At nine she rubbed her eyes and stretched. "That's it, no more," she said aloud, then smiled as she remembered the old adage about only crazy people talking to themselves. Therese hefted her attaché case and added a few more papers to the bewildering morass of documents already there. Her husband Pierre always laughed at her as she worked sitting in their bedroom wearing her favorite flannel nightgown and the reading glasses that slid forward on her nose.
Pierre was a good man, she thought, not for the first time. Their thirty year marriage had been one of content, if not grand passion. In all her years of practice, she'd never seen a grand passion that lasted. Kindness, intelligence and good humor meant more than passion, at least in the long run.
Therese was somewhat concerned that Nikita had not called as she had said she would. Given the uncertain vagaries of Nikita's work, Therese knew she would remain concerned about her and Michael until she heard from the young woman. Well, no matter, it's too late to expect her now, she thought, as she locked the private entrance to her office.
As she rode down the elevator to the parking garage, she felt a frisson of unease. The hair rose on her neck, as she looked about with caution as she entered the nearly deserted garage. What Therese saw surprised her, for Nikita was leaning in lanky grace against her silver Peugeot. "Nikita!" she exclaimed. Relieved to see someone she knew, she relaxed and quickened her step. "I was worried about you. How's Michael?"
Nikita's face was somber. "I'm sorry for being so late, Dr. DuPre." She hesitated, then said, "I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me."
"Well, of course, I expected to go with you, but earlier would have been better, Nikita. It's after nine now, but...." Therese then shrugged, "Oh, well, it's for Michael, I shall go. Shall I follow you in my car?"
The van next to Therese's Peugeot opened, and three black clad men came toward Nikita and Therese with guns drawn. "I--I don't understand," Therese sputtered.
"I'm sorry, Therese, but you have to come with us," Nikita responded.
Therese looked into Nikita's eyes and saw nothing of the charming young woman she'd met before. There was simply a blank stare. Therese's heart felt like it would explode from the burst of adrenaline that coursed through her blood stream. "No," she shouted and tried to run.
Nikita reached with one arm and grabbed Therese by her jacket. "Please, don't make this difficult. I don't want you to be hurt, but if you try to escape again, you might be."
"Why? What's going on, Nikita? I don't understand."
"I have to bring you in. I don't have a choice, Dr. DuPre. I'm sorry."
Nikita's expression, especially her eyes, troubled Therese, whose heart began to sink. Nikita assisted her into the van, and Therese began to shake. "Do you have to shut me up in here? I don't like being confined in small places. It's a thing with me. I'm claustrophobic."
"It's for your own protection that you don't know where you're going. We'll have to put a mask over your head a little later. I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing, Nikita!" Therese said bitterly, "I know. You're only doing what you have to do."
"So when's the briefing? What's the mission?" Michael asked without his usual preamble, although he maintained the usual stance with hands folded in front of him. Folding his hands was a necessary maneuver this time, not a body language technique. It was a maneuver that kept him from strangling the heartless bastard that stood smoking a cigarette while he paced.
Operations raised an eyebrow, as if Michael's tone and attitude left a little to be desired. "After your screw up on that last mission, Michael, I'm a little concerned."
Michael raised an eyebrow, "Concerned?" Michael paused, his voice rich with irony. "Concerned about--me?"
"Your performance, Michael. Your personal considerations are your own. I can't help you with those. Perhaps, you shouldn't have allowed yourself to become so attached to your cover." Operations backed away, as if he had purposefully goaded Michael and expected or even desired a physical response.
Michael took a deep breath, and as he did, his body mass seemed to double and his gaze intensified. He took a step forward and stopped. His words, when they came, were quiet, but full of emotion, "I can't abandon my wife and son without so much as a backward glance.... the way you did."
Operations sputtered, "What do you mean? The way I did?"
"I retrieved the tape for you, remember? I made it possible for you to break your promise of freedom to Nikita. I know all about your ... son. Maybe he would have made other choices, if you'd been around to guide him. Don't you ever question the choices you made? Was saving the world more important than saving your son?"
Operations stood with his mouth open.
Michael had finally said what he had wanted to say for two years. "The briefing? Nikita said there was a briefing."
Operations shook his head, "Get the profile from Madeline. I don't know you anymore, Michael. That'll be all."
Michael nodded, spun on his heel and left. He walked down the stairway and headed toward Madeline's office. He had not seen Nikita since she had brought him back to Section. They had not spoken during their return drive to Section. Nikita had given him frequent, uncomfortable glances, but had not said a word. She seemed to sense that his natural reticence and disinclination to express his emotions had left him nothing to say.
In truth, he hadn't known what to say to Nikita. He had lacked the energy to engage in any verbal sparring. Small talk wasn't his forte, and Nikita had known that. He had been more grateful for her silence than any expression of sympathy. He had taken strength from her silence. Surprisingly, it had grounded him, and while the effect might only be temporary, he welcomed it and let it envelop him like a glove--a glove that fit.
Michael willed himself to put Nikita from his mind. She had no place there. He wanted to remember Adam and Elena as they had been before Nikita had wandered into his other life. He didn't want to remember them here....in Section. They had no place ....here. He was becoming confused again. His two lives had bumped, no crashed, one into the other. Now one was....no more, and all he had was this half of a life. It wasn't enough! Michael doubted his will to continue the half existence to which he was now condemned.
He reached Madeline's door. He shut his eyes for a moment. Madeline had known him too well and too long. He'd often felt his soul was a open book before Madeline's laser gaze. She had long ago manipulated his psyche to serve Section's needs. He supposed she wanted to have another go at remolding him. He knew he wasn't prepared for her machinations, but the choice was not his. If Section called, he came, until the time, when he would make a final decision--one of his own choosing, not theirs.
Michael entered his access code into the lighted panel, and on cue it opened. Michael took the three steps with his usual grace and came to stand in front of Madeline.
"Have a seat,
Michael. This may take a while," she said with no hint of a smile.
As Therese felt the elevator began to descend and descend, she began to tremble. First her hands, then her shoulders and finally her whole body was involved in one giant tremor.
Nikita put an arm around Therese's shoulders to comfort and help support her. It seemed to Nikita as if the good doctor would collapse at any moment. "It's all right. The ride won't last much longer."
Therese gave a
shaky laugh in response. "It's already lasted too damn long,
Nikita. Where is this place?"
"You know I can't
tell you. It's for your own good." At this moment, Nikita
hated Madeline and herself for being a part of ruining a good human being's life.
"I know, you'd have to kill me." Therese turned her masked head towards Nikita
and asked, "Are they going to kill me, Nikita? What happens after Michael doesn't need me anymore?"
Nikita, who knew
only the truth would be believed, answered simply, "I don't
know, Therese." Nikita had insisted on keeping Therese blindfolded, all the while knowing that it was futile. She was sure that the psychiatrist would never see the light of day again--mask or no. Nikita and McClure guided Therese to a containment cell.
Once in the cell, Nikita removed the blindfold, and Therese blinked at the sudden return of light. "You will have to stay here until they're ready for you," Nikita said.
"It's so small,
Nikita. I don't think I can stand it. We're below ground.
below ground, Nikita?" Therese began to pace the eight by ten cell, looking for a means of escape.
"It'll only be temporary, Therese. At least you're not in the white room."
"The white room? What's that?"
"Believe me, you
don't want to know too much about the white room. It's for
interrogation of prisoners and a welcome station for new recruits," Nikita said with a rueful smile, as she remembered her own welcome.
"This is not much better."
Anxious to put
Therese at ease, Nikita asked, "Birkoff, is Madeline ready for us?
The doctor's a little claustrophobic down here in containment. Maybe we could rush things up a little bit?"
Madeline? No, it was too much of a coincidence, she thought, as she remembered her luncheon with a Dr. Madeline Frayn, who studied criminology as well as psychology. They had met at Therese's book signing and had later had a quite interesting and informative lunch a few weeks later.
sounded in Nikita's com set. "Sure, Madeline has just briefed
Michael. They're ready!
at the operative once thought to be the prime candidate to
replace Operations, when the time came, of course. Michael had not looked this
distraught when first brought to Section, and Madeline, in that small recessed area of her mind where still resided a lone spark of humanity, thought it was a pity to see him brought so low by the loss of his child.
Madeline had no
illusions about ‘what' loss grieved Michael the most. She was
certain that Michael had come to love Elena. After all he had lived with her for years, made love to her countless times, and made a child with her. Madeline also knew that Michael's psyche truly began to unravel with the two ‘marriages.' Added to that volatile mixture, the birth of a child had forced Michael to live his life split in two, not figuratively, but literally.
The idea for Michael's
deep cover mission had been hers. She would bear that
responsibility and the results of Michael's deconstruction as a debit in the win/loss column of her career. Indeed, she had scored a tremendous success in terminating terrorist broker Salla Vacek, but whether Michael could be repaired was beyond her knowledge, at the moment. She had set in motion the plans for his recovery, but in reality, it was still up to the broken man she saw before her.
He had not taken
well to the idea that yet another innocent's life was destroyed
because of him. He had started shaking at the mention of Dr. DuPre's name. Madeline had goaded him, "Do you have something to say, Michael?" He had shaken his head, but Madeline could see the misery in his face--something he would never have allowed her see before the end of the Vacek Mission. "You are very valuable to Section, Michael. If we have to sacrifice an innocent to return you to your previous level of competence, then we will. Bringing in Dr. DuPre had always been in the cards. This was a good time. She should serve us well here, if she's able to adjust." Madeline looked at her hands.
"And if she's not able to adjust?" Michael had asked.
Finally, she had
thought. A protest in the form of a question. "That would be
unfortunate," Madeline had responded with a blank stare.
Michael had closed
his eyes and nodded his head.
Michael continued to sit, not attending to any thing or anyone in the room. The
door opened, and Nikita entered with Therese in tow. Michael rose from his seat.
"I'm so sorry to have brought this on you," he said as he took her hand.
Therese looked at the shell of the man before her. "Oh, Michael. I'm so sorry for you." She greeted him with a kiss on each cheek. Then Therese turned from Michael to face Madeline. "You! I can't say I'm surprised. When I heard we were coming to ‘Madeline's' office, I knew! I cannot believe what a manipulative, cold-hearted being you are. I won't dignify you with calling you a human being, because every iota of humanity must have long deserted that body of yours. You have nearly destroyed this man. You have destroyed ‘my' life. You will have a lot to answer for some day, Madeline, and answer you will. Whether to a higher power or karma, I don't know, but you will answer." By the time Therese paused long enough to take a breath, she was in Madeline's face.
Therese with a stare, and a cold, "Welcome, Dr. DuPre. I am sure
you're going to be a valuable member of our staff; and if not, well, that would be a pity for us all, I am sure."
Therese stood with hands on hips. "You can threaten me all you like, Madeline. I won't stay here. If given a chance, I'll escape and expose this sick, covert operation of yours to the world."
"Which is precisely
why you will be given an opportunity to adjust to your
surroundings, but I'm afraid you will ‘not' be given an opportunity to escape." Madeline continued, "Your sessions with Michael will resume tomorrow morning at eight. Until then you will be confined to stand-by quarters."
"I'm not going to live shut up like an animal in a zoo, Madeline. I'll die first."
a brief, but terrible smile to come to her lips. "There is always
that option. That will be all." Madeline then turned to Nikita. "See that she's settled. We'll develop a training program for her tomorrow."
"We?" Nikita asked.
"She'll be your
material until otherwise notified. That will be all," Madeline said
with particular emphasis on the will.
Nikita led a Therese, who vibrated with anger, from Madeline's office.
Therese turned to Nikita. "That woman is one cold, cold bitch."
Nikita gave a
crooked, rueful smile. "Yeah, welcome to Section One."
Michael, who had
watched the confrontation between Madeline and Therese,
turned to look at Madeline. Therese's words about not being locked up like an animal in a zoo resonated. "You've made a mistake, Madeline," he said simply, as he sat off-center in his chair..
never liked her judgment being questioned, raised an eyebrow.
were full of pain. "She doesn't belong here. She's committed
crime. This is my fault."
it is." Madeline replied, "It will be your responsibility, as well
Nikita's, if she is not able to adjust.
Michael gave a
feeble laugh. "If she fails, I fail. Nikita fails. That
familiar, Madeline. Have you no new threats to offer?" Michael shifted in his chair and sat more upright as he challenged Madeline.
Madeline, who found no pleasure in sparring with a diminished Michael, responded in a crisp manner. "You will assist Nikita with her portion of Dr. DuPre's training program. Bring her along slowly. She's not to be a cold operative, but I note that her physical conditioning is less than desirable. ‘You' will have daily therapy sessions with Dr. DuPre as well. I will develop the profile for those, with her input, of course."
"Of course." Of course, she would not miss another opportunity to delve into my head, Michael thought, and that thought made him ‘tired.' All he really wanted was to go ‘home.'
Nikita led Dr. DuPre to the Stand-by quarters area for new recruits. She smiled at Hollis, the petite redhead, who acted as concierge for the area. "Anything assigned for Dr. DuPre?"
askance at the short, plump blonde woman in front of her. "Uh-
Yes, I do. Well, Doctor, looks like ‘you' get the new suite."
Nikita asked, "Suite? Since when are there suites in recruitment?"
"Ever since ‘reservations' were made for Dr. DuPre over a month
Nikita shivered. A month ago, she mouthed.
and Nikita turned to Therese. "Well, let's go see what the
designers in this place have done."
indeed! Therese was led into an actual suite of rooms. The
and bedrooms were duplications of those at her home, except for the lack of windows. There was a luxurious bathroom with a Jacuzzi and an office--for her sessions with Michael she assumed. Section had recreated her office environment as well, minus her assistant Tina, of course.
in amazement. "Well, it's a lot nicer than my first room in
Therese shivered as a chilling thought occurred. They had been in her house and her office. Silently, she gave a prayer that her husband had not been harmed, or any other member of her family. She turned to Nikita and asked, "What does my husband think? Am I just to disappear forever, leaving them to wonder and agonize?"
Nikita could not
help but allow a sigh to escape. "I'm sure that Section One has
already taken care of that."