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Magestic

Copyright © Geoff Wolak

www.geoffwolak-writing.com

Part 14
New Years Day, 2013.

This time last year I was wondering about another baby, and now the
little darling was waking us often, more so than my first two
daughters. I eased out of bed and lifted the baby out of the cot,
bringing her back to the bed. Laying her on my bare skin, she
seemed to calm quickly, Helen turning over but not waking. For
once, we were a little groggy from interrupted sleep. We didn’t feel
as bad as those who had not been injected, but we felt it none the
less. With the baby on my chest, she settled down.

A long way off, Big Paul, known as Major Paul O’Brien to those
who actually believed his cover story, stood in front of a large group
of soldiers at Duckland. In a chill wind, he placed on a special set of
webbing, followed by a type of helmet straight out of Star Wars. His
assistant connected a wire, and Big Paul turned toward the
assembled men.
‘This, boys and girls, is the future of warfare.’ He lowered a
curved Perspex flap to cover his left eye. ‘What I now have, is a silly
hat connected to a battery pack on my webbing. On my head is an
EM scanner, a thermal imager, a scanner that tells me if a laser is
pointing towards me, a laser range finder, and a laser target
illuminator.
‘First, the EM scanner. As I look at you, I can see little streaks of
blue lightning where your radios are. If I turn and face the valley, I
can see small lightning streaks from that patrol approaching, some
on the hills. I can also get a tone when a signal is detected.’
He turned back. ‘I can also see orange blobs through the green
Perspex, showing me your body heat – and that someone has just
farted. Again, if I turn and look down the valley I can see the patrol
coming in as thermal images.
‘If I press the top right button of my nice new helmet, or this
button on my webbing, I get figures popping up that tell me that
you’re six metres away. If I turn and face the hill, I get fifteen
hundred metres. If I press a second button and hold it, I can
illuminate a target for an air strike.
‘If I alter a few settings, I can get a tone for every radio signature
nearby. So, if I’m out on patrol in the cold and dark – and it’s always
cold and fucking dark - and the patrol’s radios are off, any bleep in
my ear is an enemy radio source close by. Right, we have ten of
these, so the patrols going out tonight can have a play and report
back. If you lose one or damage one – don’t report back.’

With the baby breast fed, and with me feeling both jealous and
hungry, I led Helen to the pool area for breakfast, long before sane
and normal people were up and about. The sun threatened to rise.
Jimmy joined us, followed by the girls, and we were soon on our
third course of pancakes, Shelly tending the baby. As I watched,
Shelly dipped her little finger in syrup and let the baby suck on it.
‘Syrup good for babies?’ I asked Helen, my wife shrugging.
Jimmy took a call. Lowering his iPhone, he said, ‘Someone just
hacked an American credit card company, and took sixty million
dollars out.’
‘If it was a British student,’ I began. ‘That’ll just about cover
their tuition fees.’
‘Just the start,’ Jimmy informed us. ‘There’ll be more of those.’
‘Can you stop them?’ Helen asked.
‘Some I can, and will, but some are necessary to … change
attitudes and procedures.’
After breakfast, and with late-rising mere mortals commuting to
work through Gotham City on our nice electric buses, Jimmy led us
to the parliament building. In an empty office we found a large street
plan for the new city.
‘OK,’ he said, taking the baby. ‘You can each name a street or
two.’
I picked up a pen as the girls studied the myriad of streets. I
marked Holton Avenue on a side street. Helen marked Helen Road,
coming off Holton Avenue. Around the corner, a giggly Lucy
marked Lucy Boulevard, just to be awkward. Shelly marked a cul-
de-sac as Silo’s End, getting a clipped head from Helen.
Jimmy marked a long street as Mandela Avenue, a second as
Kimballa Avenue, a third as Hardon Chase Avenue. Next to the
proposed Chinese quarter, Jimmy marked up Wen Street and Po
Street. Shelly marked off two streets in Latin, a few in French.
Future residents would, I was sure, finally figure out how rude their
street names were when translated.
‘Don’t do the whole damn thing,’ Jimmy said. ‘We’ve arrange for
people to go online and sponsor a street name. They can buy
building names as well.’
Back at the house, our corporation guy brought a fax out to us as
we lolled around the pool.
Jimmy faced me after reading it. ‘Property prices down five
percent in the States, flat in the UK, two US banks stretched, one
British bank stretched.’
‘We knew we’d get to this point, and we warned them,’ I said
from behind my sunglasses. ‘Will it be a problem?’
‘A correction was always inevitable, but this year will see a few
other problems as well. And that credit card fraud could take down
the credit card company, their parent bank and their insurers – not
from the money itself, but from the loss of confidence. Markets will
take a hit when they open tomorrow.’

In Duckland, Lobster placed on his new toy, adjusting the straps.


Grabbing the rest of his gear, he kicked up dust as he joined his
patrol, the evening bitterly cold. Leading from the front, he waved
the three men forwards.
Outside of the base’s mud walls he lifted and cocked his weapon,
the men copying in turn. ‘Radio check,’ he transmitted.
‘Mickey on.’
‘Sven on.’
‘Yuri on.’
‘Use the force, Luke,’ came from someone, giggles heard through
the dark.
Lobster shook his head, his new headgear a little uncomfortable
and his chinstrap rubbing, then put one foot in front of the other and
plodded forwards, hoping his quick pace would warm him. A mile
down the valley, reaching the last OP, Lobster depressed the radio
button for HQ. ‘Lobster to Duckland, radio check, over.’
‘Loud and clear, Lobster,’ crackled back.
‘Lobster at the outer limit, southwest valley, back at dawn. Out.’
‘Watch out for the Sand People.’
‘Who are the Sand People,’ Lobster asked, getting giggles back.
‘And Imperial storm troopers,’ came another voice.
Lobster switched on his new toy, lowering the green Perspex
eyepiece. Raising a hand to halt his patrol he swung his head back
and forth, finding no EM signatures or thermal images ahead, just a
cold rock valley devoid of life. Turning, he could see the thermal
images of his team, blue lightning flashes where their radios were
located.
He lifted his head to where he knew OP12 was hidden, finding
both EM signatures and faint thermal images. He used his radio.
‘OP12, this is Lobster in the valley below. Can you use a laser
rangefinder towards me, please.’
A few seconds later, his eye display highlighted the laser, a tone
given.
‘OP12, the gadget works, your laser set off the warning. What
range do you have for me?’
‘We have you at eleven hundred, Lobster.’
‘Mine says that as well. It works! Out.’ Lobster led his men on as
it started to rain, the temperature dropping. At the least the damn
helmet was warm.
An hour later, trudging along familiar tracks, Lobster noticed a
blue flash on his eyepiece. He raised a fist, his team taking cover.
Edging forwards for a better view, Lobster could see the blue
lightning streak clearly, and clearly labelling a small bush on the
opposite side of a track, impossible for anyone to be hidden there, no
accompanying thermal image to be found.
Lobster took ten minutes to scan the valley and its hills, his body
cooling as he stood still, but finally noticed a faint blue dot on a
distant hill. He lifted his eyepiece and fetched out his manual EM
scanner. Swinging it around, it confirmed the EM signature coming
from the bush, as well as the distant hill. He closed in on his team,
leading them to a group of rocks for shelter, the three men nothing
but dark outlines.
‘There’s something giving off an EM signature in a bush, a radio
signal on the hill.’
‘It’s a trap,’ they agreed.
Sven opened his backpack, taking out a small device and
switching it on. He selected ‘0000’ and set it running. Little more
than a minute later the bush exploded, showering them with rocks.
Lobster depressed his HQ radio button. ‘Lobster to Duckland,
emergency. Receiving, over?’
‘Go ahead, Lobster,’ crackled back.
‘Lobster to Duckland. Enemy placed a radio-controlled bomb on
a track, enemy OP in the hill waiting for some trade. Please warn
everyone, sir. Out.’
‘All variables, all variables, this is Duckland control. Watch out
for radio-controlled booby-traps. Anyone without an EM scanner is
to pull back. I repeat, if you don’t have an EM scanner then pull
back. Out.’
‘They would have got us,’ Mickey realised, the man only
recognised by his voice. ‘So let’s go meet these arseholes.’
‘If we’re quick, we can skirt around, three or four miles, and hit
them from the other side,’ Lobster suggested. ‘On me, stay close.’
He lowered is Perspex eyepiece and led the men off at the double.
An hour later, four miles along a parallel valley, the weather was
terrible, rain and snow falling, the visibility little more than ten feet.
Lobster’s face felt red hot, his fingers numb and throbbing with the
cold, everything wet through. He could now discern his intended
targets as four orange dots producing two blue lightning streaks.
Everything else was cold and black.
Lifting the eyepiece, his eyes sore with the cold and rain, he
could see nothing in any direction. With the eyepiece lowered, he
could see his prey plodding slowly along, their heads down against
the wind and rain; the Taliban were just as pissed-off with the
weather as he was. What his new eyepiece did give him, in addition
to its other features, was a better representation of the contours of
the track in front of him. He moved off.
Five minutes later he was to within a hundred yards of the four
fighters, normal human eyes not having a hope of spotting the four
men, the wind howling past cold ears. Through his eyepiece, he
could see the fighters so clearly that he could make-out the men
scratching their backsides; he could even see each footfall. He
closed to within thirty yards, lifted his rifle and hit all four men
using an approximation through the eyepiece. They probably didn’t
even hear the shots. Stepping slowly forwards, each step measured,
he could see the thermal image of one man, still moving, and fired
again.
Stood next to the bodies of the fighters, Lobster put two rounds
into each thermal image as they lay sprawled, his team checking the
bodies close-up with their torches. Radios were removed, papers and
personal effects, the bodies covered over with sand and rocks by
cold and numb hands.
About to turn back for base, Lobster’s eyepiece came to life, a
hundred orange dots on the horizon, but no lightning streaks. They
were surrounded on three sides. He got on the radio, secure that not
even his own men could hear him in this howling wind. ‘Lobster to
Duckland.’
‘Duckland here, go ahead Lobster,’ Lobster could just about hear
over the roar of the wind.
‘Lobster to Duckland, one hundred strong force moving north at
grid four-two. They are radio silent and using the storm to approach,
sir.’
‘Lobster, there’s no one near you, pull back, leave grenades,
over.’
‘Lobster out.’ He turned, pulling his team in close enough to talk.
They knelt and huddled, faces almost touching. ‘There are a hundred
fighters out there, using the storm to advance on the base. We’ve
been ordered back, but in this weather we have the advantage.’
‘They’re blind!’ Sven said, shouting to be heard and squinting
against the driving snow. ‘They could walk right past us!’
Mickey added, ‘In this weather, they’ll shoot each other!’
‘Then we go down the middle,’ Lobster said. ‘Yes?’
The men were in agreement, Lobster leading them off as a tight
group. Through pitch-blackness, driving rain and snow and a
howling wind, Lobster led his team into a gully. His team fixed their
thermal sights, took opposite sides of the gully and opened fire, the
reports of their outgoing shots hardly registering in the wind.
Fighters, walking with their hats held down and leaning against the
wind, started to fall.
Ten minutes later fire was returned, cracking overhead or hitting
the dirt nearby. It had taken a full ten minutes for the fighters to
realise that their colleagues were being shot, literally tripping over
the bodies. The main body of fighters halted, now turning inward,
and presenting a wall off orange dots on Lobster’s eyepiece.
Noticing a group bunched up, Lobster lifted a battery grenade, set
it for one minute, and ran forwards. Fifty yards from the
approaching group he pulled the pin, threw it a few yards ahead and
ran back to the gully, counting as he went. At fifty seconds he
shouted, ‘Grenade! Cover!’ His men slipped lower.
The blast washed over them, rocks raining down, the sensation of
sand landing on their cold and exposed skin. Half an hour, and three
grenades later, Lobster figured that fifty fighters had been killed or
wounded, many from their own indiscriminate crossfire.
Judging the direction of the wind, Lobster and Mickey lowered
their weapons and stood in the gully centre. They took out their
lipstick grenades, turned dials, banged the grenades against rocks
and threw high, with the wind. Thirty grenades were thrown, the
results unknown, the wind so strong that they didn’t even hear the
pops, a few distant flashes noted.
With the fighters scattered, and seemingly walking in random
directions, Lobster did the unusual - and led his men further down
the valley, between the fighters. Firing as they went, they picked off
another twenty surprised fighters, finding a gap in the lines and
racing through it. Dropping into a dry gully, Lobster led his team on
at a fast pace, sand and gravel crunched under foot, soon well ahead
of the main body of fighters and approaching a tightening of the
valley sides.
Finding a large compound, the smell of smoke coming from
within, Lobster skirted around it and to a ridge, hiding his team
whilst observing the distinct blue lightning flashes coming from the
compound. The team sat patiently, watching the fighters enter the
compound for shelter.
An hour before dawn, the majority of the fighters were now
sheltering inside the compound, a few stood guard outside. In total,
Lobster figured as many as forty men could now be inside, a few
stragglers back along the valley. Chilled, he led his team down. At
twenty yards they opened fire, the reports hardly registering in the
storm. Lobster set a battery grenade to five seconds, pulled the pin
and did what he was taught never to do. He threw it. He threw it as
hard as he could, turning and running with his team.
The blast knocked Lobster and his men to the floor, ears ringing,
the wind and rain offering no barrier to the blast. Lifting up and
turning, Lobster could see no fighters moving, and led his team back
to the ridge, two of them now limping. They reclaimed their position
behind large boulders. Sven had been hit in the ankle by a flying
rock, Mickey hit in the back of the knee by a rock. They had been
too close. Huddled in the rocks, they checked ammo.
‘Do we go?’ Sven asked.
‘No, we stay to dawn and finish them off,’ Lobster suggested.
‘No more than ten left walking.’
‘I think my ankle is broken,’ Sven put in. ‘Whatever I do, I do it
slowly.’
‘Get some rest,’ Lobster said. ‘We wait. Shiver quietly!’
An hour after dawn the wind eased, the rain falling vertically
instead of lashing them sideways, their view nothing but shades of
grey as the men controlled their shivers, now wet through. A dull
rumble could then be heard by the team, heads turning like radar.
The rumble increased, soon clear that the valley was being hit from
the air. An Mi24 roared past, the first of four, several passes made.
Lobster eased forwards and used his radio. ‘Lobster to air attack
squadron, over.’
‘Lobster, that you? Where are you, buddy?’ crackled back.
‘We’re west of the compound you just hit, in the rocks. Can we
have a cas-evac, over?’
‘Main force is north of you, clearing the valley. When they’ve
secured the area we’ll come back for you. I’ll give them your
position. Out.’
An hour later, Lobster was stood before the CO, American
Colonel Nash. ‘Did the new headgear work?’
‘Yes, sir. Without it, we would all be dead.’
‘We found two other roadside devices, so all patrols have signal
steppers and jammers now. What happened in that valley?’
‘We ran after the men with the radio detonators, sir. But the
weather was so bad, that when we killed them we found that we
were surrounded. So we played the Meerkat and the Hawk, sir.’
‘Meerkat and Hawk?’ Nash repeated.
‘We duck down and pop up another place, sir. We moved to the
middle and duck down in the gully, firing out. They fire back and
shoot each other, sir.’
‘You got them shooting at each other?’
‘Weather very bad, sir, but we can see them. And we use the
grenades.’
‘How many men did you kill, sergeant?’
‘Maybe … seventy, eighty, sir.’
‘Eighty!’
‘They go into the house to be warm, sir, all close together. I
throw the grenade, sir.’
‘You threw a battery grenade?’
‘Sorry, sir. We all a bit hurt after.’
Nash glanced at the Rifles Major responsible for Lobster. Facing
Lobster, he said, ‘We’ll be giving you a promotion, a field
commission.’
Lobster was deflated, letting out an ‘Oh.’
‘Oh?’
‘I like being the sergeant, sir.’
‘Yeah? Well, tough shit. You’re now Second Lieutenant
Lobster.’ Nash handed over the shoulder rank. ‘Put them on.’
Lobster put on his new shoulder rank, and returned to being stood
at attention.
‘At ease … Lieutenant.’
Lobster widened is stance, placing his hands behind his back.
‘You have squads Delta three, four and five, mostly Africans. Go
and say hello.’
Lobster saluted, turned and left, feeling a little strange. In his old
quarters, his team noticed the new rank as Lobster sunk into his
bunk.
‘They promoted him,’ Sven said. ‘Bastards!’
‘With success, comes responsibility,’ a Kenyan said, hiding a
grin. ‘With a lot of success, comes a lot of responsibility.’
Lobster lay on his bunk, staring at the grubby ceiling, and
thinking.
I lay on a sun lounger, wondering if I should reveal to Helen what
Jimmy had just revealed me. I decided not to make a decision, not
yet, and my guts were turning. Things would change, things would
change forever, and I desperately wanted to stop the clock, or to
rewind it.
I lay in the sun, but felt chilled - and now afraid, my mind
alternating between fear, stoicism, terror, courage and – ultimately -
indecision. Jimmy had just informed me that when we finally made
a TV broadcast about who he really was, that he’d ask everyone on
the planet to watch it at the same time. Everyone. Two o’clock in
London, morning in the Americas, late afternoon in Russia and the
Middle East, and night in China. Everyone.
Before we left Goma, Jimmy took me around to the airport, to
one of the huge maintenance sheds across the airfield. We passed a
tight security screen, finding a Central Africa Airways 747 being
worked on.
Stood below the huge monster of a plane, Jimmy said, ‘US
Presidents have Air Force One, we have this. It has EMPs front and
back, anti-missile flares, reinforced airframe, EMP proof electronics,
parachutes, life rafts, emergency food and water, satellite
communications, fuel tanks with self-sealing rubber, the works.’
‘Jesus,’ I let out, Jimmy leading me inside the 747.
The First Class lounge was similar to other 747s, the Business
Class section ripped out, a large wooden conference table in its
place, screens on the walls. Behind that I found a dozen small
rooms, each with a bed, some with showers. I walked down a central
corridor, noting the small rooms off it, finding four small offices
beyond the bedrooms. Beyond that I found a section of seats, most
arranged like train seats so that passengers would be facing each
other across small tables. At the rear was the survival gear and
communications equipment.
‘Bit of a step up?’ I mentioned.
‘But necessary. How did you think the world will react to who I
am?’
‘Well…’ I shrugged. ‘Kinda hoping we can rewind the clock a
bit.’
‘Unfortunately we can’t, and now comes the hard part. But don’t
worry, you can always blame me. Play the employee card.’
Leaving our new plane, my hand was shaking, and I made a fist.
We flew over to the inauguration of Robert Fitz, the Republican
candidate, the man having won by the smallest of margins. It was
just as cold as Hardon Chase’s inauguration, and we only spoke
briefly with President Fitz. He seemed nice enough. He was shorter
than Chase, grey hairs over his ears but still black on top, and hailed
from Virginia. It wouldn’t be difficult for him to pop home and see
the folks from the White House.
He would have his security briefing soon enough, followed by
one from Jimmy at some point. We said goodbye to Chase, and
found the man genuinely moved by all we had done for him.
‘I did it,’ he said. ‘I did a good job, and I leave with my head held
high. They’re even naming things after me.’
‘We’ll want you in on the next “M” Group meeting, and to brief
the new guy thoroughly, whether he likes it or not,’ Jimmy told
Chase.
‘I’d invite you over,’ I said, ‘but you bring all those damn
bodyguards.’
Chase laughed. ‘It’s going to be strange, being on the outside.’
‘Could go back to the senate,’ Jimmy suggested.
‘Maybe. Maybe you’ll find something for me to do.’
‘I have a few ideas already,’ Jimmy said with a grin. ‘Start with a
book on the “M” Group, right from day one.’
‘Yes?’
‘Yes,’ Jimmy confirmed.

The last ever “M” Group meeting

Back in the UK, I allocated many of my tasks to my team, and got to


work on Southern Sudan and Cuba. Po helped to organise factories
for Cuba, and I met little resistance when I nudged BP and Shell to
buy Cuban oil for the North American Market. They would,
however, not advertise the fact widely.
As directed by Jimmy, I handed over my projects and
responsibilities, taking a back seat to the detail and concentrating on
directions. I had a week before the last ever “M” Group meeting,
something that was also worrying me. I found myself staring at the
baby a lot these days, and taking long walks around the grounds
when the weather permitted. In some ways I resented being caught
up in all this, but I also knew that being on the outside would be
worse; not knowing what might happen.
Things between Helen and me were fine. If anything, we were
closer now that we both feared exposure and the start of the troubles.
We had the baby, and Shelly had returned to us, wanting to spend
more time with us now the baby was here. If the world would just go
away, then things would be perfect.
A day before the next “M” Group meeting, to be held in Berlin,
Jimmy called in all of the household staff and guards, local police
watching the estate as we met in a lounge, hardly room for everyone.
It was crunch time.
The household “M” Group stood off to one side, the security staff
at the rear. Sharon, her daughter, Trish and the secretaries sat on the
sofa, our IT guy Gareth stood up, his hands in his pockets as usual.
The wives of Jack and Keely came in, as well as a few of Jimmy’s
relatives, the local police chief attending. The lounge was cosy, to
say the least. I stood with Helen, Ruth and the girls, my team behind
me.
‘Are we all here?’ Jimmy asked as he entered. ‘If anyone is not
here, please raise your hand.’ People laughed. ‘OK, some of you
already know who and what I really am, some of you suspect – but
don’t say anything, and some of you don’t care so long as you get
your beer money.’
Faces turned towards the security staff.
‘In the months ahead, and thereafter in the years ahead, things
will get worse – in that security will need to be tighter; you will all
need to change your lifestyles a little. In the months ahead, many of
you will be allocated bodyguards, some of you will have to avoid
certain people, hobbies and trips, and a few of you may even have to
give up your jobs in civvy street.
‘You will all need to be more careful about who you talk to, and
the chance of being bugged is very real. Bugs these days are very
small and very efficient, and many people will try and bug many of
you. You will all find that more people will wish to be your friends,
trying to get information about me – and my activities. And our
security staff will suddenly become more popular with the ladies
down the pub.’
‘How much more popular?’ one asked, making us laugh.
‘So popular, that if you talk to the wrong girl I’ll not only sack
you, I’ll make sure you spend ten years in a cell. Does that answer
your question?’
No one commented.
‘You will all be pumped for information everywhere you go. And
you should all assume that your homes and cars will be bugged,
trackers fitted to cars. If you’re having an affair – you’ll be caught
by the tabloids. If you’re up to something no good, you’ll be found
out. Everything you do … will be put under the spotlight. So, if you
have a few skeletons in the closet, best remove them now and be
prepared.
‘Now, this has all come about because we’re off to the next “M”
Group meeting tomorrow, and a few tough decisions will be made.
Following that meeting, there’s every chance that the public will
finally realise who I am, and what I’m up to.’
He turned his head. ‘Sharon, you’ve been an excellent secretary
for a long time, and you’ve suffered the problems of working here
without asking too many questions about me. You deserve a medal.’
To the group he said, ‘You will not … reveal to anyone outside
this room what we discuss next, not yet at least, and probably not
then.’
Everyone was now listening intently.
‘I’m not an alien, although a few of the girls I have dated believe
me to be from another planet. I have no special powers, but my body
has been genetically altered, and there are drugs floating around my
system that medical science would fail to understand for another
twenty years or so. I am … Jimmy Silo, my parents were my
parents, but I’m a time traveller.’
Those that didn’t already know glanced around.
Lucy asked, ‘Can you go back and forth?’
Jimmy took a moment. ‘I can.’
That surprised a few people, even in the “M” Group.
The police chief raised a hand. ‘Might I ask … why you’re here,
exactly?’
‘I was coming to that.’ Jimmy took a breath. ‘In the years ahead
there’ll be series of disasters, hundreds of millions of people will
die.’ Now he had their attention. ‘There will then be a single disaster
that threatens the entire planet. If unchecked, then most of the people
on this planet will die. My job … has been to prepare people, to plan
ahead, to inform the world leaders of what’s going to happen. That
… is the function of the “M” Group. I have already averted a few
wars, reacted to earthquakes, and helped to bring together the world
leaders in a mood of cooperation and peace.
‘Unfortunately, I can no longer work behind the scenes, because
the problems that will affect us from next year onwards are too
serious for the “M” Group alone. More people will need to be
involved. Now, many of you play a key role in supporting me in
what I do, and I not only need that to continue, but I will need more
from you. If I’m killed, documents will be released that will help the
world to go on, but those documents by themselves are not that
much use without me. If I fail … then just about everyone in this
room, and everyone you know, will perish.’
He let us think about, and I looked down at the baby in her cot,
suddenly finding a little courage.
Jimmy continued, ‘The work that I do is important, and
necessary. But I am only human, and I eat, sleep and fart like normal
people. So I need your help. Mostly, I simply need you to carry on
doing what you’ve been doing up to now. There will be changes,
and it will not be pleasant when the tabloids are going through your
bins or sticking a microphone in your faces. Just remember what’s at
stake. OK, I’m sure that some of you have questions.’
‘Will there be a global war?’ one of my team asked.
‘Yes, there will.’
‘Will global warming kill us all off?’ another asked.
‘No.’
‘Will there be pandemics?’
‘Yes, a great many. Plus financial crashes, small wars, giant
earthquakes, terror attacks, computer viruses, fuel shortages. Unless
you plan on living in a self-sufficient cave that’s earthquake proof
you’ll feel some or all of those in the years ahead. Beyond that,
don’t ask me for specifics, since there’s a risk of panic amongst the
population.’
‘There’s a risk of panic in here,’ the police chief said.
‘Can you fix it?’ Helen asked, an odd question from my wife,
especially now.
‘No, I can’t fix it. I can only guide you through as best as
possible. Some of the things that lay ahead … cannot be fixed.’ He
faced the group. ‘Some of you … will have a hard time dealing with
the new reality. But consider this: without my presence here, you’d
have faced those problems with no preparation, and mankind would
suffer greatly. With my presence here … comes hope, hope that we
can change things, that we can prepare for them, and that the
suffering will be limited. It’s a fight, and it’s a war, and I need my
foot soldiers to be strong for the next twenty years. Those of you
who have not had the Mason drug, get yourselves injected as soon as
you can.’
‘That drug comes from the future?’ Trish asked.
‘Yes it does, and it’ll be necessary when diseases ravage the
population. Now, I would appreciate that you not discuss this too
much, not least because you may be overheard. I will, however, be
going public in the months ahead. If any of you wish to take a nice
holiday now I’ll pay for it.’
‘Can I go to the Seychelles?’ I asked.
‘No.’ Jimmy led my family back to our house, and sat the girls
down. ‘Now, you may be a bit afraid –’
‘I’m not,’ Shelly cut in. ‘You can fix anything, you’ll find a way.’
‘That’s a nice vote of confidence, but there are difficult years
ahead. I need you two to be strong, to look after your baby sister,
and to watch out for people asking you questions. The best way to
deal with people like that … is to tell them lies, anything, just not
the truth. Tell them I take my head off when I go to bed.’
‘Can we tell them how many women you’ve slept with?’ Shelly
asked, getting a pointed finger from Helen.
‘Make up a figure,’ Jimmy told Shelly.
‘How old are you, Uncle Jimmy?’ Lucy asked.
‘Way over a hundred years old.’
‘But you don’t age because of the drug,’ Shelly stated, Jimmy
nodding towards her.
‘Will you be OK, Luce?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Yes, I’m not afraid,’ she bravely stated, but I had to wonder.

We flew off to Berlin the next morning, heading for the last ever
“M” Group meeting, the other participants not aware of that fact yet.
We booked into the same country retreat outside of Berlin, meeting
many of the same old faces around the bar. I was now on first name
terms with aides from many countries, some of who seemed to meet-
up at the bar to whinge about their political paymasters.
News then reached us of a terror attack, Rahman suspected. An
oil tanker had been hijacked in the Red Sea, its tanks opened, the
ship deliberately steered close to Sharm-el-Sheik tourist resort and
on to Eilat, the oil slick huge. If the aim had been to kill off Egypt’s
decadent and western-style holiday resort, it seemed like it would do
the trick.
That evening, Jimmy avoided chatting to anyone, telling them to
wait to the morning session – even the new US President, Fitz. At
that session, Jimmy called order, Chase sat next to his replacement.
It did not look like there was any love lost between them. ‘Ladies
and gentlemen, politicians, hard-working aides.’ They smiled, Fitz
seeming a little lost. ‘This will be the last “M” Group meeting.’
They were shocked, to say the least. Especially Fitz, and this was
his first meeting.
‘The last?’ Fitz questioned. ‘I just got here!’
‘You’ll see why later.’ Jimmy collected his thoughts, taking in
the faces. ‘Three months from now we’ll meet again in London. At
that time I’ll be going public.’
Everyone knew it was on the cards, but they looked just as
concerned as I now felt.
‘It would work against us if we prepared for the problems that
we’ll face next - in secret. Those problems … will affect some of the
nations here, but will also affect others, and those other nations have
the right to know. Not only that, they would be unhappy to have
been kept in the dark about problems that faced their countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, things are about to change, and in dramatic
ways. You must all now prepare for the time when the world knows;
when the world knows not only who I am, but what my mission here
is. And, for those of you still not bright enough to join the dots, I’m
a time traveller, and there is no one called Magestic.’
The Indians and the Germans were genuinely surprised, and I had
to wonder if they were paying attention in class. Fitz seemed
pleased, as if he had guessed right all along.
‘The others knew?’ the Indians asked.
‘Some knew,’ Jimmy responded. ‘We tried to keep in quiet as
long as possible, and to use the Magestic clairvoyant as a decoy as
long as possible.’
‘A bunch of NASA scientists walked out and quit,’ Chase put in.
‘After you spoke to them.’
‘Good. And may I have your assurance, Mister Chase – sorry,
Mister Fitz, that you will not try and build a time machine.’
‘If we don’t build a time machine, then how come you’re here?’
Fitz countered with, a logical question.
‘There are a great many things that you don’t know, Mister Fitz.
And if you spend money on a time machine … you’ll get nowhere.
The time machine that I made use of was developed by a single
individual, long after your NASA and Air Force scientists had
failed. That individual is now in my safe custody. And, without a
vital second piece of information, that individual would have never
completed his work. Your Chinese and Russians colleagues have no
problem at all with you trying to develop a time machine, and
wasting your money, Mister Fitz, but I ask you not to waste the
money – or to give the world a false hope that people could travel
back to meet loved ones, and Elvis!’
‘You may make the attempt,’ the Chinese offered Fitz, echoed by
the Russians.
Fitz was not pleased. ‘Do you know something we don’t?’
‘Yes,’ the Chinese answered, no more forthcoming than that.
‘Moving on,’ Jimmy called, Fitz still focused on the Chinese. ‘I
now require that all of you increase your spending on civil defence
training and preparation – with the exception of China, who already
has the structures necessary. Japan, your civil defence is good, but
prepare also for pandemics. Russia, you need a lot of time, money
and training to get ready. Mister Fitz, I’d like to see you increase the
budget for FEMA considerably, and preparations made for
pandemics.
‘India, you’re so far away from being prepared that you’ll need
my help and guidance. You, of all the nations here, will be the least
prepared for pandemics and other disasters – and also one that
suffers the most. Take note: you have one year to get ready. Europe,
your people are good, but you need more part-time Rescue Force
staff, and a greater spend on civil defence. Same for you, Israel.’
‘Did you develop Rescue Force to assist with pandemics?’ the
British PM asked.
‘Only in a small way; they’re there for earthquakes. The best way
for you to prepare civil defence staff, is to create training camps
along military lines, and to give unemployed people a year’s
contract. By time they’ve finished their contract the pandemics will
be upon us.’
‘Will the existing vaccines for things like Swine Flu help?’ the
British PM asked.
‘They can’t do any harm, but should not be relied upon. The
super-drug will help more, but flu viruses are adaptive,’ Jimmy
explained. ‘Anyway, you all need to consider public unrest as a
potential consequence of full disclosure, you’ll need greater security
around all government buildings and establishments, and you need
to prepare yourselves for some difficult questions. People will
accuse you of keeping secrets, of keeping them in the dark, and
there’ll be an issue of trust. Some of that I can diffuse when I make a
speech at the next meeting.’
‘You said there would be no more meetings?’ Fitz puzzled.
‘No more in this format, or with these faces, because from the
next meeting onwards many other countries will be involved.
There’ll be pressure to televise them, which we’ll resist. There will
also be protests by all sorts of groups, including individuals who’ll
want to know if I knew of certain bus crashes, train crashes – and
could I have saved their loved ones. Many people will try and take
legal action against both myself, and some of the people here. The
reaction will be … odd, to say the least.
‘I will be accused of profiting by my knowledge and position, and
of failing to save certain people, of failing to intervene in conflicts –
of starting other conflicts. The one thing that the people of the world
won’t do … is simply accept it and cooperate.’ He faced the British
PM. ‘You’ll need to rush through some legislation to stop anyone
from suing me, or I’ll spend the next twenty years in court,
answering charges of not preventing deaths where I could.
‘Some countries, especially those around the Middle East, will try
and extradite me, or force down planes when I’m on them. The one
thing they won’t do … is fall happily into line. For many parts of the
world, and for many individuals, I will not be seen as a saviour, but
a prophet of doom. And many people will try and avoid any reality
at all … about facing the future. Better for them to kill me … and to
pretend that the future will never happen.’
‘We are happy to offer you safe living conditions in China,’ the
Chinese offered, getting looks from Chase and Fitz.
‘Thank you,’ Jimmy responded. ‘OK, moving on, and into
unpleasant waters. Europe, you must start to cut public spending and
introduce austerity measures; you must start to build reserves for
when things go wrong. That … applies to all of you, but some are
better prepared than others. Stockpile rifles, medical supplies,
barbed wire and tinned food.’
They stared back.
‘Europe and America, try and cut personal debt and credit card
use – those credit cards that can be trusted, and make ready for a
period of turbulence. If you have reserves, you can ride the
turbulence better. And all of you need to prepare for imposing
Martial Law.’
‘Martial Law?’ the Germans repeated.
‘When the pandemics, and other problems hit, your people will
take to the streets, regardless of soothing words from their chosen
leaders.’ He faced Fitz. ‘I need you to prepare your military for
emergency assistance operations and disasters, either inside the
States or in other countries. What you did – what your predecessor
did - with Hurricane Katrina, plan on doing it on a larger scale. And,
next week, I want you to create Rescue Force America, funded
directly from your military budget and under the control of FEMA.’
‘We supposed to get any sleep tonight?’ Chase asked.
‘You’re a long time out of office, Mister Chase. You can sleep
now that the man next to you has the ball to run with.’
‘How many rescuers would you like in this new force?’ Fitz
asked after a moment.
‘Four hundred to start with, plus good use of part-timers. Allow
your firemen to rotate in and out for a year, as well as your military
medics. India, kindly increase the size of your own Rescue Force
unit, and fund it yourselves. You’ll need them. OK, we’ll now take a
thirty minute break, where you can formulate questions.’ Jimmy led
Helen and me out.
Fitz and Chase came after us, directing us into a side room. ‘I’m
going to have a hell of a job with the public ... if there’s any
suggestion that the time machine was not NASA,’ Fitz suggested.
‘NASA scientists had a hand in it, so too your Air Force. That
bit’s true, so you can use it.’
‘So why aren’t the Chinese unhappy about us trying to build
one?’
‘Because your best brains couldn’t get the damn thing to work.
After a few years they gave up, handing the project to someone who
trusted me more than them, and he got it working in secret. By time
it was working, I was President –’
‘President? Of where?’ Fitz asked.
‘Of the world,’ Jimmy answered. ‘Of course, there wasn’t much
left of the world at that point. So I took charge of the time machine,
and I sent myself through, the door closed behind me. And the only
person who could work the buttons was not about to talk.’
‘So it is ours!’ Fitz insisted.
‘America designed and paid for it, but others finished it off and
got it working – as with so many inventions on this planet,’ Jimmy
quipped. ‘Anyway, make-up whatever you want, I’ll back you.’
Placated, Fitz sloped off followed by Chase. After a bite to eat
and a cup of tea we resumed, questions ready for us.
‘Let’s go around the table, shall we,’ Jimmy suggested. He
pointed at the Indians, sat on his left.
‘Will there be religious unrest?’
‘A good question. Yes, there will, but not in your country. The
Muslim world will want me dead - as a false prophet. There’ll be
plenty of Americas who will challenge me as if I was the second
coming, and the Pope will not be a big fan of mine. Indonesia will
leave Rescue Force.’
‘Ungrateful bastards,’ I put in. ‘After all we’ve done for them!’
Jimmy pointed at the French.
‘Will Europe break up?’
‘Unless we are very, very clever – Greece, Spain and Portugal
will leave the Euro, but stay in the European Union. They were not
ready to enter the Euro in the first place, and their cultures and
economies are too far from the sensible frigidity of the Germans.’
‘Sensible … frigidity?’ the Germans repeated, Chase and a few
others hiding a grin.
‘Did you have a question?’ Jimmy asked the Germans.
‘Many, starting with the greatest threat to Europe.’
‘The greatest threat?’ Jimmy repeated, taking a moment. ‘I
suppose, the greatest threat is the rise of The Brotherhood, as it is for
all here. Before that, economic problems caused by global
conditions will test you sorely, but you’ll do better than most. Push
the coal-oil and electric cars, and save money for difficult times.’
He pointed at the Chinese. ‘When OPEC drop the dollar, will
America turn aggressive?’
‘A very good question. First, I’m hoping that we can all work
together to stop OPEC dropping the dollar, or at least to prepare for
it. But, in 2017, a hard-line leader may emerge in America, and the
American people may turn aggressive. First, they’ll turn aggressive
against their own Hispanic immigrants, a kind of civil war. They’ll
then spend so much time fighting each other that they’ll not be much
of a threat to other nations. But that is one possible scenario – one
which we hope to avoid.’
He pointed at the Russians.
‘Will Russia experience civil unrest?’
‘No, because they have a good and strong leader that the people
trust.’
Chase cocked an eyebrow towards me, Fitz studying Jimmy
intensely.
Jimmy continued, ‘Your biggest concern will be riding the waves
of economic cycles that go on around you. You must not count on
stability in western financial markets or economies, and you must try
and internalise your markets more. Overall, you’ll do better than
most.’
Jimmy pointed at Ben Ares.
‘How do the problems - before 2025 - affect us most?’
‘The pandemics will kill some of your citizens, and both the
Palestinians – and the world – will blame you for not helping the
Palestinians with vaccines. Water will run short, at least short for the
Palestinians, and when the American and world economy crashes
you’ll suffer greatly – not much help coming from Uncle Sam. Best
save a few Shekels ready.’
Jimmy pointed at Chase, then moved his hand to Fitz.
‘Internal American discord; what can be done?’ Fitz asked, as if it
was a well-worded question that he was pleased with.
‘What should have been done, is that you should have policed
your border with Mexico when I said. An alternate would be to
expel all illegal immigrants now – but that would cause a lot of
unrest. The one bright spot on the horizon, if you could call it that, is
that immigrants and the poor will perish more than rich white folk
when the pandemics hit. Unfortunately, it’s not something that the
survivors will ever let you forget.’
‘And if they all had the super-drug?’ Fitz asked.
‘That’s two questions,’ I pointed out, getting a look from Chase, a
hint of a smile.
‘Let me take a moment to explain the super-drug, and the
pandemics,’ Jimmy began. ‘If the super-drug was used widely now,
say ten million die now. But if it was used widely now, a hundred
million would die later. If the drug is not used widely now, say that
the same ten million die now, but only fifty million die later. It’s a
numbers game, pure and simple.’
He pointed at the Japanese.
‘Our question is the same as the Israeli. What will be the main
problems for us before 2025?’
‘Pandemics, and riding the economic waves created by various
factors. If you lived in isolation you’d not have a problem, but
you’re dependent on exports. When the world economy catches a
cold, you follow.’
Finally, Jimmy pointed at the British PM.
‘Will widespread use of coal-oil affect the petrol-dollar level?’
‘Another good question. Well, if coal-oil is not used, then oil
prices will climb higher before they crash; a steep rise followed by a
steep crash. Use of coal-oil helps to smooth out the rise and the fall,
and takes money away from the Middle East, which is important.’
‘Why is taking money away from the Middle East important?’
Ben Ares enquired.
‘When The Brotherhood rise, they’ll destroy the Middle East –
and its financial institutions. So why boost those financials
institutions now?’
‘Should we warn them?’ Fitz asked.
‘Should … we warn them?’ Jimmy repeated. ‘You tell me. Hands
up if we should warn the Saudis about the rise of The Brotherhood.’
No one raised their hand, not even Fitz.
‘Would they listen to someone who told them that they’d be
destroyed?’ Jimmy asked Fitz directly. ‘Besides, if – in 2025 – the
Saudis do fall, you’ll all benefit financially.’
‘You have no love for the Saudis,’ the British PM noted.
‘They’re a one-trick-pony: they make money from oil and keep
it.’ He held his hands wide. ‘What have they ever done for the
world? What will they do in the future, besides try and kill me?’
‘They’ll attack you, even after exposure?’ Fitz puzzled.
‘Even more so,’ Jimmy emphasized. ‘And the Iranians will
declare me the devil, putting a price on my head.’
We broke for lunch, a good two-hour break for the various groups
to chat, plot and scheme.
The Japanese came and found us. ‘May we offer a proposal.’
Jimmy kicked out chairs for them. ‘We are conscious of our lack of
natural resources. As such, we would like to offer to help where we
can, in return for better access to African ore markets.’
‘We could produce more ore, and you could stockpile it,’ Jimmy
offered. ‘But in the next few years, North Korea will open up, and
they have good resources. Besides, you have coal, and I’m happy to
see you convert it to oil.’
‘The quantities would not be sufficient.’
‘They would if you adopted electric cars and buses,’ I pointed
out.
‘We are moving quickly in that direction. As for Africa?’
‘There’ll be no shortage of ore on the global markets,’ Jimmy
assured them. ‘And we’re about to open up Southern Sudan and
Ethiopia.’
‘The Chinese, they will have a … large area of New Kinshasa,’
the Japanese delicately mentioned.
‘You’re looking in the wrong direction,’ Jimmy told them. ‘Look
at the land behind Vladivostok. It has more resources than … others
realise. And make friends with North Korea. Quickly.’
Now curious, the Japanese withdrew.
In the afternoon session, we discussed Afghanistan at length –
our aims and objectives, as well as the high Taliban body count.
Jimmy reported that he was happy with the campaign, that many
fighters were being killed, and that more were pouring over the
border to line up and be shot. Somalia was now quiet, free of al-
Qa’eda fighters, and Lebanon had quietened down a little. The
magnet was working. Sharm-el-Sheik was ruined, Jimmy lamenting
its loss, but few others were concerned. Ben Ares was not pleased
about Eilat, but his beaches had escaped the worst excesses of the oil
spill. Currents were now pushing the slick down the Saudi side of
the Red Sea. The Saudis were getting their oil back, but not as they
might have wished for.
We sat down to a sedate evening meal, no one looking forwards
to exposure, and broke early in the morning, the meeting just a one-
day session this time. The next meeting was set for three months, at
which time we’d go public. My fears had now solidified to a date in
my iPAD.

Coal oil

Poland, Belgium, and a few European other nations wished to buy


the coal-oil converters. Jimmy informed them that they could, so
long as they informed us of production levels, and if they’d use the
resultant oil internally or not. And, after some bullying, they agreed
to use the clean version of coal-oil to fuel new power stations, and to
increase their use of electric cars. They signed agreements to that
effect with the EU commissioner witnessing the deals.
The Germans agreed the deal straight away and moved quickly to
build its first coal-oil converter, two refineries already nearing
completion in the UK. In the Congo, our first mine was producing
coal, and our refinery had been producing oil for a few months. And
the resulting petrol was now being tested by local drivers. Most of
the coal-oil was destined for our own power station, to power New
Kinshasa, which currently had more power than its few residents
could utilise in a lifetime.
South Africa agreed the terms for the coal-oil converters, as did
North Korea, and the Saudis were worried, planning on cutting back
on OPEC production. They petitioned the Americans to influence us,
and we continued to ignore invitations to meet with them. I voiced
my concerns about antagonising them, but Jimmy held fast in his
disdain for them.
America had its first coal-oil refinery under way, its engineers
visiting the refinery south of New Kinshasa for comparisons, and for
useful tips. Our own refinery was using coal extracted at ten dollars
a tonne, and produced coal-oil at twenty dollars a barrel, a small fact
that we kept hidden from the world.
With a little arm-twisting, the Chinese invested further in western
housing markets, and we prevented property prices from falling
further. Things were stable, the days ticking off the calendar, but a
few countries had gone over the top with their civil defence
preparations, a few budgets being leaked to the press. A CNN
special programme joined the dots, and quite accurately claimed that
the last “M” Group meeting had spurred the rise in civil defence
budgets. We were in trouble, and the public were worried. I had to
wonder if we’d get through the three months.
Still, the wonders of coal-oil were cheering stock markets and
members of the public alike, and we were popular. OPEC met to cut
oil production, something that the people of the world applauded,
since it would obviously mean that oil lasted longer. Cuban oil
production was increasing rapidly, African oil deliberately cut back
for the export market and increasingly used internally.
The net effect of cheap food and cheap oil for Africa was an
unprecedented economic boom, as well as a baby boom, both of
which we desired in equal measure. The estimated population
growth for Africa for the past twenty years had been little more than
twenty percent, a great many deaths expected from AIDs. That
figure had been revised to an almost one hundred percent increase,
the greatest increases witnessed in the Congo and Somalia.
To assist North Korea, I dispatched a ship full of the housewives
favourite yellow buckets, stuffed full of useful items. I sent two
million, and with sanctions against North Korea lifting I diverted oil
tankers that way. Further, I bought wheat from the US and shipped it
across, and Po organised cheap radios and electronics, Po himself
keen to open up the North Korean market. He’d seen what we had
done in Africa, and he fancied himself as something of an
entrepreneur on Jimmy’s level.
We persuaded the Chinese that North Korea would be a good
investment and they moved in, offers of capital made, requests to
build factories and to dig mines. North Korea was the new Klondike
of the Far East, Japan also now closely involved.
Someone Stateside then leaked the military’s preparations for
disasters, and its budgets, Robert Fitz under pressure early on in his
administration. Rescue Force America was widely advertised, and at
any other time would not have caused a stir. Britain, France and
Germany could all be seen increasing their civil defence budgets,
and the public were curious. They were also concerned, the press
starting to ask difficult questions.
In the UK, our own security had been beefed up, that fact leaked
in a millisecond. We now had more protection than the Prime
Minister and the Queen combined, more difficult questions asked by
the press. Since we were avoiding interviews, the speculation grew.
Jimmy’s mother passed away two days before my father, and on
top of everything we endured a round of funerals and wakes,
enduring relatives that we’d not seen for many years. Jimmy was
oddly relieved, not saddened, clearly indicating that he had seen his
mother die before. He called forwards the next “M” Group meeting,
the one that would not be an “M” Group meeting. An additional
twenty-five countries had been invited, President Errol representing
our group of African countries. We did, however, separately invite
Ngomo, Abdi, Solomon from Zimbabwe, and ten other senior army
officers.
In a separate meeting, Jimmy briefed the senior staff from CAR,
and those from our corporation, the men quietly stunned and in need
of a drink. We met with the PM and his team later, Jimmy issuing
useful advice on what may happen after disclosure.
The former British Chancellor then gave another interview, and
repeated his claims that we were preparing the world for a series of
disasters. Now, however, he had a ready audience, the British
Government moving soldiers around and increasing its civil defence
exercises. All police leave was suddenly cancelled, and that sealed
it, silly season had begun.
I just wanted it over with now, I was fed up, the number of idiots
outside out gates increasing. Even prior to disclosure we had become
virtual prisoners, now it was just silly. What I wouldn’t have given
for a few battery grenades. I now received silly emails from
customers and suppliers and locked them out of the system,
cancelling contracts when people asked silly questions. Little work
was getting done, and I had to wonder how I’d get any done
afterwards.

Exposure

15th March, 2013, was a date etched into my heart. My iPAD had
counted down the days, and now it was here. Zero days to go.
Jimmy had come over to the house the night before and reassured
us at length, but we all knew it would be difficult. The girls were
more curious than afraid, Shelly thinking it cool. When her girl
friends were at the house they’d all go googly-eyed around Jimmy,
blushing.
The big day arrived, and we slipped out at 5am, no nutters
cluttering up our gate yet.
Our new coach was bullet and bomb proof, it even had air filters
and fire suppression systems. It afforded us a smooth ride, and we
glided up to London with a discreet police escort, all five discreet
cars. At least they didn’t have their lights flashing.
The safest venue we knew for a press conference was our
nightclub, and the TV cameras were already set-up as we arrived.
There would be six live feeds, each working under the agreement
that they would broadcast to anyone around the world who wanted a
feed.
Two days ago, the world had stopped to pause when Jimmy
requested that everyone in the world watch the address. That piece
of news was released around noon, people in offices simply stopping
and staring at each other. They already knew that the various world
leaders were on their way, and now this request for everyone to
watch their TV screens. The tabloids went crazy with speculation,
the TV news discussing nothing but the planned meeting. Jimmy
had, however, ordered the African times to reserve the front page
only, and to keep the rest of the paper as normal.
Yesterday, the day that the leaders left their own capitals to fly
off for London, recorded messages were played by the various
national leaders, asking their peoples to watch at certain times in
certain times zones. The Chinese were asked to stay up late and
watch, the Japanese would be up very early, the Americans would
catch the feed around 9am on the east coast, earlier on the west
coast. Europe and Africa would receive their feed at noon on the day
in question, the Russians at 3pm.
When I considered how many billions of people would be
watching I had to wonder about Jimmy, since he was just as calm as
ever. And, as ever, he had no prepared notes. He spent most of his
time reassuring us, and we were not even due to speak.
We booked into our club’s hotel, security very tight, many of the
original “M” Group leaders already in attendance. At 10.30am we
organised a mini “M” Group meeting, our own PM elsewhere.
‘So, all ready?’ Jimmy cheerfully asked.
The Chinese were fine, so too the Russians, the Indians nervous,
the French and Germans clearly ill at ease. Ben Ares seemed to be
happy to be at the centre of things, and the Japanese asked again
about African ore – making me smile.
‘What will happen today,’ Jimmy began, ‘will be my big speech.
If I get it right, you’ll have less hassle later, and fewer questions
hopefully. If I get it wrong, they’ll kill us all.’
‘No pressure then,’ I quipped.
We discussed the format of future meetings, and the greater use
of UN structures. I downed a beer in a bar stuffed full of TV crews,
ignoring all their questions and pleading ignorance; Jimmy who? I
greeted Ngomo, Abdi and Solomon, the men very curious about the
meeting. They explained that they had been allocated seats at the
back of the Red Room.
Jimmy eventually nudged everyone downstairs, “M” Group
leaders sat on the stage behind Jimmy, chairs labelled in advance,
translators made ready. Jimmy worked the line, chatting in many
languages.
‘Historic moment,’ Fitz commented, but did so as if he didn’t
want to be here. ‘And no auto-cue.’
‘I speak from the heart,’ Jimmy said with a smile.
‘The entire world is watching, Jimmy, so I sure as hell hope you
know what you’re doing,’ Fitz added.
‘If I don’t, Mister President, then everyone dies.’ He held his
gaze on Fitz for a second before testing the microphone atop a
podium. ‘Settle down, please,’ he cheekily told the TV crews and
invited reporters, numerous national leaders now sat around tables
normally used by club diners. He checked his watch, then waved a
few people away from the stage, a number of armed officers
positioned in the front row. He tapped the microphone ‘Testing,
testing. Silo to earth. Come in earth.’
Helen and I exchanged looks, our eyes wide. We were sat just off
the stage, and I was thankful to be out of shot. No sooner had I
thought that than I noticed several cameras focused on me.
Jimmy checked his watch, conscious of satellite time. ‘Ladies and
gentlemen, invited guests, members of the media, world leaders, and
those watching this broadcast around the world – welcome to Silo’s
nightclub, London, the venue for this meeting today.’
Well, if nothing else, club attendance should be up after this.
‘This meeting, and the statement that I’ll now make, was always
planned, and was inevitable. I had expected to make this speech a
few years ago, but time has moved on – and it was not necessary till
now. Now it is necessary, necessary … and vital to the future of this
planet.
‘There has been much speculation in previous years about things
that I’ve done, or who I may really be. Speculation about an ability
to predict earthquakes, the release of the super-drug, of electric cars,
and of my work in Africa. The people of this planet saw me shot
three times, and yet walk out of hospital the next day. Part of my
miraculous recovery was down to the Manson drug, part down to
advanced genetic modifications made to my body.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, people of the world, there is no easy way
to tell you this,’ Jimmy said with a hint of a grin. I held my breath
and closed my eyes for a moment. ‘I am more than a hundred years
old, and I am a time traveller.’
A chorus of whispered comments shot around the gathered press
and guests, the non-“M” Group national leaders all sitting up and
checking their translations.
‘Those world leaders that make up the “M” Group have known
for many years, some have known for twenty years or more. Our
aim … was never to deceive anyone, or to give any nation an
advantage over another. We have worked behind the scenes to
develop medicines - vaccines and drugs, as well as future technology
that could help the world today. Millions of lives have been saved,
oil costs have been kept low, new technologies released to help the
world, and further new technologies will be released in the future.
‘Many of you will have questions, the first few being – who
invented the time machine, when, and why? The time machine that I
made use of was developed by NASA scientists working with the
United States Air Force and Army at a future date, after 2030.’
I frowned at that date.
‘It was developed after a global war had destroyed most of this
planet, and was a last desperate act, made by desperate people.
‘People have asked me in the past – who sent you? The answer is,
I sent myself. When the time machine was completed, most of what
was left of the US military was based in Canada, along with refugees
from Europe and many other countries. I was the political leader of
those refugees, later appointed president of what was left of the
western world. I made a choice to send myself back, and to send no
one else.
‘I came back through time, the exact mechanism of which will be
kept secret to prevent others trying the methods. No one … should
ever again try to develop a time machine, since the good people
ranged behind me know what the future holds, and how to avoid the
same mistakes. But the people behind me, and the other political
leaders of this world, should never be left alone to decide the fate of
the planet. The leaders of this planet … work for the people. They
answer to the people, it’s the people that elect the leaders, and it’s
the people that will suffer the most if past mistakes are repeated.
‘In the years ahead there will earthquakes. I know where and
when they will occur, and Rescue Force was specifically developed
to help with those earthquakes. It has taken me more than twenty-
five years to develop Rescue Force, and they will be sorely tested in
the years ahead. Theirs … is an important role.
‘In the years ahead there will be outbreaks of disease, and for that
I brought back through time the super-drug. Unfortunately, that drug
is not enough to defeat every disease, and some diseases are
adaptive; I cannot save everyone, I don’t have answers to
everything. If you expect too much, you will be disappointed.
‘In the years ahead there may be wars, terror attacks, and there
may be severe economic crashes. We have already smoothed out
some of the bumps along the way and prevented many problems –
all the while working behind the scenes.
‘My being here is a cause for concern, a concern for the disasters
that lay ahead. But my being here is also a great benefit, in that I
brought with me a route-map for you to navigate the problems of the
future. All that’s needed is that the people listen – and don’t make
the same mistake this time around. Unfortunately, in the years
ahead, some countries will suffer disasters, whilst others will
prosper. If the countries of this world do not cooperate in helping
each other, those countries that fail will drag down the others, and
they may cause instability leading to war.
‘We cannot simply sit back when a country suffers an outbreak of
disease, because if that disease is not dealt with in the country of
origin it will spread to everyone. We now live in a very inter-
connected world, and airliners can transport a disease right around
the world in a day. It is not enough to think that someone else’s
problem will not affect you, but it’s easy to be selfish, especially if
we were to ask the rich nations to assist the poor nations.
‘But if those poor nations were to descend into chaos and
anarchy, then they’ll produce terrorists, and those terrorists would
land on the shores of the rich nations soon enough. And, in the
decades ahead, a very great disaster will strike the world, the main
reason for me being here. If most of the world’s countries were to
cooperate with each other between now and then, and cooperated
with each other at the time of the disaster, you would have a fifty-
fifty chance of surviving that problem.
‘If the countries of this planet fail to cooperate in the years ahead,
or fail to cooperate fully in the decades ahead when disasters strike,
you will have a very low chance of surviving.’
I could see some of the leaders growing uneasy.
Jimmy continued, ‘What’s in front of you all … is a test, a test for
mankind. Work together, and we all survive. Pull in ten different
directions … and no one survives. I can give you the route map, I
can tell you what will happen, but I cannot force you to work
together. That part … is up to the good people sat behind me, and
those listening to this broadcast. I’ll supply you with super-drugs,
advanced technology, and warnings of upcoming disasters. But
that’s not enough to fix the problems that you’ll face.
‘What’s required, is what I don’t have. What’s required … is
someone sat watching this broadcast who may wish to be a politician
in the future, and not because that person likes the sound of their
own voices, or because they wish to make some money. What’s
required, is a few bright young people who wish to be heroes – and
to help mother earth.
‘In the years ahead I’ll be creating volunteer programmes, centred
in Africa. If you’re a scientist, an engineer, a politician or a thinker,
and you’re prepared to work long hours for little pay, then I’ll have
some work for you.’
This was all news to me, and I stared up at Jimmy.
Jimmy continued, ‘I have the route map, but I need a little help
along the way. I … am asking for your help, so that I can try – at
least – to save everyone.’ He took a breath. ‘The various world
leaders of the “M” Group will now speak in sequence while I go for
a sandwich. An hour from now I’ll answer questions, so the press
should think up a few good probing questions. Thank you for your
time.’
Jimmy stepped to me and led me off as President Fitz took the
podium. And we did go for a sandwich, as well as a cup of tea and
biscuit.
‘Go alright?’ Jimmy asked us.
‘I thought so,’ I offered. ‘Did you appeal to the people to bypass
the leaders?’
Jimmy nodded. ‘Never underestimate people power.’
We watched the speeches on a TV set in the computer room,
most just waffle about cooperation and planning for the future. Then
it was question and answer time. Jimmy led us down, the leaders
now off stage, maybe for a sandwich of their own.
Jimmy took the podium. ‘I’d just like to say that I did have a
sandwich, and a nice cup of tea. I’ll make like a US president and
point at people who wish to ask questions, so could those with
questions please raise a hand, a finger or stand.’ He pointed at the
first journalist.
‘Did you say that you travelled alone?’
‘I did. My staff are just that, staff, although I think of Paul and his
family as my own family. Next.’
‘How old are you exactly?’
‘That’s a rude question and I’m not saying. Next.’
‘What was the global disaster that caused the time machine to be
built?’
‘After consulting with the various leaders, we’ve decided not to
reveal that yet, since it may actually cause the problem to occur
early. If you wish to save your own life, don’t push the issue. When
you get the answer you’ll help to create a paradox – and harm us all.
I appreciate that you’re a journalist, but deep down you probably do
care about your fellow man. Next.’
‘How much money have you made for yourself?’
‘I’ve made two hundred billion pounds, of which I have twenty
million left in my account, the rest being spent on either Africa or
Rescue Force operations. Next.’
‘Is the Manson drug a cure for all diseases?’
‘No, it’s not. Next.
‘Why have you never had a family of your own?’
Jimmy took a moment. ‘I had a family once. They all died. Next.’
‘Why did you not inject your parents?’
‘That was their choice. I would never force the drug on someone
unless they were dying, or incapable of making a choice. Next.’
‘Were the kids in Ebede orphanage injected?’
‘They were, yes, starting in 1987. They were all dying, so I had
no problem with injecting them. We’ve injected half a million
African children. Next.’
‘Why was the drug not released back then?’
‘Because I was trying to work in the shadows for as long as
possible. Now that it’s out in the open my work will be much harder.
If it had remained a secret I would have had a better chance of fixing
a few things. Your interest in me will seriously reduce my ability to
work. It will cost lives, directly. Next.’
‘Why go public now?’
‘Too many people leaking information, like that toe-rag of a
former Chancellor, and the idiot former French president. The
speculation was making it difficult to work. I’ll now try and find
new ways to get things done. Next.’
‘You said it was fifty-fifty if this global problem could be fixed.’
‘Less than fifty-fifty; it’ll be fifty-fifty if the various governments
work together, less if they don’t. Next.’
‘What if American, Russian and China fall out?’
‘Then most of the people on this planet will die.’ Jimmy held his
stare on the woman. ‘That includes you, and everyone you care
about.’
Jesus, I thought. The cameras were all still on.
‘Did you trade the stock markets knowing which stocks would do
well?’
‘I did, yes. What’s your point?’
‘Is that legal?’
‘I don’t think it qualifies as insider trading. And the money was
used to develop the drug, electric cars and other things. If you’re not
happy, ask the Africans I saved to give up their lives and to wind
back the clock. And if there are any more stupid questions then we’ll
end this session.’
‘Who are you accountable to?’
‘A good question. I’m accountable to the people of this planet yet
to die, to those who wish me to find cures for diseases and fixes for
problems. I’m accountable to those people who’ll die in ten years
time because I failed to stop a war or a terror attack. But most of all,
I’m accountable to the six billion people who died, and to those who
put their faith in me in Canada. I brought back the ghosts of six
billion people, all wishing me to succeed.’
He pointed at the man who asked the question. ‘Do you have a
family?’
‘Two kids?’ the man reluctantly admitted.
‘Well, the chances of them growing up and having families of
their own is slim, but their chances are better now that I’m here. And
now that I am here, idiots like you want to do nothing other than trip
me up. In the years ahead … a number of pandemics will strike, and
your children may well die, or they may benefit from a cure I find.
So this is what I want you to do. Go home and say to your wife: our
kids may die, but at least I had a snipe at the man that may cure
them. Then, maybe your wife will stop and ask: why are you sniping
at our children’s best hope to stay alive?
‘Then, maybe, if you have any lights left on in your soul, you
may stop to think about what you’re doing. No one voted me into
office, no one asked me to come here, no one asked to release the
super-drug – which has saved fifty million people already. I … made
the choice to come back, I … stepped into the time machine, and
I’ve spent the past twenty seven years fixing things, most of which
you don’t know about, and may never get to know about. I … made
the choice, and I’ll continue trying to fix things whether you like it
or not, idiot. And if the people in this country don’t like what I’m
doing … I’ll move to China, or Russia, or down to my beloved
Africa. Because in Africa, they thank people when they receive help.
‘In the years ahead, a lot of people are going to die, fewer if you
stop to listen. I just hope that it doesn’t take the death of one of your
children for you to stop being a sniping journalist – and to finally
ask for help. The clock … is ticking.’
He walked off, collecting Helen and me, a hundred questions
shouted, cameras flashing. We collected the African army officers
and led them upstairs, ordering the press removed from the club. In
the Indian restaurant we settled our guests, drinks ordered.
‘My god, Jimmy,’ Solomon let out.
I told Solomon, ‘When you were first in Kenya, working in
college, we knew, and helped you.’
‘And me, Jimmy,’ Abdi began. ‘You helped me to be where I
am.’
‘Of course; I needed good people in place, not fat and corrupt
politicians. For you lot, the work is just about to start. There’ll be
difficult times ahead, and I need strong men, men with courage, not
men who want to put money in their pockets. There’ll be disease,
war, financial problems. For all of you, the real war is just about to
start, the battle to save this planet. And in 2025, a full-on war.’
We spoke for forty minutes as we ate, and we had a very loyal
bunch of future leaders sat listening attentively. I figured they’d do
anything for us. After two beers, our next group of guests arrived,
the British newspaper editors and TV chiefs, the PM in on the
meeting. We welcomed them all, drinks organised, tables pulled
together in a bar.
‘First of all, gentlemen, let me re-iterate that I’m flesh and blood,
and quite human. As such, if you piss me off I’m going to react to it
like a normal person, only a slightly more aggressive one. So let me
make myself perfectly fucking clear on a few things.
‘If you try and send someone over my fence, or to talk to Paul’s
girls, or hang about outside my gate, I’m going to get pissed off
about it. I’ll identify the guilty party, stick you on my shit list, and
the next exclusive goes to your competitors. And let’s be clear about
this: this is the story of the century - you don’t want to be left out.
‘Another caution. Don’t … try and follow us around. If you do
that in Russia, China or – god forbid – Africa, they’ll arrest your
reporters, or shoot them full of holes. If one of your snappers tries to
get close to Paul’s house in Goma he’ll get himself shot. Not
because we don’t like you, but because many people try and shoot
us, and our guards are twitchy.
‘If you want an interview, email us and we’ll arrange something.
If you want to follow us to China, do it officially and we’ll buy your
beer for you. Sneak around, and the Chinese will take exception to
it. Try and sneak around Africa and your people won’t come back.
Ask us nicely and we’ll get you cheap rooms in Goma, we’re not
monsters, and we’ve always looked after the hacks in the past.
‘But if I can’t get out of my gate tomorrow for snappers, I’ll
identify them and you’ll lose out. Now, if I ask you not to run a
story, and you do, there’ll be a penalty. If you run a story about
something I ask you not to, you might just crash the stock market,
and that’s your pension funds as much as anyone else’s.
‘Now, In the years ahead things are going to get tough, Martial
Law is a distinct possibility -’
‘Martial Law? Here?’ they questioned.
‘Yes, here. Pandemics, financial crashes, wars, terror attacks.
What I need from you, what this country needs from you, is less of
your usual selves, and more Churchill. And I’ll give you one story
now that you may not print. There are twelve people sat in front of
me. On a simple statistical average, one of you will die, and two of
you will probably lose children to disease in the years ahead.
‘The problems that we’ll face in the future will be right up close
and personal, right in your own families. When you want to be
reporting about some distant war, you’ll be reporting about
neighbours and friends. And if things go wrong … well, you’ve all
got fifteen years left to live. Forget your fucking pension funds; if
the world at large doesn’t get it together then you’re all dead, your
kids, your fucking pet dog!
‘World War Three was due to break out … oh, in about six
months. But because of my work for the past twenty-five years, the
Russians, Americans and Chinese are talking to each other. There’ll
be no global war in six months.’
‘We’ll be bringing in emergency legislation,’ the PM told our
guests. ‘Powers to curb you where necessary, and to stop panic in
the streets.’
‘You’ve just worried the whole fucking world on TV,’ a man
pointed out.
‘They needed to be woken up,’ Jimmy told him. ‘But from now
on I’ll try and play things down. Panic achieves little.’
‘Will the superpowers cooperate?’ a man asked.
Jimmy made a face and shrugged. ‘Based on past experience, I’d
say we’re all screwed. But I have a few tricks up my sleeve, like
coal-oil and electric cars. A lot of the time I work behind the scenes,
which is why I never made it public up to now. In the future I’ll
have to hold open meetings and ask people nicely. In the past I
threatened, bribed and bullied people into doing the right thing. Now
I have to say please and hope for the best.’
‘How much access do we get?’
‘Depends on how you behave; piss me off and I’ll move to Africa
and run the show from there. In the meantime, I’ll give joint
interviews to you all at the same time and tell my staff to talk to you.
That process will go on till you print snaps of my staff’s cleavage, or
stories about their teenage years.’ He held his hands wide. ‘It’s all
up to you. And please, don’t make tomorrow’s headline The
Terminator.’
I laughed. ‘You do look like him.’
‘What’s Paul’s role?’ they asked.
‘Understudy. If I’m killed he gets documents and carries on.’
‘You take a lot of risks, always getting shot at.’
‘Like I said, I was working behind the scenes. People never knew
who I was or what motivated me. To one particular leader, about to
start a war, I mentioned what I knew about his youth – and he
stopped the invasion.’
‘You know what we did in our youth?’
‘Yes, I’ve had investigators following you all for twenty years,
and I know what you’ll do in the future. I have dirt on you all. If you
throw mud at me, I’ll throw mud right back, simple as that. I told
you, I’m human, and I get pissed off easily enough.’
‘If there was a problem,’ the PM began, ‘the full weight of my
government, our intelligence services, and the full weight of the
American government would be brought to bear.’
‘Sounds like censorship,’ a man complained.
Jimmy faced me. ‘Do you ever wonder if you getting through?’
‘Let’s just move to Africa,’ I said, and I half meant it.
Jimmy faced the men. ‘Print crap about us, you don’t get to sit in
on the press conferences. Simple. It’s up to you. Cooperate, and your
people get free trips and good stories.’
Jimmy retrieved a set of CDs, handing them out. ‘On there are
digital photos of us, all our businesses around the world, background
notes, contact details for press officers, stories about African
development, the works. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have solicitors
to chat to.’
‘In trouble already, Jimmy?’ a man asked with a smile.
I said, ‘Prepping them to sue your arses!’
We led the PM out, and to a second bar, twelve solicitors and
barristers waiting.
‘Fucking hell, Jimmy. Time travel!’
‘Yes, time travel, so I need you to stop people suing me for
trading the stock markets, and to fend off all the nutcases that will
sue me for not saving their pet dog from dying. There’ll be a few
people wanting to sue me for not warning about certain world
disasters; sinking ships, crashing planes.’
‘Did you know about them?’
‘For the most part, no; I can’t remember the whole of human
history!’
‘I can only say that this is … unprecedented,’ a barrister put in.
‘It’ll be new territory.’
‘Well start planning,’ I encouraged them.
‘The biggest problems will come when people start dying,’
Jimmy told them.
‘Dying?’ they asked.
‘There are a few nasty pandemics around the corner,’ Jimmy
explained. ‘And when people lose their families, they’ll try and
claim that I could have done more, or sooner.’
‘They’d have no precedent,’ a man said. ‘You’re not responsible
for the world – although, when you came back through time you did
kind of take on that responsibility.’
‘I don’t like you,’ I told the man. ‘You’re on our side, so start
thinking and planning.’
‘We’ll be rushing through some legislation,’ the PM put in. ‘Kind
of … you can’t sue Jimmy … legislation.’
‘Best way to do that,’ a solicitor began, ‘would be for the UK
Government to take all responsibility for Jimmy’s actions, as you
might for a police officer or soldier.’
‘I’ve seen Jimmy invade countries and topple leaders,’ the PM
stated. ‘So there’s no way we’re taking responsibility for him!’
We thanked the PM, and left the legal brains to think up
precedents, and no doubt charge us a great deal for their time. And
claiming the free beer we gave them on expenses. In a quiet bar
upstairs, we sat.
‘You OK?’ Jimmy asked us.
‘So far, so good,’ I said. ‘I could see you losing your rag with the
press though. I wanted to hit a few of them.’
‘It’ll be manic,’ Jimmy warned us. ‘But never forget why we’re
doing this.’ Ten minutes later, Jimmy headed off to address those
world leaders that were not “M” Group.
In our room, I turned on the TV, and we sat on the bed watching
the news for hours, flicking channels. The Russian leader was home
already and giving interviews, so too the French President and the
German leader.
At 5am we raided the mini-bar for chocolates, having to wait for
breakfast, and again watched the news. It was Sunday morning, and
the BBC were showing the turnout at various churches in Africa, the
sermons apparently about us. They cornered a slow moving Kenya
housewife in a floral dress, and asked her about Jimmy Silo being a
time traveller.
‘We prayed for a miracle, and God sent us Jimmy Silo, saviour of
all Africa.’
I smiled. At least some fucker appreciated us. I rang down and
asked for the papers, wondering just how long it would be before we
got the barristers involved. The broadsheets concentrated on the
science and politics a lot, time travel and global wars. The tabloids
were mostly “revealed” and “admitted”, and “we knew all along”
stories. But the Sun Newspaper was behind us, a wartime headline
of “The fight starts today!” and “We take back our planet!” Good
old British wartime spirit, I thought, showing Helen.
Then I noticed a sexy image of Shelly, taken by a school friend.
‘Tart!’ I said. I could not decide if I wanted to sue them or not, they
had stayed just inside the line, and I could not decide if I was mad at
my thirteen year old daughter more than them.
Jimmy sent us back to Wales, staying on in London to give
interviews. We didn’t see him for four days, interviews given to just
about all of the world’s agencies, Jimmy taking more time with the
foreign press than our own.
I then noticed the formal request for help, full page spreads in
many papers. The Silo Foundation, the one that ex-President Harvey
ran to promote student travel and green issues, was asking for
donations, and staff to work cheaply in Africa. It asked for scientists,
engineers, researchers, computer experts, microbiologists, the works.
When Jimmy returned, that evening, I asked about the appeal. ‘It
may surprise you, but there are millions of people out there who
want to help, even to the point of working in Africa for peanuts.
We’ll recruit them and put then to work.’
‘Where?’
‘The Congo. Do we … have anywhere we can build offices, labs
and apartments?’ he asked with a grin.
‘You knew, didn’t you.’
‘I knew, but it had to look like your idea.’
‘We’ll house them in New Kinshasa,’ I released.
‘Create an area in the northwest, full of apartments and labs. Oh,
and a few churches.’
‘Churches!’
‘Most of the people who come will be Christians.’
‘Oh’, I said after a moment. ‘And…’
‘And … they’re motivated to help.’
‘Don’t they expect the good lord to provide?’ I teased.
‘Many Christians are more practical than that; they’ll see me as
an instrument of The Lord. Get on it quickly, please.’

Praise the Lord!

Things hadn’t changed that much after exposure, people around the
estate got used to the idea, and I got back to work. We had enough
builders around New Kinshasa to build a city, let alone a research
facility, so I diverted resources. Six apartment blocks were started,
labs, even the churches, and I figured that they would not take long.
Meanwhile, a team in the Goma Pentagon began checking the
CVs of applicants, and sixty kids from Shanghai arrived back in
Africa, many earmarked to head-up research projects, most of them
already practising Christians. I had to wonder about blinding laser
rifles and battery grenades being developed by good Christians.
The police guarding the estate had painted double red lines on the
roads outside, and convenient verges on which to stop were blocked
off with small wooden fences. Cars that stopped were immediately
fined, drivers taken out and questioned. A second offence meant that
the car was removed to the police yard, a hefty fine to get it back.
A bus company offered to run tours to us from Cardiff and Bath,
but we hit them with an injunction straight away and won the costs,
a very expensive fiasco for the company. Powerful video cameras
were installed at the gates and photographers and hacks were
recorded, all identified. The first paper to annoy us lost all rights to
attend interviews for a year, a fact we made clear to the others, the
number of photographers lessening.
Our friendly local farmer drove past at 5am one morning, the
police conveniently not about, and spread pig shit over the verge
were spectators normally congregated. If they wanted to stand and
stare, they could now endure the pong. Two people climbed the
outer fence, both getting nipped by the dogs and arrested.
We then employed a useful tactic, that of pre-recorded film of us
at certain locations being released. People thought us in Goma when
we were at the house, or in London when we were in Cardiff. We
were seen landing in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York at the same
time. Some poor old hacks had actually flown to those locations, at
their expense, which was the whole point.
Our own version of Air Force One was ready, but when being test
flown, its defences were unfortunately tested. An F15 flew up
behind the 747, tracked on radar by the 747, and hit with an EMP.
Scratch one F15, the pilot ejecting and breaking his arms. Next, they
fired a modified missile, one with no warhead, and the 747 hit it
with an EMP, the F15 this time twenty miles away and taking no
chances.
The plane flew up to London overnight, and we met it at
Heathrow Airport, twelve journalists invited aboard, a note sent to
the paper that pissed us off about their lack of invitation. Two of the
journalists were American, the rest from British papers, the BBC
planning on meeting us in Goma. Flying down, we enjoyed in-flight
beds and showers, the girls exploring the plane at length.
Lucy surprised me by her visit to the cockpit, her hour-long visit.
She sat asking difficult questions, and seemed to know the 747
inside out. I spent time with the reporters, but most of them simply
wanted to sleep. We landed at Goma hub around 5am, the terminal
quiet, and pointed the press towards the airport hotel as we headed
the short distance around to my house.
At 6am I plunged into the pool, the perfect antidote to a long
flight. I found a very large bug that I couldn’t identify, doing
breaststroke, and flicked it out. At 10am, and with the press fed and
gathered, we showed them around the Pentagon building, allowing
them in on a few meetings, projects described. The reactions from
the parliament staff there were mixed, some reacting to us just as
before – in awe of us – a few just scared rigid as we passed. Jimmy
would take time to talk with the security staff, many of who were
ex-Rifles, a lapel badge identifying them to other Rifles. Jimmy
would enquire about campaigns served in, their home towns and
family. He was now more like Prince Charles than the prince
himself.
The press were all bought lunch at the outdoor café, a view of the
mini-marina and canal as we ate, before further meetings were
tackled. At 4pm we led everyone to the main marina, the Indian
restaurant we choose instantly packed out. We eased back with cold
beers, answering questions, mostly about Africa.
The attending press were then all handed five hundred pounds
worth of casino chips – labelled as a promotional offer, and we
bumped into many of them there later. Five different glossy
magazines had been invited to the mansion, turning up the next
morning, all of us posing for shots, the mansion photographed at
length. We hoped it would ease any curiosity in the place.
That afternoon, Po, Yuri and Marko came around for a scheduled
meeting, scheduled to be in the sun around the pool with a cold beer.
Po was mind-blown by it all, Marko and Yuri coping well enough.
‘Why me, why me?’ Po asked, sat in a little white hat to keep the
sun off. ‘You help me.’
‘I knew that you would be a great asset,’ Jimmy began. ‘And
your family has a destiny, a part in the battle ahead.’
The little fat Chinaman grew an inch. ‘Destiny,’ he repeated,
giving it some thought.
‘And us?’ Yuri asked.
‘I also knew that you would be assist me.’
‘Do you … want anything from us?’ Yuri asked. ‘Do you need
money?’
‘No, I just need you to carry on being yourselves,’ Jimmy replied.
‘But thanks for the offer.’
‘How’re the burger bars?’ I asked.
‘Six thousand are operating,’ Yuri replied. ‘A few more planned.’
‘And the bookshops?’
‘Almost four thousand. Also doing well. We offer incentives and
vouchers from bookshop to burger bar to coffee shop.’
‘And the farms?’ I asked.
‘Now the largest privately owned farm in Russia,’ Yuri proudly
stated, a finger raised. ‘Millions of tonnes of produce. We aim to
start exporting within five years.’
‘But first,’ Jimmy insisted, ‘we’ll make sure that the poorer
Russian people have good food.’
‘Da, da.’
With the guests gone, a short walk down to their own houses,
Jimmy said, ‘Tomorrow I’m taking Air Force One around the world,
you stay here and do some work.’
‘Helen?’
‘Has a baby to watch, so she can help you get things moving
along down here, especially Southern Sudan. I marked on the map
where to drill, which made the CAR boys laugh.’
‘Maybe we’ll get lucky and strike oil,’ I sarcastically noted.
The next morning we said goodbye to Jimmy, and I opened my
office – otherwise known as my laptop by the pool, and sat checking
emails. My greatest problem that day was a little sunburn on my
feet. We were isolated from the world and enjoying the weather, but
not insulated from the world.
The Iranians had branded us a liars and false prophets, some talk
of death threats, and Saudi clerics repeated those calls, possibly with
a little nudge from the House of Saud. Hezzbolah went so far as to
offer money for our deaths, and I had to stop and wonder about their
logic, since the Somalis in Southern Lebanon worshiped us, and
became more aggressive with their reluctant landlords. The Africans
were also in no mood for such threats, and Arab businessmen found
Africa an increasingly hard place to do business.
The Sudanese were in a bind, because many of their clerics were
vocally opposed to us, yet the Khartoum Government wanted our
cooperation in Southern Sudan. And there started the first sparks of
a problem, with Sudanese business owners putting up posters about
us in full view of heavily armed Kenyan Rifles. The posters were
ordered down at gunpoint, windows broken, shopkeepers threatened.
In the two weeks that followed I grew used to the mansion,
enjoying the facilities – and the peace and quiet; anyone arriving at
the road’s outer gate getting a rifle up their nose. New Kinshasa was
growing rapidly, some thirty thousand people now gainfully
employed, more cranes and bulldozers than anyone in human history
had ever seen gathered in one place. Towers grew by a floor every
few days, and you could not see across the city any longer.
Sixty of our standard apartment blocks had been raised along the
northwest road, stretching out as far as the eye could see. At the end
of it, a large compound had been fenced off, a wall now under
construction. Inside, the first few buildings were taking shape, as
well as a tall apartment block for our volunteer army, and a quick
concrete church completed, stained glass windows and all.
With a gentle nudge from senior ministers at the Pentagon, I
sanctioned a mother of a cathedral in the city centre, five other
churches to be dotted around. I was sensitive to the local religious
beliefs, and had no desire to upset the populace before they even
took up residence in their shiny new city.
Our stock exchange was now busy, especially the commodities
futures exchange, and futures contracts were traded for raw
materials produced right around our region, which now included
Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Angola. It was the single largest
dedicated commodities futures exchange, and most days had more
hungry mouths than materials to sell. More raw material futures
were now traded here than in New York, and several New York
firms had moved in. There started another problem.
Some companies would buy up mines, and sell futures against
their own holdings, which was not illegal – that’s how futures
contracts got started. It did, however, lead to some accusations about
price fixing and poor disclosure. I kept an eye on it, and when I
noticed spikes in materials I ordered their production increased,
knocking prices back down. A few greedy fingers got burnt.
Our northern rail link now turned east and moved through
Southern Sudan to either Kenya or Ethiopia, on to the port south of
Mogadishu. A large railway marshalling yard was created in
Southern Sudan to help, and traffic on the northern rail link
increased significantly, helping to pay for its expensive creation.
You could, if you were daft enough, now board a passenger train
near Mogadishu and travel all the way across to Sierra Leone. Ideas
about romantic train journeys would not live up to expectations for
students, since the scenery often consisted of mines and oilfields.
Steffan Silo was busy on the Angolan line, rail and road link, and
had made no mention yet of his brother’s time travelling. He was
also involved with the mono-rail, which passed close to my
mansion, and the first loop was now ready. People could stop at the
various stations along the route, the one small problem being that
you’d step down into a muddy building site.
For practise, the trains were running, and curious tourists would
take the hour-long trip to peer at the new city, the track elevated
through most of the monstrous building site. The golf hotel was
finished, as was the nearby regional airport, and Dash-7s were
moved over from Goma hub airfield, a few 737s as well. People
started calling it the Golf Airport, till I pointed out that the other
airport was just a stone’s throw away from the golf course.
With the girls back in Wales, in school, Helen and I enjoyed the
peace of the mansion, just the two of us and the baby. And the
twenty household staff. And the twenty guards. I introduced baby
Liz to the pool, and once in she could not get enough, often
screaming if I took her out. We had another fish in the family, and I
had to wonder about my aquatic genes.
Most days I video-linked to Major Big Paul at Duckland. He was
having the time of his life, in the thick of the fighting, Skids and his
mate now out there. That pair had gone through the training near
Mawlini and in the Somali highlands, got themselves signed off and
flew in. They now ran long-range missions on foot, fully kitted out
with the latest gadgets. With the body counts produced, I had to
wonder if al-Qa’eda had anyone left.
In additional to the four thousand men we had on the ground, we
were supplying the Northern Alliance with weapons, nudging them
to keep the Taliban at bay in their regions. But a few days after I
spoke to Big Paul last, a rocket landed near Duckland, a few minor
wounds inflicted. It was a big rocket, a range of thirty miles or more,
and could have been made by either the Iranians or Syrians. It was a
worrying development, but we were sure that the Taliban could not
smuggle many into Afghanistan. Kandahar airfield was then hit, two
killed and a dozen wounded.
Majors Lobo and Obantou set-up OPs along western Afghanistan,
finding and intercepting a consignment from Iran. I was worried
what Jimmy might do. I should have been more worried about Skids
and company, because they flew in, grabbed the missiles with a few
Russian technicians, drove them to the Iranians border and fired
them off into the nearest Iranian border town.
A quick inspection by the Iranians revealed that they had been hit
with their own rockets, a bit cheeky, but blamed American
warplanes. There were no American jets in Afghanistan, and few
commentators believed the Iranians.
When Jimmy had finished his three-week global tour he returned
to Goma, arriving with French Michelle. Shelly was much better
with Michelle these days, and was known to borrow make-up – and
not give it back. Jimmy relaxed around the pool that afternoon, but
called a meeting the next day, Ngomo and Abdi in attendance. We
placed a map of Afghanistan on a table in the lounge and studied it.
‘The Iranians are now supplying their old enemies the Taliban,’
Jimmy began. ‘For no reason other than to piss off the Americans,
and us.’
‘It is a long border,’ Ngomo cautioned.
‘There’s something that we should consider,’ Jimmy told us. ‘The
… big picture. In a few short years the Iranians will move towards
completing their first nuclear bomb, and Israel and America will
strike at them. When that happens, there’s a good chance of setting
the Middle East ablaze.’
I already didn’t like where this was going. ‘What’ll you do?’
‘At the moment … I don’t know. There is still pressure from the
Russians and Chinese on the Iranians, but that just means the
Iranians get better at hiding their nuclear ambitions.’
‘We can place men on the border,’ Abdi suggested. ‘Maybe even
a trip or two across the border.’
I liked the sound of that even less.
‘That would cause Iranian soldiers to move east, and start a long
and drawn out conflict along their border,’ Jimmy pointed out. ‘It
will tie-up their army, but why would it change their minds about
nuclear weapons?’
‘Will the Iranians try and use nuclear weapons?’ I asked.
‘No, they’re not stupid,’ Jimmy responded. ‘But the Israelis
won’t take the chance, they’ll strike first, maybe even a nuclear
strike. But there is one possible solution.’
‘And…’ I nudged after a moment.
‘An assault, by soldiers, against the leadership, against the
Revolutionary Guard,’ Jimmy stated.
‘How?’ I asked.
‘An airborne assault into Tehran, radars jammed, EMP used. If
enough of the senior commanders were killed it would mean that the
entire leadership changes hands.’
‘Jesus,’ I let out.
‘Anyway, I’ll discuss it with the Americans and Israelis. It would
cause problems, but not as many problems as the Israelis firing
nuclear weapons at Iran. That could set the world ablaze.’
I could see Ngomo and Abdi considering the plan. We spoke
about Afghanistan and made a few plans, reinforcements sent to the
west of Afghanistan to stop convoys.
After just a day in our company, Jimmy took Air Force One on a
trip around Africa, returning ten days later. I was up to date on
everything, I considered, and handed over to the parliament many of
my projects - once I was happy with the direction. We flew back
with the same group of reporters, the poor hacks having spent more
than three weeks aboard the damn plane. Their seats had their bum
outlines permanently marked into them.
The reporters did, however, have a better attitude towards us
now, first name terms used both ways. I showed them the baby and
allowed snaps to be taken. When chatting, I mentioned the Iranians
supplying rockets to the Taliban to fire at US troops. That was kind
of a mistake, but also kind of planned, the US media picking it
straight away and jumping up and down. When I told Jimmy what I
had done he just made a face, not concerned. He was more
concerned that he was not getting enough baby time with Liz.
Back at the house, a senior police officer approached. ‘Might I
have a word, Mister Holton.’
‘Not if you call me Mister Holton. Paul will do.’
‘Your daughter took a shine to one of our young officers –’
‘Did he … take a shine to her?’ I asked.
‘No, he was just being polite. But –’
‘But I’ll deal with it. She’s … maturing quickly.’
‘And looks a lot older than thirteen in make-up,’ he felt he had to
mention.
In the house, I sat Shelly down. ‘Darling, if you get flirty with
boys over sixteen – like adult police officers, you’ll not baby-sit
again. Or come down to Goma with us. Am I being reasonably
clear?’
‘I wasn’t flirting –’
Helen cut her off with a jabbed finger. ‘Watch it, missy.’

Ebb and flow

The austerity measures that the European countries were now


implementing were not being well received by the public, but they
were being solidly counterbalanced by savings in fuel and transport,
as well as massive healthcare savings. Coal-oil had everyone
excited, and we were doing our best to slow them up, knowing that
any surge in cheap oil would be bad all around.
The civil defence planning was picking up a pace, so to the worry
about it, men in spacesuits seen walking in and out of inflatable
tents. Panic had not gripped the streets yet, but a few headlines could
have been better avoided. Stocks of emergency supplies were being
piled up ready, and soldiers were being trained in barrier control and
riot control. The good news was being counterbalanced by the
worry, but at least there was some good news to be had.
More than two thousand electric buses now bumped along British
roads, and the Green Party and the environmentalists had nothing to
say. Even our oil-fired power stations were green. In the
Netherlands, some sixty percent of cars were now electric, Sweden
not far behind, Denmark and Germany introducing the cars in great
numbers. BMW and Mercedes were, however, working on electric
versions of their basic models. If anything, they stood to make more
money than using their usual fossil fuel engines.
One day, Jimmy called me down to the house, sounding excited.
‘Pity we could not have finished this when we were in Goma,’ he
said, showing me photographs of what appeared to be large vats.
‘VAT14?’ I whispered.
‘No.’
‘Oh. Then what?’
‘The Shanghai kids, now based in Goma, have developed a two
part chemical process. They drop coal into a bucket of the stuff, and
the next day they add another chemical. Give it a stir, and the next
day you have coal-oil.’
‘Shit. That should do away with the refineries.’
‘You are a dumb fuck sometimes.’
‘What?’ I protested.
‘What are you missing?’ he pressed.
I scanned the photographs again. ‘Dunno. I give up.’
‘What’s the most expensive part off the process?’
‘Mining,’ I confidently stated.
‘And so…?’
‘And so … I still don’t get it.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘They find a coal seam, drill down, make a
hole, pump in the first chemical, pump out the liquid, add the second
chemical … and we have oil. No more underground mining.’
‘Ah … that is good. It’ll save a lot of money.’
‘You’re wasted as my assistant, you know that.’
‘Yeah, fuck off, grumpy. What’ll the unit cost be?’
‘Five dollars a barrel.’
‘And … we’ll be keeping this very, very quiet, yes?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Jimmy emphasised. ‘Just us, and the Japanese, who
may have offered a shit load of money for it.’
‘I thought the Chinese would sell them oil.’
‘They will, this’ll not satisfy the Japanese.’
Helen showed me a newspaper story. Seemed that the Pope had
decided he didn’t like us very much, and asked his followers not to
be fooled by gimmicks. That put him at odds with Roman Catholic
bishops in Africa, who dare not speak out against us. I felt a schism
coming on.
That following week I Googled us, finding a million entries. I
narrowed the search to the US bible belt, and found plenty of
dissenters. Yep, we were, apparently, false prophets, and they
prayed that we would repent.
The main house now accommodated four high-ranking officials
from the British Government, their aim being to rein us in, or at least
to have some input into what we released to the media. Jimmy knew
them all and was happy enough to have them around. They were all
in their forties, too old for Shelly, so I was happy with them as well.
But they had been joined by a senior White House representative.
His job was not to replace Keely, but we all knew that it was. Jimmy
told the man that Keely stays – or else.
The French, who had sponsored most of the human genome
project, created a huge laboratory for the study of the flu family,
Jimmy meeting with them to tell them what he knew. The senior
research staff were the only ones to know of the numbers that would
die, and duly sworn to secrecy. We donated the money we received
from the Japanese to the centre, and more than three hundred of the
world’s best scientists got to work about the beakers and pipettes,
their first task being to measure the interaction between the super-
drug and the flu family.
The demand for the super-drug spiked, till Jimmy went public
and explained that it was best used when someone fell ill, and could
be lessened if used years before. People obviously wanted the
Manson drug, but were not about to get it, each of the various
governments holding out – not least because that was the agreement
they had all made with Jimmy.
Days ticked off the calendar and I got used to our new reality.
Lucy cried when they ran a story about her, but Shelly loved the
publicity, her Facebook site popular. I then pointed out that she was
missing a trick. She created her own propriety website, removed the
Facebook account, and placed Google Adsense adverts down the
side, making a steady income, and buying whatever she wanted
online via Paypal. What a difference to when I was a kid. I used to
get my pocket money on a Saturday morning, pop around the shop
and buy sweets. It was a different world.
Seeing Shelly’s pictures on the website, Helen suggested a few
professional shots be taken, and a photographer was duly organised.
I made sure that there were no sexy snaps, and was amazed with the
result. Shelly now looked like her mum, and was becoming a beauty.
As well as a minor celebrity in her own right.
The start of summer, 2013, turned out to be warm in the UK, a
trip taken up to the castle in Scotland. We let the photographers in
on day one, affording them plenty of time, then placed guards on the
hills. A few long distance shots appeared, and I put a gossip
magazine on my shit list, banning them from any future press
conferences.
Jimmy flew off to North Korea and circled the world in Air Force
One, leaving Helen behind with the baby. He took Trish along,
causing speculation of an affair, the mile high club joined. Jimmy
said no, and he didn’t care enough to lie.

During a September meeting with the Americans, held in San


Francisco, Jimmy pushed people hard on the austerity measures and
pandemic planning. US President Fitz tried to introduce a few
initiatives of his own, but got nowhere.
President Fitz also tried to nudge a slow down on oil production,
and again pushed for a meeting with the Saudis. We politely refused,
and I had to wonder if he was paying attention. He also exhibited
less of an interest in Africa than Chase had done, and I got the
feeling that we’d be working around him.
Back in the UK, Jimmy sat down and ordered housing projects in
Greece, particularly around Thessaloniki. It was all labelled as
property investment, and others copied our move – the right thing
being done for the wrong reason. The British PM knew about the
pending Athens earthquake, but few others. Jimmy had hinted at it
during various “M” Group meetings years previously, but no one
seemed to be talking about it openly, Jimmy struggling with when to
inform the Greek Government.
The argument was simple: tell them, and if it leaks out the Greek
economy is ruined overnight. Don’t tell them, and be accused of not
giving them time to prepare. Being a bit sly, Jimmy planned on
releasing the news about Athens when the world was focused on a
pandemic. Release a bad news story on a very bad news day, he had
once said.
Since Jimmy had informed the world who he was a few dozen
lawsuits had appeared, most defended quite easily. Some were easily
deflected in the press: your government knew twenty years ago, go
talk to them.
October saw Jimmy being moody and distant. One day he simply
said, ‘It’s time.’
He meant the start of the troubles, the start of the end, and
worried Helen and me by injecting the girls directly with his own
blood, a top up for the baby. He made a statement to the BBC that
afternoon, stating that he expected a SARS pandemic to breakout in
Asia in the next few weeks, and that the death toll would be high.
Flights to Asia dropped away overnight, and the Asian nations got
themselves into a flap. Vials of super-drug were flown out, the
Chinese on a charm offensive and either selling the drug cheaply, or
making donations.
People in many Asian countries began wearing facemasks, and I
started watching the World Health Organisation website for updates.
One day there was nothing, the next day a thousand were infected in
Singapore, the following day a thousand dead, including a few
people who had been injected with the super-drug. Panic spread
quickly.
Flights were duly cancelled by the various governments, not that
there were many passengers to be carried. I started focusing on the
outbreak rather than my work, and that was a mistake. I started
feeling that I was on the sidelines instead of being in the mix and
helping out.
A few days later, and Hong Kong was seeing fatalities. The
disease reached Tokyo, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Jimmy had been
waiting, timing his move for optimum use of Rescue Force. On a
rainy Wednesday morning we drove over to Mapley and met Bob
Davies, our sour mood obvious as soon as we arrived.
‘What we do next … will cost us fifty lives,’ Jimmy told Bob and
myself. ‘But we dare not just sit and do nothing.’
‘Is this going to get out of control?’ Bob asked.
‘It will,’ Jimmy affirmed, no energy in his voice. ‘Call in the
communications officer.’
When the man was sat behind his screen, Jimmy said, ‘Set filter
to everyone, all reserves and affiliates.’
‘Filter set,’ came back a few seconds later.
‘Sound full emergency recall.’
The man glanced at us, took a breath, then moved his mouse. An
alarm sounded, followed by an automated message.
Doc Graham stepped in. ‘SARS?’ he flatly asked.
‘SARS,’ Jimmy confirmed. ‘There’s not much we can do, but we
must try. And we must try and reach the villages and towns when
their capitals no longer care. You’re in charge of the field
deployment, headquarters to be Hong Kong. But keep a good
reserve ready to help North Korea; they’ll suffer a lot.’
The PM called after we had returned home, worried that our RF
teams may be needed here in the UK. Jimmy assured him that a few
hundred people would make no difference here, that they would
achieve more in Asia.
At the house, Jimmy led me into the grounds, the rain holding off
as we lost the daylight. ‘I know I’m doing the right thing,’ he began.
‘But it still makes me feel like shit. I keep wondering if … if maybe
I could have done more. But all my research has shown the Flu
family to be adaptive. The more you hit it, the more it changes. And
if you hit it with too much … you make it much stronger.’
‘I think most sensible people will buy that,’ I offered, wondering
what was going through his mind.
‘With all the technology to hand, I keep wondering if I should be
focused elsewhere. Truth is, defeating al-Qa’eda is more important
than the lives of all the people that will die from diseases. Still, your
head tends to argue with itself.’
‘If we swamp the world with the drug now it’ll be no use later,’ I
said, repeating Jimmy’s own words.
‘Let a million die now to save ten million later. Yes, but try and
tell that to the families. Try and look them in the eye and say it was
necessary.’ We walked on. ‘It’s been easy up to now.’
‘Easy for you, maybe; it hasn’t been easy for the rest of us.’
‘It’s been easy for you all … compared to what happens next.’ He
sighed. ‘I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just the
bodies I have to step over to get there that’s the problem.’
‘When Karl died, I went for a walk, down to the river,’ I began.
‘And Rob started talking about his dogs. He had buried six old dogs
here, but also saw the new pups arrive. Life renewed.’
‘A good analogy,’ he agreed, managing a forced smile. ‘The
countries affected will rebuild their populations, but it will take a
while. And, in the next few weeks, the world’s stock markets will go
to shit.’
‘Did you … bet a few quid?’ I risked.
‘I couldn’t take the risk. And I wasn’t in the mood.’
That evening I sat with Helen and the girls, and we watched the
TV news on our large plasma screen. The Rescue Force deployment
got full coverage, more than those victims that they were on their
way to help.
The next morning, in my office, I checked the W.H.O. website,
finding an estimated five thousand dead in Singapore. I had to check
the figures, and then Googled ‘SARS death toll’. The total was
around twenty-five thousand already around Asia. Fact was, many
people had been ill for a week before figures had started to be
collated, and those figures were being collated at the morgues. That
meant there were more sick people in the hospitals, or in their own
homes.
That evening, a British holidaymaker died after his return from
Asia, and our health service went on full alert. Police officers were
filmed wearing masks on London streets. Mass injections of the
Manson drug were carried out around the government, the police
and the emergency services.
The next day I again checked the websites that I had tagged,
finding an estimated thirty thousand dead. By lunchtime, three more
Brits had died, a few Germans, Italians, and I was finding it hard to
concentrate. When two people died in Nairobi, I recalled many of
our nurses from Africa villages and pointed them towards the cities.
The villages were isolated enough, so they’d have to cope. If
anything, they were the lucky ones.
Thinking on, I contacted Ngomo and put the Rifles on alert to
help out, and to keep the peace if need be, President Errol already in
panic mode. I instructed our hospitals to kick out anyone that could
be sent home, and to cancel all non-essential operations. There was
little more that I could do, and I started pacing up and down,
wearing out the carpet.
As I sat down to eat that evening, eleven people had died in the
UK, a hundred around Europe, the first few cases appearing in the
Americas. The one bright spot was the news story of sick people
getting the super-drug and recovering. It lifted my spirits.
Rescue Force were now spread around Asia, but as yet not
needed in all of the places they had targeted. In Singapore they were
utilised, since the hospitals could not cope with the mass influx. I
called Po and asked how Hong Kong was, finding that he had fled
with his family to Goma, where they had banned all visitors for the
duration. It was not a bad idea.
Australia lost its first few people, New Zealand a handful,
mainland China on lockdown after losing a hundred people. Then
our IT manager, Gareth fell sick. He had been injected, so it was a
mystery – as well as a shock. A bank of tests revealed it to be gastric
flu, and unrelated. We all collectively sighed, then shouted at Gareth
for worrying us. We took back our grapes, porn magazines and get-
well cards.
The British PM was considering closing schools and public
places, on the phone to Jimmy most every day, but it was a waiting
game, Jimmy unable to give accurate figures till the pandemic took
hold. And it wasn’t worth destroying the British economy over.
Jimmy re-assured the PM, whilst being gloomy with me.
That weekend, I tried not to think of the outside world too much
and to spend time with the family, the TV news off. The household
“M” group were all concerned, the mood not good, the harsh reality
of 2013 starting to bite. They had known these days would arrive,
but problems on paper were just that; intangible and easy not to
worry over. Now, reality was here, and biting us on the arse.
Monday morning, I checked the websites and stopped dead.
Frozen. Sixty-five thousand people were dead. I made a tea, very
slowly, stirring it at length and staring into the brown liquid. I drank
the tea, but I didn’t remember even making it and started a fresh one,
wondering why the cup was dirty.
I stared out of my office window at the trees bending in the wind,
then Googled for African casualties, finding the number at two
thousand already, a few hundred in our own region. I emailed the
corporation and enquired if anyone we knew had died, shocked to
find that one of our housekeepers was dead, another sick, a junior
minister dead. I had expected high casualties, but I now felt
somehow responsible. More than that, I felt that I would be held
responsible by the public: they were dead, and it was my fault.
If I ever had an understanding of what a surgeon felt like after
losing a patient, and informing the family, this was it. I told my staff
that I was going down to the house, and drove my electric car down
past the lake. I was so used to not having to charge it that I was
startled when the damn thing started to bleep. ‘Twenty miles to go,’
the digital readout said.
In the main office I found Helen at her screen, the baby in her cot
next to Helen’s desk. I slumped down and sighed. ‘Some of our
housekeepers in Goma have died. And a minister.’
Jimmy lifted his head for a moment, but said nothing. What was
there to say. I sat and stared at baby Liz, the cold harsh reality of life
and death all around me now.
Without looking up, I asked, ‘How long will it go on for?’
‘Three months,’ Jimmy softly replied. ‘So if it’s affecting you
now, we’ll not get much done.’
‘It’s that feeling of helplessness,’ I said, still focused on baby Liz.
‘Wanting to do more.’
‘Welcome to my life,’ Jimmy said, sighing loudly. He stood and
stretched, checking the biscuit tin. Sharon and the others were trying
to just knuckle down and get on with it, and I wondered why it was
affecting me the more. Perhaps I was used to making calls and fixing
things, too used to achieving results.
‘Po’s locked away in his mansion in Goma,’ I mentioned. ‘So
much for isolation.’
Jimmy took a call. To no one in particular, he said, ‘They
estimate around thirty thousand sick in this country.’ He knocked the
kettle on.
I stood. ‘Is there anything more we could do?’ I asked in a strong
whisper.
Jimmy focused on me for a second, the others watching. ‘No.
And … this is just the start. This pandemic hasn’t even got started
yet, and the next round will be worse. What’s important … is that
the tree of mankind survives, the buds, and not all of the leaves.
New shoots will come around, new babies will be born, mankind
will go on.’
I nodded absently. ‘Tourism in Africa will be dead by the end of
the week. Couldn’t pay people to get on a damn plane.’
‘I had the hotel and safari staff sent home on full pay.’
‘There’s that at least, I suppose. Are the press after you?’
‘Fifty emails a second,’ Sharon reported from across the room.
‘There’s not much I can say without making it seem worse,’
Jimmy told me, and returned to his screen.
I wandered out, and decided to walk back to my office, the wind
fresh on my face.
Two days later we stood at a hundred and fifty thousand dead.
According to the graph I was looking at it was slowing, the rate of
increase slowing at least. What had been an exponential curve was
rapidly becoming a bell curve. There seemed to be some hope. The
figures hit a plateau and started to fall, but I was reading the chart
wrong. I cursed the stupid website. The chart was of the daily
deaths, the final total being the sum of all the days.
After calming down I still took some hope from the graph, since
the number dying per day was reducing. I Googled the total, finding
it to be just short of eight hundred thousand people dead - so far. In
the days that followed, the rate of deaths slowed and I took some
comfort from it, even though I knew we had months to go. The stock
markets recovered.
Jimmy then gave an interview to the BBC, on condition that any
news agency could get a feed. They set-up in the lounge.
‘Mister Silo, how has this pandemic played out – compared to
how you expected it to.’
‘It’s the same.’
‘How long have you known … that this would happen?’
‘Obviously … a very long time. It was one of the reasons I came
back; to deliver the super-drug.’
‘The drug is saving many, but close to a million have still died.’
‘I’ve said this before, many times: the Flu virus family mutates
and adapts. The scientists of the future found no cure for all variants
of it, and I don’t have a cure for it.’
‘Forgive me for saying this, but you have – in the past – enjoyed
life, and lived the high life with a smile –’
‘And I aim to again some day soon.’
‘How do you sleep … knowing what you know?’
‘When I took the decision to come back, it was after six billion
people had died. I’ve seen a lot of death, much of it very close up,
and I lost everyone I ever knew or cared about. But when I came
back, it was in the knowledge that failure was a certainty, and that
any lives I saved were a bonus. I had nothing to lose by coming
back, and you … have everything to gain. You have the benefit of
foresight, and with a little luck – and some cooperation – we’ll not
see as many people die.
‘It’s not about trying to save everyone, because I can’t do that, I
could never have done that. It’s about finding a million floundering
fish on the shore, and picking up as many as I can and putting them
back into the ocean. I know I can’t save everyone, but the joy comes
in trying and succeeding to save those that I can. If I let it get to me I
couldn’t operate, I could not function, and I take pleasure in just
seeing people walking about and going about their daily lives,
because we should be in the middle of a nuclear war right now – but
we’re not.
‘A million have died from SARS, and to most people that’s a
great tragedy. To me it’s a great victory, because six billion are still
alive. I work from six billion down to measure my success, you
work from the ground up to measure a failure.’
‘Are we through the worst of this pandemic?’
‘No.’
‘No?’
‘No, there’s more to come. And this is first of several
pandemics.’
‘How many people do you expect to perish?’
‘I won’t be releasing that figure. Since there’s nothing anyone
can do, it’s best to try and enjoy what you have.’
‘I hear that Rescue Force staff have died, even those injected with
the drug.’
‘Yes, twenty have died so far,’ Jimmy confirmed. ‘But they
helped hundreds, injecting the sick and saving them. And as for the
risk, those medics could sit here and wait to fall sick, or they could
do something useful – and make a contribution at least. I’d like to
tell the people … that there are difficult times ahead, but they are
nowhere near as difficult as they could have been. Don’t be sad if a
hundred die, be happy that a thousand are still living, and be happy
that there is a route map.’
Having watched the interview, I was in two minds. He had just
scared the crap out of the world, and given them hope in equal
measure. The PM watched the interview, held a COBRA meeting,
and closed all schools, pubs, clubs – anywhere where people could
pass on the disease. People were still asked to go to work, but to
wear masks on buses and trains.
At my desk, I received an email from Mawlini. Mac had fallen ill
for a day and recovered, his young lady dying. It hit me hard. Later
that day I received another email, informing me that one of Rudd’s
kids had died, despite being injected. That hit me harder. I wore
down the carpet, rubbing my forehead for an hour, working myself
into a spin and not finding any release. I went home early and
hugged Helen for what must have been five minutes, both trying to
reassure the other.
We managed to have a nice meal, the kids off school till further
notice, but at 8pm Shelly took a call, one of her close friends now
dead. My daughter lost it, and there was very little we could do in
the way of being comforting parents, because we were both a step
away from losing it ourselves. With the TV turned down low we just
sat there, trying to cheer each other. I felt like running away with my
family, but where was safe?
In the week that followed, one of Coup’s assistants lost his wife,
Bob Davies lost a brother, and the Prime Minister himself lost two
relatives. The figures started to rise again on the graph, and the
politicians spoke of austerity measures and economic gloom. They
had been warned, and I had to wonder if the fuckers were paying
attention at all.
Singapore and Hong Kong were hit hard, Shanghai lost many,
and North Korea faired badly, four hundred RF staff doing what
they could.
Han came up to my office the day I read those figures, just out for
a walk to clear his head. A lot of people around the estate were
taking those walks these days. ‘Am I disturbing you?’
‘Not getting much done,’ I said. ‘We’ve closed most of the
parliament building in Goma and sent people home.’
‘And the new city?’ Han asked as he sat.
‘They’re all working on, few falling ill amongst the workers.
Seems that dirty hard works helps. What news from China?’
‘Not good, but as expected. Two million sick, half a million dead.
It is … a numbers game.’
‘You’re starting to sound like Jimmy.’
‘If I emulate him in any way, then I will be a very happy man.
And sometimes, I envy your position at his side.’
‘It’s not all fun. Some days I resent the responsibility.’
Han nodded. ‘I have known for some time what would happen,
but now find the news of it like a house falling on me. Jimmy has
known all along, and more, and yet has spoken gently, has
encouraged, and has guided others in a way that I would not be able
to do, not if I lived to be a hundred.’
‘Was a time when that was a joke. These days most people can
live to be a hundred.’
‘Indeed. And my respect for our leader will grow, I’m sure. How
he carries in his mind this information, and does not fold, is beyond
my comprehension.’
‘He went through a lot, more than I can say.’
‘And yet, he is not certifiable … and in a rubber room. Our best
psychiatrists seem to think such a feat impossible, and yet Jimmy
stops to ask if I am coping. I cannot measure, nor do I believe
anyone will ever measure, how strong he is, or how valuable his
presence here is.’
I took a moment, glancing away. ‘I’ve tried not to use him as a
benchmark for myself.’
‘That would not be wise … for any of us,’ Han noted. ‘I find
myself … angry towards myself sometimes when I look in the
mirror. Angry that I am not … stronger. And true strength, that is in
the mind. I have a greater understanding now of your Churchill – I
read the book twice. To be under so much pressure, to send so many
people to their deaths, to gamble all on your own beliefs.’
‘Takes a certain kind of person,’ I put in.
‘Are you … that type of person, Paul?’
‘Based on the past few weeks … no. Jimmy has faith in me,
though god knows why.’
‘You have known a lot of information about the future a long
time, yet have managed to smile and make jokes on many occasions.
I have found this … inspiring. Either you are stronger than you think
… or a complete fucking idiot.’
I laughed loudly. ‘You’ve been around us Brits too long. Don’t
talk like that when you go back China. Please.’
That evening, I borrowed Han’s book about Churchill, and I
started to read, even in the office the next day. It was suggested that
Churchill would have a glass or two of Whiskey last thing at night,
say “sod ‘em all”, and get into bed. He slept better after he had
cursed everyone in general and no one in particular. He also took
power naps around 5pm, and swore by them. I, on the other hand,
slept very little, and I wondered if that fact made a difference to the
human psyche.
Winter closed in, the nights dark, the mood darker. Jimmy took a
flight to France, to the lab working on the virus, and was filmed
chatting to scientists, even offering in advice. It was an image of
hope for people the world over.
Meetings of the world leaders were still on hold, no one keen to
fly. Fitz had not been injected, but the White House had a stock of
the Manson drug just in case. And the poor old US President; he was
new in the job and landed with this. So far, six thousand Americans
had died, a small number compared to many other nations. As
Jimmy suggested, most of the dead came from poor backgrounds,
but so far there was no suggestion that they were denied access to
the super-drug.
Jimmy told me the disease was not suppose to ravage the west,
just Asia for now, and it seemed that ninety percent of the fatalities
were in the Far East.
Christmas came, and few were interested in celebrating, bars still
closed. Jimmy toured hospitals as if he was the Prime Minister,
trying to cheer staff and patients alike, and gave a rousing speech
that I could have seen Churchill making. I could see the politician
that he used to be, the refugee commissioner in Canada. He had the
knack for the rousing speech alright.
Christmas at home was sombre compared to previous years, but
Jimmy insisted that we all eat together and exchange presents, and
the bustle of the main house helped a lot. We drank too much,
played music and wore silly hats, trying if we could to ignore the
outside world, if only for a day.
New Years Eve was spent in the main house again, Cookie
making a meal. Jimmy had made another rousing speech - a New
Year and new hope, and encouraged people to get drunk and set-off
fireworks, but not necessarily at the same time. The Queen had
supplemented her Christmas Day speech with a New Year’s Eve
speech, again calling up the wartime spirit. She did, however,
mention the ‘second chance’ that everyone had been given, thanks to
the arrival of Jimmy, and concentrated on hope for the future.
New Year’s Day saw one of Po’s daughters, Ling, fall ill and die,
leaving two children behind. The virus was popping up in strange
places, seemingly with no connection, and no way to spread the
disease. The one bright spot was the fund Jimmy had launched for
the French research centre; the fund was now being donated to in
large amounts.
The start of 2014 saw Jimmy considering Greece. He accelerated
the building work, and decided to speak to the Greek Ambassador,
inviting the man down to the house. After giving the poor man the
news we feared for his health, and nudged several whiskeys down
him. On top of the pandemic, Greece was now facing complete ruin,
an earthquake due to devastate Athens.
The Greeks had a year, and it was as the Queen had mentioned in
her speech: there was hope, where there was none before.

2014

It took till February for the SARS pandemic to abate, and by then
some five million people were dead, most of the victims to be found
in Asia. Jimmy formally announced that the pandemic was over, and
encouraged everyone to get on with their lives in a speech:
‘This pandemic … has caused a lot of suffering and loss, but that
suffering should not be made worse by people becoming
despondent, by people walking around with their heads low. What’s
needed … is defiance in the face of adversity, the bulldog spirit that
the British people had during the war years. Give two fingers to
SARS, and say to yourselves – we will not be beaten, we will not
give up, we will go on.
‘The stock markets have suffered, the economy has suffered,
businesses have gone bust, people have lost their jobs. If you mope
around feeling sorry for yourselves you’ll make it much worse …
for everyone. Think of your families, think of your children … and
make an effort to cheer them. Take your families out when the
weather allows, go and see those relatives you haven’t seen for a
while – even the ones you don’t like! Take a weekend break, take a
holiday, and spend some money. Put some money back into the
economy.
‘I would like to appeal to everyone to hold a small party this
weekend, and to invite friends over, or to go out. The pubs are now
open, the restaurants, so are the cinemas. If you want to do what’s
best for this country … get out and enjoy yourself. Draw a line
under this experience, learn from it, never forget it, but draw a line
and move on.
‘There’ll be other challenges ahead, but life will go on. You can
face those challenges head on, or you can sit and worry. Either way,
if the diseases want to come and find you they will, the risks are just
the same. And never forget, that some countries faired far worse
than we did. Some countries in the Far East suffered greatly, and
Singapore lost ten percent of its population.
‘Here, fifty thousand people died, many of them elderly and
infirmed, those least able to fight back. But of the quarter million
people who fell seriously ill … all were injected, and most made it.
That’s a quarter million reasons to celebrate, whilst not forgetting
those that died.
‘People of Britain, if you want to do what’s best for yourselves
and this country, then get on with your lives, and don’t be ashamed
to enjoy yourselves, don’t be ashamed to smile when others have
died. This battle is not about how many died, it’s about how many
we saved.’
After the speech, people started calling for Jimmy to be Prime
Minister, a chorus of approval that would not go away. A Facebook
survey put eighty percent of the population backing Jimmy for
Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, not everyone in the world was convinced by us.
The Iranians issued death threats, and claimed that we had created
the virus to make ourselves popular. Other clerics claimed that god
was punishing those that believed in the false prophet that was
Jimmy Silo. Stateside, the bible belt were also calling it God’s
wrath, and a punishment for interfering in the time line. I started
watching Fox News on my laptop, since they were actively
questioning us now, even some suggestion that we profited from
sales of the drug. Basically, Fox News was saying ‘Who the hell do
they think they are’.
When they suggested that we could have done more, assuming
that we knew all along, I arranged an interview with them via the
video conferencing kit we had in the basement. Jimmy must have
known, but he didn’t try and stop me.
‘Mister Holton, what do you say to claims that you knew all
along and could have done more.’
‘We informed the world leaders twenty years ago, and the CIA
had the blood product before that.’
‘Blood product?’
I was just about to stop the world dead.
‘The super-drug and the Manson drug, they’re just varying
strengths of Jimmy’s blood.’
‘Of his … blood?’
‘At first, Jimmy injected people directly with his blood, kids
dying from AIDS, health workers. After that we developed ways to
reproduce what was in Jimmy’s blood. Basically, anyone injected
with the super-drug has been injected with varying strengths of
Jimmy’s blood. I was injected directly, so too my family and many
others.’
‘Mister Silo … drew his own blood … and injected you?’
‘Yes. He didn’t bring any drugs back from the future, he brought
himself back. His blood is much stronger than the Manson drug, a
lot stronger.’
‘And … who else did he inject?’
‘We injected all of the African soldiers, the Rifles, and all the
children in the orphanages. An injection of his blood cures just about
everything, but he only has so much blood.’
‘Well … that’s incredible … as well as gross.’
‘Have you been injected?’
The interviewer took a moment. ‘Yes.’
‘Then you have his blood in your system; you’d best hope he
knows what he’s doing. And your government and CIA knew twenty
years ago. If you got a problem about preparing ahead, you can take
it up with them. Fact is, Jimmy’s blood doesn’t cure all SARS
variations; they’re adaptive. If you don’t know that word, look it up
in the dictionary.’
I realised that I had probably said too much, and cut the
interview. Upstairs I informed Jimmy.
‘Most people know, but no one has quite shouted it from the
rooftops yet,’ Jimmy said. ‘You’ve got the message across … loud
and clear.’
‘Will it affect things?’
He made a face. ‘I had expected someone to leak it earlier.’
That weekend, the bars and restaurants were packed out, damp
British beaches well attended, parks and zoos seeing booming trade.
The bulldog spirit was back.

Big Paul returned to us a few days later, the prodigal son returning.
‘Nice holiday?’ I quipped.
‘The breakfast bar was dodgy, the pool dirty, and the locals were
not friendly. Exchange rate was good though.’
I fetched him a tea in the diner. ‘How’s it going out there?’
‘Good. Spirits high, body count is good, casualties low.’
‘Any more missiles?’
‘No, and we fucked off the Iranians by giving the Iranian
resistance in the south east of their country some weapons, food and
money.’
‘Least we could for our Iranian friends,’ I quipped. ‘How’s
morale?’
‘Solid; no problems. Two Chinese lads died from SARS – that
was a blow – a dozen fell ill and recovered. Isolation was a good
thing for us I reckon. Couple of the lads lost family back home, but
we told them to stay put. A few went all Rambo and shot up the
ragheads.’
‘What do they think about us?’ I broached.
‘They love you to bits, especially the African lads. They now call
themselves Sons of Silo, and there’s a vampire detachment -’
‘Vampire?’
‘They took Jimmy’s blood,’ Big Paul said with a grin.
‘Not much to do in the evenings … I’m guessing.’
‘Not much; the lads do twenty-four hour patrols just to stay
active.’
‘Are we winning?’ I asked.
‘I’d be surprised if there were any of the original fighters still
alive. We get a lot of Pakistani Taliban crossing over for a punch –
up, and now more Arabs. They come from Yemen, Syria, Saudi, all
over. And the Taliban now know that anyone seen carrying a gun is
dead meat before he realises it. They drive around with white flags
on their cars.’
‘And the Northern Alliance?’ I asked.
‘Lazy bunch of useless fucks. Can’t be trusted, and they won’t
attack the Taliban because they know we’re doing their job for
them.’
‘Lebanon is quiet, and Somalia,’ I said. ‘All the fighters heading
for you.’
‘We’ve buried eleven thousand various fighters,’ Big Paul said, a
glance over his shoulder. ‘They’re a dumb bunch. We set traps, and
they take the bait. But because no fucker survives, no one across the
border knows about the traps. So they keep coming.’
‘International cohesion holding up?’
‘Fuck, aye. You’ll see Americans punching out other Yanks if
they insult a Chinese lad in their patrol. They’re all tight as fuck, and
they all compete to see which patrol can out-do the others. One
team, led by a US Ranger, walked sixty-two miles, shot up forty
fighters, and walked back without a break.’
‘A bit of dick measuring gong on,’ I realised.
‘They’re soldiers … and they’ve been injected,’ Big Paul
emphasised, his eyebrows raised. ‘The Taliban can smell the
testosterone miles away. Oh, first group of Germans joined us, took
some ribbing about the war – and their late arrival, but they’re good
lads. All fucking Jimmy’s size, so they don’t get a lot of shit.’

After the furore of the blood disclosure had ebbed a little, and the
weird speculation about Jimmy’s body had eased, Fox News were
back on the attack. Their latest line was ‘Who put Silo in charge? I
never voted for him. He says he was leader in the future, but we
don’t know that. For all we know he could have escaped from a
future prison and come back.’
I liked the last one, it made me smile for a whole day. Jimmy had
admitted that he was not supposed to be here, so maybe he had
escaped the future like some weird sci-fi movie. I was waiting for
Jean Claude Van Dam to appear, to take Jimmy back to the future in
cuffs.
The Iranians, and various clerics, were now claiming that Jimmy
brought back diseases from the future, accidental or otherwise, and
were back to the claim that we were profiting from the sale of the
drug. Those calls found a few followers in the west, and Fox News
picked up on it, also posing the potential problems of contamination
and contagion.
There was one flaw in the argument. If the diseases had been
brought back from the future, then they would occur in our future
anyway. We could suffer them now and look for a cure, or wait till
later. I found myself sat drawing paradoxes until my head hurt.
With the return of Rescue Force there would be no parades, we
thought it inappropriate, despite the good work that they had done.
We held a ceremony at Mapley and Mawlini for all those who had
died, and attended two funerals of senior staff – but only after we
had been invited by the family. I had expected a little tension from
the relatives, since we had indirectly sent their loved-ones to their
deaths, but they were all fine with us.
Jimmy then said that we’d visit Singapore and the Far East after
Goma, and we hopped on the plane the same day, the girls back in
school.
The girls time off school had not affected them at all. If anything,
they admitted to having had more time to study. Shelly was
currently reading a book on microbiology and immunology, and a
quick glance at it left me feeling inadequate as a parent. My
daughters were way brighter than I was at that age, or ever could be.
On the way down to Goma I chatted to the reporters, many of
them, familiar faces, but left them to sleep after eleven o’clock. I
woke them as we began our descent into Goma hub, fresh coffees
made, doughnuts handed out and gratefully received. At Goma, we
kept the press with us, and they joined our coach to Forward Base.
Our first stop was the new officer training college, the recruits
turned out ready. Most were now in their second year and old hands
at the military life, around a quarter having come from the ranks.
The officer cadets were lined up on the parade ground as our coach
pulled up, the sky threatening a downpour. As we stepped down, a
burly sergeant screamed at them to come to attention, a loud echoing
report of their boots hitting the floor.
We waited for the press to assemble, and for TV crews to
position themselves. That done, we joined the senior officers and
walked forwards, the drill instructor saluting as we passed. Now we
really were like Prince Charles.
Jimmy led the way, and to the edge of the front rank. Each recruit
offered a nametag on his chest, along with his country of origin, and
that made things easier. ‘Where are you from in Kenya?’ Jimmy
asked the third recruit from the edge.
‘North of Mombassa, sir.’
‘Have you been home lately?’
‘Yes, sir. My family is there.’
‘Married?’
‘Yes, sir. Four children.’
‘Then you came from the ranks,’ I said.
‘Yes, sir, from the Rifles. Twelve years.’
‘Have you been to the new marina?’ I asked.
‘Yes, sir. It’s very nice.’
We worked our way along the line, noting recruits from many
nations, including now Mozambique. At the end of the line, the
senior officers led us off the parade ground and inside a large
building, the press in tow. In the first room we stopped to view
recruits stripping weapons, men who had not come up through the
ranks, their instructors from America, Britain and Kenya. We waited
for the press to take snaps or to film, and shuffled along the corridor.
In the next room we found a lecture underway from a white guy
in a suit, the fella looking to me like an old professor. Today’s
lesson was geography. We stepped in, the recruits scraping their
chairs and standing.
Without realising it, I was about to make African TV. Jimmy was
on the far side and chatting to recruits when I noticed a familiar face
and closed in. ‘You look familiar.’
‘We fought together at Scorpion Base, sir. From the roof.’
I smiled widely and put out my hand to shake, pulling the man in
for a hug and a slap on the back. ‘Good to see you’re still with us
after all this time,’ I said, holding onto him. ‘And now an officer.’
‘I was given a field commission in Afghanistan, sir.’
‘Then you know Major Paul O’Brien.’
‘I know him from before, sir. Many times. He was at Scorpion
Base as well.’
‘Married yet? Kids?’
‘Yes, sir. Three children. I moved them to here when I came.
From Mawlini.’
‘Good housing here?’
‘Oh, yes, sir. It’s a nice apartment.’
‘Do you have any pictures of the kids?’
The man took out his wallet and showed me a picture of his girls.
‘They’re good looking girls. Are you sure that they are yours?’
He laughed. ‘Maybe your wife had a good looking lover while you
were away, because these girls are too good looking to be yours.’ I
handed back the snap. ‘What’s your name?’
‘They call me Lobster, sir, because one time I think I ask for
Lobster in a café.’
‘Good luck with the course. Study hard.’ I turned away to the left,
unaware that a TV camera had filmed the entire exchange over my
shoulder.
Jimmy gave a rousing speech to the recruits, values and virtues,
leadership and the future of Africa, before the senior officers led us
to the Congolese Rifles base. We toured the ranks, had a go on the
range, visited soldiers in hospital with broken legs, and finally
returned to Goma around 5pm, the press dumped at the main airport
hotel.
Helen and I reclaimed our rooms in our lakeside house, an hour
to wash and eat before a series of TV interviews for Central African
TV. They went well enough, since we were certain not to be tripped
up, and the next day - a Friday, we let the press follow us around the
Pentagon building. On the Saturday we simply chilled out around
the pool, Yuri dropping in.
He reminded us of the death of Po’s daughter, Ling, the body
incinerated locally. We had been lovers, and it hit me hard again to
be reminded of it. In total, some fifty people had died locally. Russia
had faired quite well, only ten thousand dead, a low number for such
a large population. That evening, we decided not to be seen out
enjoying ourselves, and ate in.
In the morning, Jimmy suggested we crash the opening of the
new cathedral in New Kinshasa. I stopped and blinked. The city was
still a building site, but some ten thousand people already resided in
the city, and many residents from Goma would be travelling down
for the ceremony. Helen and I exchanged looks, got dressed up and
followed Jimmy down to the cathedral.
The building stood out because of its size, but also because there
were few buildings around it yet. We stepped down from the coach
and walked forwards, the white marble steps empty, the local
worshipers all inside already. I could hear the distorted echo of
someone issuing a sermon through a badly tuned speaker system.
Bold as anything, Jimmy led us inside, and he kept going, straight
down the isle, the seats packed on either side, everyone in their
Sunday best, ladies in colourful hats. Those who noticed us first all
gasped, many standing up. That created a wave of whispers and a
Mexican wave of people standing as we walked forwards.
The priest halted his sermon, just as surprised as everyone else,
and we closed in on the man. I halted at the altar steps with Helen,
feeling awkward and not knowing where to sit, or even whether to
sit.
Jimmy stepped up to the priest. ‘May I?’ he asked, gesturing to
the microphone. Wide-eyed, the priest stepped back, Jimmy taking
the microphone. ‘Please be seated. None of you need stand for me.’
Everyone sat down, and sat quietly stunned. I recognised
President Errol in the front row and waved. He quickly made room
and we sat, the guards hanging back.
‘Some of you will have lost friends and relatives, and people that
you know, in the recent outbreak of the SARS virus that swept the
world. And how we deal with loss, with adversity and misfortune,
says a lot about who we are. A strong community can pull together
and help each other, can offer comfort – and even practical help and
assistance.
‘Countries in the Far East have suffered terrible losses. Compared
to them, your suffering here was nothing. What we suffered in
Britain was nothing in comparison. Some countries lost a million
people, but that is not to lessen any what some of you have suffered.
Our housekeeper died, and our friends in Africa lost loved ones,
even children.
‘But what separates a tragedy, from a setback, is how you cope
with it afterwards. If you let it … then this setback will become a
tragedy, and you will make things worse for yourselves … and for
Africa. They say … that if you expect the worst then you cannot be
disappointed. Where you now sit … used to be mud and jungle, a
war ground for greedy western mining companies and guerrilla
fighters. Now look at it.
‘I did not make this place, I simply showed you the way. All I did
was to take the boot of the western mining companies off your
necks. You did the rest with your own hard work, and you continue
to do it.
‘But there are difficult times ahead for the world, and it will be
easy to walk around with your heads low, with no smiles on your
faces. You must be defiant in the face of adversity. My friend here,
your priest, may advocate prayer – and I will not argue about its
benefits. But after prayer comes action, action in the face of
adversity, a determination not to give up what you have built.
‘A few days ago I visited the combined officers college here.
That college is training soldiers from all over Africa, training them
how to be good officers, but also training them how to be good
Africans. Kenyans train alongside men from Ghana, Mozambique,
Zimbabwe or Angola. In years gone by, the Rifles of many nations
have fought side by side, to bring peace to Africa, and now they
fight side by side with white soldiers in Afghanistan.
‘In Afghanistan, black soldiers and white soldiers are not equal –
because the white soldiers know that they’re not as good as the
African Rifles. In that war, black African officers lead white soldiers
from Europe. Change … is possible.
‘Today … many of you will be feeling saddened by the deaths
around the world, and the deaths here. But if you want to triumph
over this adversity, then all you need to do is to decide that you will
not give in to adversity, that you will not walk around with your
heads down, that you will move on with your lives.
‘If you wish to succeed in your hopes for the future, then take
your families out and enjoy yourselves, lift your faces from the
floor, and don’t think about those that have died – focus on those
that are still here. Don’t say that fifty died – and what a shame, say
that a million lived – and what a great victory that was. If you want
to make me proud then don’t be sad, be defiant in this fight. I thank
you for your time.’
He stepped down and collected us, President Errol standing and
starting to applaud, the congregation soon joining in as we walked
along the isle smiling nicely at the congregation. I hadn’t even
noticed the cameras in the corner from our own TV station. I as lay
around the pool later, our own TV station pumped out the speech to
over a hundred million people, followed by my conversation with
Lobster.
The next morning we flew down to Harare, Defence Minister
Solomon making sure that the trip was leaked. Coming in to land I
spotted crowds outside the airport, but I had no idea of what was to
come. Stepping down from the plane we boarded two coaches,
waiting for the press to get their gear together, and headed out of a
side gate, no customs for us or our press corp. I knew the airport
authority had scanners inside, lots of them; I had upgraded them a
while back.
Outside of the airport I noticed a crowd on the side of the road
and waved, smiling genuinely. Africa had always made me feel
welcome, and this was a contrast to feeling that certain websites and
news stations left me with, that of being pretenders to the throne. We
drove on slowly, the roads busy, and the crowds continued as we
progressed towards the city.
We slowed at one point, traffic ahead of us, and I noticed what
seemed to be an entire school of smartly dressed kids on the side of
the road. They even appeared to have been ranked in order of height.
‘Driver! Stop here!’ I shouted.
Jimmy could see what I could see, and smiled as he followed me
up. We stepped down to a field of blue and yellow t-shirts, most of
the kids up to my waist, and all waving flags. They were not
Zimbabwe flags, so I held one for a look, finding the emblem of our
cooperation group, the pentagon shape. I stepped towards the teacher
through a sea of waist high yellow and blue, the kids grabbing my
hands, touching my arms.
It then struck me, the memory of my first visit to Ebede
orphanage. I had held my hands up, as if I might catch something
nasty. Now, I moved through the field of children feeling not only
completely at ease, but that I wanted to pick them all up and hug
them. One girl looked a little lost in the melee, and I dropped down,
grabbing her and lifting her up. ‘OK, babes?’
She hid her head in my shoulder as I navigated my way through
to the teachers. ‘You didn’t come out just for us, did you?’ I asked
over the cries.
‘No, we spend a lot of time on the roadside,’ a coloured woman
said in a London accent.
I frowned at her. ‘Where you from, love?’
‘Hackney.’
‘What you doing down here?’
‘My church sends groups down. I’m here for a year.’ She lifted
her eyebrows and nodded toward the girl I was carrying. ‘You
adopting her?’
‘Are they orphans?’ I asked looked around.
‘They’re from a state run orphanage, but Anna from Ebede
sponsors us.’
‘They all getting what they need?’
‘They’re all former AIDS kids, so work that out for yourself.’
I lifted the chin of the girl on my shoulder, and pointed to the
woman I was speaking with. ‘Is she a bossy-boots?’
The girl nodded, although I doubt she knew what she was
nodding about. I turned, looking side on at the heads of hundreds of
screaming kids. Jimmy drew close, asking the teachers questions in
a dialect. He shook hands with the lady from London.
‘Rose.’
Rose stopped dead, her mouth opening. ‘How the hell do you
know my name?’
‘We’ll meet in the future.’
She held a hand to her mouth. ‘God, that is so weird.’
‘Where’s your orphanage?’ I asked her.
She pointed over her shoulder. ‘Just over there.’
‘Drag this lot back there and we’ll meet you there,’ I told her. I
stepped away, still with my shy bundle, finding Helen on the steps,
the press off the coach and snapping away. Helen took the girl as we
boarded the coach for the short trip around the corner, Jimmy
walking with the multi-coloured mass of kids. As they progressed,
they appeared like blue paint seeping into yellow paint.
At the orphanage, we jumped down again, Helen taking the girl
inside, and quite taken with her. The older pupils now came out,
more yellow and blue t-shirts, and I followed Jimmy’s large frame
as he entered the orphanage clinic, the press hot on our heels.
Upstairs, we found a ward that seemed better than the original at
Ebede, but not much better. I drew level with Jimmy as an RF doctor
greeted him, a lady from Australia. Pointing at a kid, I asked, ‘Not
injected yet?’
‘Just arrived,’ the medic answered.
I gave Jimmy a look, a tip of my head.
Taking off his jacket, he told the medic to get a needle. In full
view of the press, and two TV cameras, the lady drew blood and
injected the kid directly. Time was such a thing would have horrified
the medic and stunned the world. It had stunned me at the time. Now
the world had its image, a direct blood transfer, and I figured it
would make a few front pages, a few hundred front pages.
‘We best go,’ Jimmy told me. ‘Can’t keep the President waiting.’
Back aboard the coach, I could hear some of the press calling
their offices in London, mention of the blood transfer. Our transport
trundled slowly on, the citizens of Harare lined up on the sides of the
road. But as we advanced, I realised it was just the start, the crowds
thickening. Passing what seemed to be an area of parkland I couldn’t
see the grass; it was like a rock concert. There had to be ten
thousand people in this one section alone.
We snaked through the streets, seemingly everyone giving up
work for an hour or two to come out to wave. The city centre was
just as bad, the roads cleared of traffic for us. Finally we made the
parliament building, the roads lined with soldiers and police, and
eased to a halt. Jimmy let the press off first, and when we stepped
down they snapped away as we met the waiting ministers, Solomon
stood proud, a roar coming from the crowds.
He saluted. ‘Welcome to a free Zimbabwe.’
‘Is the beer free?’ I asked as I shook his hand.
‘It is for you.’
We followed him inside, waving as we went, locals
photographing us. In the cool and dark interior we met the President,
our host presenting his cabinet; all greeted, hands shaken. The press
were asked to wait, and we accepted teas around a large oval table,
all sitting down together as if we were about to hold a cabinet
meeting.
The president thanked us for all of our assistance, and for finding
the only spot of oil in the country, although they now knew how we
managed to be so lucky. Ore production was up, cereal crop
production growing at a fantastic rate, orphanages packed out.
Tourism had been good, but died during the SARS pandemic, now
starting to recover a little.
After thirty minutes of general chat, they led us to a second floor
balcony, and now I really felt like a rock musician, looking out over
more people than I had ever seen before in one place.
‘How many are here?’ I asked over the dull roar created by the
crowd, several different groups singing, but badly out of tune with
each other.
Solomon said, ‘We think maybe a million came out to see you.’
‘Why are we so popular?’ I asked out the side of my mouth,
waving at the crowds.
‘The economy, jobs, the soldiers, the orphans, the food. They
puff their chests and feel proud of their country, and of Africa.’
The president leant towards me. ‘The people have their pride
back, and the people have hope. You will hear “one Africa” on
many tongues, because it is easy to be nice to your neighbour when
your belly is full.’
Jimmy took the microphone and switched it on, issuing a few
greetings in a local dialect, as well as Bantu – the Zulu language,
getting a loud response.
After five minutes of waving, Jimmy suggesting that any speech
would not be heard, we reclaimed our press posse and headed
around to the Rifles base. As with the officer’s college, the soldiers
were turned out smart and lined up ready, and we made like royalty
again. I inspected a line, asked questions of deployments and bases
visited, getting quite good now at asking innocuous questions.
The press got their fill of us with the soldiers, filmed and snapped
before we returned to the airport, a flight up to Nairobi. We touched
down at 3pm, another line of coaches waiting, more soldiers and
police. I was becoming Churchill.
Outside of the airport, I realised that the Kenyans did not wish to
be outdone by the Zimbabwean public. They had all turned out, but
this time waving Kenyan flags. The journey to the presidential
palace was not long in miles, but it dragged on, everyone waved at.
Helen’s arm was flagging.
At the palace, the familiar grass verge was lined with Rifles, a
funnel made, the politicians waiting at the top, Defence Minister
Ngomo in his best uniform. He was no longer a solider, but a
politician who wore a uniform, a subtle change.
I shook his hand. ‘Didn’t shine them shoes for us, did you?’
‘Don’t tell anyone, but my wife does a great finish to them.’
Laughing, we stepped into the quieter and cooler interior, a repeat
of the previous meeting held, but this time more relaxed, a few rude
jokes swapped. I even got a beer. Kenya had lost six hundred dead,
but you would not have known it by the mood.
Back outside, the day warm but the heavens threatening to open
on the crowd, we took alternate sides of the street and worked our
way along, shaking hands and being snapped.
We had built our own hotel down here years ago, but this would
be the first time we had ever used it, the upper floors cleared out for
us. Booked in, luggage dumped, I took Helen to the roof as it started
to rain. The pool looked good from the doorway.
At 7pm we dressed up, Ruth watching the baby, and descended to
the ballroom, the rich and powerful of Kenya and Africa invited. I
spent ten minutes with Abdi and his gang, chatted to the Tanzanian
Defence Minister, spoke to Ngomo, spoke with a group of Ethiopian
ministers, and with senior soldiers from the Congo who were all
working at bases in Kenya.
At 8pm, our own team turned up, Rudd taking the smile off my
face.
‘How you coping?’ I asked, noting how old Rudd now appeared.
‘We’re adjusting,’ he flatly stated.
‘Anything you need?’
‘It’ll take time, that’s all. As Jimmy said, we count our blessings,
not our problems or losses.’
Jimmy closed in and shook Rudd’s hand. ‘If you had told me, I
would have flown straight down. I may have been able to save your
daughter.’
‘It was very quick,’ Rudd explained. ‘One day a headache and
shivers, the next day gone.’
‘If there’s anything you need, let us know,’ Jimmy told him.
‘When you came to me, in 1987, you knew my future,’ our
Dutchman asked.
‘Yes, but not about your daughter. I came to change things, not
leave them as they were.’
‘I was not suggesting you could have, I was curious about my
role, my destiny.’
‘You helped us greatly when we needed it,’ Jimmy told him.
‘You’ve carved your name into the tree of time, and you did a good
job, Rudd. But our fight’s not over yet, there’re tough times ahead.’
‘More pandemics?’ Rudd asked.
Jimmy nodded. ‘And worse. Make the most of it now, while you
can.’
Anna and Cosy brought us up to date on orphanages and colleges,
and I then cornered Mac and Coup.
We shook. ‘You OK, Mac?’
‘Aye, fucking peachy.’
I waited.
‘I was fond of the lass, bit of a blow. Didn’t know how much I
missed the lass till she was gone; big empty bed.’
Coup asked, ‘What Jimmy said, about tough times ahead…’
‘It’ll get bad, real bad. Rescue Force was created to be the
spearhead, which is why we spent so much time on it.’
‘We expecting the four fucking horsemen of the apocalypse or
something?’ Mac asked.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘And all that stands between us - and complete
fucking disaster - is the big guy.’
‘If anyone can make a difference, he can,’ Coup put in. ‘He’s got
my fucking vote.’
‘How’s morale at the base?’ I nudged.
‘Mixed,’ Coup answered. ‘The deaths took an edge off, a few
familiar old faces gone.’
‘What’s Tubby doing these days?’ I asked.
‘He ain’t fucking Tubby any more,’ Mac said. ‘Call him Lanky.’
‘He’s lost five stone,’ Coup said with a smile. ‘We preferred him
as he was.’
‘You’re the senior staff, so keep an eye on morale, and get ready
for another deployment soon enough.’
‘Like the last one?’ Coup asked.
‘Worse,’ I warned. ‘Next few years will be hell on earth.
Literally. If you got time to take a holiday and enjoy yourself, take it
now.’ I turned my head a notch. ‘Mac, we need that base and region
working at a hundred and ten percent efficiency. We need you doing
what you’re good at, because we’re going to be knee deep in bodies
otherwise.’
Mac took a moment. ‘Good times over, then,’ he sullenly stated.
‘For a while at least. You can take a breather in 2019.’
‘I’ll mark the day in my fucking filofax.’
‘Mac, you used to be a soldier, so start thinking like one again, or
the people who depend on you will be under the sand, not in the
fucking rooftop bar. You following me, Mac?’
Mac reluctantly nodded.
At midnight, guards carried Mac to his room, drunk despite the
stems, and I grabbed stale sandwiches off the buffet as the stragglers
were booted out.
In our room, I said to Helen, ‘We’ve come a long way, Jimmy
and me, but this feels like the start, but it’s not. 2025 is the start line.
When Jimmy came back, he knew that he had all those years to go.
The man must have patience.’
Helen opened the mini bar. ‘He told me once that he kept going
because he was afraid of failure, which seemed a bit obvious. I think
he keeps going because he doesn’t know anything else.’ She opened
a soda. ‘He’s doing the right thing, passionately, but I wonder if he
remembers why, and why he got started.’
‘You think he’s done this a few times before.’
‘How else could he know so much? And he drops hints.’
I sat on the bed and eased off my shoes. ‘He said something to
me, years ago, about taking over from him. I don’t know what he
quite expected, but if we screw up 2025 I’m not jumping into some
fucking time machine and going back. No fucking way I could re-
live forty years, or hold it together.’
‘I couldn’t,’ Helen admitted with a sigh as she sat next to me.
‘Don’t ever repeat this, but Jimmy once said that he wasn’t
supposed to be here.’
‘Was … someone else supposed to go back?’ Helen puzzled.
‘God knows. What I can’t figure out, is why others didn’t travel
back as well, after him.’
‘Shelly sent a message.’
‘No, he’s sure now that it wasn’t Shelly. It’s related to her, or
something she invents, but not sent by her. And if they can send
stuff back, why not a laptop full of useful information?’
‘You’ll give yourself a headache. C’mon, bed, old man. I’ve
already checked in on the baby.’
‘I’m fifty years old on my next birthday. God, that sounds a lot.
When my dad was fifty he was grey, moving slowly and wearing
slippers.’ I flopped back and looked up at the brass ceiling fan.
‘Fifty years old. Jesus.’
‘They had some of my old school friends in the papers, and they
did look old. Frightened me when I thought that I should look like
that by now.’
‘We’re Peter Pan and Wendy.’
‘Wendy would have grown old normally, she was a child.
Besides, I don’t think they had kids in the movie, or even dated.’
‘Yeah, well it’s been forty years since I saw it last. Wasn’t Robin
Williams Peter Pan?’
‘Our girls think Harry Potter is an ancient classic.’
We checked in on the baby in the morning, and enjoyed a quiet
day around the pool as Jimmy headed off for meetings and
interviews. Baby Liz loved the pool, and her waterproof nappies
allowed her to splash about with me. I missed this. I missed this a
lot.
Jimmy returned in the evening, the chores done, and we set-off
around midnight for Singapore, a direct flight. I sat with the press,
baby Liz in hand, and they all made silly noises, taking it in turns to
hold her. The hacks got a good nine hours sleep after a little booze,
and we landed in Singapore with the sun shining brightly.
The small island state had been hit hard by SARS, just over one
in ten of its small population killed, some eighty percent having
fallen sick at one point. We had placed three thousand members of
Rescue Force on the densely populated island, including four
hundred Chinese medics, and they virtually took over when the
hospital staff themselves fell ill.
I had questioned the deployment of the Chinese around the region
with Jimmy, since China itself suffered greatly. He said, ‘If you and
your neighbour are both sick, you achieve little by nursing
yourselves, and everything by nursing each other.’ It was politics
pure and simple, the politics of world peace, and part of the grand
scheme.
Cars were waiting at the airport, a coach for the press, and it
seemed that everyone had turned out again, the sides of the roads
lined from the airport to the city centre. The island’s leaders met us
outside of the presidential palace, a wonderful whitewashed building
with a red roof, gardens and palm trees at the front. There were no
crowds here, just the politicians, all of whom now greeted us in turn.
They bestowed upon us the Singapore Honorary Citizen Award
in front of a bank of TV cameras, jumping in the cars for a short trip
around to a main hospital. The roads had been lined with temporary
metal grills, police stood in front of them. In the road itself stood
most of those rescuers who had worked down here, all offered a free
hotel stay and free flights by the grateful people of Singapore.
Dozens of uniform blocks of rescuers stood like soldiers, three deep
and twelve wide, the majority Chinese.
We stepped down to a roar of cheers, and I was getting used to
the silly royalty bit of waving back. The President led us inside the
hospital, and there began a numbing handshake process, all bleeding
ten million hospital workers greeted. It felt like it would go on
forever. Back outside, Jimmy took the podium, the president waving
his hands for the people in the crowds opposite to settle.
‘Thank you, Mister President, for your invitation to visit … and
for your warm welcome. Although this is a sad time, with such a
great loss of life, the nation of Singapore is secure … and it will go
on. We have very little to celebrate today, but must take comfort
from the fact that we saved more than would have otherwise been
possible. A great many people were injected with the super-drug,
and we managed to save many, thanks in no small part to the
dedicated and hard working Rescue Force personnel we have with
us today.
‘Many of those rescuers are Chinese, people who were once seen
as a communist enemy. Their own country lost many citizens, more
than were lost here, but they sent their medics overseas nonetheless,
a show of solidarity with the peoples of Asia. Those people have
nothing to fear from China, and your Chinese brothers are not so
different to you or I.
‘As I said in Africa recently, the best way forwards for those
communities that have suffered is to hold your heads up high, and to
move on with determination. You must all be defiant in the face of
adversity, you must fight mother nature when she accidentally harms
her own creation, and you must resolve to go on.
‘And you will know when you have finally reached the correct
decision. You will know … when you care as much for your fellow
citizens as you care for your own family, when you are just as happy
to take your neighbour to hospital as you own children. For
Singapore to continue, and to thrive during the adversity ahead, you
must consider first the good of the nation, and second the good of
the individual. It does not matter if the individual falls, so long as the
body of the state goes on.
‘The next generation will be born, the green shoots will grow,
and they will have a much better chance if the current generation
considers that new growth to be more important that the existing
forest. There are further adversities ahead, but from what I have seen
of your spirit of cooperation I am sure that Singapore will cope well.
Thank you for your time here today.’
Jimmy led us forwards and we split up, chatting to the rescuers in
a variety of languages, Helen practising her Chinese. I found a few
faces I recognised and exchanged a few rude comments with
Mawlini veterans, asking others about what had happened here. At
the height of the crisis, during one particular week, RF medics
accounted for eighty percent of the staff at this hospital and they
held the line, many working three days without sleep.
I also learnt of the six pregnancies of local nurses, and four
pending marriages to RF staff, determined to keep that out of the
press. Dirty buggers.
After an hour of greeting the rescuers, we headed off to a hotel
for a clean up before the pre-arranged state dinner, tuxedos hired for
the occasion. As we set about the main course, aides ran in,
whispering in the ear of the president; a car bomb had gone off
outside our hotel, many citizens and police officers killed. An
Indonesian Islamic group had already claimed responsibility.
Rescue Force teams, those staying at our hotel, poured out and
dealt with the aftermath, the wounded given the best chance of
survival. As they were doing what they were good at, we stepped out
to the waiting press and approached a bank of TV cameras.
Jimmy began, ‘We are reminded today, that there are those in the
world who seek only death and chaos. If the car bomb was from an
Indonesian Islamic group – as claimed, then all of Indonesia has
been stained with this crime. Rescue Force medics have always been
there for Indonesia in her times of need, and now some of those
medics lay wounded in hospital, their colleagues helping the
innocent citizens of Singapore.
‘It is now up to the people on Indonesia to decide if they live with
this stain, if they wish to kill and hurt those who help them, and in
the name of Islam. If there are citizens of Indonesia watching this
who know who the terrorists are, come forwards and inform your
police - or hang your heads in shame.’
We turned about as a group and headed back to the same hospital,
soon in the waiting room and sat with police officers and civilians
with minor wounds, RF medics helping out.
The next morning, as we flew off for Hong Kong, a quarter
million people marched through Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, in
protest at the bombing, a few arrests made already, action promised
by the Indonesian Government. Helen and I had been a little
traumatised by the bomb, since we had driven past the blast point
with the baby in the car. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers
we faced, and took the edge off my recent optimism. Up to that point
it had been a good trip.
‘Two steps forwards, one step backwards,’ I commented to
Helen.
In Hong Kong the security was tight. The police whisked us
around to Po’s hotel, Po himself greeting us with Marko and Yuri,
the trio thick as thieves these days. We left the press to book in, and
headed for the Chinese restaurant, opened early for just us.
Over starters, we caught up on gossip and business, the Russians
now involved in projects in Hong Kong and mainland China, New
Kinshasa going well, house prices rising in Gotham City. The
building costs of those houses were, however, going down with a
surplus of available builders and suitable materials; mansions were
being thrown up all around the place. Builders contracted to work on
New Kinshasa were making good use of their weekends to throw up
houses on plots of land that were free.
They informed us that the research centre was just about
complete, some six hundred people already in place from a variety
of nations. If anything, there would have to be a second centre built
to accommodate them all. Wages were low, food costs even lower,
and apartments free of charge.
Jimmy had already listed research projects, and the Shanghai
brain-trust kids that had returned to Africa were running most of the
projects. Some were involved with coal-oil, some working on
SARS, a few working on innocuous projects such as concrete
supply; cheaper, stronger and quicker.
The one secret project that they were working on, no one other
than the autistic kids allowed to touch, was a type of plankton. I
knew about it, but was sworn to secrecy, Jimmy not very
forthcoming about it.
The Russians updated us on our super-farm south of Moscow,
and our coffee shops, the coffee shop chain now something on an
institution in Russia. And I still didn’t understand why Jimmy had
started them.
With Ruth watching the baby, we headed down for a massage,
sauna and Jacuzzi, safe in the knowledge that the hotel was secure.
Back in our room, I made use of the room’s built in dedicated web
computer to scan the news, always keen to see what the Americans
were saying. CNN reported the massive crowd turnouts in Africa,
some detail of the rousing speeches, whilst Fox News questioned our
parenting. We did, apparently, leave the kids home alone.
I showed Helen and she was furious, asking if we could sue them.
I promised to check with our US lawyers. Thinking laterally, I
contacted the house and asked them to invite CNN in, and for CNN
to see how the girls live when we’re away, including interviews with
the girls. Helen was not sure, since Shelly would probably be in
make-up and a sexy outfit. She rang our daughter to make sure.
Hancock, still the head of RF Hong Kong, welcomed us to his
building the next day, and we dedicated a plaque to those rescuers
who had died. RF Hong Kong stood at four hundred rescuers
typically, and they had lost twenty-six, a hell of a blow to their
ranks.
In the main hall, the teams assembled, Jimmy taking the
microphone. ‘Some of you have lost loved ones, all of you have lost
friends and colleagues, and the casualty rate has been higher than
any other deployment that we have ever undertaken. But the
casualties have not finished yet. There are tough times ahead, and
more will die. But each of you injected dozens of sick people,
maybe even hundreds each, and you saved their lives. On the
scorecard, we’re doing well enough.
‘The work of looking after the sick during pandemics puts you at
greater risk, but what would you be doing otherwise? You’d be
working in a local hospital, and when the pandemic struck you
would have been at just the same level of risk. Or maybe you would
have been sat at home, watching a loved one slip away. Yours … is
a simple choice: fight standing up, or wait for death to come calling.
‘There will be other disasters in the future, there will be more
casualties amongst rescuers, but who here would swap their place on
the front line … for innocent women and children?’ He let them
think about it.
‘You volunteered to risk your lives to save others, and there is no
more noble a calling. But you’ll all be at greater risk in the future,
and each of you should look to your own conscience about whether
or not raising your family with a civilian job is more important. I
have no problem with anyone who wishes to do so, we have enough
people wanting to join to replenish the ranks. Many of you … have
done enough. You’ve earned your honour, you’ve put in the years,
and no one can take that away from you.
‘But make no mistake; in the next ten years you’ll see a major
deployment every six months. You’ll be knee deep in death and
destruction, and many of you won’t survive. Consider that when
planning your future, because in that future you’ll be on the front
line continuously.’
After that morbid speech we toured local hospitals and chatted to
the staff about how they had coped, the former colony having lost
three hundred thousand people. Most of the medics here had been
injected with the super-drug, but a stronger variation than was
typically used, a fact that I had not known. Chinese mainland medics
had also received it, their dosages similar to that of the Rifles. Here,
doctors worked thirty-six hour shifts and slept for five hours,
returning to the wards bright-eyed and bushy tailed after their brief
rest.
With the tour complete, we enjoyed a relaxing evening in Po’s
hotel, insulated from the world, before flying north to Beijing the
next morning, the same group of reporters still with us. I had a dig at
the American press, and at the suggestion that we were doing a bad
job at parenting.
‘I went to boarding school,’ one man said. ‘I saw my parents a
few days a year, and that was all.’
I raised a finger. ‘Good point.’
Another hack asked me, ‘What do you say to the growing
American argument about your legitimacy?’
‘What argument is that?’ I questioned.
‘That Jimmy has power and influence, but was not elected, or is
even subject to scrutiny.’
‘He’s subject to scrutiny all the time. By you lot! As for elected,
we could always put it to the vote. How do you think the people
would vote: keep him … or send him back?’
‘I guess they’d vote to keep him,’ the man agreed.
‘Sixty percent of the world’s governments are dictators,
presidents for life,’ I pointed out. ‘Tell the fucking people to vote on
them first. And we’re heading for another dictatorship right now,
also know as America’s largest lender.’
‘The pictures of Jimmy injecting that kid in Harare made every
front page,’ a woman put in. ‘And fifty reporters are camped outside
the orphanage to see how the kid does. So far, the child is up and
walking, waving out of the window at them.’
‘You lot been injected?’ I nudged.
They exchanged looks, most admitting to the basic drug.
‘Might make a good story if one of you were injected directly,’ I
suggested. ‘You can chart your own transformation.’ I pointed at a
portly forty-five year old man. ‘You’d be a good candidate; it would
take twenty years off you, mate. And a few stone.’ I could see him
considering it.
Landing at Beijing, I should have figured that the Chinese would
wish to out do the Africans and the citizens of Singapore. The well-
organised communist super-power had the streets lined with
thousands of soldiers, happy smiling citizens stood lined-up behind.
It made we wonder if they had been nudged by the party
superstructure, or if we were genuinely popular here.
Booked in to Po’s western-style hotel, we boarded a coach, the
attendant press in a second coach, and headed around to Tiananmen
Square through streets lined with orderly citizens.
I turned to Helen. ‘First time I came here I thought they’d lock us
up forever. I was terrified. Now we’re posing like politicians, and
I’m not sure which I’d prefer. I think being afraid was better than all
this nonsense.’
‘Can’t wind back the clock.’
‘Apparently, you can,’ I told my wife, and we exchanged looks.
The square itself was crammed, crammed with orderly and
uniform blocks of citizens and children, all waving the Chinese flag;
the air was thick with propaganda. We halted at the rear of a large
podium, no idea where our press gang had got to, and were led
forwards. Up on the podium, I found the Russian President and his
Foreign Minister, greetings exchanged in Russian. I greeted the
Chinese Premier with a bow and handshake, Jimmy being gestured
towards the microphone. He was just about to upset Uncle Sam.
Again.
When the crowd had settled, Jimmy began speaking in fluent
Chinese, the Russians checking their earpieces. ‘Ladies and
gentlemen, thank you all for being here today, and for your warm
welcome. I would like to thank the Chinese Government, and the
Chinese people, for the contribution that your Rescue Force medics
made during the recent SARS pandemic. Despite your own country
suffering at the hands of the disease, you generously sent your
medics abroad to show solidarity with other nations in this region.
‘Some commentators in the western media, especially in
America, criticize your political system, and have criticized the
deployment of your medics as propaganda. Well, I don’t care. I’m
more than happy with what you did, and who can argue with the
method, when the end result is what matters. Your medics saved
lives, and many of your medics fell ill and died in the process. They
have earned their honour, for themselves and for China.
‘If sending your medics abroad is propaganda, then I hope your
leaders adopt a policy of far more propaganda in the future. Because
in the future there will be great trials for us all, great adversity, and
many challenges. And during that period of adversity you will cope
better than the western countries – for the simple reason of your
ordered society.
‘When disasters strike in the future, your government will tell
you to move, or to do something, and you will do it in a quick and
orderly fashion. In the west, and in America, when disasters strike,
the government there will ask its citizens to move, but those citizens
will dig their heels in defiantly, not least because they don’t trust
their own government. When disasters strike in the west, a great
many people will die because they do not have your ordered society.
They … are a society of individuals.
‘You may all sleep sound, knowing that when a disaster strikes
your government will be well prepared, well organised, and that you
and your neighbours will be better off – so long as you listen to what
is being asked of you.
‘The next ten years will be very difficult, but you are in a better
position than most to cope with the problems that come your way.
Over the past fifty years, many in the west have hoped to defeat your
communist government, yet now come around with the begging
bowl, asking for loans. I, for one, am very glad that you held onto
your political system. It may not offer you the same freedoms as
some in the west claim that they enjoy, but during the next ten years
… staying alive, warm and fed will be far more important than calls
for freedom of speech from the western media.
‘People of China, rejoice in the fact that you think and move as a
single body, for you will have the best chance of surviving the trials
ahead for mankind.’
I turned to Helen. ‘Oh dear.’
‘Our next stop is the States,’ she whispered.
‘You have to wonder about the timing, don’t you,’ I whispered
out the side of my mouth.
Our hosts led us to a meeting room, a mini “M” Group meeting
held with just the Russians and Chinese present, sure to upset US
President Fitz, if he wasn’t pissed off already. We discussed
Afghanistan, Africa, drugs and technology. Then we got onto Iran.
‘Gentlemen,’ Jimmy called. ‘You are all on warning … that if
you cannot persuade Iran to halt its nuclear programme, that I will
consider a military option.’ They were shocked. ‘I will do so,
because if I don’t then Israel will strike, setting the Middle East
ablaze. And if Israel does not strike, America will, also setting the
Middle East ablaze and risking the rise of The Brotherhood early.
You have less than a year before I strike.’
We left them with that problem to wrestle with, soon heading
across the Pacific and to Seattle, the press checking the correct
translation of Jimmy’s speech. Our plane had a satellite uplink and
messages could be sent out, the laptop connected to it in constant
use. Time was when this lot would have used pigeons from the front
line, then Morse Code telegrams, then phones, now emails with
built-in spell-checkers. Progress.
Our reception at the Boeing Seattle plant was always going to a
warm one since we were good customers, and arrived wishing to
order more planes, the Boeing technicians interested in the
modification made to this aircraft. Therein started a problem, a big
one.
A Boeing official told a CNN crew that our plane had advanced
defensive systems, future technology, possibly radar jamming. That
took a millisecond to reach the news, the American FAA calling for
an inspection to be made, since such technology could be a hazard to
other aircraft.
Jimmy took a few calls, refuelled the plane and we left US
airspace for the Pacific, Fitz wondering where the hell we were
going as we headed south. On a long meandering flight, we crossed
Mexican airspace with permission and headed towards Cuba, our
meetings with Caterpillar and others cancelled. Touching down in
Cuba, the attending press were all curious, and now pissed because
they missed their chance to film us around the States. Jimmy was
also not a happy bunny, since the USAF had helped with our 747’s
refit. Fitz knew exactly what was on the plane, and should have dealt
with the FAA. Fact was, our 747 was a danger to other planes if it
wanted to be, and we could jam radars.
We refuelled in Havana, maybe even with fuel from our own
oilfield, and set a course for London, calls from Fitz ignored. Back
in the UK, we gained permission to land at Cardiff airport, missing
the swarms of press at Heathrow, and arrived back to hugs from the
girls. They described the interviews they gave, and we had a copy of
the interviews on their laptops, our daughters well behaved.
At the house, Jimmy called the household White House aide a
few choice names before firing up the video conferencing
equipment, CNN selected for the interview.
Settled, the lady interviewer asked, ‘What exactly happened?’
‘Your aviation authority started asking to inspect my aircraft, as
well as suggesting that it should not cross American airspace.’
‘Why did they do that, exactly?’
‘They believe my aircraft to posses radar jamming that could
interfere with other aircraft.’
‘And does it have radar jamming?’
‘Your military aircraft have had that technology since Vietnam,
and your military aircraft have been flying over American airspace
ever since. Every day your Air Force planes fly about with the same
technology, and your own Air Force helped me to customise my
aircraft. Unfortunately, your various government departments don’t
seem to talk to each other any more. Hardon Chase would never
have allowed this to happen, so maybe President Fitz is sleeping on
the job.’
Sat off camera, I held my hands to my face.
‘Your country will face a great many disasters in the years ahead,
so if your government departments don’t even coordinate properly
on the simple stuff, then a lot of American citizens are going to die
because of your government’s incompetence.’
‘Have you spoken to the President?’
‘Not yet, I didn’t wish to disturb his sleep – since he seems to
spend a lot of time sleeping.’
‘Oooh’, I let out. ‘That’ll hurt in the morning.’
‘What do you say to those who criticize you for favouring the
Chinese.’
‘I’d say wait for the next outbreak of SARS, when millions of
Americans will fall sick. Let’s see if your wonderful bloody health
service copes as well as the Chinese. You may have the cutting-edge
technology, but can you nurse the masses and the poor when they
fall sick? And fall sick in the millions.’
‘What do you think we could be doing differently?’
‘For one, your government could take its thumb out of its arse.’
I put my hands to my face again.
‘And then you can get FEMA up to speed, before its too late. You
have less than a year.’
He cut the interview, and I stood shaking my head at him.
‘Fuck ‘em,’ he said. ‘Fuck ‘em all. I’m sick of trying to force
people to do what’s best for them.’
‘I think you got their attention, boss.’
Keely came and found me later, avoiding Jimmy. ‘Fitz has sacked
the FAA officials responsible, and he’s feeling the heat. And up to
now, Jimmy never put a figure on SARS round two. Stock markets
took a hit, lot of difficult questions being asked.’
I sighed. ‘You’re the strongest country, and you have all the
technology. You could be doing more to fix this than anyone, and
you’re the one that’s always the most difficult to deal with.’
‘A nation of individuals,’ Keely said with a sigh. ‘Chinese can
mobilise the masses, but we’d face the lawsuits to stop us trying.
Problem is partly a lack of faith in the federal government, partly
history. People do their own thing on the farm; towns have mayors,
states have governors, and the political pendulum swings back and
forth.’
‘You came together for the Second World War, do you think that
kind of mobilisation could be done again?’
Keely shrugged, making a face. ‘Be a lot harder now.’
‘And wage freezes, Martial Law, food rationing?’
‘Would not be popular. Black market would take over,’ Keely
suggested.
‘Well,’ I sighed. ‘If you lot can’t get it sorted - we’re all
screwed.’
‘Need another Pearl Harbour,’ Keely suggested.
‘Got news for you; there’re ten of them around the corner. At
what point do you get organised?’
‘Hopefully, after the first one,’ he said as he left me.

Greece

Little more than a week later, someone in Greece leaked the news
about the pending earthquake. The Greek bourse dropped like a
stone, European bourses following. Jimmy gave an interview in
London:
‘The Greek Government were warned in secret at the start of this
year, about a future quake that will cause much damage in Greece. It
was the decision of the Greek Government to try and make
preparations quietly, and to avoid the crash on the stock markets. In
preparation for that quake, I’ve been building houses and apartment
blocks in Greece, and have encouraged others to do likewise, and for
the Greek Government to do likewise.’
‘Why are you building apartments before a quake?’
‘The quake will strike the Athens area. We’ve been building in
other areas to try and house people afterwards.’
‘How bad with the quake be?’
Jimmy took a moment. ‘I had hoped that the Greek Government
would make an announcement, at a time of their choosing. Athens
…will be completely destroyed. Rescue Force will be deployed, but
I would hope that the citizens heed the warning … and leave in good
time. And let me state that Athens will be rebuilt, house by house,
stone by stone, and I’ll do all that I can to assist in that process.’
‘When will the quake strike?’
‘It’ll strike in January.’
That led to an emergency meeting of the European Union, where
formerly secret plans were now unveiled, the saving of the European
economy being a big part of those plans. Rebuilding Athens would
be a costly project. Coming on top of the SARS pandemic, the mood
in Europe slipped a little.
Residents of Athens began moving out, often to relatives in the
country. New building work in the city was halted, making many
people redundant, but that building work then picked up a pace in
Greece’s other principal cities, EU grants awarded.
I had waited for some sort of backlash from the Greek press, but
none came; we could not be blamed for the worst ravages of mother
nature. But what we could be blamed for was something that Jimmy
had kept to himself. He called me down to the house one day, and
said, ‘There’ll be an outbreak of a disease in Lagos, Nigeria, and
we’ll take a lot of flack. Well, we’ll take a lot of flack from the
Nigerians.’
‘Why?’
‘Because we’ll seal their borders with soldiers.’
‘What?’
‘This disease … it makes Ebola look like a head cold. The one
good thing we have in our favour, is that it needs contact to spread
for the most part; touch. I have a team in Lagos looking for the first
case, patient zero. And then … and then we get tough, real tough.’
‘How … tough?’
‘Shooting families trying to cross the border. That tough.’
‘And if the disease gets out?’
‘A lot of Africans will die.’
I went and told Helen, and I had to sit and think about it for a
while.
With the summer arriving and the weather improving, I took the
family up to Scotland again, enjoying a five-day break, Shelly
bringing along her latest boyfriend. At least this one had lasted more
than just a few months. She told us he was fifteen, but we figured
him to be older, not pushing the matter. We were just glad that she
wanted to come with us.
Back from the holiday, Jimmy took a call, the dreaded call. Six
people had died in a Lagos clinic, all bleeding out of their eyes and
orifices. He rang President Errol and told him to declare a pandemic
emergency, and to seal the Nigerian border with soldiers, stopping
anyone from leaving. Our good President was stunned.
Jimmy rang Bob Davies at Mapley. ‘Bob, Jimmy, get the
communications officer ready.’
‘Deployment?’
‘Hell is about to erupt.’
With the communications officer sat listening, the call now on
speakerphone, Jimmy said, ‘Set filter to all RF staff worldwide, all
supplementals. Set destination to be Goma Hub, and sound full
emergency recall. Bob, send Doc Graham down, instructions will be
waiting for him.’
Next, we ordered our airline to halt all flights to Nigeria, calling
the household “M” group representatives together and giving them
the news. Han knew, he had been working on the antidote. Jimmy
now ordered that antidote flown to Mawlini.
Within a few hours, all flights to Nigeria had been cancelled the
world over, a surprise to the Nigerians. We had set-off for London
after the “M” Group meeting, a statement to be made at the club, the
world’s press invited. Along with the Nigerian Ambassador. Central
African TV was at the centre of the bank of cameras, going live as
an emergency broadcast.
Jimmy sat at a desk on the stage, a bank of microphones almost
blocking his image. ‘Time is short, and we have to act quickly, so I
apologise to the Nigerian Ambassador, but most of all I apologise to
the Nigerian people for what is about to happen. And what is about
to happen will leave a dark stain in history.
‘I have known for a long time of the outbreak of a disease in the
slums of Lagos, a disease similar to the Ebola virus. I have, this
year, had doctors working in those slums to see if we could find
patient zero, and to contain the disease.’
He took a moment. ‘I have, for a very long time, considered the
best approach, the best way of handling this. Warning the people of
Lagos would not have seen a change of lifestyle, a clearing of the
slums, or a halt to this outbreak. I have wrestled with this for a very
long time, and there is no solution other than that which I will now
implement. I hope that the world forgives me some day.
‘The one thing in our favour has been my travel through time,
and as such I have – after a great deal of research – found a cure for
the disease. This cure does not act as a vaccine, but it will cure
someone in the early stages of the disease. I will now describe the
symptoms.
‘A person will feel sick, lethargic, and will suffer vomiting and
liquid stools with a high temperature. That sickness will last four
days. If, after four days, the victim bleeds from the eyes and orifices,
then they are beyond help. If a sick person is injected on day one,
day two, or sometimes day three, they can be saved.
‘I have tens of thousands of the vials on their way to Africa and
they will arrive tonight, to be administered by Rescue Force. Rescue
Force medics, injected with the Manson drug, will be resistant to this
new disease, Lagos Fever, and those medics will fly into Lagos.
‘Despite the availability of that drug, simply injecting those who
fall ill will not stem the spread of the disease. The disease … will
run its course.
‘I will now address the leaders of Africa, because it will be the
African nations that suffer the most. All of the borders with Nigeria
must be closed straight away. People should be allowed to move into
Nigeria, but no one should leave. Soldiers must be deployed to the
border, and force used to keep those borders closed. I repeat, force
must be used to close the borders.
‘Those countries that are close to Nigeria should arrange for
soldiers on the streets, including Kinshasa. Any Nigerian, who has
left the country in the past four days, should report to the nearest
hospital for a check-up. Anyone in Africa, who knows of a Nigerian
who is sick, or someone else who has visited Lagos and is sick,
should report that fact to the police straight away. Don’t go near
them, and don’t touch them.
‘We are fortunate, in that this disease is primarily spread by touch
or body fluid. All doctors, nurses, and medical workers in Africa
should wear facemasks and gloves when in contact with any
suspected victim, even in reception. I hereby ask for all hospitals in
sub-Saharan Africa to be put on an emergency footing. All non-
essential procedures should be cancelled, and anyone who can send
home should be moved.
‘To the authorities in Nigeria, I have sent detailed emails, but
there is little you can do other than allow me to handle this my way.
My medics will land in Lagos soon, and they are immune to the
disease. They can take over from your other medics, who will
certainly die if they come in contact with such people. I have, earlier
this year, secretly injected many of your medics with the Manson
drug. They know who they are, and they should take the front line in
this battle.
‘To the Nigerian authorities, I give the following instructions; fail
to follow our procedures … and you will lose millions of your
citizens.’ He took a moment. ‘If you find a patient bleeding from the
eyes, terminate their lives immediately, bag the bodies very
carefully, and incinerate them safely, perhaps even on the hospital
grounds.
‘Close all schools, cinemas, and ask your citizens to stay at home
unless their work is important. Mobilize your police and army; you
will find masks and gloves that I have secretly stashed in your
country. Panic, will be a problem, but reassure your people that they
can only get this disease by direct contact. Close all marketplaces, or
any place where your citizens may rub up against each other.
‘To the medical community in Nigeria I say this: don’t try and
take samples of blood for study, the blood is deadly to workers in
laboratories. If you wish to study the disease, be extremely careful,
and make use of those injected with the Manson drug. I have
arranged for thousands vials of the Manson drug to be flown to
Lagos. The army should take charge of that shipment, since citizens
may wish to grab it and inject themselves.
‘On the note of the Manson drug, it will not cure someone is who
is already infected. For the Manson drug to be effective, a person
would need to be injected months earlier.
‘To the African leaders, I say this. Put soldiers on your borders,
look for sick people who may have been to Nigeria, but don’t close
your borders or stop people from working. Don’t let this disease
harm your economies.
‘To the soldiers on the Nigerian borders, I say this. If you have to,
shoot people dead to stop them crossing the border, don’t take
bribes. When you hold out your hand to take the money, you’ll be
infected and killed yourself. If you see someone sick at the border,
shoot them, and burn the bodies without touching them.’
I had been watching the press, most of who were now stunned.
‘To the countries of the west, and all countries outside of Africa,
go back through passenger manifests and check new arrivals.
Remember, there is an incubation period of four or five days,
sickness coming on during the second day. But remember also that
the disease is passed by touch and close contact, so don’t panic. If
you do find a suitable case, treat as for a highly infectious disease.
Do not … even think about an autopsy. The body fluids of the dead
remain contagious even when frozen. Incinerate the bodies as soon
as possible, and with minimum contact.
‘Vials of the antidote are being flown to many of the world’s
capitals as we speak, so please take charge of them, and use them
sparingly. If a health worker feels ill, inject them straight away.
‘Now, the plans that I have enacted are the best plans that anyone
could come up with. They will probably come in for some criticism,
but I don’t care. You’re not in charge of this outbreak, I am, and I’ll
do it my way – and history can judge me for what I now set in
motion. I take responsibility, because I can’t trust any other group,
or group of nations, to work quickly enough.
‘And now is a good time to tell you how I developed the antidote.
Almost thirty years ago I injected large numbers of orphans in
Africa, orphans dying from AIDS, knowing full well that my blood
would cure them, but that my blood would interact with the AIDS
virus, causing a mutation.
‘Those kids grew up with that mutation dormant, and had kids of
their own, those offspring tested for a special variation of the
dormant disease. One in every three hundred children injected, who
had kids, went on to create the right antibody, something that I have
been working on in secret year by year. We identified that mutation
little more than two years ago, and have slowly produced as much as
we can, a slow and difficult process that has taken a great many
years.
‘It has only been in the last year that we developed enough of the
antidote to be effective. An earlier outbreak would have cost many
more lives, so we were very lucky. I’ll now take questions, so wait
till I point.’
‘What’ll happen if this gets out of Africa?’
‘Millions will die.’
‘How many will die in Africa?’
‘That’s hard to quantify. If we’re in time, and the antidote works,
tens of thousand, no more.’
‘And if it doesn’t work?’
‘Tens of millions.’
‘Could the Nigerians have been warned sooner?’
‘And done what?’ Jimmy posed.
‘Warned their citizens.’
‘And what would they do? The slum dwellers have nowhere to
go, no change of employment, no change of sewer system. Nothing
would have happened differently.’
‘You said to put people down?’
‘Yes. Delay will cost lives,’ Jimmy answered.
‘And you’re asking for the soldiers to shoot people dead on the
border?’
‘Yes, most definitely. If the disease reaches other Africa slums
then it’ll put the whole of Africa at risk. Perhaps a hundred million
people could die, and that’s not a risk I’ll take. And if it does get out
it’ll spread to the west.’
The Nigerian Ambassador had already left by time Jimmy had
finished speaking. When the questions got silly, Jimmy cut the press
conference and we left, our hopes now in Rescue Force, and the
Rifles on the border.
Back at the house, I Googled “Lagos fever case” and found three
reported cases in the west; New York, London and Paris. The
authorities were taking no chances, medics seen in spaceman suits,
inflatable tents set-up outside hospitals, armed police nearby.
That evening, we sat and watched the news as a family, all glued
to the TV as images of the Rifles on the Nigerian border appeared,
RF medics landing in Lagos, panic in New York and London as
suspected cases arrived at hospitals. But the images from Lagos
were not good, the streets jammed by people trying to leave, the
exact opposite of what was good for them. The Nigerian police and
army had been fully mobilised, masks donned, and the hospitals
appeared to be ringed by armed men.
I had to stop and wonder how even years of preparation by the
Nigerians could have planned for this. How could anyone plan for a
panic?
Rescue Force had been spread around the neighbouring countries,
and in particular their border towns and villages. If someone was
sick, then Rescue Force were the front line. Other medics, also
injected with the Manson drug, spread out around Africa and set-up
in hospital waiting areas. Our main task force, Task Force Alpha,
made up of some four hundred medics, had flown into Lagos with
the antidote, and now had the very unpleasant task of being the first
to examine both sick people and potential carriers.
Two days later, after the panic had ebbed and the streets had
cleared, the second group, Task Force Bravo, moved across the
border in jeeps, Rifles with them for much needed protection. Their
task would be to enter the slums, and to spread to out other towns
and cities. This group was made up of some three thousand medics,
all of who had been injected by Doc Adam a few years back.
I followed the deployment with keen interest, and watched the
W.H.O. website with dread. Four cases had been dealt with in New
York, all fatalities, two health workers falling sick but surviving
after being injected. I caught the same story on the TV news later,
the bodies removed in a convoy surrounded by police, streets closed
ahead of it. The ambulance used was duly torched by the ambulance
staff, whether the health authorities desired that or not, police stood
around watching the odd pyre.
In London, eight Nigerians had died, ten injected in time, a single
health worker dead. But in the rest of Africa the news was not
encouraging, dozens of cases popping up in nearby countries.
Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the DRC. Kinshasa had
seen a hundred cases between them, Kimballa in no mood to mess
about and burning the bodies before death was pronounced.
The biggest problem was that Africa had plenty of sick people at
the best of times, the early stage symptoms of the disease indistinct
from many other diseases. In Nigeria, sick slum dwellers were
clubbed to death, their shacks set alight. Around the neighbouring
states, people falling ill with the right symptoms were injected with
the super-drug at the same time as the antidote, hoping to clear up
the symptoms of a normal bug in a day or so.
But Nigeria’s main border crossings were where the real tragedy
was unfolding, as desperate families attempted to flee, cars and
lorries stacked high with household goods. Dozens had been shot
dead, their bodies left in the road as a reminder to others, the
Nigerian border guards long gone. We could only make a guess, but
the numbers shot dead on lonely jungle border crossings were in the
hundreds, perhaps more.
Where Nigerians did make it to neighbouring states they would
often be attacked, stoned, or set on fire. There was no safe haven for
them.
On day five, Jimmy organised a massive convoy of food trucks,
driven over by RF medics and Rifles, food given out in the streets,
especially in the city slums; the last thing we needed was a
malnourished populace susceptible to disease. I diverted exports
from our region, and in the blink of any eye I had shipped more than
enough food.
Having organised the food, I felt a hell of a lot better, and I made
sure every press agency knew what I had done, how many thousands
of tonnes I had moved. It was the one bright spot, less of a feeling of
helplessness. I stood at my office window, knowing that the partially
evacuated slums were getting more food now than they had done
before.
Day six saw a report from “The Detective Unit”. I had to stop and
look twice at it. The Detective Unit was made up of a quarter of RF
Bravo, and their task was simple enough in theory, damned hard on
the ground. They would start with an infected patient, and track back
to relatives and friends, screening all of them for symptoms. Then
they would check in on neighbours, places of work, or anywhere
else that the person could have been.
Several deaths led back to a prostitute, long since dead, her
rotting corpse found in a brothel full of her dead colleagues. Since
the building stood isolated from the next abode, it was torched after
large amounts of wood and oil had been placed about the bodies.
Discussing the Detective Unit with Jimmy, he said that they had the
best chance of halting the spread, so fingers crossed.
Cases in the west died out, literally, and after ten days no new
cases were detected. Containment had worked, and our hard line
stance was winning us fans in the media in the States. But then a
plane from Spain landed at JFK with three sick passengers, two of
them Africans. The plane was isolated, the passengers peering down
at armed police, even soldiers.
Jimmy contacted President Fitz and told him firmly to get the
passengers and crew onto the tarmac, or they would all get infected.
Public opinion, and FEMA, were against that and the poor
passengers and crew had to stay aboard, water dumped onto the
aircraft steps. Uttering a few harsh words, Jimmy sent a plane from
Goma, twenty RF staff with the antidote. They landed in the early
hours, walked across the tarmac and boarded the plane, injecting
everyone with both the antidote and the super drug. A sick African,
already incoherent, was placed in a body bag and allowed to
suffocate covered in Lime.
Refuelled, the plane was allowed to leave, this time to Africa, the
American passengers protesting at length at not being let off. It
landed in Senegal, was refuelled without anyone getting off, and
flew on to an isolated airport in our region, a decontamination team
waiting. Our other RF medics in New York, forbidden contact with
anyone, re-boarded their plane and followed the other aircraft back.
The net result of the fiasco was three dead Africans, but a grateful
bunch of American and Spanish passengers.
Day fourteen saw two hundred new cases in Lagos, the dead
totalling around twelve hundred in the city, so far. All that week I
checked the stats, every hour or so, as I managed the food and water
deliveries. It was the last thing I did at night, the first thing in the
morning, and by the end of the week the number of new cases was
down to a hundred a day. Jimmy was optimistic.
On the borders of Nigeria, camps set-up by RF had found and
treated around three hundred sick people trying to flee, but
ultimately too weak to make the journey. The numbers that they
were encountering were also falling.
In the west, there had been no new cases for almost two weeks,
and emergency procedures were gradually being relaxed, airport
passengers still being screened. A group of people returning from
Mexico with upset stomachs were isolated, but at least they were not
refused entry this time. The passengers from the first flight to have
been stopped had all undergone five days of isolation in the DRC
before being flown up to Madrid. There they were again checked,
being allowed finally to fly on, lawsuits planned against the US
authorities for the passenger’s horrific ordeal.
Five weeks after the start of the emergency, Lucy came up to my
office and sat with me, wanting to help out. We checked the stats
together, finding that the daily death toll was down to just eight
people in Lagos, few outside of the affected region. Life was starting
to return to normal for Nigeria, but I was still diverting food.
Then, on a Friday morning, no new cases were reported, and I
insisted we throw a house party and a celebration. Jimmy invited
over a handful of TV crews, and they set-up on the lawn in front of
the house.
‘Today, we saw no new cases of the disease in Nigeria, and as far
as I know there were no reported cases anywhere else. We have
something to be thankful for, very thankful, and that’s Rescue Force.
They all stepped into danger, and many of them worked in
horrendous conditions, knee deep in dead bodies – infected bodies.
‘Theirs … was a super-human effort, and one that we can all be
proud of. They will remain in Nigeria and the neighbouring states
for another few weeks, some longer, to see if any new cases occur.
‘But the greatest tragedy were those killed on the borders, those
innocent people – and healthy people – who tried to force their way
across the borders, and were killed because of it. We could not take
the chance of the disease getting out and infecting the world. If it
had, millions may have died around Africa.
‘I would like the people of Africa to make tomorrow, Saturday, a
day of celebration. Celebrate our victory over adversity again, look
to your families and friends, and hold your heads up high.
‘To the countries outside of Africa, you may need to review your
procedures for dealing with these things, especially how you deal
with passengers falling sick on long flights. The fiasco in New York
should not be repeated, and sick and healthy passengers should not
be forced to share the same air in a confined cabin. OK, questions?’
‘Will there be more of these?’
‘Yes there will. But the important thing for the people watching
this to know … is that there’s nothing they can do, and they should
try and get on with their lives. Walking around feeling depressed
will achieve nothing. When your number’s up, it’s up.’
‘Is Greece the next big deployment of Rescue Force?’
‘It is, but I hope that they get a good rest first. They deserve it.’
‘Have you spoken with the Nigerian Government?’
‘Every day since this started. They were … very unhappy at the
beginning, unhappy at how I organised things, but can now see the
wisdom behind it. We all regret the loss of life of innocent citizens,
but the borders were legally closed by the neighbouring countries,
the Rifles simply enforcing the law of those same neighbouring
countries. Those shot dead were trying to break the law.’
‘There have been no “M” Group meetings for many months. Why
is that?’
‘I’m in touch with the various governments on a regular basis.
The next meeting will be soon, but will incorporate a great many
more countries.’
The party went well that night, and we felt that we had achieved
something. Even Fox News were off our backs for the moment. I
woke feeling good Saturday morning, better than I had for a while,
and video-linked to Duckland for an hour, chatting to the troops. I
took a walk down to the river, threw sticks for the dogs – which just
got chewed instead of retrieved, and filled my lungs with summer
air.
That following week, the RF teams started to withdraw, but
underwent a strange ceremony. They all made their way to a
regional airport in Nigeria, stripped naked and burnt all their kit,
walked through showers rigged up, put on boiler suits and flew back.
It made me smile, most of the lady doctors very fit, and very tasty
with it. Not to mention immodest.
I walked down from the house one day, after a good day’s work,
only to find Jimmy holding a young lad by the neck, off his feet and
pinned against my house wall, Shelly crying. Jimmy threw the lad to
floor and ordered him banned from the estate, the police removing
him.
‘What the hell happened?’ I asked as I closed in, Shelly running
off.
‘Your dear daughter found herself a nice eighteen year old lad.’
‘Eighteen! Christ.’ I went after Shelly, finding her on a bench by
the river. I sat without saying anything. After a full minute, I said,
‘This place is full of police officers. If you date that lad he’ll go to
prison. Do you want that?’
She didn’t answer.
‘We want the best for you. Jimmy wants the best for you.’ I
sighed. ‘Can you not find a nice lad that’s … you know, a little
younger?’
‘They’re all stupid little boys.’
I nodded slowly. ‘So was I at that age. I would have loved to date
a quality bird like yourself.’
She managed a smile.
‘If this was Africa, you’d have been married off by now,’ I
added.
‘Maybe I should live there.’
‘Maybe you should just wait. You’re fourteen … going on thirty-
two. School first, exams, then you can go to university and be just as
big a slut as the rest of the girls there. That’s what university is there
for.’
I took a breath. ‘Look, babes, we have a few other things to worry
about, and I’d rather not have to worry about you. OK?’
‘OK,’ she agreed.
‘Where do you want to go for the holidays?’
‘Goma.’
‘Good call. Pack your bucket and spade, and that one-piece
bathing suit.’
She laughed. ‘You’re an old fart, you know that.’
‘Pipe and slippers soon, babes.’ I studied the side of her head.
‘Will you be OK?’
‘Can I go to the casino in Goma, drink and gamble?’
‘Of course you can, it what’s being fourteen is all about. Just
don’t forget that one-piece bathing suit.’

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