Adventurer Raymond Swift stars in......

Trail of the HMS Fortuna

A Far-Flung Epic in 8 Chapters!

by Andrea Tran
About the author

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Previously: Pursuing a clue gleaned by Annabelle's latent ESP, Ray and the others head out into the desert toward a mountainous region where ancient writings may hint at the location of the missing HMS Fortuna. But thanks to his insidious mesmerism, their enemy has learned their destination and followed them...

Episode 7: And now...Dr. Belarski!


  THE MAN WAS IN HIS FIFTIES, his face long and pale, with deep marks under the cheekbones. His hair was jet black, except for a single white streak on the side of the head. His eyes were a cruel, icy grey color, and conveyed a sense of power. A small, well trimmed moustache framed his thin-lipped mouth.

‘Miss Kramer, it is such a pleasure to meet you again.’ The man was smiling at Annabelle. She was trembling. Ray raised up slowly and stood close to her.

‘Oh, I see you and your valiant rescuer have become... better acquainted,’ the man commented. He turned to one of the French military, a man in Lieutenant's uniform. ‘How touching... N’est-ce pas, monsieur Morel?’ The Lieutenant smiled.

‘What’s going on here? Morel, you owe me some explanations! Why did you follow us?’ Captain Fitzroy snapped at the Lieutenant.

Morel looked blankly at the British officer.

‘Don’t waste your breath, Captain Fitzroy. These men are under hypnosis,’ Ray said, then turned to the man in suit. ‘Who are you, and how did you find us?’ he asked sharply.

The elegant man looked at Ray amused, raising his thick eyebrows. ‘I do not see why you shouldn’t know my real name, Mr. Swift. After all, I will need your talents for a few more hours, and it would be most inappropriate to keep you in ignorance. I am Doctor Laszlo Belarski,’ he said with a slight bow of his head. ‘Our common acquaintance, the delightful Miss Kramer, has been kind enough to inform me of your African destination from her hotel room in London.’ Annabelle shook her head, confused. Ray took her hand.

Doctor Belarski continued. ‘Once I knew that, it was child’s play to leave Britain for Timbuktu, in French Sudan, where I got in touch with relevant French representatives,’ he glanced at Lieutenant Morel, ‘who were extremely prompt in keeping me up do date on your movements. As you know, Mr. Swift, people are usually very willing to do whatever I ask them. It’s flattering, really.’

With this, he moved his hands from behind his back, revealing two shining metallic cufflinks at the sleeves of his jacket. The circular cufflinks were white, with a black spiral pattern in the middle!

Annabelle stiffened, recognising the pattern.

‘You are a criminal! Four lives have been lost to your ruthless greed!’ Ray snapped, angrily.

Doctor Belarski chuckled. ‘Come, come, my friend. You are a man of science, too. You must understand. What are a few pathetic soldiers, or lab assistants, compared to knowledge!’ His eyes widened. He then turned to Annabelle. ‘Miss Kramer, your father is a genius. Who else would have thought of these virtually uncharted mountains to hide his invention!’

Ray frowned. Something did not sound right.

The Doctor continued, pacing slowly along the wall. ‘A truly remarkable man. I met him years ago, when we were students at Cambridge University. His mind was already far beyond any of his teachers. But he did not understand his potential, he did not understand... Power!’ He paused for a moment looking at them, then shrugged and looked casually at his white leather shoes, dusty from the climb. ‘So our paths divided, I delved in more… arcane sciences, but I kept informed on the development of his research.’

He looked up again. ‘Then I learned about his revolutionary Device, and what it could do!’ For a moment he had the gaze of a madman, his eyes feverish with greed. ‘A man of ambition, with that kind of power in his hands, could do anything!’ He paused again. ‘Unfortunately he was building it under Government protection. Stealing it was too dangerous, even for me. I could not capture him and keep him hidden for years, rebuilding the Device for me, without attracting attention. All I could do was wait. Eventually the occasion presented itself. It was called Operation Meridian.’ He looked up at his captives, smiled. ‘But things on the Fortuna did not go as planned, as we all know’.

All this time, Ray had studied their situation. He had to stop this man, but the odds were still too unfavourable, with three guns pointed at him and his friends, and a thirty foot drop behind them.

Doctor Belarski seemed to return from a distant place in his mind. ‘Oh, I am unforgivable. I could converse for hours, in such fine company. But it’s getting late, my friends,’ he adjusted his Panama hat, ‘and we have a Device to find.’

~~~

The last of the French legionnaires entered the cave and removed the rope harness that Ray had devised, being very careful to secure it on the cave ground. It had taken quite a while for the whole group to move in. Irat had been left on the rocky ledge, unconscious and tied up. The cave entrance was spacious, with a slightly sloping narrow corridor descending deep in the rock. The pleasant fresh temperature was a welcome relief from the burning sun outside. Doctor Belarski instructed the three captives to walk in front, then he followed with Morel and the armed legionnaires. A torchlight had been given to Annabelle in the lead, and Morel had a second one. Doctor Belarski was last, closing the line.

They descended the corridor for some time, the guiding symbols regularly appearing on the walls and ceiling. Their steps echoed in the stone bowel.

‘Something is not right,’ Ray whispered to Annabelle, trying not to be heard by the others. ‘If your father had survived to hide the Device, he would have never been capable of climbing to this cave, let alone of carrying machinery.’

Annabelle nodded, without turning.

Ray continued. ‘And anyway, this Device must be very big, if the Fortuna had to be modified to carry it.’

‘Silence at the front!’ Belarski said sharply. His voice betrayed a certain tension. It was different from the self confident, arrogant tone he had used before.

As they reached a wider chamber, from which several side corridors forked, Belarski made them stop. Shining his torch around, he saw that the symbols were becoming much harder to detect. ‘This can get dangerous,’ he said nervously. ‘I cannot hunt for Treasure in a maze and watch my back at the same time. We need to have you on our side, my friends.’ He gestured the soldiers to keep the captives still.

Ray stiffened. He had been preparing for this. The three Frenchmen walked towards the prisoners, obstructing Belarski’s view for a moment. Ray seized the opportunity, and quickly reached for his shirt pocket, pressing a little object inside it. Belarski did not seem to notice, in the dim light. Nothing happened. Ray’s hand quickly moved away from his pocket. The whole process couldn’t have taken longer than an instant. The Frenchmen positioned themselves behind the captives, and each one pointed a gun at one prisoner’s back.

‘I shall start with you, Mr. Swift. Somebody with your talents will be very useful in finding our way around this cave.’ Doctor Belarski stepped closer, lifting his arm in front of Ray and exposing the spiral-patterned cufflink. ‘Pray look this way,’ he said soothingly, while gesturing to Morel to switch his torchlight off. Now Annabelle’s torch was the only light source.

Ray could feel Belarski’s mesmeric presence, his powerful gaze probing his mind. Ray tensed. He had to act quickly.

Doctor Belarski seemed to activate a small switch behind the cufflink. A soft click was heard. Ray held his breath. Nothing happened. Belarski clicked again, then tried the second cufflink. His expression changed, he frowned. Then Ray acted.

One moment of his opponents’ confusion was all it took Ray to step aside like a flash, grab the Lieutenant behind him and push him violently against the other two soldiers, knocking them off their feet. Two reports boomed, echoing in the underground chamber. Fitzroy reacted, pushing Annabelle on the ground. Her torch fell down, casting wild shadows on the walls, then died leaving them in darkness. Ray was hoping for this, his extraordinary eyesight adapted in mere moments to the almost total obscurity.

‘Morel! Your torch!’ Belarski was shouting.

Ray saw Belarski's dark silhouette running away in one of the corridors, and then he turned to the armed soldiers. Morel fumbled with his torch, managed to switch it on, only to find Ray standing next to him, punching him hard in the stomach. Morel’s gun fell from his hand. The other two soldiers were standing up, and opened fire randomly towards the torch beam.

Ray dodged, diving for the ground, then kicked Morel's hand. The torch flew upwards, then crashed on the ground. The light beam flickered, but did not die, and was now pointing straight at Ray on the ground!

Darn heavy duty torches! he thought.

Annabelle shouted, seeing him in danger. He saw the two legionnaires taking aim, then a dark shape rose behind them. Captain Fitzroy had sneaked around them, and banged their heads together with a satisfying knock! The two soldiers collapsed, dropping their guns, which Fitzroy was quick to recover. Ray met his eyes briefly, gave him a look of gratitude. ‘Any time, old chap!’ the British officer said, rushing to Annabelle.

Ray sprang up on his feet and turned to face Morel, who had produced a sharp bayonet from his belt. The metal glinted in the torch beam. Ray wanted to neutralize the man without killing him, aware that he was acting under hypnosis. Morel swung at him, repeatedly. Ray dodged, gradually moving around the room, until he positioned himself with the light shining straight at his back. The Lieutenant fell for it, placed himself in front of him to swing. Ray dashed out of the cone of light, which shone in Morel’s eyes, blinding him for a second. Before the other could react, Ray kicked him hard at the back of his legs, forcing him on his knees, then head-locked him from the back, grabbing his armed hand at the wrist. As Ray’s steel grip on his neck tightened, Morel released the grasp on the bayonet, which eventually dropped from his hand. Ray kicked the knife away, then released the head-lock. Morel fell forward, semi-unconscious.


On to Episode 8: The Mysterious Cave

Back to Episode 6: Trek into the Desert


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On the Trail of the HMS Fortuna is copyright by Andrea Tran. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)