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Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place

By Renae

Rome, Areoportia di Roma
Sunday 26 November, 2006

[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! :) And Maggie for help with Saul.]

The Vatican jet was nice I suppose, but after fifteen long hours of sitting I was more than happy to be debarking. Debarking, has nothing to do with removing the bark from a tree, as you may have suspected, but in my case it was nearly as painful. Though that was largely from having to dump all the excess voltage I had picked up along the trip. As you might have expected, just stopping the plane to touch the Earth was out of the question.

I did have some access to the Net on the flight, so I took the time to sort out Joni’s money accounts. Connecting to the net required effort though and I missed the instant connection I had when I was also Merry; but as Sara said it was a matter of getting into the ‘Zen’ thing. Sadly spending several hours of my time studying Zen in the Net did not make me a Zen master. Though in my case I knew what the sound of one bit flipping in a sea of zeros and ones sounded like. Ok so I fail at creating Zen Koans.

Sanguine is not a word I would use to describe my feelings when Father Pete said we had to separate for a time. Evidently it was to help build the paper tail and establish myself as Petra Donner, Catholic school girl and world traveler versus my old identity of say for example, Chad Wilson; hacker, mutant demi-deity of the internet and so on. Merry, now Paige was going to be holding that title at Whateley while I tried to pretend to be harmless as I learned all the knighthood crap. Me, harmless… I expect I’ll have lots of penance some time to make up.

Of course a change of country meant a trip through customs, not something I was entirely looking forwards to. Thanks to my knack at memorization, remembering all the important details of my new identity and cover story was easy enough. Also I was not smuggling any contraband or weapons on me, much to my chagrin, as I felt decidedly naked with out a knife or even a gun. Being Merry had taken an odd turn on my subconscious, and I really felt exposed in more than one way. Yes I was coming to Rome on family matters and for education, yes I had an uncle who worked at the Vatican, yes I had a place to live. Thank you for your condolences, and so on.

I was not looking forwards to the trip through the MCO check point. To my mind it was slightly backwards, go through customs, then the MCO check point. Though I suppose it would establish the legality or illegally of any action they might pursue. So it was with some trepidation that I slipped the MID that Father Pete had provided me into the computer terminal that resided just inside the long corridor of the check point. Envisioning all sort of chaos ahead, I fought my emotions and tried to not amp up. Frankly I was happy that my eyes were disguised by contacts, as I am sure faintly glowing blue eyes would make matters worse; even if they itched somewhat.

Behaving, I also resisted the urge to try and reprogram the terminal into something more practical, like say a paperweight. I could sense the flow of data that was triggered by my MIDs insertion, and worried as to just how good or inaccurate the coding on it was. After a longish pause the computer terminal blipped once loudly and spat out my MID. Forcing myself to shrug, I returned the MID to my purse and gave the terminal an annoyed look. Mentally I braced myself for the walk down the brightly lit corridor.

I thought the thick red line that traveled down the center of the hallway a bit too ‘Escape from New York’ish, to my mind. Also my semi-subconscious partner Chaddy provided me with the option to request termination and the image of some guy frying in an electric chair from that same movie. Needless to say we were both a bit nervous when a pair of semi-armored troops stepped out of a pair of matching doors on either side of the hallway.

While they did not seem overtly hostile, they did seem alert, in their blue and black body armor that they wore over blue jumpsuits. Their faces were covered by some sort of helmet that looked like a mix between riot gear and a Cylons’ helmet, the old Cylons not the new ones. Their guns on the other hand looked distinctly primitive in comparison, yet the bore of the muzzles that were not ‘quite’ pointed in my direction seemed very large.  

After a long moment of mutual examination I cocked my head to one side and said, “Si?”

They were not much in the way of conversationalists, as one of them merely said, “Move along.” Then the other one motioned with his machine gun in that direction.

I gave them both a much put upon sigh, and then continued walking down the thick red line. After a moment I could hear their steps clicking loudly from behind me, intimidating yes, annoying yes, and disturbing and no few other words. Part of me was wondering just how far matters could go wrong if the MCO wanted to make it so. Chaddy was not helpful in his summery of the situation as he summed it up as he put it, ‘We are so screwed.’ Inwardly I was agreeing with him as we reached the end of the corridor.

As the corridor opened up into a lager room, I was directed to enter a side room that was entirely too much like an interrogation room from a ‘B’ grade cop movie. You know the type, steel table, bright lights and firm unyielding chairs. Oh yes, there was a window that was mirrored as well. So I gave the room a disgusted snort and picked one of the two chairs to be bored to death in. Personally I thought the lack of a clock was amusing, and the said white décor a bit bland, but the acoustic tiles did offer much in the way entertainment… as I counted them and the dots in them over and over.

Part of me was really beginning to question Father Pete’s wisdom in separating us in the terminal. The entire lack of moral support I was feeling and the feelings of abandonment I chalked up to nerves and paranoia. If they are really out to get you, you are not paranoid; and well with my track record as of late, I was justified. So I sat there, and sat there and sat there.

Eventually I got bored enough to take the rosary out of my purse. Figuring for a bit of psychological warfare on my own part I knelt down by my chair and start praying with it loudly, first in Latin, then in Italian, then in English; occasionally I would trip over word as if I was slightly frantic. Then I started on the second part of my plan, I started praying for the souls of my captors, asking the Lord to forgive them, listing off the possible and many sins that they might have had. As you can imagine it was a very long list; as I invented additional sins for the Lord to absolve them from, it became a very, very long list.

I had just passed asking the Lord to absolve them from their sin of masturbating with an accordion when the door finally opened. I was not exactly prepared for the guffaws of laughter from the balding and slightly overweight man who entered. While he was not in the body armor, he too was wearing the blue jumpsuit that marked him as a part of the MCO; although he was wearing holstered pistol on his belt.

For a moment I tried to remember what my next supposed sin was, and then I said a hasty, “Amen.”

He walked over and sat down across the table from me, then he laughed again; “Somehow, I don’t think it is possible to masturbate with an accordion,” he said adding a chuckle.

Easing to my feet and then into the chair, I rolled my eyes at him and asked in turn, “How else do you explain polka?”

Raising his hand as if to interrupt, he froze and then smirked back at me, “You may have a point.”

Mentally figuring an MCO agent with a sense of humor as an aberration I nodded slowly. “So, now that I have been bored unto tears, I should hope there is an explanation for it?”

He shrugged slightly, “Well your presence is a bit of an oddity, as you were not listed as a passenger on any international commercial flight.”

“I came on the Vatican jet,” I sighed and added, “I would have much preferred a commercial flight…” I paused and then whispered loudly, “The films would have been better.”

“I can imagine.” He shrugged and tapped the table, “Most of the delay was our making sure you were not a runaway or a kidnapping victim.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but I am neither, I’m going to live with my uncle for a time.” I gave an exaggerated roll of my eyes, “Then he’s going to stick me in some boarding school close to him.”

“You sound so enthused,” he commented after a nod.

“Its just jet lag, a few too many time zones and being cooped up in uncomfortable seat for hours on end.” I gave him a pointed look, “Not to mention complete and total boredom.”

“Sorry,” he shrugged again, “it is customary to check MID information, then cross check it when anomalies crop up.”

“Does that happen much?” I asked as I processed just how muddled things could possibly be.

“Off and on, most of the time it is nothing, much like your case.” He grimaced and then added, “Other times it can be trouble.”

Curious in spite of myself I asked, “Oh?”

“Well yes, criminal activity, terrorists,” with a sigh he added, “We don’t usually hold people for hours on end though. But we tend to error on the side of caution, even with law-abiding people like yourself.”

Slightly affronted I looked at him, “So all mutants get the same treatment? If so I will know to add in four hours to my travel times from now on.”

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We have a few real jerks in the MCO,” he shrugged, “a few overzealous types, it happens. In your case we had to wake a few people up, make a few calls across the pond and so on.”

“You get that many runaways fleeing to Rome?” I asked irritably.

“It happens, like I said there were too many anomalies in your arrival. Personally I blame the computers we use; they have too many systems cross checking this and that. Sometimes we get false positives, sometimes not, but when it is trouble it is serious trouble though.” He paused and rolled his eyes, “Fortunately you seemed to take the delay in mostly good stride.”

Semi-relieved I stood up, “So I can go now?” I asked after a moment.

“Yes you may, we took the liberty of bringing your luggage here,” he paused and gave me a semi-apologetic look, “though it didn’t survive the luggage handlers very well.”

“Wonderful, so who do I blame if my undies have gone astray?” I asked sarcastically as I pictured some pervert in the MCO selling them on EBAY.

“I’d blame the airport myself.” and with a resigned sigh he added, “The bastards mess my luggage up all the time.”

 

After a much needed stop at a restroom and having found a café court to assuage my stomachs’ complaints, I found a place to replace my ruined luggage. To say that the luggage handlers had wrecked my luggage was a bit of a misnomer. As I am fairly sure a more precise word would have been mangled, destroyed, or eviscerated. Perhaps if I believed the MCO agent I could blame it on the airport, but I did not. Not that anything in my luggage was irreplaceable, considering virtually all of it was bought only a day or so ago, but it was irksome.

Evidently the airport in Rome dealt with this sort of thing on regular basis; as they seem to carry a large selection of replacement luggage. So I spent a few hundred Eros on something that might last me one trip to the States and back if I was lucky. I wasn’t exactly amazed to discover all of my personal items had been rearranged in its carrier, but I did have a few moments consternation trying to reorganize it into coherency. One of the more irksome discoveries was that a few of my bras and other items had vanished.

I did spend an idle moment trying to find a shirt that read, ‘Come to Rome and lose your bras’, but evidently that sort of tourist item was not part of the vendors wares. So I settled for picking up the usual tourist junk, shirts, books, maps and so on. You know how it goes, something to mark the occasion and it gave me time to study the crowd for possible threats. Ok, so I am paranoid, it’s a healthy thing in my book.

After spending more of my money, I found an information kiosk and got directions to the official Vatican reception area. I figured that with any luck I would hook up with either Vatican Security or Father Pete again there. Though occasionally I did notice that I had a shadow loosely trailing along behind me. Since I was staying in the more populated areas of airport concourse, I didn’t think I was in any danger, yet part of me was feeling very edgy.

It was with no small measure of relief that I entered an area filled with men and women whose attire marked them as Catholic. Greatly relieved, I waded into the small sea of red, black and other comforting colors, doing my best to greet each and all with polite nods and soft greetings. A stop at the guest services counter, and I was directed to a more private lounge deeper into the Vatican area. Evidently I had not been forgotten, though it seemed that something had gone amiss.

The private lounge was filled with a mix of men in the cardinal red, bishop purple, and a few in what I guessed was some sort of Greek Orthodox clergy costume.  Needless to say it was obvious that I was very young and seemingly out of place, even if my attire screamed Catholic School Girl. Which of course seemed to cause the hostess on duty some small measure of confusion.

“Child are you lost?” she asked with a frown as she walked over to stand before me.

Giving her habit and worried expression a smile I shook my head, “No sister, but I have had a bit of trial getting here. Would Father Peter Darcy be here by any chance?”

She frowned, and then shook her head, “No I do not think so.”

“Perhaps he left a message?” I asked hopefully as I suppressed intense feelings of abandonment.

She indicated that I should follow her over to a desk, “Was he supposed to be escorting you someplace child?”

“Yes, I am supposed to go meet my uncle at the Vatican, and since he was heading there, he volunteered.” I shrugged and then added, “I suspect there was a huge snafu thanks to the MCO.”

“Oh dear, are you alright child?” she frowned and sighed shaking her head, “Of course you are not alright, the MCO here can be rather brutish at times.”

“The only thing that seems to have suffered was my luggage,” I paused and pointed to the sales tags that were yet hanging on them. “Evidently they wanted to prove a point.”

“We’ll have to file a complaint later on, which will no doubt join their vast collection of complaints.” She then indicated a comfortable chair across from hers, “Do you have some sort of identification I could see for a moment?”

“Yes, Sister, I have something,” I then dug in my purse and pulled out my card case and pulled out a heavily bar-coded swipe card. “Father Darcy suggested I use this to identify myself, in the right occasions.”

Blinking she paused in mid-reach to take it and then she frowned slightly, “Ah, yes.” With a puzzled look at me she then took it and stood up, “I will have to check this, your name Miss?”

“Petra Donner,” I offered her my passport as well, but she waved it away.

“I am Sister Jean, I’ll be back in just a moment, please stay seated,” With that she stood up and briskly walked to a door and entered it.

As my new shoes were pinching my feet in odd places, namely the heel and toes, I was more than happy to remain seated. Airports, even newer airports with motorized sidewalks, are not a place to break in new shoes. Seizing the idle moment, I slipped out of them and rubbed my feet for a time, and added then to my current list of sins as I cursed their designer under my breath. Evidently having some sort of regeneration does not prevent you from acquiring blisters.  

When Sister Jean returned, her odd frown was still in place, yet she did seem to have an air of calmness around her. “Miss Donner?”

“Yes Sister?” I responded at her odd expression ad tone of voice.

“You are a bit young to be carrying a card like this,” she said sounding puzzled as she handed it back to me.

I gave her my best ‘what can I say?’ shrug and nodded, “I guess so.”

She watched as I put it back in its case then back in my purse then she smiled, “I’ve been instructed to find you transportation to the Vatican.”

“Thank you, that is a relief, I have been feeling more than a bit paranoid since my visit with the MCO.” I gave her a grateful smile and put my shoes back on, “I was worried that I would have to find a taxi to get there.”

“Ah that’s likely due to the fact that you have been followed.” At my alarmed expression she nodded to the outer lobby, “Vatican Security had people trailing you, and I have no doubt the MCO was out there as well.”

“Well that is a small relief,” I said looking in that direction, “I was beginning to wonder if I had been deliberately abandoned.”

She paused and indicated a pair of gentlemen in dark suits as they entered, “I suppose it might have seemed that way, as they don’t always dress so tidily.”

“I don’t suppose there are any instructions for me?” I asked of Sister Jean as they approached.

“Nothing other than for you to get to the Vatican, where I presume others will know what to do with you.” She smiled as one of the two gentlemen took charge of the cart with my luggage on it. “Welcome to Rome, Miss Donner.”

“Thank you Sister Jean, with luck the rest of my day will not be as challenging,” I said as I stood up.

“It is to be hoped Miss Donner, God be with you,” she offered with a smile.

“And you as well,” I returned with a polite smile.

 

The ride to Vatican City took much longer than I had expected, largely due I suspect to the very circular route the driver took. While the van I was in was very comfortable, I did wonder just how long the trip was going to take. Since the driver spent a lot of time watching the mirrors, I had to wonder if we were being tailed or if he was just being paranoid. Not that I mind paranoia, at least when it is to my benefit, but well, the delay was starting to grate.

It is one thing to know that the Vatican City is just a small suburb of Rome, it is another to see it as such. Admittedly the walls of it do denote a sense of solitude, and perhaps a sense of age. I on the other hand was beginning to wonder if it was more isolationist than anything else as the driver seemed to be taking a very random path in their general direction. I was really starting to wonder if a taxi would have been more direct and efficient or even taking the Vatican train for that matter. 

When we pulled into a parking garage and then down into the depths of it, I was beginning to feel both hungry and annoyed. Not exactly in a charitable mood I gave the driver a dirty look, “Is there a reason for all of this?”

“Yes,” was his sole comment as he parked the van in an empty spot. Since he had not been overly communicative during the entire time I was starting to wonder at his intelligence. But before I could press him for further details he added, “The MCO slipped a tracer into your luggage.”

“Lovely, so all this driving around was to confuse them?” I asked.

“Somewhat, it also gave us time to sort out who was following the tracer and to record their images.” He smiled briefly, “It adds to our database of their operatives. One of the things you will learn is that Rome is full of spies, ours, theirs, others, so you can expect that we stay busy trying to ferret them out.”

“Ah so I was bait?” I asked feeling a bit annoyed at the prospect.

“You and a few others, the MCO is just one of the groups out there today following our people.” He paused to smile, “We added three new operatives to our database and discovered that one terrorist was in town.”

“Ah so what happens to the terrorist?” I asked as pointing to the taxi that pulled up next to us.

“Well that depends on how Rome plays it,” he shrugged and added, “most of the time we let the External Government handle them. Now if he gets into the City Proper, he will be dealt with.”

I waited for the driver to let me out, and then he pointed to the cab, “This will take you into the city, and then a block or two away from the Basilica itself.” He paused to hand me a ticket, “There is a tour you should go on, basically it is to kill time and to allow us to shake any other possible trails. Blend in, be touristy. Once the tour is over either go to the Vatican Library or to the cafeteria and wait to be collected.”

“What will happen to my luggage?” I asked as it was not unloaded from the van.

“Well it will be taking a very interesting tour of Rome before it is debugged,” he paused to chuckle, “and then we will take some time to talk with the MCO agents that have been following you.”

“Nothing fatal?” I asked as an unpleasant smile grew on my face.

“Well that would depend on them, more than likely we will just rub their noses in it. It’s a living,” he then shrugged and then closed the door of the taxi after I had buckled myself in.

 

The only thing I could say in contrast about the taxi ride and the van ride, was that the taxi ride was thankfully short.  Part of me was very relived to get out of the taxi, as the driver seemed almost at the verge of collision more than once. Though part of me wondered how much of the act of paying the fare was initiation or just part of the appropriate acts of maintaining a cover. Though if you ask me paying thirty Euro for a ten minute ride was outrageous, though supposedly that was the ‘standard’ fare.

Also I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride in many taxis, as my driver only seemed to look left, right and in front of him as he cut in and out of traffic. Of which consisted of eight lanes of traffic, nine if you counted the trolley line. Add in the fact that he was only using one hand to steer and the other to blow his horn… it was small wonder that when I got out of the car I didn’t bring the Jesus-grip with me; as it was it took a moment to un-kink my hand to get it off of it.

Glancing down the long series of blocks that lead towards the Piazza San Pietro and then to the driver; as I felt a mild bit of irritation with the situation. “A few blocks, usually means two to three…” I said pointedly to the taxi driver.

“Si, but this is where you are, are you not?” he asked in turn and then rolled up his window ending the witty dialog exchange on his part.       

Grumbling audibly I watched him throw his taxi into the traffic pattern, for a long moment stood there fuming slightly. Annoyed at the general course of the days events thus far, I caught a fait hint of ozone, of which reminded me that anger was not exactly my friend. Not quite suppressing a sigh I located a fire hydrant and touched it, pushing the excess charge into it. While I didn’t seem to acquire a charge as fast as I did as Merry, I still seemed to pick up a surprising amount of juice as the air around the fireplug gave a loud crack.

Dismayed at the sound, and the nasty jolt that touching it gave me, I barely suppressed the urge to roll on the ground cursing. You would think for having for all practical purposes an immunity to electricity that I could give it up with out hurting myself. Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue as to what the deal with it was, though Sara thought it might be tied into a breach of my personal electric field. Popping my bubble as it were.

So it was I found myself walking down the long five blocks of the Via della Conciliazion to the very huge plaza of San Pietro. My feet were hurting from the new shoes; I was also still suffering the effects of way too many hours of jet flight, not to mention still annoyed at the assed up MCO jerks and my luggage. Add in the additional travel headaches of the spy versus spy games the Vatican Security people tossed in as a complimentary tour feature; well it was no wonder I was developing a real headache.

The Piazza San Pietro probably is more impressive when you are not reeling under the effects of travel. I suppose I was a bit blasé about the immense elliptical concourse, and the huge semi-circle of columns and the porticoes that were laden with saints. I did take a moment to read the plaque at the large obelisk; evidently the obelisk came from Heliopolis and was brought to Rome by the emperor Caligula, and set on the spine of Nero's Circus, which is where St. Peter's in Vatican now stands.

Thus newly educated I trailed along after a group of obvious tourists. I knew them as tourists by the way they stopped and posed for shots at the obelisk, and the fact that they had a tour guide who was cajoling them to move quickly. Fortunately it was a mixed group, some obviously catholic, some that were not. With a bit a chagrin I listened to the tour guide as he pointed out that everyone tended to view Saint Peter’s Basilica as ‘The Vatican;’ when it fact it was just a part of the Vatican, albeit an important part of it.

Faintly embarrassed by my own ignorance of the Vatican and thoughts where the Knights might actually reside much less work, I followed them to a waiting area just outside the Basilica. I admit I was seriously wishing I had a pair of sneakers as the flag stone paving that was through out the plaza was rough on already tender feet. To my pleasure I learned that most of the tour group spoke English, so I was escaping the swirl of translation that the ring afforded me, as they talked amongst themselves.

Once at the cue, the tour guide made a count of his group and then frowned as his numbers did not seem to add up. Faintly amused I watched him look though his list, then he walked over to me.  “Excuse me miss, but I don’t think you belong with this group.”

Smiling I admitted, “No, I am not, I was just enjoying hearing a group that spoke English.”

“Ah, well this tour group has paid in advance, but only for the registered members of the tour,” he explained in a semi-apologetic tone of voice.

“Oh, well I do have a ticket already,” I dug in my purse quickly and produced it with a cheerful smile. “Can I just tag along? Having to translate everything as I go along is giving me a headache.”

“Parla Italiano?” he asked with a smile.

“Se,” I shrugged and added, “and Latin and Spanish and a smattering of others, but I mainly understand English the best.”

“Ah, that is quite impressive for a girl your age,” He motioned to the group indicating I could join them. “Do you travel a lot?”

“A bit, it’s mostly due to private schooling,” I glibly lied and then added, “I’ve to come to Rome to live with an uncle.”

“Well there is nothing like cultural immersion to learn a language,” he said with a smile, “ah and here we go.” He then walked away and over to a sharply dressed lady whose badge read Emily, St. Peter’s Basilica Tours. I did note her shoes seemed to be much more comfortable than mine, as they had soft soles.

Emily took my ticket and frowned slightly, then she spoke slowly as if to make sure I could follow here words, “You do know this tour is exclusively in English?”

“Thank goodness,” I quickly said, “my head is hurting from having to translate all the time.”

“Ah, I was wondering as your ticket was intended for an Esperanto only group,” shaking her head she added, “and my Esperanto is not that good yet.”

I rolled my eyes and made a note to grouse at someone for that semi-prank that failed. “Neither is mine, I think my Uncle was having a bit of joke at my expense.”

“You would be able to get a refund if you like?” She paused and explained, “The odder language tours are a bit more expensive.”

“Ah, which would you do?” I asked quickly.

“Well if you can tolerate the wait, I would get the refund personally, and take the unguided tour with the headset.” There was a slightly mischievous glint in her eyes as she continued, “Seven hundred or so Euro can buy many things.”

“That sounds like a plan,” I said with a quick grin, “where do I go to exchange this?”

She pointed over a line that stretched back a bit, “There, see the two guards in the blue and orange? They are near the cue you need.”

I quickly picked out the Swiss Guard in their uniforms, “Ah yes the Swiss Guard, is the Pope about today?”

“He was earlier; I think he is getting ready for a trip though, something about Turkey.” she shrugged and added, “I don’t know how he gets any rest between being his Holiness and politics.”

“Drat, naturally I would miss that,” I sighed as it would have been neat to actually see a Pope.

“It happens,” she shrugged and added, “if you will excuse me I have to walk the feet off of these people now.”

I giggled at her expression and smiled, “Oh, well in that case enjoy!”

“Enjoy Saint Peter’s Basilica,” she returned with a grin.

I waited a moment for her to move off at a brisk walk and I admitted to myself that a ‘leisurely’ pace would suit me better. For a moment I was reminded of the movie ‘Dave’ where a lady tour guide was directing people about the White House. ‘We’re walking, we’re walking…’ I almost pitied the large man in the group as she lead them off at a quick pace.

Getting a refund took a while as the line or ‘cue’ as she called it lumbered slowly forwards. Though when I got to the ‘box’ that sold tickets and tours for groups I found out that there was some confusion as to where I was supposed to go to get a refund for that particular tourist service. At one point I was half of the mind to say ‘screw it all,’ and just buy a ticket. Then part of me snagged on the idea that either this was an elaborate practical joke or things were really screwy around here.

Finally the teller at the box got some sort of information that made sense to them. Since my ticket had come as part of an odd package deal, evidently, I was only entitled to  partial refund. Since I had not paid for it, I was certainly not going to complain, gift horse and all of that. Though I will admit to being amused as they offered to credit it to my credit card. Naturally I said ‘no thank you,’ as I could envision all sorts of odd bookkeeping and paper trails that would follow.

Several hundred Euros richer, I purchased with my ticket, an Ipod that came with the Basilica and other tours preloaded on it. With some luck it might last me all a week, barring catastrophic EMP blasts. Partially sure that I had thrown a monkey wrench into the practical joke or what ever it was, I satisfied my inner Chaddy with the options of putting good music on it later.

Art, art and more art. Ok, so I am not into it. Yes, is ‘The Basilica’ and yes the place it mind numbingly fantastic in that aspect. After all, Michelangelo put in a quite a bit of work there. I frankly was not entirely in the mood to enjoy it, my feet hurt, my head hurt and the day felt like way too many hours had passed. Part of me was also suffering from the info-dump from hell, as the ring pretty much dumped in new information at every glance and sign.

Food, I think it was that gnawing, the calorie craving sensation in my stomach that finally pulled me out of the info-dump. Fortunately the ring did at least give me a map in my head of where things in the Vatican actually were. I just had to walk a block with my neurons melting, brain smoldering and leaking out my ears. So you could say I was in less than a cheery state of being when I finally entered the Cafeteria.     

I will say that I lost a bit of time, figuratively and mentally speaking, as I loaded my tray with food. I think I may have startled the cashier as I slid my overly loaded tray in front of them. As I had let my stomach do my shopping food wise, my tray looked like a sumo-wrester was about to order take out. I was that hungry.

“I am sorry miss, but this cafeteria is for Vatican Staff only.” The lady tapped the sign by the register, and then shrugged apologetically.

Briefly nonplussed, I dug in my purse for my wallet and shrugged back at her. As I presented my VID to her I said, “I think this should handle that.”

“I am sorry miss, but I am afraid that is not a valid ID.” she paused and then added, “There is a soup kitchen…”

Ok, what kind of baloney are they trying now?’ asked Chaddy with a disgruntled inner frown.

Agreeing with Chaddy, I very nearly said a very rude word about that time. “Wonderful… Just wonderful, never mind I guess.”

“I am sorry…” she said with a frown as I took a step away.

“Yeah, have a good day or what-ever,” I said as I left the mound of food just sitting there beside her.

This place sucks!’ stated Chaddy emphatically and I had to agree.

 

One phone booth, a phone book and a taxi ride later I was at a restaurant. Part of me really was hoping I was sending someone, somewhere into a state of alarm, if not outright annoyance. Frankly I did not care. I had a date with a great deal of food and with my impeccable credit card, and a hundred Euro bribe, I was at a table where food was assured to be good, hot and plentiful. 

I was making friends quickly with the wait staff as I liberally handed out Euros to them with not so subtle hints that I needed appetizers and food with great haste. Ok, so maybe I was going a bit over the top with the Euros; but I was damned if I was going to be hungry because some Jack-Holes in Vatican Security were playing mind fuck games. Since I spoke the language of solid money and a platinum level credit card, the wait staff was efficient. Passing on the wine list, I did beg a few aspirin and soon I was coasting on a caffeine buzz and trying not to gorge on food.    

Somewhere in my second or third course, I was joined at my table by an annoyed looking man in a tan suit. As he started to open his mouth I held up a fork full of food. “Just stop,” I said with a glare, “you may either order food and drink or apologize. Because if you try to give me any kind of attitude I am sure that I can have the wait-staff throw your punk ass out.” 

He frowned but he did not apologize, “I see.”

After I had finished a trio of bites he started to drum his fingers on the table. Annoyed I gave him a foul look, “What is your problem?”

“You are in a mood, aren’t you?” he asked after a very brief pause.

“Lets see. Some asses in the MCO ruin my luggage, after which I get a tour of Rome that was neither educational nor enlightening. Then I get the Taxi ride from hell, the driver of which gave me a very screwy ticket for the Basilica. Then I have a headache, most likely due to my metabolism being all jacked up. Add in the fact I could not get food at the freakin’ Cafeteria, where the Jack-Hole Security jerk said I was supposed to go… so yeah I have a freaking serious case of the ass with you people.”

He winced and removed his blue-tooth earpiece as it started to smoke oddly, “Ow, that was unpleasant.”

“Bill me,” I said as I took a very satisfied sip of my tea.

“Are you finished?” he asked as he batted the defunct earpiece back and forth between his hand across the table in front of him.

“No, not really, I still have a long list of abuse in my head for you people.” At his faint smile I added, “That and I want desert.”

“Can desert wait?” he asked as I studied the desert tray from across the room.

“Do you have a hot date or something?” I asked acidly.

He sighed slowly and then frowned as his phone rung, I watched as he dug it out of his pocket and answered it. “Yes? Yes I found her, she’s eating.”

“Tell them they are disturbing my meal and my calm,” I said as I motioned a waiter over.

As I did the man gave an annoyed sigh, “She’s being problematical.”

Chaddy seemed to not like the guy either as he woke up some what, ‘Us, a problem, no real-l-ly? What a jerk!

“With good cause,” I said clearly with the intent of making sure I was heard on his phone.

“Is there a problem Miss,” asked the waiter as he approached.

“No not really, I was wondering what you would recommend as a desert?”

“We don’t have time for…” said the security guard as the hostess came over as well, “can we just get the check?”

As the hosted came over she gave my pile of dishes an interesting look before addressing me. “Miss is every thing alright? you seem to be annoyed by something. Has our service been unpleasant, is the food alright?” she asked as she looked at me then my shadow.

“Your service and food have been wonderful, in fact I plan on returning.” I gave my unwanted guest a glower, “My ‘friend’ here is just being rude.”

“We need the check,” he asserted again.

What a douche bag,’ commented Chaddy and I had to agree.

“I need desert, and since it is my money…” I gave him a dirty look, “deal with it.”

Chocolate please!’ was the vote from Chaddy and I had to agree as the cake sounded good.

“My instructions,” he interjected.

“Don’t mean diddly, and since you don’t want me to call the police much less the media…” I gave him a very direct look and made a studious glance at his fingers where no rings resided. “Or produce Father Darcy or Arturo Cursor, someone I can trust, then and only then may you may interrupt my meal.”

“Ah I see, an issue of security?” she semi-asked me with a smile, “we host many dignitaries, the rich and celebrities on a frequent basis. I can assure you that we pride ourselves n our discretion and security.”

“Good, then I will most assuredly have desert,” I gave the security guy a defiant look, “considering I am in such good hands ‘here.’”

“Is there anything I can do your for you sir?” she asked with a smile.

He just shook his head and watched while I placed an order for a large slice of German chocolate cake with a scoop of chocolate ice crème, and then at an odd urging from Chaddy I ‘misplaced’ my steak knife into my purse. After he concluded his phone conversation he leaned back in his chair, “So it is a matter of trust that is making you obstinate?”

“That along with your securities piss poor planning somewhere along the way.” I gave him an affronted look, “Add in the fact that your people seemed to want to jerk me around. I thought we were on the same side here.”

“You are an untrained child,” he said after a brief pause.

Yup he’s a douche bag,’ and I had the image or Chaddy doing the anime lower eyelid drag with tongue sticking out bit.

I waited for the waitress to depart after depositing the cake and ice crème in front of me to speak. “Bullshit,” I hissed at him, “I have combat training and I have used it to kill.”

“You exaggerate,” he said as a I took an angry bite of my cake.           

“You evidently don’t know much.” I paused and debated rolling up my sleeve and show him the branded tattoo, “Seriously your people are out of the information loop.”

“How old are you?” he asked after he seemingly digested that bit of information.

“Real age or?” I asked after I swallowed the bite of cake I was working on.

Scowling he sighed, “Never mind, I suspect it doesn’t matter.”

“Lets just say I look younger than I am,” I smiled and then added, “like I said, I have a screwy metabolism.”

“Evidently so.” 

Douche bag!

 

“So Mc Duff, where are we going now?” I asked as I opened passenger side door of his sedan.

“I would prefer that you rode in the back,” he said looking faintly annoyed.

“Yes I am sure you would, but since I have seen way too many crappy kidnapping movies, I’ll pass on having you lock me in the back seat.” At his resigned look I sat in the seat and looked at him. “So are we going to the someplace I actually want to go or do I fry your car, call a cab and find my own way?”

“This is Rome kid, not the states, things are different here.” He shook his head and added, “Not to mention that people go missing in Italy all the time.”

“I did read the CIA’s brief on Italy,” I paused and rolled my eyes, “I am no ones pawn, nor am I a mindless flunky.”

“Oh and what are you then?” he asked as I buckled up, “so far all I see is a rich petulant brat.”

Douche!’ chimes in Chaddy and I suppressed the urge to not say it aloud.

Yeah he’s a prick,’ I commented to Chaddy.

“Actually its ‘very rich,’ along with justifiably paranoid and if you think I am a brat you should meet my twin sister.” I smirked at him, “She’d have had the wait staff toss your ass out into the ally and then would have ditched you after desert.”

Chaddy gave me a disgusted groan, ‘I miss Merry, she would have done something to this asshole already.

“Where as you are the calmer saner one of the family?” he asked sarcastically.

I placed my purse in my lap and then opened it, making sure I could reach the knife easily if I needed it. “Calmer? Saner? That is just a matter of perspective.”

Two minds rather than four is saner, sort of,’ added Chaddy to me silently, ‘but not as much fun.’

“Oh really?” He started the car and waited a moment to pull out into traffic. “And what if I were to kidnap you and take you where no one could find you.”

I waited a moment to see if he was serious or not then I replied, “Then I would have to kill you, and even if you some how managed to subdue me, and managed to steal me away, I think my ‘family’ would find me in less than a day. Then you would be dead or much worse.”

No kidding Sara would filet him and Merry…’ said Chaddy and I got the mental image of our annoyance sliced, diced, stapled and mutilated.

Call her Paige, Chaddy we have to get used to her new name! Too many mind readers in our lives,” I mentally hissed at Chaddy, even while I agreed with his predictions of carnage.

“And how would you kill me?” he asked in an amused tone as he stopped at a light.

“Well I have two options, one messier than the other,” I said slowly as my mind focused and my heart rate picked up. “The first way would be to electrocute where you sit.”

“We are in a car, electrocution is not possible, as we are insulated,” he shrugged and added, “and the other way?”

‘He’s clue-less, lighting can go through car windows, and speaking of cars…’ thought Chaddy and he drew my attention to two cars in the mirror.

“As for the other way,” I reached out with my left hand and poked him just over his jugular, “I cut you here, then I stab up through your liver into your heart.”

“And what would you use to do that?” he asked critically.

“What? You missed me putting the steak knife from my meal into my purse?” Shaking my head I gave him a look of contempt, “And you think you are supposed to be here for my security?”

He whistled softly, “Not bad, not bad at all. However steak knives are not exactly sturdy knives, the cheaper ones can break and snap on bones.”

“It’s not like I had dinner at the IHOP or some place that serves dinner with a plastic knife and a spork; decent restaurants with an expensive menu cannot afford to cheapen themselves in that manner.” Ok so I was talking out my ass a bit, but the logic was sound, “What do you take me for, an idiot?”

“Well…” he started and then frowned as he looked in the mirror.

Douche bag, total douche bag,’ muttered Chadddy.

“Well, a deep hole, sometimes containing water or oil, though if I drilled into your head I might only find air,” I said in semi-annoyance.

“Cute,” he changed lanes abruptly and we entered a roundabout that looped around a large statue. “Could you possibly be bothered to keep quiet for the next few minutes while I ditch our tail?”

“Oh you mean the black car that started following us a block after we left the restaurant… or the deep green one?” I smirked and added, “I was beginning to wonder if you had noticed them.”

“Fun, so where did you learn to pick out tails?” he asked as the car accelerated.

“I’m naturally paranoid, it’s a survival trail I picked up somewhere.” Shrugging I added, “Admittedly the paranoia is annoying at times, but it beats ending up drugged wearing a white jacket and living in a cell for a few weeks.”

As we skidded around a corner he gave me a very odd look, “You don’t say.”

I laughed and then briefly held my sarcastic commentary as we bounced over a small rise and after we bounced to a landing I thoughtfully added. “Just so you know, wheels belong on asphalt.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he dryly replied and then he cursed as his phone rang, “crap and you just had to fry my head set.”

“Ten Hail Mary’s for you,” I quickly supplied.

There was a nervous moment as he cut between a trolley and a bus while fishing in his jacket for his phone. “Here answer this,” he said as he thumped me in the chest with it.

I batted back at his hand and said, “Hey watch where you put your hands!” as I protested the rudeness of his actions.

“Just answer the damned phone,” he muttered as we spun end for end burning rubber as we changed directions.

“Ten more,” I muttered back and then opened his phone. “Hi, I am sorry the idiot you wish to speak with at the moment is in a high speed car chase. This is his personal assistant Jane, how may I direct your call.”

“What! Who?” asked the voice on the other end.

“When and how are also interrogatives, and useful in a conversation,” I cheerfully replied. “However since I have not read the map for this interesting town yet, I can’t exactly tell you where we are.”

“Will you ‘just’ put it on speakerphone, gods you are a such pain in the ass!” protested my erstwhile companion.

“Say please,” I said sweetly.

“Please,” said the man on the phone, though his voice held humor in it.

“Please,” said the driver with a snarl.

“Say pretty please,” I countered as he jogged lanes.

He gave me a rude look, “Pretty please.”

“Say pretty please with sugar on top,” I countered.

“Just put the damned phone on speaker phone!” he shouted angrily.

“Oh all right, jeeze take all the fun out of it,” I said with a smile as I pushed the button on the phone. “You will have to excuse my friends temper, evidently he missed his date with his boyfriend.”

His face darkened and his scowl grew, “I don’t. Have. A. Boyfriend!”

De-nile-al!’ chimed in Chaddy, ‘Not just a river!

“How unsurprising,” I said as I buffed my nails on my skirt, “considering your demeanor.”

There was a burst of laughter from the phone, “Giles what is your situation?”

 “Ten minutes out from gate three, being tailed hard by two cars, one a black sedan the other a green sports car.” He paused and then added, “So far they just seem intent on chasing us, not openly hostile.”

“And your cargo?” enquired the voice.

“I’m doing well, thank you for asking.” I paused only briefly and then added, “I would like to take this time to point out I am not amused in all the games you people put me through today. In fact if I find out which of you arses decided I needed to go to a cafeteria which would not accept my ID, I will kick you in the nads. Got it?”

“She’s been in a pissy mood since I found her,” stated Giles, “but other than that she is healthy.”

“Noted, right. Giles I need you to give us time to get set up, give your tails and the girl the Baker’s tour.” The voice on the other end was briefly garbled by a discussion near them, “We’ll call back when the cul-de-sac crew is set up for interception.” 

“I am so-o not his girl!” I pointed out loudly.

“Noted,” said the voice with a laugh and the phone beeped off.

“Right… anything else ‘Jane?’” Giles asked as he took a sharp left down a narrow road.

“I am so happy I don’t get carsick,” I said as I held the Jesus-Grip on my side of the car. “Oh and by the way I would like to point out that all of this could have been avoided if you had just had someone like Arturo meet me.”

“I am happy you don’t get carsick too,” Giles said as we swerved onto another road.

There was a soft beep as the phone disconnected and I offered, “Well I could stick my finger down my throat if that will make you feel better about it.”

“No…” he gave me a foul look as we turned onto a bridge, “that will not be necessary.”

“So how long have you been without a boyfriend?” I asked as we narrowly coasted between a lorry and dump truck.

“I am not gay!” he protested as we exited onto a side road near the river.

“Me thinks you protest too much,” I smirked and gave him my best innocent expression.

Yup he’s gay,’ agreed Chaddy with a smile.

“I am not getting paid enough in this job,” he said after exhaling in a long sigh.

Still smirking I drolly said, “Yes but the afterlife plan is good.”

“I would much rather not find out anytime soon,” he said then we entered a fairly serpentine road.

“Ah, so why are we not being shot at?” I asked with a shrug.

“APF Systems are a part of all Vatican Security vehicles,” he motioned to a blinking red light on the dash, “It’d take a collision or two to drop the field or an RPG… not a good way to get a hostage or prisoner.”

I noted a few flashes of light from the passenger side of the sedan then the force field flashed with a loud crack. I briefly cursed as the echo of the force filed seemed to get absorbed into me.

“I thought you said these guys wouldn’t bother with guns!”  I yelled loudly.

“They must be new or just common kidnappers,” he replied with a glance to the mirror.

“Oh and the normal spies just tail to be assholes?” I asked sarcastically as the sedan’s passenger shot at us again.

“Yes, though occasionally it is to make a point or count coup,” he shrugged and then added, “Rome is full of spies.”

“So this is normal?” I asked as we splashed though a deep puddle.

“The car chase, yeah, more or less. I suspect it is a bit heated today due to the fact that the Pope is giving the nod to Turkey being admitted to the EU.” Sighing he looked over to me, “Sometimes they do it to test our security teams.”

“So this is a political poke in the side?” I said as I motioned to the mirror.

“Well apart from the guy shooting at us, yes. Considering the Pope is a political force, maybe.” He turned through a pair of gates that lead into a park, “Most of the time it’s just an extra annoyance.”

“Wonderful, and the other times?” I asked as we rolled down a dimly lit lane in the park.

“The other times are interesting, and these idiots have not figured out we are protected,” he said as jerked the car into a different street abruptly.

“So how come we are not adding police pursuit to all of this?” I asked as I pointed out an idling police car.

“Payoff’s, not that the Rome Police are corrupt, it just not practical for them to get involved…” shrugging he added, ”safer for them too.”

I looked at him suspiciously, “Payoffs?         “Whose? Ours or theirs?” I asked as I hitched a thumb over my shoulder.

“Likely it is all of the above, as long as there is no property damage or any civilians getting hurt they will turn a blind eye to it.” He paused and we did a one-eighty into a different lane going back the way we came, “Most likely, since it seems to be two different groups playing harasser, once they see that we are setting up a possible capture, they will go away.”

“Cute, so this happens a lot?” I asked once I worked my hand free of the Jesus-grip to flip off the driver of the sedan as we raced past them. I was going to flip off the driver of the green sports car too; but all I could see of that driver was a pair of white gloves on the wheel. That itself was rather spooky, as I could not make out anything but those gloves.

W-e-i-r-d,’ said Chaddy after a moment as we tried to look in the mirror for a better view of them

“Once a week at the minimum.” He seemed to shrug, “It beats trying to drive in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, now those are some insane drivers.”  

I resisted the urge to say, ‘As compared to you?’ However, just as I worked up a slightly scathing and sarcastic reply the phone rang. I flipped it open and said, “Mad Max Pizza Delivery, if your pizza is intact we did not deliver it… This is Jane how may I direct your call?”

“Put it on the speaker please,” said the chucking voice on the on other end.

“Spoilsport,” I said as I did as he directed.

“Business before pleasure, anyways Giles we are set to go on the cul-de-sac, head down ninth street towards the Vatican,” instructed the voice.

“Wonderful, the idiots in the sedan are shooting at us, so you may have to rough them up a bit,” Giles noted aloud to the phone as we slewed sideways while he spun us around.

“We did get reports of that from the Police, they want to know who is behind it so they can bill them for it,” commented the voice dryly.

“Well if they are shooting at us they are not shooting at the Police,” I muttered with a roll of my eyes.

“Precisely,” said the voice from the phone, “have you been telling tales in your boredom Giles?”

“Anything to lighten the atmosphere of the drive.” Giles mutter sarcastically, “Turning towards Ninth Street now.”

“And away we go,” I said in my best utterly bored tone of voice as I gripped the Jesus-grip firmly.

 

I decided that ‘Cul-de-sac Crew’ was a bit of a misnomer, as we screamed past half a dozen construction vehicles on a two lane road. As we turned down an alley way I caught a glimpse of them moving tractors and what have you into the road. Giles made a non-committal grunt as we pulled behind a large truck. Of which a moment later lowered its backside, and just like in the spy movies, and he pulled up and in.

Feeling a bit like Jonah in the Whale I looked at him as he turned of the car. “Isn’t this a bit obvious?” I asked pointing to the outer truck.

“Yes and no, the paint is programmable so we can make it look like any of the company trucks in Rome. Add in some extra detachable body panels for the cab and we are totally anonymous.” With a chuckle he took the phone out of my hand, “Package secured.”

“It’ll be a minute or two, fortunately the Sedan wasn’t paying close enough attention so we have a ‘guests’ to collect.” With an audible sigh the voice added, “Sadly the sports car’s driver was a bit sharper.”   

“One fish is better than no fish,” Giles said with a smile.

“True, once we have them sorted we’ll get moving to home base,” there was a beep and Giles closed his phone and dropped it into his lap.

“So what happens to ‘guests?’” I asked as he titled his seat back.

“Well we subject them to some drugs and a long round of questionings, if they are ‘wanted’ they get handed over to the police. If they are noxiously ‘bad’ they get sent to a special jail and they stay there for a very long time.” He shrugged and then added, “Rarely do we need to kill them, and occasionally we sell them back to their agencies.”

“How civilized,” I sarcastically said after a moments thought.

“We try,” with a shrug and a sigh he added, “I sometimes think Rome is the world’s training camp for spies.”

“And what happens if one of ours is captured?” I asked quickly.

“More or less the same thing, depends on the other side, some of them don’t play by the ‘rules.’” Giles rolled his eyes and then added a predatory smile, “Then we get to play rough.”

“Fun-n-n-n.”

 

The final leg of my afternoon’s journey was via moving van, of which moved at a more sedate pace than most of my days rides. Maybe it was too sedate of a pace for Giles, as he fell promptly to sleep and started snoring. For a long moment I debated on taking out a Sharpie and drawing Sara’s mark of Kellith on his forehead as he snored. I figured  it would be good for a few laughs on mine and Chaddy’s part, unfortunately as I produced said Sharpie, the van stopped and dropped the back down again.

Mischief rudely interrupted I settled for hitting his arm a few times, “Wakey-wakey, it is time to return your seat to the fully upright and locked position.”

“Ow! Crap! I am awake, lay off!” shouted Giles after I slugged his shoulder a good one.

‘Nice hit!’ said Chaddy with a mental nod of approval.

“It is time to go, if you had not noticed in your semi-coma?” I said with a smile as he rubbed his arm.

“I am going to be so glad to give you into someone else’s care,” he muttered as he moved his seat up and started the car again.

“What and deny me the opportunity to warp your world and perspective further?” I asked as I refastened my seatbelt.

He deliberately swallowed a few times as his eyes narrowed, then he turned to look over the back of the seat, “I need a raise.”

“Sorry I only give raises out to those people I really like.” I paused as I thought of Janice at the CIA Testing Facility, “And then only if they treat me well.”

I hate loopy drugs,’ said Chaddy sourly and I had to agree.

“Sure, and what do you do to those people who don’t treat you well?” he asked as we rolled past the moving truck and down a side road.

“You do not want to find out… I can be very creative when in a vindictive mood,” I was relieved to note the blue and orange of the Papal guards as we drove past a fortress-like structure.

As we turned into a parking ramp of a large building he shrugged, “Welcome to Operations, aka Security Central, with luck someone will know what to do with you.”

“Oh cool, is this where the Knights of the Church work from?” I asked as we were allowed to pass a check point and descend further.

“The who?” he asked sounding puzzled as he did so.

For a moment I looked at him, half expecting him to be pulling my leg. “The Knights of the Church… oh never mind,” I gave him a ‘what-ever’ wave of my hand and looked out the window.

”Seriously, what are you babbling about?” he asked as I studied the odd signs as we descended further in the parking garage.

“I suspect that if you don’t know of them, then it’s probably for the best,” I smiled at him and added in a whisper, “need to know and all of that garbage.”

“Right, sure thing,” he said with the tone of voice that suggested he was humoring me.

As we pulled into a parking spot I briefly wondered at just how much the Knights were into the cloak and dagger stuff. Surely they had to operate with someone in the security department knowing who was what and so on. As I got out of the car I puzzled other that oddity in my head, I was also curious at to why the ring had not given me a clue to work with in sorting out that as well too.

 Giles guided me to a checkpoint that lead deeper into the building, there he used a gray id card to identify himself. I watched as he slid it into a card reader and then placed his hand on a touch pad. As he did, that I quickly dug in my purse to pull out my own card, and with luck my card would actually work here. After Giles moved past the check point, I took my own turn, mimicking him.

As I placed my hand on the plastic touch pad I caught the barest flicker of an odd pattern on the screen. I paused and re-touched the pad to see if it was just a glitch, but that time I actually made out a distinct pattern, that of a rose. I glanced over to the guard who was looking at me with a frown and said, “Static I think.”

“You are both clear to pass,” he said in a bored tone of voice, and then he pressed a button to open the door.

Once past the door and another series of guards, Giles lead me to a conference room, “And here we are.”

“Yeah right,” I said as I glanced at the sterile looking room, “so where is Arturo or Father Darcy; basically anyone who might know where I am supposed to be?”

“Beats me kid, I am just the errand boy,” he said after a moments pause. “They say fetch, I fetch, guard, I guard.”

“Oh so tasks best suiting your intelligence?” I asked feeling a bit snarky and annoyed.

“Look I was just doing my job, there no need to be so difficult,” he said looking a bit peevish himself.

As I turned to glare at him there was a mild chuckle and a man in a gray suit made his presence known. “Giles why don’t you get a coffee and file your report, I’ll tend to Miss Donner here.”

“Bless you,” said Giles as he nodded to the other man, “she’s prickly.”

“You don’t say,” said the man and I studied his face taking in the blue eyes and amused expression.

“Volatile even, better you than me,” Giles said as he walked out the door in a fast pace.

There was a pause as the man seemingly studied me, “You have had a day of it?”

“To say the least,” I half muttered aloud.

He nodded and walked over to a chair and sat down, “Would you please sit? I have a few questions to ask and possibly a few answers.”

I gave him an indifferent shrug and then sat down, “Ok I guess.”

“First off let me say I am sorry for all of the troubles you might have had with Giles,” He paused and then added, “he’s not a bad sort.”

“If you say so, evidently he has not had much experience with people like me,” I said resting both hands on the table.

“Yes, we may have to remedy that.” He paused and then tapped the table, “What made you sell the ticket?”

“Well the tour guide suggested it, that and I don’t speak Esperanto yet.” I gave him an affronted look, “English is my first language, then Chinese, Latin, Italian, Spanish and a few others. Had your idiot taxi driver given me a ticket for those languages, I might have gone on it.”

“Interesting, what if I said there are no Esperanto tours?” he asked slowly.

“Well it is a valid language,” I replied after recalling a few books by Harry Harrison.

“That is true, what happened at the cafeteria?” he asked a moment later.

“Your stupid cafeteria lady said my ID was not acceptable there…” I gave him a dirty look, “I can’t just skip meals.”

Frowning he nodded, “I see, how familiar are you with psychics?”

I frowned sourly, “I dislike them for the most part, well not all of them, just the kind that mess with your head.”

“I see.” He tapped the desk and said, “Your shields seem to be fairly tough or so I am told.”

“I guess, I’ve not really worked that hard at it,” I said with a sigh. “Is this conversation related to anything that happened today?”

Nodding he said, “Yes, evidently someone tried to abduct you.”

“The car chase and shooting kind of clued me in there,” I said with a great deal of annoyance.

He chuckled and nodded, “I’ll bet, we’ve had some incidences where people have been steered from safety and kidnapped.”

“Is that what was happening today? I don’t think anyone can just break into my head and force me to do anything,” I said indignantly. “Well not without me knowing it, most psychics give me and themselves headaches when they force themselves into my head, kind of obvious there.”

“Hmm, they did mention something to those effects, but in this case the tour guide, the cashier, and a few others were manipulated.” He paused and added, “We suspect it was the Deville Academy out to shanghai you for their school.”

“DeVille Academy? What are they like Whateley?” I asked quickly.

“Yes and no, they tend to be a school for gifted criminals, mutants just happen to be included among their students.” He rolled his eyes, “The bulk of them are nothing more than criminals.”

“And how would they know I was a mutant… never mind anyone at the airport could have picked up that,” I said with an disgusted frown. “MCO bastards.”

   “Most probably,” with a shrug he added, “or someone working in the airport could have tipped them off.”

“Wonderful, so much for trying a low radar entry,” I said disgustedly.

“Maybe, maybe not, we suspect they only wanted to pitch their school to you,” he rapped the table with his knuckles. “Also in the chase did you notice anything odd?”

I had a moments confusion as he shifted gears on me, “Um, maybe.” I thought back to the odd driver of the green sports car, “The driver of the green sports car wasn’t exactly there…”

He sat up slowly, “How so?”

“All I could make out was a pair of gloves on his steering wheel, kinda spooky.” I shivered despite myself and then added, “And we past it close enough I could have given him the finger and see his expression if he had one. Like I did the other car.”

“The Specter is a she, and it definitely was action from Deville’s then,” he sighed loudly, “I suppose I will have to make a phone call telling them to back off.”

“Oh, and they will just leave me alone?” I asked sarcastically.

“Oh I doubt it, but they will at least refrain from trying to kidnap you for an indoctrination run,” he rolled his eyes, “I would expect you to bump into them again.”

“Wonderful, just what I need,” I said sourly.

“Well look at it from their stand point, an unescorted mutant minor comes into their attention, add in the fact you are rich…” He chuckled and added, “You know we might have to let them borrow you for a semester, put an agent inside as it were.

“I would prefer not,” I said as my nose wrinkled in distaste.

“Well not right away,” he said quickly.

“Whatever,” I gave him a direct look, “can’t you just get me to where I belong?”

“Where might that be?” he asked with a nod.

“I dunno, someplace where the Knights of the Church might be?” I suggested nonchalantly.

“The who?” he asked as his brows rose up slowly.

I gave his oddly curious expression an annoyed look, “Let me guess, you have no idea what I am talking about?”

“Never heard of them,” he said seriously and he looked back at me thoughtfully.

“Oh goody,” I said as I let my shoulders slump, and I made a point to strangle Father Pete later on.

“Were you supposed to meet someone here at the Vatican?” he asked as he looked at me critically.

“A Father Trovatelli I guess, he was supposed to be a part of my cover.” At his raised brows I added, “He was supposed to be a ‘distant’ uncle I was going to live with… Let me guess he’s a non-existent person?”

“No, no he exists, though this is a bit peculiar,” he said with a frown as he drummed his fingers on the table.

“Why?” I asked as he leaned back to look at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“Father Trovatelli is a known orphan, no family what so ever, which is why his last name is Trovatelli.” He gave me a brief glance, “He was a foundling, and he was abandoned at a church.”

“Geeze and I though my life was screwy,” I said and after a moments thought I added. “Though maybe my life would have been easier if I had been abandoned.”

“Bad parents?” he asked softly.

“You have no idea,” I shook my head adding a sad expression to my face, “they are dead though.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” he said sincerely and I nodded at him, “come on let’s try to locate Father Trovatelli, and sort you out.”

“It’d be a first for the day,” I muttered as I stood up, “ok.”

 

A few minutes later we were in a Bentley coup, and cruising around the Piazza de Quiriti before reentering the Vatican compound again; evidently it was his version of a short cut. He also explained to me that the fountain there was a bit notorious as it consisted of four prostitutes in ‘scandalous’ poses. I gave it a casual nod and made a point to take a better look later, and maybe take pictures as I was certain Sara would appreciate the irony. Considering it seemed that the buildings around it used it as their ‘focus’.

After a short drive down what surely must have been an ally way and not a street we turned into a driveway that lead between two buildings. The buildings themselves were not exactly notable, apart from helping to enclose a small park that resided in the parking lot. I gave the other cars in the parking lot a dubious glance, while none of them seemed new, they were in good condition and shiny. After an amused glance at me my guide got out of his side of the car.

“Is something wrong?” he asked as I slowly got out.

“Not really, other than I have not seen a junker car anywhere in the Vatican yet,” I said with a wave to the parking lot.

“Oh, yes. We have to keep up appearances; most of these likely belong to the Vatican’s fleet of vehicles.” He pointed back to his own car. “Mine I admit to buying.”

“Ah, I suppose that would explain it,” I said with a shrug.

Laughing he motioned to a set of stairs leading into a building. “Come on, let’s find Father Trovatelli and see if he knows where you belong.”

Entering the building I grunted softly in acknowledgement, “So far everything seems to either be really convoluted here regarding me or something is up.”

“Perhaps a bit of both, I swear at times the left hand is not aware of the right hand or if you will, other hands stirring things just to see how we react.” He placed his hands behind his back as we walked down the art covered hallway.

“Isn’t this a bit much?” I asked pointing at a wall.

“Hmm?” He paused to look and then smiled softly, “The paintings? Well a great many of the buildings are decorated with this sort of thing, as the Church was a great patron of the arts.” He turned slightly and paused to study the painting a moment, “Sometimes we have to remember it is even there, as we see them so often.”

“Not seeing the forest for the trees?” I asked quickly as we rounded a corner where an elevator rested.

“Exactly,” he pressed the button and the doors opened, “Father Trovatelli works up on the third floor, he’s an restorative illuminist.”

“What, he repairs light bulbs?” I asked with a grin.

He laughed as the elevator sped upwards, “I’ll have to remember that quip. No, he spends most of his days carefully restoring or recreating the art found on old documents.” The a pause he added, “He’s an incredible artist with a penchant for cartoons.”

Chaddy perked up slightly, ‘Cool.

“Cool,” I agreed aloud and then we stood to one side as a large painting was wheeled into the elevator as it paused on the next floor.

“With all the art all over, we have a small army of artists scurrying all over trying to keep things pretty.” He paused and rolled his eyes, “It plays merry heck with keeping a proper accounting at times, and then the occasional art theft keeps us hopping as well.”

“You can say hell, it won’t offend me,” I said with a smile.

“I try to save my cursing for when I am truly angry, it’s more effective that way,” he countered with a rueful smirk, “if you hear me using the ‘F-word’ like punctuation… Run.”

“That bad of a temper?” I asked while giving him a suspicious glance.

“So I am told,” he said blandly and then he winked.

I smiled briefly, “In my case if I am spitting sparks and blowing up electronics it is a good indication I am annoyed.”

“Just annoyed?” he asked with a chuckle.

“I’ve been told I have a temper too,” I said with my own wink.

“Well in that case we should make an effort to remain friendly just to keep the city from imploding.” With a chuckle he then rolled his eyes at the man who was handling the painting.

CLIFFHANGER! Don't you just hate it?Evil Smiley

On to part 2!