Chapter Four

Two Days Later

Baghdad, Iraq

“You see? The city is getting better,” Hasan said, coming out of the office with a big smile.

“You got the job?” Raneen gasped hopefully.

“I got the job!” he announced, and accepted his sister’s hug with pride and gratitude. “Oh, I thought I was done for when I saw that they were interviewing five other people today!” He released her and gestured down the street, then took her hand as he walked with her. There was a market down just one corner, reopened after months of inactivity. Traffic on the street had steadily increased and was almost approaching something like normalcy.

“I told you they would want you. If they hire someone too smart, they will have to pay more.” Raneen grinned mischievously, earning a scowl from her brother, but then a laugh.

“They must have hired the man who hired me with the same ethic in mind,” Hasan said in a noticeably quieter tone. “They offered to pay even more than I had hoped.”

“That’s wonderful!” Raneen exclaimed. She tugged at his arm and pointed down the market street. “You can buy me a new book.”

Hasan sighed. She had always been like this with him. His good fortune was hers, and really, he couldn’t fault her for it. But sooner or later his parents really needed to find her a good man and marry her off. Her brother shrugged and gestured for her to lead the way.

Raneen wove through the customers and vendor stalls, tugging Hasan along by the hand. It was good to be out in the city again. She was thinking of better days, when she was just a girl and there had not yet been war, when she promptly found herself faced with a tall white man in fatigue pants and a black t-shirt. He looked like an American soldier, but his hair was too long. She knew this man.

“Hello, Raneen,” the man said, tilting his head in something like a bow.

“Raneen? Who is this?” her brother asked, stiffening in alarm. His gamble in reporting the crimes of a few American soldiers might have worked out for the best, but the experience hadn’t left him trusting of all Americans. He would have had more trust in them had there never been need to report anything.

“This is…this is Morgan’s friend,” Raneen said hesitantly.

“I am,” the man nodded, still smiling. His demeanor was unthreatening. His voice was confident but gentle. He didn’t even seem to have a weapon, which was very, very strange for an American soldier. They all had weapons and helmets and body armor. This man had a t-shirt and a duffel bag. “Please, call me Thomas,” he said.

“Hello, Thomas,” Hasan said warily.

“Raneen, Morgan asked me to come find you to tell you that she is leaving sooner than she expected.” His Arabic was flawless.

“Oh. Is everything alright?”

“Things are fine. She is being taken to a hospital in Germany. Her legs need to heal, and so they will send her there before she goes home to America.”

Raneen smiled a bit sadly. “I am sorry I don’t get to see her before she goes. Will you tell her that I am very grateful, and that I pray for her?”

“I will. She wanted me to give this to you,” he said, holding out the duffel bag. “It holds a few things that she does not need to take home. She knows that things are still tough in this city and she wants you and your family to be well.”

“Oh. Thank you,” Raneen said, accepting the bag curiously.

“There is a phone in there that has her phone number. If you ever want to talk to her, for anything, just call.”

Hasan’s brow furrowed as he listened. “Morgan has been very…thoughtful.”

“Raneen was wronged,” Thomas shrugged. “Terribly. Morgan only wishes that she could do more.” He paused, and then said with a conspiratorial wink, “You might want to be careful who you show.”

Hasan turned to Raneen as she opened the bag. His sister’s mouth fell open as she looked inside. She promptly wrapped it shut again, her eyes nearly popping out of her head as she looked up in shock.

Thomas was gone. There was just the market and the customers.

“What’s in it?” Hasan asked, reaching for the bag to take a peek inside. Raneen just stared at him incredulously as he looked. Her brother had much the same reaction.

They fought back grins as Raneen zipped the bag shut and held it tight. It would have drawn too much attention to react as they felt. The street was becoming awfully crowded.

“I think you can afford your own books today,” Hasan suggested breathlessly.

“Yes, I think I can,” Raneen nodded.

“Or maybe your own book store.”

“Bomber! Bomber!” someone yelled. Raneen and Hasan looked up, frozen in shock as the crowd around them began to panic. A young man, no older than Raneen, came running straight for them with a wild and desperate look in his eyes. His coat was too big for this weather and too bulky for his size.

The youth yelled something, but neither brother nor sister heard exactly what. He looked at nothing in particular as he ran for the closest clutch of people nearby, which included the siblings. He pulled out a device attached by wires to something inside his coat.

Something flew through the air between Raneen and Hasan, silvery and gleaming, right at the bomber. The dagger struck him squarely in the center of his chest. Impossibly, the impact lifted the bomber off his feet to send him flying backward through the air as if hit by a car. His body tumbled to the ground, rolling and finally coming to rest underneath an old truck. Everyone threw themselves behind cover the bomb exploded. Raneen jerked Hasan back behind racks of dates. It was all she could find in the split second she had to think.

It should have been a bigger blast. The truck was lifted into the air, but only by a few inches. It seemed to suffer the worst of the explosion, too, for little in the way of shrapnel or flame erupted out to the sides. There was a loud boom, and smoke, and screams of panic…but none of pain. No one was close enough to the bomb to be hurt. No harm done at all, save to he who intended it.

As Raneen picked herself up off the street, she clutched the duffel bag close and looked around. She knew she would not see Thomas.

He would go home with Morgan. She knew that, somehow. But he had already done more than enough.

* * *

“Could be a month, could be two. The doctors figure two, but I think I’m getting better faster than that,” Morgan said into the phone with a bit of a grin. No one was looking in at her room. She lifted her legs up off the bed and stretched them in circles as if pedaling a bicycle, then promptly settled them back down like a good little invalid before anyone came by.

“Well, just take it easy and don’t push yourself. You don’t want to end up like I did when I hurt my back,” her father said. “That was the worst year for all of us.”

“I know, Dad,” she smiled gently. “Look, at best they’re gonna have me on light duty. Soon as I’m out of the hospital, I’m gonna be behind a desk at Fort Lewis until the clock runs out.”

“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re stationed so close by. It’ll be good to have you home.”

“Yeah,” Morgan huffed emphatically. “Be good to be home.” She paused. She always paused before she asked. By now, he had to know what was coming by the momentary silence. “How’s Mom?”

She heard him sigh. That wasn’t good. Morgan was wincing before he even spoke. “She’s back in rehab.”

“Aw, man…”

“Jan showed up drunk on my doorstep about a week ago Friday night. Wanted to patch things up, wanted to tell me what a mess she’d made of things…wanted a hundred bucks.”

“Was she driving like that?!”

“No, her new boyfriend or whatever was driving, and he was out sitting in her car.” He sounded tired. The subject always left him sounding tired. “Anyway, Linh was staying over here. She was out of the house, thank God, but some of her stuff was in the living room. Jan saw it and went off, started throwing things, breakin’ stuff, and finally I just said the hell with it and called the cops.”

“This was a week ago Friday? Why didn’t you tell me before now?” Morgan’s shoulders sank. She wasn’t mad so much as disappointed, and not with her father.

“At first I was still waiting for news so I could tell you how it played out. I mean it’s not like you can do anything about it out there but worry. And then when I talked to you last on the phone, you were just so busy. This is the first time I’ve really had a chance.”

Morgan grumbled a bit, but she could see his point. “So how’d it play out?”

“Cops showed up. They were gonna cite her for drunk and disorderly or something, hell, I dunno. But then they checked out her boyfriend and one thing led to another and next thing you know, they’re carting him off for all the meth in his pockets. And Jan, well, she freaked out, and they cuffed her and put her in the car, and then last Thursday she called me to say she was sorry she was such an ass and she broke up with Ronnie or whoever the hell he was and the judge was letting her go back to rehab.”

“Oh God. She’s doing meth now?”

“Nah. She wasn’t that stupid. Says she didn’t know he was into that. Says it was just the booze. But still…pretty dumb stuff.”

“I don’t even know why you still talk to her at all, Dad.”

“Fifteen years. Lotta good times with the bad. She’s a good person underneath all the booze and bullshit. Least she’s not doing coke anymore. I think. I was hoping she hit rock bottom for real last time, but I guess not. And she’s your mother.”

“I imagine this didn’t make a good impression on Linh.”

“Oh, I told her when we started seeing each other that I was still in contact with my ex and that she was crazy. Linh was pretty annoyed by the whole thing, but she’s okay. Just didn’t want me giving her any money.”

“Neither do I. Dad, it’s not the money, it’s—”

“I know, hon. I know. I’m done. I’ve been done for years.”


“You might wanna try to call her, though. She gave me the info to get hold of her in case you wanted to talk to her.”

“I will,” Morgan grumbled. “Just don’t know when. Maybe when I get to Germany.”

“You’re gonna call me when you get there, right?”

“If you want me to?”

“I do. The minute you’re on the ground in a friendly country.”

“Okay. Soon as I can.”

“I mean it. I worry about you, hon. We all do.”

“I know. I’m gonna be okay, Dad,” she said, and as if on cue, Thomas entered. He knew immediately to stay silent as he took his seat. She had warned him that she might be on the phone, and what that meant. Not for the first time, he confessed to be far more in awe of the modern world than he was of his own magic. Looking at him, she couldn’t help but smile again. “I think I’m gonna be okay from here on out.”

“So when is it you’re out altogether? March?”

“If I take all my leave at the end, yeah.”

“You looking at getting into school right away?”

“I am. I’ll worry more about that when I’m in Germany, but yeah.”

“Let me know if I can do anything to help. Thought of a major yet?”

“Nope.” Morgan frowned, staring at her feet. “I still don’t really know what I wanna do.”

“Well. Get the hell out of Iraq and we’ll figure it out then.”

“Yeah. No shit.”

“I’m proud of you, Morgan.” It hung there on the line, surprisingly every bit as meaningful to her as when Colonel Wallace had said as much. Then again, maybe it wasn’t so surprising after all. For all his faults and failings, her father had never given up on her. “I’m really proud of you.”

“I love you, Dad.”

“Love you, too.”

“I gotta get going, though,” she said. “People waiting to talk to me.”

“Okay. Call me when you’re in Germany. I don’t care what time it is. Wake me up, okay?”

“Will do. Love you, Dad. Talk to you later.” She hung up and laid the phone beside her bed.

“Your father is well?”

“He’s doing alright,” Morgan shrugged. “My mom’s a wreck, though.”

“Mom. Your mother? What’s wrong?”

“Lots. More than I wanna talk about right now,” she frowned. “Is Raneen okay?”

“She is well. Her brother found work today and seemed very pleased with the arrangement. I gave her the bag, and…protected them. Shortly after we spoke, a man attacked the marketplace with one of those bombs you spoke of strapped to himself.”

“Oh my God,” Morgan blinked, “was anyone hurt?”

“Only the man with the bomb. As I said, I protected them.” He paused. “It is good that you showed me some of those movies yesterday, otherwise I would not have known to make sure that the fire was kept to a minimum when it burst.”

Morgan let out a relieved breath. “Thank you,” she said. “Good timing being there for that.”

“Indeed. I followed them home to ensure that they were safe. No other danger presented itself.” He paused. “They both looked very pleased with all of that paper money in the bag,” he added wryly. “I still don’t see why you didn’t want to leave them with hard coin, but I guess you would know best.”

“I can’t wait to get out of this fucking country.”

“If I could make time pass more quickly, I certainly would. I could help make it a more pleasant wait…?” he offered slyly.

Morgan’s lips twitched in a grin, but she shook her head. “No. Nothing puts me out of the mood like talking about my mom. Sorry. Maybe later, when my mind’s off of it.”

“Certainly,” he nodded in understanding. “Is there anything else I might do for you?” His mistress nodded and grinned evilly. His shoulders dropped, but he nodded obediently. “I will go see what other Discovery or History Channel DVDs they have in the recreation room.”

“It’s for your own good,” Morgan teased as he rose. “I thought you wanted to learn all of this!”

“I did until we watched the one about the Crusades. I don’t believe I am yet ready to spew forth the proper amount of vitriol and bile to give an appropriate reaction.”

The Next Day

C-17 Globemaster III

Somewhere over Iraq

She had the top bunk, stacked three high without anyone below her. She considered it a lucky break. Morgan glanced around the open cargo bay of the plane, where soldiers and Marines were laid out sometimes two or three high along the bulkheads. Some had simple conditions – sports injuries, common illnesses just bad enough to require medevac.

Others weren’t so fortunate. Morgan figured she’d gotten a good bunk space, but then, she was much luckier on quite a few counts.

“You all set there?” the crew chief asked as he came by. He was an older guy, dressed in the standard tan flight suit. He had a casual air, but Morgan could tell that he was checking her straps and her gear. He had reason to be brief with her. She didn’t need a lot of help. No IV drip, no electronic monitoring. No head trauma.

“I’m all good, Sergeant,” Morgan nodded. She had a knapsack within reach on the rack below hers, stuffed with things to read, her headphones and a couple of snacks. They weren’t long out of Kuwait. With no windows and limited mobility, it was bound to be a dull trip to Ramstein.

“All good. You need to go hit the head, just wave your hand and get our attention. We’ll help you get down and get around.”

Morgan smirked. “I was wondering about that.”

The crew chief grinned back. “This is where I make a highly inappropriate joke and get myself in a lot of trouble.”

“That’s alright. I’ll just forget whatever it was you said because of my terrible emotional trauma.”

He rapped on the side of her bunk. “That’s the spirit. Play that card for all it’s worth.” With that, he moved on to the next stack of bunks.

Morgan was about to turn away when the crew chief’s spot was taken up by a wide-eyed and amazed Thomas. “Morgan, it’s wonderful!” he hissed. “You can see for so many miles! I can’t even guess how many!”

“You sure that nobody’s gonna see me talking to you?”

Thomas paused. He looked around the bay of the plane for a moment, waved his hands, and then turned back to her. “We’ll be totally ignored. We are practically invisible to them. Morgan, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced!”

“It’s better when you’re on a civilian plane,” she shrugged. “You usually get your own window.”

“And those men in the…cockpit, was it? So many buttons and…and…”

“Switches, lights and knobs,” she suggested.

“You are making another movie reference.”

“I am.”

Her genie blew it off, and instead looked around the bay in wonder. “We’re actually flying,” Thomas said in amazement. He inhaled deeply. “The air smells so strange up here.”

“That’s ’cause it’s all pressurized.”

“What does that mean?” His excitement hadn’t abated. “Are there videos about it?”

“You goon,” Morgan laughed. “I didn’t want to spoil the surprises for you. I figured you’d think it was pretty neat. Yes. There are tons of videos and books about flying. Sure we’ll have time to get you all caught up once we’re in Germany.”

“In six hours! Morgan, when I left Normandy for the Holy Land, the journey took many months. I thought before that it was incredible how much faster the cars and trucks are than horses, but this…this is wonderful.”

“You saying you couldn’t conjure up a magic carpet and fly us there even faster?”

He paused. He hadn’t really given it much thought. “I think perhaps I could,” he blinked. “I don’t really know. But certainly not everyone has magic.”

“Speaking of. You already check on everyone on the plane here? Anything you can do to help them without it looking suspicious?”

Thomas waved a dismissive hand. “Already done, most even before we took to the air. As you say, I can’t fix everything, but all will improve to some extra degree. Anyway, is it common for people to fly like this now? Everyone here seems so casual about this.”

“Well, I told you before, my country’s the most powerful on Earth. Ever,” she shrugged. “It’s not strange for people to fly. Pretty much every country has planes. You can fly all over the world. But it’s expensive, and not everyone can afford it. Plenty of people never get on a plane in their lives.”

“I look forward to seeing your country,” Thomas nodded.

“Yeah,” Morgan said with a softer tone. “Yeah, me, too.”

His head tilted curiously. “What’s wrong?”

Silence. She wasn’t looking at him anymore, just staring off into space somewhere toward the overhead. Thomas waited, gently brushing his fingers through her hair. “I don’t know what I wanna do,” she admitted.

“What do you mean?”

“When I get home. I’m gonna get home and get out of the Army, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I mean with my life.”

“You said you wanted to go to school. University,” Thomas reminded her, as if that were enough. The notion had seemed fine to him, but then, he was impressed by how educated Morgan – and everyone around her – already was. Were it not for his magic, he wouldn’t even yet know how to read.

She shook her head. “No, you go to university to learn to do something. Well, okay, ideally you’re supposed to go just to learn and become a smarter person, but…after college, you get a career. A job you pursue for life. And I don’t know what I want to do.”

“You need not do anything,” Thomas smiled gently. “Nothing you don’t want.”

Morgan glanced up at him and offered a small, thankful smile in return. “I know,” she said. “I know. I’ve got you. But that’s…I mean I’m gonna be perfectly happy to let you spoil me rotten in every way, but health and wealth aside, I still need to do something with my life.”

“Well, what does your father do?”

“Oh, hell, no. Not that. My father was a fisherman. Months at sea, out in the cold? Fuck that noise. I respect the hell out of him, but no. Not that.”

Thomas thought to ask about her mother. It stood to reason that in this age it wasn’t odd for women to have their own professions. He’d seen so many working women already. The subject of Morgan’s mother seemed likely to lower her spirits, though. “You don’t want to do work like you have done in the Army,” he supposed.

October 2018
« Feb