“A Spectateur,” Nathanson confirmed aboard the ship, “With a spy’s modifications. Definitely one of ours.”
The Skymarshal glowered at the device.
“Are you certain?” she said flatly.
“Dead certain. Military Intelligence orders these beauties by the dozen, modifies them, then sends them back out as needed. We ‘ave one of our own on board I should think.”
Victoria crossed her arms. Military Intelligence knew she was out here, and they knew there was an operation in play, and the Admiral had made it clear they knew to keep their noses out of it. That was the whole point of bringing in a man from Milan, in her original vision of the plan. Even if the Italians knew who the Brits had in Venice, nobody from the Venetian office would be involved in this game, and could honestly claim total ignorance. This had all been arranged. So what in the hell was one of their own doing spying on Quirke?
“Is it possible it’s a mistake?” she wondered aloud, “Somebody at the Venice house just getting too curious and poking their nose where it didn’t belong, perhaps?”
“Maybe,” Nathanson replied, not realizing she was talking to herself, “S’pose the sensible thing to do is ask the man. He talking yet?”
“The good doctor, Ms. Lewis, has asked that he remain sedated for the time being,” Vic said picking a piece of the camera off the table and turning it in her hand, “lest he do further harm to his back.”
Nathanson chuckled, “Jackson did a number on ‘im, eh?”
“That she did, Mr. Nathanson. That she did,” Vic replaced the piece of the camera on the table, and left the workshop. As she made her way forward to the bridge, Victoria mulled this development over, letting the details steep under her focused attention.
It was not impossible that a man in the Venetian house had simply disobeyed orders, or misunderstood them. These things happened. People were people after all, and they made mistakes. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last, that an operation had been endangered by professionals who stopped acting the part for only a moment.
On the other hand, she had already had her suspicions, and she found it hard to reconcile the mounting pile of coincidences. Milan, the Fliege, now this. A part of her wanted to believe it was all normal, this was the outfit’s first operation after all, and no operation went entirely to plan.
No. There were forces at play here. Forces within the British government, and they wanted her to fail.
This man, whether he came from the Venetian house or not, had been given orders to sabotage Quirke’s masquerade. No doubt was left in her mind.
She needed to react. No. No a reaction would mean tipping her hand. Letting on that she had stopped the operative and knew he was a British spy. But then, they would assume that anyway wouldn’t they? He wouldn’t return from his fact-finding mission (if that was all it was, Vic couldn’t be sure until she questioned him) and his superiors would have to assume she had him. True, it might be just as likely the embassy’s security had caught the fellow peeping, but you didn’t get anywhere in Military Intelligence without a readiness to assume the worse. They had to operate under the assumption that she had taken the man, because if they didn’t and they were wrong, they left themselves open later. They would assume he was alive too. He was most dangerous to them alive, so they would have to assume that.
Alive and talking.
Well, she had the first, and in time she could get the second.
Of course, it was doubtful he knew much, if anything, about what he was really doing. Much easier to convince a man in intelligence that it was a vital off the books mission than send an actual double agent. Not that Vic didn’t think there existed a certain number of operatives with questionable allegiances in Military Intelligence, that was to be expected in modern espionage, but those men would be too valuable to send on grunt missions when you could easily con a loyal man and not lose anything should it go pear-shaped.
She could react without tipping her hand. But how? Cancelling the operation?
If the goal of the counter-operation was to sabotage her’s, then she was determined to carry on.
What then? Doubling down perhaps? Maybe a larger target in the Balkans? If her adversary (whomever it was) had enough operational knowledge to burn an agent in Milan, then it was entirely possible there would be unpleasant surprises for her at the intended targets. A new target would be best. Something big, something to enrage the Turkish parliament, something no one would expect.
Before long she found herself stepping onto the bridge. Ms. Burrows looked up from her post and saluted smartly.
“Skymarshal, shall I report to London about the prisoner?” she asked.
“No, Ms. Burrows, there will be no report on the prisoner,” Victoria said quietly, gazing out at the dark clouds the ship was hiding in.
“But…Ma’am, we have to file-”
“No mention of the prisoner, Ms. Burrows,” Victoria turned away from the window, “Send to London that everything is proceeding on schedule. We’re moving to the next phase of the operation.”
Burrows looked concerned, but nodded and said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Good. Forward any response to my quarters. Mister Lal?”
The bearded man snapped to attention.
“You have the con for the evening. Put us on course for Zadar.”
Elizabeth Jackson crept quietly along the narrow passages surrounding the ship’s engine, up a ladder to a series of storerooms and maintenance accesses, finally coming to a small room where she slipped a cylindrical key into a small hole in the wall. The metal panel swung open, and before Beth could even see the D-engine behind it, a string of papers fell out to the floor.
Beth picked up one, then another, then dropped them back to the floor.
They all said roughly the same thing.
Waiting for reply.
Must we take drastic action?
Of course she had been stalling. How could she not. She had planned to not give them Qurike’s dossier until the mission was all but over, blame it on an inability to access the hidden messenger, and hope for the best. After the operative tonight though, it seemed her patron was not in a mood to wait on her.
She started punching keys.
British operative… she wasn’t sure what to say. Captured was the truth, but would it be better to say he’d been killed? They might stop sending people if they were getting their own men killed. Of course it was a fact that people involved in warfare, even the clandestine variety, do die. Quite often in fact. But there was always a type who never quite grasped that fact. Who sent agents on a mission and expected nothing to go wrong, for everyone to live, no muss no fuss. These were the sort who sat around fighting wars long done over a brandy and cigar, bemoaning how they would have served much better than those imbeciles in charge of the whole affair, if only the powers that be would recognize their genius. These were the sort who caved at the first bit of real bloodshed that didn’t go their way. If that was who she was dealing with, then perhaps transmitting their agent’s death would finally stop them.
But no, these weren’t that sort. The type of creature she was dealing with was one that would compromise a British agent in the field. They would have twice if she hadn’t stopped that fellow from poking around Quirke’s room.
If that was them. Had it been?
She finished keying the message
British operative captured attempting to investigate German envoy. You: y/n?
The message came back quickly.
Dossier on replacement envoy. Now.
Elizabeth grit her teeth and looked at her knuckles, bruised from the operative’s jaw. If he was working for them, and if he didn’t know it, then they had made her raise a hand against her own comrades, her own country.
The word “Treason” seemed to burn on the inside of her skull.
You: y/n? She keyed again.
Dossier Lieutenant. Came the response. Now. No more stalling.
She didn’t budge. You: y/n?
She sat, drumming her fingers on the edges of the alcove.
When the response came, she read it far enough to see that it was a threat, not an answer to her question, and she threw the switch to shut the D-engine down.
“No more games,” she growled.
She left the alcove, slamming the panel shut behind her. Then marched to the nearest wall mounted comm.
“Lieutenant Colonel Jackson for the Skymarshal, please,” she said when bridge comms responded.
“The Skymarshal has retired for the evening, Colonel,” replied the comms officer. Beth hung up and went to Vic’s quarters.
There is still time, a quiet voice at the back of her mind whispered, you could send them the dossier and all will probably be forgiven. After all, they sent one operative, they’ll probably send another. What harm can it really do?
She could still see the word, searing behind her eyes.
She knocked again.
If you do this, you will never fly again. That was the deal remember. You play the game and you keep flying. You’re going to be thrown out of the service if you do this.
She knocked a third time.
Victoria opened the door.
“Beth? I thought you were going to get some sleep. Do I have to make it an order again?” Vic yawned.
“Vic,” Beth hesitated, but it was now or never, “We have to talk.”