Thunder

"…The teams will continue onto Athens and report back to Section after the completion of Phase 2…" Birkoff listened as Operations continued the briefing. He knew what was about to happen. Operatives would not be returning. He had run the SIMS over and over and could not reduce the losses any further. He was so discouraged and so tired of it all. He looked at the team leaders, and saw the same resignation on their faces. They knew. Operations droned on and Birkoff just shut him out.

"Birkoff…do you have anything to add?" Operations peered over the top of his glasses at the young man.

"Red Cell is deeply imbedded in this area. You cannot count on any assistance from the locals. Get in, get the hard drive, cancel the operatives and get out. " Birkoff replied on a clipped monotone. Michael and Nikita looked at the technical genius. Michael's face had the " mission mask" in place. Nikita was watching her young friend with a worried expression. Birkoff didn't care. He wanted to be anywhere but here.

"Birkoff, is everything okay?" Nikita asked as the teams left the briefing area.

"Everything's fine" he replied as he walked away. Nikita frowned as she watched him leave. She wanted to follow him, but turned in the opposite direction. Michael and the upcoming mission demanded all her concentration. Birkoff went to his quarters and flopped down onto his bed. He had to get out. For the first time in his life he wasn't afraid of cancellation, he wasn't afraid of the consequences of rebelling against the order inside of Section One. Ever since Lollie died he was frozen inside, and now he wanted something different…something more than security.

The mission was successful, better than everyone hoped. There were losses but the victims had been in abeyance so the upper echelon was thrilled. The surviving operatives nursed their wounds and privately mourned the lost comrades. The mission inflicted serious damage on Red Cell, and the captured hard drive was a mother lode of critical information. The analysts in Section One got to work immediately. Birkoff began to decipher some of the information when he got a summons to Madeline's office.

"Birkoff. How are you?" She asked

"I'm fine." He replied, his gaze fixed at a spot just above her shoulder.

"I don't think you are." she countered softly

"I'm fine" he replied again

"We're giving you two weeks of downtime. Leave Section. Go anywhere you'd like"

This got his attention. He looked directly at Madeline. "What about the new Intel from Red Cell?"

"By the time you return, the analysts will be ready to present a cohesive report. You need time away, to regroup and recharge. We need you focused and ready."

"Fine" he replied. This surprised Madeline. He acquiesced much more readily than she anticipated. He was worse than she thought. Normally, he would argue about the Intel, about his work, about the systems, anything to keep from leaving his little cocoon.

"Where will you go?" she asked offhandedly. Birkoff looked at her.

"You'll know when I get there, won't you?" he said with finality and turned on his heel. Madeline was momentarily speechless.

Birkoff returned to his quarters, packed a bag and made his way to egress. Nikita saw him and stopped. "Where are you off to?" she asked.

"Don't know yet, but I will when I get there" he replied flippantly and moved to pass her

"Birkoff…" she said softly and laid a hand on his arm. He stopped and finally looked at her. He said nothing at first, then, with a slight shake of his head he spoke.

"I 'm gone for two weeks. I have to get out of here. I feel like I am going to implode Nikita! He paced for a second, then, with passion building in his voice, he continued " For the first time in my life here I want something different! I don't want to look at a computer. I don't want to see Operations and I certainly don't want to deal with Madeline."

Nikita grinned. She passed Birkoff a device. "Call me if you need anything."

Birkoff smiled sadly. "The funny thing is, I have no idea where to go. What do I do?"

"Do you like hot or cold?" Nikita asked as the team began to assemble

"Warm to hot." he said.

"Go to the Ireland. It's summer, the beaches are nice, and there is enough to hold your interest if you get a sunburn. Buy a novel, get some sunscreen and sit in the sand for at least a day before you give up." She smiled at her friend and moved off to join Michael and the team. Birkoff stood in the corridor, thinking, as the team departed . He really didn't have any idea what to do. "I'm pathetic" he mumbled to himself, then an idea began to crystallize into his tired brain. He smiled slightly and headed towards egress. He knew what to do.