Author Topic: Chapter 15  (Read 9903 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 15
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:01:00 AM »
Chapter 15

A day later, Petra and Nick made their way back to Didi's house. She was driving her own car actually; the plan required that they not use a transport key to get there.

Unfortunately it seemed that Darius was getting nowhere with Colin's interrogation. Petra had been relieved to hear that the man wasn't being tortured. Chuck was still working on tracking down 'the imposter's' magic use, and Andy and Doug were running things at Veil headquarters. Despite the capture of their rival organization's leader, the Veil was still spread pretty thin, so it was just her and Nick here right now.

The only way those fades could have known Petra and Didi would be in an alley in Seattle was if they had been listening in on Petra's plan from the start. And the only way they could have done that was if they had bugged Didi's house, or had a fade in there listening while Petra had explained it. If she was right and they were still monitoring Didi's home, the Veil could use that against them.

Nick had assured her that Didi wasn't home, so Petra parked the car in front of the house and walked up to the front door. Veil agents had already searched the house, so it was unlocked. Petra stepped inside, looking around. "Where do these electrical buffers need to go?"

"One in each corner of the ground floor, and a few more upstairs. I'll show you," Nick said, following the script they'd written together.

As a pretext for returning to Didi's house, they were here installing anti-fade devices in the wiring. It made for a good excuse, given the recent attack. "Are you sure Didi won't be back before we're done? I'd hate to try explaining this to her."

"I'm sure. This shouldn't take more than a half hour, anyway."

Something in his voice caught her attention, and Petra moved back into the kitchen, where he was examining the far corner. "How are you so sure Didi isn't going to be here?"

He paused and looked sideways at her. He seemed to be gauging her determination, and Petra refused to look away. Finally, he sighed. "Yesterday morning, Miss Halstaff checked herself into Timber Creek Tertiary. It's.. a mental health facility a few miles away."

Petra gaped at him. "What? Why would she do such a thing?" Her mind spinning, Petra thought back to the last time she'd seen Didi. Her head injury hadn't been that serious, and she was just resting, or so Petra had thought.

"Well, you did transport her over a hundred miles in an instant, using a magic key she'd never even heard of." Nick sounded apologetic and resigned at the same time. "If that had happened to me, I might think I was a little crazy."

He moved a bit closer. "We have people watching Timber Creek, and we put a person on the staff as a temporary care worker. According to the files he recovered, your friend has a family history of mental illness. Her grandfather on her mother's side suffered dementia for years. Apparently so did his father before him. Some forms of dementia have a genetic link. It's possible your friend feels the same thing is happening to her."

This was terrible! If it hadn't been for Didi, Petra would never have gotten close enough to find out about Darius or the fades. "Then we have to tell her the truth. Let her know she's not crazy!"

"Absolutely not," Nick said flatly. "The secrecy of the Veil is paramount. Besides, even if she does believe you, she's still safer where she is. The fades are after her, and we can keep her safe as long as she stays in Timber Creek. We can't guarantee that, if she goes back to her normal life."

That still didn't make it right. And even if it did, the decision had to be Didi's, not hers or Nick's. "Why didn't you tell me this as soon as it happened?" Petra demanded.

"Because I knew how you'd react. And while we're talking about keeping secrets, why didn't you tell me she was still looking into Darius?" He responded, his voice betraying a little anger now. They were both going way off-script, but the plan had been to stage a fight for whoever was listening, so Petra didn't care.

Nick gestured around the room. "This whole place is evidence," he said bitterly. "After you made that recording in your apartment, we knew that Miss Halstaff wasn't just an innocent bystander. When you were both taken by the Independent Soldiers, I assumed she would stop investigating him, or you would convince her to. After the two of you were attacked a second time, we searched this house and found out she hasn't stopped at all! She's close to discovering the truth about the fades and the Veil. Why didn't you mention that to us?"

Petra grimaced. "This is a family legacy for her, Nick! She won't stop, ever. At least as long as we're investigating Darius together, I can make sure she doesn't find out about the rest! Besides, if Darius won't give me a straight answer about his connection to my family, what other choice do I have? He picked me to run the Veil, but he won't even tell me why!"

"You have to trust that he knows what he's doing," Nick said evenly, "just like the rest of us."

"Well I'm not willing to take it on faith like you are!" Petra bit out. "He may be centuries old, but he's still just a person, and people make mistakes like anyone else. When I take over the Veil, I'll damn sure run it differently than he does!"

She moved towards the door. They were more or less back on script now, so Nick called out. "Petra, we have to finish installing these. Where are you going?"

"I'm sure you can finish on your own. I'm going to the park, to take pictures for my job before my last day at work. If you're smart, you won't follow me!" She closed the door hard, stalked out to the car, and drove off.

-.-

Her anger hadn't all been for show, nor had her frustration. Didi had institutionalized herself? And Nick hadn't stopped it, or even told Petra at first! As she navigated the roads, Petra tried to marshal her thoughts.

On the surface, his reasons made perfect sense. Only a handful of humans outside the Veil knew the truth about the fades, and they had good reasons to keep that secret. Even the humans working for hostile fades like Greed and Rage mostly thought that those two were just enigmatic, computer-using humans. The secrecy of the Veil was instrumental to its survival, but Didi could keep that secret, too! She wouldn't need to be locked up for her own safety if she knew the score!

Petra resolved to go visit her, after this was all over. She might not be allowed to tell Didi the truth, but she could at least keep her company. As far as she knew, Petra's own family history was clear of genetic tendencies towards mental illness. She had no idea what Didi must be going through right now. The worst thing she'd ever experienced was seeing her father's mangled body in that morgue.

She reached the park without incident, and spent the next hour or so taking shots of people, just as she had before all this started. Part of her wished she hadn't looked into that photo of Darius in the first place. It had brought her wonder, sure, but it had also brought pain, fear and enormous pressure! In some ways her life would be much better if she was still just a normal photographer living a normal existence. Didi's might be as well.

The park had no camera coverage except for the traffic lights on the corners. That meant that whoever was surveilling her would have to do it directly. She could see fades clear as day, so it would probably be one of their human servants. Sure enough after not too long, Petra got a text from an unknown number. "It's done," was all it said.

Petra smiled and left the park. She drove her car back home, and then used the key to get to the Vancouver office used by the Veil. Upon arrival, Andy greeted her with a smile. "Score one for simple plans, ma'am."

It hadn't been meant as an insult, despite how she'd phrased it. Petra nodded. "We may be a diplomatic organization, but in a lot of ways we act like a spy agency. Sometimes spies get too into convoluted plans and strategies. I just dangled some bait. What did we end up catching?"

"A human; Canadian by his accent. He's over in one of the interview rooms." Andy led the way down the hall.

"He spoke to you?"

Andy nodded. "I was surprised too. He claims he's a PI named Trevor Angler. Unlike Colin, this guy is more than willing to spill his guts. I've got people checking his ID now, but it's unlikely he lied. He'd have to know we could confirm it pretty quickly."

Trevor seemed quite uneasy in the closed room. He paced back and forth, muttering under his breath. When Andy went in with him, he looked genuinely distressed. "Look, I want to know who you people are! Am I under arrest here?"

That was a good question. The Veil didn't officially exist, so they had no legal authority. Andy took out a badge, though. "I'm SO Helen Marks, with CSIS. No, you're not under arrest, or in much trouble at all. We just need to know why you were conducting surveillance on one of our operatives."

So now Petra was a Canadian Intelligence operative? She smiled. Apparently she'd been promoted in the last few milliseconds.

"She works for you guys? I had no idea." Angler seemed relieved at first, and then concerned again. "Wait, if I stumbled into a CSIS operation and messed it up-"

"You didn't mess anything up, Mr. Angler. We got to you before you could blow her cover. All the same, we do need to know who hired you, and when." Andy made her voice the perfect blend of sternness and professionalism.

Angler hesitated. "Normally I don't talk about my clients with anyone else, but in this case there's nothing to tell. I don't know who hired me, or why. They gave me a burner phone, and used a voice disguiser every time we spoke! I was just paid to follow her around town and take pictures, whenever she wasn't in an area with cameras. I would get a text every time they needed me to go somewhere and keep an eye on her. That's why I went to the park today!"

"How long has this been going on?"

"Just a few weeks now," he insisted.

"Do you often work for anonymous people for no stated reason?" Andy asked, her voice growing hard.

"They paid a lot," Angler said reluctantly. "Work hasn't been great recently, and I needed the money. Besides, I did look into them. I couldn't get a name, or even a company, but I did dig up a bank account number. If I give it to you, will you just let me go?"

Andy glanced at the one-way screen briefly. She extended a card to him. "I doubt your employer will contact you again, but we'll need to examine that burner phone. If you do get another call, contact me immediately at the number on that card." She gave a remarkable impression of someone dealing with a minnow while wanting to deal with a shark. "Now, give me the account number and you'll be free to go."

He assented gratefully, and wrote down the number for them. Andy ordered his equipment examined, and then set him loose. After he was gone, Petra stepped up next to her. "Are you sure your CSIS credentials will stand up to scrutiny, 'Helen'? Nice bluff by the way."

Andy chuckled. "They will, but people almost never call to confirm." She held up the paper. "Let's see who's using this account."

-.-

While they had been busy with their little sting operation, it seemed Chuck had made some progress on his end. He had pinpointed a location outside of Augsburg, Germany, as the probable site Colin had used while running his own organization. Darius organized a raid on it and Petra asked to be brought along, but was denied. She was up to speed on the fades and the politics, but she still didn't have any combat training at all. That would come in time, he assured her, but it was still too dangerous.

Fortunately, she had her own 'mission' of sorts. The person who opened that bank account had been fictional, but the money spent had been very real. In addition to being used to pay that PI, it was also being used to rent a storage space in Oxford, England. Using her own authority, Petra organized her own raid and brought Andy along for security. This was twice today Doug had been left in charge back at Kiri Atoll, and he seemed to be loving it.

Unfortunately, both missions were very brief. Darius and company came back right away, having found no one but recovered a bunch of materials. Including Colin's body cam, thankfully. Similarly there had been no one in the storage compartment, but a lot of pictures and drawings dotted the walls. All high-profile members of the Veil were depicted, including Petra. There were more boxes in there, all filled with pictures of other Veil agents. Andy had looked quite distressed at that- it seemed they'd identified almost all of the Veil's membership! Even worse, the storage space had pathetic security and no camera system, so they couldn't even see who'd rented it.

Some of the pictures had a strange drawing on their backs: three medieval ships sailing in a black circle. Andy didn't recognize it, but it looked old. It had been drawn, not stamped. Whoever did it knew the symbol by heart and had probably done so many, many times.

That would have to wait, though. Darius, Nick, Petra, Andy, and Chuck all gathered together in one of the Kiri Atoll conference rooms to watch the body cam footage from Lisbon. Chuck had been there, but his own camera had been destroyed, and the other three were still missing. This was the only visual record of what had really happened.

There were hours of footage before the incident, when Chuck, Colin and their team had been waiting outside that warehouse in Lisbon. Darius fast-forwarded to the gunfight itself. As Chuck had said, it looked as though the gangs they were observing had turned on each other, and Chuck's team fell back to the rear entrance. Petra could see Chuck and Ortiz running in front of the camera, with the voices from the other two behind them. Then Chuck came to a sudden stop and raised his fist, stopping the others. He turned, as if hearing something faint, and then beckoned at them. "This way!"

The modern day Chuck shook his head. "I don't remember any of this. I know I got out, but that's about it."

In the recording, Chuck led them down an alley across the street, and then hunkered down. A moment later there was the sound of the explosion, and Colin's camera swung over to look at it.

"Good God!" They heard Colin say, surveying the damage. The whole building had been gutted. Flames were issuing from the west side, but massive clouds of smoke were rising from the rest. Even as they watched, the distant sound of sirens began.

"So the others did make it out," Darius murmured, and Nick nodded along with him.

The five of them just stared at the destruction for a moment, before the camera version of Chuck reached out to the rest. "Listen. That bomb.. was meant for us! We were all supposed to be in there when it went off! If I hadn't been warned at the last moment, we would all be dead now."

"I never said that!" Chuck protested. "I just woke up on the ground after the blast. I thought they all died!"

"We have a traitor in the Veil," the recording continued, the image of Chuck looking dead serious. "I've been trying to figure out who it is for weeks now, and they must have gotten wind of it. They know I won't stop, and that you would all back me, so they tried to get rid of us!"

The camera shook briefly, and Petra realized it was Colin. "How many people knew we would be here? A dozen at most?"

"All of them higher-ups at the Veil," camera-Chuck nodded. "For all we know, it could be Nick himself! Or Darius, for that matter!"

That seemed to stun the depicted group, and Colin's camera wavered again. "It can't be."

"And we can't be sure, either," camera-Chuck insisted. "We have to take desperate measures. I'll.. go back to the Veil. I'll claim you all died in the blast. That way you can keep working while I cover for you."

"While we do what?" Ortiz demanded suddenly. "If we do have a traitor in the ranks, we can't find out who it is unless we're there with you!"

"I'll figure out who the traitor is," camera-Chuck assured them, while real Chuck was shaking his head even more intensely. "The five of us here are the only ones we can be absolutely sure of. You four will have to carry on the Veil's mission. If the organization we all swore to follow has been compromised, then you have to replace it!"

"You can't be serious!" Colin's recording objected. "You want us to.. go rogue? Interact with the fades ourselves? Negotiate with them on behalf of humanity?"

"I don't see any other choice here," Ortiz put in. "If he's right and the Veil can't be trusted anymore, then it's our duty to hold the line, as it were."

Camera-Chuck nodded. "Use what you know of the Veil's procedures to stay ahead of them. Colin, use your magic if necessary. Break the Pact if you have to, to keep from getting caught, you hear?"

Real Chuck was staring open-mouthed at the recording. He seemed to be completely at a loss, as did the rest of them.

"How will we keep in contact with you? How will we know when it's safe to come home?"

Camera-Chuck hesitated. "Use Hart's Blood protocol for now. I'll try to stay in regular contact. If you don't hear from me for more than two weeks in a row though.. assume I'm dead, and keep going."

Both groups real and recorded were grasping what had just been said, when the sirens on the recording grew louder, and the voice continued. "Now go! Don't tell me where you're going, just disappear!"

The four of them stood in unison, and ran down the alley. As they moved, a hand reached down from above to the camera, shutting it off.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:10:58 AM by Daen »