Weeks later, I walked into my office as if it was uncharted territory. And on some level, it was. What I originally thought to be the bank actually proved to be a similar building in a new location. My unarmed self wouldn’t find it weird but today, even my jacket felt wrong though I had worn it so many times before. The desk, the carpet, the chair and couches, it all seemed from another era.
Back when my body wasn’t permanently scarred.
The doctors said I was fairly lucky. My face would heal perfectly. I might keep a small bump in the nose where it broke and partially healed before I was rescued. Some bones and joints would complain about the cold for the rest of my life. When fully dressed in long sleeves, no one could ever guess I had been tortured nearly to death for weeks. Even in a t-shirt, the marks on my arms might not draw too much attention. I doubted I would one day feel confident again in a bikini.
Yet here I was, all sown up and on the way to complete remission, stepping in my office to work again. It beat spending the day in bed with a book, trying to distract myself from the endless stream of questions. My mind required occupation and not knowing what was happening in the outside world almost troubled me more than the nightmares.
James and Rebecca gave me a moment to take the office in. Another map now covered the wall next to my Ocean map.
“It lists the last location of all the known members of one of Wayne’s cells.” Becky explained. The number of pins impressed me. Our investigation took a big step forward while I was gone. “Their organization is spreading too.”
I inhaled calmly to counter the shock. Spreading. I hoped our recent strike smashed it to oblivion. Being wrong hurt too.
“It stopped the attacks.” Rebecca soothed. “The rest of the organization quickly took over after Wayne’s death though. They’re restructuring but they’ll be back.”
“And your knowledge of Wayne’s plan allowed us to evacuate his wife’s neighborhood. We found most of the bombs before they blew and controlled the media.” James added. He obviously tried to reassure me but I read in their faces how fake his speech was. Becky knew me better.
“We still have a lot to do but we took a step forward. And most of it was because of the ground work you did before you were kidnapped.” She hugged me. “But today’s main focus should be ‘Welcome back, Cass.’”
“How about Casey?” I had to ask though the thought squeezed my heart.
“We convinced searchers to share their knowledge of mind programming.” James said.
“You should have seen Aaron. There’s something awesome in watching him yell at somebody else.” We laughed. “They’re working with him. It’s looking up.”
No telepathy was required to understand it was ill-advised for me to see him at this point. I nodded to the unformulated warning. I was still fragile. If I cringed in front of unemotional paperwork, seeing my crazy would-be-boyfriend-dash-torturer better be postponed.
“Well,” Becky sighed, “you’ve been in your office.” She clapped her hands together. “It’s enough work for today.”
She grabbed my arm and towed me toward the elevator. She kept her mind carefully silent. James chuckled behind us when I complained about being roughened toward an unknown future.
“Don’t prompt dive, please,” Rebecca insisted. I cocked an eyebrow and decided to play along. I even pushed it a step further by closing my eyes. Becky allowed the navigational information to pass from her brain to mine but that was it.
I realized I needed the playfulness. I was out of bed. The organization which wanted readers off the face of the earth gave us a break. For the sake of my sanity, I could afford to forget they would come back stronger.
I realized without much effort that Rebecca was leading back towards the common room. The chatter reached us at the elevator’s door. Not a surprise party then. I didn’t expect us to walk through the lounge and kitchen. Becky steered me toward an adjacent room which used to be a bedroom.
“Just remember to breath,” she broadcasted before requesting that I opened my eyes.
I stood shock still for a moment. I was out of everyone’s sight but could detail the décor of the back wall; a huge American flag and a very official looking podium. Becky pushed the small of my back gently and I stepped inside the room. Everyone was there along with a handful of FBI agents, including Jackson. The room fell silent as Daniel hooked his arm in mine and led me to the podium where the director of the FBI joined us. I fought to keep my jaw from dropping.
“For security reasons, we can’t afford to do the official ceremony right now.” The director began. His unofficial opening made me smile. He definitely wanted to set the tone. “However, no threat should keep us from honoring the courage of the people in our ranks. Agent Cassidy Elizabeth Parker, please step forward.”
Daniel released my arm and I forced my knees to unbuckle long enough to take a step. This was unprecedented. Unbelievable.
“Despite the sorrow she endured and the threats to her security if she pursued her investigation, Agent Parker continuously played a central part in the fight of the current menace. Her resistance led her to endure incredible amount of physical and mental pain. Yet, she pushed through, never breaking and providing us with vital information to strike the enemy.” Tears swelled at the corner of my eyes. I tried to take them back but this was just too much. “It is my honor to award you the first PSI Medal for Meritorious Achievement.”
The roaring of the crowd blurred my perception of the rest of the ceremony. The medal wasn’t just about me, though I felt incredibly honored to receive it. The FBI was in over their head. They couldn’t stop the war without us. They needed us. But most importantly, they were on our side and now, finally and despite Wayne’s campaign, they treated us as equals.
And because of that, we would win.
Sequel coming in July 2011