A Dark Plot Unravelled
"The cores of Black Inferno?" gasped Alan in shock, "What were these damn things doing buried in our own graves, of all places? And how did you know they were here?" he asked sharply, glaring at Robbins. What was going on here? Robbins wore a sinister smile on his face, an insane gleam in his dark eyes.
"My old mentor, Sergey Petrograd only entrusted his most loyal followers with his secrets." Alan felt his blood run cold.
"Red Hand's ringleader, your mentor?" Suddenly, the truth became obvious, "Then you’re a double agent, aren't you, you scumbag? You are one of those many ‘bought’ eyes and ears those raving psychopaths have in all the right places to do their dirty work, right?" he asked in disgust, realising Robbins was a traitor to the British government, a mole working for Red Hand. Robbins smiled maliciously.
"Excellent deduction, Watson. Indeed, my real job is to provide false leads to my so-called superiors at MI6, to allow my true colleagues to do their work uninterrupted – amassing rich rewards beyond my wildest dreams in the process. But then, a little over a year ago (our time) some snoop inside the Bureau discovered I had been secretly embezzling state funds for Red Hand’s operations. Fortunately, my people were able to silence him before he could blow everything. I believe he was someone you knew: Miles Millard." Alan gasped in shock.
Miles Millard was his brother-in-law, the brother of his late wife, who had been a systems analyst at the Bureau and a chronic alcoholic. Although he and Alan had had never really gotten along because of his drinking and drug habits, he and Mary had been close. Eventually, he had turned up dead from, what apparently had been, a seizure caused by alcohol and drug intoxication. Mary had been so distraught by the news, that Alan had taken her and Lucy on that fatal vacation to help her cope with her depression, only to lose them too. But to hear that Mile’s death had been part of a murder scheme was quite a shock.
"Miles was murdered? But how is that possible? Mary personally spoke to the coroner; he said he had died from heart failure caused by alcohol abuse; there was no sign of foul play…" Robbins only laughed nastily.
"Red Hand has a thousand different ways to cover its tracks, one of them being the fact that the coroner was one of the many people in Sergey’s pocket," he explained gleefully, "One particular method often used by our assassination network is Agent Neuron - a nerve toxin of our own invention. When injected, within a matter of hours you simply slip into a coma and die, completely unmarked, like from a common heart attack – or, in Mr Millard’s case, complications from his chronic drug abuse. With a little sleight of hand in the post-mortem report, it’s a swift and clean way to dispose of anyone who knows too much. Numerous of Sergey’s enemies have gone down this way. However, we then discovered Millard had passed on the evidence to someone else for safekeeping, who, of course, became our next target."
"And who was that?" Alan asked, somehow dreading the answer. Why would Robbins stage this elaborate meeting with him, to confess being a murderer and a terrorist? How did this concern him? Surely, it couldn’t be… Realisation and confession struck simultaneously.
"His sister, Mary Millard Johnson, your wife!"
Alan froze in shock as he finally laid eyes upon the man who had taken away from him everything he had held dear. This man had been the killer of his wife and daughter all along? No, this couldn’t be true! It had to be a bad joke, it just had to… Beside him, Hazel and Fiver were also looking shocked to the core at this chilling confession.
“It was you?”
"That's right, Johnson. While you and Shaw were out there playing the heroes, I cornered your wife and killed her, along with your precious daughter who had unintentionally become another unwanted witness. Our plan had been to kill you all at the farm and make it look like an accident; only you wormed your way out of that one, did you not?”
Alan, close to losing his mind by now, was struggling to grasp what he had just been hearing. How could Robbins be the murderer? True, he hadn’t actually seen the face of the killer on that fateful day at Nuthanger Farm, but why would an assassin take so long to come back and finish the job? It didn’t figure.
"But…he had a different voice…" But Robbins only chuckled cruelly.
"Like this, you mean?" he asked, before reciting aloud the very words that had haunted Alan's nightmares for over a year: "Trespassers! Shoot them!" There was no further doubt that Russell Robbins, who had apparently been using a voice distorter at the time to mask his voice, was the murderer of his family, and now he had come back for him as well! This was the final straw for Alan, who began to advance on his nemesis, drawing his knife. For the first time in his life he felt a strong desire to kill in cold blood. This bastard had taken everything away from him; but now, he would pay for it with his blood!
"You’re dead, you son of a bitch! You know how much pain and suffering I endured because of you? Well, you’ll be begging for deathlong before I’m through with you!" But Robbins, seeing him moving in for the kill, had drawn his revolver, aiming it directly between Alan's eyes. The man stopped dead in his tracks, staring down the muzzle of the loaded weapon, expecting the murderer to go ahead and blow his brains out where he stood, just like he had done with Mary and Lucy… But he didn’t.
Snatching the knife out of Alan's hand, he motioned to him to stand back, all the while keeping the weapon firmly trained on him and his companions, threatening instant death to anyone who tried anything. Although Alan was tempted to lunge at Robbins anyway, even if it meant being shot in the process, he feared the bastard might turn the gun on Fiver and Hazel in retaliation. As if reading his mind, he aimed the revolver in Fiver’s direction, who shrunk back in fright.
“Let’s have no threats, Doctor. I’ve killed many before, and for lesser reasons too. Don’t think I won’t do the same thing I did to your dear family, and to that idiot oaf, to them, should you step out of line.” The message was clear: any heroics and his two friends would suffer the consequences. Discouraged by the horrific notion of his friends going the same way as Mary and Lucy, Alan backed away, all the while keeping a sharp lookout for an opportunity to strike back. Making sure they were lined up before him in an orderly manner, so that he had them all in plain view, the evil brute continued on with his confession as though there had been no interruption.
"After your fortunate escape, we suspected your wife had passed the evidence on to you, and that you could lead us to it. So we decided to lure you into another trap, from which there would have been no escape; I would have hijacked the plane once we were over the Forbidden Zone, and diverted to some remote area where my people would have been waiting, making it seem like we all died in a crash. Only fate was determined to let you, once again, have a lucky escape – there was no point killing you when you were the only one left to land the plane. But, this time, your life is mine!"
"But I have no idea where that blasted evidence is!” retorted Alan, “Mary never breathed a word about it; you killed them for nothing you bastard!" he bellowed with renewed fury, realising that Mary and Lucy had only been killed as loose ends; Robbins and his gang apparently didn't give a damn about how high the body count went until they had recovered their prize. “And I hope that rests well on your conscience!” Robbins however appeared completely unremorseful as he went on speaking.
"Our little time travel adventure interrupted my plan at the last moment; I decided to maintain my cover until I could figure out what was going on and determine the appropriate course of action. It seems the untimely death of Sergey caused Project Black Inferno to be suspended, since he was the only one – except for me - who knew the location of the cores. Therefore, it is my duty to finish Sergey's noble work."
"Fat lot of good it will do you, considering that you can't even get back to our own time to reveal the location to your cronies,” Alan sneered back at Robbins, “We aren’t even sure how to get back…"
"I have worked out the solutions to both these problems: What brought us here was that mysterious Aurora Borealis that we have been observing every night. It's a two-way gateway between two time periods and it's waiting up there to take me - and only me - back home. Which brings us back to you…” he said, his pleasant tone suddenly turning hard and menacing.
“My mission was to kill you because you were a dangerous loose end. However, in the spirit of our adventure, I am willing to offer you an alternative: if you and your rabbit friends help me salvage and repair the plane, I'll spare your lives and simply maroon you here; after all, you can pose no threat to Red Hand if you're stranded several centuries into the future. I will be returning home with the information – and the funding - to complete Project Black Inferno myself; our original Treasury embezzlements were all wasted because of your brother-in-law’s interference. I will even lie on your behalf and tell my colleagues that you’re dead…"
"Funding? What funding?" asked Alan sharply; did this bastard intend to exploit this future world for profit? Sure enough, Robbins opened his bag, revealing the egg he had stolen earlier tucked inside. Alan narrowed his eyes, realising the danger he had put them in, "You stole a hawk’s egg? Are you insane, you bloody fool? No wonder that hawk is after us. You nearly got Violet killed…!"
"Too bad, because I do business better than to harbour feelings for a bunch of pathetic talking rabbits,” sneered Robbins, earning hateful glares from Hazel and Fiver. He turned to the cores in the cases; inserting a cylindrical key in a slot on the detonators, he turned it, arming each of the devices, which begun beeping on timers, counting down from just under 48 hours.
“I have rigged these to ensure your cooperation; each device is fitted with an auto-destruct system – the Chinese built them fast and cheap for random terrorist attacks before we perfected the technology of harnessing the power of unobtainium for a more effective weapon like Black Inferno. In 48 hours, the energy build-up in the cores will reach critical level and the cores will go into meltdown. There are several pounds of enriched unobtainium housed in each warhead, capable of unleashed an energy blast of radioactive microwaves and electromagnetic pulses, potent enough to incinerate a region the size of all England…" Alan grew pale; what better leverage could Robbins possibly use against them than the threat of a nuclear holocaust? Seeing the tension build up, Robbins came to the bottom line of his demands.
"This is the deal: if you accept my terms – all of them - I'll give you the key to disarm them before takeoff. You’ll have just enough time to make it back here and diffuse them. If you cooperate all the way, I give you my word that nobody else will be harmed," he said, showing them a cylindrical-like bronze key that hung around his neck; the only means of direct control over the cores. "You save yourself and your friends, I get my money, and we both go our own ways. What do you say?"
Alan was considering his options; frankly, he didn't have much choice since Robbins had both a gun and the arming key to the bombs in his possession. If he cooperated, then maybe at least they could walk out of this without anyone else getting hurt, so Robbins could go his own way and leave them alone. But, on the other hand, if he returned and completed Black Inferno back in their own time, there would be a whole new era of world terrorism. Then again, he might not keep his end of the bargain at all and just shoot them all, or otherwise let the bombs have them… Fiver, who appeared to be reading Alan's mind, tapped him lightly on the elbow.
"Alan, don't listen to him please. I can sense the dark ambitions in his heart; he only intends to get what he wants from us and then kill us anyway. There's no hope bargaining with him…" Robbins, hearing that remark, appeared to lose interest in bargaining - or rather taunting them with false promises.
"I guess we'll have to do this the hard way; just the way I like it in fact. All right, Johnson, tie those two to that tree," he said tossing him a length of cord, woven out of reed fibres. "Now!"
"You'll have to kill me first," Alan snarled, using his own body to shield Hazel and Fiver from gunpoint, expecting Robbins to lose his temper and start gunning them down. Cowslip meanwhile was watching the show with sickening delight, smirking evilly at their predicament. Hazel glared at him, seemingly wondering what kind of twisted mind that rabbit had to participate in such a vile scheme, which would inevitably spell out the deaths of all his people, maybe even his own.
“I have been offered a most generous compensation in exchange for my services,” said the mad rabbit, as if reading Hazel’s mind, “Robbins has offered me a future back in his world; a place of power beyond comprehension. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I can’t possibly pass on.”
Robbins' expression turned menacing at Alan's refusal to obey, "Duly noted; and then I'll kill them too, since I’ll have no other way to restrain them!" Feeling defeated, Alan picked up the lengths of cord and starting strapping his two friends to a nearby tree, giving them an apologetic look as he did so, promising they’d find some way out of this. They nodded in silent understanding. Robbins was watching them closely, making sure Alan tied the knots securely, taunting them with sickening amusement.
"Why look so frightened? After all, they say death by being bomb-vaporized is quick and painless. Unless of course, some predator gets to you first; in this world, if you’re caught helpless, you’re as good as dead. And even if you somehow do get free, there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Such a pity; this world would have been worth a fortune to me, but I guess I'll have to settle for my prize instead, which is soon going to be the last remaining vestige of this place. In other words, priceless," he snickered evilly. However, his gloating was distracting his attention; and Alan was fully alert, waiting for an opportunity to make a move…
At that moment, he noticed Robbins happened to be standing on a stray branch lying on the ground; and one end lay within his reach. His nemesis, who was too busy boasting of his triumph and the rewards that were bound to come of it, hadn't noticed. Not missing the opportunity, Alan suddenly grabbed hold of the branch and pulled hard. Robbins, caught by surprise, tripped, dropping the gun. Before he had even hit the ground, Alan had made a dash for the fallen revolver; but Robbins, who was swift as a cat, drew Alan's knife from his pocket, pressing it hard against the bound Hazel's throat. He smiled devilishly.
"I guess we have a stand-off. Now, either hand over that gun or watch me spill your friend’s blood!" He stretched out his hand so Alan could hand him the weapon, all the while keeping the knife firmly pressed against Hazel's throat. Alan, accepting defeat, was about to surrender the weapon, when Hazel, realising they’d all be dead soon anyway, made his own move. With Robbins' eyes momentarily fixed on Alan rather than him, he suddenly bit hard into the man’s outstretched hand, his buckteeth sinking deep into the flesh. The unsuspecting Robbins yelled in pain, dropping the knife. But he wasn’t finished yet.
Before Alan could seize the opportunity and pull the trigger, the man had tackled him to the ground; the two were soon engaged in a furious fight, each trying to wrestle the gun from the other. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cowslip slip away, realising the situation was getting out of control.
He had almost wrestled the gun out of Robbins’ firm grip, when his opponent suddenly head-butted him straight in the forehead. Alan, who hadn't fully recovered from the concussion he had sustained in the crash-landing, staggered backwards as everything started spinning around him, making him see stars. With his glasses lost in the struggle, he held onto a tombstone for support, staring at the blurry outline of Robbins triumphantly aiming the gun at his head like an executioner at a firing squad.
"Your time is up, Johnson. In a second, you’ll be reunited with your dear family in hell!" he sneered at his soon-to-be victim, "And your furry friends will also be joining you shortly. So, any last words?"
All seemed lost, as far as Alan was concerned; in another minute, they would all be shot dead, and Robbins would escape, leaving the rest of their friends at the mercy of the warheads. Then, he noticed a figure emerge from the bushes, silently sneaking up on Robbins, about to strike. He smiled, much to Robbins's surprise.
"Yes, just two words: goodbye Robbins!" he said just before the figure’s heavy paw cuffed the unaware Robbins hard over the head. The evil man uttered a grown of pain and fell unconscious. Unfortunately, as he fell, in a pain reflex, his finger squeezed the trigger of the gun still aimed in Alan’s direction…
There was a flash, an ear-splitting bang, and then Alan felt a terrible burst of pain on the left side of his chest, as the bullet struck him square in the heart. He staggered backwards, tumbling into his own empty grave behind him. The last thought that went through his head before he landed on the bottom, where his empty coffin had been laid to rest without him centuries earlier, was the harsh reality of Fiver's vision of his own demise, which he had been foolish enough to overlook. Then everything went black and he was gone…