B.I.T.E. maintained an impressive array of vehicles that were indispensable in the work of protecting British citizens and interests against various domestic and foreign threats, but Colonel Alvin Thompson’s favorite had to be the long, midnight black eleven-car train he and his men were currently using. The train contained complete sleeping quarters for the sixty members of B.I.T.E., a full kitchen and dining car, electronics and forensics laboratories, a medical car that was as well-equipped as the emergency room of any major metropolitan hospital, two weapons cars that were stuffed with a truly amazing and lethal variety of destructive hardware, and a communications car that could put Thompson in touch with any location in the world that he wished to speak with in a matter of three seconds flat.
Thompson stood near the still smoking ruin of the observation car that had been destroyed by a grenade some hours before. The report of a passenger train being attacked by a helicopter had sounded exactly like the sort of business Dillon would be involved in, and Thompson had lost no time in getting out to the scene where he was greeted by hysteria, disgruntled and babbling passengers, and out-and-out pandemonium. It had taken Thompson nearly five hours to get everybody and everything sorted out, and his technical boys had gone over the train at least twice from one end to the other. Thompson himself had searched the sleeping car Dillon had slept in, finding nothing at all. But then again, he hadn’t really expected to.
It was the girl’s place in all this that puzzled him. Exactly why was Dillon dragging her around with him? Maybe he’d talked her into selling out Lady Thelma? Could she be working for Dillon? Thompson tended to doubt that. Nothing in her background indicated anything of that sort.
Lt. Hastings approached. One of Thompson’s trusted aides; they’d worked together for about seven years now. With his severe crew cut and square wire-framed glasses, coupled with his long, serious face, he always reminded Thompson of a young Michael Caine.
“We’ve finished with the train, Colonel. There’s nothing more we can learn here. As for the passengers… quite frankly, sir, I’m tired of hearing their complaints.”
“Have some compassion, Hastings. You’re used to having your sleep interrupted by bullets flying all round the place. Some of these people won’t be able to have a good night’s sleep for months.”
“Still and all, sir, you’d think that somebody would be able to give a reasonable description of what happened here! We’ve got bodies, spent shells, the burned out husk of a car that was blown up with what we’re pretty sure was a grenade, but nobody can tell us anything of any importance!”
“The only thing of importance that we need to know is that Dillon was here. I’ve got accurate descriptions from a couple of the conductors and a young lady Dillon fell on.”
“Beg pardon, sir?”
“Never mind. Now, where’s that map of the area?”
Hastings passed over a mapboard, a computer about the size and shape of an ordinary kitchen cutting board. The mapboard could display maps of just about anywhere in the world with simple verbal instructions or by tapping the touch sensitive iconic display panel. Thompson and Hastings walked back to the last car of the B.I.T.E. train, Thompson’s private command car.
“There’s quite a few small towns and hamlets in the general area, I see,” Thompson mused, sitting down heavily in a high-backed swivel leather chair. “Dillon might have headed for any one of them.”
“You think that’s just what he’s done, sir?”
“If I had an untold number of hired guns after me, I’d find someplace I could eat, rest up and get in touch with one of my mates to make arrangements to get me the hell out of the country. Dillon’s done just that, I’ll warrant.”
A phone on the desk rang and Thompson motioned for Hastings to answer it. Thompson knew it was Gregory Tipp calling. The phone was a private line between them. Hastings said little, did a lot of ‘yes, sirs’, and hung up.
“Mr. Tipp requests that you wait here for him, sir. He’s flying out himself to join us. Said he couldn’t sit in the office while you were haring around the country having all the fun. Said he wanted to be right there when we lay our hands on this chap.”
Thompson nodded. “Round up the lads. I want them in civilian clothes and I want them to start canvassing the towns in the area. We’ve got how many vans on the train?”
“I want you in charge of transporting our lads. Spread them out and let’s see what they can find out on foot.”
“Aren’t you going to do anything else besides stare at those old swords?” Kris asked sourly.
Dillon was standing with his hands folded behind his back, looking at the collection of blades hanging on the wall. “These aren’t just any old swords. What you’re looking at here are Montoya swords, handcrafted by Inigo Montoya, one of the greatest swordsmen who ever lived. His father was a great sword maker and his son Inigo followed in his father’s art. I believe he lived in the early 16th Century…”
Dillon and Kris had been brought to Numby Manor, a spectacularly large and sprawling castle that stood on a hill some fifteen miles outside of Numby Dell. Chew Mi and her cyborg guards had not spoken during the drive to Numby Manor and upon arriving, Dillon and Kris had been escorted through corridors as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel, adorned with rich tapestries and priceless portraits some eight to ten feet high. Although the castle was obviously centuries old, it had been retrofitted with modern touches, such as the computerized locks on many of the doors. Chew Mi had ordered them to wait in this room, which seemed to be some sort of guest reception chamber.
Dillon noticed men and women walking the corridors wearing simple, dark brown jumpsuits with the Numby family crest on the shoulders. Many were carrying laptops or smaller computer devices. Whatever this Doctor Aristotle Numby was into, it took a hell of a lot of scientific staff and security.
“What will it take for you to realize the danger we’re in?” Kris demanded.
“I know exactly how much danger we’re in.” Dillon was walking around the room, examining the portraits, the Indian and Spanish vases resting on five-foot high pedestals of smoky Carrera marble. “It’s a source of great worry to me.”
“You have a gun! You could have put up a fight back there in the tavern!”
“There were a lot of innocent people back there who don’t have a blessed thing to do with my problems. I could’ve gotten us out of there, sure. And more than likely, somebody who didn’t deserve it would have gotten killed.”
“And this is better? We have no chance of getting out of here!”
Dillon turned sparkling copper eyes on her. “I don’t know about you, but I always have a chance.”
The doors suddenly opened and Chew Mi swept in with two of the cyborg guards escorting Dr. Aristotle Numby.
He was a well built man of average height with curly red hair and small, twinkling green eyes that never stayed on one object or person for long, but constantly roved back and forth, here and there, hither and thither. He grinned amiably at Dillon and walked over to shake hands with him.
“Delighted to have you here, fellow! Simply delighted!” Numby’s accent was odd. Dillon was good at placing regional accents, but Numby’s seemed to be a curious blend of Scottish and Hungarian, of all things. “You can’t imagine how happy I was when I learned you were visiting Numby Dell. Really excellent stroke of luck all the way round!”
“For who, exactly?”
“Why for me, of course. Have you been treated well?”
“Is there anything I can do to make things more comfortable?”
“Two first class airplane tickets to the States would be nice.”
Numby threw back his head and laughed, a trill, high laugh. “I’ve heard tell that you possess a delightful sense of humor, my friend. I can see that it was not an untruth.”
“So glad I can provide you with an amusing moment. Helps to break up the monotony of both our days. Now how about those plane tickets?”
Numby’s laughter subsided and he waved to a comfortable couch nearby. “Well, that’s something we need to talk about, my friend. Has Chew Mi offered you and your lovely companion any refreshments?”
“No, she hasn’t.”
Numby fixed the diminutive Asian girl with a mock glare of reproach. “Chew Mi! You mean you didn’t offer Dillon and--Miss Quinlan, isn’t it?--so much as a drink?”
Chew Mi shrugged carelessly, tapping her swagger stick against her knee.
“What can I offer you?” Numby asked.
“Whatever you’re having,” Dillon said. “I don’t think we’re in a position to be choosy.”
“Indeed not . . . indeed not. Chew Mi, the best champagne our cellar has to offer for our guests. Please sit while I explain what is to happen.”
“Dr. Numby, what say I give you the ring right now in exchange for letting us go?” Dillon asked abruptly. Kris looked at him in surprise. Giving up the ring was the last thing she had expected him to offer, considering all the trouble he’d gone through to hold onto it.
Numby shrugged. “What ring?”
“Aren’t you holding us for Odin?”
“I certainly am, but I know nothing about any ring, and I don’t much care for jewelry.”
“Odin has placed a bounty of considerable value on you, my friend. He wants you alive and he’s offering quite a bit of money to anybody who can deliver you to him.”
Dillon waved a hand around in the air to take in the opulent room and the castle beyond. “It doesn’t look like you’re hurting for money in any sort of way. I find it hard to believe that six million would make that much of a difference to a man with your obvious wealth.”
Chew Mi handed them tall crystal flutes of sparkling Waller champagne as Dr. Numby crossed his legs and continued to speak. Kris sat next to Dillon, holding her glass in both hands. It was the best way to keep them from visibly shaking.
“Now that’s where you’re wrong. You see, my area of scientific research is quite expensive. I have a personal fortune, yes, which I keep separate from the funds I use to further my work.”
“Genetic enhancements, sir! Surely you’ve noticed Chew Mi’s security force? Cyborgs, sir. Cyborgs that I provide to several organizations and government agencies in return for a sizeable price I pour directly into even more research involving genetic enhancements. The ten million that Odin is offering for you is nothing to sneeze at.”
“Ten? I thought it was six.”
Numby winked at Dillon. “If the grapevine is to be believed, Odin is quite upset with you, young man. You appear to have disrupted some private timetable of his. Accordingly, he has… raised the ante, let us say.”
“I seem to be making quite a lot of people mad at me these days.” Dillon finished off his champagne and stood up. “So what’s going to happen now?”
“Well, I shall now turn you over to the gentle ministrations of Chew Mi who has an excellent place where you shall be kept until Odin’s representatives have arrived. And as for Miss Quinlan . . . well, I’m certain I can think of things to keep her occupied.”
Dillon was flanked by three of the cyborgs as the elevator dropped deeper into the earth under the castle. Naturally, the bag with his weapons and survival gear had been taken from him, and in addition, the cyborgs had searched him most carefully. Dillon had put up token resistance to test their strength and quickly gave up the idea of trying to outfight them. The cyborgs were easily able to outmatch him in sheer muscle, and he was willing to bet they were pretty fast as well. No, getting out of this was going to take more than using his mouth or his fists. And he had Kris to worry about. Better to let Chew Mi throw him in whatever holding cell she had waiting for him. Dillon hadn’t yet seen a prison or jail cell that could hold him.
His mind raced, weighing options, running through various plans; discarding this one, evaluating that one…
Chew Mi suddenly spoke, looking up at her captive in quiet, amused contempt. Dillon easily towered head and shoulders over her, but it didn’t seem to intimidate her one little bit. “You know, Dillon, I thought you’d be tougher. You certainly haven’t lived up to the formidable reputation you enjoy.”
“Stick around. I haven’t gotten warmed up yet.”
“You make light of all the dangerous situations you find yourself in?”
“No. I make light of the ridiculous situations I find myself in. Such as the present one where I find myself being held captive by a little girl who likes to dress up like a bad guy out of a G.I. JOE cartoon and the poorest excuse for a mad scientist I’ve seen in quite a while. Just what is the deal with you two, anyway?”
“Dr. Numby is engaged in a quest to control the very building blocks of life itself. A power like that can change the very course of human destiny.”
“You even talk like a cartoon character. Amazing.”
The elevator smoothly hissed to a stop and the doors whooshed open. Dillon was shoved into a long corridor. He was seized by the arms and hustled into a circular metal room whose lone unusual feature was a large, round metal hatch in the stone floor. Dillon was held tightly by two of the cyborgs as the third unsealed the hatch and yanked it open with one hand.
The sound of rushing water was suddenly very loud in the metal room.
Chew Mi whacked her swagger stick against one highly polished boot and spoke loudly to be heard over the water. “I understand you have something of a reputation as an escape artist. I can’t chance placing you in a conventional cell since you’d be out in no time, causing havoc. But I think that what you will find in the Fishbowl will keep you sufficiently occupied so that you won’t have time to make mischief for me or Dr. Numby.”
Dillon looked down into the open hatch and saw only intergalactic blackness. “You’re going to put me down there?”
Chew Mi nodded once with satisfaction. “Pitch him in, boys.”
The cyborgs lifted Dillon bodily and tossed him head first through the open hatch. Chew Mi bent over, a gloved hand cupped behind an ear, listening. Fifteen seconds went by. Thirty seconds.
She heard the splash and grinned widely. “Close the hatch.”
Kris Quinlan had planned exactly what she was going to say. She would simply explain to Dr. Numby that she was most definitely not a part of Dillon’s insanity. In fact, she was the victim, if anything. She was sure that being the proper English gentleman that he was, Dr. Numby would act accordingly, see that she was blameless, and allow her to go on her way once she told him the truth of her being in Dillon’s company.
Inside Dr. Numby’s comfortable den, she felt reassured by the roaring fireplace which was large enough to roast an entire ox with room left over for a pair of sheep and a couple of chickens, the life-sized portraits of the Numby ancestors, and the ornate decorations in the wall sconces. Numby seemed to have a thing for collecting relics, she noticed, since every room she’d been in so far had boasted rare and valuable knick-knacks from nearly every country in the world.
She’d been taken to a restroom as large as her entire suite of rooms back at Lady Thelma’s estate and allowed to freshen up before being brought to Dr. Numby’s den to await his pleasure. Kris turned as the door opened and Dr. Numby entered, taking off a white lab coat and throwing it carelessly over the back of a chair.
“I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting, my dear, but I have half a dozen critical experiments all going at the same time and I must be kept abreast of their progress. But that’s enough of me.” Numby motioned for her to sit down. “You’ve had quite the ordeal, my dear. Kidnapped by a lunatic. Dragged halfway across England. Shot at repeatedly. Quite an adventure, I should say.”
“Hardly an adventure, Dr. Numby. More of a nightmare, I assure you. I hope you’ll allow me my chance to explain to you exactly how I became involved in this affair against my will.”
“Oh, dear lady, I’m convinced of your innocence! Dillon is nefarious for his criminal activities in many parts of the world. I’m sure that after some meaningful dialog on your part we can sort this entire nasty affair out.”
Kris felt her spirits rise when Numby first spoke, but that last part had a somewhat ominous hint of darkness behind it. Kris smiled nervously. “Why, whatever do you mean by that, Dr. Numby?”
“While it is true that Dillon’s only value to me is the fact that Odin is willing to pay ten million in gold for him, my natural scientific curiosity cannot help but wonder what it is that Dillon has that would allow Odin to place such a high value on him.”
Numby smiled amiably, like a favored uncle about to allow his niece to stay up past her bedtime. “Perhaps it might even be something that I could use to increase the price Odin is willing to pay? After all, if he’s raised it from six million to ten, might he not raise it further? Maybe from ten to twenty? Maybe even thirty?”
“Dr. Numby, Dillon is in possession of a ring that Odin wants desperately. That’s all I know. I swear.”
Numby’s smile faded a bit as his eyes narrowed, and became chilly. “Do you expect me to believe that? Dillon blathered on about some ring earlier, as I recall. Why should I believe such an obvious and transparent lie; a fabrication meant to divert my attention from Dillon’s true worth to Odin?”
“Dr. Numby, if I could make up something more plausible that you would believe, I would do so happily. But I can’t. I’m too afraid to lie. Odin wants a ring that Dillon stole from a ship two days ago… you heard of the ship that blew up back in—”
“Enough.” Numby waved a hand in dismissive impatience. “I am an extremely busy man and don’t have time for these games. Odin’s representative will be here shortly and Dillon must be alive and well in order for me to collect the bounty. However, there is no bounty for you and therefore I feel no constraint whatsoever to keep you alive and well.”
Kris suddenly found herself unable to control her shaking as the full impact of Dr. Numby’s words struck her fear-choked brain.
“I am very much afraid that unless you tell me what this is all about… very unpleasant things indeed are about to happen to you, young lady.”