INSIDERS – CHAPTERS 27 and 28; Gripping #vaccine/virus #sci-fi adventure #novel in serial form

CHAPTER 27 : Just Maybe

Mercy Yoo pulled her E-Class back out onto Marina Boulevard and crossed over onto Girard Road.

“I think,” she said to Coral, “that it’s time to start maxxing out my cards.”

They had sat for a few anxious minutes in the Wave Organ parking lot and, between them, had roughed out a vague plan which they hoped would keep them both safe from their pursuers, at least until the following day.

In essence, they had decided that they needed to drop off the grid and, to do that they had to avoid returning to anywhere that they might reasonably be expected to. Even with the car registration now disguised, they didn’t want to be caught on too many streetcams, so heading out of town where cameras were fewer and further between seemed like a good starting point.

A hotel or motel, they hoped, might offer them some anonymity but using credit cards to book a room would be dangerous, because of their digital trail. Well-resourced and unscrupulous organisations like the Hu Foundation or The Belonging could track those without too much difficulty.

Mercy concluded that the least risky course of action would be to draw out cash from randomly chosen hole in the wall ATMs, as far apart as possible, and use that cash to pay for somewhere to crash overnight.

“Are you sure about this?” asked Coral as they barrelled along Presidio Parkway towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Nope,” answered Mercy. “Not even vaguely. You got any better suggestions?”

They were halfway across the bridge heading up towards Sausalito when Mercy’s phone beeped again. She looked at the display. “Same guy who called before,” she said.

“Who is he?” asked Coral.

“I wish I knew.” As she spoke, Mercy initiated a tracking app and was dismayed to see a bright red rapidly blinking Z flagging up on her screen. She held the screen up so Coral could see it. “See that Z? It stands for ZiD, zero identity. It means I can’t track his phone.” Mercy cut the call off without answering. “Whoever he is, I don’t think we can trust him.”

In Sausalito they cruised randomly around, pausing just long enough at several widely separated ATMs to withdraw cash on various of Mercy’s cards, before driving a few miles further north to Mill Valley for one more hit of a local ATM before turning round to head back into San Francisco.

“If anyone’s still tracking us electronically,” Mercy explained, “they’ll see us heading north so maybe, just maybe, they won’t be looking for us to book into a hotel smack dab in the middle of San Francisco.” She smiled, as encouragingly as she could muster, over at Coral and repeated the words “Just maybe” again.

It was long after midnight by the time they turned on to US-101 south out of Mill Valley, and just under an hour later they were parking under the exclusive St. Regis hotel on 3rd Street. “Can we really go here?” asked Coral.

“Tonight,” replied Mercy, “I have a wallet jammed with green folding stuff. One night only.” The two women erupted into laughter laced with a tinge of hysteria.


Challis was sitting upright in front of the bank of screens that took up most of one wall of his laboratory. In the flat of his left hand lay an inert Rob1n. He was idly turning it over, but his eyes were focussed on the screen directly ahead of him, which was displaying a detailed schematic of the artificial avian’s innards.

“Mayonnaise,” he muttered to himself. He had just returned from the Nanovit staff restaurant where the manageress had informed him that they had not used mayonnaise for the last five years, for the simple reason that salad cream was cheaper. She’d had no complaints about the substitution from Elfin but, as Challis knew, their boss never ate in the staff restaurant anyway.

It irked Challis to distraction that he was having to think about where he might source industrial quantities of mayonnaise when he’d much rather be planning how best to deploy the Raven Bug swarm. Then there was matter of organising the demise of his former colleague Smiddy which clearly troubled Elfin much more than he felt it should.

As ever, while he was pondering what to do, Challis cast an eye over the terrarium which housed his favourite red widow spider, Ginger. He couldn’t see her and assumed she must be hunkered down in her web under some of the leaves he had provided. When last he had seen her, Ginger’s belly had seemed nicely rounded, so there was no immediate need to feed her. “Are you thirsty?” he asked, and sprayed a few tiny droplets of water onto the interior glass walls. The distraction was just enough to help him to think through his dilemma.

The solution, he concluded, was to outsource the eradication of Smiddy, and he knew exactly who he wanted to do it. “Segarini,” he said into his tele-link.

For many years, Roberto Segarini had been Challis’ first port of call when he wanted a dirty job done fast and efficiently. The man liked to call himself a Specialist Consulting Detective, but Challis thought of him more as a cost-effective exterminator. Sure, Elfin had her own team of in-house assassins, but Challis had very little faith in them.

“Wac ain’t here,” lied the voice from his tele-link. “This is Albie.”

“Albie,” said Challis. “It’s me, Gregor. How are you doing? It’s been a while, yes? Tell Roberto I’m gonna make him an offer he can refuse, but he’d be dumb if he did.”

Albert Bach, known to his tiny circle of acquaintances as Albie, was no mean psychopath in his own right but he had none of the unbridled ambition that had made Segarini a natural leader of lowlife scum. Lacking anything that resembled self-esteem, Albie felt privileged to be allowed to skulk in Segarini’s shadow, and sort out anything or anybody that impeded his boss’s business interests.

“Sure thing, Gregor,” replied Albie. “Now go insert your grotesque physog back up your slimeball rectum where it belongs and don’t expect a call back until the boss finishes doin’ whatever it is that I don’t know he’s doin’.” The line went silent.

“Ever the charmer,” thought Challis.

“One double room. Twin beds.” said Mercy.

“I’m very sorry, ladies,” apologised the reception clerk. “Nothing left with twins tonight. I can offer you one on the seventeenth floor with a kingsize.”

It seemed to Mercy that he was having difficulty reconciling them as a couple, so she said, “That’ll do nicely,” then turned towards Coral and said, “Honey, after the day you’ve had you must be desperate for a chance to get out of those filthy things and freshen up.”

The clerk smiled non-commitally. “1723” he said. “And your luggage?”

“Still down in the car,” smiled Mercy. “Right now, we just want to crash. We’ll bring in our cases tomorrow morning.” She made a flourish of opening her wallet and revealing the fat wadge of cash inside. “You still take this kind of stuff, I assume,” she said.

“Cash?” asked the clerk. “You don’t have a credit card?”

“Call me old-fashioned,” replied Mercy. “I’m an analogue kind of girl. I don’t like digital. Here’s my driver’s licence, my passport … I’ve got all kinds of photo-ID.” She yanked out a sizeable fistful of cash and pushed it plainly into his sight across the counter.

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” he answered. “Perhaps you could leave an overnight payment to cover any extras. We can refund it when you check out.”

“Absolutely,” confirmed Mercy.

The elevator doors had barely closed behind the women before the clerk was dialling a number on his phone. “Detective Cutler?” he asked. “You asked me to let you know of any female Orientals checking in tonight?”

On the other end of the line, Smiddy assumed his Detective Cutler voice and replied, “Sure. What you got?”

Uncertain of what should be his next move, Kintsugi had commandeered a side-room in the Hu Cares Bayview Aurora Residence, and was bouncing ideas around with Section Manager Mr. Park.

“Incheon won’t wait much longer,” he told Park. “They want to see action. They’re telling me they want the virus recovered and back under control within 48 hours, and they don’t care what happens to Rother along the way.”

Park had never before seen Kintsugi so agitated, and had never heard him rail so angrily or so openly against the dictates of the Hu Foundation’s South Korean HQ. “I thought you had friends in Beijing?” asked Park. “Wouldn’t they have some influence over our guys in Incheon?”

“Depends how you define ‘friends’,” retorted Kintsugi. “I do have ‘friends’ in Beijing, but then my daughter has over 1000 ‘friends’ on Facebook and we know what those are worth when the whip comes down.”

“But 48 hours?” persisted Park. “Even if Rother knows where to locate it, do we even know how to isolate the virus?”

Kintsugi had to acknowledge that, even though it had been manufactured by Hu Foundation scientists, there was as yet no way to be certain that they could make the virus safe.

“Whatever else happens, one priority right now must be to find Mercy Yoo. Agreed?” Kintsugi looked over at Park for confirmation. “I assume we’re using all the resources at our disposal to achieve that?”

Park nodded. “We’re monitoring every digital online source and we’ve got over a dozen cars out there looking for her.”

“What about those dragonflies?”

“The nanobots?” asked Park. “They’re such a new technology. I’m not sure how reliable they are.”

“Look into it,” ordered Kintsugi. “I saw something on the last monthly report that said we’ve got about twenty of them as near operational as makes no difference. Even if we could just use them to fly around and scan the city, you never know, one of them might get lucky and spot Mercy. Check it out.”

Both men fell silent for several heartbeats but it was Park who eventually spoke up. “I know our science team at the Foundation ranks with the world’s best, but I have heard talk about one guy who is way ahead of everybody else in the field. The only problem is that he seems to be largely without scruples.”

Kintsugi looked him straight in the eye. “Why should that be a problem?” he said. “What’s his name?”

“Challis,” replied Park. “Gregor Challis.”
CHAPTER 28 : That Velcro Sensation

“It can’t be absolutely nothing,” persisted Rother. “I can feel it. There’s something disturbing you.”

“That’s impressive,” replied Kane, “but I suppose I should have anticipated that you would gradually start to understand my feelings.”

“I get, like, sensations, emanations, that I can only assume are coming from you,” confirmed Rother. “I don’t know, not consciously, what they mean, but I get a sense of how you are feeling, quite separate from the things you say. I just got a vibe off you like velcro being pulled apart, and I didn’t like it.”

“Isn’t that interesting?” queried Kane. “Velcro? Yeah, I can understand that. It seems that I can’t completely hide the workings of my mind from you, any more than you can hide your thoughts from me.”

“OK, but all I’m getting are impressions, not actual thoughts like you get from me.”

“Maybe you’ll get better at it. Or maybe we’re merging together,” suggested Kane.

“Oh no,” insisted Rother. “Merging? Hell, no. I’m me and you’re you, and I’d like it to go on that way. Actually, no, I’d like it even better if you weren’t here at all. I like being just me.”

“Maybe we can find a way to make that happen,” said Kane, evidently untroubled by the remark, “but probably not right now. What we need to do right now is work out how to get out of this place.”

Rother was still resolved to find out what the velcro sensation had meant, but he knew that Kane was right. Their first priority had to be making an exit from Bayview Aurora Residence.

“Actually,” pointed out Kane, “our first priority has to be how to get out of this bed, and I think you’re beginning to form a notion that just might work.”

It was annoying that Kane could perceive what Rother was thinking even before he had completely formed the idea, but it was true. Remembering how Kane had been able to transfer aspects of itself from Mercy to Rother via bodily fluids had given him the germ of an idea.

Ten minutes later, they had worked it out between them and, when the orderly returned to collect the cocoa mug, Rother was holding his left arm in an obviously unnatural position, his face twisted into a pained rictus. “Cramp,” he moaned. “I’ve got some kind of muscle cramp.”

“Really?” asked the orderly. “Where does it hurt?”

“My arm and my hand. I can’t open my fingers.” He let out a convincing yowl of agony.

The orderly was looking around, clearly wondering if this was some sort of trick. He spoke into the mic on the front of his t-shirt. “I’ve got a patient apparently in extreme pain, Ward 5. Can you send someone down?”

Rother howled again so convincingly that, despite his suspicions, the orderly reached out and grasped the arm. Holding the wrist firmly, he massaged the back of the hand. “Is that helping?” he asked.

Rother slightly relaxed his hand and nodded his head. “Mmmmm…” he moaned. “Can’t open my fingers.” Another yowl of pain.

The orderly responded instinctively, pushing first one index finger then the middle finger into Rother’s tightly balled-up fist.

“That’s it,” came the thought from Kane. “His sweat and yours are nicely mingling. Keep that grip as long as you can.”

It needed only a few more seconds for Kane to transfer microscopic elements of his own genetic make-up through the sweat and onto the orderly’s skin.

“There we go,” he thought, as the ward door opened and a white-coated male nurse burst in.

“Get away from the patient,” commanded the nurse. “It could be a ruse…”

Rother took this as his cue to emit a huge sigh of relief, relax his arm and let his hand fall open. “Aaaaah! Thank God,” he groaned. “Thank God.”

The orderly pulled away, rubbing his sweaty fingers. “No, it’s OK,” he told the nurse. “He just had cramp, probably from having been in the restraints for so long.”

Rother was now effusive. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. You’ve no idea what that was like…”

“Well,” smiled the orderly, “I’ve had cramp myself, so I do know what it can be like.”

The nurse, however, was still not entirely convinced. “You can’t trust these kind of people,” he said, sternly. “Never do anything like that again without having someone else in the room with you.”

“If only he knew,” thought Kane, inducing a small involuntary laugh from Rother.

“What are you laughing about?” demanded the nurse.

“Laughing?” asked Rother. “Sorry. It’s just a reaction to the relief from the pain.”

“Can’t we give him something to relax his muscles?” asked the orderly.

“I could give him an anti-spasmodic, like maybe orphenadrine,” replied the nurse. “But he seems a lot better now.”

Rother flexed his fingers as much as his restraints would allow, and nodded his head. “Yeah. I’m OK. It does feel a lot better now.”

The nurse and the orderly moved away towards the door and spoke quietly to each other.

“That went perfectly,” thought Kane. “One of me is in there with him and, given a few more minutes, I’ll be able to access his mind. Before long he won’t know what he’s doing or why.”

The nurse left the room and the orderly stopped briefly in the doorway to look back at Rother. “I’ll be back to check on you later.”

“I’m sure you will,” replied Rother, managing to give him a thumbs up.

“Have you tidied away my spoons again?”

Segarini was standing with his knuckles pressed flat onto the surface of Albie Bach’s workstation. “You mean your evisceration spoons?” asked Albie.

“No, I mean my fucking orange marmalade spoons,” barked Segarini.

“Sorry, Capo,” replied Albie. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“You never think. It’s one of your few redeeming characteristics. Now, where’s the spoons?”

“They’re not in the second drawer from the top?” Albie was becoming flustered as Segarini’s face bore down on him. “Immediately below the Eyeball drawer?”

“If they were in the second drawer from the top,” grated Segarini, “would I be asking you where they are?”

It didn’t help Albie’s concentration that he could feel Segarini’s breath on his face, but he suddenly remembered where he had last seen the evisceration spoons. “I had to sterilise them after you used a couple of them the weekend before last on Tiny Jerome,” he said. “So I put them in the autoclave, then I transferred them to the HQube to keep them nice and krispy.”

Segarini backed off by a couple of inches, but shook his head. “They would have stayed krispy in the drawer.”

“I guess they would have,” conceded Albie.

“You guess? So when were you planning to put them back in the drawer?”

“I’m really sorry, boss,” apologised Albie. “I just got tied up with all the other stuff.”

“All the other stuff? All what other stuff?” demanded Segarini.

It was only Segarini’s communicator beeping that got Albie off the hook. The assassin took the call and, for a few moments, he said little more than curt yesses and nos to his caller.

Then, finally, he asked the caller a question. “Can you give me one good reason?”

“I can give you ten thousand good reasons,” replied Gregor Challis. “Each of them with the face of the father of our country printed on the front.”

Segarini snorted derisively. “The father of your country.”

Challis laughed. “If you’d prefer ten thousand Lire, that’s not a problem.”

Segarini ignored the jibe. “These days it’s $20,000. And I’ll take it in crypto, preferably bitcoin.”

“How very traditional of you,” replied Challis, “I’ll do you half upfront and the other half 24 hours after the kill is confirmed. And you dispose of the leftovers.”

Now it was Segarini’s turn to laugh. “Always a pleasure doing business with you. Tell me more.”

“Matthew Smiddy. It seems he has offed a couple of Elfin’s bully boys and…”

“You said Elfin?” interrupted Segarini. “Would that be as in Elfin Nano?”

“It certainly is,” confirmed Challis. “Glad to see you’re still on the ball. I’ve been working with Elfin for some time now. She … sorry ey … would like to have Smiddy discreetly reduced to offal. Shouldn’t be a serious problem for a man of your talents, but he did spend several years in Delivery, so not entirely a pushover. I’m wiring you his details, photo, weapons of choice, last known location, inside leg, you know the drill.”

Segarini was grinning from ear to ear as he disconnected from his tele-link and scanned through the details Challis had sent. “Albie?” he shouted through to the next room. “Anything on the calendar for tomorrow morning?”

“Nothing we can’t change,” shouted Albie.

“Good. Find me a woman. And book me a table for two at the St. Regis, breakfast.”

“Honey? Oralie? Cyndi?…”

“Cyndi’s fine,” said Segarini. ‘She gives good breakfast.”


Across town meanwhile, Challis had moved on to another call.

“Kintsugi,” he said. “Yes, I believe I have heard your name. I must admit I wasn’t anticipating a call from anyone at the Hu Foundation…”

“Good business,” began Kintsugi.

“Is where you find it.” Challis completed the familiar old quote and smiled into the tele-link screen.

“Which is why I’ve called you on this scrambled line,” said Kintsugi. “Our two companies aren’t exactly fuck buddies but I believe you’ll be interested in a project I have in mind which could be of benefit to both of us.”

“It’s not impossible,” said Challis. “Tell me more.”

“I’m sure you’ll have heard of our Acceleration Project…”

“Just as you must know of our ViralXpedient.” A slight movement inside the terrarium at the end of his desk caught his eye, and he was pleased to see Ginger making her way across its floor. “Good girl,” he said.

“What?” asked Kintsugi.

“Not you,” responded Challis. “I was talking to my spider.”

“Spider?” queried Kintsugi.

“Yes, spider. Now, where were we?”

Kintsugi resumed, “What if I were to tell you that there may be a way for you and I to work together to our mutual benefit, our enormous mutual benefit, without the conscious involvement of either Nanovit or The Hu Foundation?”

Challis offered Kintsugi a bemused little smile. “I’d assume you were asking me to betray Elfin. And I’d be wondering what sort of incentive you think you could offer me to achieve that betrayal.”

Kintsugi smiled back but, unlike Challis, he had never mastered the art of the enigmatic facial countenance, and he knew it. He also knew that, in this situation, it hardly mattered because the Hu Foundation was at least ten times the size of NanoVit. “You know, Mr. Challis, that we could buy Nanovit right out from underneath you tomorrow, but I wouldn’t want to sully our potentially fruitful relationship with the crass bludgeon of financial might.”

Blinking his eyes just once, Challis said, “So how would you prefer to sully it?”

The Hu Foundation executive liked Challis less with every exchange that passed between them. It was evident that Challis was uncommonly intelligent, disturbingly self-assured and a past master of Machiavellian guile. Even so, Kintsugi reminded himself, he had access to resources that Challis could only dream of.

“The deal I’m thinking of,” said Kintsugi, “will put you and I at the pinnacle of a multi-national which will dwarf both the Foundation and Nanovit.”

Challis was beginning to look interested. “And exactly how will we achieve this minor miracle?”

“By striking while the iron is hot,” said Kintsugi. “And at this precise moment, the iron is white hot.”

“Tell me more,” replied Challis. The pair spoke for several more minutes before Challis said, “OK. You’ve got my attention. Send me some details and maybe we can meet.”

Annoyed that he was being cut off at what he felt was a vital moment in their conversation, Kintsugi protested, “No, this is important. We have to settle the details now.”

“It’s getting late,” Challis disagreed. “I’m tired, and I still have things to do before I sleep. Just send me the details.” He cut the call off without so much as a goodbye.

He switched out the lights around Ginger’s terrarium. “Early to bed,” he said, “early to rise.” This was just one several cliched mantras by which he regulated his life.

As he did every night without fail, he settled down on the edge of his favourite padded armchair, punched an alphanumeric code into his handheld screen and scanned through the day’s data, making occasional adjustments and copying some details to other files for backup. When he reached the output relating to the functioning of Elfin’s neck bolt implants, he smiled. “Oh, my dear little Elfin,” he whispered. “If only you knew.”

Satisfied that eir implants had worked precisely according to his programming for the past 24 hours, he raised up his right hand index finger and brought it firmly down onto the section of the touch screen displaying the word ‘Re-set’.

He took great pleasure, as he always did, in watching all of the settings return to zero and begin their various recording functions over again. He found it deeply satisfying to think of how such simple cyclical operations could control such sophisticated devices and, through them, Elfin herself. Still smiling contentedly, he leaned back into the soft upholstery of his chair, closed his huge eyes and was asleep within seconds.

“I was never here.” Smiddy spoke quietly as he covertly palmed a tightly folded c-note into the fist of the St. Regis desk clerk.

“No problem, Detective,” whispered the clerk, handing over a passkey for Room 1723.

Smiddy looked at the key, contemplated it briefly, and shook his head. “Have they ordered anything from Room Service?” he asked.

Moments later, Smiddy was standing outside the door. He knocked twice, then stood back from the fisheye peephole so that Mercy would see him clearly. He held up a bottle of Prosecco beside his face.

“Who’s that?” called Mercy through the intercom.

“Compliments of the management,” he replied, turning the bottle from side to side to attract her attention.

“Really? We didn’t order anything.”

“No, miss. As I said, it’s complimentary. For first-time visitors.”

Mercy was uncertain. “Just leave it by the door.”

Smiddy smiled broadly. “I’m afraid I’m not allowed to just leave bottles of alcoholic beverages in the hallways. Hotel policy. We have under-age kids staying with us…”

Mercy still didn’t like it. “We’re not drinkers,” she lied. “Neither of us. We don’t need it. Thanks and everything, we’re very grateful, but you can just take it back.”

“No problem, miss,” grinned Smiddy. “I completely understand.”

He nodded politely, turned and walked half a dozen steps down the hallway. “Shit,” he said under his breath. “OK, ladies, you leave me no choice.” Setting the bottle down, he waited a few moments to let Mercy move away from the peephole, before taking out the passkey and returning as quietly as he could to the door. Gently moving the key in front of the scanner, he turned the handle, pushed the door, and stepped into the room.

The first thing he noticed was that the room’s lights were out. Then, from the darkness behind the door, he heard a voice saying, “Welcome back, dumbass.” He didn’t hear the crash of heavy china shattering as Coral brought a solid vase down on the back of his head.

Then there was only blackness until he returned to groggy consciousness several minutes later.

While he was out, Mercy and Coral had improvised a wrist restraint out of the pull cord on the bathroom shower curtain, and secured his hands tightly behind his back. His ankles were weighted down by a chair on which Coral was sitting, and in her hand was Mercy’s Swiss Army Knife with the corkscrew flipped out and ready for action.

Smiddy’s mouth was stopped with a facecloth tied firmly in place by the stylishly thin leather belt from Coral’s denim miniskirt.

“He’s coming round,” said Coral.

“Thank God!” gasped Mercy. “I thought you might have killed him with that vase.”

“Serve him right if I had.” Coral moved the corkscrew closer to Smiddy’s left eye and twisted it threateningly as she loosened the belt around his head, allowing the facecloth to fall out.

“Whaaaaa …??” he shouted, pulling his head back.

“That’ll teach you to underestimate women,” said Coral.

“So who the hell are you?” demanded Mercy, holding up the fistful of phony business cards, credit cards and IDs she had liberated from his wallet. “Which of these guys is actually you?”

Smiddy’s head was still reeling, his eyesight still more than a little blurred and his ego somewhat dented. “Gimme a minute. Let me think.”

“Bounce a bit more on that chair,” suggested Mercy. “Might help him remember who he is and what he’s doing here.” She turned back to Smiddy. “Was that you following us in the black Lincoln?”

Smiddy yowled in pain then managed to yelp, “Black Lincoln? What black Lincoln?”

“Another bounce,” said Mercy.

“No, no. Honest, I swear I wasn’t following you.”

“OK. So who the hell are you?”

“Why the hell should I tell you?

“Because, for starters, that vase was one of a pair. And for another thing, my colleague here hasn’t stabbed any potential rapists lately.”

Instinctively, Smiddy screwed his eyelids as tightly shut as he could. From what little he had gleaned about Mercy, she didn’t seem the type of woman who would happily participate in the torturing of another human being, but he wasn’t willing to take any chances. Besides, the undernourished blonde with the corkscrew looked like she meant business.

Hastily assessing his situation, he decided that maybe just this once, on balance, it might be in his best interests to level with these women.

“Smiddy,” he said, with his eyelids still tight shut. “My name is Matthew Smiddy. Take that corkscrew away from my eye and I’ll tell you more.”

Mercy indicated to Coral that she should do as he requested. “OK, Mr. Smiddy, you can open your eyes now.”

Coral leaned in close to his face, smiled winningly, and said, “You do have lovely eyes, Matthew, don’t you. Such a beautiful shade of blue. And a matching pair. Two’s a great number for eyes, don’t you think? Mind you, an eyepatch can make a man look quite dashing.”

Mercy was slightly alarmed that Coral seemed to show such a natural aptitude for this line of work but, for the moment, it was working in their favour so, rather than try to rein her in, she moved round behind Smiddy, out of his line of sight, and flashed Coral a querulous look.

“So what brings you to Room 1723 tonight?”

With a minimum of editing, Smiddy explained who he was, how he had located Mercy, and why he was pursuing her. “As for you,” he concluded, nodding towards Coral, “I’ve no idea who you are, but I’d like you a lot better if you’d fold that corkscrew back into the knife.”

Mercy looked out of the room window towards the Eastern horizon and was surprised to notice how bright the red glow from the nearest forest fires, out towards Sacramento, had become. “Weird,” she thought. “How come we keep having these fires, yet they say that in a few decades over 100 square miles of the Bay Area could be under water?” It made no more sense to her than the bizarre developments that had, in the space of a couple of days, turned her life upside down.

Turning back to Smiddy, she said, “So, you’re working for Nanovit and you’re looking for Doogle?”


“Douglas Rother,” explained Mercy.

Clearly never having heard the name, Smiddy shook his head emphatically. “More like I used to work for Nanovit, and they’re looking for Mr Jong Min-Jun, but I intend to find him first.”

Aware that she had made a mis-step, Mercy was trying to appear nonchalant by casually clearing up broken shards of the faux blue-and-white ceramic vase and flipping them into the waste bin. “Mr. Jong?” she echoed. “You’re looking for Mr. Jong?”

Smiddy was now much more circumspect. “Sure, but back up a bit. Who’s Douglas Rother?” he asked.

Another chunk of shattered ceramic clunked into the bin as Mercy attempted to recover some lost ground by pointing out, “You’re in no position to be asking the questions, Mr Smiddy. I need to know why Nanovit is looking for my boss, and exactly what you’re up to, and what you think you want from me and …” Much to her annoyance, she ran out of additional things she wanted to ask him, so she turned back to Coral and said, “Keep that corkscrew exactly where it is. I think Mr. Smiddy has a lot of explaining to do, if he wants to leave here with his capacity for binocular sight intact.”

Leave a comment