Victoria opened the door into the infirmary and walked in, much to the alarm of nurse Lewis and Major Barrington, who seemed to be stepping away from each other very quickly.
“Skymarshal Winthrop!” Lewis squeaked, hastily distancing herself from the major, “I…What can I do for you, ma’am.”
“Just looking for our guest, Ms. Lewis,” said Vic.
“In the back, Skymarshal, with the doctor,” the young girl pointed to the door that led to the operating theater.
“Very good,” she said walking past the two of them. She didn’t intend to mention the kiss that she had interrupted, or the location of Major Barrington’s hands when she’d entered. Instead, she meant to join the ruse, pretending she’d seen nothing. There were rules against this sort of fraternization aboard an airship, but Vic had never felt a great need to enforce them. Royal Airborne Division ships could spend months, sometimes a year, on assignment, and it was common for airmen to get close in that time. There was the official stance yes, but Vic had never met a captain who really believed in it. Of course, that sort of attitude may have been what led to Beth’s problem in Gibraltar, and her eventual blackmailing. Perhaps now more than ever, it was best to take a firm stance, “Major, I’m sure you have duties to attend to down in the hanger.”
“Ma’am?” Barrington asked.
“Dismissed,” Vic said, not unkindly she thought, but both the major and nurse looked a bit crestfallen. She put it out of her mind, unsealed the theater’s door and entering. A tech had rigged the theater’s door on her order, so that it only unlocked from the outside. The ship was too small to have a proper brig, much less one with an infirmary, so the infirmary was forced to double as the brig today. Doctor Catalina de Silva, ship’s surgeon, stood over the table at the center of the room, reapplying bandages over the tiny splints for the spy’s broken fingers.
“Doctor,” Victoria said, announcing her presence.
“Skymarshal,” the doctor replied without looking up. She finished tying off the bandages, wiped her hands on a small cloth, and turned to Victoria, her prosthetic leg whirring as she pivoted, “What can I do for you, Ma’am?”
“I need to speak to the patient,” Vic took a long look at this fellow. The boy (he couldn’t have been more than 20) had curly brown hair and freckles covering his cheeks. A thin scar, barely noticeable really, ran the length of his jaw on the right side. There was a bruise just above it, no doubt where Beth had hit him, and all but three of his fingers were broken.
“I cannot recommend waking him. After a fall like that-” the doctor began but Vic held up her hand.
“I understand doctor, but I have questions that need answering,” Vic paused, looking again at the boy’s face, “Do whatever else you can for him, but there are things I need to know.”
Dr. Silva sighed, mumbled something in Spanish, and limped over to her bag. Vic had inquired about the doctor’s leg to the Admiral, but apparently the incident had happened in Incan Territory, mostly beyond his reach, and what reports there were seemed highly contradictory. All the same, the doctor had been vetted and vouched for, a superb surgeon who had once performed an emergency operation on the Duke of York himself, when the HMS Cumberland had come under fire from pirates.
The Admiral vouched for Beth though, Vic thought to herself as the doctor prepared a syringe. The Admiral had known Beth just as well as her, she’d thought, and if Beth had been a double agent, who was to say more hadn’t slipped through? Perhaps she was being paranoid though.
The doctor returned with the syringe.
“My protest will be officially logged,” she said as she lined up the needle. Victoria was about to respond, but the doctor didn’t hesitate, pumping the clear liquid into the young man’s arm.
It took almost no time for the man to awaken. He groaned through gritted teeth, but said nothing as he came to. His eyes came into focus on Victoria and the doctor standing over him. There was a small clatter as he tested his restraints. Not seriously, but enough to verify that he was shackled to the bed. He settled into a defiant look, staring at Victoria, rightly assuming she was in charge.
“I once saw a swallow that nests in Guildford,” Victoria said, her voice and face as neutral as possible. The boy blinked. His face was still, but his eyes were full of confusion. Vic repeated herself, “I once saw a swallow that nests in Guildford.”
The boy still said nothing.
“For god’s sake boy ‘I once saw a swallow that nests in Guildford!’” Vic snapped at him.
He flinched, and shyly replied, “I once saw a hawk eat a swallow in Weybridge.”
Vic nodded, “Good, we’re getting somewhere.”
“What is this?” the boy was openly confused now.
“Move your toes,” Doctor Silva ordered.
“What?” He asked.
“Move your toes, if you can. The fall was not kind to you but I’m hoping you’ll still walk,” she explained.
The young man did as asked, and wiggled his bare toes.
“Good. Now don’t over exert yourself, and answer this woman’s questions. You’ll be fine,” The doctor retreated back to her bag, rubbing a hand on her leg above the prosthetic. She produced a large bottle of milk white fluid, and poured herself a tin cup full of it.
“What’s your name?” Vic asked. The prisoner shook his head.
“Where am I first. If it please you, Ma’am,” he said.
“You’re aboard my ship. I’m a Skymarshal of the Royal Airborne Division, so I outrank you I’m guessing, and I’m ordering you to tell me who you are and what exactly you thought you were doing,” Vic tried not to raise her voice, but she was growing impatient. It was barely noon, but it had already been a long day. She’d not slept a wink after confining Beth to quarters. She’d made it through the meeting with Vishram well enough, but Vishram was bright and easy to talk to. This promised to be a difficult conversation if the young operative played games with her. “This is a matter of the utmost security, young man, and I expect you to cooperate.”
The MI agent nodded, “James, Ma’am.”
“James. Good. What were you doing outside the embassy James?” Vic crossed her arms, looking down her nose at the young man. She’d learned long ago that men often found her height intimidating, and she made good use of it from time to time.
“Reconnaissance, Ma’am,” James explained, “New German special envoy for the Adriatic summit.”
“Do you often go on unauthorized reconnaissance missions James?” Vic asked, adding just a bit of venom to the word ‘unauthorized.’
James was about to answer, but stopped, pausing for a long moment.
“I heard you, Ma’am,” James said, “If you don’t mind me saying, Ma’am, I’ve seen this production from that side. You want me to violently deny that the mission was unauthorized, because you want me to tell who authorized it. Which means you think my orders were from someone with ill intent. Towards our own, I mean.”
Vic gave the boy a small smile for his quick thinking, “Such clever partners I have for conversation this morning. Quite refreshing. You and my new First Lieutenant would get on I think. Very well then: was it authorized or not?”
“It was authorized, Ma’am,” the boy nodded, “Orders came through straight from London that morning.”
“Orders from whom?” Vic asked.
“You’d have to ask London, Ma’am,” the boy tried to lean forward, which was difficult and painful, but he managed to at least somewhat draw himself up, “I got my orders, I carried out the mission. Nothing seemed untoward, and the orders were all confirmed by MI when we bounced them back.”
“You bounced it back to MI? With a code from London? Not a way-station?” Vic tapped a finger on her chin, thinking.
“Yes, Ma’am. Wanted to be sure, since we’d gotten a message from Milan last month to lay low during the summit,” the boy explained.
“That…is interesting,” said Vic, “Thank you, James.”