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In Case Of Emergency: A Cut Out Story

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In Case Of Emergency

by Jack Heath
Copyright 2016 Jack Heath
Shakespir edition
ISBN:
Cover art by James at GoOnWrite.com (modified by Jack Heath)

[License notes:
**]This ebook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You can print or share it, but you cannot modify it or sell it.

This short story was written live before an online audience. You can watch a video of the writing process at jackheath.com.au. It features characters from The Cut Out and The Fail Safe, published by Allen & Unwin, but it can be read as a standalone and should not be considered canon.

In Case Of Emergency

‘Something from the menu?’ Aravinya asked the pre-teen boy in seat 9A.

‘No, thank you.’ The boy held up a newspaper. He had scrawled a message on the front page in thick black marker pen: the passenger behind me has a gun.

Aravinya read the message twice. Surely she had misunderstood. But the frightened look on the boy’s face assured her that she hadn’t.

He wore a puffy jacket over a black cotton shirt. He was of Eurasian descent, with large, serious eyes and a tight-lipped mouth. A mess of black hair was escaping from his grey beanie. He looked sporty or at least fit. His hand was wrapped around the armrest in a death grip, as though he expected the train to crash at any moment. No-one was seated next to him.

Aravinya’s heart rate accelerated, but she kept her expression neutral. She resisted the urge to glance at the woman seated behind the boy.

The stations had surveillance cameras but no metal detectors. When the train crossed the border from Belarus into Kamau, customs officials had checked passports, but they hadn’t actually searched anyone. The sniffer dogs were trained to look for drugs, not weapons. It was possible that a gun was on board.

A hundred people rode this train, eight of them in this cabin. Their lives were in Aravinya’s hands.

The train rocked gently as the track sliced a curve around Mount Kharsum. On the other side of the rails was a deep valley, barely visible through the snowflakes scraping across the dirty plexiglass. Inside, the heating vents kept the cabin almost uncomfortably warm. The hot air kept ruffling Aravinya’s blonde pixie cut. Her feet sweated inside her high heels.

This was the first class carriage. The seats were leather, not vinyl, and the passengers had meals delivered to their seats rather than having to walk to the dining car. It was also closest to the driver, which was what concerned Aravinya most right now. The woman with the gun could be a Besmari terrorist, planning to seize the train.

‘Something small, perhaps?’ Aravinya pressed. She hoped the boy realised she was asking about the gun, not the food.

‘No.’ The boy’s voice wavered.

Aravinya had hoped for more information. He had given her nothing. That might mean that the woman behind him knew he was aware of the gun. He didn’t want to give her any indication that he had warned Aravinya.

Of course, this could be a prank. But Aravinya had to take it seriously.

Like all Kamauans, Aravinya had served two years in the military after she turned eighteen. She had learned to use a gun and to stitch a wound, but she had never seen actual combat. After her daughter was born, she had trained for this job as a train attendant. One of the classes was entitled In Case Of Emergency. But it hadn’t covered this scenario.

Aravinya nodded politely to the boy and pushed the food cart further up the aisle.

The woman in seat 10A, directly behind the boy, was in her mid-twenties. She had tan skin and curly hair. She wore jeans and a polar fleece vest over a dark blue sweater. She had a flat nose and equally flat eyes. She looked at Aravinya like a Siberian tiger examining potential prey and deciding it was too small to chase.

One of her hands, clad in a fingerless glove, was empty. The other was hidden beneath her tray table. Possibly it was simply resting in her lap.

Possibly not.

‘Something from the menu?’ Aravinya asked.

The woman shook her head slightly.

‘Sorry?’ Aravinya leant forward, as though she needed to hear better. But even from this angle, she couldn’t see the hand under the table.

‘No,’ the woman said.

Aravinya nodded and pushed the food cart further up the aisle.

There were two people in the next row – a man and a woman, both dressed in fine wool suits. The woman had a scarf made of bone-white silk. Aravinya recognised her – she was a politician of some sort. A senator? A deputy something? Aravinya wasn’t sure. The man was probably her husband, although he looked a bit younger than her. Thirty-ish, compared to forty-something.

Aravinya had to get to the back of the cabin, where she could call the driver and warn him. But the flat-eyed woman in 10A might notice if she stopped offering food.

The senator, or whoever she was, spoke first. ‘I’ll have the smoked trout.’

Aravinya rummaged in her trolley. ‘I’ve just run out of that,’ she lied, ‘but there’s more in the kitchen. I’ll be right back.’

She pushed the trolley up the aisle as fast as she dared.

A cold ante-chamber connected this carriage to the next. The clattering of the wheels beneath the steel floor was painfully loud. The walls were merely a rubber curtain which concertinaed in and out as the tracks curled left and right.

It was only now that Aravinya’s hands started to tremble. In the first class cabin, acting calm had made her feel calm. Now she felt short of breath as she snatched the phone off the wall and pushed zero.

‘Zoltov,’ the driver grunted.

‘It’s Aravinya,’ she said. ‘I have an unconfirmed report that one of the passengers has a gun.’

‘Have you confronted him?’

‘The passenger is female,’ Aravinya said. ‘Seat 10A. And no, I wanted to warn you first. Can you stop the train?’

‘Not here. There’s nowhere to disembark.’

This was true. There was a wall of rock and ice on one side and a sheer drop on the other. They couldn’t get the passengers out safely.

‘I’ll speed up,’ Zoltov continued. ‘We can be at Stolkalny in thirty minutes.’

Thirty minutes was too long. ‘Who’s in charge of the other carriages today?’ Aravinya asked.

‘We have Byatiya in the kitchen, and Eldiev on standby.’

Byatiya was five feet tall and had only held the job for six weeks. Eldiev was fifty-six and wasn’t in great shape. He was likely to have a heart attack just jogging to first class.

Aravinya could go into the second class carriage and stay there. She would probably be safe. But she couldn’t leave the first class passengers at the mercy of a possible terrorist.

‘Get Eldiev to secure the connecting doors from the other side,’ Aravinya said. ‘Tell him not to let anybody through. I’ll get the passenger out of the first class carriage.’ She swallowed. ‘By force, if necessary.’

‘Keep me posted,’ Zoltov said. He hesitated, as though he had more to say. Good luck, maybe. Or goodbye. But then he just hung up.

Leaving the food cart in the antechamber, Aravinya opened the door to the first class cabin. Warm air spilled out. She strode up the aisle towards seat 10A.

The woman sat in the same position as before, staring at the chair in front as though she could see through it to the anxious boy on the other side.

Aravinya cleared her throat. Trying not to wonder if she was about to die. Trying not to think about when she kissed her daughter goodbye that morning. She couldn’t remember anything she had said to her. She hadn’t even woken her husband.

‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘I need you to come with me.’

The woman stared up at her. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘I need you to come with me,’ Aravinya repeated.

The senator and her much-younger husband turned to look.

The woman in 10A sat still for a long time. Weighing up her options.

Aravinya’s hand-to-hand combat skills had deteriorated since her military service. But she was standing very close. If the woman threatened her with the gun, Aravinya thought she could probably step forward and snatch it from her grip, despite the high heels.

But the woman might not threaten her. She might just open fire.

The woman looked back at the seat in front.

‘All right,’ she said.

She folded up her tray table. Her hands were empty. If she had a gun, it was concealed beneath her vest. This gave Aravinya a chance.

‘This way,’ Aravinya said, gesturing to the antechamber which connected the first and second carriages.

The woman stood up. Aravinya followed her to the back of the cabin, staying a safe distance behind.

The woman opened the door and walked through into the noisy cold of the antechamber. Aravinya closed it behind her.

‘Are you armed?’ Aravinya asked.

‘No,’ the woman said. She didn’t seem surprised by the question.

‘I need to search you. Stand with your arms wide, and your feet shoulder-width apart.’

The woman stood like a scarecrow. ‘My name is Dessa Cormanenko,’ she said, as Aravinya patted her down. ‘I work for Kamauan intelligence. I’m not armed.’

Aravinya checked the woman’s armpits, the small of her back, her thighs, the ankles of her boots. There was no gun. ‘Do you have some identification?’

Very slowly, the woman reached into her jacket and removed a thin wallet. She opened it up. There appeared to be nothing inside except a card with a holographic seal. It said, Dessa Cormanenko. Junior Librarian.

Not everyone knew that Kamauan Intelligence Operations was referred to as “the library”, but Aravinya did.

‘I’m here tracking a Besmari spy,’ Cormanenko continued. ‘His name is Troy Maschenov. He’s a twelve-year old boy in a black jacket. He was seated right in front of me.’

Aravinya gasped. ‘Is he after the senator?’

Cormanenko’s eyes narrowed. ‘What senator?’

Aravinya heard the first class door lock behind her.

~

Troy Maschenov turned away from the door. With the Librarian and the train attendant out of the way, there was only one person left between him and his target.

Seeing the Librarian had rattled him. No-one was supposed to know he was here in Kamau. He was part of a program which recruited, trained and dispatched agents as young as ten for urgent – and sometimes gruesome – assignments. This program was supposed to be secret. But if one Librarian knew, they all did.

Time was no longer on his side. He had to complete his mission and get back across the border into Besmar as soon as possible.

Resisting the instinct to reach into his pockets and check his weapons, he walked back up the aisle to row 11. Senator Grigieva had the window seat. Her bodyguard, a bulky man of about thirty, was in the aisle.

According to the briefing, Grigieva was the likely winner of the next party leadership ballot. Once she became president of Kamau she would have a dozen security staff around her at all times. This might be the Bank’s last chance to get to her.

‘Pardon me,’ he said, approaching the bodyguard and reaching into his pocket. ‘May I borrow–’

Then he pulled out the taser and stabbed it into the man’s neck.

The bodyguard went rigid in his chair, his jaw clenched, his eyelids strobing. Froth trickled from his mouth onto his shirt. The taser kept clack-clack-clacking until Troy released the trigger. The guard slumped in his chair, trembling and semi-conscious.

Troy withdrew the MP5 from his jacket and pointed it at Grigieva.

Someone screamed. Troy ignored them.

‘Out of the chair,’ he said.

The MP5 was a German-made submachine gun. Small, but violent. It carried thirty 9mm rounds in its magazine, and could unleash all of them in two seconds. Enough to shred a human being to hamburger. Troy’s body was flooded with adrenaline, making it hard to aim precisely. But at this range, it hardly mattered.

Most of the passengers were cowering in their seats, but Troy saw one of them approaching in his peripheral vision. A big guy, with thick arms and a chequered shirt. Trying to sneak up on him.

‘One more step, and your future president dies,’ Troy said.

The passenger paused. He raised his open palms, cautiously.

‘Get back up towards the driver’s cabin,’ Troy continued. ‘That goes for everyone else, too. And you–’ He jabbed the gun at Grigieva. ‘–out of the chair. I won’t ask again.’

The senator stood up, slowly. The other passengers fled towards the front of the carriage.

‘Just relax,’ Grigieva said. ’Put the gun down.’

‘No,’ Troy said.

The door to the antechamber rattled. Someone was trying to open it from the other side.

It would take the Librarian at least a minute to get through. With any luck, the senator would be dead by then, and he would be gone.

‘Your orders are to keep me alive.’ Grigieva looked anxious, but her voice remained very slow and calm. Almost presidential. ‘Otherwise, I’d be dead already. So put the gun away, and let’s talk.’

‘My orders were surprisingly flexible on that point,’ Troy said. He kept the gun trained on her chest. ‘But I won’t kill you. Not if you do exactly as I say.’

~

‘It won’t open.’ The blonde train attendant was pushing the door handle down, putting all her weight into it.

‘Leave it,’ Cormanenko said. Into her mobile phone she said, ‘How far away is the helicopter?’

‘Eighteen minutes.’ Noelein’s voice was simultaneously urgent and lifeless. Cormanenko could picture her, pacing around her office at the Library, or studying a map with her owlish eyes. In the nine years Cormanenko had worked for her, Noelein had never once raised her voice.

‘I don’t have eighteen minutes,’ Cormanenko said. ‘Everyone on this train is in danger.’

‘Your mission has changed,’ Noelein told her. ‘Your first priority is now to protect Senator Grigieva. Your second priority is to bring Maschenov in. Alive if possible.’

‘And the other passengers?’

Predictably, Noelein was silent. A few dead civilians probably meant more money in the defence budget. But a dead senator would mean getting replaced as Chief Librarian.

Cormanenko didn’t waste time arguing. She would never convince Noelein that a group of civilians were more important than one senator, just as Noelein would never convince Cormanenko that they weren’t.

‘I don’t have eyes on Maschenov or the senator,’ Cormanenko said. ‘I’m trapped.’

‘Not my problem. Get untrapped, agent.’

Cormanenko ended the call. She should have hung up as soon as Noelein told her the helicopter was too far away.

‘We can break the door down,’ the attendant said, pointing to a nearby fire extinguisher. She was surprisingly resourceful for a civilian. ‘This lock is fragile. Just a single bolt. Not like the one on the driver’s cabin door.’

‘Maschenov is probably armed, and definitely quick,’ Cormanenko said. ‘If we come through that way he’ll kill us, or the other passengers, or both. I need to sneak up on him.’

‘We can’t stop the train without him noticing,’ the attendant said. ‘Even if we did, there’s nowhere to disembark.’

Cormanenko ran over to a mounting bracket on the wall, where there was a red plastic hammer with a steel tip. A sign said in case of emergency, break glass although there were no windows in the antechamber. Cormanenko wrenched the hammer off the bracket and tucked it into the back of her jeans.

‘Is there a knife in that food cart?’ she asked. ‘The bigger the better.’

The attendant handed her a table knife. It was small, but at least it was steel, and moderately sharp.

Cormanenko stabbed the rubber curtain which shielded the antechamber from the outside world. The knife sheared straight through. Freezing wind howled at the slit.

She sawed at the rubber, lengthening the hole. The deadly drop to the valley below came into view outside. Perhaps she should have cut through on the opposite side. No time now. The train was going so fast that if she fell, she’d be dead either way.

‘Which seat is the senator in?’ she asked, yelling to be heard over the wind.

‘Eleven F,’ the attendant replied.

Cormanenko didn’t waste any time on goodbyes. ‘Count to a hundred,’ she said. ‘Then try to break the door down.’ She widened the gap and hauled herself through the rubber curtain, out of the train.

The icy air hit her like a fist. She clung desperately to the rubber, trying to climb up onto the roof before the wind tore her loose and sent her tumbling down to the rocks of the valley below. The outside of the curtain shuddered in her grip, but held her weight. Her fingers were already numb from the cold. She kept counting in her head.

28, 29, 30.

Teeth clenched, Cormanenko hauled herself up onto the slippery metal of the roof. The gale was even worse up here. Her eyes stung. Her nose ran. The mucus froze on her lip.

The train was going too fast to stand up, and she didn’t want Maschenov to hear her footsteps. Instead, she lay flat on her belly and crawled along the roof like a crocodile, fighting the wind.

56, 57, 58.

She wondered if her brother would recognise her – a spy, a stooge, about to die for a country she had never really cared for. Wherever he was now, she hoped he thought this was funny.

Soon she was halfway up the first class car. She peered over the edge, trying to ignore the long fall, and counted the windows. Nine, ten, eleven. The senator’s seat was right below her. So was Maschenov, she hoped.

71, 72.

Cormanenko had no stun grenades, no gun, no backup. Just a table knife and a plastic hammer. She told herself she’d survived worse odds in the past.

Leaning over the deadly drop, she sneaked an upside-down peek through the plexiglass window. There was the bodyguard, unconscious in his seat – and Maschenov, holding an MP5. It was a two-handed gun, but he was holding it one-handed. He probably had other weapons under his jacket. Up the other end of the carriage, she could see all the other passengers huddled near the driver’s compartment.

85, 86.

A phone was in his Maschenov’s other hand. The senator stood next to him. He seemed to want her to make a call. An order to a subordinate, or perhaps a message to the media. Either way, Maschenov would kill her once she made the call. Cormanenko didn’t have much time.

98, 99…

Maschenov whirled to face a sudden sound.

Cormanenko swung the hammer.

The steel tip did exactly what it had been designed to do. It punched through the glass like it was rice paper. The plastic handle protected Cormanenko from the shards as her fist rocketed into the gap.

She couldn’t reach Maschenov from here, but she didn’t have to. Her arm still in motion, she let go of the hammer. As Maschenov turned to face the sudden sound, the hammer spun towards him and cracked against his temple.

Maschenov staggered backwards but didn’t fall. The window had sapped the hammer’s momentum. It had hit him hard enough to shock, to hurt, to enrage – but not to knock out. He would recover in seconds.

Cormanenko was already ripping out blunt chunks of plexiglass and dropping them into the valley. Soon the gap was wide enough to fit through. She grabbed the top of the window frame with both hands and somersaulted off the roof of the train.

Her boots crashed through the remains of the plexiglass and she landed inside the carriage, right next to the senator’s empty seat. But she had been too slow. Maschenov was already lining up the MP5 with her skull.

He was out of reach. Cormanenko would have to step across the unconscious bodyguard to get to him, giving him plenty of time to shred her with bullets.

‘Wait,’ she said, with no idea what she could say to stop him killing her. Probably nothing.

Maschenov pulled the trigger.

Crack-crack-crack-crack! The sound was deafening in the enclosed space. A row of holes ripped through the carriage wall, one right near Cormanenko’s head. The shot would have punctured her skull – if someone hadn’t clobbered Maschenov with an emergency fire extinguisher.

It was the blonde attendant. She hadn’t just broken the door down – she had attacked Maschenov, which took guts. She was raised the extinguisher for a second strike.

Cormanenko leaped over the comatose bodyguard as Maschenov rounded on his new attacker. The kid was fast, or at least had a thick skull – two blows to the head and he was still on his feet.

The attendant swung the extinguisher again. Maschenov ducked under the blow. He drew his right fist back, as though preparing for a big roundhouse punch – then he quickly jabbed the attendant in the throat with his left hand.

The woman collapsed, wheezing.

Cormanenko lunged at Maschenov from the other side. Too slow. He pointed the MP5 at her and pulled the trigger–

Click. That two-second burst had used up the whole magazine.

Cormanenko grabbed the MP5 so he couldn’t bludgeon her with it. He let it go and shoved her back against the wall. While she was off balance he dug a small grey-green object out of his puffy jacket and threw it through the open door into the antechamber. It bounced once. Twice.

Troy Maschenov dived onto the floor.

‘Down!’ Cormanenko screamed. ‘Get–’

The explosion ripped through the carriage, knocking Cormanenko off her feet. The flames stripped the padding from the back row of seats. The shockwave punctured both Cormanenko’s eardrums. A horrifying agony filled her head. It felt like her brain was getting sucked out her ears. The floor shook beneath her as the wheels fought to stay on the rails – or maybe there was no movement, and she was just concussed. Either the world was shaking like jelly, or her brain was.

When she rolled sideways, she saw Maschenov staggering towards the back of the carriage. The explosion had destroyed the antechamber and separated this carriage from the others. The rest of the train was slowly falling behind.

Cormanenko tried to stand but immediately fell back down.

Noelein’s voice swam through her mind. Bring Maschenov in. Alive if possible.

Cormanenko grabbed one of the seats and hauled herself to her feet again. Moving towards Maschenov was like walking across a soft mattress. She tried to ignore the painful whining of her shredded eardrums.

Maschenov stood in the torn-open end of the carriage, his burned clothes flapping in the wind. Without the gun in his hand, he looked like an ordinary twelve-year old. Then he looked back at her with those pitiless, calculating eyes and the illusion disappeared. He might have been a normal kid once, but the Bank had turned him into a psychopath.

This carriage hadn’t slowed down at all. If Maschenov tried to jump out, he would certainly be killed when he hit the sleepers below. He had nowhere to go.

‘Lie down on the ground,’ Cormanenko yelled. She pointed the MP5 at him, then remembered it was empty, and brandished the table knife instead. She could barely hear her own voice over the wind and the muffled roar in her ears.

Maschenov didn’t look concerned. He turned to face her head on. Then he reached into his jacket.

Cormanenko crouched, ready to dive sideways if he pulled out yet another weapon–

But he didn’t. He tugged a hidden strap and a parachute exploded out of his back.

Maschenov was sucked backwards out the back of the carriage so fast that it was like he’d been kicked in the stomach. A split second later he was shrinking into the distance, hanging in the air over the icy valley.

Cormanenko watched him disappear behind Mount Kharsum as the train rounded another bend in the tracks. He was alive, but so was she. Elite espionage was a small world. They would meet again. And when they did, she suspected that one of them wouldn’t be so lucky.

The Cut Out

[][
**]

Fero isn’t a spy.

But he looks exactly like someone who is: Troy Maschenov – a ruthless Besmari agent.

What starts as a case of mistaken identity quickly turns into a complicated and dangerous plan. Fero is recruited to fight for his country. He will have to impersonate Troy, enter enemy territory, find Dessa Cormanenko – a missing agent – and bring her home in time to prevent a devastating terror attack.

Fero is in way over his head. Hastily trained, loaded up with gadgets and smuggled across the border into Besmar, he discovers the truth about espionage.

Getting in is easy. Getting out alive is hard.

Praise for The Cut Out

“A breath-taking, heart-pounding thrill ride of twists and turns where nothing is as it seems, allegiances are tested, secrets unravel and there are blindsides and double-crosses galore.”
–Lily Oz, All The Written Worlds

“Learn this kid’s name, read his books.”
–Michael Grant, internationally bestselling author of GONE

“The Cut Out is the best book Jack Heath has written so far. It is a fast-paced, relentless action adventure full of spies, secrets and double-crosses.”
–Sue Osborne, Library Monitor

The Cut Out was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. Learn more at jackheath.com.au/the-cut-out.

The Fail Safe

[][
**]

Fero Dremovich has one goal – to escape from Kamau. He’s surrounded by spies, and he can’t pretend for much longer that he doesn’t know. It’s only a matter of time before one of his many enemies kills him.

His escape plan goes off the rails when he stumbles across the renegade spy Dessa Cormanenko. She wants his help to prevent a nuclear war.

If Fero joins her team of revolutionaries, he will probably die. If he stays in Kamau, he will probably die. If he escapes into Besmar, he will probably die.

Fero is running out of time to pick a side…

The Fail Safe will be published in August 2016. Learn more at jackheath.com.au/the-fail-safe.

About the author

Jack Heath is the pen name of an internationally best-selling author. He wrote The Cut Out, the Countdown To Danger series and fifteen other action-packed thrillers for young people, which have been short-listed for multiple awards and published in several languages around the world.

In the course of his research he has trained with firearms, performed street magic, visited morgues and prisons, travelled through Russia and read only books by women for a year. When he’s not touring schools, libraries and festivals around the world, he lives in Canberra.

For more information, visit jackheath.com.au.


In Case Of Emergency: A Cut Out Story

‘Something from the menu?’ Aravinya asked the pre-teen boy in seat 9A. ‘No, thank you.’ The boy held up a newspaper. He had scrawled a message on the front page in thick black marker pen: the passenger behind me has a gun. This short story was written before a live audience and features characters from The Cut Out, a bestselling middle-grade action thriller which was shortlisted for multiple awards.

  • ISBN: 9781370253142
  • Author: Jack Heath
  • Published: 2016-07-28 05:05:08
  • Words: 4505
In Case Of Emergency: A Cut Out Story In Case Of Emergency: A Cut Out Story