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Codename: Sappho

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FROM: INTELLIGENCE AGENCY GENERAL HEADQUARTERS

TO: FIELD AGENT M-24-7-69

PRINCESS OF BURGUNDY STALLED STOP

MEET IN BASEL STOP

WRAP UP WARM EAT PROPERLY END


In the Basel Münster sat a pretty young woman, muffled heavily against the cold. Even her heavy brown coat, her fluffy gloves and the thick red scarf wound round her throat seemed not to protect her, for her gloved hands trembled mightily on her prayer book. Her hat, screwed down tight on black curls, bobbed nervously.

"You look," Agent Kara told her, "like you're on a secret mission."

"Shhh!" hissed the girl, snapping her prayer book closed.

"Yes," said Agent Kara. "That will help now."

She surveyed her handler with some distaste. Agent Marie was too delicate for Intelligence. To begin with, it galled Kara on a professional level that her name really was Marie, Marie Drouet, and that this had taken Kara perhaps three days to discover. Her father - this was worse - was a man high up in the Agency, a doting father who had been only too pleased to allow his daughter to play spy games. And so Agent Kara, who had annoyed a senior intelligence officer, ended up with the boss's daughter.

"What did you think you were playing at, sending an uncoded telegram?" she demanded, not bothering to keep her voice down. At this hour the only people around were the minister and the organist, both of whom were to begin with German-speaking Swiss, whereas they were speaking French, with no suggestive background of any kind (she could give Agent Marie that much credit), and, besides, she was tracking their positions in her peripheral vision. If necessary, she could kill them on the way out.

"Oh," said Marie, blinking. "I didn't think. But whoever saw it would have thought it was coded anyway, wouldn't they?"

"Don't be stupid," said Agent Kara, who had spent three hours cursing Marie for her fiendish cipher before realising. "If nothing else, I could have been followed."

"I can shoot," Marie said helpfully. She looked wide-eyed and obliging, like a puppy or a kitten. Agent Kara, who had eaten both for breakfast under straitened circumstances, was unimpressed. Utterly unimpressed.

"So can I," she said.

"I know!" Marie brightened inexplicably, apparently missing the subtext of Kara's last sentence entirely. "You were wonderful on the firing range at headquarters!"

This was too much for Kara, who yanked Marie out of her seat and dragged her out of the church. "If you ever send me a message like that again," she snarled, "I'll - "

"Shout at me?" Marie seemed unbothered by this idea. Her face was a little flushed, that was all.

"I'll kill you," Kara said, and left it at that.


FROM: INTELLIGENCE AGENCY GENERAL HEADQUARTERS

TO: FIELD AGENT M-24-7-69

DANCE A VIENNESE WALTZ WITH ME IN TOWN STOP

SHE'S A PRETTY LADY STOP

WRAP UP WARM EAT PROPERLY END


Kara was actually dancing with the Baroness von Vienenburg when she saw Marie again. The telegram hadn't been hard to decode; the Baron von Vienenburg was a chemist with a well-known line in nerve gases. That his wife frequented sapphist clubs was rather less well-known, but Kara suspected a convenient agreement. It would not be hard - was never hard - to seduce a lady who wanted to be seduced, and Kara had done it, had pocketed the relevant formulae, and was now considering her exit strategy.

"Having fun?" Marie asked when Kara came up to the bar. She seemed gratifyingly awestruck at Kara's black silk dress, which came to a shocking full three inches above her ankle. Kara glanced down at her cleavage approvingly. It had worked on the Baroness, too.

"Very much so," Kara said, showing her teeth. Marie drooped slightly, much to Kara's surprise, and even more bizarrely the flower on her hat drooped with her. Never mind. Kara swept away majestically, leaving her to it.

It was surprising how helpful Marie turned out to be in extracting her from the mission. Perhaps she'd decided that her best bet for survival was annoying Kara as little as possible.

"Did you have fun at the club?" she asked the morning after, as Marie proved to be a nifty hand at sorting out aeroplane engines.

Marie might have turned bright red, it was difficult to tell beneath the splashes of oil. "It was very nice, thank you," she murmured, retreating to pretty manners.

"Hm," said Kara, and Marie said:

"Look over there, isn't that Vienenburg? Gosh, we'd best get this engine sorted quickly."


FROM: INTELLIGENCE AGENCY GENERAL HEADQUARTERS

TO: FIELD AGENT M-24-7-69

PRINCESS OF BURGUNDY BACK IN BAVARIA STOP

ON STANDBY WHENEVER YOU NEED ME STOP

WRAP UP WARM EAT PROPERLY END

Marie really was sat at the communications desk when Kara finally got back to headquarters. She looked tired, Kara decided, although the dark circles - infuriatingly enough - suited her and she was rubbing her eyes. "Boo," Kara said, and Marie squeaked.

"You're back!" she said when she woke up from her swoon. Kara nodded.

"Well spotted," she said, but without venom. Without more preamble, she asked: "Why do you always tell me to wear warm clothes?"

"Ah," said Marie. She was a terrible liar, Kara concluded. She could even see the moment Marie thought of lying. "It's to confuse any spies."

"Yes," said Kara. "Me."

"No, not you! I want you to wear warm clothes, that's all." Marie looked close to tears.

Kara considered a number of responses. "Why?" seemed the most sensible.

"Well, I worry," said this alien creature, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Kara would have laughed, had all laughter not been driven from her by the cynical life of the Intelligence Agency.

"I see," she said grimly. It seemed like an appropriate response, but Marie flailed.

"I mean! I don't mean it like that! I was just in that club because I wanted to check on the mission status! I didn't ask to be your handler!"

Kara, used to people for whom torture wasn't a good enough reason to give up the time of day, felt almost embarrassed for this wealth of information. There was, however, a clear course of action and Kara took the initiative.

She said, "For your sake and mine, be quiet." And then she kissed her.