They were preparing to head out tonight, a dozen outside boys, one on a stretcher, Gillian and David Kingsbridge, and an infant carried by an Art who seemed to be trying to make amends for something. They were heavily loaded, personal kit and weapons, so would need to be driven to the moor road as close as possible to the barrier gateway.
Such a large well-armed party would be fine on the hike through, but would be slowed down by the stretcher and the two doctors. Alan was regarded as the senior man and was expected to organise and lead the little column once they had left the vehicles; the Beta and Standby teams would head out just after dusk to secure the assembly area then lie up and await the return of the vehicles with the rest teams just before midnight.
His main worry though was Sam, he seemed to have withdrawn into himself even more completely since their conversation, must be worrying about the reaction back home. What would they do with him? Sam’s opinion, and that of Alan himself, would be listened to, but ultimately it was unknowable; they had not had to deal with such things before, so far as he was aware. They would surely be highly influenced by him as the leader on the spot.
In mitigation Sam was a young man in a highly stressful and unfamiliar situation, responding to the unexpected shooting of his colleague, primed by his hatred of what had been done to the girl he had rescued. But that was not the full explanation, was it? Sam was quite matter of fact about it, unapologetic. So, what would they do, suspend Sam at least, maybe imprison him for a while, ban him from outside duties as unreliable? What about Georgy, by far the far older man; he was equally complicit in his own way, but what had he done, other than start the questioning and not prevent three shootings which were, after all similar, to those which the Beta team had carried out in Reading and they themselves had done in Birmingham?
Perhaps it was partly his fault, leaving Sam and Georgy together in the room, both the playthings of their own histories, twisting and knotting them about. No; Georgy would get away with it, his wounds employed in mitigation, Thea’s influence too, but Alan would do his damnedest to get him transferred off these duties. Sam shouldn’t carry the can alone though, that would be unjust. Perhaps talk to Brother Peran; he might be able to advise him, perhaps a suspension, some serious penance, until they were ready to go back in? It might well have to be as part of another team; he wasn’t sure he could ever trust Sam again after that.
The other teams set off while they finished packing up, getting Georgy ready, sedating the toddler and strapping her to Art’s back, cleaning up behind them, preparing, nearly time to go.
Where’s Sam? Anyone seen him?
Not for some time, his stuff’s gone, his rifle, handgun, pack, a machine pistol, some explosives, no one’s seen him for over half an hour.
The cars head out to check the roads, Alan and the standby guys split up and head out to the moorland around the farm, but it’s hopeless, dark, he could be anywhere, and they had to get home. Where would he go?
Phone the base team in the Cotswolds; get a message to him if they can.
Try to track him down; he’s taken phones, no answer, switched off. That’s the last thing we need, a total screw up.
Where would he go? His old haunts, Bristol, London, maybe her place, damn, he’s got the stick too? Only Sam had her number, it would have to wait until he made contact, get to her that way. Waste no more time for now, home.
They had left him little choice, well Alan had… It had all spiralled out of control and now he was walking away from the only real home he had never known, people for whom he would do anything: Martha, Iltud, the priest, and now the girl, Narin. Yes, her entry into his life had changed things, to have someone dependent on you, whose life you saved, had helped transform, that was the greatest responsibility of all. He would have to find a way to go back at some point, would have to make things straight. If anyone could make that happen it would be him, their mentor, Henry, when he had recovered. In the meantime, Sam would have to show them that he was invaluable, then go back and make amends. He had put a note for Martha in Art’s backpack without him noticing, a message for her, and Narin, to wait, not listen to what they might be told about him, that things couldn’t be allowed to stall.
He would return.
He walked east, over the Brendan Hills, the best way and then either London or Bristol, places where he knew the ground, had old acquaintances, could think things through. Yes, head for London; see if she would help, post her the stick himself for delivery first thing on Saturday, walk and hitch, no public transport, slip in invisibly, with cash you could hide, even in London. Helena would help, he was confident of that; he had heard the desire for vengeance in her voice. Henry must be bad, really bad, to want to pause things just as they were making inroads, but not her, not now. The others might believe in the cause, but they weren’t owned by it, didn’t have it coursing through their veins, only Georgy, and now Helena, had that. He would have to operate differently, less crash and bash, more hunt them down one by one, his natural metier; the Barrett was broken down in its nylon outer, from the outside it looked like a small tent, just another anonymous young hiker.
FRIDAY, AFTER EASTER
Four in the morning, ready to go, fifteen minutes to the target address in an East London street, a dozen armed police, flak jacketed with another unarmed team for back up. They were stretched thinner than ever: cross-referencing the eighty-two names taken from the stick with their own databases had expanded it exponentially, it now included known or suspected associates of the eighty-two, many of whom were on the radar but not regarded as high risk.
Simultaneous raids taking place in twenty-seven towns and cities across the length and breadth of the mainland, even a ship to be boarded by the navy and marines in the English Channel, hence the delay to four a.m.
He was leading one minor raid: a run-down terraced house. George and three others enter via the back, he and the three others through the front, smash the doors, the remaining four aiming at the windows and providing back up. Five adults believed inside, two of interest, brothers in their early twenties, Pakistanis.
He had made a lot of these raids over the last few years; violent surprise always overwhelmed latent resistance, concussion grenades were carried, but seldom needed. A tsunami of adrenalin carried him through the shattered front door behind the first pair, who swept through the ground floor while he and one other raced up the stairs, weapons screaming silently for targets. He could hear voices, surprised, shocked, rousing themselves, more racing footsteps on the stairs behind, reinforcements. A young man was on the landing heading for the back bathroom.
“Freeze, armed police!”
The man was turning, his hands moving upwards, a gun, some other threat?
Thank heavens; it would have been so easy to pull the trigger. The upstairs was full of police and waking occupants, wrists tied they were marched downstairs to the police van waiting to take them away, so the search could begin, two guys were already in the loft, “Bingo!”
If only they were all so instantly rewarding. He was exhausted, trembling as the adrenalin that carried him through that thirty seconds left him. All very well, satisfying, but this wasn’t filling the huge hole in his life, one that just seemed to grow bigger by the day. Perhaps they would let him see ‘Henry’?
Mark, Seigneur for the parish and its neighbouring marches had met them by the barrier with a couple of his lads and escorted them down, talking with Alan quietly for much of the return journey. Hearing his report, shaking his head at the news of Sam, his wounding, the need to shut down for a while. Looking at the infant girl and checking Georgy who was stoically ignoring the movement of the stretcher over the rough ground, the two doctors trudging on beside him, not saying a word.
The cold light of the predawn was starting to pick out some of the landscape when one of the party caught sight of movement on the heather clad slope above them and called a silent halt.
What is it?
Someone, something, moving about up there, surely not them, this close in, can’t be? Didn’t move like an animal, more like a biped, look there it is again, moving up the slope away from us, disappearing into that shadow of a fold in the land. Mark spread a net of ten armed men, leaving Alan with the others to guard the rest of the party, but taking Art. They scaled the slope swiftly, stealthily, attempting to avoid being seen by whatever it was they were trying to follow; they were twenty yards apart, maintaining a hunter’s concave drag line to encircle what was clearly a fleeing quarry now, definitely humanoid in shape and certainly not expert in moving over this sort of ground stealthily.
They’ve seen me, are headed this way.
Why she had sneaked out of her hosts’ that night and decided to try to leave despite all the warnings, their kindness, Lena didn’t know; perhaps it was all just too different or just an impulse? Anyway, she was soon lost and cold in the dark alien landscape. Keep heading higher, that’s all she could do and then she had almost stumbled into that large party; only the light of their dim lamps had alerted her to their presence before it was too late. Now they were looking for her, covering the ground frighteningly quickly, but clearly not quite sure where she was.
She kept moving, another rise; head left along it and try to slip back through the cordon, she couldn’t out-run them. There was a small gullied rivulet, down in the shadows, hide there, let them sweep past and then she’d be away again to see if this barrier of theirs’ really existed.
She slipped, the ground loose and much deeper than she had realised, six feet at least, icy cold at the bottom.
A lamp was on the lip above her, he had heard her fall, looked like a giant up there in the half-light: it was the most terrifying moment of her young life so far. Then he was there, beside her, offering reassuring murmurs, putting her over his huge shoulders and hauling himself up the muddy bank, setting her down on the ground at the top, the oil lamp picking out the angles of his huge, fair features in the breaking dawn. She was wet, frozen, shivering, shattered, terrified; she looked up at him to thank him, his rueful smiling features, his gentleness, and the impulse to run was gone.
Dawn was at their backs now, cold but welcoming as they arrived at the little station halt at St Leonnorus. Mark took them to his house and base of operations, not big enough to be a manor house, more like a large stone farmhouse on the edge of the village, with exceptionally thick walls, very small locked and barred ground floor windows and a low tower at one end; to all intents and purposes a small fortress. Food was provided while they rested before joining the first train, due in an hour, which would take them all to their homes down the valley, apart from the team leaders whom Mark would escort to meet the High Steward and deliver the disturbing news.
They were all seated, in ones and twos, around the Seigneur’s farmhouse kitchen table but even the tired and distracted Alan couldn’t miss it; the American girl was pressed up next to Art, who was back holding the infant. She would go to the nuns for adoption by loving parents, hopefully to be raised on a diet of love rather than hate.
Georgy would go down to the little hospital, run by the nuns and monks from the monastery outside St Josephs, the two doctors travelling with him. They had been talking for much the journey, Gillian trying to answer, even pre-empt, his questions. How much he took in, let alone believed was hard to say, but he had marched better for a man of his age than Alan had expected. It almost seemed as if he were looking forward to getting there, was impatient to see if Gillian was really telling the truth.
For the first time since before the start of the mission he smiled, looking at Art and the girl, no, you couldn’t help but notice: there was something about this place, if it could work for him and his wife, the fisherman’s daughter, why not for them too?
© 1642again 2018