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The Drop

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It was a textbook drop.

Hundreds of people at the underground station, all moving with individual purpose. A woman in a red coat leans against a wall and opens a book; a man in a suit brushes past, moving closer to her than was quite necessary to avoid the others beside him. Suit stumbles on flat concrete and stretches out his arm. There is a rustle of paper and a quick movement. "Sorry," Suit says, not too loud, not to soft, and continues on his way. Red Coat turns the page and continues reading.

Tom Quinn is almost positive that Suit dropped a piece of paper between the pages of Red Coat's book.

Doors slide open on the train Tom had planned to take, but he stays where he is. The train pulls out, another pulls in, and Red Coat steps inside. Tom sits down in the next car over.

Red Coat changes trains twice, then takes a taxi. Tom doesn't think she's noticed that she's being tailed, but is merely following standard procedure. He follows her to a house with shuttered windows; the woman unlocks the door, goes inside, and as far as he can tell without being in two places at once, stays inside.

Up till then, he had been running on habit and instinct. Now he had a dilemma: investigate further with no back-up or support of any kind, and most likely tip off the entire operation; or call the weirdo line.

He's tempted to do the former, but it would prove that he hadn't learned anything from his mistakes; and no matter what he discovered, he'd still have to call the weirdo line to report it. He moves out of sight of the house to make the call from a telephone booth, but stays close enough that he can watch the road.

"My name is Tom Quinn," he tells some very junior employee. "I'm a former MI-5 officer. Please tell Zoe Reynolds or Danny Hunter that I'm on the line, and it's urgent."

After the first three times, he no longer has to stifle the impulse to add, "Perhaps." After two more repeats, he begins to wonder if Zoe and Danny are even still with MI-5. They could have retired. They could have been killed. The seventh time he tells yet another voice he doesn't recognize that his name is Tom Quinn, he wonders if anyone he knew is still there.

The eighth voice informs him that his message will be given all due attention, but he must give it to her. The edges of her words, like fragments chipped away one by one from a block of ice, convince him that whoever she is, she will hang up rather than transfer him if he refuses.

"I realize that I might have seen one of your own operations, or Six's," he begins. "But in case it was something else..."

There is no reply, not even the sound of breath. He tells his story into a silence like a dead connection. At the end of it, he's goaded into saying, "Are you still there?"

"Yes," she replies. "Thank you."

He's considering sly methods of getting her to at least tell him whether Zoe or Danny or Harry still work there when she hangs up.

Tom is half-way home when he remembers two things: that Victoria's birthday party was three hours ago and across town, and that he'd turned off his cell phone as soon as he'd decided to follow the woman in the red coat. He turns it on, finds twelve messages leading from puzzled to annoyed to worried to frightened to furious to threatening, and turns it back off.

When he gets back, he sweeps his apartment for bugs but finds none. Either he's lost his touch, or the technology's improved, or his call didn't warrant further monitoring.

"Zoe?" he asks the air. "Danny?" Or, more likely: "Colin?"

There are sixteen messages on his answering machine, all from Victoria. It occurs to Tom that she might be less needy if he was more open. Perhaps he should tell her what he used to do. When he was an agent, he couldn't resist telling people, but now that it's perfectly legal for him to reveal his former status, he finds himself dipping into old legends instead.

Tomorrow, maybe, he'll tell her. Tonight, he unplugs the phone.

If London doesn't blow up tomorrow, he'll know that his message was heeded. Or that he had stumbled upon an MI-5 or MI-6 op. Or that other agents were already monitoring the drop. Or it was a drug deal rather than terrorists. Or that no one followed up, and the gas will be released the day after.

Or that there was no drop. It's hard to stop seeing hidden connections and secret flurries of activity beneath the placid surface of ordinary life. He could have been so used to seeing those patterns that he manufactured one out of his well-trained imagination. Even if something does happen tomorrow, he'll never know if there was a connection.

A few weeks ago he dreamed of the Emergency Response Exercise that had convinced him that a chemical attack had devastated England. "On the head of the king, let all the sorrows lie?" Ruth had once more asked him. In the dream, he was convinced that her words were a code that, if deciphered, would explain how to build a time machine that could reverse everything. When he woke up, disoriented and in darkness, it took several seconds for him to remember that it had only been an exercise, that there was no apocalypse, and that he was no longer in MI-5.

It's strange how that elaborate exercise in make-believe and deception felt so much more real than anything that's happened to him since he left the service.

Tom lies down and closes his eyes, not knowing whether he fears or hopes that he will awaken to the terror and despair of the locked-down Grid, with Danny by his side and Zoe at his back.