(137)

Operations really should have been more careful. After leaving Oversight and having Birkoff break into their files to see what they were up to, he'd gloated about the Shadow team apparently dropping the ball and also losing Madeline. Birkoff had been so elated at having managed to locate what Operations was looking for he'd apparently allowed the program search to run just a tad to long and it was picked up by a computer specialist back at Oversight.

George had been sitting behind the desk where Operations had left him when he heard the tap at the door. "Yes," he was busy working on numbers that his communications department had left for him.

"Sir, I thought you might want to see this," he placed a disk on the desk then stood back with his hands folded behind his back.

"What am I looking at?" George picked up the disk and inserted it in the drive.

"Apparently sir, when Operations left here someone at Section One ran a check on our missions profile and the now know about our Shadow team," he saw the discouraging look on George's weathered features.

"So he knows that we were running a parallel mission?"

The operative nodded hesitatingly "I'm afraid so," he admitted.

"And how is it that we found out about them doing this?" George needed all the cards on the table before he would decide how to handle the situation.

"Whoever ran the check forgot to close the program before our specialist noticed it," he sounded slightly relieved that his team had been so thorough.

"Whoever?" George stood up, "that whoever would most likely be a Mr. Seymour Birkoff" he sat on the edge of the desk. "It's highly unlikely that he simply forgot though," he rubbed at his chin as if contemplating a great mystery.

"Sir?" the operative didn't understand his meaning.

"I think Mr. Birkoff might just have done this so we would find out what Section One was up to," he smiled.

"But why?" the younger man shrugged "If Operations found out it would mean immediate cancellation why would he risk it?" It just didn't make sense to someone who lived every day in this organization with the probability that tomorrow might not come.

"Why indeed?" he resumed his position behind the huge desk "That's what you need to find out," and the operative knew he'd been dismissed.

Birkoff came back to his panel and checked all the programs that he'd been running. The smile would have gone unnoticed except for the fact that Walter had been returning to Munitions. "Hey Amigo, good day?" Birkoff spun around apparently caught off guard. "Well, umů yeah, yeah it is I guess," he was having a difficult time covering his reactions.

"What's up?" Walter closed the distance from where he stood to where Birkoff was now sweating behind his terminal. "Birkoff?" his voice took on an ominous ring. "What is going on?" he wasn't about to let up.

"Nothing," the answer shot out just a bit too quickly for Walter's liking.

"Try again?" he moved to a position beside the younger man and started reading what had been left on the monitor. "What the hell?" he turned to look at Birkoff "Do you know what they'll do if they find this?" he was more worried for the young man then for his own safety.

"Walter, I have to make sure that I protect Michael and Nikita." Now he understood why but didn't understand completely how Birkoff intended to do this.

"So Oversight now knows that we've checked their missions profile?" he whispered as he steadied himself against the COM unit.

"There's no way they could have missed it," he returned the answer in the same hushed tones.

"Now what?" he didn't want Birkoff being canceled for his desire to do the right thing.

"We wait and see" he sat down and rubbed his face with both hands.

"What about Operations?" he looked up and saw a smiling Paul busy reading something on his panel.

"He's just happy that Oversight lost Madeline like we did," he knew what a risk he was taking by doing what he had but his like for Michael and Nikita weighed heavily along with his growing hatred of Madeline and Operations constantly using them against each other.

"Keep me posted okay Amigo?" he turned, patted Birkoff on the back then walked away shaking his head.

Later that evening Birkoff left Section to head to the local Games room. He was a frequent visitor to the establishment so it never appeared out of place that he stayed at a terminal for what would normally seem an extraordinary amount of time. He checked out his surroundings before tapping into their data banks, downloading and cross circuiting their consoles and up linking to Michael's panel.

Michael had been studying the blueprints when the alarm on his panel brought him back to attention. "Michael it's done" was the simple statement typed across the screen. Birkoff would not bee expecting nor getting an acknowledgment from Michael, he knew that he'd never risk it. When he was sure the message had been received, he sat back and enjoyed several games of his favorite adventure Doom. The ability to take out bag guys left and right fulfilled his need to be in control and to kill people. He hated actually being involved in hand to hand combat so this relieved any need he felt to be a highly trained field operative.

Michael closed his panel then summoned Davenport "We're in the clear for now Oversight lost her as well" he smiled for the first time that Davenport could ever remember.

"And Operations?" he sat across from his teammate.

"He's probably overjoyed as well" he turned the blueprints so both would be able to read them.

"We need to get things in place, Madeline will need to make contact with Jurgen soon" he pointed to various point on the plans. "I'll want men stationed here, and here and here" Davenport made reference points with his pen. "We'll be spread thin" he wanted Michael aware of how few operatives they were actually dealing with.

"When the time comes, Oversight will be our unwitting backup," and he sat back to enjoy the cup of coffee that had until now sat untouched by his left hand. "That will give us ample ability to take her alive."

************

(138)

He certainly wasn't expecting another call, and one so soon after his last visit put him on edge as he waited for the transmission to come through. "Paul," George cordially smiled into the monitor.

"George what is it this time?" he was impatient with being interrupted once again.

"I'm in need of a computer expert for a day or so and was hoping Section could be of service?"

Operations knew that his request was more of a formality than that of an actual favor. "I can send someone tomorrow?" he thought about who would be the best for the job.

"Actually Paul, I need Birkoff for a day or so," he figured beating around the bush would only prolong this entire episode.

"Is there any reason someone else can't perform the job you need?" he did not like allowing anyone with the type of knowledge that Birkoff had being at Oversight without supervision.

"Yes, you and I know that Birkoff is the best and right now I need the best is this a problem?" he knew that in the end Operations would never refuse the request.

"No, George I guess I can spare him for a day or two at the most," he tried hard to cover both the irritation in his voice and the apparent look on his face. "I'll have him there..." Before he finished George cut him off. "I'll pick him up within the hour," and the transmission went dead. Operations didn't like this one bit. "Mr. Birkoff, my office, now!" he seethed as he finished at the COM unit.

Birkoff was caught off guard, as was Walter who happened to be standing nearby. "Coming," he answered back then exchanged puzzled glances with who he hoped was the only other person in Section who know what he was up to.

"He couldn't have found out so soon?" Walter looked between the worried young operative and the loft.

"He shouldn't have found out at all." Birkoff whispered.

"Be careful Amigo," he patted his shoulder then returned to Munitions.

The walk up the stairs to the perch made Birkoff consider the similarities of a prisoner on Death Row walking to the gas chamber and he could only imagine the condemned man dragging his feet to make the last few moments stretch to an eternity.

"Sir?" he kept his eyes down for a moment awaiting the judgment that Operations was obviously going to pass on him.

"Apparently Oversight needs your expertise" he started and Birkoff could feel the question behind the simple statement.

"Me? Why?" he looked up totally blank as to what they could possibly want from him.

"George has some special assignment for you and I told him I could only spare you a day, two at most," he had his hands buried deep within his pockets but Birkoff did not miss the clenching and unclenching of his fists under the expensive material.

"When do I leave?" he looked up over the rim of his glasses.

"George is picking you up himself," he certainly looked like a man under extreme pressure now.

"Himself?" he was really starting to worry now. Perhaps having alerted Oversight to Operation's games had not been a good idea after all and Birkoff was hard pressed to come up with a logical explanation without telling George everything that had transpired over the recent past.

"That's what he said so you'd better get ready, he said he'd be here within the hour" and he waved him away. "Mr. Birkoff," he paused and Seymour turned to wait for the next statement. "Yes," he waited and heard a sharp intake of breath from the older man. "I'll want a complete debrief on this," and he turned and exited the loft from the other side.

************

(139)

Birkoff stood just outside of Van access awaiting the arrival of George from Oversight. He nervously bit his lower lip and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He wished he had gotten a chance to talk to Walter before he left but his explicit instructions from Operations were that he would be leaving within the hour and was to prepare immediately. He had no clue what he was supposed to take how long he would be gone although Operations had said a day or two at most. He left a message on a secret panel for Walter simply stating, "Oversight, the beginning of the end?" and hid it where he knew his friend would find it upon learning of his absence from Section.

The running message board informed him that George's car had indeed arrived and he couldn't quite quell the nausea he could feel welling up in his stomach. He waited as the doors to the outside opened then swiftly closed behind him and again he thought of a condemned man walking into a gas chamber. The door to the black sedan opened and George greeted him with a smile. "Mr. Birkoff, glad you could join me," he motioned for Seymour to get in beside him, as if he actually had a choice.

"Uh, thank you," he slid into the luxurious leather seats. "How long will I be gone?" he couldn't think of more to say.

"A day or so, I think we need time to get aquatinted don't you?" the older man smiled warmly and continued away from Section.

"I, well, I guess," he was nervous and couldn't seem to hide the fact.

"So tell me Seymour is it?" he turned momentarily as they waited for a traffic light.

"Yes," he whispered nervously as if anyone else might hear.

"The parallel mission to capture Madeline, how is it going?" Birkoff was almost sure that the man beside him could hear the gulp as he swallowed hard.

"The team is on Mandatory Refusal and ... " he began but seeing the creases on George's forehead he stopped.

"I didn't mean the mission that Michael is running himself," he stepped on the gas as traffic finally eased. "I was talking about the one that Operations is running."

Birkoff had to hand it to this man, he must have done some serious research after Birkoff tipped Oversight off. "Sir?" he wasn't sure what George was expecting him to say.

"Tell me Seymour, in your honest opinion, do you believe for one moment that Operations is seriously trying to return Madeline to Section?" talk about laying it on the line.

"Yes," he shrugged. Since Operations was the type to play his cards close to the chest, it wasn't often that anyone other than Madeline knew what he was really up to.

"The message Oversight received, I assume it was intentionally sent for us to find?" he was slick, Birkoff couldn't help realize why Operations was extremely wary of this man. Birkoff nodded. "Why?" the man pulled the car over and shut the engine off. "Why would you risk Operations discovering this?" he sat back.

"Because I want Madeline back in Section as well," he sat back.

"Why?" was the repeated question.

"Because, she was the one that changed Nikita and Adrian" the second name slipped from his lips before he could stop himself and once he saw the exasperated look on George's face he knew that he had just opened a new can of worms.

"Adrian?" he looked stunned. "What do you know about Adrian?" he clenched his fists and then unclenched them. "Changed her how?" he wanted answers and both men realized that Birkoff would be at Oversight as long as it took to get them.


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