Paul Metcalfe opened his eyes slowly, and stared up at the ceiling for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Apart from a few vague aches and pains, which he assumed were due to lying in the same position for too long, he felt fine. He was hungry and thirsty, but that was normal for a post-retrometabolic awakening.
He was also stark naked.
He pushed himself up on his elbows, and looked around. He was in a large room, built of translucent walls and ceiling from which emanated a pleasant, summer-like light. The air was soft and warm, and a light fragrance of newly-mown grass drifted on a gentle breeze. Since the last thing he remembered clearly was travelling to Italy in filthy weather early in the New Year, he could only assume that either he’d been unconscious for far longer than he’d thought, or he was now in the southern hemisphere, or the room had an excellent environment control system. Or all three, of course , he thought muzzily.
He was lying on a large, thickly-padded platform, which was comfortably upholstered in a pale, slightly fuzzy fabric, like brushed cotton. Opposite the bed, set into a room divider, was a large screen, on which the words Voice Address Communications and Entertainment Console. Ready. Touch the screen to activate were displayed. He ignored that for the time being, and rolled off the bed, also ignoring his protesting muscles, to stand up and explore.
His first stop was at a water cooler. From where he stood, just a few paces from the bed, he could see several such coolers built into the walls, each with a stack of flimsy plastic cups. Paul poured half a cupful and examined it carefully. It smelled fine, and he could see no cloudiness or discolouration that might suggest poison or drugs. He took a cautious sip; the water was ice-cold, fresh and delicious. He finished the rest of the cup as soon as it was clear that it was harmless, then poured another, and another, until his post-retrometabolic thirst was assuaged.
The room was enormous, much bigger than he’d been able to see from the bed. It was divided into several sections by shoulder-height partition walls, all made of the same translucent material as the main walls. Every wall contained a screen which displayed the same words that he’d seen from the bed, but for the time being, he preferred to look around unassisted.
The floor was smooth but not slippery, comfortably warm and very slightly yielding, like carpet, beneath his bare feet. The ceiling was high: he estimated between four and five metres. Placed at regular intervals at the top and bottom of the walls were small, fine-mesh grilles which seemed to be the ventilation system. The mesh was too small for him to get his fingers through, and too tough to tear, and the duct behind would barely have admitted a mouse, even if he had been able to tear the grille off. There were no windows or doors that he could find; nor could he find his, or any other, clothing, or even anything in which to wrap himself.
A short while later, having made a complete circuit of his prison, he returned to the bed on which he’d woken, and thoughtfully contemplated the screen. The word ‘Ready’ blinked at him.
“OK,” he said out loud (and his voice sounded like an intrusion in the otherwise complete silence of the room), “Computer, talk to me.”
He tapped the screen; abruptly, the words cleared, to be replaced by VACEC initialising. Please wait.
“Vachech,” Paul murmured. “Snappy. I like it.”
More words appeared on the screen: To enable the VACEC system to respond correctly to your voice commands, please read aloud the following paragraph. This contains all the phonemes required for the AI comprehension system.
Paul suppressed an irrational desire to put on a funny voice – he hadn’t seen anything that looked like a kitchen in his exploration, so this machine might be the only way he’d be able to get food – and dutifully recited the collection of nonsense syllables.
Thank you. Your vocal patterns are now being analysed. Please wait.
Paul sat down. “You’re welcome,” he replied facetiously, and was rather startled when the words You too flashed up. He was impressed – whoever was controlling this machine had a sense of humour. This might be some common ground for negotiation.
After a short pause, an obviously artificial voice spoke out loud: ‘Voice analysis complete. You may now communicate vocally with the VACEC system.’
Good. Now let’s get some information , Paul thought. Aloud, he said, “Where am I?”
‘You are in a secure holding facility.’
‘That information is not available.’
“How do I get out of here?”
“Why am I here?”
‘That information is not available.’
“Who’s in charge?”
‘That information is not available.’
“How long have I been here?”
‘That information is not available.’
“Why is that information not available?”
‘That information is not available.’
Paul was quite capable of recognising a stonewall when he met one. He decided to try another tack. “All right – what information can you give me?”
‘I can provide you with full details of the services available to you, and guide you around the facility.’
“OK, why not…” Paul stood up again. “I assume you can see me as well as hear me?”
“Of course. What was I thinking? All right, let’s have the full guided tour.”
The ‘facility’ was surprisingly well-appointed; even luxurious, as it turned out. VACEC could provide almost any video or audio recording since the early 20th century, and also acted as the communication medium between Paul and his unknown, unseen, gaolers. Within reason, VACEC told him, nothing would be denied him – he could order any kind of food, drink, recreational drug, or electronic entertainment that he wanted, although anything that gave any hint of the date, time of day, or indeed anything connected with happenings in the outside world, was barred. The ventilation system was primarily programmed for fresh air, de-humidified, but it could be humidified and perfumed to taste. The standard setting for heat and humidity was such that he wouldn’t feel the lack of bedlinen or clothing, but could be adjusted up or down, as required.
Wanting to see the delivery mechanism, and test one of the boundaries VACEC had mentioned, Paul ordered a steak and half a litre of cold lager. A few minutes later, a light flashed within the translucent wall to the left of the bed, and on instruction from VACEC, Paul pressed the wall at the spot at which the light appeared. A section of the wall slid open, revealing a space about thirty centimetres square and about the same deep. Paul peered into it, and saw, much to his surprise, a plastic bag full of clear, cold, tawny liquid, and a cardboard plate on which rested a freshly-cooked steak, a handful of salad and a pile of chips.
‘Plastic cups are available from the water dispenser niches at various points around the facility,’ VACEC pointed out, helpfully.
Paul tore the sealing tab from the bag and filled a cup. He took a sip, and nodded in approval. “Nice,” he said out loud. “I presume it’s drugged?”
‘You will not be given drugged food or drink. When it becomes necessary to render you unconscious, a fast-acting knockout gas will be introduced into the facility’s ventilation system.’
Paul frowned. He didn’t like the use of the word when …
He ate the steak at the table which slid silently, and unexpectedly, out from the wall once he’d opened the serving hatch. He had to admit that the food was perfectly cooked – just the way he liked it. Feeling a little better with some food inside him, he continued the tour, sipping from the cup as he went along. Next to the section where he’d woken up was a solarium. A solid block protruded from the floor, its top comfortably padded and contoured to match a reclining body. In the high ceiling were sunlight-simulation lights, which, according to VACEC, delivered full-spectrum light. “The ideal opportunity for that all-over tan,” Paul remarked. VACEC remained silent, and Paul chalked up a point to himself.
He was inspecting the gym when he felt a sudden wet burst against his leg. Looking down, he saw that he was holding the rapidly-decomposing remains of the bag of lager.
‘All food and drink is provided in degradable containers,’ VACEC explained. ‘The average time to decomposition is sixty minutes. This is to minimise the possibility of them being used as tools or weapons. Any item which lasts for longer than that will be of fragile quality and unsuitable for either attack or suicide.’
Paul stared at the nearest screen, his heart sinking. All this time, he’d been assessing the facility and its contents, hoping against hope that he would find something – anything – that he could turn against his gaolers. It seemed that they were way ahead of him. They knew him very well indeed. And he was rather afraid that he knew them, too.
Despite his apprehension and the bizarre environment in which he found himself, Paul finally became aware of a rather mundane, but nonetheless pressing, need.
The bathroom was next to his sleeping area, opposite the solarium and separated from the rest of the living space by the ubiquitous half-height walls and transparent panels that continued up to the ceiling. He relieved himself, and washed his hands, then looked around for a towel. There were none that he could see, nor cupboards or shelves in which they might be stored, but after a moment, VACEC helpfully pointed out the hot-air dryer. ‘The shower also incorporates a full-body dryer,’ the AI added.
“Great,” Paul muttered to himself. “They’re even watching me in here.”
‘Of course,’ VACEC replied. ‘You must surely have realised by now that you will have no privacy?’
“What about when the lights are off?”
‘You are watched by night-sight cameras. Every activity is in full view at all times.’
“Fan-fucking-tastic. I’ll do my best to give value for money.”
Paul ordered another beer, and stretched out on the bed, reviewing what he’d learned. There was no apparent way in or out of this room: no doors, no windows, no ventilation grilles, nothing. Although there had to be a door somewhere, otherwise how had he been brought here? Surely they hadn’t built the place around him?
He’d now seen the whole place, twice: once on his own, and once on VACEC’s tour. Nowhere, except in the bathroom, had there been any kind of removable tool. Even the fabric that covered this enormous bed was untearable. He’d already tried ripping it, with no effect.
He contemplated the large plastic cup from which he was drinking. Cups this size hadn’t been available in the dispensers earlier, otherwise he would have spotted them and selected one big enough to take the whole bagful of lager. He was therefore under constant, and minute, surveillance, not solely by an AI, but by people , who would recognise the need for a bigger cup. This did not comfort him in the slightest. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The Mysteron War of Nerves had reached its bloody, devastating climax. For the first time since the war started, the general population became fully aware of just who this ‘terrorist group’ were, and what they were capable of, as the 2112 Olympics were targeted. Horrified viewers of the worldwide coverage saw the unbelievable spectacle of human bombs detonating around the athletics stadium, killing hundreds of spectators and athletes; for the first time, the world at large saw the sinister, green, glowing rings of light sweeping across the devastated arena, and the dead bodies being resurrected, then transported elsewhere.
A terrified world watched and listened in ever-increasing dread as reports of atrocities came in from every part of the globe. Every Spectrum base, every office, every ground-based or undercover agent was mobilised against the Mysterons’ multi-pronged attack, and Spectrum’s losses were staggering – but somehow, incredibly, they held their ground. But they couldn’t hold out forever, even with the help of the rest of the world’s armed forces. Drastic action was needed, and needed fast.
Colonel Scarlet and a team of volunteers went in a hastily-assembled fleet of spaceships equipped with the new ‘impulse’ engines that would allow them to cross the distance between Earth and Mars in a matter of hours. Aided by fortuitous solar flares that interfered with electronic scanners, the fleet reached Mars undetected by the Mysterons, and rained dozens of missiles onto the city.
Their attention completely occupied by the missile bombardment, and by repeatedly reconstructing the damaged parts of their complex, the Mysterons failed to notice a small capsule breaking away from the attacking fleet. The capsule landed close to the complex, and several figures disembarked and ran, clumsy in their spacesuits and the low gravity, towards the towers that transmitted the matter-reversal beams.
The team fastened a large black box onto each tower, before hurrying back to the capsule and taking off, back towards the safety of the fleet. As the boxes began to generate their electro-magnetic field, and the Mysterons’ beams began to fail, the fleet renewed their bombardment.
In their fury, and as their city died in flame and rubble, the Mysterons unleashed everything they had left at the fleeing capsule. The small craft crashed back onto the planet’s surface; its loss was noted by the attacking fleet, but no-one could spare time, just yet, for the courageous volunteers in the wrecked vehicle.
The city below the fleet lay in ruins, smoke and dust drifting in vast clouds throughout the valley. The fleet withdrew to the orbit of Phobos; the smaller ships, which had used up their entire supply of missiles, returned to an anxiously-waiting Earth, while the rest of the fleet remained and observed.
The desperately-conceived plan had worked. The EM pulses generated by the boxes secured to the transmitter towers prevented the beams from working their usual miracle, and the city remained a heap of rubble. Sensitive scanners and receptors could detect no activity within the city, and there was no further communication from the Mysterons themselves. Back on Earth, all the constructs created from the murdered Olympic athletes and spectators were found dead, and finally, it was deemed safe for the rest of the fleet to return to Earth.
There was just one thing remaining for them to do on Mars.
After a long search, the crashed capsule was found several kilometres from the Mysteron complex. The entire crew were dead, including Colonel Scarlet; his spacesuit torn and the faceplate of his helmet smashed, he had not yet started to recover from his injuries and exposure to the unbreathable Martian atmosphere. The bodies were returned to Earth for heroes’ funerals.
Paul had to admit that the prison was very comfortable. Everything he could possibly want, except a way out, seemed to be either already provided, or available to order through VACEC’s comprehensive catalogue. While some light jazz played softly in the background, Paul paged through the onscreen menus. One item in particular caught his eye:
Conformable bed: The sleeping platform is comprised of several thousand individual sections. These can be raised, lowered and tilted to form a number of different items of furniture. Please select the submenu for the individual item for details.
Paul read a couple of catalogue entries with some interest. Returning to the bed, he pressed his hand on the edge of the platform, and feeling slightly foolish, said out loud: “Armchair”. The block immediately below his hand started to rise, as did others all around it, centring on the block he had touched. Within seconds, and with just the faintest of mechanical hums, a chair, with broad, comfortable-looking arms, had risen from the platform. Paul settled into it – he dictated a few tweaks in height, tilt and so on, to VACEC, and ended up with an extremely comfortable armchair. He nodded with approval, and gave the Save command.
However, no matter how comfortable the accommodation was, it was still a prison, and Paul had never taken kindly to having his movements restricted. He was still no closer to finding any kind of escape, although the discovery of the nature of the bed had provided him with considerable food for thought. Some experimentation proved that each individual section could rise up to his shoulder-height, but would not sink by more than a few centimetres. If, as he now suspected, the bed was the way in and out of this prison, he could not access it. No surprise there, then , he thought dryly.
Having a reasonable idea of who had imprisoned him, and why, if not where, did nothing to ease his building frustration and apprehension, nor did the knowledge that, right now, he could do nothing about it. It had always been his habit to work off frustrations and anger in the gym, and since his kind hosts had provided some first-class equipment, he saw no reason to change his habits.
As he lay flat on his back, pushing the weight-block up with his feet, he noticed a small cube on the ceiling, immediately above him. When he moved to the next apparatus, the cube moved too, and to the next, and the next.
Curiosity warred with frustration and finally won. Paul locked off the last exercise machine, and walked towards the bathroom, watching the cube out of the corner of his eye. As he’d expected, it followed him, gliding silently across the high ceiling. It stopped as he entered the bathroom; another cube was already positioned above the door, where the transparent wall met the ceiling.
So, he mused, they have their own territories. What are they?
They weren’t cameras. No lenses, for a start, and besides, he’d already spotted the surveillance cameras, built into the walls and ceilings with no attempt at concealment. The cube remained above him as he showered and dried off, tracking him as he moved to the basin and mirror.
He took a comb from a rack mounted just above the hand-basin, running it through his damp hair. In the tall mirror in front of him, he could see the reflection of the mysterious cube, stationary above his head. The cube moved again as he did, tracking him as far as the edge of the bathroom, at which point a third cube took over, trailing him into the living area.
For the next hour or so, Paul wandered around the prison, keeping a close eye on the cubes. There were several of them, one for each section. The borders of their individual territories seemed to be the half-height walls: each cube could move about half a metre beyond its territory, but no further. That overlap, however, was enough to ensure that there was no time at which there wasn’t a cube immediately above his head. The only exception to this overlap was in the bathroom, this being the only section with permanent, if transparent, walls up to the ceiling, presumably for reasons of hygiene. Nevertheless, every time he went in and out of the bathroom, the two cubes met at the thin, transparent wall so he was still covered at all times.
Paul tipped the contents of another bag of lager into a large cup, and lounged comfortably against a backrest that protruded from the bed. “Talk to me, VACEC,” he said out loud.
‘What would you like to talk about, Paul?’
“Sheesh, your controllers are really paranoid, aren’t they? I mean, look at me. I’ve got no weapons, no clothes, no tools, nowhere to hide, no way out. And believe me, I've looked! And yet, those little gun-turrets are all over the place. One is always directly overhead. They track me precisely, no matter how erratically I wander about – they’re weapons, aren’t they? As soon as I put one foot wrong – what will they do? Shock me? Fire trank darts?”
‘You’re quite right, Paul,’ VACEC replied. ‘They are a means of subduing or disciplining you, for occasions when gas, or a visit from Security, are deemed inappropriate.’
Paul filed away the reference to ‘a visit from Security’ for future consideration. “How do they track me so closely?” he asked.
‘A homing chip has been implanted in you. The cubes are programmed to detect and follow it.’
Ha! Paul thought. Just a couple of small-ish regenerations, and that chip will be gone… But his satisfaction was short-lived:
‘We are aware that in some circumstances, your retrometabolic process causes foreign bodies within you to be absorbed. The cubes transmit chip telemetry to Security, where it is very carefully monitored. Whenever it becomes necessary, the chip will be replaced.’
Paul scowled. Damn… He finished the rest of his beer in one long swallow, hurling the cup and the bag at VACEC’s nearest monitor. I should have learned by now – never under-estimate their intelligence-gathering capacity…
The surviving members of Spectrum were fêted and celebrated after the end of the War of Nerves, as the population of Earth discovered just how serious the Mysteron threat had been, and how close the Earth had come to annihilation over the last four decades.
Colonel Scarlet retreated back into the anonymity that had been second nature to him for years, and that seemed to be the end of it. Until one day, a few months later, when he requested an interview with the current C-in-C, Colonel Umber.
On first being promoted to a Cloudbase posting, Umber, already marked as a high-flier, had been assigned to Colonel Scarlet as his field partner. Progress had been rapid – the partners had got along well and remained good friends as Umber received promotion after promotion, finally ending up as Commander-in-Chief of Spectrum Operations. Now, the erstwhile partners were equal in rank, and Umber was fully aware that the only reason Scarlet wasn’t C-in-C was that he resolutely refused to move away from field duties. “What’s the point in wasting retrometabolism on paper cuts?” Scarlet had asked, rhetorically. Umber had not been the only one to point out that the paperless office had finally been achieved, and that he was more likely to get saddle-sores from sitting down all day than paper cuts on his fingers, but he’d simply rolled his eyes, said “You know full well what I mean”, and remained intransigent.
Now, Umber looked Scarlet in the eye across the wide command desk, and saw some regret, but mostly determination, in his blue eyes.
“I think,” Umber said quietly, “that this discussion is going to need rather more privacy than just the sound baffles. Let’s talk in my office.”
As he preceded Umber into the private office, and the door closed behind them, Scarlet felt arms encircling him from behind, unzipping his tunic and sliding it off his shoulders, and a hand pressing against his groin. After a moment, he returned the favour, removing his commander’s tunic and sweater, running his hands over the smooth, warm skin…
Some time later, Scarlet lay, spent and relaxed, on the long, wide sofa that took up a whole side of the office, while Umber straddled him. He reached up, caressing the bare breasts that he loved so much. Umber leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead, raising her hips so that Scarlet’s now-flaccid penis slid out of her.
“That’s one hell of a way to hand in your resignation, Paul,” she said sadly.
“I mean it, Jenny. I’ve had enough. I want out. I want – I need to lie around in the sun, relax and have a good time.”
“If anyone’s earned the right to go and do nothing, Paul, you have. But I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you so much.”
She bent her head and kissed him again, this time on the mouth, slow and lingering. At length, Umber slid off the sofa to sit on the floor, resting her folded arms on Scarlet’s bare chest, and her chin on her forearm. “I’m tempted to hold you to the end of your current service contract,” she said. “That way, I could keep you here for almost another year.” She saw the look that came into her lover’s eyes, and forced herself to continue: “But I won’t. How does six weeks sound?”
The six weeks Umber had promised him flew by, as did the following years during which Paul did very little except revel in his unaccustomed freedom. He intended to enjoy himself, and he did just that. For the first time in his life, he had no responsibilities. Thanks to some forethought, well-placed friends and family, and a certain amount of deviousness, he now had a great deal of money in various bank accounts scattered across the world. Spectrum Intelligence had helped him to establish a number of identities, several of which were now multi-millionaires, thanks to some shrewd financial dealings from his advisors at SvenCorp.
It was easy to distance himself from Spectrum; while ‘Colonel Scarlet’ was known the world over, ‘Paul Metcalfe’ was not, other than at the very highest level of the World Government. No-one linked the good-looking, moderately-wealthy, but otherwise unremarkable man to the hero of the Mysteron War, and Paul took great care to ensure that this state of affairs continued.
There were women galore, but Paul kept them at emotional arm’s-length, even while giving them, and himself, enormous physical pleasure. The ones who wanted more – commitment, marriage, children – he eased out of his life with practised skill. Leaving one family had been quite bad enough; he refused to put himself through the pain of leaving another. He kept a low profile, and became adept at moving on without breaking too many hearts.
But for someone as active as Paul had always been, this kind of life couldn’t sustain his interest for ever, and after a while, he had to admit to himself that he was not just lonely – he was also bored out of his skull. He needed a purpose in life again.
Paul lay sleepless on the bed, reviewing what he had learned on this first day in the facility, and gazing up at the shifting patterns of light and dark on the ceiling. It was a projection of moonlit clouds, which under other circumstances he would have found very restful, but which right now only served to remind him that he was a prisoner. It didn’t matter in the slightest that this was probably the most luxurious prison he could imagine – it was still a prison, and he had seen nothing that gave him even the slightest idea of how he was going to escape.
With a growl of frustration and anger, Paul stood up, pacing round like a caged tiger. He stopped at the catering hatch, and glared at the softly-glowing light. He suddenly wanted to inconvenience his unseen gaolers – put them to some trouble, and at the same time indulge in some excess which might just take the edge off his anger. Alcohol. Strong, and lots of it. That’s what he needed…
Slightly deflated by the dispassionate response, Paul nevertheless demanded a bottle of his favourite whisky.
“No ice, no water – just the whisky!”
When it arrived, within minutes, in the usual plastic bag rather than a glass bottle, his temper surged and overflowed, and he slammed his fist against the delivery light in the wall. He stood, breathing heavily and staring fixedly at the little patch of blood on the wall, his right hand smarting and the bag of whisky dangling from his left hand.
After a moment, VACEC’s artificial voice broke the heavy silence. ‘Now, what has THAT achieved, apart from a couple of broken knuckles?’
Paul tore the tab off the bag, and took a long swallow, not bothering with a cup. The strong, mellow spirit burned in his throat and as it did so, it seemed to take some of his churning emotions with it. Feeling somewhat calmer, he examined his fist. It was bruised and bloody, but healing fast. Once the pain subsided, he went into the bathroom to wash off the blood.
Paul glared at the screen beside the wash-basin. “What do you think?” he snarled. “Oh, and by the way, you can drop that AI front. I know I’m talking to people.”
There was a slight pause, and when the voice returned, it was devoid of the mechanical quality it had possessed before – now, it was obviously a real voice, issuing from a flesh-and-blood man.
“Oh, and by the way – Conor sends his best regards…”
Bermuda was very pleasant at this time of year. Cynics said that was why, when the island gained its independence from Britain, all the administrators in the World Government elected to move Futura City from its less-than-balmy location in the US to become a suburb of Unity City. Over the years since then, the focus had changed somewhat, and now there were very few government offices in Futura, the administrators having decided that it was more convenient to be closer to the politicians in Unity City itself. This left Futura to be redeveloped with living accommodation for government employees, and luxurious, expensive hotels for wealthy tourists.
Paul Metcalfe sat on the terrace of his hotel, watching the sun set over the long, curving bay that bordered Futura. Normally, he wouldn’t have been caught dead in Futura, especially so soon after one of the most bizarre World Presidential campaigns in living memory. However, circumstances had conspired, and he’d been here for the last five days. These days, Paul’s interest in politics was usually limited to being vaguely aware of which parties the major politicians of the day belonged to. In the course of his long life, he’d come to the conclusion that although some politicians were better than others, it was for a given value of ‘better’, and the political orientation of the party currently in power rarely made a significant difference to the electorate at large. However, even he had followed this election with considerable interest, sharing the astonishment of almost everyone when a nonentity candidate had not only thrown his hat into the ring at the last minute, but had also been elected with a substantial majority.
An acquaintance of Paul’s had called him, hinting at irregularities in the electoral process and suggesting that Paul would find certain aspects of those irregularities personally interesting. The acquaintance promised to use all possible influence to get Paul an introduction into the new World President’s immediate circle, so for the time being, Paul had little to do other than wait, and enjoy a quiet drink with a pleasant female Companion.
In other times, she would have been called a prostitute, or at best a courtesan, but this was a time in which social mores were changing rapidly, and a new profession had emerged – that of Companion. A rich man, or woman, for Companions were of both sexes and all orientations, could hire them by the hour, or by the day. Like the ancient Greek hetairas, or Japanese geishas, both of whom they resembled in many ways, Companions were well-educated, accomplished, good conversationalists, and extremely discreet, at ease in the most exalted of company. Shortly, Paul would suggest going up to his room, where they would spend an entertaining night – she would leave in the morning, richer by several hundred credits, and he would have had the pleasure of female companionship without incurring any risk of commitment.
He poured the last of the champagne – Krug 2125, a superb vintage – and tilted his glass to her. “Thank you for making my stay in Futura City so enjoyable,” he said.
She smiled at him – a charming smile that brought a dimple to her cheek and a sparkle to her dark eyes. “It’s been a pleasure,” she replied. Her accent was tantalisingly exotic, and her light perfume wafted towards him on the warm breeze.
“Shall we go in?” he suggested as she took the final sip from the crystal champagne flute. He rose and held out his hand; a solicitous waiter brought her silk shawl and Paul draped it around her slim shoulders as she took his arm and they turned to leave the terrace – to be stopped by a burly man in an immaculately tailored suit.
Paul tensed. The newcomer was armed; his suit was tailored to hide the presence of a shoulder-holster, but Paul knew what to look for, and he spotted it without even trying.
“Paul Metcalfe?” The man’s cultured accent belied his somewhat thuggish appearance, and he made no move towards his gun.
“Who wants to know?” Paul asked, instinctively stepping forward to shield the Companion.
“World President Dryden wants to see you.”
“Who are you?” Paul demanded.
The man reached into his pocket, stopping as Paul shifted his stance slightly. He held one hand out apologetically, while continuing to take a wallet from inside his jacket with exaggerated care.
Paul examined the proffered ID with interest. This man had been sent by Conor Ryan, the right-hand man of newly-elected World President Alexander Dryden. At last, his patience was paying off.
Ryan’s messenger-boy dismissed the Companion courteously enough, but with an undercurrent of menace in his tone that had made even Paul’s blood run cold. Although Paul had no doubts of his ability to handle pond-life like this, and even Ryan, if it came to that, there was something going on here that piqued his interest, prompting him to go along with whatever Ryan wanted. Was he about to find out why the least-known Presidential candidate since the World Presidency was established had been elected with the highest ever majority?
Conor Ryan had appeared on the political scene out of nowhere. He became famous for his political acumen and it surprised no-one when he started to run the campaign of one of the presidential hopefuls. What did surprise everyone was his choice of candidate.
Alex Dryden had been a hard-working, but unremarkable, member of the World Senate for a decade or so. He had made no speeches of any note, nor had he earned himself any kind of notoriety, but he had the kind of warm, comfortable personality that inspired immediate trust, a felicitous way with words that provided delighted news editors and commentators with the occasional apposite soundbite, and an undeniably photogenic appearance. Few people knew him particularly well outside the political circles of Unity City, but within those narrow confines, he was liked and trusted.
Within days of Dryden announcing his candidacy, he was everywhere: his views on everything from climate control to litter disposal were quoted and dissected by political commentators, and his handsome face smiled out from posters and newspads all over the world. When one of his rivals in the race was accused of being a serial adulterer, Dryden expressed his shock and sorrow, not only at the man’s moral lapse, but at the way in which accusation had been made.
“I am running a clean campaign,” Dryden told the media. “If I find that anyone on my team is responsible for fabricating false accusations, that person will be fired immediately. I’m an honest man, and I will have an honest campaign for an honest Presidency, or no campaign at all!”
Dryden’s personal popularity rating soared; the highly-publicised sacking of a campaign team member for spreading the false rumours about the supposed adulterer, and Dryden’s genuine grief, captured by dozens of cameras, as he attended the funeral of another rival candidate, killed in a tragic road accident while out campaigning, persuaded the world’s electorate that here, at last, was a genuinely decent candidate.
He was elected by a landslide majority. One of his first acts was to appoint his Vice-President: his campaign manager, Conor Ryan.
Paul woke after the excesses of the ‘night’ before. His head was clear, despite having finished two bags of whisky in one concentrated drinking binge, and his broken knuckles were healed, the bruised, split skin clear and whole again. Hooray for retrometabolism , he thought sourly, stepping off the bed and heading for the bathroom.
He stood under the soothing torrent of warm water, lathering shower gel over skin and hair – then suddenly stopped, his hand to his throat.
How could I have forgotten? he demanded of himself. Hastily rinsing off the gel, he moved over to the mist-proof mirror, staring at his reflection. Staring, in particular, at the hollow at the base of his throat.
“Where is it?” he demanded. “What have you done with it?”
The voice of his captors ( a different one this time , Paul noted almost automatically. They must work in shifts… ) responded almost immediately. “Where’s what?”
“You know bloody well what I’m talking about! Where is it?” Paul’s voice rose to a shout as his fingers traced the empty patch of skin on his throat. I’ve worn it for so long, I’d almost forgotten it was there, until suddenly, it’s gone. How could that have been possible?
“You only had to ask. It’s beside the bed, in a wall-niche.”
Not even pausing to get dry, Paul hurried back to the sleeping area. There, sure enough, on the far side of the bed, was a small wall-niche, protected by a tough, clear window. Precisely in the middle of the niche was a stand, like a miniature coat-rack, from which hung a gold chain. Strung on the chain was a thin, worn hoop of gold.
Paul rested his forehead against the wall, and stroked his fingers across the little window, gazing at his old wedding ring, all he had left of Dianne.
He drew in a ragged breath, and shivered with a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. Slowly, he turned away from the little niche, and walked back to the bathroom. Slowly, mechanically, he brushed his teeth, and combed his hair; mechanically still, he walked towards the bathroom door. It remained closed.
“You’re still holding the comb, Paul,” VACEC said. “Put it back in the rack, and the door will open.”
Paul didn’t move, just gazed down at the comb in his hand as if he’d never seen anything like it before.
“Put the comb back, Paul. Now.” There was an edge in the voice that hadn’t been there before.
Paul turned slowly to face the monitor. That wasn’t strictly necessary – the cameras could see him, his expression, and his defiance, whichever direction he was facing – but he wanted at least the illusion of looking his gaolers in the eye.
“Fuck you,” he said softly.
“Don’t say we didn’t warn you…”
It was like being struck by lightning. A big, blue spark leapt from the cube on the ceiling, grounding on Paul’s wet shoulder. The shock flung him across the bathroom, to crash painfully against the wall. The comb skittered across the floor as another shock hit him.
Paralysed, his shoulder and chest burning with pain, Paul couldn’t evade the barrage of shocks that poured down onto his helpless body, until finally, he passed out…
He woke in total, utter darkness.
The air felt chilly on his bare skin, and a little experimentation told him that his arms and legs were spread wide and securely strapped down, and another strap was fastened tightly across his chest.
“Where…” His mouth was dry, and the word came out as a mere croak. He tried again. “Where am I?”
“You’re in your solarium.”
The lights came on, not full, but enough to see. Sure enough, this was the solarium, except that it was now enclosed, like the bathroom, by transparent panels. Across from where he lay, he could see the comb, still lying on the bathroom floor.
The lights went off again.
“You need to be taught to obey orders, Paul. When we give you an order, we expect immediate, total compliance.”
“And if I don’t immediately and totally comply?”
“The punishment is somewhat more than a few days’ radar-room duty. Don’t be under any illusions, Paul. Your prison is very comfortable. Luxurious. You have everything you could possibly want. But don’t get the impression that it comes without a price. The price is unquestioning obedience, and the punishment for disobedience is – severe. We don’t believe in the punishment fitting the crime, Paul. We believe in the punishment dissuading you from further crime.”
“So you’re going to leave me here in the dark for a while. Big deal.”
“Rather more than that, I’m afraid. Feeling cold?”
“Yes. A bit.”
“It’s going to get colder, Paul. A lot colder. Ever been to the Arctic? Oh, yes, of course you have. But when you had to go outside, you were warmly dressed, and within reach of shelter, weren’t you?”
As the voice spoke, Paul became uncomfortably aware that it was indeed getting colder. A frigid breeze blew across his naked body. He suddenly felt very, very afraid…
“Minus forty degrees, Paul, plus wind-chill. How’s that going to feel on bare skin? See you later…”
As the wind rose to gale-force, and the temperature dropped like a stone, Paul’s screams of useless defiance were drowned in the noise, and his tears of despair froze on his face.
Conor Ryan had none of the warmth and charm that his Irish name and accent might have suggested. He had a staccato, monotonous and didactic style of speaking, and cold, round eyes that more than one political satirist had likened to those of a dead fish – Conor the Codfish, they called him.
He was vastly obese and greasy-looking; the kind of man who could raise a sweat in several degrees of frost. He gazed at Paul as if inspecting his next meal – a kind of hungry, greedy look that sent shudders of revulsion through Paul.
Not a codfish – a shark…
“So,” he said softly, his gentle Irish accent totally at odds with his repulsive appearance, “so you’re the Indestructible Man. We have a use for a man like yourself.”
Paul forced himself to remain pleasant. “I’m sorry, Mr Ryan. I’m not for hire. I have other commitments.”
Ryan stared at Paul for what seemed like a lifetime. Paul returned his gaze dispassionately; he’d stared down Colonel White in his time, so some Johnny-Come-Lately politician wasn’t going to faze him.
At last, Ryan looked away with a phlegmy chuckle. “A man of courage, Mr President, just as I said!”
The World President nodded. “I want to offer you a job, Mr Metcalfe. I expect you’ve heard the scurrilous lies about my campaign – well, I still have a number of enemies out there. Enemies in the Senate who will stop at nothing to bring me down. Conor here is adept in the political skirmishes, but you’d be more at home with the physical, am I right?”
Paul nodded stiffly. “I’m a soldier, Mr President. I have no interest in political intrigues and machinations.”
“Just the kind of man I’m after! With you beside me, I’ll have no fear of physical attack.” The President nodded emphatically. “Nothing to fear,” he said, making it sound like a mantra. “Nothing to fear…”
Conor Ryan stepped forward. “You can safely leave the details to me now, Mr President. You have the reception tonight – it’s time you were getting ready.”
The President nodded again, glancing over at Paul as he left the room. Paul caught a glimpse of a sizeable security detail outside the door, that surrounded the President as he started down the corridor. Was it just his imagination, or had the President’s final glance at him held something that looked remarkably like – fear?
The door closed behind him, leaving Ryan and Paul alone.
“The World President was most insistent that we get you on board, Mr Metcalfe. Or can I call you Paul? Nothing but the best for this Presidency. As he said – with you beside him, he’ll have no fear of attack.”
Ryan beckoned Paul closer, and with well-disguised distaste, Paul approached. Conor Ryan licked his moist, full lips, and leaned close, to murmur in Paul’s ear: “And with me beside you, you’ll have no fear of discovery…”
And the threat in those last few words was unmistakeable.
It was impossible to tell how long he’d been in the facility. Every so often, the promised knock-out gas would be introduced into the ventilation system, regardless of what he happened to be doing at the time. Usually, he woke up on his bed, some mess or other, or simply the grime caused by day-to-day living, having been cleaned up while he’d been unconscious; sometimes, there would be no apparent change, and he came to the conclusion that his gaolers were simply messing with his sense of the passage of time. The fact that he was always clean-shaven, bathed and apparently recently fed, gave credence to that notion.
Twice, though, he’d woken up… elsewhere. Securely strapped to what felt like a medical examination couch, blindfolded, and with his feet raised and spread wide in stirrups, he was given an extremely thorough – and thoroughly unpleasant – examination, with probes entering every orifice, taking samples, scrapings and readings. He’d vociferously protested when something – or someone – took hold of his penis and started to massage it. VACEC had informed him coolly that a sperm sample was required – if he cared to provide one himself, his right hand could be released for the time being. By now, Paul had become somewhat used to the total lack of privacy in this high-tech prison – after being spied on in the bathroom, being spied on while masturbating was merely the next hurdle to overcome. With ill-grace, he’d acquiesced, and now, the mysterious controllers of this facility surely had everything they needed to build a new Paul Metcalfe.
Is that what they want? he wondered, on waking after the second medical examination. Are they cloning me?
With Ryan’s veiled threat still ringing in his ears, Paul returned to his hotel in a thoughtful frame of mind. He wandered out onto the terrace, signalled the waiter to bring him a drink, and took a seat at the balustrade that overlooked the wide boulevard and beach. His phone buzzed for attention: taking it from his pocket, Paul took the call, and the little video screen lit up to reveal the face of the caller.
‘Ah, you’re back! Fancy a bit of company?’
“Sure,” Paul responded. “Why don’t you come to my hotel? We can have dinner and you can fill me in on the latest gossip.”
‘Love to. See you shortly!’
They ate on the terrace, watching the moon rise and touch the calm ocean with silver, and making small talk. At last, Paul’s companion laid down her fork, leaned back in her chair, and regarded him steadily with half-closed eyes. “So, how did it go?”
“It was odd. Ryan made threats, and offered me a job.”
“Threats, eh? What sort of threats?”
“He told me that I didn’t need to fear discovery if I worked for the World President.”
She frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense, Paul. Why would he threaten you? If he wants you to work for Dryden, why not simply offer you a job?”
Paul shook his head. “I don’t know. I got the impression that Dryden was frightened of something. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I got the distinct impression that Ryan’s pulling the strings. It was nothing that either of them said, but it was the way they said it. Also, why on earth does he need me? I caught a glimpse of the security detail as Dryden left. They looked more than capable of giving him all the protection he needs. I don’t think Alex Dryden wants me – I think Conor Ryan does. And that worries me.” Paul gave a slightly embarrassed sigh. “Just a hunch.”
His dinner partner leaned forward and touched his hand. “We’ve trusted your hunches for too many years to discount this one, Paul.” She fell silent for a moment, thinking deeply. “Will you take the job?”
Paul nodded. “I think I’ll have to. I’m not too worried about having my cover blown – as you know, I’ve got contingency plans in place. In fact, I think I’ll put a couple of them into action right now. If necessary, I can disappear in a couple of hours.”
“Do that. You’re taking a big risk on our behalf, Paul. We appreciate it. There was something rotten in that election, and if the WP’s frightened, that’s all the more reason for Spectrum to find out what’s wrong.”
The new job was, as far as Paul had so far been able to tell, pretty much a sinecure. From what he could see, it consisted of sitting in a large, luxurious office in the main government region of the city, and being the boss of the World President’s corps of bodyguards, security agents and police. He’d inspected them shortly after his arrival, and found no fault with them – they were skilled, organised and efficient.
The term ‘money for old rope’ had occurred to him several times. A generous salary and a luxurious apartment in the suburb of Futura went with the job – a job he could do in his sleep. Mindful of his first meeting with Ryan and Dryden, Paul had made use of the considerable security clearances that the title of ‘Head of Security’ gave him to poke around and investigate the circumstances behind the election, and just why Dryden had looked so frightened that evening. So far, he’d come up with nothing.
The sudden shrill of the phone made him jump. Paul looked at the small Caller ID screen on the receiver, and noted with some surprise that it was a direct call from World President Dryden himself.
This was unusual. Paul’s initial assumption, that he would be working for Conor Ryan rather than the World President himself, had proved to be correct, and in the few months since he’d taken the job, he had hardly seen Dryden at all. He picked up the phone.
‘Paul – I’m glad you’re still here. I need to talk to you. Come to my private office straight away.’
The line went dead, and Paul frowned at the receiver in his hand. The World President himself had made the call, not his Executive Secretary, whom Paul knew was still at her desk. Dryden had sounded nervous, edgy; quite unlike his normal confident self.
A few minutes later, Paul pressed the bell-push beside the door of Dryden’s private office, and waited. The door would not open until the visitor was identified and admitted; usually, that took no time at all. For someone to get this far into the government warren of Unity City, they had to have all sorts of clearances; Paul had passed through three retinal scans in the mere couple of hundred metres between his office and the World President’s.
At last, the small speaker below the doorbell came to life. ‘Come in, Paul.’ The President’s voice again! Why was he answering his own door? What was going on?
This time, Paul thought groggily, he had reason to feel aggrieved. He’d been peacefully watching a film. He’d stacked all the detritus from his last meal back into the hatch, apart from the bag of whisky, which he was still using. No transgressions, no medical examinations that he could recall, no cleaning of the main room, so what the hell had this gassing been for? He opened his eyes, and blinked a couple of times as they adjusted to the light.
And blinked again, in surprise.
Lying with him on the bed was a woman.
She lay flat on her back, her long, dark-blonde hair spread out around her head. Enchanted by the sight of another person, in the flesh, after all this time, Paul drank in the sight of her naked body. She was tall and slender, with a gently rounded stomach, and full breasts tipped with perfect little rosy-brown nipples. Her fingernails were short, rounded and unpainted, as were her toenails, and she had a clean, freshly-scrubbed look about her. Between her thighs was a tangle of curly pubic hair, a shade or two darker than the hair on her head. Her legs bore a fuzz of fine blonde hairs, almost invisible against her pale skin, and, rather unusually in these days of almost universal depilation for women, there was a hint of underarm hair, too.
As far as Paul could tell, with her eyes closed and face slack in sleep, she was pretty rather than beautiful, with a slightly ruddy complexion, as if she’d spent much of her time outdoors. She was also very young.
As he watched her, she stirred, making those unmistakeable ‘waking up’ sounds that he’d heard so many times from various bedmates. Bearing in mind that he would probably be as much of a shock to her as she’d been to him, he retreated to the far side of the wide bed and tried to make himself look as unthreatening as possible. It wasn’t enough.
She woke slowly, rubbing her eyes and pushing herself up on her elbow. Then she saw him. Whimpering in terror, eyes wide with fear, she backed away, vainly trying to cover her nakedness with her hands. “Please,” she whispered, her voice trembling, “please don’t hurt me…”
A sudden authoritative bark from the comms console made them both jump.
“Prisoners, your attention! You’ve been brought together for the express purpose of the woman becoming pregnant. You will begin immediately. Failure to comply will be severely punished.”
Paul’s jaw dropped, and he looked over at the naked girl still huddled on the bed. Her arms were crossed on her chest in an attempt to hide her breasts, and she was staring at him in white-faced, wide-eyed terror.
“No,” she whispered, “please, no, don’t… I’ve never… it’s sinful…” A tear rolled down her cheek.
Her obvious distress filled Paul with anger. How dare they subject this – child – to such an ordeal? “No,” he said firmly.
“‘No’? Didn’t we make it perfectly clear that you have absolutely no choice in the matter?”
Paul didn’t respond to that immediately. Instead, he gently addressed the girl. “Did I understand you correctly? Are you a virgin?”
Her face was white with shock, but at his question her cheeks flushed a dull crimson. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but managed a single, jerky nod. Not taking his eyes off her, Paul spoke to their unseen gaolers again.
“You see that? She’s a virgin. She’s terrified. She’s not willing, and I’m not willing. What you want is tantamount to rape, and I will not be a party to it. I will not force myself on an innocent girl.”
She looked up at him as he spoke, hope starting to kindle in her eyes.
“You will both comply with your orders, or you will be punished,” VACEC replied.
“You can’t force us.”
“I think you will find that we can...”
At that, the familiar hissing sound came from the outlets at the bottom of the walls. The girl turned fear-filled eyes to Paul. “Why are they gassing us?” she asked tremulously. “Are they going to punish us?”
“I don’t know,” Paul replied. “Lie down before it knocks you out.”
She collapsed onto the bed as the gas hit her, and he stumbled to fall half on the bed, half on the floor. With his last lungful of clean air, he shouted “don’t you hurt her!” before he, too, lost consciousness.
Paul awoke some unknown time later. He was standing on a cold, hard floor, his hands stretched high above his head and held by manacles locked tightly round his wrists. His feet were pulled wide apart, and just as tightly secured. A thick blindfold covered his eyes. A heavy belt round his waist was tethered on either side, which further restricted his scope of movement. OK, I get the picture , he thought, a cold apprehension gripping his heart. There were a number of ways he could foresee this situation panning out, none of them good.
“We thought we’d bring you here for a little… talk, about your attitude towards your fellow prisoner.”
The voice wasn’t issuing from a comms console now, but from someone actually present in the same room. Paul could hardly repress a small shudder at the thought of being in the same space as the sadists who ran this place.
“We thought we’d made ourselves clear,” the voice continued. “When we give you an order, we expect it to be obeyed, without question and without hesitation. Remember the solarium?”
Paul gritted his teeth. “I won’t force anyone to have sex with me. Not even a hooker, let alone an innocent young girl like her. She’s a virgin, for fuck’s sake!”
“We know that. That’s one of the reasons she was chosen. Nevertheless, you’re going to persuade her.”
“No! I will not commit rape!”
“Paul.” The voice was the epitome of reason, slightly exasperated that a perfectly acceptable request was being arbitrarily refused by a recalcitrant child. “Let’s discuss for a moment what rape actually is, shall we? It’s an act of sexual violence, usually committed by a man against a woman. It’s intended to dominate, by virtue of superior strength, or by fear, or by pain. It’s a crime against nature, and against the law. Now, do any of these sound like your intentions towards that girl?”
“No, of course they don’t,” Paul snapped, “and you’re fully aware of that.”
The voice continued: “I really don’t know what you’re complaining about. You’re going to get a lot of sex with an extremely attractive teenager. Many men would kill to be in your position.”
Paul snorted. “What, chained up naked in an interrogation cell?”
The voice tutted. “Don’t be obtuse. Think about it. You’ve been on the run for years. You can now finally relax, knowing that you’ve been caught, and it’s not nearly as bad as you feared. You have everything you could ever want – apart from your freedom, of course – and in return, all we ask is that you impregnate a lovely young lady. You didn’t even have to go out and find her yourself! She was delivered to you, like the items you order from your cell. And speaking of the young lady – to be brutally honest, she’s not terribly bright. Talk to her. You’ll soon see what she’s like – a useless, unproductive member of a reclusive society. Now, her life has meaning and purpose. She has plentiful food, better than she’s ever eaten before, warmth, shelter, and the attentive company of a handsome, intelligent, mature man who will teach her the ways of the flesh. And all we want from her in return is that she becomes pregnant by you.”
Paul had listened to this speech in silence and growing disbelief. He shook his head. “I don’t believe I’m hearing this. You’re actually trying to claim that you’ve done us a favour!”
“You’re a handsome man, Paul. I’m sure that amongst your many sexual conquests, there must have been a virgin or two? Yes?”
Paul had to admit that there had been.
“And did you rape them? Did you force them to have sex with you?”
“Of course I didn’t! What the hell do you think I am?”
“I think that you’re a caring and skilful lover, who would have made their last few moments of virginity immensely pleasurable.”
“I… did my best, as any decent man would have. But that’s none of your fucking business! There’s no comparison between those times and this. She has no choice. I have no choice. It’s rape.”
“Oh, no, Paul. When you have sex with her, it will not be rape. However, this will be…”
Hands suddenly gripped his buttocks, forcing the cheeks apart. A thick, hot penis thrust savagely into his rectum… Instinctively, he tried to resist, clenching his muscles as hard as he could, but a brutal punch to his solar plexus left him retching and gasping for breath, unable to defend himself.
Paul was not quite a stranger to homosexual sex. He’d been as handsome as a boy as he now was as an adult, and there had been much furtive groping in the dormitories of his boarding school after lights-out. In later years, he’d had one or two sexual encounters with men, although not frequently enough to even qualify him as bi-sexual, let alone homosexual. But there had never been anything like this. As soon as one had finished, another took a turn, ramming hard into his unprotected body. This was no friendly encounter like those few instances in the past; it wasn’t even a one-night-stand driven by passing mutual lust. This was a prolonged, deliberate assault, designed to injure, subjugate and humiliate.
Finally, after an unknowable length of time, the onslaught stopped. Without his manacles, Paul would have fallen. Instead, he hung, trembling and exhausted, from his chains, blood and semen running down his legs. “Bastards…” he muttered, his voice slurred with pain. “If you think this’ll change my mind about that girl…”
“Oh, it will. It will. You can stand up to treatment like this. But can she?”
Paul twisted and struggled in fury against his restraints. “You bastards! Leave her alone! Touch her and I’ll kill you, if it’s the last thing I do –”
There was no warning, just an explosion of white-hot pain in his groin, pain as he hadn’t felt for many years. He cried out in agony as a thin whip bit again and again into his exposed genitals, flaying them raw.
“What is rape?” the voice continued conversationally, as the flogging, and the naked prisoner’s weakening screams, continued. “If anything, it’s the forced capitulation, domination and humiliation of someone, by a person, or people, stronger than they are. As we are doing with you, Paul. Make no mistake – you are ours to do with as we wish. So is she.”
Unable to withstand the relentless agony any longer, Paul passed out, hanging limply from his chains.
Alex Dryden was pacing round his desk, obviously agitated about something. When he saw Paul, he stopped, and came over to greet him, shaking his hand with surprising fervour.
“It’s good to see you, Paul. Very good. Very good…” He dropped Paul’s hand, and continued to pace.
Paul stood for a while, watching with considerable concern.
Suddenly, Dryden stopped pacing. “Paul, do you believe in the existence of evil?”
Somewhat taken aback by the question, Paul nevertheless responded in a calm manner. “Yes, sir, I do. Given my personal circumstances, and history, I’d be a fool not to.”
The World President nodded, although it looked more like a nervous tic than an acknowledgement. “I have seen evil, here, in this very – where are my manners? Please, sit down. Let me offer you a drink. Scotch whisky, yes?”
Slightly puzzled by the sudden change of tack, Paul accepted the glass. He took a sip, and looked in curious enquiry at Dryden. The President was turning his own glass round and round in his hands.
At last, he spoke again, but all the confidence had gone from his voice.
“The election was rigged, Paul. I thought I could handle them, but I can’t. That’s why I wanted you on my staff – if anyone can beat them, you can.”
“Who are ‘they’, Mr President?” Paul asked in deep concern.
“You met them before, in Spectrum. You thought they’d gone – they haven’t. They’re back. Still weak, but getting stronger. They want to rule the world; that’s why I’m President. I’m their figurehead. He’s their leader. I can’t do anything against him. He knows too much…”
Paul tried again. “Who, Mr President? Who are ‘they’, and who is ‘he’?”
Dryden was apparently experiencing some kind of seizure – he was slapping and pawing at the back of his neck, and opening and closing his mouth, trying to speak, but apparently unable to force the words out.
“C… C… C… I can’t… why can’t I!”
Alarmed, Paul stood, and swiftly crossed the floor to the armchair where Dryden was sitting, and it was only because he was moving forward that the glass that the President hurled against the wall missed him. “Mr President,” he said gently. “Let me look…”
He perched on the arm of Dryden’s chair, and carefully bent the other man’s head forward. He looked closely at the nape of Dryden’s neck – the marks were almost gone, but to someone who knew what they were, they spoke volumes. A row of puncture marks, along the base of the skull… the marks of the Dream Spinner.
“The Network. So, they’re back.”
Paul awoke slowly, the memory of that horrific assault and beating still agonisingly fresh in his mind. A quick self-examination showed that, as usual, he’d healed completely, which meant a time-lapse of several hours. However, the lingering, slightly metallic, after-taste of the knockout gas in his mouth suggested that he’d probably been kept unconscious for longer than his usual retrometabolic period. Also as usual, his beard had been shaved recently – they thought of everything in their determination to keep him ignorant of the passing of time. He was also clean. There was no trace of the blood and semen that had clotted around his mutilated genitals and spilled down his legs.
The girl was still there, lying unconscious beside him on the bed. She’d probably been given another dose of the gas as well, to prevent her seeing the hidden doorway by which they were taken in and out of the room.
Suddenly, his stomach growled. He sighed – he hadn’t had a major regeneration for so long, he’d almost forgotten about the ravening hunger that followed.
While he ate a substantial meal, Paul contemplated the girl. He would need to have a serious talk with her, on a rather unpalatable subject. He remembered, with a somewhat rueful smile, the first time he’d been asked about sex. His son had had his first wet dream, and had finally plucked up the courage to speak to his father about it. All things considered, Paul reckoned he’d acquitted himself well in his first father-son chat. This, though, was going to be somewhat different…
He finished the contents of his plates, and was considering ordering more, when the girl woke up. He smiled at her. “Hello again.”
She looked down, and murmured something inaudible in response. Paul swept the debris from his meal into the serving hatch, and tapped the spot on the wall to close it. “I was just having a quick snack,” he continued. “Would you like something to eat?”
She nodded shyly, but it was with great reluctance that she joined him. She remained silent, wouldn’t meet his eyes, and kept her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Even as she ate, she kept her elbows tucked tightly in and her shoulders hunched to try to hide her nudity. She seemed relieved to have something to look at apart from this terrifyingly naked man, and gave her plate her full attention. Paul said nothing. Once she realised that she had nothing to fear from him, she would relax. Meanwhile, the problem was getting her to trust him.
From what flimsy evidence he had on such brief acquaintance, Paul came to the conclusion that she wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the prison’s systems, and had therefore been here for a while. Which led him to another thought – there must be another set of rooms like his somewhere. This place must be enormous! he thought, thinking of VACEC’s comment about Conor. Now there was a vindictive bastard who’d think nothing of spending millions of credits if it meant getting his Enemy Number One to do what he wanted...
The assassination of the World President in his private office sent ripples of shock around the world. Everyone was agreed that, given the level of security in the Presidential accommodation, the killer had to be an insider.
Paul sat at his desk, looking over the latest batch of intelligence and police reports, a nervous-looking Commissioner of the WGPC standing in front of him. It had been a long day – the latest in a series of long days – and Paul was tired. One of the most exhaustive investigations in the history of the World Presidency was scouring Unity City from top to bottom – dozens of known dissidents and criminals had been pulled in for interrogation, but the investigation was getting nowhere.
Paul rubbed his eyes wearily, then turned to face the Police Commissioner. “These reports tell me nothing, Alan. The most vital piece of evidence is the surveillance video – what’s the news on that?”
Commissioner Alan Keen cleared his throat. “Other than the deliberate tampering which you already know about, we’ve got nothing new. We’re still trying to clean up the damaged section. Audio isn’t any better, either –”
They were suddenly interrupted by a peremptory buzz from the intercom on Paul’s desk, and the voice of his assistant:
“Mr Metcalfe, I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but Acting-President Ryan needs to speak to you urgently.”
Paul acknowledged the call, dismissed the Commissioner with a courteous but terse “see you tomorrow, Alan”, transferred the reports to the secure computer store that he shared with Ryan, then walked the short distance that separated their two offices.
Conor Ryan was leaning back in his chair, watching a piece of grainy, blurred video. Paul recognised it immediately – he’d seen it a dozen times in the last couple of days since the assassination. Two figures moved jerkily across each part of the trifurcated screen: one of them was the World President, the other his killer, each of the three security cameras showing them from a different angle. From what little could be made out, the President had known the person who entered his office on that fatal afternoon. Through a haze of electronic snow, Paul could just see the two figures apparently having a normal conversation – Ryan had muted the sound, but Paul knew that the voices were all but drowned in pops, whistles and static. If he hadn’t known that one of the speakers was Alex Dryden, he would never have recognised the voice. He watched in silence as the scene played itself out – the movements of the two figures becoming more pronounced, which was probably the beginning of an argument, then the final rush and lunge of the fatal stabbing. The assailant had then turned to each camera in turn, pointing at them, and each portion of the screen went blank.
“Why did he leave it until after killing the President to knock the surveillance out?” Paul wondered, as he’d done each time he’d seen the video. “Something isn’t kosher here, Conor. It’s almost as if there’s something on that video we’re meant to see.”
Ryan nodded slowly. “You have the right of it there, I think, Paul. And we’ve been making some progress on that very thing.”
Paul raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Commissioner Keen told me there was no progress.”
“Ah well, he doesn’t have access to the equipment my boys have at their disposal. Have a look at this. I’d like your thinking on it.”
Ryan pressed a button, and the screen lit up again, but instead of the familiar heavy distortion of sound and vision, there was a relatively clear picture and recognisable voices.
“That’s an astonishing improvement,” Paul murmured, then leaned forward as for the first time he was about to see the face of the President’s killer. “Who is that?”
“Just watch,” Ryan said. “It’ll all become clear.”
Just as the experts had surmised, the President did indeed know his visitor, and greeted him with considerable warmth. The conversation was nothing remarkable; it appeared that the stranger was one of the President’s personal assistants, reporting to him on the minutiae of the day’s events. Paul watched all the way through to the argument and the killing, and the final dissolution of the video images – this time, he saw and recognised the small, pen-like device the killer used to disable the cameras and distort the pictures. Such devices had been used in espionage and counter-espionage for years. The most important aspect of the cleaned-up picture was that they now had a clear view of the murderer’s face.
“I’ve seen him around the place,” Paul said. “He’s a diary assistant, I think. Can’t call his name to mind, but with such a clear picture, we’ll get him. Thanks, Conor.”
With that, Paul stood to leave, but Ryan held up a hand.
“There’s a little more that I think you want to be seeing,” he said quietly. “It identifies the murderer beyond any shred of doubt.”
Paul frowned. “That final picture was pretty clear. As soon as Keen sees it, he’ll–”
Conor gestured to Paul to sit. “Wait for a moment. All is not the way it looks.”
Paul sat down again as the other man pressed another button.
Once again, the World President was sitting at his desk, looking up to acknowledge his visitor. But this time, the face of the killer wasn’t the young diary assistant, and the voice was different…
“What the hell is this?” Paul demanded. “That’s my voice. And my face. What’s going on?”
Conor gazed at Paul across his desk. “You’re an intelligent man, Paul. Why don’t you tell me?”
Paul took a deep breath. It was all starting to make sense now – the half-hints, the veiled comments, the urgent request for Paul’s presence on the evening before the murder. “You’re framing me for President Dryden’s murder.”
Conor Ryan folded his hands across his vast belly, and nodded, a benign smile on his face. Paul felt an adrenalin rush – for the first time in many years, he knew himself to be in the presence of true evil.
“Who was the real murderer, Conor?”
“One of our… converts. He was dead and thoroughly disposed of within half an hour of killing our late lamented World President Dryden.”
“So, what the President was trying to tell me was that not only is the Network still active – you’re part of it. I see you still use the Dream Spinner.”
Conor chuckled. “From time to time, yes. A useful tool, if a bit outdated now. We’ve much improved on it over the years.”
“I presume that’s why President Dryden couldn’t tell me about you. He’d been conditioned.”
“No, not really. Very lightly. Little more than a post-hypnotic suggestion, that’s all. Since Spectrum took an interest in our affairs all those years ago, we’ve had to tread very, very carefully. Elected officials are far too thoroughly checked for us to risk using the Dream Spinner on them very often. But rank-and-file, humble staff, like our boy with the knife – well, still thoroughly checked, but by me. And I run the Network.”
Something that surprised Paul about the girl was that she had by no means come to terms with her nudity, nor with the high-tech VACEC. Perhaps her attitude to nudity was understandable, given that she had suddenly been thrust into the company of a stranger, and a naked male stranger at that, but surely, everyone these days had considerable experience with automated systems of all kinds. Well, almost everyone…
He added that observation to everything else he’d noticed about her so far, and began to come to a conclusion that he really didn’t like at all…
She had barely glanced at him ever since she’d woken, let alone spoken to him, apart from a whispered “thank you” when he ordered a meal for her. However, with food inside her, and a cup of fruit juice in her hand (she’d shaken her head when he offered her some wine), the colour started to come back into her cheeks, and Paul felt able to resume his attempts at conversation. So far, he’d learned only that her name was Katie, and she was sixteen years old.
“Please, Katie,” he began. “There’s no need to be so afraid of me. I promise, I won’t hurt you. I’m a prisoner here just like you are.”
At that, she started up in surprise, and looked directly at him for the first time. “But – you’re a man!” she protested, as if that made a difference.
Paul frowned, puzzled. “Doesn’t stop me being a prisoner,” he said.
She bit her lip, and looked away again.
Every attempt to draw Katie out into further conversation failed, and Paul finally retreated to the bed, ordering a backrest so he could lounge in comfort and watch a film. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her leaning forward to see the screen; he turned, apparently casually, and ‘noticed’ her. “Want to watch?” he asked. She shook her head and withdrew again. “You can’t be comfortable, sitting on that stool. Come over here and be comfortable. You don’t have to sit beside me.”
Katie stood up, reluctantly, and crossed over to the bed, going over to the far side, as far away from Paul as possible. She murmured a command to the computer to give her a chair-height seat, and parts of the bed rose and reconfigured into an armchair. She sat down, her hands clasped tightly together between her knees.
“Katie –” Paul stopped what he was about to say as he saw a single tear trickling down her cheek. He swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, memories of his daughter flooding into his mind. If anyone had done to her what was being done to this poor girl… He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, cleared his throat and addressed her.
“Katie – what’s being done to us is appalling. We’re both prisoners, but I know it’s worse for you than it is for me. You’ve got no need to be frightened of me. I promise, I won’t hurt you. But I will protect you as best I can.” He paused, and looked at her tearful face, partly hidden behind her hair. He shook his head, filled with anger against their unknown captors. “You must be exhausted. Lie down and get some sleep. I’ll stay over here.”
The lights were out, but Paul lay awake, gazing up at the projected images of clouds moving across a starry sky that prevented the room from being plunged into total darkness. On the far side of the bed, he could see the pale shape of Katie, curled up and shaking, as she cried herself to sleep.
Paul gazed at her thoughtfully for a while until she was quiet, then rolled off the bed, and walked out of the living section, past the solarium, into one of the empty sections of the prison. Despite the fact that she was apparently asleep, he didn’t want to take even the slightest chance that the girl might hear what he had to say to their gaolers.
“All right,” he snarled. “You win. I’ll do it. But in my own way, and in my own time.”
“That will be acceptable,” came the immediate response. “As long as it gets done, we don’t care how or when.”
“I bet you don’t. And you’ll have a lovely time watching, I expect.”
“What makes you think I’ll be able to get it up? Or keep it up, come to that? I’ll be doing this under duress, don’t forget.”
“We’re sure you’ll find a way. After all, what red-blooded man could resist the proximity of a luscious little thing like Katie? And you don’t even have to come up with a pretext to get her naked.”
Paul ignored the crude lasciviousness. “Answer a question for me. You’ve taken sperm samples from me. Presumably you’ve given her thorough medical examinations too. Why haven’t you artificially inseminated her? Or taken her eggs and fertilised them in a lab? Why the insistence on sex?”
“Shall we just say that sitting guard on you, day in, day out, can get pretty boring? We’re entitled to a bit of entertainment.”
“Entertainment. Watching a hundred and sixty year old man seducing a teenage virgin. What fun.”
“Yes, we’re sure it will be. As you said yourself a little while ago, you’ll be giving good value for money.”
Paul made a sound of disgust in his throat, and headed back towards the gym to while away the hours until Katie woke up.
“I understand what happened, but I don’t understand why . Why did you want the President dead?” Paul kept his voice level and reasonable. Unless he was very much mistaken, there was not only evil here, but insanity – a cool, restrained insanity that was much, much worse than the raving kind.
Ryan studied him from the other side of the desk, then began to speak. “You’ll know I had political aspirations myself, once,” he said.
Paul nodded. “I’ve known of you for several years as a highly astute political agent,” he agreed.
Ryan raised a finger. “Ah, but it started long before that…” He gazed out of the window, as if looking into his past, then began to speak again, at first slowly and softly, but becoming more and more fervent as he told his story.
“I was raised on stories of the injustices visited upon Ireland by the British. They awakened in me ambitions to put the world to rights – even as a very young boy, I could see the immorality and filth of this world. I longed to put an end to it, to cleanse the world of the unworthy holders of high office, and start anew. Then one day, something wonderful happened… The world at large finally learned of the Mysterons, and I suddenly knew that I had found what I had been searching for all my life – found the saviours of this sadly betrayed world.”
He stopped for a moment, and gazed intently at Paul. “I do not place on you any blame for what you did as a member of Spectrum. You were a soldier, and had to follow orders. But what a magnificent honour was bestowed upon you! When I finally had access to the Presidential files – no, I’m getting ahead of myself. Forgive me.”
It was almost dark now, and the final rays of the setting sun gleamed through the window, touching Ryan’s face with red, like blood. Paul turned on the desk lamps, then poured himself a drink. Ryan shook his head at the proffered decanter, and continued:
“Spectrum’s operations on Mars put paid to my hopes of immediate salvation for the world, but what once was, could be again. I learned patience. Gradually, I made contact with a few like-minded souls, and learned that there had once been an organisation as dedicated to helping the Mysterons as Spectrum had been to fighting them. They had been reduced to a pitiful rump of their former glory by the worldwide hysteria that painted the Mysterons as evil, and perforce remained hidden. I was too young to join them as an active member, but we kept in touch. I turned my thoughts to a political career, and put myself forward, in due course, for election to the European Senate.
“Alas, I soon found that in politics, as with any other public-facing profession, a handsome face counts for more than a handsome mind.” He gave a self-deprecating little chuckle. “And I have never had a handsome face. So I decided to look for someone who could achieve my ambitions for me. I did well enough for myself over the years, but there was no-one with that spark, no-one who could act as my figurehead while I cleansed the world…”
Conor Ryan’s association with the Network did his political aspirations no harm at all. He found a disjointed, disorganised collection of dreamers and malcontents, and rebuilt them into a cohesive group. They admired his drive and conviction – such was his hold over them by this time that any reservations any of them might have had about alien domination of their world disappeared in a glorious wave of rhetoric about ridding the human race of the greed and violence that had always characterised it, and the rewards that they would reap when they took their place beside the Mysterons as rulers of the world. Spectrum was an obvious focus for their hatred – the organisation that had defeated and driven out the god-like aliens. Stories circulated within the group of a human touched by those aliens – someone who had actually been fortunate enough to serve the Mysterons in their crusade to cleanse the planet. Spectrum had forcibly ripped him away from his masters, but rumour had it that the man was still alive, and blessed with that greatest of gifts: the ability to reverse matter, to rebuild himself after injury. Some said, even after death. Virtual immortality… No-one could believe that he would not welcome the chance to return, to serve the Mysterons again. Once upon a time, a couple of members of the Network had infiltrated Spectrum, and had passed information out to the leadership. They had been caught and imprisoned, but their information remained safely hidden away. Ryan ordered that it be found and studied. Perhaps this human-Mysteron would be the key to bringing his masters back to a grateful world…
Ryan looked around the noisy gathering with barely-concealed contempt. He despised the petty local politics of the American West Coast, but needs must… A minor, and fairly new, member of the World Senate was hosting this fund-raiser: Alexander Dryden. He was a handsome, if somewhat vapid, man, with a felicitous turn of phrase and a squeaky-clean reputation as a devoted family man. Ryan had almost discounted him in his never-ending search for a figurehead, but something about this man intrigued him. Something about the occasional, fleeting expression in his eyes suggested that he might not be as clean-cut as he presented himself. Like a shark hunting a minnow, Ryan insinuated himself into Dryden’s circle of acquaintances and within a matter of weeks, Dryden appointed him as his political agent.
Alex Dryden paced round his office in Unity City in a frenzy of nerves, a large brown envelope gripped tightly in one hand. “How much longer… how much longer…?” he muttered, like a kind of mantra. The door opened, and his secretary looked in.
“Mr Ryan is here, Senator.”
“Well, where is he? Bring him in! Don’t just stand there!”
The secretary ducked out, and a moment later, the grotesque form of Conor Ryan came through the door. Grotesque, yes, but right now the only person Dryden wanted to see. The only person who could save his political career.
“Conor, thank goodness… Close the door. I’ve got something… dreadful… I need to discuss with you.”
Although he’d been on tenterhooks since sending for his agent, Dryden now experienced tremendous difficulty in putting the enormity of the situation into words. Eventually, he simply thrust the crumpled envelope into Ryan’s hands.
Ryan calmly took a seat, and opened the envelope, looking at the incriminating photos with mild interest. Eventually, he replaced them in the envelope.
“Well?” Dryden demanded. “What the hell am I going to do? The little shit is blackmailing me – I got an electronic file of the same pictures, too.” He sat down behind his desk, but got up again almost immediately, unable to settle.
Ryan gazed at him calmly. “I see no real problem,” he said.
Dryden stopped pacing, gaping at his agent in stunned disbelief. “You see… no problem? Conor – are we looking at the same pictures here? What the hell am I going to tell Allison? And I can kiss the Presidential campaign goodbye… One night. Just one goddamn night… what am I going to do?”
Ryan looked at the pictures again. They were very detailed, obviously taken by a good photographer with an excellent camera. The expression of sexual fulfilment on Dryden’s face was remarkably apparent, as was the smirk on the face of the naked boy bending over the desk in this very office. The photographer had been expensive, but worth every cent. Such a shame that the man had died in a road accident before being paid…
“Conor – what the hell am I going to do?”
“Leave it with me, Senator. Go home to your wife. Say nothing. Carry on exactly as normal. I will take care of everything.”
There was a heavy silence – Ryan locked eyes with his employer. ‘You stupid, stupid man,’ he thought . ‘You have no idea how you handed me the opportunity I’ve been waiting for all my life.’ Aloud, he repeated: “Go home to Allison. Everything will be all right. And the presidential campaign will continue as planned.” He smiled a warm, beaming smile that hid the poison and the dagger. “With me beside you, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go home, Mr President.”
“… and of course, you know, or you can guess, the rest. I found the boy, put him through the Dream Spinner treatment, and I found him a job on the staff when Alex was elected World President. Not to use him straight away, you understand, Paul. But to keep him handy. Just in case. I knew that Alex wouldn’t be able to resist for long – blackmail or not, the boy was handsome and inventive. Just the type that our late, lamented World President liked.”
Paul hid his revulsion well, and merely asked, “If you’re framing me for the murder, what was my motive?”
Ryan actually laughed. “Paul, Paul, Paul… can you not see the resemblance between that boy and you? Same dark hair, same blue eyes… Alex made a pass at you. After all, why wouldn’t he… you’re a very handsome man. You turned him down. He persisted, you got angry and finally snapped. People will believe it… you’ve tried to kill a World President before.”
Paul nodded. “Yes, that’s true… but very few people know about that. I presume that’s how you’re going to ensure my silence – if I keep quiet, so will you.”
Ryan beamed, like a proud teacher. “Got it in one, Paul.”
“No-one’s going to believe it, Conor,” Paul said softly.
“Oh, they will, they will.” Ryan opened the top drawer of his desk, and removed an envelope, addressed in rather childish writing to ‘VP C. Ryan – TOP SECRET’. He slit it open and shook out from it a video chip which he slotted into the reader on his desk. Paul watched in silence as the boy (and yes, there was a superficial similarity) stammered through a suicide declaration which included a fervent, and detailed, denunciation of World President Alexander Dryden as a voracious paedophile.
Conor shook his head sadly as the video ended. “A sad thing, do you not agree, Paul? No-one will be more surprised and grieved than I, if this ever becomes public knowledge.”
Paul frowned. “Something I don’t understand, Conor. According to this scenario, I killed a man who’d apparently raped a young boy and was trying it on with me. There are many people who’d say that he had it coming. Depending on the make-up of the jury, I’d probably get a fairly light sentence…”
He stopped as Ryan shook his head. “You’re forgetting, Paul – there is one last element in this. You yourself. Did you ever stop to wonder why there has been such a rise in fear of the Mysterons in recent months? It’s been many years since Spectrum put a severe crimp in their ability to contact the Earth – why should there suddenly be such an increase in fear?”
Paul drew in a deep breath. Ah, yes, of course… Really, he had to hand it to Conor. Such forward planning, even down to inculcating public fear of the very creatures he wanted to invite back to Earth.
“You were trying to flush me out. You knew that Spectrum would want to investigate this, and you knew that they’d probably put me onto it. I suppose if I hadn’t come to Futura after the election, you would have tracked me down wherever I was.” He nodded slowly, and poured himself another drink. “So, I’m either a murderer, or a renegade Mysteron. Or both, of course.”
Conor nodded and smiled. “Since the Mysterons were driven out, you’ve had no direction in your life, Paul. But once they’re back – what things we shall see! And they will understand that I had to use a little subterfuge. And all we ask of you is that you allow yourself to become their channel, their conduit, so that they can bring about the cleansing of this poor world!”
Paul drained his glass, and put it down on the desk. He was proud of the way his hand didn’t shake, and the way his expression and voice remained entirely natural and relaxed.
“That’s… one hell of a thing you’re asking of me, Conor. I’m going to need time to prepare.”
“Of course, of course. Take what time you need!”
The video of the murder of World President Dryden played unheeded in the background, as did the now-muted suicide note of the diary assistant. Paul stood up.
“With your permission, I’d better get off home. It’s getting late.”
Ryan nodded graciously. “Sleep well, Paul. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Paul slept badly that night. He replayed the conversation with Ryan over and over in his head – it all made horrible sense, except one piece. Ryan’s stated aim was to bring the Mysterons back to Earth. If so, why inculcate such a public fear of them? That didn’t make sense. Unless…
‘There must be something I’m missing…’ he thought. ‘Otherwise, it simply doesn’t make any sense at all… why instil such fear of the very aliens he wants to bring back…’
Then it struck him, with such force that he laughed out loud. He pushed back the quilt and strode across to his drinks cabinet, poured a large Scotch, and tilted the glass in the direction of the government buildings in the distance.
“My God, Conor, you devious bastard. It’s not the Mysterons you’re making everyone afraid of – it’s their constructs. And one construct in particular, am I right?”
He swallowed the strong liquor in one, then went over to his wall safe and withdrew a couple of notebooks and a small computer. He had work to do…
Paul felt a little guilty at allowing Commissioner Keen to continue with an investigation which he knew to be useless. But it was essential that everything continued as normal. Ryan, now Acting World President, continued to be as affable as always, but Paul couldn’t allow himself to relax, even slightly. Riding the tiger required unbroken concentration.
Having company, even company that was terrified of him, was wonderful. When Paul woke the next ‘morning’, she was still asleep, and once again he revelled in the sight of another real, flesh-and-blood person, taking in every detail of her body – the body that he was going to have to educate, penetrate and impregnate.
As he came out of the bathroom after a shower and shave, Katie was just waking up. “Good morning,” he greeted her, going over to the computer to order breakfast.
“Good morning,” she murmured in shy response. Then, much to his surprise, she continued: “Is it really ‘morning’, do you think?”
Hiding his surprise and pleasure at her attempt to initiate conversation, he shrugged. “I’ve got no idea,” he said. “But we’ve just woken up, so – it’s morning as far as I’m concerned. Breakfast?”
She ordered porridge, fried eggs and bacon – Paul had the same, apart from the porridge, and added toast and honey. “Do you prefer tea or coffee?” he asked as he reached the Beverages section of the breakfast menu.
She shook her head. “I’ve never had either of them. May I have milk?”
“You’ve never had tea or coffee?” he asked in surprise, as he ordered milk for her and strong coffee for himself. She shook her head, blushing and averting her eyes as if she had done wrong. Paul mentally kicked himself. He really had to remember – this young girl was not the worldly-wise woman that he usually preferred. If what he was starting to suspect was true, she was even less experienced in the modern world than the most timid virgin of his acquaintance.
Breakfast was delivered, and Paul watched her as she bowed her head and sat in silent prayer for a moment. As they ate, he continued the previous evening’s attempts to make conversation. Quite apart from needing to broach the subject of their enforced physical relationship, he was genuinely curious about her. It was unusual, here towards the end of the 22nd century, to find someone who radiated such an aura of innocence and unfamiliarity with the modern world. Her accent declared her to be Canadian, and he was starting to suspect that she might be from one of the Amish communities that still thrived in some remote parts of Ontario and Manitoba.
Katie hardly spoke during breakfast. It wasn’t until Paul was scraping together the detritus of the meal prior to sweeping it all into the serving hatch that she suddenly exclaimed, “You shouldn’t be doing that!”
He looked at her, a expression of enquiry on his face. Katie blushed again, looking down at her feet, and mumbling an explanation of her outburst. “It’s not right that you’re doing a woman’s work. I should clear the table. It was enough that you bespoke the meal.” She looked up at him from under her eyelashes – the look was nervous, not flirtatious. “I will attend to it.”
Paul nodded, and withdrew to the bathroom to wash his hands. When he came back out, the table had retracted back into the wall, and the air-circulation system had already cleared most of the smell of food from the room. Katie was standing a little way from the bathroom, hugging herself to try to cover her breasts and groin. Paul ignored that, and Katie scuttled past him to use the bathroom.
He guessed that she used the time to compose herself; by the time she re-joined him she was a little more relaxed.
As Katie seemed willing to talk, Paul decided to address what had happened the previous day. Supplied with more coffee for him, fruit juice for her, and with the bed reconfigured into a sofa, he began.
“After they gassed us yesterday, I was taken to see our gaolers. We had quite a… lengthy discussion. I won’t bore you with the details, but the upshot of it is that we have absolutely no choice. I have to get you pregnant, and if I don’t do it the natural way, they’ll probably do it some… other way. I’ve found out enough about them by now to know that that wouldn’t be particularly pleasant for either of us.”
He looked at her. She was gazing down at her hands, which she held clamped tightly together between her knees. Her face had gone chalk-white, apart from two spots of red on her cheekbones. “But I can assure you, I will take it slow and easy, and I will make as pleasurable for you as I possibly can.” He reached out and laid his hand on her knee. “We’ll be all right,” he finished, quietly.
At this, she looked up, and gave him a tremulous smile. “Thank you,” she whispered, her voice cracking.
He stroked her cheek.
She bit her lip, looked down, then back up at him, an expression of mingled trepidation and trust in her eyes.
“If I have to do it with anyone, I’m so glad they found me someone as nice as you…”
He suppressed a sudden surge of anger against their captors, who were turning what should have been a significant moment in her young life into a voyeuristic pseudo-rape. For ‘rape’ was what it was going to be. No matter how considerate or gentle he was, she was being coerced into this, as was he – when he finally penetrated her, it would be because he had to. Not because they’d met somewhere, maybe gone out a few times, formed a mutual attraction – all they had in common was that they’d both been kidnapped by the same people, and had been thrown together, under orders to produce a baby or face the consequences. His heart bled for her even as he put his arm around her shoulders. But for now, he smiled and nodded encouragingly.
“Good girl. Now, how about we get to know each other? I’m Paul.” He didn’t mention his surname. She was frightened enough already, without being told that she was locked up with the notorious Paul Metcalfe.
After the disaster at the Olympics, and the subsequent high-profile Spectrum operation, containment of the nature of the Mysterons and their agents had been virtually impossible. Too many people had seen the deaths and resurrections; too many atrocities had been carried out, quite openly, by people known to have been killed in the stadium bombing. As time went by, sensationalist reporting in some sections of the media kept suspicion and fear simmering, even after several independent expeditions had proved that the Mysteron city was totally inactive, and the Mysteron detectors that had long been installed in all public places had failed to detect any Mysterons at all in the year following the bombing.
The threat was over, but the horrible uncertainty, the suspicion that the person standing next to you might be a soulless killing machine duplicated from a dead person, remained. And as for the notion that one of these constructs could actually be on Humanity’s side – well, that was too far-fetched even to be considered. Such a creature would be hunted down and killed without the slightest hesitation.
In the days and weeks that followed the murder of World President Dryden, Paul was well aware that he was being watched. The dirt that he had on Conor was of the very highest order, and until he was able to escape, the Network had to believe that he was sufficiently cowed and frightened of public exposure to keep his head down and do what he was told.
Battle strategy had been second nature to Paul for so long, he hardly had to think about it any more. Banally-worded phone calls and emails to innocuous contacts, which masked pre-agreed codes, resulted in certain purchases being made, and transfers of large quantities of money into and out of a variety of bank accounts – no single transaction was large enough, and no single account received sufficient transfers, to arouse suspicion.
At last, everything was in place.
“Goodnight, Conor. Will I see you at the Senators’ reception tomorrow?”
Acting-WP Conor Ryan looked up from whatever was holding his attention on his desk monitor. “I think not, Paul. The press of other engagements holds me. But you go, by all means. I’ll wish to see you after, for the gossip.”
Paul nodded. “Of course. Remember I’ve got an repair technician coming to look at my air conditioning in the morning, and I’ll need to be there to let him in. That shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, and I’ll go straight to the reception after that. It’s due to end at 17.00, so I should be back here by 17.30 at the latest. Goodnight, again.”
“Goodnight, Paul, and have a nice evening.”
Paul withdrew, and left the magnificent Presidential Building. He walked, as usual, briskly along the coast road the kilometre or so to the government-owned apartment block in the residential suburb of Futura where he lived. As he entered the building, the Network operative who’d been tailing him continued on past, and another operative took over in the foyer. Paul gave him a curt nod as they both entered the lift.
Many years before, Colonel Umber had teased Paul about what she called his ‘paranoia’. “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you,” he’d pointed out. And that was something he’d lived by all these years. His ‘paranoia’ had allowed him the leisure to plan his disappearance long before the need for it became apparent – half a dozen different, fully-established identities and bank accounts were out there, waiting for him to slip into one of them, and when a particular email account received a particular coded message, various computer programs would be triggered and Paul Metcalfe would vanish, to ‘reappear’ somewhere totally misleading.
In the meantime, Paul let himself into the luxurious, top floor apartment in which he’d lived since taking the job with the late World President Dryden, leaving his Network tail outside in the lift lobby. He went about his normal evening routine, preparing a light supper, catching up on the latest episode of a video drama series he rather enjoyed, checking his email, and finally pouring himself a glass of whisky, and taking it out onto the balcony to enjoy the warm evening air, and the view across the bay.
As the last of the sunset faded into a star-sprinkled blackness, he went back inside and closed the window blinds.
It would have required extremely good eyesight to make out the figure who came back out onto the balcony shortly after midnight, dressed in dark-coloured clothes that blended perfectly with the exterior wall of the apartment building. Paul swung himself off the balcony of his apartment, and up onto the roof, padding silently across the shallow slope to the back of the building. He crouched on the edge of the roof, and slid a rucksack off his back, extracting a coil of thin, extremely strong, carbon-filament rope from one of the pockets. It was the work of just a few seconds to locate a piton which he had hammered into the wall some considerable time ago. He fastened the rope to the piton, shrugged the rucksack back in place, and let himself down, hand over hand, to the ground. He removed another item, which looked like a small remote control, from the same pocket of his rucksack and clipped it to the end of the rope. A sequence of button pushes sent signals up the conducting wire woven into the rope, which released it from the piton. The rope fell silently in a heap at his feet. He swiftly coiled it up, stowed it away in his pack, and disappeared into the night.
Behind him, in the empty apartment, in response to a carefully-prepared computer program, the vidscreen changed channels once or twice, and eventually turned itself off. Lights throughout the apartment switched off and on, and shadows moved across the blinds from the sitting room to the bedroom. Finally, the whole apartment was in darkness. This subterfuge might not fool a professional watcher for long, but it would fool them for just long enough…
The headlines a couple of days after Paul’s disappearance from his apartment astonished the world: “Top government security aide is prime suspect in slaying of World President Dryden”, and “‘Paul Metcalfe has killed a World President before’, claims Acting World President Ryan”
Conor Ryan was winning a great deal of public sympathy by vowing to “honour and continue the promises made by our late and greatly-mourned World President. It is the least I can do in his memory – continue the work that was so cruelly cut short by his murder. And I will stop at nothing to ensure that his murderer, Paul Metcalfe, is captured and punished for his heinous crime.”
Julien Pontoin sat at an outside table in a café in Paris, reading the latest news. The only story that even mildly surprised him was one reporting the disbanding of Spectrum. To be honest, he was only surprised that Spectrum had lasted so long after the defeat of the Mysterons and the end of the War of Nerves – it was an expensive luxury, and one that Dryden had promised to terminate. So, the news was not surprising in itself, only the timing, but that didn’t make it any more palatable. Now, he was on his own.
Every news broadcast carried the doctored footage of Paul stabbing Dryden; the story of his kidnap of World President Younger was splashed across the news media, but without the vital ending of the story that would have exonerated him; every public bulletin board showed Paul’s face and offered enormous rewards for information leading to his capture.
A waiter came by, and refilled Julien’s coffee cup. He nodded at the headlines scrolling across the newspad built into the table-top. “A terrible thing, eh?” he remarked. “I hope they catch this Metcalfe monster. Such a man doesn’t deserve to live.”
Julien agreed. There was little else he could do.
Conor Ryan became more and more messianic – he now spoke openly for the Mysterons, as a self-proclaimed ambassador for a “peaceful faction” of the Mysteron race. These had overthrown the warlike faction that had threatened the Earth for so long, Conor told the world’s press. The peaceful faction had offered to repair the damage that their warlike cousins had done – all they required was the capture and destruction of the last of the evil Mysterons – a construct by the name of Paul Metcalfe.
As they talked, Katie started to relax a little. Used to getting information from people, Paul learned a lot more about her than she actually said out loud.
Katie was sixteen, and had lived her whole life in a small, intensely religious community in rural Manitoba. She had been promised since childhood to the son of a farmer on the other side of their territory. “He’s nice, and kind. We’ve walked out several times,” she confided. “His father owns the biggest farm in the district, and he is the only son. It’s a good marriage for me.”
Katie’s family were farmers like most of the other families in her community, but unlike other, similar communities, they rarely traded outside their own people, living on only what they produced on their own farms. Paul had heard vaguely of these people – deeply religious, patriarchal, reclusive and fiercely puritanical, they had split from the Amish in the early twenty first century, seeking a simpler life than even that community. The fact that they had remained separate from the rest of society for so long, in these days of almost total satellite coverage of the world, was astonishing, but nonetheless, they had managed it.
“So, how did you come to be here?” Paul asked in some surprise, as Katie told him of her origin.
“I was gathering medicinal herbs,” she explained. “I went further from the village than I’d ever been before, and in the forest I saw a big metal box, with a window at the front.”
“A vehicle of some kind,” Paul mused. “Go on.”
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Katie confessed. “I was curious. I went over to it… there was a man… I hardly saw him. He caught me from behind, and jabbed me with something sharp, like a needle. I think I must have fainted… There was nothing else until I woke up alone in a room just like this one.”
The weather service was calling it the worst winter since records began. Certainly it was the wettest, and the windiest. Gales, snowstorms and torrential rain had been rampaging around Europe for weeks, and only those who absolutely had to travel were doing so. As the weather worsened after New Year, the modes of transport that were still available dwindled to almost nothing.
Richard Blake had decided that his trip to Italy couldn’t be put off, despite the violent rainstorms and gales that had for several weeks been lashing the south of Switzerland, where he currently lived. Flying was out of the question. It would have to be the Trans-Alpine train.
He was already very wet as he sprinted across the platform and boarded the two-carriage local train that would link up with several other similar trains en route to the other side of the Alps.
Torrential rain hammered against the windows as the train pulled out of the station. Richard paid little attention to the sodden countryside as it sped past. He’d timed it well: the train was almost full. He wouldn’t be noticed.
As the train started to slow down, preparatory to stopping at the next station, he stood up and pulled his brightly-coloured bag out of the overhead locker. He made his way to the door between the two carriages, and as the train stopped, and some of his fellow passengers alighted, pulling their rain-repellent cloaks over their heads, it was easy to ‘accidentally’ brush his ID card against the electronic reader by the door. Officially, Richard Blake was no longer on the train.
A few other people boarded. Preoccupied by the bad weather, and their own concerns, no-one took any notice of anyone else, a fact that Richard used to his advantage. He ducked, unnoticed, into the toilet compartment.
The train accelerated smoothly out of the station as Richard opened his bag. Working quickly, he shaved off the neatly-trimmed, slightly greying, beard and moustache that so effectively disguised his face. From a small tube, he squeezed a thick coil of paste into his palm, which he then worked into his hair, lightening its colour. His non-descript brown eyes turned blue-grey as he changed his contact lenses, and to complete the facial disguise, a little theatrical makeup gave him a slightly crooked nose and a small scar on the left side of his chin.
He took a change of clothes and shoes from his bag, which he then turned inside-out, hiding its bright blue and green stripes inside a dull silver-grey.
The train was slowing down again – he’d got a few minutes, but not much longer.
Quickly changing his clothes, Richard folded the old ones neatly into the bag, and finally removed a flat wallet, little bigger than his hand, from a well-hidden compartment in the base of the bag. The contents of this innocuous-looking wallet would have been of enormous interest to a number of people, for concealed inside was a highly sophisticated ID forger.
Richard Blake entered a few quick commands onto the gadget’s little keypad, and a few seconds later, a short strip of plastic extruded from the end of the forger. One side of the strip held a physical description and a picture, which rotated to show both profiles, full-face, and the back of his head, of a man with mid-brown hair and blue-grey eyes. Not a particularly good picture – despite all advances in technology, the passport photo was still a travesty of the art of photography. On the reverse side of the strip were his name, e-contact address and Social Registration Number, all solidly, verifiably, genuine. He pressed his fingertips onto this side of the strip, leaving a set of fingerprints in the still-malleable plastic, then set it aside to harden.
One last thing: he took Richard Blake’s old ID card and fed it into the forger to be blanked and recycled, ready for the next change of identity.
As the train once again moved away from a station, Adam Fraser slipped inconspicuously out of the toilet compartment and joined the handful of people who had just boarded. Once again, the jostle of bodies in the narrow corridor allowed him to squeeze past the ID reader and brush his card against it, registering Adam Fraser as having boarded the train at the last stop.
The train sped on, towards the mountains. Adam gazed, unseeing, at the weather advisories scrolling across the news-strip that ran the length of the carriage, warning of particularly severe weather on the Italian side of the range. The little train rocked on its magnetic propulsion fields as heavy gusts buffeted it. The in-train address system warned everyone to fasten their seat-belts.
Much to everyone’s relief, the buffeting of the wind and the constant hammering of the rain stopped abruptly as the train plunged into the first of the trans-Alpine tunnels that would take them through the mountains and into northern Italy. Adam had never done this part of the journey by train before, and read with interest the information now scrolling along the news-strip. The train would take ten minutes to travel the length of this tunnel, and then there was another a few kilometres further on. In just over an hour, he would be at his destination. He settled back in his comfortable seat to read…
There was almost no warning. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw what could only have been an avalanche, countless tonnes of snow and rock loosened by the appalling weather, bearing down on the train as it emerged from the tunnel. It breached the safety fences and struck the train side-on, ripping it from the mag-track and sending it tumbling end over end down the shallow valley. Something hard and sharp hit him on the back of his head, and the world suddenly went dark.
Awakenings from retrometabolic sleep varied. Sometimes, the awakening would be as from a normal night’s sleep, slow and comfortable. Sometimes it was sudden, jolting from unconsciousness to full awareness in a few seconds. And sometimes, it was like now: a gradually-sharpening awareness of externals while his body was still held immobile by the last tendrils of the coma.
It was very quiet. Through his closed eyelids, Paul could tell that his immediate surroundings were brightly lit. He was also cold, and lying on a hard, uncomfortable surface.
Eventually, vague memories of the immediate past started to resurface. The train crashed. I probably died. I’m probably in a morgue. Shit…
He could detect no signs that there was anyone else nearby, and decided to risk opening his eyes, just a crack. Looking from side to side, he found that he was lying on the floor in a small, featureless room. A couple of metres away to his right was a closed door with a window at head-height. As he’d thought, he was alone.
Paul scrambled to his feet, and moved cautiously over to the door. The limited view afforded by the small window showed a deserted corridor, also brightly lit, and a sign pointing to a fire exit. He had to move fast. It was highly suspicious that he had woken here alone when there must have been a number of casualties of the derailment. This room looked more like a store-cupboard than anything else – not the kind of room he would have expected to be used as a temporary morgue following a major incident. Someone must’ve spotted I was regenerating, he thought, with a surge of apprehension.
The door was locked, but he had a lock-picking kit in his bag. The bag was in the corner of the room, still closed and locked. He pressed his thumb against the lock and it clicked open; he kept the kit in the false bottom of the bag, along with the ID forger… they were both gone.
“Looking for these?”
Paul whipped round at the sudden, unexpected voice. Standing in the open doorway were two men, one of whom held the forger and lock-picking kit. Their timing had been perfect – the sound of his bag opening had masked the small sound of the door being unlocked.
“Well, well. Paul Metcalfe, alive and kicking.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Paul protested, putting a tremor of fear into his voice. “My name’s Fraser. Adam Fraser.”
“Really.” The second man moved like lightning. With a single flick of his wrist, a small throwing-knife skimmed across Paul’s face, scoring a long, shallow cut along his cheekbone.
Paul clapped his hand to his cheek, and brought it away covered in blood. Within seconds, though, he could feel the tingle as the cut started to heal.
“Well, ‘Adam Fraser’, it looks as if you and Paul Metcalfe have a couple of things in common. Fake ID and retrometabolism. How did you get yours ?”
The two men came fully into the room and closed the door behind them. The second man produced a gun from an inside pocket, training it on Paul as his colleague moved round behind him to put the forger and lock-picks back in the bag. “On your knees, hands behind your head.”
Paul knelt slowly, not taking his eyes off the gun. Any minute now, he thought.
To open the bag, they must have used his thumbprint while he was dead. It would open for no other. They must have locked it again the same way. But this time, with any luck, they would be over-confident, thinking there was no need to relock the bag now they had captured its owner. A big mistake… the first man was pulling the fastenings closed… Thirty seconds… twenty… ten… five… NOW!
The bag’s security device detonated, sending a cloud of noxious gas belching into the small room. Already holding his breath, Paul was off his knees like an Olympic sprinter, wrenching the door open and racing down the corridor towards the fire exit. He was sorry to sacrifice the ID forger, but he could get another, and there was nothing else in the bag that he couldn’t afford to lose. Behind him, he heard the muffled cursing of the two men as they staggered out of the cloud of gas, choking and wheezing.
“There he is!”
Paul glanced over his shoulder as he neared the fire door. The second man lurched out of the little storeroom, staggering against the opposite wall. He was raising his gun – Paul was at the fire door, leaning on the locking bar, knowing a horrible despair as it failed to open…
There was a sudden crackle of weapons fire behind him, a split-second of intense, burning agony in his back, then his world disappeared…
He awoke to a nightmare, unable to move, held in a rocking, lurching darkness… I must be in transit, he realised, on one of the rare occasions when his mind was clear enough for rational thought. In transit to where, though, he had no way of knowing.
Fragmented images flitted across his consciousness – whether real or imaginary, he had no way of telling. Glimpses of himself, naked, strapped down, with his brown hair and eyebrows shaved off and the natural black hair starting to grow back… vague memories of multiple deaths… occasional glimpses of what looked like a laboratory, or perhaps a torture chamber… ever-present pain in a body which refused to obey him… extraordinarily erotic dreams…
Then the final awakening in his prison…
Over the next few ‘days’, Paul and Katie continued to talk and get to know each other. They ate when they were hungry, and slept when they were tired, defining time-periods to suit themselves. Paul was in no hurry – he had no wish to push Katie into doing anything she wasn’t comfortable with, and he was acutely aware that she needed to become properly relaxed with him before he tried anything physical.
He guessed, correctly, that she’d never seen a naked man before, although she was familiar enough with the act of animal copulation, having grown up on a farm. He made no attempt to hide his penis, although he didn’t draw attention to it, either. He simply ignored it, and gradually, Katie came to do more or less the same with her breasts and groin. However, she had developed a little habit of flipping her hair forward so that it covered her breasts. Paul had no objection to this; in fact, he rather enjoyed the way her nipples peeked out through the curtains of hair. When she was properly relaxed with him, he might mention it. Then again, he might not – if she realised she was doing it, she might stop…
During this time, he restrained himself from touching her in an overtly sexual way, restricting himself to putting his arms around her, holding her hand, stroking her face, and, once, resting a hand briefly on her bottom. He was astonished at the thrill that gave him, even though she feigned not to notice it. For her part, Katie stopped insisting on sleeping on the far side of the bed, and indeed, they had woken up more than once cuddled together, with Paul’s arm around her.
And still Paul waited for the ideal opportunity to move on to greater intimacy. Until one ‘evening’, when the opportunity suddenly presented itself.
Katie was totally ignorant of the modern world, of course, but within her own narrow field of reference, she was intelligent, sharp and surprisingly witty. Paul told her a little about his world, excising the more violent, less desirable aspects, but mostly, once he’d assured himself that talking about her lost home wouldn’t overly distress her, he genuinely enjoyed listening to her stories of life on her family’s farm.
Over dinner one ‘evening’, she was telling him a funny story about her father and his brothers taking their bull to service a neighbour’s cows. Suddenly she stopped, a blush colouring her cheeks as she realised that she was treading dangerously close to the issue that had been lurking in the background all this time. She glanced nervously at Paul, who took her hand, and smiled. He leaned across the table and kissed her forehead.
Flustered, she pointed to his cup of wine. “May I try that?”
“Of course,” he replied, handing her the cup. Her hand shook as she tilted the cup to her mouth, and some of the wine spilled down her chin and splashed onto her breast. Paul laid his hand on hers as she made to wipe off the spillage; he smiled and shook his head.
“Let me…” he murmured.
Katie sat absolutely still, hardly daring to breathe, as Paul crouched beside her and licked the spilled wine from her breast. A drop trickled down onto her nipple, and she closed her eyes and let out an involuntary sigh as he took the nipple in his mouth, sucking off the wine.
He stood up, and held out his hand. Dazedly, she allowed him to lead her over to the bed, where they stood face to face, his arms around her, hands resting on her bottom. Tentatively, she slid her arms around his waist. Paul was acutely aware of her breasts pressing against his chest, and his penis stiffening against her belly. He pulled away slightly, raising a hand to stroke down her cheek, down the side of her neck and across her shoulder, and finally to caress a breast.
“That boy you were walking out with. Did he ever kiss you?”
She shook her head. “It would not be proper,” she explained. “Not until after the wedding.”
Paul nodded, then tilted her chin up, gazing into her eyes. “Where I come from,” he murmured, “it’s acceptable at any time…” He brushed his lips against hers, then increased the pressure slightly, teasing her lips apart with his tongue. She pulled back slightly, but he stroked her hair, smiling at her, then returning to her mouth. This time, he insinuated his tongue further in, exploring her mouth. Tentatively, she returned the gesture, flushing with pleasure at his murmured “good girl…” At length, he broke the kiss, moving away from her mouth to plant light kisses on her jaw and neck, then down to her collarbone. All the while, one hand cupped her breast, while the other caressed the silky-smooth skin of her bottom.
“I… I like that,” she whispered shyly.
“Yes. And – your hands… You’re touching where only a husband should touch and I know that you’re not my husband, but… it makes me feel – warm, inside…”
“Touching you makes me feel warm, too,” he said gently. “And not just warm…”
She understood. She glanced down at his erect penis, then back up at his face, panic in her eyes. He smiled at her. “Ignore it,” he said softly. “It’ll still be there when we need it. For the time being – ignore it.”
He moved suddenly, sweeping her up into his arms and laying her down on the bed. The first obstacle had been overcome, the time was right, and he was now going to show her the wonderful sensations that her body was capable of feeling.
Paul settled onto the bed beside her, ordering a backrest from the computer. He held his arm out; she moved over shyly to sit on his lap, and leaned back against his chest. He put his arm around her, allowing his thumb to gently caress a nipple, and gazed down over her shoulder, past her breasts, to the tangle of curly hair between her legs. “You really do have a lovely body,” he told her. “It’s a pity we’re naked already. Undressing is part of the fun. The first time I see a woman naked is a very important time for me. It’s kind of a declaration of trust. But since we have to skip that part…”
He moved her hair away, pushing it back behind her shoulders to bare both breasts. “That’s better. Now I can see you properly.”
She felt tense in his arms, and Paul could quite understand why. Their relationship was moving into unknown territory, and he had to win her confidence again. Gently, he started to massage her shoulders and neck, feeling the tension melting away under his fingers. She sighed contentedly, and leaned trustingly against him again; that was what he’d been waiting for. He cupped a breast in one hand, stroking the nipple again, while his other hand stroked downwards, to rest for a moment on her thigh.
“I’m going to show you something,” he murmured in her ear. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. But if anything I do makes you uncomfortable, just tell me to stop. Will you do that?”
Katie didn’t look at him; she just nodded silently, as she watched his hand move from her thigh.
Paul eased her legs apart, tucking his left knee under hers. His right hand explored the warmth of her most private area, and found the little nub of sensitive flesh hidden deep inside. Katie gasped slightly as his expert fingers moved across her clitoris; he planted light kisses on the side of her neck and played with her nipple. He was good at this, he knew. What had their gaolers called him? A caring and skilful lover –yes, indeed, and he had a long string of satisfied women to vouch for that, too. He was sure that he could overcome Katie’s puritanical upbringing and awaken her sexuality. Her body knew what it wanted: her nipples and clitoris had hardened under his fingers, and her natural lubrication had started to flow… He eased her off his lap and laid her down beside him, trailing kisses down across her shoulder onto her breast. Gently, he took a nipple between his teeth, flicking his tongue across its very tip, all the while keeping up a steady stroking of her clitoris.
Katie’s eyes were closed now, her face was flushed, and she was breathing harder. Suddenly, without warning, she cried out, and arched her back, thrusting her hips upwards so that his finger slipped down towards the slick wetness of her vagina. ‘No, later, later!’ he thought fiercely, fighting for his own control as he brought her to completion.
Katie shuddered, and collapsed in his arms, panting with the effort and force of orgasm. She hugged him, and buried her face in his chest, trembling in his arms with the aftershocks of her climax. So closely was she holding him, and so silent was she, that it was some minutes before he realised that she was quietly weeping her heart out.
After that first, earth-shattering orgasm, Katie was a little shy again, but it didn’t take long to arouse her curiosity about the male sexual response.
“I want to make you feel as good as you make me feel,” she declared, blushing furiously as Paul grinned at her and relaxed against the backrest, his hands clasped behind his head. She looked, as he obviously intended her to look, at his penis, which lay semi-erect across the top of his thigh.
She had seen it often since being brought into this prison cell, of course she had. She’d seen it flaccid and relaxed, and stiffened with desire. She’d seen how big it could get, and Paul knew that it frightened her a little to think that soon he would be putting it inside her. She reached out and stroked it with the tip of her finger.
“How odd!” she exclaimed. At his look of enquiry, she explained. “The skin is so soft, but underneath, it’s so hard, like a bone.” She ran her finger down its ridged underside, to the two sacs that nestled in the dark hair at its base. She squeezed gently, but with curiosity. She heard Paul suck in a sharp breath, and saw his penis leap and quiver, as if it had a mind of its own. Guiltily, in case she’d hurt him, she withdrew her hand.
“No, it’s OK. Good girl,” he said, nodding approvingly. He took her hand, and guided it back to his penis, clasping her long, cool fingers around the base of the erect shaft. “Stroke up and down – that’s it. Not too hard! Much better…” Her touch was hesitant and inexperienced, but it felt so good. Gods, it was a long time since he’d had a woman! Self-attention was all very well, but sometimes, the difference made simply by it being someone else’s hand was – all the difference in the world.
He reached up and took one of her nipples between his thumb and forefinger. His other hand stole down between his legs, and cupped his testicles, squeezing gently in rhythm with the strokes of her hand. “Oh yes,” he breathed, closing his eyes, “that feels so good… a little harder now...”
He could feel the pleasure mounting inside him. No need to hold back, not this time. It’d been so long… it wouldn’t take much to bring him off now… and there was no need to hold back…
On impulse, Katie bent her head and planted a light kiss on the tip of his penis. At the unexpected touch of her lips, Paul lost what self-control he still had – digging his fingers into the mattress, he reached his climax considerably earlier than he’d intended. He tensed, his pelvis thrusting upwards, as the warm, viscous, white fluid spurted out over Katie’s hand.
Paul slumped back onto the bed as the spasms of his orgasm died away. He reached for Katie, and as he pulled her down to lie beside him, she held up the hand over which his semen had spilled, and licked at it, delicately.
“Tastes funny,” she remarked.
Paul couldn’t help himself – he burst out laughing. In all the post-coital remarks he’d heard in his life, never before had he had the taste of his semen criticised. She looked offended, and stalked off to the bathroom to wash her hands.
“If you want to have sex with me, you’ve got to do it properly,” Katie said in mock severity. She giggled at his look of enquiry, and clarified. “You’ve got to take me to dinner, and to see a good movie.”
Paul nodded gravely. “You’ve been watching far too many rom-coms. But, if that’s what you want: dinner, film – drinks afterwards?.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “But you’ll have to choose. That’s what a man’s supposed to do.”
An indefinable expression came into Paul’s eyes. “If they want us to do this, they’re going to have to pay through the nose for it,” he murmured. Out loud, he addressed VACEC. “Champagne. Krug, 2125. Ready for after dinner tonight.”
Katie looked impressed. “Champagne? That’s so – grown up!”
He smiled, somewhat wryly: she really had been watching too many romantic comedies . The significance of the vintage he had specified had completely passed her by, but impressing her was not what he was trying to do. 2125 had been a superb vintage – the weather had been perfect for growing grapes and for the harvest, and the wines produced in that year were some of the best ever made. He wondered idly if their gaolers would remember that 2125 was the vintage he’d drunk with the Companion on the evening his life had changed… No matter. The wine he had just demanded would cost their captors a lot of effort and money. Well, that was just tough…
Dinner was fun. Paul ordered some wine to go with the meal – to his surprise, Katie had proved to have a reasonably good head for alcohol. At least, she was still more-or-less sober as they left the table and lounged on the big bed to watch the film Paul had ordered – a masterpiece of modern erotic cinema.
The catering buzzer sounded, and Paul crossed over to the serving hatch to press the acknowledgement button. The hatch slid open to reveal a plastic bag full of a pale golden liquid, sparkling with bubbles. He grimaced, and lifted it out.
“Champagne in a plastic bag… Philistines!” The last word was shouted to VACEC’s closest monitor, but accompanied by a wink to Katie, who giggled. She fetched two plastic cups from the water dispenser, and held them out as Paul carefully angled the pouring spout. Despite the lack of ‘pop’ and fizz, the champagne sparkled as expensively in the flimsy plastic cups as it would have done in the finest crystal glasses. Paul touched his cup to Katie’s with a smile.
She dropped her eyes shyly, and took a sip. Her eyes suddenly widened in surprise – she might have never tasted champagne before, but even she could tell that this was really very, very good.
They returned to the bed, and she nestled languidly against his chest, watching the remainder of the film and sipping the superb wine, as Paul’s free hand lay warmly against her inner thigh.
The champagne worked its centuries-old magic. Katie was relaxed, and slightly giggly, but still at a stage of sobriety at which she could tell him to stop. With one hand, Paul pushed her hair back so that he could brush his lips against her neck; the other hand cupped a bare breast. She closed her eyes, shivering slightly at the touch of his lips on the back of her neck. He slid his other hand down over her collarbone, down to her other breast. They felt warm, firm and smooth in his hands, the nipples hardening under his fingers. Something else was hardening too; he frowned slightly at his lack of self-control. The last thing he wanted to do was jump the gun…
He took one hand off her breast to stroke the soft skin of her belly. Slowly, he moved his hand lower, brushing aside the coarse pubic hair with the very tips of his fingers. She gasped slightly as his questing fingers found her clitoris, and twisted her head to look at him. He lowered his head, and touched his mouth to hers, parting her lips with his tongue as gently as he parted her lower lips with his fingers.
Almost subconsciously, she bent her head right back, searching for his mouth for another deep kiss. One hand rose to stroke the back of his head, the other to touch the breast that he was neglecting. He was sure of her reactions now, and stroked harder, moving the tip of his finger in long ovals, up and down, across her erect clitoris. She was breathing hard now, her eyes closed, and a flush of arousal showed on her face and across her breasts.
Paul moved to her side, planting light kisses on her breasts and belly, moving downwards. He had decades of experience in pleasing women, and he knew what she liked. He parted her legs, lightly running his tongue across her inner thigh – she drew in a sharp breath, and laid a hand on his head, steering him towards the very centre of her most intense feelings. As his tongue found her clitoris, she cried out in pleasure.
She was almost ready. In just a few minutes, she would hit her peak. Paul flicked his tongue across the highly sensitive nub again, feeling it swell and harden, listening to her small cries of pleasure. He loved this time, feeling her reaching her climax – every time, it had been better and better for her.
The moment he was waiting for, had been preparing her for, arrived. The tone of her moans changed, becoming lower, more guttural; the texture of her juices changed as they flowed more freely, and she started to move her hips in unconscious imitation of the act of penetration.
He pushed himself up, and kissed her on the mouth. As if the taste of herself on his lips and tongue were the catalyst, she changed position too, hooking one leg over his.
With great care, Paul guided his rigid penis to her warm, slippery vagina – and pushed. He encountered the expected barrier, and pushed harder, hoping that he wouldn’t hurt her as the thin membrane tore and allowed him through. But his timing was just right – she was far too preoccupied with her orgasm to concern herself with the small hurt of having her hymen breached.
A few short, hard thrusts, and it was over.
Katie breathed out a long, ragged sigh of contentment after that explosive orgasm, and opened her eyes languorously to smile up at Paul.
“That was wonderful,” she murmured, stroking his face. Suddenly, her eyes widened in surprise as she realised that he was no longer lying beside her, but on top of her. “Did you…?” Her voice trailed off as he nodded. “May I see?”
Paul pushed himself up on his hands, easing his upper body away from her. She craned her neck, looking towards where their bodies joined, the blonde hair and the dark tangled together, and his penis buried deep inside her.
She lay back down, gazing up at him, her smile gone. Paul kissed away a little tear that trickled down the side of her nose. “That’s my brave girl,” he said, as he eased himself up and away from her. As he withdrew, a little blood trickled out from her, staining the tough fabric that covered the bed. She rolled onto her side, and gazed ruefully at the stain.
“They’ll gas us again to clean that off,” she remarked.
Paul laid a hand on hers. “Katie,” he said softly, “forget about the blood. It’s nothing. Look at me.”
She seemed a little reluctant, and he rather imagined that he knew why. For the first time in her short life, she’d given herself over, totally and utterly, to another person, to sensations that had absorbed her entire attention – absorbed her to the extent that she had barely noticed the culmination of the most intimate act that a man and a woman could experience together: a virgin’s first penetration.
He sat up, and she leaned against his chest, turning her head to look at him. There were no more tears now, just a faint blush colouring her cheeks, and a tremulous little smile as he bent his head to hers and their mouths met in a kiss.
Finally, Paul pulled away. “Let’s have a shower,” he suggested.
They stood together under the gush of warm water, bodies slippery with shower gel. Katie giggled as Paul massaged the gel into a lather over her breasts and belly, but shied away as he reached between her legs.
“A bit sore?” he asked sympathetically.
She nodded. “How long will that last?” she asked.
“A day or two. Not long.”
“Good.” Katie grinned up at him. “I don’t want to wait too long before we can do that again!”
Once the first time was over, they couldn’t get enough of each other. Uncaring of the surveillance cameras, consumed by overwhelming sexual desire, they spent hours exploring each other’s bodies, coupling frequently and enthusiastically, all thoughts of coercion and the requirement of pregnancy forgotten in their urgent, mutual lust. Only very occasionally did either of them give a thought to their gaolers.
Katie was stretched out on one of the couches in the solarium, drinking wine and enjoying a sensual, full-length massage as Paul applied oil to her back. She wriggled with pleasure as an oily hand slid across her buttocks and down between her legs.
After an explosively satisfying orgasm, she rolled over and gazed up at him.
“Does it bother you, knowing that we’re being watched all the time?” she asked.
Paul shook his head. “Not really. You?”
Katie looked thoughtful. “No,” she said at last. “I thought it would, but it doesn’t. I suppose it’s because I never knew that such things were possible before I came here.” She propped herself up on one elbow and gazed up at him with a look in her eyes that he’d never seen before – a glint of lascivious mischief. “Shall we give them something worth watching?”
A slow smile spread across Paul’s face. “What do you have in mind?”
“Bring the wine,” she said.
She took his hand and led him over to the bed, ordering the computer to reconfigure it into a shoulder-height, U-shaped wall. “Don’t do anything,” she murmured. “I want to do it all.”
Katie put her hands on his shoulders, pushing him against the padded wall. He rested his elbows on the top of the wall, and relaxed, waiting. She kissed him, on the mouth at first, then on the side of his neck. She reached for a cup of wine, dribbling a little onto his chest. She bent her head, planting light kisses on his nipples, flicking her tongue over them to lick off the wine. Paul shivered with pleasurable anticipation as she moved lower, pouring more wine over him and brushing her lips across his breastbone and abdomen. Finally, she knelt in front of him, lifting a hand to cup his testicles in her palm.
Paul felt a surge of arousal sweep through him, but remained still as Katie anointed his stiff penis with wine, then took the tip between her lips. She tongued the long, thick shaft as it swelled even more, lengthening and hardening, savouring its slightly salty taste mixed with the wine. She glanced up at him – he gave her a quick smile, then closed his eyes, breathing hard.
He felt her tongue moving across the head of his penis, exploring the ridge and the little slit at the very tip. Her hand applied gentle pressure to his testicles, one long finger stroking the smooth skin behind them. Warmth spread through his body, radiating out from his groin, as his excitement mounted to almost unbearable heights; he was breathing harder now, moaning softly, biting his lip, until –
– with a gasp, and with no warning, he hit his peak, spurting into her mouth. She held him, taking as much of his penis into her mouth as she could, as his climax peaked and finished.
Paul sagged against the wall, panting slightly. “Oh gods, that was good,” he murmured, opening his eyes and accepting the cup of wine she offered him. She took a sip from her own cup, swished it around her mouth, and swallowed, looking at him mischievously.
“Did you like it?”
“Like it? It was fantastic! I’d ask where you learned to suck like that, if I didn’t already know.” He kissed her, tasting semen and wine in her mouth.
Eventually, she pulled away. “Lie down,” she commanded.
Paul settled himself comfortably, wondering what else she had in mind. He didn’t have to wonder for long.
Katie straddled him, and took his penis, already stiffening again, in her hand, stroking its head across her clitoris. Paul bit his lip – he knew what she was doing. A little while ago, they’d watched an erotic film in which one of the characters had done exactly this. He remembered making some remark about how much it had turned him on…
She shifted her position slightly, slowly sinking down and impaling herself on his erection. She closed her eyes, and reached between her legs, caressing the point at which their bodies joined. Paul lay still, just watching her as she started to massage her clitoris and nipples, swaying slightly back and forth as she pleasured herself. He was enchanted at the sight, and at the sensations that the rhythmic tightening and relaxing of her vaginal muscles produced in him. He wanted to reach up and take her other nipple between his fingers, rolling and pinching it gently in the way that she loved, but he restrained himself. She was totally lost in a world of sensual pleasure of her own making.
Her breath started to come in short, hard gasps. Paul began to thrust upwards, very gently at first, so as not to disturb her concentration, but she was obviously beyond noticing or caring. He thrust harder. She arched her back, seeming to make an offering of her breasts to their unseen audience, and Paul marvelled once more at the transformation of the shy, ignorant virgin into this innocent wanton. He grasped her hips, and thrust harder as she reached her peak, his own release coinciding with hers.
Still straddling him, and with his rapidly softening penis still inside her, she slumped forward onto his chest, and took his face between her hands.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“What for? You did it all. I was just lying there.”
Paul watched Katie with concern as she bolted for the bathroom, to emerge again a few minutes later looking pale and shaken. She gave him a wan little smile as she rejoined him on the sofa, sipping from a cup of water.
“Sorry,” she apologised.
“Katie,” Paul said softly, “were you sick again?”
She nodded. Paul bit his lip, and laid a hand on her belly. “That’s three times, now,” he said. “We haven’t eaten or drunk anything out of the ordinary, and you’re certainly not likely to catch a bug in here. As much as I hate to say this – I think you need to see the doctor.”
She nodded again. “Do you think I might… might be pregnant?” she asked, her eyes wide and slightly frightened.
“I don’t know, but it’s on the cards, isn’t it? I wish I knew how long it’s been since your last period. Seems like an awfully long time, but as they keep gassing us, it’s impossible to tell.”
Paul raised his voice and called to their gaolers. “Hey, you! Katie needs to see the doctor!”
“Please wait. We’ll alert him.”
A short while later, the voice spoke again. “Paul, go into the solarium and lie down.”
He knew better than to disobey – despite their assurances that Katie was in no danger from them, Paul had seen what they were capable of doing, even to her, if he disobeyed an order. As he settled himself on the couch, and the restraints rose from the sides to secure him, he gave her an encouraging smile. She smiled tremulously in return, and when ordered to do so, returned to the bed, out of sight of the solarium.
The lights went out with shocking suddenness, and Paul experienced a momentary frisson of fear, remembering what had happened the last time he’d been plunged into such total darkness in the solarium… but not this time, surely. Not this time…
Loud white noise hissed from the speakers, masking any sound of how they might be removing Katie from the prison. Of course , he thought, they wouldn’t be risking gas. Not if she might be pregnant. But once she’s out, they’ll probably use it on me…
But after a short while, although the white noise stopped, the lights remained off, the restraints remained in place, and there was still no gas. “Hey!” he shouted. “Remember me?”
There was no reply.
Paul lay shackled in the pitch blackness for hours, occasionally trying to attract the attention of the watchers, but for all the response he got, he might as well not have existed. For a while, he entertained the hideous notion that they might have decided to simply leave him here in the dark to die, but then considered that they would need to make sure Katie was actually pregnant before getting rid of the only hybrid father in existence. Pessimism pointed out that they’d had plenty of opportunity to collect his sperm, optimism countered with the none-too-palatable fact that they were in the hands of a bunch of sadistic voyeurs who liked to watch their captives fucking far too much to resort to artificial insemination.
He must have dozed… the lights were back on again and the restraints were retracting. As soon as he was free, he swung off the bed and hurried into the sleeping area. Katie was sitting on the bed, but jumped to her feet as she heard him approach. She ran straight into his arms, and pressed her face against his shoulder.
Paul held her for a moment, then eased away from her, at arms’-length, resting his hands lightly on her shoulders. He gazed searchingly into her eyes for several long seconds, and lifted a hand to run his fingers over her face, neck and breast.
At length, he drew a deep breath and nodded to himself, as if an unspoken question had been answered.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
She shook her head, and allowed him to lead her to the table.
As he ordered food and wine from VACEC, she answered his questions: she’d sat on the bed in total darkness for several minutes after leaving him in the solarium. Deafened by the white noise, she’d had no warning that anyone else was in the room until someone had taken her arm. Terrified, she’d allowed herself to be lifted onto a trolley, strapped down and blindfolded, before being taken somewhere else and subjected to an intimate, and prolonged, medical examination.
She stopped, her pale face flushed a dull crimson. Paul squeezed her hand encouragingly, and poured some more wine.
“And then they said – I’m going to have a baby.”
Paul’s heart sank. This was the worst possible news. It seemed incredible that, in all the time they’d been together, she had never asked the question “Why do they want you to be the father?” but she hadn’t. He had, though. In the long hours while she slept and he worked out in the gym, or watched television, or talked with VACEC, he’d asked himself that question over and over and had come up with only one answer: they wanted a baby with his altered genetic structure. One with, perhaps, a predisposition to mental control. In fact, a human, undetectable Mysteron…
Paul had always thought that he’d been incredibly lucky that neither of his children by Dianne had inherited his unique physiology. Ever since then, though, he’d been extremely careful to ensure that there would be no more children – he refused to push his luck. In addition, the wrench of cutting himself off from his first family had been so painful that he would not put himself through that agony again.
Why did their captors think that Katie would have a half-Mysteron baby where Dianne had not? Paul cast his mind back to the barely-remembered nightmares that followed his capture. Some of his dreams had been extraordinarily erotic – could they have been occasioned by genetic experimentation on his sperm?
Beaten and powerless, the Mysteron Complex lay dormant. Its pulsing bio-computers were silent… but not absolutely stilled. A tiny spark of malevolent life remained deep down in the organic circuitry. It strove to maintain its integrity, plundering nearby power sources as the rest of the system corrupted around it. Every erg it absorbed into itself from the failing system strengthened it a little more, enabling it to look further afield for the energy it needed.
With the increase in energy, memory started to return, and with it, bitterness. Had Captain Black survived Spectrum’s victory, he would have been the ideal vehicle and conduit, channelling unlimited energy from Earth into the Mysteron Complex as once he had channelled energy from Mars to Earth. Another conduit was necessary – one that would not be so easily discovered, tracked and defeated. A conduit tailor-made for the Complex’s requirements. But killing and reconstructing across interplanetary distances without the Conduit was beyond what the Complex was now able to do. It would have to be subtle, to enlist help…
Not all humans had celebrated Spectrum’s victory over the alien enemy. Throughout history, there have always been those who seem hell-bent on destroying their own kind. Call them psychopaths, visionaries, terrorists – one thing they all have in common is their disregard for anyone’s interests and feelings except their own. There had been, at one time, a group of humans who devoted themselves to furthering the Mysterons’ aims on Earth. They had mostly been killed or rounded up by Spectrum in the final stages of the War, but a handful remained free: rich, powerful, hiding their sociopathic tendencies behind the more socially acceptable ruthlessness required by big business.
Every little bit of power the Complex accumulated was carefully hoarded until they had enough to send a beam – weak and barely directed at all towards where it knew its followers had been. Once contact was made, it concentrated its strength and forged a mental link – not powerful enough to control, but able to hint at what it wanted, and with the help of its contact, an ambitious and ruthless political hopeful by name of Conor Ryan, began to formulate a plan…
There was one person on Earth who could bring the Conduit into existence, and with it, the resurgence of the Mysterons. In an enormous irony, the person who held the key to the Mysterons’ continued survival was the very person who had dedicated his life to their destruction – Paul Metcalfe. Alone in all the billions of people on Earth, he carried the necessary genetic adjustment which could be linked to someone of the necessary genetic disposition.
The Complex knew that such a person existed. In the last few moments of the Earth forces’ attack, it had hurled everything it had at the little vessel that held the hated Colonel Scarlet – everything except one last-resort retrometabolic beam. Untargeted, unaimed – ‘Earth’ was the best the Complex could manage before the EM fields shut it down.
The orbits and rotations of Mars and Earth meant that the Valles Marineris and Canada were facing each other. The beam, now without the support of the Mysteron computer intelligence that directed its constructs, hit a young man who had, just seconds earlier, fallen from a tall tree near a small village in Manitoba. He opened his eyes to find himself flat on the ground under the tree, and apparently uninjured. He staggered to his feet and dusted himself off, totally unaware that he should have been dead, and indeed not even noticing the broken body that lay a couple of hundred metres down the gully beside the tree, covered by a small landslide. The body was swept away with the floods of melting snow when Spring came, but by then it was unidentifiable anyway. The man, a member of a small community that had broken away from its Amish roots, unaware that he was the last of the Mysteron constructs, went on to marry, and have children, all of whom were long-lived and healthy.
Years of research identified a female descendant of this man, whose genetic makeup was a perfect match for the Mysteron alteration that Paul Metcalfe carried: a female baby, born into an isolated farming community in Manitoba, Canada. An agent was planted in the community with a watching brief.
The Network watched and waited, and in the meantime started to build a secure holding facility on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A strategy was formulated: once captured, the prisoner had to be kept healthy and co-operative, but utterly dominated. To that end, the old information gathered by the Network agents who had infiltrated Spectrum was retrieved and studied in minute detail. Every contingency was planned for: the facility had to hold, in total secrecy and isolation, a born survivor, a man who had evaded every security force and bounty-hunter for the last forty years.
At last, he was captured, and imprisoned together with his future mate. The Mysterons’ final revenge was at hand…
Katie’s morning sickness didn’t last long, fortunately, and with the cessation of nausea came the return of desire. One day, Paul noticed her looking at him over the breakfast table, with a slightly embarrassed, slightly pleading, look in her eyes.
“What’s up?” he asked.
She blushed, and looked down at her plate. Paul was surprised: it had been ages since she had been shy with him. When she spoke, her voice was tiny.
“Paul, do you… er… do you still… want me?”
“Want you? Of course I do! How could I not?”
“We haven’t… you know… been together, since we found out I’m pregnant.”
Paul could have kicked himself. He’d been so concerned with his suspicions about the baby that he’d neglected Katie’s feelings. “I didn’t want to force myself on you while you weren’t feeling well,” he temporised.
She smiled with relief. “VACEC says that it’s perfectly safe to carry on having sex while I’m pregnant,” she said. “We’ll just have to do it a bit differently, that’s all.”
The research was fun. As Katie expanded, their sex-life became necessarily rather more circumspect, but with a little imagination, and some new configurations of the bed, they were still able to enjoy themselves and each other.
Paul had deliberatively avoided fathering any more children on his various girlfriends over the years; thus, he had no more experience of pregnancy than any other man. In this, if in nothing else, Katie was far more knowledgeable than he.
“My mother is one of the most experienced midwives in our district,” Katie explained one day. “As soon as I was old enough, she used to take me with her, to teach me. I’ve even delivered a baby by myself!” She laughed, and stroked Paul’s cheek. “Please don’t worry, Paul. This baby is healthy, and so am I.”
Paul kissed her, and hid his misgivings from her, but he still feared the outcome of this pregnancy.
There were no more gassings. Paul assumed, rightly, that their gaolers were not going to risk the health of the baby so many people had worked so hard, and spent so much money, to achieve. Therefore, there was at last a semi-reliable method of judging the passing of time.
From time to time, Katie was removed from the prison for medical examinations. As far as she and Paul could tell, these examinations were monthly, and although, as she reported to Paul, she was kept blindfolded for the whole time she was away, the medical staff kept her informed of her progress.
“They say the baby could be here any time now,” she said, after returning from her latest absence.
Paul nodded. Judging by the size of her, ‘any minute’ would be more accurate. He helped her to sit and rest her back against his chest; he stroked her cheek with one hand, and laid the other gently on her warm, firm, bulging belly. She tilted her head back against his shoulder and closed her eyes – and he concentrated… but there was nothing. No contact, no malevolent psychic murmur.
Was he wrong? Could the baby be a normal human being? No. That made no sense. If the baby was normal, none of this made any sense.
He kissed the side of her neck, and she giggled softly. As it so often had, affection and closeness turned into desire: her lips met his; he gently repositioned her, and slid his long, thick cock into her willing body…
A muffled exclamation woke Paul from a light, post-coital doze. Katie was sitting up beside him, her hand on her belly and an expression of surprise on her face.
“I think it’s coming…” she whispered, her eyes wide.
Paul felt his heart skip a beat. This was it, the culmination of their long imprisonment together. He held her close, pressing his lips against her forehead, unable to trust himself to speak.
They sat together in silence for what seemed like an age. At last, Katie caught her breath, and murmured: “Another one…”
This time, VACEC spoke up. “Paul, go into the solarium and lie down.”
Paul didn’t move at first, but finally, and slowly, stood up. Katie stood with him, and accompanied him into the small room that had acted as a prison-within-a-prison so many times. He sat on one of the couches.
“When the baby’s born, they’ll let me come back,” Katie said softly, as he stretched out at full length and allowed the restraints to secure his arms, legs and torso. She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth, her heavy breasts pressing against his chest. At another peremptory command from VACEC, she moved away. The solarium door slid closed behind her.
It was pitch-dark in the large living area, and Katie hadn’t dared move from the bed. Then, with a suddenness that made her jump, the section of the bed on which she was sitting began to descend. Before she could scramble to her feet, it was already down far enough for the rest of the bed to be well above her head and out of reach.
After a couple of minutes, the bed stopped descending, and a pair of sliding doors opened in front of her. Light flooded into the dark, vertical tunnel down which the bed had carried her, dazzling her.
A voice spoke – not VACEC, but a voice she’d never heard before: “Come out.”
Katie shrank back in fear. Already, she desperately missed Paul and his gentle strength.
She stepped off the bed, shielding her eyes against the bright light. The doors closed behind her, and she trembled, suddenly feeling the totality of the loss of her protector. Someone approached out of the light, and once again, as she hadn’t done for so long, she attempted to hide her nakedness with hands and hair.
The approaching figure stopped, and spoke.
“Look at me, and remember.”
The man was old, and grotesquely fat. His voice, cracked with advanced age, held the remains of a soft Irish lilt that was totally at odds with his repulsive appearance and miasma of evil; his wet, full lips and cold, round eyes gave him a fishlike appearance that revolted her, but he placed a hand under her chin and she was unable to look away.
“Look at me,” he repeated.
Fearfully, she met his eyes. His hypnotic gaze held hers, and she felt herself relax. All her fears drained away in the presence of her masters, and she straightened up, a cold indifference replacing the terror in her eyes.
She glanced, just once, at the heavy, sealed doors behind her, then looked back at her liberator.
“You were right,” she said. “He cannot detect one of his own kind.”
She placed a protective hand on her swollen belly, as she was led out to nurture the Conduit, the future of the Mysterons on Earth, in peace.
AUTHOR’S NOTES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
SvenCorp, and the notion that Paul’s descendants now run what was the Svenson family firm, are borrowed from Marion Woods’s stories, particularly “The Deserts of Vast Eternity”
The Network was created by Chris Bishop, and appear in her stories “Spectrum is White” and “Twilight of the Gods”
The concept of Companions is borrowed from “Firefly”, the TV series created by Joss Whedon.
The Impulse engines mentioned in the first section of backstory are from “Star Trek”.
Information on the Amish, including the rather surprising (to me) fact that “Katie” is a common Amish name, was taken from http://www.800padutch.com/amishpeople.shtml. The sect to which Katie belongs is not actually Amish, which is why I have introduced a few differences between Katie’s people and the Amish. No disrespect is intended.
‘Julien Pontoin’ is the name of an other-dimensional ‘Captain Scarlet’, from ‘Synchronicity’ by Marion Woods
Many thanks to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for creating the Captain Scarlet universe in the first place. They are by no means responsible for the use that I have made of it. Usually, I’m much more gentle than this.
I am making no profit from the use of copyrighted characters from “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”. I have no idea who currently owns the characters and concepts – I just know it’s not me. Dammit.