In the buildings housing the sniper positions on the seafront, the fighting was fierce and conclusive. The men drawing a bead on the Underground from their high vantage points had forces covering them, directing a rain of small arms fire down on those who came to winkle them out, but they were not prepared for the determination or the sheer weight of numbers sent against them. When the newcomers forced their way up, floor by floor, seemingly oblivious to the numbers of their own fallen, the snipers found themselves defeated. Most surrendered, throwing themselves at the mercy of the Underground, while some turned their weapons on themselves.
When they heard on their communicators that the sniper positions had been overwhelmed, Crispin and Kirsty drew a sigh of relief.
“That’s one less aggravation,” said Kirsty. “Now it’s time for us to do our bit.”
Crispin looked at her dubiously. “Are you sure this is going to work?”
“No,” said Kirsty simply. “I’m not sure of anything. But it’s the only thing we can try. Get those davits working, can you, while I try and pick up a chopper on the communicator.”
Crispin moved along the deck, pausing momentarily to examine Josie, who lay still in the same spot, insensible, her face a picture of frustration. She was murmuring indistinctly.
“Are we going to just leave her here?” he demanded accusingly.
“Yes,” Kirsty replied. “As long as she remains out of sight, it will be easily the safest place for her.” She softened her tone. “Truly. She’ll be all right there, Crispin.”
He moved further along the deck, keeping his head low, while Kirsty engaged in conversation with the pilot of one of the Underground controlled helicopters.
Crispin flipped open a control panel to operate the pair of davits which would lower a small tender over the ship’s side. Under normal circumstances, the boat would drop effortlessly to the water below, but now it would have to be slid gently down the great slipway of the ship’s side.
Crispin jabbed the button which would start things moving. Nothing did move. He cursed, realising at once that it was too much to hope that everything on a vessel three-quarters submerged would still be in working order. The functioning of the winch had been their one stroke of luck. Slamming the lid shut, he was about to give up in despair when he noticed that the davit apparatus was equipped with wheels, by which means a boat might be lowered in an emergency by hand cranking. He threw the zappers into the bottom of the boat. The wheels, stiff with lack of use, required a considerable effort to move, but once they were moving, Crispin quickly had the tender swinging over the rail.
As its hull bumped softly against the ship’s side, Kirsty came running up.
“Get in,” Crispin urged.
As Kirsty cleared the rail and settled into the bow of the tender, she looked at Crispin with consternation. “This may be a suicide mission,” she said softly. “The chopper guys have lost three machines fighting Security. They’ve said they’ll cover for us if they can, but they’re trying to pin down ground troops in at least two areas.”
Crispin bit his lip. The prospect of imminent death had become familiar to him, wearing at him like water on a stone, but for all its familiarity, it never lost its stark terror, and he felt it again now, rising from the pit of his stomach, as he continued winding his wheel, winding like a madman as the boat gradually dropped towards the water, bumping against the ship’s plates as it went.
As it settled into the water, Kirsty fired up the engine. It spluttered hesitantly at first, then broke into a deep rumble. Kirsty sighed with relief, and took up position with her zapper.
Looking up, she saw that Crispin had come over the rail, and was descending hand over hand along the cable attached to the stern of the craft. He jumped into the control seat and released the aft line.
Kirsty released the forward line, and the boat drifted away from the ship’s hull and under the pier. “Do you know how to operate one of these?” she called.
“No,” Crispin admitted, imitating her clipped style of speech. “But I’m a quick learner.”
“There’s a squeeze throttle on the wheel,” she explained. “The harder you squeeze, the faster we go. Take it easy till we’re out from under here, then give it all you’ve got. And keep weaving. But keep an eye out for the gun. And the sea wall.”
“Will this be powerful enough?” asked Crispin, fingering the wheel warily.
“I really hope so,” Kirsty sighed, bracing her feet against the panel in front of her, and placing the butt of her zapper against her shoulder. “I really hope so.” She breathed in deeply. “Okay, let’s do it.”
Crispin squeezed the throttle. The powerful stern drive unit began to thrust the boat forward between the piles, lifting its bow. Beyond the pier, Crispin squeezed harder, and the note of the engine rose in accordance.
Striking a choppy sea, the boat lurched sickeningly between crests, the waves thumping the underside, and she heeled as Crispin turned her past the bow of the ship, exposing her to the might of the Security Commission cannon.
As soon as they were in open water, Kirsty took aim and began a ceaseless rain of fire on the underside of the tower. Sworn to avenge the destruction of her family, she felt a current of blood lust unleashed.
As the cannon turned away from the men on the seafront, Crispin became aware that the further cannon was aimed up the approach road to the bridge, firing sporadically in that direction. The Underground forces approaching from that direction must, he concluded, be close. Meanwhile, there was still no sign of the sought-after helicopter.
As the first cannon blasts sought the range of the speeding boat, showering the man and woman within from either side, Crispin began taking evasive action, slewing unpredictably to left and right, while Kirsty sought to keep the tower within her sights, not relaxing her trigger finger for an instant. She was rewarded with the gratifying sight of showers of sparks dancing off the support structure of the tower, while the cannon depressed and tracked them.
A column of spray shot skywards in their wake, directly astern.
“That was close!” Crispin muttered, leaning the boat over on its starboard beam ends.
Shots rang out. A new barrage of fire, coming from behind the boat, was being sprayed wildly in the general direction of the bridge, much of it going high in the air and far off target. For a moment the cannon on the bridge wavered, fired a single indecisive shot at the new target, then returned its attention to the fast approaching boat. But its fire now passed harmlessly over the heads of Crispin and Kirsty.
“Stop here!” Kirsty commanded, throwing a glance over her shoulder for the first time.
Crispin killed the engine, and the boat slid to a halt twenty metres from the bridge. He took up his zapper, and at the same time looked at what was happening behind him.
Josie, though blind, was offering covering fire from aboard the ship, and the cannon was now aimed at her. It was progressively obliterating the superstructure behind which she was sheltering. Crispin could do nothing but move forward and join Kirsty in her assault on the guard tower.
Within moments of each other, a number of things happened. The rocking boat came under fire from a new direction, out to sea. Crispin and Kirsty looked helplessly, seeing the deadly flashes emanating from sector one. In no time, the hull had been riddled with holes, and the boat began to sink.
With a loud fury, a helicopter emerged from between tall buildings on the seafront, intervening between the boat and the fire from sector one, itself firing at the cannon on the further side of the bridge. This ceased pounding Underground positions inland, and turned through a semi-circle to deal with the chopper.
With the heat off them, temporarily at least, Charlie’s and Larry’s forces surged forward, to be met by small arms fire from Security positions around the bridgehead.
Sinking into the water, Kirsty and Crispin continued pounding the nearer tower. There was a wrenching of steel, and the tower slipped at an angle. The cannon at last desisted, and there appeared to be a hasty exodus from the base of the tower towards the launch moored below.
The man and the woman in the water had other preoccupations, however. The first inkling of the danger was the glimpse Crispin had of slick black sails amid the swell. He drew his blaster and fired at a dark shape speeding towards him. The fin dipped, the tail rose momentarily from the water, and he was aware of movement beneath him.
Kirsty screamed and vanished. Crispin fired again, in her direction.
The wounded shark below him was attracting the attention of its cannibalistic fellows, and he found himself amidst a regatta of sombre black sails as the denizens swooped for a feeding frenzy somewhere unnervingly close.
There was a cry and he spun round. Kirsty’s face, deathly pale, floated like a buoy on the grey sweep of the tide. Her eyes were crushed tight with pain, her lips parted, sucking in the salty air.
Keeping his movements as smooth as possible, Crispin executed the few brief strokes needed to bring him to her. She clung to him.
There was a loud bang, and the remaining cannon was silenced. A curl of black smoke rose from its turret. The chopper turned and sped low over the water to harry the positions on sector one, its guns already blasting.
The nearer tower toppled and fell as its supporting beams gave way, and suddenly the water below the bridge was full of struggling drowning men, trying frantically to avoid the wreckage falling onto them.
Their thrashing was communicated through the water, and suddenly the sharks were speeding away to investigate new prey.
As he began to strike out in the opposite direction, heading back towards the pier, with Kirsty firmly in his grasp, Crispin observed the final rout of the Security forces. As far superior numbers bore down on them, they retreated across the bridge, hurrying for the three kilometre distant redoubt of sector one, firing back at the oncoming Underground guerrillas as they ran.
A second helicopter appeared in the sky, bearing Security markings, blasting at the Underground fighters on the bridge with a battery of laser cannons. It directed its chief force not at the men but at the bridge itself, between the opposing forces, spitting fire into the roadway, throwing up clouds of cement dust.
It passed and repassed over the bridge, scoring a groove into the masonry, until the Underground helicopter returned, and the two aircraft engaged in a bizarre duelling dance, until the Security machine was hit and spiralled into the sea.
The Underground chopper approached Crispin and Kirsty, flattening the swell with its downdraught.
It was too late for the bridge, however. The Security Commission had determined that even if the Underground were to have possession of the bridgehead, the bridge itself was to be rendered useless. The structure split where the gunfire had bombarded it, and lengths of roadway either side broke off, sloping into the water in a shallow v-shape.
Crispin and Kirsty were plucked from the sea and carried swiftly back to the apartment building, where a field hospital was being swiftly set up to cope with the multitudinous casualties of the campaign. They were deposited on the roof by the water tanks, and stretcher bearers were summoned, while the helicopter, a gunship minutes before, took on a new role as an air ambulance, and roared away again.
While Kirsty had suffered major loss of blood and severe wounds to her upper thighs and lower abdomen, and was whisked away for surgery, Crispin was deemed to be suffering from nothing more serious than mild hypothermia.
Wrapped in warm blankets and clutching a hot drink, he anxiously sought out Josie, her head bandaged, her eyes covered.
“I suppose you’ve heard,” he said softly, tenderly stroking a wisp of damp hair from her cheek, “that we took the bridgehead, but they’ve destroyed the bridge.”
“Yes,” Josie replied quietly. “I’ve heard all about your heroics in the boat. I’m glad I wasn’t able to see it.”
“I thought we were done for,” Crispin added, “but we found they could only depress the cannon just so far and no further. They obviously weren’t expecting an attack from the water. That was what saved us.”
A broad smile worked its way across Josie’s face. “I know. I’d spotted that early on in the piece. That’s why I was so keen to join you on the pier, but before I got there, I got that knock on the head. That’s what I was trying so hard to remember when you found me. Then I passed out, and when I came to, you and Kirsty had gone, and I heard the gunfire and the boat, and I guessed something of what you were trying to do. I felt I’d failed you by not telling you about the cannon, so when I found I’d still got my zapper, I thought I’d give the filth something else to think about. But I couldn’t see, and I had to aim high for fear of hitting you. I was so afraid for you.”
Crispin kissed her lips. “So was I. Specially when I got another soaking, and the sharks arrived. That’s twice I’ve been for a swim in the bay. From now on, I’m keeping well away from the water.”
Josie laughed amiably and rested her head against his chest. He caressed her brown locks, relieved that the fighting was over, at least for the moment, and that he and his beloved Josie had been safely reunited.
A short time later, and Underground doctor arrived, and Josie was taken away to have her eyes examined.