The Six Million Meg Man

Copyright © Mark Langenhoven

Brett Cobra stepped out of the cab and carefully looked around him. The quick look covered not only the visual spectrum available to mere mortals like you and me, but also infrared, ultraviolet and ultrasound scans. Brett could have gone with a telescopic scan of all the surrounding windows but he always thought that overdid the paranoia thing a bit. Anyway fast telescopic scans combined with ultrasound motion-detection always made him feel a bit queasy.

With quick economical movements Cobra walked over to the house nearest to him. At the door he stopped and took a last long look around behind him. "They always nail you when you are concentrating on the door - Rule 33 in Cobra's survival book." With his back to the door he placed a knuckle of his left hand against the door lock. The auto lockpick mechanism in the knuckle was activated with a fleeting thought allowing him to continue his constant vigilance for possible attackers. The auto lockpick finished its work, retracted into his knuckle again and flashed a message onto his HUD (head up display) informing Cobra that the lock had been picked.

With a quick flick of his wrist Cobra opened the door behind him and did a backward roll into the room, scanning it for possible assailants in one quick sweep of his head. He flipped his body up from the floor and closed the door quietly behind him.

Moving noiselessly down the short passage he opened a door on his left which led to the kitchen. This seemed to give Cobra some satisfaction as a small smile appeared on his face. Stepping boldly into the kitchen he turned and said "Come out you little rat. Surrender and I will go easy on you."

"Always give them a way out because everybody fights when they are cornered - Rule 16 in Cobra's survival book."

A merciless grin flickered over Cobra's rugged face. "Fine, we can play it your way if you want."
Scooping up a bucket standing behind the door, Cobra lunged forward, opened up the vegetable rack and slammed the bucket over some potatoes. Opening a drawer he found a piece of cardboard which he slid in under the bucket and carried the bucket, with its scurrying contents, outside with the cardboard stuck to the bottom of it.

Returning a couple of minutes later he looked around the kitchen and called out "OK, honey you can come down now, I got rid of the rat."

Running into the kitchen, his wife wrapped her arms around him and kissed him all over his face. "Thank you darling. You know that I cannot stand those things. I really appreciate you rushing over from your work so quickly to get rid of it."

"No problem honey, things were a bit quiet in the office anyway."

"Does that mean that you can stay and have some tea and cake with me before you go back?"
Glancing at his ten buck watch (in actual fact a three thousand buck state-of-the-art chronometer with various hidden extras disguised to look like a ten buck watch) Cobra hesitated before replying.
"Sure, why not."

He used the cellular phone built into his shoulder to signal head office that he would be at this location for a further thirty minutes. Sitting down in his favourite chair he noticed that Maggie had collected post earlier that morning. Slitting open the first envelope and looking at the contents Cobra thought to himself. "Wonderful, here I sit with the world's most advanced computer built into me along with about twelve million buck's worth of optional extras. Possibly the world's most dangerous man, capable of overthrowing governments (did it), stopping nuclear missiles singlehandedly (did it), breaking into any computer system in the world (did it), getting Cindy Crawford to swoon over him (recurring dream), and he still had to get a bill for a mortgage that he struggled to pay."

Thinking about what he would like to do to his bank manager Cobra looked up and got a dangerous gleam in his eye. The gleam was in fact caused by the reflection from the window in front of him, but did not detract from his thoughts in any way.

After finishing his tea and carrot cake, Cobra left for the office with another kiss from Maggie.

"I've got a rat in my kitchen! What am I gonna do?"

"Very funny Parker. Just because you are forty today doesn't mean that you can get away with anything."
Cobra gave Parker another warning look before stepping into his own office. Parker was Cobra's fellow analyst at Gleamo International Zoological Marketing Organizers. Of course Cobra did not really work for GIZMO, but his real boss had decided that every secret agent should have a cover job. Which was all fine and well if things worked out like the movies, but these dingbats at GIZMO actually expected him to do work here. The only bonus was that he could travel all over the world for them visiting zoos, and nature reserves whilst he was doing his real work.

At the moment he was pretending to work on a report for a small zoo in Zurich giving them advice on the mating habits of nocturnus areolos, a small bat found mainly in Serbo-Croatia. He could have given them the answer on the spot when he had visited the zoo last month as his internal PX6000 had all the information cross-referenced in it, but he found that people tended to believe him more when he dallied around for a few weeks before telling them anything.

In reality he was waiting for his next assignment from head office. He would get a call on his built-in cellphone which would download all the information into his PX6000. The PX6000 was directly connected to his brain enabling him to read information off the hard disk as if recalling a memory. In the meantime he had to slog it out here with cretins like Parker to irritate him non-stop.

Cobra ran over his dairy for the next two weeks in his head and noted that the only major item was his check-up at the head office next week. Every so often they would call him in to give him a physical and to check all the hardware built into him. If something new came up that they thought he would find useful then it was installed into him at the same time. He made a mental note to tell them about the rocket boosters built into his heels. The last time he had used them, escaping from Brozny's island, they were not perfectly calibrated resulting in a see-sawing motion during the entire flight. It had left him feeling seasick for two days afterwards.

Returning home that evening Cobra watched TV, while he allowed the PX6000 to access the computer at head office to keep him updated with the latest information. He did not know what the organization's real name was as it was always only referred to as "head office". He had been recruited by somebody after he had shown some skill with computers and a penchant for living on the edge (they discovered that he preferred to hack into the TV station's computer and change his records rather than paying his license fees).

After that he had not come into physical contact with anybody from head office other than the people who did his checkups. Once he had tried to con some information out of them, but they knew even less than he did. So now he simply took his assignments as they came in and handed his reports in with the aid of the PCMFBI modem card installed inside him.

The next morning while finishing his breakfast he decided that today seemed like a good day to hand in his Zurich bat report. Grabbing his lunch on his way out he resisted the urge to perform a spectrometer analysis and rather wait till lunchtime to discover what Maggie had put on his sandwiches.

Getting to the office he fooled around with the computer on his desk for a while - a really ancient piece of junk, but he needed something to keep up the pretense. After teatime he strolled to his superior's office and dropped his report in the in-basket. "The Zurich bat bonking report."
Bob's head flipped up with an annoyed look on his face. "What did you say?"
"They are all so serious here." Cobra turned round just before leaving the office. "I said the Zurich bat mating report."
"Thanks, I'll study it as soon as I can."
Cobra knew that Bob wouldn't read the report. It would gather dust in his in-basket for two weeks and then it would be sent along to the client unread. Bob simply could not be bothered anymore. He was less than two years away from retirement and was only marking time now until he could leave and build model trains. Sometimes Cobra got an almost overpowering urge to write a report telling all the zoos to release the animals and to start putting some people behind the bars for a change. He wanted to see what Bob's reaction would be when the phone calls started coming in.
Unfortunately head office would take a rather dim view of such actions and people like Cobra could not simply place a classified ad in the paper looking for a new job.

Back in his office, he settled in behind his computer to play a game of shoot-em-up on the Internet. A dull buzzing in the back of his head alerted him to the incoming call. Patching the call through to his brain as well, he realised that it was a data transmission, which meant that they had come up with a new mission for him. He waited patiently for everything to be down loaded and then got the PX6000 to open the file.
It seemed somebody had blown up a large solar power station in the Sahara desert and was now demanding a ransom. If the ransom was not delivered then the remaining power stations would also be destroyed.
Cobra called up his database info on power stations. After a nuclear power station went "hot" in South America about ten years ago, the public outcry against nuclear power had become too large to resist. All the parties involved had invested huge amounts of money to come up with other power sources and eventually some bright spark had come up with a remarkably efficient method of using solar power. Now there were solar power stations in virtually every desert in the world. The solar power stations now supplied over ninety percent of all the power requirements of the world.
Looking at the method used to destroy the Klubnike power station it was soon apparent that it was the work of somebody with inside knowledge. The wording of the ransom note also left the authorities in no doubt that this person was quite capable of carrying out the threat of total destruction.
Cobra was very worried. It was winter at the moment and he simply could not face the thought of sleeping without the electric blanket on. "Rule 9 of Cobra's survival book - Make it personal and then you can concentrate on the problem in a more decisive manner."
Now he was a man with a mission, he was a man with a purpose in life, he was a man who could shape the history of the planet, he was a man who needed to go to the bathroom.

Returning from the bathroom he gave Parker's office a wide berth. Sitting at his desk, he reread the ransom demand again in his head. All the personnel at the Malachite power station in the Namib desert had been evacuated and replaced with a skeleton staff from the saboteurs. The ransom had to be delivered to the station in two weeks' time.
Cobra allowed the PX6000 to fabricate a reason for him going to the Namib. Head office could always come up with the paperwork and some fake reason for him to travel anywhere in the world. A couple of minutes later he knew that he would be researching the life cycle of a large trapdoor spider found mostly in the Namib desert.
The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting for Bob to process the urgent application requesting Cobra's immediate presence in the desert. Parker was bristling with anger that Cobra would be sent out again, but it was really in his own best interests that he was barred from fieldwork.
"Why are you the only person around here that can travel all over the world?. Just give me one reason!"
Putting his hand on Parker's shoulder, Cobra looked him straight in the eyes and said "Because other employees around here try to sneak pythons onboard planes in their suitcases...."
"Oh not that stupid python thing again. So the thing got a bit frisky halfway through the flight - big deal!"
"I would say that half the passengers trying to leave a 747 at twenty thousand feet without parachutes is a fairly big deal."
With that Cobra picked up his laptop and left the office.

At home he packed his bags, promising to bring something back for Maggie. Outside the cab was waiting for him already. Getting in, he directed the driver to the railway station. At the station he picked up a different cab which took him to an industrial area. Getting out, he walked a couple of blocks and walked into the employee's entrance at a factory.
The employees needed to use a magnetized card to access the building, which also controlled their time sheets, but the pathetic computer controlling the mechanism was no match for the mighty PX6000. Seconds later Cobra was in the change room and the access computer was cowering in its casing. He walked over to a locker, picked its lock and removed the briefcase. This was the ransom that had to be delivered. Cobra did not know what it was and was not interested to find out. He had fixed moral values which could probably become very flexible if he had to find out the amounts of money that he had carried around in his life. So he kept his life simple and never enquired about such things.
Walking outside, the access gate slammed open with surprising force and speed just before he got to it. He looked at the gate in mild astonishment, but stepped through and waited outside for the taxi that he had called on the cellphone. Driving away in the taxi, he left behind an extremely relieved access computer. After changing taxis twice more before going to the airport to avoid being followed, he boarded a flight which he had personally booked under a false name the day before. Being on first name terms with certain influential computers certainly had some advantages.

Four hours and sixteen minutes into the flight Cobra knew that something had gone wrong. The air hostesses were bustling up and down the aisles without their usual dazzling just-brushed-my-teeth-and-ready-to-bite-an-apple smiles. In fact they were looking positively glum. Removing his cabin bag from the rack above him, Cobra spent a couple of minutes with the little card laminator contained inside. A really useful device, especially if you had exceeded you credit limit and needed a new credit card. Putting the bag back on the rack, Cobra stepped into the aisle.
"Can I help with anything miss?" flashing a card which identified him as an air safety inspector.
She looked considerably relieved upon seeing his ID and asked him to accompany her to the cockpit. At the cockpit she handed him over to the chief hostess who explained that both pilots appeared to have contracted food poisoning and nobody could fly the plane now. She gave him a beseeching look which left him with no other options.
"No problem ma'am. Leave it to me. You look after your passengers, and I'll look after the plane."
She looked even more relieved than the first hostess and the start of a low-wattage smile appeared on her face. She opened the cockpit door and told everybody inside "Everything is going to be OK, we found a pilot."
Moving into the cockpit, Cobra was overwhelmed by the vast array of gauges and switches located in every possible nook and cranny. One of the groaning pilots staggered out of his seat indicating with his hand that Cobra should take his place. "Handled one of these babies before?" the pilot groaned sinking into a small seat next to another person in the crowded space.
Cobra gave the pilot a suitably withering look that his abilities could be doubted and mumbled something inaudible under his breath about hundreds of hours. Cobra turned to the remaining pilot sitting next to him and told him to get the passengers ready for an emergency landing.
Grabbing the controls in front of him firmly and resting his feet on the pedals, Cobra gave all the controls a few experimental tugs. The silence around him was broken by the cabin door which was flung open by the air hostess - sans smile. Looking around him Cobra noticed similar shocked expressions on the other peoples faces.
"Just checking the amount of play in the controls. Don't want to be surprised with too much slack on a control at a critical time huh?"
With a reassuring grin, hopefully, on his face he turned to face the front again.

Over the next couple of hours the co-pilot spoke to the control tower a few times updating them on the current situation to ensure that they got priority when they arrived. During this time Cobra had quietly managed to identify most of the instruments around him although his question about the 'revcounter' met with some frosty stares. So they were a bit sticky about this 'altimeter' gadget - how was he supposed to know.
Half an hour before they were supposed to land they received an emergency message from the airport alerting them to the fact that another plane had just crashed on the runway. They were told to divert to another airport. The co-pilot spoke some more flying gibberish with the control tower with the gist of it being that they did not have enough fuel to divert anywhere. They were coming in here whether anybody liked it or not.
The co-pilot turned to Cobra. "I'm afraid the main runway is out of commission. We are going to have to land in a cross-wind."
"Sure, no problem." Cobra thought to himself, "The blissful life of the ignorant"

Peering through the windscreen they were able to spot the airport already. There were emergency vehicles all over the runway. In the background he could see another runway running perpendicular to the runway with all the vehicles on it. Swinging the plane around in a long arc he finally managed to get it lined up with the runway which seemed to have this curious tendency of drifting off to the side of the plane all the time.
The co-pilot looked at a series of lights marked "Undercarriage locked". All of them were green except for one red light. He tapped the light and said to Cobra "We have a problem here."
"Don't waste my time telling me things that I know already."
It was starting to look as if he was going to fly over the runway. Tilting the controls forward Cobra put the plane into a shallow dive to make sure that he did not miss the start of the runway.
The co-pilot clung to his chair and screamed, "What do you think you are doing!"
"Don't bug me now, can't you see I'm busy!"
The runway was suddenly rushing up at him now and the blasted thing was moving off to one side again. Pulling the controls back sharply and slamming his foot down on the left rudder Cobra fought to control the lumbering plane. Suddenly there was a loud wrenching sound from the back of the plane and everything suddenly went haywire in the cockpit. After another eternity of loud scraping noises the plane finally came to a halt.

The door of the cockpit was flung open and the air hostess rushed in. "Great work Mister Cobra. Now we must all get out of here."
With those words she grabbed the pilot and rushed out again. Everybody else was not wasting time getting out so Cobra undid his seatbelt and made a dash for it as well. Things had changed a bit since he had left the back of the plane a while ago. The inside of the cabin was a shambles with hand luggage strewn over the floor and the entire tail of the plane had been ripped off. Parts of the plane were on fire already and smoke was starting to fill the interior. Cobra tripped over a case that had fallen down because some inconsiderate jerk had not strapped it down the way that he was supposed to. Getting up, he was going to kick it out of the way when he noticed that it was his own bag. Picking it up, he walked out the back of the plane where everybody else was already waiting next to the runway.
Just then the pilot was carried past on a stretcher. Putting out his hand to grab Cobra's shirt the pilot said. "Absolutely brilliant man. Nothing short of genius. Unorthodox but brilliant nonetheless. Diving the plane and then pulling it into a sudden stall to rip the tail off to allow everybody to get off quickly was incredible, but jerking the plane to the side to ensure that you didn't land on the collapsed undercarriage was absolutely amazing man. What flying experience did you say you had? I want to enrol in the same flying school as you"
"Oh, I just spent a couple of hundred hours in the park with paper jets when I was younger."
This truthful statement sent the pilot into another fit of laughter and coughing and he was carried away. Picking his was through the crowd quickly, Cobra managed to slip out of the airport without being stopped. So much for getting into the country unnoticed. He wondered how they had got onto him so quickly, because he assumed that the incident on the plane was related to him.

Walking down the main road, he turned into the car rental agency that he had booked a car with. Handing over a platinum credit card yielded the keys to a Peugeot 205 and a vast expanse of exposed polar-white teeth from the assistant. Throwing his bag into the car he slid in behind the driver's seat and calmly slipped the car out into the traffic.

That evening, sipping coffee made on the fire in front of him, he thought about his next move. Obviously the subtle approach would be out as they were onto him already. These people's resources must be incredible to track him down through his aliases so quickly. Stepping gingerly into the opening of the dome tent that he had finally convinced to stay upright after the fourth attempt. He made a mental note to tell the people at head office that he required some more useful programs to be installed in the PX6000.
Tents and 747's would feature strongly on his list.

The next morning he awoke and stretching his arms out he touched one of the tent supports with his hand. Instantly the entire tent went through a convulsion which ended up with Cobra firmly pinned to the ground in a flat flying saucer shaped tent which refused to release him. After approximately five minutes of useless struggling Cobra lay still to reassess the situation. Outside he heard the sound of footsteps crunching up to the tent.

"Well well, what do we have here?. I do believe that it is the dangerous Mr. Cobra that has been overpowered by his own tent."
"Who are you," the tent asked in a muffled voice.
"Your worst nightmare bud."
Cobra thought to himself, "What the heck was the tax man doing in the middle of the desert?"
Activating the small laser built into his right hand, Cobra started cutting away the tent near his hand. "So what brings you out here."
"I was supposed to tell you to deliver the ransom to a house 50 km south of Windhoek, but I see you're a bit tied up now. So I think that we can bypass all the cloak-and-dagger stuff and I can simply walk out here with the ransom."
"What about me?"
"What about you? You seem to have run out of work to do, so I guess that I will have to fire you now."
Cobra heard the hammer being pulled back on a revolver close to his head. At last his right hand was freed from the tent. Tilting it to one side Cobra cut the tie holding the tent down on that corner. With a sudden spoiiing the brace of the tent flicked up releasing Cobra. Rolling out of the way, Cobra looked around wildly for his assailant. Rolling until he was behind his car, he was still unable to locate the person. Looking through underneath the car, Cobra spotted a pair of feet underneath the tent.
"OK, come out with your hands up. I have you covered."
Cobra always wanted to add sound effects like police sirens and helicopters when saying things like that.

Studying the pair of feet Cobra decided that this guy was either stupid or reckless, because he was not moving anywhere. Jumping up from behind the car and setting his laser to maximum power, Cobra rushed over and pulled the tent back. Well, the guy may have been stupid and reckless at one time or another, but at the moment he was just unconscious. The brace had flicked back and smacked him across the forehead. Searching through the man's clothes produced no new information other than the fact that he must have had a sweet tooth, with one pocket yielding nothing other than chocolate wrappers.
Dragging the man away from the campsite, Cobra eventually found a place to hide him. He tied the man up and gagged him, sure that somebody would come to look for him if he did not report back. Attempting to pack the damaged tent back into its minuscule container proved to be impossible and eventually Cobra stuffed the tent into a dustbin at the site. Dumping the rest of his stuff in the back of the car, Cobra headed off for Windhoek.

Reaching Windhoek, Cobra found a place to have breakfast. After polishing off a couple of eggs, four slices of toast and some bacon, he felt ready for the day. He had been thinking about the way things had developed since he had started on this mission. His only conclusion was that head office had a leak somewhere. He phoned this information through to the computer that he always reported to. After that he switched off his GPS and told the PX6000 not to send any more automatic updates to head office until further notice. He would have to fight this one on his own.

The man standing at the main control panel in the Malachite power station held the phone tightly to his ear. When it was answered he said, "This is Robert."
"Ah Robert, good news I trust."
"I'm afraid not sir. Recon team A is out of action. The fools split up and Cobra overpowered Anderson and tied him up to make his getaway. Anderson's backup arrived on the scene after Cobra had left and was knocked unconscious as well, whilst searching the campsite. It appears as if Cobra set a fiendishly clever trap cunningly disguised as a tent in a bin which sprang out and surprised the fool when he tried to move it."
"Do you think Cobra got the message before he wiped Anderson out?"
"We have no idea sir, Anderson is still unconscious. Should I send out team B to try to make contact?"
"No, I think that we should lay low for a day. We should know soon enough whether the message got through. You have the house under constant surveillance?"
"Of course. Nobody can move in that area without me knowing about it immediately."
"Good, then keep me posted."

After stopping at the same camping store where he had bought the previous day's supplies Cobra was on the road in a different car armed with a map and a compass. Blasting down the road in the 4x4, Cobra kept a lookout for the house which he hoped would be somewhere close to the road.

Exactly 50 km from Windhoek, Cobra stopped at the side of the road and looked around him. There were no houses in sight. In fact there wasn't much of anything in sight other than lots of desert. Getting back into the car, Cobra decided to drive another couple of kilometres before looking for side roads. Cresting a small hill, Cobra saw an abandoned house set slightly back from the road. Stopping in front of the house, Cobra scanned the countryside carefully. He detected four people watching him from some distance away. They were well camouflaged. He had only been able to find them on the heat seeking option. So this was definitely the place to be. Grabbing the briefcase, he walked over to the house. Feeling a bit foolish, he knocked on the door.
When he did not get any reply, he opened the door and stepped inside. It was quite dark inside, but nothing that his night-vision couldn't cope with. Looking around he couldn't see any traps, in fact the only unusual item in the room was a square metal box in the centre of the floor with a tube sticking out the top of it.
Walking up to the box, Cobra realised that it was a vacuum tube transporter often used in banks and post offices for moving money or paper from one office to another. Reading the set of instructions printed on the top of the machine confirmed his thoughts. He was supposed to take the contents of the briefcase and deposit them into the vacuum tube, where they would be whisked off somewhere else. This would then give the saboteurs a chance to get away cleanly. Opening the briefcase, Cobra saw little bags inside, which by the feel of them contained some kind of stones. Diamonds, he presumed. Nice and easy to transport and remarkably simple to get rid of if you knew how.
Removing the bags and placing them in the tube one-by-one, Cobra steadily emptied the briefcase. On a couple of the bags, he had placed miniature tracking devices. He did not think that they would last very long, but at least they would point him in the right direction. Walking outside, Cobra noticed that his observers had left. Getting back into the car, he started the engine, flung it into gear and turning across the road raced down the countryside away from the house. Seconds later the entire house turned into a huge fireball which slowly lifted into the sky. Obviously smelling traces of Semtex in the house had not been a figment of his imagination after all.

The PX6000 reported that the tracking devices had stopped and would you know it, he was travelling in the correct direction already! Bouncing over the rough terrain, Cobra thought back to the second-hand car dealer that had sold him the 4x4. "This vehicle has never been used off the road," were his solemn parting words.
"What a stupid thing to say about an off-road vehicle, but there was no accounting for taste, " mused Cobra.

Stopping before another slight hill, Cobra got out and walked to the crest. Lying down he looked over the ridge and saw a van parked in a small clearing below. The driver of the vehicle got out of the van and walked round to the back. Cobra zoomed in on his face and pasted an image of his face onto the PX6000's hard drive. He also recorded the license plate of the vehicle. The driver rapped on the back door. "Get a move on, we must get out of here soon."
The back door opened up and somebody stuck his face out. Cobra recognised him as the man from the campsite. He still had an angry red line running diagonally over his face.
"Relax man, Cobra bit the bullet in the house, he wouldn't have been able to resist the urge to look around before leaving."
"OK, but somebody must have seen that small Hiroshima that you created back there. How much explosive did you put into that place anyway?"
"Not enough, he had to pay for what he did to my nose. OK, we're finished back here, move out."
The driver walked around to the front of the van and drove off.

Scrambling back down the hill, Cobra raced the car over the hill before he lost track of them. The PX6000 confirmed that the tracking devices were not moving at all. Driving over the spot where the van had stood, Cobra saw the vacuum tube rising out of the ground and the bags that had held the diamonds scattered around it. With the dust trail that they were leaving it was no problem following them though.

An hour later they were still heading in the same direction and dawn had arrived to illuminate things a bit. He pulled back even further to avoid being spotted. Finally they turned onto a road and sped away. Cobra sped down the road after them. Passing a little roadside stall, Cobra's head flicked to one side and with lightning reflexes he brought the vehicle to a fast smooth stop. Reversing back up to the stall, he leapt out and pointing to an item on the ground, Cobra said to the startled assistant, "I want one of those."
It was handed to him in stunned silence. Spotting a small price tag, Cobra pulled the money out of his wallet and threw it at the assistant as he rushed back to the car. Spinning the wheels as he pulled away, he thought "Maggie will like that. It will fit in with the rest of her collection of statues quite nicely."

Racing down the road, he spotted the van ahead quite easily. Reaching the entrance to the Malachite power station, it slowed down and was waved in as soon as the driver was recognized.

"Robert here, I assume that this time it is good news." purred the voice on the other end of the phone.
"Yes sir, we have the diamonds, and Cobra has been eliminated."
"Very well done, I assume you will proceed with the rest of the plan now?"
"Yes, we are about to leave and once we are safely out of the way we will give the authorities the procedure for disarming the bombs."
"Good I look forward to seeing you then. I am on the second floor offices."
Hiding his surprise, the man put the phone down and walked upstairs with the diamonds in hand.

Putting the phone down, Robert turned around and said to the man at the door, "Fuelled up and ready to go I assume?"
"Yes sir, the helicopter will ferry the men to the base, and our Harrier is ready to go. You must just give me the destination."
"All in good time my dear fellow, all in good time. Tell the helicopter pilot that he must only leave thirty minutes after us."
The jet pilot left and Robert finished packing up the satellite phone. Before closing the case, he set a timer in the case and flicked a switch to start a countdown. Smiling to himself he walked out and climbed up to the roof where the jet was waiting for him.
Lying in the bushes Cobra studied every centimetre of the building in front of him. The noise of jet engines grew louder and an unmarked Harrier appeared above the roof of the building. Slowly tilting its engines backwards, the jet picked up speed and soon disappeared over the horizon. Ten minutes later, an explosion lifted a helicopter parked on the roof up, and dropped it back down on its side in flames. Cobra was blown back by the force of the blast, and lay there in stunned amazement watching the wreckage of the helicopter burning.
Some distance away, Robert closed the case of his satellite phone with a satisfied grin on his face. Putting it in a compartment in his chair, he checked some coordinates on a map strapped to his knee. Grunting with satisfaction, he patted his pockets to make sure that all the jewels were safely zipped in. He reached over his head to grab hold of the seat ejector. Pulling a Walther P38 from his pocket, he calmly shot the pilot in front of him in the back of the head. Zipping up the gun in a pocket, he braced himself and pulled the seat ejector.

The next morning, when Cobra accessed the computer at head office, there were hordes of messages waiting for him. As soon as he was on-line though, a call came through on his cellphone. This was the first time that he had ever communicated directly with somebody at head office since his recruitment.
"Cobra, this is Control. The mole at head office has been located. Unfortunately he escaped before he could be questioned. We do have one lead though. A mercenary jet pilot came to us via the Namibian authorities. It seems that his loyalties have changed somewhat in the last couple of days. He apparently got suspicious of his boss, and quite fortunately for him decided to invest in a Kevlar helmet which saved his life when his contract was terminated abruptly."
"Where do they teach these guys to talk like that," Cobra thought to himself. "What can he tell us about their organisation?"
"Not much unfortunately, as with any well-run terrorist organisation, everybody knows only a few people. He only knew his boss, a man called Robert, but apparently he is not the big boss."
"I got a glimpse of the man as he flew off in the jet. I'll get the PX6000 to start looking through the files to see if I can come up with anything. In the meantime try to get the pilot to compile an identikit and send it to me. We have not had any better luck with the rest of the people abandoned here when their helicopter was blown up."
Cobra downloaded the image of the van's driver and its license number, but did not have much hope that they would produce results.

He had received the coordinates where Robert had ejected from the plane. Looking on the map Cobra saw that it was close to a small private airstrip, which meant that Robert could be anywhere at the moment. It appeared to be dead ends all round.

"If this plane is not in the air in the next five minutes, then you will get a one-way ticket out of life."
The pilot looked at the Walther pointed at his face. "There is nothing that I can do make things move faster than they are moving at the moment. If we take off like this, then we will not make it to the next airfield. I promise that we will be up in the next five minutes."
The man put his gun away again and walked over and fiddled with his satellite phone again, leaving the pilot to finish his work in piece. Before closing the cover of the engine, he went back into the workshop and pocketed a small handgun that he had kept there from his smuggling days. Closing the cover on the engine, he called over his shoulder, "OK, let's go."
Driving down the access road, Cobra saw a small twin engine plane taxiing to the end of the runway. Switching to telescopic view out of habit, Cobra could not believe his luck when he spotted what appeared to be Robert sitting in the plane. Racing the engine of the car, Cobra shot down the runway towards the plane now speeding towards him. Pulling up the handbrake, Cobra skidded the car sideways in the centre of the runway. Jumping out of the car, he was just in time to see the pilot heaving at the controls to lift the plane centimetres over the roof of the car. "Blast, I should have asked for the roof rack."
Pulling out the gun that he had taken from the man at the campsite, Cobra fired two shots into the plane before it disappeared behind the hangers. Looking around, Cobra spotted a helicopter getting ready to take off. Jumping back in the car, Cobra raced up to the helicopter. "Follow that plane." Pointing in the general direction that the plane had taken.
"Very funny man, now get out, I have a schedule to keep." Cobra pulled a wad of money out of his jacket and flung it in the lap of the pilot.
"Change it." Cobra had always wanted to give a dramatic order like that and to his intense pleasure it worked. He did not relish the idea of adding an instant helicopter license to his other newly acquired skills. The pilot put on his headset and the helicopter lifted off the ground.
"We don't stand much of a chance catching them. That 402 has a much higher top speed than my 'copter."

As they lifted over the roof of the hanger, Cobra saw that his aim had been good. There was a pleasing black trail of smoke coming out of the one engine of the plane. "Ah, but with one engine, things are a bit more even are they not?"
The pilot flashed a grin at Cobra. "They sure are buddy."
They were steadily closing the distance between them and the plane. Approaching from the left and slightly below, Cobra was able to make out Robert's face looking at them and urging the plane's pilot on all the time. Robert opened the side window at his face and stuck a small submachine gun out of the window. Before he could pull the trigger, the helicopter pilot saw it and yelled,
"What the...." Flinging the helicopter sideways with stomach wrenching suddenness, the pilot said between clenched teeth,
"Fine, two can play at this game." Looking over at Cobra he said, "Don't worry I learnt how to fly in NAM."
"Oh no, not another one!" Cobra thought to himself. "I assume that is not NAM, as in short for Namibia."
"I have a few friends in the force over here that owe me some favours from way back, I think we can call them in on this."
Flicking some switches on the panel in front of him, the pilot started talking to somebody else.
"Charlie-Mike-Charlie this is Zebra-Foxtrot-oneninerfourtyfiver. We have a carrier with teeth up here. 402 with no markings, bearing red fourtyfiver. Altitude eight thousand."
"There must be some special linguistic school somewhere where pilots and secret agents get sent. There all traces of English are eradicated from their vocabulary and replaced with codespeak. It was really remarkable that they managed to understand normal people talking to them." Cobra just sat there in silence.

Turning to Cobra the pilot grinned, "I want to see him worm his way out of this one."
The plane in front of them suddenly banked to the left and went into a steep dive.
The pilot grunted as he pulled on the controls.
"This guy has hopped radars before. I suspect that he has smuggled a few things in here in the past."
Diving down after the plane, they heard some dull pinging noises coming from the rear of the helicopter. The pilot looked over his shoulder and then stared at some gauges in the centre of the cockpit. "We took a hit in the fuel tank, I'm going to have to return to the field."
Watching in frustration as the plane disappeared in the distance, Cobra could do nothing about it. Landing at the airstrip, the pilot told Cobra that the plane had been forced down, but that two people had been seen running away from the plane. The pilot showed Cobra where it had happened. A major road ran right past the crash site, so they probably forced somebody to stop and then took their car.

The next morning Cobra was booked on another flight. "I wonder what my frequent flyer miles are going to look like after this little episode."
Head office had traced the elusive Robert, full name Robert Graham Taylor, to a flight going to South Africa with the aid of the visuals that Cobra had sent through to them.
Trying to stuff his bulky cabin bag into the small space proved to be quite an effort, but he managed it eventually. Sinking into his seat, the passenger next to him said, "Lots of luggage huh? I also exceeded the weight limit and ended up with a bulky cabin bag."
"Oh its just the parachute that takes up some much space really."
This response produced gales of laughter from his fellow passenger.
"You don't have to worry. These planes are really very safe, and the pilots can cope with any problems that come up."
Cobra gave the man a sick grin and pretended to try sleeping to cut off any further conversation. After an uneventful flight, Cobra stepped of the plane at Johannesburg International Airport. After milling around in the terminal for a while, he discovered that the rest of his luggage had been booked on a different flight to him. He made arrangements for it to be returned to his home, and went to collect his car from the desk nearby.

Cobra had no idea where to start looking for Taylor, aka Robert, and went to the nearest hotel to book in. Lying in the bath a while later, he phoned Maggie and chatted to her for a while before finishing off his bath.

Watching some TV later that evening, which proved to be incredibly boring and in a myriad of strange languages, Cobra was startled to hear the phone ringing. The fact that it was capable of ringing did not startle him, it was the fact that somebody knew that he was here that surprised him. "Cobra here."
"Mr. Cobra. So sorry to have caused you the inconvenience of travelling all the way out here for nothing, but I'm afraid your trip has been wasted."
"Who is this?"
"Never mind Mr. Cobra, I just called to say that the diamonds have left the country to return from whence they came, and by next week will be quite untraceable."
"Listen Taylor, tell me who you work for, and I can work out a nice deal for you."
"Don't make me laugh Cobra, my employer is a man of impeccable character. He is a man of some standing in the community, plays bridge and golf with the correct influential people and is a founder member of the most prestigious country club in his area. Even if I told you his name, you would not be able to make anything stick on him. He has friends in all the right places. Sleep well Mr. Cobra. Oh, and do enjoy the countryside while you are here, it is really most beautiful. I would lock my doors when driving around though as I hear that car hijacking is something of a national sport."
The phone was put down in his ear with the arrogant Robert laughing at his own joke.

The next morning, Cobra enquired at the desk about scenic drives in the area. He made quite a big scene about his destination faking excitement about the sights that he would be viewing later that day. Then he went to enjoy a leisurely breakfast to give Robert time to put his plans in action. "Rule 23 in Cobra's survival book - always eat breakfast."

Strolling past the desk, Cobra handed his room key in and asked for his car to be brought around. A couple of seconds later the sounds of squealing tires and hooters being blown told him that his car was waiting. Putting his bags in the boot, he looked around to memorise all the cars around him. Getting in, he drove off leisurely following the directions given to him at the desk.

Sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green, he heard a tapping on the side window. Looking, he noticed a masked person pointing a gun at him.
"Good," thought Cobra, "at least they didn't keep me waiting."
Smiling broadly Cobra wound down the window and said pleasantly. "Would you like to hop in the back, or would you prefer to drive yourself?"
Noticing a bit of indecision on the part of the man, Cobra thought he would try to be a bit more helpful. He decided that it was better if the man drove, after all he knew where he wanted to go.
Opening the door of the car, he accidentally bumped the gun out of the man's hand. Trying to back away from Cobra he tripped over a bin behind him. Cobra picked up the gun and walked over to the man, now cowering on the ground. He covered his head with his hands. "Please don't shoot, I'm sorry."
"Of course I'm not going to shoot you. How would I know where to go then? Here, let me help you up." Extending his hand, Cobra helped the man up and dusted the back of his shirt off where some dirt had collected. Handing the man's gun back to him Cobra pointed to the car and said, "Please get in."
Walking over to the passenger side and getting in, Cobra noticed the man still standing where he had left him on the sidewalk. "Well, do you want an engraved invitation or what?"
The man walked over and got into the car hesitantly. "Where must I go?"
Slapping the man on the back, Cobra laughed heartily and said, "Good one, you know exactly where to go."
Shaking his head in bewilderment, the man drove off. Any further attempts at small talk simply seemed to terrify his chaffeur even more and eventually Cobra lapsed into silence and looked around him as they drove along. The streets and the houses alongside them got progressively more decrepid until they finally stopped at a decaying warehouse. Inside, there seemed to be a thriving business which looked slightly out of place here as all the employees inside were servicing quite expensive looking cars.
When one of them saw Cobra in the car he shouted something incomprehensible and dashed off along with everybody else. They were obviously going to fetch the big boss. Service in this country appeared to be very impressive. Not only did they provide him with an armed chauffeur, but when he arrived at the business everybody made sure that the boss knew that he had arrived. This was the way that business should be conducted.

"OK, what do you want?"
The shout seemed to come from above and to Cobra's left. Looking up, he noticed a man crouched behind a drum. Walking over towards him, Cobra was stopped by another shout.
"Don't come any closer. If you see my face I'll have to kill you."
"Shame, obviously the man had a serious acne problem that had left him emotionally scarred for life."
"OK, no problem. You know what I want, give it to me and I don't see any reason for us to come into contact with each other again."
After some silence, another shout rang out, "No, I do not know what you want. Spell it out for me."
Cobra smiled. "Such a pleasure doing business with professionals. Obviously making sure of my credentials before closing the deal."
Deciding to play a hunch, Cobra said, "Only part of the consignment got through to the big boss. Obviously somebody is skimming a bit off the top for himself. The boss told me to eliminate all the weak spots. Naturally he thought of you first."
Cobra let the last statement drift off into silence. Eventually the eyes popped up over the edge of the drum again. "OK, I wasn't involved, but I know who did it."
"Give me the full list of names and I will be out of here."
The man rattled off name after name, and when he had finished he told Cobra where to find documentation to back the names up. It was a little bit of insurance that he had built up for a day just like this.

Cobra turned around and walked out. Just before he got to the door he turned around. "Just one last thing before I leave."
"What?" asked the drum.
I see that your servicemen are trying to work on the gearbox of this BMW here without the proper equipment. I suggest that you get the correct tools from the dealer. It will only save you money in the end, and as you run such a professional business here it is in your best interests. Do you mind if I refer other people to you place?"
"Sure, do whatever you want."
Cobra noticed that his chauffeur seemed to have disappeared, but the man had courteously opened the door for him before leaving and had even buffed the door and steering wheel where he had left finger marks.
Driving back, Cobra phoned the information through to head office. They would then contact the relevant authorities to round up the saboteurs.

He decided to spend another evening in the hotel before returning the next morning.

Arriving at the airport, he got out of the taxi and almost got knocked over by somebody running along the sidewalk.
Faint cries of "My suitcase!" came from further down the sidewalk. Cobra helped the man up.
"Obviously those people don't want you to carry their bags. If you want to help, then you can carry mine."
Cobra handed the man his bag. "Just don't run like that. The explosives in my bag could detonate if you dropped it like that other suitcase."
Arriving at the check-in desk the man refused to accept a tip from Cobra and dashed off, presumably to help some other traveller. Once again he was bowled over by the service and friendliness of these people. Buying a book for the flight, Cobra checked in and was whisked off to the plane a few minutes later.

After an uneventful flight, he took a cab home.
Maggie greeted him with a kiss at the door. "So, how was the trip dear?"
"Oh, the usual. Fly in, look at some bugs, fly out. Nothing exciting happened. You should come with me next time that I go to South Africa. It is a really beautiful country, and all this hype about their crime rate is really just media garbage. I was amazed at how helpful everybody was there."

At work the next day, Cobra worked on the report that had to be handed in to some government official. All the information was available to him from head office through the PX6000. Reading a newspaper later during the day, he saw that authorities in South Africa had managed to break open a major car hijacking syndicate and bag snatching around the airport was at an all time low.

Later that day a call came through on the cellphone. The PX6000 decoded it and opened the file for him to read. The people that he had nailed in South Africa were criminals, but it turned out that they had nothing to do with the case that he was working on at present. Yet Cobra had been sure that Robert's last remark about the hijacking had been a signal to him about a meeting that he had arranged. "Oh well, can't win them all I suppose."

The next morning, Saturday, Cobra went to the bank to sort out some clerical error that had occured on his last bank statement. Having failed to get any joy out of the enquiries desk, he asked to see the bank manager.
Taking a seat at the request of the assistant behind the counter, Cobra looked up and noticed vacuum tubes running along the edge of the ceiling at the back of the room. Upon closer inspection, Cobra discovered that these tubes were the same make as the one that he had encountered in the Namibian desert. His studies were interrupted by the return of the assistant. "Mr. Dodds will be with you in a couple of minutes, he is just finishing off some other business."
"Thank you", Cobra replied with a smile. "Tell me, does Mr. Dodds play bridge at all."
"Oh yes, he plays and organises most of the tournaments around here. In fact he is quite involved in the community with the club and the golf and all sorts of social events."
"Quite a man by the sounds of things." Cobra looked over and noticed the door to the manager's office open up.
"You can go in now Mr. Cobra."
Nodding his thanks at the assistant he walked over and sat down in the chair opposite Mr. Dodds.
"Some tea Mr. Cobra?"
"Yes please, and I take mine with two diamonds."
"I beg your pardon Mr. Cobra."
"Oh so sorry of me. Has Robert not been around to deliver your package yet? Tsk, Tsk I wonder what could have delayed him."
"I don't have any idea what you are talking about."
"Mr. Dodds, or should I call you solar-power-ransom-demander, you know exactly what I am talking about."
Just then the door opened behind Cobra and Dodds' secretary walked in with the tray of tea. Getting up from behind the desk, Dodds flung the tray at Cobra and made a dash for the door.
Catching the cup in mid-air Cobra managed to lower it to the desk without spilling anything. Sitting down again he looked at the startled secretary. "Would you like to join me for a cup of tea seeing as your boss as left us at such short notice?"
Backing away from Cobra, the secretary looked even more bewildered and just shook her head. "Well, I hope you don't mind if I go ahead. I don't like wasting a good cup of tea."

Dodds' photograph and connection to the solar power station business had already been sent through to head office via the PX6000. They would be able to take care of that end of the business now. This left Cobra time to concentrate on the more important oustanding task of Cindy Crawford swooning over him.