Hugh kissed her and asked, ‘What time do you estimate I left you and took the others aloft to check the sacs?’
‘Maybe 10:55, you came back about 11:15.’
‘I’d agree with that. Now, sorry to be pedantic but in your opinion, am I likely to lie to you about my list as I remember it, especially as I could not see what you were writing just now?’
She thought for some moments. ‘Well no, I can’t see any reason to. I’m getting an uneasy feeling.’
‘Me too. Now let’s lay the two lists side by side, thus.’
She stared and her jaw dropped. ‘But Bebe, that’s not possible.’
‘No it’s not, is it? Fold the two lists separately, Moineau, keep them safe – I’m going to bring in Frank for a few moments and I’d like you to listen.’
‘Frank, don’t think too hard about this now, we need your first reaction but tell Nikki who went up with the two of us to the sacs – you know, the checks. But firstly, do you agree we went up about 10:50?’
‘Yep, around then.’ He now told Nikki who else was up with them at the sacs and she was stunned.
‘Now Frank,’ said Hugh, ‘Nikki will show you a list I wrote, not the one she wrote, of those people upstairs with us. Tell us if there are any names on it you don’t agree with or any I’ve forgotten to write down.’
She handed that one across and he looked down the list carefully. ‘Yep, that was them all right.’
‘Now Frank, think – did any of us leave before the others and if so – who left and when?’
‘Chloe left early, about -’ he thought, ‘- about 11:10.’
‘Could you have made a mistake, could she have left earlier, say 10:55?’
‘Anyone else there you’re not 100% sure was there at least the majority of that time?’
‘And we’re talking about today, just after brunch and not on any other day.’
‘Yes, around 10:50.’
‘Thanks so much, Nikki will show you her list later, not just yet but we’ll definitely show it to you, we’re on a project, we have some thinking to do right now.’
Once he’d left, Nikki quickly said, ‘I swear every one of those was present at the table. Captain Davies did get up a couple of minutes before to go back to his quarters and there was no one else in the main room. This is very weird.’
‘But not so weird after Gabriella’s last visit though, is it? I have not the slightest doubt your list is right.’
‘Then we have no way of fighting it, just as we agreed.’
‘Avoid kissing her, look straight through her eyes, hold the gaze until she is dust.’
‘It’s all just … horrible.’
Jean-Baptiste now woke up with the hubbub, she sat him on her knee and began a ditty from her girlhood:
Dans la forêt lointaine
On entend le coucou
Du haut de son grand chêne
Il répond au hibou :
On entend le coucou.
The ‘coucou’ had Jean-Baptiste intrigued and he tried to mouth the word. She repeated it, Hugh sat watching with amusement and when Nikki sang it a third time, he tried to join in softly, especially on the coucou.
She looked over at him, he leaned over and kissed her lips, Jean-Baptiste gurgled with pleasure, he liked these two doing this, Nicolette sighed and grinned as best she could.
In bed, Sam finally asked her. ‘How will it be done?’
‘Poison in one of the bowls of porridge. There will be no variation in the substance because this is a ritual and it’s probably all this person has. You can help by watching closely which dishes go where and which implements are where – I’ll tell you exactly, place by place, tomorrow morning. The poison can be on the implements as well as in the porridge, it could also be on one particular bowl – wear gloves, Sam, your medial gloves but keep your hands out of the way.
If it’s not done at breakfast tomorrow, then I’ll have to force the issue.’
When Hugh came back from the bathroom, there, in the centre of their room, was Gabriella. Nikki was sitting on the bed with Jean-Baptiste on her knee.
‘I’d like you to come up to me now,’ said Gabriella to Hugh. An extraordinary request from an angel but he did as bidden. ‘Look please, into my eyes.’
He did so, murmuring, ‘Very beautiful eyes too, I’ve been wondering if I’d ever get this chance.’ Nikki sighed, Gabriella shook her head and smiled, exasperated.
‘That, Albus, is how you must look into the eyes of the one who will try to kill your child. It is your only defence but it will suffice.’
She turned to Nikki. ‘Laila, do you also understand?’ Nikki nodded. ‘Then come up to me now and practise.’ Nikki was stunned but did as she was bidden. She involuntarily turned her head slightly for Gabriella to kiss.
‘No,’ said Gabriella, ‘No, that is wrong. Now do it again please.’ Nikki did it right this time, holding the gaze for some thirty seconds.
‘Good,’ said Gabriella. ‘Good.’
‘Will you confirm for us,’ asked Nikki, ‘that we have decided on the right one.’
‘Yes, you have the right one, you found out for yourselves and did not rely on me, that is encouraging and you’ll need to be on your wits like that the whole time from now on. You will give each other enormous strength and the ability to reason together.
I could remain here to protect you but if I did so, le Lutin, as you call her, would just hide within herself and wait, she would make no move. She knows she has not the time – things are happening in the world and this matter requires resolution quickly. Be vigilant, both of you, act boldly. You are in far greater peril than I am allowing you the capacity to be frightened of – I do not want you frozen, incapable of action.’
Gabriella was about to depart and then she paused, thinking. Now this was interesting to Hugh who wondered how the reasoning processes worked with an angel. She now addressed them both again, clearly nervous – a nervous angel, hmmmm.
‘I have already told you you have no defences against this one, except that which you have now practised – it will suffice, provided you deviate from it not one iota. Le Lutin will try to trap you both, separately, in an enclosed space but realizes that Lailah is more likely to be in her room. That is why she must appear as a girl – it’s already difficult enough for energy reasons and she cannot afford Lailah’s suspicion on top of that.
If you are brave, you can force this issue yourselves tomorrow – you will invite her on an innocent pretext and if you both do this simultaneously, it will split her concentration.
Be aware that if you fail, you will both die and then everyone else onboard but Jean-Baptiste will never die at her hands, he will be kept safe -’
‘Spirited away?’ asked Nicolette.
‘If you like,’ smiled Gabriella and that was another thing – angels did seem to have a sense of humour, even dark humour. At least this one did.
Nikki went on, ‘If she has this power, if she’s of another dimension as you say, then surely she has sensed all this already?’
‘Ah, you ask a difficult one to explain to a human. Remember that time is not linear with us – things happen when all the preconditions are present but this can actually be a disadvantage for us – it would be better for her to be in linear time.
But she’s not and thus she knows everything you’ve said and I’ve said but she has no power to alter events, as these events were preordained elsewhere. To be more accurate, as I’ve said a few times, a number of conditions must be present, then it locks in and happens. So this is going to happen.
In a similar way, the Prince was not able to alter what happened in that hospital room, nor bring down the helicopter – those events had been written in and your presence was to distract him so that the last preconditions came into place – I think that’s about as close as I can get to explaining it to a human, even an intelligent one.’
She smiled at them both and just disappeared. Nikki looked at him. ‘I’m not sure I have the strength.’
‘I’m sure you have, Moineau, because you will be protecting our child. Whether I can prevail, that’s another matter.’
‘Oh, you will prevail because you’d be terrified not to in front of the woman who thrills you.’ She smiled. ‘It’s immensely useful, that, you know.’
‘We’ll force it tomorrow with our goblin friend – you will say when you’re ready and we’ll do it simultaneously.’
Before breakfast, Sophie was quite fatalistic, taking the view that if she prevailed in this, then her child would be safe – her future child too.
If she didn’t, then she wasn’t too unhappy about that either because it might mean that the Star Child would never be born. So in a way, these enemies were actually acting against enemy interests. She wondered if they knew that? Or perhaps the traitor was the sacrificial lamb.
Sophie was in her regular place at the three metre long, round-ended, U shaped table but now it was set only for six, with Mr. Entmussen in his regular place at the galley end of the table, something his wife had insisted was easier for everyone and got him out of the way. Sophie realized she’d have to explain all this later so she numbered the places in her head.
Basically, there was a galley set perpendicularly in from the outer wall of the craft, bounded by two parallel side walls maybe 2.5 metres apart. The third side – the wall across the end of the galley – had a doorway to the left, facing the galley – the U-shaped dining table jutted out from there.
For the purpose of explaining to Sam, Sophie had begun the count from Mr. Entmussen, top right corner, facing the galley, as N1.
Moving clockwise was usually Sophie herself [N2], Sam at N3, Jan at N4 [which was the end of the table near the centre of the main room], Letti at N5, no one at N6 and finally Mrs. Entmussen at N7 [nearest the galley door].
Today though, it had gone awry. For some reason, Sam was out of his place and had gone to N2, Sophie was at N3, Jan at his N4, Letti at N6 and Mrs. Entmussen was serving. She brought each bowl out in turn and set it in its place.
Letti was about to eat when Sophie leaned across and stayed her hand. ‘That’s the salted porridge and you like unsalted.’
‘No it’s not – Mrs. E knows I like unsalted.’
‘I’m telling you it’s salted. Have mine, it’s unsalted.’ With that, she swapped porridges.
‘I want mine please,’ said Letti, evenly.
‘Yours was salted, Letti,’ said Sam. ‘I saw the unsalted go to Mr. E.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake,’ said Sophie, ‘look -’ and with that, Sophie swapped Letti’s new porridge with Mr. E’s and kept the one she now had for herself. All right, everybody happy?’
‘Perfectly, thank you,’ smiled Letti.
‘I’m off my breakfast after all that,’ muttered Mr. Entmussen. ‘I’m going to lie down for awhile.’
He folded his napkin and putting it on the table, rose to go back to his room but Sam suddenly pushed his shoulder down again to Mrs. Entmussen’s protestations but interestingly, not a murmur from the man himself, Jan sprang up and stunned everyone by walking along the table top between the porridges, squatted down and commanded Mr. Entmussen, ‘But you’re hungry – eat, Mr. E.’
‘I’m going to lie down,’ said the man, rising again but this time Sam held him down and Mrs. E was shocked to the core, protesting loudly.
‘Eat, Mr. E,’ repeated Jan. ‘No? Then let me help you.’
Sam grabbed the man’s body firmly in a bear hug, Sophie now stood behind him and held his head back, Jan took the spoon and forced a spoonful of porridge into his mouth, Mr. Entmussen spitting it out, Mrs. Entmussen pummelling Jan on the back.
Letti had now latched on and brought her own spoon into it, standing and also scooping from his bowl and as one mouthful was spat out, she shoved another in and then went to put her hand over his mouth but Sophie shouted, ‘Stop, Letti, no part of your body near his skin. See – I’m wearing gloves, I’ll do it. Put another spoonful in.’
Letti did and Sophie held the man’s mouth closed in a vicelike grip until he involuntarily swallowed, they all let go and pulled away, Jan jumped down, Entmussen almost dived across the table, spilling his wife’s porridge, scrambled and crashed into the galley scooping cup after cup of water from the drum into his mouth, choking and clutching at his throat, he took three steps back into the main room, went down on his knees and fell sideways, in excruciating agony.
He was quite dead, Sam soon confirmed.
His hysterical wife, having been restrained by Jan, was now released, she fell to her knees by his body and wept over him for fifteen minutes but did not dare kiss him nor touch him in any way.
They now led her away to her room and Sam sedated her.
It wasn’t safe in the family home in Vicenze nor in any shack or pad Massimo owned in the vicinity but it became obvious, within a few hours, that no one else was going to put them up.
They’d picked up the remnants of his family, including his ageing mother, they’d picked up Anya’s mother and while the women and children waited in the back room of a nearby motor garage, he had contacted all those he’d known and trusted.
Either they had moved on or else they weren’t showing themselves. Mobile phones had long ceased working, raps on the door were to no avail.
There was nothing for it but to go back to his old home and load the shotgun he kept out of harm’s way for just such an occasion as this. Not being a hard man, not being a brute, despite his height, he viewed this development with distaste.
However, they had food and there was his own well from where to draw water for some time.
It was obvious on all the faces that this was their last resort, their last resting place. For his mother, this was fine but for the others, this was living and dying someone else’s life.
This was it.
Jan, Letti and Sophie were sitting by Mrs. Entmussen’s bunk, with her still out like a light and Letti asked Sophie how she was so sure – not disputing it this time, just wondering.
‘I knew him from Germany, from a place I do not wish to speak of because of what was done to me. He was not one of those but he was in the building, he was staff. The chances of that person being on this ship were minimal … or else he was planted. It just never registered with me at first what I’m now saying – I wasn’t looking at him as enemy at that time.
I went into his room yesterday when they were both looking at the view from the front deck – they had locked their own door – but I am not bad at those sorts of locks and I had a pair of surgical gloves on.
There were some strange bottles in a wooden box with a lid, a box in compartments. He also had a card from the Seven, it was so easy, it was not even a challenge and that’s when I thought, ‘Too easy,’ and I suspected Mrs. E.
However, I’d also noted some bruises and slashes on her which she thinks I never saw under her clothing – always well covered, was she not? Look at this, Letti.’
She undid Mrs. E’s blouse and pulled it back to her shoulders. Letti almost threw up again. ‘That’s when I knew.’
She did up the blouse.
‘Even until Mr. E died,’ said Letti, ‘I didn’t accept it, Sophie, but I thought, well, what harm in making him eat porridge, especially if that made you look like a dangerous nut. That’s why I went along with that double swap.’
‘I recognized the type,’ said Jan. ‘In my work, insurance assessor, we have to judge types – we become amateur psychologists really. The best assessors are judged by results and I’ve done all right. Mr. E was exceedingly quiet in public but being next to my room, I heard some of what went on in there and he was a different person. His wife has had a rough time and yet she’s still under his spell, even now.
See,’ said Jan, ‘everyone was thinking Sophie was the psychopath and in a way she is but a very logical one. Her reputation gave Entmussen his idea. I began to watch him from the corner of my eye and he was definitely intrigued about the possibilities of Sophie. I started paying attention to his wife, complimenting her, speaking with her and I saw him turn sour over me but he’d never have tackled me about it – he took it out on his wife.’
‘I thought he’d try for poison,’ Sophie took it up again, ‘because it had already been done once and that’s all he had on him anyway. And now, Letti … kiss me.’
‘But I’m a girl.’
‘A girl who likes girls – do you think I haven’t woken up to this? Jan, would you leave us for five minutes? I want to kiss Letti.’
He got up, quite uneasy and backed back towards the door. Then he turned and went out, saying he was staying the other side of the door.
Sophie turned to Letti who was looking at her evenly. ‘How did you know?’ she asked and it was not her voice.
‘Kiss you, yes? All right, Sophie, I’ll gladly kiss you.’
She advanced, Sophie looked straight through her eyes and saw only emptiness in there, she continued to look and Letti’s body contorted, writhed, then began to fall apart, but not as flesh and blood, it was as dust and that’s what she now became.
Sophie went to the door and asked Jan to come back in. He saw the dust, now felt she was a sorceress but she said, ‘Jan, go to our room where Sam and Little Nikki are, look in front of Sam on the floor, then come back here and report what you find.’
He went quickly.
‘All right, Sophie,’ said Jan upon his return, ‘explain and you’d better make it good.’
Word finally filtered back to Hugh and Nikki via their supply lads concerning the leaflets.
They’d been fairly accurate in that about half the leaflets had been lost or confiscated but sufficient had fallen to create a stir and the effect on the regional governments was predictable. The effect on the people was heartwarming.
Nikki now demonstrated that ability to instantly move on, suddenly asking him, apropos of nothing in particular or so it seemed, ‘Tell me any more you know about the Temple – you know, you spoke of it before.’
She went into listening posture on the bed and he smiled.
‘Right. Jewish scripture says that the Temple can’t be rebuilt until the Messiah is imminent. Jumping over to Christian scripture, it says that someone will pretend to be that person, he’ll undertake the rebuilding, then he’ll desecrate it.
That’s the signal.
You’d say they could rebuild it at any time, right? Israel’s in charge of Jerusalem.’ She nodded. ‘Not a hope. The moment any Jews go up on that mount and touch that mosque, the entire Muslim world erupts. In the past, the Roman Emperor Julian wanted to rebuild it and got someone called Alypius of Antioch to do it, along with the governor of the province. Guess what happened?’
She shook her head.
‘Every time they tried to rebuild, balls of fire broke out near the foundations and burnt the workmen. It got so bad that they had to give the idea up. Not only that but Julian himself was killed elsewhere. Explain that.’
‘Well, I’ll do it for you. It just happened to be the Galilean Earthquake of 363 at the time, hence the flames.’
‘Well, there you are.’
‘Yep but why did the attempt happen at exactly the time of the earthquake and why an earthquake at that time anyway? No one asks those questions. Every attempt has failed, even when there was no actual opposition.’
‘Yes, I see where that’s going – every time something happens which has a religious explanation, there’s also a natural explanation.’
‘In the end though, the sheer weight of incidents begins to count for something in people’s minds.’
Sam, Sophie and Jan sat down in the main room, with Little Nikki.
There was the issue of Mrs Entmussen, still out like a light but that couldn’t go on forever. Sam as a doctor was a practical man, Sophie was practical and sometimes brutal, Jan was receptive.
Survival was the key factor here and they’d created an enemy in Mrs. Entmussen, who might now devote her energies to bringing them down, not mention whatever arrangement she might still have with the enemy.
They had no desire to bump her off, throw her out of the airship but neither did they wish to have that constant threat present and what of the poor woman herself – going from an abusive husband and abusive enemy … to nothing? They decided they’d still listen to her but if they weren’t satisfied, they really had to offload her and that meant flying at night to another location … and there weren’t all that many locations which would conceal this well.
On the other hand, perhaps they should move every so often anyway – Sophie wished she had Gabriella to consult with. They’d be kind to Mrs. E, Sam would administer a knockout dose, they’d set her down outside a town, with currency, with her bags and with food, as much as they could spare and the rest was up to her – she’d find friends there better than on this ship.
Which now brought them to Jan. He was welcome to stay with them but in the long term, he’d need a partner and Sophie was not it.
Gabriella did now appear but Jan could not see her, only two people speaking with an invisible friend.
‘It’s the right decision,’ said Gabriella. ‘There is a new location, it does exist and among the local people are several who will supply you – there is a network across Europe doing this – but that will be your final destination – you must get used to living on this craft, doing as you can to it, working with this small group of locals and Jan might just find, among them, someone to his taste.’
They communicated this to him now and then Sam asked Gabriella, ‘Are we right to let Mrs. Entmussen off?’ jan was wtching this incredulously, wondering if these two really were insane.
‘Oh yes, she is even now one of them, she will make her way back and her way will be eased by them. She will appear at another time, another place, not during these years. Yes, this is the correct decision and you need to fly this evening, Jan can pilot though he thinks he knows not how. You must drop her at the next riverbank which crosses your path and let her go. Keep her unconscious for now so she cannot report your path. Be kind with her, use her gently.’
And she was gone.
They explained all to Jan, he liked the idea, no matter whence it had come and would like to have met this invisible person but no matter, small mercies and all that. He quite liked the idea of finding a partner.
Night came and went and the next day came the need for Nikki and Hugh to tie this thing off. They had it planned, they were well aware of the moves by this goblin.
Hugh caught Chloe in the main room after brunch and asked her to come to the cockpit – they needed to move to their new location this evening and she, Chloe, was needed as co-pilot. Would she do that?
Her smile was most becoming, of the kind he’d become used to in his life and he liked her immensely. Yes, she’d help, was he going to show her the ropes now?
‘Well, if you can spare me the time,’ and it was only partly an act by him, he genuinely liked this girl now, he’d warmed to her.
The moment they were in the cockpit, she closed the door and sat in the co-pilot’s seat – so sensual, so alluring. She turned to him and in a light voice, said, ‘Mr. Jensen, Hugh, I said some bad things but that was before I saw that you were keeping us alive. I’d like to thank you.’
She dropped her eyes and the urge to take her in his arms was near overwhelming. In fact, he reached out and did just that, with her immediately yielding to his touch.
‘May I kiss you, Chloe?’ asked Hugh.
‘Yes,’ she whispered, eyes still down, he reached for her chin and her eyes came up, her lips forward, he stared deep into her eyes –
‘Don’t do that, don’t do that,’ and still he stared and stared until she was dust on the co-pilot’s seat and between the two seats.
Nikki called out, ‘Come in,’ and in came Chloe, looking just like Franka and Nikki was genuinely welcoming, she placed Jean-Baptiste in his bassinet and invited Chloe/Franka to her bed.
Chloe/Franka obliged and went straight for the kiss but Nikki pulled her chin up further so that her eyes could look into the other’s.
The only issue was that that abomination of dust was now in their bed. She now heard him returning swiftly but stopped him at the door.
She asked three questions, received the replies and let him in … and this time the kiss was genuine.
Nikki took time with Jean-Baptiste, Hugh returned to the cockpit and the creepy thing was that some of the dust was seemingly trying to join up but sooner or later gave it away. That dust had to get off this ship now but he wasn’t going to visit it upon the good folk below, even though the stream was there.
Time for their supplies anyway, time for him to take over with Jean-Baptiste while Nikki and Mrs. Hutchings took care of those things.
He asked Nikki to ask their people if they could bring a portable vacuum if they had one, as there was some toxic dust they had to get rid of. The vacuum cleaner would then have to be ditched as it was, that they’d need to wear gloves doing it and ditch the gloves too – Nikki and Hugh would pay the cost of a replacement.
One of the support people wanted to speak with the Jensens and Captain Davies in the main room.
Mrs. Hutchings said that she would look after Kelly and Jean-Baptiste for now in their room.
‘It’s like this,’ said the almost unpronounceable Hǫrðr Arnfinsson, an ancient name so they were led to believe, ‘you will have to leave this valley, as we think one of ours has betrayed you but you will not need to go far. This was a good valley, it did hide you but now it is time to go to the Jógvan chasm as you might call it. Once in there, I do not think you will wish to come out again for a long time, it is far safer for our helpers to invisibly supply you, the fish are more accessible and need not travel so far across land, it will seem as if we have gone back to our own lives. Are you unhappy with this?’
‘Delighted,’ said Nikki and Hugh agreed. ‘By the way, your English sounds very good.’
‘Most of us know it in rudimentary form.’
‘Hardly rudimentary,’ put in Captain Davies and Hǫrðr was delighted.
‘I am actually your pilot,’ he said, ‘and am glad that that ‘dust’ has now gone. What if some of it still attaches to my foot?’
Hugh answered, ‘We can’t say, it would not be good but we’re fairly certain it is dead.’
‘It has ceased to be,’ said Gabriella and they told him to rest assured on that matter.
‘We’ve just had confirmation now that it has ceased to be.’
‘You have?’ said Hǫrðr, incredulously. ‘How? Well, no matter.’ Hǫrðr explained the plan in some detail, then said he would return at midnight.
They thanked him profusely and he departed. Gabriella now announced she’d done all she could to this time, things were safe enough for now but she would be back.
‘Hang on, hang on, what about those missions of ours?’ Nikki seemed to say to a chair.
‘You will decide on those, you have the minds tortueux, plus you now have Hǫrðr,’ she smiled, stood up and disappeared.
‘I wish she wouldn’t keep doing that,’ said Hugh.
‘She?’ asked Captain Davies but then he decided he didn’t really need to know.
They’d settled down into the narrow gap which would have been the last place on earth you’d expect hillside – in north-eastern Holland, Zuidveld to be precise.
Jan had not protested – he knew the country was flat but there was one space near his old home nearby which he thought may have been the one and it was a great ruse. Yes, the countryside was flat – well rolling really – and it only required a slight rise of two metres or so, plus that gap in the ground of four metres and their craft could be stored in there, with some sort of grassy cover over it.
He’d chuckled long and hard – this was the last place, seriously, anyone would look for a concealed dirigible. ‘As long as we don’t try to move it, as long as we go on foot if we need to get out for a stretch, then my people – the ones who are left – are not far away and you can be concealed too. Plus supplies are not going to be a problem. But the cloaking will need attention and renewal.’
Suited them fine and they could make the place nice, Jan could find his life love perhaps and … well, it would do for the foreseeable.
They were in the new valley, it was time for the next phase.
‘Right Bebe, we’d best get planning, if that’s what Gabriella was suggesting. How do we feel about bringing the others into this? We could do with their voices.’
‘Frank, yes, Captain Davies yes, the Hutchings family maybe not just yet.’
‘The only thing I’d say,’ commented Captain Davies, ‘is that your missions need to be watertight, otherwise you’ll lead them back to us. But in general, fine, yes, that’s our prime directive in return for the assistance we’ve been given.’
‘Something using the balloons again might be a good starter, maybe reprising Finistere,’ said Hugh, ‘but this time more deadly – half the balloons would have the propaganda as before but now half the balloons would have tinfoil attached.’
‘Ah,’ said Frank. ‘Yes. Over capital cities, through safezones, eh? Like it, like it.’
‘Yes but that’s just a screen for the real thing. We need to make a big hit somewhere and the target must be an enemy target, not something which will hurt the ordinary person.’
‘How much collateral was there last time, Hugh?’
‘Three.’ He explained in some detail and was asked various questions.
‘Three too many,’ said Captain Davies. ‘You used the wrong missile, your trajectory was too flat – forget the missile. Use the balloon idea again, with remote controlled backpack drop. Your launch would be from a mobile vehicle, according to the wind pattern of that day.’
‘Yes well that’s the thing,’ said Hugh, ‘we don’t actually have a target as yet.’
‘Hmmmm, all right. What fuel do most people use now, those who use it – farmers etc.?’
‘Haven’t a clue.’
‘They’re using alcohol, fertilizer, anything which can be converted. What they are not using much of now – in fact, only the bigwigs and military use it – is petrol. Once diesel was declared dirty and off limits, petrol became the new gold for the enemy.’
‘But we don’t want to hurt our military,’ said Frank.
‘They want to hurt you thugh, Frank – this is the new military, like the new police – sent out to find people like you.’
‘Have you a target in mind?’ asked Nikki.
‘Oh yes,’ said Davies, ‘very much so, in the north of the country. Take that out and supply lines cease.’
‘But how could that be capitalized on for the purpose of the people?’
‘The ‘people’ as you nobly call them, will never combine, can never combine, unless goaded by ringleaders – people act for self-preservation first – for them and for their families. It’s all done in this one place and there’s similar in Germany, France, all of them. Sau’di crude comes in, it’s refined in Europe.’
‘We have no people in Europe any more, no one to coordinate.’
‘We may just be able to help there. Nicolette is your champion, the People’s Princess – flexible, beautiful, good on TV.’
‘Oh yes, you have to work pan-Europe TV into it somewhere. Think big, you three, think big but also think simple and safe, with the least fuss. If you want to run it by me once you have it, fine, otherwise just bear in mind what I’ve said.’
Nikki certainly looked the goods in her outfit. They’d debated long and hard about whether to deck her out as a Freedom Fighter from Sophie-Fleury or as someone far more acceptable – a sane woman of indeterminate age with panache, someone who would bring in the men and have the respect of the women.
The actual recording would be done in Studio Bloch in Tórshavn, clearly this was the first high risk venture they’d tried for years and Hugh would have to remain behind with Jean-Baptiste. Nikki would need to look a little like a more mature Clémence Poésy, a little like Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, with a slight touch of young Bardot and young Emmanuelle Beart – she had to be iconic but also possess gravitas and urgency at the same time.
They weren’t going to risk Jean-Baptiste appearing, though he would have really stuck it up the elite, they had a family portrait taken, fireside lit and that would sit on Nikki’s desk.
Nikki would not lay any claim to representing Europe as its leader but would reference great leaders for the people along the way, including dropping in Marianne and Jeanne d’Arc. In the first minutes, she would have to detail their beginnings, Section Sophie-Fleury, what had befallen them, especially a serving police officer in pursuit of his duties [Hugh had written, edited and re-edited this, his forte] and it had had sympathetic translations.
Nikki was at one with the whole strategy, she could have written the script and it looked good. Security, security, security was the essence – reference to where she was in Bulgaria right now, checks and double checks, the balloon releasers only two per car – minimal, quick, over like that.
Frank said she needed to do two broadcasts, not one, to reassure people that she was still alive and the second would reference the big conflagration in Britain, that it was only a warning shot across the bows – that there was serious money and organization behind their movement but she would not label their movement – the press could do that. Frank suggested that they have two separate sets, one for each broadcast tape.
They were ready.
In bed, Jean-Baptiste asleep, they were surprised, but perhaps should not have been, that Gabriella now appeared.
‘Good,’ said Hugh, ‘we need your opinion.’
‘The opinion of an angel which Lailah does not still fully I accept?’
‘I accept, I accept, I swear I accept.’
Gabriella grinned this time. She was aware of the plan in detail, feeling that Nikki should ditch the sexy moves [she did not say it in those words of course] and just allow her own natural beauty to come through. There was a tendency with Lailah to be a little too sharp, a little too quick at times – and she was now to be the earthbound Princess of Europe, the hope of Christendom, of Pagans, of all walks of life, of each class, she had to tread a fine line.
Gabriella now explained that there was going to be danger on this trip to and from this studio, even so, Nikki was going to be uncomfortable on that journey but she would survive, there were people to help Captain Davies and her. Hugh and she now had two hours to do anything [cough] which they would like to do. She touched Jean-Baptiste on the forehead.
But Gabriella had gone.
In a break halfway through their time, Nikki spoke.
‘I need to know, Bebe, how you are about all this. I’m sure you’ve thought through the implications of me being the Princess of Europe in people’s eyes, there will be demands. Yes I do like that but I’m not a fool – not a fool to think it is more important than you and Jean-Baptiste, not a fool to think I really am a Princess and to start acting like one. I still remember that day we met. But they will want more broadcasts.
I have also seen so many say it won’t affect them and then it gets to them – the studio, the lights, being pampered, all those admirers. A girl is lying if she says she does not like that. This is a major move for you, less so for me – I’ve always been a showgirl – and I don’t want it if it would break us up, threaten our bond.’
‘The very fact that you’ve just said that is reassuring. Gabriella also wishes for this.’
‘Make love to me again, to the Princess of this Bed and hopefully, of your Heart.’
He sighed, she was off and running and he had no choice but to oblige, so he felt.
Captain Davies was to be her protector from their side, three Faroese would do the rest.
It was 20:30 and time to move.
All her outfits and accessories were packed, carried by the Captain now but their contact would carry them thereafter, the two were in dry-suits for scuba diving, of all things, plus goggles and wellies, carrying flippers, the departure deck door opened and they went down the ladder.
It hadn’t been straightforward, the two had had to walk in wellies and cross some streams but they eventually made it to a gravel road and waited – the temperature was mild.
The 4WD turned up, two faces she’d seen, plus Hǫrðr.
‘Mrs. Jensen,’ Hǫrðr sat beside her, the Captain on the other side, ‘we will call you by that other name Lailah if you don’t mind, just in case.’ She nodded. ‘We are not a long way at the moment from Múlafossur waterfall in Gásadalur, but not on the tourist road. We still must take Vágavegur to the mainland and there we must be prepared for something to go wrong, you know what to do, it depends whether you are in the tunnel or on the bridge at the time, we cannot take chances.’
She nodded again.
They found themselves at the house in the country, not in the capital at all – a bit of subterfuge for any ears – they went in quickly, she offload the flippers and wetsuit,went into the room set aside for her and there were two women in there, the process began.
The broadcast tape itself was in two parts, each in a different room, the second had a couple of flaws which could be dealt with in post-editing, she’d done well and everyone had given a quiet cheer, there were drinks, then it was back into the dry-suit and flippers.
She was astounded why she and the Captain would need those.
On the return, they came out of the tunnel and immediately turned right, as if that had always been the intention, they pulled up at the first possible spot and they were told to drop into the water and however frightening it was, to allow themselves to be swept out, the Faroese knew exactly where the two would drift, be prepared for thirty minutes in the water, they would be warm enough.
‘We will get you on the other side. Don’t fight the current, let it take you and don’t use too much energy. We have a boat ready if necessary, strong engine.’
It had added an hour to the trip and Hugh had started to worry but when they appeared below, the two bedraggled seals, he knew something had occurred. Up they climbed after farewells and assurances that the tapes would be brought the next day, the door clanged shut, Hugh shook the Captain’s hand the Captain raced upstairs to change and warm up, Hugh helped Nikki up the stairs and did the changing of her in their room himself, not a word was spoken but the smile was kind and so was the quick kiss.
Jean-Baptiste was lying Gabriella’s lap, she was all smiles too. ‘Nice night for a swim.’
Nikki scowled. ‘It was so cold.’
‘It is the reason you are here now.’
Nikki knew that that was so. ‘It was frightening though, I’ve done some crazy things but to go from Princess of Europe to a fish minutes later was perhaps the most crazy.’ He was massaging her feet and now put bed socks and fluffy booties on her.
‘That was to help you keep your persepctive, Nicolette,’ Gabriella only half smiled.
Mrs. Hutchings now came in with the lamb stew and bread, Mr. Hutchings the wine. Said Mr. Hutchings, ‘Hugh has been like a cat on a hot tin roof, he’s been nervous the whole time.’
‘Anything need reporting now?’ asked Hugh.
‘Not really, we can talk about it all later, even tomorrow. It was fine, here’s hoping it was worth that swim.’
The Captain now brought in his own stew and was given a wine. He sat on the only available chair.
‘Good, we did all right – she outswam me though, I thought I was going to lose her. Being fished out with a boathook – think we can do without that embellishment next time.’
The lookout, Frank, saw the two Faroese first thing on the morrow, they came up the ladder and were taken to the table in the main room, nibbles and drinks on the table.
‘Well?’ asked Nikki.
Hǫrðr was all smiles. ‘The copies are on their way, we hope you like them because unfortunately, we cannot do much now. Our copies of the two are here, I have a personal player in my pack here.
They set it up on the main table and watched.
She was a darling, Hugh thought, she showed slight nervousness in the first five seconds and then did it like a professional, it all went by the script. As Gabriella had not appeared, she obviously knew how it had gone.
At the end of the second tape, Frank commented, ‘I like the shift between the first and second – that was done well, the second much more serious and yet much more hopeful. Right, it’s up to the techies now.’
‘And the ordnance people,’ said the Captain.
‘And the ordnance people,’ agreed Hugh.
Thanks were said, the two took their leave.
It had taken a week but the effect was electric across Europe and of course, around the world – it had now really hit the fan.
That was four days ago and their friends had reported in, particularly about the fuel dump explosion – at least it was called a fuel dump, not a refinery. As they should have expected, the enemy latched onto that as evidence that this Princess of Europe was nothing more than a common little terrorist of the worst kind, plus a whore.
The official channels ran their bios ad nauseam, the common people kept what they kept in their hearts. Word was that they’d liked their Princess of Europe.
They would have to follow up with something, except that that tape had been too dangerous – Nikki must not venture out like that again and to be fair, she hadn’t shown signs of greatly needing to after that swim – the swim had cooled her ardour for adventure something savage. Hugh silently thanked Gabriella and Hǫrðr – Nikki was well aware he was doing that.
Jean-Claude and Genie caught it in Barbizon in the ‘alternative park’, where someone had set up a screen and laptop projection. To say they were gobsmacked was to seriously under-report the effect.
Gradually, a huge grin spread across their faces and it was with jaunty step that they headed back to their hidden digs.
‘Well, I never,’ said Genevieve with a pang of envy. ‘Well I never.’
‘We can only hope it continues and that we’re alive to see the next one.’ Jean-Claude had a way with words.
Sophie nearly had kittens when she saw it – she shouted for Sam and Jan and they came running.
Smiles abounded and they couldn’t wait for the next one. Sophie had to admit that Nikki looked the goods on the hacked broadcast but Little Nikki now chose this moment to do N2s.