EIGHT In the world of espionage, a solid cover story is the most important defense an operative has at their disposal. James Bond's main cover was a businessman for Universal Exports, a reasonable profession for someone jetting all over the world. George Smiley, when not pulling strings in the shadows, was known to have taught university courses on his beloved German literature as he looked for potential recruits. Real-life spies have posed as everything from students to doctors, engineers to farmhands. It's far easier -and safer- to obtain information when the person doing the inquiry appears as though they belong. Baroness had always found education and writing to be the most useful of cover stories, and it wasn't exactly a lie. She was a university student during her first, short-lived forays into intelligence, and she did, on occasion, still teach, although since RivalCast had expanded to full-time operations that mantle had been mostly passed to her able protege and assistant editor, Miggnor. And of course, her writing work was well-established. Whatever story she said she was covering, she did actually write, which helped tremendously with her credibility. It allowed for reasonable access to the widest range of targets, without having to come up with special reasons. "I'm writing an article about X and was hoping to get some expert input" was usually enough to get her in the door, and if not, she found a little charm went a long way.
SEVEN (Part 1) "Vampy, meeting in ten," Varyar said as he poked his head into her office. "'Kay. I might be a minute." Buried in catalogs and busily scribbling notes, Vampy glanced up at the clock on her wall. It read exactly ten minutes to nine. "Wait, since when do you show up to meetings before 9:08?"
SIX Hax frowned at the stacks of reports laid neatly across his desk and took another sip of his coffee. He'd spent the better part of his morning going back over the copies of case files Mary had given him during their first few meetings, mapping out each symbol and string of numbers from each crime scene. But he'd noticed very little that might provide any answers, and indeed, seemed to be acquiring more questions. In each case, an MP had first received an envelope at their office in Westminster. Each envelope contained a cryptic symbol drawn in thick brown ink on a heavy parchment; at the bottom of the sheet was drawn a series of numbers. Neither the symbol nor the number string on any of the six notes thus delivered matched any of the others. These messages were always delivered on a Friday; Hax had been given the dates, but they had no meaning to him. From there, the MPs had each gone to their country estates to find someone -or ones- had gotten past security and vandalised one of the rooms on the ground floor, excepting the MP representing Salisbury, who instead found his prized rose garden decimated.
FIVE "OHMYGAWDOHMYGAWDOHMYGAWD!!!!!!!!" A weary Baroness popped a couple aspirin and sank deeper into one of the armchairs in Varyar's office, trying to block the sounds of Vampy's excitement spilling over from the break room at the other end of the suite. She was happy for her friends, and really wanted to share their excitement, but the events of the afternoon had stripped her good cheer and replaced it with a cold queasiness in the pit of her stomach.
THREE Killer McCoy was lying in bed, an easy smile spread from ear to ear as he quietly sighed with contentment. He would have to get up soon. He had a weekend's worth of videos to double check once he got into the office, plus the new interns would be starting their work with him later that day. But for the moment, Killer just wanted to feel the warm softness of the sheets, listen to the rain pattering on the window, and meditate on the changes that had taken place in his life over the past twelve months. He watched silently for a while as the diffused daylight slowly seeped through the wood-slatted window blinds of his bedroom, the grey light melding with grey paint like two lovers comfortable in one another's presence. The analogy made him grin even wider.
TWO [in which Baroness gets her own visitor from the past trying to influence her future.] The most beautiful street in all of Cleveland was a tiny alleyway connecting Euclid Avenue with Prospect. Closed to motorized traffic, East 4th was a quarter mile of brick-paved road lined with chic cafes, shops, and venues of entertainment. It was a popular place for film shoots, with its fairy lights dangling above and street musicians peddling their notes on a summer evening. Its vibrant nightlife captured the imaginations of thousands every evening, not to mention attracting tons of business for those who could afford the rent.
ONE [In which RCM finds a new HQ and Hax, after a year in the States, finally makes it home to normality...only to find he's now more embroiled in the spy game than ever] teh_leet_haxor peered out the porthole next to his seat and let out a tiny sigh of contentment. Dipping out from the thick blanket of grey clouds, their altitude was low enough now that he could make out the cars zipping about on the left side - that is, the correct side - of the motorways, a sign that he was in fact finally about to touch down on British soil.
PROLOGUE The relative quiet of the dim parking garage was a jarring contrast to the fight going on outside. Baroness wasn't quite sure whether the buzzing she heard was a result of the fluorescent lights overhead or just her ears trying to adjust. It was disorienting, but she didn't dare lower her weapon even for a second. She saw Bennett enter through the upper level; if they went for a car, they couldn't escape without going past her. Her eyes darted around the space as she quietly moved deeper into the garage, looking for any stairs or access points. As the buzzing started to subside, Baroness also trained her ears to listen for any soft footsteps that might reveal where Bennett had gone. He was a good spy, she had to admit, but he'd gotten sloppy. He'd made some mistakes leading up to this point, so it wasn't unreasonable to hope that he'd clunk around in his expensive dress shoes while she very quietly slipped about in her soft-soled flats.