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“Do you know what these orders are asking me to do her? Can you comprehend what they are demanding of me?” Gerald was clutching an official-looking folder and yelling as he pushed open the door to Colonel Wolfe’s office. “Her injuries have barely begun to heal. I can’t remove any more of the implant without risking permanent brain damage.”

“Don’t you have some kind of nanotechnology or that extracellular dust crap to help you with that?” Richard chortled as he poured a short, neat whiskey.

“I have already used a group of nanites to remove her damaged tissue. It would take millions of highly specialized…, no that’s not an option. I have already used my medical expertise including ECM. Some of the implant was partially dissolved by the surrounding tissues. In another five or ten years, it may dissolve on its own.”

“We don’t have five years to wait. Hell, we don’t have one year. Her ability is needed now. That’s made abundantly clear in the report you're holding.” Richard took a sip and tried not to look interested in Gerald’s problem. The same problem that plagued his every waking thought since he handed her battered body over to his medical team late Monday night.

“That’s not how this works. I can’t remove any more,” Gerald stated firmly.

“Not my problem. I collected her. You put her back together.” Richard sat back in his seat, unbuttoned the top button on his shirt and put his feet up on his desk.

“Back together? She isn’t a fucking puzzle you can solve and tear apart as it suits you. Some of her neural pathways were destroyed. She may never remember how to heal or shift, whatever label her ability was given.”

“Exhaustive, parasitic energy manipulation, and you know it’s not just used for healing. You’ve seen for yourself what she can do with enough bodies at her disposal.”

“Yes, I have. Don’t you owe her your life because of it? Death by fire no less. How many of your men walked away from your botched paint job?” Gerald knew how many men lived, and he saw how many she willingly cannibalized to accomplish it.

“Nine, almost all of us; I didn’t die, but my life still ended. That day changed everything. Four months after she reintroduced to civilian life I went to find her. She didn’t know who the hell I was. She had already attached herself to that delinquent she married.” The words ground in Richards’s throat like glass. He could describe Calynn’s husband in precise terms having investigated the man’s every transgression. Each flaw he uncovered was a personal insult.

“I don’t know how much more plainly I can make this point Richard. You were not part of the exit scenario. There was no memory of you left for her to recognize. You would have needed to start from scratch just like anyone she met on the street,” Gerald explained.

“What are you saying? She remembered the sound of my voice in the hospital just days ago. She touched me and instantly knew my name. It’s coming back to her already.”

“Further proof that the implant has degraded; years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. It was more likely that a smell triggered the memory. Something she associated with you triggered that bit of information. The olfactory portions of her brain are oddly unaffected. Her memories may come back in random pieces; I can’t rush that process. I need more time.”

“Yeah, and next you’re going to tell me you had nothing to do with the content of the memories you sent home with her. I’m not as stupid as you think I am Gerald.”

“You smug son of a bitch, you want to command me to put her back together? I was the one who broke her apart and erased her memory. I created all her injuries. No one else could be trusted; they were looking to crucify her after she cannibalized those people. You have no idea how difficult that was for me.” Gerald leaned on the corner of Richards’s desk. He was getting tired. The adrenaline rush of the argument was taking its toll on him.

“You think you were the only one who suffered? We had a life together, a child on the way, and plans. By the time I returned to the compound she was gone along with everything we had.”

“Because the implant worked so well, now you want me to kill her for you. She didn’t come running to you with her arms open wide or beg you to forgive her for the loss of an embryo that wasn’t even the size of a fucking pea. As I recall, you weren’t thrilled about becoming a father. Your bruised ego is not a reason to let her die. You can’t ask that of me.” Gerald slammed his hand on the desktop. He stood tall, tugged at the corners of his jacket, and took a deep breath regaining his composure in the process.

“Regardless, it’s not my call; there are others at the top. Calynn regains her full usefulness within a reasonable amount of time or her portion of the project is terminated. I have zero influence on this point.” Richard conceded the reach of his power quietly.

“Fine, who determines what a reasonable amount of time is Wolfe?” Gerald moved into his fundamental problem-solving mode. There was a beginning and end to everything; he only needed to follow the path to its conclusion.

“That information is above my pay grade Doc.”

“Well, it’s a good Goddamn thing I outrank you, Colonel. I demand a name!”

“Ah, of course, excuse me Admiral Sir, but you will have to request that information yourself. Good luck. You have twenty-seven more days to get the subject fully functional. I will put a bullet in her brain myself just to make sure you no longer have a reason left to touch her.” Richards hushed and honest threat left a hot pit in his stomach. He said the words out loud. He could kill her. He could even justify it.

“Oh, I bet you could. How many would that be for you Wolfe? She could be the cherry on top of your pile of corpses; Caly wouldn’t be the first woman though would she?” Gerald knew Richards’s war resume, and he knew he was not proud of it.

“You have never been required to make the choices I have made. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. You want my number you can go hunt it up if your clearance is high enough, but I doubt it is. You were handed your title. I earned mine.”

“We’ll see who gets that bullet Wolfe. Dead or alive the Navy owns her brain and the rest of her body too. You see to it that my property remains intact.”

“Your property? You forget yourself, Gerald. You’re a guest here. Your privileges are not carved in stone. You think this time it is going to be different? What’s going to happen when she finds out what you did to her? She has some lingering damage from your careful abuse. You think she’s just going to forgive you, never think of it again, or were you planning not to mention how you sliced up her brain and broke her apart with a slab of metal and a two by four?”

“You can go straight to hell!” Gerald was red-faced from yelling. He couldn’t deny that Richard was right. There was no hope of a happy future for him in this scenario.

“If we’re done here Admiral I’d appreciate you closing the door behind you on your way through it.” Richard poured himself another measure of whiskey as Gerald stormed out of his office.

It was late; the night crew only sparsely populated the huge building. Calynn was still in the tank at the far end of the medical wing. Richard thought to see her, just to look in on her quickly and leave, but he decided against it.

His thoughts drifted back to when he flew into San Francisco and drove to the sleepy central valley town where Caly's family lived to find her. He was laser-focused on his purpose, he was going to make her explain why she left, and he was going to remind her why she needed to come back.

It was a Friday, Caly had an appointment for her leg injuries. Medical records were easy to track. Between them and her recent credit report, he knew she bought a car, ordered cable at one of the condominiums her Grandmother owned, and she was recovering as expected. He needed to see all this for himself. Somehow she started over. It didn’t make any sense to him. How could she start a new life as if nothing ever happened?

Richard sat in the rental car outside her doctor’s office waiting for her to arrive. She noticed him walk in but only glanced at him briefly before returning to her magazine. Caylnn was sitting away from all the other people in the waiting room; this was a standard precaution. She couldn’t be too close to people without feeling their emotions. If she didn’t keep her distance she could influence people just as easily.

Richards blood started to boil. She was fine; she must remember everything. He’d been lied to. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail; she never wore her hair that way. She had makeup on and jeans, a purple tee shirt, and a black leg brace. She didn’t look the same. She looked typical and ordinary. The fire was missing from her demeanor. She was peaceful and calm.

Richard waited five minutes then walked out to the lobby so he could breathe. She looked up at him again when he walked back in the room. Caly's leg brace hit her purse and a paperback book dropped on the floor. He picked up the thick novel and handed it to her; Richard couldn’t help but snicker. Caly was more lethal than any fictional monster she could ever read about. She thanked him and smiled briefly at him like he was a stranger. Richard felt nothing when she touched the book in his hand; there was no spark on his skin, there was no intrusion into his thoughts. She was empty.

Calynn looked self-conscious as she hobbled across the room to the nurse that called her name. Disgusted by her needless suffering, Richard went out to his car and waited across the lot for her to leave. He followed her to a residential area. Property records showed the house was purchased by her mother two years earlier; he parked down the street and watched. Caly took a duffle bag out of the trunk and went inside. An hour later she walked out wearing tan khakis and a black button down shirt.

Caly drove to a restaurant where she ate an early dinner with a white male in his early twenties with a fresh cast on his arm. Richard watched and waited from across the lot. The young man met her at her car, opened her door, and helped her inside the building. As if she was weak and frail and needed his help. It was laughable. When their dinner was over the young man cheerfully helped her back to her car and kissed her before she drove away.

Richard called the office where unreliable records showed she was recently hired. He asked for her under the guise of being a copier repairman and was told she was off for the day but would be back Monday morning. He followed her from a distance all weekend. She went to her mother’s house twice and the video store once. He decided to see if she remembered him; if she did, he would take her back with him. If she didn’t, he would go back without her and find another mission to occupy his mind.

Richard followed Caly into a video store and watched as she browsed through the movies. She bypassed the romantic dramas, the comedy section, and the foreign films as she headed to the action movies. She was humming quietly to herself. Something he only heard from her on the days she was free.

They traveled and pretended to be newlyweds in Greece and college students in Peru. Tired of keeping up elaborate lies they were just themselves in the Florida Keys. They spent a month’s pay in two weeks sleeping until noon and spending their nights at the dance clubs. People flocked to her side, they didn’t know why they were drawn to her but man or woman it didn’t matter. They all felt something raw and pure standing next to her. That was the last time he was with her alone. No mission, no target, no obligations, and it was the last time she pretended she was normal.

Calynn looked up when he got close to her in the new releases section, but she only glanced in his direction briefly. It was just a quick surroundings check, she didn’t see him, she didn’t recognize him, and she didn’t find him threatening enough to take a second look. She was happy without the memory of him and her severely exploited gift.

He wanted to turn around and leave. He couldn’t look at her face anymore. Calynn reached up and twirled one of the opal stones in her ear, checking the post. Richard had gotten her the earrings. Their child was expected in October. He could tell she liked the earrings, she was protective of them, but she didn’t know why.

If he moved at that moment, he would have to grab her and tell her everything. He would have to force her into his car, cause a scene, make her come back home with him. He stood there motionless with a movie case crushing in his grip and watched. He watched her chat casually with the clerk about the new movie she was anxious to see and the caramel microwave popcorn she selected. He watched her get into her new green hatchback and drive back to her new life never looking back at him once.

This personal torture was more than Richard could endure. He had to leave her alone even though he remembered everything. She was ignorant of the facts, but she was happy. And he told himself that she was better off this way. He was better off without her. Someday it would have ended bloody and mean. This way was better; it was clean and quick. He drove back to the airport that night and waited in the parking lot for his flight to leave early Monday morning.

Arriving home, he gathered her things from all over the house, nightgowns, coffee cups, and all the bottles of crap she left in the shower. He threw it all in the trash. The pictures he tossed in the garbage still in their frames. He topped everything off with all the food in the fridge he could put his hands on. Once his place was free of her, he went into town, got a case of beer, and a bottle of Glen Levit and began trying to rinse her out of his soul.

After sleeping for a few hours, Richard got up and went outside to search through the trash. He retrieved the pictures, wiping off the coffee grounds and the old Chinese food. Richard found some of her clothes that he couldn’t part with and pulled them out of the garbage too. Curious to see what become of it, he grabbed the last of his bottle and walked to her cottage across the compound to find it stripped clean. Everything was in boxes waiting to go into permanent storage. Richard opened a tall box marked nightstand. Inside the single drawer, he found the sonogram pictures she showed him two days before he left. He slipped the film into a thick stationery envelope from a box of butterfly thank you cards she kept in the same drawer, closed the box back up with a piece of tape and left. Nothing else in the house interested him.

That was a long time ago. Richard thought as he stood up from his desk and felt the effects of the small bottle of whiskey he unintentionally finished. He popped a piece of gum in his mouth, straightened his uniform, and patted his hair into place for his short walk home. The thought of having to put that bullet in her head became as repulsive to him as it was to the good doctor. Twenty-seven days was not going to be long enough for her to regain her previous skill set, but they would have to try. She needed to remember it all. Two good days were wasted waiting for her to recover naturally; he was not going to piss away any more of them. He had a plan.

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