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«Without warning», John Birmingham

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‘Union men?’

 

‘Workers,’ Maggie informed her. ‘Comrades from the docks at Calais. We’ll meet up with them and the others in Berlin, for the next rally, if you’re up for it. We really gotta keep Bush on the back foot. Mobilise the fucking streets against him.’

 

Caitlin tried to reach for any memories of the incident but it was like grabbing at blocks of smoke. She must have taken a real pounding in the fight.

 

‘I see,’ she said, but really she didn’t. ‘So I beat on these losers?’

 

Monique smiled brightly for the first time. ‘You are one of our tough guys, no? It was your surfing. You told us you always had to fight for your place on the waves. Really fight. You once punched a man off his board for… what was it… dropping in?’

 

Caitlin felt as though a great iron flywheel in her mind had suddenly clunked into place. Her cover story. To these women she was Cathy Mercure. Semi-pro wave rider. Ranked forty-sixth in the world. Part-time organiser for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a deep green militant environmental group famous for direct and occasionally violent confrontation with any number of easily demonised eco-villains. Ocean dumpers, long-line tuna boats, Japanese whale killers – they were all good for a TV-friendly touch-up by the Sea Shepherds. But that was her cover. Her jacket.

 

She took another sip of cool water and closed her eyes for a moment.

 

Her real name was Caitlin Monroe. She was a senior field agent with Echelon, a magic box hidden within the budgets of a dozen or more intelligence agencies, only half of them American. She was a killer, and these women were… for a half second, she had no idea. And then the memory came back, clear and hard: these women were not her targets, but they would lead her to the target.

 

Al Banna.

 

Caitlin cursed softly under her breath. She had no idea what day it was. No idea how long she’d been out, or what had transpired in that time.

 

‘Are you all right?’ It was the French girl, Monique. The reason she was here, with these flakes.

 

‘I’m cool,’ said Caitlin. ‘Do you mind?’ she asked, pointing at the television that hung from the ceiling. ‘I feel like I’m lost or something. How’d the peace march go?’

 

‘Brilliant!’ said the red-headed woman. Aunty Celia. She was a Liverpudlian with a whining accent like an ice pick in the eardrums. ‘There was ‘undreds of thousands of people. Chirac sent a message and all. Berlin’s gonna be huge.’

 

‘Really?’ said Caitlin, feigning enthusiasm. ‘That’s great. Was there anything on the news about it? Or about the war?’ she continued, pointedly looking at the television.

 

‘Oh sorry,’ muttered Monique as she dug another remote control out of the blankets on Caitlin’s bed. Or Cathy’s bed, as she would have thought of it.

 

A flick of the remote and the screen lit up.

 

‘CNN?’ asked Caitlin.

 

Monique flicked through the channels, but couldn’t find the news network. White noise and static hissed out of the television from channel 13, where it should have been. She shrugged. There was nothing on MSNBC either, just an empty studio, but all of the French-language channels were available, as was BBC World.

 

‘Can we watch the Beeb then?’ asked Celia. ‘Me French, you know, it’s not the best.’

 

Caitlin really just wanted to carve out a couple of minutes to herself, so she could get her head back in the game. Her injuries must be serious, having put her under for three days, and although her cover was still intact, she didn’t want to take any chances. She needed to re-establish contact with Echelon. They’d have maintained overwatch while she was out. They could bring her back up to-

 

‘Eh up? What’s this then?’ blurted Celia.

 


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