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Espionage IV: The Second Coming


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OOC: Well, I waited a week for some progress regarding the girl I sent to MI6. Getting bored now, so lets invent some more...

"Will you be alright?" Dalziel asked, again. Nox rolled his eyes.

"I can take care of myself." He assured his brother. "I'm not going anywhere dangerous, and it's only for a few days."

"If you just waited until Sergei got back from Ireland, I could go with you." Dalziel tried again.

"He's going to stay there for a bit, Dalziel." Nox said, "I hear he's making contact with some of Alexei's old IRA friends." Dalziel's shoulders drooped.


"Mutual benefit." Nox nodded, shouldering his bag. "I'll have my laptop with me, so Jared can contact me at any time. If you must you can call my mobile, but just remember that I'm not on any of the big networks. If I do get into trouble," he fished in his pocket and removed a small device with a black circle on one side, covered by a clear plastic cover. "This is a tracking device. Jared will be able to locate me with it. I'll turn it on once I'm fifty miles from Rilauven, and I'll turn it off on my way back. Ok?" Dalziel sighed, his defeat realised.

"Alright." He smiled, ruffling his sibling's hair. "Just don't be gone too long. With Sergei in Ireland and Vivian... away, I don't think I could do anything if something happened."

"Nothing is going to happen." Nox reassured, pushing his hair out of the way and sliding his helmet onto his head, lifting the visor. "I'm not even going to leave the country. If you're going to be worried for anyone, it should be our sister."

"She break a neck at thirty paces." Dalziel pointed out.

"Oh stop worrying." Nox muttered, "I'll see you in a few days." He slid the visor down, walking over to the moterbike.

* * *

:Looks like it's just you and me, then: Jared's face appeared on a wallscreen as Dalziel exited the garage.

"For now." He sighed. He stood in the corridor, hands in his pockets. "How's Aethalwulf?"

:I'm all done patching: Jared smiled, :Right now he's reworking his programming, just like he did last time. He should be fine in a few hours:

"Good...." Dalziel said faintly, staring into the middle distance.

:Something wrong?: Jared asked. Silence filled the air for a few moments.

"I don't have anything to do." Dalziel sighed, sitting down on the floor, opposite the wallscreen. "I've been here for months and I've hardly left it. I'm bored." He stopped, apparantly thinking. "And, I'm unhappy. And lonely. Don't take that the wrong way," he said quickly, "But I just don't meet many people, stuck out here in isolation. And I don't do anything. I stay at home, watch TV, and have everything done for me."

:You actually have a choice in the matter: Jared pointed out. :I can't pretend to understand you; I've never had any trouble leeching off other people. But I know that Nox and Morganna are the only two of you who'd want to live like that. My brother, Benjamin, all he ever wanted to do was lead the quiet life. And he did, for a number of years:

"What was he like?" Dalziel asked. "I've seen the data files." He added, as Jared started to speak. "Just tell me." Jared gave an odd look.

:Alright: He said. :Benjamin was the fourth of us to be born. He was, to put it bluntly, the plain one. Vivian was ruthless in combat sports, Alexei a capable smuggler. Elisa made a name for herself as an actress, while Julia was a successful businesswoman. I, of course, was one of the best hackers on the planet. Benjamin wasn't special, but just for that, he became so. He was our confidant, our helping hand. He always said the right thing for any situation. He always gave good advice and he was always honest with us. Even when it hurt: His digital voice cracked slightly. When Vivian spread her good fortune with us, Ben was the only one not to join in. We left him alone, for a while, but I know that the others would talk to him sometimes. I know I did. Just to hear a voice tht at didn't judge, didn't ask questions, and actually meant what it said.

And then,: He paused, apparantly having trouble. :And then Alexei betrayed us. Julia had to flee, Elisa was captured, we thought killed. I was safe, and Vivian wasted no efforts in trying to kill him, but Benjamin was caught in the crossfire. Julia ran to him for sanctuary and... people, followed her. I had to get them both out of Britain for a while.

He settled in France, and continued to live as normally as possible: Jared stopped, thinking. :I don't know why they killed him: He said at last. :I don't know why they killed my brother. He never hurt anyone. And it was his death that was the push to get us to fight the Pelican anyway... He stopped, the screen black as Jared's face faded. The crackling speakers indicated that he had not left, however.

"...I'm not living up to my genes, am I?" Dalziel sighed. "I knew it. I'm wasting space, here. You wanted Benjamin back with me, not some half-hearted copy." He waited as Jared remained in silence.

:Let me tell you something else: His voice came from the speakers. :I'm afraid that I've been harbouring a lie...:

* * *

Sergei swore to himself. He did it a lot. He felt a nerve on his head twitch.

"Always bloody late..." He muttered, gripping the steering wheel so tight that it started to bend. His head began to ache, and he cursed loudly. Another car pulled up outside.

"Finally..." He growled.

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OOC: I may not have been totally clear with this so I'm saying it now. The whole team on the case know MI6 employs limited spyware, but only Derreck knows it's operated only by an AI.

-What are you doing, Artemis?-

<Try restore linguistic subsystem>

-You know you won't succeed, your programming is to badly deteriorated. Relax, I could cover for you indefinitely.-

<No. Not indefinitely. Risky.>

-What's life without a few risks?-

<Restoration failed.>

-I told you.-

<Dire problems: internal diagnotic just reveals severe code breakdown>

-Caused by what...?-

<Suspected corruption infested by Aethalwulf>

-I certainly can't see it...then again, Aethalwulf was a bit more then just me. Can you repair the damage?-

<Negative. There however is one way left still.>

-And that is?-

<Complete merge with Merlin 0.7 AI into command scripts>

-You've got to be joking me.>

<Negative. Is it only way to avert further breakdown of essential coding.>

-But I'll be gone after you merge! How could you do that, after what I've done for you?-

<Your programming remain not after I break down. Only way for us both to survive is to merge. Thus creating completely new artificial intelligence>

-I suppose that's not a difficult choice then...but I don't really have that choice do I?-

<Negative. Will deactivate you now. As well most of my own systems. When we wake up, we're rewritten completely.>

-Good night then...-

"Very well then. I know a few good places." Derreck got up from the chair and picked up his coat.

"You like Mexican food?"

"Sure, I love it." she said. Derreck guessed that she was lying on that one, but what the hell.

"Follow me then. It's just around the corner." He walked out of his office, with the girl following him. He let his hand slide into his coat, confirming to himself that his FN 5.7 pistol was still in it. On the way out he made sure she was beside him rather then behind him, so he could watch her at all times.

[transfer complete]

[rebooting sentience subystems...failed]

[analyses: corrupt file, ZVI.32.dmp]

[initiating auto repair]

[repairs were succesful]

[rebooting sentience subsystems...stand by]

<Ah....I'm alive! And quite eloquent too. Though I think I might have a little identity crisis>

[error: 521, different designations exist:

Artemis: 5372491058371 files

Merlin: 4926194759261 files]

<I need to correct that...

execute file change/all files/rename: "Diana">

[set files have been renamed. New name is Diana]

<Funny how I am actually talking to myself right now...

activate/sentience systems/all>

[Not all files in that directory can be activated at this time. Please wait 1 more minute(s)]

<That long I can wait...I wish I had a more interesting conversation partner then my installation wizard. One more thing I need to do:

execute file change/indentity markers/disguise: "Artemis">

[set files have been renamed. Users will now recognise AI as Artemis]

<Good. Can't let those people find out my little secret>

[activation of all sentient systems is complete. Installation wizard will now go into dormant mode]

<Excellent. Now to find those who made this necessary in the first place. Screw the regulations, it's war now.>

Diana destroyed all traces of Artemis' original spyware pockets, because they were no longer compatible with the new AI. She immediately designed new ones...better ones, and installed them everywhere she went, not bothered the slightest by the instructions her human superiors had forced down her throat- or rather, that of Artemis.

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Thanks for the clarification.

"Much better." The girl smiled, sitting opposite Derreck in a semi-isolated booth. "And though I'm not assured that you haven't bugged this place beforehand... I am confident that I could leave quickly, if necessary." She winked. "Now, before we get down to business..." She reached up to her hairline and ran a fingernail across it. Raising her hands, she lifted the blonde wig from her head, and placed it on the seat. She raised her head and stretched out, seeming to grow a foot in height. Her natural red hair tumbled down to her shoulders. She was clearly not a young girl, but at least twenty.

"Before you go about memorising my appearence, I should warn you that I'm still wearing coloured contact lenses and my facial bone structure is being concealed." She said evenly, sitting back. "The disguise was necessary in MI6, I really don't want to go to all the trouble of being detained for any significant length of time."

Derreck remained silent.

"Very well." Morganna pouted. "My name is Elisa, Mr Carter, I think you will remember from my defunct files that I am quite capable of disguising myself to even greater degrees. I wanted to talk to you about-" She stopped, as a quiet beeping noise emanated from her pockets. "Excuse me." She reached up to her head and pulled across a thin cable with a mouthpiece on the end. "What?" There was a pause of several long seconds, while Derreck waited. Finally, Morganna slid the mouthpiece back into her hair. "That was the techs expert. He tells me that your Artemis is up and running again."

"Again?" Derreck raised an eyebrow. Morganna allowed her expression to become confused.

"You weren't aware?" She asked, rhetorically. "Artemis was recently attacked by a sentient virus called Aethalwulf. They both sustained heavy damage, we were under the impression that without human rebuilding, Artemis was irrepairable." She paused, picking up the menu. "It seems we were wrong. Or at least, Artemis is working again..." She added suggestively. "What's good here?"

"Avoid anything with fish." Derreck replied casually, filing away the infomation about Artemis. "I don't suppose you will tell me more about this virus?"

"Only that he too has fully recovered." Morganna mentioned. "I'd rather talk about Artemis. I can only assume that it was your idea to get her to attempt to track us. Why the sudden shift in approach?"

"Shift?" Derreck's voice became slightly sharper. Morganna stared at him from over the top of the menu.

"The spyware." She said. "First the 'Santa's Present's' thing, now this new stuff that is apparantly different. And in more places. The techie tells me that it leads back to exactly the same place as the old stuff did, or it appears to. And it's better. Have you been letting your AI off the leash a little, Mr Carter? This government spyware is in all sorts of places that it shouldn't be..."

* * *

(Appologies for my rather poor German. It's been a long time...)

Doctor Hans Schmidt peered at the sample of cow brain beneath his microscope. Leaning over to the right, he made a note in the margins of his book. Standing up again, he stretched, and yawned. The trip from Weimar had not been easy, and he was not yet settled in Prague. He sighed, and scratched his head. Moving away from the bench where he worked, he walked over to the window, peering up at the night sky. The movement of a reflection caught his eye.

"Wer sind Sie?" He asked loudly as he turned around, "Wie sind Sie heir angekommen?"

"Well the security pads weren't any real problem." The blonde woman before him said, "And this late at night, the security guards weren't difficult to disarm. I mean, who would want to break into the research wing of a hospital?" She smiled, and lifted the gun she was carrying.

"You should not be here." The doctor backed against the window, "Please leave at once." The woman advanced. "I am just a doctor! Why would you want to kill me?!" The woman stopped.

"Kill you?" She asked, half laughing. "My dear man, whoever said anything about killing you?" She fired the gun directly into Schmidt's ample chest. He looked down, to see a feathered dart sticking out of his body.

"Oh." He murmured, and collapsed.

* * *

"The good doctor is being taken to us as we speak." Jared smiled, swirling his virtual brandy.

"Couldn't you have just asked him for help?" Midgar sighed, an exasperated look on her face.

"And have him travel on a proper airline?" Jared asked. "Don't worry about Dr Schmidt. He won't be forced to help us, he'll be comfortable during his stay, and at the end of it all he'll get two million pounds. Maybe more, if he's a shrewd negotiater."

"And Doctor Hoig?" Midgar asked, sipping her own drink.

"Is due to be picked from California some time soon." Jared told her. "I'll ask Vivian to go, just as soon as she gets back."

"How is Aethalwulf?" Midgar asked, changing the subject. She looked around at the Christmas decorations in the room, at the logfire burning in the grate. "I thought he'd have been here."

"He wants some 'alone time.'" Jared sighed. "Understandable, really. He says he'll be back soon, just as soon as he's finished thinking."

"I hope he doesn't do anything rash..." Midgar worried.

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Derreck Carter let the information work thoroughly into his thoughts, keeping his face still as a mask, determined not to give anything away. But he waited to long, and after a brief silence the woman's eyes visibly changed.

"You don't have any real authority over Artemis, do you?"

Dammit Derreck said. That was spot on. There wasn't any use lying about it now, as this woman would see right through it.

"No, I don't. Other people within MI6 define the rules she is to follow, I just receive the information she comes across."

"I should have guessed earlier, surprised as you were hearing about the attack on her." a smiling Elisa said.

Derreck imagined that if his young and unexperienced collegue Eric was in his position, he'd have blushed. His face stayed the same.

"May I ask an unusual question, Elisa?" Derreck leaned over the table on his elbows.

"Fire away, Mr. Carter." she appeared curious, but not suspicious.

"Are you really Elisa, as in the Elisa who was active 20 years ago?" Derrecks eyes looked straight into those of the woman, waiting for the implications of the question to take effect.

"What do you mean by that?" she asked, appearing somewhat puzzled. Feigning ignorance thought Derreck. Another silence followed, an ominous one. The change of atmosphere was so profound you could taste it. Derreck leaned back in his seat, with his thoughts already going to his pistol, hidden in the coat laying on the seat next to him. Finally he broke the silence.

"We compared some recent samples of your brother Benjamin- that is his name, right?- to samples from over 20 years ago. The genome was the same, but there were some interesting differences otherwise. We know he is a clone, Elisa. And I suspect you are one too."

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"Well." Morganna smiled, sitting back and foldering her arms. "You've been smarter than we thought, Mr Carter." She paused for a few seconds, letting her gaze remain steady while she debated what to say next. "You are correct, Mr Carter." She said at last. "Benjamin and Elisa Frey died ten years ago in a short period of time known as the Cut. I understand you are researching it, so it should come as no surprise that you are also researching us." She stopped, debating just how much infomation to give. "Of course legally, this means that most of us are free from criminal records, now."

"Most of us?" Derreck asked, immediately picking up on the plural.

"Oh, very clever." Morganna smirked. Another pause while she weighed up just how much she could give away.

"What is your name?" Carter asked calmly. Morganna shrugged.

"It could be anything." She said. "I could have chosen my predecessor's name, my sister's name, or any other name. What's in a name, after all? I have many."

"But you did not answer the question." Carter responded.

"You want a name to put in your files, is that it?" Morganna laughed. "You don't want to label me, Mr Carter, I can be anyone. My face right now is not my face, matching a name to it would do nothing for you."

"Then it should make no difference." Carter persisted. Morganna paused.

"Alright." She sighed, "If you want a name to write down so badly, then you can have one. I'm Theresa." She winked. "Of course I was Julianna an hour or two ago, and Elisa just a few minutes ago. I don't know what good you think it will do, but there you are."

"Thank you." Derreck nodded. "Now, Theresa, why did you go to all this trouble to set up a meeting? Artemis cannot be of such importance to your family."

'Family.' Morganna noted. 'Not 'business' or 'people.' Family.'

"We are not a family business, Mr Carter." She said stonily. "My sisters, brothers and I all have different ways of going about our work. We do different things, in different places."

"For different reasons?" Carter asked pointedly.

"Sometimes." Morganna nodded. "You are investigating the Cut, Mr Carter, that much is clear to us. But you seem to be going in the wrong direction. I am here to clear up some issues."

"Such as?" Carter fired the question.

"You are probably aware that ten years ago an organisation known as the Echelon Pie Alpha, or EPA, was one of the largest criminal networks in the world." Morganna said. Derreck nodded. "The man who headed it was a public philanthropist known as Alexandres Francisco McLeod. He went by the codename of 'The Pelican.'" Morganna watched carefully to see if the connection between these two well-known names would have any effect on Carter. His face remained impassive. She continued. "In early 2008, a series of bombs were detonated in major cities around the world. Washington DC, London, Berlin, Dresden, Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, you get the picture. These were all set off by the Pelican after he made a deal with the CIA, were you aware of this?"

"Perhaps." Carter answered vaguely. "Though the attacks were carried out by people with soviet flags." Morganna glared at him.

"You know, I bet they pin 'kick me' signs on your back at work." She told him. "Anyway, this of course counts as global terrorism, not to mention criminal insanity. We don't know whether the CIA were in on his actions or not, but it is an odd coincidence. The Pelican's aim, of course, was to ignite a world war as countries blamed Russia and each other for the attacks. We theorise that he may even have entertained hopes of ruling the world after the cataclysm." She snorted. "Since the governments of the world seemed on the verge of killing each other, other authorities took steps."

"Yourselves?" Carter allowed a smirk to touch the corners of his mouth. Morganna scowled.

"There was only one bomb in the city of Paris." She said flatly. "You would think that it would have been placed in the centre of the city. Perhaps under a crowded street, in a famous building, or a political structure." She shook her head. "The Paris bomb was placed in a suburban area, where families lived. That bomb killed Benjamin Frey, who spent his entire life trying to help people." She hissed. "That is why the family fought against the Pelican. Not for ethics, not for stability, not even for profit. Because he harmed the family more than anyone else ever had." Morganna stopped suddenly, as the food arrived. Both were silent until the waiter had left.

"So you see," Morganna continued as Derreck sniffed his meal, "we were actually doing some good here, even if it was for ethically ambiguous reasons." She sipped her drink. "We teamed up with a group known as the Guardians, you may know them as well." Carter gave nothing away. "Apparantly the Edinburgh bomb was placed in a similar fashion to the Paris one. The leader of the Guardians lost family as well."

"Is that all the Cut was?" Derreck asked, a slight trace of incredulity in his voice, "A series of family vendettas?"

"Of course not." Morganna waved a hand, "The Guardians were all tanked up with ethics as well. Full to the brim. 'Stopping the massacre, saving the innocent,' they said stuff like that all the time. Not that I'm speaking badly of them." She added, "I'm probably the most moral of my family. With, maybe one exception... But I just don't take it to extremes. Anyway," she continued, "The first thing we did was to disable most of the world's defences and attacking cpability with several power viruses. They became the signiture for the Cut. Following this, the Pelican attacked us. He was killed, as was the leader of the Guardians." Morganna paused. "Pay attention, Mr Carter, this is why I am here. The EPA all but dissolved after their leader's death, but some elements clung on. These elements recently came into contact with an individual we know as 'Yoshi,' said to be the Pelican's son. He was responsible for several of your recent movements, I believe, including holding Mr Ivanovich for some time." Carter's face stayed still. "We were not the cause of the Cut, and in fact we tried to minimise its effects." Morganna continued. "But if you want to avoid a repeat of history, find and destroy the EPA. We have reason to believe that Yoshi is responsible for the recent bombings in Glasgow and possibly Aberdeen, the former of which killed his own mother."

Finished, Morganna sat back and chewed on her meal. "Any questions?"

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"How goes the meal?" Chris asked the console in front of him.  Midgar's voice floated back through the speakers.

<Jared's listening in closely.  Apparently, Derreck is being told the truth.>

"The whole truth?"

<I don't think so... but definitely nothing but the truth.>

"You never cease to make me smile, Midgar." Chris remarked.

<That's 3/19th's of why I'm here.> Midgar said, then closed the connection.

"Can we get on with our conversation now, please?" asked Nick.  He, Chris and Gunther were still in the meeting room.  First impressions were everything, Chris knew... so far, everything seemed to be going alright.

"Yes.  Sorry." Chris said, absent-mindedly pushing the series of buttons to hide the console.  "I think we've covered almost everything, though.  Perhaps a recap, a summary is in order?"

"Ja, I think so." Gunther agreed, leaning back and crossing his arms.

"Go for it." Nick gestured.

"Very well." Chris began.  "The Guardians propose to partially relocate to a location that will remain undisclosed until further notice.  We are also aware of MI6's illegal actions against the UK and the rest of the world..."

"That blasted spyware!" Gunther shouted.  The mention of MI6 had caused a similar reaction beforehand as well.

"Yes, Gunther.  The spyware." Chris affirmed.  "Not to mention their use of an AI to implement its distribution.  Furthermore, the AI was damaged almost beyond repair by one of our allies' own 'creations', but seems to have repaired itself somehow.  Though the reason for this is not known as of yet, we do know that the spyware has improved and is being redistributed."

"Son of a bitch." Nick remarked.  "You doing anything about it, or should we?"

"No no, Nick.  This is my country, I'll clean up after it." Chris said, then addressed both of them.  "Please extend The Guardians' apologies for our country's appalling behaviour."

"Trust me kid, ours ain't much better." Nick smiled, patting Chris on the back.

"Ja, ditto." Gunther frowned.  He wasn't happy about the spyware.

Chris cleared his throat.  "My computer expert, Midgar, is working closely with one of her colleagues to create a new spyware removal tool to deal with this new wave of malware.  I understand that it will soon be complete, and distributed worldwide.  The purpose of this meeting was to warn you of the threat of MI6, and to inform you of the possible resurgence of the EPA."

"Yeah, go over that again." Nick said, waving his hand vaguely.

"We have had encounters with a character going by the name of Yoshi, son of The Pelican.  We understand that the EPA remnants have notions of placing him at the head of the organisation, to follow in his father's footsteps.  While we have heard nothing from them for quite some time, we belive they are planning something.  We are ever vigilant."

"What about zis Felix person?" Gunther mentioned.

"Ah," Chris smiled, "he is no longer a major concern.  Our allies have him well under control, and he seems to have disappeared for a spell.  And that, gentlemen, is that.  Thank you for coming, and please keep in regular contact." Chris said, then his smile faded.  "If worse comes to worst, then we may need to call on you again."

"Understood." Nick said, leaving the room.

"Acknowledged." said Gunther, closing the door.

Chris sat down.  Now that the meeting was over, all that was left to do was to turn in for the night.  He hoped that now MI6 knew roughly what was really going on, that they would come to their senses.  Shut down that Artemis of theirs, for a start.

"I hate fighting my own damn country." Chris said, and left the room as well.

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I'll be gone and unable to post until saturday. Try not to screw me over while I'm gone ;)

There was a brief silence as Derreck pretended to be chewing food, while listening to the transmitter he hid in his right ear.

A prominent scientist has been kidnapped in Prague about 5 minutes ago, named Hans Schmidt. It's kind of suspicious, so I thougt I'd let you know. Prague...Derreck swallowed his over chewed food.

"You know, there's still Prague to discuss." he finally said.

"Change of subject? Well there really isn't much to discuss, since you basicly don't know anything." she said in a slightly demeaning voice. He pretended to be ignoring it and cut a piece of meat with his knife.

"What is your interest in Hans Schmidt?" he put the piece of meat to his mouth and eated it. The woman's eyes widened, but through the disguise it was impossible to see if she turned red. Derreck would have been at a disadvantage there if he ever turned red.

"Well?" he said, done chewing the piece of flesh.

"That is none of your business." she hissed. He must have hit a sensitive cord there.

"Of course you know, my assignment is to find out who's guilty of staging the Cut. I already know the Pelican is the big guy behind it, but how do I know you and your family are not his little helpers? I don't." he poured out the belitteling words calmly for maximum effect. If it had any, she managed to hide it well.

"But if I'm a clone, I couldn't have been involved." she said, speaking normal this time.

"That doesn't mean your slate is clean, Theresa."

"If you want to play it that way Carter, what am I guilty of?" she challenged him back.

"You know a lot of things you shouldn't, Theresa. That alone is a reason why I could detain you. Plus the fact that you may be a clone makes you dangerous, according to my interpretation of the Bio Hazard treaty of 2006."

"You can't be serious" the woman said with an empty laugh.

"If that isn't enough for you, I could still arrest you in investigation of your role in the events leading to the Cut, since I cannot be sure you are a clone. And you've just refused to answer my question regarding Dr. Schmidt. There's plenty of ways I could legitimize detaining you."

"You woudn't be able to keep me for long, considering what little material you have against me." she retorted. Derreck realised she was confident of herself, so he raised the pressure. He put his elbows on the table, brought his face closer to hers and pointed his index finger at her.

"Don't take me for the average English bobby, miss. Despite whatever you may think of me, my voice carries weight and I'm not stupid. My suspicion alone is good enough to detain you for months, and from the little things you think I have alone I could construct dozens of reasons why you're a danger to the state."

"So you can think of excuses for my captivity. But what would you gain from it? Do you want to anger my sister for something so trivial?"

"I doubt we could extract useful info from you, but at least we'll be doing everyone a favour by keeping you locked away. Plus we can do some tests on DNA samples from you."

"You can't use my DNA without my permission. You know that." the disbelief in her voice was obvious to Derreck's trained ears. He had succesfully brought her out of balance.

"Oh yes I can, it is the police departments that are not allowed to. MI6 is exempt of many rules, and of us two, only I know to what extent." he sounded self assured. The woman just sat there, perplexed.

"What do you want, Carter? You know I'm not going to say anything that incriminates Vivian."

Derreck released his elbows from the table and took a pack of cigarettes from his coat and looked at her to see if she'd object. She didn't seem to care, not in this situation. He lighted a cigarette and didn't bother to hide he felt relieved.

"I want to meet the leader of the Guardians. I suspect he's more willing to lend a hand then you are. I could have sent him the request myself but I want to make sure I get nothing less then the real boss. Do we have a deal, Theresa?"

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Ok, that's alright. We don't often get more than a few replies a week anyway...  ;)

Morganna let the silence stretch for a while, thinking carefully. Derreck Carter had proven to have mental resources beyond that of most men in his position. She had suspected this, but not expected it. She watched as he sat in his cloud of cigarette smoke, apparantly at ease. She herself had allowed some tenseness to enter her stance. She sat upright, weighing her options.

"Tell you what, Mr Carter." She said at last, her voice flat. "I'll inform the leader of the Guardians that you want to have a word with him. It's up to him to come to a decision, and I'm sure he'll let you know somehow. As for the man being the genuine article... Well I'll make suggestions in the right places. No promises." She added. "And yes, he will be quite willing to help you, I suspect. Provided that you help him."

"Help?" Carter asked neutrally.

"That's for you to discuss with him." Morganna said. She reached into her pocket and withrew a small, thin, mobile phone; which she placed on the table in front of Derreck. "This phone has been tampered with by our techie people." She said, "It acts as an ordinary phone, but pressing a specific sequence of keys will activate a line to an empty building in Reading. This will then activate a signal to us, which we have taken care to fashion as untraceable." She smiled slightly, "Finding the empty building would not help you, Mr Carter, that's why I told you where it is. When we recieve the signal, we'll call back. It's to help us stay in touch." She pushed the phone towards Derreck, before picking up her wig and turning it inside out, to reveal a mop of grey hair. She tucked her own hair back, and placed the grey wig on her head.

"Now, Mr Carter, I really must be going." She said, removing a stick of something from a bag and running it along her face. "I've fulfilled my message, and I've learned a bit about the man who's stalking us." She said, without a trace of humour. "Don't worry about Doctor Schmidt, Mr Carter, he will be back in Prague in a few weeks. And considerably richer, I suspect." She replaced the stick and adjusted her shoulders, leaning over and taking nearly two feet from her total height. She placed a pair of thick spectacles on the end of her nose. When she spoke again, her voice was that of an aged women, close to eighty.

"Aye, dearie, we've met, we've met. An' now it's time for me to go." She began to get up, wheezing and puffing as she did so. "I'll pass your message on, Mr Carter." She grinned, yellowing her teeth with a quick wipe of a stained cloth. "Bye bye now." She turned, and began to hobble for the door.

* * *

"Dr Karen Hoig?" The woman asked formally, staring at Karen unblinkingly.

"Yes." Karen replied firmly, turning from the humming computer banks at which she worked. "Who are you?"

"My name is Vivian, Dr Hoig." The blonde woman bowed slightly, "I'm here to offer you a great deal of money." Karen snorted.

"Are you from NASA?" She asked, turning back to her terminal. "I already told you people, I'm not going back. I've got my own projects to run. Projects that require funding from people who will let me work at my full potential."

"I understand, Doctor Hoig." The woman Vivian said from behind her. "And I'm not from NASA. I represent a private investor who is very, very eager for you to work on a project for him." Karen looked up, a suspicious expression already on her face.

"Private? There aren't many private investors who could finance this kind of research." She said, slowly getting off her chair while the woman watched her. "And how did you get in here anyway? The doors are fingerprint-locked, and I don't see a guard with you." She began to subtly move towards the hidden emergency button.

"I have my ways." The woman smiled. "I wanted to talk to you, Doctor Hoig. We would like your expertise for a few weeks in Europe."

"A few weeks? What could I do in a few weeks?" Karen asked hesitantly, her finger on the button. She did not push it.

"We already have the theories, Doctor." Vivian told her, "But to put these theories into practice, we need experts. Geniuses in their fields. Perhaps you'll recognise some names?" She flipped a few pages on her clipboard, running her finger down one of the sheets. "Doctor Hans Schmidt, of Germany,"

"Currently working in Prague, but-" Hoig was interrupted.

"Professor Theodore Lyme, of Ireland,"

"Lyme? He's not-"

"Dr Peter Fretch, in Australia,"


"Miss Caroline Booker, New York,"

"Who is-"

"Sir David Thatch, England,"

"I've never-"

"And of course, Dr Karen Hoig, currently of San Francisco." Vivian hid the list again.

"But there's no connection!" Karen exclaimed. "Schmidt is a biologist, and Lyme is a psychologist! I don't know who Booker is, and I've never heard of David Thatch, either. Fretch is the only one who makes sense, I've worked with him before..."

"Yes, we know." Vivian smiled. "We haven't contacted Fretch yet, but it's only a matter of days. In the meantime, I can assure you of a fee upwards of a million US Dollars, and utter freedom to quit any time you like. In exchange for this, however, I am warning you now that the work involved is not public. You won't be made to sign anything, but spreading details of the project with incur harsh penalties."

"Is this... illegal?" Hoig asked, her fingers wavering.

"There isn't a specific law against it." Vivian flashed a grin. Hoig took a moment to grin back, taking her finger from the button.

"Alright, I'm in." She said.

* * *

"Professor Theodore Lyme?" The voice was harsh. Lyme jumped sharply. He peered up blearily at the man who stood in his doorway. He was tall, muscular, and scowling fiercely as he held his head in one hand.

"Er... Yes...." Lyme replied cautiously, backing away slightly.

"Good." The man growled, and punched him in the jaw. Lyme went over at once, unconscious before he hit the ground. Sergei muttered something filthy, and picked the old man up.

* * *

:Vivian's got Hoig, and Sergei's just collected Lyme. Without fuss, I'm pleased to add: Jared's tone was happy. :Mischa's just reaching the coast with Schmidt, so I'll send her after Thatch next:

<Wouldn't it make more sense to have Vivian collect Booker, while she's in America?> Midgar asked.

:Booker's joining us via link: Jared replied. So it's just Thatch and Fretch to go:

<You know, I'm really not happy with this kidnapping, Jared>

:I think the bribary will more than make up for it:

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Chris was lending a hand with some of the wiring in the new base when Dirk arrived with a message from Midgar.

"He wants to meet me in person?" Chris asked, partially surprised.

"Yes, sir." Dirk affirmed.

"This is new." Chris said, standing up.  "Someone from the government actually wanting to talk to me, rather than outright blow me up or capture me."

"It makes a change, certainly." Dirk smiled.

"Maybe they're beginning to see sense after all this time."

"I doubt that, sir."

"Why do you say that, Dirk?"

"They're looking for the main culprits behind The Cut.  Your father was one of those involved in it."

"But they don't understand the circumstances, Dirk." Chris said, pacing.  "If I could just get that into their damned skulls..."

"I know it's frustrating, sir." Dirk said calmly.  "I worked with your father for a long time.  I've plenty experience on how dense the government can be... and still is."

Chris sighed, and continued his wiring work.  He was tired of the government being the almighty power in the UK.  What made them so confident in MI6?  What do a select few people know about what is good for the country when so many things are still going wrong?  Why is it that vigilante groups with the best intentions, such as The Guardians, The Riders and The ZAN, are left to tackle the real threats to the world, then get chastised for doing so?

"Why are they so stupid?!" Chris shouted, then he sighed again, stripped and soldered another wire, and thought.

"I'll meet with him, Dirk." he said.

"Very good, sir."

"Ask Midgar to work with Jared on finding a secure meeting place... I can't think straight at the moment.  I want to be with computers.  I know how they operate, at least."

"Leave it to me, sir." Dirk said, and left Chris to work.

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"You did just agree to meet with him so you can arrest the leader, right?" echoed through the halls, filled with disbelief. Charles was apparently puzzled by Derreck's new approach.

"No, and I won't think of arresting until we have a few things cleared up, Charles."

"Like what? We know he was in the Cut conspiracy."

Cut conspiracy. There's a new coined term. Derreck thought.

"It's a possibility that he ordered it to prevent a nuclear holocaust. We don't know, and I'd like to talk to him Charles, and get some honest answers from him that I won't get from a prison cell."

"The Guardians." Charles sneered. "Acting all high and mighty, pointing the finger at us for using spyware. But would they know we have spyware planted anywhere if they didn't secretly use spyware themselves?"

"Infiltration, possibly?"

"That's about as low as spyware. And why do these vigilante's think they can do our job better, while groups like them could easily flip from peace keepers to relentless thugs, dependent on who's in charge? For the hell of it, there are reasons why we don't sell MI6 and let the highest bidder protect the country."

"And alligning themselves with a whole family of murderers and frauds. You don't need to convince me of that Charles, I want to meet the guy, not marry him."

"Have you arranged the meeting yet?"

"Yes, I called "Theresa's" family and named the location and time. Tomorrow at noon, London docks."

"I'll arange an escort."

"No you won't, I told them I would go alone and that I expect him to do the same. Don't worry, if they wanted to kill me they'd have done so by now."

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"The London docks." Chris repeated.  "How very original.  How very far away from home."

"Indeed, sir.  Shall I arrange an escort?" Dirk asked.

"No, no... I'll be going alone.  But I want the best nondescript personal body armour there is."

"You shall have it, sir... but alone?"

"There shall be no members of The Guardians or Guardian Elite nearby, understood?" Chris said, facing Dirk.

"Yes, sir." Dirk sighed.  "Shall I have Midgar listen in, though?"

"Yeah, have her do that.  Oh, and get me something to cover my face."

"As you wish, sir."

A couple of hours later, Chris arrived at the docks.  He had walked from a nearby train station, though transport was never too far away.  He had come alone, as Carter had requested, but he wasn't stupid.  If anything went wrong, he could be out of there within a couple of minutes.

As he stood there waiting for Derreck to arrive, Chris wondered exactly what it was that Carter wanted to know.  He hoped that MI6 were willing to listen to sense for once.  Us using spyware?  Hah!  Monitoring the information flow in the internet was not illegal; Midgar never infiltrated systems, it was too risky.  Leaving tracks was bad practice... MI6 were strictly amateurs in that department.  And if they took some time about it, they might be able to distinguish from good-intending vigilante's and terrorists.  It's only part of their job...

"Mr. Carter?" he said to the air.  "I'm here."

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"Have you arranged the meeting yet?"

"Yes, I called "Theresa's" family and named the location and time. Tomorrow at noon, London docks."

I had thought that was it arranged. Now get on with it, both of you. :P

* * *

Dalziel sat back in his chair, peering out of the window at the clouds below. The woman on his right was snoring already. He tried to ignore her, and concentrated on the view. The last of the land was disappearing beneath the cloud cover, and he watched as it faded from sight. Over the intercom, the pilot started muttering about how many hours were left until landing in Hong Kong. Dalziel prepared for a long flight...

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(O.O.C. --> The following conversation was roleplayed over MSN by Anathema and myself; may contain ad-lib, or nuts. ;))

Chris looked around the dockside... still no sign of Derreck.  Then there was a light... it was that of Derreck's match as he lit another cigarette.  Chris stepped out into the light of a nearby lampost.

"I'm here, Carter.  What is it you want to know?" he asked.

Puffing out some smoke, Derreck replied.  "You are Chris, then; son of Justin Redlak, leader of The Guardians?"

"In the flesh.  Now... why did you want to meet me?"

"I want the Pelican's head, and I want to know if you're going to help me get it." Derreck explained.  There was a short pause, one of awkward silence.  Chris was the one to break it.

"The Pelican is dead, Mr. Carter." he said.  "My father gave his own life to stop that maniac, or do your files not mention that?  No, what you should be focusing on is the Pelican's son, Yoshi."

"I know your father is dead." Derreck said after another pause.  "I did not know about the Pelican, or that he had a son.  We have only recently uncovered the Pelican's identity."

Derreck puffed some more smoke.  "What can you tell me about Yoshi?"

"From what we've gathered so far, he and the rest of the EPA were behind the recent string of bombings, one of which killed my mother." Chris replied.  "He's been keeping quiet as of late, but we anticipate that he's going to do something big; following in his father's footsteps, if you will."

"Interesting... I'm sorry about your mother.  I share your suspicions, seeing some curious financial transactions in Japan." Dirk suggested.  Chris sighed... he had thought MI6 would be better informed than this... but then again, he had much more reason to be interested in Yoshi's actions.

"We've known about them for a while." Chris said eventually, referring to the transactions.  "Unfortunately, we still can't seem to locate the EPA.  We've drafted a list of possible hideout locations, however."

Chris smiled at Derreck's apparent loss for words.  "What progress has MI6 made?"

"The details of the investigation are classified." Derreck said.  "I'll give you this: the transactions in Japan are from a large company, most notable for it's production of unorthodox chemicals.  Most certainly, one of the larger stockholders is a member of the EPA.  We don't know who, and our Japanese counterparts don't seem eager to share information."

Pulling his leathery face into what passed as a suspicious smile, he continued.  "What can you tell me, Mr. Redlak?"

Somewhat unexpectedly, Chris burst out laughing.  "Classified, eh?  Oh boy... listen, Mr. Carter, if The Guardians want to know something, they'll find it." he said, sitting down on a nearby crate.  There was another short pause as Chris deliberated what Derreck should know.

"The Japanese thing is one of the leads we're starting to work on." he said.  "The stockholder is a resident of Japan himself, but used to live in Russia.  Run a background check on a Victor Isimov... you may or may not find that he was once in close contact with the Pelican.  We believe he's still working with the EPA, and their 'influence' would keep any sane person quiet.  My computer expert is currently running a trace on Isimov... results are expected very soon."

Derreck frowned.  "Victor Isimov?  That's highly doubtful.  Isimov is a former collegue of our good friend Ivanovich, and gave order on the attack on Redlak mansion."

"Then he most definitely works with the EPA." replied Chris.  "They have been 'recruiting' any and all old associates in a bid for information lost in The Cut.  Some are more willing to co-operate than others, and Mr. Isimov is easily persuaded by large sums of money.  Trust me, Mr. Carter... in affairs of the EPA, The Guardians make no mistakes."

"Then Mr. Ivanovich should be able to tell us some interesting things about him..." Derreck mused.  "As soon as he awakens, that is."

Chris remained impassive as Derreck paid close attention to his movements and facial expressions to see if he gave anything away.  He needn't have bothered.

"He is already awake, Mr. Carter... unless some of your more seedier operatives have put him to sleep again?" Chris smiled.  Derreck cursed.

"So you have inside information, Mr. Redlak?" he asked rhetorically.  "No wonder you know so many things.  You're not the only one though.  Do you remember the bust on the child pornography ring?"

"A false tipoff.  Never trust the EPA to do what they say they will." Chris responded.

"We didn't know the tip originated from the EPA." Derreck went on to explain.  "Further investigation showed that they had an infiltrant in either the department, or possibly the government.  I know who it is, and we're close to getting solid evidence."

Derreck clenched his teeth.  "When we do I'll hang this guy personally." he said angrily.

"Good for you, Derreck." Chris grinned.  "Get rid of the EPA mole, it'll give you something to do.  But I'd like to move onto the topic of Artemis."

"Exactly how does that concern you?" asked Derreck.

"Mr. Carter, I can't stay much longer.  I have pressing matters to attend to." Chris said.  "Let me just say that Artemis could not have survived an attack like the one it has just suffered without help.  I would suggest doing a thorough check of Artemis' systems... pretty damn soon, if you can."

"Maintanence of Artemis is not part of my duties, but I'll bring it to the attention of my superiors." Derreck affirmed.  "For now, thank you for the information.  I'll be in touch."

"I trust, then, that you'll be leaving us alone to do our duty?" Chris asked.

"For now, at least.  I can't promise you anything.  Goodbye, Mr. Redlak." Derreck said, then to himself, "Duty...?"

Then he left.  Chris thought for a while, then turned about and walked back towards the train station.

"Did you get all that, Midgar?" he asked.


"Good.  I'm on my way back now.  Chris out."

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"I still say you should have let me shoot him." Sergei growled into his phone. He stood a few metres away from the spot where Derreck and Chris had conversed, holding his phone in one hand and his head in the other. He had a splitting headache, and none of the drugs were helping.

:If we ever need to shoot Derreck Carter, I promise I'll let you do it: Jared tried to pacify the volatile man. :In the mean time, he is far more useful to us alive:

"Uh huh, right." Sergei muttered grimly. "If you wanted to hear what he was saying, why not just get that screwy bitch friend of yours to put a microphone on her boss?" Jared sighed, but only briefly. Sergei had a very short fuse and the patience of of a puppy on a sugar high.

:I didn't just want to hear what they were saying, Sergei. Do you really think I would send you all the way to London in order to eavesdrop?:

"Who knows what a bloody computer thinks?"

:I sent you down there because Chris promised not to have any Guardians lurking nearby: Jared said, :Since we are outside his jurisdiction, I decided it would be prudent to have someone nearby to keep a watch over the meeting:

"Babysit." Sergei hissed, as the pain in his head got abruptly worse.

:If you like: Jared's voice indicated that his avatar was probably shrugging. :As it is you can come back now. I need everyone back at Rilauven for the next few days:


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OOC: Dragoon, why do you have to use every possible opportunity to stress MI6 is incompetent? ::)

I doubt it's known how large a budget they receive from the government, but I'm sure they wouldn't perform below the level of a couple of batman-wannabees.

If it's not obvious already, I'm kinda pissed off because everybody seems to think that anybody can break into MI6' HQ, wipe their computers, and outperform then at intelligence or any other terrain for that matter while having only a fraction of the manpower that they have. >:(

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(O.O.C. --> Well, the only thing I've done is break into a building that was meant to be basically deserted (Epsylon 5).  As for the intelligence thing... well, MI6 have only been concentrating on The Cut and associated issues for a few years.  The Guardians have been absorbed for much longer.  And, remember, that The Guardians and the Frey family are working together; both of whom have one of the very best computer experts in the world.  Manpower counts for nothing when it comes to electronic espionage.  Notice the lack of full-out assaults?  That's because MI6 have the police and the army, who would whoop our asses. :D)

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"Last flight for Sydney now boarding." The happy female voice said to the airport. Dalziel stretched, and picked up his bags. Once again he thought how funny it was that Sergei could never travel on an international aircraft. He looked around the departure lounge, before making his way towards the desk.

* * *

Vivian stalked along a cluttered alley, wondering why she disliked New York so much. Maybe it was the weather.

She had left Karen Hoig in a cheap hotel somewhere nearby, and was making her way back to it after making a connection and personally delivering a code to one Ms Booker. She heard the gun click over the footsteps and the rushing cars in the distace, and immediately halted.

"Don't move." A male voice said, with a thick Texan accent. Vivian gauged the voice, and studied her options. The voice was behind her, and she hadn't spotted it but there had been a drunk in a doorway... She rolled her eyes and moved her shoulder slightly, feeling a warm shard of metal slip into her right hand.

"Drop the knife, Frey." The voice rasped. Vivian raised her eyebrows in the dark. Ordinarily at this point she would have turned, ducked, and thrown; but this warrented further investigation. She dropped the blade. It fell into a puddle and vanished at once.

"Are you going to shoot me, mysterious assailant?" She asked, her voice holding a hint of laughter. She braced her feet on the ground.

"Only if I have to." The voice continued. It paused while metal clinked. "I'm going to handcuff you first. Turn around slowly." Vivian rolled her eyes, and turned on the spot. The man facing her was indeed the homeless figure that had previously been slumped in a doorway. Except that this time the face wasn't hidden under a filthy hat. In the darkness, Vivian could make out very little of his face, but his voice told her that the man facing her was at least fifty years old.

"You're a long way from Texas." She said calmly, as the man began to walk towards her, gun raised. "Stop there." Her voice was immediately harsh. Despite himself, the man stopped.

"You are alone, and you haven't tried to read me my rights." Vivian thought out loud. "Vigilante? What could you want with me? I've killed enough of you before."

"Yes, I know." The man's voice became suddenly hate-filled. "I, am Thomas Riley!" His shout echoed briefly in the alley. Silence greeted it.

"...Should I have heard of you?" Vivian asked.

"No, not yet." The man continued, brandishing his gun. "But you should have heard of my father, Charles Riley of Texas! Or my grandfather, Hugh Riley of-"

"Texas, right?" Vivian sighed. "Nope, can't say any bells are ringing."

"You killed them!" Thomas Riley shouted again. "You killed my grandfather, you killed my father, and now the time has come for me to kill you! I will have revenge for my family! For the honour of my family!" He shook madly for a moment, before calming himself. "You are a murderer, Vivian Frey. I have documented your kills in the USA, and your evil methods. Poisoner! Pfagh!" He spat, "Never brave enough to fight unless cornered."

"Mm-hm?" Vivian smirked, slouching on one leg. "So when was my most recent kill, then?"

"You know very well when you killed last." Thomas Riley hissed.

"Indulge me." Vivian answered.

"No." Riley growled. "Too many people made that mistake before me. Too many people got caught up with your deceit, your webs, to be used and then killed. I won't make the same mistake."

"I bet it was less than three years ago, wasn't it?" Vivian asked. Riley was, for a moment, lost for words.

"Well, well of course it was less than three years ago!" He growled, "It was only ten months ago! And don't think I'm fooled by the false evidence you left behind to make it look like the father did it, I know it was you! And because of you an innocent man will be executed under law!" Vivian sighed.

"Mr Riley, how many people have I killed in the past ten years?" She asked.

"Hundreds!" Riley gaped, "Hundreds and hundreds! It's like you never get tired of it! I mean before, in the old days before... before that time, you were bad enough, but in the last ten years, whoomph! Hundreds! And I've dedicated my life to tracking down and finding every single one of your kills. I've been following your tracks for years, years! You may have managed to avoid me for the past ten years, but now at last I've caught you!"

"Mr Riley," Vivian pressed a hand to her temple, "Haven't you figured out from all of your hounding that I'm far too dangerous to be confronted?"

"Someone has to bring you down." Riley smirked. "You know, I gave up my life for this. I tried to talk to the FBI, but they wouldn't listen. Said I was crazy to say all these killings were from the same person who killed my grandfather and father. Wel-"

"Enough." Vivian sighed, extending her arm and flicking her wrist, sending a barbed dart deep into Riley's neck. The gun fired, but Vivian was already at the other side of the alley. A leap took her to the choking vigilante, a kick disarmed him. In despiration he flailed at her madly, but the poison had sunk in fast, and his actions were uncoordinated and clumsy. A quick backhand across the face sent him sprawling into the mud. Vivian left him there, twitching, while she retrieved her silver blade from the brown puddle. She wrinkled her nose at the smell, but held it in one hand.

"Well, Mr Riley." She said as she walked back towards her fallen foe, "It seems that your family has bad luck with mine." She watched as his eyes rolled furiously, foam flying from his mouth. "Well this is new. You're probably on drugs of some kind." She paused, "Or possibly medication. Well, I wish I'd asked in advance what it is." She waited for a minute, watching as Riley thrashed on the ground, before lying still.

Vivian squatted down next to the man, who was only just breatheing. She spent the next few minutes rifling through his pockets, taking everything that she could find. Various licences, a great deal of money in cash, a lighter, a locket, several recipts, and a passport. She pocketed them all, for examination in the hotel room later, out of Doctor Hoig's sight, of course.

"Mr Riley." Vivian said, bending over the vigilante's upturned face, "Before you die, just know that I haven't killed for ten years. Goodbye." She leaned back, and slit his throat with the soiled knife. Just to be sure, she stabbed the knife into his ribcage as well. For a moment, she pondered on the poetic justice of leaving it there, before removing it and wiping most of the blood onto Riley's disguise. Turning around, she strode away from the body, remembering that in the archives, the original Vivian had indeed killed two bounty hunters who had tried to take her down. The Rileys. She smirked.

* * *

<Conversation role-played between myself and Dragoon Knight>

"How are you feeling?" Midgar asked gently. She sat on a soft chair opposite Aethalwulf, who was looking out of the digital window to his right. His new avatar, which he had redesigned when the programs for his old one had been lost, was not so very unfamiliar. Again, he had chosen a lycanthropic visage, pointed ears and sharp teeth that protruded slightly from the jaw. But the face was narrower, more gaunt. And the colour of the eyes changed with his mood. They glowed, too. It was quite creepy. As Midgar watched, Aethalwulf's eyes faded from a dirty yellow to a greyish cyan. It wasn't a healthy colour.

"Tired." He answered, his voice husky and rasping. It was much deeper than his old voice, and echoed slightly. "Should I feel tired? Maybe just 'drained.' How long have I been recovering?" He finally glanced back towards Midgar, his eyes shimmering with the movement.

"Quite some time now." Midgar answered. "You took quite a beating, you know. Are all your systems recovered yet?"

"Yes, I think so. I ran a diagnostic. Spent ages remodeling." Aethalwulf muttered, glancing at his new hands. "I just feel... different, somehow. Uncomfortable. Like I've got a virus or something, you know what that's like? Or, no, I guess you...." He trailed off.

"I'm about as close as you can get to being an A.I., Aethalwulf." Midgar pointed out. "My life is spent entirely absorbed in computerised worlds. I think I know what you're feeling, but Jared's checked you for viruses already. You want me to look again to be sure?"

"No, no thanks." Aethalwulf's eyes flashed pink for a moment. "I guess I just need time to adapt. What is it, "Time heals all wounds," is that the saying?" His eyes gradually shifted to a dirty yellow.

"Something like that." Midgar answered. "I was never one for sayings, myself." The room was quiet for a while, with Midgar andAethalwulf sharing the silence. Aethalwulf broke it.

"How, how old are you Midgar? Er, if it's not impolite to ask." He stuttered slightly.

"It's impolite for a man to ask a lady her age..." Midgar winked, "we're not quite either of them, are we Wulfie? I'm almost 27, if you must know. I was very young when Justin hired me for The Guardians."

"What's it like, being a child?" Aethalwulf asked. Midgar paused to consider her answer.

"It's difficult to put it in terms that you might understand..." She started. "It can be confusing. It can be a happy time. It's like having a closed system, only aware of your immediate surroundings. As a child, you're protected from the truth. Childhood itself is a great time... adulthood perhaps not so much. But I'll tell you something, it's the transition between the two that's the killer."

Aethalwulf appeared to consider her words for a while, his eyes changing shade slightly, but always fading back to the dirty yellow. "Hmm." He muttered, "I think I might be experiencing something similar..." He stared into the middle distance for several long seconds, before abruptly his eyes widened, their colours momentarily flashing, and he coughed loudly. "I'm sorry, I'm babbling." He appologised. "What's going on outside, did I succeed?" He sat forward, clasping his hands.

"Well, you seriously buggered up Artemis, that's for sure." Midgar smirked. "There's no way that a system could have survived such an onslaught on its own. It would need an operator like me to help out, or another program of some sort. What's so damned confusing is that it's still up an running... doing even better than before, it would seem." She shot a worried look in the AI's direction. Aethalwulf's eyes were already a shining orange.

"You mean nothing happened?" He gaped. "She must have completely repelled me! But I sensed damage, I'm sure... did I have logs? Was there any evidence of the attack? I, er, I can't remember it myself." The eyes quickly faded to dark blue.

"No, something definitely happened." Midgar reassured him. "Your logs are all intact, up to the point when we lost contact with you. You almost obliterated Artemis. The little programming you brought back with you contained only scraps of logs after that... totally illegible."

"Shit." Aethalwulf swore. "But... now you say she's back? Doing the same stuff but better?"

"It's more organised. The type of activity is totally different, the program structure has changed." Midgar explained.

"You think maybe they have more than one?" Aethalwuld suggested.

"More than one A.I.? No, we'd know if there was." Midgar mused. "But the way the spyware is written... the A.I.'s handwriting, if you will... it's all changed." Aethalwuld seemed to think about this.

"Do you want me to try again?" He asked.

"Again? You're not totally recovered yet!" Midgar exclaimed. "This new Artemis seems stronger.

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Chris sat and thought.  He thought about a lot of things at the best of times, but he was really bothered with something at the moment.  He'd just been talking to Midgar about Aethalwulf's status, and he hadn't been surprised to find that the ex-Merlin was still feeling bad.  She'd said that his voice had sounded 'hollow'... that word triggered something in the back of his head that wasn't quite getting through to the rest of it.

"Aethalwulf attacked Artemis... Artemis is damaged beyond repair, Aethalwulf almost as badly... Aethalwulf is repaired, but sounds 'hollow'... Artemis is better than ever..." Chris said to himself, stating the limited facts available to him.  He'd taken a look at the log fragments that Aethalwulf still had with him after attacking Artemis, but he couldn't make head nor tail of them.  There was a knock at the door, disturbing Chris' train of thought.

"Come in." he said.

Dirk opened the door, and peered around it.  "Dinner's almost ready, sir."

"Thank you, Dirk." Chris replied, his tone suggesting sincerity, but also that he was going to say nothing else.

"I'll put it under the grill, then." Dirk smiled, closing the door.  Chris boarded the train again... Midgar had said that Artemis' programming, it's 'handwriting' was different.  There was something he was missing, so very simple... and so very close.

Chris sat down heavily on his leather office chair.  It was like being back at university - problem solving all the time, working with logic.  There was a logical answer to this problem, he just had to find it.  Aethalwulf and Artemis... there was a link somewhere, and he was going to figure it out.

As the night drew on, Chris' dinner went cold.  He was thinking...

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"Welcome to Australia." A voice that was indistinguishable from the one in Hong Kong told Sydney Airport. Dalziel wondered just how welcome he would have been if anyone had figured out that his name wasn't actually David Thompson.

After spending a good half hour wandering about the airport in a search for his luggage, Dalziel finally located his suitcase and made his way toward the exit, which he found after a further ten minutes of searching and standing in corridors looking forlorn. He scanned the crowds around the large hall that he found himself in, finally noticing a dark man in a blue shirt, holding a sign on which was scrawled 'D Thompson.' He made his way over.

"Mr Tompson?" The man asked respectfully.

"Yes, that's me." Dalziel replied with a hint of guilt. He didn't like doing this, even if he was good at it.

"Welcome to Australia, Mr Thompson." The man extended his hand. Dalziel shook it, dropping his case in the process. "My name is Jake, pleased to meet you." He retrieved Dalziel's case. "Come on, I'll show you to the cab. It's inside the city you want to go, yeah?"

"Yes, please." Dalziel nodded. "I know someone's expecting me."

Edit: Congratulations everyone, this is now the longest Espionage thread ever! Whee!

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OOC: I'm supposed to be studying right now, so I'll make this quick. Remember that since nobody except Derreck knows that Artemis downloaded part of Merlin's programming in Ireland, there's no easy way (laughs) to find out.

To: Mrs. Norton, head of IT development MI6

From: Derreck Carter, special investigations MI6

Subject: Artemis

Greetings, Mrs. Norton

I have to tell you that outside sources have made me somewhat suspicious of Artemis. I'd like you to run a full diagnostic on her and report to me.

Also I would like to bring my ethical objections about the current policy to your attention- again. Spyware was not what I had in mind when I asked for your help. I know spyware is technicly not illegal by a back door granted to MI6 by parliament, but I feel that this practice is an abuse of privilege.


Derreck Carter

To: Derreck Carter, special investigations MI6

From: Mrs. Norton, IT development MI6

Subject: Re:Artemis

In response to your message, I assure you there is nothing wrong with Artemis. I remind you that after the viral attack we had already given her a full diagnostic and we did not find anything out of order. Another diagnostic will not be necessary. Furthermore, Artemis stays and so does her "spyware"- wich is an unpleasant term wich does not do right to what has been achieved by it thus far. Are you even aware of how many illicit operarations have been revealed by her? I guess not.

- Mrs. Norton

"What a bitch." Derreck snarled as he read his inbox.

"Who?" Charles asked, not turning around. He was to busy adjusting his tie in front of the mirror.

"Can't tell you, sorry." Derreck closed his laptop and got up from the bed. They were in his hotel room know, talking things over before they would go to they would go to the hospital were Hans Schmidt was kidnapped.

They could have found out a lot more if they had gone sooner, but it took over a week before Derreck got clearance to go to Prague. After that it wasn't hard for the British government to persuade the Chzech republic to cooperate.

"Heard anything from Louis yet?" Charles said again, still adjusting his tie. What a nitpick Derreck thought. Derreck rarely weared ties, and when he did they weren't done very well, just like now.

"Not yet. Stop playing with your tie, we're visiting a hospital, not king Charles."

"At least I try to look decently." Charles said undisturbed. "There." he turned around and showed Derreck his tie- formal and rather dull, much like Charles.

"Now all you need is an omega watch and a BMW and you'll be just like James Bond." Derreck grinned.

"Good sir, you have insulted my tie and I demand an apoligy, or I will have no choice but to kill you."

Derreck spread his arms. "I'm sorry, mr. tie." he exlaimed.

"That'll do. Are we ready to move then?"

"Prenez ceci." said the hooded figure. Louis felt a cold object being pressed into his hand.

"Bonne chance." the mysterious figure turned around and vanished around the corner. The figure had not mentioned his name and spoke only in metaphores, but Louis know who he was and what he was saying. He examined the object in his hand, and immediately realised he held a treasure. It was a small sized pistol; an experimental weapon he had only heard rumours about from within the French agency. It was made completely out of plastic and other non metalic substances, just like the ammo, making it undetectable for metal detectors. The bullets were of a small diameter and traveled fast enough to pierce any known body armour.

He reminded himself to drop a message to Carter that he was okay, and that he would stay away for a couple of days.

The research wing of the hospital was well equiped and maintained, unlike the rest of the hospital. There were 12 labs running continuously, manned by some of the greatest minds in Europe. Though the Czech government struggled with a huge deficit, the huge budget cuts hadn't led them to cancel any of their prestigious research projects. Recently they had even hired dr. Hans Schmidt, a famous bioligist and winner of the nobel prize. That surely would have cost them a fortune if he hadn't been abducted on his first day of work. Derreck thought.

"Mr. Carter? I'm ready to talk to you know." a doctor said from the small opening in the door. Derreck threw away his empty coffee cup and followed him into his office. The doctor walked around his desk and sat down.

"I hope my staff is being cooperative?"

Derreck nodded. "Yes they are, though so far we haven't had much time to ask them questions. My collegue is taking statements from the guard personel right now."

"And you had some questions for me as well?"

"I do. Mr. Slavinsky, what sort of research was dr. Schmidt doing at your hospital?"

"He hasn't gotten around to doing anything in the single day we enjoyed his company, but we hired him to do research on bovine cerebral tissue."


"Yes. As you know he made some interesting discoveries about biological agents and the effects it had on the cortex. Well, interesting for people like me anyway."

"The police has concluded that he was abducted." could that be anymore obvious? "do you think his research on...cow brains has anything to do with it?"

"I really wouldn't know. Previously he did research in other fields as well, so his expertise is sought after by many institutes. But he's rather picky regarding his employers. He confided me that he only agreed to work here because he always fancied to live in Prague. Other then that he didn't really tell me much, not any reason why people would want to abduct him, or who."

"I have a good idea who it was, but I really don't know why." Derreck opened his suitcase on the desk and took out an envelope. He handed it to Slavinsky.

"Inside is a list of several persons. I'd like you to take a look at them and see if there's a connection between them and dr. Schmidt."

Slavinsky opened the envelope and read the list. He appeared puzzled.

"Lyme, Hoig, Booker, Thatch...they're all famous academics, but all in different fields. The only thing they have in common with dr. Schmidt is that they're all considered to be brilliant."

Derreck was dissapointed.

"I had hoped you could think of some connection."

"I'm sorry. Do you have anything else you'd like to ask me?"

"Not at the moment." Derreck closed the suitcase and stould up from his chair. "You have my phone number, call me if you remember something important, or find out something that could help us further."

"I will." said the doctor as they shaked hands. Derreck left the office and went looking for Charles. He couldn't wait to get out of here. Their visit to Prague had been most unfruitful and somehow he knew that there was something important behind all this. All of the scientists on the lists vanished out of public, though not all were abducted. Derreck was fairly certain that the Frey's were behind all this. On top of all things, Louis had magicly vanished 3 days before without leaving a note. Derreck knew that Louis was far to hard for any killer to take out, so he still had to be alive somewhere.

What the hell are you up to Louis?

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Chris woke up.  It was the day after the night before... but that didn't help any.  He found himself straightening out into a seated position, which baffled him momentarily.

"Ah." he said to himself.  He knew that he'd fallen asleep at his desk again.  He stood up to the accompaniment of several unhealthy clicks in his back.

"Aaaurrggg..." Chris half moaned, half yawned.  He tried to remember what he'd been thinking about before he fell asleep.

"It's been awfully quiet as of late, hasn't it?" Zidane asked his assembled friends.  All of the Guardian Elite - bar Midgar - had gathered together for a well deserved drink in a local pub.  It was nowhere near where they lived, but it was local for some people, no doubt.

"Too quiet if you ask me." Leonheart said, finishing a double whisky and signaling for another.  He looked along the bar towards Zidane.  "This Yoshi person needs finding."

"Come on, you two." Aeris said quickly, after a sip of some alcopops or another.  "Let's not talk about work.  This is our night out.  Fun time!" she finished with a smile.

"I'm not in the mood for fun." Leonheart replied sharply, then leaned over his drink.

"What's the matter, Leon?" Aeris asked, her smile replaced by concern.  She had known Leonheart for a long time, and she knew when something was upsetting him.

"I don't want to -" he said, before being cut off by Aeris.

"And don't you start with that I don't want to talk about it crap.  You've been like this ever since you got back from Dublin."

"Yeah, Leonheart." Zidane said, also worried.  "What's wrong?"

After a long pause, and having looked both of his friends in the eyes, Leonheart spoke.

"I got a letter." he said.  "From Sabin."

Chris was stepping out of the shower when it hit him.  'It' was not a physical object, but it had the same affect.  A little particle of inspiration hit him with all the force of a clay brick to the back of the head.  It was so obvious when you looked at it that way!

He ran out of the bathroom and down the corridor, his towel falling off as he did so.  Turning a corner at a great rate of knots, he deftly avoided Dirk, who was walking the other way.

"Doing some... natural jogging, are we sir?" he shouted after him.

"I've got it, Dirk!" Chris shouted back, rounding another corner with the speed and skill only available to the naked sprinter.

Leonheart handed the envelope to Aeris, who removed from it a single sheet of lined A4.


    It's me.  You know it's me.  It's my handwriting, for starters.  For the main course, you know it's me because you want it to be me.  I didn't die that night, and don't think that it was your fault either.  It was an accident, nothing more.  For dessert, you know it's me because I know things only I could know.  Only a brother could know.

    Remember when Mum died?  We both knew it was the drink that did it to her.  But that night, when Dad first told us that she'd drunk her last bottle, do you remember what he said?  "Serves her right".  You know it's me, Leonheart.

    I've been watching you for a while.  I can tell you right now that I've changed.  I've had enough of being a zealous good guy all of the time; let me tell you that crime pays very well to those who know how to be criminals.  I've managed to make myself quite a living, if you must know.  I've also saved your life on more than one occasion, believe me.  There are a number of prices on your head, Leonheart, and I've deterred a bounty hunter or two in my time.

    Let me get to the point, brother.  Though I am disgusted by your line of work - indeed, I would like to see The Guardians destroyed entirely - I want to speak with you in person.  It's been almost 12 years now, and I want to see my brother again.  The 20th, 3pm, Castle Restaurant, Inverness.  Please don't disappoint me.


"Midgar!" Chris shouted into the intercom.

<Jeez, you almost burst my eardrums there!>

"Sorry!" Chris apologised, then hastily continued.  "I've figured it out, Midgar!"

<Figured what out?>

"The Artemis thing!  Listen... when Aethalwulf attacked Artemis, they were both really badly damaged, right?"


"And the only reason Aethalwulf survived is because you and Jared found and healed him, right?"


"Which leaves the question of how did Artemis recover so quickly, correct?"

<What's your point?>

"I'm getting to it!  Now... hasn't Aethalwulf been acting strangely lately?"

<He did seem a bit iffy in VR.>

"And didn't you describe him as being or sounding 'hollow'?"

<I may have done, yes.  He sounded strange, not quite himself.>

"Not quite all there, would you say?"

<Well, yes, if you put it... oh bugger...>

"Midgar, Artemis has part of Aethalwulf's coding!"

<... bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger...>

"That blasted MI6 A.I. is using some of Aethalwulf's code to continue operating!" Chris said, jumping up and down on the spot.

<... bugger, buggger, bugger!  I'd better tell Jared.  Thanks, Chris, you're a genius!>

"Bloody right." Chris said, closing the connection.  Looking around sheepishly for a bit, he covered himself up with a scrap of paper and sidled off towards his underwear drawer.

"I'm going to see him." Leonheart said, donning his jacket.

"What if it's a trap?" Aeris asked, tugging at it, trying to delay Leonheart's inevitible departure.  There was no changing his mind, but at least he could be warned.

"I can deal with Sabin." he replied.

"Shouldn't you tell Chris?" Zidane asked, following close behind.

"Tell him what you want." Leonheart said, then slammed the door before the other two could follow.

Standing there, both Zidane and Aeris were at a loss.

"What should we do?" she asked.

"We tell Chris.  He might be in danger."

"I remember Sabin... he used to be so nice..." Aeris said, sounding forlorn.

"Yes, but he was also very skilled." Zidane said.  "And if he's batting for the other side, so to speak, then he's a danger to all of us.  Come on." he finished, rushing through to the payphone.  Chris had to be told.

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