Part XII

        I failed!  I cannot believe I failed to kill Michael.  He is like  a cat with nine lives.  Now he is under twenty-four hour guard, and I cannot get to him.  I must entice him to come to me.  Yes, that is the answer.  He must come to me.


        In sterile barren environment of her standby quarters, Nikita slept soundly.  Since no one was supposed to be alone, Sylvia sat trying to read, but instead watched Nikita with a look of concern on her face.  Somehow, Nikita still retained a look of innocence, after four years in Section One.  The look was especially noticeable as the younger operative slept curled around the extra pillow she hugged.

        Sylvia was saddened at the difficulty that Nikita and Michael seemed to have communicating during the more normal times of their abnormal existence; but it was a given that when the chips were down, Michael was there for Nikita, and Nikita was there for him.  Michael's poisoning had proved that irrefutable fact once more.  Nikita had been at his side all through the night and had refused to leave him until he had regained consciousness.

        A light tap at the door roused Sylvia from her thoughts, as Madeline entered with a look of concentration of her face.

        "She's sleeping," Sylvia offered.  "She was awake all night."

        "Yes, I know.  I need to speak with her when she awakens.  Let me know as soon as she does," Madeline said with a small show of mercy, as she turned to leave.

        "Of course."
        At the sound of the door shutting, Nikita stirred and asked, "Who was it?  Is Michael still okay?"

        "Shh, it was only Madeline.  She wants to see you later.  Go back to sleep."

        "Hmm," Nikita murmured.  As long as Michael was safe, Madeline could wait, she thought dreamily before settling into a deep sleep once more, where she and Michael were free to live and love without constraint.

        Sylvia envied the love that Nikita gave to Michael.  She could have loved Nikita herself, had she not known from the beginning that Nikita's heart belonged to her old friend.  Nikita was beautiful and good, therefore, something of a rare creature in Section One.  What was there not to love.

        Nikita slept another four hours before awakening.  As she stretched and yawnedshe noticed that Sylvia dozed with her book in her lap.  Nikita remembered somewhat fuzzily that Madeline wanted to see her, and she ‘would' see her but not before she checked on Michael.  Ignoring the dictate of never being alone, she quickly dressed in black sweat pants and tee shirt and tiptoed out the door.

        Nikita was shocked to find that Michael had been discharged from MedLab, at his own insistence, of course.  Michael was always a difficult patient, and once he felt he was ready to leave, he often disconnected his IV line and left without waiting medical clearance.  He always managed to find a medtech or nurse who would retrieve his clothes, so that the other female operatives were never treated to the posterior view of the best butt in Section One.

        As Martinelli walked into view, Nikita grabbed her by the arm.  "Where has he gone?" she asked.

        "He's gone to be re-evaluated by Madeline," she whispered as she performed the singularly unprofessional act of crossing her eyes.

        Nikita could not resist a giggle as she crossed her own.  "Yeah,  I've got to see her, too."

        Marti could not keep from making a small grimace as she watched Nikita turn and leave MedLab.  Yuk, she thought, Michael and Nikita both having ‘interviews' with Madeline.  The mere thought of if made Marti very glad she wasn't a cold op.  Doc, also known as Marie, was a wonderful boss.  She might be a little abrupt at times, but she had a heart and she took care of all the operatives like they were her children.  Some of them were really bad children, but Doc never discriminated.

        Nikita walked rapidly toward Madeline's office.  I might as well get this over with, she thought to herself.  She stopped short when she saw a familiar figure in the deserted hall ahead of her, "Hi.  How's it going?" she asked with a smile.

        "It's going quite well, actually," he answered.  As Nikita passed him, she never saw the stun gun that he pressed to her side.  She simply lost coordination and collapsed to the floor.  He looked around and ascertained that he had not been observed.  Hurriedly, he pulled her into the small room he had prepared for her.  In a matter of two minutes, he had her bound, gagged and discarded under a pile of trash.  There was no need to kill her, yet.  After he had made certain that she had sufficient airway to breathe, he straightened his clothing and walked into the hall.  Again, seeing that he had not been observed, he returned to his work station with a smile on his face.


        Michael sat in Madeline's office with his usual stoic demeanor, which belied the torrent of emotions whirling through his mind.  He knew that Madeline's goal was to discover any weakness or change in his psychological makeup, which could have been caused by his recent poisoning and near death.  The fact that Madeline was aware that  there might be psychological ramifications only intensified his resolve to reassure her of his worthiness as an operative.  He had to survive in order to make a difference.

        Madeline observed Michael carefully.  It was always a pleasure for her to have Michael on the defensive, because he was such a worthy opponent.  She had made her unique imprint on his psyche long ago.  He knew it, and he knew she knew it.  She remembered how young and scared he had been, much like herself, when he had first been recruited.  Now, as he sat before her, she could appreciate that he had matured into an extremely handsome man.  While his physical appearance was part of his ‘charm,' his intellectual abilities and technical aptitudes made him a superlative operative.  She was proud of him, and she had protected him, as well as Nikita, when she could.  She really did not want to find ‘anything' wrong with him, but it was her duty to Section to try.

        The longer Madeline observed him, the more Michael struggled to submerge his feelings.  Normally, this would have been a simple process for him, but today he felt weak and vulnerable.  It wasn't everyday, one awakened to a higher purpose in life and then, in order to survive, had to conceal it.  He could feel the corner of his mouth wanting to twitch, and he hoped it was not visible to Madeline.

        Madeline could sense the struggle within Michael.  "Now, tell me in your own words what you experienced while you were unconscious.  Don't leave anything out."

        At last he could speak, and he modulated his voice to show sincerity and candor.  "I had a dream."  He would not acknowledge to Madeline that his experience was  anything he considered real.

         "A dream?"

         "Yes, I was spinning through a dark tunnel toward a light.  I dreamt I saw my parents, and that I heard a voice.  I don't remember what the voice said, but it seemed to be within my head."

         "That's it?"  Madeline felt the subterfuge, but was knew it would be futile to challenge his version of the experience.

        "That's all.  I woke up, and Nikita was there.  Even that memory is somewhat confusing."

        "You don't remember telling her that you came back because of her?"

        "No," was Michael's soft reply.

        Madeline didn't believe him, because the surveillance camera tape in MedLab demonstrated clearly what he had said to Nikita.  "Well, that will be all for now.  I will analyze the objective tests and give a preliminary report to Operations tomorrow.  I will also be interviewing Nikita about the incident.  Perhaps, her memory will be better than yours."  Madeline smiled and said, "That will be all for now, Michael."
        Michael nodded and rose with infinite grace from the leather chair.  As he left the room, all he could think was, how am I ever going to convince them I have not changed?



(Language Warning!)

        Son of a Bit@$! was Nikita's first conscious thought, followed by where am I? As she began to struggle, she realized that her hands, feet and neck were bound in such a way that the slightest struggle tightened the binding around her neck. It was a diabolical method he had used on her. In addition, she was gagged, and there was something over her eyes as well. She forced her body to relax by breathing through her nose.

        Summoning her other senses, she realized she could smell refuse, but where she was remained a mystery. She was sure she was still in Section. Her five-foot ten-inch body would be a difficult to remove from five hundred feet below ground. She tried to feel behind her, but could only feel a tile wall. She could be anywhere. She began to rub her face against the floor, hoping to remove the blindfold. If she could see, she wouldn't be so afraid. The sensory deprivation would increase the longer she remained in the dark. She prayed that there would be no rats in the refuse.  Nikita's cell phone began to ring. It was no longer attached to her belt, and it was
a frustrating five feet away, although she could not see it. It might as well have been five miles away.



        Madeline drummed her fingers on her desk. Nikita was not in her stand-by quarters, and Sylvia said that Nikita had been absent for quite some time. She had tried paging her several times with no response. "Birkoff, locate Nikita for me," she said into her com set.

        "Why don't you just page her?" he asked in amazement. Paging operatives wasn't in his job description.

        Madeline gave a sigh of frustration. "I already have ‘paged' her, Birkoff. I want you to give me a location on her internal clock."

        "Oh, okay. You know I can't pinpoint her other than to tell you if she's here in Section or not. It's not that accurate."

        "Yes, Birkoff. I know that. Just tell me if Nikita is still here in Section."  Madeline's voice grew colder by the word.

        "All right." Birkoff entered the access code that would allow him to locate Nikita through her cesium crystal. The screen flashed and her location was noted. "Yes,  Madeline, she's still in Section. What do you want me to do?" Birkoff's mind whirled. Had something happened to Nikita? Why wasn't she answering, if she were okay?

        "I want you to mobilize a search team for each level. I want no area omitted, however insignificant."

        "What about Operations? He's the one that should issue an order like this," Birkoff protested, his orderly soul calling for protocol to be followed.

        "Just do it. I'll notify Operations," was Madeline's abrupt reply.


        After leaving Madeline's office, Michael reported to Operations. "I have debriefed with Madeline. Is there anything you would like to ask me?"

        Operations took stock of his top Class Five operative. Michael looked pale, but could see no other changes. "How are you? Shouldn't you still be in MedLab?" he asked.

        Michael gave his patented answer coupled with his best blank stare, "I'm fine."


        At that juncture, Madeline's face appeared on Operations view screen. "Nikita is missing. She left her stand-by quarters over an hour ago. Her internal clock says she is still here in Section, but she is not answering. I have instituted a level by level search."

        "Fine. Keep me informed." Operations pulled a brown cheroot from his inside pocket and lit it. He watched Michael for some sort of response.

        Michael blinked. "Her internal clock?"

        Operations smiled. Here was something Michael didn't know till now. "Yes, she was injected with a cesium crystal tracking device when she returned from the Freedom League. We didn't want to ‘lose' her again," he said with a smirk as he blew a column of
smoke into the air.

        Michael merely nodded and said, "That was wise." Michael willed himself to remain calm. "May I be of assistance in the search?"

        "Of course, Michael. We're going to need all the help we can muster, if it's not already too late for Nikita."

        Operations' words reverberated in Michael's mind. No, no. It must not be too late. Surely, I didn't come back to this in order to lose her, he thought. Michael nodded, "Fine. I'll start now." Michael walked from Operations office, and when he was out of sight, he allowed a show of emotion. He hit the nearest wall with his fist. He let the pain remind him that he was still alive and that he had to find Nikita alive.


        It was becoming more and more difficult for him to maintain his normal appearance and activities. Inside his head was an insane glee at having trapped Nikita, who was the perfect bait for Michael. He felt invincible. No one could stop him now. He had failed once with Michael, but he would not fail again. Nikita was Michael's weakness and he would trade his life for hers willingly. At least, he thought Michael would. No matter, he thought. Michael is mine, whether he is willing or not.

        The all-out search for Nikita brought the activity level of Section One to a fever pitch. Never since the Red Cell's complete attack, had Walter seen every available operative rushing about with such sense of purpose. Walter feared the worst. If the killerhad taken Nikita, she was more that likely already dead. He had not dallied with his other victims. Nikita, however, was not like the other victims in that she was not a class five op.  Perhaps, the killer had taken Nikita as bait to lure Michael into his or her reach once more.

        Birkoff had assigned each operative an area to be searched. Once that area was searched, it was to be sealed with yellow tape. In addition, to dispatching the operatives involved in the search, Birkoff kept trying to raise Nikita on her cell phone, but with no


        Nikita thought, if the cell phone rang one more time, she would scream. That is, she would scream if her mouth weren't full of a foul-tasting rag and taped shut. She had managed to peel away one small area of the tape over her left eye by rubbing it against the
floor. It had taken what seemed like hours, because the slight movements of her head  aggravated the choking mechanism of her bindings. She was able to see that she was in a totally dark room, but was able to see a strip of light beneath the door. Any light was
better than none. It gave her hope.



        Ken Stiles walked along the maintenance corridor, armed with a roll of yellow tape. He, too, hoped he wasn't too late. He had already checked several supply rooms, when he rounded a corner. The next door was already marked. He guessed that Birkoff had made a double assignment after all. One less room for him to check, and Ken continued the systematic search.


        O'Brian and Lopez were in a quiet conversation, when Hector entered the room.

        "Okay," he said, "Everybody is supposed to be out looking for Nikita. Have you received your assigned areas from Birkoff? Birkoff gave me the level two standby quarters to search, so I'm on my way there." Officiously, he tossed four rolls of yellow tape at the pair. "Let's get going. It may already be too late."

        "We're on our way, Hector," O'Brian nodded. He looked at Mandelita as if to say, ‘who put him in charge?'

        Mandelita gave her own grim nod and picked up two of the yellow rolls. She gave O'Brian a look of longing. The thought that someone as young and vital as Nikita could be lost so quickly made her think of missed opportunities, but now was not the time.
O'Brian saw the expression on her face and returned it with one of understanding.


        Operations paced in his aerie. Level after level was reporting negative results. He was infuriated that this maniac had infected and was about to overcome all the defenses of Section One. Smoke wreathed his head as he puffed on cheroot after cheroot.


        Madeline worked together with Birkoff over computer blueprints of all Section One. As each area reported in a negative result, it was noted in the computer. Madeline's face was grim with desperation. Given Michael's current vulnerable state, she feared that Nikita's death would damage him beyond repair. Too much had happened to Michael in the last four and a half years. This could break him beyond repair.


        Class Five Operatives Isaac Agbenohevi and Jonathan Dwyer were forced to work together as a team in the search for Nikita. Dwyer resented it, but there was nothing he could do. Agbenohevi, always the consummate operative, was well aware of Dwyer's
racial bigotry, but knew he could work with anyone as long as they stayed focused on the mission. Finding Nikita was the mission.

        Sylvia Damico, too, searched. As she searched, she tried to control her emotions.  Neither Michael, nor Nikita deserved this. They deserved to live and love each other. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks as she worked hurriedly through room after

        While he did not know where Nikita was, Michael knew had an idea who he was pursuing. His review of the personnel files had revealed a serial killer. Why Section One had recruited a serial killer as an operative, he wasn't sure. Perhaps, Madeline had thought his activities would keep his urges at bay. Obviously, she had been wrong.

****** * *

        O'Brian was afraid he had waited too long to act on his suspicions. He began his frantic search to find the killer before he killed again.

He slipped into the area where he had confined Nikita. He felt of her body and felt her flinch at his touch. Good, he thought, still alive. He giggled. "Well, bait, how are you? Waiting for Michael to rescue you? Well, so am I."

On to Part XIII