The Crucifix

Rating: PG.
Category: Suspense.
Summary: A happy-go-lucky woman with political roots and a near-genius brain joins OST.
Timeline: Mid-season 2.
Disclaimer: The Agency characters belong to their respective entities. Made-ups are mine and mine alone.

Prologue

Maria Dietrich had always been a very internal, cerebral person. From a very young age, she was taking apart the family vacuum cleaner and putting it back together in a matter of hours. She loved seeing how things worked. She loved manipulating machines and was gifted with the knowledge on how to program and use the family VCR with no trouble at all. Somehow, none of this impressed her father, who had had political aspirations since before she was born. He felt that little girls shouldn’t be cooped up in their houses on their computers in their spare time. Girls should be girls, he always said. Maria never let him down in school though; she was a B student with an above-average intelligence. But her choice of extra-curricular activities exasperated him to no end. And for that, Maria always felt like the black sheep in the family.

Her brothers could be considered Golden Boys. Alexander was planning on being an astronaut and had plenty of Air Force experience under his belt. Gabriel was a graduate student who seems poised to follow in their father’s political footsteps. Maria had barely made it through high school, and again through university. She liked school all right. She just had a tough time concentrating on menial busywork. So when the chance to join the CIA’s Office of Science and Technology fell into her lap, with a little urging from her father (who was on the Senate Intelligence Committee) and longtime Dietrich family friend Robert Quinn, what else could Maria do than accept?

Joshua Nankin stood at the front of the tiny office that housed the OST department with a quiet woman beside him.

“People, I’d like to introduce our newest recruit Maria Dietrich.” Maria waved and smiled politely at everyone in the room.

“You might know Maria’s father, Senator Hayden Dietrich.”

Everyone clapped, impressed with her bloodline. The apples of Maria’s cheeks turned an interesting shade of pink. She had hoped Joshua would keep all of that information to himself. She preferred anonymity above all else. The fact of the matter was she knew that the only reason she was recruited and trained was because of her father’s position in the Senate. She just happened to be incredibly brilliant, but she also couldn’t help but think that her father and Robert Quinn had a hand in her destiny.

“Lex, come here for a moment,” Joshua said, dispersing the crowd that had gathered. The handsome dirty blond hair man smiled warmly at Maria. She hoped she hadn’t blushed again when she returned the smile.

“Are you working on the crucifix yet?” Joshua asked.

“No, but Dean is almost done with Mr. Stiles’ watch. He was going to tackle the crucifix later on tonight,” Lex replied.

“Maria, if you’re ready, why don’t you take on the crucifix? Miss Lowell, who is on the Incident Response Team here, has an assignment with the aforementioned Mr. Stiles in Germany in two days. We’re supposed to rig a crucifix to scramble security camera signals for 30 seconds at a time,” Joshua explained.

Maria nodded confidently. “No problem,” she replied, her mind already mentally deciding what wires and triggers to use.

She once cracked into a satellite company’s computer system and built her own satellite dish. She had a good feeling that this was going to be decidedly harder.

Lex led the way to an empty lab, where everything was set up and ready. Maria quietly took in everything in her own way.

“Everything a go?” Lex asked with an unforgettable smile.

“Yeah. Just a little nervous is all,” Maria explained with a small grin. She settled herself into a chair near the workstation.

“Don’t worry. You’ll do great. Hey Maria…” Lex began, his hand on the doorknob.

“Yes?” she asked gently, turning to look at him.

“If you’re not busy later…” he trailed off uncomfortably. Maria’s feminine intuition kicked in and she knew what was coming. She tried hard to suppress a beaming smile.

“… Maybe we could get some coffee together or something.”

Maria grinned, flattered that he’d even ask her. “Sure. I’d like that.”

Several hours later, Maria was carefully soldering a wire to the inside wall of the garish golden cross. She discovered that she had been squinting for quite a while, which meant her contacts weren’t working properly. She hadn’t realized how hard her first assignment would be. But then again, Maria had to remind herself, this was the Central Intelligence Agency. This was a whole new ballgame, compared to her childhood memories of disassembling vacuum cleaners and stealing satellite TV. With severe concentrated precision, Maria was able to attach the trigger wire to the wall. Just as she grasped another wire, a knock sounded at the door. Momentarily forgetting where she was, she jumped, sending the tiny wire to the floor in her startled state.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua apologized, poking his head in the door. He watched silently as Maria crouched down on her hands and knees.

“Do you need any help?” he continued, eyeing her fretfully.

“No,” she huffed from the energy depletion, narrowing her eyes at the floor. “I heard where it fell. It was a pretty large wire.” She was noiseless for a few moments, looking at the floor. Maria burst into a huge grin, as she sat up, holding up a pair of tweezers with the lost wire securely attached between its teeth.

“Good job,” he congratulated her, applauding lightly.

“Thank you. I’m here all week,” she joked, standing up and brushing off her dress pants lightly. “Is anything wrong?” she asked, placing the pair of tweezers carefully down on her worktable.

“Um, yes. Yes there is,” Joshua began, moving into the small area and closing the door behind him. Maria turned to look at him.

“They moved the green light for the mission up 24 hours. Something about someone being tipped off, someone’s suspicious…. yeah, something like that,” Nankin explained.
“I’m not even halfway through,” she replied, her shoulders sinking slightly. ‘My first assignment and I blew it. I know what Joshua’s gonna say. He’s gonna hand over the assignment to someone else,’ Maria thought maddeningly.

“Well, I’m here to give you a pep talk. Marlene, you’re the only one who can do this! What better way to prove your patriotism than by putting a chaff-grenade in a crucifix? Do it for your country, do it for the Agency, and do it for yourself!” he said brightly, punctuating his speech with big hand movements and a cheesy smile.

Maria couldn’t help but return the grin. “And think of it this way. You’ll be joining the ranks of other OST officers before you. You’re going down in history Marlene, for pulling an all-nighter,” he added at the last second.

Maria paused before speaking. “You called me Marlene. Nobody does that anymore except for my family,” she noted quietly.

“I heard your dad call you that a long time ago,” he replied, letting it sink in for a moment. “Oh!” Joshua exclaimed suddenly. “Lex and I pooled our money and bought you a present to help you get through the night.”

Maria looked at him with raised eyebrows. One could only guess what it was.

With a big sweeping motion of his arms, the door flew open to reveal Lex, holding a tray of coffee and a couple of sandwiches.

“Ta-da!” Joshua said. Maria couldn’t help but smile again.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said, smiling.

“Don’t say anything,” Lex replied, placing the tray on a nearby table that wasn’t cluttered with the crucifix parts.
“Just work!” Joshua added from behind him.

Taking one of the still warm coffees in her hand, she sipped it carefully. “You didn’t have to do this, you know,” she said.

“Shhh! Don’t want to hear it,” Lex replied.

“Let’s leave the master to her work,” Nankin added, tugging on Lex’s collar. Sharing another soft smile with Maria, Lex followed Joshua out of the room and gently shut the door behind them. Taking one more sip of coffee, Maria sighed and dove into her work with renewed energy.

She was climbing a mountain. Only she never actually saw the mountain and didn’t have any gear. She was under the impression that it was snow-covered and tall. Then she realized it was Mount Everest. Maria had almost reached the summit when a loud knock sounded and she fell headlong off the mountain!

“Eep!” she cried, her eyes flying open and jumping a foot into the air. A few of her tools fell to the floor during her startled moment.

“Good morning!” Joshua sang brightly. His mouth dropped open thoughtfully, trying to see if he could say what was on his mind without seeming tactless. Maria’s hair was disheveled, her face bleary-eyed. She had finished her assignment and couldn’t make it out the door the night before, so she had fallen asleep in her quiet workroom.

“Say it,” Maria told him, “just say it.”

Joshua shook his head. “I… can’t. The only thing I will say is good work, is the crucifix done and go home,” Joshua replied.

“Thank you, yes, and I think I should stay unless something goes wrong,” Maria replied.

“No, you need some real rest,” Joshua replied. “And besides that, don’t jinx it!”

Maria smiled and stumbled towards the door. “What time is it?” she asked.
“Ten o’clock in the morning,” Joshua replied, hiding a smile.

“My Lord. You let me sleep for that long?” she asked incredulously.

“Well, not quite. None of us knew you were here,” he responded.

Trying hard not to look like she had slept overnight, she shared a butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing smile with Lex, who watched with interest as she headed out the door. She smoothed her tousled hair and popped a Listerine breath mint as she waited impatiently for the doors to the elevator to open.

The doors opened swiftly, to reveal Jackson Haisley and A.B. Stiles, neither of whom Maria knew. She quietly entered the lift and pressed the button for her floor.

“Good morning. You must be Miss Dietrich,” Jackson said, opening the lines of communication.

“Yes, nice to meet you,” she replied, shaking his outstretched hand.

“My name is Jackson Haisley and this is my associate A.B. Stiles,” Haisley continued.

Maria got her first good look at the tall, dark, and handsome Stiles. For lack of a better word, Maria thought, he was hot. Maria tried to keep her swirling emotions in check and sent a polite smile his way, in addition to a strong handshake.

“You work in OST, right?” Jackson continued.

“Yes. In fact, I just started yesterday. I made a crucifix,” she offered.

“You made that for my mission with Terri Lowell,” Stiles interjected.

“I think so,” Maria replied.

“I read your file,” Stiles added, “your father is Hayden Dietrich, the senator.”

Maria nodded shyly. “I guess my fame precedes me,” she cracked lightly. The two men in the elevator chuckled politely at her joke.

“I think I met your father a few years ago. I doubt he remembers me though,” Jackson explained.

“Hmm,” Maria said, pausing thoughtfully, “more than likely he’ll remember you. My dad that kind of guy.”

The conversation lapsed into silence as the doors to the elevator flew open for Maria’s floor. Smiling politely, she left the two men behind for a cup of warm coffee, a hot shower, and her Korean blanket.

Maria’s uneventful dreams were invaded by the insistent ringing of the telephone. Groaning loudly, she unearthed herself from the warmth of her blankets and picked up the phone. “Hulluhh?” she said, her light voice thick with sleep.

“Hello Miss Dietrich? This is Tom Gage,” the caller identified himself in a professional tone. “Did I call at a bad time?”

Maria sat straight up in bed, her heart racing. “No, not at all!” she replied, trying desperately to shake off the sleep.

“We need you here. There seems to be a slight problem with the crucifix you lent us,” he said, choosing his words carefully.

“Of course. I’ll be right over.”

Maria rushed to the war room where a large group of people watched as she entered. “Thank you for coming back so quickly, Miss Dietrich. Joshua explained to us that you were up all night working on it. I apologize for disturbing you,” Gage explained.

“It’s not a problem sir,” Maria replied, sharing a noted glance with Nankin, who was in close proximity. “What happened?”

Lex gestured to a TV monitor close by. “This is the camera feed to the American embassy in Germany.” He paused and fast-forwarded the surveillance tape before he spoke again. “Right about… here is where Terri reached for the crucifix…” They watched as the mini-chaff grenade Maria had hard-wired into the crucifix didn’t do what it was supposed to, which was to disable all camera in a hundred-feet radius.

“What’s going on here, Maria?” Robert Quinn asked, hovering at her elbow.

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. Maria was sure that she had gone through every possible scenario as she was building it, but it was clear that she had forgotten something.

“Maria, I expected more of you. That isn’t the answer we want to hear,” Quinn replied caustically.

“I understand that Robert,” she conceded quickly. He was beginning to sound like her father. “Is there any way to contact them in the field?” she asked.

“Uh yes,” Jackson spoke up. “We gave Stiles a cell phone as part of his cover.”

Maria turned to him. “Can you patch me through?”

Within seconds, Maria was guiding Terri Lowell into reactivating the crucifix. “Miss Lowell, this is Maria Dietrich. I think I know what’s wrong with the crucifix,” Maria began.
“Okay,” Terri replied.

“The connecting wire from the trigger to the diamond prism probably got disconnected during your trip,” she stated.

“Right. I don’t have the right tools with me. What can I use to reattach it?” Terri asked, her voice sounding scratchy from the cell phone reception.

Maria looked hard at a nearby surveillance photo still. “Your earring!” she blurted out.

“Good answer,” Terri said. She was wearing a pair of gaudy gold earrings that could act as a screwdriver of sorts.

“Ask her where they are now,” Jackson asked.

“Where are you?” Maria relayed.

“Los banos,” Terri said.

“The bathrooms. Miss Lowell needs the counter space for the reactivation,” Maria reported.

Lex was able to hack into the women’s bathroom camera, which were above the sinks.

“Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?” Jackson asked, looking at the main war room screen.

“Only when our people are in danger,” Quinn replied darkly. Lex was able to split the screen: Stiles on one side, Terri on the other. Stiles was waiting edgily in the hall for Terri. Jackson flipped a switch and put the cell phone on speakerphone. The whole of the war room watched in charged anticipation as Terri opened the crucifix’s top plate. Using her earring post, she carefully reattached the trigger wire effortlessly.

“I’m going to test it,” Terri reported.

“Go for it,” Gage replied. Pressing the front of the ornate crucifix, the camera signals showing Terri and Stiles were scrambled for thirty seconds.

“It’s a go,” Terri said. “Tell Miss Dietrich thank you.”

Maria blushed in spite of herself.

Gage grinned. “You already did.”

Later that night, after Maria returned home again, she received a rather interesting phone call. It was from Tom Gage again. “Good evening Miss Dietrich, I’m sorry to bother you again.”

Maria put her glass of orange juice aside and swallowed heavily, shaking her head. “No, not at all. I’m not in trouble again though, am I?” she asked innocently.
Gage chuckled on the other end. “No, nothing like that. I was just calling to let you know that your contribution went off without another hitch. Miss Lowell and Mr. Stiles are on their way back from Germany as we speak.”

Maria breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you for the update sir.” Gage smiled, though Maria couldn’t see it.

“You’re welcome. I hope I can expect great things like this from you in the future, Miss Dietrich. See you tomorrow.”

For some reason, Maria felt a strange sense of serenity wash over her as she hung up the phone. She never thought someone like her, the outsider in a family of sworn overachievers, could actually contribute to a successful CIA mission. It gave her a strong sense of pride and patriotism to know she was working for the good guys. She finally felt that she had belonged. That’s all she wanted.

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