Mike leaned against the wall and wiped his eye. "You made me cry on that one, Mimi," he chuckled.
"I'm serious! I had no idea what he was saying. There weren't any interpreters around. How was I to know he was trying to pick me up? I guess he was going to show me the town from back of his bicycle. How romantic," Misha said.
Mike was glad to see her showing signs of normalcy; signs of the quirky, funny girl that he had watched grow up into a mature woman that he was so proud of. He thought of how full of life she had been, and how much he admired her for doing what she wanted to do, no matter what others said. Her circumstances had caused her to become quiet, fragile, and confused, but he had hopes that it was only temporary.
Misha pushed herself off the wall, signaling for him to stop talking. They both paused to listen. Again, the faint sound of a train whistle carried through the cold air.
"Did you hear that?" Mike asked.
"Yeah." Misha made her way towards her predetermined position. She stood at the corner of a building, ready to crouch down behind a nearby shrub growing up through the cracking concrete. Minutes later, she eased into her position as the blare of the whistle grew closer. She dreaded seeing the train, or more specifically, the train's contents. Images rolled through her mind's eye: faces she had witnessed, bloodied and blackened by mortars, photographs she had seen of war victims, film reels she had watched of P.O.W's. No, not now, can't think about that now.
The train came into view. As it passed, flashes of neon colored graffiti sped by her in a blur. I'm too close, she thought, looking for a better vantage point. She knew she would only have seconds to gain the information they needed. She spotted a low barrier wall with a two foot section missing. She shuffled backwards to the spot, trying not to take her eyes off the train. Just as she settled in, she spotted the grates of a livestock car. The small openings were black; she didn't even see light from the other side. There was nothing that indicated the cars held human cargo, but something was off about them.
The train eventually rambled out of site, and she waited until the wail of the horn faded before she made her way to Mike.
"Did you see anything?" she asked hopefully as she spotted him.
Mike shook his head. "No. Nothing…"
Misha's shoulders sagged. "The train was going too fast. I couldn't see a damn thing," she said looking up the tracks. "Let's go. Maybe the others saw something."
Misha gazed out the window. Harsh mid-day light had lapsed into a softer evening sun. Although she had spent many of her adult years in the arid, sand filled landscapes of the Middle East, the desert still, in some deep rooted way, frightened her. It was so vast, so empty, and so lonely. The open desert was fascinating, like a too beautiful man – while her eyes couldn't get enough, her brain warned her to steer clear. She was more comfortable entombed under the canopy of oaks and pines with the black waters of the bayou or the soft loam of the mountains under foot. She had often thought about going back east to find a resistance group, but didn't want that to think of that setting as a war zone. She also couldn't leave Mike and Sean. Now, she had formed even more connections that she wouldn't want to break.
"What's going on in that blonde head of yours?" Mike asked, interrupting her train of thought.
"By 'blonde' do you mean empty?" Misha asked with fake sincerity.
"Nah, I can tell by the look on your face that your head is anything but empty."
Misha sighed. "You're right. Everything is swirling around like a tornado. I'm just going through the scenarios of what we need to do if the others found something we didn't. Then, we have the weapons drop off next week."
"You don't have to go if you think it's too much."
"No, no it's not that. Just a lot to think about. I'm just trying to work it all out while we have a moment's peace."
Mike adjusted himself in his seat. "I know what you mean. I've always heard safety in numbers, but sometimes the crowd seems stifling."
"Chris mentioned the other day that he didn't think we could go on living communally. I think he's right. If the Visitors found us, they could wipe out our entire unit. The logistics of moving the group as a whole are becoming more and more daunting."
"Maybe, but it's easier to trust the new people that come in when we can observe them."
"Yeah, but there is more of a chance for someone to give up our location."
Mike was quiet for awhile before answering. "Like you said, it's a lot to think about.""So," he said with a faint smile, "sounds to me like you've been having some pretty serious conversations. Tell me how you charmed your way into Ham's inner circle."
"By 'inner circle' you mean …Chris. Not much of a circle there."
"Other than him being round," Mike smirked.
"Yeah, well… I don't know about being in their 'inner circle' as you call it. I don't know any more about them than I did the day we all met. Both of them are pretty hard core."
"You got that right."
"I know you and Tyler had some conflicts. I mean, I remember all the shit that hit the fan after that little expose you did, but – no offense – I was fighting wars of my own at the time."
Mike smiled and nodded. "No offense taken, sweetheart."
"So, what do you know about him?" Misha asked.
"Probably not much more than you know. I looked up his background just after our first encounter. I thought that I might want to figure out who he was since I was afraid he'd put a bullet in my back. Best I can remember he was in the military, some special operations unit, then in the CIA. I'm not sure at what point he went out on his own as a mercenary."
"I wonder what made him do that."
"Well, I don't know, but I'm sure money could have been a big factor."
Misha shook her head. "He just doesn't seem like the type. If he was into the love of money he surely wouldn't be on our side at this point."
"You can't ask him?"
Misha glared at him over her sunglasses.
Mike shrugged. "Why don't you ask Chris?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, suuuure. Then I'll go ask Alfred to give me a map to the Bat Cave. Anyway, why are we even discussing this? There are a lot more pressing things to worry about, you know?"
"You can see it in this picture: they have placed some sort of cover over the inside of the cars to disguise the people inside. Here, they're unloading them for transport to the Mother Ship."
Misha only glanced at the slide before lowering her eyes to the toe of her boot. She uncrossed her legs and squirmed in her chair. She felt nauseous.
"The intel was correct, people," Ham continued. "Now, we need to decide what to do about it."
"We have to do something," a voice said from the middle of the room. The others turned their attention to Hanna, an attractive, middle aged woman who had only recently lost her entire family. "That could be us on the next train" The room buzzed with mumbled agreements.
Misha's eyes snapped shut, suddenly and uncontrollably imagining herself on the train, feeling the cold, the rumbling under her feet, and the hopeless feeling of being herded towards certain death. She silently willed her head to stop spinning. When she opened her eyes again, she felt Ham's stare. She bit the inside of her lip and looked down again, his attention adding to her unease.
"You're right, Hanna. But we have to go about this carefully. We need to shut the operation down for good and ensure no one gets hurt. No one human, that is," Mike said.
"Exactly," Julie interjected. "Planning will take time. I know the consequences of that, but as Mike said, we can't afford to rush into this."
As the resistance fighters filed out of the conference room and out the main door, one of the girls nudged Misha.
"Hey, we're all going out on the beach if you want to join us," she said.
"Uh…well… I'd like to. Maybe I'll catch up later."
"Yeah, come on. We need to blow off some steam after that report."
Misha nodded. "Sure. I have some stuff to do first."
Only making it a few paces away from the building Misha felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Why don't you go with them, Mish?" Mike asked quietly.
She stopped and faced him, struggling for the right excuse.
"We have things to do, Gooder." Tyler stepped around Mike and touched Misha's arm as he passed her. "Let's go pull out those maps again and target some more locations."
Misha hurried after Tyler without looking back at Mike, but she heard him mumble irritably under his breath. "I'll be there later," he finally called after them.
They reached the room with large square tables and rolled maps leaning against the walls and stacked in the corners. Ham opened the door and waved a hand, ushering Misha through the door.
"Not getting you into too much trouble, am I?"
Surprised, she turned to look at him as she shed her coat. "What trouble?"
He smirked. "With Gooder. I'm sure he didn't appreciate you following me."
Misha didn't quite know how to answer, so she just waved her hand in dismissal.
Ham continued, "You looked so miserable that I thought I would save you." He studied her for a moment before going on. "Don't like hen parties, huh?"
Misha glared at him. What a dick-headed thing to say… "No. But if you're going to ask me twenty questions, maybe the beach is not such a bad idea."
Ham leaned towards her as he walked by. "Would you calm down?" He scanned the room. "We need more detailed maps. Don't just stand there; look through those maps so that you can tell Gooder that you really did something tonight."
"Ugh. You piss me off," she said.
"Good." Ham couldn't quite suppress an evil grin.
They worked in silence for awhile. Ham could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. Finally, just as he predicted, she couldn't keep her silence any longer.
"I just don't like to discuss clothes and shoes and boyfriends, OK?"
Ham stopped and threw his hands up in phony desperation. "Well, what else are we to discuss?" he asked.
"Oh, shut the hell up! You know what I mean."
He laughed. "Watch it..."
"Oooohhh…Yes ma'am!" Misha said, saluting.
Ham slung the clip board in his hand to the floor and went after her. Laughing, she ran behind a table, blocking him from grabbing her.
"Not funny. Now, say you're sorry or I will make you sorry."
"You talk funny," she gasped, still laughing. "Where are you from, anyway?"
Misha screamed and bolted from behind the table as he lunged for her. She was not quite quick enough; Ham managed to grab the back of her shirt, and he dragged her towards him.
"OK OK OK! I'm sorry!"
"Too late for that. You should have apologized when I asked the first time." He wrapped his arms around her and kneed her in the behind.
"I said it! Now let… me… go…." Misha gasped bursts of laughter and struggled against his arms wrapped tightly around her.
"I don't think so."
They both froze as the door banged open. Mike stood in the door way, hands on his hips, glaring angrily.
Tyler reluctantly let her go, but Mike's stare didn't soften.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud. We were just messing around." Misha demanded.
"Oh, were you?" Mike asked with his eyebrows raised. He pointed towards the door.
Ham gave a low chuckle. "Maybe not the best choice of words, there kiddo."
Misha grabbed her coat and stomped past Mike. When she heard the door slam she turned to face him.
"Not one word, Mike! I'm not even going to talk to you about this."
"You listen to me Delamisha. You do not know him. You do not know what you are getting yourself into. Do you think he's like everyone else? He's not. Trust me, I know. Do you think this is all an innocent little flirtation? You just don't think about consequences, do you? Not your problem until something goes wrong."
Stunned, tears welled in her eyes. "How dare you say that to me after what I've been through?"
Mike shook his head. "No, do not start that with me."
"I guess you think that everything that has happened to me is my fault? I asked for it because I'm too reckless?"
"Stop it," he spat.
"Gooder…" Mike and Misha both jumped at the sound of Tyler's voice. Neither of them had heard him come up from behind.
"I wasn't trying to hurt her. Don't let it torque your frame." He continued walking past them and gestured with his palms up. "You're always so damn serious; can't take a joke. And you say I'm the asshole…"
Mike and Misha watched his back as he walked away from them. When they finally regarded each other again, silent tears of humiliation were streaming down Misha's face. She pushed past Mike and marched towards her dorm room.
Misha heard her door squeak open.
Note to self: Lock the freaking door if I'm undressed. Lock it and put a chair under the knob.
She sat up and quickly wiped tears from her cheeks, praying Tyler wouldn't flip the light switch.
"Sorry I got you in trouble with Mommy Dearest."
Misha stifled a laugh. "It's not your fault. He thinks I'm still twelve."
A pause. "No, you are definitely not twelve."
The door pushed open wider, and she saw his shadow slip through. A second later she felt his weight on the edge of the bed. She reclined back on her pillow, lying slightly curled on her side.
"Delmisha? Is that what he called you?"
"Del-a-misha. Delamisha Renee." She heard a quiet chuckle. "Oh, really? You're gonna laugh at my name? And what, might I ask, is your real name?"
"I wasn't laughing at your name. And it's Hamilton."
Both were quiet for a moment.
"I like it. It fits you," she commented.
"You think so?"
"Mmmm." Misha laid her hand against his arm. He reached over and took it in his own and rubbed her fingers between his. "My first week of basic training, my drill sergeant asked me why my momma didn't just name me 'Cajun Gator Coonass'. So, I was 'Cadet Coonass' from then on."
Ham actually laughed. "That fits you."
She giggled. "I don't have to tell you that my inability to control my laughing earned me a record amount of ass chewings."
Ham snorted his agreement.
"Uh, oh. I've over shared again."
"Nah. Not many people make me laugh these days. So, you are Cajun?"
"Oh, well, way back on my father's side. But they kept the accent and the liberal use of French when they're mad or happy…or drinking…or…uh…naming babies."
"Your name is quite lovely."
Misha smiled in the dark. "You know, you can be almost decent when you want to be."
He sighed. "I'm glad I have you fooled." He turned her hand over and gently bit the inside of her wrist.
Misha squirmed at the unexpected flick of his tongue the second before his teeth nipped her skin. She felt his lips press a kiss to her palm before he laid her hand aside. His weight lifted from the bed. Oh, please don't leave…
Without another word, he crept out. The door shut, leaving her in darkness again.
She touched her wrist with the backs of her fingers. There was definitely a warm dampness. She hadn't imagined it – the small gesture that was so incredibly subtle and seductive at the same time.
Misha awoke. She could make out the contents of the room, now visible in the dim predawn light. She touched her wrist again, hoping to feel dampness. She listened to the quiet opening and closing of doors and hushed voices in the hall. The others were starting another day. She swiped her fingers over her forehead as if to physically clear her mind, but it didn't work. Misha sighed as a song began to play in her head.
I'd like to kiss you, I'd love you hold you
I ain't got no time for that now