Laneg was sitting in a small rectangular and heavily insulated room with a large pair of television screens dominating one of the long walls. There was a semicircular table arranged in front of the screens with space for four people to sit at. On one of the screens was the logo of the Salvati order and on the other was the face of a wise eyed woman in her mid fifties massaging her temples thoughtfully. There was a knock at the door and in hobbled Suvarin on her crutches and Kent trying in earnest to be so helpful to her that he was almost a hindrance. The woman on the screen opened her eyes and two brilliant sapphire blue eyes seemed to glitter at them.
Kent placed one hand just below his left shoulder and bowed respectfully towards the woman on the screen, Suvarin did the same but she made the gesture towards Laneg
“Honoured by your presence Priestess,” said Kent, “Allow me the honour of introducing you to my friend Suvarin. Suvarin allow me to introduce priestess Catherine Harking of the second order.
“Honoured to meet you priestess,” responded Suvarin
Catherine Harking surveyed the three people sitting in the conference room gravely and waited until all attention was focused on her image on the video screen before talking.
“I am honoured to meet you Suvarin., Kent has told me much about you. Please accept my condolences for your brother’s near disastrous injury. I will include him in my prayers along with you and your speedy recovery from your injuries.”
Suvarin blushed slightly, “thank you priestess, you are most kind to give us your blessings. We’ve recently been overwhelmed with leg injuries here, hopefully the trend is losing momentum by now.”
Laneg and Kent grinned privately at this, but Catherine was too preoccupied with the purpose of the meeting to notice.
“While we are meeting here, a rather determined and righteous young ranger by the name of Colby is currently pleading his case to the wittan to carry out an extrajudicial execution in the service of our faith. I believe that he has the numbers to secure the resolution he seeks and once successful he will head over to your way in the next few days to carry out his mission. However, I am not concerned about that because he will no doubt join this meeting immediately after talking to the wittan and tell us in his own words why he will be undertaking such an aggressive mission. Instead what I want to discuss with you is this woman.”
The vision on the other monitor changed and on it appeared a blurry portrait photograph of an attractive young woman reclining back on a sofa with a glass of wine in one hand. She wore a blue dress with a black belt and her face was contorted into an expression of almost maniacal happiness. The image appeared quite fuzzy and it was difficult to work out the details of her face.
“This woman is Dr. Zara Kline. She is as intelligent as she is beautiful. She is unfortunately a Tyranni scientist. Seven years ago she was exposed by one of our agents misappropriating public funds for biological weapon research in the hopes of getting the civil authorities to arrest her. However, she managed to escape and our agent barely returned to us alive. She is extremely dangerous and therefore should you find her always make sure that you have plenty of back up. I want you to watch this video which one of our Rangers managed to record just before our failed sting operation to to take her out and shutdown a Trynni biological weapons research lab.”
The still image of the video screen came to life and the young attractive woman on the screen started laughing joyfully. The bluriness made sense now because the video was obviously captured by a miniature video the ranger was wearing in their clothing somewhere.
The woman laughed flirtatiously while sipping from the wine glass in her hand. Then the Aeshirean agent with her asked a question.
“Was it difficult for you to join the Tyranni?”
The woman, stopped laughing for a moment and looked thoughtful for a few moments. Here Suvarin indicated to stop the video.
“I know that woman. I have seen her working at the hospital. I don’t know her name though I think she works in pathology.”
Catherine looked soberly at Suvarin, “then pay close attention to what she says when I resume the recording. This will tell you exactly what we are dealing with.”
The video resumed.
“One of the rules for joining the Tyranni is that we can’t have any children. At least not any children we aren’t willing to sell or enslave. That was the only sticking point for me in joining because I had a five year old daughter whom I only had so I could rely on her dumbass rich father to finance me through my degree. I hated that little shit. I called her Chlamidia because she was so annoying. Still, the idiot paid for my apartment, bills, and food so I could focus on my microbiology research. However, the dumb girl was getting in the way of my career now and I couldn’t just abandon her, the Tyranni wouldn’t accept that: it might tempt me split my loyalty to the Tyranni.. I considered selling her into sex slavery but I realised that she knew too much about me and if she escaped she would be a liability. She was a pretty thing, blonde and blue eyed like her father, and I did like dressing her up like a little tart. I had plans of raising her up to be a heartbreaker.
“I decided there was only one thing for me to do about her: So I drowned her in the bath tub one night.”
There was stunned silence on both the recording and in the audience watching it.
“Did you find that hard to do?” Asked the woman’s unseen interlocutor eventually
“Not really, she was too small to struggle much. The hardest part was faking hysteria and grief in front of the coroner and the family. A few people definitely suspected something but no charges were ever laid. At one point I did miss my little pain in the arse, but the extra time now to focus on my work and to date again has been wonderful. So much happier now my Chlamidia is gone!”
At that she burst into laughter and downed more wine. Here Catherine paused the recording.
“That was the last time our agents were in direct contact with Zara Kline. The Rangers raided her laboratory and burned it to the ground, however she escaped. Examination of her files revealed that she was working on a biological weapon of terror the Tyranni wanted to help usher in a police state. I have been looking out for her to reappear for seven years and a few months ago something happened at the hospital here that lead me toI speculate that she’s been working there under a new identity and she is continuing her research.”
Suvarin’s hand had been covering her face since hearing what Zara had done to her own daughter. She slowly lowered it to speak.
“That would explain what happened a few months ago at the hospital.”
Everyone turned to look at Suvarin, but Laneg interrupted.
“Before you tell them about that Suvarin, I had better explain to Kent the nature of our work here. See the Salvati have been aware of the potential danger of a biological weapon being deployed against us so we have been working on what we call project Panacea. The goal is to preemptively development treatments and cures for all the biological agents most likely to be weaponised and deployed against the population. We have been collecting samples of every major biological threat from patients at the hospital thanks to Suvarin here. While the research team in this facility has been examining them for weaknesses and developing treatments.”
Suvarin took over from here.
“But a few months ago exactly ten people got violently ill from a strain of bacteria that was seemingly immune to every antibiotic available. I say seemingly because I noticed the doctors were being incompetent: they weren’t giving the appropriate doses of antibiotics and with the right frequency to avoid the bacteria mutating to be resistant. Since we record a lot of cases of incompetence in the medical staff there we considered that was the explanation and they would eventually realise and actually treat these people properly. However, when the staff didn’t adjust their treatment strategy in time panic started to set in because this bacterial strain was now immune to everything they had. At this point I stepped in under Laneg’s instruction here to test one of our experimental treatments. It worked and we cured all ten people, the hospital staff took credit for it, but of course they had no idea why they all spontaneously recovered.”
Laneg took over again, “This was a fantastic demonstration that our efforts here been productive, however, in light of finding out that the Tyranni have infiltrated the hospital and that this sociopathic microbiologist is involved it wouldn’t surprise me if this payload Peterson and Nix were so concerned about was in fact a collection of specimens used for their bioweapon development program. Which means the mobsters who stole it from them probably have no idea what they have gotten hold of.”
Catherine nodded, “That’s exactly what I am concerned about: the Tyranni with a bioweapon able to kill millions through nationwide terror. However, Colby is not concerned with any of this because this is all speculation on our part because we don’t know if Kline is even at the hospital, much less what’s in that payload; for all we know it’s just a regular bomb that’s unrelated to people who got sick with the anti-biotic resistant bacteria. So far as Colby is concerned there is just one particular mobster here that he has a vendetta to action against.”
Kent spoke up, “So the rangers are possibly coming here, not because of the Tyranni but because of some obscure mobster who was unwittingly involved in stealing Tyranni bioweapons.”
While Kent was talking the second view screen activated and tanned toned man with white stubble appeared on the screen. He was added to the conference call by Catherine while Kent was speaking and caught the second half of Kent’s comment.
“Not some obscure mobster, but a confirmed enemy of the Aeshir,” Colby spoke and in a firm even manner that conveyed a hardness, “Anthony Cordoba is wanted for the murder of Lance Morris, a business owner in the capital city. Lance was married, with four children, and at the time of his murder he had a fifth child on the way. He was murdered by Mr. Cordoba for refusing to pay protection money to the mob. Our guardians had done their best to protect Lance and had foiled two arson attempts by the mob against Lance. However, Lance was inspiring other shop owners to resist the bullying of the mobsters and Anthony simply walked straight into his restaurant one day and shot him through the heart in front of his customers. It was obviously done as a demonstration to frighten the other shopkeepers back into easy submission. Despite our guardians successfully aiding in the arrest of this miscreant the civilian authorities failed to convince a jury despite eye witnesses and video evidence of his crime. The Aeshir cannot abide this injustice. I have just received permission from the wittan to carry out an extrajudicial vendetta against him. Prepare for my arrival sometime in the next two days.”
Laneg responded first, “Are you aware ranger Colby that we have at least three Tyranni agents active in our vicinity at present? Will you be able to assist us in dealing with any of them while you are here?”
Colby shook his head, “Due to the highly sensitive nature of these vendetta actions the wittan were clear that they would not condone any expansion of our mission. We are going there to eliminate one mobster, and that’s all. If you require assistance with the Tyranni you will need to collect some concrete evidence on what they’re doing here and present that to the wittan yourselves.”
Laneg nodded, “That is completely understandable. Unfortunately our only agent at the hospital is currently too injured for espionage work at present. Unless you would be interested in serving the Aeshir as an agent Kent?”
Kent frowned, “to collect evidence or to sabotage their plans, certainly, but please don’t ask me to carry a weapon.”
Catherine spoke up next, “That will not be necessary, Kent. What we need is for you to figure out where these mobsters have taken the equipment. That will mean investigating the scene of the crime. We will also require you to confirm if Zara Kline is working at the hospital and what her current name is. I have already checked the staff listings for the pathology lab and there is no one working there with a name similar to Zara. In order for you have sufficient time to focus on these important activities you are hereby excused from any studies or instructions from the Druidic order until this situation has been resolved.”
Colby looked at Kent with one eye squinting, “Did you say that you didn’t want a weapon?”
“You’re not Salvati though. Wouldn’t you feel safer carrying a weapon with you with at least three Tyranni agents walking about? Are you sure you are up to the tasks priestess Catherine has just outlined for you to do?”
“No. It will not be necessary for me to carry a weapon, and I will get those tasks complete without any problem. When you arrive you will find the ranger cache well stocked and I will be in a position to guide you to the mobster’s hideout.”
“I’ve read your file Kent, don’t put too much stock into your relations keeping you safe. The Tyranni hate family. So much so that you’re in more danger not less.”
“I know that I will be safe. God protects the righteous.”
“He does indeed, but he also destroys the foolish. Will you be able to call on any additional help? I read a report about a growkon who was able to assist you recently in a rescue operation of a Salvati agent.”
“Yes, Kelly. She’s a keen adventurous spirit. The Tyranni are paying close attention to her though.”
“If the Tyranni are after her and she’s proven her usefulness to us you may enlist any support she is willing to give us. I am authorised to offer compensation to her if necessary.”
Suvarin joined the exchange, “Kent, doesn’t Paul spend a lot of time at the hospital? Maybe he could help you identify Zara if she’s working at the hospital?”
“Great idea, also Oriana’s father might know something about mob related activity in the area as he is a business owner. We should use all three growkons since they have an interest in stopping the Tyranni here as it will protect them. Although how much am I permitted to tell them about our activities?”
Laneg interrupted, “They may know some general information about this facility, especially if it helps them to be motivated to collect evidence against the Tyranni. However, the details of project panacea are strictly secret because we don’t want the Tyranni to know we’re already countering them. If they found out they might switch to something else instead.”
Catherine spoke next, “Do not tell them about the extrajudicial nature of the rangers’ mission. Tell them simply that they are on a mission to retrieve stolen equipment. The Tyranni are always looking for a way to turn public opinion against us and if the general public knew what the fourth order were capable of then that could badly damage the reputation of the Aeshir. This is important because next year the Aeshir have plans to enter into an interfaith dialogue with the other major religions in this area and maintaining our strong reputation for good public works is essential for this dialogue to succeed. Utilise the growkons in your work, but minimise the risk or exposure to them and to our faith. Keep in mind that if this payload of theirs is what I suspect it is then we might need the salvati on standby to treat anyone who is infected.”
The meeting adjourned and Laneg left the room while Suvarin asked Kent to help her get to her room. When they arrived at her room Jodie was there studying at her desk. Suvarin asked her politely to leave and Jodie smiled knowingly at the couple as the door closed behind her. Suvarin however immediately assumed an alert serious expression as she turned to Kent.
“Kent, while I was in the security room at the hospital I installed a small wifi listening bug. I have a recording of all the conversations in that room. I will give you the recording and that way you can listen to any conversations Peterson and Nix have had and see if they can give you clues to help you with your investigation.”
Kent looked at her in surprise, “But Suvarin, that’s great, why didn’t you mention this in the meeting?”
“Because I wanted you to find out where the mobsters were.”
Kent’s smile turned into a frown, “Are you concerned that I wouldn’t be up to the task of finding their hideout before Colby arrives here?”
Suvarin looked a mixture of hurt and anxious, “Look, I just want to help, but I don’t want to be centre of attention. Take it and good luck. I believe in you.”
Kent smiled weakly, and left the room. He passed Jodie in the corridor on the way out and she winked at him. However, he struggled to hide his disappointment under a forced smile.