Operations was once again in a rather foul mood and managed to grate on the nerves of everyone including Walter who'd had to put of with not one but two visits to Munitions. Finally he lost his temper after having Ops question his filing systems and what he was working on now. "Is there some reason you keep coming here? Do you need something?" He didn't even bother to hide the growing level of irritation that he felt with the man that he still held responsible for Belinda's death.
"I think I should know how your system works don't you?" he turned to face Walter straight on.
"Why? Am I going someplace?" he put away some of the new weapons that had just been delivered. "Planning on canceling me or something?" Walter knew he often pushed his luck but he no longer cared about whether or not Operations might get some kind of whim and demand his cancellation. That hadn't been a big deal since he lost the one person in Section who truly made him happy.
"No, but one in charge should know what the ones under him are up to," he smiled almost sneer like.
"Cleaning weapons care to help?" he extended a greasy rag to Operations who snickered, shook his head and finally left for what Walter hoped was the last time.
He returned to his office and tried to keep himself occupied with some of the memos that had come down from Oversight but the minute he read who had sent them, his mind began churning and he found himself wondering what the real reason George had requested Birkoff was. The thing that really irked him was the fact that George himself had been the one to personally pick him up instead of sending the usual limo. He decided to contact George to see when Birkoff might be returning to Section One, but after a brief conversation, he was no closer to an answer. "George, I really don't like having my main Computer expert outside of Section at a critical time like this," he tried to reason with the man.
"You'll have to deal with it for a few days Paul, apparently the problem we are having will take a bit more time than I originally anticipated," he sounded neither apologetic or concerned for Operation's wishes. "Is there anything else?" came the gravel voice of the leader of Oversight.
"No, apparently not!" his voice took on an edge that George hadn't missed. In fact, if Operations had been in Oversight standing before George, he might have witnessed the biggest grin cross his face as he realized that he was playing all the right cards.
"Then I will contact you when I am ready to send Mr. Birkoff back to you," and with that the phone went dead in Operations hand.
"Damn you George, first Madeline now you!" he threw the cellphone across the room and winced as it made contact with the glass. Thankfully it was reinforced and didn't break but it angered him that he seemed to have less and less control of his temper lately.
Madeline and Alan had finally settled into a cheap motel under an assumed name. Madeline had fully expected him to unload the car but he was still feeling the after effects of the brief surgery and simply flopped on one of the two full size beds that he had requested. When the desk clerk had inquired as to their sleeping requirements, Alan had beaten her to the answer "Two full size one room," he smiled at her. Madeline's eyebrows shot up in question. "Right honey?" he hugged her closer.
"That'll be fine," she whispered and he didn't miss the anger in her voice, "Dear." she added as an afterthought.
"Okay the room is the far one on the left actually it's the last door on that side" she handed them the key which Madeline reached out and scooped from her fingers.
"Thank you," she smiled. Alan saw the tight-lipped smile and decided to see how much he could get on her nerves today. This had become quite a game for him and so far he'd managed to know when to stop. "Come darling," he reached out and grasped her hand. "We can fool around on two beds now." he pulled her tightly to him. "She's such a wildcat" he squinted and growled. Madeline was not amused.
Walter walked the long empty corridors of Section One contemplating the fact that Birkoff was gone and had been for several days. No explanation of his disappearance had been offered by Operations who simply had brought in two young operatives, installed them at Birkoff's com panel and told everyone within ear shot to make them comfortable and offer them whatever assistance they would require to feel at home. After that, hands clasped behind his back he had stalked off the floor, returned to the loft and darkened the windows leaving various operatives to exchange curious glances and whispers.
"What happened?" one came up to Walter. "He was here and then nothing!" his voice took on an ominous ring "Was he canceled?" Walter didn't' have the answers. He'd headed to Birkoff's quarters several times but was called back with emergency missions and questions regarding weapons so this was the first chance he got to try to find out what had happened to his friend.
The room was full of computer equipment that had been switched off which was highly unlike his normal behavior. Birkoff believed that computers should be left on but waiting and Walter couldn't overcome the sense of dread he began feeling when he saw everything blank and silent. His fingers roamed over the multitude of tapes, disks and games that Birkoff had amassed during his time at Section. No one seemed to know if he ever left only that whenever someone needed him, he always seemed to be there on the property. He was studying one of the newer games that Birkoff had raved about and decided to see just what all the excitement was about. He made himself comfortable in front of one of the many terminals and inserted the disk into the ROM drive.
It clicked and hissed as Walter supposed it would and when it finally loaded his attention was diverted elsewhere so the sound of Birkoff's voice took him completely by surprise. "Walter, if you are listening to this, you know that I am not on Section property right now. I have been taken to Oversight and imagine that it was something to do with what we discussed the last time we were together." Walter was stunned. He didn't like the fact that Birkoff was alone at Oversight and apparently worried about what he had done. "I might need your help when I return, Operations seemed over cautious when he informed me that George was coming to retrieve me himself."
Walter whistled. "George came here to pick you up himself?" the question went unanswered as he looked around the room. "If he finds out Walter I'm as good as dead, we both know that" he saw beads of perspiration building on the operatives head and they reflected into the light of the camera Birkoff had used to film this giving him a look of wearing a halo of some sorts. "You might have to tell Michael what I did," he whispered, looking cautiously around him as if he feared someone might be eavesdropping. "God I hope not" he knew Michael wouldn't be mad at the young man just worried about his apparent concern for he and Nikita and not for himself. "I have to go, you've been the best friend anyone could ever ask for!"
The transmission ended and Walter watched as the screen scrambled and another transmission seemed to be coming through. "I'm returning today Walter, it's Monday and I hope what George gave me to explain my delay in returning is enough to satisfy Operations" he looked around "George knows everything now and I am sure Operations isn't going to accept a simple story about computer problems," he whispered. "Check the White room from time to time," the screen went blank. Walter sat for a moment then removed the disk from the drive and inserted in one of his back pockets. He'd destroy it later.
Birkoff sat in the back of the long black limo that now headed back to Section One. The anxiety of returning to face Operations multitude of questions weighed heavily on the young man's mind and his ashen color did not go unnoticed by George. "Relax, he'll ask you what I had you working on and you'll repeat the scenario I gave you it's as simple as that." the older man smiled slightly but knew he was being of little help to the antsy operative sitting next to him.
"You underestimate him you know?" Birkoff looked up over the titanium rims of his glasses. "He was suspicious when I left and now that I've been gone longer than previously planned, he's not going to settle for simple answers. He's going to want minute by minute details." he felt his insides churning as he tried in vain to make the head of Oversight realize just how dangerous Operations really was. George reached down under the oppulent leather seat and removed a beautifully tanned cowhide briefcase.
"This should suffice." he reached inside and removed a large stapled packet of typed pages. "If he has any questions after this, he'll know to address them to me." he replaced the briefcase under the seat then sat back and watched the younger man digest the material he had just been handed.
"It's a minute count?" Birkoff looked surprised.
"Of course, you didn't think I would leave you unprepared for Operations' scrutiny now did you?" he sounded somewhat disappointed that Birkoff still didn't trust him 100%.
"But," he stammered.
"Read them carefully Mr. Birkoff, it seems you have a photographic memory and that's going to come in handy shortly." he knew that Paul would interrogate the younger man if anything in the minutes or his story didn't add up.
Before he knew it, they were back at Section One and the limo pulled to a leisurely stall in Van Access. "The moment of truth so to speak" he patted Birkoff's shoulder as he sent him on his way.
"Aren't you coming?" Birkoff turned expecting him to be right behind.
"No, you're on your own from this point on Seymour, don't disappoint me." his voice held an edge that caused Birkoff's short hair to stand on end. "Of course." his voice was a mere whisper.
He stood there for what seemed like hours after the limo pulled away. He could feel beads of sweat building under the sweater he had chosen to wear on his return back to Section One. He clutched the packet tightly to his chest and turned just as the Access doors wooshed open to reveal Operations standing just inside.
"Welcome back Mr. Birkoff" something about the voice caused Birkoff's stomach to drop and he hoped that the thud he thought he heard was not decernable to Operations who stood there with his arms crossed in front of him, hands clasped together at the waist. "I trust you were able to fix Oversight's problems?" The questions had begun.
"Yeah" he started what he knew would be a long day of question and answers. "It took longer than George originally thought" he began leading into the scenario they had rehearsed. "There's still some things I'll have to run through our systems for him" he pulled out something that resembled a disk holder. "Just to make sure that the virus is completely eradicated" he knew he had to throw in some computer jargon to keep Operations believing his story.
"Won't that open us up to attack?" Operations began walking back down the corridor keeping pace with the younger man.
"No, it's just a precaution for their system, I can put up a firewall to protect ours although I would imagine the ones I have installed already should suffice" he rambled on and on hoping that eventually Operations would tire of this and leave him to his work.
"So, did you enjoy yourself at Oversight?" Paul knew that George would have been a generous host to someone in a postion to help figure out an Oversight problem.
"Not hardly" his voice didn't betray him this time. "I was working like a dog" he laughed but the nervousness in his tone caused Operations to pause momentarily.
"Is something wrong Mr. Birkoff?" Operations had his hands clasped behind his back now and turned directly into his path.
"No, why?" he looked up but didn't realize that his eyes were wide open saucers.
"Something doesn't feel right" he figured that this might help Birkoff decide which side he was on.
"What doesn't feel right?" he studied the man who he would have to convince of his loyalties.
"Something about your voice, you seem nervous?" he stood there waiting. Birkoff was sure he would see the perspiration beginning on his brow.
"I don't like being away from Section One I feel out of the loop when someone else is running my com units." he answered honestly.
Walter had walked the empty halls of Section One many times. He often did this when he was deep in thought but tonight was different. Earlier he had wandered from Munitions down the corridor leading to Birkoff's quarters. After checking to make sure no one had seen him, he quietly slipped the access card into the slot and let himself silently into the door. The room was as it had been when Walter had seen it last, computer monitors everywhere the only difference this time was that they were all shut down. That was not like Birkoff at all and it only confirmed that he had not been here for the last few days.
Walter slowly walked the perimeter of the room looking for anything that might clue him into where Birkoff had disappeared to and why. He certainly wasn't going to get any answers from Operations. Nothing concrete could be found and Walter decided to plop down on the bed and think things through only when he tried to stretch out, something under the waffle mattress seemed to stab him in the back. "Ouch, what the hell?" he quickly rolled over, yanked up the mattress and found the offending item. "Well, I'll be damned" he smiled to himself as he stared at the palm unit he now held.
Checking to make sure he was alone, even though he knew he was, he flipped on the device and found a message waiting for him but it was gene coded. He hated this part, he never minded guns, bullets and knives but the insane idea of willingly placing his fingertip on a sharp device never sat well with him and he tightly closed his eyes as he pricked his finger against the pointed edge that quickly drew blood.
"Damn there has to be a better way" he almost forgot and pulled his hand to his mouth. Instead he squeezed a single droplet onto the tape and inserted it into the device. Within moments, Birkoff's image appeared before him. "Walter, I'm in trouble," he began as his eyes shifted nervously around the room. "Apparently George is coming here personally to pick me up. Operations doesn't know why or he's not saying but he did tell me that I would be reporting directly to George and had better think twice about betraying Section One." He swallowed hard and Walter could make out beads of sweat building on his friend's forehead. "If I'm not back within a few days, you'd better find a way to warn Michael and tell him what I've done" he closed his eyes and paused for the briefest moment. "Walter, I'm glad we were friends," and with that the transmission was gone.
Walter sat down with the device safety tucked back inside its hiding place. "Birkoff what have you done?" he rubbed at his face. He had to find out when Birkoff had left and if a return time had been established but he couldn't risk alerting anyone about his inquiries. He waited until he was sure the coast was clear and slipped silently from Birkoff's quarters then headed back to communications. One of the operatives looked up as he entered the wide expanse of space and Walter made a sudden turn toward Munitions but then quickly turned back and headed toward where his friend would normally be sitting.
"Has anyone seen Birkoff?" he decided he didn't care if his queries alerted anyone. he needed to know. "He's been away a few days but I don't know why" she smiled a genuinely warm all over smile. "I kinda miss him" she shyly admitted.
"Birkoff?" one of the others turned. "He just arrived back from Oversight from what I heard," he was checking things on back to back monitors and twisted and turned this way and that. "He's with Operations" he punched in some schematics. "Actually, he's in the..." his head shot up and the look on his face made Walter's heart drop.
"Where?" Walter practically shouted..."Where's Birkoff now?" he was losing his temper.
"He's...in.. in the White Room" whispered the Operative who now wished he hadn't been so eager to help Walter. He didn't get a chance to say more. Walter turned and quickly trotted toward Munitions with both Operatives watching his retreat.
He hoped that he'd never have to do what he was about to do. He had long ago decided that there would be an out for him if all else failed and the thought of having to use it now to save his friend both filled him with dread and a calmness that he couldn't clearly understand. He set his plan in motion, gathered the necessary items that he would require and entered his instructions and plans into the computer in a calm and orderly manner. He knew that once he pressed the 'send' button, nothing nor no one but himself could stop the sequence of events he would be setting off. With one more moment of thought, he placed a loaded pistol in the back of his waistband, pulled his denim jacket over it to keep it hidden, pressed the button and left Munitions after doing a final check and pulling the security gate down behind him.
It truly was the beginning of the end...