Oct 31 2016
His eyes snapped open, the whispers of the nightmare still gripping his mind. The first few rays of sunlight were slipping through the heavy cloth over the windows. In the distance he could hear the faint rumble of voices as the world woke up and began its morning. A low whine issued from a few feet away.
Standing, he walked to the door and opened it. “Hey, Pup,” he said. His voice sounded rough. Had he shouted in the night?
A scrawny brown dog slipped through the open door. She was thin, too thin, each rib standing out sharply under her fur. He had found her as a puppy. She had wandered into the street and became paralyzed with fear as the cars rolled around her. He'd grabbed her out of the road and brought her home. That had been almost a year ago. She licked his fingers, her whole body wagging as she greeted him. Kneeling, he rubbed her ears and she crawled bodily into his lap.
He sat like that for awhile, still rubbing her ears and listening as the sounds of the city rose. His small apartment was on the ground floor off an alley in the dying slums of the city. It was close enough to the city he could hear it, but far enough away to not have to get involved.
Standing finally he moved to the kitchen. Pulling out a couple slices of bread he ate one himself and tossed the other to Pup who inhaled it. He pulled a pan out of the cabinet and a couple of eggs which he scrambled. He tossed Pup the shells which she happily licked clean before devouring them.
Once the eggs were cooked he took a few mouthfuls for himself and tossed the rest to her. He was used to tight rations, and she needed it more than him. Moving back into the room he knelt at his bag sitting on the floor and pulled out clothes for the day. He quickly stripped out of yesterday's clothes and pulled on the clean ones. He tossed the clothes from yesterday into the sink to wash.
He filled a cup of water from the sink for himself and a bowl for Pup. She drank noisily. He filled the sink with water and began to wash the clothes.
Outside the covered window he could hear the neighborhood children gathering in the alley to kick stones and cans around. They laughed and talked amongst themselves but it was all Romanian so he understood little. The children were very interested in him often coming up to try to speak with him if they caught him outside, but with the language barrier he rarely could respond.
One child heard him speaking to Pup in Russian a few months back. Apparently at least one of his parents was Russian because he immediately began speaking in broken Russian. The child had told him his name was Constantin and began to ask him all sorts of questions in Russian.
He had honestly hoped to never hear anyone speak to him in Russian again, but Constantin had looked so elated he had let himself reply. After that any time Constantin saw him he would immediately begin to repeat a word in Russian followed by the Romanian translation as though set to teach him.
It had been fine until the child accidentally stumbled onto one of the words from his trigger phrases. He had immediately left and avoided the child since. He had no question the enemy would use children to trigger him and he wasn't going to give them the chance.
Clothes washed and hung he checked his supplies. Food was getting low again. He had only the food he was able to find or easily steal so it was always tight. He would go out the next morning before dawn and steal a few more eggs from the local farms before the farmers woke up.
He grabbed a small leather notebook and pen and sat down on the floor. Pup hopped into his bed and curled up, looking like she planned to nap now that he was settling in. She didn't stay with him every night, though he definitely slept better when she did. He hoped sometimes that someone would find her and take her in. Someone who could feed her until her ribs no longer jutted out and wash the dirt and grime from her coat. At the same time he would miss her if she was gone and hoped she never disappeared. Still, she seemed to have eyes only for him so her finding another home seemed like a slim chance.
Sleep, like the violent shocks of his past, seemed to erase things he'd remembered. Writing them down helped. Reading from the beginning of the journal he was still able to recite all of the memories in a long rambling disjointed poem. As he reached the newer memories he could only vaguely remember the images that fit with the words on the page. Finally, the most recent entry, dated two days ago, “Before losing my arm, I was left handed.”
He stared at the page a long time, trying to remember what memory had lead to writing that sentence, but none came. He'd remembered something though or it wouldn't be written down. He let his head thump back against the wall.
His eyes closed and he listened as the city awoke; the sounds of cars and people growing louder. The children laughed and shouted as they played. Nearer still Pup snored softly on his bed.
He wasn't sure how long he sat with his eyes closed, just listening. Without missions, without freezing, the world crawled by completely unaware and uncaring that he even existed.
No, he reminded himself, the world didn't care because it didn't know. If he slipped up, if he accidentally showed the world he was still there, still breathing, it would care. He would fall into custody, either to be imprisoned for crimes he never intended to commit or by captors ready to use him again.
He was suddenly aware that the children were silent. Moving quickly and silently he grabbed a gun from his bag and moved to the door in the kitchen. He drew the curtain back just enough to see out into the street. Rain soaked the window and road. He relaxed. It was raining. The kids were inside because it was raining.
Pup, who had followed him to the door, whined softly to be let out. He set the gun down on the counter, grabbed the key off the hook, and followed her out into the alley. It was raining hard as he followed Pup to the small patch of grass in the back of the alley. He tilted his head up to let the rain wash over his face and hair. Even though the fall had been uncharacteristically warm that year the rain felt cold on his skin.
He moved to the back corner of the alley and leaned against the brick wall facing his door. The rain continued to fall quietly around them. Pup was wandering, sniffing at the grass and digging some in the softened Earth. The other end of the alley curved slightly, blocking the side road at the end from view. It's why the kids liked it and one of the reasons he'd chosen to stay here.
He wouldn't be able to stay much longer. The money he'd paid would run out soon. He would have to either steal more or move to the streets. Stealing it would be easy, but he didn't want to go that route. He'd already done so much evil.
As though waiting for its cue his mind began to throw up hundreds, maybe even thousands, of names and faces. Every face had one thing in common, the same glassy unblinking stare of death. He raked his hand through his long hair. Suddenly the little alcove felt tight, closing in on him. He called Pup and retreated back into the house.
The rain continued well into the night and by the time he slipped into the darkness at midnight the alley was slightly flooded due to the lack of drainage. He pulled his jacket up over his head and set off. He slipped through the darkened streets, moving out of streetlights as much as possible. A few cars were out but no one paid him much attention.
He turned off the main roads towards the farm land near the city. Once he was on to more comfortable back roads he took up a light jog. It took a solid 2 hours to get to the first of the three houses he knew had both chickens and no dog.
He turned up the long gravel drive and carefully skirted the house before coming to the small coop. He slipped inside but in the end only came out with two eggs. He tucked them into the carton he had in his jacket, locked up behind himself, and returned to the road.
The next house, about 3 miles away, he struck out completely. He took a long breath before beginning the 10 mile jog to the final house. He didn't like coming to this house. It was so much farther out than the others but it had a larger coop with more chickens and the owners seemed to check less often so he decided it was worth it.
As he neared the drive he hesitated, there were several lights on in the house. Hoping they had just been left on he moved up the winding drive, staying far out of the light. He moved past a truck and tractor as well as various farm equipment he couldn't identify in the dark. In spite of the lights, he could not hear any voices or see any movement so he continued moving between the two large barns, stopping at the door to the one on the right and slipping inside.
Where the other two farms had less than a dozen birds each, this one had several dozen. He moved quickly and quietly and by the time he was done he had more than two dozen eggs. He paused at the door to listen. Where there had been silence before he could hear a man and a woman now, shouting. He stood, frozen, trying to determine the direction the sound came from but it seemed to echo from all sides.
Knowing staying would do no good, he opened the door carefully. Without the heavy wood in the way it was easier to tell that the sounds came from the porch. They were yelling in Romanian, and he couldn't understand any of it. He pushed the door just wide enough to accommodate his frame and slid out, closing it behind him. The yelling did not increase nor stop. He looked carefully at the porch. A man and woman in their 30s were screaming at one another, face to face. They hadn't seen him.
Watching them he crept back toward the fields around the house. As he turned away from the fight to focus on his footing past the barn he heard a gasp. He spun around and saw a girl, no more than 5, had just come around the second barn. He held his finger up to his mouth but it was too late, she screamed.
He bolted for the fields as the adults yelling on the porch stopped. He sprinted flat out for miles. He ran until his lungs burned and his legs shook from the sudden strain after months of relative disuse and malnutrition. He could not stop. He could not be captured, never again.
When the city came into view as the first whispers of pink began to tint the sky he finally slowed. His legs shook with every step. He moved to the back roads and alleys, staying away from the prying eyes of anyone else who might be out in the crisp morning air.
He immediately made for a baker near the house that was known for leaving out too old bread for the poor. He arrived right as the man went inside and grabbed two loaves for himself and one that had started to mold that Pup could eat. He went to a trash can behind a butcher’s as well, finding some meat that was only slightly turned.
He made it home as the first rays of true sunlight broke the horizon. Unlocking the door he slipped inside. Pup's whole body wiggled with excitement. He threw the meat on the floor as he came in and Pup gobbled it up.
After setting the bread and eggs on the counter he collapsed onto the floor, leaning back against the wall. Pup curled up against his legs, her head on his thigh. He sat listening to the city as it woke, barely breathing as he listened for the thud of boots approaching. He'd failed, been seen, maybe even been recognized. As the morning faded to afternoon and the afternoon to night he let himself breathe.
If he'd been followed even the most coordinated attack would have happened by now. They wouldn't let him wait a day and perhaps slip out of their grasp.
He started to move when a voice clear as day rang through his mind. Mission report?
He went still. He knew he could ignore it, knew the voice had no way to zap him with a stun baton or strike him across the jaw but the longer he remained silent the more uncomfortable his body became until it was like being trapped all over again. He spoke into the empty room.
“Mission report. Mission status: Failure. Multiple witnesses left alive. Asset report:...” He closed his eyes, focusing for the first time since his return home on the pain he felt. His arm whirred and hummed softly, recalibrating. “Multiple small lacerations. All systems green. Injury to right foot, potential sprained ankle. No maintenance required. Mission report complete.”
As the last words left his mouth he was able to breathe again. He opened his eyes and examined the injuries he'd mentioned in the report no one could hear. Mostly scuffs and cuts from running through fields and trees. His ankle was swollen and purple, definitely sprained.
Using the wall he stood, careful to not over strain the injury. He drank through three glasses of water while standing at the sink. He refilled Pup's bowl and grabbed himself a few slices of bread. He tossed a few pieces from the moldy loaf to Pup then collapsed into the bed.
Pup finished her bread and climbed onto the mattress with him. He let his eyes close and darkness swallowed him.
He work up early the next morning. Pup was laying pressed against his side, her head on his stomach. He scratched behind her ears and she stretched long and slow before heading to the door to be let out.
He sat up and turned a more attentive eye to his ankle. It was swollen and purple just as the night before. How long had he run on it after injuring it, he wondered. The pain hadn't been severe enough. Just a blip of discomfort. Not enough to distract from the mission, get food and get home safe.
He sighed and stood, careful to keep weight off it. Malnutrition seemed to slow his healing down to almost that of a normal human which meant he'd be laid up for a least a day or two depending on how bad the sprain was. He used the wall as a crutch to move to the door. It was quiet outside, raining again.
He stepped out and leaned heavily on the bricks outside letting the rain wash over him. Pup ran a few laps up and down the alley then came to stand next to him, her tongue sticking out.
Back inside he grabbed a smaller bag out of the military duffle and sat against the wall. He pulled out a pack of specialized screwdrivers and rested his left arm on his knee. Starting at his hand he moved the first plate into maintenance mode.
Manipulating the individual plates in the first decade he had the arm had been done during the resets. The massive electrical current to his brain had the added benefit of setting the arm into maintenance. He remembered the first time he'd removed the plates himself. All the scientists stood watching. They had still wiped him that day even though it wasn't required but after that the maintenance had been in part left up to him.
With the panel shifted up it was easy enough to see twelve tiny screws. Each screw needed to be removed in a specific order; an order burned into his mind over the decades. One screw out of order and the arm would lock down and melt, erasing any hint of its design as it went.
With the panel lifted the flexible almost clothlike vibranium that kept knives and dirt alike out of the inner structure of the arm was visible. He loosened each screw, then carefully pulled away the panel.
It was excruciatingly painful to remove the panels, like peeling back flesh to expose muscle and bone. He assumed they did this to deter him from removing them himself but the pain was familiar, almost comfortable. This pain should happen. Briefing, mission, maintenance.
He worked slowly closing and tightening the inner workings, ensuring nothing was twisted or pinched. After each section he re-attached the panel and set it back into place.
He opened the main panel on his inner arm. As he moved to set the panel aside an intense pain shot through his shoulder. He went completely still. Out of his peripheral vision he could see a красная линия, a red line, had come loose from its housing. With each thud of his heart the line bounced ever so slightly causing the stab of pain in his shoulder.
Moving carefully he set down the panel. His right hand, trembling slightly from the pain and from the delicacy required, moved the red line back towards his shoulder and the immediate pain subsided. He waited there for the sharp stabbing pain in his shoulder to fade.
About 10 years ago, when the most recent of his arms had been created, the doctor had added the red lines. Using blood and air rather than hydraulic fluid had completely eliminated the need to break the arm down to flush out and top off the fluids used before. The red lines all linked together at the severed brachial artery in his shoulder. His blood flowed through sterile tubes into the hydraulic points in his arm then back out the other side and into his body. When it was needed some of the blood would be trapped in the points as used as hydraulic fluid. Other lines picked up the slack and kept the blood flowing.
It had taken 4 years of trial and error, to determine how to best run the lines to make it work, to verify his heart could handle the stain, and to be sure his body could filter out the impurities picked up on the trip through tubes and back. More than once tests had failed, his heart stopped, but they always brought him right back.
Pulling himself back to reality he carefully guided the tube back to its housing. Each time it was jostled even a bit the stabbing pain where the tube was bonded to blood vessel made him freeze but after several long moments it was locked back into the thin metal groove made for it.
The doctors had talked about a fail safe, something to stop him from bleeding out if the arm was ever ripped off but he didn't know if they had installed it. Maybe someday he would test it.
Reattaching the plate on his inner arm he worked up plate by plate, re-affixing the red line clear up to the connection point at his shoulder. He paused to look at the point where the tubing entered his skin. He knew that less than an inch in the tubing became vein. It had taken weeks for his body to accept the integrated tissue which held the tubing in place.
He checked carefully around the vein to ensure the connections to the muscle and bone were still set and stable. It wasn't anything that needed checking. He knew because of hair thin wires that connected the arm to his nerves so that he could feel when larger issues like muscle and bone were failing. Without the handlers he had no way to repair it even if it was severely damaged.
Re-attaching the shoulder plate he did a quick calibration test moving all the plates out for maximum ventilation and movement speed then locked them all tight for strength. Each plate moved seamlessly.
Satisfied, he retrieved the notebook and sat once more. He ran through the memories tied to each line he had written. At least they didn't seem to be degrading. He stared at the last line. When had he last written something before this book.
He was in the barracks. Men talked around him as he wrote. His pen was held easily is his left hand. Who was he writing to? Immediately an image of the blonde haired blue eyed man from the Helicarrier. He pushed the thought away. Who had he been writing to? Again the image of the man appeared.
He could hear the plates in his arm tick as frustration bubbles in his chest. Again pushing back the image, he tried to focus on remembering what he'd been writing. He'd thought over each line carefully. Couldn't reveal too much and have the letter’s recipient worry. Good, who was the recipient? The man's face was back.
He hurled the leather journal across the room. The book opened, slowing its path dramatically and it hit the ground with a highly unsatisfying whump a few feet away.
Taking a slow breath he started trying to remember. Since his mind was so focused on the man in the Helicarrier he focused on that memory instead. He'd been sent to stop the man from jeopardizing the Helicarrier launch.
They had fought. He clearly remembered the other man being strong, almost evenly matched. He had failed the mission to stop him from preventing the launch so he had moved to phase two, eliminate target. But then he had been trapped, heavy metal debris pinning him. The man had come over, freed him.
He remembered squaring off with him and he had spoken. He could see his mouth moving but the sound of his voice, his words, were like white noise in his skull. He'd called him something, something that had made him remember something but now sitting on the floor of his home he could remember none of it.
It didn't matter, he'd eliminated the target. The man had fallen out of the Helicarrier. He'd followed and still had minor injuries. After that he remembered being in Bucharest and not much else.
Why did that face keep coming up in his mind then? Final target, kept fresh due to the lack of a wipe after. Had to be.
Pushing his hand through his hair he collected the book and returned it to its spot on the shelf. He checked the supplies he had and made a plan to visit the store early tomorrow morning. He was getting low on the soap he used to clean clothes and dishes.
It was not late enough to sleep but he felt exhausted. He laid down and Pup immediately crowded in against him, her head resting on his stomach. He ran his hand over her head, feeling the softness of her fur against the metal of his fingers. He wondered absently if she ever noticed the difference in his arms. If so she'd never shown it.
He closed his eyes and listened to the distant noises of the city. The rain splashed quietly outside. Pup was falling asleep, her head resting heavier on his stomach.
He jerked upright, arm whirring and clicking as all the plates locked down, ready to fight. Jumping up he swung again at the shadow just a few feet away but hit nothing. His breath coming in heaves he searched the room. The shadow that had been standing over him had dissipated.
He scrubbed his hand over his face. He could hear orders jumbled and loud in his mind. What was his mission now? Why couldn't he remember? He moved to the sink and washed the sweat away.
The cold water on his heated skin seemed to bring him back. Immediately he was aware he'd walked on his sprained ankle which hurt all the worse for it. He returned to bed and sat. Pup moved over, looking nervous. He'd scared her when he jumped awake.
He pet her softly, murmuring quietly. His voice sounded like gravel, like first coming out of the freeze. Current mission: stay alive and stay free, he reminded himself.
Moving to the window he looked out past the curtains. Still pitch black. He opened the door and quickly slipped out, leaving Pup inside. He moved into the middle of the alley, his eyes on the sky. Locating the moon he determined the sun would begin to peek over the horizon soon. No reason to return to bed. He let Pup out for her morning run around the alley before heading back inside to prepare for the walk into town.
He moved to his bag and pulled out a roll of medical wrap. Carefully he stabilized his ankle as much as he could. It would still be painful to walk on and still aggravate the injury but it should help.
As the first light of dawn slipped through his window he pulled on a jacket, zipped it closed and pulled the hood low over his head. Leaving Pup inside he locked the door and began the walk to the store. It was getting cool enough that no one really noticed him wearing his jacket and moving silently towards town. He would have to figure out something for next summer. The jacket did more to make people look at him than it did shield him from attention in the summer.
By the time he reached Piaţa Progresul the sun had fully come up and the area was busy with people coming and going. He moved casually through the crowd, making sure to not bump anyone as he moved. The jacket may cover the metal of his arm but it did nothing to prevent it feeling like metal if someone ran into it.
As he moved through the market he slowed his pace to match those around him, pausing to look at the different shops he passed. He knew already what most of the owners sold, and he had no money for anything outside his objective but he blended better this way. A few people tried to show him sometime if they caught him looking but were easily deterred.
Once he made it to the correct shop he grabbed the soap he needed and stepped into line. The woman who owned the shop was finishing helping an older man. She said goodbye to the man then turned to him.
“Hey!” she said in English. She always seemed so happy. He appreciated that she seemed to remember the preferred language of the people who bought from her regularly.
“Hey.” He said back, handing the bag over.
“Haven't seen you. Everything good?” She asked.
He handed her the cash before replying. “Yeah, been good. Busy as always,” he commented.
She smiled, “I try. Change in bag?”
“See you soon. Don't stay gone so long!”
As he turned away he heard her slide easily into Romanian to address whoever had been behind him. He moved a bit quicker now. Ready to be out of the crowd now that his mission was wrapping up.
Outside the world was starting to wake up and come to shop but the streets were still fairly empty. The only person near him was an elderly woman walking along his left side, laden down with shopping. As she moved to turn down a side street she slipped on some mud from the previous days of rain and began to fall.
Before he even realized it was happening, his left hand shot out and caught her under the arm keeping her stable. Her hand braced on his sleeve. Adrenaline flushed through him as the only thing between her hand and his arm was the fabric of his jacket. If she noticed the arm she held was anything outside of the ordinary she didn't comment.
Once she was stable he released her carefully.
“Oh bless you.” She said, her accent British. “My husband just broke his hip last week. If I had fallen too I don't know how we would have made it.” She paused. “You probably don't understand a word I'm saying. A strong man like yourself, probably Romanian.”
He stayed quiet. If she thought he couldn't understand her that suited him just fine.
“Still, I have to repay you somehow. Here. You look like you need these more than I do.” She handed him two of the bags she had been carrying. Patting his shoulder she said, “Thank you again.” Then she turned and walked away.
As soon as she rounded the corner he opened the bags, quickly checking the contents. Nothing seemed like a likely hiding spot for a bomb or tracking device. He moved down a few back streets before stopping in a back doorway to check everything properly.
The bags contained chicken stock, ground beef, pork shoulder, peanut butter, 4 large potatoes, a bag of pasta, and some kind of cheese. He checked the contents over carefully. The cheese was wrapped in cloth and could have something set deep into it so he left it there on the ground. The rest were still in sealed packages and there were no cuts or punctures in the packaging so he deemed them safe to bring home.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, before the voices in his mind could even ask, he spoke to the empty room. “Mission report: Mission successful. Asset report: No injuries sustained. Mission report complete.”
Feeling the oxygen return to his lungs, he spread the contents of the bags out on the counter and checked each one meticulously for any holes in the seams of the seals. Satisfied they were safe he stored away the food. He decided to cook the beef that night, the rest he would figure out later. No way of knowing if or when the mission might require him to leave. It was best to not make plans.
He settled at his spot on the floor and began to maintain his arm. He moved quickly, there was nothing of note to do. Still, he had left the house, that meant maintenance was needed.
Once that was done he collected the beef and cooked it in a pan. He gave half to Pup before eating his own. He ended up giving her a large amount of his portion too when it proved too much to eat. He closed his eyes as a new memory popped in his mind.
He was sitting at a table. People all around were talking, laughing. There were three girls there, younger girls, siblings? A woman sat at the table too. He recognized her immediately, Mom. He looked around, someone sat next to him but he couldn't see. It was like a picture torn in half, the room just turned to black. He looked back at the girls, his mom. Had he had sisters? They looked like her, same eyes, same smiles, they had to be his sisters.
The table was laden high with food. He felt too full. He heard himself joke that someone would have to roll him to bed because he couldn't possibly stand. Laughter all around. The person he couldn't see was speaking. He didn't know how, but he knew they were, a sound like quiet radio static that made his stomach do flips.
Then the woman was speaking, her voice soft and gentle like the sound of rain outside his window at night. He opened his mouth to reply and suddenly it was Zola sitting across from him.
“The conditioning is starting to fade. You can't let him be out of freeze this long. Wipe him and freeze him.”
He watched Zola stand. He was chained to a table, metal and concrete, the air thick with the smell of mildew. As Zola moved away he attempted to lunge at him. The chain round his neck pulled him short.
A fist came out of nowhere and clocked him hard in the cheek. He fell and a boot slammed into his ribs, another in the spine.
As the blows rained down man approached and spoke in thick Russian, “Longing… Rusted…”
He heard himself scream. He was standing. He was in his house. He was alone save Pup who was watching him closely. His whole body was shaking. He moved to his bed and sat trying to bring his breathing back under control.
His left arm came to rest on his leg and he jumped. It was burning hot. It had locked down into combat mode at some point and had not been able to vent. He relaxed the plates and felt the soft whoosh of heat as cool air flowed in.
He remained still on the floor for several minutes before standing and moving to the sink to wash up. He discarded his clothes which were drenched in sweat, grabbed a washcloth and scrubbed himself clean. He bent over, washing his hair and face in the sink as well. He checked his arm. It was still very warm to the touch. He locked in the plates so that it was water tight then ran it under the cool water. The metal was warm enough to hiss slightly but cooled rapidly under the water.
He retrieved different clothes from his bag and dressed before returning to the sink to wash what he'd been wearing. Once the clothes were hung up he grabbed the notebook off the counter, sat down and wrote out his memories.
It was slow going but eventually the memory of his family was down on paper along with the knowledge he'd had siblings. It was strange to realize he'd forgotten them. Still, even now he couldn't remember what they looked like in the memory or how their voices sounded. Even their names. Not that it mattered. They were gone. Everyone he'd known was gone. The years having swallowed them up like nothing.
His mom too, he thought sadly. Gone into the abyss. She had been kind. He knew that. He wondered if she ever knew what they had done to him. What he had done. Images of glassy eyed faces ripped through his mind. He had never been a religious man but in that moment he prayed to any God who may be listening that she died not knowing what he did.
The next two weeks continued a comfortable rhythm. Wake up, change clothes, wash himself and his clothes from the day before, eat, then settle in with his notebook and try to remember. Some days he sat for hours waiting and trying with no success while other days the memories wouldn't stop coming.
He focused on trying to remember more about his sisters and his mother. He remembered easily that his father had died when he was young, though the circumstances around it were hazy.
There seemed to be chunks of time missing, all centered around talking to people, but this was still more than he'd remembered since his last wipe so he cared little.
Each memory ended with Zola,and some torture. He wasn't remembering the actual memories but instead times he'd remembered them during his training. That much was clear. Each new memory came with a new punishment for remembering but remembering the pain was worth each new memory. He wrote only the good memories in his notebook. Never anything with Zola. Zola didn't deserve to be written down.
He woke up early that morning. He needed to pick up bread. He had been making due without but the donated food was beginning to dwindle and he needed to begin to prepare for a bread and eggs diet again. Pup had put on a tiny bit of weight with the variety of food she'd been getting. Hopefully she could hold it once things were back to normal.
He pulled his jacket on well before dawn and slipped out. He wanted to get to the baker's as he finished leaving out the bread so he could get home before it was too busy. The morning was cold, more so than normal, though it was mid November. He made sure the plates on his arm were open wide before setting out. It was cool enough and his jacket restricted airflow enough that unless the plates were open as wide as possible his arm would begin to heat the air around it much like his breath did with each exhale, making visible clouds of heated air. People tended to notice when that happened and not in a good way.
The walk to the baker's was quick and easy. His ankle had finished healing which made progress much quicker. He arrived a few minutes early and hung back, letting the man finish putting out the bread before slipping over and grabbing the two for him and one for Pup.
He tried a different route home. It was one he'd scouted a few times that seemed like it may be quicker and less populated. It had one road, near the train, that was busy but the rest were back roads.
Predictably he saw no one until he got near the station. He moved carefully through the crowd as people began their morning commute. He was almost past when he heard, “грузовой вагон”.
Freight car. He shook off the feeling of panic. He was near the damn train station. It made sense that— “Девять”, “Один”.
Before he even knew it, he was running, sprinting full out through the crowd of people. His hood slid off his face but he didn't care. He couldn't be captured. They wouldn't find him. He took more than a dozen extra twists and turns getting home but he was certain he wasn't followed.
Once inside he locked the door tight behind him, threw off his jacket, practically shouted the mission report into the empty room then collapsed shaking against the wall. His body hurt. Even with just a few off the trigger words and in the wrong order his muscles were struggling to comply, to prepare for orders. He felt physically ill. He wrapped his arms around his knees, his head dropping down as he focused on breathing.
On the other side of the world a phone rang. A man answered, “What's up?”
A woman's voice replied, “We found him.”
“On my way.”