Chapter 6:

Nate had gathered the rest of the team in front of the larger screens, and had Hardison working to re-establish contact with Flores, and simultaneously scanning news feeds worldwide to see what information had been released, or had gotten out, and also what they might glean from it, in the event that it took a while to make contact with Flores.

The formerly dark screen was filled with colors, and the colors coalesced into a picture of two men, standing side by side, behind a very official looking desk. When the picture was fully clear, Nate said, "President Vittore, General Flores—what has happened?"

"He escaped, Ford. Early this morning. We found the night guard in his cell, dead. I sent word to the Commander as soon as I learned of it. I wanted to ask for his help, but I assume that won't be possible, since you all are making contact and he isn't present."

Nate's internal alarm system was blazing a klaxon call inside of him. Eliot, the Commander, as Flores knew him, was missing, and Moreau had escaped. Were the two related? Knowing the other man still required his attention, he tried to pull himself together.

"Do you have any idea where he went?" Nate asked, wanting to delay having to tell Flores that his friend was missing, and really not wanting to tell him that the Leverage team couldn't help him. Though he didn't see how it was possible, without Eliot. He was the one who had worked for Moreau, who knew the man's habits and how he worked. He was the one who had gotten them so close the last time.

Sophie caught his eye off screen, and motioned for him to tell Flores about Eliot missing. Almost imperceptibly, Nate shook his head.

"No, we don't. He was very careful. He didn't breathe a word to anyone about where he was going." Flores trailed off, thinking. Then he turned to the President and said something in not quite Spanish, or at least, not the Spanish Nate was used to speaking. Might be a dialect, or a mixture of Spanish and some other language—Portuguese, perhaps. The President moved over to his desk, half out of the frame, picked up and dialed the telephone, and had a rapid fire conversation with someone.

"What can we do to help?"

"Help us find him, for the world's sake. Maybe the one on your team who was good with computers—maybe he can help us with that. And be careful. We wanted to warn you all, in case he shows up your way."

"Surely it will take him a while to get the resources together to come this far."

"Maybe not. He stopped off at his old estate. We found Ribera.." He paused. "I'll spare you the details. Let it suffice to say he was found hanging upside down in the front garden. He was dead—killed in a way that was meant to send a message." The man's face darkened, but he didn't elaborate. "From what we can tell, he took enough to re-establish much of the life he used to live and to go anywhere he wants to go besides."

Nate nodded once.

"I must go. The President and I must figure out how to give this news to the people. Please keep us informed."

"Will do. You do the same."

The computer screen went suddenly to black, and the four members of the Leverage team who were there just stared at one another. Finally, Sophie spoke, "Why didn't you tell them Eliot was missing?"

"Over a non-secure channel? I'm not sure we need to let that information out where it could potentially be intercepted."

"So where does this leave us?"

"I don't think we have a choice. We go to ground." Seeing the look on their faces, he spoke again. "Listen, we can't assume that Moreau won't be looking for us. No, until we know where he is, and what he's up to, we have to become ghosts. That means we hole up—no electronics, no paper trails, none of our known aliases—nothing that can trace back to us. Understand?"

They all nodded and the worried looks on their faces were not lost on him, but he chose not to comment.

(0o0)

Doc was seated in her office on her plane with the Lieutenant she was trying to help seated across from her. The Lieutenant's eyes were closed, and Doc had been trying to help her remember anything she could about where she had been over the past day and a half. Frustrated, the younger woman opened her eyes and said, in a tone full of sarcasm, "Damn it, I've already told you I can't remember."

"I'll thank you to remember you're talking to a superior officer," Doc snapped, immediately angry with herself for doing so. It wasn't like she hadn't heard the language before. Almost all of the men on her team had said something similar or worse when injured or when she was probing their psyche. She drew in a deep breath and forced herself to calm down.

"I-I'm sorry, Doctor Carrington," exclaimed the Lieutenant, mildly horrified she had spoken the way she had.

Doc held up a hand. "Forget it. We're both frustrated."

"I hate that this isn't working."

"Well, when we get back to my lab, there's a new technology which is proving to be somewhat beneficial in cases like this. That's something we could try. It is still in the testing phase, but since I'm one of the people running the trial…"

"What does it do?"

"It reads your brain's newest neural connections to discover what you've been thinking about over the past twenty four hours or so. If you are able to say what pops into your head aloud, then we have a place to start. If not, then hypnosis or a couple of specific medications might help you to do that."

The Lieutenant couldn't help herself. "Is it painful?"

"Maybe a little bit emotionally painful, but not painful in the conventional sense."

"And what happens if it doesn't work?"

"Well, then we try something else."

"Will it do any damage if it doesn't work?"

"No. None."

"I suppose I'll end up having to do it one way or the other, won't I?"

Doc nodded, and at the look on the Lieutenant's face, spoke up. "As you know, as a senior military medical officer, if I think a test is in a patient's best interests, I have the power to sign off on it, with or without the patient's consent."

She paused, studying the woman in front of her appraisingly. The young woman looked terrified, and Doc couldn't really blame her.

"I'm not a fan of forcing someone to do something they don't want to do, whether or not I have the power to do so. As far as I am concerned, it is your choice. However, I need you to understand that giving you that choice is also within my power, and other officers with the same power might not choose to do so. You are still facing court martial and possible expulsion from the military if you are unable to remember who you are and what happened to you. If you refuse this treatment, I will try everything within my power to help you, but if you still cannot remember, I will eventually have to release you, at which time, and in which case, either your CO or the officers presiding at the Court Martial will probably assign someone else, who very well might insist on this test. So, yes, it is likely that you will end up having to do it one way or the other, Lieutenant."

The Lieutenant nodded to show Doc she understood. Silence filled the room, and then, after some time had passed, the Lieutenant spoke. "Can we save it as a last resort? Try everything else first, and if something else works, great. If not, then we'll do this."

Doc thought for a moment, then nodded once. Yes, that would do nicely.