The black figure fell from a black sky. Had anyone been listening, they might have heard the faint crack of the parachute opening. Had they looked up, they might have seen the stars eclipsed by an inexplicable shadow. The intruder splashed down into the brightly lit swimming pool, an entry that did not escape the notice of the guards.
Two came running from the gate, and three from the house, all dressed in green uniforms and toting assault rifles. They arrived at the pool to discover it draped in the silk of the fallen chute, and by the time it was clear there was no one underneath, the black figure had slipped away through the dark garden and behind the villa where, with the help of a drainpipe, it scaled the wall to a second-storey balcony.
Using a suction cup and a diamond blade, the figure cut a circle out of the glass door and reached a hand through to unlock the door. The door closed behind it, moments later, even as the guards came running and searching below, passing by oblivious to the threat above.
The figure peeled off its black skin to reveal a tall, slender woman with short-cropped chestnut hair and hazel-blue eyes, wearing dark grey cargo pants and T-shirt, and a shoulder holster holding a Walther PPK handgun.
Gun in hand, she eased out into the corridor that ran the length of the villa, paused briefly to listen for guards, then darted along to a room at the far end. The door opened smoothly and quietly, and she was through and inside swiftly, checking the corners. There were no threats. She closed the door and wedged a chair under the handle.
Tied naked to the bed, and gagged, was a woman with long, natural blonde hair and pale blue eyes. The bruises that coloured her flesh were painful to look at, but there was a spirit in her that defied her apparent fragility. Despite the urgency of her mission, the intruder took a blade from a concealed shin holster and cut through the ropes binding the prisoner. “My name is James,” she said quietly.
“Olga,” the blonde whispered when she could.
“We’ll need to run in a minute. See if you can find something to wear.” Leaving Olga rubbing her wrists as circulation returned, James crossed to the desk where the computer hummed quietly. It was password protected. Not even trying to crack the system, she used the knife tip to unscrew and open the side of the computer, and wrenched the cables out of the drives. A minute later she had removed both drives, and dropped them into the deep side pockets of her trousers. The sound of boots on the stairs outside was loud. “Ready?” she asked, looking up.
Olga stood buttoning up a blue shirt several sizes too big for her as she watched James. Otherwise she was still naked. “Ready,” she said.
The handle jammed against the chair and a heavy weight banged against the door. James nodded and smiled. “Take cover.”
Pulling the chair away, she dropped to her knees as the door burst open. Two, three, four shots she fired before any of them understood what was happening. Two more shots and she was out, but she had time to change the clip as she stepped across the trail of bodies. All of them guards. All dead, except one who writhed in agony, whimpering and clutching his belly. She took pity on him with a bullet in the head.
Olga shook her head. “Don’t waste your bullets, James.” The faint Norwegian accent added to the impression of a Nordic princess who had just survived a few rounds with a mountain troll.
All James could smell was gunpowder. Her ears were ringing. She glanced behind her to see Olga wresting a rifle from one the fallen guards. A beautiful calendar picture she would have made like that, but James’s attention was diverted as more guards raced up the stairs. She took out the first two, and the others dived for cover.
“Follow me,” she said to Olga, and raced along the corridor to the first room again. “Can you climb?”
Olga was clearly suffering. “Yes,” she said through gritted teeth.
James led the way cautiously out onto the balcony and down the pipe to ground level. She braced herself at several points as she gave Olga support, enjoying the brief moments of contact with her but too conscious of the guards closing in on them, and the need to get to the beach while it was still dark.
Out of sight, at the front of the house, an engine roared to life. “Blya!” Olga snarled, and ran to the corner of the house, and round, the AK47 braced against her shoulder. James followed cautiously, until sudden gunfire had her fearing the worst. This time, though, it was Olga leaving a trail of bodies, but she was exposed, a guard shooting down at her from a high balcony until James took him out.
Limping painfully, Olga edged round to the front, firing continuously until abruptly quiet. Out of bullets, she dived for cover, panting heavily, a deepening stain of red spreading across the side of her shirt. Peeking round the corner, James saw that it was only the wounded driver of a jeep keeping them pinned down, and she dispatched him easily. A second jeep raced away through the gates beyond.
“You’d better drive,” Olga said, limping over to relieve the dead and dying of their spare ammunition.
James covered her, searching the windows and balconies and the grounds for other guards, but none appeared. Satisfied, she dragged the dead driver out from behind the wheel, and jumped in herself.
Olga slid into the passenger seat. “After the bastard,” she hissed.
James grinned. “Yes, sir.”
There are few things more terrifying than racing down an unfamiliar road at breakneck speed in the dead of night, but the distant lights of the other jeep provided useful advance knowledge of the road’s twists and turns. James gained on them steadily, until the occasional sprays of bullets started hitting the mark, whistling too close for comfort past James’s ears, hammering against the bodywork and punching through the windshield.
James kept as low a profile as possible as she manoeuvred closer. Olga, less caring, stood and sent a hail of bullets forward, until the jeep in front ran suddenly off the road at a sharp turn, and James only barely avoided a worse fate. Olga was thrown from the vehicle into the dark as James swerved violently and came to a halt.
Blood streaming from a gash on his forehead, Colonel al-Kassar climbed from the crashed jeep, aiming his rifle at James with a confused expression. “Who are you?” he demanded, repeating the question in Russian.
Before James could answer or even think about moving, Olga was behind him, her shirt and hair soaking wet and dripping. Digging the barrel of her rifle into the back of his neck, she said calmly, “She’s with me, fucker,” and blew his head off.
The boat was tied up where it should be. Sleek, and with a whisper-quiet motor, it was barely big enough for them both. Not that either of them minded the tight quarters. James sat behind the wounded princess, cradling her and keeping her warm while also guiding the little boat out to sea.
Olga relaxed into her saviour’s arms. She was dressed now in the uniform they had liberated from the Colonel’s driver, but was shivering from the cold of the night and the wind and sea. She was asleep long before the distinctive silhouette of HMS Daring emerged from the darkness before them.