"Destroy the Bridge?" Kevin practically screamed, "Are you insane?"
Kevin's mind reeled at the prospect of all that effort going to waste, not to mention all of the personal commitment he had invested in its design.
"I'm afraid so," Amiss replied, looking irredeemably smug. Kevin resisted the sudden urge to resort to violence, which would have been completely out of character, and probably not very effective anyway.
It occurred to Kevin that there had been forces trying to delay or prevent the completion of the bridge for quite some time now. With the benefit of hindsight, there seemed to have been several incidents during the design and construction of the New Bridge which had appeared at the time to be merely accidents, or coincidences, or perhaps just Acts of God, but which he could now interpret as an attempt to disrupt the completion of the project.
There had been several incidents during the construction work on the Mainland side which could so very easily have resulted in serious injury, conceivably even death. Miraculously, those involved had all survived, in most cases without even a scratch. While of course such "near misses" were indeed the subject of an investigation, these were much less lengthy and disruptive than the enquiries that would have ensued if someone had indeed died.
Even so, there had been no obvious attempt at direct sabotage of the fabric of the bridge itself, at least as far as he could tell. Presumably this was because it would have been very difficult to conceal, given the sophistication of modern techniques of design and construction. Indeed, Kevin could not think of a way that straightforward sabotage could have gone undetected.
Even attempting to damage the design so that the bridge would collapse "accidentally" would be very difficult, simply because of the cross-checking and multiple computer simulations which had to be performed. Besides, it occurred to Kevin, some of those simulations were undertaken on my own laptop computer, and I keep that very close to me almost all of the time.
The most severe risk to the delivery of the New Bridge project, especially in the early days, was the erratic intervention of the various strands of management. At the time, Kevin had put it down to the usual executive intransigence, not to mention inconsistency, but perhaps it was actually an attempt by some faction to disrupt the construction of the bridge.
Now, it seemed, there was to be no attempt at subterfuge, no subtle pressures brought to bear to delay the project, or even to increase the anticipated costs to a point where the backers decided to cut their losses. They were actually going to destroy the bridge - a huge waste of money and resources.
Kevin sagged, both physically and mentally. He could think of no way to prevent the destruction of what he had long thought of as "his baby", or indeed to influence the course of events at all.
"How?" he croaked, "How are you going to do it?"
"Oh, it's simple enough," Amiss replied, gloating, "We'll just blow up the towers."
Kevin felt like a bomb had gone off inside him. He had long suspected that there concealed explosives in the bridge, emplaced in the chambers he had been specifically requested to include in the design. Like in the Old Bridge, these charges had been planted to guarantee the destruction of the bridge in the event of some kind of invasion or other direct threat. Now, because of deep political concerns triggered by an accidental discovery, they were going to detonate the explosives that had presumably already been concealed in the towers.
Kevin looked around at the rest of the group, suddenly wondering what the others were making of all this. He could see that Tanji appeared to be very frightened, shaking visibly and looking imploringly at him. Kevin grasped her hand, trying to impart some kind of reassurance. She clung to his arm, seemingly grateful for the touch.
Kithyn seemed to be shocked at her husband's stance. Discovering that Amiss was so closely aligned with this separatist view was clearly news to her. Seeing Kevin looking at her, and aware of Tanji's distress, Kithyn seemed moved to offer some condolences.
"This wasn't what I expected. I'm sorry," she said to Tanji, still speaking in English.
Tanji nodded dumbly in response.
Kevin knew that Tanji had been writing to her friend, telling her all about him, and keeping her informed of their movements. She had quite reasonably expected her old friend to keep her confidences. However, Kithyn, in all innocence, had been relating these tales to her husband. Perhaps Amiss had even encouraged Kithyn to suggest to Tanji that they should write regularly. Kevin supposed that the use of not one, but two, naive parties was a subtle way of keeping track of Kevin's whereabouts, and even his state of mind. It was almost certainly better than the intrusive presence of Ricard which had been employed earlier.
Tanji's Uncle, and her Aunt as well, looked upset at the revelations but did not look quite so frightened. Her Uncle was still striving to keep his temper under control, and had not yet felt compelled to get involved. Being aligned with the Guild of Directions, presumably her Uncle thought that his seniority and position would protect both of them from any serious repercussions.
"What's going to happen to me? And to Tanji? Am I going to get blown up too?" Kevin asked, making a feeble attempt at irony.
Amiss looked genuinely sincere, almost shocked at the thought.
"Oh, no, not at all. We've no desire to kill you."
Professor Alan spoke up, prompted by a glance from Amiss.
"You've definitely got the wrong end of the stick," he said, "I'm not sure what made you think that anyone has any intent to harm you."
"It was you," Kevin responded flatly.
The Professor was taken aback.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"I overheard you talking on the telephone, I suppose to Amiss, when we were locked in your office, saying that I - we, Tanji and I, well, you said we would have to be permanently silenced."
The Professor laughed, a little uncertainly, given the sharp looks he was getting from the rest of the group. Kevin wondered if it had not been understood that Alan had tried to make prisoners of himself and Tanji, or that such a threat had been made.
Amiss spoke quickly, to fill the silence.
"We have a working knowledge of psychology that's rather better than in your world," he said, "And we have recognised procedures for, well, to put it simply, we can make you forget."
"You mean, some kind of mind-wipe or memory modification?" Kevin gasped.
"Well, if you like," Amiss responded affably, "You won't know anything about it, afterwards. We had much practice, you know. And of course we ensure that any reminders, any physical evidence is removed."
"So this was always to have been my fate?" Kevin demanded. "I mean, even if you weren't planning on destroying my bridge, I would have still had my memory modified, my past changed?"
"Well, yes, I'm afraid so," Amiss responded, not sounding the slightest bit contrite, "It's a standard approach for dealing with people from your world who discover, or have to be told, too much about our world."
Kevin mentally repeated that old expression about paranoia, the one that went, just because you are paranoid, does not mean that people are not out to get you. It was entirely clear that a clean-up operation had been long planned. This would have destroyed the physical evidence of the bridge's construction, arranged that his company closed the Manchester office, and split up or transferred anyone who might know even a little about it. It would certainly have removed his existence from the company records, or at least made it look is if he had left the company some time ago.
"Did you know about this?" Kevin demanded of Tanji.
Her expression was answer enough.
"No! Absolutely not," she answered indignantly.
Kevin had not really believed that she had, but nevertheless he felt he had to be sure.
"So what's going to happen to Tanji?" he asked Amiss.
"Oh, nothing. She's a professional Guide. She must know where her loyalties lie."
This statement provoked a certain amount of muttering from Tanji's Aunt, directed at her Uncle.
Kevin twisted in his seat to look at Tanji.
"I don't want this to happen to you," she said emphatically, "I didn't want any of this."
Suddenly she pulled him close and kissed him full on the lips, as if there was no one else in the room.
"I want you to stay with me," she whispered, her eyes alight, "I love you."
Kevin felt his heart suddenly leap, despite the dire situation he found himself in.
"Oh, yes," he murmured in response, "I love you too."
A sharp intake of breath from Tanji's Aunt caused Kevin to look up. Tanji's eyes too were drawn to something in the corner of the room. Changes were occurring in the appearance of the Watchers, who had hitherto stood impassively throughout the exchanges. The black robes, with their mysterious aura of magic, had simultaneously transformed. They now had the dull brown appearance of oiled waterproof leather capes, whose worn patina gave the impression of having seen considerable service in all weathers.
Kevin was immediately struck by the similarity of the figures to the images of the Ferryman he had seen before, both at Bret's home and in the pub only a few days before.
"The Ferrymen," Tanji breathed, as if in confirmation.
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