"Mr. Ferdinand. Mr. Sharp." Dr. Barlow began. "You have another mission." Dylan grunted/ He always hated to be away from the Leviathan. Alek smiled at his friend's sour disposition at yet another mission. Alek himself thought that missions were the perfect situations for him to use his mostly-useless diplomacy skills, and it was always fun to go on adventures with his best friend. Together, they were the best at stopping conflicts and solving international disputes.
"Well, I hope we're going someplace warm this time." Dylan said, slouching in his chair, arms crossed in defiance.
"That would be nice." Alek said, nodding his head in agreement. "Russia was very cold and the czar had not been very happy to see us."
"Aye! And that brat Anastasia and her barking sisters were all a nightmare!" Dylan added. Alek broke out in laughter at the thought of Dylan being chased around practically all of St. Petersburg by the Czarinas. He had that kind of effect on young girls.
The boffin rolled her eyes. "I'm afraid you're not going anywhere tropical." She turned around to her desk and brought out a large, rolled-up piece of laminated paper. When she uncurled it, it was revealed to be the map of southern Europe, focusing particularly on the Italian peninsula. "I suppose it is warm. Italy is said to be very hot in the summer."
"Why Italy?" Alek asked, completely serious, now. They had been there a few moths before on a mission to try and convince the Pope to re-instate Alek as the rightful Emperor of Austria-Hungary.
"Isn't Newkirk there right now?" Dylan said. "I'm quite sure that we left him there to do some more spy work."
"If you'd let me finish," Dr. Barlow snapped at the both of them, signaling for their silence, "you'd know that your mission is to get Newkirk out of Italy without raising alarm."
"How are we meant to do that?" Dylan asked, obviously enjoying getting on the boffin's nerves.
The doctor's fists balled up next to the map. "A diversion, Mr. Sharp." She said through gritted teeth. "There is a masked ball which both Mr. Ferdinand and yourself will attend. You will be attending as an ambassador from Britain, Mr. Sharp," she looked to Dylan, "and you an ambassador from Switzerland, Mr. Ferdinand," she looked to Alek. "Normally, Mr. Ferdinand, I would have no objection to having you be Austrian, but times being what they are"
Alek raised his hand to stop her. "I understand."
"Where is Newkirk, exactly? What is his cover?" asked Dylan.
"Mr. Newkirk does not have a cover, Mr. Sharp. He is inside a wall, listening to all of the Italian officials in the Parliament."
Dylan broke out in laughter. "Inside a wall?" He said between laughs. "Why in the name of Darwin"
"The masquerade is in the Italian Parliament building in Rome. You will have to act as normally as possible. Flirt with a few girls
Dylan froze, no sounds escaped from his mouth. "You want us to go to a party, skulk around, get some intel, then sneak off and get Newkirk out of his barking wall, and flirt with girls?" He counted all of his duties on his slender fingers. "Is that all you want us to do, ma'am?"
Dr. Barlow looked down to her desk, opening one of the drawers and retrieving a long leather leash. "I would also like you to walk Tazza, Mr. Sharp." She told Dylan sweetly. "Right now, if you please." The boy let out a string of colorful curses as the boffin ushered in out of the cabin. Alek got out of his chair to follow his friend's suit, but the boffin hastily shut the door behind Dylan. "Not you, Alek. We must have a chat."
Alek gave her a confused look. "Am I in some sort of trouble? Have I done something wrong
?" He let the question trail on, but Dr. Barlow waived her hand dismissively.
"Heaven's no. You've done absolutely nothing wrong." The boffin locked the door of her cabin and moved to sit once again behind her desk. "In fact, since you joined our side, you've been nothing except a model soldier. That's not why I wish to talk to you."
"I am worried about Mr. Sharp." She said bluntly. "I am worried that he may do something risky or stupid in this mission."
Alek looked at his hand. They had changed much over the last two years. Gone were the well-kept nails and the soft palms. His hands were callused now, rough and strong, dependable, like him. He did not miss his old, arrogant self; the version of him that was dependent on Volger and Klopp. He was alone now. His mentors were in the Swiss fort, basking in their safety, while he served on the Leviathan, trying to stop the war that he was partly responsible for. "Why would he do something stupid? Dylan is the best officer the Admiralty has, not to mention the most effective spy."
"Believe me, Alek, I am quite aware of Mr. Sharp's talents." She said firmly, but her face showed much unease. "I just cannot shake off the feeling that there is something wrong with him." She squeezed the bridge of her nose in frustration, and breathed out. "You may go, Alek." She finally said. Alek nodded and got out of his chair, walking towards the door. "Just promise me, " he heard Dr. Barlow say behind him, "you will keep an eye on Sharp?"
Alek turned around to face her one last time. "I always keep an eye on Dylan. He's my ally."