Chapter 20 here … Chapter 22 here
Late November, 2012
Their hosts arrived and one was missing. Young chap, son of one of the local shepherds, had had a fall and was in hospital.
‘Thank goodness for that,’ said Sam and everyone understood.
The tall one [they were never named] said that it was worse. To fall into the clutches of a local hospital would see you at risk of being taken for experimentation, spirited away forever. There were many tales.
They were all very concerned for the lad.
There was a piece of good news but they daren’t announce it ahead of time. On the next visit, they’d mention it.
Fifteen days later, the stone moved at the entrance to the main room and there were their hosts again. Emma went to put the kettle on as she always did but this visit, they were intrigued.
Four blow-up airbeds were brought in, a quantity of bedding, a box of twelve bottles of Italian red and one more lamp. The sight of the wine had their eyes popping out. The fact that the hosts hadn’t commandeered it was also not lost on them.
Sam assured them that it had all been noted and one day they were going return the favour in some shape or form. Their hosts waved it away.
He asked if they were staying overnight and no one said anything. Hugh asked how the young lad was. He was fine and they’d got him back.
The hosts finished their cuppas and took their leave.
Two days before Christmas, the entrance stone rolled back and into the room, in climbing outfits, stepped Geneviève, Jean-Claude, Anya and what presumably was her Italian.
No one knew whom to embrace first and in the hubbub, the hosts were forgotten until Hugh slipped over and shook their hands profusely.
Words finally came and Anya explained, ‘It’s bad out there now. People are hiding wherever they can and anything which even looks like a cave isn't safe. It’s all coordinated in Europe from one central point. Massimo -’ ah, that was his name, ‘he got my mother out and we’re on the way to join her and some of his family who are left. Don’t ask how we got here – there's a network.’
‘Is it possible to eat something light now?' asked Geneviève, then we’ll then sleep and tomorrow we can talk.’
‘Of course,' said Emma. 'How long do you have?’
‘Until midnight tomorrow. I see a child. Yours, Hugh?’
‘Both are mine. Explanations tomorrow morning.’
They ate the quick supper, then Sophie took them through to the water source. ‘It’s primitive, I’m afraid.’ No one was in the least concerned.
The beds had been made up in the third room and the light was doused thirty minutes later.
It was late rising for those without babies.
An hour after the necessities had been done, they all assembled in the big room and Geneviève cleared her throat.
‘The last time we were all free people, four people here today met in a farmhouse near Fontainebleau. Not one is with the partner he or she chose.' She spoke bitterly.
'No need,' Emma spoke softly, going over and sitting with her on the long divan. Geneviève looked around at everyone. 'We have much to thank our hosts for ... bringing us together like this. Let's think about that for now and for the time we have together.'
Anya gave her little cough, which was really only her cough but everyone thought she was asking for their attention. When she realized they were all waiting for her to speak, she went red and stuttered but finally got the words out. 'We ... cough ... we were able to move about because ... cough ... Massimo was ... um ...'
'I was working for the Italian authorities,' he admitted. 'This is how we were in Iceland and now we are to go home. Anya's mother is there.'
People looked at Anya and she added, 'In Vicenze.'
'Ah,' said Hugh and she looked straight at him. Was it an appeal, a last ditch appeal or was it the realization that when they did that, this would be the last she'd see of anyone outside that town?
Attention turned to Jean-Claude and Geneviève, the latter who spoke again. 'We were in Strømsø, we found a boat to take us, it would have cost Jean-Claude dearly but it was the dangerous more - we were looking for a way out.'
'I had a name, a friend from the past,' Jean-Claude continued the story, 'it was our final chance, so we thought and I made contact with him. He was hiding, just like us. He found a place on the boat to Iceland for us and we arrived at Akureyri, it was not difficult to remain hidden. Then came a very great risk once more.' His English had deteriorated somewhat, Hugh was thinking. 'Our host asked if we wished to meet this man they spoke highly of although his English and mine ... well, excuse us please.
Our host was sure the man was on the right side and he had helped others, so I said yes. Geneviève was to remain and I was to go to the farm near Grenivik. It might have been the last time she and I would be together so you can imagine our parting.'
'It was awful, Hugh, Emma.' Then she forgot she'd not included the other two and nodded towards them quickly, which they acknowledged, Sophie with a smile. 'Well, it was awful, as I say. And all that day I was alone and not wanting to go on.' She paused, gathered herself and continued. 'Jean-Claude had gone before sunrise and he came back in the night.'
'I told Geneviève that I'd met the man, that he knew of another couple and had spoken with them if they wanted to meet us. He had not used names, of course and he had lied about where they were staying. My instincts said that this seemed too easy, too ... ah ...'
'Too pat,' supplied Hugh.
'Oui. I said that we were interested in principle but that now I needed to go back and ask my wife. He understood but I was not able to return until the night.'
'Jean-Claude spoke to our host and nothing happened for two days. Our host then came to us and said it was safe, it was not a trick. He asked if he could give the man a name to give to the other couple. I said yes - Barbizon.'
'It was a slow process,' continued Jean-Claude, a very slow process. We had to be careful, of course.'
Massimo took up the story, in his lyrical voice. 'I did not like this and yet Anya wanted to give him the word Shadzhara and I finally said yes. Our hosts had also agreed the man was un amico. I said yes and the name was given. Three times the women gave more names and then we all agreed to meet, in Akureyri. This was when we now heard about Hugh and Emma, forgive me, Sophie and ... er ... Sam.'
Anya added, 'Naturally, I wanted but Massimo warned me, warned us, that this all seemed too possible, too easy, to get us all together like this. And he did not seem to want money, which could be good, could be bad.'
'A very great risk you all took,' commented Hugh.
'Yes but look at the alternative and we have taken risks before, have we not? First, the four of us met and then we all thought we would do it. Massimo was the problem because he was one of the other side and they had to do much checking on him. It took weeks but one night, we were given two hours to be ready. We were always ready.'
'You could write a book,' observed Hugh.
'No, you could write a book,' she returned, with a smile.
'I'm,' began Emma again and then stopped. 'I'm just happy it was possible.' They looked from one to the other and it became a bit obvious but they had run out of conversation for now. At least, they'd run out of the type of conversation you could have en masse but all were dying to meet with others one to one.
With the morning jobs done, with Jean-Baptiste and Little Emma playing on the only rug in the place and with all seated around the rug on the divan and chairs, it was time to get down to their situation.
It was Hugh who asked Massimo to give his thoughts on their chances of getting away from here and getting back to any sort of life.
' 'Non c'è alcuna possibilità. There is no chance. It is difficult to describe. Perhaps Anya ...'
She took up the tale. 'The government still throws people from their houses because they can't pay but there is no more prison because the prisons are full.
The people have bad food and no exercise. They cannot rebel, fight back because their soup stops if they protest. So they don't and the situation continues. My mother and I have been lucky because of Massimo but now he is suspected and he must return.'
She paused and Jean-Claude took up the story. 'That is true, that there is nothing to return to. If we go back home, we go to our death, sorry Geneviève but it is the truth. We are planning to go back to Fontainebleau because we wish to be in what was our home when it ends. You four people in this cave - this is your only safety for now.
There is one small safety - that there is no order anymore and so they are disorganized in the centres.'
'Yes, controlled by the State, of course. They are free and make excellent toilet paper. If someone reports you have done that with the paper, you are executed in the central square of the town.'
'So,' observed Emma, 'our hosts here are doing far more than even we knew, to bring us food and to protect us here.'
'They speak highly of you all,' said Jean-Claude. 'You were championing the cause of the oppressed and that is always going to find a grateful people. You are luckier than most.'
Silence now descended on the room, until Emma indicated for Geneviève to go with her to another room and that was the signal for everyone to pair off for discussion of those matters only between two people.
Supper time saw Sam asking, 'Is there no sport?'
'Oh, there is sport,' said Massimo. Manchester United still play Real Madrid on the television channel but it is a controlled spectacle for the television. There are old films to make people feel good, unless they need recruits for the next battle and then they play a political documentary about the enemy.
'Well,' said Emma, 'isn't this fun?'
Midnight was approaching.
Those who had no particular connection with others now held their farewell conversations – Hugh and Massimo had little to say but they kept it pleasant, ditto Sam and Jean-Claude. They all wound up a bit early, with about an hour to go and so drinks were poured and passed round.
Now came the important farewells. Hugh was the shakiest of all but as he nodded to Massimo and approached Anya, she imperceptibly pulled back, chafing at the bit and Hugh knew her back to front. ‘Never could stand partings, could you?’ She smiled weakly and accepted his handshake.
He nodded to Jean-Claude and was allowed to approach Geneviève. She had tears in her eyes and he was struggling too. He shook her hand and both had to control themselves. Emma now spent some minutes tightly entwined with Geneviève, exchanging assurances, hands on the others' faces.
The visitors dressed, donned their packs, the rock slid back, the hosts came in, spoken farewells were said and they were gone.
Hugh just stood there in the middle of the floor, unable to move. Sam it was who handed him a wine and he sat down with the other man. Sam had his own memories too at this time. Hugh toasted, 'To them.'
Little Emma now awoke, which woke up Jean-Baptiste.
Sam was in bed when she joined him, he watched this woman, his woman and of course knew that she wasn't, not in her eyes, nor in his. It was an arrangement, a nice arrangement but an arrangement. Yet there was a growing affection, a groundswell of affection, a shared purpose, a shared future.
She cuddled up to him and didn't look directly into his eyes. There was silence for the best part of a minute, he caressed her and then she spoke. 'Can we do this, Sam? The next few weeks, the next few months?'
'If you want, we can. We're in the same boat, Sophe, we've both had losses, only yours is next door.'
'Let's go to sleep. Sam. Hold me close.'
Next morning, they all felt empty but there was Jean-Baptiste who seemed to be coming down with a sniffle and Little Emma was also showing signs that way. It took all of the morning and the men bringing the lunch to the ladies until there were any spare minutes.
Even now, no one was interested much in sex or talking or anything and there were only so many cuddles you could fit into the day. With the children being so comparatively docile, probably due to having mama and papa on call 24/7, the only real worry was the milk supply. Baby food came courtesy of old stocks in the village but these had to run out sooner or later.
It was OK. They just rested up for the afternoon, punctuated with set breaks for sustenance, then Little Emma awoke and cried and coughed and was snotty, which needed attending to. Jean-Baptiste woke up, heard Little Emma and thought he'd make it a duet.
Thus it went on into the late afternoon, by their watches and they did try to stick to the usual time frame, just to keep their sanity.
As a rule, the 'evening' would see one of the women look after both babies one day and then they'd swap the next. Not a bad plan but if, say, Little Emma would wake up and mama was not there to hold her, then even though Big Emma was good with her, sometimes it didn't work and Sophie would have to come through.
Occasionally, the men would go in one room and take turns, in rotation, to look after the progeny and the women would try to get some much needed sleep together but then one of the babies would not play ball, despite everything the men would try - all the silly faces and gootchy-goos - and that would disturb the women's night off.
It worked enough times to keep them all fairly relaxed but the sniffles were an added pressure. This evening, Jean-Baptiste was propped up in their bed, something he liked very much indeed and he looked from one to the other, a captive audience and then sneezed, before that familiar smell wafted across and Hugh would get the cloths.
Emma was anxious that he would only put up with Jean-Baptiste in their bed for so long but from her point of view, when Jean-Baptiste was in there, they never seemed to have any dramas and this was the point, the point in their lives when she preferred to have this situation, rather than the lovemaking and the old life. He knew that and took the line that it made the time they did eventually have together more special.
She was sensible enough not to let anything get in the way of that, she knew how much store Hugh placed by that time together and she needed it too but Sophie was not quite so scrupulous with Sam's time and they once heard words from next door.
Sam was in just such a position now, with an unencumbered Sophie but Sophie was tired. Would she go through with it for diplomatic reasons or would she ask him to desist? She sighed and went through with it.
The old nausea had returned a few times now and certain things were stirring in the back of her brain, things which she'd thought had finally disappeared but they clearly hadn't. On these occasions, she'd had to distance herself from Hugh and Emma because they'd pick up on it quickly and then the whole comfortable existence they currently had would be dashed.
She didn't want that for Emma or for Little Emma, she had to keep herself under control. Sam was the issue. Not a nasty bone in his body and yet he could be obtuse and when he was, he was in increasing danger. She'd snapped at Sam earlier in the evening and hoped the other two hadn't heard.
Hugh moved closer and whispered to Emma, 'I'm worried about Sophie - that same problem girl is reappearing.'
Emma whispered in his ear, 'I know. I've seen it. Should we warn Sam?'
'Might be counterproductive - what if I take Sophie and talk it out with her?'
'I don't want her becoming dependent on you again.'
'Then you take her for a walk and talk it out.'
She sighed. 'No, it has to be you ... do you think you can?'
'I have no idea. I'll try tomorrow, at the spring. And Emma - you don't need to tell me, you don't need to fear. OK?'
11:12 a.m. saw Emma approach Sophie and ask for water.
Sophie took the tub and loped away on those lithe feet but approaching the entrance to the outer cave, she sensed Hugh was there and she propped. Fully one minute she paused, sorting it all out in her mind. He made no move on the other side and she knew he knew she'd hesitated and there'd only be one reason she'd hesitate.
She had no choice. She couldn't grab the water, make small talk and disappear because they were such a close and closed foursome. She had to let Hugh talk to her but she feared dependence again. She hoped Hugh was well aware of that.
Stepping through, she put down the tub and turned to face him. 'Do you want me on your hands again?'
'Can't be but we still need to talk it through. How far has it gone? What's come back? Can you still tell me?'
She deflated and leaned her bottom against the wall. 'There seems to be something right at the back of the skull, something you never completely took away. It's even hiding from me, Hugh. It knows I know.'
'Only that one?'
'I'm not sure. That whole side has been dormant - I thought dead. There might be other horrors there I don't know. This personality I'm in now has lasted a very long time by itself - it's quite strong.'
'Perhaps this time we're moving into now means that the sleeper must awake.'
'Then you are all in danger.'
'Yes. How far can your love for Little Emma, for me, prevent you?'
'This is another personality altogether - the two don't know one another. They know of one another but they don't actually know much about the other.'
'This is probably one where I'll have the battle inside my own head. The religion on the island - that helps, that might be the difference. My child, Emma, you - you'll not stop this other personality - it will hate you.'
'Would it hurt Little Emma?'
'Never. Both because it knows nothing of a child and because any child would be wanted by them.'
'If he was seen as a threat - yes. I know you're thinking of warning him but I'd say it would be unwise.'
'Yes, I think so too. Can this other personality hear this now?'
'Of course. It uses the same sensory apparatus but it doesn't have access to the same memories. You need to know, Hugh, that that is not good for you. You'll see me in front of you but it won't be me in the head. That's almost impossible for most people to get their brains around.'
'I can. Will this personality harm Emma, Big Emma?'
'Yes, very much so.'
'Especially him. You don't need to worry for now - it's just that I know it is there and it's hiding. It came back a few times on the island too but I never recognized it then - it was only observing. They have very little way to trigger it, it would need certain words and images and so far, these have not been present.'
'Sophie wants none of this going on in her head. Sophie wants life to continue the way it is, with the children growing up and all that. Yet I know it can't continue. It might be better if Sam and I go somewhere else, Hugh. You do understand that, don't you?
'I can tell you this - once I feel it is becoming active, it will immediately try to take over, so that I can't attack it. I would try to warn you and you would have to do something. You might have to do something ... terminal ... to me. Hugh?'
'Do you still love me, even after I've told you this?'
'Love doesn't depend on that. Yes I love you like crazy – you know how much but you know my priorities - save Jean-Baptiste, then Big Emma, then Sam, then your mind.'
'What would you ... do to me? How far would you go?'
'As far as was necessary - you know that. I'd try, with Sam, to get you tied up, as you were on the boat Sophie-Fleury. You know that's the most humane way.'
'Yes. I'm grateful that it happened and I regret nothing, not even on top of that hill, in our bower. That was your problem with Emma but sorry - it was not mine. For me, it was very important. I love you, Hugh.'
'And I you.' She touched his forearm and he looked into her eyes. 'As Sophie, I'm telling you now - do what you have to. I know you'll do it from love. Don't fall for the error though, Hugh, of thinking you can reason with that personality. It was placed in there by them, it has the memories they wanted it to have, it follows their agenda. Understand that please.'
'I understand. Time frame?'
'How can I know? Something else seems to be frightening it as well because it just hid again now.'
He tumbled to it and spun round.
From the depths of the cavern, the expected Gabriella appeared. She touched Sophie's forehead and addressed both of them. 'You are wise to agree to part because only through this will the children be safe. This is the ultimate love between the two of you. Tell Sam, Magdalena, that you're not feeling well. There is no need for more.
You should both be ready to leave, with your families. I shall return just before the time.'
'When?' asked Hugh.
'I do not know but I do know that Magdalena will be herself until after she departs, no one is in danger until that time. There is every chance it will never happen, away from Albus, Belus and Jean-Baptiste and the longer it doesn't happen, the more it is exposed, this personality, until it withers. You’re best chance now is to part. I'm sorry, Magdalena.'
She touched both their foreheads and returned whence she'd come.
'Handy having an angel about,' he grinned and she relaxed. He took her in his arms and kissed her, stepped back, looked into her eyes and sighed, 'You're so beautiful,' she smiled, he turned and went back to Emma. Some minutes later, they heard her go past.
'Well?' asked Emma. He told her all that had happened, saw her blanch at points but finally nod her understanding and relief. She noted, 'Gabriella was in with Sam before. I think it is best it has happened this way. It's better to know, isn't it?'
She smiled at that. 'There are some minutes now, maybe half an hour. Could we speak? About us?'
'You know I said from those earliest days in France that I was always going to come to you if things changed.'
'You never asked me why or what began that. You're so unquestioning at times.'
'Please tell me.'
'I always knew he didn't take me seriously enough. He - Michel I mean - he would have moments, periods of being perfect but it always went back to before. I could have lived with that, with our child, with the Section - it was all right. I knew he had made love to some women but as that's how we came together anyway and as it seemed to be an instant thing and he didn't see them again, then I accepted it.
I didn't know how bad he actually was until near the end. I thought you did well to get Nikki back but you did it by showing her what Michel was really like and unfortunately, you showed me that too.'
She paused and he nodded for her to continue.
'I was already thinking about you at that time and that's the truth. I saw you with Mademoiselle and though you have a problem with women, you're stable and you'll listen and learn. You can be, well ...'
She smiled. 'I had feelings, Bebe but there were barriers, of course. When Michel was with me in that last safehouse ... I was the one who found him out. Only Mademoiselle knows of this. I thought he was contacting Nikki again, you see and that’s why I was suspicious, so I looked and then I almost died – he’d been sending out messages, uncoded. He was either a total fool or he was the enemy.
Hugh, can you imagine how I felt ... in my utérus? But I couldn’t show him I was devastated so I picked a fight over nothing and told him I didn’t want to see him for two weeks.’
‘You poor girl.’
‘Mademoiselle checked the recipients of his messages and one was Nadine. She then began to think it through and this was her great strength, Mademoiselle – I don’t think you ever had a chance to see it in her because you weren't together long enough but she was very good this way. She was more convinced about Nadine because she’d been thinking about it already and the confirmation devastated her. They had to be invited to expose themselves and the rest you know.’
‘I always wondered.’
‘I’m getting away from the question of you though. Are you getting tired of me talking?’
‘The day I become tired of you talking, I’ll tell you.’
She placed a very soft punch on his cheek. ‘For a long time, I could not think of you nor anyone else and Paul was with me. He’d virtually killed my husband, the father of my child and that took a lot of talking through. I didn’t blame him and even thought of him, at one point, as a father and husband but it was not quite right with Paul. Nice man, sad about the state I was in.
That’s when I decided on you and wanted a chance of seeing you up close. I One2Oned Mademoiselle and you saw what happened.’
‘So she conspired against Nikki and me.’
‘Your union with Nikki wasn’t in anyone’s interests except for the two of you.’
‘Wasn’t that as it was meant to be?’
‘Yes, Hugh but I still needed to put in my claim, as you say. I suppose I had to know how it would feel with you. When I lost the ability to stop, I had to put distance between us. All the rest you know.’
‘What did you actually have planned after that?’
‘As I said to Nikki, I wasn’t giving her carte-blanche and if she tried any tricks like Michel again, I would be there. I didn’t use those words and it wasn’t a threat – she didn’t take it that way but I’m sure she was determined not to lose you to me.’
‘I would never have come to you like that, Emma, just on principle. Also, I seriously had this thing in my head about you being Miss Perfect and it really was a problem.’
She sighed. 'I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I knew it all along. I saw my own cheekiness, as you call it, I was not easy. In fact, the less chance there was for me, the more I liked you. You have to remember that your reputation was not so good - when you went to Nikki and dropped Mademoiselle - and in your head, that's what you did, Hugh - everyone knew it, even Mademoiselle, despite all your words to yourself - your reputation then was not good but the way you treated Nikki - I wanted that too. People saw that and shrugged their shoulders. C'est la vie.
Mademoiselle began to feel old, unwanted, unloved - even at her age - and she was caught between a Philippe who was a useless prospect, you with Nikki and Thierry hadn't come into her mind. With her work and her troubles, there were simply no men. Don't be offended by that - it wasn't the reason she accepted you - even she didn't know, in the early days, that the men had dried up in her life. It was only after Nikki took you that it nearly killed her.'
'I'm so sorry I caused this.'
'Don't be. It happens.' She lay back on the bed. 'I didn’t really have a plan, you know. I didn't conspire to break you two up, I promise I didn't and it is important to me for you to understand that.' He nodded but she still felt he didn't understand. 'Hugh, haven’t you woken up, even yet? I've told you that I was in love with you, from when I walked out in the forest at Fontainebleau with you. You never really knew how much.'
He was lost for words. He tried to speak. He failed.
She went on, in her soft, light voice. 'Everything bad I’ve ever done to you was from hurt and pain or trying to help you and getting it wrong. And when you looked elsewhere - at Sophie, at Sara - it hurt more than you ever knew. There was my hurt pride, yes, as with anyone but because I loved you, it was like you were putting a knife into me and twisting it.’
‘Emma …’ He tried again but gave it up. Then he changed tack. 'I do remember one thing very clearly. It was one night, on that first island. You used to speak Michel's name in your sleep and why not? I'd have been surprised if you hadn't. But this night, you said mine and I really think that might have been the point where I changed.'
She laughed. 'Now for another confession. I'd wait until I knew you were asleep and I'd stroke you with the back of my fingers between the neck and shoulder and say your name to myself.' She giggled. 'Part of that was to drive Michel out of my head though.'
'We do these things to our partners - we go through a life and all that life we might have it wrong, not completely understand, even though we were always talking. We hurt each other so much.'
'So now you understand about that night in the tree. I was destroyed, Hugh, heartbroken. I need you to know this - it was worse than when you had me arrested. You see, when you sent me to detention, while I pretended I didn't understand and that you had done great wrong to your wife, I knew in my heart you had no choice. But still I was going to punish you. With that morning in the tree - I wanted to die at that moment and seriously thought about it. Then you'd finally understand. You had no idea about that, none. You knew I was unhappy but I’d been unhappy about many things you’d done. This time I was going to end it but didn’t know how, which way. Then the missile came.'
'I'm so terribly sorry.'
'I feel a thousand times better now that I've said that ... and that you listened to me ... and understood. I really do. It's a weight off my mind.'
When they eventually went out to the living area, Sam and Sophie weren’t there but Gabriella was.
‘Will you both sit down?’ They did and it was obvious that she knew of what they'd been speaking. ‘At five epicentres in these islands there will be seismic damage five days from today. Those who are doing this are not your concern but the safety of Jean-Baptiste is. It will not help you to go deeper into the mountain because it is situated along the fault line. This retreat has kept you safe until now but it has served its purpose.’
She stopped speaking. ‘And?’ asked Hugh.
‘The only place you can be is airborne and the only way you can be airborne is in a dirigible with thermal cloaking and the only way you can be in one of those is if it comes to this hill and the only way it can come to this hill is if the men working for you in the towns and huts are to cast one loose from its moorings and travel here in it.’
‘Yes and radar cloaking. Do you wish to know this?’ They both nodded. ‘Radar and light waves require two separate systems with coherent 360 degree spherical control and a refresh rate that does not allow a fully formed wave to occur if reflected. You only need know that under certain circumstances, you will be invisible to the enemy. The airship was already invisible to radar but the addition of silver thermal cloaking made you susceptible to radar again, which in turn meant that radar cloaking was again necessary.’
‘But we can be seen by eye.’
‘Yes, that will always be so and thus you must needs travel by night and stay down during the day. The design is based on the Year 2000 Cargolifter and there were ten built. You will be collected by one of these.’
‘The four of us?’ asked Emma.
‘The two of you.’
‘You’d better tell us.’
‘Magdalena’s child by Samuel will seek to destroy the child by you, Belus. Your child by Magdalena, Albus, will remain with her and shall be unharmed. She will seek for you, one day and find you but not in this time, nor in this place. Don’t ask me to explain because you have not the capacity to understand.’
‘Is she special?’ asked Hugh.
‘Yes and she bears the name of Belus, right under the nose of the Star Child who fails to realize who she is because Magdalena knows never to tell him. He comes to love his older sister. It’s as well until she is ready but as I said, neither in this time nor place. You must not be downcast, Albus, when you part from your child, for in that parting is her delivery from death. She will be well, she will thrive and you will see her again, she will acknowledge you and you will acknowledge her. That is immutable. You should spend some time with her in the next days and leave Magdalena some token by which you will know your daughter again one day.’
‘I suppose I’ll not see Sophie again?’
‘It must needs be so. It is, as I have said, to protect Jean-Baptiste.’
‘This is like something out of science fiction,’ muttered Emma.
Gabriella ignored that and continued. ‘Magdalena already knows these things and has known them since the days of the Seven. She would always become the enemy one more time, when the time was right. You, Albus, have already had your discussion with her.’
She turned to Emma. ‘You have now told Albus all and he has told you all. There is no reason now for you not to be as one and it is necessary because very difficult times are ahead - you must work as one. Your sole task now is to protect the child.’
‘Now,’ concluded Gabriella, ‘the children have been sleeping, as have Magdalena and Samuel. The time is nearly over. I shall appear again, in some days.’
She moved to the door, opened it so that it rolled aside, went through and reclosed it. Hugh thought that that had been unnecessary but if she chose to go out that way, then fine.
They were packed and ready, bags always near the door but they suspected there might not even be a door when it came time to flee.
Until now, they’d always relied on sentient humans to organize the fine detail but relying on an angel was just weird. ‘Going anywhere?’ ‘Yep, we’re waiting for our angel to arrive, in her invisible dirigible.’
On the other hand, no one was willing to claim that it was only a ruse, that it was just a hallucination.
It began with a gentle bump, followed several seconds later by rumbling and then it died away. All four did a quick check of the rooms again and went to the toilet, then changed the children.
A sudden large jolt, followed quickly by strong shaking of the rock wall, lasted about a minute. The shaking was violent beneath their feet and it was difficult to stand up. Now it increased, rather than decreased, as if it had started far away but had rolled their way. Their rock door fell away and to their horror, something they hadn’t expected, armed people, rushed through but suddenly dropped to the floor.
Gabriella said, ‘Quickly,’ the babies were papoosed on their mothers’ backs, Sam went first, then Emma and Sophie, then Hugh. Sophie turned to him and kissed him deeply, then turned and asked him to say goodbye to baby Emma. He kissed his child one last time, handed Sophie the rabbit's foot his grandmother had given him, they caught up with Emma, Sam propped and quickly shook Hugh’s hand, another like Gabriella appeared and Sam and Sophie went out through the front entrance.
They themselves went upwards, on some sort of lifting mechanism which had no substance but they could feel it bodily, which frightened them because if it was mechanical and they reached the top, what then?
They did reach the top and came out onto the hill through a fissure, not expecting the stench and the dull yellowish light filling the hills and valleys, the smoke, the noise of the earthquake building, building.
They saw the dirigible hovering and didn’t know how the hell but it moved towards them, two lines shot into the rock, Hugh had a quick look, tried to shake Gabriella’s hand, to her amusement, two harnesses came down the lines, they both strapped in, Jean-Baptiste in his arms and up they went.
In the metallic undercarriage where they’d crunched to the floor, they now stood up and unbuckled, ran for a rivetted metal ladder and climbed up into the main room.
The area was large but fairly sparse, carpeted, with seats here and there, bolted into place. Of people, there were none to be seen, Emma made ready to feed Jean-Baptiste, reaching into the papoose for the bottle; Hugh sat on the other side of the table.
They heard a noise, looked at one another but she decided to continue anyway - it was an older chap with military gait, all bonhomie. ‘Welcome, welcome. Charles Seward, ex RN. Probably wondering why I’m in this thing, eh? There are others. This is a pickup run right now and you’re the last.’
‘We’ll be told. No light, no communication, nothing electronic please. When you’re ready, make your way to where I just came from and your quarters are up the gangway.’
He turned and went back. Emma continued to feed Jean-Baptiste, Hugh looked on and smiled.
Suddenly there was a huge thump and the ship shook right through, Emma was thrown to the floor and had the sense to keep Jean-Baptiste above her, Hugh took him but the ship was now buffeted in waves and through the window, they could see that eerie orange light and heard one hell of a noise.
Far below, a tracer was thrown up and missed them by maybe 100 metres but that was still too close for comfort. ‘Let’s go up,’ he said, taking the papoose, she carried Jean-Baptiste, a female face popped out of a little room and told them, ‘Eleven.’ They looked about and the young woman pointed the direction they were to go.
This time a bit further behind them but still it shook the ship. They ran down the central corridor and duly found N11, went inside and closed the door. If they thought it would be some sort of sanctuary, they were mistaken because at the end of the four metres by three cabin was a long, thin, horizontal window with no curtains and everything out there was eerily visible. Hugh went over and looked down, then beckoned her over, with Jean-Baptiste. She glanced down, then looked away and lay down one of the two berths.
‘It’s … horrible,’ she said. ‘I’m so tired,’ she added. He cuddled her and she cuddled Jean-Baptiste.
Someone knocked on the door and a female voice called out to them. They said to come in and it was the same woman as before.
'Food,' she said, placing a tray on the dresser. 'I shall come for you tomorrow, at 08:00, with breakfast. At 08:30, I'll return and take you to the cockpit. You'll find the toilets. Is that all right?'
They nodded and went over to tuck into the light repast.
During the night, the dirigible flew on, the disturbances dies away, the night became darker out there and they finally thought they could get some sleep, Emma with the baby and Hugh on the other bunk.
Sophie looked at Sam as they struggled down the hill and couldn't help but think they were getting the economy service, without the safeguards.
The smell from the valley was appalling and she recognized rotting flesh - it had been part of her so-called 'training' all those years ago. She shuddered in the yellow light, he was more than worried, glancing over his shoulder every few steps, slowly stepping down the hill with their guide, one of the boys with the hosts.
They seemed to be heading for one of the huts but now came the most enormous explosion and the whole ground opened up in front of them, Sam cried out, she screamed and Little Emma began wailing. The guide suddenly changed direction and clambered over a rocky outcrop, expecting them to follow suit.
'Hurry, hurry,' he urged, as Sam held Little Emma whilst Sophie climbed over, he handed her the child and climbed over, himself ... and thus they made their stumbling way down into the valley. They assumed the guide knew what he was doing and that Gabriella knew what the guide was doing.
Little Emma now set up a constant howling and Sophie could do nothing but hold her close and make soothing noises, every so often letting out a shriek as a piercing noise would rend the sky and then, behind them, the whole top came off their hill, the guide quickly ducked under an outcrop and they followed suit.
The worst part, they now realized, was that there was fear in the guide's eyes and they saw that he had not the least clue where to take them now. Down to the river? Was that any better? Back to the top of the hill?
Then, from above, something came down and it was a rope but it was metal. They all stopped and looked up and it must have come from over the hill behind them - the one which had not lost its top - and it was a dirigible. There was now no time to think what to do - Sophie pressed against Sam, he wrapped the end of the cable around the three of them and tied it over and over, they felt themselves lifted off the hillside, away from the boy and as the airship made its way into the open space, very, very frightening to both of them, they were also lifted, winched, it seemed and it was all Sophie could do to hang on to Sam with one arm, Little Emma with the other and to shut out the horror, as she had all those years ago, as she had done so many, many times.
At the undercarriage, hands reached out for them and they were hauled to relative safety, not knowing where they were going, with whom and whether the ship would even surviving the increasing buffeting from the explosions which admittedly, were now falling behind.
They found much the same onboard as the Jensens had and about half an hour later, Sophie found herself with a bit of time to herself. She went downstairs to the landing deck and sat on the floor, against the wall.
Now she turned inwards towards her intruder, the one who hid and popped out when she wasn't concentrating. 'You will not win this,' she spoke, in her head. 'You will not because my new personality is too strong. I know you can hear me. You are programmed but now you are out, you have only so much time to do what you must.
Suddenly, in a rage, a rage she now remembered from the sessions, the personality stormed out and threatened to consume her. She fought it, as real to her as if she was fighting physically, the personality was trying the flood approach, filling every nook and cranny and yet she kept mouthing, 'Sophie, Sophie,' and then 'I, Sophie, I, Sophie, I Sophie.'
It withdrew, then just as Sophie relaxed, back it came, worse than before and she gave a scream, she was prone on the floor, kicking and threshing, repeating, 'I, Sophie, I, Sophie, I, Sophie, over and over and a change came over the battle.
The personality, the creature, whatever it was, made one final lunge at her mind and she went into convulsions, not even able to chant her mantra and yet she kept her mind on it, over and over.
With a silent scream, the creature kicked this way and that, as if trapped, Sophie opened her mouth and it was gone. Totally gone. She knew it, knew it was over but also knew she was exhausted.
That's how Sam, with Baby Emma, found her, in the middle of the landing deck.
Chapter 20 here … Chapter 22 here