The smile plastered on Sherdan’s face said everything as he waited for Anya to come back. He’d just told Anne and had a small picnic thrown together to put in his car. Mostly wine and nibbles. He’d also informed his security that they were going out.
He didn’t have to wait too long before Anya came back and he led her to his personal car. He had a two seated Jaguar that he used to drive for fun when his country wasn’t so blocked off. It had stood in his garage ever since. Finally it would get some use.
Sherdan opened the door for Anya to get in. The small picnic basket was already in the boot along with a blanket, for him to surprise her with later. As he thought of this his grin grew even wider.
Nathan activated the tunnel switch for them from the security desk and Sherdan drove them down his escape route and out into the heart of a Bristol suburb. Neither of them said anything until they were out on the road.
“Have we just illegally crossed a country border?” Anya asked.
“Yes. I suppose we have. Does it bother you?”
“I’m not sure. I know it ought to but it feels more… adventurous, than wrong.”
Sherdan nodded. He could hardly believe his luck with Anya the last two days.
Since he’d decided to try and convince her of his feelings the more traditional way she’d been increasingly more cooperative. It had been a very easy two days so far, although he hadn’t actually finished his work for the day. Once he’d had this idea, he had dropped everything and would need to return to it later.
He drove towards Bath and then slightly south into a quiet little village called Southstoke, before parking his car and helping her out. As he pulled the blanket and basket out of the boot Anya gasped.
“When did you get those?” she asked.
“While you were in your room. Now, I think it’s this way… I’ve got a torch. Here, do you want to light the way?” Anya took the torch Sherdan offered.
“Where are we going?”
“There’s a little look out that’s very pretty, either night or day. It’s not far but well worth visiting.” She nodded and walked with Sherdan, lighting the path for both of them.
They walked through a kissing gate onto a farmyard track that led off and up hill. After less than five minutes walking, Sherdan veered off through an open metal gate.
The trees on that side had opened up, showing them that they were high up on the side of one of Bath’s hills, overlooking a valley.
He led her around a mound in the grass to a semicircular stone bench built into the hillside. Rather than sitting on the cold stone, he spread the blanket on the ground in front. After positioning the basket within his reach he sat down and lent against the bench.
Anya was staring out at the night in front of them. It was a clear night so a full set of stars could be seen. He waited for her to finish drinking in the view. When she turned to see where he was, he patted the blanket beside him. She smiled and sat down.
“What if someone comes and recognises you?” Anya asked.
“It shouldn’t be too busy here. The chances are slim even if anyone comes along.”
“Good. I’d hate for you to get arrested.” Sherdan didn’t know what to say and reached for the wine and glasses. He poured some for both of them without even asking if she wanted any. He made sure he only half filled his own glass. He didn’t want any accidents when he drove her later.
They sat drinking the wine and enjoying the food. They didn’t eat a lot but it was nice to pick at the grapes, cheese bites and chocolate covered strawberries.
“Thank you for not leaving yet. I think my life would be all work and no play if it wasn’t for you.”
“Then I am glad to be of assistance,” she replied. “You do work very hard.”
“I have citizens to look after. They’re counting on me to make their lives better.”
“You really want to help them?”
“Of course. I want to make the world better. I know you don’t like all my methods but I do have my reasons.”
“I know. I understand more than when I arrived. I’m sorry I was so awkward the first few weeks.” Sherdan almost choked on his wine in shock. An apology was totally unexpected.
He poured her some more wine to recover and looked out at the sky. It occurred to him that she didn’t know his power had disappeared roughly the same time as hers had appeared, but he couldn’t bring himself to say anything.
“Have you been practising your ability at all?” he asked, trying to lead them to the subject.
“A little. I can now mostly control switching between the two states, being just invisible and also being able to pass through things. I can’t keep it up for too long though; I have to concentrate.”
“Does that mean you can suddenly appear again?”
“Yes, usually just after an hour has passed.”
“That’s not bad. Many of the residents struggle to use their powers so long so soon into their training.”
“Really?” Sherdan nodded and noted the look of satisfaction on her face. “I’m also learning Karate. Nathan’s teaching me.”
“Good. With your ability that’s a useful thing to learn.”
“Very much. It will help you keep safe, especially if you do leave.”
“Nathan says I’m picking it up quickly.” She beamed. He was pleased. She’d found something to amuse herself with while he was gone.
The more she did that she enjoyed, the more likely she would stay. It would take years for karate to be beneficial to her in a real situation, but he wasn’t going to burst her excited bubble.
Sherdan snapped out of his thoughts when he noticed her shivering. She’d finished her glass of wine so he swallowed the last gulp in his and began packing everything back up. He didn’t want her to catch a cold.
Anya lit the way back as soon as they were ready to leave and they were soon back at the car. He felt a little exhilarated from the danger of being out on British soil but they’d seen no one the entire time, not even a dog walker or two.
“Thank you,” Anya said as Sherdan started up the car. “I really liked that place.”
“You’re welcome. It’s one of my favourite. I almost considered setting up Utopia in Bath but it wasn’t practical enough. Bristol had so many more things in it’s favour.”
“Well hopefully soon you can have all this silly war stopped and be allowed back here.”
“We shall see. It may never be possible.” They lapsed into a silence which lasted all the way back to the house. Normally Sherdan didn’t like silence but it felt different with Anya. He felt comfortable being quiet in her presence. She said a lot with her body language and, at the moment, she was very smiley and content.
They walked back into the study and he found himself hugging her. He said goodnight as she yawned into her hand. She wished him the same then pattered off to leave him to his work.
It had only just gone eleven so he wouldn’t be as late to bed as he had been most of the nights recently. He would need to push his thoughts of Anya out of his head, however, as they would be very distracting. She’d made him a very happy man that evening and given him hope again.
When he picked his laptop up he found an email from Hitchin. He’d looked over Sherdan’s MRI and not found anything wrong. He wanted to do more tests, as Sherdan expected, but he was beginning to think it was just fatigue stunting the ability. At the least it was the most plausible explanation so far.
Sherdan spent the next few hours planning the growth of his country and how they would build bomb-shelters for the new homes. Not all the latest residents had somewhere safe to go if more soldiers were air-dropped in.
He also briefly looked at the new abilities. He had a small team working on coming up with some kind of air defence which kept planes out of his air space but didn’t harm anyone.
At two in the morning he went to bed. He had to be in the command room at an earlier time the following day. He really hoped he’d get some kind of lie-in at some point soon. He wouldn’t survive on five hours or less sleep each night for much longer.
The next two days were a blur for Sherdan. He’d contacted the UN again to try and get them to recognise his country. There still wasn’t anything which gave an indication either way. The European diplomats were still discussing things in their emergency meeting.
Sherdan hadn’t done any more tests yet, preferring to spend time with Anya and Antonio, who were now inseparable. The little kitten went with her from room to room and curled up with her or encouraged her to play whenever she was still.
He’d thanked Nathan for his ideas as well as teaching Anya the martial arts. So far the combination of time spent with both men and the kitten was having a good impact on her. She had been smiling a lot more and she’d told Sherdan she’d had two nights in a row without nightmares.
He hadn’t managed to tell her about his ability disappearing yet and he hadn’t wanted to bring up her faith since he’d called her closed. He didn’t want to argue with her now that everything had improved so much.
There hadn’t been any attacks on Utopia either, which was unexpected. He hoped it meant a step forward in his plan, but the Prime Minister hadn’t returned his last two phone calls so Sherdan couldn’t tell for sure yet.
Anya greeted him very enthusiastically on Thursday evening when he arrived back home, hugging him as he walked into the study. Neither of them had eaten yet, despite it being after seven so he led her through to the dining room before she could say anything to him about her day. He noticed Antonio got up and padded silently after them.
“There was lots about Utopia in the news today,” Anya blurted out, practically bouncing in her chair with excitement.
“What was said about us?”
“The European Union have decided we’re not a threat and have advised the United Kingdom to stand down and negotiate.” She beamed. Sherdan didn’t know whether to feel more pleased that the country was making progress or that Anya had said ‘we’ and included herself as part of the country.
“That’s brilliant news. That should make the Prime Minister think twice.”
“On top of that, UN members have started to speak out and say Utopia should be considered a country.”
“Good. Hopefully we’ll get official recognition soon then.”
Anya told Sherdan everything else she’d learnt that day while they ate. She’d spent most of the day on the net and had a whole wealth of information. He couldn’t help being impressed.
“When are you going to let the world know about your abilities?” she asked as they want back to the sitting room.
“Soon, but not until we’re established as a country.” He sat down at his usual end of the sofa and waited for Anya to join him. She picked up Antonio and plonked herself down right next to him instead of the opposite end of the sofa. He put his arm up on the back of the sofa behind her in response.
They watched some TV like that for the next hour or so. Sherdan didn’t want to do or say anything that might make Anya move away. He liked having her relaxed and so close to him.
When there wasn’t anything left on TV either of them wanted to watch, Anya flicked it off. His arm was still on the back of the sofa.
“What would you like to do, we still have a few hours?” Anya asked.
“I’d like to show you something, if you’re interested. I’ve got a particular opera I like on video. It’s not as good as seeing it performed but since I have to be careful going out it will have to do.”
“Sounds wonderful.” Sherdan didn’t hesitate to get up and find the relevant disc. He put it on and returned to his position beside her.
He’d picked another opera knowing how emotional it had made her seeing the last one. She’d been a delight to spend the evening with afterwards as well. Hopefully he could recreate the atmosphere this time too.
The opera was Madame Butterfly; very sad but hopefully easy for her to relate to. It had the desired effect and Anya’s eyes weren’t dry by the end. Sherdan handed her a tissue as he pulled his arm a little closer around her.
“I’m sorry, the music was just so moving,” she said once she had dried her eyes.
“Don’t apologise. That’s why it’s one of my favourites. It makes the very depths of a person respond.”
“I’m very glad you liked it.” He looked down into her upturned face and held her gaze. They smiled at each other before she dipped her eyes down. He could sense her nervousness but she didn’t pull away or even turn her face from him. He hesitated. He wanted to kiss her and he thought in that moment she might finally be receptive but, now it came to it, he felt unsure of himself.
Anya got up and picked up Antonio again. It took all Sherdan’s self restraint not to swear out loud. He’d missed his chance.
“I should get some sleep, it’s late.” Anya smiled half-heartedly and quickly left the room. It had only just gone midnight and was about an hour before she had been going to bed recently.
He stayed sat where he was for a few minutes wondering what had gone wrong. Maybe he’d been too quick. It hadn’t been long since he’d first started trying to put the effort in with Anya again. He resolved to go a little slower but he definitely wasn’t giving up yet.
Sherdan sighed and fetched his laptop to carry on working. He had yet another email from Hitchin reminding him to come in for more tests and informing him of all the new abilities that had developed. As usual, he wrote all the new names in his book.
The list of enhanced people was growing nicely again and there hadn’t been a single death lately. Admittedly, they’d been a lot more careful about who they gave the enzyme too. Having a much larger pool of people to accept from they’d been able to reject any they thought might die.
Sherdan ignored the nag for tests and went about the rest of his work. He was doing a live TV broadcast the following day from his study.
He still didn’t intend to reveal the abilities and enzyme but lots of news teams wanted to interview him about taking more land and sneaking in so many more people. Utopia was completely unstoppable and not a single person had been harmed during the entire war.
There was also all the soldiers they had locked up. They still lived in the cells at the guard buildings he had dotted all over the land. The cells were almost full but, so far, no more soldiers had attacked.
Something would have to be done with them soon, however, several had started trying to escape. While none had succeeded, escapees would tarnish his otherwise perfect reputation.
Sherdan dealt with as much work as he could manage before his eyelids drooped and he caught himself falling asleep on the sofa. He shut down his laptop and got up. His thoughts automatically returned to Anya. He really felt a little lost concerning her and wasn’t used to feeling this way where women were concerned.