Amra followed Deol while Kaspinsky tried to talk to Donald. Once out of earshot, she asked, “Why did he lie about his service?”
“Well, it’s complicated. He was assigned to Captain Bipen’s case when she developed amnesia. They fell in love, married, and moved up here to start a family. I don’t think he ever told her he was studying her. He still files reports about her on occasion.”
“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
Deol shrugged. “Not many options; he knows more about the Jhansi project than anyone. I think he wanted to retire but they wouldn’t let him. This was a compromise of sorts.” She checked her pockets. “I left my recorder back there. Could you get it for me?” She sent her priority message while she waited for Amra to return.
Deol would have a hard time remembering exactly what happened next. She turned to go back to the gazebo, briefly wondering why Amra hadn’t returned with her recorder. She saw the lieutenant staring out into the valley.
Kailash came running up to the gazebo, yelling, “Look what we found!” He was carrying a red butterfly.
Amra leapt at the boy as she yelled, “Down! Grenade!” Bones cracked as she landed on him. He screamed.
Sita reacted before the men had even registered something was happening. She moved blindingly fast and pulled Amra clear of the child. They landed on the other side of him. Amra rolled around to take control but Sita easily maneuvered her face down into an arm lock.
Deol ran toward them only to have Kaspinsky grab hold of her arm. “What…”
She snapped out of his grasp, breaking his arm in the process. She glared at him. “Stand down, Major.”
As Kaspinsky sat down, cradling his arm in pain, she ran around to check on the boy. He was breathing hard, gasping for air. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. The butterfly was crushed, fallen from his still hand. Deol looked back to Donald, motioning him over. She placed herself between them and Amra.
The lieutenant was breathing hard, her eyes wild. One hand was clutching the grass and the other was twisted behind her back by Sita. Deol knelt down and administered the tranquilizer. As the lieutenant lost consciousness, she said, “You can get off her now.”
Sita stood up, slowly letting go of Amra’s arm. She met Deol’s gaze. Her old friend gave the very slightest shake of her head so she stayed silent.
Deol activated her phone. “Please send an ambulance to these coordinates. We have a boy with serious injuries. We also need transport to a military hospital for a soldier. Security personnel are recommended.”
Sita was now kneeling by her family, an arm around her husband and the other around her daughter. She was whispering soothing reassurances to them. Donald was holding their son.
Deol said, “For what it’s worth, I didn’t believe Amra was a sleeper. I wouldn’t have risked it otherwise.” She sighed. “Maybe it was a post-traumatic stress response.”
Sita said, “We’ll know once tests are run. Either way, our son…”
Deol shook her head. “I’m so sorry. We suspected it was a possibility but there was no window of opportunity for the Chinese to have gotten to her documented in her records. Battle fatigue is a far more common problem than the Jhansian virus; so much so that the media all but ignores it.”
A short while later, a helicopter had taken Amra and Kaspinsky to a military hospital and the ambulance had taken Kailash to the local hospital. Donald went with their son. Sita had stayed behind to bring their car and daughter back. Deol took the opportunity to talk to Sita alone.
“So how do I explain that maneuver you used?”
Sita shrugged. “Muscle memory?” She was avoiding eye contact.
Deol put a hand on her shoulder. “Sita…talk to me.”
She looked troubled as she turned toward her and said quietly, “Maybe I remember more than I’ve reported.”
“I figured that much.”
“And I’ve remembered more over the years. I just don’t talk about it. I like not being Captain Bipen.”
Deol sighed. “How much does Donald know?”
“Some. He’s careful not to lie in his reports without speaking the entire truth.”
“Why did you do this? The Regiment needs good officers like you.”
Sita watched as the wind stirred the trees then came across the valley through the flowers and grass. “Feel the wind and the sun, Lakshmi. This is more real than war. I just grew tired of the death and destruction. I really didn’t remember anything at first and when I did, well, it wasn’t pleasant.” She bent and recovered a garland one of the children had made. She put it around her old friend’s neck. “I found peace and healing here. Leave me be. Please.”
Deol fingered the garland, breathing in the rich fragrance. She felt the sun on her face and the wind ruffle her short, graying hair. She watched Sita’s daughter running through the flowers, seeking special ones she believed would help her brother heal faster. Butterflies flew up in her wake.
“Alright. I’ll keep your secret. Just let me come here when I retire.”
Sita hugged her. “You’ll always have a home here.”
copyright 2011, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved