Authors: Robert Michael
Tags: #Jason Bourne, #Sidney Bristow, #james bond, #spies, #Alias, #assassin, #Espionage
“Hold still, Eilif. This will only take a while. We have more than a dozen of these chips. Do not worry. You are going to help us get your daughter back. After that, I cannot guarantee your safety.”
“You are sick!” Eilif managed.
He felt himself slipping. He caught a glimpse of the nurse that had injected him. He recognized her. She had worked for him for several years at his residence in California. He remembered that she had always smiled at him. She did not smile at him now. He realized, as he slipped from consciousness, that appearances were deceiving.
he hallway was dark and the dust thick upon the stone. Andronicus trudged through the gloomy and damp castle. This feeling was completely foreign to him. At sixty-five, he had lived a life dedicated to hard work and secrecy. Most people thought he looked forty. They would not be far off, in truth, as science had prolonged his life and reversed many of its effects upon his body (and, more importantly, his mind).
Andronicus had not tasted failure since he had slipped on a roof when he was fourteen and fallen fifteen feet. He had survived, bruised and tender. His father’s punishment for failing to maintain his balance was more traumatic than his fall. The lesson was that failure was unacceptable.
The feeling in the pit of his stomach was unbearable.
Perhaps worse than this feeling of dread and failure was his escort.
Hooded and slim, Abd-al-Aziz had served the Consortium for almost two decades. His dark, gnarled hands had personally killed more than a thousand victims. The brightly decorated
handle of the curved
dagger at his side was enough of a threat to most people who understood Abd-al-Aziz’s role here.
Aziz also wore a beaded scarf across his face. He was a devout Yemeni soldier who found a calling here amongst the Consortium. He believed in their cause and offered his
in service to leaders as an exacter of justice as well as a personal bodyguard.
The Consortium attracted thousands of individuals like Aziz who served under principle more than pay. Andronicus firmly believed that the Consortium collectively took these people for granted.
His fear of the consequences of his failure blocked his efforts to brainstorm a way for penance. Was it this way with common people? Did their fear of the unknown paralyze their efforts to overcome the present or plan the future? Was this a weakness or merely a human mechanism for survival?
He was determined not to succumb to repeating his past failure. First, he had to survive this meeting.
“This way,” his escort said in clipped French.
He could have spoken any of a half dozen languages and Andronicus would have understood.
He followed Aziz. The man’s shoulders were squared, his stance relaxed but wary.
Andronicus watched the man glimpse over his shoulder.
Maybe his reputation had preceded him. It was completely possible that he had overestimated the results of his failure. Wasn’t he convinced that not all was lost?
One piece of the puzzle still had fallen. The President was dead.
The problem was that Andronicus was no longer convinced that this served them as much as it did their enemy.
Aziz led him down a set of stairs.
This old castle had not been modernized. Lamps still illuminated the interior, sending out inferior light. Andronicus could feel the chill that the hundred fireplaces could not dispel. He could smell the burning of the lamps, the fires, and the bodies in the courtyard. The walls were slick with lichen and rotting tapestries.
The glory of a reign almost two centuries old was rotting around him.
That was the beauty and the weakness of the Consortium. Although they still held sway over the world, they were rising from the ashes. They were the proverbial underdogs. They had been the perennial conquerors.
Born of the blood of ancient kings, pharaohs, and rulers, he and his partners bore the standard left by ancestors long dead to take back what was rightfully theirs. For centuries they had worked to shape world history from behind the curtain. They had allowed their power to grow, but horded their wealth.
Aziz held open a door. Andronicus looked at the man’s face, trying to read his eyes. He saw that Aziz wore a long, graying beard, but his eyes were deep-set and bottomless. The eyes of a killer. The eyes of the convicted. The eyes of the merciless.
Andronicus had been wrong.
This man knew no fear.
The room he entered smelled of incense and cigars. It smelled of cedar and strong coffee. It was the breath of old money, old power.
In contrast to the rest of the compound, this room was lit by electricity. He could hear the faint hum of a nearby generator. He heard someone clear their throat.
The room was massive. To his left, a long oak table dominated the space. Five men and one woman sat at the table.
Beatrice Aristides lay her hands flat upon the table. Her dark Greek isle eyes betrayed her. She had been his lover for almost four years when they were younger. She no longer held any love for him. They had become bitter rivals in the Consortium. He had already tasted her distrust and lack of forgiveness. He would have no help there.
Rashidi Renihura’s face was grim. His skin was pocked with disease and age. Near death, Rashidi, known for his ruthless determination to see their ancestor’s dream realized in his generation, would not easily forgive his failure. It was Rashidi’s wealth and influence that had led to the terrorist diversions in the Middle East. He had no sons. Andronicus was his last hope.
Andronicus took in a quick breath. He saw only two friendly faces. He was outnumbered. Louis Villeneuve was an unknown. His family had taken on a new name almost a century ago. His family name was too recognizable to remain incognito. Louis had been elected to the inner council almost two years ago. His votes had been scattered. He was generally swayed easily by emotion. Andronicus hoped he could use that to his advantage.
Lassiter and the Scot were too young to hold a grudge. They probably were confident enough of a recovery that they would be more forgiving.
The only rival at the table more opposed to him than Beatrice was his brother.
Most people would not recognize the resemblance.
Where Andronicus was tall and built like a mountain, Antiochus was slender. Andronicus was completely bald. His brother’s hair was dark and his curls framed a face that was fair and matched a thick goatee marked with a streak of grey.
Andronicus looked like a warrior and Antiochus a leader.
They both had deep grey eyes, but that was where the similarities ended.
Antiochus was curious, clever, creative, and his humor bitter.
Andronicus was completely humorless, boorish, and unimaginative. It was no wonder Beatrice had left his bed for his brother’s.
He glanced again at Beatrice. He noted the deep lines at her mouth, her raven hair, and the curves of her bare arms. He remembered his time with her with fondness. He had been foolish. If he were honest with himself, he would count this as his second failure since his father’s beating all those years ago.
“Nice of you to finally join us, brother,” Antiochus said. It galled his brother that he attended inner council meetings infrequently.
Andronicus bowed low and remained silent. He knew nothing would be gained.
“We understand things did not go as we had planned,” Rashidi said. The disappointment in his voice could melt the gold gorget at his neck.
Andronicus raised his gaze and looked directly at Rashidi. He knew that to avoid his stare would be an unforgivable error.
“That is correct.”
“You have failed, then,” his brother accused.
He flashed his eyes to Antiochus and kept the sting from his voice the best he could.
“That would not be entirely true,” he offered. His voice rumbled through the room.
His brother smiled thinly.
“The way I understand failure, brother—at least from the lessons we learned at our father’s feet—one either fails or does not. There are no half measures.”
The others seemed impressed by his brother’s clever turn.
“What I mean,” he explained, his eyes panning from Antiochus on his right to Beatrice on the left, “is that in some of our goals, we have failed. However, in others, we have been successful. The opportunity to gain traction and move forward is still available.”
“Explain yourself,” Beatrice commanded. Her eyes narrowed.
“The President of the United States is dead at the hand of his wife, one of our faithful.”
“You mean one of your lackeys.”
“Catherine gave her life to provide us this victory. Her family have been considered the only True Blood in all of America,” he said. He would defend her sacrifice if he must. The President was a dead man, regardless. Catherine had volunteered. Since his other plans were crumbling, he wanted to ensure at least one feather in their cap.
“From what I understand, we cannot even be assured that this move benefitted our enemy as much as it does us. This is especially true, as we have heard of the reluctance of Mr. Chen to be involved in our plan. He seems to think he can pull his people out of this conflict.” Antiochus smirked as he delivered these accusations.
He and Beatrice must have rehearsed this scenario. All his strengths would be made to look as though they were weaknesses and his failures to appear to be mortal wounds to their hopes. They needed a scapegoat. He was being prepared to be trussed and taken out the city gates to be sacrificed for them all.
He narrowed his eyes and met his brother’s gaze. Anger welled up in him. When they were young, he had enjoyed pummeling the little brat for no reason. Now, he appeared to be getting his revenge.
“The jury is still out on that position. It is yet to be seen how the Pentagon will use this power vacuum. We have plans and a candidate prepared to take his place.”
Beatrice shook her head.
“We have not unanimously approved of Speaker Rodman. We cannot hope to continue to manage through fear. We must identify a true believer in our cause. One of our own.”
She scowled at him.
“Beatrice: that would take another lifetime to foment that sort of candidate. We have tried in the past. Suicides. Assassinations. Massive moral and cognitive disappointments. I thought it was the decision of this council to identify existing political candidates who fit our profiles and manage through them. I thought our resources have been committed to infiltrating the largest corporations and managing our candidates through their influence.”
“These were the failed systems begun with your mentor Bellamy and continued under your leadership,” Beatrice argued.
“And you have been stripped of that leadership, brother.”
He turned his cold eyes to Antiochus again. His brother had suggested that the burden of leadership should fall on the collective council. They were equals and each had an identical interest in the affairs of the Consortium. They had voted to enact a leaderless council that acted in harmony.
Indeed, for almost five years, they had made the greatest collective gains in their history. Whether that was attributed to an inner harmony due to a perception of egalitarianism or due to any one of their individual efforts was arguable.
“What do you want from me?” he asked in frustration.
Villeneuve stared at the rings on his fingers, a deep frown on his face.
Rashidi’s face was contorted in disgust.
Andronicus realized his error immediately. He had admitted defeat.
Before he could appeal to his narrow chance in the eyes of his theoretical friends on the council, he had submitted himself to them in a fit of weakness and surrender. He had effectively admitted his guilt.
Any argument he had considered was now irrelevant. Any escape he hoped would present itself was now neutered.
Andronicus looked down the table, his eyes desperate for another chance. The problem was: he had none.
“I am happy that you are willing to submit yourself to this council, Andronicus,” Beatrice purred.
“I am part of this council,” he argued. “I submit to it as an equal.”
“We shall see about that, brother. You have failed. You have admitted this. Your position is tenuous. I think I speak for the council when I say that we will require proof that you deserve to remain one of us.”
“Proof?” Andronicus asked, incredulous. He knotted his hands.
He had expected that they would execute him. Persecute him. Make of him an example.
Remove him? Insult him?
They meant to humiliate him.
Somehow, this was worse than death.
Antiochus glanced down the table. The Scot nodded at him. Villeneuve shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Rashidi ignored Antiochus and continued to glare at Andronicus. Beatrice smiled and blinked slowly.
“Again, I speak for the council. If I do not, they will kindly correct me. We need you to finish what you have started. In fact, we need you to make some...adjustments to your original parameters.”
He controlled his breathing. He was being offered an olive branch. He was being given an opportunity for revenge. His sacrifice would be akin to Catherine’s. He was curious what his brother had concocted. On the other hand, had it been Beatrice?
“Tell me of these adjustments, then.”
His brother squirmed and glanced down at some notes in front of him.
“We have information that our team has been successful obtaining two vital assets. We are interested in putting these assets to use for our cause. We have not determined exactly how they will be advantageous, but we see potential for both to be used as weapons in our war.”
Andronicus glanced down the table. He could not read their faces. They were hiding something.
“What are these assets, then?”
“Can we assume from this question that you are willing to provide us this proof?”
They thought they were sending him on a suicide mission. A mission with a purpose, but one in which there was little hope that he would survive. He looked directly at Beatrice and then back to Antiochus. David and Bathsheba.