Covert

A Camelot 2050 Short-Story by David Cartwright

Engine purring, the Lamborghini traced the evening roads of Istanbul. The golden sunlight of the late spring evening cast cool shadows across the city streets between the tall modern buildings, as the luxury sports car wove along the busy roads. Glass and steel shimmered, interspersed with red-tiled rooves and the deep greens of the city parks, all alongside the intricate plaster patterns and rich colours of the scattered Mosque spires. 

Leaving the city and sliding easily through the domestic traffic outside Demirci, the driver opened the throttle under the azure sky as they headed for the Yavuz Sultan Bridge. The evening sun glittered on the water below and the sports car howled in joy at being given its head. Leaving the main roads behind and letting the car settle once more into its dulcet purr, the driver took a road headed for the coast near Iriva as the setting sun finally kissed the horizon behind them.

The soft sound of tyres on asphalt became the harsh crackle of gravel as the car swung off the road and through the wrought iron gates of a walled estate. It joined a short queue of similar luxury vehicles, waiting in the circular drive for the uniformed valets to take the cars for parking. An ornamental marble fountain sent sparkling cascades of water into the air, underlit by shifting colour lamps. A soft breeze stirred the branches of the Turkish oaks and fig trees that lined the drive, but the wind was warm and smelled of spices and seawater

The house at the end of the drive was impressive, but not so sprawling as many of the old manors of Europe. The Ottomans liked to impress, but they didn’t tend to entertain the sheer extravagances of the old European nobility. Three stories of pale cream plaster, south-facing with high ceilings and large, multi-paned windows looked out toward the green lawn and gate. To the east, a short way across the gravel was the garage (joined by a subterranean tunnel for security, according to the building plans) and to the west, close to the manor was a private hammam, or bathhouse. An impressive setup, but not overtly ostentatious.

Mother Superior Bethane Sciarra, Commander in the Holy Templar Order and agent of the Vatican, let the simple thrill of the drive ease out of her, and mentally reviewed the mission dossier in her head. If the rumours were true (and the Vatican Security Council had gone to great lengths to verify them) the Ottoman Intelligence Agency had pulled off a serious coup as far as the wider security community was concerned.

They’d supposedly pulled intel out of Russia.

That vast country had been an intelligence black hole for centuries. Oh agents went in, occasionally a few reports came out, but never much of substance and they soon dried up. None of the agents ever returned. But somehow, if rumour were true, the OIA had a report of significant value and, like any agency worthy of the name, they had done all they could to keep it to themselves. But word had leaked.

Of course they denied it; any mention of it and they clammed up immediately. The Ottomans weren’t an enemy, but they weren’t exactly friends either and, if Bethane had to guess, they were holding the information as future leverage in some high stakes diplomatic discussion. The agency who managed to get a copy for themselves was going to gain some serious kudos in the community, and the VSC intended to be that agency.

The politics aside, Bethane’s mission was to gain access to and copy the data. An in and out job; minimal ‘contact’ (in the sense of out-and-out violence in any case), which is why she was attending a party. The house owner and host for tonight, one Ekrem Macit Kartal, was outwardly known as a developer and successful architect. Unknown to him (hopefully anyway, as far as Bethane was concerned) the Vatican had cracked his cover as an operative and handler for the OIA and the initial recipient of the report she needed. Using an established cover as a representative of an investor company, Bethane would use the cover of the party to gain entry to the house, then infiltrate Ekrem’s office (second floor, north-west corner) and his computer to copy the drive.

Bethane had argued for a simple night-insertion, a stealth op to gain entry, but the Deacons of the VSC, especially Deacon Aurelia, had opted for using the cover of the party. Kartal was celebrating winning a sizeable contract, so instead of just their charge and his immediate staff, the twelve security guards that patrolled the house and grounds would have to watch over Kartal, his three hundred guests and sixty servers, cooks and entertainers. Of course there would be thirty of them instead of just twelve, but the Deacons thought the ratio would allow for an easier operation. That meant a detailed cover story and at least an hour of mindless conversation with other investors.

Not that Bethane didn’t have support of her own. Her operations coordinator had hacked into the house security feeds. Two agents were on station outside the gates (far enough away as to avoid suspicion, but close enough to respond if required) and another two held position just offshore in a dinghy for the same reason. They even had a plant in the security detail for the night. Bethane briefly considered the movies she had seen where a dashing agent would walk into such a situation alone, and shook her head with suppressed mirth.

The car in front of her moved and she pulled up to the valet station.

“VT Control,” she spoke quietly, her implanted throat mic picking up the words and sending them to her operations officer. “Confirm surveillance access, over.”

“Control confirms VT Alpha,” the steady voice of her operational support officer fed back. “Got you on the villa cameras, no problems.”

A young man opened the door for her and, reaching for her clutch purse, she stepped out of the low car’s driver seat. At least she didn’t have to worry about swanning around in some ridiculous cocktail dress. Out of respect for her hosts’ beliefs, she wore a modest but flatteringly cut suit jacket with loose callot pants in copper satin and a full headscarf in patterned marina blue. The headscarf covered her military grade comms unit, but that was disguised as a commercial hands-free earpiece for just such an operation. It also covered her close-cropped hair, which was rather more distinct and Bethane was thankful. She hated wearing wigs on these kind of ops.

Bethane smiled her thanks to the valet and strolled up the steps to the manor door, taking note of the security guards on either side. Pale grey suits, expensive and well cut, couldn’t quite hide the slight bulge of shoulder holsters on each man. She suppressed a grimace. She had known they would be armed, but it didn’t make her feel better about her own lack of weaponry. There was a metal detector discretely framing the door, but the team had anticipated its presence and so she wasn’t carrying anything overtly offensive or that contained more that a small trace of metal. Presenting her clutch to the guard for a cursory inspection she stepped through the detector and waited a moment before the man gave a brief nod and handed it back to her.

“VT Control, this is VT Alpha. I’m in,” she spoke softly and stepped into the main hall, smiling as she accepting a champagne flute from a proffered tray as she passed. The hall was tall, wide and brightly lit, no convenient shadows or heavy curtains to hide behind. The twin staircases up to the second floor were especially open, no concealment opportunities at all there. But that wasn’t the goal right now. Once all the guests had all arrived, they and the servers ought to move out into the gardens where the main party was occurring, and that would be her window.

Bethane swept the hall with her gaze, passed between the curving stairs and out the back of the mansion and into the gardens. The oncoming night was darkening the sky, but the emerging stars had been supplemented by soft strings of lights over the pristine green garden. The hubbub of quiet conversations was backed by a string quartet and grand piano accompaniment, the musicians stationed on a low stage just off to Bethane’s left. Running the length of the lawn, a series of long pavilions housed a bar, buffet and even a small crew of chefs laboured over hot plates searing fish and vegetables, prepared lahmacun or rolled dolma fresh for the guests.

Stepping down into the crowd she addressed her com. “VT Control, this is VT Alpha starting perimeter assessment.”

“Got you, VT Alpha,” the calm voice of her controller came back. “Following you on cams.”

Bethane worked her way around the edge of the assembled guests, trying to get a feel for any potential threats to the mission. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d stumbled across fellow operators with the same objective or, more commonly, the direct opposite intent. She was at the far end of the garden from the house when her earpiece chirruped.

“VT Alpha, we might have a problem.”

“Where?” Bethane kept her voice low as she smiled to a well dressed diplomat who’d raised a glass in her direction.

“Just coming to the top of the back steps now, take a look,” the controller instructed.

Turning her head that way, Bethane had cause to pause in her sweep. The man at the top of the steps was head and shoulders taller than anyone else in attendance. His white hair cascaded down an immaculate charcoal grey suit which bore a coloured flash on the breast.

Bethane recognised him from a dossier she’d read some time ago, one that should have had no bearing on the current mission. Sir Jerome Greyson, Knight of the Round Table and Duke of Oxford, adjusted a crisp white shirt cuff and descended the steps to the grass with all the predatory grace of a tiger.

“What in God’s name is he doing here?” Bethane sighed, expertly maintaining her smile despite her feelings.

“He’s a late addition to the guest list, that’s for sure,” control sounded tense. “Might be here to invest himself? How do you want to proceed, Actual, scrub the mission or go ahead as planned?”

Bethane only hesitated a moment. “We proceed, once this intel gets to their central office we’ll have no chance of laying our hands on it.”

“Then we better do it quickly. As a senior knight there’s a chance he’s aware of your status beyond an officer of the Templar Guard, do not engage him at all.”

“I’ll do my best, control,” Bethane replied uncertainly.

For all her training and experience, the Knight of the Round Table was a genetically enhanced and biomechanically augmented super-soldier (although, beyond his seven-foot plus height and apparent albinism, you’d scarce notice any obvious augmentations). Jerome’s ‘gifts’, built into him by the Cult of Merlin, put her at a distinct disadvantage, and, as was the nature of such covert intelligence, it was likely far from complete. God alone knew what specific abilities the Duke had within reach of a mere whim, whilst hers were largely at her fingertips, a distinct disadvantage from where Bethane sat. No, she’d have to try and avoid all contact if possible; the only way to win this facet of the game was not to play.

Surreptitiously keeping an eye on the Knight, not so difficult given his height, Bethane moved to the farthest end of the immaculate lawn, lifting a fluted glass from a passing server, and joined a knot of guests in casual conversation. Whenever Jerome moved closer, Bethane made some brief excuse and moved to a new group, orbiting the party, keeping as much distance as she could between them.

This dance led Bethane back to the stairs of the patio that backed onto the house but, as she turned to move once more, a smiling man neatly intercepted her.

“Good evening,” Ekrem Kartal smiled pleasantly at her, holding out a hand in greeting. “Welcome to my party, I hope you are finding everything to your liking?”

Bethane immediately adopted her cover persona. Inclining her head with a demure smile of her own, she took the offered hand and his lips brushed the back of her hand lightly. Bethane groaned inwardly. She’d have preferred a firm handshake herself, but the action gave her a little insight as to who she might be dealing with.

“Very much so, Mr Kartal,” she replied brightly, masking her thoughts behind her cover.

“Please, all my investors can call me Ekrem, though I do not know your name?”

“Marchesi, Vittoria Marchesi,” Bethane answered easily. “I’m here representing Toscani Holdings.”

“Ah yes,” Ekrem smiled broadly. “Your investment was most timely. The entire project might have fallen through but for your intervention.”

“We like to think we know a good opportunity when we see one.”

“Well, maybe you can help me convince this gentleman of the benefits of ongoing investment in the development?” he gestured over her shoulder and, as Bethane turned she realised too late that she’d been trapped.

Jerome loomed over her shoulder. His approach had gone completely unnoticed by the Vatican agent.

“Oh, I’m not sure there’s much I could do to sway a Knight of Camelot,” she affected the air of someone totally intimidated by the sheer presence of Jerome, lowered her gaze and tried to present herself as beneath the arrogant noble’s notice. Inwardly she cursed. Maybe Jerome had noticed her avoiding him and she’d sparked his interest herself, perhaps it was an ambush. Either way, she’d just have to play it out.

“I’d rather keep our business between ourselves, Ekrem.” The Knight’s voice was smooth, cool and only slightly aloof. “And why spoil a pleasant evening with business? There are other matters to discuss. Would you excuse us m’lady?”

With barely a glance at her, Jerome dismissed Bethane and she gratefully took the opening to slip quickly up onto the patio and away from the conversation.

“That was a close one,” control whispered in her ear.

“You’re telling me,” Bethane mumbled. “Dio santo, that was close,”

“You know that if I put that in my report, the Deacons will haul you in for a disciplinary,” the quiet voice chided her.

“My cover’s intact, they haven’t made me, yet,” Bethane reassured them in return.

“Not the close call, the blasphemy,” there was smug tone in the reply.

Bethane rolled her eyes. “Let’s just get on with this,” she grimaced.

“Alright, all the guests are in and our embedded agent is on station at the foot of the landing stairs. You’re good to go.”

“Keep an eye on Kartal and Greyson, I want to know where they are at all times.”

Bethane eased her way back into the house and walked quickly across the floor toward the security guard who should be their in-house contact.

“Oderint dum metuant,” Bethane spoke quietly.

The guard glanced around the room, now notably devoid of guests and staff. “Timor potens est motivum,” he answered smoothly and stepped aside.

The call and response phrases offered and accepted, Bethane made her way quietly and quickly up the sweeping stairs and along the landing to the second set, taking her out of sight of the main hall. Creeping across the lush carpet of the darkened corridor, she made her way to the north-west corner and Kartal’s office.

Reaching under her blouse she pulled a connection lead, carefully weighted and calibrated not to set off the metal detector, out from around her waist. Plugging a fine jack into her earpiece, she drew a nondescript security swipe card out of her clutch and fed the micro-usb plug into the magnetic strip.

“Control, ready?” she queried.

“The code scrambler is go, swipe now,” the instruction came back crisply.

Drawing the card through the door reader, Bethane held her breath as the light flickered and then turned green.

Opening the door gently, the Vatican operative moved inside like a shadow, relying solely on the ambient moonlight and the secondary glow from the exterior lighting to guide her way to the desk and its integrated computer. Stowing the card and wrapping the lead around her wrist, Bethane took her ‘Smartphone’ from her clutch. She turned the device on and placed it on the polished glass touchpad surface before activating the computer itself. As the display started to glow, Bethane turned to close the rooms’ curtains lest the light give her intrusion away.

A holo-screen projected and an icon spun as she waited patiently. A small black box appeared in the corner, and lines of code started writing themselves across it.

“How’s it going, control?” Bethane comm’ed. She wasn’t even doing the hack.

Her ‘phone’ was actually a cleverly disguised modem allowing her support agent to work a little computerised magic from the apartment that served as their base of operations back in the city itself.

“Working on the security, shouldn’t take long,” the voice in her ear reassured her calmly.

“What’s the status on Kartal and Jerome?”

“Look out the window,” control replied, a hint of irritation in the voice.

“Come on, control,” Bethane chided.

“Still together, still talking. Moving to the far end of the lawn.”

“Good, now let’s get the data and get out.”

“Working on it.”

Bethane sat and listened for any tell-tale sounds from the corridor outside whilst the screen crawled with code.

“We’re in,” control alerted her. If there were going to be any problems, they would come soon. Anyone working on sensitive or confidential information might have an app set up to tell them when their computer was active, just as a precaution, but Bethane was sure her operative could handle such things.

“No outgoing signals, searching for access restricted files.”

This was the bit Bethane had been dreading. The hack was out of her hands, nothing for her to do but wait. Not that she wasn’t trained for it, but the tension of waiting always made her restless. Moving to the window, she twitched the curtain carefully.

Down below, she quickly picked out Jerome walking with Kartal toward the hammam, away from the party and, apparently, un-regarded by the OIA operative’s domestic security.

Something nagged at her, so she let the curtain drop and went to the westward window to keep track. Kartal was walking stiffly and Jerome was very close to his host. She lost sight of them as they entered the bathhouse.

“Control?” she queried softly.

“Just cracking the codes for these encrypted files, twenty seconds,” control responded.

“Great, I’ve just seen Grayson taking Kartal into the hammam, and I think Kartal was under duress. Are there any cameras in there?”

“A couple, why?”

“Because I want to know what’s going on.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of things right here, VT Alpha,”

“Dammit control, just check the cameras’!” Bethane ordered firmly.

“There’s no-one in there,” control reported.

“Yes there is, I saw them go in,” Bethane urged and then realisation dawned. “Someone else is in the system, they’re covering Jerome’s tracks.”

“Alright just gimme a sec,” the hurried tapping of keys came over the link as Bethane waited,

“Alright, oh Jesus Mary mother of Christ!”

The outburst caught Bethane off guard. “What control, what’s happening?”

“Greyson has Kartal up against the wall, his hand is… in him!”

“What, say again, control?”

“Greyson’s hand is in Kartal’s stomach, there’s blood everywhere! Kartal seems to be talking though.”

“Okay, what’s the status of the hack?” Bethane could hear the tremor in the operative’s voice.

“Erm, I’m past the security, just verifying that the intel is here,”

“Stay on it, I’ll keep an eye out.”

Bethane’s mind raced. Aside from the fact that his actions were completely at odds with Camelot’s values, and given that someone was erasing his presence from the security feed, if Jerome was interrogating Kartal so brutally there could only be one reason for it. He was here for the same intelligence she was. As if summoned by that thought, the knight stepped into view below, wiping his bloodied hand on a towel, and his eyes turned upward to the window. Swearing to herself, Bethane dropped the curtain.

“He’s coming, get the data!”

“Alright, uploading to the device storage now, twenty seconds.”

Moving to the table, the Vatican operative pulled her scarf up over her nose and stood with her hand hovering over the device, ready to cut and run as soon as the transfer was complete. She knew it would be close. If he simply rushed the guard, Jerome would be at the door within that small window of time, so she quickly ran through alternative escape routes.

“Done!” control announced and Bethane snatched up the device and went back to the window just as the door burst inward, dragging much of the reinforced frame with it. The towering Duke of Oxford stood outlined in the faint light of the corridor.

Wrenching the window up, Bethane swung her legs over the sill and kicked off, dropping to the ground where she landed like a paratrooper, ankles together, knees folding and rolling to disperse the impact. Coming swiftly to her feet, she dropped the data storage device into her clutch and dashed towards the front courtyard. There were shouts from the other side of the house and a guard came around the corner toward her, weapon drawn.

Holding her hands defensively in front of her, Bethane drew the wire from her wrist and, as the guard came forward issuing challenges, she stepped smoothly into him. Wrapping the lead around his wrist she took control of the weapon before looping more of the length around his neck. With a complex twist of her body she turned, dragging his gun hand to his neck and spinning them back to back. She flipped the guard over her shoulder to land face down onto the gravel before he even had a chance to react, kicking him in the head to make sure he stayed there.

Jerome came striding around from the front of the house. He’d obviously meant to intercept her but the confrontation with the guard had stalled her for just a moment, now he’d cut off her primary route of escape.

Turning on her heel, Bethane made for the lawn. Confusion was starting to spread through the party guests, and the guards were clearly agitated. They must have discovered Kartal already, which was no surprise. Jerome had been less than subtle.

She was about to make her way down the lawn to the cliff exfil, use the milling party guests as cover, when a cultured voice rang out behind her.

“Stop that woman, she killed Ekrem!”

A half-dozen guards turned toward Jerome’s command, eyes following his pointing finger toward Bethane.

“God dammit,” she hissed and made for the house at a run.

Dashing through the wide open back doors of the villa, she just had time to notice their embedded agent, his neck twisted unnaturally, on the floor before two guards appeared at the front entrance, guns at the ready. Thinking on the fly, she swung toward the servants’ door, shouldering through it and sending a server and their tray crashing back down the steps towards the kitchen.

Rushing down the stairs and leaping over the stricken waiter, she swept through the bustling kitchen as cries of surprise and outrage erupted around her.

She was making for the underground passage to the garage. The kitchen deliveries came in that way, it had all been in the briefing material, and Bethane was truly glad of that. Two security guards appeared at the end of the row Bethane was muscling down, barging cooks and kitchen hands out of her way. The guards’ guns were pointed up at the ceiling so as not to accidentally shoot the staff while they struggled through the white-coated press towards her. Without breaking stride, Bethane caught up a skillet and, dragging a panicking cook out of the way, bludgeoned the first guard insensible and took the gun out of the second man’s hands with the backswing. Grabbing the startled guard’s tie she brought her knee up into his stomach and, as he folded she dragged his head into the steel countertop with a ringing ‘bang!’ and let him fall insensate to the floor.

Hearing angry voices behind her, she turned, barely looking as she threw the skillet over-arm toward her pursuers and dragged a bubbling pan of oil onto the floor.

The oil caught on the gas ring, and flames leapt in the aisle, sending the kitchen staff into a blind rush away from the blaze and back into the house.

Taking the opportunity, Bethane dashed through the door that would lead her to the underpass into the garage, her shoes ringing hollowly on the concrete as she sprinted the length of the underground corridor.

Careening through the double doors at full tilt, she just noticed that a number of the close by lights were out before she registered a slight tug, as her purse was dragged neatly out of her hand. It took her a number of strides to arrest her forward charge and spin to face the thief.

“I’ll take that, thank you,” Jerome sneered from the shadows around the doorway.

Bethane had only a moment to decide; confront a genetically-augmented super-soldier in hand-to-hand combat while other security personnel bore down upon them, or run.

The decision wasn’t a hard one, but it left a sour taste in her mouth as she turned and fled deeper into the lower level of the garage.

Finding her car was easy, and since the valets had left the key fob inside, it was unlocked and the gull-wing door opened smoothly as she slung herself into the driver’s seat.

“Control, I’ve lost the package!” she barked, pressing the ignition button and throwing the car into gear.

“Any chance you can reacquire?” control asked anxiously.

“Not a chance, that bastard Jerome has it!” Bethane snapped back, reversing the car out and dragging the wheel around as she stomped on the accelerator.

“Tell back-up unit one to stand by, I’m going to need cover.”

“Acknowledged.”

Flinging the nimble sports car around the curved ramp, Bethane piled through a group of security who, if they’d planted their feet, might’ve stayed a less disciplined driver. As it was there was no question of Bethane stopping, and the guards dove out of her path rather than be mown down, their guns barking in the night as she raced toward the front gate. The ‘crack!’ of splintering glass from the tiny rear screen signalled a lucky shot, and she twitched the wheel on pure instinct before correcting the slewing car’s course and bouncing out of the gate.

Behind her, the cover team staged a rather well-timed and convenient traffic collision, a box truck and high-sided van leaping out of the darkness and hitting each other just hard enough to incapacitate the vehicles, hindering any chance of pursuit and obstructing the view of the gate cameras, but not so hard as to cause significant injury to the drivers.

“Well done, control. Scrub the security system of all traces. Don’t take any chances, wipe it all and get out. I’m heading home.” She sighed as she sped toward the bridge, the city beyond and the safehouse that was her team’s rendezvous.

A week later, back in the Papal City, Bethane sat outside Deacon Aurelia’s office. Her team had expedited their return, submitted their reports and sat through a lengthy debrief going over the details of their ‘failure’ again and again and then, nothing. The intelligence wing of the Vatican had held them at arm’s length for days, and Bethane had even started wondering what sanctions were being arrayed against them when the call had come to attend the Deacon.

The secretary brought her through and opened the door to the inner office, alerting Aurelia to Bethane’s arrival.

“Come in, Agent Sciarra,” the church superior called brusquely past the young vicar.

Entering the inner office, Bethane stood stiffly, not sure what to expect. “Monsignor,” she greeted Aurelia curtly.

The details of the Deacon’s acknowledgment by the Pope were classified. It wasn’t often a Deacon was awarded the honorific, but Aurelia had been an agent of the Church herself and the title, along with her current assignment, had been her reward for some act of service years ago.

“Sit down, Agent Sciarra,” Aurelia waved vaguely toward a chair. “The details of your report raise a number of questions, and I’ll be damned if I have the answers.” The Deacon fixed Bethane with a hard-eyed glare.

“My report is complete in all aspects,” Bethane ventured, hedging her bets until she could be sure were the interview was going.

“Indeed?” the Deacon grunted. “Your report indicates that, not only is a Knight of Camelot guilty of murdering a non-hostile nation’s intelligence operative, but also that he was engaged in a covert operation of his own to secure the same data you were tasked with obtaining. So, whilst we have your report on the matter, your control agents’ scrub of the site security was so thorough we can’t validate it.”

“That is correct, Monsignor,” Bethane nodded simply.

“The story coming out of Camelot is quite different,” Aurelia stated dangerously, leaning her elbows on the desk and steepling her fingers.

“They say that, officially, whilst Duke Jerome was present, it was simply a matter of personal investment that he was pursuing. That he took no part in the ‘incident’ save to try and capture the assailant, and that they had no knowledge that Ekram Kartal was anything other than an architect and property developer.”

Bethane sat silently as the Deacon’s hard grey eyes bored into her.

“Even unofficially, and I’ve pulled in many favours these past few days to gain this insight, they don’t have any real idea either. They knew about the intelligence, of course, but they had yet to identify the recipient so, how did Jerome know?”

Bethane breathed an inward sigh of relief. The Deacon had been testing her, looking for cracks in her story, luckily Bethane had nothing to hide.

“I have no clues as to what’s going on, Monsignor,” Bethane admitted honestly. “If I had, I’d be following them up right now, but all I have is -”

“-Jerome,” Aurelia finished thoughtfully, “and even a casual surveillance of a senior Knight of the Round Table is a very risky prospect.”

“Exactly,” Bethane replied sullenly.

Taking a deep breath, Deacon Aurelia sat back in her chair, the old leather creaking gently.

“We’ll have to sit on this for now, Agent Sciarra, but rest assured, we have a new task for you, and you might be able to keep tabs on Jerome at the same time.”

“What’s the Op?” Bethane asked eagerly, relieved to be out from under the microscope of Aurelia’s scrutiny.

Aurelia drew a thin folder from her desk drawer and tossed it in front of Bethane.

“There’s a Squire, Rosalyn Taunton-Savant of Essex. We want you to get eyes on her, gauge her character and the like. All the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ are in the briefing packet. The King’s Tournament is in a few days, and you have until then to be prepped and ready.”

“Thank you, Monsignor.” Bethane stood, taking the folder and bowing as she backed toward the door. Turning to leave, the Deacon’s voice called her to a halt.

“And, Agent Sciarra?”

She turned back to her senior. “Yes Deacon?”

“Two dozen ‘Hail Mary’s’ and thirty ‘Our Lord’s’ as penance for your blasphemy on operation.” The older woman’s eyes tightened in a sly smile. “Remember, He watches us always.”

“Yes, Monsignor,” Bethane replied curtly. Control was going to pay for not omitting that little detail.

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