Read Undersea Prison Online

Authors: Duncan Falconer

Tags: #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Undersea Prison (10 page)

BOOK: Undersea Prison
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Only a handful of people outside the secret operation would have known the facts, though - a select few at the very top. Stratton was probably the only one who knew all Sumners’s shortcomings. Sumners was aware of that, too. He had been out of his depth and not only a threat to the operation’s success but also to Stratton’s survival, as well as that of others. Despite the mission’s positive conclusion Stratton had not been invited to take part in another SIS task since then. He suspected Sumners had had a lot to do with that.
Sumners had gone back to the job he’d done prior to that operation which involved selecting operatives for tasks. Stratton had not expected to hear from the SIS again. It was why he’d been surprised when he’d answered his phone that morning to hear Sumners dryly telling him to drop by the office. It did not necessarily mean that Stratton had been summoned for a task but he couldn’t think of any other reason why he would be invited to the SIS London HQ. If there
was
a task on offer, Stratton strongly suspected that his name had been mentioned by someone else, one of Sumners’s superiors. Sumners must have found it painful to make that call.
‘What’ve you been doing the past year?’ Sumners asked.
‘Usual stuff.’
‘I understand you’ve been confined to the training teams these days.’
The snide implication was that even the SBS had tired of Stratton. He was beginning to think that was true. The routine of the training slot had been gradually eroding his morale. His commanders in the SBS had clearly become unsure quite what to do with him after his last outing in the USA. Stratton had needed to lie low anyway but instead of sending him away on remote operations somewhere they’d stuck him where they’d thought he couldn’t do any harm. Initially Stratton had been relieved that he had not been kicked out of the service altogether. But within a few months he had begun to think that might have been the best choice. Ironically, the man who’d lifted his spirits out of the gutter that morning was the man least likely to. Sumners was one of the few people who knew there was nothing else Stratton would rather do than work for the SIS.
‘I take it that you’re fit?’
Stratton shrugged. ‘Usual.’
‘What about diving fit? I’m surprised you were medically cleared to dive after your chest wound.’
‘I guess they know what they’re doing.’
‘Are you medically fit? I can check.’
Arsehole, Stratton thought. Sumners looked as if he was waiting for an opportunity to explode and vent some of his pent-up anger. Stratton didn’t care. He even pondered on a comment or two he could make that might provide that trigger. He suddenly began to doubt this was a job offer after all. Sumners was looking far too smug. Perhaps the bastard had brought him in just to screw him about. ‘If it was essential to the job I don’t doubt you would have checked already.’
‘Don’t be impertinent,’ Sumners snapped, his face flushed with anger. ‘Remember this is a military structure and I am your superior - far and above, I may add, the rank of sergeant.’
‘Colour sergeant,’ Stratton corrected him.
Sumners stared at him while making an effort to calm himself. This wasn’t like the old days when he’d had more leverage with his young bucks. Things had changed, even in the last year. The mandarins were taking more of an interest in lower-level decisions than they had before. He could not overlook the fact that his own position had been damaged by that damned operation in Jerusalem. He blamed Stratton for much of it but deep down he knew that he, Sumners, had lost control. Still, he had expected more loyalty from the man. That was unforgivable. The trust had been broken. If he had his way Stratton would never work for the SIS again and certainly not under him.
But there was no denying that the man had carved himself a reputation, albeit a chequered one. He had fans in high places despite his many flaws. The only way forward for Sumners was to get himself another posting. New jobs were opening up all over the place. He needed to patch up the past, get a few feathers back in his cap, and then at the right moment apply for another position.This operation didn’t help any, though. It seemed to him to be doomed to failure. His plan was to distance himself from it as much as possible, do the minimum required to see it through and ensure that he made no operational contributions to it. When the investigation into its failure was conducted his name would appear purely in a lowly coordinating role. The good news was that it could end up being the final nail in Stratton’s coffin. A failure of such magnitude on the back of his American fiasco could be his ultimate undoing. Taking an even more brutal view, Stratton might not even survive it. That would probably suit everyone.
‘You’re under consideration for a task,’ Sumners said calmly, suddenly feeling more in control. ‘I don’t think you’re the ideal person, for a number of reasons. But we’re hellish busy at the moment with most of our people on the ground - our best are certainly unavailable.You’re not at the top of the pile any more, Stratton. As far as you’re concerned you’re lucky to be here at all.’
Sumners got to his feet, opened a drawer, removed a plastic card and held it out to Stratton. ‘Your key card. It’ll get you from the main entrance to this floor and the secure elevators only. Let’s go.’
Stratton took the pass and followed Sumners out of the room and down a corridor to a pair of elevators. Sumners placed a card into a slot, the doors opened and they stepped inside. Sumners pressed his hand against a glass panel. His fingerprints were scanned in a second but the doors remained open. ‘Everyone who steps into this elevator has to have their hand scanned. It won’t move otherwise. You’re logged in for three days.’
Stratton pressed his hand to the glass. A second later the doors closed and the elevator descended. When it came to a halt the doors opened onto a brightly lit empty corridor. Sumners led the way to a door at the end and used his card and a PIN-code to gain entry. They stepped into a small empty space in front of another door that had a tiny red light glowing in its centre. Sumners waited until Stratton was inside and the first door had closed fully before he pressed a button on the wall. An electronic magnet locked the outer door and the red light turned green, accompanied by a soft click.
Sumners pulled the door open and they stepped through into a large gloomy room with a low ceiling that appeared to stretch to infinity in every direction. Stratton followed Sumners across the carpeted floor past untold numbers of cubicle workspaces, some of them like little islands of light. These were occupied while the others were empty and in complete darkness.
They arrived at the far end of the room where the ceiling rose up to accommodate an enormous plasma screen showing a colourful map of the world on whose edges appeared various calibrations and readings: satellite information, time zones, weather, daylight and nighttime areas, and temperatures.
Three men were standing by a large low table, talking under a spotlight. Two of them were young and were dressed scruffily. The other man, older and wearing a dark suit, had his back to Sumners.
‘Excuse me, Mr Jervis,’ Sumners said, stopping behind him.
Jervis turned to look at Sumners, a file in his hand. His weasel eyes immediately focused on Stratton.
‘This is John Stratton,’ Sumners said.
‘How are you?’ Jervis asked dryly.
‘Fine, thanks,’ Stratton replied, wondering where he had seen the man before - his face was familiar. The two younger men were strangers to him. Both nodded a greeting that oozed deference. Stratton immediately labelled them as technicians of some sort. They did not look at all like operators. Apart from being young they both had a neophyte discomfort about them, as if they were overawed by the company and where they were.
‘Paul and Todd,’ Jervis said. ‘Has Sumners told you anything about the job yet?’
‘I just got here,’ Stratton replied. Jervis’s London accent reminded him where he’d seen the man before. Jervis had headed up a major Scandinavian operation against Russian mini-submarines years before when Stratton had been purely SBS. It had led to the shutting down of a serious hole in Europe’s back-door defences through which the Russians had been ferrying spies, Spetsnaz special-forces infiltrators and information. Jervis looked pretty much the same as he had then - a little older, perhaps. It was his foxlike features that made him so memorable, plus his brilliance. He’d been one step ahead of the Russkis all the way.
‘They’ll be working the early set-up phases with you,’ Jervis said.
Stratton’s hope that he would eventually be working alone grew.
‘I ’ope a year on your backside hasn’t made you soft.’
Stratton’s only reply was to stare at Jervis.
‘You see that, lads?’ Jervis said, a hint of a smile in his eyes. ‘That’s arrogance. I like a bit of that in my boys. Don’t you, Sumners?’ he added, well aware that it would wind him up no end.
Sumners forced a smile of his own that quickly crumbled and fell apart.
‘This is an unusual operation,’ Jervis went on. ‘Complex and with little time to put it together. It’s an operator-driven task. Tell them what that means, Stratton.’
‘I’ll be figuring it out as I go along.’
‘Unfortunately that means the more important parts,’ Jervis said, his cheery tone gone. ‘That’s why you’re back, Stratton. They’d thrown your card out of the company Rolodex. I’m the only one who voted for you on this. Just so happens my vote counts more than anyone else’s. Don’t let me down . . .You can go ahead,’ Jervis said to Sumners as he handed him the file. ‘Come with me,’ he said to the other two men as he walked away.
Stratton was a little overwhelmed by the compliment. Over the past year his confidence in himself had slipped, along with his hope of being selected for an op again. It was a much-needed slap on the back and greatly appreciated. ‘He’s the ops director now, is he?’ Stratton asked.
‘Yes,’ Sumners said, miffed that his earlier dressing-down of Stratton had been entirely neutralised. He pushed a button on the side of the glass-covered table, illuminating several flat-screen monitors beneath the glass. The two men’s faces reflected the various colours shining up at them. Each screen displayed a different image of the undersea prison. ‘You heard of Styx?’
Stratton had heard the name but he couldn’t place it. ‘No.’
‘They probably didn’t do Greek mythology in that South London state school you went to,’ Sumners said.
It was the clue Stratton needed. ‘A river?’ he asked, unperturbed by Sumners’s dig at his education.
‘So you
do
read,’ Sumners said. ‘Yes - a mythological river in Hades, between earth and the underworld. Dead souls were ferried across it. Well, it’s no longer mythology. Today’s Styx is the most secure prison on the planet.’
‘Gulf of Mexico?’ Stratton said, remembering reading something about it.
‘It’s the focus of this operation,’ Sumners said, touching the screens to change the schematics. ‘You’ll have to study every detail of the place.’ Sumners pushed the file over to Stratton. ‘There’s a list of data files. Read every one of them.You can use that cubicle there. The passwords and links are on the face page. Everything we know about Styx is there. It will become apparent to you that there’s a lot we don’t know . . . Those two young chaps with Jervis? Paul is the boffin and will help clarify any technical stuff. Todd is a communications specialist. Both show a strong aptitude for field-work and although they’re not operatives they can be relied upon to be of assistance - in non-hostile situations only. You have a room booked in your name at the Victory. It includes breakfast. Lunch is in the canteen. You can expense dinner tonight up to twenty pounds as well as taxis to and from the hotel only. The briefing is tomorrow morning at eight. Be in my office by five to. Any questions?’
Stratton shook his head. He would know all he had to by the end of the following day.
‘Tomorrow, then,’ Sumners said and walked away.
Stratton watched Sumners go, pulled off his jacket, hung it on the back of a chair and opened the file.
Chapter 5
Nathan Charon sat playing cards with several other inmates in the recreation hall of the Cranston minimum-security prison on Rhode Island, New England. He was a handsome man in his thirties, with mousy hair, and was more sociable and unassuming than his rugged looks indicated. He was a bank clerk, or had been until his association with a small-time cheque-forging syndicate had been uncovered. Since he was not one of the organisers of the scam and was only a first-time loser he received a two-year sentence.With only two months still to serve he might well have completed it without undue drama but for one small accident of nature. He bore a striking resemblance to a man in a photograph that the British ambassador to the USA had handed to the American Vice-President, that man being an English Special Forces operative called John Stratton.
‘Ah ha!’ Charon shouted as he dropped a running flush onto the table, much to the disappointment of the other players who watched as he scooped up the chips.
‘Nathan Charon?’ a voice called out from across the room.
Charon looked up, the grin still on his face, as he searched for whoever had called his name.When he saw the duty officer with one of the guards in tow approaching he got to his feet. ‘Here, sir,’ he said, grinning. ‘Just fleecing these gentlemen of their cigarette coupons.’
The duty officer was not smiling as he stopped in front of the inmate and read his file one more time just in case he had got it wrong. But he had not and although it was one of the most bizarre orders he’d been asked to carry out in his career and undoubtedly an horrendous bureaucratic cock-up he reckoned it was a case of his was not to reason why. He had a job to do and he exhaled deeply before carrying on with it. ‘You need to come with me, Charon.’
‘Whatever you say, sir. Where we goin’?’
BOOK: Undersea Prison
8.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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