The workers broke through into the crypt at around three in the afternoon on the third day of digging. Sark heard their excited shouts and cries, and left the shelter of his tent to oversee the operation. In a matter of minutes, the opening was wide enough for entry, although (as per his instructions) none of the workers went inside themselves.
Sark picked up his backpack, checked his torch, and readied his gun. He'd been waiting for this moment for almost two years.
Inside, the crypt was remarkably intact. Apart from the entryway itself, the chamber was relatively unchanged from the last time Sark had been there. He shone the torch slowly about the room, pausing as the light fell upon a figure trapped under a mass of stone. Sark moved forward cautiously.
The body was desiccated, but there was no smell of decay -- and quite a bit of flesh remaining, considering that it had been so long since the chamber had been sealed. Sark looked down with horrified fascination at the body of Arvin Sloane, former ally and sometime adversary.
Though Sark had been prepared in theory for what he might find in the tomb, he could not help but flinch back when the mummified corpse's eyelids flickered open, revealing two shrunken orbs, shriveled like dried olives. The figure's mouth worked, but no sound came out.
Sark quickly regained his composure. "Absolutely fascinating," he said to the recumbent form. "I have seen many strange things since I first heard the name Rambaldi, but I never imagined that his visions of immortality would be quite so literally true. I see, however, that immortality does not carry with it eternal health and well-being... nor the ability to thrive without water or food. I will be certain not to make the same mistakes as you."
Sark knelt beside the body, careful to avoid the still-twitching arms, which were not actually pinned under the stone. Sloane appeared quite helpless, but Sark was not about to begin underestimating the man now. Sloane's jaw worked again, and Sark thought he heard, very faintly, what might have been the word help.
"I assure you, I would relieve you of your misery if I could, but as you are well aware, the Rambaldi process is irreversible. Nor am I such a fool that I would release an adversary such as yourself into the world again now that you have such a distinct advantage. I am afraid, Arvin... may I call you Arvin?... that you will remain here for quite some time.
"Now it is my understanding," Sark continued, "that the original Rambaldi fluid was completely destroyed when Irina Derevko died." He paused. "But I forget; you have been out of the loop. I'm afraid Irina's mad plans quite failed. You know, I find myself very upset to think now that I actually once held the Sphere in my hands without quite realizing its full potential. It is a mistake I will not repeat in the future."
Sark watched Sloane twitch weakly. "The original fluid is gone, but I now employ some of the best scientific minds of this century. Perhaps the substance can be recreated... after all, what was done once can surely be repeated." He eyed Sloane dispassionately. "All that one needs are the proper samples."
Sark reached into his backpack, pulling out a large styrofoam box packed full of dry ice and a small hacksaw.
"Don't worry," Sark said, looking coolly down into Sloane's hollow eyes as he placed the saw's blade against Sloane's thin wrist. "As I understand it, you should regenerate the hand in time." He began to move the blade back and forth. A thin rivulet of blood poured out of the cut for a moment, then stopped; there was hardly any moisture left in Sloane at all. A rattling gasp came from the body, and then it lay still once more -- passed out, perhaps, from the pain. If it could still feel anything at all.
Sark wrapped the hand in a plastic bag, and then packed it carefully in the dry ice. He stood and quickly left the tomb; the place was unnerving. As he emerged from the hillside, Sark nodded to a group of workmen who stood ready with a bucket of freshly mixed concrete. The men had their orders; they descended into the tomb, ready to cover over Sloane's body with an extra layer of insurance. Sloane would not resurface again during Sark's lifetime -- which, if Sark had anything to say about it, would be a very long time indeed.
Neither Sark nor his workers noticed the spot, hidden in one dark corner of the tomb, where two years ago a shattered fragment of bone and singed flesh had landed squarely in a puddle of not-quite-water. The liquid had long since evaporated, but the place where the scrap of flesh landed was marked now by a pale pink mass, barely recognizable as a hand and arm, and ever so slowly growing.
Sydney Bristow-Vaughn made it a point to return to the West Coast every spring to visit her husband's grave. Each visit was like a pilgrimage to the holy ruins of another lifetime: the cemeteries, where Danny and Michael were buried and where Francie's tombstone cast shadows on an empty grave; the pier in Santa Monica where she and Michael had planned the overthrow of the world's most secret terrorist organization; the park in downtown Los Angeles that was built atop the sinkhole that had been APO. California held more pain than joy in her memories, and she was well glad to be out of it... but every year, she returned for a week of remembrances.
Not all associations from her former life were so painful, though, she thought as she entered the restaurant. She paused to let her eyes adjust to the dim light and scanned the room for her party. Tonight's meeting was a reunion of old friends who understood her in a way that her new friends in Connecticut could not.
Spotting her party, Sydney crossed the room to their table. Her dinner companions stood to greet her with warm smiles.
"Professor Bristow; it's good to see you again," Dixon said teasingly.
Sydney hugged her old friend. "Dixon... you're looking well." And he was; for a man on the wrong side of fifty, Dixon didn't have a bit of gray in his hair and looked as fit as ever. Sydney turned to Dixon's companion. "And Director Chase... you look stunning as always."
Chase smiled back at her. "You don't have to call me Director any more, Sydney. You're retired now, and I have even less authority over you than I did when you actually worked for me."
They sat and ordered a bottle of wine while they examined their menus. After placing their orders, they chatted amiably about the intervening years. The conversation was easy; each knew what subjects were safe and what should be avoided. No one mentioned Vaughn's death (still raw, after five years; to have survived a career in the CIA and then be killed by a drunk driver seemed somehow beyond the pale.) They didn't talk about the international situation, or terrorism, or Dixon's desire to have her back in the field.
Instead, they talked about their children. Jack and Mike had been left in Connecticut with the nanny; Isabelle, at fifteen, had insisted on coming with her, and was at the moment visiting with Marshall and, no doubt, drooling over his latest gaming system. Dixon's older two now had jobs of their own, while the children he'd had with Chase were in middle school. They talked about Sydney's return to academia, and her job at a small teaching college. She talked about how happy she was to be finally settled, after so many years of traveling the globe.
Midway through their dessert, Dixon looked over Syd's shoulder and tensed up. Sydney caught the change in atmosphere and began to turn to see what was the matter. An all-too-familiar voice rang out behind her.
"Marcus, Sydney... what a pleasant surprise."
Sydney completed her turn to find Julian Sark standing a few feet behind her with a knowing smirk. Her pulse sped in a rush of adrenaline, and she immediately fell back into all the old habits: scanning the area for likely weapons; assessing the other customers to determine who might be hired muscle; taking note of the exits. She regretted not having brought a gun; retirement and too many years of soft living had made her careless.
"May I join you?" Sark asked, walking around the table to the empty fourth seat without waiting for an answer. He turned to Chase. "I don't believe we've been introduced," he said to the woman.
"That's correct, Mr. Sark," Chase replied levelly. Her hand was under the table, no doubt holding a gun pointed in Sark's direction. Sydney was glad to see that someone had been prepared.
Sark looked back at Chase and smirked. "I would recommend that you put away your weapon, if you value the lives of Mr. Flinkman and the young Miss Bristow."
It felt as though a fist was squeezing Sydney's heart. "You son of a bitch," she said in a low voice.
Sark looked across the table to Sydney and smiled. "I have so missed your little endearments, Sydney. Things really haven't been quite the same since you left the agency. Your replacements don't have quite the same flair for the job."
"If you harm one hair on my daughter's head, I swear to God I will hunt you down and destroy you."
"I've no intention of harming your daughter Sydney. I simply needed some insurance that you would listen to what I have to propose. I assure you, they will be released as soon as I've left this building."
"What do you want, Sark?"
"I require your assistance in regards to a mutual acquaintance... one Arvin Sloane."
Sark quickly outlined what had happened, as far as he knew. The Rambaldi process had successfully made Sloane near-immortal, and although he had been trapped underground for some time, he had not actually died. A team of archaeologists had discovered the tomb and excavated it a year or two ago. What they thought they'd found was a mummy, and they'd shipped it back to their museum for further analysis. A few days after its arrival, it had disappeared.
Sark did not mention the rather puzzling report that there had been two mummies in the crypt. Nor did he mention that one had been encased in comparatively recent concrete, much to the bewilderment of the excavation team.
"I believe that it would be in all of our best interests to stop Mr. Sloane before he has an opportunity to consolidate his power base. He has already disrupted several of my operations, and it is only a matter of time before he turns his attention to his other old enemies."
Sydney's eyes narrowed. "How can we trust you? You were working with Sloane before. Why is he an enemy now?"
Sark smiled humorlessly. "Because thirteen years ago, I opened the tomb, found him, took a tissue sample, and resealed him in place. And also, because I can provide you with the means of destroying him once and for all. You see, my associates have spent the last thirteen years analyzing those tissue samples in order to reproduce the effect of the Rambaldi fluid. As you can imagine, such a serum would be of inestimable value on the open market. Regrettably, my people have not been successful in that goal.
"However, they have developed a counteragent which should reverse the effect."
Three days later, in a nightclub in Berlin, Sydney sat on Sark's lap and snuggled close to him. "I'm in my mid-forties and have had three children; I shouldn't be wearing an outfit like this any more," she complained into the mike.
"You look great, Syd," Dixon replied over the comm, while Sark echoed the sentiment into her other ear. "You look as lovely today as the day we first met," he said, sliding one hand across the red vinyl covering her ass. Sydney glared at him. It was a shame, she thought, that this wasn't an S&M club. She would have loved an excuse to beat him right then.
Sydney leaned closer to him, until she realized that that angle gave Sark a too-clear view of her cleavage, which threatened to pop out of the tight halter top at any moment. She pulled back, and asked, "Why is it, exactly, that you needed the CIA's help for this? And why does it have to be me?"
Sark smiled. "I would have thought you would jump at the chance to finish things with Sloane. And if I must have someone crawling about on my lap, I can think of no one I'd rather have doing the job. It's a shame, really, that we are on opposite sides of things. If we were together, we'd be quite unstoppable."
Sark would never let it rest, Sydney thought with exasperation. "Never in a million years, Sark."
He passed her his wine glass, after ostentatiously taking a swallow to show that it wasn't poisoned. "Don't glare, my dear. You'll blow our cover."
Sydney hid her frown behind the glass, taking a sip of the wine. It was a cheap vintage, and tasted of vinegar.
"If you must know," Sark said in answer to her previous question, "I found myself unable to locate Sloane's operations center through other means. As you're well aware, Arvin Sloane is quite capable of acting in the strictest secrecy when necessary."
"You needed Echelon."
"And other CIA assets, yes," he said deadpan, while stroking her thigh. Sydney grazed Sark's cheek with her nails in rebuke, but the bastard seemed almost to enjoy it. She scanned the room again, identifying the men and women most likely to be armed and taking note of their positions.
"This doesn't seem like Sloane," she said. "Nightclubs aren't really his style."
Sark gave a little shrug underneath her. "It was your intel."
Dixon chimed in over the comms. "Satellite is moving into position..." There was a pause. "There is definitely an extensive facility in the sub-basement of that building. We're reading two levels, approximately 10,000 square feet each. No signs of explosives or electronic countermeasures. Infrared is picking up ten potential hostiles, small weapons only. Proceed when ready."
Sydney leaned forward, grinding her body against Sark's as if to say, "this is what you'll never have." She kissed him deeply, tongue working against his mouth, in a show for anyone watching them. She then grabbed him by the necktie and stood, leading him as if he were a dog across the club and into a darkened hallway. None of the men she had pegged as potential bodyguards moved or even looked her way. Either this was all an elaborate trap, or Sloane hadn't yet built enough of a power base to properly staff his facilities. Or, perhaps, his confidence in his unnatural immortality had made him cocky.
Syd let go of Sark once they were in the shadows and moved quickly to an unmarked door, extracting a set of lock picks from her hair. Soon the door was opened, revealing a dimly lit stairwell leading down to the sub-basements.
Sark took the lead, descending quickly to the first level. "Hostile straight ahead," Dixon warned. Sark raised his gun and fired smoothly as Sydney opened the door, the silencer muffling his shot. They proceeded along the corridor, Dixon providing directions from the satellite sensors while Sydney and Sark alternated checking the side rooms.
"Only one more on this level," Dixon said. "End of the hall on the left."
Sydney approached the door and tested the handle. "That's strange. It's locked."
"Perhaps this is Sloane's server room. We should make a copy of his data to find out what he's been up to since his resurrection."
Sydney gave Sark a level look, to say you'll never go near his servers, mister, and he smiled cheekily back at her. She returned her attention to the lock.
In a matter of moments, the door was unlocked. Sydney slammed open the door in one smooth motion, and raised her gun to cover whoever was in the room. Her breath caught as she took in the sight.
"Sydney?" Jack Bristow called out in reply. Sark held back a gasp; he hadn't anticipated this; it might easily ruin everything. The older Bristow was in bad shape, lying immobile on a cot. Sark could see that Jack's hamstrings had been neatly severed so he could not stand up or escape. Sloane was truly a vicious man to his enemies.
Sydney looked as though she wanted to rush into the room, but she held back. Sark heard a tremor in her voice as she said, "Wind's in the east."
Jack Bristow smiled and replied, voice thick with emotion, "Mist comin' in," and Sydney was immediately at his side, embracing him.
A recognition sequence, Sark realized. With all of the doubling that had gone on in the past, it was only a sensible precaution.
After a moment, Jack spoke again. "Who is that in the hall with you? Vaughn? Dixon?"
Sark stepped from the shadows. "Good evening, Mr. Bristow."
Jack hissed and tensed, though he was too enfeebled by his captivity to rise against him. "Sydney? What is this?" Jack asked, eyes firmly on Sark.
"It's a long story. We're trying to stop Sloane. Dad... I thought... after everything that happened... we all thought you were dead. We looked for you, but the tomb was sealed, and you were gone..." Sark watched Sydney become overwhelmed with grief, and wondered if he would have to proceed without her.
Jack weakly lifted an arm and put it around his daughter's shoulders, stroking her hair as he held her close. "I think I was," he said.
Over the comm, Dixon spoke. "What the hell is going on in there?"
Sydney leaned into her father's embrace. After a few minutes, she heard Sark clear his throat. "I hate to interrupt this touching reunion, but it is only a matter of time before Sloane realizes that a number of his guards are dead. We had best finish what we came here to do."
Sydney ignored him.
"What happened to you, dad?" she asked softly.
"I'm not entirely sure. I was wounded. I returned to the tomb and confronted Sloane... somehow he'd been healed. I detonated some explosives to collapse the entrance. I should have died then. Instead, I woke up in a dark place, with stone walls and no exit. I was thirsty and weak, but I couldn't find any water. I collapsed. The next thing I remember is waking up in this room, with an IV drip in my arm. Some men come in every few hours and cut my tendons, and then they start to heal again..."
Sydney sobbed again in horror, fresh tears spilling down her cheeks.
Jack pulled back, looking at his daughter and then looking up at Sark. "You're older, both of you. How long has it been?"
Sydney gasped, "Fifteen years."
Jack looked stunned and horrified. "Then the Rambaldi fluid..."
Sark grimaced. "Really, we must be going."
Sydney squeezed her father again. "I'll come back for you, dad. I promise."
"Don't trust him," Jack whispered in her ear. It was advice that she meant to follow.
Sark and Sydney quickly returned to the stairwell. Fortunately, there was no sign that anyone was yet aware of their presence.
"Syd, are you going to be okay?" Dixon asked. Sark wondered the same thing himself.
"I... I'll be fine," she said unconvincingly. It was obvious that she was deeply shaken by what she'd seen.
"I can take things from here, if you like," Sark offered.
Sydney looked back at him, a flash of anger in her eyes. "Don't even think about it."
On the second level, they quickly took out the four remaining henchmen and made their way to the final room. Dixon spoke again. "There's only one more unidentified hostile on site."
Sydney burst into the room first, followed by Sark. They both held up their guns, pointed directly at Arvin Sloane's heart.
Sloane looked up from behind his desk with an expression of mild surprise and amusement. "Well, hello, Sydney. I wasn't expecting you quite so soon. And with Julian. What an unexpected surprise. You're both looking... older."
"I wasn't expecting to see you, ever," Sydney replied, barely suppressed anger in her voice.
"I confess that I am not as prepared to greet you as I might wish," Sloane said. "Fifteen years out of the game is a very long time, and my supplies are at the moment somewhat limited. Still, a bullet through the skull should suffice, I think."
Sydney's finger twitched on her trigger, and a bullet pierced Sloane's shoulder. He grimaced in pain, but the expression of quiet confidence quickly returned. Sydney found it infuriating.
"Really, Sydney," Sloane said reproachfully. "I'm afraid there is nothing you can do to stop me. You see, I'm a transformed man."
She fired again, this time sending a bullet straight into his heart. As she watched, though, the blood flow from the first bullet wound slowed and then stopped as the flesh began to knit itself together once more. The heart shot, which should have been instantly fatal, left Sloane unfazed.
"I really wish we could take the time to catch up," Sloane said, "but if you insist on ruining my new shirt, I suppose I must defend myself." He opened a desk drawer, revealing a 9mm. The chest wound was already closing.
Sark watched, bemused. Arvin Sloane had truly learned nothing in his fifteen years in the crypt. The man's overweening arrogance was truly astonishing.
Sark reached into his jacket pocket as Sloane's hand closed around the gun. He withdrew from it a small cylinder, shaped like a can of mace. He made doubly sure it was pointed in Sloane's direction, and then pressed the trigger.
A stream of fluid shot from the can, striking Sloane full on the face and startling him into dropping the gun. The liquid got into Sloane's eyes, and dripped down his nose and even into his mouth. Sloane flailed at the unexpected form of assault. Sark kept the flow steady and the aim true until the can ran dry. After all, there had been little opportunity to test the formula, and he wasn't sure what dose was required for full effect.
Sloane reached again for his gun, but Sark was faster. "I think not," he said, and fired. His gunshots were echoed by Sydney's. Sark nearly emptied a clip into the man (saving two shots, just in case) and smirked when he realized that Sydney had done the same.
"We should wait a moment, to be sure," he said.
Sydney nodded, and they stood over the body. After a few moments, Sark stepped forward and examined the still form. The wounds were still there, and showed no signs of closing as they had before. "Right," he said. He wished there was a quick way to get rid of the body (and, equally important, the canister in his pocket) but there was nothing to be done now. His men were waiting upstairs to storm the facility and raze it as soon as the CIA team had left -- and ready to ambush them should they attempt to retrieve the body for study themselves, or otherwise double-cross him.
He looked back up at Sydney. She was breathing heavily, staring at the corpse with something like madness in her eyes. Sark felt a stab of sympathy for her; he could only imagine what it must be like, to have all the memories of the fall of APO dredged up again after so much time had passed.
"We should go," he said gently.
On the upper level, Sydney rushed back to Jack's side. Sark followed part of the way, and then slid toward the exit while they were distracted by their reunion. He knew that his assistance to the CIA on this matter would buy him very little in the way of leniency when weighed against his past crimes, and it was imperative that he leave immediately.
Seeing Jack Bristow alive had been quite a shock; he wasn't sure yet just how that would alter his long-term plans. Now that he'd eliminated his chief rival for power, there was little that could stop him -- and he could wait, of course, as long as necessary before making any major moves in any case. He had all the time in the world.
Sark wondered if he would ever really be able to woo Sydney Bristow to his side. It would be a challenge, to be sure, after all he'd done, but a life without challenges was no life at all. His task would be much more difficult now with her father standing in the way. Something might have to be done to correct that, though he would have to move very carefully there indeed.
Slipping the synthetic Rambaldi fluid into Sydney's wine had been, perhaps, a bit of a foolish risk to take. But be she lover or foe, Sark really couldn't imagine spending the next thousand years without her in his world, one way or another. The game really just wasn't the same without her in it.