Malone frowned. "CERN? Surely they wouldn't have anything to do with DemeCeres?
Ghost shook her head irritably. "No, of course not. But it's a good place to hide, isn't it? I mean, all sorts of activity, deliveries of scientific stuff all the time, scientists coming and going, access to all the supplies and facilities they'd need..." She turned back to her monitor as something caught her eye.
"Sir, shouldn't we contact Bodie..?" Spencer's voice faltered to a stop as he caught Backus's glare. Malone had told them all, earlier and in no uncertain terms, that nobody was to mention Doyle in Ghost's hearing - and, just to be on the safe side, no-one was to mention Bodie either. Malone glanced sharply at the young woman, but she was engrossed in the information scrolling down the screen and appeared not to have heard.
Sorry, Spencer mouthed silently. Malone gestured him back to his terminal and turned to Ghost.
"I'm not sure." She frowned up at him. "D'you think you could leave me in peace to check it out? And let me know as soon as whatsisface - Simpson? - gets back to you?"
"Certainly." As Malone left the office Backus moved to hover at Ghost's shoulder, gazing at the screen.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure." Ghost repeated. "It looks like they're changing their security codes or something."
Backus frowned. "Will that be a problem?"
Ghost was silent for a moment, her fingers moving with swift confidence over the keyboard. Then she glanced up and smiled.
"No - it's OK. That gives us everything we need."
"Oh good. Everything we need to what?"
"Configure the logic bomb."
Backus shook her head. "You're way ahead of me."
Ghost sighed, exasperatedly. "I want - eventually - to be able to blindside their video surveillance systems and override the rest of their security - without them knowing about it of course."
"And now you can? Sounds like black magic to me."
Ghost grinned. "Nah. Just deep magic. I've done it before. Not to such a degree, but it's all basically the same. Sort of."
Backus shook her head admiringly. "Got me. I'll just sit at your feet and worship, shall I?"
Ghost smiled, almost shyly. "Want to learn?"
"Yeah. One day."
"Whenever you're ready." Ghost turned back to her monitor. "What else can we do? Daren't risk getting the system wedged. They'll notice something's wrong - they're not stupid... Might be able to manage to deadlock some of the simplest subprograms, if I'm very, very careful. That would give us breathing space. I'll have to think about that one." She sighed. "Problem is they've got so many bloody systems, all differently configured, orthogonal, all running at the same time. I can't handle them one by one - got to try and do it all at once. And stay lost in the underflow. Not the easiest thing in the world."
"You want I should wave a dead chicken at it?"
Ghost stared for a moment, then burst into a peal of delighted laughter. "Well, it can't do any harm. How's your rain dance?"
Backus grinned. "With or without clothes...?"
Ghost raised an eyebrow and ran her eyes swiftly up and down Backus's slim form. "Which would you prefer?"
In the main control room Malone paused for a moment at Spencer's terminal. The operative offered a shamefaced smile.
"Sorry sir. I forgot."
"No harm done - at least as far as I can tell. What were you going to say?"
"Just that it would make sense to alert Bodie to what we know. I mean, if they have to go to Switzerland wouldn't it be more sensible for them to stay where they are? Not so far to travel if they have to get to Geneva."
"Indeed it would. And I am on my way to contact Bodie at this very moment. But thank you for the thought, Mr Spencer."
Malone nodded and moved away, Curtis and Keel in tow, leaving Spencer frowning slightly, unsure as to whether the controller was being serious or sarcastic...
In his temporary office, Malone seated himself and frowned at his top operatives as he reached for the phone.
"How quickly could you two be ready to fly out to Geneva?"
They glanced at each other, and Curtis shrugged. "An hour - maybe less."
"Less if it's urgent." Keel leaned forward slightly, scenting action. At last.
"Good." Malone began to tap numbers into the mobile. Keel licked his lips.
"Sir, if it is urgent and you can get us a private jet - and clearance - I can have us there within hours." There were times, Curtis knew, that Keel felt an almost overwhelming urge to be airborne again. He missed flying more than he would ever admit openly. Malone regarded him thoughtfully, then nodded.
"It might be the safest option, yes. I'll consider it." He raised the mobile to his ear.
Bodie hit the hands-free as the phone sounded.
"Malone. Where are you?"
Bodie checked the GPS. "Few kilometres south of Saint-Dizier. We were about to try and find somewhere to stay for the night." He frowned. "You've news?"
"It would appear that the threat is centred a short distance outside Geneva."
"You want us to get to Switzerland." It wasn't a question. Almost imperceptibly Bodie reduced speed. Doyle frowned.
"It would seem expedient. But tomorrow will be soon enough.
Bodie grinned, but there was no humour in it. "OK. We'll overnight here and reverse our tracks in the morning. We'll be at the Noga-Hilton. Bodie out."
As he cut the connection, Doyle shifted restlessly.
Bodie nodded, his eyes on the road. "Yes. Ever been there?"
Doyle hesitated, and the arms dealer glanced frowningly in his direction. The artist sighed.
"Why the big sigh?"
"Not sure about Switzerland."
Bodie grinned. "Land of chocolate, expensive watches and wonderful skiing? What don't you like?"
Doyle refused to be drawn into his partner's good humour.
"Neutrality. Refusing to get involved."
Bodie laughed. "Oh come on, Ray!"
Doyle turned to Bodie, distaste clear on his face. "Oh yeah? Oh, I forgot. Of course you'd like it. You don't care which side wins as long as you get paid."
For one long moment Bodie gripped the steering wheel, holding his breath, fighting back a bewildering mix of emotions. Shit. Doyle could still wind him as tight as the proverbial overwound watchspring. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.
"Ray, that's not fair."
"Yes it is."
And - damn him! - Bodie had to admit he was right....
They drove on slowly for another half-kilometre, Bodie checking road signs, Doyle wrapped in a tense, self-castigating silence. Finally, as they pulled into a parking space outside a nondescript but adequate-looking hostel, Doyle caught Bodie's eye.
Bodie half-smiled. "It's OK. It's nice to know some things never change."
A little later, sitting over the remains of dinner and a bottle of Pinot Noir, Bodie glanced at his silent - and obviously exhausted - partner.
"You want to talk?"
Doyle forced open nearly-closed eyes.
"Too knackered right now. Let's get some sleep."
"OK." No point in pushing it, and he was very tired himself. Looked like they were going to be together for a while longer - there was plenty of time. He hoped...
"Well, I know how to do it. At the moment I just don't know exactly what to tell it to do!"
Ghost had spent the last couple of hours in a more intense exploration of the DemeCeres systems, gathering information and shunting some of the less complex subsystems into infinite loops. Backus had been quietly impressed: it had been done so subtly there was a very good chance it would never be noticed - well, at least not until someone decided it was time for a complete security overhaul... And even then it would look like a simple glitch rather than sabotage.
Backus and Ghost looked up as Spencer stuck his head around the door.
"Simpson's online. Want to listen in?"
As the two women hurried from the office, Ghost glanced at Backus.
"What a stupid question!"
Backus grinned - then there was no time for further talk. Simpson's face was grim.
"We're ready. And please," Malone added as the man on the screen opened his mouth to begin, "keep it as simple as possible. For the benefit of those of us who aren't biogeneticists."
Simpson nodded, albeit reluctantly.
"I'll try. But it really is a rather complex matter." He frowned to himself for a second or two, trying to decide how to explain. "The grass pollen that DemeCeres is planning to release has been modified to be adaptive and to carry what is, essentially, a kind of virus. As the pollen spreads around the world, it will gradually filter from grasses to the cereal crops, and from there into both manufactured staple foods and animals And once it reaches its final destination - the human body - the viral DNA will combine with the human DNA. The end result is male sterility."
There was a stunned silence.
"But - surely that's impossible?"
Ghost shook her head, glancing over her shoulder at the controller. "Things are only impossible until someone finds out how to do them. Today's magic is tomorrow's technology."
Simpson nodded. "It's extremely clever, I must admit. The virus attacks the male gamete - and only the male gamete - rendering it infertile. Only in humans, as far as I can see. And of course it will take quite some time for the effects to become widespread. But time is one thing DemeCeres had on their side. They were counting on no-one finding out about this until it was far too late."
Anxious murmurs filled the control room. The male operatives, naturally, looked most disturbed. Malone voiced what they were all thinking.
"What an appalling idea."
Ghost frowned up at him. "Why?"
The simple question silenced the entire room. Malone stared.
"I beg your pardon?"
Ghost planted her hands on her hips. "Why is it such an appalling idea? The world's overpopulated as it is. Since the human race doesn't seem to be willing to do anything about it, why not take the responsibility away, enforce contraception? The planet would be better off as a whole."
"I can't believe I'm hearin' this!" Richards was outraged. "You agree with what they're doin'?"
"I didn't say that. But I can see the benefits."
Malone had recovered his composure somewhat. He turned his attention back to the screen.
"Would there be any way to prevent - 'infection'?"
Simpson shrugged. "Short of sealing oneself into an impenetrable biosphere, not really. Even if we ate only foods that didn't contain the modified material - which would be, basically, impossible - from what I've been able to find out, even breathing in the pollen would eventually have the same effect."
"Is there any way to reverse the damage?"
Simpson's mouth twisted, bitterly. "Oh yes. They made sure they had a cure. They don't want to kill off the human race, only control it. Only I don't have that information. There are numerous references to it in what I do have, but they all speak of some document not held electronically. I also get the impression that different parts of it are held by different high-ranking members of the organisation. I suppose that's the best way to make sure no single person has too much power."
Ghost folded her arms with a sigh. Malone glanced at her enquiringly, and she shook her head.
"It's breath-taking. The sheer scope and genius of it! And by starting with something so simple. You can't help but admire the sneaky bastards."
Malone frowned. "I find your reaction to this a little alarming, Ghost."
She grinned. "Yes, you would wouldn't you? Comes of taking the narrow view. Not that I blame you - after all, you're doing what you think best to cope with the way things are. But these guys are trying to tackle the disease rather than its symptoms. Radical stuff."
She'd succeeded in stunning the entire room. Malone recovered first.
"While it's very refreshing to have such unorthodox views thrown into the debate, I really think we ought to take some positive action to stop them."
Ghost nodded. "You're probably right."
"So will you still help us?"
"Why don't you just drop a bomb on them?"
Nonplussed, Malone stared for a moment before realising she was absolutely serious.
"I realise you have a rather low opinion of us, Ghost, but we really are not in the habit of 'dropping bombs' as a way of resolving problems. DemeCeres is close to CERN; there are a lot of people in the area; I don't think the Swiss would endorse such an action, and - finally - we have no guarantee that taking such a step would succeed in destroying the modified material anyway. I think our only realistic course of action will be a covert operation. Infiltrate the facility and physically remove the pollen."
"They'll make more."
"Not if they have no records and no equipment."
"So you're going to blow them up anyway."
Malone frowned, plans formulating in his mind as he spoke. "I think a severe fire will be sufficient. I'd like it to appear accidental if at all possible - with a little luck they'll believe their pollen was destroyed at the same time. Now we know where they are, and what they are doing, I'd rather be able to keep an eye on DemeCeres than have them realise they've been discovered. Hopefully they'll simply rebuild on the same site and make our task easier." He glanced at the hacker. "It would be very useful if you were able to corrupt or destroy everything they hold in their computer systems. If that's possible."
"It's possible. I can probably even do it so it looks like it just died horribly in the fire, rather than as a result of outside action. Can't do anything about backups held externally, though. At least, not until I can hack into the computers storing them..."
"I appreciate that. For the time being we'll concentrate on the facility itself. So, will you help us?"
She considered the question for a moment, then nodded again. "Yes. I don't approve of having choice taken away."
Malone smiled, and the rest of the room breathed again. "Thank you."
She inclined her head. "What do you want to do?"
Malone ushered her back to the office. "We already have agents on their way to Geneva: with your help they'll be able to gain access to DemeCeres, retrieve the material and destroy the facility. Can you call us up diagrams of the place? It would be useful to know the air-conditioning ducts, sewers, locations of video surveillance, things like that."
"No problem." Ghost's fingers were already flying, and seconds later a series of highly detailed floor-plans appeared on the screen. Malone leaned over to look.
"Excellent. Let's get these printed off. I understand you've already disabled some of their security systems?"
"Disabled is a bit of a strong word for it - but yeah, I guess it'll do. Mostly the electronic systems though. If you want to get someone in there, I'll have to do something about the physical security too."
"I have every faith in your abilities."
"So you should. It would help if I knew exactly what you've got planned, though."
"Until I've had a chance to confer with my operatives, I won't be able to tell you the full details. But I will let you know as soon as I know."
"Might be easiest if you did all that from here. Then I can join in without you having to relay the details."
Malone frowned. Well, as long as Bodie and Doyle were forewarned, it should be OK. He could deal directly through Curtis and Keel; that way Ghost need not know the other two were involved.
Ghost swivelled to regard the controller. "Is there anything more you need right now?"
"At this moment, I don't think so." He looked a little more closely at the young woman. She was even paler than normal, and there were lines of stress around her eyes. "And you need a break."
"I need to get out of the building for an hour or so."
"Of course. I'll have someone accompany you."
She sighed. "Must you?"
Malone smiled. "You are rather a 'hot property' at the moment. We dare not risk anything happening to you."
She scowled, but surrendered. "I want to go to Hammersmith."
Malone frowned quizzically, but refrained from asking why. "Very well. Give me five minutes."
In the main room Curtis and Keel were poring over the diagrams of the DemeCeres facility, quietly discussing possible ways of gaining entry. They both looked up as Malone appeared.
"I need you two to make yourselves ready to leave for Geneva, first thing tomorrow morning. I've authorised a jet for you - it'll be waiting for you at Northolt. You're to meet up with Bodie and Doyle at the Hotel Noga-Hilton - yes, Mr Curtis?"
Curtis suppressed a delighted grin. "Nothing sir."
Malone nodded, understandingly, then sobered. "Now, I want you both to be perfectly clear about this. Bodie and Doyle are heading this operation. You are to take your orders from them." He paused, watching Keel's face closely. "Is this going to pose any problems for either of you?"
Twin "no sir"s satisfied him. They knew the gravity of the situation, and they were both professionals...
"For the duration, you two will relay information, requests and decisions from the others. Yes, I know that's not the most convenient method," he added as Keel made to interrupt, "but while Doyle insists on Ghost not knowing he's involved, we don't have a lot of choice."
"How is she, by the way?"
"Tired, Mr Keel. And she wants to go to Hammersmith."
Curtis raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"I didn't ask."
"I'll take her, sir."
Malone regarded Keel narrowly, and nodded. "Very well. No more than an hour, though. I need you back here for a final briefing after I've contacted Bodie."
Keel grabbed his jacket.
"Want me to come with you?"
Keel winked at his partner. "I think I can manage one little girl by myself."
Curtis's expression was eloquent of doubt, but he remained silent. Keel paused for a moment.
"'Sides, I need you to pack for me."
"What did your last servant die of?"
Keel grinned. "Boredom!"
Leaving his partner chuckling, Keel headed for the temporary ops. room...
"So where're we going?"
Ghost had assumed her customary position, sprawled in the seat with one foot up on the dash, as they pulled away from the car pool. She spoke without turning her head.
"Hammersmith Cemetery. St Dunstan's Road's probably the best place to park."
Shaking his head, Keel headed west. "You better direct me. It'll be closed, this time of night."
He frowned. "You sure about this?"
"Want to tell me about it?"
There was silence for a minute or two, then she sighed.
"My mother's buried there. I just want to visit her grave, OK?"
"Yeah, so was I. She was a lovely person."
"Was it recent?"
"Nearly six years ago. Lung cancer. I haven't been back since the funeral."
Keel found himself at a loss for words, wishing he'd kept quiet. Thinking about it, it seemed obvious, now, that she could only want to visit a cemetery for one reason... A small hand on his arm brought his attention back to the present. Ghost was watching him.
"It's OK. You didn't know. And it happens - everyone dies, sometime. I wish I'd had a bit more time with her, that's all." She resumed her original position and gazed out of the window. "Any music in this thing?"
Keel switched on the radio - Jazz FM filled the vehicle with something low and soulful. Ghost frowned.
"I can't stand that stuff. Can't we have Capital Gold?"
Keel obligingly changed frequencies, and they cruised along to the varied sounds of Abba, David Soul, Queen and the Blue Oyster Cult - 'Don't Fear the Reaper'. With an unexpected surge of sensitivity Keel had tried to change frequencies when he'd heard the opening chords: Ghost had stopped him.
"No, leave it. I like that song..."
As they approached the cemetery, Keel glanced at his companion.
"How'd you want to get in?"
"Over the wall will do. I don't need long."
"OK." He pulled up as far from the one working lamppost as he could and ushered Ghost from the car - then lifted her to the top of the wall, silencing her surprised squawk with a hushed "Quiet! Don't wake the neighbours!"
As he followed her, he was sure he heard a muted chuckle. He smiled to himself. She'd been very light and small in his arms. Pity it hadn't happened in a more romantic place...
Once inside she made her way unerringly towards a plot off to one side of the main pathway, stopping beside a plain gravestone. As Keel joined her, she looked up at him, pain in her eyes, and he halted.
"Please, would you wait at the path?"
"Sure." He withdrew to the shadow of a much larger, grander monument with an angel perched on the top, and watched from the corner of his eye as Ghost kneeled in the damp grass...
"Mum... I miss you." she whispered, laying a hand against the cold stone. A name, two dates, three letters, two words. 'Much Missed'. Not much to show for a life, even such a short one. But then, she'd been a woman of simple tastes, mostly, and simple feelings. Love, pure and simple. Ghost smiled through threatening tears.
"I found him, mum. Found my dad. And I can see why you loved him so much. He was angry you hadn't told him about me, and so sad when I told him why. I think he did love you, a bit, in his own way. And now he's so very mixed up and unhappy. But I'm going to find him again, and this time I'm not going to let him run away." She brushed away tears, feeling somehow lighter, calmer. "I love you, mum."
Her head was lowered as she walked slowly from the grave, and Keel touched her arm as she joined him at the path.
She took a deep breath and swallowed hard.
"Yeah. Thanks for understanding."
Keel felt himself blushing again, grateful that the darkness of the night turned everything monochrome.
"Welcome. But we should be getting back, if you're finished..?"
She nodded. They left the cemetery the same way they had entered it, and headed back to CI5 HQ.
Bodie had not been particularly pleased to be woken by the insistent buzzing of his mobile, given that he'd only fallen asleep half an hour previously. Malone's succinct explanation of what they had learned, however, brought him awake and alert within seconds. Malone heard grim amusement in his voice.
"So my first guess was right?"
Malone frowned. "What do you mean? What first guess?"
"The meaning of that - I suppose 'warning' is the best term. CHECK. Checkmate. 'The king is dead.' The male of the species is doomed to extinction."
"Well, let's see what we can do to prevent it, shall we? Mr Curtis and Mr Keel will be joining you in Geneva." He heard Bodie's faint groan, and tried not to let his smile show in his voice. "They have been instructed they are to take orders from you."
"And you think they'll obey?"
"Contact me if they do not. But I don't think you'll have any trouble. We're all aware of just how serious this matter is."
"Very well. What else?"
"Messirs Curtis and Keel will be bringing with them as much information as we can pull down about the physical structure of the facility. At our end, we shall be monitoring security and communications very closely; we'll need to co-ordinate our actions so that we can keep you unnoticed while you enter the place."
"Are we still worried about being recognised?"
"I'm beginning to think it really doesn't matter any more. And in any case, we don't intend that anyone will catch sight of you." Malone frowned to himself. "Strictly speaking I should really ask you to retire from the case."
"But you won't, will you." It wasn't a question. Malone sighed.
"I very much doubt you would do so, even were I to request it."
"And you'd be right." There was more than a hint of enthusiasm in Bodie's voice. Malone got the distinct impression he was enjoying himself.
"Do you have any idea how Mr Doyle will react?"
There was a slight pause. "To be honest, I'm not sure. But the fact that he's come this far with me already does make me think he's interested in seeing it through. Though you can never tell with Ray... I'll get back to you when I know more."
"Then I'll leave you to rest. Please check in when you've made contact with the other two."
"Will do. Bodie out."
Backus handed him a mug of coffee. Malone took it absently, frowning slightly, pensively. Backus raised an eyebrow.
"You alright, sir?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes, thank you Miss Backus. Just something Bodie said. Why did they send us that warning?"
Backus frowned. "Sir?"
"DemeCeres. Why did they warn us - and who sent the warning...?"
© 2000 (April) Joules Taylor
'wave a dead chicken', 'perform a rain dance' - old hacker terms for a ritualistic action not actually expected to have any real effect on the hardware or software problem, but which, given the inexplicable way the universe sometimes works, might just do the trick (probably has something to do with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle...) (And no, I don't have a strange fixation on chickens. Budgies, however, are a different matter...) Back
© 2000 WordWrights.