Ryan Fletcher knew too much to walk away. In the course of his work as a CIA Analyst, he had uncovered more than a handful of irreconcilable facts that either read like fiction or vice verse. They occurred on both domestic and foreign soil, paper trails ended, documents disappeared and budget audits were consistently, inconsistent. By all means and purposes, all off it was off the books. The DoJ, the NSA, and the CIA always had a hand in concealing information, but the mother load of secrecy was buried beneath layers of self righteous deceit known as Division. He had dug up enough to send Senators, Congressmen and Generals scrambling for cover and Ryan Fletcher's name had become synonymous with trouble. After the plot to frame him as an assassin failed, his high profile likely saved him from becoming the victim of some tragic accident or another traitorous act. Ryan knew he was on the grim reaper's path and consorting with Owen Elliot, was like nailing his coffin lid shut. The only person who could help him was Nikita and according to his unwelcome accomplice, she was in danger.
Giving up Nikita's mole seemed almost like treason. When Owen had demanded a name, he had to decide right then and there if he could deal with the consequences of telling him. Understanding the man behind the threatening looks helped him decide.
"Her name is Alex, she's around nineteen or twenty and is a newly promoted agent. According to Nikita, Division killed her parents and she's seeking revenge. I don't know her, but if Nikita was willing to save her life, than she must be worth it."
Owen listened to him quietly. "We might have to enlist her help. Two on the inside is better than one."
The two men had driven to the outskirts of Washington, DC. and were headed north, but Ryan wasn't sure of their final destination. "I told you what you want to know, now it's your turn. Who do you have on the inside? How do you know they can be trusted?"
The former Guardian gave him a dark look. "Are you really such a boy scout that you still believe in trust? My person on the inside is only as good as the fear I put into them. That may not be what you want to hear, but it's the truth."
He couldn't help but wonder how many men, women, even children Owen had killed, and thinking about how he had killed them made Ryan inwardly shudder. "I've told you what I know, what more could you want from me?"
Owen gave him a smug smile. "A charter flight, an AK-47, a wireless computer with a secure interface and lots of black coffee."
Birkhoff settled himself in front of his computer in Operations. With the exception of the cursor winking back at him, the console was dark. He plucked a red vine from the canister on top of his work station and parked it between his teeth before typing in a string of code. A satellite view of upstate New York appeared with the distinctive red marker of an agent's tracker. Next to it was a mug shot of Michael along with his personnel stats.
He zeroed in on the red diamond as it blinked and rotated on the half second. This was a good sign, it meant he was still alive. Peering over his shoulder and chewing on the red licorice twist, he made sure none of his tech subordinates were watching. He switched over to the DoD satellite and entered a set of coordinates. From his vantage point in Operations, he could see approximately a half a mile around the lake front property. He spotted the transport van that Michael's team had used. It was on the side of the road disguised as a county utility vehicle. An unmarked car was parked near the cabin and a motorcycle was partially hidden in the brush. Experience told him, the Ducati was the preferred mode of transport for a rogue agent who had resurfaced to enlist his help, by kidnapping and beating him. Nikita had popped up during missions, specifically Michael's missions and her presence always meant unpleasant business.
When the door opened into the command center, he immediately minimized the computer screen and a pattern of binary code replaced it.
Amanda came in and didn't even try to pretend to be pleasant. Her aura held enough malice to weigh any known criminal down. "Hello Birkhoff, did you have a nice day off?" Amanda looked like she might pounce on him at anytime.
"It was uneventful, except for running into Michael's numero uno, Alex." Birkhoff mumbled.
Amanda eyes brightened with interest and she pursed her lips. "Really? Where? What was she up to?"
He was a better actor than anyone in Division gave him credit for. "At the video arcade, picking up guys, I guess. But once she spotted me, that girl was all over me."
Amanda narrowed her eyes with amusement. "You don't say."
An insulted look crossed his face. "If you really want to know, she seemed genuinely worried about Michael. She wanted to know if he was going to come out of this current mission unscathed." Birkhoff gave Amanda a pointed look. "It's a valid question."
Amanda conveyed a lot of information with her cynical facial expression and equally uninformative comments. "I'm sure he'll come out of this better than when he went in. We're dealing with it." She smiled coyly and walked out of Operations.
Birkhoff followed her with his eyes and watched her disappear behind the closed door. He switched back to his satellite feed and zoomed in on the license plate number of the unknown vehicle and ran it through his extensive collection of databases. A jolt of concern struck him when a match came up. The plates belonged to Division and it was assigned to Roan. Just great he thought to himself. Michael was down, Nikita was messing with them and the only reason to send Roan in, meant dead, or soon to be dead. He closed out of the screen and looked around the room.
"Everyone out! I need the room. Lock your screens and get out! Now!" The group of tech agents looked startled, but they did as they were told. Birkhoff kept his value known by reminding others he was handling confidential and top secret information. Once Operations was cleared, he opened up a shell program he had squirreled away in back of the firewall. It was much like the one Nikita had used to make contact with her mole.
Room secured. Birkhoff typed in. He waited for a reply and watched the second hand on his watch tick by. He was ready to close the program when a string of words appeared.
You have the intel?
Highway 87, off of copeland rd. M alive, nikita on site. roan sent in.
The cursor stopped blinking and user logged off appeared.
Birkhoff sighed to himself. Nothing was easy in his life. He should have gone to Percy the minute he was contacted, but in a moment he should have been proud of, he decided to show some balls and think for himself. Now he was in too deep and Owen Elliot had him by those balls, and they both knew it.
He took his innocuous phone out of his pocket and sent Alex a text.
Others lookin for M too. Nikita is there and P sent Roan in.
From her apartment in the City, Alex looked at her burner and the message from Birkhoff. With a very worried expression she bit her bottom lip and texted him back.
Nikita n Roan can't be good. Can we do anything?
Birkhoff looked at his phone, sometimes there was only one thing to do. It was time to man up.
I got an idea.
He closed his phone and began searching for Roan's current mission profile.
"Just try and relax. The injection I gave you should help with the pain." Roan helped Michael up, guiding him toward the edge of the bed and urging him to sit.
He took a small pen light and flashed it in Michael's eyes, checking his pupils, which had turned into large black orbs. When he waved his hand in front of his face, he didn't flinch, indicating the drug was taking effect. Roan thought back on his discussion with Percy.
"This designer drug hasn't been widely tested, but the preliminary results have shown it to be quite effective in temporarily affecting a person's neurochemistry. It changes a person's mood, cognition, perception and behavior." Percy sounded like a marketing exec announcing a new product.
"Unlike Amanda's current favorite drug, Ibogaine, this is totally synthetic and it has no truth serum properties. What sets this drug apart is how it interacts with the power of suggestion. We can implant false memories in the subjects subconscious, virtually rewriting their mental journal. It's a new generation of brainwashing." He smiled arrogantly.
"Amanda will help you with the script. They'll be jumping off points, as long as you focus on the negative, you should have no problems."
The Cleaner was always up for a challenge and this one was rather unique. He had nothing against Michael, but understood this was necessary. The health of Division depended on it.
"Here drink this." Roan handed him a bottle of water. "You're lucky, the vest and the shooter's bad aim saved your life.
The drug had begun to course through Michael's system and the pain that had consumed him began to subside. He still felt like he was fighting his way out of a cloud. "What happened to my team?"
Roan felt like he was looking at a blank slate waiting to be scrawled on. "It was Nikita. She ambushed and killed your agents."
Amanda instructed Roan to pace himself, Michael needed to absorb and process the information slowly. He recited one of the prompts that she had formulated. "You can't trust her, she only cares about herself. She's dangerous and is a liar. She wants Percy and Amanda dead, and when they are, you'll be next."
Michael felt himself immersed in confusion, Nikita had ambushed them? "Wait! The Scientist.. the codes? What happened to the target?"
"He's dead. Nikita killed him. She killed the scientist." Roan said solemnly.
The pounding in his head had returned, but between the relentless beats, her voice broke through.
"Two down, they're not going anywhere. I'm told more are coming. If you hurt the target, all hell will break loose."
Roan could see he felt conflicted, he was fighting to make sense of what had happened. He decided Michael's mental state needed more prodding. "There is something else I think you should know. Percy found out Nikita's been working with Kasim Tariq. That's why she had you stopped at the airport, it was to save Kasim's life."
Michael looked at him in disbelief. "She's working with Kasim? I didn't know..." He closed his eyes against the confusion he felt and could hear her voice in his head.
"Michael don't do this! You don't get to say your good byes yet. You have something to live for, you have me."
Michael looked at Roan suspiciously. "What the hell are you talking about? How do you know these things?"
He hadn't expected this much resistance. "Take it easy. You have a serious head injury." He urged him to lie down. "Just give me a minute, I'll be right back."
The Cleaner left the room and shut the door behind him. He pulled out his cell phone and pressed a key for speed dial.
It rang twice and Amanda answered. "Status?"
"Is the line secure?" Roan rarely broke protocol.
"Yes, what is it?" Amanda answered impatiently.
"We have a problem. He's fighting the drug, the results seem to be a failure. Should I increase the dosage?"
There was silence for a few seconds before Amanda responded. "Yes, but in small increments. We don't want to cause permanent brain damage."
Roan snapped his phone shut and returned to his patient in the next room.
The knock on her apartment door surprised her. Alex blinked hard a few times and put on her game face before answering it.
"Birkhoff? What are you doing here?" She wasn't expecting to find him at her door.
He ran his hand through his hair and looked at her sideways. "Can I come in?"
Alex stepped aside and he walked by her. He swept her apartment and his eyes settled on Nathan, sitting on her couch with a drink in his hand. He knew this was the guy that Amanda was using to torture her with. He knew the drill, he'd been through it himself.
Nathan stood and towered over Birkhoff. He looked slightly perplexed, but held out his hand. "Nathan." He said with a friendly smile.
Birkhoff suddenly felt like he was back in high school, ready to become the brunt of some jock's joke. He shook his hand limply.
Alex looked unsure of herself, the last time someone from Division had shown up at her apartment, it was Michael and he painted himself as a pimp for the new world. "This is Birkhoff, he and I work together."
Nathan looked at him with amusement. "Nice to meet you."
Division's chief technology officer could only nod. After an awkward moment passed he looked at Alex. "This looks like a bad time to talk shop. I should have called." He headed for the door, but Alex stopped him.
"Don't go, it's okay. Nathan was just leaving." She gave her unofficial boyfriend an apologetic look. "Birkhoff and I have to plan a strategy for work. I'll see you later."
Nathan looked slightly offended at being dismissed, but he set his drink down on the coffee table and Alex walked him to the door.
He hovered over her. "You work with this geek?"
His attitude more than surprised her and she found herself defending him. "Yeah I do, and he's totally brilliant."
Nathan left, but not before marking her with the alpha male gesture of an unexpected and unnecessary kiss. His reward was the door being shut in his face.
She turned back to Birkhoff who stood in the middle of the room uncomfortably. "I'm sorry. He's really a nice guy, I think you may have made him a little jealous." Her eyes sparkled back at him.
Birkhoff shrugged. "You can stop right there. Amanda's got my self esteem issues wrapped up and tied with a bow. It is what it is and I doubt it's that."
She felt genuinely sorry for making him feel unwelcome. "Well, thanks for not taking him down like the guy at Gameworks."
He smirked at her. "It works better with an audience. If I'd been alone, the opportunity wouldn't have come up."
She smiled back at him, but her elevated mood dropped a few stories when she thought about Nikita. "You have some information?"
Birkhoff tucked his hands into his jeans pockets. "I do, but it's not good."
Alex knew this was one of those fights worth picking. "Okay, bring it on."
"I think this whole thing was a set up. The scientist and the codes were the cover for what's really going down. They have Michael and Nikita and Roan's been sent in with some new generation of mind altering drugs. He's trying to get Michael to kill Nikita."
"What?" Alex furrowed her brow in distress. "Can they do that?"
"If you knew Michael and Nikita like I know them, you would think that nothing could affect the chemistry between them. But Percy's fighting chemistry with chemistry. What we need is some help."
Alex looked worried. "Who can we find to help us."
Birkhoff smirked, "I know who and it's gonna be epic."
Owen looked pleased. "Your pretty good at this stuff."
Ryan looked less than pleased. "What? You mean procuring a private plane by using my CIA credentials?" He thought about the fall out from this stunt and realized, he was sealing his own fate.
"Don't look so glum, you might be rescuing the one person who can actually save our butts and make an honest woman out of the government." He looked a little unsure of what he just said. "You know what I mean."
The two men drove north of Washington, D.C. where they went to a private charter company that Ryan knew had ties to illegal drug smuggling. It didn't take much to convince the pilot that they were on the same side when it came to using his plane legally. He watched the news and knew who Fletcher was and this seemed like an interesting opportunity to make in roads with the CIA. The pilot dropped them at a private airstrip and kindly offered him a car in exchange for Ryan's assurances of future help and the pilot's assurance, of an agonizing death, if this came back to haunt him.
They drove to the nearest town, which consisted of a post office convenience store, gas station, gun shop and three taverns. Owen logged on to the computer Ryan had brought along. He opened the shell program into Division.
On the other end Birkhoff answered, he was at Alex's apartment on her computer. Call me. The chat session closed out and a moment later his phone rang. Birkhoff put it on speaker phone.
"You better not be playing me." Owen wasn't kidding and Birkhoff knew it.
"Percy and Amanda have sent Roan in to extract Michael. But here's the rub, Nikita's there and they have some scheme to have Michael kill her."
Even Owen knew that wasn't happening. "He'll never do it."
"Roan's got some kind of drug that makes mush out of reality. We need... I need to get back to Division and see what more I can dig up." Birkhoff damned himself for the slip.
Owen caught it. "We? Who is we? If you don't wanna come clean with me, just say so. I'll be happy to find you when you least expect it. By the way, I have Ryan Fletcher here running interference."
Ryan looked like someone had reached down his throat and pulled a lung out. "What are you doing? You're telling the head of Division's I.T. that I'm in on this with you?"
Owen grinned. "Relax, Birkhoff's not going to do anything. We have an agreement. Right?"
"Fletcher? You got the CIA involved in this. This is gonna seriously implode."
Alex looked startled. First Owen and now Ryan? She knew Nikita trusted Ryan, but Owen Elliot was another story.
The ex-Guardian came back on the line. "You need some help on your end, Fletcher tells me that there's a girl in Division named Alex. She's Nikita's mole. Sounds like we're going to be good buddies by the time this is all over."
Birkhoff stared at Alex in disbelief and Alex stared back in horror.