London, December 11th, 2009

Even at past eleven p.m., St Pancras’s International Train Station was still teeming with activity, especially on a Friday night that also happened to mark the beginning of Winter Break—so much that nobody would pay attention to anyone brushing past, nor to any suspicious piece of luggage abandoned somewhere under a bench or behind a trashcan, nor to yet another newcomer to London. Nobody, save for one, who was standing in front of one of the phone booths in the Arcade.

Actually, there was no suspicious bag under the bench yet. There would be one as soon as the man would hang up.

His voice was sweet and calm, albeit speaking words that very few people in the station would have been able to understand—if they had, it would have implied that said people were much more than met the eye, which would also make them potential dangers, as well as potential targets. The Eurostar bullet train he had travelled in had arrived from Lille more than one hour ago, but he did not seem in a hurry to leave the place, contrary to the crowd surrounding him. In fact, everything in his attitude and behaviour hinted at the fact that he was probably never in a hurry, and did everything in life with the same level of composure.

With a slight satisfied smile, the man put an end to his call, and strolled to the bench nearby to pick the black attache-case that now lay under it. It was a nondescript case, with no labels whatsoever; only a small card was tied to its handle, bearing just a name: Marek Van Cartier. He weighed it in his gloved hands, then nodded to himself. This would do for the time being.

In the same casual stroll, now carrying the briefcase in his left hand, the man in dark grey clothes and dark grey winter coat directed his steps to the Circle, at the street level, where he knew he would find a booth to buy tickets for the Underground. He was positive he would actually need an Oyster card at some point; although nobody had instructed him yet about how long he would have to stay in London, the trail he had been following spoke to him of a much more complex case than had appeared at first, and he doubted tonight’s encounter—for there would be one—would bring him all the answers yet. There was something in the confined air of the station that bore promises of death and decay, promises the likes of him were always able to sense. It would be an interesting evening. It would be an interesting stay altogether.

Double, double, toil and trouble…

In spite of the late hour, nine other people were queueing for tickets at the local office, and he took his place at the end of the line with just the exact amount of politeness that was expected from a newcomer. The old lady in front of him turned for a brief moment to see who had just arrived and make sure there would be no attempt at queue-jumping; he flashed her one of his pleasant smiles, tilting his head in greeting. What the lady saw in his smile or in his eyes, nobody would ever know; but a few seconds later, she excused herself and shuffled away, a vague frown of unease on her brow.

He had not even uttered a single word.

The other customers did not look at him, though, and he kept on waiting, using that downtime to check on a few messages on his mobile phone. When his turn finally came, he found himself face to face with a young Transport for London employee. She seemed bored and eager to go back home, as evidenced by the circles under her eyes and the half-smeared make-up that she did not have time to touch up.

‘Good evening, Sir, what can I do for you?’ she asked in an Estuary accent.

As she spoke, he smiled to her, this sweet smile that was almost always on his lips, and the last word of her sentence died in her throat. She looked at his fair face, at the straight lines of his jaw, at his wavy brown hair tied in a ponytail on the back of his neck. She looked at his dark grey costume, his white shirt, the black ribbon at his neck in place of a tie. She looked at his hooded eyes, framed by round silver-rimmed glasses, and dove into them, two pools of liquid iron that did not express, did not reflect anything.

‘Good evening, Miss. I’d like to set up an Oyster card. Of course, I’ve got all the paperwork ready here.’

She kept silent for a few more seconds, then snapped back into her daily routine, in a reflex that was more of unconscious self-preservation, and gave him the usual speech regarding the various options available. He nodded to her suggestions, pretended to follow her directions, and finally took a wallet and a few papers out of his attache-case.

He did not hesitate for a split second when it came to handing in his credit card, which was also labelled with the name of ‘Marek Van Cartier’. Some people used to complain about how traceable the Oyster system had made their journeys, but no matter how many times he gave his name or his card, no operator nor computer was ever able to follow his tracks.

Sometimes, he thought he would really have to thank the Order’s Technomancers for those nice feats of theirs. Nevertheless, it was not their doing only, and he knew that quite well, too.

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