The Town of Odyssey
http://thetoo.com/

Fallout
http://thetoo.com/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=32443
Page 1 of 2

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Sun Dec 02, 2012 1:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Fallout

Chapter 1 Caught

Jason woke, tied to a chair. Behind his back, prickly ropes dug into his wrists. Sweat trickled down the side of his face, or maybe blood, he couldn’t tell. The room he was in looked like some kind of shed—a tool shed, now that his eyes had adjusted to the dim light. Sunlight filtered through the cracks of a window, most of its glass broken, now boarded up.

As he experimented with his bonds, testing their strength, Jason struggled to remember how he’d gotten in this predicament. His mind came up blank. The last thing he knew, he’d been at Whit’s End, helping his dad carry in several boxes of cucumbers, which had been leftover from the church food pantry.

Mrs. Lawson, who’d brought them in the first place, had insisted Whit take them home.

“You could use them at your ice cream shop,” she’d said.

“Well…” said Whit.

“You could make cucumber ice cream!”

Mrs. Lawson was so enthusiastic Whit just couldn’t say no. So Jason had helped his father load three boxes of cucumbers into the car, and take them over to Whit’s End.

“You’re sure you can find a use for these?” said Jason as he set the last box on the counter.

“We could always make cucumber ice cream.”

“Yeah, that’ll be a hit. I can just picture the kids lining up for that flavor.” And Whit had laughed, Jason joining in.

That was the last thing he remembered.

Jason stopped struggling for a moment to catch his breath. His head pounded, pain throbbing against his right temple. That must’ve been how he’d been knocked out. And it made sense—short term memory loss was common with head injuries.

Like this has never happened before, thought Jason wryly. The time that came to mind was when he’d been knocked out by Mustafa’s goon, and woken up in a room with Tasha. And Blackgaard had been there, masquerading as one of the good guys. Those were the days…

That time had something in common with recent times, in that events led him back to Odyssey. In other ways, it was different; after chasing Mr. Grote, capturing him, he didn’t have the clear purpose of coming to Odyssey to help his father run the shop while he was gone. No, this time, he was older, and the pain ran deeper… a dark thread had taken over his soul, and he didn’t know if he could dig it out. Chasing Mr. Grote, he’d gone too far at times, compromised too much, been lost in the labyrinth, as his father had said.

Only God could heal him, but that would take a long time, as far as he could tell. Jason had been volunteering, helping out at the food pantry and other places, and of course Whit’s End. But through it all, he still felt….lost. Disconnected. As if he couldn’t quite face them with his true self. If they knew what he’d done, what he’d been forced to do (no excuse), they wouldn’t want him anywhere near them.

Even Dad—thought Jason. I haven’t told him all that happened. If he knew everything, of course he’d still love me, but would he ever see me, his son, in the same way again? In everything he’s been involved in, he’s never compromised his values like I have…

He shivered, despite the heat. This little shed, wherever it was, was sweltering. It’s probably up near Trickle Lake or Forrest Mountain, he thought. Unless I’m completely wrong, and I’ve been flown to another part of the country for some reason…

He wracked his mind to think of who’d kidnapped him. There were plenty of people who’d want him harm, but most of them were in jail, and few knew he’d returned to Odyssey.

There was that guy, he thought,—what’s his name—Strom—that mercenary I ran into in Australia who thought I was invading his turf. He was a small-time guy, really, but smart in his own way, and ruthless, so I wouldn’t put it past him…and then there are people from the old days, agents who’d want to extract intel from me about the Agency. Though most of what I know is outdated now. Not that they’d know that…people always think that intel stays current, but it changes constantly…life and death hangs on a razor thin edge…

He realized his mind was drifting, and mentally snapped himself back to consciousness. Worst thing I could do is go back to sleep, he thought. Especially if I have a concussion, which seems likely. I have to find a way out of here.

It was silent except for the buzzing of the cicadas. They sounded particularly Odyssey-like; the smell, too, was somehow ‘home’. That gave him comfort and renewed hope.

Saying a quick prayer, he clopped his chair past the makeshift wooden shelf of rusty tools to the door. He slammed his shoulder into the door, lifting the chair, and smashing it against the rotting wood. He heard a ‘snap!’—part of the door fell apart, breaking clean off the lock.

Jason stepped out into the sunlight, still tied to the chair—and nearly stumbled down a cliff.

He looked down. Pebbles cascaded down a sheer drop onto a pile of rocks at the base of the trees 500 feet below. In the distance, Trickle Lake gleamed in the sun.

This must be Old Man Zebulon’s cabin, he thought. He remembered hearing about back when he was a teenager: how a landslide had taken Zebulon’s shack and all he had to the bottom of the cliff. Good thing he hadn’t been in it at the time, but he’d never been the same again.

This tool shed must be all that’s left of his old homestead, he thought. It looks like it’s been untouched all that time. Until now.

He turned, looking for a better way down the mountain. It wouldn’t be fun walking tied to a chair, but if that was the only way…

Behind the shed, he encountered a large clearing dotted with wildflowers. He stepped into the tall grass. Then, on the other side of the clearing, two figures emerged from the trees, one a man, one a woman. The man had a gun, and aimed it at Jason.

“Get back inside,” yelled the man, in a foreign accent. “Or I’ll be forced to use this.” He brandished the gun, a particularly large one.

Jason hesitated. He could make a run for it, but tied like he was, he wouldn’t get far. And he had no defense whatsoever. The chair hadn’t been nearly as destructible as the door.

So he hopped back into the shed, and sat back in the place he’d woken up in. And waited to see his who his captors were up close.

Author:  Jesus' Princess [ Sun Dec 02, 2012 4:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Nice job :) Are you planning on adding more to this?

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Warning: there is violence in this chapter. [And in the next chapters, to varying degrees.]

Chapter 2 Questions

The man came in first, a huge silhouette. This guy must be pushing seven feet, Jason thought. Biceps bulged beneath his black T-shirt, which showed off his sculpted torso. He wore camouflage pants, and a belt with an arsenal of weapons. In the still-dim light, he looked to have olive skin, with black hair and dark eyes. He could’ve been of Middle Eastern descent.

The man lumbered forward, and withdrew a knife from his belt.

“You’re going to do as I say, right?” said the man.

“Well, you’re the one with the knife…” Jason replied.

The man looked out the door. “No one said he’d be a smart aleck. I like those. Makes it more interesting.”

A woman stepped inside. She was thin, almost petite, yet athletic, and large, luminous eyes peered out from under a headscarf.
Her eyes turned cold as she looked at him. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was flippant in the face of death. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he was a coward when he doesn’t have a weapon to hide behind.”

“You have to admit,” said Jason, “that being tied up does have its disadvantages. And so do you. Have me at a disadvantage I mean. You are-?”

She stepped forward, in front of the man, and reached toward him. One trembling finger touched his face, then she jerked her hand back, as if she’d been shocked. “You don’t even know who I am,” she said softly.

“For now, you can call me Nadira; I’d rather you not speak my real name. This is Akim, my bodyguard.”

Something clicked in Jason’s mind. Akim’s accent was very light, but Jason was familiar with it.

“You’re Israeli,” he said.

Akim’s jaw worked. “I was Israeli. Now I have no country. No allegiance but to the one who employs me.” He looked at Nadira.

Nadira scowled. “And I would not be called Israeli if you had a gun to my face. But I will leave you guessing as to where I am from.”

“You’re Egyptian,” said Jason. His head was swimming, but not so much that he couldn’t read his accents.

“He’s good,” said Akim.

“Only a trained agent would guess it; both of you speak very good English.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Jason Whittaker!” said the girl. “I know who and what you are. We are here for one thing only. And you will give it to us.”

Oh, no, thought Jason. Not this again. They want information, don’t they? I wish people would come up with something more original.
“You might as well just skip to the end, because I’m not going to give you anything.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Akim, twirling his knife. Sunlight from the doorway glanced off of it.

I could make a break for it somehow, he thought. But before he could think any further, the knife flickered from Akim’s fingers and hurtled toward him.

White-hot pain exploded in his shoulder.

He might have cried out, he didn’t know. All he knew was that an inferno was burning at his shoulder, as if the blade had slid between his shoulder bones.

It’s probably just a flesh wound, he thought. But that didn’t make him feel any better. He gasped, trying to get the pain under control.

Akim loomed above him in a haze. Then, he grasped the knife, twisting it, then yanking it from his shoulder.

This time, he yelled through his teeth, which helped a little as it happened, then the wave of pain hit him again, and he almost passed out.

The only thing that kept him awake was a hand grabbing his hair, lifting his head. Akim looked down at him, a face dark against the light.

Hate twisted in Jason’s gut then, and it took all his strength to wrestle it down. This man is not the real enemy, he thought, though rationalization did little good at the moment.

His shoulder throbbed as if the knife was still embedded there. Akim held the knife in front of him, blood smeared across its edge.

“Where is it?” said Akim.

“Where is…what?”

“You know,” said Nadira. “The weapon you stole from our people.”

Then it clicked in his brain, despite the agony. Of course! She was Egyptian-why hadn’t he put two and two together?

He laughed in spite of himself, though it was more of a cough, and it hurt—oh, it hurt to laugh.

“You probably won’t believe me—but I don’t have it. I never did. In fact, no one ever did.”

Nadira’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Things were getting too hot for me in Egypt. That is…” Why not tell them? He’d long abandoned that alias, and it didn’t matter now anyway. Maybe, just maybe, they’d believe him, if he stuck to the truth. The truth had a certain ring to it…that is, for people who still had the sensitivity to truth…

“I was undercover in Egypt as Atticus Kohl. A man named Strom was after the same thing I was after…so I created a red herring. It had to be a large one; the only thing that would take him off my tail. Strom was a mercenary, so the biggest payoff possible was the only thing he was after. I created a dummy corporation which would pay him for the recovery of the weapon…and it took him off my trail.

“I must not’ve been careful enough though, because the weapon took on a life of its own after I created it. Somehow word got out to factions within Egypt, and they searched for it. Its mythology was too strong…I tried to undo the damage, but it was too late. The only thing I could do was let it die of its own accord when people realized there was nothing at the end of the trail.”

Nadira stepped toward him. “Is this the truth?” Her eyes were penetrating, yet guarded in a way. “We already knew your name was Kohl; we traced that alias to your real identity.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Akim. “The best spies mix truth with lies. He...That’s what they say.”

“But what if it is the truth!“ Sorrow tore her voice. She turned away, facing the sunlight. A tear sparkled down her cheek.

For the first time, Jason wondered if there hadn’t been collateral he hadn’t seen…if he had inadvertently harmed someone with the ruse he created. He’d thought it would simmer down of its own accord. But there was something about this girl that didn’t seem like a hardened spy or mercenary. There was more to this than the surface suggested…

She turned back to him, no trace of tears. Fury blazed across her face.

“Is this the truth, Jason Whittaker?”

“It’s the truth,” he said.

“Then what was the thing that you were looking for? The reason you made up the 'weapon' in the first place?”

His heart sunk. “I can’t tell you that.”

“Is it a weapon?”

“In a way…”

“Would it help my people?”

“I don’t know. It has the potential to help…but knowing mankind, it’s better kept out of everyone’s hands.”

“But of course you are pure enough to resist temptation.”

“I’m only human. But I have sworn to protect my country, and I’m not going to let such a thing get into the wrong hands.”

“There are righteous causes,” she said. “But I can’t expect someone like you to see that.”

“There are good causes. But no cause is so righteous it’s immune to—“

“Enough! I won’t be preached to by a dog like you. Akim, I am going to step outside for some air. See if you can get anything out of him. If you can get his secret from him…maybe our mission will be a success after all.”

And she left the shed, leaving him alone with the tender mercies of her bodyguard.

Author:  Joy [ Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

I like it! Jason seems...real!

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 3 Tools


Akim regarded Jason for a minute. Then he stepped over to the shelf of rusty tools. His fingers played over them, as if fingering a piano.

Jason looked down at his left shoulder. The knife had sliced through his sleeve, and he couldn’t tell the extent of the damage beneath. He wished he had something to press against the wound to stop the bleeding; he was beginning to feel sick in addition to the lightheadedness.

“Listen,” said Jason, trying to breathe through the pain, “I think we have a mutual interest here. I’m not really looking forward to whatever you’re planning…but I don’t want to pass out from blood loss either. I’m not going to answer any questions, but if I’m unconscious, it’ll be an even less interesting conversation.”

Akim turned to look at him, shrugged, and picked up an ancient rag from the table. He shook it out; dust flew through the air, glittering in the sunlight like microscopic fireflies. Then he ripped Jason’s sleeve down the middle, and wrapped the rag tightly around his shoulder.

“You’re not too worried about infection, are you,” said Jason through gritted teeth.

“As long as we find out what you know, it doesn’t matter what happens to you afterward.”

“Thanks for the concern.”

Jason had been tortured before. Several times. Most notably by the Whisperer, back before Jason had put him in jail the first time. He’d used some of his ‘electric shock therapy’ and almost broken Jason’s resolve. Jason barely admitted to himself how far he came to cracking. Torture never got any easier to face, no matter how many times you went through it. It was unreliable—the prisoner might lie to you-- but there was always the chance the information might be real.

The stakes are too high, he thought. I’m not going to tell them anything. But it’s too bad that a spy, even a retired spy, always seems to have at least one secret that’s still viable…

Akim picked up a hammer from the tool shelf. He flipped it over, and then set it gently back in its place. He lifted a saw from the shelf, flexed its blade as if testing it, and set it back, shaking his head. Finally he picked up a pair of pliers.

He snapped the pliers’ teeth together and came toward Jason. He walked behind him, and grabbed his wrist. Then, he shoved the pliers beneath one fingernail.

Jason pulled away, though he knew it was probably futile. Isn’t there a saying about pulling out fingernails with rusty pliers? he thought. I never thought I’d come close to experiencing it literally.

Akim grabbed his hand in a near-vice grip, crushing his bones together. The pliers were shoved beneath his fingernail once more, digging in. The guard pulled, but the tool slipped. The next time, though, he twisted, and –

Jason screamed.

It was a quick, sharp, white-hot pain. Then it dulled, his finger throbbing as if it had swelled to three times its size. He was reminded of the time the same thing happened to him as a kid. He’d been playing football, and his fingernail had bent completely backwards.
That time, he’d had his father to comfort him and tell him he’d make it through. This time, he’d do anything to have his father there, short of his being a target himself.

Akim grabbed the front of Jason’s shirt, and ripped it down the middle, buttons clinking onto the floor.

“Where is the weapon?” the guard asked.

“It’s not a weapon per se.”

“What is it then?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Akim withdrew his knife from his belt again. “I thought I’d try something different by using that pliers, but this will always be my favorite tool. And this.” He raised his fist, as if it were a trophy. “I don’t really like using them on defenseless people though.“

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“But I will if I have to. I don’t have the option of coming out of this with no information.”

“Why do you need information so badly? What does Nadira want with it?”

Akim tapped Jason’s chest with the blade. “You aren’t supposed to be the one asking questions. It’s up to me, and I’m going to do my job right.”

“Even if it includes torturing innocent people?”

“From what Nadira tells me, you are far from innocent.”

Perhaps I should’ve rephrased that, thought Jason. I’m not innocent by any means—but I wish I knew what Nadira’s specific grudge was.

Akim stepped behind Jason, and the knife crept around in front of his neck. Jason tensed, wondering if he were going to slit his throat after all. Instead, the knife sliced into his skin beneath his collarbone. The bodyguard continued, cutting as if he were a particularly intricate slab of meat.

A tear slipped from his eyes, stinging into a cut like acid.

Please, Lord, help me through this. My father can’t be here, but you, my Father, are here, all the time. I have forgotten that too often in the past several years. I’ve tried to do things on my own…but my own strength is an illusion. Case in point.

“Where is the weapon?” said Akim.

“I’ll never tell you. You might as well give up.”

Akim sheathed his knife. “You will tell me. I have license to do this job till it’s done, and I’m not going anywhere until it’s accomplished.”

“Then we’re at an impasse. My job is to keep secrets, and I’m good at it. Shall we see who’s better at their job?”

Akim raised his eyebrow. “You want me to hurt you?”

“At some point, you’ll go too far and kill me before I give you anything. Besides, if you were really so good at your job, you’d bring more sophisticated equipment than a knife.”

“It’s what I like to use. Besides, I think this may be my best instrument after all.”

And he flung his fist toward Jason’s face.

It felt like his face had broken open. Blood gushed over his mouth and chin; he realized his nose had broken. Before he could brace himself, another blow slammed into his cheek. That, too, split open. This man has iron fists if anyone ever did, he thought vaguely.

Then, his eye.

His jaw.

His cheek.

Again. And again.

Finally, mercifully, he blacked out.

When he came to, the woman, Nadira, was standing in front of him. There were two of her—three—no, she merged back into two, then one. Akim was holding his head back by his hair.

Nadira took out a metallic-blue phone. “The reception isn’t very good up here,” she said.

“Just take a picture, and if it doesn’t send, we can always go down the mountain a ways.”

“As long as no one finds us.” She held up the phone, but her hand trembled. “Did you have to hurt him so badly, Akim?”

“The worse he looks for the picture the better. Besides, I thought you wanted him hurt, after what he did to you.”

“I know… but…I can’t help it. I know what he is, but I don’t like to see anyone hurt. Even after the war. Especially after the war.”

She lifted her other hand to hold the phone, reducing its trembling. Then there was a snapping sound as the picture took.

“How’d it turn out?” asked Akim.

“It’s a little dark—but I think it’ll work.” She pressed some buttons, but then said, “It won’t send. We’ll have to go further down.”

“I’ll do it,” said Akim. “I have less to lose if I get caught.” And he snatched the phone and stepped out into the light.

The last thing Jason saw before he lapsed back into unconsciousness was Nadira looking down at him, concern and pity, mixed with revulsion, on her face.

Author:  Jesus' Princess [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Good story so far!

Author:  The Doctor [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Yeah, I really like it.

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Thank you! I'm not always the best judge of my own stories. Hopefully I will stick with this one to the end. I have a basic idea of what will happen; the details always need working out.
Several revelations in the next few chapters. ;)

Author:  The Doctor [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

When do we get to read the next chapter? \:D/

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

When it is written. :) Maybe tonight...we'll see. You never know when life will decide to intrude on your intentions....

Author:  The Doctor [ Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Well, whenever it is, I can't wait! \:D/ This is an awesome story! :)

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 4 Blood

Whit walked over to the table carrying two dishes of ice cream. It had been a busy morning, but finally it was slowing down a bit.

“Here you go-- one Raspberry Ripple and one Rocky Road,” he said, setting the dishes down in front of Matthew and Emily.

“Nice alliteration, Mr. Whittaker,” said Emily, not looking up, jotting furiously in her notebook.

“What?”

“Alliteration. You know, when the first letters of a word…well, match.” She gave a flourish of her pencil.

“It sounds like you’ve been talking to Eugene.”

“No, just something I learned in school yesterday.”

“And she’s been obsessed with it ever since,” said Matthew. “She’s been saying things like, lima beans and licorice look like llamas.”

“No, silly, the things I’ve been saying make a lot more sense. Like this: When we waved at the window-washer, he whistled wildly.”

Matthew rolled his eyes. “That makes a lot more sense.”

“Well, they’re hard to come up with on the spot. You try it.”

“Maybe later. Right now, I want to eat some ice cream. Thanks, by the way, Mr. Whittaker.”

“Yeah, thanks,” said Emily. She set down her pencil and dug into the ice cream. “Wait, I ordered the Rocky Road.”

“Oh, sorry!” said Whit.

“No problem.” She switched dishes with Matthew. “I can tell it’s been busy today.”

Whit laughed. “I’ve been swamped. In the old days, kids used to sleep in on Saturday.”

“Dunno about everyone else, but we have more important things to do, don’t we, Matthew?”

“We’re on a case.”

“Really? What’s it about?”

“It’s—“

“Shh!” said Emily. “It’s a secret.”

“We can tell Mr. Whittaker, can’t we?”

“Of course, but not so loud.”

“Oh, sorry.” Matthew lowered his voice to a whisper. “Um, yesterday when Emily and I rode our bikes back to her house, we were going past the house across the street, and we heard a grinding sound.”

“Like really creepy. It was in the basement.”

“That’s odd,” said Whit.

“Yeah. So we got to thinking, and we figured they might be criminals, like counterfeiters, like we had here last summer.”

“You never know,” said Whit. “But more than likely, it has a perfectly normal explanation. Try not to leap to too many conclusions.”

“We’re not. That’s why we’re gathering evidence. We don’t want to do something before we know what’s going on.”

“I hope you aren’t being too conspicuous. Your neighbors might not like that you’re spying on them.”

“Spying? We’re not…Well, I guess we are. But we’ve got some good notes. Want to take a look at them? We’re trying to find a pattern in their behavior. So far, we’ve found out that…they don’t do too much. But last night, I saw their light on in the basement again and—“

“Hey,” said the guy at the next table. “Can I get my root beer float?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Whit. “Sorry about that. Coming right up.” And Whit went back into the kitchen, thinking he wasn’t surprised he’d forgotten someone in all the commotion.

Just then, the bell above the door rang. Whit turned to greet whoever it was—and saw that it was Connie.

“Hi, Whit,” she said. “Ready for me to take over?”

“Take over?”

“Yeah, it’s time for my shift.”

“I haven’t had time to check what time it was.”

“That busy, huh?”

“It’s settling down some. Just one more root beer float.” He scooped some vanilla ice cream into a glass of root beer, and Connie took it out to the rather disgruntled customer.

Whit looked at his watch. It was already 12:45; time to meet Jason at Hal’s Diner for lunch. He said a quick goodbye to Connie, Matthew and Emily, and walked out to his car.

At the diner, he waited for about fifteen minutes. Not seeing him at any of the tables, he asked if someone matching Jason’s description had come in. He hadn't.

He got a table and sat down. Looked at the menu, which all blurred together. Something nagged in his mind. What if something happened? he thought.

No, just because he’s late doesn’t mean anything. Maybe he forgot, or got caught up in something…

Whit took out his cell phone to see if there were any messages. There was one from Connie saying she was going to be a little late, but none from his son.

His call redirected to voicemail. Maybe Jason’s phone isn’t charged, thought Whit. That isn’t like him though….

There’s no reason to believe anything’s wrong. Worrying won’t help. But I can’t shake this feeling…He is my son, and I’ve felt things before, when my kids were in trouble.

He left and headed over to Jason’s apartment.

He knocked, and waited in the hall for about ten minutes. Then he dug in his pocket for his keys, and opened the door with the key to Jason’s apartment.

The door creaked open.

Inside, a bookshelf lay on its face, books scattered across the floor. The dining room chairs had tipped over, one of the chairs’ legs broken. Whit stepped inside, and walked through a labyrinth of broken vases, torn books, crushed plants. It was like someone had gone through and ripped the place apart without rhyme or reason. Like during the outbursts of anger back during Novacom’s tests.

In Jason’s bed room, it was the same. The lamp beside the bed was smashed. And on the floor, there were several spots of dark red.

Blood.

He knelt beside the blood, as if he could determine whose it was by looking closer. It was most likely his son’s, though Whit couldn’t help wishing it was the blood of whoever had attacked him.

Please let Jason be all right, he prayed, as he walked into the office. It was the same there; the only difference was, the laptop computer on the desk was pristine, as if a tornado had whipped around it, but left it untouched.

Whit pulled the desk chair upright, and sat down in it. He pulled out the middle left drawer, and felt for the secret compartment. That, too, had been left alone, but the only things inside were some of Jason’s old agency documents. No clue as to what the intruders had been looking for.

I learned to live with the risks of Jason being an agent, he thought. It wasn’t easy, but I was familiar with that life—I practically introduced him to it, and I had to leave his safety in God's hands. But after he quit this time, I …let my guard down. He was here, safe; I didn’t think anything could happen. He wasn’t himself, but I didn’t think he’d be in physical danger again.

Now—

Now, he thought, I need to figure out what happened here. If it was a normal robbery, why didn’t they take the computer? But if they wanted his secrets, it also doesn’t make sense they had left the computer. Most likely, they either kidnapped him, or killed him and took him somewhere else…

No, not killed. I can’t consider that possibility yet.

His phone buzzed into the deathly silence. He jumped. Across the screen, there was a text.

You will give me Zephyr, it said. The longer you wait, the more your son will suffer.

A photo accompanied the text. A man, half in shadow, sitting in a chair.

At first, Whit couldn’t tell who he was. Then, he saw the clean lines of his face, the stubborn Whittaker chin.

Jason. His eye swollen, his face and chest covered in blood and numerous cuts. Someone held up his head by his hair; he looked barely conscious.

Whit’s heart ached. He could barely stand to look at the picture, but couldn’t look away, knowing this was the most recent image of his son that he had.

Who has done this? he wondered, anger taking hold of him. Who could possibly know about Zephyr, a computer program I’ve never told anyone about, outside of my DoD colleagues?

There is one possibility, he told himself. If so, Jason and I are in over our heads. I need to call someone…

As if on cue, his phone buzzed again.

The text:

Oh, and if you tell anyone about this, I will kill your son.

In the meantime, Jason will be enjoying the hospitality of someone who wants nothing better than to hurt him in every way possible.

Have a nice day.
:)

Author:  Jesus' Princess [ Sat Dec 15, 2012 9:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Great chapter. :) Add more!

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 5 Truth

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 Janna 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 with 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 in the Lawaah Building.”

“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 clean 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, because 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. 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.

Author:  The Doctor [ Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Wow! This is getting good!

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Fri Dec 21, 2012 7:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 6 Might

Connie swept the counter with the dishrag for the millionth time that day, using the swift rhythm of years of practice. If anyone’s a professional at working here, it’s me, she thought. After she’d come from California, it was the first place she felt like she belonged, and whenever things went wrong somewhere else, this place was like a second home. Right now, there was nowhere else she’d rather be than here in Odyssey, at Whit’s End, wiping crumbs off of the counter after a long day.

Things were settling down. Most of the kids had gone home for supper; right now, there was only Emily and Matthew upstairs in the Imagination Station, and…there was someone else, wasn’t there? Oh, that man in the corner booth, sitting as still as a shadow.

Strange. She had never seen him in here before. She wondered if he was new in town. It had been so busy most of the afternoon, she hadn’t even thought to ask his name or where he was from. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen him come in….Had he been here all afternoon? Wasn’t he the guy who she’d given the root beer float to when she’d first come in at 1:00?

That was odd. And kind of creepy.

Great. I'm just jumping to conclusions. He probably just likes the place and wants to hang out for a while, that’s all.

Well, if he’s up to no good, I’ll chase him out of here. And if he’s a secret agent or something…we’ve had so many of those around here I’ve lost count.

Well, not that many. None in the past…year. Except for one. The only one that really matters. Because he’s Whit’s son of course, not for any other reason. Not that there’d be any other reason…

Oh, cut it out, she told herself. It’s been a long day. Time to go home and relax. I’ll wait a little while until Emily and Matthew get done with their adventure.

She strode over to the man. “Do you need anything?”

He looked up from beneath his hat. He squinted up at her, gray eyes glinting. He had smile lines around his tanned face, but he wasn’t smiling.

“No, I’m fine. I suppose you’re closing soon?” His voice was low yet pleasant, but something about it was…fake. As if he was trying too hard to be polite, and would rather not be if he didn’t have to.

“We will be in a few minutes. You don’t have to hurry, though. Take your time.”

“That’s fine. I need to get going anyway.”

“Can…I ask where you’re headed?”

He smiled. “You can ask.”

“Just curious, that’s all.”

“I’ll just be going for a walk, then to a hotel.”

“Oh? Do you have business in Odyssey?” She noted his pristine gray suit.

“Something like that. Thanks for your excellent service.” And he rose, showing he was much taller than he looked when he was sitting down. He tipped his hat, and strode out the door.

Connie grabbed her purse and went upstairs to get Emily and Matthew. It was strange, now that the man had gone, the place made her feel jumpy, its silent, unused rooms shrouded in shadow.

In the Bible Room sat the imagination Station. Emily and Matthew were just stumbling out of it, reeling as if dazed.

“What an adventure!” said Emily. “Let’s do it again!”

Matthew clutched his stomach. “I don’t know if I could handle another one. I don’t think I’ll eat for a week.”

“It’s time to be done anyway,” said Connie. “I have to close up shop.”

“Oh, okay,” said Emily. “I didn’t know it was that late.”

“You two go downstairs. I’ll look around and make sure everything’s shut down.”

She set down her purse and went across the room to shut down the Noah’s Ark display, which was stuck in a sound loop, “And it rained for forty days—“ over and over. She made a mental note to tell Whit about it.

She hurried downstairs. Whit was by the doorway, talking to Matthew and Emily, something about Emily's neighbor. Right before Connie got there, the two kids dashed out the door into the waning sunlight.

“Hi, Whit,” said Connie. “Here to catch up on a project?”

“Something like that.” He smiled, but his eyes were sad. Come to think of it, he was pale, his face drawn, as if he were ten years older.

“Whit—is there something wrong?”

He shook his head. “Nothing you need to worry about. I’m just not feeling myself, that’s all.”

“Are you sure you should be working late? I mean, if you’re not feeling well—“

“I’ll be fine. There’s nothing wrong with me…physically.”

“Spiritually?”

He gave a sad smile. “Maybe.”

“But it’s not something you can tell me.”

“If I could, I would.”

“There isn’t anything I can do?”

He shook his head. “Not at the moment, no. Except—pray, Connie.”

“I will, Whit.” She walked out the door, wishing she knew what was going on so she could help.

It’s none of my business, she thought, as she walked out to her car. If he wanted me to know, he’d tell me.

She stopped by her car, reached for her keys in her purse—and realized her purse wasn’t there.

Great. Where did I leave it last? It was in the kitchen—and then I took it up the Bible Room....

Back inside, all the lights on the main floor were off. Whit was nowhere to be seen.

As she reached the Bible Room, she saw the door to Whit’s office was open. He wasn’t at his desk though. He was in secret computer room, and had left the bookcase open.

I should really let him know that I’m here, she thought. But what if he doesn’t want me to know? Maybe I should just leave my purse and come back tomorrow.

She was about to announce her presence, when she saw what was on the computer screen.

It was a man, horribly beaten—but there was something about his face that was familiar—and the blue of his eyes, so like his father’s—

Jason! Her hear tore to see him like that. Why would anyone want to hurt him? she wondered. Could it be some of his old enemies? That’s probably why Whit doesn’t want me to know. But there has to be something I can do!

Just then, Whit got up from his chair—and froze. “Connie? Is that you?”

“What’s going on, Whit?”

“You’d better get inside. If any place is secure, it’s this room.”

She came in, and he shut the bookshelf behind her. Then she pulled up a second chair and sat down beside him.

On the large screen, everything was magnified. Every bruise, every cut, every drop of blood. She had to turn away after a moment and look at Whit to avoid seeing Jason’s terribly injured face.

“Who did this?”

“I have my suspicions, but no proof. All I have is this picture, and the texts I’ve been getting all day, threatening to do more harm to my son if I don’t hand over…a certain computer program.”

“Applesauce?”

“No, Zephyr.”

“Zephyr?”

“No reason we called it that, except that it was the last letter of the alphabet, and Applesauce was the first.”

“You’ve worked on that many programs?”

“Well, some I’ve had more of a hand in than others. This one, like Applesauce, was developed with the Department of Defense. If possible, it’s even more secret, but it never got out of the development stage. It’s been in ‘cold storage’, partly because of a security breach. The person in question never got it, but the government feared his access, and so they locked it up, believing that the risks of using it outweighed its benefits.”

“Who was the person who tried to get it?” Memories of Blackgaard flitted across her mind, but she knew it couldn't possibly be him.

“We never found out who he was—just an exceptionally brilliant hacker who called himself Might. We never knew anything beyond the communications he sent us.”

“Do you think it’s the same guy?”

“I’m not ruling out any possibilities, but if it’s someone else—our security breach was bigger than we thought. It makes sense why he’d want it, and he knew of my involvement. What I don’t know is why he waited to try to get it after all these years.”

“But do you even have the program? I mean, they had it in storage.”

“That’s the strange part. There was only one other person beside me that knew I had a copy of the program, and the other person died several years ago.”

“What if he’s been spying on you? Saw you had the program somehow….Whit—I saw someone in here tonight. He was here since before you left. Do you think he could have something to do with this?”

Whit hesitated. “Was it the same man that was here earlier today?”

“Well, he had a hat and a gray business suit.”

“Sounds like him. Did you talk to him?”

“He just said he was going to a hotel. He didn’t say which one.”

“Hm. There’s no way to find out anything without more information, unless he comes in here again. Right now, I’m studying this picture to see if it’ll give me a clue about where Jason is. I’ve got some software that’ll help me analyze the picture. It’s the best lead we’ve got right now.”

“If there’s any way I can help, Whit…“

“You’re helping already.” He smiled at her; the first genuine smile she’d seen from him since he’d come back to the shop.

She sat with him the next few hours. It was true, there wasn’t much she could do; computer programming was all Greek to her. But she could talk with him and, most importantly, pray with him.

It was about 10:00. Connie was getting tired; she was long overdue back at her apartment, and Penny was probably wondering where she was. She didn’t even have her cell phone; it was still in her purse.

“Whit, I think I’d better—“

“Go ahead, Connie. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“I’ll just stay a little longer myself.”

“Make sure to get some rest. You can’t help Jason if you’re all worn out.”

“That’s true. Thank you, Connie, for everything.”

“I’ll keep praying.”

“And make sure you don’t tell anyone about this. Jason’s life may depend on it.”

She gave Whit a hug, looking at Jason’s picture and wishing she could hug him too—though it’d probably hurt him too much if she did.

Walking down the dark hallway, she wondered whether it would do any good to go home; she probably wouldn’t get any sleep tonight anyway. She’d be up all night, worried about Jason.

-----
Whit sat back at the computer. It had been good to have someone to talk to, to not be alone in dealing with this. He just hoped that Jason’s kidnapper hadn’t found out Connie knew; no one could be that omniscient. Unless the security breach went further than anyone had suspected…

He leaned his head in his hands, suddenly feeling exhausted. Ever since he’d found out what had happened, he’d been in a state of heightened tension. Now, it was all catching up with him. He didn’t want to stop looking for a lead…but maybe Connie was right. Maybe he’d have to get some rest in order to be fresh enough to start again.

He was just about to get up, head home, when his cell phone vibrated.

It wasn’t a text this time. It was an unknown number. He picked it up.

“You did something bad, didn’t you?” said a gravelly voice. Something about it sounded automated, as if it were a computer-fabricated voice.

“Who is this?”

“You know perfectly well who I am.”

“Is it Might?”

“Might? I haven’t gone by that name in years. But yes, if you must know, I’m the man behind the might. Or I could be a woman as far as you know.” He laughed. “But we’re not here to talk about me. You told someone else, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t—she found out on her own.”

“Did she now?” the voice sneered.

“Don’t hurt my son!”

“I’m not the one hurting him. But don’t worry, I won’t kill him. Yet. I can allow it was a mistake—this time. The girl is harmless. But in the future, if either of you so much as slip one word of this to anyone—he dies.”

“What leverage will you have then?” he asked, though he knew the answer before he said it.

“I’m sure I can think of someone you care about to choose from.”

“I’m not about to tell anyone.”

“Good. But you’re not going to be let off scot-free. No, I’m going to have to punish you, and according to my rules, that means punishing Jason.

“Stick by Jason's computer; the next file I send will be to his address. Oh, and even if he lives, there’s no guarantee that your precious son will come out of this without permanent damage.”

The man hung up. Silence fell.

Time is running out, thought Whit. I’m no closer to a solution—if there is one. The only way may be to somehow convince him to exchange myself for my son.

Author:  The Doctor [ Tue Dec 25, 2012 2:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

*Cannot wait for the next chapter*

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 7 Guilt


As Jason's 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 it, glowing against the dark. Dark brown eyes, so like Mother’s…. In the picture, she’d been celebrating the downfall of Mubarak in Tahrir Square, the black, white and red of Egypt’s flag painted on her face, so happy she’d been…

Nadira flipped through some more pictures of Noor. 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. It was different when Akim had done it; 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 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.

Author:  EMBEE [ Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

I haven't seen any new AIO fanfictions- much less any that are this good- anywhere in a long time. The details make it very easy to see the whole story playing out in your head. Which of course makes the violent scenes more difficult to handle while I'm reading, but I think that's nessecary sometimes. And you have written the violence very well- it feels real, instead of feeling like you're trying to manipulate your reader's emotions by inflicting pain on the characters. I'm looking forward to reading more of this!

Author:  EvangelineWalker [ Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Fallout

Chapter 8 Hope

Voices snapped Jason awake. “Are you working for me, or not?” said Nadira, somewhere outside the shed. The bluish light of early morning was seeping through the door; cold mist clung to his skin.

His throat was still dry, but he felt much better, despite the nightmares he’d been immersed in the whole night. Strangely, he hardly felt any pain. He was sprawled across the floor on a mat, one ankle chained to the sturdy pinewood leg of the tool shelf.

He struggled to sit up, tugged experimentally at the chain, which didn’t budge. Meanwhile, he listened to the voices, hoping to pick up any clues that might help him escape.

“Of course I’m working for you,” Akim replied. “But I am also employed by…another party.”

“I don’t understand why we can’t just use a truth drug. He’s had enough punishment—“

“Enough? After all you’ve said about him, Nadira?”

“I’ve lost my….appetite for it, Akim. It makes me feel sick, doing this. I can’t just keep pretending I’m not…acting like our enemies. I want to be better than that.

“And I don’t see why our contact cares so much about the secret. It’s not the one he wanted in the first place, but he seems to want it just as much, even though he doesn’t know what it is.”

“We want it just as much.”

“That’s because we can’t go back empty-handed. I have to have something to give to our people.”

“I see,” said Akim. “So you want me to ask our contact for some kind of truth drug?”

“It’ll probably be more effective than what we’ve been doing. And when we have the information, we can leave this place for good.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay here by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine. You left me here yesterday, and nothing happened.”

“I don’t like leaving you alone.”

“I have my gun. And as long as he’s chained securely—“

“He is.”

“Go on, Akim. The sooner you leave, the sooner you can come back.”

The rustling of footsteps as Akim must’ve walked away through the grass.

A few minutes later, Nadira appeared in the doorway.

“You’re awake,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

The raging, consuming pain had faded to multiple aches. “Much better. What was in that syringe?”

“All I know is that it has a lot of restorative powers.”

He tried moving the arm that had been stabbed. That hurt, and he resolved not to attempt it again. “Where did you get it?”

“What does it matter, as long as it works?”

“Did you get it from your contact?”

“You heard.”

“Yes. I also heard that you wanted to ask him for a truth drug. Why the change in tactics?”

“It’s not what Noor would have wanted.” She unslung the pack from her shoulder, carefully sat down opposite him, and leaned against the wall, after brushing cobwebs off of it. She opened the pack, and took out two water bottles. One of them she rolled over to him. He reached it with his left hand, and twisted the top off. With difficulty, he was able to drink it. She took out some bread from her pack, and tossed a piece to him. He tried to catch it, but it fell onto the dusty floor.

He leaned over to pick it up; his shoulder sparked with pain. Breathing hard, he snatched it from the floor, and took a bite. It was hard to eat with his still-swollen face, but it was worth it. Crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, it tasted better than any other bread he’d had in a long time.

He finished it, and leaned against the tool shelf leg. Even eating was exhausting.

“I must look terrible,” he said, half to himself, wondering what he looked like. He rubbed his jaw; there was a day’s growth of a beard there.

“You do, kind of,” said Nadira, tipping her head. “But you look a lot better than yesterday.”

“Not that there was much to look at to begin with.”

“I don’t know about that. You don’t look like a hardened criminal.”

“Thanks.”

“What I mean is, even when I saw you the first time, I thought, he couldn’t be a cold-blooded murderer. There is too much…good in his eyes.”

“Appearances can be deceiving.”

“But I can tell you’re not all bad. You have probably done some good things in your life.” She smiled wryly.

“I have tried. But lately, I have gotten lost, and all that I was entangled in resulted in –what I can never forgive myself for. All that you have done to me—it’s not enough to make up for what I’ve done.”

“But I shouldn’t have…hurt you anyway. It was wrong to let myself get so carried away, I didn’t even care what Noor would have wanted. I suppose you could say I got lost too. I’m sorry for—“ she waved her hand in his general direction—“this.”

“Well—I can’t say it was fun. But I do understand, a little.”

“Unless you’re really trying to manipulate me, Jason Whittaker, you sure aren’t what I expected.” She took another drink from her water bottle. “Are you sure you don’t want to just tell me the truth? It could save us a lot of trouble. You want to go home, don’t you?”

He would do anything to be back in town, to see his father again. For a while there, he’d thought he might not make it. But now, hope dangled in front of him, a tantalizing prize.

“Very much.”

“Do you have family in Odyssey?” asked Nadira.

He hesitated, though he didn’t know why he couldn’t tell her. “My father. He owns an ice cream shop called Whit’s End… Get it?”

“Whit’s End…Whit’s End…Oh, I get it.”

He wasn’t quite sure if she did.

“Yeah.” He smiled. “It’s probably a little harder to understand if you’re a non-native speaker.”

“Maybe, when I’m done here, I will go see what it is like.”

“Maybe I will show you around.” Though the very idea of it struck him as odd—him showing Whit’s End to the one who’d had him tortured. It was true; they were not likely to become fast friends.

“Is your mother in Odyssey too?” she asked.

“No. She died a long time ago.”

“How old were you?”

“I was just out of college—somewhere, off gallivanting around the world. I always regret not being there during her final days…She was very sick, at the end.”

“I’m…sorry.” She looked down. “I was there, when my mother died. In the hospital. She was having my sister…For a whole year after she was born, I wouldn’t even look at her.”

“Noor?”

She nodded. “My other two siblings died before they were born. I…wished the same thing on Noor. I hated her for killing my mother.” Grief haunted her face. “I tried to resist her for a long time. But she wouldn’t stop…loving me. She loved me even though I hated her. And she had such a wonderful smile—it lit something up inside me. And then, even though we were eleven years apart, we did everything together. She was so much a part of my life…. I don’t think you could understand how close we were.”

“Maybe more than you think. I mean, our relationship was different, but my brother and I were close too.”

“You have a brother?”

“Had. He died in Vietnam. I still miss him so much. Part of me still wishes that I would have been able to convince him not to go…But Jerry would never have gone back on his commitment to his country, to his family. To me. There’s so much about him that I should be…but I could never measure up to.”

Nadira leaned forward. “It’s the same with me and Noor. She was a born leader. She was just as smart as me, even though she was so much younger. And such faith she had! That’s why it was so shocking when she became a Christian.”

“She became a Christian?”

Nadira nodded. “I’ve never told anyone this. Most people never knew…

“She’d been hanging around some Christian friends; things like religious barriers didn’t bother her. Then one day she told me the secret, and…well, it took me a long time to get over it. That was about a year before…what happened.

“Anyway, she was even stronger in Christianity than Islam, reading the Bible every night. I tried to keep it from my father; we both knew how he’d react if he found out. It’s not that we’re such devout Muslims, but what it would do to our reputation… Well. As far as I know, no one else ever knew, and I’m not about to tell my father.”

Something struck him. “She was a testimony that day.”

“What?”

“She must’ve known what would happen if she stepped in front of the man with the gun. But she did it anyway. She was showing her love for your father by giving her life in his place. Like Jesus did.”

“Don’t turn this into some sermon.”

“I—don’t mean to. It’s just that—she knew where she was going.

“And I don’t have any right to preach to you…I just…have heard that the ultimate test of love is sacrifice.”

“And I have heard that the Bible says to love your enemies. That is asking too much.”

“Jesus died for the ones who hated Him.”

“And I suppose you would follow in the footsteps of the great Prophet?”

“I can’t compare myself with Him. But I hope that if it came down to it, I would give my life for someone else. Even for my enemies.”

“You would die for me or Akim? If anything, we qualify as your enemies.”

“I hope that I would.”

“Ha!” She stood. “I’ll believe that when I see it. Maybe you are trying to manipulate me into sympathizing with you.”

She stepped over to him, looked down at him. For a moment, he thought she’d slap him again. Then, she turned on her heel and walked out the door.

It’s true, he thought. I can’t know what I’d do in that situation unless it actually happened. Would I die in her place? Or would my sense of self-preservation kick in?

In any case, I have no credibility. There’s no way I can convince her of anything without actions to back it up—and I can’t deny it, I hope it would never come to that. It’s looking like she might actually let me go, though there’s no way I’m going to give her that information. If the truth drug’s as potent as that restorative drug, though, I may not have a choice…

He pulled himself to his feet, and shuffled back and forth, as far as the chain would let him, getting his strength back as the mountain air filled his lungs. He almost felt…normal again.

The sun was nearly at its zenith by the time someone reentered the shed.

It was Akim and a strange man, Nadira trailing them both, breathless.

The man stepped forward, looked Jason up and down. He was tall, lithe, with dark blond hair and tanned skin. His gray eyes were cold.

“So this is the man who has been giving you all this trouble.”

“If I could have some more time with him—“ said Akim.

“No offense, Akim, but you are not a professional at this. You might eventually get the intel, but things have changed, and we are running out of time.”

“I still don’t understand why we can’t use a truth serum of some sort,” said Nadira.

“We have our reasons. Do what I tell you, or stay out of my way.”

He rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, which complemented his tan pants and polished shoes. Jason wondered how he’d gotten this far up the mountain without getting so much as a speck of dust on his clothes.

He reached in his pocket, and pulled out a cigarette. Touched it with the flame from a lighter, and the toxic smell filled the room.

“Now,” he said, “I think it’s time we begin.”

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