The gentlemanís club had existed for a very long time, mostly because of the vampires who were very reluctant to change their habits and were quite happy to conduct business in the same set of rooms for centuries. The Crossed Keys was just such a club - splendid history, mediocre food - crouched just outside of Whitehall, the center of Londonís government. In a begrudging nod to changing times, accompanied women were allowed into the club, but only into the resteraunt, and only during traditional mealtimes. Rachel DuNoir had bullied her way in, claiming an appointment with a prominent member and, to her surprise, it had worked. Now that she had reached him, she hoped that could maintain just the right note of servility and doubt in her tone as she spoke with the elder across the table.
Her companion, Geoffrey Whittaker, was one of the most powerful Kindred in London (and therefore, England) and a neonate had to be careful not to offend his traditional sensibilities. Rachel categorized him as yet another white-male-empire-builder. Admittedly, the empire he had managed to forge with MI6 was quite impressive, but it was just another vampire power game as far as Rachel was concerned. She usually played such games because she was either told to by one of the few she respected, or, as in this case, she needed to pay some bills and build a few contacts.
"....I just wanted to make sure that I wouldnít be treading on any toes, so I thought Iíd take this to the top." She concluded, her French accent still thick after only a few yearsí exposure to English.
Whittaker was exquisitely English, and so he easily hid his irritation that this whelp had determined that, in this case, he was the top. He wasnít supposed to be that easy to find. After he thought she had waited enough, he nodded.
"Thatís quite alright." He assured her. "It was quite resourceful of you to find me. I didnít initiate this operation, but I approve of it. Taking Misha Ivenyev out of Berlin should annoy my Moscow counterpart quite satisfactorily."
And thatís what this whole game is about? Rachel didnít ask aloud. Annoying an individual two thousand miles away? An individual who may not even know who this dust-covered scientist is? Instead, Rachel composed her features into an attentive mask. "So the matter is urgent?" she asked, for assurance.
"Quite urgent." Whittaker replied, the lie obvious as his attention was distracted by the entrance of some suited human. "Iím afraid I have an appointment with that fellow." He said quickly. "If youíll excuse me."
Rachel stood, acknowledging the dismissal. "Of course. Now that I know everything is in the clear, Iíll get to work."
Once free of the crowding club, Rachel allowed her features to relax, heavy thoughts creasing her brow. Whittakerís counterpart is Beriya. Theyíve been playing these games since World War One. Ivenyev is of no earth-shattering importance. Heís intelligent, yes, but heís bringing no Enigma device with him, no H-Bomb plans. Heís just another pawn in someone elseís game. Rachel hailed one of the ubiquitous London taxis to curb. She made a decision as she was driven back to a hotel that was not her haven. Well, the game just got another player, and those two are in for a surprise...
The meeting with Misha Ivenyev, nuclear scientist of little note, was difficult. Not because it was being held in the less-than-engaging city of East Berlin - entering the city was not difficult for a vampire skilled at hiding in shadows - but for other reasons, not the least of which being that the language they held in common, English, was sometimes only loosely held by either party. By far, the hardest part was trying to explain to Ivenyev what was going to happen without actually telling him what was going to happen...
"But I donít want to be shot!" Ivenyev protested.
"You wonít be." Rachel repeated patiently. "But everyone will think you are dead. I can convince people that fiction is fact." She assured him.
"Are you going to bribe the border guards?" he asked. "Create false records?"
Rachel suppressed a sigh. She couldnít tell him the truth. Her whole plan was to get him away from vampires, and that meant keeping him in the dark. "Yes, and a lot more. Just do what I tell you. Pack a small bag. Youíll be getting clothes and food in the West," she reminded him. "so just bring whatever things you canít live without. Medicine, or photographs."
"My wife, what about her?" he demanded.
Rachel froze for a moment and then swore vehemently in Arabic. "You have a wife?"
"Of course I do." Ivenyev replied, his bombast suddenly evaporating. "I canít leave her behind. Does someone think-" Rachel heard the panic in his voice and quickly tried to soothe him.
"Of course not. Those fools at the ministry did not mention your wife." Of course Whittaker didnít mention her, her absence wouldnít irritate Beriya so she doesnít matter. Rachelís scorn for the vampire chief of British Intelligence somehow managed to increase. She thought rapidly for a few moments. "Alright, I will get her, too, but it will have to be seperately. There will be a delay, Iím going to have to get papers for her."
Misha nodded and left her to her planning. Actually, planning was the last thing on her mind as she indulged in a private moment of anger. I hate this. Iím not only surrounded by Germans, but Communist Germans, trying to smuggle some Russian out of the country, convince both sides heís dead and now he tells me heís got a wife! This time, Rachel sighed. Get a hold of yourself. This can be done. Iíll just have to agree to owe Tel Aviv two huge favors instead of one....
"How did you do it?" Ivenyev exclaimed. "All the papers say I was killed fleeing Berlin. But Iím right here." His admiration and curiousity were apparent.
"Misha." Rachel said in an excessively gentle voice. "I canít tell you. Believe that I bribed a lot of journalists, alright?"
Ivenyev frowned, wondering that if what she said wasnít the truth, what was?
Rachel sat down carefully and reminded herself to dedicate future effort to not being shot in the ass. However, her impersonation of Misha Ivenyev was successful. How the Germans handled the disappearence of his corpse from the morgue wasnít her problem. In her experience, it was likely that the people responsible would bury the paperwork, and pray that the fact of Ivenyevís death just stopped there, rather than risk having to explain what really happened. She knew the Communists would be good at hiding things in a filing cabinet - bureaucracies all over the world could do that.
"Your wife should be here soon. It was easier than I hoped." Rachel admitted. "If I didnít need to convince the Russians that you are dead, I could have just paid the soldiers for you, too."
"They took a bribe?" Despite his attempts at cynicism, Misha had been raised to believe in the infallibility of The State.
Rachel nodded. "Yes. A very large one, actually. I donít know how they plan to conceal their new found stash of US dollars, but I donít care. Perhaps they will say that they found a supply cannister." The American air drops to West Berlin were sometimes not as precise as the Air Force would like them to be, and several payloads had crashed to earth in East Berlin.
"Once Elsa gets here, you are going to have to decide where you want to live. Iím sorry, but your choices are rather limited. Canada, Israel or Australia."
"Weíre not going to England?" Ivenyev asked, surprised.
Rachel shook her head. Now was time for some honesty, unpleasant as it was. "No, youíre not, and not America, either. MI6 donít know what to do with you. They wanted to get you away from the Russians, but now that they have you..."
"But I am a physicist." He reminded her.
"I know, but most of your research has already been duplicated by the Americans. The British just wanted to you as an agency coup."
Ivenyevís sudden anger surprised her. "So once again, Iím being used as a political symbol." He growled.
Rachel didnít ask what he meant by that, but finished what she began. "It gets worse." She continued. "I was meant to just get you out, give you to the the English and let them show you off. Itís almost certain that you would be killed by one of the NKVís agents within a month."
"So, my research isnít important, but I can still be killed?" Rachel nodded. "That is bad." He agreed.
"Not done yet." Rachel warned him. "I was supposed to just get you out and hand you off, but I think itís wrong that youíre being used in a game. That is why youíre not going to England. Iím going to help you dissapear."
"By agreeing to owe someone else, a third party, many favors."
"Israel." Misha realized. "Is that why I could go there if I wanted to?"
"Yes. Right now, they owe me a small favor. But they make a habit out of irritating the Europeans from time to time. I think they enjoy it. But now Iíll owe them several favors, and thatíll make them happy, too."
"And youíre willing to owe the Jews so much just because you donít think the British are playing proper cricket?"
Rachel nodded, her fatigue showing on her drawn face. "It sounds stupid, but itís true. All the Brits or the Yanks would do to you is suspect you for the rest of your life, afraid that youíre a double agent, while also trying to convince you that they are absolute saints for saving you, and you should be happy for whatever they do to you. Itís another round of a stupid game. I thought maybe I could at least save one person." She sighed. "Iím tired and babbling." She realized belatedly. "I shouldnít say so much, itíll make you feel bad." She regarded Ivanyev with a wan smile. "Or worse, I should say."
There was a knock at the door. Rachel jumped up, suddenly alert, a gun in her hand. She looked through the peephole and opened the apartment door. Mishaís expression went from tautly frightened to vastly relieved as he saw his wife, her own expression one of barely restrained terror, hustle into the room. They embraced and he began talking to her quickly, in Russian. Rachel took advantage of the moment to sit and gather her thoughts.
It seemed that Elsa was taking things rather better than Mikhail, but then she was probably not as fully aware as he was of the risks ahead of them. Rachel had already explained that he was dead to both sides, and must spend the rest of his life being careful that no-one suspect otherwise. Once Elsa realized that meant no letters to friends, no phone calls to family, she would probably be upset too. Or perhaps Ivenyev was being smart and not telling her yet.
Finally, Misha asked her a question. "What arrangements have been made for us - wherever we go?"
Finally, she could give them some positive news. "Quite good ones. In any of the three places, you will be given a house and land, probably a small farm, removed from the cities, but not too far. You will be given a pension for the rest of your life - you could retire if you want to. You will be allowed to live your own life - as long as itís a new one. You will have to forget Leningrad and Europe." Rachel reminded him. Ivenyev apparently repeated this to his wife, who nodded and asked him some more questions. Rachel saw her face go pale and deduced that she had just gotten an impression of the effort required to dissapear. Well, she had to learn sometime. Rachel realized.
Time was dragging on, and Rachel wanted to get the pair of them on a plane before dawn. "Misha, Iím sorry, but you must hurry up. Where do you want to go?"
The pair of them looked panicked, and Rachel didnít blame them. Even as she was trying to get them away from manipulating games, she was having to bully them. Finally, Elsa glanced at her husband and he said: "Australia."
Rachel nodded. "Good idea. You know some English already, and youíll like the weather better than Canada." Ivenyev blushed at that. Rachel smiled. "Thereís nothing wrong with liking sunshine." she said. "I just hope you like it a lot." she added. Good, I have enough time to get them on the plane before I pass out.
Even at night, Australia was hot -and humid. Rachel endured it, as it reminded her of her childhood home, but Mikhail and Elsa Ivenyev - now Mike and Elsie Johnson - were not bearing up well. Rachel reminded herself not to think badly of them, after all, they had had a much more turbulent day than she, and were unused to the warmth, as well.
Their flight - a worringly rickety Globemaster painted with first German, and then Austrailian colors and piloted by laconic Israelis who had shrugged off every crash and bang - had finally reached Melbourne, nearly thirty-six hours later. They had been met by a small delegation from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, and taken to a safe house to prepare for the next leg of their journey. Rachel wondered if this delegation represented the bulk of the miniscule A.S.I.S. and suppressed a smile.
After putting the Johnsonís to bed and cooling her heels for half the night, Rachel got to meet with the man in charge, Robert Tester and his assistant, who was not introduced. At the sight of them, Rachel had to restrain herself from yelling in frustration. She had brought Ivenyev eight thousand miles only to hand him over to vampires again. Rachel ground her teeth silently. She had Mossadís assurance that her charges would be left to their own devices, and no vampire had ever successfully thwarted the Mossad.
They shook hands and Rachel indiciated the other, obvious, humans in the room. "Can we talk privately?" she asked.
Robert looked startled, but nodded.
"Alright everyone, out." Testerís assistant announced, opening the door. "Protocol one, you know what to do." he told the departing, disgruntled agents. For most of them, this was their first, and probably last chance, to handle a defection, and they were being told to go away. But they went. No-one wanted to anger the boss.
The assistant closed the door and leaned on it, apparently relaxed. Personally, Rachel wished that he had left, too, as his expression was a disconcerting mix of false bonhomie and barely restrained anger. Whatever angered him, Rachel wanted to stay far away from it.
"Iíll be blunt, and Iím sorry if I offend." Rachel began. "But Tel Aviv assures me that the Iven-" she paused. "The Johnsons will be left alone. Completely alone. I did not get them away from one set of vampires to give them to another."
Tester raised an eyebrow, his assistantís expression lost what little bonhomie it contained. Rachel discreetly reached for the knife in her sleeve.
"Blunt." Tester commented. "But certain. Donít worry, we got the message from Israel already. What use have we got for a half-baked atom smasher, anyway? When we want a Bomb, weíll get it."
Rachel nodded. "Good. Both sides are certain he is dead - shot running for the wall. So there should not be any problems."
"That works for us. Weíve got him a nice little place outside of Alice Springs, two thousand miles west of everywhere. Very private. He can chase Ďroos and sheep for the rest of his life."
Rachel shrugged. "What he does now is not my concern. I only wanted to get him out of Europe."
"Generous of you." Testerís assistant finally spoke up. "So are you a regular conductor for the Underground Railway, or were you just taken by a fit of altruism?" His tone was patronizing.
Rachel met his direct stare, stifling a moment of nerves, "I was paid. A lot. I just chose to execute things according to my own plan. And who are you?" she asked.
He smiled. "Pete Wisdom." he replied easily. "I help Bob out with the rough stuff." Unlike his bossís carefully polished accent, Wisdomís Australian heritage was obvious.
"Indeed." Rachel nodded, believing him. Rarely had she encountered such arrogance and lack of empathy on so short an acquaintance.
"Peteís the fastest gun in Australia." Robert laughed. "At least, he claims he is, and no-one argues."
"Not for long." Pete added, glancing at Rachel. She realized that her reach for a weapon was not as discreet as she had hoped, and she relaxed her stance somewhat. "Yeh." he nodded. "Arguments with me tend to be very short."
Rachel rankled at that. "Well, then your vocabulary must be limited." she told him. "Permit me to teach you some time."
Pete laughed at that, but the strain showed. Some Froggie neonate wants to pick a fight with me? Silly bitch, Iíd rip her to bits. He amused himself with that image for a moment, and Rachel took advantage of his apparent distraction to return her attention to Tester.
"If all is well with you, Iíd like to leave tonight." she told him. Tester seemed surprised by that.
"Really? We could use experienced people, no matter what Pete thinks of them. Canít pay much, but weíve got a lot of connections here in the Far East." he offered.
It was Peteís turn to be quietly angry. Now heís offering the neonate a job! Standards ainít that low, surely? He shrugged mentally. Whatever, she wonít last long.
Rachel pretended to consider the offer, but she had already decided to put some distance between herself and Wisdom. "Thank you but no. Maybe in the future sometime. I have an appointment in Washington coming up, and I need to be ready." she lied.
Tester seemed to accept that at face value. "Alright then." he offered a hand. "Keep in touch...: