Paradigm (Part 4)

Chapter 17 – The Interlude 

As I would have expected by now, I got a knock on my hotel door later that night from Emily looking for an update on what had happened that day.  She was impressed by the level of detail I could give her and wanted to know if I thought they would try and attack Stanley Barracks by a different method. 

I told her it wouldn’t be my group anyway.  It was just too well protected; unless the other group were going to go for a full-frontal assault.  It soon became clear why it had been put on the list.  Emily explained; that it was a key weapons development site.  It was likely to contain chemical and biological weapons.  An attack could do untold damage to the local area and even release deadly pathogens. 

It was true that I had relayed to Martina what I had seen and she would pass it on to Kennelly.  I suddenly felt a sense of terror as Kennelly’s grand vision appeared to me.  The bombs were not the main event.  All those deaths would merely be a distraction to draw soldiers away from the barracks which would then come under attack.  It would surely even then still be a suicide mission but one explosion could do permanent damage to the British people. 

I told Emily that whatever happened they needed to be prepared for an attack.  Maybe put in more guns directed towards the road.  Everything seemed so serious now.  Thousands, maybe millions of lives were at risk.  Ireland itself would undoubtedly be affected by any fallout.   

Emily was happy that I was free the next day.  She wanted to bring me somewhere in the van telling me Martina wasn’t the only one who could drive it.  I told her to come in the morning at the time Martina was coming the other days.  With that she kissed me lightly on the lips and said she had to go.  I told her my uncle could sleep in the van but she just smiled in response before going out the door. 

Once more I was awoken the next morning by the bright light as Kevin opened the curtains.  That was the thing I had always found about disability and the daily routines it forces you into.  Parts of your day seem to be constantly on repeat.  But I knew this morning would be different as I wondered what plans Emily had for me. 

As I ate my breakfast in the hotel restaurant downstairs, I grew anxious about what would happen if Martina showed up that morning or even later in the day and wondered where I was gone.  Kevin immediately piped up with Chester Zoo.  That’s where we’ll say we went if we have to.  This put me more at ease.  At least we now had a fall-back position if things went badly.  Hopefully things wouldn’t come to that though. 

Emily was there waiting for me in the reception area when I finished eating.  She was dressed very formally in what looked like a very expensive suit and her hair was neatly tied back.  We must be going somewhere important.  She took the keys from Kevin and off we went. 

Once the wheelchair was strapped into the van, she told me we were going to the Northern Headquarters of M16.  It wouldn’t take long to get there.  This was indeed going to be an unusual day.  I jokingly wondered to myself if I would get to shoot any guns. 

We drove across the Mersey and into what seemed to be quite a run-down area before pulling up in a non-descript street.  Just as I was about to tell her we had stopped in a no parking area as it was in front of a private entrance, she got out of the van and told me she would be back in a minute.  It was hardly around here I thought to myself. 

A few moments later she was back and told me we were in.  Just as I wondered what she was talking about a scruffy old black man opened the entrance beside us by pulling up a large shutter.  Emily wasted no time driving through it and soon we driving down a dark tunnel illuminated by an occasional light which brought us deep underground before levelling off. 

After a few minutes the tunnel came to an end and there was just an ordinary looking white door in front of us.  Emily looked back and told me we had to go the rest of the way ourselves. I told her I better bring my coat with me as she de-clamped the wheelchair.  But somewhat surprisingly she told me there would be no need. 

Indeed, I was surprised when I went down the ramps at the back of the van by how warm it was.  With that we headed towards the door.  I got quite a shock when we went through it.  We went straight into an open plan office.  It was bustling with people talking, looking at screens and walking back and forth.  The only thing that seemed odd was the very high concrete ceiling.  Emily told me to follow her which I dutifully did.  We walked down one corridor and then another.  It changed from open to closed spaces.  Emily knocked on the door and motioned for me to go in.  She didn’t follow and closed the door behind me. 

There was a woman in her sixties sitting at a long table in front of me.  Instinctively I drove over. 

“So, your Alan.  Good to finally meet you.  You’ve been on my radar for quite some time; originally as an enemy but now as an ally.  I told Emily that I wanted to see you.  You’re quite the celebrity around here you know!” she said with what seemed like a wry smile. 

“Not sure I feel the same,” I replied defiantly, “it was one of your agents that bludgeoned to death what I considered a friend.” 

She smiled in response saying it was a dirty war in the North and nobody had clean hands.  She had summoned me for a reason.  My work to date had been invaluable.  But she wanted me to know that I was working for the Irish Government as well as the British one.  They were by well aware of what was happening.  I responded that I would always do my utmost to save innocent lives. 

Then she rose from her seat and opened the door telling me to report to the armoury section with Emily who was patiently waiting outside.  Once the door had closed behind me, I asked Emily who I had been speaking to.  It was the Chief of M16.  She then led me down another few corridors and down a long ramp which brought us down a floor to an average sized room with just the one door at the opposite side. 

A man dressed all in white, the sole occupant immediately approached and stated he had been waiting quite some time to meet me.  He reached out his hand into a perfect position that I could shake it.   This was very unusual.  He must have already done quite a lot of research on me.   

“My name is Zane.  It is quite a pleasure to meet you.  Command has instructed me that you are to be given offensive capability, apart from just charging at people in that wheelchair!  Now, let me be clear they don’t expect you to use this and it should only be used as a last resort,” he said giddily before exiting through the door. 

I looked at Emily befuddled, but she told me that he was just a bit eccentric and not to be concerned.  A few seconds later he returned holding what seemed like an identical controller for my wheelchair.  Then he held it upside down and pointed. 

“You see that there Alan,” pointing to a very small almost invisible opening in a very serious tone, “that shoots out a series of poisonous tipped darts when you press here.  Hold it down for three seconds.  Once somebody has been hit it will kill them almost instantaneously.  It will fire five times with half a second in between each shot.” 

Then he replaced my current controller with the new one.  For the first time in my life I now had the power to kill.  It felt like a heavy weight had been put on my shoulders and it was something I hoped that I would never have to do.  Emily perhaps sensing my unease gently put her hand on my shoulder and told me it was only to be used in an absolute emergency. 

After checking that the controller was at the appropriate height, he fixed it into position and assured me that nobody else would ever be able to tell the difference unless they knew what to look for.  There were no more toys for them to give and Emily told me she would bring me back to the hotel. 

With that I said my goodbyes and we headed back to the van.  As she was strapping the wheelchair in, we laughed about how I was a real secret agent now with a license to kill.  Then it was back to the hotel where Emily left me after telling me things were now all in place. 

The number of soldiers at the barracks had been substantially increased and two separate SWAT teams were primed to intercept the two IRA units when they made their move.  It might even be all over by tomorrow morning.  But if not, I was to carry on as usual. 

With that we said our goodbyes.  Part of me really hoped it would be all over before there was any further involvement from me but it just felt too good to be true.  For once I had a clean slate for the rest of the day and I pondered how it should be spent. 

Kevin wanted to go for a stroll for a few hours but I felt I had seen enough of Liverpool by now.  It wouldn’t be appropriate to go drinking for the day either.  There was still a high probability that I would need to be at my best the following day and a hangover was just not conducive to that aim.   So, Kevin would be let off for a few hours while I would have a lovely, pleasant afternoon watching boring television.  Yes, a few hours of dreary boredom, was exactly what I needed. 

It was fortunate that one thing I was still able to do well even with my disability was use the tv remote control.  Kevin, after giving me some personal care said his goodbyes and left the door ajar with a stopper in case I had to get out.   I quickly flicked through the channels, there was ten of them.  More than I had expected, perhaps there would be something entertaining to watch. 

An hour passed.  There really was nothing on and I was thinking I should have just went drinking.  But then I heard a woman calling out my name.  It took me a second to recognise her voice.  It was not Emily but Martina.  I wasn’t supposed to be seeing her today.  I immediately shouted for her to come in. 

I could immediately see that something was very wrong, she was distressed with tears rolling down her face.  At first, I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say and told her that she needed to sit at the side of the bed and calm down.  After a few moments she managed to collect herself and told me what had happened. 

Kennelly had grown suspicious that he was being followed over the last few days.  Eventually he spotted who it was and got a volunteer to catch him.  They then picked up to rest of the other unit and brought him to some outhouse where they managed to extract information from him.  Kennelly kept in contact with me through mobile phones the whole time.  We have a mole. 

My heart suddenly missed a beat and I placed my hand under my controller ready to turn on my offensive weapon but then the threat quickly passed.  The agent thankfully didn’t know anything about who the mole was. 

But something far worse, then happened from Martina’s perspective.  When she last heard from Kennelly, the noise of gunfire broke out.  For a few moments the line had seemed to go dead but then he got to speak to me one last time.  He said that we needed to act now, that we had progressed matters too far not to have at least one successful attack.  It should be carried out at the earliest possible opportunity before we get captured. 

Then in between sobs she told me the new plan.  It was not what I wanted to hear.  The rest of the unit were already downstairs.  We were carrying out the attack immediately.  I quickly tried to think of some way to dissuade her without making it obvious that I was in fact that the mole. 

“Do, it now?  Wouldn’t that be a bit of a waste?” I asked as if she had missed something obvious. 

“What do you mean?” She replied in a serious tone and now looking directly at me. 

It was the only thing I could think of so I just went with it. 

“Well by the time we get there and everything, it’s not going to be very crowded at this time.  If we’re only getting to do one attack, we might as well make the most of it.  No point just getting caught for something small scale that will barely make the news.  It needs to be something spectacular when it’s busy.” 

For a few moments she said nothing.  But then much to my relief she said I had a point.  She said we would do it the following morning instead.  But she still wanted me to go with her. 

“You’re still going to have to come with us.  Let’s go, the pigs could be here at any stage.  I’ll write a quick note for your uncle that you’ll be back tomorrow and put your hoist in the van for when you need it later,” she said with exasperation. 

I knew I had to go.  They wouldn’t trust me not to rat them out if the police came looking for me.  So out I went, trying to think of something to do all the way down.  My mind though was telling me to be patient and bide my time.   

On the way down Martina said we would be picking up the rest of the unit and probably all sleeping in the van for the night if we could find somewhere secluded.  This was not a prospect that appealed to me but there was little I could do. 

She was now showing leadership and determination beyond what I would have previously expected.  This worried me.  I had hoped that without Kennelly the plot would dissipate but seemingly not.  The jolt had pushed her on. 

She strapped in the wheelchair, fortunately not noticing the adjustment and then the hoist.  Then off we went.  It was raining heavily and it seemed somewhat fitting, given the sombre mood in the van. 

Martina was now driving down some back streets I hadn’t seen previously.  Everywhere I looked there was a stench of poverty with boarded up houses and rubbish strewn across the streets.  It was a different face of the city. 

Then Martina pulled up at the side of one of the streets and said we had to wait a few minutes.  I asked her if she was okay, testing if maybe her resolve had somewhat wilted.  But she snapped back that she was just fine and to not mistake her femininity for weakness.  Alas not, I thought to myself. 

A few moments later there was a knock on the van door and Martina opened the side door to let them in.  They gave me a quick hello by name which surprised me as I had only met them the once.  But there was just the two of them.  The rest had deserted when they heard what happened.  Martina took a backpack off one of them and gently laid it down in front of me, joking that I better not crash into it.  There was clearly a bomb inside it.  This was not going to help me rest soundly. 

Then Martina got back into the driver’s seat and the two guys sat into seats beside me at the back.  There was then a quick discussion over where to go next.  The man who was sitting beside me said that he had relatives in the area and that would be a good place to go for the night.  Then he looked at me though and said there was no chance I could get in, there was a dozen steps up to the top of the house. 

Stoically I told him there was nothing I wouldn’t do for the movement and that I would sleep in the wheelchair in the van.  Probably best not to mention it to his relatives though, they might just realise the panic we are in.  It felt like a good time to reassert my credentials as a loyal republican.  He clapped my back and said we’d already have a united Ireland if there were more like me. 

The relatives were not Republican sympathizers though so they had to come up with an explanation of why they needed to stay there.  The best they could come up is that they were all friends who had booked into accommodation on the wrong date.  It was believable.  

With that, we began our next journey.  After a few minutes we had left the ghettos of Liverpool and were on one of the main roads out of the city.  By now I had learned that the name of the person whose relative’s house we were going to see was Garry and the other guy’s name was Eamonn. 

Garry, an overweight working-class man from Belfast was a former active member of the South Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA.  Disillusioned with the peace process he joined the dissidents. Although around the same age, Eamonn tall, completely bald had never been a member of the Provisionals.  He just had a serious grudge against the British state despite his affluent background. 

The journey turned out to be quite a lot longer than I thought.  Every time, I thought we were getting close Garry just gave us another road to turn onto.   When he first mentioned relatives relatively close by, I presumed he had meant in the vicinity of Liverpool but once we passed Manchester, I realized he had a different interpretation. 

The roads gradually became narrower and it started to remind me of home with the green hedges and all the bends.  It was getting dark now though and I could only imagine the green undulating fields in the distance.  If only I was back in Ireland now rather than this foreign land.  I reckoned my uncle Kevin must be in a right panic at this stage. 

Then just as I felt like I might drift off to sleep Garry told us we had reached our destination.  It was definitely inaccessible as the house was up a steep rise at the side of the road. 

With that they headed in but Martina said she would back in a few minutes.  She knew I would need assistance before she could leave me for the night.  I just hoped that it wouldn’t be too long.  Then I found myself alone in the dark at an unknown location. 

Chapter 18 – The Long Night 

So much for Martina coming back in a few minutes, she seemed to take an age.  It left me with far too long to contemplate my current position.  I kept on thinking about the various outcomes for the next day but none ended well.  Somehow, I always ended up dead. 

Just as I felt myself giving up and falling into a deep melancholy, the bang of the door opening brought me back to reality.  It was Martina.  She apologized for taking so long but she said it was difficult to get back out.  The relations were very talkative and it was difficult to get away from them. 

I was by now in dire need of assistance so I didn’t quibble.  She said that there was a restaurant in the nearest village with hopefully a wheelchair toilet.  I just hoped it wasn’t too far away.  By now my bladder was under serious pressure.  Fortunately, Martina seemed to sense the urgency of the situation and drove quickly through what was now the night. 

The nearest town ended up being just ten minutes away.  I quietly thanked God under my breath even though I wasn’t that religious.  We pulled up beside a hotel and she darted in to see what it was like from an accessibility perspective. 

She was gone for less than a minute but in that time, I realized that I had to use this opportunity to find out more about what the plan was for the next day.  Just act normal I thought to myself, they still have no reason to suspect me. 

Martina returned; the place was perfect.  She immediately set about taking out the hoist and putting down the ramps so I could reverse out.  Then pushing the hoist with sling wrapped over it she told me to follow her.  I diligently complied. 

She had indeed found a perfect spot.   It was in a corner with few passers-by.  I told her how to put on the sling, then the hoist brought me up into the air and then she drove me into the toilet. 

It was a sweet pleasure to finally have relief.  I knew I would have to drink little over the night as I felt it could be a long time before the opportunity arose again.  After just a minute or two I was once again back sitting in my wheelchair and on the way back out to the van.  I decided to just go for the jugular. 

“So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked inquisitively. 

I didn’t receive a response until we reached the van and even then, it wasn’t exactly a plan, more a statement of intent.  She was adamant that Britain must pay for what it had done in Ireland and she would make it happen. 

Then she let slip that this was more personal for her than I had previously realized.  She asked me if I remembered her saying about her family being chased out of Belfast.  I said that I did, listening intently unsure what was coming next. 

You could now hear the sadness but also growing anger in her voice as she added more details about what had happened.  Her mother had never recovered from what had happened and last year, after suffering countless episodes of depression committed suicide. 

“It wasn’t enough that we were exiled from our homes, some of those loyalists also decided she needed to be raped too.  She never recovered and now someone is going to pay!” She said decisively. 

It was now clear that there was no chance of talking her out of an attack so instead I made her promise that I could be by her side when it happened.  Hopefully I would sort out a plan of action in the meantime. 

We were both quiet on the drive back.  Things had now been firmly set in motion come what may.  The drive back seemed to take longer but maybe it was just my sense of hopelessness that made it feel that way.  All I could think about was the long night ahead in the van.  I made sure she turned on the heat so it would be warm when she left me. 

Just as I was about to ask her about tomorrow again, we reached our destination and she pulled up the van in front of the house.  Then she quickly looked back at me and decided to throw my coat over me and put my headrest on.  We said our goodbyes for the night and then she was gone. 

The van was now completely dark and I decided to try to sleep.  Falling asleep in my wheelchair was not something I was accustomed too.  It was just so uncomfortable compared to a nice, soft bed.  I found myself wishing that I was back in my bed in Mullingar, perhaps listening to music playing in the background.     If only I was. 

At some point I must have managed to drift off for a while as I once more startled by the van door opening.  I was groggy too and it took some time to come to my senses.  It wasn’t Martina this time but Garry.  He had decided to leave his bed and come out to have a smoke.  On the way he decided he might as well check how I was and if I wanted one too.   

I lied and said I was fine, declining the smoke too.  But in truth the hours and hours of sitting in the wheelchair were making me very stiff and one of my knees was already paining me quite severely.  But there was little that could be done so I didn’t mention it. 

Instead I asked him did he have any update on what we were doing the next day.  He winced and said that was what was stopping him from getting any sleep.  It was all more or less planned now.   

Martina was adamant that she would be carrying out the suicide mission.  She would bomb a local supermarket.  The rest of us were to take strategic positions and fire on survivors and first responders.  I hadn’t realised we had guns but he showed me one carefully concealed under his jacket.  Things just seemed to be getting worse and worse. 

The supermarket that was to be target was about a ten minutes’ drive, from where we were.  Likely, in the same town I had been earlier, I thought to myself.  I asked Garry what he honestly thought about the plan but he mumbled we had little option.  There was no chink in his armour and I was truly surrounded by fanatics. 

All too quickly he was stamping out his cigarette and bidding me farewell for the night.  As he slammed the door closed, I once again found myself alone in the darkness except for the odd passing car. 

But no matter how hard I tried to sleep I couldn’t.  There was just too much on my mind and now every inch of me felt stiff.   So, I just gave up on sleeping and tried to think of what to do the next day.  I needed a plan but there were too many moving parts.  After what seemed an age I decided that I would just have to react on the spot to things as they happened. 

Then my thoughts drifted to college and my parents.  It would be such a shame for them not to see my graduation.  They would surely feel nothing but contempt if they thought I died as some sort of fanatical republican. 

My eyes were so tired now.  I tried to close them but the pain kept me awake.  Only a few more hours I thought to myself now both looking forward to and dreading the next day.  Thinking that I needed to keep my spirits up I started to think of all the happy times in my life.  My seventh birthday and getting Optimus Prime and the joy on my sister Karen’s face on her first day of secondary school. 

I had found my sustenance and hours slowly passed but passed nevertheless.   Then I realized that it was starting to get brighter.  It would not be much longer now.  My feet felt swollen as if they were ready to burst out of my shoes and every time, I made even a slight move, one or both of my knees would pain me immensely. 

It got brighter still and I knew it was morning.  After a rush of excitement though I realized I probably had another two or three hours to wait.  They would wait for the target to get a bit busier before launching an attack. 

Garry did come out to see me while he was having his morning smoke though.  This time I told him to give me one, necessitating him holding it up to my mouth and leaving the side door of the van open.  Anything to take my mind off how stiff I was feeling but not wanting to appear weak I said I wanted one as it might be my last. 

It was a subdued atmosphere between the two of us.  I reckoned I wasn’t the only one who wished they were somewhere else.  Nevertheless, there was no turning back now.  Or maybe he was still a bit groggy after just getting up. 

Once my smoke was finished, he started asking me some practical questions for the mission ahead.  In particular he wanted to know if I could fire a pistol.  I knew I couldn’t.  My hand would be just too weak.  But I had to make sure that I remained central to everything that was about to happen.  So, I lied and said that I thought I could, but even if I was unable to by holding a gun, I could draw fire away from them. 

He nodded in agreement telling me he was honoured to be part of the same unit as me.  I replied the feeling was mutual.  Then he went back inside.  Back to the excruciating wait. 

Time passed and cars were driving past more frequently now.  But then the near silence was smashed as the three of them quickly entered the van from different sides.  At last something was happening I thought to myself. 

Martina quickly glanced back and asked how I was.  I replied that I was fine but she told me I looked terrible.  Garry who was in the back with me brushed my hair with his hand and drew laughter when he said I now looked fine. 

Even I laughed and my mood briefly lightened.  They started to talk about how good their hosts were and what a good night they had.  But the mood turned more sombre once Martina turned on the van.  She shouted back to me asking if I’d been kept abreast of what was planned, I replied in the affirmative. 

There was no more talk.  On any other day I’d be concerned about getting something to eat but not today.  Strangely although very tired, for the first time I found myself at peace with my situation.  I could only try my best and what would be, would be. 

Chapter 19 – The Attack 

The drive was quite different during the daylight.  There were lovely tall green hedges permeated by the odd majestic oak tree.  There were no houses along the road unlike home, which would have been littered by one off housing. 

Too soon, we were reaching the edges of the town and the time for some sort of action was approaching.  It was a quaint, scenic place, more of a village than a town.  Not the kind of place that would have been expecting a terrorist attack.  It made me feel sick inside especially when we passed the hotel I had been at the previous night where the receptionist had been so helpful. 

A few minutes later we had reached our target.  It was a large shopping complex of at least three floors and from the number of car spaces already taken, it was clear that it was pretty full of shoppers going about their business.  People must travel from miles away to get here as the village would be too small to sustain it. 

A debate quickly started about where to park.  Martina wanted to drive right up to the front and park in one of the wheelchair spaces but the two men convinced her it would be better to park near the back where there would be fewer prying eyes and there were still plenty of spaces left. 

She quickly found a spot near the back and parked the van up.  I immediately asked her to let me out first before putting on the backpack.  She obliged as the other two were still unfamiliar with what to do.   

I waited outside as they got her prepared.  I thought about trying to fire my weapon as they exited the vehicle but they did so from both sides of the van and I wouldn’t be able to get them all.  To make matters worse Garry asked me to go in front of them.  My heart sank but I knew that I needed to keep my focus, putting the pain I was enduring and a now full again bladder to the back of my mind. 

With that I made my way towards the entrance, all the time listening to their footsteps and chatter behind me.  As we were about to reach the entrance, I made to turn around but Martina shouted at me anxiously to keep going. 

A few seconds later I was in the shopping centre after passing through an automatic door.  Even then my mind briefly turned back to Mullingar and how it would be nice if there were such doors there.  But then my thoughts turned back to the precarious situation I found myself in.   

I was somewhat relieved that it was not as packed as I had feared.  There was a scattering of people in the distance only.  There were groans behind me too when they realised.  We found ourselves in quite a long corridor which had small retail units on each side.  The sight of a Warhammer shop made me quietly laugh to myself as I thought the gamers in college would love this place. 

Martina who seemed to be taking decisive control at this stage told me to keep going.  We reached the end where the corridor opened up into a large central circular area.  You could look up and see the floors above.  Each floor seemed to be compartmentalised.  A discussion started to take place about what should happen next. 

I turned around and said that we should call the mission off hoping they would agree.  But Martina with fanatical eyes said now was the time to strike.  She pointed up to one of the floors above. 

Damn, it was the floor with the restaurants and takeaways.  Still trying to win the discussion, I say sure that won’t be busy for another hour or so.  But she was prepared to go up and wait.  Garry hesitantly said it was her life and she should make the final call. 

She didn’t even flinch or equivocate, telling us to head back outside and take up positions outside to attack first responders.  There was nothing left to talk about and she walked over to the escalator to go up a floor. 

The lads waved at me to follow them back from where we came.  I was growing very tense now and knew I just had to do something, anything.  Then as we reached the exit, I realized that I had an ideal opportunity.  The two guys were right in front of me and there would be no shoppers in the firing line. 

I stopped the wheelchair and reached under the controller to activate the weapon.  They never saw it coming, even stopping themselves to ask me if there as something wrong.  It was perfect. 

The darts began to fire and I drove the wheelchair towards them veering to the left and right, making sure I got both of them.  They fell to the ground immediately.  There was no time to contemplate the fact that I had just taken their lives.  I turned the wheelchair round and hoped that I could avert catastrophe, every second might count. 

An elderly shopper had been behind me, unbeknownst to me.  There was terror in her eyes as she scuttled to get away from me.  There was no time for explanations.  I just hoped I wasn’t the ghoul she thought I was. 

A minute later I was back to where I had last seen Martina.  I looked up and counted that her target was two floors up.  I needed to get up there, fast.  I could already hear a commotion and shouts for someone to call an ambulance. 

I saw a petite Asian woman approaching and I hurriedly asked if she would press the buttons on the lift as my friend was upstairs.  Surprisingly she responded in an American accent and we walked over to the lift which was close by. 

She asked where I was from and I responded Ireland and that I was there on holidays.  I quickly cut off the conversation by pointing out the correct button to press.  Then once inside she quickly pressed the button for the second-floor before getting out after I drove in and saying a quick goodbye. 

It was a relief to be in what was quite a large lift but now I had to quickly decide what I was going to do when I reached Martina.  I had used all my darts so my only real option was to somehow convince her to put down the back pack and leave it for the authorities.  It was a plan and all I had. 

The lift door opened and I quickly drove out, turning to my left to see if there was any sign of her.  The place was larger than I thought with table after table set out as far as I could see.  I anxiously started driving past each one but there was no sign of her. 

An alarm then suddenly went off telling people to leave the complex immediately.  No doubt it was because of what I had done.  I turned around and surveyed my surroundings, trying to take in everything I could see.  Most people were making their way out but there were also stragglers ignoring the warning. 

Then I spotted her sitting on a bench in the distance.  Summoning up all my courage, I drove towards her.  It didn’t take her long to spot me though and she immediately stood up, confused at first. 

This was no time to beat about the bush and I got straight to the point.   

I shouted, “It’s over Martina, take the backpack off.  There is no need for anyone to die.  It’s over.” 

The remaining stragglers now hurriedly made their way out sensing the seriousness of the situation. 

When she realized what I was doing her face turned to one of disgust.  This was never going to be easy. 

“What have you done?  Don’t tell me you’re a British agent?” She shouted angrily. 

I replied, in earnest that I was on the side of justice and truth.  That she had been brainwashed into throwing her life away but she still had an opportunity to come out on the right side of things.  But she was having none of it and went into a monologue ignoring anything I tried to interject. 

“That’s what I hate about you free state bastards.  You’ve never had to endure the occupation or know what it is like to live as an alien in your own bloody country!   I told what they did to my mother, the Brits and their ilk destroyed my family. 

I expected so much more from you.  I thought we were kindred spirits but now I see you are nothing but a vacuous, spineless traitor.  Well at least someone will get what they deserve.” 

She took off her rucksack and dropped it to the floor.  A second later she was unzipping it.  Instinctively I knew all hope was lost and put the wheelchair into full speed reverse.  But I didn’t get too far. 

There was a bright light and then I felt myself being thrown from the wheelchair.  There was no sense of terror just a feeling of finality.  As I felt my head crash against the ground, there was nothing to worry about anymore. 

Chapter 20 – A New Beginning 

Consciousness is the strangest of things.  I was pretty sure I was but couldn’t be sure.  Maybe they were the last thoughts of a dying brain or perhaps I was in some sort of recovery.  There was nothing to do but wait and see. 

Then I started to hear sounds; the odd beep and muffled voices.  But it was only occasionally and any significance was lost on me as I stayed in my motionless cocoon.  But I was starting to remember that I was still young and had something to live for. 

Gradually I could feel that I was a bit stronger and tried to open to one of my eyelids.  But it wouldn’t budge.  Sometime later, I tried again.  This time was more successful and I could see light but my eye was stuck together.  I grew tired and fell back asleep. 

An interminable amount of time passed but then I could hear my name being said in a familiar voice.  It was my Mum.  I tried to open my eyes and there she was in front of me.  She briefly looked away from me and I once more closed my eyes from exhaustion.  I wondered where I was. 

Time passed once again and the next time I opened my eyes she was gone.  It was quite dark and I realized it must be night time.  There were tubes in all my orifices.  I tilted my head to the left and saw that I was hooked up to a heart monitor.   One of my eyes was partially covered with a patch. 

This time I was able to stay awake for longer and surveyed the room.  There was a curtain to my left and I surmised that there was probably another patient on the other side.   I tried to move my toes which fortunately, I was able to do. 

After a few minutes a nurse hurriedly passed by my bed, I tried to speak but nothing came out.   But that was hardly surprising given the tube in my throat.  There was little more to do than sleep.  Hopefully someone would notice that I was awake next time. 

I need not have worried.  The next time I woke it was bright and I was looking into the eyes of a quite attractive nurse.  She immediately smiled excitedly and motioned for someone to come over.  It was my mother who seemed overjoyed to see me awake. 

She tried to ask me questions but her voice was muffled.  The nurse said something to reassure her and then I gathered it was important for me to rest and not to worry.  This time I stayed awake for about an hour and learned that I was quite the centre of attention with lots of people in white suits coming and going. 

Over the next few days, I continued to improve.  My hearing returned and I learned that I was lucky to be alive.  Any closer to the blast would have proved fatal.  Also, I was being seen as some sort of hero.  The narrative was that I had been in the shopping centre and had tried to stop some deluded woman blowing herself up. 

There were questions but I deftly decided that my memory of the whole day was shady and just hoped for the best.  Eventually it came time to leave intensive care and go to a day ward where the other patients clapped to my arrival. 

But as the days passed, the nightmares and paranoia grew.  Every time I heard steps coming towards the bed I wondered if they would be my last.  I expected that the dissidents would want revenge and how would I stop them?   

Then at night Martina would taunt me calling me a coward and a traitor before exploding.  At times it all felt too real as if I could feel the burning from hell itself. 

After a few days I told my parents that they should no longer visit me, that it was just too dangerous.  But they told me not to worry, that I was no longer in danger.  Too ease my concerns my father read me an article from an Irish paper.  He explained that there had been a huge backlash in Ireland over what had happened.  All the political parties, even Republican Sinn Fein has condemned their actions. 

It was titled “Dissidents distance themselves from rogue unit” – 

The Army Council of Oghlaidh na hEireann wishes to make clear that the recent military actions that occurred in Liverpool against Crown forces and subjects of the Crown were not authorized or permitted by Central Command. 

The leadership of the Irish Republican Army disavows their actions and confirms it would not target innocent civilians.  To this end we recognise the heroism that avoided tragedy. 

It is important to remember that it is Britain, not the IRA, which has chosen provocation and conflict. 

The IRA’s mandate for armed struggle derives from Britain’s denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty – so long as Britain persists in its denial of national and democratic rights in Ireland the IRA will have to continue to assert those rights. 

The necessity of armed struggle in pursuit of Irish freedom can be avoided through the removal of the British military presence in our country, the dismantling of their armed militias and the declaration of an internationally observed timescale that details the dismantling of British political interference in our country.  ENDS 

It was a shock but finally a good one.  Perhaps I would manage to survive after all.  The nightmares from then on began to fade.  Now pity replaced fear.  Martina had sacrificed her life for nothing.  She had proven to be a fanatic but I wondered if things could not have turned out better.  There was something curious about the whole thing. 

The days passed and I continued to improve.  One by one I had the remaining needles removed from my body.  My body was still swollen in places including over my left eye but I could finally look forward to leaving the hospital at some point. 

My stay in hospital was now mostly just a bore more than anything else.  There were requests from journalists for interviews but they were declined as I maintained that I wished to remain anonymous and that my memory of everything was very hazy.  The old Bill did have some questions and it was obvious that the secret services had told them nothing. 

It was a joyous day when I was hoisted into a brand-new wheelchair.  The local community had kindly raised the money as a thank you for what I had done when they heard my former wheelchair had been damaged beyond repair in the blast. 

Finally, I could move independently again.  At first, I just drove up and down the corridor and looked at the different wards.  It quickly graduated to going outside the hospital.  Fortunately, my image had not been released so I was just like any other patient.  Just the way I liked it. 

But I started to get an eerie feeling that I was being watched.  It was just a feeling, something that I couldn’t put my finger on but it grew stronger and I went back to my bed; a psychologically needed safe space. 

A week later and I was finally able to start the long journey home.  The patents in the surrounding beds and nurses all said their goodbyes and some said they hoped that I would return to that part of England someday. 

It was with a sense of relief and joy that I reached Ireland.  Never before had I been so relieved to see signs in the Irish language and speed limits set in kilometres per hour.  Now it was time to fully recover and concentrate on getting through my second year of college.  I had already missed so much. 

Chapter 21 – Summer at Last 

Finally, the summer had arrived and there were only a few exams left to sit.  It was by far my favourite time of the year.  Maybe I should have been stressed about exams but there was nothing like a warm summer’s day on campus. 

I could spend hours just driving around campus looking at some of the beautiful scantily clad female students.  Or just drive down by the artificial lake to take in some sun.  Alright, it’s more like a large pond.  It wasn’t just me though the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to get a massive lift. 

In fairness though, I was taking my studies seriously.  Even more so than the year previous but that seemed to happen with most students.  As if you go through the final stages of maturity while you are there.  

After missing six weeks from the blast it took me some time to settle back into things.  The students and lecturers though gave me great encouragement and accolades on my return.  It was strange when random people stopped me as I drove through the corridors telling me I was a hero.  My face never appeared on television or posters but they knew all the same. 

In truth, the attention made me uncomfortable.  At times I felt like a fraud especially given my dark secret and it had the unusual effect of increasing the time I spent studying.  Wanting to be alone I could escape in the world of my course.  I managed to catch back up with my classmates and then surpass them.  Passing my exams would not be a problem. 

But the old me, gradually returned.  I even felt a sense of relief from those around me that I was returning to normal, whatever that is.  Except it wasn’t the old me.  The rage and hurt were gone and I felt happier.  Having come so close to death; I finally felt at peace. 

Recently, I had got back into going to the Student Bar most nights at least for a while.  Of course, I had been somewhat concerned by what my more Republican minded friends might make of the whole thing.  But I diligently kept to my story no matter how many vodkas they ploughed into me that it was mere coincidence that I was there at all.  I think they believed me and even I was impressed with my discipline given the circumstances. 

Then as it was coming to the closing time one night there she was, Emily.  She was impressed that I had seen through her disguise so quickly, a red wig combined with thick black glasses and a long black jacket. 

She said that it was good to see me and I responded likewise, although in truth I would have been content never to see her again.  I asked her if she wanted a drink but she declined telling me she would walk me home.  It was a business meeting so I thought to myself before hurriedly finishing my drink.  Then like old times she threw my coat over me and readied me to go into the brisk night. 

Of course, the walk home would have been far too short to discuss anything so instead of going back to my flat I headed towards the other end of campus.   She didn’t object. There was a tacit understanding between us. 

At first, she said little but once the bar was in the distance she began to open up.  How she was so happy to see that I was doing well and had wanted to visit me.  But to me, it all seemed so predictable.  She sensed that she was not getting the expected response and asked me if everything was okay. 

Vodka always made me more upfront, especially after a few.  So, I stopped driving my wheelchair and turned to face her.  You see I had been waiting for this to happen.  For months, things had been niggling away at me.  Certain things just didn’t add up.  The only real question was whether she was just another pawn. 

“All that really happened was that things nearly got out of control,” I said sharply. 

But she seemed flummoxed with not a word to say.  So, I told her my understanding of what had happened – 

I and my uncle were nothing more than a minor piece in a grand game.  Easily controlled through our previous misfeasance we were to be one tool among many to achieve British interests. 

An IRA attack via suicide bombers would have helped not destroyed the peace process as people turned their backs on those with such fundamentalist beliefs.  Kennelly was far from being a British agent but he was like a wound the British State let fester thinking he would become useful at some point. 

But when you relayed that he was going to attack the military base and there was a real threat to the State, the British secret services were forced to act.  That is what happened; Kennelly and his crew were quickly dispatched.  I was given offensive capability as part of this. 

But a rut of members, were left.  There was still an opportunity for the original plan to work.  So, no alert went out to the public.  You just sat back and waited.  But you hadn’t counted on me! 

Now I wonder whether your affections were genuine or contrived.  They definitely seemed genuine but I haven’t been in the spy game long. 

For a few seconds, she said nothing but then took a step towards me. 

There is really no point killing me now.  I am looked upon as a hero.  The ugly truth wouldn’t do me any favours either.  But you should know in case you remain unconvinced that I decided to write a will.  My parents thought the idea preposterous as I don’t have any assets but I digress.  I went to a proper solicitor and everything.  Of course, I won’t be telling you which one. 

With my will there is a letter, which details what really happened.  Look at it as mutually guaranteed destruction.  It’s served the US and Russia well for over fifty years, why not us. 

She took another step forward and kissed me on the lips. 

“Seems like you have it all figured out.  But the love was genuine.  You really are a special guy.  This will probably be the last time you’ll ever see me but someday your services may be required again.  Goodbye.”  

With that she turned and walked into the darkness.  Part of me wanted to call out and say that I loved her.  That it was the most thrilling time of my life but I kept my counsel.  Another part of me wanted this chapter of my life closed and yearned for normalcy. 

So, I turned my wheelchair and began the short journey home.  One more year and I would have my degree.  Maybe then a job and I could get that nice, boring life I always wanted.