Update: The book is currently with my publisher, going through edits and revisions. We have a tentative release window of summer 2017, but I’ll let you know when we nail it down.
Alice is alone.
Her sister is gone, her parents are at each other’s throats, and the girls at school have decided to make her life hell. Her only solace is in the Shannen Academy, where she can escape to a world of black holes, quantum theory, and impossible questions.
But soon Alice discovers that something lies hidden deep beneath the Academy; something connected to Alice’s past: a secret that will change her past, present and future, forever.
Adam’s whole body convulsed, the way it always did on re-entry. Purple stains blossomed on the inside of his eyelids, the tendons in his arms and legs strained, and his chest tightened until he felt like his lungs were being crushed in a vice. He clenched his teeth and clutched the worn leather of the armrests, and waited for the convulsions to pass.
When his body finally relaxed he remained where he was and took deep breaths, waiting until the nausea subsided, then he hauled himself up in the chair and pressed his knuckles to his eyes as the purple spots began to fade.
The intercom clicked on. “Adam. Are you all right?”
Adam nodded, still massaging his eye sockets. “I’m fine,” he called. “Just give me a minute.”
“It’s just that I’m looking at your readings here, and they don’t look good.”
“It’ll settle down in a minute.”
“Your blood pressure’s up to—”
“I said I’m fine!” The shout echoed off the white tiled walls of the chamber. There was silence over the intercom. Adam lowered his hands and looked up. Femi was gazing at him through the wire mesh of the observation window, his arms folded and one eyebrow raised.
“Sorry.” Adam raised his hands in apology. “I’m just a little bit tense today. Not sure why.”
“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” Femi warned, returning his attention to the bank of monitors in front of him.
“I’ll talk to Jennifer tomorrow,” Adam said.
“Talk to her today.”
Adam shook his head. “You know I can’t do that. Not right now. First thing tomorrow. I promise.”
“All right.” Femi sighed and tapped at a keyboard. “What colour are we?”
Adam swung his bare feet over the edge of the battered chair, which looked like it had been salvaged from an abandoned dentist’s surgery. It stood on a raised plinth in the middle of a featureless white room, overshadowed by a mass of wires and cabling that descended like tentacles from the ceiling. Adam was dressed in a white one-piece outfit, like a mechanic’s overall but made of a light, rustling material. Dark marks, like burns, circled the cuffs and ankles; the whole outfit steamed slightly.
“It’s a code red,” Adam said.
“Location?” Femi tapped the information into his computer.
“Central London. Mayfair.”
“And we’re due at … 5.53pm.”
“What time is it now?”
Femi checked his watch. “11.36am,” he said.
“Hmm.” Adam frowned. “Still not good enough.Recalibrate the system when we’re done.”
Femi tapped a final key, then looked up from the monitors. “Ok. That’s it. You’re good to go. Good luck.”
“Thank you.” Adam took a deep breath and heaved himself out of the chair. He winced, feeling his joints crack as his bare feet touched the tiles. For a second his vision swam, and he swayed on his feet until it settled. It was getting worse with every trip, and he wasn’t getting any younger. He would have to tell Olivia soon — but not yet. Once she knew it would be the end for sure, and he wasn’t ready to stop. Not yet. Not when it was getting so exciting.
A heavy airlock-style door led him out of the room to a white-walled corridor lined with more doors, set with wire mesh windows. The second door on the left opened into a stark concrete box containing a metal table and a row of shiny metal lockers, with a sink and a mirrored cabinet in the corner.
He went to the lockers first, opening them one by one until he found what he was looking for: a pin-striped suit on a hanger, together with a crisp white shirt and a paisley tie. He took out a long woollen coat as well, and a pair of shiny brown brogues, then shrugged off the white overall and pulled on the outfit, wincing as he drew the shirt across a raw area of pink flesh that crossed his ribs and back.
When he was dressed he shuffled over to the mirror and inspected his face. It looked worse than he remembered, the lines deeper and the skin baggier. This was going to take some work.
Ten minutes later he emerged into the corridor, greying hair immaculately oiled and combed, the suit draped elegantly around his stooped form, a black holdall slung over his shoulder. He checked the digital watch strapped to his left wrist, where a row of digits was steadily counting down: 07:06:23 … 22 … 21 … More than six hours to kill. He might as well go. At least there would be time for sightseeing today.
Adam arrived at Embankment Tube Station at half past eleven, just as the lunch crowds were beginning to emerge. Embankment Place was a mass of bodies, everyone in a rush, everyone on their way to somewhere. Young men and women in sharp suits barged past him as he emerged from the station into a crisp, cold afternoon. He let them, and watched as they hurried off to the coffee shops and delis that lined the steep, narrow street. This was the part he most enjoyed: the calm before the storm.
He picked his way through the crowds, pausing at Trafalgar Square to take in the enormous Christmas tree. A couple asked him to take their picture as they posed in front of the tree; he obliged, smiling graciously as they thanked him, then checked the watch again: still plenty of time to treat himself.
He passed the rest of the morning looking around the National Gallery, then crossed the river to browse through the second-hand books under Waterloo Bridge. Lunchtime drew him back across the river to a small pub just off Trafalgar Square, where he sat and sipped mint tea, watching the world pass by outside the window.
At four-thirty he left the pub and walked back through Trafalgar Square, up through Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus to Regent Street, where the Christmas lights hung suspended in the dusk like brilliant white cobwebs. Adam did not stop to look at them: he turned off the main road, making his way down smaller and smaller streets until finally he cut through the Royal Arcade and emerged on to Albemarle Street.
He stopped and looked both ways. It was quieter here, the noise of Regent Street a distant murmur. The white stone of the terraced buildings glowed in the street lamps, and warm light spilled from the windows of the coffee shop on the corner. Black taxis queued patiently in front of the Browns Hotel, their drivers flicking through the sports pages of tabloid newspapers while they waited for the next fare.
Adam walked up the street, past the hotel to the jewellers next door, where he stopped and turned slowly in a circle, surveying the street once more. Satisfied, he stepped into the road and crouched down by the kerb, ignoring the passing traffic as he took something from the holdall and placed it in a crack in the tarmac. Then he stood up, brushed himself down, adjusted his coat and walked into the shop.
The jewellers was empty: it was the end of the day, and the sales assistant was about to close the till. In spite of this she smiled politely as Adam entered.
“Good evening, sir,” she said. “May I help you?”
“Yes …” Adam peered around the small interior, looking for the security cameras and scanning the exits. “Tell me: do you have a silent alarm on the premises?”
The smile froze on the woman’s face. “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“A silent alarm,” Adam repeated, checking the sight-line from the counter to the street. “To alert the authorities, should there be a robbery.”
“I really don’t think I—”
“In about—” Adam checked his watch “—two and a half minutes a gang of armed men are going to arrive on motorbikes and steal your merchandise. I suggest you activate the silent alarm now, the faster to receive help when they do.”
The woman took a step away from him. Her eyes flicked towards the phone by the till. “Maybe it would be a better idea if I just called the police now,” she said.
Adam shook his head. “Not fast enough. It must be the silent alarm. The armed response unit has orders to attend immediately to any break-in at this address, and there is about to be a break-in.”
“Sir, is this a threat?” The woman’s voice trembled. She edged closer to the till.
“Not at all.” Adam sighed and checked his watch again. “Two minutes.” He looked up at the woman, who had darted over to the phone and was lifting the receiver. “Do what you must. The regular police will take approximately seven minutes to respond to your call, so I suggest you take cover until they arrive.”
He turned towards the door, adjusted the collar of his coat, and waited. He could hear the woman behind him, requesting the police then giving them his description in a frightened voice. He ignored her. He had an alibi.
He raised the watch again. 00:01:12 … 11 … 10 …
Behind him the woman replaced the receiver with a click.
“You might want to take cover now,” Adam repeated. “They have sledgehammers, possibly other weapons, and they will not hesitate to use them. They know what they want — they will take it and leave. Do not try to stop them. Fifty seconds, by the way.”
He heard her scrabbling, then a door opened and closed as she left through the back. He knew he should probably leave as well, but he was too curious.
He could hear the bikes approaching now, their rasping whine echoing down the narrow street. Three two-stroke scooters, each carrying two passengers: one to dismount and enter the shop, the other to wait outside with the engine running.
The engines rose to a scream, then fell to a sputtering cough as the vehicles pulled up outside. Three figures burst into the shop, their faces obscured by tinted motorcycle helmets, long sledgehammers in their hands. They paused momentarily when they saw him, but immediately discounted him as a threat and moved instead to the display cases, which they proceeded to destroy in a shower of glass. Adam waited patiently whilst they scooped handfuls of diamonds from the shattered remains, carefully checking his watch as they loaded their haul into black bags.
00:00:24 … 23 … 22 …
The three figures looked at one another, then one of them — the leader — nodded, and at the signal the other two turned and strode out of the shop without a backwards glance.
… 18 … 17 … 16 …
The leader paused in the doorway, took a black marker pen from his pocket, and scrawled something on the door: two circles, one within the other, bisected by a vertical line.
… 14 … 13 … 12 …
He pocketed the marker and strode outside, kicking glass out of the way with his perfect white trainers.
… 9 … 8 … 7 …
The leader of the gang swung his leg over the pommel of the bike that was waiting for him, turning his head to check on the other two bikes. The driver revved the engine, and the leader motioned for the others to move out.
… 3 … 2 … 1 …
There was a crack and a blinding flash of light, as all three bikes were tossed away from the sudden explosion that tore a hole in the tarmac between them. The riders were flung like dolls across the road, slamming into parked cars. For a second there was silence, like a gaping hole — then the hole was filled by the frantic screaming of car alarms and the distant wail of sirens. People began streaming out of shops and houses, some curious, most panicking, hurrying away down the street without a backwards glance.
Adam strolled out of the shop and let them flow past him, observing his handiwork with a slight air of pride. A perfect hit. Femi would be proud.
He stayed long enough to ensure that the authorities were on their way, then left the six figures lying broken and groaning in the road and disappeared into the night without a trace.