Written for Atthis Arts’ Five Minutes At Hotel Stormcove anthology & not published at the time due to space constraints. All stories had to be set at Hotel Stormcove, a fictional, legendary hotel on the east coast of the USA, and had to take place in under five minutes. Max. wordcount of 4,000 words.
Operation Stormcats: Six spies. Five minutes. Three connected short stories.
Operation Stormcats: The Prep
Hotel Stormcove, 2025
Under the Ballroom Floor
“I’m sorry Mungo couldn’t make it,” says Jemima, reaching for the next hook to clip her harness’ safety rope into.
Plato, three metres away under the girder that runs parallel, places a sensor and spins gently to face her. “Because he’s a natural at all this climbing and roping stuff?”
“Yeah? Pull the other one.”
“No, I mean, he’s not a natural. He’s so good at it because he’s worked at it consistently for the best part of…” her hazel eyes flick up, narrowing in thought, “fifteen, twenty years? Something like that.”
Ah. Plato nods. “Gotcha. You know you don’t have to clip your harness in, right? These things are stable enough without the extra anchor.”
For a moment her codename fits her perfectly. The usual muted humour fades into catlike disdain; her brows arch under short copper hair; she sweeps a slow look down to the glittering waves below, blue-green in the soft light of morning, and back up to Plato.
“Why,” she says, perfectly level, “when I’m hanging in space over a several-hundred-metre drop, would I be content with stable enough?”
Below them is a whole lot of empty space bordered by plunging cliffs, and at the bottom the muted lapping of the waves. Above them sits the metal grid of the framework, subtle enough not to catch the eye but overt enough to reassure people that the floor itself won’t collapse, and then the gleaming glass floor it supports. Above that, the ballroom with its vaulted ceiling lies quiet in the morning hush.
Plato grins and swallows a smart reply. She doesn’t need it. And she’s technically his senior here, never mind that they’re the two most junior agents on the team. Cons of being the new guy: he might be six years older than her but he’s six months behind her on the experience ladder. Neither of them have anything like a full picture of why they’re here.
All they know is that the team was diverted from an easy flight home to New Zealand in order to check out this place on east coast of the USA in time for some political song-and-dance tonight. They’ve spent three days scoping the place out. Today’s the big event.
Which, naturally, means the juniors get stuck with the dogsbodying while their leads get to dress up and dance the night away tonight.
“Alright,” he says, flicking brown hair out of his eyes and sliding along to the next join in the metal grid. See how much easier that was without having to fiddle around with an extra anchor hook? So easy. “Why are you sorry Mungo couldn’t make it?”
Jemima grunts, reaching up to place her sensor. “Because he’s a good six inches taller than me and he’d have a lot more reach, considering whoever designed this framework apparently assumed that maintenance people would be ten feet tall.”
Mm. She might have a point there. At five foot ten, Plato isn’t short. The reach from harness to support beam isn’t a big one for him. But for five-nothing Jemima… “You’ve tried bringing your harness in closer?”
She taps a button on her handheld scanner. It chirps, the usual warning chime to say that the harness is already pulled in as close as it can get.
Well. There goes his one and only idea. “It’s not my fault you’re vertically challenged. Or should that be horizontally challenged, considering the logistics?”
Jemima flips him off without looking, unhooks her harness, slides along to the next join, and re-clips before reaching into her work pouch for the next sensor.
So complicated. So. Unnecessarily. Complicated. Plato shakes his head.
“Shut it,” Jemima mutters. “Are you going to do any work or you happy just sitting there and watching me do it all?”
“I’m working, too.”
Good thing neither of them are afraid of heights. Chalk another one up to the overly-applicable, overly-obvious codenames. But maybe that’s the point. No point using their Kiwi callsigns when they’re not even in New Zealand. “You think they did that on purpose?”
Jemima sighs and turns a pointed look on him.
Oh. Right. Plato checks his scanner, gets the all-clear from the sensor above him, and moves on. Talk and work, thattaboy.
“Did what?” Jemima asks.
“The names from Cats.”
She snorts a laugh. “Yeah, mate. I do. Maybe not with us so much—”
Uh huh. She hasn’t seen herself.
“—but with the seniors? Mungo? Teza? Mist, for crying out loud? The guy might not be magical, but he’s a legend in his own right. Everyone knows that.”
Yeah, everyone does. Another scanner check. The readings come back clear from the sensors. All joins stable, all vibrations and weight bearings within the accepted parameters. The hotel might not be in the greatest shape under all the glitz and glamour, but it’s sound enough.
They need it to be sound for tonight. Can’t just pile people onto a cantilevered glass floor over a huge drop, throw on some music, get them dancing, and expect everything to work out. Not without some solid background work first.
Hence why Jemima and Plato are here.
“I’ve got one,” Jemima says abruptly.
Plato jerks his head up. “A loose join?”
“Yeah.” She wedges a boot into the girder above her and shifts to lay back in her harness, frowning up at the seam. “Readings are borderline at best. I’ll do what I can for it.”
“I’ll mark it so the engineers know for next week.” Of course the hotel had booked a full inspection for the week after the event. Typical. “And we’ll just have to avoid that spot, ay?”
“Ay,” she murmurs in agreement.
Plato gets three more joins checked before the tension gets the best of him. He glances back. Jemima’s still working on it. “Need a hand?”
“No, thank you.”
“Okay.” Two more joins. They’re all good. The one Jemima’s working on is the only one they’ve found so far. “At least it’s off to the side. Not right in the middle of the dance floor or anything.”
Yeah, she’s not listening. That’s fine. Let her work, she’s okay, she doesn’t need help—
“Done,” she says, flipping to sit upright in her harness again.
“How’s it looking?”
“Give me a tick.” A quick scan of the sensor, a bit of hasty tapping, and she smiles. “That’s done it. It’s still not the best, but it should hold until the engineers can get to it. The worst of the damage is on this side, anyway, not the top.”
“She’s a sturdy bit of work,” Plato says.
“Had to be, to survive this many years of salt spray and weathering.”
“Not to mention the weight loads.”
“That, too. No, I know,” she adds, like she’s going back to some earlier topic. “Mungo would be a demon at this stuff. He’d get it done in five seconds.”
Oh, they’re back to that. Plato blinks at her. “The guy goes to church, Jem.”
“So you can’t call him a demon. It’s insensitive.”
“It’s a compliment. He’d know what I meant. Besides, isn’t there some verse about demons going to church or something?”
“Uh… no. No, I’m pretty sure there isn’t. There’s one about demons believing in God, I think, but that’s—”
“—really not. It’s really, really not the same thing. At all.”
Jemima shrugs. Even in her oversized overalls, there’s more catlike grace to the movement than usual. The codename must be rubbing off on her. “Whatever. How’s your side going?”
“No problems here. All the readings are fine. There’s the normal wear and tear that you’d expect after a decade since the last dedicated maintenance work. But she’s doing great. Whoever put this thing in in the first place knew what they were doing.”
“Did they what. It’s fantastic.” She shivers.
“That breeze is nasty. I thought it had dropped.”
“Yeah. The sooner we get this done, the better.”
“You’re telling me. I’m looking forward to…” Oh. Hello. He slows his slide along to the next join, head tilted.
There’s something there. Sitting in the crease where the two beams meet. They’ve all got that same shallow v in them, the slight spacing gap to let the metal expand or contract as it needs to. But usually it’s empty. Now, though, there’s a small, blue, cylindrical something jammed into it.
“Oi,” Jemima says behind him. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but your ears pricked up and your tail’s twitching. What is it?”
“Don’t be daft,” he says absently. “I don’t have a tail. There’s something here.”
“Are we talking used gum something or dead body something?”
“Potential stick of explosive something.”
She draws a sharp breath. “Don’t touch it.”
“Wasn’t going to, thanks. I’m not stupid.”
A moment later she comes flying along the beam perpendicular to him. She jams on the brakes once she’s close, leaving her swaying a little from the momentum. “Huh. I see what you mean.”
They study it in silence. There’s not much to it, really: a small blue cylinder, maybe half as long again as Plato’s hand and not quite as thick as his wrist. Metal, or metallic paint. A needle pokes out of the end furthest from them, aiming up at the glass floor.
And that’s it.
“What do you think?” Plato says.
Jemima, mouth set, is already tightening her gloves. “I’m thinking we don’t want to leave it there. What’s with the needle?”
“I was hoping you’d know. It’s not big enough to be dynamite. Explosives don’t usually have needles in them, do they?”
“No.” She reaches for it and hesitates. “You might want to back off.”
“What, and let you trigger the blast yourself?” Not bleeding likely. “You’re sure we can’t call the bomb squad or something?”
“Plato. Mate. We are the bomb squad.” She frowns in concentration, tongue poking out between her teeth as she touches a gloved finger to the object.
Plato grits his teeth and braces, ready to grab her and jerk them both backwards. Not that it’ll help if that thing really does explode. But she’ll have more of a chance of surviving the long fall to the water if he’s underneath her to cushion the impact.
Jemima eases the stick out from the hollow and brings it down to their eye level, hands trembling a little. “Okay. It hasn’t done anything yet. That’s… good.”
“Could be on a time delay.”
“Could be. Have you got your phone?”
Plato swallows. “Yeah, but I’m not about to use it. No telling what frequency that thing’s on. Just because we can’t see any wires or transponders or whatever, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”
“Take a photo.”
“You don’t need to ring out to do it, so get on with it. Please.” Sweat beads on her forehead. “My hands are a little preoccupied.”
He slips his phone out and snaps photos from every angle he can get to. “Okay. Done. You can drop it now.”
Jemima turns the stick over and over in her hands, eyes slitted, and doesn’t reply.
Oh, no. It’s that hum. The one that says she heard him and she’s about to ignore whatever he said. “Jem, come on—”
She looks across at him, eyes gleaming. “The needle is diamond.”
“Great, I’ll get you one for your birthday, now—”
“Diamond can shatter glass, right? If it’s powered by enough, say…” she taps the cylinder thoughtfully, “gas behind it?”
Now that’s an idea. “I like the way you think.” And it does look a bit like a very small gas bottle. “You reckon that’s their plan? Set it off when everyone’s on the dancefloor, crack the floor wide open, send them all…?” He whistles and jerks a thumb downwards.
“It wouldn’t work. That glass is tough as steel, the needle can’t have the capacity to crack more than one panel, and even that’s debatable. It’s just too small to do the job.”
“So what…?” Jemima looks up through the glass floor. “The stairs are right there. If Mister Guest of Honour comes down that staircase…”
“Waltzes out onto the floor without looking…”
“And they trigger it at the right moment…” She nods. “They don’t need to break the whole floor. Just the part of it under his feet. His momentum should do the rest of the job for them.”
Plato swears. “We need to get rid of it.”
“Did you not hear the thing you just said, yourself, about it potentially killing the guy? Yes. We do.”
She hums that hum again. “A theoretical situation for you.”
Please, no. “We don’t have time—”
“What are they going to do if they come back before tonight and see their little party stick missing?”
Plato stops. Groans. “They’ll replace it.”
“But we can’t just leave it there!”
Is this what more than a few months in a team with the legendary Mist does to people? Makes them talk in riddles and think in curveballs? Ugh. “Jemima. Please just give me a straight answer. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking,” she murmurs, reaching up to replace the stick, “that we leave it right where we found it.”
But it isn’t. She’s put it back upside-down, with the needle facing down towards the water.
Plato sags. “Okay,” he says weakly. “Okay, that should — that should do it. Yeah. But we’re still telling the team.”
“Not stupid,” Jemima mutters, and pushes away from the intersection, back towards her line. “Come on, we’re nearly finished.”
Thankfully, there are no more hidden sticks. They label a couple more weak points on their way to the end of the grid, but that’s all. Plato’s down to four joins on his last row when a yell rouses him.
“Hey!” says a loud voice from the scaffolding platform that leads back into the hotel. “What are you doing up there?”
Plato rolls his eyes. “Collecting for charity!” He grins at Jemima’s stifled laugh. Seriously? They’re in overalls and high-vis vests. They’re hanging out under the ballroom floor, in midair, in heavy-duty harnesses. What does it look like they’re doing? “Would you like to support training guide dogs for the visually impaired? We sign you up to the email list and you get monthly pupdates with cute photos—”
Jemima’s laugh is rather louder, this time.
The man on the platform scowls at them. Or maybe his scruffy beard scowls at them by itself, it’s a bit hard to tell. “I’m an engineer, I’m here to check things over before tonight. Who let you kids up there?”
Kids, yourself. Plato bristles. “You’re a bit late, mate. We’re nearly finished the authorised inspection.”
“We’re about a minute from sign-off,” Jemima adds, gliding along to the second join out from the platform and clipping her harness in. “You can check the paperwork if you want, but we just saved you a lot of effort by getting in early.”
“Oh? How long has it taken you two punks to do it?”
“The best part of two hours. If you were working by yourself, even if you’ve got twice our experience, I’d say you couldn’t do it in less than three hours.” She grins. “You’re welcome.”
The man blows out a breath, glances over his shoulder, and shrugs. “Thanks. Let’s see your paperwork, then.”
“Let’s see some ID,” she retorts. “If you don’t mind.”
He flashes a badge that Plato can’t see properly from his perch.
“Nice try, but we can’t see it from here. And we’re working. You’ll have to wait until… or you could do that,” she finishes, as the stranger straps into a spare harness, check the pulleys, and swings up and onto the framework with an ease that belies his bulky frame.
Oh, he’s had practice alright. What are the chances of some guy just happening to wander out here at the same time as they’re finishing up? Not high.
And what’s the bet he’s the guy who planted the stick in the first place? Jolly high.
“Jem,” Plato mutters.
“I know,” Jemima says through a fixed smile. “I can’t wait for a coffee either. You want to go get that started and I’ll finish up here?”
Yeah, because he’s totally about to leave her hanging over the famous cove with only the stranger for company. Totally. “You know, I think I’ll wait.”
“Suit yourself. Here,” she adds as the man reaches her. “My ID.”
The man barely glances at it. “How’s the structural integrity?”
“Really? Bits of this place look like they’re about fall down.”
“Really,” Jemima says, smile fading into neutrality. “You want to see the readouts? Look, we’ve got six weak spots, all of which we’ve patched and none of which are any sort of danger to the crowds tonight. That’s it. She’s held up great for a decade with no attention.”
“Six points, huh?” The man sweeps a look around the framework. “That’s it?”
“Yeah, mate,” Plato says, moving back to the last intersection on the pretence of checking a join he’s already checked. He needs to be closer. Oh, Jemima can handle herself. But they’re unarmed up here. Undercover work isn’t great for sneaking guns in.
And that man is way too close to her for comfort.
“No rust spots?” says the man. “No salt corrosion? No burn marks from people coming out here to smoke on their break?”
Ew. Plato wrinkles his nose. “Who still smokes these days?”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Why?” Jemima asks innocently. “Were you smoking and you accidentally set something on fire?”
The man stares at her. “No.”
“Good. If you don’t mind moving… where are you going?”
Oh, that’s not good. The man ignores her in favour of sliding along the beam towards Plato — and the intersection with the blue cylinder.
“Oi,” Jemima says behind him, “we told you, we’ve checked it already.”
The stranger stops, peering straight along the beam to the intersection. His jaw sets. “You have. Haven’t you?”
“You moved it.” His voice is dangerously soft. “What did you do?”
“Moved what?” Plato says. His pulse thunders in his ears. Behind his back, out of sight of the man, he gropes for a wrench. Screwdriver. Anything heavy enough to leave a mark when he throws it at the guy to stop him—
A knife shines in the man’s hand. Six-inch combat knife, sharp and glittering. He and Jem could disarm the guy in seconds if they were on the ground, he’s not holding it with anything like expertise. But up here? With the drafts and the swaying? Chances aren’t so good.
“Whoa,” Jemima says loudly. “Hey. What? No need for that.”
“Tell me what you did to it,” the man says, “or I’ll cut you loose.”
Plato trades a look with Jemima.
“Wow,” she says.
“Double wow,” he agrees. “Is that a dumb way to get answers or what? One, you’d have to reach us.”
“And two, if you kill us, we can’t tell you what we did.”
The man grins. It’s not a nice grin. “I only need one of you.”
“Uh huh.” Jemima reaches up without looking and unclips her safety hook. “Well. It’s been nice talking to you, but we really need to go. Now. Thank you.”
Plato slides backward, away from the guy. Also away from Jemima, but that’s fine. He’ll work his way around the frame and over to the platform. It’s a bit of a long cut, but he’ll manage. She’s got a straight run.
The man snarls and lunges. The wheel track holding his harness to the grid runs smooth, far faster than Plato’s can go. He must have greased that earlier.
And the race is on.
Plato scoots backward, hangs a hard right, and slides down to the next intersection. Glances around to get his bearings and keeps going. Left, right, right again…
“This way!” Jemima calls. Her voice dips and rises as she moves, but he can’t spare a glance to see where she is. “Plato! Kick! Now!”
He swerves in the harness, twists his body out of the way of any incoming knife strikes as best he can, and kicks out behind him. His foot catches hard on something.
The man grunts and swears.
Help. The guy’s that close already? He must be breathing down his neck. Go. Go go go. Left. Straight. Straight. A glance behind and the guy is maybe half a beam length behind him. Must have slowed on the corner, but he’ll catch up soon because Plato’s harness is too slow. They’re not built for speed, they’re built for safety, and what on earth has the stranger done to his to make it so blinking fast?
“Left,” Jemima calls, voice shaking. “Take your next left.”
He doesn’t pause, swinging through the turn with a blind ease that would make Mungo proud and speeding on.
“Right and right again,” she says. Her voice is closer now.
But that takes him back on the tack he was already… on…
Oh, you clever girl. You clever, clever woman. Yes.
“Don’t look,” she adds. “I can see him. He’s stuck at the corner, you were right, the turns slow him down. Come on, Plato, nearly there.”
Nearly there, indeed. Right and right again, and he’s nearly back to the original row. His scanner beeps a warning as he approaches it. Yeah. He knows.
That’s the plan.
“He’s going straight,” Jemima calls. Even closer now. Beneath the put-upon panic there’s a smug note that Plato’s fairly certain only he can hear. “He’s cutting you off, keep going!”
Plato speeds straight through the patched intersection, reaches back with his wrench, and lands a hard blow on the glob of still-soft putty they put there only minutes ago. He jams his brakes on. Swings through a one-eighty turn fast enough to make his vision grey out for a second. Gets his arms up ready to deflect the knife that’s probably already heading for his neck.
The join whines as the stranger slows for the corner. His eyes widen. His face fills with horror as, already weakened by the sudden loss of the glue and the weight of Plato rocketing through it, the girder above him groans a warning.
Too late. The damage is worse on the underside. The metal lip holding his harness pulley to the beam gives way.
“No!” Plato lunges for the man.
He gets a solid grip around the stranger’s wrists. Comes up against his harness restraints with a jerk as the man’s damaged straps flutter and fall away into empty space. Plato’s shoulders scream in agony, but he can’t let go. He can’t let go. The man stares at him, wide-eyed, mouth gaping in a silent scream—
And Plato’s harness starts to slip. His stomach lurches.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Jemima growls behind him.
A firm hand grabs his harness seat and hauls him back. The welcome click of a safety anchor locking into the hook hits his ears.
Jemima reaches past him with her free hand, bumping shoulders and hips in the narrow space of the track, and clamps a hand around one wrist of their would-be murderer. With the shared weight, the strain on Plato’s shoulders eases.
“Alright,” she says, panting hard. “Alright. I’ve got you.”
He doesn’t have a hand free to hug her. Next best thing. Plato turns his head and plants a smacking, euphoric kiss on her cheek. “You’re a marvel.”
“Just doing my job,” she says, and if her grin is a tad shaky, well, so is his.
They hang there for a moment, catching their breath.
“Uh, thanks,” says the stranger awkwardly. “But you’re going to get us down now, right?”