Authors note: This "short" adventure is not technically part of the actual story, but rather something I came up with off the top of my head lately that ties the actual story in with the previous ones.
SPOILER ALERT: This part includes references to the end of one of my earlier stories: "Turncoat". If you have not read that yet, I strongly recommend reading that before you start this. (I generally recommend reading them in order anyway.)
Prelude: Down the Rabbit Hole
"Are you sure the power is out?" Benji asked, staring with dismay at the server array in front of him. There was no doubt these computers had undergone a lot of refit by someone who either didn't care about order or didn't know better. Or who wanted to secure his job by making sure that no one else could ever find his way through the tangle of cables that connected the different components.
"Yes," Luther's annoyed voice came back over the comm. "But it's not gonna stay that way forever, so I suggest you get on with it and out of there."
"Alright," Benji sighed. He adjusted head torch to maybe have a better view at what he was doing, although he didn't have any illusions that nothing would really help him with that. Then he plunged his arms elbow deep into the chaos, and immediately pulled out his left hand again. "Aouhhhh, shit!" he exclaimed loudly.
"Benji? Are you okay?" Luther asked, worried.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Benji muttered, wiping the blood from his hand onto his shirt. "Just some loose casing."
"Well, what's taking so long then?" Luther replied urgently. "You only have to connect the transmitter to the mainboard."
"Oh, if it's so easy, why don't you come down here and do it yourself?" Benji asked, feeling his way through the cable forest more carefully this time.
Luther ignored the remark. "The main grid just came back on," he said instead. "Ethan says you got half a minute, max."
"Yeah, I've almost got it," Benji muttered. He had never thought he'd have to identify computer components by touch one day.
"The building's back online," Luther said.
Benji identified the right slot and stuck the transmitter onto it. Twice he slipped before it would stick.
"They're booting up the servers," Luther announced. "You got it? Benji?"
Quickly Benji pulled his hands out of the intestines on the computer, just as the fan started whirring. He winced when his hand snagged on the sharp-edged piece of casing again before he had worked it free. "Yeah, I got it," he said through clenched teeth. "Please tell me we have an uplink?"
It took a moment, then Luther sighed. "We got an uplink," he answered. "Now get the hell out of there."
"Bet you, I will," Benji muttered. Taking off the shirt that was part of his disguise as one of the companies own electricians, he wrapped it around his hand that was bleeding profusely. He kept the makeshift bandage in place by pressing it close to his chest, while he picked up his tool-bag with the other hand, dropping in his headlamp as he slung it over his shoulder.
Hastily, he left the room and almost ran down the corridor. The receptionist didn't seem to be suspicious, it took some effort to convince her that he would be fine on his own without an ambulance. He let out a sigh when he was finally through the door and started to walk the few blocks to their safe house.
"So what do we got?" Benji asked, looking at Skye, Luther and Ethan gathered behind a row of laptop screens, finishing off the round with Elaine, who was sitting next to him.
"Greetings from Nolan," Luther replied sourly.
Benji grimaced. "I can't believe we're still dealing with the aftermath of that."
"Well, if you break down a house, you still got to pick up the pieces afterward," Ethan said and shrugged.
Skye chuckled dryly. "Only in this case, the pieces have the annoying tendency to reorganize themselves."
"And?" Benji asked with a slightly tortured tone that was begging for more details.
"Well, apparently Nolan wasn't the only one fond of keeping records," Luther finally explained. "It looks like the guy who's renting this server space was working as a contractor for Nolan in Europe, shuffling money through bank accounts, specifically the Swiss kind. And he's meticulously listed each transaction and stored each communication, probably for his own blackmailing purposes, or as security against Nolan."
Ethan nodded. "Mutually assured destruction."
"Well, the good news is that I have managed to track the mail client and it belongs to one Manuel Schäfer, CEO of Solitaire Sales Solutions," Luther continued.
"Let me guess," Benji put in. "They're in the online marketing management business."
"No, they're setting up online sales platforms, officially at least. But their main affiliate for marketing is Kennedy Ltd.," Luther explained. "The thing is that as far as I can see the stuff we just got is mostly direct correspondence between them and Nolan."
"Which doesn't help us much since we already took him out," Skye finished dryly.
Ethan nodded. "What we need is something on their specific customers, preferably tying them together so we can pick them up in one big sweep."
"I'm getting to that," Luther replied with underlying annoyance. "The thing is Solitaire is under investigation for tax fraud, and all their board members are currently conveniently untraceable. Except for one Noah Thomas, who's doing time in Germany for unrelated charges. Also, there are some reports that Schäfer himself might have been seen in Oslo, but they're all unsubstantiated."
"So if we get to Thomas, he might give us the information we want," Ethan summed up.
"Or at least Schäfer's location," Luther put in more carefully. "That gives us a pretty tight schedule though. His case is going back to court after the holidays, and there seems to be a good chance that will get him out of jail."
"And then he'll just vanish like the others," Skye scoffed.
Benji grinned. "So we're going to Europe?"
"No you're not," Elaine interrupted him. She had been only half listening to the conversation while picking small shards of plastic and metal out of the gash in his hand. "You're going back home."
"But can't you just patch it up?" the techie asked miserably.
Elaine sighed. "Contrary to what you guys seem to think sometimes, I'm not a trained medical professional, much less a doctor," she elaborated dryly. "You need a surgeon, preferably a specialist. There's a ton of nerves and muscles in that hand and if either of those gets damaged you could permanently lose control of one or several of your fingers. So, no, I'm not just going to patch it up."
"Alright," Benji gave up, cringing.
"Cheer up," Luther put in. "Someone has to go through all this," he said, indicating the computer.
"And we'll need official profiles to get into that prison," Ethan added.
"Speaking of which," Skye asked. "Who's going in there?"
"Well, it's a male only prison, that makes the choice pretty simple," Luther put in.
The front desk guard at JVA Kronach looked up with an almost bored expression when the door opened. It was late, his shift almost over, and he was one of the lucky ones who would have time off over Christmas, so this was effectively his last shift for this year.
"What you got there?" he greeted the officer who had come in, half shoving, half dragging a handcuffed prisoner. The two could not be more different. The policeman was tall and bulky, easily filling out the padded black leather jacket he wore over a green sweater from which a crumpled beige shirt collar protruded around the neck. His green cap sat slightly askew on an almost bald red-faced head with a blond moustache.
His charge was a small, athletic man with black hair and an almost smug grin. The officer was holding him tightly around the arm with both leather-gloved hands, and he was resisting just enough to keep the man annoyed.
"Daniel Ludwig. Possession and use of restricted substances," the policeman said, while the desk guard called for his colleagues. "Spent the last 24 hours sobering up in a hospital, but now he's clean he's not loony enough and the psychiatry won't keep him anymore, so now he's your problem."
"Well, happy holidays," the desk guard muttered and started filling out the paperwork.
When Skye woke up it was dark outside. That wasn't so unusual, considering it was late December and she was in Norway. It felt a bit weird to her since she had spent the last few days in Madagascar, where it was summer right now, but she also instinctively knew it was not yet morning.
She groped for her watch in the dark, which showed it was close to 4 am. The time difference between Antananarivo and Oslo was only two hours, but apparently, it was enough to give her a jet-lag. With a sigh, she replaced the watch on the nightstand and turned around, when she heard a sound.
With a start, Skye was wide awake. Quickly she slipped out of bed and into the living room, where she stopped to listen. The sound was coming from the other bedroom, and the closer she came, the more it sounded like muffled shouting.
Carefully she opened the door. Inside it was dark, but a street lamp outside the window bathed the room in a yellowish sheen and since she hadn't switched on any lights, her eyes were still used to the relative darkness.
Swiftly she stepped into the room and quickly established that there were no intruders. The cries were coming from Elaine, who was tossing about on the bed. She had obviously managed to tie her blanket into a knot in her sleep, with her in the middle. Her legs were wrapped up tightly, her left arm wasn't even visible under the tightly wound fabric, and only her right arm protruded besides her head, but was also hopelessly tangled up, and anything she did only serve to make things worse.
"Elaine?" Skye called softly but elicited no reaction. She stepped closer and called again more loudly, but only when she managed to catch Elaine's one protruding arm, the other woman stopped thrashing around and her eyes snapped open.
Once she saw Skye, Elaine's expression changed from a frightened grimace to a look of utter horror. Holt could feel her physically shrink away, and even in the half-light of the dark room, she could see her eyes were wide with fear and her pupils so large they almost entirely covered up the irises. Her breathing was rapid, verging on hyperventilation and carried a low, whimpering sound, too silent for Skye to make out actual words.
Holt felt a shiver run down her spine, but she forced herself to stay calm. "Hey, it's me, Skye," she said, unsure if the other woman recognized her. "It's okay. You're safe. It was just a dream."
Slowly, Elaine nodded, but she kept staring back at Skye with something the other agent could only identify as fear.
Skye waited a moment to make sure Bray was entirely awake. "I'll go make tea," she then decided with a smile and headed to the door.
When Skye entered the living room a few minutes later with two steaming cups, Elaine was already there. She looked more like her usual composed self, but a shadow of whatever had haunted her nightmares still seemed to hover over her face.
"Bad dreams, huh?" Skye asked handing her one of the cups and sat down next to her.
"The usual," Elaine muttered with a blank expression. She accepted the tea with a thankful nod and took a careful sip.
Skye had had bad nights herself, especially since the last mission they had been on together, but if this was the norm for Bray, she didn't want to know how it was when things got really bad. "You want to talk about it?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. She knew the other woman wasn't really talkative and having been there herself, Skye knew how hard it could be to open up to someone who still was pretty much a stranger.
Elaine shrugged. "They kind of got very bad after the horsemen," she said quietly.
Skye nodded quietly. That mission had been particularly bad and she was sure everyone had had nightmares afterward, but she would also bet that the two of them had come out the worst. Led to believe that Elaine had turned on her team and killed several of her team members, including her own boyfriend, in cold blood, Holt had first beaten her face into a pulp and later shot her in the head with every intention of killing her. Only later she had learned that the gun had been loaded with fake bullets.
She took a long look at the other woman. The only visible reminders of that ordeal was a small, slightly oval scar right above the bridge of her nose, which seemed to be a bit flatter than before. "You know, the first night back in our flat after that, things got so bad I threw up," Skye said quietly.
Elaine shrunk back into the sofa. "I'm sorry," she muttered.
Skye gave her an apologetic smile. "It's not your fault," she said. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, we've all been there. I know it can be hard, but in my experience, talking about them can make things easier."
Elaine seemed to ponder this for a long while and Skye didn't really believe there might be an answer, when suddenly, very quietly, she said: "I've killed people."
Skye nodded. "Sometimes it's part of the job."
Elaine shook her head. "Not like that," she stated. "Back when I was with the horsemen, I helped the others kill and torture I don't know how many people. Innocent people, cops, junkies..."
She broke off and took another long sip from her tea. Skye waited for her to continue.
"Back then I denied to myself that I had anything to do with it. I didn't have a way out, so I just told myself it's not my responsibility what they're doing with my drugs," Elaine said. "But already back then I got these nightmares, faceless ghosts accusing me of their murder. After I joined IMF and admitted to what I had done, they first got worse, but I got used to them and eventually, they started to show up less often."
She swallowed. Skye could hear her voice vibrate dangerously, but she managed to keep it together. "But ever since the horsemen, they are back. Only now they have faces," Elaine continued, then her voice finally broke into a whisper. "Back then I could lie to myself because I didn't know any of these people. But the thought that I could willingly hurt anyone I know, it scares the shit out of me."
Skye nodded silently. "I felt the same," she said after a while. And when Elaine gave her an uncomprehending look, she hinted a shrug. "Believe it or not, what got to me most was that I would have killed you. Someone from my own team."
"But you thought-"
Skye didn't let her finish. "I should have trusted you," she said firmly. "But the fact that it doesn't let go of you, that's a good thing. It shows that you care about people."
Elaine grimaced and resumed staring into her now empty teacup. They sat in silence for a while which felt weirdly comfortable.
"You don't talk to people much, do you?" Skye finally asked.
"No," Elaine admitted. "I mean, Maddox sometimes comes around between missions to look after me, and Benji talked to me a lot in field training, but never this... deep."
Skye felt weirdly honored at that notion. She couldn't really understand why Elaine would connect with her of all people after what had happened, but she had to admit she was developing a liking and even a sort of protective feeling for the other agent. "What about Brandt?" she asked then.
Elaine flinched. "I think I messed that up."
Skye couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "What happened?"
"I had one of those dreams, about two weeks ago," she explained. "He was there when I woke up, and I reacted badly."
"Like tonight?" Skye asked.
Elaine grimaced. "Worse."
"Worse?" Skye asked slightly disbelievingly. "How?"
"I guess I wasn't really awake yet, and when I saw him I got really scared and basically just ran off," Elaine sighed.
"Have you talked to him?"
Skye smiled, then chuckled when she saw Elaine's frown at that. "Sorry, you just reminded me of something." She hesitated, trying to decide whether she should tell her. "When Benji and I hadn't been together that long yet, he once woke me up. I was scared, I wasn't used to someone else being there, so I caught his wrist so hard that it was bruised in the morning. I felt so embarrassed." She looked at Elaine. "But he understood. I think Brandt would understand as well. So maybe you should just talk to him," Skye suggested.
Elaine sighed. "I guess you're right."
Skye drained the cup of the last of her tea, then took both cups and headed to the kitchen. "I guess we won't be sleeping again now," she said. "Let's have breakfast."
"Com check. You read me, Watchman?"
"Loud and clear, Jailbird," the audibly disgruntled voice of Luther replied over the miniature radio Ethan had been hiding from the guards until just then. "Who's goddamn idea was it to get up so early?"
"The Germans'," Ethan replied almost cheerfully. "Just be happy I didn't get on the bakery shift or they'd have had me get up at three."
"At least you didn't have to sleep in a van," Luther grumbled back. "What's your plan now?"
"Find Thomas and give him our proposition," Ethan replied, matter of fact.
"Easy as that," Luther muttered but didn't get a reply.
The metal clonk of a key being turned in the heavy lock announced the door being opened. A guard stood outside and motioned Ethan to come out. He followed the steady stream of prisoners, all dressed in prison-issue grey sweaters and blue pants, to the mess hall, where they lined up for breakfast.
Ethan was careful to not hurt the sensibilities of anyone who was potentially higher up in the food chain, which, considering he was the new guy, was pretty much everyone. Once he had his tray with food, he looked around for his target. He was happy when he found him at an otherwise empty table.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked.
"Suit yourself," the man said, mustering him with mild curiosity.
Noah Thomas was small but lean, with an almost expressionlessly calm face. His flat dark brown hair was a little longer than in the pictures Ethan had seen.
"So, you're the new guy?" he asked after a while, chewing slowly on his cereal.
"That obvious?" Ethan asked.
Thomas shrugged. "You don't look much like an addict." Ethan raised an eyebrow and he shrugged again. "I work in the kitchen," he explained. "Heard the guards talk."
With the way the conversation was going, Ethan decided to take the risk and play with open cards. He took a quick look around to make sure none of the guards were close, then said: "Well, as it happens I'm not."
Thomas' eyes narrowed.
"I'm working for someone who's interested in information about your business partners. Specifically their unofficial work."
"I've got nothing to do with that," Thomas replied dryly. "Seriously, all I did was programming and a bit of design, basically the whole 'official' part of the business. And when I came across some weird files they framed me, which had me end up here."
Ethan mentally cursed. It was still possible Thomas was feeding him a lie, but he didn't think so. "You could still give us valuable information. Specifically where Schäfer might be hiding," he pointed out. "I'm working for powerful people. We could give you something in return."
"Could you get me out?" Thomas asked.
"I heard you had a pretty good chance of getting out soon anyway," Ethan replied with a raised eyebrow.
"My case is going back to court, yes," the other man grunted. "Only the chances aren't that good. Our evidence is largely circumstantial and the case is pretty solid. But I know something that could go a long way helping me out."
"And?" Ethan asked.
Thomas took a quick look around to make sure no one was within earshot. "I'm charged with stealing money from the people we put up online shopping platforms for, diverting one or two cents to my own bank account for each transaction taking place. The bad thing is, they got my bank records which show hundreds of these small transactions from company accounts each day over the last couple of months. I didn't even realize that was going on," he explained. "If I could get my hands on the weblogs of the pages in question and maybe the company bank records showing who set up the transfers, that would prove my innocence."
"Only if we appropriate those documents they wouldn't be admissible in court," Ethan put in.
"Don't you worry about that. I've got ways to make that work," Thomas chuckled. "The question is can you get them?"
"That depends on where they are," Ethan replied with a smile.
"Probably on the server in HQ," Thomas answered. "But it's pretty well secured and shuts down if the firewall is breached. And the backup is a standalone, so you'd have to be in the building."
"Where are your headquarters?"
Elaine was just done washing up their dishes when Skye got off the phone. It was still as dark outside as before but had started to feel less like night and more like morning.
"Good news," the Dane said, pocketing her phone. "Benji just called. Apparently, Thomas talked, so Luther's now on his way to Reykjavik to hopefully get some intel. Also, he divulged that Schäfer often talked about an Oslo bar called The Rabbit Hole."
"So that's where we're going?" Elaine asked.
"Looks like it," Skye replied. They sat down together on the sofa again. "Benji also did some preliminary research on that for us. And that's the bad news: It's a nightclub. The kind that employs hardly clothed dancers."
Daylight time in Oslo was at its shortest this time of year and just under six hours long. They had used that little time to scout the surroundings of the bar and formulate their plan. It was just after eight that they were brooding over the details with Luther when Ethan chimed in on the radio conference.
"I thought it's already past your bed-time," Luther teased.
"Very funny," Hunt replied. "So, you got a plan?"
"Something like that," Luther answered. "I've had a look at their servers and from the outside while it's not impossible to get in, it's seriously hard and even with more time it would be a tough one, especially if we don't want to leave any traces, so I guess I'll have to have a look from the inside. I've got a general layout of the building, and getting in seems easy enough, but I don't know how hard it's going to be and I'd have to do it tonight."
"Why the rush?" Ethan asked a little surprised.
"Because they just reported bad weather incoming, and especially with the holidays coming up that will make getting out of this snow covered hell a lot harder after tomorrow," Luther stated.
"Well, we'll be going into the Rabbit Hole tonight. If we find Schäfer there, maybe we can convince him to give us his access codes," Skye suggested. "We'll be going in as staff. It's a relatively small, exquisite establishment, so we should know pretty quickly if he's there."
"Alright, good luck," Ethan acknowledged curtly. Then crackle of his radio told them he had switched it off.
"I'd really appreciate those access codes," Luther put in when he was gone.
"If we can, we'll get them," Skye promised.
"Good," Luther replied. "And don't you kids have too much fun."
Fun was what neither woman had in mind as they made their way through nighttime Oslo. Thick snow was covering everything except a thin stripe on the sidewalk, but despite the cold, there were a lot of people around, even in the small side street the Rabbit Hole was located in.
During their daytime scouting, they had found that the club had a back entrance for staff accessible from another, even smaller alleyway. Surprisingly enough this door wasn't even locked and opened into a corridor that led to the kitchen on one side and into a dressing room on the other. They slipped into the latter and changed into short blouses that were tied in the front with hardly more square footage than bikini tops, mini skirts and moderately high heeled shoes that would have them pass as waiting staff.
After storing their street clothes and coats in a corner where they were out of sight yet easily accessible, they touched up on their make-up before leaving through the door that led into the bar area.
The room was gloomily lit in hazy red. The bar ran along one short side, a stage was set up in the middle, taking up almost half of the space in the room, with small round tables scattered around it. A group of dancers was performing with tired stage smiles. It was hard to tell how much of their colorful costumes they were actually wearing and how much was painted on. Loud music was blasting from speakers next to the stage, almost drowning out the hustled conversations going on throughout the club.
No one paid any attention to them when Skye grabbed two trays with various shots that were idly standing around and seemed to be continuously stocked up by the bartender. Traversing the room, the agents could see that most, if not all of the predominantly male clientèle were considerably inebriated already and at least one person was lying under a table.
They were headed for a secluded area on a raised platform that was shielded from the rest of the room with curtains, leaving open just enough to grant a prime view onto the stage. Three burly men were sitting at a table next to the stairs leading up to the dais and gave them a very obvious look over as they passed.
Inside the curtained-off area, they indeed found Schäfer, half sitting, half lying on a couch, clearly as drunk as the rest of the patrons. Two women, dancers by their attire, were sitting next to him, while he watched the show with little interest. When the two agents entered he attempted to sit up and even looked at them with an almost focused gaze.
"Another round?" Elaine, who had entered first, proposed in accented Norwegian.
"With you, always," Schäfer responded in slurred English, with a strong German accent. He glanced at Skye for a moment, then returned his gaze to Elaine. "Where are you from, my dear?"
"Saratov," she replied with a sweet smile. "It's in Russia."
Her ruse obviously worked, his face distorted into an almost idiotic grin. "I like Russia. Good vodka," he declared. "Let's have one in private. I have a room in the back."
"But I have to work," Elaine protested, but only for show. It might be the best chance they could get.
"Ah, I don't think your boss will mind," Schäfer decided and with what looked like an enormous effort managed to push himself up from the low sofa. He staggered forward and surely would have fallen if Elaine hadn't been standing there, where he caught himself with his hands squarely on her chest. Taking a slightly more careful step backward he regained some measure of balance, then draped one arm heavily around her shoulders. With her help, he managed to get down the stairs unharmed and intoned a very much off-key version of Dschinghis Khan's Moskau as they walked away.
Once they were gone the dancers vanished backstage, so Skye picked up both trays from the table and walked back towards the bar. Now she could only wait for what might happen next.
Just as she was past the curtain, a hand grabbed her around the wrist. "Hey, lady," one of the men who had been sitting at the table right beside the closed-off area called. He was alone now. "I'd like a drink in private, too."
"I'm sure you would," Skye replied, carefully setting the trays down on the table.
"I knew you'd understand me," the man cheered standing up. He was speaking English, too, but with less of an accent. Swaying heavily from side to side, he almost dragged her towards the back rooms.
Holt decided she would go along for the moment, but knock the man out as soon as they were out of sight of the bar if he didn't manage to do so himself on the way. But right after they were through the back door the suddenly much more sober man tightened the grip on her arm and shoved her face first into the wall.
"What are you doing?" she screamed, remembering to stay in character. "Let me go!"
"You can drop the act," the man said calmly. He held one of her wrists in one hand, the other arm across her neck pressing her against the wall. "No one pays attention to what happens back here. I know you're not staff. And I saw you and your friend lingering around here earlier. But she's not from around here and you're too cute for police. So who are you and what are you doing here?"
Skye didn't intend to answer. Instead, she forcefully pushed herself off the wall with her free arm, adding the strength of her legs as soon as she had enough room, then turned herself to the side, escaping the grip. She could feel the strain on the arm he still held in an iron grip, knowing she was close to dislocating something. But as soon as she was in range she swung her free fist at his neck.
Surprised by the sudden move, the man didn't manage to dodge the blow. When she hit his carotid artery just below the jawline, he dropped like a stone.
He came back around almost immediately, but the quick knock-out her blow had caused gave Skye enough time to get him into a secure hold. Sitting on his torso with her knees on his hands, she leaned over him. "Where is Schäfer?"
Quite to her surprise, the man started to laugh. "What, you're after him?"
"What's so funny?" she asked sternly, but he wouldn't stop laughing. Placing one hand over his throat, she forcefully dug two fingers of her other hand into his trachea just above his sternum. "What about Schäfer?"
"He's just a front," the man said, choking. "A paper figure. He's got nothing to do with the business."
"Then who's your boss?" Skye asked.
"Noah Thomas," the man relented after some more pressure.
"Thomas is in a German prison," Skye retorted.
"Yes," the man answered with a triumphant grin.
"But you're guarding something, and it's not Schäfer," she went on. "So what else is here?"
"You know you could just..."
"But if you bypass the..."
"Then you could go through the..."
"Benji, I know what I'm doing," Luther interrupted the other technician for the third time. "Now please, let me do it."
"I'm just saying," the Brit muttered.
There was silence for a while, with only the background noise of key taps, until it was suddenly interrupted.
"Our cover is blown. Schäfer's not our guy, but he's got bodyguards," Skye's breathless voice came over the radio.
"What?" three voices responded in unison.
"Elaine?" Skye asked, but there was no response. She cursed.
"What about Schäfer?" Ethan asked back, calmly.
"He's just a scapegoat. Thomas is the real guy," Skye replied.
"But he's the one who led us to Schäfer," Benji put in.
"He's playing us," Luther commented.
"But I can get to him if I get out of this cell," Ethan added. "Benji?"
"Yeah, right. I'm on it."
"So I won't get those access codes?" Luther asked with a silent sigh.
"You will, if I get to Thomas," Ethan replied. "Where's Elaine?"
"She's with Schäfer," Skye replied. "I'm trying to find her, but this place is bigger on the inside."
Suddenly there were muffled noises and a muted, high pitched scream.
"That didn't sound good," Benji remarked.
Then the cell door opened with a silent click.
By the time they reached the right room, Elaine was half carrying Schäfer. The door wasn't locked, so they stepped right inside, while she was starting to worry how she would get any useful information out of him.
As soon as they were inside, he flopped back onto the big double bed. Elaine reached back to close the door, but before her hand found the handle, it was caught by another one. She turned around and faced two of the men that had been sitting by the curtain earlier.
She reacted quickly and threw her free hand at him in an uppercut punch, but he grabbed it before it could hit home, so she rammed her heeled foot into his stomach instead. The goons grip loosened and he staggered for a moment, but the foot was quickly followed by a fist that now held a thin-bladed metal knife.
The man collapsed to his knees, clutching his abdomen, but when he tried to get up a second time, he suddenly found the knife in his throat. He didn't get a third try.
Her hand slick with blood, Elaine's grip slipped from the handle of the knife as she tried to retrieve it and let it stick, while the second man was already coming at her through the door that was no longer blocked by his colleague. She managed to almost dodge the first blow by quickly sidestepping, so it only grazed the side of her face.
Too late she realized it had been a feint. Sharp pain flashed through the right side of her chest when she practically ran right into the knife blade.
But instead of moving away, as the man had obviously expected, she grabbed his knife hand and pulled him down. With her other hand, she reached around his head, to get him even closer, then rammed her palm into his nose.
She kept staring at the men for a moment, making sure they wouldn't get back up and catching her breath. The adrenaline rush was slowly fading and she was starting to feel nauseous. Gradually she became aware of the radio chatter in her ear.
"I'm okay," she panted. "Got into a fight."
"Stay where you are," Skye replied. "I'm almost at your position."
Elaine wondered why the other agent was coming after her but decided not to question it. She had missed what they had been talking about in the meantime.
She wiped the blood off her hands onto the little surface her skirt provided. After that she retrieved first her own knife from the dead man, then the one that was still sticking out of her ribcage just underneath the edge of her blouse, which took considerably more effort.
Schäfer was still lying on the bed, where he had watched the scene and now was gawking at her with a mostly unfocused gaze as she walked over. Elaine climbed onto the bed and knelt over him, her weight centered somewhere above his stomach. Her own knife in her left fist, just in case she had to defend herself again, she placed the blade of the larger army knife against the dazed man's throat. "Tell me your access code."
"Ass... Asssesssss..." Schäfer lisped, trying in vain to pronounce the word.
"Your access code. For the server," the agent clarified, but with much the same result. Elaine sighed, then stressed word by word: "Your computer password."
"I donnnnnnnnnnooo," the drunk man lulled, which Elaine translated into 'I don't know'.
She was about to try again, when she heard a familiar voice behind her: "Leave him, he's not worth it."
"What?" Elaine asked breathlessly, half turning around to Skye.
"He's a front. Thomas tricked us," Holt explained, walking straight to the other side of the room. She hesitated for a moment, as she passed the other agent. "You're injured."
"Just a punctured lung," Elaine remarked, still out of breath. Calmly she cleaned her knife on Schäfer's shirt, who by now seemed completely passed out. "What are you doing?"
"Just?" Skye repeated, thinking that that sentence was missing a negation. Nevertheless, she proceeded to a painting on the wall, which she removed to reveal a safe. She quickly put in the combination, all the while shooting sideways glances at Elaine.
Bray ignored the underlying question and had started to search through the closet which was the only other item of furniture in the room beside the bed. She found button-down shirts, jeans, and coats inside, which were all slightly too large, but would do under the circumstances.
Skye appropriated a second, similar set of clothes from the same closet and quickly changed, then helped Elaine into her shirt. "You should go to a hospital," she decided on seeing the cut more closely. Blood promptly seeped through the shirt, once she had it on, so she stuffed one of the tops under it to at least apply some pressure.
"We can call an ambulance once we're outside," Elaine decided. Then she curiously looked at the small package Skye slipped into her coat pocket. "What's that?"
"I don't have the slightest idea."
Carefully Ethan opened the cell door and was relieved to find the corridor outside empty. Although he hadn't found much in terms of usable weapons inside his room, he was sure he could easily knock out any guards he came across, but he was just as glad if he wouldn't have to.
"I've locked the guards in and looped the camera footage," Benji explained. "But they might notice pretty soon and I don't know what happens if they do."
"Alright," Ethan acknowledged. "Where to?"
He followed the subsequent instructions through the hallway until he reached the right door, which opened with the same tell-tale click. Quickly he stepped inside.
Noah Thomas was fast asleep on his bed and even in the dim light clearly visible. Gently Ethan pulled the door shut, careful not to make a sound, then walked towards the bed. He sat down on the edge and quickly secured the other man's wrists with one hand, placing the other over his throat, before Thomas was even completely awake.
"How...?" he started but was interrupted immediately.
"We've got agents in Oslo," Ethan stated calmly. "We know Schäfer was just a front and you tried to double bluff us."
"Oh, you're good," Thomas grinned.
"We also found your little treasure in the Rabbit Hole," the agent continued and watched Thomas' eyes narrow. "Also I got someone in your Reykjavik headquarters who has already confirmed that you were a little too careless telling us about the server there."
"Well, if you've got everything, what do you want from me then?" the man asked, but his cheerful grin had disappeared.
"Your access code," Ethan answered calmly.
"You're not going to get that," Thomas answered dryly.
Ethan closed his right hand more tightly and the other man's gaze tensed, as he started to feel the pressure. "Give me the codes or die."
"Hel..." Thomas started, but his shout was cut off when the hand around his throat tightened even more. He gasped for breath when it suddenly loosened again after a few seconds.
"Now, let's try that again."
"You got that?"
"Yes, I've got it," Luther replied testily, followed by the clattering sound of fingers on keyboard. Then the noise stopped and he whistled quietly. "Oh, yes."
"What is it?" Benji asked excitedly.
"Let's just say the analysts are probably gonna hate our guts for making them work overtime over Christmas," Luther replied with an audible grin.
"That good?" Ethan asked.
"Don't know yet, but there's certainly lots," Luther answered. "And I guess that also includes your get out of jail free card."
"Thanks," Ethan answered, then grinned. "Last to D.C. buys drinks?"
"You're on," Luther replied. "But don't complain when you lose."
The short, polite knock on the door was almost immediately followed by the same opening. "Hey," Skye called quietly. "How are you doing?"
"Feels like a hangover," Elaine commented. The last after-effects of anesthesia and strong painkillers were still visible. "And I didn't even drink."
Skye smiled. "I've handled the police, but they might come by again tomorrow to question you," she said. She had spent the last few hours feeding their cover story of having been mugged to Oslo Police officers, together with vague descriptions of their non-existent attackers.
"I'll just not remember any details," Elaine decided. "Anything else?"
"I brought you a change of clothing and a passport," Skye said holding up one of the two travel bags she was carrying, then put it down next to the bed. The other bag was hers and already tagged for her flight. She would go on to the airport right after leaving the hospital and then meet up with Ethan in Frankfurt where they both had layover on their way back to D.C. "Are you sure...?"
"I'll be fine," Elaine interrupted her. She looked incredibly tired but still managed to muster a reassuring smile. "You go and enjoy your holidays. Give my greetings to Brandt. And everyone."
"I will," Skye replied with a grin. "See you next year."
The actual story will be following soon. Please be patient, it's test season.