3-18: Dirigibles

dirigibles

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I

Sam reasoned, ‘He was an information stealer, not a smuggler.’

‘With a ship this size?’ asked Sophie.

Sam cogitated again and came up with, ‘Then it was rendition.’

‘Seems that way to me. He may well be what he says he is and he stole this ship from them in the past but you’d agree it’s suspicious.’

‘Saul converted to Paul on the road to Damascus?’

‘Perhaps. But how does Gabriella come into it? That suggests to me that he’s straight now, if a bit rough but the girl is not yet straight, which is what we originally thought.’

Sam had left off with Little Nikki and had been edging towards the door whilst Sophie was talking, which now made her reach inside her pack and keep her hand there. Suddenly, he flung open the door and dragged a figure into the room, a female, flinging her to the floor and pouncing on her – Margarita – she fought tooth and nail, Sophie took three paces up to her and said a word he didn’t pick up on but it had the effect of turning the woman rabid, snarling. She mouthed equally incomprehensible words.

She looked hard at Sophie, then at the baby, went for the baby, Sophie dropped to her knees and plunged her knife through the woman’s heart. Blood shot out of the body, it convulsed and then lay inert, Sam now on his back against the other bunk, staring hard at his Sophie.

For her part, she was calm and simply said, ‘Go for the Captain, Sam.’

There was no need because they were all at the door, Letti being the first inside. She turned, went over to one side and threw up.

The Captain arrived on the scene and immediately ordered Sophie’s arrest but who was going to do that? Sophie herself said that any who tried that would die. Sam said that any who tried to harm Sophie would die, although he hardly understood what had just happened.

Mrs. Entmussen was a mess and Mr. Entmussen, shaking with rage, now demanded of Sophie, ‘Are you going to murder us in our beds?’

‘Of course not. This woman was about to kill my child. I killed her first.’

Sam was not going to publicly ask the obvious question because he’d seen that murderous lunge but Letti asked it, ‘How do you know that? What right did you have to take Margarita’s life?’

‘Because she was one of us. I recognized her.’

They clearly wanted more and Sam chipped in with his description of the incident, of that last murderous lunge for the baby.

Sophie sighed and told them of her past, of the perpetual abuse, of the personalities, of how she recognized signs in the woman and then, when she, Sophie, had challenged this Margarita with a key word from her training, it had turned her savage.

Sam attested now to this, ‘Sophie knew what she had to do … and did it.’

Letti refused to accept it. ‘You had no way of knowing she would kill your child. You’re … mad.’ She burst into tears.

Sophie was unmoved. ‘I knew this one was not a rescuee like us, she was a person abused long ago, she was currently live on her mission, she was the one on board to murder my child for reasons the enemy knows and I do too, and she would have put the blame onto someone else. I bet she came on board with Jan [the Captain] but Jan doesn’t even know who she is … do you, Captain?’

‘I … um … was told there’d be two, there were two, she seemed fine, she was quiet and friendly.’

‘Oh, she would be. I’ve seen the like many times before. In fact, I’ve now saved the crew and passengers on this ship, not that I’m looking for any thanks. And that was even while the Captain’s girl was making love to my husband.’

Sam’s jaw dropped open, the Captain shot a look at him and then turned savagely on Letti. She was bewildered and now burst into tears again. She ran out.

It was a bad scene but Sophie seemed unfazed. ‘Look, all of you. My husband was never going to make love to that girl – he was finding out about her, this Margarita was a killer with a split personality and unless you yourselves have had split personalities forced on you too, unless they’ve done the same to you, then you’ll just have to take my word for that. I understand the horror for you but it’s no more horrible than what is going on in that world out there. Think why each of us is here for a start.’

‘And what did you find out in general?’ asked the Captain, quietly.

‘We know this ship was a rendition craft, but these bugs,’ she held hers up for all to see, ‘were in each room, they were put in just before by someone right here now – we are being spied on and one of the people here now, maybe more than one, is a traitor. But who? That’s my job to find out.’

All eyes turned to the Captain, even those of Letti, who’d come back in, and in hers was a curious expression.

II

‘Hello, Sarah.’

She spun round on the landing deck and looked all of her thirty plus years. Some women are eternal but sadly, not Sarah. And sadly too, she knew that and knew that he knew that.

‘Things have changed, Hugh,’ she offered by way of explanation.

‘I think you’re in a mess, Sarah,’ he cut straight to the chase. ‘I think you have some sort of purpose here and you can’t do it, you’re fighting it. I think someone has a hold over you and you’ve been mistreated or perhaps threatened so that you had to do something unpalatable and yet you know that our people rescued Sophie and you desperately want that but can’t see how we could do it. You haven’t a friend in the world just now. There are some single men and women on this ship and you’re not even trying to mingle. If you like, why don’t we just sit here on the floor and you can tell me about it.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Direct threat or voices in the head?’ She knew she couldn’t say a word, that it was more than her life was worth. At least she thought it was. He went on. ‘We had trouble working it out. If you had a straight task, you’ve been hopeless – we picked up on that quickly. If you’re a decoy, then we need to find out for whom. If you’re genuine, then you need help right now and we’re here for you.’

She maintained her silence but didn’t storm off. He tried a different tack. ‘Was our baby part of your task?’ She knew she couldn’t answer that one either. He continued. ‘Sit, Sarah, sit. Please? For me? For old times?’

He sat down but kept an eye on her. She clearly did not want to sit because that put her into a conversation it would be hard to extract herself from, she also knew she couldn’t change the subject because that was an admission in itself but now he was seated and that was a further pressure from the point of view of etiquette.

Gradually she sat down, looking away. ‘I escaped them, I told you.’ She really was on edge, he didn’t watch directly but he was certainly aware. The thing which puzzled him was how much Gabriella knew – was Sarah just one of the rescuees, as all 12 were meant to be, was he plain wrong about her, was she a broken woman and was he being unnecessarily heartless to her?

Or was she, as they surmised, part of the enemy or at least under duress?

‘Did you see Marie near the end?’ Silence. That was quite worrying because if she was innocent and she had seen Marie, he’d have expected her to be traumatized. If she hadn’t, she’d be choked up but she wasn’t choked up – she was calculating. This looked very bad.

‘Did you kill Marie?’ That one only partially registered.

‘Did you give Marie to them?’

Ah, there it was. She was right on the precipice, her whole body language was so tight that she could snap. He decided to try it.

‘Why?’

There was an almighty struggle going on inside her and yet his ‘why’ had not been interrogative but out of interest. She made as if to talk and then didn’t. He gave her the way out by getting up and offering her a hand. She just stood up.

‘We’ll see you upstairs,’ he said. ‘I have some checking to do down here.’

She looked hard at him, turned and made her way up the gangway but went no further. As a spy, she was hopeless – at least she could have gone away then snuck back. Unless she was meeting someone of course and he hoped Nikki was in place to see it.

He bumbled about to make it seem he did have something to check, then he noticed the lock on the door but moved on to something else because he was sure that someone had come down the walkway behind him. The thing was to go round in a slow circle, checking the landing floor in a cursory way and eventually make his way back to the gangway. He could hear whoever it was going back up.

So, it had been the door at issue. He made his way back upstairs now, expecting to be ambushed but no – the others were there, spread over the main floor, doing this and that.

Moving efficently past them, acknowledging a few of them with a smile, he called Nikki but there was no reply, nor a sound from Jean-Baptiste.

He went back and asked no one in particular, ‘Have you see my wife?’ Heads shook.

He approached Mrs. Hutchings and spoke for a minute or so. She nodded her understanding and her firm agreement, something was exchanged.

III

‘We felt you were the enemy,’ began the Captain. You, Mrs. Hoddle,’ Sophie was amused by that, ‘were just too self-assured, just too able to take care of yourself. I didn’t know about Letti,’ he murmured and there was hurt in the voice. ‘She probably did it to protect us, to protect me.’

‘They did nothing, those two … Jan,’ interrupted Sophie but in a kindly way. ‘They were shadow boxing, finding out what each other knew.’

‘Well yes, perhaps. This ship was a government project, exploring dirigible power in a new age but of course, it doubled for prisoners and contraband, you had that right. I knew of it, yes, but the contraband was my job. The bugs – I really don’t know about them. I stole this ship when a lady appeared and made me an offer. I don’t mind saying that the offer was forceful, backed by force.’

‘Did she have a name?’ asked Sam.

‘No, she was fair-haired and well-spoken. I had no real choice and besides, it was helping out people in trouble. Why not? I hadn’t been paid for three months and there was no market any more for the perfumes or even the guns. I’d also stopped shipping the drugs and think I was about to be stopped myself. It seemed the right time to change sides.’

‘And Letti?’ asked Sophie.

‘She can tell you herself.’

The girl dried her eyes, snorted into her handkerchief, which she then crammed up her sleeve and spoke. ‘I was spying on Jan.’ At their puzzlement, she made clear, ‘Not Jan the passenger – Jan the Captain. I decided I liked him.’

‘You’re no multiple,’ said Sophie.

‘You mean like Margarita – no,’ Sophie looked at her curiously. ‘I was employed in the EU Department of Correction. They suspected he was syphoning off profits, which he was but he showed me where the embezzled funds were going and the people they were helping.’

‘Enough, Letti. People don’t want to hear about that.’

‘Yes we do,’ said Mrs. Entmussen.

‘Well, next time.’ And that was that. No one seemed to know where to go from here. There was a body in a rug in a cupboard downstairs, there were bugs which the Captain didn’t seem to know about and they were at a loss.

Jannick Boesen took charge again. ‘I’d like the three of you – Mr. Hoddle, Mr. and Mrs. Entmussen – to remain here at this table and we three will go to each room and see if we can find any other bugs. We’ll then go to the main room and Mrs. Hoddle can satisfy herself about bugs there. All right?’

IV

Hugh made his way to their door and called Nikki’s name, then propped because something seemed amiss – he knew Nikki was in there with Jean-Baptiste.

The thing was that there was someone inside all right but Nikki would have spoken. He partly opened the door, one eye took it all in before he showed his full body and there was Nikki standing stock still, a knife to her throat and the one holding it was the hard woman who’d suggested the extermination yesterday, Pamela Gest. Of Sarah there was still no sign but now the woman spoke.

‘You’re to release the door.’

‘It has to be done manually – there’s no override. If you’re ready, then let’s go.’

This was too easy. ‘Don’t try anything.’

‘I and anyone else will keep our distance – three metres, only my wife and you will approach the door. It takes two people, so you will need to release her to run one lever while you turn the other. Then the ladder is dropped.’

She didn’t trust him but it was too late now. Slowly, knife to Nikki’s throat, they made their way out, to everyone’s astonishment, Hugh told everyone to keep ten paces away and all would be well.

.o0o.

Now on the metal deck, the woman made to release Nikki, Nikki wrestled the knife from her with that wiry strength which always took people by surprise – she’d almost broken his back once in her vehement lovemaking – and plunged it through Pamela Gest’s heart.

The woman collapsed to the floor, Nicolette pulled the knife out and plunged it in about a dozen times at strategic points.

Hugh skipped down the steps, he and Nikki released the door, he took the legs, Nikki the arms and they threw her off the airship.

To say everyone watching was gobsmacked – and everyone was lined down the stairs, watching – was a gross understatement.

The two of them closed the door, made their way back up and he said to her, ‘Don’t worry about Jean-Baptiste, one of ours is there.’ She nodded, realizing he’d have done something, the crowd parted for the two of them to go back and clean themselves up. There was one person missing in that crowd.

They heard a shot, Nikki looked at him and they ran, then propped at their door – it was open.

On the floor was Sarah, shot through the head, the gun was sitting on the bed, Mrs Hutchings had one arm around Kelly and had Jean-Baptiste cradled in the other, he nodded and went out, saying to Nikki, ‘Your turn my love.’

Hugh turned to the seven people outside and asked them all to sit down at the main table.

‘I apologize for all the fuss, I apologize for the blood on me, the issue has been resolved – at least this one has – please go to your rooms for now, it would be best, except for one volunteer to help me remove one more body – it won’t be pretty.’

Most wanted nothing to do with it so they quickly disappeared, one or two thought about it but then decided it was wiser to follow suit, only Kevin Innes remained behind.

‘This way Kevin, please.’

The two women now had their own children with them, they were sitting on the bed and the only discordant note was the blood all over Nikki.

Hugh and Kevin came through and removed Sarah, carried her downstairs, undid the door and threw her off, closed the door and came back up.

Hugh thanked him and asked if he would gather everyone in the main room.

.o0o.

It was actually Nikki who spoke to the group first – she was always the better option to open with. ‘Mrs. Hutchings here shot Sarah, as I would have done, no compunction. We are both mothers and unless you are one, then please don’t tell us about what mothers will or will not do to protect their young.’

No one would have dreamt of doing so.

‘We knew Sarah from previous days, we knew she wasn’t straight this time round, she’d been turned. That business of getting off the ship by Ms Gest was clearly a ploy to get my child alone and Sarah tried to kill him. Mrs. Hutchings, Eleanor if I may, we’re so eternally grateful – will you describe what happened?’

‘She just came in with the knife, didn’t even look at me in the corner with Kelly but went straight for the boy. Mr. Jensen gave me his gun earlier, I shot her.’

‘Damn good shot too,’ said Hugh but that didn’t go down too well.

He explained further. ‘That was Sarah’s only mission. Perhaps the idea was that Jean-Baptiste would have an accident, who knows? We knew by her earlier answers, we were certain in fact, that she’d shopped a colleague of ours who would have then been tortured to death.

Sarah was in a bad way when she came aboard this ship. She’d had it tough and clearly had to do something for the enemy, we weren’t totally sure what. This was not done lightly – for us she was actually an old friend and you could say we loved her, the old her.’

About half of those present felt that if this was the Jensen concept of love and friendship … well …

Nikki went to the bathroom to clean up, then back to the room, Mrs. Hutchings took a question from young Chloe Mathis about her callousness in shooting a woman who may have been innocent – she’d had no fair trial.

Mrs. Hutchings exploded over that and repeated what Nikki had said, asking what woman with a child of her own would not understand Mrs. Jensen’s action when children were threatened.

She actually received thunderous applause for that, not universally of course, and Captain Davies added, ‘That doesn’t just go for the ladies either.’

There were hear-hears and Hugh could be heard murmuring, ‘Magnificent woman, magnificent,’ which pleased Mr. Hutchings no end. They now looked at Hugh.

‘Er, right, everyone,’ he said, ‘I suppose it’s back to what we were doing before -’

‘You’re going to just leave the bodies of those two women crumbled down there?’ asked Chloe. ‘Are you some sort of monster?’

‘Chloe, go downstairs and look through the viewhole, go on. We’ll all stay up here while you satisfy yourself.’

She hesitated but then went.

.o0o.

‘All right,’ she said when she returned, ‘What did you do with them? Where are they?’

‘We have people on the ground, don’t we, Chloe?’

‘Ms Mathis to you.’

He sighed. ‘I haven’t met these people on the ground and it’s best we don’t but they keep an eye on things. I believe there is still one person left on this ship who will find that most interesting and we will deal with this person soon – Nikki and I will both deal with this person, summarily – because we actually have help for this task. This person, Ms Mathis, is far more formidable … we can’t do it alone, we humans … and by a stroke of luck, we actually have that help available.’

He let that sink in.

‘Those two dead women will receive a proper burial and a headboard carved with their names, which is more than they were going to give my wife and son or Eleanor’s -’ he checked if he was allowed to say that and received a smile in confirmation, ‘- Eleanor and Kelly, maybe even Mr. Hutchings.’

‘Ralph.’

He nodded his appreciation. ‘Now I’m very sorry but we’re quite tired after all that and would like to go to our room. Contrary to popular opinion, this sort of thing is not all in a day’s work, it’s actually quite traumatic for us. Mealtimes are as usual.’

They dispersed.

.o0o.

Captain Davies came over and sat Hugh down. ‘Well done, Hugh, I think we see who is onboard with us, so to speak, and who is not. Not too strident perhaps, Hugh, or it may create further tension, these poor people are already traumatized … but that’s a small observation and easy for me to say. In my eyes, those above chose the right man and woman in you two.’

‘And Sir, Nikki and I are most reassured that you’re sitting in the background here – most reassured.’

Davies smiled, said, ‘Good man,’ slapped Hugh on the shoulder and off they both went in their respective directions.

.o0o.

‘So, Bebe,’ she asked, ‘is it over?’

‘No, you know that.’ He told her what he’d told them.

‘Précisément. We must stay armed and watch Jean-Baptiste the whole time, like in the safehouses, we may have to alternate our sleep for now but Bebe – and I have a feeling, which perhaps you were referring to, that it will require Gabriella this time.’

‘You sleep first, darling heart, and when you wake, I’ll sleep. And Nikki?’

‘Yes?’

‘You were superb as always, what man could want or find anyone better. I truly adore you.’

‘Ah, flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Jensen. Keep it up, it’s fallen away of late,’ she grinned. ‘You’re not too bad yourself.’

.o0o.

About three hours later, a bit less, they were both awakened and aware that there was someone else in the room with them but this was by no means creepy, they felt that inside.

It was Gabriella.

‘You are correct,’ she commented, ‘that this one you cannot stop yourselves – this danger is not mortal as you’ve probably gathered, not in the way you would understand, not flesh and blood, as those two were earlier.’

‘We’re listening,’ said Hugh.

‘Lailah has not the power as yet, and yet I need to give both of you a means of countering the enemy this one time. Look into its eyes and it cannot harm either your child or you. But you must hold your gaze though, not even looking away for one second, not until it disintegrates.

You have both accepted me now with fewer questions than I’d expected but have you stopped to consider just what it is that you are accepting? Sophie Magdalena and Samuel, who have also circumvented an attack in these last days, have also accepted me now – yea, even Samuel.’ She was amused. ‘What do you say I am?’

‘An angel,’ said Nikki.

‘Mortal, like you?’

‘No.’

‘Then if you accept that, Nicolette [I’m dispensing with Lailah for now], if you accept that it is not just an optical trick, would you also accept that you have no way to counter this enemy who wishes to harm Jean-Baptiste, except by doing as I suggest?

Would you accept that this is a war in another dimension, that this is not science fiction but it actually exists, it is happening, and that you and the world are close to the final days? Would that this was not visited on you and I would fain protect you from it but it has insinuated itself onto this craft. And no, I do not know the time for all this – that much has been written, as I think you know.

Sophie and Samuel are doing fine but their time of reckoning is also at hand. I am there from time to time.’

‘Good, that’s reassuring,’ said he.

‘And would you accept that both of you have two tasks, tasks I’ve told you a few times now, and that everything else is subordinate to those tasks? You will be left to carve out your own remaining days until then in good works, you might even devise some more missions, but the protection of your child is paramount … and you will not be alone from this point forward, rest assured.’

‘I rest very assured,’ said Nikki.

‘Same,’ he added for good measure.

‘One last thing before you take you get to your discussion of those matters still remaining between you. Do not kiss this being – it will be a her in Hugh’s case and also a her in Nicolette’s … the real enemy, not its agent. Whatever you do, however alluring she is, however redolent of the past she may be, do not kiss her. Instead, look straight through her empty eyes and hold your gaze until she turns to dust. I shall return once you have both had that discussion. Madame Eleanor will look after Jean-Baptiste for that time.’

V

In the cockpit, Sophie sat in the flight engineer’s place, the other two were also in their places but were turned around to face her.

‘No devices,’ Jannick stated the obvious.

She nodded. ‘So maybe this ship was not for rendition at all.’

‘Oh, it was. I’ve said that. I saw these guys, like zombies, put on and taken off but I never looked.’

‘How many were on board?’

‘Dozens. They were never going to speak of anything in their rooms. They were zonked. I think the bug was either planted in your room for you two or else you planted it yourself. Or maybe you had it with you.’

‘I’ll stay here with Letti,’ said Sophie, ‘you go and ask Sam about it. Check my bags, check anything you like. Ask him where we’ve been for months. Go and do it please.’

He looked at her, climbed from his seat and went to Sam.

Within a minute, Sam had poked his head in through the hatch, with Jan. She told him, ‘Let the Captain search anywhere he likes, in your bags, in mine. He has to be satisfied.’

He nodded and the two men went back. Sophie looked at Letti and spoke of Europe, of her work, of her own past doings, of many things.

.o0o.

The Captain returned and sat in his place again. ‘Negative. All right, Mrs. Hoddle, what’s your explanation?’

‘I don’t think it’s anything to do with general surveillance, the surveillance state needing to know everything down to our shoe sizes. I think it’s quite personal, something to do with my baby. This is not paranoia, this is reasoning. This person may have made a mistake or else it’s something I don’t understand. And there is always more than one, they do not work together, there may even be three – my guess would be one mortal and one way beyond any of us. We’ll need help with that one.’

‘And you can get that help?’

‘Oh yes, assuredly, it’s at hand.’

‘Tell us again how you found the bug.’

‘It was under the sill where it curves over and down. The small spike goes into the surface. I recognize the type of device and it would have picked up conversation over half the bunk but if my head had been at the other end, it wouldn’t have picked up conversation clearly.’

‘So, the person knew your head was up that end.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Why bug you though?’

‘It might not be my movements, or anything I said, but whether I was asleep, in which case, the end of the bunk doesn’t matter so much. I think it was either that or to listen in to what my thinking was on the traitors.’

‘Why you? Why not your husband?’

‘Because this person certainly knew who I was and may or may not have known about my husband. I suspect that this person is from my past, maybe settling old scores from when I was in the Section called Sophie-Fleury … or even earlier. They do like to tie off loose ends, they’re quite maniacal about that, even when the need has long passed. They’re mad.’

‘Which brings us to the question -’

‘Either of you two could still be that person although I don’t recognize either of you. I did recognize Margarita. Jan [the passenger] I don’t know. I have to go back to Little Nikki now.’

‘Right, Mrs. Hoddle. Until later.’

VI

Eleanor knocked on the door and suggested that she and Kelly would stay in this room if Nikki and Hugh cared to go somewhere to talk … and whatever else was needed, she smiled and added. ‘Take an hour.’

Uncanny. They went to the cockpit.

The first fifteen minutes was initiated by her as she knew he would not dare and it was interesting how it could be adapted to pilots’s and co-pilot’s seats – two human organisms were adaptable for the purpose.

.o0o.

‘How can we still be together?’ she started the ball rolling.

He’d thought about this, as had she. ‘You’d agree that our parents’ generation have more people who just accept their marriages as a fact and do what they have to?’ She thoroughly agreed. ‘But you and I, love, are not as responsible,’ she looked down, ‘we both look at others and engineer ways to be with someone we want. Our temperaments are so unsuited to happy marriage, and yet here we are.’

‘I think,’ said Nikki, ‘that the presence of Gabriella explains a lot – meaning we had a task. I don’t mean that she was present all the way through … but someone was noticing … I’m not comfortable with religion, so I’m getting off this now.’

‘There’s something all right. Every time we fall apart, you and I, something or someone appears and does what Gabriella now does.’ She nodded. ‘I have what I feel is the perfect woman – or as close as I can get anyway – and yet I see a damsel in distress and rush off to her. I’m not ashamed of helping but I am ashamed of falling so completely.’

‘Yes, most people, I imagine, can admire people and sigh, let it go past but you and I, Bebe, we end up having them. I also am so ashamed of this.’

‘Part of that, as you’ve said, is because we’re so highly sexual, both of us, that not only is it a glue between us but it’s also a danger – someone alluring comes along and it’s much easier to cross that line, so difficult to stop.’

‘We have something else though – Anaïs said we had a sense of ‘mission’, we’re always on a mission -’

‘She said that to me too.’

‘Yes and so we’re not just sitting there, spending our ours in one place … and that’s good for us, Bebe.’

‘We need it to stay together. There’s this thing where the woman is always onwards and upwards, never satisfied -’

‘I know that one – it’s called hypergamy but in the modern world, it’s not just marrying upwards, it’s changing every few months when she sees something better. I’ll say it – it’s destabilitizing. Remember I was called ‘flighty’ … so I understand this thing very well. It’s inside us all right and I see it with older people today – the man tires of it.’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergamy
‘But we are both ‘mission’ people, you and I, we put that first and other things less so – it probably saves us.’

‘Yes, I’m so grateful, I think you are too. Have we dealt with that one now?’

‘Yes.’ He kissed her.

‘All right,’ she asked, moving on, ‘We need a name for this other person … or thing … so we can talk about it, this enemy … any ideas?’

‘Not offhand … you name it.’

‘Le Lutin – the goblin.’

‘Fine. Why doesn’t le Lutin move? What is she waiting for?’

‘For our guard to drop.’

‘There’s certainly one I might be tempted by … you’ve seen her … but you’ve left something out.’

‘I know – why a woman for me too? I didn’t like it when Gabriella said that but then I thought about it and what you said about Sarah seducing me. Yes, it’s possible if it’s the right person. Of course a man could seduce me too – you know that and I’m sorry – but I think le Lutin knows I’ll be on my guard against men.’

Out of the blue, he suggested, ‘Let’s start up Sophie-Fleury one last time.’ To her look, he continued, ‘It’s not so long ago that people would have forgotten about us, plus Frank has a connection with Finistere through work colleagues a year back.’

‘And?’

‘The prevailing winds blow from the south-west. Anything floating from Finistere would hit London and the south of England.’

‘Bombs?

‘No – pamphlets, flyers, propaganda with a bit of humour. Far more effective – good for people’s spirits to know they hadn’t killed us off, the word would spread on the grapevine, morale would be boosted and so on.’

‘How?’

‘Children’s balloons filled with hydrogen, a message hanging from each one. Even if they weren’t shot down, they’d lose gas and settle somewhere up country. Some might even get to France. We could make sure they did.’

Nikki was rubbing her hands gleefully.

‘On one side of each leaflet would be something satirical and outrageous but on the back would be a succinct but serious message in French and English, detailing the betrayal of the French by the British and vice versa, listing private addresses of key officials, in case anyone cared to find those houses – that sort of thing. The art work would be done in WW2 style, with dashing overtones.’

‘It might just work.’

VII

The atmosphere on Sophie’s ship, of course, was simply poisonous. Sam tried to explain to her that although running knives through traitors’ hearts was all in a day’s work for her and perfectly logical, most people hadn’t yet reached that level of consciousness and might still find it all a bit nauseating.

‘She was going to kill my baby, Sam.’

‘Yes and well done, darling, for what you did to protect Little Nikki but you should also perhaps see how people like the Entmussens might now be terrified of you and of what you’ll do next. What if you suddenly decide that one of them was a possible threat?’

She looked at him evenly. ‘What do you want me to do, Sam?’

‘I haven’t a clue. I quite accept you were right on Margarita and there was enough in her cabin to incriminate her but what if she’d not been the culprit?’

‘She was though. She was going to kill my baby, Sam. Look at me – do I seem crazy to you? You’re not in danger if you say yes. You’re my husband.’

‘No, you’re not crazy but you’re so on the edge with your decision-making that it worries people.’

‘Sam, we’re in bad times and traitors are now everywhere, where once there were a few, here and there. Our child must be saved. I’d expect you would try to save our child.’

He was about to respond about ‘our child’ and then thought that actually, that was a lovely assumption for her to make.

Just now, a hue and cry in the main room had him running for the door. Sophie actually held back and watched Little Nikki. Letti was in the middle of the room, on her knees, as white as a sheet and now she broke down, wringing her hands.

‘He’s dead, he’s dead.’

There was a brief silence and then both Jan and Sam ran for the cockpit. Slumped in his seat was the Captain, quite dead, with eyes which showed agony before he’d gone.

The two men stood in the small space behind the seats and observed, then they ventured forward and looked around the front of the seats. There was absolutely nothing immediately evident as to the cause of death.

They went back to the main floor and Sam went to their room, to emerge with a small bag. He opened it, explaining that he was a doctor and that he always kept a small bag of things closeby for medical situations. He extracted some tablets, Mrs. Entmussen went for water and the girl was given a sedative.

‘Right,’ said Sam. ‘I’m going to do an examination of the body. If Jan and Mrs. Entmussen would be in attendance, all you others might remain behind to look after the girl, though she’ll probably be out of it for an hour or more.

VIII

Frank met with them in the latter’s room and the discussion centred around what was possible and what was not.

He had a colleague, Neil, who’d once come up with some outrageous portraits – the Committee for London region for example [still Westminster in the eyes of most of the former UK] in all their irreverent glory, not unlike the old Spitting Image caricatures. Getting these onto flyers though was going to be the issue. They could all handwrite dozens of messages each to attach to the balloons but these caricatures needed a printing mechanism.

Nikki came up with the idea. ‘We put the notes into a bundle and give that bundle, with cover notes from Frank and from me in French, to the people who bring us food. They have their own network which will eventually get through. If Frank tells them how to get the bundle to his colleagues, the people in Finistere can do the rest. That’s probably all that’s needed.’

Said Hugh, ‘Nikki heard something quite worrying at the last food delivery although it might not have fully registered with her. They’re halfway through rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem but they’re building it in the wrong place according to scholars. We were involved with trying to stop a certain Prince who is also involved. If he gets to Jerusalem in any official capacity, it’s curtains for the world I’d say. I’d say now is the time for our last hurrah with SSF.’

Frank suggested, ‘Chapter and verse Hugh … please, about this end of the world thing.’

‘All right. Rebuilding the Temple of Solomon involved razing to the ground the usurping golden ‘Dome of the Rock’ and Al-Aqsa Mosque. All Jews know and many others do too that since Bar Kochba’s revolt in A.D. 135, Judaism has asserted that only the Messiah is capable of rebuilding the Temple. So they’ve been waiting for a Messiah who could rebuild it.

The ‘Christian’ Right in America, actually in the hands of the enemy, started to call for measures to allow Israel to fulfil its destiny, which, together with the Jewish lobby in the U.S., influenced congress to produce a feasibility study, beginning with the joint administration of the Haram esh-Sharif site, something the Muslims were set against.

Dr. Ernest L. Martin said that the Jewish Temples never were built on the present “Temple Mount” but were actually located a fourth of a mile south over Gihon Spring. Josephus, Eleazar and Jesus himself all seem to indicate that no sign of the Second Temple would remain. Also, descriptions of Haram esh-Sharif seemed to indicate that the current mooted site was, in fact, Fort Antonia.

Early Church Fathers and pilgrims spoke of a large rock outcropping as the Praetorium. Archaeologists have confirmed that the original City of David was built on the southeastern ridge of Jerusalem. Ancient Jewish law required that a live spring be located within the Temple for ritual purification, Davidic ‘living water’.

Aristeas viewed the Temple in about 285BC and stated quite categorically that the Temple was located over an inexhaustible spring that welled up within the interior part of the Temple.

Tacitus, in about AD105, stated that ‘the Temple at Jerusalem had within its precincts a natural spring of water.’ No natural springs have ever been found within the Haram esh-Sharif.

Sir Charles Warren examined all beneath the Haram, and found no archaeological remains identified with the Second Temple.

‘You’re right into this, aren’t you? Go on, it’s interesting.’

‘Well, as Jay Gary pointed out, in The Temple Time Bomb, in 2001, ‘If the Temple never was located at the supposed Temple Mount then a major obstacle dividing Israelis and Palestinians could be put to rest. He also pointed out that Dr. Martin died of a heart attack in 2002.

Now, as it’s not in the interests of the enemy to promote Arab-Israeli harmony, this story about the real location of the Temple has been largely suppressed. Therefore, while a big hue and cry about the Temple on the Mount was going on, the foundation stone of the new Temple, the real one, far smaller, in the correct place, has already been laid and foundation work is proceeding apace.

Meanwhile, the Prince, we’ve learned, has joined with the American President in permitting the cornerstone of the faux Temple to be laid – it doesn’t much matter where the Temple was built, as long as the Jews believe it is in the right place – this has caused the middle-east to erupt and it’s war.

Countries like Iran are now going hell for leather to build the nuclear device.

As for the secrets beneath the Temple Mount, whatever they are – the crucial kingmaking codes, the ark and tablets – they’re already elsewhere. So, there’s a coming conflagration over a dispute which need never have existed and that suits the book of the enemy. The Arabs see it all as the end times.’

‘And is it?’

‘Looks like it to us although there’ve been terrible times in the past when it all looked over. This does seem to fulfil the criteria though.’

‘How?’

‘Child against parent, dysfunction in all things, strange genders, mass movement of people, no one believing in God, zombie generations across the world, small pockets of resistance sought out and eliminated, rampant promiscuity as the form of ‘proper relations’, false prophets, false messiahs and so on. It’s the closest history has got where everyone’s involved in it, everyone’s lying and out for himself. Traitors everywhere.’

‘Traitors?’

‘Everywhere – within your own family, within your own marriage even. Nobody caring any more, drawn away, no values, no connection, no commitment to another human. Parallel lives under the same roof. If we can stay with our own partners, it will be a miracle.’

IX

The six of them were in the main room and Sam took the floor.

‘Poison. No way, without analysis, to know precisely which and I’m not a coroner. If I knew no better, I’d say arsenic trioxide, having seen it before but the reaction seemed a bit different. Now, this is fanciful but toxicology was one of my sub-majors and I read of natron, with either realgar or orpiment producing a ‘fiery poison’.’

‘Ptolemy,’ murmured Sophie.

‘Pardon, Sophe?’

‘Ptolemy – ancient poison – Egyptian. Used by the Seven to execute traitors – it burns you up inside. I’d say that that person is definitely after Little Nikki or myself, that he or she knows the Captain found something and so had to act. This has all the marks of the Seven and it’s meant to make me frightened. It does.’

They all looked at her and couldn’t conceive of her being frightened of very much.

She felt she owed them more. ‘I’m frightened because I don’t know what the catalyst would be – a drug, a word, some music – I don’t know. There were two enemies – the one inside me which I expelled on the first day on this ship, so that’s gone … but there’s also an actual person on this ship, whose plan is to eliminate my child. Tehre is not the slightest doubt about this – there are reasons which he or she knows and I know too.

If I say I must be kept alive to have another child, a Starchild, then he or she will know that of which I speak. This person has no plans to kill me, only Little Nikki. My own fate, I think, is a separate issue for later.’

They hardly dared look at each other, the glances were surreptitious and now Letti was stirring. Mrs. Entmussen went for water and the girl revived, looked around, worried at their scrutiny.

‘Tell us about it, Letti,’ suggested Sam and that triggered another bout of howling, with Mrs. Entmussen putting her arm around the girl.

Letti gathered herself and sobbed. ‘I went into the cockpit and there he was. That’s all.’

And that was all. There was not much further forward they could go, they could only retire to their cabins and talk about it but Letti now only had Jan to speak with and he hardly wanted to go up to the cockpit again, so he took her to his room.

Back in their room, Sophie spun around to Sam and whispered, ‘I know who it is now. I’m quite sure and there’s one other, the one we can’t deal with alone.’

Sam didn’t even question that but asked, ‘What will you do, what must I do?’

‘I’m going to eliminate the mortal one, you can help if you like.’

‘Sophie, if you mean you’re going to kill another human, without firm evidence -’

‘I have the evidence. The killer made an error, I saw it, this killer will make a move, I will stop it. That’s all, Sam.’

‘Then you really are in danger yourself.’

X

Jean-Claude and Geneviève were standing on the flat area behind the wheelhouse of the fishing boat, not even concerned about being seen any more. The only militia was renegade and their being recognized or not had no bearing on the matter.

It wasn’t particularly rough out here, almost past Le Touquet but there was a running swell and they were against it, which made the ride a bit up and down. The wash occasionally sprayed up over their feet but the gunwhale was sufficiently high to protect them from most of it.

Suddenly she grabbed his arm and pointed but whatever it had been had now gone. They felt a slight bump against the hull, then again and then it floated out behind them – a body – face downwards.

Now another came past … and one the other side … now a child’s doll floated past, face upwards, a blank expression on the face.

They were both nauseated at the thought of how this had come about. Was it the authorities, a mass execution or had people just gone around killing one another?

Another body floated past and another and then there was a lull. They were going past Dieppe soon.

.o0o.

Now came a bit of a trek until they rounded the point of Le Havre and made for their destination – Trouville-sur-Mer.

.o0o.

The boat suddenly made a lurch to starboard and then to port, they could hear someone curse from inside and then came another thud, and another and another. They craned their necks over the side and wished they hadn’t, for the sea was awash with bodies and parts of a boat. Part of a child’s torso – a young girl’s – floated past and the expression on her face was not one of surprise but one of fear – she’d seen this coming.

Jean-Claude reached for her arm and led her inside, through the hatch and down into the bunk room, where they sat on one bunk, occasionally hearing the thud on one side of the boat or the other.

They were coming home.

XI

There was one thing Hugh had picked up on at the table they’d just eaten supper at, everyone else having gone. Now back in their room, Jean-Baptiste had dropped off to sleep.

Nikki had been saying after supper that she’d conversed with Mrs. Hutchings just after brunch and Nikki now described who else was there at that table.

He went over, got a sheet of paper and two pencils and came back.

He used the knife he kept in his pack to cut the paper in half and asked her to write down on her half everyone who was actually at that table and at what time, roughly, each had departed and where to, as far as she could remember. She started thinking.

Meanwhile, he wrote down who had been at the checks of the sacs above – regular checks – they’d found nothing leaking, nothing untoward. He wrote the timings down as accurately as he could remember.

.o0o.

‘All right, done,’ she finished up.

‘Now love, place your list on the table here. Forgive me but it’s important – you’re absolutely sure about the timings?’

‘Yes, within two or three minutes. I’m getting an uneasy feeling, Bebe.’

Chapter 3-17 hereChapter 3-19 here

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