"One more question," Mr. Nedrow said, "which you can think about while you are deciding finally to answer our other questions. What were you searching for, on August 10?"
"What?" she asked from up on the bars.
"On August 10 you did an internet search for ion storms and found one in the Alpharetta area and the other in the Two Creeks Park area. What were you looking for? What was so special about the Two Creeks Park area? We know that that was the location of the other pole of the ion storm."
Dareen's stomach tensed, something Mr. Nedrow and his assistants noticed, what with every nuance of her muscles visible in the bright light. August 10 was right after she met Lourdes, who told her her story about being hit by lightning, and Dareen went to her office to search weather sites to find any similarities between the places where the both of them had gotten zapped that night. But how did they know?
"How did you know that?"
"It was clumsy of you, my dear. You would not make a very good agent for our side. That was only a couple of weeks after we began monitoring the library browser with our software. Your internet surfing is on record."
"But..." She remembered talking about this with Jamal -- the monitoring software that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to install in all library computers, so as to track any terrorists using the public terminals. "I wish they'd just give the software to US, and then let US install it," she had said to Jamal at the time. Now, naked, cold and spread out on the bars, she said, "They never installed the monitoring software."
"Wrong. They did -- or rather WE did, with a remote install, after-hours of course."
Dareen felt like a nude female insect trapped in a spider's thickening web which she could not extract herself from. Mr. Nedrow's men were into everything. They were everywhere -- they had even gotten into the library system, without her or Ms. Hom or Billy Gibbs or Jamal knowing about it. "You have been watching me."
"No, my dear. Independent surveillance has not been done, aside from you keeping your button monitor." Thank heaven at least for that. Mr. Nedrow expounded further. "It would be prohibitively expensive to follow around every suspect person. Fortunately under the Patriot Act existing systems of monitoring can be accessed and coordinated. You, in short, are caught. Now tell us what you know. Tell me, that day, August 10, were you looking for the weak force?"
Dareen's eyes flashed. To hand Lourdes over to these men was unthinkable. The poor teenager wouldn't know anything either, but they would keep at her despite her denials. And Dareen at least had super powers that they needed. What methods would they use to interrogate Lourdes who was not a "National Security Concern"? And they would find that she and her family were undocumented aliens! Linked to Dareen Alkaras, a suspected terrorist! Disappeared into a secret location!
The naked, cold, spread-eagled girl and the man in the business suit looked each other in the eye with inscrutable expressions, although his was notably more inscrutable than hers. She tried to be stone-faced and defiant but part of her gaze was obviously fear.
"Please continue powering the machine, Ms. Alkaras," Mr. Nedrow said. "It is a project to see how well a city could survive on such power in the absence of electricity, for example if a pulse bomb hit. I will be back later." He turned and left. His assistants stayed, one sitting at a folding chair in front of her, the other walking around to sit at one of the chairs behind her. Dareen glumly started working the bars again. The rest of the room lit up. She bowed her head down, knowing that every little bit of her was being looked at from every direction.
She pushed and pulled and pushed and pulled in the increasing cold... An exercise machine for use in producing energy. She suddenly remembered that Jamal had told her this idea, it was one of his little inventions, and realized that Mr. Nedrow and his men had gotten the idea from monitoring his internet surfings.
As she was laboring, two uniformed military guards stationed themselves at either end of the glass cage, toting machine guns. Useless against her powers, but a perfect symbol of the forces arrayed against her.
Please O Allah... how do I get out of this? I have super powers but feel so helpless...
Dareen decided that she had to pray. And she could only really pray while in the prone position. It was a habit any typical Muslim had learned. And this was a time of trial. She felt she was being called to be true to Allah and the Prophet. She at once realized what praying would mean. In prostrating herself she would be sticking her butt out into these men's faces. Exposing her most secret orifice in the harsh light. The ultimate in abandonment of the requirement of modesty. Yet Allah was calling her to do it?
She stopped working the bars and decided it was the right thing to do. She got down and knelt, then put her face down on the cold metal floor. Her face burned at the thought of her anus so totally on view.
She was hardly into her first thought when she heard the cocking of a gun. She looked up. The guards were aiming their machine guns at her.
Someone spoke on a radio. Dareen looked around her. Some people were walking around quickly. In a moment Mr. Nedrow was back, wearing an overcoat.
"Ms. Alkaras," he said with some urgency, "what are you doing?"
"I was praying."
He looked at her with concern. Then looked down at a clipboard he had brought with him. "Very well." He motioned to the guards and they put their guns down.
It was pointless to try to pray with Mr. Nedrow looking at her. Dareen got up. She exhaled, her breasts heaving, then looked down at him, trying not to cover herself.
"Ms. Alkaras, as I told you..."
She obediently got up on the bars and started powering, still trying to fix him with a glare. "What do you want now?"
"I have a consent form for you to sign."
Dareen felt like laughing in derision. "What?!"
As he got up to the side of the glass cage, he said, "We would like you to sign this. Again, consider the consequences... otherwise."
He opened the door. His breath formed clouds as he came up to her side. She stopped pushing and pulling and looked down at him. She envied him his heavy clothing but tried not to show it.
The statement simply said, "I agree freely to be questioned by NSC staff. No one should worry. I am a loyal American and will do whatever is needed to protect my country's security."
"If you refuse to sign an affirmation of your loyalty, well, you know what we would think."
Dareen knew what they thought already. She looked down at the statement and then at him. She said sullenly, "I'm left-handed."
Mr. Nedrow calmly and meekly went over to the other side. Dareen looked down at the statement again, then took the pen from his gloved hand and signed it. Not a very good signature, though only by her standards. She had always had very neat handwriting.
"What is that at the end of the signature?"
Dareen at first did not want to answer. "It's Arabic," she said, looking ahead and starting to pump again. It was a little jot she had always put at the end of her signature, back when she first learned to write script, copying something her grandmother had always done. "It means 'peace'."
Mr. Nedrow looked at the signature one more time and went out the door. A moment later he was down on the floor, still in his overcoat, but with several others coming to join him.
"You will be well fed and cared for, Ms. Alkaras," he said. "This receptacle is where you will be quartered." A section of the floor next to the bars slipped open and, driven by an unseen motor, a plastic-covered blanketless mattress rose up. "You will sleep whenever you want. Whenever you wish to excrete, use one of the areas in front of you. Toilet paper will be provided. And a basin of water." Dareen, pushing and pulling on the bars, looked down at a hole in the floor that she at first thought was part of the exercise mechanism.
"Can you leave?" she said. "I have to urinate."
"I am afraid privacy is not possible, Ms. Alkaras. You understand." He paced slowly. "We now know that your powers within the borders of your body are different and more resilient than the powers outside. Therefore, for as long as you decide to be nonresponsive to us you will be tested. I expect extensive body cavity work. Those will be the only times when you are out of your receptable. Meanwhile, the temperature of your receptable will be kept at minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 hours a day. Well above the critical temperature; your powers will not be affected. I realize minus 5 degrees is not comfortable for you, but you must understand, we want you to talk."
Dareen's eyes got wet. As if to keep her mind off things her hands and feet pushed harder up and down, side to side. "How long do I have to stay here?" she asked in desolation.
"There is no end date planned, Ms. Alkaras. We have teams who will work in shifts to keep you under surveillance from all sides. There are enough staff to rotate indefinitely. The only thing that will end your confinement is your decision to talk. Again, I caution you the consequences if you try to leave.
"This is a matter of national security, Ms. Alkaras. We are at war with terror. We cannot be nice. You understand that our actions are compelled by the evidence we have, and by the very suspicious fact that you are obviously holding back on us."
Suddenly Dareen sensed something. A smell so enticing, yet so frightening...
The floor panel slid away and returned. There was an opened bottle of Scotch whiskey. Her favorite from the old days.
"Please take that away!"
"We will if you talk, Ms. Alkaras. If you don't talk, it stays. We have considered your history of alcoholism. And your successful recovery which I am sure you want to continue. Another incentive for you to tell us. Well -- tell us!"
Dareen pumped away, her tummy quivering. "No."
"Very well then." Mr. Nedrow started taking off his coat and looked at his watch. "I will be back at ten o'clock tomorrow morning. If you want to talk in the meantime the observers will notify me. Till then..." With a polite nod of his head, he turned and walked away.
Two more men came past him and silently stationed themselves in chairs at either side, joining the observers in front and back.
Dareen, her hair bedraggled by her shaken state, her lips quivering, her eyes wet, kept pumping with her super powers exerting thousands of pounds of force -- feeling the temperature continue to drop, sensing the men staring up at her totally exposed body from all angles, feeling the cold bars which she pressed upward with her strong hands and downward with her strong bare feet, the cold air that crept up between her open lower lips. She thought of Lourdes, of Elly, of her brother Sanny, of her parents, of Jamal, Imam Tahir, the people at her mosque...
It was the oddest position from which to pray but there was never a prayer to Allah which was more heartfelt and more desperate. As she pumped up and down, up and down, trying not to breathe in the fumes of the whiskey, her teary eyes looked up into the darkness, past the boundaries of this underground installation into heavens which she hoped were not empty...