Later that morning ‘old’ Ted left what was becoming part of his daily routine, another COBRA meeting. They were starting to get properly scared now, especially when he told them that the arson attacks were probably linked to the Birmingham incidents, that numerous casualties should be expected and that, so far, no useful evidence had come to light, other than that the plates identified were clones and the van used in Swindon had been found burnt out in a field. The Reading getaway vehicle hadn’t yet been recovered but there were reports overnight of a vehicle fire near the Chilterns. Also, a farmer had found a bound Asian girl in a field a few miles away. She was now in hospital suffering from exposure and hypothermia; she’d clearly been out in the cold and damp night for hours. She would be interviewed later, when fit.
The press were on to it now of course, prompted by locals complaining about lack of security, racist murder gangs whom the police must be shielding, their rights to look to their own defence… All the usual, distilled and magnified by community ‘spokesmen’, agitators mounting a platform. But the thing that really scared them was the Met Commissioner’s statement that the force was fully stretched, even with military support and would be hard pressed to deal with any widespread disorder which was now being hyped up on social media forums.
He was experienced enough not to be surprised by the emergence of an alliance between the Home Secretary and Defence Minister, arguing for massive new resources for the military, army particularly, and police, along with an even wider range of legal and other restrictions than she had read through last time. The Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer were fighting back, and the PM was wavering, there was no doubt about it.
If it wasn’t for his people and the other innocents on the frontline it would be funny, not the nightmare it threatened to be. Well, for decades they had continued, without a by-your-leave, to shove ever more exotic ingredients into their stir-fry of a New Britain and were only now, reluctantly, starting to recognise the remote possibility that it might prove explosively foul. Well they could pour all the money in they wanted now, but all the signs were that the lid was about to blow off.
The best part for him had come on the walk out to the street, accompanied by the MI5 Director, their assistants keeping back a few discreet paces. “Well Gerald, what do you make of that?”
The MI5 man looked at him and dropped his voice, probably his normal work tone he thought. “This could bring them all to their senses, but it won’t, all too wrapped up in personal ambition. But, if our people start getting tired, there are more incidents, well, that frightens me. Those being attacked are being specifically targeted by professionals. They seem to know more about them than we do and don’t have to follow any rules, or care about the consequences. If we don’t stop them, soon, well… And those being attacked, they aren’t the usual small cells of nut-jobs, I’m convinced of it; there’s a lot more behind them, organisation, resources. Call it a professional hunch, no more, but they got into us; that payroll clerk just disappeared, nothing in her background, no religious affiliations at all, all the background checks were fine. That’s why I’m scared.”
“I know. How are your people, the two in hospital?”
“Thanks for asking. They didn’t even bother, did you notice? She’s unlikely to walk again, young family. He they don’t know, still in a coma, could be brain damage, I hope to God it isn’t.”
“What does he do anyway; I’ve never heard such a lot of mumbo-jumbo for a title?”
“That’s the point.”
And they left it at that.
Gillian followed David Kingsbridge out of the dining room into the kitchen to wash up, their whites, gloves, everything would be burned thoroughly she knew, the dining room cleaned and disinfected, and Georgy transferred to a room upstairs similarly sanitised. She sat at the kitchen table with him, smiling nervously, drinking tea and eating a cooked breakfast; they both looked at least twenty years older, but he was still just as professional, had just got on with it when he arrived, not complained about the lack of amenities, solely focused concern on the patient. It had gone reasonably, no more. Despite her earlier efforts there had been a lot of debris in there, a fragment she had missed even penetrating the liver, thankfully they were always the most resilient of organs. The bleeding had been stopped and his lung and stomach sealed, but he should never be quite the same again. Nevertheless, Georgy was fortunate, he was fit and active and, so long as he remained free of infection, not easy in a farmhouse, he should make a reasonable recovery.
They were both tired, nights up, long intense surgery, not getting any younger, shock at the situation. She might as well break the ice.
“Thanks so much David, we owe you his life. Please tell me what happened to Mary?”
Hard, she knew, but they had to start somewhere; tears were forming in his eyes, the wound still raw. Brain tumour, symptoms came too late to do anything, all over in four months as he was in the run down to retirement. No children or close relatives nearby, just friends in the area, so he had opted to continue to work a bit, stay local, try to keep going; what else was there at his time of life?
She smiled, didn’t feel like it for a second, but then her emotions followed her expression.
“Far more than you know David. I found that out twenty years ago, so much more right under my nose, our noses.”
He was looking at her quizzically, as if she had just declared herself a member of a cult.
“So, where’ve you been these last twenty years? The authorities said you were missing presumed dead, probably on the moors, or had somehow left the country.”
As she went through it with him, step-by-step. She knew a couple of the lads were in earshot in case he tried to do something silly; the suspicion on his face was replaced with incredulity, outright disbelief.
“You may still be a doctor, but it sounds to me as if you’ve had some sort of break-down, at least you’re not claiming to have been abducted by aliens. Don’t you realise how all that sounds? Where’ve you really been hiding, who are these people?”
“I’ve just told you, more than I should have but we owed you that.”
“You’ve got no proof at all!”
“Would you like to see the proof for yourself, for me to take you?”
He was going now whether he liked it or not, but at least she had to try to give him some sort of power of decision.
“You’ve nothing left here, after all.”
“That’s an awful thing to say. And what are all these guns for, the shot man?”
This was not going well, hardly surprising.
“Every country has a right to defend itself David, that’s what they’re trying to do.”
“I’ve never heard such…”
He was cut off by the entry of Alan, Art and Sam, coming into the kitchen to cool things down. She looked at them helplessly.
“He doesn’t believe me. I can’t say I would in his position.”
Alan and then Sam sat down and went through their own tales, explaining their origins; the huge Art standing casually by the stove, ready to make more tea should it be needed. By the time they had finished, twenty or so minutes later, their guest was starting to doubt his own sanity.
She squeezed his hand gently in reassurance.
“You’re not going nuts and neither are we. It’s the truth. You must have seen things in hospital, terminal patients who’ve suddenly recovered with no explanation? We all have, there’s a lot more to this world than any of us know”.
He looked about him.
“I assume from the presence of these gentlemen that I’m going to see this proof of yours for myself, whatever I say?”
“I won’t lie to you David. They’re never taken anyone there forcibly, only those found by accident or those who were invited. We rather hoped you wouldn’t be the first, especially as we are so deeply in your debt.”
He smiled, doubtfully.
“I had wondered what all the clothes and boots were for. Well, perhaps one last adventure, and once, long ago, I wanted to live beside the sea.”
The tears, this time of relief, were running down her cheeks, she flung her arms around him.
“Oh David, you can stay with us, you’ll see that it’s all true and so much more.”
Elaine had called her at eleven; she was back at work, what else was there now until the call came? Her cousin would be staying again this evening; she was really fond of him, like a sister admiring a bigger brother, feelings utterly different to her own. They hadn’t stayed up talking too late, Helena’s conversation with Sam had acted as a lightning rod for her excess anger, relieving some of the pressure, at least until she saw him again. She could be sure Sam wouldn’t let her down; he was just so… solid. Elaine had said they were going to let him come around some time that afternoon and wondered if she would want to be there, be the first person he saw, it might help with the shock? Two o’clock would be fine, plenty of time; could be in the evening, it depended on him.
She made her way into the ward just before two, dressed more for him, comfort, than work today; his favourite royal blue, more King Alfreds too. It would soon look like a woodland floor in Spring at this rate, she reflected.
Elaine was there, fidgeting, saying the doctor was pleased, no reactions or infections, all stabilising, hence the decision. His colleagues would want to interview him, but not until tomorrow, assuming everything went well today. How was she holding up? She smiled in reply.
“Elaine, assuming everything goes ok and they want to release him some time, where will he go?” She had already decided the answer herself.
“Well his flat will have to go, it’s not secure now, he’s no family in this country, just a sister in New Zealand or somewhere and they’re not close. I think they’ll take him to a safe house somewhere outside London to allow him to get better and then set him up with another flat in town. They certainly don’t want to lose him, especially after losing so many other leaders. They want him back quickly with everything going on, that’s if…”
“Knowing him he’s in there listening to us now, amusing himself. He didn’t fight them off with his neighbour to go down that easily.”
The conviction had come to her overnight: so that’s what faith feels like, springing from her hours at his bedside yesterday and Sam’s utter confidence in him?
No, not this time, this way.
“We can talk about the future when he comes around, but, in the meantime, can you get his personal effects sent round to my place quietly this evening, my cousin will be there. Please, for him?” For me. “It’s for the best”.
Elaine was looking at her uncertainly, as if torn between fear and longing.
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s best for now, until he comes out of here, but I’ll have to let the service know and they may overrule me.”
“I know you’ll do your best. I’ll call you as soon as there are any developments, I promise. It is for the best.”
And, with that, Elaine left.
She thought she could see why he might be interested in Helena; she was so indemonstrably strong, she was already sitting next to him, hand on his, head by his, just whispering quietly as the nurse from last night had described.
© 1642again 2018