Behind the Mask
Written October 2001
Synopsis: A delusional computer analyst becomes obsessed with Operations.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Paul walked into the office slowly, smiling at Madeline as she sat behind her desk. She didn’t look up at the sound of the door, or the sound of his voice when he spoke. “I’ll be leaving in a few moments. Is there anything you need before I go?”
“No,” she replied, continuing her work on the computer.
“Are you sure? After all, Section will be yours for the next four days.”
“I am more than capable of running things in your absence.”
“I know,” he said softly. “I’ll miss you.”
That got her attention, and she looked at him curiously. “Why?”
A smile tugged at his lips. “Why not?”
She considered his reply for a moment before returning to her work. She felt a hand on her shoulder. “You’d better go. You don’t want to be late.”
His fingers brushed against her neck. “Thank you for last night.”
She tried shrugging him away but didn’t put much effort into her movements. “It was just dinner.”
“Not to me.” He swung her chair around and put his hands on the armrests. Madeline raised her eyebrows. He leaned closer to her until their noses almost touched. “You know how I feel about you, Madeline, and I know you feel the same way. But you have to give our relationship a chance.”
“It’s not as easy as you make it sound, Paul.”
“We can make this work,” he whispered, touching her lips with his own. “I want this to work…”
She gazed at him, her expression a mixture of want and apprehension. “We’ll talk when you get back.”
His eyes glimmered with hope, and he kissed her forehead. “Thank you.” He straightened. “I’ll see you on Thursday.”
She watched him walk away, her heart echoing in the silence of the room.
Birkoff dumped a handful of gummy bears on his desk, waiting for his program to cycle through. He needed the break; his head hurt from staring at the screen all day long.
He sat up and turned, looking up at Madeline. “Hey. I have those profiles you asked for.” He handed her a miniature disc. “Oh, and the new recruits are due to arrive any minute.”
“I saw that on my panel. They’re coming to your area, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they’re computer analysts. We’re holding them for a week until Section Three is ready for them.”
“Will you be able to use them for anything while they’re here?”
“I have a few hard drives they can defrag and some scans they can run. Nothing critical, but at least they’ll get their feet wet.”
“Good. I’d like you to greet them in Van Access when they arrive. If you have anything else for me, I’ll be in the Perch while Operations is at Oversight.” She noticed the gummy bears and stole a few, popping them into her mouth with a satisfied nod. “Keep me posted.”
Once she had left, he called up the profiles on the three analysts. He hadn’t looked them over, except for matching names with faces, but it would probably be a good idea to familiarize himself with their abilities.
The highest-scoring operative was Amy Bradley. 28, American, blond hair, blue eyes. She came to Section’s attention when she originated a computer virus that wiped out over 100,000 systems worldwide. She was a social outcast, preferring to be alone rather than with others. Bradley was perfect Section material, having no ties to the outside world.
Gisela Ermenbrecht was Amy’s opposite. 23, German, brown hair, green eyes. She was the sole recipient of her parents’ millions upon their death two years before her recruitment. Section brought her in after she hacked into the World Bank to deplete her unfaithful boyfriend’s bank account. Birkoff chuckled. Impressive but juvenile.
Lastly was William Matu. 30, half-Kenyan, half-American, black hair, brown eyes. Two years ago, he successfully hunted down the terrorists who murdered his parents. He was arrested, and Section brought him in. However, his work on government computer systems made him more valuable as an analyst rather than a cold op.
The three of them went through training together and were effective as a team. Birkoff shoved a few gummy bears into his mouth. “Sounds like fun.”
Amy leaned her head against the van wall, groaning as it bounced with every bump. She gazed at Will and Gisela, who sat across from her.
“I can’t wait to get there,” Gisela announced, trying to apply lipstick.
“Why?” Amy asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“I heard that Birkoff was cute.”
Will laughed. “That’s just like you! Is that all you ever think about, men?”
Gisela rolled her eyes. “Look, it’s been two years since I’ve had any type of relationship, so I think I’m entitled.”
Amy snorted, folding her arms across her chest. “If you haven’t noticed, our lives revolve around Section. Love isn’t part of the profile.”
“Who said anything about love?”
Will grinned. “A woman after my own heart.”
The Van Access door clanked open, and Birkoff found himself face-to-face with the new recruits. He wasn’t exactly trained for a welcoming party. “Uh, welcome to Section One. I’m Birkoff, head analyst. I was asked to greet you.”
Gisela stepped forward, extending her hand with an overly friendly smile. “I’m Gisela Ermenbrecht. It’s great to meet you. I’m looking forward to having a relationship with you.” Will snickered, and she turned red. “Working relationship, I mean.”
“Okay.” Birkoff nodded dumbly. Her thick German accent made it impossible to understand what she was saying. “Uh, okay. Let me show you to your rooms, and then we’ll get started.”
“I’m such an idiot!”
Will frowned, rolling onto his stomach. “What are you talking about, Gise?”
“Birkoff,” she moaned.
“Are you still worried about your Freudian slip this morning? He’s probably forgotten all about it.”
“You don’t forget someone as stupid as me.”
Amy shook her head, joining the conversation. “I don’t think he even understood what you said. Birkoff probably doesn’t have much interaction with people with such heavy accents.”
She sighed. “Regardless, that’s one relationship that was over before it started. ‘Gee, Birkoff, let’s have a relationship!'”
Amy snickered. “Actually, it was more like–” She delivered a perfect imitation of Gisela’s blunder. “–‘I’m looking forward to having a relationship with you.'”
Will laughed. “That was great!”
She bowed. “It’s a gift.”
Gisela glared at both of them and stomped out of the room. Will followed her, shouting out apologies. Amy waited until she couldn’t hear them anymore and sighed in content.
The next few days seemed to pass by slowly. Even though she had successfully completed her training, Amy felt like the work she did was pointless, something to keep her occupied. She had the skills, but she couldn’t utilize them.
Thankfully, Will and Gisela decided to pursue a romantic relationship with each other. It probably wouldn’t last; Gisela’s head was easily turned, and Will was non-committal. Amy didn’t care. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy their company; she preferred her time alone, where she could focus on work and avoid any distractions.
She wanted to be in charge. She looked up at the Perch. Operations was on the phone, as she had been for much of the past four days. Amy wanted to consult with her, to find out what it was like to rule the world. Maybe if she made it through the nonsense Birkoff had her doing, she could be in a position of power, too. She had to make it through this week, then she could go on to Section Three and become established.
She lowered her head, and her gaze happened to meet that of a handsome man with gray hair, dressed in a suit and tie. Her heart began to beat wildly. She followed him with her eyes as he strode purposefully across the room and around the corner. Amy searched for him wildly, finally spotting him in the Perch with Operations. She let out a breath. “Wow.” She continued to stare. “Who’s that?”
“Who?” Birkoff asked absently, typing on the keyboard.
“That man in the Perch.”
He glanced in that direction quickly. “That’s Operations.”
“Operations?” She frowned. “But I thought that woman was Operations.”
“No, that’s Madeline. She’s his second. She was taking over for him while he was away.” Birkoff handed her a disc. “Run a scan on these files.”
Her eyes still fixed on the Perch, she reached for the object. Birkoff guided it into her hand, shaking his head. “Operations… he’s very…”
Amy licked her lips, which had grown dry. “Tall.”
Suddenly it was Sunday, and Amy wanted to stay. Things had changed since Thursday, since she first laid eyes on Paul Wolfe. She spent her free time reading his all-access personnel files, and she liked what she saw. Ex-military, fiercely loyal, honorable, intelligent… her body tingled at the mere thought of him.
She hadn’t been able to spend much time with him, but he did compliment her yesterday. A mission had gone critical, and Amy was asked to assist. With her help, the team was saved. She fondly recalled the way he leaned over her shoulder, the faint smell of cigarette smoke on his breath as it tickled her cheek. “Good job, Amy.” Not just ‘good job’ but ‘good job, Amy.’ He knew her name. He didn’t know Will or Gisela’s names, but he knew hers. Amy sighed dreamily.
She turned, startled. “Yeah, Birkoff?”
“Take this to Madeline. It’s Michael’s report from Kiev.”
She took the disc and headed to the office, gazing up at the Perch as she passed. It was empty.
Paul smiled as he keyed in the code to Madeline’s office. The door slid open, and his grin widened. “Hello.”
Madeline’s back was to him as she rearranged her bonsai collection. She didn’t turn around. “Hello.”
He paused. “We haven’t had any time to talk since I got back. I had a few free moments, so I thought–”
“You thought that I might have come to a decision.”
She sat the potted tree on the shelf and faced him. “No.”
“Please tell me that’s ‘no’ as in ‘No, I haven’t come to a decision.'” She averted her gaze, and he sighed. “Madeline–”
There was a soft chime, and she welcomed the intrusion, turning away from Paul and looking at the computer screen. Amy stood outside her office. She pressed a button, and the door opened.
Amy smiled brightly at Paul before handing Madeline the disc. “Birkoff asked me to bring this to you. It’s Michael’s report from Kiev.”
“Good. I’ll look over it right away.”
Madeline wasn’t even looking at her. Her eyes were fixed on Paul, who sighed quietly and exited the room. Tossing Madeline a smile that was not reciprocated, she followed Paul’s example and left. “Uh, sir?”
He stopped and waited for her. “What is it, Amy?”
“I just wanted to say that I have enjoyed my time here at Section One. I feel that I learned a lot, and I hope we meet again someday.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?”
He nodded slowly. “You seem to grasp things more quickly than your peers. If it was my decision to make, I would have you stay here. However, Section Three needs people like you. Good luck.”
Amy stood in place, watching him go, her heart pounding against her ribs. He wanted her to stay. A smile appeared on her face. He loved her. It was so obvious! He loved her, and she loved him. They deserved to be together.
“Amy, open up!”
She sighed, glaring at her door. “Come in.” Will and Gisela appeared. “What do you want?”
“Want to come with us and some people from Comm to a bar downtown?” Will asked. “We’re celebrating.”
“What’s the occasion? The fact that we’ll be out of their hair tomorrow?” She shook her head. “I’ll pass.”
“I’ve got stuff to do.”
Gisela snorted, gesturing to the empty room. “Like what, pack? Come on, Amy, you’ve been so distant lately. Come with us!”
Will shrugged. “Suit yourself. Come on, Gise.” They walked away, closing the door behind them.
When they were gone, Amy logged onto Section’s intranet using an anonymous I.D. She bypassed the security checkpoints and opened the folder containing Operations’ files. She was able to decrypt some of them and get the basic idea, but further intrusions would set off the alarms. She scanned the subfolders and found one called ‘Madeline.’
Amy thought back to that afternoon, when she brought Madeline the report from Kiev. She and Paul seemed to speak to each other with their eyes, and it appeared to be a heavy conversation. But about what?
Curious, Amy opened the woman’s personal directory and found hundreds of files. Apparently, she had been keeping detailed records of her daily activities in a sort of journal. Raising her eyebrow, Amy opened the latest entry and began to read.
I had to tell him no, and he knew it. We’ve been over it dozens of times. Paul and I can’t be together; our relationship could jeopardize Section policy and principles. He always has the best arguments when I turn him down. ‘If we can’t handle a relationship, what makes you think anyone else can?’ I always fall for that one. He’s right, though. Certain leeway is made for operatives who wish to carry out romantic relationships. If they can do it and survive, we should be able to as well. But I told him no. I don’t know why; it’s not what I want…
Amy sat back in her chair and frowned. A few moments ago, she was in heaven; now she could barely breathe. Paul loved Madeline? No, it wasn’t true. Paul loved her, not Madeline. Besides, Madeline had turned him down. Their relationship was over. Still, Paul’s heart would not be dissuaded easily.
An idea struck her, and she found hope in it. With a new sense of purpose, she continued her database search.
End of part 1