This should be an uncomfortable, strained evening meal, as had been the case every time Ami had discussed operations that had gone south. Except, of course, these were extraordinary circumstances. Both operatives remain alive and extremely well looked after; representatives of their planet, fact that was only now beginning to truly sink in. This wasn’t like anything that had ever taken place before, not even the most extreme of missions.
She’d been held captive once, in North Africa, and those seventy-two hours were some of the most frightening of her existence. Nothing that she’d been taught prepared for how she’d be treated, to escape without having been either raped or beaten was beyond lucky… but it pales in comparison compared to now. There is no benchmark with which any of this will ever be measured.
Dinner’s almost done: explaining Algeria to Chris is having more of an emotional effect than initially expected, enormity of their circumstances finally registering.
‘You okay, Ami?’
‘Yes, I remember how genuinely frightened I was for my life back then, that they could do anything and I’d have no means of either fighting back or defending myself. This situation is different, ever since you had the accident… if they wanted to hurt us or torture us, I honestly don’t think we’d be sitting here with a curry. The psychology is all wrong, you know?’
‘I know what you mean. It would be far more psychologically damning to let me finish our notes and then just make them vanish, but they haven’t. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to compare ideas, this is important for whatever happens next, because you and I know that if we both go to sleep they can just pick us up and dump us somewhere new, or shift this building somewhere else in the simulation…’
Dinner was beyond amazing: they’d spent several hours now with their notes as a backdrop, comparing experiences and discussing their captors at length. Ami knew they weren’t being watched either: if this is truly an experiment, even their observers would need to engage in some kind of rest and recouperation. It was a chance to relax without as much fear, even if both of them were as alert as they’d be mid-mission, probably more so.
Tomorrow however was the unknown that was suddenly very frightening indeed.
‘So Chris, honestly: what happens now?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine, probably better ‘coz you’ve been spoken to by these beings and I’ve just been used as a science experiment -’
‘That’s unfair, you’ve contributed…’
‘No, I was the moron who backed into the thing that any sane person would have steered well clear of because of all the things we’ve encountered thus far, it has been the only item that even looked the least bit threatening. I am very much Ape Man here, and it’s okay. I don’t take that as an insult. I’m the one who’s gotta pick my game up, and I will. You have my word.’
‘Without you here I would have crumbled after we were abducted. I needed someone to keep me focussed. You’ve provided nothing but respect, more than I’ve got from a male colleague in nearly two decades. I know you think you’re the liability, but you’re not and that is worth more to me than anything.’
Chris looks away, unable to meet her gaze: there’s a lot more to this man that just a CIA operative struggling with a desire to keep his job. Ami’s never held a long-term relationship for longer than two years: Chambers’ emotional issues are something there is empathy with than perhaps even he is aware. Professionalism is without question, but the longer their imprisonment goes on, the less it becomes about the procession of automatic, dispassionate responses.
This man has deep seated issues, has done for a long time. There’s no doubt he loves his soon to be ex wife, but couldn’t make it work. He was the bigger problem, the metrics said so. Issues under pressure, prone to panic and occasionally, when situations were very stressful, to explode with rage. He’s not been angry yet, but obsession with perceived ineptitude might send an unsettled brain there if the right stimulus gets presented…
His regard for her remains beyond impeccable, has only strengthened since this all began. With care, a hand is extended; sentiment repeated.
‘I trust you with my life, Chris, and you know this. Deep down, we’re matched for a reason you don’t want and I’m not even thinking about. This is not about breeding partners. This is survival. You and I don’t conform to type, and we won’t procreate for an audience. It isn’t going to happen.’