Madeline into Operations's office aerie with an air of urgency.  "There's an unusual situation brewing in the Principality of Monaco.  I think we need to send a team."

        "Really?  I wasn't aware we had any pressing interests in Monaco," Operations responded dryly, as he looked at Madeline with interest.  She looked lovely this morning.  Her short wavy hair flattered her features, emphasized her fine brown eyes.  Her mannish suits did her no credit, but her elegant figure wasn't difficult to see, if one were interested.

        "A team of twenty thieves has taken the entire Hotel de Paris hostage."

        "You want to send in a team because of a robbery?" Operations asked in disbelief.  "Are they threatening our national interests?"

        Madeline paused.  She had expected his protests.  After all, Section One did not normally become involved unless national interests were involved or unless Section One  was threatened.  "There are two Section One operatives among the hostages.  They need to be extracted from the situation ‘before' the local authorities become aware of their background."

        "Or eliminated," Operations said dryly.  "Who the hell is in Monte Carlo, Madeline?  Do I have to drag every little detail from you?" he asked sitting on the window ledge.

        Madeline's look was solemn as she responded, "Michael is one of the operatives."

        "Michael?  He was just here yesterday," he protested, standing in surprise.

        "Yes, and he's down today and tomorrow, and he's in Monte Carlo registered at the Hotel de Paris as Michel Therrien."

        "And the other operative?  No... don't tell me!"  Operations shook his head in dismay.

        "Nikita.  You must remember I warned you there was nothing to keep them apart now."

        Operations began to pace back and forth.  "Why wasn't I aware of this sooner?  Why did you know this, and not I?.  Surely, not some girlish confidence of Nikita's?"

        "Hardly.  I noted some unusual activity on Michael's computer.  Lear Jet rental, a limousine, accessing expensive boutique sites, various cues that he was planning something.  With Michael's intelligence and resources, if he ever attempted to skip Section, he might just succeed.  I've had Systems place certain flags on his usage.  What I discovered was not a flight from Section but instead a ‘little vacation' for him and Nikita.  They are both down, and they are apparently taking full advantage of it."  Madeline folded her arms as she delivered the news.  "I told you this could happen."

        "Ugh!  I don't want to hear anymore.  You should have told me about this ‘vacation' sooner"   Operations wanted to gag at the thought of Michael and Nikita ‘together.'  Nikita had been a thorn in his side ever since he had allowed Michael to talk him out of canceling her at the end of her training.  Nikita was responsible for weakening Michael's devotion to Section One.  There were little signs--but nothing concrete that he could have used to punish Michael and made him conform to his will again.
        "A couple of days downtime spent together is not an irrevocable bond.  As you said before a system of rewards and punishments.  You forget that it was Nikita's loss on the Brevich mission that brought Michael back to us.  She does have her uses.... And she is an excellent operative, in spite of her propensity for compassion."

        "All right!  I've heard enough about Nikita's virtues.  Organize a team and extract them."  Operations waved his lighted cigarette in the air.

        "Extract ‘or'" Madeline asked.

        "Eliminate them, Madeline.  You know the drill.  I don't want to lose Michael, but if we have to, then send Housekeeping as well.  I want no traces of Section One remaining in this mess."
        Madeline nodded, "I'll call a flash mission, and start the profilers working immediately."  She turned to leave.

        "Fine!" was all Operations could manage to say.  Dammit!  Why was Nikita always in the middle of any complicated situation, complicating it further, he asked himself for the hundredth time in the last four years.

        Blue eyes blazed into green ones.  The emerald or jade sparkle that had been so evident during their excursion was noticeably absent.  Section One's ultimate operative stood before Nikita, ready to do whatever it took to control her, even if he had to render her unconscious.

        "Dammit, Michael, I know you're right.  What do you want me to do?"  Nikita asked, as she rubbed her wrist.

        Michael exhaled in relief.  Nikita's training... the training he had instilled in her... had not failed.  "We have to determine the number of thieves, how well they are armed, and I need to get to a computer.  We have to notify Section One."

        "Why bring them into something that is as you said just a robbery."

        "We're here.  It could get complicated, if we are detained by the authorities.  It's   likely they will hold everyone hostage, while bargaining for escape vehicles."

        Michael began to move cautiously into a service hall.  He and Nikita had escaped detection by the terrorist/thieves, while the remainder of the restaurant occupants had been herded into the casino.  The casino was the only area large enough to hold the entire assemblage of gamblers and hotel guests.  By keeping the hostages in one area, Michael knew they would be easier for their captors to control.
         "I'm not exactly attired for a mission, Michael.  I need to get back to our room and change."  Nikita hiked the skirt of her silver evening gown and demonstrated the stiletto heels she wore.

        Michael shook his head.  "You've been in worse situations.  We can't risk your returning to our room.  They are probably combing the corridors now and pulling the rest of the guests from their rooms.  I want you to access the balcony area and give me a head count on our targets.  I'll find an office computer and meet you back here in ten minutes.  Ten minutes." he emphasized softly.

        Nikita nodded and moved to assume the point position, while Michael eased his way down the hall in the opposite direction, checking for the office areas.  Lady Luck was with Michael that night.  The third door he opened proved to have exactly what he needed.  Automatically, he began keying in the code that would access Section One.

        Birkoff hated flash missions.  Too many things could go wrong.  Michael and Nikita were in the middle of a robbery/hostage situation in Monte Carlo.  Who knew!  The thought of Michael and Nikita actually spending some downtime together brought images to his mind that he would rather forget.  The beginning transmission of them making love on the Armel mission.  He'd had to look away.  It looked too real.... too personal.  It also brought to mind images and sensations of Nikita, no Abby, making love to him in the Ready Room.  Geez, what an idiot he'd been.

        An errant signal beeping on his screen jerked Birkoff away from his mental video.  He hit the intercom to Operations.  "Someone is accessing Section from a insecure system.  What do you want me to do?"

        "It may be Michael, let it go through," was Operations's terse response.

        "It is Michael," Birkoff announced.

        "Michael, what's the situation," Operations asked as Birkoff typed.

        "At least twenty men, with Uzi's and semi-automatic rifles.  They are pulling all the guests into the main casino," was Michael's typed response.  "Nikita's on reconnaissance now."

        "Tell him there's a team on the way and to not interfere."

        "Yes, sir," Birkoff replied as he complied with Operations orders.

        "We'll try." was Michael's brief and enigmatic response.

        "What does he mean he'll try?" Operations asked in outrage.  "Tell him that's an order!"

        "He's aborted the connection," Birkoff said quietly.

        "Damn!" was the only coherent word that Birkoff could understand from Operations channel.

        Nikita crouched as she eased into the multi-columned balcony that surrounded the main casino on four sides.  "Fine time to be nearly 6 feet tall in a silver dress and stiletto heels," she could not help muttering to herself.  I couldn't be anymore conspicuous that the statue of old Louis whatever outside this damn place.  The conversation continued internally.  I wanted to be a princess or a movie star, and here I am creeping about like the lowly Section operative I really am.

        Nikita could hear the cries of dismay, some whimpering that seemed to come from a few of both sexes. The camouflage-clad terrorists, (and in her mind, she had no doubt as to what they really were) milled about brandishing their weapons in order to intimidate their captives.  Terrorists quite often used similar tactics to ‘raise' funds for their nefarious activities.  Maybe not on such an opulent scale as raiding a Monte Carlo casino, but money was always needed, and their methods usually involved violence of one sort or another.

        Nikita could count ten terrorists in her line of vision.  She had no idea how many others were currently retrieving guests from their rooms, however, this early in the evening there probably weren't that many guests in their rooms.  Gambling, dining and being seen were the main activities in Monte Carlo.   The multitude of precious gems that Nikita could see from her place on the balcony would keep the fences of Europe occupied for weeks.

        Nikita checked her watch and knew it was time to reconnoiter with Michael.  She regretted only bringing one firearm with her and no back up ammunition, but she did have a silencer.  Hell, she hadn't known she was going to end up in Monte Carlo on a love-fest- turned-hostage situation.  She had planned on spending a quiet day with Michael.  She'd had no idea that he would sweep her away on this romantic jaunt.  She might have to kill a few terrorists if she had the chance.  They had spoiled the most romantic night of her life.  Michael had been about to say something... something important from the look on his face and in his crystal green eyes.  Focus, she told herself.  I have to focus.

        The sound of an automatic gun's mechanism being engaged behind her brought her back to reality with a crashing lurch.  Not bothering to think, she acted on reflex, spun, brought her gun up and fired.  The terrorist's face had a look of surprise as the red stain blossomed on his chest.  Without a  word, he fell.  Nikita crept to his body, checked for a carotid pulse and finding none,  grabbed his 9mm and left the balcony without attracting further notice.  She stopped long enough to lean against a wall and catch her breath.  Adrenaline surged through her bloodstream.   She was glad to feel the familiar kick as her heart rate increased, pumping more oxygen into her muscles, increasing the speed of her reflexes.

        Michael returned to the rendezvous point.  Nikita was not there.  A stab of fear struck Michael in the heart.  Had she been discovered and taken hostage?  He shouldn't have left her.  He knew it was crazy to think that way.  Nikita the operative was well able to handle herself in any situation, but he was here with Nikita the woman, and it was for the woman that he feared.  His initial inclination was to take Nikita and run.  That was the most sensible action for the two of them.  The thought of Section becoming involved by sending a team had an ominous overtone.  If the team could not retrieve them, the team would be under instructions to cancel Nikita and him to prevent discovery.

        Nikita slid into the service hall, still shimmering and beautiful, but it was obvious to Michael's discerning eye that she had seen some action.  Her respirations were quicker, and he could see the pulse bounding in her throat, her lovely, alabaster throat.

        "What happened?" he asked, placing his hand on her shoulder.

         "One of them surprised me, but I took him out," Nikita replied, swallowing the lump that still remained in her throat.

         "Are you all right?" he asked.  She obviously was, but he couldn't keep from asking or touching her.

        "Fine," she nodded, then launched into debrief mode.  "There are ten in the main casino.  The one I shot makes eleven.  I didn't see any of the others.  They are armed with Uzi's, and semi-automatic rifles.  Plenty of 9mils, and there's enough ammunition to outfit a small battalion.  This is going to be a blood bath."

        Michael hated to agree, but nodded.  "Section is sending in a team."

        "That's good, isn't it?" Nikita asked, puzzled at Michael's apparent unease.

        "Not necessarily.  Their orders will be to extract or .." he paused, not wanting to verbalize his fears.
        "Eliminate us.  Thank you very much, Operations.  That man would mess up a wet dream, Michael,"  Nikita blurted, then looked at Michael to gauge his response.

        "Correct on all counts, Nikita,"  Michael replied.  Leave it to Nikita to put it so succinctly and bluntly.

Part IX