Brody woke from a fitful sleep soaked in sweat with a dream still liquid in his head, backed by bits of more song lyrics and melody. In his mind’s eye were rows and rows of corn, rows and rows of green, with tufts of yellow silk catching the breeze as it drifted over the plains. Had he ever been to the Midwest? Maybe as a kid? Was this a dream or a memory? Whatever it was had him in a back of pickup truck sitting on bales of hay, chewing on a stalk of it, the taste if it still in his mouth as he woke.
As he grew more awake, his lucid mind rationalized the scenario to fill in the blanks. There were other kids around him in the back of that pickup. Maybe it was a hayride for Halloween? A tarp thrown over them when it got too dark and cold. And teenagers taking advantage of the cover to do what teenagers do. The wandering hands and hot breath under that tarp lead to other morning thoughts that Brody quickly pushed away.
“In a room by myself
Looks like I’m here with the guy that I judge worse than anyone else
So I pace, and I pray, and I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day.”
Absent of any idea where the words and music came from but his own dreams, Brody wondered if he should write the lyrics down. Is that the way song-writing worked? There was that kid he met on base once, planned to light out to Nashville to write songs after his first deployment. Maybe he’d hunt him down someday and send this to him. If he ever made it home, that is.
Brody wondered, for the first time, how it was that he remembered a kid he met on base once and the music his kids listened to and how Chris spun pencils to focus and not any of the time between Iran and now. He didn’t even know how long that time had been. What did they do to him here?
That corn silk hair. What was that? Who was that? Did he even see what he thought he saw? Hallucinations were all part of the package in his recovery. The therapists had given him whatever meds he needed to quiet them. Maybe he needed a tune-up?
As soon as he got to the hub, Brody slapped his things on his desk and went to hunt down the supervisor. When he found him, the questions came pouring out.
“Can I get back to one of the therapists who saw me when I first got here?” Brody asked.
The supervisor kept his newspaper pulled up over his face a beat too long. He finally laid it down and folded it. “What’s that?”
“The therapist,” Brody said. He wondered, again for the first time, why in an intricately connected hub of internet activity with high speed everything, the supervisor still read paper newspapers every day. A question for another time. “The ones who put me back together a while back. Where are they? Can I speak to one?”
“Let’s sit down and you tell me what’s going on that you need to talk to them again,” the supervisor said.
“I want to know things,” Brody grew impatient. “Like where I am, where is this place. Who else is here.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Brody saw Alex walking slowly toward his desk, continuously turned to look at him.
“Hold on, I’ll be back.” Brody left quickly from the supervisor’s office to grab Alex by the arm.
“That man you saw yesterday, Yevgeny something, who is that, who was with him?” Brody asked Alex.
“Not here, man.” Alex spoke out of the side of his mouth and pointed to the coffee room. “Fifteen minutes?”
Brody nodded that he understood, but Alex lingered tentatively. “Look, have you ever wondered why you’re here? I mean you’re a Marine, right? Why are you doing this stuff to infiltrate your own country with misinformation?”
Leiming heard the exchange and piped up in defense of his mentor. “Hey, man, take it easy with the judgments from left field,” he said. “Troll chatter is troll chatter, who cares if it comes from Russian minds or that 400 pound guy in his basement? In the end, they’re the same beast. Both trying to have the loudest voice in an increasingly noisy environment.”
Alex thought a bit and shrugged, seeming to agree.
Leiming continued, “Let me ask you this. Wouldn’t you rather the loudest voices come from countries that don’t shortchange their kids on science and math?”
Alex was no longer so sure of Leiming’s point. “What the fuck does science and math have to do with political opinion?”
“Like, who would you rather shape policy and political opinion?” Leiming asked. “The kids who don’t know calculus from their own Civil War or kids who’ve had the scientific method drummed into their heads from day one?”
Alex stood firm. “Again, what does science and math have to do with leading a nation?”
“It’s not the science and math, specifically, it’s the acknowledgement that there is such a thing as the scientific method. You think American kids jerking off in their basements know what the fuck it is even is to ask real questions and go thru the steps necessary to find reproducible answers?”
“No, a lot probably don’t,” Alex conceded. “But, in terms of what we’re doing here, do we really want Americans to ask questions and try to find answers?”
“That, I don’t know.” It was Leiming’s turn to concede. “Above our pay grade to ask such ‘why’ questions, bro.”
They were silent for a while, both in thought. Finally Alex said, “Americans are dependent on their five dollar T-shirts made in China. Makes sense they’d need cut-rate information too, regardless of where it comes from. And, you’re right, chatter is chatter either way. If America is dumb and cheap enough to be influenced one way or the other, what the hell do we care, even if one of us is a United States Marine.”
Brody looked at the boys with confusion, partly taking in what they were saying but mostly wondering why they thought of him as some sort of moral leader just because he was a Marine. He’d seen the same thing on the field in Iraq and Afghanistan, this knack he had for getting the guys to listen to him like he was some god. He had no idea where it came from or what to do with that kind of power. Nothing, that is, but give his guys the best of himself. In this job too, he was here to give the best of himself, the ethics of the thing never really occurring to him. Maybe those questions would come up later, but right now it was the job, that’s it. It was a mystery to Brody that most people didn’t operate the same way. Well, one person did. A firecracker wisp of a woman with corn silk hair.
Brody jolted back to getting as much information out of Alex about this Yevgeny guy as he could. Deciding that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with the supervisor, at least not yet, he didn’t return to his office. Instead, he met with Alex at the appointed time.
With the two of them alone in the coffee room, Alex began. “Let’s just say that Yevgeny Gromov and I have a long and sorted historical connection. You don’t need to know the details. Just the fact that he’s, as you would say in America, a real whack job.”
“Who was with him yesterday? The hunched over woman being led by her elbow?” Brody scrambled to confirm that he hadn’t been hallucinating.
“No idea,” Alex said. “All I know is he’s the leader of this entire operation. The woman could have been his companion or a prisoner, I don’t know.”
“Can I talk to him?” Brody asked. “Does he have an office here or something where I can go see him?”
“Likely, but also likely is that he won’t be that easy to get to,” Alex said. “Let’s see what I can find.”
Brody and Alex went back to their desks. Alex proceeded to look up the maps for the barracks. Several keyboard clicks later, he tapped Brody’s elbow. “Jackpot,” he whispered, pointing to his screen. “This spot here has a bunch of barriers and security around it. May be where Yevgeny holes up. A bunch of cameras around it too.”
From his spot next to Brody, Leiming was able to hear the entire conversation despite the whispering. “Hey, you guys need a camera hack? I developed one a while back just for kicks. Sending it over now.”
Alex and Brody both looked over with surprise that Leiming was offering his help. “Why the surprise? Just because I like work for work’s sake doesn’t mean I’m against getting my hands dirty every now and then,” Leiming said.
All three smiled as Alex continued tapping away at his computer. “Whoa, this is too easy, but maybe all we need,” he said. “I can disable the camera on the north corridor.”
“Like now?” Brody was on the edge of his seat. He scanned the room to make sure their activities weren’t attracting any attention.
“Now, or whenever,” Alex said. “In fact, I can probably do it from my phone later after work when it’s safer.”
“Guys, bogie at 6,” Leiming whispered. Brody turned to his computer screen and saw the reflection of the supervisor standing directly behind him.