Hey everyone! Update time! Whoopee!
So sorry for the terribly, terribly loooong wait! Holy smokes, I didn't realize that it's been MONTHS since the last update. But I've been busy at work and then writer's block got to me. It's been crazy these past few months. Ugh. I'm still trying to get over the Great Wall that's built up in my mind so forgive me if this chapter's a bit… meh. All faults are mine.
Quick thanks to all you readers, reviewers, and PMers for still sticking with me on this!
It's quite a long chapter (and possibly boring one too. Hee hee) but there's a lot of details in here that's needed for the story. So I'll leave you to it. ;)
Chapter 2: Assignment
It was bright.
The early morning sun was already up and visible in the horizon, highlighting the tops of the surrounding tall buildings, slowly eating away the shadows that prevailed over the night. From where Nikita was standing, the rays were casting a warm glow on the tarmac of the airstrip.
Shifting her weight on one foot, she toyed with the edge of the small Russian flag that was attached to the side of the town car's hood. A diplomatic symbol. She, and along with 3 other men, were waiting for the arriving private jet to come to a full stop. The sunlight kept on reflecting on any shiny surface so she had to squint a bit just to watch everything happen.
On the door of the plane, the Russian Embassy emblem of a two-headed eagle gleamed.
When the pair of passengers aboard finally deplaned a few minutes later, two of the men Nikita was with went up to them. But she hung back. She wasn't a personal assistant like those two were anyway. She was just there to secure that her charge, the Ambassador, arrived safely. And remained that way. It was an unwritten job description that went with her deep cover status.
Not that Mr. Pavlenko's personal bodyguard wasn't up to it. He was perfectly capable of handling it all on his own, being a decorated ex-special-forces soldier and all that. But she was just there as an alternative. An extra set of eyes. The diplomatic immunity she was granted with was a nice little treat too. It'll be sure to come in handy if one of her covert missions ever came back to haunt her.
Though that was a very, extremely small chance, it was still nice to have a buffer zone.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, a flash in the distance caught her attention. She turned to her left and glanced around, searching for a possible source. Then she realized that there were a lot of things that gleam could have come from – the tinted windows of the airport control tower, the shiny paint of the other planes in the hangar, the reflective tape on a suitcase being carted off into one of the airbuses, or it could've been from the silver watch of the chauffeur standing a few feet away from her.
But then it could also have been from the lens of a camera, the scope of a sniper rifle, the button on the shirt of an assassin.
Too many reasons. It could be anything and it could be nothing. Maybe she was just paranoid.
"Something wrong, Nikita?"
She whipped back around to see the Ambassador standing in front of her, curiously peering at her. Despite being in his late-50s, the diplomat remained to be a fit and well-built man. And he was tall. Well, in a way that Nikita still had to slightly look up at him even when she was wearing 4-inch heels. He had sharp, beady eyes, thick eyebrows, dark brown hair with flecks of grey, and high cheekbones and other features that only an aristocratic Russian could get away with.
After a beat, she replied, "Nothing, Ambassador."
Offering him a smile, she stepped aside to let the older man through. Once he was past her, Nikita gave Artёm Lavrov, the burly personal bodyguard, a pointed sideward glance. Understanding what she meant, he gave her a small nod and went to walk beside his boss, discreetly providing him cover from any sniper that may or may not be present at the moment. They couldn't take any chances.
Quiet, careful, and efficient – that's what Nikita liked about Artёm. He never fussed about anything so they haven't had much problems with each other. The Russian diplomat's safety had always been their agreeing point.
Falling in step on the other side of the Ambassador, Nikita noticed that he was holding onto a small, black bag rather too tightly. Though in a way that suggested that he was apprehensive of it but it was still far too valuable to be placed out of his sight. She had worked with the man long enough to read his habits and nuances. Narrowing her eyes at the object, she tried to get a better look at it.
The flap had a tamper-evident sticker with the Russian Embassy logo across it.
A diplomatic pouch, she realized.
She didn't need many questions further than that. It was probably some Embassy matters anyway – something highly classified that they didn't want airport security or Customs to know about or search, hence the use of the official bag. Though Nikita was still a bit curious as to why the Ambassador seemed uncomfortable carrying it.
The whole car ride back to the Embassy was a silent one. Or, at least, for her it was. Artёm was up front with the driver, while the two PAs sat on either side of the Ambassador, going over his weekly schedule with him in low voices. She sat across them, and just stared out the tinted, bulletproof window, watching as the Washington skyline passed by in a dull-colored blur.
Occasionally though, her gaze drifted to the black bag the Ambassador was still holding. It was thicker than what she usually saw, and it had an odd silhouette. And the diplomat still wasn't letting go of the pouch for some reason.
There was something going on, she just knew it.
"Nikita, a moment please."
She was pulled out of her thoughts at that. Glancing up at the Ambassador, wide eyed, her expression evidently showed that she was not expecting to be called out at the moment.
"Sir?" She asked, unsure if she heard correctly.
But her boss remained silent and waited until everyone else filed out of the car. That was only when Nikita realized that they've already pulled up in the Embassy's driveway.
When the car doors were shut, leaving just the two of them inside, the Ambassador brought the diplomatic pouch closer to him. She noted that his fingers seemed to tremble slightly as he held the bag. After breaking the seal and lifting the flap to open, the Russian official reached in and pulled out a rectangular, violet velvet box.
He held the case in his shaking fingers for a few more seconds before handing it towards her. He stated in a low voice, "Mr. Tasarov sends his regards."
A frown briefly crossed Nikita's face.
Mr. Tasarov… as in Ari Tasarov, head of Gogol Operations and her handler?
Taking the box, she stared at it curiously. She was puzzled. No one mentioned anything about her expecting a package.
Opening the lid just added to her confusion.
Because there, nestled comfortably inside, was a simple gold chain necklace with an oval moonstone-like pendant.
Her eyebrows shot up.
"And Ari didn't say anything else?" She questioned the Ambassador after getting over her initial bewilderment.
Nikita knew that the diplomat had an idea of her real identity and who she was affiliated with. Though he wasn't given specifics on the nature of what she did, he knew better than to press further. It was a common 'don't-ask-don't-tell' policy in their line of work. People lived longer that way.
"He said to wait for his call," the Russian official told her with a tight smile. Now that the package was given to her, he looked considerably better. Like a huge weight was taken off of him. Nikita wondered what was it about the necklace that made such a powerful man like the Ambassador nervous.
Then, as if on cue, Nikita's cell phone rang. She took it out of her pocket and checked.
Restricted Number, it read.
Her lips lifted in a smirk.
The man always did seem to have perfect timing.
"I assume that is Mr. Tasarov," the Ambassador guessed in that heavily-accented voice of his. Her brown-eyed gaze flicked over to him to confirm his speculation. With a small nod, he continued, "Then I'll leave you to take that call."
With an appreciative smile on her face, Nikita watched as the diplomat exited the car. She waited until the door closed and she was alone before she answered the call.
"Can't say that I'm surprised."
"Ah, Nikita," Ari said in her phone, sounding all amused. His suave and clear voice the same as ever, "Not even a simple 'hello'?"
"Hello, Ari," she drawled.
"A bit forced, but nevertheless, it's always nice to hear your voice again." He chuckled. "How's life been treating you these days?"
She let out a sigh. "You always ask me that same question every time you call."
"And you give me the same answer every single time."
"Because it is the same," she replied, the small smirk reappearing on her lips. There was a faint Tchaikovsky song playing in the background, giving her mind's eye the picture of the dignified, middle-aged Russian sitting on the balcony of some theatre watching a ballet rehearsal of The Nutcracker. Ari Tasarov had always been this debonair person ever since she first met him 6 years ago. He was a huge reason for what Nikita had become today. And she only had the greatest respect for the man.
Leaning back comfortably into her seat, she balanced the box on top of her lap. The pendant swung freely along the thin and delicate chain. With her free hand, Nikita traced the edge of the gold casing of the translucent stone. Something was needed to be done, she figured. Her handler never called unless it was important. So she prompted, "I'm guessing this isn't a social call?"
"See, that's what I've always liked about you, Nikita," he told her. The delight in his voice wasn't hard to miss. "Always straight to business."
A small chuckle escaped from her lips. "You taught me that, remember?"
"Well, you were always a fast learner. But anyway, trivialities aside, I assume that Mr. Pavlenko has given you the package?"
"He just did right before you called," she responded. Twirling the pendant around her slender fingers, she added in a light tone, "But seriously, Ari, jewelry? Thanks, but the necklace is not really my thing."
"Well, that's a shame." Ari let out a laugh again. "But I'm sorry to tell you, Nikita, that you're not keeping it."
"In fact, that's the reason why I called. The necklace is part of your new mission."
"Another mission?" Nikita's eyebrow went up. Straightening up a bit, she added, "Ari, in case you've forgotten, I have an op that's going live tomorrow. And I'm not your only agent on this side of the continent, you know."
"Yes, I remember, Nikita. But this is highly sensitive and requires only the best."
Well, that's certainly an ego boost, Nikita thought. With one corner of her lip lifted again, she asked, "Okay, so what do you exactly want me to do with this?"
"It's relatively simple. Secure the necklace until you receive further orders."
"So you want me to babysit a necklace?"
"I wouldn't exactly call it babysitting. More like, safekeeping an asset."
"An asset?" Now she was definitely curious. Glancing down at the necklace, she tried to see how that was possible. Turning the pendant over her fingers, she couldn't find anything that would indicate that it was something more. Everything was finely done and the moonstone shone with a pretty pearly luster. It all looked so normal.
But then again, the things least expected to be dangerous were the perfect ones to be used.
"What is it?"
"It is our newly-bioengineered nerve toxin."
"A nerve toxin?"
Michael edged forward in his seat. He rested his elbows on the conference table as he waited for his boss, Percy to answer his question.
"Yes." The older man said. Standing by one end of the table with his arms crossed over his chest, he continued, "For some months now, the CIA has been hearing chatter about some next generation bio-weapon that the Russians have been working on."
"The Russians?" Michael queried again. "Gogol?"
"That was our guess." The woman sitting a few seats down to his right, responded. Michael gave her a sideward glance. Amanda, Division's resident psychologist and interrogator, was leaning casually in her swivel chair as she scanned over some information in the computer tablet she was holding. With a careful bat of her eyelashes, she added, "They certainly have the R&D lab and the funding to come up with something like that."
"But the CIA didn't have any concrete proof." Percy added. "That is, until a few hours ago."
Michael took in a deep, controlled breath. It wasn't hard listening to the two people but it was getting tiring transferring his gaze from Percy to Amanda then back again, looking at whoever of them was talking. He didn't know what he ever did to deserve being called to drive back from Washington D.C. to Division immediately, only to hear this sort of tag-team briefing.
But he found himself cautiously watching Amanda a little bit more. Even if it was just at the periphery of his vision. It was simply out of instincts than anything (and perhaps, to some degree, self-preservation). Because he had to admit, despite having worked together for years now, Michael never really trusted the woman. He'd always been wary of her.
It also probably didn't help that he'd seen her interrogation sessions one too many times. It was a hard fact to forget that beneath Amanda's prim and proper demeanor was a manipulative, merciless, and sometimes cruel woman. Judgment on outward appearances didn't mean anything when it came to her.
Still remaining in his seat, Michael watched as Percy took a remote control from the table and pressed some of its buttons. It opened a file on the wall-mounted monitor. Looking at it more closely, he realized that it was an action report.
"Yesterday, at twenty-one hundred hours, the CIA intercepted a courier in Moscow." Percy said, reading off from the content on the screen. "However, the package had already been delivered by then. As of this moment, the courier is being held for interrogation."
"But given that he's a possible Gogol agent," Amanda said as she set her tablet back onto the table. There seemed to be a slight huffy undertone to her voice, "it's too ambitious to think that the CIA will be getting anything any time soon."
Michael nodded knowingly. He understood only too well. Agents from the covert Russian black ops group, Gogol, were trained to resist any form of questioning, brutal and otherwise. It was a trained trait that baffled him, and even Amanda. Though it probably irked the latter more, not knowing how the agents are conditioned to become that way.
Clasping his hands together, he asked, "So where's the package now?"
Percy replied, "We have reason to believe that the nerve toxin has made its way here, to the US."
"This was taken earlier today at the National Airport," Percy pulled up a few pictures onto the screen. Surveillance photos, Michael recognized, judging from the angle and type of shots taken. The first photo showed a middle-aged man, dressed in a suit, exiting from what looked like a private jet. "This is Russian Ambassador to the US, Oleg Pavlenko. He has known ties to Ari Tasarov, a high ranking member of Gogol. Last week, the Ambassador was in Russia. According to the intel we received, he met with Tasarov and the courier just before he left to come back here. We believe that a transfer was made and the nerve toxin is with him."
Michael stared at the man in the picture. Oleg Pavlenko, he thought. He's heard of that name before. But he couldn't exactly pinpoint when and where. "So what does the CIA want?"
"Because of the Ambassador's diplomatic immunity, he cannot be touched," Amanda reminded. She had leaned forward in her seat too and was watching the picture on the screen with mild interest. Looking back to him, she continued, "Not without inciting an international incident."
"And as you know," Percy said as he dragged out a chair and sat down as well, "the relationship between America and Russia has always been strained at best. The current Zetrov expansion issue is also not helping with that."
Michael raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement. He heard about that issue, but never really paid much attention to it even if it has been a hot topic for some recent months now. All he knew was that Russia's largest corporation, Zetrov (the same company that also created, and currently funding, Gogol), had expressed interest into extending their reach into the Western hemisphere. But environmentalists, businessmen, and some politicians have been trying to block that from ever happening to protect US interests. From what he heard, the opposition has been great against the multi-billion dollar corporate empire.
"We cannot afford adding more to that conflict," Percy added. "Bringing in the FBI and Homeland Security would generate too much noise. So the CIA has specifically asked for our help in locating the nerve toxin as soon as possible and eliminating the threat discreetly. Leaving no trace whatsoever."
Glancing back at the picture for a moment, Michael then asked, "So you want me to protect Senator Kerrigan and neutralize the toxin?"
"Yes, and no," Percy answered him. "Protecting Kerrigan is still your priority. He's one of those who have expressed resistance against the expansion of Zetrov so we can't take chances with him and the Russians, especially with this nerve toxin out in the open. But as to neutralizing this bio-weapon, I think it's best to bring it back here when you acquire it."
A frown crossed Michael's face as his lips formed a hard line. He had always disapproved of it when Percy defied orders given by the higher-ups. Or bend it for personal gain or greed. Of course, Percy would never say it like that. There would always be a justification for his actions. But Michael wasn't blind to what his boss did to those kinds of items. Or the side missions that were done in exchange for favors, monetary or not.
They are, after all, in the black ops business. It was an unspoken premise when he joined the organization. But that didn't mean that Michael was okay with that. He didn't participate in those kinds of jobs. He avoided it whenever he could. Thankfully, his moral compass wasn't that crooked.
And it was only for that reason that Michael was going to take this mission. The nerve toxin posed a grave threat to national security and could harm numerous civilians if it ever falls into the wrong hands and gets activated. It was a danger that needed to be eliminated immediately. This mission was on the level. He could do this op knowing that.
Percy, not bothered by Michael's expression, looked at the screen and just said, "The CIA doesn't realize that the nerve toxin has its uses. And I want to know what type of materials the Russians have access to to create this thing."
Michael almost rolled his eyes. Right.
After brushing off Percy's attempt to give good reason for his order, he questioned again, "So how do we even know if the Ambassador still has the toxin with him?"
"We don't." Percy responded, looking somewhat annoyed at that. Turning back to face Michael, he continued, "And we don't even know what the toxin looks like, which makes everything a bit harder. But we have to work with the information the CIA gave us."
"We've contacted some of our assets to keep their eyes and ears open for any information too," Amanda told him. She had picked up the computer tablet again and was perusing a file on it. "But as far as we do know, it's safe to assume that the Ambassador still has the toxin with him. It's only logical given his diplomatic immunity."
"And how do I exactly acquire the toxin?" Waving a hand lazily in the air, Michael said, "It's not like I could just walk up to the Ambassador and ask him for it. If he does have it, I'm sure he'll be heavily protected."
"According to the CIA's sources, Pavlenko travels light. Only one personal bodyguard. An ex-Spetsnaz GRU." Percy informed him.
Michael raised an eyebrow, slightly surprised by that fact. He would've thought that it'd be a Gogol agent protecting the Ambassador considering his ties to the agency. Guess he was wrong about that. Okay, he had to admit, he was somewhat impressed. GRUs were among the elite soldiers in the world. They were the Russian equivalent of the US Delta Force. "That's comforting."
"But the risk is still high." Amanda said as she stood up, still holding the computer tablet in her hand. She sauntered over to the monitor, stating along the way, "That is why, for this mission, you'll be going on a different, indirect approach."
Not really comprehending what she meant by that, Michael narrowed his eyes at her. "Indirect how?"
Amanda pulled up on the screen a couple more surveillance pictures of the airport. Only this time, the subject was a woman. In one photo, she was standing by a black town car, looking pensive if anything. In another, she appeared to be watching something near the direction of whoever took the images. Michael straightened in his chair as he immediately recognized the familiar face.
"This is Nikita Mears," Amanda started, "the cultural attaché for the –"
"Russian Embassy." Michael interrupted before he even thought about it.
Percy and Amanda both looked at him at that. The former raised his eyebrows at him as he inquired, "You've met her?"
"She was at the Regal House last night."
"Well, good to know that you two got acquainted," Percy said (Michael turned to his boss to deny it – he wouldn't exactly call him and the woman staring at each other as acquainted. But a second later, sensing that it wouldn't make a difference anyway, he decided to keep quiet instead). Looking back at the photo, the older man mused aloud, "At least we have a head start."
Michael gazed at the picture again. Even dressed in slacks and a blazer, this Nikita still looked as striking as she did when he last saw her. She just exuded this captivating appeal that translated even in photographs. It took a certain person to be like that.
Tearing his focus away from the screen, Michael settled on staring at Amanda as he asked, "How does she play into this?"
"If we take the direct approach on the Ambassador and he does have the toxin, he wouldn't take too kindly an unfamiliar face. He would be too suspicious," Amanda explained. "But based on the intel we gathered, Nikita Mears is in the Ambassador's inner working circle. She is our only workable angle. So it's imperative that if we want something from Pavlenko, we get to her first."
That was when Michael finally remembered where he heard the name Oleg Pavlenko before – it was last night too, when Senator Kerrigan, Senator Markus, and Nikita were talking. Up until just now, it didn't really occur to him to connect the pieces of the Russian Ambassador to Nikita from the Russian Embassy.
And now, the nerve toxin as well.
After a few moments, Michael slowly asked, almost hesitant to find out the answer, "So what am I going to do?"
With a quick but scrutinizing once-over (that made Michael shift in his seat uncomfortably), a smile appeared on Amanda's lips. She approached the table and gently laid the computer tablet on the surface. She said, careful to enunciate her words, "Your job will be to turn her. Make her become our asset on the inside."
Michael's gaze flicked to the screen again. He was silent for some time.
He was supposed to turn this woman against her own country's Ambassador? Her own boss?
This was not going to be an easy task, he could already tell. Especially from what he recalled of Senator Markus's words last night; Nikita was too loyal to Russia.
This was going to be a challenge. From his own past experiences, Michael had come to know that it took only very few things to sway loyalty to serving one's own country.
Michael stared at the picture on the screen carefully. No, she didn't strike him as the greedy kind.
That would mean she had secretly done something detrimental for her country. No. If she was as loyal as he thought she was, she wouldn't do anything that could harm Russia in any way.
A promise of a better life?
Quite possibly. But, based from what he had seen, Michael didn't think she needed help with that. Then again, he didn't know her so he couldn't really tell just yet.
"I'll be sending Donovan to replace you in Kerrigan's detail in times when you'll be…" Percy looked thoughtful for a moment. "Unavailable."
Michael paused. Eyebrows knitting in confusion, he looked at Percy. "Unavailable?"
But the older man just stared back at him like he couldn't believe that he was just asked that question. A few seconds passed before he finally said, "You have the green light to initiate Standard Raven Protocol."
And that's it for the update (for now)!
How'dya all find it? They're all being given their assignments on what to do now. Nikita to guard the nerve toxin, and Michael to seduce Nikita to try to find out about the toxin. Isn't that exciting? Hahaha.
So leave a Review, okay? I'd love to know what you think. They're part of my inspirations. :D
Okay, so now I don't know what else to write for my A/N. There's been so much that's happened to our show in these last few months. That season finale! Oh gosh. And then the news that Season 4 will only be 6 chapters (like, WTH is up with that?!), and our show will be ending (NOOOOO!), and that it'll air probably next year (!), and then all those stuff in Comic Con… Yes, I am rambling.
Well, anyway! Shutting up now.
Hopefully the updates will be more consistent from now on (riiight)... I'll definitely try!
'Til next time, everyone!
xxxxxxxxxxx (yes, tons of it) Dani
Oh, and PS: In case anyone's wondering, yes, I'm still continuing my other story. It just so happened that I managed to squeeze in an update on this one first. But I'm definitely updating Marbles possibly soon. I'm still finishing up the chapter.