"Sir!" called an eager voice from outside the study. "Intruders, sir!"
Piotr Hamren, who had been sitting down at the desk in his study poring over his maps of Bremen, sighed as he stood up to open the thick oak door to his private study aboard the Custard Pie. Outside stood a tall man in a thick leather coat; one of his colleagues on this mission to Bremen, which was one of the pan-European city states that was in the process of constructing a traction city. In Bremen, construction was still at an early stage, but that was good news to Hamren. This meant that Bremen had less of a head start over the Arkhangelsk, and that Hamren could witness more of Bremen's construction first hand, giving him more information to relay to Great Carn Masgard upon his homecoming to Arkhangelsk.
Of course, due to the technological incompetence of the Arkhangelsk, it was also preferable for Hamren to try and understand the secrets of the construction of traction cities, and to try and force German workers to change sides and help the Arkhangelsk prepare its new city. And, if all else fails, slowing down the progress of rival traction cities would still be considered a success.
"I found these two lurking around the back of our barges, sir!" says Ravn, one of Hamren's men, who marches into the study pushing a man in his late twenties into the moderately sized room with him, their hands held firmly behind their backs by their captors. Another man, Skaet, follows Ravn into the room with a younger man, who Hamren thought might be even younger than him; eighteen or nineteen, maybe twenty. No older.
"When we asked them to explain themselves, they tried to run. There's something odd about them, I'm sure," continued Ravn.
"Who are you, and what business do you have here?" Hamren asked demandingly. He knew that it wouldn't be sensible to run when if they had nothing to hide. Neither of the men looked like anything much; they appeared to be distinctly normal. Too normal, almost. As if they wished to blend in.
"What does it matter to you, anyway?" replied the older man, an arrogant grin plastered across his face.
"Well, you'd have to be up to something to be snooping around our barge," snapped Hamren.
"If we're snooping, then you must have something that you're trying to hide," countered the other man. He was braver than Hamren had expected; willing to fight back against Hamren's accusations and use a quick brain to get himself out of trouble.
"What does it matter who we are, or what are business is?" replied Hamren curtly. "We're the ones making demands. Not you."
"Now, you see, we were only here to find out your business. We've seen a few shifty figures hanging around, and wanted to learn more as to your operations here," said the younger man, who was still full of confidence. "You're not from around here, are you?"
Hamren chose not to answer the young man's question. Instead, he responded with a question of his own.
"Neither are you," he said matter-of-factly. He recognised their accents, and even though he might not have been certain, he had a hunch where they were from. "You're Londoners, aren't you?"
The elder man grinned.
"Aye. We're from London, and we're Londoners through and through."
Hamren rounded on the two men, who pushed back towards the bay window at the back of the study, whilst Hamren's men blocked the door, preventing the Londoners' escape. Hamren also unbuttoned his shirt, making sure that the pistol in his belt was visible to the Londoners.
"There's no rational reason for Londoners to be in Bremen," he said sternly. "Unless they are merchants here on business. And I can guarantee that merchants don't sneak around in the way that you have done."
"We merely got curious, that's all," was the quick reply from the older man.
"Merchants are too self-centred to get that curious. There's no way that you're going to convince me with that excuse." Hamren pulled the pistol from his belt and pointed it at the elder man.
"I want answers, or I'm going to start shooting," demanded Hamren.
Despite the threat, the man grinned arrogantly.
"You wouldn't dare-"
The younger man, who really had been no older than twenty, fell forward slowly, a shocked expression on his face and a bullet hole in his forehead, the blood decorating the window panes that had been behind his head. His elder colleague had lost his confidence, and a pained look spread across his face.
"Ah," was all he could say as he examined the body of his accomplice, not moving due to the gun that was once again aimed at him. "Ah."
"Who are you?" asked Hamren bluntly, not even remotely concerned by the body at his feet.
The man, who now wore a look of panic on his face, looked as though he was trying to get some more mileage out of his various lies and excuses, but eventually sighed and gave in to Hamren.
"My name is Avery Teal," he said quietly, staring at the floor, defeated. "I work for London."
"What do you work with?" demanded Hamren, not moving his weapon an inch.
"I worked with the Engineers."
Hamren raised an eyebrow at this. Maybe this man could be of use to Arkhangelsk. Maybe not actually with the construction of their city (he seemed too loyal to London to be of much use), but he could help Hamren with his work in Bremen.
"Did you work with the engines?" asked Hamren hopefully. He knew that Arkhangelsk were in short supply of men who understood the engines of their traction castles (in the north, Hamren's clan had only one technomancer), and was desperate to return a useful Engineer with him to Great Carn Masgard upon his return.
"No," was Dr Teal's swift reply.
"Any aspect of construction?" asked Hamren, slightly dejected.
"Then what did you do for the Engineers?" asked Hamren again, frustrated.
"I was - and still am - a member of a black ops unit known as the Suppression Office. I doubt you've heard of us. Most of London don't even know of our existence. We work to destroy any technology that opposes the new London. Usually we, er, arrange unfortunate accidents to befall anyone meddling with matters that they shouldn't concern themselves with."
"Like the rediscovery of flight?" asked Hamren, thinking back to the suspicious circumstances in which he had heard rumours of coincidental deaths of all of Europa's pioneering aviators and engineers within a few months of each other.
"Exactly like the rediscovery of flight," replied Dr Teal, permitting himself to give a small, smug smile.
"I suppose that the notorious Lothar Vishniak was a member of your ranks?" said Hamren, remembering the name of the fabled killer who was said to be stalking Europa two summers ago.
Dr Teal was now grinning.
"You catch on quick, don't you?" he laughed. "Yes, Vishniak is one of us."
"I know your type," was Hamren's stern response. "I bet Vishniak never existed. He was just a name given to some secret operative."
"I'll leave that one to your imagination," was Dr Teal's reply.
"Don't push your luck, Londoner," was Hamren's reply, making sure that Dr Teal could see his knuckles whiten as he started to apply pressure to the trigger of the pistol. "I said I wanted answers. So what is the role of this Suppression Office in Bremen?"
"As you might have noticed," said Dr Teal sarcastically. "There's a traction city being built here. The last thing that London needs is another city rivalling it for size or speed. My late colleague Dr Stapleton and I are here to do anything we can to prevent the people of Bremen from completing their new city."
"Are your men just here in Bremen?" asked Hamren nervously. He was beginning to suspect that the Suppression Office was a similar organisation to his own, as he was in one of eight crack teams of Arkhangelsk military officers sent on covert missions to the city states of Europa that were planning to build traction cities, with the insight to either gain information or sabotage construction works. If Dr Teal was here, then maybe officers in other cities had already encountered members of the Suppression Office too?
"No," replied Dr Teal, confirming Hamren's fears. "We have teams in Hamsterdam, Roma, Dortmund and a few other cities."
"Any more specific information?" asked Hamren demadingly, pushing the gun towards Dr Teal's forehead.
"I knew one team well, as I trained both of them before I left London to come here," replied Dr Teal. "The Paris team; two young Doctors named Shallow and Coldharbour. Both of them younger than Stapleton."
"Very well," replied Hamren. "Anything else?"
Dr Teal shook his head slowly. "Sorry, there's nothing else. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like an explanation as to who you are and to why you have held me here and killed my colleague."
"I think the fact that you work for London should answer your concerns over your colleague's death," replied Hamren. "But I shall answer your question. All you need to know is that my name is Piotr Hamren, one of the Carns of the Arkhangelsk."
Hamren had expected Dr Teal to be shocked by this revelation, but if the Londoner had felt any emotion, then he wasn't letting it be visible.
"I am here for the same reason as you, as we in the north also wish to cripple the traction cities. And while I feel as though our agendas are very much the same, I cannot trust a Londoner. And as we cannot trust one another, you are no longer of use to me, now that I have the information that I need."
Hamren took a step towards Dr Teal, who was pinned against the window at the back of the study, pressing the barrel of the gun into Dr Teal's forehead.
"Goodbye, Dr Avery Teal."
I took Dr Teal a couple of seconds to register what was happening.
"What?" he said, his voice rising into a panic. "No! Wait, I-"
Hamren turned and placed the still-smoking gun upon the desk in the centre of the room as Dr Teal's lifeless body joined that of Dr Stapleton on the floor of the study.
"Skaet!" he ordered. "Do something with the bodies, would you? And Ravn! Send word back to the Great Carn let him know of the danger that the Suppression Office might cause. And send word to young Masgard in Paris. Tell him to be wary of two Engineers; young men that go by the names of Shallow and Coldharbour..."