Keel jumped as his partner's voice sounded in his ear. He glanced around.
"All quiet here. You?"
"Lot of activity around the gate. Vans coming and going, but according to Ghost that's normal. Even for this time of night."
Keel checked his watch. 01.12. Doyle should be approaching the labs by now. He'd have gone as far as was possible taking advantage of DemeCeres' security checks: the rest was up to Ghost's electronic wizardry. Speaking of which -
"Ghost? It's K. How're things going?"
"Well, so far."
"You holding up OK?"
"Of course." She sounded faintly indignant, and Keel grinned to himself, imagining her expression.
"So, how'd you like to go for a drink when we get back?"
There was a startled silence, then - "K, this is a mission, remember?" Backus interrupted over the headset - but there was the hint of a smile in her voice. "Cut the chat, OK?"
"And if you want to ask for a date, do it in person!"
Meanwhile Bodie had settled himself to wait, alert but relaxed, in the shadows of the pump room. The phone on the wall currently sported a new addition: a slender cable that was connected to a small plug in Bodie's ear as he listened in to the internal voice comms throughout DemeCeres. So far Ghost hadn't let them down - but there was no harm in providing extra insurance. Besides, he was used to relying on his own resources.
By now Ray should be inside the main lab complex. Bodie smiled grimly to himself and listened intently, ready to move at the first hint of trouble...
Doyle had passed through the first set of doors, and into another world. In the inner sanctum the air was cold and dry and tasted faintly of chemicals; the light was irritating, high in ultraviolet, and the tiled floor echoed oddly. There was a faint, annoying hum, presumably from the air conditioning. He knew from the floor plans that the lab areas were practically a separate unit from the rest of the complex, and could be hermetically sealed if necessary. Presumably in the event of an accidental release of one of the agents they were dealing with. Nice to know they cared enough not to let anything get through to the outside. Bit tough on the poor sods caught inside, though. Still, they knew what they were letting themselves in for when they took the job...
A short way along the corridor he came to another set of sealed double doors. At this point things were about to get trickier: the security checks for this section had been completed earlier and Ghost would have to open the doors for him herself.
"In position yet?" She was beginning to sound a little tense. No wonder, poor kid, he thought fleetingly to himself. A hell of a lot was resting on those slim shoulders.
"Yeah... 'ang about..."
Two figures appeared on the other side of the doors, white-coated and wearing masks over their lower faces. The older of the two pressed his hand onto the palm lock and the doors slid soundlessly open. The two walked through the doors, and the elder, still talking earnestly - and, as far as Doyle was concerned, incomprehensibly - to his younger assistant, handed his mask to Doyle without a second glance. The artist hastened through before the doors could slide shut.
"Luck's in. I'm inside."
"Luck like that I can live with. Keep me posted."
Doyle pulled the mask over his mouth and walked on down the corridor. The lab he needed was right at the heart of the complex, through two more sets of sealed doors. Both of which required an authorised palm print for access. He'd thought that that would pose problems, but Ghost had already organised it for him, using a security check in another part of the building as a decoy while she fooled the lock into thinking he belonged to the organisation. Or so she'd put it, trying to explain the procedure to him as he'd moved through the complex. He just had to make sure he was there, ready to place his hand against the lock at the precise time she overrode the system.
And hope it worked. Because if it didn't, he'd have the entire DemeCeres internal security team on his back within seconds. He'd caught sight of one of them in one of the outer corridors. The man resembled a gorilla on steroids: it hadn't been a pretty sight...
Going by the few members of staff he saw in his journey, the masks seemed to be standard uniform in the inner complex, usefully adding an extra layer of camouflage - for him, at least. Doyle stayed alert, refusing to be lulled into the false sense of security the mask also offered, checking his watch as surreptitiously as he could as often as he could. The incendiary he carried tucked inconspicuously into his hip pocket - a very small but powerful device, one of Bodie's own designs - had been primed to go off at 02.30. He had to be out of the complex by then. Well, so far so good. If things carried on like this, he'd have no problems. If...
Malone hovered silently in the background. He'd been in the office since the start of the operation: by now the two women had forgotten he was there.
Ghost stiffened slightly in her seat, frowning at the screen. Backus looked up.
"What is it?"
She was silent for a few moments, eyes intent on the figures before her. Then she glanced up at her companion.
"That satellite uplink would be useful right about now. And can you monitor aircraft communications from here?"
"We can monitor practically everything from here. What d'you want to see?"
"The area around the complex. Umm... a twenty kilometre radius should do."
As Backus connected to a meteorological satellite in geostationary orbit over mainland Europe, Ghost tried to make sense of the new information appearing on her screen. Moments later Backus's voice distracted her.
"OK - onscreen."
Ghost twisted to gaze at Backus's monitor, blinking as the image flickeringly renewed itself every few seconds. She shook her head, frustrated.
"I don't know what I'm looking at!"
Backus rested a hand on her shoulder.
"It's OK - I'll explain." Ghost followed her finger around the screen as Backus pointed out features - features that looked like haphazard hazy splotches to the hacker but which meant far more to the CI5 agent's practised eyes.
"... and this is CERN - you can just make out the ring of the accelerator. This is DemeCeres."
Ghost nodded, peering at the screen. "Can we zoom in a bit?"
Moments later the image jumped to triple its previous size. Backus pointed to the complex, clearer now on the monitor.
"C is here, watching the main entrance. K is here," her finger moved to the rear of the structure, "waiting for the other two."
"And what are they?" Ghost asked, pointing to three fuzzy grey blobs that had just appeared on the far right of the picture and were moving, jerkily as the frames changed, towards DemeCeres. Backus frowned and increased the resolution.
Backus raised her head from the screen. She and Ghost stared blankly at each other for a couple of seconds, then dawning comprehension sent them scrambling for their keyboards.
"Anything?" Backus never panicked - but the anxiety was plain in her voice. Ghost's fingers were a blur across the keys.
"What? What's happened?"
"They've moved the release date forwards. And changed the place. They're letting it loose over North America, not Europe. And they're shipping it out tonight!"
"All of you, listen." Ghost's tone was urgent as she made contact with the team at the complex. "They've changed their plans. You've got about twenty minutes to grab the stuff and get out. After that the place will be heaving with heavies and you won't stand a chance..."
Listening to the internal comms, Bodie had realised what was happening a few seconds before Ghost had relayed the information. Beretta at the ready, face grim and taut with apprehension, he moved, fast and stealthy, into the stairwell leading up into the complex proper...
Doyle was at the last set of doors when Ghost's message reached him. He swallowed and forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply, focussing his mind on the task ahead, calming the sudden increase in his heart rate.
"Can't give up now. Guide me through." It was an almost soundless murmur, muffled by the mask, but the ultra-sensitive mike picked it up. His hand hovered over the palm lock.
Ghost didn't argue.
"Hand ready. Apply - now."
As Doyle pulled his hand away from the lock, the last doors opened. Ahead of him was the primary lab. An inconspicuous door, exactly the same as every other inner door he had seen. It should look different. Should have Danger on it or something, he thought inconsequentially as he opened it. Or All hope abandon, ye who enter here...
It was almost too good to be true. There were only two people in the room. One of them was a thin, slightly stooped middle-aged man in the ubiquitous white coat and mask. Unfortunately, the other one was a security guard. A big security guard, carrying a big gun...
"Hell. What do we do now?" The helicopters weren't in sight or earshot yet, but it would only be minutes, at most, before they arrived. Raising the bins, Curtis checked the entrance again: the activity had increased.
"Ghost? C. What's happening with the others?"
"They're going on." Her voice was definitely stressed now. Curtis glanced at the gate again. What looked like a squad of uniformed men had appeared and were waiting at the fringes of the helipad.
"Well, it's swarming with security here. Waiting for the choppers, I'd guess. Any suggestions? There's nothing I can do here, as far as I can see."
After a moment's silence Backus came online.
"C, make your way to join K. You can all evac together."
Relieved to be moving again, even if it was, effectively, away from the action, Curtis began to make his way warily but speedily to the rear of the complex.
Doyle raised his head from his clip board and nodded at the masked man, who nodded back familiarly. Doyle's slight ironic smile was hidden by his mask: he'd counted on the fact that it was a habit - or maybe a trained response - for white coated and be-masked individuals to nod a greeting to each other, regardless of whether they actually knew each other or not. After all, they all worked for the same organisation, and the mask hid a lot of the face. Probably none of them would recognise each other out of uniform...
However, the greeting was sufficient to persuade the guard that nothing untoward was happening. I'm too old for this shit, Doyle thought to himself as he took a calming breath and marched up to the guard, clip board extended. As he reached the man he pretended to stumble, and dropped the board. The guard automatically bent to retrieve the fallen papers - and Doyle slammed the point of his elbow into the bullet head, behind the ear, wincing as the contact jarred the length of his arm. The big man dropped, heavily, unconscious - for the moment, at least.
The scientist had watched the fast and efficient action with bewilderment, and flinched as Doyle turned towards him, pulling down the mask and drawing his gun.
"Where's the pollen." Doyle was aware his snarl was frightening the man - but a swift glance at his watch showed seven minutes elapsed of the twenty Ghost had allotted them. He still had to set the incendiary and get out of the lab area.
"H...here..." The man was trembling, and Doyle made a grab for the delicate glass vial he was holding as it slipped from his fingers, breathing a silent prayer of thanks as he cradled it gently in the palm of his hand. Unbroken. Half-full of minute, ultimately deadly particles.
The biologist had been in the process of packing three of them into a padded case when Doyle had arrived. The artist wrapped them carefully in foam packaging, then slipped them into the plastic bag he'd brought with him, sealing the top thoroughly. He glanced up as he slid them into a top pocket. The other was shaking and had gone very white.
"Wh...what are you doing?"
"Trying to stop you making a very big mistake." Doyle glanced around the room, looking for somewhere to place the incendiary. Ten minutes left.
The room was clean and uncluttered - there was nothing here that would burn easily. Fast running out of time, Doyle ripped a sleeve from the guard's uniform, bundled it up and shoved it in the corner furthest from the unconscious man. He pulled the incendiary from his pocket - and paused.
For a moment he thought his partner wasn't going to answer, then;
"How do I change the timer on this thing?"
Bodie's voice was grim. "The incendiary? You can't. It's pre-set and tamper proof."
"Bloody typical! D'you have to be so fuckin' clever?"
"Take pride in my work. Just place it and get out of there. I'll do the rest."
Seven minutes. He didn't argue. Bodie knew his business. Burying the device in the folds of the fabric, Doyle forced down his guilt at having to leave the guard behind and grabbed the other man by the arm.
"You'd better come with me."
The other let himself be led. They managed to get through two sets of doors before Doyle heard the steady tramp of footsteps coming from the opposite direction. He pulled the other man close in to his side.
"Now, we're going to walk, nice and slowly as if we do this every day, just quietly talking about our work. Understand?"
The man nodded nervously.
As the ten-strong group of armed men marched past them towards the primary lab, Doyle realised they weren't going to make it...
Backus watched Ghost with some alarm. The young woman was quivering, chewing her fingernails without realising it, staring almost unblinkingly at the screen, her attention focussed wholly on what was happening nearly five hundred miles away. Less than five hundred miles... It might just as well have been the backside of the moon for all the good she could do...
Backus touched her shoulder, making her jump.
"Hey, they'll be OK. They're the best."
"That won't help them if they can't get out in time."
"They will." They have to, she added silently. C'mon guys. Don't prove me wrong...
Curtis had been forced to take cover twice as armed men in camouflage gear had appeared out of the darkness. The second time he'd risked calling in.
"Looks like they now have a perimeter patrol. They're not taking any chances."
"OK." It was Backus. "Just get yourself to K as quickly as you can. Stay out of sight."
"Well I hadn't intended drawing attention to myself..." he muttered under his breath...
Keel stayed put, scanning the surrounding area, at the peak of awareness, keyed up, loathing the inactivity, willing the op to end. Successfully. And safely...
Bodie hovered in an alcove at the top of the stairwell, keeping watch, a small remote in his hand. Bodie being Bodie, he'd anticipated the possible need for an early detonation. He checked his watch. Three minutes...
"You clear of the lab yet?"
"Yeah. Squad's just heading for it now."
Bodie quietly depressed a switch. In the corner of the lab, the sleeve of the guard's uniform began to smoulder.
"B to D."
"Yeah?" Doyle used the same tone as in his ongoing - and mostly nonsensical - 'conversation' with the scientist from the lab.
"We need a diversion..."
"You're tellin' me!" He frowned to himself. Some legitimate way they could hurry out of the complex.... They'd just started a fire. It was only a very tiny fire at the moment, but... "Ghost? Can you set off the fire alarms?"
"Of course I can!"
Seconds later the deafening, urgent sounds of sirens erupted from all over the complex. Doyle gripped the scientist more firmly and took off at a dead run.
Ghost was grinning - but it was a slightly manic grin, filled with relief at being able to take some positive action. Backus gripped her shoulder hard, her expression stern.
"Don't get careless. They're not clear yet."
Ghost blinked, nodded, reined in her exhilaration, and resumed her scrutiny of the screen. Electronic alarms were going off right through the complex: the inner core had already sealed itself off.
Backus glanced up, startled, as Ghost gave a short chuckle. Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she grinned widely.
Her companion waited until the flurry of activity had died down, then raised an eyebrow enquiringly. Ghost was looking very pleased with herself.
"Traced the locations of some of the staff. From the size and encryption level of the files they were trying to transfer, I'd guess the recipients are pretty big in the organisation. Now I can hack in any time you want me to."
A sudden burst of code on the screen caught her eye, and she frowned...
Doyle and the scientist stumbled and nearly fell as an explosion rocked the building. What the hell...?
"Just what did you put in that bloody device?"
Doyle could hear the smugness in Bodie's voice. "Just a little extra insurance. Ghost, if you're going to kill their computers, now's the best time. D, just get your ass back here, now."
His expression grimly furious, Doyle moved faster.
DemeCeres was in chaos. Ghost took advantage and nuked their entire system.
"There were people in there!"
Doyle had grabbed the front of Bodie's combat jacket and slammed him back against the wall. Bodie caught his wrists and gently forced his hands away.
"And there are people out there too." Bodie shook his head. Of all the times for his partner to have an attack of conscience... "We can argue about this later. Move."
Doyle stared at him, too angry to speak. Bodie shoved him hard towards the stairwell, snarling. "Move, dammit!"
Keel lent a hand, hauling the by now completely dazed scientist from the tunnel as, ten minutes later, they climbed from the outflow duct. Bodie glanced around him, frowning.
"Not here yet."
"We have to move."
"Not without C."
Bodie would have argued, but Doyle interrupted, ripping off the white coat, moonlight glinting in his eyes as he glared at his partner, still furious.
"We wait. And while we wait you can tell me what the fuck you thought you were playing at."
Bodie shrugged. "Like I said, a little added insurance. Fires can be put out, you know. Ever heard of sprinkler systems? I wanted to be sure."
"By blowin' the place up?"
The arms dealer sighed with exaggerated patience.
"I haven't blown it up. Well, not entirely. Just the labs. And only a little."
"You can't just blow something up a little bit. An' what about the people in them?"
Bodie's patience was beginning to fray. "I gave them plenty of time to leave."
"There was a guard in the main lab. Unconscious."
"Whose bloody side are you on?" Bodie sighed. "OK, look - if anyone was hurt or killed I'll arrange for them or the family to be taken care of. Will that make you happy?"
"No of course it won't make me fuckin' happy!" Doyle was practically shouting now.
Keel was stepping forward to intervene when he saw movement to one side. Eyes widening, he flung himself forward, knocking Doyle to the ground in a flying tackle as the 9mm bullet ripped through the air - precisely where Doyle's heart had been, a fraction of a second before.
Bodie ignored the instruction, taking aim and firing faster than the eye could follow, killing the perimeter guard coldly and efficiently. As he gazed down at the body, another shot rang out - followed almost immediately by a second, then a grunt from behind the arms dealer. Bodie whirled, in time to see the body of the first guard's partner crumple to the ground.
"Looks like I got here just in time." Curtis smiled grimly as he emerged from the darkness, reholstering his Beretta. Keel was hauling Doyle to his feet.
Bodie glared at his partner. "You going to stop shouting now? Before you get us all killed?"
Doyle stared at the two guards, then looked up at Bodie.
Bodie nodded, then turned to the young operatives.
"No problem." Keel grinned. Curtis nodded, his eyes twinkling.
"Well, we couldn't very well go home without you, could we? Malone would have our guts for garters."
"Oh, shit." Doyle's quiet, anguished voice cut through the relief, and they turned to see him kneeling beside the scientist they'd brought with them. Bodie crouched beside him.
"Yeah. Second guard's shot went wide - hit him." he looked up at Bodie, eyes widening. "It should have been you..."
His face paled and he swallowed, hard, then turned to Curtis. "Thanks, mate."
"You're welcome." He grinned briefly, flashing a quick glance at Keel. "I know how hard it is to train a partner. Not something you want to have to do more than once in a lifetime."
As an attempt to lighten the atmosphere it didn't rank amongst the greatest conversational ploys of all time - but it helped. Bodie stood, pulling Doyle with him. The artist's eyes were bleak.
"If I'd just left him in the lab..."
Bodie gripped his partner's shoulder hard. "He may very well have died in the explosion anyway. C'mon. We need to get moving."
Doyle glanced back as they began to move away, face desolate.
"I never even asked his name..."
© May 2000 Joules Taylor
© 2000 WordWrights.