Chapter 6

"And that's how the cyanide implant was developed," Elsa concluded.  "Irina Derevko had developed the perfect infiltration strategy.  It just had one catch – it risked ruining any agent that attempted it.  You asked if Irina had ever spoken to us during our training.   Even after the reprogramming was complete, she refused to discuss the assignment or her family again."

"I saw a debriefing tape…," said Jack, still reeling.

"I saw two.  One immediately upon her return, and one towards the end of her stay in Kashmir.  They were markedly different.  They showed us both to prove that, even if we succumbed to the assignment, they could help us 'recover'," Elsa said cynically.  "Ten months in Kashmir.  The facility was notorious then.  It took them 10 months to accomplish what normally would have been achieved in three.  She must have been pretty tough."

Knees suddenly weak, Jack slumped down into a chair, head in his hands, oblivious to Elsa.  She must have been pretty tough.  He could taste the bile rising in his throat as he imagined what those 10 months must have been like.  He was filled with a momentary surge of rage.  Against her captors.  Against Irina.  Why didn't she tell me?, he wanted to shout.  Six months in that damn glass cell and she couldn't have mentioned it once?  You didn't ask, said a small voice.  And the one time she did, you thought she was lying.

You know what this place was when I was here, Jack? A prison. Where the KGB interrogated suspected traitors and no, I wasn't an officer here. I was a prisoner. Why do you think I learned the sewage tunnels or memorized the mine locations? So I could escape, you idiot.

But she hadn't escaped, thought Jack.  And no one had come to help her.  He wondered if she had waited there, in the Kashmir prison, hoping he would figure it out.  Hoping he would come for her.  Not knowing that he thought she was dead, and had betrayed him.  How long before the hope had died?  He shuddered as he realized he knew the answer.  Ten months.

If he had known then what he knew now -  his jaw tightened - he would have found her.  "Why couldn't she have told me all those years ago?" he asked helplessly.

Elsa was silent for a moment, putting herself in Irina's place. It was not hard to do.  "Irina was smart, and confident.  I'm sure she thought she could extend her assignment indefinitely, that she was too valuable in place to be recalled.  She must have thought," and Elsa paused, trying to swallow the lump in her throat, "she must have thought you would hate her if you knew what she'd done.  She… would not have been able to bear that," Elsa finished, in a whisper.

Jack looked over at Elsa, and realized that she was no longer speaking just about Irina.  He sighed.  Neil Caplan was a lucky man.  Drained, and weary to the bone, Jack stood up and straightened his tie.  "Mrs. Caplan, I have no more questions," he began formally. "You have my thanks." Then, unbending slightly, "I hope you and your family have an easy adjustment to your new home."  He turned to head out the door.

"Director Bristow," said Elsa.  Jack stopped and turned back towards her.  "She didn't understand… what would be asked of her.  She loved you, protected you to the best of her ability, bore you a child, all the while knowing that it might come to an end.  Collecting as much intelligence as possible to prolong her stay.  Praying for a miracle that would let you both keep everything you had."

"We lost it all."

"No.   Not all of it."

****fin****

A/N: This universe is continued in "Catch-47"