ARMISTICE IN AUSTRALIA
Moving quickly through the doorway, and down the hall, Trace glanced down at her wristwatch. She had just gotten back on full operative status, after a lengthy mandatory refusal, and she was going to be late getting to a very crucial briefing. *This was not the way to make a lasting impression* she thought to herself. *At least not one that mattered much*.
Turning the corner, she didn't notice where she was going, and she came up against a rather strong, rather broad barrier. Mentally berating herself for being such a klutz and looking up, she had every intention of apologizing. That was until she saw who it was she had ran into.
'Oh, it is only you,' Trace said, beginning to step around him.
Michael took her by the upper arm, and forced her to turn towards him. As he did, Trace looked down to where his hand was holding her. Then, returning her gaze to his, squinted her eyes and smiled.
'Is that how you handle your women Michael?' she asked, 'Manhandling and bullying them?'
Michael only continued to stare, never once breaking his eye contact with her. After a few seconds, he slowly released his hold, bringing both hands in front of him. Buttoning the button on his jacket, he looked up and down the hallway. 'No, that is not how I handle my women, Trace. Although, if you were my woman, I would consider it...if that is what you are into.'
Trace could have sworn she noticed a mischievous glint in Michaelís eye, and had to catch herself before she smiled. Snorting instead, she turned and started down the hallway.
'See you later, Trace,' Michael called after her.
Trace threw her hand up in the air, and without turning around, replied, 'Not in this lifetime loverboy.'
Operations glared as Trace came to a skidding stop in front of the briefing table, walking to the end, and taking a seat. Looking up, she blushed, pushing a stray lock of hair back behind her ear.
'Glad you could join us Trace,' Operations began. 'I hope we didn't keep you from anything important,' he smirked.
'Only from kicking Michaelís uppity...' she mumbled, before being caught by Operations.
'What was that Trace?' he asked, leaning over and looking her directly in the eyes.
'Uh, sorry sir,' Trace stumbled, swallowing hard, so frightened she almost forgot to breathe.
'That was what I thought you said,' Operations replied, standing back up and moving to the center of the briefing table again.
'As I was saying, before Trace decided to grace us with her presence. Team one will go in undercover as a honeymooning couple, while teams two and three will be set up as hotel employees. It is imperative that team one plays the part to the letter. If Gideon even thinks there is anything out of the ordinary, the entire mission could be jeopardized.'
'Sir,' Rita asked, 'what is the final objective?'
'We are to play courier on this one. Gideon has a disk, that he is to be delivering to a newly married Mr. and Mrs. Smith, at the Radisson Hotel, in Sydney Australia.'
'What is on the disk?' Curlly queried her total concentration on the matter at hand.
'The disk is said to contain the directory for the European branch of Red Cell,' Operations answered, allowing the implications and ramifications of the urgency and importance of the mission to sink in.
'Any other questions,' he asked, looking around the table. Trace, leaning over close of North and Sly, whispered 'Wonder who the poor souls are that going to be the lovebirds?'
Operations walked to the end of the table, and again leaned over towards Trace. At that moment, Michael walked into and across the room. Taking a position just behind Trace, he stopped, and waited.
'Hey Michael,' Rita said brightly, her smile lighting up the room. Michael smiled slightly in return, then turned his attention to Operations.
'I am so glad you asked that,,' Operations offered, smiling slyly and pausing.
'I just know it is going to be me,' Rita whispered to Curlly, barely able to control her excitement. 'No, it has got to be me,' Sherry offered, knowing that she was the senior member of the group, next to North and Trace.
But, the girls could not have been prepared enough for what came next.
Operations began, slow and deliberately, 'The contact couple posing as honeymooners will be played by none other than Michael and....Trace'
When Operations stood back up, all five girls...North, Sherry, Curlly, Rita, and Sly yelled out in unison.... 'TRACE?!?!?!?!
Trace felt a pair of strong, warm hands on her shoulders, and heard the most vile words. 'That's right, honey. We are honeymooning in Australia,' Michael said, a hint of playfulness in his voice. Although Michael was enjoying torturing Trace, a few of the other team members were seeing red.
Jurgen watched, as Trace paced back in forth in front of his desk. Just moments before, she had stormed into his office, and thrown her PDA down on his desk. Then, standing straight, with her arms crossed in front of her, tapped her foot. After a few moments, she asked 'Well?'
Jurgen picked up the PDA, and after scanning through the profile, looked up at her. 'Well what?' he answered.
A look of sudden surprised played across her face, and Jurgen had the sudden urge to laugh. But, figuring it was better to play dumb, he struggled to keep a straight face.
'Do you see what that mission profile says? Do you see who is says I am playing...wife to?' Trace asked, finding it difficult to speak on the word *wife*.
'Yes, I see. In fact, I am the one who came up with the profile.' Jurgen responded, standing slowly and walking around the end of the desk, coming to a stop in front of Trace.
'You WHAT?!?!?!?!' she yelled, looking him directly in the eyes, and not believing her ears. 'YOU are responsible for this?' she demanded, then began pacing back and forth.
That had been what felt like eons ago. Jurgen just continued to watch, letting her vent her anger. Better she do it through pacing, and not through physical means. He would hate to see one of them get hurt anymore from the situation.
'Trace,' Jurgen began, causing her to bring her attention back to him. Stopping in mid stride, she turned and looked to him. The look of anger was now gone from her face, and was replaced by one of resignation. He didn't like what he saw, and knowing Trace, there was no telling what was going through that mind of hers.
'Yes, sir,' she replied, standing straight and true in front of him. *No* he thought, *this is not good*.
Trying to break the tension, he walked up to her, and placing his hands on her shoulders, began. 'The mission called for an operative of your skills. There are too many chances for anomalies, and we needed someone quick on their feet.'
Trace only continued to stand, and look over his shoulder at a point behind him. 'Are you hearing me Trace?' he asked.
Trace's gaze then returned to Jurgen's and for a moment, a world of emotions played across her eyes. Taken aback by what he saw, he paused a few moments. Then, after regaining his senses, he cleared his throat.
'Will that be all...sir?' she asked, calmly and quietly. Jurgen slowly nodded his head, and dropped his hands to his sides. Turning, he moved once again behind his desk, and took his seat there.
Trace, after a few moments, moved to the door, and started through. 'Trace,' Jurgen began. Trace turned and tilting her head, listened. 'I will make this up to you...I promise.'
Trace only moved over the threshold, closing the door behind her.
'I can not believe that this is happening,' Sherry moaned, typing frantically at the keyboard in front of her. 'Come all the way to Australia, on a mission, and I am no where near Michael. This is not fair.' She had been given the duty of being the reservation host at the hotel that had pretty much been taken over by Section. There were operatives posted everywhere, including Curlly, Sly, North, Rita and Aly. The entire team had saturated every nook and cranny of the hotel.
Michael and Trace had arrived a few hours before, and weren't planned to meet the target until the next evening. But, that wasn't the worst of it. Upon her initial probing of the reservation files, Sherry had found that the *Honeymoon Suite* had been reserved in Michael's name. The very thought, that she should be the one up there with him, and not Trace about drove her crazy. She had not been in a good mood since arriving, and it didn't look like it was bound to change anytime soon either.
'Hey Sherry,' Rita greeted, coming up behind her, her arms loaded down with papers. 'You would think, that play-acting would be just that...play-acting. I mean, surely I am not expected to do all this paperwork?' Rita asked. When she got no response, she turned to look beside her.
Sherry was still jabbing at the keyboard, lost in a world all her own. 'You know Sher, there is nothing that can be done. He was teamed with Trace, and that is that.'
Sherry turned and smiled at Rita. 'But, that doesn't mean I have to like it does it?'
Before Rita could answer, they heard a voice behind them. 'No, and it doesn't mean I have to like it either.'
Turning, both girls saw that they were not alone. Standing in the doorway of the office, directly behind them, was Trace. She was dressed all in black, and was wearing sunglasses. Peering around the door jam, she motioned for Sherry to come over.
Once she was convinced that they weren't being overheard, Trace turned to Sherry and smiled. 'What if I told you there was a way for both of us to be happy?' Trace asked. Sherry looked from Trace, to Rita. Rita only shrugged her shoulders in reply. Looking back, Sherry crossed her arms in front of her.
'And what is it you suggest?' Sherry responded, more than a little intrigued, but still skeptical.
With a conspiratory smile, Trace placed her arm around Sherry's shoulders, and began to lay out the plan.
'I don't know about this. I mean, we have been given orders. What if Operations finds out?' Rita asked, having been clued in to the plan.
'Operations only link to this mission is North, and I have already gotten the go ahead from her. All is fine my friends, just say you are in, and it will be a go.' Trace offered.
Sherry thought for a moment, then a bright smile broke out on her face. 'Okay, what do I have to do?'
Trace handed Sherry a duffel bag, and pointed to the office. 'Go in there, get changed, and,' taking a hotel key from her pocket, Trace dangled it in front of Sherry's face, 'don't ever say I don't do anything for you.'
Sherry laughed, and taking the duffel bag, grabbed the key. Disappearing into the office, she had a definite skip to her walk. After a few short minutes, she emerged, dressed all in black, and wearing a dark brown wig, that hit her just below her ears. Taking the sunglasses she was carrying, she placed them on her nose, then smiled.
'So, what do you think? Will I pass?' Trace smiled. 'I think you will pass fine. Now get up there. Your Romeo is waiting.'
Sherry headed off across the lobby, and entered the elevator. After pushing the number four button, she took a deep breath and held it. She was on her way to a night with Michael, posing as Trace, the whole plan courtesy of Trace.
Both girls watched until Sherry disappeared into the elevator. As the doors closed, Rita turned to Trace and smiled.
'What are you smiling about?' Trace asked, looking at Rita in bewilderment. 'Oh, just someone who just made two fellow operatives very happy.' Rita replied.
'Oh, that. That was nothing. Besides, Michael and I had a long talk today on the flight down here. He said that we should make Australia and this mission a jumping off point to an armistice between us. He, and I too, felt that the only way we would be able to get along, and be of benefit to Section, would be to put our personal feelings aside. I thought it over, and after we arrived, I hit upon this plan.' Trace offered.
'So, no more bickering and fighting between you two?' Rita asked.
'Well, not as much anyways. And, we agreed to respect each others space, and choices.'
'So,' Rita began, 'a truce of sorts?'
'Yeah,' Trace thought,' a truce.'
'Good. And, seeing that you have nothing to do, want to help me with this paperwork?' Rita asked, hopefully.
Trace laughed, then smiled. 'Sure, why not.'
The van access opened, and the Australian mission team disembarked. Waiting at the end of the access tunnel was Madeline and Operations. Michael and Trace exited first, with the rest of the team members following closely behind them. Michael turned to the rest of the team. 'Head to debrief, and drop the equipment off with Walter.' The team nodded in unison, then turned and moved down the hallway.
Trace noticed that Sherry lagged to the back of the group, watching to see what was going on with Operations and Madeline.
'Did you make contact?' Madeline asked.
Trace handed the disk to Operations, and along with Michael turned to leave. Before they got very far, Operations called to them both.
'Michael, Trace,' he began, as both operatives turned to look at him. 'Any anomalies we need to know about?' he asked.
Michael and Trace looked at one another, then back to Operations. 'No,' Michael began, 'None that I can think of, sir' Trace finished.
'Very well then. Debrief, and fill out the mission completion reports.' Operations replied.
Taking that as their cue to leave, both turned and headed down the hall, and around the corner. Waiting for them was Sherry, and the rest of the team. When the two operatives rounded the corner, the team held its breath. They were all sure that Operations had figured out that Trace and Sherry had switched places on the mission. But, when Trace smiled, all knew the coast was clear.
'So everything is okay then?' Sherry asked. 'Everything is fine, Sher,' Michael answered, leaning in and kissing her on the cheek. 'I will meet you in a few moments, I need to talk to Trace first,' he offered. Sherry nodded then disappeared down the hallway.
'Thank you again, Trace. What you did was very kind, and I will not forget it.' Michael started. Then, reaching down, he took Trace's hand, and brushed a kiss across the backs of her knuckles.
'Oh please!!' she exclaimed, 'we have a truce, but keep the lips off the knuckles...kay loverboy?'
Then, both operatives smiled, and turned, heading for debrief. The hatchet had been buried, and the rules had been laid. The thought that crossed both operatives minds was simply...how long would this shaky armistice last?
This story ©copyright Trace, 2000