. It was a purely psychological effect, but their speed, the poor visibility in the exiting Northern rainstorm and the fact that they were flying above the water instead of sailing on top of it all conspired to create the illusion that they were in deadly danger of crashing into every one of the bridges.
"Can't be far now," said Sovershend as they zoomed beneath the distinctive, echoing, Cross expressway bridge and its companion open-girder railway bridge.
"Four and a half miles," nodded Marco. "Two and a half to the next locks and two more to the turn-off."
"I didn't know you were navigating," said Sovershend, impressed by the complete answer. "I thought you were just following the leader."
Marco shrugged. "It's all down on the map. Have you got any more cigarettes? I've lost my spare packet."
Sovershend offered a uisge-flavoured cigarette.
The canal curved to the right, bringing them to the vast timber yards, Wellmode locks and the first of the docks. A long left turn took them past docks three to six. The Mobys decelerated to 30 mph and closed up to a separation of twenty yards.
"Here we are," announced Marco.
The canal-side embankment cut off their view of Tiger's Moby for a moment. It reappeared in the city's night-glow, swinging abruptly to the right across the canal, just short of the point at which the map described the waterway as the River Dunan. Their speed halved as the Mobys negotiated a cutting seven yards wide.
A shadowy railway viaduct rose blackly into the air on their left. Almost immediately, the Mobys skimmed beneath the immense, dark, concrete bulk of the Dungard expressway. Dawson Street shadowed them in a much more modest fashion. Sovershend was on familiar ground. The high brick wall on the left of the cutting descended rapidly. The storehouse and its surrounding electrified fence slid into view. The first two Mobys had already hopped over the fence and landed in front of the building. Andrayem joined them, then Marco with Sovershend.
Stan Tenbright ushered the visitors indoors, out of the rain, leaving a crew of his people to get on with unloading and refuelling. As it would be their first and last meeting, Sandy did not trouble to introduce the pilots to Dorry and Tenbright. By-passing Chas Jones with his supplies of food and drink, the visitors made straight for the room with the orange ‘16' painted an the door. There, in order of seniority, they relieved the pressures of several hours in a Moby.
Sovershend exchanged snarls with Rossiter when he returned from room 16. Dorry immediately found Rossiter a job elsewhere. He realized that a battle would not help the smooth running of a business deal. Sandy looked relieved when Rossiter left, but he made no comment. The prospect of being caught in the crossfire had been troubling him.
"We've finished refuelling," reported a man in a dripping set of waterproofs.
"Thanks, Blackjack," nodded Dorry. "Your people can leave when they're ready," he continued to Tiger Farges. She looked more of a commander than Sandy. Ten minutes had passed since the arrival of the Mobys.
"Right," nodded Tiger.
She exchanged glances with Sandy. The Moby pilots gulped down their synth-café and gathered a selection of tartines and pies for the return journey. Jones had filled their flasks. Two more shifters emerged from the rain for a warming cup of synth-café.
While Tenbright counted gold currency wafers into a carrying case, watched by Tiger and Sandy, Sovershend drew Dorry aside to acquaint him of the nationality of the other visitors. Although slightly uneasy about working with a bunch of foreigners who had not declared themselves as such, Dorry had to admit that he could find nothing sinister in their conduct to date.
Carrying 107 ounces of fine gold, Tiger led the Moby pilots out into the rain. An ocean of spray burst against the steel door when they started their engines. The Mobys hopped over the boundary fence and just vanished into a solid downpour and a sable night.
The shifters returned to the loading bay five minutes later, having peeled off their wet outer layers. They were carrying mugs of synth-café and Jones's tartines. Blackjack supervised the transfer of eight side-cargoes to the basement, using a section of floor which turned out to be a cargo hoist. His bosses and Sandy used the stairs.
Tenbright removed a locking bar, which ran the full length of one of the containers, and looked with approval at the exposed cases of uisge. "I find a sight like this always cheers me up enormously," he remarked.
"Our young friend still has his sense of wonder intact," said Dorry with a shadow of a superior smile.
Sandy replied with a matching worldly-wise smile.
"The monumental insensitivity of the old," commented Tenbright, addressing thin air. He led the way across the large, bright basement room to a small office formed by two partitions in the corner opposite the hoist. Two men were waiting for them.
"Been here long?" asked Dorry, He made no attempt to introduce them to Sandy.
"A few minutes only," said the older man. A strange, shiny rigidity of the left side of his face gave his voice an odd, lisping quality. His companion stood in a relaxed but alert posture behind his chair, like a holovision gangster. Sandy inspected the silent figure covertly, and thought immediately of Sovershend. Here was the same readiness for action and the eyes that missed nothing.
Dorry and the visitors went into a huddle to discuss quantities. Tenbright shunted Sandy to one side to extract an account of the journey from Norland. Almost immediately above their heads, Jones was doing the same with Sovershend.
More buyers arrived over the next hour or so. Rossiter returned from Dorry's errand and took over the controls of the steel security door at the outward end of the access tunnel. Sandy continued to struggle to believe that the basement had its own underground access road.
"It's starting to get light out there," remarked the last of the buyers as a hurry-up hint to Blackjack and his crew of shifters. "The clouds are going. It might even be a nice day."
"Really?" said Dorry absently, counting £100 notes.
"What kept you, anyway?" asked Tenbright. "You should have been here twenty minutes ago."
"I know," said the buyer. "Bockan van broke down again."
"Why don't you get a new one, you tight-fisted old sobok?"
"New vans cost money. Not everyone's got it to chuck around, like some I could mention." The buyer nodded to Dorry and his fistful of red notes.
"S'vogan, shev," laughed Tenbright. "I happen to know you ‘borrowed' this old wreck. Why don't you give it back to whoever owns it and ‘borrow' a better one?"
"I might just do that," grinned the buyer. "You don't happen to own a van by any chance?"
"If I did, I wouldn't admit it to you," scoffed Tenbright.
"We've loaded you now, sir," interrupted Blackjack, putting a heavy emphasis on the ‘sir'.
"Thank you, my man," drawled the buyer grandly. His skin was wrinkled dark chocolate and he had a helmet of jet-dusted white curls. "If you see my lad, he'll fix you up with a small tip."
"Knowing you, a bockan small one," laughed Blackjack.
"Well, that's that," said Dorry as the van started for the tunnel entrance. "A good night's work."
"Made a proper mess of the bockan floor," said Blackjack.
"That's what floors are for," remarked Tenbright, surveying the collection of drying, muddy tyre tracks.
"Guess who doesn't have to clean it up?" remarked Annelish, one of the shifters.
"No point in being the boss if you've got to sweep the bockan floor, is there?" countered Tenbright.
The hoist groaned back to ground level with a human cargo, and filled a dangerous hole in the floor. Tenbright had a look through the small, thick window in the steel door. Blue sky seemed to be displacing clouds and the sun had added a delicate tint to the grey monstrosity of the railway viaduct. Billows of steam were rising on the other side of the cutting, telling him which of the huts had a roof.
"Looks like it is going to be a nice day, like the forecast said," he remarked.
"How could it be anything else after such an excellent start?" said Sandy.
The group strolled into an inner room, where Sovershend and Jones were discussing some weighty matter. Jones turned his attention to brewing some real coffee. Blackjack and his fellow shifters began to drop hints about some real food to go with the real coffee. Jones switched on the cooker and accepted orders.
Moments later, a man burst into the room. "There's Prots all over the place outside," he yelled, before leaving with even more speed than his arrival. The arrival of the police halted the celebration in its tracks.
37. Demirell Delighted
Lightened of their loads, the Mobys made much better time on the return journey to Lesten Island. A rising wind had stripped the skies of their blanket of cloud by the time they made their landfall. The black-painted vehicles were very visible in the diffuse light twenty minutes before dawn.
The Range Rider was still there when the Mobys swooped into the grassy hollow and settled gracefully to the grass. Doors flew open. The pilots leapt out to stretch energetically. Tiger headed for the group beside the Range Rider.
"It went like a dream, Charles," she called to Demirell when she reached a comfortable hailing distance.
"So the older generation can be trusted out on their own," he told her with a laughed. "But after all we've heard from you and Sandford, I was expecting a hundred and ten per cent success."
Tiger laughed off the insult and lit a honey-flavoured cigarette. Then she surrendered to a cracking yawn, an expression of the extreme exhaustion brought on by the concentration required for low-level flying.
Demirell nodded to his two companions – minor members of the Duke of Atmain's security staff. They dragged a large, cylindrical container from the back of the Range Rider and rolled it towards the Mobys. The pilots finished their stretching and helped them. Once the camouflage tents had been erected, they would be able to catch up on lost sleep. The Mobys would not be returning to Norland until the following night.
"Are you in the mood for a celebration?" Demirell recovered a bottle of expensive Belldan wine from the front seat of the Range Rider.
Farges dipped into a box of tulip glasses. Success was melting the tensions of the mission, leaving her with a delicious sense of achievement and satisfaction. A sparkling Rienne wine from southern Belldon suited her mood perfectly.
Demirell poured generously and raised his glass in a silent toast. Despite an advantage of ground in her favour, he loomed over Farges and kept the crown of his head, where the dark hair was thinning, out of her field of vision. The severe style and his rugged face made him look considerably older than his twenty-eight years. Demirell had learned that exactly the right appearance could add undeserved authority to his opinions.
He too was in excellent spirits. He had received reports of a disturbance on the Nealan coast and explosions off Astrik Bay on the west coast of Camerland. Both Arlon Bekker and Ambrose Mellbury had fallen into the traps set for then. A good Sovershend look-alike would collect a reward from the Customs And Excise Department later that morning. The modest reward would be more than sufficient to incriminate Sovershend in the vengeful eyes of Ambrose's wife.
John, Marco and Andrayem drifted over to the Range Rider with hopeful expressions. The camouflage tents were in place and refuelling was only a two-man job. Demirell presented them with another bottle and glasses. It was a small gesture, but one calculated to buy popularity and inspire loyalty in a manner not available to Ilse Dortmann, Demirell's immediate superior in the Duke of Atmain's security department.
38. Free Fight
The announcement that the storehouse was surrounded by police cleared the breakfast room – almost. Devrel Sovershend completed building his bacon and egg sandwich, then he attacked it with a knife and fork, totally unconcerned and unaffected by the news. Trapped by indecision, Sandy hovered between flight and a reluctance to leave his companion's sphere of protection.
"Aren't you going to do something?" Sandy asked eventually.
"I am doing something," Sovershend pointed out. "I'm having my breakfast. Why panic till the shooting starts?"
"Shooting?" Sandy turned paler. "I'm going to find out what's happening." He strode purposefully towards the door, then he paused in the corridor outside. "Where did they go?"
"Aunph," said Sovershend through a mouthful of sandwich.
"Let me finish this. Don't panic. There's at least fourteen different ways out of here beside the doors."
Slightly reassured, Sandy hovered impatiently, waiting for Sovershend to demolish the remains of his sandwich.
"Right! Let's go." Sovershend filled a mug with real coffee and led the way to the upper floor of the storehouse. He strolled through an open door into a room at the rear left-hand corner of the building, looking from the cutting.
"Well, what's happening?" he asked with total unconcern.
"You tell me," from Dorry coincided with what sounded like a muttered, "Phucknose!" from Blackjack, the head shifter.
Sovershend interpreted the remark as ignorance rather than an insult. None of the eight men clustered round a large videolink and its control board moved to give the newcomers a view of the screen. Following Sovershend's lead, Sandy dragged a chair over to the crowd and stood on the chair.
"There's one," said Tenbright, jabbing a finger at the videolink screen.
A shadow flitted between two abandoned cars on the waste ground outside, Tenbright attempted to zoom the camera in on the moving shape and ended up with a sharp picture of a uniformed leg against a background of blue-and-rust bodywork.
A slight adjustment produced an image of a man in ‘city' camouflage, which was dark blue, outline-breaking swirls on a pale grey base. A riot helmet with the visor closed hid the man's face. He was gripping a Bakersfield assault rifle fitted with a long, thirty-round magazine.
"He's no Prot, he's a Hondo," said Blackjack, drawing the distinction between a conventional member of the Civilian Security Police and a paramilitary Special Service Trooper.
"They wouldn't send Hondos to give us a shake," decided Dorry. "Put everything on the big screen."
When the whole-wall screen swirled into life, Sovershend and Sandy found themselves at the front of the crowd and a comfortable four yards from a picture from each of the eight external cameras.
"Look at those two," said Sovershend after studying the multiple image. "The ones going down the side of your fence. They're interested in something happening across the way, not what we're up to."
"You mean they're not looking for us?" said Sandy with a ludicrous mixture of relief, hope and disbelief blended on his face.
"He's right. They're not," confirmed Dorry. "There's no one behind us now. They're all sneaking down the fence to the cutting. Show us what's there, Baz."
Routland, the watchman, switched to a single camera and scanned the ranks of huts. "Not very much," he remarked.
A vicious buzzing jolted the hand on the camera control.
"That's the intercom on the gate," explained Routland. "Someone wants a word with us."
A side camera showed the Special Service Troop's officer crouching in tall, straggling weeds, prodding at the intercom's call key with the business end of his sub-machine gun.
"Who's that?" Tenbright demanded in a suspicious quaver.
"Lieutenant Hawkley, Special Service Troop Eighteen," replied a firm voice. "Would you switch your fence off, sir. I wish to place men on your roof."
"Oh, I can't do that, young feller," returned Tenbright, fighting off a laugh. "The boss would have me."
"If you don't switch the fence off, sir," said the Lieutenant grimly, "I shall order my men to do the job for you. Permanently."
"In that case," replied Tenbright in pretended panic, "it's off now. What's going on?"
"An anti-terrorist sweep," replied the Lieutenant, looking across the cutting with a frown on his young face.
"Good luck, young feller," quavered Tenbright before breaking the connection.
"Ringside seats," remarked Sovershend.
"It's all right for you," said Tenbright, watching Routland checking circuits on the control panel. "But we're in trouble if some urban freedom fighters start shooting anti-personnel rockets at the Hondos on our roof."
"Sue 'em," advised Sovershend.
"Well, the foam blowers are ready at least," said Routland. "If they do set fire to us, we should have it out double quick"
"Why does that not reassure me?" remarked Dorry.
"I bet it's the PSF," remarked Endsleigh, the third shifter.
"I can never get anyone to tell me who the PSF are popular with," remarked Sandy at random.
"Themselves," said Dorry. "Except when they fall out."
"They're more like an arse than a front," muttered Endsleigh. His fellow shifters cackled agreement.
Tenbright switched back to split screen. There was no movement among the derelict buildings. The Special Service Troopers had become had become immobile humps behind available cover. An occasional vehicle scooted along Water Street or Dawson Street, There was never much traffic anyway at four twenty-five on a Wednesday morning. Tenbright took most of the cameras out of circuit, leaving a panorama of the area across the cutting.
"What are they doing?" wondered Sandy. "Those policemen are going to get wet if they try to cross the canal."
"They're closing a line of retreat," explained Dorry.
A rumbling noise turned nine heads. Chas Jones had returned after slipping away to fetch the coffee-maker.
"Good to see someone in this organization has his priorities right," commented Tenbright.
"When are those ganar kerlen going to get started?" Blackjack wanted to know. The material of his coverall tightened ominously as he flexed a pair of well-developed shoulders.
"They were waiting for Jones to get back," returned Endsleigh. "There's another bunch of Hondos."
"Where's that?" invited Annelish.
"On the viaduct. Just on the edge of the screen."
"They're all over the place," added Tenbright, extending a hand for a mug of coffee. "Must be a big job."
"Come on, you soboks," muttered Endsleigh. "Just like the ganar Hondos to take all day."
"I've found their control frequency," said Routland. He advanced a volume control.
"Tack One, up two," said a confident voice. "Tack Nine, stand by."
"Tack Twelve, double contact, Tanstell Invictor," reported someone else.
"Tack Two, ready to..." The voice stopped abruptly.
"Routine frequency shift," said Routland, twiddling a dial.
"It doesn't make much sense without their control grid anyway," remarked Sovershend.
"... will advance," said the Special Service controller. "Assume form..."
"Here we go," said Blackjack confidently.
An enormous, soundless explosion hurled one of the huts into the air. A scattering of debris plopped into the cutting.
"Sound," prompted Annelish. "Come on, Baz."
"You want sound?" muttered Routland.
A crackling of gunfire, broken by heavier explosions, erupted from the multi-sound speakers. Sandy threw himself flat on the floor as something seemed to explode directly behind him. Only Annelish failed to join in the laughter, He too was busy picking himself off the floor too.
"I think an indication of the atmosphere would be quite enough," said Dorry patiently. "I don't think we need total sonic reality."
"Suit yourself," grinned Routland. He cut the sound system down to what he considered to be rather pedestrian front stereo and reduced the volume.
Occasional shapes could be seen moving among the wreckage now. Special Service Troopers began to close in from left and right and, out of sight of the cameras, from the rear. Camouflaged figures flitted between cover, exposing themselves for a minimum of time, advancing behind a storm of violet riot gun charges and clouds of white fog from gas grenades.
A group of figures detached itself from the wreckage and raced towards the cutting. The five shapes crouched down reflexively when a stray anti-personnel rocket blasted into the tall, cream and rust structure abandoned by a cement firm. Steel splinters peppered the railway viaduct.
"Look out, you lot!" Blackjack called to the escapers. "There's Hondos all over the place over here."
"Bockmakhandar PSF," said Dorry. "They deserve everything they get. You know the soboks blew my car up once?"
"We know," groaned Tenbright. "You didn't shut up about it for a month."
"And the svozhnar insurance didn't pay out."
"Why not?" invited Sandy.
"Said the policy didn't cover acts of terrorism," snarled Dorry.
"What rotten luck!" sympathized Sandy.
"Now tell him what you did about it," laughed Jones.
"He only blew the branch office up and stole the manager's car, didn't he?" supplied Tenbright when Dorry showed no sign of replying. Sandy's sympathy became shock, outrage and not a little fear.
"If they give you lousy service, you're doing them a good turn if you let them know," remarked Sovershend.
"Any minute now," gloated Annelish.
The escaping terrorists reached the bank of the cutting. A barrage of violet globes engulfed them. Sandy refused to look, even when it was all over, He washed down a trank with some coffee and inspected the lack of polish on his shoes. Sovershend took pity on him and pointed out that the still figures were paralysed, not dead.
Further explosions and gun shots resounded from the battle ground across the cutting. Then a brittle silence fell. A dark green helicopter with gold unit markings and red crosses dropped through a belt of sunlight. The task of gathering up the wounded and dead began.
"Show's over," remarked Tenbright with regret. "It was quite fun while it lasted," added Jones.
"Except for those poor people out there," said Sandy.
"Serves them right for being out there in the first place." Dorry had no great love for policemen, and he hated terrorists of all political colours.
"Before you waste any sympathy on a bunch of soboks," added Jones, "just think how you'd feel if you happened to be standing next to it when one of their bombs went off. And you woke up in hospital minus an arm and a couple of legs."
Sandy turned paler and stifled his pity.
A double line of prisoners formed under police guard on a stretch of clear ground. Routland switched to split-screen again and returned the eight-fold, all round view of the storehouse's environs. The Special Service Troopers on that side of the cutting had formed into loose groups and they were strolling towards Water Street and their transport in a rather unmilitary fashion.
"I wonder if we can switch the fence on again?" remarked Tenbright.
"Save the power," returned Dorry. "Who's going to break in here with most of Dungard's finest around?"
"Does this mean we're stuck here now?" asked Sandy, fighting a losing battle with a yawn. "Some people have been up all night."
"And some people have got rooms waiting at the Mitton Gardens," added Sovershend. "That's what he means. Look at that lot!"
Herds of news personnel and locals, woken by the battle, had converged on the site. A minor war is always guaranteed to get people out of bed before five o'clock on a Wednesday morning.
"No, you'll be all right getting out," Jones assured Sandy. "There's thousands of ways out of this place."
"Actually," mused Dorry, "there might be two less now."
"Oh, vervoek," groaned Tenbright. "We've got two tunnels going that way. Under the cutting. Or we had."
"Reckon I should blow them? Just in case the Hondos find them?" asked Routland.
"Better not," decided Dorry. "The bangs might attract unwelcome attention. We'll just have to keep an eye on them."
"Do you think any of the terrorists found them?" asked Sandy nervously.
"What, that lot?" asked Blackjack scornfully. "Those soboks couldn't find their own arses with a map and both hands."
"But we'll have a little look anyway." Tenbright nodded a command to Routland.
The wall screen shimmered, then faded to a dirty grey. The audience divided into two groups. One turned to the videolink screen on the control board, the other to the coffee maker. A low-light camera revealed a green and grey expense of tunnel – a former sewer with an irregular heap at the far end. Routland touched keys on the control board, running circuit checks.
"Looks like they set off some of our demolition charges anyway," he remarked.
The view changed to another tunnel. This one had an oblong section and it was longer than the former sewer. Routland zoomed along it. As he brought the heap of rubble at the far end into focus, a trickle of earth slithered down to the damp floor. Shattered bricks followed it. An arm appeared near the tunnel's ceiling.
"Moles!" remarked Sovershend.
"That's a real dronse," groaned Dorry.
"Hands to repel boarders," yelled Tenbright. He raced for the door, followed closely by Sovershend, Rossiter and the shifters.
Dorry and Sandy decided that they were no longer men of action and stayed with Routland at the control board.
Tenbright and company made a brief stop at their armoury to collect an assortment of weapons, then they continued down to the sub-basement. Routland reported that the invaders had broken through to the escape tunnel when Tenbright contacted him by an internal telephone system.
"How many are there?" whispered Tenbright.
"Nine," replied Routland, also in a whisper.
"Nine! Svey yoget! What were the soboks doing over there? Having a roll call?"
"Look out!" warned Dorry. "It looks like they're getting ready to blow the door."
"Stand by for visitors," whispered Tenbright, waving his small army to cover.
A grid of concrete pillars at approximately three-yard intervals supported the ceiling of a room fifteen yards long and ten wide. Shoulder high wooden crates formed what would have been a maze to a dwarf immediately in front of the cargo lift, which provided the only conventional entrance and exit.
The crates filled two-thirds of the room. Three of them had escaped into the clear space beyond the main body. Two of the strays were standing against the right-hand wall. The third sat in solitary splendour in the middle of the floor.
"Help me shift this," Tenbright began to tug the farther crate away from the wall.
"Why are we doing this, exactly," asked Sovershend as the crate slid reluctantly into the corner.
"It was right in front of the escape door," panted Blackjack, who had done most of the work.
"Don't you think it might have been a good idea to leave it there?" murmured Sovershend.
"Not if they're going to blow it up," returned Tenbright. "It's full of Belldan liqueur chocolates."
"What's in the rest of them?" wondered Sovershend, the danger forgotten.
"Coffee beans, various teas, the usual rare or high-duty things like that."
"Hoi, you two," whispered Annelish urgently, cradling his police-issue sub-machine gun. "They'll be through while you're vregshing."
"S'vogan, shev," invited Tenbright.
"I might just do that," threatened Annelish.
"Now then, children," laughed Sovershend. "You'll get all the scrapping you want in a minute."
"Vyen s'vogan too," grinned Tenbright.
The defenders selected concrete pillars and crates, and went into hiding. Sovershend made sure that Rossiter was in front of him. His enemy had done little other than glower and sneer since his arrival – presumably because Dorry had ordered Rossiter to behave himself – but Sovershend was not one to take unnecessary risks.
"What sort of coffee?" he asked Tenbright as the silence extended annoyingly.
"Gebbler Mute. Strain Three."
"I'll have some of that. And some Shirokan tea. At trade price, of course."
"Should leave the lights on?" interrupted Blackjack.
BANG-CLASH! The steel door of the escape tunnel shot across the basement room, hit the wall opposite and crashed to the concrete floor in a cloud of rust. The defenders swallowed hard to restore their hearing after the pressure-shock. White smoke flowed lazily across the room and upwards to a ventilation duct.
After an interminable delay, a head poked cautiously out of the tunnel. Encouraged by the sight, a body followed the blond and muddy head. Four others pushed after the leader. Their clothes were dark, sodden and streaked with orange clay. One of the intruders pointed to the other end of the room and the open door of the lift, which looked like an exit to a cross-corridor from that angle.
"Go and check where that doorway leads," he ordered in a local accent.
One of his men obeyed. Blackjack crawled into the lift as the man began to thread a passage through the crates. Sovershend was close enough to the lift to hear a scraping sound and a muffled grunt. The intruders heard nothing alarming. Their grunts and mutterings of relief as they emerged from the tunnel were more than a match for a moment of violent death.
A whispered, "Got him," from the lift coincided with the arrival of the last of the invaders.
"Now!" yelled Tenbright.
He bobbed up and sprayed the intruders with an automatic rifle. Choking powder fumes filled the air, interfering with breathing as well as vision. Six of the intruders went down at once, almost before they had become aware of their danger. The other two managed to throw themselves back into the tunnel.
"I'll fix them," called Tenbright. "Cover me."
Endsleigh, who had the best angle, pumped a steady stream of shots into the tunnel mouth. Tenbright leapt up and lobbed a gas grenade into the oblong passage. It hit the yellow, brick wall and bounced deeper – only to be returned as it began to bock white vapour.
"Out! Bockan quick!" yelled Sovershend.
There was no time to locate the grenade and throw it back. Tenbright and Annelish collided in the doorway of the lift, a close equal second to Sovershend. Endsleigh failed to reach it. Rossiter shoved him out of the way. Endsleigh fell heavily. He sucked in a breath of pain, then began to slow visibly. Blackjack had already started the lift. Endsleigh's unconscious body thudded against the outer door on the way to the concrete floor.
"Baz, reverse ventilation in store six," Tenbright yelled into the telephone.
Routland stabbed at the control board. Gas and fumes from the gun battle flooded back into the basement room. Tenbright distributed honey flavoured cigarettes when the lift reached the floor above. Two minutes dragged past.
"Normal ventilation," reported Routland. "They don't look too lively down there."
"Neither would you, in the circumstances," laughed Dorry.
Tenbright smoked the rest of his cigarette, then led his group back to the lift. On the floor below, they moved Endsleigh out of the way. He would not recover consciousness for at least an hour, but he would suffer no ill-effects after his involuntary nap.
His colleagues approached the scene of the slaughter. The room sloped gently away from the lift. A broad red stream of sticky liquid had established a path to a drain in the corner, seeping thickly under the crate of liqueur chocolates. Tenbright waved Annelish on. Rather reluctantly, he stepped over the stream and entered the escape tunnel.
"Both sleeping like drunks," he reported, a ghostly echo on his voice. Two shots emerged from the tunnel as a series of muffled reverberations. "Forever," Annelish added sombrely.
"Good!" said Tenbright. "We'll have to repack the chocolates," he continued to Blackjack in a business-like tone. "You can never get blood out of wood."
"Yeah, sobokandar nuisance," agreed Blackjack. "I suppose we'd better put this lot back in the tunnel." He gestured to the bodies.
"Best place for them," agreed Tenbright. "Let's get back topside, Dev," he added to Sovershend. "Rossiter, you help with the clearing up," Rossiter mumbled his displeasure.
When Sovershend and Tenbright reached the control room again, Dorry was looking extremely pleased with the outcome of the battle. Sandy looked as if he might be sick at any moment.
"Good job," beamed Dorry. "Hard luck on Mike Endsleigh."
"Rossiter's going to have another enemy when he wakes up," grinned Tenbright.
"Wake up? What's that?" yawned Sovershend.
"I don't think I'll ever sleep again," shivered Sandy. "For fear of nightmares after the things I've seen here."
"Cultivate a more detached approach to life," Sovershend advised. "People die every day. There's nothing you can do about it, so why agonize?"
"But not shot to pieces right in front of my eyes," objected Sandy. "Just wiped out."
Tenbright shrugged. "Don't look."
"That's not the point," returned Sandy.
"Listen," interrupted Dorry. "They were murdering scum and every one of them died with a gun in his hand. They'd have cancelled your membership with no warning."
"Perhaps we should have screamed for the Hondos to protect us," grinned Tenbright. "After all, there's fifty cases of illegal uisge down there that belong to you, not us."
"Perhaps everything was beyond your control," Sandy admitted. "Are we ready to go?"
"Let's kill the taste of gunpowder," said Sovershend, who was holding a mug of coffee.
"If it's free, that sobok'll have some," Rossiter remarked from the doorway.
"Pass the rat poison, someone," said Sovershend. "We seem to have missed one."
"Don't you two start," groaned Dorry. "Not till I get behind something bullet-proof."
"What are you doing here anyway?" demanded Tenbright. "I thought I told you to help Blackjack?"
"I had to come up to get a coverall," protested Rossiter, who was wearing an almost new flame suit.
"Well get it and get busy. We want a few tons of earth between us and those stiffs." Tenbright dismissed Rossiter with a wave in the direction of the door.
"I'll get you, Sovershend," hissed Rossiter on his way out.
"By when and how much?" replied Sovershend in a bored tone.
"Saturday noon. Five hundred pounds."
"Have you got that much?" Sovershend asked through a mocking laugh.
"Is it a bet?" Rossiter looked ready to explode. He measured the distance with his eyes to the sub-machine gun that someone had hung on the back of a chair. Sovershend shook his right cuff in warning. "Well, is it?" Rossiter insisted.
"Why not?" said Sovershend airily.
"Rossiter, are you still here?" snapped Dorry.
"No, I went five minutes ago." Rossiter slammed the door and stalked down the corridor. He was back almost immediately to collect a coverall from a cupboard.
"An unpleasant young man," remarked Sandy after the second departure.
"He has his uses," remarked Dorry. "And so does his father."
Sovershend yawned again. "Are we going now?"
"I'll drive you back to the hotel," offered Tenbright.
"Thank you," Sandy told him with a smile of gratitude.
"He's up to something," Sovershend warned Sandy. "Like fixing up a deal that stiffs me good and proper."
"And he looks such a nice young man," remarked Dorry, giving his partner a mocking, empty smile.