The contrast between the leisurely underwater world and the familiar one above the surface stirred more inside him than appreciation of the wonders and beauty of nature. He was not sentimental about nature, having seen plenty of its tooth and claw side, but being able to take a step back from military operations gave him the perspective he needed to see the extent to which he devoted his talents to aggression. For the second time in as many days he questioned his commitment to using his Shifter ability and aura awareness for the sole purpose of warfare, even in a defence role.
Deep underwater, absorbed in his inner conflict over his responsibility and his needs, he was unprepared for what hit his nervous system. The sensation of something being dreadfully wrong did not seep into his consciousness gradually with gentle nagging. It attacked the pit of his stomach like a spear from the pointed tail of a stingray, a visceral pain that hollowed out his insides leaving him sick with fear. He looked down to see if he had been stung and though he saw no injury the fear didn’t leave him. Horror sent him hurtling upwards, panic-stricken at what he would find, certain in knowledge rather than gut feeling that something had happened, something awful, and he suspected the knowledge came from his three-year- old son, Thomas.
At the last minute he remembered to take a circuitous route and approach from the landward side, not the sea. High above the bay he panicked when he couldn’t see Lianne or Thomas anywhere. The neural net would prevent him Shifting in. He circled the cliff top, but it was empty. There was no sign of the protection team couple, not even their belongings or the control kit for the drones. He landed at the spot where they had been, discarding his air mix bottle and the harness. Something glinted in the sunlight – a shard of plastic. As he picked it up he spotted jagged slivers among the coarse grass including computer chip innards, the shattered remains of the neural net control box.
His heart hammered. He hugged rocks below the cliff line and sped forward to the beach.
Lianne’s towel, beach bag, and their food, lay on the sand. He couldn’t see her or Thomas, or the protection team surfers; only their equipment. They had vanished like the cliff top couple.
Landing by the lava rock arch he went into aura mode, searching frantically. He found no clues regarding the disappearances, no blood in the sand or evidence of a fight or scuffle. A hundred reasons for their disappearance flashed through his mind, none of them pleasant.
He returned to where he had left Lianne and was about to take to the air again in desperation when a phone rang. It wasn’t a ringtone he recognised. A pink phone lay in the top of her abandoned bag. Fearing a booby trap he didn’t touch it, examining inside the bag carefully for wires and explosives. Seeing nothing suspicious he picked it up and took the call.
‘If you want to see your wife and son again, do exactly as you’re told.’
Maria Zamora’s voice sent a shiver down his spine.
‘How do I know they’re alive?’ He looked round to see if he could spot any other auras.
‘Lock?’ Lianne’s terrified voice brought his attention back to the phone. ‘I don’t know where we are–’
Thomas cried in the background.
‘They’re alive,’ Maria’s harsh voice said. ‘Do exactly as you’re told or they’ll die. Walk towards the sea.’
In a split-second he decided he had no option but to do as she ordered.
‘Don’t hurt them.’ His feet sank into warm, dry sand as he walked towards the glittering
waves. Somebody stepped behind him. More than one person. Two men, one on either side of him. A man’s voice issued orders.
‘Drop the phone. Stop. Don’t turn round. Kneel down.’
He had an American accent. Whittaker. They were going to kill him. They would execute him on the beach with a shot to the back of the head, and they would still have Lianne and Thomas.
A game plan for attack formed in his mind as he knelt. Roll to the left, kick, levitate, swing; but he hesitated. They could have shot him already.
‘Hands behind your back.’
They wanted him alive. Why? The notion of submitting was abhorrent, but he did as ordered.
He had no choice and it bought time to think of a way to rescue Lianne and Thomas. The cold metal of handcuffs wrapped around his wrists and he touched something else metallic, another pair of handcuffs. Movement told him they were attached to another person. Rough hands blindfolded him and somebody Shifted.
He counted seconds to gauge how far they travelled but the new Shifting experience made it hard to concentrate on linear travel. There were no greys as with his own Shifting. He couldn’t tell which compass direction the Shift took him though he judged the speed as around a hundred kilometres per minute, slower than his own speed. Feathery, fractured light dazzled his mind’s eye, accompanied by streams of firm touch flitting over his body and the sensation of gentle sound, like wind rippling through long streamers making them sing, now high, now low, now several voices at once. Sometimes the low sound became a throbbing noise accompanied by
vibrations that gave the impression of being squeezed through a tube constructed from layers of paper.
He tried not to lose track of his count. When he reached sixty he started again, marking off the minutes on his fingers. Before long he realised the Shift was not short-haul. After roughly eleven minutes they landed on hot, jagged rocks which grazed his knees through the wetsuit.
Shadow Team GB is the third book in the Starbirth Series by J M Johnson which can be found on Amazon.