Paradise; to have given it any other name would have been to do it an injustice; and for all its occasional descents into wildly brewing tropical storms it still earned itself the name of paradise in so many ways. The sea was as blue as any island in the South Pacific; the prevailing wind just enough to freshen the luxurious heat. The sand was soft and pure, the palm trees tall and statuesque. Even the storms, when they came, had something of unquestionable beauty in them. Maybe it was because there were so few houses in the area to be bothered by the storms - most of the few permanent residents lived at the huge hotel, which remained unaffected by the most powerful of winds - but it often seemed that the violent, rushing winds and the lashing rain were nothing except a way of washing clean the canvas, so that the artist who had designed this strangely captivating piece of isolated magnificence could renew its beauty for all to admire.

RJ Spencer, more commonly known as Spence, and one time Lieutenant Commander in the elite Naval SEALs unit, stood alone on the wooden jetty at the house that he shared with his daughter Jessica, and his partner Martin Brubaker. From his current vantage point he could look far out to sea, to a world that could be at once both beautiful and deadly; a world which had been his for half a lifetime, and was even more so now that his military career had come to an end. He had been living in this isolated place - this paradise - for a year now, but he still marvelled over the fates that had brought him here; the strange combination of events which had caused him to quit the SEALs and try for something new. It had brought him a lifestyle that he could not have begun to wonder at just a few short years ago; the free and easy life of a mercenary, coupling the virtual isolation of his secluded house - a welcome contrast to the communal living quarters of the SEALs - with all that he had ever loved about the nautical existence he had chosen for a career.

A bird shrieked, and Spence looked up for a second, watching in speechless wonder at its simple beauty and incredible strength. He had what amounted to almost total freedom of movement out at sea, but so far flight eluded him. For a fraction of a second he wondered whether there might be some adjustment that Bru could make to their boat - the priceless Thunder Scarab - then he laughed at himself for even considering it. Even if it were possible, Bru would probably be horrified at the suggestion that he spoil Thunder's sleek good looks with something so unsightly as a pair of wings. He had developed an almost paternal affection for the boat, and treated it much like a pet. Certainly it had vocal capabilities, and responded in much the same way as any computer fitted with advanced voice-operated software; but to hear Bru talk to it one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was some floating KITT; a sentient computer controlled vehicle with a definite life of its own.

"Man, is it hot." Momentarily startled at the sudden sound of his voice in the previous silence, Spence almost jumped, then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and wandered further on down the jetty, considering a swim. A tall man, well above six feet and with the musculature to match, he sometimes seemed ungainly on land; but in the water it was a different question. There he could move with a freedom otherwise known only to astronauts, and enjoy a silence and a view that many people went their whole lives without experiencing. It would be cool down there, and he could relax for a bit, before Jessica came home from school and he had responsibilities to live up to once again.

"Damn. Behave won't you? Man, anybody would think you didn't want to be fixed." The voice came from the other side of the jetty, where Thunder was berthed, and again Spence jumped at the suddenness of the volume; then he grinned. It was Bru of course, engaged in another of his conversations with the main love of his life. He seemed to spend a large part of the day arguing with the boat, tinkering with bits and pieces of its circuitry and with equipment that Spence himself could not even begin to identify. Martin Brubaker was a born clown; a man who seemed to delight in taking every available opportunity to act the fool; but the act merely hid the truth about the man. He was a genius in the true sense of the word, whose knowledge of computers far outstripped that of almost any other person alive. He could build just about anything, from scratch, and had done so on more than one occasion; saving more than a few lives in the process. Somewhat more quick-tempered than his partner, and rather more prone to act without thinking, Brubaker needed Spencer's calming influence; and together they were a team to be reckoned with. They thought and acted almost like one.

"What is it this time, Bru? Bilges need pumping?" Grinning widely Spence peered over the side of the boat, looking down at his best friend, who was crouched on the deck with a wrench in one hand and some piece of equipment of his own devising in the other. Bru glared at him.

"Ha ha. Very funny." He gestured at a hatch opened before him, beneath which were visible a selection of coloured wires and a number of box-like black items, which Spence could only imagine were part of the boat's vital organs. "Just re-calibrating these things here, and, er, that thing over there." He gestured rather vaguely at something beyond Spencer's vision. "I thought I'd patch in these new circuits I designed. Should give us greater resolution on the satellite link-ups."

"Good. It'll make it a lot easier to catch the wrestling when we're at sea." Spencer climbed aboard, taking extreme care where he put his feet, and slapped the boat's main control panel. "Afternoon."

"Voice identified. Spencer, one-five-eight-three." Thunder's harsh voice blared at him from the hidden speakers. "Welcome aboard."

"Thanks." His expression showing faint amusement, Spencer opened the hatch leading below decks, and sat down at the top of the steps. "Just as a matter of interest, what would it do to me if it didn't identify my voice?"

"Do you want me to demonstrate?" There was a childlike enthusiasm in Bru's voice, and Spence shook his head immediately.

"No thanks. I was just wondering."

"Oh it's nothing. I decided the old electric shock thing was a bit outdated, so I added in a few extras. We now have full ejector capabilities, plus knockout gas." The childish grin crept back out. "Just in case."

"Yeah, right." Spence sighed, looking strangely contemplative. "But to be honest, we haven't had a case in so long I'm beginning to think we're not going to need all this for much longer."

"Are you kidding?" There was something very like hurt in Bru's voice. "There's something coming, pal, just you wait and see. As if the world could do without us to fight the bad guys." He stood up and stretched, revealing to the world that, for all his intellectual capabilities, he was far from being a traditional geek. Whilst he was considerably smaller than the almost abnormally large Spencer, Bru was a strong and physically capable man in his own right, as much at home in the water as on dry land, and nearly Spence's equal in combat. What he lacked in sheer strength, he made up for in stamina and speed, and added fluent martial arts skills to Spencer's brute force and power. Their Naval CO had had to admit to a combination of regret and relief when the pair had announced their retirement; and his relief had been considerably outweighed by his regrets. The pair were trouble, there was no denying that. Spencer was a hard man to figure, and rather prone to sullen aloofness if a superior officer met with his disapproval; whilst Brubaker was, in all honesty, just plain weird. He was as likely to turn out for parade dressed in drag for a bet as he was to turn up in uniform - and had, in point of fact, done the former rather too often for the liking of certain officers. And yet, they were both talented and seasoned professionals, and for all their unconventionality they did know what they were doing. Their new station as mercenaries gave them the independence and the freedom to use their own methods, and the Navy had reaped the benefits of that arrangement more than once. The pair could go where official representatives of the military could not; and were untraceable to those in power. The only drawback was that they would take an assignment only if they approved - of the methods, the motives and the employer.

"Maybe we could run trips round the bay for the tourists," Spence muttered, continuing with his apparently depressed line of conversation. "Show them the sights."

"Like where we grabbed those poachers last month, and the place where we bagged that pirate gang the month before that." Bru sounded almost excited at the prospect; then stood up and began collecting together his tools. "Brother, do you have to get so damn miserable every time we go a fortnight without a call?"

"I'm not depressed." His tone of voice told otherwise. "I'm just…"

"Melancholy? Miserable? Downhearted? Despondent? Downca--"

"I get the message, Bru." Spencer climbed to his feet, clambering out of the boat and back onto the jetty. "Okay, so maybe I'm a little - a little - blue right now. It's the inactivity."

"You should get yourself a hobby." Always ready to help, whether his assistance was required or not, Bru looked momentarily thoughtful. "I could teach you to play the uke? Piano? Or the drums? We could get ourselves a little quartet going. Well, maybe not a quartet exactly; since there's only two of us. That could be our selling point. 'See the famous Half-A-Quartet, only in Paradise. Hear them--' "

"Bru, if you don't change the subject, you're going to playing in a different kind of Paradise." Suppressing a smile, Spence began to lead the way back to the house. "Jessica will be home from school any minute. I figured I'd take her for a drive somewhere. The cinema maybe."

"Great idea. You can depress her too." Bru ducked the mock blow aimed at his head. "It's a great idea, Spence. You can bond; you know - family stuff, like the Waltons. And I can get some work done on Thunder."

"Bru, there isn't any more work to do on Thunder. The only thing you haven't installed is the kitchen sink." The taller man sighed, knowing full well that his words would fall on deaf ears. Bru could no more leave Thunder alone than Spence himself could stop thinking about Jessica. Besides, there was no more time to continue the conversation, for they could already hear the footsteps of the young girl who had so strangely come to be a part of their lives. When Spence had married Jessica Whitaker's mother Megan, he had thought of it as no more than a business deal, to allow him to keep Thunder and Megan to keep her beloved beachside hotel. When she had died unexpectedly, however, Spence had found himself making the leap from being carefree and happily irresponsible to being full time father and mother combined. Admittedly Bru was always ready to help; but with Bru help was sometimes the last thing you wanted. The last time Jessica had gone to him for help - concerning her entry for the school science fair - he had wound up helping her to make a rocket, powered with real, high-octane fuel, which had flown three thousand feet straight up and incinerated the school flag; not to mention half of the other exhibits. It had come fairly close to taking the Principal with it, and whereas Spence was prepared to accept Bru's argument that this would have been for the good of all mankind, he was still inclined to think that he was better off keeping his partner's enthusiasm channelled into other, non-parental, areas.

"Dad! Uncle Bru!" The small girl ran towards them, hair streaming in the wind, her school bag dragging on the ground. She dropped it to make the not inconsiderable leap into her father's arms - she was not a particularly small child, but the top of her head reached his waist only if she stood on tiptoe - and hugged him tightly. "What's for tea?"

"What's for homework?" Bru caught up her fallen school bag. "Any French? I like French."

"You like my French teacher. There's a difference."

"There is?" He watched as she clambered back down to ground level, then shrugged. "I guess I'll see you two later."

"You do that." Spence guided his small daughter towards the four wheel drive truck which doubled as their family car. "That's if Jessica doesn't mind spending a night on the tiles with her dad."

"Cool." She vanished inside the car, and Spence got in beside her, wagging a finger at Bru.

"Don't stay up late, don't watch any scary movies, and be in bed by nine, young man."

"Goodbye, Spence." The younger man watched as his partner drove away, then shook his head and vanished into the house. It would be good to get some peace and quiet, and a little old fashioned solitude for a while; and besides, he never knew his luck; Kelly LaRue might drop by. He smiled at this thought, wondering if there was any way that he could get her to come over on some pretext. Maybe he could tell her that he had fallen in the sea, and needed a little CPR… Problem was, she would indulge his fantasy alright; by sending round Rachel Mendoza, the local nurse. Rachel was sixteen stone of good intentions, who had a crush on Bru as unyielding as her formidable grip. He smiled, closing the door behind him with little care, and headed for the kitchen. Making a Bru Special Soufflé always helped him to think. He reached for the radio, flooding the room with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and began to earnestly conduct with a wooden spoon. Such was the noise that he failed to notice the front door slipping open again; and then closing with a short, sharp click.


"Fifty grams of… make it sixty. And a kilo and a half of… What are you? I don't want you in my soufflé. Get out." Throwing some errant ingredient across the room, Bru frowned at his recipe book. It was a tradition with him that he always referred to one whilst cooking; and never did what it told him to. It was with this devoted care and attention to detail that he had invented culinary favourites such as marshmallow pizza and hazelnut bolognese; and had earned himself a reputation amongst his friends as a cook to be reckoned with. Admittedly they did tend not to get very many dinner guests, but Jessica never complained. Spence did; constantly, not that it got him anywhere. Bru's cooking was something to which he had long ago become resigned.

"Cheese…" Looking around, Bru frowned. He couldn't see the item in question anywhere, and ran his eyes over the piles of packets and bags on the worktop. There was sugar, flour, milk, an egg or two… spaghetti pieces in smoky bacon sauce, a half-bottle of white wine with a bendy straw stuck through a hole in the cork… half a tub of Rocky Road ice-cream… "No cheese. Great. How am I supposed to make a cheese soufflé without cheese?" He shrugged, dismissing the problem immediately. "No problem. I'll make something else." He turned his back on the rest of the kitchen, crouching down beside a cupboard to examine its treasure-trove of concealed ingredients. A loud click struck a hole through his consciousness, and he froze.

"Don't try anything Brubaker. I know all your tricks." The voice was low, barely above a whisper, and sounded hoarse. Bru frowned, trying to recognise it. There was something familiar about the accent just visible beneath the attempt at disguise.

"I doubt that." Keeping his tone jaunty and light, Bru rose to his feet, careful to move slowly and without the threat of action. "Have we met?"

"Yes." This time he thought that he could detect humour in the voice; as though the question was in some way funny; but he could think of no reason why it should be. Of all the people that he knew well enough to turn that question into a joke, the only one likely to pull a gun on him was Hammerhead; and this was not he. Bru would have known Hammerhead by the pressure of the gun against his skull; by the way in which he moved; by every tiny detail that his presence revealed. They had known each other too long and too well for anything else.

"Then who are you?" He started to turn, but the gun knocked against his temple, warning him to remain still. "You know, it's kinda rude to bust your way in like this, and then not even introduce yourself properly."

"I know. But I think I can live with the guilt." The gun tapped at him, seeming to indicate that he should move out of the kitchen and back towards the adjoining room; a living room and dining room combined. "Nice place you've got here."

"Thanks." Bru took it as a compliment, no matter how it was intended. He and Spence had built it themselves, and the electrical system was entirely Bru's design. Everything in the house was powered by a wind/solar generator out the back, with additional power (not that Spencer was aware of it) coming from the exercise bike in one corner of the main room.

"Security isn't up to much," his unseen assailant commented. Bru shrugged.

"There's nothing worth stealing," he said offhandedly. "So if you're looking for the mother lode, pal, you'd be better off trying someplace else."

"I know what I'm looking for." There was a short laugh, muffled somehow, as though his guest had a scarf wrapped around his mouth. "I know exactly what I'm looking for."

"Glad to hear it." They had reached the far side of the room, standing facing the window which looked out onto the drive. The blinds were drawn, and Bru could see no telltale reflections that might have enabled him to identify the mysterious intruder. "Do I get three guesses?"

"No." A hand pressed between his shoulder blades, making him lean against the wall as though being shaken down by a police officer. The intruder did not bother to check him for weapons; in his usual beachwear, Bru clearly had nowhere to hide a gun about his person. "I don't have to warn you to keep very still, and very quiet. Do I?"

"Depends." With a pause of no more than a heartbeat, Bru tensed his muscles and moved. His speed was unnerving, his movements co-ordinated, and he ducked aside before his assailant had time even to prepare to shoot. A high kick sent the gun spinning from his hands, and a hard, accurate chop to the back of his neck staggered him; but did not make the intruder fall. He merely shook his head, and in the same instance Bru got his first good look at the man. He gulped.

The intruder stood at least seven feet tall, with bulging muscles that stood out even on his neck. His head was wrapped in a ninja-style mask, made of some thick woollen material, which covered all but his eyes. They were, or they appeared to be, red; bright and intense and alive with anger.

"Uh oh." Bru ducked as a fist came flying towards his head, using more instinct than skill to avoid a punch that would have knocked him down for good. His speed, he knew, was sufficient to help him to stay ahead of this man; but he could not see any way to defeat him without weapons. He thought about the pair of automatic rifles hidden in the cupboard behind the stereo unit; but by the time that he could have moved the stereo and its attendant CD collection, he would very likely have been mincemeat in the other man's hands. Most of his other weapons were hidden aboard Thunder, where there was no chance of Jessica or her friends getting hold of them. It was inconvenient, at times, to be a lethal mercenary and a father.

"I'm gonna tear out your throat and feed it to the fish." The voice was guttural and intense.

"Nice." Bru's eyes alighted on the handgun, now fallen on the ground nearby, which until so recently had been setting up home next to his right eye. He made a grab for it.

"Gotcha!" With a suddenness that left him reeling, the other man's hand slammed down, catching Bru by the scruff of the neck and hauling him up. He felt his feet leave the floor and found himself dangling in the air, staring down at his enraged attacker. The big man did not seem to be finding it at all difficult to keep him there; as though he weighed nothing more than a feather. He forced a nervous smile onto his face.


"You little…" The big man left the words trailing, and lowered Bru back to ground level. "Just for that, I'm not going to ask for your assistance any longer." He raised a fist, the knuckles white, and his eyes flashed in the half-light coming through the cracks in the blinds. "See you later, Brubaker." The fist descended, and darkness fell.


It was not especially late when Spence and his daughter returned from their night out; but it was, thought Spencer, quite late enough on a school night. Odd that his life had become so amenable to these new routines. At one time he wouldn't have considered it a night out if he had returned the same day he had set out.

He left the car parked outside the house, in its usual place. There was no reason to worry even about removing the keys from the ignition, although he did so by habit. Nobody would steal the car, even in this sheltered spot; and even if somebody did try anything, Thunder's security systems would give warning enough to wake up anybody within three miles; if there had been anybody else within three miles.

"Uncle Bru must be in bed," Jessica mumbled, nodding sleepily at the dark windows. There was not a light on anywhere in the house. Spence frowned. That didn't look right; Bru hadn't been known to go to sleep before midnight in years. He wasn't exactly an insomniac, but could usually be counted on to forget all about sleep, especially when there was something he wanted to do on the boat. But even Thunder was in darkness, its lights turned out and its hatch shut tight.

"Stay here, Jess." He moved quickly, suddenly overcome with concern. The front door was open a crack, and at the sight of it he flexed his fingers; cracking his knuckles in preparation for the battle which might be about to ensue. Slowly he pushed the door open the rest of the way, and reached out with one, steady hand for the light switch. Brightness flooded the room, swathing all in clear, yellow light which chased the shadows away. Everything seemed deserted. No teams of combat veterans, or gangs of marauding gangsters leapt upon him; no squad of hitmen descended from the rafters. All was silent.

"Bru?" He kept his voice low, careful in case there was somebody unsavoury in one of the other rooms. The silence of the house told him otherwise, but he was too well trained to ignore the possibility, no matter how slight. "Bru, can you hear me?" There was no answer, and he progressed further into the room. "Hello?" A low moan sounded from somewhere across the room, and he abandoned care in order to rush towards it. Bru lay on the floor, face down, trying to move. He looked badly dazed, and there was a mark of dried blood down the side of his face.

"Spence?" He managed finally to make it over onto his back, then blinked in confusion at the ceiling. "Ow."

"Bru, what happened, man?" Helping his friend to sit up, Spence knelt beside him, concern showing on his face. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Bru blinked, rubbing his eyes a few times. "There was this guy. He was huge. We're talking some serious size here, brother. Nine, ten feet tall."

"Ten feet tall?" Amusement mingled with the worry on the other man's face, and Spence pulled Bru to his feet. "Do I call the paramedics or the Guinness Book Of Records?"

"Make it seven feet then. But he was big, man." Bru gave his head a sharp shake in a vague attempt to clear it, then looked about. "He doesn't look like he's made much of a mess. He said there was something he was after."

"There's nothing here worth stealing." The sound of Jessica's voice made them both jump, and Spencer glared at her.

"I thought I told you to wait outside."

"I thought you might need my help." She wandered off to her bedroom before either of them could stop her, and her voice filtered back to them. "Somebody's been going through my drawers."

"These ones too." Spence nodded towards the drawers to one side of the room. The photographs displayed on the cupboard top had also been left disarrayed, one or two knocked over. "I wonder if he found what he was looking for?"

"What's he hoping to find? Old editions of the National Geographic?" Bru sounded incredulous. "I don't know who the hell that guy was, Spence, but he knew me. He said we'd met." He shook his head, rubbing it ruefully. "I'm sure I'd remember a guy that big, if I'd met him before; but he called me by name."

"We'll worry about that later." Spencer headed off towards Jessica's room. "I'm going to take Jess over to Kelly's. She can stay there until this is sorted out. Whoever that guy was, he could be planning to come back."

"I'll come with you." The prospect of heading over to see Kelly LaRue, and be able to play the wounded warrior card, was too good an opportunity to miss. Spence rolled his eyes. Concussion or no, there was clearly no damage done to his partner's libido. He grabbed the car keys from where he had left them, and picked up Jessica's school bag. If this was as serious as his instincts told him to imagine, he didn't want her coming back to the house for anything; not until he knew what was going on, and had dealt with it one way or the other.


In the end all three of them stayed the night with Kelly, who seemed only too pleased to see them. It was well known to everybody who knew the group that she was as fond of Bru as he was of her, and only kept him at arm's length because she enjoyed the sport of it. Her concern was genuine, and she sat up for much of the night listening to his tales of exaggerated battle with a man who, by the time they eventually got to sleep, was no longer a man so much as a kind of human Dalek; or an ogre warrior straight out of the pages of a book.

With the morning well and truly begun, the two commandos returned to their house, and Bru headed straight for Thunder. He opened the hatch and swung down inside, calling his customary greeting to the boat. It identified him immediately, welcoming him on board as though it derived some real pleasure from the experience, although both men knew that it was just playing out a programme. The boat had no certain personality of its own.

"Thunder, this is Bru, one-four-eight-six. I want you to run back the security scans of the house from last night."

"Complying." It almost shouted the word out, for its voice was fixed at a perpetually high volume. "Scans processed. Playing."

"Thankyou." He was already settled in the co-pilot's seat by the time that Spencer climbed down the ladder, and the huge screen before them switched from its standard forward image to one of the house. It was dusk, and a counter at the bottom right hand corner of the screen showed it to be early evening.

"Security images beginning; nineteen hundred hours." The computer began to play the reel, jumping to differing vantage points about the outside of the house. It was some time before the watching men saw the front door of the building open, and a shadowy shape emerge from within. Clearly he was empty-handed, and had not found whatever it was that he had been searching for inside the house.

"Thunder, freeze image." Spence moved closer to the screen, frowning at the picture. "Enlarge image by fifty per cent."

"Enlarging image." The voice was so loud that he almost jumped; he was not sure that he would ever get used to the boat's tendency to shout. Almost immediately the picture grew, blurred at first, then becoming clearer as Thunder's computers processed it, compensating for the change in size. The covered face of the intruder now filled the screen, his red eyes emphasised by the darkness of the night surrounding him.

"He's big," Spence commented, nodding his head in confirmation of Bru's repeated assertions the previous night.

"Told you." Bru scowled, still unable to recognise him. "Thunder, display any other information you got from your scans last night, at…" He glanced towards the figures in the corner of the screen. "…At twenty-one hundred thirty-five. And fourteen seconds."

"Complying." A list of data appeared down one side of the screen, which shifted to allow the face of the intruder to remain fully visible. Air temperature, wind speed, humidity, sea temperature and predicted weather for the following morning all ran up the screen together, none of them any use, but still a remarkable showcase for the boat's capabilities. Spence was sure that he had seen a look of paternal pride flash across his partner's face at the sight of so much competently processed data. He smiled.

"Anything of any use?" he asked, for to him much of the data was just a mass of meaningless figures and garbled symbols. Bru frowned, peering closer at the screen, his expression showing that there was, indeed, something of interest to him. His entire countenance changed with his enthusiasm, giving him an appearance suddenly of childish excitement.

"Thunder, give me a full run down of the biological scans for this period." More figures ran up the screen, these ones even more unintelligible than the last, in Spencer's eyes at least. Bru whistled. "Somebody's been a naughty boy."

"What do you mean?" Spencer's eyes travelled up the screen, trying to identify what had suddenly caught his partner's interest.

"This." He stood up to tap one of the readings. "Some of the other results too. He has enough drugs pumping around in his system to keep the local hospital in supply for a month."

"Legal?" Spencer asked him, already suspecting the answer. Bru shrugged.

"That one I can't answer, not straight away. These figures suggest a chemical composition that I'm not familiar with. It's very likely something illegal; or at the very least experimental; but I'm going to have to spend some time with my data to be sure."

"You do that." Spence headed towards the hatch, glancing back over his shoulder as he went. "I'm going to start going through our records; photos, anything. From what you told me about the way that guy moved, and the things he said to you, he'd got to be somebody we ran into in the service; maybe even in 'Nam. I'll see what I can find."

"Good call, brother." Bru was already apparently immersed in his task, and Spencer left him to it, heading straight for the house, and his bedroom. He had several bulging photograph albums from his time in the SEALs, and many of them he had not looked at in years. Alone in a hot patch of sunlight from the window beside his bed, he pored over the pictures, seeing the faces of men who had been dead for years; men who had never made it out of the jungles of Vietnam alive. One picture in particular caught his eye; the smiling face of Paul Brubaker, Bru's older brother, who had been murdered less than a year after the date scrawled roughly on the back of the picture. His death had brought Spence and Bru together, and sealed their friendship; but the tragedy of it still affected them both. There were other pictures with similar histories, including the earliest picture Spencer had of him with his partner - taken in a military hospital, it showed the pair of them recovering from hypothermia, amongst other things, shortly after Spencer had rescued Bru from a Vietcong prison camp.

"Who am I trying to kid? There was nobody we knew back then who was the size of that guy." Spencer sighed, flicking idly through the pages. Sure they had met plenty of tall men; some even more than the current foe's seven feet. None of them, however, had had his breadth of shoulder, and evident muscle tone. Page after page of faces went past; some familiar, others whose names were lost in the rigours of Time. Some were old even then, others barely beyond childhood; some were large, some small, some fat, some thin; it hurt to think how many of them were now dead. But he could think of none of them that might fit the bill. Finally, defeated, he collected up the albums and returned them to the cupboard. Even as he was doing so, one picture fluttered out of the last book, spiralling its way silently to earth. He picked it up, looking it over. It had been taken in Hanoi, at a bar he and Bru had stopped off in during an R&R weekend which had wound up with them both getting arrested by the MPs; he couldn't remember why. He did remember taking the picture, however; they had met a man, a lieutenant in the Regular Navy, who had proved to be Bru's kindred spirit in all manner of subjects. The pair had talked for hours about the computer revolution they had both been sure was just around the corner, and had bored Spence silly. He had vague memories of sinking into a deep sleep amidst discussions of motherboards and cross-patching circuitry into something else from somewhere else. Even the memory of it was enough to bring tears of boredom to his eyes. He turned the picture over to remind himself of the man's name, and read the hand-written caption aloud: Bru with Lieutenant Arthur Philmore, Hanoi, 1972. They had never seen the man again, and had never heard or seen from him since that day.

"Philmore…" Spencer frowned, staring at the picture with eyes that were filled with deepest thought. He had been a thin, spindly man, the very image of a stereotypical scientist, with arms like beanpoles and a chest to match. He had been self-conscious about it too, even more so when in the company of the larger-than-life Spencer and his equally capable companion. A thought broke through into the recesses of the ex-SEAL's mind, but he dismissed it at first, certain that it was ridiculous. All the same, it kept coming back…

"Bru?" Swinging down into the cabin aboard Thunder, Spence waved the photograph like a flag, before realising that his companion was not looking in his direction at all. He was sitting in his chair, his feet up on Thunder's main control panel, scraps of paper lying about the console and on the floor.

"Hey Spence." He did not look up, but Spencer could hear the excitement in his voice; the interest and the enthusiasm which had not abated in the last hour or so. "Check this out. According to what Thunder's scans picked up of the chemical analysis of whatever that guy was on, he is one almighty steroid freak. I've gone through the whole structure of the drug he was taking, and we're talking mega-bodybuilding. If a normal guy was to take this stuff for a little while, he'd turn into the Incredible Hulk. Except without the green paint, naturally."

"You sure?" Spencer glanced again at the picture in his hands. "So we could be looking for some really small, nerdy guy, right? Who wanted to be something other than a really small, nerdy guy?"

"You got it, bro." Bru sat up, slamming his fist on the console. "What's the guy's name? Philips… Philpot…"

"Philmore." Spencer handed him the photograph. "Arthur Philmore, leading authority on the sciences, and major nerdy guy."

"Jackpot." Bru stared at the picture, trying to remember a little more about the man. "The red eyes were probably night vision lenses, according to Thunder." He patted the control panel, as though showing his gratitude and affection. "But what would he want from us? He was looking for something."

"What have we got?" Spencer sat down in his seat, Thunder's main control chair, from which all its drive systems were commanded. "What did we do that day?"

"We talked, took a few photos, had a few drinks…" Bru closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair, his expression somewhere between deep concentration and hopeless confusion. "Those MPs showed up, and picked a fight 'cause we were Navy. We were arrested, and by the time we got out Philmore had already been sprung, and had gone off to rejoin his unit."

"And we never saw him again." Spence suddenly sat up straight, frowning. "Didn't he give you something?"

"Did he?" Clearly Bru didn't remember. "Hey, yeah he did. Just before the fight, he handed me something, and told me to put it somewhere safe. He didn't want it to get broken if he got hit." He frowned again, trying hard to remember. "I was just about to hand it to the barman, and that sergeant - the one with all the fillings in his teeth - he clobbered me when I wasn't looking."

"We were both out for the count when they locked us up," Spence mused. "Whatever it was he gave to you probably got given back to him when he was let out."

"No. No it was still there when we got out. I remember wondering what I should do with it. I tried to get in touch with Philmore's ship, but they were out of radio contact, and then the war ended. He quit soon as he could, and nobody knew how to get back in touch with him." He frowned. "What was it now… a picture. Little framed picture, with silver bits. I put it…" His voice trailed off, for clearly he couldn't remember. Spence groaned.

"Bru that could be the key to all of this. If our Goliath is Philmore, he will clearly do anything to get that picture back. Now think!"

"Yeah…" Bru sighed, rolling his eyes in characteristically animated style. "It was a picture of a woman. Silver frame, with flowers on it. Looked old. Brown and white rather than black and white. Like an old family picture, you know? She was wearing a high collar, and her hair was all done up." He sighed, tapping his fingers on the arm rests. "Hang on." He leapt to his feet, going to the back of the boat where he opened the weapons cabinet, and began to rummage around inside it. He opened one of the hidden compartments, reaching deep inside, and eventually pulled out a small plastic package. "Bingo." He threw it at Spencer. "I use it for ballast. It's just the right weight to balance out my miniature circuit tester when I'm doing delicate work on the outside of the boat. Should be safe, though. The packing is pretty watertight."

Spencer rolled his eyes, and opened the package. Sure enough, the picture inside was safe, still in excellent condition, the sheen on the silver frame not at all diminished. The bright, intense black eyes of the woman in the photograph stared back at him, wide open in a challenge that was in marked contrast to most pictures of that vintage. He liked the woman, even though he had no idea who she was.

"Wonder what he wants with a picture?" Bru threw himself back into his seat, and Spencer shrugged.

"Maybe it's not the picture." He turned the frame over, and with gentle, careful hands, he worked it loose. The picture fluttered onto the deck, and he was left with the frame, its glass front and the brown paper backing. "Nothing in here."

"I wouldn't say that." Something on the back of the photograph caught his eye, and Bru bent to pick it up. Mary Ann Philmore, New Haven, 1873 was interesting, but of no use to him; of rather greater importance was the chemical formula written further down. He whistled.

"Looks like Phil was working on his magic potions a long time ago, brother. This is it, right here."

"The formula?" Spencer took the paper, although the writing on it meant nothing to him. "He must have made the stuff back then; that's why he quit the Navy so soon, so that he could get back to his work. The formula was all made up and ready for him, and he wanted to test it out."

"And now he's running low on his supplies, and he wants to get a new batch made up before he turns back into Arthur Philmore, Super Weed." Bru nodded. "He must have stored it well, for it to have lasted so long; since before he was drafted. I guess he figured he couldn't get at us before, but once he heard that we had quit the SEALs and moved here, he decided to try for his formula. Probably figures it's worth a fortune, if he can sell it to the right person."

"Somebody without many morals." Spence smiled ruefully. "No shortage of them."

"Exactly." With a shrug the smaller man stood up, heading towards the hatchway which led back to the real world. "We have to find this guy, Spence. Before he does something we're all gonna regret."


"You really think this guy came up with his formula before he was drafted?" Kelly frowned. "Why didn't he try it then? He'd have had a much better chance of making it through the war if he was a seven foot giant."

"Not necessarily." Bru shrugged. "This drug of his isn't exactly legal; or sensible. If he had tried it then, when he was listed in the conscription records as a little guy with arms like stick insects, people woulda got suspicious. That's why he waited till later, after he got out of the navy, when he could go someplace where nobody would know him." He shook his head. "No wonder I couldn't trace him when I wanted to give him back his picture." He turned the offending article over in his fingers. "It's very likely addictive. If he's running low on supplies he's going to be getting pretty desperate."

"Then he might make mistakes." Kelly nodded, looking towards Spencer. "So what's the plan?"

"We have to find him." Spencer shrugged, as though this was obvious; but that how to go about it was clearly less so. "Bru's got Thunder running some checks as we speak."

"Yeah." The enthusiasm danced back out in the younger man's voice. "When Philmore came to our house the other night, Thunder picked up traces of mud on his boots. We might be able to get a result from that."

"Pretty slim." Kelly glanced out of the window, to where Jessica was playing nearby with a selection of local kids. The noise was making her very glad that she had chosen to avoid the whole child thing, but she had more tact than to let it show. "Can't you trace his family?"

"We drew a blank." A beeping noise sounded from Bru's belt, and he frowned, withdrawing a small object which turned out to be a tiny replica of a cellular phone, complete with buttons. He tapped in a code, then flipped open the mouthpiece to speak.


"Analysis complete." Thunder's voice sounded less harsh when transmitted over such a small unit, but its volume was still there. "Mud shows high sand content, and traces of commercial fertiliser."

"Thanks pal." Shutting the unit back up, Bru looked questioningly at Spencer. "Gotta be near here, bro. Where the sand starts turning into earth, some ways back from the sea."

"Commercial fertiliser?" Kelly sounded questioning. "That could be anywhere along the coast. There are any number of farms near the sea."

"Yeah, but only one near enough to this place to make it seem at all likely." Spence frowned, staring thoughtfully through the window to where his daughter was playing with her friends. "The tree sanctuary, just outside the National Park. I'll bet that's where he is."

"I hope you're right." Staring at the picture of Philmore that they had brought with them, printed off Thunder's main screen, Kelly raised her eyebrows. "This is not a guy that I want to meet on a dark night."

"Don't worry, Legs." Eager to play the hero, Bru smiled at her, well aware that she was not in the least bit afraid, but playing up to her nonetheless. "We'll handle him. By this time tomorrow he'll be Super Weed again, and his formula will be gone for good." He glanced down at the picture in his hands. "I don't even want to think what could happen if this got into the wrong hands."

"Make sure that it doesn't." Kelly stood up, collecting the glasses they had been drinking from. "I'll see you later."

"Sure." Spencer smiled fondly at her, then left. Bru hesitated a moment longer.

"Does the hero of the hour get a kiss before he goes?" he asked her, batting his lashes in comical form. She smiled at him.

"He would do, but he's already gone." He glowered at that, and she laughed. "Get going, Bru. I'll see you later."

"Yeah. S'long, Legs." He vanished out of the door with a parting wave, and she went to the window to watch him depart.

"Be careful, Bru," she whispered softly, and raised her fingers in a gentle farewell.


Thunder shot smoothly through the waters, the incredible thrust of hyper-speed carrying the boat along so fast that it seemed almost to lose contact with the surface altogether. Inside their fibreglass shell, Spence and Bru left their electronic third partner to govern himself, and began to go through a routine weapons check. They were rather hoping to be able to deal with Philmore without having to resort to excessive violence; but they had to be ready nonetheless.

"What's the plan, brother?" Bru asked, slipping a fresh clip into his favourite automatic pistol. Spencer turned to look towards the screen, which showed their destination looming large before them.

"Quick strike," he said decisively, although his eyes showed that he was not as sure of himself as he would have liked to be. Philmore was, after all, a trained Naval officer; and although he hadn't stayed on in the forces for as long as they had, he was still a formidable adversary, particularly given his artificial strength. "We go in, we grab him, and then we move out."

"He won't want to be grabbed." Bru strapped on a combat belt, fixing several gas grenades to the hooks along its length, then began fastening a soft leather shoulder holster around his chest. He was glad that he had taken the time to change out of his sleeveless Hawaiian shirt into combat fatigues before setting out, for - camouflage aside - shoulder holsters chafed something terrible when worn without sufficient padding. He had learnt that to his cost in the past. Rather like a friend from his Naval training days, who had tried to impress his girlfriend by dressing up in full weapons gear, but without any clothing at all beneath it. The mere thought of it was enough to make Bru wince.

"We'll have to persuade him otherwise." Tying a khaki scarf over his long blond hair, Spencer knotted it carefully at the back, then stuck a long barrelled six-shot handgun into his belt. Bru tried not to grin too noticeably. He knew that the headgear was a part of his partner's battle preparations, but it did make him look rather like a housemaid. Perhaps he should hint that his companion try wearing rollers beneath it, and carrying a dish-mop. Spencer caught the look of mischief in his partner's eyes and glared.

"Suit up, bro," he ordered. Bru grinned, slipping on a tight-fitting padded waterproof jacket over his combat fatigues. It was a comfortable design, and one that he had 'borrowed' on leaving the SEALs. Much of their equipment in the elite Naval unit had been specially tailored, for the sake of streamlining, and in all honesty there had been little point in leaving it behind where nobody would be likely to want it. Admittedly the CO hadn't exactly seen it that way, but fortunately Bru had already been off the base by the time that the timid young orderly had found the key necessary to let his superior out of the stationery cupboard…

"Ready to go, bro." Sounding suspiciously chirpy, as was his wont on most occasions, Bru climbed up the short ladder leading to Thunder's launching bay. There were two jet-skis there, not exactly of the commercial kind, resting side by side in preparation for launch. The duo each straddled one, checking the fuel levels, and also the charge on the laser rifles hidden beside the front headlights. Spencer adjusted his radio headset, a lightweight device that both men wore as a matter of course when on a mission, flashing the secret Morse button to be sure that it was working. Bru flashed back, before grasping the handles of his bike and raising his voice to be sure that Thunder would hear him over the headset.

"Preparing to launch."

"Launching in five." Thunder sometimes sounded as though it were looking forward to getting rid of them, and was going to enjoy being on its own for a while. Spencer ignored the thought, listening instead to the countdown.

"Four, three, two, one." The thrusters in the launching bay erupted into life, catapulting Spencer's jet-ski nearly twenty feet straight up, driving it through the doors and out over the bay. He kept it level, long practice enabling him to stay upright as his lift ran out, and his ski slammed onto the surface of the water, sending spray high into the air all around him. Seconds later Bru also launched, landing several feet away, his eyes bright with excitement.

"Head for the cove." Trusting in the waterproof headsets to carry his words to his partner, Spence headed his ski towards the small stretch of beach due west, where there was enough cover close to the water's edge for them to hide their bikes. Already Thunder was heading out into deeper water, programmed to present the illusion of a pleasure craft, should anybody happen to notice its presence. It slowed to a halt when it was almost out of sight, turning slightly so that it was pointing towards land. At a signal from the remote control unit he always carried, Bru could have his sea-going companion to hand in minutes.

They reached the cove without incident, slipping ashore in silence and leaving the skis carefully arranged out of sight. They stripped off their water-proof jackets, leaving them with the skis, then took stock of their surroundings. Spencer checked the compass built into his watch.

"This way." He started off through the trees without bothering to wait for his companion. Bru moved faster than he did anyway, his smaller body making it easier for him to move through the thick undergrowth. Both men were more than at home in the terrain, their training having prepared them years ago for combat in any given territory, at any given time.

"Well will you look at that?" Sliding smoothly into the voice of a well-spoken English gentleman as they reached the edge of the trees, Bru gestured towards the large building now before them. "I'd say that we'd found him, wouldn't you old chap?"


They pressed on, moving silently towards the building, listening carefully for any sound of approach, and keeping their eyes peeled for security devices. There appeared to be nothing, which was not surprising given the civilian designation of the building's intended residents. At this time of year there was not a permanent inhabitant, and the building should have been empty; but the neat stack of firewood by the door suggested otherwise.

"Nobody home?" Bru glanced in through the nearest window as they completed a circuit of the house, disturbed by the silence. "Where is he?"

"He's in there somewhere." The wisps of smoke coming from the chimney suggested that somebody had been there recently, and the pair could only hope that the resident was Philmore. There was no reason for anybody else to be there.

"How do you want to play this?" Glancing up at the roof, Bru seemed to be scanning possibilities. "I can drop some of these gas grenades down the chimney, try smoking him out."

"We might lose him in the forest." Spence shook his head. "He's big. I want to keep him hemmed in, into as small an arena as possible. That'll put him at a disadvantage."

"We hope." Shrugging, the smaller man straightened up, inserting his knife under the window frame and beginning to ease it up. It moved slowly at first, then more quickly, and soon he was able to pull the window wide open. He swung up, climbing soundlessly into the house, then beckoned for his companion to follow on. "That chimney was on the far side of the house."

"Then that's where we'll aim for." Spencer took the lead, running for the door, handgun drawn. They had brought only their smaller weapons with them on this mission, preferring the ease of movement that a lighter load gave them; but Spencer was beginning to think that he might yet come to regret the decision. There was something about the lack of security so far which was making him very nervous. Either Philmore had not made plans for an assault - which was extremely unlikely - or he had reason to be certain of his own invulnerability. The latter was an extremely disturbing possibility. Heavy though the rifles might be, their rapid fire gave an edge which was not to be argued against; but it was too late to think of revisions to his plans now.

Despite his concerns, Spencer led the way speedily to the other side of the building. The corridors were lonely affairs, designed for a house filled with students and volunteers. Pictures of happy groups of people lined the way, but the dull solitude of the place now was in marked contrast to all of that. It was quiet too; almost overbearingly so.

"Knock knock." Bru whispered the words under his breath as they came to the last unopened door on the ground level. It had to be the room in which the smoking chimney originated, but there was no sign of life from indoors. Spencer, feeling a growing concern deep inside of him, wrapped his fingers around the handle, giving a brisk nod. He saw Bru silently mouthing a countdown to him: Five, four, three, two, one.

Throwing the door open wide, Spencer barrelled in, flinging his body behind the chairs which his quick eyes immediately identified as the best available cover. He thought that he heard a laugh, and glanced back towards Bru. The smaller man had already moved, aiming for another chair on the opposite side of the doorway. His pistol was drawn, and he was staring across the room towards the sound of the soft laughter.

"Welcome!" Bru recognised the voice instantly as that of his mystery attacker, but it was deeper and more resonant than he remembered Philmore's voice to be. That was hardly surprising given the changes that the man had gone through since they had met that time in Hanoi. The ex-SEAL kept his gun fixed on a steady aim between the enemy's eyes, and tensed his muscles for action. He was ready, whatever Spencer decided that their next move should be.

"Give it up, Philmore!" Peering over the top of the chair Spencer levelled his gun at the huge man, his mind rebelling at the sight of him. His eyes did not want to believe that he really was that big. "We're taking you in."

"Why? What have I done?" The big man did not seem at all concerned about the two guns pointing at him. "I'm just enjoying a quiet holiday here on my own."

"Keep him talking, Bru." His voice too quiet for anybody other than his partner to hear, Spencer flashed a thumbs-up signal, then began to work his way as fast as he could around the room, keeping out of sight behind the conveniently placed furniture. Bru flashed the signal in return then rose up slightly, his gun still levelled, but the safety on. He didn't want to spook his Goliath.

"That really you Philmore?" he asked. His only immediate answer was a light laugh. "You've changed."

"We've all changed, Brubaker. That's the way it goes. It's been a long time since Hanoi."

"Not long enough."

"True." There actually seemed to be a trace of meaning in the voice, and Bru almost smiled. Vets came in many shapes and sizes, but all of them had been affected in their own way. "What do you want, sailor boy?"

"A rematch?" He asked it tentatively, unsure of Philmore's sense of humour - or lack thereof. A low laugh answered him. "That wasn't nice what you did last night, man. My head's still hurting."

"Then you're a fool to ask for a rematch, aren't you." There was a pause. "Where's your partner, Brubaker?"

"Spence? He's checking the perimeter." It was a swift lie, but clearly not a convincing one.

"Like hell he is. Call him back, or you're a dead man."

"That doesn't sound very friendly." Silently Bru clicked the safety off, ready to use his gun if it should suddenly become necessary.

"It wasn't supposed to be." Philmore was starting to advance, and Bru rose to his feet.

"Don't move."

"Don't be a fool." The huge man seemed to be indicating something behind Bru, but the ex-SEAL had no intention of turning to look. That was an old trick, and one that he was not planning to fall for. The sudden sound of a heavy footfall made him freeze, and a shiver ran up his spine with the realisation that there really was somebody behind him.

"Drop your gun." The voice was loud and forceful, and seemed to come from somewhere up, rather than just plain behind.

"You make a move, and Phil here gets a hole, dead centre." Keeping his voice steady, Bru tried to spy Spencer out of the corner of his eye. He knew that the other man had to be there somewhere, and if he could catch his attention, he might just get a hint as to what his next move should be.

"I don't think so." The blow came so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that Bru had no chance to defend himself against it. A hand slammed into his back, driving the breath from his lungs and knocking him forward. His gun fell from a suddenly numb hand, and although he tried to catch it, he saw it skid away across the floor. He gasped, trying to look both ways at once, to watch for Philmore and for this new assailant. It had to be another user of the drug, all of his instincts told him that. The voice had come from too far above him; the blow he had just received had been inhumanly hard. He could barely feel his shoulders, and his head was spinning. He felt a heavy hand seize him by the collar and jerk him upright, and abruptly found himself looking straight at Philmore; or more accurately at Philmore's chest. The man's head was up; far up; seemingly far further away than was at all possible, thanks to the mists still swirling in front of Bru's eyes.

"Meet Graham." His voice deadpan, Philmore gestured to the hulking figure standing behind Bru. The ex-SEAL looked up, his neck rebelling against the distance it had to travel in order to take in the man's face. It was way, way up, a good eight feet above the ground; possibly more. Bru would have put the figure at close to nine feet in height, with muscles bulging in every direction and shoulders stretching close to five feet in breadth. He seemed to dwarf even Philmore, indicating that he had not been a small man to begin with. There was an emptiness in his eyes, however; a suggestion that, for all his great size and strength, he was less of a threat than Philmore himself. There was certainly no denying which of them was in charge.

"Hello Graham." Bru raised a hand as though offering to shake, but the gun which arrived with startling rapidity at his chest persuaded him otherwise. He glanced down at it, realising with little surprise that it was his own.

"Where's Spencer?" Philmore asked, with unnecessary force. Bru frowned. It was a question he had been pondering over himself, but he had no idea of the answer; indeed, if truth be told, he knew little at all at that moment. Graham held him in a strangle hold, his feet barely touching the floor, and he could feel a gradual increase of pressure around his neck. His grip on reality was already starting to alter quite alarmingly. His vision swam, and he blinked to clear it.

"Try looking over here." There was anger in Spencer's voice, but he was a man of admirable self-control, more than capable of keeping his emotions in check. "What's got into you, Philmore?"

"If you know me, and you figured out where to find me, you must have a pretty good idea of what's going on." The big arms spread in a shrug. "What do you think's got into me?"

"About fourteen milligrams of slow poison." Aware that his partner had a plan, Bru tried to attract Philmore's attention back toward him, but the other man did not seem inclined to fall for the ploy.

"I want the picture," he said, his tone no longer showing the hint of affability it had held since their arrival. "You know the one."

"The picture of your ancestor." Spencer nodded. "You want it so you can make more of your drug."

"I made loads of it." Pride showed through now, in place of the anger of the previous few seconds. "Then I found out I only needed to take a little. Just a few milligrams a day; about twenty a week. Almost nothing, compared to the amounts I'd made. But my stock is running low, and I need to keep Graham in supply too now. So I need that formula."

"It's poison, man." His voice still weak, Bru struggled against the grip at his neck. It seemed to him that Graham was starting to get bored by all of this talk, and he hoped to use that to his advantage. "Its pH level is dangerously acidic. There's no telling what it's doing to your insides."

"I'm still here aren't I?" Philmore pressed the gun harder against Bru's ribs. "Give me the picture, Spencer. Or I blow a hole in him big enough to sail a whole unit of SEALs through."

"I don't have it on me." Slowly Spencer raised his hands, aware that the time for stalling was over. "It's on board our boat."

"Too bad." The finger began to tighten on the trigger.

"You don't want to do that, man." Spencer held his hands far away from his body, to show that he was not a threat. "You don't know our boat. Bru designed it, and it won't do a thing for anybody else. I can't get your picture without him."

"I don't believe you."

"Fine." Abandoning his attempts at platitudes, Spencer folded his arms. "Shoot him. Just how desperate are you to make more of your drug, man? Huh? How long before you run out? And then what happens? Do you go back to your normal size straight away - 'cause that sounds pretty damn fatal. Or does it happen slowly? Will you start to hallucinate from the withdrawals, or will you just go into shock?"

"I don't know." The answer was sulky. Philmore stole a look at his partner, and at the hapless Bru looking less than comfortable in his grip. "Okay, so we've got a stand-off. I can't make you give up the picture without threatening Brubaker; and you say that if I kill him I can't get the picture anyway." He shrugged. "I'm not letting you go, Spencer, so if I don't get to win this one, neither do you. We can stand around here for the next fortnight if you really want."

"You think you've got that long?" Bru smirked, certain now that Graham's grip was slipping. Already he could feel his feet getting a more solid purchase on the floor. He no longer felt light-headed, and his vision had cleared. "Another day, max, and you're going to be needing another fix. Do you even have enough of the drug left for that?"

"I--" Philmore broke off, turning his back suddenly on Bru and casting the gun aside. There was, thought Spencer, a worryingly intense look in his eyes, as though some grim finality had just asserted itself in his mind. "You and me, Spencer. Now. You were always the biggest guy around back when we last met. Well now I'm the big one. Let's see who's the strongest."

"You want to fight me?" Spencer stared back at him, seeing the impressive height and the huge muscles. He was not a small man himself, but he couldn't help but feel dwarfed by Philmore. "Hand to hand?"

"Hand to hand." Philmore rubbed his hands together, his shoulders rolling in readiness. "Are you game? Winner takes all."

Spencer looked from Bru to Graham, watching as his partner shook his head, concern clear in his eyes. Graham just looked blank.

"Yeah." Ignoring the look on the face of his friend, Spencer tugged off his combat belt and threw it aside, then clapped his hands together, limbering up his chest and arms. "Let's do it."


Philmore threw a left which Spencer dodged easily, coming back with a similar blow of his own which caught his opponent in the ribs. The big man showed no sign that the punch had hurt him; in fact if anything his speed increased immediately after. He swung both arms at once, trying for a bear hug that would, had it succeeded in encircling Spencer, very likely have broken his back. Trying to keep cool and calm Spencer dodged swiftly, keeping on his toes, trying to stay moving so that he would have a better chance of coming through the fight. He was under no illusions, and he knew that it would not take much from Philmore to end it. The man had the sort of muscletone that comic book characters alone could boast; his upper arms bulging and his neck thick and lumpy.

"You're mine, Spencer." Philmore advanced again, this time managing to land a blow on the ex-SEAL's chest which sent him stumbling backwards into a table. He regained his balance only just in time, coming back as though from a trampoline, knocking aside the stiff-arm coming towards his head and striking low with another assault of his own. His right fist struck into Philmore's side, the other jabbing upwards, slamming into the sensitive place just beneath the rib cage with a force that made the bigger man gasp. He stumbled backwards, his weight cracking the door as he slammed into it.

"Alright Spence!" Excited, Bru punched the air, suddenly aware that he was no longer being held even in token fashion. Graham was absorbed in the fight, his eyes showing their first signs of life since his introduction. He stared at Philmore as his fellow drug-user ran back towards Spencer, head lowered.

With a swift twist to one side, Spencer tripped the onrushing enemy, and Philmore stumbled and staggered a few more paces, finally crashing into the edge of the table that Spencer had so recently tripped over himself. There was a crash of splintering timber and the unfortunate item of furniture smashed. Philmore crash-landed in an ungainly heap, shaking his head to clear it. Before he could get back onto his feet, Spencer was on him, his strong arms grabbing for the bigger man's neck, catching him in a stranglehold which made his eyes bulge and the cords in his neck stand out.

"I'm gonna kill you Spencer." His voice sounding hoarse, Philmore lashed about with his arms, struggling to land a blow, but unable to get enough force into his attacks. Spencer was out of effective reach, and they both knew it.

"Spence!" Bru saw the next move coming almost before Philmore himself knew what he was going to do. Thrashing about in the broken remains of the table, his flailing hands caught hold of a chunk of wood. His fingers gripped it by reflex, knuckles whitening with sudden tension. With a yell of purest rage he brought the wood down on Spencer's head. The ex-SEAL, alerted by his partner's cry, looked up; but the weapon was already descending and he could not move aside in time. The blow caught him almost directly on the top of his skull, and he fell backwards, stunned.

"Now you're mine." Philmore delivered a heavy kick to his fallen enemy's side, pleased that the smaller man did not seem to be offering any further resistance. "I told you I was going to kill you, and I'm going to enjoy it." He raised his weapon for another blow.

"Oh no you don't." Launching himself through the air, Bru hit the man full in the stomach with a flying tackle that sent them both crashing to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. He made it back to his feet first, not waiting for his opponent to get up before he delivered a solid kick to the man's jaw. In his mind this was no time for chivalry, and he swung back into the attack, following up the first kick with a second. Philmore fell back, blood running down his chin.

"Graham!" he gasped, sounding breathless. The big man advanced immediately.

"Not now, Graham." Bru's eyes alighted on Spencer's gun, lying nearby and just out of reach. He dived for it at the same moment as Philmore, and their hands scrabbled for it, touching it, touching each other, and sending the gun itself skidding further away.

"The gun, Graham! Get the gun!" Philmore tried to raise himself up onto his hands and knees, but Graham, eager to obey his leader's commands, got in the way, tripping over the other man. His interference hampered Bru's movements as much as it did Philmore's, and the three of them struggled together, too busy fumbling to fight, until finally Philmore was able to get free of the general melee. He pulled Bru back, further away from the gun, slamming him against the floorboards with enough force to wind him. The mercenary blinked up at the ceiling, startled by the grey mist now hanging before his eyes, struggling to collect his thoughts together in time to prevent Philmore from making it to the gun. He knew that the big man was just about angry enough at that point to kill both of his enemies, and then to worry later about how to get to his precious photograph. Try as he might, however, he could not sit up. Ignoring him, Philmore turned about, looking back towards the waiting weapon. He could almost feel the metal in his hands; could almost sense the touch of the smooth, cold weapon against his skin. He imagined firing it, and sending both of the men to their doom. It was a pleasant dream.

"Were you wanting something?" It was Spencer's voice, calm and collected, bearing just the slightest hint of amusement. Philmore, halfway to his feet, looked up; and saw the other man standing before him, the precious gun - target of those wonderful dreams - gripped firmly in his hands. A frosting of sweat broke out on the chemist's forehead. All of a sudden his plans seemed to be crumbling before him.

"No. No I won't--" He started forward, but Spencer cocked the hammer with a cold indifference that checked Philmore's onward rush. He froze, staring down the barrel of the gun, a million thoughts flashing through his mind at once. If he gave in now he would never get the formula; if he gave in now he would lose everything… He shook his head. If he could just get the gun; if he could just get close enough to deliver one blow… He could see it all in his mind's eye, but something inside him was preventing him from moving. He knew that he could never get to Spencer before the ex-SEAL fired. It might not be a killing shot, but it might as well be; and Arthur Philmore was not ready to die. Not even for the sake of the drug which had become his life's work. He raised his hands.


"And so the bad guys slink off into the distance with their tails between their legs, and the good guys once more shout Hi ho Silver! and gallop off into the distance." Bru rubbed his hands together with some considerable glee as the two police cars drove away. "If I say it myself, brother; we're good."

"There's not much that the police can charge Philmore with." There was a note of warning in Spencer's voice, but Bru, as ever, seemed unconcerned with what might yet be. He shrugged.

"There's assault, and trespass. And I figure they can get him for corruption, or whatever you want to call it. That Graham guy was totally out of it. He probably didn't even know what it was that Philmore was feeding him. That's another count of assault."

"He'll get less than five years if he goes to prison at all." Spencer stared after the departing police cars. "I think we should hand that photograph over to the authorities, and then they can worry about what to do with it. They'll be wanting it as evidence anyway."

"No they won't. I told them we'd lost it years ago." Bru looked uncharacteristically serious. "Think about it, man. A few years from now they could be sneaking it into the food supplies at military schools all over the country. It wouldn't be the first time they tested out drugs on soldiers without telling anybody. Would it."

"Bru…" Spence knew that his words would fall on deaf ears. His partner was obviously adamant.

"Besides." The younger mercenary shrugged, digging into his pocket for the now frameless photograph of Mary Ann Philmore (New Haven, 1873). "I'm getting kind of attached to her."

"You had that in your pocket? The whole time?" Incredulous, Spence caught Bru by the arm, marching him without ceremony to the hidden cove where they had left their jet-skis. "When they let Philmore out of prison, in a very short space of time, I am going to personally feed you to him, piece by piece."

"He'll be little." Bru held up his forefinger and thumb, very close together, as though to indicate. "Tiny, like this. He won't come back."

"Bad guys always come back, Bru." Spencer fastened on his waterproof jacket, then climbed astride his jet-ski. "Even tiny ones."

"Fine. Jessica can handle him." Bru leapt onto the other ski and turned on the engine, sending a huge burst of water fountaining out from under the back of the machine, soaking Spence in the process. A bellow of indignation came in response, and he grinned. "Race you." His ski shot forward through the water, leaving Spencer sitting, soaking wet, where he had been left. The big ex-SEAL sighed, and stared after his partner with an air of resignation on his face. It was like living with a child - a large, high-kicking, mean-shooting child, with a penchant for Jackie Chan impressions at the oddest moments, cocktails that stripped the enamel off one's teeth and the building of computers of mind-numbing capacity from scratch - but still, nevertheless, a child. And with a smile that showed his true feelings on the matter, Spencer kicked his machine into life and followed Bru out to sea. He could drown his partner later. For now, Thunder was waiting, and beyond the boat there was home.