"What's happened?" Sofia asked, registering the slightly ashen tinge to Ros' face that concerned her more than someone placing a nuclear bomb in the middle of The Grid.
Sofia had left Ros and Tariq monitoring Harry and Lucas' progress, never having become accustomed to the idea of following them wherever they went and listening to their every word, preferring to lock herself away until things were decided one way or the other.
She had buried herself among the archives deciding to attempt to find something to work with on this case. For some irritating, psychotic Syrian reason, intelligence gathering on this operation from books and written sources had been rather thin on the ground.
From the looks of it however, it had been both a good idea and a bad one to lock herself amongst the dusty shelves. It seemed for the sake of her sanity to have been the best choice, but for her insatiable curiosity it seemed as though her sanity was damned either way.
"Jamal has made another request." Ros replied tightly through gritted teeth,
"For God's sake, when did we become a bloody radio station?" she snapped in return, throwing the thick stack of paper's she had picked out onto her desk, causing the coffee cup still perched on it to shake alarmingly. She growled at it, daring it to fall over before she spat,
"So what the Hell does he want this time? The blood of a hundred virgins or merely our first born children?"
"Neither." She replied in a tone that implied they would be preferable to what he did want.
"What?" Sofia asked, genuinely concerned now,
"Unless we give him the codes by eleven o'clock tomorrow morning, he's going to take several British citizens hostage, and posted images of their torture online."
"Excuse me?" she breathed, horrified by this, "Fucking bastard, we should have killed the arsehole when we had the chance." She said, violently,
"Yes, thank you for that Miss Fletcher, who exactly are we cursing into oblivion?" the Home Secretary asked as he waltzed onto The Grid,
"How did you get in here?" Sofia demanded, rounding on him,
"There is a door in the corner, if you're having trouble with it, I'll be happy to remind you of its presence and function on my way out."
"That sounds wonderful, let's go now before I forget." She replied scathingly, gesturing towards the pods.
"Before that happy moment comes I have a rather more pressing question." Ros broke in smoothly, "Why did you get in here Home Secretary? Wrong turn?"
"You wish Ms Myers." He simpered,
"Yes we all do." Sofia hissed under her breath,
"I want to know what you are doing gallivanting around on your moral, conflicted high horses on this operation. Where is Harry Pearce?"
"Out gallivanting." Ros replied, smoothly, "I can give you a call when he stops."
"No." He replied, bluntly, "You'll have to do Ms Myers. I want an update and I want one now."
"Very well." She replied, stiffly, leading him towards Harry's office with an expression on her face that would have been appropriate had someone just charged her with looking after a hyperactive three year old with leprosy.
"And I just want to be able to get away with murder." Sofia snarled darkly in an undertone as he flounced off after Ros.
"Insufferable git isn't he?" Tariq put in, placing his elbows on the desk and leaning over the computer screen towards her.
"Have all of the Home Secretaries over the years been as bloody intolerable as he is?" she asked,
"No. He's a special case. And he seems to have taken a particular shine to you." He replied with a smirk,
"I'm honoured." She said, grimly, "I swear that man's schizophrenic." She sighed, shaking her head, "One minute he's all sweetness and light chatting away about the Loch Ness Monster, the next he's been possessed by the ghost of Hitler."
Tariq snorted. After the time he had spent with Ros Myers he had not believed it possible to find someone who was less tactful or politically correct than she was. However he may have found someone to give her a run for her money.
"What exactly happened with Jamal?" she asked, quietly, leaning forwards.
Tariq was half-way through retelling the story when the pods hissed and announced the return of Harry and Lucas.
"Right." Harry began, fairly sure that the ridiculous grapevine that had taken root long ago in The Grid would have filled them all in on the latest with Jamal, "We have eighteen hours before this country is hit by one of the worst civilian hostage situations it's seen in years." He told them, deciding there was no point in dressing it up, "Where exactly is Ros?"
"With the Home Secretary."
"In my office?" he demanded, in looking affronted,
"In your office." Sofia confirmed,
"Wonderful..." Harry muttered,
"Home Secretary?" Harry asked as he strode purposefully into his office, "Is there a problem?"
"Yes. This operation you're running." He replied, hotly, "You are wasting the time and taxpayer's money of this organisation chasing up and down the country after a lost deer and it has to stop. There is no evidence to support the idea that this group is a direct threat to national security and so-"
"I'll stop you there if I may Home Secretary." Harry interrupted, flatly, "You will be delighted to know that this group now poses a very real threat to this country."
"In what way?"
"In the way that if we do not give in to their demands by tomorrow morning, they will post images of British citizens being tortured on the internet and hold MI-5 responsible."Harry replied matter-of-factly
"They will what?" he spluttered, taken aback by this revelation.
"Torture. On the internet. Probably won't reflect too well either on us or on you, Home Secretary. Although of course, if you'd prefer, we can cease to, what was it now? Waste' time and the taxpayer's money' on this operation?" he said smoothly,
"Get on with it." He snarled, storming from the office looking as though he was caught between murdering Harry and worshipping him. The result was rather unsettling.
"Right." Harry said, grimly, "Getting on with it. Tell me that in the last hour my fairy godmother has descended upon this building and decided to solve all of our Syrian problems?"
"Not quite." Sofia said, "But I've had a thought."
"God help us all..." Lucas muttered,
"Says the man who thought it would be a good idea to go on a lunch date to the park with his torturer." She scoffed reflexively before continuing smoothly, "Does all of this not seem a touch extreme?"
"They are extremists. Not known for swapping bunnies for kittens." Ros pointed out,
"Not the methods though, the demands." She said, quietly, "Occam's Razor, when you hear hooves, think horses not zebras. If all they really wanted was for the threat to their country in the form of an unidentified warship to be removed, which is fair enough, there are a multitude of easier alternatives than faking records of dead CIA officers, smuggling men on board a classified military operation, probably incapacitating the original crew member, kidnapping two senior MI-5 officers, torturing them and finally posing the terrifying threat to national security that they just have, all for the privilege of obtaining authorisation codes that are damn near impossible for them to get no matter the cost, not to mention then having to feed them back to their man in Syria, probably getting him killed, all to make a boat turn around and point the other way, something a fairly insistent gust of wind could achieve." She said in one breath, giving herself a little shake.
"That's a fair point." Tariq murmured as they all paused to consider this,
"There's paranoid and then there's just plain stupid and that is something I don't think any of us could accuse Hadi Jamal of being unintelligent, crafty bugger..." She said, firmly,
"No." Harry said, quietly, "You sound as though you have a theory." He said, sternly,
"A little more than that." She confessed, quietly,
"Right well, we have until eleven before our nuclear pumpkin explodes, do get on with it." Ros said, delicately,
Sofia took a long breath before beginning, "The Luke Evans file that they used as cover was bothering me. I couldn't find out exactly why, yet, but it did lead me to do a little digging into the person who needed his cover."
She began to fish methodically through the files on her desk, pulling out a large, fuzzy still from what looked like a CCTV camera and a file beside it for them to compare as she continued,
"I found out, after several angry phone calls, an infuriating amount of time on hold and a month's worth of patience, from the MOD that the ship had security camera's on board, 'just in case' and after several more calls and threats and favours, I was given access to them."
"And what? You found Jesus in a window reflection?" Ros said, impatiently, "Spit it out."
"The pictures look as though they were taken in 1902 from the quality of them but it was enough to give me a positive match. You'll love this, this is genius." She said, an impressed smirk stretching across her face despite herself,
"You managed to dress yourself this morning?"
"Good things come to those who wait Ros." She grinned, infuriatingly, "I got a facial match to the original crew member." She said, incredulously, "The man who was replaced and the man who replaced him were one in the same."
"Are you sure?" Lucas asked, shocked,
"Unless he has an identical twin that no-one's known about for thirty-seven years, yes, I'm sure." She replied, sarcastically,
"Why would they bother to do that?" Tariq asked, confused,
"It's perfect." Lucas breathed in response, "It's the last thing anyone would ever think of. Total deniability. No sane person would ever suspect it."
"Cheers Lucas." Sofia cut in, with a look of hurt on her face.
"I'm sensing there's more?" Harry said, looking expectantly at the younger officer,
"So much more." She replied with a satisfied smile. "I started looking into our shy crew member and found out rather a few interesting things about his past. To you and me, his name is Peter Jacobs but that wasn't always the case. He was given a new identity, by the British government no less."
"What?" Ros demanded, echoing the thoughts of her team at this latest nugget of information.
"I have a friend in the police force who agreed to turn a blind eye while I ah, 'flicked through' some of their files. It turns out that Mr. Jacobs used to be Mr. Kazem. He was originally from Syria, where his father hailed from, but travelled over here about twelve years ago with some friends to visit his mother amongst other less savoury activities. They got caught up in a drug trafficking ring in London with it being a case of 'wrong place wrong time'. They were offered a deal, protection and new identities in exchange for their testimony against the drug runners."
She began pulling up several files that, judging by their slightly dog-eared exterior, looked as though they had been well loved in the last twelve years.
"On the surface, the new identities were to 'protect' the witnesses from the repercussions that could follow them giving evidence against some powerful, unpleasant people. The deeper, darker reality was that they had struck a deal to erase the persona of powerful, unpleasant people from their own histories."
She laid out several graphic images on the table before them showing the death and devastation that had swept through a city in response to what was, unmistakeably to all of them, the aftermath of a bomb blast.
"It turns out that the' Brave Little Angels' who testified in court were far from it in reality. They were hard-line Syrian extremists who had gone to some incredible, bloody, lengths in their own country to make people listen to their views. The government offered them a new lease of life here because, quite frankly, what were the lives of a couple of hundred brutally massacred Syrian civilians when it came to having a go at splashing their names across the newspapers here and quashing a ruthless underground drug organisation in London." She said, a bitter edge to her voice, "They got their case-breaking testimony, and the charming little terrorists got to walk away off into the sunset."
"How could this not have shown up in a background check?" Ros breathed, horrified,
"Because technically there was no background to check." Sofia replied, "He's been squeaky clean for the past twelve years, up until this point of course, he has a new identity, the crimes of Cemal Kazem didn't follow the life of Peter Jacobs. I had to sweat blood tears and HTML to get access to those records. They were not made for human consumption..." she pointed out, quietly,
"Alright, so what do we do with this information now-"Ros began but Sofia cut her off,
"I haven't finished yet, there's one final twist in the tail that goes back to my earlier point." She said, softly,
"As if we weren't all dizzy enough already..." Lucas murmured,
"Quite." She said, "I said that Cemal Kazem was a Syrian extremist, but he was definitely not a lover of Assad's regime."
"What are you saying?" Harry murmured,
"I'm saying that it's unlikely that a man who watched his family slaughtered for printing posters calling for a change in the voting laws to suddenly become a supporter of someone like Hadi Jamal who's painted himself out to be Assad's poster boy."
"Leopard's don't change their spots..." Lucas murmured,
"No, they don't, particularly vengeful leopards with rather bloodstained spots." Sofia replied, "I don't think Jamal is entirely focused on supporting the dear Syrian President. Not if this is anything to judge by."
"You think Jamal is a rebel? Accusing Britain of supporting himself?" Tariq clarified, as they all attempted to wrap their head's around this.
"A wolf in a lion's clothing..." Harry muttered,
She closed her eyes as a violent tremor ran through her body. She was still alive. Her heart was beating. Her lungs were expanding and contracting, forcing air into them and oxygen into her bloodstream to be delivered to the muscles that were currently tensed painfully, fuelling the release of adrenaline that flowed through her veins causing her body to shake and twitch violently. She was alive. Every sense, every feeling, every thought that she possessed proved that.
And yet, she knew that she was dead.
She could feel the cold clinging to her as the water levels continued to rise. Her skin felt hot and feverish and a thin film of sweat clung to her suffocating pores. This water that was claimed by so many religions to be pure, to cleanse sins, to clean, to absolve, to fix. And yet here it would break her. Here it would be her undoing. Here it would destroy her.
She knew. She knew that her life was measured in hours. That it was only a matter of time before the swirling torrent around her that continued to inch its way up her body claimed her life. She knew that she could pray to any number of hidden, non-existent deities, that she could promise her soul to the devil and a lifetime of servitude to the Gods and still, still it would not make a bit of difference.
It was a cruel thing. To know one's fate. When she had been younger and her thoughts had been more fanciful, she had gone with friends to visit a fortune teller. She had thought that it would be fun, to know her destiny. To know whether or not she was meant to be swept off her feet by a handsome, rich man and honeymoon with him in Barbados. She wanted to know if she would be powerful and successful. She wanted to know if she would be happy.
It seemed so strange now, that then, when she had gone in pursuit of her future, that she had convinced that whatever she was told would make her happy. Whether it should or not. The fortune teller was a hoax, a cheat, a scam. She would take your money and promise you that you would be happy and then everyone would be. Everyone would have what they wanted. And that was enough. Even the people that did not believe for fortune cookies and horoscopes went looking for meaning in them, found and forced meaning from random, everyday occurrences that didn't actually have a thing to do with the random black text that someone in a factory in China had scrawled onto them.
Fate. Destiny. Her future. All of these things looked, as they probably always had done. To be very bleak indeed. Her life had been leading up to this point, to this moment. She had been living for today; the day she died. And what did she have to show for it?
Who would truly miss her when she was gone? Of course the people on The Grid would, Lucas and Tariq, maybe even Ros. But their hearts were already too hardened by grief and loss of so many other people like her that they could never truly feel the way she would need them to feel in order to have made a difference.
No-one and nothing in this life was contingent upon her. Nothing would feel as though its heart had been ripped out, that its entire world flipped upside down and their being scattered on the floor in front of them, none of the broken, ruined pieces her demise had caused able to create anything worth salvaging.
The small voice leapt, unbidden into her mind. Her brain doing what was only natural for the human head to do, attempt to shield the rest of her from her heart.
Yes, Harry Pearce. He had loved her, she knew that the stupid man probably still did, but he was so damn stupid that it had come to this, to nothing. Another thing of the many endeavours in her life that had ended in a similar fashion.
She had heard that it was typical for people to reflect upon their lives, on the things that they regretted doing and, more potently, the things they regretted not. And the thing she regretted now was Harry. Was not having the courage to tell him how she felt about him, for not forcing him to accept the truth that he refused to allow himself to see.
She closed her eyes. She could not think this way. She could not allow herself to think that way.
He was not coming for her.
He could not come for her.
And if she was honest with herself, with what she stood for, with what 'herself' entailed. She did not want him to.
A/N: A little bit of light plot thickening here because frankly I needed a chapter or so to breathe! Thanks for reading/reviewing!