She was too late. The bombs and the Red Queen were gone from the film studio. Only two technicians remained there, and they opened fire the moment James peeked inside. Had they been better shots, it might have ended there for her, but she recoiled as bullets ricocheted off the wall beside her, waited for a pause, then stepped inside and killed them both.
“So much for the element of surprise,” James muttered. She wandered over to look at the various displays. Some were news reports discussing the Red Queen’s broadcast. Some were external surveillance of Lago d’Avino and its surroundings. Some were internal surveillance, one corner showing the door she had just entered through, another showing Eric Williams still apparently lost in his nightmare of guilt, yet another a room somewhere full of space-age equipment, presumably the neutron imaging apparatus.
Another room was teeming with activity, the nuclear bombs being loaded inside what looked like miniature, unmanned stealth bombers. The Red Queen, a man in black beside her (James could only see the one), was studying a display. She pressed a button and her voice echoed through the villa. “All you’ve succeeded in doing, James, is advancing our schedule. There’s nothing you can do to stop the launch. I suggest you relax and watch the show.”
A sudden movement on one of the exterior views caught James’s eye. Bedraggled yet magnificent, illuminated by the golden light of the setting sun, Felicity was armed to the teeth, and searching… James grinned and ran to the front door. “Felicity!” she yelled, and yelled again a dozen times, until her American friend darted into view suddenly, rifle at the ready. “Come inside where it’s warm,” James said.
Felicity shook her head. “The Air Force are on their way. They’ll be here any minute. I’ve already confirmed the location.”
“Unless they’re bringing bunker busters, it may not be enough. Besides, the Red Queen’s loading the nukes onto some kind of stealth UAV, and seems pretty confident she can’t be stopped. Come inside!”
“Fuck,” she said, but followed James into the villa and to the hearth.
Eric, his glasses on again, studied them with interest. “The Air Force?” he asked.
“Yes,” James said. “Where’s the Red Queen, Mr Williams? Where is she launching those drones from? How can we get to her?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He frowned in deep thought. “But they used an elevator to move the bombs up and down, and there was definitely something going on below my lab. I’ve never been there, but the stairs to the basement levels are at the far end of the corridor.” He pointed to show the way, and started to stand.
“Thank you, Mr Williams,” James said, putting her hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently. “We’ll take it from here. Go get your son and take him away from here. Get him to safety.”
He nodded. The opportunity to do some good in the situation had breathed fresh life into him. “Miss Bond,” he said as James and Felicity turned to go. James paused and looked back. “Don’t let her escape.”
The stairs led down to two basement levels, the upper level being the space-age lab that James had seen on the security monitors. At the far end were elevator doors; on the floor above, the large green screen must have concealed the doors there.
The door to the lower level was locked, a number pad the only obvious mechanism for gaining entry. Felicity scowled. “Even explosives won’t shift this.”
James shrugged. “Let’s try the elevator,” she said, and ran back up to the laboratory.
Together they tried to force the doors open, but the elevator had clearly been designed to resist forced entry. “It’s no use,” Felicity said. “Maybe upstairs.”
“Wait,” James said. “Get the explosives ready. I have an idea.”
“Oh, no! The last time you nearly drowned me.”
James grinned. “One day I’m going to drown you in kisses…” She made to catch Felicity in an embrace.
Felicity flinched away. “Focus, James,” she said. “Nukes first, kisses later.”
James sighed. “Promises, promises,…” She crossed the lab to examine a large metal cylindrical tub on wheels. ‘Nitrogen’, the label read, and as James turned the wheel on top and removed the plug, wisps of evaporating nitrogen escaped. “Cool!”
She rolled the tub across to the elevator, waving Felicity away, and with a great heave she toppled it over and upended it. Liquid nitrogen spilled across the metal floor amidst great white clouds that rolled away to fill the laboratory. “Let’s do it,” she said, as the last of the liquid spurted out.
“Five seconds,” Felicity said, setting the charges, and they ran for cover behind a large metal cabinet.
The explosion seemed to wrap around them, the shock wave resonating in the confined space, but when they peered around the edges of the cabinet, they saw a large, jagged hole in the floor. Felicity tossed a grenade through, and in the wake of its lesser explosion she jumped down through the hole.
James followed quickly. Felicity was already running for cover as the man in black swung his assault rifle towards her – then back towards James. She leapt sideways, finding cover behind one of the stealth drones, and the man in black hesitated. The irony of hiding behind a nuclear warhead was not lost on James.
She risked a peek. Behind the man in black, she saw Diana beside the other drone, typing commands into a computer interface. The drone was mounted on a rail system that led out through a tunnel. That was the launch system, James realised.
Diana had to be stopped. Taking a breath to prepare herself first, James emerged from cover, firing at the man in black. The muzzle of the assault rifle was bright as it spat bullets at her, but she focussed the core of her being on destroying the man who wielded it, firing again and again until he fell backwards, clutching his neck in a futile effort to stem the flow of blood. She aimed again, more carefully, and put a bullet between his eyes.
The drone launched into motion with a whine, electric motors accelerating it along the rail system into the tunnel, and Diana darted away. James emptied her magazine after it, grateful for once that the Russians used such large cartridges.
Felicity joined in, a Glock in each hand, but the drone was swiftly enveloped in darkness. “Shit!” she cried, and ran after it.
A deafening boom resounded through the chamber, and the mountain trembled. A plume of bright fire spat through the hole in the ceiling and another in through a door at the side where a group of frantic technicians were trying to escape. Burning and screaming, they ran about wildly, trying to escape the flames that consumed them.
It wasn’t the nuke, James realised. It must have been the Air Force. They’d made good time.
She spotted Diana escaping through a door at the far end, and raced after her. Beyond the door was a small office, and no Diana. The only other exit was a round hole in the ground that disappeared down into darkness.