"Your contact is Stephen Mullen. You're to meet him in Paris, just like last time. This should run as smoothly as clockwork, Craig, so I don't expect any hold ups. It's a very simple operation. I'll see you back here on Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning... Tuesday morning..."

Craig Stirling awoke with a jump, to the unpleasant reality of a distinctly unpleasant situation. A simple operation. How many times had he heard that? Sometimes it was almost accurate, and he didn't really blame Tremayne for the screw up this time. Tremayne couldn't be expected to know everything. Even if he did like his agents to think that he really did. It was an illusion that worked, most of the time. In his hi-tech office, surrounded by the best surveillance and information-gathering equipment that money could buy, supported by a network of highly trained and specialised agents, William Tremayne had a good chance of knowing much of what went on in the world, as well as when it happened and who was responsible. What he hadn't known was that Stephen Mullen, informer, playboy and international jet-setter, had been bought out. By whom, Craig didn't know. All he did know was that, when he had turned up at the rendezvous in Paris, Stephen Mullen had greeted him, not with an envelope filled with documents and photographs, but with a powerful tranquilliser dart. Craig had a vague memory of trying to get away, his superhuman constitution preventing the drug from taking hold immediately. He remembered... a bicyclist, swerving out of his way... a gendarme, chuckling at the drunken tourist... people on a boat, shouting at him. Everything else was too blurred to serve as a real memory. After the boat was a blur, and after the blur there was nothing at all, save waking up here - and that, miserable though it was, was the sum total of his knowledge. It wasn't exactly inspiring.

'Here' was a room. Perfectly square, by his reckoning - and his senses were good enough these days to judge such a thing without his bothering to do any checking - with bare stone walls and floor, and a plain concrete ceiling. The door was metal, and at least two inches thick, with a hatch that opened up every so often to admit a tray. It was kind of his invisible hosts to bother feeding him, he supposed, but he hadn't taken up the offer of food yet. Craig had been locked up too often before to trust food in circumstances like these. The memory of drugged food and water, and a long, torturous interrogation at the hands of his own employers was far too fresh in his mind.

He hadn't expected to drift off to sleep - or had hoped not to, at any rate. He didn't know how long he was going to be in the room, and fully expected to need to sleep eventually, but for the time being he had hoped to stay awake. Hence the jump, annoyed and faintly guilty, back to wakefulness. At least he hadn't been asleep for long; his instincts told him that, and he trusted his instincts. His watch had been taken away, losing him any precise means of judging the time, but he didn't entirely need it. His senses watched out for him in many ways now.

Fully awake again, he sat up and climbed down from the room's single metal bunk. He had surveyed the room a hundred times by now, checking the door, checking the walls, looking for anything that might allow him to escape. With superhuman strength to back him up, he had escaped from many cells in the past. This one though - this one was different. The door was too strong even for him to break. The ventilation duct was too small for a person to crawl through. The walls were solid and defiant. He had tried using part of the bunk to break through the walls and the floor, but to no avail. It would take explosives to get out that way. There wasn't even a keyhole on his side of the door that he could exploit, and the hatch that opened to allow the food tray to pass was equally unhelpful. He had managed to open it through sheer brute force, but the solidity of the door and the size of the hatch meant that the exercise had been a futile one. He was trapped.

But any prison cell, he reasoned, had to have a way out somewhere - and not just the one that the jailer used. He wouldn't believe anything else. He had tried the ceiling once before, testing the strength of the concrete with his bare hands, but now, with all the other options that he could think of exhausted, he turned his attentions to it again. He had pulled off a piece of the bunk's frame to use as a crowbar, and pulling it out from beneath the mattress, he climbed up onto the bunk and surveyed the solid grey barrier above him. It would not be easy, he could tell that at once, but he had great strength and resilience on his side - and unlike a wall, that could be as thick as it liked, a ceiling usually was not so tough. There had to be something above it, and he was prepared to cling to that thought for as long as need be.

It was backbreaking work. He was reaching up all the time, driving his makeshift tool upwards. Dust fell into his eyes, half-blinding him, and he seemed to make little impression on the concrete; but he had known that it would be tough. That was why he had left it until last, trying every other way that he could think of to escape from this place. If every other means failed, he had no choice but to try the one that was hardest of all; and so he continued, until his arms were aching; until his back was demanding that he stop. He held back then, for a moment, blinking through streaming eyes up at the barrier above him. He had made a hole, though not much of one. The concrete was made to last. Where the hell was he, that it had been built so securely? An ordinary man would never be able to escape from such a place; as yet he had no way of knowing if he would be able to escape it either. A crooked grin fought its way onto his face. He would escape. He always did. And if he couldn't find a way out of here on his own, pretty soon there would be help coming to find him. That was as much a certainty for him now as his own great abilities; for Craig Stirling did not have to rely just on his own skills. When he had been saved from a plane crash in Tibet, and endowed with special skills and strengths that he was still only just beginning to discover, there had been two other people with him. They looked after each other; they each knew when another was in danger. And if he couldn't find a way out of this prison on his own, then Richard Barrett and Sharron Macready would find him in the end. The thought strengthened him, and with a renewed vigour, he attacked the ceiling again.

They brought no more food for him that day - or what he thought of as a day. Perhaps they had finally got the message, taking away the tray untouched every time. How many times had they come, he wondered? Three times? That probably meant that this was his second day here. It wasn't a pleasant thought. His second day of attacking the walls, the door, the floor, skinning his knuckles on rough stone and unyielding metal. Not his favourite way to spend his time.

With an almighty blow, born partly through irritation, he rammed the improvised crowbar up into the ceiling, and felt the resistance abruptly cease. A great tumbling of dust fell down, and he shook it out of his hair in a coarse grey shower. A rough hole gaped down at him then, barely bigger than a silver dollar, but the greatest sight he felt that he had seen in months. Another few blows around the weakened edges, and several larger chunks of concrete fell down. It was only a matter of time then - time and persistence - before he had made a hole through which he knew that he could pass. Tired though he was, his enhanced strength was more than enough to allow him to pull himself up through the hole, and into the space above. He half expected to find himself in a cell just like his own, or a room full of startled spectators. Instead he found what looked like a mere storeroom. The door wasn't even locked.

"Alright Stirling. Now let's see where you are." Slipping from the room, he looked left and right along the corridor outside, before choosing left and setting off on his way. There didn't seem to be anybody about, which didn't surprise him. Had there been anybody in the vicinity, presumably they would have heard his demolition work. He heard nothing but his own feet, faint against the hard floor, and the sounds of his own body as it went about its routine business of keeping him alive. Inaudible noises to most, but with his superhuman hearing even the faintest of sounds were clear to him if he bothered to listen.

And he listened. Every few steps, he stopped. Every time there was a corner or a junction of corridors, he listened as hard as he could to everything around him, searching for signs of life. There was nothing. No guards patrolling. No people talking. Not a movement anywhere. Perhaps the place was soundproofed, every room sealed into its own little pocket of silence. Except that he couldn't find any rooms. It seemed to be an endless corridor, leading nowhere and doing nothing.

"I suppose it could be underground." He had barely breathed the words, but they sounded startlingly loud. He hoped that that was due merely to his enhanced hearing, and not because he had spoken loudly himself. Just because it seemed that there was nobody to hear him, didn't mean that it was alright to risk being heard. He cocked his head on one side, listening hard to nothingness, and trying to work out if his guess was right. His senses agreed with him - it did feel as though this place was beneath the ground. All the same, it seemed odd that this level of whatever place he was in should contain nothing save the one small storeroom that had been above his cell. The answer came to him then - an underground bunker, the sort of place used for potentially dangerous experiments. There would be any number of security measures, and safety measures in case of accidents. Changing tactics, he ran his fingers along the wall, and soon found that he had been wrong in assuming that there were no rooms here. There were a number of them, their doors hidden behind the wall. His senses told him that the rooms were empty, and he ignored them all. He wanted out of this place; not into some other part of it.

He pressed on, all the time reaching out with his mind and his senses, scouring the way ahead for possible dangers. Somebody had put him in here. Somebody had brought him food. It would be foolish to think from the silence and the emptiness that he was alone in here. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he heard the soft sound of a footfall up ahead.

He came to a halt instantaneously, aware that it was unlikely that he had been heard as well. Whoever he had heard seemed to have stopped walking as well, though, for he could hear nothing further. He didn't think for a moment that he had imagined the sound, which left him with two choices. Stand still, and see if whoever it was began moving again, or resume walking himself, and take the risk of being heard. He chose the latter, moving more slowly now, more cautiously, concentrating hard on the suspected presence up ahead.

He could feel it now - a definite sense of being. A person - a man, he thought - standing in the corridor. Whoever it was hadn't moved in all this time, which made him suspicious, uneasy - but there was no sense in being coy now. Edging forward a little more, so that there was only the one corner between himself and his quarry, he clenched one fist instinctively, and prepared to move. If there was a gun waiting for him, he might still be able to manoeuvre out of harm's way, but the best thing was to go out there with his fists at the ready. With his superhuman strength he was more than a match for anyone, especially with surprise on his side. Ready for battle, he flexed his fists, and swung himself around the corner - to come face to face with the similarly battle-ready Richard Barrett. They both froze, each staring at the other's raised fist, then slowly broke into matching grins. Craig lowered his hand.

"What are you doing here?"

"Getting ready to break your jaw, apparently." Richard also relaxed his battle posture, looking the other man up and down. "You look like hell."

"And you don't exactly look your usual dapper self. Been here long?"

"About twenty-four hours, at a guess. I was supposed to be taking a weekend's leave in West Berlin." Richard scratched his head thoughtfully. "Well, you know that. I was expecting you to join me, but I can't say that I was expecting it to be here."

"Maybe this is West Berlin. Do you have any ideas?"

"None at all. All I know is that I drank a cup of particularly noxious coffee in some little café about twelve miles from the German border, and woke up in an extremely uninspiring dungeon cell. It's taken me all this time to find a way out of it. Talk about built to last."

"Same here. Except for the coffee." By unspoken agreement they began to walk along the corridor, taking the same direction that Craig had been heading in before. Already their tone was more relaxed, the simple fact of their reunion enough to ease the earlier tension. "I've been here about thirty-six hours, I guess."

"And by the look of you it took some serious demolition work to break out. Somebody has built quite an impressive prison." Richard's eyes flickered with sudden gravity. "Do you suppose they have Sharron here as well?"

"You think somebody is after all three of us, or just Nemesis agents in general?" Craig whistled. "This could be nasty."

"It's already nasty. It could be extremely distressing." Richard's mouth quirked into a sardonic half-smile. "It'll be months before I can get another weekend off."

"Maybe this is some kind of offbeat health spa, and we're having a weekend off as we speak." Craig looked around at the solid stone walls, and felt the flash of humour fade away. Things didn't seem so funny after a moment to consider them. Richard clapped him on the shoulder.

"If Sharron is here, we have to find her."

"True." It was something to focus on, rather than on unknown captors and insane jails. "I didn't sense that you were here, though, even when we were right on top of each other."

"Neither of us was looking then," pointed out Richard. "If she's here, we can find out. You know we can."

"Sure. You want for one of us to try, and the other keep a look out? Or do we just assume that we're the only people down here? I haven't seen a living soul save you in hours."

"You've had a few meals pushed through the door, but haven't really seen anyone?"

"Yeah. That's about the size of it. We're underground, I've figured that much out. I guess whoever has been bringing the food lives on an upper level somewhere. We've got these lower floors to ourselves."

"Floors? You've seen stairs?"

"No. But I had to break through the ceiling of my cell to get onto this level, so there's at least two storeys here that are underground. With all this stone and concrete, if Sharron's on another level we might not find her without some serious concentration."

"This place has been built well." Richard sighed, slowing to a halt. "Have to try, though, don't we. Keep watch and I'll give it a go."

"Sure." Craig moved out into the middle of the corridor, looking up and down its length. He didn't expect to see anybody, but it made sense to check. Richard, meanwhile, sat down on the floor nearby.

"It's pretty oppressive," he observed, settling himself down on the none-too-comfortable floor. Craig nodded.

"Tell me about it. Listen, the level I was on is one below this, and I'm sure it's the bottom. So don't try reaching down any further than that."

"Will do." Richard's eyes closed, and a frown creased his forehead. "It's like a blasted safe. I can feel stone pressing down all around. It makes it hard to concentrate."

"If anybody can do it, you can." Craig had a total belief in his companion's ability to focus. Concentration had always been one of Richard's great skills. Another small smile twisted at the Englishman's lips.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Alright, here goes." The lines on his face abruptly smoothed out, and with a single, deep inward breath, he stretched his mind out. Out and up and down.

Stone. He saw stone. Felt stone, smelt stone. Stone and concrete and sheets of thick, thick metal. It didn't take him long to come to the same conclusion as Craig. It seemed that they were in some kind of bunker. There were a lot of facilities around the world that had been built to withstand nuclear attacks. Was this one of those places? Or an underground research centre, perhaps? Either could explain the size and solidity of the place. Neither made his job any easier.

"Sharron?" He whispered the word aloud, though it was his mind that was broadcasting it; sending her name far out through whatever medium it was that carried telepathic waves. "Sharron, are you there?" He felt no answer, so pressed harder; reached out further; stretched out his mind into the unknown places around him. There was nothing. Nothing but stone.

"Richard?" A hand on his shoulder brought him back to himself, and he blinked, opening his eyes to look up at the worried face of Craig Stirling. The worry disappeared almost immediately, hidden away as soon as the American was sure that he was okay. "You've gone a little pale. Maybe you need to take a rest. Get anything?"

"No. All I could sense was the enormity of this place. I'm glad I'm not claustrophobic. The weight of all that stone pressing down..." He shook his head. "It's too disorientating, and far too solid."

"Great." Craig sat down beside him. "Maybe we can take it as a good sign. Assume that Sharron isn't here?"

"All depends on what this has all been set up for, doesn't it. I'd be surprised if they'd got her. She was going to spend the weekend in Calais, wasn't she?"

"With some friends, yeah. Course somebody could have grabbed her on the way there."

"At some charming little café, with a cup of doctored coffee." Richard nodded. "We can't assume that she's not here, just because we can't contact her. Not until we know who we're dealing with." He climbed to his feet. "Come on. We have a lot of space to cover."

"You get any idea of scale?"

"Yes." Richard shot him a dry look. "And you probably don't want to know. Whatever this place is, it's big. Big and built to last."

"Secure, too. You probably noticed all the rooms are hidden - or protected, anyway. They're behind the wall, to make them airtight, I guess. The stairs must be hidden that way too, but without breaking open every door we find..."

"Maybe we shouldn't be looking for stairs. Or doors. Maybe we should be looking for a lift."

"Maybe. These guys wouldn't want to walk down miles of stairs just to bring us some food, I guess."

"Exactly. We should be looking for machinery."

"You take this side of the wall, and I take the other?"

"Sounds like a plan." Anxious to set to work, Richard ran one hand along the rough stone beside him. Machinery should not be too hard to find. They had located such things without too much trouble before. The problem, when he stretched out with his mind, was in focusing on anything other than the crushing sensation of the stone that hemmed them in. Across the way he saw Craig's eyes flick suddenly open, and could see that the same problem was affecting his friend.

"What are we? A hundred feet underground?" Craig stared up at the ceiling, frowning with disturbed concentration. "It feels... I don't know. Deep. Deep and..."

"Oppressive," finished Richard, when his partner didn't complete the sentence. Craig nodded.

"Like being sat on by a stone giant."

"In a sense." Richard managed a smile, glad to feel some of the tension washing away. "Have you ever heard of a complex like this? I wouldn't have thought that many European countries would have the funds to build it."

"The Americans have built bunkers and underground research centres all over the world." As they walked on, Craig touched the wall with his fingertips, keeping a part of his mind on the conversation, and a part on the search for a door. "That's not my area, though. I've been working in Europe too long."

"It must have taken a long time to build. You can't remember hearing of any projects while you were still in the military? CIA?"

"I was an ordinary operative, Richard. Not even a particularly high-ranking one. You think they issue briefings to everybody when they build some new top secret place?"

"No, I suppose not." Richard sighed, falling silent for a while, mulling everything over in his mind. "Perhaps we should be considering rogue scientists. Is there anybody you can think of who's lost governmental support? There was a British professor of rocket science who was recently discredited, but I can't imagine that he'd be well connected enough to start up his own operations in a place like this."

"There was a French guy too, wasn't there? Fell out of favour because he wanted to do some kind of banned research?"

"Yes. Something to do with chemical weaponry. That might explain the underground bunker, but I don't see what he'd want us for. It's not like we've been investigating him recently."

"We haven't been investigating anything recently that might lead us here. Our last case was a glorified bodyguard job."

"Precisely." Richard came to a sudden halt. "So if we haven't been kidnapped because of our work, why exactly have we been kidnapped?"

"Interrogation?" The thought had occurred to Craig several times since he had awoken in his cell. Given his previous experience that was hardly a surprise. Mindful of that fact, Richard nodded slowly.

"It's certainly a possibility. Does it really seem like that to you, though? And nobody has spoken to us yet."

"Maybe they're not in any hurry." Craig shrugged, leading the way onwards again. "I don't know. We've got to have enemies though, right? All the cases we've worked on? All the plots we've foiled? There are prisons all over the place with inmates who are there thanks to us. Maybe somebody wanted a little revenge?"

"By sticking us in an underground bunker the size of Mount Everest? Why not just kill us? No, there's something more to this. Something that we're not getting."

"Did you try speaking to whoever brought the food?"

"No answer. You?"

Craig shook his head. "I was in anti-interrogation mode. Don't speak, don't eat, and don't drink the water."

"Probably wise." Richard smirked. "Although the shepherd's pie that they gave me earlier was really quite divine."

"I'm very happy for you both." Craig slowed suddenly, head cocked on one side. "Do you hear that?"

"Not in the audio sense, no."

"Then I think I've found something." He tapped on the wall beside him, a frown marking out a furrow between his dark brown eyes. "There's something behind this wall."

"A room?" Richard joined him, examining the stones for any sign of a hidden door. Craig shook his head.

"Machinery. It's not in operation, but I can sense it. Could be an elevator."

"Could be." Richard shrugged, at a loss. "But I can't see how to get to it. Have you opened any of the rooms along the way?"

"No. I didn't try." Craig took a step back, eyeing the wall thoughtfully. "But I know there's something there, so there's got to be a way to get to it."

"A door made of stone?"

"Or a stone panel hiding a door. I guess if you want to move around in here, you need to know how the place operates." Craig didn't seem at all deterred. "Looks like stone. Feels like stone."

"But needn't be solid stone?"

"Something like that. There's probably a trick to opening it."

"Could be anything. A secret control hidden here somewhere, or some kind of portable device carried by the staff." Richard peered more closely at the barrier. "You know, it sounds a little different when I tap it. Could be it's just a façade."

"Then let's find out," suggested Craig, who had had enough theorising for the time being. "Beginning with the unsophisticated approach." He aimed a kick at the wall, and felt it move slightly under the assault. "You're right. The stone is thin here. There's something else behind it. It's going to take some effort to break through, though."

"Both of us together, then." Richard moved back a pace. "Ready?"


"Then on the count of three. One, two - and if I end up breaking my foot, you'll never hear the end of it - three." They kicked. A faint tremor showed in the middle of the wall.

"Alright!" Craig's enthusiasm was infectious. Richard matched his grin with one of his own.

"And again. One, two, three!" They kicked again, a little harder this time. Once more the wall seemed to move - and this time, a hairline crack appeared between two of the blocks of stone. Richard felt like cheering. Stepping back, they dispensed with the counting this time, and by unspoken agreement kicked once again. The cement holding the stone together crumbled, the stones themselves shook, and a hole burst inward in the middle of the wall. There was a loud clatter of falling masonry, and Richard immediately listened out for the distant sound of alarm. There was none. Apparently nobody had heard their demolition work.

"Come on." Craig was already at the hole, widening it with his hands. He peered through. "I think we were right. There's a door here."

"Any way to open it?"

"No handle. There's some buttons."

"Open and close, probably." Richard smiled sardonically. "Or open and explode."

"Probably." Craig pressed the upper of the two buttons, and the metal door before him slid open. "But we're not exploding this time. There's some sort of room back here, and what looks like an elevator."

"Perfect. We should be out of here in no time." Richard scrambled through the hole, taking a moment - now that the situation seemed less taut - to mourn the abuse that he was heaping upon his suit. "Or at the very least, we can find somebody to talk to."

"About Sharron." Craig nodded. "Yeah, I'm worried about that myself. The more time I spend in here, the more I get to thinking that this is a serious operation. I mean, we were both captured, brought here, hidden in some crazy kind of underground building - whoever is behind this is pretty efficient. I don't think we can assume that Sharron got away just because we couldn't find her earlier."

"Precisely. Especially since neither of us was aware of the other's presence until we met. We might not have been looking when we were heading towards each other in that corridor, but when I woke up in my cell, the first thing I did was look for the two of you, to try to see if you were anywhere nearby. I thought that I was alone."

"Yeah, me too. It's these walls, and the floors, I guess. We're going to have to start compensating for that, or we could be in trouble. This is one solid place." Craig froze suddenly, head cocked slightly on one side. "Wait a minute. Can you hear something?"

"I can hear something, yes. I suppose the lift shaft acts like a conduit." Richard listened for a moment, turning his head slightly as though optimising the position of an antenna. "They're speaking German."

"Yeah. You think we're in East Germany?"

"Could be. I can't think why, but it's a theory." He looked around at their surroundings - an uneven patch of rock, giving way to the neat metal of the lift shaft. "We should make use of this place. If sound carries down it - to our ears, anyway - telepathy might, too. I'll have a look around. You look for Sharron."

"Right." Craig leaned back against the wall, feeling the cool metal through the material of his shirt. He thought of Sharron, and reached out with his mind to look for her. It didn't take very long. ~Sharron?~ He used telepathy to speak to her, but she didn't answer him at first. ~Sharron? Are you okay?~

~Craig?~ She sounded surprised. ~Are you here too?~

~Yeah. Me and Richard. Listen, do you have any idea where here is?~

~Not exactly. Sort of. Listen Craig, you have to be careful. This isn't just an ordinary prison. I--~ The telepathic contact broke off, and she was abruptly silent. Craig stepped away from the wall, stirred into physical action by the mental shock. "Sharron?" He spoke her name aloud without realising it. "Sharron?"

"That was strange. It was almost as though contact was just switched off." Alarm bells ringing in his head at Sharron's abrupt silence, Richard glanced up. "We need to find her. Come and look at this. I think I've found something useful."

"Is that a map?" Craig joined his partner, looking at the sign he had found bolted to the wall. It was a diagram, apparently of the layout of the complex. "It's pretty big."

"It's very big." Richard traced along some of the lines with his finger. "Six levels, by the look of things, and I think we're one above bottom." He whistled softly. "No wonder we could feel the weight of all that stone. We've got one lift, and one exit, by the look of things. You know, if this place is some kind of research bunker, that doesn't seem very safe."

"Security above safety. Not unheard of." Craig tapped a point at the top of the lift-shaft. "No way of knowing what's up there. Might be a secure building above ground. Any number of guards."

"True." Richard shrugged. "But we can't think about that right now. We have to find Sharron before we can think about leaving." He saw the look in his friend's eyes. "We'll find her. She'll be fine."

"Yeah. Yes, of course." Craig nodded, already heading for the lift doors. Richard followed him, and together they regarded the controls. They looked ordinary enough, and a few moments after Richard had pressed one of the buttons, a door slid smoothly open. They both went inside.

"What level do you think?" asked Richard, eyeing the row of buttons by the door. Craig shrugged.

"We've worked that kind of thing out before." He closed his eyes, hovering one hand above the buttons. "The last person who was in here went to level three. I guess that doesn't necessarily help."

"Maybe it does." Richard eyed the relevant button appraisingly. "How far away would you say Sharron seemed?"

"Not far." Craig frowned for a moment, then pressed the button for level three. It seemed to him to be the one to choose, and he knew to trust his instincts. "What do you want to do when we get there?"

"Now he asks." Richard smiled faintly. "Only one thing to do, isn't there."

"Sure. Grab Sharron and run." Craig nodded, bracing himself for the moment when the door would open. "Not like they're going to be waiting for us, right?"

"Right. The way that those cells were built, they wouldn't expect us to find a way out in a million years. Which is somewhat disturbing. Whatever it is that we've done to these people, remind me not to do it again."

"Sure. As soon as I figure out exactly what we have done." Around them the machinery carrying them upwards began to slow, the change in engine sounds indiscernible to anybody else. "You ready?"

"I'm ready." Richard flexed his fingers, unconsciously limbering up. The lift was almost silent. Nobody else would be able to hear it, he was sure. Even if they did notice it arrive, they would never suspect who was inside it. There was no reason why anybody would.

~You take the right. I'll go left,~ Craig's voice inside his mind was the last thing that he heard before the door opened and the lighting changed. The cool blue of the metal box was sucked away in an instant by a rush of warm, bright yellow from the room beyond. There was no time to register any more than that. Craig was already running, and Richard followed suit, ducking to the right and heading instinctively for cover. Only then could he take the time to look more fully at the space around him.

It was a big room; more like a cavern carved out of rock, with a great domed ceiling above. The walls had been smoothed off lower down, but above they were still natural; rough and coarse; and marked with the veins of lurking minerals. The floor was of stone flagging, polished to a bright whiteness that spoke of sterility. Richard was reminded of the earlier conversation about experimentation and rogue scientists, and felt decidedly ill at ease.

"Sharron!" Craig had broken cover, spotting the third member of their team over at the far side of the room. Never one to sit and think for too long before action, he was already running towards her. Richard followed suit. There seemed no sense in hanging back. His sixth sense was sparking a myriad alarms, though, and he could sense Craig's unease as well. His partner was also well aware that something was wrong, then. Something. He was damned if he could work out what.

They slowed to a halt when they reached her. She hadn't moved, or tried to acknowledge their presence in any way. She just sat where she was on the floor, surrounded by beams of light, for all the world as though she were trapped in a cage.

"Sharron?" Craig crouched down on the floor, wary of the bars of light. "Sharron?"

"Craig?" She didn't look up, or open her eyes. "You mustn't stay here."

"We're not planning on staying here." Looking about with an increasing sense of nervousness, Richard kept his voice low and steady. "We're leaving, all of us, just as soon as we can work out how to get you out of there. It's some kind of cage, yes?"

"Yes." Still she didn't move, save for the barely perceptible motion of her lips. "The light is some kind of laser. An energy beam. They said that if I move, I'll get blasted." She sounded perfectly calm. "I can sense the power. I know that they weren't lying."

"Who exactly are 'they'?" Richard's eyes flickered once around the room, searching for any sign of surveillance. There were no cameras that he could see. Sharron gave a short, humourless laugh.

"I have no idea. They didn't bother to tell me. They know about us, though. They said that I wouldn't be able to communicate telepathically with you once they turned these light beams on, and I think that they were right. I lost contact with you very suddenly, Craig."

"I was worried about you." He smiled gently, though her eyes were still closed. "Don't worry. We'll get you out of there in no time."

"If it was that simple I'd have found my own way out. I doubt that you can just pull out the plug and have done with it."

"There doesn't seem to be a plug, anyway." Richard's dry humour brought a faint smile to Sharron's face. "We'll have to have a good look at this cage, and at the rest of the room as well. Try to find--" He broke off, distracted by a grinding sound nearby. "What-?"

"That's the door." Sharron was noticeably tense, as though she had had to fight the urge to move at the sudden sound. "You have to leave. Quickly."

"Over there." Craig was pointing to where a section of the wall was sliding aside. There were shadows showing beyond the hidden door; people, clearly, waiting for the space to grow big enough to allow them entry.

"Blast." Richard could see no immediate cover; not that he had really been planning to take Sharron's advice and run. With a silent word to Craig, he rose slowly to his feet. Craig did the same, eyes never leaving the opening door.

"Gentlemen!" There was a man in the doorway, with several others lurking in the gloom just behind. It was the man in the forefront who spoke, stepping through the door with a brisk, leisurely stride, his face bright with a cheerful smile. "I'm so glad that you could make it. I was afraid that your cells had been too secure for you after all."

"I beg your pardon?" Richard kept his voice level, determined not to rise to the other man's obvious bait. He could handle a bit of gloating without losing his temper, though he wasn't entirely sure about Craig.

"What do you want with Sharron?" Craig's voice was not nearly so level, though he showed no sign of anger as yet. The smiling man smiled still further.

"With her individually - nothing in particular. With the three of you as a unit - rather a great deal. Come on, Stirling. Don't disappoint me. Don't you know who I am?"

"I know you." Recognising the man was easy. One of the gifts that the three friends shared was that of memory, and they could recall almost anything, in unusual detail. Craig had recognised this man and several of his companions almost at first sight. "You're Andrew Wells. We shut down your operation in Manchester about three months ago. You didn't look like this then, though."

"I shaved off my beard and moustache. Dyed my hair. I'm told that my own mother wouldn't recognise me, so it's interesting to see that you do."

"You're supposed to be in prison," pointed out Richard. Wells nodded.

"I am aware of that. I escaped a fortnight ago. I'm surprised that you weren't informed, though I can't say that I'm sorry. It might have put you on your guard."

"I doubt it." Craig's tone of voice couldn't help but be insulting. A flicker of anger showed on Wells's face.

"But no matter." All of a sudden his own voice was like ice. "We're not here to talk about me, gentlemen. We're here to talk about you - and specifically the predicament of dear Miss Macready. Doctor Macready, perhaps I should say. If she moves, she dies. However it is possible for somebody on the outside of the cage to rescue her. If somebody were to have, say, unusual strength, and a particularly high threshold for pain, he might be able to reach the control lever set into the floor on the far side of the cage, just between two of the bars. You see? And if somebody were to have a nice turn of speed, and extremely good reactions, they might be able to pull Doctor Macready out of the way in time before the security measures are implemented. You see, if the lever is pulled, the bars disappear - but at almost the same moment they incinerate the person contained within them. I'm sure that none of us want that."

"You're mad." Richard's eyes were drawn irresistibly to the lever. "You make it sound as though nobody could possibly manage it."

"Nobody possibly could." A smile curled at Wells's lips. "Nobody human, that is. But you're not entirely human, are you. The three of you, with your tricks and your little skills. Why do you think that you were brought here? For fun? Hardly. You were locked up, in cells that no human could escape from. You escaped. Well now you're going to rescue your partner, gentlemen, or my assistant in the control room nearby will pull their own lever. One that is considerably easier to use. Poor Doctor Macready won't survive any longer than a millisecond, and--" He glanced at his watch, with an exaggerated gesture of raising his wrist and pulling back the sleeve. "And it appears that you now have less than two minutes. My apologies for keeping you talking. So what's it to be? Show off your talents to my colleagues and I, or stand back and let the good lady die? Either way, I'm sure it will be interesting research on our part. I wonder what the death of one of your number will do to the other two?"

"I ought to tear your--" Craig stopped before he could complete the threat, looking back at Richard. Wells smiled.

"Are you communicating with each other? Fascinating. We had theorised that you had the ability to speak telepathically, but it wasn't something that I was able to observe in action the last time that we met. You're discussing the situation, I assume?"

"Shut up," growled Craig, without bothering to look at him. Wells merely laughed.

"You want to toss a coin?" Richard, unconcerned with what their master of ceremonies was up to, seemed focused entirely upon the study of the bars of the cage. Craig shook his head.

"I'll get the lever. I'm stronger."

"Like hell you are."

"Maybe, maybe not. We don't have time to argue." The American crossed over to where the lever showed, tinted yellow, between two of the bars of the cage. "Just get ready to move her."

"It'll burn your hands off, Craig." For the first time, Sharron's voice showed signs of strain. The others could sympathise. It was one thing being in danger yourself, but when others were in danger as a consequence, the situation was entirely different.

"No it won't. By the look of things, the intensity of the light is a lot less on this side than it is in there with you." Craig glanced up, his eyes meeting with Richard's. ~On ten.~

"Right." Richard tensed up, ready for action. Inside his head, Craig was counting; outside his head, Wells was staring at them both, a sharp little smirk on his face. It made rather an inviting target for a well-aimed punch.

~Seven.~ Craig was flexing his hands, and Richard could feel him searching for the inner calm that gave them all their best chance for withstanding even high levels of pain. There was no telling what it would be like, sticking his hands between what amounted to the beams of a laser. Hot, certainly. Possibly rather more than that. ~Eight. Nine.~

"Craig, I--" But even as Sharron was making her protest, Craig's hands were darting forward. Richard felt some of his partner's pain, but put it aside in an instant. There was no time for empathy now. As the lever clicked into place, and Craig fell backwards, Richard was darting forward, snatching the frozen woman, and dragging her aside. They hit the ground hard, rolling once, and came to a halt just a short distance away from the cage.

"Richard." Breathless, Sharron opened her eyes at last, smiling into his eyes with obvious relief. "I thought I was stuck in there for good."

"It's nice to have you back." He stood up, pulling her to her feet as well, before turning back towards Craig. The third member of their team was slowly standing up, looking at his hands as he did so. "Are we all alright?"

"We'd all know it if we weren't." Craig came over to join them, and they could see that there were scorch marks on his skin. Sharron caught hold of his hands in an attempt to examine them, but he waved her away. "It's nothing. Just superficial."

"She was quite right, though, you know." Wells was still smirking, now more than ever. "Your hands should have been burnt off."

"Maybe your technicians don't know what they're doing," growled Craig. Wells laughed.

"No. No, they know what they're doing. And there's one of them who no longer has any hands, who can testify to that. All of which goes to prove the theory quite nicely, I think. A man your size should never have been able to shift that lever, Stirling. And I can't think of anybody who could have reacted quickly enough to get Macready out of that cage before the security program incinerated her. You're not human, though. Are you."

"Human enough." Richard narrowed his eyes. "What is it that you're after, Wells? You and your friends. Don't think that we can't see them back there in the shadows."

"Really?" Wells strolled closer, and behind him the lurking spectators also advanced a few steps. "What we want is quite simple. You always think that you get away with it, don't you. That nobody notices. But sometimes they do. You shut one firm down, and maybe while you're doing it somebody sees something. Like a woman who can throw a man across a room without the slightest effort. Like a man who manages to see two miles without binoculars. And maybe, when that's all finished with, you shut down another gang. And this time somebody notices something else. Like a man with inhuman hearing. A man who manages to send a warning to his friends when they're three miles away, and he's tied up and under surveillance, and shouldn't be able to do anything at all."

"Well, now--" began Richard, only be cut short by one of the people standing behind Wells, a thickset man in a grey flannel suit, who stepped up to continue the story.

"And perhaps these people, who see these things, they don't put two and two together quite at once." His voice was accented. ~Drugov,~ said Craig's inner voice, and Richard nodded slowly. Like Craig he had recognised the man earlier, putting a name to him whilst he had still been shrouded in shadow. Vladimir Drugov, a Russian scientist who had hidden himself away in the Fiji Islands with a store of stolen weapons-grade plutonium, and made a lot of threats to a lot of countries. "But then, these people who have seen things, they end up in prison. They end up in the same prison. And they talk. They mention three agents who were responsible for their capture. Three very distinctive agents. The British man and woman, and the American, all working together for some international organisation - Nemesis - that seems to have no tie to any one country. And soon there are theories, and suspicions, and plans. A determination to find out the truth. Do you understand now, the three of you? Prison cells that you shouldn't have been able to get out of. We watched you, though you didn't know it. We even made things easier for you, by making sure that you were undisturbed once your work had started in earnest. We set up a little experiment featuring Macready, so that you would have to show something of your abilities in the open. And now there will be more experiments, so that we can be sure of what you can do, and see about finding out how to do it ourselves."

"It's not that simple," Craig told him. Drugov glared.

"I don't expect it to be simple, Stirling. I just expect results. I will find out what you can do. I already know about the enhanced eyesight and hearing. I witnessed both for myself in one degree or another. The chances are that only dissection would allow us to discover the truth there, and I'm not entirely ready to attempt that yet. It would be a waste."

"I'm so glad you think so." Richard shared a look with his friends. "Look, what is it that you want to know? And what exactly is it that you're planning to test? It strikes me that if your rather outlandish theories are wrong, somebody could get hurt. Probably us."

"And it strikes me that if that happens, the only people here who will care will be you." Wells smiled unpleasantly. "So I don't see any drawbacks. The plan is quite simple. Some tests, to see how you react. To find out if we're right about what you can do."

"And then?" asked Craig. Wells looked him up and down, his gaze at once both appraising and contemptuous.

"And then we decide what to do next. We set about finding out how we can have what you've got. Because either you're not human at all, which doesn't strike me as being terribly likely, or you've had some kind of upgrade. And if you've had it, I don't see any reason why other people shouldn't have it too."

"Everything I've got I was born with," Craig told him. Wells smirked.

"Maybe. And maybe I'll cut you up and find out." Craig's lip curled.

"I thought that was more in Heissen's line. Yeah, we can see you Jan, just like we could see Drugov. Stop lurking."

"Interesting eyesight that you have there, Stirling." Footsteps scraped on the stone floor, as another shadowy onlooker came forward. Sharron eyed him with distaste.

"And I suppose you're where they're getting all these ideas," she muttered. He smiled at her.

"They had already reached their own conclusions, more or less. My observations merely strengthened the theory." His voice was sharp and cold, touched by an obvious dislike. "I'm flattered, though. My insistence that I was captured by people with superhuman abilities nearly led to me ending up in a straightjacket. But you remember me, don't you. You remember what I saw." Jan Heissen's voice was touched by his German origins, but only slightly. He spoke English fluently, something that had stood him in good stead when he had attempted to defraud several British and American museums out of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Richard raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know what you think you saw, but yes, we remember you. We tend to remember the people that we meet."

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me." Heissen shot him a dark look. "I'm sure that there are all manner of things that you can do. A faultless memory would sit rather well with the heightened senses, wouldn't it."

"Heightened senses." Sharron spoke the words so scathingly that anybody less determined might have been swayed. Heissen and his companions barely reacted.

"It wasn't hard, you know," Wells told her. "A little research. Questions in the right places, the right records looked at. Much of it is far from secret."

"Much of what?" asked Richard. It was Drugov's turn to take on the sarcastic smile that he and his colleagues seemed to be using on timeshare.

"Richard Barrett," he announced, with a certain degree of theatricality. "Born 1938. You had a rather impressive education, but a fairly ordinary career. You excelled at code breaking, but your work for Nemesis was no better than anybody else's. But then suddenly one day... everything changed."

"Sharron Macready," continued Wells. "It's a similar story. Your life, your career - nothing particularly special. Turned to a rather more... interesting... line of work after the death of your husband. Oh, my apologies if that's a sensitive subject. You seemed to have a promising career ahead of you with Nemesis, but it was nothing incredible. Until one day..."

"Everything changed?" asked Craig, his tone distinctly mocking. Heissen shot him a sour look.

"Craig Stirling. Born 1939. Career in the United States Air Force. More distinguished than some, less distinguished than others. And with you the story is the same. You joined Nemesis, you got your work done. You made a name for yourself, but it was nothing that impressive. Until suddenly the reports started to change. There were even concerns about just how you were getting such results. Questions were asked. There's nothing in the files that says how and when this great change happened, or to give any clues as to how you suddenly came to be getting such results, but every file tells the same story. Three above average agents suddenly becoming very much more. Very much more."

"I don't know what kind of story our records tell--" began Richard, but Heissen laughed, and he gave up his protest. It didn't seem likely that anybody here was going to listen. "Oh, this is nonsense. We're trying to tell you the truth, and you're not listening. What exactly is it going to take to convince you that you're wrong? One of us dying?"

"One of my technicians lost his hands trying to operate the lever that Stirling just used." Wells sauntered over, and snatched Craig's left wrist. Craig didn't try to stop him. There were a pair of red marks at the base of his thumb, faint signs of the burns he had received during the rescue of Sharron. They were already almost healed. He smiled nonchalantly, and shrugged.

"Maybe the cage thing wasn't working properly."

"Oh, it was." Wells let go of him, his whole manner changing abruptly. "Enough talk, I think."

"Now hang on..." began Sharron. He silenced her with a look. Not the type to be disheartened, she backed off as much to hear what he was going to say as because he had clearly wanted her to shut up. Pacing away from them all, he turned back at last to face the room, like a professor about to deliver a lecture.

"We've devised a series of tests," he announced, much as though it were something that his prisoners were supposed to be excited by. "Three tests, specifically, in addition to the one you've just performed."

"Are we supposed to cheer?" deadpanned Richard. Drugov smiled.

"You're supposed to prove us right," he said, with obvious relish.

"What if we refuse?" The answer to that seemed obvious from the outset, but Craig asked it anyway. Heissen shrugged.

"You die. Simple. Each test will be fatal to one of your number unless the others do as expected. Your choice."

"Perform like circus monkeys or die." Richard's expression was sour. "What a delightful choice."

"It's not a choice." Heissen was walking away, heading back to the sliding door. "It won't be the circus monkeys who die; just the colleague that they fail to rescue. It's not your own lives that you're gambling with, remember that."

"What if your tests are too difficult?" asked Sharron suddenly. They were all walking away now, back towards the door, leaving the three agents alone in the middle of the room. Drugov shrugged.

"We don't know what you're capable of. If we have set the bar too high... it's unfortunate. But there are often casualties in experiments. Good luck, all of you."

"Now wait just a minute--" Starting forward, Craig attempted one last protest, but it was clear that it was falling on deaf ears. Richard called out to him, a telepathic word to still his advance, and break through his rising anger. His colleague shot him a heated glare.

"You think we should just give up and go along with this?"

"I don't want to, certainly." Richard spoke very, very quietly - far too quietly for anybody save Craig and Sharron to hear him. "But sometimes it's better to play along, at least at first. Let's see what's going to happen before we make any snap decisions."

"I guess you're right." Craig rejoined them, though his body language did not speak of the acquiescence he had just voiced. "But I don't like being treated like some kind of puppet."

"No, me neither. I don't think we'll find it that easy to fight back just yet though. Too many people around, and probably armed. We need to bide our time - and you know it."

"We all need to cool down a little," suggested Sharron. Richard nodded.

"Right. And we can find our way out of anything, given the right opportunity. Can't we?"

"Sure we can." Craig dragged up a smile. "Okay, so we play by ear for now. But as soon as the time is right, I plan on showing those three just exactly how strong I really am."

"Now that is a plan that I'm happy with." Richard met Craig's smile with one of his own. "Looks like we're alone for now, though."

"Which leaves me feeling rather nervous." Sharron looked over at the sliding door, disappeared once again into the wall now that it was closed. "I think our little floor show may be about to start."

"And I think I know how." Richard's expression was suddenly set hard. "Do you hear that?"

"Hissing." Craig scanned the walls, turning in a rough circle. "It's gas. Hold your breath, everyone."

"I don't think that's going to help. I can feel it taking effect already." Richard's voice showed his considerable displeasure. "It must work by skin contact. Now that's not playing fair."

"It might not be strong enough to knock us out," suggested Sharron, though she knew in her heart of hearts that it would be. Even they could not resist tranquillisers, and she was sure that Wells and his confederates would be taking no chances. Craig flashed her and Richard a grin that somehow managed to retain its usual optimism. Oddly enough, even now it was strangely infectious.

~Good luck, guys,~ he sent, a private message in case they were overheard. ~See you on the other side.~

A moment later they were lost in sleep.


Sharron awoke slowly, letting herself come to consciousness in her body's own time. She ran a basic diagnostic, checking herself over as she reawakened, and smiled at the absurdity of asking herself how many fingers she was holding up.

"I think you're alright, Macready," she told herself, and sat up for a look at her surroundings. She was no longer in the same room as before, though that was no surprise. Instead she was in a small stone cell, the walls curved and rocky, the floor uneven. A room carved out of the ground, with none of the window-dressing that she had seen elsewhere. A short length of chain attached one of her legs to the floor, and she rattled it experimentally.

~No problem,~ said a voice in her head. She smiled at the sound of it.

~Craig. Where are you?~

~Next door.~ There was a shrug in the voice. ~Richard's not here. I can't find him.~

~Maybe they've done something to him, like they did to me. Something to stop him being able to contact us.~ She stood up, instinctively knowing which wall was the one that separated her from Stirling. ~You really think that we can break these chains?~

~I know I can. I've done it before.~ He didn't sound happy, and she sympathised.

~You think they're watching.~

~I know they're watching. I can feel it. Besides, the whole point of all of this is so they can watch. We could write off what happened before as a fluke, but do you think us snapping these chains can be explained away?~

~No.~ She looked down at the floor, a little subdued. ~We don't have a whole lot of choice though, do we.~

~We don't have any choice at all. Why do you think I'm so angry?~ She heard a long, drawn out sigh, and a clanking sound that could only have been Craig kicking at something in his irritation. ~We can't leave Richard out there. We have to find him. If they were telling the truth before, he might die otherwise.~

"Then we've really got no choice." She didn't realise at first that she had spoken aloud, and only the answering sound of Craig's voice told her that she had.

"The doors are only made of wood. I think these are just store rooms. Nothing too secure."

"Then we should be able to break out easily enough." She crouched down, examining the chain. "You're sure that we can break these things?"

"Fairly sure." There was a crunch of wood, followed a moment later by another as the door to her cell was kicked in. She laughed then, unable to prevent herself.

"Idiot." He looked faintly manic, standing there with a short length of chain dangling from one ankle, his usually immaculate suit covered in dust - she wasn't entirely sure why, but had to assume that it was due to something that had happened before their reunion earlier - and even his hair sticking up. He was brushing splinters of wood from his clothing, and grinning in the typically cheerful, typically optimistic Stirling way.

"Hi. You still chained up?"

"I was considering the best plan of attack."

"You're not going to catch it by surprise." He leant against the doorframe, arms folded. "Best just give it a good pull."

"A gentleman would offer to do it for me."

"The gentleman is being kept elsewhere. Besides, aren't you the one who's always demanding to be treated the same as us guys?"

"Ha." She took hold of the chain, gathered her strength, and gave a good, hard jerk. The links snapped roughly at the halfway point, and she smiled in merry triumph. It was a shame about the bit that remained fixed to her ankle, but if she squinted at it out of the corner of her eye, she supposed that she could pretend it was jewellery. Craig clapped his hands in congratulation, and she offered him a grandiose bow.

"Now what?"

"Now we find Richard." He had already disappeared out of the door, and she followed him out into a dimly lit corridor. It was as rocky and uneven as the room she had just been in, and was decidedly uninspiring.

"Easier said than done. We can't contact him, remember?" She closed her eyes for a moment. "I still can't find him. It's weird. This place is horribly claustrophobic."

"Yeah, I know. We found that when we were looking for you earlier. Don't try reaching too far just yet. It'll only get to you."

"Do you think all this stone is getting in the way? Stopping us from finding him?"

"I don't know. It was a problem when we were looking for you, sure, but I've been allowing for all that. Work that bit harder, and the stones don't get in the way anymore. No, you were right. They've done something to him just like they did with you."

"Some sort of electrical field, to stop me from reaching out to you." She shuddered at the thought. "It was very strange. But how do we know where Richard is if we can't contact him?"

"They want us to find him, don't forget that. And besides, just because we can't use telepathy doesn't leave us helpless. We have other senses to rely on." He was already walking purposefully away, and she hurried after him.

"You have no idea if we're heading in the right direction."

"Always follow your instincts. Haven't I always told you that?"

"Yes. And Richard usually tells me the exact opposite." She smirked. "Alright, Mr Instincts. Lead on."

"Keep your eyes open." He led the way at a fast pace, focused almost entirely on the search. With that taken care of, she let her own mind work on a different path, searching for forms of surveillance, and occasionally trying to restore contact with Richard. Wherever he was he was keeping silent, and she imagined him imprisoned in the same sort of cage that had held her. Bars of light, dazzling at such close range; the fear of the slightest movement being fatal. Richard being Richard, he would probably bear such imprisonment without a flicker of concern, and would emerge with a dry joke; but knowing that didn't stop her worrying. There was no telling where Richard was, or what predicament they would be called upon to rescue him from - or even whether they would be able to. Their captors didn't really know about their powers - not properly. All that they knew came from assumptions and suppositions; so they might easily have put Richard somewhere where even his colleagues could not help him. The thought made her shiver, and Craig looked back over his shoulder.

"What's wrong? It's not cold down here."

"Sorry. I was just thinking about Richard. Craig..." She let the question trail off before it began. He didn't press the issue, and they went on in silence for a few more minutes. Only when they reached a door at the end of the corridor did she stop, and let her troubles show on her face. "Craig... if something happens to Richard... I mean, if we can't get to him and he dies... will we know?"

"We'll know." Craig, who shared Richard's pain when he was hurt, and had even shared the kisses he had exchanged with the women in his life, was sure of that. He didn't want to think about it though, or imagine how it would feel. "But it's not going to happen." He tried the handle of the door, and when it didn't turn, gave it a sharp twist and pulled the entire door off its hinges instead. It fell to the floor with a heavy thump of wood on stone.

"Remind me to never get in your way," remarked Sharron, in a pale attempt to inject some humour into the conversation. Craig smiled, though not with his usual vigour.

"I don't see you kidnapping Richard any time soon. Come on." He was pushing on, through the door and into the space beyond - only to stop short. Sharron followed him, and looked about in surprise. They were in a room; a room that appeared to be a dead-end. There was no Richard, no clues, no sign that this place was in any way connected to the experiment into which they had been thrown. There was just a dusty stone floor, and a small, electric light bulb dangling from the ceiling. It was switched off, but both agents had excellent night vision. They could see almost as well in pitch blackness as they could in daylight, and the grey gloom of this latest cavern was far from pitch black.

"Nothing." Craig wandered into the middle of the space, staring about in confusion. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Everybody is wrong sometimes," offered Sharron. She sounded consoling, but inside her heart was thudding painfully. If they had come the wrong way, they had wasted valuable time that Richard might not have. Craig shot her a look that clearly told her to ditch the platitudes. Even in the bad light, his eyes managed to spark and flash.

"I wasn't wrong. I know I wasn't wrong." He shook his head, clearly angry. "I can't be wrong. Not if we're working against the clock." He shut his eyes for a moment, and she knew that he was looking for Richard. She also knew that he had been unsuccessful.


"We were supposed to come this way." He was examining the floor, looking for trapdoors. Sharron wandered further into the room, joining him in his search. He was too wound up now to be able to focus properly, and she hoped that she would be in a better position to search for another exit. It wasn't as though they could risk wasting too much time.

"Why's the air down here so fresh?" she asked at last, examining the walls in search of ventilation. "We're below the ground, aren't we?"

"We're a long way down, yeah." Craig shrugged. "Hidden ventilation maybe. I've seen a few grilles here and there, but they're small. Not big enough to crawl through though, if that's what you're thinking."

"But we were supposed to come this way, remember?" She closed her eyes, letting her sixth sense take over. An unfriendly room, uneven shape, uneven walls, uneven floor. She could feel Craig beside her, tense and annoyed, his natural optimism rising suddenly at this new piece of inspiration. It warmed her, raising her confidence and improving her focus, letting her reach out towards the walls with her mind, and seek out... victory. She grinned.


"You have something?" He didn't need to ask her what or where. Her mind was already showing him without her even realising it, and he was heading for a point on the wall before she had reopened her eyes. A point where the unevenness of the rock hid a narrow crevice, where a sort of natural tunnel led upwards. It looked like an underground stream might have passed that way once, wearing out a smooth channel for itself in the rock. Craig scowled.

"That's far too small."

"For you." She leaned against the wall, staring up the dark passage. Even with her perfect night vision she couldn't see an end; just tapering walls that led away out of sight. Craig shook his head.

"You? On your own? No way."

"So we wait down here and let Richard die?"

"Hardly." His anger was washing over him in waves, and she could feel it like a heat inside her mind. "There has to be some other way."

"I doubt it. This is a test, remember? It's not supposed to be easy. Look, you've got us this far, Craig. I'd never have thought to come here, but it was your instincts that brought us. Now it's my turn. I'm not exactly a novice anymore."

"I know." He smiled slightly, the expression somehow taut and incomplete, though his eyes were warm enough. "But I hate having to stay behind."

"You leave me behind often enough." She flashed him a smile that was rather more cheerful than she felt. "Come on. Give me a leg up."

"Touché, right?" Bending down slightly, he made a stirrup of his hands, then pushed her on up into the narrow fissure. "Take care."

"I intend to." She stared into the darkness, taking note of the positions of likely handholds. "It looks easy enough from here. Will you stay there?"

"I don't know. I'll be able to hear you if I do, but it might make more sense to look for my own way up." He watched her climb, and she sensed his frustration. Craig was not one for keeping his feelings in check. "Keep your wits about you. These guys have got more than one trick up their sleeves."

"So I gathered." She glanced down, once, as she climbed, and saw him still standing there below her. He flashed her a brief smile, worry both for her and for Richard showing in his eyes - then she was climbing around a bend and he was no longer visible. She heard the grating sound of metal somewhere beneath her, but assumed that it was Craig renewing his investigations, or machinery at work somewhere in the complex. She didn't realise that it was a door sliding shut across the bottom of the tunnel, sealing her in. Left behind in the chamber, Craig clambered up to try to move the sheet of metal, but could do nothing. In his anger he hit out at the seal, and nearly called to Sharron. He thought better of it. She had her own concerns now, and it was best to let her get on with what she had to do. She was heading towards Richard, and he knew that; this new obstacle was his problem. Only when he recognised the smell of gas did he realise just why the door had been moved into place. So, he was to be the next one in need of rescue, was he? Well he'd be damned if he would make that easy for his captors. Running for the door, he made his escape back into the corridor, heading for cleaner air. There was none. For all his new strengths and abilities, he had no defence against a gas that was absorbed through the skin. Fast running out of strength, he slumped down onto the cold floor, staring at the ceiling as it faded out of focus. So many levels of stone and metal above him... So much weight pressing down and sealing him in... The last thing that he saw before he passed out was a confused and nonsensical image of Richard, encased in electrical wiring, with clocks and counters ticking. He tried to call his friend's name, but the stone and the wires got in the way, and his voice wouldn't travel. The image blurred. Tangled in a jumble of spinning thoughts and fancies, Craig drifted once again into unconsciousness.


Sharron crawled up the tunnel as fast as she could, though the going was far from easy. In places the natural fissure had been augmented by man-made sections, smooth and regular, presumably to help keep it moving in a particular direction; but in other places it twisted and turned and narrowed down so that she had to force herself through. In places an odd phosphorescence lit the tunnels, shining from the rocky walls; in others everything was black. It didn't worry her superhuman eyesight, but she still wished for proper lighting. She had been climbing and crawling for a long time now, bothered by the silence in her head. Richard was still out of reach, it seemed, and Craig had gone eerily quiet. She had thought, in the midst of her climb, that she had sensed something from him, but she had been so focused on thoughts of Richard at the time that her mind had not been as open as perhaps it should. She had to focus on Richard, though, if she was to find him. She had to think of nothing else. How else was she to be sure of what to do, if the tunnel forked, or she found herself emerging in just another abandoned chamber? She didn't trust her instincts the way that Craig trusted his. She had to focus. She needed everything to be clear.

The tunnel ended at last with a grille, fused to the wall and impossible for any ordinary human to remove without tools. She pushed it away, and let it fall to the ground with a ringing clatter. It was an obstacle that she was glad to remove, and wriggling out of the tunnel - by necessity headfirst - she clambered down to the ground and looked about.

A chamber, just like the last one. Bigger than the one at the other end of the tunnel, but not as big as the one in which Craig and Richard had found her earlier. A few pieces of machinery that she couldn't identify stood against one wall, and several other pieces - some familiar, some not - were gathered together in the middle. A heart-rate monitor, a blood pressure monitor, a clock - no, two clocks. Three. She went over to them, listening to their dry ticking. The heart-rate monitor was turned on, but it wasn't beeping. She could see that it was connected to somebody, though, and that the somebody had a healthy, steady heartbeat. Intrigued, she circled the equipment.

"Richard"? She knew that it was him. She couldn't see him, but she felt him. "Richard?" There was no answer, so pushing her way between two of the machines, she crept closer. It was Richard alright, wired up like a patient in some torture chamber masquerading as a hospital, a tangle of wires encasing his head. Lights glowed, and clocks ticked. She shook his shoulder, as gently as she could, and he moved slightly, mumbling something indistinct.

"Great." Craig was the one with the instincts. Richard was the one with the scientific knowledge. And here she was with neither of them. She told herself off for such a defeatist attitude. She had brains, didn't she? And plenty of knowledge and qualifications of her own. She was a doctor for one thing, and a doctor should know about medical equipment. As slowly as she dared, mindful of the notion that she might not have much time, she set about identifying the machines that surrounded her friend. First, the head. Nothing medical, though she could guess that it was what was blocking their mental contact. Something to dampen the natural electrical signals? Then there was the blood pressure monitor, and the heart-rate monitor, and an encephalogram, registering very little activity. And then there were all the clocks, and... she swallowed. A bomb. Predictable, perhaps, now that she had found it, though she hadn't been expecting it before. A rather large bomb, and by the look of it, wired to the various monitors. As far as she could tell, if the blood pressure monitor or the heart-rate monitor ceased to register any readings, the bomb would be detonated. And if the encephalogram began to register anything greater than the basic activity that was currently showing on its screens, again the bomb would explode. If the clocks were anything to go by, there was a timer as well. Suddenly cold, she swallowed very hard. At some point the bomb was going to explode, but if she disconnected Richard from the machines she would be causing the explosion herself.

"I think," she said, to nobody in particular, "that this is one of those times when it's best to forget subtlety." Force wasn't her preferred method, and she preferred a more genteel approach on the whole; but sometimes that just wasn't an option. She gave her uncommunicative associate a wry look. "I hope you haven't been putting on weight lately." There was no reaction, but then given the position of the electroencephalogram in the whole explosive lash-up, that was probably a very good thing.

"Just so you know," she said chattily, wishing that she could make Craig hear her - and where had he got to, anyway? It wasn't like him to ignore her signals - "things might be a bit frantic for a moment. And I'm making some pretty big assumptions here, so if it all goes wrong, don't blame me." She frowned. "Well, if we survive, don't blame me." She frowned again. "Or don't blame me either way. If I'm wrong, we'll have all of eternity to worry about it, and it would get a bit boring if you were bearing a grudge." The clocks ticked on, the only response that she seemed likely to get, and she began to sort through the maze of wiring. There seemed to be quite a lot of it, so with luck she should have some leeway. It was pretty tangled, though. She didn't much like the idea of escaping only to find that they had taken the bomb with them.

"I'm guessing that the explosives aren't very powerful," she heard herself saying, ostensibly to the unresponsive Richard. "Although some feedback from you on the subject would be nice. Or not, since it would probably blow us up. I'm guessing that they wouldn't want to risk a big explosion because of the structural damage it might cause. Right? In theory all this stone would absorb a lot of the force, but you never know what the over-all effect could be, do you. Always assuming that they know anything about explosives. I wouldn't want to risk a big bang, anyway. And besides, I don't think they want to damage us that much... probably... Killing us is one thing, but they seemed to want something to dissect, so they wouldn't want us splattered all over the walls." She winced slightly at the image. "Can I assume that you agree with me?" The monitors ticked faintly; the clocks more loudly and with menace. "I'll take that as a yes. And I apologise for talking so much, but I've decided that it helps me think." More ticking. "Okay. Then we're decided. I'll be with you in a minute." She turned away, then hesitated and looked back. "Don't go exploding in the meantime. I have no idea how much time we have left."

She had to move the machinery to one side to get a gap big enough to move Richard. It grated on the floor, showing its great weight, but to her it was no particular feat to drag it aside. The clocks ticked on, and she speeded up instinctively, half convinced that the bomb was about to go off. It was impossible to relax, and when at last she had a space big enough to manoeuvre her unconscious companion through, she returned her attentions to the medical equipment with a distinct sense of nervousness. Soon enough, the bomb was going to explode, due either to time itself, or through her own actions. She could only keep hoping that she was right in her assumption that the blast wouldn't be big. Drawing in a deep breath, she gave Richard another quick check. His heart-rate was fine, his blood pressure was fine. The electroencephalograph readings worried her, but she had to assume that the corona of wiring around his head was causing them. Otherwise, he was in a deep, deep coma, and she didn't want to think about the possible consequences of that. Quickly she loosened the cuff of the blood pressure monitor, and the tape that kept the heart-rate detector wired to his chest. Finally, she loosened the encephalogram pads from his head, and reattached them to one of the clocks. There would be an electrical signal there, but hopefully not a strong one. The bomb didn't explode, but the readings on the screen nearby changed. It seemed to her that the ticking of the clocks was speeding up.

"Blast." There was nothing else for it. She ripped off the wiring that surrounded his head, with no time left to be gentle, or to worry about after-effects. Richard groaned faintly, and she felt something inside her head. He was there again, though still faintly. She greeted his presence with a smile of relief, then taking firm hold of the trolley on which he lay, she took a deep breath - and ran. The blood pressure monitor fell by the wayside. The heart-rate cables jerked free. The wheels of the trolley jerked and bucked on the stone floor, and she careened into one of the machines that she had not been able to identify. Richard started to sit up, clearly surprised, asking a startled question without speaking a word. She ignored him, running faster, giving the trolley an almighty push that carried it far over to the other side of the room. It crashed there, sending Richard into an undignified heap on the floor - just as the bomb exploded. Sharron fell to the ground, caught in the tail-end of the shock-wave, sheltering her head with her hands. Only when everything was silent did she rise, somewhat tentatively, to her feet.

"Hello." Richard was helping her, which was something of a surprise. She had been worried that there would be repercussions from his deep unconsciousness. He seemed fine, though, and considerably less bothered by the explosion than she found herself to be.

"Hello yourself." She offered him a slightly shaky smile. "Are you alright?"

"That's my line. But yes, I seem to be." He looked her up and down. "I take it there's a reason why you just threw me across the room and then blew half of it up? I've grown to expect a much less demonstrative approach from you." He frowned suddenly. "And speaking of which, where's Craig?"

"Down a few levels, or... I don't know how many levels actually. There was a ventilation tunnel, and it was too small for him to climb up. He's gone awfully quiet though."

"Yes, he has, hasn't he." Richard frowned slightly. "He's unconscious. Do I assume that your knight in shining armour act was one of these tests that we're expected to take part in?"

"Yes. You were going to explode. I thought it was better to stop that."

"Hmm. Probably the better option." He gave her a brief hug. "Thanks."

"And now we have to rescue Craig, don't we."

"I rather think so." He stretched, stiff from an enforced sleep that he didn't remember. "He's supposed to be the really empathic one, but we have a good connection usually. I think I can find him. You?"

"I suppose." She rubbed her head, still ringing from the explosion. She had been right about it not being a very powerful bomb, but it had been considerably more so than she had expected. She had been too close to it as well, and her head was still protesting. Richard smiled.

"Never mind. My turn. Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine. My ears are ringing a bit, that's all." She flashed him a smile, grateful for his concern. "Come on. We have to find Craig. They might have him connected to a bomb of his own by now."

"Yes..." Richard took her hand, and led the way towards the door. "And I don't much fancy feeling that inside my mind."

Mindful of her earlier conversation with Craig, along such similar lines, Sharron could only agree.


The corridors all looked the same, although Richard knew that they weren't. Not entirely. There were little differences - a mark here, a scuff there; evidence of when this place had been tunnelled out of the rock. Changes in the colouring acted as landmarks, the variation in mineral presence told him that he was not walking in circles. Sometimes they encountered a place where flagstones or floor tiles had been laid, the corridors given a more homely look. The ceiling smoothed off, the walls more perfectly rounded. Areas that suggested they had once been set aside for living quarters, for whatever staff had been intended to use this facility. He wondered if it ever had been used. Certainly none of the three men who had brought them here had built it - it was older than that. Much older. One of them must have found it, somehow, and led the others here. As for the scientific experimentation for which it must once have been used, he had seen no clues as to what sort it had been, and what country had been behind it. There were no signs on the walls. None of the usual warnings and directions and lists of rules. Just blank stretches of stone. It was a nowhere place; a realm of nothingness. A place of dislocation.

"It's big," said Sharron once, as they walked along together. Richard nodded. There was little point in answering. Certainly the place was big. A virtual castle, built under the ground. A castle with, it seemed, just the two of them inside it. All that emptiness, all that silence, and just the two of them to fill it.

"Here," was all that he said in the end, and that some time later. They had reached the lift, hidden, just like on the lower floor, behind a door built flush with the wall. A security precaution perhaps, or part of some system to protect the complex from spillages. There was no telling what the place had been designed to contain, after all. Deadly chemicals, germs, viruses - any number of things that might escape. They would want extra doors, extra seals, extra levels of protection in such cases. He didn't want to think about what might still be down here somewhere.

"Where to?" asked Sharron, when they were inside. Richard shrugged.

"Trust in instinct," he said, more or less as a joke, but when he pressed one of the numbered buttons he was more or less sure that he had chosen correctly. There were vibrations in the air, sometimes. Things that he was learning to read, the more accustomed he became to his powers. He was learning more and more to focus on such things, to hone his abilities, to read what was there to be read. Sharron was happy to accept his judgement, and he was glad about that. She looked tired. It had been difficult for all of them, but she had been very close to that explosion, and even though she said that she was alright, he was resolved to keep an extra eye on her. They all healed fast, and he would probably have shrugged the incident off had it happened to him. She was different though, and he couldn't help feeling that way. She was younger, less experienced, less worldly. Richard liked to try to keep her safe. She smiled slightly.

"I am alright, you know."

"I don't doubt it. Being blown up every once in a while is very good for the constitution, so I'm told. More people should try it."

"Speaking as a doctor, I can't say that I recommend it."

"Oh, nonsense. You've been out of medical school for too long, that's all. All the fashionable teaching hospitals are blowing people up nowadays."

"Idiot." She closed her eyes briefly, tilting her head towards the roof of the lift. The surface was up there... four levels above, she thought. It would be wonderful to try to get up there. And Craig was... Two levels up. One level. The lift jolted itself to a halt.

"He's still unconscious," she observed. "They were keeping you that way with some sort of medical equipment, but I don't think they're using that on him. I can feel him. I couldn't feel you."

"Yes. Just like I couldn't feel you before. I wish he'd wake up though."

"It's strange. I've got so used to the two of you. When you're close by like this, there's a sort of buzz, and I know that I can talk to you whenever I want. It's odd when one of you isn't answering."

"I know." Richard was frowning as he led the way out of the lift, into what looked almost like a reception area. There was a desk of sorts, with a calendar beside it. It was dated 1954, and the month showing was March. Sharron raised her eyebrows.

"March 1954? We seem to have travelled back in time."

"Indeed we do." He offered her a smile. "And quite some way, too. Ouch. If it's 1954, that means that I'm sixteen again, and I don't much fancy that prospect."

"I don't know. I quite like the idea of meeting you at sixteen."

"Oh no you don't. I assure you, I was quite the irritation." He flicked through the calendar. "Seems that this place was abandoned for a quite a long time, anyway, before our friends took it over. Anything on the desk to suggest what it was used for?"

"There's nothing at all. And we probably shouldn't be wasting the time looking."

"No, probably not." He sighed, looking up and down the corridor that led away from the desk. "Come on. This way."

"I hope you're right."

"I am." He looked serious for a moment, the same sort of expression that she had seen on Craig's face earlier. The two of them had a special bond, she knew that. They had been close friends for some time now, and they spent a lot of time together. It was hardly a surprise that they were able to find each other so easily, or that the silence of one would so bother the other. He chatted as he walked, though, sounding much like normal; the chatter, she was sure, intended for the ears of any eavesdroppers. Window-dressing. Somebody, after all, was sure to be watching all of this.

"So, what were you doing in 1954?" he asked. She shrugged.

"School. What else."

"Wowing the teachers with your remarkable mental faculties."

"Driving them up the wall with my determination to break the rules might be closer to the truth." She smiled, blushing slightly. "I used to climb trees in my school pinafore. I was always ripping my tights and losing my hat. I think they thought I was some sort of monster. And you, of course, were the school genius." He winced.

"I was horribly precocious. I think I used to give the maths teachers nightmares."

"You couldn't have given my maths teacher nightmares." Sharron smiled at a distant memory. "She was a giant, and she lived in a house full of bats. We were all quite convinced that she was a witch."

"Perhaps she was." Richard grinned teasingly. "Stranger things have happened."

"Possibly. I suppose it depends on your definition of strange." She stopped suddenly. "Just up ahead."

"I know." His tone of voice had changed subtly, the volume dropping in the hope of avoiding hidden microphones. His expression remained much the same though, for the benefit of likely cameras. "And Sleeping Beauty is beginning to stir. Hopefully that will simplify matters."

"Or not. Why didn't they try to block his mind signals too?"

"Ah." Richard nodded slowly. "Good point. One nil to the mad monster schoolgirl."

~Mad monster schoolgirl?~ The voice was faintly dazed, but it came though clearly enough. ~Huh?~

~Craig!~ The relief was obvious in Richard's inner voice. ~Back from the blue beyond. How are things?~

~Okay, I guess. There are no mad monster schoolgirls in here, though. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?~

~The jury is still out on that one.~ Richard couldn't help smiling. ~We're just a short distance away down the corridor, as you've probably guessed. What's the set up?~

~A room. Roughly circular, about forty feet in diameter, and maybe half as high. I'm... uh oh.~

"Uh oh?" Richard looked across at Sharron, who led the way at a suddenly faster pace.

~Uh oh?~ she prompted. It took Craig a moment to answer.

~I'm on some kind of table. And they've been learning, as whatever is tying me down is a whole lot stronger than those chains they used before. I guess that was more of a test than we knew."

~And?~ asked Richard, sensing that this was hardly the reason for the dismay. Again it took Craig a moment to answer.

~Well, I'm guessing they weren't joking about the dissection. As a matter of fact, I think the guy with the scalpel is about to begin.~

~We'll be right there.~ Richard broke into a run, only to be brought to a halt just moments later by what appeared to be a dead end. Sharron skidded to a halt beside him.

"That's impossible!" she exclaimed, reaching out to touch the wall in front of them. "This can't be a dead end."

"I don't think it is. Not exactly." Richard leaned against the stone wall, trying to move it. "Think. They've tested our strength, our instincts. What else is there? What test might this be?"

"Sight? Sixth sense?" All attempts to keep such things from the ears of those watching had evaporated. "Or maybe it's just strength again, or--" She broke off, turning pale. "Richard... you don't think that maybe we're not supposed to be able to break in there? That they're really just testing how close we all are? Maybe the experiment now is what happens if they..." She didn't finish the sentence. Richard shook his head.

"No. I won't believe that. There is a way into that room. Now help me find it."

"Of course." She joined him, running her hands over the surface of the barrier, searching for something that might indicate the presence of a door. A hairline crack - even just a sensation; something that would tell her sixth sense that a door was there. She felt nothing. Beside her Richard was staring up at the ceiling, searching for inspiration up there. As she watched him he reeled, and grabbed suddenly at his arm.

"Craig?" she asked, already knowing the answer. He nodded.

"This experiment just keeps on getting better and better, doesn't it." He rubbed hard at his arm, then drew in a deep breath and returned his attention to the task. It wasn't long, though, before he was clutching at his arm once again.

"Are you alright?" asked Sharron. He smiled bitterly.

"I'm fine. It's Craig that they're hurting."

"Apparently it's both of you." She smiled slightly, trying to lighten the situation, the way that he always did. "I thought it's supposed to be Craig who's the empathic one."

"Very true. Remind me to complain to him later." Richard drew in a deep breath. "Now keep looking."

"I don't understand it." She took a couple of steps back, taking in the scene. "Where would you hide a door?"

"He's on the other side of that wall."

"I didn't say he wasn't. I can feel him close by." Sharron's eyes widened in sudden thought. "Wait. We knew to come to this floor, and we came down this corridor because we could feel that he was close by. That doesn't mean that the entrance is down this corridor. What if it's back the way we came? On this floor, yes, but not here."

"Sharron, I could kiss you!" He stopped short of doing so, and instead gave her a brief hug. "Our instincts led us to draw closer to Craig, but in a sense that was a red herring. I--" He doubled over suddenly. "Damn. We have to get to him quickly."

"Can you tell what they're doing to him?" She could feel an unpleasant sensation in her skin, a prickling inside her head that told her that Craig was in pain, but she had never experienced the sort of thing that Richard was enduring now. She remembered watching Craig suffering through the electric shocks being dealt to Richard during an interrogation, and had to conclude that it was something in which it was better not to share. It was too weird. Too personal. Too disturbing.

"It's sharp. Stabbing." Richard was already hurrying back the way that they had come. "A knife. Or a scalpel, I suppose. He did mention dissections remember."

"I remember." She closed her eyes briefly, searching, but wasn't surprised when Craig didn't make contact. He would need his concentration just now. The suppression of pain was one of their many talents, but it was one that was hard to master completely. Of all of them, Richard seemed to have managed it the best, with his greater levels of focus and concentration.

It took them just a few short seconds to reach the reception area, though it seemed far longer. It seemed longer still since their light-hearted conversation there, about 1954 and their experiences at school. They split up, examining the walls, the floor, the ceiling, moving the desk, hunting for anything that might help. Every so often Richard winced, reminding Sharron, should she need reminding, that they had to be quick. It was affecting her concentration though, and she knew it. Her worry for Craig was stopping her from focussing at all. She drew in a deep breath, and nearby, sensing her new resolution, Richard did likewise. He reached out for her hand, and she nodded. Two heads, perhaps, were better than one. Linked, they closed their eyes, emptied their minds, and concentrated solely upon doors. A door. One door. The door. And with the slow dawning that came from a sixth sense seeing what the eye could not, suddenly they had their answer. Letting go of Sharron's hand, Richard was at the desk almost before she could react, hauling open a locked drawer as though it had never been locked at all. Part of the desk came with it, in a loud protestation of metal and wood.

"That's tidy," she commented gently. He flashed her a brief little smile that she was glad to see, before returning his attention to the desk. A Richard who didn't smile now and again, no matter what the situation, would be a Richard about whom to worry immensely.

"Open sesame," he said, and pressed the button that had been hidden inside the locked drawer. Immediately the far wall swung open, with barely a sound even to their ears, revealing a corridor beyond.

"Magic," said Sharron. Richard nodded.

"Absolutely." He hurried over to the door, running into the tunnel with little of his usual caution. Sharron chased after him, finding a neat, squared-off corridor. Several doors led off it; pompous-looking doors, somehow, one or two still bearing brass nameplates. An important section of the complex, then - not that it mattered much to her. Quickening her pace, she caught up with Richard, who had reached the end of the passage. In front of them was a tough metal door with no sign of a handle; only a button to press to alert somebody on the other side to open up. Richard glowered at it, absently rubbing at a phantom pain in his arm.

"Any ideas?" he asked. Sharron shook her head.

"It's too heavy for us, I suppose?"

"Sure to be." He ran one hand over it. "It's a big door. Probably designed to maximise sterility, for whatever experiments used to go on on the other side."

"As opposed to the experiments that are going on now." Sharron cast a meaningful look at Richard's arm. He stopped rubbing it, looking faintly self-conscious.

"I'm doing a better job of suppressing it now," he said, and gave the door an experimental thump. "I only hope he is, too."

"Thump the door like that and they'll know we're coming," pointed out Sharron. He raised an eyebrow.

"Have you forgotten that they're watching us all the time anyway? They already know that we're here. And I'm sure that they know that we know. That they know." He shook his head. "There must be some sort of failsafe device. What if something went wrong in there? Nobody would be able to open the door then, but they'd have to have some way of getting a medical team in."

"Not if they were handling the sort of thing that you can't risk allowing to escape." Sharron could think of any number of germs and gases that would have to be kept contained following an accident. Richard nodded.

"True. But not every accident is that lethal. I still think that there has to be a way of opening the door from this side. It would be hidden, so that maybe only the command staff would know about it." He shrugged. "Well I'd build the place like that, if I was the designer."

"Then where would you put it, if you were the designer?"

"Good question." He seemed taken with the idea, studying the walls immediately around the door with a thoughtful expression etched onto his face. "Somewhere that's not in anybody's eye line... Somewhere that's not too obvious, but not too difficult to get at quickly in an emergency." He knelt down on the floor, closing his eyes to let his sixth sense take over.

~Leave it, Richard,~ said a voice in his head. He glanced up. Sharron was looking surprised, and touched the door with one hand, as though to bring Craig closer to them.

~What's wrong?~ she asked him.

~It's a trap. Yeah, I know. Big surprise, right? But I mean it. You come in here and they've got us all again. Head for the surface and go for help. They won't kill me if I'm all they've got left.~

~Craig...~ Richard clearly was not impressed with the suggestion. A low laugh answered him.

~Bear with me, okay? Listen, I think they've stopped with the pin cushion thing for the time being. They're over in the corner talking. Drugov and Heissen. They know exactly where you are, and there's something that they're cooking up to surprise you with when you bust in here.~

~I wouldn't expect anything less,~ Richard told him. Sharron nodded.

~And don't forget that they know you can overhear them. They know about our hearing abilities. Maybe they want you to pass the warning on?~

~You think the trap is a trap?~ There was a pause, and they could almost see him blinking at his own confused sentence. ~You know what I mean. Sounds a bit involved, guys.~

~Well maybe it does. But at any rate, I'm not heading for the surface. If they think that they can capture us when we go in there, they're welcome to try.~ Richard, still examining the floor, had found a hidden catch. He pressed it, and a small section of flooring slid aside. There was a big, square, red button beneath, with a warning written beside it: Do not press until sure that quarantined area is clear of pathogens. He smiled. "Bingo."

~Richard, I've got a bad feeling about this. Forget it. Go for the surface. They probably won't be expecting that.~

~I have a nasty suspicion that they've got pretty much everything covered.~ Richard stared down at the button. ~I know what they've been doing to you. I felt it; some of it at least. You really think that we're going to walk out now?~

~Yeah, I do. What happened to Mr Practical, huh? They guy who was willing to leave me in Tremayne's interrogation cell, with everything that went on in there, just to try to protect the secret of what we are?~

~Maybe he learnt his lesson from that experience.~ Richard shook his head, firm in his decision. "Sharron? Maybe one of us should make a break for the surface."

"No." It was her turn to shake her head. "We stick together. Craig's right, though. I have a bad feeling..."

"This whole weekend has been a bad feeling." Richard knew what she meant. There was something... some inkling of danger lurking in his mind. But in this place, where everything might be a threat, it was too hard to be sure of specifics. He made his decision. ~See you in a moment, Craig.~


~In a moment.~ What other option was there? He certainly wasn't going to make a run for the surface now. He pressed the button; heard a mechanism click loudly into place. Heard machinery whirr.

And around him the world blew apart.


When Craig awoke strapped to a table, his first thought was that this was a minor irritation. Another part of the test. He had snapped chains and handcuffs since being given his superhuman strength; what was this? But the metal bands that held him to the table stubbornly refused to be broken, and he began to realise, as coherence returned with full consciousness, that this was not going to be as easy as he had thought. Not the type to give up, he rested briefly and took stock of his situation. Richard and Sharron were nearby, which was immediately reassuring. They appeared to be talking abut a mad monster schoolgirl, which probably made sense if you were fully conscious and had heard the other half of the conversation. Or possibly not. Just now the only thing that was making complete sense to him were the straps that were keeping him still, and mad monster schoolgirls definitely seemed a more attractive prospect. He spoke to his friends for a few moments, and surveyed his immediate surroundings more thoroughly. Drugov and Heissen were in the room as well, apparently dividing their time between examining some pieces of equipment, and watching him. Enjoying the sight of him struggling to break free, no doubt. He would have glowered, but fought back against the more fiery side of his nature. The calming presence of Richard helped to a degree, and he was glad of it; Heissen would enjoy trying to goad him, he knew that. The two of them had hated each other from the moment of their first meeting... ten months ago was it now? Their enmity stemmed from stubbornness on both sides; that and the fact that Heissen had had been soundly defeated, despite believing that he had had his opponents dead to rights. Craig didn't want to risk rising now to his bait.

Something was happening, though. They had watched his return to consciousness, and the battle for freedom that had come with it. Now that he was fighting no more, they obviously had other things on their minds. Chatting to Richard and Sharron about mad monster schoolgirls might take some of the edge off the situation, but he was awake properly now, and several things were becoming unpleasantly clear. Here he was, strapped to a table with no immediately apparent means of escape; somebody had removed his jacket and tie, and rolled up both of his shirt sleeves as far as they would go; and Heissen, looming closer, was holding a surgical scalpel and at least one hypodermic needle. Somehow Craig didn't think that it contained an anaesthetic. He played it cool for Richard and Sharron, both party to a degree to the thoughts that now crowded his brain, but he couldn't deny to himself that this did not look like his best day ever. He abandoned his conversation with his friends then, deciding that he was going to need his concentration. He would just have to wait until later to find out where the monster schoolgirls had come from. Presumably somebody knew.

"Something I can do for you?" he asked, in a conversational tone. Heissen waggled one of the hypodermic needles, and smiled.

"You could say that."

"Ah. Well be careful, yeah? I'm very ticklish."

"I wasn't planning on doing any tickling." The needle stabbed down, and Heissen drew off a quantity of blood. "I was planning on making a start at finding out exactly what you are."

"Oh." Craig's eyes followed the needle as it passed from Heissen to Drugov. "That's nice. If you find out, be sure to tell me."

"I will." Heissen filled the second needle. "So what do you think we'll find, when we study this?"

"Er... blood?" It was always a risk, being rude to a man with a knife, but Craig had never been all that good at restraining himself. A look of displeasure flashed across the harsh face that loomed above him, then Heissen turned smartly away, delivering the second needle to his partner. Once again Craig watched the exchange, a feeling of distinct unease troubling the back of his mind. He knew that his blood was no longer human, at least in the usual way. It did not belong to any of the known blood groups, and any biologist would spot that immediately. What exactly were these people planning to do, once they had the results of their experiments? Once they had proved to their own satisfaction that the three Nemesis agents were exactly what they had suspected them to be? They had mentioned wanting to find a way to obtain their own superhuman powers, so presumably there would be many questions, sooner or later. They could ask all they liked. Craig certainly had no intention of telling anybody about the strange race of people in Tibet who had saved his life and those of his friends. A promise was a promise, after all - and he owed those people more than he had ever owed anyone before. Heissen was toying with the scalpel now though, and his movements were more than enough to bring Craig's thoughts back from the icy cold mountains of Tibet. He raised an eyebrow.

"That's a very messy way to collect blood."

"I wasn't planning on collecting any more blood." Heissen twirled the scalpel around his fingers, like a drummer showing off with his sticks. "Cast your mind back, Stirling. I had you. I had won. You were locked up, one of my men was about to deal with Macready. It was all over bar hiding the bodies."

"I remember." He wasn't likely to forget. He had walked straight into a trap, and nearly got Sharron killed in the process when she had come after him. She had been knocked out and locked in an old garage by one of Heissen's men, who had then turned on a pair of old cars and left them running. Craig had felt the sensation of slow suffocation, and realised what was happening. Previously content to wait around in his cell to see what he could overhear, he had torn the door from its hinges and raced to Sharron's rescue. He had thought that nobody had seen him. He rather suspected now that he had been wrong.

"You knew, didn't you." Heissen wasn't asking. He already had his truth. "You knew that she was choking. I was watching you, and you knew. You coughed, you had to grab hold of the wall for support. I thought you'd taken a cyanide capsule at first. But it was you feeling what she was feeling. Wasn't it."

"Did you always have such an overactive imagination?" It wasn't much of a retort, but it was the best that he could come up with. Heissen just smiled.

"We'll see, won't we. Me and Drugov and Wells, we've been pooling our thoughts and our observations, and we think that you three have some kind of joint psyche. That perhaps you sense each others distress, and share each others experiences. Would you care to comment?"

"You do know how far-fetched that sounds? Three people with some kind of joint brain thing going on? If you're planning on writing about this for one of the science journals, you're going to get laughed at all the way around the world."

"Perhaps. If I was planning to publish." Heissen raised the scalpel. "Right now I just want to prove a point."

"Lucky me."

"No, not really." The German smiled a tight, barbed smile. "Do we look the same inside and out, Stirling? The ordinary man and the... the whatever you are?"

"Do I get to cut you open as well, to find out?"

"I'm afraid not, no." The smile broke open into something wider, and decidedly more unpleasant. "You may want to grit your teeth."

Craig shut his mind to the pain, as best he could. It was not a skill that was easy to master, and it was harder still when there was no way of knowing quite where the scalpel would strike next, or when. He had faced worse, though, he told himself. For all his attempts at sounding threatening, Heissen was not doing this with the sole reason of causing pain. This genuinely was some sort of experiment, no matter how warped. Wells would be watching Richard and Sharron, looking for evidence of the 'joint psyche' hypothesis, which he had probably seen in detail by now. Craig struggled harder to fight the pain, hoping that his friends were then less likely to experience it as well, though he knew from experience that it didn't seem to work that way. Richard would be feeling at least some of the stabs of the infernal scalpel no matter what Craig did to fight it; just as, had the roles been reversed, Craig would have been feeling Richard's pain. They had been fascinated themselves when they had first discovered the phenomenon, and he couldn't really blame Heissen and his confederates for being similarly interested.

"There doesn't seem to be any change that I can see in the muscle structure," piped up Heissen suddenly. "It doesn't look any more dense than normal. The musculature is no greater than a normal physically fit male."

"I... see." Drugov either wasn't interested, or wasn't up to playing a full part in events. Possibly he didn't enjoy cutting holes in people.

"How's the blood analysis going?"

"Well enough." There was a shrug in Drugov's voice. "Microscopic analysis is inconclusive. Or at least, I don't like to make any definite conclusions. It's a little early in the day."

"This isn't supposed to be a long-term scientific analysis. Make an educated guess." Heissen seemed momentarily distracted by something. "You know, we really ought to try a biopsy of some of the nerves."

"Must we?" Drugov sounded ill. Craig might have found that funny under different circumstances.

"Find anything interesting yet?" he asked Heissen. The strain showed in his voice, but he was determined not to show too much of his pain. The German smiled at him.

"Nothing to prove my theories, no. I've seen direct evidence of your superhuman strength, Stirling. And an ordinary man would probably have passed out, so you're helping to strengthen my opinions as we speak. But there's nothing that I can find to suggest a reason for your skills. A deeper examination perhaps... a proper dissection..."

"An autopsy? Thanks."

"That would be the only certain means of discovering whether or not there's anything physically odd about you, yes. But I'm not about to try it just yet." There was a clatter, which could only have been the scalpel being dropped into a metal basin. "You pass yourself off well. I doubt that a surgeon would discover anything untoward, should you ever find yourself on an operating table. There's something about your blood, though, isn't there."

"I'm not a doctor."

"No, but you know. You must do. And Macready is a doctor. You want me to believe that she hasn't done some experiments?"

"Experiments on what?" His arms felt as though they were on fire. Whatever he was or he wasn't, Craig didn't feel superhuman just now. "We're just ordinary people."

"We'll see." Heissen was moving away, checking his watch. Drugov was busy putting one of the blood samples into a centrifuge, and of Wells there was still no sign. Craig checked his bonds again, though he didn't hold out much hope. If he hadn't been able to break free before, he stood little chance now; not that that was any reason not to try. He thought about contacting the others again, but presumably they were busy with their own concerns. He wanted to keep his attention on Heissen, too.

"You there Andrew?" Heissen had crossed the room, to where an intercom of some kind was built into the wall. After a second, Wells' voice crackled over a speaker that Craig couldn't see.

"I'm here. How are things going with you?"

"So so. We're waiting for the results of the blood tests. And you?"

"Good, I think. There's no doubt in my mind that Barrett has been experiencing some kind of pain in his arms. Not the girl, though, at least as far as I could see."

"And now?"

"They're trying to break into the room. I'll join you in a while."

"Fine." There was a crackle of static as the old intercom ceased its transmission. Heissen came back over to Craig, giving the open wounds on his arms a cursory examination.

"You heal fast, don't you," he commented. It clearly wasn't a question. Craig tried to see the cuts, but couldn't get a good view from his current position. To him it didn't feel as though they were healing at all.

"You tell me," was all that he said in the end. Heissen smiled.

"I made some shallow cuts, specifically to see just how fast they would heal. They're closing nicely. Are you still going to claim that you're just an ordinary man?"

"I'm not from outer space, or whatever it is that you're trying to suggest, that's for sure."

"Maybe not. Like I said earlier, to begin with your record was normal. But something happened, didn't it, Stirling. To you and your friends. Something happened to make you more than merely human. You will tell me, eventually."

"Why? Why do you want to know? Even if something had happened to us, what makes you think it'd be something you could repeat for yourselves?"

"Any phenomenon can be repeated, given the right circumstances."

"You think? Tell me something, Heissen. Supposing there is something different about the three of us. Supposing something did happen. Suppose you went off and tried to have it happen to you. What then? Do you really like Wells and Drugov all that much? You think the three of us have some kind of shared mind. You've talked about telepathy, and shared experiences. You really want that with those two? You want to spend the rest of your life with two other people - those two people - living inside your head? Think about it."

"I..." Heissen smiled tightly, and shrugged. "I will certainly think about it." He turned away then, heading off to join his companion and the spinning container of blood. Craig knew what they would find, more or less. The blood might not strictly be proof of anything, but compared with the observations that these three had already made, and with all that they suspected, the blood was a signpost pointing to an obvious conclusion. He pulled again on his bonds, and felt his fury building when yet again they refused to give. Great. Wonderful. Richard and Sharron loomed closer in his mind, then, and beyond the reassurance that their presence always gave him, he felt new concern. Perhaps it was time to cut their losses and try to bring this to some kind of conclusion. Richard and Sharron, predictably enough, had other ideas. He tried to persuade them to leave - to escape from this place if they could - but his warnings, the suspicions that his instincts gave him, failed to have any effect on either of his friends. Heissen and Drugov were conferring together, talking of traps and further plans, though they were annoyingly vague about specifics. Like Sharron said, they knew that he could overhear them. And still Richard wouldn't listen. Craig didn't blame him - he wouldn't have listened either. If it had been him on the other side of the door, he wouldn't even have thought this long. But his sixth sense was buzzing at him, and he sensed - knew - that something was wrong. Richard was supposed to be the one who used his head rather than his heart. Couldn't he see that it made sense to run? Couldn't he see that there was a logic in Craig's suggestion, even if it was a logic that was twisted through the prism of Craig's own less rational thinking? But he was going to press the button, and Craig knew it. And then, just as surely, he knew that the button had been pressed.

And he waited, for a heartbeat of silence. Looked towards the door, heard machinery, heard something moving, something somewhere; but the door didn't open. And then, perhaps two seconds later, perhaps one second, perhaps only half, he felt the explosion come. He heard it with his ears, and he heard it with his mind. He felt the force of it wash over him, even though he was out of its reach on the other side of the door. He felt the ground shake beneath his feet, though his feet were not touching the ground; felt shock waves batter his body, and jumble his mind. It felt as though he was falling, or as though the world were falling around him - then suddenly all was still, and all was dust, and all around was darkness.

"Richard?" He opened his eyes, surprised to see light and normality. Heissen loomed over him, self-satisfied smile still in place. The explosion hadn't damaged their room at all; the walls showed no sign of it, and only a faint buckling of the door showed what had happened on the other side. It took a moment for Craig's senses to right themselves.

"Not Richard, no." Heissen was undoing the straps and letting him up, and Craig all but fell off the gurney. He headed straight away for the door, but all his great strength couldn't move it.

"Richard? Sharron?" When the door wouldn't move, he hit it, which achieved nothing at all. His shouting seemed to achieve even less, but there was no answer, either, when he switched to telepathic contact. ~Richard? Sharron? Damn it, Richard, answer me!~

"Is there a problem?" asked Heissen, all apparent innocence. Craig rounded on him in a fury, and had to fight back the urge to lash out.

"They're trapped. We have to get them out."

"Trapped? Who's trapped? I don't understand, Stirling. There's been some kind of accident, certainly, but what makes you think that there's anybody trapped out there? Nobody should have been outside that door."

"Richard and Sharron are out there." He spun back to the door, and spying the controls that operated it, pressed the big button marked 'Open'. Nothing happened. By the look of things, the door was too bent out of shape to slide back as intended. He gave the button a frustrated thump, and stove in the control pad completely.

"Your friends are out there?" Heissen was still acting innocent. Craig spun around then, grabbing him by the collar. In a flash Drugov had drawn a gun, but Craig couldn't have cared any less had it been a water pistol.

"They're trapped out there. There's rubble, lots of it, and there's not enough air. We have to get them out."

"How do you know that?" Heissen's question was so calm, so steady, that this could only be the trap that Craig had suspected. The German had been waiting to press this point; to ask this question; to shape the situation to his advantage. Craig let him go, his anger sliding past the point where physical violence was going to give him any release.

"What do you want?" he asked, sounding deceptively calm himself. Heissen's smile twitched.

"Answer my questions. Simple enough, don't you think?"

"Not necessarily." Stirling's eyes drifted back in the direction of the door. He could feel Richard stirring in his mind; not unconscious then; just stunned. That was something. Richard was struggling to move under heavy pieces of stone, trapped in some kind of air pocket. He was calling Sharron's name, though Craig doubted that his voice carried enough for anybody else in the room to hear.

~Richard?~ he asked, aware that he sounded a bit desperate. His answer was a short burst of laughter. ~Are you okay?~

~I've been better. I might even listen to your instincts next time. Are you still in one piece?~

~Me? I'm fine. They got whatever it was they wanted. The explosion sounded bad. Are you...?~

~Nothing's broken. It wasn't as bad as it sounded. The explosion was inside the wall, I think. Set by an expert, I should imagine.~

~They wanted you trapped, not dead. How much air have you got left?~

~I feel pretty light-headed, if I'm honest. We can hold our breath for a long time, though, you know that. We shall be alright for the time being. I just wish that I could see Sharron.~

~She's alive.~

~I know. She doesn't seem to be too badly hurt, either. I just wish that she'd answer me. I'll see what I can do, Craig, but I can't move much. Somebody needs to dig us out.~

~I know.~ He turned away from the door, feeling Richard's light-headedness and more - Sharron seemed to be breathing in a lot of dust, and he could feel himself starting to choke again. He fought off the sensation, looking back to Heissen.

"Well?" The other man was looking increasingly self-satisfied, an expression that was asking - demanding - to be battered out of existence. "What do your friends have to say?"

"That I should break your neck."

"And I thought that we were getting on so well." Heissen's smile didn't waver. "Break my neck and you'll never get your friends out."

"You can't--"

"We can argue all you like, but I don't think that's time that your friends have, do you?" He glanced back towards Drugov. "How long does it take an ordinary person to suffocate, do you think? Trapped in a collapsed tunnel, breathing in dust and carbon dioxide? Add a little extra time for a race of superhumans, but it's still not going to take forever for them to die. Is it."

"I'll dig them out myself."

"Possibly. And with your strength I don't doubt that you'd manage it. Eventually. I have three men trained to make these rescues, and they're waiting in the corridor now. One word over the intercom from me, and they'll get to work. And in the meantime, you can't even open that door. How long will it take you to find another route?"

"Too long." The rocks were pressing down. Richard could hardly move. Sharron couldn't move at all. She was waking up, and he knew it, but he didn't try to speak to her. She was going to have to just lie there and do nothing at all, if she was going to survive long enough to be rescued. Slowly, very slowly, Craig lowered his eyes. It was easier not to look at the other two men now.

"I take it that we have arrived at a decision?" asked Drugov, looking up from his somewhat haphazard experiments. "This blood is very interesting. I'd like to know more."

"I don't know more. Not about blood. It's not exactly my field." Craig shot another glance back at the door, thinking of Richard and Sharron, and what they would say if they knew that he was about to tell all of their secrets. Or some of them, if he could get away with just the basics. "I'll know, if you don't help them. If they're not dug out, your gun won't help you."

"Are you bullet-proof?" Drugov looked even more interested. Craig didn't even look at him. The Russian had not made much of an impression on him the first time that they met, and this time he was even less interested in the man. Heissen, with his smug smiles and general attitude, was far more of a concern.

"Are you quick enough with your gun to find out?" he asked by way of answer. There was no reply.

"Now now, gentlemen. Let's not be uncivil." Heissen raised an eyebrow. "We don't have much time, so I have just three questions, Stirling. I don't want your friends dead, at least not yet. So tell me. You are superhuman, aren't you."

"We don't think of ourselves that way." He hated himself for answering, but he didn't see that he had any choice. Just now these men held all of the cards. Craig had once berated Richard for putting their secrets above their friendship, and he had always known that he couldn't do the same thing himself. So he gritted his teeth, chose a point on the floor to stare at, and answered the questions as briefly as he could. He could hear the smile in Heissen's voice, even though he was spared the sight of it.

"But I was right. You have great strength, sight, hearing. You have some kind of mental link?"

"We..." Inside his head, Richard stirred, struggled, coughed. Time was running out. Craig's pulse raced in building anger. "We have abilities. We can do things, yes."

"Good. Then one last question, and we can help your friends. How did you come to be the way you are?"

"And if I don't know?"

"You know." Heissen shrugged. "Or your friends die. I won't ask you a third time, Stirling. How did you come to be the way you are?"

"Somebody made us this way. People, of some kind. We were in a plane crash. Look, the truth is I don't know, not really. They rebuilt us, I guess you could say. How or why, I don't know. We didn't really get a chance to ask. Richard spoke to them. You should dig him out and talk to him."

"I will." Heissen was silent for a moment, then he gave a brief nod and headed back over to the intercom. "Andrew? Go ahead and get them out. And best be quick."

"We're on it." There was a harsh burst of static and then silence. Craig turned back to the door.

~Richard? You still there?~

~I'm hardly likely to be anywhere else, am I.~

~Still got your sense of humour, huh.~ Craig reached out, touching the door in an effort to bring himself that little bit closer to his friends. ~They're digging you out. Just hold on a little longer.~

~Air's gone.~

~I know.~ The metal of the door was cold against his fingers. Beyond was heat and dust and pressure and rocks and the inability to move more than an inch. He could feel it all; Richard's growing drowsiness, his frustration at the lack of space in which to move; Sharron's ebbing consciousness and taut, focused concentration, fighting against the lack of available oxygen. He tried to send them his own strength, but he knew that it never seemed to work quite that way.

~Craig?~ Richard sounded weaker; tired and strained. ~Why set this up?~

~Blackmail.~ He didn't elaborate. He wouldn't need to. ~Don't worry about it. Just stay awake until the diggers get you out.~

~And hope that whoever set the charges really was an expert.~ Richard's dry sense of humour showed through, even as his voice faded with his strength. ~Otherwise this whole place could come down. And that's bound to hurt.~

~I'll say. Stay focused, Richard. I'll see you soon.~

~Be careful.~

~Says the guy who just blew himself up.~ Wishing his friends well, Craig ended the conversation and turned away from the door. He still had other things to worry about, and Richard and Sharron, he was sure, would soon be well. He turned back to face the room, and wasn't at all surprised to find that Heissen was pointing a gun at him.

"Your friends are still alive?" he asked. Craig nodded. There was no point now in pretending that he had no way of knowing. Heissen nodded as well.

"Good. I haven't finished with you all yet."

"You have to understand, whatever it is you've got planned, that I can't help you make yourselves like us. I couldn't do that even if I took you to the right place, and reproduced our crash exactly."

"We'll see." Heissen didn't seem to care. "Are you finished with your tests, Vladmiir?"

"As finished as I'm likely to be." The Russian was holding a test tube up in the air, peering at its contents. "There's no doubt that this blood isn't human. It's as though it almost is, but not quite. It conforms to no known blood type."

"Interesting. People... or not people... who have the power to make you more than human. It's a remarkable life that you live, Stirling. But it really doesn't seem fair that the three of you should be the only ones of your kind."

"Quite." Drugov peered accusingly at Craig, as though he were somehow personally responsible for the limits of the rest of humanity. "When we are like you, the balance will be very much altered."

"Very much." Heissen turned slightly, expression never altering, movements oddly casual. Craig saw the gun swinging around, and started to cry out a warning, but Drugov never even turned around. The shot killed him without him noticing it.

"That was a little cold-blooded." Craig had not liked the Russian, but the sudden manner of his death did not leave him unmoved. Heissen shrugged.

"Like you said, Stirling, I don't want to spend the rest of my life sharing my mind with a man like him. He was a crushing bore." The gun moved sharply, with obvious meaning. "Now get moving. I think it's time we went to join your friends."


They took a roundabout route to the site of the explosion, by means of a second door out of the dissection room, and by the time they arrived the rescue team had found Richard. To the wonder of the diggers he climbed out of the rocks, apparently not in the least damaged from being trapped without oxygen under several feet of stone. Craig went straight to him, shaking his hand enthusiastically.

"You okay? I was expecting... I don't know. How's your head?"

"I'm a little woozy. It's better to be able to breathe. I don't recommend stopping." He took a few deep breaths. "How about you?"

"Oh, I'm alright." Craig glanced down at himself, and at the streaks of blood on his shirt. "Just a bit stiff."

"I know how that feels." Richard did his best to stretch, whilst being firmly jostled out of the way by the rescue team. "Sharron is alright too, I'm sure of it."

"Yeah. Me too." Craig helped him away from the rubble, although he was not in any particular hurry to rejoin Heissen. "Listen, we could have a problem."

"Craig, we've been kidnapped, experimented on, and variously blown up and dissected. And now you think we have a problem?"

"They want to be like us. And they're not going to stop until they get to be... well, until they get to be like whatever we are."

"They can't be like us. Not unless they're planning to crash a plane in Tibet and half kill themselves in the process. That's not an easy set of circumstances to reproduce."

"I know that. But things are escalating, Richard. Have you noticed who's missing?"

"Drugov." Richard turned the observation into a question. Craig nodded slowly.

"He's dead. Heissen just killed him. He wants what we've got, and he's not so happy about sharing, which means... I don't know what it means. Not for us or for Wells. There might be a weakness there that we can exploit, I just--" He broke off, looking around. "Is it me, or is there a draught in here?"

"There's a draught." Richard also looked around, before slowly tilting his head up. A tiny chink of pale, pale light glinted at him above his head. "The great outside world. I'm not sure if that's nice, or just plain cruel."

"We must be only just below the surface. I guess the explosion brought down part of the roof." Craig's dark eyes were shining. "Feels pretty good to me."

"Don't get used to it." Wells was standing nearby, a gun levelled at the pair of them. "Where's Drugov?"

"Dead." There was a smug note in Heissen's voice, and once again Craig felt very much inclined to punch him. "Does it matter?"

"That probably depends on who's next." Wells glanced towards the rock fall, where Sharron was just emerging from beneath the rubble. "We've got what we need. Lock them up again, and we'll try the first blood transfusion in a couple of hours."

"By all means." Heissen gestured with his gun towards Richard and Craig. "Get your friend. Time to go back under the ground."

"You're all heart." Craig turned around, clambering over to meet Sharron. Even battered and bruised, she still managed to look almost pristine compared to her two companions. Richard gave her a brief hug.


"Yes, I'm fine." She more or less sounded it, too, though she leaned on him a little. "I am rather tired, though. I never thought I was going to get a good breath of air again." Her eyes travelled upwards, as she registered the presence of fresh air far more quickly than had either man. "Am I seeing things, or is that the sky up there?"

"It's the sky. And it's just about dawn if the colour of that light is anything to go by." Richard gave her hand a brief squeeze. "We'll get up there, just as soon as we can. In the mean time, you look a little wobbly."

"I am, rather." She sounded apologetic. "I think being blown up twice in one day is a little too much even for me."

"Twice?" Craig shook his head, feigning incredulity. "That's just careless. Maybe you'd better sit down."

"Oh, she's alright. Don't mollycoddle the girl." Richard smiled suddenly. "She's just going into shock, is all. Earlier she based her entire plan for rescuing me on the theory that nobody would risk a big explosion in this place. Looks like it wasn't much of a theory."

"I am not going into shock." She glared at him, mostly in jest. "What did I miss?"

"The usual. Murder, intrigue, and somebody wanting to lock us up." Craig nodded back towards Heissen and Wells. "Our friend Jan over there just shot Drugov. Not that I'm all that sorry. They don't seem ready to shoot us just yet, though."

"There's talk of blood transfusions." Richard eyed the streaks of blood on Craig's shirt. "It's just wild speculation, but they tested your blood and found out that it isn't human, didn't they. I hope they're not planning to siphon it off into some poor volunteer."

"It'd explain why they want us alive," pointed out Craig. Sharron nodded.

"It would never work though. Our blood is like it is because of what we are. We're not like we are because of our blood. And besides, you know what happens when you transfuse the wrong blood into a patient. It would be suicide. Or more likely murder."

"Do you think they'll listen to that sort of argument?" Richard helped Sharron over the loose rubble. ~Look, the three of us are back together. I don't want to give them the chance to split us up again. And if we're not here, they can't go killing 'volunteers' with our blood, can they.~

~There's no way we can get up to that hole in the roof.~ His body language deceptively nonchalant, Craig's eyes seemed to be everywhere. ~They'd shoot us down before we could get ten feet, and be sure of doing it without killing us. And that hole doesn't look big enough to get through anyway.~

~True.~ Richard jumped down from the pile of stone that could so easily have been his grave. ~But this is the first chance we've had. We're not going to miss it.~

~These guys aren't stupid,~ warned Craig. As though to illustrate this point, Heissen advanced on them, gun levelled.

"You're talking together, aren't you." His eyes darted from one to the other of them, dark and suspicious. "What are you saying?"

"We're not talking," scoffed Richard, his tone of voice showing amusement. "We didn't say a word. You'd have heard us."

"Er... he knows," muttered Craig. Richard's mocking smile switched itself off.

"Oh. Well if it's really important, we were comparing notes. Sharron and I just got squashed by a large chunk of mountain, and Craig just got his arms dissected. None of us is exactly feeling one hundred percent right now."

"That's such a shame." Gesturing with the gun, Heissen ushered them along the corridor. "But you can have a nice long rest in a cell somewhere. How's that."

Sharron rolled her eyes. "You're so kind."

"I do my best. March." He pointed them on their way. "Single file, hands on your heads."

"Should we whistle a marching tune?" asked Richard. Heissen smiled at the sarcasm.

"I should say yes. It might stop you talking amongst yourselves."

"We'd sing at each other instead," Craig told him. The only response was a jerk of the gun, so, obediently, he led the way down the corridor. The fresh air of the hole in the roof was soon behind them, and once again their world was encased in stone. Sharron was still a little wobbly though, and before long their pace had slowed.

"Get a move on," growled Heissen. Richard, following in Sharron's footsteps, cast an angry look back at their captor.

"She's tired. We do have our limits, you know, and thanks to your damn fool experiments she's been blown up twice today. That's a lot of concussion. Believe it or not, we are still human."

"Fine. Pick her up and carry her." Heissen waved the gun at Craig. "But you keep out of the way. He can manage alone."

"He certainly can." Richard lifted Sharron into a fireman's hold, as gently as he could. She barely responded, and he tried to arrange her carefully across his shoulder to make her comfortable. "She should be complaining about this," he said, as he began to walk down the corridor once again. "She hates being treated any differently to the two of us, Craig. You know that."

"Yeah, I know. Still, explosions are rough. She's bound to be feeling a little weird, right? Give her an hour or two and she'll pick up."

"Maybe." Richard hesitated, turning back to look at Heissen. "Do you have any doctors on staff? I'd be happier if somebody took a look at her."

"No doctors. Just the engineers back there, and a couple of lab technicians. For obvious reasons we wanted a small staff."

"She needs help."

"She'll survive." Heissen gestured with the gun once again. "Now move."

"We're going." Richard started to turn back again, taking a step further down the corridor - then with a speed that no ordinary human could match, he whirled on one foot, and with dangerous force hurled Sharron straight at Heissen. She hit him like a dead weight, smashing him to the ground and knocking the wind from his lungs. Craig kicked the gun out of his reach, and Richard hauled the dazed man to his feet.

"You're going to show us the way out of here," he announced. Heissen, half-conscious, blinked at him stupidly.

"Ninety-seven," he muttered, then frowned and mumbled something in German. Footsteps rang out nearby.

"Jan? Are you alright?"

"Look out!" Reacting with a speed that showed her earlier fatigue to have been nothing but an act, Sharron leapt for the fallen gun, snatching it up just as Wells appeared at the end of the corridor, his own gun levelled. They fired at the same time, Wells' shot ricocheting noisily on the stone. Sharron's bullet killed him instantly, and he collapsed to the ground.

"That's going to have put the others on the alert," observed the girl rather dryly, as she rose back to her feet. Richard gave Heissen a shove.

"An exit," he growled. "And quickly." His prisoner wobbled uncertainly, and almost collapsed.

"Oh, great." Craig looked both ways along the corridor. "We need to find that elevator."

"What's going on?" A man-sized shape loomed up at the end of the corridor. Sharron fired off a few shots in the hope of discouraging pursuit.

"Speed would be good," she observed. Craig broke into a run, heading along the corridor in search of the lift. Heissen just drooped in Richard's arms, looking considerably less than helpful.

"Wake up, damn it." Richard gave him an experimental shake, but his prisoner just drooped all the more. A shot rang out, and Sharron returned fire at an unseen foe.

"Here!" Craig was struggling to open the door, forcing his way in as best he could. Richard dropped Heissen into a heap on the floor, and went to help.

"Are we not taking him with us?" asked Sharron. Ushering her into the lift, he shook his head.

"No point. Dead weight. Ground floor, Craig, now!"

"We're getting there." A man appeared - one of the engineers who had helped to dig Richard and Sharron out from under the rocks. He raised a gun to fire, but before either he or Sharron could shoot, the doors slammed shut. The lift lurched and began to rise.

"We need to get out of this place before anybody else does," muttered Richard, watching the control panel as though somehow hoping to make the lift move faster by sheer force of will. "I hope that diagram was right about there only being one door."

"Heissen and the others might have put in a second." Craig thumped the side of the lift, just as eager as Richard to hurry things along. "But we haven't found one door yet. Don't go worrying about any more."

"One of us has got to do the worrying!" The lift swayed upward, and another thought occurred to Richard. "I hope nobody thinks to go for the main power switch."

"They'd lose air circulation. Do you really think they're that desperate to get us back?"

"Those men back there? No. Heissen? Definitely." It was Richard's turn to thump the lift. "Even if we do get out of here, there's no way of really making sure that he doesn't." The lift jerked to a halt. "Let's hope that there isn't a welcoming committee."

"We're ready if there is." Sharron levelled her stolen gun at the doors, hearing the machinery that opened them before the doors themselves began to move. If there was danger they would sense it, if there was trouble they would fight it, if there were guns then she would fire back.

But instead there was nothing, save the gentle slope of a green-treed hill.


The door slid closed behind them, and it was simple enough to heave some heavy boulders and fallen trees in front of it. That would be barrier enough for now. There was always the possibility that somebody might have more explosive, but it hardly seemed likely that they would risk damaging the lift shaft. Or that was the theory that Richard was happy to stick with. As soon as they were sure that the hatch was secure, they stepped back and took a proper look at their surroundings. The terrain was giving away no clues.

"We need to find out where exactly we are," observed Richard. "And hope that it's not too far from Geneva."

"I think somebody would have noticed if a giant underground bunker had been built in the middle of Western Europe." Craig looked up at the sky, but it was dawn, and the stars were not visible. "The air feels tropical."

"I know." Richard sighed. "But we're on leave, so there's no way that Tremayne is going to pay the air fare. I'd prefer it if it wasn't astronomical. Always supposing that it's possible to get an aeroplane out of this place. Wherever this place is."

"Oh dear. Tremayne." Sharron looked apprehensive. "How are we going to explain what all of this was about?"

"Good point." Richard raised an eyebrow. "Looks like we've got a lot of thinking to do, as well as a lot of walking."

"I don't want to discourage you..." Having moved to slightly higher ground, Craig now had a better view. "But it looks like we're on an island. Walking home is out."

"Terrific." Richard sat down on a nearby rock. "We've already been gone for days. Tremayne is going to slaughter us."

"Maybe it's just as well that we're not likely to have a quick trip back then," commented Sharron. Craig grinned.

"Yeah. Gives us plenty of time to get our stories straight. Face it, we're going to have to tell him something. We can't wander in several days late and expect to get away with claiming that we ran out of petrol."

"Especially with our friends down there to think about." Richard cast a glance back at the hatchway. "It's going to have to be very good report."

"Best get going then, hadn't we." Rejoining the others, Craig hauled Richard to his feet. "Come on. There's bound to be a boat on the island somewhere. Maybe it'll have a radio. And we need to be putting some distance between us and that bunker as soon as possible."

"Yes, alright..." Richard sighed. "Always were the annoyingly energetic type, weren't you."

"Hey, I got good reason to be energetic. I want out of here. We weren't all eating gourmet food down there, you know."

"Your fault for being a paranoid nut." Richard turned in a lazy circle. "Pick a direction somebody."

"I'm going this way." Craig had already taken several steps, but he looked back almost immediately. "Hey, who's a paranoid nut?!"

"I'm looking at him." Richard took the lead, marching ahead with sudden gusto. Sharron smiled, if a little faintly.

"He's got you there, Craig."

"Maybe." Craig caught up with Richard, falling into step beside him. "But my paranoia has its merits. It wasn't me who blew himself up."

"You're not going to let me forget that, are you." Richard played along with the joke, though his eyes, like Craig's, showed that the light-heartedness was only skin deep. Real humour would only return later. Craig shook his head.

"Not in a hurry, no. When a paranoid nut tells you not to press a button, listen to him."

"Certainly, oh fountain of all wisdom. And what about when the paranoid nut is being just that?"

"Boys..." Pointedly overtaking the pair of them, Sharron raised an expressive eyebrow. "In case you'd forgotten, we've just broken out of a prison. We're supposed to be escaping, not hanging around arguing."

"Is she telling us off, Richard?" Putting on his best Innocent Abroad voice, Craig regarded his confederate with an expression of wounded innocence. Richard nodded thoughtfully.

"I believe so, yes. Though she does have a point."

"Just don't tell her that," agreed Craig. Sharron sighed.

"If we do find a boat, I'm taking it. You two can swim back to Geneva."

"Fine by me." Richard's eyes glinted with gentle mockery. "You can deal with Tremayne on your own, then."

"Still got to think of something to tell him, haven't we." Craig looked serious for a moment, his dark eyes showing concern. Their old standby of hiding in humour could only go so far. "There's a bunker back there with several people in it who are going to need debriefing. I doubt Heissen and his buddies told them anything much, and I didn't see anything get written down, but one of us ought to get the blood samples out of there just in case. And don't forget Heissen himself. He's going to have all kinds of stories that he'll want to tell."

"In good time, Craig." Richard glanced back towards the bunker's hidden entrance, a thoughtful look showing briefly on his face. "They'll be alright in there for days yet, and we need to get back to headquarters before we can do anything anyway. Always supposing that they haven't found their own way out of some other exit by then. Or now."

"Great. Now who's looking for problems." Craig dredged up another smile. "We sure do find some trouble, don't we."

"It's a knack. Now no more worrying." Richard clapped his friend on the shoulder. "We've got a long swim ahead of us."

"I might let you ride in the boat some of the way." Sharron fell into step beside them, and they headed together once again for the beach. "If we see some sharks."

"Gosh, thanks," shot back Richard. She smirked.

"I was only thinking of the sharks."

"You're a cruel, cruel woman, Sharron Macready." Richard slipped an arm around her shoulders, smiling the smile of the happy to be alive. "I think it's you who should be swimming back to civilisation."

"I'm sure we can find you a lifejacket," offered Craig. She sighed.

"What did I ever do to deserve you two?"

"Terrified your teachers with your monster schoolgirl act," suggested Richard, who was in no hurry to forget that particular story. Craig frowned.

"I thought I was hallucinating the monster schoolgirls. I'm kinda glad it wasn't my brain that came up with that."

"Ah yes. You missed sweet little Sharron's tales of schoolroom delinquency. She can regale us further on the way home." Richard smirked at her half-hearted expression of annoyance. "The teachers of her youth are still scarred by the experience."

"So will you be if you're not careful." She punched him on the arm. "That's the last time I tell you any stories."

"I'd be wounded by your cruelty, but I think I've had injuries enough just lately." He smiled, taking her hand with a playful gesture. "I don't really think that you were a delinquent."

"Idiot." She glanced back for a moment, and he gently turned her around again.

"Don't look back."

"They might be coming." Her voice said it all; beneath the jokes, beneath the apparently light-hearted chatter, she was still concerned. Richard and Craig could sympathise. None of them wanted to be back in that place again, underneath all that stone, at the mercy of a man like Heissen. None of them wanted the experiments to begin again. It was Craig who broke the moment of tension, with one of his bright, broad smiles. Craig who could always find something to smile about, and never seemed to lose his sense of optimism.

"If they come, Sharron, we'll hear them. We'll see them a mile off; we'll hear them before they can get close. We've got nothing to worry about, right?"

"Right." She wasn't entirely convinced, but his words made sense. These days they had a lot less to worry about. Richard let go of her hand, and clapped her on the back.

"Right. And if they do manage to get out of there and come after us, we'll give them Craig, and you and I can make a break for it. That's fair."

She laughed, spontaneously and with a certain amount of surprise. "I'm not sure how it's fair... but yes, alright. If it's okay with Craig, of course."

"Sure." Craig, she couldn't help thinking, would probably have given the same answer even if they had been serious. "Now let's get out of here. We've got a long way to go before we're home."

And the sun slowly rose, and the banter went on, as they walked on down towards the beach.