Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Lucas could feel the tension coursing through his veins as he exited the safe house ahead of the others, scanning the surroundings for any sign of FSB presence. If Connie had spoken the truth, then this was no longer a safe place to be and with Connie now betraying the organisation she had worked for, the Russians were unlikely to be doing a happy dance around the City. It would be more than an educated guess to say that they were watching everything and everyone.

There wasn't anything that seemed out of the ordinary, but then, FSB officers were well-trained. They would know how to look as inconspicuously as possible. There was a very distinct possibility of someone not being who they pretended to be, but it was a chance he had to take. They could not linger here indefinitely, not with the threat of a nuclear suitcase bomb hanging over them and less time every second to defuse it. Even if these people were FSB, they could not remain here; it'd be like painting a target on their foreheads.

He signalled the others that the coast was clear, at least for now. Arthur was the first to exit, practically dragging Connie with him. An outsider would not see it as that, though. To them it might just seem like a young man helping an elderly woman on her way. Arthur may be boiling over with righteous rage, but he had learned since he had come to London the first time.

Ros was right behind them, keeping an eye out for any more potential trouble, followed by Mordred and Merlin, who had his eyes on the soon-to-be knight rather than his surroundings. Given the circumstances Lucas could not blame him for acting like that. In his opinion Mordred was an additional threat to the one they were dealing with already and that he really could do without.

'I'll keep an eye on him,' he assured the warlock in passing. He was not thrilled by the idea of having to work with Merlin, especially since what had happened during Operation Camelot, but he'd rather die than let a grudge come in the way of national security. And if Mordred for some reason chose to target serving intelligence officers – because that was what they all were now – during a bloody crisis, that was a threat to national security.

Merlin nodded. Somehow it was still strange to be in an alliance with the man who for all intents and purposes was Arthur's shadow. They had spent too long distrusting the other and mending fences would not in any way be easy. That was, if they could be mended at all and that was something Lucas rather doubted.

Harry was the last one to leave the safe house. 'What was that about?' he asked.

Lucas shook his head. 'Later.' He trusted Harry, but only to a certain extent. He trusted Harry to risk everything for his officers and he trusted him to do whatever it took to make this operation end with aforementioned officers still in one piece and London still going on as it always had. He didn't trust him to take his suspicions about Mordred serious though. It had taken him awfully long as well to trust him with what it was he truly knew about Sugarhorse. No matter how much Lucas may want to, that wasn't something that was easily forgotten.

He closed the door of the safe house and glanced around te street again, searching for any signs that trouble was afoot. The man with the phone was still talking and there was a woman with a pram walking towards them at a leisurely pace. Not quite the place to take a baby for a walk, he noted, and it set his alarm bells off right away. Of course, there was no rule forbidding women from taking their kids for a walk in unconventional places, but out of place was generally wrong in his line of work. It made his skin crawl.

His gaze shifted to the man with the mobile phone. Whatever conversation was going on, it was too soft for him to hear, but his lip-reading was not too bad. That was not English that he was speaking. 'He's speaking Russian.' Maybe it was because he was so aware of the possibility of Russians skulking about that he could place it as quickly as he did, but he could not care less about the why.

The supposed mother was making very familiar gestures, the ones people made when they were pulling out a gun. It was almost reflex to reach for his own and fire it at the source of danger before he had thought it through. It was the same instinct that had made him kill the FSB officer in the bar in Moscow.

He could hear the sound of running feet when the shooting started in earnest. Lucas didn't pay any attention to it. They were with him and not the ones he had to worry about now. His main concern was his attackers. So far he had seen three: the woman, the man with the mobile and a man on a rooftop, also armed with a gun. There could be more though. If this was a kill squad, as he was starting to suspect, then there should be three more. Where they were, he dreaded to think.

And there was no time to think it all through anyway. He was hiding behind cars – several owners would soon find their vehicles windowless and pierced with several bullets – and that didn't offer the best opportunity for glancing around to see where the rest of the squad was hiding out. At the moment the man with the mobile, although a gun had replaced the mobile now – was the worst threat, the one in the best position to kill. As long as he still stood there and had bullets to fire, they were in a lot of trouble.

The break came half a minute later. It had to be a lucky shot, because there was not much time to really aim before he fired, but that didn't matter. Mobile Man had his brains splashed all over the garage door behind him and that was the main threat out of the way for the time being. 'Run!' he yelled at that part of the group that was still crouching behind cars. With some measure of shock Lucas realised he was the only one armed.

They didn't need telling twice. The sound of bullets being fired was the background music to their escape. Ros, who was leading the way, made for the first alley they came upon. 'We need to split up!' she yelled. And she was right. They were too easy a target now and they needed to lose their tail sooner rather than later.

'Rendezvous at Catherine Wheel Alley,' Harry ordered. He was digging up his phone to make a call to the Grid, while Lucas kept an eye on their pursuers. But he was running out of bullets and by the time he'd have replaced those, the FSB would be upon them.

'Astrice!' someone shouted. The kill squad was literally blown off their feet. They fell down and didn't get up again. Lucas looked up to see the warlock standing next to him, smiling sheepishly. 'We're allies,' he said, by way of an explanation.

Lucas merely nodded. 'They're dead?'

'Just unconscious, I think. The spell will knock them out for about the quarter of an hour?' He phrased it as a question rather than a statement and that did nothing to calm Lucas's growing feeling of unease. This was his territory, but he was prey rather than hunter and they all knew it. Moscow rules, he thought. For now, for all intents and purposes, London was enemy territory. They had no idea how big Tiresias was and just what they had access to, but it would be safe to say that they, and not MI-5, had the advantage now. It was good to have an ally at least, even when Lucas was not certain whether he could truly trust Merlin. There was too much history there.

'We need to move.' That was a statement. There was no telling whether there were more FSB officers on their way, but he was not willing to take chances. 'We'll distract them from Arthur, Connie and Ros and then re-join them.' There was a fairly good chance that they had gotten away while Lucas had been holding their attention; they had already disappeared out of sight and Ros was good at counter-surveillance. She'd find a way, he'd stake his life on that.

Harry gave a curt nod while he was wrapping up his conversation on the phone, but Mordred looked doubtful. 'I should try to reach the others,' he said. 'They're unarmed and they don't have magic. If they're shot at, they won't have anyone to defend them.' It sounded so sincere that Lucas was almost tricked into thinking that the young man was genuine. The point was that he always seemed to be so genuine. He had been genuine in his hatred too.

'If you'll follow them now, you'll draw attention towards them,' he said curtly. He still had to act as if this could be nothing more than it seemed, not until he had proof. 'Harry, once we get the file, we'll need someone on the Grid who can act on that intelligence.' Harry was too old for running around London like this and although Ros had not said much about what had been done to his boss in his absence, Lucas had a memory to draw on, to remind him exactly of what interrogators were capable of. It would not have been FSB-level, but it would have been bad. 'We're not going to stop this from happening if you're not back on the Grid.'

The Section Head looked doubtful, as if he was not sure that Lucas was saying this for the reason he had just mentioned. He'd be right to. Lucas didn't exactly know when he had become this protective of his boss, but maybe it was around the time he'd got the evidence that Harry really had not been the one to sell him out to the Russians.

'We'll be fine,' he said forcefully. 'All we need to do is cross London. How hard can that be?' Sarcasm was the way to deal with this. If he didn't, panic might grip his throat and cripple him. There was a bomb still ticking away and there were far too many FSB officers who wanted to murder him before that bomb got the chance to do just that.

'They'll have people listening in,' Harry said, nodding. 'Keep comms to a minimum.' His gaze shifted to the top of the buildings. 'And watch the rooftops.'

Now it was his turn to nod. But he had no intention of having to watch up all the time. There were more ways to cross London on foot, less populated areas he remembered from before his imprisonment. He'd have to take the risk that those had not been meddled with in his lengthy absence. 'Don't worry. I've got another route in mind.' Merlin's offer of transporting was sounding more tempting by the minute, but that would draw attention, wherever they went, and for the moment they had to assume that the FSB had every last spot of London under tight surveillance. Drawing attention was the last thing they should do.

Harry left. It wasn't ideal and he could still get shot, especially if Harry was right and the rooftops were no longer being as empty as they should be. But he had a lot of years in the field, much experience to rely on. And he'd be safer than those who were trying to get to London Bridge. Sometimes there was no really good option, just the lesser of two evils.

'This is dangerous,' Mordred said. 'We shouldn't leave them to fend for themselves.'

Lucas saw Merlin tense. He himself was none too happy with where this seemed to be going. 'They'll be fine,' he snapped. 'Ros is a resourceful woman.' So is Connie, heaven help us all. 'And you might want to demonstrate a little more faith in your own king. He can handle himself.' There were two likely reasons why Mordred wanted to be anywhere near Arthur: he wanted to protect his king, as any knight should, or he wanted to do him harm. With things being as they were, it would be wiser to assume the latter.

'But they're not safe!' Mordred sounded as if he was in distress. 'I should go to them, see if they're all right. You two can draw them away from us. Merlin is really good at dodging guards. You won't be caught.'

If he thought that was subtle, Lucas had bad news for him. If anything, Mordred's behaviour just about confirmed everything he had been thinking. Before the Druid had any chance to react he had him pressed against the wall of the alley they were still in, his arm pressed against Mordred's throat, thus cutting off most of the young man's air supply. 'Listen to me and listen carefully,' he hissed. He remembered being on the receiving end of such a treatment, but at the moment the present crisis overrode his loathing of it. 'You know that what happened in Moscow was not merely an accident, a fault a young knight in training might make. You know that I know. We both know that Arthur doesn't know and that he will not believe that you are his enemy without irrefutable evidence.' Which presented the two of them with a very big problem; they could not tell Arthur. He'd not believe them and that would cause strife in the group at a moment they could use it least. They were all too aware of it. Mordred knew it too and he was using it. At the moment he was at an advantage. 'This is what is going to happen: you are going to be walking in front of us at all times and if you try something, you'll be dead. I have a gun and Merlin has his magic. Neither of us will hesitate to use it should the need arise.'

Mordred was looking rather panicked. He was getting short of breath and stared at Lucas with wide eyes. It struck him then that the Druid had not once tried to deny what he was being accused of. That was not a very welcome realisation.

'Do you understand me?' he growled. Even if Mordred voiced his understanding, it would not resolve the situation. He could still try to harm them and there was a very good chance that they would be too late to do anything about it if it happened. But it was all about making believe Mordred that he could do as he had threatened.

The Druid nodded and Lucas let go of him. There was nothing else he could do at the moment. He started to realise that Merlin must be feeling this frustrated about his inability to do something on quite a regular basis. Arthur could be so blind when he felt the people he trusted were suspected. Sometimes it was a blessing – Lucas was not likely to forget the faith the king had demonstrated in him during Operation Camelot – but sometimes he wished it wasn't so. Like today.

'Then keep moving,' he ordered.

Mordred could have blasted him off his feet the way Merlin had done the FSB, but for some reason he chose not to. Maybe he believed Lucas's threats. He could only hope that was the case. And this course of action had one added bonus: Mordred would be acting as a human shield should someone shoot at them. It was a heartless way of thinking, but no more so than trying to kill two people in cold blood.

'I don't like it,' Merlin muttered as he came walking next to the spook. 'Can't we send him away?'

'There's no telling what he will do then,' Lucas explained, even though he privately agreed with Arthur's self-appointed bodyguard. 'Best keep him where we can keep an eye on him.'

It was not ideal, but it was all he could do.

Ros was sure they'd lost the eyeball the moment Lucas had been shooting at FSB officers to give them a chance to let them get away. It was a maze here. There were so many alleys and backstreets and they had their pick of which they chose. If they were clever and used a great number of them, chances were they might just outrun the FSB or at least confuse them so much that they had no idea where they were going. And the faster they lost the eyeball, the more chance they would stand of survival and of retrieving the Tiresias dossier.

'We can't leave them behind!' Arthur protested. He was still leading Connie away from the shooting, but he was looking back over his shoulder wistfully. Being the knight that he was, he'd want to join the fighting. Unfortunately Ros also had the feeling that he'd also felt that it was his responsibility to make sure that every member of their company would make it out alive and that was something that was not within their power at all, no matter how much they may want it.

'Yes, we can,' she snapped at him. 'Unless you want to make their actions all for nothing, then yes, you can.' Those noble impulses of Arthur had been an enormous help in the past, but they were not of any use to her now. 'Move it.'

Arthur had skidded to a halt when it dawned on him that she was serious, that she was not going back for her colleagues. 'You'd do that?' he demanded. 'You'd leave them on their own with a kill squad at their heels? Are you truly that heartless that you would leave them to die?'

Ros didn't think she'd made a conscious decision to act. If she did, she could not remember it. All she knew was that she had grabbed his collar and that she shoved him up against the nearest wall. 'Don't you dare,' she growled at him. 'Don't you bloody well dare.' Colleagues are okay. They truly were okay and she had failed too many of them. She had failed to find Zaf, instead getting side-tracked by Yalta, she had failed Lucas during Operation Camelot and yesterday she had failed to rescue Ben. The weight of her own failings pressed her down. The last thing she wanted was for Arthur to poke his finger at the sore spot. 'You know nothing,' she told him angrily, mostly angry for losing control of herself so badly.

Arthur fought his way to freedom. He was physically stronger than she was and had several years of training under his belt. 'All I see is a woman who's giving up on her friends without even trying to go back and rescue them!' he spat.

'Because it won't do them any good!' she threw back. 'We have a mission. If we do not make it to London Bridge to retrieve that dossier, then thousands of people will die. Right now, we are the only ones standing between the people in this city and catastrophe.' Regnum defende. It was her duty to protect the country first and only then look after her colleagues. It was in black and white in the job description. It was what she had signed up for. It didn't mean that it didn't pain her to leave them behind while she was making a run for it. There was, however, no need to tell Arthur how she felt about this.

She seemed to have gotten through to him at the very least. He still glared at her, but he nodded. Ros didn't expect to hear him admit that he was wrong – Arthur Pendragon almost never did – but this was as good an admission as she was ever likely to get. 'Fine.'

She let go of him. 'They'll be fine,' she told him as she stepped back.

Arthur looked at her accusingly. 'You can't know that.'

And she couldn't. 'They have Merlin, for heaven's sake,' she retorted. 'They'll come.' She wished she could be as certain as she sounded.

'What if they don't come?' Connie demanded. There was a menacing sparkle in her eyes that left Ros with a sudden urge to be violent.

'They'll be there!' Ros snapped. It was unprofessional of her, she knew, and even as she was speaking, she was thinking of a worst case scenario. Maybe she had been hanging around Arthur for too long though, now that she thought it the worst crime imaginable to give up on one's friends before anything was certain. And she shouldn't do that, not with everything that was going on. Her professional priorities getting mixed up was not a good thing at all and she'd better sort herself out or London would be blown off the map, uninhabitable for years to come. And that was leaving the political fallout out of her considerations. This disaster could not happen. So, get yourself together, Myers.

Connie was getting on her every nerve and she had a lingering suspicion that the woman knew it too. There was something about her that was, dare she say it, positively evil. This was a scheming woman underneath the kind granny type Section D had come to know. More like the one and only Granny of Deception. How had none of them ever seen it before?

But that was not the most urgent question on the Section Chief's mind. Because it didn't make any sense. None of this added up. Why would she have done what she did? Connie had always made a show out of hating Russians. Of course Ros knew better than most people how to put on a show, how to pretend. And Connie disliked America. It was something they had in common. But was that dislike strong enough to turn her towards the Russians in such a drastic manner? Personally she didn't think so. Ros's own hatred of the United States had been much stronger, because it had been personal for her, born of a longing for revenge. And even then she had not very willingly turned traitor. This had to be something else. But it still refused to make any sense. They had the facts and Connie had confessed to having spied for the Russians for thirty odd years. Ros knew why she had joined Yalta, but she couldn't get the measure of Connie James.

Catherine Wheel Alley was abandoned when they came there. Ros had been checking for surveillance all the way and had made them track back and change direction the few times she thought there was any. By the time they'd reached the rendezvous spot, she was certain they were clean. No one was following them, not at the time, and any pursuer would be visible to them long before he could take the shot. That was not what worried her. It was the fact that none of the others were here.

Connie seemed to have read her mind. 'Where are they?' she demanded, as if somehow magically Ros had all the answers. That was where they got her mixed up with Merlin. He was the one who knew everything.

Connie was getting nervous. She paced the short and narrow alley as if the devil himself was at her heels. Given how Lucas had been treated by the FSB, that assessment of the situation was probably not too far off the mark.

The question vexed her all the same. 'They'll be here.'

'We haven't got time for this!' Connie protested. Arthur's nervous glancing around him told Ros that for just this once he agreed with her. Had he so little faith in Lucas and Merlin? It made Ros want to scream. Was she bloody well the only one who believed that Lucas still had whatever it took to do his job? Had Operation Camelot not been enough to convince the sorry lot of them?

'They'll be here,' she repeated, making it sound as biting as she could to mask her own insecurity. She was worried too, but she'd rather die than let anyone see it.

Connie was leaning against a wall now, out of breath after her pacing. Ros herself was too restless to remain in one pose for longer than a second. Lucas was still out there and so, somewhere in London, was a nuclear suitcase bomb. Something told her that Tiresias would have gone live someday anyway, no matter what they did, but the bigger part of her blamed the woman she now had to keep alive, but who she would rather have strangled on the spot.

'Why did you do it?' she demanded, asking the first question that popped into her head. It also happened to be the question she had been asking herself since she had first heard Merlin tell her that Connie, and not Harry, was the mole.

'Why do you think?' Connie retorted, still playing those sodding games of hers.

I don't bloody well know, do I? But she didn't say that. 'People usually turn traitor for fanaticism or reward.' She gave the former intelligence analyst a onceover. 'I can't imagine either applies to you.'

True, Connie had made herself a deal, but that was to escape with her life. It was self-preservation. Anyone could have done what she did in the safe house. Ros could have done it. That thought she quickly banished though. It was the last thing she wanted to think about.

Fanaticism was ruled out as well. No true fanatic would betray their cause for a get-out-of-jail-free-card. They'd have died rather than to betray whatever it was that they were fighting for. Connie had turned as soon as she had the reassurance that there was still a way she could get out and make a life for herself somewhere else.

The former intelligence analyst confirmed the idea. 'No, neither did.'

'What then?' she questioned.

Connie launched into an explanation of how the Soviets were humiliated and they all had to watch how America became a global hyper power. 'But I am no friend of the Russians, Ros,' she finished.

Ros wasn't buying any of that and clearly, neither was Arthur. 'It looked like that to me, Connie.' Hatred sparked in his eyes. Ros found it did not suit him at all. 'Your explanation does not make sense either. It's just more excuses.'

'She just hates America,' Ros said sarcastically. It was too close for comfort. It was too familiar. Yes, she had done the same and even for similar reasons. It was why she understood Connie so well.

'No, I just hate imbalance,' Connie countered. 'You and I both think the same, Ros, always have done,' she added, the evil twinkle back in her eyes. 'It's why you hate me so much. It's not because I'm a spy, but because you're looking in a mirror.'

It was the verbal equivalent of being kicked in the guts. Ros was almost surprised she didn't double over and gasp for air after the blow had been dealt. Because the truth, the horrifying truth, was that Connie was absolutely right. The elderly woman represented every stupid thing Ros had ever done, every single one of her actions that she had come to hate during her exile in Moscow. Connie had done almost the same thing Ros had done, even if she had worked for a different organisation.

Someone was growling. 'She could not be any more different from you!' Arthur snapped. 'It's all excuses and lies. Do you honestly think we are in any mood to listen to your attempts to justify what you did to your country, what you did to Lucas and Ben?' The anger turned his voice harsh. For a moment, he did not even sound like Arthur Pendragon at all. He suddenly strangely reminded her of Lucas.

Connie merely snorted. 'Don't be ridiculous, Arthur.' The tone of voice could only be described as patronising. 'You don't know what I know.' Truth again. If Arthur did know what Connie knew, he'd not be so anxious to be the knight in shining armour. Arthur hated betrayal, and Ros Myers had done her fair share of it. She had never murdered a colleague, but she had sold one out to save her own skin. She'd have to plead guilty on that one. She had done to Harry what Connie had done to Lucas, even if the outcome in both cases was vastly different. It was a treason of the same kind nevertheless.

Arthur clearly did not share her opinion. He settled for a death glare. 'I don't need to,' he said. 'I have seen what Ros is like and she is not anything like you, for which I am very grateful.'

Ros hated herself for feeling so touched at his words. It was something she wasn't used to and Arthur Pendragon standing up for her, that was a novelty too. She was not quite sure what to make of it. There was no telling if he really meant what he said or if this was just something he said to spite Connie. She decided that she really didn't want to know. Arthur knew she was guilty of treason. If there was one thing the King of Camelot hated with a passion, it was betrayal. No, she really did not want to know.

The other half of the company barged into the alley. Mordred was first, with a face like thunder, followed by Lucas and Merlin, both looking rather tense. Ros would even go as far as to say that Merlin was jumpy. Lucas was more in control, but his eyes gave him away. He looked as he had done after his return from Russia: haunted.

'Did you lose the eyeball?' she demanded.

She got a small nod. 'But if we did, it won't be for long. They're everywhere.'

Ros nodded her understanding. She had suspected as much and it would account for his behaviour perfectly; they must have escaped a few close encounters with the FSB's snipers, which was not a reassuring thought. At the same time it was a relief to see them here, in one piece.

At the same time she thought that, she realised that was not entirely true. 'Where's Harry?'

'Gone back to the Grid,' Lucas reported curtly. 'He'll be more use to us there.' Ros heard what he didn't say. Harry was too old and too weakened by his ordeal at the hands of Charles Grady to handle a race against time itself all across London with the FSB on their trail. There was even some concern there, that Ros understood only too well. She wanted him safe too.

She didn't comment on it. 'We need to move.' Time was rapidly running out and somewhere in London was a bomb. That was something she was in no danger of forgetting. She looked at Lucas. 'Tube station?' It was the quickest way to get to London Bridge and if they got on the Tube before the FSB followed them in, they had no way of knowing where they'd gone. It was not an ideal option, but it was the lesser of the evils they were facing.

Lucas nodded. 'I have a route in mind.'

If that was the case, Ros was happy to follow his lead. Lucas was good at this and he had motivations in spades to stay out of the way of the FSB to avoid getting reacquainted with their unique brand of hospitality.

'They'll be watching the station!' Connie protested, almost shocked at the idea.

But Ros had no consideration for her whatsoever. She'd lost the right to that when she had betrayed them, sold Lucas out to the Russians and had murdered Ben in cold blood. If she were to die now, Ros would not lose a moment's sleep over it. In fact, she was severely tempted to help Connie's passing along. The only thing stopping her was the fact that they needed her. For now.

'They're watching everything!' she snapped. It was something she was only far too aware of.

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