Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Pale Horse - Chapter 12


Does day uncover the beauty of the night.
Or discover flaws?

Seamus Quinn drove a hard bargain for delivering Glen and Antony some sixty hours after their departure from Brest. Nor was he cheap with the two drums of diesel to top up Whisperwind's tanks, though he wasn't short with the fish and prawns he'd presented to Mary

Whisperwind had been tacking in to lay off White Island while its crew discussed whether to break their silence and try raising St Mary by radio. An answer could give them some hope; but perhaps, lead to a lot of questions. Questions that could turn into orders.

It had taken some time for Dick to register the message repeatedly coming over the V.H.F. on channel 16 was possibly for them. The clipped Irish accent had Whisperwind sounding like Ssssperind. He was listening for the third time at exactly quarter past the hour before trying a cautious reply.
'Station calling Whisperwind?'
'Well! Would’ve fucking believe it? Where the fuck is you? This is Sarvast.'
'What is it you want?'
'What is it I want! I want to know where you're fucking fishing. If you've caught a run and are keepin' me out of it I'll cut your dick off, holy motherin Mary an' I will.'
'Is it Whisperwind you're calling?'
'Jesus are you thick. Don't put on that poncy voice wi me. Jus tell me where yer fishin, or yi'll be gaun ti' yer funeral in a dung cart. That's a promise, cart an all.'
Still baffled, Dick turned to find Mary grinning. 'Definitely for us; Dick, Mary, cart and all.'
'You sure?'
'Go on. Answer them.'
'We're not fishing. We're at,' pressing the navigation read out he did a quick check then gave a position twelve mile due east. There was silence for about three minutes.'
'Three miles west of Crim rocks. How long to reach there and if you're quick we’ll transfer some of our catch to yi’ and don't muck about or I'll see yer missus gets to know of the Froggy wench yer shaftin.'
No doubt, Anthony was the wench and Glen was the other. God knows who the voice belonged to, but it sounded no more than it claimed to be. They already had White Island in sight. Three hours should see them off the Crim's. Dick doubled it. Then, in case he was being too cautious, cut it to five hours.
'Well get your skates on.'

Once they were clear of the trawler and Dick could breath easy again over Whisperwind's unmarked topsides, they made the rounds of introductions before settling down to coffees and hearing of the eccentricities of Skipper Quinn. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to get down to the real meat till Glen asked, 'Where we heading?'
Glancing at Bob, Dick answered, 'Unless you know more than we do, Madeira.'
Studying the compass, Anthony stretched his arms out to its four corners as though orienting his own sense of direction. 'Never been there. How long will it take us?'
'Around ten days Antony. We have enough diesel now to keep pushing on if the winds fail us.'
'We have enough food for that?'
Mary chuckled. 'More than enough, especially if you like fish.'
Glen found a concern. 'Never mind food, have I enough baccy?'
'No problem there Glen, provided you like my brand.'
Catching the pouch Bob had thrown to him Glen nodded his thanks. 'Brand doesn't matter, Bob as long as it stops short of tealeaves or rope. And this is more than fine.'
Bob and Glen's pipe filling could have been some ancient ritual from the silence it cast over the party. Only when ignition was achieved did thoughts begin to bubble through as words. Glen nodded towards Mary. 'Good coffee, Mary. Two questions, skipper. Why Madeira and why have you got all the glass boarded up?'
'Haven't you heard?'
Glen glanced at Anthony before turning back to Dick. 'Heard what?'
It's been broadcast on the hour every hour since ten-thirty the day before yesterday. All of Europe is under a state of emergency; it's on every station. How can you not have heard it?'
Glen shook his head. 'Heard nothing we could understand. The skipper had little time for anything but his boat and the bit of water round it, and the fish under it. The night before last he spent most of the night fishing, so we had to stay in the wheelhouse with him out of the way. So what have we missed?'
Telling the little they knew, Dick left it to Bob to fill in the details of his call to Jon and the other calls they'd made without success before asking, 'Is it possible?'
Glen shrugged, 'From what you've told us it's more than possible, it's happening. What's bugging me is why locusts, and why weren't they identified and dealt with?'
Dick asked, 'Could our programme identify the locust flight pattern?'
Glen gave a second shrug. 'No reason for it not to. Antony?'
'No; no reason. It's a larger, therefore more easily identified pattern than most. But I have never seen it or tested it on the software.' Antony’s face took on a puzzled look. ‘Merde. Didn’t NASA’s Goddard Centre kick up a stink about that when we tried to take their system under the umbrella of WREC? Said, NDVI was their baby, and until we could come up with a better system and prove it we could sod off. At the time the FAO went along with them.’
Glen asked, ‘Are the FAO still responsible?’
Now it was Antony’s turn to shrug, ‘Don’t know. Maybe it’s something that’s just slipped through the net?’
‘What the hell are you talking about. NASA’s and NDVI’s and all the rest of the gobbledegook?’ Bob asked
Grinning, Antony went on to explain, ‘NDVI Bob, stands for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. Basically, rain is the factor that controls how locusts breed. Not directly, but by the effect it has on the semi-arid regions of their normal habitats. Rain increases the vegetation, more food causes more locusts. The more locusts there are cause them to become gregarious. NDVI monitors the amount of vegetation in their habitats and if it’s high, teams are sent out to treat the area and contain them. There’s a lot more to it, but in a nutshell, that’s it.’
Bob couldn’t keep the exasperation out of his voice, ‘Christ, there might be a lot more to it; but how the hell couldn’t you handle them when you could pin-point a swarm of bugs heading for my crops?’
‘Depends where the satellites are told to look Bob; and where our units have been dropped. You must appreciate the locusts habitat is usually in the remoter parts of the Earth.’
Glen, happy to let Antony do the explaining, rattled the pipe stem round his teeth. 'Something weird's going on here. Let's try getting through to Brussels. If this thing is kosher they won't be worried about our report. Probably they need all the help they can.'
Dick nodded. 'Okay. Antony, you come with me and handle the talking. Just one proviso. None of us know the extent they can home in on our phone or radio signals, which is the reason why we’ve been cautious about using them. So try to keep it short and do not say where we are.'

Concentrating to hear the phone conversation and finding he couldn't, Glen straightened up to find Bob glowering at him. 'What's wrong Bob, have I said anything out of place?'
'We're going to Madeira, Glen.'
Feeling not so much threatened as missing something obvious; Glen tried to lighten it up. 'Why? What's so special we have to head for there?'
'My family.'
Knowing he was walking on eggs, Glen still didn’t understand why. 'But if we head for France, or back to the UK, you could get a plane out and be there in hours. This is all right for us but I would have thought you would want to get there quicker. Sorry Bob, I'm missing something.'
'You're way off the point.' Easing his breath out, Bob let his aggression go with it. 'My friend Jon isn't - wasn't the type to let anything walk over him. He told me he was going to give his family lethal injections. Dick tried to get through to some friends of his; no answer. We keep trying without any success. At first we didn't get much from the radio just the official instructions on travel restrictions, curfews and controls. Then they added the need to stay inside, to seal off everything, boil water for drinking, even washing, for at least ten minutes and not to eat any carcasses or vegetables once the locusts had infected them.'
'Bob, locusts don’t infect. They go for wipe out.'
'One of Jon's sons was crushed by the cattle and he was sick. His other son and his wife weren't injured but presumably they'd be trying to help and they both became sick and I got the impression Jon wasn't feeling too well himself. So why the sudden sickness? And why would Jon think it could be so diabolical as to consider ending it for them all? Glen, we're talking about something here that's killing people and it’s not by starvation.'
'Bob I can't see it. A plague of locusts can be terrifying if you're caught out in them. They'll cause havoc, give us a helluva famine problem, strip a continent clean if they get the chance but they don't kill, not directly. Could he have been mistaken?’
'Jon never blamed them for the sickness; that came over the radio. Besides, since you've been at sea, how many planes have you seen? And we're under a pretty busy piece of sky.'
Ignoring the last because he hadn't been looking for planes, Glen shrugged. 'It was a stupid thing to say anyway Bob. I don't know of anything to do with locusts that’s capable of causing that reaction. Perhaps their waste could contaminate; but for it to be as quick, or a serious as you think?' Glen shook his head and struggled for a link between the possible and the plausible. He was still struggling when Antony and Dick came back on deck. He asked, 'Did you get through?'
Antony nodded. 'Got through to Brussels.'
'Nothing Glen, only a recorded message saying much the same thing as Dick and Bob have already told us.'
'That's impossible.'
Antony raised a typically Gallic eyebrow. 'Is it? I tried some friends in Paris and my parents in Aries. No joy.'
'Try faults.'
'Already have. Another recorded message with an even more hollow ring to it.'
Deek butted in without raising his eyes from stroking Bess. 'And I've been trying to get through to my family in Manchester. Keep getting different noises, as though something's working but nothing's connecting.' Deek was surprised by the concern he felt.
Glen thought Deek had said it all. Something was working and definitely not connecting and now the same could be said for his brain. Placing his hand on Bob's shoulder and giving it a squeeze he said, 'Sorry Bob, guess Madeira it is.'

On day four, July the eighth to the crew of Whisperwind, they were making good progress. Dick was beginning to allow himself to believe they might make landfall a shade before the fourteenth, a belief he kept to himself, though he knew Bob was driving to better it. Day or night, Bob sensed the rhythm of the boat. Six knots or less had him on deck hoisting increased sail or starting the engine to boost them along. At eight knots he was close to mollified; at ten close to satisfied. Only time would see the anxiety and determination either drain from Bobs face or take a different form; time that dripped slowly. Yesterday, they'd picked up a faint transmission from the B.B.C. It had a surreal, echoing faintness, as though they were leaving more than it behind. Last night they’d managed to raise a freighter heading north towards the Western Approaches, and had asked for any information they had. The reply, if it had been a reply, was garbled in a confusion of language; asking again, they'd been ignored.

Glen and Anthony found an old atlas aboard, and were searching it and their memories to draw up graphs on seasonal climate and wind patterns. The little they had to go on failed to douse their doubts and their frustration came out as expletives. At best they were dealing with averages and they could never deny the impossible from becoming possible. But that neither made it plausible or natural. The last was beginning to gnaw into Glen's brain, and he still hadn't seen any planes.

Electing to keep his options open, Anthony found some relief taking turns in the galley with Mary. Not being able to deny the logic of Glen's reasoning didn't mean it was wise to start accepting it as fact, not even if it formed the link between suspicion and the true purpose of WREC. Suspecting, or even managing to prove and expose it was, by now, too little and probably too late. Antony counselled Glen to silence, to not even relay their thoughts to Dick. After all, until they got to Madeira or anywhere, they were no more than six souls, each with their fears and hopes, encapsulated in the time warp of a boat. The mirror image of the Marie Celeste where the boat was real but their world had morphed into the spectral mists of fantasy.


She watched the chicken search in that slow stupid stalk, as though they were the hunters not the hunted. Two had survived, after he'd gone and left the conservatory door open and she'd watched the television then heard what she thought were hailstones. She'd slammed the door shut, then the sliding doors to save her from the few of the many who might have got in. Fay watched the glass tint purple by bodies smashing into it. She wondered if he had had enough time. How long would it take him to get home? Perhaps he'd made it and had been on his way back. Fay hoped he’d be back soon. She had two chickens to fry and didn't know what else to do.


Alexei and Jim Mair had a serious talk the morning after their Iceland trip. It was difficult for them to be objective but as perpetrators and judge they had to award themselves a failure rating. Chan's announcement that same day, saying the UN was not an acceptable venue for the eighth and they in turn, rejecting outright his suggestion of Beijing, had left them, seemingly, searching for a venue that would allow the right result? Offers ranging from dessert nuclear command posts to aircraft carriers turned into conference centres were argued for and against as too restrictive, irrational or unsupportable. What would always have been a logistical problem threatened to turn into a nightmare. To the point where their aides had the look of dogs who have had the shit beaten out of them by cats.

When the date had been rescheduled for the second time to the tenth, Alexei rang Chan to say he’d try to get Mair to accept Beijing. Alexei let an hour pass before getting back to Chan. Beijing was out and Mair thought they should try another tack. Find a venue that had suffered the maximum impact. That would have the twin effects of screaming out its neutrality and concentrating the minds of the delegates on what the scourge really had cost. Perhaps it would be looked at as an act of atonement to those they had failed and he’d suggested Mumbia, with its airport the venue and the date fixed for the tenth: day six. Chan was delighted. It was, after all, to be held in part of his future domain. Breaking the connection, Alexei gave his head a minor shake before reaching for his attaché case and reporting to Jim they’d moved another notch forward.

Now it was for the military to do what they did best, and there was plenty of it. First they had to decontaminate an airport of bodies and bugs, make it serviceable and turn the terminals into a modest hostel, conference and communication centre, capable of catering for four hundred guests. One leader per country, one deputy or translator, no more. Forty planes would be allowed to land, so the leaders had to shop around and decide who they pooled transport with. And, there would be decontamination procedures when they landed.
'It is,' Mair said, seemingly tired of the detail, 'to be regarded as a site meeting of practical men. Burgers, beer and camp beds would be enough. Any frills had to be in the communication systems; they had to be state of the art. Strat-Com had confirmed that the British carrier Ark Royal with a full contingent of marines and a Trident nuclear sub were in the area. The USS Kearsarge with its expeditionary force of marines could be off Mumbai within ten hours, along with the two Indian cruisers that were shadowing it. It was agreed they would all help with the clean up and service logistics but, apart from air traffic control, once the conference was underway it would be left to the Indian sailors to provide the security. Air traffic controllers would be shipped in for the duration from the Kearsarge. Confirming with Alexei their meeting for the evening of the ninth, Jim felt he could get back to the war room and concentrate on something that mattered.

So far they hadn't pushed the nuclear button. Though the front was touching Cuba and had eaten its way through to Monterey, the indications were good. If they could keep finding the fuel to dowse and the missiles to ignite they were beginning to get a handle on it. Every dowse and burn was like watching an earthly super nova. The core would explode in a tumbling cumulous of fire, then implode and rise while it had bodies to consume and oxygen to feed on. It wasn't a fine art. But it was awesome if you were a voyeur at a screen and no doubt terrifying if you were creating it.

Mistakes had proved costly to dowsers and fighters, but the highest costs were created by the peripherals. With wings like fir needles, a crackling sparkle of instant ignition allowed the combusted bodies to fall and incinerate the earth. The earth, scorched from Panama northwards. The deserts of Mexico smothered in a toasted blanket and the Sierra Madres black with ash. As far as the islands were concerned they had Cuba left. It had been seeded with enough to attack the tumour of Florida and put the Bahamas into doubt. Mair couldn't conceive of Stannought being into that, and had put it down to Chan or Nakao, or both. America would suffer. Would, in that stupid phrase, suffer collateral damage, probably below a line drawn from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. But the vaccines had been sifted from up north and the people and services were prepared. Yet they weren't going to win; it was the locusts that were going to lose. Their food had been harvested or burned beyond their scope. They'd only South America to rot to hell in, and the blessed Americans would have the luxury of time to deal with that.

By the ninth the adrenaline of the fight was beginning to ebb to the drudgery of existence. Look at it from far enough off to be remote to the detail and you believed you could just about cope. Closer froze the senses.
The night before the Mumbia summit Jim and Alexia had left their assistants and bodyguards to come to terms or blows in the Kremlins meeting suites while they discussed the heavier matters of state in private. In fact they cracked a bottle of whisky and reminisced. Perhaps they couldn't claim them as better times, but as times, they were past, which made them better. They were ready; each had essentially the same speech, just personalised. Everything tied up and zeroed in, except for one detail. Eventually Alexei asked, 'Well, how do we do it?'
'Toss a coin.'
Alexei smiled. 'I thought that was how you started a game, not finished it.'
'Perhaps that is all we're doing Alexei, just clearing the field so we can start the next game.'
Alexei shrugged. 'Have you got a coin?'
'Now why did I know it would come to this?' Grinning, Jim Mair delved into his pocket and threw a silver dollar on the table between them. 'Your call. Heads or tails?'
'Best of three?'
'No, too drawn out.'
'What if I call heads and it comes up tails. Does that mean you win so you can choose whether it's me or you?'
'Spoken like a true politician Alexei Vladiavitch Varbagin. No it's irrevocably straight. You call heads and it is, you win. You don't plead, argue or cheat. You shut up. Now call.'
Alexei called heads, and won.

The club of five first world nations got into the spirit of conservation. Without fixing any real timetable it was deemed appropriate that Chan should arrive first and act as unofficial host. He in fact was picked up by Nakao they then flew on to Seoul then Dhaka for the Bangladeshi delegates who didn't turn up; though some suspected they’d decided it safer not to land and just flown on. Mair accompanied Varbagin, leaving Air Force One a shining edifice amongst a domestic fleet so grimed it was camouflaged. They had announced collection points at Tashkent, Lahore and New Delhi, and anticipated twelve to fifteen delegations onboard by the time they landed. Taiwan wasn't invited by Chan so they swept down to the Philippines and collected from Cambodia and the Malay peninsula. New Zealand managed to find enough gas to get to Australia and accompany them, collecting the Indonesians and Sri Lankans on the way. The Saudi's did the honours for the Middle East. It was first mooted by the French that for them and the Germans to go would be perfectly adequate. Britain argued against this and hedged its bets by trying to hitch a lift with Mair then, failing that, to threaten to pull out of the Euro, which was arguing against joining the Mair, and revert to Sterling. In the end it was agreed that all Euro leaders would travel in two planes from Brussels. Which was fine until the French wanted to veto who would be on their plane. The political tango was eventually stopped when the American Ambassador in Paris agreed to pick the names and seat numbers out of a hat. Once this was done the French decided the whole affair was demeaning and refused to accompany the delegation. Of course, this was highly classified and never made public. The South Americans that could make it hitched a lift on Air Force Two; made available for this purpose. The surviving Africans managed to arrive in solitary splendour.

Altogether Stu Loat and his mate, Nick Doran, locked in their sealed glass control crucible and still wearing their protective masks, though they'd been assured the smell couldn't penetrate, had twenty three planes to land. Each were landed hands free by Lantrak, except for Brotongo’s who, having confiscated or borrowed an exec jet from De-Beers, had to be talked down. On the apron they were hitched to tractors, their engine pods blanketed and towed through a hanger where the sprinkler system had been converted to decontamination sprays. Only when the plane was clean were its passengers allowed to go through a similar, though suitably private procedure, in one of four chambers. They emerged clad only in white coveralls with a nametag bearing their national flag, and one checked piece of hand baggage. Chan landed at 05:20hrs local time, the last, Air Force Two, at 09:08. By 10:00hrs all the delegates were milling round the terminal with coffees and predisposed attitudes. At 10:30 Chan called the meeting to order and the first of the planes took off for the Maldives.

Seeing the tick of surprise on Chan's face, Mair leaned towards him and explained the reason for the planes parking up in the Maldives. Looking at the sea of faces surrounding their podium Chan appreciated the reasoning. Explaining it to the delegates he then continued with his opening address. He was looking forward to faces bland with professionalism changing to angry surprise. It wouldn't take long; they'd probably adjourn for a very early lunch.

Val hadn't accompanied his President into the terminal. His dress after the decontamination was that of a Marine Colonel from the Kearsarge, only his attaché case matched that of his Chief. His job was to get on one of the CH 68 Sea Stallion choppers that were spraying the airport's perimeter every two hours in an attempt to keep the smell down and fly with it to the carrier lying sixty nautical miles off the coast. Once there he'd meet the carrier's captain who would introduce him to a British captain and a Colonel McGruer who would have sealed orders for him from his Chief. All in all, Val considered it a better way to pass the day than listening to a load of wind in a terminal. Landing on the Kearsarge he was advised to delay the introductions. The Kearsarge had just received a message from Strat-Com. The President and Prime Minister of France, having decided to attend the conference, had been shot down by an Israeli air defence missile at 10:53hrs. The Israelis had confused their planes sonic boom with an attack and reacted accordingly. Val used his attaché case to contact President Mair direct so he could advise the conference. Interrupting the speech of the Australian Prime Minister, who'd already called the podium members a bunch of scheming bastards twice, Mair proposed they stood for a minute’s silence in honour of the dead Frenchmen. Their colleagues from Euroland knew the silence had nothing to do with honour.

By 16:00 hrs Val had known his instructions for four hours. He'd met the Brit who skippered the submarine lying just off to their port side, and knew where it fitted in the scheme of things. He'd met McGruer, who was now sitting beside him, having earlier shown him round the Super Cobra helicopter they were to use. He’d showered, changed into civvies and put plasters on his knuckles, grazed when he'd punched the metal bulkhead. For the last five minutes he had been watching and listening to his Chief speak as the conference was relayed to the carrier then boosted to the satellites. He was listening for one phrase, and hoping he’d never hear it. At 16:20 he saw his Chief glance at his watch and, somehow combining a look of indifference and pity on the assembly, found the voice to match. 'We have a phrase; “the pursuit of happiness.” Val felt his teeth and jaw lock.

Three of the Sea Stallions were already on their way with the evening meal for the delegates and would collect the shore party of Indian sailors along with Stu Loat and Nick Doran. As instructed, they’d left the Lantrak on active, acting as a perimeter control until further notice. Val with McGruer and his Super Cobra were to taxi into the hanger, out of sight. Now he could only hear through the speaker in his attaché case. He had to listen and hope. Hope for the phrase that would allow him to go back, for another three choppers to come in and drop their one hundred and fifty marines to patrol through the night. He listened to his chief and wished he’d a belief to believe in.

'How many of us here today can claim we have made it predominant among our ambitions for our people? How many would be willing to make it the measure of their success? Probably more to the point, how many would be willing to measure their failure by it's lack?' Taking the papers they'd signed earlier for the World Government Format, Mair swept them to the floor. 'Your signatures on these can be seen as a sign of surrender to a superior force or commitment to our world being in partnership with the earth. There's nothing new or surprising in these words. In fact it's a damming indictment against us that we can say the words, know their truth and yet refuse to act on them.

'Before you today was the biggest decision you will ever make, indeed ever be given the opportunity to make. You reacted: made it with your brain, intellect and your gut. You used all the old reasons and applied all the old reactions and no doubt, after a few months perhaps decades, we would end up with variations on old themes. I would like this decision to be irrevocably sworn through your hearts and souls. Let those feed the mind so we act with compassion and serve with wisdom. A new world based on these God given traits is the only memorial worth building to the victims of our stupidity.'

The sound of a muted phone broke the silence of the terminal. Val cursed, while Mair, placing his hand over the mike, turned his head to get its message from Gnauk before turning back to his audience. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reason for our spirits to lift a little. That was a message form Prime Minister Sargon. He is in a position to act as our host and assures us his obituary was premature. He is due here in thirty minutes. Is it worth his time coming and going through all that delousing procedure, or will I tell him not to bother?'

The reaction didn't so much swell as chirp into a chorus. 'Here, we have much to do.' Brotongo’s bass filling the air gave purpose to all of them.
Smiling Mair announced. 'Then I will ask President Varbagin to meet and brief him. Alexei, if you wouldn't mind. Welcome him to the first session of the Democratic World Government.' He found it easy to keep the smile. It even warmed the stony glare of Chan and Nakao. Val hung his head and gave McGruer the sign to get the rotors spinning.

Moira Mair, having spent most of her day watching the conference, switched off at the applause. She felt half annoyed with him and half at herself for not waking to see him off yesterday morning. Probably it made no difference. Just another morning with Jim totally preoccupied and her trying to hide the ache of wondering when they could wake up, see a friendly Sun and friendly rested face and think, "That's a good start". She'd listened more to the timbre of his voice than to the words he spoke. He was using the tone he adopted to coax, question or persuade, his voice sharpening when he sensed he was wasting his breath.

Leaving the suite she made her way to their private rose garden, indicating to the two security men who stood ready to follow, to stay where they were. Closing her thoughts for a moment while her eyes drank in the mass of blooms she stretched to breathe in their heavy fragrance, like an addict waiting for the rush of release. Besides there was another dimension to all this. She was tired. Drained by seeing the condemnation from spectral faces they had smiled to, dined or chatted with. It was five or six years since she had been able to read a newspaper or watch the news, without fearing she’d be confronted by faces she’d never known, matched to names she’d condemned. The use of her position as First Lady, the ghost that cast no shadow; a spectre at her husband's side, suitably mannequined, showing her public interest and her spouse'ly faithful pride. Their lives given to an endless, thankless, abstract thing called "Office". Now when her joints were beginning to twinge and her brain ached for release, it all seemed to taunt her with a hollow mocking echo. .

He’d promised, win or fail; twelve months to get Christiani in place. Next year's winter would see them toasting their toes in Wisconsin, with nothing to concern them except tomorrow's weather, and every morning would be theirs.

As soon as Jim left the rostrum, Lien Chan grasped his elbow, and whispering he wanted a word in private. Making their excuses they moved out of earshot then waited while Nakao joined them.
'That's not what we agreed, Jim. Your closing remarks have left their signatures worthless.'
'They were worthless anyway, Lien. Once home they'd have claimed all they'd signed was a document of intent. Subject to ratification by their governments, followed by the usual fluff of amendments, codicils and whatever fancy name they want to use for stone walling and hustling. Besides, they were forced into it.'
Nakao hissed, 'They couldn't admit to that.'
'Difficult not to when whatever government they've left has probably been watching and listening'
'Yes, another clever trick when only the opening and closing speeches were supposed to be transmitted.'
Mair shrugged. 'Somebody must have left the switch on. You will have to have a word with your own people Ando. I think it was Japanese equipment.'
'This is not a joke.' Chan's voice squeezed between his teeth.
'No? Then now’s the time to get back up there and tell them who's going to come under the patronage of the new empire of China. ' Jim's smile wasn't reflected in his eyes. 'Get it over with now, before they get carried away thinking they'll have the same freedoms and values as us.'
'It only works if all five of us stick together. That is our agreement.'
'Our agreement was to form a cohesive group in order to get a cohesive world government under way. It would be a pity if you two big boys were left out, but I suppose seventy, eighty percent, is an improvement on what we had before. It'll also help when the majority is seen as being better off.'
'I know Varbagin and you are together in this, but you're forgetting Gnauck.' Nakao's eyes said he was questioning rather than making a point.
'Never forget Walter. Often things happen because of Walter rather than in spite of him. Put it this way, I'd be very surprised if he had any ambitions similar to yours.'
Chan's grin had the malice of a ferret's smile. 'But it was him who first raised the issue of increasing the scope?'
Jim Mair glanced at his watch before giving them his warmest smile. 'Yeh, we thought it would be better coming from him. Inscrutable bastards aren't we?'

Heading out to sea, almost ninety degrees from the flight path of an Air India Illusyion, Val gave a nod to the man opposite him and switched off the recorder in his attaché case.
Varbagin asked, 'Did you get it all?'
'Yes. I suppose some of it will have to be edited.'
'For certain purposes, yes. But it is important that the people who matter hear the full transcript.'
Frowning, Val asked, 'President Varbagin, why are you here and why are we taking you full pelt to a British nuclear sub?'
Taking the only recorded copy from Val, Alexei slipped the disc into his pocket before asking. 'How much of the twenty minutes do we have left to us?'
Val glanced at his watch. 'Two minutes.'
'Then read this.'

One hundred miles out the Lantrak reached out its approach beam and pulled Romeo Hotel Ten-Niner-Niner into its protective track. It checked all the plane's systems for electrical or mechanical neuroses then locked them to auto. The plane now belonged to it. It could decide whether it stayed in a holding pattern, which runway it would land on and, if it wasn't busy, taxi the plane to its apron or the emergency services. Mair left his attaché case open. He pressed the button that turned it into a homing beacon, which activated the mass behind the plane’s false bulkhead and sent a message through the terminal's p.a. system. Cleverly edited, it was later verified as being Sargon's voice.

”He who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress. Who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye? Who is equal towards the desirable and the undesirable? Who is steady, situated equally in praise and blame, honour and dishonour? Who treats alike both friend and enemy, and who has renounced all material activities. Such a person has transcended the modes of nature.”

Anything else was lost. Lost in an explosion that perhaps in its infinitesimal way, copied the beginning of the universe. An explosion designed for humans by humans that made death the only true democracy their world had ever known. This explosion melded the atoms of Mair, Chan and others like them, to those of the Mehta's and the Maliks waiting under their shrouds of canvas and scent. Val put his arm round Varbagin when the shock wave hit them. Earlier he had wanted to scream at the Russian, 'Why him? Why not you?' The letter made no difference; it only explained things, not how he was supposed to feel. He'd wanted to say a lot of things till he looked up from the writing and saw the tears coursing down a face that had suddenly grown old. Getting on to McGruer, Val asked, 'We all right?'
McGruer nodded, 'Yes, two minutes to the sub.'

© Eoin Taylor

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