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Rogue Agent: Chapter 5
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.

It had been an eventful day. Killer's engagement announcement had been a wonderful way to start off; his friends had hoped for him for so long, and the joy in his eyes when he'd barged into her office that morning to tell her made her happy. Varyar excitedly coming in to talk about "a very lucrative offer made to RCM," however, ended up having the opposite effect. She had gone into his office earlier that afternoon expecting to see an advertising deal or new product lines for the RivalStore, not a betrayal made up to look like a business opportunity. What was worse was that there was no way for her to explain the real reason why she was against the idea without betraying national secrets.

Lucia had played her hand very, very well.

"I just don't know, V," she said, reaching over to click the door shut as she heard Velvet's squeals of joy joining in the revelry. "We've got a lot of projects going on here at the office, I'm still trying to hire more staff for the web store operations, not to mention the side projects everyone has going on..."

"Baroness..."

"It's just not a great time, is what I'm saying, and I think this job is a lot bigger that you're realizing."

"Of course it is." Varyar lit another cigarette, taking care to keep it just far enough outside the cracked window to keep the smoke from blowing back into the room but just close enough that the gutter overhang shielded it from the rainy night. "But I think you're failing to see what a huge opportunity we have here. Bippy Group is one of the largest private corporations on the planet, with holdings in more industries than I can count. Mr. Bippy alone holds billions of dollars in personal wealth and is famously reclusive. So yes, this job is a big one, and he asked for you specifically. The prestige factor alone would give RCM a huge boost, not to mention the paycheck. Think of all the good we could do with that for our group, how big of a help it would be in getting closer to our goals. Not to mention, Bippy has been a sponsor of Ghost in the Podcast since its inception, back when RivalCast Media was just some fancy words we tossed on a website. Bippy's given us quite a bit to be thankful for over the years, and they're offering a lot of money for us to go interview this Rocha guy, on top of an all-expenses-paid trip to Rio for a week."

He took a long draw from his cigarette, eyeing his business partner as she stared sullenly toward the ceiling. Both were silent for a moment, the only sounds being the rain pattering outside the open window and the faint traces of raucous laughter from the break room, before Varyar said quietly, "Look, Baroness, if this is a confidence thing..."

"It's not," she snapped with an intensity he wasn't expecting. "It's..."

It's because Bippy Industries is a front for clandestine services, she wanted to scream. It's because I wanted a normal life and got tricked into a spy game. It's because my friends are getting pulled into that same game under false pretenses and once they are, I can't protect them. It's because the one person who might be able to understand where I'm coming from is four thousand miles away, and even if he weren't, telling him any of it would be treason. She hiccupped as she thought, It's because I had to make this choice before, and I don't want to lose you, too.

"Hey, hey. No doing that in here."

Baroness was suddenly aware that her vision was blurry and Varyar was staring at her uncomfortably. Quickly, she wiped her tears on the back of her sleeve and drew a deep breath. Her friend sighed.

"Darlin, I don't know what the hell is eating at you these past few weeks, but I can't help if you don't tell me what's going on. And I definitely can't say no to Mr. Bippy without a damn good reason. So out with it."

Her eyes wandered to where Varyar held his cigarette out the window, its wisps of smoke curling upward like an ashen snake before dispersing into the darkness. It was just like so many agents she'd known, twirling about in the ever-shifting winds of political whim before breaking apart and disappearing. She took another deep breath as she turned back to her friend.

Varyar. Sweet, dependable Varyar. Leader of RCM. Eagle Scout. Favorite Marine. Dedicated to service. Rarely asking anything for himself. It was men like Varyar who made Baroness want to be in intelligence in the first place: they had sworn to protect and defend their country and the people in it, and she had sworn to uncover or hide the secrets needed to protect them. As she searched into the pale blue eyes that stared back into hers with a mix of concern and annoyance, Baroness knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would fight, and if necessary die, for her or any one of his team members and not think twice about it. She just prayed it would never come to that.

"I just have a bad feeling about this. I can't really explain more than that. This whole thing just doesn't feel right, like, it doesn't feel...safe."

"Well, shit, if that's what you're worried about, we'll take Killer with us. As head of his own private security firm, we can ask Bippy's people to get us clearance to bring small arms into the country for personal protection." He grinned. "It'll be like having your own bodyguards."

Baroness raised an eyebrow. "We have to take Killer anyway; he's the only other staffer with a valid passport. Also, if you start singing the song from The Bodyguard, I swear to God I'll hit you."

"That's adorable." Varyar slowly pulled himself up from his chair, wincing a little as he straightened his knees. "I'll reply to Lucia now so she can make the arrangements, then go tell lover boy he needs to lock and load, because RCM needs a payday. WE RIDE!"

Noting the Baroness's quiet sigh in response, he continued, "Everything's going to be just fine, Baroness. You'll see. Just enjoy a few days on the beach, work your magic in the interview, and all will be well."

Baroness swallowed hard. The earnestness in Varyar's face was almost too much to bear, and it took every ounce of reserve she had not to physically restrain him from sending the reply.

"I hope so, V. For all our sakes, I truly hope so."

*****

Killer made a mental note to bring a bottle or two of scotch for his office as Vampy and Velvet held him hostage in the break room, barraging him with questions. Had they picked a date? Did they tell Matthew? When could they take Candi dress shopping? What the hell did he mean 'they were planning to elope'? He sighed, lamenting the lack of proper libations as he addressed the ladies' protests.

"Candi didn't want to have a big wedding. We're just going to pick up the license and set an appointment with the justice of the peace."

Velvet stared at him, her expression not unlike that of a shocked and disappointed puppy as her eyes glistened with distress. "But that's sad!" she wailed. "Weddings are supposed to be a celebration of love, and happiness, and being surrounded by all your friends who want to share in that happiness. To deny us that, after all we've watched you go through, it's...it's..."

"It's horseshit," Vampy snapped. She had her arms folded across her chest as she leaned back against the countertop, never breaking her fiery gaze on Killer.

Killer wasn't the type to become easily rattled, but there was something about a pissed-off Vampy Soultaker that was completely unsettling. He took his glasses off, trying to massage back the pressure building in his head. "Like I said, she doesn't want to have a big ceremony if her family won't attend."

"Her family?" Vampy exploded. "Which family won't attend? Lyserg's not gonna skip it. Matthew's certainly not gonna skip it. Some of her cousins are old shooting buddies of yours, I don't think they'd be opposed. Her aunts and uncles adore her and your son, if they couldn't make it I'm sure they'd at least send a gift. The only holdout I'm hearing is Granny, who isn't speaking to her anyway. Besides all that, what about your family?"

"I..." Killer started to protest, but his friend had already launched into a full storm of Southern fury.

"You don't think your mother would be absolutely heartbroken to find out her son excluded her from one of the most important days of his life - marrying the mother of his child, her only grandchild - because you had to defer to a pig-headed, self-righteous old biddy? A biddy who probably doesn't even know why this damn ol' feud even started in the FIRST PLACE?" Vampy glowered a moment, then shook some of her anger off. "Bless her heart," she added quietly.

At that moment, as the theme from Delta Force started playing from his pocket, Killer had never before been so happy to have a conversation interrupted by a phone call. "Sorry, Vampy," he said, "but I gotta take this."

"Is it Candi?"

Killer checked the screen. "Yeah, actually, it i-"

Faster than lightning, Vampy snatched the phone out of his hand and answered it before he could complete the thought. "Candi, it's Vampy. We need to talk about your wedding plans. Now. Specifically, what in the hell d'you mean-"

Velvet's eyes got huge. "Ohhhh my gooooood," she squeaked in disbelief.

Killer tried to grab the phone back, but Vampy side-stepped him, nimbly engaging in a game of keep away as she listened to the device up to her ear. "Uh huh...uh huh...really? So you're not...uh huh...uh huh...I see...well, I think it would be better overall if you did..."

"Give it back," Killer growled.

She glared at him with an intensity that made him take a step back. "When I'm done," she hissed, before returning to her conversation.

Baroness started to come in, pausing in the doorway at the scene before her. "Erm, what's...?"

"Vampy's reading Candi the riot act!" Velvet whispered.

"Vampy hijacked my phone," Killer grumbled.

"Oh...kaaay..." Baroness's face grew more puzzled as she looked between her three friends. "I suppose now is not a good time to tell you to pack a bag, because we're going to Rio?"

Killer let out a long, deflating sigh. "No, no, now would probably not be a good time for that at all..."

"Well, I'm glad we're in agreement." Vampy, still with the phone to her ear, turned around and smiled sweetly at Killer. "I'm gonna put the groom back on the phone now, but I'll see you Friday to start talkin over the details. Congratulations, hun!"

Still grinning, she held the mobile out to Killer. "It's for you."

As he took the phone back, Vampy turned to her partner. "Clear your schedule for Friday afternoon, Velvet. Operation RivalBride has begun."

*****
All the way to the beginning
Crap, what happened last time?
ON WITH THE STORY!
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