The Unseen Future
by Trevor Dower
Author's note: With special thanks to Mr. Ian Beazley at the Prospero Ministry for allowing access to confidential files concerning names, dates, places and times.
It was an era when the enemy seemed to be as obvious and as simple as the dotted line on a map that separated it's borders. The unknown was the fear, like the secrecy and terror hidden behind the Iron curtain that cultivated the cold war and the Cuban missile crisis; the closest mankind has ever come to a real Armageddon.
However, madmen still existed with a yearning to take advantage in a post war period when the general public had had enough and were possibly more inclined just to give in, only really wanting to forget the pain and suffering. I would like to ask you to suspend your memories of The Avengers as you know them and rethink your history from the view of The Movie. This story takes place at a time before John Steed and Emma Peel were born a time when some other familiar characters were the Extraordinary Agents fighting against Diabolical masterminds The year is 1962.
The Unseen Future.
An Avengers Retrospective.
by Trevor Dower
Royal Naval Base, Singapore.
The Dragonfly helicopter flew on a heading of South West across the Straits of Johor, the relatively narrow stretch of water that separated Malaysia from Singapore. The navigator turned, released his facemask and held up three fingers as he shouted above the noise of the Westland engine.
"Sembawang three minutes!"
Captain Jack Jones leaned forward and nodded. He sat back and tapped his colleague on the shoulder. Tom Hernbread took the handkerchief away from his mouth and opened his eyes.
"Are we down yet?"
"Thank God for that, I hate these things."
Jones smiled and looked out to his left as the sea became land and the helicopter descended over the naval dockyard, an enclosed town of it's own with sizeable transit sheds, large buildings and outbuildings, all linked by numerous roads leading to yet more office buildings and outbuildings. Hernbread groaned as the Dragonfly banked sharply to starboard and passed over the dockyard sports ground. Below, a green patch of English Saturday afternoon institution was under re-enactment as two teams battled to gain possession of a rugby ball.
The pilot lifted the nose of the helicopter and made his descent between the main administration block and a row of workshops, touching down gently onto the Alaunia Ground helicopter pad.
Five minutes later the official car drove them slowly through the complex towards their rendezvous with the base commander.
"Have you noticed Tom... the roads. Admiralty Road Deptford Road Wellington Road. We could still be in London."
"Except for the damned heat, I can hardly breath!"
Hernbread continued to dab at his head with the soaking handkerchief as the black Austin Westminster pulled gently into the Senoko oil fuel depot. The base commander watched them alight from the car and beckoned them towards him.
"Gentlemen, welcome to Singapore. I am base commander Newman." Newman's timbre was deep and booming. The tall, lean, fair-haired man spoke to the two men as though he were addressing a full battalion at one hundred paces. Hernbread opened his eyes in slight surprise at the volume and supposed this man had only one level of communication. He also wondered if there was a 'Mrs Base commander' and did she have the same noise level with one of those overpowering laughs that would silence a dinner part in it's tracks. Newman flashed his swagger stick to his head in casual salute then held out his hand.
The slightly taller man, well presented and with a good-natured expression introduced himself. "Captain Jack Jones. Good to meet you commander. This is Captain Tom Hernbread."
Hernbread was a paradox to all that met him, and those who did, never forgot him. As a representative for Her Majesties government, he was hardly stereotypical of any fixed British convention. His mop of hair was unruly and dandruff laden and his moustache only emphasised his thin, melancholic lips. Even at his happiest, he tended to look as though he was about to gripe about something, or perhaps everything! His introduction was brief, accompanied with a salient demand. "Tom Hernbread. Why are we here?"
"Did London tell you anything?"
Jones answered for both of them, his naturally humoured voice took the edge away from Hernbreads confrontational question. " Only that there was an incident that required our attention, hence our clandestine arrival via Malaysia and not the more direct route of Seletar here on the island," he glanced at Hernbread, "In our experience, our involvement alone suggests this is not just 'an incident'. Also, our furtive arrival via Malaysia suggests we may be the subject of local attention."
Commander Newman turned and pointed his swagger stick towards a vast empty crater. "You are here for this!"
Hernbread and Jones took a few steps forward and looked downwards. Jones gave a brief description of what they saw. "A bomb crater, some kind of explosion but not an aerial attack?"
The commander shook his head, "No, not from the air, why so sure?"
Jones looked beyond the crater. "Pretty poor shooting if they only hit here with all those enormous oil tanks just three hundred feet away. No, this was an accident. A crater this deep, fifty feet or so in depth by say, a hundred wide. Quite an explosion but."
The commander was intrigued with the assessment given by Captain Jones. He considered there was absolutely no need to hurry the proceedings after such a long journey from the agents. "But what captain?"
Jones shook his head and looked at Hernbread. "Tom?"
Hernbread nodded. "Unless you've done an amazing tidying job commander, why so little debris?"
Jones looked at the commander and nodded in agreement.
The commander looked to his feet and picked up a small rock. "Gentlemen, prepare to be astonished." He lobbed the rock into the air and they waited for the obvious, except it didn't happen. The rock bounced twenty feet before the bottom of the crater and settled in mid air before slowly vanishing before their eyes. Jones looked at Hernbread then back towards the crater. He smiled nervously then gave a puzzled frown.
"It seems gentlemen that some of the chemicals stored here without our knowledge I must stress, have in fact exploded and caused this effect. Our people have taken a look of course but it seems that whatever happened here, the ground has been contaminated and most of the ground has been rendered invisible! We dare not try encroaching any further than this point," he shook his head and for once his voice quietened, "Who knows what it could do to a human being?"
Aggie Weston's. Singapore.
The base commander decided that the continued discussion should take place somewhere more comfortable and ordered his driver to 'Aggie's.'
As it turned out, Aggie Weston's contained everything a relaxing naval recruit could wish for including, and most cherished, a bar with a never ending supply of the infamous Tiger Beer.
The commander nodded to a waiter and walked up the stairs outside with an overview of the swimming pool, "I like to stay up here out of the way don't want the lad's to think they are being watched."
A moment later, three bottles of beer were laid before them at a small table. The commander took a glass and poured slowly. "So gentlemen, the facts as I know them," he took a sip, gave the customary 'ahh' and lit a cigarette, gesturing that Jones and Hernbread should help themselves, "Where was I, oh yes. The explosion occurred fifteen days ago and as a matter of protocol, I informed the admiralty who of course informed the intelligence services. The only clue we could follow to the arrival of the chemical is a particular delivery that arrived late, after dusk, not impossible as transport goes but it was a one off occurrence, which retrospectively, aroused our suspicion. We traced the delivery driver back to his home in Kranji and he confessed that he knew the delivery had been tampered with. There were 38, forty-five gallon barrels secreted into the base, obviously marked as oil for the generators. We checked back on our documentation and the only delivery that was for thirty-eight drums came in two months ago "
Hernbread had finished his drink and had signalled the waiter but turned to ask a question. " How easily did he confess?"
Base commander Newman smiled, "Very easily. His story is not that unusual in these parts. Money and morality are at opposite ends of the scale here. He was told that if he exchanged his usual load of oil for this lower grade of oil he would be up for a share of the profits when the original oil was sold on."
Jones nodded. "Almost no risk to himself I suppose."
"None," Newman agreed, "It's the sort of game that gets played every day, and not just here in Singapore."
"So he brings in the new load and it gets placed with the other store of barrels, undetectable "
"Other than, perhaps, some batch code that would signify it's real contents to a knowing agent."
Jones considered the known information and it dawned on him "So why are we here? If the chemical has been destroyed, surely the problem is solved. There are far eastern agents that are better equipped to deal with this sort of thing local knowledge and all that thank you," he took a bottle from the waiters tray, "I don't see the problem."
Newman refilled his glass and lit another cigarette. "The problem is that we don't believe every drum was destroyed. The driver was forced to unload the drums in two separate compounds, nineteen drums in each."
Hernbread dabbed at his mouth with his handkerchief and loosened his tie. "So where are the other nineteen drums, that's " he nodded his head as he made the calculation, " nine hundred gallons unaccounted for!"
Jones finished his drink. "Eight hundred and fifty five to be precise six thousand eight hundred and forty pints!"
Commander Newman nodded. "A considerable amount however you calculate it. You see, the men who approached the driver spoke in Singaporean but were not from Singapore, they were English, well, English speaking anyway and they talked about sending the 'oil' to a specific place, quite unaware that the driver chappie would understand them. We have traced all ships manifests from the day of the explosion to now and so far they all seem to be in order, but then they would be if drums were substituted in actual quantities and lets face it, in less scrupulous docks or even in international waters, cargo can be exchanged, relabelled and sent anywhere."
Jones leaned forward, "Did they say which country was the intended destination?"
"Not the country precisely. They only mentioned the area it would eventually land in."
Newman called the waiter and answered with a pensive sigh. "Portsmouth."
Harry The Fish.
" You are listening to the BBC light program. That was 'The Shake' by the Laurie Johnson Orchestra, and now, Johnny Dankworth and the theme to the " Hernbread leaned forward and switched off the car radio.
"It's not my map reading, I know how to read a map, its just not here where it's supposed to be!"
Jones pulled the gold coloured Humber Sceptre to his left and once again did a circle of the small streets, along Gruneisen Road, left onto North End Grove, left again into Tipner Road and slowly into Widley Road. "So, it's supposed to be at the end here?"
Jones pulled up opposite Strode Road. "Come on, we'll walk."
The two agents strolled to the corner of Gruneisen Road and Wilson Road and the sign for Western Terrace became visible, buried beneath the summer growth of a flourishing privet hedge. Hernbread shrugged. "Well then."
They walked slowly along the neat row of houses. Jones stopped at a gate. "Number 7 Western Terrace."
The door opened. The elderly housekeeper, dressed in a fifties floral dress gave a big, happy smile as though she had always known them. "It's Jack and Tom isn't it Mr Harry said you would call today, come in, come in. The kettles just boiled. I'll bring some tea and cakes out in a minute, come in and go through."
Jones led the way through the hall. The housekeeper called out after them. "Go right through, he's out back."
Jones opened the door and stepped out into the garden consisting of a small patio of five flagstones and a small wooden jetty. The rest of the long, narrow garden was little more than a giant pond. Harry the Fish sat on the jetty with his back to them. Hernbread looked at Jones and shook his head at Harry's regalia, an oversized diving suit minus the large copper helmet. Harry's large bald head leaned forward as a fish broke the water. A chubby finger stabbed at a red button fixed onto a Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin with two wires that ran from the tin into the pond. "Superb, absolutely superb!"
"Good morning Harry!"
"Yes, you were expecting us?"
"Yes, yes I suppose so. Is Dandy with you?"
Tom Hernbread rolled his eyes at the expression. He had hoped Harry would have forgotten his nickname from the old days that referred to his dandruff. Jones gave him a cautious look. A warning not to antagonise Harry the Fish. His local knowledge might prove invaluable.
Hernbread gave a thin smile as he answered to the back of Harry's bald head. "Yes Harry, I'm here, " adding to the annoyance of Jack Jones, "How's your dandruff?"
"Still the life of the party then Dandy."
Harry the Fish stood up, stretched and then held his back as he slowly turned in his lead weighted boots. He nodded to Jones and feigned a look of surprise at Hernbread. "Christ, and a moustache, you don't mind adding insult to injury do you!"
The housekeeper came out with a tray and Hernbread took a cup.
"Take a cake young man, you'll love them!"
Hernbread shook his head. "No I don't think "
"Go on, take one!"
Hernbread shrugged and reluctantly took a cake. "I don't usually oh, this is magnificent! What do they call them?"
The housekeeper nodded knowingly, "Macaroons!"
Jones took his cup and immediately placed it on a small wall beside the pond. It was time to get down to business with Harry Stanford, the man formerly known as One-Fourteen. He had relinquished his position many years ago as a protest to his ridiculed initiative of using fish as controlled espionage agents. He had retired to Stamshaw on the south coast to concentrate on his hobby of fish, or more exactly, to communicate with fish. Harry believed he would prove his theories and then, return in triumph!
Harry pulled at the large metal collar. So what's all this about. Firstly you send someone to ask if I'll see you, then when I say no, he throws the usual 'well you did sign the official secrets act' at me. This had better be good Jack."
Jones explained the scenario and how the chemicals were probably already somewhere on Harry's doorstep. Harry the fish altered visually from a belligerent bystander to the questioning One-Fourteen of old. "You are sure of the information?"
Jones shook his head. "No, I'd be lying if I said I could be totally sure, but I know what I saw in Singapore with my own eyes and as far as the destination of the chemical, whatever it is, we have little choice other than to follow up on what we do know."
"Have you contacted customs?"
Jones reply was unintentionally evasive. "Well Yes, but what do you tell them to look for without causing too much panic. Someone is bound to let it slip and we don't want the newspapers to get hold of this."
"True, true," Harry looked down in thought. " There are a hell of a lot of landing areas in Portsmouth harbour I myself probably don't know them all, but I'll do what I can," he looked up, "I'm still an Englishman and proud of my country, wouldn't want great swathes of it to disappear if that's their intention!"
Jones patted the stiff waterproof material of Harry's diving suit. "Thank you Harry." he looked across at Hernbread who could not answer due to a mouth full of macaroon. He had demolished the plateful; mostly it seemed, down the front of his jacket.
A splash in the water made Harry turn and pick up his biscuit tin. "Superb!"
The Department of the Environment.
One-Ten stood by the window and adjusted the white silk handkerchief in his top pocket as Jones and Hernbread entered the room. He tapped at his top pocket, cleared his throat and addressed the two female visitors. "Let me introduce you to our agents working the case. Captains Jack Jones and Tom Hernbread Professor Selina Parducci and Doctor Jacqueline Turner."
One-Ten sat down and patiently awaited the formalities to be over. "Please sit down ladies and gentlemen."
Jones studied the boardroom. It was on the top floor of the DoE and the small metal-framed windows overlooked nothing more exciting than a row of dustbins at the rear of the boiler house. Nothing, he considered, to divert or attract the attention from a long boring oration. The white tiled windowsills seemed to merge almost seamlessly into the white, sterile walls. The occasional framed certificate and diploma giving the only contrasting respite to the mundane, functional décor. The white and chrome boardroom table and chairs were as functional as they were austere. He had seen more welcoming rooms at a dentist's surgery.
"As you know," One-Ten started, "Professor Parducci and Doctor Turner have just returned from Singapore with their findings... if you would professor."
Professor Parducci carefully placed her glasses over her eyes and considered her notes. She was the epitome of an Italian widow, dressed in black with what must have been waist length grey hair, platted and rolled up neatly into a ring at the back of her head. When she spoke, her voice was accented, but clear and unaffected by her lineage. "What we have is a mystery. It is very rare to make total calculations with something new, unless you have a method of control always a necessity in scientific investigations but of course with the unexplainable, we have to make calculated guesses."
She pushed her black frame glasses against the bridge of her nose, "Analysis could not be fully completed because the test equipment tended to disappear on contact, which suggests that whilst the chemical is still damp from the hosing it received, it will continue to hold it's properties, something to consider if it comes into contact with moist human tissue. Although invisible, when dry, it can at least be analysed in some small part, but only on an atomic level, not a visual level of course, it still holds its qualities, well, up to now at least," She looked up briefly at her captive audience before widening her eyes towards her associate. Jacqueline Turner, it turned out was not only a colleague but also the granddaughter of the professor. Although English, both Jones and Hernbread agreed retrospectively that the pretty young lady did have certain accepted attributes that gave away her extraction.
Doctor Turner ran her pencil down a page of statistics before stopping at the sub-section she sought and tapping the pencil on the page. "Yes, here we are. The dry analysis is too vague to be exact but we suggest that this chemical was formed purely by accident. We have found traces to the value of seventy three percent silica, twelve percent sodium oxide, eleven percent calcium oxide and the balance as minor ingredients," she returned her gaze to her grandmother who removed her glasses and used them a pointer to emphasise her discourse, "In short gentlemen, the basic ingredients for glass. We believe the chemical, in a small quantity may well have exploded and incorporated the glass by means of fusion to form the clarity values of the glass container. When wet, it incorporates everything that comes into contact with it. As I said before, if it come into contact with human skin, it would not necessarily kill or maim but the effects would most certainly be permanent as the skin is constantly holding and excreting water so therefore, the chemical would be in a permanent state of semi-flux, also meaning, that prolonged contact by, say, a warm body would render the wearers clothing invisible in a short space of time. Short contact would probably not effect something as innocuous as a handshake."
Jones raised a finger to ask a question, "So when the hole in the ground has dried out in the Singapore heat humidity permitting, can it be walked over safely?"
Doctor Turner answered, "At eighty percent humidity, it may take quite some time but the water content will evaporate so yes, it can be walked over, even raked over to cover the hole. Don't forget Captain Jones, it is still a solid mass just an invisible solid mass and before I forget, it's not combustible. For whatever reason, they destroyed half of it themselves... perhaps we may never know why?"
"Perhaps," Jones theorised, "they only needed a certain amount for their purposes and, less to transport would mean less to conceal!"
Hernbread asked a question in his typically blunt style, almost as an accusation. "So how would they transport it without the barrels themselves becoming invisible?"
Professor Parducci answered. "We believe with a sub structured container. The inner container would be rendered invisible but as long as it stay sealed, the RFB would not affect the outer container."
One-Ten interjected. "That's what we are calling it can't keep referring to it as 'the chemical' now can we!"
"And what," Hernbread asked, "does RFB stand for?"
Doctor Turner answered. She smiled for the first time since the meeting began. The smile reached her dark brown eyes and Hernbread instantly fell in love. "RFB stands for Reflection Fluid By-product."
"We have to be precise Captain Jones. It does have some kind of reflective properties, it is fluid and we believe it is some kind of accidental by-product!"
She smiled again and Hernbread nodded in total agreement at the choice of pseudonym.
There was a pause as the two ladies waited for more questions. One-Ten placed the palms of his hands on the table. "Well then, that seems to be it for now. Professor Parducci and doctor Turner will stay here at the DoE to continue their work." He looked towards Jones and Hernbread Jones stood up. "I have a meeting with someone who might just be able to help us "
The Albert Memorial. Kensington Gardens.
Although Jones approached from the small pathway that led across the road from The Royal Albert Hall, he instantly recognised the familiar figure standing with his hands in his raincoat pockets looking up at the faded, seated statue. A plume of blue cigarette smoke escaped into the slight breeze.
Jones stood beside him and looked up. The rain-coated figure did not turn to acknowledge him, removed the cigarette and shook his head. The familiar quiver in his voice appeared when he spoke quietly. "My father used to bring me here as a child before the war when it was covered in gold. I didn't think too much about it then of course too young to appreciate that sort of thing. My father used to joke about going up there with a paint scraper and stripping some off, 'what I could do with all that gold', he would say, 'such a waste just covering a bloody statue'. I suppose in some ways he was right, " he took a last drag out of his cigarette and flicked it away, "I wonder if they'll ever put the gold back on it?"
Jones looked up, "One day perhaps." He held out his hand, "How are you David?"
David Keel took his hand and shook it firmly, "Fine, just fine."
"It's been a while."
"Nearly a year."
"What have you been doing with yourself?"
Keel gave a brief smile. "Not getting involved."
Jones turned away and habitually studied a passer-by as he spoke. "How much did they tell you?"
"I've heard about this Singapore nonsense, seems far fetched."
"Far fetched but true, I've seen it myself."
"And you want me involved?"
"You are a doctor!"
Keel turned to face Jones. "Yes of medicine!"
Jones smiled. "Don't blame yourself for a wasted career."
Keel allowed a lazy smile to cross his face and looked away as though addressing a wider audience as he spoke. "Ah yes, I could have been so much more as an official agent for the government instead of being a cheap interloper, helping out now and then when it suited One-Ten."
This time Jones laughed out loud. "If you help me out this time, I'll tell you where they store Prince Albert's gold covering!"
Keel gave a sardonic laugh. "Well, I suppose a cup of tea would be a start! How about the Ritz?"
Jones frowned. "How about a Joe Lyons corner café?"
David Keel lit a cigarette and placed it in the ashtray as the tea arrived. "I hear that there is to be an overhaul at your department soon. One-Ten will be replaced and a new underground ministry will be formed, that's literally under ground as opposed to subversive, all very hush hush."
Jones appeared light-heartedly curious. "Really? First I've heard of it."
David Keel replaced the cigarette in his mouth and the smoke made his eyes wince. "You'll be up for a desk job there, wherever it is."
"I doubt it. Tom Hernbread is better qualified to mother all these new recruits than I am, and besides, I like to be out in the thick of things, show myself in public."
Keel adjusted the black onyx signet ring on his left hand. "We'll see."
Jones poured the tea for both of them and filled in as much as he knew.
" We do have experts looking into this RFB at the moment but of course we can't really have women getting involved if and when the rough stuff begins and as you are a doctor, you would be able to give a better account of the effects symptoms, if we come into contact with the stuff, that kind of thing."
He allowed Keel time to consider the facts. "So, you'll help us?"
Keel Sighed. "I suppose so. What exactly is your plan?"
Jones smiled. "My plan? Oh that's easy to explain I don't have one!
One-ten picked up the telephone and sat back into his chair. " Yes, fine then," he looked across at the clock above the ornate fireplace, "make it ten minutes from now. Goodbye."
He replaced the receiver, gave a sigh then leaned across to his right and paused momentarily whilst he made a decision. "Brandy I think!" He removed the stopper and poured himself a small drink. He got up and stood in the middle of his office.
His eyes moved from the picture over the mantelpiece across the deep-flocked wallpaper and rested on the picture to rear of his desk. He downed his drink and placed the glass on his desk, briefly resting his hand on the leather covered thick oak top. He knew that times were changing had changed. He appreciated the fact that if the Americans held back in Cuba then the fear of someone pressing the button would be almost gone. This was the tester for the old school, either the end or a new beginning. Countries would have to sit down and talk instead of sabre rattling and when it was over, the old age of espionage was over and his position would go with it.
He returned to his desk and for the umpteenth time looked at the cover of the file marked 'Security Services modernization program' and for the umpteenth time he failed to read the enclosures. He placed the file in a side drawer, removed relevant papers for today's debrief, replaced the cap on his fountain pen and neatly placed it into the vacant space on the wooden desk tidy before him. He rubbed at his balding forehead and sat up in his chair. "Still, they may not close me down, they may change their minds and leave things as they are. Tradition! That's what it's all about they will have none of the traditional values, none of them!"
The telephone rang once. "Yes, oh yes. I'm on my way."
One-Ten entered the debriefing room. A larger, longer room than his office but still a home from home with the continuation of the wallpaper, a similar order of paintings and the omnipresent, unlighted fireplace. A remnant from when the building was a private Georgian residence.
The stenographer tapped in the lateness of his arrival. He sat down at the head of the table and looked at the assembly, "Everyone here then?"
The stenographer barely looked up as she announced the absentee's. "One-Fifteen sends his apologies. He is liasing at Downing Street with Mr Macmillan over the Cuban thing. One-Nineteen is still at his club recovering from gout and One-Seven is continuing his ongoing attachment to special branch watching Profumo. We are though, joined by Doctor Turner and Captain Hernbread."
One-Ten shook his head." Still watching Profumo, what a waste of time and money," he looked at Hernbread who was looking at Doctor Turner, "Ahem, Tom. Any further developments with this RFB business?"
Hernbread looked slowly towards One-Ten before realising that the question was aimed at him. "Sorry? Yes! RFB of course erm, no, no developments as yet," his voice became urgent to instil a sense that he had not been idling his time away, " other than our Commander Newman in Singapore has found an erroneous batch number that was taken by one of his guards at the Sembawang gate on the evening of the delivery. Apparently the guard was quite new in Singapore and didn't realise that you didn't have to make a note of the details quite so thoroughly quite a fortunate mistake"
One-Ten nodded. "A mistake that I hope and trust will be taken as standard procedure from now on?"
Hernbread nodded. His eyes widened as he noticed that the assembled hierarchy was all focussing their attention towards him. He answered 'Yes' twice to both ends of the long table.
One-Twelve, sitting opposite spoke generally, "Do we have any clues from these numbers?"
Doctor Turner raised her hand. "I have been given the batch number a matter of course you understand "
"And the number is?
Doctor Turner consulted her papers. "Numbers really. 10021918. As a set of number they don't form an obvious clue. We thought the quantity of letters might form a date but that date bore no significance in your own records," she looked towards Hernbread, "but Tom here recalled a conversation with Commander Newman who stated that the only suspects we have knowledge of were English speaking, which means they might, in all possibility, have been Americans! Or at least, the brains or finance behind all this might well have come from the United States Tom?"
Hernbread explained. "Americans don't follow the rules with dates. As an example, we would write a date as the first of February, nineteen sixty-two. The Americans however write it as February the first, nineteen sixty-two. If we sort this batch code into the English method, 02101918, the date becomes significant!"
One-Ten shook his head and asked the obvious. "And the significance is?"
Doctor Turner continued. "The second of October nineteen eighteen, quite significant, but only if you have an interest in Chinese history which I do from my Cambridge days. You must appreciate, Chinese history has a blurred line between fact and legend and those facts and legends are held in as much reverence as each other. Whether a fact or a legend, it was written that on the first day February nineteen eighteen, a young seer called Xang Tse foresaw a future when the oppressed people of his country would rise up against 'The All', meaning it is assumed, either the rest of the world or perhaps just the west," Doctor Turner unwittingly became involved in her oration and her voice rose.
She became animated as she continued, "Xang Tse prophesised that his people would melt like phantom's through the middle of mountains, across raging rivers and strike through the mortal bodies and into the hearts of 'The All'. Blood would flow at the unending touch of invisible armies, reaching like the rays of the sun to cover the earth hearts would be carved out and " She blushed slightly at her graphic outburst, " Sorry, but that's how it was written you understand "
A murmur echoed around the room with an embarrassed 'Of course' and 'Absolutely!'
Jacqueline Turner regained her composure and continued. "In essence, Professor Parducci and I now believe that whatever these people were trying to make, they failed but stumbled on something else, something with another potential. Then, they did what so many before them have done, they looked back in history to find something that fits in with what they have now and what they might actually be after "
Hernbread interrupted. "Like the Nazi's. They looked back in admiration at the grandeur of the roman legions and then replicated parades to show men on horses carrying banners in the Roman style. Even elaborating on Arian legends of Germanic tribes of blonde haired, blue eyed warriors then set about using experiments to find out how to breed a race to emulate the ideal."
Turner nodded in agreement. "Now we have to see how far these people intend to follow history!"
One-Ten looked concerned. "Follow history?"
"Yes. I believe we have to study the legend of Xang Tse further. Invariably, people will study the legends of a forgotten time without thinking of what was available then and take any ideologies in a modern and literal way."
Again Hernbread continued. " If we can think like they think, the target, and there will be a target, might well become apparent."
One-Ten nodded slowly. "Yes, I understand what you are saying, but a little risky if we are wrong."
Doctor Turner shook her head. "Unless the chemical RFB, if actually found. We literally don't have anything else to try."
"Agreed," One-Ten gathered his papers and stood up, "but don't stop using conventional methods of detection. I'd rather have it found before it reaches its target," he leaned forward, "because by then it might be too late!"
Jones pulled the Humber Sceptre to the middle of the road and switched off the ignition.
David Keel looked across from the passenger seat. "Do we really have time for this?"
Jones shook his head. "No," he opened the door, "But until we get a lead, we might as well take a look at our new home and besides, I've told Hernbread where we'll be, he'll send someone if it's urgent."
The two men walked slowly down the walkway avoiding the piles of excavated dirt and building equipment. They stepped inside the colossal space, not as yet demarcated by retaining walls and specific office areas.
Keel paused and listened.
"What what is it?"
Keel raised his eyebrows. "Actually, nothing. I thought we'd have been stopped by armed guards by now!"
"Ha! Come back in a week and you'll need one of the new pass cards, and that will only get you a rebuff from the head of security. That's why I'm being nosy now. In a week, nobody will be allowed inside whilst the offices are being constructed. They have this idea that everyone will be allowed only certain access with relation to their status. The new One-Ten will be allowed everywhere I suppose and then it gets less and less until you get down to the tea lady who will allowed everywhere!"
Keel laughed. "Yes, the single most important function of any organisation."
They walked towards the only sign of natural light inside the subterranean complex. The green hue emanated from a series of windows set into the wall.
"I wonder who'll end up with this area," Jones pondered, " not much of a view."
Keel walked up to thick, plate glass window. "Just two feet away from The Thames pouring in, no thank you."
Jones nodded in resignation. "In that case, it's bound to be me. Come on, I supposed we'd better make an appearance."
They strolled slowly towards the natural daylight of the entrance.
"The new One-Ten?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Keel explained. "You said 'the new One-Ten'?"
Jones shrugged. "Just a feeling, modernisation and all that sort of thing."
Jones nodded. "I think so."
Head to Head
The candle on the table flickered from his own heavy breath as Tom Hernbread stared into the deep brown eyes of Jacqueline Turner. Her perfect skin looked even more like porcelain in the warm glow of the single flame. He admired her fashionably short, brown hair, her poise and her immaculate dress sense of white blouse and black knee length skirt. She was perfect, looks that a man could kill for and a brain to match. He sighed and the candle flickered again
Jacqueline Turner returned his gaze. She stared into his eyes without blinking. She wondered what he was thinking, what he was seeing with those glazed eyes
Hernbread snapped back into reality and started thinking again. "A moon car!"
Doctor Turner thought awhile then shook her head. "No. I can't see the association, sorry."
He thought about it himself and repeated the words again. "A moon car a moon car," he raised a finger in triumph, "Ah, got it. Macaroon!"
She stood up and turned on the wall lights to reveal her small assigned office in the Department of the Environment. She returned to her seat. "I thought this would work, it always did in the past," she blew out the candle and stared at him, "You were concentrating on the flame?"
He answered in a slightly high voice. "Of course!"
So if you were thinking about the word association with Xang Tse's prophecy, what made you think of macaroon's?"
"Sorry, couldn't help myself. I've only just discovered them and I'm hooked, but, better than smoking I suppose," he leaned behind him and pulled a green and white bag from his coat pocket, "here, try one!"
She declined. "Not now Tom, we are supposed to be thinking about this problem."
He placed them on the tabled and nodded, "Okay, but let's try it with the lights on this time, now, where were we". He studied the items they had written down, "Right, here we are. Invisible. Suns rays. Melt and lastly, Unending touch."
Doctor Turner looked at her copy. "Now remember the idea Tom. Take the salient words as we have listed them, take them out of context of the order they were written and then make connections with what we know today."
He nodded and settled into the problem.
Eventually she looked up and shook her head. "I can't think of anything you?"
"No, sorry. Mother would know the answer "
"Yes, my mother Ruby. You'd like her. She's old but she has a quick mind, she'd get it in a flash!"
"She had an odd way of looking at things you see, like the time I took her on a day out to a country park. We were watching some small children throwing bits of stale bread into the water and she suddenly had this strange look on her face. I thought she'd taken umbrage at bread being wasted. It just after the war you see and rationing was still very much around, but no, suddenly she said 'ducks shouldn't float, they should sink!' Of course I looked at her and thought, that's it, she's been out in the sun too long but then she said 'all that bread that ducks eat, slice after slice after slice, if we didn't throw them bread they would still survive and yet, still look the same, so, with all that bread they should be huge great things and sink to the bottom of the river," Hernbread's thin lips almost disappeared as he smiled, "I could see her point of course it's just that I can't imagine anyone else thinking quite like that differently."
Doctor Turner breathed out heavily. "Lets try one more time shall we?"
Hernbread looked down but had trouble concentrating and his mind wandered. He picked up a macaroon and started to nibble. His mind drifted over the words Invisible suns rays' ducks macaroon mother ruby. "Ruby!"
She looked up and rolled her eyes. "Not again Tom!"
"No. Not my mother Ruby Ruby as in The Ruby Laser!"
She considered the association. " Invisible rays like the sun, melt, unending touch, yes, you could be right!"
He scribbled down more words. "Here strike through mountains, rays like the sun that melt whatever they come into contact with!"
"It does all that?" She appeared hesitant, "I mean I've heard of it of course but it's just a glorified pointer on a giant blackboard...isn't it?"
"Yes, but only in the eyes of the public of course. The New York Times printed an article on the thing, oh, must have been two years ago now. They were given a demonstration and were told it was for targeting purposes only, you know, a beam of light on a tank then fire at the beam of light. All future technology, a long way in the future, real Dan Dare stuff."
Doctor Turner tilted her head to one side. "And in reality?"
"In reality, if adapted correctly it can burn a hole through sheet metal in seconds!"
"But it's not the Ruby Laser they are after. If I recall, it's an American invention, what was his name Martin, no Maiman, Theodore Maiman. A reknowned physicist as I remember but there's one small problem you have overlooked."
He shrugged. "What?"
"It's in America, not here."
Hernbread shook his head. "It is here. The U.S. Navy is giving a private demonstration in a few days time, very secret of course."
"So if they have this laser, they could cause all sorts of trouble," Jones frowned and shook his head, "but why bother with a laser when they have this RFB. It just I don't know. I can't see it myself."
"You forget Jack, if they get the Ruby Laser in its destructive form they'll have both. The laser and the RFB!"
Jones nodded at Keel's undeniable logic.
The two men stood clutching at the railings overlooking the beach, the sea and beyond.
A voice in the distance drew their attention back towards the descending steps that led from the roadway above. "You made it then."
Jones waited a moment for Hernbread to get closer. "An hour ago we came looking for you and they said you had already left and told us where to meet you. What kept you?"
Hernbread raised his hands. "I must get rid of that old Austin ten, too slow these days. I might get a Morris traveller," he smiled, "much more sporty!"
"You know Doctor Keel of course."
Hernbread nodded. "Hello David. Long time, what have you been up to?"
Keel shook his head at the same old question. Jones answered for him. "Doing what comes naturally, now, shall we go? We'll take my car."
Hernbread nodded in agreement and wondered what Jones had meant by his answer.
Three miles along the coast, their progress was halted by roadworks. A clean-cut navvy with an immaculately clean shovel over his shoulder approached the car as Jones wound down the window. As the labourer placed a hand on the roof to lean inside the car, Jones caught a quick glimpse of a Navy issue pistol stuck into his waistband. He spoke clearly and with an almost military politeness. "I'm sorry gentlemen, the road beyond has collapsed. We are instigating repairs at the moment so I'm afraid you'll have to find another route."
Jones reached inside his jacket pocket and produced his secret service identity. "It's quite alright, we have authorisation."
The labourer looked nervous. His instructions were that no one was to pass beyond this point.
Jones gave his most genial smile. "Look. You are Navy are you not?"
The young man gave no response, Jones continued. "Well firstly, you have a naval issue weapon stuck inside your trousers, personally, I'd have stuck it behind my back to avoid it being seen. Secondly, it's now quite late afternoon and your shovel is as clean as the day you extracted it from the quartermasters store and that goes for your bib, brace and jacket too. Only a forces man would have a work outfit with creases in them that you could cut your fingers on, and thirdly, you are far too polite."
The phoney labourer relented. "I'll have to get on the walkie-talkie and make sure sir, if you wouldn't mind waiting a minute. The names are?"
"Jones, Keel and Hernbread."
"Back in a jiffy sir."
Jones wound up the window.
Hernbread leaned forward from the back seat. "And fourthly, he should never have let you put your hand inside your jacket pocket without pulling out his gun, but there, you can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead "
The small cove inside the restricted area was teeming with uniforms from all three services. A sub-lieutenant met them from the road and escorted them to the temporary ops building. The room was dominated by the presence of a red-faced rear admiral whose vivid ginger beard curled off in two directions at the slightly grey tips. The rear admiral looked across as they entered but continued to shout into the telephone. "...Damn it man I can see it myself from here!" He picked up his binoculars and peered out of the small window, "Yes, a rowing boat heading towards the jetty that's right, ah, praise the lord you see it too now well get down there and bring whoever it is to me...now!"
He replaced the receiver and caught his breath. "Damn it!"
The sub-lieutenant stepped forward. "It's the secret service men admiral. Captain Jones, captain Hernbread and " he looked behind him, "Captain Keel?"
"Just doctor I'm afraid. I considered the Navy but with a name like Keel "
The witticism was wasted as the admiral grabbed the hand of Jones and slapped Hernbread on the shoulder. "Admiral Mackenzie. Good to have you aboard gentlemen, now, if you'd just like to stand over there somewhere I'm sure you'll enjoy the fireworks," he looked out of the window, "If we can get rid of that damn toy boat in time!"
Jones shook his head. "I'm sorry admiral but you don't seem to understand the significance of our visit. I take it you were informed by Whitehall about the, err, situation?"
"Yes indeed. Some stuffed shirt by the name of Wanting or something called me."
"That's One-Ten Admiral, head of the British Secret Service "
"Whatever but he did say you had no real proof," he raised a hand, "have you seen the security around here. Nothing could get past my boys perhaps the RAF or the Army, but not my boys."
Keel walked to the window. "Except a man in a row boat perhaps."
"Ah yes. Most embarrassing," he raised his binoculars, "Ah, got the blighter! Now we'll see. Come with me and, try not to get in the way!"
At the waters edge, two guards held their captive tightly as the rear admiral approached. "What's your business here man, come on, speak up!"
Harry the fish was at his most indignant. "If you don't tell these men to unhand me right now, I'll have your rank, your uniform and your pension."
Rear Admiral Mackenzie had not been spoken to in such a way for as long as he could remember. His voice boomed out once again as the colour returned to his cheeks. "What! Who the blithering hell do you think you are!"
Harry the fish remained calm. "I am Harry Stanford, code name One-Fourteen. I work for the British Secret Service and I won't ask you again to release me."
Mackenzie turned around. Keel, Jones and Hernbread appeared uninvolved and disinterested as they looked away in various directions.
"Is he who he says he is? Mackenzie picked on David Keel, "Is he?"
Keel shrugged and nodded. "He most certainly is."
"Can he do that can he tell me what to do?"
Keel pulled out his cigarettes and took his time lighting one after offering them around, even to the guards holding Harry the fish. "Well," he sighed, "This is a military undertaking "
The rear admiral turned on Harry, "Ha!"
"But, " Keel added, regaining Mackenzie's slowly deflating stare, "This is peacetime so it makes it a ministry of defence situation, and the MoD in peacetime is controlled by the stuffed shirts in Whitehall," Keel gave a lazy smile towards Harry, "Looks like you're in charge sir!"
Keel was not totally sure of his facts but then again, it sounded good and after all, the admiral did ask him and not Jones or Hernbread who continued to look elsewhere.
Mackenzie nodded to his men and Harry Stanford was released.
"Superb! About time"
He straightened his tie and from habit, ran his hands over his shiny head. "Now admiral, you just go about your business and we'll look around the area. Understood?"
Mackenzie nodded reluctantly.
"And admiral be available if I need you, there's a good chap."
There was silence until Mackenzie was out of earshot. Hernbread turned indignantly. "You could get shot for all this Harry, or worse, we could all get shot."
Harry the fish gave a 'couldn't care less' expression. "Relax Dandy. We need to do what must be done and pulling rank on an admiral won't make me lose any sleep."
"But you have no rank to pull Harry," Jones rubbed his forehead, "you retired, remember?"
Harry laughed out loud. "But I thought that once you signed the official secrets act you were in for life even when your out. Let's just say I have been temporarily restored."
"Why are you here Harry? I don't recall receiving any message from you? Jones looked at Hernbread who shook his head.
Harry explained. "I did some sniffing around as you asked and I got a whisper about this military exercise today, actually, the information was passed on to me in my own home over a cup of tea and a sandwich. The navy should never just make areas off limits without a reason, but there, as I was saying, from that information, I looked at a detailed coastal map of the immediate area and tried to conclude that if this invisible stuff was to be of any use, then it needed to be close at hand, really thought, there is nowhere close that a good terrorist could use".
Hernbread gave a derisive huff, "Is there a good terrorist?"
Keel interrupted. "You knew that the laser was here?"
"No, no idea, but I knew that when an area is closed off, it has to be something worth stealing and it is a relatively short journey from Portsmouth and let's face it, when your man in Singapore said the word Portsmouth, it's a bit like saying London when you mean Luton. People who don't live in a country only remember the more famous names and Portsmouth is better known than Exmouth. But of course, they won't steal it today anyway."
Jones looked surprised. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because they risk being caught," he looked up towards the ops building, "Ginger may be a blusterer, but he knows how to fight, and I should know, his sister is my housekeeper Nora Mackenzie was her maiden name."
Keel placed his hands in his raincoat pocket. "So why are any of us here?"
Jones shook his head and looked at Hernbread. "We are here because Tom told us to be here. It was a good thought but obviously we were mistaken."
Harry the fish held up a chubby hand. "Not if we knew where the laser would be taken after the demonstration?"
Jones looked concerned. "Steal it as it leaves for America? Of course! Security will be water tight until it leaves the country, then "
" Before then I suspect," Harry shook his head, "you gentlemen are keen, but still just young men. Experience is invaluable at a time like this and in my experience the attempt to take it will be just before it leaves the country. If it were me, I'd steal it and make it vanish in England. If you do it on a boat or an airplane, the authorities will know exactly where you are, either on a boat or a plane. No," he rubbed his bald head, "the boats and planes are small, England is a much larger place to hide it, then, escape at any time at your leisure."
Keel nodded. "That makes good sense, so, we have to be where the laser is going to be taken from."
Harry the fish looked down at his feet. "I think it's down to you gentlemen to make a telephone call," he looked up, a sudden sadness came into his eyes, "and then that will be that from me, back to my fish."
"You're not coming with us then Harry?"
"No Jack. Experience counts, but being young means being fit enough to handle what's about to happen. I'm too old for all that nonsense."
"Sounds like a premonition of disaster "
Harry turned and headed towards his little boat, shouting back as he walked.
"Perhaps it is!" and then quietly to himself, " perhaps it is."
The Former USAAF Base. Stansted Airfield.
Keel threw his cigarette butt out of the quarter-light window and snapped it shut. His voice once again had the distinctive and endearing quiver when he spoke quietly. "What do you think Harry was getting at?"
Jones shrugged. "Just his age perhaps, he's seen a few things in his life."
Hernbread leaned forward from the rear bench seat. "I think Harry knows more than he lets on. Maybe he's in on all this. We should have taken him back to London and questioned him guilty until proven innocent, that's what I say!" He slumped back into the seat and folded his arms.
"If I recall, there's a turn-off to the left, about a mile or so further".
"You've been here before then?"
Jones smiled at the distant memory. "Yes, during the war. I had only just got my papers and they stuck me in the back of a lorry and sent me here for a few weeks to work alongside the USAAF, Stansted was theirs at the time," his mind wandered, "Ah the glorious 344th Bombardment Group of the US 9th." He looked at Hernbread in the rear view mirror, "we British hate to admit it as a rule, but without the yanks "
Hernbread raised his eyebrows and stared out of the window, seemingly more interested in the fields and trees along the A120.
Jones turned left and followed the small winding road for a few miles. "The back entrance should be just up here on the right. Further along past the entrance is 'The Ash' I got extremely drunk there once and there was this girl, parachute Patty was her name, she was over six feet tall. I remember I had to stand on a box just to ah, here we are, Stansted Airfield. I wonder if there are any B-26's still about?"
White single story buildings lined the two narrow roads. "Still the same, one road in and one road out."
He drove slowly past the buildings and parked the Humber on a gravel verge and wound down the window.
Hernbread leaned forward and stared towards the control tower in the short distance. "Do we inform the officials?"
Jones breathed in heavily and thought. "I don't know, I suppose we should get clearance before we go snooping around the hangars."
Hernbread opened his door. "I'll go," he got out and leaned back in, "are you waiting here?"
Jones looked at Keel. "No, we'll wander off you catch us up over by those green hangars."
The door slammed and Jones called after his colleague. "Tom! Are you armed?"
Hernbread patted his chest, gave a thin smile and walked towards the control tower.
Jones turned towards Keel. "And is the good doctor carrying?"
"No. The good doctor is not but he wouldn't mind it on this occasion!"
Jones pointed to the glove box. "Very wise. Help yourself."
The sun was low in the sky and the two men could clearly see Tom Hernbread's shape silhouetted against the windows of the control tower as they approached the closest hangar.
"Now remember David, no risks, okay!"
"Fine. But how can we be sure they are here anyway?"
Jones looked around. "You've seen the security here. The problem is that it's a small commercial airport that's run like a family business. Not in the big league like Heathrow where you would be jumped on just for parking like I did. No, this place is too casual by far, not like it was years ago, mind you, the airmen still got girls inside all right!"
"When is the laser due to arrive?"
"It's not. They are taking it to Southend aerodrome to be on the safe side but a decoy convoy will be here in one hour or so."
"So we have one hour to find wherever and whoever they are, locate the RFB and make it safe somehow "
"By my reckoning, in one hour they will be prepared to grab the laser, conceal it inside one of these hangars and make it invisible," he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "perhaps they'll take it away in an open wagon. Who would take any notice of about empty lorry!"
Hernbread scuttled towards them. When he arrived he bent down and rested his hands on his thighs. "I ought to get more exercise," he stood up, took a few breaths and flourished a sheet of paper, "here maybe this will help."
Keel took the paper. "What's this, 'peace in our time'?"
Hernbread nodded then shook his head. "It's a list of these hangars who rents what and for how long," he sucked in deeply, "hanger number three was rented one month ago for exactly "
" One month?"
Hernbread nodded. "It could be the one."
Jones produced his revolver, flicked the release and checked he had all six bullets in place before snapping it back and gently releasing the safety.
"You looked just like that James whatever his name is in that new film everyone's talking about, doctor something or other."
Jones gave a wry smile. "Do I really? The leading man is supposed to be quite good I hear. I plan to see it when it comes to our local Odeon . sometime during the winter, August I think."
They made their way towards hangar three. Hernbread elected to try to find the rear entry door and moved off, still trying to catch his breath. Keel and Jones kept close to the side of the building, turned the corner and continued along the front. A refuelling tanker stood to one side of the hangar. Keel ran forward and rolled underneath, regaining his feet at the other side. He stepped on the footplate and looked inside the cab before rolling back under the tanker and rejoining Jones. "No keys in the ignition we could have driven it straight through the front door!"
Jones appreciated the thought and placed his hand on keels shoulder. "I thought you didn't make house calls?"
Keel shook his head. "And they said that vaudeville was dead!"
They slipped under a small window and stood either side of the entry door.
Keel nodded and placed his hand on the door handle, pushed down and let the door open inwards.
Natural daylight strained through the dirty skylights throwing muted illumination across the concrete floor like random shards from a distorted monotone church window.
Jones entered slowly and turned to Keel, his statement tinged with uncertainty "Looks empty?"
Keel noticed a steel stairway up to a closed mezzanine level. "I'll take a look up there."
Jones nodded and walked slowly towards the middle of the hangar, his steps unavoidably echoing around the deserted interior. A glint from above caught his eye. He raised his gun but relaxed with a smile as he noted a service pipe leaking water through the strained sunlight. He watched the droplets fall. He took another step forward then froze as the droplets splashed fifteen feet above him and split into a series of droplets that defied perception as they ran slowly in an oval pattern either side of him before slowly dropping into a puddle just ten feet in front of him.
He stepped forward again, unaware that from a point in mid air, an invisible door had been drawn back. From nowhere, a man appeared and fired at him, catching him in the right leg and sending him falling to the ground, his gun spinning away out of reach. He spoke, firmly, autocratically. "Do not attempt a move for your gun!"
The man walked towards him, blond haired, athletically built, unusually young probably only twenty. He raised the weapon, his cold blue eyes betraying his deadly intent. Jones closed his eyes and waited for the bang but it didn't come, instead, the man looked across towards the steel stairway. Jones opened his eyes and followed the path of his gaze. Doctor Keel walked towards him, arms raised. Behind him, Jones could see another figure, undoubtedly pointing a weapon towards Keel's back. Keel raised his eyes to the mezzanine floor above. "Romeo Foxtrot Bravo at twelve o'clock high!"
Jones gave a slight nod that he understood where the RFB had been stored.
The blond man spoke with an unusual American accent. Jones wondered if he had spent some time in or with Germans. "Who are you?"
Jones placed his hand on his leg and staggered to his feet. "Just airport security."
The blond man shook his head. "One more time, who are you?"
Jones looked towards Keel. "Ask him if you don't believe me!"
The blond man raised his gun and turned towards Keel and pulled the trigger. Keel fell to the ground and the blond man turned again to Jones, unemotional. "Who are you?"
Jones looked in horror at the motionless body of the doctor. There was an almost church like silence except for the dripping of the water from above that resonated like a death drum at an execution. He glanced along the hangar in the hope of seeing Hernbread but saw nothing then looked towards the blond man, only really seeing the barrel of the gun pointing towards his face. "My name is Jones. I work for the government," his voice became resolute, "The building is surrounded you know no chance of escape," he forced a smile, "but do tell, what is this all about?"
The blond man gave a short, humourless laugh. "I don't think this building is surrounded, you have watched far too many 'b' movies and, I suppose telling you will at least send you to your grave with a certain satisfaction."
He raised the butt of his gun and struck out to one side. Jones could hear the thump but could not see what had made the noise. Behind the blond man, a set of steps materialised out of nowhere. Jones closed his eyes in disbelief at his stupidity the falling drops of water that formed and arc in mid air and now this. All the time he was standing right beside an airplane, made invisible.
The blond man nodded to his colleague. "Prepare to take off and get the hangar doors open, " his gaze returned to Jones," You want to know what all this is about, well, my friends and I are the son's of German scientists taken after the war to the United States of America. Taken by the Americans to do again what they did for the Nazi's, only under the banner of freedom, hope and the American way, same rules, different outlook. My father was a genius. He developed the chemical that makes everything invisible, everything. We have the formula now. When we die, the secret dies with us," he raised an eyebrow, "I expect you followed the lead from the batch code that gave the date of Xang Tse's prophecy, a foolish idea on my own behalf, leaving an obvious clue like that. We wanted you to guess at our aim but forgot you see everything too literally, it was too easy, but there. Perhaps your people are not quite as foolish as we thought."
Jones was surprised at the admission from someone so arrogant. "I must ask, why try to place the blame on the Chinese anyway, I thought all terrorists liked to bathe in the glory of their own acts?"
The blond man stepped to one side as invisible chocks were fumbled for and eventually pulled away. Jones tried to fathom the shape of the plane based on where the wheels were to where the hatchway opened. He couldn't reason it out, not enough information and too much pain in his leg. He wondered how long it might be until he passed out.
The blond man spoke to his colleague in German then continued to Jones. "We believed you might attempt retribution against China, probably some ineffectual trade embargo or suchlike thus leaving our path clear to instigate the use of the laser, again, placing blame in the Far East."
Jones shook his head, "So, that's the new way of the new order is it? Blame someone else!"
The blond man nodded to himself and his own thoughts, " Our fathers may have given in to the vision of the American way, but like all conquered nations, some of us still harbour dreams that it is only a temporary setback. My friends and myself are younger, stronger and more able than the old men that have given up are. We choose our own means to an end but, the ideals of Nazism will be around forever!"
Jones clutched at his leg. "Forgive me if I don't applaud "
Tom Hernbread shook the padlock on the door at the far end of the hangar and sighed heavily, holding his breath as he heard the shot from within. He held his hand to his head and closed his eyes then opened them as the realisation of a plan occurred. He ran to the side of the hangar and looked back towards the filling tanker, raised his gun and carefully took aim.
From a point in mid-air, two plumes of smoke sputtered into the hangar and finally cleared into a heat haze as the engines fired into life. The plane moved a yard forward then stopped as the opening doors formed a widening line of daylight into the hangar.
Jones sank down and edged backwards towards the nearest wall and looked across at the body of David Keel. He felt sure he saw a slight movement in the doctor's fingers as the explosion rocked the building. Above him, the mezzanine floor creaked as the steel struts started to buckle.
Hernbread shot the padlock from the door and eased into the building. He felt the heat and saw the distorted air from the engines silhouetted against the daylight from the open doors beyond. He could see Jones but not Keel.
He crossed to the wall to the right and held his gun forward as he moved along the wall towards his colleague. A shot ricocheted off the floor before him, he looked up and saw a figure beside the main doors and took aim. The body fell a moment after he squeezed the trigger. He ran towards Jones and crouched beside him.
Jones looked to his right. "Leave me, get Keel out and Tom, leave your gun!"
Hernbread placed his weapon on the floor as he saw Keel and moved towards him, pausing momentarily as the engine speed increased as the unseen aircraft edged forwards.
Hernbread lifted Keel and placed his arm around his waist and half walked, half dragged Keel towards the relative safety of the far door.
Jones grimaced in pain as he watched the airplane move forward. He looked above him as the struts creaked once more. He raised the weapon and moved it from left to right. How could he shoot at the tyres if he didn't know where they were? He took a guess and fired three shots. The dust on the ground flew up as a tyre exploded. The course of the plane altered and an invisible wing struck a supporting strut and the floor gave way.
Jones gritted his teeth and tried his best to run to the far door as the barrels fell about him and broke up, spraying liquid everywhere. Jones shuddered as the liquid drenched him.
The blond man appeared before him and seemed to stare at him before turning around, he saw Hernbread and raised his weapon and fired once. Hernbread fell and Keel with him. Jones raised his gun. "You murdering bastard!"
The blond man turned and looked around. Jones pointed the gun at his chest. "At least you will see the face of the man who will kill you!"
The blond man looked around as a barrel fell to one side of him. He raised his hands as the liquid poured over him. Jones started to pull the trigger as the body of the blond man started to fade in front of him. Jones squeezed and saw a spurt of red appear before that too faded.
An overpowering smell reached his nostrils. He turned to see the innards of the airplane wing hanging down, pouring aircraft fuel around his feet loose, fraying wires sparked.
Jones stumbled towards the far door as the fuel ignited
Three bodies lay silently amongst the debris of the hangar. Jones was the first to lift his head.
"Tom! Are you alive?"
Hernbread mumbled. "No! Are you?"
Jones saw Keel. "Is Doctor Keel ?"
Hernbread opened his eyes and tried to turn his head towards the doctor. "Dead "
Jones slumped down and breathed heavily. His eyes felt strange, sore and stinging. He tried to focus but felt dizzy. "Poor David I can't believe it everything he went through every danger and he was killed so coldly, so "
Hernbread understood. "So unlike you would imagine "
"Yes. Unlike you would imagine. And you, you were hit!"
"Yes, in the back I can't feel my legs "
Jones touched his leg and grimaced. "I can feel mine!"
Hernbread forced his head painfully towards Jones. All he could see was a trail of blood that oozed out from nowhere then disappeared before a fresh trail oozed out again before disappearing.
Approximately 40 Years later TODAY!
John Steed re-adjusted the white carnation in his buttonhole and rested his hands on his umbrella.
He looked to his right as the guard blew his whistle and waved a green flag, to his left, a single railway carriage propelled itself out from a siding and latched onto the rear of the train. He placed the brolly over his arm and removed the Hunter from his top pocket. He looked up and compared the time to the large clock above him.
"Hmnn. One minute late." He replaced the Hunter and strolled forward. The automatic doors to the new carriage opened and he walked inside, placed his bowler and brolly onto the coat stand and made himself comfortable on the large chesterfield sofa. A sign flashed above his head
'TEA IS SERVED '
"Worth waiting the extra minute for!"
The station announcer's well-rehearsed dialogue echoed around Ashford station. 'The Eurostar train now stranding on platform four is the fifteen forty-five from waterloo to Paris .'
A clink of china cups diverted Steeds attention as a familiar face appeared from the small-enclosed section at the front of the carriage. " Hello Brenda. I see from the sign that the buffet car is open!"
"I take it Mother is still angry at your deception over Mrs Peel."
Brenda nodded. "I did what I thought was for the best," she handed him his tea, "He's not angry as such, just trying to make a point discipline I suppose."
Steed accepted his tea. "Thank you. I'll have a word with Mother when we arrive, see if we can't sort out this business and get you back where you belong."
Brenda smiled, thanked him and returned to the front section of the carriage.
Twenty minutes later the train entered The Channel Tunnel. Steed looked up from his copy of The Times as the standard lamp flickered into life and the internal lights grew noticeably lighter. Brenda reappeared. "Ten minutes to 'Serenity Station'."
Steed checked his pocket watch. "Thank You Brenda."
He finished his tea, retrieved his bowler and brolly, folded the newspaper and placed it under his arm. He waited by the door as the momentum of the carriage slowed at the sound of the coupling being released from the main train. The carriage slowed and eventually became motionless five miles in from the British entrance. Steed held onto the overhead grab as the carriage started to move forward. The vibration beneath his feet indicated that the carriage had crossed over points and had now followed a change in direction into a darkened recess of the main tunnel.
The carriage halted abruptly and Steed pinched at the knot in his tie. The doors opened and he walked out into 'Serenity Station'.
He positioned the newspaper on a bench then followed the sign to the escalators and stepped on, descending for two minutes before stepping out to a closed door. He placed his security pass into the slot and took it back as the door slid to one side.
"Steed! Come in what do you think of our temporary home?"
Steed walked into the huge glass domed structure furnished with only a desk, surrounded by large 'U' shaped sofa. Mother was not alone but as etiquette dictates, he waited to be introduced. He gave an instant opinion to Mothers question. "Er, Slightly too modern for my tastes," he looked up at the glimmer of daylight shining through from hundreds of feet above, "I just hope the damp proofing is secure!" The tip of his brolly echoed as he walked forward, "This is rather like being inside an empty goldfish bowl where the world outside you has flooded " he looked down towards the head of The Ministry, "speaking of which, when will the Ministry be resuming it's regular address? I had to leave the Bentley in a station car park and there was more than a hint of snow in the air!"
"A few weeks yet I hear, they are making a few alterations, more security."
An unbelievably slim young woman walked towards him. "May I take your hat Mr Steed?"
Mother wheeled himself forward. "Steed, may I introduce you to Lady Diana Forbes-Blakeney."
Steed handed over his bowler and brolly. "Any relation to the Cumberland Forbes-Blakeney's?"
"Yes, do you know them?"
Steed shook her outstretched hand. "Your mother is an old friend."
Steed made an overt pretence of looking under his arm, sighed then touched his forehead. "I appear to have left your newspaper at the station Mother."
Mother looked towards the young lady who nodded and smiled. "I'll get it!"
They watched her leave and Mother wheeled himself behind his desk. Steed walked to the one side of the dome and peered out. "Is Brenda coming back?"
Mother shook his head. "I don't know... yes, possibly."
Steed turned and walked to the desk and placed his security pass in front of Mother. "I'm afraid Mother I've failed in security protocol and must therefore insist you place me on suspension!"
Mother's eyes widened. "But... I mean what did you do?"
Steed shook his head. "Nasty business really. I'm afraid I failed to tell you a close shall we say intimate family member also worked for the ministry, and, rules state that no agents may work directly with family members who may be liable to have influence on their decisions as to "
"Yes!" Mother held up a hand, "I do know the regulations Steed, but, who?"
"Diana Blakeney is my daughter!"
Mother had picked up his tea and promptly spilt most of the remains over his trousers. "What! Oh my god I didn't realise."
Steed stood up and took a deep breath. "Of course this means that you will also need to place yourself under suspension for failure to check up on her heritage, regardless of legitimacy."
Mother placed his cup on the desk and looked at a plate of macaroons. Steed knew he was upset by the sheer fact that he never attempted to pick one up. "We'll have to discuss this later no we won't. I'll transfer Forbes Blakeney to Whitehall, she's promising but she's not fully completed her training as yet, also, I'll call Sweeting, get her to arrange a run through the village assault course yes, we'll say no more about it, and yes, we all make mistakes, I'll get Brenda back when we return to London."
Steed picked up his security pass. "Good," a glimmer smile passed quickly across his face, "Brenda only did what she thought was right," he picked up the plate of Macaroons, "we all make mistakes."
Mother accepted one. "So, you've come to see Colonel Jones "
The medical section of Serenity Station was down a further escalator. When the door opened Steed could see the blurred outline of the colonel in a bed. Doctor Sweeting turned and smiled. "Clever idea this, we got the idea when the colonel was reminiscing about an old friend by the name of Harry the fish. You can buy these fogging machines for your garden pond; we got hold of a couple and adapted them to send a mist around the colonel's body. As you can see, we get a rough idea where everything is."
Steed gave a worried smile. "How is he?"
Sweeting shook her head. "Not too good actually. We have wired him up to the ECG and there is no two ways about it he needs a heart by-pass, and soon."
"But you can't do it?"
"No. We can monitor everything but when it comes to an operation, well, it would be like attempting it blindfolded. If we don't do it he will die if we try it, he will die anyway."
Steed walked to the bedside and looked back to the doctor. "Is he cognisant?"
A familiar voice answered. "Hello Steed!"
Through the fogging, Steed could make out the colonels head turning towards him.
"Apparently I need an operation but even my insides are invisible! Well, I could have told them that... the mess they made all those years ago when they removed a bullet from my leg, left me with a permanent limp!"
Steed placed a hand on the colonel's arm. "Don't worry colonel. In my experience, there's always an answer, it's just that we haven't thought of one yet."
Jones gave a short laugh then coughed. "Well don't leave it too long, I've a new office to sort in two weeks time!"
Steed stood on the platform of Serenity Station accompanied by Mother and Lady Diana Forbes Blakeney. The Ministry carriage waited for Steed to ascend.
She looked at her wristwatch. "Seven minutes until the return Eurostar. You'll be latching onto it in approximately fourteen minutes if you'll like to embark shortly."
Steed nodded. "Thank you... you... don't remember who I am do you?"
She looked surprised, but not as surprised as mother who blushed and flustered with some papers.
"Your mother now lives in Wiltshire I believe, goes to the same bridge club as Mrs Steed!"
"My mother. I know I was probably rather too young at the time inexperienced in the ways of the world, but, I am your father "
Mother's paper's fell onto the platform.
Steed politely touched the rim of his bowler to Mother and an open mouthed Lady Diana Forbes Blakeney. He stepped onto the train and turned as the door started to close.
"Your godfather that is."
Recently, due to personal circumstances, my whole life has changed quite dramatically. So I dedicate this book to my very best friend who also happens to be my wife, Angela.
It would be a nice thought that we could all have someone who will stand by us and not turn away at the slightest reason. For that alone, I am indeed the luckiest man alive.
12th October 2003
© Trevor Dower 2003
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)
Back to The Avengers Library