JIMMY COATES

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JIMMY COATES: BLACKOUT

Buried four kilometres below ground and embedded in a concrete crust fifty metres thick, one of the UK government’s seven supercomputers was about to be breached. It was housed beneath Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station in North Yorkshire, but nobody on the base could have any idea the attack was underway. The battle was lost as soon as it began, when a new string of computer code flickered into life.

Instantly, it began worming through the system, a mere twinkle in a constellation of electrical impulses. Imperceptible. Insignificant too, if it hadn’t been for the fact that at the exact same moment, hundreds of kilometres to the North and eleven kilometres above the earth, an Aurora Blackbird SR-91 plane pierced British airspace.

The two events were timed to perfection. The worm wriggled through the computer network exactly as it had been designed to do, creating a tiny corridor in the UK Satellite Surveillance System – a sliver of shadow which the Aurora Blackbird ran through like a fencer’s blade. The precisely pinpointed surveillance blackout rendered the plane effectively invisible. It was high enough and fast enough to be missed by conventional, ground-based radar defence systems; its black neoprene-titanium panels didn’t glint in the night, and even the fuel was caesium-based so that the exhaust fumes would be transparent.

In no time, the plane passed over the islands to the North of Scotland and reached the mainland. It was still travelling at 1900 kilometres an hour when the doors in its undercarriage slid open. Two black body bags dropped from the plane’s belly. Then the plane immediately wheeled away to leave UK airspace as discreetly as it had entered.

The black packages hurtled down through the atmosphere. They had reached terminal velocity even before they plunged through the clouds. They twisted as they fell, the wind pummelling the linoleum-coated material to reveal the contours of the bodies inside.

After a few seconds, two black parachutes unfurled automatically and the descent slowed. The body bags drifted and eventually bumped onto the heather, 16 kilometres from the nearest road. That’s where they lay for almost two hours, ten metres apart, motionless but for the buffeting of the wind.

Then, at the same moment, both bags twitched. They rolled over until their zips faced upwards. On any normal body bag the zips would obviously have been accessible only from the outside. But these were different.

Simultaneously, the two bags peeled open, and out climbed two people. They staggered to their feet – a man and a woman, both tall and dressed in black jump-suits. They peered through the darkness to each other, not making a sound. They stretched and rubbed their heads, but both moved freely enough. The man blinked rapidly and shook his brain back to full consciousness, tangles of straggly black hair blustering around his head. The woman did the same a moment later, then they both gathered in the parachutes, piling up the black silk with the protective body bags.

The man produced a matchbox and two boiled eggs from his pocket. In seconds the parachutes and body bags were lighting up the hillside. They waited together in silence, controlling the fire with a ring of damp heather while they carefully shelled and consumed the eggs. Soon they were able to stamp out the embers, leaving no trace of the equipment that had enabled them to survive their epic fall unharmed.

Still without a word, the woman pulled out a compass and they marched South.


Jimmy Coates: Blackout, CHAPTER ONE - Nothing Applies

Two security guards strolled back to their booth, sharing a joke.

"All clear," said one into his walkie-talkie, still chuckling.

"Thanks, beta station," came crackling back. "Next patrol at 0400."

"Just enough time for a brew," muttered the other guard in a soft Irish accent.

They clicked off their torches and hurried into the booth, eager to get out of the wind. The two men could have been built from the same Lego set: a square block from the shoulders all the way down to the ground. They wore blue uniforms with peaked caps which revealed only the greying edges of their hair.

The booth was only just big enough for them to sit side by side, but they settled in and inspected the line of CCTV screens in front of them. From here they could watch the whole perimeter of the building they’d just been patrolling: a small glass office block set within its own walls on London’s South Bank. From here a man called Christopher Viggo had been running his election campaign – the only legitimate opposition to the British government. And it would have been impossible for anybody to approach the main gate from the street without being in clear view of the booth window.

"What’s that?" muttered the Irish guard. He reached forwards and tapped his finger on one of the screens. "Which camera is that?" The image was grainy, enhanced by the camera’s infra-red night mode, but there was one spot of brightness showing two broad silhouettes in a hut.

"That’s us," replied the other guard.

"I know that, you idiot, but what’s that?" He jabbed his finger into the screen again. "This booth doesn’t have a dome on the roof." They both leaned forwards to examine the screen more closely.

"Is someone crouching up there?"

The end of his question was cut off by an ear-splitting crack. Suddenly, they were showered in splinters and a black figure crashed through the roof. It landed on top of the older guard, instantly twisting to send the man’s cap spinning across the booth. The peak of it struck the other guard precisely between the eyes. His whole body went limp and he slumped in his chair.

The first guard was pulled to the floor and rolled over until he was underneath his assailant, the centre of his chest pinned to the floor by the attacker’s knee. Only now did the guard see a face.

"Jimmy!" he gasped. "You’re-"

"I’m not here," Jimmy cut in with a whisper. He forced his hand over the guard’s mouth and fixed him with a calm stare. The green in his eyes glinted like alligators in a swamp. "I’m inside, asleep." He jerked his head back towards the building. The top floor had been converted into basic living quarters where he’d been staying, with his mum, his sister, Georgie and his best friend Felix. Viggo himself lived there too, but the lights in the offices below indicated he and some of his staff were still working.

"Nobody knows I’ve slipped out," Jimmy whispered, "and it’s going to stay that way. Got that?"

The guard nodded, his cheeks turning white under the force of Jimmy’s grip.

"I’m going to release you now," explained Jimmy softly. "When I do, you make no sound unless I tell you to, OK?" The guard nodded frantically again. "You fix this roof with the board I’ve left behind the booth. In four minutes you revive your mate and explain everything, then when the time comes you both go on your patrol as normal." Jimmy’s tone was flat, but there was a burning urgency behind the words. "And I need to know that you two will let me back in later tonight. Got that?"

Jimmy slowly eased his grip and uncovered the man’s mouth.

"Yes, Jimmy," wheezed the guard. Jimmy’s knee was constricting his lungs. "But shouldn’t I let Mr Viggo know?"

Jimmy narrowed his eyes and dug his knee in harder.

"If I wanted Chris to know," he hissed, "I’d have spelled it out in his alphabet soup."

"I have instructions. Rules I have to follow. Otherwise Mr Viggo will–"

"The rules don’t apply." Jimmy forced his words out between gritted teeth. "Nothing applies. Got that?"

Jimmy heard the harshness in his own voice and reluctantly let off some of the pressure with his knee. These men were on his side, he reminded himself. They were there to protect him. They didn’t deserve any serious pain.

"And please don’t tell Chris about this," he added.

"Please?" spluttered the guard. "Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Whatever," said Jimmy, with a small smile. "Just keep it to yourselves or everyone will know how sloppy you two have been. What if this had been a real attack? What if someone had tried to kill Chris again?"

A darkness shivered across Jimmy’s face. His words had brought back vivid memories. The first time the government had sent anybody to kill Christopher Viggo, they’d sent Jimmy himself. That seemed so long ago now – when Jimmy had only just discovered the truth: that he was genetically designed by the government to be an assassin.

Back then, the government hadn’t allowed any opposition to exist at all and Viggo’s protests had made him a target. Since Jimmy had changed sides, he and Viggo had forced the government to change their position.

"Who’s going to attack?" protested the guard. "Viggo’s legitimate now. There’s an election starting in a few hours. A real election, Jimmy! The first one for years. If there was still a threat do you think Viggo would have been speaking in public for the last six months? Or living and working in a grand place like this and not in hiding in some sewer?"

Jimmy was hardly listening to the man. He picked himself up and dusted the splinters from his tracksuit trousers and hoodie. His extraordinary abilities were still well hidden in the wiry frame of a 12 year-old boy.

"If Chris is so legitimate now," Jimmy mumbled, "why does he have ex-military security guards? What’s he afraid of?" His eyes flicked across the bank of CCTV screens as if the dark patches of blue hid the answer to a puzzle. "What’s out there?"

"It’s just shadows, Jimmy," said the guard. "It’s more dangerous for you than for Mr Viggo. You’re still on the NJ7 hit-list. You’re lucky they haven’t found out you’re here."

Jimmy let out a low growl of disgust at the mention of NJ7. It was Britain’s new breed of Secret Service agency. They were the best in the world: the most efficient and the most vicious. It was also the organisation that Viggo had once worked for himself, before he had decided the government was becoming too extreme. Jimmy glanced at both the guards. They’d been NJ7 agents too, but now they shared Viggo’s views.

"You haven’t exactly stayed sharp, have you?" said Jimmy, noticing three empty packets of pork scratchings on the floor. The conscious guard opened his mouth, but had nothing to say. He looked so embarrassed that Jimmy had to shake his head and look away.

"Just let me back in later," Jimmy sighed. "And don’t let the others find out I’ve been gone, OK?"

"OK, Jimmy," said the guard, sheepishly. "But where are you going?" Jimmy was already disappearing out of the door, into the darkness.


 

 

Eva Doren frantically pecked at the keyboard. She checked over her shoulder every few seconds now, terrified that someone would come in. The NJ7 technical computers had state-of-the-art encryption, and getting round it was taking longer than she wanted it to. She was no hacker, but she’d picked up a lot about NJ7 security in the months that she’d been working there, and she had clearance for most of the generic access codes.

She wiped the sweat from her face and hammered another one into the machine. It failed again, and the error message seemed to flash up even brighter than before, along with a chilling image: a vertical green stripe – the emblem of NJ7.

Every time she saw that green stripe she felt another twist of horror. To her it represented the lies and the threat of violence that lurked never far from the surface. It was a threat that the whole country had been living under, even if they didn’t know it. Anybody could be taken away by NJ7 at any time and locked up, or worse, for doing anything that suggested criticism of the government. Nobody felt the danger more keenly than Eva herself.

As far as anybody at NJ7 knew, she had betrayed Jimmy Coates and left her family to be taken on as an apprentice by NJ7’s ruthless Director, Miss Bennett. Eva lived in constant fear that someone would suspect the truth: she was still loyal to Jimmy. Jimmy’s sister, Georgie Coates, was her best friend and Eva was doing everything she could for them.

Come on, she pleaded with herself, blinking hard to force away the tiredness. She refused to give up. She carefully entered another code and this time…

Yes! She clenched her fist in triumph, then immediately straightened herself in the chair and pulled her shoulders back. It was never in any doubt, she thought to herself proudly. But as she clicked through the files on the computer, it became clear that every file was individually encrypted in a way that Eva didn’t recognise. She pursed her lips in annoyance.

“Pointless!” she muttered under her breath. It seemed to Eva like a perfect waste of time that the tech department guarded their secrets so closely. But underneath the hurt pride, Eva knew that nobody in the history of NJ7 had been more careful than the man whose files she was after tonight: Dr Higgins.

He’d left NJ7 months ago now, in suspicious circumstances, but his shadow still seemed to loom over every corridor. He was the old NJ7 scientist who had overseen the design and creation of the first organic assassins: Jimmy Coates and Mitchell Glenthorne. Eva was at his old desk now, on the computer where his old hard drive had been stored and flagged for analysis.

If only she had more time, she thought. Why tonight? At the same time she knew that the timing was perfect: the election the following day was a huge distraction. Eva had been deep undercover at NJ7 for months, but this was the first time she’d been able to move through the tunnels of NJ7 Headquarters without worrying about being watched. With so much activity going on, nobody had paid attention to where she’d been going or what she was up to.

For a moment she pictured the streets of Central London, above. This late at night they must have been almost entirely deserted, yet the network of tunnels directly below was teeming with people. The quiet bustle of footsteps echoed off the bare walls and the rustling of papers mixed with whispered conversations. Swarms of black suits streamed through the concrete corridors, a tangle of green stripes. The NJ7 agents went about preparing for the coming election like ants building Hell.

If only Jimmy had told her which specific piece of information he wanted. She could have tried to find it some other way. But there hadn’t been the chance for any discussion. Earlier that day, Eva had accompanied Miss Bennett as she oversaw the Prime Minister’s press conference. Journalists’ questions were always carefully selected months in advance, of course, but a few new ones were also allowed so that the PM could respond to the latest developments. As it was the day before the first general election for years, everybody wanted to ask fresh questions, so Eva had been helping to filter out anything that suggested anti-government feeling.

Each question was written on an official form, and Eva had no idea how Jimmy had managed to slip an extra one into her pile. She could still feel the chills she got when she reached the page. Even before she’d read it, she’d known who it was from because of the handwriting. When she’d looked up, she’d noticed the hunched back of a civil service cleaner lumbering away. Had that been Jimmy in disguise? Or was Eva’s mind thinking up phantoms to explain what had happened?

All the note had said, in Jimmy’s scratchy pencil lettering, was that they had to meet at a nearby car park late that night. Jimmy needed Eva to bring information from Dr Higgins’ computer about the genetic design of the assassins: Jimmy’s DNA.

Suddenly a noise sent a shiver through Eva’s body. Somebody was coming, and there was nowhere to hide. At NJ7 there were no doors to the rooms, just one huge network of tunnels with open areas for desks and office space. She slammed her palm on the desk in frustration, leaving a sticky palm print on the leather which she immediately wiped off with her sleeve. The footsteps in the corridor mixed with the pounding of her heart. She would have to come back another night, when she had gathered all the access codes she needed.

Quickly and efficiently, she shut down the computer, wiped the keypad clean, and went to the filing cabinet. It was locked.

“How do they run this stupid department!?” she muttered under her breath. But she refused to let it ruffle her. On top of the filing cabinet was a yellow document box. On the spine was the number seven and another green stripe. Any information was better than nothing, Eva reasoned. The alternative was to meet Jimmy empty-handed, which was no alternative at all.

She opened the document box to find a stack of thinner coloured folders, old computer print outs and some loose, handwritten notes. There was enough dust on the document box to suggest it hadn’t been checked in a while, so Eva quickly extracted sheets from the most dog-eared and tattered files. If there was going to be anything here about the design of the assassin DNA, Eva thought, it would be on the oldest pages. Where the folders themselves were thin enough, she grabbed them whole.

She was careful to wipe her finger marks from the dust when she closed the document box, then slipped out of Dr Higgins’ old office with a bundle of papers and folders under her arm. There were two NJ7 technicians hurrying towards her, involved in their own hushed conversation. Eva watched their faces as she passed them. Had they noticed where she had been? All she saw were expressions of calm efficiency, but that still fuelled the anxiety in her gut.

With every step through the network of tunnels it took a huge effort to maintain an air of confidence. Only looking like she was on legitimate NJ7 business, sent by Miss Bennett, would keep her from being scrutinised. Even though she was only 13, the other NJ7 employees had grown used to her being around and had either accepted it, or were too scared of Miss Bennett to question Eva’s presence.

The corridors of the NJ7 tech department were less familiar to Eva than the rest of the complex. The murky haze of energy-saving light bulbs cast orange shadows around the concrete. Eva longed for the brightness of the proper light bulbs in Miss Bennett’s office. She had long since become used to the lack of sunlight.

Eva clasped the piles of papers and kept her head down, doing her best to walk at a steady, confident pace. Every time she turned a corner she was met by more tunnels stretching out for hundreds of metres, or larger rooms where teams of agents were working at banks of computers. In her head she ran over the errands she could say she was on if she was stopped.

Tell them you’re taking a message from William Lee to Miss Bennett, she decided. The two most senior people in the government were known to hate each other. William Lee was the government’s Head of Special Security. Once he’d tried to take over Miss Bennett’s position as Director of NJ7 – he’d even tried to become Prime Minister himself. Miss Bennett had put him in his place.

Eva could use the games they played against each other to her own advantage now. But what was message being sent? Of course: a top secret one. She wasn’t allowed to reveal it to anybody. That’s what she’d say if an agent questioned her.

The idea was still smouldering in Eva’s mind when she turned another corner and found herself in a deserted lab full of computer screens and whirring technical equipment. At the other end of the lab she realised that it wasn’t quite deserted. Sitting at a computer station, staring at her over his shoulder, was the one man on whom Eva’s cover story wouldn’t work: William Lee.


 

 

Jimmy Coates: Blackout, CHAPTER TWO – The Living Boy

William Lee jumped up, leaving his chair swivelling dizzily behind him. Eva was frozen to the spot, staring up at the unnaturally tall Eurasian man.

“Eva,” Lee growled, the tower of hair on top of his head swaying slightly as he spoke. “Shouldn’t you be with Miss Bennett?”

“Yes,” Eva replied hurriedly. “Of course. I’m on my way now.”

There was a horrible silence. In Eva’s mind it lasted an eternity. She watched Lee’s eyes scan her up and down, lingering on the folders and loose pages under her left arm.

Since Miss Bennett had outwitted him, there had been something physically weaker about this man, as if he’d actually shrunk a couple of centimetres, but his mind was still sharp. Eva thought frantically of what she could possibly say to explain what she was doing, but at the same time she knew that too much explanation would sound suspicious. Why wasn’t Lee asking her what she was doing? Eva was almost desperate to have the chance to come up with an excuse. The silence did her no good at all.

At last, Lee spoke again. But it wasn’t what Eva was expecting.

“I was just having a look at the satellite surveillance,” he muttered. “It’s been playing up.” He stared blankly into Eva’s eyes. She just nodded. Why was he explaining himself to her? Had Miss Bennett really weakened his confidence that much?

“I’m seeing if I can fix it,” Lee went on.

“Should I fetch a technician for you?” Eva blurted out, eager to get away as quickly as possible.

“No, no,” insisted Lee. “It’s just a minor glitch. I have it under control.”

Eva nodded again, and deliberately held her breathing steady as she turned to leave. Don’t look back at him, she told herself. And don’t rush away too fast. The papers under her arm had taken on the weight of bricks.

At last she heard the squeak of Lee’s chair and the tap of his computer keyboard. Finally, Eva was striding away down the next corridor. Relax, she ordered herself. He didn’t suspect. He didn’t ask.

But then the squeak of the chair echoed down the corridor. Could she really hear Lee’s footsteps coming after her, or was she imagining it? The corridor stretched out in front of her, with a crossroads about twenty metres ahead. Maybe if she could reach that she could disappear and Lee would let her go – for now. But it was too far away. She’d never make it before Lee came round the corner.

Then she saw her chance. There was a slim gap in the side of the tunnel. It was less than half a metre wide, and completely dark. Eva thanked her luck – she’d found a remnant from when different service tunnels had been joined together to create the NJ7 labyrinth. She rushed towards it, and stepped into the shadows.

To her shock, her step faltered and she nearly fell. The opening in the concrete was in fact a staircase leading downwards. Eva could make out a sliver of light at the bottom. She gingerly stepped down towards it, her shoulders brushing against the cold concrete on both sides.

She paused half way down to listen for Lee’s footsteps. There was no noise coming from behind her. There was, however, the sound of quiet conversation coming from below. Eva crept further down, but lurked in the shadows. When her eyes adjusted to the bright light of the room in front of her, what she saw banished any worries about William Lee.

Half a dozen NJ7 technicians were hurrying around the room, passing each other papers and mumbling instructions to each other. Their white coats almost glowed under an intense green light. In the centre of the room, on a large metal slab, was the scarred and scorched body of what looked like an older teenage boy. His limbs were being held in place and gradually manipulated by metal clamps. Aimed directly into his eye was an intense green laser being fired from a large machine attached to a computer.

Eva couldn’t look away from the boy – not because of the laser, or the obvious injuries from these strange operations, but because his chest was steadily rising and falling. This boy was alive.

 


 

 

Jimmy took a twisting route through London, constantly scanning his surroundings. His brain was building millions of fragments of information into an instinct he couldn’t explain. Someone was out there. Someone was following him.

Get over it, he urged himself. If somebody from NJ7 was onto him they would have struck by now. It’s nothing, he insisted in his head, pausing to check the reflection of the street in a darkened shop window. Just paranoia. He rubbed his eyes hard. Every bit of him ached in a way he had never felt before: like his limbs were being compressed from every direction and his head was trapped under a spinning washing machine. He searched inside himself for the power of his genetic programming. It was constantly swirling in him, ready to burst through his veins and take him over in an instant. Jimmy relied on it more and more. Without it, the agony was too much.

He drew on that inner strength, a centre of burning power that felt like it came from just behind his stomach. It flooded through him with a violent surge, swamping the pain. Jimmy couldn’t help letting out a gasp of relief, but it was combined with a low growl of aggression: the two sides of him battling together to sustain the whole.

He sprinted off with renewed energy. There was a buzz in the air in London’s streets and Jimmy imagined it seeping into his skin. There were hundreds more people out than usual, because of all the rallies in support of both sides – final preparations before the ballot the next day. He found his way to Trafalgar Square, where a pro-government rally was just coming to an end. He mingled with the crowds to further protect himself from anyone following.

How can all these people support the government, Jimmy wondered, looking around at the placards and banners. He considered whether they’d been paid to come out tonight, or even forced by NJ7. At the South end of the square there was a big screen flashing messages and government slogans into the night: “Efficiency, Stability, Security.” Jimmy couldn’t help letting out a huff. In front of the screen was a middle-aged woman ranting into a microphone about how the government would keep taxes low and manage the country better than Viggo ever could, because he had no experience.

“…And why should you have the stress of making important government decisions?” she went on. “Government is for governments! Giving people a say in what happens to the country just creates muddled decisions and confusion!” There was a general murmur of approval. “Why should you have to worry?” Everybody cheered, but Jimmy huffed again, a little too loudly this time. A bald man with a thick puffer jacket and a government placard looked round and glared at him.

Jimmy hurried to the other end of the square where a large group of Viggo supporters had set up their own, slightly smaller screen and were chanting in support of freedom, democracy and everything Viggo stood for. Viggo’s smile flashed up on the screen and Jimmy couldn’t help smiling too. For a few seconds he slowed down to watch, proud of the part he’d played in making this possible.

“Join me and change the country!” declared Viggo from the screen. It was showing some of the best bits of his speeches from the last few months. “Believe in change! Believe in democracy! Believe in freedom!” Each sentence drew a cheer from the pro-Viggo half of the square. Even the sight of the man’s face, blown up so large on the screen, seemed to have the crowd mesmerised. Jimmy delighted in the genuine enthusiasm around him. Whole families were there, including people of about Jimmy’s age. For the first time, Jimmy really felt part of something special, something historic. The country’s going to change, Jimmy thought. It’s going to be great.

Then something cut through Jimmy’s excitement. A shout was out of place. Jimmy looked round and saw the crowd from the government rally was dispersing and some of the supporters had come over to the pro-Viggo side of the square. The bald man with the puffer jacket was waving his placard and booing. Jimmy was ready to ignore it all and run on, but a Viggo supporter in a high-visibility jacket tried to wave the bald man away. Whatever he said, it wasn’t taken well.

The bald man’s face reddened and creased into fury. Suddenly, he shoved his placard into the other man’s chest. The Viggo supporter staggered backwards for a second, then hurled out his fists one after the other, trying to fight back. Jimmy responded immediately. He wove through the crowd, snatching a ‘Vote Viggo’ cap from the head of a teenager on his way past. He kept his head low, then at the last second jumped up and brought the cap down over the face of the Viggo supporter. In the same movement, he dragged the man backwards and took his place.

The bald man swished his placard clean over Jimmy’s head. Immediately, Jimmy delivered a jab to the man’s gut with the knuckles of his left hand, then landed his right fist in exactly the same spot with a powerful cross punch. The man’s puffer jacket wasn’t nearly enough to cushion the blows. His eyes widened and he flailed at Jimmy even as he gasped for breath. Finally, Jimmy extended his right thigh and held it steady while the lower part of the limb flicked out. His toes hit the man’s kneecap like a spike in a pinboard.

Jimmy felt a rush of calm aggression urging him to deliver one more blow – a fatal one. No, Jimmy ordered himself, locking his arms and legs. After half a second, he snatched the ‘Vote Viggo’ cap again and mashed it onto the bald man’s head.

“What was that?” the man gasped, rolling on the floor and clutching his knee. Jimmy was already sprinting away, but he heard the answer flashing through his head: that was a fouette. How did he know that? That swift kick was a move he hadn’t used before, but its devastating effect was obvious. Suddenly, a new world was flooding through his mind: La Savate combat technique. His programming was still adapting, still growing.

At the edge of the square he glanced back and saw more men and women in high-visibility jackets making sure there the brief eruption of violence was definitely over. Jimmy crouched in the darkness of a doorway. La Savate combat technique, he thought to himself, stretching his limbs. I like it.

 


 

 

Eva shivered and hugged her coat more tightly around her. It was difficult, though, with such a pile of papers hidden in her arms. How much longer would she have to wait, she wondered. She was on the ninth floor of a multi-storey car park on Great College Street in Westminster, central London. She rocked from foot to foot and peered around her into the deep shadows.

It had taken longer that she would have liked, but she had eventually managed to slip away from the NJ7 labs unseen. Now moonlight streaked in between the pillars of the car park, casting a dim sheen over patches of empty concrete. The rest was blackness. Only the silhouettes of a couple of cars interrupted the empty expanse. Probably stolen or abandoned, she thought to herself.

Suddenly, she felt hot breath on the back of her neck.

“Don’t turn around,” came Jimmy’s voice in a whisper.

“How did you–?”

“Were you followed?”

Eva gave a small shake of her head.

“Are you sure?”

“Jimmy!” Eva said sternly, spinning round to face him. They were standing in near total darkness, but Jimmy’s eyes caught what little light there was.

“I wasn’t followed,” Eva insisted. “I know what I’m doing. I have to live a secret life every moment of the day and night. What do you think that’s like?” They were so close that Eva could feel the warmth of her own breath bouncing off Jimmy’s face. “I might not be genetically perfect but I’ve learned a couple of things, OK? So don’t be so…” She didn’t know how to finished her sentence. She could feel Jimmy’s tension and saw his eyes constantly darting around the car park.

“OK,” he sighed at last. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I need to trust you. It’s just… inside me…” He closed his eyes for a moment and felt his teeth grinding together. “It makes me so…” He shrugged off his thought and opened his eyes again. “Did you…?”

Eva pulled the piles of papers from under her coat and thrust them at Jimmy.

“What’s all this?” he asked. “I needed the data from his hard drive. Dr Higgins wouldn’t have printed out what I need. He couldn’t have.”

“I couldn’t get into his computer,” Eva explained. “But I will. When I’ve had more time. I’ll get the pass-codes and…”

Jimmy had already stepped away and was spreading the papers out on the bonnet of a Range Rover, rifling through the pages. His hands moved swiftly to pass each sheet in turn across the car’s bonnet and his eyes scanned each sheet of paper for less than half a second. He was hardly even aware that his pupils were flicking at a rapid and regular pace, or that every detail seemed to be lodging somewhere in his mind.

Within a minute he swept his hand across the bonnet, letting the papers fall to the floor.

“These are useless!” he sighed. “You were meant to…” He stopped himself, struggling to contain his frustration, not wanting to shout at his friend.

“I told you!” Eva protested, scrambling on her hands and knees to gather up the papers that had slid to the floor. “It’s not easy! I can’t just break in and make a run for it. And there are NJ7 technicians in every bit of that whole department round the clock.” She paused. Her voice was trembling more and more. “Jimmy, I saw the most horrible thing.” She couldn’t carry on gathering the papers now that this memory had come back to her.

“You won’t believe what they’re doing down there,” she whispered. “They’ve got a boy, a young man I mean, but he can’t be much older than me. And he’s still alive, but unconscious, and they’re firing this laser into his eyes, as if they’re trying to zap his brain or…” She tailed off, fighting back the fear in her chest.

“I’m sorry,” said Jimmy softly, crouching down to put a hand on her shoulder. “I shouldn’t have taken it out on you, it’s just that…”

“Jimmy, tell me…” Eva took a slow breath and fixed her eyes on the boy in front of her. “Is that how they made… you?”

Jimmy looked away. It was the first time that night that Eva had seen his eyes remain still for more than a moment. Then he looked back at her and explained.

“I’ve seen that boy too,” he said, standing up and regaining his composure. “It’s Mitchell’s brother. I saw him a long time ago, when I managed to break into NJ7 to try to find out where Felix’s parents were being held. I remember Dr Higgins had Mitchell’s brother lying on a metal table. His name was Lenny. Lenny Glenthorne. I remember it. They must still have him, and they’re still experimenting on him. What are they doing to him?”

“Is he also… an assassin?”

“No,” Jimmy said quickly. “He’s not like Mitchell or me. I don’t think he is, anyway. For Mitchell and me they did have a laser, I think, but before I was even born. The laser was to build the chemical combination of my DNA. I think the laser they’re using on Lenny must be different. Otherwise–” He stopped himself suddenly and every muscle tensed, like a startled animal.

“What is it?” Eva whispered, but Jimmy cut her off with a firm gesture. He slowly beckoned to her to follow him round the other side of the Range Rover, where they crouched, looking over the bonnet towards the pedestrian lift.

Eva couldn’t believe how fast her heart was beating, and how thin the air felt. It was like she was being strangled.

Jimmy looked up at her, an urgent stare in his eyes. He made small, forceful gestures, pointing at her, then at his eyes, then in the direction of the lift, telling her to keep watching the lift doors. She nodded, but Jimmy knew she’d have no idea what she was meant to do if she saw anything. He dropped down to the wheel of the Range Rover and carefully removed the hubcap.

A few seconds later a crack of light appeared between the lift doors. Before they could open more than a centimetre, Jimmy was in action. A single flick of his wrist sent the hub cap spinning towards the lift with the impetus of a torpedo. As soon as it left Jimmy’s hand he grabbed Eva’s shoulder and pulled her across the concrete towards the other side of the car park, where the shadows were darkest and the down ramp offered an escape.

Jimmy moved so fast Eva was half running and half being dragged. But then came a noise that stopped them in their tracks. It wasn’t the thud of the hub cap connecting with an NJ7 attacker. Instead came a clang as the disc slammed into the back wall of the lift. It was followed immediately by a short, nervous burst of laughter, then a boy’s voice:

“That was so cool!”



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