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Authors: Joe Craig

Jimmy Coates

BOOK: Jimmy Coates
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For Mary-Ann

 

Jimmy Coates can only trust one man to keep the country from falling into chaos. But that man has disappeared and everything and everyone is at stake…

Buried four kilometres below ground and embedded in a concrete crust fifty metres thick, one of the British Government's seven supercomputers was about to be breached. It was housed beneath Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station in North Yorkshire, but nobody on the base could have any idea the attack was underway. The battle was lost as soon as it began, when a new string of computer code flickered into life.

Instantly, it began worming through the system, a mere twinkle in a constellation of electrical impulses. Imperceptible. Insignificant too, if it hadn't been for the fact that at the exact same moment, hundreds of kilometres to the north and eleven kilometres above the earth, an Aurora Blackbird SR-91 plane pierced British airspace.

The two events were timed to perfection. The worm wriggled through the computer network exactly as it had been designed to do, creating a tiny corridor in the British satellite surveillance system – a sliver of shadow, which the Aurora Blackbird ran through like a fencer's blade. The precisely pinpointed surveillance blackout rendered the plane effectively invisible. It was high enough and fast enough to be missed by conventional, ground-based radar defence systems; its black neoprene-titanium panels didn't glint in the night, and even the fuel was caesium-based so that the exhaust fumes would be transparent.

In no time, the plane passed over the islands to the north of Scotland and reached the mainland. It was still travelling at 1,900 kilometres an hour when the doors in its undercarriage slid open. Two black body bags dropped from the plane's belly. Then it immediately wheeled away to leave British airspace as discreetly as it had entered.

The packages hurtled down through the atmosphere. They had reached terminal velocity even before they plunged through the clouds. They twisted as they fell, the wind pummelling the linoleum-coated material to reveal the contours of the bodies inside.

After a few seconds, two black parachutes unfurled automatically and the descent slowed. The body bags drifted and eventually bumped on to the heather, sixteen kilometres from the nearest road. That's where they lay for almost two hours, ten metres apart, motionless but for the buffeting of the wind.

Then, at the same moment, both bags twitched. They rolled over until their zips faced upwards. On any normal body bag the zips would have been accessible only from the outside. But these were different.

Simultaneously, the two bags peeled open and out climbed two people. They staggered to their feet – a man and a woman, both tall and dressed in black jumpsuits. They peered through the darkness to each other, not making a sound. They stretched and rubbed their heads, but both moved freely enough. The man blinked rapidly and shook his brain back to full consciousness, tangles of straggly black hair blustering around his head. The woman did the same a moment later, then they both gathered in the parachutes, piling up the black silk on top of the protective body bags.

The man produced a matchbox and two boiled eggs from his pocket. In seconds the parachutes and body bags were lighting up the hillside. They waited together in silence, controlling the fire with a ring of damp heather while they carefully shelled and consumed the eggs. Soon they were able to stamp out the embers, leaving no trace of the equipment that had enabled them to survive their epic fall unharmed.

Still without a word, the woman pulled out a compass and they marched south.

Two security guards strolled back to their booth, sharing a joke.

“All clear,” said one into his walkie-talkie, still chuckling.

“Thanks, beta station,” came crackling back. “Next patrol at 0400.”

“Just enough time for a brew,” muttered the other guard in a soft Irish accent.

They clicked off their torches and hurried into the booth, eager to get out of the wind. The two men could have been built from the same Lego set: a square block from the shoulders all the way down to the ground. They wore blue uniforms with peaked caps, which revealed only the greying edges of their hair.

The booth was only just big enough for them to sit side by side, but they settled in and inspected the line of CCTV screens in front of them. From here they could watch the whole perimeter of the building they'd just been patrolling: a small glass office block set within its own walls on London's South Bank. From here a man called Christopher Viggo had been running his election campaign – the only legitimate opposition to the British Government – and it would have been impossible for anybody to approach the main gate from the street without being in clear view of the booth window.

“What's that?” muttered the Irish guard. He reached forward and tapped his finger on one of the screens. “Which camera is that?” The image was grainy, enhanced by the camera's infrared night mode, but there was one spot of brightness showing two broad silhouettes in a hut.

“That's us,” replied the other guard.

“I know that, you idiot, but what's
that
?” He jabbed his finger on the screen again. “This booth doesn't have a dome on the roof.” They both leaned forward to examine the screen more closely.

“Is someone crouching up there?”

The end of his question was cut off by an ear-splitting crack. Suddenly they were showered in splinters and a black figure crashed through the roof. It landed on top of the older guard, instantly twisting to send the man's cap spinning across the booth. The peak of it struck the other guard precisely between the eyes. His whole body went limp and he slumped in his chair.

The first guard was pulled to the floor and rolled over until he was underneath his assailant, the centre of his chest pinned to the ground by the attacker's knee. Only now did the guard see a face.

“Jimmy!” he gasped. “You're—”

“I'm not here,” Jimmy cut in with a whisper. He forced his hand over the guard's mouth and fixed him with a calm stare. The green in his eyes glinted like alligators in a swamp. “I'm inside, asleep.” He jerked his head back towards the building. The top floor had been converted into basic living quarters where he'd been staying, with his mum, his sister Georgie, and his best friend, Felix. Viggo himself lived there too, but the lights in the offices below indicated he and some of his staff were still working.

“Nobody knows I've slipped out,” Jimmy whispered, “and it's going to stay that way. Got that?”

The guard nodded, his cheeks turning white under the force of Jimmy's grip.

“I'm going to release you now,” explained Jimmy softly. “When I do, you make no sound unless I tell you to, OK?” The guard nodded frantically again. “You fix this roof with the board I've left behind the booth. In four minutes you revive your mate and explain everything, then when the time comes, you both go on your patrol as normal.” Jimmy's tone was flat, but there was a burning urgency behind the words. “And I need to know that you two will let me back in later tonight. Got that?”

Jimmy slowly eased his grip and uncovered the man's mouth.

“Yes, Jimmy,” wheezed the guard. Jimmy's knee was constricting his lungs. “But shouldn't I let Mr Viggo know?”

Jimmy narrowed his eyes and dug his knee in harder.

“If I wanted Chris to know,” he hissed, “I'd have spelled it out in his alphabet soup.”

“I have instructions. Rules I have to follow. Otherwise Mr Viggo will—”

“The rules don't apply.” Jimmy forced out his words between gritted teeth. “Nothing applies. Got that?”

Jimmy heard the harshness in his own voice and reluctantly let off some of the pressure with his knee. These men were on his side, he reminded himself. They were there to protect him. They didn't deserve any serious pain.

“And please don't tell Chris about this,” he added.

“Please?” spluttered the guard. “Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Whatever,” said Jimmy, with a small smile. “Just keep it to yourselves or everybody will know how sloppy you two have been. What if this had been a real attack? What if someone had tried to kill Chris again?”

A darkness shivered across Jimmy's face. His words had brought back vivid memories. The first time the Government had sent anybody to kill Christopher Viggo, they'd sent Jimmy himself. That seemed so long ago now – when Jimmy had only just discovered the truth about himself: that he was genetically designed by the Government to be an assassin.

Back then, the Government hadn't allowed any opposition to exist at all and Viggo's protests had made him a target. Since Jimmy had changed sides, he and Viggo had forced the Government to change their position.

“Who's going to attack?” protested the guard. “Viggo's legitimate now. There's an election starting in a few hours. A real election, Jimmy! The first one for years. If there was still a threat, do you think Viggo would have been out speaking in public like he has for the last six months? Or living and working in a grand place like this and not hiding in some sewer?”

Jimmy was hardly listening to the man. He picked himself up and dusted the splinters from his tracksuit trousers and hoodie. His extraordinary abilities were still well hidden in the wiry frame of a twelve-year-old boy.

“If Chris is so legitimate now,” Jimmy mumbled, “why does he have ex-military security guards? What's he afraid of?” His eyes flicked across the bank of CCTV screens as if the dark patches of blue hid the answer to a puzzle. “What's out there?”

“It's just shadows, Jimmy,” said the guard. “It's more dangerous for you than for Mr Viggo. You're still on the NJ7 hit list. You're lucky they haven't found out you're here.”

Jimmy let out a low growl of disgust at the mention of NJ7. It was Britain's new breed of Secret Service agency. They were the best in the world: the most efficient and the most vicious. It was also the organisation that Viggo had once worked for himself, before he decided the Government was becoming too extreme. Jimmy glanced at both the guards. They'd been NJ7 agents too, but now they shared Viggo's views.

“You haven't exactly stayed sharp, have you?” said Jimmy, noticing three empty packets of pork scratchings on the floor. The conscious guard opened his mouth, but had nothing to say. He looked so embarrassed that Jimmy had to shake his head and look away.

“Just let me back in later,” Jimmy sighed. “And don't let the others find out I've been gone, OK?”

“OK, Jimmy,” said the guard, sheepishly. “But where are you going?”

He got no reply. Jimmy was already disappearing out of the door, into the darkness.

 

Eva Doren frantically pecked at the keyboard. She checked over her shoulder every few seconds now, terrified that someone would come in. The NJ7 technical computers had state-of-the-art encryption, and getting round it was taking longer than she wanted. She was no hacker, but she'd picked up a lot about NJ7 security in the months that she'd been working there, and she had clearance for most of the generic access codes.

She wiped the sweat from her face and hammered another set of figures into the machine. It failed again, and the error message seemed to flash up even brighter than before, along with a chilling image: a vertical green stripe – the emblem of NJ7.

Every time she saw that green stripe she felt another twist of horror. To her it represented the lies and the threat of violence that lurked never far from the surface. It was a threat that the whole country had been living under, even if they didn't know it. Anybody could be taken away by NJ7 at any time and locked up, or worse, for doing anything that suggested criticism of the Government. Nobody felt the danger more keenly than Eva herself.

As far as anybody at NJ7 knew, she had betrayed Jimmy Coates and left her family to be taken on as an apprentice by NJ7's ruthless Director, Miss Bennett. Eva lived in constant fear that someone would suspect the truth: she was still loyal to Jimmy. Jimmy's sister, Georgie Coates, was her best friend and Eva was doing everything she could for them.

Come on
, she pleaded with herself, blinking hard to force away the tiredness. She refused to give up. She carefully entered another code and this time…

Yes!
She clenched her fist in triumph, then immediately straightened herself in the chair and pulled her shoulders back.
It was never in any doubt
, she thought to herself proudly. But as she clicked through the files on the computer, it became clear that every file was individually encrypted in a way that Eva didn't recognise. She pursed her lips in annoyance.

“Pointless!” she muttered under her breath. It seemed to Eva like a perfect waste of time that the tech department guarded their secrets so closely. But underneath the hurt pride, Eva knew that nobody in the history of NJ7 had been more careful than the man whose files she was after tonight: Dr Higgins.

Dr Higgins had left NJ7 months ago now, in suspicious circumstances, but his shadow still seemed to loom over every corridor. He was the old NJ7 scientist who had overseen the design and creation of the first organic assassins: Jimmy Coates and Mitchell Glenthorne. Eva was at his old desk now, on the computer where his old hard drive had been stored and flagged for analysis.

If only I had more time
, she thought.
Why tonight?
At the same time she knew that the timing was perfect: the election the following day was a huge distraction. Eva had been deep undercover at NJ7 for months, but this was the first time she'd been able to move through the tunnels of NJ7 Headquarters without worrying about being watched. With so much activity going on, nobody had paid attention to where she'd been going or what she was up to.

For a moment she pictured the streets of Central London, above. This late at night they'd be almost entirely deserted, yet the network of tunnels directly below was teeming with people. The quiet bustle of footsteps echoed off the bare walls and the rustling of papers mixed with whispered conversations. Swarms of black suits streamed through the concrete corridors, a tangle of green stripes. The NJ7 agents went about preparing for the coming election like ants building Hell.

If only Jimmy had told her which specific piece of information he wanted. She could have tried to find it some other way. But there hadn't been the chance for any discussion. Earlier that day, Eva had accompanied Miss Bennett as she oversaw the Prime Minister's press conference. Journalists' questions were always carefully selected months in advance, of course, but a few new ones were also allowed so that the PM could respond to the latest developments. As it was the day before the first general election for years, everybody wanted to ask fresh questions, so Eva had been helping to filter out anything that suggested anti-government feeling.

Each question was written on an official form, and Eva had no idea how Jimmy had managed to slip an extra one into her pile. She could still feel the chills she got when she reached the page. Even before she'd read it, she'd known who it was from because of the handwriting. When she'd looked up, she'd noticed the hunched back of a civil service cleaner lumbering away. Had that been Jimmy in disguise? Or was Eva's mind thinking up phantoms to explain what had happened?

All the note had said, in Jimmy's scratchy pencil lettering, was that they had to meet at a nearby car park late that night. Jimmy needed Eva to bring information from Dr Higgins' computer about the genetic design of the assassins: Jimmy's DNA.

Suddenly a noise sent a shiver through Eva's body. Somebody was coming, and there was nowhere to hide. At NJ7 there were no doors to the rooms, just one huge network of tunnels with open areas for desks and office space. She slammed her palm on the desk in frustration, leaving a sticky handprint on the leather which she immediately wiped off with her sleeve. The footsteps in the corridor mixed with the pounding of her heart. She would have to come back another night, when she had gathered all the access codes she needed.

Quickly and efficiently, she shut down the computer, wiped the keypad clean, and went to the filing cabinet. It was locked.

“How do they run this stupid department!?” she muttered under her breath. But she refused to let it ruffle her. On top of the filing cabinet was a yellow document box. On the spine was the number seven and another green stripe. Any information was better than nothing, Eva reasoned. The alternative was to meet Jimmy empty-handed, which was no alternative at all.

BOOK: Jimmy Coates
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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