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C H A P T E R  S I X



2 MARCH, 1984     15:57


        Cecilia held a thin, off-white piece of paper up against the wall of golden sunlight that had begun its aggressive late afternoon advance into the room. On the paper’s face danced neat graphite lettering, each stroke the intentional, perfected result of many similar compositions that had come before but were ultimately bound to the fate of becoming tattered scraps, all of which had graced the small wireframe wastebasket in the corner of the room at one point or another over the course of the past several weeks. 

        The grain of the paper was far from perfect, and hardly deserving of the weight of the words that had been scrawled upon it with such fastidiousness. Its yellowish pallor threatened to diminish the importance of the account it bore, but the effort was in vain; the words had been so carefully tailored, so tediously perfected, that they could have easily been printed on the finest letterhead.

        This was, after all, the culmination of what Cecilia had committed herself to, wholly–entirely–for the past ten months.

        She brought the paper back down again to its place upon the chipped laminate face of her desk, on top of three other handwritten sheets of similar size and character. With the tips of her middle fingers, she lined up the corners of each sheet so that they sat perfectly stacked before her. 

        Cecilia leaned back against her chair, the aged plastic creaking against her spine. The pit of her stomach, which usually began to ache at any indication of imminent adversity, was strikingly calm. Perhaps it was that she had never spent this long mulling over any decision in her life, and all worry and trepidation had left her body months ago. 

        She was thankful for this if it was indeed the case.

        Her eyes traveled up the white wall before her, which was sliced almost exactly in half diagonally by orange light. The glow skimmed over the rims of pocks and gouges left by previous occupants, perhaps all that remained now of those who had been confined to this room before her. The light graced the curled edges of paint next to her desk that she was guilty of absentmindedly picking at when her mind was devoid of ideas, the only white noise that kept her from lingering on the certainty of what lay ahead should she choose to do nothing at all.

        The prospect of leaving this god-forsaken desert was no longer a possibility. 

        This somewhat recent revelation had been her prompt to raise her eyes from the tattered books she had lost herself in to pass the time. With nothing to lose and nothing to gain, she had begun to write.


        My name is Cecilia June Whitaker. This is a truthful, written account of what transpired preceding, during, and directly after the events of May 3rd, 1983.


        What began as scribbled notes in the margins of her books now took the form of these precious four papers that were stacked delicately before her.

        She leaned forward again and folded the stack into thirds, sliding her fingers along the two horizontal creases to press them flat. With a sigh she pushed away from the desk, the metal legs of her chair scraping against the tile as she rose. She turned and allowed her gaze to linger on the contents of the small room she had called home for almost a year. 

        The space was clean and well-kept despite its size and the age of the sparsely-arranged furniture. A bed, a metal lavatory with an attached sink, a short wooden shelf, and the desk by which she now stood marked each corner of the room. She had no possessions except for the small stack of books next to the rusted frame of her bed. No mirrors, no music. None of the things she had taken for granted all of her life, things that she only now realized had been vital anchors in her perception of her own humanness. Her absent-minded singing of once-familiar tunes to keep her spirits high eventually quieted to hums when she began to forget the words.

        Her precious books had been her only friends and confidants. To those pages, and those pages only–until now–had she spilled her account of the Event, in the form of her hastily scrawled jottings. 

        It had been incredibly hard at first, learning to keep her mouth shut during questionings. When she had first arrived, she couldn’t help but react with brazen rebuttals each time she had been pulled into that hot, stuffy room only to have accusations and lies thrown at her from behind the image of her own disheveled reflection. They were lies that she knew had tumbled first from the mouth of Davy, and her hatred for him grew like the swirling flames of a bushfire. She poured all of her energy and vigor into denying all of it. I did not build a weapon. I did not build a weapon. I did not build a weapon.

        Eventually, she gave up her contention altogether and resigned herself to say nothing at all, convinced that such a strategy would cause those who doggedly questioned her to lose interest. It worked, perhaps unfortunately so. Cecilia found herself dragged from her sanctuary of a room less and less, leaving her with more time for her books–and more time alone with the ever-looming shadow of knowing that the sands of time were falling quickly for her.

        Physically, she had never felt better. The burning in her lungs was nothing more than a memory, the residual heat of fever gone not long after her arrival. She caught herself naively beginning to think she was unaffected after all, until Javelin’s resident doctor–the only individual here to have treated Cecilia with a modicum of sympathy–crushed her hopes with a blood test, and, perhaps knowing Cecilia was aware of the graveness of the results, so kindly shared them.

        Something about coming to terms with slowly fizzling away, quietly and wordlessly, in a secluded room after barely two decades of living, gave her pause. As the months went by, she found herself purging herself of every feeling that was no longer useful to her; it was as if she was paddling away from a sinking ship in a lifeboat with a hole in the bottom of it, and all she could do was throw every coil of rope or box of supplies overboard in the futile hope that she would make it long enough to see land. 

        And so, with this sentiment, she found her hatred for Davy eventually fading into indifference. Her animosity towards Horne and the others who had put her through the wringer for months turned slowly into pity that their only source of answers was someone bound for their grave. What did they care, anyways?

        She was almost content with going out in such a manner.

        Cecilia took the worn, olive-colored fatigue jacket from where it hung over the back of her chair, shrugging it on over her faded t-shirt. The sleeves were almost comically too long for her arms. She tugged her braid back out from under the collar of the jacket and picked up the folded papers from their place on the desk. 

        She took hold of the chair and dragged it to the small window on the opposite wall, stepping up onto the seat so that she could easily access the latch. She held the papers between her teeth as she forced the latch downwards with both hands, and there was a clunk as the seal released. She flattened her palms against the glass and pushed to the side, gritting her teeth with the effort. 

        Finally, the old, heat-weakened silicone gave way and the pane slid to the side. All at once Cecilia was hit by a wall of dry heat. The air, as hot as it was, was welcome, and Cecilia paused for a moment to take a deep breath before continuing.

        She was unsurprised by the lack of effort Javelin had made to properly secure these crumbling rooms; anyone barely larger than her would have been unable to squeeze through such a small opening, and even if they did manage to get through, where would they go? Escaping such a remote outpost–and surviving, if one made it that far–was nigh impossible. 

        But how many others had ten months to think about how they would do it?

        Cecilia turned her attention back to the outside world. The side of the building her room was situated on faced a small, dusty construction site. A tall chain link fence lined with a long green tarp enclosed the area, but from her second-floor position she could clearly see into it; as she suspected, no work was being done today.

        With the papers still between her teeth, Cecilia placed one hand on the outside of the wall above the window opening as she put her right leg through. She ducked her head through the opening so that she now straddled the narrow sill with an arm and a leg on each side. She tried her best to calm the tremors that spidered up her limbs as she eyed the distance to the ground down below.

        A sudden shout split the air and she froze. Beyond the other side of the construction site, the shape of a soldier jogging toward another caught her eye. The soldier barked another indiscernible word and caught up to his friend, clapping him on the back as they continued onwards together, completely oblivious to the young woman dangling halfway out of a window less than a hundred feet away. 

        Cecilia breathed out steadily and moved her shaking hands so they braced her from the inside of the opening as she slowly moved her other leg out and over, careful to keep enough of her rear balanced on the other side of the sill that she wouldn’t go tumbling forward unexpectedly. 

        A battered pickup truck was parked a few feet out from the wall. In the bed of the truck was a mangled mess of green construction tarp, enough to cushion her jump–if she could make it. 

        Can't turn back now.

        Cecilia brought her knees up so that the soles of her sneakers were flat against the wall, and she placed her palms against the rough concrete on either side of the window. With a burst of energy, she pushed away from the wall, her heart leaping into her throat as she careened through the air. 

        Before she could blink she hit the pile of tarp–much harder than she anticipated–and the air was knocked out of her. The truck creaked violently with the sudden impact, and Cecilia lay still for a moment and struggled to fill her lungs with air again as the truck’s rocking subsided, waiting to be sure that no one had heard or seen her daring feat. She reached up to take the papers from her teeth, tucking them into the inner pocket of her jacket and buttoning it up with shaking hands.

        As she lay there fumbling with the buttons, the rough tarp scratching her skin and her legs buzzing from the shock, she couldn’t keep a giddy smile from spreading across her face. She suppressed a giggle, knowing that it was far too soon to celebrate that much yet. She raised her head to scan her surroundings, and upon seeing no one around, stood. 

        Cecilia wobbled slightly as she waded through the tarp to the edge of the truck bed, sitting on the side and swinging her legs over. She dropped down and her knees immediately buckled, sending her into the dirt. She swore and rose quickly, trailing her hand along the side of the truck to steady herself as she tiptoed to peer into the windows. She found the metal handle and gave it a tug. To her continued luck, the door squeaked open.

        On the driver’s seat was a wadded-up tan t-shirt, the same kind she had noticed peeking out of the necks of the khaki fatigues worn by the handful of Javelin soldiers she had seen up close. Cecilia took it, pulling it halfway over her head and tucking the ends back and underneath so that only her eyes were visible through a small slit. The smell of old sweat that permeated the fabric was strong enough to make her eyes water, but she continued onwards, walking with a gait that she hoped could pass for someone who would not seem out of place.

        She had never seen anything further than the stale view of a distant wall that her second-story window provided. This new world outside was far more developed than she had imagined. Around her on all sides were buildings–concrete, metal, and brown brick alike–the spaces between them strung with countless bundles of splayed wires.

        Electing not to falter, she followed the sound of vehicles rumbling by on the other side of the taller building ahead, which overshadowed the one she had just come from. Its two stories of large, square windows beamed the light of the western sun directly into her eyes, so Cecilia kept her head angled slightly toward the ground as she walked. 

        A lazy breeze carried nearby voices around the corner, and Cecilia fought the instinct to turn back. She rounded her building in time to see a small group of men descending the iron steps of one of four long, corrugated-metal structures adjacent to the road ahead. Barracks, most likely. 

        Cecilia kept her head down but maintained a careful watch on them with her peripherals as she continued forward. They paid her no mind, quite preoccupied with their own enthusiastic conversation as they turned and fell in behind her on the gravel path. 

        Just ahead, a battered white pickup truck crunched leisurely over the unpaved road, and Cecilia committed herself to following it. It rolled to a stop for a moment before turning down a wider road to the left. Cecilia, too, turned the corner and was met with the sight of what appeared to be the main artery of all of the base’s operations. 

        A number of concrete structures were situated on either side of the cracked asphalt that seemed to signify a road more important than the other gravel-strewn avenues. A large building with two jutting wings on either side commanded the strongest presence of all, crowned with spikes of black antennae that pierced the bluish haze of the sky above. An assortment of men in business suits and fatigues were gathered in front. A few laughs split the air as they blew smoke from their lips and discussed matters Cecilia couldn’t hear. She didn’t care to look twice to see if Horne was among them, and kept her head forward as she continued along the opposite side of the road.

        The pickup, much further ahead now, reached the end of the road and turned once more, just shy of a cluster of tan, half-domed tents. Cecilia had her objective.


        The call from behind jolted Cecilia, but she kept her trajectory steady in the event that it wasn’t meant for her.

        “You! Green jacket!” 

        Cecilia’s eyes widened, and she halted. Her heart thudded heavily enough that she could swear whoever now shuffled over the gravel behind her could already hear it. She quickly pulled the shirt up higher over her nose and brought the portion on top of her head lower over her eyes, narrowing the amount of her face that showed. 

        She turned her head to see a soldier approaching, his hand resting on the stock of a slung rifle. Cecilia held out hope that there was someone else in a green jacket that had claimed his attention.

        A strong brow shadowed his eyes, but there was no doubt that he was looking at her. He was a tall, lean man with a head of closely-cut dirty blonde hair, and an expression of unmistakable annoyance pulled a frown downward over his stubbled chin. 

        Cecilia breathed in deeply, her lips pursing tightly under the cover of the shirt as she weighed her options. Blinding sunlight glinted up and down the barrel of the soldier’s gun with his every stride. Her stomach began to ache.

        “Last call for transport back to Khurud was almost ten minutes ago.” His voice was marked with a tone of irritation as he picked his way over the last few chunks of sun-bleached asphalt that separated them. He stopped before her, obviously expecting her to have something to say for herself.

        Cecilia stared blankly.

        “Jesus,” the soldier said, wiping his arm across his sweat-beaded brow. He shifted his weight and waved his hand in the direction of the wall. “Khurud?” 

        Cecilia remained silent, less a strategic intention to keep her voice hidden and more simply because the gears in her brain had ground to a halt.

        The soldier mumbled something to himself as he dove his hand into a deep pouch on his rig and withdrew a handheld radio. The thick antenna whipped through the air as he brought the device to his mouth. 

        “Hey, uhh–Doug, has that transport left yet?” As he awaited a response, the soldier turned his attention back to Cecilia, his eyes flitting over her ragged form. Cecilia quickly tilted her head downwards as she dusted the dirt from the back of her pants, trying her best to hide her hands. 

        The radio chirped.

        “Nah, we’re still loading up.”

        The soldier turned his head back to the radio in his hand. “Roger that, I’ve got a straggler over by Command. I’ll bring ‘em over.” The soldier slid the device back into its pouch and took his rifle by the grip, gesturing with it towards the road ahead with a huffed sigh. “Alright, get going.”

        Cecilia turned, releasing a shaky breath as she set off again, this time with the soldier in tow. She could scarcely believe what had just happened, or rather what she had just narrowly avoided. Despite the presence of her irked and armed associate now breathing down her neck, Cecilia walked with a little more pep in her step knowing that her slapdash attempt to blend in had actually worked.

        As they neared the tents at the end of the road, a rusty military transport truck came into view. At least a dozen Pashtuns were seated in the back, some teetering precariously on the surrounding wooden paneling to make more room for the boxes of food and wares that also claimed space in the rear. All eyes turned to Cecilia as she approached.

        There was a push from behind and she stumbled forward.

        “Up,” the soldier grunted.

        Cecilia clambered onto the back of the truck with some difficulty, scraping her knee on some unseen piece of metal or exposed nail as she pulled herself up and over the tailgate. She bit the inside of her cheek to distract herself and spun around, looking for an open place to sit. No one around her made room, so she lowered herself to the floor where she stood. Her cheeks burned under the heat of the stares from those around her, all of whom were obviously well aware that she was not part of their usual entourage.

        “Next time,” the soldier said from below, banging his fist twice on the side of the truck, “remember the call time or lose your pass. Sixteen-hundred.” He tapped the watch on his wrist and held up four fingers.

The truck rumbled to life and the soldier turned, slowly starting to pick his way back over the road towards the barracks. Cecilia released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. There was a lurch as the truck set off, and she held tightly to a plank on the tailgate as they bounced over the uneven road. 

        She kept her head turned away from the others as she looked out over the curved tops of the tents that they rolled past. Far beyond them now was all that she had known for what seemed like an eternity. That eight-by-eight room was nothing more than a speck in the grand scheme of the sprawling, dust-strewn concrete landscape before her, which was quite disquieting now that she had the chance to really think about it. 

        She hoped that whatever she could scrounge out of the remainder of her life could make up for what she had lost in this place already.

        The engine revved as the truck lowered gears and slowed again. Cecilia turned her head back toward the front of the truck to see a guard box come into view on the driver’s side. They lurched to a stop, and from her position, she could make out the top of a head bobbing along the side of the truck as the guard circled it. She quickly turned her head towards the others, inadvertently making eye contact with the man who sat opposite her, who was perched on a woven sack. 

        “Ta soke ye?” he directed at her, lifting his chin.

        Cecilia swallowed. She looked down at her lap, pretending that she hadn’t heard. 

        The man began to speak quickly, in Pashto, to the others next to him, throwing up an unmistakably accusatory finger in her direction. A collective murmur rose from the group, and Cecilia’s shoulder was grabbed and shaken firmly. She shrugged the hand from her shoulder and looked out over the back of the truck again, beads of sweat starting to form on her skin. The soldier had disappeared back into the guardbox, but the tall gate ahead of the truck remained closed. 

        “Alta de sa kol?” 

        A few of the men in the truck rose from their seats, the legs of their loose linen trousers fluttering in front of Cecilia’s face as their inquiries began to grow louder and their gestures more impassioned. She was jostled and suddenly wrenched upwards, face to face with an older Pakistani man. 

        “Alta de sa kol?” he said again, emphasizing the inquest with a jarring shake of her shoulders.

        There was a metallic clunk and shudder, and the gate ahead of the truck began to roll open. Others in the back of the truck had now risen from their seats and joined in with the shouts, and Cecilia began to choke on the stale, hot air under the shirt she wore over her face as the group closed in around her, pulling her in every direction.

        Almost in answer to her sudden acknowledgment of discomfort, the shirt was ripped from her face. 

        “Wait!” Cecilia started, reaching out to take it back. 

        One of the men towards the rear, whose eyes were wide as he took in the revelation before him, backed away and, clambering over a stack of boxes, began to bang on the rear window of the truck. Others joined in, and as Cecilia struggled against the grip of the old man she saw the driver’s side door open.

        She wrenched herself from the sea of hands with enough force that it sent her tumbling over the back of the tailgate. Her arms spiraled and her stomach lurched as she fell backward into nothingness, then landed squarely, shoulder-first, on the hard, rocky ground. Pain shot through her core like an ice-cold shock. 

        Pushing down the pain, she rolled onto her stomach, and from her vantage point below the truck, she saw the legs of the driver stepping over the gravel as he made his way down toward the back.

        “I’m gonna be fucking late to dinner ‘cus of y’all,” she heard him grumble.

        With a huff, Cecilia pulled herself forward so that she was now fully under the belly of the truck. Heavy heat radiated down on her from the exhaust, and she stifled a cough as she took in a lungful of dusty air that had only just begun to settle around the tires.

        “Now what’re y’all all worked up about?” 

        Cecilia looked over her shoulder, towards the back of the truck. The driver’s boots were planted at the rear as he weathered the storm of angry shouts in Pashto. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to understand, and soon his own exasperated shouts joined the cacophony of noise above. Cecilia continued her crawl over the jagged chunks of gravel, trying her best to ignore the pain as the rocks pressed painfully into her elbows.

        She reached the front of the truck and looked both ways. The opening in the gate ahead was now wide enough for her to pass through easily, and so she pulled herself the rest of the way out from under the truck, steeled her courage, and bolted for it.

        She ran, leaving behind the shouts. All was still for a moment, then there was another yell. Within seconds the bleat of a siren split the air. 

        Miles and miles of nothing stretched out in a yawning expanse ahead of her, cradled on either side by distant snow-capped mountains. There was nowhere to go but forward and into this great, brown nothingness, and it was only a matter of time before her game ended one way or another. 

        But, in this moment, she was finally free.

        Cecilia couldn’t hold back the laugh that bubbled from her chest as she ran. Her heart, thudding violently against her ribs from the exertion and the utter thrill, felt like it was going to explode. She smiled against the sunlight that kissed her cheeks as her feet pounded the cracked dirt beneath her. She felt like a child again, trying to outrun her parents in one of those chaotic games of tag that left them all doubled over with breathless laughter.

        She had whittled down the chances of what would come next to only two possible scenarios. Either was welcome, so for the first time in a very long time, she was utterly content. 

        Cecilia laughed again, this time as a prideful taunt; she had gotten the better of them after all, even if it was only for a moment. She was drunk on the adrenaline that came with wondering when she could expect a bullet to rip through her, and she finally relinquished her grip on the last of the cares she held on to. She had never felt anything so enthrallingly terrifying before. The siren droned on behind her, although it was soon drowned out by the sound of her own heartbeat and ragged breathing.

        The realization that she hadn’t been cut down yet began to overtake her joy in a sick fog of disappointment, and suddenly her mood started to turn. The mountains themselves seemed to shrink further away, almost as if ensuring that she would never reach them, never reach the world beyond them, never be truly free.

        She pushed onwards, but the corners of her mouth fell. All at once she became acutely aware of her mortality again, of the ache in the root of her lungs for adequate air, of the burning of her legs as they begged for an end to the most physical exertion she had put them through in almost a year. 

        Only now did her senses completely return like powerful waves crashing over her, and she noticed the wetness of tears on her cheeks. Behind her, the sound of the siren reemerged from the muted hum of her rapidly waning high, joined by the crunching of several more pairs of feet behind her. She bared her teeth and pressed forward with everything she had one final time before a pair of arms locked around her and brought her to the ground.



        “I think I can speak for everyone here when I say that I would love to know the thought process that led you to this.”

        Horne slackened his stance and slid his hands into the pockets of his black trousers. Cecilia watched his warped reflection on the metal table in front of her, noting how amusingly squat he looked from this angle on its polished face. His mouth hung open slightly as his tongue swept back and forth across his bottom teeth, and his eyebrows were stretched towards the ceiling, wrinkling his forehead. He tilted an ear in her direction expectantly. 

        “No, really. Please,” he pressed.

        Cecilia broke her gaze from his reflection and moved her eyes upwards, following the neatly pressed creases of his trousers and continuing that trajectory until her eyes met his. 

        He was still catching his breath–or rather, trying to hide the fact that he was doing so. One single strand of hair had freed itself from its carefully pomaded styling and now hung down between his dark brows. 

        She was back where it had all started. 

        The twin bulbs that hung above her head washed the center of the room in their familiar, sickly yellowish glare, casting harsh shadows on the room’s occupants–those who stood within the reach of the light, anyways. A few hung back in the darkness behind Horne and had been there before he had arrived a moment ago. They stood there silently, motionlessly, keeping her under a burning gaze that she couldn’t see, but could certainly feel. 

        Horne turned and extended a hand to the shadowed figures. One of them moved forward a step and produced what looked like a small stack of papers from their jacket, passing it to him. Cecilia squinted. 

        Her papers.

        Horne sniffed distractedly as he unfolded the stack and shook out the crease, holding it up at an angle where the light could illuminate it properly. His dark eyes darted over the contents.

        “Where is Davy?” he eventually said to no one in particular, still taking in the material before him. 

        His question was met with silence. He peered up from the papers, his eyebrows inching upwards again in indignation as he looked to someone past Cecilia. 

        “Yes. Davy. Where is he?”

        The poor individual behind Cecilia, who wasn’t prepared to be on the receiving end of Horne’s questions tonight, began to stutter. 

        “He–He’s off duty, sir. His unit–They’re on the graveyard shift this week. I think they’re all still asleep.”

        Horne set his jaw. “I don’t care if you have to drag him out of bed–”

        There was a shuffle behind Cecilia, and a young soldier swept past her in the direction of the door. He opened it and slid through before further words could be exchanged. Horne turned his focus to the papers once more.

        What set this visit to the questioning room apart from all the other visits that came before was that it seemed as though everyone who had always been on the other side of the mirror decided now to grace Cecilia with their presence. The surplus of bodies in the room had been causing the temperature to steadily rise over the course of the last half hour or so, so most had shed their jackets as they waited for Horne’s arrival. Despite Cecilia’s hands being tightly cuffed around the back of the chair she had been seated in, she had managed to shrug her own dust-covered jacket off her shoulders–with some difficulty–to keep herself from overheating.

        “Nolan...” Another voice cut into the tense silence, and Cecilia’s eyes flitted to a figure that shifted in the shadows behind Horne. “I’d like to take it from here if you don’t mind.”

        Horne pursed his lips and set the papers on the table with a flair of indignation.

        “Fine,” he said, unbuttoning his jacket as his stance drooped. He swept both sides of the jacket back as he put his hands on his hips in defeat and stepped to the side.

        The figure who spoke moved forward into the light. It was another man in businesslike attire, although he had abandoned his jacket and tie some time ago. He wore a pair of brown slacks paired with a sleek robin’s egg blue dress shirt. The sleeves were carefully cuffed to the elbows, and the top button was undone to reveal a few curls of blond hair that cropped up from below his clavicle. 

        “Ms. Whitaker, we haven’t met–officially, that is.” He smiled, nodding his head in the direction of the large mirror behind him. “I’ve come to know you fairly well from the other side of that mirror, so it’s only fair that I introduce myself in return.” 

        He slid his hands into his pockets, and Cecilia caught the glint of a beautiful golden wristwatch before it disappeared into the fabric.

        “My name is Pascal Lochte,” he continued. “I’ve been working closely with Commander Harper and the special operations division here with Javelin for the past two years.”

        Lochte was moderately handsome, and he carried himself with remarkable posture; he had to have been in his late thirties, if Cecilia had to guess. Fair hair, light eyes, and a strong facial structure hinted at German–maybe Polish–ancestry. Like so many others here, though, he was unquestionably American. Creases in the corners of his eyes indicated a demeanor more pleasant than Horne’s, so Cecilia allowed him her full attention.

        “Now–you can imagine I’m very interested in what you have to say,” he said, delicately turning the papers on the table toward him with his index finger. His voice was strong and clear, but he spoke deliberately–as if he put great care into the selection of words that fell from his mouth–and annunciated each syllable with an effortless eloquence. “I’m actually glad that you’ve come back here in the manner that you did. I was starting to worry that…” He paused, bringing his hands together firmly before extending his palms outwards. “Well–I was starting to worry that you had given up, considering the circumstances. It would have been a great loss for the scientific community, as I understand it.”

        Cecilia’s eyebrow seemed to raise on its own accord in response to the remark. He was incredibly hard to read, and she couldn’t tell if she was being mocked, manipulated, or genuinely complimented.

        “You know, Ms. Whitaker,” Lochte continued, beginning to slowly pace back and forth in front of the table as he mulled over his words, “I regret not talking to you face-to-face sooner. I feel that we, as a company, haven’t put our best foot forward in acquainting ourselves with you.

        “You came here at a disadvantage, as everyone who comes here does. Perhaps if we had extended the right opportunities to you from the start, you wouldn’t have felt as though you were being antagonized for your past decisions, but rather encouraged to pursue your strengths.” He pursed his lips and brought his forefinger and thumb to his chin in thought. “Commander Harper and I both believe–strongly, I might add–that human capability and advancement must be nurtured–more than ever before, really, now that we live in this new, digital age.” 

        He stopped pacing and looked at the ground for a moment, then met her gaze again with a smile. “I apologize for the conduct of Mr. Horne… But I do ask that you understand the precarious nature of his work here. He’s on our side, but it’s essential that he maintains this very delicate symbiotic relationship between Javelin and our friends in Washington. It’s painful at times, the give and take that comes with this,” he chuckled. “Believe me, I know. But it is necessary.”

        Behind him, Horne folded his arms and turned away. Cecilia looked down at the table again, chewing on her lip. She hated how reasonable Lochte sounded with his appeal for her empathy, as if the months of mental torment could be chalked up to a simple misunderstanding that had been left to fester for far too long. She hated that she could almost feel a statement of polite forgiveness worming its way up her throat. She quickly swallowed it.

        “We do, however, need to discuss this,” Lochte said, planting his feet in front of the table and looking down at the papers. “I can understand why you didn’t feel comfortable addressing the extent of your involvement with SNOW before. There seems to be a recurring sentiment of guilt–denial, even–from those here who have come from a place of being involved with the Soviet Union in some way.”

        He sighed. “I’m disappointed that you felt you had to abscond with this statement rather than entrust the information to us from the start. After all,” he said, motioning to the others in the room, “we all hold respect for the Soviets, don’t we? They have a wealth of brilliant minds on their side, and we know how hard they work to keep it that way. It must have been easy for someone like you to feel welcomed into their fold after being ostracized by your own peers in the Western world of science.”

        Cecilia sucked the insides of her cheeks between her teeth, starting to dislike the role that she was being pigeonholed into. She hadn’t been tricked into cooperating with the Soviets. She wasn’t just another socially vulnerable outcast.

        She looked up at Lochte again. His expression was softened, almost as if in pity. Cecilia began to open her mouth to speak, but the creak of the door opening interrupted the reply that sat on her tongue. All heads turned to face the disturbance.

        The young soldier reappeared, and in tow was none other than Davy.

        Cecilia hadn’t seen him since Tanzania. Despite the passage of almost a year of what she could only assume was full of all kinds of escapades, he looked relatively the same. Shaggy brown waves of hair were swept back from his face–in a neater fashion than they had been in the sweltering heat of Moshi–and curled away just above the collar of his khaki shirt. He sported the same thick mustache, but the rest of his face was clean-shaven and free of the roughened stubble that had lined his jaw the last time she had been in his company. There was no doubt that he was being well-fed, as his sturdy frame dwarfed the soldier in front of him.

        He wore an expression of vague irritation as he entered the room, undoubtedly less than pleased to have been roused from his slumber. His tired eyes quickly scanned the area for any indication of what the meaning of the interruption was, and when they locked with hers the irritation turned to outright displeasure.         Despite the intensity of his glare, Cecilia didn’t look away. Although she had long ago put her distaste for him behind her, she found that she took great enjoyment in the opportunity to inconvenience him, after all he had done to inconvenience her.

        An eye for an eye, or something like that.

        “Just in time, Captain,” Lochte said. “I apologize for the disruption, this shouldn’t take much of your time.”

        There was a scraping sound as another chair was brought around the table and placed next to Cecilia’s. Lochte gestured to it.

        “Please have a seat.”

        Davy’s chest fell as he exhaled sharply through his nose in silent objection, but he rounded the table and slowly lowered himself into the chair. He clasped his hands loosely on the table in front of him, and Cecilia watched his attention turn to the stack of papers inches away. She could tell that he was trying to make out the words on them from his position, but his efforts were thwarted as Lochte took them up into his hands.

        “I’d like to cut to the chase,” he said, thumbing through the pages. “We have here a full, written account from Ms. Whitaker, Captain, and there are some details we’d like to cross-reference with you, being–as you know–the only other source of information on this matter that we have.” 

        Cecilia knew that Davy was squirming in his skin; the tension was almost palpable as he sat there beside her, pretending that he was still in control of the situation he must have thought he resolved months ago. 

        God, she was going to savor this moment.

        Horne stepped forward to interject. “She attempted to flee earlier today with this in her possession–presumably meant for another government entity–”

        “She hasn’t specified which, or if any particular recipient was intended,” Lochte said with a firm calmness. “As you can imagine, she didn’t get far, so–Nolan, if you would, I’m going to try to keep us on the right track out of respect for Davy’s time.”

        Nolan’s hands returned to his pockets as he huffed and looked away.

        “I would like to state for the record,” Lochte continued, looking in turn at the others that stood in the room, “that Ms. Whitaker–in this account here–has written that she was indeed the architect of the weapon of mass destruction SNOW was under contract to create for the Soviet Union–This is, of course, the weapon that destroyed the Soviet research facility and surrounding area in Tanzania.” He turned his attention back to         Cecilia. “Ms. Whitaker, is that correct?”

        She straightened up, looking Lochte straight in the eyes. 


        An energetic murmur buzzed around the small room. Even Davy turned halfway around in his seat to cast an incredulous glance in her direction. 

        The sudden change in the unspoken power structure was euphoric. Cecilia had to remind herself to retain a degree of visible discouragement; she was, after all, still supposed to be genuinely disappointed that her escape attempt had not been successful.

        Lochte grinned. “Well,” he said, his tone surprisingly kind as he beamed at Cecilia. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” He spoke as if he was a father watching his child pedal her first bicycle forward ten feet without his help.

        Cecilia knew that if there was a window into the back of Davy’s skull, she would be able to see his gears rapidly turning. Good. This stratagem would soon require his equal participation if he wanted to remain blameless.

        “This brings me to my next question,” Lochte said. “Davy, Ms. Whitaker has also written that the catastrophic failure of the weapon test was due to her absence from the control room–This is after you had already seized her with the intention of using her as leverage.”

        Davy shifted under Lochte’s expectant gaze. “I was never made aware of the intricacies of the weapon systems and the competence of the others in the control room.” He exhaled. “As far as I know, her statement is correct.” 

        Cecilia knew that Davy’s mind was wide awake now, dusting the cobwebs off his old alibi and rapidly modifying it to account for his best guess at whatever it was that she had written in those damned papers.

        “Now, the nature of this weapon is where there seems to be some sort of discrepancy between your accounts, in the sense that you never went into detail on the subject, Davy,” Lochte said, turning to another page in the stack. “Ms. Whitaker describes it as a ‘caela diffusion warhead’. Is this accurate, to your knowledge?” 

        Careful, Davy, you’re flying blind now.

        He leaned back in his chair, which creaked slightly under the shift in weight. “That sounds about right.”

        His delivery was impeccable.

        There was a stir in the room, and Lochte took it upon himself to ask the question that was on all of the observers’ lips.

        “What exactly is this... caela?”

        Cecilia swallowed. “A very fickle molecule. It can be extremely safe if it’s used as an energy source, or extremely destructive if it’s used as a weapon.” 

        Horne sidled up to Lochte. “Caelumology,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s crackpot science. That kind of stuff couldn’t do what we saw in Tanzania–” 

        “Why would I lie about this?” Cecilia challenged. 

        “Because you have before.”

        Voices around the room erupted in unintelligible discussion.

        “–never heard of it–”

        “–Soviet weapons program–”

        “–nuclear warhead–”

        “She’s telling the truth,” Davy said solidly, commanding silence. “She was the principal caelumologist with SNOW. She worked closely with her Soviet counterpart, Dr. Abramov–I’m sure you’ll find his name in there.”

        Horne took the papers back from Lochte and flipped through them, his eyes scanning each line. To his visible displeasure, he seemed to find the name in question; he pushed his lips together and kept his eyes on the paper.

        “Well,” he muttered, “the very best she can hope for is extradition-”

        “I can build it again,” Cecilia said. 

        Murmurs arose once more from those who still stood in the shadows. Davy exhaled through his nose and leaned forward heavily, planting his elbows on the table and pushing his fingers against his temples in slow circular motions. 

        Throughout the commotion, Lochte’s gaze remained fixed on Cecilia. His eyes were hooded from the depth his brow was furrowed, but his icy blue irises still caught enough of the overhead light that she could almost see the clouds of thought swirling in them. 

        Cecilia dipped her chin downwards slightly as she looked up at him, silently imploring him to accept her offer. The subtle invitation seemed to stir something in him; the look of shallow pity in his expression had been shed, revealing an aspect of keen interest.

        In that moment, Cecilia swore he could see straight through her. She swore he could see past the shell of her precarious scheme to the very heart of her intentions. She had never laid herself as bare as she did now, but then again, there was nothing to hide.

        She spoke to him plainly, doing her best to keep her voice steady. “If you extradite me, you’ll lose the only person alive who knows the things I do.”

        He breathed in deeply, crossing his arms with a hint of a smile. “And I suppose you want something, don’t you?”

        Horne cut between them, his back to Cecilia. “Pascal, no,” he said with finality. “Absolutely not.”

        “Thirty thousand a year, legal and diplomatic immunity, and the full cooperation of R&D,” Cecilia recited. “All records of my involvement with SNOW, the Soviet Union, Javelin, and this project are to be wiped,” she added quickly. “That part is non-negotiable.”

        Horne spun around to face her. “Who the hell do you think you are to demand something like that?” 

        Lochte placed a hand on Horne’s shoulder. “Nolan, get a call set up.” 

        “Do you–Do you really think this is–”


        Horne stood there for a moment between them, his lips pressed tightly together as he seemed to stew in the lunacy of the insurmountable–unspeakable–task set before him. Cecilia almost felt sorry for him; Lochte was right–his duty was one of tact, and she had most likely put him at risk of toppling his precarious house of cards. In her own defense, she couldn’t imagine that his contacts in Washington would be displeased about getting a state-of-the-art weapon of mass destruction out of the deal. 

        Horne spun on his heel and made his way to the door, pulling it open with more force than what was necessary and disappearing through it. Others in the room started to follow, seeming to sense a decision had been reached. As they started to file out, Cecilia sighed quietly.

        Lochte reached into his pocket and tossed something small and light to Davy, who caught it before it could hit the table. 

        “I’ll leave you to do the honors, Captain,” Lochte said, turning to gather his jacket from a small table in front of the mirror.

        Davy opened his hand to reveal a small metal key. Cecilia had to bite back a smile, wondering if Lochte had intended the irony of the gesture; she was sure he had. 

        She was sure Davy had noticed, too, because he rose swiftly from his chair and crouched behind her, pulling her hands downwards so that she was forced to lean her head back slightly.

        “You’re insane,” he hissed in her ear. 

        It was definitely not intended to be a compliment.

        Cecilia scoffed quietly, and with a click her hands fell free from her restraints. She looked up in time to see another soldier attempting to squeeze through the doorway between the others who were trying to leave.

        “Captain,” he called, eventually managing to make his way through. 

        The urgency in his voice caused Lochte to turn as well. Davy straightened up.

        “What is it?”

        “We’ve been called up, sir. Seems to be a situation forming just over the Afghan border–”

        “A situation?” Lochte inquired.

        “What’s that supposed to mean?” Davy said, almost in unison.

        Cecilia rubbed her wrists as she watched the floundering interaction. The soldier was breathless, obviously struggling to get a complete sentence out.

        “High-value target,” he said, panting. He shook his head helplessly. “Soviets are scrambling–they want ‘em bad. We barely caught it–orders came right from the CIA to intercept. Something about a Soviet defector–invaluable information–critical assets.”

        Davy wasted no time. He crossed the room and barreled through the small crowd at the door without an apology, the soldier following closely in his wake. 

        Lochte draped his jacket over his arm, his watch glinting brilliantly in the light again. He turned his attention back to Cecilia.

        “I’ll have someone work up a contract,” he said, giving the table a tap. “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do.” 

        He started to stride to the door, then turned on his heel to face her again.

        “How long do you have left in you, if it’s not too bold of me to ask?” he said. This time his expression was unreadable.

        “Long enough,” Cecilia said, holding her head a little higher.

        Lochte chuckled and nodded, then turned back towards the door. Cecilia watched as he and the last of the others filed out.

        Across the room, behind where Nolan and Lochte had stood, was the now-unobstructed view of her reflection in the one-way mirror. She choked out a gasp upon seeing herself again for the first time in months.

        The strands of her hair that had been emancipated from her braid hung tangled and matted around her face, which was as pale as a sheet from the months spent hidden away from the sun’s warm rays. Her cheekbones appeared more protruding and her eyes more sunken from the nutritionless meals of soup, dry meatloaf, or saltines that she had choked down day after day. 

        Her chin began to quiver as she looked upon this alien version of herself. She wouldn’t allow herself to go out like this. She was going to live, for Christ’s sake.

        “Long enough,” she whispered.

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