Orders – Part 4
read Part 3 here
The attacks happened while Arinna was at work. Despite their rocky friendship, Byran was the first to call and tell her.
“Something’s happened. Leave now before they lock you down. Meet me at the cafe,” he said before hanging up. Arinna grabbed her coat and left, regretting that calling Michael minutes prior to the announcement of something that she wasn’t supposed to know about would raise alerts.
She kissed Byran’s cheek in greeting, but dodged his hug. He gave her a hurt look, one that she would have felt guilty for if it showed any sign of understanding why she’d kept her distance for over two months. But he didn’t. She didn’t imagine Byran would change for anyone. It was not a life she could lead, but Byran hadn’t accepted that yet.
“Have you heard anything?” Byran asked as he served her tea, fussing as if the visit were social.
“A few things on the way over: simultaneous attacks, predawn. But I don’t know how many or where.”
“At least six. A few were military targets and data hubs, the others weapons depots.”
Arinna cursed under her breath. Byran didn’t know much else, just a list of reported targets that were very uncertain, and no idea of severity. But he had gotten her out of the embassy, which would allow her to check other contacts before going back. For that alone, she was grateful.
Her work phone buzzed. She checked it even though she was certain what it would say. “I’m being called back.”
Byran nodded, standing to see her out. “Stay safe,” he whispered into her ear as he kissed her cheek. “Please call me when you can.”
“I will.” She squeezed his arm, allowing that much contact between them.
It took two days for the embassy to go off of high alert. Things remained tense, especially after news of the level of attacks and amount of stolen weapons came out. Most of it was unofficial, but the halls of the embassy buzzed with information. Some of it was accurate.
Three more weapons depots had been emptied while five other strategic areas had been targeted. Information and communication centers had gone down five minutes before the first explosion, ten minutes before the raid on the depots. The work was precision, orchestrated using the information breached months before, and organized by someone inside the military or government. Or both. The USA was chasing its own tail, spinning into darkness. When she came home to find Michael hunched over the table, two letters laid out before where he sat with fingers tangled in hair that she’d grown to like seeing long, Arinna knew the chaos had finally reached out for them.
“We have orders,” Michael said when he realized she was in the room. She took the chair across from him. The letters lay between them on the table.
“What are they?”
“I’m to go back to the Air Force. Active duty. Rank of Captain.”
“That isn’t bad. You miss flying.”
He looked at her from where he sat with his forehead resting in his palm. The one eye she could see was wild and frantic. Arinna took a slow breath.
“Active duty, army, general rank, front line platoon. That is a demotion.”
She had to swallow a few times before she could answer. “They know I’ve been asking questions about the FLF. We heard about others who asked the wrong things.”
“The FLF have taken how many depots? With the weapons they control now… even against the US army that is a death sentence. They are sending you out to be killed.”
“It is better than hauling me in and killing me themselves.”
Michael flinched, the look on his face desperate enough that Arinna fell back in her chair with a whuff. This was real. Expecting something similar hadn’t prepared her as much as the flippant answers pretended.
“If we go back, neither of us have a future, Michael. The FLF has gotten too much information and too many weapons. No one trusts each other. The military is infiltrated. You could be shot down or fly a plane that is rigged. Heck, your plane could be remotely flown into a target. There is not going to be a winner in this battle. Just a lot of deaths.”
“Punishing you for asking too many questions is the last sign I needed… if I needed it.”
“So what do we do?”
“You could take Byran up on his offer.”
Arinna swayed back in her chair, nearly tipping over. “You knew? I thought I had good contacts… is there anything about my time here that you don’t know?” The anger was misplaced, but it still ticked her off that he’d kept her watched.
“It took some time. Byran was out of sorts enough after the ball that he eventually moaned to someone. No names, of course. If you hadn’t been avoiding him, I might have said something.” He watched her steadily. “That doesn’t answer the question. Do you want to take Byran up on his offer?”
“No, Michael,” she answered, blinking tears out of her eyes. “I love you, not him. I want to be with you.”
Relief took the tension out of Michael’s frame. He reached across and she gave him her hand. “Good,” he said, and then laughed.
“So where does that leave us? Going back and getting killed?” she asked.
“Do you think Eldridge’s offer is still open?”
“Work at NATO? I’m not certain… I could find out. We’ll be considered traitors.”
“Dear, I think you already are.”