War and Peace: Chapter 38

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Chapter 38

August was expecting a big reaction when James saw who was hiding in her bedroom, and she wasn't disappointed. His eyebrows shot up his forehead like they were headed for an escape hatch on his scalp.

"Jaleet?"

Jaleet stood in front of August's bed looking awkward and out of place, nodding in acknowledgement. There was no way to mistake him for anyone else. The dark skin, unassuming aura, impenetrable gaze, even his army-cropped hair were just as inside Shattered Land. The only difference was his clothing: gray slacks and non-descript business shirt instead of military fatigues. And the lack of a combat knife large enough to be called a sword.

"In this world," Jaleet explained, "I am called Imran Muhammad."

"Your real name, or another alias?"

"Though it has not often been used, it is the name I was born with."

James leaned against the jamb of the door, guardedness fading to resignation. "I can tell this is going to be a long conversation."

Despite having heard much of it already, August listened as Imran recounted his tale from the beginning. It was no less fascinating the second time.

Imran had once been an agent of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security. Even now, to speak of it went against the vows he had sworn to give up his identity, devote his life to the Ministry, and never allow information of its activities to reach the ears of those not similarly sworn.

"Then why are you telling us this so easily?" James asked. In his cross-legged posture on the bed, the skeptical fold of his arms recalled a displeased yogi.

"It was not easy to make such a decision. But in my investigations, there came to be no other alternative to gaining the support necessary to create a breakthrough. If I divulge nothing and offer nothing, what can I expect in return?"

Difficult to criticize that train of thought, since it was exactly the one that had lead August to spill her life and times to James, something as refreshing as it had been terrifying. Had Imran felt the same, when he ceased to be Jaleet and became Imran again? Not that it was such a simple process. There was no flipping a mental switch to once and for all become a different person. She had learned that the hard way, all of her various Augusts still lurking, checked and balanced but never erased.

"What did you do for the Ministry, exactly?"

Imran shifted in the swivel chair. "That is a lengthy side story, and time may be of the essence."

James stared, dissatisfaction in every eloquent crease of his frown. "The short version."

Imran's eyes took on a distant cast as he searched for a way to condense his life's work into a Cliff Notes paragraph. "I was involved primarily with the management side of foreign information retrieval."

"Spy handling."

"In essence."

"Have you killed anyone?"

Imran blinked once before saying, "I have not. Though I will not deny that information I acquired may have been used for such purposes. I was not privy to details."

"Continue."

In early 2018, Iran's government was under serious pressure to institute political reform by transferring power away from the Grand Ayatollah and placing it more solidly in the hands of the elected President, a reversal of the 1979 revolution. The entrenched power structure resisted, and the result was violent struggle pitting young left against old right. Government institutions aligned primarily with the reigning system, at which point Imran Muhammad found himself working against his own peer group, as those he might once have considered friends sided with the revolutionaries.

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