At first he thought he’d OD’d on vials of O, liquid heroin, drifting solitary into the ether; but this time was different. This time he was definitely awake. He could taste Absinth on his tongue. He could feel hot sticky leather beneath his skin. He looked down at his lap. His hand and clothing were all different, someone else’s. He felt between his legs and jumped out of his skin terrified as if possessed by a demon. It was only a flash but long enough to know it was not a dream. He threw the drugs away and wrestled with the experience all night breaking into a cold feverish sweat.
The door rang midday obliterating the silence knocking him conscious. He brushed last night’s fears to one side convinced it was merely a bad trip. An unassuming cute blond knocked on the door, Tara, masquerading as a chugger, plugging a charity for orphan children. He breathed a sigh of relief, things had returned back to normal. They sat in the lounge and he glugged a small measure of Southern Comfort into a lowball. “Sorry you don’t mind do you?”
It was barely midday but she shook her head with downturn lip, non-judgemental. He liked that, he liked not being judged and after a short while signed up without fuss thinking it more a case of good timing than a clever sell. Karl still had the TV on from last night watching Big Brother live. Not wanting to appear rude he reached to kill the volume.
“No leave it.” She whispered. He saw a twinkle in her eye. It was curious to say the least. “Do you mind if I try something?”
He shook his head subdued. “No.”
“Close your eyes.” He did as he was told oblivious, not knowing what to expect, not caring. Fact was he was still pre-occupied with last night’s episode, nothing could be worse than that. She looked innocent, a new-age hippy free and easy, he felt safe.
She unscrewed a tiny jar of Tiger balm. The sweet picante of ylang ylang and lavender intoxicated, welling his senses. “Relax, clear your mind.” She dabbed some on his temple, smeared it across his forehead and rubbed it in. It was soothing, icy hot. She tapped his forehead lightly. It felt warm. His head became light, his eyes heavy, he grew faint then blacked out.
Seconds later he came to, startled, scared just as before. “Fuck, my god.”
He was thrown back into the abyss. He panted hard trying to catch his breath phasing in and out of consciousness his vision blurred. He saw Tara standing above him offering a glass of his Southern Comfort and knocked it out her hand clearly shaken.
“Get away. What did you do to me?”
“Sshh..I’m sorry Karl really I am. We agreed the only way to convince you was for you to experience it yourself.”
“We? Who the fuck are we? What is this?” He felt shaken, scared of what? he was not sure. “Get away from me, get out.”
She got up to leave disappointed she had failed. She stopped and looked back holding out for one last chance. “The encounter you had last night was real. You should know it won’t stop, you can’t stop it. It will happen again, stronger. You will need help.” She walked toward the hallway stopped and looked back. “How was it?” He looked up at her still wary. “How was it being a girl?”
He was immediately sucked back to the center of it. She turned to leave. “Hold on, hold on. How did you know?”
She crept up silent, sat beside him and looked him straight in the eyes. “You’re a Photient like me.” He hung on momentarily, grew faint then passed out.
She sat opposite waiting for him to come to, flicking through last month’s GQ. The place was untidy slightly more shabby than chic. A distressed side board, blue, French baroque in style stood in front a huge ornate silver mirror. Indian sheesham chairs and tables lay next to a finely woven Persian rug. She could smell sickly sweet vinegar tones wafting from the kitchen. On the counter she found rubber ties next to a tar stained spoon barely concealed. There were no possessions, no pictures, none on display at least. She surmised he was educated had a good job but was somewhat lonely.
Karl was a tall gangly lad, distinguished looking and slightly pasty. If you could get beyond his height you’d see a quiet good looking man. A graphic designer, thirty something hipster struggling to remain hip. He was deeply insecure about his looks, had only one girlfriend and was convinced she only dated him out of pity.
It was dusk. She switched on the side lights and he slowly opened his eyes. He was still dazed but no longer catatonic.
“You still here. What happened?” asked Karl.
“You passed out.”
She re-iterated everything in painstaking detail recounting what he saw and felt; picking away at his fears and doubt. “I know it’s inconceivable and you must think me crazy. “ She pulled out a cigarette sparked it up and offered one across. “The subject you first inhabited we call a kerb.”
Her hushed tone put him at ease. “A Kerb?”
“Yes. Your first jump happened when you were high on opiates, that can bring it on.”
“Bring what on?”
“Your ability to possess other people of course.” She declared in a very matter of fact way.
It went quiet. He breathed in slow and easy wrapping his aching head round the suggestion. He did not believe in this stuff, yet there he was agog with the stuff in his hands. Everything was turned on it’s head. Area 51, strange cases of missing time, what did he know? The kooks were right. He was ready to take it all back, accept it all if it just went away.
He swept back his hair picked up his glass and began to pour. He paced around asking questions she could not answer (at least in terms he could comprehend), until he found one she could.
“So let me get this straight. I became Brenda off Big Brother?”
“No not exactly. You were physically here but your thoughts were hers.”
“And where is Brenda when I’m…”
“Visiting..we call it a visit or a jump. She’s still there totally unaware you are controlling her. She thinks it’s - .” she searched aimlessly.
“Business as usual?” interjected Karl.
She spent hours regurgitating the playbook, waiting for signs of acceptance. He looked up trying to read her face. She seemed sane, she looked sensible. She knew what had happened to him. In the absence of a credible alternative he began to tip. It’s all he had. No matter how absurd it seemed he hung onto it. It was the only thing keeping him sane.
Tara stood with an impish grin swinging her arms like a school kid as if it were no big deal.
“Why am I not Brenda now?” He said becoming susceptible to the notion.
“There are rules.” She puffed on the cigarette. “We can only connect when the broadcast is live.”
“And when the connection is broken it’s over?”
“Bingo, you got it.“
Daylight cracked, he was starting to believe.
“Your TV acts as a conduit, it amplifies and carries the live signal. Each kerb has their own frequency. All you have to do is tune in.”
She reached for her satchel and pulled out a book –“ Quantum Entanglement The techs in there, theory from the 60s. Huh theory, little did they know.”
Karl looked at the book cover and shook his head. He was more interested in what Tara could show him than reading some mystical book. He got up and fixed a brew to keep himself busy.
“Was I a…? What did you call it?” asked Karl.
“Kerb?” said Tara.
He clicked the kettle spotted his drug paraphernalia and covered it hastily calling. “Yeah, was I a Kerb? Did you visit me?”
Tara came in, resting her hand on the open door frame. “No, we can’t jump other Photients.”
“Is that how you knew I was one?”
“No I spotted you at a football match down The Lane.”
“Yeah, they’re my team.”
He was thrown. Things were getting weirder by the second, he felt like an ex-boxing champion who’d retired without throwing a punch. She walked through grabbed two cups and placed teabags in without looking. “You were in the crowd.”
“You can spot other Photients?”
“Yeah. It took a while to track you down.” The kettle clicked. Karl topped up the cups and yawned. “Look, I know you have a lot of question but you’re tired. Get some sleep. My numbers on the brochure when you’re ready?”
“The charity leaflet?”
“Oh yeah, that.” She left.
Karl gazed at the TV with menace. He switched it off and pushed it away into the hall to put it out of mind. He polished off the Southern Comfort all the while wondering if Tara was who she said she was. It seemed strange. He was thinking of donating to help the kids in Rwanda and as soon he became susceptible, up she pops on his door step. It seemed all too convenient. The thought gnawed away at his psyche then slipped from favour as the bottle ran dry.
He woke to blinding sunlight streaming through a crack in the curtains and raised his hand to save his eyes. His head was sore but through the haze last night’s events crept back in to vision. He set off to Odes café in Finsbury Park on the common and sat in his usual spot sipping hot tea, watching the kids play on the swings opposite. He reached into his pocket for cigarettes and felt something foreign. It was the leaflet. He studied it intently. Her signature was there clear as day. Tara, the cute blond chugger who supports Spurs, his favourite club. He laughed at the absurdity of it all. His world was not his anymore it was hers. He reached for her number and arranged to meet at her house in Couch End.
Security raised the barrier, he drove through and pulled up at red brick Victorian Building. She lived in a disused pump house over- looking the canal. The lock was still in use but serviced by newly installed hydraulics. Boats queued one by one, shipping goods down Lea Valley river, a tributary off the Thames.
He knocked on a gloss white door. Tara looked different, fresh faced in a tie-dye dress with her hair up in pigtails. The space was vast with high vaulted ceilings, the old pipes and machinery still in-situ rusted shut. Through the arched Victorian window you could see canal boats gliding by, and behind vast green fields, a calm deceptive prelude for what lie ahead.
He was led through to the main hall, a hi-tec clinic clean media hub. Steel plated walls were panelled with banks of TV screens all tuned to different channels.
“We monitor activity. Look out for new Photients,” said Tara.
“How do you spot them?”
“The systems set up to tune in. Photients have a distinct signature, fuzzy, constantly out of phase. That box down there.” She pointed to a small black box with blue LEDs flashing activity. “It makes them easy to spot. I’m working on a way to automate it so we don’t have to watch the box 24/7.”
He marvelled at the set up, it elevated her standing. “I’m beginning to think you’re not a chugger.”
She laughed. “Actually I am on the side. I got tired of bumping into newbies, making it look like an accident, so we came up with the idea. It saves time.”
“You said we? Where are the others?”
“Around.” She got up hastily eager to divert attention. “We got a lot to do. First things first, follow me.” They climbed up a set of spiral steps and manoeuvred past low beams into the rafters. They parked themselves in wicker chairs with high cushioned backs. “The signal is near perfect up here.”
“Perfect for what?”
“Your training of course.”
Karl paused. “Oh I..I err wasn’t expecting...”
“What were you expecting? A cup of tea and a chat?”
“No I don’t know..Urm..”
“You wanted answers right? What better way?”
He was fearful, he did not like visits, he did not like the jump. He proved he could do it.
Wasn’t that enough?Could he not take it easy. A cup of tea and a chat was sounding pretty good round about now. But he knew she was right, he knew he had to face it. She reached across and clasped his hands. “Don’t worry, don’t be nervous I’ll be here, okay?”
He was nervous, and her knowing it didn’t make it any easier. He caught their reflection, Tara, the innocent young slip calming the tall gangly giant, and felt a bit silly.
“You’re right, okay.”
She flicked through pre-selected channels. “Best to keep it short, ten minute bursts. Any
longer and you could burnout.” They settled on Karl’s favourite show, Big Brother.
“Alright, let’s do it,” said Karl.
“Not so fast, you got to do your homework, find a good fit.”
Karl quickly scoped for a candidate before Tara chose one for him. “What about him? The guy dressed as Spidey?” He suggested.
“Nah, go back to Brenda. You know her it will be easier.” Karl seemed despondent. “Is there something wrong?”
“It’s a bit weird that’s all, being a girl.”
“You have to let go of your pre-conceptions. The old rules don’t apply.” She nodded “okay?” He agreed. “Now study her mannerism. How she gesticulates, does she fidget? How does she stand, is she a leaner?”
“Won’t she do that herself?”
“The basics will be there. She will eat, walk and talk as usual but higher cogs not so much. You’ll have to learn her nuances.”
He mimicked her in the mirror for five hours straight with Tara pointing out every detail drip feeding pointers as and when. “You’ll have to supress your own impulses, picking your nose, peeing standing up,” she joked. “Things like that. Just think before you act. If you have to break cover do so covertly.”
Karl gazed at the screen, he felt anxious as he knew what lay ahead. His mouth ran dry. He could feel the pulse of his heart, the blood coursing through his veins, throbbing so hard his ears ached.
“Relax,” She whispered.
She would teach him how to make the jump on his own, without drugs. “Relax, clear your mind.” She placed a bowl a eucalyptus leaves in rosewater underneath his face and began to heat it. “Breath in through your nostrils and out your mouth. Look out across the meadow. Focus on Brenda, picture her face. Imagine being there, being her. Close your eyes…. Three, two, one.”
When he opened his eyes he was there again on the couch. Brenda’s pungent white lily scent struck him immediately choking the air. Just sitting there felt strange, as if breaking in a new pair of pinching shoes, trying to walk straight without cringing. He looked up at the glitzy set and was overcome. Fact is he made it into the Big Brother house without audition. He fancied being on the show but only for the exit, only to know how he would do, and now he was in.
He held the thought supressing smiles and feelings of elation. As reality descended he became acutely aware of every move. He went to pick his nose and switched to a light scratch. He glanced down, glimpsing his attire. Cor’ Blimey Brenda is built, he thought gazing down at her ample sized breasts beneath her crop top. Her short skirt revealed long luscious legs all the way down to gloss red heels. He was getting hot under the collar, an out of body paradox he found distracting at best. He felt round for the kill switch seeking diversion. It was time to put Tara’s theory to the test. A simple walk should be fine. Be bold he told himself trying desperately to keep it together. If he could manage the walk it would give him confidence and from there everything would fall into place.
He studied his reflection in the gloss black kitchen cabinet opposite and raised his eyebrows. God Brenda is well endowed. He opened his legs slightly intrigued then quickly shut as a few house mates entered. He glanced habitually at his watch realising Brenda did not have a watch so began shifting an imaginary dirt spot from his Watch-less wrist. He practiced mannerisms as rehearsed; pouting his lips, flicking his hair in a hand-held mirror. Brenda is hot. Brenda is me. The more he thought about what he couldn’t do the more he felt compelled to do it.
His panties began to feel tight and were chaffing to the point of distraction. Peter, a housemate entered shooting a weird look as he caught her scratching her crotch. As he headed toward the diary room it suddenly occurred to him that Peter was the least of her problems. There were ten million people watching, thirty cameras and crew behind two way mirrors. It started to unravel. He sneaked to the bedroom intent on straightening himself out. He checked the mirrors, hopped into the nearest bed, put his knees up to form a tent and dug out his panties.
Job complete he breathed a sigh of relief then shockingly and without fanfare Peter jumped into the bed and scooched up next to him. “Room enough for two love!?” he smirked.
Tara pulled him out straight away sensing he was about to break cover. He opened his eyes still there in the middle of a dizzy dream, but this time he knew what had happened. He knew where he was, up in the rafters with Tara shooting daggers.
“Why did you do that?” sniped Karl.
“Why did I do that? You looked possessed. What were you gonna do ugh?” she asked.
“Nut him..I was gonna nut him,” he cringed. She shook her head in disbelief. “I guess it could have gone better?”
“You got to stop thinking like a man.”
“But I am a man.”
“You are more than that. We are Photients, there’s a difference.” Karl looked away despondent. “Try not to think in physical terms. Think of what you have become. Think of Brenda. You are making decisions that could alter her life. You have to act responsibly.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Make better decisions.” He was sorry he had let her down. “Not to worry for now, we’ll fix it.”
They talked about the jump, what he did wrong and how to put it straight, but it was all a ploy. Time was short and there was much to do. Tara was determined to shock him into submission. She kept an eye on the show and when he least suspected it sent him straight back to the House.
It took a few seconds before he became present. A few seconds is a lifetime when you jump. Tara likened it to a 4 x 4 relay. If you got the timing wrong you could wind up in a whole heap of trouble and that was without allowing for TX delay. Tip forward, hold your arm back. He did as instructed; held his hands open waiting for the reassuring slap of light steel but got more than expected.
Normally, well that is to say, up until now, he emerged unfettered, free to explore his surroundings, but this time he was not alone. He felt the wind brush his neck. He was outdoors, probably in the garden. His eyes were closed. Bristle scratched his powdered skin. lips pressed against his, hands wandering up his back. He opened his eyes and nearly fell over, it was Peter. He pushed him away and stepped back.
“What’s wrong?” asked Peter. Brenda said nothing, just stood there, jaw sagging. She turned her back to hide her face. He crept up and put his arms around her from behind. There was a tussle.
Tara pulled him out again and stood over him.
“What was that?” Karl shrieked.
“A test. I’m trying to get over the hump?”
“The hump? I just kissed a guy with a beard.”
“So what? I saw the way you looked at Brenda earlier.”
“Yeah so? She was me. I mean I was …you know what I mean.”
“Why is that any different?”
“It’s confusing.” He put his head between his knees and exhaled. “Can I have five minutes. Just five to get my head together, please.” She laughed with a smug grin on her face. “What’s so funny?”
”You’re getting it. Right now you’re beginning to understand. What you’re feeling is typical. You got a lot to learn Karl it feels strange now but you’ll get use to it.”
“And if I don’t?”
She began to descend the staircase. “You will, they all do.”
Karl stayed at Tara’s to cram as much in as he could. He wanted to learn it all to cover himself, just in case the situation changed. They viewed local access channels only. It was deliberately low-key. If mistakes were made no-one would notice. They hung out together and Karl got use to the feeling. He got use to it all. The lines were becoming blurred. That was the first phase.
For relief Tara would take him to the games room, a place dedicated to live sports. He made a free throw for the Lakers, broke the reds at the Wuxi Classic in Nanjing then got thrown on a black run at Interlaken, Switzerland. “I thought I was just a passenger?”
“No there’s overlap. You have to work at it let him take over, tune out a smidge or it will interfere with his performance.”
They spent days fine tuning his skills holed up in the games room by day and doing the more serious stuff in the evenings. Tara was always there as a safety net. She always judged when it was time to enter and leave.
Karl had been training for seven days straight, he was exhausted. Tara suggested they visit his old patch to unwind. They strolled across the common to Odes café. It was empty just the way he liked it. Karl bought two macchiatos and they sat dipping biscotti, talking shop.
“Can you teach me how to pull myself out?” asked Karl.
“Yes, when you’re ready.”
“When’s that going to be?”
“Be patient. If you rush it could be bad and I won’t be able to help.” He grew suspicious. It was like she was trying to keep him longer than necessary. She threw him a hint to keep him happy. “There are triggers.”
“Like what?” he teased crunching a dry biscotti.
“You have to find your own. Something intense that takes you back.”
“Back to what?”
“Back to yourself.”
“Yes. I have a set of them. Being stung by a wasp, that’s one. You have to find your own and practice. I’ll teach you off-line. “
Karl lined up at the counter for some more tea. A solitary figure stood in front waiting in line. The back of her head looked familiar but he couldn’t place it. He looked across at Tara, she knew who it was instantly. He heard her speak. “Two slices of Victoria sponge and a pot of tea.” The penny dropped. It was Brenda. The cashier handed her a ticket. Karl felt faint, he lost his balance. Tara supressed laughter biting her lower lip raising a clenched fist over her mouth. He toppled. “Oh, be careful,” said Brenda.
Karl clambered to the exit. He caught his breath and waited outside for Tara but she stayed put. A tall slender man bounded through the door tucking his car keys into his pocket. Karl pressed his face against the window only to see Tara chatting openly with Brenda and the man who just entered.
“This is Peter,” said Brenda. “You probably already know that.”
“Oh my god, are you together?” exclaimed Tara.
“Yeah,” she said leaning in for a kiss. “We couldn’t wait to get out the house could we Pete?”
Karl looked on and Tara beckoned him in. He did as he was told and sheepishly approached head bowed. “This is Karl.”
“Look Karl it’s Brenda and Peter from the Big Brother house,” she said revelling in Karl’s consternation.
“That’s a coincidence,” said Karl striking back.
“He means we we’re just talking about you,” she explained kicking his leg. “Brenda was saying how they couldn’t wait to leave the house.”
“Oh yeah why’s that?” asked Karl.
“They’re calling it the Kiss, you know like Prince charming,” replied Brenda.
“Prince charming? I thought you were gonna knock me out,” said Pete.
“Yeah, I know hot and cold. I don’t know what came over me. Any way if it weren’t for that we wouldn’t be together now.”
Karl’s eyes screamed for help praying for an immediate exit. Tara took the hint made excuses and strutted out with Karl in hot pursuit.
“Great now we’re playing god.” He said, she rolled her eyes dismissive brushing it aside. “Did you know?” he asked.
“They were coming to the café.”
“How would I know that?” Karl looked on doubtful. “Sometimes you meet a kerb. It happens.”
“And you don’t think that’s odd?”
“We jump people’s minds Karl, that’s odd.”
“What about The Kiss? They wouldn’t be together if it weren’t for me?”
“You don’t know that. Look we interact all the time with people… ‘ in the real world.’ everything we do has an effect.”
“That’s not the same.”
She did that a lot, answered a question with a question, left you hanging suspended waiting for the final word, but she did it for a reason, she did it to make him think. But instead of trying to make sense of things he threw it back at her. She tried to keep him focused. “Did you read the book?” Karl looked blank. “Quantum entanglement, the moons not behind you till you look.” He shook his head.
Karl looked across the field back to his flat. “I got to get back to mine, you know check on the post and stuff.”
Tara agreed, she didn’t want to push it. He turned to leave and she held his arm.
“Always go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom you’re in the right place.”
“To do what?”
“Find the truth.”
Karl drifted back home to Manor House trying to figure the meaning and on placing the key in the door left it all behind. He grabbed a bag of nachos and cheese dip from the kitchen, wheeled the TV back into the living room and flicked through the channels determined to watch and not participate. Big Brother was skipped, sports avoided. He settled on Planet of the Apes and felt safe. He lent across to put the fire on, sat back and reached down the side to remove something hard poking his thigh. It was the book.
He turned the pages, skimmed over meaningless equations and diagrams and stopped on a page that was earmarked - ’Using photons we can direct information carried by the original and make new identical information there.” In the margin he saw handwritten notes underlined. - Quantum state is reconstituted- Q.E.D. Russ. He did not recognise the handwriting. Was it a note to Tara? Who was Russ? He tossed the book to one side in flagrant disregard eager to get resume old habits.
The jumps kept him away from smack, they induced a natural high even better, he would argue, but now he was back home and away from it, it was all he could think about. He reached for an emergency stash of H he kept in a caddy jar in a kitchen cupboard next to candles and a lighter. It was off white tannish powder, the good stuff from the east coast. He drew an equal amount of water and slowly squirt it out onto the pile leaving just enough to dissolve the smack. Bubbles formed as he swished the spoon lightly over the crackle and spit of wick, gently warming minding not to boil. He injected the needle, first drawing a dab of blood to mix in the syringe and injecting it back straight into his bulging vein.
He was happy, back into his routine and away from the madness. Barely five seconds had passed when the transmission was interrupted for breaking news. Light bars from squad cars and ambulances flashed cherry and blue. News helicopters circled overhead waiting to catch the scoop. A reporter stood in front of yellow security tape and gave a chilling recap.
’A Policeman was brutally attacked and killed by two men outside Edmonton Police Station earlier today. In the last five minutes the men, armed with knives and a machete have taken two women hostage and are currently holed up outside the station. So far no demands have been made but it is strongly believed they have acted in response to the UK’s military activity in the Balkans.’
Karl could make out two young women being held at knife point. He looked on astonished fearing for their lives. The girls stood motionless, numb. Karl recognised the seriousness of the situation. If these guys were intent on becoming martyrs what hope was there for the hostages?
The negotiators were trying their best to talk them down but at best struggled to keep the dialogue going. All the while snipers positioned themselves from vantage points waiting for the signal, but the attackers were smart. They held the girls close in the shadows moving constantly, making it hard to get a fix. As time wore on the back and forth exchange with the Police became less frequent. The longer they waited the lower the chances of survival. Karl knew this would not end well, but through the gloom came a wave of euphoria. How strange? He’d forgotten about the H and immediately reached for the remote before he jumped. He blacked out, it was too late.
He felt tears falling, mascara staining his face drying hard. The breath of his assailant caught the back of his neck, hot panting. Both men were twitchy, furiously on edge. They looked about holding him tight, pivoting with the blade tight against his neck. He felt the broad side, cold steel with sticky residue sliding against his skin. Karl’s training came to mind. He read the situation fast. Assessing the threat, their mood. Calculating how much time he had left and what to do to survive. His life was hanging in the balance or was it? All that training and he didn’t know. If his kerb died would he die too? He looked across at the other girl, she couldn’t have been more than fifteen, all dolled up. It was Friday, she was almost certainly on her way to a bar with her friend to kick off the weekend. This was wrong, he grew angry he could not allow this to happen. He saw the Police looking on with dead eyes, desperate, sensing defeat. The seconds were counting down, he decided to make his move but before doing so glanced across to the other girl. To his surprise she looked unfazed, calm. He could not fathom the sudden change.
She had stopped crying simply because she was not her anymore. Karl suspected he was not alone; either way he had made his mind up. The other girl caught Karl’s eye’s and engaged him nodding slowing - ’Let’s do it,’ she mouthed – ‘Three, two, one.’
Feet were stamped eyes poked. They elbowed their captors with such force it knocked them out the way. The snipers wasted no time and took the shot with exacting precision.
Karl woke up slumped in his chair to the sound of his phone ringing off the hook. He reached across and spoke. “Is that what you meant about making better decisions?” He let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks Tara.” There was no reply. ”Tara?” The line went dead and as before he relapsed.
It was the next day. He woke in unfamiliar surroundings trying to figure out where he was and how he got there. Out the bedroom window he could see rail tracks, a train screamed by. He knew he was still in North London, he recognised the blue and yellow livery. In the yard he heard male voices calling out. The doors were open wide. He knew it was no coincidence, he was there for a reason. He crept along the corridor, down a set of concrete steps into the back yard and saw two men kicking a ball around. They stopped, looked up and one casually walked over smiling happy.
“There’s the man of the moment.” He shook his hand. “Hi Karl I’m Russ.”
Russ was a handsome rugged man from Manchester, slender and smartly dressed. Behind Russ stood Mike.
“What the fuck?” exclaimed Karl.
His blood ran cold. Exhilaration followed shock, a curious new mix he didn’t much care for. Mike was a Photient? Mike Hutch the center forward for Spurs, Karl’s favourite football team was a Photient?
“Oh yeah Mike,” said Russ. “- I forgot, he’s a big fan.”
Mike winked “Good boy.”
“Follow me,” said Russ. He led him out the side door. “We need some privacy.”
They cut through a break in the bramble bush and sat on a bench along the rail track.
“You were the other girl last night?” asked Karl.
“Yes.” said Russ.
Mike cracked a four pack of Stella and passed it round.
Karl looked puzzled. “So it wasn’t Tara?”
“Tara? No, she wouldn’t put herself in harm’s way. She’s not like that.” He gulped a mouthful of brew, the wind played with his hair. “Tara plays at it. She likes to experiment, make observations. She takes objection to affirmative action, she prefers to dabble, do her research.”
“And you don’t?”
“There’s nothing wrong with research, but it’s what you do with it that counts. And you Karl how do you feel?”
“Taking action?” Karl remained button lipped. “I understand, no comment ? Tara found you. You’re loyal to her and that’s good.”
Mike jumped in. “I met her at a wine bar, Tara. She said she was a fan. I thought she was another one of those girls, gold diggers we get them all the time. One thing led to another and we started dating.” He swept back his curtain fop. “Soon after she told me about the Photients and that I was one of them. I was where you are now.” He polished off the brew and turned to face him. ”She will try to keep you under her, you mark my words... Anyway I met Russ and never looked back.”
“Do you remember last night?” asked Russ “Do you remember what you did?... You saved that girl. You got to ask yourself, do you want to play at it or make a difference? Tara was where you are now too. I found her, trained her., taught her all she knows. Conagua , Ted Serios.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re where it all began. They paved the way for us. Before global consciousness was just an idea they were there making it real. My dad was one of them, he had astonishing PK ability.” Russ paused getting emotional. “Any way it took a lot out of him. They pushed him too hard. In the end it was too much. He had an aneurism, they said.”
A train sped toward them down the outer track. “We got to go.” Russ and Mike crossed the rails and left Karl behind. When he reached the other side he looked back and yelled. “I believe there’s a reason you’re here.” He raised his hand. ”See ya around Karl.”
Karl smiled in recognition. He felt dizzy, mixed up and a little bit star stuck. Telling someone with low self-esteem they’re a hero tends to leave an impression. It made him feel relevant, it gave him purpose. He longed to do something good, something worthwhile all his life and last night was a clear example of how it could work.
It was turning into a game with Karl stuck in the middle. Russ was to the point, had clear objectives he could understand. Tara withheld a lot. If she was not totally open with him how could he trust her? He began to view her with suspicion. He felt she was treating him like a kid, selfishly keeping him for herself.
He went back home to Manor House. As he reached to open the front gate Tara grabbed his elbow and swept him along from behind.
“I don’t think you understand how vulnerable you are? She said.
“Please to see you too?” said Karl.
“You see that truck at the end of the street?”
Karl noticed it round Russ’s, a large white boxy van blotting out the daylight but thought nothing of it at the time. “What about it?”
“There’s a guy in there, Jack, monitoring your flat right now.”
They ducked into the nearest café to avoid his gaze. They sat up front spying through a misted window. Punters from the local estate slurped mugs of milky tea while waitresses rushed back and forth serving plates of shepherds pie and hot sticky pudding. Karl ordered two cups of instant and sparked a cigarette.
“We’ve known about him for some time. He’s not exactly conspicuous,” said Tara.
“Who is he?”
“It goes way back. His dad invented The Egg, a little box used to monitor global consciousness.”
“Don’t worry about it for now.”
Karl paid little attention. Fact is he couldn’t care less about Jack. Jack truck was way down the list of concerns. He was preoccupied with this morning events. Tara’s intentions played on his mind.
“Who’s Russ?” He said hoping she would confess.
“You read the book then?”
“No, I met Russ this morning.”
“Oh…Picked you up did he?... I was going to tell you later…” She blew smoke from her cigarette out the corner of her mouth. “You don’t believe me do you?”
He got up to leave. “You should have told me.”
“I said I was going to.”
“Not about them about you.”
Fact is he’d already made his mind up. She knew in her heart she could do little to stop him, it had happened before. She looked away in resignation. “You don’t have to go Karl.”
“Yes I do, I’m sorry.”
He circled the block and wound up back on his street. The truck was still there. He walked round and looked up at the cabin but there was no-one inside. He sat on the low wall opposite waiting to confront him when a black car pulled up. It was Russ. “Hop in.”
Kar got in and slammed the door. “Where we going?”.
“HQ our headquarters.”
Russ edged forward and pounded his fist on the side of the truck. Jack, a short fat man with slicked back hair, came out from the back to investigate.
“Come on,” hollered Russ inviting Jack to follow.
He pulled away, made a left and zipped along the high street. “I thought he was the enemy?” exclaimed Karl.
“So why are you leading him to.. HQ?”
“What makes you think I am?” He slowed down allowing him to catch up. “Watch this.” He took a sharp left under a low bridge. Jack screeched to a halt, his truck was too high to make the height.
“Action Karl, actions make a difference.”
Karl glanced Jack in the rear view mirror making a U-turn. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“Sorry we left you this morning but we had to lose Jack. Looks like he’s onto you now. “
“What does he know?”
“Nothing. He wouldn’t be here and neither would we if he did. He’s a glory hunter, wants to break the story of the century just like his Dad.”
“You know him? We grew up together. My dad was his dad’s big experiment, trying to prove PK. It was his ticket to fame before,…before they lost him. ”
“He must know something? Why does he stalk us, you, Tara?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s in the truck?”
“Detectors, bugging devices, who knows? He spends days parked on the streets trying to get something. We take deliveries of mysterious packages and act cagey when he’s there to throw him off HQ.”
They pulled up to a disused parking lot under the arches in Kings Cross and made their way to an abandoned platform. They entered a stairwell via a blocked service hatch and descended a steep flight of metal steps via torch light. It was cold and dank.
“It’s an abandoned service shaft for the Underground, hasn’t been used since World War II.”
At the bottom was a giant circular brick hall which led onto a corridor reinforced with steel strips. At the end was a dimly lit entrance to what only could be described as a glitzy VIP bar. Russ swiped his key card and the door clicked open.
The bar was a huge yellow brick cavern dotted with accent lights illuminating wacky art installations; a VW camper van with a trail of dog sleds spilling out the rear. On the wall was the rear end of a chrome coated Caddy de Ville with bass bins pumping so loud you could feel the floor quake. A live band was on stage performing The Cult of Personality in front of a floor to ceiling video wall.
He spotted Kim Gordon from Cronik and Jo, the guitarist from Nation X chatting in a private booth. People circulated and drank cocktails from the bar.
Karl looked around in awe. “Are all these people Photients?”.
“Yes, every single one.”
Russ got behind the bar and fixed Karl a Manhattan poured straight into a chilled Martini glass. Karl was excited, energised by his new surroundings and keen to make a clean start.
“You should know I didn’t mean to rescue those girls that night,” he confessed. “It was an accident. I was high on smack.”
“You think you jumped because you were high?”
Karl nodded, Russ shook his head. “You have a lot to learn Karl.”
“It was the drugs wasn’t it?”
He sniggered and poured the drink into stem glasses. “All in time Karl.”
They were interrupted by Simon an impatient but loyal follower. “Hi, nice to meet ya.”
“Karl this is Simon. Simon is a liberal progressive.”
“Don’t listen to him. Did you think about my suggestion?”
“Later Si ok, I’m a bit busy?”
“We’re running out of time. I need a decision.” Simon walked off in a huff.
Karl knocked back the crisp Manhattan and gasped invigorated. “Is there a problem?” asked Karl.
“No. Simon’s a bit of a hot head. Remember during the Miss World contest; Miss England threw a spaz in the name of Womens’ Lib.” Karl nodded. ”That was Simon.”
“He want’s us to fight the power from within.”
“What does that mean?”
“Trouble, is what it means. Nothing is fixed but one thing’s for sure, we don’t do Politics. It’s folly and I won’t be dragged in.” Russ replaced his glass. ”Let me show you round.”
They walked along the main corridor ink stained with Photient tags.
“Some of our people go under pseudonyms. Karl pointed one out, angular in black and silver. “Jinx, she’s a character.”
“The Fallen, who’s that?”
“Charles, ex-army. He lost his brother in the Falklands.”
They entered a darkened room dissected into glass tinted booths. Each booth had a set of TV screens with bespoke leather loungers. The place was empty bar a couple of Photients out cold.
“This is the training suite.”
“Training for what?”
“Skills; skiing, horse riding nothing that requires tech. Every kerb leaves an imprint on your brain.”
“Yes, that’s right. The longer you practice the better you get. What we do presents challenges. We are dropped into novel situations, the skills gives you options, it can get you out of a fix.”
Karl glimpsed Jo from Nation X, a rock chick with a bronze Mohican laid out in leathers on the couch motionless, her eyes flickering in REM sleep. “What’s she doing?”
Russ shook his head. “Not again.” He turned up the remote. “She’s jumped a Van Halen concert.” Eddie Van Halen took up center stage and went into a blistering solo building to a mesmeric peak. “Brushing up on her guitar by the looks of it.”
“Mostly Jo I think.’”
“That’s so fucking cool.”
They left her to it. Opposite was an ominous looking set of ornate double doors. “This is the hub where we do the serious stuff.”
Karl marvelled at the domed high ceiling. Live feeds from over thirty countries were up on the wall, Peru, China, Vietnam all labelled with brass legends. There were two operators sat at the control desk wearing headsets, switching between monitors looking out for alerts.
“You met Simon?”
“Yeah from earlier. Hi again,” said Karl.
“We work off rotas around the clock 24/7. There are always two ops on at any one time. One to monitor and one to jump.”
An alarm sounded, they were bathed in red light. “We’re live,” said Simon. (code for an alert.). The other Photients rushed in from the main hall.
“Where is it?”
“Japan. We got a ledge-walker.”
“Put it up on the main screen.”
They looked on as the action unfolded live. A Japanese reporter on the ground outside a fifty story high rise gave running commentary. “Watashi wa janpu suru.”
“He’s threatening to jump,” said Simon.
“You speak Japanese?” asked Karl. They laughed knowingly at the novice. He did not realise Photients could learn any language in one jump; Japanese, Hindu or Khoisan the click language of Africa.
“Alright everyone calm down. He doesn’t know yet.”
“Know what?” asked Karl.
“I’ll tell you after,” said Russ. “Si, how long has or Japanese friend been there?”
“About fifteen, twenty minutes.”
Russ shook his head. “Leave it. It’s just a cry for help.”
“How do you know?” asked Karl.
“If he was serious he’d already be dead. Let the Police handle it. He’s good.”
They looked on and surely enough the Police arrived within minutes and talked him down.
“Don’t jump for the sake of it, read the situation. Sometimes it’s best to let it play out. If we had intervened he’d be back on that ledge tomorrow.”
Barely seconds had passed before the alert sounded again.
“We’re Live, Austria. The ski lift has broken down,” said Mike Hutch. There were audible gasps as they saw a man dangling by his neck from a seat, Karl didn’t gasp, but was instead distracted by the sight of Mike at the controls. “He got thrown,” said Mike.”The strap from his rucksack is choking him.”
Russ immediately stepped into the isolation booth closed his eyes and jumped.
Seconds passed into minutes. It seemed an eternity. “Where is he?”
“Is he there? Is he alright?” cried Jo.
“Don’t sweat it,” said Mike. “Over there.” Russ was wire-walking unaided on the cable above. “He’s doing his circus act.”
He climbed down onto the chair below and cut the man down with a blade.
Russ walked out of the booth to rousing applause and cheers. He lent into Karl. ”That’s why we do it.” Karl stood back in admiration, speechless with his mouth open “Are you in?”
Karl nodded. “Definitely.”
Karl spent many weeks at HQ’s getting into the routine. He was assigned to Simon for training. For relaxation they sat in between combat sessions slashing zombie dogs on Resident Evil.
“Did Tara find you?” asked Karl.
“Yeah,” Simon put his feet up on the desk. “You know Tara never manages to keep anyone. She finds them then Russ comes along and steals them away.”
“Where did she find you?”
“On the news. I was on a protest march outside BNP headquarters.”
“Have you always been a - ?”
“ – Dissident?”
“I was going to say protestor.”
“No not really it crept up on me. You don’t wake up and say right today’s the day. I had no choice it grabbed me, it chose me; now I can’t imagine being anything else.” He reached for a beer, flicked the remote looking for distraction and paused smiling wide. “Do you wanna race Demolition Derby?”
“Demolition Derby? I haven’t had any training.”
“You don’t need it trust me.”
They jumped into the melee as Bruce and Dave Heft, brothers on the circuit. The smell was the first thing that hit them, exhaust fumes from the ten or so remaining cars.
“Zero lag? Impressive,” shouted Simon referring to the time it takes a Photient to become present. Karl was becoming extremely adept, his transition response was near instant.
He shook his head. “- but not there yet,“ he yelled shunting Karl from behind.
Simon sped off leaving Karl a sitting duck. A car took aim and rammed him from the side, he was knocked for six. His helmet slammed against the roll cage and then forward against the wheel cracking his visor. The car backed up for a second run. Karl crunched the gears, floored the accelerator and took off bumping around kicking up dirt and dust.
They completed a few circuits and crashed out on the penultimate lap. Simon ran across the track followed by Karl. They hopped over the barriers and jumped back to HQ.
“Shit, that was one hell of a rush,” shrieked Simon. Karl sighed as he saw Bruce Heft slam his fist against the wall. “What’s wrong?”
“We messed up their chances. We stayed too long. I should have tuned out more.”
“I didn’t tune out at all.” He panted still feeling the effects. ”Don’t worry it’s acceptable.”
Simon drank from the water fountain and splashed his flushed face. “We use our skills to benefit others. There’s a price to pay to acquire those skills. You have to weigh up it up. The means justify the end.”
“For me, yes.”
His words hung in the air. It was a slant on reality he wasn’t completely comfortable with but went with the flow keen to avoid complications.
Russ poked his head round the door. ”You guys are on.”
They left for the control room to work their shift.
Karl had been hard at it for two weeks straight and was at risk of burning out. He was made to take a break and returned home. HQ had decommissioned his TV to eliminate unauthorised jumps. It was the same reason they did not have an OB truck, to avoid temptation. It was policy, standard procedure.
He began to appreciate small pleasures, things he used to take for granted. He went for walks, read and pottered round the garden. For the first time in years he did not feel the urge to shoot. He threw away his stash, he didn’t need it anymore. There was no need to escape reality, reality felt good.
Before he returned to HQ he went round to see Tara. He’d been avoiding her calls and felt he owed her an explanation. He climbed her steps bracing himself for a cold reception. To his surprise she was not at all fussed but instead pre-occupied with a more pressing matter. She opened the door ushered Karl in and rushed back to work.
“What’s wrong?” asked Karl.
She shook her head and looked back stressed.
“Simon’s gone missing.”
“Russ called looking for you. He’s on his way round.”
Tara got back to work looking through old tapes starting from the day he disappeared.
“I warned him, playing with fire, now look.” Karl wasn’t sure if she was talking to herself or him.
The door rang, Tara ignored it. The door rang again followed by a knock. She ignored it again and continued to moan under her breath. Karl opened the door and Russ stomped straight through to the viewing station.
She could hardly contain herself, the moment had been brewing for years. To compound matters Simon was the first Photient she found him. Their time together held special meaning and made his disappearance all the more troubling.
“I warned you,” she cried staring intently at the screen. “If you go down this path it will not end well.”
“This is not my fault,” said Russ.
“Please spare me. We are all at risk because of you.” She let go of the jog wheel and faced him. “You tell people to take action. You empower them, then tell them what they can and can’t do. It was a ticking time bomb; always was and you knew it.”
“We can contain it.”
She stopped momentarily turned to him and huffed. “Even now you’re in denial. Just admit you were wrong.”
Seeing the two of them go at it was tearing Karl apart. He could no longer stand idle.
“No, he isn’t wrong,” said Karl. “- and neither are you.” He felt like smashing their heads together. It was all so petty. “You’re both right. Yes, we have to face it head on but we must exercise restraint. You two need to work together.”
They fell silent. His words cracked through the layers of hostility. Karl had seen both sides and as such was now the perceived voice of reason. He felt hopeful. If nothing else the emergency had brought them together.
“Do we have any theories?” asked Karl taking the lead, trying to build impetus.
“Simon’s always been anti-establishment,” said Russ “- a radical who wants to burn down Parliament. I told him to hold back. I told him there’s a better path, a better way,”
Tara tried to hold back but couldn’t help herself. “He wanted to fix the system, not fight crime.”
“What was I suppose to do?”
Karl interrupted again, desperately trying to keep the peace. “So what are you looking for?”
“The PM,” said Tara brushing off the argument.
“The Prime Minister!?” exclaimed Karl.
“He gave a speech at Whitehall on the recent military success in the Balkans.”
“You think he jumped the Prime Minster,” scoffed Russ.
“It’s worth a look,” she said. She found the segment and played it back, The PM talked about Operation Storm and the success in taking back RSK held territory in Croatia. “See the eyes? He’s using the prompter.”
“Yes I know, I saw it at the time and nothing unusual was said,” said Russ. “Any way Simon’s smarter than that. If he were gonna do it he wouldn’t go direct. Probably use a minister to influence him, someone he trusts.”
“How about Gerald Cox the Foreign Secretary? He’s sitting behind.” suggested Karl.
She inched the tape forward and stopped. “Look there, he’s speaking with him.”
Russ read his lips. “It’s nothing, ’nice work.’ We’re wasting our time.” Tara kept at it flicking frame by frame figuring there was something she missed. Russ grew impatient and got up and to leave.
“Hold on,” said Karl. “The guy behind in the black suit.” She froze the image.
“What about him?” asked Russ.
“He’s reaching for something in his pocket.”
“Must be security.” Russ sat back down. “Jog it forward.”
“What we looking for?” Asked Tara.
“There,” said Russ. “Shit, outstanding mate.”
“What is it?” asked Tara.
“He just bugged the PM.”
They went outback to a spot over-looking the lock so they weren’t overheard. Jack was still on the prowl and they didn’t want to take any chances. They sat on the locks edge, pumps rushed water to the inlet as a boat slowly rose.
“Why bug the PM?” asked Tara.
“Intel,” said Russ.
“I don’t know.” He racked his brain searching for a connection. “Where did the PM go after Whitehall?”
“Probably a de-brief,” said Tara. “I know it’s batty but you don’t think he’s got anything to do with the suicide bombing in Zagreb? It happened the next day. Top military dead, only a few knew the location.”
“Simon’s a hothead but no, he wouldn’t be involved in that.” He back tracked a little just to be sure. “Did you run a background check?”
“On Si? of course, he was fine, totally clean.”
They strolled back to the house, horses grazed in the meadow beyond, a cool zephyr caught Karl’s face. “You know we talked about the jump,” said Karl “- when we saved those girls. He said those guys (the kidnappers) had a point, but they just went about it the wrong way. I thought it was odd, just him mouthing off like he does, ya know.”
“Maybe there’s more to it. Maybe he got mixed up with the wrong people,” suggested Tara.
They went back to the house through to the lounge. Russ had that sinking feeling. Through all their talk, all they had was a theory. They were no closer to finding Simon.
Tara went back to work searching for more clues. Karl and Russ left to see if they could pick up his trail on the streets.
They drove round aimlessly. “Shouldn’t we be helping Tara?” asked Karl.
“No, she knows what she’s doing, any way I got a feeling,”
“Nothing specifically,” Karl screwed up his face unconvinced. He felt they were wasting time. “I have these hunches but they’re more than that. It’s like going outside for fresh air. You know it’s the same as the air inside but you go anyway,”
“Instinct, something like that. You have to do what your mind tells you too even if it doesn’t make sense. It’s never let me down yet.”
They stopped at a bar near Karl’s. They chatted over a few shorts, a few shorts turned into a few pints and Russ became the worse for wear as the broader ramifications sank in. There were mutterings at HQ, whispers. He knew if something happened to Simon it could split HQ, destroy everything he built, everything he believed in.
As soon as they left feelings of guilt crept back to mind. He felt it was his fault. Instead of talking it through he had ignored Simon. Simon may have planted the seeds of descent but he was one of the first, one of the founders. He helped make HQ what it was.
They turned the corner onto Karl’s street and at the far end could see a white truck partially obscured by overhanging trees. It was Jack. His guilt quickly turned to fury. He raced up to the vehicle and hauled Jack out onto the street.
Russ struck him in the face venting his frustration, Jack fell onto the tarmac. He enunciated kicking him in the stomach. “You.” He kicked him again.” Your dad. It’s your fault, people like you...”
Karl tried to pull him off. Russ pushed him away.
Out of the blue Tara pulled up opposite ran across and got in between Russ and Jack.
“Leave him, don’t,” she cried.
“Why not? He’s had it coming.”
“I found something.”
She pulled out a camcorder and played it to him. He gazed at the screen. “I don’t believe it.”
“What?” said Karl. “Shit he’s a Photient.”
They piled into Karl’s flat. Russ moped around conflicted. Jack was his sworn enemy yet there he sat opposite as one of them. Tara took the matter in hand. She cleaned up Jack’s face with antiseptic and gave him ibuprofen for the pain. Although Jack had been tracking the team for some time he had no idea what they were. He had bits of the puzzle, conversations, misinformation. Tara selected an access channel to demonstrate their ability. Jack looked on in abject terror as she laid out what they were and what they were capable of.
Karl kept a check on him trying to weigh him up. He kept blinking, opening his eyes and mouth wide, to check he was still awake.
“So what are you going to do now you know?” asked Tara.
He placed a trembled cup of hot chocolate to his lips. “Nothing.”
“Why?” croaked Russ. “Why should we believe you?”
Jack laughed reeling from the implications. “Why?... Fuck, you tell me I’m one of you and what? You think I’m not affected by that?” he cried. He looked up at Russ holding back, snorting like a bull. He pulled at his mouth and exhaled searching for the words, searching for redemption. ”All I wanted to do is finish my father’s work. My dad admired your father.”
“My dad is dead.”
Russ wasn’t buying it. Jack needed something to stop matters slipping, something to prove they could trust him, and then it came. They had not mentioned it but he knew.
“I can tell you where Simon is?”
“What? How do you know about Simon?” Jack exhaled relieved. “Talk,” said Russ.
“I’ve been tracking him for a while. Judging from the conversations he was having, I thought he might tip. I was going to approach him, offer an inducement.”
“What, are you kidding?” said Russ.
Jack raised his hands outstretched. “I’m telling you everything, no secrets okay?” Tara shot a killing stare and Russ recoiled. “Simon got in with some bad people, Militants wanted by their own government. They befriended him and once they gained his trust he offered to help, said he could get them intelligence. They lied to him, said they would use the intel to influence the deal makers. There was no hint at violence. A day later they launched the attack in Zagreb. I heard them celebrating afterwards.“
“Shit it was Zagreb. Why didn’t you come to us?” asked Russ.
“Look at me.” He winced in pain. Karl gave him a bag of frozen peas for his eye.
“So where’s Simon now?” asked Russ.
“He’s holed up at a warehouse in Wandsworth.”
Russ perked up. “What we waiting for?”
Tara held back with Jack awaiting orders whilst Karl and Russ headed back to HQ.
Things just got real. Karl grew concerned worried Russ was rushing in without thinking things through. “Jack said they had guns. They‘re well equipped,”
“So are we,” reassured Russ. “There’s only three of them.”
“That’s what we know of. What if there’s more?”
Russ was fine, he had a feeling, merely being on the right side was enough to win. Karl was not so hopeful. A million things could go wrong. Being a Photient did not matter, being on the right side did not matter. Knowing lives were at risk he pushed for answers.
“Are you sure it will work?”
“What do you want me to do? Leave him there? We are running out of time Karl. I need you on board okay?”
“Don’t worry we will be wired. Tara and Jack will listen from the Truck.”
“Yes, we need him.”
“You changed your tune.”
“Sometimes you got to swallow your pride to get the job done.” His attitude bolstered Karl’s belief. “Any way you’ll be with him. If it all goes south I need you as back-up.”
They rang ahead. Everyone assembled in the main hall, this would be a defining moment and Russ knew it. He climbed center stage and laid out the situation, delivering a rousing speech. He pulled them together, underlining their purpose and commitment to each other. They cheered but their support served more as a test of loyalty as Russ knew only a few would be going.
“We are only taking combatants, volunteers only. If you’re on board step forward, you know who you are.”
Charles, Jo and Mike showed themselves keen to answer the call. Karl felt guilty. While he was watching from the side lines these guy’s were putting their lives on the line. He felt he’d been playing at it all along.
They convened in the store room for a briefing. “We don’t know the layout. It’s a warehouse so assume nothing. There may be traps, alarms be prepared. Remember your training,” said Russ.
The idea was simple. Cut the power, roll in the gas, grab Simon and run. They felt the element of surprise would give them a marked advantage.
Russ laid it out. “…any questions?”
“What happens if we meet resistance?” asked Charles.
“Take them out. Don’t risk it these guys won’t think twice about you.”
Karl found his words chilling, was this still Russ?
It was too late to pull out whether he liked it or not he was on board. He looked down at his gun, a 38 Ruger. He knew how to use it, he’d had his training but now it felt different, now he had to see it with his own eyes it got personal. The cocking of guns and metal latches drove reality home. He tried to think more about saving Simon than the other stuff, but he could not. He longed for Tara, the chugger who supported Spurs. Things were simpler back then. He liked simplicity. He began to appreciate her uncomplicated view, but it was too late for that. They suited up in flat jackets; stuffed a holdall with gas masks, head-mounted infrared googles and set off.
It was a miserable night, cold and raining hard. They killed their headlamps and rolled pass Jack’s truck on the edge of the industrial estate in Wandsworth. They parked around the corner about a hundred feet from the warehouse. A solitary street lamp lit up the surrounding area. Jack got out of the truck shook Russ’s hand and pointed out the warehouse. Karl hopped out the car and into Jack’s truck whilst the team tooled up ready for action. They scoped the site from a distance and could not see any guards.
“They must be inside,“ said Russ.
He gave the signal to move in. Karl’s heart thumped as he saw them disappear around the corner, crouching low. Mike picked the lock and they cut the main power from the fuse box on the wall. The lights went off. They entered what appeared to be a carpet warehouse. High shelves formed a maze or corridors with rolls of underlay and carpet piled high.
They split into different directions and sneaked along the shelves looking for heat signatures, listening for voices but could hear and see nothing. It seemed strange but they continued prepared to see it through no matter what.
Russ signalled his team to head to the door in the far corner. As they approached the lights came on suddenly.
“Drop it.” Russ turned round taking aim ready to strike. “I said drop your weapons, don’t try me.”
A man came forward clutching Karl with a gun shoved in his face. He shoved Karl forward and from behind Alexandro, the leader appeared. He was a mean looking, built like an Ox. Behind him were two heavies dressed in designer suits.
Russ heart dipped, everything had turned to shit. He calculated the risk, thought about taking the shot but suppressed the impulse. Even if he sacrificed himself there was no guarantee they could win. He saw no option but to stand down and wait it out. He gave the nod and his team backed off.
“Toss your guns on the ground, do it,” he yelled, his breath condensing into mist. Alexandro’s men retrieved them. “Raise your hands.”
The heavies moved in and removed concealed weapons, small firearms, throwing stars, knives.
“So the cavalry finally arrive?” said Alexandro. ”Don’t look so surprised. We know about you… What? you think we didn’t check him out?”
Russ sized up the situation, trying to figure a way out.
“Let’s go and see your friend shall we?”
They entered the office in the corner. The room was bare. Simon sat on a wooden chair tied up, his face was battered, congealed purple blood stained his lips, his eyes were puffed up so large he could barely see. Alexandro splashed cold water on his face.
“Wake up my friend, you have guests.”
They were shoved down on their knees. “We had big plans for Simon but unfortunately your friend has been very uncooperative. After Zagreb I was gonna waste him but my superiors said there were other ways to get what we want. Now you’re here I’m beginning to agree,” he smirked. “You think you’re bad?” He kicked Russ in the face. “You think you’re hardcore. Huh you and your friends are a fucking joke.”
He grabbed Simon’s face. “Now talk, or your friend dies. I’m gonna count to three. One..”
“Okay, okay,” cried Simon.
He hid the fact they were Photients and told them everything else; the bug, the security contact and threw in a few bona fide names for good measure.
“Ok now we’re getting somewhere. Question is, what do we do now?”
They cocked their guns.
“We can help you,” pleaded Simon. “We have more, stuff you don’t know about.”
“Mmm, I doubt that.”
Without pause Alexandro lifted his silencer and pointed it straight at Russ’s head.
“Actually, I’ve changed my mind.”
He turned and shot his own men leaving the Photients stupefied.
“Oh, my god,” panted Russ.
“It’s me Tara,” said Alexandro, Tara’s kerb.
Jack’s truck was a decommissioned government vehicle out-fitted with OB equipment. Tara got it working just long enough to make the jump.
“I let them capture me just in case,“ smiled Karl. “I know it’s against the rules but we thought we’d risk it.”
“Fuck me,” Russ shook his head. Karl took off the concealed camera. He was crying with joy. “I…I don’t know what to say.….”
“You better tie me up before we lose connection,” said Tara (Alexandro).
Russ cut Simons ties.
“I fucked up,” muttered Simon.
“So did I,” replied Russ.
They hugged while Karl tied up Alexandro. Tara jumped and Alexandro came back. He was out of sorts and couldn’t work out why he did it.
Russ smashed him round the face. Then Mike and the others followed suit. “You fuck.”
“I don’t know what’s going on here but you’re dead, all of you,” he muttered.
“That’s rich. I’d be more worried about yourself if I was you. Mate you are fuckety fucked. If I’m not mistaken we have tapes and a dossier about Zagreb. Isn’t that right Si?” Simon nodded with glee. “Before we leave answer me this. Who are you more afraid of your ‘superiors’ or MI6?”
Russ knocked him unconscious with the butt of his gun. They called the authorities and left.
A week had passed. Karl and Russ were in the stock room for a meeting called by Tara.
They sat on discarded wooden crates trying out the new signature cocktail Karl had been working on.
“It’s called the PQ.”
She took a sip. “My, that’s good what’s in it?”
“Lime, Papaya, pineapple and Rum,” said Karl.
“That’s a Zombie,” said Tara. “It’s been done.”
“Never mind mate, don’t give up your day job,” joked Russ winking at Tara passing a pack of Gitanes round.
There was a knock at the door, it was Jack. He wore a rust coloured, T-Shirt, ripped, with the words - Do you believe what you see or believe what I tell you?
Russ read it out loud. “The latter.”
Jack smiled, safe in the knowledge his actions had earned Russ’s respect. “Always believe what you see, even from me.”
“What’s all this about?” asked Russ.
“Remember the discussion we had about your theory?”
“What about it?
“I have the proof,” He matched a Gitanes and blew swirling smoke into the ceiling fan. “The precognitive link; it’s not latent. I had the evidence all the time, it was staring me in the face but I didn’t make the connection till you suggested it.” He glanced up. Karl looked befuddled and Tara held back silent. Russ passed him a cocktail and he downed it in one. “There’s more.. something happened to us to make us the way we are.”
Russ filtered through the implications. “What?… what does that mean?”
“I wasn’t born a Photient….. None of us were.”
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