It was, of course, while I was making my rounds of the wards that Edmund called me in. I found him pacing up and down before the fireplace, staring thoughtfully at the floor. I could imagine what was coming, and protested mildly, 'I've only just returned from that work in Slovia, you know, Edmund.' 'Well, yes; but I'm afraid something has come up.' He motioned me to a chair as he sat down across from me. 'I am sorry to send you out again so soon, but- well, wait until you've heard the circumstances.' I leaned back in my chair. 'I'm listening, then.' He stared at the wall for a moment, then began. 'I spoke yesterday to Colonel Redgrave-' the Colonel is our main connection with Her Majesty's Secret Service- 'and he has a project for us. Several countries, ours included I'm afraid, have been robbed by an enemy spy. The papers he stole are said to contain information on the agents, battle plans, and supply routes of both sides. Rumour holds that he is waiting to sell then to the highest bidder from their countries.' 'Folly, surely,' I interjected. For anyone, no matter whom, to hold that sort of information is not only detrimental to the papers' value, but also very dangerous. He shrugged. 'Only rumour; there may yet be more to it. That aside, we've traced the papers to a small village- more of an estate with a few outlying buildings, actually. It's in Wales, just south of Brecon.' Edmund looked at me. 'Chap by the name of Lord Jacob Courtenoy owns the estate.' I nodded. 'My father knew Lord Courtenoy.' 'I believe they met owing to Courtenoy's travels in India, while Uncle Phillip was ambassador.' 'That's correct. But what part do I play?' 'Courtenoy has been under the care of a resident physician for five years now. He's eighty-seven, and has a bad heart, finicky digestion, and poor health generally. His old doctor, Rhys Hallin, has just retired and moved to Holyhead.' That made it clear; I'd been Dr. Hallin's best pupil at medical school. I could easily take over the role of physician, as I wouldn't be playing it, but living it. Even in the army I'd had a reputation as not only a good surgeon but also as an excellent GP. . . It was the perfect opportunity. Edmund had no doubt gotten Hallin to recommend me, and Courtenoy would jump at the chance to meet Colwyn's only son. 'I see,' I murmured. My old friend grinned at me. 'Exactly. You leave tonight; the train comes at eight, so I'll send Ailise up to help you pack. Good luck, Tim.'
Mental Defense: Standard
I soon found myself on the train rattling away to Lord Courtenoy's estate, called Beren for its arrow-shaped gardens. I seated myself in the main compartment and begun a crossword so I could think without being too obvious about it. I've a tendency to look deep in thought when I'm unravelling a problem. I'd no sooner begun when a young woman with black hair walked up to the table. 'You must be Docter Colwyn,' she said sweetly. Interesting; she was either connected with Courtenoy, or was a spy, or most likely, was both. Edmund had said on the ride over that there were four operatives he knew of already involved; one of ours, two enemies, and a freelance. Our man, Zachary Marsdon, was at Beren as the guest of Courtenoy's grand-niece. We didn't yet know who the other agents were. More work for me. . . I wondered which side the woman was on. 'I'm Jacynta Esola, of Brecon. May I sit with you, sir?' I'd rather she hadn't, but I could hardly tell her so. 'Please do. I take it you're a friend of Lord Courtenoy's?' She sat in a chair across from me and smiled enchantingly. 'Not quite; I'm just a neighbour. But everyone knew Lord Courtenoy's new doctor arrived tonight, and as you're the only doctor on the train. . .' She gestured to my black doctor's bag tucked beneath my feet. She began to ask me about myself, despite my obvious lack of interest in the conversation. She leaned foward as she spoke; the blue dress she wore was very low-cut, which she obviously knew, and it was a bit distracting. She had little success, though. All Edmund's people have some training to withstand mental pressure, and it's a very useful skill for a spy. I'd seen much worse interrogations than this. . . Twenty minutes of useless answers to her cooing, and she'd given up and left me to think in peace. I did get something from her chatter, though. She was most likely the freelance, as she was too anti-Spain to be one of ours and not sincere enough to be against us. I was still thinking over the possibilities when the train pulled into the Brecon station.
I was met at the station by Lord Courtenoy's head gardener, George Randal, who was more than happy to tell me about the household during our ride down to Beren. Not the least interesting was his account of the engineer James Lauren, whom he described as very tall, having blond hair going prematurely white, light blue eyes, and a quick mind. It struck me as rather curious that one Servan Lauren, Ph.D, who answers to a very similar description, was a well-known enemy spy. He was supposedly in Germany, but a relative of his. . . Three hours later I had been shown to my room, a very impressive affair in black and red velvet. It was nearly twelve at night, and Lord Courtenoy had already retired. The maid Alice Greyson, a fair lass of seventeen or thereabouts, offered to unpack for me. 'Don't you worry, Dr. Timothy,' she told me cheerfully. 'I'll put everything away right tidy for you and you'll not need to worry.' 'Thank you, I'd appreciate that,' I said absently, looking out the window. I could see a light, off in the gardens. It was late for someone to be out, and the light kept flashing on and off. . . Unfortunately, I hadn't yet had a chance to talk with Edmund's other agent, Zachary Marsdon, although I'd been 'introduced' to him earlier. I doubted it would actually be dangerous to wander the grounds at night, though. I told Alice, 'After all my travelling I'd like some fresh air. If you don't need me for anything, I believe I'll go take a walk about the gardens.' 'I'll be fine, sir; you go on and enjoy the gardens. They're particularly lovely this time of year, especially the gazebo.' If I wasn't much mistaken that was a hint. I hurried down three flights of stairs and several hallways into the dining hall. I let myself onto the terrace through one of the French windows. It didn't take me long to find the source of the light- indeed the gazebo- and the reason it had been flickering. Two people were inside the gazebo, which was incredibly overgrown with vines and bushes. I crept as close as I dared, but could not get far enough to recognize the people. They spoke in whispers; I could barely hear, but it appeared they were discussing the very papers I had come for! 'The papers, although valuable, are. . . cannot buy them out. . .' The taller one stepped towards the other man. 'If. . . definate answer. . . or I'll. . .' 'My government cannot say at this time, but. . . I will meet. . .' One sounded evasive, and the second was beginning to get angry when there was a noise across the way. Both men froze, then cautiously began to look about themselves. One looked directly towards me, but I couldn't identify him as he was entirely in shadow. He somehow missed me despite the bright moonlight, thank heavens. One of my more useful qualities is the one that allows me to escape being seen, although it sometimes works when I'd rather it hadn't. They parted abruptly, no doubt worried about being overheard. It left me with a puzzle; who were the men, and even more curious, what is the maid's connection to them?
Danger Sense: Standard
The next day, I was introduced to the household. Lord Courtenoy was even more impressive than I had imagined him, but was in poor health. I spent several hours speaking with him, mostly on politics. I think he knew something was wrong, but didn't like to say anything for fear of alerting the wrong man. That night, I made a point of finding Marsdon and introducing myself properly. He turnded out to be younger than I'd expected; not much over twenty, dark and with the sort of smile that makes women swoon. We exchanged the proper cues, and he said fervently, 'Thank God you're here, Dr. Timothy. Shall we go out onto the balcony?' We'd been in one of the main rooms, which was lined with doors, any one of which could hide a listening ear. The balcony was more open and we had a smaller chance of being overheard. The sky was overcast that night, and the only light came from the small lamp overhead. Zachary turned towards me. 'At last, I've some support now.' He sounded so relieved that I wondered what on earth had been happening. Edmund hadn't mentioned that the situation was that urgent. . . I gave him a quick sketch of my own work thus far, then asked, 'What's troubling you, then?' He leaned back against the rail. 'It's deeper than I'd thought. You see, Doctor, the papers have more significance even than we knew.' The lights flickered, but stayed lit. He looked at me nervously. 'Go on,' I encouraged him. 'I've the main names involved. . . Robert Khan, Christopher Hope, Jacynta Esola, and as you'd guessed, James Lauren. I don't know which is which yet, though.' 'Quick work.' 'I wish I'd been quicker. There's more; I think Servan Lauren is involved, but I don't know if it's through his brother James or independently.' That was hardly comforting; Servan Lauren was a genious and a first-class spy. Not someone I'd choose to deal with if I could help it. Zachary continued quietly, 'I think I know- the spy's plot-' I raised a hand to stop him. I'd felt something was wrong. Doctor though I might be, intuition has saved me more than once. The lights flickered again, and then went out; I could see nothing, the night was too dark. Something. . . 'Get down!' I cried. I pressed myself against the wall, when I heard a cry- Zachary had fallen from the balcony!
Weapons Creation: Superior
My eyes had begun to adjust, and I caught a flash of a hand and a flicker of metal behind me. I drew my own gun- I make it a point to carry one on the job- and shot at the figure's arm. Whoever it was cried out in pain. Reaching behind him, he grabbed one of the ceramic statues decorating the balcony and hurled it at me. I ducked, and he slipped out the door. I ran to it and discovered that the villian had locked it. I went back to the balcony, but there was no way I could climb down the three stories to the ground. Worse yet, there was no sign of Zachary's body, and I doubted he'd be in a condition to walk after falling that far. Our attacker's gun had fallen when I'd shot him; I picked it up and pocketed it. I'd seen a stiletto on the wall earlier, in one of the weaponry displays that Lord Courtenoy favoured. I made my way to it and pulled it off. I used it to force the latch on the door, then took a candle from a side-board, lit it with my tinderbox, and began to jog downstairs. The entire house was dark. I'd reached the side of the house where Zachary had fallen, when I heard a cry from the garden. I started towards the noise, when someone jumped me from behind. He knocked me to the ground, and I fell against the rusty wrought-iron fence enclosing the gardens. I couldn't reach my gun while trying to hold off my assailant, so I threw him off as well as I could- he was a head taller, but not as well-conditioned. I snapped a loose bar off the fence and used it to club the man. He fell unconcious, and I used the rope from the well, conviently situated nearby, to tie him securely to one of the trees. The moon had begun to show between the clouds, and I could see properly. The man was Robert Khan. . .
Thinker's Strategy, Pt. I
I began to search the garden, my mind racing. If Khan was the one sent to do the dirty work. . . Jacynta Esola couldn't possibly be in charge; she was undoubtly the freelance, and was far too untrustworthy for someone like Servan Lauren. It was either James Lauren or Christopher Hope, and most likely the former. I had to be careful in the dark, the garden was being replanted, and. . . I suddenly had a terrible thought. I hurried towards the spot where the gardeners had been taking up the sod and replacing it with a new variety. Thank heavens, I wasn't too late. Hope, holding a shovel, was standing over Zachary, who was lying unconcious in a shallow hole near the new sod. The fiends had been planning on burying him alive! I pointed my gun at Hope and called out, 'Drop the shovel and don't try anything.' He whirled around. 'What!' he cried, his face twisted with hatred. 'You're trapped, Hope,' I said coldly, trying to control my anger. He looked as though he wanted to rush me, thought better of it, and dropped the shovel. 'Lie down, hands over your head.' He did so, swearing violently. 'We'll win this war yet,' he said, his voice muffled by the grass. I shot into the air above his head several times, hoping someone would find us quickly. The lights had just gone back up in the house, and I could hear voices heading our way. 'You can't prove anything against me, Colwyn.' I didn't particularly want to; it wouldn't do to alert their people against me so soon. I kept Hope covered as I moved over to Zachary. I kept half an eye on Hope while I checked Zachary. Still alive, thank goodness. I was still trying to find a way to bring this affair to an end when help arrived.
Thinker's Strategy, Pt. II
Zachary was safe in the hospital, and the police were satisfied with my revised version of what had taken place. Fortunately for me, it turned out Khan had a prison record- illegal entry, theft, and assault- and Hope, no doubt under Servan's orders, had been blackmailing him into the role of thug. Our story was that Hope and Khan had been responsible for the theft of Lady Daedonae's jewels a month ago, Zachary heard them discussing how to dispose of the loot, and they'd caught him listening and tried to murder him. I'd interrupted them in the act, managed to take out Khan, and then stopped Hope with the gun I'd taken from Khan earlier. I was in a quandry, though; I had to find out a way to take down James Lauren, recover the papers, and if possible find whatever it was Zachary had mentioned. Then it clicked. . . Servan is a brilliant scientist and inventor. If some of those papers had been technical in nature. . . Add that to the fact that James is addicted to photography, and has his own dark-rooms at Beren. . . Some hours later I had the information from our people. The pieces fit; I'd have to go in by myself, though, as I hadn't enough hard evidence to convince anybody. That night, I waited until Lauren was occupied with a bridge game, and I snuck downstairs, into the basement. The outer dark-room wasn't terribly suspicious, and I turned to the one other door. It took me longer than I expected to pick the lock, which only confirmed my theory. Who would bother to put a Yale lock on his dark-room door? I finally got in, and stopped in wonder. The entire room was covered in cable, metal framework, odd-looking glass devices. . . A side of the room held a very odd-looking frame about the height of a man. It didn't take me long to find the papers' hiding place; they were on very thin paper, folded, on the back of the bottle labels for the photography chemicals. Typical of the man, nothing obvious for him. I stripped the labels and took off the paper, then carefully replaced the labels in hopes that my tampering wouldn't be noticed for a time. I pocketed the papers and went on to the cabinets near the devices. I began scanning the reports and schematics. I could hardly believe my eyes; Servan Lauren thought he had discovered a way to instantly transport an object, or even a person, over many miles. . . what that discovery wouldn't be worth, if it only worked! That explained the strange look of the large metal frame. The light seemed to bend away from it, somehow. But apparently there were problems with the device. They were still trying to- I had gotten thus far when I heard a door. I'd nowhere to hide, so I drew my gun and resolved to stand firm. Then I felt someone behind me. . . It was the maid, Alice, holding a gun. 'You, Dr. Timothy!' she exclaimed. Lauren had entered through the other door, also holding a gun. 'Congratulations, doctor, you've found us out. Drop the gun.' I did as he asked. It looked hopeless, but I had an idea. 'You realize your plan will never work, Lauren. This fairy tale is nonsense.' He only looked amused. 'Then I suppose you've no need for these. Watch him, Alice,' he said, as he stepped towards me. He began to search me for the papers and soon had them, when I saw my chance. Alice let the gun waver just a bit. I grabbed Lauren and swung him around so he was in her line of fire. Lauren began to struggle, and we fell against the table. I had gotten a hold of his gun, and managed to shoot Alice's gun out of her hand before Lauren knocked us both through the open portal. . . In a way, it was an accident I ended up here. Khazan, is it? The machine worked, but due to some sort of flaw in their calculations, it opened to another universe instead of my own planet. They can only keep it open for a short time, as well, or they've no way of knowing where it will end up. I hadn't time to regain the portal before it closed, nor did Lauren. Whether they can open it again I don't know, but while I'm here I shall at least try to recapture Lauren and get those papers. Then, to find a way back. . .
Mind Control: Superior
I'd been in Khazan for some weeks when I'd settled in enough to take up the trail of Laurent in earnest. I'd a good part of the SLJ's resources at my disposal, not to mention a few contacts of my own that I had soon made. It wasn't long before I found the traces of Lauren's path in Khazan; he'd become involved with the Fallen somehow and perhaps joined it. At last, I was led to a small pub in the poorer part of the Industrial Sector. The Dragon's Breath, its name was, not entirely inappropriately. Not really a nice sort of place, but it would do for my purposes. I bought a more nondescript suit of clothing, and made my way into the pub. A typically crowded little room, that, a good deal of smoke and fumes and not a terrible lot of light. After a bit of looking, I sighted the man I was after. He was a tallish chap, with red hair and sun-darkened, weathered skin. Tonio Ramirez, his name was; a low-level Fallen who would most likely be easily influenced. I edged around the dimly lit tables to where Ramirez was sitting, and stood behind a chair. 'May I sit here, please?' I inquired, twisting my wrist slightly, as I'd been instructed to by my contact, a young lass called Theresa Quinn. Ramirez glared but said, 'Go ahead.' He looked a bit tipsy, which wasn't bad for my purposes. I slipped into the chair just as there was a bit of a commotion in the corner. I glanced over, but whoever it was had quickly settled down. I'd been about to speak when a waitress came over. 'Something for you, sir?' she asked saucily, leaning forwards a bit. I ordered, hoping she would leave, as she seemed inclined to stand about and I needed urgently to speak with Ramirez. Instead of moving, she began flirting with us. Rather suspicious on such a crowded night, especially as I'd made it quite clear I wasn't interested. Working for the Fallen, no doubt, and keeping an eye on what they saw as a loose end. I was beginning to consider asking Ramirez to come with me, when a fight broke out in the corner. The waitress bit her lip, and hurried into the back when the brawlers drew knifes and began throwing bottles. I had my chance, and took Ramirez by the arm as he was about to leave. 'Don't go, I need your advice,' I said, in my most commanding tone. He sank down. 'Taggarty sent me,' I said, which was a lie. Reginald Taggarty was a few levels up in the local IndSec smugglers' hierarchy. Ramirez growled, 'Yeah? So what?' I caught his eye. 'Tell me the name of the dock where the next meeting is to be held,' I said quietly. He glared. 'Why do you need to know, pal? You ain't a boss.' 'It's hardly any affair of yours. I'm the BlueSection head, and you'll do as I say, Ramirez.' The fight was starting to get rather bad, and I hissed, 'Now!' Ramirez winced as a bit of chair flew past him. 'Gov, it's in Dock 1081, Mishel's Playfield. Code 67732 BlackField.' I let go of his arm and he sank back in his chair. I could see the waitress coming again out of the corner of my eye. I caught Ramirez's eye, 'And of course, you don't know me.' I hurried to the door, leaving a fair-sized tip behind with my bill. Enough for her to feel kindly, but not enough to be strictly a bribe. On the trail at last. . . and a trip to Mishel's playfield on the morrow.
Environmental Awareness: Standard
It was nearly ten o'clock when I arrived at the wharfs; the time was indicated in the code, unless I'd mistaken it. They appeared to be deserted except for an occasional movement in the shadows, though in fact I knew them to be crawling with villainy. Hardly the time or place one would normally find me, but as duty called, I was indeed in the most dangerous part of the docks at night. Mishel's was along the south side, and it too was deserted. Something seemed odd, though; even at this time of night, a meeting of BlackSection should have been far more visible. Then it occurred to me suddenly that my informant had been rather too weak; by the usual standard of Sector rulings, he should have been dead. A trap, no doubt, and I in the midst of it. With a catch of my breath, I drew my gun silently and held it beneath my coat. I heard something behind me, and turned in time to see a man aiming a gun at my head. I ducked just as he fired, but had the misfortune to miss when I returned the shot. I moved behind a nearby pile of crates, and listened. There was a pattering of footsteps heading down the docks, and I looked around a box. Though I'd not been in time to see his retreat, I'd a feeling the others weren't far behind. I drew back into the shadows and waited until I heard three men pass me in the dim. They vanished a few minutes later, after a whispered conversation that led them south. I slipped into a dim lane, heading in the direction they'd be least likely to suspect, towards the heart of the smugglers' area of the docks. Something didn't fit into the puzzle, quite. . . Then I knew. Ramirez had known the time of the meeting before I'd found his trail, but the location of the high-level meetings were always randomly chosen three days beforehand, never any more or less. There would have been plenty of time to change the location, but leave the time, and set a trap for me on the side. It was both more efficient and less conspicuous than merely removing Ramirez would have been. I knew I could accomplish quite a bit if they were indeed having a meeting, and decided I would make it my business to find out. After a moment of indecision, I made my way to one of the most notorious, and yet quieter, areas of the docks- Robinns Redde.