He was lost, could be walking in circles in this featureless desert forever, neither hot nor cold, no real sensations here other than the ones he felt in his mind, no perception of time at all. The river valley could be anywhere, mental satnav dissolved when I left it behind, just walking, hour after hour, until something turns up.
On the far horizon there was movement through the heat haze, someone waving, running towards him, he couldn’t see who. He sets off towards them, tired now, tired of this. The distance steadily closing, it’s a woman, it’s her, Helena, it could only be, would only be… She’s beside him now, her lips to his ear, her hand in his.
“Are you done here?”
His hand moves, just a fraction, in hers: his breath deepens; she sits up, not daring to hope, not speaking. His eyelids twitch, once, twice, then open, pupils adjusting to the move from darkness to bright light. She looks into those eyes that normally unnerve her, fearful; they start to focus on her, to make sense of what they are seeing.
She’s desperate for that look of recognition, would sell everything, do anything, for it, seconds pass like eternity and then that faint smile at the corners of his mouth. She kisses his forehead lightly, “Hello, what kept you?”
Time to let the quacks know, but she has what she wanted, he’s there alright. And we’ll, I’ll, make them pay.
The medical staff went into overdrive, moistening his lips, doing visual checks for responses, then audio, shining lights into eyes and ears, telling him not to speak, just to blink, raising the bed to a semi-reclining position, bringing mineralised drinks, more water, while she sat to one side of him, just watching him let them get on with it, that small smile was still there, just for her benefit. Thirty minutes later the consultant came in with another, clearly someone equally senior from another discipline, to join the doctor overseeing the response tests.
They introduced themselves, the consultant adding, “How are you feeling? Do you remember anything that happened? Start by telling me your name. Sorry, I’m not supposed to ask that. Errm, do you know where you are?”
That smile was broadening now.
“I was nearly in heaven, and you brought me back to this?”
Later the consultant couldn’t decide whether he was more surprised by the answer or by a very well-groomed professional woman diving onto his patient, literally crying with laughter and smothering him with kisses.
“My dear lady, the patient’s injuries, careful please, for him…”
She turned towards the doctors.
“I’m sorry, but you’ve no idea how much, how many, depend on this man.”
Not just me, I see that now.
Later, they wouldn’t use the word miraculous, but conceded remarkable. Given the injuries they had expected a grudging recovery, a slow restoration of memory and motor functions at best. She told them they hadn’t known him before. She wasn’t surprised at all, it was just him.
He would for sleep long periods, with shorter periods of consciousness at first, slowly recovering his strength and lengthening his waking spells. How long? A week, two, couldn’t tell with him, could they?
They were smiling now, the whole little ward was, even the armed policemen, one small victory won. She now felt able to ask about the woman in the adjoining bed; Stoke Mandeville in a few days, but could be a lot worse, the shot was low down and they had learnt so much from the rehab of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, so who knows?
When they had left she stayed with him, late into the evening, talking at him really. Not asking those sorts of questions, not asking anything of him at all. His downstairs neighbours, who had saved him twice over, he said he would write, she told him what she had done; he thanked her and smiled again. She updated him on the other incidents, those connected to him officially, and those that followed her call with Sam; the press were reporting it all as certain now.
She hadn’t heard any more from them, did he want her to try to pass on a message if they did?
Just go to ground, lie low until he could think, get home safely.
What if they had found something, say some more sticks?
Good idea, post them to her work, addressee only, nowhere else.
Would he want her to get them decrypted?
Please, like before.
No problem. She knew it was too soon, but had he given any thought to what came next?
No, just follow the thread where it leads.
Oh, by the way, she had asked that all his stuff be sent around to her place, just for keeping, in the meantime so to speak, was that ok?
He looked at her sharply, she blushed.
“Thanks for thinking of me. You know it was you that pulled me back in there, her as well? I wasn’t really joking when I told the consultant.”
“Tell me one day, when you’re ready, about the other things too, what you can, so I can help more, in whatever way, please?”
“Ok, it’s the least I can do.”
“I mean where this is all headed? What you are trying to achieve? We’ve never truly discussed it.”
He was just looking at her; ruminating inside, she could see.
Finally, “That’s a question I’m not sure I can answer.”
“Oh, and my cousin thinks she may have something for you soon. I’ve never seen her so upset as when I told her about you, is there something you’re not telling me?”
She hadn’t seen him blush before, his defences were low, her elation too high for him to resist then.
“Not that I’m aware of, but she is quite remarkable you know, you both are. I would like to meet some more of your family one day, see if you’re typical.”
I’ll hold you to that.
“Have they said how long I’ll be here?”
“No, but you’ll need rehab, depends on your leg mainly. I could get a nurse in, physios, for the flat if you want to come out earlier, but it’s up to you, and the authorities. Elaine tells me they want you back pronto, everyone seems to need you.”
Shut up, not here, not now!
He smiled at that.
“I suppose it’s better than the alternative.”
His eyes were drooping; it was her better judgement that won out, she kissed his forehead and cheek again, slowly, brushed his hair back and said she would see him tomorrow, as soon as Elaine gave her the nod; with that she left and went back to her flat that was rapidly becoming something that again felt like a home.
The final post was distributed round the office and Andy Bowson was surprised to be given a Jiffy bag which had clearly been opened and ticketed as having been security checked and cleared. The postmark said Wiltshire, looked like second class, but with these new Post Office tariffs you couldn’t tell anymore. A single unbranded memory stick, no covering note, no sender’s details. The label on the front was just block capital printed, for his attention only. There were strict computer security protocols for this sort of thing, but a sixth sense about it, some sort of premonition, impelled him to take it himself to the relevant systems boys downstairs for a full virus and malware scan. He got there, regretting his instinctive prejudice about boys because it was a young woman who took it off him, smiling.
“No idea, but never received one of those anonymously before, how long please?”
She looked at him sympathetically; his near miss and the disappearance of his family had conferred a little celebrity on him within the building.
“Can’t tell, depends on how much is on there, could be minutes, could be hours. Seeing as it’s you I’ll start straightaway. Tell you what, get me a white tea, no sugar, pull up a pew, and by then I might be able to give you an ETA.”
By the time he returned and sat beside her he could see the virus and malware scans spreading across the screen. She turned to him and took the tea.
“Thanks, there’s nothing so far, just script files, nothing special, a few pdfs, quite a few in fact, but little in terms of memory requirement. That was quick, nothing at all unless it’s something we don’t know about. Do you mind if I take a secure copy of it before we open anything up, it’s standard procedure?”
“Of course not, thanks.”
They were just finishing their teas as the copy was downloaded onto a cd for filing. “Let’s have a look in here, the file names are just numbers, do you want me to start anywhere in particular, how about this Word file at the top?”
“Go ahead, take your pick.”
She hit the cursor to open the highlighted file, revealing several pages in alternate Arabic and Turkish script with what looked like a clumsy English translation underneath. He read a little way and looked at her, a status report on local volunteers dated eleven days ago, names, dozens, even phone numbers and addresses of others over a couple of pages, it was obvious what they were, a fool could see that and the woman sitting beside was brighter than him, of that he was in no doubt. Her mouth was open revealing nice teeth.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“We’ll have to check but thanks, I’ve seen enough. Can you start making secure copies on sticks and printing off hard copies of all the files please, start with twenty hard and five sticks? I can’t thank you enough, and please, keep this to yourself.” By then he was already heading for the stairs. Why me, why send it to me? The Security Services would all want copies; he would have to get one to ‘Henry’. I’ll call him later, but first there were channels to go through. People would be working through the night on this. In his excitement he never did make that call to ‘Henry’.
© 1642again 2018