"Dr. Kim", Operations said, projecting a picture of an Asian woman in her late thirties onto the white wall. " Mee-Hwa Kim. She started her career as a molecular biologist in medical science. Shortly after her dissertation, she was charged with falsifying scientific results, publicly castigated and stripped of all merits. The charges proved to be unfounded, but by then she had already disappeared. Five years ago she resurfaced as a major player in illegal trading of transplant organs. Section has been trying to bring her in since then."

"Dr. Kim is a very self-protective woman," Madeline continued. "Her resources are considerable and she is extremely careful. However, we have some very valuable information on her. She keeps up with the medical research, even to the point of corresponding with and financially supporting individual researchers. She also has a seven-year old daughter in Sussex."

Nikita looked at Michael, then averted her eyes quickly. Walter who had taken great care not to look, found himself staring down at his PDA. Birkoff was the next to speak:

"The daughter believes her mother is dead. The trust fund which has been set up for her is run by lawyers, who also believe her mother is dead. What we know about Dr. Kim makes it extremely unlikely that a conventional threat to, or even the abduction of, her daughter would serve to draw her out. Previous attempts at blackmail have failed. Dr. Kim believes in cutting her losses and moving on."

"Does the daughter live with her father?" Michael asked in a voice completely devoid of life.

"No," Operations answered indifferently. "There is a nanny and a dog. Belinda is already in place as the nanny. The dog has been ours for years. Some parts of it, anyway."



Walter sighed. He had known where the briefing was going, after Operations had mentioned the dog. Hell, he had built the parts of the dog that Operations had referred to: the tiny detonator to set off the even tinier thermal grenade that would melt a hole in a small plastic capsule. Medical had taken his construction, filled the capsule with rabies virus, sealed it and put into the head of a labrador puppy. Others had made the puppy available to a certain five-year old who wanted a dog. Yet others had published entirely faked research articles in scientific journals, describing a method for post-symptomatic treatment of rabies. But he was the one who had built the infernal device. Without him, none of this would have happened.

It was the way of Section. He knew it. He had been there long enough to know. Birkoff, who understood some things, had showed him the file on Dr. Kim and what she did. The pictures had put him off food for the rest of the day, but at least he had been reminded of why she had to be stopped. He had also read Madelineís psychiatric evaluation of Dr. Kim. In conclusion, Dr. Kim would intervene only if she believed the child could be saved. Further, the situation had to be desperate, and the means by which the child would be saved, had to be both medical and known to Dr. Kim before the actual incident. The current scenario contained all necessary variables. Once the child had begun to display symptoms of rabies, the diagnosis would be confirmed at a hospital. Names would be leaked, headlines would be made. Dr. Kim was certainly going to find out. She would try to contact the phony research group and Section would take her.

Rabies. A killer virus. A ghastly disease. Once the symptoms started, there was no treatment. The victim died slowly and painfully. All the Section operatives were routinely inoculated with the rabies vaccine. Belinda had received a booster injection before leaving. It was imperative that she, if infected, would display no symptoms. The sims showed that there was more than a seventy percent probability that she would get bitten, either along with the child or when putting the dog down.

The thought of Belinda in the middle of this mission made him almost choke on guilt. She would be on site. She would see the destruction he had wrought, the destruction he always wrought on anyone standing too close when something blew up. Children died or became fatherless and motherless, wherever he went. Animals died, not knowing what had happened until after the fact. He had never been able to tell himself that one more didnít count, because it did. All the deaths and all the lives counted.



"You shouldnít be here, Walter."

She was right. If Operations or Madeline found out, he was dead. He didnít think they did, though, or he would never have gotten past airport security. A grim, joyless smile tugged at his mouth. Those brats. Those murderous brats. He still knew some things they didnít.

"Belinda", he breathed.

Just her name. Just like that. She was an op, the same as many others, but in every way that mattered, she was different. She was Belinda and with the sight of her in the faded pink terry robe, his cup was overflowing.

"Why?" she flared up.

The mission was going live in less than thirty-six hours. She was tense and tired, he could see that in the lines of her face. She had become fond of the child and the dog. Having seen the vids, he understood why; they were both innocent and trusting creatures. Belinda was bound to respond to that, on a level Section One couldnít touch.

He handed her the ring. He had been working on it non-stop for two days before he got on the plane. She turned it over in her palm, frowning.

"Itís very sweet of you, but I thought we agreed to wait until..."

The frown disappeared, as she put two and two together.

"What is this thing?" she demanded, giving him the Cold Op glare.

It was very difficult to speak, now.

"Press the stone and the ring disassembles into an upper and a lower part. The stone is attached to the lower part. Turn it ninety degrees. Put the ring back together and put it on. When you press the stone again, a lethal poison will be injected into your body. It should be over in seconds."

"Why are you giving it to me, Walter?"

Her voice was level. It gave away nothing, not even to him, who knew her so well.

"Itís a terrible disease. I donít want you to die in pain."

He wanted so much to promise her more than that. He almost did, almost told her he would be there for her if the worst happened, but swallowed it. If he promised her, she would wait for him to come. She would wait beyond hope and endurance. He couldnít let her do that. A quick death was all that was in his power to give her, and he had learnt the hard way not to make promises he couldnít keep.

"Iíve been vaccinated", she said.

"What if you werenít?"

Their eyes met, for the first time. Her hand closed tightly around the ring.

"If I wasnít", she answered, "at least I wonít die in pain."