Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

John Jones leaned heavily on the counter in the hotel bathroom, a haggard face he barely recognized staring back at him from the full width mirror. Six o’clock in the evening, and he felt like he’d already been awake for days.

The interrogation had taken nearly two hours. He couldn’t remember airport security ever being so tight, so ruthless. Pulled from the line, back scatter scanned then frisked, only to be isolated and strip searched. Then questioned, endlessly; machines feeling, watching, analyzing his every response.

Fortunately for him, John Jones was above reproach, and each question was carefully and consistently answered, no matter how many ways it was phrased in the hopes of catching him out in a lie.

His throat was so dry it hurt. Shaking, John unwrapped the cheap cellophane from a lowball and filled it from the tap, the luke warm water downed in a series of uninterrupted gulps.

Putting down the glass, he filled the sink and washed his face, then lathered his short cut hair and rinsed it under the tap, banging his head several times in the too small sink on the too short gooseneck of the faucet.

Straightening, he rubbed his head dry and placed the towel back on the rack. Reduce, reuse.

Once out of the bathroom, John found the bellman had deposited his suitcase on a folding luggage stand beside the desk, and he opened it and began removing the contents into drawers. Socks, several t-shirts and boxer shorts. Two pairs of pants and two pairs of shoes. His toiletries he put on the desk, he’d take them to the bathroom the next time he went, no need to make a special trip.

From the bottom of the case John removed a plastic tube from which he extracted a tightly rolled poster covered with a pattern of blue and red line-art. In the tube lid were pieces of sticky tack which he used to attach the poster to the mirror at the end of the bed. Then he sat and stared at it.

The line art was unintelligible at first glance, and only when he’d stared for several minutes, letting his eyes unfocus from the surface and refocus on a point somewhere deep in the wall behind the mirror that the image of the poster became clear. A decidedly low tech three dimensional image of a series of words came into view, and John focused on them, reading them slowly. It occurred to him only briefly that this exercise was strangely familiar, reflex almost, though he couldn’t remember when he did this first.

‘Anabelle, Cherry Pie’, he read slowly. Somewhere deep inside his brain a lock presented itself and the key slipped in easily. Cherry Pie, of all things, he remembered sitting at a diner in Chile after… Terrance, not John. His name was Terrance…

‘Chesapeake, Jubilee’, the next two words, and again, he could feel a barrier somewhere come down inside his mind. Chesapeake Bay was where he’d first learned to shoot, where he’d returned to train as a sniper…

‘Janine, Silo’, then ‘Jennifer, Juniper’. He read more quickly now, word pairs unlocking parts of his memory that he’d not even been aware of. But no, that wasn’t true, parts that he’d programmed out of his consciousness.

To pass the interrogation.

To gain admittance.

Terrance read the remaining word pairs then carefully re-rolled the poster and placed it back into its tube.

The clock read eighteen hundred hours twenty. He had just enough time to find his contact and secure a weapon before the ambassador’s ship left, and before they were in low earth orbit, the ambassador and his crew would be just as dead as John Jones.



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