Authors: Andrew Lane
Dedicated to Angela Burgess and Anna Biggs,
for fighting on my behalf so fiercely and for so long.
I am indebted to you both, more than I can say.
Dedicated also tao Professor Alan MacGregor, Doctor Ruth Poole
and Doctor Tom Caudell, for their help in my long-term treatment.
And dedicated to Jamie Trace, because I said I would,
and Ryan Mellor, because he deserves it.
hino’ Gillis jumped aboard the Hong Kong MTR train at Sham Shui Po station. He quickly looked around. Lots of people, most of them
with shopping bags or rucksacks, but no sign of the creature he was chasing. He swore quietly to himself. It had to be there
He glanced at his mobile. Surprisingly, he was still getting a signal below ground, and the map showed that he and the glowing dot that was the creature were nearly in the same place.
When he’d been up on the surface, the tracker had clearly shown the creature travelling in a straight line, crossing roads and passing buildings, much faster than he knew it could travel.
Every now and then it would stop for a few minutes, then start moving again. The only possible explanation was that it was below ground, travelling on the Mass Transit Rail system. That was why
he’d hailed a taxi, tracked the creature above ground, got the driver to overtake the underground train by slipping him a few Hong Kong dollars to speed through the streets and jump some red
lights, then leaped out and rushed down the escalators, pushing Chinese travellers out of his way, until he got to the platform. This was the next train in, and he was reasonably sure that the
creature was on it somewhere.
Or on top of it.
Or below it.
In fact, thinking about it, Rhino wasn’t sure that he had any clear way of determining
the creature was. He just had to hope it would make itself obvious without actually
As the doors slid closed and the train set off, he scanned the inside. It was incredibly clean, as if someone polished it at the end of every run. The carriages joined seamlessly on to one
another so that he could see all the way down to the far end. Or at least he could have, if there hadn’t been so many people in the way.
The train entered a tunnel and he pushed through the crowd, looking for anything out of the ordinary. It stopped at Prince Edward, Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei and Jordan stations as he made his way
along the length of the carriages. Still nothing. You would think that a creature like that would raise
interest, if not sheer abject terror, in the passengers.
He was nearly at the end of the train when it started pulling into Tsim Sha Tsui station. He looked at his mobile again, and suddenly the glowing red dot separated from him and made a break
sideways. He shoved forward to the doors and slipped through them even before they were fully open. The platform was crowded, but a sudden scream cut through the air from near the exit. The
been on top of the train! Rhino saw a flash of motion as it ran, and a ripple in the crowd as people jumped out of its way.
going the way he wanted.
As he ran towards the escalators, he remembered bitterly how simple this adventure had seemed when he had first heard about it . . .
rom the roof of the warehouse where he had his apartment, Calum Challenger could see the jets landing and taking off at Heathrow Airport.
The sun was setting in the west, and the aircraft were just black geometric shapes as they moved against the red sky. Occasionally one of them would flash as the low sunlight refracted through the
The sounds of London’s constant traffic drifted up from the street below: beeping horns, sudden screeches of brakes, the pneumatic hiss of buses arriving at bus stops. The faint purple
haze of exhaust fumes hung in the air, giving everything a slightly unreal appearance. Looking round, he could clearly make out the four stacks in the air above the home counties where the arriving
aircraft circled for a while in big loops, one above another for thousands and thousands of metres, until they received a runway designation and instructions to land. The stacks were based above
Bovingdon, Lambourne, Ockham and Biggin Hill. His father had told him that once, and he had wondered at the time what it would be like, living in one of those four places, and seeing the aircraft
circling above all the time like vultures circling a fresh corpse.
Calum’s father had spent a lot of time flying into and out of Heathrow. His mother too, usually with his father. They had often spent most of the year away from home, taking part in
various archaeological digs or giving papers at international symposia, leaving Calum in the care of his great-aunt. And then one day they had died in a car crash – not in some isolated
foreign country, on some remote and dangerous mountainside road, but here in England, on a country road in Hampshire.
There was a chill in the air, along with the haze of exhaust fumes. Calum shivered slightly.
‘You OK?’ Gecko asked from beside him. The Brazilian boy had been quiet and motionless for so long that Calum had almost forgotten he was there.
Calum nodded. ‘Yeah. Just some unwelcome memories popping up.’
‘You want to go back down?’
‘Not yet. Let’s wait until sunset.’ He smiled slightly. ‘I’ve not seen a real sunset since the accident, you know – just photographs, and videos. None of the
windows in the apartment give me a clear view of the horizon. I suppose I could have ordered up a car and had someone take me out to a vantage point, just so I could see the sun go down, but that
seemed too . . . self-indulgent. And the car crash . . . well, it happened at sunset too. Somehow I just couldn’t face it for a while.’ He paused momentarily. ‘What I’m
trying to say is: thanks for getting me up here. Thanks for talking me into it.’
Gecko shifted, uneasy at being praised. He was still more used to his own company to than anyone else’s, and conversation was not his strong suit. ‘It is nothing. I had to get you
out of that place before you went mad. Tara was worried that you might suddenly start coming at us with a carving knife in your hand. “Stir crazy” was what she said, but I did not
understand the phrase. You do not use a knife to stir something – you use a spoon or a spatula.’
‘“Stir” is another word for “prison”,’ Calum pointed out. ‘And Tara should know better. I can only chase people in the apartment if I’m using the
straps on the ceiling to move around, and if I’m holding a knife then I can’t swing from the straps, can I?’
Gecko shrugged. ‘I did not say she had thought it through at all, but that was her concern.’
‘I’m fine,’ Calum said, but he could hear the edge of wistfulness in his own voice.
could do it.’
‘You’re a free-runner. You could probably hold the knife between your toes while you were swinging from the straps. Or hold the straps in your toes and swing upside down while
holding the knife.’
‘No,’ Gecko said with some finality.
‘No style. No . . .’ he hesitated, looking for the right word, ‘. . . no
. Free-running is all about the style.’
‘I’ll remember that next time I try it.’
Calum glanced sideways, to the point on the roof where the large window that was situated directly above his sofa was located. Well, directly above where his sofa
been located, until
Gecko had pushed it out of the way an hour or so ago. The window was wide open, and the top of a wooden ladder poked through the gap into the evening air. Calum had used the ladder to get up to the
roof earlier, pulling himself up by his arms, rung after painful rung, feeling the sweat prickling on his back and shoulders, dragging his useless legs after him and sensing that they were banging
against the ladder. Gecko, meanwhile, had sensitively suddenly decided that he needed to use the bathroom. The boy knew that Calum hated to be watched while he exerted himself like that. He also
knew that Calum would have refused any offer of help.
‘She will be on one of those aircraft,’ Gecko pointed out, nodding in the direction of Heathrow.
‘Who will?’ Calum asked innocently.
‘You know who. Natalie.’
along with her mother.’
‘Oh,’ he said casually, ‘is it tonight that they are arriving?’
‘You know it is. You have the date, the time and the flight number written on a Post-it note, which is fastened to your fridge.’
‘I wondered where that had gone.’ Calum shrugged. ‘I doubt that they’ll come over tonight. Gillian will want to get to a hotel, unpack and have a long bath. Maybe
tomorrow, if they’re not busy.’
‘Natalie might come over tonight. She knows how to hail a taxi, surely? She is American. They virtually live in taxis and restaurants.’
‘She’s more likely to head to Oxford Street for the late-night shopping.’
‘Do you know what it is that her mother wants to talk to you about?’
‘Not sure.’ Calum thought for a moment. ‘I haven’t bought anything expensive recently, so she’s not going to tell me off about my finances, and I’ve already
had my telling off for what happened in Georgia. It’s possible she wants to talk about what’s going on with the Almasti DNA that you, Natalie, Tara and Rhino recovered. She’s
certainly keen to get it analysed in one of the laboratories that she has links with.’
‘And you are not? I thought you would have been eager to have the DNA analysed as soon as possible.’
‘I am, but I want it done properly. What I
want is some company grabbing hold of it, patenting the genes and then hiding them away until they can make a profit from
them. I want the genetic information to be as freely available as possible.’
‘Without saying where it came from?’ Gecko asked.
‘Hair samples, maybe. Preserved samples in a bog somewhere. Just as long as we don’t give away the location of the Almasti. I don’t want them becoming a tourist
attraction.’ He shrugged. ‘Actually, I think Gillian has something else on her mind. She said she was bringing something across from America for me to look at.’ He looked over at
the Brazilian boy. ‘And what about Tara? Where is she tonight?’
‘Don’t change the subject.’
‘It’s my roof. I can change the subject if I want to.’
‘Tara had a project to finish for college.’
‘And you’re not there to give her moral support and feed her coffee every ten minutes?’
Gecko shook his head. ‘She has given up coffee for a while. She drinks green tea with honey now. She says it calms her down.’
Calum smiled. ‘She’s given up coffee, and you’re from Brazil, which is the largest coffee producer in the world. Presumably you could have got her some kind of bulk supply, if
‘Funny,’ Gecko said darkly. ‘I suppose you think that every family in Brazil works in the coffee industry, just like every family in France owns a vineyard.’
‘Fair point,’ Calum admitted. ‘What does every family in England do?’
‘They talk about the weather and the traffic conditions,’ Gecko replied.
‘OK, you want me to shut up? I’ll shut up.’
The two boys stared at the aircraft for a while, as the sun slipped slowly from the sky.