I woke to the sound of distant thunder. I tried opening my eyes, but my vision blurred. I let them close again and took a deep breath. I could feel that my right ankle had been wrapped in bandages. An experimental stretch produced no pain or discomfort. I was still fully clothed.


I opened my eyes again and concentrated on the ceiling above me. Patterns resolved and came into focus, painted shapes that were modern, understated, and expensive. I rolled my head to one side and saw a polished wooden cabinet. Beyond it was a room extravagantly appointed with wood panelling and mirrored decoration. I was lying on a large double bed. A desk with a telephone stood near the window. Next to the desk was a chair on which my suit jacket had been carefully folded. The light in the room came from three electric globes suspended in the centre, which flickered and dimmed as though they were candles. Wherever I was, my hosts had class, money, and taste.

A flash of light blinked through the window, followed moments later by a loud rumble of thunder. The lights went out, and somewhere outside the room, was the sound of footsteps and commotion. I pushed myself up from bed and swung my legs carefully towards the desk. Standing slowly, I took three short steps and settled in the chair. I could make out the outlines of trees moving in the darkness outside, silhouettes that were smeared by the raindrops falling flatly against the glass. A flash of lightning filled the sky, revealing a series of tall trees set in a large garden. Neat geometric paths crisscrossed the garden, leading to a drive and a parking area. It was filled with large and expensive cars.

The room fell back into darkness, except for a dim bulb winking on the phone in front of me. The light went out on the phone, and then a moment later, another came on. The phone rang.

Startled, I picked up the receiver and listened. There was a click and a discreet cough.

'Do not be alarmed,' said a woman's voice. It was the sound of an older woman, with clear and well-schooled tones. 'Power to the hall has been interrupted by the storm. Please make your way to the lobby.'

There was another click and the line went dead.

I stood up, but a wave of dizziness sent me back into the chair. Another deep breath and I managed to stand properly, concentrating this time to force the nausea down. After a few seconds and some more deep breaths, I felt steady enough to walk. I pulled my jacket on slowly, and moved carefully to the door. Pulling it open with unaccustomed force, I entered the corridor beyond.

I didn't have to guess which way to go. Groups of smartly dressed men and women were making their way towards the open end of the corridor. I slipped in behind one such group, who acknowledged me politely and continued without a word to a wide balcony. Two grand staircases swept down from the balcony to a large atrium below, which was quickly filling with people. Collections of low tables and chairs filled the polished marble floor space, illuminated by candles and an occasional electric torch. Most of the chairs were already occupied. People forced to stand were clustered in groups at the large windows, which extended the full height of the room. Talking over drinks, they were looking at the storm outside.

Glancing quickly over the crowd, I spotted a solitary tall woman. With a shock of recognition, I saw that it was Lana Golding. She was wearing my hat. I made quick but unsteady progress down the stairs, where I was confronted by a smartly dressed man holding a tray of drinks.

'Spritzer?' The man inclined his head slightly. 'Guaranteed to lift the spirits, sir.'

I took two glasses from the tray and ignored the man's grimace. It was a short distance to where Lana stood.

As I approached, she smiled at me in the reflection of the glass and turned. 'Mr Ashley, so nice to see you again.'

'Quite a storm out there.' I held out a glass and took a sip from my own.

Lana took her drink and turned away. 'Welcome to Rotherhythe Hall, Mr Ashley.' I watched her face smile as she took a generous sip from her glass. 'This is the nerve centre of MIRANDA.'

'These people?'

'Agents, staff, engineers, scientists,' said Lana intently. 'The finest minds and intellects our two nations can provide.'

'And you,' I remarked, 'What's your job?' I took another sip from my drink. 'Besides sharp shooting and slugging people with needles.'

Lana turned to face me, tipping my hat back and looking at me with playful eyes. 'Are you angry with me, Mr Ashley?' Her American accent was mocking me again.

'Call me Michael.'

'I'm not sure we're on first name terms yet, Mr Ashley,' said Lana in mock shyness. 'Are you always this forward with women you've only just met?'


Cinema 4D, Poser, and Photoshop

Updated: 15 February 2014

© Mark Hirst, 2000 - 2018