By the time he was left alone in a small room without windows, Merlin was as close to a full- out panic attack as he had ever been. He had no idea what was happening to them, or why. He didn't rule out Morgana's involvement in all this, but it seemed unlikely. No one had known that they were going on a hunt. Even Agravaine, who knew that Arthur would be out of town for the day, could not possibly have found the time to go and inform Morgana of their movements. Arthur's full schedule would have taken care of that.
No, Morgana was probably out of the question, but she wasn't the only enemy Arthur had. His father had made quite a lot of them and most of those weren't above passing on the father's crimes to his son. Even Merlin didn't know of every enemy Arthur had and he doubted that he even wanted to know.
But something was not right about this. There was magic at work here, of that he was sure. Because there was simply no way that they could have found this strange land on the other side of the forest without it. He had been there before and this didn't look like it at all. Even the air was different here.
Not for the first time the thought crossed his mind that they were now trapped in a different world altogether. There were just so many things here that felt completely alien to him: the things they used to move around at great speed, the things they used to talk to other people over great distances… Merlin had not seen much from the inside of the van, he believed it was called, but it was enough to convince him that he wasn't in Camelot anymore.
And now he was locked up in this room. He didn't think it could be called a dungeon, even if this was below ground level. They had left his hands unbound, but he couldn't get out anyway, so it didn't matter. The only way out was through a heavy door, made of some kind of metal Merlin could not put a name to, and the only way to open that door was to push the right code on a small "piece of technology" (that was what his captors had called it anyway when they told him he wouldn't stand a chance of escaping this place) that made bleeping noises when you pushed in the numbers on it, and an awfully loud noise when you got the code wrong. He knew this because he had given it a few tries when he worked out the meaning of the device. It had left him with a headache and no results, so in the end he'd given up.
He turned his attention to the only furniture in the room: a table and two chairs, one on each side of the table. All three objects were made of material that he didn't know either.
If anything, this room made him feel claustrophobic, something he'd never had a problem with before. But then, he had never before found himself in such a situation. He'd been stabbed, poisoned, locked up, beaten up previously, but not one of those unpleasant experiences came even close to this one. Because most of the time he had some notion of what was going on and why. Now, he didn't know a thing. All he knew that he was locked up in a strange place, separated from the king he was meant to protect, arrested by people of the "British government" for being a "terror suspect". And none of it made any sense to him.
Something else had struck him as strange as well, beside all the obvious things. The woman called Ros had been "on the phone" a lot during the trip to this place. She had spoken in a hushed voice, but as Merlin's listening spell was still working, he had been able to hear her well. She told whoever was listening that she had picked up two men claiming to go by "king Arthur Pendragon and bloody Merlin". Apart from not knowing why he was supposed to be bloody, he wasn't wounded after all, he had wondered about the way she had spoken their names. It was almost as if she knew them, knew them and thought them utterly ridiculous.
There were just too many loose ends here and he couldn't make sense of anything anymore, which was frightening in and out of itself. There was only one thing that was clear to him: he needed to get out. They were planning on interrogating him. Merlin had heard enough to know that interrogation was just another word for torture most of the time. Uther didn't do it that much; he preferred to have people beheaded without getting a confession first, but king Cenred had been notorious for it, as were some other kings Merlin had heard about. And he could not let that happen to Arthur.
He had been reluctant in using magic before now. The spell he had used to eavesdrop on Ros and a man apparently called Harry had been his only magical act that day. But there was no one here to see him and he had no other options. He needed to get out, find Arthur, free Arthur and find a way back to Camelot. Magic seemed like the only available option he had now.
He held out his hand towards the door and took a deep breath. 'Tospringe!'
They were greeted by a lot of confused faces as they stepped through the pods, but Ros ignored all of them. She handed her mobile phone to Malcolm. 'I got photos of them on there. I want their names, addresses, associates, everything you can find. I want to know who they are, what the bloody hell they're up to and why they're not on our radar and I want it yesterday,' she snapped. 'Run them through face recognition and every database you can think of. Connie, I want you to find everything you can about organisations that have their members go by names of the Arthurian legends.'
'But…,' the senior analyst started to protest.
Ros cut her off. 'Now, Connie!' Maybe that would teach her who was boss here. She still hadn't forgiven Connie for undermining her authority by running off to Harry. 'The rest of you in the meeting room in fifteen minutes.'
The rest of the team knew better than to object when she was in such a foul mood. Harry frowned at the tone in her voice, but then headed off towards his office. Jo returned to her desk, as did Connie, albeit grudgingly, and Malcolm was already behind his computers again, loading the photos of "Arthur" and "Merlin" into the system to search for matches.
Ros entered the meeting room alone. She didn't know where Lucas had gone off to and at the moment she didn't care. All she cared about was knowing what the hell was going on here. She took a seat and closed her eyes, going over that afternoon's events in her head, trying to make sense of it all. At first sight this was just a pair of mentally deranged men with an Arthurian obsession playing in the woods, but it didn't explain the comms going dead or their absence on the CCTV cameras. And she didn't believe it was a coincidence either that they had now run into them twice, in exactly the same place.
All these loose ends were giving her a massive headache. Lucas had been right about there being something very suspicious about the whole matter and she was glad she had listened to him, although she would never admit that when called on it. But she couldn't put her finger on it either.
She was used to dealing with terrorists that she could actually understand. People did things for a reason, because they wanted to achieve something. What these men did seemed not only illogical, but even contradictory. Why would they deactivate the comms, if they were in league with Al-Qaeda, only to shoot one of Al-Qaeda's most important men in the leg, thus delivering him into their hands almost gift-wrapped?
The door slid open and Lucas came in. 'All right, boss?' he asked, placing a cup of coffee in front of her.
'Can you read my mind?' she questioned, beckoning to the cup.
He grinned. 'Nah, just know your love of caffeine.' He sat himself down, a stack of paper and a mug of his own in front of him.
'What's that?' she asked.
'The CCTV images,' he replied. He shoved some of the paper her way. 'And the transcripts of the day we caught Samir and the conversation this afternoon.'
She looked at it. 'We weren't wired when we caught Samir,' she stated, frowning. 'And the comms stopped working.'
'Photographic memory,' he said.
It suddenly became clear to her why Harry had taken such troubles to get him back. Lucas really was good at his job: devoted, clever, charming and quick. She tried not to get jealous of those skills, but it was difficult. She knew she was good at her job, too, otherwise she would never have made it to the post of Section Chief. But if Lucas had never gone to Russia, she knew she would never have made it here, not with her past. That stung.
She sipped of her coffee. 'Well, maybe you can charm our two guests into talking,' she remarked.
'Doubt it,' Lucas said. 'The king is too busy shouting to be charmed.' He sipped his own coffee. 'There is something strange about these two.'
'Not your average type of terrorists, are they?'
He snorted. 'Not that I really know what today's average type of terrorist actually is,' he said sourly, referring to his stay in the Russian prison. 'But no, they aren't.'
Lucas may be a brilliant spook, Ros reflected, but he had a lot of trauma to dig through. Russia still had a huge impact on his life and the way he thought about himself, which compromised his skills in the field. She wondered what he had been like before his imprisonment. Probably Mr Bloody Perfect, if Malcolm's descriptions were anything to go by.
'Well, they're up to something, and that's bloody well enough for me,' Ros muttered. And if they were hiding any secrets, which she was sure they were, then she would squeeze them out of them. The dark-haired young man didn't strike her like one who could hide a secret for long. The blonde one was another matter entirely, but once his friend would start spilling the beans, they would probably have no further need for him, no matter how kingly he prided himself to be.
She closed her eyes and drank her coffee, grateful for the hot liquid, the number one necessity in every spook's survival kit. There was no way you could do the job they did without caffeine.
'Don't you want to check the transcripts?' Lucas asked. 'See if I've missed anything?'
She glanced at them, but they appeared to be awfully accurate. 'They're fine,' she said. 'You got the most important stuff.'
He gave her a grin. 'I aim to please, boss.'
Ros glared at him. If he was trying to charm his way into her good graces by calling her boss five times a day, he was mistaken. If he was going to get into her good books, he had to prove himself, a lot. Ros was a perfectionist and she couldn't work with someone who was less than that. Maybe that was why Adam and her had gotten along so well.
Although, if she was really honest, Adam had never been as ambitious as she and he had messed up more than once, risking entire operations with his reckless behaviour. That was a risk she would never have when working with Lucas. That was for sure.
'Yeah, sure,' she said, the standard reply for when she didn't believe someone. If anything, she was unable to take anything at face value. She had been in the Service far too long for that. There was always another meaning to what people said. The last time she had taken someone at his word would have been when her father told her that thunderstorms could not hurt her and that must have been round the age of six or seven.
Lucas was about to give some kind of witty reply, but she was saved from it by the arrival of the rest of the team. Harry's face predicted a lot of trouble for both of them if they didn't tell him what they were doing soon. Connie's face was equally threatening, but not for the same reason. Jo's face was curious. She glanced at both of them, but sat down without a word. Malcolm wasn't with them. Ros suspected he was still running face recognition. The other person absent was Ben Kaplan, but since he was undercover with the Al-Qaeda cell, that was no surprise.
Lucas did most of the report, explaining how he had come to think there was more to the knights than a mere dress-up party, after which he had gone to share his thoughts with Ros, who had agreed with him and ordered that they have a look around in the village. The way he told it he made it sound like Ros was to thank for the success of the operation, which was not entirely true, she knew, but she didn't speak up.
'So, what we have here are suspicious individuals who dress up as king Arthur and Merlin,' Harry concluded at the end of Lucas's speech. You didn't have to know him well to hear that he was not amused with the way things were going.
Lucas, who had known Harry for years, caught that tone almost immediately. 'I thought there was something suspicious about the fact that the comms went dead when we met them. And it happened again today,' he pointed out. Taken into account how much Lucas craved Harry's approval, he remained very calm and almost impersonal, simply stating the facts.
Harry nodded. 'Ros?'
'I agree with Lucas,' she said. 'The comms going dead at the same time that we encountered those bloody knights, that is too much coincidence for my taste and if they are a threat to national security, we've probably waited too long already.'
She told herself she only told Harry what she already thought herself. She was not defending Lucas's theory because she liked him or because she didn't want to let him down in front of Harry. So, yes, there were still some doubts in her mind about all of this, but there was proof enough that something wasn't right here. Whether it posed a threat to national security or not, that remained to be seen. But if it was, she would get to the bottom of it, she promised herself.
'Right,' Harry said, slipping into full army commander mode. 'We find out who they are and what they want, we deal with it. We do it fast and we do it discreetly. Meanwhile I want you to stay on the group Ben has infiltrated. If they're about to do something, they get our full attention. Are we clear?'
Ros nodded. 'Clear, Harry.' There was no point in objecting when he was in such a foul mood, even if she had wanted to, which she didn't.
'So, any thoughts as to who they are?' Harry asked, the question directed at Connie.
'My guess is that the Russians are involved,' the senior analyst said.
Ros could almost hear Harry's teeth grinding at the other end of the room and she herself could feel the corners of her mouth curling up. It would be considered a miracle when Connie would not see Russian involvement. Even if something had written Al-Qaeda all over it, she would still suggest that Russia had something to do with it, until proven otherwise. It must be something that found its origins in the Cold War, Ros supposed, but lately Connie had been right a lot. Russia was up to something, of that she was sure, but she doubted that the Russians had anything to do with this madness.
'Your guess is always that the bloody Russians are involved, Connie,' Ros scowled. 'Any other, more founded, ideas?' She took over from Harry now, as usual. Harry would set them a general direction which he wanted them to take. After that it was up to the Section Chief to decide how she wanted it done.
If looks could kill, she would be dead on the floor by now. 'I only had the quarter of an hour to search for something, Rosalind,' she said indignantly, slipping in her full strict teacher mode. Ros half expected to receive a detention when she spoke like that.
'Right, then keep looking until you do find something. I want to know why they have been under our radar until now and how they knew where we were.'
Connie nodded, but remained seated.
'Now, Connie,' she snapped. 'Or are you going to keep me waiting until bloody Christmas?'
The senior analyst got up and left the meeting room with as much dignity as she could muster at the same time that Malcolm walked into the room. 'They are not in the system,' he announced. 'I monopolised the system and put their faces through every watch list and database that we have and there are no matches.'
Ros didn't like the sound of that. If she needed any more proof that there was something seriously wrong with this, then she had just gotten it. 'Get into contact with Six,' she ordered, a little more harsh than she had intended because of the nerves. 'See what they have on them. Don't tell them what you need it for, just get the bloody names from them.' That would keep him busy for a while. They didn't exactly like her anymore in Six after her father's failed coup, which meant that they didn't like Section D anymore, since she was the Section Chief. That would make it harder for Malcolm to get them to cooperate. 'Keep searching, Malcolm,' she added, a bit more friendly now.
The elderly man smiled and left. Ros knew that he liked a challenge, especially when it came to computers that refused to give him what he wanted. If she had been in his shoes, she would be pissed off by this. As it was, she had probably made his day.
'Jo, I want you to dispatch a team to that clearing where we caught Samir,' she went on. 'Tell them to search the place with a toothbrush if necessary, but I want whatever blocked our signal found and analysed as soon as possible. Then get down to our good friends of the CIA and charm them into cooperating. Show them the pictures and try to get an identification for them.'
Jo nodded. 'And if they don't want to cooperate?' After all, that would be the expected behaviour. The Americans appeared to be thinking that all the world needed to dance to their tune and that they were the only ones who mattered, which meant that they regularly demanded help of their "greatest allies", but almost always refused to give it in return, unless there was something in it for them. And now Ros turned out to be not as dead as they had assumed, they would be even less eager to help them out. Ros's involvement with Yalta's anti-America conspiracy had made sure of that.
'Be nice, blink those nice, big blue eyes of yours,' Ros said in mock desperation. Honestly, couldn't she think of something herself? 'Frighten them, threaten them if you have to. Tell them that there might be lethal consequences if they don't cooperate, which we will not hesitate to tell to the public.'
Her younger colleague frowned. 'We don't know yet if there will be lethal consequences.'
Ros was tempted to roll her eyes. 'What the CIA doesn't know, won't hurt them,' she said briskly. 'Just get access to their database, find out what they know and for heaven's sake, do not let them know what we're onto. The last thing I want is our cousins crawling all over our investigation.'
She may not be in Yalta anymore, but that didn't mean that she suddenly liked the United States and its security services. Yalta had gone about it in the wrong way, but they had had a very good point and Ros still believed in that, which meant that she didn't mind at all lying to the CIA if she had to. She rather avoided them altogether, but sometimes needs must. And if she had to choose between allowing a threat to national security to continue to exist or liaising with the CIA, then the latter was the lesser of two evils. That didn't mean that they had to play nice, however.
Ros toyed with the idea to see if she could get the Russians involved, but then decided against it. True, Lucas could probably persuade Elizabeta to look around, but she doubted if there would be much result and with strong dislike on both sides after Russia's role in Adam's death and Section D's thwarting of the Russian operation in London, she highly doubted if the Russians were that strongly opposed to a terrorist attack on British soil. The way things were now, the FSB was more likely to help the terrorists than help them.
'And what are we going to do, boss?' Lucas asked.
Ros supposed she should be bothered by his automatic assumption that they would work together again, but she couldn't bring herself to be cross with him. As it was, he was a good colleague, someone she actually liked working with, because he wasn't headstrong, like Connie, and didn't need her to spell things out for him, like Ben and Jo.
'We are going to interrogate "Merlin",' she announced. 'And we're going to get him to talk.'
She pretended not to see the quick expression of fear on his face. The word interrogation was a synonym for torture to him, even though he probably knew full well that Ros didn't mean to go that far, yet. If she was forced to be a little less nice, she would not do so in his presence. He would not be able to handle that, thanks to the fabled hospitality of the FSB.
'Right,' he said. 'I'll get it arranged.' He got up and left, with Jo following in his wake, leaving only Harry and Ros in the meeting room.
'Harry, do you think the Home Secretary should be informed of this?' Ros wondered.
Harry Pearce shook his head. 'Leave him be for the moment,' he said. 'He's got enough on his plate already, what with me refusing to lower the threat level.'
Ros snorted. 'If it was up to him he would not acknowledge the true threat level if Al-Qaeda detonated a bloody bomb in Whitehall itself,' she scowled. She didn't particularly dislike Nicholas Blake, but she didn't like him either. He was a politician after all, with the politician's disease of wanting to keep the voter happy, even if that meant refusing to acknowledge the danger of a terrorist attack.
'You and I have a meeting with him tomorrow morning,' Harry told her. 'If we have found anything by then, we will tell him. Not before.'
Ros was briefly distracted by the realisation that this would be the first time she was going to accompany Harry to one of his many meetings with the Home Secretary since she had become Section Chief, but she quickly moved on to more pressing matters. 'Lucas and I also have to go meet Adam's old asset from the Pakistani intelligence tomorrow morning,' she said. 'He claims to have important information about the terrorist group Ben has infiltrated. I think they'll go live within the next week.'
'Then stay on top of this, Rosalind,' Harry said. He stood up and laid a hand on her shoulder. 'I know you can.'
She knew that too, but she wanted to prove that she could handle this. You are my outstanding officer, Harry had told her when she thought she was about to die, claiming her as one of his team, despite everything that she had done. Ever since then she had wanted to prove that, prove that she was worthy of his trust, even after her betrayal.
'I will,' she said, nodding, getting up herself.
The door slid open again, letting in Lucas. 'Ros? I think you had better come and take a look at this.' The expression of his face could only be described as alarmed.
Ros had learned to ask no questions in this kind of situations, so she quickly followed him back to the Grid, to where Malcolm was busy to get the computers to give him something on their suspects.
'Look at this,' Lucas pointed.
Ros frowned as she realised which screen he was pointing at. It was the screen showing the interview room they had "Merlin" put in. Leaning closer, she tried to see what so clearly had alarmed him. It took her a few seconds to assess the situation, but then her jaw dropped. 'What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?'