SORD

Chapter twelve- Professionalism

In the chill of the cool night breeze, Safaric's dark tresses whipped gently around her shoulders and face as she continued to scowl into the oppressive darkness stretched out ahead of her.

"This is it?"

Pinter's brooding expression caught her eye as he halted beside her, the wind ruffling his thick mess of hair and catching the bottom of his plain white t-shirt, making it flap somewhat.

His silence was her reply. She could already judge his emotions by the expressions which played across his face; he wasn't a hard man to read, neither was he a hard man to like… or dislike.

He broke her train of thoughts just as suddenly as he spun on his heel and headed back to the car, "Let's find somewhere to bed down for the night."

She glanced back over her shoulder at him, glimpsing him disappearing into the driver's seat, and turned back to the bridge swathed in black. Arms crossed against her chest to keep most of the cold out, she followed his suit, the griping hunger in her empty stomach and the biting eastern wind prompting her to be quick about it.

*

The bed and breakfast wasn't that hard to find in the dark. The white sign screwed haphazardly onto the side of the building had a small, flickering light bathing the flaking black and white paint in an amber glow.

Pinter was glad to see the back of the car, having been cooped up in it all day playing a never-ending game of 'eye-spy', which had been fun at first- until the towns and cities had dwindled to nothing and the mainstream traffic had dissipated, leaving just them on the open road. After awhile of guessing the many variation of foliage flying past the window, Safaric had grown rather irked with the game as well, and continued to be irritable for the rest of the journey.

A drizzle of rain began to fall as he rapped sharply on the front door, Safaric begrudgingly dragging herself out f the safety of the passenger seat and into the new onslaught of rain, which seemed to grow in strength.

By the time she reached the door, her hair was damp with dew and the t-shirt she'd been wearing was pinpricked with thousands of wet spots, it was just as she stepped under the porch that the heavens opened, and a downpour was unleashed.

The door inched open, and a short, dumpy old woman gazed up at them with charcoal eyes through thick-rimmed glasses, which gave her the startling appearance of Yoda. Her hair was a shock of white, permed, and she bore clothes of many muted brown shades, with a red and white stripped apron, "Yes?"

"Hello, we were wondering if you had any spare rooms for the night?" Pinter saw Safaric's glare of disapproval at his hopeful tone, if it were up to her, she would have booked the rooms beforehand.

"Oh, I'm sorry love, but I haven't anymore rooms tonight. Usually I would have two but one's taken up by a hiker and my daughter's stopped over for the night. Sorry I can't be of any help."

Pinter forced himself to smile, "That's alright, I'm sure we can find somewhere else around here."

She glowered at him as though he were stupid, "You'd have to go to the next town for lodgings, I'm the only running bed and breakfast here."

"How's far that?" Safaric butted in, tearing her glare away from Pinter to smile warmly at the old woman.

"About twenty minutes drive over the bridge, that way." She pointed the way they'd just come.

Safaric gazed back out into the deluge of rain falling under the covert of darkness, turning back, she sighed, "Thank you."

"No problem." She said, slowly closing the door as the two agents disappeared into the dismal night once again.

They walked back to the car in silence, and just when Pinter grabbed the door handle, Safaric's scathing voice cut through the darkness, over the hood of the car, to where he stood.

"Well done, now we've got nowhere to sleep for the night."

"Shut the hell up and get in the car." He snapped, dropping heavily into the driver's seat and slamming the door shut before he leant back in the seat, and put his head in his hands, exhausted.

The thud of the car door and rocking motion the force exerted on the vehicle was the only tell tale sign that Safaric had indeed gotten in beside him. A few minutes of peace passed, where the tension stayed electric, neither wanting to say anything to start an argument, yet neither wiling to let go.

"You're an idiot-" She began.

"You're a woman." Pinter retorted.

There was a moment of stifled fury on her part, she hesitated, "I'm stuck with you."

Her voice was strained, as though resigned, but still irate.

"And I with you," In the few moments which passed, he could hear the soft labour of her breath, see the faint outline of her rigidly set body. He sighed, straightening up, "Get some rest, I'll park up somewhere were we can-"

"Whatever, you know best." She muttered coldly, shifting her weight away from him, and leant back in her seat. Through the dark, he could just make out the soft silhouette of her curled up against the window.

With a heavy heart, he started the engine and pulled off the curb.

*

The silence was stifling, crippling him slowly as he sat in the darkness, his eyes scouring the faint outlines all around him. Once again, he lifted the bottle and felt the cold, sticky rim press against his lips. There never was anything better than alcohol to help him brood over worrying matters.

The cold liquor soothed his throat, which was tenderly sore, and he mused over the idea he may have caught some seasonal flu virus.

He laughed inwardly at himself for getting distracted so easily.

Again the oppressing silence forced its way to the front of his mind. What had he done? Why, after all these years, had it come back to taunt him, tease him, mock him until his eyes stung with angry, mortified tears?

Fuller swallowed the lump in his throat and took a larger swig. Gazing thoughtfully at the wall behind the television, and realising he needed to repaper it before Cheryl began to complain he never helped out around the house again. He sighed, pushing it to the back of his mind, he would find some time at the weekend to do it, but at the moment, there was something much more distressing vying for his undivided attention… though he wasn't sure whether he wanted to give it any, he hoped that if he ignored it long enough, it would just go away.

He took another sip, only to realise he'd run out, and stood, initially heading for the kitchen, before he stopped, and glowered woozily at something protruding out of the bookcase. His hand darted out, snatching up the picture which lay forlornly faced down, and glanced at it quickly, before he hastily shoved it atop some books, and looked away, cringing inside. Memories he didn't want to be reminded of infested the entire house.

They were memories he knew he'd never be proud of, never quite accept as memories of his own… that when he looked back on them, he found himself filled with a fury, a fury directed at himself for being so… so… naïve, so unobservant and gullible. Fuller often thought the death of his best friend was down to his own willingness to believe, his unquestioning stupidity and blinkeredness.

The death of Rupert Pinter, and every agent assigned to the SORD project, weighed heavily on his disturbed mind. Tonight, it felt as though the weight had shifted after lying dormant for so long, just to remind him it was still there… and still getting heavier.

He wandered into the kitchen, mindlessly grabbing another beer from the fridge, and searching for the bottle opener.

Louise had turned to him for answers. She had done from the outset.

She'd never said she'd blamed him, that it was just a silly accident, faulty air conditioning, which had torn her husband- the father of her three children- from her. Yet Fuller saw it in her eyes… the accusation, the pain, the belief that he had somehow brainwashed her son to join MI5 too.

That crushed him inside, to see her suffer so much, to see her turn her back on MI5…

"What are you still doing up?" The voice of a woman made him jump slightly, but he ignored it for a few seconds, feeling the burning on his back as her eyes bore into him.

"Getting a beer." He gazed expressionlessly at his wife still standing in the doorway.

She went to the fridge and opened the door, before closing it quickly with a petulant look about her, "I bought a six pack today, and there were two cans left over from last week-"

"Don't start on me Cheryl." He growled, downing a swig from his bottle.

"Another bad day?" she snapped, as though irritated by his lame excuse, "Maybe if you talked about it rather than downing your sorrows in a bloody bottle, this marriage would bloody work-"

"Talk to you?" he snarled, his eyes flashing dangerously as they locked onto her cold ones, "What do you know? You don't know what I go through day in day out-"

"Oh give over, you're an assistant director now, you don't see the gory of the front line anymore-" she shot back just as vehemently.

"I don't shoot the terrorist bastards anymore, but I still see the repercussions of my actions, I still see faces in my sleep," he slammed his fist down on the table, "I grow close to people I work with, and the next day they don't come into work, because some Osama Bin Laden praising little shit blew his head off!"

"It's always about you, isn't it?" she said slowly, deliberately. He froze, "You always think there's something more important going on, and you miss out on the things which matter, your son's graduation, the birth of your granddaughter… being married to you has been like being a single mother. In some ways I wish I was… you've just… you've just never been here, and even when you are, you're only here in physicality, your emotions are always elsewhere…"

Cheryl paused, then looked away, suddenly subdued by her own thoughts, and Fuller felt his heart go out to her. She was right, she always had been.

He hesitated a moment longer, "I'm sorry, Cheryl."

She glanced up, then avoided his gaze, "You're not the man I married, Daniel… I don't know you anymore."

He watched her disappear, wondering where the last 25 years had gone… it didn't matter; it'd already gone wrong by then.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the onslaught of a headache, and sat down on a kitchen chair, his eyes unfocused, lost amidst his memories…

"He gave you a child?" he cried, incredulously

"One orchestrated by the project itself. It's just a baby… a few months old."

"Rupert, this is dangerous enough as it is, but you go and get a child? This is almost suicidal, they'll kill you." Fuller shot towards the door, glancing up and down the corridor before he hastily pushed it to, and pressed his back against it.

"People have died for much less." Rupert supported the small bundle in the crook of his left arm, and drew the blinds with his right

Fuller shook his head in disbelief, "He gave you a child?"

"Oh, shut up for a minute, would you?" Rupert snapped, seating himself in the chair behind the desk.

"What the hell are you going to do with it?"

"What do you think I'm going to do with it?" he glowered, then looked down at the loosely wrapped babe asleep in his arms.

His partner laughed nervously, then realised he was serious, "But… what about Louise?"

"Louise will love this child like she loves the twins…" Rupert paused, looking fondly at the infant, and rocking it gently, "…she always wanted a little boy."

Sitting down carefully opposite the pair, Fuller processed the new information, "You're going to study his growth… aren't you?"

There was a sudden, bitter look to Rupert as stared at him, "I have to understand what they're doing to them, to know what's really going on… the truth."

"And this little boy holds the key." He stated, the sheer importance of the child registering in his mind.

Rupert nodded, "He told me this little fella is one of the few, and first, successful births the project has done so far."

"They successfully tampered with the gametes?" he asked, stunned.

"That's what Harry told me at least, and they've had several more successful pregnancies since this one was born, which is why I need to find out what they're doing to the foetuses. I have some of the details they archived; it's been handwritten, though, since they would know if the record was stolen."

He passed a dog-eared piece of paper over the desk to Fuller, who took it eagerly, "Harry copied this for you?"

"Yeah."

They shared a look.

"Benjamin."

"Yes…" Rupert admitted, avoiding his colleague's stare.

"Harry wasn't lying when he said he was in too deep…"

"That's why they killed Katelyn." He whispered sombrely.

And it suddenly dawned on Fuller, the magnitude of the baby held in Rupert's arms, and the disastrous effects he could have on the future…

"They wanted to see if the project had been successful, because he was the first born… but she wouldn't let them, so they killed her…" he felt his heart break, he felt the shock breaking over him, "…they wanted to take him so… so…"

"They could study him," Rupert nodded slowly, a cold, hard, bitterness resonating in his strong voice, "They shot Harry, left him for dead… if it wasn't for William, they would have taken Ben…"

"They took another genetically engineered child in his place though…" Fuller muttered quietly, almost to himself.

"Yes…" they sat in silence for a minute, "…but Harry's risking his life for us, I might as well risk my life saving his son, and giving him a normal upbringing."

"No," Fuller blurted hastily, standing, "They'll know it was you Rupert, they'll get to you, they'll know that the son you adopted was part of project 931-c, it's safer for both of you if you gave him to someone else… someone who can't be connected to this whole affair…"

Rupert mulled over this proposition, the doubt in his eyes, "But… then we won't know what they're doing to them… what project 931-c really is."

"Maybe not knowing is better than knowing the truth… what if the truth is… unspeakable? What then? Some things are better left alone, Rupert, you know I'm right."

"Yes, but these children are the future… they are going to keep engineering them until they breed into our society, and then we'll all have the mutation, or whatever it is."

Fuller hesitated, "What would the government want with genetically modified people, though? Answer me that. Maybe they're trying to enhance intelligence… er… boost immunity, maybe this is a good thing… after all, this is our government doing this, it can't be anything bad, can it?"

His head shot up abruptly from the table as the front door closed with force, echoing throughout the entire house, and through his bloodshot eyes, Fuller could make out the dull, early morning light filtering through the soft, peach coloured blinds. He felt bad, and as he ran a hand through his hair, his fingers trailed over the fresh stubble growth.

"Mum?" A face peered around the door, "Oh, hi dad."

"Hi Mike…" he retorted in surprise, "you're back then?"

"For a couple of days." His son answered sheepishly.

"I… I didn't know," Fuller stared at his son's face at length, as though trying hard to recognise the child he had once been, "Well that's… great."

"Uhuh."

As Fuller gazed at his son, he saw no resemblance of himself there, just Cheryl, "Maybe we could do something… you want to catch a movie Friday?"

"Nah, I've got some stuff to do. Well, I best be off, I'm meeting Jenny soon. I'll see you later." And with that, he was gone.

Fuller sat there for a few more minutes, trying to understand the conversation he had just had, and failing. Who was Jenny, anyway? It took him a couple more minutes to realise that Jenny was the name of his son's girlfriend, who he'd been dating for the past year or so.

Ignorance is bliss, he thought, just trying to believe in yet another lie.