Thursday, 9 NOV 1989, 21:37 Zulu, HMS Brilliant, North Sea
Nikolas Karas lurched forward, battling against the violent rocking motion and his own vertigo as he trailed Grey Cloak through the smoke-filled passageways of the damaged war ship. He instinctively headed aft, convinced that his long-time nemesis made his way to the flight deck in order to escape the damaged frigate. The NIS operative grimaced at the thought, “Not this time, old friend.”
Nik had been on the bridge moments before.
Nik and his MI6 contact, Race Ockley, managed to convince Captain McFarland that Grey Cloak was aboard the Brilliant and not the Soviet submarine they raced to intercept. McFarland had just given the order to sound action stations when all hell broke loose. Nik had been standing next to the first officer when the man’s head suddenly exploded in a geyser of blood and brains. A volley of deadly gunfire erupted from the super spy’s AK-47 as he strafed the remaining members of the bridge crew.
Three weeks prior, MI6, working from intelligence data obtained from the CIA, uncovered a Soviet plot to steal a deadly strain of anthrax from the National Laboratory in London for use in manufacturing biological weapons. They foiled the attempt, replacing the pathogen with a harmless vaccine strain.
MI6 expected the espionage agent to make his escape aboard one of several Aeroflot international flights—a suspected KGB delivery system for stolen secrets and materials. Although unaware the pathogen had been switched, Grey Cloak did discover the MI6 agent shadowing him. He lured the man into Bushy Park and murdered him in cold blood.
As was his practice, Grey Cloak used a series of decoys and disguises to abscond from London with the stolen virus. When he disappeared, MI6 did the only thing they could. They called the man who knew the spy best—the only man outside the Kremlin who had ever seen Grey Cloak’s face.
Eighteen hours later, Nikolas Karas arrived from Corfu and, along with Race Ockley, boarded the HMS Brilliant. MI6 believed Grey Cloak was already aboard the submarine and dispatched the Brilliant to intercept it. They discovered too late that Grey Cloak was onboard the Brilliant disguised as a member of her crew in order to rendezvous with the submarine that would return him to Moscow. His disguise gave him almost unlimited access to the ship. Nik and Race had just informed the captain of their suspicions when the spy launched his attack.
Nik dove for cover but couldn’t completely avoid the hail of bullets that peppered the bridge. Two rounds found their way into his right shoulder and one buried itself into the meaty part of his left thigh before he managed to take cover on the deck behind the helm. He shielded his face as shattered glass from the windows and instrumentation rained down on him.
When he opened his eyes, the Brilliant’s twenty-two-year-old helmsman lay on the floor in front of him, staring back with lifeless green eyes and a hole in the center of his forehead. He was the same age as Raphael, Nik’s middle son.
Nik cursed softly, chastising himself for his slow reflexes. He gritted his teeth as he gingerly pulled his P7 from the holster under his left armpit. Nik took a deep breath and glanced at Race a few feet away, signaling his intent to return fire. The younger agent nodded and indicated that he was ready. Both men sprang from their hiding places and fired in Grey Cloak’s direction. The spy managed to squeeze off several more rounds before pivoting away from the deadly gunfire. Grey Cloak bolted through the open hatchway.
“I may have hit him,” growled Nik, staring at the hatch. When there was no reply, Nik whipped his head around, shocked to see Ockley writhing on the deck clutching at his gut. A trickle of blood oozed from his mouth.
“Race!” Nik ignored his own wounds and dropped to his friend’s side. “Race, is it bad? Show me!”
The MI6 agent groaned in agony and slowly moved his hands away from his stomach. He saw the grave expression in the Greek’s eyes an instant before he could mask the emotion.
“I will find the doctor…”
Ockley reached out and caught Nik by the arm. He coughed and more blood oozed from his mouth. “No,” he wheezed. “Go—ungh—after him.”
An explosion deep within the ship sent tremors through the deck plating, rattling the shattered bridge controls. Nik glanced warily around the bridge before returning his
attention to the wounded agent. “I cannot leave you,” he declared. “You will die.”
“Please…Nik…just…get that bloody bastard…”
Nik, wrestling with the decision, finally nodded and squeezed Race’s
shoulder. “Eíthe o Theós na eínai mazí sas. May God be with you!”
Nik stumbled through the dimly lit crew passageway, desperately trying to keep it in focus while attempting to isolate sounds that would alert him to the espionage agent’s whereabouts, but his senses reeled. The passageway swam before his eyes. The ship’s emergency klaxons effectively drowned out all other sounds while viciously adding to the agonizing throbbing in Nik’s head.
Outside the wind howled its fury, growing thirty-foot swells that turned the sea into an angry menace. The already fierce storm intensified virtually at the same instant Grey Cloak unleashed his lethal attack on the crew of the HMS Brilliant. The sea churned, sending waves of greenish-grey seawater washing over the sides of the ship. They threatened to scuttle the Type-22 frigate even as the unconscionable spy tried to destroy her from within.
Nik gripped the railing. His heart raced as he struggled to keep his balance. Blinking away the double vision, he tried to ignore the pain, ignore the blood loss. He felt cold and on the verge of collapse. It occurred to him that he might actually die this time.
Thoughts of Damiana, his children and his grandchildren filled his mind. The notion of never seeing them again spurred him on. He would not allow Grey Cloak another victory. He would not allow this diábolos to take him from his family—not now, not ever! He concentrated on each step as the relentless waves pounded the Brilliant’s hull.
A secondary explosion sent an ominous shudder through the entire ship. The emergency lights winked out plunging the corridor into inky blackness. Mercifully, it also silenced the bloody klaxons—a word he’d heard often over the years during his close association with his MI6 counterparts. He decided he liked it.
In the relative silence that followed, Nik listened. Voices echoed from below decks letting him know that damage control parties were hard at work trying to save their critically wounded ship. In the distance, he heard footsteps hurrying across the metal deck plating. Grey Cloak!
The lights snapped back on. He wondered if the captain was still alive—wondered if anyone on the bridge was alive. Nik couldn’t imagine they survived Grey Cloak’s attack, but then he was still alive, wasn’t he? If fortune truly favored the bold, then someone was up there trying to regain control of the ship and turn her into the onslaught to keep her from capsizing.
Much of the blood that covered him was not his own. Nik believed God spared his life for a purpose—to bring Grey Cloak, the most diabolical enemy agent the cold war had seen, and a man he’d hunted for thirty years—to justice. In this task, he would not fail.
Nik was dimly aware of a change in direction—a turn to starboard—they were trying to turn the ship into the waves. He silently thanked God that someone was in control on the bridge. He hoped Race was still alive. He’d found the intercom and called for help before leaving the bridge. Static was his only reply. He left not knowing if anyone heard his plea.
Another wave hammered the Brilliant and sent Nik flying, slamming him hard against a bulkhead. The frigate finally completed her turn, rising up and pitching forward, riding the huge swells like a forty-four-hundred-ton surfboard. Nik lost his grip on the railing when the ship plunged downward. The force lifted him off his feet and hurled him forward, sending him careening down the passageway and into the opposite bulkhead six feet away. He hit with bone-crunching force. His legs buckled under him and he collapsed to the deck. He cried out and clutched his already tortured right shoulder.
Breathing heavily, Nik leaned his back against the bulkhead to get his second wind. He grimaced as he pulled away his blood-soaked shirt to inspect the wound. He’d lost a lot of blood and estimated he had less than thirty minutes before he lost consciousness. “God help me,” he murmured.
Gathering his strength, Nik struggled to his feet and launched himself toward the stern. He tried to ignore the creaking and groaning of the ship as it strained under the pressure of the storm.
The hangar deck appeared deserted when Nik arrived. One of the ship’s two Lynx
helicopters still stood secured to the deck, but someone had released the hydraulic deck-lock on the other. An experienced sailor would never release the locking clamp in such tumultuous conditions. Grey Cloak was here—somewhere.
He rounded an equipment locker and discovered a member of Brilliant’s crew lying on the deck. Nik knelt to feel for a pulse but discovered the man’s neck had been broken. “You cannot escape!” Nik called out.
Nik glanced around warily as he stood and advanced toward the helo platform. “We know about the submarine,” he called over the howling wind. There was no response. “We have already intercepted her,” he lied, cautiously looking behind another locker. “The crew is now in the custody of the Royal Navy,” Nik continued, turning to look behind him.
“Then there is a high probability that my mission will fail!”
Nik whirled around to find Grey Cloak, still in his guise as a sub-lieutenant, standing fifteen feet away. His face was different than he remembered, but that was nearly thirty years before. Given his penchant for disguises, Nik had no way of knowing if this was his true appearance, but he looked younger than he should and remarkably fit for his age.
The spy had discarded his AK-47 and now held the NIS agent at bay using a .22 caliber Margolin—the KGB weapon of choice for covert operations. He struggled to maintain his balance as he slowly retreated toward the fantail.
Rain came down in torrents driven by fierce, gusting winds. The wind driven drops pelted Nik’s face like icy shots, stinging his cheeks and nearly blinding him. “The substance you stole is not what you think,” Nik shouted. He kept his P7 trained on the enemy spy as he slowly closed the distance, a difficult task given his wounds and the heaving of the ship. “The Americans informed MI6 of your plan. The strain you have is a harmless vaccine.”
This news clearly surprised Grey Cloak. He sneered at the revelation. “Ah yes, those
clever Americans,” he mocked. “No matter, we will merely renew our efforts.”
Nik shook his head. “Is the writing not on the wall, my old friend? Perestroika? Glasnost?”
“Misguided notions,” he retorted.
“Perhaps,” replied Nik. “However, two years ago, the American president challenged Secretary Gorbachev to tear down the wall and today East Berliners have done just that. Communism is failing, Grey Cloak. It is only a matter of time. You are in danger of becoming obsolete, surely you see that.”
“As are you, comrade.”
Nik slowly shook his head. “No,” he intoned. “As long as there are men like you in the world who would fight against peace, I will be employed.”
An experienced pilot, Grey Cloak’s eyes flicked to the Lynx then returned to Nik. “I must take my leave of you now.”
Nik drew the spy’s attention to the horrific conditions as if he’d somehow failed to notice them. “Are you that good a pilot?” he called. “Or are you simply foolish?”
Grey Cloak ignored the question. “You have been a worthy adversary, but I am afraid this is good-bye.”
“I will not allow you to leave this ship,” Nik warned. He kept a keen eye trained on the Margolin, noting also that his opponent kept his non-firing hand concealed behind him.
A sudden disturbance drew Grey Cloak’s attention. The cavalry had arrived in the form of a dozen Royal Marines. They flooded the flight deck and took position twenty feet behind Nik. They were armed with SA80 assault rifles, all trained on the enemy agent.
Grey Cloak flashed an evil grin, confident that he still had the advantage as he withdrew his non-firing hand from behind his back. He revealed a remote transmitter, presumably for a bomb he’d planted somewhere aboard the frigate. “Tell them to stand down,” hissed the spy, “or I will blow this ship to Kingdom Come!”
Nik turned his head slightly and addressed Major Paul Green, the team leader. He knew from experience that once cornered, Grey Cloak would not shrink away from violence. “Do as he says,” Nik ordered. “He has a remote detonator and will not hesitate to use it.”
A smug smile played at Major Green’s lips. “Not bloody likely, sir, my men discovered the bomb and diffused it.”
The NIS agent’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Are you certain?”
Nik returned his full attention to the espionage agent, eyeing him guardedly. “It seems that your plans have changed,” he called out.
There were no more smug smiles or clever words. With his escape route blocked, Grey Cloak tossed the remote to the deck and backed slowly toward the rail. He briefly considered his options and then made his decision. The super spy suddenly raised the Margolin, aiming it squarely at Nik’s heart. Major Green spoke quickly into the headset integrated into his helmet, issuing orders to an unseen subordinate.
Nik, his P7 still trained on the spy, maintained his stoic composure. “Even if you kill me, these men will see to it that you do not leave this ship alive.”
“Then the game will end as it should,” Grey Cloak called out. “We will, both of us, die—heroes of our respective homelands.”
“I have no intention of dying today,” Nik retorted. Despite his bravado, the NIS agent realized that even if Grey Cloak didn’t kill him, he was going into shock and would die anyway if he didn’t receive medical attention soon.
“I do not give you a choice!”
At the exact moment the spy fired, Brilliant’s bow shot up as the frigate rode out
another huge wave. Grey Cloak’s shot went high and right, whizzing past Nik’s left ear. It ricocheted off the deck behind him. Some of the marines lost their footing and slid down the helo pad toward the fantail. Nik dropped to the deck with an agonized groan. He caught a nearby cable to avoid being swept away.
Grey Cloak cursed, clinging to the rail for balance. He took aim at Nik once more, but a horrible shrieking sound distracted him. Grey Cloak shifted his gaze, looking beyond Nik to the hangar deck. His eyes bulged at the sight.
Green’s men frantically scrambled to escape the Lynx as it hurtled toward the fantail, crushing those that couldn’t move out of the way fast enough or sweeping them toward the fantail. Grey Cloak was horrified. He was directly in the helicopter’s path.
Nik instinctively rolled away at the last second to avoid being flattened by the Mark-8. He cried out in anguish as the helicopter’s skid caught the cable he clung to and nearly sent him plunging into the sea. His eyes found Grey Cloak just as the ship came crashing down again. He saw two shots find their mark, the sound drowned out by the roar of the sea. One hit the spy in his shoulder. The second hit him square in the chest.
“NO!” Nik shouted. “I wanted him taken alive!”
Mortally wounded, Grey Cloak teetered then tumbled backward over the rail, his terrified death scream snatched away by the fierce winds. Nik shakily recovered his feet and staggered to the rail. He peered over the side of the ship into the darkened sea but saw no sign of his enemy.
Nikolas Karas, buffeted by the tempest, stared into the darkness. He felt relief, of course, that Grey Cloak’s thirty-year reign of terror had finally ended, but at the same time, he mourned the loss of such a worthy opponent. Nik turned slowly, gripping the rail for support and looked pointedly at Major Green. “I want…the name…of the man who shot him.”
Green nodded his understanding. “Yes, sir.”
With the danger past, Nik was painfully aware of his injuries. He could bleed to death, but he was far more likely to succumb to shock. He felt cold. His pulse was thready, his breathing shallow. Nik’s breathing became more labored. He fought to keep his footing on the slippery deck. “Did anyone…on the bridge…?”
“Survive?” asked Green, realizing that Nik couldn’t form the words.
“Captain McFarland survived,” shouted Green. He recognized Nik was on the verge of collapse. “Sir, you must allow me to….”
Nik cut the man short. “Race-Ockley…”
Major Green nodded. “Mr. Ockley has been taken to emergency surgery,” he answered.
“Good,” Nik breathed, relieved to hear that Ockley was still alive. “That…is good.” He spotted the Margolin lying on the deck, but the world spun wildly out of control when he reached out to retrieve it.
Major Green caught Nik before he could crumple to the deck. He snatched up the Margolin and handed it to Nik. He accepted the weapon, nodding his thanks.
“Sir!” Green called out. “You need-medical-attention!” The marine was unwilling to allow Nik to put off going to sickbay a moment longer. He was prepared to hoist the man over his shoulder if necessary.
Nik felt his legs start to give way. “I believe…you may be…correct, Major.”
Green held him tight. “I have you, sir.”
As they set off for the medical bay, Nik could not shake the feeling that something was amiss. The ship was out of danger. Grey Cloak was presumed dead, lost forever to the elements. Even if he could somehow have survived his wounds, he couldn’t have survived the raging sea.