Aboard the Huahere she was given a clean bunk in a not so clean cabin. She didn’t care. She slept. She slept the sleep of the innocent for a day and a night before wandering out in the early light to cold air and a myriad of lights on two shores. Nothing was familiar; she had never been here before – so where are we? The question had no sooner come into her mind when a voice said, “This is Suez.”
Startled, she turned to a silhouette against the cabin wall, then looked again, forward this time, to a figure standing between her and a deck light near the capstan machinery. A shudder ran from head to toe. She had seen this figure before. She had heard this voice before. “It’s been ten years,” she said without certainty.
“More’n that,” he replied.
Her mind raced back to Angkor – to her hotel suite when Amone and Thor, two of her most lethal pursuers at the time, were battling it out. He was a silhouette then, only in a doorway, and she had been terrified; she thought he was going to kill her. She never really understood why he hadn’t shot her as he did the others. “Are you going to kill me this time?”
“No sense in that,” he said. “You’re too good for business – no sense killing you.”
“Why did you kill the others?”
“They’d both gone feral. Can’t control animals when they go like that. Once you lose control you have to kill ‘em. It’s bad for business else. Makes sense that.”
“So why am I here? Where are we going?”
“You’re here because you would be dead else. Aleppo is out of control. The place is running with loony groups. You can’t do your work there.”
“You’re looking for something. You have a purpose driving you – always ‘ave.
“How did you find me? How did your man know where to look?”
“That’s my business; it’s what I do. I always know where to look. You’d have been killed and I would never have known what you was looking for. Can’t ‘ave that.”
Stunned at his insight she stood silent as dawn began to light the eastern sky. Did he always know where I am? Does he know about us? Does he understand the Matriarchy?
“You wanted to kill my mother.”
“Wanted to, is right. Not now though.”
“Lot’s of thing ‘ave. The Federation no longer wants you dead, or your mum. They can’t stop the moves to renewable energy like they thought. Now they want to take the lead on solar and wind power. Now they want you alive ‘cause you seem to know a lot.”
“The Federation of Fossil Fuel Suppliers.”
“They want me to help them? This federation of polluters want me to help them after killing my friends in Iraq, and Charlie, my beloved Charlie who never harmed a living soul, and Bill, my best friend in all the world? They want my help after all that merciless killing? Are they out of their minds?”
“It’s business is all. I’m just doin’ their business.”
Her blood was boiling. She could cheerfully kill this cold animal with her bare hands only he was about six foot four, and looked as if he could crush her head with one hand. “That’s crap. You’re not, ‘Just doin’ their business,’ you’re doing your own business. You are working for yourself and selling services to whoever, or whatever, you can. You are the very opposite of Sir William Houghton, one of the many you killed. He at least worked for his country. He had a conscience. You are a ruthless killer.”
“I didn’t kill Sir William. He was a good man – knowed ‘im all my military life. You’re right though – we are opposites. I joined the army as a boy, worked my way up through the ranks. You any idea how hard it is to get a commission if didn’t go to one of the big five schools. You any idea how many I had to go around, or over, just to get into an officers training unit? Sir William came from the establishment, Winchester, Cambridge, the Guards . . . country boy like me can’t compete with that no matter how good I was at soldiering.”[/one_half] [one_half_last]
“But you did make it.” She sensed he had a lot to unload – that much could be learned if she was patient. “You rose to full commander?”
“That were the Navy. I went to Commando training in Devon, where they make you a non-commissioned commander, that was before I was asked to help set the Advanced Services training in Hereford. I was a commander there too until Colonel Bill Houghton put me up for a commission board. He moved on. They made him a knight, Sir William Saint Thomas Houghton, what a mouthful, and he disappeared into Whitehall and all that secret diplomatic stuff. Not the stuff for a farmer’s boy from Summerset.”
“A farmer’s boy who did receive a commission. A farmer’s boy who commanded Special Air Services squads in action.” She was guessing but it was hardly a stretch.
“That’s as maybe, but it don’t change what is. What the Army couldn’t give me I can get for myself. My dad taught me about animals and business. Soldiers is animals, you just got to train ‘em right, and business is always the same. You fat up a pig, you don’t come fond of it ‘cause you ‘ve to kill it one day. Makes sense that.”
She was tempted to press on, learn a little more, but he was already shifting his position away from the deck light. “Where are we going when we come out of the canal?”
“We’ll be watching the Red Sea. Watching to see what happens to that yellow cake your men ‘ave been ‘elping with.”
Again she was stunned. He knew so much about her business. She tried not to show her surprise. “Oh it will be going to Iran.”
“We both know that. To where in Iran, and with who, is what we want to know.”
“Can I ask why you want to know?”
“’cause that’s my business. Knowing is my power. Thought you’d have figured that by now.”
“So what do you want to learn from me?”
“Lots of things. Lots and lots of things.”
“Just one example?”
“Just how come you don’t look any older now than you did eleven year ago?”
“My mother’s secret diet.”
“It’s a secret alright, and probably your mum’s, but it’s more’n a diet. You don’t age like normal folk. Your mum don’t either.”
She smiled. Is that what he wants? Is he seeking eternal life? Is this the oldest story in human history, the original story of King Gilgamesh going in search of his grandfather who, reportedly, had the secret of eternal life?
“I won’t live as long as my mother, and she not as long as hers. We have pollution now. I grew up breathing factory smoke and eating poison food so my essential organs were polluted during their developing years. My mother was not subjected to it for the first hundred years of her life so she’s still strong, even now.”
“How old she be then?”
“Heavens Commander, surely an Englishman knows better than to ask a lady her age. Certainly an officer would never do such a thing.”
It was his turn to smile. “Well we rightly know young miss that I bain’t be no officer ‘cause I didn’t go to a school that taught such etiquette.” He smiled again, “Still we’ll go along with your nonsense a while so’s I can know you a bit more. I will know you though, don’t you doubt that.”
There it was, she thought. There, despite all the cunning and raw intelligence wrapped up in this magnificent physique, there was the Alpha Male Ego hell bent on the last word without thought for the difficulties it presents. They never learn Mother. They never, ever, learn.
The Sun, a raw blood red, was roaring up on the eastern horizon. They watched as quickly it filled the horizon and burned across the sea. John waited, watching her, until it filled; in unison they said, “. . . out of China across the sea.”
They went below for breakfast.[/one_half_last]