Episode 4: Here We Meet Again

Here's the 4th episode! I'm working on translating the 5th, but I'm also writing the 6th of the second season in French, so not sure when I'll put it online just yet.


Episode 4: Here We Meet Again

Whoever messes up goodbyes can’t expect much from reunions (1).
(Milan Kundera)

Previously on Alias and Halcyon:

Programme Halcyon was a conditioning program that was started by the Russian government but then funded by private investors. The children, all Westerners so that they would fit in more easily amongst the enemy, are kept in a secret base in Belarus, for several years of intensive training. Among these children, Julian Sark, Allison Doren, and Elisha Clode – Jack Bristow and Irina Derevko’s youngest daughter that she had after she faked her death.

In December 2003, Jack and Elisha, who has been detained by the CIA for several months after Irina gave her up, both find out the truth. They both agree that it doesn’t change anything, yet they are both affected by this revelation.

Sydney is presumed dead after her house burned down and a charred body was found with her DNA. Yet Jack doesn’t buy into his daughter’s death, and he keeps on looking for her.

The Covenant actually had her the whole time and they now think they’ve successfully brainwashed her into thinking she’s Julia Thorne. She got in touch with Kendall, who has kept it from Jack.

Irina has gotten in touch with Sark and asks him to get Clode out, but for some reason, she insists that under no circumstances Sark should tell Clode who hired him.

Marshall has invented a biodegradable poison capsule which dissolves itself in thirty six hours, in order to control Elisha. She is sedated for the injection, so that she doesn’t know where it is located. If it is not extracted in thirty six hours, a lethal dose of poison is released.

Elisha meets with Sark on a mission in India and they find a way to keep in touch until they can figure out how to disable the capsule.

Sark sets a date for her escape: she has to be in Moscow two months later.

Clode finds a video of Sydney killing Andrean Lazarey and shows it to Jack. What they don’t know is she faked his death to save him from the Covenant.

* Opening Credits *

February 16, 2004. In a plane above the Pacific.

     “Do you know how to get in touch with your mother?” he’d asked point blank.

The word itself had taken her by surprise, but any other name would have probably seemed hypocritical. It took a conscious effort for Elisha to remember what the question was. She could have thought that was Jack’s purpose – disorienting her – hadn’t she felt the urgency in his voice.

“I’ve always refused to say anything about her, I’m hardly gonna start now.”

“I’m not asking you to betray her. Just for a way to communicate with her. It doesn’t matter how, classified ads, Internet, whatever you prefer.”

Elisha gauged him for a moment, and decided to trust him.

* * * *

February 18, 2004.Los Angeles, in an empty street.

“There’s a forum. AudioByts.”

Jack, sitting in his car with his computer on his lap, logged into AudioByts.

“In order to set a date, first you’ll need to put out an ad in the London Globe. Then on the day of the appointment, post a message on the forum – and wait for her to start a private discussion. If she feels like it.”

He clicked on “New thread” and started typing a post.

“How will she know I’m me? And me, that it’s her?”

“She switches screen names all the time, so just use your imagination. If you want her to know I talked about it freely, you can use ‘182’ in your nick.”

Jack had picked “Mozart_182” as a nickname. He looked back on his classified ad in the London Globe: “Milo would like to get in touch with Laura on the forum. Important news about S.”

Why complicate things when they are so simple? Irina would understand, that he knew for sure; but anyone who didn’t know where to look wouldn’t understand a thing. And if anyone else than Irina found the message, they wouldn’t know which forum it was about anyway.

“The code is simple enough: an operation is a sonata. The target is a piece. The client is the conductor. And a false note… well, that’s obvious enough.”

Jack read his message one last time and posted it.

“Found a video about the piece we discussed in London.”

Now he could only cross his fingers Irina felt like responding.

“I assume you’re not planning on telling me why?” Ely had asked, lowering her voice as Dixon was walking back to his seat.

“Not for now,” Jack had replied.

He didn’t have to wait long: a few seconds later, a window popped up. “Choopin2 requests a private discussion with you. Would you like to accept?” Jack clicked “Yes,” hardly able to wait for the second it took before the window loaded.

CHOOPIN2: Sydney?

MOZART_182: Alive. I have an authenticated video of her.

CHOOPIN2: Where?

MOZART_182: Moscow. Killing a diplomat, Lazarey.

CHOOPIN2: But you haven’t been in touch with her.

MOZART_182: No. You?

CHOOPIN2: No. Thanks for telling me.

MOZART_182: Truth be told, I need your help.

Irina didn’t respond, waiting for him to explain his request.

MOZART_182: Could you find intel about Lazarey?

CHOOPIN2: Why me?

MOZART_182: His official file is useless, I need a more thorough investigation. But Kendall won’t let me use CIA resources to keep on looking for Sydney.

CHOOPIN2: Alright. I’ll look into it.

Irina remained “silent” for a few seconds, and Jack was about to log out when she sent another message.

CHOOPIN2: Elisha told you about this forum.

Before he had time to even consider answering, a third message appeared.

CHOOPIN2: She knows.

MOZART_182: She knows what?

CHOOPIN2: Don’t play with me. How long have you known?

MOZART_182: Couple months. Stuttgart database.

CHOOPIN2: I guess it had to happen.

MOZART_182: I hope it doesn’t mess with your plans too badly.

Jack logged out in a fit of anger.

He hadn’t thought about the consequences, hadn’t wondered if Irina would still be willing to give him information. The only thing on his mind had been the anger growing inside of him ever since he found out the truth.

He took a deep breath, slapped the laptop shut, and started the car – his plane to Tangier, where Choi Suk had been pinpointed, was leaving in an hour.

CIA offices.

     Jack came by his office to pick up files. He found Elisha sitting in his armchair, her feet on the desk.

“How did it go?” she simply asked.

“Do the guards even bother locking your cell these days?”

“They’ve just implanted the capsule. I woke up alone in Marshall’s improvised O.R. I guess everyone just went for lunch and forgot I was even there. Told you I scare them less every day…” she said with a sorry pout. “So how did it go?” she tried once more.

“How did what go?”

“The forum, Irina,” she shrugged with a look in her eyes that said she would have none of it.

“I asked her to look into Lazarey.”

“Am I gonna have to squeeze all the answers out of you? She knows.”

It was less of a question than an observation. Funny how she chose the exact two words Irina had used.

“That you know? Yeah.”

“So?”

“What do you want me to say? I can’t tell you what her reaction was; we were on an Internet forum.”

“But she knows,” Elisha repeated, pensive and seeming suddenly unaware of his presence.

And then Kendall stuck his head in the door and, upon seeing his prisoner, came into the office.

“Clode! What the hell are you doing here, we’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

“And yet I can’t hear any sirens... Less and less scared,” she added in an undertone, understood only by Jack, who wondered if that was a regret or a warning.

A few hours later. Tangier, Morocco.

     Elisha had easily located Choi Suk when she’d come back from Sri Lanka – once her biodegradable poison capsule was extracted. Then Marshall had only had to commandeer a satellite to track him. Well, actually he’d had to commandeer three of them, because Choi was on the move: from India, he had landed in Lithuania, where he had spent a few hours and then he’d left for Tangier. So the plane that transported Elisha, Dixon and Jack was prepared to change its route at any time if the need arose.

At first, they’d thought that Choi was on the lam. He could have learned somehow that he’d been made, and hit the trail. But he wasn’t acting one bit like a fugitive, and was taking very few precautions to hide where he was going. Elisha had deduced that he was on a mission for NEEL, probably inspecting operating bases – or their leaders – since Bangalore, Riga and Tangier had that in common: unknowingly harboring a NEEL cell.

After the landing, the agents had rented a car – a grey Golf, which seemed to be them making an effort. Then they had followed Marshall’s directions, which had led them to a building in the new town. It was a modern-looking office building, the kind you could have found in any big city – far from Tangier’s traditional neighborhoods and their white, flat-roofed buildings. Elisha was enjoying the mild temperature, though it was far from scorching in February – sixty degrees (2) tops, but sunny.

Officially, the building was the headquarters of Hafa, a local business. Ten floors of offices. But according to Elisha’s intel and the CIA’s, it was actually a cover, like those the Alliance had used, Credit Dauphine and Jennings Aerospace. Except here, NEEL didn’t bother putting up a government front with their employees, most of which were in truth working for Hafa. Only thirtyish people there knew about NEEL. All of them were trained terrorists, and all of them were on the tenth floor. And Choi Suk was right in the middle.

Of course, waiting for him to come out could have seemed more reasonable. But the thing was, Marshall had noticed on satellite images that Choi Suk was always accompanied by two muscle men in suits, plus another one who drove him around. Elisha was supposed to act alone – well, at least that’s what NEEL and any non-CIA observers had to believe – and incapacitating them then taking Choi alive was virtually impossible. Shooting his brains out sniper-style would have definitely been much less of a headache, but for some reason Dixon was dead set against it.

However, Marshall had also observed what Jack and Elisha could now see with their own eyes, from their parking spot across the street: the three aforementioned bodybuilders never came in with Choi. The driver stayed in the car in front of the entrance, and the other two were standing on either side of the door. The point was that Elisha would have to act inside, which downright elated her.

Luckily enough, before she was captured, she had taken the time of studying the floor plan, just like she had for every NEEL base in the world – among other organizations. And she had a photographic memory, of course. It was a small cell, so she could only hope that they hadn’t remodeled their premises in the last ten months.

“What kind of security do they have?” Jack asked.

“Mostly motion sensors connected to an alarm,” she replied. “Couple cameras. They mostly rely on their guards. There’s one at the elevator, along with motion sensors. If I neutralize the first and get through the second, I should be able to access the electrical panel. At that point, I’m sure Marshall can improvise some magic trick to get me through their motion sensor corridor.”

“A whole corridor?”

“Yup. About a hundred feet (3) of sensors placed at various heights on the walls. We’ll have to disconnect them, but then it’ll be a piece of cake. Just a few cameras in the corridors, and guards of course, where would be the fun without them?”

“Where will Choi Suk be?”

“Probably with Khayat, the head of the cell, in his office.”

“You’ll be alone on this one,” Jack warned her after checking that Dixon was still doing recon inside Hafa’s lobby. “We can’t help you without NEEL finding out about it.”

“You do realize this isn’t my first mission?”

“Be careful is all I’m saying.”

Elisha rolled her eyes, refusing to dignify that with a reply. She wouldn’t have had time for it anyway, since Dixon was already back.

“Getting in won’t be too much of a problem,” he started after he got in the car. “Ask for Mrs. Allaoui, she receives customers on the eighth floor with no appointment necessary. She’ll come to get you – guests can’t take the elevator without a staff member. After that, you’ll have to find your way to the tenth floor.”

Elisha got out of the car without a word, crossed the street and stepped between Choi’s two bodyguards on her way into the building.

* * * *

Saint Petersburg, Russia.

     Irina got out of the metro at Avtova (4), one of the most superb stops on line one, which counts many works of art. Her gaze lingered for a moment over the huge, delicately trimmed, golden columns, on the chandeliers hanging from the molded ceilings – and then she saw her.

“Zdrastvuy (5), little sister,” Katya said, sidling up to her side.

“Good to see you,” Irina replied, glancing around to check they weren’t being watched.

“You mentioned a favor?”

“I’d like you to pull a few strings in Moscow. I need intel about a man. A diplomat named Lazarey,” she said at the exact same time a new train was coming in, thus making sure that no one but her sister heard.

“I’ll be in touch,” Katya whispered, disappearing in the scramble of commuters.

* * * *

Tangier, Morocco, Hafa headquarters.

     “Miss Rambaldi?” called a woman in her fifties, clad in a severe-looking skirt suit. I am Mrs. Allaoui, the head of public relations,” she said, speaking decent English in an accent that sounded more French than Arabic.

“Pleasure to meet you,” the mercenary replied with a touch of Italian intonation.

“Likewise. If you’ll please follow me to my office,” the manager added, walking toward the elevator. “Do you often come to Tangier?” she asked, pushing the button for the eights floor.

“Not as of late,” Elisha answered when the doors closed, grasping the woman’s neck and applying pressure for a few seconds, just enough for her to fall into her arms. She carefully dropped her on the floor – better not antagonize Dixon any more if it could be avoided – and placed her in a sitting position against the door recess, so that she could not be seen from the outside when the doors opened.

Then Elisha pushed the tenth floor button. The access was not restricted by any magnetic card or biometric device, probably because NEEL preferred to lay low and relied excessively on their guards. They were the reason why Elisha stood on tiptoe, opened the elevator ceiling panel, and hauled herself up on top of the car. Surfing on a moving elevator was a bit risky, but just like riding a bike, you couldn’t exactly forget it in a few months of captivity. Though she probably would have felt less comfortable on a bike…

Then she partially closed the hatch and tried to find her balance without touching the elevator cables. When it reached the last floor, she crouched down and prayed that the space between the car and the top of the shaft, meant for the engine and pulleys, would provide enough headroom...

Her face stuck against the ajar hatch, a “Ding!” announced the elevator had reached its destination; then she heard footsteps getting closer – a guard. She willed herself to count five seconds, then she slowly opened the hatch. The guard was standing in the car, staring at a very unconscious Mrs. Allaoui. His fingers started toward the radio hooked on his belt.

Then Elisha slipped out of her hiding place, silent as a cat, and treated the guard to the same rest cure that the head of PR had been enjoying. One arm around his neck, the other tightening that grip. Though taller and stronger than Mrs. Allaoui, he soon joined her on the floor – with a much rougher landing.

Elisha left the elevator, through the main door this time. As expected, there was no surveillance camera – if there had been, she would be surrounded by guards by now anyway. But motion sensors there were. Concealed in the walls, they were barely even detectable, and only because she knew to look for them. She counted six of them, three on each side of the room, all of them about one foot from the floor. Since she knew that each covered about four inches (6) in width, they were really not that hard to avoid. You just had to not drag your feet, or well, raise your knees a bit.

Elisha stepped forward unhurriedly, though each minute passing by brought a greater risk of being nabbed. Even when in a hurry, always focus on each task as if it was the goal in itself. One step at a time, Halcyon’s voice was whispering to her. It had become sort of an imaginary friend – or fiend, depending on the days. She heeded the advice and took one step at a time, emptying her mind. She reached the beginning of the motion sensor corridor. Taking a look around, she saw the electrical panel, exactly where she had thought it would be. She stepped toward it, raising her foot high to avoid one last sensor, checked that there were still no guards or cameras around that could spot her, and she opened the panel.

Los Angeles, Marshall’s office in the CIA building.

     “Hello?” Marshall said, picking up the phone.

“It’s Clode,” he heard on the other end of the line, feeling uncomfortable without her even trying. “I’m standing in front of the electrical panel on the NEEL floor.”

“Alright. Can you… plug me into it?”

“Already done. You should be getting the signal on your computer.”

“Ah… Uh, yes, my bad, that’s true,” he replied after a glance at his screen.

“Marshall?”

“Yes?”

“Relax. I am twenty five hundred miles away from you, and I do not yet master telekinesis, so just stop being scared of me for two seconds, and focus.”

“Uh – okay. Well,” he said, staring at his computer and beginning to type on his keyboard. “It seems the motion sensors are not separated from the rest of the systems, they can only be disconnected along with the power on the whole floor.”

“Can you do it?”

“Yeah, but for five seconds tops. That’s how long it takes for the… backup generator to – well, to start, and if I cut the power any longer, they’ll suspect something and, uh, that would not be – very, good, for you.”

A hundred feet in five seconds… I guess I can do that. Go ahead.”

“Okay. Go in 3… 2… 1… Now!”

* * * *

Gran Chaco region, Argentina.

     Julia Thorne’s life was becoming very complicated. Nothing new for Sydney – being a double agent, carrying out missions for the Covenant while serving the CIA’s interests, posing as someone else with her colleagues – like damn Simon Walker, who was getting way too eager.

And now she was in the middle of a subtropical forest with Lazarey. The former diplomat had proved to be a lot of help in locating Rambaldi artifacts. Protecting those items from the Covenant was their common goal. She wasn’t sure whether she trusted the CIA to do that. After all, there are power-hungry people everywhere, and maybe even more in those spheres. What if they started to believe in the Prophecy too?

Just like back at SD-6, Sydney had to juggle with “official” missions and their countermissions, plus secret missions the Covenant couldn’t ever find out about. She was beginning to take the full measure of how helpful her father had been back then. Without anyone to cover for her with Cole and Simon, it was becoming very difficult to slip away and meet Lazarey at the other end of the world.

“Julia!” the Russian called on her radio, snapping her out of her thoughts.

A few minutes earlier, he had climbed down into a stone well which seemed to date back to the Inca era.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“I’ve found something. I’ll climb back up.”

* * * *

Tangier, Morocco, Hafa headquarters, tenth floor.

     “Now!”

5…

Elisha started running, sorry to not have been able to train since she’d been arrested. Push-ups and sit-ups were all fine and dandy, but not quite enough to maintain all physical skills!

4…

She gave rhythm to her breathing and forced the pace a little bit more, though the muscles in her legs were already starting to remind her of their existence.

3…

Her mind was trying to drift to happy or unhappy moments, the ones that had counted for something. But she could not afford that. She forced all of her strength onto her legs and the end of the corridor.

2…1…

She drew a long breath and started to slow down. She’d made it! And then she saw the sign on the floor, right in front of her, reading: Slippery surface! She stifled a curse. It was too late to stop in time, so she winded up ice-skating on the tiled floor with her stilettos. And then a guard came in, just as taken aback as she was.

She managed to direct her sliding toward him, used him to soften her fall, and then as a punching bag. And then, she sat there on the cold floor, catching her breath at last.

Meanwhile, outside the building, in a grey Golf.

     Ear witnesses to the whole scene, Jack and Dixon had no way of knowing who’d had the upper hand.

“Clode?” Jack called. “Clode, do you copy?”

“Loud and clear,” she replied. “Just give me a sec.”

“Are you alright?”

“I’ve just moved from sprinting to Krav Maga with an ice-skating interlude. Just let me take a breath.”

The bug only transmitted silence for a few more seconds.

“Heading toward Khayat’s office,” Elisha uttered at last.

Tenth floor of the building.

     After her little improvised triathlon, avoiding surveillance cameras proved to be a walk in the park for Elisha. Picking out the rhythm of their angle changes, hugging the walls while taking every camera into account – no more than three at a time here, pretty much a piece of cake. And finally, entering the office while all cameras lenses were turned away from its door.

Khayat and Choi were both standing and in the middle of a heated conversation when Elisha slipped into the room. After a second of up-in-the-airness, they both hurled themselves at her. First things first, she shot Choi with the tranquilizer dart with his name on it, thanks to Marshall’s pen-gun, which contained only one. Then she turned her attention to Khayat, who didn’t seem very eager to let her grab his colleague. There was no time to explain that she was actually working for his employers – well, she wasn’t, but she was supposed to.

He tried to grab her arm, but she was faster and used his momentum to send him flying to the ground. She couldn’t afford to go in for subtleties, so she knocked him out with a paperweight.

“I’ve got Choi,” Elisha announced, suddenly remembering she was not really alone on the mission.

Then she hauled him up on her shoulder, grasping his arm to keep him from falling down, and then she headed to the door, buckling under his weight.

“When you get him a new identity, you should include a good nutritionist. This guy weighs a ton!”

She walked out of the office and into the corridor, took a glance around. No one. Her intrusion had not yet been detected, but it would not be long before it was. She hurried on as much as she could, still trying to avoid the cameras.

When she reached the motion sensor corridor, Elisha heard the guards coming. Steps, shouts, “She’s got Choi!” – “Stop where you are!” Then gunshots. Choi’s head and torso were on Elisha’s back, a sitting duck for stray bullets. She started to zigzag her way around the bullets – she’d been pretty good at this game, back in her Halcyon days. Then, at last, she got to the elevator. The car was still there, blocked by the first guard’s body.

Elisha stepped into it, dropped Choi on the floor unceremoniously, and pushed the ground floor button while doing her best to find cover from the bullets for herself and her guest. Fortunately enough, once she dragged the guard into the elevator so he didn’t get in the way, the doors closed almost instantly. Only then did she realize that her right arm was bleeding. She rolled up her sleeve and saw that she had received a bullet, which had not even had the courtesy of exiting her body. She must have been numbed by adrenalin.

“Fantastic,” she blurted out.

“Clode, what’s your status?” Dixon said in her earpiece.

“One bullet in my arm and three unconscious people in an elevator. Permission to borrow the guard’s gun to get out of the building?”

There was a brief silence, during which the two agents were probably conferring.

“Alright,” Dixon replied, “but I don’t want to hear a single gunshot, is that clear?”

“Not even in the air?” Elisha mocked, getting the gun and pulling Choi back up on her back. “You better start the engine; I’m heading your way.”

The elevator doors opened on the lobby. In a couple of seconds, half the people in the room were staring at the pair emerging from the elevator. Ely hurried on to the exit, making sure to display her revolver in an obvious manner, which seemed to deter any heroic attempt at intercepting her.

Choi’s bodyguards, alerted by the sounds of panic inside, were stepping toward the lobby when Dixon got to them and knocked one out by surprise. The second one threw himself at him, but collapsed when Clode tripped him up with her leg. She and Dixon looked at each other and then they heard the Golf’s brakes squealing – Jack was parking it as close to the entrance as he could. They both ran to the car. Dixon took the passenger seat and the mercenary threw herself into the back seat with her unconscious friend. Bristow took off like a rocket before the car doors were even closed on them.

And Elisha finally breathed again.

* * * *

February 20, 2004.Brno, Czech Republic.

     Jack was waiting under the rain, in front of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The cold air was beginning to get through his raincoat, and there was absolutely nothing to distract him in the dark, damp streets of the sleeping city. But he liked it just as well, in a way: being alone was best to ready himself for the upcoming reunion...

Then, a silhouette silently slipped into sight a few inches from him. He hadn’t seen her coming and, even though that was to be expected, he let out a mental curse.

“Hello, Jack,” Irina said. “So Kendall has found out how useful Clode can be. Colombo less than a week ago, Tangier yesterday…” she said detachedly, and then reluctantly asked: “I… heard she’d been injured.”

“She’ll live. We extracted the bullet from her arm.”

“So she’s doing okay,” Irina uttered, but her intonation was a tiny bit off for a simple statement.

“I guess so, considering.”

“My sources have never been able to keep their eyes on her for more than twenty hours at a time.”

“What did you find out about Lazarey?” he asked, acting as though he hadn’t noticed what she was doing, even though she obviously knew he had.

“Not much, I’m afraid. He was known in some circles interested in Milo Rambaldi, but he kept a low profile, so I really have no clue as to what his agenda was. I have not found anything linking him to Sydney.”

“Are you sure you’re telling me everything?”

“Of course I am, Jack,” she replied, letting show an ever so slight irritation. “I want to find our daughter just as much as you do.”

“This motherly side of you is touching, really.”

“I have always loved my children, Jack, no matter what you might think.”

“You sure have pretty unique ideas about how to show it to them.”

“Oh, because you’re such a role model yourself! You’ve lied to Sydney for most of her life.”

“And you to Elisha. But I have never betrayed either of them.”

“You’re quick to forget that I only turned her in to the CIA to save your life!”

“I fail to see how that’s supposed to comfort her. I’ve never shot her – oh, wait. Wrong daughter, right? Well, I’ve never abandoned her.”

“For God’s sake, Jack!” she lashed out, appalled. “Don’t you think for a second I wouldn’t have left her with you, if I had been given a say in it. But the KGB just wouldn’t give me a few more months.”

“You took my daughter from me”, he hammered.

“And then they took her from me.”

“Then you got her back. And what did you do? Turn her into a killer.”

“Do you think I had a choice? Halcyon was a Darwinian jungle, Jack. I didn’t break her. I made sure she survived.”

“You made sure she became a sociopath. Our twenty-two-year-old daughter is rotting in a secret cell, and she had it coming.”

“As for our eldest daughter, she is currently missing and presumed dead. Can we hand out the blame later?”

Los Angeles, CIA building underground levels.

     Elisha was bored to death. The doctor had strongly recommended against exercising, especially without her sling to support her arm – and those idiotic guards had confiscated it, no doubt fearing she might hang herself or strangle them with it. Of course, she hadn’t listened. She’d thought that even if push-ups were out of the question, a few sit-ups couldn’t hurt. But after ten of them, not only did it hurt acutely, but a few blood drops were appearing on her bandage. And since it was her lucky week, her right arm was the one injured, so she couldn’t even scribble – she only was ambidextrous for writing, and had never been able to draw decently with her left hand.

Boredom. She should have learned how to put up with it a long time ago. But maybe it just reminded her too much of the orphanage. And then, at Halcyon, they didn’t have so much as an idle minute, and if the instructors had been able to train them thirty-six hours a day, they probably would have done just that. So Elisha had become hyperactive, incapable of sitting around doing nothing. She always had to be moving, thinking, hatching out plans or remembering situations. But right now, she was so exhausted…

Then she heard the corridor doors opening. Someone was coming. A distraction, at last! Elisha grabbed a random book, trying not to look as unoccupied as she actually was. She counted to ten before she condescended to looking up, and then she saw Kendall, along with agents Weiss and Dixon, all standing on the other side of the glass.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked.

“Choi is cooperating,” Kendall announced. “He’s already given us helpful information about his organization’s structure, in exchange for our protection.”

“Good for him,” she replied. “Did NEEL buy his ‘murder’?”

As soon as the bullet had been extracted from her arm, Clode had had to shoot a film: getting a confession out of Choi Suk, to whom the whole sham had been explained – though it would have been much more fun otherwise – and then “kill” him on camera.

“Looks like it,” Weiss confirmed. “They transferred the money to you, and the communications we intercepted show that they believe the problem’s solved.”

“Did you just come to update me, or did you want something else?”

“In the information Choi gave us,” Kendall said, "there are dates for a number of meetings between NEEL representatives or with members of other organizations. One of them is taking place today in La Paz, between Ariyatne Peretha and someone you know.”

He showed Clode a surveillance photo through the glass. Seeing the face of the forty-year-old, light-blond-haired and clear-eyed woman, she imperceptibly flinched.

“Ksenia Petrovich,” she uttered. “I thought she was dead.”

“She was a Halcyon instructor, right?” Dixon asked.

“For a while. Infiltration techniques, my favorite class,” Elisha joked, trying to hide her embarrassment at talking about Halcyon to anyone else than Jack. “Then they told us she was dead.”

“It seems she had everyone believe that,” Kendall said. “According to our intel, she has been hiding under various identities for the last ten years or so. And now she suddenly comes back from the grave to meet Ariyatne Peretha in Columbia. The question is why.”

“What do you want from me?”

“You’re leaving for La Paz in an hour. Your mission is finding out about their agendas, and then we’ll play it by ear.”

Brno, Czech Republic.

     Irina and Jack had taken refuge in a small restaurant which stayed open all night long, and as was their habit, they had chosen the most isolated table, close to the back of the room and to the emergency exit.

“How does she feel about all this?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Jack replied. “She doesn’t talk about it, and she most definitely doesn’t talk about you. She never did when we questioned her, and helping me contact you seems to have been as far as she wants it to go.”

“She was always so guarded. Even before Halcyon.”

“You’re afraid of her reaction, aren’t you? That’s why you never said anything, even though you knew she’d find out eventually. You know she’s nothing like Sydney.”

“There might be truth to that,” she recognized. “Sydney held on to memories of a loving mother. Elisha…” she stumbled over the word, as though it didn’t feel quite the same on her tongue as in her mind. “Elisha, has no such memory. But she knows how things work. She may very well understand that I did the best I knew how in circumstances that were not of my choosing. But the truth is, I can’t predict her reaction.”

“That says a lot, considering you’re probably the person who knows her best.”

“She’s a natural at survival in hostile environments. From the very day she joined the Programme, she only displayed the thoughts and feelings she thought we wanted to see. And she put up a wall to keep everyone at a distance.”

“And yet she clearly sees you as a mother figure.”

“Oh, Jack,” she said with what looked very much like... guilt. “I thought you would have known how flawed a notion she would have of that. She feels that way because I was the one who brought her in from the orphanage. She took me as a role model. But the truth is, I was never able to take care of her, and I couldn’t afford to single her out among the other kids. Even when she earned it. Because she did stand out, from the very beginning.”

“I can’t believe it. You’re actually proud of her,” Jack blurted out.

“And you should, too. She’s just as gifted as Sydney.”

“But not as upright,” he softly replied. “It makes a huge difference. Sydney has a conscience, a soul. She fights for what she believes in and she feels for people.”

“Don’t make her into a perfect person, Jack. She has spent way too much time doing this job to be absolutely pure. She often had to compromise with morals, remember, not so long ago she was willing to kill Arvin cold-bloodedly. And the only proof of life we have also turns out to be the proof that she murdered a diplomat.”

Irina paused for a moment, swallowing.

“Besides, you know very well that Elisha is not the monster you so aptly describe. Considering how she was raised, how she was cared for, I for one think she’s quite well-balanced. Just wait before you decide she has no heart. She’s twenty-two. She can change. Don’t give up on her just yet.”

She was silent once again, absent-mindedly staring at the table. She had said a lot, and now seemed to be chasing her trail of thoughts. Was she really as dismayed as she looked?

“You know, you might be the only person she could learn to rely on. Don’t throw away that opportunity.”

Jack stared at her, trying to determine whether it was all a play in a game he could not yet understand. Was he so desperate to believe what she was saying that he couldn’t see the evidence of her deception? He hated these encounters with Irina, after which even what he thought was obvious before was no longer a given.

“And I would like to see her,” Irina gently added. “I am her mother, and I’d like to stand in front of her knowing that she knows. I want to look at her and see my daughter.”

Jack realized that he knew what she meant. She had just put words on something he’d been trying to understand. So that was why he’d pressed those DNA results against the glass, months earlier. That was why she had to know. It wasn’t enough to be looking at Elisha knowing who she was. He had wanted – he had needed her to look back.

“You never know,” he replied. “Maybe someday.”

Irina gave the hint of an ironic, tired smile that he knew all too well.

* * * *

February 22, 2004. Los Angeles, CIA offices.

     When he got back from Czech Republic, Jack found out that Elisha had been sent on a mission while he was away, and that she was already back. So he went down to the underground level’s observation room and realized that she had bandages everywhere. A closer look allowed him to see a bruise on her jaw. The rest of her face was under her blanket, so he wasn’t sure how bad it was.

“Here you are,” Dixon said upon entering the room.

“What’s happened?” Jack asked, trying to look as detached as possible. “Petrovich?”

“No, she bought Clode’s cover – investigating to be sure that Choi was the only mole in NEEL. She even seemed happy to see her. No, Peretha was the troublesome one, after Petrovich left. Apparently, Clode and Choi’s film performance didn’t quite convince him as much as the rest of NEEL, and he’s been wondering if his organization’s recent problems could stem from the comeback of one Irish girl. He thought she’d betrayed them.”

“Thought?”

“Yup. He is now convinced he was wrong. I still don’t like working with Clode, but I gotta be honest, she’s the best smooth talker I’ve ever heard of. She’s got that righteous indignation thing going... Almost convinced me she was pure as the driven snow.”

“So Peretha came round?”

“Well, she’s alive, ain’t she?” Dixon replied. “You know, something did strike me as odd,” he added. “Before things started to go wrong, Clode was asking lots of bizarre questions, stuff that had nothing to do with the mission. I was wondering if she was seriously trying to run a scheme with us listening in – and then I understood the point of those questions. She’s still looking for Sydney, isn’t she?”

“Well, what’s so odd about that? I never made it a secret that I was still investigating.”

“I realize that. What strikes me is that Clode is helping. What does she expect to get out of it?”

“I guess she knows that being useful to me is the best way out of her cell.”

“But that’s not true,” Dixon said. “It was the best way, at first. But now Kendall doesn’t need you to recommend using her on the field, you’d be preaching to the choir. Clode is too smart to not have felt the power shift. She’s got to know you’re not the one she has to play nice with. So my question is, why is she?”

Jack had no valid answer to that. He knew that Dixon was right. Clode had more to gain humoring Kendall than Jack, especially considering that both might not be compatible. And even if he took into account their ghost of a relationship, Jack was not delusional enough to think Elisha might be looking for Sydney out of sisterly compassion, in spite of all the respect she might feel for her as an agent.

The agent considered for a second that Clode might have a secret goal that involved Sydney. After all, a lot of people were convinced she was the Chosen One. But the only person that she would have been that loyal to was Irina, and their encounter in Brno left him with the feeling that she only wanted Sydney safe. She was not likely to be starting her own operation, either – if Elisha ever did do that, it was a safe bet that Rambaldi would be no part of it. She was no more one of his fans than her sister was.

So really, it only left him with two options. She was either looking for Sydney as a favor to Irina… or to please Jack. He didn’t really know how she felt about her mother, or him, at the moment. But it was what made most sense: she was trying to prove her worth, to earn the gratitude of one of them.

A while later, underground cell.

     “It’s over.”

“What?” Jack asked, surprised, staring at the shape wrapped in her blanket, only showing the mess of her hair and the line of her forehead.

“Have you not read the radio transmissions transcript?” Clode asked, ignoring his question. “They debated it. These assholes needed to think among themselves to decide whether or not they were gonna get me the hell out of there. While I was making up evidence of my so-called innocence, while I was getting beaten up and water-boarded, I could hear them weighing the pros and cons.”

Jack was paralyzed. He was not really surprised at what had happened – the team had made no secret of how they felt about Elisha. Jack felt unexpectedly disgusted at them and protective of her. But what really surprised him was the way she was recounting it. Her voice. She almost seemed... affected, emotional. Irina’s voice echoed in his mind: Just wait before you decide she has no heart.

“I know very well that I am a temporary asset,” she added in an attempt to return to logic. “But I sure as hell don’t like relying on people who have no interest in my long-term survival. In order to be efficient with a team, I have to be able to trust them. If I can’t, then I’d rather be alone, at least that way I know who I can count on!”

Elisha was looking up, letting her furious eyes show, along with the bruise on her jaw, and a busted lip. She looked determined and on the edge of exhaustion at the same time.

“And then there’s that damn capsule. I’m used to getting on alone. And I did manage to bamboozle Peretha in the end. But an hour more and I was done for. I’m not keen on dying, but if I absolutely have to, then I’d like it to be because of a mistake of mine, not because some CIA official isn’t quite sure whether I’m trustworthy. So this is it. I’m done with field missions and CIA operations. At least until you find a better way to reassure yourself on your ability to keep me behind bars.”

She buried her face into the blanket once more, and Jack saw her arms tightening around her knees.

“What about your arm? Feeling better?” he simply asked.

She turned her face toward him, though still concealed by the blanket, and seemed to gauge him. That was not the response she had expected.

“A bit. You know what’s great about getting a thrashing,” she added sarcastically, “it hurts everywhere homogeneously. Haven’t found a better way to forget any other injuries,” she concluded, her tone getting softer at the end of the sentence.

Jack knew she was surprised that he worried about her health, rather than about her refusing to go on any more missions. He could have just ignored it, let the moment slip away, one more thing left unsaid... And yet…

“You’re more than just a way of finding Sydney,” he said, almost unwittingly. “And I can understand your reasons, Elisha.”

That last word had been almost silent, just a whisper really, but he could tell she had read it on his lips. Her face finally emerged from the blanket, and she looked at him without her mask of indifference and arrogance, for once.

“I need to sleep,” she finally uttered after what seemed like a lifetime, breaking the connection just as much as the silence. “Tell Kendall to find something that works better for all of us.”


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