Persistence of Memory
Written February 2002
Synopsis: Madeline develops amnesia, and Paul releases her until her condition improves. However, a new terrorist organization is determined to make her re-integration into Section as difficult as possible.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Madeline wasn’t sure what Nikita’s credit limit was, but after her multitude of purchases, she was sure it had to be pretty high. She had six bags to Nikita’s one, but they were both having a fantastic time. It was like shopping with Cam all over again. Both women got more than their fair share of ogling men, but while Cam was more restless, Nikita was laid back, like she had all the time in the world. They browsed through the clothing racks idly, chatting on occasion when they found something interesting. Madeline was sure that she had been smiling much more than she was supposed to, but Nikita didn’t seem to suspect anything.
“So what was it like?”
Madeline glanced at her, peeking around the clearance sign. “What was what like?”
She raised an eyebrow at the thought. “It was…complicated.”
“But you got to do whatever you wanted. No policies to follow.”
“I still couldn’t tell anyone who I really was. And I was under constant surveillance. You may think that life on the outside is easier, but it isn’t.” She removed a vibrant red cocktail dress from the rack. “Oh, I need this. I don’t know where I’d wear it, but it’s amazing.”
Nikita chuckled, lifting the skirt and letting it fall through her fingers again. “I think this past year has had a positive effect on you.”
“Well, you’re…” She waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, never mind.”
“What?” She smiled and gave her that you-can-tell-me-anything look that she used on her patients. “I’d like to know what you think.”
“Well, you’re…sweet. More emotional. And fun. Not that you were bad before,” she added quickly, “but, well, I kind of like you better this way.”
Nikita seemed nervous about her admission, but it revealed more about her former self than Paul had ever hinted. Madeline nodded slowly. “Well, then you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to stay this way. I don’t want to do what people expect.” And by people, I mean Paul. Why was he still a constant force in her thoughts? Couldn’t she just forget about him for an evening? “Going undercover for so long changed me. It will be challenging to return to life in Section, you’re right, but it’ll be worth it. I’ll have a new set of experiences to draw from. It will improve my work.”
“You’re still very passionate about your job.”
“Some things never change.” She held the dress against her body. “What do you think?”
“I don’t like the color. Red doesn’t suit you.”
“No?” She returned the outfit to its place. “Cam always said I should wear red.”
“Yes, Cam. She was my friend and neighbor. She was a novelist.”
“Cam…” Nikita’s blue eyes widened. “Not Cam Daly!”
Madeline suppressed a laugh. “You know of her?”
“I just read ‘Vibrations of Liquid Fire.’ That was great! And you knew her personally?”
“What was she like?”
Shopping always made her hungry, so they settled at a little café overlooking the Seine River. Madeline told stories about her times with Cam. Most of them were amusing, and Nikita laughed continuously. It felt good, to have someone to laugh with and tell stories to. In a way, Nikita was a replacement for Cam. At least she hoped they could forge some sort of friendship; the way Paul had been talking before, the old her was some antisocial wallflower, and he wanted her to stay that way. Well, I’m not going to be like that, no matter what he says.
Nikita fascinated her. How did someone who loved life so much get involved with Section? She couldn’t ask since her old self probably knew the answer to that question, but it made her wonder. She seemed so strong, so intelligent. She must really believe in the ideals that Section presented.
After dinner, they made a few more stops so Madeline could purchase other necessities and headed back to Section. The sun had already been replaced by a high, nearly full moon. Madeline tried to balance all of her purchases, but her arms were weary from carrying them this far. Nikita took a few, and they continued on their way. She had told Nikita a lot more about her life than she should have, but it couldn’t have hurt anything.
“Madeline, why did you come back?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were out, you were free. Under surveillance, yes, but you know what kind of surveillance Section runs. You could have easily avoided detection and escaped. What held you back?”
She paused. “Why would I want to run?”
“You’ve had a taste of freedom, you seemed to enjoy it. You knew the ways they would try to pursue you, so you had the advantage. Why give up your friends, your dog, your career to return to a life like this? Would you rather torture and kill, or remain free and have a husband?”
“Love can exist in Section,” she maintained, turning away. “It’s not easy, but it can.” It has to, if Paul and I were lovers before.
“Yeah, but you’re out of everyone’s league! Wasn’t there some nice guy you could’ve settled down with?”
Madeline chuckled a little. If she only knew… “I know that escape seems like the easy way out, but I would’ve been running for the rest of my life. Section would have found me, and they would have killed me. Besides, my job is important.” She didn’t know if Nikita believed her, or if she even believed herself. Why wasn’t she running? What did she have that was so important in Section?
Only one person came to mind…
Paul sighed a little, his spirits sinking with each passing moment. The place across the table from him was empty, and it had been for the past ten minutes. Madeline wasn’t joining him for dinner, as he had hoped. In fact, he didn’t even know where she was–and no one else seemed to either. Her memory had only returned through college, so she wouldn’t remember Section’s layout; she could be lost somewhere. But a scan for her bio signature revealed nothing.
So where was she?
The door slid open, and he lifted his head with a smile on his face. Reaching for the rose in his inside jacket pocket, he stood to greet her.
But it wasn’t Madeline. It was Lydia, his chief strategist.
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize you were expecting someone.” Her Russian accent startled him somewhat, reminding him of her heritage, of the time he had spared her life. Of course, she had only been five years old at the time, so she didn’t remember the incident, but the fact remained that he had let her live out of compassion.
“Actually, I was eating alone tonight. Would you care to join me?”
“I would be delighted.” She settled into the opposite chair and smiled slightly. “What’s on the menu?”
“Sushi.” Madeline’s favorite. “And pears for dessert.” He had been hoping to win her interest over dinner and explain to her why he had done the things he did. There was a lot she didn’t know, about him, about their former relationship, and he wanted to tell her. He owed her that much.
“Quite an interesting combination.” She didn’t complain, though, eating silently with him for a while. He wished he was with Madeline; she was much more expressive, more vibrant. Lydia seemed to follow the seen-and-not-heard creed.
“Any new information on the university bombing?” In the past, dinner with Madeline had never included work. Breakfast, yes, but never dinner. But Lydia was so quiet that he had to make some kind of conversation, even if it was a topic he didn’t want to get into.
“Birkoff is still checking the guest list, but the speaker is worth mentioning: Baktybek Makvanaya.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. “Who?”
“He was one of the two prime candidates in Kyrgystan’s upcoming presidential election. He was delivering a speech on foreign relations.”
“Why would Dark Moon want him dead? If they’re trying to take over some country, they picked the wrong one. Kyrgystan is small, poor, mountainous, landlocked. They don’t have much ambition, do they?”
Her eyes darkened quickly, and she gave him an almost sour expression. “I don’t think we should underestimate the enemy. They have a plan. We just have to figure out what it is.”
Paul nodded. It was too early in the game to dismiss Dark Moon’s intentions, whatever they may be. “You attended the university that was bombed, didn’t you?”
“Yes, many years ago.” She shifted nervously in her seat. “It wasn’t a very good university.”
She didn’t seem to want to expand on that, so he let it go. The rest of their meal was spent in silence, and he had to admit that he was rather bored. Why hadn’t he noticed this before? A chief strategist he couldn’t talk with? It was absurd. Oversight could have promoted someone with a little bit of personality. Someone more like Madeline…
He couldn’t get her out of his mind. He had to see her. He never should have pushed her away when they were in the hallway, but the timing was awkward, the location even worse, and he did need to get to Medical and have his wound examined. Of course, to her, it had sounded like an excuse, and she had accused him of not knowing what he wanted. She didn’t even turn around when he said he wanted her. If he lost her over this, his stupid inability to confess his feelings, he would never forgive himself.
How could he tell her how he felt? The old Madeline had squashed his desire to verbally express his love, and he was afraid of the same rejection from the new Madeline. Love was not something that came easy to him, but he loved her. Did she even know that? Would she believe him if he admitted it?
I have to find her.
Fortunately, Lydia seemed to be finished eating, so he stood up. “Thank you for joining me, but I have other things to attend to this evening.”
She rose as well. “As do I. Thank you for the invitation.” They exited the room together, stopping on the metallic catwalk. “Oh, one last thing. I was working on Section’s latest budget report. Would you like me to ask for an increase in external security?”
“Such as an improved entry security system, should someone attempt to break in.”
“Do you think someone’s going to try to break in?”
“No,” she answered quickly. “I…just thought I’d ask.”
“I think our security system is effective enough. A pass code, retinal scan–what more do we need? Besides, the only way someone could get in would be if they had the code and someone’s retina, and even then they’d have to get through the guards at the gate. Take into account that our location is well-hidden, and you’ll see that we don’t need much more security.”
She smiled very fleetingly. “Very well. Good evening, sir.” Lydia pivoted on her heel and walked away.
Madeline frowned, a deep pouting frown. “Who’s that?”
Nikita followed her gaze. “With Operations? That’s Lydia. She took over your job as chief strategist shortly after you left. They just came from his private dining room.”
Jealousy seethed through her at an amazing speed. Private dining room? What was he doing having dinner with that woman? She wasn’t even very pretty. She was tall and big-boned, like some kind of Amazon woman, wearing clunky shoes that didn’t match her tweed suit. Her long hair was straight and dyed an unnatural shade of red, held back in a ponytail. Her dark roots were showing, and she probably had a dozen split ends. Madeline at least took time out of her schedule to have a manicure; Lydia probably didn’t even do that. And he was having dinner with her? And why did she even care? Paul didn’t know what he wanted–though she couldn’t imagine him wanting Lydia. She looked mean and nasty! Oh, Madeline, stop it! She’s probably a very nice woman, and you should be happy for Paul. “Is she nice?”
Nikita shrugged, continuing on her way, and Madeline followed sourly. “She’s all right. A bit unapproachable. I always felt uncomfortable talking to her.” They reached a door, and Nikita pushed a computerized data pad into the slot and pressed a few buttons. “There. What password would you like? Five numeric digits. Just type them in on the keypad.”
Madeline reached over and pushed 9-2-7-8-3. September 27, 1983. She wasn’t sure of the significance–it simply popped into her head–but she was determined to figure it out. It had to mean something…
“Okay, you’re all set.” Nikita smiled easily, opening the door and placing the shopping bags on the floor inside. “You should get some rest. Operations will probably start to bring you back into the swing of things in the morning.”
“Thank you.” She turned on the lamp beside the door. The room was roughly the size of her bedroom at home, and it contained numerous pieces of furniture. Another door, probably to the bathroom, was on one wall. She hadn’t appreciated how lavish her house was until this moment. “I suppose I’ll see you around.”
“Call me or stop by my apartment if you want to go shopping again. I had a good time.”
“Me too. Good night.” She closed the door and glanced down at the multitude of shopping bags excitedly. She’d unpack, shower, and go to sleep. And maybe, if she was lucky, she wouldn’t dream about Paul.
End of part twelve