Darkness. And pain.
Those are the two things he registers first when he comes to. Then comes the suffocating heat, the intolerable humidity. And the flies and mosquitoes. He no longer knows how long he's been here. It could be weeks, but he somehow suspects that it's been closer to months. Plural. As in more than one. The shivering starts almost as soon as he regains consciousness, and yet he is sweating profusely. Somewhere in his fevered mind he knows that he is seriously ill. His violent shivers cause every injury to throb painfully and he almost passes out again. He craves the oblivion of unconsciousness, but still he fights it. Searching his jumbled thoughts, he tries to remember why it is so important to hang on. Apart from a fear that he will never wake up again, that is. Finally he finds it, her face materialising out of the mists clouding his mind.
"You have to hang on, Harry," she tells him. "We're coming for you."
"Yes," he mumbles, "…hang on…"
- 0 -
Six months earlier
The harbour was quiet, asleep. Hulking container ships periodically bumped against the tyres separating them from the dock. Thick ropes creaked under the strain of holding the vessels in place. A light mist began to descend, diffusing the yellow light of the sodium street lamps. The security guard in the tower overlooking Dock F checked his monitors before glancing at his visitor nervously.
"Still nothing, Sir," he reported.
The man did not acknowledge the words. Instead he continued to sit quietly, face turned away from the ships, dark eyes fixed on the access road. He looked faintly sinister seated in the shadows, clad in his dark coat and black leather gloves.
Suddenly he straightened up. Moments later the security guard heard it too. A low rumble that grew steadily louder. Craning his neck in the direction of the access road, the guard saw four large trucks trundle into view. The other man spoke for the first time in an hour.
"Stand by," he said into the radio in his hand.
The trucks passed beneath them before coming to a stop next to a container ship halfway down the dock. Silence descended once again as the engines were switched off. Nothing moved for a few minutes. Finally the doors of the first truck opened and two men alighted. Almost simultaneously a gangplank was lowered from the ship and three men walked down it. Once they reached the trucks, they held a short conference with the two men on the ground. One of the shipping containers on the back of the truck was opened and the men disappeared inside. After a while they came back out, and one of them waved to someone out of sight on the deck of the ship. The crane on the foredeck came to life and swung over the side. Its chains were fastened to the first container, and as it began to hoist the metal box towards the deck, the mysterious man spoke into his radio again.
Special Forces swarmed all over the four trucks and the ship in a matter of seconds. The guard stood watching, in awe, and when he turned to his mysterious visitor he was no longer there. He turned back to the window in time to see the man striding along the dock towards the trucks.
Harry came to a stop in front of the two men that had got out of the truck.
"Evening, Andy," he said pleasantly.
Andy closed his eyes in resignation.
"How the hell did Five find out?"
"Well," Harry looked around him, "a large unscheduled movement of weapons is always going to trip some alarm bells." He looked back at the other man.
"This shipment has not been authorised by the government, so what is an MI6 officer doing in the middle of it?"
Andy remained quiet, his jaw jutted out stubbornly. Harry studied him, before shrugging philosophically.
"You want to know what I think? This is a black op, and it stinks to high heaven. There is nothing for the UK to be gained from putting rocket propelled grenades and laser guided missiles into the hands of the Yemeni authorities. We all know they are going to use it on their own people – on civilians who have the courage to stand up against tyranny."
Harry waited, but the MI6 officer remained quiet. He sighed.
"Tell your masters they've gone too far this time. I'm putting a stop to it."
Turning away, he nodded to the Special Forces team leader standing at his shoulder.
"You can take it from here."
As he got into the car, he got out his mobile. Despite the late hour, he knew Ruth would not be asleep, that she was waiting for his call before turning in. She picked up on the first ring.
"Hi. It's done. You were right, Ruth. Your information was spot on." His voice was filled with praise and admiration.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, that's good to hear. You're driving back now?"
"Yes. I should be home in less than three hours."
"You're not too tired?" There was concern in her voice, and it warmed him.
"No. Go to bed. I'll try not to wake you when I come in."
"I don't mind," she said softly. "I'll see you in a few hours."
During the long drive back to London his mind wandered over the events of the last year. He'd survived the Inquiry after the Albany disaster by the skin of his teeth. Harry knew that it was in no small measure thanks to the efforts of the Home Secretary that he still had a job. But to Towers' eternal credit, he'd never mentioned it or expected anything in return, apart from Harry doing the best job that he could to keep the country safe. The two men shared a deeper understanding since, and worked well together. In fact, Harry was acting with the blessing of the Home Secretary that evening, who had been just as horrified as Harry was by the callousness of Six's actions. Apart from the two of them, only Ruth knew the full extent of the operation, as she had been the one to stumble onto it in the first place. It was decided to keep the rest of his team out of it for their own protection, and because the Home Secretary wanted as few people as possible to know about it. Hence Harry personally taking charge of the operation that evening.
The closer he got to London, the more his thoughts turned to the person awaiting him at home. Their home. His and Ruth's. It still filled him with wonder every time he thought about it. After the disastrous few months between his ill-advised proposal to her at Ros' funeral and the eventual horrific conclusion of the Albany affair, he had given up all hope on the two of them finding a way to each other. But after his suspension he had been back on the Grid for only a week when, to his astonishment, Ruth had asked him to go for a drink. This time no national crisis had intervened, and they had shared a quiet drink in a small pub next to the Thames. Their initial conversation had been horribly awkward and stilted, until both had gradually started to relax in each other's company. She'd allowed him to drive her home, and see her to the door, and before she'd disappeared inside she'd reached up and kissed him. A proper kiss, long and passionate. Afterwards, while he'd stood there, trying to get his brain functioning, she'd said, "Life's too short, Harry. I want to stop living in the past."
She'd looked away from him, before meeting his eyes again.
"I want to live. Will you do it with me?"
And he'd nodded, and stammered woefully inarticulately, "Yes, erm… Yes." And had whistled all the way home.
It had been hard work at first. They'd found it difficult to find an acceptable balance between their work and personal lives, and there were many heated arguments. But, miraculously, neither of them ran or gave up. They were both determined to stick it out, to fight for every bit of happiness they could have together, and they'd gradually found a way to make it work. Three months after that first drink they'd moved in together. And nine months later, they were still together, still happy. Harry had not yet worked up the courage to propose again, but he was thinking about it more often.
Maybe soon, he mused as he turned into their driveway.
- 0 -
Beecher was waiting on the bench when Harry arrived. He sat down and contemplated the Houses of Parliament opposite him. Without preamble he asked, "Was the CIA involved in the plot to provide weapons to the Yemeni government?"
The CIA officer glanced at his counterpart. "Are you really asking, or do you already know the answer?"
Harry smiled. "We both know that I know."
Beecher waited for a pedestrian to amble by before continuing. "We're not very happy with you at the moment. You're endangering our Middle East strategy with your meddling."
"And you are doing the dirty work of the Saudis for them," Harry retorted. "We all know that they greatly fear that civilian protests in Yemen and Bahrain will spill over to them. They don't want to be the bad guys that will use force against civilians, and you don't want that either, as it would place tremendous pressure on the 'special relationship' between the two governments. So what better than to nip the momentum these civil protests have gained in the bud in Yemen, hmm?"
Another person strolled by.
"I didn't think you were this naïve, Harry." Beecher looked at him.
"The West needs a stable oil producing partner in the Middle East. You've seen what the unrest in Libya has done to oil prices. You know it will have consequences for both our and your economies if it climbs any higher."
"And that justifies it?" Harry kept his voice low but his anger shone through. "We allow unarmed civilians to be slaughtered so we can keep the lights on?"
He shook his head. "Keeping an undemocratic government in place artificially is not a long term solution. For God's sake, look how your attempts to use Saddam Hussein against the Iranians turned out."
Harry got up and looked around before continuing. "Next time, don't try to use the UK to do your dirty work. And don't expect me to look the other way either. I will continue to stop this by all means necessary."
Beecher watched him walk away with a frown.
- 0 -
London, Office of the Foreign Secretary
Foreign Secretary John Hastings watched as the Yemen Ambassador to the UK, Sameer Al-Busaili, paced to and fro in front of his desk.
"We were promised those weapons. You promised us!"
Hastings spread his hands. "Unfortunately the deal became known. We cannot continue with it without risking condemnation from the international community."
Al-Busaili stopped and glared at him. "It seems to me, Foreign Secretary, that you have very little influence over your country's foreign policy. Perhaps you should ask yourself who is really in control of it."
With that he turned on his heel and stormed out.
A door opened behind Hastings and a man stepped through it. Hastings rounded on him.
"What the hell happened?"
The man picked up a letter opener from the desk and idly twirled it between his fingers.
"Harry Pearce found out."
The Foreign Secretary snatched the letter opener back before saying, "Harry bloody Pearce. I'm sick and tired of him interfering with our strategies whenever they don't meet the approval of his personal moral code. I want him out of the equation."
The other man raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Interpret it how you will, but I want that meddlesome spook off the playing field," Hastings grumbled.
"It won't be easy. He has the backing of the Home Secretary," the man responded after pondering for a few moments.
The politician leaned back in his chair. "Leave Towers to me. You just take care of Pearce."
After another moment of hesitation the man nodded. "It will take some time, but we have a man who's been out of favour for a while. I think he'll enjoy taking care of this."
With that, he left the office quietly.
- 0 -
Two months later
London, the Grid
Harry was catching up on some paperwork when his phone rang. It was Beecher.
"I need to talk to you, away from prying ears. Outside the city somewhere. There's a private airfield out on the A12. Do you know it?"
Frowning at the strange request, Harry answered affirmatively.
"Good. Get here as soon as you can," Beecher said before disconnecting abruptly.
After alerting his security officer to get the car ready, Harry collected his coat and moved out of his office. He caught Ruth's eye and nodded towards the corridor, away from curious eyes.
When she joined him, he took her hand and leaned in to kiss her cheek.
"Something's come up. I'll be away for a couple of hours."
Ruth nodded, and smiled at him. It was nothing out of the ordinary for him not to disclose where he was going or whom he was meeting with.
On an impulse, Harry pulled Ruth into his arms and kissed her soundly.
As he stepped back again, she looked at him quizzically.
"What brought that on?"
He shrugged and smiled bashfully. "I couldn't resist."
Squeezing her hand, he continued, "I have to go."
She nodded and smoothed her hand down his tie.
"Go save the world, Sir Harry," she smiled, only half teasing, and watched him walk away from her.
- 0 -
35 minutes later
They had reached the outskirts of the city. Charlie, Harry's security officer, was a good driver and they had made good time. It happened as they pulled away from a traffic light at a quiet intersection. A large SUV skipped the red light and smashed into the side of their car at great speed. The impact caused Harry's head to whiplash and the safety belt bit painfully into his chest. The airbag deployed with a loud pop, knocking the wind out of him. The two vehicles skidded sideways accompanied by the sound of screeching metal, until the car wrapped itself around the traffic light on the opposite corner, halting the momentum and trapping his foot under the front seat. Before Harry had time to gather his wits, he heard a shot go off and felt the bullet whip past his cheek before hitting Charlie behind the ear. He recoiled as his security officer's brains were splattered over the roof of the car.
"Oh Christ! Charlie-"
It was all happening too fast. His door was wrenched open and expert hands sliced away the seat belt and airbag before attempting to yank him out of the wreck. Harry screamed in agony as his knee twisted violently before his foot ripped free and he was unceremoniously dumped on the pavement. He had time to look up and register the Middle Eastern appearance of the man above him before the butt of a gun was smashed into his temple, and everything went black.