Well-Played Fools

Written for eldritchhobbit for her winning Sweet Charity bid.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The Prisoner belongs to A&E, Everyman Films and ITC.

Each morning, Allen arrives at his observation station at precisely 0745. He exchanges pleasantries with his co-worker before settling in for his own watch. He never deviates from his routine - not because he's fond of such rote, but rather the subject of his observations never fails to enact the same exact rituals each morn. Today's no different.

"Control, Number 6 has exited location 1," he reports calmly, just as he has every day for the last seven years, setting his watch as he does. At precisely 0800, Number 6 exits his home, enters his tiny Roadster and drove to the market. At the market, he always chooses enough groceries for the day and several newspapers. At exactly 0915, the man returns to his home. Once inside, he presumably puts his groceries away before once again exiting at 0945. They had not placed any surveillance equipment within his house. Allen doesn't know why but the one time he had queried, he had been told to leave it alone.

Number 6 then briskly walks to the nearby park and takes a morning constitutional. If the local club has a cricket game going on, he observes. He feeds the waterfowl in the lakes. He plays simple games with young children, giving their minders a bit of a break.

To put it bluntly, whoever this Number 6 was, nothing he does in his daily routine exhibits a threat. Allen doesn't know why he's been assigned the mysterious man, nor does he understand the numbered designation. All he knows is that he's required to report on every action of the man, no matter how mundane it seems. He had heard that every movement made by the man was pored over, as if it might somehow reveal the secrets of the world.

At 1700, the night observer comes to relieve him. "Anything new?" he's asked rather ironically. Like Allen, he does not understand why they even bother watching their target. Similarly, he never overtly questions his assignment. None of the team members ever did.

"Same old, same old," Allen replies. Every night it's the same. His fellow asks if anything different had happened, he always replys that nothing had. A few more pleasantries and he leaves to file his report before heading home. After seven years, he can (and sometimes does) write the report in his sleep.

Unbeknownst to all, this was about to change.

****

The day starts out as any other. Number 6 wakes up, performs his morning ablutions and exits his home at 0800. He goes to the market and if he buys less than he normally does, it's unnoticed by his watchers. He takes his time and arrives home at 0915. At 0945, he leaves his home, but rather than walk as was usual, he instead enters to his Roadster. Shocking the observation team, he drives off, merging with traffic and zooming ahead even as they scramble to follow.

"This is Team 1 reporting to base. Number 6 is on the move. Repeat, Number 6 is on the move."

"Acknowledged," comes the calm reply.

Adrenaline surging, Allen directs his driver to join in the chase, keeping in contact with the other teams through high-powered radios. He can scarcely believe that this is happening! Never had Number 6 deviated from his routine in the seven years he had watched him; from the debriefing he had received before getting this assignment, he knew that in the five years prior to that, Number 6 had also never deviated from the routine he had established. What made today so different?

"Subject is approaching Heathrow. Awaiting instructions," Robertson reports from his position in the lead vehicle following Number 6.

"Follow discreetly. Determine the flight number and report back to base," Allen instructs, his own orders blazing in his mind. While he may have first heard them seven years ago, he can remember them as if he had received them yesterday.

i"You are to observe the subject only. Report his movements and with whom he meets or has a conversation. Never let him see you. If it ever looks as if he is leaving the country, follow as discreetly as possible. Determine where he is going and report back to me. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to follow him."/i

At the time, he had smirked. He had figured he would never have to follow those directions because he had, by that time, already read his predecessor's reports and knew that in the five years they had had Number 6 under surveillance, never once had he deviated from his routine. As his teams report back to him that the subject had purchased a ticket to Madrid, he sighs. Time to report back to base.

"Team 2 and 3 will join me back at base. Team 4, return to the subject's house and report on anything that happens," Allen finally orders. As he receives the acknowledgments he can only wonder what had happened to change the status quo.

****

Allen nervously enters the debriefing room. He can't believe that Number 6 had taken a runner on his watch. He gulps as he sees the Director is already in the room. He had only met her once – when she had given him this assignment. He wonders if this is the end of his career, while mentally calculating how much he has in his Barclay's account.

"Agent Smithe," the Director begins, "Please, sit down. Tell me what happened this morning."

Allen sinks into the chair indicated. Taking a deep breath to calm his racing nerves, he takes a moment to gather his thoughts before complying with her orders. "Ma'am, subject departed his home at 0800 as he does each morning and headed to the market. Subject then purchased some foodstuffs before returning to his abode at 0915. He departed his home at 0945 and entered his Roadster before heading to the airport. Given our standing orders to follow the subject as discreetly as possible and determine his destination, Team 2 entered the airport to ascertain his travel plans. They were successful in doing this. After learning Number 6's destination from Team 2, I ordered one team to return to his home in case he opted to return there while the rest of the teams returned to base."

"I see," the Director comments before sighing. "There is nothing more to be done about it then. He obviously played us all for a fool," she says softly. Allen has to strain to even hear that. He wonders what she means, didn't think anyone truly knew why they watched Number 6. He has always assumed it was some remnant of a time long past, an order given, important in its time, never rescinded, but with no meaning. He never thought that anyone in the Section might actually know the reason why four round-the-clock teams watched the mysterious man simply known as Number 6. He watches the Director, sees how deep in thought she is, how she seems unaware of his presence.

"Ma'am?" Allen asks, confused.

The Director remains silent for a moment, hands steepled before her. Seeming to come out of a trance, she peers at Allen, almost as if she can read his thoughts. He shrugs it off.

Sometimes he thinks his imagination ran off without him.

She breaks her gaze by looking down at the file before her. She remains quiet for a moment longer, the silence in the room buzzing like an insect you iknow/i is there but can't find. "Thank you Mr. Smith," she finally says, clearly in dismissal. "If you are needed further, someone will be in touch. Take a few days; when you return, you will get a new assignment."

With that, Allen knows. He knows that he will never have the opportunity to unravel the mystery of Number 6. He suspects that never again will he work with the men and women charged to watch over the mysterious man. It frustrates him on one level, to continually be kept in the dark. On the other hand, he thinks it just might be for his benefit not to know anything for certain when it comes to Number 6. He gives his regards to the Director and heads to the lockers. He acknowledges a few of his team members, rightly guessing that they have all been given the next few days off and are waiting for new assignments.

Getting into his car, he heads home, stopping by the market to pick up some dinner. He thinks he'll go to his sister in Wales. He hasn't been in a while and he should spoil his nieces and nephews. After all, who knows where he'll end with his new assignment?

***

The Director remains lost in thought after Mr. Smithe leaves. She knows that he had so many questions he just ached to have answered and is impressed he managed to curb his tongue. She thinks he'll do well in the field and makes a mental note ensure the disappearance of Number 6 will not impede his career. She remembers well the purges that occurred after he fled the Village, all those years ago. She had barely survived them and had ended up in some less than desirable locales for a while. Her meticulous record keeping of all the dealings with Number 6 saved her. She hadn't risen to the position she now inhabited to be squeamish when it came to a little something like blackmail. It had been a close thing however. She remembers well the way Village came to an end.

***Flashback***

"Evacuate." "Evacuate." "Evacuate." The alarm blared through the Village, causing its inhabitants to flee towards escape routes carefully guarded from Number 6. People fled, running over each other, desperate to be gone before the self-destruct activated. None of us knew for certain what would happen, but all of us had been told to leave at the first sound of that blasted alarm. No one had ever thought it would actually sound. That it had could only mean one thing: once again, Number 6 had managed to foil our plans.

Of all those we had taken, only Number 6 had proven to be impossible to break. When he first came to the Village, we all thought it would be a mere matter of weeks before he told us why he had left Her Majesty's service. Never had an agent of his caliber resigned without providing a reason. And yet, that is exactly what he had done.

Theories for why he had left ranged from the utterly absurd to the more practical. We needed assurance that he had not been compromised, as unlikely as that might seem. But then, none of us had believed he would ever resign and we were proven wrong there. And so, as soon as Number 6 resigned, we sent our agent to transport him to the Village.

From the start, Number 6 refused to be cowed by the situation in which he found himself. It seemed that nothing we did could break him. Drugs, hypnosis, subterfuge, secret plots – nothing fazed him. Finally, the Director authorized the complete brainwashing of Number 6 with instructions to Number 2 to re-educate him and in the process learn why Number 6 had resigned. Sadly, my protests that this would not work were ignored.

And so, we have the current situation. Number 6 defeated the re-programming. Rather than breaking, he broke Number 2, one of our strongest agents. As always, Number 6 refused to conform to our expectations. Is it any wonder we did not want to lose an agent such as he?

Colors swirled, the bright primary shades worn by the Village inhabitants creating a virtual rainbow of color as they fled towards escape. Running, screaming, hoping to get as far from the fallout as possible; I think we all knew at that moment how utterly hopeless it was.

I had told the Director; I argued before the Committee that attempting to reprogram Number 6 was foolish and bound to end in failure. They scoffed at me, told me I had no idea what I was talking about. I had felt like Cassandra, warning of disaster but unheeded.

Now, I wondered how many would remain once it was over. Even as I didn't know the details of what had happened in the bunker, still I knew that Number 6 was lost to us. He had beaten the greatest manipulations the Committee and Director had dreamed up and with his own sanity and honor uncompromised. How many of us could say the same? So very few.

Fall out would be harsh and retribution swift. All of us would do our best to cover our actions, to try and show that we were not responsible for the utter disaster that had just occurred. Blame would be shifted; friends would turn against friends; everyone would scramble, proclaiming their innocence. The perpetrators, the guiding lights behind all of this… this farce would dwindle in the dark, retired gracefully behind the scenes. I knew that some would retain their positions, content to play with others' lives. Others would take an early pension, put out to the farm as it were. But those like me… we were the ones in danger. The only winner in all of this was Number 6. Perhaps the old Number 2.

As I fled, I wondered what would happen to those of us who made it out of the Village. At the same time, a dark and treacherous hope filled me that Number 6 also managed to escape. It would be a shame if after all this he were hoisted on his own petard.

***End Flashback***

"Madam Director," her aide discreetly coughs to gain her attention, bringing her out of the past. She raises her head, her eyes piercing him as she looks at him. "Your next appointment is here," he informs her. The Director nods and gathers the file to her. She refuses to give it to her aide and takes it with her to her office, where she places it on her desk. There is something about the manner in which Number 6 finally left that raises misgivings within her. Suddenly she has a sneaking suspicion that the innumerable little irregularities noted careful in the file were quite deliberate actions on his part. She thinks she will need it as they attempt to discern just what caused Number 6 to take flight now. Until there is closure, she doesn't want it far from her. If she knows anything about him, she knows that Number 6 will have the final word.

He always does.

***

As for the man formerly known as Number 6, he gives a half-smile to the stewardess as she serves him his drink in the first class section of the plane heading towards his destination. He's erased all that he was before buying the ticket – it's why he remained in Britain for so long after his escape from the Village. The only files left are those that belong with the Committee and he's done his best to neutralize that entity. It might have taken him a dozen years, but never again will they capture resigned operatives for interrogation or to delve into their secrets. Some things are better left untouched. The secrets of spies are one of them.

Besides, there is only one important person left who could stop him and he doesn't think she will. He thinks she is as tired of this game as he.

As the plane lifts off, he fingers the brochure he's carried for the last couple of decades. Its an old brochure, crinkling at its corners, but the picture is still bright and the blue sky and water, with the sand and palm trees, beckon him as much now as it did all those years ago when he first glimpsed it in the travel shop. Soon he'll be there and nothing will keep him from enjoying his well-earned retirement. He's seen to that. His half-smile widens at the thought and he sits back in his seat, prepared to enjoy life.

***

Two weeks after Number 6 disappears from Britain, the Director sends a discrete team to case his London home. They report that all items were neatly in their places, with dust just settling on the furniture surfaces. It looks like exactly how one would expect a home to look if the owners were going away for a while. The only anomaly to the situation is a note, neatly printed. It's perused by Forensics and examined by the Cryptologists before it lands on the Director's desk, nearly a month after Number 6 disappeared. Its message is simple and with it, the Director realizes her suspicion is true: she and everyone else on the Committee have been nothing more than well-played fools these last twelve years. She carefully places the note in the file that has sat on the left hand corner of her desk for the last month. A moment later, a large red stamp advertises the file as closed. The Director places it in her out box for her secretary to send to the storage facility. It's over.

Be seeing you.