Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fallout Chapter 7

As his mind emerged from a purgatory of delirious dreams, his body cried out for water. Burns crisscrossed his chest, where the stun gun had pressed against his skin, shocks still echoing across it. But even the pain paled in comparison with his thirst. As far as he knew, he hadn't had anything to drink since yesterday, and now it was evening, the cabin completely in shadow, just a few faint glimpses of orange light spilled across the floor; outside, the crickets chirped a mad melody.

Nadira had disappeared somewhere, where he didn't know. He didn't have a particular desire to see her again. But after what she'd told him, he could hardly blame her for her anger. She wanted the weapon, but there was more to it—she blamed him for the death of her sister. Even if she believed him when he'd said that he hadn't known what his employees had done, there was no way that he could repay her for the one she had lost. He saw now there were so many other ways he could have accomplished the same thing, but he'd become intoxicated by his ability to manipulate situations to his advantage, his expertise as an agent, and the exhilaration that came along with it. He'd taken shortcuts, such as hiring men he knew were shady characters, paying them in counterfeit money-and manufacturing the false weapon in the first place. A labyrinth of lies, culminating in the death of a twelve year old girl.

How can I ever forgive myself for what I have done? he thought. All I have gone through so far today is nothing compared to what I deserve.

His shoulder twisted with pain where the knife had been embedded. He tried to maneuver into a better position, but the ropes were too tight. He hoped infection hadn't set in. He was feeling strange, dreamy; shapes moved in the shadows, which he knew to be a product of his mind, taxed by pain and dehydration. But it wouldn't be long until he wouldn't be able to tell the difference between dreams and reality—by that time, it might be too late.

If they want to kill me, he thought, they're doing a good job of it. A slow job, though.

Voices drew nearer, and footsteps rustled through grass, then clicked across the rocks. Nadira and Akim entered the shed.

Akim withdrew his knife. Jason tensed, steeling himself for another round of torture. Akim stepped behind him, grabbed his arm—then there was a rasping sound. Suddenly, there was release as the rope was cut. A whole new world of pain opened up; his shoulders screamed as he tried to bring his arms forward, his shoulder wound stabbing him as if the knife had twisted inside it again.

Rope unwound from his wrists, coiling off onto the floor. It felt like his hands had been severed; he tried to move them, but couldn't.

Then, feeling began to tingle back into them. Nothing more than a few pinpricks at first, it burst into a constellation of fiery needles. He moved his hands, working through the pain, knowing it was best to get the feeling back into them.

Nadira stepped toward him, handed him something, then darted back beside Akim. A water bottle. His fingers still sore and slow, it was all he could do just to keep it from toppling to the floor.

He tried to lift the bottle to his lips. Several times. But his shoulders had been in one position too long, and he just couldn't lift his arms that high. The bottle fell from his half-numb fingers.

Nadira grabbed the bottle, and neared him, gun in one hand. Akim gripped his knife, as if prepared to move in a flash if he tried anything.

She held the bottle near his mouth. "Drink," she ordered, her eyes averted.

She tipped the bottle up and cold water—sweet as if it had just come from a mountain stream—flooded across his tongue, down his throat.

Then, she snatched it away. He glared up at her.

"You don't want to get sick, do you? You will if you drink too much at once."

Of course, he thought, though his craving for water was nearly unbearable, even more so now that he'd had some.

"Why-?" he said.

"We don't want to kill you; we haven't learned what you know yet."

"There is that…"

She looked at her bodyguard. "Akim-?"

Before Jason knew what was happening, Akim stepped forward, and jabbed his right arm with a syringe full of yellowish liquid.

"What…is this?"

"It will restore your strength, and help you sleep," said Nadira.

This time, as he faded from consciousness, all malevolence had disappeared from her gaze; instead, there was sadness, even sympathy. But perhaps it was no more than his mind playing tricks on him….

It only took a few moments for darkness to swallow him whole.

Outside, in the cool darkness of late evening, Nadira sat against the wall of the shed, her fingers laced over her knees. Akim, eclipsed by the trees, patrolled the woods, making sure no one got the chance to get near this remote hideout, this makeshift jail their benefactor had handpicked for them.

Nadira knew she should get some sleep, as Akim had advised her. But she also knew that if she tried, she wouldn't be able to. Thoughts were churning through her mind at a breakneck pace. She needed rest from them; they were like demons, constantly attacking her defenses. But they wouldn't stop.
She looked up at the moon, desperate for distraction. At first glance, it could be mistaken for full, except for the tiny sliver sliced off the edge of it.

Strange, she thought. The moon looks the same here as it does back in Egypt. But it is still the same moon, even in this alien place.

A wave of homesickness washed over her. Her mission for her homeland had taken her far away from it. She was beginning to forget details—what her apartment looked like, her sister's grave. She hoped her father was doing well, despite the fact that his injury left him wheelchair-bound. He hadn't sanctioned her trip; she had a feeling he wouldn't have approved. She was paying for the trip and Akim's wages with her monthly allowance, which she'd get till she was 21; as a lawyer for a multinational corporation, her father denied her almost nothing. Her identification with the masses was a way of making up for her privileged, sequestered life, partly due to Noor's influence.

Noor. Her heart still ached whenever she thought of her, even though it had been a year since her death. Beautiful Noor, my little light…

She took out her phone and looked at the picture on its background, glowing against the dark. Dark brown eyes, so like Mother's….

Nadira flipped through some more pictures. An old one, from when she was a curly-headed two-year-old, stopped her short. Her breath caught in her throat.

Back then, she thought, I still resented her for being the 'cause' of Mother's death…though she was starting to win me over. How could you not be won over by that smile.

I'm so sorry, my little light. I'm sorry for how I treated you at first. I'm sorry for sending you to Father's office that day—I can hardly say I'd rather have Father dead instead of you, but why did you have to do it? Why did you have to step in front of that man, sacrifice yourself…your brave, beautiful little soul…

She leaned her head into her hands, rocking back and forth, fighting the tears. But they came anyway, and spilled between her fingers as she sobbed in the dark, aching for the presence of her sister, hoping against hope she would see her again someday.

At last, she curled up against the wall, huddled beneath a thorny bush, not caring that she would get dirty. She didn't feel like walking over to the one-person tent that was set up in the woods, and she certainly didn't want to go inside the shed, where the prisoner was bound, sleeping deeply from the concoction Akim had given him.

Guilt gripped her when she thought of what she'd done, using the stun gun on Jason. It was different when Akim had hurt him; she'd been able to go outside, block her ears from the screams. But after the first surge of anger had burned away, it had become harder to press forward with her resolve to get the truth by any means necessary. She had felt…dirty. Akin to the thugs who had used Tasers to subdue the crowd during the revolution. Many of them had thought they were acting for a righteous cause. If she did the same things they did, how was she any different than they were?

Should a righteous cause use the same means at its disposal as an evil one? How far could you go until you had betrayed your ideals, and become the thing you hated?

To the terrorists, any end justifies the means, she thought. I am not a terrorist. I would never target innocents. I am not like him.

But then, he is not like I thought he would be. Face to face, he is different than how I imagined him. Despite the fact that he's a spy, there's a certain honesty about him. He seemed genuinely sorry that he caused my sister's death. I had to keep thinking of the cause, the greater good, in order to keep….hurting him.

An image flashed across her mind of herself using a stun gun to torture the prisoner, and it startled her. I am not that person, am I? Me, Nadira, who detests every form of violence, actually torturing a man—no matter how guilty--with my own hands. Have I changed that much?

What would Noor think of me?

I hated it when he asked that—what right had he to mention her? But now that I've reached the end of the road, I've found that the original weapon was never real, and the architect of the crime was in ignorance of it. Would Noor really want me to continue this…crusade?

She would want me to fight for what was right. But she would not want me to become like the oppressors we both hated.

That's what I've become, haven't I?

She turned to face the wall, away from the phantom image of her sister outlined against the backdrop of her mind, her sister's eyes, normally gentle, blazing with accusation.

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