the ECube. Blue digits flickered under his gentle caress. He activated the emergency homer, and felt the ECube vibrate a little as the powerful transmitter gave out short bursts.
    Resting his head back against the grassy embankment, Carter felt the sounds of running water having a soothing effect on his soul. But too many questions jostled his brain - too many memories haunted his past.
    It was obvious now. It had been a set-up. For him.
    Carter shivered; somebody had wanted him dead, somebody had wanted him dead real fast. But why the elaborate protection scam? Of course - to separate him from Spiral... to get him out there on his own. If he was supporting German Special Forces then he would not be consigned to a DemolSquad ...
    And Maria—
    Carter shook his head. She had fooled him; and now she was wounded, with a bullet in her shoulder, possibly dead and buried, and all for what? To kill him?
    Feuchter and Maria. They were both Spiral ... and they had both tried to kill him. And it would seem that some of the German Special Forces had been in on the betrayal ... and the final explosion. What the fuck had happened there? What the fuck had been going down?
    After Kade had taken control of him, events were nothing but a dull dream, without colour, and the— hell, he thought, say the word. The possession left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth, whisky piss of the worst blend. Kade’s joy left a sour feeling in his belly, and Kade’s fury left an empty void in his soul.
    Carter stared at the small white flower in his fingers. It had withered a little since Maria Balashev had given it to him in the garden. Kade had said to him, ‘You lied.’ For once Kade had been right and Carter cursed the demon in his soul.
    ‘I have never lost a protection.’
    A lie of reassurance. Oh, the comedy of the situation! He had been protecting his own would-be assassin... and now? Was she dead? Lying with Feuchter in the cold grave of their ancestors?
    ‘I should have killed them.’
    ‘I still can’t believe you shot her,’ said Carter softly.
    ‘Yeah, I’m going fucking soft, or something, I should have placed the bullet in her fucking face. Never leave an enemy behind - it’s your fault, Carter, you poison my blood, you weaken my resolve, you piss in my mind...’
    ‘I poison... get the fuck out of my brain, Kade.’
    Carter felt Kade depart; his arrogance, hatred and anger a bleak red streak at the back of his mind, burning, but dissipating as the dark twin left him to his own sour thoughts.
    Carter threw the dead flower aside and stood, stretching his back and rolling his neck, which cracked with a release of tension.
    Why hadn’t they killed him earlier?
    Carter pondered. Maybe the explosion had been intended - not just for him, but for the guests as well? But something had gone wrong and Carter had fucked it all up, and so it had been left to Feuchter and Maria to finish off the kill. Maybe.
    Carter spun the ECube in his palm, then sent the report to Spiral.
    What the fuck, he thought. Let them figure it out! Maybe they could discover what had happened to the ECube as well...
    A low drone reached his ears, pounding over the forest.
    Carter waited patiently as the Comanche leaped into view, spun around low over the trees and touched down. The whump whump of the rotors sent branches and trees swaying and Carter ran to the cockpit and the serious face of Langan.
    ‘Hurry up,’ he shouted. ‘We’ve got company.’
    Langan nodded as Carter ascended and belted himself into the cockpit. ‘Put on the spare HIDSS ‘cos I might need your help. Whatever the fuck you’ve been up to down here, you’ve certainly stirred up a hornets’ nest. Ever used a holographic Bi-Ocular FOV in a real-time combat situation?’
    ‘Just get in.’
    The Comanche RAH-66 twin LHTec engines screamed and the attack helicopter launched into the fast-approaching darkness.


    T he Russian Ballistic

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