Atlantic Bridge – 13 –
Stratford Olympic Heliport, East London
Marius arrived breathless into the giant waiting area of the Heliport, just in time to see a seriously travel-weary Annie shuffling out of Arrivals.
“Taxi for Ms. Shaw!” he grinned.
She half-heartedly took a swing at him with her hand luggage. “I’ve never, nor do I intend to be, a Ms.”She answered.
Marius put his hands up in mock-defence. “My mistake, I meant Mess, because you certainly look like one!” he ducked a blow, and then they embraced freely.
“It’s nice to be here, Mr.Cassel, now take me to your larder.”
“Don’t you mean leader?” he replied.
“No, dammit, the food on the carrier and the heli-jet was beyond inedible, I want to eat you out of house and home!”
They walked towards the exit, Marius carrying Annie’s cases, their easy banter continuing.
“I never cease to wonder Marius, how it is that modern technology can keep me alive two miles underwater, yet it fails to provide me with a decent ham sandwich.”
“It’s one of life’s great mysteries” he replied, enigmatically
“Meaning?” she pressed.
“Well, you know, there are a myriad of life’s unanswered questions, one’s we’ll never know the answers to.”
“For example?” she’d stopped walking, hands on hips. Marius pretended to ponder this, chewing his lip and looking skyward.
“How come, when you blow in a dog’s face, it cannot stand it, but the first thing it does when you put it in a car is stick its head out of the window?”
She grinned at him. “Talk about thinking outside the box” she laughed, “just find me a cheeseburger and a latte, and don’t even think about getting to your place until you have!”
Autoroute, La Lozere, Southern France
The jet black Humvee Kevlar special sped down the deserted highway. Inside, six men were going over operational details for their Ambialet mission. It was led by Colonel Anwar Bakti, a trusted member of the Al Qaeda War Council. He occupied the navigator chair next to the driver.
His comm. panel registered an incoming message.
“Bakti, speak.” The speaker crackled to life.
“Paris HQ. Request progress report and operation status. Authorisation, General Mahmood. Respond immediately, Paris Out.”
Bakti depressed a small button on the panel.
“One hundred kilometres from target and closing. Weapons ordnance satisfactory. ETA destination, sixty minutes. Praise be to Allah, Bakti out.”
Once more the Humvee filled with silence, the relentless passing of the yellow sodium lamps a muted countdown to their journey. The six pairs of eyes faced forward, unsmiling.
The Gorge du Tarn
He could hear them. They were closing in. He strained to catch their voices, carried faintly on the wind. Was it French? Yes! He could hear someone saying they thought they’d seen something on the plateau…how many were searching? Two people? Three? He couldn’t be sure.
Then, crushingly, the unmistakable sound of a Middle Eastern accent speaking faltering French…. No! Someone had called it in! A sympathiser!
The man twisted his head to look down, causing white-hot pain to course through his body. He gritted his teeth against it, trying not to make a sound.
He began to spin lazily again, suspended as he was by nylon cord from a gnarled tree root that erupted from the sheer rock face like dead man’s fingers. He was certain he’d broken his back when he’d hit the edge of the plateau. Entangled as he was, he couldn’t reach the face of the cliff. He hung helplessly, several hundred feet above the Gorge.
They were nearly on top of him now. He thought of the others. They should be well away by now. He seemed to reach into himself, closed his eyes for a moment. He made a decision. With agonising slowness, he extended his fingers as far as he could. The pain washed over him, wave after sickening wave, almost sending him back into unconsciousness. Finally, his fingers found their prize; He unclasped the razor-sharp ceramic knife from its calf sheath.
The voices were louder, nearer, more insistent. It was now, or never. “Good luck lads” he murmured. With one swift, fluid movement he severed the nylon rope, and Corporal Martin Clarke dropped silently to his death on the unforgiving rocks in the dark waters below.
At that very instant, the two inflatables were beaching on a broad sandbar in a great sweeping bend in the river, just outside of Ambialet. Two of the men leapt out into the shallow, but fast flowing water, steadying the craft. The others jumped ashore and began relaying equipment up into the safety of the tree line. Once that was done, Ben ordered the boats to be stowed out of sight, but ready to launch back into the river at a moments notice.
As the men were assembling their weapons, Ben Tobias crawled up the embankment. It rose sharply from the tree line, natural rocky walls surmounted by the stone man made walls, curving, following the path of the river. He put his Night-Sight to his eyes. Immediately, the town was awash in a ghostly green phosphorescence. He could see the bright dots of the street lamps high above him, delineating the main road into Ambialet.
Intermittently, the low rumble of a truck punctuated the still of the night, rising, then falling into an echoing diminuendo as it disappeared into the tunnel through the cliff. He swung his view through 180 degrees. There it was, perched on a high cliff above the town, the Monastery, Headquarters of the Lumiere de Liberte. With Night Vision, it looked like there was a collection of pale green phantoms flickering within the citadel. So, they’re at home, he said to himself. He switched the unit off and slid silently back down the slope to rejoin the others.
“Okay men, time to drink some water and eat an energy bar. We rest for an hour. Meanwhile, I’ll decide where our best position is, should all hell break loose. Find yourselves cover, and stand easy. We need to be alert when the time comes. A tired soldier is a dead one, got it?” In the darkness, the men murmured their assent. “I’ll take first watch. Corporal Vann, relieve me in thirty minutes.”
“Affirmative, sir” replied Vann, between long draughts of water.
Lieutenant Commander Ben Tobias positioned himself at the edge of the trees, looking out over the town and the river that had carried them to it. He wondered what the next few hours had in stall for his men.
© Kev Moore 2008 All Rights Reserved