By Stephanie


        "How do you feel about camping?" This absurd question was answered with raising eyebrows and a somewhat horrified expression.  "Camping." It was a statement and one that spoke volumes about how she felt about it.  "Yes." Operations replied, mildly amused. Madeline raised her eyebrows again and did not dignify the question further, waiting for some explanation.  "George thought that we are not "in touch", his words not mine, with our operatives and that, if we were more involved in their personal experiences, we would better understand their decisions and foresee their actions." Operations informed, then waited for her to speak.  "Where does camping come in?" Madeline asked, dreading the answer. Operations smiled and gave the anticipated reply.
         "Hello?" Nikita murmured sleepily into the telephone. It was 4:09 am by her clock and she was not pleased to be waken.  "You want me to do what?" Nikita asked, suddenly sitting straight up in bed and wide awake. She listened attentively as the instructions were given again and hung up the phone in shock. Michael had explained to her that she needed to pack five days worth of comfortable clothes and a sleeping bag with a pillow. It sounded suspiciously like camping to her, though as usual Michael had not elaborated and hung up on her before she could ask specifics.

        Madeline sat at her usual seat at the briefing table and watched quietly as Nikita and Walter followed suit. She was less than thrilled about this little trip and was unconsciously projecting bad "vibes" from the way she was moving.

        Nikita picked up on this instantly and gave Walter a meaningful glance. They had a silent argument over who would be the first to ask a question, with Nikita being the victor. Walter cleared his throat nervously, causing Madeline to focus her attention on him alone.

        "Um. . .is this some kind of mission?" Walter asked, then mentally smacked himself.   Brilliant, he was just so brilliant. . .

        "All of your questions will be answered when the others arrive." Madeline informed them in, what sounded like, a very rehearsed tone of voice. There was an uncomfortable silence as they waited for the others.   Just when Madeline was about to kill Nikita for playing "Row, Row, Row your Boat" with drumming fingers for the twentieth time, the door to the briefing room opened.  Operations, followed closely by Birkoff and Michael, filed in and dropped their bags near the door.  Not a word was uttered as the three took their places at the table. Now there was a pile of suitcases, sleeping bags and pillows at the entrance to the briefing room, by far one of the most strangest sights in Section at this point.

        "As of three o'clock this morning it has been confirmed that the six of us will be taking a five day vacation with each other. We will be camping in Wyoming and additional supplies are already on board. George is standing by on video to wish us luck."

        Operations concluded his speech and picked up the remote sitting near his elbow. With the push of a button the video screen rose and activated.   George smiled out at all of them from his side of the terminal.

        "Good Morning," he greeted, obviously enjoying this particular scenario.

        "That's a matter of opinion." Madeline stated softly, her eyes never leaving George's face.

        "Madeline, now come on, this will be fun." George chuckled. To the six of them the chuckle sounded purely evil.

        "Easy for you to say." Nikita responded and then waited for the lecture of respect. It never came. George merely chuckled again and wished them a safe journey and good time before shutting off his terminal. They all stared blankly at the screen until Operations closed it with a muted click.

        In the next five minutes they all found their luggage, boarded the Section helicopter and were headed for Wyoming.  "Let the games begin." Nikita thought as she watched Section disappear from view.

        "Put those away, we don't need them. I am sure we can figure out how to put a tent together!" Walter exclaimed as Madeline picked up the directions with the intention of reading them. She raised her eyebrows and gave a little smile that seemed to say "if you insist. . ." Walter, Operations and Michael set themselves to the task of creating the tent while Madeline, Nikita and Birkoff watched from a safe distance. Birkoff had decided to play it safe and be on Madeline's good side for this trip, he actually had no clue on how to set up a tent and had no problem admitting it.

        "Where is this supposed to go?!" Operations exclaimed, exasperated. It had been two hours and the mass of cloth was not even beginning to resemble a tent. He held up a long bar with a curved end and Walter shrugged.

        "Put it on the top. " Michael guessed and started to mess around with some other bars.

        "Where's the top!" Operations threw the object into the "tent" and watched, horrified, as the whole thing caved in. By this time Madeline, Nikita and Birkoff where laughing hysterically. The other men glared at them and walked away.

        "You think it's funny? You put it up! We'll go collect wood!" Operations called over his shoulder as they trampled through weeds. Madeline, still slightly laughing, faced the two before her.

        "First lesson of the week. Always read the directions." She said and picked them up. Nikita and Birkoff read out the step by step instructions as Madeline carefully pieced together their sleeping quarters.

        Fifteen minutes later a gunshot went off. Nikita jumped and looked around. The tent was set up exactly as it was supposed to be and all the luggage had been moved inside.

        "What happened?" Madeline called from inside the tent.

        "I don't know!" Nikita called back. That's when she saw it.

        "Don't say a word." Michael warned her. All three men were covered in thick oozing mud from head to toe.

        In a sense Nikita did not say a word. Instead, she burst out laughing. Madeline and Birkoff ran from their deeds and stopped when they saw what Nikita was laughing at. Birkoff made it six feet from what had been doing before he gave into the fits of laughter and was forced to sit down. Madeline maintained her calm expression until Operations came into her line of view. Then she took a seat next to Nikita to join in on the fun. Operations and Walter were the first to get annoyed.

        "Are you done? Anytime you want to help and get some towels is fine by me." Operations stated sourly. Walter flicked mud at Nikita and Michael stood there, mask in place.

        As she was the last to lose control, Madeline was the first to recover. She quickly found three towels and brought them back.

        "Well," Madeline began before she could stop herself, "At least you got the firewood."

        "Right." Michael retorted, reacting for the first time. The image of Michael drenched in mud was to much for Nikita to handle and she collapsed in giggles once more.

        A half hour later it was a more peaceful sight at camp. The six sat around a crimson, yellow and red fire just enjoying the heat. Nikita was rummaging through one of the two bags Section had supplied, looking for something interesting to do.  There were all sorts of games but nothing that sparked her interest.  Then she saw the perfect thing. Who had packed it she didn't know, it was an impractical game to pack for camping but Nikita figured that they had to use it. After all, wouldn't want it to go to waste. At least that was what she planned to use as her argument.

        "Hey everyone. Up for a game of Twister?"

        "No." Michael did not hesitate in his answer. Everyone looked at him with surprised expressions. Nikita smiled as she thought of her answer to this quiet challenge.

        "Twister or Truth or Dare." She responded.

        "Twister." Madeline was the one not hesitating this time. Nikita lifted an eyebrow and stored the Truth or Dare idea for later in the week.

        "See Michael.  Madeline insists." Nikita retorted. Walter was grinning ear to ear and helped her set up while Michael tried to blend into the shadows and Madeline persuaded Operations to play. Birkoff was playing around with a laptop he had managed to sneak into the luggage. When they were ready everyone gathered around. Feelings of nervousness, from Operations and Michael, boredom, from Birkoff, victory, from Nikita, and one unnamed feeling, from Madeline, were filling the air. Nikita decided to break the silence.

        "Walter has so generously volunteered to sit this game out and be, I believe the scientific term is, the flicker guy.  Go ahead Walter." Nikita informed everyone.

        "Left foot on green."

        Obediently, the five placed their left feet on the round, green circle.

        Twelve minutes later, Birkoff was out and it was between the four of them. They were twisted together and Walter had been cheating for awhile now. Whenever he called out a color he made sure it was the hardest to get to.

        "Right hand, blue!" Walter called through his laughter. It was starting to be a fight to the death. All four had been trained by Section and had excelled. It was going to be a very, very long night.

        "Left foot, purple." Walter called out next. They were confused for a moment before hearing Walter laughing so hard, Nikita started to worry about his mental health.

        "Cut it out Walter! Only the colors in the game!" Michael shouted, uncharacteristically.  This outburst from Michael startled Operations and he fell to the ground, trying to pull Madeline with him by her waist. She maintained her balance, however, and hit him with her free hand.

        "Left hand, red!"

        A half hour later it was between Madeline and Michael, though Nikita was ready to argue her point. Michael had definitely distracted her with the arm-around-her-waist move and therefore she felt that she deserved a second chance.

        Both people were determined not to fall and moved gracefully about the floor mat.  It seemed to the four looking on that both could bend impossibly.

        "Right hand, green." Both Madeline and Michael sighed heavily for the green spot was by their feet and their hands were on the opposite end of the mat. Madeline moved first, bringing her hands in their backward descent to grasp her ankles. It was an almost horrific scene. Michael imitated her and five seconds later, they both fell onto the ground.

        "That should go into the books! Not only was there no winner but it must have been the longest game of Twister ever!" Birkoff exclaimed.

        "No winner? That means a different game." Nikita told them as she pouted angelically.

        "I think we should all pick it out this time." Operations stated.

        "I think my back is broken." Michael called from the mat, a small smile on his tanned features.

To be continued

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