16.05, some months later.
Outside of Winchester, England. The house of General Charles Metcalfe, commander of the Winchester Air Base, of the World Army Air Force.
The three Metcalfe family members are in the lounge, having tea. As Mary Metcalfe is pouring tea to her husband, the later is casting some conspicuous glance at their son, Paul, who just seems to have come for an unannounced visit. The young colonel of just thirty years old seems a bit unnerved and is keeping his eyes down in his own cup.
The general then clears his throat and addresses him with a voice a bit louder then he normally used.
“What’s on your mind, Paul?”
General Metcalfe takes great amusement when he sees his son jumps, almost dropping his cup in the process.
“Sorry, Father, what… what did you say?”
“You seemed far, far away…” the general responds with a broad smile. “I just wanted to know what was in your mind.”
Paul is still a bit nervous. “Well, there's… quite a lot, actually, Dad.”
“I thought so.” General Metcalfe nods. “You did not come here today just because you just ‘happen to pass by’, didn’t you?”
“Actually... No. I need some advise.”
The general seems surprised. “Advise, you? Since when? You’ve always done everything following your own instinct, Paul!”
“What is so different now?” Mary Metcalfe asks in turn.
Paul reaches for his pocket uniform and produces an envelope that he gives to his father. The general takes it and examines it. He notices the World Government stamp and the annotation marked “confidential”.
“What is it, son?” the general asks looking at Paul.
“I received that letter some weeks ago, with special instructions not to tell anyone about what it contains.” His son explains, shaking his head. Seeing as his father is hesitant, he quickly adds: “Go on, now, you can read it.”
“Well, I figure that since you are my father, and a WAAF general…” Paul sighs heavily. “Besides, I really need to talk to you about that thing.”
His curiosity obviously rose by his son’s words, General Metcalfe opens the envelope, takes the letter in it and unfolds it. He begins to read it in silence, while taking a sip of tea. He stops suddenly, almost strangling himself with the beverage. He looks up at his son.
“You say that you received this letter some weeks ago?” he asks him.
“Make that a month or two.”
The general looks again at the letter and mumbles for himself. “I’ll be damned. So they’re finally going through with it…”
“You mean, you know about this?” Paul asks him with a tone of surprise.
“Not in all the details, and obviously, less than you do.” General Metcalfe replies. “But yes, there has been some talk for quite a long time, now. It was regarded as highly confidential, and nothing was exactly sure. But to learn that this project is at such an advanced stage…”
Mary Metcalfe looks curiously at her husband. “Now, what is it, Charles?”
General Metcalfe consults his son with a glance. Paul nods, seeing no reason his mother should not be tell. Even if she’s not military. The general sighs and turns to his wife.
“You see, Darling, for several months now, the World Government has express the intention of establishing a new military organisation, that will help “ease the pressure”, if you will, of the other branches of the military. This new organisation will only be answering directly to the World President, and will only be composed of the elite, the best there is… It seems that the process is well in his way of becoming a reality, real soon.”
“That letter confirms all that to you?” Mary asks him.
“It came from a special governmental Committee, “ his husband confirms. For the past few weeks, it has been selected a certain number of individuals, whom will be members of this new organisation.”
Mary eyes her son, who’s waiting quietly. “Are you saying…?”
“Yes, Mary.” There is a bursting pride in Metcalfe’s voice as he goes on. “Not only has our son been selected in this organisation, but also he could very well become one of their senior officers…”
The general produces a smile wide enough to crack his face ear to ear. He’s literally bursting with pride. “I told you our son was the best, Mary!”
Paul’s face is beginning to redden of embarrassment.
“Dad, please… I really don’t need that, now. I’ve come for some advise…”
“Oh, yes, so you said already. What is it, Paul? Didn’t you respond to that letter, by now?”
“Well, yes, almost upon receiving it.”
“You have accepted, of course?”
Paul is a bit taken aback by the doubt he notices in his father’s voice.
“That is part of the problem”, he sighs. As his father gives him a puzzled glance, he continues quickly. “At first, I thought it would give me an opportunity to do more good than what I’m doing right now. I felt… well, maybe it was what I was training for all my life. But… Well…”
“You’ve been having second thoughts.” The general finishes for his son.
Paul seems very hesitant. “Yeah, well…”
General Metcalfe is a bit surprised. His son’s usually is confidant about his decisions. He wonders what’s been eating at him right now.
“Why so?” he asks him without detours.
“Because of you, Dad.” Paul sighs.
His father is obviously taken aback by that very notion. “Me? How come?”
“The fact is… I was thinking, 'what would he says when he finds out’? Wouldn’t he be somewhat furious that, out of the blue, I decide to quit the WAAF to enrol myself in some unidentified organisation, which goals are yet to be defined?”
General Metcalfe frowns deeply. “Now wait a minute! Since when do you care so much about what I have to think? As I recall, you never ask my permission when you decided to go to West Point, all those years ago? And you didn’t ask it neither when you enrolled afterwards in the WAAF, at a low rank. If I’m remembering correctly, you had said, at the time, that ‘“you wanted to make you way up the ladder with fairly won promotions, instead of having the rank politely handed to you, just because you were a general’s son’.”
Paul smiles broadly. “You’ve got to admit I had succeeded pretty well.”
“I’ve never had any doubt in your abilities, Paul, you know that.” General Metcalfe moves one. “You shouldn’t begin to doubt yourself, now. If you think this thing is good for you, then go and grab it. Don’t hesitate.”
“It’s not that I have doubts about myself, Dad. It’s that I was thinking about the peculiar directives I had to follow concerning this new “promotion”. It shroud in complete secrecy. No one is to know about it, except immediate family, when time comes… And you should not tell anything about this to nobody else.”
“And why so?” General Metcalfe asks with another frown. “You know how proud we are of you!”
“That’s another thing, Dad”, Paul sighs. If ever I join this organisation, it will be better for you not to show how much how you are of me.”
“Again… why not?"
“Dad… I will have to leave the World Army Air Force.”
“Yes, you’ve already told us that.”
“It been suggested to me that I will have to make believe I’m retiring.”
The general frowns deeply. “Now, NOBODY will swallow that! It won’t work.”
“If I accept this promotion, It will have to work, Dad. Don’t t worry, I will find a way.”
General Metcalfe opens his mouth to say what he’s thinking of such a bizarre idea, but his wife puts a hand on his shoulder, silencing him. They exchange a glance. Then, the general sighs heavily.
“All right, Paul. If that’s your decision, I’ll help you with that.”
“WE’ll help you with that.” His wife adds quickly.
General Metcalfe nods.
“We’ll find a way.” He says. “Together. You can count on us.”
Paul feels obviously relieved. He addressed a thankful smile to both his parents.
“You don’t know what it means to me. Thanks.”
The general clears his throat. “What is it you said earlier, son? You could only tell your immediate family only when the time comes? Has the time come, now?”
Paul agrees with a thoughtful nod. He presents another letter from his pocket. It has the same stamp and markings as the first one.
“I have received my last orders today.” He explains “I have to report at a special meeting, where further instructions are to be giving to me.”
“When do you leave?” His mother asks him.
“Next Friday. I have a rendezvous outside of the country, on Sunday. Sorry, I can tell you where exactly. And I was instructed that I should take at least a two weeks leave.”
“You will need a furlong.” General Metcalfe agrees. “I will arrange that for you…”
“It’s already been taken care of, Dad.” His son quickly replies. “This new organisation is beginning to show some muscles: it had made all necessary arrangements.”
“I have an idea, son”, general Metcalfe says with a thoughtful tone. “While you’re away, if someone ever ask any question as to why you have taken that furlong, I could take advantage of the situation, saying that you had to take some kind of a break… To think about your future in the WAAF.”
Paul smiles congenially. “I didn’t dare asking you to do just that, Dad. Thanks! That should help planting some clues about my eventual retirement… if I should decide to join this organisation.”
“Yes, well…” General Metcalfe mumbles. “ At least it could prove a bit helpful, if not entirely.”
Paul gets up from his chair, retrieving his cap that he has earlier put on the table, in front of him. His father stands too, and hands him back his letter. Paul puts the two of them back into his vest pocket.
“I have to go, now”, Paul says almost apologizing. “I’m due back at the base before 0500.”
Mary Metcalfe comes to her son and embraces him tenderly. He presses her closely to his heart and plants a kiss on her forehead.
“I have but one advice to give to you”, she said to her son. “Good luck and take care of yourself, Paul.”
“That makes two, Mum”, Paul replies with a smile. “But I’ll take both of them. And don’t worry. I will be all right.”
General Metcalfe puts a hand on his son’s shoulder. He looks him straight in the eyes, with a solemn gaze.
“Just remember, Paul”, he says to him. “We are your parents. Il you ever need any help, we’re always here for you.”
“I know that, Dad. And I’ll always make sure never to forget it.”
Paul puts his cap on and lines it up carefully. Then he smile again at his parents, and shakes the hand his father extents to him.
“You should hear about me upon my return.” He says.
“Hope it will be soon.” His mother sighs.
“You know the military, Mum”, Paul answers half laughing. “You know when you leave… but never when you get back. Take care of yourselves, the both of you, ‘till I get back.”
General Metcalfe and his wife don’t follow their son when he finally leaves the lounge. They realise he has said all that was needed to be said. They heard the front door being open, then closed, as he departs their house. Mary Metcalfe shudders; she seems a bit unsettled. Her husband takes her in his arms, wanting to reassure her.
“Now, love, don’t you worry.” The general says. “You know Paul can take care of himself. Whatever awaits him in this new venture, he will be all right.”
But Mary Metcalfe has nothing but a concerned glance upon her beautiful face. She does not even look at her husband, when she speak back, with a most worried tone:
“Then why do I have that distinct felling that something horribly wrong will happen to him if he joins this organisation?”
* * *
Following his latest instructions, colonel Paul Metcalfe has taken a conventional airplane to come to Perth, Australia, two days earlier. He has taken a room at a hotel for the duration and has left his key to the counter this very morning. After renting a rather ordinary-looking car, he drives it at the rendezvous point which was given to him, in the middle of the industrial district of the city.
The place is deadly quiet, even deserted. Nobody is working on that day. Metcalfe stops his car in front of the garage door of a specific warehouse, somewhat apart from the other ones. The place seems as empty as the rest of the neighbourhood. Obviously, nobody has come here for a long time.
Perfect place for a secret rendezvous, I must say. Metcalfe muses to himself. For an ambush, too.
He shrugs off that thought; perhaps his commando training has caused him to become somewhat of a paranoid. But then again, the fact that he was asked to come to that place, in uniform, but unarmed, does nothing to reassure him. He feels a bit naked without some sort of a weapon.
Metcalfe gets out of his car, and then looks at the warehouse. It’s certainly is an ancient one, by all appearances… Hasn’t been in use for quite some time, now. Really a strange place for a military meeting, Metcalfe thinks again. Nevertheless, he goes to the door, but with some caution. He stops and hesitates a second before touching the handle. It’s turning effortlessly. So the place’s not locked. Not very careful, Metcalfe thinks for himself. He pushes the door, which opens with a loud cracking.
Well, thinks Metcalfe, it hasn’t been greased for quite a while. He was pretty sure of what state he was going to found the interior of this building as he steps inside. It was exactly how it has expected it to be: dirty, empty, gloomy, almost pitch as black. Only a series of dirty windows, located at about twelve feet up on the walls, were shedding some light into it. Metcalfe takes a couple a steps, and hears the echo reverberating them to him.
Metcalfe is beginning to loose his patience. He does not have a very long one, and certainly not with games of that sort. He’s sure he is at the right address, but he doesn’t see why the Committee has decided to send him there. He realizes that they had to choose a place as inconspicuous as possible, but this was bordering on the ridiculous.
“Is there anybody in there?” He shouts impatiently.
Only the echo responses to him, with his own answer. Metcalfe grumbles, a bit exasperated.
“What I am doing here, anyway?” Metcalfe says out loud to himself. “There’s obviously not a soul in sight!”
He suddenly hears the door slamming brutally behind him. Startled, he swing rounds his heels, ready to face anybody who might be trying to crawl up behind him.
That’s when something heavy hits him hard on his back, and sends him violently upon the wall, right next to the door. He doesn’t have time to make a move; strong hands are already keeping him stuck close to the wall, and his arms are being twisted behind his back.
Well, what do you know, he thinks sarcastically, it’s really an ambush!
Metcalfe tries to get free, but senses almost instantly the cold barrel of a gun pressed against the back of his skull.
“Don’t try anything stupid, now.” A dark menacing voice says to him.
“What is the meaning of this?” An angry Metcalfe answers back.
Another man’s voice comes to his ears, with a mocking tone to it: “What do you think it is?”
“Do you have any idea whom you dealing with?” Metcalfe replies dryly.
“And do you really think we don’t know, colonel Metcalfe?” The first man says, chuckling.
“Yeah! Mister ‘Son of a two stars general’!” The second one continues. “You played right straight into our hands.”
Metcalfe feels his fury growing by the second.
“Don’t think you will get away with this!” He snaps.
“Yeah, yeah!” The second voice sighs heavily. “They all say the same thing!”
The two voices have an American accent, realizes Metcalfe. But that don’t tell him who those men could be. He hears the first man talking to the second, with a commanding voice:
“Search him. Make sure he’s not armed.”
“Yeah! You have a right to be careful. If he did like the other…”
“Just do it!”
The second man keeps his mouth shut while carefully searching Metcalfe. He’s already told a lot, thinks the colonel. Now he knows there's somebody else in here, who’s in the same predicament as him.
He also knows that the man, who has spoken to him at first, seems to be the leader of the pair.
The second man finishes his search quickly. “All right, he’s clean.”
“Well”, the first man adds mockingly, “I’m not really surprised…» He forces Metcalfe to swirl around. The WAAF colonel, his back pushed to the wall, now finds himself facing two armed men, all dressed in black, and sporting dark clothes on their heads as masks. “You’re a good little soldier, following orders to the letter, aren’t you?”
Metcalfe looks incredulously at the man right in front of his. An athletic fellow, shorter than himself. All he sees of his features are his blue eyes piercing through his black hood.
“You’re behind that letter that has send me here?” Metcalfe asks him.
“Of course! How could we have known you would be here, otherwise?”
“But I don’t understand…” Metcalfe continues. “That letter has all the marking of…”
He stops abruptly. He looks straight at the blue-eyed man. Would he dare say too much in front of him? As much as Metcalfe knew, there could have been some truth about the business he was supposed to have with the Committee. Maybe not in here, maybe somewhere else, maybe at another time. It was quite possible that these men had intercepted some information, one way or another, as to what the Committee has in store for him.
“What were you about to say?” The man says quietly.
Metcalfe clenches his teeth. “Nothing that may interest you, mister.”
“You realize I could… make you tell me anything I want to know?” The first man adds ever so quietly.
Metcalfe frowns resolutely. “You could try.”
“We shall see about it later on, colonel Metcalfe. Now, get those hands a little higher, will you? And try to stay calm. I know what you are capable of, but I doubt that you could do very much with a bullet in one vital part of your anatomy.”
Metcalfe obeys at the man, whose brandishing his pistol right under his nose. No sense getting uselessly getting shot at, he thinks dryly.
“Who are you?” he asks. “What do you want from me?”
“All your questions will be answered on due time, colonel.” The first man replies. “Just be patient.” Metcalfe hears him gives a derisious snicker, as if the man was openly laughing at him. “You know, I’d had thought that you’d be more of a challenge, Metcalfe. Perhaps what they say about you is overrated.”
“If they’re saying I’m not the suicidal kind, they’re right.” Metcalfe snaps back angrily.
“What should we do with him, now?” the second man asks his leader.
“We’ll lock him away for the moment.” The leader then address Metcalfe, with a menacing tone:
“I’ll advise you, colonel: don’t do anything reckless. I will not hesitate one instant to shoot you if you try to resist.”
Metcalfe gives him a sardonic smile: he is not at all impressed.
“This is not the end of it, Mister.” He says quietly.
“No, colonel.” The leader answers with the same tone. “Not by a long shot.”
He grabs Metcalfe by the shoulder and pushes him toward the back of the warehouse, where the darkness is at its most.
The two men in black take Metcalfe to a locked door. While the first keeps the WAAF colonel at gunpoint, the second pulls out the heavy bolt and pushes the door open. Metcalfe is then forced to enter in another room, which seems smallest and more even darker than the rest of the warehouse. A dirty window, with a broken pane is the only thing that lights a little the place.
Metcalfe steps right to the centre of the room. He turns just in time to see his attackers close the door after him. He hears the bolt being pulled up and then the sound of the two men’s footsteps, as they go away.
They have left him alone.
No. Not alone. As he realizes that there is someone else with him, very near, Metcalfe reacts instinctively. He had let himself be taken by surprise once, today. He will not let it happens twice.
The other is just behind him; must have been right next to the door before, Metcalfe thinks, that’s why I didn’t saw him at first. The colonel swirls, avoiding the arms of this new adversary, and succeeds in trapping them in a swift lock. The man crumples to his knees, on the dirty floor, at Metcalfe keeps his arms and neck in a tight grip. A faint male voice then comes to his ear:
“Hey! Come on, pal! You’re chocking me!”
Metcalfe tightens his lock. “Call up your friends!” He hisses between clenched teeth. “Or I can guarantee you WILL really choke!”
“They’re not my friends! “ The other responds, panting. “I don’t even know who the hell they are!”
“They’re Americans.” Metcalfe says with an insisting tone.
“Yeah, by the sound of it. So?”
Metcalfe growls. “So are you!”
“And even so?” The other man replies. “That’s no proof that I have anything to do with them!”
Metcalfe tights his grip a little more. The other man let out a muffled groan.
“What where you doing beside the door, waiting for me to enter?” The WAAF colonel asks with a threatening tone. “You wanted to attack me?”
The other tries to suppress his groan. “I was waiting for one of those goons to come in, so I would attack HIM and get the hell out of hire! I wasn’t trying to attack YOU!”
Not satisfied with the answer, Metcalfe tights his grip even a little more. He hears his adversary gasps desperately.
“Look, if I was with these men, to what purpose would have I attack you? You’re already a prisoner here! Like I am!”
Metcalfe is not yet sure. But he remembers that one of the men that had capture him had talked about “another one”, just before his leader shut him off. Maybe that other prisoner was this man whom now he holds in a chocking lock. The American senses that he has just made a point and presses on: “Will you please let me go, now? I can hardly breath!
Metcalfe lets go of the hold. The other man stumbles completely to the floor, trying to regain his balance. He breaths heavily, coughs one or two times. Then he gets up on his knees.
“Man! That was close!” He says, still gasping for air. “What are you, anyway? Some kind of homicidal maniac?”
“Sorry.” Metcalfe quietly says. “I guess I just reacted.”
The American is increasingly furious. “Reacted? You should have react EARLIER, with these men when they captured you!”
“When unarmed and facing two guns, it didn’t seem wise at first to tackle these men.” Metcalfe answers patiently. “You don’t seem to have done any better with them yourself now, do you?”
There is a moment of silence. The other man seems to think over the remark. Metcalfe hears him laugh lightly.
“No, I didn’t.” The man simply says. “And I had a gun.”
Metcalfe nods. So it really is the other prisoner that he had heard of earlier.
His back still turned to Metcalfe, the man now gets to his feet, groaning a little, massaging the back of his neck. Under the feeble light, the colonel can only see clearly his fair hair; he’s a bit taller and heavier than himself. The American turns around to look at his companion, with infuriated blue eyes. He frowns when he sees the uniform and grumbles under his breath.
“Well, what do you know! I’d almost get myself strangled by a WAAF colonel!”
Metcalfe frowns. “Lay off of me, will you? I’m having a bad day!”
“And you think it’s been any better for me?” The other sharply answers back. “I come here to meet somebody and these goons jump me, and then disarm me, before I could do anything! I let myself get caught like a snorted nose kid!”
“The same with me.” Metcalfe nods. “These men were very efficient. I suspect them to be professionals.”
“Military like you?”
“Perhaps. They know me, that’s for sure.”
“And they sure know me.” The American sighs heavily.
Metcalfe looks suspiciously at the other prisoner. “You said you came here to see someone?”
The other prisoner seems to realize that he might have said a little too much. He then takes a casual tone, smiling broadly. “Oh! You know… the habitual date…”
“Are you trying to tell me that you had some kind of romantic date in this neighbourhood?” A sarcastic Metcalfe asks him. “At 6 AM? On a Sunday?”
“What can I say?” The American says with a debonair tone. “She’s a very peculiar dame!”
“I should say that YOU are the peculiar one, mister. “ Metcalfe laughs. “How can you think I would believe such a terrible lie?”
“Well, it was worth a try…” The other says, mumbling.
“No, not really. Who are you, mister?”
The other man hesitates; he looks at Metcalfe straight in the eyes. “I’m not sure I am at liberty to tell you, colonel.”
Metcalfe sighs. “All right. Let’s try it again: I’m colonel Paul Metcalfe, of the World Army Air force, Special Forces. Now that you know my name, maybe you won’t feel so shy as to give me yours.”
The other prisoner smiles lightly and extends his right hand. “Since you put it that way, colonel: name’s Svenson. Adam Svenson.”
Metcalfe waits a little, so Svenson could continue his presentation; he does not. The colonel then, still a bit suspicious, shakes his hand. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
“Likewise.” Svenson gives a childish smile to the WAAF colonel then turns around, still massaging the back of his neck. He goes to sit on the floor, his back to the wall. Metcalfe stays where he stands, following the other man with his eyes.
“Now, do you have any idea who those men are and what they want to the both of us?” Svenson asks him.
Metcalfe shrugs. “I wish I know. I mean, I DO have enemies. But I don’t think any of them would go to such length as to kidnap me.”
“I understand what you mean”, Svenson says in turn. “I have enemies too, but they would rather put a bullet in my head than held me captive.”
Metcalfe takes note of this last remark. He’s still wondering who this man with him really is.
“However,” Svenson continues, “I still think of a possibility why someone might want to kidnap me.”
“And what is that?” A curious Metcalfe asks.
“Well, my father does have a lot of money…”
Metcalfe frowns. “You think they would want to ransom you?”
“It’s at least a possibility.” Svenson looks at his companion. “What about you? Is there someone whom these guys would want to ransom you to?”
“My father’s a general in the WAAF.” Metcalfe answers, shrugging again. “ Aside from the fact they would try blackmailing him into doing something for them…”
“No, you don’t. When they talked to me earlier, these men gave me the distinct feeling that they knew exactly who my father is. And if this is the case, they should also know that he would never accept any of their demands.”
“A warm fellow, your father, isn’t he?”
“You still don’t understand. We’re both soldiers. He knows I would rather die than let him be blackmailed by crooks on my account.”
“Don’t take my remark too personally, Metcalfe: it’s just that myself, I’m not sure that my father would pay a ransom for me.”
“You wouldn’t let him either?”
“No, I just REALLY don’t think he would pay. I’m rather a disappointment for him.”
“He’s still your father. And you’re still his son.”
Svenson smiles. “Oh! I realize that. But we haven’t exactly seen eye to eye since I decided not to follow his footsteps in the family business.”
“And what is your family business, Mister Svenson?” A curious Metcalfe asks. “Are you somewhat related to the mob?”
Hearing this, Svenson starts to laugh heartily.
“You Brits are something else! The minute you learn that an American has a bundle of money, you automatically assume he’s part of the mob… OR some movie star.”
Metcalfe sighs. “You did say that somebody would want to kill you.”
“My father is a financier, that’s all. A very ruthless and wealthy one.”
“And he didn’t take to well that you didn’t want to take over his business…”
“He did all but disown me, that’s what he did. He couldn’t understand that I would rather be a test pilot.”
Metcalfe smiles. “So, you’re a test pilot.”
“No, not anymore.” Svenson sighs. “I might as well tell you: I hold a rather significant post at the WAS security department.”
Metcalfe smiles again. Now it makes more sense to him.
“A security agent at the World Aeronautic Society, he? Now we’re getting somewhere. Why were you holding on me?”
Svenson glares straight at him.
“Take a wild guess: maybe I was still feeling your hands on the back of my head?”
Svenson has said this with a somewhat amused twinkle in his eyes, as blue and bright as Metcalfe’s. The later surprises himself by finding this American quite sympathetic. He clears his throat.
“Between you and I, Svenson, I don’t think that we were kidnap jus to bug our mutual fathers.”
Svenson is still looking suspiciously at him.
“Oh, you don’t think so?”
“No, and I think you agree with me.”
Svenson does not say anything. Metcalfe goes to crouch in front of him.
“You still don’t trust me, do you?” He asks him.
Svenson smiles congenially. “I didn’t survive in my kind of job by trusting just about anybody.”
“Well, me neither”, Metcalfe says back. “But what about this: if I really wanted to hurt you, I would have snapped your neck earlier.”
Svenson seems to think it over. Metcalfe has just handle him the same kind of appeal he has himself giving the colonel. He smiles again.
“Touché. That means…”
“I know what it means.” Metcalfe interrupts him. “I had a French girlfriend once.”
“So, you came here for the same raison as I?”
“It’s seems likely.”
They smile at each other, with an intended look. “The Committee.”
Metcalfe looks over his shoulder toward the door, assuring himself that nobody was going to walk through it. Then he turns back to Svenson. “You have been selected by the World Committee.”
“As you obviously were too.” Svenson notes back.
“And we both were supposed to meet someone today, by coming here.”
Svenson frowns. “How do you suppose we end up in this mess? Did the Committee really send us here, or had those men arrange things so they can get their hands on us?”
“I have asked myself the same question.”
“One thing seems certain.” Svenson sighs “They ARE after us because of the Selection Committee.”
“I would think so. And another thing is certain…”
“…We’re in this together.”
“…So let’s find a way to get out of it together.”
“I’m opened to any suggestion.” Svenson sighs again. “I’m not prone to stay here, waiting for those men to come back to kill us.”
“If they had wanted to kill us, they would have done so by now.” Metcalfe replies dryly. “No, they want something else. Maybe asking us some questions.”
“About the Committee? But I don’t know anything about it, or even about this new organisation that we’re supposed to join.”
“Neither do I, but I don’t think these men are liable to believe us... and I would think they’re ready to go to whatever length necessary to make us talk.”
Svenson almost strangle himself at the notion. “You mean… they would torture us?”
Metcalfe shrugs. “I’m not sure. But the leader of that pair does seem to think he could make me – us – tell him every thing he wants to know.”
“Great! Just great!” Svenson says rolling his eyes. “I’ve come all the way down here from Massachusetts to get my head almost crewed off by you and my toenails teared out by Attila the Hun. No wonder Julius Caesar never conquered your country!”
“I don’t quite see the point, since we’re in Australia…”
“YOU populated this country with criminal elements!”
“You’re a funny guy, Svenson.”
“Well, it has help to keep my moral up during all those years, while I had shots taken at me.”
Metcalfe smiles. “Anyway, you got to remind yourself that these men seem to be Americans. We populate YOUR country with UNWANTED elements.”
“Now look who’s the funny guy!” Svenson smiles mockingly. “We THROUGH you out…”
“Whatever you think, yank.” Metcalfe smiles back at him.
Svenson lets out a heavy sigh. “So, seriously, do you have a plan, soldier? Do tell me, you have one. Or even several.”
Metcalfe gets to his feet, without saying a word, then begins to walk around the cell. Metcalfe mumbles under his breath: “You don’t have any.”
“Let’s just sum up our situation.” Metcalfe tells him.
“Easy!” Svenson snorts. “We came here, separately; we got captured by two guys and got locked away in this place. Now we’re waiting patiently that these goons come back to torture us, or kill us, depending on their plans. End of summary.”
“Very good report, Svenson. You should have been military.”
“WAS personnel receive some military training, for your information.”
Metcalfe frowns thoughtfully. “How many ‘goons’ did you say you saw, when you got captured?”
“Yes, I did saw only two myself.”
Svenson glares at him suspiciously. “If you’re thinking that we’re even, think again, colonel: they’re ARMED. We’re not.”
“If we could just take them by surprise when they come to us…”
“Remember? I thought about that plan earlier. But considering it now, I would advise against it. The idea for us is to get free. Not to get killed. Besides, nothing tells us that there really are only two men. Maybe there’s more with them.”
Metcalfe sighs. “You’re absolutely right. Then we must find a way to get out before they come for us.”
Svenson nods his acknowledgment. Sighing, he leans a little to his right side. Metcalfe, still musing, looks indifferently at the American, while he takes a big pitcher that he has not seen before then.
Are you thirsty?” Svenson asks presenting him the pitcher”. Our hosts left me this water. Its taste is terrible, but it’s refreshing.”
“Aren’t you afraid it could be drugged… or even poisoned?” Metcalfe replies, suspicious.
Svenson takes a big gulp directly to the pitcher.
“Well, if it has been the case, I would not be talking to you, right now.”
Metcalfe sighs. He is feeling a thirsty, he must admit. He comes back to Svenson and takes the pitcher the American is handing to him. He lifts the pitcher to his lips.
“Bottoms up, buddy!” Svenson tells him with a joking tone.
Metcalfe takes a drink. But the pitcher is heavier than he had anticipated; he drops a good quantity of water and just has time to move the pitcher away from him to avoid getting wet. Svenson gets his feet away from the dropping water, and looks at it as it splatters out on the dirty wooden floor. He then looks up at Metcalfe.”
“For a WAAF officer, you’re surprisingly clumsy, you know, Metcalfe?” Svenson says to him.
Metcalfe frowns, his eyes on the spilled water. “Wait a minute!”
Svenson does not understand. He looks down at the water. In the semi-darkness, it seems to him that the puddle is smallest that it has been a second ago. And he hears something peculiar.
“Listen!” He whispers to Metcalfe.
The WAAF colonel gets quietly to his knees and listens carefully; he hears what Svenson is hearing: water dripping down… from a hole between the wooden boards on the floor. To make sure, he pours another quantity of the liquid right where it has dropped. Svenson has left his position on the wall and is kneeled beside him, listening carefully to. The two men exchange a knowing glance.
“What do you make of it?” Svenson asks.
“Water’s running down for a long way….” Metcalfe mutters “…By the sound of it.”
“There’s a room, under there!” Svenson says excitedly.
“That’s what I think too. Now, I do we get from here to there?”
The two prisoners take a closer look at le floor. The hole where the water has drop is big enough for Svenson to slip three fingers in it. He pulls hard. Nothing gives.
“Think you can make it?” Metcalfe asks him.
“Just give me enough time.” Svenson answers between clenched teeth. “And some room, please!”
Metcalfe gets to the side, while Svenson gets to his feet, crouching above the hole, where his fingers are still stuck. He arches his back, pulls again. Two times. Three times. Metcalfe waits in silence.
The fourth time, the board Svenson is working on gives a creaking sound. He pulls again, using all his weight. The board tears out suddenly out of the floor, revealing a good gap.
“Good show, Adam!” Metcalfe exclaims with a joyous tone.
“Thanks!” Svenson says, panting. “Now you can give me a hand. We have to remove two or three other boards, in order to get out of here!”
Metcalfe nods his agreement, then goes to work with his companion. They don’t take very much time for clearing a hole big enough to let them through. With the WAAF colonel standing by him, Svenson crouches and looks down in the hole, as deep as he could.
“Yep, I would say there’s a whole room under there.” He notes. “But it’s too dark. No telling how far the floor could be. We could break our neck jumping into this.”
“Do we really have a choice?” Metcalfe says, ever so quietly.
Svenson looks up to him. Blue glances met. The American shakes his head. “No, I don’t think we have any choice.”
“Then let me go first.” An eager Metcalfe demands.
“By all means…” Svenson replies jokingly. “At least that way, if you kill yourself, your body would cushion my fall.”
Metcalfe only smiles at his remark. He takes off his cap and puts it, as best he could, inside his vest, before sitting beside the hole, slipping his legs into it. Then, leaning on his hands, he lowers himself slowly in the darkness.
“Be careful, Paul.” A more than a little worried Svenson tells him.
“Sure.” Metcalfe answers him back. “I wouldn’t dare let you alone.”
Metcalfe then takes a deep breath and lets go. He feels himself falling in the dark… luckily, not for long. He lands violently on a new floor, letting out a loud moan.
Svenson has heard him from above and shout into the hole:
“Paul, are you all right?”
Metcalfe coughs a little. His abrupt landing has lift up a lot of dust around him. He looks up toward the hole, way above him. He could not really see it, but he has a pretty good idea where it exactly is.
“Yes, I’m all right.” He calls to Svenson. “A bit bruised, but nothing’s broken. You can come down.”
He chuckles. “Want me to catch you up?”
“Just get out of the way.” Svenson grumbles.
He sits on the edge of the hole and slips his legs into it. He takes a deep breath. “Here goes nothing…”
He jumps in the hole.
Svenson makes a rather shaky landing. He has tried to receive himself on his feet, but has felt temp buckle up under him. In order to prevent any injury, he manages to roll down on his left shoulder. He bumps right into the legs of Metcalfe, who’s standing nearby. The WAAF colonel helps his companion gets to his feet.
“You’re O.K., Adam?” He asks him.
Svenson coughs and tries to wipe out with his hand the dust that now covers his clothes, while Metcalfe takes his cap and put it back on.
“Yeah, no sweat.” Svenson replies, panting a little. “Everything is all right.”
The two men take a look around them. The place is dark, but it is possible to see a little: a feeble light is coming from an opening, in face of them.
“Now what do we do?” Svenson asks.
Metcalfe gestures toward the opening. “Seems to be the only way out.” He says. “Let’s go.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Svenson says with a faint smile.
They head toward the opening. When they reach it, they each take place on one side and look with caution in the other room.
This new place is bigger, still gloomy, but with enough light, coming from feeble neon on the ceiling to see pretty well. Metcalfe motions to Svenson: he would go first. The American nods his agreement. Metcalfe steps cautiously in the bigger room, looking around. No one in sight. He goes swiftly to a stack of crates to his right, and crouches behind it. He then invites Svenson to come and join him. The American comes across quietly and crouches next to the British WAAF colonel.
“It’s pretty quiet down here, don’t you think?” Svenson whispers.
“Almost too quiet.” Metcalfe muses.
“Why do you think that there some light in here, while there’s none above?” A perplexed Svenson adds.
“I was asking myself the same question…”
Svenson smiles again. “Seems to me that I’m always a step ahead of you in our thoughts.”
Metcalfe gives him a murderous glance. The he brings his attention back to the examination of the room. Dead in the centre of it, there’s something big, hidden under a large grey canvas cover. The shape is somewhat queer. A tired wheel in the rear is still visible.
“It’s seems like some kind of vehicle.” Metcalfe muses again.
Svenson is curious as well, but he looses interest the minute he sees a wooden staircase running up a wall to his left. He gives a pat on Metcalfe’s shoulder to draw his attention and shows him his discovery.
“Do you think it could be our ticket out of here?”
Metcalfe gives a satisfied grin. “Let’s find out.”
The two men approach the staircase cautiously. When they reach it, they look up and see a closed door at its peak. They climb the steps quietly, ready to jump backward, if anybody should open the door before they can reach it.
It does not happen, much to their relieve. Once Metcalfe and Svenson are in front of the door, they look at each other. Metcalfe gives a nod. Svenson, keeping his breath, takes the handle in his right hand.
It does not turn.
Svenson tries a little harder, but with no more success. He lets out a furious sigh of frustration.
“We should have known it was too easy!” He snaps. “ We’re out of our prison but still captive down here!”
Metcalfe shows himself somewhat calmer that his comrade. “Take it easy. There must be another way out.”
But Svenson is still furious. “I should break this door open!”
“Don’t do it.” Metcalfe advises him quickly. “It’s seems solid. You will break your shoulder. Besides, it will be terribly loud. That would get our jailers attention.”
Svenson nods. Thoughtful, he follows Metcalfe quietly back down the stairs.
“Don’t you think they will discover soon that we’re not anymore in our cell?” He asks.
“With a lot of luck, they won’t find out before we get a chance to get out.” Metcalfe answers him. “Maybe they’ll come down, and, not knowing that we’re here, we will be able to surprise them.”
“Providing they don’t find the hole.” Svenson mumbles. “That’s a lot of ‘maybes’.”
Metcalfe contents himself with smiling. He should get Svenson attention on something else, he thinks. He’s himself curious about the large covered vehicle sitting in the middle of the place. He takes his companion to it.
“In the meantime, what do you say about a little investigative work?”
Svenson is at least as curious as the Brit. He agrees with him.
“Yeah! I wont to know too what’s under that thing.”
Metcalfe takes hold of one side of the cover canvas and pulls it. Svenson, taking the other side, gives him a hand. Together, they remove the heavy cover and let it slide to the floor.
They’re not prepared for what they’re seeing.
Before them, there’s a bit grey, hulky machine of about twenty to twenty-two feet long, with six tired wheels on each side of it, and a double caterpillar track mounted on its rear. Its reinforced rounded nose was sporting a peculiar design, somewhat resembling a double series of white teeth, that was giving it a rather dangerous look.
There were no markings on in.
“What is this thing?” Svenson says, almost gasping with surprise.
“A Zeus tank.” A puzzled Metcalfe answers. The vehicle he is referring to has been in use by the World Army Air Force for a couple of years, now. Personally, he has never handle one himself, but he had seen some of it in action on the field. But as he looks more closely to THIS vehicle in front of him, he frowns.
“No, it ‘s not a Zeus tank.” He says. “But it looks a lot like it. I think the design derives from it.”
“Right.” Svenson sighs. “I will take your word for it. After all, you’re the Military man, ‘round here. Now what is it doing in this basement?”
Metcalfe shakes his head. “Beats me.”
The two men slowly walk around the vehicle, examining it in details. They take note of the heavy armoured shell, the strange shark-like fine on top of it, the narrow reinforced window sporting on each side.
“No front windows.” Svenson notes.
“None we could see, anyway.” Metcalfe adds.
They reach the rear, where they look thoughtfully at the caterpillar tracks.
“What do you think it’s there for?” Svenson asks, perplexed.
Metcalfe examines the tracks more closely.
“There must be a mechanism to flip down those things…” He says thoughtful. “You know, for much needed traction...”
“With already twelve wheels, I don’t see why it would need those tracks!” Svenson mocks.
“Let’s see if we can get inside.” Metcalfe says, changing the subject.
They come back to the side of the vehicle. They try to get a look inside, through one of the windows they had seen earlier. With no success. It was too dark inside.
By looking a little more closely, the two men discover that the window is encased into some king of a door, which seems hermetically shut. They go to the other side, to find out that there too is another door.
“How do we open it?” A thoughtful Svenson says.
Metcalfe was already looking for a seen mechanism when they both hear a sound coming from the door above. The two men glance at each other with concern. Somebody was coming!
They immediately take cover. Svenson jumps behind the crates, where he has now an excellent view at the staircase. Metcalfe skirts around the vehicle and quickly goes under the feet of the stairs. Svenson gives him a worried look, wondering what that reckless WAAF officer has on his mind. Metcalfe gestures toward him, showing him the top of the stairs, than, closing in fist, makes a gripping movement. Svenson nods his understanding.
The door has open with a loud creak. Svenson carefully crouches back, hoping that whoever was coming won’t notice too soon that the strange-looking vehicle was not covered anymore. He saw two male figures in the opening of the door. He barely hears them exchanging some words. Then, he sees them slowly coming down the steps, one behind the other.
Svenson gestures to Metcalfe, notifying him with his fingers the number of adversaries. With a wave of the hand, Metcalfe instructs the American to come closer. He will need help, overcoming the two men.
Svenson crawls silently behind the crates, keeping an eye on the men still stepping down the stairs. He does not see their features very well, but he could swear, now and then, that one of them is in uniform.
Metcalfe readies himself for what is coming. He sees that Svenson has arrives at the end of the crates nearby the feet of the stairs.
Two feet appear in front of Metcalfe eyes. He holds his breath, letting the first man pass by. The other one is only one step behind his comrade. Striking as quickly as a rattlesnake, Metcalfe grabs the man’s two ankles and pulls violently. Losing his equilibrium, the man tumbles forward, with a startled yell, and takes his companion in his fall.
At once, Svenson jumps out of his hiding place and hurls himself toward the two figures that had smashed together at the feet of the stairs. Metcalfe falls on them as well. The two men are not really in any position or condition to resist, stunned by their hard fall.
Metcalfe takes on the man whose ankles he had grabbed and gets him to his feet. He has just the time to notice that his adversary has no mask and that he seems to be wearing some kind of uniform before smashing his fist to his face, sending him swirling next to the crates.
Svenson has grab the other man by his vest and was about to hit him hard when he gets a good look at his face. Then he stops, astonished.
“My lord! Steve!”
Metcalfe turns back at this shout. Svenson’s adversary shakes his head, obviously trying to gets his confused thoughts in line. He looks at Svenson with surprise and frowns deeply.
“Adam? Is that really you?”
“Steve, What in the world are you doing here?”
The man does not respond. He’s still trying to get his balance. Metcalfe, still cautious, looks at him thoughtfully, while Svenson helps him get to his feet.
A groan next to the crates draws Metcalfe’s attention; the second man is also trying to get up. The WAAF colonel takes him by his collar and heaves him, putting his back brutally again the crates, ready to hit him once more. The man does not try to resist.
Metcalfe looks at him incredulously. He IS wearing a uniform. A WASP uniform, with the insignias of lieutenant commander upon its sleeves.
“Don’t try to move, Mister!” Metcalfe warns, still on the defensive.
“I have no intention to.” The WASP officer moans, with an American accent. “I think I’ve hurt my back…
The man that Svenson had called Steve seems to have regained his footing. Metcalfe is not yet certain what to do next, but he knows that he won’t certainly trust him implicitly.
“You know this man?” He asks to Svenson.
“I certainly do.” Svenson answers. “His name is Steve Blackburn. He’s chief test pilot at the WAS Test Section. We have worked together a long time.”
Blackburn, who was now feeling his limbs cautiously to make sure nothing was broken, gives the stern face colonel a somewhat shy smile:
“How do you do, Sir?”
Metcalfe relax a little. The voice is not American. Australian, apparently… At least, Blackburn is not one of the two men who had captured him earlier. But the colonel is not yet satisfied. He turns toward the WASP officer, still clutching his back.
“And who are you, Mister?” He asks him suspiciously.
The WASP officer looks at him with a furious glance.
“First, you attacked me, and now I should be so kind as to answer your questions?” he says dryly. “It is I who should have reason to question you, colonel!”
“Just answer the question, commander!” Metcalfe shouts with a commanding voice.
The WASP officer lets out an exasperate sigh.
“Lieutenant-commander Bradley Holden, of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol…» He tries with difficulty to stand straight, and lets out a muffled groan. He does not salute Metcalfe. “At your service, Sir.” He adds, stretching every word behind clenched teeth
“And what is your business here, lieutenant commander?” Metcalfe asks again.
“I should say, with all due respect, that it’s not your concern, colonel.” Holden coldly answers back.
Svenson feels he must intervene swiftly.
“Calm yourself, Paul.” He says to the WAAF colonel. “Don’t you see that these guys have nothing to do with the others?”
Metcalfe sniffles derisively. “Are you so sure of that? Just because you know one of them?”
“Come on! Steve would never do anything reprehensive.” Svenson replies. “He’s one of the most honest and loyal man I know.”
“Thanks, Adam.” Blackburn tells him, smiling congenially.
“However, it is a surprise to see you here.” Svenson continues addressing his old friend. “But I think the answer of that question should be so obvious.”
“Oh? You think so?” Blackburn says, frowning at him.
Metcalfe heaves an eyebrow. “The Selection Committee?”
“You can be sure of it.” Svenson nods.
Holden frowns in turn. “What do you know about the Selection Committee?”
Svenson smiles broadly. “How do you think we know?
“Now wait a minute!” Metcalfe interrupts abruptly. He addresses the two newcomers who are now looking at him expectantly: “Did any of you have seen somebody up there?”
“Up there?” Holden looks confused. “There’s nobody up there, colonel.”
“Nobody?” Metcalfe repeats incredulously.
“The place is completely empty: nobody, no light, and no nothing.” Blackburn confirms. “But you should know that, shouldn’t you?”
“You didn’t come along two gloomy armed gentlemen all dressed in black?” Svenson insists.
“With an American accent?” Metcalfe adds quickly.
“There was nobody, we tell you.” Holden answers.
Metcalfe turns suddenly to Svenson. “Adam! We better go check!”
Svenson is already moving to the stairs. “Way ahead of you!”
Forgetting the two men they had just attacked, Svenson and Metcalfe climb rapidly the steps, and disappear behind the door at its top. Blackburn and Holden look at them go, confuse to the extreme. The WASP commander lets up a growling sigh as he walks to his companion.
“You’ve got strange friends, Blackburn, I’ll tell you that!”
“Well, one of them is my friend, anyway.” Blackburn replies with a look of concern. “And I’ve never known him to act so peculiar.”
Holden grins. “Come one. Let’s go see what these two lunatics are doing.”
He begins to slowly climb up the staircase, as Blackburn stays a second to muse about his friend strange behaviour. While still lost in his thoughts, he begins to follow Holden. He then stops in his track to take a quick glance at the grey vehicle sitting in the middle of the basement.
What an odd-looking car, he quiz before moving up the stairs.