The tension in the meeting room was causing Ros to twitch uneasily. She knew what kind of a situation this was. This was the kind where the enemy still had the upper hand. They knew everything about Section D and yet they knew next to nothing about them. Add to that the fact that Morgana apparently had the gift to magically appear out of nowhere and they were definitely at a disadvantage now.
And she wasn't the only one who was tense. Ben, Merlin and Jo were positively jumpy and Harry was just grumpy and very short-tempered. Connie and Malcolm hid their uneasiness well, but it was visible in their eyes. Arthur's movements had taken on all the characteristics of a robot on a low battery.
Strangely enough it was Lucas that was the island of calm amidst all the stress of the others. His entire posture was totally relaxed. The only indication that something was wrong might be found in his eyes. They were concentrated and alert. Ros knew he was intelligent and had a memory she might commit a murder for, but his calm was downright infuriating. The way he acted you would think they were totally in control of this and last time she checked, they weren't.
The silence dragged on, nobody wanting to be the one to break it first. In the end it was Malcolm that spoke. 'We can't take the risk, Harry,' he pleaded with the section head. 'Hogan has abducted our officers in the past. Whoever you will ask to go in there will run a terrible risk.'
Don't I know it. Ros clenched her fists in frustration, although she took care to do it under the table, where no one else could see it. But the most frustrating point was that, looking at the situation the way it was, not one of them was safe. Ros's thoughts wandered back to Zaf's disappearance. They had never been able to prove it, but deep down Ros was one hundred percent sure that Bob Hogan had something to do with that as well. Oh, screw that, he had something to do with it. Period. And God knows how many others he had sold to that group over the years. That man had been a self-serving bastard long before she had even met him.
And if they would obey Hogan's demands the officer they would send in there would be completely on his own, with no back-up and no means of communication. It would almost be like handing him to the fat American on a silver platter and every fibre of Ros's being protested against the very notion. It was her duty to keep her officers safe, not send them to an almost certain death.
But it's also your duty to protect your country, that little voice in the back of her head reminded her. And she knew it. Those two duties warred for dominance and she knew which one should come out victorious. When it came down to it, she had to make that choice to sacrifice her people for the good of the nation. They had done it before and they would do it again, even though she had prayed it would never have to be on her watch.
But here they were and the situation asked for it. So she took a deep breath and spoke the words that nobody wanted to hear. 'We'll bloody well have to.' The words came out harsh and unfeeling, but maybe that was what they needed; someone who took control of the situation and made the hard decisions, because they had to be made. They only had an hour and a half left before the meeting. They needed to do something now. 'If we don't make that rendezvous, we don't get to know anything. We go in, keep the place under tight surveillance and have back-up five minutes away.'
'They'll know,' Connie told her. 'Hogan isn't new to this game, Ros. He'll suspect we'll try to cheat and when he does find out, he'll do a runner and we'll never see him, or our officer, again.'
'Hogan is only one man,' the Section Chief pointed out. 'He doesn't have the full power of the CIA behind him anymore.' Not that the man needed it. He had proven he could make the life of Section D a hell on his own well enough. 'And if he is having that meeting, he doesn't have the time to venture outside and check for surveillance.'
Merlin shook his head. 'That won't work. He has Morgana with him. She can use her magic to see if there are any more people around.' And when he found himself faced with a lot of confused people, he added: 'She can look down in a bowl of water and see whatever she wants to see. It will be too easy for her to see if we brought… the cavalry you call it, right?'
Ros blinked and blinked again. A few dots connected in her head. 'Well, that's just bloody brilliant!' she fumed. 'Are you saying that that witch can also spy on everything we say and do here?' Because if that was true, their disadvantage was even greater than she already feared. Hogan and Morgana would already know what they were planning before the decision had even been made. Bloody magic. To think that could achieve where technology had failed made her practically boiling with rage.
Merlin carefully avoided her eyes, staring down at the table, cheeks coloured bright red. 'She can't,' he informed the table. 'I put a few spells on the Grid, making it impossible for her to spy on us.'
That was a relief at least. 'And when exactly did you do that?' she demanded.
'As soon as Marlin told me she was here,' the warlock confessed. 'I mean, it was obvious that she is trying to play us, so I thought I'd make it a little harder for her, so now she won't know what's going on in here. I'm not sure what she has seen before I shielded it, though.'
Arthur frowned. 'She might already know that we are here?' he questioned. 'She might know about your magic?'
Merlin nodded, looking absolutely miserable. 'I think so. Or she might know, if she has been paying attention. She won't have us under twenty-four hour surveillance. That's impossible to keep up. She will find it strange though that she won't be able to spy on us any longer.' It was a bit strange to hear that clumsy man talk with such authority in his voice. In a strange way it both did and didn't suit him.
Lucas nodded in understanding. 'She will suspect there is magic involved,' he concluded, still perfectly calm. 'Even if she has been unable to link it to you.'
Merlin nodded. 'I think so. It isn't natural for entire buildings to be shielded from a sorcerer's gaze. Most sorcerers don't do it, because it demands quite a bit of attention.' He thought for a moment. 'The best I can compare it with is that to any magic-user it would be like a big sign saying Secret Business Conducted Here hanging over the place. But I figured she might as well know that already, so shielding was the best option we had.'
Harry gave a curt nod. 'Make sure you square any future ideas with Ros before you carry them out,' he ordered. 'Now, I agree with Ros, we need someone to go in there. We need that information.'
Malcolm was still less than convinced. 'if we can't send back-up with them, that will make the risk all the higher to the officer we're sending in.'
Ros privately agreed. 'What we really need,' she pondered out loud, 'is to make this an undercover job. One of us goes in, tries to gain their trust, make them believe they've got an ally within MI-5. And when the time is right, when we've got everything we need, that officer betrays them again. Plain and simple. We've done it before and if Merlin is right and Morgana can no longer spy on us with her magic, they will want an asset here. They won't be able to resist the temptation, not even Hogan.'
Harry nodded thoughtfully, as did Connie. 'The officer will run less risk that way,' the intelligence analyst agreed.
'We'll still need a terrific actor to pull off such an operation,' Ben supplied. 'Hogan is CIA…'
'Ex-CIA,' Jo corrected.
'Ex-CIA,' Ben agreed. 'He will be wary of such an attempt.'
'I'll go.' The words had left her mouth before she had given them permission to do so, but she didn't regret offering it. She would never ask her officers to do something she was not prepared to do herself. And she was not going to sit idly by while one of her colleagues was going to walk straight into the lion's den. She had lost too many of them already; first Zaf, then Adam. She'd be damned if she let anyone else take such a risk.
The 'no' that followed was spoken by everyone present, but it was Harry that explained it. 'Out of the question, Rosalind,' he told her sternly. 'Hogan already wants your head. He won't believe it.'
Ros snorted. 'He already believes I like to do nothing more than betray my country during lunch time.' She managed to keep the sarcasm in her tone, but the truth of her words still hurt. But she also knew that if her past was her way in, she would use it. 'He'll fall for it.'
'Out of the question,' Harry repeated. 'You, Rosalind, are as likely to convince an old war horse like Bob Hogan that you are on his side as I am to declare my undying love for politicians.'
Lucas went into a coughing fit, although it might have been badly suppressed laughter as well. Ros could feel the corners of her own mouth curl up at that mental picture. A more reasonable part of her knew that he was right about this. Hogan hated her with a passion for her involvement with Yalta, especially after her actions had made sure quite a few American satellites had been out of business for several weeks. Yet she also had a history of betrayal that Hogan was well aware of. Ros knew she was the most likely member of Section D to be turned by a group whose interests were hostile to those of Britain. She had put that thought into the spoken words before thinking about it any further.
Harry's eyes were sparking with righteous rage. 'You will do no such thing!' The look on his face had sent less brave people than Ros running for cover without a second thought, but she had seen worse things than her boss in a fit of fury. 'And that is non-negotiable. You will stay here and supervise this operation, but you will not offer yourself up on a silver platter. We are a team and we have more than enough capable officers here, officers who have far less history with Bob bloody Hogan.'
Lucas had been listening to the entire conversation, but he had been thinking. Ros was seated opposite him and she hadn't missed the alert look in his eyes. So she really shouldn't have been surprised when he spoke up. 'What we need is someone whose loyalty can be called into question, who doesn't want Hogan's head on a spike and who has no real connection with our guests here.'
Ros was tempted to roll her eyes in exasperation. There was nobody here that fit that description. 'And where, pray, would we find such a wondrous creature?'
There was no hint of mocking or humour in Lucas's eyes as he returned her look and in a flash of intuition Ros knew exactly what he was going to say. 'I'll do it.'
The decisive 'no' that followed that announcement came from both Ros and Harry.
'No, Lucas.' Harry Pearce had been pacing his office for at least twenty minutes continuously, glass of whisky in hand, a look in his eyes that told everyone who knew how to read him how distressed he was.
Lucas himself had sat down, watching his boss carefully. 'Think about it, Harry,' he urged. 'Hogan doesn't know me and I can sell him the story of how I believe you have deliberately left me to rot in Russian prison for eight years. I do have a reason to turn traitor. No one will question my motives.'
Harry's back had been turned on him when he had spoken those words, but it was all too easy to see him freeze as he heard those words. And Lucas knew why his boss had done that. His words had come uncomfortably close to the truth. They both knew that the reasons he would give to Hogan for his defection, provided that Harry would let him go in, would also be the reasons that he could really use to turn on MI-5. And if Lucas was already aware of that, then Harry must be too.
It was ironic really. All those things that made him the most suitable candidate for the job made it also a huge risk to MI-5. For all Lucas knew they all still looked at him with some wariness. He knew he had made it look like he had been a double agent for the FSB, but he had revealed his true colours when his actions had put Arkady Kachimov in the hands of Section D. That had dispelled most of his colleagues' distrust of him. Most of them had welcomed him back into the team. Even Ros, the most wary (or maybe paranoid was a better word) of the lot, seemed to have accepted him.
Still, eight years in Russian hell were not something that were easily overlooked, or forgotten for that matter, as Lucas knew all too well. Even now that he had been back for some months, he kept waking up to his own frantic screaming, that was if he managed to fall asleep in the first place. The smallest things could trigger flashbacks, although he had taken care to control his reactions around other people. It wouldn't do to give Harry and Ros any indication that he was not as capable of doing his job as he had been before his imprisonment.
Harry turned back to him, his expression a mixture of wariness and fatherly concern. 'Why do you want to do this, Lucas?'
Because I need a way to regain your trust in me. For a moment he contemplated telling him the truth, but he knew that would result in a one-way ticket to the nearest shrink. He thought that Harry at least didn't suspect him of being a double agent anymore, but his confidence in Lucas's recovery was another matter entirely and he wasn't going to give the section head a reason to send him on sick leave.
'You need someone to do it,' Lucas pointed out. 'I fit the profile.' He kept his tone as business-like as he could, trying to keep this conversation on strictly operational level, instead of digging through his own personal motives. 'And we have very limited time to work out a plan. Hogan won't buy the story from any other of the team. They were all too involved last time. I wasn't.'
He knew this for a fact. True, he had still been in prison when the whole Hogan affair had occurred, but he had been reading, or rather digging, through years and years of information. So by now he had a pretty good idea of what had happened back then, even though there were still a few blanks, like what had been going on with Ros Myers at the time.
Harry could say very little to deny that. Lucas knew he was right. And time was running out. They only had less than an hour before the meeting. The decision needed to be made within the next couple of minutes.
That didn't mean however that Harry didn't try to stop him from doing his job. 'We are talking about a former CIA man. Suspecting people is in his nature. He'll suspect foul play.'
But he was not going to back down, not now. This was the first chance he got since he had officially returned to Section D to really do his job. He had done paperwork until he thought he would run mad, he had gone to meet with a few assets and done some surveillance. But he needed to be really out in the field again, not only to prove to Harry that he was still capable of doing his job, but first and foremost to prove it to himself.
He looked Harry right in the eyes. 'I beat the head of the FSB in London at his own game,' he reminded the section head. 'We both know that I will be able to pull this off. The real question is: do you trust me enough to let me do this?' He grimaced in spite of himself as he added wryly: 'Because that has always been the real issue here, hasn't it?'
Trust, the key word within Section D. Once upon a time, in the period Lucas now referred to as before Russia, they had trusted each other unconditionally. Harry had come closer to a father than his own and he in turn knew that he was closer to Harry than his own son. But then Russia had happened and in that time they had come to distrust one another. Harry was bound to have doubts about Lucas's loyalty. After all, the FSB had had eight long years to try and turn Lucas. And God knew the FSB had tried to achieve just that. Arkady Kachimov had taken great joy in pointing out that Harry didn't seem to be in a hurry to get his officer back, that, in fact, it looked a lot like he had just abandoned him. The solitude hadn't done much in convincing Lucas that he wasn't right, so by the time he had finally, finally been released, he didn't know what to think about his boss anymore.
Harry looked like Lucas had physically hit him. His remark had been below the belt, but by now the unspoken distrust had gotten to him so badly that it almost made him literally sick. He had not been able to bite it back any longer.
'Lucas, you know I trust you.' The tone was almost pleading.
'Then let me do this,' he insisted.
Harry was still not convinced. 'What if they catch you?' he demanded. 'You'll be without back-up, with no means of communication. You'll be on your own against a CIA man and a dangerous bloody witch. We won't be able to get to you in time if something goes wrong.'
Wouldn't be the first time, would it, Harry? He looked the head of Section D right in the eyes again. 'If I get caught, then I'll trust you to get me out.' This time.
It was more of a challenge than a solid belief and they both knew it. To Lucas this was the chance they both needed, to show the other that things had not changed, not really. They both needed to know that they could still trust one another and this operation would be the test case.
It was silent for a long while, but in the end Harry finally nodded. 'Go see Malcolm for a tracker and one of his small devices,' he ordered brusquely. 'I don't care what Bob says about wearing wires, I'm sure Malcolm can provide you with some of his untraceable wizardry.'
It was a compromise. Lucas couldn't determine whether Harry ordered this because he didn't trust him or because he was just concerned for his officer's wellbeing. Lucas hoped for the last, but deep down he feared the first.
'Yes, Harry,' he replied seriously. He could and would use this operation to prove his loyalty, if that was what it took. He smiled wryly as he made his way to the tech suite. Because if he didn't have MI-5, what other home did he have to go to?