“Alright, let’s see if Bradley’s pulled through for me.”
Floyd smiled at him and flicked his tail around just a bit as they stood in front of his office door; he seemed excited.
With a flourish, he poked his key into the lock and opened the door to his office, revealing a considerable stack of paperwork on his desk that hadn’t been there yesterday. Floyd now appeared to be positively ecstatic.
“Bloody hell, what’s all that lot?” Milo asked, taken aback by the reams of paper on his desk and his curious reaction to it, though thankfully Floyd explained quite extensively.
“It’s the jackpot, that’s what it is. last night I got Bradley to send out a communication to every active officer to send in any reports of our mysterious red dress lady: lo and behold, it looks like the entire damn operation’s seen her. Seems we’ve got ourselves a veritable celebrity on our hands.”
Milo raised his eyebrows as Floyd handed him a file. He was impressed.
“Wow. How the hell did you get Bradley to sign off on all this?”
Floyd took a handful of files and opened each of them to examine the reports held within them.
“Oh, I just told him he truth; said this lady was our best bet at finding Petersen’s killer. More than likely she’s personally responsible but I can’t confirm that until we’ve interrogated her.”
Floyd stopped after he said that and fixed him with a conspiratorial look, “I also told him to send out the request in person. Something about this isn’t sitting right with me and I’m not sure what it is, so until we’ve got a clear picture, I want you to keep as silent as possible about this.”
Milo nodded and thumbed through the paperwork he’d been handed before putting it on the ground at one end of the room, then took another one and did similar, placing it behind the first.
Floyd gave him a quizzical look, then just shrugged, “whatever works for you, cupcake.”
He grabbed a bunch of reports and looked through each one fairly quickly, then assigned each one a position in the expanding chain of paperwork until he’d created a quite complex line that he shuffled and switched around as he added to it.
“You quite alright there, Milo?” Floyd asked, then a funny little expression crossed his face and he understood “Oh, I get it; that’s a timeline, isn’t it? Got anything interesting yet?”
He shrugged to him and stood up to look at his work. On the right hand side of the room there was the most recent sighting of the mystery woman, dated only four days ago, and on the left hand side lay the older ones, some of which dated all the way back to 2005.
Milo pointed to the most recent entry in his timeline and gave Floyd a worried look.
“I think I might, actually; this sighting was only four days ago, making it just a day before Petersen’s body was found.”
Floyd positively beamed for a moment, then glanced at the monitor and tapped it once, before turning back to him and pointing towards the middle of the chain on the floor.
“Alright. Could you tell me if we’ve got any sightings around the third of May in 2013?” He asked, with a strange vivacity in his voice.
He knew that tone; he was on to something.
Quickly, he dropped to his knees again and scoured the files to find anything that fitted Floyd’s request; sure enough, after a minute or two, he found a small report dated for the first of May, mentioning her being spotted in Paris.
He looked back at Floyd and gave him a nod, “Bingo. May first” he said, to which Floyd repeated the action he’d done on the computer before.
“Okay, what about Feb twenty-third, 2014?”
Again, Milo started searching for anything around that date and found one dated on the twenty-second.
He felt a little surge of pride, looking at Floyd going through the dates; seeing him working like that was impressive.
He could watch him working out problems like that all day, just watching him connect the dots in his head and put his theories to the test, seeing him apply that razor-sharp intellect of his to problems and grinding them down until something stood out to him.
After about another twenty minutes, the suspense was too much for him and so Milo finally got up and headed over to Floyd’s desk to stare at the computer screen and see for himself what he was on to.
He didn’t even have to ask.
“This is a list of the dates each and every active officer in MI6 died, going back twelve years. So far there have been seven deaths, and of those seven, she’d been spotted shortly before their death on no less than six occasions.”
Floyd then tapped a few icons and the computer shut down.
Milo needed a moment to process the information he’d been given.
Floyd was suggesting that this woman was responsible for the deaths of almost every officer who died in the line of duty - that she just popped up and people died, like some kind of albatross or malevolent apparition.
He chewed it over in his head for a little while longer, then finally met Floyd’s gaze.
“Yeah, okay. There’s something going on here. Let’s go tell Bradley.”
Mr Bradley wore an expression he’d not seen before: it existed somewhere between incredulity and worry, and for such a thing to cross his face, he must have realised something truly horrifying.
“How the bloody hell did nobody pick this up before?” he growled - more to himself than to either of them - then drummed his fingers on the desk, awaiting a reply from either of them.
Milo shrugged and offered the explanation they had agreed on.
“We’re working under the assumption that she was never a person of interest during any of the operations; the overwhelming narrative of all the files we looked through pinned her as some sort of hired muscle, if the officer even noticed her at all.”
Bradley remained silent as Floyd leaned forward to follow up on Milo’s point, “while the evidence isn’t as damning as we would have hoped, there is a clear and decisive pattern linking her to dead officers. Not every time she appears, somebody dies, but every time somebody dies, she’s popped up. She’s a fucking omen.”
He left it at that and the room fell silent as Mr Bradley pondered the report that they had handed him. Neither he nor Milo dared speak as they watched him examining the evidence they’d gathered, until finally Bradley spoke.
“Gentlemen. Were this under less dire circumstances I would be more forward in saying so, but for now, I can only give my apologies. I apologise for not promoting you to Delta sooner.”
To hear an actual compliment from Mr Bradley was the kind of thing that many officers only dreamed of.
“Thank you sir” Floyd squeaked, then cleared his throat, “unfortunately we have no idea where she is and sightings of her have been more sporadic since about two years ago.”
“But we think we’ve got a lead” Milo added hastily, giving him a subtle glance.
“We found evidence of an unusual weapon where Petersen died; we have what we think is a small fragment of that weapon in our possession, hopefully further study might reveal the origin of the weapon and through that, its handler.”
Floyd raised an eyebrow at that.
Either he was lying through his back teeth to spare him Bradley’s disappointment, or he’d genuinely come up with something.
“Sir, with your permission, we would like to investigate further. Thank you.”
Mr Bradley sat back in his seat for a little while and chewed over his offer: under normal circumstances, this would be where he handed the job over to a more seasoned officer - Kan-Su, perhaps, or maybe Watland - but so far, Floyd and Milo had proven themselves more than capable.
Authorising further investigation now would be to throw them in at the deep end. He had to be damned sure they knew how to swim.
Floyd watched as Bradley closed his eyes gently and presumably chewed it all over, and he leaned in closer, silently willing him to choose them.
He saw his mouth move slightly, silently pronouncing the names of other officers, then finally Bradley opened his eyes again and returned to his default, cold and unflinching demeanour.
“Very well. You started this, you may as well finish it.”
He paused for a moment, then seemed to remember something, “Oh, and pay a visit to the armoury, will you? It seems the M.O.D.’s little pet project may finally have bore fruit. I want your views on it. You are dismissed.”
And with that, Floyd got up from his chair and left with Milo.
The armoury was far less impressive a facility in reality than either of them had expected it to be when they had joined MI6 years ago.
As important as all the hardware in that section of the building was, they were still only making swords and knives, so there really wasn’t too much need for any particularly dramatic equipment, lighting or security measures.
Except for today, where no less than six soldiers had been stationed outside the armoury entrance.
Like before, the soldiers let them in after checking their identification, but these ones weren’t part of the building’s normal security detail and wore marked and distressed armour, showing that all six of them had seen combat.
No doubt they had been brought in by the M.O.D. to guard their latest attempt at building a gun.
For as long as repeating rifles had existed, rodent governments had rushed to try to create a working gun, but such efforts had uniformly failed owing to any of three major problems.
The first major problem was that a projectile small enough to comfortably be fired by a mouse would simply be so small as to lose all of its energy the moment it left the barrel, the second was that creating a gun that was big enough to work always resulted in a weapon so unwieldy as to be unusable by all but the biggest of rats, and that finally, should a gun ever be usable by a reasonably sized rodent, the reliability of such a weapon was utterly awful.
For the last five or so years, the M.O.D. had been working hard to refine a design that incorporated an external gas tank on the user’s back to fire an oversized projectile, and whilst every year the results were promising, the external tank always made the gun intolerably heavy and the large bullets meant that the weapon would have to be reloaded after each shot.
Yet now, a crowd of the finest swordsmiths that British Intelligence had to offer, were crowded around one fairly average-looking white rat standing on a small platform and brandishing an altogether much smaller, more conventional-looking gun.
Floyd politely moved his way through the little congregation of armourers to get to the front, where the rat with the gun was holding up a round for all of them to see.
The entire thing was only about as long as his finger and not much wider, with an unusually long bullet at the end of the casing.
Clearly they had scrapped the gas design and moved on to something much more practical.
“The BMR-1 uses a specially designed cartridge, firing a one-and-a-half millimetre diametre projectile over an effective distance of six metres. Such range is achieved by the use of a much longer bullet and much greater explosive charge inside the shell, allowing the BMR-1 to be used in long distance engagements as well as being highly effective in close range combat.”
Floyd felt just a bit slighted by that - no gun could ever match a trained swordhand in close combat.
The rat then worked a lever on the side of the gun and the magazine dropped out into his hand to reveal the rounds inside. Floyd studied them carefully, noting the relatively limited capacity; he estimated it had the capacity for about nine rounds before it needed to be replaced.
More than enough though - as he noted with dread - to decisively win even a fairly large fight.
The rat replaced the magazine and locked it into place by returning the release lever to its original position, indicating to him that the mechanism inside must be unusually robust to withstand sustained fire.
They had really done their homework on this one.
Then the rat took a look round the collection of individuals around him, before finally fixing his gaze on Floyd.
He silently cursed himself for pushing to the front as the rat extended a paw to him and proudly announced, “And using the latest 3D printing technologies, we have not only managed to make this rifle cost effective, but also amazingly light, why not come up and demonstrate for us, little buddy?”
Floyd bristled at his turn of phrase, but forced himself to smile and begrudgingly accepted his invitation.
“What’s your name, little guy?” the rat said, speaking more loudly than was necessary for the crowd’s benefit.
“Floyd Colby” he replied, before taking the opportunity to show just a little of his disdain, “And what’s your name, so I know who to report when this explodes in my face?”
“Connor Roach, and I assure you this design has been extensively tested to guard against such defects.”
Roach. How appropriate, he thought.
Connor handed him the gun and he braced himself to deal with an almost unbearable amount of weight, but once he’d got a firm grip on it, he found it to be surprisingly light, with all of the weight around the centre of the gun, where the magazine and firing chamber were situated.
Sure, it wasn’t as light as a feather, but it was nowhere near the incredible bulk he’d expected.
“As you can see, ladies and gents, Floyd here can handle the BMR-1 with no more than a moderate degree of difficulty, making the weapon viable for all but the tiniest of mice, and a dream to handle for any rat. But that’s not all, so to demonstrate the gun in action, I think Floyd here should take a few shots at the target we’ve provided, so you can all see for yourselves how effective the prototype is.”
Connor pointed him towards the practice ring that the armoury used to test new weapons and armour types, where two of the older rat-sized testing dummies had been fitted with different armour.
Floyd raised the gun, tucked it into his shoulder tightly and carefully took aim at the target on the left, then braced himself and pulled the trigger.
There was a deafening bang and the rifle shuddered violently, spewing out fire and debris just millimetres away from his eye and startling him as it ejected the spent casing vertically, then he felt the gun lurch upwards in his hands as the breech sealed and a fresh round was forced up to fill it.
Then the gun stopped moving and Floyd took a good look at the dummy in front of him.
He’d fired at the left target, which had been given aluminium plating to replicate the armour used by the majority of infantry; where he’d hit the target, the bullet had gone all the way through.
Mostly made from reclaimed drinks cans, aluminium armour was by far the most popular form of armour currently in use, offering strong protection against blunt force and slashing attacks while still being light enough to allow the wearer to move freely.
Of course, it was no match for a good, hard thrusting attack, but the rifle in his hands appeared to have punched right through just as well.
Floyd glared at the gun, then took aim at around the chest area on the target on the right and fired.
Again, the gun bucked and shook and let out a sharp bang, then he ejected the magazine and took another shot at the target using the chambered bullet, this time aiming for the target’s neck.
Both of his shots found their mark well and Floyd handed the now safe gun back to Connor, leaving him to pick up the magazine he’d left on the ground.
“Fix that breech mechanism” he said, sternly, “whoever thought having the casings eject upwards needs to be fired.”
With that, he headed over to the second target, which seemed to have withstood both hits, though the armour had deformed significantly.
This was the kind of armour that only rats ever used and was favoured by the kind of rats that wielded polearms; as its name suggested, it was made from food tins and could withstand pretty much any kind of punishment meted out against it, with the penalty of being incredibly heavy.
From behind him he heard Connor speaking, resuming his salesman delivery to talk up the gun’s capabilities while he examined the state of the armour.
“As you can see, the BMR-1 makes light work of more common armour types and will stop any more heavily armoured targets dead in their tracks. Say you’ve got a big ol’ rat in that armour over there, he’s hurtin’ real bad now, and as Floyd demonstrated for us, a follow-up shot to the neck or head should be more than enough to dispatch any target you may be faced with.”
By this point, Floyd couldn’t quite stand the man’s sales pitch any longer and with a quiet grunt, drew his sword, then rammed it between one of the joints in the armour and followed up by thrusting it up into the neck portion of the armour.
His sword’s thin blade slid between the plates again with but the merest whisper of resistance and came out the other side.
Safe in the knowledge that he’d just decisively dispatched his imaginary foe, Floyd looked back to gauge the audience’s reaction, then withdrew the sword and replaced it in its scabbard.
“Say you’ve got a big ol’ rat in that armour over there, he’s dead now” he called, then took a deep breath and headed back to Connor.
He shook his hand politely and gave him a pat on the back, taking a moment to enjoy the look of fear on his face.
“Try bigger rounds. So close though, better luck next time.”