London International Airport
Caesar Francisco, leader of the International Temporal Enforcement Agency's Team Delta, groaned in exhaustion as he exited the airport security office he and his teammates had just been stuck in for nearly an hour. It was a common misconception to think that being a field leader for a secret agency, one would be able to easily pass through customs. The problem was, with only perhaps a couple of thousand people in the entire world even knowing about IT's existence, that made getting through customs with firearms a lot harder, even if transport protocols were followed with the guns stored in secure lock-boxes. The ITEA did have procedures for handling customs, but every once in a while in spite of the Interpol, UN and NATO approval on their weapons as well as private licensing from Stone Enterprises, one of the many things the company did for IT, customs officers still got suspicious. The most recent problem had in fact been due to how good Caesar and company's authorizations for the transport of unusual cargo had been.
Feeling his fatigue, Caesar plopped down into a chair in the passenger lounge, loosening the dark blue tie worn around the white collar of his shirt, the agent liking how the color struck with his pinstripe black suit. The assignment had involved five days in Egypt, the government of which had never gotten over the paranoia felt back when Erika Stone had stolen a national treasure, an incident that now seemed so far in the past despite only occurring roughly a year and a half ago. A supposed theft that many had believed could only have been perpetrated by someone like Erika had in fact been committed by a common janitor; the only reason the ITEA had even been called in was that, due to the paranoia of the museum staff, Interpol was all too happy to have the incident become someone else's problem.
"Oi, boss," greeted Takahishi Nakamura, Caesar's technical second-in-command, as he walked up, dragging two suitcases behind him. The handsome Japanese man had once been a protégé to now IT director Lucienne Christophe back at Interpol and, in spite of his not even being thirty, Nakamura-san was a very capable leader. Were the ITEA a larger organization with more field teams, Tak (as he was sometimes called, with Taka a common nickname as well) would probably have one of his own. Like Caesar, Taka possessed dark brown hair that tended to hang loose, though typically they combed it back to keep it out of their faces. Unlike Caesar however, who liked dressing fairly formally when he could, Tak was only wearing a light grey T-shirt and tan-colored cargo pants, not having even bothered with a belt. Since Caesar had dealt with the customs clearance for the team, Tak had been nice enough to pick up the man's bag for him.
"I sometimes wonder if we'd be detained less if you just dressed more professionally once in a while," joked Caesar, repeating a long-running bit between the two.
"You're the guy who insists on bringing a weapon that makes you look like a terrorist," pointed out Tak, using the same old reply. While Agent Nakamura didn't dress formally most of the time, since it wasn't required though often encouraged, Caesar liked bringing his old AK-74 assault rifle with him on assignments that might involve gunfights. The AK was the cliché weapon of choice for unsavory types; just seeing one alarmed the security forces. Caesar himself just admired the automatic rifle's efficiency and stopping power, feeling it was a more practical big gun for their kind of work than the standard Colt models they used.
"All I want to know is when we'll get someone else to carry the bags," came the dry voice of Marcus Corrado, who approached dragging the team's lock-box as well as two duffel bags, one over each shoulder. Being the team's rookie, Caesar and Taka enjoyed teasing him by making him carry the equipment, but in reality he didn't mind too much since his diplomatic skills weren't really that strong.
"Well the good news is that if this keeps up they may find reason for us to place a secondary HQ in Egypt, and then we can get the budget to hire more agents,” mused Caesar, half-seriously. While Egypt wasn't exactly central and there hadn't been an IT-related crime there since 2007, the amount of requests they'd had to go there was still staggering.
"Cheer up boss; I see something who'll make you smile," noted Tak with a grin. Glancing to his left, as they were on the second floor of the airport and right near the escalators that led down to the arrival area, Caesar saw a familiar face that always made him smile, no matter how tired, angry or sad he was. Chita Francisco stood below; her dark hair framed by a pair of Oakley sunglasses atop her head, her tanned face flashing her husband a sexy smile. The freelance reporter stood with her hands on her swayed hips, better to emphasize her incredible legs, which appeared between a black mini-skirt and white heels; she also wore a light-colored jacket matching her shoes over a black tank top.
In spite of being transfixed by the sight of his wife, Caesar did catch another sight in his peripheral vision. "Looks like I won't be the only one happy to see who's here," remarked Caesar, noting the woman next to his wife was waving too. Arlette Bouchard, heir to a French chocolate empire, stood by, the petite woman glancing around eagerly since Marcus hadn't made it into view yet. The blonde’s hair hung loose, though styled straight unlike Chita's curls; she was wearing a white blouse with a dark red skirt that wasn't exactly mini or long, stopping right at her knees. Marcus and Arlette had begun dating a month ago after he'd helped rescue her from Xavier Alberic, a man who'd tried to kill her and was, unfortunately, still on the loose. Caesar had to guess it was Marcus's ability to seem so soft in spite of looking like a wrestler or boxer that had made Arlette fall for him, while on the other end that was the woman's flat-out pure and loving nature too. Caesar had been surprised to learn that Arlette had few good friends, assuming it was due to her status.
"Funny, she didn't know when I'd be back, plus she was supposed to be in Paris until tomorrow," remarked Marcus, smiling in spite of his confusion as he reached his teammates.
"Did Chita call her?" asked Tak as Caesar rose, moving towards the escalators.
"They've only talked I think… twice… and I'm pretty sure they haven't shared numbers," replied Caesar, equally confused. Chita, in spite of being a journalist, was good at avoiding spreading any information Caesar disclosed to her about his secretive job. The only explanation for the cute blonde’s presence the Mexican could fathom as he rode the automated stairs was that, because Lucienne had just approved non-agency family members being allowed to visit their HQ, Arlette had been called by someone at the office in spite of being only a girlfriend, and a short-term one at that.
"Hola querida," greeted Chita in a sultry voice, opening her arms wide as her husband embraced her, the pair kissing each other on the cheek solely because they didn't like overdoing public displays of affection. Marcus and Arlette on the other hand had no such problems, the former dropping the bags he was wearing to lift the woman up, then she hooked her legs behind his as they locked lips. It took nearly ten seconds for the pair to finish, by which time the other three present glanced around a bit uncomfortably since, while the airport was a bit quieter than usual, quite few people were still looking at them.
"I thought you'd still be in Paris," commented Marcus as he let Arlette down, the pair touching foreheads.
"I was going to be, but I’ve just got approval," grinned Arlette; parting foreheads with her boyfriend and stepping back, looking at Caesar and Tak seriously. "Your director confirmed that I'm allowed to join the tour Chita is going to get."
"Lucienne approved it?" remarked Tak in surprise.
"After we began seeing each other she asked me to talk to Arlette, as she wanted to repay the agency for saving her life," Marcus explained to Arlette, who seemed to be barely able to avoid jumping up and down.
"And now she's letting me look around and see if there's anything my family's company can help with!" exclaimed Arlette, tugging on Marcus' arm as she spoke.
"Sorry to sound close-minded, but isn't said company... one that makes chocolates?" reflected Caesar, his wife giving him a slightly amused look.
"You'd be surprised the kind of machines our factories use these days," scoffed Arlette, still grinning. "I do have to know how the places function too, if I ever want to inherit them." The media tended to paint women like Arlette as being dumb socialites, more concerned with having fun than doing business, but like Erika Stone before her, this young woman was being much underestimated.
"Marika's going to love meeting you," mused Caesar, taking his own bag from Tak as, sure enough, Marcus ditched one of the duffel bags he'd been carrying to leave an arm free for Arlette to hang onto. Tak sighed as he retrieved the abandoned bag while dragging his own. Chita tugged on Caesar's arm, getting him to hang back.
"You know I had to spend two hours with that girl until you got here?" remarked Chita, still smiling, but the tone her voice took made it clear she was a bit annoyed. "You'd think as a journalist I'd get some priority over someone whose reasons for taking a tour of your operation are about as flimsy as wet paper."
"Hey, if it makes you feel any better, if we ever need someone to do an article on us, your name is on the top of the list," offered Caesar in reply, getting a quick kiss on the lips for his words as the pair then moved to follow the others.
* * *
ITEA HQ, London
The office building used as a base of operations for the International Temporal Enforcement Agency was five stories high and tended to blend in with the rest of the city's postwar architecture. Located between two office buildings rented out to multiple companies, the only sign that you were at the right place was a simple plaque outside listing the agency's initials, plus a discreet 'no soliciting' sign. Team Delta waited quietly for a moment while Chita and Arlette took the facade in, neither one of them having ever seen the place before. "It seems so... ordinary," remarked Arlette in amazement.
"Probably how they like it," pointed out Chita, Arlette nodding in agreement. Caesar entered his credentials, which included a handprint and retinal scan. With that the five went inside.
The building's lobby was impressive, mostly because it was massive. As the group entered they passed two security guards, both wearing combat uniforms with flak vests and all. A short distance down a short hallway was the actual entrance, which forced people entering to pass through four arches that acted as metal detectors as well as hard object sensors, the latter were used to detect anything on a person that the former device didn't. The machines were still fairly new, barely any non-government agency having any, but they created less of an issue than typical x-ray scanners. Chemical and biological agent detectors were also built into the arches, these able to detect deadly compounds like cyanide and anthrax. In between the two sets of archways was a desk, the front being protected by a laminated glass shield rated to stop most conventional bullets; the section that made up the base of the desk was made of armored steel that was even stronger than the glass. Gitana Brook, the agency's receptionist, sat behind the desk, using a speaker setup so she could talk to anyone around the side of the glass. Two computer monitors and a large phone system were visible surrounding Gitana as she typed away on a keyboard.
Beyond the checkpoint were two more guards, but more impressively there was a massive stone statue that resembled a man, or possibly woman, with large wings that seemed more like that of a butterfly than a bird, its right arm raised at the elbow. Centuries of age had worn away at the statue's features and carbon dating put its age at the right time to have been created during the heyday of Babylon. The statue, known as the Peace Keeper, had been a gift. It took up most of the back lobby, though benches circled it, and aside from the sculpture there were only a few bookshelves holding general literature on international law and cultures, the main elevators and a couple of wall-mounted TVs that carried news networks.
"The first floor has our limited motor pool around the back," began Caesar, gesturing to doors beyond Gitana's area that weren't the elevators. "There's also storage for some equipment, showers and a locker room. The second floor consists of the testing area, which is where the firing range and science labs are. The third floor is office space for the science, tactical and espionage wings, the last of the three getting the most space up there since they don't have any on the second. The fourth floor is where the minor departments like accounting and human resources set up, plus there's a lounge with a kitchen and a couple of meeting rooms. Besides the usual small team rooms with tables and chairs there's also a big room that could almost be a theatre where we can gather large groups to watch any relevant visual presentations or data; there's enough room in the lecture hall to fit the entire agency staff in it. The top floor is mostly for the executive and technical department, being where the intelligence analysts work. The top brass have private offices there too along with a few other executive meeting rooms. Security has stations on every floor, though the main console is on the third since its central."
"What's with the statue?" asked Arlette, glancing up at the Peace Keeper in awe. "Did that come with the building?"
"It was a gift actually," admitted Tak.
"A gift, from who?" asked Chita, curious.
"Funnily enough, we don't know," revealed Caesar with a shrug. "A private donor from Australia is our guess, but its odd since ideally pretty much no one in that country should know anything about the agency. Still we did some sweeps, X-ray tests and the like; we know it isn't a Trojan horse, as it were."
"Why Australia?" continued Chita, still fascinated as they approached Gitana.
"That's where we traced the shipment originating from, though it bounced around a bit," answered Marcus for Caesar, he having actually been a part of the group that had looked into the unusual gift.
"Hi, boys; back from Egypt are you?" offered Gitana in greeting, standing up from behind her protective booth area. "Oh, ladies, good to see you both! I'm Gitana Brook."
"Chita Francisco," replied the journalist with a smile.
"Arlette Bouchard," then said the French woman.
"Good, you're both on my list, so I don't have to ask any odd questions," nodded Gitana in satisfaction, glancing at her monitor. “Here are your V-badges; keep them on at all times,” she noted, handing out the temporary identification to the two women. With a smile, she commented, "Isn't this 'take your family on a tour' thing great? My husband's actually just by the Peace Keeper. Go on through, I'll meet you ‘round."
"She's a dear," commented Chita as the five passed through the special detectors, security ignoring the blinking lights as all five had been cleared by Gitana. Some IT agents tended to prefer going in the front because the back entrance required retinal scans as well as fingerprint identification. On the other side of the barrier the five encountered Gitana, who was standing beside a slightly wormy-looking man in a fine black suit.
"Paul, these are Caesar, Takashi and Marcus of Team Delta as well as Arlette Bouchard and Chita Francisco," introduced Gitana, gesturing to people in turn as she spoke. "Everyone, this is my husband Paul."
"Pleasure," offered Caesar with a handshake. "Lawyer, right? Weren't you one of the guys that looked over our insurance coverage?"
"Yes, its one of my specialties," confirmed Paul with a powerful smile, moving to shake Tak's hand after Caesar. "I've heard from Gitana you three are very dangerous individuals, sort of like a SWAT team for the agency."
"We just all have combat training," claimed Marcus, the next to shake hands with Paul. "Caesar was once the Interpol section chief in Mexico and Tak's a pretty solid scientist."
"He makes a good cup of tea too," joked Caesar as Paul continued to make his rounds, now greeting Chita.
"I suppose those kind of credentials can come in handy when working for one of the most top-secret agencies in the world," mused Paul, finally reaching Arlette. "I did take the grand tour earlier, I must say the facility seems to serve you all fairly well. I was impressed with your intelligence department."
"Thanks, we try to make sure nothing gets by us," offered Tak. "We're just going to head up that way now. Yourself?"
"I think I'll just have a look at some the literature you have, maybe check out the labs up on the second floor again," declared Paul, shrugging.
"I'm clocking out in an hour, and we already covered the building," added Gitana. "Enjoy the tour." With that the receptionist returned to her post and Paul merely offered a nod before wandering off, eyeing the bookshelves.
"So we're starting with the top floor?" Arlette asked in surprise. "Can't we go up one level at a time?"
"Lucienne wanted to see you both before we get going," revealed Caesar, having called into the office on the way over. "We need to make a quick stop on fourth to drop off a report with accounting and then we'll go see her. There's no rush though, so we could at least tour the technical wing's facilities beforehand."
"As exciting as I imagine the labs are, I'll be nice to see Rafe working for a change," remarked Chita with a smile as the group headed for the elevator. Rafe referred to Rafael Calado, the head analyst for the technical wing and an old friend of the Francisco family. Caesar had worked with Rafael back in Mexico and he'd met Chita when she'd been trying to get information on a case Interpol had been involved with. Rafael had ended up introducing the future couple to each other in an attempt to get her off his back and Caesar had repaid him by getting him a managerial position with the ITEA. While Travis Paddington and Colette Landry ran the wing, it was Rafael who usually got intelligence packages together for missions, the directors focusing more on the bigger picture.
After a short ride up the elevator, the group disembarked on the fourth floor, instantly finding a curious sight before them. Standing near the button with a digital notebook tucked under her right arm was Eva Bingham, the agency's assistant accountant, who was also a stunningly attractive woman who seemed like she'd be more comfortable posing in a lingerie catalogue than working with money all day. Eva was a dyed blond, her hair done up in a half-French braid; her clear skin was well tanned and her eyes a lighter shade of brown, to the point they could be called a pale green. The impression that she looked more like a model than an accountant wasn't helped by the fact that she wore a tight powder-blue low-cut top under her navy blue business dress, the skirt of which also showed a lot of shapely leg; plus she wasn't wearing pantyhose. However, Eva stood as rigid as a mannequin as the group exited the elevator, her left index finger hovering stiffly near the 'up' button. "Hello?" offered Chita in greeting, a bit perplexed. Eva didn’t move a muscle or blink an eye. She was as still as a statue.
"She took some of that, uh, Type-7 didn't she," realized Arlette, snapping her fingers.
"Yeah; I guess this is a good a time as any to introduce something that happens a lot around here," confessed Marcus; Takahishi and Caesar elected to let the younger member of the team handle the explanation, granted that he was only younger than Tak by a few months. "You see, we get our Type-7 from Stone Enterprises, though we do have the ability to make our own and sometimes do for experimentation purposes. The thing is, we get it all for free since our work goes towards keeping the drug from getting released for public use, so the costs are tax deductions. We also get a lot more than we'd ever need in field assignments and for testing, so every once in a while our people like to use it to, well, prank each other," Marcus admitted with a shrug.
"This poor woman's losing hours of her life for a joke?!" asked Chita, incredulous.
"Losing hours isn't correct," chimed in Taka, placing his hands on Eva's rigid shoulders. "Eva here; sorry, her name's Eva Bingham and she's with accounting, is aging slower than a statue right now, which is fitting considering her state. One of the many benefits of the stasis-like condition the drug puts you in is that you age a very small faction of what you would normally, mentally even less so than physically. That effect does only apply when the drug is active in one's body however, so if they're wearing a chip or something which suspends the effects of the Type-7, they're back to living at more or less at a normal rate."
"A big benefit is suspension also helps a person regain stamina," continued Caesar, taking the time to pull the notebook out from under Eva's arm. "People sometimes have used the drug as a substitute for sleeping which, in the short-term, can work. Of course, you can't wake up if your life depended on it, so the trade-off’s not perfect."
"So really as long as no one takes advantage of anyone under the drug's effects in the office and so long as work still gets done, there's no rule against it," finished Marcus, glancing over Caesar's shoulder as he pulled up a file saved on the device. "Since the accounting department doesn't like waste Type-7, even minor amounts like this, their coffee pot tends to be spiked all the time. There's a couple more pots like that around the building, and its gotten to the point that a lot of us just bring in coffee from the outside. Eva here must have let that slip her mind, or she wanted to take a little break time."
"We're good; this report doesn't need to be handed in until Tuesday," revealed Caesar with a smile as he looked over the document. "So ladies, what do you say? Want to take part in your first official ITEA prank?"
"What do we have to do?" asked Arlette with a devious grin, instantly on board.
"Well, I guess if there's no harm..." shrugged Chita, far less alarmed than before now that she'd learned some of the facts behind Type-7. The sight of Eva frozen so still was a bit unnerving, though.
"Basic rules are nothing explicit or sexual, and preferably nothing that will raise any health complaints," explained Tak, pulling back on Eva's shoulders to demonstrate how rigid she was. "Move her around, pose her however; it’s all fair game."
"Awesome!" exclaimed Arlette, bending down and picking up Eva by her ankles so that together she and Tak were holding her as if she were lying down on her back, her left arm still extended at the elbow with her index finger pointing ahead of her. "Lets put her in front of the opposite wall, about to press that light switch!" Caesar, Marcus and Chita merely smiled and chuckled a bit as the French woman and the Japanese man carefully stood Eva up opposite the elevator control, her finger now brushing the light switch.
"I always like doing this as well," admitted Tak, moving the frozen blond's right hand from her hip to the top of her head.
"Don't forget the face!" giggled Arlette, leaning in and reshaping Eva's neutral expression into a massive smile, then even widening her eyes so the smile looked natural.
"Okay, I have to admit, that seems like a lot of fun," laughed Chita as Arlette and Tak finished. "I take it these pranks help with morale?"
"It really helps us relax," confirmed Caesar, his own smile fading. "After all the damage we can see the stuff do, its good to see the kinds of joy it can bring."
"A bit poetic, really," added Marcus, giving Arlette a hug as she practically bounced up and down. "So are we good?"
"Yes, I just added our report to her database," acknowledged Caesar, having used a flash drive to transfer his report to Eva's notebook. Glancing at the reposed blond Caesar merely shrugged and put the notebook by her feet, figuring it would be fine there.
"So we're going up?" asked Chita as the group returned to the elevator.
"Yeah, we can visit Paddy and Rafe before going to see Lucienne, then we'll be good," confirmed Caesar as Tak called the elevator. Moments later the lift arrived and opened to reveal Ivan Popov and his lovely wife Irina, the dark-haired woman in a simple black T-shirt and jeans was pressed against the wall of the elevator while the equally dark-haired man, dressed in a grey suit and a white cowboy hat, was leaning into her, the couple lip-locked.
"Hello," offered Chita, smiling as the couple apparently realized they'd stopped and quickly broke apart, Irina red while Ivan managed to keep his complexion normal, though a hint of a flush appeared.
"Caesar, you're back!" managed, Ivan, adjusting his black tie. "How was Egypt?"
"Another false alarm, but aside from the flight it was fine," shrugged Caesar, trying not to grin in spite of everyone else doing so. Caesar and Ivan weren't exactly friends but they did respect one another and the Mexican tried not over-embarrass a fellow team leader; since Ivan was in charge of Team Epsilon.
"Not a shocker," nodded Ivan, then glancing at his wife. "Sorry, we were headed downstairs. Irina and I just finished her tour and we were going to head home."
"I guess I don't need to say what I was going to say then," giggled Arlette, offering a wave of greeting at Irina. A respected stage actress, Irina had also appeared in a few blockbuster films, though those were in minor roles.
"All right, I'll let you head down and we'll get the next one," nodded Caesar, offering a salute-like gesture which Ivan returned as he pressed the button to close the elevator and turned back to Irina.
"Wow," muttered Tak a moment later. "You know, I'd never met his wife?"
"Should have accepted the invite to go see her perform at Shaftesbury," pointed out Marcus, shaking his head. "It was a great show, by the way."
"Yeah, until those street punks showed up with Type-7 gas grenades and guns," Caesar reminded the others as another elevator arrived, this one empty.
"Wait, what?" asked Chita as the group shuffled into the metal box, the door closing behind them.
"You didn't hear?" asked Tak, surprised. "The Howe Street Boys somehow got their hands on some Type-7 and tried to rob the play's after-party, but the IT agents that were at the show managed to clean things up."
"Still don't know who their supplier is though," grimaced Caesar as the elevator rose to the fifth floor. "For that matter we don't know where Alberic got his supply either."
"Quite the mystery you boys have," remarked Arlette as the elevator opened and the group exited, finding themselves in a world of computer desks and flashing lights, with several boards of the white, black and smart variety that hung on the walls like artwork. There was a sort of drone-like sound coming from the fifteen or so people at computers, most of them analysts hard at work. The floor was almost bare except for a few offices on the far side, a couple of side rooms for meetings and the like as well as the bathrooms and a security station where two guards were posted.
"Hey guys, back already?" greeted a voice as a woman in a leather jacket with a red blouse underneath approached, her blond hair having apparently been expertly combed.
"Clearly," offered Caesar, having never been a fan of the greeting Colette Landry had just used. In spite of his antagonistic-like response to the French-Canadian's greeting, Caesar didn't mind the young woman, though they weren't exactly friends.
"The Interpol section chief from Cairo sent his apologies earlier today," revealed Colette with a grin. "Oh hey, visitors! I'm Colette Landry; assistant director of the technical wing here." Chita and Colette shook hands first while Arlette seemed puzzled for a moment.
"Forgive me, I detect a hint of a French accent there but I can't place it," remarked Arlette after Chita had introduced herself and Colette had moved on to her.
"I'm from Montreal," declared Colette, shaking Arlette's hand. "Arlette Bouchard, right? I heard you would be coming by."
"That's me," acknowledged Arlette as another blond approached the group, this one a woman Caesar had never seen before. The woman, whose hair looked bleached as opposed to just dyed, had a deep tan and was wearing a fitted black top and skirt combo that made it look like a single business-like dress, the top resembling more a vest than a blouse as it was cut extremely low, revealing quite a bit of cleavage. Caesar was used to Eva and how she looked like a model who might be a naughty librarian, but the dazzling woman coming up to them looked like she was just a flat out super-model. As the blond approached Caesar also noted she had a cup of the local coffee in her hand and he tried not to grin.
"Hi, I'm Takahishi Nakamura, but you can call me Tak," Taka instantly announced, offering the gorgeous blond his hand. It was clear to everyone that Tak was eager to make a good first impression with the woman, but luckily she didn't seem to mind.
"Ariel Landry," greeted the blond, surprising Caesar.
"Landry?" echoed the Team Delta leader, surprised.
"My cousin," was Colette's next revelation, moving to pat her relative on the shoulder. "Ariel used to model back home but we just hired her for the espionage wing."
"My job is to make sure any undercover profiles we create will pass social muster," explained Ariel.
"Interesting, I don't think most people would have realized your value in this field," remarked Chita with a nod, shaking Ariel's hand. "Chita Francisco. I'm a journalist."
"Pleasure," returned Ariel, then taking a moment to take a sip from her cup. "So that's two of you, and you are-" Ariel abruptly stopped in mid-sentence, gesturing with her cup hand, which was her right hand, using her ring finger; her left hand was brushing at her hair near her shoulder on the same side of her body, her lips parted and her vacant eyes showed curiosity, with just a hint of a smile frozen at the corners of her mouth.
"That's one way to learn to never drink the coffee," grinned Colette. "You two know about that, right?" Colette asked her question while looking at the two women of the group that weren't currently frozen. “That is, unless you’d like to try it?”
"It's fine, we ran into Eva downstairs," explained Arlette, waving off Colette's concerns. "Need a hand moving Ariel?"
"Oh, that would be great!" exclaimed Colette, the two French speakers proceeding to do as had been done with Eva earlier, Marcus taking the time to remove the cup from Ariel's rigid hand before she was tipped over, Colette taking her cousin's upper body while Arlette once again got the legs.
"I love how she's the one who came here on business," pointed out Chita as the two blonds scurried away with the third, Colette giving directions. "Okay, I see someone else coming our way, but we should really move off from the elevator." Chita pointed and Caesar turned to see Rafael now headed their way, prompting the remaining group to walk towards a vacant cubicle so they'd be further away from the elevator.
"Good to see you again my friend!" greeted Rafael, giving Caesar what could only be called a man hug, as it lasted maybe a second and included a hearty slap on the back. "Ah, and Chita, the Mexican goddess, so good to see you here today!" Chita and Rafael shared a slightly longer hug, the woman even giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Takahishi, Marc! Good to see you both as well! The trip doesn't seem to have made you guys any uglier, hey?" Everyone smiled a bit, Marcus giving Rafael a hand-slap in greeting while Takahishi did nothing, he being the only one not on close friendly terms with Rafe.
"If anyone's gotten uglier its you, old man," declared Chita, taking a dig at Rafael's vanity. A large portion of the ITEA's staff was under forty, though a few were close, and at forty-one that age did make Rafael one of the agency's oldest employees. The fact that so many younger people worked for the ITEA had always amused Caesar a bit, never mind that most of them were considered to be fairly attractive. The argument had been made in the past however that good-looking agents were better for blending into high society crowds, which Caesar did agree with, but it meant that working undercover in low society would be harder.
"You wound me, love," sniffed Rafael, pretending to cry for a moment before flashing a large grin. "You up here to see Lucienne? She's just in a meeting with Mia; she'll be done shortly."
"Mia?" asked Takahishi, surprised. Mia Santos was a member of the science wing, essentially a lab assistant, thus is was a bit odd that she'd be talking to Lucienne instead of Marika Bran, the wing's director, or Makeda Getachew, the assistant director.
"Marika is busy getting ready to be in charge when the directors go in vacation in a week or two, and Makeda already went home after giving her husband a tour," explained Rafael. "So should we wait for the other one to get back or can I take your wife on a tour of my own little universe?"
"Go ahead, I don't think this is what Arlette was interested in," agreed Caesar, Marcus nodding in agreement.
"Right, well then," began Rafael, gesturing for dramatic effect, "If you'll come over here, I'll show you what I like to call the 'Eye of Time.'" Rafael waggled his eyebrows and gestured for the group to follow as he led them towards a central area of the massive room where a large smart board was set up. On the screen currently was a map of Hong Kong, red dots located around the coast where shipping yards were. On the top left part of the screen were the profile pictures of Hui Lan, Miranda Ohala, Suzanna Ortiz and Sophia Katsopolis, the four being the current members of Team Gamma, which the board even declared. A counter was on the bottom right corner of the board, the number currently at nine. An Interpol logo was also spinning in the upper-right corner of the screen.
"'Eye of Time?'" asked Chita in confusion, glancing at the board.
"Well, we get real-time updates on anything happening where agents are stationed and we're in temporal enforcement, thus..." explained Rafael, then trailing off. "Fine, I just like the name, it makes this place sound like it should be in a wizard's tower or something."
"I never really got the name either," piped up a short Asian man in a suit and glasses, who came up behind the group and quickly stood in front of the smart board, gesturing to make a couple more red dots appear along the coast. "I'm sorry, I didn't notice you were a visitor," realized the man as he turned around, offering a quick bow. "My name is Juro Takashi, any be careful around Rafael, he tends to get a bit over-dramatic."
"I was already aware of that, but thanks all the same," offered Chita as Juro hurried off, clearly hard at work.
"What's this all about?" asked Caesar, indicating the board. "I didn't hear that Hui was taking her team to Hong Kong."
"We have reason to believe that Type-7 is being used by human traffickers, though it’s just a rumor," explained Rafael. "Interpol was already investigating but as soon as they overheard that word, we got the call. Since they weren't doing anything Lucienne decided to send all of Team Gamma. If I had to guess, it was to show good-will towards Interpol as well as the Chinese, who really would like it if we could make this terrible situation less complicated for them."
"I guess it does make political sense, even if it’s just based on a rumor," agreed Marcus, nodding along with the rest. Team Delta, after all, had just been sent on a similar mission, though it had turned out to be nothing.
"Sorry to interrupt," came a British voice which belonged to a short blond woman, the fourth light-haired woman Caesar had seen that day, coming by to also adjust a few things on the smart board. "Lori Jones, by the way," offered the blond as she glanced at Chita, nodding and getting a nod in return. The Interpol logo on the board was no longer spinning, five new profile pictures appeared below it. "This is the team Interpol assigned to the case," explained Lori, indicating the few new faces. "They happen to have worked with Hui in the past during the Sierra Escorts case when she was still with Interpol, so hopefully the cooperation will go well."
"That explains why they called us too," noted Rafael, nodding. Chita introduced herself to Lori before the blond left, also going back to work.
"You mentioned a few of the directors were going on vacation," noted Chita after Lori had gone. "How can agency leaders take time off when you have teams active in the field?"
"With our manpower, there will almost always be at least someone out in the field," pointed out Takahishi to the rest.
"Besides that, team leaders tend to volunteer for cases based on their qualifications and experience," added Caesar. "I volunteered us for Egypt because we'd done it before and the time before that we were the only ones available. Made sense for us to go again since we'd be more up to speed."
"Fair enough," nodded Chita, then smiling with bemusement as yet another person approached. The person arriving this time was a fairly good-looking man who was wearing thick reading glasses and looked a bit annoyed.
"Caesar, Lucienne asked me to let you know you can join her in her office now," revealed Paddy, looking a bit annoyed. Being a director of the technical wing, Caesar guessed he wasn't used to being a messenger and didn't particularly like it either.
"Hey there, why so glum?" asked Arlette, suddenly returning. "You look like you just ate some bad crumpets."
"I'm sorry, and you might be?" asked Paddy, acting very surly, even for him. Caesar was surprised as well, knowing that Travis Paddington was the kind of man who would light up whenever he saw a beautiful woman and, given how the ITEA was staffed, that was quite often. The sight of Arlette and Chita seemed to do nothing to improve the computer expert’s spirits however.
"Arlette Bouchard," declared the French woman, a bit miffed. Then to everyone's surprise she grabbed Paddy by the collar and pulled him in for a quick kiss on the lips, promptly letting go and stepping back, grinning and flashing Marcus a wink. "There, did that get the bug out of your ass?" asked Arlette playfully.
"Huh?" muttered Travis, standing in a daze.
"Right; lets just go see Lucienne," suggested Caesar, nodding at Rafael as the group moved on, leaving Paddy standing there in shock.
"Ah, there you all are; welcome!" greeted Lucienne Christophe as the group entered her office. The office had been renovated some since she'd first gotten it, now there was a series of shelves in the back wall behind her nice oak desk, two smaller desks on one side of the room while there was a couch on the other and a few chairs near the desk. On the upper wall there had originally only been one clock, but now there was one for each time zone, each also labeled properly. The shelves themselves held primarily books but there were a few random items like a globe, a couple of liquor bottles, a tea set and a framed letter of commendation from the since-retired Interpol President Yun Bai Lao.
"Paddy said you were ready for us," declared Caesar, nodding at his boss. Lucienne had her hair up in a Dutch braid and was wearing a tan business dress, her blouse underneath a pale violet. Across from Lucienne was Mia Santos, a member of the science wing, whose dark hair was tied back in a basic ponytail; she wore a grey light coat over a black blouse with pants that matched the jacket, having black-rimmed glasses framing her dark eyes. On Lucienne's desk was a small glass box that had a gold-colored ring band sitting on top of it.
"Well then, lets just do some quick introductions," insisted Lucienne as she stood, Mia did the same. The IT agents knew both Lucienne and Mia but Chita and Arlette quickly met them both, Arlette was even impressively able to determine that Mia was originally from Panama. Caesar was a bit amused that Arlette could pick out someone else's ethnicity so quickly but not place Colette's accent when they both spoke French.
"Sorry to make you wait for a minute, but Mia was just going over this new project we've been working on," explained Lucienne as she returned to the other side of her desk and indicated the ring. "The paperwork is done, you're both cleared to see pretty much everything except for the confidential files. Even so, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything about this outside these offices."
"What is that?" asked Arlette, looking at the ring. "That's not gold, well, not entirely. I've seen enough jewelry to know there's copper in there, maybe some bronze too."
"It's hopefully going to be a standard piece of field equipment if we can get it programmed right," remarked Mia, picking up the object and holding it in the palm of her hand. "Marika calls it an Immunity Ring. Travis actually came up with the shape, since a plain ring band isn't something most people would pay attention to or even want to steal. The basic idea is that when you wear it, the ring will regulate any Type-7 in your body, like the chip does, making you effectively immune to being frozen by the drug."
"So it’s a camouflaged version of a chip?" asked Tak, taking a closer look at the ring.
"More or less, but the smaller size and location makes the advanced control commands impossible," explained Mia. "The problems we've had so far are setting it up right so it doesn't just freeze whoever puts it on, and then shielding it from the effects of a Freeze-Key."
"Freeze-Key?" asked Chita, confused by all the techno-babble.
"You can uncover those details when you see the labs," suggested Lucienne. "We were actually hoping to test this new version now. Ideally I'd like to have something to send Team Gamma by next week, because they might have need of it."
"Well if you're looking for a test subject, I'm game!" exclaimed Arlette, almost jumping up.
"Are you serious?" asked Lucienne, surprised. “Do you know what could happen to you?” Tak and Mia also were a bit taken aback by the announcement, but Caesar, Chita and Marcus were past being surprised by the impulsive young woman.
"Absolutely, what better way to see if there's some way I can help with your equipment?" pointed out Arlette, her logic not exactly sound but no one was going to argue. "So what do I do, just put it on?"
"Yes, and ideally you should be fine," confirmed Mia, handing the young heiress the ring. "No one's even noticed the needle being deployed so far, so there's no pain involved. You just might suddenly freeze as with Type-7."
“That’s OK; from what I’ve seen that should be fun too!” Arlette nodded, holding out her hand.
"I'm beginning to see just how often that happens around here," chimed in Chita, amused as Arlette, with a massive amount of enthusiasm, placed the ring on her right ring finger.
Immediately it was clear there was still a fault in the design as Arlette instantly froze, a large grin pasted on her face as she held her right palm towards her face, her left index finger and thumb stopping while sliding the ring into place. No one said anything for a moment, Marcus then touched his girlfriend on the shoulders and tried to rock her on her heels. Arlette remained stiff like a mannequin, confirming the ring did indeed not work and that the rich girl was frozen solid.
"Wiring must be faulty," mused Mia, shaking her head. "Do you might if we bring her to the lab downstairs before removing the ring and giving her the counter-agent? I'd like to record some data."
"Sure, I've got her," agreed Marcus, holding his frozen girlfriend and moving to grab the dolly Lucienne had in one of the corners of her office. The device being there may have been odd to some, but with all the freeze pranks being pulled, Lucienne had apparently decided it would be good to have one handy, even in her office.
"I guess you could call that travelling in style," remarked Chita, still amused as Marcus placed his immobilized girlfriend onto the dolly by lifting her from the waist, then leaning her back with some help from Mia. After securing the waist strap, he turned around to point the dolly out the door.
"I'll see you downstairs," offered Marcus to his teammates as he headed out with Mia behind him. While Chita wanted to see the labs as well first she was hoping to get a few words in with Lucienne as she'd been petitioning the woman to be able to do press for the agency for more or less as long as they'd been around.
"I think I'm going to like Arlette," remarked Lucienne as she wheeled around in her chair and began pouring tea from the pot on her shelf. "I've made some Taiwanese Oolong tea if anyone would like some."
"No, thank you," offered the director's three ITEA guests, almost in unison.
"Fair enough," shrugged Lucienne, turning back around with a cup and saucer in hand, taking a sip. "Now then, Chita, it's nice to finally put a face to the person who's been sending me and the Security Council all those requests. You know that the UK's own Security Council representative, Robert Warner, actually knows who you are?"
"I don't buy into that kind of celebrity, but it is kind of fun to know that," replied Chita with a proud grin. "I really don't mean to be pushy, Lucienne, if I may call you that." After a nod, Chita continued, "Really more than anything I've just been having problems adjusting to the new way of life here, since I'm used to being able to get regular statements from Interpol."
"People do tend to miss their advantages when they're gone," noted Lucienne, nodding. "From what I've read though, you seem to be doing alright. The Guardian seems to like printing your articles every week or two."
"Yes, but I'd like to get back to my roots: investigating international crime," declared Chita, very passionately. "I've spoken with the local Interpol section and they've helped a bit, but I really think my presence would be better served with the ITEA. I don't even need to have my reports published, I'd just like to be able to give you some good press and help fight the good fight. I mean, I know few details about your cases, but the fact that you’re policing a drug trade and that human trafficking has come up has me greatly concerned. It was the drug-related crimes that got me into investigative journalism in the first place!"
No one spoke for a moment; Caesar just smiled and reached out to gently stroke his wife's hand. Tak had been completely silent and was just reclining on the couch, not really taking part in the conversation.
"Believe me Chita, I'd love to get some press coverage," revealed Lucienne after quite a few seconds of silence. "The fact is, that currently isn't viable, given the nature of the drug we’re tracking. By having IT become publicly known, we'd have to reveal some of the strange stuff we've been investigating these past few months, and while the people will be someday, I just don't see the public being ready for it right now. We've got a drug that turns people into human statues, devices that work with that drug that can turn them into robotic slaves, and a few individuals with an extremely rare genetic quirk that apparently lets them stop time itself! I'd love to put a team of scientists on that little fact and figure out just how the heck that last one is even possible; but the problem is until we can find out more with smaller groups of people, I don't think we can go public without creating a great deal of havoc and paranoia. We also want to radically decrease the number of Type-7 suppliers as well so we don't have too many people looking to get their hands on the drug. I mean, granted it wouldn’t ever be an over the counter item since it’s essentially a high-grade tranquilizer, but casual use is still another factor we have to consider. The Security Council's with me on this too, probably even more so in fact since they really don't want anything leaking out until the more, well, military possibilities are explored."
"So… that's where we stand then?" asked Chita, nodding. "What about my just being embedded with no right to publish? I've done that before."
"That could happen, but Mister Warner and the rest still have the final say, and currently they're fully against it," answered Lucienne shaking her head. "Having your reportage, though, I really wouldn't mind myself. With the incident happening back in November and another one that just occurred in Los Angeles, of which we had no knowledge of until after it was all over I might add, we really need someone a bit more impartial and objective to explain to the UN what really happened during those times. Lets face it, if we went public now, we'd have a serious image problem."
"Unfortunately I have to agree on that," nodded Chita, a bit sad. "Okay, I'll have to leave it at that for now. I’m off your radar. The good news is you probably won't get another request from me unless I hear something from the Security Council."
"Thank you for understanding, Chita," replied Lucienne, standing and shaking the other woman's hand. "Please, enjoy the tour. It's not a right to write, but it’s a start."
"I suppose," agreed Chita, smiling. "Oh, and Lucienne? You're doing a great job from what I've seen."
"Merci," thanked Lucienne as Chita and Caesar headed for the door. "Tak, could you wait for a minute? There are a few things we need to discuss."
"Of course," agreed Taka, waving at Caesar. "Go ahead, I'll find you when I'm done here."
"Alright, take care," agreed Caesar, leaving with his wife, proud at how well she'd stated her case. As the couple headed for the elevator, Caesar made a mental note to do something special for his wife when they got home later.
* * *
"So..." remarked Takahishi, standing up from the couch and grinning. "What are these 'few things' we need to discuss?'"
"The camera's off; lock the door," ordered Lucienne with a grin, standing up as Tak did as he was told. No sooner did the door click shut then Lucienne was pressing against the Japanese man, their lips locking as he ran his arms up her back, under her jacket.
"I've missed you," Tak almost giggled as the pair broke apart, Lucienne removed her jacket and tossed it onto a chair before proceeding to undo her braid. Tak casually pulled off his shirt as he headed to the back shelves and poured a glass of liquid from a special liquor container.
"Thanks for understanding," offered Lucienne with a bit of a sad smile as she let her hair down, then proceeding to kick off her shoes and start on her blouse. "I mean, I know we've gone over this before, but..."
"It's okay, Lucy, I'm comfortable with it," Tak assured his boss, returning to her side and gently putting a finger on her lips while he held the glass with the other. "I know you love Tasia, but she's gone right now and you have desires that need to be attended to. What kind of student would I be if I didn't honor your wishes?"
"I suppose in this case still a respectable one," shrugged Lucienne, peeling off her top to reveal a brief red quarter-bra that had a clasp on the front. Since Tasia had been suspended and left London for Malibu, Lucienne had becoming lonely and had turned to Tak, starting an affair with her former pupil. Taka himself was more than happy to oblige, having been attracted to his mentor since day one. The one rule that had been set up was Lucienne didn't want to have proper sex, worried it might fall under cheating, and instead insisted she be frozen whenever the act occurred. It was an unusual request, but Tak was fine with it, even eager after his first experience.
"You're amazing," smiled Tak, exchanging another quick series of kisses with Lucienne before handing her the special drink while their foreheads were pressed together.
"Treat me well... or not," giggled Lucienne as she drank from the glass, finishing its contents but tossing it into the couch, where it wouldn't break upon impact, before swallowing. Within two seconds Lucienne froze in place, her arms around Tak's neck with a smile held on her lips and only a tan skirt and red bra left on her body as she'd wisely chosen not to wear pantyhose that day.
"Best boss I've ever had," laughed Tak, getting to work on the sexy statue she’d become. The Japanese man managed to remove the wrap-around bra without having to move his lover's arms, then proceeded to kiss her passionately while groping her firm breasts. Tak then began walking towards the couch while his tongue was inside Lucienne's mouth, dragging her on her heels with his arms around her back and hers around his neck, her legs in between his as he moved. Finally at the couch, Tak laid Lucienne down on her back, moving the glass out of the way, and proceeded to gently pull down her skirt, stunned to then find she actually had gone commando.
"Naughty girl," chuckled Tak, pulling down his own pants and moving to lie on top of the IT director, positioning himself properly.
"Oh yeah, that's that stuff," gasped Tak a few minutes later, reaching the end. "Yatta!" exclaimed Tak moments after, finishing and pulling out, proceeding to lay next to Lucienne on the couch. The motionless French woman remained staring at the ceiling, her lips still curled in a smile while parted, her arms posed above her head and resting on the armrest. Tak took a moment to marvel at the woman's sculpture-perfect body, then began stroking the area around her navel.
"Lucy, I have to say it, though I'm glad you can't hear me right now," breathed Tak, beaming. "I hope Tasia never comes back, because you're just amazing."
The End (for the moment)
Caesar Francisco - Jared Leto
Takahishi Nakamura - Takuya Kimura
Marcus Corrado - Alessio Sakara
Chita Francisco - Eve Torres
Arlette Bouchard - Kristen Bell
Gitana Brook - Reshma Shetty
Paul Terrell - John Simm
Eva Bingham - Gemma Atkinson
Ivan Popov - Timothy Olyphant
Irina Popov - Emanuelle Chriqui
Colette Landry - Laura Vandervoort
Ariel Landry – Maryse Ouellet
Rafael Calado - Olivier Martinez
Juro Takashi - Masi Oka
Lori Jones - Billie Piper
Travis Paddington – Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Lucienne Christophe - Josie Maran
Mia Santos - Jordana Brewster