Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mid-season break II

As you may have noticed, story episodes have been a bit thin on the ground of late due to other pressures on my time/energy. Rather than continue to fight this in a state of denial (which is killing the joy somewhat), I have decided to embrace it and take the (self-enforced) pressure off. Mystic Mog is therefore taking another short break and should be back later in January.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Chapter 16.1

Alec Watson was grinning from ear to ear as he pressed the accelerator a little harder in his gun-metal grey Ford Focus. He was finally free from Sir Henry Ponsenby-Brown and all the stupid politics that went with shepherding him around. The M4 was surprising light on traffic for mid morning and that was another contributing factor to his buoyant mood as it gave him the space to put his foot down.
  Sir Henry probably thought that he had selected the Ford Focus just to annoy him. Sir Henry did not approve of American cars. Or Japanese cars. Or any cars that were not “British”. The fact that Aston Martin was owned by Ford for most of the last two decades - and Sir Henry’s other favourite “British” brands were now German - apparently did not matter.
  In reality, the fact that he had managed to irritate the hell out of the old tosspot was just delicious icing on an already tasty cake. Whilst all that he had said about keeping a low profile was true, that was also only part of the story. Alec had chosen the Ford Focus for what was on the inside just as much as its everyman exterior, for this was no ordinary Ford Focus.
  As his speed crept up to one hundred miles an hour, a small warning chime reminded him of this fact. He was approaching a static speed camera. He smiled and pressed the pedal slightly harder.
  At the front of the car, the number plate rotated and revealed a small LCD screen. This would normally be programmed to show an appropriate license number, depending on whether Watson needed to have a visual alibi or was looking to misdirect. Today, however, he was feeling a bit cheeky and so it simply displayed a smiley face.
  The smile was mirrored by Watson himself as red brake lights flashed ahead, signalling the compliance of his fellow motorists. Fortunately, they had left the fast lane clear, so there was no need for Watson to follow suit. As the camera itself came into view, Watson noticed the windscreen darken slightly as the second countermeasure kicked in. A pair of sensors behind the headlights tracked the precise elevation and distance to the speed camera and the car’s windscreen projected a false image, obscuring Watson and replacing him with another driver. The quality of the image would not fool anyone reviewing footage of a high resolution camera but usually worked well enough for the average speed camera monitor - especially when travelling at speed. And Watson was travelling at speed.
  Before leaving London, Watson had toyed with the idea of programming Sir Henry’s details into the camera countermeasure but decided that there was too much danger of getting him in trouble if it was ever picked up by facial recognition. Instead, any camera operator following up a grey Ford Focus travelling at 107 miles per hour would see the grinning face of the Dalai Lama behind the wheel instead. Although there was still the chance this might spark a diplomatic incident, the Dalai Lama was currently four and a half thousand miles away in India so the chance was remote. Besides, everyone knew that the Dalai Lama drove a Suzuki Alto when he was in the UK.
  The camera passed, Watson’s windscreen flickered clear again. He decided to leave the number plates until he was over the Severn Bridge, though, in case any conscientious citizens reported him. As it was, he had to ease down to 85 miles per hour as a few other cars took advantage of passing the speed camera themselves and pulled out into the fast lane. Watson was not bothered, though. There was a four-lane section of the motorway coming up and unless the traffic suddenly got heavier, he should be able to open up the Focus again. He might even try out the nitrous oxide.
  He smiled again at the thought. The final reason he had opted for the Focus was that he simply enjoyed driving it. Although the handling and performance had been improved beyond a standard model, he knew that the Aston Martin was the better car. Nonetheless, the Aston just did not feel like the kind of car Alec Watson should be driving - it had Charles Wainbridge written all over it and an excessive payload of surface-to-air missiles to prove it. Watson, on the other hand, had a soft spot for the Focus after too many hours playing Colin McRae Rally on the PlayStation in his formative years. A large part of him was looking forward to recreating those Rally GB moments, driving around the back roads of Wales at dangerous speeds.
  The happy memories were interrupted as another warning chime sounded. This time, a mobile speed trap had been detected ahead. A yellow box appeared on his windscreen HUD, centred on a bridge in the distance. It promptly shifted to the top right of the windscreen out of Watson’s direct vision and zoomed in to show a parked Traffic police car with two coppers manning a radar gun.
  Ahead of him, the traffic was slowing once again to a tight 70 miles per hour and pulling in to middle lane anonymity. Watson considered doing the same but he was enjoying himself too much. It was fun to try out the gadgets when the situation was not one of life and death, just in case there were any issues. Being caught speeding would be a minor inconvenience, at worst. As the road ahead cleared, Watson accelerated once more.
  Watson’s speeding Focus quickly became the focus for the policeman on the bridge and the yellow box turned red as the radar gun was pointed straight at him. Within milliseconds, the car’s own emitter was jamming the signal with interfering frequencies and transmitting a new frequency that should doppler-shift back to the original transmitted by the radar gun itself.
  On the bridge, the policeman holding the gun frowned as it registered 3 miles per hour. Under the bridge, Alec Watson was grinning like a schoolboy. At this rate, he would be back in Swansea in time for lunch.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Chapter 15.5

“You know the drill, ladies,” bellowed Ronald from back atop the pipette tip box, “arseholes and elbows! Just because the institute is on lock-down, it doesn’t mean we can be a bunch of slackers. We’re Murines! Not a bunch of monkeys from the primate lab.”
  The declaration was greeted with a mixture of groaning, muttering and eye-rolling among the assembled mice. The exception was Mel, who snapped to a smart attention.
  “Sir, yes, Sir!” he squeaked.
  “Nim,” Ronald pointed with his match. “You, Disco, Mel and Luke are on tech duty.” He paused. “Where’s Luke?” he demanded.
  “Coming!” peeped a small mouse from beside the water bottle in the corner of the cage. “I was just taking my pill.”
  Nim watched him scurry up and squeeze into line beside her. Luke was so-named by the lab technicians because he had been a leukaemia animal model in Bristol University. They had supplied the pills he was taking when the trial had been cut short and he continued to take one a day. One day, Nim was going to ask him what was in them but somehow the time never quite seemed right.
  Ronald leant forward and stared at Luke sternly. “Quite ready?”
  Luke nodded mutely. Like Mel, he was terrified of “The Gouti”, who was twice his size.
  “Good.” Ronald pointed at Nim. “You’re with Nim, Mel and Disco on tech duty. Wierzbowski reported one of the wheels was a bit sticky yesterday.”
  “Number two,” Wierzbowski confirmed.
  “No one likes a sticky number two!” sniggered Hutch, beside him. Hutch was still sniggering as Ronald scampered over with surprising speed and jabbed him hard in the chest with his safety match baton.
  “You think there’s something funny about a sticky number two wheel?” Ronald asked, leaning in close until their whiskers were almost touching.
  Hutch pursed his lips tight, trying to think of an appropriate response. He was saved by Wierzbowski blurting out a repressed giggle of his own. Ronald left his stick pressing against Hutch’s chest but stepped one pace to the left, snapping his head round at the last minute to fix his gaze on the new transgressor.
  “Looks like we have today’s cleaning duty,” he announced, looking from one mouse to the other. He took another step to his left. “You too Tyree.”
  “Yes, boss,” Tyree muttered sullenly.
  Ronald took a step back and surveyed the line.
  “Now, does anyone else have anything to say?” he asked.
  The question was greeted by a general shuffling of feet and, with the exception of Nim, refusal to meet his stare.
  “Good. There’ll be no sticky number twos on my watch.” he told them. “Dismissed.”

Chapter 16.1 ☛

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Chapter 15.4

Detective Inspector Ifan Rhys-Morgan stared at PC Rhys Thomas until the big man began to feel rather uncomfortable, then glanced back down at the report. Rhys-Morgan had spent the night in the station and not enjoyed a particularly long or restful night’s sleep. He blinked a few times to get the words back into focus. They still said the same thing.
  “Tommo?” he sighed.
  “Yes, Guv?” answered Tommo, staring at a spot on the wall a foot or so above his superior’s head, hands clasped firmly behind his back.
  “Why didn’t you enter the building through the large hole blown in the front?”
  “The Element of Surprise, Guv.”
  Rhys-Morgan nodded slowly. “I see. And The Element of Surprise necessitated knocking another hole through the wall, did it? You couldn’t have just broken a window or something?”
  Tommo shrugged. “All the windows were already blown out by the blast, Guv.”
  “Of course they were, Tommo.” He sighed again. “And you think this... squirrel... is the mastermind behind the whole operation?”
  “Caught him red-handed, Guv,” Tommo smiled proudly. “Using The Element of Surprise!”

Chapter 15.5 ☛

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chapter 15.3

The atmosphere in Control’s office was definitely on the frosty side as Sir Henry took a seat next to Watson.
  “Good morning, Sir Henry,” greeted M. “I assume that you have been briefed about 001 by now?”
  Sir Henry nodded. “I’ve heard enough,” he answered, not wanting to hear the sordid details.
  “Good. With any luck, and a bit of plastic surgery, we expect Wainbridge to make a full recovery. In the meantime, we still need to sort out this shit storm that is taking place in Swansea.”
  Sir Henry opened his mouth to comment but the other man continued regardless. “I’ve just got off the phone with the PM. He’s keen for MI6 to take the lead on this one. I’m putting 003 on the case. He’ll be heading back to Swansea right after this meeting.”
  Sir Henry looked at M and then glared at Watson. “So, I’m losing my car as well as my driver?”
  “Alec was never on permanent assignment, Sir Henry.” M explained. “I’m sure you’ll get your old driver back. Er...”
  “Smithers,” Alec told him. “His normal driver is Smithers.”
  Alec turned to Sir Henry and met his stare, daring him to challenge the statement. “And don’t worry, Sir Henry. I think I should take the other car.”
  “The Aston?”
  “No, Sir Henry. The other car.”
  Sir Henry grimaced. He did not approve of the other car. Charles Wainbridge would not have taken the other car.
  “But,” he complained. “that’s the kind of car one of the office drones would drive. Good grief man, it’s not even British. Where’s your sense of style? Or patriotism!”
  “I’d prefer to be a bit less conspicuous, Sir Henry. An Aston Martin might draw a lot of unwanted attention in the valleys.”
  “Since when did that matter?” scoffed Sir Henry.
  “I’m in the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Henry,” Watson replied, coolly. “Perhaps I have misunderstood but I’ve always interpreted that to mean that the service should be secret, not the intelligence.”
  “You didn’t go to Eton, did you?” Sir Henry sneered.
  “Rhyl Valley Community College, Sir Henry,” Watson answered, emphasising Welsh accent.
  Sir Henry looked across at M, who wore the expression of someone waiting for events to take their course. He could tell that he was not going to win this one.
  “I’m not sure that the Home Secretary...”
  “You can tell the Home Secretary,” interrupted M, rising to his feet. “That I shall keep her informed of progress. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a potential terrorist threat to neutralise.”
  It took Sir Henry a few seconds to realise that he had been dismissed. He was never dismissed. The two MI6 men watched in silence as he stood, opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind and stormed out as words failed him.
  Sir Henry had barely cleared the office before M pressed a button on the underside of his desk and the door panel slid shut once more. At the same time, the office windows overlooking the Thames darkened as the anti-espionage screens were activated and a sixty inch touch-screen computer slid into view from the centre of the conference table.
  “Now, Alec.” said M, joining Watson on the other side of his desk. “Tell me what you know.”
  Watson summarised the visits Sir Henry had made to BIRD-FLU over the past couple of days. Although he did not like the man, he had to admit that he made very thorough case notes.
  “The police seem to think that a local pet shop owner, Peter Lloyd, is behind the original explosion,” he told M. “Professor Greenwood was just collateral damage. Sir Henry, on the other hand, seems to favour the Animal Liberation Front.”
  “He doesn’t approve of liberals or liberators,” Watson offered as way of explanation.
  “And you?” M asked.
  Watson’s hands skimmed over the screen with practised ease. The screen began populating with all the available information on Patrick Edwards, including the video footage that Watson had taken the previous night.
  “There’s something funny about the janitor, Patrick Edwards - also known as Ricky - and his relationship with the Professor,” Watson explained. “Stuff that was kept off his record. Then he was acting very strangely last night.”
  Alec paused the footage from the previous night as the figure in the cottage was holding the unknown object aloft. “I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, sir, but something about him just doesn’t seem right. Personally, I think that Patrick Edwards is our man.”
  M stood silently at the screen for almost a minute, taking in the information.
  “I find that highly unlikely, 003,” he said eventually.
  “Why is that, sir?” asked Watson, surprised that his superior had formed an opinion so quickly.
  M pointed at the bottom right corner of the screen where a police report from the night before was blinking.
  “According to Swansea CID,” he answered, “Edwards is dead.”

Chapter 15.4 ☛

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Chapter 15.2

“All right, ladies,” yelled Ronald, “what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Form up!”
  The other mice groaned at their large yellow-furred leader as he took up position on top of a small box of pipette tips on the lab bench outside their their cage. The furry ball of sleepy rodents slowly began to untangle itself as it did each morning in laboratory three of the Brecon Institute for Research and Development - Flavivirus and Lentivirus Unit.
  “Breakfast in bed would be nice,” muttered Tyree.
  “Ssshhh,” Mel told him. “The Gouti will hear you!”
  Apart from Ronald, Mel was the only non-white mouse in the lab and therefore carried a certain paranoia about standing out: paranoia that was not helped by his generally nervous disposition. Tyree grunted and buried his head into the shredded paper towel that served as bedding.
  “Why do you insist on calling him ‘The Gouti’?” Nim asked Mel.
  “Because he is a Gouti!” Mel answered.
  Nim rolled her eyes. “He’s agouti, not a Gouti! You're a research mouse. Don’t you know any mouse genetics?”
  Mel stared at her vacantly. Nim was not entirely sure why she seemed to be ten times smarter than the rest of the gang but she suspected that the answer lie in the mouse lab at the University of Bristol from whence they had come. It was not always easy being the clever one but she tried not to let it frustrate her.
  “Never mind,” she sighed. “C’mon.”
  The other mice were already beginning to assemble in a rough line in front of Ronald 'The Gouti' and Nim grabbed Tyree by the forelimb and dragged him after her, still protesting.
  “Move it, ladies,” Ronald goaded. If he had noticed the muttering, he was paying it no heed. “You ain’t being paid by the hour.”
  “We ain’t getting paid at all!” grumbled Tyree. “And I wish he’d stop calling us ladies. Nim’s the only girl here.”
  “I hear you there, brother,” answered Wierzbowski, lining up next to him.
  “I’m a girl!” said Disco from further up the line.
  “You’re not a girl, Disco,” Nim told him despairingly.
  “I am too,” Disco retorted proudly. “I’m transgender.”
  “You’re transgenic, you idiot!” Nim told him.
  “Quiet in the ranks!” Ronald snapped, with a hint of irritation, letting his gaze linger on Tyree. “You get paid by not being fed to a snake. NATO has given us refuge; given us purpose.”
  He jumped down from the box and walked the line in front of them, an extra long safety match tucked under his right arm like a sergeant major’s swagger stick.
  “Another glorious day in the Corps!” he told the assembled mice. “A day in the Murine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every formation a parade! I love the Corpse!”
  “Shouldn’t that be a silent p, sir?” Nim asked him.
  “If you’re lucky, son,” Ronald told her. “If you’re lucky.”

Chapter 15.3 ☛

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Chapter 15.1

Sir Henry strode up the steps of the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters at Vauxhall Cross in London, taking them two at a time. He was not a happy bunny. Ignoring his lack of lagomorphism, the causes of this were threefold.
  Firstly, he had been denied his usual driver and car for his journey from the Home Office. His annual request to excavate a secret tunnel under the Thames had been denied once again this year and so he had been forced to take a black cab. The journey had only lasted four minutes but that was hardly the point; in those four minutes he had heard considerably more about the plight of Chelsea and the folly of their new managerial appointment than he would care to know in four lifetimes.
  Secondly, before he left the Home Office, the Home Secretary had made it very clear to him that she was not very pleased with the Swansea situation. The morning news was full of stories about a terrorist attack on a High Street bank. Although there was not yet any connection to the possible murder of the NATO Professor, the fact that Sir Henry had been in the area the day before had the Home Secretary worrying that the press would soon link it back to her. He wondered for a moment when politicians had got so obsessed about their own job security rather than national security; probably around the time the plebs had castrated the monarchy. (Sir Henry approved quite strongly of monarchies and often wished that he had been born in an earlier age. The Victorians would not have reassigned the driver of a man in his position.)
  Thirdly, he had no sooner left the Home Secretary’s office when he had received the news of the accident that had befallen Charles Wainbridge. Her office was probably still echoing with his words, “we’ll putting our best man on it ma’am.” Now he was going to look like an idiot. Sir Henry did not approve of being made to look like an idiot, even if it was by a fellow Old Etonian like Wainbridge.
  He was still mulling over the triple injustice as he rode the lift to the top floor of the building. Hopefully, M would have some good news for him; if not, at least Sir Henry would have someone to vent his frustration on. Technically, Kevin was only answerable to the Foreign Secretary but as the official representative of the Home Office, Sir Henry could certainly make life uncomfortable for the other man.
  The lift arrived at its destination with a chime that was far too cheerful for Sir Henry’s mood and he was scowling by the time the doors had slid open to reveal the outer office of the Secret Intelligence Service’s inner sanctum.
  Sir Henry breathed in the varnished mahogany wall panelling as he stepped from the lift. He was greeted by M’s secretary, Veronica Shagpile, who had clearly been crying and had panda eyes; she was a big believer in traditional Chinese medicine and sometimes abused her position in MI6 to smuggle all sorts of things into the country.
  “Control is expecting you, Sir Henry,” Veronica told him, pressing a button under her desk that opened the concealed door to her left.
  “Thank you, Miss Shagpile,” Sir Henry answered, pretending not to see the eyes; she was obviously upset about Charles Wainbridge and he could not blame her for that. There would be much wailing in the toilet cubicles of 85 Albert Embankment before this day was over.
  “You’ve heard about Chuck?” she asked as he stepped towards the door.
  Sir Henry paused. “I’ve been told there was an accident,” he confirmed. “But I’ve not heard the details. A fall, wasn’t it?”
  Veronica nodded. “Climbing in Africa. Fortunately, he managed to deploy the emergency arse-flaps on his shorts but it was a bit too late and he’s broken both his arms and cracked a few ribs.”
  She felt her resolve weaken. “He landed on his face,” she sobbed. “His beautiful face.” By now, the door was fully open and Sir Henry resumed his stride with what he hoped was a sympathetic nod. In reality, there was still a trace of scowl and his expression ended up somewhere midway between consternation and constipation. Veronica gave him a weak smile in return and wiped her eye with a handkerchief that was somewhat too lacy to be standard government issue.
  The scowl returned in full when Sir Henry saw who else was in M’s office; at least now he knew why his driver had not picked him up this morning.

Chapter 15.2 ☛