Lucas drove them down to the place he said their suspects were going to emerge. He had handed Arthur an earpiece and something called a microphone, which allowed them to remain in contact with the Grid and the other surveillance teams. Hearing Ros's voice in his ear somehow made that all the more real to him and for the first time he started to feel a little uneasy. He wouldn't admit to being nervous, because that was definitely not what it was, but he didn't really like this either. It was dangerous after all.
'There they are,' Lucas muttered, his eyes never leaving the crowded street outside the car. The senior officer was tense and alert, but nothing like he had been that morning. This was just professional now, Arthur could tell.
They hadn't spoken about what had happened in the car park. Lucas seemed to think it embarrassing and Arthur didn't want things to get awkward, especially since they were to work together in a city he didn't know and would doubtlessly get lost in if he were to get separated from his colleague. He had tried to talk to Ros about it, though, but she didn't seem to think it was important. Something wrong there, but it would have to wait.
'Hawk and Fox Three on the Ground,' Lucas reported. 'We're following.'
They left the car and walked slowly after their suspects, one of whom Arthur recognised as Ben. Through his earpiece he could hear Ros demand a status update from the other teams. Nadif was apparently on his way to work and Fox Two had been spotted in a place called York Road.
Jo and Merlin, who were following the first Fox, had not yet reported and Arthur started to feel a bit worried. This was a big city. Anything could have happened to him. And that was all the more likely because Merlin was such a clumsy idiot all the time.
'This is Zulu Eight,' the follower of Fox Two reported. 'Suspect's carrying a blue hold-all.'
Hold-all? Arthur looked at Lucas for explanation.
'Blue bag,' he clarified, after which he confirmed the presence of two such bags on their suspects to the Grid.
'Do you think's the bomb is in there?' Arthur asked.
Lucas shook his head. 'Probably not today. It's only a dry run and they won't want to get caught too soon. It's most likely filled with rubbish.'
That made him feel a little better. The thought of devices you couldn't defend yourself against with a sword made him feel rather jumpy. He liked weapons he could actually fight and bombs didn't fall in that category. It was the same with magic, he guessed. There was just no defending yourself from it.
He was distracted by a familiar voice in his ear. 'This is Zulu Four. We have our eyes on the suspect. He's carrying a blue hold-all.'
Thank God, that was Merlin and he even sounded like his own cheerful self. He apparently had no problem with the idea that that man he was following might or might not be carrying a bomb.
A glance at his companion for the day learned him that he didn't seem to be bothered either. Contrary to his behaviour early that morning he was now calm, relaxed even. He was still alert and his eyes never strayed far from the men they were following, but he wasn't scared. Well, that might have something to do with the fact that the rain had stopped. There was even a bit of blue sky to be detected.
'So, what is it we're actually doing?' he wondered.
Lucas shrugged. 'We're following, noting what they're doing, where they're going.'
'And then?' he asked. 'Are we going to arrest them?' He thought he had heard Lucas say that they would at some point, so he naturally supposed it would be at the end of today, when this group had done what it was supposed to be doing. Let them outlive their usefulness and then arrest them and make sure they never see the sun again.
To his surprise the other man shook his head. 'No, not yet. Only when we have the other cell, the one that's going to do the real attack.'
That made sense, so he nodded and let Lucas lead the way into the twenty-first century equivalent of a tavern. Arthur could see the two suspects sitting at a table, the bags parked at their feet, but he knew better than to stare at them. They must not get the slightest idea that we're watching, Harry had said yesterday. So the best way not to let them know, was by not watching at all.
They sat down at a table with their backs to the suspects, but still within earshot. Lucas picked up something he called a newspaper and pretended to read it, while Arthur studied the table he was sitting at, listening intently to the conversation taking place behind him.
'So, where is it?' the first man, whose voice he recognised as Ben's, asked. 'A railway station or what?'
Lucas tensed, focused on that conversation as well, but they were disappointed. 'Look at them,' the other man ordered. Arthur thought Ben had called him Jawad. 'Look, if this was for real, they'd have no idea.' He sounded like he thought that was extremely funny, while the very thought of it made Arthur's stomach heave. 'And then, boom!'
The men were still talking in hushed voices and the rest of the people in here was too busy minding their own business to notice. Arthur suspected that if anyone did hear what those two were talking about, this place would be a chaos within mere seconds.
'You shouldn't joke about it,' Ben chastised him mildly. Arthur wondered if he was the only one who could hear the underlying tone of unease.
The sound of a chair being pushed back made Arthur forget his determination and he looked discreetly over his shoulder, just in time to see Ben get up and take his bag with him.
'What?' Jawad demanded.
'Toilet,' Ben said, laughing at him.
Jawad laughed. 'Not your belly again, man?' he shouted after his friend.
'Shut up, man!' Ben yelled back. He disappeared out of sight and both Lucas and Arthur returned their attention back to the newspaper, neither of them actually reading it.
'When he comes back, I'll go,' Lucas muttered under his breath, his lips barely moving. 'See if he has left any messages for us.'
'Can't I go?' Arthur asked. That might not be a smart move, but he was just about done with being kept away from the action. Ros hadn't exactly made it a secret that she didn't think he should be in the field at all. Doubtlessly she thought he was a king who didn't do anything but sit on his throne all day. She thought he was a nuisance and a burden and Arthur couldn't help but respond to the challenge.
'I'd like my head attached to my body,' his companion replied. 'And I have a feeling the boss is going to bite it off if I allow you to go.'
As much as he hated that answer, that did sound like something Ros would do. So he bit back his disappointment and nodded.
Lucas offered him a reassuring smile. 'Give it time. I'm sure she's not going to let you sit around doing nothing all the time.'
He forced his face back into a smile as Lucas got up to take Ben's place in the toilet, just as Jawad was trying to do the same. But Lucas was a lot quicker than that wannabe bomber and he had already disappeared before Jawad's frustrated shouts had ended.
Merlin enjoyed being outside again. If they hadn't been following this dangerous man, he could really have enjoyed the novelty of all the things he saw around him. The first part of the journey had taken place in something called the Tube, a kind of horseless carriage that moved around at great speed using underground tunnels to get from one place to the next. He had a feeling he could walk around here for weeks without having seen everything.
He wondered how Arthur was doing with Lucas. He hadn't seen the king this morning. Arthur and Lucas had already left when Jo and he finally made it to Thames House. Lucas let Arthur do some of the reports through their interesting communication devices and Camelot's king was sounding like his usual I'm-not-getting-my-way self. But Arthur also knew they were dependant on these people to bring them home again and to help them catch Agravaine. Hopefully that would prevent the king from doing anything too stupid.
The man they were following, codenamed Fox One, was very young, barely out of his teens, in his early twenties, Merlin guessed. He was nervous and indecisive, lingering on corners of the streets for minutes some time, which made it difficult for them to follow. They had to improvise several times so that they could stop too without attracting attention. Merlin had tied his shoe laces several times, as had Jo, they also had three different newspapers in their bags, which they bought at small shops, kiosks Jo called them, and the remnants of his last cup of coffee were still in his hand.
'You're doing well,' Jo complimented him when it was time to stop again. Merlin pretended to look for something in his bag, something he, of course, wouldn't "find" until their suspect was on the move again.
He offered her a wide smile. 'I've had a lot of practise in Camelot,' he explained. Following Morgana, Grunhilda, the Lady Catrina… The list was near endless and most of the time he could follow them without being seen. Strange, he had never before thought of himself as a spy, but now that he was working with real, professional ones he started to notice some striking similarities. One, they made sure their country was safe from attacks, two, they followed people around a lot, three, they also listened to other people's conversations in order to prevent the next disaster and four, like him they also never got any credit at all for what they did, because, also like him, they did their jobs in secret.
'Is it really such a dangerous place?' Jo wondered.
'No less dangerous than London, I think,' he replied.
He was about to explain why he thought that when he was distracted by Lucas's voice coming from his earpiece. 'Oh, shit!'
'What's going on?' Ros's voice demanded. Was it just his imagination or was she nervous? He hadn't known her long, but that didn't sound like her.
'This is not a dry run,' Lucas reported. 'This is live. I repeat: this is live! The devices are primed. I've got hold of Hawk and Fox Three. They are together.'
Merlin's head swivelled at their Fox and a cold shiver went down his spine. This was not a dry run. They had been fooled by someone whose idea of humour was to let MI-5 watch the bombs go off right under their very noses, because they were still thinking this was a dry run. Merlin remembered thinking that something wasn't right about Marlin and now wished he had kept his foot down when he said they should find out what was wrong. He suspected there were two other people who were thinking the same thing now.
There was some confusion on the Grid. Someone asked about the second cell, but Ros cut him off. By the sound of it she was positively fuming, but at least she sounded kind of calm and in control. Strangely enough that helped Merlin to calm down himself. She knew what she was doing and if they all kept their heads, they had still a chance of seeing this through. And he was a powerful warlock after all. He could handle this.
Ros started to issue orders at her subordinates. Merlin heard words that sounded like back-up, fire weapons and bomb disposal and felt slightly reassured. They weren't really alone in this. Help was coming.
'What do you think, Lucas?' Ros asked in the end.
'I think they're toying with us.' His mood certainly hadn't improved since he had found out this was not the dry run, but the boom. 'They want to detonate the bombs while we watch for maximum embarrassment.'
That perfectly fit in with Merlin's own assessment of the situation. 'Can't we just stop them now?' he asked.
'CO19 isn't in place yet,' Ros replied, but her voice missed the usual edge of snappiness that it seemed to take on whenever he said something that she thought was beyond stupid. 'And we can't put the mobile network down, because they're watching it.'
Merlin frowned. He knew what a mobile network was (kind of), but he had no idea what this had to do with this attack. 'How does that come into it?' he demanded.
'The bombers get a phone call from Nadif,' Ros explained. 'They think it's to stand them down…'
'But it's the signal for the attack?' Merlin finished.
'Exactly. And if we put the network down, they'll detonate where they are. We have to wait for the phone calls.'
Shit. Merlin understood why it would be bad if those bombs went off now. They were in a very crowded street and if he had gotten anything out of Malcolm and Connie's lessons on bombs, dozens of people would die if one of those went off now.
'Can't we just arrest Nadif or something?' he asked, almost in despair. Because if you couldn't take on the subordinates, you had to get to the leader.
'Not yet,' Ros replied. 'He'll remote detonate them before we can get to him.'
Merlin had to give it to Nadif, he was a lot more clever than he had given him credit for. This way it would all come down to the last possible minute to stop the disaster in fourfold from happening. Merlin didn't use to have panic attacks, but this time he came remarkably close to it. Until he remembered that this wasn't so different from how things went in Camelot. It all came down to the last second there as well. He should be used to it by now.
Arthur didn't like this. At all. The point was that Ros made perfect sense. It was just her proposed way to deal with this, take the Foxes down one by one at the very last second, that he had a problem with. His heart was beating far too fast to be healthy and he was sure he felt hot and cold at the same time.
They followed Ben and his friend to a market, all the while listening to what was going on with the other teams. He also seemed to be the only one to panic. Merlin had even been discussing plans with Ros like he was discussing nothing more important than the weather conditions. At least that helped him to get a grip on himself. He was not going to behave like a baby while his servant, a man with no defence skills whatsoever, was as calm as calm got. He was the king, even though that meant nothing here, and he would behave like one.
He also felt a lot calmer when Zulu Eight, who had been following the second Fox, reported that the 'Fox Two is down, the device is neutralised.' At least they knew what they were doing and one of the bombers had been successfully arrested and his bomb couldn't go off. They could do this.
That didn't stop the nerves from returning when he realised they were walking towards a market. Fox Two had been targeting a market and it would seem that the other ones had also been instructed to detonate their bombs there.
Malcolm didn't make the nerves any easier. Over the communication piece in his ear he could hear the elderly man tell the others the pictures of the bomb had come in. 'Whoever built this wasn't taking any chances. There are three ways to detonate this explosive: timer, manual detonator and remote.' Which made the chances of taking them all down without at least one going off all that much smaller and Arthur felt his stomach do some stunts again.
Apparently Ros changed her mind now as well, ordering to take down Nadif and Fox One. Arthur's stomach calmed down a bit when Ro reported they had Nadif arrested. All they needed to do was to keep Fox Three "contained" until the bomb disposal had arrived. From the way she said it, it sounded like that wasn't much of a big deal, but Arthur found it a bit hard to forget that that man was carrying a weapon that could blow them all into thousands of pieces. Oh, how he longed for Camelot, where life wasn't always safe, but at least it was safer than London. That had to count for something.
And it got even worse. Jawad started looking over his shoulders, looking at them and Arthur could see he was on to them. He tried to minimise the damage by pretending to watch the wares, but he knew even before he started that it wasn't working.
'He knows,' he told Lucas.
The other man nodded. 'I know. Ros, Fox Three is panicking. He could detonate.'
'CO19 should have visual any moment,' Ros replied.
Well, they'd better, because from what Arthur was seeing that man was seriously getting scared. He could see Ben talking to him, but it was no use. Jawad did a runner at the same moment the back-up arrived and pointed the gun at exactly the wrong man, allowing the real bomber to get away.
But Arthur had been hunting for years. He left Lucas to deal with this little mistake and went after the real danger. He forced himself not to think of the consequences and allowed his instincts to take over. He pushed people aside and just ran.
He caught up with Jawad near an alley that led away from the market. He could hear the man's laboured breathing and felt the fear that was practically radiating from him. But he remembered Lucas's words that this man would blow them all to pieces without as much as a second thought and that cured him of any pity he might have felt.
All it took was one well-planned jump and both of them collided with the ground. Jawad fought for dear life, but he wasn't trained and Arthur had, as he had once told Merlin, been taught how to kill since birth. That was no contest at all. He pressed the bomber to the ground and used his small hunting knife to cut the back loose from him, tossing it at the men that he thought were part of their back-up.
'I've got him,' he told them. 'Get that bag and neutralise the bomb.' Now he was finally doing what he did best, fighting and commanding others, he felt much more sure of himself than he had since he had arrived in this land. Until now, he had felt like a burden, someone who was just tagging along because his friend was apparently needed here. Now he was really contributing to the operation with skills that only he possessed.
His command, however, was met with confused faces. 'Who the hell are you?' their leader demanded.
'Aidan Parker, Senior Case Officer in Section D, MI-5,' Arthur snapped at them. 'Now do as I say.'
And so they did. Arthur helped restrain Jawad and then took a few steps back.
'That was a very brave thing to do,' Lucas's voice suddenly commented.
Arthur shrugged. He would have done the same thing if he had been in Camelot.
'Is the Fox down?' Ros's impatient voice demanded. It was only now that the excitement started to wear off that Arthur realised she had been asking the same question at least ten times before.
'Fox Three is down and device neutralised,' he responded. He surprised himself by using their codes as if he had been doing nothing else for years.
'Well, one more and we have our fur coat,' Ros quipped. Oh, she definitely was more cheerful than she had been before.
This was of course the time that he should have realised it had all gone much too easy. There were four bombs, including Ben's, and not one of them had gone off yet. If he had learned anything from living in Camelot it would be that nothing, repeat nothing, ever went as it should. And today was no exception.
They were just discussing what to do now, when one of the back-up people came walking over to them with a ringing phone, telling them that this was Jawad's phone and that they wanted to know what to do with this call.
Arthur's eyes widened. 'But Nadif's been arrested,' he said, as if that would stop this all from happening.
Ben took the phone. 'Withheld number,' he said with one glance at the display. Arthur had no idea what that meant, but he had a feeling that it was bad.
'Take the call,' Lucas ordered.
Ben answered, his eyes wide and shocked. A voice from the phone. Arthur and Lucas could hear what was being said because Malcolm was listening in on the Grid and sent the sound through to them. How, Arthur had no idea, the technology of this time was far beyond him. The only thing that mattered was that he did hear what was being said.
It was some sort of code, he guessed, four numbers, and Ben was supposed to give another code in return, a code that they had no way of knowing. But it didn't matter anymore, did it? Jawad was already arrested and his bomb couldn't go off anymore. Why was everyone looking so serious right now?
'Nadif's not the remote detonator.' Ros seemed to have reached a state of panic now. 'He's not the remote detonator and Fox One is still alive.'
Arthur froze into place. Merlin. Merlin was following Fox One and someone out there could detonate the bomb that lunatic was carrying if they didn't get that code right. So when Malcolm announced he had worked it out and started telling them the code, Arthur could have hugged the man, and everyone who knew Arthur would have known that that meant something.
It wasn't enough. Whoever it was that was calling wanted to know where Jawad was and didn't believe Ben's lie that he had gone to the toilet. He ended the phone call and left the three of them staring at one another, fearing the worst.
'We have been played from the start,' Lucas said. 'Nadif's not the big fish at all.'
'But if he wasn't, who was?' was Ros's logical question.
'The man who gave us Nadif in the first place,' Lucas said.
'Marlin,' three voices chorused: Lucas, Ros and Merlin. Arthur recognised the name as belonging to the man the three of them had gone to meet only yesterday. It would seem as if he had betrayed them.
Arthur had been frustrated before, but he doubted that he had ever been as frustrated as he was now. He could only listen as Ros commanded Jo and Merlin to clear the area around their target and ordered the back-up with them to take the last Fox down as soon as possible. There was nothing he could do while his servant was in the very middle of the danger. There was a lot of noise coming from his earpiece: screaming people, Merlin and Jo yelling at the people to get out of there.
And then it was silent. Somehow that was even more frightening than all the screaming and Arthur felt the blood drain from his face. They were too late. He could feel it deep down.
And then he heard Merlin's voice, but at the same time it didn't sound like him at all. His voice was cold, commanding and using the language he recognised as the language all magic-users used: 'Scildan!'
But he didn't get the time to take it in. He didn't get the chance to feel angry, or betrayed or hurt, because then the explosion drowned out all the noise that had been coming through his earpiece.