Note: characters, environment, and overall plot created by Brian Lumley. That said, the writing is mine on this chapter. Australian Adventure – Day, well, night, Three (post-helicopter debrief) Mary allowed her boss to get a few steps ahead as the group broke up, then trailed after him, towards the lounge. She owed at least one of their ‘Australian friends’ a twirl, but did not want to be mistaken as accompanying Trask as a group speaker. An arm reached between two people and grasped her upper arm, and she turned to look up into the square-jawed Goodly’s face as he stepped through to her side. “See, I told you you were coming back.” “Yes. Yes you did.” “And was there any swimming involved?” She nodded. “Not that much, but I can tell you, my swimsuit would not have been suitable.” Ian frowned down at her, accentuating the subtle scratches on his face from going face-down in the desert to bear her away from that exploding grenade. “So what were you doing?” “Border control.” Mary patted her friend on the arm, and indicated Trask’s back as he entered the lounge, several metres away, leaving the door open. She could hear him telling the locals that the helicopter surveys would continue the next day, but that both choppers would have a different E-Branch crew. “I’ll see you in the lounge later?” He advised that in order to let the soldiers relax among themselves, the E-Branch people, himself included, would be in the Library. “Surely that’s not going to be open, this time of night! Don’t they normally close at five?” “Not a public library!” Ian laughed. “That ground floor room with all the book shelves. Sometimes has a piano. We’ll be in there. ” Leaving him, Mary stepped into the lounge, brushing shoulders with her superior as he left, then shutting the door behind herself, she smiled at the chatting soldiers, who were now looking to her, raised her hands out to the sides like a ballerina, and gave ‘em a spin. Bygraves stood up from the comfortable-looking armchair that he had claimed, picked his duty weapon, a distinctive-looking F-88 Asteyr carbine, and pulled the strap down over his head so the weapon was at his back. He crossed the room to where Mary was doing her promised pirouette, the air catching her white uniform skirt and lifting it out enough to show some inches above her knees as she twirled. Actually, she had cheated. Upon revealing her plan to her ASI counterpart, Wanganeen had had her doing rehearsals at the airbase, the women realising that the regulation skirt was too restrictive for such antics, so they had stopped off at a clothing store to get a knee-length circle skirt in a matching shade and material. This was working so well that the crouching warrant officer was able to scythe an arm clear under the floating panels to scoop her up, attracted exaggerated groans from his peers! “Don’t wait up!” He called back to them, as he carried her to the doorway, where she slid the door open. “Wow, you are pretty light.” “Thanks!” Formal accepted the compliment, and relaxed into his arms. The soldier angled his way through, so as not to bash her head, and made for the staircase. She allowed herself to be cradled all the way up the stairs, and past the bathrooms and the soldier guarding the landing, and into the main dormitory, noticeably cooler than downstairs, thanks to the audible background hum of the air conditioning unit. With what people had to deal with during the days, they should be able to sleep and refresh themselves during the night. Bygraves effortlessly carried her to her cot, and laid her down onto her bed covers. There was already a cot pushed next to hers, which the soldier walked around and sat on the far side, leaning down to pull his boots off. Mary rolled onto her front, elbows digging into the wide-banded stripes of rose pink and chocolate brown of her blanket. She turned to watch him. “There is no point stripping all the way. I don’t plan on getting serious on literally our first night.” “Yeah, don’t get your hopes up, Luv.” Bygraves chuckled as he quarter-turned to face her, his left thigh coming up onto his own blue-and-black banded blanket. “We’re not ‘ere to ‘ave a Naughty; we’re just gonna veg out while I educate you all about our Footy.” His bed creaking as he rolled over to face her, he began to expand her knowledge on that strange variation on the Beautiful Game. * * * * Saturday - Day Four After breakfast, the helicopter teams headed out, their crews swapped around, with Liz’ assignation deliberately keeping her route away from Xanadu, and the Wamphyri mind that had been sensed there. Now paired with Lardis and Jake, her chopper would be taking the northern routes. David Chung and Ian Goodly would be checking out other mountain ranges to the south, both teams looking for more sign of mindsmog, while their SAS crewmates would be looking for places for their slower-moving backup forces to set up camp. Ben Trask, technician Paul Aronsen, and Mary Formal, along with some of their Australian allies, spent their time in the central Operations Area, poring over maps and schematics. Everybody was in civvies, even Trask, uncharacteristically sporting a tatty black t-shirt depicting some heavy metal band that she had never heard off. It looked to her like it lived in the boot of his car. “Paul.” Trask called, looking around at the seated computer technician. “If we raid the island.” He straightened and smirked to himself. “What do I mean, if? When we raid the island, what ways do they have to escape? We are not expecting any Wamphyri to be there, so no-one is going to be flying away.” That was a known skill among the Great Vampires; creating bat-like wings for emergency escapes when cornered. “What if they have made flyers or warriors?” Mary enquired. She had never seen one of the horrific flying creatures that the vampires were able to create in great vats on Starside, using vampirised humans or trogs (semi-sentient neanderthals) as the building material. She had read about them in the files, though. Trask shook his head. “Well, let’s hope not. I cannot be certain, but I feel that Liz would have detected them when she picked up those scared thoughts.” “A.S.I. emailed a compressed file on Jethro Manchester.” Aronsen piped up. “He has a yacht which is moored several hundred metres from the house. They have a way off the island.” “Find out what type it is. Then call up and print the schematics.” Ben turned to the Arcateenian, looking down at her. She had put her clothes from the previous day, her RAN uniform and her office wear, into the washer dryer, and had resorted to her racier fashion, a tight pink short-sleeved tee, showing a British Lion (eg. the sort you see on coats of arms) and her trusty green plaid mini-kilt that had had her eventual bed partner - Bygraves had pushed their cots together - regretting that he had to join the aerial surveys, and she had earned her a wistful look from Ian. “As our navy gal, Mary, I am putting you with the island team. Study the information that we get on that yacht, in case you have to check it out. If Manchester or any of the other thralls get to that boat, you are going in after them.” She raised her eyebrows at her boss. “Oh, great!” She exclaimed. “What if more than one gets to the boat, I’ll be outnumbered in an enclosed space!” “No worries,” assured one of the soldiers, “we won’t let them get to the boat.” She looked at the SAS officer. “I will hold you to that.” Paul Aronsen had been clacking away at the keyboard in the background, then called their attention up to the screen projection, now showing the side-view of a sleek white boat with triangular sails, and a very low flat windowed structure that peaked above the main hull. Mary had been expecting a motor cruiser like Janos Ferenczy had had, not a sailboat, but she could hardly expect a vampire from Starside and one from Earth to have similar tastes, could she? Standing behind and to the left of Aronsen’s seat, she crossed her arms and gazed up at the vessel on which she was expected to educate herself, as Paul started talking. “That’s Manchester’s yacht, a Hallberg-Rassy 40. Although the designer was Argentinean, it seems to have been built in Sweden. The island of Orust to be precise.” She glanced down at Paul’s head. Two-and-a-half centuries on this world, and she had never realised that Sweden had an island. She looked back up to the boat. “Well I’ll be stuffed.” Muttered one of the people behind the E-Branch trio, looking up from her spread open nautical charts. The RAN helicopter commander from Mary’s own mission the previous day, Danielle Bailey, had been hastily read in by A.S.I., now that an offshore target had been included into the vampire hunting operation, and sent round. Ordered into civilian gear in case the safe house was being spied upon, the slim brunette looked out of sorts in her tasselled, flouncy white sundress and bare feet. She looked like she should be at a wedding. Beside her hip, the sea charts were the sort that wanted to roll up into two cylinders of paper as soon as you released them, so she had the white, kitten-heeled slingbacks that she had arrived in, sitting on the map, holding the sides down. “Shame he didn’t buy Aussie. Don’t feel so sorry for the tall poppie now.” Tall poppie? Already unsure whether she was ought to salute the woman and call her "Ma'am", or slap 'er legs in an effort to stop her gouging her toes into the carpet (which was very distracting), Formal stayed silent and glanced from her up to her boss, expecting the latter to educate the new girl as to why it was dangerous to exhibit sympathy for these vampirised folk, but Trask surprised her, turning back to the yacht without answering the woman. “Mary isn’t going undercover to buy it off him.” He reminded the technician tersely. “She just needs to know her way around it.” “Sir.” Paul nodded, reigning himself in. To be continued... Notes Wikipedia entry on Boot Dusseldorf, the common, in Germany maybe, shorthand for the Dusseldorf International Boat Show, to identify a yacht that won in 2002. www.hallberg-rassy.com - for information on Jethro Manchester’s yacht. www.australianexplorer.com - for the local terminology.