|Mark regards the girl who had been Rakim’s wife. He remembers everything.|
|He has no words to describe how he feels about the situation. He asks her about the papers and the picture he had been carrying. She quickly fetches them and silently hands them over to him. Mark sees that her hands are trembling. Though he has known the young woman intimately, he cannot bring himself to comfort her now. He simply nods to her and tells her that the nightmare is over.|
|His body is weak and skeletally thin from the withdrawal he had suffered. Realizing that he has not eaten for days, Mark asks politely for something small; even just a piece of fruit will do. He had been drugged the entire time at the military camp. Not eating his last meal before leaving may just have saved his life. He estimates the food had been laced with enough drugs to last the entire week visiting family, and then some to see through his martyrdom mission. Even if something had prevented the mission from going forward, the withdrawal from such a large dose of the drug would surely have killed him. Ali had nearly pulled off the perfect act of revenge.|
|He cannot go back. But there may still be a way to finish this. He had received a number of coded messages before the drugs fully took effect. They had come from three sources. Two messages were genuine, sent from his command center. Three were fake. The codes were flawless, and matched protocol exactly. But the paper itself gave the messages away as forgeries. A simple litmus test proved that in short order. The final one, attached to a “Handling Nuclear Materials” manual from the Sunset Valley Science Lab, was from his sister, Dierdre. It warned him against revealing his location. Though quite old, the messages may still be of use.|
|Mark has always been the kind of sim to stand up for a fight rather than back down from one. But he first wants to see who he is going up against. Taking one of the fake messages, Mark encodes his own response. He requests assistance from an escort team, and provides the coordinates for Ali’s own personal bunker for the extraction point. The response from those who faked the message should give him a good idea of what their intentions were when they sent it. He gives explicit instructions to Rakim’s wife to find a public computer in town, and email the code exactly as he has written it.|
|The girl readies herself and her son to go into town with her Mother. Mark notices, with some pity, that her clothes are even more concealing than is prescribed by the moral law. This girl will live her life never taking chances again. Mark makes eye contact with the boy. While he shares his mother’s amber-colored eyes, the fire that burns behind them is unmistakably Mark’s. There is no good solution to this. He cannot take the boy from this rightful family; and any money Mark provides will only be taken by the insurgents. He approaches the women and child, then quietly and gently asks if he can hold the boy for just a short moment before they leave. He can see the anxiety on both women’s faces, for fear that Mark will want to keep the boy.|
|Mark holds Rakim’s son in his arms for the first time. He studies the boy closely, as if to memorize every feature. The boy belongs here, with his family, despite his fear of leaving him to grow up in this toxic environment. He puts his forehead to the boy’s and prays that he be kept safe, and be given a will strong enough to resist those who will seek to corrupt him. Though he addresses the family, his words are specifically for the girl. He asks that they tirelessly teach the boy the proper meaning of their faith and protect him against the insurgency, so he will grow into a young man possessing the wisdom and moral fiber needed to change the world around him. Finally, Mark tells them that Rakim died of a fever last night, and was taken to be buried in the mountains with his clan.|
|Mark turns to leave, but stops in his tracks. He fingers he photo of his family, which had been tucked back into its hidden pocket. He takes it from the pocket and considers his next move for a moment. Finally, he writes an address – 15 Summerhill Court, Sunset Valley on the back of the photo, and calls the girl over to speak with him privately. Mark tells her everything. After what feels like hours of talking, he hands her the photo and tells her that she can give it to the boy when he is an adult, if she so wishes. With that, and a reminder to enter the code exactly as it is written into an email, Mark is gone.|
|SNN BREAKING NEWS!|
|SNN has obtained exclusive video of a destroyed insurgent training camp located near a remote mountain village in central Asia. Military officials back home are denying any involvement in the strike. Locals report having seen as many as six rockets flying at low altitude over their tiny village just moments before destruction of the camp. Former military personnel and ballistic experts have concluded that the weapons were likely long-range cruise missiles launched from strategic naval positions. At this hour, the question of exactly who launched the attack, and why, remains unclear.
Among the confirmed dead is Ali Zalne, wanted in Sunset Valley for his connection to numerous crimes; which include a number of high-profile murders. The wife of world-renowned surgeon David Barimen and Yasmeen Zalne, his own sister, are counted among his alleged victims. Atta Zalne, serving consecutive life sentences for similar crimes, praised his son’s “martyrdom” and urged others to “follow his example”.