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Karachi, 1947*


Bullets fly on the terrace roof swept by the storm. How fast it goes, thirty-three rounds.** Thirty-two if you count the one that missed Olrik. Mortimer has lost count, but he knows he is coming to the end of his last stand. His last attempt at freedom will soon be over. But he does not want to surrender the weapon he invented to the world's oppressors and thus destroy the meager hope of the rebellion***.


Briefly he thinks of Blake. Did his friend manage to retrieve the plans from the clues he gave Nasir?


But he's alone. The helicopter which he had – foolishly – allowed to raise his hopes for a few moments has disappeared, probably without even seeing his distress signals.


* Click * And suddenly, the hammer hits air, there are no more bullets in the chamber.


"Hell ! The Luger is empty !" exclaims the professor.


Mortimer has emptied the two magazines of the German pistol. He checks his other weapon just to be sure, but he knows that the remaining bullets could be counted on the fingers of one hand.


"One bullet left in this Browning!" Only one! If he fires again, Mortimer will again be at the mercy of his torturers who will force him to speak. No, never! Never again! The professor does not want to endure this for a moment more. He has left clues to his secret's hiding place for Nasir. He no longer needs to hold on to give his friends their only chance of victory. His mission is accomplished.


The terrible resolution he has just taken is etched on his face.


"Well, they are not going to get the secret of the Swordfish!"


It is dead man in reprieve who retreats behind the pillar, lets a few drops of rain fall on his face. Mortimer watches for the moment when his enemies will charge. As soon as they are on the terrace, he will fire.


They dash forward, and Philip Mortimer brings the pistol to his temple, but suddenly a hail of bullets coming from the helicopter, which has approached undetected, sows dismay amongst the assailants, forcing them back in disarray. Mortimer shouts with joy, raising his arms to the heavens to welcome his saviors, and he lets go of his weapon to catch the rope ladder which soon carries him away, out of reach of the enemy.


---------------


A few weeks later


"NOOOO!!!" Once again, Mortimer wakes up screaming, panic-stricken. Bathed in sweat, he grabs the weapon on the table - specially moved to his side next to the bed - and checks its contents. The magazine is full, Mortimer breathes in relief. Reassured by the pistol he holds in his hand, he slowly comes to his senses.


He is in Musandam, in the secret base of the free world's last defenders.**** He is safe, in the room he shares with Blake. The latter, awakened by his friend's shouting, has passed his head over the edge of the top bunk to make sure everything is fine.


"Philip! Are you all right ?"


Catching his breath, Mortimer, still trembling from the nightmare, tries to joke. "You like to live dangerously, Francis. Calling out like that to an armed man in the middle of a panic attack!"


"You will notice, old chap, that I did not approach this time," Blake laughs, and Mortimer shivers again. A few days ago, still caught in the mists of his dream, he had pointed his gun at his friend. So far, he has not fired. Mortimer hopes it will never happen.


The weapon is a dangerous compromise, but it only puts Blake in danger. Mortimer resurfaces faster when he holds it - loaded - in his hand, and thus does not risk awakening the whole base. They need fit and well-rested soldiers.


Francis has gone down the ladder and has brought him a glass of water - and his support – and, finally awake, Mortimer lays the weapon back down on his improvised night table.


"Thank you, Francis."


"You are welcome, Philip." A pause. "It's still early, can you get back to sleep?"


"I think so. Hurry back to bed. I don't want to make you stay up unnecessarily." Captain Blake assesses Mortimer to make sure it is true, then he goes back up to his bunk. For Mortimer, it would not bother him to keep watch all night, but wisdom dictates that he enjoy all the rest he can.


"Good night then."


"Good night, Francis."


---------------


Cairo, beginning of April 1950


Even though three years have passed since the end of the war, nightmares still haunt Professor Mortimer. He has got into the habit of sleeping with a loaded weapon in his bedside table, to reassure himself, in case he wakes up believing he is on that Karachi terrace again - but disarmed.


This time, it is not a bad dream which draws him out of his sleep, but the sudden impression that he is no longer alone in his room, and when he sees the cobra, he slowly stretches out his arm towards the bedside table where the pistol he is counting on to save him should be stored ... *****


... but to his horror, the drawer he gropes feverishly is empty! ...


"Dammit, I forgot! Nasir has taken it for cleaning ..."


This is not completely correct. Even if in the next room Nasir is actually busy cleaning his master's weapons, it is no coincidence that he set about this task that evening. More precisely, it is no coincidence that he sets about this task in the evenings. ******


For eight days he has been refurbishing Mortimer's firearms every night.


For eight days, with care and discretion, he has been making sure that Mortimer has no weapon at hand when awakening. Just in case, catching his pistol and remembering in the middle of the night that Blake is dead, the mood takes him to "eat" it.


---------------


London 1952


Mortimer's nightmares are becoming rarer, but he has kept the habit of sleeping with a weapon in the drawer of his bedside table. And when a dark hooded intruder enters their home and makes a racket in their living room, his pistol is there, within reach, when he gets up to see what the situation is. *******


 

* cf Plutarch's Staff is ending in 1946.
** 2 pistols, 1 magazine, Mortimer shoots with the Luger first. After a while, when the Luger is empty, there is still one bullet in the Browning : it means that, saving his ammunition, Mortimer shot with the Browning as he was reloading the Luger. 13 + 13 + 8, 34 bullets at the most. But doctor Fo shot once.
*** See the Secret of the Swordfish volume 2 – Mortimer's Escape
**** See the Secret of the Swordfish volume 3 -- SX1 Counterattacks
***** See The Mystery of the Great Pyramid volume 2 – The Chamber of Horus
****** According to the introduction, it has been eight days, according to the bubbles, it could be one day. Keep the one you like.
******* See the Yellow Mark