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.
'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.'
'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.'
'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, ' 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.
'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.