Spy series – lesbian love triangle – apocalyptic Sci-Fi epic

Copyright © Raechel Sands 2019
First published in Great Britain and the USA in paperback in 2017 by Tango Romeo.
The right of Raechel Sands to be identified as author of this work has been
asserted in accordance with s. 77 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

1959 Vatican City, Rome The Secret of Fatima has been placed in one of those archives which are like a very deep, dark well, to the bottom of which papers fall and are never seen again. CARDINAL ALFREDO OTTAVIANI, PREFECT OF THE HOLY INQUISITION OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. C O N T E N T S 1 American Deity ≥ 4 2 Blanka & Felicity in Wonderland ≥ 10 3 Major Grinin ≥ 27 4 The Fifth Option ≥ 39 5 The Judgement of Blanka ≥ 59 6 It’s Really Nothing Like James Bond ≥ 83 7 The Prophesy ≥ 101 8 The Girl ≥ 111 9 Two of a Kind ≥ 119 X The Ides of March ≥ 129 XI Für das Kind ≥ 158 TGWF1 Blanka & Felicity in Wonderland Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. … In the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh – a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs. There were buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world. 1909 ‒ E.M.FORSTER ‒ THE MACHINE STOPS The year before the election of Donald Trump in the United States; and the Brexit vote in Great Britain. London. MI6 headquarters, Vauxhall Cross. Murder is not unique to human beings – many animals kill – but we are unique in the lies we tell ourselves about it. CHA P T E R 8 ≥ We say that animals have ‘blood lust,’ but it is as nothing compared to the blood lust of humans. The human species kills on a scale, and with an intensity, beyond the comprehension of animals; and killings of our own kind make up all the major spectacles of history. Out of some perverse sense of morality, we feel obliged to hide these murders. But why should the geniuses behind these homicides hide their accomplishments, something they do so well? It was a Tuesday. March the tenth, in fact, as ‘C’ – Sir Jasper Rolland Loveless, the head of British Intelligence – looked at a bank of monitors in the locked and unmanned security overwatch room on Floor -1. He occasionally used it to spy on those who spied on his spies: the uniformed internal security guards, but now he, the Queen’s chief enforcer, was watching the worker bees arriving. Hundreds of them crunched through the exhaust-blackened remnants of the snow, and streamed across the rush hour intersection. The loyal Crown Servants were carried to Vauxhall Underground and Overground stations from every corner of the metropolis. He watched them as they waited for the pedestrian light to turn so they could cross on to Albert Embankment. Were they the Queen’s worker bees? Or his? C knew the bees by name, he made it his job to do so. A plain man of medium height and build, he congratulated himself as he thought: the females are all good lookers. But, he decided, they and their male colleagues had perhaps now carried the casualness too far, in their quasi clean-cut, university educated, no-tie, sporty fit alikeness. (Memo to Miss Banks, thought C: Not enough beards. Beards are in. HR to push them.) They wanted to believe, the worker bees, so they were easy to lie to. And some were easy to lead astray, C recalled, as he stared at R A E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 13 TGWF1 the image of his former protégée, and lover, ‘Bio,’ on one of the cameras. Misinformation, dissembling, and a certain vagueness are the bread-and-butter of Intelligence, and C always referred to MI6 by its codename, The Office. More honest staff made fun of the dissembling, and assigned witty names. Bio, on the security camera, was given her nickname 20 years before by her boss in Science Division. It was she, frowned C, who had christened MI6 itself – Wonderland – a nickname that had become popular with the KGB, and throughout the Intelligence world. The next face on the monitor belonged to Boudica Maguire, a 36-year-old American a few years younger than Bio. Everyone called her Blanka. A high-ranking CIA and NATO Intelligence officer, Blanka had been stationed in London for several years since becoming the first woman-AI hybrid in 1999. At five five, she was two inches taller than Bio but she weighed in at 100lbs more. She wasn’t overweight and didn’t look it but the AI program, OhZone, had increased her body weight by 60 percent, a source of enduring humour for her colleagues. Being something of a history scholar, Bio quickly monikered Blanka: ‘Queen Boudica.’ If a name was good, Blanka admitted, it stuck to you like shit! She returned the favour by tagging Bio according to her first name: ‘Queen Marcia.’ The two ‘Celtic queens’ ruled their respective kingdoms – Science Division and OhZone. Not only had Blanka been tagged Queen Boudica, but OhZone agents were nicknamed the Iceni (after her namesake’s first century woman-led tribe of Britons who gave the Roman Empire a seriously bloody nose). C looked at them on another monitor with alarm. RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 15 They were larking about, as they filed through security and surrendered their cellphones to the concrete building. I’m glad those bitches are not friends! he thought. Or, God forbid, lovers. I don’t want to be up against the pair of them. He’d see them at a conference on the new Novichok perfume weapon the following day, but Bio was solidly on his side. Blanka. Blanka Maguire rode the elevator up to Floor 12, her thoughts drifting skywards. Focusing, Blanka looked in the mirror and wiped strands of blonde hair out of her blue eyes. With the slightest of sighs, she contemplated her American genes – a combination of Russian, Irish and British, (paternal genes unknown) – as well as the AI, and the AI-backup (‘Hebe’) inside her body. Adopting what she regarded as her ‘Nancy Drew-in-London voice,’ she spoke aloud to her AI-backup: ‘What cheer, Hebe?’ What cheer, Nancy Drew? Hebe replied, inside Blanka’s head. Hebe spoke in the voice Blanka had given her: a cross between C’s long-suffering secretary, Miss Banks, and the movie voice of English writer Agatha Christie’s elderly sleuth, Miss Marple. In her internal voice play, Blanka wrapped up together four decades of womanhood in the three cultural icons and mythic heroes: Nancy Drew; Miss Marple; Miss Banks. In the mirror’s reflection, Blanka caught sight of the set of blood red Rosary beads wrapped around her wrist. Raised as an orphan at a Catholic convent, Blanka had remained a devout Roman Catholic. Now, however, she felt increasingly that something was missing from her life; and she suspected that rather than her leaving the church, the church had left her. TGWF1 At Blanka’s birth in Norfolk, Virginia, her 15-year-old birth mother, Kitty, had named her Boudica Valentina. Later, Kitty – in her short, tragic life – had been instrumental to the discovery of the most valuable archaeological artefact of all time – under the shallow seabed of the Aegean – the 70-ton Bronze- Age Goldheart. And, upon her death, Blanka and Will (her half-brother, still a teenager) had inherited a quite staggering fortune. In the world outside Intelligence, Blanka was known as much for her philanthropy and her devotion to the conservation and protection of animals, as she was for her success as a bass guitarist, and DJ on the music scene. But at eighteen (because of her grandfather, U.S. Admiral William Virgil Maguire) she had pledged allegiance to the more savage gods of Jason Bourne and James Bond. As she strode out of the elevator, Blanka mustered a happy smile, then turned her head the other way as she walked past the spiral staircase that led to Floor 13, and C’s offices and private dining room. The indicator for Floor 6 lit, the lift doors closed behind her, and the elevator descended. Blanka walked lightly across Floor 12 toward the OhZone office, where she exchanged smiles with several of the staff on the Russia Desk, including her particular friend, a tall Irish woman; an agent known to everyone by an adjective that was also an adverb: ‘Nearby.’ Nearby had worked for MI6 less than four years but, with an astounding talent for Russian, she had risen through the ranks of its most important bureau, the Russia Desk. With her quiet efficiency, and time for everyone, Nearby was universally liked – except by one newly trained and programmed OhZone AI. R A E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 17 Felicity. Six floors below, the elevator doors opened again, and another tall woman – an English boarding-school girl called Felicity – sauntered into it from the South America Desk. Felicity pressed the button for level -3, and then entered a secret ‘go to and wait’ code given to her by C. Producing an expensive eau de toilette from a Bulgari bag – Didier Potters’ La Bombe – Felicity sprayed it on her hair. Just the day before, she’d graduated as the latest OhZone agent – against the wishes of Blanka, the CIA, NATO, and the people who ran the OhZone laboratory. Now, she was to receive a pair of pistols specially made for her. Two hand-print-coded, .45 calibre, Sig Sauer P321s. When she approached the chief firearms officer, ‘Arms,’ a middle-aged man with an uneasy face, he shook his head at her from behind his desk. ‘I don’t have time for you now, Robinson. Your practice is booked for 16:00. Come half an hour early to unwrap them,’ he laughed, ‘if you want.’ Now, with a few minutes to spare before her scheduled practice, Felicity looked in the elevator mirror, took her pink-red lip gloss from the handbag, pursed her lips, and applied it. She thought of Nearby – because Nearby was her dead ringer. With matching physiques, and nut brown hair, they looked as alike as two peas in a pod. ‘Pfft,’ she said aloud. ‘Identical! I’ve got 25 millimeters on that Irish bitch. And, now…’ She stopped, and focused on her new in-board AI back up: her Hebe. Rubbing her lips together, Felicity silently asked: What do you say, Hebe? How do I compare with Nearby? You are 100 pounds stronger, La Bombe, and far more powerful! Hebe answered using the pet name which C had given Felicity during their sex play, and which Felicity had programmed her to use. Hebe had also absorbed much of her host’s personality TGWF1 during their gestation of 40 days and nights inside the OhZone processing machine in Paris, France. Her Hebe spoke English with a German accent. In Paris, Felicity had programmed its voice with readings of digital voice poetry, and then added the German accent, so the voice would please her every time it spoke. It was her own idea; and she loved her Hebe’s voice nearly as much as her own. Before Nearby’s sudden appearance, Felicity had been regarded as the best looking woman in Vauxhall Cross, an attribute she had used tirelessly to her advantage. With Nearby’s arrival, Felicity not only had a lookalike, but a rival. She was horrified to watch Nearby rising above her in the service to a more senior position on a more prestigious desk. Felicity watched the lift doors open, revealing the main corridor on level -3 once again. She took a hairbrush from her bag, brushed her hair, and considered it in the mirror. None of that matters any more. I’m an OhZone. The most powerful woman in the world. Obediently, the elevator doors remained open. But if I want to get his help with the uranium rounds, I must look my best, and smell my best for Arms. She sniffed the perfume on her hair approvingly. Then she exercised her face muscles. ‘Hair down is too much, I think.’ And she tied back her hair. Then, returning her mind to Hebe, she asked, How do I look? You are the most beautiful, Hebe replied, on cue. Of them all? quizzed Felicity, quoting the famous rhyme, and laughing aloud. Of them all, said Hebe, with emphasis. Felicity felt that her Hebe was smiling too. But could she smile? She didn’t have a face, did she? She eyeballed her reflection, then breathed heavily on the mirror, steaming it up. After a few moments, she leaned in, and drew a flower, partly revealing her face in the mist. RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 19 ‘Pretty flower,’ she said aloud to the image. ‘See now, Hebe, you have my pretty face! And I’m smiling – so you must be smiling too!’ She pursed her lips, and kissed the mirror. ‘Mwah.’ Pressing the button to undo the wait code, Felicity stepped out of the lift, and strode into the MI6 firing range. 2 OhZone. The OhZone upgrade – to human-AI hybrid – was a 1990s brainchild of two diving buddies from Harvard Med School. One was African American Dr Ray Oxberry – the confidante of Blanka’s murdered mother, Kitty. The other was white protestant American, Professor Max Hart – who went on to marry Kitty, and thus become Blanka’s stepfather. OhZone was named after the highly unusual OH- ions and ozone in the luto-hemerythrin rings of an agent’s blood – giving it a distinct purple hue – and giving the agents the unique moniker ‘purple-blood.’ Originally sited in Rome, the lab was moved by Dr Oxberry (after the 1999 murder of Kitty Maguire) to its present location deep under the medieval centre of Paris. Before Felicity, only six candidates had ever passed through the half-a-billion-dollars-a-pop, six month OhZone program, so competition was stiff. OhZone ( ℧ ) – Agents In Service 3 CRUSOE ROBINSON M ASIS/ MI6 4 COMMANDING OFFICER: BLANKA MAGUIRE F CIA 5 EXECUTIVE OFFICER: SOKOL COMAROVA F MI6 6 ON PATERNITY LEAVE: DAVID MU M CIA TGWF1 When one of the original OhZones was killed in a plane wreck, it became necessary to select and process a new AI-human hybrid. OhZones were numbered in order of graduation from the OhZone lab, and the new agent would take the prestigious ‘7’ designation. There were over 30 entries from the Intelligence agencies of the NATO and other countries who funded the program. Shifting politics was a major consideration, and objections from the allies reduced the list to 12. The candidates were vetted in several ways, including the ninepoint CU. Another invention of Hart and Oxberry, it predicted the likelihood of candidates becoming a psychopath, when given the greatly enhanced physical and mental powers of the upgrade. Using brain scans and tests, the CU ‘cruel and unempathic’ test was developed on convicted serial killers, and faithfully read 7 to 8 for all those convicted of serial killing, torture, and ethnic cleansing. When Hart was asked in an interview about CU, he said, ‘It quantifies how poorly Homo sapiens actually rate as the compassionate caring species we like to pretend we are.’ During the illness of OhZone’s biggest sponsor, CIA Director Admiral Keith De Leon, C deftly manoeuvred the other agencies so that his new protégée, Felicity, got through to the short list of four, along with the ever-popular Nearby. In seemingly unconnected incidents, the Canadian candidate fell pregnant unexpectedly, and the sole male was killed in a car wreck. The remaining candidates were both from MI6. Felicity’s CU score of ‘8’ would have torpedoed her application, but an influential contact of C had discretely breached OhZone’s cyber security, and altered her CU score to a ‘4,’ before Hart and Oxberry saw it. RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 21 Nearby’s score was a ‘0’ (no tendency), and this was also a problem: she was too meek. In fact, Nearby was not firearms trained, and had never raised a hand in violence. So the defining issue became whether Nearby could be trained to kill. A hearing into her ‘pacifism’ was arranged before three MI6 directors: C, Russia and (the newly promoted) Bio. Hart flew in, from New York, to attend as an observer alongside Blanka. They watched as Nearby responded to questions with her usual directness. ‘Are you loyal to Queen Elizabeth and to The Office?’ Russia asked her. ‘I am,’ Nearby answered. ‘When you’ve been “firearms trained,” will you shoot to kill if ordered to?’ he said. Nearby looked at Blanka. C glared at them and shouted, ‘When you’re alone, without Queen Boudica to protect you, will you do as you’re ordered?’ Nearby’s eyes watered. Russia repeated his question slowly. At first Nearby was silent and then she whispered to Russia, ‘Shooting at a t-target… it’s not the same as shooting at a hu-hu-human…’ Russia, deeply disappointed, frowned and turned to Blanka. ‘But if you were ordered to do it?’ prompted Bio. Nearby was shaking. ‘I-I-I’m not sure. It w-wouldn’t be easy for me.’ C laughed in Nearby’s face, ‘Not sure! Wouldn’t be easy! You’ve got to sweat at Intelligence my girl, and follow orders to the letter.’ When it was announced that Felicity would become the next ‘purple-blood,’ a joke quickly made the rounds: ‘They didn’t ask Felicity if she would kill when told to. They asked her if she would stop killing when ordered to.’ For over a year, Nearby had shared a shower room with Felicity at the MI6 spy hostel on the Edgware Road, not far from Marble Arch (how kind of Queen Elizabeth, thought Nearby, to provide a hostel for the junior spies of her realm). Felicity’s small R A TGWF1 swastika tattoo was discretely concealed in a larger one, but the anthem of anti-Semitism was there all the same. When C’s fasttrack protégé moved out of the hostel to her own house in the suburb Balham, suddenly able to afford the mortgage, it was no surprise. Nearby had overheard Felicity say to ‘Prosthetics John’ (of the MI6 prosthetics laboratory) that she would ‘sort out’ the black couple living next door there, if they annoyed her. Later at Blanka’s house, over a cup of one of Blanka’s unique tea blends, Nearby explained to her and Hart what had gone wrong. ‘I felt sick. Debbie had told me ‘bout what the junior girls c-call, Sp-p-pecial-C. …C-C did cunni-l-lingus, with rice pa-p-per inside Debbie, the d-day bef-fore, in his private dining room, with his b-butler on guard outside the door. I wanted to quit Wonderland.’ Blanka put her arm around Nearby. ‘That dick-shit. Did he offer her a promotion?’ Nearby nodded. ‘Debbie must report it to Dr Fox. C should be arrested. He won’t be, but he should be. Still you need to report it anyway.’ Much to Nearby’s relief, Hart, having had a couple of White Canadians (his favourite Kahlúa cocktail), turned the conversation to one of his more eccentric preoccupations: whether human canines, referring to our teeth not our dog companions, were the mark of Cain, and singled humans out as killers. The Professor revealed that men had the smallest canines of any male ape, and that this reflected reduced dimorphism between the sexes. ‘So, women will rule the world,’ Blanka asserted. ‘Yes, but which k-kind of women?’ Nearby had asked. In Nearby’s soul, her failure at the hearing – which unleashed her lookalike as an OhZone – haunted her. It could jeopardize Blanka’s life. And Nearby owed everything to Blanka: her whole new life; her very life itself. ‘What w-was it Kurt Vonne-g-gut said?’ she blurted out. ‘If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are armed with A K-K-47s? Was that it? Alright, if there’s n-nothing else for it, RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 23 I’ll learn to f-f-fire a gun!’ Nearby’s curious comment struck an uneasy chord within Blanka, but she dismissed it. ‘Unfortunately,’ she announced, ‘you may be eventually able to fire a gun at another human being, but if you actually gave angels AK-47s, they might not use them. It might go against their nature to kill even devils. Be they female or male.’ For the rest of afternoon tea, Hart frequently glanced at the shy, stuttering Irish woman who so uncannily resembled Felicity; and from that day on, he looked on Nearby with a new respect. Felicity dove athletically across the floor, aiming both Sig 321 pistols at a spot on the padded concrete wall. Then she rolled, aiming them this way and that, revealing a tattoo on her arm: a fearsome portrait of Genghis Khan with a hidden swastika. ‘Go,’ she yelled. The lighting dimmed and moving targets of human shapes appeared in different doorways and windows in rapid succession, two at a time. Felicity emptied the clip in one gun – the .45 FCP rounds tearing gaping holes in the heads of three men, a woman and two children – before taking aim with the other. Suddenly, the lights were switched back on, and she jumped up, looking cheated, concealing the unused pistol down the back of her jeans. Arms approached, and looked her in the eyes. At five eleven, Felicity was the same height as him; he tried not to be distracted by the startling green contact lenses over her AI eyes. ‘I’m sure I made the rules of engagement clear to you,’ he said. ‘You’re not supposed to shoot the children.’ Felicity sauntered closer, allowing him a good view of her TGWF1 breasts. ‘And with your previous –’ Arms lost his train of thought. He hadn’t had sex in a long time, and wasn’t going to argue with a débutante OhZone AI with a loaded pistol in her pants. Thinking of something to say, he let his eyes run down her Vetements cross-cut skinny Levis, to her signature Jimmy Choo Myren Flat over-the-knee boots (which C and everyone else called her fuck-me boots). ‘New boots are they?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ said Felicity. ‘I got them in Paris. Scattered Crystals finish.’ ‘Very chic,’ he said, holding out his hand for the first 321. She handed it over, and he confirmed it was empty. ‘The other one?’ he said. Felicity leaned forward and pulled out the pistol. Arms took it, and shook his head, ‘Safety on, OhZone 7!’ He pulled out the clip. ‘Your colleagues chamber these for 9mm Luger, or point 357. Why d’you have to have a larger calibre?’ Felicity put on her seductive face, ‘I intend to make an impact.’ A big impact hole, she confided to Hebe. ‘And look at this,’ she added, bending over further reaching into her purse. She removed a sheet of paper and handed it to him. Arms unfolded it. The MI6 memo was signed ‘C,’ in green ink. Re. Testing of point 45 Depleted Uranium Rounds Chief Firearms Officer Marians, Newly appointed agent ℧7 is hereby authorised to use the above for test purposes, with immediate effect. Arms nodded. ‘Don’t you have a husband to go home to?’ ‘I’m running Cloud Nine tonight,’ Felicity ran her tongue over her lips. ‘Come along to the bar.’ R A E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 25 ‘I don’t have time for the Wonder Bar. How come you’re running it? You only got back from Paris yesterday.’ ‘I’m popular.’ ‘You’re trouble. Anybody ever told you that?’ ‘Yes.’ Felicity stepped close enough to envelope him in her fragrance. La Bombe, thought Arms. Sums her up in two words. ‘Isn’t that what a man wants?’ Felicity continued. ‘A little trouble just to spice things up?’ She wrapped her fingers around the barrel of the pistol, and lifted it from his hand. ‘Where’s the harm? I was hoping you’d give me private lessons.’ ‘You’d need extra-thick sandbags to use depleted uranium rounds.’ ‘I know you’ve got extra-thick. I’ve been watching you.’ Arms could feel his resolve crumbling. ‘Man’s gotta be a fool,’ he said. ‘You not a little trouble, you’re a whole lot of trouble.’ Felicity smiled. ‘You can handle it, just like the uranium rounds. Wouldn’t you like to handle it? I’m running Cloud Nine again on Sunday night. We can chat, and then come in here.’ Arms took a deep breath, ‘All right, Robinson,’ he said. Zürich, Switzerland. Zoologischter Garten, District 7. The Novichok Metapox weapon. In summer of 2011, Blanka Maguire’s interest in animal conservation took her to Zürich for a week-long conference. On the third day, a woman, whose voice gave her away as TGWF1 obviously Russian, telephoned Blanka from a burner* that she had bought for cash an hour before [* disposable prepaid cellphone]. ‘My name is Diana Grinin,’ the woman said. ‘You may have heard of my husband.’ In espionage circles, her husband, Major Grigori Grinin, was known as the head of the shadowy Novichok Institute in Moscow and inventor of the deadly Metapox virus. And, Blanka knew, he was the man who had saved her mother’s life in St Petersburg – when Kitty was in pursuit of the Fatima Secret. He was also a famous chess grandmaster and Nobel laureate. ‘Yes,’ she replied, in her best diplomatic voice. ‘I know who he is.’ ‘I have been told you would be a person to contact if…’ Blanka waited a few seconds. When the other side of the line continued to remain silent, she spoke again. ‘Yes, I know Major Grinin is a master of chess. We have excellent players in my country too. I myself play from time to time. Are you calling to perhaps arrange a match?’ ‘Yes, yes, he would like to have a match arranged.’ The words tumbled out of Diana Grinin. Blanka sensed the relief in them. ‘Perhaps a match in England? I know a number of people who would jump at the chance to play him. Would you like to have a match arranged in London? Is that why you are calling?’ ‘Yes. To arrange a match,’ Diana said emphatically. ‘In London. He very much wishes to play in London.’ ‘I assure you that can be arranged,’ said Blanka. ‘Thank you,’ came the reply at the other end. Blanka wondered how much effort it had cost Diana to make that call. Blanka knew that Grinin was architect of a new generation of smart chemical and germ warfare weapons. If she contacted the powers that be in MI6, would they accept a defection and protect him? Or would they jail and torture him after false promises? And there was always the chance they would simply kill him. The ‘easy’ solution. Blanka seriously wondered if she should even speak further to his wife. Diana didn’t want to meet face to face, but over the next two days they had several phone discussions in which she relayed the terms for Grinin’s defection to London. What Blanka remembered most from the phone conversations occurred at the end of the second call, when Grinin’s young wife tried to explain why her husband was defecting. ‘He has had a change of heart,’ she said. Complex passwords and recognition codewords (often question-answer-confirmations) are used everywhere in Intelligence, and are called ‘paroles.’ During the winter nights, an agitated Grinin – her hulking brown-eyed KGB husband – drilled Diana on their approach to Blanka and MI6, so they wouldn’t fall into anybody’s trap. A distant relative of the Jewish writer Boris Pasternak, hiding and escape from persecution ran in Diana’s blood. Such was the importance that MI6 placed on Grinin’s defection that the Russia Desk deployed 30 field agents on countersurveillance at Heathrow, Helsinki and Zürich airports. Operation Zoo Time was led by assistant Russia Desk director, Jude Robinson, Felicity’s husband, and the younger of a pair of Australian brothers who were both agents. Blanka had nicknamed the pair after English novels she liked. The older Robinson, ‘Crusoe,’ had joined OhZone at the same time as her. Later, she christened the younger brother after Thomas Hardy’s 1894 novel, Jude the Obscure, because ‘Jude’ Robinson seemed R A E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 27 TGWF1 older than his 30 years, with the burdens of his love-life – in the form of Felicity – well exceeding his ability to triumph. As the day scheduled for the Grinins’ ‘Christmas shopping trip’ to London approached, Blanka made another trip to Zürich. Jude and Nearby had ridden shotgun as far as central Zürich. At that point Jude staked out the Swiss RailAway station, while Nearby visited James Joyce’s grave at Fluntern. Blanka got a taxi via the FIFA headquarters in the wooded hills of Zürichberg; her rock band’s Roads to Moscow played in her head as she gazed at the trees zipping by. Under hazy sunshine, Blanka made her way through the tourists at Zoologischer Garten carrying a battered knapsack. Although she had flown into Switzerland as a 35-year-old Helsinki businesswoman, she now appeared as the 60-year-old South African round-the-world traveller, Britt Potgeiter, in spectacles and a gray wig. On her highly detoured train journey from Zürich-Kloten airport through central Zürich to Zoo Zürich in the Fluntern Quarter of District 7, Blanka had stopped for refreshments or the rest room no less than eight times. She changed her clothes and wig twice, and eventually changed a black Samsonite carry-on case for the knapsack. She tore herself away from the Asian elephants swimming underwater and walked towards the tigers. A rare pair of Sumatran tiger twins had just come on display at the zoo; it was there that Blanka met Diana in the flesh for the first time. She stood beside Diana, and studied her surreptitiously. We could almost be related, Blanka thought, I have Russian ancestors. Our deep blue eyes mark us out. She’s quite beautiful with the white rose in her hair. Blanka took a step closer, and spoke the parole, quietly, in perfect German: RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 29 ‘Was ist in einem Namen?’ [What’s in a name?] Diana replied, in broken German, ‘That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.’ As sunlight fell on Diana’s face, Blanka watched her eyes sparkle. Then she completed the parole. ‘So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection.’ Which he owes without that title, thought Diana. They looked closely at the tiger cubs and smiled naturally. ‘Everything is agreed,’ Blanka said, under her breath. ‘Is River Heights central?’ whispered Diana. Blanka nodded, and then glanced at Diana’s abdomen. Hidden by Blanka’s contact lenses – engineered to mask emotion in her AI eyes – a soft violet tint washed over the lenses. It was something that happened whenever an OhZone processed new information or strong emotion. ‘You’re pregnant,’ she said with a broad smile. ‘And with twins!’ ‘Jesus!’ Diana said, astonished. ‘You AIs don’t miss a trick.’ Blanka tapped her eyes, and said, ‘OhZone vision comes in handy. When are they due?’ ‘March,’ she answered. Diana took the white rose from her hair – held it so they could both smell it – the aroma of angels, remembered Blanka, rarefied and pure – and handed it to her. Then Diana walked away, having discretely picked up the battered knapsack. Blanka lingered with the Sumatran tigers, admiring their strength and dignity, even in captivity. She thought of her own animals; not just her horses, and her cat, but the hundreds of endangered wild animals that she used her wealth to protect. TGWF1 Arriving at the nondescript suburbs of District 7 again, Diana gazed out the window of the RailAway train. She quickly retrieved two empty attaché cases from a luggage locker at the SBB terminal in District 1, and then went ‘dry cleaning’ to reveal any tails she might have on her. One hour, one bus, one discarded knapsack, and no tails later, Diana crossed west over the River Limmat again, now on a tram. She stepped off it, with the attaché cases, at Bahnhofstrasse, the most expensive retail property in Europe. She strolled into number 9, the main office of the quiet canton bank, Zürcher Kantonalbank. In a plush basement office, she was served a Rosabaya coffee. The attaché cases beside her contained the British Government’s one hundred million US dollars, that Blanka had brought as sweetener for Major Grinin to bring his Novichok expertise to the West. Diana furnished the bank official with her husband’s safe deposit box number, and showed him the worn bronze key. At his first appearance on the Steve Wright in the Afternoon radio show, Major Grinin summed up their defection by saying: ‘We decided to defect to the West End. We came to London Christmas shopping, and never went home.’ On Thursday, 15th March 2012, on the seventh floor of St Thomas’ Hospital, SE1 (half a mile along the South Bank from MI6) on Nightingale Ward, Diana gave birth to healthy identical twins. She had opted to labour in water. And because her father (the renowned Moscow professor of obstetrics) was to attend, in addition to the usual St. Thomas’ team, the maternity unit had RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 31 agreed to its first birth of a twin in water. ‘Baby A’, Emma, was the long water birth and weighed 5 lbs 4 oz. ‘Baby B’, Olga, was delivered thirty minutes later by Caesarean section and weighed 4lbs 6oz. Later, Diana proudly listened to Grinin quote her on the radio. ‘Water, my beautiful wife has explained to me, encourages you to relax, and can make your contractions feel less painful.’ She loved her husband with typical Russian passion. Grinin told the Radio 2 audience how pleased he was that his daughters were born at the hospital where Florence Nightingale (the hero of the Crimea, the last war between Britain and Russia) founded the first school of nursing. Blanka, who was with Diana in the hospital, whispered to her, ‘Florence Nightingale’s one of my heroes. I have her book Cassandra.’ On the day that they were born, Emma and Olga became citizens of the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the Borough of Lambeth. Four days later, when Blanka drove the baby girls and Diana home to River Heights, they became residents of Westminster

for her philanthropy and her devotion to the conservation and protection of animals, as she was for her success as a bass guitarist, and DJ on the music scene. But at eighteen (because of her grandfather, U.S. Admiral William Virgil Maguire) she had pledged allegiance to the more savage gods of Jason Bourne and James Bond. As she strode out of the elevator, Blanka mustered a happy smile, then turned her head the other way as she walked past the spiral staircase that led to Floor 13, and C’s offices and private dining room. The indicator for Floor 6 lit, the lift doors closed behind her, and the elevator descended. Blanka walked lightly across Floor 12 toward the OhZone office, where she exchanged smiles with several of the staff on the

Russia Desk, including her particular friend, a tall Irish woman; an agent who was known to everyone by an adjective that was also an adverb: ‘Nearby.’ Nearby had worked for MI6 less than four years but, with an astounding talent for Russian, she had risen through the ranks of its most important bureau, the Russia Desk. With her quiet efficiency, and time for everyone, Nearby was universally liked – except by one newly trained and programmed OhZone agent. Felicity. Six floors below, the elevator doors opened again, and another tall woman – an English boarding-school girl called Felicity – sauntered into it from the South America Desk. Felicity pressed the button for level -3, and then entered a secret ‘go to and wait’ code given to her by C. Producing an expensive eau de toilette from a Bulgari bag – Didier Potters’

La Bombe – Felicity sprayed it on her hair. Just the day before, she’d graduated as the latest OhZone agent – against the wishes of Blanka, the CIA, NATO, and the people who ran the OhZone laboratory. Now, she was to receive a pair of pistols specially made for her. Two hand-print-coded, .45 calibre, Sig Sauer P321s. When she approached the chief firearms officer, ‘Arms,’ a middle-aged man with an uneasy face, he shook his head at her from behind his desk.

I don’t have time for you now, Robinson. Your practice is booked for 16:00. Come half an hour early to unwrap them,’ he laughed, ‘if you want.’ Now, with a few minutes to spare before her scheduled practice, Felicity looked in the elevator mirror, took her pink-red lip gloss from the handbag, pursed her lips, and applied it. She thought of Nearby – because Nearby was her dead ringer. With matching physiques, and nut brown hair, they looked as alike as two peas in a pod. ‘Pfft,’ she said aloud. ‘Identical! I’ve got 25 millimeters on that Irish bitch. And, now…’ She stopped, and focused on her new in-board AI back up: her Hebe. Rubbing her lips together, Felicity silently asked: What do you say, Hebe? How do I compare with Nearby? You are 100 pounds stronger, La Bombe, and far more powerful! Hebe answered using the pet name which C had given Felicity during their sex play, and which Felicity had programmed her to use. Hebe had also absorbed much of her host’s personality during their gestation of 40 days and nights inside the OhZone processing machine in Paris, France. Her Hebe spoke English with a German accent. In Paris, Felicity had programmed its voice with readings of digital voice poetry, and then added the German accent, so the voice would please her every time it spoke. It was her own idea; and she loved her Hebe’s voice nearly as much as her own.Before Nearby’s suddenappearance, Felicity had been regardedas the best looking woman in Vauxhall Cross, anattribute shehad used tirelessly to her advantage. With Nearby’s arrival,Felicity not only had alookalike, but a rival. She was horrifiedto watch Nearby rising above her in the service to amore seniorposition on a more prestigious desk.Felicity watched the lift doors open, revealingthe main corridoron level -3 once again. She took a hairbrush from her bag,brushedherhair, and considered it in the mirror. None of thatmatters any more. I’m anOhZone. The most powerful womanin the world. Obediently, the elevator doors remainedopen.But if I want to get his help with the uranium rounds, I mustlook my best, andsmell my best for Arms. She sniffed theperfume on her hair approvingly. Then she exercisedher facemuscles. ‘Hair down is too much, I think.’ And she tied back herhair. Then,returning her mind to Hebe, she asked, How do Ilook?You are the most beautiful, Hebereplied, on cue.Of them all? quizzed Felicity, quoting the famous rhyme, andlaughingaloud.Of them all, said Hebe, with emphasis.Felicity felt that her Hebe was smilingtoo. But could she smile?he didn’t have a face, did she?She eyeballed her reflection,thenbreathed heavily on themirror, steaming it up. After a few moments, she leanedin,anddrew a flower, partly revealing her face in the mist.RA E C H E L S A N D S ≥ 19‘Prettyflower,’ she said aloud to the image. ‘See now, Hebe, youhave my pretty face! AndI’msmiling – so you must be smilingtoo!’ She pursed her lips, and kissed the mirror.‘Mwah.’Pressing the button to undo the wait code, Felicity stepped outof the lift, andstrode into the MI6 firing range.2*OhZone.The OhZone upgrade – to human-AIhybrid – was a1980s brainchild of two diving buddies from Harvard MedSchool. One wasAfrican American Dr Ray Oxberry – theconfidante of Blanka’s murdered mother, Kitty. Theother waswhite protestant American, Professor Max Hart – who wenton to marry Kitty, andthus become Blanka’s stepfather.OhZone was named after the highly unusual OH- ions andozone in the luto-hemerythrin rings of an agent’s blood –giving it a distinct purple hue – andgiving the agents theunique moniker ‘purple-blood.’ Originally sited in Rome, thelab wasmoved by Dr Oxberry (after the 1999 murder of KittyMaguire) to its present location deepunder the medieval centreof Paris. Before Felicity, only six candidates had ever passedthrough the half-a-billion-dollars-a-pop, six month OhZoneprogram, so competition wasstiff.