He was dead!
In a frozen, frantic, second he took it all in. His own face reflected in Kasabian’s mirror sunglasses. (How was that his face? He’d never seen it before.) The pistol in Kasabian’s hand. (Who was Kasabian? Why had he shot him?) The realisation he was a second from death. (Who was he?) His lifeless fingers falling away from the pistol in it’s shoulder holster (Why did he have a pistol? Human life is sacrosanct, he could never kill someone.) The deck of the boat rising to meet him as his body fell limp.
A frenzy of information assailed his mind while a mania of questions threatened his sanity.
He was in a car.
He threw the wheel over, brakes locking, bumped up the pavement and slid to a stop. There was a long and frightening horn blast as a lorry slewed around him.
What? What? What?
He looked around frantically. In a car. Where was Kasabian? Where was he? He was on the pavement of a dual carriageway, not on a boat deck. He looked down, his suit was unmarked. He patted himself, not trusting his eyes, no bullet wounds. What?
He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm the mind-numbing panic.
First things first. Not dead. That was good.
Try to be logical.
OK. Not dead. Still good. In an old fashioned sports car. Could be worse. He adjusted the rear view mirror and looked at himself. The same face he’d seen reflected in Kasabian’s sunglasses. A white, thirty something man. Clean shaven, slicked, black hair, blue eyes, ruggedly handsome. It was consistent, but still not his face. Who was he? He couldn’t even remember his own name, or one single fact before dying. Oh no. Dying. Dying! He felt the rise of panic. Stop it! Work it out!
He did a quick search of his pockets. In the right hand suit jacket inside pocket he found a long slim wallet. He snatched it out and opened it. A driver’s licence! Bingo! He looked at the face on the card, it was the one in the mirror, then the name. Charles Whyte.
He was Charles Whyte. Charles. Charlie. Char. Whytey. He said them all a few times, testing for any sort of response from his memory. Nothing. A stranger’s face with a stranger’s name.
He shuffled in his seat and felt in his trouser pockets. A few pound coins. He patted down his suit, only then noticing the bulge under his arm. He was so accustomed to it he hadn’t even noticed it. As his hand struck it he became suddenly, horribly, aware of it. Fearing, but knowing, what he was going to find, he pulled his jacket open. The butt of a pistol met his gaze, projecting temptingly from a shoulder holster.
Why? Why did he have a gun? To kill a human would be… his thoughts dissolved into incomprehensible panic. He started again. He couldn’t… his thoughts skittered away from him… do *that thing*. It was literally unthinkable. So why did he have a gun?
He gingerly took it from it’s holster, opened the glove box and placed the gun inside. He saw some papers so removed them. More clues?
There was a paper map (really? A paper map?) and a newspaper cutting (from a physical newspaper! What?) He read the cutting. “WORLD HELD TO RANSOM! MADMAN THREATENS TO NUKE!”
Was this a joke?
The rest of the article implied, in lurid tabloid hyperbole, that a nuclear warhead had been stolen and it was only a matter of time before someone demanded something of someone else. What they lacked in fact they made up for in speculation. He wanted to screw it up and throw it away, but the last sentence grabbed his attention. The police were looking for any information regarding the theft, particularly as regards to a person or group known only as Kasabian.
He slid the paper clip off the cutting and unfolded the map to which it was attached. It was a large scale, tourist looking, map of London. The first thing that caught his eye was a circle around a road next to the Thames with “Nero, 13.30, 21.08.21” written neatly next to it. The two items had to be connected. Was Nero Kasabian’s alias? Was Kasabian meeting Nero? To exchange the nuke? Were people still called Nero? Well, it was happening at 1.30pm on the 21st. With a feeling of inevitability he looked at his watch. 09.35, 21st of August. Of course it was.
He checked the rest of the car, then got out and opened the boot, but all he found was a spare wheel, no further clues.
He was out of options really. He had no memory of who he was, no explanation for anything that had happened so far, and nobody he could ask. There was only one person who could possibly give him any answers and they had already killed him once.
He was feeling a bit calmer now. He wasn’t in immediate danger. He couldn’t begin to answer any of the questions looping around in his head, but he was accepting that for the time being. And he was taking the only possible action in the circumstances. He adjusted his rear view mirror, started the car, put on his indicator and pulled out. London it is.
He took a slip road onto the M4 at Guilford, following the signs for London. He had the map open on the passenger seat but realised he hadn’t had to check it. He hadn’t wondered where he was starting from, or how to get where he was going. He just knew. Was this a regular drive for him? Another question to add to the list.
He drove into the heart of the city keeping to the speed limits. He was painfully aware he had a pistol in his glove compartment and didn’t want to attract any attention. He drove around the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace at a steady 30mph, then carried on past Tower Bridge until he came to the street circled on the map; St Katherine’s Way. As he drove along it he saw a marina of luxury yachts. His subconscious must have already made the connection because he wasn’t at all surprised to see the biggest yacht was called Nero. Was that the boat he’d been shot on? It was too absurd to say “died upon”, he had died, he was sure of it, but he was here, and he was sure of that, the two couldn’t both be true. He checked his watch, 10.55, then drove around the block and parked up out of sight.
He was going to have to get very close to the Nero, possibly board it, to spy on Kasabian. Without getting seen and killed. That was going to be the trick. He thought about the gun in the glove compartment. He was repulsed by it, by it’s function. But on some subconscious level he was drawn to it. He wanted to leave it in the glove compartment, or destroy it, preferably, but at some level he needed to wear it. He knew he couldn’t …foggy thoughts… use it, but just holding it might deter others from trying to kill him. He was rationalising the compulsion to take the gun, he knew. Waving a pistol about was just as likely to get him shot him from someone panicking. He was fighting a losing battle. He had to have the evil thing. Looking around for security cameras (none) or witnesses (none) he carefully lifted the pistol out and quickly slid it into it’s holster. When he’d discovered it it had sat as comfortable and natural as a body part. Now he was conscious of it like it was a ticking bomb.
He locked the car and tried to walk casually back towards the marina. Like he wasn’t a recently deceased amnesiac with a loaded lethal weapon. Yeah, keep thinking like that, that’s the way to pull off ‘casual’, idiot. He checked his watch, 11.12, he had over an hour before the time on the map. He made his way to a coffee shop overlooking the marina and ordered a drink, then sat by the window. His window was shaded from an awning so he should be invisible from outside, he had his back to the wall, a clear line of sight to the Nero, and could see the entrance door. He was feeling quite good about himself. He’d considered the options and made a good strategic choice. He was doing the best he could. Nobody could surprise him from this position. Now he just had to consider his next step and execute that with the same considered tactical precision. He was starting to think this might work.
“Hello Charles” .
He spat coffee as a tall, blonde woman walked around the corner of the bar.
He’d checked. There was only him and the barista in the place. How? Who?
She was about 5′ 10″, late twenties, slim, blonde, pretty, and wearing what he thought of as an evening dress, black, long, and stylish.
He applied himself to cleaning up the spilled coffee with some paper serviettes, while he desperately thought how he could proceed. He had no idea. The woman walked up to his table and sat across from him.
He looked up from his cleaning. She was looking him in the eye and smiling.
He really didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with a beautiful mystery woman, but there was no way he could bluff. He had no idea who she was. Apparently she knew him, and liked to be overdressed for noon coffee, that was all he knew about her.
“I’m sorry, I seem to have lost my memory. Do I know you?”
Her smile raised a little. “Don’t worry. He” she glanced at the Nero “doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“You’re with Kas… And suddenly he knew. The Lady Katrina Hamilton. Age 28, height 5′ 10”, black belt in Thai boxing, marksman with a pistol, suspected intelligence officer of uncertain allegiance and occasional lover.
“Whoa!” He felt stunned. That was a hell of a memory dump.
Katrina sat still, keeping the same expression, as he processed the information.
“Katrina, Kat” he corrected himself “what am I doing here? Who am I?”
“Charles! He’ll be meeting his connection at 1 o’clock. When I walk to the stern and hold the stern rail, then go back inside, that will be your signal to come aboard. Try not to kill anyone.” He observed her closesly but her face kept the same expression, there was no sign that was a joke.
She rose elegantly and walked to the bar, through the raised flap and into the back room. Well, that explained how he’d missed her. A minute or so later she walked past the coffee shop window without sparing it a glance. He watched her cross the distance to the marina, up the gangplank, and into the body of the huge yacht.
He finished his coffee, still mulling over “try not to kill anyone.” He could barely even think about it in general terms. He couldn’t even think about … it… towards a human being. But the compulsion was there. The same subconscious force that had made him bring the pistol (he’d forgotten he was wearing it for a while) was urging him on. He was consciously rationalising subconscious drives again. If he could… stop… one person, he could retrieve the nuke and possibly save a million lives. It was unthinkable, but he knew at some level that this was all about retrieving the nuke. At any cost. He also knew he could never achieve his goal if that’s what it took. Also, he noticed, he’d come here to discover who he was, but now he felt driven to save the nuke, even at the expense of ever finding out.
He stared out of the window, lost in thought. He needed to be clear headed, ruthless, and focused on his objective if he was going to stand any chance of success. Instead he was locked in “must kill/ can’t kill/ must kill/ can’t kill”.
He was so absorbed in the dilemma he only noticed Kat as she was letting go of the stern rail. He watched as she walked back inside, never looking around. He still hadn’t reached any conclusion, but now it was too late to worry about it. He pushed it to the back of his mind and tried to concentrate on the job in hand. Save the nuke. Even as he did so he knew he’d just conceded more ground to the compulsion.
He stood and made his way out of the cafe. There was no-one in sight but he felt horribly exposed as he walked into the marina. Act as if you belong. This is your boat, you have every right to be here, you do this every day. That was how he should act, he realised he was terrible at it, though. He reached the gangplank and walked straight on, never slowing his pace. What choice did he have?
He walked to the stern and in looked where Kat had gone into the ship. There was an open door into a corridor, he went in. There were doors lining the corridor to either side and one at the far end of the corridor. He walked to the far one and opened it a crack. He heard voices it sounded like at least two men. He froze for a second, torn by indecision. Should he try another door? Stay here and risk detection but maybe overhear something? Or go in and try to sneak closer to see what was going on? The voices were muffled, so presumably not directly behind the door. He eased the door open a little further. No shouts of alarm or approaching footsteps. He knelt down and peered around the door. A large, open room, seats and benches around two sides, a sloped glass window across the whole of the front of the room, overlooking the prow, and a large table in the middle of the room. No source for the voices. He stepped into the room. Where were the voices coming from? They had stopped but now he heard them again. And a woman’s voice. Kat! Was she in danger? He followed the sound to the rear corner of the room. A secret room? On a boat? Then he caught the trick of it, the door was just painted to blend in with the wall. There was no handle but as he reached to push it it started to swing towards him. He dove to one side of the door and put his back to the wall, his pistol in his hand. WHAT? The pistol unnerved him more than this whole stupid plan so far. He forced it back in to the holster and took a breath. After a few seconds the door silently swang closed again. He took a closer look at the door. Above it was a small sensor. Ah, automatic door. Idiot. He felt relieved, then, realising he hadn’t spotted the sensor, suddenly anxious. A rich person’s luxury yacht, how many cameras had he walked past without noticing? Nothing he could do about that. He waved his hand under the sensor and waited for the door to fully open. It had opened twice and nobody had noticed. He swung his head around the door. A flight of stairs leading up to another door. The voices were much clearer now, possibly in the room at the top of the stairs.
A man’s voice “Mr K ordered us to keep the comms secure. This is a restricted area and you aren’t authorised.”
A woman’s voice, unmistakably Kat’s “You do know who I am? I am allowed anywhere.”
A second man’s voice “Oh, Mr K knows who you are. Don’t you worry about that.” There was an edge of malicious glee to the statement. “Our orders are clear.”
There was the slapping sound of something hard impacting with flesh and a female grunt. Without thinking Charles mounted the stairs, pushing at the door as the sensor was opening it, and burst into the room. The two henchmen (from the exhange he’s overheard he couldn’t think of them as anything else) each held one of Katrina’s arms. They all turned to look at him in surprise, Katrina with blood on her mouth from a split lip. “Who?” began the man to Kat’s right. Holding Kat had slowed them for a second but they both relased her and reached for machine pistols that were dangling on their hips from shoulder straps. In the frozen moment Charles realised he had lost. By instinct he had reached for the pistol, his hand had already closed arount the hilt, but his reason overrode it. He couldn’t kill someone. He looked at Kat, to say sorry. She looked irriated but nothing else. Not scared or cowed. Then she exploded into action. She brought her right knee up, then smashed her foot down through the thug on the right’s knee, he screamed as he pitched over. Following the momentum of the kick she span around and slammed her elbow into the other henchman’s temple. He dropped without a sound. In a fluid motion she slammed her hand into the screaming guard’s temple, silencing him. She withdrew her hand, leaving the end of thin spike protruding from the guard’s skull. She stood and wiped the blood from her mouth. “I was going to style it out, but you’ve forced my hand.” She picked up one of the guard’s machine pistols, unclipped the magazine, slid the action back, looked up the breach, looked at the magazine contents, then replaced the clip and released the action. She did it seemingly without conscious thought, just a part of picking up a weapon. “Well, I’m not going to talk my way out of this mess” she didn’t even look at the two dead men who Charles presumed were the ‘mess’, “but at least it simplifies things. Plan B is just grab the nuke and shoot our way out.”
She walked past Charles, who was staring at the bodies, his hand still on his pistol butt, his mind all but closed down. “Thanks for the assist, by the way, you were a total asset.” He felt the change in the room as the door behind him swung open. He was still locked in position, unable to process the violence he’d just seen or the bodies on the ground.
“They’re dead”, he finally managed. “You killed them.”
Kat’s hand on his shoulder broke his paralysis. “Come on, Charles. We are on the clock here”
He turned and followed her out.
She lead him through the ship to a room with just a single crate in it. She walked over and waved her wrist over it. Her wrist watch changed display and started making the classic geiger counter clicking. “That’s the package. Grab it and we’ll get out of here.” Charles had reservations about picking up a box that was clearly emitting radiation, but then the full ridiculousness of the situation struck him. It wasn’t a radioactive box, it was a nuclear bomb. Doubltess protected by trigger happy criminals. Of the things that could disasterously wrong, the risk of radiation poisioning was almost an afterthought.
He picked up the crate. It was a solid steel box, 3 feet long, by 2 feet wide, 2 feet high, containg a nuclear bomb, but he lifted it without effort. He followed Kat back through the ship and up to the corrirdor he entered, out on to the stern deck. They took two steps out into the sunlight then a voice stopped them. “That’s far enough.”
Kat span round, raising her weapon, then stopped. Charles, slower to react, turned around as she was lowering her weapon to the ground. The upper deck was prickling with rifle barrels, all pointing at them. Charles very slowly opened his jacket and removed his pistol, placing it on the box at his feet. As he straightened up, empty handed, Kasabian stepped from behind his men. He wore the same mirror sunglasses and the same black trousers and black polo neck outfit that Charles remembered. He made a hand gesture and a man from each side of the upper deck shouldered their weapons and slid down the ladders, then instantly resumed their menacing positions pointing their weapons at Kat and Charles. Kasabain slowly descended to the lower deck, apparently savouring the moment.