Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 11

Chapter 11

It had been a long shot, Ros knew, trying to work out the Sugarhorse assets were by looking at which Russian officials had ever made contact with MI-5. The thing was that there was any number of reasons why Russians would make contact and most of them had nothing to do with Sugarhorse at all.

Ros felt tired and it was more a fatigue of the mind than it was of the body, but if she were to show that to her colleagues they would know that even Rosalind Myers didn't know what to do anymore and then where would they be? She was still the only thing standing between them and absolute chaos. She envied Jo, who was getting so tired of it all that she took a moment to rest her head in her hands. If Ros did that, it would be interpreted as her being at a dead end. Her colleagues would lose heart – even more than already was the case – and then they would go into free fall. It didn't lessen her wish to give in to the urge of giving up, especially after the next file turned out to be another wild goose chase. So far Arthur and Ros had worked their way through a whole stack of files – she had lost count of how many some time ago – and they had only two possible candidates to show for it. That didn't mean that none of the others were Sugarhorse assets, but they had behaved less than suspicious. Not much was on file, probably to guarantee that no outsider would be able to work out the network all on their own. The Sugarhorse network was designed to be unbreakable. Damn you, Harry, for teaching your assets the job so well.

'Nothing?' Arthur asked. The king of Camelot looked positively dishevelled; his hair stood out to all sides as a result of him brushing his hands through it repeatedly. He was not the ideal person to work with. Ros still felt like he was not quite able to understand what exactly this was all about or what he was even doing. But he tried and he had been the one to point out their strongest Sugarhorse candidate so far. He did make an effort, even if the Section Chief strongly suspected he only did it for Lucas's sake. She didn't care about his sodding motives though. What she cared about was that he did it. And she needed someone on her side.

She shook her head. 'Nothing.' Nothing for three quarters of the bloody hour, not since Arthur's latest discovery and she would be lying if she said she wasn't losing faith in what they were doing. There didn't seem to be any progress and assets could be killed in Russia even as they were speaking. It was not something she wanted to contemplate at the moment, but Dolby was unlikely to just let her forget about it. He poked his head in every once in a while, demanding what they had for him so far. Thus far her answer to him was the same she had given Arthur: nothing.

Connie had come walking out of Harry's office a little while ago, with a face like thunder. Ros had tasked her with keeping in contact with Dolby. She didn't think she could do it herself without exploding instantly. Connie at least could pay that bastard insult without him even realising it. 'I'll go and fetch Ben,' the intelligence analyst announced. 'We might want to see where we all stand.'

Ros nodded reluctantly. That did seem to be the only sensible option. Her chosen approach didn't seem to be getting them anywhere, none of them. Russian chatter was annoyingly vague and unhelpful, Ben had not yet come back with any findings, Jo encountered dead end after dead end in her search for Qualtrough and Ros and Arthur barely had any results either. It was disheartening to say the least. And all the while time went on. Harry was still interrogated, Lucas still at risk in Russia and Russia and the United States were sliding into crisis deeper by the bloody minute. Ros liked a challenge, but this was taking the concept of challenge a bit too far in her opinion.

'Miss Myers?' Ros all but jumped out of her chair when she heard Dolby's voice behind her. But she would not give this man the satisfaction of letting him know that he had startled her. It felt too much like he was getting one over her and Ros was not in the habit of letting that happen.

'What?' she asked ungraciously. She would have gone on to snap at him that she had nothing for him yet, as she would do with Harry if he had ever been as stupid as to demand progress reports every five minutes, which he wasn't. 'Sir,' she added belatedly. She didn't want to put her career in the line after all, today least of all.

Dolby was the very image of smugness. 'I've just spoken to Charles Grady,' he informed her. 'Harry would like to see you.'

Ros's stomach did a somersault in reaction. She didn't know Charles Grady personally, but she knew of him. He specialised in counter-intelligence, which was just a polite word for interrogator. And he had a reputation as a ruthless and merciless bastard, who almost always managed to get a confession once he had been allowed to really turn the screws on a suspect. He wasn't actually allowed to inflict torture on his victims, not of the type Lucas had suffered anyway, but he didn't need to. His speciality was mind games and he was very good at it.

You have that monster interrogating Harry? Merlin had only told her that the man who was questioning Harry was looking particularly nasty, which summed Mr Grady up to perfection as far as Ros was aware. Had Harry not made a controversial decision, then she would have been subjected to his many charms after her involvement with Yalta, she knew. Even a near-death experience and six months in exile were better than that. And they had put her boss through that particular form of hell and he was not the youngest man to walk the earth anymore. You bastard.

She felt the urge to spit in Dolby's face, but that might cost her both her chance to see Harry and her job and that was not worth it. They normally never let anyone who was not counter-intelligence even near a suspect and the fact that they had done now, made Ros at least hope that Harry had been able to strike some kind of bargain with his interrogator and that might mean that he was still in possession of his wits. It was a long shot, but then, so was everything else she was doing today. And hope was better than despair anyway.

'Thank you,' she managed to get out from between clenched teeth.

'Shall I walk you down?' Dolby offered.

And give you any more chance to gloat? No, thank you very much. She conjured up her professional smile and Dolby did a step back. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. 'I wouldn't want to keep you,' she replied, trying to make her voice sound as sickeningly sweet as possible. 'You must be very busy after all, debriefing all your assets.' She at least hoped that was what he was doing, because that meant he was at least doing something useful for a change. The expression on his face however made her believe he had done nothing of the kind.

But she did not give him the chance to reply. She marched over to the pods and left the Grid, wondering what exactly it was that Harry wanted to see her about. So far she had to admit that she did not have a clue. And Ros did not particularly like surprises. In her line of work surprises were seldom positive and in the middle of all this mess that was unlikely to change now.

It was tempting to start jumping to conclusions, but Ros had been in the Service for long enough to know that was one of the worst sins an intelligence officer could commit. Check, check, check again and then, just to be absolutely sure, check it another time. Speculation had never gotten anyone anywhere.

There were guards on the door to the interrogation room, who required her identification before they admitted her into the room. They barely spared her a glance after they had seen who she was. Since Ros herself was not in a particularly talkative mood, she herself settled for a curt nod in thanks when the tallest of the two held the door open for her when she entered.

Merlin had seen how bad things were and he had managed to convey the seriousness of it by giving a rather convincing imitation of a corpse's colouring when he came back on the Grid, but it was not until Ros actually laid eyes on Harry that she realised that Merlin had not just been his tender-hearted self. It really was that bad.

Harry had been stripped of his usual suit and tie and had been given a shapeless boiler suit instead, making him look very old and very vulnerable. He looked drained and downright exhausted. Had he been up all night? When had the arrest been made? What had been done to him since? The questions were spinning around and Ros could hardly stop them. She was worried and she was long past fooling herself into believing that this was a mere professional worry. When had concern about her colleagues ever been strictly professional anyway?

In spite of his drugged state, Harry still got to his feet when he saw her entering, even if he had to grip the table in front of him to keep his balance. To an outsider Ros may give the impression of the well-known ice queen, but her blood was boiling and at the same time she felt like crying, just to let it all out.

Her undoing however was the sight of that pathetic excuse for a human being by the name of Charles Grady, who was looking at it all with an expression that was easily identified as satisfaction. Had Harry already confessed? Had he already given up the names of his assets? 'Can you at least give him a glass of water?' she asked. It took her all her willpower to keep herself from begging. The sight of the man who had become more of a father to her than her real father in such a state made her feel like bashing the interrogator's head in and made her want to cry at the same time. But the Ros Myers Conduct Protocol dictated that she never acted on either of those impulses.

'I'm afraid not,' Grady said, not sounding afraid at all.

Ros clenched her hands into fists, sent the man a freezing glare and then marched over to the table. She was here on a mission and she might need to treat Harry as an asset now, if her intuition was indeed right and Harry was trying to relay a piece of information to her, as she sincerely hoped he was planning.

Harry sat down when she did, still holding onto the table to keep himself from falling. Ros forced herself to take deep breaths and watch impassively. No matter how much she wanted, she could not stand up to help him. By God, they'll pay for this.

'None of this is true, is it?' she asked when Harry didn't seem to take the initiative. And she found she needed the reassurance.

'I'm afraid it is.'

Four words. It were only four words, but they turned her world upside down. Now it was her turn to grasp the table as if her very life depended on it. Ros prided herself in knowing how to read Harry Pearce from the mere quirk of an eyebrow. And this was so much more than that. She heard it in his words, in his tone of voice and in the way he hung his head in shame.

All of a sudden she had trouble remembering how to breathe. Harry's confession was a physical pain almost. And she had never once even seen it coming. How could she have missed out on it? She had known him for years, she was his outstanding officer, the one he trusted unconditionally. But there was no doubt that he meant every word he said. He had betrayed them, all of them. Had he been the one to sell Lucas to the Russians in the first place, had he sent him there now for the same purpose? It made her sick to even think of it.

Ros had thought that the world had turned upside down this morning. It was only now that she realised this was the moment when her whole world crumbled into dust. There were few certainties in her line of work, but one of them had been Harry. He was the rock on which Section D was built, the glue that kept them all together, the man with the unwavering loyalty to the British state, who even broke the rules of aforementioned state if that was what it took to protect it. Without that certainty Ros felt like she was going into free fall.

But she couldn't move. She sat in her chair as if she had frozen into it, unable to believe, to really believe that she had indeed been lied to in such a manner. How was this possible? Was Harry really that good an actor that she had never been able to see through him, the way he had not seen through her when she got herself involved with Yalta? But they had not been close then, not yet. This, this hurt more because their bond was closer.

And Harry was not even done yet. 'I've betrayed you and the entire team,' he confessed. Every word was dripping with shame and Ros thought that it was sincere. Before now she had thought she knew this man and then she would have said with certainty that he meant it. Now she was not so sure anymore. Could she be sure of anything anymore now that things were the way they were? I trusted you. I bloody well need you! 'I gave my Sugarhorse assets to the FSB.'

Good grief, was he about to tell her everything he had done? Was it not bad enough that he was the bloody traitor? Every word he spoke felt like she was stabbed with a knife right to the heart. It took her all her strength to keep her famous blank face in place.

'I can understand how you must feel,' Harry went on. You know nothing of how I feel! I trusted you! 'But in my defence, my priority has been the renaissance…' He struggled to find the right words. '… The renaissance of something I believe in profoundly.'

And it fit. Harry was a man who fought for his beliefs, no matter what the consequences were. Ros had just never believed that he would ever put his faith in Russia. Good heavens, none of this made any sense. How was she even supposed to do her job when she could not in all honesty trust her own judgement when it had failed her so spectacularly?

Harry bowed his head again. 'I'm very sorry, Ros.' Again, he sounded like he meant it, but how was she to tell? She couldn't be sure of anything any longer.

She could feel her hands trembling, but she'd die before she showed any weakness and so she turned around. 'Can you let me out now?' She could barely keep the tremor in her voice under control. Barely.

She was let out, but her head seemed to have been removed from her shoulders. Her eyes were burning and her chest felt like it was stuck in some nineteenth century corset that was much too tight for her to breathe. She stumbled though the corridor and into the nearest bathroom she could find mostly by good luck, because her vision was blurred by something she stubbornly refused to refer to as tears. Only after she had carefully locked the door behind her did she sink to the ground and then Ros Myers cried.

The paper archive was a rather dusty and altogether unpleasant place. Merlin had been there only once before. It was three weeks ago and he had popped in to say hello. Unfortunately the spooks were in the middle of something important and Ros had not approved of the fact that he had been chatting with Jo while she had work to do. The result was that both of them had been sent down to make sure the place wasn't as dusty anymore. Merlin's magic had taken care of that and they had spent the remaining time planning what to do with the evening. Apparently three weeks were more than sufficient for even more dust to gather.

And in those three weeks he had also more or less forgotten just how big the paper archive was. How were they ever going to find the authorisation file used to access Borkhovin's file in this? There was so much paperwork.

Ben took a deep breath. 'There we are. Don't you have a magic trick to locate the access slips?'

He did and so he nodded. 'It might only give us a general direction, though,' he warned.

'But it will help.'

There was no arguing with that. Merlin concentrated and whispered a spell. The next thing he heard was the sound of something flying through the air and when he looked up, there was a box flying over to them. Normally the thing would have hit Ben in the stomach, but Merlin had been controlling objects since he was a few months old – driving his mother crazy in the process – and it didn't really take any thought making it stop in mid-air and then making it land on the table in front of them.

Ben looked a little impressed. 'That's something, all right,' he remarked.

Merlin never really got the measure of Ben. All he knew was that he was relatively new to spying. In discussions he mostly listened, but every now and then he would suddenly launch a good idea, which made up for the long silences on his part. The warlock never quite knew if he liked him, but at least he didn't dislike him and that was enough to be getting on with.

And nothing helped bonding along more than sitting in a paper archive, wading through what felt like a million access slips. No matter how hard Merlin tried, there was no way his magic could narrow things down a bit more, which meant that they would have to have a look at each and every one they had in front of them to find the authorisation slip for Borkhovin's file. Needle in a haystack, Connie had said and the longer they were there, the more Merlin began to believe her. Who'd have thought so many pieces of paper would fit into one single box? Even the odds of finding a needle in a haystack were more favourable than the odds they were facing.

Ben laughed when he put that sentiment into the spoken word. 'Yeah, I bet.' He stretched as he tried and failed to suppress a yawn. 'I could do with a cup of coffee.'

Merlin in turn tried and failed to stop himself from returning the compliment. 'Me too. Shall I get us some?' He felt like they had been locked in here for ages and they had made no progress at all. The worst thing was that his magic was no use in working out who was betraying Sugarhorse and, consequently, the entire team to the Russians. He had always needed to rely on his own wits for uncovering traitors and it had never taken him much trouble in Camelot. Most traitors were easy to see through, but then, none of the ones he had uncovered were trained spies, who kept secrets as a part of their job description. He was clueless in this and he could not say he enjoyed the feeling.

'If it's not too much trouble,' Ben said, bending back over the papers on his half of the table.

'Of course not.' He gave the spy a knowing smile. 'I'm a servant, remember? If Arthur was given half a chance he'd be ordering me around here as well, but…'

'… Connie would have his head,' Ben finished. And he was right. The intelligence analyst had tutted disapprovingly when she witnessed it on their first day in Thames House and Arthur had backed off, looking like a young boy caught making mischief.

'If Ros didn't beat her to it,' Merlin added wryly, shoving his chair back in order to get up.

The chirruping of his mobile phone interrupted with his plans to get coffee. That was an almost unique occasion. Since he was not very often in London and very few people had his phone number – Merlin would be hard-pressed to even remember what his own number was – people did not often ring him. Jo was the most frequent of callers and this was not her number. He was sure of that. In fact, this number did not seem familiar to him at all.

Nonetheless, it wouldn't do to let the thing chirrup until the device switched itself to voicemail. For all he knew this was Ros demanding a progress report. It would not be the brightest idea he'd ever had to keep her waiting. She'd have him locked up in this place long after the operation if he had the gut to ignore her.

'Hello?' he said hesitantly.

'Merlin?' a voice on the other end asked.

And he knew that voice. 'Lucas?' But Lucas was not here. Lucas was in Moscow. He had seen that for himself when he spied on him. 'Where are you? What's happening? Are you…?'

He meant to ask if Lucas was all right, but the spy didn't give him an opportunity to finish his sentence. He sounded tense, jumpy.

'Merlin, Connie is the mole,' Lucas interrupted him. 'She is the Russian mole. I've got photographic proof! Shit!'

The sound of fighting came through the phone. There were shouts and the sound of things and people getting hit with considerable force. This was wrong. Something was very wrong. 'Lucas?' Merlin tried. 'Lucas!'

But there was nothing he could do and the connection was broken soon afterwards, leaving the warlock talking to just a lifeless device. And he did not know what was happening or why it was happening, but it was bad news for sure.

And it did not make sense either. Connie, a traitor? It seemed impossible. He liked Connie, got along well with her. And she hated Russians. They were always the first she sought to blame when something was wrong. It seemed so strange that she now would turn out to be working for them. I've got photographic proof, Lucas had said. And he was a good spy, one who checked his facts as well as used his intuition. He would not have called if he was not sure. Did he have any other option than to accept what he had told him?

'Merlin?' Ben looked at him in what appeared to be worry. 'Was that Lucas? What is happening?'

I wish I knew. 'Connie,' he managed to say. 'Connie is the mole.'

Anyone else might have been crippled by hearing something like that about a colleague, but spooks were a strange lot. If anything, they were far more prepared to accept the impossible than normal people. They did not let themselves be crippled by the announcement that a trusted colleague and friend had betrayed them all. Ben was a spy and he understood the situation quicker than Merlin had believed possible of anyone. What's more, he acted on it.

'You need to tell Ros,' he said. 'I'll find the access slip to back it up.'

Merlin gave himself a mental kick in the behind when he caught himself almost falling into the trap of not putting the job first. If Connie really was a traitor – something he found very hard to believe – then she could wreak havoc untold for as long as she was here. That consequently put Arthur in danger as well and that was something he could not stand for. It was his destiny to protect Arthur after all, even if the king himself was none too fond of the idea.

'I'll go now,' he announced, making good on that by exiting the paper archive and breaking into a run the moment he shut the door behind him. The sooner Ros was told, the better it would be. She wouldn't want to waste any time at all and she would scold him for dawdling if she caught him in the act. Whether or not Lucas's information was correct, he simply did not have the time to find out. He would leave the checking of facts to the Section Chief.

He was so deep in thought that he didn't notice the intelligence analyst until he nearly crashed into her. It was only her quick reflex that prevented them from running into her head first.

'No running here, young man!' she scolded him. 'Where were you off to in such a hurry?'

Lie, his subconscious advised and Merlin wholly agreed with it. He may not want to believe the worst, but he would much rather be safe than sorry. And so he forced his face into a dazzling smile. 'I'm getting coffee,' he announced. 'Are you going to the paper archive? Should I bring some for you too? Coffee, tea?' He caught himself before his chatter could turn to rambling. That used to give him away a lot and that was the last thing he could use right now, not with a possible traitor standing right in front of him.

'I'm fetching Ben. Stay up on the Grid. Ros wants to have another team briefing.' Connie gave him a stern look, as if Ros's decision was somehow his fault, although he could not see how that was possible. 'Although I hope Rosalind knows what she is doing.'

She doesn't, Merlin knew. There weren't very many clues for that opinion, but there were a fair few and Merlin did know how to read people. He had to in his line of work. Ros was uncertain about what she was doing, but she hid it well. She had to, Merlin imagined, or else the whole team would fall apart. 'So, you don't want coffee, then?' he checked.

'Tea, please,' Connie said. 'You can leave it on my desk.' She had walked away before Merlin had the chance to point out to her that she had actually been the one who told Arthur he was not to be used as a servant around here. Really, he was glad she was gone. Something had been different and he had not been able to put his finger on it. But it was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. Maybe it was only because Lucas's words had wriggled its way into his head, but he did not think so. There had been something in her face, her eyes. It was suspicion, he decided, and a bit of fear too. It was almost as if she was scared of what Ben and he could have uncovered.

Part of him was urging him to go back and fetch Ben himself. It was only a feeling, but he feared that the spy was in some kind of danger. From an elderly woman with no muscle to speak of? Please! Ben was a strong young man and even if Merlin's feeling was justified, he could hold his own. He was just being ridiculous. And Ros needed to be informed.

And so he ran off towards the Grid, anxious to get Ros to know what she should know before Connie could return. As it was, Ros was standing at Malcolm's desk, looking as if the world had just ended. That was an alarming thing in and out of itself, since Ros Myers would rather die than show her emotions to others. Malcolm and Arthur were with her, both seemingly mightily confused, which, in turn, confused Merlin.

'What's happening?' he demanded as he skidded to a stop next to them.

'Harry's the mole,' Malcolm said when it became clear that neither Ros nor Arthur was going to give an answer. He sounded as if he could not believe it himself.

Merlin shook his head. 'He can't be.' The denial was immediate. He still didn't believe Connie to be the traitor material, but he was fairly certain that Harry was an even less likely candidate for treason than the intelligence analyst. 'It's Connie.' The longer he thought about it, the more likely it became. Trouble was that he did not want to believe that of her, not after the enormous help she had been to him. 'Lucas called,' he explained when he found himself stared at by three pairs of eyes who asked him whether or not he had lost his mind since lunchtime. 'He said he had photographic proof and…'

He had meant to go on, but Ros stopped him. Well, she did not truly stop him, but her facial expression took care of that for her. She seemed… relieved was the word, he supposed. It seemed if she just had the Holy Spirit revealed to her, as she had once phrased it to Merlin when he had one of his bright ideas. 'Renaissance,' she whispered.

Arthur frowned at her. 'Renai… what?' Merlin felt like asking the exact same thing. It felt as if the world had stopped making sense to him, roughly around the same time that Lucas had called him to inform him that Connie, of all people, was the traitor they were looking for. Ros's seemingly completely unrelated remark – he didn't even know what renaissance meant – didn't do anything to make him understand.

Ros however did not listen to the king. Every sign of weakness had instantly vanished and the determined Section Chief had resurfaced. 'Come,' she told them. She marched away to Harry's office, currently free of any Dolby-related presence, leaving the other three no other choice than to follow her.

'What are we doing?' Merlin asked, unable to stop himself from asking. There was no big chance of Ros actually paying attention to him, never mind that she would answer his question, but he asked all the same.

And Ros replied, even though it was aimed at Malcolm rather than at the warlock. 'Pull up everything you can relating to the codename Renaissance,' she ordered. She sounded just as tense as Lucas had done on the phone.

Malcolm did as he was told, taking Harry's chair in order to work on Harry's computer. Merlin knew enough of the devices to see that Dolby had not logged out when he left, leaving Malcolm free to work his particular brand of magic on it. The warlock could feel the tension in the room, the anticipation, and he did not even know what it was that they were hoping to find here. Ros's explanation, as in so far that word could even be used, had been greatly lacking and he just felt confused.

He was meaning to ask when Malcolm found what he was looking for, and then Operation Renaissance turned out to be a thirty year old operation, run by Harry in Moscow. 'Its object was to persuade the KGB that they had a mole inside MI-5.'

Now things were starting to get clearer. Merlin remembered Operation Camelot, remembered how Lucas had been sent to Morgana, pretending to be sympathetic to her cause. He still was not wholly convinced that the spy had not been sympathetic to her in the slightest. What if the person who had been used to mislead the Russians had really fallen into that trap?

Ros's thoughts must have been running along the same lines. 'Who was the officer used to dupe them?'

Malcolm looked at the screen again. 'Connie James,' he replied, disbelief obvious in his voice. 'Traitor.'

It felt like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, but heaven help him, did this make for a terrifying picture as a result. A cold chill went down his spine as he too looked at the screen and saw it for himself. Lucas was right.

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