Sacred memories

Volume One in the Discovery Projects Series

Prologue

Bait was always so obvious after you took a bite. Echo Tait had a doctorate in archaeology but she still missed all the signs that all was not as it seemed. The sand scratched her throat and every shallow breath deposited another chunk of grit on her lungs. Echo was vaguely aware of someone bellowing beside her.

“Code Black! Grant get here now!” Cody yelled into her radio. She sank to the ground, the two people she had been tasked with observing and protecting lay motionless beside her.

Chapter one

Looking around the white walls of what appeared to be a hospital room, Cody Bass wondered if she had finally reached her full potential as a world-class screw up. Her entire life she’d heard the barely muted whispers, spreading the word to keep ones distance from the unpredictable young woman. She was deemed unhinged and dangerous, apt descriptions for a young girl who picked fights with boys twice her size and stole cars for fun. The whispers grew louder when she joined the United States Air Force based on a dare knowing if by some miracle she actually made it through she would see active duty.

Cody always defended the whispers with the assertion that it was only the truly unhinged people who tried to define ‘normal’. They would never understand that repeatedly risking your life for your country required a certain amount of madness. After her latest mission, even Cody had to concede her well-cultivated madness might have become malignant.

Cody heard the electronic beep that accompanied entry of a pin number into a key pad. She chastised herself for the indulgence of lying in bed, she hadn’t even checked to see if the door was locked. She scrubbed a hand through her shoulder length blonde hair as the door opened and tried to look unconcerned about not knowing where she was or how she got there. Cody hoped the woman entering her room would be like most people and make the mistake of not looking past her blue eyes and nonchalant smile.

“Oh, you’re awake, good.” The young woman said approaching the bed. Cody remained silent appraising the new arrival. The short muscular woman with an Australian army uniform and a Lieutenant’s insignia was checking the monitors. Cody assumed she was either a nurse or doctor. She looked uncomfortable in her uniform, she didn’t own it yet, Cody surmised.

“I’m Jenny Thomson, I will be your nurse. Do you know where you are?”

“Army hospital,” Cody answered, undecided how much to reveal about the large gaps in her memory.

“Infirmary actually, Lavarack Army Base, they transferred you from Cairns last night. You have been in and out of consciousness for about twelve hours. You told the doctors you didn’t remember much when you woke up earlier. How do you feel?” Ironically, telling the doctors anything was another gap in her memory, of course saying she didn’t remember was pretty much habit. It was a convenient way to avoid answering unwanted questions. The concern from the nurse seemed genuine enough and the way she was gently smoothing the covers appeared non threatening. No immediate need for escape Cody decided.

“Fine,” Cody replied.

“You have extensive bruising on the side of your face. I’ve treated enough soldiers to know ‘fine’ is the standard response. When the doctor asks tell him the truth okay. I imagine you have a pretty big headache, he can give you something for it.”

There was a little more honesty in Cody’s smile after that perceptive comment from the nurse. “How are the others?”

“Dr Linden is stable but still unconscious. Dr Tate had to have stitches in her leg.” Jenny’s lips pursed a little.

“Sergeant Grant?”

“He had no injuries, he’s just been resting. I think he’s being debriefed at eight. The doctor will be in soon and if he clears you someone is flying in to debrief you at ten Major.” Cody made sure there was no outward response to the news that her cover as a civilian pilot had been blown. “There are some fatigues for you to change into when you feel up to it. Just press this button if you need anything,” Jenny said, placing the call button on the bedside table. Cody nodded and smiled again as she discreetly observed the nurse enter her code to leave. Cody had the first three numbers and she was reasonably confident she could get the last two next time. She had no cause to leave the infirmary yet but she preferred to have the option.

The nurse made the word ‘debrief’ seem innocuous. Cody was envious of nurse Thompson’s military experience if that was what she believed Cody was facing. Given that she was in a locked room, the Sergeant was being granted a private audience and someone was flying in instead of waiting until she got back to the States, it was going to be an interrogation rather than a debrief. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time one of Cody’s missions ended with her in hospital or behind a locked door and the fact that it was her own government, conducting the interrogation was also not unique. This time the novelty was that she would not hold back for the better good, this time she didn’t have the answers.

Cody had nothing to offer for the abysmal state of the failed mission beyond flashes of memories that made no sense. She knew that her private room would be replaced with a padded cell as soon as she revealed what little she could remember of the last twenty-four hours. She could only offer fragments of information, that outside the realm of dreams, defied possibility.

Just as Cody expected, the Doctor was completely unresponsive to her questions about the state of his other American patients. He checked and cleared her with little more than a grunt.

Cody was dressed and waiting for her interrogator well before ten o’clock. She was dismayed to see a young man in U.S. Air Force uniform enter the room. He was clearly not here to ask the questions, he lacked the necessary air of self-importance. Bringing in reinforcements all the way to Australia was not a good sign. Cody covered her unease with her usual flippancy.

“You know there are plenty of soldiers around here, they didn’t have to send in backup just to escort little old me.”

“This way,” he replied. The airman chose to dispense with introductions and small talk as he led Cody through a labyrinth of corridors and stairs to a small, bland room furnished with two plastic chairs and a steel collapsible table. Cody walked over to the window that overlooked a large oval. The grass was brown and there was a well-worn running track around the outside. The window was locked but there were no bars, only gauze. Out of habit Cody catalogued the number of ways to break out if necessary. She mentally traced the path of least resistance between the room and the bushland at the edge of what she assumed were army barracks. She noticed the waves of acknowledgement between people as they criss-crossed the paths between the buildings, going about their business oblivious to the proceedings about to take place. She couldn’t help but begrudge the apparent simplicity of their world.

“One civilian unconscious, another in a coma, classified information missing and a US Air Force Major with a convenient case of amnesia.” Cody didn’t need to turn around to recognise the brusque voice. She was the last person Cody wanted to see. “This was your chance to put the disaster of Serbia behind you. You were given babysitting duty of two archaeologists for god sakes. How the hell did you mange to stuff up so badly?”

“Nice to see you too Schiffe,” Cody said. Running away along the path of least resistance looked particularly appealing right now. “I’m fine, how about you?” Cody slipped into the reassuring mask of cool indifference as she turned from the window and leaned against the wall to face a woman she had not seen in over two years.

“Lynx, sit down now!” Rachel Schiffe said, using Cody’s call sign as if they were on the same side. She had no real place in the chain of command but Cody followed the order regardless.

“You get lost Schiffe or did you just miss me?” Cody knew she was doing a bad job of seeming casual. She was dressed in crumpled Australian army issue fatigues, her listless hair falling haphazardly around her face. Cody’s fair skin needed no artificial means to glow but she wished she had at least taken the time to wash her face before her summons. Her counterpart was in a crisp white shirt tucked into grey pants. Her shirt buttoned up to just barely above modesty. Rachel liked to draw attention to her toned body. In the past that particular tactic had been successful against Cody’s defences. The last time Cody had seen her, her dark brown hair had been straight and hung below her shoulders. It was now jet-black and cropped to accentuate her angular features. Rachel was a little over six feet tall and had a habit of tucking her chin in to emphasise she was looking down at you in every sense of the phrase. Cody’s interrogator had no problem claiming superiority no matter what company she kept. Cody knew Rachel Schiffe would be enjoying every bit of her discomfort.

“Let’s skip the witty banter portion of this reunion shall we? I don’t exactly have time for this little diversion. I have to get back to Kuala Lumper before they stuff up everything I have done,” Rachel said, opening the folder she had neatly placed on the desk.

“By all means feel free to leave if I’m keeping you from something more important.” At least Cody had an explanation as to how she got to Australia so fast.

“What I know so far is that you were ordered to rendezvous with Sergeant Grant, Dr Linden and Dr Tate in Cairns, Australia and fly them to a location in North West Queensland where it is believed you would find further information on Project Lilly.” Rachel glanced at her folder as she listed the facts. Cody knew that was just for show. Rachel would have every detail of the file memorised. She preferred people to fall into the trap of underestimating her intelligence.

“It was supposed to be a no foot print Op. The science geeks look around, take along one airman for display purposes only and one black ops officer posing as a contract pilot to make sure the geeks reported everything of value back to the Air Force.” Rachel shook her head. “Whoever comes up with this stuff needs to be court marshalled. A contract pilot who just happens to be American? And who is going to believe the Air Force needs to contract a civilian pilot? Were they high when they came up with this crap? Or did they just think science geeks are especially naive?” She inhaled slowly as if it was all too much effort. “What we got was a pilot who returned with two unconscious doctors and without key property integral to the continuation of the project.”

Cody’s crooked smile faltered a little at the mention of the ‘key property’. Cody was sure it was in the doctor’s hand last time she saw it but she didn’t know how long they had been separated.

“We have a sergeant who claims he was twiddling his thumbs inside the helicopter the entire mission and a pilot who told medical staff that she remembers nothing except flying there and back. Now here we are at the Townsville army base relying on the hospitality and medical services of the Australian army. Our cover story is pathetic and containment is screwed. Want to fill in the blanks for me Lynx?”

Cody could feel a slight twitch in her left eye, she loathed the tell tale chink in her facade. The power differential between the women was too wide to navigate without sacrificing some dignity.

“As you well know I can’t answer your questions until I know who’s asking. Why exactly are we here and what is our cover story?” Cody hated to reveal she had deficits in information. Information in their business
was a valued commodity.

Rachel smiled a little, “we still have work to do in Australia so no trip home yet. To avoid unnecessary questions we told the Australians that we’re supporting the doctors’ archaeological curiosity as an international publicity stunt to foster favour with the public back home. Show them we can work well with others without the big guns.” Cody snorted. “Seems the Australian army likes the thought of bailing the Americans out of another PR problem, so far they’ve bought it. And I have my usual cover of Air Force consultant I report directly to your superiors.”

“Why you? I mean like you said you don’t have time for diversions.” Rachel tilted her head a little scrutinising Cody. “Be honest Rachel I’m the best division you’ve ever had,” Cody said, hoping to derail the intensity.

“I’m here because there are people in Washington, far above your superiors, who trust me to clean up this mess as quickly as possible.”

There was a sharp rap on the door before Sergeant Grant walked in. “Dr Tate is awake.”

“You okay Grant?” Cody asked. He had dark circles under his eyes but he was not locked in a cell and he had his own uniform on so Rachel had either accepted his report or wanted him to believe she had.

“Fine Bass, ah Sir… And you?”Cody already told him not to refer to her as Sir in front of the civilians but now with Schiffe’s presence he wasn’t sure how he should address his superior. He was young but he had proven himself on active duty and judging by the way he was looking at Schiffe he had already developed a healthy dislike for bureaucratic interference.

“Oh you know it’s all tea and cupcakes,” Cody said, trying to put the Sergeant at ease. “We were just about to swap recipes.”

“Enough Cody,” Rachel said, proving she really didn’t have any tolerance for witty banter. She neatly and precisely placed the paper back into the file and stood. “You know better than most what kind of job I do. Next meeting don’t waste my time. And Cody get some rest. You look like hell, ” Rachel said quietly as she placed a gentle hand on Cody’s arm. She deliberately switched gears with the intention to disarm her subject. “Take her back to the guest quarters.” She instructed the waiting Airman who was standing guard at the door. “Since the people here already know you are a Major thanks to the Sergeant here. I will be informing Doctor Tate we sent you in as back up but the Air Force didn’t want to seem heavy handed. Hopefully the admission will help her open up to me. Sergeant Grant your with me, might help the doctor acclimate if she sees a familiar face.” Cody knew Rachel’s haste had nothing to do with acclimating, she wanted to get to the doctor while she was still groggy and hopefully unguarded.

Rachel Schiffe walked the halls of the base as if she was in charge and doing everyone a favour just by being there. In truth, she hated asking the Australian Army for a favour, it put her in a weaker position. The Air Force was expecting her to control the situation, control Cody. But in Rachel’s opinion they were either naive or incredibly optimistic. Through necessity she had learnt how to manage Cody in the field where their lives depended on working together. In this situation Cody was being treated like a suspect, she was going to feel cornered and it was never a good idea to trap Cody Bass. This was not at all how Rachel planned her next reunion with the fair haired beauty.

****

The so-called guest quarters where just a few doors down from her previous accommodation. The small room had one cot bed under the window which was barred but as far as cells go with an ensuite and a small television it was luxury to Cody, despite the absence of anything that could be used to contact the outside world. Cody was momentarily relived to see there was no key pad on the door, just a simple easy to pick lock until she realised her escort would be staying on guard outside. The constant guard at least indicated a level of respect for her abilities considering she was being held on a military base and therefore surrounded by hundreds of well-trained soldiers and locked gates. Cody was almost flattered.

Ignoring the tiny window Cody flopped onto the tiny cot and pinched the bridge of her nose. This time she didn’t want to see the beckoning sunshine or happy faces ambling about their business. With nothing left to distract her the pain hit full force.

“Where is the nice nurse when you need her?” Cody mumbled to herself. She closed her eyes, her brow creased with the effort of trying to remember something useful.

No matter how hard she tried the events over the last few days floated incrementally through her conscious in tiny confusing segments. She remembered standing in a cramped dusty cave, then rocks crashing and falling. Hanging from the cave ceiling were stands of orbs cascading down like jewels suspended in a spider’s web. It seemed so bright but there was no light source. Rolling over to shade her eyes from the light Cody found herself lying on a floor of ice but it wasn’t cold or wet just perfectly smooth. She automatically lifted her hand to her head checking for bumps that might account for her hallucinations. Then… Nothing.

Cody almost fell off the small cot when she heard a knock on the door. Judging by the level of light it was now early evening. She had been sound asleep, which in itself was unusual but sleeping in the middle of the day was a complete anomaly. It obviously wasn’t Schiffe, she wouldn’t bother with the politeness of knocking.

The door opened and Cody looked into the smiling face of Jenny Thomson. Cody assumed the kindness in the nurse’s green eyes would inevitably by snuffed out by her service in the army.

“You have a visitor,” she said, moving aside to reveal a woman in a wheel chair. “I’m off now but I’m going to send someone down to help you back in a little while.” Cody noted the nurse’s lack of eye contact with the guards outside the door and her fast retreat. Cody recognised the signs of someone not wanting to get caught.

“Dr Tate, shouldn’t you be in bed?” Echo looked like she had just gotten out of the shower with her brown hair hanging in damp curls and her dark skin slightly glistening. Cody admired her quiet beauty, even injured and relegated to a wheelchair she still exuded determination. Her piercing intellect shined easily from her brown eyes. It was as if she had found the source of the fire within but unlike most people she didn’t run from the flames. There were no well-honed muscles hiding under her army issue sweats but there were definitely concealed curves.

“Probably. And its Echo.”

“Right.” Even with slight gaps in her memory Cody was sure she had already made a snide remark about a civilian with a call sign for a name. “Have you been debriefed already?”

“Not really.” Echo slowly rose from the wheel chair. “Can I come in?” Echo reached out to Cody to steady herself.

“Of course,” Cody said, leading Echo to the end of the bed. “It’s just that I can’t believe Schiffe would let you come here before she’s finished debriefing both of us.” Cody shut the door and retrieved the one plastic chair from the corner.

“I’m not military. I don’t need to ask for permission. Or wait for orders.” Echo raised her chin a little in defiance but Cody could see the slight flickering in her eyes. Echo had obviously been told Cody was Air Force rather than a simple contract pilot.

“Not being military has never stopped her before.”

“I dropped the names of a few people that would be very interested to know how I was being treated.”

Cody wished she had seen the look on Schiffe’s face. They must have been some heavy weight contacts for her to relent on protocol. But Cody knew the reprieve would not last long so there was no point in preamble.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Just bits and pieces really. It’s still pretty blurry,” Echo answered. Cody saw the flicker again.

“That’s not really going to be good enough. A major asset is missing on foreign soil and the only man who can decipher the journal is in a coma.” Cody assumed the role of interrogator. “If Schiffe is here… I mean I read the reports before the mission and they were conveniently vague which reading between the lines means…It’s something big. I don’t think you realise the situation you’re in. If these people want answers they don’t care how they get it.”

“The journal is not an asset. The military does not own it. We keep trying to tell you people it’s not a blueprint for a weapon.”

“Weapon, what?”

“Honestly I don’t think I have the energy to explain.” She sighed. “Your people think the journal is an instruction manual to construct a weapon.”

“Well that explains why Schiffe is here. They think I either lost it or did a hand over. Well what do you know. It was me who didn’t realise the situation we’re in.”

Cody could see the pretence of bravado fade away as Echo nervously fiddled with the bandage around her knee. Normally any sign of weakness was either something to exploit or pity but Cody had an uncharacteristic desire to protect this woman, to keep her as far away from Schiffe as possible.

Cody placed her hand on top of Echo’s. “Whoever your contacts are Schiffe will get around them eventually. She always gets the job done no matter what. You need—”

“I remember you. I remember everything about you,” Echo interrupted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Cody asked. Echo reached out with her free hand to touch the purple bruises on the side of Cody’s face.

Echo smiled when Cody didn’t pull away from the intimacy of the touch. “We have been given a gift. We just have to honour it,” Echo said, before tightly shutting her eyes.

“We need to get you back to the infirmary.”

Echo slumped against Cody as she helped her back to the wheel chair. As promised, another nurse was waiting outside the door with a different Airman standing guard. Cody didn’t bother to acknowledge him. She didn’t know whether to be insulted or honoured by the fact that Schiffe bought in more reinforcements.

Cody tried to ignore the tension building behind her eyes, the last thing she needed was more painkillers, her mind was already scattered enough. Schiffe would be back for more answers and Cody still had none to give. Loss of memory after most missions would be a welcome reprieve. It would save her the effort of trying to cram everything she had seen and done into a tiny locked box and hope the horrors didn’t leak out when she wasn’t concentrating. All that practice at compartmentalising her demons meant she was very good at protecting herself from the truth. Every survival instinct was screaming at her to deny the memoires of jewels suspended from the ceiling and ice floors were real. Denial, she believed, would keep the madness at bay.

****

The waiting nurse was a disappointing sight for Echo. She was hoping Cody would have to help her back to bed. It would have been a convenient excuse to stay close to her, to feel her warmth and more importantly her strength for just a little longer. Echo hated the soft whining of the monitors that communicated the magnitude of Dr Linden’s fight for life. Her colleague who was lying in a coma on the other side of the curtain was annoying and often condescending but she would give anything to hear his voice.

Echo needed to ask Cody what to do next. Her career was spent pursuing intangible mysticism and ancient secrets. While side stepping the reality of politics and the tidal power shifts of corrupt and xenophobic governments. A couple of senators all the way in Washington were not going to protect her once they found out she was holding back.

During their all too brief encounter, Echo could see the emotions play out behind Cody’s eyes. She wanted to help Cody see the truth and tell her all she knew but most of all Echo wanted the chance to tell Cody it was breaking her heart that she was looking at her like a stranger.

Chapter 2

Cody had a choice, she could stay quiet and end her career with insubordination or she could tell Rachel about the debris of memories and be slapped with an insanity charge. She’d been trying all night to push through the invisible wall of amnesia. What she had managed to recall sounded like the whispers of a mad woman.

Cody was mesmerised by the red droplets seeping into the imperceptible crevices of the ice floor. The tiny rivulets endlessly descended without leaving a single stain. The source of the droplets was far less appealing. Echo was holding her bloodied bandage away from her knee. Cody shook her head and attended to Echo’s reopened wound.

“Look,” Echo said.

Cody followed her line of sight to see one of the walls was covered in sand. It glistened as if illuminated by the sun. Echo reached out to touch the impossibly formed wall, she pushed her finger into the sand leaving a small hole but when she pulled away, there was no indent. Cody placed her palm on the wall needing to confirm it really was sand, again her imprint was swallowed up. Cody saw numbers start to appear on the wall, written by an invisible hand. 1,2,3,5,8,13,21. A small ripple coursed down the wall as if a little wave had just passed over it and the wall was blank again.

“The Fibonacci sequence,” Echo whispered, as soon she spoke the numbers were reformed this time 1:1.618. “The golden ratio, I think,” Echo said quietly. Again the numbers disappeared to be replaced with 5,12,15, 19,38,41.

The sequence seemed familiar but Cody couldn’t place it. With a shrug she turned to Echo, who had no answers this time. The sandy walls faded to black again.

Cody groaned and rolled over dragging the other end of the pillow over her cheek. If only it was just a dream, just an irrelevant sojourn into a strange little world. She knew Schiffe would be eager to start another round. Dragging her tired body out of bed Cody showered and dressed quickly. On cue, there was a knock on the door.

“Sir, it’s time to go.” Cody opened the door to find Sergeant Grant restlessly waiting.

“Eyes up Sergeant, you‘re just doing your job.”

“Yes Sir.”

“It’s still just Bass. Schiffe have my usual suite ready?” He nodded and trailed after Cody as she strode down the hall for her next meeting. Easily retracing her steps down the myriad of corridors and stairs that would have most people completely lost.

Pretending to be respectful of her rank Rachel stood as Cody entered the room. The large table had been replaced by a small table and comfortable chairs. Rachel undid her suit jacket to reveal an impossibly tight matching pin striped vest. This time she was obviously going to portray the hospitable interrogator as she moved aside to reveal a breakfast tray.

“Please sit. I got your favourite,” Rachel said, pushing the salt in front of Cody.

“White toast with butter and salt and black coffee. You have out done yourself.”

“Breakfast is the only time you are easy to please. Sleep well?” Rachel asked still continuing with the rouse that they were having a friendly chat. Cody ignored the gesture and wondered if her room had hidden surveillance. She hadn’t detected any but she knew Schiffe would get perverse pleasure out of watching her.

“How’s Dr Linden? Any change?” Cody asked taking a mouthful of food.

“No change.”

“Shouldn’t he be in a real hospital or back at home under the care of specialists? According to the file I read he’s something of an asset himself. Right?”

Schiffe easily side stepped the question. “Take the rest away but leave the coffee.” She ordered the ever-present Airman. Pleasantries were clearly over. “Start from the beginning Major.”

Cody thought the beginning was a nice safe place to start. “I was doing pre flight when Grant came over with the Doctors. Linden was acting like the typical civilian. Tate was—”

“Tate was not the science geek you were expecting,” Rachel said.

Cody ignored the comment. “Dr Linden handed over the coordinates and we were off.” Cody left out the power play the doctor had tried to play. He didn’t want to hand over the coordinates until they were in the air. He had diligently kept them a secret for months to ensure he and Echo were included in the trip. It was a reasonable precaution. But he was holding them in his hand as if Cody and Grant couldn’t just take it from him. Echo whispered a few words in his ear and convinced him to handover the crumpled piece of paper. She was obviously well practised in intervening for her colleague. When he finally handed it over Cody was tempted to fly off without him just to teach him a lesson.

Cody took another sip of coffee. “It’s impressive terrain, the red soil and the water channels—”

“Not looking for a travel agent, skip it.”

“Right. Well we landed in a clearing about two clicks from the coordinates. Linden complained about the heat from the second we opened the door. I told them Grant had to stay to make sure the wildlife didn’t scratch the paint work while we were gone.”

“And they bought that?”

“I think they were both so eager to get to the site they didn’t even notice the soldier was staying with the helicopter and the pilot was tagging along. We headed north- east along a just barely running creek. There were monitor lizards everyway darting in and out of the water. One popped its head up right in front of Linden. He squealed like a little girl and jumped back into Tate, sending them both tumbling towards the water.”

“I’m assuming you’re going to get to the point any minute now Major.”

“Hey you wanted the story from the beginning. You can’t decide the relevance until you know all the details right?” Cody continued enjoying Rachel’s scowl. “So being the good little Major I prioritise the assets and reach out to save Linden and his back pack with the journal in it from landing in the water. But that meant Tate ended up smashing her knee against a rock. I pulled out the first aid kit and proceeded to pretend I didn’t have field medic training and put on a sloppy bandage.” Cody stopped to sip her coffee. “And that is the end of the beginning. It’s all a blank from there. Eighteen hours later I wake up in a cave with two unconscious civilians and radioed Grant for help and you know the rest.”

Schiffe just stared at Cody, quietly scrutinising her.

Cody knew better than to fill in the silence but it didn’t stop the words from tumbling out. “I’m not just spinning the party line here. My memory really is screwed up. I have tried…Rachel I have really tried…” Cody clammed her mouth shut before she revealed any more of her turmoil.

Schiffe poured herself another cup of coffee and stepped over to the window. “How long was Doctor Linden left unsupervised?”

“I…I don’t know…That’s the truth.”

“And the journal?”

“Safely tucked away in Doctor Lindens backpack as far as I remember.”

“A back pack that you returned without?” This time Cody kept quiet. “Send in the Doctor please Airmen.” Her order was instantly carried out and Echo was escorted into the room.

Wearing desert fatigues Echo strode into the room and poured herself a coffee using Cody’s mug. Cody kept replaying the words, “I remember everything about you.”

“I apologise for the deception Doctor Tate but you need to know that Cody is not a contract pilot but a Major in the United States Air Force,” Rachel said. “She was sent in as back up and as it turns out their instincts were right even if the execution was lacking.” Rachel leaned in closer to Echo and lowered her voice. “So now we have that out of the way I think we can begin with openness.”

Echo raised her eyebrows. Cody was impressed that she seemed to be displaying the appropriate amount of surprise Schiffe was looking for. She appeared to be happy to play the part of naive scientist for now.

“I appreciate the disclosure,” Echo said. “I guess the deception was to be expected given how much the Air Force has invested in the project.”

“I think its best we all work together to get to the bottom of what happened out there. I appreciate that you’re not happy with the manner in which we’re currently dealing with this situation Doctor Tate but the sooner we get this resolved the sooner we can all get back to our lives. ”

“She wants you to start from the beginning,” Cody said, nodding slightly.

“Okay… We got off the helicopter it was so dry it felt like every bit of moisture had been sucked out of the air—”

“Actually I need you to start from after you hurt your knee on the rock,” Rachel interrupted.

“Well like I told you yesterday I don’t remember much. We were heading towards the coordinates and then the next thing I remember is waking up here in Townsville.”

Cody watched Rachel closely. She looked like she was trying to resist the urge to send the doctor sprawling across the floor with a quick left hook to the jaw. Cody knew Rachel loved the tactic of congeniality followed by unpredictable brutality. Rachel settled for slamming her hands on the table. Cody was ready to intervene if necessary.

“Really? This is what you’re both going to give me, the beginning and the end? Skipping the middle is not going to cut it. Project Lily has international attention. The journal was only handed over to us because we told the Koreans Doctor Linden could decipher the code and we would share the information. The Russians know we have it and want full disclosure or they will confirm to North Korea that Americans helped the South Koreans steel it from them. Now we have the Australians involved. Information like that doesn’t go missing in the Australian outback. Do you understand what the two of you have lost?”

“What’s missing is a precious piece of history,” Echo said. “An outstandingly preserved mystery that your people are determined to see as a blueprint for a biological weapon despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

“Evidence, you want to talk evidence. The journal is over four hundred years old and written in a code no other country has managed to crack but contains world maps that depict migration patters and detailed drawings of cells, nuclei, and neurons. Pictures that should of course not be possible for the time it was written. You Doctor Tate verified the age of the journal and your colleague verified the accuracy of the information. Your team finally managed to decode the last page, which you assured the Air Force was latitude and longitude. We facilitate and fund your trip here and what do we get in return?”

“You and I are always looking for the angle, the cover up, the conspiracy.” Cody tried to redirect Rachel’s anger. “But I promise you Rachel if I knew what happened I would tell you. There’s no hidden ulterior motive. I’m not playing you.”

“I’ve watched you play people Lynx and you’re very good at it. You of all people should understand the gravity of the situation. The potential for disaster if we don’t get to the finish line first.”

“What exactly is the finish line?” Cody hated to ask but she couldn’t stay in the dark.

Rachel stood and walked behind Cody, she placed a hand on her shoulder and lent down so they were cheek to cheek. “You know I actually believe you don’t know.” She stalked around the table accessing her prey. “There were also drawings of the double helix beside the only information not encrypted. Each DNA depiction had a date and a shaded portion of a continent. Dates that correspond to fatal virus outbreaks in the shaded region. Outbreaks that did not spread beyond familial ties and the symptoms occurred simultaneously throughout the community. Non related witnesses described the sky on the ground, the desert spirit swooping in. It naturally didn’t make any sense until later incidents were described as unusual fog or mist just before people started getting sick.”

“This is crazy, insane. You are suggesting knowledge of a DNA targeted biological weapon created long before genetic science. When a medicine bag contained leaches, wait before that, magic feathers. And what was the dispersion method pigeons, spears? This has to be some kind of hoax,” Cody said.

“It’s not a hoax and I don’t think it’s a weapon,” Echo added quietly.

“I can’t give you what I don’t know,” Cody repeated.

Rachel lent down to place her hand over Cody’s. “Again, I believe you Cody but there are ways of retrieving memories.” Rachel checked her watch. “The beta team sent to the site are due to check in. I hope for your sake they have found something that might help jog your memory. Get some fresh air but don’t go far.” The implication was clear, stay within sight of the guards, no getting delusions of freedom.

Cody couldn’t pass up the offer of getting outside. Echo followed silently. Cody walked aimlessly around the field with no real objective accept to keep moving until she realised Echo was still following her.

“Um…Cody could we slow down I’m not exactly one hundred percent yet?”

“You’re free to stop whenever you want, you don’t wait for permission or orders remember.” Cody didn’t miss the hurt flicker across Echo’s face. She grabbed Echo by the shoulders. “Why did you lie in there? I know you remember more than you are letting on.”

“So do you,” Echo said. Cody closed her eyes in response to the involuntary flash of a large orb drop from its weblike hold to land undamaged on the ice floor. Cody let go of Echo’s shoulders and saw red marks start to form on her skin. There would be some finger shaped bruises there soon.

“All I have is ridiculous fragments. Numbers, orbs, sand walls… Floors that look like ice. That stuff is going to end my career.” There was something about Echo’s stillness that made Cody’s default settings of detached untouchability reset.

“You’re not insane, it’s real.”

Cody didn’t know whether to strangle or kiss her. She desperately needed someone to confirm she hadn’t lost her mind but Echo’s casual acceptance of their experience was disconcerting. Shared delusions was still one of her top theories at the moment.

Cody sidestepped the issue of orbs and ice floors for the moment. “You said you remember me?”

“I’m not sure you’re ready to hear about that yet.” Echo turned away from Cody.

Cody grabbed her arm again and spun her around. “Now is all the time we have. Start talking,” she ordered.

Echo sat down with difficulty and leaned against a tree. She glanced over to the Airmen still standing a few feet away. “Do you remember a large blue orb fell in the centre of the room?” Cody nodded. “Do you remember what happened after you touched it?”

Cody didn’t remember touching it but she did remember the pain. “I remember an energy burst of some kind and we were thrown across the room, then it disappeared.”

Echo smiled. “I admire your attempt at simplicity. I could write a thesis just on that one wondrously beautiful object. I called out to you not to touch it. I was reaching out to pull your hand away when a charge went through us both.” Echo paused. “I don’t know how to make this sound plausible. I already tried to explain it when it happened and it didn’t go so well the first time around.”

“And?” Cody pressed.

“And…I remember you looking after me.”

Cody saw an image of Echo’s crumpled body propped up against the sand wall. She remembered turning over Echo’s wrist to check for a pulse. Cody repeated the action in the stark Townsville sunlight to confirm her memory was reliable.

She gently rubbed her thumb across the inside of Echo’s wrist tracing the outline of her tattoo. “It’s ancient Indian right?” Echo nodded. “I asked you about that when you came around in the cave, you said its Samkhya…” Cody looked distant for a second. “It means liberation through knowledge.” Echo nodded again.

“Why didn’t you tell Rachel I was lying? Isn’t she like your superior or something?”

“Schiffe and I have worked together before, supposedly on the same side. You need someone to cover your six, she’s the one for the job but she always has her own agenda and I usually prefer to work out what that is before I show my cards. Are you going to tell me why you are lying to Schiffe?”

“What I have to say isn’t what she wants to hear.”

“You learn fast. But you haven’t answered the question.”

“If someone you trust asked you to withhold information would you?”

“Depends on the reason.”

“If you trust them the reason doesn’t matter.”

“So in other words you’re lying to Schiffe on the instructions of someone else and you don’t know why?”

“I don’t owe Rachel Schiffe anything. I owe Professor Nagasone my career, he asked me to tell him first if we found anything. ”

“And did we find anything worth reporting back to your Professor Nagasone?”

“Look I’m under no illusions here. I may not be the one under armed guard but I know Rachel isn’t going to let me go home anytime soon. The nurse, Jenny, she gave me my cell phone back. I left a message for the Professor to come. He will make the Air Force back off and maybe he can tell me what we have found. What you reveal to Rachel is up to you. It’s going to be okay Cody. Trust me,” Echo said, reaching out to touch Cody’s shoulder. “You’re not losing yourself you’re gaining something you just need to believe that.”

Cody wasn’t used to being reassured. She also wasn’t used to trusting such an incomplete excuse but her instincts were telling her this woman could be trusted based on nothing but the sincerity in her eyes. She talked in riddles, side stepped Cody’s questions and was deceiving Schiffe yet there was an inherit authenticity to her demeanour. She lied with honour Cody thought, something Cody had to do herself on countless occasions and often based on little more than the belief that the truth would do more harm than good.

“I get the feeling you are the one holding all the cards and I’m going to trust you to deal me in at some point. Until now I thought I’d just imagined the whole thing and I wasn’t exactly lying when I said I couldn’t remember much. I just keep getting flashes. Once I have a better picture I will fill Schiffe in, mainly because she won’t give me a choice.”

Echo gave Cody’s shoulder another squeeze. If she thought Cody would accept it she would wrap her arms around her. She needed the contact as much as she wanted to give the comfort but she knew the intimacy wouldn’t be appreciated. She reluctantly let her hand slide down Cody’s arm and gave her hand one final squeeze before letting go. She struggling with the acute irony of denying Cody information. She wanted to give in to the temptation so she was not the only one sharing the burden. She selfishly wanted to fast track to the part where Cody would trust her and offer her comfort, be her anchor amongst the chaos. But she had to stay quiet.

****

Rachel had seen enough. Their body language was revealing. Their full attention was on each other but interestingly Echo seemed to be the dominant member of the partnership. Rachel was not used to seeing Cody let someone touch her so softly and intimately. She ordered the Airmen to bring them back in.

Rachel wasted no time getting back to business. “The Beta team found nothing in the cave except indigenous markings. Do either of you have anything further to add to your story?”

“No.” they both said in unison.

“You may well have some form of amnesia but there are ways of retrieving memories. I have asked Mr Glasser to come visit. He will be here by tomorrow morning to begin working with you Major. Doctor Tate you need to return to the infirmary for a final check up before we can move you into guest quarters.” Rachel nodded to one of the guards.

“This way Doctor.” The guard instructed leaving no room for argument. Cody nodded to Echo.

“There’s still time to fix this situation lynx,” Rachel said, after Echo disappeared down the corridor. “There will be an extra cot in your quarters. I’m going to make the doctor bunk with you.” The implication was clear. Cody was being given a chance to redeem herself and continue with the mission by getting information out of Echo. “She obviously trusts you, use this opportunity to make sure Mr Glasser’s services will not be required. Now go get some rest while Tate gets her check up.”

Chapter 3

After taking something for her headache Cody fell asleep again. She woke to find an extra cot being noisily placed in the room. Echo was escorted in by Jenny who instructed her to eat something then take two more tablets. Echo clearly had the same headache. Trays of fruit and sandwiches were promptly bought in as the nurse checked on Cody.

“What did you do, spike Schiffe’s coffee to get us this reprieve?” Cody asked Jenny.

“I considered that option earlier, she came in while you were sleeping. I asked her not to disturb you, she just pulled up a chair and sat beside your bed for awhile.” Cody felt violated and betrayed by her own instincts. She would normally be aware of someone there even if she was sleeping. It was an instinct she trusted to keep her alive. Schiffe was doing a masterful job of keeping her off balance, though that was to be expected. “She said to give you some time to rest and then bring in another cot for Echo. She was gone when I came back to check on you, she has been curiously absent for hours now. But I think the staff around here are starting to think for themselves again. I’m betting she has a radar for that kind of thing so I’m guessing she’ll be back any time now.”

Cody enjoyed the fact that this woman was so refreshingly unencumbered by agenda or ulterior motives. Even though she obviously did hide a keen perceptiveness behind her casual demeanour. “I’m guessing you want your infirmary back to normal ASAP.”

“Actually most of the base is on a training exercise up north so you’re preventing extreme boredom. Except for the musical beds, that has to stop. I’ll check in again before shift change,” Jenny said, practically bouncing out of the room.

“What did Rachel mean about there are ways and who is Mr Glasser?” Echo asked nibbling on the supplied sandwiches.

“He’s been doing some upgrading of sodium pentathol. Getting good results from what I hear, something about using it in combination with the adhd drug. It activates parts of your brain to give you more clarity while loosening your inhibitions.” Cody scrubbed a hand through her hair and pushed the food away.

“You’re worried aren’t you?”

“The process can you leave you a little scrambled and I don’t exactly have a good grasp on reality as it is right now. So yeah I’m a little worried.”

“It’s more than that.”

“There’s no way to control what memory is going to be retrieved. My brain.” Cody tapped her forehead. “Is not exactly a pretty place.” Cody raised her voice. “And why the hell are you so calm about all this? Your colleague is in a coma, you’re basically being held under guard in the wrong hemisphere for your contacts to protect you for much longer and our only defence is we remember sand, ice and orbs. You’re taking this like it happens to you all the time.”

Echo ignored Cody’s anger. “Not exactly my first time dealing with events that can’t be explained. Its kind my job to explore the mystical and the ancient paranormal.”

“You knew this was going to happen? You knew what we were walking into?”

“No! God no. We just thought we would find another clue or something to help decipher the journal. Dr Linden had only decoded a few passages, the last page, longitude and latitude but the rest was still a mystery. Do you really think Dr Linden would have gone if he thought there was any danger?” Cody had to admit he wasn’t the adventurous type and he had wondered into the cave far too casually if he suspected his world was about to be turned upside down.

Cody let out her breath, “Yeah well you said before it was a gift… Well I want to return it.”

“You still haven’t accepted what you have seen is real and your bosses can’t accept that we haven’t retrieved a biological weapon capable of being DNA specific.”

“It’s a bit of a leap isn’t it? I mean all this… It’s all a bit of a leap. You might deal with this stuff all the time but I deal with facts on the ground which granted, usually turn out to be the stuff of nightmares but not mystical journeys and dead people’s scribbles.”

“That’s what you’re worried about, the nightmares will get worse?”

Cody didn’t want to answer that question. She didn’t even want to be in the same room as this woman who was hitting way to close to the bone. Cody needed to get out, she had built up too much nervous energy, she needed to get rid of the excess in a more efficient way than just pacing around the room shaking out her fingers.

“There’s a room they use for fitness tests just the other side of the infirmary beds,” Echo said. Cody tilted her head at the peculiar tangent. “It has a treadmill and I’m pretty sure you could convince Jenny you’re up to it by tomorrow.”

That stopped Cody’s pacing. Running was the one thing she did to restore her sanity. How could Echo know that?  Echo responded to the questioning stare.

“Just thought a run might help with the trapped feeling.” She hit the nail on the head again.

Cody rubbed her temples knowing Echo was right but she would have to wait until tomorrow. Her head couldn’t take the extra pounding.

“I could help with your headache, sit down,” Echo said. Cody surprisingly obliged and sat down in front of Echo.

“The Professor will come,” Echo whispered, massaging Cody’s neck. “I promise he will get us both home.”

“Not before tomorrow morning he won’t.” A slight moan escaped Cody’s lips.

“I won’t stay quiet if it means you don’t have to go through with the procedure tomorrow.”

Cody pulled away from Echo’s ministrations. “We both need to get some rest.”

“But…Fine,” Echo said, moving over to her cot. Cody was impressed that Echo knew there was no point arguing.

Chapter four

Even without a watch Cody knew it was time to get dressed and ready, Rachel always liked the dramatic flair of pre dawn manoeuvres. Cody allowed herself another minute of watching Echo sleep before she slipped quietly into the bathroom for a shower.

“I won’t let it happen. We’re in this together,” Echo said, as she entered the tiny bathroom.

“I’m pretty sure the Australian Army frowns upon women showering together.” Cody called over the sound of running water.

“This is not the time for—”

“Could you pass me the towel.” Cody brazenly stepped out of the shower. Echo just mutely stared. “Now that I know a naked body stops you in your tracks I may have to use this tactic more often.”

“Whatever works for you,” Echo said, her eyes dancing as if she enjoyed the view. Slowly passing the towel she took a step back from Cody’s glistening body. “We have to be serious here. I’ll talk to Rachel, tell her whatever she wants to know.”

Cody’s flirtatious mood evaporated. “There is no exit strategy, this is happening.”

“I’ll convince her she doesn’t need to do this.”

“Schiffe has a job to do. There’s nothing you can do. Now if you don’t mind I need to get ready.” Cody placed her hand on the door waiting for Echo to exit.

When the Airmen arrived to take Cody Echo pleaded with him to take her to Rachel instead.

“I’ll pass on your request ma’am. For now you’re required to stay here. Please come with me Major.” Without protest Cody left the room. The sound of the door being locked seemed deafening in the close quarters.

****

The large auditorium had been cleared, all that remained was a gurney, an instrument tray, sensor pads hooked up to various monitoring equipment and a drip. As usual the set up was a picture of obsession with everything neatly and precisely placed.

Cody nodded to Rachel who was standing on the other side of the room. “Weren’t you Doctor Glasser last time we met?” Cody asked the tall angular man as she was led to the gurney.

“Some people are put off balance by a doctor breaking the Hippocratic oath, others are put off balance by a lay person performing these duties. The people who contract me decide which title will work best. Do you like the frankincense?” His friendly voice didn’t match the setting.

“I’ve already had the lecture on the merits of aromatherapy remember?”

“Ah yes of course. But last time I was using rosemary, frankincense is a psycho active oil.”

“Whatever Doctor. Can we get on with this?” The Doctor leaned down to strap in Cody’s arms and legs.

“Is that really necessary? ” Rachel asked still not moving from the corner of the room.

“It’s for her own protection so she can’t harm herself,” he replied, continuing to place the sensor pads on Cody’s temples. He was obviously eager to have a new test subject.

****

“Sergeant Grant I know you’re out there. The Airmen who stomps up and down left five minutes ago. You took over and pulled up a chair.” Echo’s plea was met with silence. “You hate being put on guard duty that’s why you unlocked the door. Please Sergeant I know you hate what’s happening to Cody…Major Bass as much as I do.”

Sergeant Grant no longer had the resolve to keep following orders. “Doctor Tate I have done everything in my power to stop this.” The Sergeant said opening the door.

****

“I came to see…” Jenny barged into the room. The nurse gasped at the sight of her patient strapped into the bed. “I came to see if you needed help in here.” Jenny stepped up to the gurney to take Cody’s hand. “What do you need me to do Major?”

“Step away nurse…Thomson,” Rachel said, dropping any pretence of diplomacy. “You will leave this room and not breathe a word of what you have seen unless you want to be scrubbing latrines for the rest of your career.”

“You are not my CO, the Major is in my care and this… Whatever this is definitely isn’t in the best interests of my patient.”

“Do not undo those straps. Airmen please escort the nurse out of the room. Put your weapon to good use and make sure no one else enters this room,” Rachel ordered. Jenny made no attempt to move despite the burly soldier gripping her small arm.

“It’s okay Jenny this is just another day at the office. It’s not something to risk your career over,” Cody said.

“But…”

“Trust me she has more clout than your CO and I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll be right outside,” Jenny said, loud enough for all to hear. She gave Cody’s arm one last pat before glaring at them all as she left the room.

“You really know how to make a good impression Schiffe. I’ve worked with Australians before, they won’t tolerate stand over tactics for long. You can’t hold court on their soil and not expect them to get curious,” Cody said, tentatively testing the restraints.

“International relations are the least of your worries right now.” Rachel replied as Doctor Glasser prepared a needle.

“Wait,” Cody said. Schiffe nodded to the doctor who backed away a little. “You haven’t even asked me what intel I have to report about my bunk mate.”

Schiffe leaned in closer. “You know we have to do this Major.” Using Cody’s rank was a small sign this was a little harder than she was betraying.

“She doesn’t know anything, you need to leave her alone. I won’t fight this if you promise not to do this to Echo.”

“We both know she’s been lying since the moment she woke up.”

“Tell me is it really worth ripping my mind to shreds?”

There was a long pause before Rachel answered. “Proceed Glasser,” Rachel said returning to the corner of the room.

****

“Jenny you have to stop this,” Echo said, as she breathlessly arrived outside the auditorium door.

“Would if I could. I was asked ever so nicely to leave.” Jenny glared at the young Airmen standing guard.

“Step aside Airmen,” Grant ordered.

“Can’t do that Sir.”

“Tell me Airmen Holmes who is the highest ranking Officer here?”

“You Sir. But I’ve been instructed to follow Ms Schiffe’s orders.”

“This is ridiculous.” Echo interrupted the power play. “I have information Ms Schiffe wants.”

“She doesn’t want to be disturbed.” The soldier stayed firm.

“The information is her mission objective. Do you really want to be the person to stand in the way of her achieving that?” Grant said.

The Airmen nervously twisted his hand around his weapon and blinked far too rapidly for a man trying to portray indifference to their pleas.

“You heard her Airmen destroying careers is a hobby for her,” Jenny added.

“Stay here.” The Airmen said with as much authority as he could muster. He quickly unlocked the door and entered the room. The assembled group were dismayed to hear the door being locked again.

“Ms Schiffe I have—”

“Quiet soldier.” Doctor Glasser ordered waving him over to the corner of the room.

“Ms Schiffe I need too—”

“Soldier enough. Okay Major Bass we’re going back to when you were in the cave with Doctor Tate and Doctor Linden. Do you remember that Cody?” Doctor Glasser asked.

“Linden was making a big deal about going in first,” Cody said.

“What happened next?”

“He dropped.”

“Dropped?”

“He fell.”

“Where was the journal?”

“In his hand, he took it out of his backpack just before he went in. I tried to get to him but we were falling. I rolled to get out of the way of the rocks but I was too slow… There was blood on the ice, it was her blood. I had to stop the bleeding she didn’t even—”

“Cody are you sure you were falling?” Rachel stepped closer. “The beta team found no crevices or shafts the cave was solid rock.”

“Yes falling… There was ice and sand… She must have been in a lot of pain the wound was open again but she didn’t show it.”

“Where was Dr Linden and the journal? Could you see them?” Rachel asked.

“No… Just sand walls. No Dr Linden, no journal. I looked for exits but it was sealed. I couldn’t even find where we fell through… She knew what the numbers were. She said it was the Fibonacci sequence, then the golden ratio, 5, 12,15,19—”

“I need you to tell me where Doctor Linden is,” Rachel interrupted.

“Flamsteed numbers, Lynx Flamsteed numbers that’s what they were, written in the sand… My numbers… She wasn’t even afraid, not even a little. The numbers were gone, I think … I think there were words then. I thought maybe another language but the Doc said it was code… She was so calm. I should have seen that. How could I have missed it was code written in sand. There was no one there writing it just appeared.”

“Do you want me to increase the dose? Try and get her back on track.” Doctor Glasser asked Rachel.

“No,” Schiffe said, pushing the doctor away from Cody’s bedside.

“Cody, you need to concentrate on Dr Linden,” Rachel said.

“Dr Linden?”

“Yes Cody, Dr Linden where was he?”

“We found him, we were back at the entrance to the cave, not long after the explosion. No it wasn’t an explosion…It was…Doc said something when she woke up she said…”

“You need to concentrate on Doctor Linden.”

Cody started to fidget and pull on her restrains. Beads of sweat trickled down her forehead. “The explosion…I told them the children where home. I told them but they said go, I could have refused to detonate. I could have gotten the kids out.” Cody’s hands were balled into fists. “But they said go so I obeyed… Oh god…”

“Cody! Cody I need you to come back to me.” Rachel tried to stop Cody’s struggling. “Cody it’s okay. Sedate her, she’s too agitated.” Doctor Glasser did as he was told. “Airmen you left your post for a reason I assume?”

“Yes ma’am. Doctor Tate says she has important information to relay.” The Airmen said over Cody’s quiet moans.

The door swung open. “Oh god Cody,” Echo said, rushing to Cody’s side.

“Well that’s two demotions to put on the to-do list,” Rachel said, glaring at Sergeant Grant.

“Don’t blame him I was given the other key by the base commander. He agreed there should be an Australian observer in the room,” Jenny said, crossing the room to check on her patient.

“I’m so sorry.” Echo gently removed the straps from Cody’s wrists. “He was supposed to be here to stop this.”

“Oh let me guess, you remember now and want to tell me everything,” Rachel said.

“I’ll tell you what I know.” Echo picked up a small cloth and wiped Cody’s forehead. She was still unconscious and shivering.

“I need to get her back to the infirmary,” Jenny said.

“Did you get what you wanted. Was it worth it.” Echo lived up to her name by repeating Cody’s earlier question.

“Actually I got what I wanted out of you.” Rachel stroked Cody’s wrist where the red welts and bruises were starting to form. “You’re finally afraid enough.”

“Afraid! Afraid enough for what? The truth? You had that already. We don’t know what happened to the journal or Dr Linden.”

“Actually I wanted your fear to bring the people out into the open who have more to offer than you. And now thanks to your frantic phone calls back to the states Ms Tamiko Nakasone’s ETA is…” She theatrically looked at her watch. “Well any time now. So whatever I get from you now will just be a bonus.”

“That’s what you wanted. Then why this?” Echo asked pointing to Doctor Glasser’s equipment.

“Believe it or not I’m trying to help Cody. Finishing this mission is her only option right now. Believe me there are far worse options than this. We’ll begin again in a few hours. Adjust your cocktail Glasser I want the Major to stay calm next time,” Rachel ordered ignoring the gasps from Jenny and Echo as she swiftly left the room.

****

The small room seemed crowed with the addition of two oversized bodyguards, one nervous Airmen and a petite middle aged woman sitting perfectly still amongst her entourage.

“Ms Nakasone, I’m Rachel Schiffe thank you for coming.” Rachel extended her hand but the gesture was not returned.

“I have no tolerance for pretence, so lets get down to it shall we,” Ms Nakasone said. “You thought you could create a situation that would bring my father out of hiding. I hate to reward distasteful tactics but I want done with this as much as you want to be in the middle of it.”

“Your father—”

“My father is dead.” Rachel’s eyes narrowed slightly. “No need to fret Ms Schiffe your intelligence is not lacking it only happened three days ago. As you can imagine I have many family commitments to take care of so I will be returning as soon as possible. These gentlemen behind me are only the visible sign of the many steps I have taken to ensure that I will leave here of my own free will at the time of my choosing.”

“I understand.” Rachel truthfully replied. She was keenly aware when someone else held the better hand. This woman was not bluffing.

“You’re looking for the journal.” She nodded to one of her body guards who placed a briefcase on the table. She took out a small key and opened the case. Taking out a large folder she slid it across the table. “That’s a copy of the journal and my father’s notes.”

“You’re just handing it over?” Rachel asked, quickly opening the folder before it could be withdrawn.

“You, your government and all the other fools chasing this information have yet to realise it is pointless. These scribblings will turn up again and the race will be on again to decipher the last page.”

“A different journal turns up?”

“Just the last page. I see the compartmentalising of information is working well for your employers. It’s all in my father’s notes. My father found it once by chance and once by sheer determination. It was his life. It put him in a coma for six months, we were advised to turn off life support. He wakes up and all he wants to do is find it again. He was on his death bed and it’s all he wants to talk about. It was my father’s journey and its complete now.”

“He was in a coma?”

“Thirty five years ago he cracked the code on the last page of a strange journal he found. Went to the coordinates. When he didn’t return my mother sent in search teams who found him in a coma with no sign of the journal. We don’t know what caused the coma or what brought him out of it. I have nothing that could help Doctor Linden.”

“He sent them in knowing this would happen?”

“I’m not going to comment on that.”

“Your lawyers tell you to say that?”

“I came all this way to deliver the file to you and a letter from my father to Doctor Tate. I assume that now that you have this information you will have no further interest in Tate or Linden and they will be free to go.”

“I never said they weren’t free.”

“Fine, then I will set up a medical transport for Dr Linden and a plane will be made available for Doctor Tate. Geoff,” Ms Nakasone said, turning to one of her bodyguards. “Please deliver the letter to Doctor Tate and then we are returning to the airport. Inform the pilot to start preparations.”

“You’re not going to check on your employees yourself?”

“They’re not my employees. I have carried out my father’s wishes,” she said, standing to leave. “I suspect you are a woman prone to obsession Ms Schiffe that’s why you’re in charge here. I urge you to avoid the pitfalls my father fell into. There is no secret treasure contained in the information I have given you.” The entourage promptly left the room. Rachel couldn’t help but be suspicious of valuable information given up so freely.

****

Cody was getting used to the flashes, she let them sweep over her conscious mind without interference. This time she could see herself staring at the jumbled letters forming on the sand wall.

“Is that another language?” Cody asked her companion.

“None that I recognise. I think it’s in code.” They both stood staring. “Just the same as the last page of the journal. If the first word is one then it’s just a simple substitution cipher shift of five places in the alphabet relative to each other.” Cody looked at her disbelieving and annoyed that she didn’t see it first. “It’s child play compared to the rest of the journal.”

“One… equals..unity one is all you… need… all… returns to one,” Cody said, instantly realising a simple contract pilot should not be able to decode so quickly. “Like you said child’s play, just like the puzzle section of the magazines,” Cody said, attempting to cover herself.

The sand started to reform but Cody’s scrambled brain had moved onto another memory, now she could see herself being held back by two men. She had been too slow to get out of their grasp and her leg was too badly injured to try anything. She was powerless to stop a third man lunging at her with a knife, she felt the blade slice into her stomach and she heard herself scream.

“Wake up Cody. It’s okay you’re safe. Cody! Wake up,” Echo said, shaking Cody’s shoulders.

Cody’s eyes opened and she immediately clutched at her stomach trying to stem the flow of blood that in reality stoped flowing a long time ago.

“I don’t remember what my cover is. What’s my cover?” She anxiously asked Echo. “Oh god.”

“Cody I don’t understand.”

“She wants to know what her cover story is.” Rachel stepped up behind Echo.

“No cover. I have to escape and evade.” Cody frantically tried to rip out her drip.

“Cody no!”

“Cover is life. Nothing else exists, it’s the only truth that matters,” Rachel said, in explanation of Cody’s erratic behaviour. Rachel swiftly took hold of Cody’s arms pinning her to the bed.

“You need to tell her she is your pilot, her cover is a contract pilot.”

“She is confused enough as it is and you want me to tell her to pretend to be someone else,” Echo said.

Cody stopped struggling. Rachel released her and turned her penetrating glare onto Echo. “You have no idea what kind of world you have stepped into here. You think you can possibly understand what Cody’s life is like.”

“You’re right I don’t live in your world and I don’t want to but I do understand human suffering.”

“Thomson get over here.” Rachel bellowed to the hovering nurse. “Make sure she doesn’t hurt herself, I don’t want any more sedatives unless you have to. I’ll be back soon. I want her as lucid as possible.” Without a second look at Echo or Cody Rachel left the room.

****

Echo had no idea how long she had been staring out the window as the large rain drops hastily tracked their path down the pane.

“It was raining the first time,” Cody said.

“Cody?” Echo turned her attention back to the forlorn figure in the bed.

“It was raining the first time they injected me with something, no wait the first time was in training, the last time they thought they had a mole so I got injected. Can you believe this will be the third time I have been strapped down by my employers?” Echo didn’t know what to say so she grasped Cody’s hand. “Lying in bed while somebody holds my hand is not normally my thing,” Cody said.

“I know. I see who you are.”

“You have said that before. After the energy burst you woke up you said…I see you. You said something about transference. What where you talking about?”

“Well the energy burst caused a transference of sorts.”

“Transference? Come on Doc spit it out.”

Echo hoped that was a good sign. Cody had called her Doc when they were in the cave. “Once the room stopped spinning I realised I knew things about you, like I had some of your memories.” Echo saw the look of disbelief on Cody’s face. “Like I knew you were not just a pilot. You are Air Force Special Ops, your call sign is Lynx, something about being lynx-eyes and being a good sniper. Oh right, I get it now the constellation Lynx, you have to have good eyes sight to see it,” Echo said, pleased with herself for making the connection.

“Did Schiffe tell you that too?” Echo just shook her head. “Then who did, who’s the leak?” Cody demanded. “And what you’re an astronomer too?”

“I took a lot of 101 classes and no one told me Cody. It was the transference.”

“Right. I’m supposed to believe you have my memories, that’s ridiculous.” This was going as well as last time. Echo had to find something that Cody couldn’t deny. She wasn’t going to like it.

“I know how you got these,” Echo said, pulling up Cody’s sleeve and pointing to the array of small burn marks on her shoulder. Cody pulled away. Echo hated the look of pain and hated the fact that she had caused it. But she needed Cody to believe her. “I know you didn’t get them in a camp fire accident like you told them at your first medical.” She debated with herself whether to go on. “Your step father used to put out his cigarettes on you.”

“You have all my memories?” She asked in a small voice.

“I don’t know if it’s all. Some are hazy or out of sequence but enough to know you hate the idea of me knowing things about you. Things you have worked so hard to bury and hide. I know you must feel like you’ve been stripped bare in the stark sunshine and then thrown into the darkest hole but I won’t betray you Cody. I won’t use what I know against you.” She knew she was voicing Cody’s biggest fear. “Things you think are your greatest weakness I think are your greatest strength.” Echo gently stroked Cody’s cheek.

It made no sense to Cody that when she looked into Echo’s eyes she trusted her. Cody never trusted anyone. She had to acknowledge there was a tiny part of her that was glad someone knew the truth. Echo was looking right at her, not through her. Yet she didn’t show pity or revulsion or even fear. All the things Cody had expected if someone knew the real her.

“Earlier you were having a nightmare about being stabbed right?” Cody nodded. Echo lifted up Cody’s shirt and traced her finger gently along the scar.

“You have me at an extreme disadvantage.”

“Even the score, ask me anything you want.”

“Have you ever been stabbed in the stomach because you forget to mention you worked for the United States Government?”

“No but there was a distressing incident with a stapler in the fifth grade. My finger has never been the same.” Cody smiled at Echo’s playfulness, lightening her dark mood was a beautiful gift.

“I’m guessing you have people lined up to kiss it better when the rain affects your fifth grade war injury.”

“Not for awhile. People don’t tend to like it when you go traipsing across the globe and come back without showering for a month.”

“Tell me something nobody else knows.”

“Well only my family know. I’m not their only daughter.”

“So you have siblings. That’s not exactly earth shattering stuff.” Echo turned her face away. “Hey.” Cody reached out to Echo. “Look at me, I’m sorry no more jokes, go on.”

“I was supposed to be their youngest daughter.” Echo’s voice quavered a little. “My parents had me so that I could be a bone marrow donor for my sister. I was conceived and born for one specific reason and I couldn’t fulfil that purpose. I wasn’t a match. When I was two they found a donor but Lacy died of an infection she caught in hospital before they could operate.” Echo couldn’t hold back the tears. Cody gently pulled her closer so Echo’s head was resting on her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” Cody whispered.

“No I’m sorry.” Echo said gathering herself. “I just haven’t talked about it for such a long time. I mean my parents are good loving people but the sadness was always in their eyes every time they looked at me. That’s why Professor Nakasone is so important to me. He gave me a new purpose, he valued what I had to contribute to the world.”

Her loyalty to the Professor finally made sense. Cody could normally separate herself from other people’s emotions but the slow trickle of tears pierced her carefully fortified barriers. Drawing her in Cody gently kissed Echo’s tear stained cheeks before moving her attention to Echo’s soft lips. The setting and the circumstance did nothing to dampen the electricity between the two women. It was the first time in a long time that Cody allowed herself the indulgence of living in the moment.

Chapter five

Echo breathlessly pulled away interrupted by the sound of a beeping monitor. Quickly putting the heart monitor back on Cody’s finger she moved out of touching distance suddenly aware of how exposed they were.

“I’m guessing we shouldn’t do this in a public place?” Echo said.

“Don’t worry they’ve already asked and I’ve already told long before the rules were changed. So you can come back over here.”

“Major it’s time to go.” Rachel called from the doorway. “Nurse I want her ambulatory in two minutes,” Rachel said, to the anonymous nurse waiting in the hall.

“What! She can’t go anywhere. I thought you had what you need,” Echo said, standing between Cody and Rachel.

Rachel scoffed. “There is a man waiting in the hall to deliver something to you Doctor Tate and Cody will be fine. I’m just going to offer her a little respite.” Echo made no attempt to move. “You don’t want to keep him waiting Doctor.” Echo turned to Cody who nodded. Giving Cody’s hand a final squeeze Echo reluctantly left the room as the nurse began to remove Cody’s drip.

“You aren’t really the respite type Schiffe.” Cody tried her best to hide her frailty. But unfortunately Cody’s condition was all too obvious. Rachel walked over to help Cody out of bed. Cody had no choice but to lean on her if she wanted to stay upright.

“Think of it as an excursion.” Rachel turned to the nurse. “I left clothes for her with the other nurse. I want her dressed and out the front ASAP. I’ll bring the car around.”

***

Despite the indignity of having someone help her dress Cody was relieved to finally enjoy the simple pleasure of wearing her own clothes. It was classic Schiffe to go through Cody’s duffel bag and pick out Cody’s favourite jeans and oversized T-shirt and have them washed starched and ironed which Cody hated. She even included Cody’s favourite sunglasses though her favoured baseball cap was missing. When she was helped into the waiting car she saw the missing cap was firmly placed on Rachel’s head.

“You know if I’m going to be taken to the woods to get a bullet in the back of the head I’d really rather my assassin wasn’t wearing an Armani suit with my Chicago Bulls hat.”

“Oh please don’t be so dramatic. You should know I don’t do the grunt work anymore.” She stopped at the gate. “Did you get what I asked for?” She asked the guard.

“Yes ma’am,” he said, putting two plastic bags in the back seat and opening the boom gate.

“So you’re not going to tell me where we’re going or why?”

“You’ll see,” Rachel said. She was giving away nothing as usual and Cody as usual was assessing her escape options. In her less than optimum state they were limited. Schiffe would no doubt have on her shin holster which would be difficult to access while she was driving. Cody theorised she might just have enough strength to grab the wheel and crash the car but she didn’t have enough energy to run.

“No jumping out at the next lights. I know you Cody. When you’re cornered you run. But you have to see this through if you want to get your life back.” Cody remained silent, it was no surprise that Rachel accurately predicted her reaction. But the difference was this time it wasn’t just her liberties that were being violated. She had to keep the focus on herself if she wanted Echo to get out of this unscathed by the ruthless agenda of Schiffe’s employers.

****

“Doctor Tate?” The large man looked out of place in his suit.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. Mr Nakasone passed away. He left this letter for you in his will.”

“No he can’t be dead. I just spoke to him a week ago.”

The body guard placed the envelope in her hand. “He became unwell and deteriorated quickly. I’m sorry for your loss Doctor Tate.” Echo numbly watched him walk away. Slumping into the nearest chair she held the envelope away from her as if it was contaminated.

Eventually Echo carefully opened the envelope, inside she found a typed letter on Nakasone Industries letter head.

Dear E

It pains me to write this letter knowing the distressing circumstances in which you will read it. It has been my honour and pleasure to work with you over the years. To ensure the future of our work Nakasone Industries will continue to fund Discovery Projects with you taking my place as the CEO. Do not be afraid I know DP is in safe hands. You will have access to information that I hope will not change your opinion of me. Everything I have done and everything I have asked of you has been in the spirit of trust and faith. Please believe that.

You are the only person who has truly understood my passion and appreciated the gift of curiosity. I will be eternally grateful you came into my life. Live well, believe in the pursuit of discovery.

With Love

The letter was left unsigned but there was a handwritten addition at the bottom.

Do not mourn my passing. I am one again as you will be in time.

****

“Alligator Creek.” Cody read the sign as they turned off the highway. “Isn’t it crocodiles they have here?”

“I don’t care what it’s called its ten degrees cooler here.” Rachel parked the car under a large tree right in front of the babbling creek. “Time for your surprise,” she said, reaching for the bags on the back seat.

“You really know how to spoil a girl. Chips, gravy, and beer.” Cody took a chip from the box. “Oh cold chips at that. As long as the beer is not warm I’m happy.” Rachel twisted the top off and handed Cody the bottle. “I’m sure this will go well with all the other drugs in my system. But I really need to know if I’m being fed my last meal because I’ll drink more slowly.”

Rachel took a sip of her beer, she closed her eyes for a moment wondering what it would be like to be just two friends enjoying a day out. Automatically she scanned the area for potential threats. Satisfied there were unobserved Rachel finally revealed the reason for the trip.

“We’re all being played Cody.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“We both know with any job we’re just pawns in a larger game but this is different we are not even allowed on the board.”

“Been there done that, got the t-shirt that said poker chip for hire.”

Rachel took off her hat and sunglasses. She contemplated snatching away Cody’s chips but sudden moves in confined spaces were not a good idea when Cody was involved. “Cody listen to me. This whole thing has played out over and over again with the same results. They sent you in assuming you’d come out like Linden. They send me here to retrieve the journal when they knew full well it could not be found.”

Cody took off her own sunglasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. “So what was the end game?”

“That’s just it. There isn’t one. It’s all about being the first one to get to the journal. The journal turns up somewhere, the back page is always different, people are sent in and they come back in comas without the journal. It is found on the other side of the globe and the whole game starts again. According to Professor Nakasone’s notes the journal and the genetic inferences are just carrots to spark curiosity. The information has no value or significance. This has happened for centuries. He was the first one to come out of the coma.”

“He knew what Echo was walking into?”

“He never revealed a single detail of his experience. But it was his team that found the journal again. He died the same day you entered the cave. I just want this to be over. I’ve clearly only been sent here to put an official stamp on the paperwork. I’m happy to leave the esoteric pursuits for those higher up the food chain.”

“So Linden may never come out of his coma and they won’t leave me alone until the journal is found again and I become irrelevant. And Echo?”

“Tate’s connections make her a political hot potato. Besides that she has filled her purpose by bringing us the Nakasone’s. So she’s free to return to the states.” Rachel placed her hand on Cody’s thigh. “If she revealed anything to you now is the time to tell me.”

“Nothing.”

“Come on Cody I know she wants to protect you. She must have tried to help you remember.”

“I think she knows I have to come to the information myself otherwise I’ll never trust it.”

“Then you know we have no choice.” Cody got out of the car and walked unsteadily down to the waters edge. She placed her hands in the cool flowing water.

“As escapes go that was not one of your best,” Rachel said, kneeling beside her.

“I know we have to do it again. We have to extract everything possible if I want to return to being a regular pawn. But this whole thing has no point it’s just a bunch of spooks running around who know they will never get to the goal posts. They just want to make sure no one else scores.”

“As far as I can tell that sums it up. The DNA targeted weapon angle just secures the funding for their mystery tour.” Rachel placed her hand in the water just barely touching Cody’s. “You’re going to have to try harder next time Cody.”

Cody withdrew her hands from the water. “You don’t think I was giving it everything I have?”

“You only gave me observations about Tate.”

“Watching them was pretty much the entire directive.”

“Just concentrate.” Rachel stood up and held out her hand to help Cody up. Cody reluctantly took it. “That’s all I’m saying.” Rachel used Cody’s lack of balance to pull her closer and lean in for a kiss. But Cody turned her head so Rachel only grazed her cheek.

“Don’t make this about us Rach.”

“There has never been an us Cody. There has just been moments of less pain. But clearly you are enjoying the pain.”

Cody freed herself from Rachel’s grasp. “I want Echo in the room when we try again.”

“I thought you didn’t want your precious Doc anywhere near that.”

“I think she can help keep me on track.” Rachel stalked back to the car not caring if Cody needed help to make it.

“Fine Major just don’t lose it again.” Rachel responded over her shoulder. The trip back to base was made in silence.

Compared to the uncomfortable silence in the car the commotion outside the infirmary was a welcome distraction.

“What’s up Grant?” Cody asked.

“Just getting ready to take Doctor Linden back home. His suitability for travel seems to be a point of contention,” Sergeant Grant replied. Rachel immediately placed herself in the middle of the fracas. Happy to be relieved Grant turned his attention back to Cody. “I have been instructed to make sure Doctor Linden gets home safely.”

“Oh how nice of us to return the man to his family in a coma but well protected.”

“Are you okay Major? I heard you took a little trip with Ms Schiffe.”

“Not really Sergeant but I’m doing better than Linden.” Cody replied ignoring the obvious question as to what transpired with Rachel.

“Do you think he will wake up?”

Cody had a flash of a young woman’s voice telling her. You are harmony without balance, you have to trust in the chaotic symmetry or you will be trapped forever by your arrogance.

“I don’t think so.” An airmen purposefully strode up to Cody. “Looks like it’s time to put me back in my cage. Wish I could say it’s been a pleasure Grant.” Cody shook his hand.

“Wish I could have done more.”

“You did more than enough. Keep your head down and pick your battles and you’ll do fine.”

“This way Ma’am.” The airmen placed a hand on her elbow and pointed to the hallway on the right. Cody had to force herself to put one foot in front of the other. That particular hallway did not lead to the infirmary or her so called guest room. She was being marched to the room set up for Doctor Glasser.

****

Echo wished it was still raining so the world matched her mood. She had already oscillated through the gamut of emotions and returned to numbness. When the door opened Echo was hoping it was Cody. Instead she was faced with the imposing presence of Rachel Schiffe.

“Why didn’t you leave while you had the chance?”

“I’m not leaving until Cody can leave with me.”

“How perfectly naïve of you. She doesn’t need saving.”

“I’m not here to save her. I’m here to support her.”

“Support her? You and your Professor are the reason she’s in this mess. Your mentor set you up for a fall. He sent you in expecting you to come out like Linden.”

“You know you keep trying to tell me I don’t understand the world you and Cody inhabit. But it’s you that lacks the capacity to understand. I’ll fill in the blanks, write the report you so desperately want, tell you everything I saw. But you won’t understand the message.”

“The message?”

“The gift the Professor gave me, you won’t see it.”

“And that’s exactly where you’re going wrong. I don’t have to see. I don’t have to understand the gift. I just have to get the job done, like you said fill in the blanks. The other crap is just puerile indulgence that has no relevance to me or the Major. To that end you will come with me now so we can get the job done.”

“As you have already said I don’t have to go anywhere with you.”

“Fine I’ll tell Cody you’re too busy.”

“Cody needs me?”

“Cody needs to get this over with. Follow me,” Rachel said, stepping out into the hallway.

Chapter six

The occupants of the room silently faced away from each other. There was no need for eye contact or conversation between the guard, interrogator and detainee.

“Cody you really want to do this?” Echo asked as she and Rachel entered the room.

“I have to do this. And you have to help me. Don’t let me wander, keep me focused on what happened in the cave. Can you do that?” Echo looked at the equipment neatly lined up on Doctor Glasser’s tray.

Cody placed her hands gently on either side of Echo’s face. “Hey you just have to concentrate on me. Do this for me, please.” Echo nodded her consent.

“Let’s get started,” Rachel said, assuming her position in the corner of the room as Cody was strapped in and injected.

Doctor Glasser was confident he would get better results this time around. “Just relax Major we’re going back to the cave.” He looked to Echo to take over the dialogue.

“We fell through,” Echo said.

“You hurt yourself,” Cody whispered.

“Yes that’s right.”

“The walls, there was code appearing on the walls. All returns to one.”

“And then what happened Cody?”

“We heard a voice. A woman’s voice, she said you’re both in-between. In-between one and itself… All return to self…” Cody stopped talking for a few seconds. “Your hair when we were walking, it gleamed in the sunlight. I wanted to ask if you were a dancer, you have that kind of grace.”

“Get her back on track.” Doctor Glasser instructed pushing more of the drug into Cody’s drip.

“Cody listen to me, we heard her voice and then the walls changed remember?”

“They changed from sand to ice. Like the floor but it wasn’t cold. I reached out to touch the surface when a woman appeared in the ice.”

“She’s drifting again,” Doctor Glasser said.

“No she’s not,” Echo replied. “Go on Cody.”

“She wasn’t quite solid… She was translucent, except for her red hair.”

Cody could see her long hair bleed into the ice. She could hear the voice but the women’s lips were not moving.

“The truth of who you are does not lie in the code of life. The reflection is always distorted, transformed by the observer. One is the origin of all things. Infinity loops back to one.”

“All things grow out of and towards one,” Echo said, moving closer to the apparition.

“You are here because you understand that when you recognise your own reflection you want more.”

“Glad somebody understands,” Cody muttered, shaking her head as if that would make the scene before her make sense.

“Where does one begin?” Echo asked as if she was having an everyday conversation.

The woman smiled. “One begins with consciousness and as you will find out consciousness returns one.” The woman’s hair fanned out around her seemingly being lifted up by a strong breeze. “I observe the in-betweens. I bring them here to assess their place within infinity. You are harmony without balance. You have to trust in the chaotic symmetry or you will be trapped forever by your arrogance.” The image of the woman dissolved, the walls returned to sand.

Cody’s arm started to twitch a little. “She’s about to drop out of the useful range,” Doctor Glasser said. “What happened next Major?”

“We were back at the entrance to the cave. Linden and the Doc were on the ground. I radioed Grant for help then I must have blacked out. I think I saw a deer in the forest it was just sitting with the cows.”

“She’s not a good candidate for this process, she slips outside the range too quickly. You won’t get her back on track now. That’s all we are going to get.” Doctor Glasser unhooked the monitors.

“That’s all there was.” Echo assured them. Rachel walked over and picked up the small recorder she had placed beside the gurney before leaving the room.

****

Rachel was not surprised to find Echo asleep with her head resting on Cody’s bed. It was a surprise that Cody looked so peaceful. Echo opened her eyes at the sound of footsteps.

“Is it over now?” Echo asked moving away from the bed so she didn’t wake up Cody.

“You know these types of things always end with a to-be-continued. But for the moment Cody has been granted leave to recover and a Nakasone Industries jet is waiting to take you both back.”

“They’re letting her go?”

“Letting her return home. You know my superiors listened to our session and there was no surprise, no order to put Cody in an asylum. They accepted that story as the truth.”

“It is the truth.”

“I thought Cody and I were being set up to fail. But as far as I can figure out there are several tiers of knowledge. Some people think this mission was about getting their hands on a weapon that will swing the balance of power in their favour and then there are those that know very well what we have encountered is far more than a weapon. Now unless we’re all on someone’s hit list we have been allowed on that tier. When she wakes up you should encourage Cody to not question it further. She should walk out the door and leave it here.”

“You’re leaving before she wakes up?”

“Job is done Doctor Tate.” Rachel looked over at her former colleague. “I’ve never seen her trust anyone the way she does you.”

“I won’t betray that trust.”

“Wish I could say the same.”

Echo turned away at the sound of Cody stirring, when she turned back Rachel Schiffe was gone.

Epilogue

Cody had been staring out the plane window for what seemed like hours. Echo couldn’t bear the silence any longer.

“Just so I know, how much longer will quiet time last?”

“Clearly some of us have a little more trouble wrapping our brains around all this than others.”

“I don’t think it’s about wrapping your head around it. I think it’s more about allowing the experience to wash over you.”

“Oh you’re going to tell me it’s all about the journey not the destination?”

“Nope.”

“What then? What’s the moral of the story?”

“All is nothing and nothing is all. There are plenty of cultures and religions that follow the same principle. The individual soul returns after death to a universal immortal soul.”

“You know for a second it all made sense. Now it’s gone. I had a dream after the last session with Glasser.” Cody stopped, she couldn’t remember ever discussing her dreams, it was definitely new territory. Echo just waited for her to continue. “I was back in the cave and I was asking the women why Doctor Linden was in a coma. She said kindness and wisdom are two separate things.”

“And?” Echo prompted.

“And compassion and consequences rarely occur at once…”

“If you cannot accept the answers you should not ask the question,” Echo finished.

“You had the same dream?”

“I’m guessing it wasn’t a dream. What else did she tell you?”

“I asked why we were okay. She said our reflection was pleasing and our goals were not weighted down by ego.”

“She told me I understood knowledge was powerful not power.”

“Well I’m so glad we had this conversation it clears everything up.”

“You are due to re sign up.”

“Okay…” Cody said, confused by the change of subject. “Oh you know this because of the memory exchange thing. Can’t believe that actually slipped my mind.”

“Actually it’s all fading. I don’t think I can hang onto it.”

“Well that must be a relief.”

“Sharing that with you was not a burden it was a privilege.” Echo reached out to Cody.

Looking down at their entwined fingers Cody quietly replied. “You see the world so differently to me.”

“My world needs you in it. I want you to consider coming to work with me. As you’ve already seen it certainly won’t be boring and I kind of tend to find myself in situations where I could use your skills to get out.”

Cody raised a mischievous eyebrow and without warning drew Echo into a kiss. “Are there rules about fraternising with the boss?”

“No.”

Cody kissed her again. “Are these chairs the ones that recline all the way back?”

“Yes.” The kiss lasted a little longer this time.

“Can you tell the stewardess to stay up there with the pilot.”

“The privacy button is right beside you.”

Cody pushed the button. “Every soldier.” Cody began kissing Echo’s neck. “Needs a reason to come home alive.” She pulled the lever for both their chairs to recline. “I forgot what mine was a long time ago.” Cody moved up to Echo’s earlobe and whispered. “I accept your job offer.”

The End

For lovers of words and women.

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