She was exhausted.
Well... as much as she could be.
The previous week had been a search of blind leads and obvious clues. She had personally spoken to every one of her Australian Watchers. Whilst there had been many sightings, there was little in the way of substance. Yes, they had been seen. Yes, they had been followed. No, they had not done anything that warranted interception. Yes, some had actually disappeared. It was so frustrating.
The other Directors had sent a disappointingly small amount of Intel. What was happening in Penelope’s backyard appeared to be happening in others as well. Leads became guesses then evaporated into nothing. Director Oscondo was particularly irate. She had been so upset that in mid-sentence she began speaking – and swearing – in Spanish. For a full minute she had spewed forth a stream of consciousness that was very unlike the beautiful Latin Spy Boss. Nina Oscondo was usually like ice when it came to an op. To witness her give in to her irritation made Penelope feel decidedly nervous. Once she had gotten hold of herself, Director Oscondo had profusely apologized for both the lack of information, and the lack of her control. Director Oscondo had no explanation for how three, seemingly old men had eluded her Watchers when, for months, they had been under tight surveillance.
The one time they had something substantial, Director Thomas had sent The Baroness and McLeod out to surveil a drug dealer with a known connection to the Red Council. This particular drug dealer dealt in high grade pharmaceuticals, and it had been hinted at that he was supplying various compounds and drugs to the Red Council for their experiments. What could not be hinted at was how. There were only a few facilities in Australia that could supply the grade and type of ingredients that he was trafficking. The primary facility was in Melbourne, right under Director Thomas’s nose. For three nights, her two best, covert operatives had the facility under their steely gazes. On the third night, they witnessed their target pull up in a dark SUV, then enter the facility. They had waited, poised to apprehend him, and yet, he never exited. The Baroness and McLeod, in no danger of being caught, had even conducted an internal reconnaissance of the facility. He was not there. The two had returned to HQ most annoyed that a sleazy drug courier had somehow slipped past them.
The Red Council was proving to be smarter than Penelope had initially believed them to be. Whilst their technology and scientific expertise was lacking, their ability to confuse was not. Directory Thomas had enjoyed several conversations with the respected Haemocrat Elder, Kael. Even he had reluctantly been forced to concede that the Red Council’s spy craft was more sophisticated than he had thought. He promised a more diligent approach.
Penelope found Kael to be an enigma. She also could not displace a warning her highly trained mind was telling her. He had done nothing nor said anything that gave her pause, but she could not budge her concern. At first, she had put it down to English being his second language. And naturally, it meant his speech emphasis and cadence were different. And yet, he had been so open in his exchanges of intelligence and source data. She cast aside her concerns.
Director Thomas had spent most of the day in conference with assorted members of ASIO, ASIS, and the Australian Federal Police. She had even contacted The General to apprise him of her failures. In a surprising change of heart on his part, he had reassured Penelope that this type of failure happened often in Intelligence circles, and that she would, not doubt, bounce back. He had told her to take some time to relax and regroup.
And so, this evening, she had dressed in her pink night-dress, pink night-robe, and fluffy pink bunny slippers, grabbed some reading material, and a pot of Lady Grey tea, and lowered herself into her favorite, deeply padded easy-chair. Her quarters in their Docklands HQ were impeccably decorated and furnished with only her own items that she had brought with her from England. Penelope Thomas adored her possessions. They all had meaning. From the Art Deco clock she had haggled over in a Parisian market. To a framed, hand-written love letter from Mark Twain. And then there was the onyx cat statue that had been gifted to her by a member of the Egyptian nobility. It all had meaning. And everything had a place, and everything was in its’ place. Just how Penelope liked it.
She sipped her tea and read her book. She could consciously feel her body repairing itself after such a harried seven days. It was the secret she was not allowed to tell. Penelope Thomas, Director of the Commonwealth Security Directorate (Oceania), and, current Director of the entire C.S.D. (by virtue of the rotational nature of the position), was a genex.
Unlike the more fantastic abilities such as Hamish or the Witch, hers were almost benign in nature. She was long lived and required no sleep. That was it. And yet, it was remarkable in and of itself. For three hundred and fifty-four years she had been alive. For most of that time, she had not taken, or required, one bit of sleep. In recent years, thanks to advanced genetics, she had come to understand that her cells were self-sustaining. She did not need to eat, though she definitely enjoyed it, and she would never say no to a piece of cheesecake. She did need to drink water or fluids like her favorite blend of tea, however. This was something that her amazing cells could not manufacture.
Penelope Thomas had been born to Lord and Lady Thomas in London on June ninth, sixteen-sixty-four. Her Father was an accomplished diplomat and trusted Adviser to the then King, Charles the Second. Her family had been sent France when she was six so her Father could serve British interests in the court of Louis the Fourteenth. The young Penelope found France fascinating. And the court had found her equally fascinating. Courtiers fell in love her Cherubic face and her near perfect French. Her mother had taught her French as soon as she started talking. Indeed, her mother had continued teaching her languages throughout her childhood and youth. Her mother had a genex trait of being able to take on new languages within days. Given how much it had helped her husband’s work, she knew it could only assist her daughter. By the time Penelope was fifteen she could speak French, Spanish, Russian, Italian and Danish fluently and with an almost native accent in each. Even Louis the Fourteenth himself had marveled at the proficiency of the young child who had flown around a corner and unceremoniously crashed into the King’s person. After picking herself up off the floor, the young Penelope had boldly stated in her near perfect French “Praise be! I have flown too close to the Sun, and thus, my wings have melted, and I have fallen!” The King had laughed delightedly, planted a kiss on both cheeks of the young child and then grandly proclaimed her “Icarine”, the best feminine version of Icarus he could think of. For the entire six years they were at court, she was known by the King and the Court as Icarine du Soleil and considered a favorite of Louis and the Royal Family.
After that, the Family returned to London, where Penelope excelled at her schooling and the other things young ladies of class were to learn during that time. Piano, needlework, singing, dancing, she excelled at them all, even if she was not motivated by them all. Recognizing her intellect, her father would spend time at the end of each day recounting the goings-on at Court. Penelope would sit at his feet as he sipped his beloved Scottish Whisky and would ask questions. She impressed her father with both her acumen and her ability to learn. During this time, women were merely pretty things that young men – and not so young men – were to obtain as a wife. They were little more than property for the gentry. With her parentage, Penelope was beginning to be noticed in many areas of society and so, in sixteen-seventy, she debuted to English society to much interest. From Dukes to Diplomats, Barons to Businessmen, she had no end of suitors. Her father, busy as he was at Court, was besieged by offers for her hand. Sizeable dowries of land, money and titles were offered. And whilst he was willing to allow his only child to be courted, he would not permit marriage. He and her mother had noticed the small, tell-tale signs of their progeny. She never got sick. To their knowledge she barely slept. She was never tired. And the usual bumps and bruises young people get growing up healed much quicker than any of her friends. Their daughter was undoubtedly a Genex. This presented a serious problem in England in the late 1600’s.
Young ladies of her station rarely did not marry. Even if only for the continued success, or elevated station, of their parents, young women in society married. By the time she turned twenty, the young woman was developing a reputation as a ‘Rose’; very pretty to look at, but far too prickly to be held for any length of time. The invitations diminished. The suitors thinned. Then, at age twenty-two, she experienced the ultimate grief, her mother died. Margaret Anne Thomas had been experiencing headaches that became all too frequent. English medicine did what it could, but it could not save her. At the time, it could not even comprehend a slow bleeding in the brain. And so, in mid-sentence, Margaret Thomas died, with her daughter and husband beside her. Penelope took to her bed. There she stayed for months. Her father was desperately worried that he was to lose both Wife and Daughter in the same year. His love and his care eventually got her out of bed and slowly back into life. But the loss of her mother had left her angry and bitter. She found she could not tolerate the empty platitudes of her suitors and dismissed them altogether, much to the chagrin of her father. And so, by her mid-twenties, she was being addressed as the Spinster Thomas. In truth, she had never wanted to be married. The lives of her friends appeared inane by her judgement.
They bared children. They attended book readings. They accompanied their husbands as little more than jewelry to be paraded at the dinners that occurred. Penelope had no interest in that. She wanted to read, and learn, and explore. On her twenty-sixth birthday, she advised her father that she was to be a scholar. She would not entertain suitors or attend parties where one was expected simply to look pretty and barely eat. She would devote herself to science and art and people. She would study Mathematics and Physics. She would appreciate DaVinci and Verrocchio. She would listen to – and dissect – the almost mathematical Concertos of J.S. Bach. She would pay surgeons to allow her to witness autopsies. She would begin a pursuit of knowledge that would never cease or tire. Upon the natural death of her father at one hundred years, she would sell her family home and embark on a wandering that would encompass the world.
Though the lifestyle she chose was risky and potentially life threatening at times, she reveled in the new experiences that every new country afforded her. There were only two corners she would not venture to – The Arctic and the Antarctic. Penelope Thomas hated the cold. And yet, in the mid-nineteenth century she went back to her beloved London. After arriving, she went in search of her old home and, for many hours, sat across from it reliving her memories of her parents. It was just before she was going to go back to hotel, when a smartly dressed young man dropped an envelope on her lap and continued walking away. Thinking he had simply dropped it accidentally, she called out to him and yet before she could rise and follow him, he had vanished. She had turned the envelope over and saw that it had been addressed to her. With the intended curiosity, she had opened it and read the invitation to her to join a gathering of ‘unique people’ such as her.
That evening she had knocked on the door of the address accompanying the letter. She was admitted by a doorman of Indian heritage. She was taken to a small room where she was introduced to the gentleman who would change her life. He had introduced himself as the Lord Langworth – Director of the Commonwealth Security Directorate. From that evening on, she had become part of something much bigger than herself. She would leave the Directorate for only thirteen years, when MI6 came calling. She viewed her time there as punishment. Her superior at the CSD had ‘loaned’ her to the British Foreign Intelligence Service at the explicit request of the Foreign Secretary – a friend of the CSD Director. However, she did not get the satisfaction at the posting as she had previously. So, after a suitable length of time, she requested, and was rewarded with, a position back at the Directorate.
She found she could not focus on her book. She was attempting to reread an Anne Rice novel, but it was not giving her the usual joy and escapism she sought. Given they were on the chase for a group of rogue vampires that were testing a biological weapon of mass destruction, Anne’s ordinarily layered and nuanced characters were not quite bringing it for Penelope. She tossed aside the book and borrowed further down into the chair. She retrieved her tea and began sipping it again. As she did, she heard footsteps on her stairs. Given it was past three am, it could only be one person.
“Hamish, why are you awake?” She called out with some annoyance.
The young genex with the inexhaustible smile finally appeared and walked over to her day bed. It had been a gift from the final High Governor of India. She put her left hand out.
“Don’t flounce. You’ll destroy it.” She warned.
Hamish briefly paused and then simply sank to the floor. Her rug was from Turkey and was as beautiful as only a piece of handmade art from that part of the world, and that time period, could be.
“I can’t sleep.” Hamish muttered through a pout.
Penelope smiled gently whilst gesturing to the floor. “Hence, why you decorate my rug.”
Hamish chuckled. In Penny he found a kindred spirit. Though she chose to hide it most of the time, her long life, experiences and multiple educations had resulted in a genius level mind. Not quite as bright as Hamish, but she could hold their own. This was especially true during their late-night talks on subjects ranging from chaos theory to gender fluidity to why one always lost the left sock in the dryer. Hamish would be exacting a pound of flesh using his razor-sharp logic, and she would recall something from her life and burst his bubble with an evidence-based anecdote that she herself had taken part in. Hamish would momentarily pout, as Hamish often did, but would rally and come back with something completely unexpected. She loved it. However, she would have preferred isolation this night.
Hamish turned his face to her. “What’s in your bra?”
She raised her eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”
“Well,” Hamish continued, “you kinda sound pissed off.”
She put down her tea and attempted to give Hamish her best and baddest stare. “Hamish, we have been all over the Eastern Seaboard and more trying to find this Red Council. And we haven’t found squat. And I’m a little tired. And I have nothing but occasional sightings and hearsay resulting in a whole lot of nothing. It’s exasperating.” She exhaled loudly at the end of her remarks.
Hamish’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t get tired.”
She laughed without much conviction. “Everybody gets tired, Hamish. I’m just better at not showing it.”
Hamish went from laying down to sitting in front of her cross-legged. “So, this Red Council is pissing you off?”
She nodded wearily. “Yes. I think we’re being played. Solid sightings disappear into nothing. This doesn’t usually happen when I’m looking into something.”
Hamish put both hands to the sides of his and comported a look of pure, sassy horror. “Oh....my...gawd.... Penny...... you too are fallible.”
Hamish continued to look at her. Now, his chin rested on one hand, the other played with his blue-black hair. “You know, there is nothing wrong with being human.”
It was now or never. “But I’m not human, Hamish.”
Hamish stretched up and shrugged. “Well, I agree your pretty bloody fantastic but you’re obviously more hum...”
“Hamish,” she interrupted, “I’m like you.”
Hamish slowly looked to her. “Oh my god, you’re a dyke!” He exclaimed with great surprise and happiness.
This caused Penelope to guffaw. If only it had always been something as simple as sexuality. She got herself composed and then replied. “Hamish, I am a genex, like you. Unlike you, I don’t have any active abilities. Mine are passive. I am long lived, and I never need to sleep.”
Hamish seemed speechless. A rare thing. Then he spoke. “Get out with your bitch self.” His tone was tight and devoid of emotion.
Penelope smiled and gently shook her head. “I am very serious. I’m over three hundred years old. There are only two parts of the world I haven’t seen. And they are the Arctic, and, Antarctica.”
Hamish was still lagging behind. “Genex? You?” Realization dawned on him in a sudden wave. “You don’t get tired. You can’t get tired. You are always in that bloody chair in that god-awful wrap at night because you don’t need to sleep.” The statement sounded like a threat somehow. Clearly, Hamish was not happy.
Penelope nodded again. “That’s it. I sit here and let my body regenerate. Although, technically, it is constantly regenerating. At night, when I am quiet and settled, that allows me to notice the sensation.”
For almost a minute Hamish said nothing. He was staring at her with a look that Penelope had seen before – in battle. Hamish was going to strike somehow.
“You didn’t trust me.” He accused with a softness that drove a spike into Penelope’s heart. His voice had dropped and was very quiet. It was the antithesis of how he usually spoke. This was serious.
“It isn’t about trust.” She responded carefully.
Hamish was not having it. “Bullshit.” This time there was spite and anger and betrayal in his voice. “This is about trust. I have told you things no one... no one... has ever heard. I have poured out my heart to you and exposed myself.” He paused and took several deep breaths. “You...did...not...trust...me.”
Penelope was careful not to answer straight away. The quick and deep rise and fall of his breaths belayed a risk that she could not ignore. Hamish looked like an adult, but in reality, he was a five-year-old child. And children did not always play nice. Hamish could easily pick her up and throw her out a window and she would not land for several kilometers. It was not something she wished to experience. She had once seen Hamish rip a door off a car with the most meager of efforts in a fit of pique. It had landed eleven kilometers out to sea, where a fishing trawler coming into port had seen it and reported it to both the police, and the evening news. At this moment, he was not Hamish, valued and dedicated member of Team Theta. He was currently Hamish, angry and upset five-year-old. She had to answer very carefully.
Keeping her face neutral, she spoke. “Hamish. I am the head of an Intelligence Organization. I cannot always tell you everything. Even about myself. Sometimes, especially about myself.” She continued talking in a soft and measured tone. “I would like to have told you, and the rest of the group. However, even I report to superiors. I have orders from those that I report to. I am not permitted to break them. I am breaking it for you, because I feel you should know.”
Hamish was not settling down. “I told you about Byron Bay.” His hands were clutching Penelope’s cherished rug. She genuinely hoped that he wasn’t about to tear it. It was irreplaceable and well over a century old.
She tried a different tact. “Hamish, my love. When we talk I do not sit here as your boss. I sit here as a friend. You are my favorite. You are the one I worry about. You are the one who so personally chooses to spend his time with me. You are the one who bares his soul to me. You are the one I feel closest to above all others.” She paused and smiled. “You are the one that I love, Hamish. No others.”
Hamish’s lower lip started to quiver in spite of his anger. “You love me?”
Penelope smiled broadened. “Yes, my sweet fool. You have captured a part of my heart and I cannot imagine life without you, my adorable little clown. You’re my favorite.”
Penelope smiled broadened. “Yes, my sweet fool. You have captured a part of my heart and I cannot imagine life without you, my adorable little clown. You’re my favorite.”
The anger dropped from Hamish’s face like a waterfall. He also, to Penelope’s relief, released her rug. “I don’t know what to say.” He replied in a tiny voice. “No one has ever said that to me. Not even Mother, ever.”
Penelope shrugged slightly. “Your mother has said it to me on several occasions. She’s also in a very complex situation herself, and it wouldn’t hurt you to give her a break. But you know she loves you. And ever is a word that you should use sparingly, until you’re older.”
Hamish giggled. Penelope relaxed. They sat there in companionable silence for several minutes. Penelope sipped her tea, waiting to see what Hamish would say next. She did not have to wait long.
“Pity about not being a lesbian.” Hamish muttered through a pout.
Penelope chuckled. “Not everyone in the world has to be gay, Hamish.”
Hamish’s pout increased. “No. But it doesn’t hurt.”
Penelope’s chuckled ceased abruptly. With his pout, Hamish looked like someone she once knew. Someone who could possibly assist their current situation. She rose quickly. “Hamish, go put on something respectable and meet me at the car in five minutes.” Penelope did not give Hamish time to disagree. She almost ran into her dressing room and began changing.
“What a dump.” Hamish stated.
Penelope could not disagree with him. However, she had a feeling that the externally ugly warehouse they stood in front of would be possessed of a very fine interior. That is, if her hunch was correct. Penelope walked forward and pressed the button to the side of a standard door. She heard nothing. She did not expect to. She adjusted the scarf around her neck as she waited. She wanted to make certain she appeared as he would remember her. A viewing slot opened in the door. She spoke to the pair of eyes in a language quite unknown to Hamish. Aramaic, not surprisingly so, was quite unknown to most people. The viewing slot shut with a clang. After a few moments the door was opened by a tall, African appearing gentleman with significant musculature, and very full lips. Penelope caught the look on Hamish’s face. She hoped she would not have to chain him.
The two CSD agents walked down a long, white, impeccably clean corridor. Their host walked ahead of them. In time, they reached another door which he opened and bade them entry. Upon entering the next room, Hamish whistled long and low. The room was enormous, easily the size of a Federation style tennis court. At one end was a raised dais. On it was a single chair not unlike a throne. It appeared to be made of marble. In front of the dais were two short and stumpy blocks of marble that clearly served as seats. Penelope hid a smile. All along the walls were hung long, gorgeous strips of royal blue silk. Penelope recognized the floor tiles as being Queensland slate. A rather interesting contrast to the gleaming white, terrazzo marble. Dotted along the edges of the room were various couches and armchairs. They were of an eclectic and almost random style. Penelope recognized them for what they were, periods of time her host had lived through. All these years and he had not lost his style.
Standing on each side of the man were what Penelope surmised to be his current attendants. The male on his right was tall, muscled, red haired and red bearded. His skin was paler than pasteurized milk. His eyes were a light blue. And, he was dressed in a long, turquoise sarong style of wrap. On the left was a woman of stunning beauty. Her skin was perfect. Her lustrous blue-black hair was made up in a complex French Bun. She wore a long dress of a powder blue hue. Gold chains wound their way around her body, accentuating her assets. Her eyes were the deepest of brown orbs to lose yourself in. Her only flaw was her thin, almost shrewish, lips. This was a hardened woman. One to be wary of.
Hamish looked at the man sitting on his throne. It was impossible to guess his age. His skin was unlined, and he was hairless. No hair on top of his head, and, no eyebrows. He had large eyes that bored down on one. They were green. It was a startling contrast to his bronze skin tone. He wore a long style of what appeared to Hamish as a maxi dress. It was then that Hamish noticed that the man was wearing lipstick. As they approached, the man rose, descended the two steps, and held his arms out to Director Hamish like an old friend.
“My darling Penny-Pea.” He spoke with full vowels and the voice was deep and controlled. He delicately kissed her cheek and held her hands. “It is so lovely to see you again.” He gestured to their stools. “Please. Sit.”
Hamish and Penelope sat on the marble stools. “You’re looking well, Luka.”
The man had returned to his throne and looked to her in reply with a small smirk. “You really think so?” Then he sat up straight. “When did we last meet? Was it Cairo? Or could it have been Stockholm?” He affected a mock pose of confusion.
Penelope replied. “Definitely Cairo. It was the day after the end of Ramadan if my memory proves correct?”
The man nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, it was. After that dreadful business with the Ha-Shashin I believe.”
“Indeed, it was.” She replied. “Thankfully, a satisfactory outcome was achieved by all.”
Luka’ brow dropped demonically. “Except for the Ha-Shashin. Terrible day wot?” He and Penny chuckled.
Penny gestured at his clothes. “Are you transitioning again, Luka?”
Luka screwed up his face. “Yes. The second time this century.” He shifted his position on his throne as if uncomfortable. “Never get used to the damn process.”
“Transitioning?” Hamish spoke up. “To a woman?”
Luka looked directly at the young man. Hamish felt his skin crawl. Luka spoke in a dry monotone as he addressed the young Genex. “Yes, little bastard. Although in my case no surgery is needed. My body simply rearranges itself. And in my home, minions have the manners to wait until they are called upon.” He looked away from Hamish, snapping his fingers as he did. “But where are my manners?” He gestured to his male attendant. “Allow me to introduce my companion? His name is Seamus. He is from Ireland.” Rather than acknowledge Penelope and Hamish, Seamus leant down and softly kissed his Master. There was no embarrassment or self-consciousness. Luka then indicated his lady friend. “And this is Devanya Elenskya Romanov. She is my concubine.” Again, there was the ritual kiss. Her eyes never left Director Thomas. Her initial assessment was clearly on the money.
“You always did like lovely things, didn’t you Luka?” Penelope innocently stated.
The lady hissed in fury. Patches of her skin began to mottle and change colors between the light tones of her skin to a dark blue-black. Her lips pulled back to bare teeth more at home in a Nurse Shark than a gowned beauty. It was all a bit startling. Luka, however, silenced her with a look.
“Forgive my concubine. She does not appreciate being addressed as an object.”
Penelope put a hand to her heart. “My apologies. No ill intent was implied.”
Luka waved the notion off. “Of course not, Penelope. Now. Tell me why you visit me.”
Penelope decided to simply lay it out for Luka. Whilst she remembered his fondness for long and extended conversations dripping with banter and innuendo, now was not the time. “What do you know of the Red Council?”
Luka smiled broadly and leant back on his throne. “What do you have to do with those mongrels, my old friend?”
“Now,” Penelope held up one hand. “I asked you the first question.”
Luka nodded to the point and sprawled on his throne. “I know that they are idiots. Stupidity of the highest order infects the Red Council. These are the moronic vestiges of a once great line that will get all the rest of us either imprisoned or killed. They are the true Intellectual cripples of our world are they not? Luka looked again to Hamish. “Not like you, little bastard. You’re something entirely different.”
Hamish spoke up. “Why do you keep calling me little bastard? Coz, I’m all good to call you Daddy and all, but that would need a whole different change of venue.”
Lukas’ smile dropped. “Such sass and venom in your pleasant little self. Consider yourself lucky, you mixed gene minx. If not for that completely divine woman sitting next to you, my companion would have beaten you bloody for your impertinence.”
Hamish smiled as Penelope inwardly winced. “Your companion is probably eighty kilograms sopping wet. He’s a distraction. At best.” Now it was turn for Hamish’s face to darken. “Don’t try me. You’ll be a smear on the bottom of my shoe if you do.”
Luka grinned almost manically. “Well, well little minx. Fangs and bite in your little self.” Luke leaned forward almost hungrily. “You interest me.”
Hamish simply met his stare. “You don’t interest me. I have plenty of play-pals who satisfy my crazy quotient. You’re nothing new. You’re pretty cool with the whole going girl thing. But Penny and I aren’t here to stroke your……. ego.” Hamish waved a hand dismissively. “Such that it is.”
Luka sat back slowly, never taking his eyes off Hamish. “Very well.” He slowly turned to Director Thomas, and he was now all business. “Let’s talk about the Red Council.”