Chapter 30: Preparations

The three hour ride northwest to the reservation and Cam's cottage was accomplished in near-complete silence. Cam was busy with her own thoughts, sitting silent and sober in the front passenger seat, watching the snow-covered scenery go by.

Do I really want to do this? A tiny voice in the back of her mind said the answer was no. However, even louder and more persistent, the voice in the front of her mind whispered, if this gets Shana back, then yes.

The germ of the idea had come back in the Congo when she'd told Flint that the only way to get in was to know someone who was already 'in'. And although she didn't know for certain if her trafficker was still alive, the chances were very good that he was, and that he had the knowledge required to get her into the international slave markets, particularly in Amsterdam.

While she'd never known about the existence of the journals and ledgers that her aunt and Uncle had kept, she'd known enough about the customers who came to see her to know they had money, that they could pay handsomely for the privilege of forcing her to do things that she didn't want to do, and in her discussions with the other slaves, she'd learned a lot about the ins and outs of the human trafficking trade. One of the 'customers'—she'd known him as David Biehl—had brought his slave with him, a girl whose name Cam had never known because she'd become a slave so young, so long ago, that she didn't even remember if she'd ever had a name other than Babydoll. Babydoll had been sold through the Amsterdam slave market twice, through two different owners; once at the age of twelve and again at seventeen. Cam, then sixteen herself, had been appalled at the things Babydoll had told her, but she'd remembered all of it, every last disgusting detail, though there had been times when she hadn't wanted to remember. Biehl had rented the 'exclusive mountain cabin retreat' for a week, taking full advantage of the 'amenities' available for the 'discerning traveler'. Babydoll hadn't known where she was from, or where she lived; she too was a prisoner, kept captive and unaware of her surroundings, drugged before they left David Biehl's residence and only awakened when she was in Cam's basement. Cam and Babydoll had been forced to do unspeakable things to each other, Master David watching and enjoying the whole thing, but he left the two slaves in the basement in locked dog cages when he got tired of playing with them and wanted to sleep before hurting them again, and in the intervening time, while he rested, they had talked. It never ceased to amaze Cam how owners really seemed to lose track of their slaves' humanity; to their minds, the slaves really were things, toys, dolls to be used and put back when they were done until you wanted them again. They never once grasped the fact that slaves were human, they looked, they listened, and they remembered.

Cam remembered.

And as much as she loathed the memory, the knowledge of how she'd gotten it, she was grateful that she could use the knowledge to help her friend. Shana was the first female 'best friend' Cam had ever had; from the moment that Shana had stepped on the mat with her in the Girls Only workout room, not scoffing at the untrained swordwork she practiced clumsily, but tried to learn how Cam moved so she could teach Cam how to swing a sword in harmony with how her body was already trained to move, Cam had felt a bond with her closer than the bond she felt with Allie, with Shana, with Alex and Liv. There was just something different there.

A lot of it had to do with the similarities between them. While outwardly there was little common ground, once you looked beneath the surface it was evident. Shana had grown up with a lot of expectations placed on her; her mother expected her to be the Perfect Southern Lady; Shana's father expected her to live up to her talent and potential at martial arts. While Shana enjoyed being a tomboy, her brothers had come to expect her to be the spoiled, adored tomboyish baby sister, and when she had developed a juvenile crush on one of her brothers' friends and wore a dress to a science fair that friend was supposed to be participating in, her brothers had reacted with merciless teasing and pointed jabs at her about 'switching to the other side'—meaning Shana's snobby, refined older sister Siobhan and their elegant, equally snobbish mother; and Shana, crushed at this reaction to her attempts to 'be herself' in front of her brothers, had never worn another dress in front of them again.

Cam had been driven to 'meet expectations' from an early age. As soon as she was old enough to understand that she wasn't like other children because she had a father and no mother, she had also learned, from the teasing aimed her way by the other children at base, that her mother had abandoned her because she was a mixed-race bastard. Young Cammie had swallowed the hurt and the pain that knowledge caused and pushed herself to be everything her father seemed to expect of her. While she was a natural at hunting, tracking and survival, was proud of her abilities and skills and talents, there had been many, many times during her childhood at Osan that she wished she was a little more like the other children at base and a little less a misfit; however, to her reasoning, it was more important for her to please her father than it was to please herself and fit in with everyone else, because if she didn't please him, he would abandon her too and she didn't know how she would survive if she were alone.

The one thing that no one could take from her was her grace and her ability to dance. This was the one area in which she surprised everyone, the one area in which no one expected anything from her except what she herself wanted. She excelled at this, as she did in everything else, but it was less a matter of doing so because she was expected to than it was that she wanted to. And it was in this one area in which she felt her father's pride and complete approval; she danced in all the base's talent shows and always won, she surprised her teachers and won approval from them as well, and it was the one aspect of her life that was completely uncomplicated.

And then her father had died.

Cam had been in a state of numb shock; her father, her life at base, the routine of getting up, going to the base school, dancing, homework, and bed was familiar, and she knew what to expect. Being told she could no longer live at Osan had brought a wave of fear; wherever she was sent, would she then have to conform to yet another series of expectations? The fear was confirmed when she met her Aunt and Uncle for the first time, and learned the whole new routine, the expectations placed on a ten year old in a huge metropolitan city like New York. Her habits, her mannerisms, everything about her didn't fit with the expectations that everyone had of a child, because she was so different from every child they'd ever known. While her teachers approved of her efforts in her studies and she came home with report cards that said 'exceeds expectations', she had never been able to get close to them, had never formed enough of an attachment to anyone that she felt she could confide in when her aunt started to slowly withdraw her from life at the dance school, from auditions, rehearsals, everything that mattered to Cam and was a source of pride for her. So it was impossible for her to come out of her withdrawal enough to talk to the tall, thin, ascetic but somehow kind male cop who took her away from her aunt and uncle after she came to school with bruises on her legs; impossible for her to tell him that she had failed in meeting her Aunt's expectations and been beaten. Since her father had never touched her before, she felt she had done something horribly, horribly wrong to deserve being beaten with a wooden yardstick, and she was embarrassed to admit that she didn't know why she'd been beaten, didn't know what she'd done to deserve the bruises. To her, it was a failure; she'd failed to meet their expectations. And also under it all was the fact that she knew them, was familiar with them when everything else in New York was strange; and to her then-twelve year old mind, it was better to keep her mouth shut so they would send her back with her Aunt and Uncle than to risk being sent to yet another different place, to figure out yet another different set of rules and expectations.

Three years later she regretted that decision with every fiber of her being when she found herself a prisoner in a cold concrete basement. She'd fought, horrified and revolted by what she was being asked to do, and that man, who she'd found later was the one who owned the cabin she was in, beat her until she was dazed and in so much pain she couldn't move—and then he'd forced her to perform for him anyway, forced her to do that and more, and she very quickly figured out that she had to do what they expected her to do or they would hurt her. And even worse, they enjoyed hurting her. Sick and in pain, she had endured the three years in the basement, robotically, docilely doing what they wanted her to do, , until the inevitable happened; she'd gotten pregnant. Their solution to that was to starve her for two months; starve her, beat her, allow clients to do unspeakable things to her, until she miscarried.

Her aunt and uncle had then given her a 'home sterilization' that took away forever her ability to have children, though she didn't know it until much later. She'd been tied down to the bed, screaming in mindless agony, sense, sanity, reason gone after the horrific, brutal forced miscarriage as a man her Aunt had brought to the cabin plunged a scalpel into her belly, but because she hadn't been consciously aware of what was happening at the time, lost in a fugue state when her mind shut down, she wasn't forced to take any clients for a full month until her body was fully healed and she'd regained conscious thought. When Doc had examined her and told her she couldn't have children, she'd thought that it was because the clients who raped her had done too much internal damage. It wasn't until she'd gotten up to the cabin with Charlie and opened the trunk that evening in the kitchen that she read in her aunt's journal what had actually happened; the man who had cut her stomach open had extracted her ovaries, taking with them her ability to have children, forever. She'd fled to her room, crying, when she found that out—Charlie had found her, tried to comfort her, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to tell him then, and it was a moot point anyway; he already knew she couldn't have children, and it didn't bother him at all, and she decided that telling him would probably hurt his faithful heart even more than keeping the truth a secret. So she hadn't told him.

And it was for that same reason that she wouldn't tell him, now, how hard this decision had been for her to make. She still cringed, and she wanted, with everything in her, for Shana to come home before she had to take that last desperate step; but she already knew that it wouldn't happen. Shana was too valuable, would be too heavily guarded; she wouldn't be able to escape on her own, and short of them finding out where she was and going in with guns blazing, she would not be able to escape. Cam would, therefore, just have to go and find her.

Charlie, too, was busy with his own thoughts. What if this is the last time we drive up here? What if she doesn't come back? If she dies. What will I do then? I've only known her a short time, only been married to her a short time, but I can't imagine a life without her. I can't imagine what I would do without her. And her tribe—what will Jennifer say? And Chief Andy?

Mom and Dad would be heartbroken if they found out Cam died. Mom loves her so much, even in the short time they spent together. Dad loved her too, and he hasn't liked all the girls I dated. Not even close. He didn't even like Allie and Shana.

A hint of amusement at the memory; his parents had been in New York for a weekend, came up to see him for his birthday since he hadn't been able to make it down to New Mexico. He'd met them at a New York restaurant called Knickerbocker's; he'd driven in a mixed carpool with Clayton, Shana, Snake Eyes, Allie and Flint, and left them at their table as he went to see his parents at theirs. Allie and Shana had come over to the table at the conclusion of their meal, introduced themselves to Charlie's parents, then quietly told him that Clayton would give him an evening pass and Court and Wayne would be picking them up in one of the base's other Hummers so he could have the vehicle. Shana had had what would, to anyone else, have looked like a lot to drink; he counted at least four beers, and since Charlie's father didn't know about Shana's high tolerance for alcohol, he'd been openly disapproving of how much 'a young lady' should drink.

But Dad loved Cam. He'll be heartbroken.

And her surrogate family. I know she's been trading emails with the Hammonds; and I know she cried when that huge box of homemade Christmas cookies came for her last Friday from her 'Mama Annie'. She just got them back, she just reconnected with them again, and now here she's probably wondering if she should tell them she might not see them again. They're a military family, I know they expect that when someone goes out on a mission there's always a chance they won't come back, but it's still going to be a blow.

It was late morning when they parked outside Cam's cottage; she told him to wait, that she'd be out in a short time with the trunk and they could start back, but he turned off the engine. "We'll stay the night." One last night in case you don't come back, his eyes said, and her eyes filled with tears as she led the way into their cottage, took him straight back into their bedroom, the one Jennifer and the tribe had built for them, and they made love on the bed, a bittersweet urgency making them both rush and linger, their bodies feeling the tension and urgency but their minds holding back, wanting to make this last as long as possible just in case this was the last time. He understood she felt strongly about this, that she was prepared to do it, but he also knew that she was terrified.

When they were done she slid off the bed and got dressed, and they both went and had a long talk with Jennifer Aiennatha and Chief Andy. The cabin was Cam's, but if she didn't come back, it would revert to the tribe unless she had another female relative to hold it. Cam told them quietly, what had happened, and told them what she planned to do to get Shana back; then, even quieter, told Jennifer and Chief Andy that if something were to happen to her, the cottage would be Charlie's and Charlie's parents were welcome to come and stay; Charlie's mother would inherit Cam's property and hold it unless or until Charlie had female offspring, at which point it would revert to that child. Charlie tried to protest, to tell her that he would never take another wife, but Cam just smiled sadly at him and told him that no matter what happened to her, she wanted him to be happy and if he found another woman who made him happy, she'd be upset with him for not marrying the girl. And she wanted any daughter he might have to have her cabin.

It was an emotional interview, and Jennifer and Chief Andy both urged her to reconsider her decision to go undercover to find Shana. Cam stuck to her decision, and Charlie sensed they were a little angry at her for her stubbornness when they finally left Jennifer's. When they got back to her cottage Charlie lit a fire in the hearth and he and Cam played every love song for each other they knew on their flutes before going to bed.

Neither one could get much sleep that night; Cam woke up screaming from nightmares about an hour after she fell asleep, and Charlie hugged her, rocked her, soothed her, as she buried her face in his chest and cried stormily for a long, long time, stress and uncertainty and terror all rolled into the huge sobs that wracked her body. She felt so small, so fragile, in Charlie's arms as he lay in the bed and held her, throughout the long hours of the night, until nearly four in the morning. They both finally fell asleep, waking up just as sunlight crept over the windowsill, and they both got up and dressed, silently; Cam's hand trailed lovingly over the spice rack Charlie had made for her, the two traditional Navajo wedding baskets in the corner that Charlie had made for their wedding; then she went to the kitchen pantry, dragged out the trunk, and Charlie helped her load it into the back of the jeep.

To his surprise, when they started out that cold, crisp clear winter morning, she didn't have him go straight out to the interstate that would take them back to base; instead, she directed him to the place where the cabin had been. Once there, he helped her silently move stones until the door to the cellar was revealed, then she headed for the second closet in the back of the basement.

After eight years he expected the leather collar and cuffs to have rotted, frayed, mildewed; to his surprise, they were still sound. Her face was impassive as she sorted through the things, finding the leash, chains, collar, and other things he didn't know and seriously didn't want to even think about that she was apparently looking for; then she shoved the entire kit into a grocery bag and left. Charlie helped her roll stones back over the trapdoor, then they headed, at last, back to base.