Graham backed away slowly, pulling Peggy Lee back along with him.
“Where are you running to?” Ian said. “You like to back yourself into corners, I guess, right? But this time there’s no way out.”
When Ian was just a few yards away from Graham and Peggy Lee, Charley slipped out from his hiding place and began walking silently towards him. As he approached, he said, in a calm, restrained tone, “Hey buddy, you looking for a fight?”
Ian spun around. Before he could utter a word or defend himself, Charley landed a solid blow to his left eye. Graham sprung from the corner and threw himself at the back of Ian’s knees, knocking the giant to the ground. Ian fell onto his injured shoulder, twisting and howling with pain. Then Charley jumped on top of Ian and struck him powerfully on the jaw. Ian rolled onto his stomach to try to protect himself. Charley grabbed his one good arm, wrenched it up behind his back, and pinned him to the ground. Graham held his legs.
“Alright, I got him,” Charley said.
“You can handle him?”
“Then I’ll untie the soldiers, and we can secure him with those straps.”
“Hurry though. This ox is even stronger than he looks.”
Graham ran over and pulled the gags out of the soldiers’ mouths and untied them. “You guys are techies, right? Go figure out how to get those doors open. Break into the emergency protocol and see what you can do,” Graham ordered.
Peggy Lee sat down on the floor, put her head in her hands, and began to sob. Graham and Charley bound Ian’s good arm to his feet. He lay there silently, like a roped calf, spitting blood onto the floor.
“Peggy Lee, are we in immediate danger from those bombs?” Graham asked.
She shook her head. Then she said, “We have about half an hour before the back-up detonators are activated. Then, you will have fifteen more minutes before they go off.”
Charley stepped over to Peggy Lee. “I need to restrain you as well. You are under military arrest.”
“Don’t bother her,” Graham replied. “She’s not going to try anything now. When we get those doors open we’ll take them both to the holding cells, but there’s no need to bind her hands.”
“If you say so, boss.”
“I say so.”
Within five minutes, the two techie soldiers had managed to get the doors open. All of the soldiers on the Platform burst into the room ready for a fight.
“Stand down,” Graham ordered. “Now, do any of you have explosives experience? We need to deactivate these bombs.”
One of the escort soldiers from the boat stepped forward. “I used to tinker a lot with electronics when I was a kid. I could probably help.”
“What’s your name again?” Graham asked.
“Private Eckstrom, sir.”
The room was silent. Then, Peggy Lee stood up and said, “I want to help too. I know the bombs. They’re very sophisticated. You cannot move them because any motion will cause premature detonation. If you cut the wrong wire or pull any circuit boards, they’ll blow. You need my help if you’re going to have any chance of disarming those bombs.”
Graham turned and looked hard at her. “Why would I trust you?”
“Because I helped you stop Ian.”
“Okay, but why did you do that? Your mission was clearly to destroy the facilities.”
“I changed my mind, okay? I helped you, not him. That should be enough. Let’s just deactivate the bombs, okay?”
“As I see it, I don’t really have much choice. Okay everyone clear the room, except for Peggy Lee and Private Eckstrom. Charley, take a couple of soldiers and escort Ian to holding cell A. The rest of you, get down to the dining hall, where I will debrief you when we’re finished here.”
“You’re staying too?” Charley asked.
Graham nodded as he grabbed a toolbox from one of the soldiers. “Now go!”
The room emptied quickly. Graham, Peggy Lee, and Private Eckstrom walked over to the bomb attached to the central console. Peggy Lee pointed to a green wire and a blue wire, “Cut those two simultaneously.”
“Are you sure?” Graham asked.
“Yes, I studied these bombs for months getting ready for today.”
“What do you think, soldier?” Graham asked.
“Looks plausible to me. The better question is how sure are you that you can trust this terrorist? Because if she’s wrong . . . .”
Graham turned and took Peggy Lee by the shoulders. “Look at me, damn it,” he said.
Her beautiful, blue-gray eyes came immediately into focus on his. Tears streaked her face and her bottom lip quivered, but her eyes were steady and clear. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him. Her eyes seemed to be pleading with him for forgiveness, but he could not be sure. He wasn’t even sure if she wanted to live or die. He knew now that she was lost in this deteriorating world – that her convictions had dissolved into nothing. She had managed to maintain a polished presentation to the outside world, but what lay inside was dark and wrought with confusion. Something in her sorrowful gaze, however, assured him that she did not want to hurt him. She nodded just once, and Graham made the call.
Without taking his eyes off of hers, he ordered the soldier to cut the wires. If he was wrong and the room exploded, at least the last thing that he would see would be beautiful – strange, frightening, frail, and complicated, but also extremely beautiful.
“Alright, sir, I hope you know what you’re doing,” Private Eckstrom said.
They all took a deep breath.