"Who are you working for?" Jack demanded. He held the gun at Irina's collarbone. She looked him dead in the eyes, unafraid. She almost dared to smile.
"My employer's endgame won't harm you or Sydney, I promise," she replied. Her voice was calm, despite the sirens. She tilted her head seductively. "We both have what we came for. Why not keep this a pleasant chance encounter, hm?"
"Irina. This is not the time for games!"
"No. It isn't."
The sirens of the Yakutsk Nuclear Testing Site continued wailing. The workers had fled; no one remained except these two dark-clad strangers in the chief engineer's office. His hand was steady on the gun, hers on the handheld image scanner pressed against her side. Down the hall, a crescendoing whir backed a solemn, automated voice counting down in Russian: dyes-yat, dyev-yat, vo-syem, syem… Sydney screamed into Jack's comms: Dad! Marshall can't get the doors in time! You have to get out!
"We should go," Irina murmured. Jack stepped aside but kept his gun poised, cocking an eyebrow as if to say, After you, my dear. She rolled her eyes. How far would they get like this, playing hostage and captor?
…shest, pyat, chye-tirye…
Jack knelt to retrieve his own digital scanner. (Irina had knocked it from his hands when she arrived.) He kept the gun aimed and aloft while reaching with his other hand. It was a vulnerable moment, and Irina took advantage. She spun-kicked the gun from his hands. He yanked her down by the leg. She aimed a blind punch, feeling a twinge of remorse when her fist landed on his nose. They wrestled on the hard linoleum floor, grunting and sweating.
…tre, dva, adeen. Nachat.
An unearthly pulse wracked the air. A piercing white light obliterated reality itself. When it resumed, Jack and Irina lay unconscious on the floor.
She awoke to a hissing noise and a heavy, galvanized smell. She felt feverish, and rattled at some deep molecular level. She lay on a cold, hard surface, but a light warmed her face. She opened her eyes and saw that the light was the sun. She was indoors- but there was a gaping hole in the roof.
A man laid on his back the floor beside her. He was tall and broad, with wavy gray hair and strong, noble features. She studied him, feeling an inexplicable mix of tenderness and apprehension. He was unconscious, but breathing. Thin, drying trails of blood stemmed from his nose and mouth. She was about to turn him on his side, so he wouldn't choke on any continued bleeding, when he coughed awake.
Laura. That must have been her name. And she must have been someone special to this man, judging by the way he looked at her. Why did basking in that look give her a pang of guilt? Was it merely because she didn't remember his name?
"Sweetheart." She reached out for him across the rubble.
He smiled and struggled to lift his head. They helped each other up, slowly. They found a pair of handheld devices, like hi-tech phones or cameras. He stared at them, calculating, his brow furrowed. The look was familiar to her. Something told her that he was going to take both devices, hurt her and leave. She stroked his arm; his look softened. They each took one device and set off together.
He was pale and shaky on his feet. Whatever left her feeling disoriented and ill, he'd clearly suffered at least as high a dose. But then how could he remember their relationship when she couldn't? As they staggered down the hall, him leaning on her for support, he stroked her hair and spoke reassuringly:
"We'll find out way out, sweetheart. I'll… I'll remember where we are and I'll get us home. Sydney should be safe with Arvin and Emily in the meantime."
She knew that Sydney was their daughter. Context left open the possibility of a beloved pet, or even a granddaughter considering the man's age, and yet she knew Sydney was their little girl. How was this possible?
The hallway ended in a T. Signs pointed to the test chamber one way, the exit the other. He looked between them with his jaw still firm and his eyes squinting, but she felt his body slacken against hers in confusion and despair. She steered them towards the exit.
"Something's wrong. Someone's tried to wipe my memory," he said to himself. Then to her again, with a note of triumph: "It didn't work. I remember my protocols; they'll debrief me again at Langley. I'll convince them to let me recover at home. Sydney deserves some quality time with both of us, as a family. Laura, I'm so sorry you've gotten mixed up in… in…"
"Shh." She nuzzled his shoulder. "It's alright, sweetheart. I came on my own."
She did, didn't she? She remembered that, somehow: that she came here alone. First the fact that Sydney was their daughter, and now this: What else might strike her out of the frazzled oblivion of her lost memory?
And what might emerge from his? She could tell he was the type to keep secrets. If he recalled the source of her lurking guilt before she did, he might act on it without warning.
They made their way down the rubble-strewn corridor, over what was left of a wall, out into a shrubby field. The air was cold, clear and thin. As the sense of leaden oppression lifted from their minds and shoulders, the couple breathed easier and moved faster- but they also stopped several times as one of them heaved into the bushes.
The man's skin was turning red, like a rapid sunburn. Laura guessed by the itching and throbbing that hers was too. Before them were no signs of civilization. Behind them was only the wrecked concrete facility, with ominous metallic steam billowing from its most decimated corner.
It was a nuclear explosion. We have radiation sickness, Laura thought. She no longer wondered how these things came to her. She was too tired to wonder… so tired… so tired… but she knew of one doctor that could help…
She collapsed. He knelt over her and brushed her hair from her brow. His concern was touching, but she was also smug in the knowledge that he was too weak and confused to go on without her.
"Jack," she croaked. "In Finland, there's-"
He had remembered. He yanked her up by the shoulders, his dark brown eyes pierced her like daggers. His arms trembled with the effort and her head lolled back in fatigue. She saw helicopters approaching in the sparse-aired Siberian sky.
Jack snarled into his comms: "She works for whom?"
Irina laughed. "You didn't believe me?"
He didn't answer. He only reached into her pocket and swapped their digital scanners. "We took each other's-"
She grabbed his hand and kept it at her waist. She felt him freeze, then playfully caress her side.
"How the hell did you escape your sister?"
"Some other time, Jack," she replied. She wasn't just talking about the story.
As the APO helicopter landed to retrieve Jack, and MI-6 to retrieve their greatest new asset against Elena Derevko's European maneuvers, Irina pulled herself up, put her head on Jack's shoulder and whispered:
"If you want to live, check the Finnish passport archives for Dr. Lidell."