The Jet d'Eau pumped the waters of Lake Geneva more than a hundred metres into the air, a stunning plume of near two thousand gallons dissolving into rainbow spray under the bright Swiss Confederation sun. When the breeze came dancing off the Rhône, it swept that mist inland, speckling the windows of Nemesis headquarters without regard for whether the occupants beyond were data analysts beavering away at any hint of international conspiracy or W. L. Tremayne himself, debriefing the very agents who most often thwarted those conspiracies: Sharron Macready, Craig Stirling, and Richard Barrett.
"With Gruber dead and the plans recovered, that's the last we'll see of the Fifth Reich," Sharron said.
"Interpol are more than capable of doing the clean-up themselves so we left them to it." Craig smirked.
"Just in time for lunch at Il Lago," Richard mused, tapping Geneva on the giant rotating wall map. "Roasted quail salad with summer truffle, I think."
"And champagne," Sharron agreed, picking up her handbag and rising from her chair. "Craig will pay."
"Oh, sure, sure." Craig nodded agreeably. "One bottle of the very cheapest champagne they have." He stepped up to the door and then frowned when it didn't open, looking back at Tremayne. "Uh. Aren't we done?"
"I just have a few more questions." Tremayne beckoned them back into the room. Richard shot a look at Craig "Come on, come on. Debrief is done when I say it is."
They all took a slow step back towards the chairs and his desk.
"I thought our reports were quite thorough, sir," Richard said. "And, at least on my part, using some well turned choices of phrasing."
"I appreciate the poetry of your prose," Tremayne said dryly, "and certainly these reports are complete and thorough, insofar as physical evidence and the indisputable, witness corroborated facts go."
"Thank you," said Sharron primly. "We--"
Tremayne cut her off. "That wasn't a compliment. The fact of the matter is, I have read hundreds of thousands or these reports over my years with Nemesis -- indeed, I've even written my fair few! Which grants me an unparalleled expertise in recognising the difference between agents providing with genuinely thorough reports--"
Craig started to speak and then stopped at Tremayne's look.
"--and those," Tremayne continued, "providing reports whose thoroughness betrays a certain amount of, how shall I put this?"
"Loopholes?" suggested Craig.
"Anomalies?" offered Sharron.
"Inconsistencies," provided Richard.
"Fabrications," snapped Tremayne, and tutted when they exchanged a complicated three way glance. "That behaviour just there is exactly the sort of thing that worries me. Your non-verbal communication borders on the -- well, for lack of a better word, the uncanny."
"We've worked together for years," Richard started.
"Yes, yes." Tremayne said testily, waving this away. "This report of yours is full of instances that seem perfectly logical in hindsight but which I have a hard time believing were as direct without that benefit."
Craig leaned on the back of Richard's chair and smiled disarmingly. "Maybe you could give us some examples, Tremayne."
"All right." Tremayne picked one of the reports up, opened it to the correct section, and turned it around for them to see, tapping a paragraph. "Sharron, you wrote that you followed Frau Grese because of a conversation she had with an employee that you suspected was part of the movement. Now, tell me, given you were on the other side of a crowded Berlin cafe -- by your own admission, no less -- how could you have possibly overheard anything to make you suspect her involvement over all the other people who talked to the very same man?"
"That was ... a hunch. Call it feminine intuition." With a warm smile, Sharron started to sit on the edge of Tremayne's desk and then quickly stood up straight at his glare, absently smoothing her hands down the line of her skirt. "A lucky guess based on evidence and history."
"A lucky guess," Tremayne scoffed.
"Yes," Sharron said coldly.
Tremayne quickly looked away from her, and at the other two instead. "And are you going to claim women's intuition too? For how you, Craig, somehow knew Grese had disembarked a U-Bahn train mid tunnel? Or for how you, Richard, could enter the code allowing you into the disused station serving as their base?"
"Well..." Richard rubbed at his mouth, smiling a little. "I've always thought of myself as in touch with my feminine side--"
"Poppycock!" Tremayne snapped.
Craig mouthed the word at Sharron in disbelief. Her lips twitched slightly.
"Now, I will grant you that allowing Richard to be kidnapped and taken to the enemy's leader was a valid plan. Indeed, I give you all a long leash precisely so you, with your more immediate knowledge of the mission, can make exactly these sort of high risk, time critical decisions. Yet even taking that into account," Tremayne said, raising his voice over Craig and Richard's attempts to interject, "your disregard for your own safety is borderline suicidal!"
"Now, I wouldn't go that far," Richard tried.
"Grese got you Gruber, yes, but the walls to Gruber's compound are nine feet high. Am I supposed to believe you just jumped over them? On your given timeline, you took less than a minute to go straight to where Richard was being held captive, in a house with more than forty rooms. How could you have possibly known where he was? And Sharron, I am aware you train rigorously, but surely even you can understand why I have a hard time believing you took down three fully armed Nazi fanatics at close quarters, even if one was a woman?"
"It was a quite narrow corridor," Sharron tried.
"And that's just this mission," Tremayne ranted right over her. "In others, your timelines require you to have been underwater for almost ten minutes, in below freezing temperatures for hours, in desert wilderness without water for days... I am one more inadequate explanation away from pushing that buzzer right there, and having you all taken in for extreme interrogation! I know you three are hiding something and I want answers! Now!"
There was a long, uncomfortable silence during which Tremayne levelled his glare at each of them equally and the three agents shifted awkwardly, each throwing glances at the other. Finally, just as Tremayne was reaching for the intercom button, Craig lifted his hands in surrender.
"All right! All right. We'll tell you."
"Craig," Richard said warningly.
"No, I think he has a right to know. We have been keeping a secret from you, Tremayne."
"I knew it," Tremayne said smugly, settling back in his chair and making a little 'go on' motion at him.
Craig took a deep breath and let it out. "We're in love."
"We are?" Richard said and then, quickly correcting, "Yes, we are."
"All three of us." Craig added, waving a hand between the three of them. "It's how we know each other so well."
"How we can anticipate plans without communication," Richard said dryly.
Craig grinned at him. "Right, right. How we have a sense of when each other might be in danger."
"And be so insistent in watching out for each other, even if the evidence of a need to do so may be flimsy and circumstantial." Richard raised his hands placatingly when Tremayne huffed. "It's what motivates us to keep going in the most extreme of situations, where others might give up or let their exhaustion get the better of them. It's why we train so hard to stay at the absolute peak of mental and physical readiness."
Craig flexed a little by way of demonstration.
"We do our best to be discrete, of course," Sharron put in. "After all, we wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardise future missions or Nemesis's reputation. But sometimes that requires us to leave a few, less important, more personal details out of our reports. In retrospect, we understand how doing so may have lead you to have unwarranted suspicions."
"So there you have it," Richard continued. "Everything out in the open. I feel much better, don't you?"
"Oh, tonnes," Craig agreed.
"Like a weight has been lifted," Sharron said, smiling.
"No, I don't buy it," Tremayne said.
Sharron's smile vanished. Richard barely muffled a groan. Craig threw his hands up in the air and then stalked around Tremayne's desk towards the side table beyond and its ready supply of whiskey. "He doesn't buy it!"
"Is it the love part?" Richard asked.
"No, no, that makes perfect sense," Tremayne mused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "But it doesn't explain the more, well, inexplicable things. The things I've heard even when you weren't on missions. Fire-fighters seeing you leap down from the third floor of a burning building. Young ladies reporting impossible retrievals of jewellery from fields and barbecues. Amazing winning streaks at casinos. Children being rescued from bombs and cars rolling down hills. None of it adds up to--"
He swung his chair abruptly around, almost hitting Craig who was standing behind him, a glass in one hand and the other raised
"Were you about to karate chop me?"
"What?" Craig attempted to smile disarmingly, lifting his hand the rest of the way to push his hair back.
"You were about to karate chop me!" Tremayne bounded to his feet, snatching the white phone from the desk and brandishing it as a weapon. "I was a field agent when you were in diapers! I will not be treated like an idiot!"
"Nobody here thinks you're an idiot," Craig said placatingly. He offered Tremayne the whiskey, almost got a receiver to the face for the trouble, and put it down on the desk instead, retreating backwards to join the others. "You're the reason we're even in Nemesis."
"I would still be working some boring code breaking assignment in GCHQ if you hadn't recruited me out of British Intelligence," Richard said, sitting forward in his chair, clasped hands between his knees.
"If you hadn't recommended me for that mission to Tibet," Sharron said, "I'm not sure I would ever have recovered from the death of my husband. Now I've had the chance to use my medical skills to save a man's life on a submarine and prevent a war! You must know how grateful we all are, for your skills, support and guidance."
"Why, I haven't had to fly a dignitary around with my mouth shut for years!" Craig grinned. "You basically saved my--"
"Tibet," Tremayne said to himself, lowering the phone. "Yes, that mission to Tibet. The engineered bacteria. It all started there. You were completely changed when you got back. We put it down to the trauma, but it wasn't, was it? No, something else..."
"Frostbite and being shot at?" Craig offered.
"Something that enhanced you, made you faster, stronger, more empathic. A change to your own genetics. You had the sample on you when you crashed, didn't you?" Tremayne mused. "Perhaps... Yes, perhaps, if you were infected, the extreme cold would have helped you overcome it, survive instead of die, survive and mutate--"
"That's science fiction," scoffed Richard.
"You all got something," Tremayne insisted. "Tibet is the key, I know it."
"I'm afraid that all I got in Tibet was this pretty turquoise ring," Sharron said, lifting her hand to light to let the stone catch it, splinter it, sending it dancing. "It was mined in Ngari-Khorsum in the Himalayas, a small piece of an ancient homeland, carved out of the bones of the Earth and set in delicate curls of silver designed so the stone can be worn touching skin, a constant reminder that it's there, that you should look at it, look deep into its glittering blue green depths, down into the soft, cool, tranquil depths, down, and calm, and down, and calm, and down..."
"And down," Tremayne mumbled along, rocking slightly in his chair, eyes fixed on the gleaming jewel. "Yes... So calm..."
"There's nothing to concern you," Sharron said softly. "In a few moments, you will wake up, remembering none of this. Only that you congratulated us on a job well done and watched us leave, calm and content. All your worries gone."
"Yes," Tremayne agreed dreamily. "All my worries." Without looking away from the light, he reached out and pushed the button to open the doors. A moment later, his eyes drifted closed and he sank bank in his seat, breathing slowly and deeply.
Richard let out a woosh of breath. "Bit of a close thing."
"Can you put a bit more juice in this one?" Craig asked. "I swear it only lasted a few months this time."
"Done." Sharron took both their arms in hers and smiled up at them. "Now, someone buy me champagne."
"You just earned yourself the good stuff," Craig said.
"What about me?" Richard asked with mock affront.
"'We are?'" Craig mocked.
Laughing together, they went out into the sunlight and the spray. The door closed itself silently behind them and, a few moments later, Tremayne blinked and looked around his office. Alone, of course. Yes, he'd sent them off after a job well done. That explained why the files were all open on his desk. He started tidying them away and noticed the glass; he must have poured himself a whiskey. Good, good. A little celebration before the next mission. Perfectly understandable. He took a sip, contemplatively. There were those rumours of subversive neo-communist elements in the East and dangerously nationalistic neo-fascists in the West, with only Nemesis in the middle to keep the peace. Perhaps he would call Craig, Richard and Sharron back in a couple of hours, and send them to investigate. Why wouldn't he? They were his best agents after all. Still, there was something about them...
With a small shake of his head, Tremayne chuckled to himself, took another sip of whiskey, and reached for the next file.