© 2014 Stephen Ayres
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author. Your support of author’s rights is appreciated.
All characters in this compilation are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Edward Ollis picked another hair from his exposed belly. Lounging on the sofa, watching an early morning infomercial for a women’s bungee exercise system, he held the hair up to the light – thick and not grey, so just another pube. Nonchalantly, he flicked it away, only for it to float back unnoticed onto his open blue pyjama top. Bound by the unbreakable rules of the universe, the athletic female bodies on the screen and the sight of his own pube quickly combined into an inescapable desire for porn.
Shuffling into a more reclined position, Edward reached over to the side-table and grabbed his grubby black-cased laptop. Kicking off his pyjama bottoms, he perfectly balanced the device on his hairy rotund belly – a skill garnered from years of experience and from much perspiration. About to open the laptop, he looked around, and groaned; the box of tissues was on the sideboard on the far side of the room.
Edward sat for a few moments, contemplating whether to get up from the sofa. The tissues were an integral part of the act, unless, as usual, he lowered his standards of hygiene and tossed away one of his few remaining fragments of dignity. However, when you have no friends and even your family has disowned you, the red light of dignity is a stop sign worth running.
Stretching over to the armchair, he snagged a dark beige cushion. One of the corners was stiffer, crustier than the others. Edward sniffed the corner and screwed up his face – the cheesy chronicle of many similar wretched decisions.
Upon opening the laptop, the operating system began loading, only to halt at the logo screen for twenty seconds before rebooting. For the next five minutes, the laptop continually rebooted, never getting past the increasingly annoying logo. Almost ready to throw the device across the room – or at least place it carefully back on the side-table – Edward broke a smile of relief as the system loaded beyond the spiralling circle and the desktop finally appeared. With impatient fingers, he opened a browser window.
“Not connected to a Network.”
A small icon in the bottom right corner of the desktop indicated that the internet connection was lost. Peering over the top of the screen, again towards the sideboard, Edward noticed a faint red glow coming from the wireless router.
“Damn!” he said aloud, struggling out of the worn cushioning of the sofa.
For the next few minutes, Edward stood by the router as the succession of LEDs turned green. Only the ‘Internet’ LED remained unlit. He crossed his fingers. A nerve-racking flicker of red was followed by rock solid green. The digital gateway to masturbatory delights was open.
Hurriedly picking up the box of tissues, Edward headed back to the sofa. He paused, catching a glimpse of himself in the wall mirror – his obesity on full display. A saggy apron of fat hung halfway over his genitals, like a dingy bathroom blind with a tiny pull cord beneath. Deciding to call it a night, his passion doused by a great gob of self-loathing, Edward switched off the TV and turned out the light.
The doorbell rang, its double chime cutting sharply through the cold 4am silence. It was far too early for post or parcels and far too late for the local kids to shout abuse or leave a bag of shit on his doorstep – and that ruled out everyone. Heart racing, Edward frantically retrieved his pyjama bottoms, pulled them back on, and peered down the hall. For the first time in years, the outside security light activated, silhouetting two tall figures through the frosted glass of the front door.
After creeping down the hall, breaking out in a terrified sweat, Edward tentatively opened the door a fraction. He stepped back as the mysterious callers forcefully pushed the door wide open. Dressed in black suits, with dark sunglasses and tidy waxed hair, they appeared as the infamous ‘men-in-black’. One of the men stepped forward and flashed an identity card.
“Edward Ollis, I am Agent Arran and this is Agent Oldany. We work for the PP; a sub division of MI6.”
“The PP?” Edward asked, his voice breathlessly nervous.
“The Office of Proven Phenomenon,” Agent Arran, explained. “You are not in trouble or in any danger. However, we have orders to take you in, by force if necessary. Resist if you must, but I would strongly advise against it.”
Four more agents, three men and one woman, dressed in light grey suits and mirror shades, pushed through the doorway and stood silently either side of Edward.
“Who are … who are?”
“Their names are irrelevant.” Agent Arran handed Edward a black briefcase. “Before we go, please strip, and put on these clothes. If you fail to comply, you will be rendered unconscious and we will dress you ourselves.”
“Can I at least change in the bathroom? I’m not one for an audience.”
“Don’t be shy, Mr Ollis; you have been under surveillance for some time. We know all about you. We know everything.”
“Everything?” Edward gulped, his face reddening.
“Every detail, right down to your unholy relationship with Andrex.”
Agent Oldany shuddered. “Please, let him change in the bathroom. We have people round the back of the house, so he’s not going anywhere.”
Agent Arran tapped his earpiece:
“Subject wishes to change clothes in the bathroom. Agent Oldany and I will stand outside the door. I do not consider this a risk.”
Once in the privacy of the bathroom, Edward opened the case and pulled out the ‘clothes’.
“You must be kidding! Are you sure you’re MI6, and not some gang of perverts?”
“Just put on the clothes, Mr Ollis,” Agent Arran replied coldly.
Edward held up the silver mesh body-stocking and shook his head. Struggling into the firmly elastic one-piece garment, he noticed his flab micro-bulging through the holes.
“Can I wear a t-shirt under this?” he asked. “It’s embarrassing.”
Agent Arran tapped his earpiece:
“Subject wishes to wear a t-shirt under the F-Suit. Subject cites embarrassment as the reason.”
Less than ten seconds passed before Agent Arran received the decision.
“I’m afraid you will not be able to wear a t-shirt, Mr Ollis.”
“Well, at least a pair of boxers,” Edward pleaded. “My pubes keep catching in the mesh. It’s bloody painful.”
Agent Arran reluctantly tapped his earpiece:
“Subject wishes to wear boxer shorts under the F-Suit. Subject cites painful pubic hair enmeshment as the reason.”
Desperately, awkwardly, Edward crossed his fingers and held his hands together in prayer, awaiting the verdict.
“That’s a negative on the boxer shorts, Mr Ollis, but Y-fronts or briefs would be acceptable.”
A solid boxer short fan, Edward thought quickly, visualising the contents of his underwear drawers. Breathing a sigh of relief, he remembered an old, never used, Christmas gift from his Aunt Susan.
“In my bedroom, second drawer in the cabinet, there’s a Lord of the Rings underwear set. There’s a pair of briefs in the bag – the ones with Golem on the crotch.”
Ten minutes later, Edward stepped out of the bathroom. Dressed in the tight, silver body-stocking, with matching slipper socks and a shiny metal skullcap, he felt like a chubby drag queen Barbarella – the agents, both greys and blacks, remained humourlessly expressionless.
Edward shivered in the night chill as the agents escorted him to a large black transit van parked across the road by the community recycling bins. Sitting on cushioned benches in the back of the van, the grey suits sat either side of Edward. The van’s quiet electric motor hummed into life.
“Where are we going?” Edward asked.
Seated opposite, Agent Arran leant forward and slapped a small adhesive patch onto Edward’s wrist.
“You only need to know that you’ll be asleep for the journey.” For the first time that morning, the agent smiled. “Pleasant dreams, Mr Ollis.”
Experiencing smooth motion, ears picking up the sound of footsteps on hard tiles, Edward’s eyes blinked open to soft fluorescents. He focused. Stark ivory walls, grey overhead pipework, the wide corridor ended in a security door some twenty metres away.
Looking to his sides, Edward saw the grey suits keeping perfect time as he rolled along in a padded wheelchair. He wore loose fitting blue overalls – the uncomfortable F-Suit no longer confining his generous proportions. Kicking out a leg, he grinned dopily at the blue slippers.
Agent Arran’s voice came from behind the wheelchair.
“Good afternoon, Mr Eddy.”
Pushing the wheelchair, the agent patted a hand on Edward’s shoulder.
“Why did you call me … Mr Eddy?” Edward slurred, still affected by the sedative.
“You will find out soon enough. Now you are awake, it will only take a few minutes for the effects of the drug to disappear.”
Reaching the security door, Agent Arran faced the biometric wall scanner. He talked slowly and clearly.
“Arran, Project Mishap, bulk cargo: zero zero zero two.”
With an almost frictionless silence, the reinforced door slid upwards, revealing a large bustling reception area beyond. Passing a number of black suited agents, all wearing dark sunglasses and some riding two-wheeled Segway gliders, they made their way to a spacious laboratory testing area. The room, in keeping with everything Edward had so far seen, was basic, concrete, with few features or furnishings.
One person stood alone in the centre of the room. Impeccably dressed, and with no sunglasses, the man’s black suit was literally a cut above the rest. Silver hair and a warm smile, he walked forward and proffered a hand.
“Welcome to the PP, Mr Eddy.” His handshake was firm, practised. “I am Controller Skye, and I trust your stay here will be fruitful. I will not say comfortable, since you will always have escorts and your diet will be strictly controlled. You need to lose a few stone.”
“I know,” Edward said quietly, feeling shame. “But, what’s with this Mr Eddy business?”
“That is your new name. Officially, you are now Darren Edwards, an expert in rocket fuels, but friends and colleagues call you Mr Eddy. Forget your old name. Using it will only lead to trouble.”
“So, you’re some secret department dealing in X-file stuff. Do you have aliens here?”
“Mr Eddy, we only deal in proven phenomenon, which is known, tried, and tested. We leave all the ‘X-file stuff’ to the nutjobs at MI7.”
“So, why I am here? And, why did I have to wear that crazy outfit?”
“The outfit is a Faraday Suit. It has an effect not dissimilar to a Faraday Cage.”
“I have no idea what that is,” Edward admitted, baffled.
“All will become clear …” Controller Skye pointed at a white coated ‘lab assistant’ who carefully pushed a large steel box into the room. “Ah, Tech Gairsay, about time. I was about to send a team to find you.”
The mysterious box looked like a mobile shower cubicle, but without the usual shower or accessories. Inside, the adult human sized space was dark, almost black. As Edward experienced a growing unease about the device, he realised something.
“You’re Scottish islands. You’re all named after Scottish islands.”
“Bravo, Mr Eddy!” Controller Skye exclaimed. “Our secret is out.”
“I thought you guys would use numbers … like 007 or Number Six.”
“Numbers are for the anally retentive.”
“Like those nutjobs at MI7?”
Skye laughed, genuinely and heartily – even the four grey suits smirked and nodded their approval.
“Mr Eddy, despite watching hours of your disgusting habits, I’m getting a really good feeling about you. Now, get out of that chair, strip off, and get into the scanner.”
Slowly, Edward took off the overalls and the slippers. To his relief, the grey suits were ordered to look away, although Agent Arran and Controller Skye were watching closely
Gairsay took a few readings from the device, setting a baseline. Twitching his thin-rimmed glasses, he turned his attention to Edward.
“Mr Eddy, please put on these screening goggles and step into the scanner. Stand on the rubber disk and try not to touch the sides. Oh, and I hope you enjoyed the sleep drug. Bit experimental; I designed it myself. You should have had extremely lucid dreams.”
“I did. I had this dream where I was swearing my head off and running around naked pissing on anyone and everyone, and then all these cold hands held me down – really crazy.”
Holding his arm, Agent Arran helped Edward into the scanner.
“That wasn’t a dream,” the agent muttered.
Once inside the cubicle, Edward gulped as Gairsay closed the door, plunging him into total darkness. Outside, Controller Skye ordered the grey suits to leave the room. Like the brightest disco mirror ball, the inside of the cubicle lit up – its walls completely covered in LEDs. Despite the goggles, Edward still squinted. Gairsay counted down from five:
“Shielding Off!” he yelled.
Immediately, the light levels plummeted as most of the LEDs blinked off. Edward stood patiently for a minute in the growing gloom, until only one tenth of the LEDs remained lit. The scan complete, Gairsay opened the door and Agent Arran handed Edward his overalls. The grey suits ran in and once more stood alongside Edward.
Gairsay showed Skye the results. The controller’s eyes opened wide with surprise, and a satisfied smile slowly crossed his face.
“All of you, meet me in my office in one hour. Not you, Gairsay.”
The office walls were concrete, but a number of English landscape paintings added welcome colour and interest. Knurled legs, old polished oak, and brass fittings, the furniture looked straight out of a stately home. Seated in a leather-backed executive chair behind an expansive desk, Controller Skye welcomed Edward and his grey suited entourage. Pulling up chairs, they sat facing the controller, whilst Agent Arran stood by the door.
“The results far exceeded our expectations,” Skye said, opening his metal lined desk drawer and getting out a steel cased laptop. “I am sure you are perfect for the mission. Finally, I can tell you why you are here. Mr Eddy, you are a total Negative.”
“Err … thank you?”
“A proven phenomenon; everyone gives off both positive and negative influence. For the vast majority, the opposing influences are in a rough balance, although a preference either way is normal.”
“And, I have a negative preference?”
“Oh yes. The scan revealed that you have no positive influence at all, and that your negative influence is dangerously potent.”
“Is this some kind of genetic thing? My Dad’s a grumpy sod, and so was my Grandad.”
“Our research suggests you were born with the defective balance, but it is not inherited.”
“It’s why everything I buy breaks down, isn’t it?”
“Your negative influence is very destructive. Delicate electronics are very susceptible, especially micro-circuitry. That’s how you came to our attention some years ago. Your excessive insurance claims, and claims against you, were flagged by GCHQ. We correlated this information with a list of your known associates and the results were telling.”
“I don’t have any associates,” Edward said solemnly. “Not even my family visit anymore.”
“That’s because many of them have been injured as a result of your power. The visits to the GP and hospital admittances are shockingly revealing. Remember your nephew’s 16th birthday party?”
Edward winced as the gory imagery sprung to mind. That was last year, the last straw, the last time he saw any of his family. Colin, his brother, had bought his son a programmable copter-drone. Boasting ‘military-grade’ components, the serving-tray sized gunmetal drone – menacing and spiderlike – buzzed around the impressed gathering on automatic avoidance mode. Colin basked in the smug glow of sibling one-upmanship … until the drone twice circled Edward’s head.
Controller Skye nodded wryly.
“I believe they found the end of a nose on the top of a stack of profiteroles and a severed finger in the sherry trifle standing alongside the sponge fingers. Also, your dear old grandmother …”
“I know;” Edward sighed, “the drone sheared off the top of her scalp and the dog ate it. They should have blamed my brother for buying the bloody thing.”
“Yet the entire family blamed you. I guess that party was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or rather the sharp rotor-blade that sliced off your Uncle Richard’s earlobe. We’ve been watching you closely ever since and decided it was time to bring you in.”
“So, the F-Suit shielded my negativity.”
“An extreme though necessary measure, and I apologise for your discomfort and humiliation. Not knowing the extent of your power, we couldn’t let anything risk your safe extraction. The grey suited operatives are Positives. In close proximity, they produce a strong positive influence that keeps your negativity bottled up. Now we know what we’re dealing with, you don’t have to wear the F-Suit anymore, but the Positives will stay close at all times. In fact, while you’re at the PP, you will be issued with a tailor-made suit, just like the agents.”
“Do I have to wear a tie?”
“Of course: black and silver stripe, double Windsor of course.”
Edward rubbed his neck:
“Hmm, then I guess baggy sweatshirts and jogging bottoms are out?”
Controller Skye swivelled the laptop around to face Edward. A browser was open with a detailed map of southern Russia.
“Now, to your mission.”
“Don’t you have one of those rooms with the huge flat screens and touch control graphics? Or is that just a movie thing?”
“With your power, there is no way I’m letting you near my briefing room. Do you have any idea how much all those TVs and computers cost?”
Pointing to a small landlocked country – grey cities, barren steppes and jagged beige mountains – Skye began the briefing.
“Ziristan, north east of the Caucasus, bordering Azerbaijan. Until recently, thanks to a corrupt puppet government, Ziristan remained fiercely loyal to Russia. To be honest, that also suited the western powers. No doubt you heard about the bloody uprising that swept the country?”
“I never watch the News,” Edward admitted, “but I don’t like the sound of this.”
“A loose coalition of Islamists and right-wing nationalists has taken power. For now, Russian influence is confined to the northern borders of the country. However, the CIA and the FSB still have a number of undercover operatives still in the field and the news is alarming.”
“You’re sending me there aren’t you?”
“It may surprise you to know that there is a lot of information shared between western and Russian intelligence services. It appears that there was a secret soviet military base situated in the south of the country. The base was hastily mothballed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was until a month ago, unknown to even the present Russian government.”
“It’s heavily guarded and underground, isn’t it?”
“Aren’t they always?”
Controller Skye closed the laptop and sat back into the plush cushioning of his executive chair. His countenance became darker, more serious.
“The Russians have interrogated a number of people involved with the original project, mostly old men now. We now know the base has a number of launch silos, housing experimental final phase stealth ICBMs, each armed with a single 20-megaton warhead. Intelligence suggests that the warheads are still viable, but the missiles themselves need guidance upgrades. It is also a certainty that the solid fuel is heavily degraded. The current fuel expert working for the Ziristani insurgency is being undermined by the US through their underground links with one of the right-wing groups. That’s where Darren Edwards, AKA Mr Eddy, comes in.”
“The only thing I know about combustion is to avoid anything spicier than a Chicken Madras.”
Fixing Edward with an unimpressed stare, Skye continued:
“Your false history and credentials, physical and digital, are already in place. We have a cautious timeframe of six months. You will spend the next four months at the PP, losing weight, easing into your alias, and learning about fuel. By the time you leave here, I guarantee you will fool the most tenacious of probes. Once in the facility, you are to get close to the missiles as often as possible and let your negativity do the rest.”
“Will I learn martial arts, in case things take a bad turn?” Edward said, chopping the air with his hand. “That’s what the diet’s for isn’t it?”
“No, the weight loss is simply to make you less conspicuous and to reinforce your fake identity. You’ll still be very fat, just believably so. If things take a turn for the worse, and your cover is blown, then no martial art in the world will save you.”
The humour vanished from Edward’s face.
“Couldn’t you just nuke the place?”
“The Russians would never agree to that. They hope to retake Ziristan, and are very interested in the research facility. Added to that, the whole region is a political and military tinderbox, and we will not provide the spark … not for a few years anyway.”
“Aren’t there any other weapons you could deploy; something less obvious?”
“Oh yes, Mr Eddy,” Controller Skye pointed at Edward, “and that weapon is you.”
Edward expected unconventional teaching methods, and he was right. The ‘lesson’ consisted of sitting amongst a group of experts, who spent two hours engaged in intense conversation about fuel – or two hours of indecipherable jargon ridden gibberish if your name was Mr Eddy. The debating circle was just an early morning primer. Given a cocktail of drugs, opening up his mind, making it sensitive to suggestion, Edward’s day was totally fuel devoted.
Eating in the busy cafeteria it seemed to Edward that every other agent was talking about octanes, cetanes, or the finer points of solid fuel deflagration. Even the car obsessed maintenance man, stocking the snack vending machine, mumbled about fuel additives for his VW Golf.
In the evening, Edward watched a selection of sit-coms and movies. Even though he had seen some of them before, in every case there were seamless extra or extended scenes in which the characters added detail about the fuel in their car, plane, or starship.
Before bed, Edward lounged in a comfortable recliner and put on a pair of immersion smart-glasses – the grey-suits moved in almost cheek-to-cheek to protect the delicate device. He watched a re-run of that morning’s group meeting from a roving perspective, smart-tags, voiceovers, and video clips enhancing the experience. It still made little sense, but the impenetrable fog seemed less dense.
Day after day, Edward went through the same routine, and gradually the fog lifted. His breakthrough came at the beginning of the second month, when he spoke for the first time, correcting one of the experts about the minimum amount of polyisocyanate compound necessary for an addition reaction. The expert reluctantly accepted his mistake, and shook Edward’s hand. Finally, he was part of the group rather than a slack-jawed bystander.
Over the next few weeks, Edward progressed from a sometime interrupter to a respected voice. Armed with months of observation, the teaching team focused on the few remaining gaps in Edward’s knowledge, and began to introduce practical experiments and hands-on experience of relevant military hardware. Soon, Edward was expertly coherent in all things fuel, and had already dropped four stone in weight.
The Positives always accompanied Edward to the toilet, making constipation a constant concern – with every grunt and strain, he knew they were standing silently on the other side of the thin cubicle walls.
Every Friday, he was escorted by his grey-suited entourage to a shielded room filled with obsolete electronic devices – CRT TVs, large mobile phones, and piles of old computer components. The grey-suits stood outside, whilst Edward went inside and shut the door. He experienced a palpable outrush of negativity as his power laid waste to the obsolete technology. Drained, his built-up negativity released, Edward tiredly shuffled out of the room – a feeling akin to sexual exhaustion.
With little more than a week to go before the journey to Ziristan, Edward once more made his way to the destruction room. The grey-suits, cool behind their mirror shades, showed little emotion. Edward wondered how well versed they were in fuel technology – after all, they had attended every meeting and sat through every sit-com and movie. By now, he knew that the shades they wore were not mere fashion items. The standard agents wore black shaded smart glasses, linking them to the PPs information systems, whereas the grey-suits wore the same glasses with a special metallic coating to protect against Edward’s long-term negative influence.
Sounds of commotion further down the hall prompted the group to halt. The grey-suits stood protectively in front of Edward, as an agent and a tech ran from the far junction. Shouting panicked warnings, both men, bloody from horrifying limb wounds, headed towards Edward and his entourage.
“Run for your lives; the Exo-Vizslas have escaped!” the tech screamed as he ran past.
Out of a sense of duty, the agent stopped and stood his ground. One hand hung limply by his side, a deep gouge in his upper arm. In the other hand, he held a large high-powered pulse weapon.
“Mad dogs – two Hungarian Vizslas in experimental exo-skeletons. I can only take down one with the laser.”
Skittering into the corridor, the two canine mechanical abominations spotted their prey and rushed forward. The short-coated russet gold dogs – long floppy ears and tongues – were strapped and fused into blued titanium robotic skeletons. Running upright on their gangly hind legs, their pincer enhanced front legs flailed wildly above their heads. Nearing the group, the dogs snarled and barked.
Agent Mull raised his pulse laser and pressed the activator. The weapon beeped and flashed a red light as it failed to fire.
“Sorry for that,” Edward muttered.
“Get out of here!” Mull ordered.
The grey-suits began to move back. Emboldened by a weight-loss fuelled bravado, Edward felt a never before experienced surge of responsibility and courage. A brimming reactor of negativity, he rushed through the grey-suits and charged headlong towards the Exo-Vizslas.
“Stay back and let me deal with this,” he yelled. “Follow me and we’re all dead.”
The nearest Vizsla swiped at Edward with a powerful pincer, the metal jaws viciously snapping open and shut. Ducking the deadly crushing device, Edward hugged the dog. Immediately, the exo-skeleton froze, the canine brain interface destroyed by a blast of negative influence. Falling onto its back, the bewildered dog began whining, little tears streaming from its eyes.
Edward wheeled around as the other Vizsla struck. A pincer clamped his hand in its vice-like grip and whirred loudly as it crushed through skin and bone. Shrieking in pain, Edward tried to pull away as the other pincer thrust towards his neck.
Waking up in the PPs medical unit, Edward shuddered and held up his hands – both present and in perfect condition. He felt his neck, but detected no damage. The grey-suits sitting either side of the bed looked at Edward and smiled sympathetically. Minutes later, Controller Skye strolled into the room.
“Welcome back, Mr Eddy. It’s been a relaxing three days since your valiant display of bravado. Totally against your profile, I might add.”
Edward took a sip of water from a glass by the bed.
“Still got my head, and somehow you fixed my hand.”
“The dog’s exo-skeleton shut down only milliseconds from decapitating you. You were one snip away from ruining the mission. As for your hand, it’s not yours, but I assure you it’s genetically compatible. You won’t need any anti-rejection drugs.”
“I can’t even see the join,” Edward said, closely inspecting his wrist.
“A micro-scale binding method was employed with advanced dermal tinting. You were lucky to get the hand. The same evening as your reckless incident, your brother came up in an excruciating rash on his palm whilst making a cup of tea. He was rushed to hospital, but they had to amputate his hand to save his life. Fortuitous coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?”
Edward’s jaw dropped; the grey-suits turned their chairs and faced away. He stuttered and choked for a moment before shouting at the controller. For five minutes, he swore, threatened, and cried, until finally, he sat in bed quietly sobbing, staring at his brother’s hand.
Controller Skye leant in close.
“No more heroics, Mr Eddy; the mission is only a week away. Each one of your escorts would have willingly given their life for your safety. Remember, when you break protocol, it is not only yourself that you put at risk.”
As the controller left the room, Edward clenched and unclenched his fist.
“But this is my wanking hand,” he whimpered.
Forty thousand feet over Azerbaijan, the Positives barely concealed their fear –beads of sweat forming on their foreheads and the subtle clenching of jaws. Every turbulent shake and bump that shuddered through the 30-year-old Ziristan Airlines Boeing 757 increased their fear. In contrast, Edward sat fast asleep, leaning on the arm of his terrified escort.
Wearing everyday casual clothes, embedded in an official UN delegation, each Positive carried a number of digital devices: phone, digital watch, camera, and USB thumb drive. In case of a sudden surge of Mr Eddy negativity, it was hoped that the delicate electronics would soak up the destructive effects, rather than damaging the venerable and poorly maintained aircraft systems.
Whenever Edwards needed to pee, he kicked the foot of Professor Robert Pool – the alias of the lead Positive. The Positive casually passed him an empty plastic drinks container. The deed done another Positive dashed to the toilets to empty, flush, rinse, and return.
Edward leant over to Robert, and whispered:
“What if I need to go … the other way?”
“You hold it in. There’s no way we’re letting you loose on this plane before we land.”
The Positive took a sip of his drink and grimaced.
“Urgh, my coke is flat.”
“Sorry about that,” Edward muttered. “I’m obviously brimming with negativity. It’s been three days since my last visit to the destruction room.”
Sitting tightly back into their seats, the Positives collectively shivered and gulped.
Once safely landed at Xata-Bala Airport, a prestigious flagship project of the previous regime, the relief and joy on the faces of the Positives was unmistakable. Ushered through an express customs point – mercifully, the metal detector did not break down – they strolled into the bright and bustling terminal building.
The impressive marble, glass, and steel structure was an oasis of civilisation in a desperate land. A number of commercial franchises, some western owned, still purveyed their tempting wares and fares, and the signs of the recent conflict were few – some disinterested looking guards armed with Bizon-2 sub-machine-guns, a few runs of bullet holes in the walls, and a T-72 tank parked outside the main doors. Beyond the airport lay Xata-Bala, the capital of Ziristan, with its peeling paint on 19th century crumbling facades, rusting balconies and grim soviet-era concrete apartment blocks.
“Time for a coffee before we go,” Robert said – the secret code for the parting of the ways.
Ignoring Edward, pretending they were not together, the Positives headed towards the Tazze Vapore coffee concession. The glum faced barista shook his head, placing an out of order sign on the counter and pointing to the old Gaggia coffee machine at the back. Unperturbed, the positives sat on the red leather bar stools, and the machine suddenly spluttered and hissed into life. Smiling broadly, the barista threw up his hands in surprise.
“Lattes all round,” Robert said. “And, make them Immenso.”
Standing near the terminal’s automatic doors, Edward waited for his contact.
“Mr Eddy!” a man called out. “It is you, no?”
Edward nodded and held up a hand. Dressed in black military fatigues, a handgun prominently displayed in a chest holster, the short skinny man marched over.
“I am Ahmed Babayev,” he announced, puffing out his pigeon breast. “Professor Kerimov sent me to escort you to the facility. I am his assistant.”
Pulling his rucksack over his shoulder, Edward followed Ahmed, only to stop at the automatic doors that remained resolutely shut. As a number of airport employees rushed to prise open the sliding doors, Ahmed cursed.
“Argh, my phone is dead! I only acquired it last week; overpriced western rubbish.”
Edward nodded sympathetically, realising he had to lose of lot of power before the next leg of the journey. After many threats and the sharp prod of a guard’s machine gun, the scared airport staff managed to open the doors.
Edward stepped outside, relieved that no one was hurt. Nonchalantly, he made sure he walked closely around the tank, knowing his negativity would render it inoperable. Pretending not to notice the smart-suited chauffeur waving to him from across the car park, or Ahmed pointing excitedly to the dented white Mercedes, he took a circuitous path through the parked cars to drain his influence. Finally, acknowledging his ride, Edward walked over and got into the backseat with Ahmed. He breathed a sigh of relief as the car smoothly pulled away into the uncontrolled traffic chaos of Xata-Bala.
After half an hour of slow progress, they escaped the city and drove along the relatively empty main highway that bisected the country. The Mercedes sported a couple of new dents and was missing a wing mirror – venting his anger at almost every other driver, the chauffeur introduced Edward to almost every expletive in the Ziristani dictionary, and a few more of his own invention. Passing through the bleak rural scrubland and a number of run down villages, the car exited along a sturdy concrete road and passed a sagging perimeter fence. In the distance stood a collection of abandoned warehouses and the rusting shells of ex-Soviet armoured vehicles.
Ahmed turned in his seat to face Edward.
“You come highly recommended, Mr Eddy. Your previous employer, Bezlan Kupak of the Black Sea Underground, spoke to me a few days ago. He praised your considerable skills. He was most insistent that we choose you.”
Coolly, Edward stared ahead:
“I call bullshit on that, Ahmed. Kupak and his entourage were killed in a drone strike over a month ago. Had it struck a few weeks earlier, then I would have been amongst the dead. The Underground has tried to hush it up, but you know the truth.”
“Do I?” Ahmed held his gun to Edward’s head. “Your appearance is very conveniently timed, coming so soon after we found out that your predecessor was an American spy. The Underground, or what is left of it, has never heard of you.”
Maintaining his cool façade, Edward turned and stared down the barrel of the gun – mirroring his true feelings, his stomach began fermenting with fearful stress and bad airline food, threatening to let loose a noisy fart.
“They are underlings; they knew nothing of my involvement in the Parch Street bombing or the rearming of the Vestis stockpile. Press that trigger and you’ll have to find another fuel expert, and once the word gets out I don’t think you’ll get any more takers.”
Ahmed cackled and put the gun back in its holster.
“Forgive my aggression, Mr Eddy, but I had to be sure. We cannot afford to lose any more time due to imposters.”
Going against his vulgar nature, locked and loaded, Edward held the telltale fart in the chamber until he got out of the car.
Every corridor and room looked familiar – a 1980’s communist variation of the PP. To Edward, it seemed as if a group of embittered architects had spread their drab concrete vision around the world; creating soul-destroying underground worlds to any secret-service or military with the requisite money and callous disregard for human dignity.
Edward quickly determined the demographics of the base – absolutely no women was obvious from the start. The poorer olive skinned Islamists, predominantly from the south of the country, sported lustrous beards, long hair, and pointed expressions, whilst the relatively wealthier right-wing extremists from the north were white, heavily tattooed, with shaven heads and bloated gym-built physiques. Though the guards only spoke their native tongues, almost all of the scientists and group leaders spoke fluent English – a political cliché of galvanised thugs led by dedicated intellectuals, guaranteeing a path to tyranny and suffering.
Fortunately, the previous fuel expert had done his job well. The solid fuel was still viable and well stored, and fresh stocks of liquid fuel for the stealth module had arrived only a week ago. With so little work left to do, Edward offered his assistance to the other members of the team – though his ultimate aim was to get close to the vulnerable electronics of the guidance systems.
Taking a break from the work and the fumes, Edward enjoyed a delicate cup of jasmine tea with Professor Kerimov. In his mid-fifties, the world-renowned scientist was a fervent Ziristani patriot and probably the new regimes greatest asset. Well-travelled, multi-lingual, and a man of immense sophistication, his role at the base was pivotal. Though trained not to question the insurgent’s plans, Edward found it hard to accept the nuclear slaughter of millions of innocent people.
“Why aren’t we targeting the enemy’s military assets?” he asked, gently blowing the top of the tea. “Obliterating ten of the West’s major cities is going to bring down a whole lot of hate on us.”
Kerimov placed his cup on the centre of his coaster.
“We cannot reprogram the stealth modules. The late Soviet technology is unique and the reprogramming equipment is long gone. The targets are set and cannot be changed.”
“If you can’t reprogram them, then what is your role? You’re a world renowned expert in missile guidance systems.”
“Well, Mr Eddy, the main body of these missiles is more than a simple fuel filled rocket. No disrespect to your expertise.” Kerimov nodded respectfully at Edward. “The main body is designed to take the missile into a low Earth orbit. Once in place, the stealth module detaches and descends through the atmosphere to the detonation point.”
“Like a small space shuttle.”
“Very much like a space shuttle. The problem we face is that the systems in the main body are old, brittle, and not fit for purpose. Unlike the stealth modules, they had the same level of shielding. My job is to fit new guidance systems to the main bodies to get them into the correct orbital positions. The stealth modules will do the rest.
Sensing the moment was right, Edward made his pitch.
“No disrespect to your assistant, but Ahmed doesn’t act like a scientist. The way he swaggers around with his gun, you’d think he was an extra in a spaghetti western. I know you say he was your best student at University, but I am surprised you chose him. You could let me help you … if you want, that is.”
Kerimov’s eyes narrowed.
“Mr Babayev has the exact qualities I am looking for in an assistant. Our last fuel expert was a spy. I suggest you stick to what you are being paid for. I do not want you near my work.”
Edward raised his hands.
“No problem; I understand. I know my predecessor got the chop.”
“There was no chopping,” Kerimov said coldly. “One bullet to the head was enough.” Kerimov raised his fist, his eyes wide with fervent fire. “Long live the New Republic of Ziristan!”
“Yeah, long may it live!” Edward cried, copying the hand gesture, but with his other hand behind his back, fingers crossed.
The days passed quickly. Nearly two months after Edward’s arrival, the enthusiastic zeal of the insurgents devolved into boring routine: the guards yawned and napped at their posts, the food in the canteen became an unending serving of murky mush and grey sausages, and the hygiene … well, Edward almost felt at home. Edward’s influence gradually spread throughout the base. Computers crashed, kettles blew, fans stopped spinning, and guns jammed. The beleaguered maintenance men, bogged down by the never-ending repairs, blamed everything on the archaic ventilation system and shoddy Soviet wiring. Troublingly, Edward never heard any reports of problems with the missiles. If the missiles hit their targets, he could expect no forgiveness, even if he did manage to inhibit the insurgents’ ability to make a cup of tea.
With only two weeks until the launch, Edward resorted to dangerous measures. Night after night, when everyone was sleeping, even the lazy guards, he carried out his desperate gamble. Up until the last night, he got away with his plan. With only one missile left to ‘influence’, he slunk away from the dormitory for the final time.
Edward entered the pre-launch chamber and clambered nude onto the last missile, straddling the steel beast. Positioned above the guidance hatch, he slid his body up and down, making sure his negativity reached every chip and solder joint of Professor Kerimov’s deadly abomination. For two hours, he spread his negative load upon the weapon; his body aching and sore from the friction and rare exercise.
“What are you doing?” Professor Kerimov hissed from the doorway, keeping his voice low. “Why are you sexing my missile like a dog sexes a leg? Explain yourself, Mr Eddy.”
Edward stopped his naked undulations.
“Err … it’s an old English custom. We do it all the time when someone gets a new car or …”
“That is utter faeces of a bull,” Kerimov ‘shouted’ quietly. “I studied in England for six years and I never witnessed such a disgusting thing – even during Fresher’s week.”
Edward slid his still substantial mass off the missile and grimaced as he painfully adjusted the squashed hang of his genitals.
“I just want success,” he said. “For years, I’ve committed minor acts of rebellion, but nothing that changed minds or policy. No regime has ever collapsed as a result of my actions.” He pulled on his y-fronts. “Now, I finally have a chance to change the world for the better. Call it foolish superstition if you will – the Sussex Weald, my birthplace, was one of the last outposts of paganism – but I was trying to transfer my power, my influence, into the device. Professor Kerimov, I apologise for my irrational and immature behaviour.”
Kerimov checked the locks and seals on the hatch, and then stood impassive for a few seconds.
“Ah, the British and their superstitions. You rubbed yourself on all of them?”
Edward nodded seriously.
The Professor cracked a wide smile.
“Get back to the dorm before the guards realise you’re gone. We will say nothing of this stupidity to anyone.” He checked his watch. “In four hours they will move the missiles to their silos for launch. I shall see you then, Mr Eddy.”
A loud cheer went up in the control room as the first missile rocketed skyward. Edward hung back, waiting for Professor Kerimov to come back from the laboratory toilets. It seemed strange that the scientist would miss the launch, the culmination of months of work and a pivotal moment in Ziristani history. Frowning, tapping his finger on his chin, Edward gave serious thought to the implications of the professor’s absence. Would his bladder and bowels be so loose by his mid-fifties?
Heading for orbit, the tenth missile left its silo. Everyone settled back, eagerly watching the data monitors for the first sign of destruction. Leaving the team to their ghoulish preoccupation, Edward made his way to the laboratory to find the professor.
The room was locked. Edward used his key to gain access, and found Kerimov sitting at a computer desk, drinking from a porcelain cup. A shapely bottle with a golden yellow label stood by the monitor.
“Champagne,” Edward noted. “You should at least wait until the results are in. Might be a mishap.”
Professor Kerimov drained his cup.
“Excellent vintage: L’Ange Sourire, 2004. I have been saving it for an occasion such as this. Shame I do not have a champagne flute.”
“I thought Muslims didn’t drink,” Edward said, reading the label of the bottle.
“I don’t, usually, except for a brief fling with the grape during a wild year’s sabbatical in Paris.” Kerimov leaned forward and choked for a few seconds, before snatching the bottle from Edward’s hands and placing it back on the desktop. “Not for you, Mr Eddy. You stay to face the injustice of a gun.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Kerimov laughed, his eyes faintly glazed and red rimmed.
“Hah, it does not matter if you know. It is too late to change anything. There was nothing wrong with the guidance systems in the main body of the missiles; they were shielded to the same standard as the stealth modules. I could not reprogram anything …” He choked and coughed, more violently this time. “Whilst I support the new regime and the ousting of the previous government, I could not stomach the death of millions. It was a decision that tore at my very soul – loyalty to the cause versus human life. I then remembered a fond saying from my final year in Cambridge all those years ago, ‘Choose Life’.”
“Oh God, what the hell did you do?”
“I chose to save the lives of many. I was never fixing the guidance systems. I was fitting timed EMP devices into the missiles. Once in orbit, the devices will activate, sending out powerful electro-magnetic pulses that will cripple the guidance systems. That is why I chose Mr Babayev as my assistant. He is an idiot, and as a student was never interested in the subject. I would have expelled him if it were not for his family connections. With his ‘assistance’, I could sabotage the project without interference.”
Edward stood in stunned silence as Kerimov slumped down in his chair.
“The champagne … is poisoned. I am a dead … man …anyhow. Goodbye, Mr Eddy, it was most interesting … working with you.”
Kerimov fell off his chair and lay still on the floor, saliva bubbling from his mouth.
Edward quickly checked Kerimov’s pulse and felt nothing. Pulling up a chair, he switched on the nearest computer. Reaching the spinning logo, the system hung for a few seconds before rebooting. Three reboots later, Edward cursed and moved on to the next computer. It booted up to the desktop first time.
The internet webcam showed a rainy night-time Times Square, New York. Lamplight sparkled on the wet sidewalks and gave a blurry sheen to the yellow taxis. A few people walked the streets, heads down as they headed home or to a late night bar. A flash of intense light and the image disappeared.
Edward experienced a deep fear as he accessed a number of London webcams – all blank except one. His relief at seeing Buckingham Palace in the afternoon sun, tourists busily taking pictures of the stone-faced guards was short lived. At the bottom of the image, he saw the words, ‘Stream has 10 minute delay’. He watched intently, fingers crossed, until a brilliant flash and the webcam went blank. Accessing the Western media was strictly forbidden and filtered in the facility, but Edward caught a Breaking News broadcast from the BBC world service. The newsreader’s voice was panicked and wavering as she described reports of massive destruction in London, Paris, New York, Bonn … Edward shut down the computer.
Loud cheers from outside the laboratory were further evidence that the warheads had reached their targets. Like fanatical football fans shouting from the terraces, each ‘goal’ was accompanied by increasingly raucous celebration.
Cursing Kerimov, Edward stood up and began kicking his corpse.
“Why didn’t you tell me, you stupid bastard? Weren’t you smart enough to see I was on your side? You bastard, my negativity didn’t touch the guidance systems! I just knocked out your bloody EMP devices!”
Tears ran down Edward’s cheeks as he slumped back in his chair. He had seen the mission as a second chance, a chance to make amends for all the destruction and hurt he had inflicted on everyone over the years, and a chance to have a sense of self-worth. Now, he had caused the deaths of millions and destroyed some of the world’s most important cities. Would it be Darren Edwards or Edward Ollis who faced history’s judgment? Picking up the poisoned champagne, drinking deeply from the bottle, he did not care.
In a world of gloom, unsure whether he was alive or dead, Edward slipped in and out of consciousness. He heard voices, distant echoes, and at one time picked up the faint smell of smoke.
His eyes blinked open to the sight of a hospital room. He was in bed, wearing a white gown.
“Allah be praised, you are returned to us, Mr Eddy!”
Seated next to the bed, a thickly bearded man in a smart military uniform leaned over a shook Edward’s hand.
“Who are …? Where … am I?”
“My name is General Amirov. You are safe here. You are in a secure ward in the Xata-Bala General Hospital. Some treacherous fiend tried to poison you but the Almighty intervened. Ahmed Babayev is the chief suspect, but has gone into hiding. When he is found, we will put him down like a rabid dog.”
A man in a white coat, probably a doctor, also shook Edward’s hand.
“You are lucky to be alive, Mr Eddy. The poison miraculously oxidised in the bottle before you drank it, greatly diminishing the effects. And please accept my apologies for the lack of monitoring equipment but the unit caught fire not long after we hooked you up to it.”
“How is Professor Kerimov?”
“Ah, I am afraid the great man is dead. He drank the poison at its peak potency. A sad loss to the world of science and the new Republic of Ziristan.”
“A martyr to our cause!” Amirov exclaimed.
Giving Edward only enough time to drink a glass of tepid water, General Amirov, ordered the guards to open the door.
In a mad scramble, knocking the guards aside, the international reporters and camera teams pushed into the room. Representing the world’s media, hateful expressions on every face, they lined up at the foot of the bed. Cameras raised, microphones at the ready, they appeared as a firing squad, ready to put Edward out of his misery. In truth, they were there to bring further misery and certify his eternal damnation.
The doctor and the general stood either side of the bed and raised Edward’s hands in a show of victory. Together, they heaped praises upon their bewildered hero.
“Hail, Mr Eddy! Mr Eddy, first hero of the glorious Republic of Ziristan! Mr Eddy, conqueror of the infidels.”
The cameras flashed, and the video cameras broadcast Edward’s face across the globe. For once, his negativity deserted him. Inside, he prayed for the cameras and microphones to break down, but they kept running.
On the borders of the country, military forces gathered for a bloody assault, seeking revenge, and the heads of all those responsible – Russia invaded from the north, NATO was given safe passage through Georgia and Azerbaijan, and even Iran, shocked by the wanton destruction, allowed US bombers to fly through its airspace.
The reporters jostled for position, eager to hear the pariah’s words. A clutch of microphones shoved towards Edward’s face, the questions spewing out with barely contained bile. Ashamed, Edward sighed, and quietly slipped Colin’s hand under the blanket.
“This is not for you, brother.”
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