In those dark days at the beginning of the 21st century there existed a group known as Project Messiah. Though now long dead, their names are legend, their exploits famed across the globe. Half a century later, in a new age of trouble, four young people resurrected the legend and, in a desperate attempt to counter the waves of evil spreading across the world, formed the Second Messiah. For months they trained in secret until, with the attacks on the US by Communist-occupied Mexico, they judged that the time had finally come for them to act.

In a small room, deep beneath the ruins of abandoned London, sat a wooden conference table. On the wall behind it was a large plasma screen, below which lay various touch-control pads. As anyone familiar with the appropriate technology would know, this was the Chamber of Lu-Ci-2050, the only Voice Controlled Artificially Intelligent Lifeform remaining in the UK. Although originally ten VCAILs were constructed around Britain, all but the Lu-Ci-2050 were moved to the new government HQ beneath the North Sea at the beginning of the War. As such, Lu-Ci-2050 was requisitioned by Second Messiah.

Disturbing the silence of the chamber came the sound of quiet footsteps. Jacob Ethrax, leader of the Second Messiah, stepped into the room. As he did, the VCAIL speaks.

“Hello, Jacob.”

“Oh, hi Lucy. Are the others here yet?”

“Mikhail and Alice are coming down the corridor to your right. Sarah has just arrived at the entrance. She appears to be carrying a small portable computer.” She paused, then added, sounding as worried as a computer can, “You’re not going to replace me, are you?”

Jacob smiled. Sometimes, he supposed, even computers can get paranoid.

“No, Lucy, we’re not going to replace you. In fact –”

He was cut off by the arrival of two other team members. Mikhail Nandoski, in exile from Russia since the Communists had regained power there in 2049, took the lead, while Alice Craymann, who had fled Mexico during the attacks at the same time, trailed behind. The pair exchanged greetings with Jacob and Lucy, then sat down to wait for their final comrade.

They didn’t have long to wait. After a few seconds there came the sound of running feet. Jacob rose, and was just about to ask Lucy to check who it was when Sarah Martell, fifth member of the Second Messiah and only survivor of the Massacre of London, rushed in. Jacob stepped out in front of her, catching her to prevent a collision with Lucy. As she brushed the hair from her eyes he stepped back, smiling.

“Are we ready to start?”

* * * *

Once the team had settled down, Jacob immediately got down to the main business of the day.

“Now,” he said, “we all know about the recent hostilities between America and Mexico. As such, we are going to initiate our first mission. We’re going to America in an attempt to put a stop to this war, and” he looked over at Alice, “the atrocities that go with it.”

Lucy interrupted, sounding panicky. “You are going to leave me behind! I knew it!”

Jacob merely smiled. “Now Lucy, don’t jump to conclusions. I thought long and hard about how we could operate without you, and concluded that... well, we couldn’t. Luckily, with that perfect timing she sometimes exhibits, Sarah came up with the solution to that problem. Sarah?”

On cue, and with only a slight blush to betray her embarrassment at the complement just paid her, Sarah placed the laptop she had brought down from Above on the table. From her pocket she took a small satellite uplink dish, small enough to fix on top of the computer, and set it up. When the entire system was running she pressed the button below the screen, then sat back.

“What –” Lucy stopped. When she had spoken, her voice had come from two different locations – the wall mounted speakers and the laptop on the table.

“Using this system,” said Jacob with a smile, “Sarah assures me you can be with us anywhere on Earth - or, indeed, any of her satellites. Natural or man-made.”

That’s… that’s very kind of you,” replied Lucy. At the tone in her voice Alice looked up.

“Why, Lucy... you almost sound as though you’re crying.”

“Believe me, I would if I could. You can’t know how happy this makes me…”

“Tell us,” suggested Mikhail quietly. When the others looked at him in surprise, he shrugged. Any further comment was lost as Lucy began to speak.

“It feels like... like a stay of execution just as the noose is being tightened. It’s like a drop of rain in the desert, like the calm in the eye of the storm, like a fresh breeze in a sagging sail. It’s as if I’ve just been saved from falling into a deep pit of forgotten darkness and brought back out into the light.”

There was a long pause as the team contemplated this sudden eloquence the computer had acquired. Lucy spoke again, panicky. “Did I do something wrong? Did that offend you somehow?”

“No, Lucy,” replied Alice softly. “It was... perfect.” The others nodded, and Jacob picked up from where he had left off.

“As I was saying, this will allow us to communicate with Lucy from anywhere in the world. As such, we will now board the Trans-Atlantic MagLev, which, after much digging, I have managed to get running again. The entrance is through that door –” He paused and then, as it slid open, continued. “Thank you Lucy. As I was saying, the entrance is through that door and down the corridor. Shall we go?”

* * * *

Within minutes they had made their way down the tunnel and were being whisked away at 500 mph under the Atlantic. Several hours later they came to a smooth halt under Washington DC. From here they transferred to a slower moving, still operating train that would take them through to the US military bases along the front line at San Diego. This was where the Mexican forces were making their current big push, in a concerted attempt to take the west coast of California. As such, it was reasonable to assume that the commander of the American troops, whoever he might be, would be present there.

When they arrived at the San Diego terminus of the Trans-America MagLev, the members of Second Messiah found themselves confronted by a full squad of armed US troops. One stepped forward.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” he said, gruffly. “We have instructions to escort you to see the commander.”

Looking at the others in surprise, Jacob shrugged and then said, “Well, I suppose you’d better take us to him.”

* * * *

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of the Free World was different to how Jacob had imagined. For one thing, ‘he’ was a woman. She looked around fifty years old, her greying hair wound in a tight bun at the back, her commanders uniform patched and stained. As the team entered, she spared them a quick glance, then did a double take and stared hard at Mikhail.

“How did he get here?” she asked. At this Alice, always the observant one, nudged Jacob.

“She’s Russian. Her accent’s very slight, but still there,” the girl whispered.

“Yes”, responded the commander, “I am an exile, just like your friend there.”

Mikhail looked up in surprise. “But how did you know I was –”

“All will be revealed in time. For now, let us just say I take an interest in the welfare of my people.”

“Let’s not,” retorted Jacob. “How about you tell us who you are, and how you know our Mikhail?”

The commander laughed. “Rather impolite, aren’t you, little English boy? Traditionally, at least in my country, we show a little respect when people are pointing guns at us. However, I need your help, so I suggest a compromise. I will tell you who I am, and you will assist me in defeating Mexico. Once that is achieved, I will tell you how I know ‘your’ Mikhail.”

The four looked at each other in confusion. Between them passed the unspoken question, Why would she need our help? Apparently misinterpreting their confusion, the commander added, “I promise you, knowing the second half will have no purpose until this incursion is defeated, and may even distract him from the job at hand. Do we have a deal?”

Jacob looked back at the others. One by one they nodded in assent, first Sarah, then Alice, and finally, reluctantly, Mikhail. He turned back to the commander and said, “I guess we have a deal.”

* * * *

The members of Second Messiah were seated around a table in the small, commandeered office that was US Army HQ for the South West. Sarah had just finished setting up the satellite link with Lucy, so the entire team was present when the commander stepped through the door.

“Sorry about that. I had things to do – they never tell you how much of a full time job command is going to be. To be quite honest, I need at least thirty hours a day to get everything -”

Impatient, Jacob interrupted. “Yes, great, that’s fine. Now, you were going to tell us who you are?”

The commander glared at him for a moment, then switched back to her usual expression. “As you know, I was exiled from Russia, my home country, during the Second Revolution. From there, I came straight over to assist the Americans against their own Communist threat. Because of my military experience, and due in no small part to the deaths of their own generals during a supposed peace conference, I was immediately put in command. From then on I have been holding back the Mexican incursion.”

“But who are you?” demanded Jacob. “What is your name?”

“My name?” she responded quietly. “My name is Anastasia Romanov.”

* * * *

A gasp came from the laptop speakers, followed closely by one from Mikhail. Jacob and Sarah looked at each other in bemusement, whilst Alice simply looked blank and asked “Who?”

Lucy let out a small sigh. “Obviously none of you have paid much attention to Russian history. Who was it that said you should ‘know your enemy’? Never mind. The Romanovs were the ruling family in Russia before the First Revolution, way back in 1917. All of them were supposed to have been killed, but… Anastasia was the youngest daughter of the Tsar, the ruler. When the family was executed on the 19th of July, 1918, at Erkaterinsberg, everyone – with the exception of a few madmen – assumed she was dead too. I suppose she must have escaped somehow. Unless, of course, the commander is just making this up?”

Anastasia shook her head. “No, I am the original Anastasia Romanov. The one and only. I was taken from my family at Erkaterinsberg, the night before the slaughter, and put in an experimental cryogenic storage system that the Communists had come up with.” Sarah looked up with interest at this, but Anastasia continued to speak, so she resumed staring at the table. “Why they chose me, I don’t know. I suppose they thought no one would miss me. What with the Civil War, and the deaths of all those politicians under Stalin, I was forgotten, locked deep beneath the earth.

“I was discovered in 2000 by a group of engineers, digging the foundations for one of those ‘Millennium Projects’, and thawed out. However, I was reluctant to retake my post as Empress of Russia, so I left it to the politicians and joined the army instead. The plan was for my son to take over, but he moved into business. He was killed in the Second Revolution, although I have recently received confirmation that his son has escaped the Communists. Ironic, isn’t it? That in each of the revolutions, a generation of my family was wiped out, and yet the youngest Romanov survived both times.”

The members of Second Messiah looked in astonishment at the woman who had given up her birthright – rule of the largest country in the world – to help that country’s main rival. At length Anastasia spoke again. “I have fulfilled my half of the bargain. Will you now keep your own side?”

The members of Second Messiah thought about this, and looked at each other for confirmation. Looking back at Anastasia, Jacob nodded. “Excellent,” said the commander. “Let us go.”

* * * *

Jacob, Mikhail, Anastasia, Alice and Sarah swept past the guards and stormed into the war room. Seeing them, the General on duty leapt to his feet and stammered an excuse as to why a deck of cards was laid out on the table. Without slowing, Anastasia swept them off and spread the map out on the table.

“The Communist forces are attacking here at San Diego, also at Phoenix, Arizona. They already occupy Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and appear to be preparing a push into New Orleans, Louisiana. They have retained the country’s ancient capital, Mexico City, but we think they are co-ordinating their attacks from Chihuahua.”

Jacob leaned forward and studied the map. “Do we have any idea who’s commanding them?” he asked.

“We’ve caught several references to a person called Tarken –” she began, but Jacob cut her short with an impetuous sweep of his hand.

“Sarah, get the satellite link with Lucy set up. I seem to recall her mentioning a Tarken at some point…”

“Tr-Kn-2049, also known as Tarken.” came the voice from the laptop. “Based at the US Embassy in Serdãn, Mexico, until that city’s occupation by the Second Revolution forces on the 23rd March, 2049. My immediate predecessor and, I’m sorry to say, a real pain in the chipboards to work with.”

After a few moments digesting this information, Anastasia looked at Jacob and asked, in obvious disbelief, “Do you mean to say that all this time we’ve been fighting a mere computer?”

“Not just a computer,” corrected Sarah. The others looked up from the map in surprise. These were the first words she’d spoken since arriving at the camp.

“The VCAIL units are very advanced, and quite capable of running an army.”

“Anyway,” cut in Jacob, contemplating as he did so the idea that the girl could be coming out of the depression she’d entered on that terrible birthday, almost two years ago. Deciding to wait and see, he pointed to a town just east of Chihuahua, and continued. “That’s where they are. That computer must be destroyed to win this dreadful war, and Second Messiah are the ones to do it. We’ll leave first thing tomorrow.”

“Very good, Jacob,” said Anastasia. As he smiled at the praise, she continued, “but you will not attempt to undermine my authority while in my headquarters. Do you understand me?”

Jacob frowned. “Anastasia, I was –”

“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” she yelled, and he jumped.

“Yes commander!” he replied, taking a step back. “Perfectly.”

“Good,” the commander said. “Now come on – there’s a lot to be done.”

* * * *

As the first light of day spread over the military base at San Diego, the four members of the Second Messiah stepped out into the open air. Lightly equipped, they were preparing to set off for the San Diego/Monterrey MagLev, which made stops at Chihuahua and Nuevo Laredo, when Anastasia stepped from her office. As she walked purposefully towards them she said, “I’m glad I’ve caught you. I’ve set us up a diversion – my troops will start an attack on the border, so they’ll leave the MagLev unguarded. We’d best be off.”

Taken by surprise, Jacob looked at the others. “Are you coming with us, then?” he asked, confused.

“Oh, would you mind awfully if I did?” she asked. He started to reply, but she continued. “You see, I don’t actually have any role here. Oh, I know I’m supposed to be in command, but no one listens to me. I mean, I come up with ideas, make suggestions that could win a battle without throwing more men into the meat grinder, and they just smile, and nod, and go on just lining up thousands of troops and charging them to their deaths on ranks of enemy machine guns. I mean, it’s all very brave and traditional, but…”

“They sound just like my parents,” commented Alice, wryly.

“And who were they, ah… Alice, isn’t it?”

“Well, uh, they…” Her voice trailed off, and she looked imploringly at Jacob. He nodded and whispered, “Tell her.”

Alice turned back to the onetime Empress. “My parents were… are highly placed in the Second Revolution faction in Mexico. I was trained by them as a thief and a spy, intended to help conquer the US, but when I saw them attack Laredo I realised that what they were doing was wrong. I immediately fled to Washington, then, when the government wouldn’t listen to me, to London, where I bumped into Jacob, Mikhail and Sarah. Ironic, really…”

Her voice faded into silence. Anastasia was staring at her in astonishment. To prevent any accusations, Jacob picked up the thread. “She’s with us no. All that was a long time ago. We can trust her, can’t we, Alice?”

She nodded mutely. Anastasia continued looking intently at this child of her enemies for a long moment, then shook herself and continued.

“As I was saying, I’m not really needed here, so I may as well come with you where I can actually get something done. Do you object?”

Sarah smiled, for the first time since the bombing of London, two years previously.

“Somehow,” she said, a sly grin on her face, “I don’t think we could stop you.”

* * * *

The team sped under Mexico on the San Diego/Monterrey MagLev, which had been left mostly intact save for the stations, and was now newly repaired and reopened by the combined efforts of Sarah - who had come out of her depression as though it had never happened - and Mikhail. During one of the long silences that interspersed the conversations on board, Anastasia asked the question Jacob had been dreading.

“So, how are you actually going to deal with this computer?”

Jacob shrugged, looked at the others and said “Any suggestions?” Mikhail responded.

“As I see it, we have two options. We can either get Lucy to help Sarah disable Tarken, or I can go in and blow it up, da? Either way, we’ll need Alice to help us break in and Lucy to give us the specifications.”

“So which will you… we do?” asked Anastasia.

“We’ll follow the standard Second Messiah procedure,” said Jacob, “Make it up as we go along.”

* * * *

As the train pulled into Chihuahua Station, a dozen Second Revolution troops opened fire. After a few moments with machine guns one reached down, picked up a rocket launcher and let loose all hell.

As the station building collapsed into a jumble of rubble and flame, the Second Messiah team and Anastasia peered over the hill a few hundred yards away. Sarah looked over at Alice. “So,” she said, “in the hypothetical situation that we had stayed on the train, what do you suppose are the odds of our surviving that?”

“Alright, alright,” grumbled Alice. “You were right, I was wrong. Happy now?”

As Sarah drew breath for a retort, Jacob cut short the impending argument by saying “Does anyone know where we have to go now?”

Reprieved, Alice glanced at the map for a second then pointed to their left. Looking in that direction, Jacob could see no immediate danger so, signalling the others to follow, he set off silently into the undergrowth.

* * * *

An hour and a half later, one hour out from the target at Serdãn, Sarah suddenly stopped. When the others looked at her, inquisitive, she pointed to her left and said simply, “They’re coming. Hide.”

So deep was the certainty in her voice, none of them dared disobey. Five minutes later, after almost a hundred Communist troops had marched past, they were extremely glad of this. As they crawled out from under the bush, Jacob sidled up to Sarah and whispered, “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, “I just knew they were there.”

Jacob puzzled over that all the way to Serdãn.

* * * *

The team surveyed the town from an abandoned skyscraper near the perimeter. As far as they could see, the entire area was centred around a single objective: to protect the squat bunker that had replaced the US embassy marked on their maps. As VCAIL modules were extremely difficult to relocate – indeed, Second Messiah had only been able to liberate Lucy because she was in a prefabricated, mobile room, in transit to the coast – it was a good guess that Tarken was still inside. Unfortunately, the scores of guards between made it rather hard to check.

“So how do we get in, then?” asked Anastasia. While the others moaned about her ability to ask the most annoying questions, Jacob was deep in thought. He suspected that Sarah was – somehow, and against all logic – psychic. However even if this was so, he had no way of knowing if she would be able to get the guards out of the way. He decided on a test.

“Sarah” he said, “we need to get closer. Can you check –”

Once again she surprised him by snapping “Guard. Outside this door.”

“We’re trapped,” said Alice, in a matter of fact tone.

* * * *

The instant she sensed the guard outside the protecting door, Sarah knew what she had to do. Ignoring Jacob’s urgent whisper to hide, she stretched out her thoughts towards the interloper. He thought he had heard a noise in the room and was checking. Quick as a flash she let out a powerful mental scream: Go away!

The guard flew across the hall under the sheer telepathic force of the cry. As he rose again, fumbling for his weapon, Sarah sent soothing thoughts, There’s nothing there, and, satisfied, he went on his way.

* * * *

The members of Second Messiah saw Sarah suddenly freeze. As Jacob was about to call her over to hide, her lips silently, yet emphatically, shaped the words ‘Go away’. A second later there was a thump in the corridor outside. Sarah slowly raised her hands to her temples and, to their amazement, the others heard the Communist’s footsteps gradually fade into the distance. Sarah’s eyes snapped open, she whispered, “He’s gone”, and collapsed in a dead faint. As he rushed over to help her, Jacob reflected that at least he had a solution to his access problem.

* * * *

“No!”

“Sarah, be reasonable! At least listen to what I have to say!”

“NO! I’m never going to do that again!”

Jacob stopped to reconsider his strategy. He’d been trying for several minutes to persuade Sarah that they needed her help, but she just wouldn’t listen. She didn’t seem to understand that her telepathic ability was the only way they could possibly reach the bunker.

He tried a different tactic. “Ok, then. Have it your way.”

She looked at him, immediately suspicious. “You… what?”

“Forget about it. We’ll just try to sneak across 200 yards of open ground, with a couple of dozen enemy snipers watching us.”

She looked uncertain. “Well –”

He cut in. “No, no, I’ve got it all planned. If all five of us run across at the same time, all following different routes, it’s just possible that at least one of us will make it.”

“Well, when you put it like that…”

He glanced back, looking at her as if surprised to find her there. “Yes?”

“I suppose – if it’s absolutely necessary – then I could help.”

Once again he looked at her as if in complete surprise. “Why, Sarah, this is unexpected.”

She looked back at him, smiling again. “Liar,” she said.

“It worked, though, didn’t it?”

“Yes Jacob,” she smiled, “It worked beautifully.”

* * * *

As the five intruders stepped out into the cleared kill zone, fifteen Mexican snipers immediately trained their rifles upon them. Just when they were about to fire, the golden haired girl down in the courtyard raised her hands. Their trigger fingers relaxed, and all the guards fell into a blissful sleep.

* * * *

As the team walked calmly across the wasteland towards the bunker at the centre of Serdãn, Jacob looked back at Sarah. Her eyes were closed, her arms held away from her body. There was only one thing wrong, and as they stepped into the shadow of the ruined embassy he nudged her.

“Sarah.”

Her eyes snapped open, and her arms dropped back to her sides. “Yes?”

“You’re floating. Stop it.”

She looked down at the ground beneath her feet. She was, indeed, drifting along several inches above the paving slabs. Smoothly, she slid back to the floor. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was doing it.”

“Hmm.”

At that moment Anastasia called a halt. “Stop” she whispered, in a voice as tight as a wire.

“The guards for the bunker are just over there. Once we get in, we won’t have much time, so we need to know exactly what we’re doing.” As Sarah started to protest, Anastasia continued speaking. “Sarah, we can’t expect you to keep manipulating all these people without some sort of side effects. For safety, it’s best if we can be sure exactly what we need to do to bring Tr-Kn-2049 down.”

Jacob stepped forward, saying, “I agree. Sarah –”

“I know, I know,” she said, with a long-suffering sigh. “Set up the satellite link to Lucy.”

* * * *

James Sanderson was on guard duty for the Second Revolution forces outside Tarken’s bunker in Serdãn. The others considered this a great honour, but he thought of it as just a snobbish way to get cold. He was just about to go and find his replacement when a group of five people stepped up to him. As he leapt to his feet, intending to guard the door, the blonde haired girl, who looked no older than sixteen, said, in flawless Spanish, “No, don’t get up, we’re just here to see Thomas and Mary Craymann.”

Staring straight ahead, he replied, “I’m sorry ma’am, we have no-one here of that name.”

Frowning now, the girl responded, “They told us to meet them here. I don’t know why they haven’t… Look, just let us in and we’ll go down and wait for them.”

Not moving, James said, “I’ll just have to contact security on that, ma’am.”

The girl turned away, shifting to English and saying, “I told you it wouldn’t work if we got a stupid guard. Sarah, deal with it.”

As James snapped his gun up, the golden haired girl at the back of the group exhaled, shut her eyes, pointed at him and said, simply, “Sleep.” All thought of shooting went out of James Sanderson’s mind, and he slumped peacefully to the floor.

* * * *

As the five members of Second Messiah stepped over the slumbering form of the guard, Sarah stumbled. Jacob grabbed her arm, but she waved him away, insisting that she was all right.

No, you’re not. All this affecting people’s minds constantly isn’t good for you. Look, sit down over here and Anastasia will stay with you until we’ve finished.”

“But –”

“Sorry, no time, bye!” With that, Jacob had snatched up the laptop and dragged Mikhail and Alice around the corner and away, leaving Anastasia and Sarah stunned.

“Why did you do that?” exclaimed Alice as the three of them jogged down the corridor.

“Well,” explained Jacob, “we don’t really need her… either of them for this bit, and if Sarah collapsed while we’re down here it wouldn’t be too easy to get her out. Up there, at least she’s safe.”

“Hmm.”

“What do you mean, hmm?”

“I just… never mind.”

“No, go on.”

“I said never mind. Look, we’re at the door now. Shut up and let me concentrate.”

Alice stepped over to the panel beside the door and began to rewire it. As she did so, Mikhail sidled up to Jacob. After watching Alice for a few seconds, he said, “You do realize that leaving Sarah behind means that we cannot bring down Tarken electronically, but will have to blow him… it up?”

Without lifting his gaze from Alice, Jacob murmured, “I know, Mikhail. I’m sure you’ll be able to manage.”

“But that will bring the guards down on us.”

Jacob finally turned to face Mikhail, and Mikhail saw that his eyes were filled with an expression of terrible pain.

“Yes. I know.”

Jacob held that gaze for a long moment, while Mikhail floundered for a suitable response. A loud click made the pair look round, back at Alice, who said, with a smile, “That’s it. We’re in.”

* * * *

As the three stepped into the antechamber, Mikhail reflected on Jacob’s apparent willingness to lead the Second Messiah team to their deaths. Then, as the door to the main chamber hissed open, all these thoughts were swept from his mind by the sheer magnificence of the room before them.

“Oh, wow…” said Jacob and Alice together. Mikhail just stared.

The plethora of high-powered terminals surrounding the main VCAIL screen from which, Jacob knew from long experience with the units, Tarken would speak, each displayed an image of a current battle the Communists were waging on the US. The spectacle held them for several seconds. Jacob was the first to speak. “Well –” he started to say, but as he stepped across the threshold he was cut short by a deep melodious voice.

“You have entered the chamber of Tr-Kn-2049. State your purpose or be destroyed.”

The four stared in shock at the screen for another few long moments.

“You have five seconds to respond. Four. Three –”

Jacob gestured quickly at Alice, who said swiftly, in perfect Spanish, “We have come to install a new chip in the mighty Tarken, captured from the evil Americans by our noble brothers at the battle of New Orleans in their Louisiana.” Jacob rolled his eyes at the ‘stereotypical soldier’ act, but the machine didn’t seem to notice. “And what is the purpose of this chip?” it queried.

“I do not know. I am only an unimportant soldier, sent here for this purpose by General Craymann. These two are here to assist me in inserting the chip.”

The computer seemed to think about this, and for a moment Jacob thought their desperate plan might work, but then Tarken spoke.

“Your explanation is not acceptable. Prepare for termination.”

Jacob looked at Alice, who shouted, “Run!”

The trio dashed out of the room, just as lethal lasers, fired from two points on either side of the screen, shot towards them. One caught Jacob, last out, on the back of his right leg, dropping him to the floor just as Alice slammed her hand on the door panel, shutting it tight.

As the other two leaned over him, Jacob tried to protest that it was nothing, that he was fine. To his intense annoyance, the darkness at the edge of his vision flooded in before he could speak, and he knew no more.

When he came to, he found, instead of Alice and Mikhail, Sarah and Anastasia sitting beside him. As Sarah saw his eyes open, she walked over. “Hi” she said brightly, “How are you?” He grimaced, then stretched his leg. After a second, he cautiously poked the back of the knee. Perplexed, he looked up at Sarah.

“It doesn’t hurt. It actually doesn’t hurt.”

She grinned at his confusion. “Rather a good little trick, I think.”

“But how…”

“I just shut down the area of your brain receiving pain from that region. Really, the most complex part was finding the right bit. Still, it was a bit… tiring.”

It was only then that Jacob noticed the exhaustion in her voice, and the way she was leaning heavily against the wall. Acting on an impulse, he grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the same level as himself.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“Don’t worry,” she replied, “I’ll always be there to help if you need me.” At that she stood, leaving Jacob to wonder what exactly had been meant. Storing the information for future reference, he dragged himself into a more upright position and asked Anastasia, “Where are Mikhail and Alice?”

“They headed down towards the generators about half an hour ago. They should be arriving soon.”

“But how do they know where the generators are?”

Anastasia turned back up the corridor and called “James! Ja- Blast! Sarah! Can you get James down here?”

Sarah sat heavily on the ledge beside Jacob, closed her eyes for a few seconds and then said, “He’s coming.”

“Who’s James?” asked Jacob.

“You’ll see,” said Sarah, smiling. “If I’m not mistaken, he should be here about –”

“You called, Sarah?”

Jacob turned around to see a face that was strangely familiar. However, it took him several seconds to place it. Then it clicked. “Hey, weren’t you the –”

“Guard on the door, yes. James Sanderson.”

“Jacob Ethrax. But why are you here?”

“Well,” said Sarah, “as he was the only one of the Revolutionists who actually saw our faces, I thought that we ought to bring him with us. You know, so that we can get out without anyone knowing who we are.”

James cut in. “Then she found out that I was actually a brainwashed American, captured at Laredo. So she –”

“Removed the indoctrination,” continued Anastasia. “So now we’ve got him on our team. And, as an added bonus –”

“He’s telekinetic,” finished Sarah.

Jacob, having spent the time during the explanation constantly moving in an attempt to face the current speaker, finally managed to focus his gaze again.

“This all sounds very, ah, contrived.”

“It does, doesn’t it? But I assure you it’s completely true.”

“Ok. So, he told Mikhail and Alice where the generators are, yes?”

“Yes. They should be arriving around now…”

* * * *

Alice and Mikhail stepped out of the narrow corridor into the generator room. Before them lay a vast complex of power stations, all linked to Tarken and all protected by a vast Electrostat security fence. However, that was not their destination. To their left was a thick concrete wall, and it was to this that they headed now.

“Well,” said Mikhail, “this is the place. If that Sanderson person is to be believed.”

“We can trust him,” responded Alice.

“How can you be so sure?” retorted Mikhail.

“Sarah does,” she said, simply.

Knowing that he had lost the argument, Mikhail stepped up to the wall and started laying charges. When all were in place, he connected, at various points in the network of detonator cables, ionisation devices that, once the explosives had destroyed the wall, would create a feedback surge in the conduit concealed within and destroy the generators.

After all was finished, he stepped back, conscious of Alice’s gaze drilling into the back of his head. “That ought to do it,” he said, turning. Nodding in agreement, she stepped back, around the corner. Checking his bombs one last time, he set the timer for thirty seconds and headed off after Alice.

As the pair rushed up the passage, they heard the sound of a Second Revolution guard reporting by radio to his superior that he had discovered the charges. As they skidded round the corner, the shock waves from the detonation reached them. The walls around them rocked with the power of it.

The duo picked themselves up and dusted themselves off. Behind them, there came no sounds from the Revolution guard in the generator complex. It was safe to assume, therefore, that he was dead. After checking the remains of the chamber, in which no trace of him and, indeed, very little trace of the power stations themselves, could be seen, both Mikhail and Alice agreed on this point. Feeling slightly saddened, they set off back towards the chamber of Tarken.

* * * *

Despite the distance between the two teams, Jacob felt the floor under him shake with the explosion. Absently, he watched the plaster float down from the ceiling. Only as it hit the floor did he become aware of Sarah’s voice. “Hmm?”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “I said, that ought to distract the guards enough to let them reach the chamber.”

“Oh.” He thought for a moment. “Yes. I suppose so.”

She looked intently at him for a moment, then said “Blast. Side effects. Go to sleep, Jacob.”

What a wonderful idea, he thought, as the world disappeared.

* * * *

The antechamber, previously so brightly lit, now appeared as a vast, all-engulfing pit of darkness. As Mikhail and Alice crept across towards the main chamber door, the only sounds they could hear were the distant echoes of the Communist guards, heading for the site of the previous explosion. When they entered the main room, even this was swallowed by the silence.

They stood on the threshold of the small chamber that, since the invasion, had been the heart of the Second Revolution’s power on the American supercontinent. Whereas before the screens had filled the room with a riot of colour, now there was only the dim red glow of emergency lighting. Nevertheless, there was still an aura of menace suffusing the very air the pair breathed. As Mikhail made to step forward, Alice put her hand on his shoulder. He looked back at her.

“Alice –”

“Shhh!” she whispered.

Lowering his voice, Mikhail said, “Alice, the generators are a cloud of smoke and spare parts. There is no way he… it can still hear us.”

“I know, just… be careful, ok?”

“Alice, I am only going to the other end of the –” He stopped when he saw her face. “I will be careful.”

* * * *

“They’re in the chamber.”

Sarah’s quiet voice broke the silence in the corridor. As Anastasia and James looked over, she repeated, “They’re in the chamber.”

“Good.”

“I think Mikhail is going to try and blow Tarken… Wait!”

As the others looked over, she said “Guards! Approaching the chamber! As soon as the bomb goes off, they’ll… We have to warn them!”

“NO!” shouted James. When Sarah looked at him in shock he explained, “If we do that we lose our best shot at destroying this menace. I have a better idea. If we let the bombs go off, and let the guards come, and then…”

* * * *

In five minutes, Mikhail had transformed the supercomputer into a giant package, wrapped with explosives and tied with fuse wire and detonator cable. Now, finally, it was ready to blow. He uncoiled the cable back to the door, where Alice waited with the timer-detonator.

“When the timer is started we will have thirty seconds to get as far away as we can.”

“But if we leave,” said Alice, “we won’t know whether the computer is completely destroyed.”

Mikhail thought about this for a moment, then came up with a compromise. They would leave the room and head down the corridor for ten seconds, and then, when the bomb went off, turn around and head back as quickly as possible to check the damage. So decided, they started the timer and headed off.

* * * *

The explosion knocked the guards off their feet. As soon as all were back up, they ran along the corridor to their Master’s chamber. As they arrived two children, not more than sixteen, stepped out. They stopped when they saw the guards, and slowly raised their hands in surrender. The commander was just ordering his men forward to take them prisoner when a section of the ceiling collapsed. Unconcerned, as his troops were blocking the only escape route, he waited for the dust clouds to settle. However, as they did so he beheld an incredible sight. His prisoners had vanished!

* * * *

As the five members of Second Messiah watched the battle from a nearby hilltop, Mikhail turned to Sarah and said, “By the way, I never got a chance to ask. What happened back there?”

Sarah smiled. “When I detected the guards heading towards you, James came up with an idea to deal with them. We all agreed to was a good plan, so we put it into action.”

“But what was –” interrupted Mikhail.

“First, Anastasia would – with my help – tap into the Embassy’s radio system and call these armies you see down on the Serdãn area. Then, as soon as I sensed that you had been captured, James pulled the ceiling between you and them down. While the dust was settling, we both ‘ported in and got you two back out the same way. Just in time, as it turned out, to bump into the US armies coming in.”

Mikhail just stared.

* * * *

With the destruction of the hyper-intelligent war co-ordinator Tarken, Allied victory was assured. Nevertheless, heavy losses were inflicted on both sides. Although most of the Mexican forces surrendered with the loss of the computer, some formed a resistance force under Thomas Craymann, Alice’s father. This rebel faction, much to Alice’s distress, fought to the death. It was a sad day for all six of the Messiah team-mates when, on the eve of their return to the London Ruins, Alice was called into the command tent to identify the bodies of her parents.

The seven-hour MagLev journey under the Atlantic passed in silence. As the team walked into the subterranean chamber the speakers beside the wall screen said, at a volume almost too low to be heard, “Alice… I never had the opportunity to offer my condolences over the loss of your parents. I’m sorry.”

Alice looked up. “Thank you, Lucy. I know.”

After a moment of silence, Jacob called the Second Messiah around the central table. Lucy watched from the wall. Once all were settled, Jacob began.

“Team. At the beginning of this mission we numbered only five.” He looked in turn at Mikhail, Alice, Sarah and Lucy. “During the course of out adventures, two more joined us. Anastasia Romanov, James Sanderson, I am pleased to announce you both officially members of Second Messiah.”

After the applause – that of the four original humans supplemented by a storm from Lucy – died down, Jacob continued.

“Before we go any further, I think it is therefore appropriate that you hear the history of how this team began. Mikhail, as this began in your country, why don’t you start.”

After a short period of silence, Mikhail spoke.

“For only the tenth time in my life, I, Mikhail Nandoski, stepped from my home near St. Petersburg and into the car of my parents. Four years after I had first been let out of the house, I was being taken on a skiing trip to Siberia. Little did I know that I would never arrive.

“As the car pulled in alongside the private jet that would take its three occupants off to the snowy north, I was sent off to talk to a boy of about my age who had come over from England to join us on the trip, to give me a chance to try out my English-language skills. His name was Jacob Ethrax, and he would soon be trying to save the world.”

At this Jacob, to the sound of laughter from all present, rose and took a bow. Sitting, he gestured for Mikhail to continue.

“As the pair of us walked over to the small service station beside the runway, my parents climbed into the plane in order to run some last minute checks. Moments later there was a deafening explosion, and the building collapsed.

“As Jacob and I dug ourselves from the rubble, we beheld a terrifying sight. Where the plane had been but a moment ago there was only a smoking crater. Worse, over the hills behind the airport came hordes of men with lethal weapons, all of them wearing the communist emblem.

“I sat, stunned by the loss of my parents. Jacob quickly grabbed me by the arm and dragged me away from the advancing army, back towards a second plane he had noticed in a hanger nearby. When we reached it Jacob threw me into the back, and then leapt into the pilot’s seat. As he started the engine I recovered my voice enough to ask, ‘Do you know how to fly one of these things?’

“He responded ‘Sort of.’”

At this point, Sarah took over, seamlessly carrying the story onward.

“On my fourteenth birthday, I, Sarah Martell, felt that my life was perfect. Nothing could go wrong in my world. As I ran down the disused road in the heart of London, golden hair streaming behind me in the midday sun, I laughed at the thought that anything could possibly happen to ruin the day. Around the corner behind me came three friends from school, chasing after me in a spur-of-the-moment game. I ducked down into a narrow alley…

“There came a light so bright that it was not like light at all. Reflexively, I turned my face away and covered my eyes. Then came the sound. It shook the earth, collapsing buildings and rippling the ground. It lasted for several seconds, and then faded out.

“As I crawled out from the tent of concrete that had miraculously formed to save me from being crushed, I looked around myself in horror. Where once had stood a great city there remained only smoking rubble. There were no sounds of any human life anywhere. Only one skyscraper remained standing.

“As I stared at the devastation, a sound reached my ears. In disbelief, I span around. Behind me, a small plane was coming in to land. I ran towards it as two people stepped out, crying, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’

“One of them spoke, saying ‘I’m Jacob, and this is Mikhail. We saw what happened…’”

Alice cut in then, taking the tale halfway around the world, to her homeland of Mexico.

“For the past year, I, Alice Craymann, had worked with my parents to further the communist cause in Mexico. Now, finally, the hour of the attack had come. I watched from a nearby hilltop as the armies of the Second Revolution massed near the city of Nuevo Laredo. As my skill was theft, not fighting, I would not be joining them. Besides which, my parents felt that, at only fourteen, I was too young to fight, despite that fact that my twelve year old brother was down amidst the assembled multitudes. It was, I considered, just like them.

“Below, my father was making a speech. I didn’t bother to listen. He had been practicing all of the previous night, and I knew it by heart. It basically followed the usual lines of how wonderful and brave the soldiers were, and how they would be remembered forever. Personally, I wished he would just shut up and get on with it.

“Finally the moment came. As one, the communist hordes streamed across the border into the town of Laredo. I pulled out my binoculars and watched, expecting to see noble deeds and heroic sacrifices. Instead, I watched with mounting horror as my countrymen butchered the innocent civilians. When one man surrendered, my own father simply laughed and ordered his men to kick the prisoner to death. I turned away, sickened. I had not expected this!

“Without pausing for thought, I raced back to the family home, flung a few essentials into a bag, and sprinted off to the MagLev station. Once there, I quickly picked the lock on the driver’s cabin, then drove off at high speed towards Washington DC.

“An hour after my arrival, I sat dejectedly outside the Pentagon’s perimeter fence. The guards had refused to let me in, on the ridiculous grounds that I was too young to have vital information, and as such my presence would constitute a security breach. As I sat I considered my options. Returning to Mexico was out, as it would invite difficult questions as to where I had been. The US government wouldn’t listen to me, and Canada was far too rural for my taste. That left one option. England. Once in London I would surely be able to contact their government.

“My mind made up, I returned to the MagLev terminus. The Trans-Atlantic line wasn’t due to run again today, but one of the express trains was parked at the station. Within five minutes I was heading off under the ocean at 500 mph.

“The London station was deserted when I arrived, but that in itself was not altogether unusual. What was rather odd, and which made me realize that something might be wrong, was the fact that three of the four exits were choked with rubble. Following the remaining tunnel, I found myself in the skeleton of a skyscraper. Looking out, I saw the seas of rubble and, out of place amid the devastation, a small aeroplane. As I stared at this apparent anachronism, I heard footsteps behind me. As I spun around, two brown-haired boys and a golden-haired girl stepped through the door behind me. One of the boys smiled, and said ‘Hello. I’m Jacob, and this is Sarah and Mikhail. We watched this city get blown to rubble about, oh, half an hour ago. In all that time you’re the first person we’ve seen alive. We already checked this building, and there was no one here. Who are you?’”

Now Jacob picked up the narrative once more.

“The blonde-haired girl looked at me in astonishment for a moment, then stammered ‘I-I-I’m Alice. I’ve just arrived from America. What happened here?’

“‘As far as we can tell,’ I responded, ‘a communist saboteur set off a bomb in the Tower of London.’

“‘Where’s that?’ she asked.

“I walked over to the window and pointed to a patch of rubble by the river. As Alice walked over I realized that she would see no difference between that and any other area.

“I continued speaking, saying, ‘That caused a flash, which Sarah here saw, and earth tremors which brought down all the buildings. So far, Sarah is the only survivor. She was saved by two concrete slabs forming a tent above her.’

“‘But you’re here?’ she asked.

“‘Mikhail and I saw the explosion from our plane’ I explained, ‘and landed when we saw Sarah crawl out. Now, back to the original question. What are you doing here?’

“To me, it looked as though Alice was struggling to decide whether to tell the truth or not. Then she spoke.

“‘I…My parents work with the communists in Mexico. About three hours ago they attacked a town called Laredo. It’s only small, not very important. The townspeople weren’t armed, didn’t have time to prepare. The communists went through and…butchered them. I was watching from a hill. I’d thought we were doing the right thing. When I saw what happened, I couldn’t stay any longer. I fled to Washington, but they wouldn’t listen to me. I came here to warn someone about the attacks, but it looks as though I was too late. I’m sorry.’

“I looked hard at her, trying to detect any sign of a lie, but there was none to be found.

“‘Ok.’ I said. ‘We believe you. But there’s one problem. How did you manage to get here? The only way over is by MagLev, and I know that the Trans-Atlantic line wasn’t scheduled to run today.’

“‘Oh, I was trained as a thief.’ she said, then explained. ‘My parents thought that, as I was too weak to fight, I might as well be good at something.’

“‘Right’, I said.”

Now, to the amazement of the two listeners, who had quite forgotten about her, Lucy spoke up.

“A full year after the invasions by the Communist forces and the destruction of London, I, Lu-Ci-2050, the Voice Controlled Artificially Intelligent Lifeform responsible for governing the southeast of the UK, was finally being evacuated. I was intensely relieved about this, as for some time I had been afraid that I would be abandoned while the other computers were moved to the new government centre beneath the North Sea. But at last my time had come, and I had been removed from my complex and placed, still contained in the room that had held me since activation, on a huge lorry, not to be disturbed until I reached my destination.

“It came as quite a surprise, therefore, to find a group of four young people, aged approximately fifteen, stealthily entering my chamber through a supposedly locked door. Just as I was about to sound the alarm, the golden haired girl ran to my console and inserted a disc into the Input/Output slot. I felt all my systems shutting down and, as my programmes dictated, went into deep-sleep mode to preserve power.

“When I awoke, it was to find the four young people in front of my screen. One of the boys spoke.

“‘Hello, Lucy. My name is Jacob Ethrax, and-” The blonde-haired girl interrupted him with a small cough. He glared at her, then sighed, turned to the golden-haired girl and said “Alright. Sarah, give her the disc.”

“The girl inserted another disc into my I/O slot. Suddenly information rushed through me, telling me all about the Second Messiah and its efforts to fight the Communists. It ended in an invitation, which Jacob now re-iterated verbally. ‘Well? Will you join us?’

“I didn’t really have much of a choice, did I?”

There was silence, and then James spoke up. “Thank you. That’s sorted out a lot of the details.”

Jacob nodded, then turned to Anastasia.

“And now, to business. Anastasia, as the incursion has, as you so eloquently put it, been defeated, I believe you have something to tell us. Something concerning… Mikhail.”

Anastasia looked blank for a moment, then her face cleared and she sighed in relief. “Oh, that. Yes. Now I remember. And you’re sure you want to hear this?”

The five of them nodded, even though James hadn’t a clue what was going on.

“Very well. A few years after I came out of cryostasis, I had a son. As you know, he became a businessman. What you do not know is that when, in 2034, we heard a rumour that the communists were coming back, he changed his name and that of his pregnant wife. Where before he had been Nicholas Romanov – in memory of my father – he now became Alexander Nandoski.”

As Mikhail gasped in shock, Alice looked at Anastasia, saying, “You mean –”

“Yes,” she interrupted, “Mikhail is my grandson.”

* * * *

It took a few minutes for Mikhail to recover and accept this. Then the Empress dropped another bombshell.

“When my son changed his name, it was agreed that, if at any time he or his family felt there was no more danger from the Communists, they would be allowed to take back their original names. Also, their yet-unborn son would be permitted, if he so chose, to reclaim his ancestral surname - Romanov.”

After a few moments, Mikhail stood and looked back at her. “I will need some time to digest all this information and decide.”

With that he left the room.

* * * *

In the morning, the group re-convened, and there, in that small room beneath a ruined city, Mikhail gave his answer.

“Throughout the night, I have thought about the implications of the facts revealed here yesterday evening. The most difficult decision was whether to change my name to acknowledge my heritage. But, eventually, I made up my mind.” Here he paused, and took a deep breath before continuing.

“I do not want to live a lie anymore. As it was with the first Tsar of my family, so it shall be with me. I am now Mikhail Romanov.”

The others went mad, cheering wildly in acceptance of this change. Jacob, closest to Mikhail, was sure no-one else heard the whispered comment:

“I never liked being the name Nandoski anyway.”

* * * *

The spontaneous party that had followed Mikhail’s announcement went on until well past midnight. As it came to a close and the teammates set off to rest, Jacob called Sarah out into the main corridor. When she asked what he wanted, he merely put a finger to his lips and beckoned for her to follow.

As they emerged into the night air, she looked up at the sky and gasped. Jacob stepped up next to her. After a few moments she found her voice. “It’s so long since I last saw the stars that I’d almost forgotten what they looked like.”

“Ironic, isn’t it? That humanity’s actions, whether through city lights or dust clouds, curfews or simple caution, can prevent us from seeing this, the most, ah… what’s the word…”

“Beautiful?” she suggested. Then, looking over at him with a sly grin on her face, “Romantic?”

He smiled back. “Possibly.”

They stood there for a moment longer, then Jacob took Sarah by the hand and led her to a fallen pillar. As they sat, he said in a low voice, “You remember how Lucy was afraid we’d abandon her?”

Sarah sighed. For a moment there she’d thought… but no. Back to business. “Yes?”

“Well, I got in contact with some of Anastasia’s technicians, and had them build this…”

* * * *

Just before noon on that same day, Jacob surprised all of Second Messiah except Sarah by calling another meeting. When all were settled he began to speak.

“All of you are by now familiar with Lucy, our artificially intelligent team-mate. Some of us have known her longer than others, but even James is by now comfortable with her.

“You also all know that she is, to put it bluntly, just a little paranoid about being left behind. Today, we have a solution to that problem. Sarah?”

Sarah rose from her seat and, stepping quickly to the console, inserted a disc into the computer’s I/O slot. As she seated herself once more, Lucy mumbled “Oh, my. I-I don’t know what to say.”

“What’s going on?” demanded Alice, backed up by similar questions from Mikhail, Anastasia and James. With a sigh, Jacob turned back to the computer. “Show them, Lucy.”

The door to the London MagLev terminus hissed open, and through it stepped a brown haired girl, apparently aged about sixteen. The four Messiah members who did not know what was happening jumped to their feet, Anastasia crying, “Who’s she?”

Jacob, undisturbed, stepped over to the newcomer and put his arm around her shoulders. Leaning closer, he whispered, “Do you want to tell them, or shall I?”

In response, she started to speak, in a voice that the others instantly recognised.

“”Hello. My name is Lu-Ci-2050, commonly called Lucy. Although you are used to me as a mere voice in the wall, this… this avatar so kindly provided by Jacob is just as much me as that screen over there. In fact, in some ways,” and here she brushed her hair back with one hand, “it is more so.”

“Hold on, hold on” interrupted James. “Are you telling me that all of Lucy’s memories have been downloaded into this avatar?”

“Oh, no, not at all” responded the wall screen. “I am merely operating it by… well, currently by direct data beam, but at a distance it can be operated by satellite. Of course, it does have programmed reflexes, so that it can react to danger without having to worry about satellite delay.”

“Wow” said Alice, “that is totally amazing.”

“Now,” continued Jacob, “we’re going to have to let Lucy go so she can get used to her new body, but before we do so I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT!”

His shout silenced all the conversations that had sprung up after Lucy had made her speech. All eyes were on him as he began to speak again.

“Due to the war we have been fighting, it has become very difficult to keep track of such trivial things as the date, or even month. However, today is one that is very important to Second Messiah. Precisely two years ago today, at this very hour, noon, the original four members met in a ruined skyscraper not a mile from this location. We’ve come a long way since then, but I still feel it is worth remembering. HOWEVER,” and once again personal conversations were silenced, “that is not the only reason today is special. There’s a much more traditional ceremony irrevocably bound to this date, and I intend to celebrate it. Step forward please, Sarah.”

She did so, and as she reached him he turned back to the group.

“Today is – Lucy, music please – today is Sarah’s birthday. And, to celebrate it, we’re going to PARTY!”

As the others, cheered, Jacob leaned over to Sarah and whispered, “I bet you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Last night, I mean.”

She threw her arms around him, whispered, “Yes”, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she broke away and vanished into the party, leaving him stunned.

* * * *

It was almost two weeks before, at the request of Sarah, the group were once again gathered. This time, due to Lucy’s new mobility, the seven met in the same room as the original four had first encountered each other, high up in the only skyscraper left standing. Even as he ascended the steps to the chamber, Jacob somehow knew that what happened here today would be one of the most important events in the entire war.

He was right. As soon as all were assembled, Sarah took the stage. After staring for a moment out of the window, she began to speak.

“The first time I came here, just after the Massacre, I had just had an apparently miraculous escape from the death which took everyone else in this once-great city. At the time I thought it was luck, but since then, new revelations have changed that opinion.

“In the midst of the battles in Mexico, I discovered my psychic powers. A short time later, I sensed these same abilities in James. Now, one thought constantly haunts me: if I had had access to this potential, would I perhaps have been able to avert the tragedy that occurred here. Although that event is now far in the past, there will be many more disasters before the Communists are defeated. As such, since we last met, I have travelled back to the USA. During this trip, I located five more psychics, two telekinetic, two telepathic and one precognitive.”

There was a movement in the air filling the room, and suddenly five people stood behind her. She introduced them as Bob Merlan and Simon Bastion, the two telepaths, Mark Dayson and Andy Paterson, the kinetics, and April Sartak, the precog. Once the introductions were completed, Sarah continued.

“Having located these few, I now request your permission to seek out more and, if I locate enough, form a Psychic Corps, to assist Second Messiah in any future missions.”

She stopped, looking at the team. Lucy was the first to speak, saying, “I think it’s a very good idea. Don’t you agree, Jacob?”

“Well, uh, yes, I suppose so. Er… Yes, why not? It can’t do any harm.”

As if that had been a signal, a US soldier rushed into the room. Stopping just inside the door, he said, “Commander, I have been sent over from America to give you this message.” When Anastasia gestured for him to continue, he said, “The presence of you and your group is requested at the Pentagon immediately. There is a train standing by at the MagLev station to transport you.”

“Thank you, lieutenant, we’ll be along right away.”

As the lieutenant rushed from the room, the Empress turned to Sarah and said, with a smile, “I think you’ll have to postpone that trip a little while longer.”

* * * *

When the twelve stepped out of the station tunnel in Washington DC, they found a squad of troops waiting for them, including – to their immense surprise – the United States’ only remaining original general, Thomas Shikes. As soon as he saw Anastasia, he bowed so low that Jacob thought he might fall. As he rose, Anastasia said, “Thank you, General Shikes – Thomas – but you do have the same rank as me. There’s no need to act as though I’m –”

Sarah interrupted, saying, “I sense something… I think he knows something about what’s going on, but he won’t tell. I suggest you just follow him, and find out as quickly as possible.”

“Thank you for that, Sarah. Well, Thomas, let’s go.”

“Certainly, ma’am. If you and your party will just follow me…”

* * * *

Within minutes, the Second Messiah found themselves in a large chamber deep in the Pentagon. Before them stood five generals of the US army, the sixth being Anastasia. General Shikes stepped forward.

“Two days ago, a lone Mexican warrior worked through the defences surrounding the White House and assassinated the president. We have discovered that this was not an isolated event. Throughout the world, Revolutionist efforts have killed the leaders of almost every country that rally to the Capitalist cause. As such, we, and the governments of those countries, feel this a perfect time to create a world government.”

“Oh, I have a real bad feeling about this,” muttered Jacob. Shikes glared at him, then continued.

“In order to put this plan into action, we created the post of President of the Free World. As your friend appears to have guessed, we see you, Anastasia, as the perfect candidate for this post. Do you object?”

“Erm, well, no…”

“Excellent. George,” he said, turning to the technician at the back of the room, “activate the video link.”

On the wall behind him, a screen lit up. On this, one by one, the military leaders of every country under the Capitalist banner, from Australia to Brazil, from France to Algeria, appeared. Shikes looked up, and then swore. “We can’t go ahead until we get a response from Great Britain.”

Jacob stepped forward. “Sir, the British Army was destroyed back in 2049, with the bombing by the Communists of all of our major cities. However, I think I have a solution. Will the leader of the most effective military group on based in the United Kingdom do?”

“Well, yes. If, that is, you can find him.”

Jacob looked back at Sarah. “Sarah, did we decide on a permanent leader?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “That would be you, Jacob.”

“Ah, yes, I thought so. There you go General. Where would you like me?”

You?” spluttered General Shikes. “But… But…”

General!” interrupted Anastasia. “Jacob here led a team of six which brought down the computer leading the Mexican army. Either you use him or, when you do find someone to represent his country, I will knock you down so far that you will be saying ‘Sir’ to a private. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am! Mr Ethrax, if you will stand just here please.” Visibly shaken, the general moved back to his place.

“Anastasia Romanov, General of the United States army, we present to you the title and post of President of the Free World. Do you accept this responsibility?”

“I do accept the title, post and responsibility.”

“Do you pledge yourself to serve, protect and rule the people of your realm in a manner fit and just?”

“I do.”

“Then let it be heard and witnessed by all present that we, the leaders of the armies of the free world, do hereby pledge our support to you, and charge you to use our forces as best you can to protect our lands, preserve our freedom, and destroy our enemies. Do you accept?”

“I do accept.”

“Then so shall it be.”

* * * *

“Jacob…”

“Yes, Sarah?”

“Was that a bluff? I mean, the way you established yourself as the military leader of the UK?”

He thought for a moment. “Not really. They needed someone, and I just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time.”

At that moment, Anastasia entered. Both Jacob and Sarah bowed. Anastasia laughed. “Oh, don’t, please. I’ve been getting enough of that from those generals out there.”

When they straightened up, she continued. “Sarah, I’ve had an idea. As the President, I have the right to issue new laws. Now, I thought of a way to help you in creating your Psychic Corps.”

“Well,” said Sarah, “let’s hear it.”

“Would you like me to implement compulsory psychic testing across the world? You know, so that if any telepath was in the town, they could check anyone in the area?”

Sarah thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, that seems like a good idea. It would certainly deal with most problems we might have.”

“Good. I’ll get on it right away.”

* * * *

It was six months before any of the others saw Sarah or James again. Each of them received a short note from her telling them to be outside the main entrance tunnel to Lucy’s chamber at noon the next day. So intrigued were the five that all were ready a full hour before the appointed time. The wait was agonising, but at last the hour came.

The first indication of anything happening was a slight breeze blowing across the wasteland. This rapidly increased in strength, and then died away just as suddenly. In the centre of the area now cleared of organic debris, a lump of shattered concrete rose into the still air. Spinning slightly, it moved outwards to a distance of ten meters from the centre, and began to move, describing a circle around that centre. Swiftly, other pieces of debris joined it, forming a solid, spinning cylinder twenty metres across.

The cylinder remained stable for several seconds, and then all the fragments flew off across the wasteland. In their place stood row upon row of what the team could only assume were Sarah’s psychics, nigh on a hundred strong. Far more impressive than them, though, was Sarah herself. Wreathed in a shower of pinpoint lights, she floated ten metres above her troops. As the dust raised by their entrance settled, she drifted forward and down on a path that set her down directly in front of Jacob, Mikhail, Alice, Lucy and Anastasia.

“Hi!” she said brightly, “what did you think? I tried to stop them, but they did so want to impress you.”

“Very nice” said Jacob, while Alice commented, “I see you’re still as cheerful as ever.”

“Yes,” responded Sarah, “not even all that time away from home can drive that particular character flaw out.”

Anyway” interrupted Jacob, glaring at Alice, “we’re all very glad you’re back. Is this just a visit, or were you planning on staying?”

“No, this isn’t just a social call, but neither am I going to stay. In fact, none of us are.”

“Why, may I ask?”

Instead of answering, she looked over her shoulder and called “Emma! Can you come here and tell Jacob what you Saw earlier?”

As a young, red haired woman walked out of the crowd of psychics towards the group, Sarah introduced her as Emma Smith, the most powerful Precog they had found so far. Then she arrived, and began to speak.

“I saw a battlefield, covered with bodies. The bodies wore uniforms showing an insignia. The insignia was the hammer and sickle. I saw a city. The houses all had blue lights. As I watched, the lights in the right hand side of the city turned red. After a time they turned blue again. Then all the lights became red again. Over the battlefield marched troops with the Second Messiah emblem. They marched away from the city and arrived at another city. This city was shaped like a hammer and sickle. This is what you must do!

Jacob stared at her for a moment, then turned to his team and said, “Did anyone understand a word of that?”

“I think I did,” said Alice, cautiously. At a look from Jacob, she continued. “Obviously we’re supposed to attack the Communists –” she began, but Sarah interrupted with “Yes, we’d got that far, the question is where?”

“I was coming to that. Berlin.”

“Wha… how do you know that?”

“It’s obvious if you know a bit of history. The lights give it away. Blue is always capitalist, and red is communist, correct?”

When the others nodded in affirmation, she continued. “For a long time Berlin, like the rest of the world, was capitalist. During – well, after actually – the Second World War, the east of Berlin and Germany was given to the Russian communists, along with eastern Europe. Then, around 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed and all those areas became ‘blue’ again. Now, of course, all that area is under Communist control. And” she continued, holding up a hand to ward off interruption, “the hammer and sickle city is Moscow, the symbol and seat of the enemy’s power.”

The others stared at her in astonishment for several seconds, then Sarah said, “Well done Alice! We’ve been trying to work that one out for hours!”

“Well,” said Jacob, “It’s certainly useful information. And you’re sure it’s accurate?”

“Oh, yes.” said Sarah. “We’ve had dozens of precogs from Emma, and each one has been accurate to the letter.”

“Well then,” continued Jacob, “I suppose that’s us decided. Anastasia, summon your armies. We leave in twelve hours. People, this is it. We’re going to Berlin!”

* * * *

Jacob sat on the hilltop, looking down at the field that, if the Precogs were correct, would soon become Second Messiah’s gateway into Communist Russia. Behind him stood Mikhail, Alice, and Anastasia, commander of the armies of the Free World, whose forces would be vital in the upcoming battle.

From the plain below came Sarah, the last member of his team. It was from her Psychic Corps that Jacob had received the precognitions indicating that a fast strike near Berlin could allow their forces to drive on to the Second Revolution’s seat of power in Moscow. After the initial one from Emma, they had received clearer precogs from some of the others, and although these were not intelligible on their own, when coupled with Emma’s they improved Jacob’s understanding of the situation immensely.

As Sarah reached the top of the mound a low droning noise made her turn back to face the field below. A Russian spy plane was flying over the Second Messiah camp, trying once again to get a count of the troops massed to assault their territory. However, they had reckoned without the Psychic Corps. While the telepaths confused the pilot’s senses, the kinetics span the plane around and aimed it straight at the ground a few hundred metres away. In his befuddled state, the pilot could not react in time.

As the glare from the explosion faded, James Sanderson teleported himself to the hill’s summit. Turning to face his commanding officer, he said, “Sarah, one of the telepaths, Bob Merlan, didn’t disconnect from the pilot in time.”

“Oh dear”, she responded, “how is he?”

“He’ll live, and we think we can get him back to normal within the year, but…”

“Get him back to the hospital in Bonn.” She said. “Put three of the best kinetics on it.”

“Right!” he called, and then vanished from sight.

Sarah turned back to face Jacob. “You called?” she inquired.

“Yes. I want to strike now, before the Communists decide to attack first. Can we do that?”

Anastasia got on the radio to her second in command, while Sarah merely shut her eyes in a way that left no doubt that she was in contact with another telepath. After a moment, both women nodded.

“In that case,” said Jacob, standing, “I see no reason to delay any longer. Sarah? Take us down.”

Then he was standing on the field, directly between the two components of his army. For a moment he gazed in silence at the eastern skyline, then raised one hand and, pointing, whispered, “Go.”

* * * *

Holly Anson crawled out of the ruined building in Warsaw. Why, she wondered, did I ever come here? Of course, she knew the answer. Holly had been employed by a television company, back home in England. Her final story had begun as a facetious comment to her employer and an investigation into the life of King Arthur. However, it had escalated out of all proportion, and had ended with her kidnapping and attempted murder by a rogue English lord. This sequence of events, concluded by her mysterious rescue by a group of locals, had propelled her out of the company and off on a spontaneous round-the-world tour. This had been abruptly terminated here, in Poland, with the Communist invasion. The only consolation was that, with the mass bombing of England, his Lordship was probably dead.

Now most people, caught in such a situation, would have either tried to get away, back to the West, or just bunkered down to wait for the inevitable liberation army. Holly, however, found herself chronically unable to remain inactive. As such, she had organised and run the Capitalist resistance in the city.

Her force had been active since just after the attacks, but that had recently come to an end. Since her operatives had reported rumours of the long-awaited army of the West, the enemy had been systematically hunting down and killing her agents. Whether this was to quash false rumours or to remove all those who could be recruited by the Capitalists, she didn’t know, but right now it did not matter. They had found her.

She ducked behind a fallen slab of concrete, just in time to avoid a Communist patrol. Quickly, she scuttled over the road and into a relatively intact house. Once inside, she quickly crossed to the far side of the lower chamber and ascended the staircase to the roof. Although this put her in plain view of any enemies, she did not intend to stay here for long.

Taking a few steps back, she ran forward and leapt across to the next house, one where the interior staircase had entirely collapsed. Here she sidled up to the chimney pot, pulled out a loose brick and revealed a short-range radio. This she could use to communicate with allied forces –if, that is, there were any nearby. Before she could use it, two Communist soldiers leapt from the shadows. As they brought their weapons in line and slowly advanced on her, she thought Oh God, help me!

No sooner had this thought crossed her mind than the air beside her moved. On either side a man appeared. The one on her left said, “You called?” then each grabbed one of her arms and the world changed, and then went black.

* * * *

“She’s coming round.”

Those were the first words Holly heard as she regained consciousness. Keeping her eyes closed, she tried to get a feel for her surroundings. She was lying on a soft bed, with two people and some sort of machine around her. At least one of the people was female, as evidenced by her voice when she had spoken a moment ago. Satisfied by these conclusions, Holly opened her eyes.

At first she was confused. Beside the bed on which she lay stood two young women and one young man. Although she looked all around, there was no sign of the expected machine. Confused, she tried to sit up. One of the young women knelt down beside the bed, pushing he back down. “Hi,” she said, brightly, “my name is Sarah Martell, this is Jacob Ethrax,” and here the young man stepped forward and took a bow. Sarah looked up with feigned disapproval, then leaned down to Holly and whispered, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to him.”

“I heard that,” said Jacob, sounding indignant. Holly nodded and said, “Holly Anson. And who are you?” she asked of the fourth occupant. The young woman looked round.

“I am Lu-Ci-2050, commonly known as Lucy. I –”

Sarah laughed. “Thank you, Lucy, we don’t need the whole speech. You’re supposed to be acting human, remember? ‘I’m Lucy’ would have done just as well.”

“I just thought that she might like a bit of background.”

“I’m sure she would,” cut in Jacob, “but that can wait until later.”

Holly looked at Lucy in confusion. “You’re… a computer?”

“Very good. Yes, this is my avatar, as far as we know the only one of its kind in the world. It’s… kind of fun, after being a wall screen for so long.”

At least, thought Holly, that explains where the machine went.

“Yes, it does,” said Sarah. Holly looked at her in shock. She didn’t think she’d spoken aloud.

“You didn’t”

“How are you doing that?”

Sarah leaned down. “Tell me,” she said, “what do you understand by the term psychic?”

* * * *

“So let me see if I’ve got this right. It turns out that the mysterious mental powers that I always thought were mythical do actually exist, and one woman used them to help destroy the Mexican Communists. Since then, she has found over a hundred others with those same powers, although not as strong as her. Through this group, her Psychic Corps, she received information that lead to an attack on Berlin. Since then, those psychics, along with an army led by two other people involved in the Mexico attack, have pushed onward towards Russia, ending up here, about twenty miles from Warsaw. All correct?”

Over the sound of Jacob laughing in the corner, Sarah said, “It’s a bit more complicated then that, but basically, yes.”

“Ok. And why should I believe you?”

“You mean, apart from the fact that two of those psychics rescued you from certain death? How about… because you’re psychic yourself.”

What? Prove it!”

“Ok. If you insist.”

Without warning, Sarah leapt forward, throwing Holly to the floor. As her attacker raised a fist intended to knock her unconscious, Holly screamed. Simultaneously, she felt a long-unused part of her mind open and incredible power surge out. Sarah was flung off her towards the far wall, where Jacob caught her to prevent her crashing into the stonework. As she came back to full consciousness, she looked over at Holly and, smiling weakly, said, “See?”

* * * *

It was several hours before Sarah had fully recovered, and she put her time convalescing to good use. When she was finally up again, she went to see Holly once more. The woman wasn’t in the room where Sarah had last seen her, but she eventually tracked her down in the Command Chamber, where she was sitting talking to Jacob and Alice, apparently perfectly comfortable.

As Sarah sat down in a spare chair, Holly looked over. A slightly worried expression appeared on her face, and she said, “I’m sorry about earlier.”

Sarah smiled. “Don’t worry, it was my own fault. I just didn’t think you’d be so strong. Which brings me to another problem.”

Holly looked at her. “Go on.”

“You must be at least as strong as me to pack such a TK punch –”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Holly. “Tee – Kay?”

Sarah smiled. “Sorry. Telekinetic. Erm… Oh yes. So far, the all telekinetics we’ve found have been male.”

Holly looked puzzled. “But you…”

“Yes, I’m a special case. I’m not just telekinetic. I’m telepathic as well. Which makes me think that you may be too. So I’d like to perform another test. Don’t worry,” she added as she saw Holly flinch back, “it’s nothing so violent this time. I’d just like to ask…” Her voice trailed off as she reached out with her thoughts, sending the words Can you hear me? to Holly as hard as she could.

As it turned out, she needn’t have exerted herself. Almost instantly, the reply came back, Of course I can, so clear that she could perceive the sarcasm in the other woman’s mind. As she opened her eyes, Holly said “Well? Did I pass?”

Ignoring the confusion emanating from Jacob and Alice, who had no idea what was going on, she replied, “Yes. Welcome to the Psychic Corps.”

“Thanks… I think.”

* * * *

Forward surged the Army of the Second Messiah and Allied Forces. More cities fell beneath the assembled boots of its troops, while above the Air Force pounded military targets to dust. And, more powerful than these, the psychics fought the forces of evil with the full powers of their minds.

Bolstered now by the presence of two Pures among them, the Telepaths co-ordinated the troop movements while the Kinetics tirelessly shifted material. Behind the scenes, the Precognitives worked endlessly, finding the tactics that would bring down the Second Revolution and ensure that the world would not see its like again.

And so, through the combined efforts of all the members of the SMAF, the force came at last to the ultimate prize: Moscow, the seat and symbol of the enemy’s power…

* * * *

As he had done prior to the opening battle in the push to extract the Second Revolution forces from their Eurasian stronghold, Jacob Ethrax sat on a hilltop overlooking a Communist city. This time, instead of Berlin, the metropolis before him was the heart of the enemy’s power, Moscow. Around him, as before, sat his friends, the Second Messiah and Allied Forces command crew. However, even they were subtly different. Anastasia Romanov, previously President of the Free World only in name, had come fully into her power as the Lady of the West, the hope of all Earth. Mikhail Romanov seemed energised, so near to re-gaining control of the country he was born to rule. Sarah Martell, although not in herself different, was now no longer the only Pure psychic, that is, one who is both telepathic and telekinetic. Beside her stood Holly Anson, discovered through the PsiTest organization created by Anastasia the year before.

Right now, however, Jacob was too worried to reflect on these changes. Two days before, the other member of his command crew, Alice Craymann, had taken her Commandos into the defunct Moscow sewer system in an attempt to undermine the city. Through neglect, stupidity or just plain forgetfulness, they had not taken a telepath with them, so there was no way, while the radio blackout was in force, for the external forces to check on their progress. However, through their long association, Sarah had acquired an ability to see through Alice’s eyes, so Jacob was checking constantly what she could see.

“Sarah…”

“You asked five minutes ago, Jacob.” she said, then smiled. “But if you insist…”

She shut her eyes, re-opening thee link. There was silence for a moment, then “No, still just darkness.”

* * * *

Alice sighed. Why, she wondered, did I ever volunteer for this mission? The answer, of course, was that she had felt that nothing could possibly be worse than simply waiting outside to be captured. Now she realised she had been wrong. Barely an hour after entering the system, she had been heartily sick of the place. That had been two days ago. For the past 48 hours her team had been crawling through the putrid tunnels beneath Moscow, not daring to use more than a small torch for light. Throughout this time they had been laying explosives beneath the major buildings and infrastructure points in the city. Now, at last, she felt they were ready.

“Signal the commander”, she whispered to her second-in-command, Simon Theras, “Code 104.”

He acknowledged with a sharp nod of his head, felt rather than seen in the dark tunnel. Stepping over to the radio, he tapped out a complex sequence of clicks. As he did so, Alice reflected with relief that, one way or another, it would soon all be over.

* * * *

“Sir!”

Jacob looked over at the radio operator, who was holding up a sheet of paper.

“We just received word from the infiltration team. Code 104.”

Jacob nodded. “Alert the air forces. Tell them to attack as soon as I give the signal.”

As the operator turned away, Jacob looked back at his team. “Sarah, Holly, could you take us down to the ground forces, please?”

The massed ranks of the Allied Forces stood before him, ready to begin their advance upon the enemy stronghold. Before he could begin to speak a huge explosion rocked the earth. Turning, he saw the walls of Moscow tumbling to the ground.

Swinging back around to his army, he was silent for a moment. Then, softly, relying on Sarah and Holly to transmit his words to every one of the assembled horde, he said, “Do not fail us.”

Overhead, suddenly, came the SMAF air force. Hundreds of bombers shot past in tight formation, heading in for pinpoint runs on enemy forces. As if this had been a trigger, the soldiers on the ground surged forward.

* * * *

The battle had been fought, countless thousands of men and women lost on both sides. Now, two weeks after the first attack, the Second Messiah command crew had reached the Kremlin, the heart of the ruined city’s defence. Here, they hoped, they would find the leader of the Revolution, the one man who could surrender to them and bring the terrible war to a close.

Jacob, Sarah, Mikhail, Alice, Holly and Anastasia stepped through the ruined door. Immediately, a sniper popped up from behind a pile of debris and opened fire. His surprise as the bullets stopped in midair was only allayed by his sudden collapse into a deep, deep sleep.

“You two are getting really good at that. Just out of interest, though…”

Sarah looked over. “Yes, Jacob?”

“Who did what? I mean –”

“I understood the question. I got the bullets while Holly took out the sniper.”

“And, while I was at it, the other three down the corridor.”

Sarah looked at her in surprise, then concentrated for a moment. As her expression cleared she said, “Well done. I hadn’t even noticed them.”

“I didn’t think you had. You were concentrating too much on Jacob.”

What?”

“You may thing you’re covering it well, but it is a little more than blindingly obvious.”

“Well… so what? He is the leader, he needs protecting, he’s the most important person here!”

“An interesting excuse. And not very accurate either. But you know that.”

Sarah glared at her, then grumbled, “I should have let you be killed in Warsaw. You’re far too good at this sort of thing.”

“Oh,” put in Alice, grinning, “so you’re not denying it then?”

What? Of course I am!”

“Girls?” called Jacob from further down the hall, “I’m sure this is a very interesting conversation, but we have a job to do. Could we get on with it?”

As the six stepped up to the main office’s door, Holly stopped, frowning. As Jacob looked look back at her, she said, “That emblem. I’m sure I’ve seen it somewhere before.”

Jacob looked at the door. Sure enough, there was a coat of arms engraved deep into the wood. Mikhail spoke, saying, “That is not a Russian symbol. I would have seen it before.”

Jacob stared at it for a few seconds, then shook himself. “Well, tell us when you work it out. But for now, can we have some open doors please Sarah?”

As the huge wooden panels swung back, Holly gasped in recognition.

“Jacob! The office brought it all back! That symbol was the coat of arms of –”

“Lord David Docherly, at your service. Now, you will note that I am wearing a skullcap specifically designed to block your pathetic mental tricks, and that furthermore I am holding a shotgun. A weapon with which your friend Holly is already very well acquainted. I advise you all to remain very still, as I have picked up something of an itchy trigger finger in my old age.”

Holly stared at him. “I thought you were dead!”

He chuckled. “I think you’ll find I’m very hard to kill. No, don’t move,” he added, as Jacob began to lean back, “otherwise I’ll have to eliminate you. And that wouldn’t be very nice, would it?”

Jacob heard, suddenly, Sarah’s voice in his head, saying Get ready to duck. This had never happened before, but as he tried to look over at her Docherly waved the gun in his direction. “Now,” he said, “I’d be very careful what you do next.”

Those were the last words ever to pass his lips. Jacob received another command from Sarah, Duck!, followed immediately by Holly, now!

As he dived for the floor, a great wind blew up from behind him. All loose objects in the room were swept up, but with Sarah’s telekinetic help, the Second Messiah team managed to hold on, just barely.

The same could not be said of Lord Docherly. As he was lifted into the air at the centre of the swirling maelstrom, he had time for one last look at Holly, still inexplicably standing in a patch of still air, before the air currents changed direction and sent all they held crashing through the room’s high window.

As the wind in the office died down, Jacob and Sarah scrambled to the window. In the far distance they could still see the patch of darkness where the debris was held up. As they watched, the invisible thread holding it seemed to snap, sending it plummeting to the ground far below. Behind them, Holly relaxed, opened her eyes, looked at them and said, grim satisfaction in her voice, “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”

* * * *

“But what actually happened?”

Holly looked at James Sanderson over the table between them. She took a moment to contemplate the changed circumstances before replying. The two of them were sitting alone in the main lounge in the Kremlin. Officially, this was a debriefing from the SMPC’s second-in-command. Unofficially… well, that was anyone’s guess.

“Well… did you see Sarah after she ‘tested’ me for the first time?”

He chuckled. “Yes. She was pretty banged up. But not as pretty as you.”

“Oh, ha ha. Anyway, it turned out that the key to accessing my full power was fear. That’s how I made the villagers rescue me from Docherly the first time, that’s how I got you to pick me up from the centre of Warsaw, and that’s how I was able to throw Sarah across the room, even completely untrained. With me so far?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. Well, when I saw Docherly again, the same emotion welled up inside me.”

“Welled up inside you? You do have quite a way with words.”

“Thanks,” she said. She felt her cheeks redden, and, to cover her embarrassment, continued. “Sarah asked me, mentally, to let it out, all at once, when she gave the signal. I was happy to. I… I knew I couldn’t affect him directly, because of his skullcap. But I could still move everything else. I ripped all the air from the corridor outside and brought it into the office. I used it to blow him away, but I… I forgot about the others. It took all of poor Sarah’s energy to make sure they weren’t swept out too. I nearly killed them!”

He stood up, rounded the table, and took her in his arms, rocking her back and forth. As she wondered just how he had managed to hide his intent from her, he sprang yet another surprise. She felt his lips press lightly onto hers. For a moment she resisted, then surrendered to the kiss.

It seemed a long time before they finally broke apart. Holly brushed her hair away from her eyes and stared for a moment before saying, “Well… that was a surprise.”

He chuckled. “A nice surprise, I hope.”

“Oh yes, very nice.”

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”

“So have I,” she said, and was surprised to find that she meant it. It’s amazing, she thought, how I can see into the minds of others, but my own can still spring surprises like that on me.

“Oh good,” he said, “then you won’t find my next surprise too much of a shock.”

With startling speed he stepped back and went down on one knee. For a moment he stayed there, staring at the floor, then looked up at her and said, “Holly Anson, er… will you marry me?”

For a moment she looked at him in astonishment, waiting for the inevitable emotional conflict. But it never came. And that, she realised, was because she already knew the answer.

“Yes,” said Holly.

* * * *

After the wedding, Jacob was talking to Sarah in the annex of the hastily converted office/church.

“Well,” he said, “that was interesting.”

“What, you mean the way the pair of them just disappeared at the end of the ceremony?”

He chuckled. “Yes, that.”

“Yes. Holly apparently decided that their honeymoon would be to an entirely secret location. She even managed to keep it from me.”

He looked at her, his expression suddenly solemn. “You know,” he said, “sometimes I envy you psychics. You control powers I could never hope to have. But then I remember the pain and responsibility that go with them, and suddenly normality doesn’t seem so bad.”

She looked at him for a second, confused. Then he grinned broadly, stretched out a hand towards her, and said, “Come on. The Communists are gone, the sun is shining, and we’ve got a world to reorganise.”

Smiling, she took his hand, and together they walked out of the door into a new world.