Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Lucas woke around three in the morning, screaming. It took him some time to realise that he was no longer in Russia, that there was no prison and that torture was not one of the things that was planned for him in the foreseeable future. This realisation did help some to calm his racing heart, but not much. The memory of the dream was still too fresh.

He tried to ban it to the back of his mind, to make it blend in with all the other nightmares already residing there, but the details refused to fade away and he could still see the interrogation room the moment he closed his eyes, could hear the interrogator's voice barking questions at him while she was having a smoke, even as her victim was all but drowning, and begging for mercy when he was not.

He took a deep breath and switched on the light that revealed his bedroom. There was not much furniture in it, just the bed, the bedside table and the wardrobe. Still, it was as different from Russian prison as it could possibly be and that in itself was all the reassurance he needed. He was safely in his own flat – because this, he knew, would never be anywhere even approaching home for him – and in no danger of being thrown in any kind of prison anytime soon.

He turned onto his back and studied the ceiling. He was not actively trying to remember the dream, but it came back to him all the same. Not surprisingly he had revisited the interrogation about Sugarhorse again. Lately, ever since Harry had told him about it three days ago, it had never been far from his mind. Whoever it was that had betrayed the existence of Sugarhorse to the Russians, they had sold him out as well and that was not something he was in danger of forgetting anytime soon.

There was one consolation, though. This traitor knew of the existence of Sugarhorse, but was clearly not briefed on the names of the assets that belonged to the network, otherwise those assets would long since have been killed and the FSB wouldn't have needed to try and get the names of its assets out of him. If he remembered correctly, they had asked him about names of his assets a lot, but since there had only been the one he had gone to Moscow to meet, he had not much to give them, even if he had felt inclined to give up that one name. He had not done so, because it felt like a defeat for him and a victory for the FSB. He was none too anxious to hand it to them on the sodding silver platter. Only after his release had he learned that his asset had been dead for eight years already; killed in a hit and run that had the FSB's fingerprints all over it.

He caught himself sliding into what Ros would disdainfully call sentimentality and gave himself a mental kick in the behind to stop himself from going there. Wallowing in memories and self-pity would not get him anywhere and it certainly would not bring him closer to working out who the traitor was. There was not much of a chance of that anyway, not with the limited information he had access to.

It had not stopped Ros and him from trying to piece together what they knew anyway over the takeaway, but it was hopeless. He felt like a toddler trying to complete a puzzle of a thousand pieces when he did not even have the example available to tell him what the picture was supposed to look like. And it frustrated his new friend as well; that he had been able to make out from her furious sotto voce stream of curses. But Ros was not the kind of person to let this one go, not when she believed one of her colleagues was in trouble. The Section Chief, he pondered, was taking the definition of loyalty to whole new levels. Harry was almost a father figure to the Section Chief, even if Ros would forcefully deny it when called on it. Families only mess with your head, would her response be.

And friends only annoyed you. That was something they had also agreed on, but yet they seemed to be doing well as friends. Maybe it was because they were also colleagues and they were okay.

But not all of them. That part they'd had to delete when Harry revealed that they were dealing with a yet unknown mole in MI-5 itself, someone who had gotten all too close to the Russians. Having been subjected to the FSB's fabled hospitality himself for quite some time, Lucas could not even begin to understand why anyone in his senses would do that.

He was pondering this as his phone started to chirrup and it was almost an automatic reaction to reach out and take the device in hand. Spooks instinct, probably. Every phone call could mean some important information coming in and years of experience in the security service meant that he had long since learned that nightly phone calls never were to convey good news.

He pressed the button and was about to mutter his name into the phone, but someone beat him to it. 'Lucas,' someone said.

It took Lucas less than half a second to realise that it was his boss who was talking to him. 'Harry.' He had to work hard not to let it come out as a question. The Section Head sounded weary and on edge, which was never a good combination, but his voice was steady. 'What's the matter?' He was already next to his bed, fishing for clothes that he could wear. This was not the first time he was called to Thames House in the middle of the night and it was bound not to be the last time either. And since a call from Harry at such a time could really only mean one thing, he decided to pre-empt the spoken red-flash and just get straight to the point.

Which was why he was so surprised when those were not Harry's next words. 'Look in your bedside drawer.' The tension was better audible now.

Lucas frowned before he could even begin to stop himself from doing so. But he knew better than to ask questions. Harry was likely enough to explain it eventually and so he did as he was told, collecting a large envelop from the place Harry had mentioned, casually wondering when exactly Harry had been in his flat and why he had left this in his house.

'I'm being set up,' his boss said as Lucas examined the contents of the envelop. 'We've got a mole in Section D. I need you to meet a contact in Moscow, Maria Korachevsky.' He spoke as if this was just an ordinary briefing. It would have been, were it not for the fact that Harry was obviously on edge and the fact that he had just ordered Lucas to revisit the land of his nightmares.

Because that was what was asked of him here. At the very mention of Moscow he had frozen in mid-motion and an icy chill had spread down his spine. He had to stop himself from vomiting on the very spot. Moscow was the place where he had been taken by the FSB before and if they truly had a traitor in Section D itself, who was to say he would not be subjecting himself to a repeat performance?

Because this was a shock. Lucas had believed that it was someone in MI-5 who had betrayed Sugarhorse and him, someone whose face he might know, but didn't know personally. For some reason it would be so much easier if it was someone he didn't know, because it would hurt less if it was just some unknown face who had treated him, someone they didn't know at all, like a means to their end. Section D he knew, very well in some cases. And the very thought that someone he had considered a good colleague had not only been able to betray the biggest security operation, but who also had no scruples about sentencing one of their own to the minimalist charms of Russian prison, it made bile rise in his throat.

It couldn't be Harry, of that he was certain. After all, why would he set himself up? That did not make any sense at all. Lucas briefly considered involvement of Richard Dolby, but dismissed that thought almost right away. Dolby was not technically in Section D and although it would be just too easy to pin blame on him because of his own dislike of the man, he had nothing to gain from betraying an operation he had invested in so much in the first place. Jo and Ben did not even count as candidates in his opinion. Both were too young, too new in the service to be the guilty ones. That left only a handful of others, because the desk spooks did not really count in his opinion. None of them would ever have had access to such sensitive information.

And that really only left Malcolm, Connie and Ros. Malcolm had been in the service seemingly forever. He had been there when Lucas joined and had become one of the first friends he'd made there. No, the very thought of Malcolm – civilised, gentlemanly Malcolm – being in league with the Russians was nothing short of ridiculous. The only interest Malcolm had in Russia was the technology they had developed, because their ancient bugs made for such a nice addition to his collection.

The idea of Connie being a Russian mole was equally absurd. The intelligence analyst was positively paranoid when the FSB – which she stubbornly kept calling the KGB – came into the picture. No matter what happened, the elderly woman always was convinced that the FSB was to blame for the crisis. For someone with such hatred of all things Russian to be the traitor, that seemed impossible too.

And that only left Ros, someone Lucas did not even want to consider at all. She had been in Six when he had joined Five. Her transfer to Section D had happened only a few years ago, but Ros excelled in ferretting things out she was not supposed to know and she had recently spent some months in Moscow. He had to consider it.

No, you don't. He stopped himself before he could go any further with this. Ros was loyal to a fault. Work was all she had. She was too much like him. She would never sell out one of her team, no matter what else she may have done. And Harry had trusted her enough to brief her about Sugarhorse. If he trusted her, then Lucas should too. Friends may be annoying and a downright nuisance, but they were okay as well.

Still, one of those three must be the one who was acting differently than they really were. Lucas pushed the thought to the back of his head. It was not something he wanted to consider now.

Harry interpreted his silence the wrong way. 'I'm sorry, Lucas.' There was paternal concern in his voice again, and only a fool would miss out on it. Yes, Harry hated the very need for asking this. 'By the time you get there, she will have all the information we need to pinpoint the mole.'

This forced his thoughts back to the unwelcome realisation that he was nothing short of forced to return to his very own hell. But he had made a promise. Anything you need, Harry. And if he did this, he would get to the person who had condemned him to that hell. As much as he didn't want to know, he needed to. And that was the personal element, but in essence this was also a matter of national security and it was in his job description that he guarded that.

'I'm on my way,' he said, picking up a ring with a blue stone from the things that had been in the envelop. There was no real choice, this needed to be done. And that ring was the token he might need to give to this Maria Korachevsky, a woman whose name he had never even heard before. Would she be a Sugarhorse asset?

He could almost hear Harry's nod down the phone line, even if it wasn't spoken. 'One more thing. When you see Maria, tell her I'm sorry it took this for me to get in touch.' There was obvious regret audible, something that Harry Pearce wasn't known to do very often. 'She'll understand.' The line was disconnected before Lucas could reply.

He allowed himself half a minute to catch his breath before he forced himself to get up and get dressed. From the moment Harry had told him he had to go to Moscow he was on an operation and he could not afford the sentimentality and the fear to cloud his mind and his judgement. Personal matters aside, Harry must be in deep trouble and if he was truly being set up, then this was more urgent than he had realised at first. He could not afford to dawdle and let Harry take the blame for something he did not do. Harry had not been the one to sell him out and he had moved heaven and earth – even going as far as to command a legendary king – to get him back when Morgana had taken him. He owed him a favour and quite possibly more than one too.

The thought of Arthur reminded him that he was coming to visit in a few hours' time. His disappearance would be discovered within approximately six hours, but by then he hoped to be out of the country. Arthur would report it to Ros, he imagined. Those two were not exactly friends, but they did not dislike one another either. They tolerated one another and were allies when a situation asked for it.

Ros still was a candidate for treason, he knew, but his mind refused to believe it. Ros had stood by him when even Harry had doubted him. If Malcolm or Connie turned out to be the mole, he would still think it highly unlikely and downright bloody ridiculous, but he would be able to accept it, God help him. But accepting that Ros had betrayed her team, no, that never. Yes, she had been guilty of betrayal before, but she had never meant for any of her team to get hurt, because that was the one thing the Section Chief could never stand for. It was just not the same.

Praying that he was not making the biggest mistake of his life, he took a leap of faith and scribbled down a few words. Then he grabbed the few things he would need for the operation, left the flat and firmly closed the door behind him.

It was pouring when their small group set out from Camelot and by the time they reached the portal Merlin was quite convinced that he might never even get dry again. It didn't help his mood along that Arthur for some reason that was quite beyond his comprehension had decided to take Mordred along for the visit. The king had muttered some unintelligible explanation of Mordred never having been to London yet. Apparently he thought it would be a good experience for the young man.

Quite frankly it was rather alarming how much time Mordred spent in Arthur's company and how much the king seemed to enjoy the Druid boy's presence. He kept asking him questions about magic and the people who used it, questions, Merlin felt, that should have been asked of him instead of Mordred. He had known the king for a very long time now, so why did he turn to someone who he hardly knew at all? Yes, Mordred had saved Arthur's life, but so had Merlin on countless occasions. But you have also lied to him, a small voice in the back of his head whispered. He doesn't know if you can be trusted.

And that hurt, more than he was ready to admit to even himself. Yes, they were rebuilding their friendship, but they still were nowhere near where they had been before the balloon went up, as Ros had phrased it. They bantered as they had done before, but Merlin was fairly certain that it was only a way to mask the mess that the friendship really was, if they could even speak of a friendship at all. They were trying, but the trust had been absolutely destroyed. There simply were no easy ways out of this. All in all it was only logical that Arthur sought out someone he felt he could trust unconditionally, even when Merlin feared he was embracing his very own doom.

But he could not truly say anything against the Druid. It was nothing more than suspicions and circumstantial evidence. There was the prophecy to reckon with as well, but it was old news that Arthur did not believe in those. It was almost exactly like it had been when Merlin had first started to suspect Agravaine and Morgana. Arthur was being deliberately blind and since he had only very little to present as evidence, it was not enough to persuade Arthur to see his point. His biggest fear now was that Arthur would only realise the danger he was in when it was already far too late.

And that was why he now hoped that the spooks could help out. Merlin was fully aware that he was not exactly in a position to ask any favours of them – if anything, he owed them a fair few – but he could always ask and that was what he was intending to do. And the spooks had the legends. Those were mostly rubbish, he had learned from his visits to Jo, but some of them held an element of truth, even if they got most of it all wrong and the details were pure fantasy.

Still, it might be useful, if only he could find a way to use it. Harry and Ros would be less than willing to help him out, though, so Merlin's money was on Lucas. Arthur and Lucas were friends of sorts and the warlock for one was sure that the spy still kept an eye out for the king. He had mumbled something along the lines of how he was not about to let Arthur die now that he had taken such troubles to keep him alive.

'You are silent, Merlin,' Arthur observed. 'Nervous about meeting Jo again?' It was an attempt at humour, but after the row they'd had the day before, it felt forced and insincere.

Nevertheless, he replied with a snort. 'Are you nervous about meeting Ros?' he countered.

Arthur guffawed. 'Ros is not the one to come for us.'

No, that would be Jo. Merlin had worked out some kind of communication with her. Mobile phones stopped working in Camelot, even after Malcolm's special treatment, so now he simply had charmed two notebooks into revealing the message that was written in only one of them. So far it worked and this was how he had arranged their transport for the day. If all went well and some terrorist organisation did not get it into their thick skulls to bomb London today, she would be in the village to collect them.

'Only imagine your relief,' Merlin said. Normally he would enjoy the feeling of having the last word, but today the argument and the awkwardness that it had caused were still too fresh to let him truly enjoy it. Sometimes it seemed like they would always mess things up just when they seemed to be on the right path. Yesterday was a fine example of that.

The downpour had stopped suddenly, indicating that they had crossed the portal and that it was apparently not raining in Britain today. There was a hesitant sun shining through the leaves.

Merlin muttered a quick spell that dried all their clothes, and found that he had only just beaten Mordred to doing the exact same thing. The young Druid was buttering up to Arthur far more than could be healthy, never passing up an opportunity to get into Arthur's good books at Merlin's expense. It was all very subtle, meaning that he could never truly accuse the lad of bullying, but he had been in the job of protecting Arthur long enough to know how to read between lines. And he had not forgotten what Mordred had said years ago: I shall never forgive this, Emrys, and I shall never forget. Well, Merlin had not forgotten either and that meant that his guard would be well and truly up until this matter was dealt with in a satisfactory manner.

Lucas had once accused him of not being able to do what it took and Merlin was determined for it not to come as close as it had then. Then accept the fact that someday somewhere someone will kill your king, Lucas had said. There won't always be someone to take his place. Because that is what happens when you choose to stay on that precious moral high ground of yours. Yes, Merlin still had principles and that was why he would try to solve it with the spooks' help first, but if that turned out to be in vain, he might need to take matters into his own hands, no matter how much he hated the need for it. He had a destiny to protect Arthur and he had failed in that before. At least no one would be able to accuse him of not getting his priorities straight this time.

Mordred knew he had been beaten this round, but it was hardly a victory worth mentioning. The war was still on and this had only been a minor skirmish. The look he sent Merlin made it only too obvious.

The walk to the village was a silent one. As always Merlin pointedly avoided looking at the place where the barn Hogan had owned had stood. It was too much of a reminder of his own failure and it was a reminder he could do without. Hogan was still safely behind lock and key and even though there was still a low-level war between MI-5 and the CIA, the latter were unlikely to ever get their former officer back. Harry was adamant about it. All's well that ends well, the head of the section had said after the operation. The thing was that Merlin was not quite certain if it had even ended yet.

Jo waited on the outskirts of the village with a car. She smiled as she recognised him and greeted him with her usual hug, that made Merlin colour a bright red in embarrassment as Arthur whistled his commentary. He clearly was unable to recognise plain friendship even when it bit him by the nose and had to suspect something more when there was no ground for it whatsoever.

'Good to see you,' she said. 'How are you?'

Fine, his usual answer, would have been a lie and so he settled for the more truthful 'Could have been worse.' If he said that with a dazzling smile, she might not even suspect him of lying to her. Disguise the truth in plain sight, Lucas had told him in a rare mood of mildness towards Merlin's person. It worked too. Jo clearly thought he was joking.

She greeted Arthur with a smile and a handshake and then turned to Mordred. 'I don't think we've met before?'

Mordred unleashed his most charming smile on her, took her hand and placed a kiss on it. 'My name is Mordred, Lady Jo. It is a pleasure to meet you.'

To Merlin's annoyance she blushed and smiled in reaction. The warlock had at least hoped the spies would have more common sense, but Jo reacted the same to Mordred as all the people in Camelot; she seemed charmed and somewhat endeared to the young man. He could only hope Ros, Lucas and Harry would respond quite a bit more reasonably than Jo had just done.

'The pleasure is mine,' the junior officer said. She smiled, but all of a sudden the smile became a little fixed as the name started to truly register in her mind. 'Wait, did you say that your name was Mordred?' To Merlin's satisfaction he noticed that the expression of charmed amusement had made way for confusion mixed up with some alarm.

The smile on Mordred's face was still firmly in place, so he had either not noticed Jo's changed attitude, which didn't seem likely, or he did a good job of disguising his own reaction. That seemed a whole lot more likely to Merlin.

'I did, my lady.' The Druid was still impeccably polite. 'Have you heard of me?'

She has, just not in the way you think. Merlin kept his silence. It would be best to tread on eggshells around Arthur where the subject of Mordred was concerned for a while. But he was glad that Jo apparently had more common sense than he had just given her credit for.

He studied Mordred's face as inconspicuously as he could. He was the very image of the charming young man who was aspiring to be a knight, but something was off. It wasn't something he could lay his finger on straight away, but as he thought about it for a little longer, he realised that it was Mordred's attitude towards the twenty-first century that was odd. They were standing next to Jo's car, a thing that was not commonplace in Camelot, even when Ros unwillingly had sought to remedy that by racing the van through the streets after they had saved Lucas from Morgana's clutches. Arthur had reacted with fear when he had first laid eyes on the means of transport they had around here. Now, of course the king would have given Mordred something akin to a lecture about what to expect, but still the natural reaction would be to be curious about something that did not exist in the time period they usually lived in, if he wasn't scared of it, that was. Mordred had not given the vehicle as much as a second glance. To be honest, Merlin was not even sure he had given it a first to begin with.

And this puzzled him. The way Mordred acted would suggest that he was already familiar with cars and had accepted them as a normal thing to be seeing. Merlin did not know what it meant yet, but there was something that was not right. Is it ever right when Mordred is involved?

Meanwhile Jo was still trying and failing to come up with an explanation for her own words. She had coloured a bright crimson and was searching for the right words to say, but fortunately her mobile started to blurt out the song that was her ringtone and that saved her from the need to answer Mordred's question.

'Jo Portman,' she said. There was a short silence as she listened to what the person on the other end of the line was saying and then she paled. 'Ros, are you serious?' Another silence. 'Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just… Yes, I'm on my…' She removed the phone from her ear. 'Way,' she finished wryly. Apparently Ros Myers had been her charming self again and had hung up before Jo could even finish her sentence.

'What's the matter?' Merlin asked. He had spent some time on the Grid after the conclusion of the operation and that had taught him that sudden phone calls almost never meant something good and if Ros did not give him the time to finish a sentence, then that meant things were urgent. Urgent was not good with MI-5.

'Red-flash,' the young spy said. She sounded and looked altogether stressed now. 'I don't have the time to drop you off at Lucas's, so you'll have to come with me to Thames House.'

Personally Merlin did not have any objections to that; he liked the Grid with all its wondrous machines. It was the urgency of it all that made him ill at ease. The last thing he wanted was to be caught up in another serious crisis when he had so many of his own problems to deal with. But there was not much choice now and so he slid into the passenger seat and belted up as Jo hit the gas, driving them back to London at top speed.

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