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Espionage IV: The Second Coming

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I've just joined, it's quite hard to get in to.  Maybe someone could summarise what's happened so far...

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I thought I already did.... Alright, fine. The introduction to the thread, as well as links to its predecessors, can be found in the first post. Yes, I am even kind enough to provide a link. I am so spoiling you. In old country, you would just read whole thread to get idea, da?

Summary of events so far:

[*]Dragoon Knight's primary character, Chris Redlak, was appointed the head of a vigilante organisation known as the Guardians after his mother was killed in an explosion in Aberdeen, Scotland.

[*]AK opened his posting by having his character, the criminal Felix, assassinate someone. Or try to...

[*]Similarly, the figure known as 'Yoshi,' EWS' character, took the reigns of a criminal syndicate after killing his mother in order to prove himself. He took the codename of his father, the Pelican.

[*]Various red herrings and chases involving Anathema's character, Derreck Carter of British Secret Service. All characters, including mine, taking part.

[*]Dragoon Knight steals a copy of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) Merlin from Felix, before blowing up his house.

[*]Dalziel, one of mine, stabs one of Anathema's agents in order to escape from a mission.

[*]Felix relocates.

[*]Jared, another one of mine, modifies the copy of Merlin given to him by Dragoon's characters to make it more indepentant. Removes loyalty to Felix. This copy of Merlin renames himself Aethalwulf, and becomes a sentient virus.

[*]Colours sorted.

Ordinary: ordinary.

Green: Computer-speak.

Blue: Virtual Reality.

White: Other. Usually written or NPC dialogue.

[*]Vivian, another of mine, assassinates the daughter of the French ambassador to Britain.

[*]Anathema activates government AI Artemis. Artemis starts electronic espionage against hackers such as Jared and Midgar, one of Dragoon's.

[*]Sergei (one of mine) and Leonheart (one of Dragoon's) fight over capture rights to Felix. Leonheart turns Felix in to the law. Sergei blows up another one of Felix's houses.

[*]Derreck Carter finds a copy of Merlin in the ruins. Introduces him to Artemis.

[*]Felix broken out of jail by Tamerlane.

[*]Aethalwulf attacks Artemis through the internet. Artemis nearly destroyed, but manages to repel the attacker. Aethalwulf seriously injured.

[*]Artemis merges with her copy of Merlin in order to protect and repair herself. New AI Diana is born. Diana much more intelligent and independent than Artemis.

[*]Midgar rescues Aethalwulf. My characters meet Derreck Carter and Felix, in seperate instances.

[*]I start to kidnap acedemics.

[*]Chris Redlak and Derreck Carter meet in the London Docks.

[*]Jared rebuilds Aethalwulf. Dalziel sent to Australia to find the last kidnap victim.

[*]Leonheart's evil twin starts to make trouble.

[*]MoSoft Technologies (Omnius) hire one of my characters for an assassination mission.

[*]Felix reappears in Japan.

[*]Dalziel arrested in Australia.

That's it for now. I've summarised reasonably heavily, but those are the basics. If you want further help that this, the first post, and the rest of the thread can't provide, IM me.

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so do i join just by posting here?

if so, i'll be a terrorist faction known as The Core, a radical anti-capitalist group known for its assassinations and bombings around the world, and its uncanny ability to bypass even the best of security systems. main character to begin with will be a mexican known as Ranger, the top assassin and also leader of the terrorists.

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Yes, just join in as you can.

Vivian Frey examined the data before her. Her expression remained carefully blank behind her dark glasses as she typed quickly into her laptop, bringing up key figures, dates and locations, transfer times and financial news. Gerard Slain was in Paris.

Vivian sat with her back to a thick, metal wall, listening to the engines beneath her. She had selected a quiet spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the decks above. Somewhere where a woman could get some privacy. And plot an assassination. With Sergei out of business for the forseeable future, Vivian had taken over the mission to kill Gerard Slain, vice president of Reliware Corporation. She figured the money was good. Besides which, if initial reports were to be believed, she would be heading to France soon in any case... She continued to scan the passing data that her laptop presented her with.

Gerard Slain. Vice president of one of the most successful software companies in the world. Businessman known for his friendly methods. Voted 'most popular boss' three years running. No criminal convictions. No illegal habits. Married, divorced, remarried - two children from second marriage. No plans to retire. Fifty one years old. Born in Belgium to parents of unknown descent. Careful in all areas of his life. Conservative in business, bordering on paranoia. Has evaded two poisoning attempts, somehow spotting them before tasting the food. Built his fortune in Canada...

* * *

Dr Peter Fretch unconsciously bit his lip as his gazed out of the window at the rapidly shrinking airport. Dalziel had not returned, and Fretch had boarded the aeroplane without him.

Other men might have chosen different paths. They would have gone looking, perhaps. They would have blundered about in search of the charmingly inept blonde, probably falling into the same mess themselves. And Fretch was almost certain that Dalziel was in trouble. His reasoning went like this:

One, Dalziel had been clinging to Fretch like a limpet ever since they entered the airport. He would have clung to the bench in a similar manner until Peter returned, he was sure of it. Dalziel just didn't have the confidence to get up and walk away.

Two, he had left his bags behind. He had left his laptop and luggage behind. Even if he had some reason for being called away and not returning, Peter was sure that he would at least have taken his means of communication with him.

Three, The boy had no reason for being called away and not returning. He was clearly loyal to his family and terrified of being left alone. He must have been taken.

Conclusion: Even if it hurt him to do so, Peter had to follow Dalziel's instructions and make his way to Britain, there to make contact with the rest of the family. If Dalziel had been correct, they would know how to sort this out... One way or another.

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A bright flash, an explosion that rocked the night in Berlin. The beautiful Reichstag building crumbled, burned, and after a short time, collapsed upon itself. A meeting had been in session...the government would be severely crippled.

Standing in the shadows, a tall mexican watched his handiwork. His trenchcoat flowing behind him, Ranger made his way towards Unter den Linden, where he was to meet his contact. A guard came in his way but was easy prey for his dagger.

His contact greeted him with a heavy british accent, and after handing him the key to the bank vault, took a cab back to his hotel.

Ranger grinned. An easy job well done. And the pay wasn't shabby either...

Two other assassins joined him and together they headed to the bank to collect a small fortune.

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Contrary to popular belief, bank heists were not pulled off by putting on a hockey mask and blasting everyone with a shotgun. In reality you had to disable the power to the bank.

The lights, all at the same time, switched off. The only light was from the rising sun...

Then you had to distract the people and guards inside.

The guards, already in motion, were distracted and then blinded by a pair of flashbang grenades crashing through the windows.

Next, you had to insert your assault team in.

Eduard and Yang calmly strode through the door. Eduard fired off a burst from his shotgun, causing several screams and everyone immediatley dropping to the floor.

After that, the tellers and guards had to be executed, as they could send out a distress call.

Yang took out his silenced micro-uzi and calmly strode around the bank, neatly executing tellers and guards alike with a three-round burst.

After that, the safe-busting team went in.

Felix and Shin burst in through the front door, immediatley heading for the large safe, which was in plain sight.

"Stand back, Felix," Shin commanded, as he took out a large vial with some oozy liquid in it. Felix did as he was commanded and stepped back several steps. Shin uncorked the vial and poured the liquid on the pnuematic hinges, taking out a magnesium ribbon when he was finished. Felix closed his eyes and yelled over to Eduard and Yang;"Close your eyes!" covering his own eyes in the process. A moment later, he heard a hissing sound, and when Shin told Felix he could open his eyes, Felix was surprised to see the something had burned right through the hinges.

Shin was grinning.

"Thermite," he explained. "Useful in the nastiest of situations," he continued, "and now we only have to plant a small C-4 charge to blast this goddamned vault open!"

Felix ran back and turned a corner.A minute later, Shin joined him.

"Cover your ears!"

Felix had barely slammed his palms over his ears when he heard a loud thud and saw the vault door rip off with a horrible screeching noise and slam down on the ground with a ringing sound of carbon steel striking the smooth marble floor.

Shin inspected the vault door.

"Half a foot thick. Not bad."

As they entered the safe, Felix realized that they weren't going to get much hard cash, it seemed  the bank used those plastic cards that had begun recently popping up in banks around the world.

But Felix didn't doubt that Mark could crack them, and began stuffing them into a large bag they had brought along.

And the last thing you have to do is get away...

Felix, Shin, Eduard, and Yang were dashing out of the bank, duffel bags swinging wildly on their shoulders. A white pickup drove up, and they all hopped in, throwing the bags in the bed of the truck. The truck zoomed off, towards some unknown destination...

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(O.O.C. --> Sorry for the long absence... but now that the Coming and Going thread has been righteously smited by Gob the Almighty, I could not announce my reason.  Thus, I shall do it here, in a small prequel to my post. :)

Basically, I went home for the Easter Holidays.  Home, after all, is where the food is free... and being a poor and penniless student, I took the full two weeks vacation back up North.  However, my family's internet connection is only 56K, meaning that connection has become nigh impossible and totally unbearable.  Add to that the fact that my sister claims the PC more than even myself, and there is an evident problem.  But now I return, and it looks like I have a lot to deal with... :P)

"Would you mind running that one past me again?" Chris asked the Guardian that had been assigned the task of reporting the latest happenings to their leader.

"The Reichstag building, sir.  It's been blown to pieces.  Terrorists, it would seem."

"Casualties?"

"Several government officials.  Only one or two managed to escape with their lives.  Excavation work is in progress to try and find any remaining survivors, but there isn't much hope.  The entire building was filled with flame."

"Dammit!" Chris shouted, slamming his fist down onto his desk, causing the Guardian to jump.  After a pause, Chris continued; "Tell Dirk that I want a full report of this incident - and any other bad news he might have - in the lounge in ten minutes.  I'm going to get some air."

"You can't keep this rat caged for very long, Sabin." Leonheart said, removing a false tooth from the back of his mouth.  From one of the stalks dangled a tiny length of wire, which Leonheart pulled on.  After letting go, the string began to retract, and he quickly stuffed the tooth in the keyhole of the cell door, proceeding then to run to the opposite corner.

An explosion.  Seconds later, Leonheart kicked down the door, taking out a guard that was about to open it.  As a second one rushed in, Leonheart elbowed the man in the neck, crushing his windpipe.  Quickly checking outside the door, he saw that his cell was at the end of a short corridor, with some stairs at the other end.  They looked to be the only way out.

"Why can't anything be easy?" he said to himself, running towards them.  He managed to get half way up before the first of the reinforcements began shooting pistols at him.  It was a narrow stairwell... any shots that missed simply ricocheted back.  Ducking, Leonheart's body took only two glancing bullet wounds as he ran back down and into what looked like a storage closet just to his right.

Not paying any attention to his relatively minor wounds, he picked up a wooden mop and readied himself.  The first guard was clotheslined as he ran towards the door, his neck snapping with the whiplash.  As the second guard tried desperately to stop, Leonheart thrust the mop handle-first into the man's gut with enough force to severely wind him and probably cause a nasty hernia.  Smacking him on the head just to make sure, he then grabbed both of their guns: 8 and 11 bullets.  He ran towards the stairs once more... Sabin couldn't have got far.

"Come in, Dirk." Chris said from the balcony of the second-floor lounge.  It was unseasonably warm today... Chris realised the futility of this thought... any warmth in Scotland was unseasonable.

"I have the full report, sir." Dirk said in calming tones.

"You make it sound as though it's not as bad as it seems, Dirk." Chris said, speaking his mind.

"I try my best, Sir." Dirk smiled.

"Let's hear it then."

"First of all, the Reichstag incident.  You know the details, right?"

Chris threw some documents onto the desk in the middle of the lounge as he passed by on the way to an armchair.  "Yes.  But do we have any leads on who did it?"

"Current leads point to an individual known only as 'Ranger', reputed leader of the terrorist group 'The Core'."

"What info do we have on them?"

"Very little.  They're notoriously slippery, more so their leader than anyone else."

"Well find out all you can.  Assign Midgar to gathering info on this... Ranger."

"There's more, sir.  Our friend Felix is back." Dirk said.

"What's he done now?"

"A bank robbery.  He and his small band killed several guards and tellers."

"And where is he hiding?"

"Midgar's already working on that."

"Good." Chris said.  "And what about Leonheart?"

"Still no word."

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I'm grounded. For this week. Might get on sooner,though. Have to go, or my parents will catch me.

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(OOC - true, true)

Ranger walked back into the Core headquarters with an uncharacteristic flourish. Other members, upon seeing him, were somewhat surprised but long years of practice paid off and none of them showed it.

"Gentlemen," he began, his mexican accent almost hidden, "the Reichstag bombing paid off...rather well. Any equipment you might need, say so. You'll probably get it. On a rather different note, we're now not currently engaged, so any offers that come up will be taken. Provided they pay well. And one of our bank accounts was robbed recently, not a big one, but enough to cause some anger. Anyone with leads will be assigned a trackdown job. First to the kill claims bounty, as always."

"But boss, shouldn't we concentrate on evading anything resulting from the bombing?"

"Nonsense! We've got our tracks covered. There's always another hideout."

"That's true, but still..."

"Fine. Get to work on it, then. Wipe all records off any computer. Destroy camera tapes. And all phone conversations. "

"I'll get to it right away. "

"Gentlemen, we are adjourned. Special projects will be discussed privately. You, see me about the Japanese prime minister, ASAP. "

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Aeris stood and stared. There really wasn't much else she could have done, in the circumstances. Short of crossing her eyes and sinking into a dribbling heap on the floor, that is. She stared until her eyeballs began to dry out, at which point she blinked, and started to look around as the full enormity of the situation began to pass her by. Nox was crouched at her feet, engrossed in his own little world. The room was filled with shining silver.

"What... what is it?" Aeris finally asked, her voice distant.

"It's a spweb." Nox answered absently, not looking up from the floor. He was carefully inserting a metal instrument into the display.

"A... spweb...." Aeris felt tiny but nonetheless important part of her brain begin to twitch.

"Spweb, yes. A web of spoons. Spoon web. Spweb." Nox said happily. Aeris blinked. Across the whole of the room in front of her - and it wasn't a small room - stretched a complex mass of silver spoons. They were balanced on each other in such a way that every spoon supported two others, and each of the others supported the original spoon. They were poised on the mantlepiece, from the arms of chairs, the windowsills, the door frame; everywhere there was a nook, crevice or cornice, a spoon could be found, supporting the structure. Not a single spoon touched the floor. Here and there in the design, Nox had incorporated a wooden spoon, or one that was slightly outsize. They hung, suspended amongst their fellows, like insects in amber. The gleaming, shimmering web appeared to be completely impassable. It blocked the room completely.

"Muh." Aeris gaped, before abruptly pulling herself together. "Why, Nox? Just... just why?"

"Because I can." Nox said simply, critically examining the latest addition to the spweb. He inched back, took another two spoons from his pocket, and began to carefully place them so that they supported each other. "And because it's glorious fun, of course."

"Glorious... fun." Aeris repeated. Once again, she had that unnerving feeling that her brain was attempting to slowly spin on its axis. "And that's it."

"Yes."

"Hours of painstaking work to construct a creation of utter impracticality with silver spoons, that you will have to demolish anyway... because it's fun."

"Yes. Although I won't have to demolish it." Nox finished with the two spoons. They sat flat, supported by a complicated spiral structure that seemed to begin somewhere in the middle of the room, where the spoons were more densely packed.

"Of course you will!" Aeris protested. "You can't just leave this here, what about the next guests to book this room? I don't even want to imagine where you got all the spoons from..."

"I stole them." Nox answered, a slight smirk playing across his face. He sat back and delived into his pocket, producing an especially large spoon that he held up proudly, grinning at it.

"You stole them." Aeris repeated. "You stole enough silver spoons to make a living-room sized 'spweb.' Dare I ask where from?"

"Probably." Nox smiled, buffing the spoon with his sleeve. "Mostly from the hotel. A few came from the restaurant up the road, and one or two I just picked up as we passed through places."

"You do realise that you'll have to put them all back? I can't just let you-"

"No I won't." Nox interrupted calmly. He slipped through a gap in the spweb that looked completely solid, sliding and weaving around inside the design until her got to the centre, where he placed the spoon. He took the same way out. "For the same reason that I won't have to demolish it."

"And why exactly is that?" Aeris put her hands on her hips. She didn't feel like taking nonsense from this teenager.

"In six seconds, you'll see." Nox smiled. "Five, four..."

"Three, two, one..." Aeris counted under her breath. "Zero." Nothing happened. The room was silent.

"Aeris!" The door crashed open, smashing into the spweb and sending spoons flying. The chain reaction started immediately, as the entire structure began to crash to the floor. Like dominoes, the spoons fell one after another in a spreading pattern as the mesh collapsed. The sound of silver striking floorboards was deafening, and Aeris covered her ears to protect them from the noise. Nox simply stood there, watching as his creation came crashing down.

As the patterns collapsed, the central core of the spweb wobbled. It shook, it rattled, and finally as support left, it fell. Nox stepped deftly forward, treading on spoons as he did so, and siezed the final spoon. He pocketed it and turned around, just as the last spoon fell to the floor with a tinkle.

"One second off." He smiled. "Darn."

Aeris opened her eyes. Turning around and taking her hands from her ears, she found Zidane standing in the doorway, his expression completely indescribable but absolutely priceless.

"Yes?" Nox prompted.

"We ah, we..." Zidane rallied, "We have to leave at once! I think I've found something on Leonheart!"

"What?" Aeris asked, hurriedly making to follow Zidane as he started down the corridor.

"No time, I'll explain on the way!" Zidane called back.

Nox stood alone in the room for a moment, holding his spoon. He looked at the fallen spweb around him. Carefully, he began to pick his way across to the door. Taking his bag from beneath a chair, he followed.

* * *

Hong Kong. Peter Fretch smiled to himself as he left the city behind. Having arrived only an hour or so earlier, he had rushed through the airport and booked a last-minute place on the earlier flight to London. After all, who knew if he was being followed? And the next plane, the one Dalziel's tickets had been for, didn't leave for another eight hours. Peter sighed. He hoped the extra time would be useful.

* * *

Vivian Frey stood in a Paris alley, calmly checking her equipment. Gerard Slain's schedule had it that he would be passing this street in exactly four hours. Easily enough time for her to get set up. In just a little over four hours, Gerard Slain would be dead.

* * *

"But of what, exactly?" Jared asked, moving a bishop across the board.

"There doesn't need to be an 'of what,' they're just... the Core." Midgar shrugged.

"But you don't just get cores without outsides." Jared protested, "By their very nature, cores are surrounded by something. You don't get apple cores without an apple."

"Maybe they mean 'core of the criminal world.'" Midgar smirked. She examined the board, before moving her knight.

"They haven't been around for that long, have they?" Jared asked, glaring at the knight. "I certainly don't remember them from my last incarnation."

"No, they weren't around then." Midgar said. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to help put them away, would you?"

"We've got our own problems right now." Nox sighed, "Sergei's head being only one of them. It would certainly be nice to remove some of the competition, but nobody would pay us to do so."

"And it's not worth anything if you don't get paid, of course." Midgar sighed.

"That's kind of the point."

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"Doo bee doo..." Midgar crooned as she worked.  She was enjoying the challenge of trying to discover more about The Core.  She had been slightly miffed when the CCTV footage she was downloading was abruptly removed, but was elated at the apparent lack of security the 'hacker' used.  Destroying evidence of secure government video footage was never an easy task, and these people had gone about it in entirely the wrong way.

"Your mistake, Mr. Deleter, is that you didn't count on Miss Hidden-Observer, did you?" Midgar cackled.  She entered a series of commands on a terminal to her left, activating a tracer.  The hacker noticed this immediately, ceasing activity and attempting to close the connection as quickly as possible.

"Oh no you don't." she said, typing another command or two.  "Sic him, boy."

After ten minutes of playing chase, Midgar managed to get the hacker's real IP address.  After another 5, she managed to breach their firewalls and glean what little information was stored there.  She noticed that those on the other end tried to initiate similar tracing programs, though they were no match for Midgar's sophisticated protection programs.  She began copying the files she found to a neutral host, then cut all connections to and from the hacker's location.

"Bed time reading, is that." she said, leaning back.

"Sabin!" Leonheart shouted, running in and out of the different rooms that were atop the stairwell.  There was no sign of his brother.  "My brother..." he thought while dashing about.  After checking all of the rooms, finding nothing but basic communications equipment, Leonheart decided to run outside.  Perhaps he would still be somewhere close by...

Sure enough, upon exiting the building, Sabin was leaning against his black car.

"You sure do like making a mess, Leon." he said, without looking up.  Leonheart shot him in the shoulder.  Sabin let out a cry, then looked up at his attacker.

"Been wanting to do that for a long time, you murderer." Leonheart said.

"Well finish me quick, brother... Chris doesn't have much time left."

"What?!" Leonheart asked irritably, thrusting the gun forward slightly.

"He'll be dead within ten minutes.  And as you can see..." Sabin gestured with his good arm to the surrounings: that of warehouses as far as one could see, "you're in no position to warn him... heh heh..."

"I'll kill you." Leonheart growled.

"Better do it quickly..."

"Leonheart!" came a familiar voice, accompanied by the screeching of wheels and the roaring of motorbike engines.  Jerking his head to his right, he could see three of them approaching their position at great speed.  Skidding to a halt, the lead biker removed her helmet - it was Aeris.  The other two riders did the same - Zidane and Nox.

"You're here to convince me not to kill him, aren't you?" Leonheart asked.

"Yes, we are." Aeris said.  "If you kill him, you're no better than he is."

"I know..." Leonheart muttered.  "I just wanted to hear someone else say it."

"Weak..." Sabin insulted.  Leonheart pulled his leg back and kicked Sabin in the crotch with astounding force.

"Death's too good for the likes of you." Leonheart said.  Then, remembering the urgency, "Aeris, quick, we need to warn Chris."

"Warn him about what?" she replied.

"Speak, you wanker." Leonheart said, addressing Sabin.

"You'll never make it... we're dropping a surprise package... heh heh..."

"SPEAK!" Leonheart said, punching Sabin in the face, stunning him.

"There's no time for this!" Aeris said, trying her communicator.  "I can't get a signal."

Leonheart remembered the equipment in the building.  "He's blocking transmissions."

"It'd take too long to sort out.  How long do we have?" Zidane asked.

"He said ten minutes... let's hope it's longer." Leonheart replied.

"Get on." Aeris said, scooting forward slightly.  "Zidane, you follow, and tell us when we can get a signal.  Nox... take care of him, can you?"

"Will do." he said, as the other three zoomed off.

"So you're... going to kill me, huh?" Sabin asked through blood and a couple of teeth.

"Possibly." Nox replied.  "You may have other uses."

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"So, Sabin, what is it that you do?" Nox asked casually. Reaching into his pocket he withdrew a thin silver wire, which he carefully strung out to about a metre.

"Heh... heh.... anything." Sabin grinned through the pain of the recent assault on his nethers. A trickle of blood ran down the side of his face. "Assassination, fraud, blackmail, GTA, drug-running, some mercenary work now and then, all the things that baby brother pretends not to like. Ah!" He gasped. "And... killing people like, you, of course."

"Me?" Nox smiled ever so slightly. "What would you have against me?" He dropped one end of the wire. Suspended on the end of it was a small sphere of metal, about the size of a ping-pong ball. The other end was attached to a plastic handle that Nox held in his hand.

"Pff." Sabin sneered. "People like you, the Guardians, you're fighting a losing battle and you never even realise it. You cling to your oh-so-precious morality, and then break the very laws that you claim to be preserving and protecting. Bah." He tried to spit, and choked. "Hypocrites like you make me sick."

"I'm sure we do." Nox smiled. "Now, have you sent for help? I assume you've got some hired muscle around here, it's general practice."

"Look behind... you." Sabin wheezed. Nox took a step to the right, and then did so.

"Darn." He muttered. Four men and two women stood at the entrance to the warehouse, all of them well armed. He turned back to Sabin, who was now breatheing normally and standing upright, if a little unsteadily. "Thought so. In that case," he turned back to the others, reaching into his pocket, "I surrender completely." He drew a pistol from his coat, tossing it into the air before the mercenaries could react. All eyes followed the gun as it sailed through the air, to land with a bounce in front of the newcomers. And so nobody saw Nox reach into his pocket again, and detonate the explosives in the gun.

* * *

Vivian cursed to herself. Three hours wait, and the blasted Belgian decides to change his schedule.

"Work late, will he? Stay in the office for a while, shall he?" She muttered angrily to herself, striding toward the Reliware Corporation Paris branch. "I'll show you, you pompous, irritating, inconsiderate..."

* * *

The small explosion was followed by a thick cloud of smoke, almost immediately filled with gunshots. A few screams were heard as the gunmen, and women, fired blindly in the hopes of getting Nox.

Nox, meanwhile, used the cover of the smoke bomb to dash around behind a crate, pulling the real revolver from another pocket. Crossbows were all very well for assassination, but self-defence required something with a little more speed. Holding the gun in his right hand, and the wire device in his left, Nox slipped back around the crate, and back into the fray.

A shot to the kneecap took out the first man as he blundered out of the smoke. The cheesewire, carried by the weight of the metal ball, sliced through the neck of the next victim.

As the smoke began to disperse, Nox kept low to the ground and moved swiftly, slicing his would-be attacker's ankles out from under them, and then shooting them in the head. After a few minutes, he was the only one standing. Two of the men and one of the women were dead. The other two men were hissing with pain from their wounds as they tried to staunch the flow of blood, the other woman... Nox sighed as he noticed Sabin, standing some distance back, holding a knife to the throat of the last mercenary.

"Very good." Sabin smirked. "More bloodthirsty than I would have expected, as well. I'd extend the offer of employment I gave to Leonheart, but something tells me that you wouldn't accept either. Now, Mr Guardians-don't-kill-unless-they-have-to, I would usually just get into my car and go. But I've had a bad day so far, and I want you to die. So throw down your weapons, or this charming young lady becomes the newest victim of my ethical ambiguity."

"Guardians don't cause pain unless they have to either, Sabin." Nox said. He took a few steps to one side, bringing him to the man that he had shot in the kneecap. He was biting his lip so hard that blood ran from his mouth, and making a peculiar fizzing sound. Nox looked at him expressionlessly for a moment, and then trod hard on the shattered joint, grinding his foot down harshly. The man made to scream, but passed out suddenly from the pain. Nox looked up at Sabin, thick blood oozing from beneath the sole of his boot.

"What the hell?" Sabin asked, his expression angry.

"I'm not a Guardian, Sabin, I represent a group of people that I feel would be very interested in getting to know you better." The silence hung for a moment. "Put it this way. You will be hunted down by the Guardians for even attempting to harm the Redlak family. They expect me to turn you in to the law, I expect. The law would protect you from their wrath, but they would also put you away for the rest of your life. The people I represent... offer to hire you." Nox smiled.

"Trick." Sabin shrugged, though even he looked a bit put out at Nox's treatment of the fallen. Nox frowned.

"We don't go in for cruelty for fun, Sabin, we do everything for profit. I am hoping to profit from my cruelty to this man in the shape of hiring you." Nox aimed his revolver and fired, hitting the fallen man directly in the forehead. "I am not a Guardian, Sabin, and I won't turn you in to the law now; but if you leave without me then sooner or later they will catch you, and they will put you away."

"And what can you do to stop them? Who are you?" Sabin frowned too.

"We have an arrangement." Nox sighed. "Now are you in, or out? I don't have forever, you know." The silence stretched for a long while, broken only by the muffled cursing of the woman in Sabin's grasp. Finally, the older man smiled.

"Very well." He grinned unpleasently. "What now?"

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Felix sat in the living room of his Cotswald villa, sipping his 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon, and chatting amiably with Eduard and Oskar.

"How much did we net?" Oskar asked. "I want to upgrade our van."

"About two million in cash, three more million from the cards I cracked already, and counting!" Mark yelled back through a mouth clenching a fat Cuban cigar. Felix turned to Oskar. "How mcuh do you need for the upgrades?"

"About...100 grand. Not very much; I just want to get a better speed,faster."

Felix was quiet for several moments. $100,000 dollars wasn't that much, with what they had earned, but he didn't think it cost $100,000 to make a car faster and paint it.

"Fine, then. Take the money, but I'll check the bill, ya' hear?"

"Sure, boss," was all Oskar said, and got up and left, leaving his wine behind. Now Felix turned to Eduard.

"So, Eduard. What do you need?" Eduard looked at him silently for several moments, then looked away and said, "It would help if we had vests. If we get caught in a crossfire, they could save our lives. We also might need some quieter weapons, if we want to do assasination work. I know a good runner, if you gave me a few hundred thousand I could get you all the equipment we'll need for the forseeable future. Guns, ammo, knives, and all that shit."

Felix, being an arms dealer himself, knew how high costs could go. So he was sympathetic towards Eduard. Taking his checkbook out, he wrote out a check for $350,000 and handed it to Eduard.

"Make sure to get only the highest quality!"

"Sure thing,boss," Eduard took the check and left. Now it was only Mark at the computer and Felix on the soft leather couch. Felix picked up an open Yellow Pages and flipped through the pages, noting all the small,rich stores. For a while, he said their names out loud, but after a while, became quiet and moody. Finally, Mark couldn't stand the quiet and turned around, only to see Felix's face with a conniving smirk plastered on it.

    Without warning, Felix started ranting about his plans for Cotswald.

"So many small,rich stores! This place is like the Switzerland of England! So many possibilities;  racketeering, protection, prostitution, gambling. Small enough for us to own it, but big enough to not get caught! Perfect!" and with that, Felix left to his room, to begin planning his next crime spree...

"Brother, I think you've had to much wine," Mark said under his breath...

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Anathema, Anathema... where art thou?

"I see Nox has taken Leonheart's sibling under your collective wing." Midgar frowned at the virtual window, which looked out on a virtual lake of lava today. "He's not going to be very pleased about that."

"Leonheart? He should know better than to leave Sabin with us, then." Jared did not look up from his desk, where he was writing a letter with a quill pen. "What did he expect, that we would just kill him and thus remove a potentially useful resource?"

"No, Leonheart wouldn't want him murdered." Midgar said thoughtfully. "At least, not by anyone but him. I think he deliberately left because he suspected that he might get violent."

"And betray his principles." Jared finished. "How selfless."

"I just wish I could get a signal out of them." Midgar sighed. She glanced worriedly at one of the unsupported screens that floated about the room. "Any news your end?"

"Nox left the company." Jared stated. "He's taking Sabin to the others. No messages from him, save a brief indication that he's got Sabin and does not intend to prosecute him to the full extent of the law."

"Leonheart is really not going to be pleased."

"Maybe we can arrange a fight to the death to cheer him up." Jared mused. "We could dig a gladiatorial pit, give them a sword each, and watch."

"Don't joke about that." Midgar said sharply.

"There's nothing I won't joke about." Jared smirked. He signed the letter with a flourish, and began to seal it. "For example, when Alexei was young, about twenty, he went to Africa for some reason that was never made clear to me. Since he was lying low, he spent a lot of time in the most poverty-striken places on Earth. He told me later that he met a small blind boy in the streets one day, holding a bowl that had one bean in it, and begging."

"Let me guess, he kicked the kid?" Midgar frowned.

"Oddly, no." Jared smiled at the memory. "He sat down next to him and started a long and complicated debate on the ethics of taking without earning."

"...You have got to be kidding me." Midgar said. "Alexei. The man who betrayed his sister and spent his life stealing and murdering, enjoying it too, sat next to a small sightless boy in Africa, and debated morality."

"Oh yes, for a long time." Jared continued. "He told the kid that in order to feel achievement and have respect for ones possessions, one has to earn them rather than take them. Apparantly the boy replied that beggars can't be choosers, or words to that effect. Alexei countered that the boy would always be a beggar unless he adapted his philosophy. The boy said that he would always be a beggar anyway, since he was blind.

"Alexei then offered to start the boy's business by buying from him. The boy said that he had nothing to sell, to which Alexei pointed out the bean."

"Is this story going anywhere?" Midgar asked impatiently. Outside, the lava started floating upwards in large globules.

"My brother bought a small blind boy's only bean, by selling him Africa." Jared smirked. "He told the kid that he was the owner of Africa!" He giggled to himself. "Africa!" Midgar looked on, her expression stern.

"He bought a starving child's last bean." She said stonily.

"Yup!"

"He bought a family's last bean. For Africa. He sold Africa to a small blind boy, for a bean." Midgar continued, perhaps hoping that if she examined the facts for long enough, something new and wonderful would emerge.

"Yes!" Jared crowed. "I tell you, we cackled about that one for weeks back home."

"I'm sure you did." Midgar sighed. "I don't suppose you know what happened to the boy, in the end?" Midgar asked with a trace of hope. "Founded his own business, maybe? Or at least disappeared into obscurity?"

"Oh no, nothing like that." Jared stood up and walked over to a new hole in the wall, where he posted the letter. "Later that night Alexei came back and killed everyone on the street as they slept in their beds."

"...Why?"

"The bean wasn't nice."

* * *

Message to Felix (e-mail, traceable to a call-centre in Norway):

We helped you to escape the law before, and we demanded no payment then. Now we are calling in a debt, Felix. We want medical equipment and staff. We do not care how you get it, but it must be gathered near London, England, and be ready as soon as possible. Preferably now. You will not recieve any payment for this, we heard about your recent successes. Consider it repayment for past favours. The equipment must be cutting edge, and fully stocked with surgical supplies. The medical team must be capable. Once you have found them, we will deal with them. Get to it.

FF.

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Slamming the door behind him, Xavier walked into Meeting Room A. The room was one of ten in the world that had machine-guns hidden in secret compartments installed in the actual meeting room. The rest of the ten meeting rooms were owned by MoSoft Technologies.

"We are here to decide whether to offer our private hospital to the Frey Family." A voice said fromm one of the many corners of the room. "Chairman, we are glad you have arrived. The board is eager to hear about our profits." "Our profits? My profits you mean. You are just minor... investors. In regards to the hospital, we shall just ask for assistance when we need it." He walked out of the room, promptly sending the message

Message to FF(encoded)

A private hospital is at your disposal. The medical team is second only to a certain Hans Schmidt. We have only the best equipment available. Payment can be agreed on later. The location of the hospital is, shall we say, under a medieval castle built by William the Conqueror. Go to the location and await the sign. The sign is three flares, red, then blue, then purple, in that order. We shall set off bogus flares to confuse any unwanted watcher. Make your way to the front entrance when you see the sign

***

Moving through the square, Conrad saw that there were people watching him.Shall I spin round and shoot or just use my hunters dart rifle? Decisions, decisions. Which do I choose?Conrad thought. Eventually, he shot the watcher with his dart rifle. MoSoft would make huge amounts from the shooting...

OOC: I will add a company description later.

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OOC: more tomorrow. Exhausted now.

Dalziel woke up and found himself in a small room he had never been before. The interior was spartan; only the bed he had slept on plus a toilet and a chair.

Am I in prison? Is this even still Australia? I never got on my plane. he thought. He heard a guard yell "he's awake" in French.

He heard footsteps and the door clicked open. In the doorway stould a man of about 45-50 years old. His odor seemed strangely familiar.

"Greetings, mr. Frey. You don't recognise me, I assume."

He shaked his head.

"No, not really."

"I'm Louis. I must apologize for your friend, I don't know what happened to him. I hope I have not ruined his suit."

In an instant he realised who it was. His face had been different, probably due to collageen injections or some other form of deception. An experienced spy stould in front of him.

"You work for the French government. Why are you after me?" he went straight to the point.

"We're currently cooperating with the British government. But my government has an interest in yo too, you know."

Dalziel wasn't exactly sure what the spy was getting at. Louis walked to the end of the room and back.

"For starters, your participation in the events leading to the Cut."

Dalziel remained silent. Even if the Brits and the French shared intelligence, they couldn't possibly have enough evidence to punish him or any of his family. Besides, none of them were even alive during the Cut, but their "twins".

"The dissapearance of so many reputed scientists is certainly worrying to us. And finally, somebody of your family- and wich one is pretty obvious even to us- has murdered the daughter of one of our diplomats." Louis abruptly stopped walking.

Dalziel was shocked. How could they know about that? He must warn Vivian...

"I won't cooperate...with any of your business." Dalziel said.

"You will, mr. Frey. French courts are merciful to those who help us catch far more dangerous criminals. In this case, your family."

"French courts heh?" Dalziel lifted his head. "I can prove that I have never left Australia on my own accord." he said with something of a bluff. "And the Australian police was never signaled. They'll not be happy that you have kidnapped somebody from an Australian airport."

"Leave that to us. You worry about your own fate." Louis sneered. He looked at his watch.

"I have other matters to attend to. I'll be back, mr. Frey. You think about what I've said."

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The glass shattered as it flew into a wall.

"Dammit! I told you, be careful! and you go and get all our files stolen!"

"Sorry, boss, but i couldn't do anything! "

"You could have just shot the computer!"

"but..."

"Shut up already, i've had enough. People, pack up, i want this place cleaned out in 15. Make sure to torch the building afterwards. I don't want another Granada coming down on us. That got us too much publicity, especially when we had to kill them in full view of the public. Now MOVE!"

As the fire trucks roared by, sirens wailing, Ranger pulled down the brim of his cigarette, tossed down the cigarette he'd been smoking, and walked off. behind, a roaring inferno was consuming the building they'd used as a base. A dramatic exit, just the way he liked it.

later that day, in a neighbouring country.

"We'd like to use buy this building, if you don't mind. Money is not an issue."

"I cannot, and will not, sell my family's home. You will have to find some other place"

"Is that your final answer?"

"Yes!"

....cesspools are so convenient for hiding bodies.....

With the new computers set up, the group's technical expert decided to give it another try. the program that had been used against him was more powerful than he though. he underestimated it, that was his mistake. not this time. not this time. This time, he'd be the victor. and the emergency cutoff would be used as soon as something hacked him. It would mean loss of the computer, but oh well, they had a few more.

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"That is totally unacceptable!" Derreck yelled into the phone.

"It was not my decision, Derreck." Louis said from the other end of the phone. "I'd have told you sooner too, but I had my orders."

"At least tell me you're keeping an eye on the scientist too."

"Scientist?" Louis sounded puzzled. Derreck slapped his own forehead.

"Fretch! Peter Fretch! His friend you spoke of could have been nobody else then Peter Fretch!"

Louis remained awkwardly silent for a while. He had to be feeling pretty stupid right now.

"I didn't stop to realise that...I'll make sure I find out where he headed."

Derreck sighed. "Sorry, I've been a bit edgy lately. The bureau is very busy lately, especially after the incident in Berlin."

"So I figured. I'm going back to interrogate this Benjamin fellow...or his clone, or whoever he is. Good luck Derreck."

"Same to you Louis. Bye."

The intelligence bureau's MI5 and MI6 were badly understaffed to deal with all the new events lately. In a reorganisation attempt that took place surprisingly quickly, especially taking in account all the related bureaucracy and legal obstacles, the two bureaus were merged. Derreck Carter's division was burried with significantly more work load because according to his superiors, "he and his team had proven more then capable of it". Now that each member of the staff had to make overtime every work day and in the weekend, the recognition was hardly appreciated. Charles was put in charge of an investigation of the Berlin attack and worked in tandem with the German justice department who specificly requested their help. Eric, despite his young age, was given responsibility of the interrogation of Ivanovich, whose condition had deteriorated lately. On paper they were also working on Felix' bank robbery, but this wasn't a priority to them and was put on hold for the moment.

Charles was kept busy trying to piece the bits of information together. The Epsylon bureau kept mailing him with supposedly "important" information intercepted on the internet he could make barely sense of. The people at Epsylon seemed to work at super human pace, but more specific information would have been helpful. So far he had figured out that the Core, a terrorist group motivated by money rather then ideals, was likely behind it. No clues yet to their identities yet.

Ivanovich, still their captive in a secret hospital somewhere in England, had previously suggested that der Rote Armee Fraktion, could be planning attacks against governmental targets. This marxist terrorist organisation had been re-established 3 years after the cut and intended to turn Germany into a Bolshewik state, and had ties to similar organisations in other countries such as Russia, Ivanovich' place of birth. They were seen as to weak to plan major attacks themselves, so they could have hired the Core to do their dirty work. But this was all just speculation by Charles.

"I'm afraid there isn't anything I can do further. Briefly put, his nerve system is so badly damaged it's also affecting his brain cells, and neither can be helped with contemporary medicine." the doctor said. He and Eric stould behind a glass window looking at an unconcious Ivanovich.

"I have read your reports." Eric said. And sighed. He hadn't slept much the last few days because of all the pressure at work. His coffee consumption now rivalled that of Derreck, and that wasn't a good thing either.

"I estimate that within four weeks, he won't be any good to you. I'm sorry." the doctor concluded.

"That would be a severe setback to us. We're taking special measures to prevent that." Eric said while turning around and walking off. The doctor joined his walk.

"What do you mean?"

"You're familiar with the earlier works of Hans Schmidt with stem cells?"

"Yes, I found it to be extremely interesting. But it was stopped due to pressure from the religious corner." the doctor sneered with contempt.

"A great pity." Eric agreed. "However he did provide the full theoretical basis for various treatments before it could be put into practice. We're going to give it a try on Ivanovich."

"But..." the doctor was speechless.

"It will be kept fully secret. You're not to tell anybody else this information." Eric warned.

"You'll be giving this man fruits that are denied to everybody else. And keeping this experience a secret is a crime to medical science!"

"This man's knowledge is invaluable doctor. I'm afraid this takes priority over your ethical considerations." Eric's words made sufficiently clear to the doctor that it was not a case to be argued. "We thank you for your services, doctor. Tomorrow a team of specialists will arrive to begin treatment and you'll stay here to give them reference material and provide assistance. That'll be all. Till next time." with that, he left.

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"At least the weather's nice." Mischa commented, peering up at the night sky. A few stars could be seen, peeking through the orange glow of the city of Rochester. The breeze was warm, and she had already looped her jumper around her waist, rather than be stifled in the spring heat.

"Shut the hell up." Sergei growled, clutching his head. Mischa glanced worriedly at him, but quickly turned her gaze back to Schmidt. The German doctor was showing no signs of preparing to flee, but you could never be too sure. He was standing with his hands behind his back, apparantly gazing up at the dark, imposing bulk of Rochester Castle.

"How are you feeling, doctor?" Mischa asked, walking over to join him.

"Nervous, I think it is." Schmidt replied, still looking at the castle. "It has been some time since I was a practicing surgeon, you know that."

"Yes, we know." Mischa said, quelling the momentary fear that gripped her. "But you were the best of the best, and your skills haven't been rusting."

"I am sorry, rusting?" Schmidt turned a confused look to her.

"You've still used scalpels and the equipment and stuff during your research, yeah?"

"Well yes, but examining cerebral tissue on the slide is not similar to surgery on the brain." Schmidt sighed. "And it worries me, that what might happen if I fail."

"Don't be worried." Mischa said firmly. "Just do the job. If you worry, your concentration won't be up to scratch."

"Scratch is what I am frightened of..." Schmidt broke off as a red flare shot into the sky, hung for a moment, before plunging down again.

"There's the first..." Mischa murmured to herself. Sergei stumbled over to join her. His vision was deteriorating, and he walked clumsily. His grimace was even more pronounced than usual. As he staggered to a stop, the second flare, a deep blue, launched from nearby.

"Die zweite..." Schmidt muttered. The three waited for several long seconds, as the glare of the blue flare died away. As expected, the purple flare launched.

"That's our signal." Mischa announced. "Come on, lets get to the entrance." She made to support Sergei with one arm, but he shook her off roughly. She shrugged, and instead walked close to Schmidt, who was behaving remarkably calmly for a kidnap victim.

As Sergei - who moved the slowest, and thus dictated the pace - led the way around the castle, a white flare burst upwards. It was further away than the others, and was quickly followed by another white flare, and another, each a greater distance from the castle.

"What the hell do they think they're doing?" Sergei muttered, "They'll have the whole town up here!"

"Those are the distraction flares." Mischa surmised. "They'll lead anyone who saw the first flares away from the castle." And indeed as she spoke, the other white flares grew further and further from the castle walls. "Come on, they won't wait forever." She set off again, and was followed by Sergei and Schmidt.

The entrance to the castle was deep in shadow. As they approached, Mischa shone a narrow beam of light ahead of her. It illuminated a short, portly man in a dark blue suit. He stood just inside the doorway, squinting in the light.

"The patient?" He asked crisply.

"And the head surgeon." Mischa answered, shutting off her torch.

"Good." The man's voice emanated from the shadows. He stepped forward, and past Sergei. "Follow me, please, I will lead you to the facility." Without another word, he started to walk calmly across and away from the door. Mischa exchanged a look with Sergei, and shrugged. They followed.

The man led them around the opposite corner of the castle, stopping every so often to wait for Sergei. Eventually, he stopped and glanced around. Taking a mobile phone from his pocket, he pressed three buttons together, and then a sequence of five. Pocketing the phone again, he stood back and waited.

He had hardly stood for a second, when a large square of the grass lifted up, and slid aside. A brightly lit spiral staircase led downwards.

"Quickly now." The man said, going first. "We do not want this light to be seen." One by one, Sergei, Schmidt, and Mischa stepped down onto the stairs. Behind them, the grass slid back into place.

* * *

"Gerard Slain, I am going to kill you." Vivian hissed to herself, wriggling through the ventilation shaft. After Slain had decided to work late in his office, she had made her way to Reliware Corporation's Paris branch. Scouting out the building, she had found several unguarded entrances. Had she been wearing anything other than black leather, she might have tried to bluff her way up into his office. But that carried the risk of security cameras, and was difficult enough anyway. There could be any number of security measures with a man as paranoid as Slain. So she had opted instead for the classic ventilation approach, unscrewing the cover and crawling in from the outside. Pressing her back against one side of the shaft, and bracing her feet on the other, she had forced her way upwards past four floors before she had to rest in a branch to one side. She had remained for just long enough to work the cramp from her legs, before continuing.

At the fifth floor she had encountered the first fan. It blocked the entire shaft, buzzing gently as it whirred around. Vivian had pondered unscrewing this obstacle as well, and letting it tumble to the bottom, but immediately decided that it would make far too much noise.

And so she had crawled into the fifth floor ventilation system, twisting and turning, following the building plan that Sergei's clients had provided. She had passed through darkened offices, cupboards and corridors. Occasionally, a security guard would pass by below. Vivian had reflected that Sergei would simply have killed these men, slaughtering his way up to Slain's office, on the forty eighth floor. Vivian regarded this as unprofessional, and left the men alone.

Upon returning to the main shaft on the sixth floor, she had been surprised to find a ladder set into the side. This had taken her to the tenth floor, where another fan had blocked her way. And so, she had, once again, taken a detour through the offices. In this way she had traversed most of the building, finally reaching the forty eighth floor. And now she found that the shaft was much narrower. Probably Slain's paranoia again. She could only just squeeze through, and knew that Sergei or Dalziel would never have managed it. Finally, the building plan told her that she was getting close.

Making as little noise as possible, Vivian slipped forward, peering through the vents that spaced themselves at regular intervals along the narrow passage. Up ahead, she could see one with light shining through it. She made her way forward, and peered out.

The office was large, and well lit. It was dominated by a large, wooden desk, kept tidy. Behind the desk, the wall was completely taken up by a single pane of thick, bulletproof glass. The office was spartan, a place of work. The man himself, Gerard Slain, sat behind the desk, flanked by security personell. He was writing something down. As Vivian watched, he signed a piece of paper briefly, and sat back. Immediately, Vivian pushed back and away from the grate. She moved backwards along the shaft, slipping back into the wider tunnels and locating the grate above Slain's secretay's office. Bracing her back against the side, she kicked the grate away. It fell onto the deep pile carpet with hardly a sound. Vivian smirked to herself. Had the floor been harder, that would have alerted everyone on the floor. She dropped out of the ventilation system, landing silently. She slipped around to the side of Slain's door, feeling her muscles stretch out in relief. As expected, the sound of three sets of footsteps could be heard. She reached into the holster at her belt, and withdrew a heavy revolver. Old fashioned it may be, but she liked it just the same. She had just finished screwing the silencer into place when the doors opened.

As expected, the first person to walk through was one of the security personell. Vivian shot him in the back of the head before he could look around the door, stepping out of the shadows and shooting the other guard in the face. As she turned to the office, she noticed that Slain was already running back towards his desk. Marching forward, Vivian fired two shots. Amazingly, the middle aged businessman threw himself forward and dodged them both. Vivian frowned. As she walked further into the office, Slain reached up from behind his desk, snatching the phone. He started muttering into it just as she walked around the desk.

There was a split second of uncertainty as Vivian looked down and found a small pistol aimed at her. She lashed out a kick, knocking Slain's hand aside just as the gun went off. The bullet ricocheted off the glass window, embedding itself elsewhere. Vivian had already shot Slain directly between the eyes. She always aimed for the head. No messing about with body armour. As the body slumped, she hurried out of the office and towards the stairs. Stairs up. She would never get down forty odd floors without meeting someone.

Just as she approached the forty ninth floor, a security guard stepped out onto the stairs. Hardly thinking about the movement, Vivian ducked under his arm and flipped him head first down the stairs. He crunched nastily as he fell. Possibly not dead, but Vivian didn't have time to go check. She continued up to the fiftieth floor, finding the maintenance shaft on her map, and ducking into it.

From there, it was a quick climb to the roof. Vivian unhooked the cables at her belt, and removed the various hooks and devices from her pack. Within seconds she was tugging at the cable to test security. She stood on the edge of the building, peering down. The street on her right, the building behind. An alley directly below. Vivian checked her harness one more time, and then she jumped.

A few notes: It has been a long time since my last German lesson, if I got it wrong then that's my excuse. Also, I've never been to Rochester Castle, so I don't know much about the layout of the place. I made it up. Also, this is the first of two replies because there's too much for one. I think.

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Dalziel sat in his cell, trying to think. He was feeling decidedly vulnerable here, without family, without allies. His passport, that he realised was being carried by Peter, had given his name as David Thompson, so the Frenchman must know something already... Unless he was bluffing. Dalziel noticed that 'Louis' had not once refered to him by his first name. That meant that they either weren't sure of his identity, or they guessed the truth. Derreck Carter had already hit uncomfortably close to the mark, and if it was true that the British and French services were working together... Well, it wouldn't be so bad, would it? Nobody knew his real name anyway. Nobody except Peter... Dalziel had to hope that the Australian had somehow managed to catch the flight. If he could reach his family, then everything would be alright, everything would be alright... They had taken his phone, he couldn't even call for help. Good thing Nox had modified it, or there's no telling what Louis might find in there. If a three-key sequence wasn't entered as soon as the phone was activated, it would short circuit. All data would be lost. Dalziel took some comfort in that.

For now, he resolved to say nothing at all. Not even a lie. If the governments were kept guessing, perhaps they would be open to half-truths later.

* * *

Peter Fretch sat in Heathrow airport, examining Dalziel's laptop. It was thin, plain, and black. He had not yet turned it on, but was examining it closely. The machine had clearly been modified by an expert, and seemed to have been built with security in mind. Still, Fretch had already taken off various parts of the outer covering, exposing the innards of the machine. He had linked various parts of the machine to his own laptop, being careful to avoid the needles that he had spotted in the body of Dalziel's laptop. These he had removed with tweezers, and laid to one side. Dalziel's description of his family led Peter to believe that those needles were far more deadly than they appeared. Finally, he turned the laptop on.

-PASSWORD- It blinked. Peter sighed, and turned to his own laptop. This would take some time...

*a few hours pass*

Password cracked. Peter sat back heavily, and sighed. That had been harder work than he had thought it would be. The encoding on this machine was almost government-level. Steeling himself, he sat forward again, and was mildly surprised to see one program starting up automatically. He let it run, and a few seconds later, a face filled the screen.

It was a man in his mid twenties. Two deep purple eyes glared out of a face that was sharply angled, thrust forward in an almost predatory stance. The hair was thick and black, standing out from the head in a bushy mass. A white streak ran down one side, a red one on the other. As the face focused on Peter, the eyes turned red.

"Who are you?" It growled, and Peter noticed that the teeth were pointed, fang-like.

"My name is Peter Fretch." He muttered, remembering where he had spotted the microphone. "Dalziel Frey was sent to bring me to England. I'm here now, but he's gone missing."

"Missing?" The pointed brows shot upwards, and the eyes flashed. "Missing? What do you mean, missing?"

"He disappeared shortly before our flight left." Peter said. "He didn't call me, so I left without him, figuring that I could contact you." The face examined him for a moment, before appearing to blur. When the image cleared, the face had been replaced by a younger, less fearsome image. A younger man, whose own dark hair hung to his shoulders.

"Peter Fretch." He said. "My name is Jared. How much do you know?"

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"Goddamnit!" Felix's yell resounded through the large living room.

"How the hell did they find out our e-mail? Damned computer nerds..."

Felix seemed to be absorbed in the computer screen, his face screwed up in anger. "What should we do, boss?" Mark's voice startled Felix enough to look away from the screen. He looked at Mark, then back at the screen, thinking and biting his lower lip.

"Do what they want, of course. Later, we can start defieing them, but for now, we can't have the police aware of our activity. As it happens, I have a contact in America who, at least a few months ago, was regularly hijacking shipments of military medical equipment. I'm sure I could arrange a deal for some of the stuff."

"But we don't know what happened over there. Maybe something as big as a tumor, but maybe it's just a broken leg. They're not giving us much to work with," Mark added.

"Do you think they would? I'll arrange the deal with the medical stuff and I'll contact a good kidnapping team." Felix was browsing through a different page now. "Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital" the title read.

"And I've got a good hospital in mind," Felix added with a smirk. He started typing an email to the email address that had sent him the demand. It was a long shot, but oh well.

Dear Miseurs,

I have received your demand. Give me an email or address to work with and I'll have your things there in a week. The medical supplies in mind are of US military manufacture, and the medical team shall be kidnapped from the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in South Africa, which serves mainly to VIP's,visiting Heads of State, Foreign Dignitaries, Parliamentarians and Cabinet Ministers. We hope you find this acceptable.

Signed,

Monsiuer Felix.

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OOC - AK, you refer to the Cotswolds as the Switzerland of England.  I assume, therefore, you've never been to either places.

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If you're not going to take part after all, then quit criticising and get out of this topic. We have a comments thread.

To Felix:

Too late. We have found what we need elsewhere. However, there is something else that it might be beneficial to discuss. In person. Your presence in Trafalgar Square this Tuesday would be appreciated.

FF.

"Here is the medical team." The short man said blandly, indicating a group of expressionless men and women. "They are all fully qualified, and will follow the instructions of your head surgeon, to the very letter."

"They had better." Mischa said calmly. "For their own sakes." She stared at the man, who squirmed uncomfortably. "And yours." She examined the team critically, before turning to Doctor Schmidt. "If you would begin the briefing please, doctor. I want to be out of here by evening, if possible."

"I make no promise." Schmidt sighed. He ran his eyes over the team that stood before him. They watched back. "Hmm." He pointed at a woman near the back. "You, what are your qualifications?" Wordlessly, she stepped around her fellows and handed him a thick sheaf of papers. Schmidt looked at her doubtfully over his glasses, before taking the papers and shuffling through them. He frowned.

"If these is accurate," he held up the bundle, "then why are you not top surgeon in some hospital?"

"I am." The woman answered calmly. "This company employs me as well as my hospital. I have been practicing for eighteen years."

"She good?" Mischa asked, leaning against the wall.

"Does it matter?" Sergei muttered.

"If she is truthful, then she is good." Schmidt said doubtfully. "But I admit that I am sceptical of this figures." He looked at the woman. She said nothing.

"I assure you, all of the team are most highly qualified." The portly man interrupted. Schmidt ignored him.

"Describe to me what is meant by 'angiogenesis,' please." He said to the woman.

"The growth of new blood vessels from surrounding tissue into growing tissue." She answered without hesitation. Schmidt seemed taken aback.

"Correct?" Mischa asked.

"Correct." Schmidt gaped. "Your exact duty here?" He asked an elderly man at the front.

"Medical oncologist." He replied.

"Good." Schmidt nodded. "And who is the anesthesiologist?"

"Me." A younger man raised his hand.

"We can deal with the specifics soon." The oncologist interrupted. "First, you should tour the theatre and inform us of anything extra that will be required."

* * *

A few hours pass. Procedure begins.

* * *

"Get a taxi to the British Museum." Jared instructed Fretch. "We'll collect you from there. Don't wait anywhere, just wander about inside. We'll find you. Your contact will say 'Orleans' before anything else."

"Right." Fretch's face nodded on the screen. He faded out. Jared sighed.

:What are you going to do?: Midgar's voice asked from one of the numerous speakers in the room.

"Firstly, I'm going to get Fretch out of public." Jared told her, though he appeared to be speaking to an empty room. A disembodied head, floating on a giant LCD screen. "I'm sending Nox and Sabin to pick him up. Vivian can meet them in London, and hopefully see Felix while they're there. Once Fretch is with Morganna, I'll question him more fully."

:And Dalziel?: Midgar asked.

"I'll do what I always did before." Jared said darkly. "Break him out and then erase all data on him."

:If the Australian authorities have anything like the British do, though...:

"Epsylon 6 is part of the Secret Service." Jared pointed out, "I doubt that the authorities will store something on Dalziel in a similar system. Prisons, generally, are much easier to hack into than governments."

:But in a worst case scenario, what if you couldn't get him out? Or what if you can't find him? He could be anywhere:

"Then it will be war." Jared growled. "Once Sergei recovers from his opperation, I'll give him free reign in Australia. Vivian can assassinate a few important people, and if that isn't enough, I'll release Aethalwulf on them. We'll destroy everything in our way to get him out."

:I didn't know you cared so much about people:

"Family is important." Jared sighed. "I've never dabbled in terrorism before, not personally anyway. But if that's what it takes..."

:I don't like this, Jared:

"I know. You don't have to."

:We won't let you harm innocents:

"Then you'd better hope we get him back quickly."

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