Previous parts are here
By Marcus L. Rowland
Modesty looked around a small square near Bath cathedral, checked the address Giles had given her again, and eventually walked towards an age-darkened eighteenth-century building sandwiched between a pub and a souvenir shop. She spotted the name "Giles" hand-labelled on one of the bell pushes and rang it.
After thirty seconds or so it was opened by Dawn, who stood back to let her in and said "Hi! He's upstairs in the dining room. Tea, coffee, or something stronger?"
She turned to the stairs and shouted "Coffee!", then in a more normal tone said "it's this way if you'd like to follow me."
"This is a lovely house," said Modesty, looking around the hall. It smelled of polish and beeswax, and the stairs were uncarpeted wood, worn glass-smooth by countless feet, and looked as old as the house. A stained-glass window on the first landing bathed the stairs in reds, blues, and greens.
"It's pretty neat," said Dawn, leading them upstairs. "A few years older than the USA. It was split into apartments after the first world war, but Giles is restoring it. It's bigger than it looks from the front, bits of it are behind the pub."
Modesty wondered at that, judging by the size of the hall she guessed it must have eight or ten bedrooms. It seemed a lot for a bachelor.
The dining room was oak-panelled with a table big enough to seat sixteen. One end of the table held a couple of dozen ancient looking books, two laptop computers, two phones and a clutter of coffee mugs, the other was clear apart from a large-scale map of Bucharest and the surrounding area under a clear plastic overlay, with crystal paper-weights holding down the corners. Giles was peering at the map when they came in, marking something with a red wax crayon. Looking over the map, Modesty could see several red crosses.
"Miss Blaise," said Giles, "delighted to see you again. I'm sorry that you've had to come all the way from London, but I need to stay where I can be reached. Things seem to have gone badly wrong in Bucharest."
"Things?" asked Modesty.
"Killings," said Giles. "Each of the crosses is an attack."
"Six of them?" asked Modesty.
"Ten," said Giles, "some of them are multiple murders."
"What the hell is going on?" asked Modesty.
"How much did Tarrant tell you?"
Modesty didn't pretend to be surprised by the question. After all, she'd called him only two days after he'd contacted Tarrant. "Not very much, really. He told me that you run an organisation that specialises in unusual counter-terrorist operations, psychological profiling, that sort of thing." It was more or less true, just incomplete. "He said you handle the impossible cases, the ones that never come to trial."
"And that's all?" asked Giles, polishing his glasses.
"I could tell he was keeping something back, and he as good as said so. He tried to warn me to have nothing to do with you, and that really isn't a good way to stop me from doing something. So I thought I'd come and see for myself."
Giles seemed to think for a second, then said "Tarrant was right. The prudent thing to do would be to go back to London and forget you ever met me."
"Not without the facts," said Modesty.
"The facts," said Giles. "Hmmm... Very well then..." He put his glasses back on and said "When we had lunch I started to tell you a story."
Modesty searched her memory, and said "About the tribe cursing a vampire?"
"That's the one," said Giles. "I was curious as to whether you'd take me seriously. With your background I thought that you might know about the supernatural. Since that wasn't the case, I didn't pursue the matter."
"And I suppose you're going to tell me it's a true story," said Modesty. "A vampire."
"Vampires are real," said a quiet voice behind her. She looked round to see a short blonde woman carrying a tray with a coffee pot, cups, and cream. "We're just trying to figure out which one it is that's killing those people."
"Miss Blaise," said Giles, "I'd like to introduce you to Buffy Summers."
"Not quite what you were expecting?" asked Buffy, putting the tray on a clear part of the table.
"I hadn't actually got round to that part of the story yet," said Giles.
"Okay," said Buffy. "You want to give her the long boring version, or d'you want me to lay the Cliff's Notes on her?"
"The truth would be nice," said Modesty.
"The truth," said Giles. "Right. If you'd like to follow me, it's probably best if I show you."
Modesty and Buffy followed him back downstairs, and down again to a basement room, an office lit by bright fluorescents. A bored-looking but attractive blonde in a pink suit was typing something into a computer.
"Can you spare a moment?" asked Giles.
"Sure boss," said the typist.
"Miss Blaise," said Giles, "would you have a mirror on you?"
"I think so." Modesty looked in her handbag and pulled out a compact.
"If you'd like to use the mirror to observe Harmony," said Giles, "I think that'll give you all the proof you need."
Modesty opened the compact and looked at the reflected desk. And suddenly her world changed forever. She could see the desk itself, and the computer, but there was no sign of Harmony, no matter how she twisted the mirror.
"Could be an optical illusion," said Buffy, picking up a stapler, "or something like a hologram. Just to show that it isn't..." she lobbed the stapler towards Harmony, fairly hard. Harmony caught it then angrily said "That chipped my nail!" Her face abruptly shifted to an angular heavy-browed mask, with yellow eyes and protruding fangs.
"Sorry," Buffy said insincerely. "You might wanna think happy thoughts for a while, your vamp is showing."
"Oh poot!" said Harmony. She seemed to concentrate for a second, and her face returned to its human form.
"It's all right," said Giles, "we wanted a demonstration. I think that's everything we need."
"Great. Now can I get back to the damn report?"
"Of course. Thank you." He turned back to Modesty. "If you'd like to come back upstairs, I have a feeling that you might like a drink."
"I think you might be right," said Modesty.
The Territorial Army barracks near Regent's Park in London rarely gets much publicity. Most people who drive past don't notice it, those who do generally assume that the troops using it are just another group of amateur soldiers. Most people aren't aware that it's one of the headquarters of a unit once known as the 20th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteer Corps, whose members included Noel Coward, Holman Hunt, and Wilfred Owen. Today it's better known as the 21st Special Air Service Regiment.
At about the same time that Modesty arrived in Bath, a truck with Royal Marine markings stopped outside the barracks, watched by two armed guards, and dropped off a tall blond Marine sergeant in an impeccably pressed uniform. The driver saluted and drove off, and the sergeant pulled out a wad of papers, showed a pass to one of the guards, and entered the barracks.
"Can I help you, Sergeant?" asked the pretty WRAC corporal managing the reception desk. Since she wasn't wearing her cap she didn't salute him.
"Sergeant Willis," said Willie, effortlessly hiding his Cockney accent and covering it with a slight hint of Welsh. "I'm here for the Joint Services Chemical Waste Management Conference."
"Right... just a sec." She leafed through some papers on a clipboard, ticked off the name he'd given, and gave him a red and yellow striped visitor's badge, pointed to one of the corridors leading off from the lobby, and said "Along there to the end then right and up the stairs, you want room 107 on the first floor."
"107, first floor."
"Better hurry, they're starting at eleven."
"Thanks, corporal." He gave her a smile and turned towards the corridor, hoping that he wouldn't run into anyone who knew him. It was a couple of years since he'd last had anything to do with the SAS, and then it had been the Regular Army unit at Hereford. But there were always a few Regulars attached to Territorial units, it wasn't impossible that one of them would be in the barracks. He hoped that his close-cropped hair and the wax he'd injected into the skin of his nose to change its shape would be enough of a disguise. As an added precaution he'd arrived at the last minute, to ensure that he wouldn't have to wait around too publicly. He quickly found the room, showed his badge to a private outside the door, and went in.
There were eighteen other men and three women in the room, sitting on uncomfortable-looking folding seats with fold-down writing trays, arranged to face a table with two seats and a laptop computer. Behind it a screen showed a PowerPoint slide reading "Managing Military Waste." Everyone in the room was a uniformed corporal or sergeant. There were no officers and, Willie was pleased to see, nobody he knew, and nobody in Marine uniform. Tarrant had promised him as much, but there was always a chance that things could have gone wrong. There was one vacant seat, with a clipboard and a sealed envelope labelled "Confidential: Management of Military Waste" leaning against the back rest. Willie took it and moved the pad to the arm rest.
"Any idea what this is about, sarge?" asked the Corporal sitting next to him. His badge identified him as Corporal Briggs, Household Cavalry. Probably in one of their tank units.
"Not the foggiest," said Willie, glancing at his watch. There were a couple of minutes to go. "It says waste management, but I'm damned if I know what that has to do with me. The Captain wasn't very forthcoming."
"What line are you in?"
"EOD," said Briggs, the acronym for bomb disposal. "And you?"
"Diver," said Willie. It was a useful cover that played to his strengths; Marine divers were expected to be good with knives, explosives, and communications equipment, so his expertise wasn't likely to arouse any comments.
"Sod all to do with..." The Corporal stopped and snapped to his feet as a Captain and a Major came into the lecture room. Like the others, Willie stood at attention.
"As you were," said the Major. Everyone settled back into their seats. "Shut the door please." Someone outside closed it, and he continued, "I'm Major Blake, and as you may have gathered, this is not a seminar on waste management. Before I go on, I must warn you that this meeting is classified Top Secret Valkyrie Five. All of you will be given Top Secret Valkyrie Five clearance for the duration of the meeting. You will not discuss anything said here with anyone who does not have Top Secret Valkyrie Five clearance. That includes your commanding officers and other members of your regiments, your mother, your girlfriend, the barmaid at the pub down the road, or anyone present at this meeting who is not granted such clearance on a permanent basis. If you'll open your envelopes you'll find copies of the Official Secrets Act. All of you must sign and return the forms now, before we carry on. You will not take notes during the briefing."
Like the others, Willie signed the form in triplicate and handed it to the Captain, who put them into a leather document wallet and took them out, locking the door behind him.
"Now," said Major Blake, "At the end of this briefing you'll be invited to take temporary secondment to a civilian organisation, where you will be assessed and given some special training. Those of you who qualify will be invited to take a longer period of secondment, probably one or two years. I need to emphasise from the outset that this can be considered a hazardous posting, and that you are at liberty to refuse it. If you do you will lose Top Secret Valkyrie Five clearance, and you will be asked to forget everything that you will be told today. Any questions before we begin?"
One of the Sergeants at the back of the room stood and said "Will secondment affect our seniority, Sir?"
"No," said Blake. "Your time on secondment will be considered to be time on active service."
"Thank you, sir."
"Anyone else?" There was no reply. "Good." He moved to the laptop, pushed in a USB memory stick, and loaded a file called "Valkyrie5". The screen showed the first slide of a new presentation, reading "The Watcher's Council." He looked at his audience and said "I'm here to talk to you about an organisation called the Watcher's Council. It's British-based, international in scope and primarily civilian, but occasionally needs paramilitary assistance. In the past it employed a small operations unit which was essentially a mercenary force, composed mostly of ex-SAS troops. This wasn't an ideal arrangement; there was insufficient oversight of their operations, and at least one instance of a unit going out of control. Unfortunately they chose to do this in Los Angeles, with fully automatic weapons, and made the additional mistake of getting caught. Currently the survivors are serving twenty years to life in various Federal penitentiaries." There was a ripple of uneasy laughter.
"About three years later hostile forces launched a series of attacks on the Watcher's Council, with very high casualties. Some of you may remember the destruction of their London offices at the end of 2002, with nearly thirty killed, which was blamed on Al-Qaeda. Many more were lost in attacks on their offices and personnel around the world. Fortunately some of the Council's more effective field operatives survived, and are currently working to rebuild the organisation. As an interim measure members of an American covert operations unit known as the Initiative supplied military assistance, but this occasionally led to problems with command and control, and left the Initiative over-extended. Two years ago the Americans asked the Watcher's Council to make alternative arrangements. Since then the government has loaned the Council troops and equipment as needed."
"Several of the troops currently assigned to the Council will be completing their secondment over the next few weeks, and will mostly be returning to normal duties. As a result we're supplying replacements. At the request of the Council we're also expanding the unit slightly, mostly by adding more specialists omitted from the original table of organization."
"I'll start by going over the Council's role and structure. I'm fairly sure that all of you will have questions, I'll take them at the end." He pressed a key, and a bullet point appeared on the slide, reading "Monitoring and countering supernatural threats to the human race."
"Bloody hell," muttered Willie. From the murmur that filled the room he wasn't the only one swearing.
There was going to be more of this, but it's already too much the stereotypical "outsiders find out about the supernatural," especially in the first part, so I may move on a bit for the next part.
Comments please before I post to archives - in particular, does the military stuff in the second part, the way the characters react to each other and the jargon used in the briefing, ring more or less true? The Artists Rifles part is straight from Wikipedia - came across it when I was looking up the SAS, decided to use them, then remembered that autopope had been there before me in The Atrocity Archives, a book I thoroughly recommend.