Episode 2: Merry Christmas

 

Episode 2: Merry Christmas!

Christmas is in the vigil, the waiting. (1)
(Georges Dor)

Previously on Alias:
Author’s note: I’m adding some changes compared to the Alias plot, in bold.

In the 1970s, the KGB sends Irina Derevko undercover in the United States, as Laura. She fulfills her mission – seduce and marry Jack Bristow, a CIA agent. They have a daughter, Sydney, in 1975.

Jack is in charge of developing Project Christmas, a training and conditioning program aimed at children. The idea is to identify gifted children and prepare them to work in intelligence services.

In 1981, Laura/Irina fakes her death. The CIA figures out that she was working for the Russians, and for a while, suspects Jack was working with her. But only twenty years later will he and Sydney find out that Irina is still alive.

Once she gets back to Russia, under Alexander Khasinau’s orders, Irina develops Programme Halcyon, a more extreme equivalent of Project Christmas. The children, all Westerners that will fit in more easily amongst the enemy, are kept in a secret base in Belarus, for several years of intensive training.

The Programme officially comes to an end with Gorbachev’s “new détente” and cuts on the military budget, but in fact continues, financed by private investors. The last children graduate in 2002 and become mercenaries. Clode, Sark and Doren work for Irina, who is at the time operating under the alias The Man.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Sydney Bristow grew up with an absent father who officially worked in aeronautics. Aching at his wife’s betrayal, Jack put his daughter through Project Christmas to make sure she will not be manipulated.

Unaware of all this, Sydney is recruited by SD-6, led by Arvin Sloane, who presents it as a secret division of the CIA. Seven years later, when she tells her fiancé the truth about her job, SD-6 has him killed.  That is how she finds out that SD-­­6 is not part of the CIA. Sloane is actually a member of the Alliance of Twelve, an international coalition of former spies gone rogue.

So Sydney becomes a double agent for the CIA. She finds out that it is also the road her father took many years earlier. A year and a half later, when SD-6 is destroyed, she keeps on working for the CIA.

At the time, Irina Derevko is detained by the CIA, but she eventually breaks out and it turns out that her getting caught was part of the plan all along. Shortly after, Irina betrays Sark and Clode to help Sydney catch Arvin Sloane, who abducted and is detaining Jack. Sark makes a run for it, but Clode is captured by the CIA. She quickly gives away Sloane’s location.

Sydney’s best friend, Will Tippin, who has always had a crush on her, used to be a journalist. When Danny is killed and the police is clueless, Will decides to investigate. It makes him dangerous for SD-6 and useful for Khasinau, who has him abducted and tortured by Sark and Clode in order to know what he found out. Sydney and Jack rescue him, but he has to compromise his credibility as a journalist so that the SD-6 stops seeing him as a threat.

Sloane, working with Derevko, has Sydney’s roommate, Francie Calfo, replaced by a perfect double created through Project Helix: Allison Doren. She becomes romantically involved with Will, now a CIA analyst. When there begins to be suspicions, Allison frames Will as the double, but Sydney proves his innocence.

When Will figures out that Fran/Allison is the double, she stabs him and leaves him for dead. But he had left a message on Sydney’s cell. Allison understands that she knows. They fight, Sydney shoots Allison dead, then passes out.

Sydney’s house burns down and a charred body is found with her DNA. Yet Jack doesn’t buy into his daughter’s death, and he keeps on looking for her. Will has gotten over his wounds and is working as a CIA analyst again.

Sloane has been granted a pardon in exchange for information and is at the head of a philanthropist organization for hunger relief and medical research.

Elisha Clode is detained in the CIA building basement.


Previously on Halcyon (from October to December 2003)

Marshall finds out through the Stuttgart DNA database that Jack and Irina had a second daughter: Elisha Clode. Irina was pregnant when she faked her death. Jack doesn’t want anyone else to know.

Elisha figures it out when Jack asks unusual questions. They both agree that it doesn’t change anything.

Yet Jack talks Kendall into sending her on the field, in order to look for Sydney.

We find out a few things about Elisha’s past: she grew up in an Irish orphanage until she turned eight, and then Irina came for her and placed her into Programme Halcyon. She doesn’t exactly remember it fondly.

Meanwhile, Irina gets in touch with Sark and asks him to get Clode out: according to her, the prisoner should be going out on a mission soon, and the only thing to do is wait. But for some reason, she insists that under no circumstances Sark should tell Clode who hired him to help her.

Kendall agrees on using Clode, but warns Jack: “If you lose another one, Devlin will bury you.”

 * Opening Credits *

December 4, 2003. Underground level of confinement.

         Jack wondered once again why he had tried so hard to convince Kendall. And once again he came to the conclusion that he had no other option. Clode was one of the best, and she was not personally involved – even though Syd was her sister – which gave her quite an edge compared to agents Vaughn, Weiss or Dixon.

No matter what reservations agent Bristow still had about Clode, questions about her skills were in no way a part of them. If she had decided that finding Sydney was in her interest, Jack had no doubt she would be extremely effective. She would simply need to be properly motivated.

“What do you want?” Jack had asked.

“I want my life back.”

“Something we can actually give you,” he sighed.

The young woman’s literal interpretations had a way of annoying him.

She stayed still for a moment, staring at a point on the wall behind him, before answering:

“You know I don’t care who I work for. And in the end, just between the two of us, I don’t really care how much I’m paid. I’m not in this for money or politics. I’m doing this because it’s the only thing I know how to do, the only thing I’m really good at. And because I like it, in a way. Just let me do it. Let me work for you, and I’ll do whatever you want.

Jack observed her through the glass, listening to her blend of truths and lies and trying to pick them apart.

“We’ve already offered you the same deal as we did Derevko – your life for your cooperation.”

“That’s not what I’m suggesting.”

He almost laughed when he understood what the young woman was asking for.

“The CIA is not as… flexible, as SD-6 was when they hired Sark. We don’t make it a habit to recruit the enemy as field agents. Not without some kind of leverage. You double-crossed every associate you’ve ever had. We have absolutely no guarantee that you wouldn’t do exactly the same as soon as you get a chance, and every reason believe you would.”

“You could trust me.”

Jack laughed again. Clode allowed herself a jaded smile.

“No,” he replied shaking his head. “You know we really couldn’t. We don’t have any way of ensuring your loyalty once you get out of these walls. And I’m afraid your word is somewhat not enough.”

The agent sighed and asked a more appropriate question.

“What do you need?”

“What can I get?” she answered, with a slight ironic smile, and then she shrugged philosophically and sighed when she saw that Jack wasn’t playing along. “I’ve had no contact with the outside world for over eight months. I need information. And you should also give me something I could sell – unless you want me to find it by myself?”

Seeing that Jack didn’t blink an eye, she said with a spark of laughter in her eyes:

“Fine, I’ll use my own ways. But I’ll still need to check my pieces of intelligence are still up to date.”

December 5, 2003. CIA office.

         That’s why they ended up in front of a computer, in the upper levels of the building. A small army was lined up around them. Clode was typing on the keyboard without taking notice of them; Marshall was looking over her shoulder, his expression switching between interest and fear, respect and horror, while he was trying to check that Clode kept well within the restrictions set on the device. Jack was standing behind Clode’s other shoulder, following her progress.

Personally, he thought Kendall’s insistence on having a whole contingent of armed guards watching Clode was a tiny bit over-the-top. Rather than intimidating the prisoner, as the director no doubt was trying to, this display of strength must seem pretty laughable to her.

         Elisha had the hardest time refraining from smiling. The situation was downright ludicrous. Ten armed men for little old her, admittedly she was pretty good, but still, she didn’t have a death wish. She wasn’t about to try to run off from the center of a CIA building where half the personnel carried a weapon, when she couldn’t even touch a paper clip without all hell breaking loose – she’d have to ask Jack how someone could possibly escape from a high security CIA facility with a paper clip!

But in the end, it was playing to her advantage. They were so sure she was no threat just because they could control her physically, whereas the only thing they should have been paying attention to was the computer. Granted, Marshall was there – the only one who might have been able to hinder her undertakings, but if she went about it the right way, she’d be able to fool him too.

She had requested to use a computer pretexting she needed to check her intel, so she only had access to a limited number of files. But the device also had Internet access, in order for the information to be updated in real time. The only thing she had to do, then, was leaving fragments of code in these files, so that someone who’d know what to look for, and who’d have the means of accessing them, could put them together and read the whole message.

She didn’t know for sure whether someone would be willing to help her. She was hoping it would be in someone’s interest somehow. Maybe Julian – who knows…?

Paris, December 2003. In a hotel.

         Sark was typing on his laptop. His utterly focused look turned into a smile. Elisha really was the best – well, except for him. She had managed to leave a coded message for him. Irina was right: she had found a way to access a computer, which was step one. The second was convincing the CIA to send her on a mission.

He put the pieces of the message back together from the scattered files. Once decoded, it read:

Hi, whoever is reading this, I wouldn’t say no to a bit of help getting out of here. The food sucks and the cell is cold. Hoping to be sent on a mission to Bombay pretty soon. Be ready.

No question, Clode hadn’t changed one bit. Upon reflection, Sark was pretty glad Derevko wanted her out, even though her reasons remained pretty obscure to him.

Back to Los Angeles, in the CIA’s building.

         Will was walking toward a briefing room, when he saw her. Elisha Clode. Sitting at a computer, surrounded by a dozen guards. A lot of people were staring from their cubicles. They all knew who she was. “What is she doing here?” he wondered, like they all did. Except, not a single one of them was as affected as he was – not a single one of them had been abducted and tortured on that girl’s orders.

He could not help being curious, so he walked toward Jack, who was standing behind her and watching her every move.

“Jack – can you tell me what’s going on?”

The agent turned around, and Clode’s eyes moved away from the screen. He met her gaze, then she looked down and went back to her work. Jack took him aside.

“She’s looking up some information.”

“What for?”

Bristow lingered for a second before answering:

“In order to go back on the field. We’re using her to look for Sydney.”

“You’re doing what?”

“Will, I –”

“Never mind, it’s your problem. I just thought you wouldn’t make the same mistake as you did with Derevko.”

Will walked away quickly, trying not to show that he cared more than he would have liked. Clode was a killer. And if anyone asked him, they were pretty much letting her walk away. Sydney’s mother had set a good example of how it could turn out…

Mumbai, India. December 21st, 2003.

         Jack and Elisha were walking toward a bank, where the mercenary had left the schematics of a weapon prototype she had stolen before she was arrested. Selling that prototype would make a perfect comeback to the field. But she was the only one who could open the safe – no high-tech security system there, just a contract that specified the only person who could access it was the account holder.

“I just wanted to say I think it’s a terrible idea.”

“I’ll add your name to the list, agent Weiss,” Kendall replied.

Both their voices were crackling in Bristow and Clode’s earplugs. Jack could hear how displeased the men were at the whole thing, despite the thousands of miles between them and Los Angeles.

“I think they don’t like me very much,” Clode ironized.

“Your fan base seems to be pretty weak among CIA operatives, for some reason,” Jack said with his usual cold, professional tone, knowing that their words were being relayed to the CIA building.

The young woman was very much enjoying her first time out of confinement in over six months; Bristow wasn’t quite sure whether that should worry him. Was she just happy to be back in the fight, or optimistic about her first opportunity for escape since she was captured?

Los Angeles, a week before. CIA office.

Kendall and Jack had agreed on how much of a waste of taxpayers’ money it would have been to use traditional methods in order to track Clode. One needed only to remember how these had failed to keep Sark in line for SD-6, or Derevko for the CIA. Even passive tracking devices were no use. After much thinking, though, Marshall had thought up a plan that had reasonable chances to work.

“Entirely organic,” he had explained. “Virtually undetectable. But, uh... could you maybe not tell her I had something to do with it?”

It was a simple biodegradable capsule, designed to dissolve in thirty-six hours. Unless it was extracted by that deadline, a lethal dose of poison would be released as the capsule broke. Clode had been sedated for the injection, so that she couldn’t know where they put it. So even if she escaped Jack’s vigilance, she was not very likely to locate the capsule before the poison killed her – since it contained no metal, no radioactivity, or anything that could be detected through any kind of analysis.

“Please just don’t forget where you put it,” the young woman said before they anesthetized her. “Lethal injection is not really my thing, the electric chair seems so much more fun!”

Clode and Jack walked into the bank. A man was expecting them, he took them to the safe deposit room and left them alone there. Clode typed her code in, and the safe opened. She jerked away from it.

“Wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea,” she explained.

And indeed, the safe contained, not only the schematics locked in a box, a dozen passports and IDs bearing different names, a set of clothes, and a wig, but also and more importantly, two revolvers and a P-90.

“How many stashes like that do you have?” Bristow asked.

“As many as there are cities in which I might need them,” she answered, grabbing the schematics box. “A lot. But don’t expect me to point them out to you, I might need them if I ever get out – ah, note to self. Mumbai safe compromised, find another.”

“Don’t go and make long-term plans,” Kendall intervened in her earplug, “especially not assuming that you’ll get out.”

“And what kind of plans would you have me make? Decorating my cell? It’s depressing. You didn’t even give me posters, probably out of fear that I might commit suicide with the pushpins… Gotta dream about something…”

Beyond the cheerful tone, Jack thought he heard that same sadness as that time in her cell. But he didn’t get to ponder it for long, because gun shots broke out in the hallway. 

         Jack took out his weapon and didn’t bother to react when Elisha grabbed one of the revolvers from the safe. He opened the door; a commando group had just shot two security guys at the end of the hallway. They proceeded to open fire on agent Bristow, who took refuge behind the door, then fired back.

“Who are these guys?” he shouted to Elisha, trying to be heard over the deflagrations.

“No clue,” she replied. “Take your pick, lots of people have a beef against me and/or are interested by these schematics! We can get out through the back door there, at the other end of the hallway. Take the schematics, I’ll cover for you!”

He obeyed and ran away from the gunfire. She stuck her head through the door and shot on their assailants so that he had enough time to reach the emergency exit.

And only then did she sense someone approaching behind her. Too late – she felt a hand pressed against her mouth before she could even move.

“Keep on shooting to fool them,” the intruder whispered to her.

She turned around when he let her go, noticed the ventilation shaft door was open – that’s where he had come from – and she recognized him.

         Sark saw surprise on her face. She held back a shout, and turned around to shoot a couple times before getting back to him.

“Audio?” he asked without a sound, only mouthing the words.

He read the answer on Elisha’s lips, who was showing her earplug.

“Yes. Can’t shut down the communication without them suspecting something.”

She shot once more through the door.

“Good to see you. That was quick, I’ve only been locked up for eight months!”

Even though she was only articulating the words, he could almost hear her tone of voice, exasperated, incensed, resentful. An impression that was confirmed by the stubborn pout on Elisha’s face.

“We had no way to contact you as long as you were in solitary confinement.”

“We? I should have known… Someone paid you to help me, haven’t they?”

He knew it was no use trying to deny it.

“But I was glad to accept the job.”

She rolled her eyes, not too convinced, and shot once again.

“And who is my benefactor?”

“Can’t say for now. Except for the audio, I’m guessing they have other measures to keep you on a leash?”

“Poison capsule that degrades itself in thirty-six hours. Don’t know where they injected it.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m coming,” she said loudly, answering to Bristow on her comm. “I gotta go,” she mouthed. “I’ll keep you informed of how things turn out if I gain access to a computer again.”

As she was about to go, he grabbed her arm and gave her a flash drive.

“Put it with the schematics and tell them it’s a 3D model of the prototype.”

She had no time to ask questions, so she just hid it in her hair, stuck to her rubber band.

         “Are you alright?” Jack worried.

“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m coming,” she replied just before a shot was fired.

“What the hell are you doing, Clode?” Kendall asked from LA.

“Can’t you hear? I’m picking flowers to make a bouquet, since we were talking about decorating my cell earlier. Jack, could you give me cover? Right… now.”

And that’s what he did: he opened the service door and opened fire on the commando group. Only three men were still standing, the rest of them were lying on the ground. Elisha came out of a different room than the safe deposit room, where she must have taken refuge. She ran to him.

A cargo plane somewhere on top of the Pacific Ocean, 3 hours later.

         Julian was making it all sound easy, but Elisha was the one who’d have to place the flash drive in the box and get everyone to believe it had been in there the whole time. Jack was sitting in front of her, reading a file.

“Could you hand me the box?” she uttered, once she had placed the flash drive from her hair in her left sleeve.

“Why?”

“Because this is the only key,” she answered, showing the tip of her right index finger. “And I’d really rather go straight to the O.R. once we get to the CIA, considering I’ve got a nice little capsule running loose inside my body!”

He gazed at her for a little while, then he handed her the box. Elisha, feeling his eyes on her, put her finger on the screen. It displayed ‘Print Match’ in green letters as the mechanism unlocked. Slightly tilting her left arm, she got the flash drive to slide into the box. Jack hadn’t seen a thing. She gave the box back to him.

“What’s on the flash drive?” he asked.

“A 3D prototype. I downloaded it from the lab’s computer when I stole the schematics.”

“Is it worth a lot?”

She puckered her lips up. “A little bit. It’ll spare the buyer from interpreting the schematics and choosing materials. It adds something like fifty thousand dollars to the price.”

After a short silence, she changed the subject. “Have you never thought that Sydney might have disappeared willingly? She hated the job,” she added when he didn’t react. “It took so much from her, and gave her back so little. Don’t you think maybe losing Tippin and Calfo could have driven her to disappear? Maybe she wanted to get away from all of this, from all of you?”

Jack didn’t say a thing, and the look in his eyes was an obvious indication that Clode should have held her peace. But after a while, she just couldn’t help it.

“I’m sorry. I’m not saying this to… Believe me, I’m not trying to make things any harder than they already are. It’s just… You’ve got to accept the possibility that she might have left on her own free will. You need to be just as ready to see her not want to come back once I find her, as you are to find out that she’s being held captive or…”

         “I know what I need,” Jack replied. “I need to know what’s happened to my daughter. Don’t you think I’ve considered the possibility that she chose to leave this life behind? Don’t you think I’ve seen what this job did to her? I’m ready to accept that she might not want to come back. I could even understand it,” he whispered. “I just need to know she’s alright. I just want to know what happened.”

Elisha slowly nodded her head, pensive.

“And what will you do next? If we find her and she doesn’t want to come back?”

“I’d let her go.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

That would be the least I could do, he thought to himself. After all he had already done…

“But that does not mean it’s my main theory,” Jack added. “I still think it was not her choice. We’ll assume she was abducted until we get solid evidence indicating the contrary.”

“Of course.”

None of them said it out loud – that evidence of anything at all, even thin, would be more than what they had at the moment.

          Clode’s good mood seemed to have vanished into thin air. She was now deep in a sour silence that Jack could not entirely explain by the prospect of going back into her cell. Replaying in his mind their conversation, the CIA agent finally understood. She had not liked his answer. She had not liked the possibility for Sydney to get a choice she didn’t have, a choice she would never have. Clode didn’t see that much of a difference between Sydney and herself. When he looked at the situation from her point of view, Jack could almost understand how unfair the young woman must find it all.

He jerked out of his thoughts when one of the guards stood up. Seeing him walking towards Clode with handcuffs, Jack realized they were about to land.

“This is really not necessary,” Elisha grumbled. “I haven’t tried to escape back in India, so why the hell would I want to in the middle of a CIA base?”

“It’s protocol,” the man said. “Don’t make me restrain you.”

Agent Bristow noticed the provoking smile on the young woman’s face, and the stubborn spark in her eyes.

“Elisha!” he sighed in exasperation.

He couldn’t have told which one of them was more taken aback. It had come out just like that, he didn’t know why. Clode seemed just as stunned as he was, perhaps because he’d used her first name, or by his tone of voice, Jack wasn’t quite sure.

Impervious to what had just come to pass, the guard simply cuffed the prisoner, who didn’t resist. Jack noticed that her sour face had disappeared and left in her gaze something like confusion. He wondered for a second what his own expression was like.

After a moment of intense eye contact, Clode turned around abruptly. She carefully avoided his gaze till the landing, and even afterwards, when she was taken to the O.R. Jack would have given lots of money to know what was going on behind the gold of those eyes…

         Elisha didn’t quite know herself. So Bristow had called her by her first name, in that tone, fine. But what was upsetting her, worrying her, was her own reaction. She had complied. She had given in. Why?

There was no reason for her to do so. She was not afraid of Jack Bristow. Well, at least as long as he wasn’t pointing a gun at her – or as she hadn’t done anything to his daughter… well, to his other daughter. Her sister. Whatever, she’d never get used to this.

Deep down, she knew what had happened all too well. And that was freaking her out. He had given her an order. Not the superior-subordinate kind. An order from father to daughter. And she had obeyed it.

Los Angeles. December 23, 2003. CIA office.

         Two days later, Jack was still unable to describe what had happened in that plane that night. First of all, Clode’s behavior was off. She was pragmatic, efficient. Resisting the guard for something as insignificant as cuffs was futile and sterile. It wasn’t like her…

He would normally have expected a resigned sigh as she complied, maybe an amused smile at seeing how terrified of her they were. She had to be truly upset.

And that led Jack to accept what he had tried not to see. Even though he had intellectually acknowledged that Marshall’s deductions were undeniable, he had not realized how his perception of the situation had changed.  

Regardless of their kinship, the young woman simply was the most precious agent at his disposal to help finding Sydney. She was unemotional, merciless, purposeful, and detached. She was Clode.

Only he called her Elisha.

He had uttered her first name in a tone, in a way that required to be obeyed. He knew it was no commanding officer’s order to a subordinate, no guard’s command to his prisoner. It was a father's command to his child, and even though she had never heard one before, Clode had quite obviously understood it exactly like that.

With that name, and that tone, Jack had acknowledged their relationship in a way. From the very beginning, they had agreed that knowing about their connection didn't change a thing. But either way, in some way, somehow, something had changed.

Los Angeles.December 24, 2003.Underground level of confinement.

         It had to be close to midnight. And Elisha couldn’t sleep. She was trying to convince herself it had nothing to do with the fact that it was Christmas Eve. Not very successfully.

What did it matter what day it was? It was December 24, so what? Just a day like any other, it could just easily have been December 23 or 27. That’s what she'd been telling herself every year for years.

She had never had a real Christmas. At least not like most people meant it.

December 24, 1988 – Saint Thomas orphanage, Cleggan, Galway County, Ireland.

Elisha was six. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, in the room she shared with four other girls. Everyone was downstairs decorating the Christmas tree; but she was not moving.

Dinner would be a bit more refined than usual tonight. And tomorrow morning, they'd open the presents – no surprise, one orange per child and a book for the most studious ones. Everyone would act happy to keep the pretense up for the smallest kids.  Some would even pretty much settle for it. Not Elisha.

She didn’t really know what she wanted it to be like. She'd never had a family, so she had nothing to look back to, unlike many others. Maybe she just wished they’d stop celebrating Christmas, since it made her so unhappy.  Because it was the day she felt, more strongly than ever, that she had no family. That she never would. That she was alone.

December 24, 1993 – Programme Halcyon, near Minsk, Belarus.

Elisha stepped into her room. She’d just finished hand-to-hand combat training. No Christmas celebrations at Halcyon. Didn’t make her any less sad. Didn’t keep her from knowing what day it was.

Any other day in the calendar, she was able to convince herself she had found the family she'd been looking for. Irina, the other instructors, the children. But on Christmas Eve, all the silliness of that notion became clear.  A family? What kind of family trains its children to become spies? To fight, to lie, to kill?

No. And family is supposed to love each other.  There was none of that in the Programme. Elisha appreciated some of the instructors, she liked some of her fellow trainees. But between them, there was always competition.  She had to be better than them, she had to be the best if she wanted to survive longer.

It was Christmas, and she was still alone.

December 24, 2002 – A hotel room in Paris.

Elisha was back from a mission. Killing a Chinese diplomat, getting his briefcase. She didn’t even know what was inside, she was not going to open it. She didn’t even know why he had to die, she was not going to ask. What did it matter?

Elisha had quickly climbed the ladder in Irina’s organization. She was good at what she did. Pretending she was someone else, lying, torturing, stealing, killing.

It had been a long time since she'd last thought about the family she'd never known. One year, actually. She knew it served no purpose torturing herself, imagining the life she would have had, what her parents would have been like, whether she would have had siblings... She just couldn't help herself. She couldn’t refrain from thinking about it, for a couple of hours, on the night between the 24th and the 25th of December. And on the next day, life went on and she stopped thinking about it.

Now Elisha knew. Her father was a CIA agent and her mother, a Russian spy who had been on a mission to seduce him. Her mother had been right there, so close, for almost fifteen years, and she had never said a word about it. She had let her become a killer, no, she had trained her to become a killer. Had she even felt anything for her, just once in twenty years? Had she loved her at all?

She also had a sister. Who just happened to have been her worst enemy for the last two years, well, before she “died” that is.

Yup, she knew. And now she had to persuade her father that she could help him find that sister so that he let her out of her cell, so that she might succeed to escape.

Merry Christmas, my beloved family!

December 30, 2003. CIA offices.

         Marshall was studying the schematics Jack and Clode had brought back, and the 3D model of the prototype, when an alarm started blinking on his screen.

In a panic, he ran to Director Kendall's office, double back when he saw it was empty, and eventually found him in Jack’s office.

“Sir,” he cut them off. “We need to…”

“What is it, Marshall?" Kendall sighed.

“A virus is penetrating our system.”

“What?”

“A… a virus, sir. Or perhaps a worm.  We need to get everyone off the network and to turn off all the computers, and cross our fingers it won’t do too much harm.”

Kendall promptly walked out of the office and shouted for everyone to hear:

“Listen up! Everyone log off the network and turn off your computers. And I mean now!”

Then he turned around to face Marshall: “Where could it have come from?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense, every disk and diskette, every flash drive, everything that comes from outside the building is checked. No way the virus came from there. So either someone found a way to access the system through our Internet connection, which is pretty unlikely considering the firewalls we have in place, it’s the CIA for crying out loud, and I have to admit that I added a couple modifications...  Anyway. The second – uh – alternative is not, not going to sit well with you. It is… possible, well, conceivable – no, likely, that it came from the inside.”

Underground corridors of the CIA offices, 10 minutes later.

         “Are you quite sure it’s the only way, Marshall?” Kendall asked for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, sir,” he sighed. “She’s proficient with those systems.”

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Jack replied. “It reminds me too much of the scenario Derevko used to get to a computer for me to feel comfortable about this.”

“I know what you mean, it does feel like déjà-vu,” Kendall added.

“I appreciate that, but this worm will stick around in our systems if she doesn't come in,” Marshall insisted.  “We might be able to get rid of it for a while, at best. “But it'd come back as soon as someone logged onto the Internet, or when whoever brought it starts it on again. It would do a lot of damage. And I can hardly imagine us forbidding Internet connections and the use of flash drives, CD-ROMs and all kinds of memory cards… It would not be – uh, very... convenient.

They got to Clode’s cell.

         “Oh, visitors!” she exclaimed, walking to the glass. “To what do I owe this great pleasure?”

“A worm has penetrated our IT system,” Kendall explained.

“Well actually, we don’t know if it’s a worm or a virus,” Marshall added.

“Uh, what’s the difference?” Weiss asked, joining the group.

“A worm reproduces itself through an IT network such as the Internet or our in-house network,” Marshall answered.  “A virus spreads through the sharing of data, like on the Internet or with diskettes, disks and flash drives.”

“And you want my help?” Elisha asked, smiling half in disbelief, half in jest.

Can you help?” Kendall enquired.

“Obviously,” she assured. “Do you have any idea how it got to your network?" she asked Marshall.

“We’re not quite sure. “We – uh,” he hesitated, turning to Kendall, who nodded resignedly. “We’re considering it might come from the inside.”

Elisha struggled to hold back a wide smile. “A mole?”

“We’re considering every possibility,” Jack replied.

“Fine, I’ll take care of it whenever you like. You never know, I might even find the source of the problem.”

Elisha was overjoyed. She’d been suspecting something of the kind, and had understood as soon as they came in. There was a virus on Julian’s drive. Impossible to detect, from the looks of it – the CIA probably checked that kind of stuff before they plugged in a flash drive provided by a terrorist.

They didn’t suspect a thing. They didn’t imagine for a second that the virus could have come from there. They were even considering a mole might have introduced it in the system.

Everything was going according to plan. She would be sent on another mission, she would be able to give Julian a heads-up, and they’d find a way to disable the poison capsule. And the best part was that Elisha didn’t have a thing to do. Just wait and see.

Los Angeles. January 2, 2004. CIA offices.

         The phone rang in Director Kendall’s office. He answered.

“Kendall.”

“It’s me,” Sydney Bristow’s voice replied.

The next day, in a CIA safe house in Tuscany.

         Kendall came in, and Sydney started bombarding him with questions.

“Does my father know I’m alive? Does Vaughn?”

“They’ll be informed as soon as possible.”

She was walking back and forth in the room while her boss was standing in front of her. “So they don’t know. What about Will? Did he make it?”

“What you’ve been through could affect national security.”

Sydney stopped walking and stared at him like he was speaking Chinese.

“I gotta talk to them. I want you to call them!”

She got closer to him and they started raising their voices.

“You’ll get answers to all your questions…”

“Right now!”

“… in good time, but first, we need to know what happened to you!”

She turned her gaze, sat, and started to talk.

“I shot her…” she whispered, reliving the scene.

Sydney shoots Allison, then collapses against the wall.

“Three times. Then I passed out. When I regained consciousness, several days later, I was in the back of a truck, my hands and feet were tied.”

Her eyes closed, her mouth covered with duct tape, the spy comes to, wheezes, and starts writhing.  There’s a doctor. She looks at him, in a shock, confused.

“You and I are going to work together. We will spend a lot of time together. And we will achieve the results my employers asked for. I always succeed.”

He sinks a syringe into her arm.

“He gave me a shot of a neurotoxin.  Temporary paralysis. I couldn’t move or speak. I could only watch.”

The doctor placed her so that she could see through the back window.

“It was simple enough for your flatmate. We dug her up. And we left her in your apartment before we set in on fire."

Sydney could see a beach, the weather was overcast and she felt cold. Black-clad figures were gathered by the water.

“But for you, now that was more difficult. When a body is burned to ashes, the DNA they use for testing is the one in our teeth. So we took the pulp from your teeth.”

On the beach, there were Jack, Dixon, Kendall, Marshall, Weiss and Vaughn, facing a minister. Marshall was crying, Vaughn was carrying an urn.

“And we injected it into the teeth of the corpse we put in your place.

Vaughn was standing by the waterside, dispersing the ashes in the sea. Then Sydney saw Jack, whose pain showed for the first time.

“Of course, they ran tests on the body. To them, it was you.”

Weiss and Vaughn headed off the beach, and the others followed. Sydney couldn't take her eyes off of them. Michael was about to open his car’s door, but he stops for a moment and turns around to hug his friend, eyes closed, devastated.

“He’ll cry, and then he’ll move on. Maybe move on to someone else.”

The doctor put his hand on Sydney’s chin and turned her away from the two agents until she was looking straight at him.

“The sooner you accept that you are not the woman you were, the easier it'll be. Sydney Bristow… is no more.

* Ending credits *

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