Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

She studied his naked body as he slept, unconsciousnessly comparing the network of scars to a mental map burned into her subconscious. Every knife wound, bullet hole, piece of shrapnel, every evidence of every torture session, a testament to his fidelity.

There was no doubt of who he was, even with the marks of atrocities undocumented in her memory, she knew, without a doubt, this was the man.

Her entire life had been spent pursuing him, at least so much of her life she no longer had any memory of anything else.

Studying his philosophy, almost adopting it as her own.

Understanding his motivations, his beliefs with an intensity bordering on fanaticism, until she worried she would lose her sense of where she ended and he began.

She knew him, understood him, almost sympathized with him in a way she never believed was possible when this mission began.

And yet here she was.

So many insignificant lives lost, so much incidental collateral damage.

The killings, the bombs, the engineered catastrophes, in his name. For this. To get close to him, to get this close, to be sure.

As she studied the rise and fall of his chest, listened to the measured cadence of his breath, the sweat of each other’s exertions still fresh on his skin, she nearly forgot that he wasn’t a man. He was something else, something fabricated, an automaton manufactured by the other side for the sole purpose of sowing chaos and discord, a machine of subversive terror and destruction.

And she’d finally gotten to him.

She wondered if he even knew what he was, as he gave no indication that he did so. He spoke of his youth, the abuses by her people that had led him to become what he’d become. Were those implanted, those memories? Did he have any memories of his own, any memory of anything else?

She pushed her thumb inside her mouth into the top molars on the right side. Those were the instructions. They wouldn’t be tracking her until it was time, couldn’t be in case such a signal was detected. Instead, she’d left updates, cryptic messages on napkins and such in restrooms along the way to mark progress, but now she would be broadcasting her location and they would come for him, for them both.

“Thirty minutes,” they had said in the briefings, “we’ll have choppers on standby. Thirty minutes from your signal to insertion and evac.”

As she waited, she lay her head on his chest, felt the steady beating of his heart, listened to the rhythm of his breathing.

It wouldn’t be long now.

Absently she traced the line of scar tissue from a mortar strike where it followed his collar bone.

For a moment she felt something she hadn’t felt before, heat slowly rising in her chest. Was this guilt? Regret? Did she love him?

From the street one would have observed the light and heat of a small sun as the incursion unit nova’d, erasing itself and all evidence of the terrorist unit, then settling to the slow, steady task of reducing the building to ash while it waited for the fire department to arrive.