"Skin Deep" drabbles by Neville Hunt

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Playing along

Skin Deep #298

"I like London, I like England", said Tony as they walked towards 'his place'.

'Great.' thought Mark, 'that means he's probably got a passport.'

"Maybe I'll take you there", said Mark mysteriously.

"You take me at my place!" replied Tony, as provocatively as his English would allow.

"I certainly will!" was Mark's reply.

The moment Tony had opened the door to his small flat, he pulled Mark in and started to kiss him full on the lips. Mark had no option but to play along.

If he needed it, this was enough justification for what he was about to do.

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Skin Deep #297

The man's name was Tony Antoniou. He knew enough English to communicate that Mark and he should get away from there and the angry man Tony had been with until minutes before. That suited Mark very well. He wanted to get the hell out of that place as soon as possible. Despite his acting skills, he was very uncomfortable inside.

"Where?" asked Mark.

"Come with me", instructed Tony, "my place!"

'Suits me perfectly,'thought Mark.

He almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost!

As the two of them disappeared towards another part of town onlookers might think how similar they looked.

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Linking up

Skin Deep #296

Mark wasn't familiar with the gay scene and how it all worked, so when the young man linked arms with him he was a bit surprised, but went along with it, obviously!

It seemed to Mark that so much happened through non-verbal gestures, which was just as well as he didn't speak Greek, neither did the young man speak that much English either.

The only thing Mark realised was about to happen which he couldn't allow was the young man to take a mobile phone 'selfie' of the two of them.

Mark couldn't permit any photographic record of himself.

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Skin Deep #295

Mark's acting ability quickly kicked in. He made a point of staring directly at the young man he'd selected. He thought he might be in with a chance as the man was quick to look back and what people sometimes describe as 'electricity' passed between them.

About ten years younger than the older of the two men, Mark clearly had appeal for the younger, who was around Mark's own age.

The older man spotted the exchange of looks between the stranger and his date and, fortunately for Mark, threw a tantrum right there.

The younger man turned disdainfully and disengaged.

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Skin Deep #294

If Mark was turning gay tonight, then he was being very choosy about it. A fit, good looking young man like him immediately attracted attention. He was a new kid in town and quickly had guys offering him drinks and other substances. But Mark wasn't interested, yet! If Mr Right didn't come along tonight, there would be other nights. Mark scanned the club and scanned again. Then he saw what he was looking for. The trouble was, his choice came across the club to the bar with arms linked with another guy.

This might be rather difficult if not impossible.

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Going wild

Skin Deep #293

Mark had been given the use of a small car to get him around the island. He might have chosen to take the car out that night, but chose not to, lest the spooks turned up when the microchip was temporarily disabled. Instead, after putting a mound resembling a person on the recliner on the balcony next to a radio playing loud music, he called a taxi to take him to the country's capital, Nicosia.

In the centre of Nicosia, he headed for a gay bar he'd researched on the internet. Tonight he would be walking on the wild side!

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Going out

Skin Deep #292

Mark played his microchip disabler game one more time with the spooks before he reckoned he had worn them down. He'd overheard them saying that the chip was so deeply embedded that they 'couldn't be arsed' to go through the rigmarole and potential trouble involved to get it replaced, let alone the fuss 'bloody Mark' would make.

They were now softened like butter and, provided he played his cards right, he'd be able to do what he'd planned.

The spooks wouldn't get in his way.

The balcony would be warm enough to sit out tonight. Time for a trip out!

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Snooze, they lose

Skin Deep #291

Mark left it a couple of days before going out onto the balcony and switching on the disabler. He was there for several hours, prompting the two spooks to race down to the villa from wherever they were based, which Mark estimated was at least a half hour's drive away. They banged on the main door, got no reply, then came round the back, seeing Mark asleep, apparently, on the iron balcony above. They called up and woke him, apparently.

"Sorry, guys, I must've been asleep for hours."

The switch flipped as he went inside, but 'the penny didn't drop!'

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Skin Deep #290

"It might be the metal of the balcony that's causing a communication barrier", Mark said to the two spooks sagely. He stepped out onto the balcony and as he did, he flipped a switch on a small box in his pocket.

"Is it connecting?" called Mark from outside.

"No it's bloody not!" one spook said to the other. "Come back into the room."

Mark came back into the room and surreptitiously flipped the switch back. His microchip inside him started communicating again.

"Little fucking smartarse!" said one spook to the other quietly.

Mark's next experiment would be for longer periods.

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Softening them up

Skin Deep #289

With steerage from Mac2, Mark started switching the chip's communication function off for a while, then back on again, repeating it a couple of times. This was deliberate to bring the spooks running to check on him. As he watched them arrive, he switched back the communication enabling switch, so when he let the them in, the chip was receiving and broadcasting as normal.

"Have you been out and about?" one of the spooks half accused.

"No, not at all, been here all afternoon taking the rays on the balcony. Why do you ask?"

"Your chip appears to be malfunctioning."

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Fun time!

Skin Deep #288

Mac2 deduced it would not be sensible for its activities to be subject to the continual monitoring and scrutiny of MI6 operatives. It encouraged Mark to take immediate action to disable the communication microchip in his body. Surgical removal was not an option as a) it would be dangerous and b) it would involve a third party. Disablement was the only possible option.

However, total disablement would cause MI6 to smell a rat. Switch on: switch off disablement would be perfect. This was something Mark set as his interim goal. It took him 9 full days.

Now for some fun!

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Skin Deep #287

The prospect of being MI6's cannon fodder in the dodgiest countries in the world in terms of survival prospects didn't appeal to Mark, who still clung onto his Rufus identity inside.

Financially, and comfortwise, while he was in Cyprus it was good, but you can only enjoy what you're alive to experience he told himself, and his instinct was always to stay living. The villa was great, the workshop was terrific.

There's only so much swimming and sunbathing you can do, so, with encouragement and control from Mac2, Mark started on a project.

Disabling the chip deeply embedded inside him!

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Skin Deep #286

As he got into the car taking him back to RAF Akrotiri, Duncan called back to Mark, who was watching him leave.

"We won't call on you for a couple of months, so you can get acclimatised to the place. Until then, relax and enjoy a holiday!" Then he was gone.

Mark went back into the villa with a strange sense of, on the one hand freedom, and the other, entrapment. It seems he would never be able to shake off MI6. It was perhaps this that kicked in another headache and a long soothing session with Mac2.

"Holiday?... Pah!

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Big brother's watching

Skin Deep #285

The way Duncan had described it all sounded OK and a darned sight better than, as Rufus, a very long sentence in prison for the rest of his young life.

Duncan told him how he would be paid, giving details and credit and debit cards for his new local bank account in the name of Mark Toomey. He was told not to venture into the Turkish north of the island.

Finally, Duncan said to him, "you'll have a lot more freedom than prison, but remember, we'll contact you, we're watching you and we'll know where you are all the time.

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Skin Deep #284

Mark was sort of comfortable with what Duncan had told him, but needed to know more.

"I can't tell you more except that we'll be right behind you, supporting your activities. However, there will be quite a time when you're not on assignment. That's why we have built a workshop for you in the villa, where you can work on your electronics and occasionally we may ask you to help us design and build kit MI6 might need."

Mark nodded, but added, "what about my degree work?"

"We've negotiated a place on a research masters at the University of Nicosia.

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Skin Deep #283

Mark pressed Duncan for details of the nature of the occasional assignments.

Duncan spelt it out.

"East of here there is a lot of shit going down... and that's an understatement. Sometimes we have to do things that aren't easy to get advance clearance for in diplomatic circles. We have to act first, talk later. That seems to suit how you operate. The very nature of our needs means your assignments will be at short notice. Of course, you will have to sign the UK Official Secrets Act...

...the penalties for breaking which are serious, but in your case fatal!"

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Skin Deep # 282

Mark's headache subsided after Mac2 had performed a 'brain sweep'. Mark went back for a briefing from Duncan. They had a beer or two and the session was friendly, although Mark was uncharacteristically rather concerned about what MI6 might expect of him. Clearly they wouldn't have gone to all this trouble and expense without getting some serious return on investment.

Duncan explained that Mark would have to go on occasional 'assignments' which would call for quick-wittedness, an iron fist and ruthless determination, but that from what he'd heard about Mark (in his Rufus days) it would present no problems.

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Delaying control

Skin Deep #281

Mac2 realised Mark was quite unsettled coming here, into the unknown, and it was aware that there was 'stuff' surrounding that Beth girl. Its task in this first session on Cypriot soil at Mark's new home was to take charge once again and help settle the young man. Mac2's only interest was its own survival. For the moment, Mark provided the best opportunity for that.

When that Duncan fellow had left, Mac2 would start increasing its level of control of Mark. In the meantime, Mac2 wouldn't modify the contents and functioning of Mark's brain much, lest Duncan smelt a rat.

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Skin Deep #280

The unmarked jet touched down at RAF Akrotiri in the south of Cyprus. There was little ceremony as the two young men were 'processed'. They were then driven out of the camp in a black VW Golf eastwards, travelling through Limassol and on towards Larnaca. Around halfway between the two, the car turned off right towards the coast and a self-contained villa with sea view.

This three bedroomed villa would be Mark's home, his base from which to do MI6's 'assignments'. He had a splitting headache on arrival. Over to Mac2 while Duncan stayed on to brief him fully.

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Skin Deep #279

Two well-dressed young men left the MI6 building in a silver Ford Mondeo. They both looked dressed for a formal meeting. They could have been any young aspiring executives on their way to meet an important client.

In fact, Mark Toomey and his 'minder' were headed for RAF Northolt in west London, together with small suitcases. For Mark it was a one-way trip, whilst Duncan, his minder, would be coming back from their destination as soon as Mark had been safely 'delivered'.

When airborne, Mark allowed himself one last look down at London, his former home. Homesick already!