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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Everything Is Wanting


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Date: April, 1941

Location: Near the Burmese / Chinese Border

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The jeep rolled to a stop at the checkpoint, the red mud-slicked sides testament to the quality of the roads along which it had traveled. In the back were bundles and sacks under the waterproof tarpaulin covering, and in the front was an unshaven man wearing a beaten and battered bush hat. From behind the dirty windshield, the man watched the uniformed soldiers manning the checkpoint as they not-quite-pointed their guns at the jeep. An officer marched to the driver's side, impassive Oriental features locked in what the young man probably thought was a stern poker face, the driver mused. He'd have to work better at it - the combination of wariness and officious hostility was all too evident to one who knew how to see them.

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"Who are you?" the officer demanded in decent English, at least. The man in the jeep smiled up at him, tipping back the bush hat.

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"I work for Pok Ma Ting." he said easily, a touch of some European accent in his voice. The officer shifted his footing at the name, but that was to be expected considering that Pok Ma Ting was chief of the local bandits and nominally an ally of the Japanese. He also had a nasty habit of mounting the heads of men who displeased him on wooden stakes... with their genitals in their mouths. The officer narrowed his eyes.

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"You work for him?" he demanded, trying to sound incredulous. Though the man in the jeep was scruffy enough, he seemed a cut above Pok's run of the mill scum - deserters, bandits, murderers, opium fiends and rapists.

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"Hard to believe, ja? I am a geologist, Herr. I look for gold... for Pok Ma Ting."

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"You are German?"

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"Ja. My name is Herman Klumperbum." the man lied. "I am a graduate of the university of Dusseldorf, and I-" he was cut off by the officer waving a peremptory hand.

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"If you work for Mister Ting, you have papers!" The officer held out a hand, but the driver shook his head.

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"So sorry, mein freund, but Mister Ting... he does not want people to know that I work for him, you see. In fact..." And the man leaned closer in a conspiratorial way, his manner prompting the Japanese officer to likewise lean forward. "He would be very unhappy if he knew that you knew. So it is best to forget I told you this, Herr. We are allies, Japan and Deutschland. I would hate for some mongrel Burmese to bring harm to an ally." The officer looked nervous. Tokyo was a long way away, out here in the jungle.

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"You shall pass. But please, ask Mister Ting to provide papers for you. Other officers man this checkpoint..."

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"And they may not be as wise. I understand." The German nodded. The Japanese officer nodded in turn and stepped back, waving a hand to his men to raise the checkpoint barrier.

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"Danke." the German said with a smile as he started off again, passing the checkpoint into the small border town of Wan-Ting.

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It was a trade post grown large over the years, situated on the Burma Road and swollen with the constant traffic back and forth. In recent years, though, the traffic was lessened, the constant trade along the route drying up since the Japanese occupation of China. The legitimate trade, anyway. The trade in opium, slaves and weapons was brisker than ever, and Pok Ma Ting owned most of it. And he would probably decorated a stake with the driver's own head and genitals, the driver reflected as he turned a corner onto the main market street of Wan-Ting and looked for a likely place to park. The fact that he knew Pok would probably only make the process slower and more drawn-out.

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How did I get into this? James LaHaye, Capt, DCM, DFC, AFC, thought to himself as he pulled the jeep in behind a ramshackle looking hotel, now turned into a bar and probably a knocking-shop as well. He grabbed his kitbag from amidst the clutter in the back of the jeep and headed inside. Oh yes, I remember. He looked around the dank, smoke-stinking, gloomy interior of the bar and

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Family. That's how.

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* * * * * *

The girl was really skilled, her brown skin gleaming in the lamplight as she smiled and swayed above him, and LaHaye was just laying back (but hardly thinking of England) and admiring the way her gyrations caused all sorts of pleasant sensations when the door shuddered under a heavy knock.

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"Go away!" he called.

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"Captain LaHaye? My name is Major Justin Tunbridge." an educated voice called through the door over the delicate moans of the girl.

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"My apologies. Go away, sir!" LaHaye called back. Typical, a man was on his vinegar strokes and that was when someone had to try and- The door was kicked in by a booted foot. The girl screamed, but LaHaye's arm kept her from rolling off him. Instead, he rolled with her and came up onto his feet, pistol in hand and leveled at the doorway. The sergeant who had kicked in the door goggled at the sight of the female flesh and then double-goggled at the sight of a .45 automatic pointing at his face.

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"Captain!" A slim figure, immaculately dressed and turned-out and wearing an officer's cap. "Lower your weapon." He paused. "Both of them, if you please."

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"The last time someone kicked the door in on me, you must appreciate that they did not mean me well." LaHaye said calmly as he dropped the pistol onto the bed, shielding the girl's body with his own as he snatched up a sheet to wrap her in. "Ka mya, Thiri." he told her gently as he made sure she was decent. "Shin ne-kaùn-yéh-là?"

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"Ne-kaùn-ba-deh." she replied, smiling shyly at him before throwing a distrustful look to the soldiers and grabbing her clothes. "Kan kaung ba zay." she murmured to him before giving him a last smile and slipping from the room. The major and sergeant stepped aside politely for her, then turned back to LaHaye as he pulled his clothes on.

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"You speak the language like a native." Tunbridge noted with a trace of admiration as he crossed to the window. Outside, the courtyard of the rundown colonial house that was now a whorehouse was overrun with half-naked children and their mothers. "Any of those yours?" he asked as he looked back over his shoulder at LaHaye.

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"Who knows?" the Dynamic shrugged into his shirt and buttoned it with deft motions. He moved with eerily precise, flowing grace, the entire act of dressing taking maybe thirty seconds. "The women here know of a certain root. Supposedly, they only have children if they want to... Or if the tea they make isn't strong enough." He came over to the window and joined the major in looking at the spectacle beyond. "Maybe that one." he pointed to a paler-skinned child. "But then, he could be anyone's. Mostly, though, they are their mothers children, not the various father's."

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"Curious attitude." the Major observed.

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"I'm a curious person, but then I'm sure the file tells all." LaHaye smirked sardonically. "Sir, I'm likely to live out the century, or beyond, barring accidents. I will still be this young-seeming when your grandchildren, and may you have many of them, are dead. If I have children, I'll likely outlive them too. As yet, I'm not sure how to handle that thought, so I don't think about it."

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"Practical, one supposes. Well, I see the tales were not exaggerated." Tunbridge nodded as though satisfied. "His Majesty's government has an assignment for you, Captain. A hunting expedition."

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"Go on." LaHaye said as he pulled on his boots and fished a cigarillo out from a case. He offered one to Tunbridge, who declined, and lit it with a match struck from his boot.

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"Three men, British soldiers. Deserters, actually. They faced the death sentence recently after a court martial."

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"That nasty business over the American nurse, wasn't it?" LaHaye said as he blew a smoke ring. "Filthy buggers. So some rabbited?"

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"Yes, but that isn't enough alone to warrant calling on your services."

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"Of course not." LaHaye said, one corner of his mouth turned up in a cynical smirk. "After all, she was only a negro, correct?" Tunbridge opened his mouth to protest, but LaHaye waved a hand at him. "On with it, sir." he said, an expression of profound world-weariness settling on him.

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"We would have organised a hunt for them regardless." Tunbridge retorted stiffly. "However one of the men was a sergeant in the quartermaster's office. And we believe they took with them some valuable paperwork regarding our troop deployments and supply dumps. And they ran straight for the border to China."

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"Lovely. Rapists, cowards and traitors." James snorted blue smoke. "What makes them think the Japanese won't simply take the information then snickersnee their heads off. They have a strange but strict definition of honor, that lot."

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"Our local sources tell us that they've ingratiated themselves with local bandits, who will probably act as brokers in this deal. The Japanese forces in that area liaise heavily with elements that the Chinese government previously suppressed."

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"That means Pok Ma Ting." LaHaye said with a sigh. "I can't believe nobody has slit that fiendish little brown swine's throat yet. He's got to be eighty years old now."

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"You know him." The major looked astonished.

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"Oh yes."

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"Well wonderful. You can maybe negotiate-" LaHaye shook his head slowly, but definitely.

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"He wants to use my privy parts for an ornament." he said, then added. "And he won't be slow about removing them."

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"Ah."

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"There was a woman involved. His fifth wife."

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"Aaah. But that was a while ago?" the officer asked hopefully.

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"Well, fifteen years or so. But there was also an opium shipment..."

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"So negotiation is out."

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"Quite." LaHaye stood and stretched. "But that's alright. I dislike him almost as much. He's a slaver, and I can't abide slavery."

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"So you have a plan?" The major asked as the Dynamic strode towards the doorway.

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"Yes. I plan to go and find Thiri and take up where we were interrupted."

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"I meant about the plans." The major said with a hint of exasperation. LaHaye shot him a grin.

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"Yes. I plan to make it up as I go along." He gave the officer a jaunty wave. "Toodles."

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* * * * * *

"Can I help you?" The wizened old lady asked the European in the local bastardisation of Burmese and Chinese.

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"A room please." James answered in the same tongue, and gently caught her hand as she turned back with the key. "Is Pok Ma Ting still king of Four Dragons Street?"

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"Pok Ma Ting always king of Four Dragons Street." she answered sourly. "And he does not like white men." Her sour manner brightened when LaHaye placed a silver coin on the counter.

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"Pok Ma Ting likes nobody." James said with a smile. She nodded.

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"This is true, except if they make him rich. Then he likes them plenty, for awhile." she turned and shuffled out from behind the counter. "Come, I show you room. You want girl? Boy? Pipe?"

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"No to the second two, but maybe a girl. Later." he replied as he followed her upstairs.

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Location: Red Cross malaria clinic outside Lashio, in Burma

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“Thank you all for coming to this staff meeting.” Dr. Jonah Williams had been short and portly when he’d come to Burma last fall. A bout with malaria late last year had left him short but no longer portly. If no one respected him because of his stature, then they respected him because he was a damned good doctor and a decent administrator. The two were a rare combination. “I know that we all have work to do, so I won’t keep you long. But I did want to address the rumors that are flying around the clinic.”

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Olivia and Sadie Lou exchanged glances before returning their attention to the director of the Red Cross’s malaria operation. The two of them had been recently transferred here, and the rumor was because the clinic was in dire straits. From what they’d seen, the operation was running smoothly, but the rumors persisted. Olivia had a suspicion about the cause of the rumors, but she’d held off remarking on it yet. She didn’t want to add to the wild gossip that was being passed around.

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The rest of the gathered staff, doctors, nurses and support alike, shifted and became attentive as Dr. Williams got right into it. “We are running low on quinine. This is due to the Axis powers, who are disrupting the supply chains. In fact, much of the medicine we were supposed to receive was intercepted by Japanese forces and seized for their use. We are facing a crisis, and shortly. We have enough medicine to last our patients two days. After that, anyone who is not recovered from the malaria will be treated without quinine. The staff will have a reserve of quinine that should see us last longer, unless a great many of us get sick.”

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“Us?” Olivia asked, then flushed as she realized she’d spoken aloud. The stares she was getting weren’t completely friendly.

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“Yes. I know that many of you won’t feel comfortable with this, but if you, my staff, fall ill, then we can’t help anyone.” Dr. Williams looked frustrated as he met the gazes of the people in the room. “So I’m holding back enough of a supply that we’ll be able to stay malaria-free for several weeks.”

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“Will the Japs keep intercepting our medicine?” one of the doctors asked.

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Dr. Williams rubbed his thick “We have no reason to think they’ll stop. They are suffering from malaria, too. Anyone else?”

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“What will happen when you have no more quinine for the staff?” one of the nurses asked, his deep voice carrying further than Dr. Williams’.

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“We will probably close the clinic. I cannot justify keeping the clinic open if I’m endangering my staff. We’ll operate as long as we can and then do what we must.” Dr. Williams looked tired when he said that, and Olivia felt a pang of sympathy. The doctor was committed to the fight against the tropical disease; having to close the clinic so soon after getting here was difficult for him.

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It wasn’t just empathy; Olivia wanted to fight malaria, too. As she left the meeting, head stuffed with plans for treatment that would ultimately fail against severe cases of malaria, she felt helpless. For all of their talk about alternative treatments, quinine was the only effective cure. She went to dinner with all the other colored nurses; there was little talking as they ate. None of them wanted to watch their patients die of a treatable disease.

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It wasn’t until she was lying on her cot, unable to sleep, that her brain broke through the helplessness and realized what she could do. The thought was simple: get more medicine. The reality of doing that “simple” task was terrifying. Olivia lay in the dark and thought about the ward, full of sick people. She thought of that ward overflowing with the dying.

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The choice was easily made.

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* * *

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Location: Wan-Ting on the Chinese/Burma border

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Olivia watched as the jeep in front of her pulled forward after a brief conversation with the Japanese soldier. The young nurse swallowed as she eased her vehicle forward, stopping without being told. The soldiers were staring at her, much as they’d just done for the man who had just crossed the border, but there was no hostility in their gaze. They didn’t fear her. As far as Olivia was concerned, they had no need to fear her.

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“Who are you?” The officer spoke English and Olivia felt some of her anxiety ease at the good omen.

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“My name is Nurse Olivia Jennings. I’m with the Red Cross.” She didn’t need to add “American”; that was clear with her soft Southern accent. She fished out her papers and presented them to him with a smile.

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He took them and stared at them, then shoved them back at her with a scowl. “You are stationed in Burma, not China. This is Chinese territory.”

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Olivia hoped her tone placated him. “I’m just looking to buy supplies that they don’t have in Burma.”

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“What supplies?”

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“Medicine.” Olivia didn’t care to elaborate.

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The officer narrowed his eyes at her for a long moment. “You must be out by dark.”

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She choked back the comment that she wouldn’t spend a second in this place if she could avoid it. Instead, she opted for the more diplomatic, “Yes, sir. I’ll be out as soon as my business is concluded.”

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When the bar was raised, Olivia wasted no time getting the jeep into gear. She drove into Wan-Ting, feeling incredibly isolated. She’d left a note telling Sadie Lou where she’d gone, so if she didn’t come back, they’d know where to look. That had seemed adequate protection when she was back at the clinic, but now she didn’t feel secure. Of course, she hadn’t brought anyone else because she’d been worried about how dangerous it was, so that should have been a clue, too.

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She almost turned around and drove back out of town, but the thought of returning to the clinic, to the patients who would soon be dying patients, stayed her on the course. Olivia found a spot to park and headed for the trader who did business with the clinic all the time. He was a reputable enough sort—

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Someone grabbed her from behind. The woman froze for a second before lashing out, channeling her power though the arm wrapping around her neck. The man yelped at the pain that lanced up his arm, then screamed when his muscles shredded themselves and burst through his skin. As her nursing uniform was soaked in his blood, he shoved her away. Olivia stumbled and turned to face her attacker, stiffening in shock when she recognized him. Even though the last time she’d seen him, it had been at night in a Burma jungle, she knew him. His was one of six faces burned into her memory.

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Something hit her in the back of the head, and she collapsed to the dirt street, stunned and senseless. As the world faded into gray, she felt hands grab her. She was beyond caring as the darkness claimed her.

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Occupation hadn't done much for the place, James thought as he ambled down the Street of Four Dragons, a rather grandiose name for a long strip of mud and cobblestone who main claim to fame was being Wan-Ting's 'Red Light' district. The Japanese soldiers stayed away from the place except in patrol strength, so for the hawkers, whores, opium dens, bars and gambling houses it was business as usual... But that wasn't quite right, was it? No, there was an air to the place now that hadn't been there before, a vibration of desperation and fear amongst the denizens. Four Dragon Street had always been dangerous, but it was the lazy danger of a tiger with a full belly at a watering hole. He saw you, and you didn't want to attract too much of his interest, but at least he would let you drink in peace most of the time. But not now. Now the tiger smelled smoke on the wind and was nervous, and a nervous animal lashed out pre-emptively. Everywhere LaHaye glanced, he saw the tiger, nervous pacing with its tail lashing. The thugs on the lookout points now had pistols and rifles where they had only carried parangs before - old, dirty pistols and rifles, but still a big step up. The welcoming smiles of the girls lounging around a red-lit doorway were thin masks now, and nearby was a burly looking man with a rusty, evil-looking machete who glowered at the Englishman as he walked past, tipping his hat to the whores. The gamblers running their dice games looked up sharply as a stranger approached, eying him suspiciously until it was evident he was going to pass in peace.

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Fear.

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They had enough to be nervous about, LaHaye considered. The Japanese tolerated the nightlife and illicit trade in Wan-Ting only on sufferance, and because they had to rely on Pok Ma Ting's good graces - for now. The time would come when they would bolster their forces in the region and decide to do away with the bandits, and on that day the streets would run red. Pok Ma Ting was old, and his attitude practically fossilized - he would fight the entire world for what he saw as his. The knots of armed men with their thirty-plus year old rifles and bandoliers swaggered among the nightlife like hyenas wearing kingly robes, safe in the knowledge that Pok would tolerate almost anything from them as long as they were prepared to fight for him. LaHaye stepped aside for a clump of the bravos, noting their aggressive evaluating stares at the tall European. He feigned nervousness, hoping that it was the right move and that deference was all they sought. This time, it was, and they laughed harshly amongst themselves as they pushed past.

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Not all the thugs were locals, though. LaHaye saw a few blacks, Indians and Caucasians among their number, men whom fortune had brought to the far corners of the world. He could sympathise, but only to an extent - he himself had never worked for the likes of Pok Ma Ting, and these mercenaries plainly did from the yellow sash they sported. There was a greater concentration of thugs the further down Four Dragon Street he wandered, until finally he paused at a noodle and beer stall and sat down. This was a good place to watch Pok's front gate.

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It said a lot about Pok Ma Ting that he'd set up his base in the old provincial trading post, a large warehouse structure built last century. He'd sealed up all but one entrance, and used the place as a combination palace and storehouse for most of his goods and wealth. The grounds beyond the high wall would be like a truck park, complete with storage sheds and ramshackle warehouses. Armed men roamed the tops of the walls inattentively: after all, who in their right mind would break into this compound? LaHaye grinned into the piss-weak beer and ordered a bowl of noodles with named meat - pork as it turned out. Clearly identified meat always cost more, though from the taste he doubted that the grey stuff adorning his noodles was indeed pork. If it could have said anything for itself, it likely would have been "woof". He shrugged and ate it anyway, keeping an unobtrusive eye on his target.

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The three men he was seeking had arrived in town only a short couple of days ago, he knew from a little covert bribery. They were guests at one of Pok's brothels while negotiations were ongoing, which meant he still had time, hopefully. If he could spot them and follow them... But of course, it was never that easy.

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Patience paid off. He saw a face he'd only seen in photographic form before emerge from the throng of the street. There, that was the sergeant from the quartermaster's office. LaHaye grunted in satisfaction, then paused as two more men, also familiar from their personnel files, emerged from the crowd behind the sergeant bearing a woman between them, her feet dragging along the ground. She was a negro, LaHaye could see that much, and obviously either unconscious or dead, mud and blood crusting the side of her head. She was also, he noted with a certain level of incredulity, wearing a nurses uniform. Surely that nurse was miles away... But as the sergeant, his arm wrapped in bandages, reached the gate and started talking to the guard there, he turned and grabbed the nurse's hair and showed her face clearly in the street light.

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God be damned, it has to be the Jennings woman. What in the hell was she doing here? He was pretty sure that the deserters hadn't kidnapped her on their way out: Tunbridge would have said something. So that meant she had to have come here... herself? LaHaye's brain raced. Seeking justice? Not likely. Then he remembered that one of the suppliers of hard-to-find medicines for the Red Cross operated out of Wan-Ting: Chen Su, an affable little man who happened to work for... Pok Ma Ting. Quasi-legally selling opium and quinine that the bandit had looted and extorted from others. Hell, it wasn't unknown for Chen to sell to the Red Cross, then Pok's bandits would steal it back before the shipment had even left the area. So sorry, terrible those bandits, but you are in luck: I have more. A fairly standard fiddle, made all the more despicable by the fact that Pok's organisation was pretty much the only source in a war-torn South-East Asia.

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But still, why the hell would the Red Cross send ONE nurse, even a Dynamic, to shop for supplies in goddamned Wan-Ting? Were they mad? Or was this more of a single person's decision...?

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Yes, that fit. LaHaye decided as he watched the woman being carried into the compound. Nurse Jennings had probably taken it upon herself to come seeking supplies, a move born of desperation, surely. Unless she was indeed here to settle with the men who'd escaped justice, but that didn't seem likely. Either way, she was brave, if a little driven. But her capture was no laughing matter - Pok loved fresh women, and a Dynamic one he could keep or sell on would be invaluable. And if she resisted the old man, she'd find herself diddled five ways to Sunday by his thugs... as she might do anyway. Pok loved such spectacles when he was in the mood. LaHaye tossed some coins on the counter and moved away from the noodle stand, heading across to an alleyway that ran alongside Pok's estate. He'd been planning to exercise patience, but that would just see harm come to a woman who, in LaHaye's estimation, had already received more than her share of harm. In a burst of irritation, he reflected that Carlton had been right: he was at heart still a decent man. Not for want of trying, though. he grumbled.

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The alley was dark, the sun starting to sink on the western horizon casting long shadows. He glanced up at the walls bracketing him and considered, then in a burst of speed and power jumped up, feet pushing him off one wall and upwards, to be repeated so that, in a few seconds, he'd wall-walked up to the roof of the building adjoining Pok's grounds.

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"Can never just take your time and plan these things out, Jimmy my boy." he muttered to himself as he unslung the bag from around his shoulders and removed his weapons, strapping them on. The twin bandoliers went over his jacket and clasped into place, then an improbably large pistol was slung in it's holster in the small of his back. The brace of smoothbore .45s were holstered under his arms and a wicked-looking parang was strapped to his waist. He completed the preparations in a matter of maybe twenty seconds, then looked up, judging the distance to the opposite wall. An easy jump, he decided as he hunkered down and waited for the next guard to come past. The setting sun was perhaps not as ideal as darkness, but it would do. Lots of long shadows to hide in. In the compound beyond he could see the small knot of men carrying the unconscious nurse across to the main building, past the rows of parked trucks that Pok used as mobile storage huts.

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Hold on there, dear lady. James thought as he studied the layout. Help is at hand.

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The splash of water shocked Olivia into consciousness. The nurse gasped and ended up with water in her nose and mouth. From the taste of the water, it wasn’t from a clean source. Retching, she rolled over and coughed the liquid up onto the stone floor beneath her. Her hair clung to her face; when Olivia lifted her head and started to wipe it away, her head spun.

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The pain in the back of her skull brought the memory back to her: seeing one of her rapists in town, attaching him and then the attack on her. Eyes wide, she looked up into the bore of a gun. “That’s right, sweetheart, we found you. And you are going to pay for what you did to my arm.” Jacob Davies, former British soldier and current traitor, was holding the gun. Olivia didn’t say anything. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say that would make her situation better. There was nothing she could do, except cry. She didn’t want to give them the satisfaction but she couldn’t stop. This was her personal nightmare, and she had put herself right in it.

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“Sadly, I’ll probably not be able to deliver that punishment myself.” Sgt. Davies knelt easily in front of her, smirking. “See, the uncouth gentlemen that you forced us to ally with are so pleased to have a gift of a dynamic woman for the local warlord here, Pok Ma Ting. So you’ll be part of our gift to him. Ironic that colored were freed from the white man so recently, and yet here you are, being enslaved to a little brown man.”

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“That’s not irony, asshole.” Olivia wasn’t able to stop the reply. “That’s just cruel. You’re cruel, and you’re the one who choose to ally with scum rather than face the shooting squad like a man.”

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He moved so fast she barely had time to flinch; her instinctive movement didn’t save her from the slap across her face. “Oh, bitch. I can’t wait to see what Pok is going to do to you. And if you think you can just do to him what you did to Mark, just remember you’ll be dead in seconds.”

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“I can’t stop from hurting people.” Olivia stared at him, daring him to try. “I don’t have to damage you, but touching my bare skin will always hurt you.” Maybe that would save her from rape. Maybe it would earn her something worse. Death was looking very good right now—until she thought of her mother. It would kill her to lose Olivia. Thoughts of her mother, waiting at home, were all that had kept Olivia going. Her will to fight renewed, she glanced around the room, realizing that there were other men, men she didn’t know in here, as well a table and a large wooden vat filled with something steaming.

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“You better figure out a way to stop that, because if Pok can’t fuck you, he’s going to do worse to you, I hear.” Davies rose to his feet, gesturing with his gun. “Strip and get in the tub. Can’t give the big man a dirty gift.” Olivia realized that the vat was actually a tub, filled with hot water. “Don’t be shy. It’s nothing I haven’t already seen, love. And these guys… well, they’ll see it all eventually. Pok’s not shy about his women.”

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Survive. That was the one word on Olivia’s mind as she shakily rose to her feet. Her hands trembled like leaves in the wind as she began to peel the uniform off of her body. It was her ætherfiber that she was removing, and she carefully set it next to the tub to clean. Down to her undergarments, she hesitated again, feeling the men’s eyes on her like a physical force. “Can’t wash up in your underwear, Olive.”

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“Don’t call me anything other than Ms. Jennings.” Olivia’s voice was cold as she stared at the Davies. “That or Nurse Jennings. You have no right to call me by anything else.”

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The sergeant laughed unpleasantly. “I think we hold all the ca—”

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“You have stripped me of every other dignity.” Olivia glared at him, assuming as much pride and bearing as she could manage. “You will leave me this little piece.”

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The silence that stretched between them filled the room. The watching guards, who didn’t seem to follow English, watched with confusion as the two stared each other in the eye. Davies faltered first. “Ms. Jennings, you’ll strip and wash up for Pok, or we’ll do it for you.”

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“I will cooperate.” She wasn’t sure how far she could extend that cooperation, but there was the word in her mind, the one that compelled her to do whatever she could to survive. Drawing a deep breath, she hastily unclipped her nylons and brassiere. It took another inhalation and reminder of the word to take off both, setting them neatly aside. Exposed, she wiggled out of her garter belt and underwear at once. The young woman didn’t bother trying to pretend she wasn’t anxious to hide under the water. A table next to the tub held a bar of soap, shampoo and other toiletries. They have to pretty me up for my rapist. The thought came unbidden, and once it was in her head, Olivia couldn’t stop thinking it. Her hands started to shake as she began to clean the mud and blood from her skin and hair.

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When she was done, she pulled her ætherfiber into the water with her, scrubbing it clean as well. Davies watched curiously, understanding only when she wrung it out and laid it aside as a pretty dress. She’d hoped they’d let her pick the dress, but when she rose and wrapped her towel around her, Davies said, “There’s a dress here for you. Pok is going to sell your ætherfiber, is my guess.”

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“Then I’ll wear it until he does.” Olivia didn’t see any underwear, and Davies stopped her when she reached for her.

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“Don’t bother, Ms. Jennings.” He put a sarcastic twist on her name, but she took comfort that he was using it. “Pok doesn’t like underwear. It gets in his way and at his age, he doesn’t have time to wait.”

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Olivia shuddered at his words, but left the underwear alone. Picking up her ætherfiber, she crafted it to look like the dress Pok had left for her. To her disgust, it was a duplicate to the dresses that she saw the Chinese and Burmese prostitutes on the street wear. Crafted of red silk, it had a black and gold border, with small black buttons up the side. It came to below her knees, and Olivia accepted the black slippers that were on the table.

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A woman with downcast eyes entered the room at one of the guard’s calls, and she moved behind Olivia. Taking her arm, she gently tugged on Olivia’s sleeve until the nurse followed her to a chair and took a seat. Then the woman pulled and tugged Olivia’s hair into a tight bun. The last thing the woman did was dab some of the perfume across Olivia’s neck. Once she was done, the woman left without speaking a single word.

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“Ready then?” Davies asked. Olivia gave him a silent glare and he shrugged. “Let’s go.”

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The men flanked her as they left that room, proceeding into a hallway. The remaining two British defectors were there; one grinned evilly at her while the other couldn’t meet her eyes – not after she glared at him. With a muttered order to move, Davies used his gun to push her into motion. His comrades fell into step behind them.

,,

The interior of the building had a hastily-constructed feeling to it, and Olivia understood why when she looked up and saw the exposed rafters. This was clearly some kind of warehouse or storage building, and had been poorly modified to have living quarters.

,,

The men led her down the hall to a door; as Olivia prepared herself for the worst and a rough decision about how accommodating she should be, they shoved her into the throne room of the man who presumed to own her.

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If Olivia had any expectations as to what the throne room of a South-East Asian warlord should look like, this certainly didn't disappoint. Colorful silks and other fabrics hung from the walls and ceiling, making the large hall-like room seem like a Hollywood set. Roughly ten armed men were in evidence, lounging on cushions, drinking, smoking or watching the cluster of three girls playing instruments in a corner. Subdued girls wearing similar outfits to Olivia's current garb knelt beside the men, their smiles pretty and their eyes empty. The whole thing was somewhat surreal, until the captive noted the bare worn boards underfoot and the fact that the hanging silks were stained and dirty. Looking up briefly, Olivia could see skylights above, confirming that she was still in the same dingy warehouse. She could have laughed, really: this was supposedly a man of power and wealth, and he lived in a cheap Hollywood set of a pleasure palace, a warehouse that stank of dried fish and spices. The men lounging on the cushions should have looked as dangerous as caged tigers, but instead they looked dissipated and drunken, laughing coarsely as teenage boys outside a theater as they watched her walk towards the dais. The women should have been beautiful and alluring, but their empty eyes hid fear and dejection. It struck Olivia that this whole setting would have been laughable if it wasn't so dangerous to her, and she schooled her expression as she lifted her eyes to regard the man on the dais.

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Pok Ma Ting was ancient, she realised with a sick horror. This man wanted to rape her? He looked as though the exertion would kill him. He was completely bald but for wispy cobwebs of hair adorning the sides of his head, the wrinkles on his scalp and face so deep that they were more like crevices, and his mouth looked as though perhaps two of his teeth remained as he stretched his puckered lips in a ghoulish smile. He was dressed in a yellow silk robe with bandoliers criss-crossed over his sunken chest and a gunbelt, and a rifle was propped against the wall beside his 'throne', a fabric-draped chair. He should have been a comical figure, but it was his eyes that stole Olivia's laughter and hope as she met them. His eyes were cruel, greedy and lustful, filled with malice and uncaring of the hurt he had, did, or ever would inflict. He looked at her and saw nothing but a pretty thing he wanted, and his dark eyes glinted like chips of obsidian as he smacked his gums and toyed with the curved parang that was sheathed at his side. Olivia felt her hands start to shake again: Davies had permitted her the dignity of a formal address. He was a pig and coward, but he had some basic humanity left from his mother's lessons. The figure on the dais had no such conscience, no such sense of guilt or decency. It struck Olivia that there were varying depths of evil in men, and that Davies and his fellows were bottom-feeders in comparison to a shark like Pok Ma Ting.

,,

Davies stepped past her and said something to the warlord in some bastardized form of Chinese, gesturing to Olivia with an ingratiating smile for the man on the dais. Pok nodded repeatedly as he answered, his answer going on for a long time. The former British soldier laughed coarsely as he answered in turn, and Pok said something more. Grinning, Jacob Davies turning back to Olivia.

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"You're in luck." he told the nurse with a leer. "He's never had a negro, or a Dynamo, or an American before in all his eighty-four years. He wants to know if your tits are as brown as the rest of you. I told him yes, but he's a man of little faith." He gestured towards the dais, his face showing mock regret. "He wants to see." Olivia didn't let on that she'd understood about three words in five of the exchange and could readily have gathered that herself. There was little point in revealing that she spoke better Chinese than either man, not when she might get better use from keeping it secret. Her mouth felt dry as she tried to summon up her courage, though whether to refuse point blank to expose herself... or to actually cooperate and play for time, she wasn't sure at this second. Instinct told her that time was her ally, though reason told her that she would be merely lowering herself and postponing, rather than offsetting further indignity. The armed men seated off to the side

,,

* * * * * *

,,

It's nice to see that Pok still scrapes his guards out from the bottom of a latrine trench. LaHaye thought to himself wryly as he dragged the unconscious form away from the edge of the warehouse roof. Even for a dynamo, the guard had been ridiculously easy to get the drop on. I hope at least that he's still paying them in venereal disease, rusty bullets and second-class drugs. It'd be terrible if he was paying them actual money. He peered through the dirty panes of glass over Pok's 'throne room' and settled down to watch. No sign of the deserters or the girl yet. They're probably cleaning the poor thing up for his heinousness down there. A couple of the panes were broken, and James could clearly make out the guttural, unlovely tones of Pok's current lieutenants as they groped the girls and smoked their pipes. Their erstwhile host was sitting still on the dais, head sunk to his chest. Probably napping, LaHaye smiled grimly at the thought. He'll need his strength, after all. The Englishman considered putting a bullet into Pok and his men right now, but decided to wait. Best to have all the fish in the barrel before one opened fire.

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I was right, they were cleaning her up. And she cleans up nice. Was his first thought as Olivia Jennings came into the room, followed by Davies, Westleigh and Thorpe, the latter two bearing their rifles as though escorting a prisoner to the stockade, which was good for a moment's amusement from their observer. Thorpe's arm was still freshly bandaged, and it appeared that prior rank carried little weight, as Davies, a corporal, was doing all the talking. Well, Davies was the only one that spoke enough of the lingo to get by, most likely. Thorpe was a quartermaster sergeant fairly new to the posting, and wouldn't have had the same contact with the locals. Their words drifted up to the British dynamo.

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"....He wants to know if your tits are as brown as the rest of you. I told him yes, but he's a man of little faith. He wants to see."

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And that's my cue. He pulled a high-tensile climbing line from one of the pouches on his belt and clipped it to the stout iron framework that supported the skylight, clipping the other end to his belt. With an experienced eye, he judged the distance to the floor of the throne room - 30 feet, give or take. He had 50 feet of line, so enough to move around with if need be. Now, whom to shoot first once he hit the ground...?

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Olivia’s eyes widened and she swallowed, caught in an internal struggle. She couldn’t overpower all these men; her chance at an escape had passed when she was unconscious. Giving into him might save her some physical pain, but it wouldn’t save her from living through the horror that would follow. The decision to fight was made, but she couldn’t just start grabbing at men. Survive!

“I’m of greater use to you in other ways.” Her voice shook, making her glad she hadn’t used Chinese. She’d been told her accent was terrible without fear further mangling her pronunciation. Davies looked at her and snorted, then looked to Pok, translating.

When the old monster was done laughing, he replied through Davies. “What use could a woman be to me other than what is between her legs?”

“I’m a healer. Not just a nurse, but as a dynamic, I can cure with a touch.” Olivia hated that she was selling her life-saving power to this evil scum, but without putting too fine a point on it, the life she was saving right now was her own. “You have reached the venerable age of eighty-four on your own, but I can help you live even longer.” The thought of helping this man continue his reign of terror made her heart-sick, but she would survive this without being raped again. She had to, or she might not survive.

Pok laughed at her words and Davies translated, “He’ll have both. You’re his slave now, and you’ll heal for him and spread your legs.”

“No, I won’t.” Olivia had kept her eyes down, but now they flickered up to the husk of a man. “You can take my body, but you can’t make me heal. That is and always will be my choice.”

“You think so? Pok’s men can be very persuasive.” Davies gave her a sneer.

“No, they can be brutish thugs who think that rape and pain makes them powerful. They don’t know real power.” Olivia kept her voice level, but her anger was clear as she spoke. “And they most certainly do not understand pain.”

Davies stared at her a moment, his gaze uncertain like when she’d insisted he give her an ounce of dignity. Then Pok made an angry noise, and Davies turned and quickly translated. When the British man spoke again, he still looked a touch uncertain. “Pok is unsure if your ability to heal is worth giving up having a woman unlike any he’s fucked before.” Olivia couldn’t stop her wince at the coarse word and several of Pok’s men laughed. “He requires a demonstration.”

Pok snapped an order and one of his men pulled a gun. Before Olivia could react, he shot Davies in the back, throwing the young man to the floor. He screamed as blood began to pool on his back.

Olivia didn’t think; she hurried to Davies’s side and dropped to her knees, pressing a hand to the wound. The young man bucked as she applied pressure to his back, trying to staunch the blood flow. “Hold still!” she cried, ripping his shirt open to peer at the wound. Every eye was on her as she began to heal him, trying to save his life. There was a second’s doubt, when she remembered who this was, but when he whimpered, Olivia redoubled her efforts. She was going to regret it, she just knew it…

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Well, this twist was entirely in-character for all the players concerned. Of course Pok would want a demonstration of the woman's power, of course he'd demonstrate his utter disregard for life, of course the deserters wouldn't count on him actually shooting them, and of course the Jennings woman would try to save the worthless arse bleeding out on the floor. One of these days, LaHaye hoped to be pleasantly surprised by the world.

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On that day, he swore, he would take up the violin.

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The two remaining deserters had started to level their rifles at Pok, only to be covered by every other man in the room. They decided discretion was the better part of loyalty and allowed their guns to slowly lower. Pok's lieutenants climbed to their feet, the women remaining cowering on the cushions. Everyone with a weapon was standing and focusing on the drama playing out on the bloodstained floor.

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Perfect.

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LaHaye jumped, letting himself crash feet-first through the skylight.

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* * * * * *

For Olivia, it felt as though the sky was falling. She huddled protectively over the form of Jacob Davies as she threw all her concentration into healing him, hearing the silvery sound of hundreds of shards of glass hitting the wooden floor somewhere to her left, aware that her power had staunched the flow of blood and that the man's heart was no longer pounding it's death-throes. His eyes were open and looking at her, the expression somewhere between plaintive and accusing as the deserter tried to process what had happened in the last few seconds. There were startled cries and the 'thud' of someone landing on the bare boards nearby, followed by a truly inarticulate sound of strangled rage. Olivia risked a look up.

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She saw a tall man unfolding from a crouch maybe ten feet away, a man wearing khaki pants, supple leather boots and an aviator's jacket over a linen shirt. He was draped in gun belts and bandoliers like most present, a silvery chrome-finished pistol held at his side in each hand. A black rope no thicker than her thumb swayed behind him, proof of his entrance method, and as the man finished straightening she saw a young face under the bush hat, the expression one of mischievous good cheer as he looked at her, hazel eyes dancing.

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"Stay down low, dear lady." he murmured in English, his accent cultured, as Pok Ma Ting rose to his feet trembling with fury.

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"LaHaye! I eat your heart, feed your cock to pigs, cut off your-" he started to rant in broken Chinese before breaking off into sputtering and pointing a yellow-stained fingernail at the intruder. The other men looked at each other, some muttering the name with trepidation. "KILL! KILL!" Pok screeched at his men. "Is LaHaye! Kill quick!" The stunned gaggle of bandits started to swing their guns towards the intruder, whose smile widened as his own guns came up.

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And the world exploded into sound and fury.

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LaHaye spun into motion with a curiously balletic spin to his right, weight balancing easily on the balls of his feet. His hands came out in seemingly careless movements, tongues of flame licked from the barrels of the silver automatics, and with her increased perceptions Olivia could see the bullets leaving the guns and arcing through the air. It took the stranger maybe three seconds to empty his guns, the multiple shots coming as a continuous roar of noise, and when the shooting was done every single one of Pok Ma Ting's 'trusted' lieutenants was crumpled on the floor, their own guns unfired. LaHaye stopped his graceful sinuous spin and straightened, hitting the clip release and letting the empty magazines fall to the floor, before tossing his pistols into the air with a flourish that mimicked a stage magician releasing a pigeon from his sleeve. As they spun a short distance upwards, his hands snapped to his belt on each side, pulling out two fresh clips. His hands came up as the guns came down, and in less time than it took to tell it there was a twin 'click' as the guns were reloaded.

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And then he twirled them around his fingers, grinning at the incandescent Pok Ma Ting.

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"Sit down there, grandfather." he said in excellent Chinese, his tone mockingly solicitous. "You're not getting any younger, so it would be a shame for you to get no older." Pok's snarl was a picture that LaHaye would relish to his dying day as the old man sank back onto his cushioned dais.

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"Don't move!" It was Thorpe, his expression one of fear and anger as he leveled his gun at LaHaye's back. The tremor in his voice was matched by the tremor in the barrel of his rifle, and his finger was taut on the trigger. LaHaye slowly turned around, his expression one of good-natured interest. "Don't move, I said! I'll bleedin' well plug you, you bastard." Thorpe threatened. Westleigh belatedly followed suit, though his own expression was one of abject fear as he covered the dynamo.

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"It's LaHaye, Thorpey. Bloody LaHaye! We're dead men!" he hissed.

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"Shut your hole and watch the old bugger up there!" the sergeant barked. "He ain't bulletproof. Are you, yer bleedin' Rupert?" he taunted the still-smiling Englishman. "Fer all yer fancy shooting and fancy manners, yer not made of iron, and bullets will do fer you as much as they did for that bunch of mongrels. You, black bitch, 'ows Jake? 'E better be well, or we'll fucking well do for you too."

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"That's not a real threat." LaHaye said mildly.

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"Eh?"

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""We'll fucking do for you"?" LaHaye snorted, rolling his eyes. "That's not a threat. That's just a vague blustering bundle of pig farts." He smiled at the soldiers. "Now, you fine fellows are under an order of execution from His Majesty's government, but I'm willing to cut you a deal."

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"Yeah? Gonna let us go, are you?" Thorpe tried to make it a sneer, but it came out a little too hopeful. LaHaye shook his head as though regretful.

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"Afraid not, but I will kill you quick and clean." he offered. "If you put down those guns right now, that is. If you put up a fight, I'll shoot you in the gut, about four inches above your manhood, and leave you to die." He smiled dazzlingly. "See? That's a threat."

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"Fuck you, you-" Thorpe snarled and tightened down on the trigger, and the rifle roared. LaHaye's pistols came up. One of them spat fire, there was a low-pitched metallic sound, and Olivia heard a sound like two ball-bearings dropping to the floor. The soldiers, Olivia, even Pok all gaped at the sight of the two deformed bullets bouncing to a stop on the boards.

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"No bloody way!" Westleigh's eyes were about to roll out of their sockets. Thorpe jerked spasmodically and fumbled for the bolt on his rifle. LaHaye tsked, and his other pistol spoke, blood blooming low on Thorpe's torso. He let out a terrible moaning scream and dropped to his knees, letting go of his rifle.

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"Some people," LaHaye said as he cast a glance at Pok, then studied Westleigh "just don't take advice. Come now, son, you took the shilling. You swore an oath. You did wrong by this girl, disgraced the uniform, and shamed your nation. Time to pay the piper." His voice was gently persuasive, almost fatherly. "It can be easy, or hard like Thorpe chose, but it will happen." The former sergeant on the floor let out another moaning scream, and Westleigh shuddered before letting his gun fall to the floor. "Good lad." LaHaye told him approvingly. "Brave at the finish. No time for a last cigarette, though."

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"I never wanted to." Westleigh murmured through white lips. "I was just... I never meant to hurt anyone." Tears leaked from his eyes.

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"But you did, my boy. You did. It's over now, and the Almighty will judge you based on what's in your heart, I hear." LaHaye looked at the barred door. There were thuds of men ineffectually trying to break it down. Westleigh looked at Olivia.

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"I'm sorry, miss." he whispered. "Sorry for it all." Olivia stared at him, but before she could formulate a reply there was the bark of a pistol and a rose bloomed over the man's heart. He crumpled with only a sigh to mark his passing, eyes peacefully blank.

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"He could have been a nice lad, given the right company." LaHaye said with casual regret as he stepped over to close Westleigh's eyes, then over to the thrashing, moaning Thorpe. "You, on the other hand, are a rotten bugger and always were, I'll wager." He planted one knee on Thorpe's chest and frisked the man, coming up with a document wallet. "Aha. And that wraps it up neatly." He straightened and turned to Olivia, keeping an eye on Pok as he spoke to her. The mortally wounded sergeant let out another sobbing cry of agony.

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"Is Davies going to make it? If so, I'll have to undo your good work, miss. He's under a death sentence." he told her frankly. "And then, I think, it's time for you and me to leave."

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There had been dark nights when she’d wanted these men dead more than she’d wanted anything else in her life. Watching the three die by the firing squad had been both delightful and awful; it had been cathartic, but it had chilled her to the soul to see men die. Now, she’d watch one die right after she’d saved his life. “You’d think I could tell you to leave him, since I was the one wronged.”

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The dynamic – he could be nothing else – nodded gently. “Yes, miss, but this is about his conduct as a soldier. He—”

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“I know. I heard what you said to Westleigh.” Olivia leaned over Davies. “His way or my way,” she whispered in his ear.

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“His.” Davies’s voice shook. “I already hurt enough.”

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Olivia sighed and rose to her feet, moving away from the man. As the dynamic moved behind her and stood over Davies, Olivia’s eyes fell on the man on the throne. She took a step toward him and her rescuer caught her arm – thankfully by her sleeve. “Leave him alive.”

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“I’m not going to kill him. I just want to show him something.” Olivia pulled her arm loose and approached Pok. Behind her, the dynamic’s gun barked once, and Davies’s pained breathing stopped. Olivia flinched a little at the sound and the following lack, but didn’t stop her march to the warlord. In Chinese, she told him, “You think you have power. You boss around scum and thieves, and you think that makes you strong. Meanwhile, you’re in a body that is already rotting away.” She pressed her fingers against his cheek and assessed him. Pok hissed at the pain her touch caused, but didn’t move, all too aware of LaHaye watching attentively. “You have six teeth left,” Olivia whispered, her eyes closed. “The one on the upper left is going to loosen next. Your heart is old and tired, and your lungs are starting to shut down. Your liver is dying from alcohol and disease, and your brain is starting to die in small places from mini-strokes, causing memory loss. But, and this is what will kill you, there is something growing wrong in your balls. That growth will continue unchecked and spread. The source of your male pride is going to rot you from the inside out.”

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Olivia straightened and stared down at him. “If you had kept me, I could have fixed all of that for you. I wanted you to know what you lost today.”

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Her message delivered, she turned her back on him and walked to her rescuer, her head higher than it had been when she’d entered. “I’m not sure how you meant to leave, but I’m not sure I can climb that rope.”

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"You won't be." LaHaye reassured her. "I'll be climbing it for both of us." He beckoned her closer, his manner respectful enough despite the faint smile lingering around his lips. "Arms around my neck, and hang on tight, if you please." Olivia nodded and stepped closer, pausing only to concentrate on her aetherfiber to make it form gloves. Repressing an instinctive shiver at the proximity as she stepped behind him, she stood on tiptoe and wrapped her arms around his neck. He smelled of good tobacco, faint sweat and cologne. Man smells. Once, she would have found the smell comforting, or more, but now it was all she could do to be this close. She saw his head turn slightly toward her, saw the line of his jaw as he spoke softly.

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"You are perfectly safe with me, dear lady." LaHaye told her in a murmur. "Now hold on tight, because this party has become tiresome." He tossed a grin towards Pok Ma Ting. "Sorry, old man, but it's true. This is almost exactly the same as the last party I attended here. At least I'm leaving with company this time." he taunted in his excellent Chinese.

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"You leave with my curses, dog of a Western whore mother! Devils drink from your bones! I will not forget this or the thousand thousand other wounds you have inflicted on me!" Pok half-stood, shaking his fist at the two of them. "And you, woman, I will hunt you down for your impudence. I will stake you out over an anthill and have many many men-"

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What he would have many, many men do was mercifully left unsaid as LaHaye drew one of his automatics in one smooth motion and fired - not at Pok, but at a large hanging clay lamp near the old man's throne. The vessel exploded, showering oil and flames, and the warlord screeched in anger and alarm as he scrambled away from the spreading blaze.

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"The place needed a good fumigating anyway." LaHaye quipped as he reholstered the gun and grabbed hold of the climbing line. He laughed at Pok as the old man tried to beat at a patch of flaming oil with a cushion only to end up with a burning cushion, which he threw from himself with another vulture-like screech. "That's the spirit, grandfather!" he called as he started to climb, not even noticing Olivia's weight. The ascent was rapid, almost dizzyingly so, the English dynamo pulling them up hand over hand by main strength. Olivia just tried to hold on, but it was over quickly, LaHaye swinging them up and onto the rooftop.

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"I don't believe we've been formally introduced." he said urbanely as he helped her find her footing and started to lead the way to the roof edge adjoining the nearest building. Below them, they could hear shouts of men heading into the warehouse, along with screeches from Pok as he ordered his men to break down the door into his throne room. "Captain James LaHaye, Royal Air Force." He shot her a good-natured grin, eyes dancing in the half-light. He seemed in that moment no older than perhaps 19, a boy playing at heroics.

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LaHaye?!” The word popped out before Olivia could hold her tongue. She’d heard stories about the RAF captain, dashing stories that sounded like something out of a movie. The young nurse had never been sure if she should give them credence, but as she thought back to what had just happened, she realized it was like something out of a story. The thought that someone had sent him to rescue her made Olivia feel strange and wonderful. The British had already treated her with far more dignity and grace than she’d dreamed; to have the premier British agent in Asia sent to rescue her warmed her to the core and brought tears of gratitude to her eyes. “I… Thank you, Captain.”

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“Is that your name?” he asked with that same smile, a smile which had the potential to become annoying but right now was the most beautiful thing in the world. He pulled up the rope in quick, efficient movements as Olivia pulled her thoughts together.

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That’s when Olivia remembered him seeking out the packet, and realized that he hadn’t come for her; she’d been luckier than she deserved that he’d happened to be here on his own business. Much of that gratitude and, if she were being honest with herself, new-blooming hero-worship faded abruptly. “Olivia Jennings,” she said, blinking the tears born of stupidity and self-centeredness back into nothing. “I’m with the American Red Cross.”

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“Yes, I saw the uniform.” He led her along the roof toward the front of the building. They crouched on the edge of the building, watching the men swarm below, obvious to their presence. “We need to find a ride out of here.”

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“That one.” Olivia pointed at one of the trucks; the monstrous beast wouldn’t have much speed, but she could see the boxes of medicine, their markings familiar. “Or… no, that truck. That’s the one with the quinine.”

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He looked at her and Olivia drew herself up a little straighter. Locking her brown eyes on his, she put her hand on his arm, pleading intently, “I came here for the quinine. We run out of it tomorrow, and then people will die of malaria. If I don’t return with it, then this was for nothing.”

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“Peace, Nurse Jennings. I think we can manage to tweek Mr. Pok’s nose one more time on our way out.” LaHaye was still grinning like this was a game, and sure enough, it was starting to get annoying. No one should be that relaxed while they were in so much danger. It was as if he knew some joke that she didn’t, and he wasn’t going to tell, either.

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Olivia was also curious about his animosity with Pok, beyond the fact that Pok was a horrible rodent of a man. She knew this wasn’t the time, so she instead asked, “How are we going to get that truck?”

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"That truck over there?" LaHaye asked with false earnestness - obviously false earnestness, too. Olivia gave him a wary look, feeling an irrational urge to shake him gently by the throat and tell him to stop grinning like this was a carousel ride. He knew it too, she could tell by the way his smile broadened for a moment. Then he reached under the back of his jacket and unholstered out what had to be the largest handgun the nurse had ever seen in her life. She'd felt it there, but not realised what it was during their ascent from the throne room. It was a revolver, but built like a reinforced shotgun, she realised dimly as he pressed a catch and flipped it open before pulling a round roughly the size of a cigar from his bandolier and flipping it up into the air. It fell into the one empty slot in the four-shot chamber with a soft 'snick' as though placed there with a precise hand, and LaHaye flipped the chamber closed and spun it, the action making a soft rapid clicking noise of a well-oiled machine.

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"We get that truck.. by blowing up that truck." LaHaye explained as though teaching a class. He leveled the pistol and pulled the trigger, and the gun roared like an angry lion. A blazing streak of white flame travelled from the barrel and impacted a truck on the far side of the compound. A truck that, probably not by chance, was next to the compound's fuel dump. The phosphorous-tipped incendiary round passed through the fuel tank of the twenty-year old vehicle and caused it to catch fire, causing shouts of alarm in those nearby.

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"Time to go." LaHaye told Olivia, standing up and re-holstering the 'pistol'. Turning to her, the Englishman scooped her up in a carry and jumped from the roof, landing on the tarpaulin cover of a truck below them, then skipping off that to the ground. As his booted feet touched the soil, there was a thunderous detonation from the direction of the fuel dump and screams of fear and alarm from the guards. The two of them hurried over to the truck Olivia had earmarked. "Can you shoot?" LaHaye asked.

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"No." Olivia replied, her heart pounding with fear that any moment, the two of them would be spotted and bullets would start to fly in their direction. LaHaye nodded, then opened the driver's side door and helped her up into it with excessive gallantry, considering the circumstances.

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"Then you drive. Lots of gas if you please. I'll handle the gate." he swung himself up into the passenger seat with enviable grace and drew the Piecemaker from it's holster once more. "Once we're out of the gate, you might want to use the horn a lot too. The street will be a little crowded with all this ruckus."

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Olivia’s hands were shaking as she took the two seconds granted her by his swinging into the cab to familiarize herself with the truck’s controls. Key, clutch, gas, brake, gear shift. I cannot believe I’m doing this. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find LaHaye watching her with a pleasant smile, as if they had all the time in the world. Though he’d probably intended the opposite, his scrutiny made her shoulders tighten. Swallowing, she turned over the engine, wincing at the grumbling roar it created.

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“Steady on,” LaHaye told her as she put the truck in gear and eased it forward.

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“Uh huh.” Olivia realized she’d just grunted at one of the most famous men in the world—well, this region of the world. He was also irritating her greatly. This wasn’t a game; people were going to get hurt. She could understand that many of them were awful people who had chosen this life of their own free will, but Olivia was gentle-hearted to a fault. She didn’t want to see anyone suffer and die. As if her thoughts had been read by one of them, a man turned and saw the truck in motion. His shout caught others’ attentions, and Olivia pressed more firmly on the gas. “This is the biggest truck I’ve ever driven.” She tried not to think about the valuable cargo in the back.

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“And you’re doing it well.” LaHaye leaned out of the door, his massive gun leveling on the gate. A solitary man considered his options before leaping out of the path of the truck, clearing the gate. LaHaye fired the gun and the gate had a gaping flaming hole in it; the cheap fencing had never been meant to withstand LaHaye’s legendary gun.

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Olivia could see people scattering outside the gate; they were drawn by the sound of explosions and gun fire but the proximity of them was something different. She still laid on the horn, her slim fingers holding down the button in a near-continuous stream of garish noise. They roared into an empty street, heading straight for the main thorough fare. “I’m going to have to slow down to turn the corner,” Olivia shouted to LaHaye, unable to modulate her voice thanks to adrenaline. “That’s when they’ll catch us.”

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“Mmm-hmm,” LaHaye drawled casually.

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Olivia glanced at him, sighed and asked, “I’m telling you stuff you already know, aren’t I?”

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“Yes, but you’re doing it so well I didn’t wish to stop you.” LaHaye put his hand on the door and told her with a bit more somberness, “You focus on driving and let me handle the men following us.”

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“Good, I don’t think this will work any other way.” Olivia could see the turn; a peek at the rear view mirror confirmed they were being pursued. Her throat went dry and her hands were cold as she prepared to downshift quickly. The main street wouldn’t be clear, either. She pressed the horn rapidly, worry eating at her. What if she flipped the truck? What if she hit someone, someone innocent? Like, God forbid, a child?

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“You’re doing quite well.” LaHaye was genuine; one quick glance confirmed that. He was sincere, like he’d been in the warehouse when he’d said she had nothing to fear from him.

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“Thanks.” Olivia drew a deep breath and started to brake.

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The girl was doing well, LaHaye mused as he swung open the passenger side door and stepped easily onto the footplate as the ungainly truck turned the corner as fast as Olivia dared. The worn tires slipped a little on the mud street, but the weight of the truck worked for the fleeing Dynamics, adding ballast to keep the truck grounded. He smiled at the nurse as she wrestled with the wheel to get the truck back on an even keel, then gunned the gas a little. He turned back to see two men had caught up with the truck and grabbed onto the tailboard, pulling themselves up onto the back of the now-accelerating vehicle.

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That wouldn't do at all.

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He hoisted himself up onto the side of the truck and, hand-over-hand, made his way towards the back, the toes of his boots finding purchase on the metal siding as he moved with utmost confidence and balance. The guard who'd jumped on nearest the passenger side was most surprised as he pulled himself into the back of the truck and turned to help his fellow, as a strong hand came round the canvas covering, grabbed him by the arm, and tugged him out of there with as much ease as a child would throw a doll. The scruffy thug let out a yell as he was catapulted out into the mud, rolling to a stop. LaHaye swung himself round into the space so rudely vacated and wagged a finger at the other thug as he drew the Piecemaker. The man took one look at the portable cannon, nodded resignedly, and jumped from the moving truck.

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"Good lad." LaHaye muttered as he checked the load and looked aft, to see a jeep complete with a mounted machine gun swerve to narrowly avoid running down the sensible chap. "Oh, now this won't do at all." he said to no one in particular as the shouting men in the jeep gesticulated and leveled their weapons at him. He swung the Piecemaker up and fired. The solid tungsten-steel round penetrated the front grill, then the engine block of the pursuing vehicle, jamming up the works and causing a small explosion and gout of black smoke as the jeep veered and ground to a halt. LaHaye waved jauntily to the men as they boiled out of the stalled vehicle and tried to give chase on foot. "Can't have the nice nurse's medicines perforated by you fellows." Taking stock, he realised that they had to be approaching the checkpoint soon, and he swung back out and along to the passenger-side door with the agility of a monkey. Olivia started as he plopped back into his seat and smiled at her. "Had a couple of stowaways and a tail." he announced. "But they're behind us now."

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"Good." Nurse Jennings said, her pretty mouth taut with tension. She'd seen some of what had transpired in the side mirrors: at least he hadn't casually gunned down another ten men. She nodded ahead. "What about what's in front of us?" At the end of Wan-Ting's main street, the checkpoint waited.

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"Well, given time I could talk us through, but given that we're in a rush..." LaHaye squinted ahead. "The barrier is only wood."

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"Got it." Olivia said tersely and sped up, leaning on the horn as she did so. She hadn't hit anyone yet - maybe someone was watching over her? She could see the soldiers ahead standing in the road and shouting, trying to flag the multiple tonnes of speeding vehicle down. She leaned on the horn harder in response, repeating staccato blasts of noise. They weren't moving! Were they mad? Was she? To stop meant capture and probably being in Pok Ma Ting's hands again... She leaned on the accelerator with all her might, stomping it right to the floor.

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"Get the Hell outta the way!" she screamed in time with the horn blasts. Later, she might feel bad about cussing, but right now it felt like a release to scream and hammer the horn and make the engine howl like an angry beast. She was aware of LaHaye laughing - at her, at the Japanese, at the world, at himself - his laughter merry as he leaned out of the truck window, automatic in hand, and fired a slew of shots that kicked up dirt and sent the men scattering that little bit faster. Blood racing, hands so tight on the wheel that they felt like iron claws, Olivia crashed a stolen truck through a Japanese army checkpoint barrier while a crazy English legend leaned from the window and fired seemingly at random into the twilight.

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They were beyond the checkpoint and maybe a hundred yards into the jungle before she calmed down, the adrenaline rush leaving her abruptly shaking. LaHaye leaned over and flicked on the headlights, only one of which seemed to work, then leaned back and lit up a slim cigarillo. She glanced at him accusingly as he calmly reloaded both .45s with a fresh clip (when had he fired off the other one?), and the confounded man's only response was a raised eyebrow and a crooked smile.

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"So how are we going to outrun them?" she asked a trifle waspishly.

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"Hmmm?" LaHaye re-holstered his automatic and took another draw of his smoke.

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"The Japanese army." She said with emphasis. "How are we going to outrun them? Can't their jeeps go faster than this thing?"

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"Yes." LaHaye was tempted to leave it at that, but relented and explained. "But jeeps with holes in their tires and cracked radiators won't be going anywhere."

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"Oh." Olivia drove in silence for a moment, then "And Pok's men?"

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"The Japanese will want to ask him a lot of questions, I hope. They'll block off the checkpoint with those useless jeeps and halt all traffic for awhile. With luck, it'll be morning before anything meaningful gets done, and by then we'll be well over the border." He exhaled blue-white smoke out of the window. "These are quite excellent." he remarked, looking at the slender rolled tobacco. "A present from my brother, you know." He quirked a curious eyebrow at Olivia and proffered the silver case. "Would you care for one?"

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“Yes, please.” The smell of the smoke was delightful, bringing back memories of her grandfather smoking his home-grown tobacco in hand-rolled cigars. He’d shared them with anyone in the family, even the girls. It had been his typical gift at Christmas, and after his death, everyone shared a cigar or pipe at family functions in his name. Tobacco smoke was the smell of many of the happiest moments of Olivia’s youth.

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She reached for the offered cigarillo but her fingers were still shaking like leaves in the wind. “Captain LaHaye? Might I trouble you?”

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“Of course, dear lady.” He fished one of the slim cylinders out and held it lightly in his lips; with ease, he lit it and offered it to her. She had to coil her gloved fingers over his hand to get a grip on it, but once she had it between her fingers, the act of smoking calmed her. Olivia drew in a deep breath of the smoke and released it in a heavy sigh. When she frowned, LaHaye asked, “Do you not like it?”

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“No, I do. It’s better than anything I’ve ever had. I wish my grandfather had one.” Olivia took another drag, keeping an eye on the road, such as it was.

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“He’s a purveyor of fine tobacco?”

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“He was, when he was with us.” Olivia glanced at the handsome officer, to find him watching her. She looked away quickly, her instinctive response to a white man laying his eyes on her. “You are perfectly safe with me, dear lady.” Was it truth? She’d heard the stories about his skirt-chasing ways; one didn’t hear of an exploit of James LaHaye without hearing about the woman he’d seduced along the way. “It’s why I like it – he liked to share the fruits of his labor.”

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“I’m sorry he’s gone then. Too few people properly appreciate good tobacco.” The captain fell silent, waiting for her reply, but Olivia didn’t want to spoil the mood by talking about her grandfather and the method of his passing.

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The silence stretched for a time, as the woods fell into complete darkness. There was no sign of pursuit and slowly Olivia relaxed further. Each of LaHaye’s movements, particularly if he seemed to be reaching for her, caught her attention. But relaxation crept in slowly; by the time she’d nursed the cigarillo down to nothing, relaxation was sliding into numbness. Olivia was a kind person, despite having seen so much death in her profession, and a kind of emotional shock began to wrap around her from the day’s events.

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She thought she was fine, right until LaHaye reached over and snatched the wheel, pulling the truck back on track. Olivia jerked from him before she remembered she was driving. Hastily, she put the truck into neutral and brought it to a stop. “I think you should drive,” she said, and her voice shook. Hearing the tremble in her words, she realized she was starting to cry.

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“If you wish.” LaHaye made it would like her choice instead of a necessity brought on by a breakdown. For that, she could have hugged him – in spirit, anyway. He climbed out and walked around as she scooted across the bench seat, and soon they were on their way again. “Another?” LaHaye asked when he gained the driver’s seat and offered the silver case again.

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“Yes.” This time, Olivia was able to light her own, despite the tremors that shook her.

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“Cold?”

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“No.” Olivia pressed herself against the door and focused on smoking – in and out, in and out. Breathing without thinking became her goal, and by the time she’d smoked this cigarillo to nothing, she was in control. And if it wasn’t control, it was something close enough to control that it didn’t matter.

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“If you want to sleep, you can.” LaHaye was being kind; even in her shocked state, Olivia knew that.

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She also knew that she couldn’t sleep around a man. “If I get tired enough.” She knew she wouldn’t, so she was rather surprised when she jostled awake by the truck smashing through a deep rut.

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“You’re knackered, Olivia.” LaHaye was barely looking at the road as he peered at her with concern in the dim light. “Sleep. You’re safe.”

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Her reply was little more than a whisper. “You don’t know the meaning of the word.” Had she not been so tired, she might have never said it. But the young dark-skinned woman was tired and sick and so far beyond her normal state of mind that she couldn’t hold her tongue. Wearily, even as she felt bad for having spoken her mind to a white man, she laid down on the bench seat, one arm curled under her head and the other crossed protectively over her chest.

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If LaHaye had an answer for her, she was asleep or it was lost in the roar of the engine. The nightmare couldn’t even touch her for a while, her weariness was so deep. And when it did come, it couldn’t wake her. Instead, she cried as she slept, until a warm, heavy weight that smelled of tobacco and sweat and cologne settled over her. As unwontedly gentle fingers smoothed her hair away from her face and a voice spoke in quiet tones, the worry lines in her face eased, and finally, she rested.

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The sudden silence of the truck’s engine shutting down woke her, the lack of the grumbling roar cutting through her sleep. Groggily, Olivia sat up, blinking first at LaHaye and then at his jacket, still half-draped over her body. But when she looked out the window, they weren’t at the malaria clinic; they were at the regional British headquarters. “What da’jere?” was all she managed to ask. Her second attempt managed to be a complete sentence: “What are we doing here?”

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"Making a delivery." LaHaye said casually as he slid down out of the truck and came round to the passenger side to offer her a hand down. "And then I'll take you and your spoils of war back to the clinic. Right this way." He gestured towards the well-built house that served as the headquarters building, a more stately version of the colonial house that the hospital inhabited. This one had regimental flags and, of course, the Union Jack flying outside. "No, no. By all means hang onto it for now." he demurred as Olivia started to give him back his coat. A small troop of men stood at attention as he approached the HQ building, firing off crisp salutes which he returned with a laid-back tip of his hat.

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"At ease, gentlemen. Sergeant? I'd like you to secure that truck, ensure nobody looks inside it, gets into it, or otherwise approaches it save for myself or Nurse Jennings, here."

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"Sah!" the sergeant barked, snapping off another salute, his moustache practically vibrating as his boots stamped together once more. "Right you are, sah!"

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"Good man."

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Inside, the HQ building was not entirely asleep. Late night communications from England, India and Singapore were routed through here, and it was the luckless job of the watch officers to decide whether something was important enough to wake up their superiors, or else leave until said superiors were wakened under normal circumstances. At least the subaltern manning the main desk in the watch room didn't have to think too hard when LaHaye walked in, sauntered up to the desk, guided Olivia into a chair before taking one himself, and said "Wake Major Tunbridge would you, Lieutenant? And put some tea on?"

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"Right away, Captain LaHaye sir." the junior officer said, before hurrying off. After ten minutes, he came back. "If you would follow me please, sir and madam. The major requested that you wait in his office upstairs. Tea will be brought." He hesitated, then added "And I took the liberty of ordering the night commisary to whip up some corned beef sandwiches, sir. I hope that is alright?"

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"Capital, lieutenant. Good man. I'm famished." LaHaye told him as the two Dynamics rose and followed the junior officer up to Major Tunbridge's rather small office. They were seated on the balcony outside, a tray piled high with sandwiches and steaming pot of tea was placed between them, and they were left there to await the major.

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"He'll probably be a little while, so we may as well collect ourselves." LaHaye observed as he leaned forward and poured Olivia some tea into a delicate-seeming cup before serving himself. "Well, I never. They actually trotted out some milk for us."

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Olivia was still tired, despite her nap. No, she wasn’t tired; she was worn out. Being somewhere safe was a relief; she was quietly thankful that they had been seated on a balcony instead of alone in a room. She didn’t think James would hurt her but she couldn’t make herself believe it, entirely. Logic had nothing to do with what she was feeling at the moment.

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Silently, she took the tea sans milk, wincing at the bitter taste. The heat and taste reminded her that she hadn’t eaten in hours. A quick check of her body confirmed that she was low on various vitamins and nutritions – things that she knew that she needed that had no name in modern food science. She wasn’t hungry, though her stomach was empty and her body was cannibalizing muscle for the energy it needed. Methodically, she picked up a sandwich and started to eat. The food had no taste to her; she ate and chewed mechanically. She’d resolved to remain healthy, to take care of her body and its needs. Sometimes, that was easy. Sometimes, it was hard. Tonight, she wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

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James was doing justice to his own food; Olivia could feel his eyes alight on her occasionally, but he didn’t say anything. He was giving her time and space, which she needed at the moment. After her sandwich was done, she considered another and decided against it. She’d need something green, high in iron and calcium. A dark green leaf salad of the local cabbage would taste terrible and be exactly what she needed. She’d procure that later, when it wouldn’t be rude to ask for something other than a sandwich.

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“Captain LaHaye.” Olivia spoke his name quietly, drawing his brown eyes over to her. She made herself look at him without flinching away or lowering her eyes; a lifetime of subservient behavior to white people coupled with outright fear of white men made that hard. But what she was about to say was important. Balling her hands into fists and pressing them against her stomach, she murmured, “Thank you. I was in a bad place, and you got me out of there. You’ve taken very good care of me since then, too. I’ll be sure your superiors know how well you’ve treated me. You have represented your country very well. I have no idea how to personally repay you, unless you have a wound you haven’t shown me. I could assess you, like I did with that animal.” She gave him a ghost of a smile; it was still too sad and pained to be a real smile. “I promise that if I find cancer, I’ll break the news much more gently than I did to Pok.”

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For a long couple of minutes, LaHaye said nothing, his eyes resting on hers as he silently wolfed down another sandwich, then another. The usual sparkle of sardonic laughter was not present in his gaze, and Olivia got the distinct impression that he was evaluating her and, possibly, offended by her words. He gave no sign of that offense, but the sudden change in his demeanour was unnerving. Finally, he finished his third, or was it fourth, sandwich and took a swallow of milky tea.

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"Nurse Jennings... Olivia. May I call you Olivia?" he asked, then continued without further preamble or, indeed, waiting for her permission. "No thanks are necessary. I did what any true man, be he English, American or even some benighted savage from Papua New Guinea where, I believe, they still practice cannibalism, would have done." He paused, then added with a faint quirk of his lips. "Though the bit about the cannibal savage may be exaggeration for effect on my part..." He shrugged, then continued.

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"You have suffered greatly at the hands of men in general, and Englishmen in particular. The latter... well, it fills me with anger, and the former with deep shame. I have never suffered as you have - I have no frame of reference. I have a great gift for languages, but I can't communicate on that level." He leaned forwards slightly, his hands clasped as he rested his elbows on his knees. "I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was also born what we call a Dynamic. There was no great incident, no trauma that catapulted me from among the herd. It was a quiet thing, a secret thing. I was walking and talking far too early, but it was not commented on simply because my family were rich and afforded the finest tutors, well paid for their closed lips. Everything has always come easy to me: principles of engineering, physics, math, languages, tumbling, marksmanship... the list goes on. I've known adversity, but never because society treated me unfairly - no, unjustly. Most of the adversity I have encountered has usually been due to my tendency to stroll into harms way, to take the road less-traveled, and to march to the beat of my own drum."

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"So despite getting disowned, dishonoring my family, escaping from gaol, years of attempted dissipation and debauchery, using mind-altering potions from funny little men in West Africa and smoking hashish, opium, and plenty of other smokeable substances with hopefully permanent damaging effects, despite carousing in the worst fleshpots of the world where, I'm sure, I would have died long ago of hideous ailments were I not a Dynamic, despite chasing Yetis, fighting pirates, engaging in any number of hair-raising, self-destructive pursuits, trying to lose myself and never think about Captain James LaHaye again..." he sat back, spreading his hands out in a 'here we are gesture', a wryly self-mocking smile on his face. "I find that I am, at heart, still a gentleman. And I am glad that this gentleman was there in that squalid little dungheap for you tonight. And I wish I had been there for you sooner." He stretched his arms out and over his head, yawning widely and sitting back in his chair.

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"So... You wanted to know how to thank me? You can start by not being afraid of me, Olivia. I know, I know... it's not that easy. But that's my price." He winked slyly. "There's no rush. I can wait for however long it takes: I'm good at having lots of time to wait. In the meantime, though-" he gestured towards the coat she wore around her shoulders against the pre-dawn chill. "I wouldn't mind my cigarillo case. And do help yourself to another if the mood takes you."

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Olivia pulled out the case after a brief hunt through the pockets. Her slim fingers hesitated on the catch, then passed the case to him. “Thank you, but no. I’m afraid I’ve had all I should have tonight. I can feel the damage it’s done to my lungs already.” She normally would have stopped there, but she made herself talk to him, as she would to a black woman. It wasn’t a matter of lingo or topic, but her willingness to talk at all. “I have a profound knowledge of my own body, so I know what the smoke I’ve inhaled already tonight has done to me.”

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“How dreadful.” LaHaye smirked at her as he took out a cigarillo and lit up. “Is that an extension of your ability to assess others?”

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“Yes. Or the reverse; my ability to assess myself means I can do the same to someone else. I’m not sure and there’s been no time for study yet.” Olivia subtly shifted her skirt to split pants, then realized she was still wearing the copy of the dress Pok had picked. “Captain LaHaye—”

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“James.”

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Olivia paused, uneasy with the familiarity. Remember, he is a black woman to you. “James, would you be so kind as to close your eyes a moment so I can shift my ætherfiber dress into something else?”

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“Of course.” Though his expression was curious, James complied and Olivia quickly changed it into a long-sleeved, split-skirt dress in green. She shed the black slippers and pulled her legs up in the chair. As the skirt coiled around her feet and warmed them, she said, “Thank you, James.”

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“Can you heal yourself?” James asked, opening his eyes.

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“Yes. Again, I’m not sure if I can heal myself and others, or if I can heal everyone, including myself.” She smiled a little. “I’m not sure it matters. I can heal. That’s a gift.”

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“Agreed. But what I was driving at was that you could heal your lungs, if you wanted another smoke.” James blew a smoke ring with enviable ease, clearly enjoying his cigarillo.

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Treat him as a girlfriend. Olivia forced a teasing laugh as she said, “Why, James, I think you’re trying to get me to indulge in vices! For shame, sir.”

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“It’s rare to find someone who appreciates good tobacco out here. Most men would appreciate the offer, but few would realize the quality of the leaf and roll.” James hesitated before telling her softly, “You don’t have to force it or try so hard.”

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The young nurse paused. Finally, she admitted, “If I don’t try so hard, I won’t try at all. There’s a part of me that just wants to give up. I know you’ve never felt that way… there are times when you’re so overwhelmed that you want to stop. I can’t. My mother needs me, needs me to be healthy and happy.” Olivia paused and added, almost hopefully, “If I’m talking too much, please just tell me so.”

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"Certainly not too much for me." The gallant statement was nevertheless as sincere as James's smile. "I'm glad you're not giving up. The world needs people like you, Olivia. It has far too many people like me, you see." His half-grin was razor edged with self-deprecation. "I blush to admit that your appraisal of me is a little flattering, however: there are certainly times where I have felt like giving up, or indeed have given up. Fortunately I found it a temporary state of affairs." he added cryptically, then glanced towards the door as it opened.

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Major Tunbridge bustled into the office, not looking in the least owlish or unkempt at having been woken in the small hours of the morning. His officer's cap was lint-free and spotless, the regimental badge shining above the gleaming black brim. His uniform was pressed and similarly cleaned, and his face was freshly washed and shaved. All in all, the major looked the very model of an officer and a gentleman, well-turned out, brisk and efficient. LaHaye, aware that the major technically outranked him, touched his forefingers to his brow in a lazy salute, whereas Olivia made to rise almost immediately.

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"As you were, as you were." Tunbridge said soothingly, motioning with his hand for Olivia to stay seated whilst looking pointedly at LaHaye, who showed no sign of even straightening up from his comfortable slouch. "And as you were, too, Captain." he noted with a raise of his eyebrow, not yet taking a seat.

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"Why, thank you very much, Major." LaHaye said, stifling a yawn, though whether that was genuine or affected only he knew. His other hand tossed a leather document wallet onto the table before the major, then he leaned forwards and poured the other officer some tea. "Mission accomplished, I think."

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"The deserters?"

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"Dead. And the Japanese are probably re-establishing the nature of their 'friendship' with Pok Ma Ting." LaHaye swept a hand towards Olivia. "May I present to you Nurse Olivia Jennings of the American Red Cross, sir?"

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"Of course, of course." the major murmured, doffing his hat and bowing slightly before he took a seat. There was nothing in the man's watercolor blue eyes but cool assessment as he regarded Olivia; she got the impression of a man who was all business, and put his feelings and opinions second to cold hard facts. Nevertheless, he was courteous.

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"Olivia, this is Major Tunbridge, technically of the Royal Corps of Engineers, but actually seconded to military intelligence." LaHaye said as he finished the introductions. The major started, narrowing his pale eyes at the Dynamic.

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"How the deuce did you come to that conclusion, Captain?"

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"Oh come, Major. A mere major, yet you have your office in the headquarters building here, when the nearest Engineering regiment is fifty miles away. You have no dirt or grease under your nails, and those boots are strictly headquarters apparel, not at all suitable for a operational field officer. And they were using the Corps of Engineers as a home for the best and brightest intelligence officers back before my day. Experience has shown me that there are only two types of officer in the Engineers, and the ones with clean hands and boots are spies." The major stared for a moment longer, then chuckled, a surprisingly human expression from such a previously cold man.

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"Hah. Well done, Captain. I am caught out, it would seem." Tunbridge did not seem overly upset, smiling slightly as he glanced at Olivia. "So, if I may impose, Nurse Jennings: how is it you come to be here, tonight?"

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Olivia blinked at Tunbridge for a moment, unsure how he didn’t know why she was here. Then she remembered, through the haze of fear, worry, and exhaustion, that there was no reason he should know. “I’m afraid that Ja- Captain LaHaye had to rescue me tonight.” As the major’s eyebrows rose, Olivia began to tell the tale.
In the back of her mind, though, she was looking at the from the outside, seeing how it must look to someone who didn’t know the story. What would she think if she’d seen a woman driving up in the wee hours of the night with the legendary womanizer Captain LaHaye, dressed like a Chinese prostitute? Someone who had already named six other men as rapists, leading to their deaths? And all of this by a black woman?
A knot hardened in her stomach as she realized that she had even had her head down on the seat when they arrived, but to someone assuming the worst, it would easily look like she’d had her head in his lap. It was Capt. LaHaye. Such things were normal around him. And if she’d been doing that to LaHaye willingly, perhaps she had welcomed the advances of the other six. The three that had gone to trial had claimed that she’d been willing and only claimed rape to save her name.
Olivia was pale and her voice shook by the time she was done with the tale. That wasn’t due to the retelling, though she hoped Tunbridge and LaHaye thought it was. Her pallor was due entirely to the fear that people would start to cast doubt on what had happened to her. It was hard enough to get by day-to-day with the support of the people around her; what would she do if their belief in her faded and she faced suspicion about the attack?
Tunbridge was offering her a handkerchief. “I’m sorry to have upset you again, Nurse Jennings. My apologies that you had to recount that tale.”
Olivia realized she did need the white cotton and accepted it from the major. “It’s all right.” She dabbed at her eyes and managed to give James a smile. “You should know what Captain LaHaye did. He was my savior.”
“Very good.” Tunbridge nodded firmly.
There was a pause, and Olivia quickly took advantage of the silence. “Would it be possible for me to return to the clinic as soon as possible? I need to get the medicine to them.”
Tunbridge hesitated a beat and his expression made her stomach develop another knot from the anxiety. “If I may suggest, you might not wish to return with the medicine. You’ve made Pok very angry by your own recounting, and were you to be available at the clinic, his men might try to grab you. No matter how enraged he is, he will not attack the British army.”
“So... what do you want me to do? Just hide here and care for the soldiers?” Olivia tried to keep her voice level and not show her terror at the thought of being surrounded by British soldiers all the time, but she wasn’t sure she was successful.
“You’d be our guest here until reassignment.” Tunbridge gave her that slight smile again. “The Red Cross will not leave you here; Burma is a war-torn country in need of your skills, but Britain needs you more. I believe that the Red Cross understands this. I wouldn’t be surprised if orders are already in motion to remove you to England, where you could administer to our troops and our civilians. The Red Cross could save many lives with you helping us there.”
“I can save many lives, no matter where I go.” Olivia wasn’t unhappy at the prospect. The idea of being back in a civilized country held definite appeal. “Do you believe that Pok would attack the clinic to get to me?”
James leaned forward. “I do. I know the man; he’d sell his own mother for profit. His men would loot the clinic as well, and no doubt assault many of the staff.”
Olivia hid a shudder. “Very well.”
“Capital. We have a room for you, Nurse Jennings. I’m moving one of my captains into the barracks. Now, don’t look like that. He was quite willing when he heard he’d be vacating his room for you. This should only be a temporary measure.” Tunbridge looked pleased, in a sly way--perhaps Olivia was just projecting now.
“Will you see that the medicine gets to the clinic, at least?” Olivia’s beseeching gaze would have cracked a harder heart that Tunbridge’s.
“Of course. And we’ll have them bring your things back, as well.” The major glanced at James. “With that settled, did you have anything else to add?”
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  • 2 weeks later...

"Not really." LaHaye shrugged as he relaxed further - and snagged another sandwich.

,,

"Good." Tunbridge declared, tucking his notebook away and rubbing his hands together briskly as he rose to his feet. "In that case, I would ask that you oversee the delivery of the quinine to the clinic, then pack."

,,

"Pack?" LaHaye narrowed his eyes at the major. "Why would I be packing, if I may ask?"

,,

"Because, Captain, you are quite frankly wasted here in Burma. The Japanese may or may not invade, but we do not have the wherewithal to fight them here. Right at this moment, however, the skies over England are full of Luftwaffe planes. Our country lives under imminent threat of invasion by the German military machine. The Americans are helping as they can, but supply convoys across the Atlantic are perilously beset with U-boats. The war there is very real, and England needs you, sir." The major finished on a respectful note incongruous with his higher rank. LaHaye stood and moved to the edge of the balcony, absentmindedly chewing on his sandwich and staring sightlessly off towards the lightening eastern sky.

,,

"I've not been back there in years." he said distantly. Olivia could detect a wistful note in his voice.

,,

"Decades, even." Tunbridge noted, his gaze intent on the Dynamic. There was a snort of amusement from LaHaye.

,,

"And I'm to just return?"

,,

"Coming to answer England's call for help, James. A hero's welcome. It'll be good for the nation's morale to have her favorite son home again."

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"I'm not a bloody hero." The words were spoken with quiet, savage bitterness, a sense of old pain filling the handsome officer's tone. "Get someone else to wave the flag."

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"If you are not, Captain LaHaye, then I do not know who is. Begging your pardon." Tunbridge donned his hat and touched it's brim to Olivia. "I expect to have your orders back within a day or two, Captain. Ma'am." With that, the dapper major left them.

,,

LaHaye couldn't finish the sandwich, instead pitching it off into the gloom like a boy resignedly throwing rocks at a lake. He turned back then to Olivia, with a wry smile on his lips.

,,

"Well, they do say that no good deed goes unpunished." he quipped.

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“I’m sorry that saving me from peril has inconvenienced you.” Olivia’s words were bland and without much inflection; it was hard for James to tell if she was joking or not. Her expression didn’t provide any clues either; it was a practiced expression designed to hide what she was thinking.

,,

“It was my pleasure,” James said, choosing a safe reply.

,,

“Yet you now have to go home to a country that will adore you. Such a burden.” There was a touch of sarcasm in her voice, but only a touch and it was gone when she added, “I appreciate your sacrifice.”

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James was silent for a moment before tilting his head to the side with a wry smile. “I do believe you’re putting me on.”

,,

“Perhaps a little. I hope you’ll understand if I can’t empathize with a rich white man who will return home to be heralded a hero.” Olivia put no rancor into her voice. It wasn’t hard; she had learned to school her voice and face in front of white folk. Her stomach roiled, and Olivia decided that the rising nausea was a sign she needed to smooth things over with James. Besides , she wasn’t angry with him, even if he was being overly dramatic. She rose to her feet and moved closer to him, exhaustion making her a little less cautious than normal.

,,

“I don’t know why you don’t want to go home. I don’t know what ghosts await you there. I’ll probably never know.” Olivia’s eyes were warm and sympathetic, the first golden rays of the sun brushing her face. He saw her hesitate then take his hand in both of hers. Her gloves were soft as silk against his skin. “But don’t deny your actions. You are a hero. Forget all the fancy things that people say about heroes, all the acclaim and expectations tied to the word. Heroes do the right thing, even when it would be easier not to.”

,,

Olivia gazed up into his brown eyes and felt suddenly uneasy. It wasn’t fear she realized after a second, but something much more dangerous. Her cheeks flushed as her heart picked up speed. Step back, Livy, she ordered herself but her legs wouldn’t obey. He’s rescued her, given her his coat to wear, he was an image straight out of legend. Part of her was terrified of him but another part of her wasn’t. Had she been a white woman… but that thought was pointless, she wasn’t a white woman, and this train of thought was-

,,

The wolf whistle was the same as from that night and Olivia jerked her hands away from James’s, her heart pounding in her throat. “I should find my room,” she whispered. She didn’t even look to see which of the passing soldiers had commented on the sight of Captain LaHaye working his magic on an unsuspecting colored woman. “I’m tired. Good nig… morning, James.”

,,

Olivia turned and fled, running from James and impossibilities that would only hurt. She needed to sleep—and perhaps throw up. But mostly she wanted to sleep and hide.

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