Exclusive sneak preview The Claws of Time, available 2017

CHAPTER 1: DISCOVERIES

A solitary Hyperjet raced across a charcoal sky, tracing an unseen path over a maze of brightly-lit buildings and streets. It flew between vast, glowing metal and glass structures, banking and weaving in anticipation of each cloud piercing tower. The pilot nervously adjusted his control stick and throttle. He fought against a strong, gusty wind that covered his cockpit window in horizontal lines of rain and violently threw his craft from side to side. He raised the Hyperjet’s nose to gain height and felt his neck and shoulders press hard against the unforgiving support of his seat. Wincing silently, he spoke into his headset.
“ETA two minutes. Prepare yourselves, it’s blowing a gale out there!”
“Affirmative,” replied Agents Geist and Stafford in unison.
Geist and Stafford patted their harnesses and pouches several times with gloved hands, each running through a mental checklist of the equipment they needed. Their craft levelled and approached a sharp, triangular tower that glowed turquoise in the darkness. Circling briefly, the Hyperjet began to hover and descend towards the gleaming spire. A red flashing light guided their way.
“Okay, remember this is a recon-only mission. Get in quietly, collect your evidence and get out. We need to know what happened to our undercover mailman. I don’t want any heroics and leave nothing behind. I’ll circle the area and wait for your signal.”
The Agents nodded to each other from either side of the Hyperjet. They rose from their seats and clipped themselves to an overhead guide rail, which ran the length of the cabin.
“So we’re chasing lost mail,” grinned Geist. “Ok Vixen, take us down nice and easy.”
“I’ll do my best, it’s going to be choppy.”
“It’s our lives on the line,” added Stafford.
“You don’t say?” replied Captain Shaw.
Sliding their lines along the overhead rail, the Agents took up positions at opposite ends of the cabin. They each clipped their harness to a winch cables and waited.
“Opening doors in 5, 4, 3, 2, open.”
A deafening howl of wind and rotor noise filled the cabin. The floor split in two to reveal the jagged, glowing roof of their objective. It was an area no wider than a half a basketball court. Agents Geist and Stafford stood silhouetted against the city lights and tightened their face masks. They stepped carefully onto foot-plates and wrapped their hands and wrists through loops of cord at chest height.
“Descent complete, prepare to drop. Are you ready? Geist?”
“Affirmative.”
“Stafford?”
“Affirmative.”
“Lowering Geist in 5,4,3,2, now!”
Agent Geist swung a short distance across the floor and plummeted downwards. He braced himself against the wind and gripped his hand and foot holds, flexing for the inevitable impact. The wind and rain blew him sideways in a spiral. Stopping four feet short of the roof he gasped in relief.
“You’ll have to jump Geist,” ordered Captain Shaw. “I’m not going to risk it.”
Geist groaned to himself and repeated a drill he had practised a hundred times. ‘Grip, release clip, hold steady, pick your spot.’
“Ooofff!!”
He lurched with the gale at the last second and nearly decorated a pale blue window with a pair of size 11 boots. Instead, Geist landed firmly on a gravel drain-away a few feet from a row of glass skylights.
“I’m okay,” he reported, pulling his assault weapon from its shoulder holster and tightening the strap around him.
Agent Geist scanned the rooftop through the scope of his weapon. There were no signs of life, only air conditioning units, some solar panels, a few aerials, a gantry crane and the appalling weather.
‘Why did they have to pick tonight of all nights?’ he winced, shivering with the cold. Geist crouched and inched away from his landing site.
“Vixen, we are ‘go’ for Stafford,” he reported.
Agent Geist swept the rooftop from side to side, briefly glancing at the noisy shadow hovering above. A dark figure slid rapidly down a second cable that extended from the Hyperjet’s belly. Agent Stafford jerked to a halt and swung in circles. Geist flipped his weapon onto his back and ran across. He lunged and grabbed the cable next to Stafford’s boots, steadying his swing.
“Come on twinkle toes, show time!” he joked.
Agent Stafford leaped from his winch onto a rectangular skylight.
‘Crack!’
A hairline split extended from Stafford’s right boot. He crawled clear of the glass on all fours. The two Agents waited a few seconds for an alarm, but there was nothing. Behind them the two winch cables rose and vanished into the night sky.
“Geist, Stafford, this is Vixen, what’s happening?”
“We’re clear,” replied Agent Geist. “Just about,” he whispered.
“Vixen withdrawing, God’s speed gentlemen.”
“Stay close Vixen,” replied Stafford.
“This is Vixen, wilco and out.”

********************************************************

Sean and Emily crept into the family room at Kimbleton Hall. A log fire flickered invitingly. Above it on a stone mantelpiece stood a plain, modern clock with a wooden case and Roman numerals. It was nearly seven o’clock.
“Where’s the remote?” asked Sean. “Our film will start soon.”
“Wherever you left it, silly,” replied Emily slouching into the most comfortable armchair and lying back with her legs curled up.
“Ahh!” complained Sean scouring the room and lifting scatter cushions in a frenzy. “Where is it? Phew!” he added seizing the controller from beneath a purple sofa.
There was a creak at the doorway and footsteps rippled through the wooden floors under the carpet.
“Not so fast you two,” announced a familiar voice. “I’ll be catching up with the news, if it’s all the same with you.”
Sean hissed under his breath and hid the remote behind his back. ‘Not if I can help it’ he thought.
Emily’s mother, Mrs Campbell, entered the room with her dog bounding along beside her. She was followed by another set of footsteps.
“Sean, hand over the remote,” ordered Mrs Yeager. “Now!”
Sean grimaced and pretended not to hear. He turned on the TV and selected the channel for his movie. It was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ one of his favourites. Emily giggled.
“Now look here Sean,” began Mrs Yeager, “if you want any time on your laptop this month you’ll hand me the remote this instant!”
“Ok Mum,” sighed Sean launching the remote controller onto the seat next to his mother. “But it’s so unfair, I don’t get to see anything I ...”
“Enough!” snapped Mrs Yeager. “There’s something on the news I want to see.”
Mrs Yeager selected her channel and turned up the volume. The first program was an advert.
“That’s right, buy one bottle of Aqua Vervier and get three bottles absolutely free! Aqua Vervier, feel the good life inside of you!”
“Stuff and nonsense,” muttered Mrs Campbell.
“If it’s that good, why are they giving it away?” added Mrs Yeager. “And what’s wrong with tap water anyway?”
“It tastes disgusting for a start,” replied Sean.
“And it’s full of chlorine and calcium,” added Emily with a wink.
“Calcium’s good for you dear,” corrected Mrs Campbell.
“Eeee-yuck!” replied Emily and Sean with a giggle.
“Shoosh!” snapped Mrs Yeager increasing the volume to an almost deafening level. “This is it!”
“Today an exciting discovery was announced in Egypt. Over to our reporter James Morgan at the British Museum, London.”
“Boring,” complained Sean.
Mrs Yeager ignored him and leaned forwards in her chair.
“Yes Mark, a team of international archaeologists, based here in London, has discovered a long lost pyramid with the aid of satellite technology. In this image you can clearly see a buried pyramid and temple complex beneath the desert.”
Sean and Emily looked at each other and studied the TV screen. It showed a black and white image with shadowy lines outlining two squares. Inside the squares were blocks and ridges. Surrounding the area were irregular earthworks or rocks.
“That could be anything,” joked Sean.
“So James, have there been any confirmed finds at the site?” asked the newsman.
“Yes Mark, the team have announced the discovery of a number of significant burial artefacts, many of which will be displayed in a special exhibition later this year. What is remarkable is that this site is hundreds of miles from any previously documented Egyptian ruins. Of course, its location is being kept a closely guarded secret.”
“Amazing,” said Mrs Yeager.
“More mummies? We have enough already,” said Sean.
Mrs Yeager scowled.
“It wouldn’t hurt to take more interest in your history young man,” she replied. “The sooner you go back to school the better.”
“Oh Mum!” groaned Sean.
“Or we’ll have to find you both another tutor,” added Mrs Campbell. “After what happened…”
Emily sighed and glanced at Sean.
“Actually, I’d like to go back to school Mum, but you know it’s not safe,” said Emily.
“Hmm, well we’ll have to see dear.”
The news report moved on to its next story and flashed up home-made video of a meteorite striking a parked car.
“And this is only one of a number of incidents,” said the reporter.
“Why what happened?” asked Sean.
“Listen,” said Mrs Yeager.
“Locals here say that last night there were an unusually large number of meteorites, some as large as a toaster. This video was recorded by a tourist and shows a meteor destroying a parked car.”
“And what other damage have they caused?” asked the newsroom.
“Well Mark, we have reports of houses being hit, a school, a bus, a yacht and several roads. At present the reports are a little confused.”
Sean and Emily giggled.
“What’s so funny?” asked Mrs Yeager.
“We can’t go back to school because meteorites could flatten it,” laughed Sean.
“Why, is your school in America?” asked Mrs Campbell.
“Erm,” replied Sean sheepishly.
Mrs Yeager laughed.
“You have the attention span of a newt Sean. Okay, you can watch your film now,” she said.
“And I’ll make you some popcorn Dear,” added Mrs Campbell.
“Yes!” replied Sean clenching his fist. “Thanks Mrs Campbell.”

********************************************************

Two men wearing full length, black trench coats entered a dimly lit restaurant. It was situated in a quiet London side-street. Although it was early evening and already dark, its customers had yet to arrive. The men studied several rows of immaculately prepared tables. They were empty and presided over by a handful of eager waiters. Satisfied that the restaurant was safe, one man returned to a waiting limousine and the other held the restaurant door open for an older, distinguished gentleman to enter.
“I’ll wait here Sir,” he said.
The gentleman nodded and gave up his coat to a waiter. He sniffed at the green ceramic uplighters and informal décor. It was a bistro at best. In the centre of the room stood an impressively large aquarium containing a sunken ship. It was brightly lit in shades of yellow and blue, with constantly rising bubbles. It appeared to contain lobsters with their claws bound.
“Ah Minister, thank you for coming,” announced a tall, white haired figure reaching out to shake his hand.
“Mr Deveraux, a pleasure as always. Alas, I am pressed for time. I have some important reading to do before tomorrow’s Cabinet.”
“Of course Minister, of course,” smiled Darius Deveraux. “ Shall we?”
A waiter beckoned them to the largest table in the virtually empty restaurant. It was set with glasses, napkins and a small table lamp. The Minister sat with his back to the aquarium and reached for a breadstick.
“So Mr Deveraux, how can I be of assistance?”
Darius sat opposite and beckoned for the menu. He offered the Minister a small bowl of olives, with cocktail sticks arranged on an outer tray.
“I’ll be direct Minister, it’s The Foundation. I am concerned they are a danger to the public.”
“Indeed,” nodded the Minister, “but you know they have friends in high places, including the Prime Minister?”
Deveraux grimaced and pretended to smile.
“I see you are not a supporter of The Foundation?” said the Minister.
“My concerns are that they spend public money and present a clear danger to the public.”
“Well let me allay your fears Mr Deveraux, The Foundation does not receive a penny from the Government. It is entirely self-funded.”
The Minister sighed and accepted a copy of the menu. He scanned it briefly, unsure whether to eat at all. By the doorway, his bodyguard was offered a starter and a bottle of Aqua Vervier, which he gratefully accepted.
“I am relieved to hear it,” replied Deveraux focusing on the Minister through silver tinted glasses. “However, my sources tell me that The Foundation are reckless and dangerous. Only a few months ago they destroyed a shopping mall.”
The Minister raised his right hand in acceptance.
“And the whole affair was thoroughly investigated,” he replied. “The Foundation were cleared of any wrong doing.”
“How convenient?” scowled Deveraux. “Shall we order?”
Deveraux nodded to a waiter, unseen by the Minister. Behind him there was a gentle sloshing of water. The Minister looked up quizzically.
“Someone’s chosen a lobster,” explained Deveraux. “Are you partial to them?”
The Minister shook his head and returned to examining every inch of the menu. He secretly disliked sea-food, though he understood it was supposed to be healthy.
A waiter stood behind them and flipped open the fish tank’s lid on the side nearest to them. He appeared to mentally choose a lobster, but looked startled and quickly stepped away.
“Are you ready to order?” asked a waiter.
The Minister glanced up over his glasses and gave an audible ‘huff’ as he breathed out.
“Another two minutes,” he replied, noticing a strange red glow in the waiter’s eyes.
He shrugged and thought nothing of it, returning to his deliberations. Behind him, a dark shape slowly approached the front of the aquarium, sending lobsters scuttling in all directions. The creature completely covered the shipwreck with its bulk of grey and luminous green stripes. Several long tentacles extended above the waterline, as the creature stretched out. It climbed using its suckers and reached over the edge of the aquarium’s thick glass wall. With a sudden whiplash motion, the creature threw a lasso-like tendril at the Minister’s neck.
‘Slap!’
The Minister sat bolt upright with a startled look on his face. He felt a sharp sting at the base of his skull and gasped. His veins pulsed and protruded on all sides of his throat.
“Are you alright Minister?” smiled Deveraux.
“Feel my pain!” wheezed the Minister, with his eyes rolling upwards inside his eye sockets.
“I knew you would see it my way,” added Deveraux. “The Foundation simply cannot be allowed to continue. Are we clear on this matter?”
Deveraux did not wait for a reply. He stood and leaned over the table, steadying the Minister’s head with his left hand. The tentacle released its grip and withdrew to the aquarium as quickly as it had arrived. Deveraux ignored it and picked up a napkin with his free hand. He wiped the Minister’s throat. The Minister groaned quietly as if in a trance, his eyes now closed. Stepping around the table, Deveraux dabbed at a red puncture mark on the Minister’s neck and straightened his white shirt collar to hid the evidence. He then gently lowered the Minister’s head to rest on the table, to one side of his plate. Deveraux waited a moment and walked across the restaurant, towards the doorway.
“I think the Minister needs your help,” he called.
A bored looking bodyguard peered over his newspaper and crumpled it in two. He looked disgruntled, as if someone was disturbing his rest. Deveraux spoke calmly.
“I think he’s over tired,” he added.
“Leave it with me Sir,” replied the bodyguard, speaking into a microphone inside his sleeve.
By now the Minister was sitting upright and babbling incoherently with a grin on his face. The aquarium had returned to glow blue and yellow with brown mottled shapes shifting slowly across its gravel bed. A waiter stooped to wipe the polished oak floor with a napkin, while another poured water into a bulb shaped glass in front of the Minister.
“It’s been a long day,” explained the bodyguard.
“Indeed it has,” replied Deveraux smiling. “I do hope the Minister is okay.”
The bodyguard grinned.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep.”

********************************************************

Agent Geist unclipped a pouch from his webbing, he opened its cover and selected a cutting tool and a spray can.
“Looks like the shutters are closed,” he said. “Lucky for you.”
Agent Stafford leaned over the skylight. It extended for several paces in a large rectangle, like an ornamental glass pond. Beneath it, he noticed a row of horizontal metal fins that interlocked forming a solid barrier. A faint blue light glowed through some small punched holes in the metalwork.
“Why?” said Stafford, inspecting the glass.
“They stopped you freefalling into the lobby” replied Geist.
“It’s toughened glass,” replied Stafford. “It cracked, that’s all.”
“Here,” said Geist, passing Stafford a sonic-cutter. “We’re behind schedule.”
The Agents chose adjoining panes of glass and cut two large oval holes. The sonic-cutters squealed at a high frequency barely audible to humans. Using handles with suction cups, they removed the unwanted glass and laid it on the roof beside a row of heat exchange units. The rain had stopped, but a strong gust of wind nearly blew Stafford off his feet.
“Careful!” warned Geist.
Stafford crouched and leaned into the storm until it calmed.
“How are we getting through that metal?” he asked.
Geist leaned over the first hole and sprayed a fine gel onto the shutters.
“If this burn-gel doesn’t work, we’re aborting the mission,” he replied.
The aluminium fins spluttered and fizzed, throwing steam and bubbles of noxious vapour into the night sky.
“Stand back!” ordered Geist. “Or it’ll melt your face.”
Satisfied with his work, Geist repeated the exercise on the second opening.
“Okay, let’s find some anchor points and we’re ready to fly,” said Geist.
After several minutes of debating, connecting hitches and testing their anchor points, the two men nodded. Their chosen braces and rope seemed strong enough.
“Scanners on,” said Stafford as he sat with his legs dangling into empty space. “No signs of activity,” he reported.
A cavernous atrium stretched out far below him for hundreds of feet. Stafford could just make out a line of glass lifts in the pale light. He felt his heart pounding and checked his harness and line for a third time.
“Remember, we’re heading for that balcony on the right,” said Geist. “Last one down’s buying drinks.”
Agent Geist cast off into the chasm, whirring down his line and swinging gently from a harness point at his midriff. He braked by wrapping his boots around the rope and squeezing with his legs. Agent Stafford followed a little slower and watched the floor accelerate towards him.
“Any life down there?” he asked.
Geist landed a little heavily and quickly detached himself. He took up a position with his back to the balcony wall and brought his weapon up into the firing position. On the outer side of the balcony he noticed a line of elevator cables and a handrail. Only one of the elevators was stationed on this floor. It was glass walled and empty.
“Quiet as a crypt,” he replied, scanning left then right.
Agent Stafford landed softly a short distance away.
“What kept you?” joked Geist.
“My desire to stay alive?” replied Stafford grimly.
Stafford pulled out his sidearm from a thigh holster and checked it was loaded. He switched the safety catch on and tip-toed towards Geist. The building was strangely quiet, even the gale outside was now a distant howl.
“Where’s the night watch?” he asked.
Geist crawled over to the edge of the balcony on his hands and knees and peered down into the main lobby. Far below he could just make out a lone orange spot against a cool grey background. In front of it stretched a long, curved, blue desk.
“Asleep by the look of it,” he replied.
“Vixen, we are in position, over,” reported Stafford.
“I copy that,” replied Vixen.
Stafford examined either end of the short balcony. It had a neatly carpeted floor with fake plants, a lectern and little else. Their intelligence reports had been vague, he looked for signs of an entrance.
“How are we getting in?” asked Geist.
“I’m working on it,” replied Stafford. “Gee, how does anyone deliver mail to this place anyway?”
Stafford approached a small, lectern-style desk at one end of the balcony. It was bare, there was no chair and not even a pen or a paperclip. Behind it stood a wide, locked door with a full length vertical bar for a handle.
“Where’s the key pad?” he whispered.
“Come on, we’re running out of time,” complained Geist.
Stafford groaned inwardly.
‘Should I break into the wall, burn through the door frame or blast the whole door open?’ he thought.
Stafford scanned the door and frame looking for signs of heat. It was cold.
“Do you have any burn-gel left?” he asked.
“Sure do City-boy,” replied Geist. “But we’re under orders not to leave any mess behind.”
Geist reached into his map pocket and pulled out a pencil-shaped device.
“Magnetic impulse detector,” he declared. “There has to be a locking mechanism nearby.”
The device flashed green as Geist swept the wall at waist height to the right-hand side of the door frame.
“Set your blaster to impulse, it should do the trick,” he suggested.
Stafford selected a low power setting and fired his blaster at the wall. His weapon hummed quietly, but nothing happened.
“More juice,” he muttered, adjusting the power level.
He fired a second time and a short flash emerged from the wall. A hairline crack appeared in the textured wall paper and a square flap became visible. Stafford detected a faint trace of heat inside. He used his knife to prise open the outer casing. Inside, he found a circuit box with red, green and blue wires.
“Looks like a manual override,” he explained.
“Then fuse some wires,” replied Geist. “We’re late already!”
Instead, Stafford reached into the wall box and felt a switch. He flicked it upwards.
‘Hiss!’
The door opened inwards with a sudden rush of air. Geist turned and peered into a dark corridor inside the doorway.
“It’s all clear, come on!”
As soon as Geist took his first steps into the corridor another door hissed open a few strides ahead. He raised his weapon, fearing the worst.
“Wait!” called Stafford nervously.
He was too late, Geist had already nudged past the inner door and was scanning the interior.
“Stone cold,” he reported. “I can’t see anything for all the fog in here. It’s freezing.”
Stafford crept forwards and reached into his pocket for a proximity sensor. It was true, the room ahead was dark and full of dense vapour. Stafford noticed a cold, blue heat signature on his infra-red headset and no sign of activity on his proximity sensor.
“It stinks of chlorine in here. What is this place a swimming pool?” asked Geist.
“It’s our mission to find out,” replied Stafford.
The Agents inched their way slowly into the fog and heard a dull metal ‘clang’ beneath their feet.
“What was that?” said Geist, swinging around with his weapon’s sight shining bright red.
“I think it was us,” replied Stafford, tapping his foot against the hard floor. “We’re on a metal walkway.”
“I don’t like this,” said Geist. “Can we take some readings and get out of here?”
“Affirmative,” replied Stafford. “Just a little further.”
Agent Stafford noticed a tiny flash of red light to his left at ankle height.
“Stop!” he cried.
‘Bamm!’
The inner door slammed shut and hissed. It was followed by a howl of overhead fans and the fog began to swirl around them. Stafford turned to his right. On infra-red he noticed a distant orange spot, it was joined by another, then another. Soon there was a row, then a second row. He flicked his headset to ultra-violet and his stomach sank like a lead weight. All around them stood lines of tubes and upright stands. They stood in a vast gallery that stretched as far as he could see. Each stand held a dark figure wearing a mask and a combat suit.
“Run, now!” ordered Stafford.
Geist turned on his heels and sprinted towards the door. A pale orange glow illuminated the fog on all sides. Behind them, a series of dull thuds echoed through the metal walkway. Stafford peered back into the gloom and saw the faint impression of a dark figure. Behind it stood another. One by one, they turned towards him and their eyes glowed red. His infra-red sensor glowed with a patchwork of heat sources.
“Hostiles approaching!” he reported.
The Agents looked at each other and shook their heads.
“This is going to get very messy,” replied Geist.