So much work had gone into preparing Nikki for her role, so much time and effort into the fuel dump, the balloons, they’d been lulled into a false sense of achievement – not that the achievement itself was false … but it was all negated now by the Empire Striking Back … and quickly.
The enemy often kept weapons back, hidden, for the day they’d be more effective and some hidden hand controlled this. This was not a weapon of their own making, it was turning Nikki’s and Hugh’s past against them.
Once put her head above the parapet, which Nikki had done, and suddenly, her whole past was about to be paraded before Europe and in fact the world. His too.
The enemy organized one of those pretend somber political ‘discussions’ on primetime TV, with hand-selected audience, and the issue of this Lailah was to be discussed and dismissed.
In fact, that was not her name at all but Nicolette Lailah Vasseur, now married to a terrorist malcontent Hugh Jensen and not even properly married, certainly not consecrated [the appeal to the holy always worked]. There was also some vague suggestion they were both transsexuals.
What followed were the antecedents of her father, her flighty mother, the pretend-important Paris Section, the official version of Sophie-Fleury and then it got to the nitty-gritty.
Firstly, how her day job was having sex with minor officials, then stungunning and robbing them.
Secondly, how she killed three men in a car in Prague – just murdered them in cold blood.
Thirdly, they had dramatic proof of her unworthiness in video footage which had come their way, which they were now, in the interests of Europe, going to have to show.
One of the Faroese had made a copy, the copy was now sent to the dirigible, the ‘terrorists’ were watching this on the dirigible. Nikki was watching a deconstruction of her own life, most of it lies, on pan-European television, syndicated around the world. At the table were both Hutchings, with Kelly, plus Frank, Captain Davies, Hugh and Jean-Baptiste.
And now came that moment Nicolette was never, ever going to live down, not as long as she lived. After the crescendo and drum roll, a poor quality video appeared but it was clear enough to identify her and the five others in it. It had been taken from the top of the field on Gran Antides and it was three couples having raw sex on a glade. Nikki and Hugh were the nearest to the camera and it was pretty graphic – they tended to the no holds barred variety.
Nikki was mortified, Hugh was shocked that Adam or Mandy had taken that. He felt it did not capture his best angles – whatever must Nikki herself have thought of this beast on top of her?
Over this footage, the oh-so-reasonable presenter was asking if this were the New Marianne, the one who would lead Europe in its quest to overcome the orderly, legitimate running of the continent.
Nicolette stood up from the table and, in a daze, walked slowly back to her room, Hugh following with Jean-Baptiste.
Davies kept his head and poked it in before they closed the door. ‘Hugh, we’ll take care of things out here, Mrs. Hutchings will prepare the supper later.’
‘Can you bear me holding you?’ asked Hugh. She was in deep shock, so he just did. There was a knock and strong coffee and brandy were brought in by Frank, face deadpan.
They were now in bed – Nikki, Hugh, Jean-Baptiste in the middle and they were still calm. Nikki lay on her back, looking up at the ceiling – Hugh looked across at her.
‘Tell me something which will help, Bebe,’ she sobbed, ‘tell me anything which will help.’
‘All right. I once wrote a plot idea for a novel, nothing to do with our lives, it was long before I met you. Let me just get it.’
He found the plot summary and got back into bed. ‘Will you let me read it?’ She nodded.
‘In the case of our heroine, it had been a moment of madness which had just occurred, later to bitterly regret the whole thing. Never had before, never afterwards. It was also grossly misinterpreted.’
‘You’re making this up to make me feel better.’
He leaned across and showed her the paper, she read a little and asked him to go on.
‘Now she plummeted from being a Princess representing the hopes of many fighting the Machine to just a little whore. The cascading effect was devastating, especially on her, because her own man had been involved too. Moments of utter insanity and thoughtlessness.’
‘When did you write that?’
‘When we were in Paris, before I’d actually met you.’
She was unconvinced but asked him to continue.
‘She was devastated and rightly blamed him for abetting her actions at the time, the ordinary folk out there were, frankly, quietly nauseated by him and by her – how could these two ever have acted that way? Were those the sort of people to follow?
People who’d once pledged support now fell away, suddenly the couple had to move house yet again, the danger was now critical [in the book plot I mean] and the more they were thrown on each other, the greater the fissures, the cracks which appeared. He wanted her not to resort to drinking but as he was part of the past event she’d been trying to forget, the situation deteriorated. [She had an alcohol issue in this book.]
All of which the enemy was delighted by, as the whole idea had been to break those two up in the first place, something the Machine had not been able to do till then. And of course, the two ceased giving good service to the world and became useless, sniping at each other and then separating because she could not bear to look at him any more.
Somewhere in this, there had to be a way of pulling out of this death spiral, some way of getting back to the prime directive of hitting the Machine again … effectively. The way they did it was to finally acknowledge to each other, not to the world, that they had indeed made an error, both shared the guilt. And it was not a total disaster – many people out there were broadminded and in a fight to the death against the Machine, they were going to side with these two.
Why? Because here were two flawed human beings and people preferred flawed human beings to the cold perfection demanded by the Machine. Yes, they had lost much support … but in fact they’d picked up a legion of new supporters too, sympathetic people, people suspicious of ready made saints.
But she did not want that sort of support, she saw herself now, in her own mind, as just a dirty little whore, while she’d always tried to be good, to be the pure and pristine Marianne.
Unfortunately, she could not be that any more, nor could he be the hero knight on horseback either – they’d done what they had done, so the only thing left now was to fight back and still be effective. Which part of that do you need me to say in French?’
‘I understood it all. It may just have saved us, Bebe. I think Gabriella made you write that all those years ago – back in Paris you say?’
He nodded. ‘Nikki, humans make mistakes, they come back from mistakes – that’s if they acknowledge them.’
‘How was that video done? I mean, I know it had to be Adam or Mandy but how did they get away with it?’
‘We weren’t expecting anything like that, we never looked for it and the six people who might have looked out for it were … um … engaged at the time. We never checked huts for that sort of equipment – we were only interested in broadcasting devices and microfiches. They could have had any equipment at all given to them by their masters – cutting edge gear. There’s no mystery, just our error.’
She continued to lie back, staring up. ‘I feel so dirty. How can I face those people out there?’
‘You mean the people who checked in to say they were running things while we were here, people who brought brandy, those sorts of people? People preparing supper, people who’ve made so many errors in their lives themselves? Those sorts of people?’
She smiled a weak smile and said, ‘You’re so good to me. Yes, the big thing is that now we’ve made peace with each other, now we can go and face them, then we try to face the world.’
‘One of the major reasons I’m with you, Nicolette Vasseur, is because you don’t fall apart, because you have this ability to come back as Genie said all that time ago – strong Nikki – but even strong people need help, they stumble. Plus you have a sense of right and wrong and you have a keen sense of duty, you have a sense of things which must be done … and done soon – you have a sense of mission, as I do.’
‘Yes. Did you write anything else on that subject?’
‘I don’t have the other notes but I did write that the most important thing was not the issue itself, but how we coped with it, how we handled it. Our attitude to events was far more important than the events themselves, plus people were depending on us not to fall apart.’
‘You know the right things to say, don’t you?’
‘It’s only through bitter experience, darling heart. It’s what I’ve learnt in life, that’s all.’
‘Hugh, don’t lie to me, tell me the truth now – do you think I’m a dirty little whore? Don’t give me the right words, give me your assessment and I’ll try to be better.’
‘This is a major issue to you, isn’t it so I’m not going to answer with blandishments, éclaboussures -’
‘You’re improving,’ she smiled, ‘go on.’
‘The line is very, very fine, oh so fine – it’s so easy to cross that line. You think I’m unaware of this? You are a very sexual person, darling, so am I. And because you are desired, sexually, then you are also desired by many other men, it’s just part of you and always has been. Many men would like you to be their little whore but then you react against that at the last moment
But you know it was not the sex I first fell for – I listed to you that first afternoon the things I fell for – admittedly including your thighs – and true, the sex was very close behind it, that night in fact and all I could think of alone later was being deep inside you and kissing you like crazy – most of that night I pretended I was making love to you.’
She went bright red. ‘You were really doing that?’
She went redder, then quietly said, ‘I was thinking of your meat in my mouth, I couldn’t get it out of my mind … or my mouth.’ She gasped at what she’d just said.
‘I believe … well … maybe it was wrong to do it with the others but we were all over each other until the end – the way it ended that afternoon -’
‘I think so too. One reason I controlled it for so long was that I saw Emma doing those things – she did have Stefan and Michel at one time and we rescued her that day but she didn’t want rescuing as you can imagine. That helped me keep myself this side of it I think – I could see myself easily going that way.’
‘We’re human, Moineau, we’re human.’
‘I’m a porn actress.’
‘Why do you keep saying things like that? Anxiety? Making absolutely sure it’s not so? You’re not a whore, your actions are not those of a whore. We’re all whores in our fantasies but the issue is what we do in reality. You’re someone many men are envious of me having as his woman and you’re the most stunning woman, most stunning lover, most stunning human I’ve ever met. You’re so unusual and that was a huge factor for me. They have one clip of you and me, that is all they have, they have nothing else, they’ve presented what they have, I was expecting the original vid of you and that man in the days of Francine.’
‘You’ve done it again.’ She climbed over Jean-Baptiste, sprang onto him and half-raped him, which he was not averse to. Jean-Baptiste now woke up, thought this was something Maman and Papa had to do to recharge the batteries and he snoozed off again.
Supper was always going to be interesting and it was clear there was great sympathy, not stern disapproval from the crew. The Captain had obviously had a word and he now expressed the feeling of all that this had been a one-off, there had been no previous and no subsequent, so it was just a mistake some people had made. Far more important was that it stymied their immediate plans. Thus they’d have to make new ones. Simple, logical.
Plus the lamb supper was delicious.
‘I,’ started Nicolette, halfway through and they all went silent and listened, ‘I didn’t know how I could ever face you again.’
‘Hugh is facing us … and he was in it,’ said Mr. Hutchings. ‘Did you think we’d be like fire and brimstone clerics? We’re just people too, don’t forget, people don’t often look good on video … but you actually did, not so sure about Hugh but he played his part and it was pretty athletic, we were marvelling at that to be honest.’
Said Frank, ‘It’s true though – we have to reorganize to meet this new set of circumstances. So let’s get planning.’
‘Let’s break now,’ said Hugh, do the washing up, do what we must and then reconvene in half an hour, OK?’
Nicolette caught Frank on the way back to his room and wanted a word.
‘I’ve seen your eyes, Frank, many times and those eyes have been on me in a different way since you saw that video. I don’t like it and it’s not going to happen.’
He opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out, then he tried to find the words. ‘Mrs. Jensen, Nicolette, yes they were on you but yours were also on me. Perhaps we have both misinterpreted it. You’re married to Hugh but I’m not going to apologize for thinking you an enticing woman – you are. A woman can’t order a man not to be enticed. But she can ask him to remain decent. And I will, it’s much easier now because of Marit.’
‘Marit? Ah yes, ground crew. Talk to me about her.’
‘It’s early days but it might be going somewhere, I hope so.’
‘Frank – thanks for saying that.’
Jean-Claude was embarrassed, Geneviève was in deep shock – it had always been Emma that way … and Nicolette had been the moral arbiter.
She put this down entirely to Hugh. ‘I’m deeply upset, not least with what it will do to our cause.’
Anya in Vicenze was a mixture of shock, bemusement and resignation to it – yes, that was Hugh all right and Nicolette was certainly a delectable woman, a wild one too. She, Anya, was glad her mother and Massimo had not seen it all the same. And Hugh was still leaping about like that all these years later?
That was their little project over though, wasn’t it?
Sophie was chagrined, Sam’s feelings were mixed, the other two had not seen it – Jan was off downstairs with his new flame.
‘You come out of it well, Frank – you’re like an engine.’
‘And you, Sophie, are the most beautiful woman on earth.’
She was happy with that but as with the others, her main concern was how it was going to affect the project. It would take a lot to come back from this one – well, they’d just wait and see.
The crew of Studio Bloch were dumbstruck, they seriously did not know how to react. Should the dirigible crew now be asked to leave? Should the studio now withdraw all assistance?
This was not going to be decided upon immediately but what they did know was that they had a hot hit on their hands here – it was worth millions of New Notes.
Nikki told him about the conversation with Frank and that yes, she was attracted but no, she had no desire to do anything, especially in the light of events. ‘He’s not the only one, I see them around all the time, all my life it’s been like this, Bebe. I haven’t yet and I won’t now.’
Meanwhile, Hǫrðr had made an approach yesterday and wanted to see Nicolette on the ship, by herself. Hugh sighed. Hǫrðr was due about now.
‘Mrs. Jensen,’ he said at the main table, all the others scattered about in different parts of the craft, ‘I have been approached by two people and I need to tell you about them. I am not offering this myself, not in any way, in fact it concerns me greatly and we need to talk after I tell you about it.’
‘I think I get the idea already.’
‘I am not offering, I am passing on a message. Yes, you’re right – the money is $US500,000 from one and a million New Notes from the other. They are serious people, not frivolous, they are known in the trade. My concern is that they knew to come to me – at least via Horst at the studio but why even come to him in the first place?’
‘Yes, I see the implications.’
‘I do think you might have to move from here. If you go to another part of the islands, then that would be best – there are so many holes in these islands that it would take them a long time, plus we could leave a trail which suggests you have gone somewhere else, maybe back to Britain, maybe even on another mission. But I must tell you it’s not safe here now, if they knew to approach Horst. Give it some thought and tell me tomorrow.’
He lay back on the bed, looking upwards, fingertips together. ‘The decision must be yours – we’ve had our talk but the only person who can decide is you – it’s your body, your career, your husband, your child. I think what Gabriella wants now is for us to make decisions for ourselves, rather than telling us what to do.’
‘If I was on my own entirely, I would have given it some thought but I would also think – how many girls have done that, thinking they can control it, thinking they’ll just do it this once for that money … and then it starts. We rescued girls from that, after the drugs started. A person has to live with herself, Hugh. Now of course there is also you and Jean-Baptiste, there is my parents’ memory, plus all those people in Europe, plus Gabriella – they would just be nauseated if their Princess was nothing but a dirty little whore. You’ve known the decision all along. No thanks.’
Now she broke down. ‘I don’t like any of this, Bebe – it’s horrible and it all works on the basis that deep down I’m a dirty little whore, that I really would if the price was right. And it never stops, it never, never, never stops!’ She almost shouted it, he took her firmly in his arms, then stroked her spiky hair she’d retained since the day of the great cutting in Germany, albeit a bit more stylish now.
She’d moved on.
‘First,’ she said, ‘do we leave this dirigible? I say let’s wait for Hǫrðr and hear what he thinks.’
‘Second, what do we try next? Or to ask this another way, what do we want to try next?’
‘Ah. Yes. You’re weary, as I am?’
‘Yes, Bebe, quite weary. This last one has really hurt me.’
‘When Hǫrðr arrives, well ask him if we can make the answering video, though I think he’ll suggest that anyway.’
She was already smiling and now planted a kiss, Jean-Baptiste woke up and must have been wondering if these two ever kept their hands and lips to themselves.
‘So, Hǫrðr,’ asked Nikki, ‘what do you think?’
‘A good plan, a fine plan, one I was about to outline myself. My wife said you needed to redeem yourself by another video, you must be given the chance and the Studio agrees. I have a plan which might allow that to happen and keep you three safe at the same time. If I can arrange the video, can you write the script?’
‘Not a problem,’ said Hugh.
‘All right, be ready to leave here tomorrow evening, with all your things. You do understand that you will not be coming back here, so say your farewells before that – don’t worry about food, we will supply that.’
The evening came and they were packed.
The instant they came out to the main room with their packs, added to the new papoose Hǫrðr had brought earlier, the others wished to know and they all sat around the table.
‘Call it going on holiday,’ said Hugh. ‘Our presence here is placing you in danger. If the enemy is any good at this, they will know we’re here and you must be safe.
Now, sorry to be gauche but we need to realistic about things like food. I’m not sure the locals would keep feeding all of us but they might. I think you must think up some ways to keep their goodwill and the food coming.’
Everyone was in agreement about that.
‘I want to say,’ said Nikki, ‘that Hugh and I are grateful to all of you … for everything, for your friendship, we cannot find enough words. The ship is not that hard to fly if you needed to – the manual is there but I would advise you not to fly it because it may mean the end. And most certainly do not go anywhere near the cloaking – you need a full meeting to decide any of that.’
‘Lay low please,’ pleaded Hugh. ‘All right, they’ll be here soon.’
As they stepped away from the dirigible, their old home, they reflected that there’d been no Gabriella this time. Also, as the inhabitants did not put on lights at night, there was only the dull glow of the northern summer to see the dirigible by.
Immediately, the three of them, plus Jean-Baptiste on Nikki’s back – he’d offered but she wanted, turned into a small walking tunnel and the trek had begun. Hugh carried weapons and their packs – one on his front and the other on his back.
‘Stop,’ said Hǫrðr. He suddenly started singing some ditty in a high voice.
Something gave, in fact part of the side of the tunnel was coming out. He stood back and urged them to as well – it seemed someone else was pushing on the other side, there was puffing.
‘Wheels,’ said Hǫrðr.
They got the idea, he now stepped behind the extended part of the wall and there were his two mates from the broadcast trip.
‘Come through quickly.’ They did and the door was closed behind them, plus one of the mates – the other had gone out to stand guard some distance away.
‘As you see,’ continued Hǫrðr, you will live half in the air, just like on your ship,’ he chuckled. ‘You will find all you need, including supplied water. Now, only one more thing – we can come here at any time of night and day, we must vary it but when we do, we will always sing this song,’ and the two broke into a two-part ditty the newcomers understood none of.
‘It is not your usual song from here, we invented it in our idiom. But no other song, right? Do not release the catch down here,’ he shone a torch, ‘unless you hear this exact song. Then release it quickly and push.’
‘How well can we hear the song?’ asked Hugh.
‘Muted but clearly enough – your own voices must be soft in here. As I say, there are cracks everywhere and that works both ways.’
‘Jean-Baptiste?’ asked Nikki.
‘If he was very loud, yes but I see he is quiet as a baby. Not adults snoring though – we have tested that. A high woman’s voice can also be heard. Thus, you must be quiet people. You will also go mad after some time,’ Hugh smiled at him, ‘so when we come, one goes out for a walk with us, then next time the other. This will have no pattern, no regular frequency.
Also, we believe that someone on your ship is bad. We picked up signals but could not trace them. You will not be cold, not yet but at the end of September, we must make another plan.’
‘Won’t the enemy see evidence of this door going out?’
‘No, it is above the stones on the ground out there and the stones stop footprints, it is always wet. We must go now and will see you tomorrow or the next day – watch carefully how we release the catch and where we push the wall from. Goodbye for now.’
And that was that, they released the catch, pushed the wall back and went out, then they saw the wall come back and it clicked, rather than clunked, into place.
‘Well well well,’ smiled Hugh, ‘we’ve had some adventures, darling.’
‘Yes.’ She was already looking round the cave, which had small gaps in the wall which ran off in different directions – enough for small animals but not for humans. There was no natural water source except for what came down from above. It could be collected at a pinch but why bother, there were a dozen 5L bottles of water – a dozen of them and they were on the floor. Nothing else was at floor level– they had driven three hooks into the roof about four metres from the floor and a triangular frame hung from those ropes.
Between the ropes, just below the cave roof, there was a huge square tarpaulin folded in half, making a triangle. There was a double airbed on the platform with a double sleeping bag and space blankets to put over that, and then a small airbed at the foot with its own sleeping bag and better blankets than they had.
The boys had left a cardboard sign with ‘HERE’ written on it over by one opening in the inner cave wall, Hugh threw a stone through and it did not hit for seven seconds. OK. There was a folded-back ladder which swung down to the floor from the frame, they now went up, Hugh extracted Jean-Baptiste from Nikki’s back and placed him on his bed on the frame, then unstrapped her papoose and they began exploring.
There were many boxes and in one was copious loo roll, in another disposable nappies and other items, another box had plastic packed cold cuts, another salads, in another tins and an opener – perfunctory but all there, thought Nikki as she went through the last one. She couldn’t help but think that Hǫrðr’s wife had had much to do with this selection.
‘Well,’ she finally said, having explored everything, ‘here we are. I think we were very close to danger on the airship, I think they were really quite worried about us.’
‘it does seem so. The issue is going to be entertainment now. We have one thing we can do of course but for how long each day can we do that? There is also playing with Jean-Baptiste and cleaning up things he does, feeding him and so on.’
‘Do not fear,’ she smiled, ‘there was a box with backgammon, other games and some books. Two in French. They are good boys and we must pay them more than enough, we have the money.’
‘No question, we’ll insist. But we must come up with this script and then maybe another outrageous plan.’
She smiled again. ‘There were ten A4 pads and pens in with the games. All right, we ate on the dirigible, Jean-Baptiste has been fed and has done his business for some time perhaps. Maybe we put him in his sleeping bag, we get into ours and then we can think better. I’m going to put him on the inside of this triangle though, next to me, you take the outside of the bed, right?’
‘Your wish is my command.’
It would have been seven hours, which would have put it around mid-evening when there was a muted singing and the song was unmistakable – in fact they could tell it was silly – they skipped down, released the catch and pushed, Hǫrðr himself jumped in and he was armed, the other two pushed the wall back and he asked if he could stay until morning. They had noticed two hooks in adjacent rock faces earlier, with nothing attached, now he unpacked and brought out a string hammock. Ah.
When he was done, he climbed on and spoke to them. ‘Yes, we thought there was a traitor – one person has been thrown off the ship, quite dead, we don’t know why or how it happened.’
‘Go on,’ said Hugh, ‘tell us.’
‘The one called Frank. There were signals coming from somewhere, maybe not from the ship but we can’t see from where else – these have now stopped.’
‘Do they still get food supplied?’
‘I would ask you to reconsider unless it is too dangerous to do – naturally we shall pay for these – they have a little girl of seven, Mrs. Hutchings is a nice person, plus the Captain and Mr. Hutchings seems fine.’
‘Yes, we shall do this if we can.’
‘We also want you to take this to cover our expenses.’ He got up, rummaged in his pack and pulled out a bundle, went down and gave it to Hǫrð, who opened it, looked at the top, then protested, ‘But we do not do it for this.’
‘Do you do it for this then?’ asked Nikki. She held up the start of their plan.
His face lit up. ‘Ah yes, we do it for that. We thanks you, Nikki and Hugh but not this much money – we must not show too much wealth when they come and search – and now they come often. I will take half of this because my wife does need some things for our own child.’
‘It seems quite bad for you too out there.’
‘All right, how do you read that situation out there? Not just with the Faroes but for the world?’
‘I think everyone must now make major decisions – each family must. The difference is that they’re not trying to oppress societies now, they’re trying to destroy them, by getting people into countries who cannot possibly fit in, except to take over and impose their own way and there is so much provocation that there are civil wars. These have started and those above are enjoying them.
They control everything from the media to food – even Studio Bloch, a music studio, is controlled. They say – ah, wartime, we must start controlling the food and give some out if you have the electronic number. They have poisoned private fields but left government fields untouched – it is lawless. Fishing too – the boats have been taken.’
‘You think it sounds like the end?’
‘Who can tell? We live here, others in mainland Europe might have a different opinion. For myself, I say yes, it is the beginning, at least, of the end.’
‘And what do you think the lesson is for us … and for you?’
Hǫrðr sighed, despaired. ‘I don’t know.’
‘You’re basically a conservative, phlegmatic society, not demonstrative and at this time, this is precisely what we need. Nikki comes from a demonstrative society and they might also have something there, Hǫrðr . Because they say to hell with it and they party, they become cavalier – part of any attraction I might have for Nikki is that I will suddenly surprise her but that is not so good for your country’s people. I think the further north we go, the more it is like this.’
‘Hǫrðr,’ said Nikki and he loved the way she pronounced his name, ‘we can despair in these final days, if these are the final days, hide in caves … or we can do something daring. For this time now, you cannot know how grateful we are but we could not do this forever – the human spirit rebels against it.’
‘And your Section has shown that it does.’
‘It’s the essence of life. We believe each culture must be what it is and we embrace that, though it is not ours. If I lived here, I would try to become more like you. Hugh tries to be more French – sometimes it is quite amusing. Quality of life is everything, being good to people is everything.’
He was relaxing and enjoying this conversation. ‘Do you think you have an idea, something you can do? You are writing a script for a broadcast?’
‘Yes, we’re working on it,’ she said. Jean-Baptiste was now requiring attention, Nikki was now attending.
‘We placed a bottle in one of those boxes.’
‘Saw it,’ grinned Hugh. He jumped up, went and extracted the bottle and three glasses. ‘It’s all so sudden here, I was forgetting my manners.’ He sloshed three glasses full, went down the ladder and handed one to Hǫrðr, then came back up and handed one to Nikki, who was juggling baby things.
‘Put it here, Hugh, I’ll toast in a moment.’
‘To you and your crew, Hǫrðr.’
‘To you three and may the God, if there is one, watch over you.’
‘Ah, Hugh, you learn.’
‘Tell us about your country and teach us some more words.’
Hǫrðr had departed next morning, it was clear what was still needed, he was much happier with things … and so were they.
‘Smart move last night, Bebe.’
‘The only move, though my head is killing me. These Faeroese can drink – he said there was a bottle, more like ten bottles, we got through three.’
‘Correction – we got through one bottle, he got through two. For him, it’s a sport and he won. Your crashing head might just keep us alive. Let’s work on that script.’
‘We actually need their input for that, we need to know what is attackable and what is a waste of time. I like the balloons but we’re at the wrong end of the wind this time. We may have to do something different.’
‘Well, all I know is we’ve eaten, Jean-Baptiste has had what he needs and we have maybe an hour to ourselves. So …’
‘Ah, yes, silly me.’
Hǫrðr had arrived, they got down to it.
‘It may be that we’re older,’ said Nikki, ‘it may be that we are weary but we do not feel we can race here, race there as we once did. We think the idea of the broadcast is best. For a start, I must answer that broadcast of the enemy but to answer that, we need some sort of input, some digging from someone out there.’
Hǫrðr was onside with the idea, Hugh took it up. ‘I’ve written a script in draft form, it needs to be shortened and tightened, but it goes something like this. Nikki greets Europe and smiles, then says that the elite who usurped Europe recently put out a broadcast some time back, through their captured media and captive audience, in which they show a video clip of her and me in a field. Think though of the people who took that film – what sort of sick people they would have to be to take that video.
Also, let us see how that compares in moral turpitude [we will find the right word for this] with, say, the President of the EU, Herr Kormar, and let us ask how moral it was with that 4 year old girl called Hetty Heigel [I’m inventing this but there will be one somewhere who can find this information] and how her mother was forced to watch this gross spectacle before they were tortured to death. Just how moral was he in that and in his list of Ganymedes [followed by a list of names and dates].
And while we are speaking of that, what of the very man who produced that programme and authorized the use of that video clip, Monsieur [whoever it was]. Or Mademoiselle. What about [her list of crimes] for which we have here the documents. Nikki will then flick through the pages for the camera and set them to one side.
Who is moral? What is moral? To be willing to give our lives so the common people can live in peace and freedom? We thought, Hǫrðr, that that would have us back on the moral high ground and then Nikki would farewell Europe, suggesting they do not fight each other, as the authorities want them to do but instead, to break through those walls and go over mountain tops, seize the criminals who have usurped Europe and bring them to fair trial.
Then we say that in the next broadcast, we will show you some things about the life of [and we’ll name some other famous officials we have information on]. What do you think, Hǫrðr?’
‘Yes, that is exactly the thing we need. And we can use a videocamera for this next one, in this cave which we light by battery. It is not a good idea to record two videos, one for the next time, as we did, because events meant we could not use that one – just the one.
I think we must have the head of the research people at Bloch, she knows people in Europe and they have their own interest in not being caught by the authorities, so they will do this quietly – they will seek the information, find the documents – they are professionals at this and the address will be in Antwerp.
This will be enough for one broadcast by Mme Jensen – maybe we now say Nikki?’ She nodded ‘of course’.
‘If it is a disk, then it can be smuggled to Antwerp and the rest just happens – it is broadcast or hacked in from there. We aim for this recording here perhaps three weeks from now.’
‘That sounds very good,’ said Nikki. ‘But the risk is great for you.’
‘We would like very much not to be tortured and killed so we are quite careful in these things but we are always aware that they might know and might be watching.’
‘May we leave this part of it now in your hands, Hǫrðr?’ asked Hugh. ‘We can do little from this cave during this month.’
There had been zero snags, the information had been easily found, probably because no one in their right minds, anyone who valued his or her life, would have tried to access it and they’d wisely decided that whatever they found in this raid would need to suffice, they could not afford to do it again.
Of the seven minutes of this broadcast, five would concern Nikki’s opening, plus her revelations and then a one minute farewell, the two minutes between would be done as if Nikki was handing over to a reporter – Nikki would say, ‘We cross to …’ and the two would seem to covnerse – we set this dialogues up, with the exact spacing. Could Hugh write such a script, they asked.
Of course, not a problem. Just give him a little time – one day.
And so the first broadcast was hacked in and it was hardly surprising that it had the desired effect across Europe. In fact Nikki’s ‘moment of madness’ in that field was not so much forgiven as celebrated as flawed humans being caught out in an act of love, not violence – Nikki was back to the Princess of Europe, though perhaps not an undefiled one. Still.
The information following that though caused mass protests and some attempts to reel in the ‘authorities’, none of which had succeeded of course but the authorities were now less able to lie as blatantly for some time, they were in hiding.
What everyone across the world was aware of was that ‘the authorities’ were now going to move hell and high water to track Nikki down, plus all who had aided and abetted her and it was not going to be pleasant if they found her – in fact, it was going to be quite grisly and longwinded.
So the obvious question Hugh and she had to face was how to deal with a betrayal or even a lucky break for the enemy.
They went through scenarios where it could happen, including the cave being stormed. The two of them told Hǫrðr that he might turn up one day and the cave would not open, they might have gone and closed the cave door shut, which would mean that it could no longer be entered. They went through all possibilities and ramifications they could dream up – the two of them, plus Hǫrðr.
The question of death did come up and needed a decision. Hugh put it this way:
‘We cannot take suicide pills.’ To some protestation from their host, he said, ‘We have a contract with someone we’ll call a friend for now, more like a guardian angel.’ Nikki nodded vigorously. ‘She has a say in this, as she has her own plans for us. At least, she doesn’t have plans, the One who sent her has, whoever that is. As Nikki will confirm, this person has got us out of some very difficult situations and through some difficult times, she’s done some amazing things – this is the longest time she has not appeared to us.
Don’t question this, Hǫrðr, we are not mad – we know this person and she has been there helping the whole time, she’s saved our lives.’ Nikki nodded again. ‘We are in strange times, my friend. Now, her Boss will not allow us to suicide under any circumstances, it is a one-way ticket to hell. But we might be able to do it this way, the moment one of us is captured – someone, one of us, shoots the captured person in the head.’
‘There are two problems with that,’ Hǫrðr made the obvious comment. ‘We may be able to rescue that person. Also, is that not murder?’
Nicolette now said the thing which swayed them. ‘Neither you, Hǫrðr, nor even Hugh have been captured by these people. I have. Shall I tell it, Hugh, or will you?’
‘If you like, I shall.’ She touched his face. ‘Nikki had two experiences. First was when she was young, 19 years old -’
‘- younger. She and her partner, her childhood friend, were under the control of one of these people.’ He now proceeded to tell Hǫrðr of that early time, Nikki adding this and that from time to time.
‘The second was in Germany,’ and he told of that in the same way, Nikki filling in the gaps.
‘So, Nikki darling, you take it from here.’
‘This is why, Hǫrðr, you do NOT wish to be captured, you have NO idea what it is really like. This is why I insist Hugh shoots me to save me from that.’
‘And I insist Nikki does with me – or even you do it. Your chances of getting us back whole are almost zero and who’s to say you’d be getting back the same person?’
Hǫrðr was shocked to the core but could not argue. ‘All right, it is time for me to tell you my thoughts for the next months. The money is not the question, which is why I do not need it.
The authorities have made food an item you cannot grow, keep, you can only come to the city and have a chip in your wrist register under a machine. Then they issue you with enough for two days – enough according to the list which has been prepared centrally for that month. We can eat grass, leaves but that is not enough.
If we kill an animal, we are taken in by the authorities and you have now told me what happens.’ He shuddered. ‘Things have changed even in this month now since we have met.’
He took some water and the other two waited, Jean-Baptiste was awake but he was watching all their faces intensely. What would he become in later life?
‘You see, Hugh and Nikki, I am married too, with a child of one year. My daughter’s name is Nikólína.’
‘N-o-o-o,’ exclaimed Nikki, grinning. ‘Tell me you are having a joke with us.’
‘It is a Greenlandic form with two accents on the ‘o’ and the ‘i’. Yes, that is her name, we call her Nikki. And I have heard you mention the name of my wife as well, I was amazed.’
‘Don’t tell us, don’t tell us,’ cried Hugh. ‘It was Geneviève.’
‘It is Emma,’ said Nicolette quietly. Hǫrðr confirmed it. ‘Well I never, that is beyond all, beyond all …’
‘Beyond chance perhaps,’ said a familiar voice and Hǫrðr started back, he clearly saw her.
‘Now isn’t that interesting,’ mused Hugh, ‘that you can see her too. Hǫrðr, allow me to introduce our dearest friend, comforter, mentor and one who works for a Higher Power – Gabriella.’
‘Tell them, Hǫrðr,’ smiled Gabriella, what your mother’s name is.’
Hǫrðr was grinning fit to bust. ‘Yes, it is so.’
‘What, Gabriella?’ cried Hugh. They both nodded. ‘Gabriella, I’m not sure if you are able to actually sit or do you hover? Do you need a chair?’
‘No, Hugh,’ ah, she was using his name again, ‘I will ‘hover’ as you put it.’
‘Will someone explain?’ demanded Hǫrðr.
‘I have kept myself at some distance because you really must make your decisions yourselves, with minimum interference. I step in now and then to confirm or give special information. Later you will all need far more.’
‘All?’ asked Hǫrðr.
‘All, including your wife and daughter. Your job now is to go home and speak long and hard about your futures, and whether it is best now to join Hugh and Nicolette [Lailah – she will explain that] or whether to take your chances in this land. I would suggest that the time here for all of you is very close to over.’
‘Hǫrðr,’ said Nikki, ‘I suggest you listen very carefully to what she says, very, very carefully. You can always ignore it but that is not wise. You must speak with your wife soon now and then decide.’
He agreed and went quickly. They all turned and looked at one another.
Gabriella spoke. ‘The reason I keep appearing is not just to help or tell you things – I am also here for your questions on major issues, so that you can be clear in your minds about your direction. But I will also try to lead you away from some questions and if you still insist on asking them, then I shall tell you why I cannot answer them.’
Gabriella certainly did have a sense of humour, which augured well for when they crossed that river.
‘Whom do I represent, whom do I work for? What have my actions been towards you so far? Do I work for myself, and if so, how could I help you defeat Chloe on that ship? You see, this creates more questions than it answers … and yet you will both find out quite soon for yourselves.’
They just looked at her and she went on:
‘You had a task in Britain alongside me, you have another task later, you will be with these two other people, plus their child for sometime, then you will go with me. You would not survive these next months without them, they would not survive without you, the enemy as you call it is closing in even now. There was one on the ship who was not your friend.’
‘Frank, yes.’ Gabriella confirmed this.
‘What next?’ Hugh asked.
‘That’s up to you,’ said Gabriella, and both looked at her, ‘though perhaps that time is over – you will have no infrastructure after your flight to Scotland.’
‘Are they kosher, these three we’re with?’ asked Hugh and Gabriella’s eyebrows went up. ‘Well, maybe kosher is not the right word – are they all right, sound, won’t betray us?’
‘Will you betray them is a better question. No, no one betrays anyone, in fact it is a difficult parting at the end of your time in Scotland because the six of you will be close. Your final journey, they cannot accompany you on – for their own sake, they cannot follow.’
‘Sam and Sophie?’
‘Similar path until now as you – Sophie Magdalena had to kill one of the enemies from her past and then another, and then a third by looking into the eyes. The three of them are doing well – it is being made so. Little Nikki, as you call her, grows and is well. And no, you will not see her in this life, Hugh, that is for a later dimension, it will happen. They are on a ship which no one will find, there is a second couple with them, they are best left alone for now, although I shall keep an eye on them from a distance and tell them how you are.’
Both relaxed at this news. ‘Jean-Claude and Genie?’ asked Hugh.
‘That is more sad,’ Gabriella frowned. ‘They are currently just alive in Barbizon but Nicolette, you would not wish to be there now. Were you there, it is past all social bonhomie now, you would weep night and day.
They cannot escape, their return was headstrong and unwise, they will die there not a long time from now but long enough. They eke out an existence but they have been greatly heartened by these broadcasts, as have many people who know you, including Pieter and his wife in Germany.
People you knew – crew, staff – they see these and are heartened. They all saw the second broadcast, including Hugh’s Anya – they were most impressed, Nicolette was impressive.’ Nikki beamed. ‘They also suspect there is no third broadcast, though you mentioned names – there was your wink at the end, Lailah, the joke the people were having over the ‘authorities’ – that worked well.’
‘I have spent longer than usual here this time because it was necessary to reassure you. There is a time coming for both of you which is not good and you have a task to perform, as I have repeatedly said, and only you two can do that. Closer to that time, I shall be there.
This next journey just now will involve a boat as it did before, mother and child will be hidden behind fish as before, your child is stronger now and can remain quiet. Au revoir for now.’
And she was gone.