Season of Change Book 3.
Akiko Sakamura was under the impression that her employer was honorable. Feeling betrayed, she realises she has only one way to regain face: to find the secret laboratory attempting to resurrect the Genesis Project. Major Nathan Hawk does not accept or believe in 'mystical' powers, not even those that happen to be genetically manipulated. According to his undrstanding, Akiko Sakamura is, at worst, a criminal, a misguided one at best. But he is instructed by his boss to take Sakamura with him on the mission. They both know Akiko is a liability, so how can he find the lab and destroy it?
"You must not stray from path." Mai Thi Vo grabbed Autumn's arm, shook her. "Land mines in jungle. Blow you up."
Autumn smirked. "Not me, I'm too fast." She didn't like Mai. The old woman must be forty if she was a day. White strands threaded through her thick night black hair, her face was dusky, unlined, her dark, up-tilted eyes were bitter and angry.
Dad trusted Mai to take Autumn to safety, but after weeks in the jungle, Autumn was beginning to doubt Mai's loyalty.
Mai was a cleaner at the compound and Autumn had seen her subjected to physical and verbal abuse by the guards, by the white-coated staff, or she was totally ignored as if her position was beneath notice. Mai sympathised with the captives, especially the children. She brought treats, soothed their tears, told them stories of the war, the glorious victory and her part in it, but told them not to tell any adults. "It our secret." She'd said with a secretive smile.
But Autumn never kept secrets from her parents, it wasn't right and it was dangerous, her dad said. Dad frowned at her when she asked him what Viet Cong meant. "The people here would never allow an enemy to work here, Autumn." He said in his deep, rumbly voice. "And while the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I doubt any of the staff here would or could help us."
"What's that mean, Dad?" She looked up at him, so big, so strong, so unhappy. "The enemy of my enemy..."
His smile was sad. "Be careful who you trust, Flash, because sometimes your friend might be your enemy, and sometimes, your enemy is a friend."
She looked at him, puzzled at the distant look in his eyes. Then he shook himself, grinned at her. "Never mind, darlin'." He brushed a finger down her nose. "Now, the twins are due back and they'll be upset."
Autumn rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Dad, I'll see to them. Man, you'd think they'd be used to it by now."
"You're four years older, Autumn. They don't stick needles into you anymore, just get you to run for them."
She lifted a shoulder. "I like running."
He squatted in front of her, his voice urgent. "And one day, one day soon, you'll need all the speed you can muster. We're getting out of here, all of us, but we can't go together. Do you understand me?"
She gaped at him. Get out of here? Why? Once the White Coats stopped sticking her, they wanted her to run and run and run. It made her happy, and if she was happy, they were happy, too. If she did really well, they let her play or read books about a land called U.S.S.R. One of the White Coats - he was losing his hair and wore glasses that made his brown eyes seem huge - he wanted her to read everything about U.S.S.R. She didn't understand where it was, but she liked the pictures and the idea of people working hard for everyone's benefit. One day, she thought she might like to visit.
Autumn didn't want to go anywhere. "But... this is our home." She whined.
Autumn cringed at the fire in her father's blue eyes. "This isn't home, Autumn, this is a prison, an abomination where cruelties are perpetrated on children, on babies. No, Autumn, you may have been born here, but this isn't your home. Your mother and I will get you out, all of you, and then... I'm going to destroy this place down to the last brick."
Mai shook her out of her memories with a pinch. "Ow! Whadja do that for?"
Mai's lip curled. "You pay attention to me! This jungle dangerous! You Yankee dogs, drop bombs in war, kill many people, but more. Set mines to kill
patriots of the cause. One blow up, make you run and new one blow up right in front of you, then more blow up. Blow up you, me and anyone. Hot blood, stinky guts, cut off limbs, severed heads, all go up then down, spray everywhere." She shook her finger in front of Autumn's eyes. "You not fast enough. No one fast enough."
Autumn did not lack imagination, she'd seen pictures of Soviet soldiers and citizens from the October Revolution, from Stalingrad and what weapons could do to a body. She stared at her guardian in horror. No, not even she was fast enough to escape destruction of a massive mine.
Autumn nodded, wide-eyed.
"Good. Now, we near Phnom Penh, my home. Time I am home." She murmured wistfully, then glared at her charge. "We go."
'Near' turned out to be a two-day walk. Mai's experience within the jungle kept them going, kept them fed by using the local wildlife and plants.
Mai knew this jungle, Autumn thought, understood it well enough to survive for long periods and she wondered again about the Viet Cong and what it meant.
She caught a strange scent. Sniffed and wrinkled her nose. "What's that stink?"
Mai dragged in a deep breath. "Mekong." She sighed. "I been gone too long."
"What's a Mekong?"
Mai smiled with genuine affection. But not for her, Autumn knew, for a Mekong.
"It is the river of my birth. My home, my life."