It was a good cover, mused Bryony as the train gradually put on speed and dropped down into the mouth of the tunnel. How little her innocuous-looking travelling companions knew of the momentous role she was about to play.
For a few moments her mind played with the encrypted message that had propelled her into this venture. The attacking unit rendered the plant permanently ineffective. However, they found evidence that a quantity of fissile material had been removed prior to the operation. The likelihood is that there was sufficient to construct a device …
‘Excuse me’, the girl seated opposite her leaned forwards and broke her reverie, ‘but aren’t you Professor Walters from Pasadena?’
‘I am. But I hardly expected to be recognised here, in Europe. Can I ask how you came to know who I was?’
‘But you’re famous! I mean, the work you’re doing. It’s groundbreaking!’
‘But how did you come to know …?
‘The recent review in The Scientific American – on your paper on interplanetary travel. I’m doing an ‘A’ level in physics. And I read it of course.’
Bryony was really too preoccupied with more immediately pressing concerns to engage in polite conversation with an admirer. Little she knew about the other – secret – side of her life as a specialist agent with Interpol. And God, what a creature she looked. If she came to me for an interview for a place in my department she’d get short thrift. Why on earth would she be interested in what a top scientist had to say. Surely some pop idol would have more appeal to her.Some of the other passengers looked up from their books and newspapers and whatever else occupied them. A smartly dressed elderly woman murmured, ‘space travel … I always wondered how all that expense could be justified with all the poverty in the world …’
Bryony did not rise to the remark. She had had to justify what she did so many times in the past that now she wearied of it. Another passenger, a tall,white haired man commented, ‘You may be right. But there’s something more noble about space exploration that the obscenity that’s just about to start in Paris.’
‘The G8?’ put in another, a younger, smartly dressed woman. ‘Face facts – this is the 21st century. Don’t believe all you hear from the anti-capitalists …’
A heated conversation ensued. Bryony kept quiet and looked away. In the corner of the compartment was the one other passenger who showed no sign of interest in the argument being flung backwards and forwards. A tall, gaunt young man, shabbily dressed. Bryony noticed the aluminium case that he had pushed under the seat, now part concealed by his incongruously polished shoes. Odd, too, that she should be holding a copy of the Financial Times. He came over more as an impecunious artisan than anyone with an interest in investments and economics.
As the exchangegrew even more heated she found her thoughts drifting again. … which would have a yield of up to 10 kilotons. Serious consideration must be given to the possibility that such a weapon might have got into the hands of an extremist group. It is essential that all Western governments be vigilant …’
‘Anyway’ an elegant, expensively dressed young man with a French accent put in, ‘I do wonder if you’ve all chosen to visit my capital city at the right time. The security is going to be very tight. It might not be easy to get around.’
You are certainly right there, mused Bryony, but you can have no idea just how tight it will be. And what it is that we are out to prevent. And that should that security fail you, me and tens – no, hundreds – of thousands of other people will be dead by this time tomorrow.’
For the first time the tall, unkempt youth looked up and gazed quizzically at the Frenchman.
The train slowed down, coming eventually to a halt. Bryony wondered what was going on. She guessed that they must be just about half way through the Channel Tunnel.
… we believe that the device is intended to be detonated by a sophisticated timing mechanism, giving whoever places and conceals it time to get well away before it detonates …
Minutes passed. The train remained completely stationary. At last an announcement echoed through its length:
‘Ladies and gentlemen – we are very sorry to inform you that there has been a major security alert and we have been told not to proceed. It may be that we cannot continue with our journey until tomorrow morning. We deeply regret the inconvenience that this will cause’.
Bryony saw the look of horror on the shabby young man’s face. His legs flexed as if trying to push the metal case away from him under the seat.