Has Mary Met Her Match?
A new start. An old Adversary. An imminent threat.
Mary knows that she is different from others. Thanks to the internet, so does everyone else.
Caught between political crusaders and cult extremists, Mary faces the most gruelling challenge of her life.
Can she prevail against a stronger opponent in a battle of wills?
The future of western civilisation rests solely in her hands.
Grab a copy now and watch the sparks fly in the third book of The Aurora Conspiracies Series.
A new country and a new beginning...
Until Mary finds extreme preppers...
Who are intent on plunging the western world into darkness
And taking the power for themselves...
No matter how many people perish.
Can Mary escape persecution and save civilisation as we know it?
The connection between the siblings, a telepathic tether crossing the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean through western airwaves thick with greed and mistrust, was tenuous.
“It seems our grandfather kept his own special talents a secret from us all. He was an avid and prolific journal writer.”
“Hey, Mary. Listen to this entry. Pip writes: This vision had me quaking in my shoes all through the morning. The scenes played over and over in my mind. So many gruesome deaths, carnage; complete pandemonium. The dark skies lit up with an arcing pulsation, electric blue and deadly. The shock waves spread in concentric circles, decimating all circuits, communication and power lines. Substations exploded, collapsing nearby buildings. Hospitals plunged into chaos, without backup generators or torchlight. Streams of highway traffic coasted and collided into fatal accidents.
“And there was screaming. Loud, terrified screams of the afflicted. Burns so deep, the whites of the bone shone through the bloodied flesh. Children impaled by shards of steel and glass, lay lifeless in the streets. Looters stepped over bodies to claim bales of toilet rolls and porridge oats. There were shopping carts piled high with bottled water and dog food. I saw Times Square cast into darkness. The Eiffel Tower was a mass of lethal sparks and the London Eye crashed into the Thames.
“I cannot recall a moment within the premonition which could indicate a potential date for this catastrophic event, but from the technology I saw, it will be soon. More importantly, we must be prepared…”
Their transmission dipped; a moment of silence before the connection could be re-established. Mary groaned. Pain radiated throughout her lower torso. Excruciating spikes of intense distress numbed all other bodily sensations. She pressed the cotton wadding closer to her abdomen, flinching from the pressure. The medic jabbed her arm with a cannula needle and attached a bag of fluids to the end of a tube. Mary drew breath across her teeth. The rocking motion of the emergency vehicle mounting a ramp, reverberated in her belly. Perspiration formed on her top lip and forehead. The throbbing, incessant agony proved impossible to contain. Mary’s concentration dimmed; her grasp on the present diminishing with the blood loss.
“Mary? Did you hear that? What’s happening, are you okay?” Dan caught his sister’s distress, which in turn spawned panic in his neural pathways. Three and a half thousand miles away, Dan was powerless to lend assistance. “Mary, what’s happening? Tell me what is going on…”
“Now is not really a good time, Dan. I’ve been shot.”
The fasten seat belt sign illuminated above the door to the cockpit. “We are making our final descent into JFK now. If you would like to adjust your watches, the time is ten pm, eastern standard time. Forecasts are good, although there is potential for rain later tonight. Please allow cabin crew to dispose of any remaining items of food or drink. Have a pleasant stay.” The pilot’s echoing voice halted with a static click.
Mary sat upright in the leather chair and re-attached the lap belt. She ground a knuckle into her tear duct and yawned. The mesh fabric from the blond wig, itched her scalp. She leaned across to her travel companion and whispered into his ear. “You had better know a man this side of the Atlantic too, or we are in serious trouble.”
Alexi took a final sip of his champagne and smiled, before the obliging steward cleared away the debris from their first-class meal. He watched Mary pack the complementary travel mask and slipper socks into the airline goody bag, and shook his head. “You don’t need those. You will have everything you need.” His English had improved significantly since their first fateful meeting, but the Russian inflection was hard to shake.
Mary ignored him, coveting the mini toothbrush and paste, the wireless earbuds and bottle of facial spritz. Clutching the freebies tight, she felt her stomach drop inside as the small jet lunged into its descent. As the wheels skidded to the tarmac below them, Mary released the pressure from her ears, swallowing hard while holding her nose.
They taxied for what seemed like miles. The aircraft turning in sharp bends until they reached the terminal building. First-class accommodation emptied first. Mary stood up against her aisle seat, stretching up to the overhead compartments. She was at least a foot too short to reach. A kind man in a crumpled suit, suppressed a smile and opened the locker, retrieving the only feminine looking bag inside. She thanked him and a mild embarrassed flush warmed her cheeks.
With her goodies stowed inside her satchel, Mary dug out her passport and flipped it open to the photocard at the back. She looked at her younger self; the bleached student hair and wrinkle free features. Those were happier days. Days of youthful petulance and insignificant worries. A time when she could call her father for help, and her mother still nagged her to make her bed. An era when her grandfather would bring her doughnuts from Brighton Pier. A spiral of loss twisted her innards.
I still have Dan. She thought to herself. I am never alone while I have my brother. Another glance at her documents, before smoothing the wig against her neck. Remember my new name. I am Mary Sedgewell.
“Come, Mary.” Alexi chirped. “We go now.” He waved her towards the exit. Kneading her fingers into fists, Mary followed. They trudged through the hollow, clanking passageway from the aircraft door, and into the customs foyer. Mary held her breath, imagining a large party of uniformed and armed men awaiting their arrival.
There were none. Just the streams of passengers and staff, shuffling through to the document checking queues. Mary heaved a massive sigh, breathing in the stale aromas of old alcohol and breath mints. She indicated towards the shortest queue and began walking. Alexi grabbed her sleeve. “No. We go this way.” He said, steering her towards a cordon bearing the sign: VIP.
The lounge was plush. A glass internal wall looked out on to the thoroughfare which split between the green lane signposted nothing to declare and the red walkway for honest travellers. Lines of grim faced customs officers flanked the passageway, compelling each visitor to look up and make eye contact. Seasoned travellers shuffled at speed, eyes cast down to the wheeled cases of those before them.
Mary launched herself into a beige linen seat, content to wait for the two Saudi gentlemen to conclude their documents check with the only member of staff on duty. Alexi thumbed his phone. It made a whooshing noise, carrying a text into the airwaves. Within moments, a man of indeterminate age, scurried into the VIP lounge. He wrestled with his uniform, buttoning his jacket and fastening his ID badge to a lapel. His hair was ruffled and one eyelid drooped.
“Ah, sir. Madam. May I take your passports and visa cards.” He said, smirking at Alexi. Mary waved hers aloft. Alexi took it from her, adding his own plus the visas which Mary had filled out on the plane, and gave them to the customs clerk. “If you would like to help yourself to refreshments, I will arrange for your luggage to be sent along shortly.” The man winked at them, and then turned to his colleague to bestow a solemn nod in his direction, before disappearing the way he came.
Alexi sat by Mary’s side. “You look tired.” He said. “Can I get you anything?”
Mary shook her head. “It’s hardly surprising, given that it is three am in London right now.” Her mind raced back to all the events that had culminated in fleeing her homeland. The confrontation with the Secretary of State for Defence; his continued insistence that she was a threat to national security. Mary was wanted in Britain and all allied countries with extradition treaties. Her hopes lay in the recovery of the Prime Minister, and whether she would keep her promises. It was a fragile hope at best. One which assumed that an unrecorded, undocumented deal, made in haste with a dying woman, would retain validity when the crisis was over.
If you cannot take the word of a British Prime Minister, whose can you take? Mary recalled the exact words she had used. No mention of a promise, or a deal well struck, just the deflection of another question. This was the woman who had set loose the Defence Secretary and his band of military mad dogs. Together they had conspired and killed hundreds, maybe thousands when the count was finally done. They had been the cause of her grandfather’s brutal death. Mary’s optimism faded. There would be no return to her former life and home.
Mary gawped around and then straightened her wig. In the steamy lounge room, she ached to be rid of the clinging artificial hair, and get away from the uniformed officers. She pondered on her dilemma. What would it take for Alexi’s customs chum to turn traitor and hand her in to the authorities? The allure of promotion perhaps, or a hefty bonus on his pay slip at the end of the month? Had he seen her on worldwide news bulletins, with Dr Hugo Blom, standing on a stage addressing fifty-thousand disgruntled Christians?
Reams of memories choked rational thought processes. The mire of events exhausting the neurons in her hippocampus. When had she last slept? Her eyelids fell. Just a moment or two of rest. Nope… can’t sleep now. Can’t give in. Forcing her eyes open she pushed back at the giddiness and blinked away the blurring of her vision. Staring through the side windows into the customs passageway, she saw a man she knew well.
He strode passed the armed officers and customs officials and through the green channel. Despite her exhaustion, Mary dragged herself to her feet and walked closer to the window. Craning her neck, she watched him stand aside from the pedestrian flow to greet a woman in her mid- twenties. Mary could see her face on. Something about her wide smile, her freckled nose and the mechanical tilt of the head, prickled her senses. She seemed familiar. The man dug into his coat pocket and then held out a small plastic device in his palm. A memory stick perched beneath four stubby digits; the little finger conspicuous by its absence. Flynn. What’s that slimy bugger doing here? Was he on our flight? Has Yelena sent him to fetch me? Mary observed Flynn beaming at something on his smart phone, before nodding to the woman, and dissolving into the crowds once more.
A little spike of adrenalin, refuelled her common sense. This was no time for complacency. She helped herself to a bottle of spring water and sat back down next to Alexi, who was firing off texts at speed. Alexi’s friend returned with their documents and cases twenty minutes later. He led them through a secondary doorway, into the main concourse near the front entrance. A conspiratorial handshake later, and they were free to leave.
Mary stacked her satchel on the top of her case, and dragged it towards the taxi ranks.
Alexi called after her. “Where are you going? We have car waiting. Driver is here to take us.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I can make my own way now.” She yelled over her shoulder, not stopping to look back. Alexi stood still as his driver approached him. They watched Mary through the automatic doors as she dragged her luggage to the rear of the queue. It took a few moments for Mary to notice the police car, parked in the pick-up bays; another minute to spot the officers making their way through the crowds. One of them was talking on his radio, his eyes darted along the lines of tourists in the floodlit taxi queue.
Could be coincidence. No one knows that I am here. No one is looking for Mary Sedgewell. Nausea wafted in waves, heating her face. Stay calm. Mary Arora is under suspicion in the UK. They are not looking for me. As soon as the thoughts manifested, Mary lost her courage. She turned back towards the entrance, and returned to Alexi’s side. “A lift to Manhattan would be appreciated. Thank you.”
Alexi peered at her little frame. “You think it easy to find cheap hotel in middle of night?”
Her sagging shoulders and slow blink aged her. Mary shrugged.
“I have place you can stay. We go there first. It is a little further, but better.” He reached forward to take control of her suitcase. Mary looked perturbed. The memories of her incarceration still fresh and sensitive. Alexi softened his voice. “You don’t like it when we get there, you leave. I have driver take wherever you want, but at least come and rest.”
Still Mary resisted. Her mouth puckered around her gritted teeth, while she grappled with suitable expletives.
Alexi persevered. “If I lie, you can zap me.” He mimed an explosion to his head with his hands. “Boom. I dead.”
“Fine.” She conceded, “but I am warning you. Any funny business and I will fry you.”
Mary relinquished control of her wheeled case to the driver, but kept hold of her trusted satchel. Parked near to the empty police car was a large black four by four vehicle. Alexi took the front passenger seat, giving Mary space to stretch in the back.
There was not much to see from the freeways and overpasses on their way out of JFK Airport. Mary tried to keep a mental note of the signposts as they zoomed past, but the monotony of asphalt and the late hour weighted her eyelids. By the fifth junction on the spaghetti-like roads, Mary was asleep.
Alexi roused her to consciousness as they drove through a small town. The scant streetlights gave the place an antiquated feel. It was as though time had not touched it for a hundred years. Paint peeled from lacquered signs. There were no parking bays or white lines marked on the roads. Buildings were scattered as though town planning was an unnecessary and foreign concept. There were a few shops, a red brick town hall and a prominent, well-lit diner, but little else.
Mary sat up straight and squinted through the windows. “Is this where we are staying? I at least thought we’d be in the city. Is there a nice hotel?”
“This is the nearest town to where we are staying. We have not arrived at place yet.” Alexi smiled. Her reaction to the vast distances and luxury of space amused him. “A few more miles only.”
The main street petered out to nothing but straight tarmac, bordered either side by woodland. Trees, trees and more trees, as far as the eye could see. Their eerie fingers protruded over the roadside as they shed their summer foliage. The moon was high and fat, spreading its cold light between tall silhouettes across their path. Every now and then, their headlights would pick out a mailbox, posted at the end of a track leading into the dense forest.
“People actually live around here?” Mary said, suddenly alert and frightened. This was not what she had envisioned when they left the airport.
“Private place. Keep to themselves. Very good for us.” Alexi looked to the driver for confirmation. The thick set man nodded, and then returned his gaze to the road ahead.
“Where exactly, are you taking me?” Her tone forceful and accusatory. “I warned you Alexi…”
“Will you trust me, for once. We almost there. You like it, I promise.”
They rounded a long bend in the road. Ahead of them, the trees thinned and tall brick pillars either side of a set of steel gates, came into view. They pulled off the road. The driver reached to the dashboard for an electronic device and pressed a remote button. The gates juddered open on their hinges, and closed automatically as soon as the car drove through. The plaque on the gate read:
Summerfield Retreat – Private Property
“A retreat?” Mary enquired.
“Very nice. You will like. See it better in morning.”
Mary looked at the gates through the rear window. She felt pretty sure that she could scale them, if the need arose. The vehicle came to a halt outside a large building. Some of the lights were still on inside. A network of pavements snaked around the edge of the building towards several smaller ones either side.
“So, this is what? A spa resort?”
“No. Communal centre. Many uses. We not staying there. Come.” Alexi followed the driver to the car boot and lifted out their luggage. He thanked the man and dragged their cases along a path up an incline. “Come…”
Mary looked about her. Beneath the street lights, she could see that the entire place was deserted. It was difficult to estimate the size in the dark, but it looked to be a considerable acreage. With few options open to her, and exhaustion eroding her belligerence, she followed.
Each dragging footstep took her closer to a row of exclusive lodge houses, tucked away on the hillside. Alexi stopped at the foot of the steps leading up to the first house. “This one yours. I next door if you need anything.” Alexi pointed to the house a few hundred metres to the left.
“Seriously? The entire lodge… just for me?”
“It is not locked. Food in fridge, and many tea.” Alexi giggled, depositing her case before dragging his own towards his assigned lodge house. “Goodnight Mary.”
She stood dumbfounded, watching Alexi ascend the wooden steps in the distance. His case bumped against each tread, slowing his progress. Beneath the porch light he turned and waved, and then disappeared inside. She was all alone.