The First of Many

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Chapter 48

By the next morning, Aedan was up and searching for Hannah. However, it didn’t take him long to realize that if Hannah didn’t want to be found, no amount of aimless wandering was going to change that. He kept walking, though, paying no attention to where he went, trying to keep his mind off Hannah for at least a moment.

He wasn’t quite sure how, but he wound up by the beach, looking out on the horizon.

They all dealt with the loss in their own way. Shadow and Blade kept busy in their workshop, and Hunter stayed on the firing range, venting his anguish.

It bothered Aedan how easily Shadow and Blade seemed to be taking it – their only real reaction seemed to be to wait it out. Never mind that Hannah had warned them she might already be dead.

Hunter seemed worried, at least, but he kept silent, and didn’t let on about much. He seemed tense, though, and he’d called a few friends to keep an eye out for his teammate.

It wasn’t a situation Aedan had been trained to deal with – he knew how to react when a teammate died in combat, but this? Nothing could have taught him what to do when your teammate vanished into thin air.

Aedan's reaction involved a lot of long walks. The days were more or less easier to deal with than the night. At night, he felt a pang of loneliness as he lay alone in his bed. Shadow and Blade had moved their inventing operations to his living room, which had been appropriately equipped with fire extinguishers. Hunter had taken up residence with two new additions to their joint team – Aedan’s former teammates, Wraith and Blackburn, who seemed to like Hunter well enough.

“I’m surprised it took you so long to get here,” said a woman’s voice on his right side, knocking him out of his thoughts. “I don’t appreciate being kept waiting.”

His head snapped in the direction of the voice, and he found himself looking at the dark-haired woman from before. She was looking out over the ocean, not even glancing at him.

“What do you mean?” He asked, wondering if he should take Hannah’s advice and run.

“You’re a SEAL,” she said. “Passable fighters, I suppose, but pathetically predictable. It’s disgusting, really.” The corners of her mouth drew up in a faint smile, as though she were enjoying a private joke. “Besides, it’s a story older than time: When a man is lost, he’ll always find his way back to the sea.”

“Who are you?” he demanded.

The woman turned her head towards him, staring him down with black eyes, so dark they seemed to have no irises at all. She grinned wolfishly, baring her teeth in a faint snarl. “More than my life’s worth to tell you that,” she said. “But you can call me Roach.”

"You're the reason Rosie left, so how about you go to hell," Aedan spat.

The woman smiled. “If you knew exactly why she left, you’d be thanking me,” she said.

"Why did she leave?" He asked.

“Because she’s not very useful anymore. In her line of work, that doesn’t give you much of a life-expectancy. If I hadn’t warned her, she would already be dead.”

"She was useful to us," Aedan said.

“Yes, that just makes her even less useful to us, unfortunately.” Roach grimaced. “I suppose you don’t know where she is?”

"No. And I wouldn't tell you if I did," Aedan spat.

She frowned. “You can’t possibly be this hostile to everyone. What’d Mirage tell you about me?”

Aedan blinked, thrown for a moment. “Who’s Mirage?”

“Hannah. Rosie. Whatever the fuck she has you calling her. What’d she say about me that got you this pissed off?”

"She said that you people were the reason why she ended up like she did."

She grimaced. “Well, she’s not wrong. My people. My father and his associate, mostly. And my brother. I was five years old at the time, you can’t exactly blame me.”

“Look, did you come here for an actual reason, or are you just here to annoy me? Because I’m not in the mood for this.”

Roach’s gaze turned iron-sharp, her face lost its kindness and joking glint. In fact, she looked exceptionally like Hannah in combat. “I have something for her that she lost,” she said. “And I want to speak to her. I have to warn her of what’s coming before she does something stupid. I want to know what was in that note she wrote you.”

"I can’t tell you. I burned it. What's coming for Hannah?"

“I can’t tell you. I burned it,” she retorted. “You have a memory. Use it. I need to know what was in that letter.”

“Tell me what’s coming for Hannah. I’ll get the message to her.”

“You won’t. She wouldn’t be stupid enough to tell you where she went. Besides, I actually can’t tell you. It’s classified. As in, I tell you, I collapse where I stand and die. So, you tell me what was in that letter so I can tell her before she gets herself killed.”

“Hannah can handle herself,” Aedan snapped. “I don’t even know who you are.”

Roach raised an eyebrow. “What, she didn’t mention me? What did she tell you about her childhood?”

“She told me about the prison camp. She told me she was an experiment, told me she got out.”

“Did she tell you how?” Roach demanded. “Did she tell you what she’s done? Did she tell you what I’ve done? I’ve had my head on the line for the past five years, saving her life.”

“That doesn’t matter. If she doesn’t want to see you, she won’t.”

“My sister is a masterpiece,” Roach said. “Billions of dollars’ worth of research have been pumped through her system. She has no conscience, no understanding of emotions. Her brain has been messed with to such an extent she can’t tell the difference between pain and anything else. She’s a miracle of science. My father’s associate – the man who ran the camp’s medical program – made her his own perfect monster. There are only three others like her in the world.”

“Get to the part where you saved her life. Because that doesn’t sound much like saving.”

“She ran away,” Roach said. “She ran away and I was sent to retrieve or kill her. I made a different call. Gave her two thousand dollars in non-sequential bills, a pistol and plenty of ammo. I’ve spent the last five years covering her tracks, erasing any mention of a woman in Special Forces, to keep those people away from her.”

“Well, if you’re doing that so well, why are people after her?”

“The man who wants her – she stole a very valuable piece of information and he wants it back – he is no longer working with my father. Therefore, I have no way to continue falsifying his intel.”

“Who is he?”

“Classified.”

“Bullshit.”

“He doesn’t exist. I don’t even know his real name, I don’t think he has one. Look, I have something for Mirage. When you see her again, will you give it to her? Tell her she lost it in Stuttgart.”

“If I agree to do it, you give me answers.”

"Deal," Roach said as handed him a small box, about the size of a card deck.

"What is this?" He asked.

"Mirage'll know. She lost it when she was in Stuttgart, she’s lucky I found it. Look, I know what you've done for my sister, and I appreciate it. If you’re ever in a tight spot…” she shrugged. “I have considerable resources at my disposal. Call me, I can help you out.” Roach said as she wrote her number on a card. “It’s a burner phone, it’ll only work once. One favor, that’s it. Use it wisely.”

Aedan blinked a few times, taking the card without really realizing what he was doing. “Is that it?” he asked. “That’s why you’re here?”

Roach smiled faintly. “Mirage is my sister,” she said. “When I discovered that I could no longer shield her from my father’s associates, I found a way to warn her that wouldn’t raise any alarms. She hasn’t seen me since she was seventeen, so she knew what it meant.” She sighed. “Although you seem to be convinced to the contrary, I do have her best interests at heart.”

Aedan frowned. “You talk like her. Old-fashioned, big words all the time. Why?”

Roach blinked. “You get to ask any questions you like, and that’s the first thing you say?” she asked.

Aedan shrugged. “First thing that occurred to me. Why do you do that? You guys are practically medieval.”

Roach smiled. “We do it on purpose,” she said. “Old language, complex words, they make people think differently. They inspire fear and loyalty.”

“Loyalty?”

Roach sighed heavily, sitting down on the sand. “I’m going to give you two scenarios,” she said. “Number one, you’re in a hospital room and a man in scrubs is pressing a cautery iron to your hip. Of course, it hurts like a bitch, but are you afraid?”

“Of course not.”

“Now, you’re chained to a Saint Andrew’s cross in a stone room with a cast iron door, and in the corner there’s a fire that’s making the air thick with smoke. A man in a mask takes an iron out of it, in the shape of a symbol you don’t recognize, and burns it into your skin, all the while speaking just like I am. Are you scared then?”

Aedan blinked. “So it’s just a fear tactic?”

“You’d be surprised how much your words change people’s perception,” she said. “Mirage and I both know that.”

“The people that are after her. Will they kill her, if they catch her?” Aedan asked.

“I don’t know,” Roach said honestly. “They want something that she stole from them when she left, but I don’t think that they consider her useful. When they have it, they might kill her. If they do get their hands on her, I can assure you that you’ll never see her again.”

She stood, turning away to leave. “Better hope they don’t catch her, then. Thank you for helping her, even if you are a SEAL. Keep your head down.” With that, she was gone, leaving Aedan alone on the beach again.


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