A Christmas Carol
Co-authored with BFL
Written December 2001
Synopsis: Madeline is visited by three Ghosts on Christmas Eve who try to teach her that Paul is an integral part of her life.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. This story is a take on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. No infringement is intended.
“You’re going to let her go through with it?”
Paul regarded her with an assured smile. “Yes. I think it’s a good idea.”
Madeline folded her arms across her chest, still skeptical. “How so?”
“Christmas comes but once a year. By allowing Nikita to host a holiday dinner, morale will increase, thereby increasing mission performance. Plus, it offers us a bit of control over the operatives; if we let them think we’re catering to their needs for affection, they might see us in a more positive light.”
“Christmas is a religious holiday, and if you haven’t noticed, no one believes in God anymore. Or Allah or Buddha or any supreme deity for that matter.”
“But Christmas is about joy…and peace…” He moved in closer to her, snaking an arm around her waist. “…and love.”
She slid out of his embrace and backed away. “And love, like parties, has no place in Section!”
“Well, it can’t hurt anything. Besides, there will be some good food.”
Madeline stared at him in disbelief. “You’re incorrigible.”
He gave a little shrug before stepping close to her again. “By the way…I got you something. A little Christmas gift.”
“Give it to someone else; I’m not coming.” She pivoted on her heel and walked out of the Perch.
She strode purposefully to her office, hiding her emotions behind a stone mask. It wasn’t that she wanted to deny his affections, she just didn’t know if she could reciprocate. She had been unloved for so long that she couldn’t imagine trying to express feelings as deep as those that he shared so openly and easily. Did she even have them?
And this party… It was silly. Pointless. Humbug! Who wanted to spend an un-celebrated holiday with the people who decided whether they lived or died? However, Paul’s reasoning made sense. A dinner would boost morale, and that often led to increased mission performance. Madeline shook her head. She wasn’t about to go back on her word now.
Once she reached her office, she sat at her desk in a kind of painful relaxation, as she let the thoughts of her absence at the party tomorrow morning fade away into the depths of her subconscious.
No one will really notice if I’m not there, she determined silently. With those words, the thoughts and emotions that had surfaced were effectively sealed.
But then, in a flurry of mental activity that was much faster and stronger than those which helped to bury them, the thoughts arose again. Only this time others began to follow. Madeline was at once rushed with visions of a thousand moments in her life, and her whole body shook at the experience. “Madeline…” a melodic voice beckoned to her.
Suddenly a noise arose as well. Even with the force of these sensations consuming her mind, she was still able to maintain a small amount of control over her senses, and her brain briefly sputtered the questions, “What is happening to me? Am I going insane, or has Section been infiltrated? Who is this that invades my mind?!”
The noise grew louder, the combination of an incredible multitude of screams which had coalesced into one abhorrent wail. It seemed like something was being pulled from another dimension, another sphere of time, and her mind was the gateway. Madeline clutched her head, as serious pain began to accompany this grotesque sound. Her last thought before the experience subsided was brought into words: “What is happening to me?”
When she lifted her head, she noticed a woman standing in front of her. Madeline gasped, jumping out of her chair. The figure was transparent and looked a bit like herself, when she was a young woman. There were no holo-emitters in her office, and she knew she was awake.
The woman floated toward her, and Madeline shrank into a corner. “Who are you?” she demanded breathlessly.
“Don’t let your fear cloud your perception,” came the haunting reply. Then, in an all-too-familiar child’s voice, she continued, “You know me.”
Madeline pressed her trembling fingertips against the wall. “Sarah?”
The ghost looked around the office. “Still closing yourself off, I see.”
She followed the gaze, trying to determine what had prompted the statement but gave up after a moment. “Sarah…you’re dead.”
Sarah’s eyes returned to Madeline, piercing her soul. “You were never this cold as a child; why the change?”
Madeline blinked, stunned. “You were always the favorite. Mother shunned me after your death, blamed me for the incident on the landing. If I’m cold, it’s because of her.”
“No, it’s because of you. You’ve had ample opportunity to change your situation, but in the end, it always comes back to dominance. The doll, for instance–a symbol of power. If you hadn’t fought for the doll, this never would have happened.”
“Well, if you hadn’t taken it from me in the first place, I–” Madeline stopped speaking and shook her head. “What am I doing? You’re not real.”
Sarah began to scream, a loud, high-pitched shriek. Madeline covered her ears but didn’t ask her to stop. Anyone in Systems should be able to hear the noise and would be on their way, punching in the override codes to save her from this hellish waking nightmare. But no one came. Even after Sarah had calmed down, there was still silence in the corridor. Maybe she was dreaming after all. What other possible explanation was there?
“Well, I see you haven’t changed much either,” Madeline parried, finally composed enough to regain her wit. “Why are you here?”
“To save you.”
“Save me? From what?”
“From yourself.” Sarah regarded her sympathetically. “Your pain saddens me. Nothing is keeping you in this prison you’ve created for yourself, except your refusal to reach out to others.”
“My death, and Mother’s subsequent reaction, are just handy excuses for you to remain in your comfortable prison, avoiding your fear of the unknown.”
“What do you know about me? You’ve been dead for over thirty years!”
“I know what you might have had, what you still have the opportunity to gain.”
Madeline stared at her, her jaw hung slightly open. “What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see.” Sarah flashed the most fleeting of smiles. “Tonight, you will be visited by three Spirits. The first will haunt at one o’clock, the second at two, and the third at three. Do as they bid, Madeline, for they are your last chance.”
“Last chance for what?”
As suddenly as she had appeared, Sarah vanished. Madeline rounded her desk and stood in the spot where her sister had been, feeling nothing but cold air. She glanced at the ceiling; perhaps Section had installed a holo-emitter without her knowledge. Nothing.
Determined to find a cause for this delusion, she started for Systems. However, when she reached the door, it refused to open. She pounded her fist against it, hoping to attract some attention, but again no one came. Frustrated by her futile attempts, she went to her computer and tried a manual override. Her codes were as useless as her pounding.
Madeline tapped the communicator on her desk as a last resort. She would sound like an idiot calling Comm and telling them that she couldn’t get out of her office, but the benefits outweighed the costs. “Birkoff, can you hear me?” There was no answer. “Birkoff!”
She sat at her desk again and sighed. A prisoner–in her own office! And she was seeing things on top of that. Maybe Section had been infiltrated and she was actually the only remaining operative. If that was true, someone–friend or foe–would be coming for her sooner or later. There could be a bio lockdown, but she should have received some sort of computerized warning.
Turning her attention to her computer, she began scanning Section’s activity log. Mission updated, briefing scheduled… No word on a bio hazard or a communication failure. It just didn’t make sense! She was second-in-command; she should have been one of the first people notified of a change in operations.
Of course, there was always the possibility that she was asleep, dreaming all of this. That seemed most likely, but why would the Sarah in her dreams say those things?
Her thoughts were whirring in a circular pattern, feeding on her tormented mind and exhausted body. Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, Madeline fell asleep, her chin in her hand.
End of part 1