Chapter 46: Overwhelmed
Air rushed into her lungs at the speed of a tidal wave crashing onto shore. It burned and inflamed her insides, as if her body hadn’t had oxygen in days. Sydney blinked, waiting for her dry and red rimmed eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Seconds, minutes, hours – she wasn’t sure which – ticked by and her surrounding didn’t fade any lighter. She tried to wait longer, impatient that she couldn’t tell how long longer was. For some reason it was hard to judge the concept of time in… wherever she was.
The last thing Sydney could remember was Hatcher’s gruesome smile stretched across his sliced face as he loomed about her. In her mind she could still smell the scent of the blood and sweat that had dripped off his body and onto hers. She had been trapped on the upper floor the ballroom and at the mercy of the man who made her life hell for nine consecutive months. Hatcher had straddled her torso, pinning her much smaller body to the marble floor with his weight pressing into her lungs so it forced her to gasp for each breath. With her breathing already shaking and shallow, Sydney knew when the rag soaked with chloroform had come into view that the she was done for. Hating herself for getting into this situation, she had managed to let out one last merciless scream before she had passed out, the drug overtaking her senses.
The mission now seemed as if it had been days ago, and Sydney feared that it had. She wondered where Vaughn and everyone else were: if they had made it out unscathed, if they had any idea on where the hell she was. She felt lethargic, disoriented. The way someone would have felt after waking up from a heavy nap while having the flu. It made her idly question how many drugs were running rampant through her system at that very moment. Nothing registered. She couldn’t tell what was up, what was down… if she was alive or if she was dead. It was unsettling, the darkness messing with her senses. There were no flickering shadows, no blurry blobs of shapes, not even a butterfly needle’s pinprick worth of light. Every single inch of wherever-she-was held the same inky blackness.
She tried to stand, her body groaning in protest at the movement. It was then that she remembered that she had not only been shot but had a knife wielded into her thigh. One knife may have been imbedded into her, but now it felt like a thousand were slicing through her muscles. Switching tactics, her fingers ached as she reached out to find purchase on something, anything. But everything she managed to grasp seemed slick. In her head, Sydney instinctively knew that her surrounding were wet even if she couldn’t actually feel the liquid. She wasn’t sinking yet she could sense the dampness in the stilted air around her. Even though she couldn’t reach the ends of her enclosure, she knew that the space wasn’t very large. She could also sense the she was suspended somehow. She felt like a turtle that was stuck on its back with no way of turning over.
Sydney opened her mouth to speak but all that came out was a rough, unintelligible rasp of a voice. It hurt her vocal cords so much that her mouth snapped shut immediately. She squeezed her eyes closed, half hoping it that it was all just a bad dream, before opening again. Vaguely, she realized that the darkness was the same whether her eyes open or closed. Think, she demanded to herself, make a plan, Sydney. What do you know? What do you need?
Energy. Above all else, she needed energy. Her body needed to wake up if she was going to escape. Sydney knew there were only a few ways she could jump start her system in this position, so she stared slowly at first. She took deep, even breaths before gradually accelerating them faster, shortening the intervals with each passing second. Soon she was panting harshly through clenched teeth, the intoxicating feel of adrenaline starting to trickle through her veins. Her heart rate picked up and blood rushed to her muscles and vital organs in preparation. Within a minute, she felt like caged animal running on the primal instinct of fight or flight.
Even with the adrenaline, it was painful to move. Her body was fighting a battle against her, not wanting to corporate with even the simplest of movements. Sydney forced herself to ignore the throbbing ache that had taken up presence in her limbs and tucked the pain into a far corner in the back her mind to deal with later. Using a staggered crawl on all fours, she explored the vessel of her containment. After her assessment, she guessed that it was a little wider than her full arm span and with a length of roughly her body and a half. It was too low for her to stand, but if she ducked her head down low she could kneel.
Taking another ragged breath, Sydney knew that air had to be flowing in and out somewhere because she was surely passed the point of using up all of her oxygen. With stiff fingers and determined effort, she ran her hands along every inch of wall she could find… looking for cracks or seams. Frustrated, she found none and the continuous state of darkness gave her no chance of seeing one either. I was put in here, therefore there is a way out of here, she mused to herself in bitter anger. She had survived on the belief that no matter how bleak the situation there was always a way out. Always. She wasn’t about to change her beliefs now.
Sydney checked for cracks again and then again before slumping her back up against one of the side walls, exhausted. For the second time she wondered what they could have given her and how long it would take before it was filtered out of her system. She had never been claustrophobic (one couldn’t be when they’re crawling through air ducks and careening down elevator shafts at least once a month) yet she wasn’t very fond of enclosed spaces either. The unending nightfall wasn’t helping to make things seem bigger either. However, it wasn’t about the lack of space that bothered her but rather the seclusion. Even as a child she hated to be alone. She remembered in the months after her mother “died,” she had followed her first nanny around like a shadow. Bent down in this dark wherever-she-was, Sydney realized that she had been nearly thirty before she ever lived alone. When she was little it had been with her father, then boarding school, then dorms. After a string of bad roommates, she and Francie were scraping up money to find their own place. That lasted up until… up until everything came crashing down around them. And now she lived alone - just another example of how the world had changed without her during the two years she was missing.
But being alone went way beyond the habit of having of having people around. During psych evaluations for the CIA she remembered being informed (or maybe warned?) that spies were one of the fastest groups to go come undone when put into isolation. They had seen too much, done too much to stay sane when left alone with their thoughts. Sydney knew that she wouldn’t be the exception. Compartmentalizing information, compartmentalizing emotions only worked if you never had to face them. Once you start thinking about them too hard lids start to come lose until total combustion.
Her heart began pound rapidly at the mere notion of being enclosed in there for any extended period of time. Her mind was already starting to whirr with a jumble of thoughts, so many vying for her attention that it was making her dizzy.
Will plopped on their couch, his expression at being caught watching Lifetime…
The smell of chocolate chip muffins that Laura Bristow made from scratch…
Her first present from Noah: a half of dozen red roses tied to a book of poems…
A snowman bag at Christmastime with a silver antique picture frame inside…
That song she never knew the words to, the one Francie always hummed when she cooked…
How the light faded from the eyes of the first man she ever killed…
Jack teaching her how to assemble a gun…
The expression on Vaughn’s face as he told her “I love you…”
A pale hand running along the lapel of his collar with a loud whisper of, “Michael, love…”
Water pelting against her skin as she told Danny what she thought was the truth…
Danny’s blood everywhere, the feel of it sticking to her fingers…
Sydney whimpered in the darkness, the muscles in her throat straining at the action. Her hands involuntarily ran along her shirt in a vain attempt to wipe off the imaginary blood. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Stop. Relax, she mentally whispered, angry that this place has gotten to her so easily. Focus on one thing and only one thing, she told herself. She needed something that would detach her from the situation so that she could think clearly. Something that was organized, perfunctory. Settling on naming all fifty states, she started from the west coast and worked her way across the country while inhaling slow, steady streams of air. By the time she was mentally picturing Maine she had to admit she felt a bit better. Wanting to separate herself from this place as much as possible, she decided to try and put the state capitals in alphabetical order.
Albany, Annapolis, Atlanta, Augusta, Bismar— Wait, wrong, she thought to herself as her eyes lids became heavy. Her head lolled to the side and let out a deep breath. Atlanta, Augusta, Bat—Baton Rouge…
Against her will, sleep took claim of her body. Time passed as she “woke up” again and again to the perpetual black hole without ever knowing how long she’d been out. Each time was the same - remembering the bits and flashes of deranged and nonsensical dreams but not being able to recall any finite details. Sydney felt as if she were experiencing a never ending trip through Willy Wonka’s psychedelic colored, multi-flashing, lighted tunnel. This time when her eyes popped open and her heart felt as if it was about to burst from her chest, she noticed a visible tremor in her hands as they moved to wipe sweat soaked locks of hair from her face. She could feel it in her bones that it had been several hours since her last desperate assessment of the area, and probably a day had passed since she’d been taken.
She repelled thoughts of dying, of wanting to die. She knew she could stick it longer - weeks, months, maybe even a year before she would break into nothing but a stammering vegetable. Right now it was the uncertainty that was slowly killing her. Notions of being let free in two years plagued her like leeches. Would the world pass her by once again without noticing her absence? Would she wake up to find out that he had married another pretty wife? What if this time she wasn’t an evil, twisted, traitor? Sydney’s heart skipped a beat at the thought. She had a feeling it would stop permanently if the notion came true.
All of a sudden the air around her seemed to stop dead for a split second before a great rush sliced through the space. The vessel was being opened…
“Do you remember Mike ever mentioning a girl named Renée Rienne…?”
At first Weiss didn’t know how to process the question. He stared dumbfounded at Elise who had that little notepad poised in her lap and looking over at him with expectant eyes. Renée Rienne. He knew that he knew the name but was having trouble placing it. Someone that Éclair would know. Someone from Mike’s ties in France? He ran through the mental list of people he had met of Mike’s friends back home when suddenly it clicked. “Amélie’s other future daughter in law… the girl Drew dated all throughout university?” Elise Claire nodded. “I think I met her met once,” he continued. “Dark hair, dark eyes? Sort of closed off to strangers? The one that bitched out Jacqueline a couple of years ago after she made a comment about your family that Andrew claimed was the best turn on of his life?”
He hadn’t meant to blurt everything out like that, but he was having trouble connecting the dots. When Elise said she had something, he figured that she brought news of Amélie’s garden club friends with the political husbands. But an ex girlfriend? Now was most definitely not the time to hashing out another rendition of the Andrew and Jacqueline show.
“Yes, that’s her.” Elise stated in a tone that sounded as if she was still waiting for him to realize who they were talking about.
“What about her?”
“Mike needs to talk to her.”
“Why?” He said, suddenly worried. “What’s wrong? Is it Andrew, Mike’s mom?”
“No, we’re fine.” She reassured quickly. She didn’t want him to think she had come baring more bad news. They couldn’t take any bad news. “He just needs to talk to her.”
Weiss ran a hand through his hair and let out a shaky, hollow laugh. “Mike is barely holding everything together at the moment. I’d wager he’s about two inches from insanity. He’s not exactly fit to handle some lover’s quarrel.”
A string of muttered France ran under Elise’s breath and Weiss able to catch something about half stories, incompetent males, and a lot of curse words. “Michel needs to talk to her about Sydney.” She clarified rigidity. He noticed that her accent was a lot more pronounced when she was angry.
“Sleep has been pretty sketchy for me lately, Éclair, and I’m sure you’re suffering from worry and jet lag. I have to tell you though, I’m confused as hell. What does Drew’s ex girlfriend have to do with Sydney? Maybe I’m missing something really obvious, I don’t know. It’s hard to tie two thoughts together right now.” He paused to push a curl back away from her face. “Plus you’re giving me this sexy look like you want to club me over the head with something heavy and pointy which isn’t exactly helping my self-restraint of not kissing you.”
Her expression softened and she intertwined one of her hands with his. “Renée’s an agent… sort of. She was I guess what you would call freelance; at least she used to be. That bump in Mike’s nose that he always claims is an old hockey injury? Renée broke it when she was sixteen as a thank you gift to him after he let it slip to Andrew that she doing field work.” Weiss stared at her wide-eyed and she winked. “Anyway, she’s connected so well it’s sort of scary. She knows a lot of not nice people, who do a lot of not nice things.” She stopped but Eric had the feeling that she wanted to say more. Instead, she glanced at the window for a moment before looking back at him. “Every time I look at the clock I see more time slipping by and I know that in your world, time is crucial. I just think she could help… if Mike would call her.”
If Mike would call her. The statement held major implications, and now Weiss knew without a doubt that there was something she was holding back. “Okay,” he said hesitantly, wondering what he would need to go to be clued in on this family secret. “Okay,” he repeated this time with a resolute nod. “Whatever Mike needs to do we’ll make him to do it.”
Weiss didn’t think it was going to be that hard. Bottom line: Sydney was in trouble, missing for fuck’s sake. Vaughn would go to the end’s of the earth and back around again, getting him to pick up the phone should be a piece of cake no matter what family drama was attached. Glancing over at Elise Claire, she nodded once too. “Okay,” said with a smile.
That decided, Weiss put his car into reverse and pointed to folder he had dropped earlier onto the dashboard. Éclair picked it up, flipping through it. He knew that he was breaking probably at least a dozen or so laws at having her look at the folder but he honestly didn’t care. He was so energized to have a lead, any lead that he wanted to scream Aveline Tafel’s name from the rooftops just to see if anyone would come running.
Sydney knew that however many times she would look back at this moment later in life, she would still never fully catch what all happened. Simultaneously, relief as well as fear flooded her system when the enclosure of her containment started to open. All at once, every cell in her body screamed in pain. The fresh air clinging to her damp skin seemed to burn, the new light pouring in seared her eyes to the point of crying, the everyday noises of a not empty room made her eardrums throb. Her body was forced to make too many adjustments too quickly and her nose started to bleed, profusely. Someone in back of her mind, in a part that wasn’t completely consumed by pain, she noticed that the blood was a deep crimson, thick, half congealed meaning that she hadn’t eaten or drunken in several hours, maybe even days.
A figure loomed over the top of the capsule and Sydney blinked her eyes several times in a vain attempt to clear her vision. It was like when you were a kid and you thought it’d be fun to put a flashlight directly to your eye and turn it on. Except the light in the room stung a thousand times worse and fun was just about the last word she would use to describe it as. She hated every tear the leaked from her eyes, hurting as careened down her face. She didn’t want to show weakness in front of this person even though she knew that the sentiment was already gone by a long shot. She blinked again in rapid succession hoping that the rest of the tears would bubble over so that the image in front of her would stop swimming in and out of focus.
Eventually she was able to make out that the figure standing above her. It wasn’t like in the movies where the bad guy was big and burly with black ski mask over his face and talked through a voice altering device. This person could have been anyone: a waitress at your favorite restaurant, that young cashier who ran your groceries last week. Sydney could picture the woman as someone’s sister, neighbor, cousin, or daughter and somehow that made it all the worse.
“Good afternoon, Sydney. I do hope that you have been enjoying our hospitable accommodations.” She spoke with a bright smile. In a slim fitted business suit with her board straight blonde hair pulled back into a sleek pony tail, she would have been more suitable greeting a high profile hotel guest than a prisoner. “The Sensory Deprivation Chamber is always nice this time of year.”
The second the words passed her lips, Sydney understood. The eerie feelings disorientation, the burning light, her calm words that felt like screams, why even air seemed to hurt. It wasn’t like that time in Kandahar when she was captured and nearly tortured at Kabir's base. There had been alternating darkness and bright light then, messing with her vision. But no, this… this was much worse. Every single one of her senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell – had been devoid. Now any sort of normal occurrence was sensory overload. She had never been more aware of each part of her than she was at that moment.
Sydney gritted her teeth. “What… do you… want… bitch.”
“Ah, ah, ah. Name calling isn’t very nice.” The young woman said with a sugary sweet smile. “You don’t hear me calling you a pathetic, spoiled brat? That you’re only a waste of human space that no one would be stupid enough to love.” She laughed and reached over to swipe a few damp strands away from Sydney’s face in what looked to be a comforting gesture. Except they both knew that it wasn’t. Every second of her touch felt like flames upon Sydney’s skin.
“I know you’re story, Sydney. You cause destruction everywhere you go for everyone you allegedly care about. Your beloved agent boyfriend, Mr. Vaughn, and your pathetic sob story of a relationship. Your father who was too distant for your liking, your friends that you didn’t even trust with the truth. A friend and a fiancé murdered with their blood on your hands. You claim to love these people but how can you when you only cause them pain? You are a disease, Sydney, and now you will be treated as such. You are nothing more than something that needs to be eradicated. My job is to complete that task.”
For a minute cold silence filled the air at the statement. “Fuck you,” Sydney finally manage to growl, her eyes boring into the other woman’s. The blonde stood up and through a wool blanket over her. The knobby, scratch fabric, felt like a million shards of jagged glass. With a satisfied smile at the grimacing look on Sydney’s face, she left the room. As the door swung shut behind her, Sydney just barely caught someone call her Avie.