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Dante

Espionage IV: The Second Coming

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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.

You assume correct, although I have been to Swizterland for a skiing trip. I was just searching for cottages in England on Google and the words "Wonderful cottage for rent in Cotswald!" popped up. I checked the photo and it looked cozy, so I just decided to use Cotswald as a place where Felix chills. I guess I should have done more research, and the way it reads, it sounds like you are a bit pessimistic about Cotswald. :)

EDIT: Dante, when will Tuesday come around? We don't have a very good time system... ;)

IC:

"Blasted!" Felix's voice rang throughout the empty mansion. Everyone else was gone, probably out with some damsels, and Felix was home alone, watching an old pre-Cut film called Dirty Harry, when his computer started emitting a sound akin to that of a telephone ringing, signifying that he had recieved a new e-mail.

Pausing the film, Felix strode over the the computer with a sigh and slumped down onto the large, soft leather chair, dragging the mouse over to the Lotus Notes icon. Felix clicked on it twice, and waited several seconds for it to open. When it did, it took barely a second for Felix to register what the e-mail address meant.

New mail from those sneaky bastards, were the thoughts running through his head, becoming instantly weary. Swiftly double-clicking on the title, Felix's face twisted into an angry grimace. Grinding his teeth and starting to breath heavily, the crime boss clicked on the "Reply" icon once and pounded the "enter" button several times. The text box loaded, and Felix started to type the reply, but decided against it. Exiting out of Lotus Notes, he went back to watching Dirty Harry.

"Hey, pretty lady, watcha' doin here alone?"

Mark sauntered over to the sexy blond in the tank top and tight shorts, slapping her on her behind. She turned around with a squeak of delight. Mark took a swig of beer, and started chatting with her. After several minutes, it became obvious she wanted sex. They were both heading for the stairs which led up into the hotel, a move which probably saved Mark's life. At that moment 2 men came into the caf

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"Chris!" Zidane shouted over the roar of his motorcycle.  "Chris, do you read me?"

Back at Redlak House, Chris heard Zidane's frantic call over the comm system.  "Zidane, I copy; what's wrong?"

"Your life is in danger!" Zidane blared as he dodged left and right around traffic.  Aeris and Leonheart were just ahead, zipping past vehicles in a similar manner.

"Someone or something is coming to Redlak House with the aim of killing you." Leonheart said as calmly as possible, while Aeris focused on steering.  "We're heading to emergency chopper 4 now, but chances are we'll be too late..."

Chris ran from the office, carrying the radio with him.  "Ready the defences!" he shouted, heading to the mansion's control room.

"We think the threat is airborne." said Zidane from afar.

"Radar." Chris said, sitting down in one of the gunner's seats.

"Several unmanned, remotely-piloted aircraft on approach vectors from multiple angles."

"You can tell that from radar?" Chris asked, momentarily distracted.

"No.  Our cameras have visual confirmation."

"In that case, open fire."

As the unmanned craft swept in from all sides, they were one by one shot down.  Small as they were, these drones seemed limitless.

"How many so far?" Chris asked, taking aim at yet another drone.

"23, sir."

"And how many still coming?"

"The same again, at least."

"Crap!  Their timing is getting tighter; more people to the guns!"

"Guns already fully manned, sir."

"Raise the barrier, then!"

As it had done once before, Redlak House deployed its hardened shield; bricks and panelling rotating to reveal a special alloy of titanium, steel and lead.  A moment later, the first drone hit.  It went boom, rather louder than expected.

The tremors were felt throughout the mansion.  "What in the hell was that?!"

"Explosives in the drones, sir!"

"Has the barrier been breached?"

"Not yet.  But they seem focused on just a couple of areas... we can't take too many more hits like that."

"Then keep firing!"

"Chris?!" Zidane shouted.  "What's happening?  I heard explosions, and something about aircraft!"

"Unmanned aircraft packed with explosives are crashing into Redlak House.  Get that copter here ASAP and back us up!  There's too many to hold off with the house turrets alone!"

"We're almost there... hold out a little longer."

"Um, Jared?"

:Uh huh?:

"Redlak House is kind of under attack."

:What?!:

"Yeah.  I thought they might try and target Chris on his own, but we got kamikaze drones over there."

:This is most disturbing... but it still doesn't sound like something you can't handle:

"No, I think we can hold out.  I'm saving an EMP for emergencies; I don't want to knock out all of the electronics in Redlak House unless it means saving lives."

:I get the feeling that you didn't just contact me for this news update...:

"Jared... spending time with you has made me possibly the most open minded of the Guardian Elite.  I have my morals; my desire to protect the innocent, and put life before profitability.  But while it used to blind me, I can see things from a different prospective, thanks to you."

:Thanks, I think... but what's your point?:

"In the same way zealots can be blinded by desire for good, amoralists like your family can be blinded by profit seeking.  If Sabin can do this to us, he can do it to you."

:It's not something you can compare like that, Midgar... the two ideas are totally diff-:

"Be that as it may, I'm just saying to be careful.  Maybe the Frey Family might consider taking a few pages from the Guardian's book."

:... Look, I'm busy with the whole Sergei thing right now.  Can this wait?:

"Fine.  I have to keep a close eye on Redlak anyway." Midgar said, and resumed her duties.

Another explosion rocked the mansion.

"Still holding?" Chris asked, shooting down another drone.

"Barely.  We can only take about tw-"

BOOM

"... about one more."

"Dammit!" Chris shouted, grabbing his radio.  "Zidane, where are you guys?!"

"ETA 2 minutes 'til we're within visual range."

"Midgar!  Ready the EMP!"

<EMP on standby.>

Another drone dropped from the sky above.

"It's moving too fast; I can't get a clear shot from this angle!"

"We can barely see it ourselves." Zidane shouted over the gunfire.

"I can hit it." Aeris said from the cockpit of the helicopter.  "Leonheart, take over, quick."

Without hesitation, Leonheart took the controls from Aeris, who then sat down at the door-mounted gun.

"When I give the signal, swing around so I'm facing it!"

"Gotcha." replied Leonheart.

"... Now!"

Leonheart pulled hard left on the copter controls, turning it so that Aeris had a clear line of fire.  She began shooting.

"Come on, you asshat drone... die!" Chris shouted, shooting too.

Mere metres away from the house, the drone burst into flames... Aeris had landed a hit.

"Yes!" Chris said, punching the air.  Dirk, who was nearby, felt a twinge of deja vu.

"That was the last of them, sir."

"Finally..." Chris said, sinking back into the gunner's seat.  "But this is no time for relaxing.  Get to repairing, and quick.  We need to have this place back up and running ASAP.  If a criminal like Sabin can do this... think what others could do."

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OOC: AK, Tuesday can be whenever you like.

"Sounds interesting." Nox commented, turning up the volume on his own laptop. He and Sabin sat opposite each other, listening to the replay of the Redlak radio conversation, explosions and all. "Though I can't say I'm particularly impressed." The older man glared at him.

"Oh, you're not?" He sneered. "Well, my hopes and dreams are shattered for sure."

"I'm serious." Nox said amiably, leaning back in his chair. "Reason one: you wasted an unacceptable ammount of money in the construction of those drones. Reason two: you openly attacked a building that is extremely well defended. In daylight. Reason three: You make a net loss through this action. Reason four: you failed. Chris is still very much alive."

"Perhaps you could have done better?" Sabin growled, though it was clear that Nox's words had struck home.

"Indeed we could." Nox replied. "When we first came across the Guardians, Alexei and Julia climbed onto the roof of Redlak House and sent one of our early spy devices into the attics. Now who's to say that we couldn't have planted an explosive device there? We didn't, but there was certainly oppertunity." Sabin glared at him in sullen silence. "Sabin, face facts. Your organisation has been effectively decapitated, if it hasn't crumbled already then it will do very soon. Leonheart will doubtlessly hunt you for this attack unless you work with us. It's the only sensible choice, and I'm trying to teach you how to be sensible. You nned us."

"I've heard this before." Sabin sighed, "Why the repetition? Could it be that you don't trust me?"

"That's exactly it." Nox said sternly. "Midgar has contacted us already. We are depending on your ability to think logically, but what if you don't? You may be more of a hinderance than an asset. Although," he mused, "We do already deal with Sergei. I hope he recovers soon, I'm sure the two of you will get on like a house on fire."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Lots of burning, screaming, and general destruction of property. Probably followed by an insurance scam."

"...I'm liking this more already."

* * *

"When will he be alright?" Mischa asked, looking through a glass wall to where Sergei slept. His head was heavily bandaged.

"Alright?" Doctor Schmidt repeated, "Alright is difficult. He will be awake in maybe eight, nine hours. I will let him walk in perhaps three days. Is the cancer gone? Who can say. It may be months before I can be certain."

"Hmph. I for one am not inclined to be here in several months time." The third figure grumbled, standing with his hands clasped before him.

"With any luck, you will not have to be, Sir David." Mischa said calmly. The surgeon, who had not adapted very well to being kidnapped, ignored her.

* * *

"I'm in London, Jared." Vivian spoke into her headpiece from her hotel. "Let me know when the idiot's going to turn up in Trafalgar."

:It would be very helpful if you didn't call them that: Jared said, sounding frustrated.

"He raids, robs, and runs with all the subtlty of a bull in a china shop." Vivian scowled. "That's what I call people who act like that."

:Could you at least avoid using it to his face? Please?:

"If I must." Vivian sighed. "Alright, I'm waiting."

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Bah! Seems like to old days of the goodfellas are gone. ;)

Felix stepped out of his limo, looking around for any suspicious person, although he didn't expect to see any; these people were smart. Checking his Rolex, Felix sat down on a bench, looking for someone or something that looked out of the ordinary, while the black limo circled nearby...

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"You just have to make a show, don't you?" Felix looked across the bench where he sat, to a woman who sat at the other end, apparantly reading a book. She wore a plain red t-shirt and faded blue jeans. Her eyes were completely masked by a pair of black sunglasses.

"What?" Felix asked.

"The limo, the rolex, have you no sense of subtlty?" Vivian turned a page of her book, still not looking up. "I mean sure, everyone loves to make a show. You should see me at a dinner party, I catch attention easier than my targets catch smallpox. But there's a time and a place, you know?"

"What do you want?" Felix scowled. He was growing tired of this criticism. The woman finally put down her book, and turned to face him.

"My name is Vivian Frey, Mr Felix." She said calmly. "I represent the group of people who sent you a warning before. You have met my brother, Sergei. I am here to make you an offer."

"An offer?" Felix repeated. "What kind of offer could you... offer me? You don't hire people, you are hired."

"Precisely." Vivian nodded. "We are hired help. We do what needs to be done, and we maintain high standards. Perhaps you've heard of the recent death of Gerard Slain, in Paris?"

"That was you?" Felix asked.

"That was me." Vivian confirmed. "Like I said, high standards. And there are those around us who do the same business in a... less professional way."

"If you're saying what I think you're saying..." Felix growled.

"No. I'm not." Vivian said icily. "You will have heard of the recent bombing in Berlin? A group calling themselves 'the Core' have claimed responsibility." Felix nodded. "Our methods of investigation have so far come up short. Let me make this clear, Mr Felix, the Core is a threat to you and it is a threat to me. Tactics like theirs draw attention to our line of work, and make both of our lives more difficult. So, what I am proposing is not doing the job of the law, but removal of a threat and removal of competition."

"You want to wipe out the Core?" Felix asked.

"Exactly." Vivian smiled for an instant. "I knew you were brighter than you looked. My family has decided that the Core is too much of a threat to our interests to be allowed to continue. We are, however... inconvenienced right now. One of our number is being held, and possibly faces incarceration."

"So you've come to me." Felix grinned.

"Not exactly." Vivian smirked. "What we propose is that you and we work together to find and destroy 'the Core.' In exchange for this, you will be freed of your debt to our family. Furthermore, you will have removed a threat to your business. We remove competition, and a threat to our own interests. We will not pay you, you will not pay us. Do you accept?"

[OOC: If theclansman1911 doesn't turn up and take part in this, well... we'll figure something out.]

* * *

Dalziel sat in his cell, staring at the opposite wall. So far he had resisted all interrogation attempts with stubborn silence. So far.

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"I accept. Although I have a feeling this will be more drawn out and stressful than you make it sound. Fine. I'll get right to it," and at this point Felix stood and handed Vivian a laminated card.

"My number," he explained. "So that you can contact me if anything comes up. Not in your sneaky, hacker way, but like normal people do. And it would be lovely if you could provide me some information on this "Core". Sounds like a cheesy armageddon or end-of-the-world movie, but whatever."

With this Felix strode briskly away. The sooner this was done with, the better.

The black limousine had stopped circling, and Felix wrenched open the door, sinking into the soft leather seats. As his eyes scanned Trafalgar Square, he noticed the woman - Vivian, that was her name - staring into his eyes. Not at the window, not at the car, but straight into his eyes. Through the pitch-black tinted windows. Felix shuddered, and said quickly,"Drive."

The moment he burst through the huge wooden oak doors of his villa, his crew immediatley stood up and all started jabbering at once. Felix silenced them with a wave of his hand, pointed at Mark, and said, "Find out anything you can about that terrorist group, "The Core" I think it was called.

"Everyone else, go around town to our informers and get any information you can from them. Especially to the German ones; they might know something."

With a nod, they all went about their tasks, and Felix retire to his room to go into his meditative thinking session...

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At Redlak House, the repairs were already well underway.  Several crews were devoted to replacing and restoring the shielding on the outside of the mansion, while others were busy attending to other structural damage.

"Since the house itself suffered only minor damage, most of the repairs can be conducted in privacy." Dirk explained.  "Since the last time the mansion took a beating, we've taken measures to allow the shielding to be accessed from inside the house."

"Excellent, Dirk." Chris said, a good night's sleep having calmed him down.  "But now to other business."

"Namely, sir?"

"This group called 'The Core'.  And Felix."

"We've heard little from either, as of late."

"How goes the aid operation in Germany?"

"Things are looking better than they once did.  Several survivors have been found."

"That's good news at least." Chris said.  "What troubles me is that the Frey's seem to be dealing with Sabin more and more... and if Midgar is correct, they're even meeting with Felix!"

"Indeed, sir."

Chris entered his office for the first time that day and sat down.  A pile of paperwork - mostly bills - welcomed him with a rustle.  Chris moaned slightly.

"What do you intend to do, sir?" Dirk asked.

"To be honest... I don't think there is much for me to do." Chris replied.  "If the Frey's have something planned, it's not my place to interfere unless they do something that's expressly against what we're trying to achieve."

"What of MI6?"

"What of them?" Chris shrugged.  "Not heard a peep out of them for ages.  Maybe they've decided to leave us alone."

"One can only hope, sir." Dirk smiled, leaving the room.

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[OOC- sorry for long absence, school is a bugger]

"Ranger! come look, quick! It's important!"

"What now, man, what now?"

"There's an offer here. A very interesting, very well-paid one. I thought you would be interested"

"Now THAT is a good offer. really, really good offer. Tell them we'll take it on one condition: no limits on how this will be executed. Our style. "

"Will do, Boss. Oh, and I've been snooping around for anything that might concern us. Nothing yet. nothing big, anyway. just rumours here and there. but i'll stay sharp."

"Good work, Slick. Keep it up."

Another job. A good one, too. Easy, well-paid, and public. But this time they wouldn't take the credit. No, no...this time it would go to someone else. Perhaps he would do it Crimson Shield style. or perhaps something like the Maniacs. No, not them. It would go to the former. Ranger liked their style more. This time, no traces. Nothing leading to the Core anyways.

"Hey, Lavinia! Contact Crimson Shield, tell them I've got an offer. And tell them it pays well too. Oh, and Slick- just because I'm paranoid, check into those rumours. Probably not true, but after that fiasco with the hacking, can't be too careful. On that note, are the security systems running? -Good. And send out this message to other mercenary groups."

---Message to Mercenaries follows---

Fellow Mercenary groups! I greet you all as co-fighters in the struggle against law and order. Many of you will know of our Berlin bombing by now. We have something planned once again. But it will some time before it is done. This time it will not be political. Simply for the money. But we are ready to split the money with any who will help us. Leave us a message if you want to know more.

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"'Struggle against law and order?' What kind of anarchists are we dealing with?" Jared rolled his eyes at the message. "Still, at least we have something to go on. They aren't fanatics, and that's always a good thing." He leaned forward on his virtual chair, biting at his nails.

"No, they're much more like you." Midgar replied pointedly. She reclined opposite, her headset relaying messages from the outside world even as she spent time in the VR.

"Nobody is quite like us." Jared remarked. "Don't they know that this kind of message can be picked up by the law as well? Or other groups that will sell the infomation? Hmm..."

"I know that hmm." Midgar sighed. "It means that someone's going to get hurt."

"Not as such." Jared told her, pulling a keyboard out of thin air. He began to type nervously. "I think our friends at MI6 will want to know about this."

"You're helping the government?" Midgar raised her eyebrows. "No, wait, there's an ulterior motive here."

"I give them info on the Core," Jared said,

"-and they'll do your dirty work for you." Midgar finished. Jared nodded tensely. "Do you trust them to do it properly?"

"If they don't, we can always step in later." Jared shrugged. "On the other hand..." He paused, looking troubled. "If we get the government involved now, it may backfire horribly. After all, we're trying to wipe out the Core so that they'll leave us alone."

"You are." Midgar agreed. The two sat in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, Jared wiped away the keyboard.

"Alright, what do we do?" He asked. "The Slain job is done, so I'll be contacting MoSoft soon to arrange payment. Vivian's dispatched the jewels she stole, so that's taken care of, and the briefcase is still safe. I keep getting rumours that someone's still digging after the ambassador's daughter, and of course there's Sergei to worry about; not to mention the bigger plan..." He sighed. "I hope Felix has more free time than we do. Oh, and there's still Dalziel to think about... How on earth did I cope with this before having processors?"

Midgar watched in silence as Jared listed his various woes. He seemed nervous. Twitchy. He pulled at his fingers, and his hair. She sighed, and swung her legs down off her seat. Even without hormones, men just couldn't think properly... She walked over to him, pinned both of his hands with her left, and kissed him. Jared's computer brain, for all its complexities, did not seem to realise exactly what had happebed, and he continued to complain in a muffled voice until Midgar grabbed his jaw with her right hand. When she stood up again, he was silent.

"Stop fretting. Here's what you are going to do." She said calmly. "You are going to let me in on this, and together we will set up a surprise for the Core. Once Sergei has recovered, I'll see what I can do to help you with Dalziel without damaging the reputation of the Guardians. You will keep a close eye on Sabin for me, and in return I will continue to not bust your bony ass. But first," she smirked, "We are going to go next door and make like rabbits until you feel better. Understand?"

* * *

Message to the Australian authorities:

You will release the prisoner Benjamin Frey, or steps will be taken that may endanger the lives of Australian citizens. There will be further warnings, but our patience is not infinate.

Message to MoSoft: Payment is due.

Message to the Core: Law and order are due a shake up. A big shake up. The biggest target of all is up for grabs. The UN Headquarters in New York. Soon it will be no more. Will you join us?

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"what did we get?"

"A response. exactly as planned. Apparently, they're going for the UN HQ in NY"

"Stop the acronyms. It annoys me. Tell them we're busy at the moment, but if they can put it off, we'll gladly join them. "

"Boss?"

"Don't worry. I've got a plan. A good one. One that i think you will like. Because it involves lots and lots of hacking"

"Finally!"

"Now,Lavinia, did you get in touch with our friends at Crescent Shield? And if so, what's the news?"

"Green light. They're hiding for a bit, so any publicity we give them at a wrong place is good for them. Plus it'll give them funding from supporters"

"I see we're good. Well, tell our guys it's a go-ahead and then sit back. In a week, it'll be all over the news. And it will be nothing like our style. "

A smirk crossed Ranger's face. Not the kind of smirk anyone would want aimed at them. The kind that says "Hi. I just popped by to steal, destroy, and raze everything you own."

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Note! I'll be away for a week,and won't be able to post in that time period.

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(O.O.C. --> Yes, this reply is courtesy of Dante's post in FED2k Meadhall.  I get inspiration from stories, and the flashback to my favourite storyline in Fan Fiction has given me the spark I needed. :))


Several weeks have passed...

An uncharacteristic quiet has settled over Redlak House - the repairs completed, and no further action from either Felix or The Core, Chris was taking the time to focus on the closing stages of the relief support in Germany, and attending to other matters.  While this would normally be ideal, he could not shake the feeling that this was simply the eye of the storm; that something much larger was going on undetected, unimpeded and unchecked.

The Frey Family had made little to no contact with The Guardians, though Midgar seemed to be conferring with Jared more frequently on what seemed to be a personal basis.  From what Chris could determine, the endeavour to return Sergei to full health continued, with the violent family member not out of the woods yet.  To Leonheart's disgust and rage, they seemed to be striking a deal with Sabin; the Guardian Elite persisted that his brother could not be trusted, but took some small delight in the domestication of his sibling.

As for the details regarding The Core's supposed attack... nothing had surfaced.  Additionally, if the Frey's had received any correspondence from Felix, Chris had not been informed.  Rumours of something regarding a company called MoSoft had all but dissipated; perhaps nothing but speculation in the first place?  Chris didn't know.  That was the source of his current frustration, sitting at the desk that had once belonged to his father, Justin Redlak; he didn't know enough of what was going on.

"Why does this situation trouble you, sir?" the ever-present Dirk asked from across the room.

"Because, " Chris explained in exasperated tones, "something's going on."

"Our sources indicate nothing of any importance; our work in Germany is nearly completed, and there has been no word from any known or unknown threat in at least a month."

"Doesn't that bother you, Dirk?" Chris asked.  Dirk smiled knowingly.

"In your time as Commander of The Guardians, you've known nothing but strife."

"Your point?"

"I think you're being a touch paranoid, if you don't mind me saying so." Dirk said, trying to be as polite as possible, but unable to avoid sounding condescending.  Chris seemed to notice the aide's efforts.

"Duly noted, " Chris nodded, "but what of other matters?"

"Other matters?"

"There still exists out there a man - probably of the same age as me - who is the son of The Pelican; the only man to have come close to destroying what my father built."

"You mean this 'Yoshi' character?" Dirk asked.

"His mother killed my father; you know the story, you were there!"

Dirk closed his eyes and looked uncomfortable for a moment... he tried hard to forget that day, but never could.  "Yes, I was there."

"The Pelican's son is out there somewhere, and while we've been distracted by Felix, MI6 and The Core, he's had all the time in the world to plan a possible attack."

Chris paused, then spun his chair to look out at the setting Sun.  "We must be prepared."

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I'm taking time out of my studies to work on this. Appreciate it. :P

In the previous few weeks, the Frey family had seen a period of uncharacteristic calm. With Sergei recovering from surgery and no interesting contracts incoming, Jared had pulled the straying threads back to Rilauven. With one exception.

:I've held off any major decisions recently: The AI sighed, looking down from one of the many flatscreens in the control room. :With Sergei disabled, and the businesses in Redlak and Paris, Australia has had to move down the priority ladder. We have had to assume that Dalziel can look after himself. No more: He frowned. His display had changed recently, no longer showing the Red Dwarf-esque disembodied head. The image now resembled a view into another room, with Jared's head and shoulders in the foreground. In the background, a logfire blazed. The ends of two keyboards could be seen floating nearby, with Jared's fingers running across them both simultaneously. It was a direct image from the Virtual Reality that he could now inhabit. Aethalwulf occupied another screen nearby, his eyes glowing a deep yellow at the moment.

"This looks to be a difficult task, unfortunately." Nox took up the dialogue, keying in a brief sequence of code to bring up a map of the world on the screen between Jared and Aethalwulf. Two cameras in the room swiveled around to observe the image. The map displayed twelves red dots, four of them in Australia. The remaining eight were spread out between Uzbekistan, the USA, France, Cuba, and England. "This map shows the locations of those facilities where Dalziel may currently be held. Locating him is difficult because he is not being refered to by name, and no personal data is attached to his file. This is the way that sensitive cases are dealt with in international law. It means that if someone happens to get a hold of this data, they have no way of knowing just who is being held where."

"Essentially it's to prevent newspapers from following high-profile cases, and terrorists from attempting to free their comrades." Morganna showed a small smile. "Ironically."

"We know this already." Vivian interrupted, from her seat on the other side of the circular control panels. "According to the history, none of us were ever subject to this kind of procedure."

:None of you were ever incarcerated for long enough: Jared winked. :Though having said that, your old selves did not have to deal with the infamy that you do. Alexei spent regular nights in gaols all over the world without need of my skills to get him out. But this time, for the first time, the law made a specfic attack on our family. They knew exactly what they were looking for:

"And they got it." Mischa scowled from her position near the doors.

:Indeed: Jared scowled. :So, our researches have turned up a litte infomation to go on. We believe that Dalziel was captured by either the British, French, American or Australian authorities. If the latter, then they almost certainly handed him over to one of the former, but not necessarily:

"These twelve locations are all likely to hold Dalziel at the moment." Nox keyed in another command, causing the Australian dots to glow yellow. "These are all facilities in Australia for holding sensitive or particularly dangerous cases. Many of them are used for non-Australian criminals, in that the country will accept payment to hold those in long-term incarceration from other countries. It is entirely possible that Dalziel is being held in one of these facilities, as they also double as detention and interrogation centres."

"The French, British and American facilities are similar." Morganna noted, lighting up each of the dots in turn. "The exception to the rule is the Uzbek facility." All of the dots disappeared, and the map faded from the screen. It was replaced by several grainy images of whitewashed corridors and cells. "These are the only images available. According to official documents, this place does not exist. It is, essentially... a place for western countries to send troublesome prisoners. Those that won't talk, or hold important infomation, are sent here to be..."

"Tortured." Nox stated flatly. "The governments of the west can get the infomation they require, and technically do not break any laws. The Usbek authorities are paid handsomely for the service."

:We do not know if Dalziel is there or not: Jared muttered. :And in fact that is the most annoying thing. Without some form of identification on the files, there is no way to know which one of the nigh endless streams of numbers is Dalziel. That infomation is kept in extremely high security locations. But again, we do not know which one:

"We do, however, have four possible locations." Nox brought back the map, while Morganna composed herself. "Firstly, the Pentagon. America's neural hub. If the infomation is anywhere, it's here. We've been dancing around their security systems for the last month, but without actually breaking in we won't know anything. Jared has done it before, but it's a very risky opperation."

:And I certainly didn't get out unscathed: Jared added aside.

"The next most likely locations are London and Paris." Morganna brushed a thread of hair from her eyes, blinking as she did so. "Unfortunately, London will bring us up against Artemis once more. Indications are that she is doing better than ever, and is probably capable of resisting an attack even greater than Aethalwulf's previous effort. Whether this is a smokescreen or not we cannot be sure."

"Paris has no such intelligent defences, but is still formidable in its own right." Nox continued. "The Australian facility in Sydney would be the easiest to crack, but the least likely to hold any useful infomation. The reason that we have not made any decisive action is that we do not know which of these four holds infomation on Dalziel, if any."

:And furthermore, if we attack any one of the four, the chances are extremely high that the others will all shift their codes and be extra wary for the next month or two: Jared sighed. :I don't exaggerate when I say that this is possibly the most daunting digital task that we have yet faced:

"And without the digital infomation, there is no way to implement real world action." Mischa pouted. "Can't you do anything?"

:We could get the Guardians to storm the gaols of the world: Aethalwulf grinned, showing his pointed teeth. :Haven't you helped them out before? They owe you!: His eyes flashed red, before settling back into yellow.

"We don't know just how prepared the Guardians would be to rescue a suspected terrorist sympathiser and party to hundreds of crimes." Nox frowned, hitting a single key to close the map. "He's a member of our family yes, and the least harmful one at that, but the governments of the world are hardly likely to see them in a positive light after such an action."

"They might even be accused of terrorism themselves." Mischa mused.

:I haven't been asking Midgar about it: Jared nodded. :Though I will be sounding her out later. Checking for suggestions, opinions, etcetera:

"And there is no way that we could attack all of those facilities at once." Mischa sighed.

"Since when do we 'attack' anything?" Vivian asked archly, speaking to Mischa but looking directly at Nox and Morganna. "Are we soliders? An army? No, we are professionals. We are going to do this professionally." She unfolded gracefully from her seat, stepping over to the control panels. Nox slid out of her way as she leaned over, typing in several long and complex commands. On the central screen, the map flashed on and off, with rapidly switching dots of varied colours. Standing upright again, Vivian looked up at her handiwork.

The map now showed all sixteen dots. The four infomation hubs were in four different shades of blue, while the twelve facilities were shown in red, orange, yellow and black.

"Morganna, Sergei, Mischa and myself will simultaneously hit each of the four infomation centres." She said, looking up at the four glowing dots. "One of us will get the infomation, and get it to Nox and Jared. Aethalwulf will provide distraction during Mischa's attempt to deal with Artemis, or whatever is necessary in London. Sergei will deal with the Pentagon, and Morganna will go to Paris. I will go to Australia. While I am there, I will search for any extra clues that may have been missed. I will also show the Australian authorities just what happens when they meddle with my family." She smiled a cruel smile. "Once we have the infomation, we will make our way to the correct location as quickly as possible. Dalziel may been moved or hidden if we delay after cracking the infomation hubs. Incidentally, it would be a good idea to cover our tracks by concentrating a search on other personalities.

"Whoever reaches the facility first will deal with it in whatever way they see fit." She finished the plan. "And yes, that does mean that Sergei can blow up whatever he likes." She smiled at Morganna's overriden protest. "This is to be a subtle opperation. It must be flawless and accurate. But once we have accomplished our objective..." Her calm smile was instantly replaced with a furious snarl. "They. Will. Burn."

* * *

"So they want you to go to America." Sabin stated flatly, his face expressionless.

"That they do." Sergei responded, giving away no more infomation than was necessary. He lay on his bed, propped up by pillows. Being inactive bugged him, but the sedatives prevented him from protesting in ways that he would have prefered. Sabin sat on an armchair on the other side of the room, toying with a large and heavy revolver. He aimed it at the target on the opposite wall, and fired directly into the bullseye. Sergei did not flinch.

"Will you be doing anything interesting?" Sabin continued, sniffing carefully at the revolver.

"I'll be breaking into the Pentagon for the first time again." Sergei smirked. Sabin dismissed the paradox, and placed the pistol on a nearby table.

"Oh will you." He stated, rather than asked. Getting up from his chair, he walked over to Sergei's bed. Leaning on the end, he glared across. "Aren't you supposed to be an invalid?"

"According to my sister, I am unlikely to relapse and should therefore be considered recovered." Sergei said with a sardonic grin. Sabin noticed for the first time that he was sharpening a knife. How had he missed that?

"You're not far past serious surgery. You might get hurt." Sabin said emotionlessly. "America is a paranoid and violent nation. You'll be weaker than usual. Vulnerable, perhaps." Sergei flicked a wrist, and Sabin automatically ducked. Behind him, the knife shuddered in the wall. He stood up again, as if nothing had happened. "Party tricks won't help you. You'll need to pack some serious firepower."

"This isn't an invasion." Sergei said, slurring his words ever so slightly. "I'm told that I'm not to draw too much attention to myself. But you know, I've actually worked out the code that my family speaks? 'Not too much attention' means that I can do what I like, so long as it doesn't get into the public domain. 'No attention at all' means that everybody who notices me has to die. And she added an interesting finishing touch as well." His eyes looked up at Sabin, while his head remained facing his knees. "I've been told that afterwards, I can 'do what I want.' That's a very rare instruction."

"Carnage." Sabin stated.

"Slaughter." Sergei agreed.

"Fire." Sabin continued.

"Explosions." Sergei started to smile.

"Screaming." Sabin followed suit.

"Crying." Sergei added.

"Murder" Sabin grinned.

"Indiscriminate." Sergei finished. There was silence for a moment, as the two normally taciturn men grinned evilly at each other.

"The Pentagon is a big place." Sergei said, his grin fading to a contented smile as he leaned back and rubbed the bandages on his head.

"You might not get it all done in time." Sabin agreed.

"I might need help." Sergei nodded, closing his eyes.

"Indeed. Indeed." Sabin stood up, taking his hands from the bedposts. Sergei did not say anything. Sabin stepped back, and quietly left the room.

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