The doorbell rang, twice in succession. My arms stretched over a scratchy surface and I stiffened my legs, listening to the cracking of my joints. Sitting up, I realized I’d been lying on the ground against the couch. Had I really managed to fall asleep here? Usually it took me hours to fall asleep in my own bed, which was soft and had pillows and blankets. The horrible memories rested in the top of my conscious thought, like dead bugs and leaves that wouldn’t sink to the bottom of a pool. Talking to Mom the night before, but not being able to be close to her, after everything that had happened with Jason… It was all becoming too much for me to bare.
The doorbell rang again and I lifted myself off the ground, leaning on the couch and watching as my vision shifted red momentarily. “Coming,” I groaned. I made my way down the stairs slowly, pulling myself down by the railing. The bell rang once more. “I said I’m coming,” I said again, a little more annoyed. I looked to see who it was and was surprised to see Kathryn standing outside my door. “What is she doing here?” I mumbled to myself.
“Oh, dear, you look awful. I was notified of what happened, and came over as soon as I could. Of course with your mother being gone, I had to come and see how you were doing,” Kathryn affirmed as she began climbing the stairs to the living room. I stood in shock for a moment before grumbling and closing the door. “It’s really too bad they had to shave that pretty head of hair of yours.”
“Yeah, they tend to do that when you need brain surgery,” I replied. When we sat on the couches opposite each other, I pretended not to notice as Kathryn scrutinized my appearance. With Mom not here I was worried I would say something stupid in front of her boss. “What do you need Ka—Ms. Blanchard?”
Kathryn’s posture never let up and her eyes wandered around the living room for a moment, landing on pictures and ornaments. “I don’t need anything, Persephone. I just wanted to make sure you were feeling well. You know, you’re quite a lucky girl to have survived two different attacks.”
Luck had nothing to do with it. “Ms. Blanchard, thank you very much for taking the time to see me, but I’m all right.”
“That’s wonderful to hear. You didn’t get a chance to see any of the gunmen at the diner, did you?” Kathryn asked, her expression had changed to one of seriousness. I’d never seen her without her fake smile.
“No, I was hiding in the washroom. I thankfully never had to see them, I only heard their voices.” Screams. Gunshots. Silence. “Ms. Blanchard, do you know anything more about these attacks? Something the news hasn’t told us?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking. As much as I disliked her, she probably had information about these attacks.
Kathryn seemed to think over my question and then decided whether or not to tell me anything. “I suppose you have the right to be informed on the situation. Well, as you’re aware, your mother and her team were sent by the Canadian government to Syria to work through the past crisis as well as rising tensions in the Middle East. There has been a very unstable peace within this region: the instability being largely due to other countries trying to impose their politics in foreign lands, diminishing resources such as oil, and extremist groups. It was imperative your mother go as a representative, as she is not only a Canadian federal employee but also a member of the IPC—which as you know, along with the UN, works to keep global stability while maintaining development. You have probably heard of the Salvation Society at this point, they’re a small group of very vocal and highly violent Christian extremists. They began in Lebanon but their numbers have been growing quickly, their terrorist doctrines are gaining traction with groups of people who feel otherwise powerless. It’s a very dangerous situation and many people are working very hard to deescalate it. I want to assure you that your mother didn’t leave for no reason, the outcome of this meeting will have a huge impact on the future.”
I hadn’t expected her to tell me as much as she had, or be as straightforward as she had been. It was as if she were a completely different person. I had no idea what to say next and so I waited for her to speak again. “You know, elevating your head while you sleep will stop fluids from building up in your face and reduce the puffiness,” Kathryn noted, somehow she had gotten a hold of one of my hands and she inspected it intensely. My mouth fell in shock from the complete turn in the conversation. I wanted to ask her more questions, but I felt that the fleeting moment were she had been honest was over. “So, have you thought over my prior offer?”
“What prior offer?” I pulled my hand back, trying to not seem rude but also not wanting her to touch me.
“To join the IPC. You could be just like your mother.” I could never amount up to my mother.
“I hadn’t realized that you’d been serious,” I admitted.
“Of course your wounds would need to heal before I could get you in for the physical exam, and you’d also need to pass a mental health test—”
“W-wait! I never agreed to this. All I said was I hadn’t known you were serious. I haven’t even considered it.”
“Well, consider it. We could really use a smart, strong woman like yourself, and with your aptitude for surviving, you could be quite useful for rescue missions.” Kathryn’s plastered smile was back. Somehow her teeth seemed even more bleached than the last time I’d seen her; I noticed a small smudge of bright pink lipstick on her teeth and smiled to myself. In the end I assured Kathryn that I would honestly consider her offer, and that managed to get her out of the door. Finally I was alone again.
The next week I spent virtually looked inside, only leaving the house when it was absolutely necessary. I didn’t speak with Kathryn again nor with Mom, in fact I didn’t really speak with anyone. On several news channels they broadcasted memorials for the victims of the recent attacks, however I couldn’t stand to watch it; Jason’s mother invited me to his funeral, though I didn’t go. I could barely keep the nightmares away as it was, I didn’t need that experience bouncing around in my subconscious. Besides, they were bound to know it had been my fault. I had probably been invited so that they could confront me, and if they did that there was nothing I could do to deny it. Jason’s death was on my hands.
With the TV droning on quietly in the background, I was curled onto the largest couch rereading for the fourth time my favourite book—The Dancing Universe. I’d just gotten to my favourite part, when the doorbell rang. For a moment I considered ignoring it, it was probably just the landlord coming to tell me yet again that the rent was late, but it may have been important. I shrugged the blanket off, placed my book on the coffee table, and went to answer the door. Outside, standing in the blistering sunlight, was a man in a loos navy blue suit. He had dark, clean cut hair and carried a shiny black briefcase.
“Ms. Persephone Adner?” he asked when I opened the door. His voice was smooth and low, I noticed one of his front teeth was slightly chipped.
“That’s me,” I replied cautiously, my breath already bated.
“My name is Mateo Delgado, I am an employee of the federal government—much like your mother. I have some sensitive information to disclose with you. Would you please come with me?” Mateo held out a work ID card, and gestured behind himself to a small silver car. I looked from it to him. He was joking, right? Why in good sense would I go with him? I didn’t know him, as far as I knew that card could be fake and he could be a criminal.
I shook my head and inched back inside, closing the door slightly. “Sorry, Mr. Delgado, but I’m not going anywhere with you,” I stated, ready to shut the door entirely. He held a large hand out and stopped the door easily.
“Trust me, this information is pertinent to you. You will want to come with me.” You should have never opened the door. You should have never opened the door. What are you going to do now? This man won’t leave.
“Please leave,” I said.
Mateo sighed. “Ms. Adner, this pertains to your mother,” he stated, retracting his hand. I creaked the door open, and a small triumphant smile played on his lips. He had my attention now.
“What about my mom?” I asked. Whatever Mateo would or would not have said was interrupted but the car door opening.
“This is taking far too long; this is why I told you to let me speak with her.” Out of the door stepped Kathryn, with her signature ruby red lips and a charcoal pant suit. Her hair was tied back and she looked far less extravagant than any other time I’d seen her, in fact she looked a little tired. Kathryn pushed Mateo behind her, he grumbled something about insubordination, and headed back to the car. “I’m not behind insubordinate, darling, we don’t even work together,” she threw over her shoulder. “Persephone, something has happened to your mother, we can’t fully disclose it here.
My eyes shifted from the car, to Mateo inside, and then to Kathryn. I clenched and unclenched my fists, running my lip under my incisor—I weighed my options carefully. Going with them to who-knows-where was placing a lot of trust in Kathryn, which I didn’t possess for her. Who’s to say where they would take me and why? Or that what she’d said was even true? On the other hand, if it was true… If something had happened to Mom, I needed to know.
But even if something had happened, what are you going to do?
A few moments longer my inner monologue carried on, and then Kathryn cleared her throat, showing clear signs of inpatients. “Fine, I’ll be right out,” I said. Kathryn nodded, but didn’t move. I ran upstairs and got my cellphone and keys, tucking them into my jacket pocket (as well as well as stuffing in my mace); carrying around a jacket in 30+ weather wasn’t exactly conspicuous, but I had nothing else. Still in my pajamas, I followed Kathryn to the car, and got into the back. Mateo glanced back at me, and then started the car.
We drove through downtown for a while and then slipped from the main street into an underground parkway. The drive had been deathly silent and it hadn’t helped ease my nerves, I clutched the pocket with my mace tighter as we pulled into a stall. We walked across the cold, orange-lit lot to an elevator. I wasn’t particularly fond of elevators, and it was a stressful seven story ride. The heavy doors parted to reveal an underwhelming hallway dotted with windows that opened into other underwhelming rooms. The carpet was a beige shag and the walls were a dim white, black plaques on the doors read names like ‘Conference room A’ and ‘Breakroom’. It looked like the inside of the office building out of which Mom had sometimes worked back at Little Prison. Five doors down from the elevator we turned into a room, one which had no windows facing outside only a small row of windows facing into the hall. A small group of people was gathered around a horseshoe table, coffee cups were set in front of nearly all of them, and the faces looked up at us with universally clouded eyes.
“This is Persephone, Elissa’s daughter,” Mateo said as he guided me to the table, I sat down beside him and studied all the faces. My heart was already pounding, and whether from anticipation or from being in a room full of watching strangers, I sort of felt like throwing up. Kathryn didn’t sit down at the table, and I got the sense she didn’t really belong.
“Hello, Persephone. My name is Avi Varma, I am the Deputy Minister of Global Affairs. I was one of the individuals who accompanied your mother and the others to Syria.” From the centre of the horseshoe, a frail looking man spoke. His lips were thick and only the tips of his teeth could be seen when he spoke, on his head he wore a tight black turban, and grey hair intermingled in his black, coily beard. I faintly remembered seeing a picture of him on the news cast that day at the diner. “Last night, at approximately 03:30 local time, the hotel was raided—the guards were shot dead at their posts, as well as some other staff members on duty. Seven of us had been sent to Syria, I returned a few days ago to handle another matter. Mr. Dumont and Ms. Jackson were killed; Ms. Adner, Mr. Jarrouj, Dr. Zamora, and Miss Mundall were taken hostage, we lost contact with them at 03:51 local time.”
Mom hadn’t been shot, but she’d been taken. That meant she was still alive… Was that better or worse? Who had her? Why had they taken her and why did they want my mom?
The woman who sat across from me and had been sitting up as straight as if she were incapable of slouching even the slightest, suddenly lost her posture. Her already glassy and tired looking eyes swelled with tears, she let out a chocked shriek through the hands clamped over her mouth. Eventually she was taken into another room, and a momentary silence shrouded the room. Another man pursed his already thin lips and fixed his stare on the table edge, shaking his head every so often.
“We had equipped everyone with specially designed contact lenses and ear pieces to collect visual and auditory information, and to ensure constant contact with everyone. We only have reliable information from the ear pieces, as Ms. Jackson—the only one wearing her contacts— was killed shortly after the break in. We registered three male voices (though they may have been distorted), and they seemed to have been speaking broken English as well as Arabic. No one has made contact with us to take claim of the raid, and as of now we do not know who has taken them hostage,” Deputy Minister Varma explained.
“W-why did you have to bring us here?” I asked, hardly able to contain my own tears. My voice was already betraying me and I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. My mind kept racing back to Mom, and what could have happened to her. Mom was strong, she would have put up a fight, but if they had guns there would have been little she could have done. I tried not to imagine them hurting her as they forced her from the room, I tried not to imagine Mom being paraded through the darkness with a gun to the back of her head.
Deputy Minister Varma didn’t speak for a moment, and when he tried he was cut off by the woman to his right. “The media will have a with this, they will jump to all sorts of conclusions and propagate all sorts of panic. We have managed to filter most of the news of the event coming into the country, which as you can imagine with social media hasn’t been easy, but we had to assure that no one could overhear us.”
My vision was beginning to tunnel, blackness began to creep into my view, and I realized I’d been holding my breath. “You can’t do that. Canada has freedom of media, you’re infringing on people’s right of knowledge. You can’t keep this from people.”
“We aren’t infringing on anyone’s right, we’re simply filtering out untrustworthy sources. We don’t plan to keep this from people, we’re allowing a buffer period, so that we can properly formulate the story and the explanation. The last thing this world needs is unreliable sources fabricating stories that will only breed fear and hatred. You may be too young to remember this, but the last time things like this started happening, it didn’t take long before people started turning on each other. Is civil unrest going to solve anything?” The woman crossed her arms on the table in front of herself, and leaned into them. Out of everyone present, she looked she least troubled, or even Kathryn looked more worried than she did.
I wanted to stamp that triumphant look from the woman’s face, I wanted to say something that would convince her that what was happening was unconstitutional. But I couldn’t think of anything to say. I remembered how people had been acting since the dirty bombs had gone off at Parliament Hill and the shooting at the diner. The US media coming through had been telling us for weeks they had been acts of terrorism, that we had to respond in kind, and President Dova had said the US military would be sent to intervene. Though Canada had tried to be diplomatic, people weren’t happy with the current approach. They felt something had to be done, and maybe I did too. When this story got out, it would add fuel to the fire, and (as much as I hated to admit it) people would turn on each other. Was it so terrible to clean up the story a bit before the public got their hands on it?