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Authors: James Lovegrove

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The Age Of Zeus (9 page)

BOOK: The Age Of Zeus
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"What was lying across the bonnet of that car wasn't my dad," she told Sam. "It didn't even look like a person, not any more."

The fatal pulmonary embolism Mahmoud's mother had suffered in her sleep a week later came as a direct consequence of the crash. The doctors had said it was merely a tragic coincidence, there was no medical correlation between the two events, it was something that had just been waiting to happen. A blood clot had been there all along, they said, lurking in her mother's artery, waiting for its moment to break free and make its catastrophic journey to her lungs. But Mahmoud knew better.

"No boyfriend, no husband," Mahmoud said. "Friends don't come to see me. I scared them all away. I'm on a permanent sabbatical from the force. You could say I'm unattached."

"Snap," Sam replied. "But we're not just unattached. We're totally detached. And I don't think we're alone in that here. Remember what Landesman said? 'Few burdens and even fewer emotional ties.' That's another reason why he wanted us, why he chose us."

The other recruits paired off too. Hamel and Eto'o were often to be found in each other's company, speaking French, the first language for both of them. Harryhausen and Sparks established a rapport, united not least by the aplomb with which they took to using the suits. They were by far the most proficient and the most at-ease in the armour. Tsang and Chisholm seemed a mismatched duo but had in common the fact that they were by some margin the most cultured of the group, Tsang having received his higher education at one of Hong Kong's most prestigious and expensive private academies. Søndergaard and Barrington made for an even odder couple - the slim, reserved Scandinavian and the burly, coarse Antipodean - and their bickering became a fixture of bunker life, whether it was Søndergaard nagging Barrington over his habit of farting malodorously at all times of day and night, or Barrington having a go at Søndergaard for his fastidiousness when it came to room tidying and bed making. The mutual antagonism seemed real enough. It was just possible, however, that it masked a growing, grudging friendship.

That left Ramsay, who had a room to himself and who, when it was pointed out to him how lucky he was not to have to share accommodation, said, "Yeah, but think about it. I'd have had to double up with that asshole Pugh. So it's only fair I get to sleep on my own, on account of the possibility of how bad it might have been." Which as an argument had no logic to it whatsoever but was still somehow perversely persuasive.

Ramsay did his utmost to encourage Sam to keep trying with the suit. By the end of the fifth day he could see how frustrated she was. He invited her to come outside with him, take a walk round the island, explore. The night was cloudless, the moon full and the stars bright, so that everything was bathed in a pristine, icy brilliance. The mainland twinkled in the distance. They tramped along the shoreline, over pebble beach and smooth rocks, their breaths coming out in wispy white curls. Their journey took them past the locations of a number of security cameras, part of a host of such devices mounted round the island perimeter, all facing outward and mostly camouflaged or hidden, disguised to merge with the landscape. Landesman had said these were a precaution against an Olympian attack, which he considered highly improbable. The cameras fed to a computer equipped with facial recognition software that had the features of all of the Pantheon on its database. Only an Olympian appearing on the island would trip the bunker alarms, no one else.

Soon the ground sloped up and Ramsay and Sam were trekking across a field of tussocky, ankle-deep grass. This took them to Bleaney's southernmost tip, where a high promontory afforded a panoramic view of a sea like a glittering plain of black diamonds.

"Don't give up, girl," Ramsay said, as they stood there gazing out.

"Don't call me 'girl,'" Sam replied. "Unless you'd like me to start calling you 'boy.'"

"There are several reasons why I wouldn't want that," Ramsay said. "But I take the point. Don't give up,

"I can't see why I should carry on. I'm rubbish at this. Landesman wants a squad of crack troops, not crap troops. The way I am in that suit, I'd only be a liability."

"Landesman wants you to be a part of this more than anyone. Don't do yourself down. Just keep at it, and meantime cut yourself a little slack."

"But this is so typical of me. I was always the one at school who'd have to have the quadratic equation explained to me one more time, always the one the teachers would single out to make sure I'd completely understood the reproductive cycle of the frog or how an oxbow lake is formed or whatever. The slow one. If I'd got it, that meant everyone else in the class had."

"What I've seen, you're the smartest among us."

"Which might be taken as an indictment of the rest of you."

Ramsay snorted.

"I'm thorough, that's my thing," Sam said. "I'm good with details - assessing them, sifting through them, arriving at a conclusion. I don't get there fast but I do get there in the end."

"Then that'll be the case here, won't it? You'll need a little longer than the rest of us, but once you catch up there'll be no stopping you."

"You believe that?"

"You just told me that's how you are, so of course I believe it."

Had there been less of a moon, more darkness for concealment, Sam would have smiled.

"You were on your way to becoming a top cop, weren't you?" Ramsay continued. "That's proof of how able you are. The only person who's stopping you right now, Sam, is Sam. You just need to have faith in yourself. Be a bit more confident."

"Like you, you mean?"

"Hell yeah."

"Where's the line between confident and cocksure?"

"No idea, but if I cross it, I'll let you know."

Ramsay gave that gurgling-downpipe chortle of his. It was becoming the thing that Sam most liked about him, after his perma-flared nostrils. It was an ungraceful sound but so full of authentic amusement that you couldn't help but warm to it.

Hot on the heels of that thought came another: the memory of a man who had loved to laugh and whose laugh she had loved. And with that Sam felt a familiar brittleness inside, a sense of breaking, as a structure built to contain grief suddenly gave in to its own frailty - yet again - unable to support the weight of anything much that came to rest on it, any emotion, whether it be sadness or joy, regret or hope.

"Sam? You OK?"

"Hmm? Yes."

"You went quiet there."

"Getting chilly. I should have worn something warmer. Can we go back in?"

Halfway back to the bunker, Ramsay said, "That business between Landesman and Pugh. What's your take on what happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"It's been bugging me. When Landesman paid Pugh off - I don't know how much it was but I glimpsed a fair few zeroes on that cheque - but when he did that, didn't the whole thing strike you as kinda, well, staged?"

"You're saying Pugh was a ringer? Landesman planted him in that room?"



"I was hoping you might be able to tell me."

"It all looked pretty above board to me. Pugh's a waster, a liar, a crook. He realised he didn't want to be there after all, and Landesman realised he didn't want him there. The cheque was compensation but also to buy silence. Just in case."

"You reckon? You don't reckon Landesman hired Pugh to play the part of a screwup so that it'd help the rest of us pull together - make us feel better about ourselves and about the idea of enlisting with him. You want to unite people, give them someone they can all look down on."

Sam shrugged. "It's possible, I suppose. Landesman is devious, no doubt about it. But I don't think he's that devious, not in that way. And I don't think Pugh was acting."

"Still, Pugh could have been chosen because it was more'n likely he'd do what he did. That's why Landesman was so calm about losing him. Pugh was meant to drop out. He was never going to be one of the twelve."

"Landesman was calm because, like he said himself, he has reserve candidates."

"I still think there's something else going on there."

"Me too. But I don't believe Landesman set Pugh up as a patsy. That isn't my reading of it at all."

They were approaching the bunker entrance.

"So you're going to stick with us?" Ramsay said.

"For another couple of days."

"And then?"

"We'll see."

"It would be..." Ramsay, uncharacteristically, fumbled for words. "It would be a great shame not to have you on the team, Sam."

"We're a team? Already?"

"We're getting there. And in my not so humble opinion, Landesman is onto something with this project of his. Maybe the bunch of us stand a cat's chance in hell of getting rid of the Olympians. Maybe the whole thing's pure craziness. But I'm itching to give it a shot, you know? And I'd feel a whole lot more certain of success if I knew you were coming along for the ride."

"No pressure then."

He chortled, as she'd expected he would - hoped he would. "None whatsoever!"


amsay was right. They
becoming a team.

Sam saw it the following day, as they took the TITAN suits outside to practise in the open air. A morning mist shrouded the island, ideal conditions for trying out the thermal imaging. Through her visor, person-shaped agglomerations of lurid colour roved through a whiteout world. She watched them mingle and interact, each indistinguishable from the other, her colleagues, and in their comings together and their gesturings and their mirrorings of movement she saw how comfortable they now were in one another's company. She heard it in the comms link chatter too - banter passing to and fro, sometimes a massed cry of "Shut up!" in response to an especially crude remark from Barrington, and plenty of bullish talk about the Pantheon, belittling references to their powers and prowess. Within the group a clear sense of purpose was coalescing. The battlesuits were all they were cracked up to be and more, and the promise of vengeance was looking like one that Landesman could make good on. After only a handful of days the recruits were lining up in the same direction, like fish in a strong current. Even Mahmoud had overcome her initial awkwardness with her suit and was bounding around like the rest of them, exulting in the sensation of power lent her by this ultra high-tech carapace and joining happily in with the deity-dissing. She was in with the gang. Only Sam remained the outsider, and she couldn't figure out why.

Unless Ramsay was right on another count: the thing that was holding her back was herself.

Did she really want to topple the Olympians? Did she hate them that much? Was hatred a solid enough motivation for putting herself on the front line of a conflict with them?

She tried looking at it another way. Would the world be a better place if the Olympians were removed from it?

Landesman, on that first day, had advanced all the arguments in the Olympians' favour, the lines of reasoning that many a politician and Pantheonic apologist had used to justify kowtowing to them. No question, people were no longer being killed in their thousands, no longer butchering one another in the name of God, politics and profit. The disease of war, which had for centuries had never failed to infect some region of the planet, had been cured. Nowhere was armed conflict a daily fact of life now. Nations coexisted. Rival countries glowered at each other across their borders and exchanged occasional disgruntled verbal salvoes, but the rhetoric was always muted, never reaching a level of bellicosity that would draw the Olympians' attention and arouse their disapproval. The world sat like schoolchildren in the presence of a strict teacher, bolt upright, hands on desks, facing forwards, with nary a paper dart or an ink pellet sailing through the air.

But it was a classroom with bloodstains on the walls, and the hush that filled it buzzed with fear and horror.

And if you complained -

If you protested -

And people did -

If you did have the temerity to do that -

The hubris -

Then the wrath of gods would be visited upon you.

As, for instance, in Hyde Park, July 25th, two and a half years ago.

BOOK: The Age Of Zeus
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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