New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

June 28, 2009

Finding Virginia: Fire & Ice

I was trembling all the way down to my toes. Even the solid strength and warmth of the wall I leaned against was insufficient to steady my whirling thoughts. Rick was kneeling on the red dirt a few feet away with Tanya’s head cradled in his hands. She looked incredibly pale against him, her lips thin, but smiling up at him despite the obvious pain. She had been shot in the stomach, evidenced by the deep dark stains of blood on her shirt and shorts.

Everyone was free from their restraints and most were wandering around in some semblance of shock. The camp was swarming with police officers and in the distance I could hear the sirens of the approaching ambulance. It was too late for one of the mercenaries, I’d killed him with two twitches of my index finger. For Tanya and the other man, there was still a chance to live, largely thanks to the efforts of Patricia.

The police were interviewing everyone, taking statements one at a time and trying to piece together what exactly had happened. If it weren’t for the disabled SAMS on the roof, I think they might have been more inclined to chalk it up to a mass hallucination brought on by the desert heat. Even so, they seemed skeptical about my own actions at best. I could hardly blame them.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Brian asked.

It wasn’t the first time he’d asked since I landed at his feet. I guess my responses were not quite as believable as I wanted them to be. Truthfully, I was far from alright and there was nothing Brian or anyone else could do about it.

“I’m fine.” I replied.

The concern on his face was endearing. All I wanted to do was lay my head against his strong shoulder and feel his arms wrapped around me. It would feel so safe and secure were it not for the still unrevealed identity of the spy at the camp, if there was indeed one at all.

“You were pretty incredible today you know.” He said.

“I just did what I had to do. Anyone would have done the same.”

“Bullshit. We were all in the same position and you were the only one who did anything. Don’t act like it was nothing.”

“If it weren’t for me none of you would have been in danger in the first place.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“You know something I don’t?” I asked.

My breath caught in my throat. I was afraid he was about to confess to being behind everything and I wasn’t sure my heart could take it. Given half a chance I could fall for him, but not if he had anything to do with the mornings events. Some things simply can’t be forgiven. My eyes drifted to the black bag covering the man I’d killed.

“Probably lots, but at least enough to know that none of this was your fault.” Brian said.

He smiled as if that could make all the guilt go away.

“I could have said no.” I said.

“To what? To your job? To your promotion? To this camp? To living? I may not know you that well but you aren’t the type to say no to those things and you shouldn’t have to.”

“Maybe I should have.”

It was the thought in my head. The one shaking me all the way to my core. Mr. Candle had told me it was dangerous and I had shrugged it off. I listened but I didn’t believe him. I thought I could handle whatever danger there was, but this was something I couldn’t handle. It was out of control and to deal with it I went out of control. Brian might be impressed by my actions. Personally, I’m scared to death to know I have that in me.

Brian shook his head at me. I could tell he was frustrated. I could tell he didn’t understand anything going on in my head and how could he? Nobody could know. That was the deal.

“You know what you need?” Brian asked.

“What?” I demanded.

Brian didn’t speak. He just grabbed me and pulled me into his arms. Then he kissed me like he was trying massage my heart with his lips. I fought him for a half second before I decided he was right; It was exactly what I needed. I kissed him back and for a brief moment all the doubt and guilt slipped away and I was just me again. Then he released me.

I backed a step away looking at our feet pointing at each other. I felt the blood rushing to my face and coloring my cheeks which made me even more embarrassed. Brian cleared his throat and reached out to take hold of my hand. I let him hold it.

“I’d like to see you again.” Brian said.

“With or without my towel?” I asked.

“Definitely without.” He replied.

We both laughed enjoying a lighter moment and wishing nothing worse than those embarrassing moments had come to pass at Bad Land.

“I’d like that too.” I said.

He took a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote his digits down on the palm of my hand. I felt like I was back in high school watching him do it. My breath was short, my heart was pounding and I knew the first thing I’d do when I got home was pick up the phone and call.

Brian walked away leaving me to my muddled thoughts. The ambulance took Tanya and our wounded mercenary away. Rick stayed much to my surprise. As the dust settled in the ambulance’s wake he walked over to me. He held his hand out to me and I took it, meeting his eyes. They were filled with a mixture of concern and gratitude.

“Thank you Virginia.” Rick said.

“I don’t think I did anything special, but you’re welcome.” I said.

“I may have taught you to survive this week but apparently we still need to work on your manners.” He said.

I raised my eyebrow at him.

“Obviously, you could learn a thing or two about being gracious.” Rick said.

“I’m sorry. Really, I guess I’m still just a little surprised at myself.” I said.

Rick laughed at me.

“You’ve been walking around here all week like you’ve had something to prove to everyone and now that you have, you are surprised? Look kid, you were born for this kind of thing and at least part of you knows that.” Rick said

“I guess the question is which part.” I replied.

“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” Rick said.

I nodded in agreement. I’m starting to think Virginia really isn’t so different from me though. I mean I thought I was just doing what Virginia would do, but the thing is, at some point it was just me. Virginia may not have been able to just leave everyone behind, but neither could I. We just aren’t all that different in the end and I guess that’s because, like it or not, I am Virginia and Virginia is me.

“Did you ever find out who your spy was?” Rick asked.

“No. We are still working on it, but I’m not sure it matters anymore.” I said.

“I’d feel better knowing. I really don’t want to wake up to another nightmare tomorrow.”

“I’ll check and see if there is anything new.” I said.

“Thanks.” Rick said.

He made his way off to speak with a few others. Patricia was first I saw. It was only natural since she had probably saved Tanya’s life. I pulled out my phone and called Mr. Candle while I was being left alone again.

“Any news?” I asked.

“We tracked the helicopter to an E.F. Burke & Sons hangar. Given that and the information you supplied us with, Olivia Stratford is the most likely candidate for our spy. However it is hardly conclusive proof and while she may have been sent there to monitor you directly it’s quite possible someone else was the original receiver of the files. I think it best to leave matters be unless she makes a move against you which seems unlikely.”

I nodded and then realized he couldn’t see me.

“I agree. By this time tomorrow I’ll be back home in LA and come Monday we can decide what to do about all this.” I said.

“I will see you Monday morning then.” Mr. Candle said.

“Monday morning, then. Goodnight.” I said.

It was getting dark and the perimeter lights were flickering on. I motioned to Rick to get a private moment with him. It took a few minutes but he extricated himself and we rendezvoused around the backside of the main building.

“We have a likely candidate on the spy, but we would prefer not alert them to our knowledge.” I said.

“I don’t understand. Why would we not want to turn this person over to the police right now?”

“First off, our evidence is on the thin side and second, by allowing them to get away they could lead us to a better understanding of precisely what is going on.” I said.

A sharp click behind me made me whirl around. I should have known better than to go off someplace secluded, but hindsight is always crystal clear. Olivia was standing there, gun in hand, looking like nothing would make her happier than to shoot both of us where we stood.

“You really don’t have a clue what is going on here do you?” Olivia said.

“No, not really.” I replied.

There was a barely contained sigh in my voice. I was tempted to rush her and make a grab for the loosely held gun in her hand, but I’m pretty sure incompetence is just part of her act.

“I’ve always said it’s the brunettes that are the real idiots. What do you think Rick? Is Virginia really as dumb as she looks?” Olivia said.

“It doesn’t have to be like this Olivia.” Rick said.

“I’m afraid it does.” Olivia said. “Joseph Candle has something that belongs to my employer and now I have something that belongs to him.”

“I don’t belong to anyone.” I said.

Olivia had the audacity to laugh.

“Joseph Candle owns you like other people would own a car. The only question is whether he values your life more than he values his little treasures. For your sake, you better hope he does.” Olivia said.

“You might as well just pull the trigger because there is no way Mr. Candle is going to negotiate with you.” I said.

At first I thought she might just do it, but then I realized with the police still swarming around in the camp she was as much a hostage as we were. Olivia was bluffing her way into an escape attempt and she’d almost pulled me into her delusion.

“I didn’t think so.” I said.

I stepped right up to the muzzle of the gun and stared her straight in the eye. I should have been worried, but I was too tired to care. Rick was right behind me which made us either both completely insane or dead right.

I place my hand on the barrel of the gun and tried to pull it out of her hand. She responded by jerking it away and slapping it hard across my face. I staggered and nearly fell to the ground caught off guard by the sudden move. My eye started swelling instantly and my vision blurred.

Rick didn’t let Olivia have a chance though. He jumped her and knocked the gun from her hands. An instant later Olivia was pinned to the dirt beneath Rick and we were surrounded by police officers. It didn’t take long to explain what had happened. Olivia was cuffed and locked in the back of a squad car.

Brian brought me ice for my eye while I called Mr. Candle and informed him of the new development. He was far from happy at the latest news, but I also got the feeling that there was some truth to Olivia’s accusations. I suppose time will tell where the truth lies, but I’m not blindly following anyone.

June 25, 2009

Finding Virginia: Rude Awakening

My eyes snapped open at the sound of metal rolling on concrete. I blinked twice and decided the smoke filling the room was real. Grabbing my pillow, I shoved it against my mouth and nose with my left hand while my right searched under the bed for my bag. I found it with only a little effort and pulled it close enough to unzip and reach inside where my cell phone lay resting. Without any real place to carry it I slipped it down the front of my shorts as the next best option, only then realizing the hands free set was still attached.

A quick glance around the room revealed the smoke was more than mere smoke; everyone else was laying on the floor unconscious. I could barely see anything above the floor level but my ears picked up the sound of boots echoing on the concrete. I stayed as low as I could making my way toward the back wall where I hoped I’d be able to circumvent our intruders. I prayed the whole thing was a test designed for our final day at camp. Virginia was much less optimistic.

I made it to the wall. Things were starting to spin and I knew I had to get out of the room fast. I pressed my back to the wall and sidestepped toward the far end. The smoke was starting to clear, leaving me a better view out of the room and consequently leaving someone a better view into the room. I glanced toward the door and saw them.

They were dressed in desert fatigues and armed with automatic weapons. Black gas masks covered their faces and for a moment I imagined they were bugs. It seemed tremendously funny on the surface and I began to laugh. Deep down, I realized it was the gas effecting me. The situation was hopeless with the bug soldiers guarding the only way out, but Virginia wasn’t giving up without a fight.

An all out assault was a losing proposition but I had a better idea anyway. I swaggered up to the mean bugs like the desperate hero in a children’s animation. I couldn’t see any real expressions, but I decided they were amused with me. One of them reached out toward my pillow and grabbed hold of it to pull away. I held on just long enough to make him pull harder and then I shoved it right at him, causing him to stumble backwards. The next closest one took a swing at my head but I ducked just in time to allow his fist to impact the doorframe instead.

While he cursed in muffled breaths, I grabbed at the gun holstered on his hip and turned it on the third man. He dove into the room at the floor and struggled to bring his own weapon to bear on me. Unfortunately, he didn’t need to worry. Without my pillow, the gas began effecting me faster. The spinning room and the bug soldiers began to blur. I blinked and wiped at my eyes hoping to buy myself a few more seconds to get away, but everything went to black as I thudded against the cement floor.

A moment later the light was back on with a vengeance. I squinted and tried to block the light with my hands only to find they were bound behind me. Reality wavered back into existences and I discovered I was sitting on a chair outside in the desert sun. My hands were cuffed behind me and my ankles were tied tightly to the legs of the chair. The drum beating in my head was either a result of the gas, my fall, or the blinding sunlight. Whichever was to blame, I was pissed off.

My eyes adjusted to the light and a little looking around confirmed I was not alone. The guys were missing but all the women were accounted for, including Tanya, and attached to a chair just like me. A little more looking around revealed a couple of guards still wearing desert fatigues but missing the bug masks. I glared at them wishing looks could kill or at the very least wound.

“What the fuck is this?” Patricia asked.

Her voice was loud and full of all the same outrage that was burning in my veins. The words echoed in the open blue sky, but unless the reverberation was a response, the question remained unanswered. I glanced over at her and our eyes met for a brief moment and right then I was absolutely certain she was not the spy.

“Everyone stay calm. I’m sure there has just been some sort of misunderstanding.” Tanya said.

There was a strain in her voice and I could tell she was more than a little scared. My hopes that the scenario was just part of the training were dashed. Tanya was as unprepared as the rest of the us and the tension in her neck combined with the alarm in her voice told me this was all for real or she belonged in Hollywood.

By the time I was fully aware, a man was approaching us from the far side of the main building. He was the smallest of those I’d seen so far but the way he carried himself told me he was in charge. I started a count of the men I’d seen and decided there were at least five and unless they were more worried about us ladies than the men, I figured the number was probably closer to a dozen.

The leader approached Tanya with purpose. He was perspiring like a pig in heat and kept dabbing a cloth across his forehead to keep the sweat from dripping into his eyes. It took me a moment to realize his obsession was driven by a lack of eyebrows. His thin black hair lay flat on his head in a disheveled sort of way, looking more like a giant spider than hair. I would have offered him a comb but my hands were tied, so to speak.

“Which one is Virginia West?” He asked.

His voice was gruff and raspy, like he needed a good drink of water. Tanya was unflinching as she stared back at the man and refused to answer the question. He didn’t look concerned and I guess he knew like I did, it was only a matter of time before some would lead him to me. I decided waiting was not in anyone’s best interests and besides, whatever was going to happen would happen eventually anyway.

“I am.” I said.

He turned to me with an evil smile cracking his angular face. I raised my eyebrows, mocking his lack of them. It amused me but I have a feeling the effort was wasted on him. He favored his right leg as he walked over to me.

“Smart girl to start things easy. Now let’s see if you are smart enough to keep it that way.” He said. “What’s your real name?”

I guess my time at camp has been good for me because despite the shock I felt at the question I kept my reaction off my face. I smiled and tilted my head at him, almost tauntingly.

“My friends call me V, but you can call me Miss West.” I said.

His open palm slapped across my left cheek in a violent response. I tasted blood from my cheek and spit it out on his shoes before glaring back up into his eyes. Virginia swore he’d pay in kind for the blood and I agreed.

“Why don’t you let me loose and try that again.” I said.

He repeated the violence and nearly knocked me over on my side. I spat a little higher, just missing his chin. His hand wiped it away from his neck and the anger he felt shown brightly in his eyes. I rejoiced in the victory, but kept my face as dispassionate as I could manage.

“Name.” He demanded.

“It’s going to be a long day.” I said.

“I’ve got as long as it takes.” He said.

“We’ll I’m kinda tied up but if you’d like to come back tomorrow…” I replied.


“Me. Miss West.”

I mocked his one syllable demand. He slapped me again as if that was going to phase me. Instead I just turned my head and let the blow roll off. My eyes caught sight of a plastic stir straw from someone’s coffee and an idea started to form.

“I can do this all day long.” He said.

“Personally I’ve got better things to do.” I said.

“Name.” He said.

“What’s yours?” I asked.

His hand slapped my face again but not quite hard enough for what I had in mind. I spat blood at his face again. His fists clenched and unclenched for a moment as he fought to keep control of himself.

“You look like a Dick.” I said. “I think I’ll call you Dick. Is that okay Dick?”

It was almost enough to push him over the edge but whatever he wanted from me was apparently more important than a bruised ego. He grabbed my chin and adjusted my head so we were staring eye to eye. I could feel him daring me to spit at him again. I chickened out.

“Tell me your name.” He demanded.

“Virginia West.” I replied.

It came out as natural as if it had always been my name. Staring into his eyes I realized that today it was in fact my name and nothing was going to change that. Allison wasn’t equipped to deal with men like this, but Virginia was everything I wished I could be. The truth of it all must have shown brightly in my eyes because within his I could see a flicker of doubt as he mentally questioned the reliability of his conviction that Virginia was not my name.

He let go of my chin and turned his back on me.

“So Dick, what is it you really want to know?” I asked.

He remained standing with his back to me and said nothing. I stared at his backed and willed him to turn around but my thoughts had no effect. The sun was hot overhead and by it’s placement in the sky I guessed it was late morning approaching noon. I was miserable stuck under its unrelenting rays but I knew he was just as miserable and perhaps more so with his lack of brows.

“I’m talking to you Dick. Are you deaf, Dick?” I said.

His shoulders tightened every time I called him Dick. I was getting to him and we both knew it.

“Come on Dick. Talk to me. Tell me why you are really here.” I said.

He turned around like a tornado with a hangnail.

“My name is not Dick!” He shouted.

His open palm landed squarely across my left cheek and the chair started to tip over to the right. I helped it go all the way over and then twisted so the chair was on its back. My hands combed the dirt, searching for the plastic stir straw. My fingertips found it just in time as I was yanked off the ground and sat back down in my original place.

I quickly maneuvered the stiff plastic into my right hand and began working on the lock to my left cuff. My tormentor was looking very pleased with himself. I allowed him to think he’d won for the moment and did my best to avoid looking into his eyes. I could feel him towering over and my panicked brain prayed he couldn’t see what I was doing with my hands behind me.

“Now, let’s try this one more time.” He said. “What is your real name?”

I whispered, “Virginia West.”

It was just enough noise to mask the click of the cuff unlocking but not loud enough for him to understand. He leaned in closer, obviously thinking I had given up all resistance after being sent to the floor by his powerful hand. Looking around I figured I had all of about ten seconds to incapacitate Dick, free my ankles from the chair and arm myself with Dick’s gun. The odds weren’t great but doing nothing wasn’t going to make them any better.

I swung the cuff free from my left wrist and wrapped my right hand into a fist around the metal ring so my knuckles were protected from impact. As he leaned down close to my face I swung my right fist into his face with every bit of force I could muster. He staggered backwards, spitting blood from his mouth and two cracked teeth. I knew something hadn’t sounded good.

He was too far away for me to grab the knife from his belt, so I leaned myself forward throwing my hands onto the ground. Shifting my weight to my hands I kicked my legs and the chair up over my head slamming into his torso and taking him down to the ground. I ended up sitting over his legs while he moaned like a stuck pig on the ground.

From the corner of my eye I could see the closest guard running toward us and I knew I was running out of time. My fingers freed the knife from his belt and in two quick slashes my ankles were free. The approaching guard gave a shout and a warning shot. I ignored both and grabbed the gun in Dick’s holster, while rolling to the ground to make myself a harder target.

The guard was a sitting duck and I took him out with two shots to the torso. Unfortunately, every other guard in the area was then fully aware I was free and armed. They were far enough away I had a chance for escape still but it meant leaving everyone else behind. My conscience was on the fence with the guard I’d just put down, but leaving these innocent people behind was a little more black and white on the wrong side. I felt Tanya’s eyes on me and met her gaze with my own.

“Run. They don’t want us, just you. Go!” She said.

I stopped thinking and just did what I had to do. I ran for the far gate away from the oncoming guards, squeezing off a couple rounds for cover as I went. I was up and over the fence before I could even think about how to get passed it. Instincts took over and I ran for cover in the maze of red rocks beyond the camp’s border. It was the general direction of the river and from the river the highway was accessible so it would appear the sensible escape route. Instead I found a place out of sight in the cover of the rocks to hide.

Oddly the men didn‘t pursue me beyond the gate. From my hiding place I had a good view into the camp. I watched as the men congregated together near the back gate and it appeared there was an argument. With their attention clearly off of me, I settled down, keeping my eyes on them but focusing on what to do next. I pulled my phone out of my shorts, slightly surprised it was still there. Given the circumstances I was glad I had forgotten to disconnect the hands free set the previous evening. I slipped the bud into my left ear and dialed Mr. Candle.

“Quondam-”Cathy’s voice began.

“Put me through to Mr. Candle.” I said.

She didn’t argue or even deign to respond. The call was transferred with barely any hesitation before Joseph Candle answered. His voice was stressed, which did nothing to ease my own tension.

“Miss West?” He said.

“The camp’s been taken over. Please tell me you have some idea of what is going on.”

“I’ve already contacted the local authorities and they have units on route. Are you alright?”

“I’ve managed to get away, but the situation is less than ideal. Did you learn anything from the information I sent you?”

“We’re still processing the data, but we don’t have any leads at this time. What is your position?”

“About a hundred yards outside of the camp. I’m safe for the moment but I don’t know about the others.”

“The others? Miss West your personal safety is the priority. The Q5 team touched down in Salt Lake less than 10 minutes ago. I’m dispatching them via helicopter to pick you up.”

“Those people are only in danger because of us. I can’t just abandon them with no regard for their wellbeing.”

“It’s in the hands of the local police now, Miss West. You are not responsible for the actions of rogue mercenaries.”

“How long until the police arrive?”

“It’s difficult to say with accuracy but no more than hour. There is no need to risk your safety in the meantime.”

“A lot can happen in an hour. I’m not leaving these people’s fate in the hands of a bunch of lunatics with guns.”

There was a deep sigh on the other end of the phone and I could practically see Joseph Candle clenching his fists in frustration with me. Were it not for my precarious situation I would have had plenty more to say about things and I’m quite certain he would have found me even more frustrating.

“Very well. Stand by. I’m patching in Miss Jax.”

There was a click on the line and a moment later a female voice came on the line along with Mr. Candle’s.

“Miss Jax, we’re patched in with Miss West. She’s free and outside the camp’s perimeter.” Mr. Candle said.

“Yes, sir. Miss West?” Miss Jax said.

“I’m here.” I replied.

“I’m pulling up satellite imagery now, ma’am. 30 seconds before the bird’s in range. Do you have GPS, ma’am?” Miss Jax asked.

“I think it’s on this phone, but I’ve never used it. Call me V.” I said.

The ma’am stuff was getting old fast and my patience was all but used up on the situation as it was. I heard another sigh from Mr. Candle but otherwise he kept his thoughts to himself.

“I can walk you through it. What phone model do you have?” Miss Jax said.

“She’s got standard Q5 issue.” Mr. Candle said.

“Perfect. V just click the globe icon on the upper right of the display. That will bring up the GPS map.” Miss Jax said.

“Got it, Jax.” I said.

“It’s Kyra. The blue arrow is indicating your current position. Tap it twice with your finger tip and then tap transmit and that will send me your coordinates.” She said.

“Done.” I said.

“One second.” She said. “Okay, I’ve got your position overlaid on my satellite map. I’m showing a lot of activity down there, pretty close to your location. Are you certain you’re secure?”

“I got eyes on the activity but I’m well concealed for the moment. Do you have a location on both groups of hostages?” I said.

“I’ve got six clustered about 130 yards due west of your location and it looks like two guards.” She said.

“That’s the women. What about the men?” I asked.

“Negative, they must be under shelter or inside one of the structures.”

“Shelter? Where?”

“Looks like a canopy extending from the western end of the largest building.”

“That must be it.” I said.

“Hold on V. Mr. Candle are looking at this?” She said.

“I’ve got it up.” He replied.

“See those reflections on the north end of that rooftop?” She asked.

“Affirmative. Do you have any better resolution on them?” He replied.

“Negative, but they appear to be portable SAMS. We’re going to have to move her farther out for a safe extraction.” She said.

“I’m not leaving until the hostages are free.” I said.

“Wait.” Kyra said. “Are you planning an assault?”

Somehow she managed to convey a question about my sanity with just the inflection in her voice. On any other day I would have laughed.

“Something like that, but I’m going to need some help.” I replied.

“Mr. Candle?” Kyra asked.

Clearly she was not supportive of my intentions.

“Miss West has point.” He said.

Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered that he had just given me some kind of authority, but the thought which took precedence revolved around the identity of our unknown spy. Georgina had said I was the new head of Q5 and I hadn’t believed her until right at that moment. Mr. Candle’s tone suggested more than a temporary assignment of authority but more as if it was already mine, which meant not only had Georgina been right, but she knew something significant enough that it left very little doubt that she was indeed the spy.

“Tom, I’m going to need you hooked in. We need a tactical analysis for a one person ground assault with approximately 15 hostiles holding 17 hostages.” Kyra said.

The way she said it, sounded a little suicidal to me. I wanted to reiterate my desire to have assistance, but something told me I was the only one on the call willing to risk anything in order to secure the safety of the innocent people inside the camp.

“I’m in. Who do we have on the ground?” Tom said.

“You can call me V.” I said.

“Alright V. I’m going to need a complete inventory of your assets.” Tom said.

“One hand gun, one utility knife, one phone, and one body.” I said.

“Is the guy dead?” Tom asked.

“Huh?” I replied.

“The body.” He said.

“That’s mine and I’m pretty sure I still have a pulse.” I said.

Kyra laughed and it wasn’t hard to imagine Mr. Candle shaking his head in his office. Tom was a little harder to read but I’m guessing he looked a bit like a deer in the headlights for at least two seconds.

“I‘m sure your body is a valuable asset most of the time V, but today probably isn‘t one of those times. What kind of gun do you have?” Tom continued.

“Um, it’s black and heavy and I’m pretty sure it uses 9mm ammo.” I said.

The silence was deafening on the other ends of the call. I waited unsure what to say next.

“Do you know how to eject the clip?” Tom asked.

His tone was becoming increasingly condescending for some reason.

“I think so.” I said.

“See if you can do it now. I want to know how many bullets you have left.” Tom said.

I picked up the gun from where I had left it resting on the rock beside me. A quick glance and I noticed two things; it was made by H&K and the magazine release was a button on the rear of the gun. I pressed the button and the magazine slid out into my waiting hand.

“It’s an H&K something or other and looks like I’ve got 10 left in the clip.” I said.

“What’s your experience shooting a handgun.” Tom asked.

“A few hours on a shooting range. I’m reasonably accurate.” I said.

“Joe are you listening in here?” Tom asked.

“I’m here Mr. Clark.” Mr. Candle replied.

“I send her in there and I’m sending her to her death. She doesn’t have the training or experience for this kind of thing.” Tom said.

“Listen Tom, there are 17 innocent people inside that camp and their lives are in danger through no fault of their own. I’d sure like it if it was someone with more experience down here right now, but it’s not. We’ve got me and you can either get on board and provide assistance or get the fuck off this call. I don’t really care which, just make up your mind and do it now.” I said.

“Hey, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to help. Maybe I’m pointing out the obvious but if you go into this, you need to realize you might not come out.” Tom said.

“You are stating the obvious and we could be running out of time. You’ve got eyes on the big picture and I need a course of action. Now are we on the same page?” I said.

There was silence on the line. I was tired of talking and afraid if I didn’t do something soon, someone was going to get hurt or dead. Maybe I could have been more diplomatic in my approach to Tom Clark, but there would be time for that later when I wasn’t hiding behind a bunch of rocks.

“I’m reviewing approach vectors now. If we can get you up on the roof of the main building, you can take out the SAMS. That done we can get in range to drop me onto the ground and I can provide real assistance.” Tom said.

‘That sounds promising.” I said.

“It will drastically increase your odds of survival if I can get on the ground.” Tom said.

“Good to know. So what have we got?” I said.

“You’ll have to circle around to the north of the camp. Move as quickly as you can but stay low and make as little sound as possible.” Tom said.

“Wait a second.” Kyra said. “There’s another chopper on the board. It’s coming in low from the south.”

“Can you identify it?” Tom asked.

“Negative, it’s not broadcasting and it’s markings are blacked out. If I had to guess I’d say our mercenaries have a ride coming to get them.” Kyra said.

“Is there any indication of their intentions toward the hostages?” I asked.

As if in answer to my question a gun shot rang out and echoed in the open sky. A woman screamed in agony and a hollow pit replaced the spot where my stomach once resided. The men who had been near the back gate were no longer there. They had spread back to their former places with the exception of two who stood looking out in my general direction. It was almost enough to make me fear I’d been spotted, but it was just coincidence.

“You hear that Virginia? You have five minutes to surrender yourself or someone else gets shot!” One of the men shouted.

Fury pounded in my temple, but I knew that was what they wanted. I breathed to calm myself. I knew I had to keep a clear head and anger wasn’t going to help me do that.

“They shot one of the women.” Kyra said.

“I know. It’s Tanya, I don’t think she’s dead, but she will be if we don’t do something now.” I said.

“Get moving. North side as fast as you can.” Tom said.

“On my way.” I said.

Two minutes later I was repositioned on the north side of the camp. I could see some of the guys were bound just like I had been only someone had been kind enough to keep them out of the direct sun. For a brief moment I wondered why. Maybe Brian was the spy after all.

“Mr. Candle.” I said. “Do we have anything yet on our spy’s identity?”

“Not yet. I’m still waiting.” He replied.

“Perhaps you could wait a little less patiently.” I suggested.

“I’m on it, Miss West.” He said.

“Tom, I’m in position.” I said.

“Stand by. We’re going to have to time this right.” Tom said.

“Just say when. Kyra, tell me do you have an ETA on that incoming?” I said.

“Three minutes give or take one.” She replied.

“And for you?” I asked.

“One minute thirty seconds after the SAMS are out.” She said.

“Good.” I said.

“Now, V. Head straight in for the fence and jump from the top of the fence to the roof ladder on the back of the building.” Tom said.

“Got it.” I said.

I ran like my ass was on fire. About a yard away from the fence I jumped so I had less fence to climb. The noise rattled in my ears like a car alarm at 3AM. I used my knife to slice the razor wire as quickly as I could and then launched myself from the top bar of the fence onto the ladder. From their it was an easy climb to the roof and somehow I managed it without being seen.

“Do you see the SAMS?” Tom asked.

“Yeah.” I replied.

“Times up Virginia!” One of the men shouted from below.

“Stand by.” I said.

Tom started to object but I ignored him and ran to the edge of the roof where I could see the women below. One of the mercenaries had drawn his gun and was aiming it Georgina. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to kill her. The tears streaming down her face as she begged for her life were proof enough to me; she wasn’t the spy.

I pointed my gun at the dirt just behind the mercenary and pulled the trigger twice before I had a chance to think better of it. The first bullet hit him in the back of the knee and the second went right into the middle of his back. Georgina looked up at me with disbelief written all over her face. Then the world exploded with gunfire bouncing off the edge of the rooftop near me. I back away from the edge and returned my attention to the SAMS.

“How do I disable these things?” I shouted.

“There should be a panel on the base with a white cable coming out of it.” Tom said.

“Okay, right, I see it.” I said.

“Use you knife to cut the cable on each one of them.” Tom said.

The gunfire started to quiet down as they must have realized I wasn’t returning fire. It was only a matter of time before one of them was climbing the ladder to join me. I rushed over to the SAMS with my knife in hand and slashed through the white cables in a matter of seconds.

“The cables are cut.” I said.

“We’re on our way in.” Kyra said.

Then I head the unmistakable sound of a helicopter landing behind me. My first thought was along the lines of, “Damn that was fast.” Then I realized it was the mercenaries’ ride and not mine. I still had a minute and half before help was going to arrive and only 8 shots left to keep me alive.

“She’s on the roof!” One of the men shouted from below.

“Forget her. They’ll have a chopper here in under a minute and local law enforcements has six cars about ten minutes out.” Someone shouted back. “Get everyone on the chopper now! We’re out of here.”

It sounded like good news to me, but then I figured I might want to the check the ladder just in case they were playing me for a fool. The ladders were empty though and what I could see of my former captors appeared to be running for the helicopter in the middle of the camp. They no longer were paying any attention to the hostages. Mission accomplished.

I returned my attention to the people still on the phone with me.

“They’re boarding the helicopter for escape.” I said.

“We’ll be there in thirty seconds.” Tom said.

“By the looks of it they won’t be.” I said.

“Mr. Candle do we have any idea who these people are or who they are working for?” I asked.

“A few leads but nothing concrete.” He said.

“With these guys leaving and local law enforcement here in less than ten, I can manage without Tom. I would suggest they pursue the helicopter.” I said.

“I can track them via satellite. Pursuit wouldn’t yield anything beneficial.” Kyra said.

“True enough, but now that the situation at the camp is under control, it would be best to avoid entangling anyone else with the local authorities. As soon as you’re certain the chopper is away with all mercenaries on board, head back to Salt Lake.” Mr. Candle ordered.

“They’re away.” I said.

The helicopter rose up just high enough so they were looking straight at me. I suddenly realized I was a complete idiot as well as a sitting duck. Bullets started flying, but fortunately not before I started running full tilt for the edge of the building with the canopy extended. I leapt into the air off the side of the building and went crashing down through the canopy to land rolling on the ground below. Every bone in my body hurt, but somehow I had managed to avoid any new holes. The helicopter flew away, probably hoping I’d killed myself in the fall.

As the sound of the helicopter faded into the distance, I could hear the sound of men’s voices all around me. I had landed right in the middle of them, but they were all still bound to their chairs and unable to do more than voice their concern for my well being. I looked straight up and recognized the teddy bear face of Brian staring down at me with nothing but concern in his eyes. I smiled up at him, giddy that I was still alive and only mildly worse for the wear.

“Miss West. Miss West. Miss West.” Mr. Candle’s voice kept repeating in my ear.

“I’m still here.” I said.

“What was that?” He asked.

“You don’t want to know. Look the helicopter is away and the people here need my help. I’ll call you back when it’s over.” I said.

I disconnected the call before he could object or otherwise respond. Brian was still looking down at me and I was still looking up at him. I would have liked to have stayed that way for the rest of the day, but it was not to be.

June 22, 2009

Finding Virginia: Exposure

Everyone was asleep. Everyone, except for me. It wasn’t glorious, cunning, or exciting, but it was a plan with opportunity too ripe to ignore. I snuck out of my bed, passed the other sleeping women and into the dead of night. Along my way I snagged a cheap fork from the dining hall and began bending the tines to my devious needs. Under light of moon I crept quietly to the small administration office.

I struggled with the lock for a minute or two, conscious of every noise like it were an alarm screaming out into the early morning hours. The air was cool against my skin and the clammy sweat beading on my body made me shiver as the lock finally surrendered to my efforts. I slipped inside and closed the door.

Finding the filing cabinets was easy and the keys were laying unhidden in the top desk drawer. I guess security is something they don’t do well or even feel much need. The top drawer was nearly overflowing with monthly accounting reports, vendor files, and unpaid bills. If I was really snoopy, I’d have looked closer, but the operating situation of the camp was the farthest thing from my mind.

In the second drawer, I found the files. A complete folder for everyone in the current class along with a general class folder complete with an enrollment chart listing everyone’s name, enrollment date, and corporate sponsor. It was even in alphabetical order indicating it had been compiled and printed after the last registrant.

Most of the attendees had enrolled in the class several months ago, but not all. In total there were five late enrollees including myself, although I think I can safely say I am not the spy. Virginia cautioned me as I scanned the list; it was entirely possible there was no spy at all and this entire scenario was nothing more than a game concocted to test me in some way. I really hoped that was all it was.

The names of the others were oddly, not surprising. Brian Osterman, Georgina Alvarez, Dr. Patricia Gaines, and Olivia Stratford along with myself were the only recently added names. Seeing Brian’s name on the list sent a new shiver down my spine. I’ve never put much stock in intuition, but the coincidence of my own feeling and his name being where it was, that was almost too much to dismiss.

The most obvious would be Georgina. She started off by revealing an in depth knowledge of a background I knew nothing about. I didn’t bite and she didn’t pursue it further, but where had she come up with her knowledge from? Was any of it accurate? The bit about her being a journalist in training could be a ruse, but she fit’s the type well enough and her sponsor was The Reverie, the scientific gossip magazine. If she is the spy, I don’t think there is any danger other than possibly reading a gossip story about Virginia West. On second thought, if she runs any photos of me with the story, it could turn into a problem fast enough. Especially since Dad is a subscriber.

Dr. Patricia Gaines, now that was a surprise. I never would have pegged her for an educated type and from her file, she’s a medical doctor even. She is her own sponsor, but that makes sense. Her motivation for the class; to prepare for a two year stint as a volunteer in Africa. If I hadn’t seen her driving on two wheels I might even have bought the whole thing, but medical doctors don’t moonlight as stunt drivers. There was definitely something off with her, almost like she was a different person from the one in her file. Who am I to talk, but it’s definitely suspicious.

If Olivia had been even remotely skilled, she might have ranked higher in my suspicions. Instead, she was dead last on my radar. Virginia was not as easily dissuaded and so I took a closer look at her file for thoroughness’ sake. Everything looked fine until Virginia pointed out her sponsor, private global security company, E.F. Burke & Sons. Would they send their new hires to an survival camp? Probably. Would they hire someone who was as likely to shoot the person next to her as the enemy? Probably not. Virginia replayed the accident in the shooting range in my head and suddenly it seemed less like an accident.

Last, but not least, I pulled out Brian’s file. I honestly felt relieved when it failed to hold incriminating evidence. Of course Virginia new that a spy would do their best to make their file look anything but interesting. Still, Brian’s file made perfect sense, an anthropologist with a Federal grant to study tribes in Central and South America with the purpose of identifying possible links to ancient civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs. Nothing about it screamed sinister spy with hidden agenda. I guess I can’t cross him off the list completely, but at least I can feel a little more at ease.

I put away the files and made my way back to bed. With only suspicions to go on, I knew I would have to send what little information I had found to Mr. Candle and hope he could find something more concrete in it. That would have to wait until after morning showers though because turning on my phone while everyone was asleep would mostly likely end with everyone awake. I napped for the last two hours of night, but never fully fell into sleep before the morning trumpet blared over the bullhorn.

It was on my way back from the showers when things took a turn for the worse. Rick was standing out in front of the administration office and I did my best not to look at him but as soon as I had come around the corner into his sight, I felt his gaze on me. The guilty feeling in my gut made his stare ten times worse and I was keenly aware of the towel barely covering my private flesh from view.

“Virginia! Might I speak with you for a moment?” Rick called out.

My heart thudded and my breath grew quick and shallow before I got it all back under control. I swallowed the guilt and found innocence again.

“Certainly. Do you mind if I get dressed first?” I replied.

“Now if you please.” Rick said.

I nodded, sighed, and changed course toward Rick and the administration building. When I reached him, he gestured for me to follow him inside. I decided that was a good sign and allowed myself to relax a little. It was, I told myself, entirely possible he wanted to speak with me about something totally unrelated to my nocturnal activities.

“Can you explain this?” Rick asked.

He turned the monitor on the desk so I could see it and then clicked play on a video he had loaded. The picture was grainy and black and white, but it was easy enough to make out my face next to the door knob on the outside of the administration building. Even easier to see, was what I was doing to the door lock with the bent tines of a fork. I should have been embarrassed but Virginia chose outrage instead.

“You have cameras monitoring us? How dare you violate my privacy without so much as a warning sign!” I said.

Rick regarded me with his stern face and no nonsense attitude, but his eyes were laughing. The video was still playing and showed me slip inside and then the picture turned to snow. Concern must have slipped onto my face.

“I take it you’ve noticed what is really wrong with this picture?” Rick said.

“Who shut off the camera?” I asked.

“Well I was going to ask you but the look on your face tells me you have about as much a clue on that one as I do.” Rick said. “What were you looking for?”

I weighed my options before speaking. Obviously Rick and Tanya are considered trustworthy by Mr. Candle, but that doesn’t make them so. If he trusted them fully, he would have called them directly and asked about the records himself. The fact he asked me to snoop on my own indicated there was a gap or that Mr. Candle was indeed testing me in some way. Virginia’s vote was for the latter.

On the other hand, lying to Rick at this juncture was only likely to increase any possible danger. If it was all nothing more than an elaborate test, I might fail it for saying more than I should, but then again, maybe the test was about judgment and knowing who to talk to and when to do so. Virginia advocated going with my gut and I agreed. Rick needed to know what was going on and if he already did, I wouldn’t be telling him anything he didn’t already know. It made sense in a weird paradoxical sort of way.

“A corporate spy.” I said.

“Can you explain that?” Rick asked.

“Not to the degree you might want to know, but in essence, yes. My boss recently discovered my personal information had been compromised by an internal mole and that information had been transmitted to an unknown third party. Evidence suggested, that third party might possibly have been a late registrant in this camp.” I explained.

“You were the last one to register. No one even called in after you.”

“There were four others who registered within the time frame of the compromised information being sent. You see, I didn’t know I was coming here but about two days before I arrived. However, it was determined a while before that and in company records.”

“Alright so, what you are telling me, is that a corporate spy, someone interested in information about you, has enrolled in this class. What for? I mean forgive me for being dense here, but what possible purpose could be served by going through this training class with you?” Rick said.

“That is the million dollar question and I don’t have an answer for you, except to say I thought it was more likely a wild goose chase right up until that camera turned to snow. Are there any other cameras that show any hint of someone else being out of bed?”

“No. Whoever disabled the cameras knew exactly where they all were.”

“It’s very likely that person knows I was up last night and that the video would show me coming in here.” I said.

“They wanted me to catch you.” He said.

I nodded. The wheels were turning and something of a plan began to sort itself out in my mind.

“I broke in to find out who registered me for this class, so I could deal with them when I got back to LA for making me arrive late.” I said.

Rick blinked, not following me.

“What are you saying? I thought we just covered that this was about some corporate espionage.” Rick said.

“I’m giving you an excuse which will keep our spy guessing as to how much I know.” I said.

There was only one person who would have any hint I knew of the spy’s existence and that was the person sitting on the bunk across from me when I found out myself. Gina wasn’t the one, I was sure of it and this would be a quick way to prove it for certain. Whoever took out the cameras would only be suspicious that I was on to them but if they learned a reasonable excuse they might well relax enough to make a mistake. It’s just too bad I was going to have to set this up the hard way.

“I don’t think I follow you.” Rick said.

“It’s simple the person who cut those cameras doesn’t know why I was in here. They are expecting you to find out and rather than letting them know we are aware of their existence we are going to give them some doubt. They will undoubtedly believe you to be in the dark and they’ll be uncertain if I know anything or not.” I said.

“You’re hoping to lull them out into the open. I get it. Very devious.”

“Precisely. Only problem is you are going to have to use your strap to sell it.” I said.

Rick chuckled.

“I was planning on doing that anyways.” He said.

I half smiled. It was odd to think I was asking for a spanking I had coming regardless. At least this time there was a point beyond a little embarrassment and pain. Right about then I realized I was still only wearing a towel. Much as I wished I could have found a way around that problem, nothing came close to an acceptable excuse for me getting dressed first.

“Shall we then?” I said, gesturing toward the door and the outside world.

“I’ll take the towel first and you can march out to the flagpole, hands on your head.” Rick said.

I groaned and blushed, but decided against arguing. The towel came off easily. Marching outside with my hands on my head and all my tender flesh exposed was a lot harder. Virginia took over and made me take each step further into the gaping gazes of my classmates, while I blushed hot enough to be a second morning sun. The flagpole was far enough way that by the time I got to it, everyone in the camp was aware of my situation and gathering to watch the show.

Rick let me stand there for several minutes. It felt like an eternity. Virginia stayed cool and paid attention to the four key classmates, looking for any sign of culpability. Gina was blushing nearly as badly as I was. Patricia was smirking almost as much as the guys. Brian was trying not to look. Olivia was looking smug. All told, nothing all that revealing, certainly not as revealing as my naked pose before them all.

“I knew you were the type when I first saw you.” Rick lectured. “You can’t accept responsibility for any of your own mistakes. I can’t believe you would break into my office just to find out who signed you up so you can get revenge on them because I spanked you for arriving late. At what point do you start to take responsibility for yourself Virginia? It seems to me, that it’s only when someone makes you and today, I’m going to take great pleasure in making you.”

Rick paused to pull out his strap and step up a little closer to me. He stared into my eyes and then looked down at my bare breasts. I could feel his eyes drinking in the sight of my hardened nipples and soft white flesh. I closed my eyes and then felt his finger under my chin.

“Look at me.” Rick ordered.

I opened my eyes, with tears stinging at the corners.

“No one, and I do mean no one, breaks into my office and gets away with it. Understood?” Rick said.

I bit at my quivering lower lip trying to find my voice to respond. It came out more like a squeak and I felt thoroughly shamed standing there helpless and waiting to be dealt with. Virginia tried to be strong, but the humiliation was almost more than I could stand. Virginia insisted it was a necessary price to be paid, but I wondered what rewards could be worth such a steep cost.

“Touch your toes.” Rick ordered.

I complied only too happy to give myself some semblance of privacy from the prying eyes of my classmates. Of course nothing was truly hidden but the position allowed me to fool myself enough that unbearable became bearable.

Rick stepped around behind me and raised his strap high in the air. He lashed it down with a vigor that felt entirely unjust. I winced at each lick and struggled to keep bent over as the stinging lashes began to burn. I cried out early on and continued throughout with tears streaming from eyes, mixing with the reddish sand and looking eerily like drops of blood.

It didn’t last so long as one might have thought, but it was going to sting and burn the rest of the day without respite. I wiped at the tears from eyes when I was allowed to rise and fought the urge to bounce around waving my helpless hands in the air and hoping the act would somehow lessen the pain in my posterior. I knew better and Virginia was not about to shame herself so publicly.

“Get dressed and get your exercises done. First classes start in less than hour.” Rick said.

I ran inside to my bunk and fortunately no one followed me. Before getting dressed, I paused long enough to text what information I had found to Mr. Candle. Hopefully, something will come of it. A few minutes later, I was composed and dressed and running my morning laps as if nothing had happened.

I spent most of the day tensed up, expecting a rude comment or general teasing at any moment, but it never came. Everyone was amazingly quiet about the morning’s event, at least in my presence. Brian, in fact, looked more uncomfortable than I felt. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, except there was a voice in my head saying he might have been the one who cut the cameras and he might have done it in a failed attempt to help. Obviously that would be a best case scenario, but I really wanted it to be true.

River rafting was the course of the day and when I wasn’t wincing from Rick’s ministrations, it was a lot of fun. I was worn out by the end of the day and I crawled off to bed shortly after dinner. My phone was void of any new messages which was something of a relief as I slipped off to sleep.

June 19, 2009

Finding Virginia: Shifting Gears

Rick threw the keys in the air. I snagged them as if I had been expecting them, but the really amazing part is I managed to pull it off without looking surprised. I glanced at the nearby jeep and then back at Rick. We’d spent the last hour talking about how to control a vehicle in less than perfect conditions. I didn’t need a crystal ball to figure out it was time for some practical experience. He threw a second set at Patricia.

“Get yourselves seat belted in and pull up to the back gate. When I open it up you’ll follow the white cones into the course. When you’ve completed the circuit, pull back in and pass the keys onto the next member of your team.” Rick instructed.

Patricia raced to the gate so she could be first. I couldn’t have cared less but Virginia was slightly annoyed at the over competitive spirit Patricia was cursed with. Rick opened the gate up and we were off into the desert. I trailed back a little not wanting to crowd her in case either one of us made a mistake. Virginia was pretty sure Patricia would be the one to screw up but I wasn’t so sure.

The red dust storm she was leaving me in made it hard to see what was coming before it was gone. The jeep was jumping around like a cricket in lust. Somehow I managed to keep my foot on the accelerator and my hands firmly attached to the steering wheel and gear shift. I heard rubber sliding on dirt and down shifted to slow myself, expecting some sort of hazard ahead. It was a sharp right turn into a valley, guarded by a red rock demon.

"I just knew the road to hell was around here someplace." Virginia said aloud.

I made the turn with little trouble and caught a glimpse of Patricia speeding away on a straight stretch of mud. I kept it in low gear and stayed to the left where there appeared to be a trailing edge of rock wide enough for the left tires to stay on. It seemed more prudent than praying the mud wouldn’t get deep enough or thick enough to leave me without traction.

It wasn’t long before Patricia came head on to the reality of my fear. Her solution was to floor it as I went passed and spray me and my jeep with mud. I waved politely in the rearview mirror. By the angry look on her face, it was the best response I could have imagined.

The only bad thing about leaving her behind was that I would have to watch for the dangers ahead on my own without having her mistakes to warn me. I’m sure it was all part of the plan that the lead would normally swing back and forth between the two people driving it. It wasn’t supposed to be a competition or so Rick said, but that didn’t stop it from feeling like one.

I rounded a more gentle curve and found myself on a solid rock straight-a-way. The engine roared as I pushed the accelerator harder and shifted to third and fourth. Wind whipped through my hair and I had to admit, I was having fun. The ride was far from smooth, but I let the wheel run loose in my hands and the jeep stayed the course with little effort on my part.

When I got to the edge of the rocks I could see the path ahead was going to be the real challenge. The road, not that it deserved the name, ran straight into the remains of a washed out bridge. The rive water was rolling over half the bridge and the other half was just missing. I think they call that white frothing water, river rapids, but this didn’t look a ride at a water park. One thing was certain, I was going to get wet.

I slowed down and scanned the area looking for the solution. There was no place to go but into the river and unless I made the right choice as to where, I’d be spending a lot more time in the water than Virginia would like. Personally, I couldn’t think of a much better way to spend my afternoon than drenched in the cold rush of raging river water.

Hearing engine noise echoing off the rocks, I glanced in my rearview. Sure enough, there was Patricia, racing full speed on the rock like a bat out of hell. An icky, muddy bat, but still she was coming and if I wanted to maintain my lead, I needed to make a choice fast. Of course I could wait for her and then not do whatever stupid thing she comes up with that gets her stuck. No, no that would be cheating. Damn, it sucks being honest.

Traversing a washed out bridge is probably not the best of ideas, especially with half the bridge not present. Rocks then. That’s what causes the river rapids, isn’t it? Now I’m wishing I paid a little more attention when I was a freshmen and forced to take Earth Science for a year. God that class was boring, but it probably covered some useful shit right about now.

“Focus!” Virginia said aloud, as if scolding me.

Okay so rocks make the froth. I hope that’s right. It sounds right. Aim for the froth, but how fast? Virginia’s vote was to floor it and keep it in second for extra traction. I didn’t have a clue so I went with her best guess. The engine was screaming for a little clutch action by the time the front tires hit the frothy water.

After an incredibly bouncy 20 seconds I was on dry land and even on the other side of the river. That was good news because the hissing sound coming from the left front tire wasn’t.
Just what I needed, a flat tire. I don’t suppose they’ll let me use my triple A card out here? Yeah I didn’t think so.

I stopped the jeep and turned around just in time to see Patricia pull off some very fancy driving. She maneuvered just right to tip her jeep up on two wheels and drove right over the half bridge. I’m sure my draw dropped, but can you blame me? I mean really, who the hell knows how to drive on two wheels? Motorcyclists don’t count.

She flashed me an evil smile. Virginia returned it with equality, but of course it was Patricia’s turn to wave in the rearview mirror as she left me behind. The only difference was she waved with a single finger extended into the air. Damn, why didn’t I think of that? Oh that’s right, I wasn’t born with a broomstick up my ass. Silly me.

Changing the tire took about ten minutes. It was easier than I expected and it probably helped that Virginia was in a foul mood at being left behind by the likes of Patricia. Those poor lugs never stood a chance. I dumped the flat tire in the back and hopped back into the driver’s seat. The jeep didn’t start straight away but after holding my breath for a second and warning God he better no screw with me today, I turned the key and the engine came back to life.

The road from there wasn’t too bad. I made good time in catching up with Patricia. Of course that probably had something to do with her being parked in front of the mother of all obstacles. The look on her face when I pulled up next to her was worth a laugh but the good sport in me held it in.

“How the fuck am I supposed to get around this?” She asked.

“What? Is there something in your way?” Virginia replied.

I couldn’t help sounding infuriatingly calm, particularly since I had already realized how to maneuver over the giant fallen tree laying across the path. There wasn’t anyway to get around, you had to go over it, but that’s what four wheel drive is for.

“Are you fucking blind?” She asked.

Virginia just laughed. It was ironic in that hilariously not funny way. In answer to her question, I engaged the four wheel drive and angled myself into the tree so the right front tire road up on the trunk and then helped pull the rest of the jeep right on up and over. It wasn’t even really tough. When I was completely on top I paused to enjoy the shock on Patricia’s face. Virginia waved at her, beckoning her to follow. I guess she deserved it but I would never have been so mean.

That was pretty much the end of the course. I drove back into the camp followed closely by Patricia and I don’t think you could really say I beat her, but it was obvious by her mood she felt that I had. Rick spent a few minutes helping us get the jeeps ready for the next drivers and then we got to watch video of ourselves on the trip with Rick narrating our every mistake.

After taking notes on how bad a driver I am, I was given the option of practicing more with locks or climbing. I chose climbing because I needed something a little less cerebral to help me relax. I climbed up and down the fake cliff side quite a few times before everyone had finished their turn at driving the course and by then it was lunch time.

After lunch I had a good fifteen minutes before the next class began. Brian was eyeing me and I knew if I gave him half a chance he’d be trying to drag me off alone for as many of them as possible. A month ago I would have been floating on butterflies but now life is so much more complicated and a relationship, even a short one, would just complicate matters more. How can I be with a guy and not know whether he is with me or Virginia or whether there is even a difference?

“I should probably check in with my office since we have a few minutes. I’ll meet you guys at class.” I said.

I caught a glimpse of disappointment in Brian’s eyes and I felt a twinge of guilt for being elusive. It was a lame excuse, but it got me away on my own without having to turn Brian down directly. I walked away toward the bunks before anyone could say anything.

Out of sight and alone, I sat down on the edge of my bed and closed my eyes for a moment. I had a very strong urge to lay down and cry. Virginia would never do such a thing but I’m tired and frustrated and confused. Maybe I should just throw caution to the wind and enjoy Brian for the few days we have left together. I want to. Virginia won’t let me. Who am I?

I opened my eyes to Gina staring at me. She looked almost concerned but there was a glint of suspicion in her eye as well.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Fine. Just a little headache.” I replied.

“I’ve got some aspirin if you want.”

“That alright. I’ll be fine, but thanks.”

She nodded. I turned my attention to digging my bag out from beneath my bed. I expected Gina to walk away and leave me alone but instead she sat down on her own bunk and pulled her bag out. I pulled my phone out and turned it on with no idea what I was going to do with it other than looking like I was doing something. To my surprise the display flashed with two urgent messages.

I glanced at Gina and decided she was far enough away so as not to hear anything from my phone. I pressed the button to dial my voicemail and entered my security code. The first message started playing right away.

“Miss West, It’s Joseph Candle. I apologize for bothering you during training but an urgent matter has come up that I must discuss with you immediately. Please call me back as soon as you get this.”

Urgent perhaps, but you would never have guessed it by Mr. Candle’s calm voice. The second message started playing a few seconds later.

“Miss West, Joseph Candle again. It is imperative I speak with you as soon as possible. Call me.”

Obviously, something important was up. I disconnected from voicemail without deleting the messages and called Mr. Candle from the phone’s directory. It only got through a half ring before Cathy picked up the call.

“Quondam Innovations. Joseph Candle’s office.” She said.

“Cathy, It’s Virginia-”

Cathy interrupted me before I could even explain my reason for calling.

“Mr. Candle has been expecting your call. I’ll put you right through Ma’am.” She said.

There was only a brief pause before Mr. Candle was on the phone.

“Miss West, thank God you are alright.” He began.

“I’m fine sir. I just got your messages, I’m sorry I hadn’t really expected to hear from anyone so I wasn’t checking it regularly.”

“Not to worry about now, Miss West. We have a bit of a situation on our hands.”

“Yes, sir. How can I help?”

“We discovered a mole inside our HR department. It’s possible your information has been compromised.” Mr. Candle said.

“In what way?” I asked.

“They didn’t have full access but your cover identity is almost certainly exposed.”

“Forgive me, but I don’t understand the concern. Isn’t that what we want to be publicly known?"

I glanced at Gina. She was carefully pretending to not be paying attention, but I could tell by the tension in her shoulders and neck that she was inferring loads from the one sided conversation she was hearing. I would have to be careful.

“I’m afraid a full explanation will have to wait until you return from Utah. What you need to know right now is that you could be in danger and someone at that camp might well know that Virginia West is a cover identity. You won’t be able to fool them if they have the file because they’ll know more about Miss West than you do.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Identify likely suspects and investigate the camp’s enrollment records to see if any of them were enrolled last minute like you.”

“How do you expect me to do that? I don’t have access.”

“You’ll find a way. It’s important. I’ve recalled the rest of the Q5 team from Italy in case we need to take action. Whatever you do, don’t let on that you know anything. Just get back to me with any information you can find on who might be connected to our spy.”

“I’ll see what I can do. No promises though.”

“Be careful Miss West. I can’t stress enough how dangerous these people are.”

“Understood.” I said.

I hung up the phone and turned it off. I wished I had someplace secure to lock it up but as I’ve learned in this camp already, no lock is safe. I settled for separating the phone and battery into different compartments in my bag. Suddenly, that eerie feeling I had when Brian made that comment about just being myself, returned with a vengeance.

“Trouble at the office?” Gina asked.

I smiled away my suspicion and shrugged like everything was normal.

“The usual. Everything is life and death with Mr. Candle.” I replied.

“Must get old.”

“You learn to deal.” I said. “We better get going or we’ll be late.”

It was hard to concentrate in Tanya’s class with the scary knowledge rolling around in my head. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to crawl around in brush and cover yourself in dirt. Camouflage might look like fun, but at the end of the day I couldn’t wait to hit the shower. Cold water or not, I wasn’t sleeping looking like a sandworm.

I didn’t really sleep anyway. After the lights went out all I could think about was how I would break into the administration office and steal a look at the files without getting caught. I hope inspiration hits me at some point cause right now I’ve got nothing.

June 16, 2009

Finding Virginia: Knot In Love

We sat under a canopy on the east side of the main building. We were far enough away from Rick and teams two and four so as not to see them but the occasional yelp could be heard echoing in the distance. I was glad to be sitting after spending my morning in some of the toughest physical exercise of my life. By the way Patricia kept squirming in her seat, I gathered she would rather have stood. Virginia was not sympathetic.

Tanya was standing behind a folding table in front of our two teams. The table had a rather amazing array of items; door locks, padlocks, handcuffs, ropes, chains, a fire box, a file drawer, a bike lock, and a briefcase. It took me a moment to find the common thread between them, mostly because of Patricia’s earlier comment about bondage and some of those items seemed a little inconsistent.

“When you travel into a conflict zone, you may find yourself in the position of a bargaining chip. If that happens you will have to make a choice. Don’t think it will be easy because situations are never as black and white as they appear from the outside. What I will teach you today will give you that choice but no one can teach you how to make that choice.” Tanya said.

I was listening intently. Virginia was bored. The only way she’d ever be a bargaining chip is if there was an advantage in it for her. I guess it’s really the same for me, but the whole idea scares me to death whereas with Virginia it’s just business as usual.

“There are a number ways in which your freedom of movement can be taken away. It goes without saying that the best thing would be to avoid ever being captured, but in reality this is not always possible.” Tanya continued.

A quick glance around at my peers indicated they were as skeptical as Virginia about being taken captive. I’ve seen enough news stories to know it happens, but also enough to realize that if it does happen, it’s usually just so that someone can make a statement by killing you.

“Escaping captivity is what you are going to learn here this afternoon. It may not always be your best option but by the looks on most of your faces I think you all know that most hostile captivity situations end with the hostages death. What you learn here will give you a fighting chance and at the very least allow you to die on your own terms rather than for someone else’s political statement.” Tanya said.

It was a solemn thought and one that had been in the back of my head ever since I arrived at this camp and realized what we were learning. Survival might seem to be all about living but in reality it’s about dying. Part of me wanted to tell Mr. Candle to take his job and shove it up someone else’s ass but the rest of me, the Virginia in me, was feeling like I might have just stumbled into a career I was born to do. Accepting that I might die on any given day at any given time is just part of that reality. In fact, once you accept you’re going to die, everything seems a lot more straightforward.

Tanya proceeded to spend the next two hours teaching us everything anyone would ever want to know about locks. It was all hands on and focused first on how locks function and then how to circumvent their function. That’s a polite way of saying we learned to pick locks with everything from a paperclip to a pocket knife. The first time I did so successfully I was barely able to refrain from jumping up and down with joy. Gina had no such inclination.

Most everyone laughed when she leapt to her feet and punched the sky in victory. Virginia smiled and I enjoyed the moment as if it were my own celebration. Patricia scowled for whatever reason. I decided it was the sunburn on her butt and almost said so before Virginia thought better of it.

When everyone had successfully circumvented a standard key lock we moved on to combination locks and electronic locks. It’s amazing but you really can get a feel for a combination lock when you are spinning the dial slow enough. Of course hearing the pins drop without some fancy technology is pretty much a fantasy and reserved for the movies, but getting the feel wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be.

The electronic locks were the easiest believe it or not. They look intimidating but all you have to do is break them so you can get to the wires and then it’s just a matter of knowing which wires to cross. If I decide to make a career out of breaking into hotel rooms I’ll have to get a little better at reading schematics but it’s pretty simple if they always use the same color wires.

Tanya introduced us to ropes and knots next. Most of the guys seemed to be quite bored with the knot tying lessons. Personally, I was fascinated at how many different ways there are to tie one. With a little practice it was simple enough to learn them and I look forward to Christmas and showing off what I learned with ribbon around Christmas gifts. Mom and Dad will be so surprised!

Kevin bound Tanya’s hands with ropes behind her back in four different knot styles. Of course learning to tie a knot was really all about learning to untie a knot. That is a lot more difficult than you might think, but as Tanya demonstrated, knowing just how a knot is formed gives you an advantage in undoing it. She successfully freed herself in under a minute each time. I decided she must have been a magician’s assistant before marrying Rick.

We paired up within our teams and took turns tying each others hands. Nobody was managing to untie themselves in under a minute but Brian and I both managed in less than five and Patricia and Gavin were both just over two minutes. Tanya was satisfied when everyone was able to do it successfully regardless of the time it took.

“Speed will come with practice which you should do until you can do it under a minute behind your back and after that you only need to practice to keep up the skill.” Tanya said.

The sun began to settle on the horizon, and the hot desert air began to cool with a gentle breeze. The afternoon had gone much faster than the morning class. Maybe it was because I find fighting to be a lot less useful information or maybe it’s just sitting down in the shade was the most relaxing time I’ve had while awake since arriving. Either way I was a little sad that Tanya’s lesson for the day was over.

Over dinner we learned that Olivia’s team had unanimously beaten everyone on team two in physical combat. The two women, Jenny and Michelle, looked particularly worse for wear. Both were sporting black eyes and Michelle had a cut over her right eye, while Jenny had a lip the size of a breakfast sausage. Not surprisingly, the blame was being squarely laid on their own shoulders.

Apparently, if Olivia’s team can be believed, Jenny and Michele had both attempted the tactic of going after the body piercing on their opponents and Olivia and Bruce, who has a nipple ring, responded with a lot of ferocity. I guess they taught the ladies a lesson in their minds. After the shooting range incident, I have a hard time believing the story though. I could be wrong, but I can’t really see Olivia or Bruce beating anyone in a fight unless they cheated. Then again, Rick made it pretty clear that cheating was fair play when you’re fighting for your life. Virginia doesn’t have much room to talk considering her tactic anyway.

As usual I made to leave for bed soon after dinner only this time Brian grabbed my elbow before I could escape. Virginia whirled around, claws at the ready. Brain let go as soon as he saw my eyes and held his hand up in the air as if to surrender. Virginia would have turned and walked away, but I smiled instead. He was definitely cute and something told me he was interested and worth the time.

“Sorry.” I said, closing my eyes for a moment. “I’m a little on edge. Did you need something?”

He dropped his hands back down and grinned like a teenager.

“I don’t, but maybe you do?” Brian replied.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing I just thought you might like to go for a walk.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“I was thinking I might join you.”

“What makes you think I’d let you?”

“Nothing. That’s why I was asking, but I could go find a hole to hide in if you’d prefer.”

I smiled with a faint blush rushing to my cheeks. I couldn’t help it, he was just too adorable, teddy bearish even. I stepped up next to him and wrapped my arm around his, grabbing his hand. Looking up at him, I blinked sweetly at him.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Anywhere that’s not here.” He said.

“Lead the way.”

We made our way outside and walked away from the buildings toward the far fence line. I would normally have been nervous in such an isolated place with a strange man, but Virginia was far from vulnerable and Brian wasn’t all that strange. We held hands all the way and it wasn’t weird, just sort of natural. When we reached the edge of the camp he pointed up at the sky and my gaze followed.

It was beautiful. Crisp and clear like looking at a high definition picture on a plasma screen only it was real. The stars shown brightly and the sky was filled with them. I felt small and large and lost and then there was the warmth of his hand in mine. It was peaceful and easy.

“A city girl like you has probably never seen anything like this before.” He said.

I was a little annoyed at the suggestion of naivety, but Virginia shrugged it off without comment.

“It’s beautiful.” I said.

“It makes me think of you.” He said.

I blinked flirtatiously.

“Oh? How so?”

“Beautiful and mysterious.” He answered.

I blushed at the truth of it.

“I’m not beautiful.” I said.

“No.” He said, “You’re gorgeous.”

His lips brushed gently against mine and as I responded they grew more forceful. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the hungry moment in his arms. It was safe and fun and exactly what I needed. When he released me, he looked a little embarrassed but there was no regret in his eyes or mine.

“How long have you been waiting to do that?” I asked.

I was genuinely curious, but my tone was playful and teasing.

“Ever since I first saw you.” He replied.

“I should show my sweet ass to cute guys more often.” I replied.

He laughed and I blushed, unable to believe Virginia had actually said that aloud.

“You’re such a contradiction.” He said.

“Me? I’m not that complicated.”

“You blush like a shy schoolgirl and yet you throw modesty to the wind and shrug it off like it was nothing. If that’s not a contradiction I don’t know what is.”

“I’m just trying to survive.” I said.

“Maybe you should just try being you.”

“Who am I?” I asked.

Not the smartest of thoughts to actually put a voice to, but it came out before I could think better of it. My suspicious mind wondered if there was a deeper meaning in his question or if it was all innocent. I was probably seeing trouble where there was nothing but suddenly I felt uneasy.

“Someone I’d like to know better.” Brian said.

I glanced at my watch as an easy excuse to cut our time short. If he noticed the lameness he kept it to himself which didn’t help matters. Looking at him I suddenly realized my life was far more complicated and changed than I had first thought. The new name and secretive job were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“It’s late and I’m tired. I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” I said.

Brian nodded but there was disappointment in his eyes. I felt a twinge of guilt on the off chance his intentions were honorable. Virginia pretended not to feel anything or care that he might.

“Goodnight V.” He said.

I walked away while he remained there by the fence. I could feel his eyes on me until I disappeared into the building. It was hard but I resisted the urge to look back. Virginia knew there was no going back even if I hadn’t quite come to terms with the simple truth of it.

June 13, 2009

Finding Virginia: Show & Tell

I stepped to the side and felt the air rush passed my cheek. He looked surprised, but recovered before I could take advantage. I kept moving, looking for an opening. It wasn’t a fair fight. He was at least twice my size and the only reason I wasn’t already lying on the dirt was the adrenaline pulsing in my veins. If I stopped moving for a second I was dead and that was the whole point.

In the corner of my eye I could see my teammates watching. Gina’s nose was still bleeding from her sparring match with Patricia. Brian and Kevin were both rooting for me but if they’d laid down any wagers I know it wasn’t on me. I dodged to the left, narrowly missing his left fist. This time he overreached and for a single moment he was off balance.

The time for thinking was over. I kicked a red dust storm into his face and as he stumbled backward sputtering, I spun low to the ground sweeping my leg into his and sending him down to the ground. Unfortunately, he didn’t stay there. He rolled up and came back at me, rushing like a blind bull. I stepped by him and we squared off again.

“Stop letting that bitch make you look like a fool! Finish her Dennis.” Patricia yelled from the side.

“Keep your head V and you’ve got him.” Brian yelled.

The heat of the day was coming on us and I was getting tired. We spent half the morning learning how to fight and the other half I’d spent watching the sparring matches until it was finally my turn. I’d had all of Brian and Gavin’s match to prepare myself for the ridiculously uneven match of myself against Dennis. The guy was built like a truck and I wasn’t even a speed bump. Rick had only fatherly words of advice for me, “Life isn’t fair.” No shit, tell me something I don’t know.

Virginia was a little less resigned to defeat than I was. She must have been dropped on her head as a baby because she kept telling me we could take the bastard. Maybe to bed, but I usually prefer men whose IQ exceeds their BMI. Suddenly, Virginia had an idea. I wasn’t too thrilled with it, but my survival instinct kicked in and I just surrendered to the only chance I really had.

I dodged two more punches and decided to hell with it. I backed up from him a little to give me plenty of time and then yanked my tank up and off over my head. I heard gasps of shock from all sides and Dennis just stared at me like he’d never seen a pair of tits before. I bounced in closer on my toes and kicked him in the groin. Mean yeah, but just think what he would have done to me if I hadn’t dodged all those punches.

He went down on his knees gasping like I’d winded him. The poor guy. I gave him another kick to the side of the head and he just sort of fell over on his side and flapped there like a dying fish. Everyone was staring at me, I can only imagine why, and nobody was saying anything. My eye caught Rick's and I pulled my tank back on.

“Interesting tactic.” Rick said.

“You did say to make use of our assets and take advantage of our enemies weaknesses.” I replied.

“I did and you did it very well. Dennis are you going to be alright?” Rick said.

Dennis just moaned in response.

“That’s an interesting tactic? She kicked him in the head not to mention his testicles and that’s not worse than me hitting Gina in the nose?” Patricia demanded.

She walked up all fiery until her nose was practically planted in Rick’s chest. He looked down but didn’t back up an inch.

“He was still up when V kicked him. Gina was lying on the ground surrendering when you punched her in the nose. I’d say that’s a difference. Wouldn’t you?” Rick replied.

“Fucking double standard is what I call it.” Patricia said.

“I won’t be bullied by you or anyone else. If you don’t like the way I run my camp you can leave anytime.” Rick said.

He didn’t wait to see if she was going to take him up on the offer. He pushed his way around her and went to kneel next to Dennis who was starting to become a little more aware of his surroundings again. I moved over with my teammates, feeling a little insecure by the hell’s fire blazing in Patricia’s gaze. It was obvious she hated me but I haven’t done a thing to her.

Rick helped Dennis back on his feet and then he cautiously walked toward me. I was really wanting to disappear about then but Brian was standing behind me, leaving me no place to run. At least he had my back. Not that it was going to do me any good if Dennis decided to rearrange my face. Instead, he held out his hand to me and stopped a safe distance back.

“Not bad, V.” He said.

I shook his hand.

“Thanks.” I said.

Rick looked around and checked his watch. It had to be getting to the end of our class for the morning. Everyone was tired and a bottle of room temp water was sounding like a cold mountain stream to me. Rick’s eyes focused on Patricia. Virginia tensed up again, expecting more trouble.

“Trish, let’s get this over with.” Rick said.

She tilted her head to one side and her face said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” without a word. I glance at Brian and Kevin and I could see they were looking forward to the spectacle. Gina was still dabbing at her nose and more or less oblivious to what was going on.

“C’mon. We don’t have all day.”

Patricia huffed and then walked up to him with a sassiness I thought only Virginia possessed. She didn’t wait for instructions. Her thumbs hooked into her waist band and in a single fluid motion her shorts and panties slid down legs to rest around her ankles. Dennis whistled.

“Touch your toes.” Rick ordered.

His leather strap in hand, Rick took up position behind her and as soon as she was down, he let it go. It was kind of fun watching her white cheeks turn a bright red. She didn’t make a sound though, through the whole thing. I guess she got around 18 in total but when it was over she just yanked her shorts back into place and took her place with her team. There wasn’t even a glistening tear in her eye.

“Is it lunch time yet?” I asked.

Rick nodded.

“Lunch it is. Good work everyone.” Rick said.

I walked off toward the cafeteria without waiting for my team. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to explain what I had done. Even further complicating the issue was the fact that although I was completely embarrassed, Virginia was shrugging it off like it was nothing. My team caught up with me by the time I got to the door and by the faces staring at me, I gathered there was going to be a discussion.

“I could never have done that.” Gina said.

She was sitting across from me trying to eat her ham sandwich without getting her swollen nose bleeding again. I felt bad for her, she was just a kid really and Patricia had definitely gone farther than necessary to win their match. I shrugged.

“When you know you’re out of options you’d be surprised what you can do.” I said.

“You had options.” Kevin volunteered next to me.

“I could have chose to lose.” I said.

“But that’s not you.” Brian added for me.

“How can you sit there so calmly? You just flashed eight people you barely even know.” Gina said.

It was a good question. I was sort of asking Virginia the same thing. By all rights I should have been hiding in a bathroom stall waiting for camp to be over. What is it about being Virginia that lets me shrug something like that off?

“Failing here isn’t an option for me Gina. If it is for you, maybe you should take Rick’s advice and move on.” I said.

“No wonder Joseph Candle likes you. You’re just as cold and ruthless as he is.” Gina said.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what your line of work is or how dangerous it could get. What I do know is that there can only be a single limit to what you can do to survive when things gets nasty.” I said.

“Yeah and what’s that?” Gina asked.

“Death. It’s all about living and whatever I’ve got to do to keep on living, I can do it.” I said.

The words sounded like cold hearted advice even to my own ears and it’s nothing I would normally say. Virginia isn’t like that. The truth is I don’t know where she’d stop which begs a more difficult question. Where would I draw the line between surviving and no longer worth trying?

"What about morality?" Kevin asked.

I glanced at him. He was eating his sandwich in small bites while watching Gina and I very closely.

"You gotta be alive to worry about morals." I said.

"You don't believe in God do you?" Gina asked.

"God has nothing to do with it. But if your asking if I think God will save me when some 18 year old soldier boy has a gun pointed at my head, no I don't believe." I replied.

"I'm going to be a photojournalist. The worst thing that will ever happen to me is I'll be held prisoner while governments negotiate my return home." Gina said.

Suddenly things started making sense with Gina.

"I hope that's the worst any of us ever see." I said.

Water bottles were raised in an impromptu toast. I smiled at them, feeling like I was finally among friends.

"Anybody know what Tanya has in store for us?" I asked.

Just then Patricia paused next to our table with trash in her hands.

"Should be right up your alley, ropes and chains. I'm sure a slut like you has tried them all." Patricia said.