Operations' determination was enforced by his rigid stance. "There can be no
question of allowing her to remain free any longer."
hated it when Operations belabored the obvious, replied, "Of
"She has been a security risk of the highest level, ever since you sent Michael to her for therapy." Operations continued his nervous pacing, nearly stumbling over Madeline's new plant stand. "Damn thing is in my way, Madeline," he added brusquely.
because Operations was right, and that was why she'd had it
placed there. It was directly in his former path, and Madeline was not above a little pettiness now and then.
"She's been monitored carefully. She has presented no risk, but bringing her here now will put an end to all that. She will have to become one of us. Now that her book tour is completed, and the public eye is no longer so intense, it is the opportune time to extract her. We have need of her again, as you well know."
Operations' eyes snapped in Madeline's direction. "Michael has need of her."
"Therefore, we have need of her, and the sooner you accept that, the less time we waste in verbal fencing and idle speculation."
"What mode?" he asked.
"We'll use Nikita.
Nikita has already renewed contact with Dr. DuPre, since
Operations interrupted, "She has? Why wasn't I informed of this, Madeline?"
"You are being
informed of it now," Madeline replied with her enigmatic smile.
"The breach only occurred yesterday. Would you like to hear the audio?" Madeline offered.
"No, spare me
Nikita's emotional ramblings. I don't like it when you withhold
intel from me, Madeline. You should have informed me of this yesterday."
again. "I was formulating a profile, and now that it is
complete...." Madeline made a graceful gesture with her hands, holding them open, palms up.
at Madeline over the top of his glasses. "Well, let's get on it.
We can't risk further exposure." Operations turned to leave, then reconsidered. "Do you think Dr. DuPre will be able to adjust, or will this be a singularity?"
"There are some things to be considered. She does have a family. She is, therefore, vulnerable to persuasion, but there is one real problem," Madeline replied.
asked in frustration. How he hated having to dig every bit
of intel from Madeline, piece by piece.
MD looked around her spacious office, lined on the southern
exposure by windows. It was located on the seventh story and was almost too high to suit her, but she had become accustomed to it over the years. As long as she didn't walk too near the windows and look downward, she could handle it.
was faulty. Not only was Dr. DuPre claustrophobic, she was
acrophobic as well. To be specific, Therese was uncomfortable to the extreme in small closed places and with heights. She had never flown in an airplane and was considered a somewhat of a charming anachronism by most of her friends. Therese knew it was a matter of control and had tried systematic desensitization therapy, but had made a precipitous exit from the airplane that was supposed to be part of her graduation exercise.
She considered the phone call she had received only the day before from Nikita. Michael was unraveling, and the reason both was and was not surprising, given what little Therese knew about the agency for whom he worked.
"Michael is falling
apart, Dr. DuPre. He won't let me help him," Nikita had begun
her desperate call.
"What do you mean,
Nikita? What's happened?" Therese had only spent a few
sessions with Michael the year before. He had been troubled, even tortured then, but had seemed to benefit from being able to express (after much encouragement) his feelings.
Now it seemed that Michael had kept more to himself than she had ever imagined, but that was Michael, after all.
Nikita had continued,
"Michael's been involved in a deep cover mission for over
six years. I never knew. Few here did. He's had a wife and a five year old child."
"Oh, Nikita, how terrible for you."
"Never mind me.
The mission was to eliminate his wife's estranged father. Now
the mission is over, and Michael will never be able to see them again. Michael had to fake his own death. Dr. DuPre, he loves them, and he's a basket case." Nikita's voice had faltered. "He won't let me near him. I don't know what to do. I've never seen him like this. They've given him some time off, but it's not enough. If he can't function, I'm afraid they'll cancel him."
"What do you want me to do, Nikita? Will he come here, do you think?"
"No, I doubt it. He won't answer the phone either."
"Then I must go to him."
"Will you? I-
I know it will be difficult for you, but I didn't know who else could
possibly reach him," Nikita said with desperation ringing in her voice.
"I'll call you tomorrow with details."
Therese had waited
for her call, but it had not come. As she waited, she
considered how difficult seeing Michael again would be. She'd had to stop seeing him as her patient because of her emotional involvement. She had not been in love with him. The feelings had been more maternal, but there had been an element of something that had made Therese uncomfortable in his presence.
Michael had been a very unwilling participant in therapy, only coming because he had been ordered to come. Everything about him had been compelling, his eyes in particular. There were depths within the man that no one could touch, and secrets he could not share. Nikita came closer to swimming in those depths than any, Therese imagined. Yet he had kept half his life apart from her, until.... Therese wondered how Nikita had learned of his other life. There hadn't been time during Nikita's call to ascertain all the details; but from what Therese knew of Nikita, she doubted that Nikita's knowledge had been sanctioned.
Yes, seeing Michael would be difficult.
She looked at
the other members of the team. Only Walter was there and her old
friend McClure, a level four operative, who had given her a hard time before finally accepting that she wouldn't see him outside Section. They'd finally come to anunderstanding. He would leave her alone, and she wouldn't have to resort to any further demonstrations of her testicular twisting technique. Actually, they had achieved a truce of sorts and were able to work well together when ever necessary. Only Walter and Mac on this mission, she thought. Surely, had to be a low level mission, if only she and Mac were the primaries.
"So glad you could join us, Nikita."
interrupted her thoughts. Some day, I'm gonna use that
technique on him. Hmm. I just wish it were today. She gave a half smile to signify her token contrition.
Operations hit the remote and the face of Therese DuPre sprang to life. Nikita felt as if her heart had stopped beating. Oh my god, what have I done, was Nikita's immediate thought. I've compromised her, and now Section is going to make me kill her. Nikita looked at the ceiling and at the wall behind Operations' head. She couldn't bear to look at him.
"This is Dr. Therese DuPre. She is a well-published author and the possessor of entirely too much intel about Section One. Your mission is to pick her up as she leaves her office this evening and bring her to Section. Here, if she is able to adjust, she will practice her calling with some of our more troubled operatives." Operations cast a significant glance at Nikita, daring her to break protocol and object.
"Will this be permanent or uh-a singularity?" Nikita managed to ask with what she hoped Operations would consider the appropriate demeanor.
"We hope it will
be permanent. It will depend entirely upon her ability to cope.
The profile is in your PDA's. I want no exposure on this operation. Make it quick and clean. Departure is at 1630 hours. Birkoff will perform tactical from here. That will be all."
Operations made as if to leave, but was stopped by Nikita, who him asked quietly, "Is this really necessary? I mean she's a civilian. She's done nothing wrong, except try to help Michael last year."
with some satisfaction that Nikita was learning. No immediate
outburst or protest. "Nikita, I'm not in the habit of sending operatives on unnecessary missions. Just bring her in, and no deviation from the profile!" he added with emphasis.
Bright blue eyes
stared into steel-blue eyes in a war of wills. Finally, Nikita
nodded in assent and departed the field.
Mac looked at
Walter with a question in his eyes. Walter's only response was a
sigh. Nikita walked toward Madeline's office, taking slow, deep breaths as she did. It would never do to lose her cool with Madeline, especially not now. Nikita did not trust Madeline's and Operations' assurances that her value as an operative remained strong. If truth be told, she didn't trust a damn thing they said. She'd been the victim of too many lies and manipulations while in Section One. The one thing she could trust them was to stay on her butt and look for the least excuse to cancel her.
Nikita entered her access code at Madeline's door. It slid open quietly. "I've been expecting you, Nikita. You object to the mission profile to retrieve Dr. DuPre. She's an innocent and a civilian with family. She will be missed. You feel that your unauthorized contact with her yesterday is the reason for the mission."
Nikita had opened
her mouth to speak, but shut it. Madeline had voiced all her
objections, and Nikita assumed that Madeline would either substantiate the need for the mission or would summarily hand Nikita an ultimatum.
Nikita her Mona Lisa smile--the one that never quite reached her
dark brown eyes. "Dr. DuPre, hopefully, will be a valuable member of our team here. It was always our intention to bring her in. We delayed while she was busily hawking her book on TV talk shows and making numerous public appearances. Now that she is less in the public eye, it's time. Don't forget that Michael was able to connect with her last year, and it is hoped now that she will be able to increase his performance scores. You haven't been able to reach Michael, Nikita. Let's hope for his sake that Dr. DuPre can."
Nikita could take
Madeline's self-serving and accusatory manner no longer.
"It's going to take more than a week of daily therapy sessions to fix Michael this time, Madeline, and two weeks was not enough. He's still grieving over the loss of his family. His son was his future, Madeline, and you've taken away his future. Adam and Elena were the only thing that made this life here in Section livable, and you've ripped them from him, all for the sake of a mission!" Nikita's disgust was apparent in her voice.
Nikita's outburst calmly, of course. "You forget that but for the
mission, Michael would have had no wife, no son. Adam would never have been born. You seem to also forget that Michael went home to a loving and devoted wife, while you went home to an empty apartment. Have you forgiven him so easily for deceiving you?"
cut Nikita deeply, but they were nothing that Nikita had not
already told herself, more than once. "This isn't about me, Madeline. It's about Michael."
"And you would do well to remember that, Nikita. That will be all."
Nikita spun on
her heel to leave. She was almost to the door, when Madeline's
voice stopped her, "You have always underestimated your role in enabling Michael to function. You should think about that, Nikita."
Nikita's face turned red with unexpressed rage, "Is that why---"
A note of finality sounded in Madeline's voice. "That will be all, Nikita."
The vid screen
displayed his favorite picture of Adam... his child and his
redemption for all his past and future sins. Tears came quickly to his eyes, as he thought of the times he had tucked Adam into bed, played ball and computer games with him. He acknowledged that he had been away more than he had been home, but that had only made the times with him more precious. That and the knowledge that one day it would have to end. Now it had. Too soon. No chance to say a real good-bye. What would he have said? ‘Good-bye son, I won't be around anymore. I've more important things to do, like saving the world.' Or, ‘Sorry, kid, you were just part of a mission. Have a nice life.'
Michael sat slumped
in the floor, staring unceasingly at Adam's likeness. He
wanted the agony to end. He wanted to die. He wanted the pain to stop, and yet he knew he deserved this misery. It was his punishment, precisely engineered for the Michael of no soul, the Angel of Death.
He did not trust Operations and Madeline's assurances that Elena and Adam
would be protected. They would not hesitate to put them in harm's way to manipulate him to Section's will. Section's goals? What a farce! Section continually sacrificed innocents for the greater good, and he had participated because he had believed in the overall aims of the organization. Ostensibly, Section had given him a chance to atone for his crime. Section had given him the semblance of a normal life, but at what cost?
Simone's loss on the Glass Curtain mission had surely been engineered in order to force him to focus on his relationship with Elena, and it had worked. Pretense became reality, and Michael had fallen in love with Elena. Their son had been born, and Nikita had come to Section.
the floor with his fists, as he thought of how Madeline had
manipulated his relationship with Nikita. While he sought refuge with Elena in the normal world, Nikita became a charge on his soul within Section. He had feared that her assertion of innocence was true. Protecting her had made life within Section's microcosm of unreality possible.
he had told her after the Armel mission. Conflicted as in literally
ripped apart. "Was the mission difficult for you?" he had asked. My God! Lying in bed with Nikita for five nights, touching her for the cameras, not wanting to betray the two women he loved. Then making love to her anyway, at her behest, as she needed him to do.... As he ‘needed' to do. Mission or not, Elena or not, he had succumbed. The morning after with Nikita and her cat's in the cream smile, and her telling him all she needed was his love. It ‘was' a mistake. His whole life had been a mistake.
As much as he had loved Elena, he knew she deserved more than half a man, torn between two worlds. Maybe she would find love again in time. As much as he loved her and craved the familiar comfort of her arms and touch, he knew that time would diminish the hold she had on his heart, but Adam's hold was a brand that time would never erase. The pain would never cease. His redemption would never again come to say, ‘Good night, Daddy.' Michael began to sob.
Twilight fell, and Michael sat in the dark. The only light came from the vid screen image of Adam. A soft knock sounded at the door. He didn't respond. The knock sounded again. He knew it was Nikita. He didn't want to think about Nikita or see her. She reminded him of his loss, of his betrayals, and of his life in Section. He needed no such reminders. She had tried to talk to him, but he had rejected her gestures of friendship. She was too much a part of the life that he wanted to obliterate.
She called his
name. He sat in silent torment, but would not...could not bring
himself to answer.
Her recruitment as well as her innocence were moot. She already knew she would never be able to go back to any kind of normal life. Section had destroyed the innocent street kid she'd been, changing her forever with her first kill. She had killed to save Michael that day, and she would do it again if necessary.
She had considered many times the effect he'd had on her, but never....no never considered that she'd had a positive effect on him. She had been the proverbial thorn in his side from the minute he had released the leather bonds that held her. "I'm not going to hurt you." His first words to her had been a lie, and there had been many more lies to come.
Now, however, after four years in Section One, she knew that lies were Section's bread and butter or the oil that enabled its convoluted machinery to continue running. She'd had to tell a few lies herself, along the way; and she'd had to lie to Michael, too, all for the sake of a mission. It was strange, a year earlier, she wouldn't have been able to forgive him, if he'd told her about Elena and Adam and the deep cover mission. It still hurt, but she recognized the reason for all the times he had been distant. Walter was right. The truth did make it better... a little.
She understood his reticence after bringing her back to Section. She understood why he had reacted to her relationship with Jurgen as he had. He had retreated and allowed her to pursue it. Of course, there was that timely phone call Michael had made when she and Jurgen were about to consummate their relationship.. Nikita smiled as she remembered. Michael had been jealous. At least, he'd admitted he lived his life split in two. She'd always thought he meant the damper he kept on his emotions, but she now understood exactly how deep and pervasive the division had been.
Nikita wandered deep in thought past Systems.
"Nikita!" Birkoff called to her.
"Yes?" Nikita looked about her in surprise. She truly had had no idea where she was.
"Operations wants to see you."
"Operations wants to see me?" she asked. What had she done now, she wondered, as she climbed the stairway to Operations' office. She walked in and hands clasped in front of her asked, "You wanted to see me?"
her deliberate imitation of Michael's stance, rolled his
eyes. "Yes, Nikita. I want you to bring Michael for a briefing."
"Is it related
to Dr. DuPre's retrieval. I don't think that's a very good idea at all.
"Nikita," he interrupted
brusquely. " Bring Michael in. You're not here to think.
That's my job description, in case you've forgotten," he added with a wolfish grin.
"Oh, yeah, right!
That's one of the things I keep having trouble with. Good
point," Nikita added with her own crooked half smile--the one reserved for those not deserving of her million watt smile.
"Just bring him in."
"What mode?" she asked with some sauce.
"Any damn mode
you want! Now stop wasting my time. You have to be back for
the DuPre mission."
"Um, yes, Sir."
Nikita turned to leave and hid the smile. Once in a while she
could get the best of Operations. Granted it was on a petty level, but satisfying,
Nikita walked down the hall away from the Michael's door, then stopped and rushed back to it. "Michael, open the damn door. I know you're in there." Nikita waited a moment.
"Michael, if you don't open the door, I'm going to shoot the lock!" Nikita waited, and this time she was rewarded with the shuffling sound of steps.
The door opened, and Nikita could see that Michael had attempted his blank stare, but failed. "What do you want?" he asked with flat affect, but Nikita could see that his eyes were reddened from crying. This was a Michael she didn't know very well. She had seen glimpses of the man he could have been, or should have been, but this Michael was a shell, brittle and likely to crumble at the slightest touch.
"Operations wants you. There's a briefing in an hour."
"Fine," Michael said, as he attempted to close the door, but Nikita had wedged her shoulders through the space. Michael shrugged, turned his back to Nikita and walked to the window. "I'll be there," he said without turning to face her.
"I'm to accompany
you," she replied evenly. "I'm sorry, Michael. I know you
need the time alone, but--"
"Never mind, Nikita. It doesn't matter."
"I-- I want to
help you, Michael, if you'll let me." she stuttered. More than
anything, Nikita wanted to take Michael in her arms and hold him, but she sensed that he would resent any physical contact.
"You can't. No one can."
"No, not if you
won't allow it." Nikita averted her face to keep Michael from
seeing the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks and took a deep breath in an attempt to regain her composure. Nikita's hands ached with the need to touch him, to give him her strength, anything to free him from the remote land he now inhabited; but Nikita knew she would only drive him further into his well-worn path of self-annihilation.
Nikita began to understand that as she had once laid the blame for her pain at his feet, he now returned the favor. She was a part of Section, and therefore, a part of what had caused him so much pain.
"We don't have a lot of time, Michael. Let's go."
He looked directly at her for the first time. His usually luminous green eyes started at her, a dull gray. He nodded in response. "Fine."