and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 16 - Bin Laden ha!
Ahead the way narrowed into a tunnel and the boxes and crates were left behind as the big woman probed forward drawing Surban and her stumbling mother along with her. 'There will be guards soon. We live or die on your behaviour. Keep silent and stay still when I tell you. Girl! Do you understand? Put your hand over your mother's mouth to stop her from making any sound. Tell me you will obey!'
Surban, her arm about the heaving shoulders of her mother, nodded weakly. 'Yes, I will obey if you will save my mother.'
The big woman nodded once and turned about, the weapon now concealed amongst the folds of her garment. Behind there came a staccato burst of gunfire, followed immediately by an explosion that reverberated through the underground vaults and tunnels, surging about the girls in a wind-blown force that buffeted them to their knees.
'Hoo! That was big-scary! Kaddar has probably got himself blown to bits by now!' cried Priscilla, almost choking on the clouds of dust belching from deep within. 'Is everybody alright? Girls? Girls! BlackEagle Girls!' Ahead she could hear the sound of coughing and a mixture of voices shouting and challenging. In the swirl of debris sweeping the tunnel she managed to catch a glimpse of the big woman, Surban and her mother now confronted by several armed men blocking their path, then her vision was obscured by dust that not even the Night-Sight goggles could penetrate.
'Priscilla! I am here!' called a voice at her elbow.
'Narenda, is that you?'
'Yes and I am holding onto Monique's tail-feathers. Where is Belinda?'
'Here! Present!' came Belinda's voice from the screen of swirling dust. 'But did I see our objectives being caught by the opening gate guards?'
'You saw exactly, although the terrorists themselves are in confusion I think,' Monique managed, crawling into a kneeling position.
Ahead, perhaps only twenty metres from where the girls were kneeling there came another sharp round of gunfire. 'Oh no!' shouted Priscilla, scrambling to her feet and starting forward. 'They can't kill Surban and her mum after all this!'
'Priscilla! Wait! We cannot stop what is happening!' called Monique, dragging Narenda to her feet with Belinda's aid.
'Bullshit!' called Priscilla, 'We have to try, come on!' And without further ado she pounded through the dust to draw up suddenly, so suddenly in truth that the three girls following behind almost collided with her.
'Look at that!' said Priscilla, her eyes bulging at the sight before her. Bodies were strewn in all directions and there was blood everywhere.
'Oh my God,' said Belinda, 'Are they all dead?'
Before they could do anything further a lone figure stepped out of a side passage and surveyed the bodies. 'Get up! Get out of this dirt! You are probably the only females here and dead you are of no use to me, but alive you may still serve a purpose. Gammal Kaddar is now in charge, ignore these dead-pig terrorists, move!'
From amongst the fallen, three figures struggled to their feet. The first was the large woman, and then Surban, her arms about the unsteady figure of her mother.
'I don't believe it! Where the hell did Kaddar come from? He's supposed to be getting killed back where Bin Laden and all the explosives are!' said Priscilla, clearly flummoxed.
'The whole place is a rabbit warren!' Belinda remarked as Kaddar motioned the three survivors of the fire-fight to move on between two tall pillars into a broader area lit fitfully by oil lamps.
'And if that is true, then Kaddar is not the only rabbit to travel the maze. Others will be on his tail. Somehow we have to get away from him and get these three outside,' said Monique, hastening forward and dragging Narenda with her.
'Harry! Can you help us here?' asked Priscilla, gingerly stepping over the men gunned down by Kaddar. 'Kaddar has shot...'
'Yap, yep, I've got all that,' came Harry's voice from their Hand Activators. 'Just don't know exactly where you're heading in there. Alerted forces have scrambled from several bases and are moving your way. Likewise unknown choppers coming in from Iran's boarder and a group of burden beasts are lining up on the down-side of where your first herd of asses assembled. That should be where Ali Osama expected to send out his Forty Thieves. So I'm guessing that you are in the low point of the high point of the lower bluff. Which would make good sense! Lower Mesopotamia! That's why you think you were always going down when there is a subtle incline up and besides you're actually going to come out somewhere mid-way between the lowest point of sea-level and the...'
'Shut up Harry! Do please shut your little yappy mouth for just a few seconds, oh yes please,' said Narenda, screwing her fingers into her grime-filled eyes. 'Listen!'
In the distance there came the faint sound of boots scrunching over the debris brought down by the blast. Kaddar heard them, cursed and laughed, rummaging amongst his latest victims for their weapons. 'Ahh! Grenades! Good, good. They will not take Gammal Kaddar alive, yet I will see as many of them dead before I leave this world and...' he paused, struggling to free a bandoleer of ammunition from one of the bodies, 'anyway I might just survive yet!'
'He doesn't know about all the outside forces arriving,' said Belinda as the BlackEagle girls carefully skirted Kaddar and followed the three, haltingly-moving people before them. They were almost across the wider space, heading toward a shadowy area where a dim outline heralded the promise of a doorway to the outside when a tremendous explosion somewhere in the distance at their backs trembled the very floor they struggled across. Overhead in the darkness stones ground together, masonry began to plummet in bits and pieces, the dust of thousands of years showered in plumes and the air filled with particles that choked the nostrils and blinded the eyes. 'We are going to suffocate in this if we don't...' Monique's words were lost as the sound of a giant fireworks display began to crackle and enlarge to the point where the girls had to cover their ears.
'Magazine is going off! Yes yes. That serves the swine right for threatening Gammal Kaddar. Bin Laden ha! Just a terrorist! Kaddar's slow burning fuses! At least one has worked and that is all needed!'
There was another deafening roar of multiple explosions from within, tattooed over by thumpings from somewhere far off, outside.
A pillar supporting the roof, crumbled in what seemed slow-motion and fell, crashing across the the floor before them. Shards of stone flicked and flew around the group as the three visible and four invisible females scrambled around the shattered stone. A rattle of automatic gunfire from behind signalled the emergence of their pursuers. Bullets whined overhead or smacked viciously into stone as Kaddar vaulted the tumbled stone, crouched and returned fire. 'Swine! I have women with me, and the girl! Will you kill even them? Allow us to leave! I will shoot them myself if you do not agree at once!
'That bastard!' said Priscilla. 'He's betting that even these terrorists will care about...' Another explosion rocked the hall, blowing out any lamp-light still flickering and all was plunged into darkness.
Now the Night-sight goggles of the BlackEagle Girls came into use, as the four girls pulled them on.
'Whe...? Where? Oh right, I see them now... Terrorists creeping through the dust toward us!' said Belinda, daring to raise her head above the barrier. A reverberating crash heralded the fall of another pillar, glimpsed only by the wearers of the Night-sight goggles, that crushed several pursuers, their fingers jerking involuntarily on triggers sending bullets everywhere as they died. For a few seconds the blackness was filled with sparks of yellow, red and orange and the sound of missiles zipping and striking. The stink of cordite mixed with the dust of the Ancients permeated the enclosed area. Debris fell from the walls and the vaulted ceiling in a crescendo that gradually subdued to silence, punctuated only by spasmodic coughing.
Then a voice spoke. 'Mister Kaddar, I will allow you to move your hostages toward the way out without further hindrance. It is now a matter of urgency that I and those with me leave this...' The speaker's words were cut short by the booming of what could only be bombs exploding closer and closer to their position. More rubble plummeted from the ceiling, to shatter about the floor amongst the terrorists.
'They've got Night-Vision goggles and high-powered torches, why don't they use them?' Priscilla wondered.
'Night-Vision relies on the moon or stars or some kind of other light,' said Harry. 'Wont work where you're in complete darkness. Thermal imaging is another thing, and that's why you can see and they can't.'
'As for torches? The first one crazy enough to switch on would probably be killed that instant.' answered Monique as the BlackEagle girls moved carefully toward Surban and the others.
'Mister Kaddar! Time is getting short. If we are not all to die in here we must get moving now. That sound comes from outside. Iraqi and allied forces are coming to attack us. I have confirmed reports by cell phone from my informants in Baghdad. The woman with you is a Counter-terrorist in the service of our enemies. She is not one of us. I repeat, she is not a martyr for the cause!'
As the BlackEagle girls drew closer to Kaddar they saw that the others had moved away from him under cover of the racket outside and were now close to an aperture where the faintness of light beckoned.
'That looks like a break in the wall near the entrance doors,' said Priscilla. 'This could be our chance. Get ready to grab Surban and her Mum.'
'What about the big woman?' Belinda asked.
'Sorry. She is not our responsibility,' said Monique. 'Agreed?'
'I will...' shouted Kaddar, moving swiftly to the side as the pounding of bombs continued, 'get them out first. Do not open fire. I will...' He dodged closer toward the possibility of escape without even a glance at his three prisoners.
The shock of the blasts from behind and before caught them all as they moved: the BlackEagle Girls toward Surban, her mother and the secret agent. Kaddar as he tried to get out before anyone else, and the terrorists teeming behind. But it was Kaddar who reached the hole in the wall first. 'Ha, you dogs!' He shouted, 'I'm free! Now you can stay in there!' He fired a rapid burst before exiting, dodging aside as the ragged return of machine pistols and automatic weapons pinged and zapped about his bolt-hole.
'He's going to keep us all down in here,' said Belinda, 'until we are blown up. He can hold the way through on his own as long as he has bullets. He is insane!'
'Well spotted, oh yes please,' said Narenda. 'But he does not see us. We can slip through!'
'So what?' said Priscilla. 'We save our skins but that doesn't get Surban and her mum free...' she was interrupted by Monique shaking her shoulder, 'The big woman! Look, she is abandoning Surban and her mother and making for the entrance!'
What followed appeared to happen in slow motion. The secret agent lumbered forward, now brandishing the weapon she had kept concealed beneath her garments. For some inexplicable reason, the terrorists at her back did not fire. Perhaps even they had a sense of what was to happen or simply could not detect her movement even with Night Vision.
Her sandaled feet crunching over the uneven surface, building speed as she hurtled on, the woman began firing the second she burst through the broken gap where Kaddar had, only moments before disappeared. The force of her charge carried her beyond sight and there was only a brief, vicious exchange of gunfire before silence. In the background the drone of warplanes began to recede.
It was only then that the BlackEagle Girls noticed the terrorists slipping away back into the interior. In a matter of moments, like so many scuttling crabs, they had melted through the wreathing smoke and dust that began to clear on a swirling, desert breeze. The collapse of stone beyond allowed the pale light of night within.
'The bombing has caused the wall there to break open! They're all escaping!' shouted Priscilla, even as she and the others hurried cautiously over to where Surban and her mother cowered amongst the rubble at the mouth of the broken doorway.
'What do we do now? asked Monique.
'Yowl! Thought you'd ask me that! Only way is for one of you to become visible and hustle them out !' came Harry's voice from their Hand Activators.
'Sure, that is very fine Monsieur Harry, but how can we get them free without them and maybe some of us being killed by that crazy man?' asked Monique.
'Answer to that is we jolly-well won't be,' said Belinda, peering out at the darkened scene beyond. 'Our lady Secret-Agent has sorted out Mister Kaddar. For all his daring-do against the terrorists he has been killed by a woman...'
'What about her?' asked Narenda. 'Is she O.K.?'
'No. She is not.' said Belinda, sighing. 'I only hope that her body will be found and taken care of. Righto, let's get a move on. Priscilla, you should be the one to become visible. Surban trusts you the most.'
For a moment Priscilla hesitated, annoyed at Belinda's sudden assumption of command, then shook her head and smiled, meeting Monique's big grin of approval. 'Er, yes, righto. Harry can you help out here?'
'You got all the buttons,' came Harry's voice.
'Well yeah-right-fine,' said Priscilla rapidly, peering at her hand activator and gingerly pressing the Audible and Visible buttons.
Surban lay wrapped protectively around her mother amid the dust and debris, shale still filtering down over them, when an apparition appeared. It took the guise of Priscilla, the teenage girl who lived in Australia at the school called Hopewell. Of course it was not Priscilla, but an Emissary of Zoroaster. This Emissary beckoned to follow, promising safety for Mother and Child, taking them from peril, far away to security. This was an embodiment of the almighty God Zarathushtra and to be obeyed.
Streaking between the winking stars, aircraft zoomed far overhead, banked in rough formation and reset course, hurtling away northward.
'They've dropped all their eggs and have to return for more,' said Harry through the Hand Activators. 'Ground forces are already moving in from the north-east and west. BlackEagle's hovering nearby, just get yourselves...'
'Here! Here Harry, we're out in the open now! Can't you see us?' shouted Priscilla. 'Oh where's Buggy when you need a swarm of insects to find you!'
In some strange, vivid way, Surban and her dearest mother were conveyed beyond the terrible darkness and gloom of what was to be their fate and into a vehicle of light where they could lie their heads down on white couches as sleep overcame them. When they came again unto themselves they were standing at the the entrance of an Australian Embassy somewhere, Baghdad perhaps. A dream, or a vision seemed to flee Surban's mind even as she fumbled out her identification. Beside her, her mother sagged, as people rushed to their aid.
'It's almost the witching hour,' said Belinda.
'This is a very bad omen,' said Harry.
'Is it because of Ahriman the Evil Spirit that strives against Ahura Mazda?' asked Narenda.
'No. It's because morning is not too far away on the east coast of Australia and you guys are gonna be whacked. Hold on. I'll get you home as soon a...'
Chapter 17 next