A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "La Femme Nikita" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
“We’ve received intel concerning recent genetic experiments which are connected to a rogue splinter group of Red Cell. The group will be difficult to breach. Failure is not an option and will only result in cancellation.”
The dim utilitarian room flashed red as the briefing continued, holographic images of the results of genetic testing gone wrong scrolled before the operatives; blank eyes accepted the atrocities without a flicker of emotion.
“This will be long term, you will need to maintain profile and solicit entry into the organization. Profiles are on your panels and further information will be available as soon as compilation is complete. It is imperative that you gain their trust.” He cast a calculating eye at the operatives. Gain trust; they didn’t even trust one another…
<5 months later>
Turning from his study of the crowd of students who were hurrying to class, he gave his companion his undivided attention, cool smoky green eyes eliciting the barest flicker of warmth. “Yes?”
“Do you have change?” Nikita waved a bill in the air before returning her attention to the vending machine. Taking the coins he offered, she dropped them into the machine and claimed her treat.
He glanced down at her selection.
“Guess Birkoff’s rubbing off on me,” she offered sheepishly at his unspoken question. She tore open the package and popped an Oreo into her mouth. “Don’t you have a class?” she mumbled around a mouthful of cookie.
“There’s an exam today. The aide is administering it.”
So talkative! A month and a half away from Section hadn’t done much to soften Michael’s stoic façade.
Chasing down Red Cell’s rogue splinters had almost become a hobby. Why Oversight didn’t just order the entire organization to be destroyed and be done with it, she’d never fully understand.
She would be glad to return to Section after this last jaunt into Red Cell’s shattered parameters however. It would be nice to see Walter again, flirting and all; and somehow Oreos and Twizzlers stolen from Birkoff’s desk tasted better than the ones she bought in the commissary and vending machines.
The intel they’d received on this group had been sketchy at best and the group itself was managing to remain stubbornly elusive. Their links to the university were mysterious but nonetheless real. Section had shipped them off to Melbourne to quietly uncover the ties and sever them while destroying the group. At least this was one mission when she wouldn’t feel compelled to explain her accent.
Australia: home? No, not even Sydney, the city of her youth. Like the man without a country, she was a woman without a home. Cold, dark Section One was home now, a thought that did little to reassure her.
Watching the sea of faces, she was drawn to a young woman standing nearby. She had noticed her on other occasions although she was hard pressed to pin point a reason why. There was something about her, something off pudding about her eyes. They seemed to hold even less warmth and emotion than Michael’s, if that were a possibility.
She nudged Michael.
The woman leaned one shoulder against a pillar: shining chestnut hair in windblown disarray, nondescript clothing, a backpack slung over her shoulder. Except for the eyes, she looked like any other college student out passing time between classes. She smiled when someone called out to her but even that lacked warmth. Then her eyes locked on a man further along the partially enclosed walkway, the almost imperceptible motion of her hand brought him to her side. Their conversation was lost to the din of the crowd and they stood intimately close, but Nikita saw the PDA that was passed between them.
“What’s going on, Michael?”
“I don’t know.”
Birkoff looked up to Operations’ window; Madeline was with him. Almost immediately, Operations lowered his gaze to meet Birkoff’s.
“We are not alone.” Michael’s voice cut through the silence.
“Nikita and I observed two operatives on the campus today. They are not Section One.”
Madeline raised her eyes from the computer screen and Michael’s image. “Oversight?”
“Or Agency,” Operations rumbled, “I’ll find out. Proceed with the mission as profiled.”
“What the hell’s going on, George?!” Operations hissed.
“I don’t know what you’re…Red Cell splinter? In Melbourne? Oh yes, they won’t interfere. They’re not rogue.”
“Who are they? If my people are to maintain…”
“They’re Thirteen. Need I say more?”
Half forgotten memories of half-told tales surfaced and Operations leaned menacingly across George’s desk. “Thirteen never existed, you know that as well as I do. It was merely Oversight’s version of a fairy tale, an urban legend so to speak, a myth. A horror story to keep the ranks in line.”
George shrugged. “So you say.” His fingers played across a keyboard. “Here’s your fairy story. I’m afraid the rumors were all true. Thirteen’s methods of reprogramming have been reevaluated and are no longer used. Having an entire section dependent on RZ621 is counterproductive. Without the proper dosages the operatives are useless.”
Operations watched as a list of names scrolled onto the monitor. He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Their numbers have dropped from twenty-five operatives to a mere six in five years. It was decided that until their deaths, the operatives could still function effectively enough to fulfil mission requirements. I must add that their completion rates are by far superior to even those of Section One. Success by Thirteen is at 99.8%.”
Personal profiles appeared for six individuals: Armand, Jack, Julia, Marcel, Roberto, Vicente. Ages, psych evaluations, strengths, weaknesses, previous mission reports, current dosages of the deadly reprogramming drug all accompanied scanned images: faces devoid of any emotion. The perfect killing machines.
“They’ve been in position for five months. Their last report estimated mission completion within three weeks.”
“Why are my people…”
“A clerical error. Obviously if Thirteen doesn’t exist, it is often difficult to pinpoint its location. As I said, they will not interfere. Perhaps your people could learn something through observation.” George stood, their conference completed.
“Birkoff, any news?”
He smiled slightly, “Yeah. Nikita, there’s a meeting set at 0600 tomorrow. Continue with profile until then. Operations met with Oversight last night,” he added softly. “I’ll download the meeting specifics to you.”
“Alright.” Nikita’s voice crackled slightly over the com link; Birkoff grinned, that was a problem he could handle.
“Check with Michael about that info.”
“Will do.” Nikita killed the link and glanced up at Michael, “Six o’clock tomorrow.”
Michael nodded silently. “We’ll continue with our surveillance.”
Raising her eyebrows, she settled into the overstuffed couch in Michael’s office. They had covertly placed a bug in an alcove the mystery operatives had been using to meet.
Through a satellite link and campus security cameras, they’d even managed to acquire a video link to the alcove. The grainy black and white picture annoyed them both. The most that was visible were shadowy, ghostlike images, but since Birkoff wasn’t available to tinker with it, it would simply have to do.
All they had to do was wait until someone showed up. They didn’t have to wait long.
Two of the ghosts on the screen stepped out of the stream of students and into the unused doorway.
“Hmm?” Julia ran a hand through her hair, smoothing it with delicate grace.
“Library, tomorrow.” Her companion from the previous day held out a notebook to her.
It was a ruse, she knew. They had been too lax in their actions lately and needed to take more care in their behaviour. Quickly glancing into the folder, she saw the PDA and slipped the entire package into her rucksack.
She was tired, too tired. Dropping her bag onto the pavement, she sat down heavily and slumped against the brick wall. Pulling a pack of cigarettes from a pocket, she lit one and exhaled slowly.
“It’s nearly time. Tomorrow.” Her companion knelt next to her and drew a calloused finger along her jaw line, his eyes cold, calculating.
“Do you ever get tired of it?”
“Tired of what?”
“Of everything. The unending missions, the deaths, the RZ621. We don’t exist, even to Section.”
“We’re almost done here.” Jack brought his hand higher along her cheek to push an unruly lock of hair behind her ear before pulling back to sit on the pavement beside her.
“I was thinking the other day.”
“Would it be such a bad thing to just stop the Ruz? Allow the withdrawal to end it all?”
“You don’t want to die that way,” his voice devoid of any emotion, “You watched what became of Imke.”
“I remember,” she shot back, muted anger mixing with tangible despair, “But we’re dead already. We have been since reprogramming.”
“Thirteen can still do some good; we can still do some good.”
Julia shook her head, sad and dispassionate. There had been a time that she’d spouted their propaganda too. That time however, was rapidly fading from her memory. Five years was a long time and had allowed for plenty of time to re-evaluate their situation. Replacing the unquestioning loyalty was a depression deeper than any she had ever experienced.
“No matter how you look at it, Jack, dead is dead.”
She rose haggardly and slipped back into the crowd, disappearing with little effort.
Nikita looked up from the laptop’s screen to see what Michael had made of the conversation. “Thirteen?”
Michael’s eyes were cold, flat. “It’s an old lie.”
“RZ621: a reprogramming aide. Its use was discontinued several years ago.”
“Why?” Nikita was almost certain she wouldn’t like what Michael was about to tell her.
“It causes death. Slow, painful, debilitating death.”
“Birkoff, Walter.” Operations strode across Systems purposefully, closing the distance between himself and the pair in only a few strides. “Van access, twenty minutes. We’re flying to Melbourne.”
Walter glanced at Madeline in the window of Operations’ crow’s nest. She stood, stiffly watching their interaction; something had her worried if her stance were any indication. The mission must be awfully screwed up, Walter thought, to affect her so strongly. Not to mention the fact that he and the kid were being brought in against profile and with the accompaniment of the old boss himself. “Well kiddo, that gives us just enough time. Help me with this stuff, will ya’?”
The morning arrived cold and damp. Michael and Nikita joined the rest of their team in the chosen study room of the university’s towering library. Both had to blink back the surprise at the presence of not only Section One’s computer and weapons experts but also Operations.
“Hey Sugar, what’s shakin’?”
“Walter, what’d you do to get sent down here?” Nikita teased, pecking him lightly on the cheek.
“It’s more like what wouldn’t I do, Sugar. Section was getting awfully lonely without you around.”
Minutes before the bell tower struck the sixth hour, Section One’s field team observed an unmarked van pull up outside the building. Four people disengaged themselves from the vehicle, sauntering across the pavement toward the library entrance, looking for all the world like an eager study group descending on campus.
“One female, three males,” Operations stated, watching as the group disappeared beneath the window.
“Well, the female would obviously be the operative Julia,” Birkoff rattled, “Unless they’ve been recruiting…”
“They don’t recruit,” Walter replied with a shake of his grey head, “theirs is a decreasing population. With six operatives left, Thirteen shouldn’t be around much longer…” he allowed his voice to trail off as a list of psych profiles appeared on Birkoff’s laptop.
Thirteen solemnly entered the room enmasse. Jack led the team and they stood just short of Operations.
“I was informed that there were six of you.”
Nikita took the opportunity to study Julia more closely; she was the only operative who was readily identifiable in their impromptu line up. She was quite attractive; devastating beauty dimly obscured by baggy clothing and a dishevelled ponytail. She looked tired, exhausted actually, and much younger than her personal profile had suggested. Her eyes however, were ancient, belying more than merely an old soul.
Operations continued to stare at the group’s apparent team leader. Walter was inwardly surprised by the team’s solidarity and palpable strength. It went against all the stories he’d heard spread of Section Thirteen. This was one battle he didn’t think Operations was going to win.
As if on cue, the four silent operatives dispersed to claim the remaining empty chairs, leaving Operations staring at empty space.
Birkoff feigned preoccupation with his laptop. These were not the sort of people you would want to run into in a deserted alley and even Section One’s presence in the room did little to sooth his discomfort.
Julia slouched in her chair between what she had determined to be the least dangerous of Section One’s operatives. The blonde woman on her left continued to study her but the man on her right, boy would probably be a more appropriate term, his eyes were glued to the screen in front of him. She ignored them both, instead focusing her attention on Jack through the mussed strands of her bangs. Her expression, she knew, like the rest of her team, revealed nothing.
Operations’ impatience shattered the heady silence. “Where are the remaining operatives?” His demand didn’t elicit an effect of any kind. As the minutes drug slowly on, his seething rage almost drowned out the whispered response.
Spinning toward the voice, he observed Julia. Her face remained passive and blank, her voice flat.
“We have a dozen operatives already in surveillance.”
“Yes, we know.”
“Whom do you report to?”
Julia sighed, “no one.”
Operations stared at the woman quietly. Although she wasn’t the team leader, she seemed to be their self-appointed spokesperson.
Surprising everyone in the small room, Julia leaned forward to rest her arms on the tabletop, laced her fingers together, and began speaking without prompting. “We were contacted last night. That we are both here is regrettable to be sure but shouldn’t have any adverse affects on the mission’s outcome. The sims we ran last yesterday estimate completion in less than two weeks. It was suggested that we work together.” She removed a PDA from her pocket. “All the information you require…” she murmured, sliding the device toward the boy beside her and avoiding Jack’s furious gaze.
“How long has Thirteen been in the field?” Nikita questioned.
“Who have you marked as a target?” Michael spoke this time. If they were going to complete the mission, they needed to know exactly whom they were up against.
“Classified,” Julia paused, “I’ve established contact with the splinter.”
“And the genetic experiments?” Nikita prompted.
“Are nothing you wish to hear about.” Julia glanced up at Jack and met cold, fuming eyes. They’d deal later with her deviation from protocol, she knew. It had happened before and she realized the consequences: physical retribution or worse, a delay in her receipt of the Ruz, a small taste of devastating withdrawal. She shuddered at the thought. Her wistful conversation with Jack on the previous day returned to her thoughts, he very well might let her see what it was she had suggested, life without the Ruz.
Nikita noticed the delicate tremor and followed the woman’s gaze; reading the silent threat, she allowed her protective nature to take over. They obviously needed to separate Julia from the rest of her team, if only until the mission was completed.
“I’ll meet with you today for lunch,” she stated, drawing a dim flicker of emotion from Julia.
“Julia!” Jack’s passive façade threatened to crumble.
“It’s only lunch, Jack,” she snapped.
Nikita almost smiled. The woman had retained some of her spunk after all and she had given them another identity, a face to put to the person Julia had met with the day before.
Operations watched the interaction with growing interest. If Nikita could get the woman alone, they might be able to gain more information about both the mission and Thirteen. For once, he was glad to have Nikita in Section.
As the briefing proceeded, Julia explained what she had been informed to pass on. Silently, she wished George had let Jack in on their plans. As far as she knew, Oversight was unaware of Thirteen’s intra-unit methods of punishment. By obeying Oversight’s orders, she was in direct opposition to Section Thirteen’s explicit protocol.
At the briefing’s end, Section One didn’t know much more than they had to begin with. Birkoff had, upon downloading Julia’s PDA files, wisely kept his mouth shut. She professed to have given them only a bare minimum of information but in actuality, she’d handed him everything Thirteen had collected along with a personal file he would have to decrypt later when there weren’t quite so many prying eyes around him.
“In two weeks you can forget we ever existed.” Julia finished, “I’d suggest that you do forget about us.” She looked across the table at Operations, “I will recommend to Oversight that they not utilize an amnesiac. I don’t believe it will be required.”
Julia’s mention of drug therapy gained the full attention of everyone in the room.
“They’ve been known to have…” distressing side effects,” she explained.
As the lunch hour neared, Nikita realized she and Julia had failed to make solid arrangements. She massaged her temples in an attempt to fend off the headache she’d been working on all morning. Birkoff’s constant droning in her ear wasn’t helping matters. “Just shut the bloody thing off until it’s actually needed,” she finally demanded, eliciting a biting reply from their system’s personnel. Nikita mentally replayed the events of the morning.
Thirteen had departed the meeting in the same manner that they had arrived, silent and collectively. Michael and Nikita had looked to Operations for their game plan.
“We’ll play along, as long as Julia continues to be useful.”
Birkoff had spoken up then, describing what he had found in the PDA’s files.
“Good girl,” Operations had murmured, turning to watch Thirteen exit the building and cross the brick mall below. Halfway across, Jack had snagged Julia’s arm, spinning her around to face him. Although their words were impossible to determine, the meaning had been clear. Julia had raised her empty hands away from her body, her head cocked slightly to one side. Kill me now, or kill me later, the gesture said. What difference does it make? I’m dead already.
Birkoff too had witnessed the scene and decided to decrypt the personal file before mentioning it to anyone.
Nikita closed her eyes. The biology department was empty and silent. Most of the faculty had already stepped out for lunch and she was left to her own devices. Openly ignoring the files in the “in box” that needed to be dealt with, she had accessed Julia’s course schedule, ascertaining that her last class would soon be dismissed. Since Thirteen seemed to be so well informed of their presence, she decided to let Julia seek her out.
The soft greeting jarred Nikita from her reverie. Her eyes flew open in surprise at Julia standing just within the doorway. She hadn’t even heard her approach. “You’re good.”
“I have to be. I’m Thirteen.” Knowing her words would sound like nonsense to an outside observer,
Julia allowed herself to relax a fraction.
“Hungry?” Nikita rose and shrugged her coat on over her shoulders.
Julia’s hand trembled as she ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing it out of her eyes. “I guess.” Removing an object from behind her ear, she dropped it in the rubbish bin. “I know of a place…”
Nikita glanced down at the device that lay among the discarded lecture transcripts and appointment cards, raising her eyes at the implication. Their lunch would be unobserved.
“We know all about Section One.”
“Yeah?” Nikita smiled at the waiter as he handed her a menu.
“Personnel, sub-stations, even the other sections that Operations isn’t aware of.” Julia’s voice was toneless and whisper-soft.
Accepting that which she could not readily discount, Nikita changed the subject, “and you’re really two weeks from mission completion?”
She nodded, “probably less.” Nodding her thanks, she accepted the cup of tea the waiter set on the table. The tiny café was quiet, situated along a small side street several kilometres from the university. It was mostly an artists’ den, softly lit and eclectically decorated.
Nikita’s brow furrowed. “Your accent, “ she began, “it’s not Aussie, but it is similar.”
“Kiwi. I’m from New Zealand, just a short hop across the Tasman from here.”
“So you’re almost home.”
Julia’s laugh would have been exquisitely enchanting had eyes filled with a mixture of mirth and pain not accompanied it. “I have no home, no future, no present…”
“Has stripped me of my soul, and continues to have such an amazing impact on my life that without it I’d die.” She paused to sip her tea. “What little bit of myself I’ve managed to maintain has only been at a great emotional cost. But hey, I’d rather be suffering than dead. The six of us who are left, we all found a way to cling to something within ourselves. That’s the only reason we’re still alive.”
“What did you cling to?”
“Hope. Even Pandora didn’t lose hope.”
Julia’s cell phone rang in the pause of their conversation, disturbing their discussion. Slowly she raised it to her ear.
“Rosa. Veinte actas.”
“No, Yo estar con Nikita. Nosotras ser comer almuerzo.”
“Si, esta noche.” Lowering the phone from her ear she pondered the punishments Jack was planning.
“Work?” Nikita lifted her fork to her mouth, watching Julia all the while.
“What else?” Pushing the salad around on her plate, she struggled to control the tremors that surged through her body. Whether they were due to early withdrawal or her escalating fear, she was unsure.
“Birkoff told us what was on your PDA after you left the meeting.”
“And what did he tell you?”
“That you gave us all the intel Thirteen has collected on the splinter.”
“So tell me, what were you doing before Thirteen?”
“You mean back when I could still claim to control my own life?” Julia smiled sadly, “I was a student at the University of Auckland, two papers away from my BS. I had already been accepted into a medical school in the States.”
Nikita’s interest piqued, “Studying what?”
“Forensic pathology.” Suppressing, unsuccessfully, a giggle at Nikita’s shudder, she elaborated, “Yeah, I know, who wants to work with dead people right, especially long dead people? The work fascinated me though; you could determine so much from just studying skeletonized matter. And they say that dead men tell no tales…they’re wrong. You ought to have seen the autopsy I sat in on. They called him Maggot Man for lack of an initial ID. He was literally one huge moving mass of critters.”
“That’s delightful,” Nikita replied, sarcasm ringing clear in her voice as she suddenly lost her appetite.
What a surprise, Nikita thought ruefully.
Julia was silent for a long moment. “I was late leaving the lab one night. I had missed the coach and decided to walk home rather that wait twenty minutes for the next one. I’d just reached the top of Queen Street and had turned onto K Road when I heard a muffled cry in an alley. That part of K Road isn’t the safest place to be after dark and so I dropped my knapsack and ran to help. I found Jack in the alley with four men surrounding him. I thought he was in danger so I attacked the man closest to me. I took him down easily enough and was struggling with another when I heard the gunshots. My opponent used my surprise to his advantage and knocked me out. When I came to I was in med lab. Jack caused a great deal of distress by literally pulling me off the street as a means of recruiting me. I wasn’t in prison, I never had been.” Julia’s solemn smile returned as she met Nikita’s gaze. “So, like you, I was an innocent when I was recruited. I never took a life until after I was already in Section,” she paused thoughtfully, “I’ve lost track since then.”
“How did you know I was an innocent?”
“Like I said, we know all about Section One.”
Birkoff chose that moment to resume his monologue, “Nikita, there’s something you need to see. I’m downloading it to Michael now. This is important,” he paused, “Nikita?”
“I hear you, Birkoff,” she murmured, watching Julia excuse herself from the table to wind through the tables between them and the restrooms. “I’m with Julia now, how important is this?”
“Finish with Julia but it’s important.”
Several minutes later, Julia slowly returned, her eyes red and her skin ashen. Nikita rose and steadied her as the woman stumbled, “What’s wrong?”
“Um, I need to get back.”
“To the university?”
“No, the van’s gone by now. Vicente keeps strict schedules.” She sighed deeply, “It’s not the first time
I’ve had to trek home alone.”
“Let me help you.” Nikita eased her down into the chair.
“Operations must hate you,” Julia commented, remembering what she’d read in the files Agency had given them.
“I’m the bane of his existence, but I have support. Do you, Julia?”
“Concern for one’s fellow operatives is against protocol,” she quoted. “As I said, we all had to cling to something…I guess hate is easier to retain.”
Nikita watched her intently as they fell into silence. Julia didn’t look capable of walking to the door, much less to Thirteen’s temporary residence.
Julia openly stared into the clear blue depths that studied her, marvelling at the worry and concern she discovered there. Not for the first time, she silently cursed whatever fate had landed her in Section
“I’m taking you out of here, we can go back to my place…”
“No, I need to return to Thirteen, without the Ruz…”
Nikita drove slowly to Michael’s Section-appropriated flat. Julia had managed to remain conscious long enough to direct her to the house Thirteen occupied, but she’d passed out before they’d reached the door. A towering Latin giant Nikita didn’t recognize had responded to the bell.
“Julia,” he had whispered, lifting her into his arms. Nikita had been surprised at how light the woman was and also at the gentleness in the man’s voice and actions. “I’ll take care of her.” Adjusting the burden in his arms, he had closed the door in Nikita’s face.
Nikita parked her car, wondering at the complexities of Thirteen’s group dynamics. Sighing heavily, she locked the car and proceeded to the flat.
“Hey,” Michael stepped aside to allow her entrance, “Birkoff said you had something I needed to see.”
Plucking the device from her ear, she dropped it into Michael’s breast pocket, smoothing the fabric with a delicate touch.
“How was your lunch with Julia?”
“Strange, but interesting.”
“Si, senorita. Don’t worry, Vicente and I will care for you.” Roberto looked toward the stairwell and bellowed to the other operative.
“Jack?” Her head swam with thoughts of the coming repercussions.
“Not here, mi amor. He’ll be away until late tonight.” Roberto carried her further into the house. Hours before Jack’s return, he had pulled her dosage of Ruz, knowing that after the morning briefing subterfuge would be the only way for her levels to be restored.
“Ai, Julia!” Vicente’s narrow, gangly form descended the stairs in a bound. “Hurry, Roberto, dares prisa! She’ll need to have all her strength to deal tonight with Jack.”
Roberto unbuttoned Julia’s blouse and pushed it back off her shoulder to expose a bicep.
“There, there now, Julia,” Vicente soothed, quickly injecting her with the drug, “all will be restored. You’ll be better soon.” He looked away from the pained expression on her face to Roberto, his eyes boring into those of the larger man. With nineteen operatives down and only six to go, it was feared that Julia would be their next casualty. The only question was whether her demise would be a complication of the Ruz or one of Jack’s doing.
By the time Jack returned to the house, Julia had made a full recovery and was sitting in the kitchen garden, listening to the magpies call to one another. Enjoying, if only momentarily, the sounds and scents of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, she sighed, recalling many such winters from her childhood. September would soon be upon them, and with it would dawn another spring.
She felt Jack’s presence before she saw him, she sensed the rage emanating from the vicinity of the garden gate and accepted the inevitable end of her reverie.
“Julia,” his voice was low, his anger barely restrained.
“It’s classified, Jack,” she responded to the unvoiced question, adding softly, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what? For breaking protocol, for consorting with the enemy, for possibly compromising yourself, not to mention all of Thirteen?”
“Section One isn’t the enemy, the Rojo Pedazo is the enemy,” she insisted, referring to the splinter group by Thirteen’s unofficial designation for them.
“Wrong, Julia. Everyone is the enemy.”
She was still shocked by just how thoroughly Jack had bought into Thirteen’s propaganda. “Everyone is the enemy, even your fellow operatives, trust no one,” she quoted, “I remember what we were taught during reprogramming. I also remember the consequences of deviating from those teachings. Go ahead, Jack. You’ve been planning this all day. I just don’t care anymore.”
“You’ll care by mission’s end, I promise you will.”
“What were you able to learn?”
Nikita wrinkled her nose delicately and lounged in a wingback chair. “They’re well informed of Section
One, the sub-stations, the other sections as well. She doesn’t trust the other operatives in Thirteen.”
Nikita shrugged, trying to organize her thoughts. “She’s kiwi,” she added on an up note and recounted what she could immediately recall of their lunch discussion, omitting a good chunk of Julia’s personal info.
“Good. Is she a reliable source?”
“Yes. I’d say the only reason she’s deliberately sacking protocol is due to higher orders, maybe Oversight or Agency. Michael, when I left her she was unconscious. In forty minutes she degraded to a completely helpless state. Whatever it was that did it hit her like a ton of bricks.”
“Early withdrawal from RZ621.”
“What happens now?” Nikita’s concern was evident in her voice and given her audience, she made no attempt to hide her worry.”
“They’ll stabilize her levels…sooner or later.” He motioned toward a laptop on the desk and handed her a disk. He’d copied the decoded message Birkoff had sent and destroyed all other evidence of the file.
Slipping the disk into its appropriate slot, she was surprised to see Julia’s face looking back at her from the screen. She secured the headphones over her ears and settled into the chair.
Michael observed the emotions that flashed across Nikita’s face, knowing she wouldn’t like what the message relayed. He had already seen it, contacting the Section in an attempt to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. If the weekend played out as Julia suspected it might, the mission would risk being compromised. Operations had immediately contacted Oversight, livid at the proposed dangers Thirteen’s team leader posed to the mission.
Although the idea of a compromised mission caused him some concern, he worried more about what Nikita’s reaction would be. She had obviously formed some kind of bond with the other woman; she wouldn’t like the horror tale Julia calmly relayed of the recriminations that lay in wait for her.
He stood near Nikita, patiently waiting, allowing his presence to be an anchor against the turbulent whirlwind of her thoughts.
Several minutes passed as a slew of raw emotions tumbled across her features. Finally, the message ended and she ripped the headphones from her ears. “Michael…”
“I know, mon chere. There’s nothing we can do.” He winced inwardly at the pain in her eyes. “At least not yet.”
“But we have to…”
“Operations has been made aware of the situation.” Michael turned toward the kitchen. “Are you hungry?”
“No.” Nikita shook her head, confused by the question. “I just ate…with Julia.” Realization dawned hazily. “How long do we have?”
“A few hours.” He returned to her side, gently taking her hand in his own. He couldn’t sooth her worries about Julia but he could help her forget about them for a little while; and maybe he too would be able to block the memory of the beautiful woman’s sad accepting eyes and the personal terrors she had recounted.
Monday morning dawned at last, as cold and forbidding as ever. Winter struggled to maintain its stranglehold on the city despite the budding parks and chirping birds. A blue expanse stretched across the sky, allowing crisp sunlight to flood the city.
Julia stood in front of the mirror of her appointed bathroom. The only female in the house, she’d somehow managed to lay claim to the extra bath, leaving the men to fight over the one downstairs. She was frozen in place, staring into the mirror with unseeing eyes.
An array of cosmetics lined the vanity and she grimaced at the thought of having to apply any pressure to her bruised skin. Jack had left her face fairly clear of injury, the worst of it easily covered by her winter clothing. But her neck…the only high necked sweater she had that was clean put too much pressure on the sensitive skin and the finger marks and rope burn were still much too obvious to be left untouched.
Gently concealing a pale bruise on her cheek, she opted to wrap her scarf around her neck and prayed that the university’s heating system would still be out of commission.
She dimly heard Vicente’s voice beckoning her to the van. Remembering the uncommon he’d given her that morning, she nearly smiled. Only Vicente would consider La Cucaracha an appropriate morning serenade, even Roberto had grumbled his poor opinion of the selected tune.
“Julia,” Roberto’s bellow was unmistakable, reverberating off the bare rafters. “Ándele, your knapsack’s in the van already.”
Taking a last look at her appearance and pushing aside the memories of another life and its scars, she flicked off the lights, hooked a pair of dark glasses behind her ears, and shoved a hat low over her eyes.
Nikita and Michael both sat at a quiet table in the café Julia seemed to prefer. Nikita had been both relieved and concerned when she’d received Julia’s penned invitation to another lunch and had contacted Michael to join them. Hopefully Julia wouldn’t clam up around the other Section One operatives.
Julia appeared at the entrance, seemingly out of nowhere, and slowly approached the table.
“Julia, I’m so glad to see you. I hope you don’t mind,” Nikita motioned to her companion, “this is Michael.”
The tall blonde noticed Julia’s hesitation before she seated herself across from Michael, “We’re expecting two more…” she continued, craning her neck for an unobstructed view of the pavement outside, “there they are.”
Birkoff and Walter disengaged themselves from the lunchtime pedestrians on the street, waving cheerily across the room before winding through the tables.
“That’s fine…” Julia’s voice trailed off, weak and unconvincing.
“It’s alright,” Nikita assured, “they’re friends.”
“Friends?” Julia’s eyes filled with surprised disbelief.
“Yes, we’re all friends here,” Michael replied.
The waiter approached, temporarily halting their conversation.
“How are you doing?” Nikita voiced the question they all longed to ask.
“Here,” Walter reached toward Julia, “it’s warm in here. Let me take your scarf.”
“No!” Julia’s sudden refusal stunned them all, “I mean…it wouldn’t be a good idea…I mean…” grimacing, she looked around the nearly empty café. It was uncomfortably warm inside the café and she slowly unwound the scarf from her aching neck, hesitantly handing it to Walter.
“Oh Sugar. I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Julia’s confusion was clear, “you didn’t do it.”
“Your levels are alright?” Nikita reached out to brush Julia’s hair back and expose the wound to the café’s dim lighting.
Stilling her automatic response to jerk away from the direct physical contact of the other woman’s gentle touch, Julia remained impassive. “I’m fine. If I was still without my dosage of the Ruz, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Gesturing to her injured neck, Michael asked another question that remained unasked among the anxious group, “Is that your only injury?”
“Far from it. It is however, one of the least painful.” Openly responding to their expectant gazes and no longer caring about proper protocol she proceeded, “some cracked ribs, a fractured wrist, I think, welts, a few puncture wounds. They’re all easily hidden.” She inadvertently brushed the back of her hand across her sore cheek and winced at the surge of pain it caused. “Nothing I can’t function with. I’m going to the lab this afternoon to meet with the Rojo Pedazo. I spoke last night with my contact. He’s expecting me to bring an interested party, as per Operations’ request. If we all play our cards right, this could be over by tomorrow.” She looked around the table at the sympathetic faces. “Who’s it to be?”
Julia and Walter strolled across campus as the time of their meeting approached. Their conversation looked, to the average observer, benign enough, just two people pointing out some of the more interesting aspects of the campus.
“So,” Julia continued, “Vicente and Roberto will set up shop over in the engineering complex.” She waved to the odd pair as they entered the octagonal building. “And the rest of our team is posted nearer the biology lab.”
“I see a number of our guys out here, and there are two teams on backup,” Walter offered, pointing out several familiar faces as the operatives lounged about the quad and courtyard.
“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” she mused, absently fingering the headphones that were draped over her scarf.
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” seeing the disbelief in Walter’s eyes, she added, “really I am. Vicente and Roberto patched me up so well I’m surprised I can move at all.”
“You sure you don’t want anything for the pain?”
“And be less than 100%? I don’t think so.” She patted Walter’s arm affectionately. “There’ll be enough time for that later, after completion.”
“You know Sugar, you’re enough to turn an old man’s attentions away from a mission.”
Julia shook her head in exasperation; she’d been countering the man’s teasing advances all day. It was a wonder he could keep it up in the face of such adversity.
“Michael’s team is already in position. We won’t let anything happen to ya’, Sugar.”
Smiling derisively, Julia turned the full force of her haunted eyes on the older man. “It’s too late for that I’m afraid. Five years too late.”
Michael motioned to Nikita as Walter and Julia came into sight. They followed their movement down the deserted walkway, half listening to their mundane conversation. Nikita smiled at the flirtations Walter threw at Julia as they approached the biology building. He was trying to lighten the too-serious mood that had settled on the young woman and was rewarded with what sounded like a genuine chuckle and a half-hearted swat at his shoulder.
Silently she mused over what it was about Julia that drew people to like her, to want to protect her. Whatever it was, she supposed she shared at least that trait with her. How many times had Michael, Walter and even Birkoff risked their own cancellation to protect her? Julia might not have any guardians in Thirteen, but she did have them in Section One.
“Julia, my prize, you are here!”
“Of course, Henri,” she replied, refusing to allow her puzzlement to surface, “That is what was decided last night. My friend,” she introduced Walter, “as per our arrangement. He is most interested in our little project.”
Walter was intrigued at the change in Julia’s demeanour: the bright, attentive eyes, the stunning smile; perhaps she was the perfect operative after all.
“Oui, oui, of course. It is only… never mind, Mon chère, it is as you say, of no consequence.” Henri turned and led them into the lab.
Walter saw the flicker of concern cross Julia’s face like a shadow before the sun, dissipating again into radiance. Something was wrong, he only hoped Michael had picked up on it as well and would be prepared for the outcome.
The biology lab was empty when they entered and Henri brushed past the lab tables and buckets of formaldehyde to a rear door that Julia had informed them led to a sub-basement laboratory. The sounds of their footfalls on the steps echoed in the enclosed area. Two men waited for them at the final landing, frisking both Walter and Julia before allowing them entrance. Julia’s bound ribs caused some alarm and she prayed that her explanation of a weekend mugging would not raise any red flags.
They continued into the lab on Henri’s heels. “I can tell you, my prize, Melbourne is not a safe place for a woman alone. Especially one so beautiful as yourself.”
“I’m alright now,” she assured him. She mentally tried to make sense of the new endearment. My prize: he had never called her anything other than her name in the past, why the sudden change? She couldn’t stop the alarms from sounding in her head each time he said it. My prize.
“Brachman,” Walter supplied.
“Monsieur Brachman, a demonstration you would like?”
“It’s always good to know what you’re buying, before you buy it, right?”
“Oui, that it is.” Henri’s gaze never left Julia and her unease escalated tenfold.
“Our product, if you will, Jacques?” His smile broadened as Julia’s pleasant façade wavered, her head snapped up to see Jack exit the storeroom. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place.
“What’s going on?” Nikita strained to hear the conversation over the com unit’s static. “Can’t you clear this up, Birkoff?”
They’re underground, Nikita, be glad it’s as good as it is.” Frantically searching his data, Birkoff shook his head, perplexed, “profile’s been changed.”
“Changed by whom?” Michael continued to listen, running mental sims as Birkoff ran through them electronically.
“Jack.” Nikita didn’t need to be told to know who had altered their mission. “What are her chances?”
“We’ve lost her,” Birkoff supplied, turning from the laptop to meet her eyes, “She’s got no egress.”
Jack pulled out one of the latest of the successful genetic experiments, a neonate whose life signs were low but still viable. The electronic womb/incubator hummed softly in the deathly silent room.
Julia looked at the child sadly. Death would be preferable to the life the tiny creature would experience.
“When will gestation be complete?” Walter struggled to follow what was left of their original profile. Julia’s chances of exit were becoming too slim for his comfort level.
“Ten weeks.” Henri rested a hand on the gestator. “His brothers, if you will, have completed gestation and have been removed to another location. They are progressing further than we had dared hope to expect. In as little as five years they will pose a significant threat; an army of children trained and moulded from conception to be the ultimate army.”
“I’m impressed.” Walter moved to stand between Julia and the men facing them. “How many of them do you have? They should prove an invaluable asset.”
“Walter,” Birkoff’s voice murmured in his ear, “Julia doesn’t have an exit.”
“Ten at present.”
Walter coughed before continuing, in acknowledgement of Birkoff’s relay, remaining in position in front of Julia.
“Profile was changed,” Birkoff continued, “there’s nothing to be done.”
Walter locked gazes with Jack for a split second; the man was determined to disallow any escape for his own team member, he realized.
Henri smiled. “You of course have deposited payment?”
“Delivery,” Henri chuckled over the morbidity of the pun, “delivery will commence in three weeks then. If you would excuse us now, gentlemen, I have urgent matters to discuss with my laboratory assistant. Julia, my prize…”
Backup was stalled by the profile change. Extracting Julia would be impossible without compromising the entire mission. The exchange itself was going well, with no plausible excuse to open fire. Julia had become acceptable collateral.
“No!” Nikita cried, spinning away from Birkoff’s laptop.
Hearing Nikita’s denial of the inevitable, Julia’s plastered smile dimmed with sorrow. She slowly walked around Walter, unobtrusively squeezing his hand in the process. “You will be quite satisfied, I assure you Mr. Brachman.” She flashed a heart-stopping smile. “I trust you will pass on my apologies to your associates? It seems that I will be unable to keep our dinner engagement.”
Walter watched silently as she stepped past Jack, refusing to meet his gaze or even acknowledge his presence in the room, her back ramrod straight and her gait sure.
“Merci Jacques, bien magnifique.” Henri continued to focus on Julia.
Jack’s words rang in her memory, as well as those of Henri. You’ll care by mission’s end. I promise you will. My prize.
The meeting was over, the mission completed.
“All teams disassemble, return to egress,” Michael’s flat voice relayed.
The two sections’ combined effort had indeed been successful, with only one problem: Julia’s capture.
“Jack!” A deep voice, resonant with Latin overtones rang out across the quad.
Section One’s operatives watched with interest as Roberto descended on Thirteen’s team leader. All com units were still operational as Thirteen reassembled.
“The profile was clear, why was it altered? Petty revenge?” Roberto towered over Jack, surrounded by what was left of their comrades.
“She was a weak link, the problem is now solved,” Jack replied stonily, “and we now have a man on the inside.”
“No egress, no exit. She can’t get the Ruz if she’s a captive. She’ll die and then what happens to your man on the inside theory?!”
Jack stared silently ahead, his chilling eyes unreadable.
Back at Section One headquarters, Michael’s team assembled for debriefing. One by one they answered Madeline’s questions, curious that she was personally overseeing the process rather than passing the job off to someone else.
Angrily, Nikita paced the dim corridor, waiting for Michael to emerge. When at last he did, striding purposefully down the hall, she caught up with him and matched his pace. They entered his office before he spoke.
“Section One is no longer involved.”
“We can’t abandon her, Michael. Her own team leader placed her there, they won’t attempt a rescue.”
“No, nor will Section One.”
Michael cut off her outburst. “”Kita, your emotional attachment is ill advised,” his voice was gentle, a verbal caress.
“Yeah, operatives aren’t supposed to care for each other. But sometimes reprogramming doesn’t always destroy our soul, does it? Walter was right, the 5% club may almost be a non-entity, but somehow we exist. I think it may be even greater than 5% in Thirteen though Julia doesn’t realize it. Their surveillance, Roberto and Vicente, didn’t like losing her.”
“No,” he agreed, recalling Thirteen’s response to having to abandon their operative in the field. “We’ve been assigned another mission, then some down time.”
“The mission’s a day job. We depart tomorrow after the briefing. Then two weeks, possibly three of down time, depending on impending activities.”
Nikita continued to pace the room, watching Michael when he sat behind his desk. She could see Walter at his munitions station through the blinds. He was no more pleased than she was at the turn of events; even Birkoff, immersed in his own computerized realm in Systems, seemed distracted and ill at ease. But what could they do with so much distance between the two sections…
<2 weeks later>
“Just a day job,” Nikita muttered. “In and out and right back home…” The mission had stretched into a fortnight and would still be in progress but for her creative dealings with their target: an elderly elitist anarchist (how can you be elitist and an anarchist?) who had a weakness for tall attractive blondes but lacked the cardiac abilities required of such tastes.
She was now ready for a lengthy bout of down time, she decided. Just a long string of days filled with no Section expectations or requirements.
Debriefing was thankfully quick and she crossed Systems with some of her usual cheer returning at the thought of her own soft bed and even her own cooking.
“Hey Sugar! What’s shakin’?”
“I thought you said that dealing with this guy would be easy, I believe the exact words were that we’d be done in two shakes of a lamb’s tail?” She teased, leaning against Walter’s workbench.
“I guess the lamb got arthritis.”
“Very funny.” Ruminating on her true reason for seeking Walter out, she fidgeted with the sunglasses she’d looped through the neck of her shirt. “Have you seen Michael?”
“Not since the two of you left. Why do you ask?” Walter continued to tinker with the tiny circuit board in front of him.
“No reason,” she sighed.
“Sugar.” He put his work aside and cast a glance around to be certain they were unobserved before giving his full attention to the lovely woman. “I’m worried about her too. But there’s nothing we can do yet but hope that she’s alright.” Lowering his tone, he continued, “her com unit went down within a day of captivity and we haven’t had any luck with her tracking frequency.”
Nikita raised her head at the implication, her eyes widening slightly with surprise.
“What do you think Birkoff and I do when we’re not working or passing love notes for you and Michael? Play Quake?” He smiled at her guilty expression. “Don’t worry, the kid’ll think of somethin’…if Michael doesn’t beat him to it,” he added, spying a familiar form in black.
Michael crossed Systems, drawing both their attention. He handed Walter an equipment list. “As soon as possible.”
“Yeah.” Walter scrolled down the file, bemusement and a tinge of wariness flashing in his bright eyes. “I thought you two were scheduled for some down time.”
“We are.” Clipped, flat tones: typical Michael.
“And how do I explain missing equipment?”
“You’ll think of something.”
Peering over Walter’s shoulder at the requested items, Nikita drew in a tentative breath.
“0400, the park.” He turned and exited Systems.
“Man, we just keep having equipment malfunctions around here.” He raised a conspiratorial eyebrow.
Sleep eluded her. It wasn’t that she felt much like sleeping anyway, sleep meant nightmares and her waking hours were filled with enough of those already. She rubbed at her eyes with trembling, bloodied hands, her shackled wrists abrading sore cheeks. Every fibre of her being had created its own universe of pain, even her eyelashes ached. She reached up to probe the back of her head where a good-sized chunk of her hair was missing, the bleeding finally abating.
Her thoughts were clear. That small fact continued to surprise her: a week off Thirteen’s RZ621 rations and she was still able to function. Her captors were keeping up with her dosages, she didn’t know how, but they were. Jack had planned this for a long time, even providing arrangements for her medical addiction.
“Okay Walter,” she murmured, straining to reach the small of her back and the sub dermal tracker he’d implanted there before their fated mission, “please let this work.” She located the tracking device and drew a shaky breath before jamming her fingers hard against it.
“Just in case,” he had said, “you activate it manually. You’ll need to apply enough force to break the barrier between the circuits. Give it a minute or so to begin emitting a tracking beacon. Be careful though, we don’t know if they’ll be scanning for one or not.” He’d patted her shoulder affectionately before placing the injector against her smooth skin. “You know, a guy could get used to having his hands on a body like yours.”
”Just you remember what your doing back there, and keep in mind my training. I wouldn’t want to accidentally kill you or something else just as unfortunate but even more painful.”
The pain the action caused was dulled by the budding hope of retrieval. Even if Section One was unsuccessful she knew, in the dark recesses of her mind, she wasn’t entirely alone. Her wavering hopes diminished as heavy footsteps approached.
If only she could endure the wait…
“Gotcha!” Birkoff breathed freely again. Casting a furtive look around Systems, he tapped into Michael’s com unit. “I’ve got the signal. Triangulation commencing now.” Giving Walter a cautious thumbs up, he hurried through the motions of pinpointing Julia’s location. They hadn’t been issued explicit orders concerning the missing cold op, just a statement that Section One’s part of the mission was completed. Since retrieval would be classified as an altogether separate mission… He still preferred not to be caught with the information on his screen should Operations or Madeline or any of the level 5 operatives happen by.
George read the progress reports as they came across his desk. All sections and their substations were at full operational status. Agency had raised serious doubts concerning the welfare of its favourite cold operative and her sudden disappearance from Thirteen; an in depth investigation and immediate retrieval attempt, not to be conducted by Thirteen, had been demanded.
After a lengthy conference with Madeline away from Section One, it was decided that a Section sanctioned retrieval mission should be delayed pending the unofficial workings of some of Section One’s operatives. A rescue mission was fully anticipated.
Pleased with the predicted results, George was content to wait and keep track of Section One’s highly encrypted and deeply buried non-mission relays. His own people estimated three days till Julia’s extraction according to the relays they’d studied from the operatives who had taken on the responsibility of her safety. The recriminations they would suffer in the post-retrieval period would be merely cosmetic. Oversight couldn’t let the ranks know that the operation had the support of not only Oversight, but Agency as well.
He smiled at the situation. His decision to place both sections on the Melbourne project and their subsequent reactions had been most beneficial, a virtual stroke of genius.
Michael scanned the warehouse. Sensors detected fewer than a dozen hostiles, he and Nikita should experience no problems with infiltrating the building. The two guards they had already dispatched had proven ill trained and if that were any indication of the abilities of the rest…
“I’ve found her,” Nikita whispered, indicating a faint signal on her panel. “Twenty metres ahead, forth room, left of the corridor.”
“Can’t tell,” she shook her head, “maybe.”
The warehouse was dimly lit and two of the eight external doors they had located were left unlocked, the other six equipped with simple deadbolts. The location was obviously an overflow unit and not used as a primary holding arena. Keeping such distant locations weakened the Rojo pedazo’s defences, dividing their forces and abilities. Anything of significance would be elsewhere, in a more heavily secured location. That raised their hopes that the interest placed on Julia was purely personal and not due to her ties with Section Thirteen, Agency, or Oversight.
Gunfire rang out in the hallway, drawing Julia from her stupor. With no way of knowing what was happening, she drug herself across the concrete floor to the furthest point from the door, hugging her knees to her chest and ducking her head.
Cowering like a rat caught in a trap, her thoughts refused to focus on anything save self-preservation, making herself as small a target as possible. Even thoughts of fighting back were overpowered by an intense fear of more physical harm. Her instincts, as moulded by the Section, had ceased to operate as such; they instead led only to the memories of her two failed attempts at escape and their ensuing recriminations.
The door flew open, slamming against the wall with a reverberating crash. She couldn’t run, standing, in and of itself, would prove to be a near-impossible feat. Keeping her head lowered she simply waited, accepting whatever fate awaited her and hoping it might act to end her misery.
“Michael!” Nikita’s voice rang out in the sudden silence. She peered into the darkness of the cell, taking in Julia’s protective posturing. The woman’s head rose at the familiar voice, hesitant and fearful.
It’s just a dream. It must be. Just a hallucination. The thoughts tumbled helter-skelter through Julia’s mind. They’ve won. I’ve lost reality; they’ve finally taken it from me. A soft whimper escaped her torn and bloodied lips.
“Shhh…” Nikita soothed, kneeling beside the ruined form. On an ordinary retrieval attempt, an operative in such a state would be cancelled, immediately. “Hush now, we’ve got you.” She kept her voice low, trying to slip past Julia’s terror. “No one will hurt you anymore. Michael and I are here to protect you now.” She continued murmuring comforting words, even as Michael joined her in the cell.
Julia focused on them slowly, dark eyes widening at the realization that her daydreams had, in fact, become reality. She allowed herself to fall into the crystalline Blue of Nikita’s eyes, relishing the comfort and concern she found there.
“Let’s pull out,” Michael’s voice broke the paralysed silence, drawing both women’s gazes. “ Can you walk?”
Parting her lips to speak, Julia could only rasp out unintelligible sounds and shook her head in disgust at her own weakness. She doubled over as spasmodic coughs wracked her body, at last managing a denial.
“No.” Her voice, like her body, had been pushed well beyond its abilities and the word croaked hoarsely in the silent cell.
Nikita pushed Michael’s hand aside when he reached down to lift Julia from the rank floor and gathered the woman into her arms. “I’ve got her, Michael.” An inner voice told her that being at a man’s mercy, no matter that the man was Michael and was bent on protecting her, would only serve to further traumatize the woman. “I’ve done it before,” she reminded him, referring to Julia’s previous withdrawal catatonia, “I can do it again.”
Exiting the building, Nikita attempted to pull her field jacket across Julia’s bare arms. The woman’s clothe, or what was left of them, had been reduced to filthy rags and served as a poor protection against the frigid night air.
They jogged lightly through the vast rows of darkened warehouses, remaining deep in the shadows and far from prying eyes and ears. Settling the women into the back seat of the rented transport, Michael pulled out of the shadows and sped through the sleeping city centre.
The long drive to Sydney passed in waves of pain for Julia and she concentrated on controlling the bouts of nausea that coursed through her damaged body. With Nikita’s help, she adjusted in the seat until she was at least somewhat comfortable, her head and back resting against the tall blonde’s chest. When sleep at last claimed her, she gave into the welcoming oblivion.
Nikita eased her own tired muscles into the door against which she leaned, her long legs bracing Julia’s body against the worst of the jolts. Her concern kept her from giving in to her own exhaustion.
“How is she?” Michael glanced into the rear of the car, seeing nothing more than varying degrees of darkness.
“Alive. Other than that? I don’t know. She’s asleep now.” Gently, so as not to wake her charge, she let her fingers probe the body that was hidden from her eyes by the night. “I’d say she’s suffered some broken bones but I can’t tell what else.” She opened a private, secured channel to Section One and relayed their position and success to Birkoff.
They remained at the safe house with Julia for five days before being recalled to the Section.
She recovered more rapidly than Nikita thought was possible, still harbouring traces of fear when she spoke of returning to Thirteen’s fold. The days had passed pleasantly with Michael and Nikita refusing to allow Julia a moment’s solitude. Even when she slept someone sat with her, soothing her awake from the multitude of nightmares she experienced. When they were at last recalled, Julia accompanied them to the air transport Section One had arranged.
“You’ll be alright,” Nikita reassured, although she worried that she was wrong.
“Actually I think you may be right. Agency called this morning. Thirteen’s to be re-evaluated and reintegrated with another section.” She smiled at the surprise in Nikita’s eyes. “They’re really not as emotionless as you think, or as they would like everyone to think. I believe the exact words were that Thirteen’s position had been too long abused and neglected. They intend to remedy the situation.”
Michael found his voice before Nikita did hers. “You spoke directly to Agency?”
“I have some very interesting friends…” She smiled again before giving them both a parting kiss.
“Thank you again, I owe you my life…and my sanity.”
<16 months later>
Madeline’s idea of just punishment for the pair of unrepentant operatives had been to place them in close quarters stand-by with a mountain of paperwork and excruciatingly boring assignments. They had been returned to active field duty after six weeks. While they had tracked Thirteen’s initial re-evaluation, they had lost all trace of the operatives since then.
“Okay Michael, Nikita’s on point. Target should be visible in sixty.” Birkoff’s fingers flew across his keyboard.
Nikita stood in a patch of sunlight just inside the Parisian park. The lazy breeze tugged at her haphazardly secured hair, pulling out wispy stands of gold as she waited.
Their target came into sight as a boisterous group of picnickers converged, catching the subject off guard and providentially providing Nikita with the distraction needed to switch briefcases. The rowdy revellers continued their impromptu game of tag, laughing at their own outrageous antics.
She paused in her retreat as Julia darted out of the crowd, dodging a blindfolded Roberto. Flashing a broad grin at the blonde, she ducked lithely around the target to avoid Roberto’s outstretched arms.
Nikita smiled in return. Madeline had ordered that she be placed on point instead of one of the other team members and she begrudgingly had to thank her for allowing this reaffirmation of Julia’s well being.
“I’ll get you, Julia!” Roberto taunted as the target sidestepped the Latin giant, reclaiming the briefcase he had dropped in the melee and continuing through the park, unaware of the exchange. “Where are you, signorita?” Roberto's voice sing-songed as he continued to hunt for her.
Julia’s laughter followed Nikita as she proceeded to retreat. “That’s classified!”