Chapter Seven

The Getting of the Key – For Queen and Country –Their Head for This – An Inspector Calls – Gateway Protocols – A Spanish Repeat – Collateral Damage – Countermeasures.

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Adjusting her grip fractionally, Cate tried to regulate her breathing. This was going to take time and she knew, from experience, how far she could push herself. Mycroft might decry her previous physical pursuits as dangerous and excessive, but they would stand her in good stead now. Surveying the length of the rail above her head, Cate recognised she wasn't just up here for herself: the thought that Mycroft might have to answer for any miscalculation on her part simply meant there could be no failure. The wood creaked again, suggesting, perhaps that she'd better get a move on. The room below was deathly silent.

Crossing her ankles to reduce sway, Cate hauled herself methodically, hand-over-hand, towards the centre of the room. The finely-polished rail would have been problematic were it not for the fact that it was coated with God only knew how many years of congealed dust. Disgusting beneath her fingers, yet the increased traction was a definite bonus, and, given this little jaunt was more than forty feet of arduous effort, every little helped. Establishing a rhythm, Cate eventually slogged her way to the front curve of the U-shaped bar, but at a price. With her arms trembling and hands cramping, fine beads of moisture pearled her skin: she would need to rest somehow, and soon. The room began to echo with slight whispers.

In his seat several yards from the curve of the bar, Mycroft sat, focused entirely on Cate's efforts. The objectively rational part of his mind knew it should never have come to this, but another part of him had cheered silently for every foot she gained. Half of him wanted to end this, while the other wanted to stand up and applaud. He could see the cost to her, but he could also see she wasn't about to give up. He sighed quietly: it was redundant to berate himself. He had to accept that he'd fallen wildly in love with an adventurous woman who was quite capable of doing whatever she wanted, irrespective of his opinion. He found himself smiling at the thought. A pirate for a brother and a daredevil for a wife. Dear God.

Finally, Cate had reached the far end of the wooden rail and was breathing deeply to try to quieten the protestations of her abused muscles. She could see the central pendulum's details clearly: it was about three feet away from where she was hanging. Too far to reach on one hand, besides, from what she could see, she'd need both hands to disconnect the key from the chain.

Studying the base of the pendulum as it attached to the ceiling, Cate noticed what looked like two square iron handles embedded deeply in the wood. They were invisible from the floor and could only be seen by someone with her vantage point. Cate took another deep breath and let go with her right hand.

This time, a collective gasp was clearly audible. As she hung in the air by her left hand, Cate swivelled around, feeling behind her head for one of the iron handholds. Brushing it with her fingertips, she grabbed on and jerked to ensure it wasn't about to fall out of its socket. As the trembling in her arms increased, she knew she didn't have the luxury of choice any more: her next move had to be sooner rather than later.

Releasing her other hand, she swung this one backwards as well, securing a hold on the second of the metal handles: almost immediately they were slippery with sweat.

There was a general twisting of necks as everyone in the room tried to see how in hell's name she hadn't yet fallen. How was she holding on?

Mycroft managed to preserve his outward composure, but internally, he felt as if he were poised on the brink of a cliff. Even from this distance, he could make out the subtle flickers in her upper arm and shoulder muscles as her body tried to release its burden of stress. Inhaling slowly, he frowned, his jaw tightening. Casting a look across at Kettering, he saw the man smirk and share some muttered comment with Hawker. They clearly expected Cate to fail, not to mention fall.

Now hanging with her back towards the dangling chain, Cate took a huge gulp of air, jacknifing her torso violently upwards, a grunt of serious effort escaping her lungs as she slid one leg over a deep loop of carving. Locking it into place with her other leg, she was at last able to release her grip and rest her arms, as she was now hanging upside down, with her eyes almost level with, and hands within reach of, the dangling links of metal.

The sheer bliss of allowing her arms to hang freely was unimaginable. Though she was upside-down, the sensation of circulation returning to her fingers was both delicious and excruciating. Shaking her wrists, Cate wiped the sweat from her forehead and took a few seconds to restore movement to her shoulders.

Below her, the sound-level had increased significantly. Even upside-down, Cate could see money changing hands. She wondered what odds she was getting. If they were more than 2/1, she'd be offended. Dusting off her hands, Cate prepared for the next objective. Onwards and upwards.

And the next objective was the chain. It looked revoltingly dirty and sticky, encrusted with accumulated years of cigar smoke and grease, but she stretched out and caught it in her fingertips, pulling the thing carefully upwards. It was heavy and rough, but a few seconds work and she was able to feel the key at the end. Unhooking it was an unwieldy exercise as it was also coated with years of muck. Finally hearing the small click as it slipped its fastening, Cate dropped the chain carefully down into place and fumbled the key into the back pocket of her jeans.

There was an immediate and rising swell of laughter and conversation below her now, with a growing number of voices adding to a feeling of success.

All she had to do was get back down without falling. But her arms were very tired and she still had some way to go before this was over.

Watching Cate manoeuvre herself into a hanging position had made his heart thud, but now Mycroft's pulse began to ease. This might be hard work for her, but he had a sense the worse was over. She made everything look relatively painless, and her agile shape managed to fit neatly around the mahogany coils above. The way she arched and curved herself … his heart suddenly chose to thud for an entirely different reason.

Placing her hands back on the iron handles, Cate released her legs and swung them down. As soon as she felt comfortable, she again let go with one of her hands and rotated her body, stretching backwards for the wooden rail she'd so recently given up. Repeating the movement with her other arm, Cate was now hanging freely. Reaching back, she retraced several of her earlier handholds until, looking down between her feet, she observed they were directly above the polished surface of the bar itself. Nearly there.

At the last, and holding herself very still, Cate took a final breath and let go with both hands. Bending her knees, she landed on the bar with a soft thud. Somersaulting neatly forward to the floor, she came to rest with one knee slightly bent, her weary arms outstretched a little for balance. The entire exercise had taken less than five minutes.

The room was once again in silence as she padded over to Mycroft who stood, waiting. Looking into his face, Cate experienced the most wonderful sensation. He wasn't exactly smiling: his expression of understated but unqualified admiration was still one she would like to remember. She repressed the ridiculous grin starting to tug at her lips.

Holding up the key, "You wanted this, darling?" she asked, in a matter-of-fact voice. Wiping her hands on her jeans, Cate could no longer resist the urge. She beamed.

Mycroft said nothing, he just gazed into two jubilant brown eyes.

"I see the cleaning staff have been a little lax," his fingers brushed a streak of dust thoughtfully from her cheek. He had much more to say but the Diogenes was not, on consideration, the most appropriate place for the manner in which he wished to express himself.

Cate wrinkled her nose, still smiling.

Turning to stare at Kettering and Hawker, Mycroft's expression grew altogether cooler. "Gentlemen," he said, his tone less civil than the word normally merited. "There is the small matter of a debt to be settled?"

He turned back to Cate. "Entirely your prerogative, my love," he looked inquiring. "Your charity of choice?"

Still trying to rid her hands of the blackened grime, though about to give it up as a bad job, Cate looked thoughtful.

"I think CAMFED would be best," she said. Turning to face a calamitous Kettering. "It's an organisation devoted to the education of girls in Africa," she added. "So you'll have done something useful for once." Finally giving up on the ingrained muck, Cate allowed Mycroft to help her into her jacket.

"I'll have the car brought around," he said. "I'll take you home." Turning back to the wretched Hawker and Kettering. "Please ensure your continued absence from this Club begins this evening," he was impassive.

White-faced, Kettering looked at Cate as if she had told him he had six-months to live. "Apparently I owe you an apology," he muttered, half-infuriated, half-stupefied, entirely humiliated.

Cate was unimpressed. "No," she said. "You made me think Mycroft was seriously hurt, and no apology covers that," her voice was icy. "Hope we never cross paths again."

Turning away, Cate started to walk out of the room, only to stop when the applause began. Frowning, she looked around to see a massed regiment of grins. There were whistles now, and even some shouts. Her frown turned a little embarrassed.

"You've just shattered a long-established tradition, my sweet," Mycroft tried not to look overtly complacent. "Allow them a little accolade."

"Men are such silly creatures," Cate shook her head.

Taking her grimy fingers in his, her husband smiled benignly. "And yet still you marry us."

"Yes," she grinned at his expression. "Someone has to stop you from acting like lunatics."

Squeezing her hand, Mycroft led her down through the building and out to the waiting Jaguar.

"Home, James."

###

The ride home was quiet and mercifully brief. Entering, Cate realised she still didn't have all the details of what had just happened. Turning to ask, she felt an arm curve around her shoulders, bringing her close in a hurry.

"You are the most amazing … incredible … unbelievably brave … astonishing …" Mycroft's words of praise were delivered in a quietly controlled, almost analytical manner, but interwoven with kisses of increasing enthusiasm. Cate felt her head spin.

"Maddening … amazing …" He pulled her jacket down her arms.

"You already said amazing," Cate didn't know whether to laugh or groan as his kisses became more purposeful and lingering. "Mycroft, I'm filthy; I really need a shower."

"I agree," he kissed her again, leisurely, lifting the cashmere sweater over her head. "You will need assistance with all that grime," he muttered, tracing her jaw line with his lips. "As a long-term representative of Her Majesty's Government, I believe I am empowered to undertake such a perilous mission."

Cate smiled. He wanted to play.

"Are you aware of the dangers?" she whispered, curving into his arms.

"For Queen and Country," he replied. "No danger is too great."

"Have you had the requisite training?" Cate felt her voice weaken as his arms tightened, ensuring her closeness.

"Masses of it," Mycroft groaned softly as he felt her shiver against him. "Fully qualified," his hand cradled the side of her head as he kissed her into turmoil. The t-shirt came away as easily as the rest.

"Are you armed?" Cate breathed.

"Dangerously so," his tone was dry but laughing.

"And you are fully committed to this course of action?' Cate was torn between laughing with him and gasping with the sensation of him. She closed her eyes in pleasure.

"To the death," he muttered, claiming her mouth as laughter turned to flame.

###

The next morning, pouring a second coffee for herself, Cate felt Mycroft's arms slide around her stomach, pulling her back against him.

"I'm fairly certain I could negotiate a substantial fee in camels if I sold you," he said, breathing into her freshly washed hair.

"I doubt local bylaws permit more than one camel per household," she grinned, relaxing into his lean warmth. "Although I'm sure Mrs Compton could do a fine line in ungulate dining for you," she added. "Bactrian Bourguignon; Camel Cassoulet, Dromedary Daal. You'd never have to go out to a restaurant again," she turned in his arms. "Ever."

Mycroft shuddered. "You're safe for a while longer in that case," he rested his face in the crook of her neck. "I love you."

Cate pressed against his shirtfront. "And I am mad about a madman," she grinned into his chest. He tapped her on the head with something light.

Looking up, she saw the postman had been.

"You've got a red one," Mycroft tutted. "Unlike you to get one of these." He sat and opened his paper.

Cate scowled. It wasn't unlike her to get a red bill: she never got a red bill. She freely acknowledged her pathological detestation of being late for anything – and paying her bills was included. As soon as one started to edge its way through the letterbox, she practically ripped it from the postman's grasp in order to go and pay the wretched thing. How on earth did she have an unpaid bill? When had the first one arrived?

A hazy memory surfaced of throwing envelopes into her bag. Dragging the leather satchel onto the table, she rummaged around until her fingers located the small bundle. Damn. There was more than one.

Throwing the pile onto the benchtop, she pulled the band off and spread them out on the counter. And there it was. Mycroft had brought it down with him to Deepdene and she'd entirely forgotten. Oh well; she could pay it right away. Cate thought she'd better check to ensure there were no other lurking horrors.

One other bill due in a couple of days; some wine catalogue and a plain white envelope which looked like university stock. She tore the sealed flap.

"I have to go and pay this thing now or I'll be in a fit of guilt about it all day," she said to Mycroft. "Do you have anything that needs paying? I can do them all at the same …" she stopped. Her voice trailing away.

Mycroft looked up from his paper. Cate was staring down at a sheet of paper in her hand. Her face had paled and she seemed …

Dropping the newspaper, his expression sharpened. "What is it?"

She was still staring at the single page in her fingers, her forehead furrowed in – Mycroft immediately moved to her side. The expression on his wife's face was shock. Why? What had happened?

"Darling?" his fingers stroked the top of her spine. "What is it?"

Looking as if she had witnessed something dreadful, she handed him the single white sheet. He read.

WHORE. I KNOW HOW YOU GOT YOUR NEW JOB. WHORE.

Mycroft felt a coldness settle in his chest. He swallowed acid as he looked into Cate's face. She was dumbstruck. She was beyond the ability to form a cohesive sentence. Mycroft saw she had not reached the point of tears, but that would probably come. A rising scald of anger guttered through him, but he crushed it back: there was no place for it … yet.

"I will find out who sent this," he murmured softly. "And I will have their head for it."

"Why …" Cate shook her head, looking for the right words. "Why would anyone send this to me?" She blinked hard several times, staring blindly down at the granite counter.

Holding the sheet by a corner and picking up the envelope in an identical manner – even though he knew it probably made no difference now – Mycroft went to the pantry and dug out a large, self-sealing plastic bag. Returning, he placed the offensive articles on a shelf out of sight, and wrapped his arms around his wife. He held her tight. Very tight. His breath was warm against her skin.

"It's hate mail, Cate," he chose his words carefully. "It doesn't have to make sense because its sole purpose is to cause pain and distress."

Her face buried in his shoulder, Mycroft's familiar warmth and smell were comforting. On a logical level, she realised his words were quite reasonable and probably true. On an emotional level, she felt assaulted. But there was no point crying about it. Absolutely none. A sob dragged through her. Mycroft's arms closed even tighter as he held on while his wife's reaction took its course.

Their head. Whosever it was. Their bloody head.

###

Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade hadn't seen much of the elder Holmes since his marriage to Professor Adin, although Scotland Yard's interactions with Sherlock gave him more-or-less regular updates. He was surprised, therefore, when Mycroft phoned him, requesting a meeting at his home. Such an arrangement suggested it was both serious and private.

"What's up, Mycroft?" Lestrade took the cup of tea Cate brought him.

Turning to his wife, Mycroft raised an eyebrow.

Shaking her head, Cate sat back and looked bleak.

Passing over a transparent plastic bag containing a single sheet of paper and an opened envelope, Mycroft's expression was unpleasant.

"Someone sent Cate a vile message," he said shortly, nodding at the bag. "I want to know who is responsible and make it impossible for them to do it again."

Taking great care to touch only the top left corner, Lestrade pulled the folded paper out of the plastic. The single line of text was brutal and unambiguous. The Inspector looked displeased and he shook his head in disgust.

"Do you have any idea who could have sent this to you?" he asked. "Anyone who might have a grudge, some reason to want to upset you?"

"Nobody who would do this," Cate waved her hand at the bag. "I honestly cannot imagine anyone I know sending me this … this thing," she shook her head.

"It appears to be the same type of paper used commonly in the photocopiers around the university," Mycroft sniffed. "The writing is laser-printed and undistinguished, but the lettering on the envelope is by hand, and the work of a man."

"How do you know it's a man?" Lestrade recalled Sherlock telling him once that Mycroft was one of the most dangerous people he'd ever meet. By the expression on the man's face, Lestrade reckoned he was about to find out.

"Any student of graphology can identify the six key elements in a writing-hand," Mycroft sounded wearied. "A man wrote the address on the envelope."

"I'm sorry to have to ask this, Cate," Lestrade looked a little uncomfortable. "Are there any men in your past or … present," he looked sympathetically across at Mycroft, "who might want to cause you trouble?"

"There's at least one," Mycroft looked sour. "His name's David Swift and he's a Professor at Cate's university," he took a slow breath. "They used to be lovers."

With a resigned look on her face, Cate leaned across in the sofa to reach Mycroft's hand. He felt tense.

"I really don't think David would do such a thing," she said. "He might argue with me, he might not even like me very much now, but he's never shown any indication of being malicious like this."

"Do you have his contact details, or should I reach him through the university?" Lestrade noted Cate's comments.

"He's got a flat in Islington," she said. "Unless he's moved recently, but I wouldn't know his current number, I'm afraid."

"And is there anyone else at all that you can think of who might resent you, especially in the university," he nodded, "since this certainly seems to be based around a workplace complaint."

Cate shook her head. "Honestly," she said, "I can't think of anyone I know who would do this."

"Inspector," Mycroft leaned forward, his voice quiet. "I have invited your involvement in this because I would like the individual for this act apprehended and dealt with appropriately, however," he said, pausing, "I am well aware that you have many calls on your time, which is why I will be conducting my own investigation."

Lestrade looked thoughtful. "And you're telling me this because ..?"

"Because any act against my wife is an act against me," the simple words held ominous echoes. "And the person responsible for this will shortly discover the dangers inherent in meddling with the British Government, before they are handed over to you. Unless," he added, "you find them first." Mycroft sat back. "In which case I would ask that, as a favour, I am permitted a few minutes conversation with them," he said. "Alone."

Narrowing his eyes, the Inspector looked meditative. It would be counterproductive to hamper the activities of Mycroft's department, not to mention insane to cross the man himself. Plus, whoever got to the culprit first, the police would still end up with a collar. And keeping Mycroft on-side meant possible future favours …

"Deal," he said. "But no violence, or the arrangement's off."

Squeezing Cate's fingers gently between his own. Mycroft Holmes smiled a little smile. "I am not a violent man, Inspector," he said calmly.

Lestrade gave him a seriously knowing look. "But you employ violent men."

Blinking slowly, Mycroft opted for silence.

"That's what I thought," Lestrade looked sour.

Sighing, Mycroft looked frustrated. "I do not expect there to be violence," he said. "I'll make sure my people are aware of your … request."

"Right, then." The Inspector slipped the plastic bag in his pocket. "I'll keep you informed of any progress."

When Greg Lestrade had left, Cate wrapped her arms about Mycroft's middle. "I don't want to hear about any violence in this," she clarified. "It's not worth it."

Mycroft smiled down at her serious expression. "Of course not, my love," he hugged her gently to his chest. His voice was warm, but his eyes were cool and calculating. He'd make a point of ensuring that nobody heard of any violence whatsoever.

###

"And we go to live test now." Elly Ibarra pressed the final key which initiated the user-testing phase of system CATE. It had been a hectic last couple of weeks, but she had triple-checked the final program commands and control hierarchies only this morning, and neither she nor Bobby – nor any of the other, more established, more critical, specialists – could see an obvious flaw. This was not to say such things were absent, but that they were well-hidden and would only be revealed during a live user-test. Which is where they were right now. Swallowing her nervousness, Ibarra checked all the server and subnet indicators. All networked drives were online. All lights were green. Good: at least the system hadn't been roundly rejected by the server – although Elly hadn't imagined for a moment that it would have gone down quite so soon.

The next stage was to begin integration. Bobby had written programs that would essentially mimic, overlay and expand upon current security protocols, so that, at the very least, the system would add to extant safeguards and offer reinforcement to current defensive protocols. Assuming they proceeded to a full system-implementation of CATE, much of the old system would be retired. It was simply too easy to crack.

Nodding across at the young Bobby, whose happy little smile told a story of its own, Elly readied the system for Stage One Testing: The Gateway Test, or, as Bobby called it, the 'Knock Knock Joke'. The joke was that anyone who knocked without first having declared and demonstrated their integrity, would have their application for entry first frozen, then interrogated and finally zapped. If anything were found to be amiss even at this initial stage, alerts would automatically be issued to a variety of security-based services with appropriate responses already dialled-in.

"Ready with SOT 1," Ibarra made the Gateway protocols live.

Turning to her young partner-in-crime, Elly took a deep breath. She had no idea what Bobby had cooked up for the tests; he'd only said it would be a good test. Elly believed him. In Bobby's world, 'good' usually meant 'lethal'.

"SOT 1, test 1," Bobby grinned. Fun time. He sent the first virus through. It was a doozy. Having written it himself, he knew it was a good one.

Eagle-eyed, Elly - and everyone else in the room – watched as CATE first acknowledged, then challenged, then warned, then eviscerated the incoming query. It all happened so fast, several people weren't sure anything had happened at all. Did the system glitch already?

Her heart beating at a eye-watering rate, Elly sucked in a sharp breath and prepared for the next incoming.

"S1T 1, test 1A," Bobby let rip with another virus – this one disguised as an email; almost exactly identical to the hack-probe that started this entire situation.

CATE repeated her protocols: acknowledge; challenge; warn; destroy. Perfect.

"S1T 1, test 1B." Bobby wrinkled his forehead. What would CATE do with this one?

Acknowledge; Challenge; Warn; Isolate; Accept. This one was friendly, disguised as hostile. CATE was looking pretty good.

"S1T 1, test 1C."

Acknowledge; Challenge; Warn … Query … Isolate; Hold. Bobby clapped his hands together. He'd made this look like an incoming from MI6, incidentally carrying a hostile. CATE was asking what she should do with it: destroy or return?

Grinning, Elly selected the respond function, jokingly nicknamed 'Return to sender'. Immediately, CATE set about stripping the incoming program of all identifying denotations and reversing the 'send' protocols. It went galloping back towards MI6's server in an instant.

"Oops." Elly made a face, then shrugged. MI6 would probably never notice they'd just been infiltrated by a fake message.

"S1T 1, test 1D."

Acknowledge; Challenge; Warn; Destroy: Advise; Retaliate.

Bobby's eyes went wide and his grin achieved incandescence.

Mycroft was momentarily at a loss. "What just happened?"

Ibarra swivelled in her seat. "CATE found a hostile, and, after recording the salient features of the incoming attack, destroyed it, sent out a reverse worm to infiltrate the originating server, co-opted and terminated all attack from that particular source." She smiled happily. "CATE just picked its pocket, stole its sweeties and kicked its arse," she said. "Jefe."

Mycroft nodded his approval. "Keep testing," he directed. "I want no flaws, no weaknesses."

###

"Then why not have it right here in London?" Cate was chairing a meeting which was attempting to reconvene senior university staff meant to resolve issues at the Bilbao conference. "We have the resources; we can ensure security, everyone can get here," she pointed out. "So why not here?"

"Is it going to be possible to make the arrangements in time to meet this quarter's results?" Ruth Howells asked. She sounded sceptical. "It's a big ask to get that many Panjandrums together in such a short time."

Cate nodded. She knew exactly what Ruth meant. However, Cate felt she might have an edge. "I think I can do it," she nibbled her lower lip. "A few of those people owe me a little favour," she added.

"Favours?" Ruth was interested. It never hurt to massage the way of things at the highest levels. "Why?" she asked. "Did something happen to you during that dreadful affair?"

Shaking her head and smiling, Cate wrinkled her nose. "I just helped a few people in a difficult spot," she said. "But if I can use any good will they might have …"

Using an internal phone, Cate called her Admin. "Do we still have the Bilbao contact list sent out by the convenors?" she said. "Are there emails or a Jabber ID?"

Apparently, there were all manner of contact details. Excellent.

"Right then," Cate nodded at Ruth. "Please send out an email to all of potential attendees of the Executive enclave that the University of London may be prepared to re-host the Spanish conference right here in London in …" she raised her eyebrows at Ruth. "Two weeks, if everyone is willing to agree to such short notice." Cate had another little think. "And make it clear that we are still calling it the Bilbao Conference," she finished.

Ruth frowned.

"Keeps the Universidad happy; makes us look magnanimous, and we get less resistance," Cate grinned. Clearly Mycroft's strategising was having an effect on her.

Looking less than convinced, Dr Howells nevertheless nodded her acquiescence. "I better get a move on with the details, in that case," she said. "Assuming anyone responds in the positive to your invitation."

Once she was by herself, Cate sighed heavily. Trying to carry on normally, let alone with any real enthusiasm was increasingly hampered by the recurring question of who sent the letter? It must be someone here at the university – everything pointed this way. But who could know her and say such a thing? Shaking her head, Cate frowned before turning to her computer and looking at dates and times and places. If she was actually going to get the conference reconvened, she better have all her ducks in a row.

###

Sherlock was still in his dressing-gown and the floor was strewn with the day's papers. John had pretty much given up trying to maintain any kind of order when he was in one of his moods, so he just sat by the table and focused on updating his blog.

"You can't mention Spain," Sherlock muttered, looking over his shoulder. "Mycroft doesn't want anything to do with Cate being put online."

"I hadn't planned to mention Spain at all," he said calmly. "I was going to write an entry about your unusual cross-indexing techniques," he added, staring balefully at the invisible carpet. "Really, Sherlock. You could make an effort to be a little more methodical in your attempts to wring every last nuance from the papers."

"Ah, John," Sherlock waltzed around the room. "Linear thinking is the death-rattle of the intellect."

There was a distinctive ring of the doorbell. Too long to be a client; to obtrusive to be a stranger, too precise to be a casual acquaintance.

Mycroft.

Throwing himself into his chair, Sherlock steepled his fingers. What did his brother want now, he wondered. There had been no obvious fallout after the Bilbao affair; nothing in the papers, and he had been checking assiduously as the floor attested. Cate was quite recovered. He shrugged. It must be some mundane government issue. Nothing to get excited about, then. He stretched out in the padded leather and closed his eyes.

"Sherlock." Mycroft Holmes looked around the sitting room of 221B with a faint air of amusement. "John," he added, nodding an acknowledgement.

"Mycroft." Sherlock's eyes flickered open. "What do you want this time?"

Taking John's usual chair, Mycroft examined his umbrella.

"Do you remember," he said, "when you were at university and your Physics professor laid a complaint against you of aggravated harassment?"

Sherlock snorted. "Of course," he laughed softly. "An imbecile who deserved to be outed as the imposter he was."

"Scarcely an imposter, Sherlock: the man was simply terrified of you." Mycroft looked faintly reproving.

"Nevertheless," Sherlock assumed an aloof expression. "In any case, what does a defrocked professor of physics have to do with your visit this morning?"

Mycroft looked thoughtful. "Your actions, regardless of rationale, were effective in shaking up the entire university science department."

Sherlock nodded, wondering where this was going.

"You instilled fear and dread in a great many people at the time."

"Collateral damage," Sherlock made a face. "Regrettable, but couldn't be avoided."

Mycroft nodded, understanding. "Want to do it again?"

###

Bobby was very excited. Stage Two Testing was about to start. SOT had gone like a canoe on wet grass, but this next stage was crucial to the actual ongoing operations. He knew Elly was worried about this part, and that all the other program designers didn't think that CATE was going to work.

Ibarra took a very deep breath. Stage Two: Countermeasures. This is where CATE would prove her worth or not. If the system could not effectively deal with a serious threat-incursion, then the work was wasted and she and Bobby would be looking for another job. Readying everything she could possibly prepare, Elly nodded at her programming partner.

"S2T 1, test 1," she announced, her finger hovering over the initiate key.

And everything went crazy. Screens flashing, lights dimming, systems slamming down left and right.

"What the bloody hell have you done, Ibarra?" The Head of IS screamed as he ran between terminals, attempting to locate the problem or problems and shut them down before the entire network was compromised.

Elly was in shock. Not because she had made a mistake, but because she hadn't pressed the initiate key.

This wasn't a problem with CATE, she realised.

It was another attack.