By Siobhan Zettler
Time was running short, and so was Magenta’s temper.
His wrists hurt, where the rope was tied too tightly, keeping his hands fixed securely behind his back and the blood from flowing properly into his fingers and back out again. What had started as an annoying tingle had spread like plague to become a swollen ache in every knuckle and nail.
Still, that discomfort was bothering him far less than the haranguing monologue out of Ochre.
Ochre was fuming. Ochre was furious and Ochre was frustrated as hell and voicing it in a non-stop, pacing diatribe as he circuited around the little locked chamber with his hands likewise trussed up at the small of his own back. The pacing was a pointless to-and-fro that stopped every three circuits so that Ochre could stare at the timer on the explosive device locked there in the little room with them.
“– twenty-two friggin’ minutes!” Ochre cursed, taking another kick at the black-anodized casing of the bomb. “And we can’t even get the damn lid off!”
Magenta was frustrated too. They had their standard-issue tool kits with them, tucked up securely in the zippered pockets on the insides of their coloured tunics. They even knew – in theory, anyway – how to disarm the thing. But they just couldn’t get at those tool kits right now. Their hands had been tied up that tightly and behind their backs deliberately. Maybe, maybe given enough time and effort, they could have worked at the knots and gotten themselves free in time to do something constructive with the tools. But they’d been stupid (it was the only explanation) and they’d been caught and they’d been that efficiently, effectively tied up and left there by a couple of Mysteron agents who’d also quite arrogantly dared them to do something about the explosive device before the deadline. The Mysterons had been mocking them, as they’d also removed and departed with their radio caps, because those Mysterons had known that they just wouldn’t have the time to do both the knots and the tools. The Mysterons’ departure had been almost ten minutes ago, and Magenta had yet to hear Ochre pause and draw in breath.
“– why are we so stupid? How did this happen? We will never live this down – never, ever hear the end of it from Scarlet if and when he ever shows up – they haven’t heard from us for a bit now and they’ll start looking if they can’t raise an answer out of us once they do manage to get it through their thick heads that we’re in trouble and –”
“– you know, if we only had a goddamn pocket knife, we could do something about this ourselves and – ”
Magenta finally pushed off from the wall he’d been leaning against, and put himself into Ochre’s pace circuit, planting his feet there firmly and waiting for Ochre to come at him nose-to-nose. He knew what Ochre’s problem was; Ochre was rightfully getting blind scared that there wasn’t a way out of this one on their limited time-schedule, and reckoning that even if Scarlet and Blue did figure the both of them for In-It-Real-Deep-This-Time, they would figure it out Far-Too-Late. That black-anodized casing concealed plastic explosives along with an armed and counting detonator. And of the explosives – well, there was more than enough of the stuff to entirely demolish the whole of the city block that included not just the basement of the building where they’d been ambushed and trapped, but also to completely destroy the posh hotel across the street – where a few busloads of politically significant delegates were attending what was supposed to be a hush-hush conference.
Hush-Hush until two hours ago, when the Mysterons had announced one of their do-or-die threats with a tight deadline. A squeaking tight deadline and aimed at a target in a place absolutely impossible to do anything like even begin to evacuate, even when they knew just what the target was. Because those sorts of Mysteron threats were easy to track down. The theft of the device had already been reported to the New York City Police, and that information had proliferated throughout the global security nets like lightning.
Damn downtown Manhattan, and at rush hour, too. He hated Manhattan! Belonged to Crazy Tony and his mob – under other circumstances Magenta might not have lost much sleep if someone had wanted to blow the whole of the Island up…
As it was, however, the very best that Spectrum could hope for was to find the bomb before the allotted time ran out.
Which he and Ochre had done, very nicely, thank you. Except that the Mysterons had seen them coming and had jumped them, and now they both had lousy splitting headaches to go along with the uncomfortably tight rope-work. Dammit anyway, they’d been in a hurry and the search was only supposed to have been a cursory one –
Magenta cleared his throat loudly as Ochre glared at the sudden obstacle in his path. “Speaking of knives…” he began slowly.
“We weren’t speaking of knives, we were speaking of bombs! The sort that our gonna blow our butts right out from under us and clear back to Cloudbase so that Colonel White can take a strip out of whatever’s left!”
No kidding. Dratted bomb was big enough to friggin’ sit on. He tried again – Ochre wasn’t usually this slow on the uptake. “Speaking of knives,” he repeated, very carefully, enunciating each syllable clearly. “We –”
“We don’t have one!” We have –”
“Can it up, Rich!” Magenta hooked one of Ochre’s legs out from under him, shouldering his colleague onto the top of the device, dropping his ass square down on the thing, a move that sufficed to interrupt the garrulous complaints long enough for him to get a word in edgewise. ‘There’s a way out of this thing!”
Ochre rolled his eyes ceilingward. “There’s always a way out! That’s the way they play! But if Scarlet and Blue–”
Magenta ground his teeth. Ochre really did think it was out of their hands now. Ochre was going to be plenty pissed off.
“We don’t need Scarlet and Blue.”
“I’ve got a knife dammit, Rich! Pay attention!”
That shut Ochre up. He’d known that it would.
Ochre stared at him, as if he’d just said something in an incomprehensible foreign language. “You do not!” Ochre objected, outright denying the very possibility, as if he’d forgotten, just for that instant, that there was a bomb under his butt.
“How much do you want to bet?”
“Next month’s paycheque!” Ochre took him up on it. “Go ahead, smart-ass, you just go ahead and show me this imaginary knife.”
Got ‘im. Damn, he really doesn’t believe it. Ochre was going to be more than plenty peeved with him when he found out he’d just cost himself a month’s pay, because Ochre always coughed up.
With deliberate slowness, Magenta put his foot up onto the top of the bomb casing beside Ochre’s hip. “In the boot,” he said. “Right behind the zipper.”
Doubt blossomed. God, what a sight. Ochre staring at him with a sudden, serious doubt in his eyes. “We – ” Ochre stated very loudly, as if volume alone could make up for the loss of confidence, “– are Not Allowed to Carry Knives in Our Boots!”
“There are a lot of things that We Are Not Allowed To Do. Since when have We Cared?”
“You can’t get a knife past the scanners!” Ochre protested, falling back on his faith in the state-of-the-art security devices that Spectrum employed all over Cloudbase. “If we could carry knives in our boots, Pat, I’d have one!”
“You are wasting our time. Unzip the damn boot, would you please?”
He received one of those looks. “You know, I really could learn not to like you again. Real fast.”
It was awkward, but finally Ochre did turn and manage to get a grip on the zipper. Ochre’s hands were in no better shape than his, all blue at the fingertips and painfully stiff. Magenta very carefully manoeuvred the boot, pulling that zipper downwards.
Ochre turned back, glancing over his shoulder to check for the knife, evincing distaste – no, not distaste, but out and out disgust at the notion of having to remove anything that had resided within that boot for some indefinite period. “Start talking – you tell me all about this – the whole freaking story. Don’t think you’re gonna see a penny until!”
“Worried now?” Silly satisfaction filled Magenta’s soul. It was tough – really and truly tough to be one up on Ochre. “Custom. One-off. I have the connections. Street stuff – and you know that anything can be had for a price. Stiletto. Carbon-fibre handle and a razor thin tang and blade. Carbon reads like bone on the scanners and the blade’s narrow enough to hide behind the zipper.”
It was the absolute truth. Not many people got that out of him, and he only told Ochre now because Ochre was about to find out anyway. And Ochre was, once the thing was out and slashing through the over-tight bindings, as peeved with him as Magenta had figured he would be.
“Oughta slash your wrists, that’s what I oughta do.” Ochre muttered under his breath, and came close to doing just that, because it was a tricky job, sawing blind as they were, back to back and damned if that blade didn’t have a razor sharp edge. “What’re you gonna do with my paycheque anyway?”
“Pittance that it is, probably not much.” But he’d already decided. Christmas was coming.
“Can’t argue with that.”
The rope finally came loose and the pins and needles began, rather painfully, starting with the fingertips again. Magenta sucked air through his teeth and gave his hands a shake to restore the circulation. He took the knife and got to work on Ochre’s ropes, ignoring the blood from the couple of nicks that Ochre had not actually meant to put into his arm. He’d have to blame those on the metallic edge of the black-anodized casing, once they finally got to taking the lid off that bomb – otherwise Fawn would be Asking Questions, and not long after that Ochre wouldn’t be the only one to know.
None of them had ever found a way around the infamous Australian Inquisition.
“Make a deal with ya?” he offered, quite magnanimously, he thought, as he considered that possibility.
“Yeah. Right.” Ochre was severely sceptical. Nose still very much out of joint. But he agreed to it absently, pulling out his tool kit and no doubt figuring that anything was better than having to be rescued by Scarlet and Blue.
“Keep it quiet and I’ll buy you one for Christmas.”
A second’s distraction. Contemplation of ownership. And of the problems if such ownership was ever disclosed. Possession of unauthorized weapons was in direct violation of a half a dozen regs that Magenta could recall right off the top of his head. And if he knew that many, then Ochre surely knew a dozen more than that again. Ochre was thinking, it was clear, that the offer was doubtless another ploy to get him into more trouble.
“Ho, ho, ho.” A very sarcastic bite to that response. Ochre would believe it when he saw it. And not until.
Sharp edge to Ochre, that was true too.
But, Magenta reflected, he rather liked him that way…