Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fallout Chapter 5

He stirred. Everything hurt. The light that poured sideways through the doorway, and through the boarded up window, was shaded subtly golden, the color of afternoon.

The dream still clung to his mind. He'd been fishing, his father beside him, the only sounds the boat as it sloshed against the water, the drip, drip, drip of water off of the edge of the boat, then the rapid click of the reel, bringing in a fish.

The fish flashed bright in the sun-small, flat, silver, with iridescent scales. Jason and his father looked at it for a few moments, and then tossed it back into the lake. It swam away into the dark depths beneath the powder-blue reflection of sky.

The dream had changed, and Jerry and Jana had been in it, and it had gotten more hectic, but Jason held onto that image of peace as his eyes opened and he found himself immersed back in pain. At the moment, he was alone. His thirst was vying with his injuries for supremacy. He could barely feel his hands now; the ropes felt as if they were made of fire.

A shadow fell across the doorway, and the girl stepped in. She wasn't really a girl; she must've been at least 20 years old. And she had come halfway across the world to capture him—a formidable accomplishment. But she was small and delicate, so he automatically thought of her as younger perhaps than she was. He wondered again what interest she had in all of this. It seemed more than just business, as it did with Akim; to her, it seemed personal.

Nadira looked at him for a moment, then, from beneath her green shirt, she unslung a gun from her belt, a small black pistol. With her other hand, she took a water bottle from the pack on her shoulder. Then, she leaned against the edge of the tool shelf and took a long drink.

"Would you like some?" she said.

"What's the catch?"

"If you answer some of my questions."

"Will you answer some of mine?"

She stepped toward him, boots thudding on the packed earth floor. "You can ask. But you're not in a position to demand anything. You have had people under your manipulation; now it's your turn to be under another's control. How does it feel?" She lifted the gun, swiped it under his chin to press against his pulse.

In ordinary times, he'd think of a bit of sarcasm to fire back with, but now, it was all he could do just to speak. He knew the thing he needed most was what Nadira taunted him with—the promise of water, if he'd answer a question.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I'd rather be somewhere else."

"The truth. Interesting words to come from a man who lives his life through lies. How many aliases have you had?"

"I've lost count."

"It doesn't matter. Kohl is the one I'm concerned with. And the man you're masquerading as now."

"Jason Whittaker is no alias."

"It may not be an alias, but you are pretending to be someone you are not. A respectable citizen. Do the people you live among know what you have done?"

He shook his head. Even if it were not a breach of security, he could never bear to tell them what he had done as an agent. Pursuit of Grote had become an obsession, his job had become his passion, and everything else had fallen by the wayside. Even truth. Even others' lives had not meant as much as the mission.

"Nadira," he said, "I will do anything to make up for any harm I may have caused you."

She shoved the gun deeper under his chin. "You could pay with your blood. Except that your blood would be have to be spilled a hundred times over to be worth…to be worth the precious blood that you took from me." She turned away, the gun clutched by her side.

What have I done? he thought. I have had to use deadly force in self-defense, but what if an innocent got caught in the crossfire somehow?

"Nadira, I'm sorry." What else could he say? But the words sounded hollow, indefensibly so.
She whirled back, the gun aimed at his head. "I should kill you right now and give the world some semblance of justice." Her voice was torn with grief. She pressed the gun to his forehead, and he closed his eyes, heart thumping in his ears, like the foreshadowing of the gunshot that would pierce his skull any second.

But then, the cold mouth of the pistol withdrew. He breathed again.

"Except I am not a killer. If Allah wills it, you will die a just death. But if you give me information, that will provide more justice than simply killing you.

"What is this weapon that was worth my sister's life?"

It was as if a knife had stabbed his heart. "Your sister….?"

"You probably didn't even know her name. To you, she was just a thing that got in the way of your plans."

"What was her name?"

She hesitated. "Noor. Her name was Noor."

"I caused her death somehow?"

"You were the one who ordered it. But I suppose you don't even remember what happened that day."

"I would like to know your side of what happened."

She leaned back against the tool shelf again. "I wasn't there that day. I was participating in protests against the government. My sister supported our movement, but she was only twelve, and I wanted her off the streets, so I sent her to my father's office. I thought she would be safe there." Her voice faded to a whisper.

"Then—this I found out later. Factions from the military government and our democratic movement sent teams into the building to capture a weapon there. They tried to break down the door of the office, but two workers escaped and shot their way down the hallway into my father's office. They took hostages—including my father and my sister.

"And then to show they were serious, they took my father at gunpoint and—were going to execute him. But Noor—she—she stepped in front of the gun—just as it went off. She saved his life, but—" She shook her head. Tears slipped from her eyes.

"Then the teams stormed the office, and shot the one who killed Noor. The other they took prisoner.
"My father had been wounded by the gunshot. He was taken to the hospital….I only learned of what happened later that night. I went to the hospital…then went to see Noor.

"She…half her face was blown away…I…couldn't believe it was her at first but when they told me that it was, I held her, praying for a miracle. I was told that I didn't want to let her go in order to be buried. I still couldn't—in some ways I still can't—believe she is gone. She lived up to her name—she brought light into every corner of our lives.

"When my father was able, he launched an investigation into what happened. He wanted to find the truth as much as I did. He found out that the corporation sold weapons to the highest bidder, and they had offered a superweapon to both the government and our movement. Instead of paying for the weapon, both decided to attack the corporation.

"My father had government connections. He was able to see the transcripts of the interrogation of the man who was captured, named Ali. He said that he was only doing what he was told—by a man called Atticus Kohl, the one in charge of the whole operation. This man had ordered him to take the hostages in order to cover his own escape. Kohl had stayed in contact with them, and told them to kill one of the hostages, the one with the most value. My father.

"What I want from you is to admit what you have done. You targeted my father, who would have died instead of Noor. No matter what, I'd be missing one from my family if not for your orders."
"Nadira…I didn't order his death. I wasn't in contact with them, Ali lied—"

"You're the one who is lying! Tell me the truth!"

"That is the truth. But it doesn't absolve me from responsibility. I created that weapon, and the corporation to back it up. I didn't know they'd say they had already obtained the weapon—but it makes sense after how much I paid them. It wasn't real money, though they must not've found out; I didn't have that much in my budget, so I …made more. I thought that I could get away with it; leave them to pay Strom with the counterfeit bills and let them deal with the fallout. They weren't good guys in the first place, so my conscience was clear if they were arrested. Meanwhile, I was free and clear to bury the old alias, start anew. No consequences. I'd foiled Grote once; I'd foil him again, using all of my clever resources.

"I should've figured that my employees would give into greed. Rather than pay Strom to find the fake weapon, they said they had the weapon, and wanted others to pay for it. It was a win-win—they'd have my money, and the money of the highest bidder. It was a dangerous game, though. And they were unscrupulous men. But I was in Singapore and with a new alias, my fake corporation wasn't my problem anymore. It was so far out of my mind I didn't even bother to check on what had happened to them for a long time. As long as I'd lost Strom, and Grote had lost the real weapon, it didn't matter.

"Even then, I didn't look hard enough to see the details. I didn't hear about what happened to your sister. All the same, I'm responsible—because I didn't know. Because I left behind a mess I should've cleaned up—or not created in the first place. But I was so…absorbed in my role, I began to enjoy it, enjoy creating things that weren't real in order to fool the bad guys. I did the very things I was trying to stop others from doing, but it was okay, it was all for 'a good cause'. Until…well, until recently, I thought I came through it unsinged. But I began to realize that the darkness had taken a toll on me spiritually. And until now, I thought that I was the one who had been hurt the most. But now, I see that my web of deception, my recklessness, cost your sister's life. No cause is worth that. If there was a way…Nadira, somehow, if I could spill my own blood in order to bring back your sister, I would."
Nadira tipped her head, large brown eyes focused on him. "And if I could exchange my life for hers, I would in a heartbeat. Perhaps…we have more in common than I thought…

"Still, I can't be sure if you're telling the truth. Either way, by your own admission, you are responsible. And what matters now is that you know about the weapon that can help our people. Noor would have wanted us to have it."

"It isn't a weapon."

"All the better. She hated violence, and so do I. But if there is a way, through violence, to achieve freedom, perhaps….perhaps it is worth it. It is better in our hands than in another's."

"You can't be sure of that—"

"My sister believed in our cause—if anyone's right about it, she would be."

"Would she want you to go this far?"

She slapped his face with surprising force for someone so delicate. The cut that was just starting to close broke open again. Blood trickled down his cheek.

"Don't presume to know what she would want. From now on, I don't want you to speak, unless you are telling me what I want to know."

"Just one more thing I'm not clear on."

"What's that?" she snapped.

"How did you find me? You must have great resources if you uncovered my identity. If I'm good at anything, it's at covering my tracks. And neither you nor Akim are trained agents."

"There is no reason for me to answer that. But if you don't answer my question, you'll find out that I don't need Akim to do my work for me."

She took something from the belt on her left side. A small black device that fit into her palm.
Jason knew all too well what it was.

Just before she pressed it to his chest, he thought, I'm not going to see a drop of water for a while....
The next second, thousands of volts blazed into his body, purging all semblance of thought from his mind.

2 comments:

  1. you have as of this "September 11". Sounds like Jason May Die.

    ReplyDelete

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