Jason woke, tied to a chair. Behind his back, ropes dug into his wrists. Sweat trickled down the side of his face, or maybe blood, he couldn't tell. The room he was in looked like some kind of shed—a tool shed, now that his eyes had adjusted to the dim light. Sunlight filtered through the cracks of a window, most of its glass broken.
As he experimented with his bonds, testing their strength, Jason struggled to remember how he'd gotten in this predicament. His mind came up blank. The last thing he knew, he'd been at Whit's End, helping his dad carry in several boxes of cucumbers, which had been leftover from the church food pantry. Jason had helped his father load three boxes of cucumbers into the car, and take them over to Whit's End.
"You're sure you can find a use for these?" said Jason as he set the last box on the counter.
"We could always make cucumber ice cream."
"Yeah, that'll be a hit. I can just picture the kids lining up for that flavor." And Whit had laughed, Jason joining in.
That was the last thing he remembered.
Jason stopped struggling for a moment to catch his breath. His head pounded, pain throbbing against his right temple. That must've been how he'd been knocked out. And it made sense—short term memory loss was common with head injuries.
Like this has never happened before, thought Jason wryly. The time that came to mind was when he'd been knocked out by Abdul, and woken up in a room with Tasha. And Blackgaard had been there, masquerading as one of the good guys...
Back then, those events had eventually led him back to Odyssey, just like recent events in London. In other ways, it was different; after chasing Mr. Grote, capturing him, Jason hadn't had the clear purpose of coming to Odyssey to help his father run the shop while he was gone. No, this time, he was older, and the pain ran deeper… a dark thread had taken over his soul, and he didn't know if he could dig it out. Chasing Mr. Grote, he'd gone too far at times, compromised too much, been lost in the labyrinth, as his father had said.
Only God could heal him, but that would take a long time, as far as he could tell. Jason had been volunteering, helping out at the food pantry and other places, and of course Whit's End. But through it all, he still felt…lost. Disconnected. As if he couldn't quite face the others with his true self. If they knew what he'd done, they wouldn't want him anywhere near them.
Even Dad, thought Jason. I haven't told him all that happened. If he knew everything, of course he'd still love me, but would he ever see me, his son, in the same way again? In everything he's been involved in, he's never compromised his values like I have…
He shivered despite the heat. This little shed, wherever it was, was sweltering. It's probably up near Trickle Lake or Forrest Mountain, he thought. Unless I'm completely wrong, and I've been flown to another part of the country for some reason…
He wracked his mind to figure out who'd kidnapped him. There were plenty of people who'd want him harm, but most of them were in jail, and few knew he'd returned to Odyssey.
There was that mercenary I ran into in Australia who thought I was invading his turf. Virgil Strom. He was a small-time guy, really, but smart in his own way, and ruthless, so I wouldn't put it past him…and then there are people from the old days, agents who'd want to extract intel from me about the Agency. Though most of what I know is outdated now. Not that they'd know that…people always think that intel stays current, but it changes constantly…life and death hangs on a razor thin edge…
He realized his mind was drifting, and snapped himself back to consciousness. Worst thing I could do is go back to sleep, he thought. Especially if I have a concussion, which seems likely. I have to find a way out of here.
It was silent except for the buzzing of the cicadas. They sounded particularly Odyssey-like; the smell, too, was somehow 'home'. That gave him comfort and renewed hope.
After saying a quick prayer, he walked, still tied to his chair, past the wooden shelf of rusty tools to the door. He slammed his shoulder against the rotting wood, and heard a 'snap!'—part of the door fell apart.
Jason stepped out into the sunlight—and nearly stumbled down a cliff.
Pebbles cascaded down a sheer drop onto a pile of rocks at the base of the trees 500 feet below. In the distance, Trickle Lake gleamed in the sun.
This must be Old Man Zebulon's cabin, he thought. He remembered hearing about back when he was a teenager: how a landslide had taken Zebulon's shack and all he had to the bottom of the cliff. Good thing he hadn't been in it at the time, but he'd never been the same again.
This tool shed must have been all that was left of his old homestead. It looked like it was untouched all that time. Until now.
Jason turned, looking for a better way down the mountain. It wouldn't be fun walking tied to a chair, but if that was the only way…
Behind the shed, he encountered a large clearing dotted with wildflowers. He stepped into the tall grass. But on the other side of the clearing, two figures emerged from the trees, a man and a woman. The man had a gun, and aimed it at Jason.
"Get back inside," yelled the man, in a foreign accent. "Or I'll be forced to use this." He brandished the gun, a particularly large one.
Jason hesitated. He could make a run for it, but tied like he was, he wouldn't get far. And he had no defense whatsoever. The chair hadn't been nearly as destructible as the door.
So he hopped back into the shed, and sat back down. And waited to see his captors up close.