Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Ashton, VA, February 2010
Solomon Todd sat down in the plastic chair outside the plastic barrier that protected the Farraday cage containing Hafidha Gates from prying hands. He rested his elbows on his knees and let his chin drop, relaxed, as if confiding in a friend.
No, really. There was no as if about it.
She stood, turned, moved around the outside of what he thought of as her 'sitting room,' a queen in her ugly issued jumpsuit and carpet slippers. She had a window, natural daylight, a view of the grounds. She went to it now, and pressed her fingers against the plastic that kept her from touching the glass.
Whatever she said, he couldn't hear it. The holes in the barrier were small, and of course inside her cage there could be no electronic amplification.
"I'm sorry, Hafidha," he said. "I didn't understand you."
She glanced over her shoulder, eyes sharp as the bones in her face. She crossed her little room with quick short strides and dragged a plastic rocking chair around to face him, grimacing in distaste as she settled into it. "That always was the problem, wasn't it?"
He kept his face neutral. You didn't let a gamma score. It wasn't good for them.
She sighed and looked down at her hands. "I said Happy Birthday. You came to see me to tell me you're quitting, no?"
"I'm turning in my gun," he admitted. "But I'll be staying on as a consultant. You'll be seeing me again."
She twisted her fingers together hard enough that the lines of pain creased her forehead. He recognized the battle for control, and recognized the moment when she lost it. "So," she said brightly, "with me locked up and you driving a desk, who's going to do their killing for them?"
But Todd had been ready for her, and met her sally with practiced stillness that he knew looked like calm and relaxation. "I just wanted to let you know you weren't losing me," he said. "That's all. I know you've been concerned about it. Daphne sent you some things. Clothes. She thought you might like them better than the jumpsuits."
There was a whole paper grocery bag full of fuzzy sweaters and soft swingy skirts. Warm socks, silk shells. Todd had seen how clean and smooth and carefully folded each one was when he and Ramachandran had gone through them.
No zippers, elastics, or pull cords. Nothing even a determined woman could hurt herself with, beyond the cloth itself.
Hafidha was a suicide risk. The pink scar along her brown velvet throat was evidence, if Todd ever forgot. The orderly on constant duty outside her bubble--there to change the television channel, put in a DVD, or play her music if she liked--was a suicide watch as well as a human remote control.
"Great," Hafidha said. "Now little miss beige is picking my clothing. What's next, waterboarding?"
Daphne wouldn't have flinched, so neither did Todd. But Hafidha rocked back hard enough that the chair clattered on the floor. She shook her head, her braids flying out in all directions. When she stopped, he knew he wasn't talking to Hafidha at all anymore. "Do they know you plan to betray them, Duke?"
Get up and walk away now. But with Hafs, the It usually tried to stay under cover. This was an opportunity. He sat up in his chair and said mildly, "I do?"
"Don't worry. I won't tell them." The monster in Hafidha's lean body smiled and bent forward conspiratorially. "It'll hurt them more in the long run if they don't know."