Lt Rose Murphy

By rights they were all dead at this point. Or beyond dead, if you will, since they had all emerged once before from the great herd of indifferent citizenry to jump into the crosshairs. But there was no excitement left for their adversary in the quick call, the hustle of files, the anonymous newspaper clippings. The chase lay elsewhere.

For his own reasons, the good doctor was equally tired of the endless sameness. Hustled away whenever it seemed that there was a chance of a breakthrough, lied to by the pettiest of officers, bought off by the accompaniment of attractive young women, seduced by Washington insider parties, sold out by professional schemers and political assassins, the doctor longed for the simple life of his faculty office, and even for the internecine competition of his colleagues, academic sycophants all. Here, he was the show animal, the quirky genius with only one purpose, and constantly on display. He loved and hated it.

He had grown fond of Lt. Rose Murphy, but was flabbergasted when she explained the terms of her assignment to him. She was utterly sullen as she explained how they had trained her for espionage, and then given her to him. Not to learn from him, or to keep him from foreign agents, but simply to keep him from getting too close to the truth, whatever that was. She was not close enough herself to say. Even by saying this much she was risking her career and her freedom. But despite herself, despite her training, despite her indifference to all things academic, she had fallen in love with him. He was alternately charming, brilliant, and disarmingly arrogant, a man completely unaware of his actual effect on others and therefore completely genuine. He sought to shine in her eyes, not out of love, simply to see the glimmer in her eyes, and yet she still felt herself coddled, complimented and needed in the life of one of her country’s great intellects. The package was simply too much for her young and over-sure heart.

The good doctor was nonplussed, not because of her assignment, but because she chose to confess to him. He had grown accustomed to feeling that everyone in the military saw him as a walking insect — someone whose function was too important to let him be squished, but who was too distasteful to be let out of the cardboard box. Even, until now, his pliant adjutants. So he unburdened himself to her, and she told him that she would find out what was being hidden from him.

It gave her great purpose, this quest, and she was finally able to apply her training and skills in information gathering. Before long, she was on the trail of the most accessible source, the young operator who had been there at the most recent strike. He had been swapped out, indicating that he knew too much for his degree of reliability, and he was no doubt cooling his heels somewhere outside the reach of media and muckrakers. If, after two or three years, he proved to be docile enough, he would be released back into the population. By then, his actual knowledge would be ancient history and impossible to corroborate. And the relevant handlers would have had ample opportunity to let him feel the consequences of betrayal.

The only thing she could do was to crack through this ice ring — as quickly and as decisively as she could — and try to shake the information she could from him. The consequences of this gambit were likely to be dire, but she hoped to be protected by the doctor’s prominence, and maybe, maybe she and he would be given an opportunity to simply retire from the whole sordid mess. He did, after all, have the knowledge to do great damage to the cause of liberty and stability. Yet he was surely more valuable alive than dead, and less likely to turn to another country if he felt respected in his wishes — to return to academia and, incidentally, to marry. To divorce and remarry, actually, but those logistics never did interest her much; she understood that he had a life to which she did not belong. But this one crescendo of a moment might be just what was needed to bond them — forever.

Thus she stood before the operator and ordered him to reveal to her what had happened on that fateful assignment in_____________________. He was already in a twilight zone, agog at his female visitor, afraid of temptations and tests, and vaguely troubled by an inkling he was marked for an unusually cruel death at the far end of the planet. He said that he needed a sign that this wasn’t just a test of his loyalty to the armed forces. What sign, she asked. They spoke slowly, part of a hard-boiled ritual they were both vaguely aware of, both fostering and yet also resisting, each in their own way. I need you, he said, to show me how deeply you love the doctor, how far you’ll go. I came here, didn’t I, she said, her voice still deep and congested. I mean more, he said; you could hear both the excitement and dread in his voice, a commingling that was almost de Sade-like in its mixture of pleasure and pain, the anticipation and fear of pain. The point: putting out would mean this wasn’t just a sting. She grunted a brief expression of disgust. You tell me something, and I’ll give you a piece of clothing, she said. It’s got to be meaningful; if you’re just jerking me, I’ll get dressed and leave, but not without filing a report on your respect for the uniform. If you get me undressed, she said from deep in her throat, I will get you off. That’s all I’m offering. Accepted, he said, bubbly in relief — but not without a nagging, lingering doubt that this was his last wish.