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all

she
lost
a novel.

All She Lost.

#theMahatma
2015
No. 1

Cover: Distorted video still courtesy of Tumblr


Months spent: 13 freaking months
Authors intentions for writing: to give something new for readers, make them realize
that stupid romance literature by Marcelo Santos III and most Filipino writers in Wattpad is not all there is to read; and also because he enjoys writing so much
Inspirations: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Outlast, Fahrenheit 9/11, CNN,
John Green, Dan Drown, Mission: Impossible III, the found-footage format, Christopher
Nolan, Inception, The Prestige, and Elysium, to name a few
Major contributors to lengthy completion: writers block, thesis, term examinations,
checking out on Owl City updates and new songs, HBO Saturday night movie premieres, my fathers week-long seminars, blackouts in our area
Note on grammar: please forgive any grammatical errors you might see; the best thing
you can do is just laugh at them and keep them to yourselves
Copyright issue: the author does not give a shit; share this copy to all and every one of
your friends
Issue on comments: the author welcomes all violent remarks; in fact he needs them for
his next stupid novel; please send him a message to his Facebook account (/John Mahatma
Agripa)
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notes.

This novel is not intended to infer anything about any individual


or group of people, nor do its characters depict any actual person, living or dead. Places and certain entities portrayed are real
but treated fictitiously.
Actual historical accounts and events are used in this novel.
However, it should not be supposed that all information contained herein is correct, the reason why the words A NOVEL are
highlighted in the cover.
This novel features depictions of intense violence, gore, graphic
sexual content, and excessive use of coarse language. You have
been warned.

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Dedicated to
A. G.
M. L. (L. B.)
E. A.
J. N.
M. L. D.
J. P. B.
H. M.
A. U.
R. B.
S. B.
and other bookworms out there who
just want something to read
P. S.: I am so sorry it took an eternity. The classes and tests and the
occasional writers block are meddling with my writing. And you cant
just conjure a novel in a snap. But I hope I can make up with the story.

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The Clatterer? What is the Clatterer?


And what shall teach thee what is the Clatterer?
The day that men shall be like scattered moths,
And the mountains shall be like plucked wool-tufts.
Then he whose deeds weigh heavy in the Balance
Shall inherit a pleasing life,
But he whose deeds weigh light in the Balance
Shall plunge in the womb of the Pit.
And what shall teach thee what is the Pit?
A blazing Fire!
- Quran, Chapter 100

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introduction.

THERE ARE EIGHT countries today who openly declared their


possession of weapons of mass destruction the United States,
China, France, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Russia and the
United Kingdom. Israel, though not acknowledged, is also believed to possess nuclear weapons. They belong to the so-called
nuclear club.
Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons
(NPT), signed in 1968, these countries, and the other non-nuclear
states, have pledged not to pursue the manufacture of nuclear
weapons. North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel have withdrawn or never signed the agreement, thereby maintaining their
right to develop nuclear weapons.
In 2006, Iran, a party to the NPT, announced its success of
enriching uranium to reactor-grade, saying it has finally joined
the group of those countries with nuclear technology. But according to intelligence reports, Iran is also actively seeking the
development of its own arsenal in secrecy, though it has repeatedly denied such allegations, saying that their nuclear enrichment program is for providing the country with clean nuclear
power. President George W. Bush has said that Iran is the single country that could pose the biggest threat to the United
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States, and that its very important to prevent the country from
obtaining the knowledge necessary to develop nuclear weapons, warning that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World
War III.
Despite sanctions, Iran still continues its uranium enrichment
programs. A 2012 CIA report suggests that the country is still far
away from achieving weapons-grade uranium, the kind of
enriched uranium necessary for nuclear weapons. However, Iran
has not opened all of its nuclear facilities for inspection. It is also
suggested that Iran is assisted by its nuclear allies North Korea,
Pakistan and Russia in the development of these weapons. Today, efforts are still being made through treaties and imposition
of further sanctions to prevent Iran from getting further ahead in
its nuclear ambitions.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 19,000 nuclear warheads,
enough to destroy the world three times over. Russia has an estimated 8,500 warheads and the United States, 7,700. It is feared
that some of them, particularly those from the former Soviet Union, have been circulating in the black market, available for terrorist organizations to use. Al Qaeda has publicly expressed
their interest in the possession of weapons of mass destruction,
as surely would other terrorist circles, both known and unknown, too.
For more than 60 years of measures to counter nuclear weapons
proliferation, none has ever succeeded in eliminating the worlds
stock of nuclear bombs. The threat of a nuclear holocaust remains very real.
What follows is a possibility.

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all
she
lost

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Chapter

01.
THE ECONOMY CLASS of the 300-seater or so airplane lived
up to its name, but its actually better than I thought it would be:
white fluffy pillows, soft bouncy seats with plastic hand rests,
minty air-conditioning, decent meal but not enough to fill a
quarter of my tummy, and a built-in music player filled of crappy alternative songs. I guessed its more than enough to keep me
alive for this eternal six hour trip to Iran, the last one I was yet to
endure. But I couldnt complain, with the current world crisis
and civilian ban restraining international travel. The sky above
was filled with silky clouds, its linings brightened of the magnificent radiance of the Moon so close and fine. I sat by the window, at the second row from the cockpit door well within a convenient distance from a small liquor bar. I needed to get off the
plane immediately for the job I so stupidly agreed to do, perhaps
the most ridiculous decision a sane human being would ever
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make in the annals of time. I hoped to see the shimmer from the
lights of the nighttime Earth, but the plane hovered above the
cloud canopy which looked like the outer surface of the brain.
Once in a while, lightning would make a chunk of cloud glow,
which reminded me of that dance game in arcades. I checked the
GPS on my Smartphone, only to see that were already somewhere in southern Yemen. I didnt worry about the radio signal
from the phone interfering with that of the plane which would
lead to a catastrophic crash and my premature death, as it
turned out on Mythbusters that its just a myth.
The steady hum of the aircraft prevented my body to
enjoy a steady good-night sleep. I raised my body up a bit and
turned my head to the cabin of the plane, which appealed to me
like a futuristic time travel capsule, and it seemed that I was the
only one bothered. The dim blue light above the two aisles was
just enough for me to see the passengers mostly Iranians going
home to their forsaken war-torn country, mercenaries of goodwill and crazy adventurers to seek their next thrill ride in the
middle of a battlefield cuddling their pillows like a young girl
would on her newly-won teddy bear on the almost egg-shaped
fiberglass seats, and wrapping themselves in thick bed sheets.
Chris, my partner, guard and cameraman, slept like a
princess beside me, assuming the position of a fetus still in its
mothers womb with the tiny space compressing his sheer
height, and wrapping his lean body with a thick bed sheet from
the flight attendant. The frosty air-conditioning blew right on his
head, swaying his black silky hair back and forth. His long, almost peach-shaped and muscular face turned all pale, his lips all
dry and cracked, which made me worried that he could get hypothermia or something. I tried to wake him up by poking and
pinching his cold cheeks, hoping to have a little chat, but he was
deep in cryogenic sleep.
My eyes wont close anymore. I never ran in a triathlon
event before the flight but for some reason, my hearts beating
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really fast that I could almost hear it in fact. My breathing was


intense, deep and fast, so much so that I might have released too
much carbon from within me that we could all suffocate in this
plane. It felt so deviant of me that everybody else around didnt
seem to mind the imminent danger waiting for all of us when
this thing lands, and that Im the only one feeling this intense
pressure about to blow my body to bits. I thought of shouting
out loud at these foolish motherfuckers that were going into a
trap and that we should turn this fucking plane back, which I
realized, if I did, would turn them into panicking little parrots
trying to break free of this cage, which would surely lead to our
premature doom.
I tried everything to get this tension out of me, among
which I have proven effective at times of extreme anxiety involved me watching short clips of Saturday Night Live, my alltime favorite show that made me realize the value of television
once again. Before I discovered the show, I thought the purpose
of television was to make people drool with jealousy from its
extravaganza of rich people, to make them believe in dragons
and wolf-morphing hunks and blood-sucking vampires, and to
be a hub for masturbation material for men everywhere, but it
turned out, with the show, to be a good source of fun too. To my
dismay, it didnt work at all. For some reason, I couldnt hear a
word from the clips, like my head kept on telling me that Ive
done the worst thing in my life and that Id regret it in the very
end.
This was all the side effects of the field I chose to sacrifice my life for, and I guess I did this to myself. I am a freelance
journalist, which is basically the title of us self-proclaimed journalists who didnt land a shot to work for CNN, BBC, the Times
or just about any news agency out there. I did try to apply several times, only to end up a miserable failure, all on the account of
my reporting style being not what they wanted, which even up
to now I still try to fathom what really meant. Apparently, I
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needed to make some sort of metaphysical connection with my


eyes and speech to pull audiences into listening to me up to the
end of my report, something that I failed to create. I really
thought that journalism was all about delivering the news and
nothing more, but with the proliferation of countless news outlets now, it has become a matter of also attracting people into
giving a shit about your news, so anchors now need to be an
eye-candy as much as how good their news-delivery skills are. I
didnt want to put the four years I spent to earn my Bachelors
on journalism to waste, so after enduring the cancerous feeling
of frustration and hopelessness and being-a-failure for quite a
while, I pulled my shit together and decided to put up my own
sort-of news agency. I contacted a few freelancers like me who
were also bathing in the despair of them being turned down. A
few days of drinking just decaffeinated coffee and many intense
brainstorming sessions later, The Valiant was born.
It may sound like it, but its not a magazine about jousting or a biography of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round
Table or the Templars. Its actually our YouTube channel that
featured, as our slogan boasts, news you cant get anywhere, and
we mean anywhere. We cover stories that are just too sensitive
or extreme for our mainstream media brothers to show. We
dont report the likes of Kim Kardashians butt, or Madonnas
underarm hair, or Taylor Swifts new bunch of exes, or Michael
Bays new crappy movie. Much, if not all, primetime news programs already got them covered, some presenting them as if
theyre big a deal as an asteroid about to hit planet Earth or the
Pope assassinated by some jihad warrior. We deal with more
serious stuff activism, war, missing airplane searches, conspiracies, drug cartels, the Black Market basically things that TV
doesnt show enough of, and things people actually give a shit
about. And we dont call it The Valiant for nothing. We go at
the scene, close to the action, giving our subscribers a first-hand
no-holds-barred experience on whats really going on, no matter
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how risky and dangerous, something that we like to consider


separates us from others. Our daring exploits over the past four
years of servitude to the profession, such as the Libyan revolution against Gaddafi, our probe into Area 51, investigative reports on the shits our politicians have been doing while on office
and other domestic issues, have been renowned by our fellow
media brothers, making use of our footages and for the first time
putting actual tangible bucks in our pockets. Five years of fidelity to this hobby, and our staff of just three castoffs grew into 15
full-time journalists, a couple of which actually came from the
big leagues.
Hence, this very situation I am right now. I was about to
cover the biggest story of this year, something that could potentially propel our ten million or so subscriber count to the Sun, a
glory that would probably make me the most popular reported
ever. Over the past month, no night has passed without this story airing on primetime TV.
Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, has been assassinated.
That wasnt so bad, I first thought; presidents and government officers being assassinated was as common as colds that
happen to bear that same adjective, especially in a region as volatile as the Middle East, until I remembered that the country
was a nuclear nation, which meant that they could have a hidden stash of nuclear weapons. Its something that, of course, was
not yet proven but long been suspected and assumed with the
9/11 attacks and Benghazi, everybody labels the entire Middle
Eastern region as such, a stereotype much like being the inferior
race as to Jews and the weaker sex as to women. And with the
president of Iran killed, the country was on the verge of collapse,
if not already beyond recovery. And if such was the case, terrorist groups could get a grip on those bombs, the worst case scenario for international diplomacy and world peace.
Recent tragedy on our part made us stick with domestic
coverage over much of our years, but the threat of an apocalypse
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was just too much and too dramatic to miss, and it was with this
that we chose Iran to be at the forefront of our coverage of what
might be the worst time in recent history. The world has literally
turned into shit, with armed conflicts on every single populated
continent on the planet. It all started during the mourning of the
slain French journalists over a caricature of Mohammed being on
the cover of a magazine, when jihadists captured the American
embassy in Paris. A few days after, the president of Libya got
assassinated, sparking another civil war worse than that during
the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, adding to the already raging chaos in the rest of the Middle East. A week later, the Malaysian Prime Minister got burned alive in his very own home by
ISIS members, starting another civil war. Almost at the same
time, jihadists captured the American embassy in Brazil. In every
single state in the United States, people have been rallying on the
streets, effectively shutting down the government once again,
over the series of inhumane police treatment of black people and
the expose of a series of black ops and espionage and funding of
nuclear weaponry development against the Obama administration. The nightmare got worse every passing second, and up to
this moment, the sovereigns have done nothing but to hold
meetings and conferences to ease it even a little bit. Facing an
almost insurmountable hurdle, Obama already dispatched half
of his entire military to take care of the overseas chaos, a significant portion to Iran.
Rebels have overrun much of the country, and for a
month now war has been battering every single square kilometer
of that nation, everyday killing more and more and destroying
more and more. No name has been designated for the conflict
yet unfair, considering that the shortest war in history that
lasted not more than 250 minutes has a name of its own, and that
this shit might just end this goddamn world altogether. In that
regard, the government has also banned any American civilian
presence, including the press, in the country, the first time in any
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foreign conflict. This fueled our speculation that were onto


something big. This also meant if we ever get caught would avail
us of a free, possibly eternal, stay at Guantanamo Bay, basically
Alcatraz 2.0 without the San Francisco Bay but with security
tight as hell. That, with the insanely high probability of us getting killed and our corpses left in some corner in the middle of
some city in Iran, was the biggest risk we took by nodding our
heads for this job. I had no idea what the hell was I thinking.
As the clips ended, I was the same nervous and trembling piece of meat as before, and it just got a lot worse. My imagination was flooding my brain with possibilities of imminent
death, almost as if they were premonitions like those that those
guys from the Final Destination movies were having before he
and his friends got killed in all sorts of freakish ways. I was getting insanely paranoid once again, perhaps the four thousand
nine hundred seventy-fourth in the past five hours of this flight
alone. Ive been reporting for The Valiant for five years now, and
I have witnessed and endured mad rally demonstrations, drug
busts, hunts for sex dens and marathon explosions, and interviewing the likes of ill-tempered Senators, black market traders
and serial killers pretty much the portfolio of every other journalist out there, which is quite an achievement of mine considering the meek length of my servitude to this field. But never in
my life have I been this anxious. Come to think of it, were just
gonna walk around Iran and get the material we need and we
go. But no matter how I persuaded my brain otherwise, I just
couldn't help but think that somethings gonna go wrong.
I shook my head back and forth and slapped my face as
hard as I can until I felt all the crazy thoughts have left my brain,
though I was aware that thoughts or possible premonitions
of death are not fluids stuck in your head like pool water that
can be blown out of the ears. I cursed with every form of swear
thereis, as it is proven to alleviate extreme emotions. I flailed my
hands. It did the trick.
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The screen flashed links to footages of the civil war. Not


even a single link to a Maroon 5 or David Guetta music video
popped up, which I expected the computer would recommend.
Though I already knew what I would see, I needed to immerse
myself to the situation in Iran more, so the right words would
come out of my mouth when I start talking to the camera. Right
below coming back to the States in one piece, included in my
must-do list for this trip was to come back with a high-quality
report, for a perfectionist I really am. Of course, my lifes worth
no report but I thought it would infuriate me more if I did come
back home but with a shitty report, than to come back home in a
wooden box as a cold corpse. Besides, I wont feel a smidgen of
regret if Im dead. I clicked on CNNs link, and soon enough,
Anderson Cooper started warning of the footage being graphic
and violent in nature. At the start of the shaky amateur video, a
kid was approaching the camera, smiling. She soon spoke something in Farsi to the cameraman, who I believed was her father.
Far behind her were many kids running around in circles in
some sort of game. Seconds later, a deafening boom almost
busted my eardrums. My whole body blasted away from the
laptop, which I almost threw up the ceiling, and I crashed hard
against the chair. I pulled the earphones out of my ear.
Shit! I screamed, breathing deeply. I then looked at
Chris and at the other passengers; no one got disturbed. When I
looked at the video again, an arm was lying in front of the camera. It was pixilated on the biceps, until I realized it was a severed arm. I immediately closed the Mac and shoved it back to
the bag. This would probably my first of what might be progressively intense scenes of violence I would endure in the duration
of this trip. When Judd, our boss ever since I stupidly stepped
down, assigned me to this job about a couple of weeks ago, all he
told me was the mess in the country was just insane, which he
mustve meant too much killing, bombing and shit, until I saw
the footages of Iran on TV that I realized how grave an underspg. 16

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tatement it was. Kids had their heads blown by sniper shots,


broken limbs all over the place, and whole families hanged on
streetlights. It was horrible, to say the least.
I remembered telling him that he should just get someone else for the job, preferably him because hes got the higher
educational background and better journalistic skills than all of
us. I really hated myself for letting him take my boss-hood,
which would otherwise gave me the power to make him my
bitch, take my place and suffer all this paranoia. Id rather curse
at or defile Barack Obama or get naked in the middle of Times
Square than do this. Until he pressed his long rough hands on
my shoulders and brought his long and heavily-bearded head
near me, then spoke his mantra to my face: just do it. He didnt
have originality; it was the slogan of my favorite shoe brand.
And it actually seemed like he was telling me to stop whining
like a little girl and do my fucking job. For some reason, I found
his persuasion as more of a beg, as if something really important
for him was depending on me doing and completing this mission. Our funding was sustainable anyway, and the agency has
never been more recognized as a force in the industry. Taking
this assignment was more of an unnecessary risk, but such was a
part of the job.
This was my passion, to bring the truth to the people.
And besides, I realized back then, opportunities like this dont
come often. If nations just kept on waging wars with each other,
wed all be extinct long before we could invent the radar. So, I
nodded and here I was, on my way to the most dangerous place
on planet Earth. But I eventually felt extremely ambivalent of
this choice. I might have just made the worst decision of my life,
and I hoped to God I wont regret it in the end.

A HEAVY DOSE of deep breathing and head shake was all


thats needed for me to get over that scary shit. I leaned to the
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glass window in another attempt to savor the remaining hour of


this flight and for some more sleep, so when I wake up the view
of the heavens would be the first thing I see, which I hoped
would bring even a little spark of glee and hope in my body then
swimming in the despair of regret. But the air blowing out of the
air-conditioning above me has turned it really cold that my tongue might get stuck if I stick it out.
Adjusted to local time, my wristwatch showed 4:56. By
this time, I would already be up on the kitchen cooking the
lunch of my siblings for their school: chicken nuggets and peas. I
hoped that the Mexican nanny I hired got her cooking right, now
that those little brats are extremely, infuriatingly sensitive to any
deviations from how their nuggets and peas should be cooked.
My parents are both real estate brokers, and their job is basically
what their title says they break and ruin Americas pristine
fields to build new subdivisions and properties, after which they
fight each other for whos gonna get what buyer. Theyre gone
like 80 percent of the year, so I guess Im also the self-appointed
matriarch of our family.
That reminded me my parents actually have no freaking idea that I'm in this trip, which made things a lot worse than
it already was. If they did, there would have been no way they
would send their 23-year old single daughter into the most dangerous place on Earth. I mean, if they just found out right then,
they would probably send a gazillion F-22 fighter jets and push
this plane back to America, after which my parents would
ground me for all eternity, not allowed to see another human
soul again. I intended to keep this secret for as long as possibly;
they would kill me, figuratively I hoped, though the glory this
assignment might bring me could put me in the top stories of
primetime news, after which I would be a household figure all
over America. I thought that scenario of my parents discovering
my job would be better that is of course, if I come back alive.
The only person in my family who knew of my true job, and
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where I was going, was Carmen, 15 years old, the older of the
two brats. Jade was ten. For the purposes of masking the inherent dangers of my job, I told my parents I am the assistant news
editor of Fox News in Ohio, a job thats hands-down the most
boring in the profession though still decent enough for my parents to not despise me for having a shitty job. I guess our channel has become so popular that even a computer dunce like her
could find it. I made her a deal to take her to Katy Perrys tour
next month if she just kept her mouth shut.
Knowing the insane risk he has put me into, Judd let his
number two guy Chris with me to serve as my guard, though his
built didnt really made him fit for that duty, and cameraman.
He slept like a baby in his seat beside mine, hugging his pillow
as if it was a woman. I did imagine for a brief moment that I was
the pillow. Others would say that a girl only does that to a super-hot man, but Chris wasnt. Hes of moderate handsomeness
and robustness, but he was an acceptably smart guy, not to mention a goofball with his often misplaced sense of humor. But it
was being pulled down by his extreme timidity towards me. It
was obvious he liked me, or maybe he didnt and I just assumed,
I dont know. It just so happened that I kind-of like him too,
quite a lot. But our current situation called for no such slutty
thoughts. He was my only hope of surviving hell on Earth, and I
couldnt live without him pretty cheesy and a clich, but I
wasnt referring to that hyperbolical phrase. Really, I would die
without him.
I looked back to the window when my four thousand
nine hundred seventy-fifth anxiety attack kicked in. The classic
syndromes of paranoia once again manifested in my bony body
my vision got narrow, my breathing got intense, and my head
spun all over the place like I was trapped in a big box. My brain
flooded with thoughts of death again. I whispered any mantra I
could think of to myself and repeatedly shook my head until I
felt like my brain was bashed to the corners of my skull like I did
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before. I slapped my face hard for countless times, hoping that


the force of my hands would blow the inhibitions away. That
time, it didnt work. The image of that smiling kid and that severed arm and the sound of that roaring explosion, compounded
by the thought of this being my entire fault, flooded my head.
Then, I felt a cold hand on my arm. I turned my head at it in a
sudden jolt; it was Chris.
Hey, Holly, he said, flicking a switch above us that
turned on a little dim light. Is everything alright? What the
hells going on with you? I felt my cheeks swelled a bit, feeling
embarrassed that he saw a psychotic episode of mine.
I choked for a moment. I'm okay. Im fine, I said, rubbing my scalp so my brownish hair would all hang to the back.
I thought youre freaking out or something.
No, no, I said, smiling to hide my breakdown. Im
just really nervous. I jolted my hands wildly. They were all wet,
but the cold air of the air-conditioning froze them off.
Its all gonna be fine, he said. It was a horrible comforting statement. He could have said, Im here for you or Its
all gonna be okay or just some weird analogy joke. Its maybe
because he was just waking up from deep sleep.
I dont know, I said, and then took a quick peek at
him. His face looked remarkably calm, as though hes not even
shaken up with the situation were on. As he removed the bed
sheet which revealed his dark blue T-shirt with a small Paramount Pictures insignia, I felt really responsible for him being
into this mess. The truth was that he kind-of persuaded this
whole assignment to our boss with a map that he got from
someone who approached him in a caf, but seeing the chaos of
Iran and his recent tragic history of international correspondence, he insisted on sitting this one out. When Judd insisted me
to do this, he let me pick my number two. Basing from our interpersonal relations, there was no better choice than him. He was
the only one I could trust with my life.
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Im sorry, I said.
For what?
For bringing you here.
What? he said. Are you kidding me? I always wanted
to come in this trip.
I thought you didnt want to come, with all that happened in Libya and Dennis. Four years ago, when I still held
my boss-hood, I assigned him and his good friend and one of
our best men Dennis Smith to the first overseas war coverage
The Valiant ever did the takedown of the Gaddafi regime in
Libya. Dennis just vanished the day when the two was about to
leave the country, presumed deceased with four years already
passed. It was our last overseas operation for years until now.
With the possibility of having another casualty really high, it
took an awful amount of time planning and weighing between
our lives and the glory this job would bring us. In the end, the
latter prevailed, mostly due to Judds persuasion. At first, he was
adamantly against doing another oversees operation, but perhaps after eating something bad, he changed his mind and pursued this shit.
Yeah, but what the heck, he said, gesturing his expression. I love this job. I love going places. And besides, I love you.
I mean Im with you. He spoke that last sentence in a rush, like
he was correcting what he said. He was always like that, saying
something cheesy and later changing it. I knew he was trying to
make me smile. He failed.
Hey, I said, poking his right shoulder gently. How
did you convince your parents to let you come?
Oh, they kind-of persuaded me to do this actually. I
was stunned.
Really? They did?
You know theyre both journalists, right? Theyre actually very happy for what Im doing on The Valiant. So when I
told them about this assignment, they immediately screamed at
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me like are you nuts?! Go! Do your thing!


They didnt care what might happen to you? I said. I
mean, didnt they see whats going on in Iran?
How wont they? he said. They watch the news like
every single fucking day. Its what theyre talking about all the
time. You know, my dads like a Greek philosopher, and one day
he told me, the quest for the truth has always been mans greatest endeavor. It never was and never will be easy. And it comes
with a high price. I dont think thats not caring if you let someone do what they want to do.
I was actually amazed and kind-of envious of the kind of
parents he has. Letting their son go to the most dangerous place
on Earth was mind-boggling in all respects. And he was right; I
wont consider it irresponsible parenting, too. They knew it was
what he desired the most, and denying him of what he was passionate about would be as terrible as rejecting the woman he
chose to be with for the rest of his life for someone else of their
choosing. I just wish my parents were the same, but I think Im
not meant to have such kind of parents as his. There have been
too many instances when I was extremely grateful I listened to
them, which almost cost me everything I have. I just wished that
this would be not one of those times I would regret my exercise
of self-judgment of what-I-want-for-myself.
Besides, he added, they wanted to go on a vacation,
Honolulu, so theres nothing better for me to do.
After some silence, I finally confessed. My parents have
no idea that Im here.
What? he said, leaning away out of shock. They dont
know youre here?!
They wouldnt have agreed if I told them. I mean, I
dont have to, right? Im 23 years old, already came of age now.
I should be capable of deciding for myself.
You shouldve at least told someone.
Yeah, I said. My sister knows about this. But Im not
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All She Lost.

gonna let my parents know. Theyll kill me!


How they wont know that? he said. Are they away
right now?
Yeah. Theyre on their estate broker thing. Theyre gone
like most of the time. I even hardly know what they look like. I
chuckled. And Im pretty sure theyll come back long after all
this is done. Besides, they didnt really care about me. But what
I do remember was that all my friends, whenever they saw me
and my mother together, used to call us clones, as I resemble her
in every way with no trace of my father in me.
How about your sisters? His voice heightened, as if
those brats were his. You left them?
No, of course not! I hired a nanny.
Chris went silent for a moment. He must be thinking
that I was such a woman who only thinks for herself, who did
whatever the fuck she wanted whenever she wanted it, never
thinking of the risks she put herself into. Other men would think
thats really hot, like that would be the kind of woman they
could easily get laid with, but not him.
Thats really cool, you know, he then said.
What?
Doing whatever you want without anyone knowing
about it. Must be really exhilarating.
Yeah, kind-of electrifying actually, I said. Ive never
done any like this before. My parents, so far, have no idea where
the hell Ive been going for the past five years, which might be
attributable to them not caring at all, but at least its within the
States and theres less guilt on my part. But now it has gone up
to a whole new level; Ive never been out of the United States. I
couldnt help but think I just made the biggest sin of my life yet.
Am I a bad daughter? I said.
He looked at me, thinking of what words to say, and
opened and closed his mouth several times, apparently not sure
of his answer. He must be thinking that I am, and whatever he
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All She Lost.

would say would be sugarcoated.


Yeah, he said, looking at his feet. But Im worse than
you. He then pulled a folded green polo shirt from his backpack, and showed me a small plastic bag with what appeared to
be a dark green grass inside. It was a bag of Mary Jane.
What the fuck! I screamed quietly, wrapping the plastic back to the shirt and shoving it to the bag. I also turned off
the light above us, fearing that an attendant might just pop up
out of nowhere. I pounded his chest. What the hell did you do?
I dont wanna go to prison!
Relax, he said. We could use this thing, you know.
For what? Getting high, you fucking idiot?
No, no, no. We can offer this to the Iranians to tell us
what we want. I mean, who would resist this thing? I didnt
think about it that way that but its actually not such a terrible
idea.
Okay, I said, but you better hide that thing.
And were not gonna go to prison with this. Its legal
now, remember? You have to try this sometime. I didn't really
understand why everybodys crazy about this stuff. People fight
over its legalization like its a matter of national security. It
smelled as how it looked, like normal grass, and it was terrible.
Speaking of which, Im gonna go freshen up.
You're not smoking that pot in the comfort room, are
you? I said.
Im not that crazy, he said, getting up. Just relax.
Moments of silence ensued after, that is if the annoying
hum of the cabin and the occasional creaks of the plane which
made me think the whole things gonna break apart would be
disregarded. I could also hear fast murmurings in the back seats,
almost as if theyre for conjuring some spirit from the other side
or something. That span of time has been the longest Ive had in
that flight without me having any psychotic episode, which I
thought resulted from sharing my deep-seeded fears with Chris,
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All She Lost.

or maybe that I wasnt thinking about the possibility of my


death. Then again, if I didnt think this through, I wont be prepared for whats coming.
Chris startled me when he came back from freshening
up, as he claimed it. Hey, you alright?
Goddamn it, Chris! I sniffed him.
I didnt, okay?
Crazy bastard.
He sat down. Hey, do you think theres any chance that
Dennis is still alive? he said, not looking at me. He was his best
friend, and I perfectly understood why he would ask that despite the insurmountable odds of Dennis still being alive. I felt
responsible for Dennis death too, but the possibility of death too
was part of our job description.
Its been four years, Chris, I said, trying to keep my
tone in that level as to not induce the feeling of hopelessness to
him. I mean, I dont know if he could still be alive. Im sorry.
I know. It wasnt your fault. His voice was rough and
low, signs of his sadness and longing for his best friend. It was
infectious. No matter how I fought it, the thought of the two of
us being in the same fate penetrated the barriers of my mind,
now that I realized were completely helpless from the time we
step off this plane. Our mere presence in Iran was worthy of an
eternity of admission to the worst prison in the world, so we
couldn't rely on the American army for help, ironic as it may
seem. Judd told us he did have a contact in Iran who agreed to
be our chauffeur for the two-week duration of our assignment,
but what the hell could a one man do? Hopeless, I was about to
burst in tears, but I just closed my eyes real tight.
Chris then pulled out from his pocket an inch-tall figurine of what I thought was the trophy given to the winning team
of the NBA Playoffs, which he considered a lucky charm of his. I
didnt really figured him to be a superstitious guy, as our job
requires us to be skeptics who raise eyebrows every time a phopg. 25

All She Lost.

tograph of Bigfoot goes viral or when some preacher says Jesus


Christs gonna return tomorrow.
Thought youll bring that thing again, I said.
You want this?
I want none of your bad luck, Chris.
Dennis gave this to me the day before he disappeared,
he said. He told me to keep this beside me all the time. Its really important for him, you know. It felt a little bit creepy for me;
it was like bringing the urn with the ashes of your father whos
been dead for a decade and have it carried everywhere you go. I
actually thought Chris and Dennis had some connection more
than just really great friends like a gay couple or something, but
it wasnt that. They just really loved each other, in a fraternal
way.
You never really told me what happened when you
two were about to leave.
Its kinda sketchy, he said. We were on an American
army base, slept there for the night. And the following day, he
was just gone. He left this trophy for me. I could tell he didnt
want to talk about it, as would I.
Tell me, I said, grasping his hands, tell me were
gonna be okay. I knew we wont be, but I thought if he just said
yes Id be led to believe that were gonna make it through this
thing, though the odds were totally not, and not even a bit, in
our favor. He smiled at me, and placed his other hand above
mine, the figurine still on it.
We will, he said. I promise.

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All She Lost.

Chapter

02.
IN ALL THAT time, my black Sony Handycam was staring the
two of us from atop my bulky backpack, perfectly still in front of
my legs. I didnt turn it on yet; I didnt want the team to see and
feast on the awkwardness between me and Chris that could potentially happen any moment now, though Judd specifically instructed us to keep recording and shooting no matter what so we
could get as much material as possible. Other than my personal
camera which was intended for additional B-shots, Chris has his
larger and much more sophisticated camera for the main shots.
Our reporting style in The Valiant was of The Blair Witch Projecttype, found-footage style, so our viewers could really get that
sense of being in our feet, not to mention that additional authenticity factor. That would require us to show every single thing
we would do in the two-week duration of this assignment, be it
me peeing, taking a shower, meditating and acting all crazy to
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All She Lost.

get rid of my anxiety attacks or making out with Chris, and endlessly talk to the camera like it was my best friend in the whole
world. The editing team would our footages into a 90-minute
documentary for the convenience of our YouTube viewers, but
we make available DVDs with the unrated version of everything.
Because of our baggage capacity, we couldnt have live feed for
the entire mission so we would just keep shooting everything we
see when we touch down and let the editing team do their magic
and make me my documentary, which hopefully, would be the
instrument of the further popularity of our channel, and of me.
I did manage to get a few minutes of sleep, the assurance of Chris of our safety being an important factor, until a brief
violent turbulence snapped me off. I looked around the cabin,
and it seemed I was the only one disturbed. Even Chris was still
in deep sleep. I was back to square one. My wristwatch showed
5:16, and though we wont land in Tehran until 45 minutes later,
time that I could use for more nap, my body was already awake
and could no longer fall into another slumber. My house routines and the report assignments for our channel have altered the
biological clock of my body, which seems unhealthy but no
chronic illness from this has threatened my life just yet. I do suffer from a severe form of asthma, which inflicted me out of nowhere, but I dont associate it with that. Instead, I grabbed the
camera, turned it on, aimed it at my face, and I did my first video diary.
Hey, good morning. Its Holly Grace Thompson, on my
way now to Tehran, I said, whispering. I kept my eyes just
slightly opened to make it seem I just woke up, though I could
already open them wide. I rotated the viewfinder to see how my
face looked. I didnt want to wake Chris up so I just turned on
the lights on the camera. I looked terrible. The stupid pimple in
the side of my nose was all red, making me a clown. I focused
the camera just to my left face, which kind-of reminded me of
that scene in The Blair Witch Project where the lady was crying
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All She Lost.

and apologizing to the camera. I continued to whisper, bringing


the camera closer to my face.
Its now 5:17 in the morning local time, Friday, and as
you can see behind me everybodys still sleeping, even my partner and cameraman right here, Chris Banner. I turned the camera accordingly to what I was talking about. So< in 45 minutes
we will be landing at Mehrabad International Airport to cover
the war thats going on in Iran. And as usual, The Valiant will
bring you right where the action is, beyond where other news
bureaus could take you. That was our catch phrase.
I turned the camera to the window and zoomed in on
the orange hue on the horizon that was slowly eating the darkness of the night. As you can see, the Sun is just about to rise.
And I believe we are just about uh< above the northern Arabian
Peninsula. The cloud canopy got thinner, but barely enough to
see down the ground. I pointed the camera back to my face, then
started explaining why our news coverage would matter to our
audiences.
So< this is easily one of the biggest and most significant events, if not biggest and most significant event, of this year
or decade in fact. For more than ten years, Iran has been one of
the most highly scrutinized nations in the world by international
organizations for its covert nuclear program. Though not really
proven, its long been assumed that the country has a hidden
stash of nuclear bombs, possibly of the more advanced type than
what other nations have. Such an assumption stemmed from the
fact that Iran has one of the most corrupt and radical regimes in
the world. They give weapons and funds to several militia
forces, especially the Hezbollah, who are responsible for recent
turmoil in Syria, Jordan and the Gaza Strip. And now that the
president is dead, everybodys on edge that the nukes are loose,
thats why the United States has dispatched its military to prevent that from happening. I felt my hands tire from keeping the
camera steady, so I placed it back on top of the backpack.
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All She Lost.

I then pulled out a piece of folded paper from my left


pocket. It was a map Chris said to be from an avid fan, David
Price, who claimed to be a former employee of a weapons manufacturing and military contracting corporation whose name I
totally forgot, the one that somehow convinced Judd to take the
job. Chris claimed the guy to be that kind who believed that
aliens built the Pyramids, Bush ordered the 9/11 attacks and a
black hole sucks ships and airplanes in the Bermuda Triangle.
He added that he talked uncontrollably to him, like someones
hunting him down, desperate for us to take his intel. Hes apparently trying to save the world and that we shouldnt trust anyone for the enemy was within, shit like that. We dont usually
entertain people of his type, as it may stain our ever-fragile credibility. In the broadcasting arena, every single sentence said,
not to mention how it is said, gets heavily scrutinized, detecting
F-bombs, grammatical insufficiencies, or anything they could
base an article from. And once we start covering about the Loch
Ness monster or the rapture or the ancient astronaut theory,
people would start thinking that were a bunch of bearded sages
that consult a crystal skull for news. Besides, our focus was to
the war. But the map seemed kind of legit, so Chris persuasion
of us to take the map paid off. He was also warned that people
would take that map from us whatever it took, since the map
was apparently stolen, a huge red flag. But it was nothing compared to other illicit stuff we revealed on our channel, assuming
of course that it should yield radical revelations to compensate
with its illicitness. Also, I thought nuke-hunting would be more
engaging for our subscribers than just seeing Iran get blown to
bits from the war.
I carefully unfolded the paper and showed it to the camera. It contained a map of Iran with several Xs all over and a
weird-looking mosaic of rectangles, squares and binary digits on
the other half. This<, I said, is from an anonymous source
who is also a fellow freelancer like us. He didnt actually tell us
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All She Lost.

to hide his identity, but I did just in case he has a bad reputation
with all his crazy ideas. I tried to remember the name of the
company Price worked for, but all I could recall was its globular
trademark, a black globe with stars around it and wings on the
background. Now, I cant tell you where he got this information, but its worth giving a shot. He says that this map shows
the locations where Iran could be hiding or making their nuclear
bombs. Our informant also tells us that over the past three years
of surveillance, these areas have seen the most activity than anywhere else in Iran. We dont know what, but they are definitely
doing something in these places. Whether theyre making the
bomb here, we dont know. The plan is to sneak out in each of
these facilities and find out just about that. And hopefully, dont
get shot along the way too.
I was supposed to say anything I felt saying anyway, so
I inserted a bit of my personal whims. So, this is the most dangerous assignment Ive ever been to in my life and, to be honest,
Im feeling really nervous right now, like anyone would, right?
This is the first time Im going abroad, and my destinations a
fucking battlefield. I< I just wish I told my parents< I stopped.
All of a sudden, I felt something cold dripping all the way down
my face, teardrops. I was having another emotional breakdown.
I hid my face from the camera, and wiped the tears with the back
of my hand. Extreme guilt flooded my chest. I loved my parents,
and I think from their loud sermons and strict rules they, or at
least kind-of, loved me too. If I got killed, Ill come back home in
a wooden box, or not at all, then my parents would whine their
hearts out for eternity over my dead cold body, in which case Ill
be such a selfish little shit who never cared what my parents ever did for me, just walking around doing anything she wanted
to. I guess I was like that all along. But then again, it was part of
the job. I have to do this. The quest for the truth has never been
and never will be easy, so they say.
After a few moments of calming myself down, I tried to
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All She Lost.

produce a huge smile for the camera. So< um< see you in 30
minutes.
Hey! Chris whispered, poking my shoulder. My eyes
and mouth opened wide in shock for a moment. I almost
screamed and ripped the precious map in half.
Shit, what the fuck, man! I pummeled him repeatedly
with a white pillow. You scared the shit out of me! He was
laughing his pants off, covering his head with his arms. I should
be feeling angry, but I couldnt help but laugh too. I folded the
map back to the front left compartment of my heavily-pocketed
brown pants.
Hey, listen. I kind-of borrowed your Smartphone when
I went to freshen up a few minutes ago, he said, giving me my
phone. Were you crying?
No, I said, though it was really obvious. My nose was
all clogged with mucus and my eyelashes all wet. Im fine.
Youre thinking about it again. I didnt answer back. I
thought that if I kept talking about this, I just might collapse under the weight of this guilt and not focus on the job, which was
the last thing I want. Probably to start a conversation, he then
requested for the map and examined it for the hundredth time.
My tummy feeling a bit empty, I pulled out a tuna sandwich
from the bag.
Were gonna follow this thing right?
Yeah, I said. We got nothing else, and you told us to,
dumbass. Where did you find that guy anyway?
There was a considerable pause. Well, I was drinking at
a bar down Washington Street and he just came to me. I had my
ID on so, seeing that Im a journalist, he gave it to me.
Why did you trust him?
I didnt at first. First time I saw him I thought hes demented or something. His face was all wrinkly, he wore these
big eyeglasses and close to a rag for a clothing. His hair was all
grayish and fuzzy. Such an appeal might have been the reason
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All She Lost.

why he was probably rejected an audience with other much


more respected news agencies out there, and his giving of the
map to us was his last resort.
Yeah I know that. So, why did you trust him?
He proved himself to be legit with his papers, he said,
and I thought we have no lead to our coverage so I took it.
I then looked at my phone and a weird crosshair icon on
the top of the screen caught my eye. What the hell is this?
I< I dont know. It just came up, I guess.
You broke my goddamn phone, Chris. Why did you let
me bring this thing anyway?
Just keep it there with you. You never know when it
would come in handy.
Whatever, I said. You owe me if this thing breaks.
You know, you shouldve thought that we could end up in jail
for that thing before you took that map. Though essentially the
same thing, hacking a secret was very different from uncovering
a secret with legal but not necessarily permissible ways. Edward
Snowden, through the leakages hub Wikileaks, belonged to the
first category, whose revelations including covert eavesdropping operations by the NSA to several world leaders and their
collection of data from the Facebook and Google accounts of millions of people we only dreamed of having. Over the years, as
our audience reach got higher, The Valiant gradually entered
that same category, culminating in this very mission. We saw
ourselves as warriors for the truth, the truth that would, hopefully, make the world a better and safer place, in this case, finding out whether the wrong hands have the end of the worldinducing nuclear arsenal.
Relax, he said. We aint gonna tell them whos it from
or where its from. And were not gonna go to jail. We just did
America and the world a goddamn favor. He had a point. The
discovery of the bombs should be enough reason not to send us
to prison. The world has been searching for those bombs for a
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All She Lost.

decade, and theyre gonna send us to jail because we stole information that led us to its discovery which they never did? I
didnt think so too.
I hope youre right, I said. If something happens to
us with your map, Im going to kill you.
But< you know Im not really sure. How could I? Do
you think there are really bombs out there?
There should be, or else theyll send our asses to prison
and Im gonna kill you. If they found out we used stolen information, added to the fact that we disobeyed an order to stay the
hell out of the country, then there would be no reason they wont
send us to hell.
But the U.N. has been searching for them for a long
time, for decades.
Yeah, I said, putting back the half of the sandwich to
the backpack. They didnt find any bomb because Iran is hiding
them very professionally, maybe in these places here.
They managed to hide the bombs from them, the U.N.
with all their technology and equipment?
I dont know. Maybe theyre just really smart at hiding
things, or maybe the U.N. is looking at the wrong place. Wait,
you sound like you wanna throw this thing away.
I was just thinking, he said.
I have made reports and interviews before about what
nations might have a secret nuclear bomb stockpile North Korea, China, France, Pakistan, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the
United States, among many others. I know a decent amount of
stuff about the U.N.s search for nukes on Iran, which included
the fact that Iran still fails to give a complete inventory of its nuclear stocks and access to its nuclear facilities. Come to think of it,
the fact that no one ever found those bombs after a decades-long
search and here we were, two young journalists who barely
knew the workings of international diplomacy, holding the map
to the nuke stockpile of Iran, was unnerving. Either were really
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All She Lost.

lucky, or theres more than meets the eye with this map.
Hey, do you remember the company Price told us that
we worked for? Its got that globe symbol with stars around it or
something.
I dont know. I forgot, he said. Shit, I forgot. Sorry.
Whats the name of that guy Judd got for us again?
Its< Omar.
You know I wonder how in the world Judd got an Iranian friend. His control-freakiness, not to mention his low perception of joke statements, earned him low on the friendliness
charts.
He gives away his NBA memorabilia. Turns out Omar
is an NBA freak too. You see, its a global phenomenon. Youre
the only person I know who hates basketball.
Whatever. I never knew that an American pastime
broke through cultural barriers and made other races anticipate
the next Heat vs. Lakers game. But that Omar guy must be really
an NBA addict, since he just agreed to risk his life for us in exchange for some memorabilia that would do him nothing other
than to develop a sense of pride on himself possessing that shit.
Chris grabbed the camera from the backpack and aimed
it at my face. I frowned at it. What are you doing?
Nothing, he said. Just seeing how beautiful you are.
Are you making fun of me?
Why? You dont believe youre beautiful? He definitely took a wrong timing for a tease, and he definitely took the
wrong words to say. Next to wideness and height, one thing
women really hate for men to say and judge on, except in cases
of romance, is beauty, especially if the word doesnt really apply
to the girl, like me. Im not beautiful, and not even close, a fact
that I learned and still uphold by heart since I got rejected by the
big news networks.
Stop fucking with me.
I thought were gonna do that later. He was being naspg. 35

All She Lost.

ty. I pummeled his head dead-on with a pillow. He dropped the


camera and cried in pain, waking the family sitting next to us.
As I saw the fathers angry face, I covered Chris mouth and apologized to them.
Shut up, goddamn it! Theyre looking at us.
Youre the one who hit me.
I let go of him and looked again at the family. The father,
slightly fat but dark as the night, was sitting nearest us in the
center rows, embracing two rather lightly-complexioned boys
sleeping in the middle seat. His wife, also fat and dark-skinned,
was at the third seat from us, cuddling a baby dangling on her
neck. Their bodies were covered with thick colored cloth, those
of the wife more elaborately decorated. They were apparently
among perhaps a hundred Iranians in this flight. I wondered
what could they be up to in their forsaken and war-stricken
country, but it must be something very important, since they
risked bringing their kid to the most dangerous place on Earth. It
was almost Chris case, but Im pretty sure theyre not gonna
document the war.
After I placed the camera back to the backpack, I poked
Chris right arm. Hey, I said, ask them why theyre here.
What? he said after looking at the family. I cant
speak Iranian.
Just call them then.
Sighing, he reached for the fathers shoulder. Excuse
me, sir? he said repeatedly. The man turned on the light above
them and immediately gave him a big frown, or maybe that was
his natural face. I got Judds Farsi-basic-phrases notebook and
neared my head toward Chris lap. I placed my right hand flat
on my chest as a gesture of respect before I talked.
Uh< ayashoma<Engilisi harfmizanid? I said, asking
him if he knew how to speak English. Chris giggled, which was
understandable with my pathetic and laughable diction. Like
Mandarin Chinese and Hindi, basically every other language
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All She Lost.

beside English, every word sounds awfully ridiculous that


laughter overwhelms me before I could speak.
After a few moments, the man spoke. Pale, he said,
which meant yes, and then he started speaking really fast that
my page-turning hand just couldnt catch up. From his voice and
gestures, I could tell he didnt want to talk to me. When he finally stopped, I introduced myself not minding whatever he said.
Hi, Im Holly Grace Thompson, journalist for The Valiant, I said, speaking as if the man was my nearly deaf grandfather. I did insert the name of our channel to make us look like
legit professionals, though he might not heard of it at all. So<
are you going to Iran?
Yes, yes< we go there< yes.
Where are you from?
Detroit, he said, pronouncing it horribly. Right then I
realized they must be illegal extraterrestrials. He couldnt speak
English fluently, so they mustve spent only a week or two in
America, perhaps trying to escape the civil war. But the war
wasnt over yet, in fact not even close to being over.
You American? he said. I nodded.
Why come back to your country? I said.
Imam calls us, save us< from your people.
Excuse me?
You speak English, dont understand? he said, apparently judging my strong English skills. I just let go of the ridiculous insult and tried to ask him again, but he waved me to stop
and turned off the light above them. I moved back to my seat
and looked at Chris.
That was worth it. I was, of course, sarcastic.

FOR THE NEXT thirty minutes, I laid my head on the chair


while I scan through the headlines on The Daily Beast, avoiding
those about Iran, which I should be reading. I thought that I
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All She Lost.

might come across some gruesome picture of a kid whose head


was blown off, or a severed limb on a road, which would lead to
another breakdown episode of mine, but its all there was. The
breakdown of the Iranian government was making the whole
world crazy, which was understandable with the nuclear bombs
and all. Even when I checked the reviews of Batman v. Superman:
Dawn of Justice on the site, a sidebar about Iran would suddenly
appear out of nowhere. It was quite annoying.
Once in a while, Id poke Chris face to see if he was really asleep. I didnt want to squeal again and wake up the entire
cabin and get yelled at by the flight attendants. After shoving my
laptop into the backpack, I decided to give the crappy country
and alternative music playlist a go, but to my surprise it was
now full of trance and dance tracks the likes of David Guetta,
Avicii and Zedd. At last, I had just a bit of fun. And for quite a
while, I wasnt plunging in a severe nervous breakdown.
I leaned toward the window to see the Sun slowly breaking through the horizon. I turned off the air-conditioner above
me so I could press my head against the glass, the fantasy of
breaking open the window setting in, making my crotch feel
ticklish. It was 5:49, ten minutes before landing. Just as Zedds
Clarity ended, the strong white lights of the cabin turned on and
the pilot made his morning greetings in English and Farsi. He
said we were already above central Iraq, and that we should
prepare to get off the plane. I worried for a moment that someone on the ground was going to shoot the plane to oblivion, with
the brand of Iraq being the hub of the most dangerous people on
Earth. I could now hear long yawns all around me. One in particular sounded uncomfortably close. It smelled like morning
breath too, until I turned my head.
Chris! Come on! I said, his face almost touching mine.
Sorry. Theres nowhere else to let it out. The others
might smell me.
And you dont mind me smelling you?
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All She Lost.

No. I was starting to think that he might be getting too


confident messing with me. He has never been like that. Hes
lucky that I owe him for inviting me to Maroon 5s next concert
after this assignment, or else I wouldve already punched him in
the face. But then, that might be his way of expressing his interest to me every tease really is. If a man makes a comment about
how skinny, how fat, how loud or how curly a girls hair is, remarks that her closest girl friends should only make, or says
something about the most little things that nobody ever notices,
then that man is definitely onto something. So I just went with
the flow and also breathed out on his face.
Take that, asshole, I said, my mouth directly on the
side of his nose.
Shit, is that onion? he said, teasing again.
Wha< how dare you!
As the passengers behind us reached for their luggage in
the compartments above their seats, Chris and I outfitted ourselves with microphones and comms and the other necessities of
the reporting job. The moment we land, we should begin making
the report with him holding the bigger and more equipped camera of his and me talking forever to it. I left my Handycam recording steady this time above the seat of the passenger in front
of me. It could hold like an eternity of HD video anyway, its battery the most lasting we could find at RadioShack, and you
would never know when a big moment might come. In the news
world, theres nothing more infuriating than missing a crucial
moment in your story, which was why I would strap it later in
my shoulder and make myself look like a fool.
I removed my jacket to install the microphone on me,
exposing my tight-ass grayish-blue shirt, so tight that my breasts
seemed to protrude out of the cloth. It was my precaution to the
hellish climate of the region. As I wrapped my hair into a ball, I
turned to Chris for a bit; he wasnt looking at them. He was busy
wiring himself too. I wasnt really sure if I wanted to catch him
pg. 39

All She Lost.

looking at my breasts and prove every man is a pervert, or to


know if he was interested in them. I reached through my chest to
bring the wire under my shirt and connect it to the recorder in
my right pocket, and then taped the microphone just above my
neck. Though we could just use the cameras mic, I could get far
away from it when I make my report. Proving a big nuisance, I
unwittingly pushed my Smartphone to the floor.
Hey, he said. Whats wrong with you?
Sorry. You go carry it. Youre the one who need it.
I dont have any more pockets on me. Just put it in your
pants or somewhere, please. I need it.
Then I picked up the bulletproof vest from my backpack.
Together with our food and clothing and water for the next two
weeks, it was making the bag really bulky and heavy. The vest
was basically a tuxedo without any sleeves, but it has been
reused so many times that it already looked terrible, almost
shameful to put on. And with Irans ridiculously hot climate, it
would turn to an oven, baking my body and bathing it in a sea of
salty sweat. I would stink so much that no life form would survive. But it was a small price to pay than get myself killed.
The vest should, as assured by the boss, be able to withstand shrapnel from the average frag grenade, average AK-47
and average pistol rounds. But the rebels wont wage war with
just average weapons now, would they? Five years of wear, tear
and batter made the vest look like its been abused by Wolverine
and a horde of saber-toothed cats. I didnt even know if it could
bear another bullet. But we couldnt do anything about it. Thats
one of the drawbacks of being an independent journalist; we
have to make do of the really shitty stuff on our hands, all in the
name of the cause, to bring the truth to the whole world.
What are you doing? Chris said, seeing me outfitting
the vest, apparently baffled.
What do you think? I said. Go put yours own. Were
about to land.
pg. 40

All She Lost.

The rebels arent gonna shoot us when we get off this


plane. The military is all over the airport.
Im just making sure, I said, pulling the zipper of the
vest. There might be snipers, or suicide bombers down there
wholl blow this plane to hell. I looked more like a bomb disposal guy with the vest on. As I fasten the side of my vest, I
heard Chris laughing at me.
What?
Youre acting hysterical, he said, chuckling. Were
totally safe on this plane. Theyre not gonna blow us up. Dont
worry about it. It angered the hell out of me. I turned to him
slowly, my mouth opened in disbelief to what I just heard.
Really? I said, looking at him straight in the eye. Are
you seriously gonna laugh when I try to keep myself alive? Is<
is this all fun and games to you?!
I dont mean it that
Im sorry if I cared about my life just a little! I heard
the cabin went silent, apparently surprised of my shrieking. The
family on the seats next to us was looking, though I was focused
on Chris sorry face. Why would you even say that? Is it< is it
funny to you that I tried not getting myself killed? What, you
want me to fucking die? Is that what you want for me?! Dont
you fucking care?! I looked away from him and cried again for
the second time, covering my face with my hands and howling
like a wolf giving birth to a dozen cubs. This assignment has already taken a big toll on me, and it hasnt even started yet. I
could only imagine what it would do to me when I get there.
And for a millionth time already, I thought of home my horrible sisters, my parents, my soft sofa, my Adam Levine portrait.
Im sorry. Im sorry, Chris said, hugging me tight and
pulling my head to his chest. I still cried, the images of home
continuously flashing to my mind. I didnt mean it, okay? Of
course, I do care about you Holly. I do care, more than anything
else. Im sorry. Im really sorry.
pg. 41

All She Lost.

After a few more howls, I moved away from him and


wiped off my tears. Im sorry, I
No, no. It was all my fault. I shouldnt have said that.
Im< I am really messed up today. That was my severe damage; my mood and thoughts are nothing but tumultuous, swinging up and down like the spikes of an electrocardiograph by even the most unreasonable of triggers, like then. My
ears ring at times of extreme distress. And I guessed Im a really
big paranoid too. I worry and freak out about the littlest of
things. But I mean, who wouldnt, now that we were about to go
to hell on Earth? I also tend to daydream too much, my mind
fooling me that I actually lived its sick and ridiculous constructs,
a fault that more than once before made me question reality.
Sorry.
No, no, no, he said. Promise Ill shut the fuck up. Ill
never do that again.
Okay. Okay.
Im all used to you screaming at me like that anyway.
Whatever, I said.
From the Handycams viewfinder, I could see that we
were no longer in the center of attention. My damages might
make me end up crying in the middle of my reports, and people
would make fun of my pathetic little face. Soon enough, Id turn
into an instant comedy star, a laughing stock not exactly the
fame I wanted to bathe into.
After a few slap on the face, I continued fixing my vest.
Apparently still guilty of what he did, Chris pulled his vest out
and put it on. It looked as shredded as mine.
You gotta be kidding me, he said.
What?
This is just shit.
I know right, I said.
He then looked at me with a big smile. It was contagious. After he put himself in the vest, I couldnt help but laugh
pg. 42

All She Lost.

on how ridiculous he looked with the vest on.


What? he said.
You look like shit, I said.
I know right.
We both laughed at how ridiculous we looked, which
was perhaps the best thing to do to ease the tension at that moment. I would never know, that might just be the last chance we
ever got to laugh.
Holly, he said, taking my hand. Thank you for doing
this.
What? What do you mean? Its our freaking job.
Its more than that for me.
Shut up. Youre being ridiculous.
Its all gonna be okay now that youre here.
He was starting to creep me out. Did you smoke that
pot back there, you crazy asshole?
A little bit, maybe. Yeah, he said. But Im really sorry
for what I said earlier.
Yeah, yeah. Me too.
The next thing I knew, we were about to land in hell.

pg. 43

All She Lost.

Chapter

03.
THE DAWN WAS exceptionally magnificent. Lumps of clouds
broke the eternal shine of the Sun, distributing it into magical
rays of light. The cloud canopy looked like what I thought the
skin of an orange fruit looked like under a microscope, bumpy
and vividly orange. The sky directly above us already turned
light blue. I always liked the sunrise, among the things this universe couldnt make enough of and indeed more beautiful. The
orange glow of the Sun rising from the earth and turning the
lands into almost shimmering gold is beyond magical, a priceless sight. I couldnt help it, so I grabbed the Handycam from the
top of the seat, and like little kids on a zoo seeing an elephant for
the first time, Chris and I waved at the camera with our significantly awful vests on and then pointed it to the window. After
six hours of wait in this congested plane, we were finally near
our destination.
pg. 44

All She Lost.

The SEATBELTS ON light on the panel above the end of the


aisle turned on as the pilot told us to prepare for descent. His
voice reminded me of James Earl Jones, really deep and croaky,
which was really attractive, or maybe it was just the static of the
radio. After securing the belts, I suddenly felt my guts and my
brain on zero gravity, floating in the chambers of my body.
Slowly, we submerged into the cloud canopy, ruining my view
of the magical sunrise. The plane was vibrating and producing
creaky sounds more than usual to the point that I almost thought
the entire thing was gonna break apart. The bottles of wine in
the liquor bar chimed rather beautifully. Beside me, Chris was
still tweaking the camera and transmission equipment despite
the descent of the airplane.
You need help with that? I said.
No, he said. Its okay. I have no idea how to operate
that thing anyway.
I remembered the bag of marijuana he had. Wheres the
Mary Jane?
In the bag, and dont worry about it. Metal detectors
cant detect grass.
Yeah, but dogs do.
Irans on war, remember, he said. I think the least of
their concerns is a drug smuggler.
As our plane emerged out of the clouds, a snow-covered
mountain line immediately caught my attention, the top already
lit by the orange light of dawn. It seemed that Iran was not really
as hot as I expected, as what war films about the Middle East
always made it seem. Below the mountains, still dim and quite
foggy, was the metropolis of Tehran. It struck me as a bustling
city almost like that of my hometown in Newark, Ohio, though
our city layout was much more organized and our buildings
much taller and more elaborate but with fewer green trees. I
gravely underestimated this country. I really expected to see
sand houses and clay temples and mud roads, like Tatooine in
pg. 45

All She Lost.

Star Wars, a part of the world still untouched by modern technology. I guessed the Middle East was not all sand, after all.
I focused the camera steady to the window, as per our
boss instructions of continuous recording. On the viewfinder,
the ground seemed to be rising up as we continued to descend.
My insides were still in a quite literal free fall, eliciting an ecstatic and relaxing feeling in me. Out in the distance, I saw two towering smoke columns emerging from what seemed to be a
burning building just the welcome one would expect in a warsavaged country. Fainter towers of smoke were visible far to the
horizon. Right then, my head went heavy, once again filling up
with thoughts of what-the-hell-did-I-put-myself-into again. But
theres no backing out now, now that were already here.
I zoomed in to one of the towers and called Chris. Hey,
hey. Look at this, I said, his head leaning toward me. As the
smoke was not in his line of sight and his bulky vest preventing
him to move in closer to me, I had to pause the recording and get
the camera to him. The smoke came out of a smoldering building, half of it collapsed because of mortar shells perhaps.
Christ, he said. Well, thats what we came for.After
he turned away, I pointed the camera back to the window and
resumed recording. The whole citys burning, I said to the
camera as if narrating my own documentary, and really, the
first thing you would see in this country is the chaos and destruction. Its already a post-apocalyptic wasteland down there.
From behind a smoke tower, two or three long helicopters emerged, maybe Chinooks, heading straight out to where I
was facing. The sky was already light enough for the camera to
clearly distinguish them. A large black container was hanging on
one of them, maybe containing weapons for the war effort or
relief supplies for the locals.
After calling Chris again, I zoomed in on the helicopters.
Right there, see that? I said. Helicopters< nations have been
sending supplies for the war and for the millions of locals and<
pg. 46

All She Lost.

whoa, what the hell is that? Right below the helicopters, two
lines of white smoke suddenly popped out of a small building.
The smoke seemed to be coming out of black tubes travelling
really fast toward the helicopters. Another line then emerged out
of the same spot. Holy shit, is that< RPG?
What? Where? Chris said, leaning as far as he can toward me. He grabbed my camera and zoomed in on where the
lines were popping out. Another line again appeared, heading
towards the helicopters. Oh my God, theyre shooting the goddamn helicopters.
Really?! I held on to the viewfinder. The rockets went
haywire and flew all over the place as they reached the aircrafts,
missing them by a mile. No more were fired. Jesus Christ.
Paranoia was setting in again. If those bastards just fired
live rockets at our military, there would be no reason they wont
fire at this plane too. My hands shook wildly and my head
turned all over the place. I pressed my face to the window to see
if a rocket was about to hit the plane from below. I repeatedly
breathed till my chest totally ballooned out.
Oh shit. Oh shit, shit!
Hey, hey, hey. Dont go crazy on me again, he said.
What if theyre gonna hit us next? What if theyre firing
right now? I said, panicking like a little kid.
Relax, will you? I already told you, theyre not gonna
shoot us! Were already above the airport and no ones gonna
shoot a rocket from there. Those guys are too far away to shoot
us from there. And theyre not gonna waste their weapons to
take down something they wont gain from with. You hear me?
Yeah< yeah, I said. I was really not used to stressful
situations like and especially this. I couldnt even endure just a
minute of hearing my parents argue over whos gonna get what
buyer. But someone attempting to shoot our plane out of the sky
was something much more worse, which I thought was a reasonable justification for my paranoia.
pg. 47

All She Lost.

Goddamn it, why did I let Judd take my job?


You said you hate sitting around all day at the office.
Why did you have to convince him to make me to this
assignment? I said.
I didnt convince him. I just showed him the map and I
dont know what made him change his mind. And you had the
final choice
Just shut up. Youre making me think this is all my
fucking fault.
Were not gonna die here, Holly, he said. I mean, we
got these kick-ass armors for protection. They endured Wolverines adamantium claws, and its still< well, pretty much intact. Were essentially invincible. It was another of his trademark comforting statements, but it appealed to me as more of an
inconvenient truth of our situation. These vests fit better in a
trashcan than in the bodies of two young freelancers. We might
be better off without them at all; theyre heavy and essentially
rags and big ovens. But every little bit of help counts.
Whatever.
As I looked down at my closed legs, I wondered why I
even took journalism as my lifes work. It takes great courage,
strong guts and balls to be in this business. It requires venturing
far out of ones comfort zone joining riots, sucking in the wrath
of your interviewee, enduring the judgment of everyone who
thinks your face is all bloated and your reporting is all wrong,
and risking life and limb as in this case. But then, its a matter of
pushing through your boundaries, it always has been. I liked
bringing stuff that mattered to the people. I liked helping them
make sense of everything. And everyone will do everything to
do what they want most.
Youre thinking very deep again, huh? Chris said, interrupting my mediation.
Would you please? Im trying to relax myself, I said.
Good. You dont want to be a drama queen. Most likepg. 48

All She Lost.

ly, I would be doing this meditating thing millions of times during the duration of this assignment.
The entire plane suddenly shook violently, with the faint
sound of screeching tires filling the cabin. My insides felt like
they just plummeted from the sky. To my surprise, we have already landed. Few moments later, the rather unscathed building
of the Mehrabad airport came into view. A couple of airplanes
were at the receiving docks, which was really weird considering
the whole war situation. I guessed they must be for high-ranking
officials and rich Iranians in case they needed to escape, and for
the other rebel journalists also covering the event.
Come on, time to go, said Chris. We already went to
the door with our packs strapped on our backs but the beautifully-clad flight attendant blocked the way. I turned back to the
Iranian family I talked to earlier. The father seemed unusually
happy, waking up his children as if they have just arrived to a
picnic ground or something. I thought of approaching him
again, but he might just wave me off and insult my English
again. He did look at me for a bit, still angry. As the plane went
to a full stop and the door opened in an almost futuristic hiss
sound, the Iranian attendant then made her complementary farewells and thanks for the passengers.
This is it, he said and walked out after smiling to the
attendant, carrying on his shoulder the bigger camera which
looked more of a boom box. But hesitation froze my feet and my
entire body from stepping off the plane. I tried to move, but
there seemed to be a force field blocking my way. I knew its too
late for second thoughts, but it was particularly strong this time.
The ringing of my ears was all I could hear, the rectangular path
at the other side of the door leading to a ball of light all I could
see. Possibilities of my possible demise in all sorts of grotesque
ways were all I could think off, until a jolt snapped me off of it.
Chris pulled my arm out of the plane. Come on! Pull
yourself together!
pg. 49

All She Lost.

I shook my head and slapped my face. Yeah. Im sorry, I said. The bridge to the main building looked like the interior of a shipping container, only that its covered with that same
fabric in the walls of cinemas and big performing halls.
Get in here and lets do this shit! I walked in front of
him and collected in my mind what I was going to say. I was totally not in the mood, which was ridiculous considering that Ive
been doing stuff like this for practically much of my adult life.
My brain felt so tired that it couldnt produce a steady stream of
words for me. But I thought if I just started talking, maybe my
natural impulses would just kick in. So thats what I did.
Okay< were finally here in Tehran, and it is now 6:09
in the morning, I said, walking along the last curve on the
bridge before entering the main building. I was supposed to say
virtually anything I had in mind, from what time it was, whats
going on around, what I was feeling or what I was doing, then
Chris would move the camera accordingly. I have my camera
strapped on my left shoulder for additional footage.
The airport was not as state-of-the-art as expected of a
national airport, though it has changed from being a cruddy one
as shown in Argo. The ceilings were tiled with fiberglass, the
floor rather shiny as marble, and the stations looked more organized. But it was overshadowed by the disturbing amount of
people packed in the airport. Many locals have apparently used
the building as a temporary shelter, bringing with them bed
sheets, gallons of water and small tents. Their luggage towered
in the corners. Some of them laid out a big embroidered cloth in
the middle of the way, most likely for their morning prayers.
Armed guards in military uniform barricaded evacuees to the
corners of the building for the passengers to pass through. Also
disturbing was that the whole place was clean of any signs of
major damage, not even a shattered window, a collapsed ceiling,
or a destroyed wall. The whole place was really humid. I almost
couldnt hear myself talk.
pg. 50

All She Lost.

On the path clear of any Iranian we walked through cautiously and casually. As you can see, I said to the camera, the
locals have used the entire airport as an evacuation center to escape the war. Kids, their parents and old people< there are like
thousands of evacuees in this building, and I think there are
more outside, right there by the window.
This marked the first time I ever saw foreigners in person, and considering whats going on, I didnt expect theyd
hang a bouquet of flowers on my neck or offer me their signature dishes or sing their welcome song or something. They were
all looking at us with such intense gazes that they seemed to see
through my vest. They might be amazed of two really pale human beings walking right in front of them and wearing ripped
off clothing, but it wasnt that. It felt like when I first entered
college and everybody was looking at me as if Im some lost hobo, disgusted of every inch of the fabric I wore. I was in the exact
situation, but this was worse. Its as if they want to kill us.
This is creeping me out, man, I whispered.
Just dont look at them, Chris said. Keep walking.
I slightly increased my pace to escape their gazes and
get the hell out of the airport to start reporting. But the fear crept
on me even more as I heard the loud shouts of locals blocked by
the guards from getting to the planes. Desperation was very
much apparent; they pressed themselves against the metal railings and yelled their lungs out to the guards. Women shoved
their babies to the guards faces like a reason for mercy. Its almost someones hunting them down. What the hell is going on
in here? I said.
One of them, a fat woman, saw and instantly ran towards us until she hit the metal barricade, then started yelling
out loud, pointing at us. For some reason, she was furious at the
sight of us. Like dogs that just sniffed raw meat, all the others
also turned to us and started yelling, as if they wanted the two of
us away. They frightened the hell out of me.
pg. 51

All She Lost.

Come on, come on, lets go!


Maybe we should turn back, I said.
Are you kidding me? Its too late for that. Come on!
Just dont mind these people. Keep doing your thing.
Im trying, okay?
A few meters down, I saw another man in an extremely
thick brown robe walking in wide and stomping strides towards
us, his face filled with such pure rage, like hes just seen his mortal enemy after a thousand years. He was pointing and shouting
what I thought were obscenities at us. On his hand was a rusty
metal bar.
Holy fuck! I said, my heart pumping hard. That man
is walking towards us. Hes got a weapon!
Goddamn it, ignore him and stop looking! We walked
away from the man, but through my peripheral vision I saw that
he kept following us and shouting out loud with incomprehensible calls. Then, just as I turned back, the metal bar went flying
between the two of us, almost grazing my face. The sound of the
bar hitting the floor made the whole place go silent.
Hey! What the fuck is your problem, man?! Chris said,
dropping his camera to the floor and raging towards the Iranian,
the man showing no sign of being intimidated. Ive never heard
Chris voice that loud before, and I actually got more terrified of
him than the man. The two shouted at each other for ten seconds
straight like how two black guys would fight, staring and gesturing each other directly in the face, almost nanometers away from
contact. Soon enough, the other bystanders went yelling at him
too. It got real serious real fast. Knowing that if Chris punched
or even pushed one of the Iranians he might get into a lot of
trouble, I moved in and tried to pull him away.
Come on, I said, lets go! Lets get out of here! We
were now surrounded by a whole horde of angry Iranians all
shouting at us. Whistles from the incoming police didnt even
scare them off. As I held Chris arm, another man grabbed my
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All She Lost.

shoulders tight and yelled at my face. It hurt a lot.


Hey, hey, hey! Let go of her! he screamed, pushing the
man away from me. In retaliation, the other men pushed him too
towards me, the impact as hard as me hitting a concrete wall. I
fell on my back to the floor, the vest just slightly cushioning me.
Chris started punching everyone near his reach, but he was hit
exponentially more than he managed to punch. I got up and
pulled his arm to me before hes beaten to death.
Please stop! Stop! Please! Lets get out of here! I said,
but he didnt hear anything with the noise from all the yelling. I
grabbed hold of his left arm but the rest of him squirmed desperately for his fists to reach anyone. He was stopped as the police
came, after which the angry mob then dispersed back to their
corners and, after grabbing the camera, Chris and I walked off
just as quickly.
Motherfuckers! he said. Are you alright?
Yeah, yeah. Im fine, I said, still a bit shaken up. Oh
shit. I gazed on his face and remarkably, there was no sign of
permanent trauma or reddening or any sings that he just got his
ass handed to him by a bunch of Middle Easterners, but he
wasnt walking straight. Are you?
Are you kidding me? Nothing can take me down!
Compared to that RPG rocket earlier, I handled myself
pretty well in that situation. Ive been in quite a lot of rallies and
demonstrations, in fact exponentially worse than that. I knew
that some portion of the Middle Eastern folk still despise Americans the same or even of a higher magnitude than we are to
them, brought about by their atrocities to our nation since 9/11,
but until then I realized their hate was even more. I turned back,
and the mob has completely dispersed.
What the fuck is all that?
I dont care. Lets just go to the immigrations and get
the fuck out of his place before these motherfuckers go kick our
asses again, he said. I didnt care too. His loud shout and Hulkpg. 53

All She Lost.

level anger kept flashing in my brain. I felt really happy that he


faced an entire mob of angry Iranians for me.
Thanks, I said, bumping my body to his, for what
you did back there.
Dont mention it. What the hell am I supposed to do?
Ive never seen you get so mad like that before.
He chuckled. I am a man of many mysteries, he said
with pride.

THE IMMIGRATIONS COUNTERS, basically like a tollgate on


an expressway, occupied a rather small space among the other
stations in the airport despite the obvious need for more. But the
war has made the five stalls of the counter completely adequate,
excessive even, for our own needs. Chris started showing signs
of pain from earlier and his face started to redden, but he insisted his being unbroken. I wanted to interview the locals but
we needed to get out of here immediately, for crucial moments
of our story might be passing by already. Besides, they might be
hostile and kick our asses to death again. Lucky for us, our fellow passengers were slow turtles, still way back in the corridor,
so we got the ARRIVALS line to ourselves at the leftmost part of
the counter. But we remained on the crosshairs of the piercing
sights of the highly American-intolerant people of Iran along the
way, luckily without eliciting any violence from among them.
Right next in the line were a couple of guards scrutinizing with their X-ray gazes every square inch of our bodies.
Thinking that they dont like being filmed, Chris carried the
camera on his hands but continued recording. In the booth was a
rather pale guy, a rarity in a Sun-bathed region I thought, perhaps in his thirties. His hair was round-shaped and black, his
beard reaching all the way to his ears, and his green uniform
loose. A tall pile of folders occupied half of his station, and on
his table a stack of passports made another pile. Before I got to
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All She Lost.

the booth, I turned to Chris.


What if they know of our ban? I whispered. Theyre
not gonna let us in.
Judd said well go right through, he said. The man in
the booth then called out to me, apparently mad with me just
standing. After handing them over to him, he plowed through
my passport and transit papers with such scrutiny, glimpsing
my face several times. I was left petrified of the thought that he
might discover our real intentions of hunting down Irans elusive nuclear arsenal, but no one, I thought, would suspect that
from two young, pale-skinned Americans. I really hoped so.
What is your purpose here? he said after a while, startling my thin shaking body. I took a deep brief breath before
speaking.
Were journalists, I said, showing off the PRESS sign on
my vest, the only remaining unscathed part. Were here to report about the war. He flipped and went over my papers again,
this time inspecting them even longer.
I think he likes you, Chris said.
Shut up! I whispered back. The booth attendant then
told me to wait again as he grabbed his low-tech Nokia phone
and called someone. That just made me score Irans hospitality
rating with a big negative. For the next minute, I tried hiding my
growing frustration, but mostly my growing fear, by whistling,
faking a smile and crossing my arms. The mans repeated
glimpsing made me think that he was asking approval of some
higher authority to us into the country. My hearts pumping real
fast, almost to the point of it breaking through my chest. He
might be calling the States, prematurely ending this thing before
it even started. But Judd wont bother using our money if he
didnt have assurance of us getting in. After a final big nod, he
let go of the phone, stamped my papers and looked at me again.
Why did you come here? he said.
I already told you, were here to report about the war.
pg. 55

All She Lost.

Were journalists, both of us.


Nothing else you will do?
No! I said. I might have responded too quickly, which
might have otherwise made him think I was lying. He looked at
me for like ten seconds. Anxiety attack almost kicked in. I hoped
that was charmed of me, and hadnt grown suspicious.
It turned out I was right, and he gave the papers back to
me. Thank you, I said, insanely relieved. When it was Chris
turn, it only took like a blink of an eye for him to get through.
I told you he liked you, he said. I guessed men here
dont see ladies as loosely clad like me much often.
We then sprinted towards inspection, but broken were
all of the airports X-ray machines. There was just a guy holding
a metal detector, which was perhaps broken as well. We passed
by him swiftly, as if he wasnt there. I was actually surprised that
that guy and all the others even bothered to work at this time of
chaos. I mean, the government was in dysfunction, basically
crumbling into oblivion. And they must have families to support
and protect. Who would pay for them, anyway? They deserved a
patriotic award or something for doing their country a favor
even at its darkest times.
The glass exit doors of the airport were directly ahead.
Smoke towers were visible from the glass faade of the exit. I
looked at my wristwatch. Oh, shit! Shit! Shit! I said.
What?
I forgot to take in my prescription drugs.
What for?
I get really bad coughs, remember? I said, reaching in
my pants for a white bottle. Ever since I graduated from college,
Ive been bothered by this rather enigmatic disease that quiteliterally came out of nowhere. I cough uncontrollably with no
apparent reason; my altered biological clock could not have been
the culprit. My doctor said it was maybe a residue of an allergic
attack or a lump in my windpipe. It wasnt tuberculosis, which I
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All She Lost.

really thought it was, or asthma or bronchitis. But whatever this


was, Im stuck with taking in a couple of little green pills every
five hours. And because of my series of dramatic episodes earlier, I almost got myself on the verge of another asthma attack.
How much you got?
Seven capsules, two for everyday, I said, taking in just
one. Its a gigantic pain in the ass, believe me.
Hey, thats< good for like three days only, he said.
Arent we supposed to be here for like two weeks?
I know, so Im rationing, only one per two days, I said,
and then we continued walking to the door. Ive been doing
that for like a month, and I cant tell the difference. But I have to
take the drug at the exact time Im supposed to, or Ill get pretty
bad relapses. Based on my poorly thought out calculations, the
drug should last for the duration of this assignment.
And how do you< you know, just in case?
I just hold my breath long enough, I said. Seems to
do the trick.
A few feet from the exit, I felt something vibrating over
my left thigh, which really tickled my crotch. It was the satellite
phone, much more like the walkie-talkie but twice as big and
with a really long antenna, which was also the only means of
communication we got to the headquarters. My Smartphone
couldnt handle the long-distance signal transmission. With the
ban, the NSA would most likely be monitoring calls in and out
of Iran to hunt down people like us, but our tech guys assured
me of its being untraceable as it relied on something they called
analog radio technology. I wasnt supposed to use it for its being
such a power hog, but it must be headquarters so I quickly answered it.
Hello? Judd? I said, turning on the loudspeaker for the
camera to hear. It was indeed him.
Are you there now? he said, speaking in his awful and
almost laughable British accent, which resulted from his expopg. 57

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sure to the company of British friends back in journalism school.


Hows it like out there?
We just landed five minutes ago and fortunately we got
through, and its fucking terrible out here. We just got attacked
by an angry mob of Iranians.
What? Are you okay?
Other than their fucking spit on our faces, were fine, I
said. Chris was encircling me as he recorded our conversation.
So, whats up?
Theres been a slight development, he said. Our airline company just cancelled our booking, so<
What?! Cancelled? What do you mean?
Theyre not gonna be able to pick you up next Thursday. That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
What did he say? Chris said, moving closer to me.
The fucking airlines not gonna pick us up! I said to
Chris. He tried to grab the phone from me but I waved him off.
You gotta be kidding me! You put us in this hellhole with no
way out?!
Its not my fault, Holly, he said. They said they cant
risk their men and their planes. And the FAAs keeping a close
tab on every airline out of America. But I managed to get another plane for the two of you, but it leaves in three days, on Monday evening. And its the last trip out of Iran.
Three days? I said. What the hell could we get in
three days?! As per our original plan, we should be staying for
a couple of weeks here, which should be enough time to get the
material we needed. And with that time reduced to just three
damn days, this trip has turned out to be useless. We could get
as much, even more, footage and material on the Web for just a
day. I should be happy that Im coming home much earlier, but I
didnt want my report to be a piece of shit either, now that many
were anticipating this a case which, as I noted, would infuriate
me more than to come back home as a dead corpse on a wooden
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box. The civilian embargo really kicked our asses really bad.
Judd sighed. Just go on with the plan, he said, and
well just make do of whatever you got, alright?
Yeah, okay, I said. Whatever you say boss.
And before I forget, give Omar my Bulls cap when he
arrives okay? Hes dying to have that. Omar was Judds contact
in Iran, who has agreed to be our chauffeur for the duration of
the assignment in exchange for a stupid Chicago Bulls cap autographed by LeBron James. Ive always wondered how in the
world Judd got acquaintances from even the remotest parts of
the world. He wasnt that friendly. I guess a Bulls cap could go a
long way.
Yeah, yeah, I said. Now where the hell is he?
He said hell pick you up by 6:15, he said. It was already 6:18. When you see a young pale guy with a funny voice,
no beard and with big eyeglasses, pretty thin and kind of nerdylooking, thats him.
You mean like you?
Kind-of, he said.
Does he even speak English? Cause its really tiring to
keep flipping the handbook you gave me.
Yes, fluently in fact. And you can ask him for some information too. He makes articles and satirical comics for the local
newspaper. He agreed to let you two stay at his house. Just give
him the cap.
Alright, I said. Well go now.
Keep safe, both of you.
Oh, wait, wait. Have you checked on my sisters?
Not yet. Ill go check them out later then Ill call you.
Okay, bye you fucking asshole, I said.
Im so sorry Holly for getting you there, you know that
right? I shut him off. I turned to Chris after putting the phone
back to my pocket, who was still recording in front of my face.
You think we can get enough footage in three days?
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If we start already, he said, maybe we can.


Shit. Now we just have to find that guy.
Wait, wait! someone remarkably American called us
from the airport just as we started walking to the exit. Emerging
from the sea of hopeless Iranian evacuees, a tall blonde wearing
a brown jacket with an enormous backpack and a dSLR camera
sticking out of his stomach ran towards us, his left hand up high.
As he got near and eventually stopped in front of me, I gazed
upon his heavily-freckled face and rather attractive blue eyes.
The sound of his things shaking around was loud.
Hi! You guys here for the war too? he said.
Yeah, I said, making use of the casual smile I give to
total strangers. Are you a photojournalist?
Matt Daniels, head and admin blogger for thedefinitiveawesome.com. He extended his hands at us, which, along
with how he moved in general, made me think hes cocky and
arrogant.
Im Holly and this is Chris. We work for The Valiant.
Whats that? I raised my eyebrows up to the top of my
head.
You dont know? Were the most popular independent
news channel on YouTube. We have ten million subscribers.
Never heard of it, he said.
Look man, Chris moved in, apparently annoyed too.
We dont have time for your shit. So mind your own fucking
business, okay?
Oh no, no, no. Im so sorry to offend you. I just want to
ask what you are going to cover.
Thats none of your business, my partner said, but I
pushed him off. I realized he could destroy our channels goodwill with just a few keystrokes, so I restrained my irritation and
made my aura welcoming of another peer. I couldnt tell him
were after the nuclear bombs for the purposes of maintaining
our exclusivity to it, something thats really precious for our
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channel and what keeps us apart from others, so I manipulated


the truth.
Were gonna see whats really like out here, I said,
and make people experience this war more.
My friend from the military actually asked me to cover
something huge for my blog. He never told me what but it
seemed very big. I also heard there is a group of American and
Iranian charity workers working in Tehran. I think Im gonna
check on that too, all while taking the sickest war photos anyone
has ever seen. He sounded passionate, not minding the possibility of imminent death. I wished I could gain that same feeling
right then, but seeing the chaos from above and my mind running amok made me second-guess everything.
How did you get through inspection? The ban<
I dont know. They just let me in.
How long would you stay? Do you have a ride out of
here?
My friends gonna sneak me in one of their planes out
of here. Hes expecting me to come at their base tonight for that
stuff he wanted to tell me about. I plan to take off Friday next
week. I almost asked him if he could let us be on that plane too,
with all the time he has at his disposal to gather material, until I
realized the army would instantly bag our asses to Guantanamo
Bay, and we couldnt afford dragging someone else along. Its
really ironic that our own brothers would do us more harm and
no good at all. How about you two?
We could only do until Monday, I said. Its the last
flight out of here.
Too bad, he said. Well, nice to meet you two. And
like lightning, he pressed his rather smooth cheeks against mine
and took off to the door like a little kid about to enter in a carnival fair. Until next time, Holly! I was startled.
Prick, Chris said. I couldnt agree more.

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Chapter

04.
OUTSIDE THE BUILDING, Chris and I were welcomed by the
cool breeze of the Iranian morning air, perhaps coming from the
snow-covered mountain range far to our right, balanced with the
warmth of the Sun now above the horizon. More smoke towers
were made visible. But our delight was short-lived with how
horrible the whole place was. Dust and all sorts of refuse tumbled with the wind like tumbleweeds in the desert, and the smell
was close to unbearable. Football field-sized parking lots surrounded the airport in the sides and the front, a road going in a
circle separating the spaces. But instead of cars, evacuees, some
selfless volunteers and army personnel sprawl the place with
their makeshift tents. As we walked along the steel-roofed
pathway to the left along the road out of the airport, I could see
stripped-down kids and babies crying their eyes out at their parents for food, an old bony man speaking at himself and the vopg. 62

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lunteers almost at the point of losing their heads. It was horrible


and heartbreaking.
Look at all these people, I said as Chris pointed the
camera to them. This is just terrible. I plugged my nose with
my hands just in case the terrible smell might trigger an uncontrollable cough, but the reek exponentially worsened for every
meter we passed. The scene reminded me of the concentration
camps of the Jews, though nothing in the world would compare
to that horror.
Holy shit! Chris said, covering his nose. This smells
killing me! On the other side of the road were a dozen big green
plastic containers leaking with some kind of gooey brown and
yellow thing on its lids. One got tumbled over and spilled its
contents vomit, pieces of shit both solid and liquefied, blood,
and a fucking rat in the middle of the road. Flies feasted on it.
Oh my God, I said, almost fainting. The stink was so
terrible that I couldnt even speak to the camera. It burned the
linings of my nose and my sinus, and it seemed to have penetrated my skull to poison my brain. Its so terrible that I couldnt
think of a proper hyperbolical phrase to match how horrible it
was. But that was not all. After the first curve, I saw several yellow bags laid out on the middle of the road. What the hell is
that? There was a dark hand protruding from one of the bags.
Shit, are those<? Oh my God!
Dead people, Chris said. I almost threw up. Its almost
like MERSCOV or bird flu or some form of mutant rogue virus
paid this place a visit and just wreaked havoc. Ive watched like
millions of films with countless of lifeless bodies, some even
chopping those bodies like poultry meat, in them but seeing
them personally was traumatizing beyond words. Those bodies
once walked and talked, and now they just lay there like meat
about to be sold on a market. As I walked, I looked straight covering my peripheral sight with my hands.
Holy shit, look at that, he said. I moved my hands out
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and beheld two men toss a dead body into the pile like garbage.
I squealed and embraced Chris like I just saw the worst sight of
my life. The way its arms and legs moved as the body was
dropped really drove me crazy. I cried, every bone in my body
shaking beyond breaking point.
Oh my God! I said, my face pressed hard against his
chest. Oh my God!
Its alright, its okay. Keep moving, come on. Goose
bumps almost tore my skin out and my whole body shivered
like nuts. My chest filled with disgust, fear, trauma and everything else once could associate upon seeing a dead body getting
tossed in the middle of the road right in front of me. I, and sure
Chris did too, felt my legs weaken. I thought seeing really violent movies would make me immune to things like this, but
nothing beats the real thing.
I regained my composure shortly and just started talking
out of instinct, but I still trembled from deep my bones. These
people have no access to food, water or proper medicinal care
for more than a month now, and theyre like dropping like flies
out here. They tried to run away from the war but< I guess it
caught up with them.
Its okay, its okay, Chris said. Keep going.
Five dark-skinned, sweaty and completely naked kids
then came rushing toward us from the other side of the road,
going over the barricades to beg for food. They were crying and
pulling my vest out of pure desperation. I could see them also
reaching for Chris camera, thinking it was a box of relief supplies. More and more kids then poured in, crushing and suffocating the two of us until we basically froze in our tracks. Two
little girls keep pulling the already-torn side of my vest. I
couldnt push them off, because that would be the rudest thing. I
wanted to give them just a bit of my leftover sandwich from earlier and the excess food we got, but if I did, more children would
storm right at me and rip my bag and clothes. So I just kept saypg. 64

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ing bebakhshid sorry and waved my hands to them and


moved through the sea of children.
Soon enough, a thunderous gunshot from a guard made
the kids disperse. It seemed cruel and excessive but it nonetheless saved us from being crushed. The guard, in white army uniform, approached us and waved us off as he shouted Farsi at us.
Holy shit! I was almost crushed back there, Chris said
as he got out of the crowd. You okay?
Yeah, I said, breathing deeply. They almost ripped
off my vest. Shit, Ive never been to anything like this before.
Theyre really dying for food< You got that all?
Of course. Now come on, lets get out of here before
they come begging at us again. Then out of nowhere, not even
ten steps away from where we were, something really hard
bashed the back of my head. Pain surged from that spot down to
the corners of my jaws, like a wave moving through a bell when
its hit. I cried in pain as I felt my brain spewing out of the right
part of my head. As I kept pressure on it with my hands, I could
hear Chris shouting at someone, but the pain was too much that
I couldnt turn back.
Holy shit!
Are you alright? Chris said after a while.
No! Goddamn it, I said, though the pain was actually
beginning to subside. Who the fuck was that?!
Just some kid, he said, but he got away. Maybe he
got angry that you didnt give him any food.
What the hell was I supposed to do? The back of my
head felt wet and gooey, as if some kind of jelly was mashed all
over my hair. It was pretty warm too. And when I looked at my
hands, my palm was all red with blood. Shit! Im bleeding! I
said. Im bleeding!
Chris quickly pushed his camera and grabbed the first
aid kit from his bag. I was hyperventilating and freaking out at
the sight of my blood, and just like always, my imagination
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flooded my mind with another series of obscure possibilities of


me dying, or specifically in this case, me undergoing brain surgery or losing my memory altogether.
Hurry up! Hurry up, goddamn it! As he examined my
head, I half-emptied a bottle of water that dropped out of his
bag. How is it?
Its just cosmetic, he said, washing the wound with
water then taping it with a Band-Aid. Youre gonna be fine.
Are you sure? You barely even looked at it!
Relax, the stone just scraped you. Youre fine.
I stood up and fixed myself. Hows my hair? I said.
What? Its fine. Of all the things, you worry about your
hair?
Jesus Christ. What have we gotten ourselves into?
Trust me, its for the best.
Its for the best that I got my head hit by a rock? Fuck,
lets just get this over with.
You wanna say something? He then focused the camera to me.
So here you go, I said. First few minutes in Iran, and
we already got attacked by a mob of Iranians and a kid threw a
goddamn rock on my head. And I got smooched too by some
random asshole. What more could you expect? Its like the best
welcome Ive ever had. Then, I walked away from the camera.
We jogged through the path this time to avoid being crushed
and thrown at again.
It was surely going to be a very long day.

FINALLY AFTER WHAT seemed like forever, we survived that


long path and made it footsteps away to the main gate of the
airport. Our jogging strategy served us two-fold, as a quick getaway from those mean kids and as our morning exercise. My
head no longer ached, so I guessed I wont need any brain surpg. 66

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gery soon. The place was already well-lit by the rising Sun, its
light making the tips of my eyelashes glow like glitters. And
more importantly, the horrible stench was gone. Out in the distance, I could still see three or five faint smoke towers. Two jet
planes then made a straight line in the sky, producing a deafening scream as it passed. The reality of the war began to creep all
over me.
This is where it all begins, guys, I said to the camera.
The moment we step outside that gate, theres no backing out.
But I guess theres no way for that now, right? Our fucking boss
just told us our rides gonna be here on Saturday, like well get a
whole lot of footage in that time. So< right now we are still trying to find our chauffeur. His name is Omar, and he will be joining us along the way. He is also a journalist, so we wont be running blind and we should have a first-hand account on whats
going on out here.
The road went straight towards the gate. The sidewalk
was covered above and on the side with cool-looking steel scaffolding, shaped like half of a mans ribcage. The asphalt was
dusty. For some reason, the image of that cocky blogger flashed
in my mind. I kind-of admired that he braved all this potential
shit for the stuff hes passionate about, but I still couldnt get
over the fact that he had no idea of our channel, and also that he
almost kissed me. Chris never did that, or something close to
that, to me before, and he must be feeling grossed out that my
face got contaminated by others before he could. He walked a
few steps away, maybe because hes filming or that hes really
grossed out.
Directly in front of us was the rather lightly-guarded
mesh gate, with a single machine gun-mounted Humvee truck
and five guards and a line of spikes laid out on the road. The
airports enclosure running in its perimeter was made from long
thick metal bars further secured with barbed wires on the top.
Parked right outside was a black and elaborately decorated pickpg. 67

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up truck with a thin guy on a green shirt and brown shorts, waving his one hand high at us.
Is that him? I said. Zoom in to that guy.
Looks like him, Chris said. Nerd like Judd. From
afar, Omar seemed like a geek in his twenties working for an
internet company that got lost in the middle of nowhere. His
skin was so light that he seemed to be glowing, almost an albino
but his hair was pitch black. The sight of him actually made me
disappointed, not because hes ugly or anything but his physique was far from what I really demanded, and not in a sexual
sense of that word. He was the only guy we would depend our
lives on, so I expected him to be herculean or something that
could fend off a crowd of mad Iranians. Were gonna trust our
lives with a nerd, but I guess its better than to have a companion
that looks like Osama bin Laden, like much of the locals in this
place.
The car was filled with stickers of Italian and American
automobile makers that messed with its elaborate flame paint
job. He was calling someone when we got to the mesh gate, but
he quickly turned it off and opened the door for us. His face
didnt match my expectations of a Middle Eastern man clean
and lightly-bearded, and really pale.
Hey, he said, extending his hands at us. You must be
Holly and Chris. Its nice to meet you two. What happened to
your clothes?
Its kind-of the way it is, I said, embarrassed. Is this
your car?
Oh, yes. Please, get inside the car. Its not safe around
here. That had an ominous appeal to me. I frantically went to
the car like any sane person would, but before I could open the
backdoor, the guards at the gate shouted at us. They wore a dark
green uniform that contrasted with their light complexion; their
boots made their feet significantly larger. Hanging from their
belts were shotguns and pistols. Three of them walked to us.
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All She Lost.

Salaam! So be kheyr! Omar said, his right hand on his


chest. Please get in the car, Holly. Without hesitation, I obeyed.
The interior of the car smelled like mothballs, irritating
but eventually pleasant to the nose, and its windows were tinted
dark blue that made the view from the inside monochromatic.
Chris got to the same door and made me move. Thank God, I
said and detached the Handycam from my shoulders, relieves.
Chris turned to Omar and the guards, still talking about
God-knew-what. I saw them point and face the car several times,
which made me think theyre talking about us. But my brain was
so tired from the jet lag and the early stress that it couldnt even
produce another dark speculation which it normally would at
times like this, like maybe theyre onto something sinister for us,
or maybe Omars working for the rebels and hes gonna take us
to them to be disemboweled to death, or hes gonna drive us
straight to the cliffs to do his country a great service for killing
two putrid Westerners.
What did they say to you? I asked just as Omar got
into the driver seat.
Dont worry about them, he said, looking at the rearview mirror. They just asked who you guys are and where I am
taking you. I hope you are comfortable in my seats.
No, no, no, no. It is fine. Your seat is very soft and comfy and actually better than the seats on the plane. Only half of
that was true.
Im glad to know. After an eternity, he finally started
the car and took off. The sound of the engine and the feeling of
the tires rolling against the concrete road were two things I
longed for as I was imprisoned in that packed airplane. Omar
continued. I just had my seats changed. My old ones were really hard on the ass< forgive my mouth, so I changed them with
leather seats, which are really quite hard to find with the war
going on, and really expensive. Cost me quite a fortune.
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The road went straight before meeting with the main


highway. As he further explained how he changed the car seats
and how hard it was to find a replacement and how managed to
make the cars paint job, three large military trucks, one of them
filled with armed personnel and the others empty, turned to the
road and went to the airport. Are those army men? I said.
Uh< yes. They will help in the< relief efforts. I aimed
my camera to the trucks and I could see, despite the opaque
windows, the men gazing our car very intently. As the pick-up
turned, I saw the men jumping off the trucks with their guns on
ready. I ignored them.
Our chauffeur was half the things Judd told us he would
be young, pretty skinny, nerdy, not to mention a hall of a talker
too. His fashion and overall appearance made it hard to believe
hes a native of the place. Hes much like a geek from Silicon Valley working for Google or some tech company, or an inventor of
really weird contraptions, or a young theoretical physicist who
works for Stephen Hawking at figuring out how black holes
work. His voice was a combination of Tweetys and Donald
Ducks and a little bit of Tom Cruises pretty annoying but still
bearable. But at least, we wont suspect him of having some secret connection with some radical congregations out there.
I couldnt help but also notice his dashboard filled with
many Western pop paraphernalia. Stuck in the corner of his
windshield were pictures of a topless Britney Spears, Rihanna in
a two-piece, Eminem and his middle fingers, Jennifer Lawrence
posing as Katniss, and many others I couldnt name. On the
dashboard were little figures of what I believed were LeBron
James, Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming and a dozen other NBA icons.
Hanging from the rearview mirror were basketball-colored dice
and the Mockingjay pin. His stereo played Wake Me Up by Avicii. I never really imagined a native of a country with much history of hatred and intolerance with the West would have such
love with our culture.
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All She Lost.

Looks like you really love American pop, I said. And


basketball.
Yes, yes, very much, he said, once in a while turning
his head at us. The road was free of any traffic so I didnt worry
of crashing onto incoming cars. I really love American entertainment. Your music is really energetic and soothing and enjoyable to the ears. Your singers are really sexy and very hot. And
basketball, especially basketball. You see these little NBA figurines here? There are I think only 50 of these in the whole world,
and with the help of my good friend Judd, I got some of them.
He spoke English rather eloquently and effortlessly for an Iranian, without any trace of weird accent.
Oh my God. You got a Yao Ming figurine? Chris said,
leaning forward to Omar. Thats sick, man. Ive been searching
every NBA novelty shop for that thing. Can I touch it for a little
bit?
Sure, sure. Why not? he said, handing over the inchtall Yao Ming. If you want, you can have him and carry it to
your home.
Are you sure? I mean, you worked hard to have this.
No, no. Dont worry about it. Anything for a friend.
When he got the doll, Chris looked like a little kid who just got a
goldfish after his dad hit the bulls-eye on a carnival booth. I
never understood boys; theyll kill anyone just to have anything
with their idols face on it. But I realized I had the same madness
Id kill anyone to have anything with Adam Levines face on it.
Chris got so mesmerized with Omars Yao figurine that
he seemed to forget our job here. The big camera was lying on
his lap. Hey, Mr. Cameraman? I said. Your job?
Im just looking at it for a second, he said.
Will you just shoot something?
Maam, Omar said, looking at me through the rearview mirror, you want some NBA figurines too?
How kind of you, but no thanks, I said. Im not really
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fond of basketball or the NBA.


What? That is unacceptable! he said. The NBA players are the best sportsmen in the world. Not liking them is like<
hating cute puppies. That was a weird association. NBA players
were far from cute, or maybe just some of them. Theyre like really tall and big-mouthed mutants given with the power of slamming the ball to the basket until the entire thing broke apart. But
how could I understand these two? Theyre men.
I actually requested something else from your boss
Oh, yes, yes. The cap, I said. I pulled the signed Bulls
cap from my backpack and gave it to him.
Oh, yes. Here she is! he said, Ive been waiting so
long to have this. It seemed that it was actually our payment for
his services. This guys reverence to NBA was just astonishing.
He agreed to risk his life for us in exchange for a signed cap of
some basketball player. If that cap had gigantic blue sapphires in
it, or maybe rubies that have mystical powers to grant me any
wish, only then I would agree to risk my life for completely random strangers, which we were to him.
As the two shared their favorite Playoffs moments this
year, I stared at the neighborhood were passing through. I
didnt sit too close to the door; a sniper might shoot my head off,
even though the glass window was opaque from the outside.
Paranoid I might seem but its better than getting myself killed.
The buildings were filled with signs hanging from the roofs and
on their sides that had awful and grammatically insufficient
English labels. Particularly funny was their use of the quotation
sign, which, judging from their use, they mustve thought to be
for emphasis like PLEASE COME IN HERE and WELCOME. I
did expect to see just pure desolation in this place, like that sort
after a nuclear war or alien invasion or something similarly
dramatic, and not even a kilometer into the ride, I got what I
yearned for. Overturned cars and carts of vegetables scattered in
the road, buildings blown in half, trees still smoldering, electric
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All She Lost.

poles knocked down. Destruction was everywhere.


And when things couldnt get any more traumatizing, I
saw a little kid, a girl, sitting in the sidewalk. She looked right at
me when we passed by. The car was slow enough, or perhaps
time was slowing down, for me to see her stained face and
ripped off clothes, and a doll on her hands with its head ripped
off. A few meters away, a dead body laid chest flat on the sidewalk, blood soaking its torso like meat being marinated. Chills
went through my spine all of a sudden. I shivered. My heart
pounded hard; my ears started ringing again.
Maybe we should turn back, I said.
What did you say? Chris asked, interrupting their
Playoffs chat.
How far do we have to go?
My apartments ten minutes away from here, Omar
said.
Cant this thing go any faster?! I cant die out here! I
cant die out here! I squirmed in my four thousand nine hundred seventy-sixth psychotic episode, but Chris restrained me.
Calm down, Holly! Please!
Whats the problem? Omar said.
Let go of me! I pushed Chris arms away and cried,
my arms covering my eyes pouring with tears of hopelessness
and fear. This is all a big mistake. I shouldnt be here.
Hey, hey, hey. Were just getting started, dont go crazy
on me now. Its too late for that. Were here now. Its gonna be
fine. Didnt I tell you that? Chris assured, his hand on my arms.
Were gonna be okay. Now, lets just do this thing so we can get
this over with.
I promise you two will be safe with me, Omar said.
See? Hes got our backs. Dont worry about it. Now do
your thing.
I cant do this, Chris.
Yes, you can. Youre the best at this!
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He pointed his camera at me. My head still felt really


heavy, so much so that I couldnt look at anything else other
than my petrified hands on my lap. But he was right; acting all
crazy and paranoid like this was stupid. Its like buying a ticket
to watch a slasher movie then right when the movies just starting, running back to the exit doors like a little pussy. And this
was practically the field I usually get myself into back in the
states, only this time its a thousand times worse. Only three
days, I reminded myself, and all would be over. I slapped my
face repeatedly to blow the inhibitions, then tried to lift my face
muscles to produce a smile.
There you go, Chris said.
Make sure you cut all my drama bombs, okay? I said.
Let the editing guys handle that. Then after a deep
breath and a sweep of my face, I faced the camera and talked.
Hi! So, we are now in Tehran. We just arrived five minutes ago and we are now on our way to Omars house where
we could, hopefully, have some decent breakfast.
Omar laughed. Of course! Of course. I have prepared
toast and bacon back home.
I continued. Thats Omar right there. Its now 6:28 am
local time, and you can very well see outside what the war has
done to the entire city. Theres not a single building left intact
out here, cars are overturned, houses are burning, infrastructure
is destroyed. People are dying and dropping like flies out here,
like what you saw back in the airport. With the government collapsing, it really took a huge toll on the country. Iran was among
the richest countries in the Middle East and now, its a lot worse
than the poorest cracks of Africa. I mean, did you see whats
going on in the airport? We almost got killed back there by a
horde of Iranians and a little angry kid.
Any American civilian presence in here is totally forbidden so we cant show our faces to the American army or
theyll send us straight to Guantanamo, but turns out were not
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alone. That prick popped in my head again. We were able to


meet some other journalists in the field. Well be spending the
next three days out here before the last flight out of Iran goes
home, so< I guess just wish us luck. I waved him to stop recording.
That was really good, maam, Omar said.
Please, dont call me that, I said. Just Holly.
Okay. Im really glad I could help you guys with this.
Are you still working now?
I was an anchor years ago for the local TV but I stopped
because its really boring. I want to be out there on the field and
gather the news myself. So I just made my own newsletter.
When we arrive at my home, Ill show you. So, it seemed that
Omar would serve as more than just our Iranian guide. Hes a
freelancer like us, which meant that he should have some idea
on whats really going on. He may even help us with the map,
but it was not the time to show him yet. The map was just too
valuable. I would never know; some spy might be locked on to
our position with James Bond-esque binoculars.
How did you meet Judd? I asked.
I have been a fan of your work for quite some time. I
always visit YouTube for your new episodes. I did send you an
email about how good you are, and Judd read it and we started
exchanging emails. Whats that called, the Vogue?
I smiled. Its The Valiant. Thats a fashion magazine.
Why did you agree to help us? Wait, let me guess. He gave you
his NBA stuff, right?
He found out that I really love the NBA so because of
that, and our shared passion for journalism, I agreed to help
your team.
What did he tell you about this assignment?
He said to me four days ago that you will come here
and cover the war, and also to find the nuclear bombs.
Would you help us? I said.
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Of course, of course! Anything I could help!


Not wasting an opportunity, I started asking him. Well,
to start off, why the hell are those people packed in the airport?
They come from all over the country, he said. They
want to get out of here but the planes have already left.
Who are the guards? They work for the government?
But I thought?
No, they dont work for the government. Our government has already collapsed. There is no police or military. Lets
just say theyre really charitable soldiers.
Why dont they just stay put in the homes?
Because theyre being hunted down.
What? I said. By who?
The road took a turn, and he faced me again. Theyre
being hunted down by
Omar! Chris shouted. The car suddenly stopped as if
it just smashed an indestructible brick wall, throwing me to the
back of the front seats and to the base of the car. The screech of
the wheels was deafening. I landed flat on my chest, my backpack crushing my feet. Chris went through and hit his head on
the dashboard.
Oh my God! Im so sorry, Omar said as he pushed my
cameraman to the backseat. Are you okay?
I felt my left arm just got beat up by a heavyweight boxer and my legs pounded by a jackhammer. As I got back on my
seat, I saw Chris pressing his forehead; he got scraped. The camera was thrown beside the accelerator. The NBA figurines were
toppled above the dashboard. What the hell was that? I said.
A kid suddenly ran across the road, Omar said. I had
to stop the car. Im very sorry you get hurt. Thank you Chris for
saving our lives.
Dont mention it, he said, groaning. Then, I leaned
over to him and checked on his scrape. I grabbed the first aid kit
from his pack and applied the necessaries. The impact with the
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dashboard made long reddish lines on his forehead.


Are you okay? I said. It was inappropriate but I just
burst to laughter as I cleaned the wound with a small drop of
alcohol and covered it with a Band-Aid. I wasnt exactly sure if
that was how its done. The way how he crashed to the front of
the car was just really funny to me. Shit, you just rocketed to
the windshield, man!
Thats not funny, he said. But at least youre having
fun, even through you have me crashing to the dashboard. I
laughed.
Dont worry, Omar said, there is medicine and first
aid kit on my house. Its only like ten minutes from here. He
drove off. I looked for the seatbelts, but it seemed the fortunecosting seat replacement didnt include one. I moved to the front
seat to grab Chris camera by the accelerator, which unintentionally made me see Omars really hairy legs. Except for a small
crack in the corner of the viewfinder, the camera looked fine.
Sorry again, about what happened back there. I didnt
really mean it.
Its okay. Dont worry about it, I said. Chris took the
camera and recorded again. Is it working?
Yeah, yeah, he said. Its good.
I looked at him and sighed. Today was turning out to be
one of the most stressful days of my life, far worse than the day
when my youngest sister was born and I had to wake up in the
middle of my sleep when she cried, which was like every goddamn minute. With the three-day deadline and my parents not
knowing Im here and the possibility of imminent death growing
every meter we go, the stress vial in my head was close to blowing up.
Could this day get any worse? I said.
Maybe.
I had no idea.

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Chapter

05.
FEARING ANOTHER KID might just pop out of nowhere and
sprint across the road and send me and Chris crashing again to
through the windshield, I moved to the front seat beside Omar
where I could secure myself with the seatbelts. My partner sat
still in the backseat, tweaking the lens tube of the camera. The
damage from the crash turned out to be skin-deep; the zoom
mechanism got compromised and he needed to pretty much do
an open-heart surgery with it. I detached the Handycam from
my shoulders and just kept recording the entire trip, zooming in
on everything the editing team might find useful, be it a torndown tree, a burning pile of tires or a kid waving at me, and
talking to the camera as I see them.
The more we drove further, the more struck I got with
everything I was seeing. Minus all the bullet holes and craters
from bombs and the trash and the thick dust, the city proved to
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be remarkably modern, far from my expectations of just pure


mud and sand. The road was paved with asphalt, the highways
pretty complex and the buildings tall and looked sturdy though
really compact in places. And the magnificent snow-covered
summit of the mountain range wouldve made the city really
astonishing. Maybe I was just exposed too much to the stereotype of American war movies about how the Middle Eastern
landscape looked like.
The absence of any audible explosions or gunfire around
struck me more. Though the complete lack of people made me
pretty uneasy, the surroundings were disturbingly peaceful and
calm. I really thought that were gonna come across some group
of rebels fighting with machine guns and AK-47s against the
tanks of the American army, all while mortar shells drop from
the sky and explode a entire block to dust. But instead, it was all
quiet and tranquil.
Its weird that nothings going on, I said.
The fighting usually starts like seven in the morning,
Omar said. I looked at my watch 6:39. The rebels have this
weird schedule that they should only fight during this time to
pray and ask Allah for help. They must be resting or praying
right now, but soon enough the bullets and missiles will start
flying again.
I didnt want to get caught in the gunfire, like anyone
would even want that. How far is your house?
Its not really far, ten minutes away from here. Thinking that I had absolutely no right to complain for the ride he rather gladly risked his life for, I tried to hide my growing frustration. The road from the airport went straight, filled with large
craters and debris from fallen infrastructure. A few hundred meters down, the sound of helicopter rotors hit my ear. It sounded
particularly close to us. I looked through the windshield to find
them. If theyre in the air, that meant rebels might be nearby,
ready to blast those things and most likely all of us too with their
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rockets to kingdom come.


Helicopters from the Americans, Omar said. They fly
above the city much more often now.
No, I just< there might be rebels out here somewhere.
I saw them fire RPGs to helicopters passing by earlier before we
landed, I said.
Oh, yes. The rebels shoot the helicopters so that the
Americans could no longer send troops and weapons and supplies to their military.
Where is the American army stationed? I said.
Theyre on the other side of the city, at Dosshan Tappeh
airfield, he said. It was once a closed airport, but it was reopened for the military operation. There is another one in Saveh,
south of the city but its too far. I wanted to go there myself but
they wont let me in. They dont trust us. I just wanted an interview.
Well, we trust you man. We had no choice, anyway.
I will take you there. Its the least I could do.
Dont tell me youre doing all this for us because of
Judds toys and that cap?
Of course I am, he said. Its the greatest payment I
ever got from anyone.
You really love the NBA?
You wont understand that, Chris said. I would do
anything, anything, to like shake hands with LeBron or Kobe.
Aint that right, my man? The two pounded hands. Because of
their common unreasonable affection for the NBA, the two became more friends than me and Chris ever was. And they met
like ten minutes ago.
What is that on your head? Omar said. What happened to you? He mustve seen the Band-Aid on my head. I
ripped it off, taking some of my precious hair.
We were walking through the parking lot of the airport, I said, when this kid threw a fucking rock at my head.
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They just ran towards us. They almost ripped off my vest. Its
horrible back there.
Yes, he said. The whole airport has turned into an
evacuation center. Much of the city and many from far places of
Iran who wants to get out of the country but dont have any
money are staying there. And also because the planes are gone.
They cant ask the Americans for help because we dont trust
each other. Ive been there, and the people receive less or no care
at all. Theyre just dying in that place, which is the same if they
just stayed in their house.
You were saying earlier that someone is hunting the
people down.
The rebels, he said, his voice rather calm. They hunt
down every able-bodied Iranian to make their army bigger. Its
for their cause or something. Even women, they also hunt them
to rape them and produce child warriors.
Jesus Christ, I said. Do you know who those rebels
are?
There are many militia groups in Iran right now al
Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS, Hamas and maybe many others. I dont
know every single one of them. Theyre all fighting to take over
the whole country.
Thats why they killed the president? To take over this
whole nation? I was now in the zone.
Sure, but Im not exactly sure if the rebels are responsible for his death. There are many theories out there. Some say he
was poisoned by his cook, or he just ran away, I dont know.
Is your government really as corrupt everybody makes
it seem?
Oh you have no idea. His eyes widened. Iran makes
contact with Pakistan, North Korea, China and other states to
ask for nuclear technology. The government also funds and provides the weapons for the rebels to use and kill with. Fuck this
system. He laughed. Now that Rouhanis dead, everybodys
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racing to climb to the throne.


And to own the nuclear bombs, right? I said. Thats
why they killed the president? I went straight to it and not
asked whether he thought there were actually nukes here. If he
didnt contest against the question, that meant he believed there
were nuclear bombs in this country.
Definitely, he answered outright. Theyre hunting for
them right now surely.
So you think there are nuclear bombs here?
He paused. Yes, of course.
Is that for sure or you just think so?
No, no, he said. For sure. With him being a journalist, or at least in his own right, I was confident that he was telling
the truth, which greatly diminished the possibility of us getting
to prison for the stolen intel we have.
Will you agree to talk about all about the nuclear program when we arrive at your house? I said.
Of course, of course, he said, gladly. I actually have a
background on nuclear engineering.
Really? Where did you study?
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California, he
said, which made quite an impression on me. His days on American soil might have been the root cause of his pop addiction and
his geeky appearance.
So how do you survive out here?
There are a few supermarkets out here with plenty of
food and water. Every few days or so, I leave my house to find a
new one. But its really dangerous to be out here. But the police
are down and out. There is no law and order out here now. The
rebels are everywhere, free to roam and kill anyone they please.
But dont worry, they dont come out at this time. His assurance
slightly annoyed for me; he smiled the whole time like bloodthirsty rebels were not such a big deal. But maybe I should just
trust this guy; hes been here long enough anyway and has lived
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pretty much through every shit this hellhole has to offer.


Were gonna be fine, he said.
Okay, if you say so.
So far in the duration of our cruise through the warstricken city, the scenery never changed even for a bit. A halfblown building there, a smoldering car here, jet planes and helicopters flying up there, and craters from mortar explosions on
the road down there. Despite the damage on the road, Omar still
managed to drive at an 80. The rising Sun made everything glow
a bright light orange. The heavens were rather peaceful and sublime, the perfect antonym for the Earth at this moment. Smoke
made orangey by the sunshine turned the atmosphere autumnal.
Do you have a family? I asked after a while.
I never found my lucky lady, he said, which considering his clean young face was kind-of impossible, and my parents were killed long ago so< I just live alone in my house and
do whatever I want to do with my life. The images of my own
parents just flashed in my mind right then, which was weird. I
wondered how my sisters were doing, if they wrecked moms
bedroom again or they emptied dads stash of Pringles. I thought
I couldnt live like Omar just yet; I still pretty much depend on
my parents, even though they didnt really fulfill my needs, both
financially and emotionally. They didnt care for me, and so I
tried to fill that gap by deciding for myself. But this Valiant gig
was more of a hobby and didnt really pay off that much, financially-speaking. But it did help me find the people to provide me
the love and care I long, something they never gave me.
But arent you scared that< I mean, you could get shot
or a bomb might explode in your face?
Maam
Just Holly, I said. Please.
Okay, he said. Ive been in Iran for 32 years, ever
since I was born, and the fighting has not stopped for even one
year! There is always killing and killing and killing again. In fact,
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my parents met during the Islamic Revolution in the 1980s. They


married in a middle of a war. My mother gave birth to me inside
a bunker in a middle of a war. She schooled me in our home in
the middle of a war because many schools were destroyed. And
they died and I buried them in the middle of a war. It never
stopped. The war is like a part of life here in Iran.
With what he just said, I became very much thankful to
God that I wasnt sprouted in this place. Thanks to a bit of
skimming I did in Wikipedia and to Argo, I happened to know a
few things about the history of this place, and it was pretty much
a history filled indeed with much blood and violence. Even
when the nation was still called Persia, many empires and territory-thirsty rulers had been fighting and butchering each other
over its lands for further expansion and its colonization. It was
the last territory to be successfully conquered by Alexander the
Great before a meek mosquito poisoned him with malaria in a
classic case of David defeating Goliath.
The 1980s was perhaps the most tumultuous in recent
history, when the nation endured hostilities from the inside and
later from the invaders claiming the land to be theirs. Before that
decade, Iran was ruled by Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, a shah as
their king was called, installed into position by the United States
and Britain for the two superpowers to gain control of the countrys rich oil supply. During his reign, he institutionalized Westernization and modernization programs for the country. And
according to the introductory comic strips of Argo, he was also
abusive of his power and wealth; his wife was believed to be
bathing in milk, and his lunch flown from Paris on a Concorde.
These placed him on the black list with the extremely conservative Shiite population that comprised much of Iran. In 1978, the
Iranians, led by an Ayatollah Khomeini, overthrew Pahlavi in a
revolution that made the country an Islamic state that it is today.
Pahlavi went to the United States for asylum and medical care
for his cancer. The United States harboring of the former shah
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fed the Iranians anger for the Americans and the West in general, which resulted to 66 Americans to be held hostage in the U. S.
Embassy in Tehran. The Iranians wanted Pahlavi back to face
judgment, to be hanged for his crimes.
Then a year later, Saddam Husseins relentless tanks
invaded the country in one of the last and worst wars this century has seen, lasting ten years. He saw Khomeinis ascension as
a dire threat to his preservation of power. The Iran-Iraq war, as I
remembered, claimed the lives of not less than a million people.
Omar continued. Those rebels, you may know, are all
funded and armed by the government itself. Someone is killed
here every single second, just like the president. No ones doing
anything about this. And now that hes dead, more and more rebels are free to roam around and kill people, and takeover the
whole government.
Do you think they could gain access to the nuclear
bombs? I said.
With no one guarding the bombs, it will only take time
before they could own the nukes.
No one is guarding your nuclear arsenal?!
Well, I wont say its ours, he said. The government
pursued making those bombs for potential attacks from its enemies, including America. Much of it actually comes from our
allies like Pakistan and North Korea. Since Rouhanis assassination, officials of the nuclear program thought the rebels are gonna go after the bombs so they all flew off. That had a very disturbing prospect. With even a single nuclear warhead on the
hands of those murderous bastards, billions of people would be
put into peril and cause potentially irrevocable damage to society. Now that they could own the entire nuclear arsenal of Iran,
life as we know it would be in extreme jeopardy. Scary thought I
sure was but for some reason, I felt an urge to be a hero, that I
could do something to prevent the end of the world.
Do you know where the nuclear bombs are? I said.
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I know some places where theyre might be kept. If you


want we could go there.
We actually have this map from our source that shows
us where the bombs might be.
Really? he said, quite astonished. After a long pause,
he continued. Where did you get that map?
Its from a man who said he hacked it from the database of a military company where he worked before. We were
actually wondering if you could take us to these locations.
He breathed deeply. Of course, anything I could do for
you. Can< I take a look at the map, if thats okay with you?
Why not? I said, pulling the map from my left pocket.
Perhaps another side effect of my paranoia, I feared that the police might have their binoculars aimed at us, so I opened the
map just below the steering wheel. For an entire whole minute,
he stared and examined the map like a scientist would on a newly-discovered virus, not looking for a bit on the road. But for a
moment, it seemed that he wasnt really looking at it. He was
thinking of something deep. Whats the matter? Do you know
these places?
Yes, yes, he said. He was excited, but in a really weird
way. I< I could take you here.
Do you know what those lines mean? I asked, pointing at the weird configurations of lines beside the map of Iran.
No< Im sorry. I dont know.
Its okay. As I folded the map back to my pocket, I
could see him tensing up through my peripheral vision. His
arms didnt move, and he exhaled large gulps of air. His anxiety
was contagious. Is everything okay? If you think its too dangerous to go, its alright if we dont.
No, no, no. Its gonna be fine. Im just< really sleepy. I
will take you both there, he said. Its my honor to help a fellow
journalist.
Are you sure?
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Yes, yes. Im sure. Dont worry.


For a few moments, I thought of something else I could
ask, until Chris suddenly burst from the back, out from an eternal silence. Goddamn it! This bitch is killing me!
Its just the zoom, I said. Its fine.
No, I already fixed the zoom, he said. The processor
chip just popped off the damn thing. Now it cant record anything at all.
Cant you open it?
I dont have a screwdriver.
Dont worry, Omar said. I have one in my house, and
there is also equipment there to fix the camera.
Youre a godsend, man! my partner said. I think I
owe you more now than my bank.
Dont mention it, friend.
I turned back to the road, and meters up ahead I saw
someone lying in the sidewalks face-down, hands flat on the
road. What the fuck is that? Some sort of black fluid seemed to
emanate from him, until I realized its a corpse. More dead followed after every few meters. A deadly pathogen, it seemed,
came through this place and just wreaked havoc. Some, men,
women and even babies, still have their eyes and mouths wideopen, a sight that would definitely leave a permanent mark on
my eyes. I almost puked several times, my mouth tasting like the
tuna I had on the plane. That was the most disturbing sight Ive
ever seen. I kept the camera pointed at the sidewalks, my eyes
totally closed shut.
Jesus Christ, look at all these dead people, I said. Chris
leaned in between the front seats. A spray of blood was apparent
beside some of the bodies, indication that they were shot with a
machine gun or something close. I then turned the camera to the
windshield, and in the middle of the road, there was a dead man
dipped in black blood with four famished dogs nibbling on his
meat, the vertebrae protruding from the mans back. In horror, I
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dropped the camera and just shrieked. Oh my God!


Whoa< are you okay? Omar said. Like a young child
who saw his first unrated version of a Saw movie, I covered my
face with my entire body paralyzed from the trauma. I already
endured marathons of zombie movies, but nothing beats seeing
a corpse being eaten right in your eyes. The smells were of rot,
blood, shit, guts, and just rot. My insides felt like theyre going to
blow out of my mouth at any moment.
Holy shit! Chris said from the back. Those dogs are
eating that poor bastard.
Stop it, will you? Did we pass though it already? I
said, trembling. My hands covered my face airtight.
Yes, he said. You are not used to dead bodies, yes?
You think so? What the hell happened here?
The rebels killed all of them. All of those who did not
want to join them in their cause are instantly killed, Omar said.
Im lucky that Im still alive. Im a pretty good hider. Dont
worry, I know this place better than anyone. I can hide you too.
Chris caressed my back, though I couldnt feel his hands
with the thick vest. You alright? he said. But the sight, coupled
with the jet lag Ive been suffering from, has drained my biological battery to nil. I didnt answer, and just lay back at my seat.
Then, like a flashback in a TV series, the image of the dogs nibbling on that dead man filled the walls of my retina, triggering
an explosion deep within my stomach that drove its contents up
to my mouth. Some of the puke spilled right on the dashboard,
until Omar made the window open and I spewed my guts out
like the waters in the Hoover. He didnt stop the car, so I made
quite a line of puke in the middle of the road.
Holy shit! Im sorry. Oh, fuck! I said.
Its alright. Its okay, Omar said.
Chris then handed me a bottle of water. Dont worry. I
didnt get that, he said.

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THE ROAD LED us to a big marble tower that looked like that
arc monument in the Champs lyses, only that its elevated and
supported by four flat columns going outward that looked like
the wings of a stork. Omar said it was the Shahyad Tower, built
as a gateway for the city and a commemoration for the Persian
Empire. Though one of its legs has been blown off and reduced
to its metal scaffold, the monument still remained on its feet,
which he used as a metaphor of Iran still a free nation despite all
the calamity. But the tower may soon collapse under its own
weight, and with the war still far from over, I thought the country would too eventually. I didnt say that to him, of course.
Though not apparent in the things he put in his car, he was still a
patriotic man deep inside, believing that his country could still
survive and persist despite everything.
My house is on the road at the other side of this tower,
Omar said as we encircled the monument. I would kill for a soft
king-sized bed right then; the stress and the jet lag churned and
bored deep through my head. I felt my guts have been stretched
to the breaking point after my dramatic barf.
Chris fell asleep in the backseat, his camera lying in front
of him. I reached and poked him several times. Hey, sleepyhead, wake up! I said. Wake up! Were here.
Its about time, he said, stretching his arms.
The square was an intersection of four expressways, but
the roads didnt pass through the tower but around it. The monument stood in a tiled and really wide open space, where probably millions of kids somersaulted or laid their picnic baskets on
before the war. Like a giant eye with the tower as the pupil, two
roads surrounded the monument with a nice lush green park in
between. We passed on the inner road. Its just depressing that
the whole place was trashed; it could have been a really nice
place to hang out with the cool breeze and the wide space. Many
cars were left in the middle of the road, scrambled and somehow
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turned over like pieces of dominoes.


Emerging out of one of the columns, I saw five kids
chasing each other in some sort of game, wearing the usual Muslim loose getup. They stopped and looked right at us as we
drove around the monument. Hey look, I said, there are kids
over there.
I know those kids, Omar said. They live just on the
other side of the road in front of my house. They live alone too
because theyre parents are killed. They just scavenge food wherever they found one.
I then turned to our driver. For some reason, I just got
disturbed with what he claimed to be his age. What did you say
your age was? I asked.
Im thirty-two, Omar said.
Really?! His face looked really fresh and small for him
to be as old as he claimed. I thought youre 25 or something.
Why Holly? Chris said. You jealous of his lush and
radiant skin?
Shut up, Chris.
You are the first person who cared about that, Holly,
Omar said. I use this goat soap that is locally made here. Its the
only luxury item I have, really cheap but really good to the skin.
If you want Ill give you some.
Youre too kind, I said. Thanks.
You know, Chris said, were not here to get a soap,
remember?
And were not here to collect stupid figurines of NBA
players. Omar laughed.
Theyre not stupid. Theyre a collectors item. Theyre
worth something.
Yeah, right, I said. Worth placing in your goddamn
drawer.
Wait, wait, Omar said. Halfway around the tower, he
turned off the engine and let the car roll by itself, letting it bump
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on an overturned red car.


Whats the matter?
Can you hear that? The sound of the mild Iranian
morning breeze and the kids laughter and cries filled my ears. It
was really eerie, but pretty relaxing at the same time. But there
was something else. Another sound was slowly superseding it.
Its got louder and louder and louder, but I still couldn't figure
out what thing it eminated from. It was a steady rasp sound, almost like a vehicle racing towards us.
What the hell is that? Chris whispered.
I turned my camera to the road straight ahead leading
out of the square where the sound seemed to be coming from. It
was now louder than ever. Is that a< car? I said, turning to
the two obviously stiffed guys. I looked back to the road, and
then out of nowhere, two trucks appeared.
Get down! Get down! Omar yelled. We all ducked out
of sight, pushing my feet in the space below the dashboard and
laying my body in the seat. I couldnt go in further because of
my stupid suit. Chris laid flat on the backseat, while Omar simply reclined in the backrest. The cars were brown and looked like
small Humvees, with someone standing in the back holding a
long tube, perhaps a machine gun.
Who the fuck are those people? I said.
Armed rebels, Omar said. Members of militia forces.
I thought you said they dont go out at this time?
I had no idea. They must be some random patrol. I
hyperventilated so much that my throat totally dried. My entire
body trembled from deep my bones, a sensation Ive never had
before. My head just went heavy; my whole body got cold.
Holy shit, theyre coming here and theyre gonna kill
us! Theyre gonna kill us!
Shut the fuck up, Holly! Chris said.
I pointed the camera to my face and tried to do what I
was supposed to do. I stammered. There are< armed men in
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the road, and they seem to be very unfriendly. Uh< we caught


them patrolling the area and they are right outside< theyre carrying really powerful guns<, I said quietly, breathing deep for
every word as if saying my final confessions on camera before
my death. My face must be very blurry in the camera with all my
shaking.
Few seconds later, the sound of the cars stopped. Holy
shit! They just stopped! They seemed only meters away from
us. My body was on overdrive, breathing twice as hard and stiffening like concrete. I could hear every step the men made outside, and from their voices, they sounded theyre going for the
children.
Holly, Chris whispered from the back, give me the
camera. Trembling, I complied. He slowly crawled to the door
and brought the camera up to the window. He zoomed in to
them. Omar looked as well.
What are they doing? I said.
Theyre just talking to the kids, Chris said, and uh<
they definitely want something.
They want the kids to come with them, Omar said,
and theyre asking where their parents are.
Oh, shit! Theyre punching the kid, Chris said. Oh,
Jesus. Theyre beating and kicking the fuck out of that poor
child! I didnt have to look. The sound was very clear the
men yelling at the kids, their foot pounding their poor tiny bodies and the kids screaming in pain. It was excruciating and
heartbreaking beyond words, to hear the helpless children got
beat up as they kept begging for their lives. So I just covered my
ears and closed my eyes shut to stop myself from crying.
Then, a gunshot blasted from the outside, firing every
single cell in my body. Shit! As my heart seemed to have
skipped a beat, I feared I might have screamed too loud. The two
guys got shaken by the sound, as if they were blown by the
shockwave. Then, a couple more were fired, coupled with the
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satisfied laugh of the rebels. My eyes opened wide, my head and


hands trembled violently, and my lungs inflated up to the point
of bursting. I shrieked like a little girl, pleading for all of this shit
to be over.
Please< lets get out of here! I cried.
Shut up, goddamn it! Chris said. Omar raised his head
a bit, then ducked down in a flash.
Theyre coming here! Theyre coming right here! he
whispered, Chris throwing the camera to me. I knew it; they
fucking heard me! I turned and laid chest flat on the seat, my
face at the camera which was aimed at the door behind Omar
and my hands pressed against my mouth, preventing any shriek
from escaping. I wanted to turn the viewfinder to me, but I could
already hear footsteps closing in. I hated how slow time moved
around me, or it might be because my brain sucked in more detail of every passing moment. I could hear the dust on the road
being crunched by their feet pressing against the road, and it
was getting louder, and louder and louder. It sounded like four
or five of them were coming. I closed my eyes tight. We were
gonna die before it all even began.
Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy shit! Please God, help us!
Please, father in heaven! I said, quivering in fear.
After what seemed to be eternity, a siren blared from a
far corner of the city, and with that the footsteps stopped closing
in. One of the men outside yelled and the men retreated back to
their cars, and soon enough, the vehicles took off. I could hear
theyve taken some of the children. In all that time, I managed to
not breathe at all, and it felt like I have just been un-strangled.
Not until we no longer heard the raspy sound of the engines that
we emerged out of hiding.
Looks like theyre going the way we came, Omar said.
Chris looked like hes been trapped in a freezer for years
and just lost a gallon of blood. I could only imagine how pale
would I look like in the mirror. That has got to be the scariest
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thing that has ever happened to me in this trip. And thats the
worst part the whole assignment was just starting, and there
would surely be more, even worse than that.
That was a close call, Omar said, who looked remarkably calm and collected, which was understandable since hes
been here for a very long time. Are you two alright?
What the hell is that siren? I said, still shaken up.
Its a warning to the people to get to their homes. The
war is about to start, he said.
Lets just get out of here, please! I screamed.
Yes, yes, okay. Hang on. He started the car, and we
headed to the exit where the cars emerged from. Right beside
one of the towers columns, the lifeless bodies of the kids soaked
in blood. I looked away before the sight of violence and death
could traumatize my brain, but I guess it already did. My heart
never pounded my chest as hard before, even more than when I
had my first sexual intercourse. But that was surely just a brief
taste of what was to come.
Im never coming back here again, I said.
Good idea, Chris said, apparently gasping as well.
Moments like this made our reporting remarkable and brought a
cinematic experience to our viewers. But that meant putting ourselves on the line of fire, literally.
I understand why you say that, Omar said. Ive attempted many times to get out of here, but I dont have enough
money to afford trip to America. And besides, I have no relatives
there.
Do you want to come with us? I said. I knew our latest
ride has only two seats for us, but Judd should be able to figure
something out for his own friend.
Thank you, but no, he said. I cant leave my wife and
daughter here.
What? I thought you said you dont have any family?
I mean, I dont have, but< I have no choice.
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Why?
I just cant, but thank you very much for asking. He
went silent and just kept looking at the road. He never talked
again. His aura slightly changed, as if hes nervous of something.
Hey man, Chris said. Do you have a bed in your
house? Because I want to lie down now so bad.
Sorry but I have only sofas, but theyre just as good. I
promise.
After another half-a-kilometer, the car parked in front of
a tall apartment building, more elegantly-designed than most of
the buildings around. The corners were covered with silver tiles
and the faade was winding.
Were here, he said. Let me carry your bags. I think
youre already very tired with everything that just happened.
He had no freaking idea.

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Chapter

06.
HIS ROOM WAS at the third floor of the rather neat apartment,
and though the stairs were pretty short, getting up there proved
to be quite a hike. I guess all the stress from my first 45 minutes
in Iran has taken a big toll on me already. I felt gravity was much
stronger in the building, perhaps because of my epic barf that
has drained whats left of my energy, but I kept fighting the urge
to lie down with the sirens, a sign that any moment then a bomb
might fall out of the sky and blow us all up to heaven, giving me
the pressure to move on. The floors were tiled, the ceilings installed with elaborate lightings and the doorknobs gold-plated.
The whole place, Omar said, was once a three-star hotel and a
favorite of tourists. Now, its just another relic of the calm times
of the nation. The rooms may be a poor mans paradise with all
the fancy appliances and dcor, but theyre as good as garbage
now with utilities down and out. Several families stayed with
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him in the building, and like him, they all took the chance for a
free check-in as the VIPs once staying in the place all evacuated
and ran off.
The third floor up housed the largest suites, and Omar
took refuge in the largest and fanciest one a reasonable choice,
as its free anyway. His room was basically like a photographers
studio warehouse, all white and bright, with a kitchen and the
sofas on one side. But the rising Sun gave the room a yellowish
glow. I could still smell the mothballs.
Damn nice room, man, Chris said.
Thank you, Omar said, removing the cloth covers of
the sofa and the furniture and hanging the Bulls cap on the side
of a big LeBron portrait just beside a cabinet full of NBA figurines. You can sleep in my sofas if you want to. With no hesitation, we just dropped our backpacks and the busted camera on
the floor and dived straight on the sponge-like sofas, like that
type Ive never put my ass before. I felt like I just trekked the
entire expanse of the Rockies and Appalachians at the same
time, and climbed Everest twice after. Jet lag and stress from severe tension was indeed a pretty horrible combination. I didnt
even have the strength to commend on how beautiful his room
was.
Sorry about this, Omar, I said. Were just really tired
and jet lagged.
Dont worry about it, he said, grabbing something
over his kitchen on the other side of the room. You have to rest.
You had a very long flight. You will need the energy.
The sound of the sirens made it through the glass doors
of the overhang. As the wind blew the elaborately-embroidered
silk curtain, I saw several bullet holes forming an intricate web
of cracks on the glass. Are you sure were safe up here?
Ive been here for quite a while. As long as we stay
away from the windows, were gonna be fine. He then placed a
tray of coffee, fried rice, bread and bacon on the table. Heres
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food when you have your rest. Sorry, its not that hot anymore.
No, no, no, no. Its okay. Thank you very much.
Now just rest and I will fix camera, okay?
Oh my God. Thanks again, man. I hope were not much
trouble.
Its okay, he said. Dont worry about a thing. If he
just lived in the States and was eight years younger, I would like
say yes without thinking about it were he asked my hand for
marriage. I just wished Chris was like him, but he did prove
himself to be a provider and protector material along the way.
Omar was so fucking nice, it actually made me guilty. On the
side of the kitchen was a cabinet filled with all sorts of NBA
memorabilia, mostly figurines of players and trophies. The wall
from the door was plagued with posters of players floating in
the air just as they smash the ball in the basket. They must be all
from Judd. I thought of calling headquarters to tell them that
were with him, but I was only supposed to use the satellite
phone in extremely important matters or when the headquarters
called us. The Smartphone, which Chris made me bring, was
only good for picture-taking and easy entertainment.
After a couple of minutes when I felt a bit recharged, I
removed my awful vest and reached for the tray in the center
table, and then shoved the bread and bacon straight to my
mouth. The Handycam was on the edge of the table. The only
things I ate in the past ten hours were half-a-tuna sandwich and
a little piece of steak from the plane, barely enough to make me
burp. Despite the mess in his country, Omar still managed to
cook superbly. Or maybe, the food really tasted terrible and that
my body was fooling me just to have something to consume,
now that I emptied my system from that epic barf earlier. I ate,
nonetheless.
These are really delicious, Omar, I said to him. He was
sitting in a long table on the other side of the room working on
our camera. Where do you get your food around here?
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There is a supermarket right across the street, he said,


Please, theres more food and water and beverages in the kitchen. Help yourself. And the first aid kits over there.
Thank you. I think were both fine now. I took a sip of
the coffee; though lukewarm, it still has that kick to it. Chris laid
chest-flat on the sofa in front of mine, snoring disturbingly and
his legs spread open wide, like hes really feeling at his own
home. He threw his vest in the center table, right on the bacons. I
got to him and punched his back, but he seemed to be in cryosleep. Sorry about Chris, man.
No, no, no. Its okay. Im actually really happy to have
guests in my house for the first time since the start of the war.
Besides the dizzying posters of LeBron and the other
giants of the NBA, another thing striking me in the room was the
sepia colored photographs of crying and terrified people hanged
on the wall by the windows. They were stunning and dramatic
to say the least, turning seemingly ordinary moments into art
that could penetrate into the heart. Omar took them years before
the war, he said. My favorite has a little kid standing and crying
in the middle of a rallying crowd with his sad face looking at the
camera, which I interpreted as innocences first taste of the real
world, shit like that. I wasnt that kid, I thought, since Im way
older now and I already knew much about the real world. Its
cruel, selfish, violent, cold and brutal pretty much every adjective you can give for the worst place there is. Subconsciously,
every person wants the other one dead, especially if their wants
and needs dont sync. That is the fundamental truth which explained this and all the wars in human history. Mens differences
in ideals and interests, and his attempt to protect them, have almost led to his extinction for countless of times in the past and
even more so in the future. It seems that the just be yourself
mantra would lead us to our ultimate doom. But then, if all of
mankind would somehow be made to have one and the same
traits and mental inclination, the world would be an insanely
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boring place worse than it is now. And besides, whose traits and
mental inclination should be followed? I guess man, like he is to
reproduce, is also preprogrammed to destroy himself.
Before I knew it, Omar has finished fixing the camera.
But a tall stack of booklets on a small table near him caught my
attention. Are these your papers youre talking about? I said,
grabbing one from the pile.
Yes, he said, but they are really outdated now. Those
are supposed to be delivered three weeks ago, until the battles
started. I couldnt go out there anymore, and they dont have
time to read that stuff. So, theyre the last copy. And I always
mention your boss name there. He helps me get news for my
American section.
Is that so? His news booklet was basically five or six
small pieces of paper stitched on the side, the letters and pictures
in monochrome. I flipped the pages left to right, until Omar told
me its supposed to be the other way round. Since their sentences were written right to left, what I thought the first page
was actually the last page, so I have to flip right to left. For a paper made by just one person, it was surprisingly well-done,
layout-wise at least, as it was all written in Farsi.
Do you release this per week or per month? I said.
Monthly, and because of my limited printing tools, I
only include news that I think would really matter to people.
Like what?
You know like election fraud and corruption of government officials, mostly satires about the government and the
rebel forces< the nuclear bombs, Israel and America, he said.
What about those countries?
I have been hearing rumors everywhere that the government plants to attack Israel and America with the bomb<
nuclear bomb. The America part was not that surprising. For
years, the United States and its allies have imposed trade and
support sanctions on Iran for its continued insistence to continue
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its nuclear program. Of course, with Iran having one of the most
notorious regimes in the world, everyone assumed that the program has some dark agendas other than the peaceful purposes
the nation insisted the program was for, particularly to supply
the country and its allies with nuclear bombs. News of an Iranian attack against the U. S. has in fact filled the Net for some
time now, though limited to mere provocative remarks of assured destruction.
Yeah, I said, but why Israel? That poor country
doesnt even have the firepower to even threaten that large a
country, so why would they do that?
Jews, he said. Rouhani and Ahmadinejad before him
had always believed that the Jews and Israel are Irans biggest
enemies before America. They hate Jews. The two even thought
that the Holocaust was just made up by the Jews to earn the
sympathy of the world. CNN interviewed Rouhani years ago
and he admitted he did not believe the Holocaust. The world
knows their hatred of that race. And they plan to destroy Israel.
Looks like Iran shared the twisted beliefs of Hitler. I
never knew that the country was such an anti-Semitist nation, or
perhaps only its presidents and they taught the whole country to
hate the Jews. I dont know exactly why but it could have something to do with what happened during the Crusades, my knowledge of which I got from Kingdom of Heaven. I knew the Muslims
took Jerusalem in the movie after Orlando Blooms stupid surrender, but the end credits said that with the help of the some
British king, the Holy Land was taken back by the Christians,
which remained so up to this day. Perhaps theyre planning to
take it back once again.
Until I saw The Third Reich: The Fall on the History
Channel that I completely felt sorry for Jews. When Americans
captured a German concentration camp and they released all the
prisoners, the poor Jews were just plain awful. They had no
muscles or fat left, only bones and skin hanging loose from their
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bodies. The edges of their skulls protruded beyond their eyes


and noses. Piles of rotting bony corpses were just thrown in a big
mud pit. I mean, the sight would make a seven-year old traumatized for the rest of her life, locking herself in her room and just
stare at nothing for the rest of her days. For thousands of years,
Jews have been persecuted and murdered and abused by everybody. Theyve been fed to lions in the Coliseum as a pastime for
millions of Romans, and cast out and crucified for reasons of
inferiority and disgust. And even today, that resentment continues in the form of jokes and derogatory references in almost all
movies and stand-up comedy skits. And as I just learned, Iran
has been planning to end them once and for all.
But the presidents dead, I said, so, will that plan
continue?
I dont know but many of the people really hate Israel,
so one way or another, the plan might be started. His voice was
rather calm, as if he wasnt even worried that an entire nation
and millions of people would be annihilated. He must be a big
Jew hater too.
I scanned through the ten-page booklet. In the fifth page,
two black-and-white pictures of a man waving a burning American flag and graffiti of who seemed to be Abraham Lincoln
strangling an Iranian man with his left hand and holding a pistol
aimed at him on the other filled half of the page. It had an ominous appeal to me. Where did you take this picture? I said,
showing the page to him.
Oh, that? Thats just outside of Tehran. I took them after our president was assassinated.
Looks the whole country really hated the U. S. Iranians have little or no tolerance to the West, and their historys
testament to that. The U. N. actually helped to end the ten-year
conflict between Saddam and Iran during the 1980s by making
the two sign a truce that the U. N. instigated. Khomeini, with
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ly with the conditions of the West, which was ironic since not
succumbing to the West was what the nation fought for years
earlier. I remembered him being quoted as saying that he drank
the cup of poison for his people. So its no surprise that the hate
still persisted today among the people like the genetic traits of
the previous generations of Iranians. Come to think of it, America and its allies had everything to do with why Iran hated the
West. It placed Pahlavi into position, which started this whole
thing in the first place. But I couldnt make any conclusions
based on just a rough skim of its history.
There are groups here that consider the culture of the
West to be< satanic and despises the gods, he said. Your Internet, gambling, Las Vegas, prostitution, movies and TV shows,
comedy, rap music and romance novels< they say all that are
work of the devil.
Really? I frowned at him. Thats just ridiculous. How
could they say that? I knew pretty much every show on our TV
has some sequence of sex and cursing and someone getting his
blood spilled on the floor or his guts dropping out of his belly in
it, such as and most particularly Game of Thrones. And there are
movies whose plot was all about college boys who wanted to get
laid and slutty bitches who also wanted to get laid. And there
are novels that are basically how-to guides to have sex and how
to put silver balls to a womans vagina. And pretty much every
joke has some dirty reference in it. But thats our entertainment,
for Gods sakes. They were meant to make people forget their
problems in the real world and just enjoy and laugh or cry, even
for just a short time. They were meant to bring their audiences
into an alternative realm and make them believe they have pet
dragons or telekinesis or ability to transform into wolves, or
have a rich and handsome prince for a husband. Theyre not
some kind of propaganda that promoted some kind of belief or a
protest to some kind of system.
Oh, Im sorry Holly. Dont get me wrong, Omar said,
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raising his hand towards me like Im a cop and Im aiming a gun


at him. He seemed to be thinking that he offended me. I love
American entertainment, and Im not one of those people who
think that Americans are really bad people. You developed the
world and made it better< He was speaking very fast, and it
was hilarious.
No, no, no. Its okay. Im not really mad, I said. Look,
I hate quite a lot of our entertainment too, that fucking Kardashian show, Pawn Stars, Jersey Shore, Twilight, Adam Sandler,
One Direction, Blank Space, all that shit.
Isnt it that One Direction is a British group?
Yeah, but< they mostly do shows in America so<
Who cares about those gay losers?
I agree, he said. Is it also true that an athlete in your
country changed himself to a woman?
Yeah, his name is Bruce Jenner, patriarch of the Kardashians. He made an interview with Diane fucking Sawyer about
why he was doing it. I mean, its the most ridiculous shit Ive
ever seen. Its purely publicity and to satisfy their need to be at
the headlines, no matter how ridiculous their shit is.
Is he sick or something?
No, I dont think so. He just wants to be in the news.
If hes ever here in Iran, he will be burned alive in a
stake for blasphemy.
I looked back at the photograph. The strangling Lincoln
caricature was making me uncomfortable. Seriously, I said,
Ive never seen anything on the news with these< hate graffiti
on Iran. I mean, they hated America for a very long time but as
youre aware America has made rapport with this country recently.
Most Iranians dont hate America but only our presidents, he said. They dont want the West to be intervening
with the affairs of Iran. They dont want Americas troops or
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gion free of any American soldiers< of course, until now.


I pointed at the small caption below the pictures. Hey,
can you translate this for me?
He moved his head closer, and said, Two images of the
Iranian hate of America< a kid burns an American flag and
graffiti outside of Tehran, both protests for America killing our
president.
His last words fired every cell in my brain, and somehow my tiredness just evaporated away from me. I looked at
him with such bewildered eyes. Did you just say, I said, we
killed your president?!
Didnt I tell you while were in the car?
The whole country must be really delusional. Next to the
fake Moon landing conspiracy theory and the Pope being allegiant to the Illuminati, that was craziest thing Ive ever heard in
my life. But that explained everything the angry mob back in
the airport, the suspicion of every local on us. Their hate must be
really too much that they just accused us of something absolutely, almost hilariously, crazy.
My brain started going crazy again, and in a flash
formed another set of dark and obscure possibilities, at which
time I knew I was at my normal state again. We were exposed
too much in the airport, and our faces must be all over Iran right
now, flashed on every screen and flyers. Every single Iranian
must be hunting for the two of us, like a bounty worth millions.
Shit! I said, moving away from Omar. We must get
the fuck out of here.
No, theres nothing to worry about! he said. And its
not really true. Its just propaganda.
I didnt listen. I ran with the cup of coffee on my hand
towards Chris, still sleeping on the couch. Chris! We have to get
out of here Then, a very loud thud rocked me out of balance,
which made me drop the cup and spill the coffee on the floor. It
was almost a sonic boom from a fighter jet, which made my ears
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ring up loud. I turned to the window, and a couple of buildings


away, I saw a big cloud of dust and smoke rising from the
ground, which immediately filled me with thoughts of assured
death. Panicking, I ran towards Chris who wasnt even awakened by the explosion.
Hey, hey! Wake up! I shrieked, hyperventilating again
as per the norm. I shook his body back and forth until his head
moved. Wake up! We need to get out of here!
Whats the matter? he said.
Theyre bombing the entire city, thats the fucking matter. I went for my bag and prepared to leave, but Chris wasnt
moving. Come on!
Please, its okay. Were gonna be fine here, Omar said.
Fine? Did you see that explosion?! I shrieked. Theyre
coming after us!
But its more dangerous outside.
Hes right, Holly, Chris said, standing up. We should
just stay here.
I cried in fear as I put my vests on and lifted our bags to
the door, which the adrenaline my body provided allowed me to
carry. I ran for the large camera, but the two just stared at me
like the threat of dying meant nothing for them. When I got all
the things hanging on my left shoulders, which for some reason
weighed ten times less than they should be, and I was about to
blast open the door, Chris rush to me and hugged me tight, pulling my head to his hard chest. I dropped the bags and the camera.
Please, Holly, he said. Calm down! It was followed
by more reminders of us being fine, but the gunshots and explosions outside seemed to be amplified, like theyre going off right
next to me but theyre really a hundred miles away. He irritated
the heck out of me.
Will you stop that? I said, pushing him away. We
need to get out of here! They hunting us down, and< and theyll
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gonna kill us because they think we killed their president!


What are you talking about?
We need to get out here, now!
Just calm down, please he said, moving closer to me
again. He attempted to hug me, but I punched his chest really
hard. It was the hardest I ever hit someone other than my sister.
Im not a crazy little paranoid girl who< who needs to
keep being told to calm the fuck down! And will you stop hugging me? Who the hell do you think you are?! I said.
What are y<? I was just trying to help you! he said.
So Im the one with the problem now, huh? Is that what
you think? Do I need help from you, now?
Holly! His shout made me silent, and like a daydream
just ending, I kind-of woke up and realized the words Ive been
saying for the last minute. What the hells wrong with you?!
We shouldnt be here, Chris! Were gonna get killed.
We shouldnt have done this. This is a big fucking mistake!
Youre not listening to me, he said. Were gonna be
fine! No ones gonna kill you or anyone of us. Were here to do
our job. And Im not gonna let anything happen to you, I swear
to God.
The explosions suddenly stopped. I stood by the door
for a few seconds, still recollecting what I have said and done. So
ashamed, I covered my face with my hands and stood in front of
Omars kitchen away from the two. I felt like all my blood was
rushing to my head, like it was gonna explode any moment. I
cried once again at the conclusion of my four thousand nine
hundred seventy-seventh anxiety attack. I was a full-blown grenade once more; my fear has gotten over me. Sorry, sorry. I< I
shouldnt have.
I heard Chris coming to me, but he didnt hug me again.
I understand, he said. Look, Im a little scared too but< I
turned back and embraced him really tight, my thin arms wrapping his neck and my breasts pressing against his chest. I wailed.
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Sorry, Chris, I said. I need you. I need you here with


me, okay? I cant do this without you.
He caressed my hair and leaned his head to mine. Im
always here, he said. Dont worry. Ill be on your side all the
time. Ill keep you safe. Im always here forever.
It was the cheesiest thing Ive ever heard in my life. Like
a crazy lady, I just burst in laughter. I pressed my face against
his shoulders to hide my laugh.
What? he said.
Youre so cheesy! I said, laughing and pounding his
chest. I couldnt control it. Sorry, I< I cant stop.
So youre laughing at me now? Out of spontaneity, I
just moved my head to his and kissed him, my eyes all closed.
His nose was really tall that I couldnt caress his lips that well, so
I had to move my head sideways. Our height difference proved
to be quite a hitch too. His lips were rather dry and rough, and
his short facial hair tickled my face, but I liked it, though I was
having trouble breathing from all my crying. My crotch felt ticklish for some reason. I could tell that he was enjoying kissing me.
I did thrust my tongue to his mouth for a bit, but I let go before
things could go out of hand. An awkward silence followed between us for quite a while as we looked around the room embarrassed, like nothing happened.
You taste like onions, he then said. I pushed him hard
in response. Omar was still standing on the other side of the
room.
Oh my God. Im so sorry you have to see that, Omar, I
said. He must be thinking that Im such crazy little bitch, crying
and then making out instantaneously.
No, no. Its okay, he said. I was worried a little bit
about you. Are you okay?
Im fine. Thank you, I said. Im just really nervous
right now. Im not used to stuff like this. Then, another explosion, much fainter, hit my ears. The echoes of gunfire blared
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from all around the city. The battle has apparently started once
again.
We are gonna be fine, Omar said. There is nothing to
be afraid of.
I know.
So, you want to interview me about the nuclear bomb?
That reminded me.

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Chapter

07.
CHRIS PREPPED THE room before interviewing our chauffer
and designated main informant of the Iranian nuclear program.
Our limited baggage capacity, once again, didnt let us bring sophisticated lighting equipment, but the sunshine proved to be
sufficient enough. Besides, Omar has a pretty pale complexion so
the camera should see him well and true. Chris placed a small
seat on the end of the room and the tripod-footed camera in
front of it, as I stood on the side and listed questions that would
make sense of everything around here. After every couple of
minutes, explosions of varying shock intensity and apparent distance would make me tremble, turning the words I wrote into a
bunch of senseless doodles.
You okay? Chris said, apparently hearing my occasional grunts. You want another hug?
Dont push your luck. Im fine, I said. Wheres Omar,
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by the way?
He went outside, said hes gonna buy something real
quick from the store.
For the past three minutes, I have written like four questions on the paper. The things I said to him earlier blocked the
tracks of my train of thought. My brain, I feared, could be suffering from schizophrenia or something with all my emotional instability and paranoia, which almost cost me the only guy I
could trust my life with in this assignment. I might as well be
Angelina Jolie in that ridiculous movie with her husband Brad
Pitt where they would shoot each other until their furniture and
ammo ran out, at which point they would make out like crazy in
the sea of glass. I apologized to him again, though I already did
like a million times in the first few hours of this day alone. But I
couldnt be sorry for him enough.
Please, forget about it, he said. I know this is your
first time in this kind of thing, and its normal to be freaked out.
Its just, how can you handle this shit?
I just dont think about it much, and you shouldnt too.
And experience really helps, being in the field.
What do you mean? Youve been here before?
Oh my God, dont you remember? he said. Me and
Dennis to Libya?
Shit, yeah. Im sorry. How could I forget?
You know I was very much like you, scared shitless in
my pants as we hide in the corner, bullets flying and bombs exploding everywhere. I wouldnt call myself scared shitless; it
was way worse than that. If thats the superlative of the level of
sacredness, then Webster must come up with something of higher degree. He was really angry at me too that I kept on whining
and acting all crazy. And I was really infuriated that you put me
in that mess.
Oh, did I? I said. Their assignment was the first overseas war coverage in our history, one that truly defined what our
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identity in news delivery was about for the years that followed.
Our footages were heavily used by big-time news networks,
which poured in quite the amount of bucks in our pockets. I was
the boss back then, a period of time that I truly missed the opportunity to just point at people and order them things I wont
otherwise do, particularly and most especially this one. But with
what happened to Dennis, I realized that this job had a larger
catch of putting the lives of the people you cared about on the
line, so I gave up my position for Judd to suffer on that burden
of guilt. Im sorry< for what happened to him.
I told you it wasnt your fault, he said, followed by the
usual silence that came with conversations like that. He held and
caressed the Playoffs trophy figurine, as if remembering the
good times the two of them had. Our continued request for a
rescue mission was denied by the military, on the account that
our teams presence there was illegal the stupidest thing Ive
ever heard. Its a big case of discrimination. If we were CNN or
some big news channel, whose audience reaches could permanently stain the credibility of anyone on the planet, that would
be the only time when they would go to do something. And as
Gaddafi fell and the soldiers were withdrawn, our chances of
saving him evaporated. With four years gone, he was as good as
dead. That was the last thing I wanted to happen to myself.
Hey, did you know you called us like every ten damn
minutes!
Of course. I was worried about you two! I said. You
two are our best guys. But you two were cut-off from us for five
days, right?
Oh, right. Our phone got shot off and destroyed during
the siege to the capital, he said.
What happened then?
You have no idea. After the siege, we were invited by
this group of Libyans to celebrate their win. The way to their
camp was through a large desert. And when we got to that
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desert, we were ambushed by a small Gaddafi army. We both


got shot and our driver blew his head off, and we tumbled down
this big sand dune. Me and Dennis survived, but we were left
behind by the Libyans. We didn't have food or water, and I
thought that was it and were gonna die. I already did a farewell
video to my parents. He chuckled. Until five days later, we
just woke up lying in some bed. We were saved by these< I
dont really know where theyre from, but they were really kind
to us. Some of them spoke English actually. They have these
black globe sign with wings or something. Theyre really nice.
They were led by an old guy they call the imam. They helped us
get to the American army. He then pointed out three gunshot
scars in his shoulders and thighs, and recounted how their
friends pulled the bullets out of them by doing the exact thing
Rambo did in his movie.
Will you stop that? I said. Youre really helping me.
It was really, really, really<
Come on, Chris. Stop kidding around.
Sorry, he said. Were gonna get out of here, Holly, I
promise you. And then, well go to Hiltons and see Adam Levine. Unfortunately, his little anecdote did nothing to calm my
nerves.
But how could you not think about it when there are
guns and bombs exploding all around you? I said.
Maybe youre watching too much horror movies, made
you all jumpy< or youre drinking gallons of coffee every day.
Very funny.
Look, seriously, he said. You should just learn to relax and calm down. Just do it, you know? That sounded really
familiar. You should not be feeling terrified at all. You chose to
be here, because you love doing this. You love bringing the truth
to the world. You love this shit. I smiled. It was all dead-on.
Being, well, scared shitless this time, I realized, was like being
disgusted of my favorite food in the entire world or hating the
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man that I love for all eternity. I chose to be here because this
was my job, job that I made and love. And why I would be
afraid when Im doing the thing that I love? It was an epiphany
in and on itself. I then wrote more questions as he tweaked the
focus of the camera. My thought track was finally clear, and with
that, relief in my fear-filled chest.
I came up with that speech just right now, he said.
Oh, yeah? I said. Well, that was actually not bad for a
cameraman.
I finished college too, you know.
After a while, I told him of the other epiphany I had earlier from Omar, that the Iranians were hostile to us because the
whole country accused America of killing Rouhani, putting the
hate on us. I expected him to lecture me about not taking everything that I hear from people seriously, but he didnt as it made
complete sense. Probably because Iranians couldnt let go of a
grudge of the Wests atrocities to their self-imposed isolation
from all things other than their own, they blamed us for something really stupid to do. Theres just no reason I could think of
that would make sense for the president or the CIA or some covert society to order such an assassination, unless it wanted the
500 million citizens of America, and inevitably those of the
whole world too, to die in a nuclear holocaust. Besides, if we did,
what the hell could we possibly gain from this? Theres just no
way, but all we knew then was we, and all other daredevils covering the war with us, were wanted and despised by every single Iranian here, adding to the already ass-busting problem of
the ban. Chris suggested of blending in by borrowing Omars
clothes, which was the best idea he got for me so far since that
marijuana he brought. It seemed like were going undercover
too.
The explosions and the gunfire were endless, some making the whole building vibrate. The whole of Iran, I feared,
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ings kept on going. There were more smoke and dust rising from
all around the city, which almost looked like columns of the Parthenon, holding the sky from falling down on us. I used to love
scenes of destruction in the war movies I always watched, but
actually being in one was a more traumatic and distressing experience. I was seeing first-hand how man was destroying himself
and the world he built and depended upon; it was like a prediction of a futurist coming true. Its really scary to be seeing how
far man would go to protect what he believed was right and better for all, in this case peace and protection from annihilation on
our troops side, and control and power on the rebels. But conflicts like this were necessary, I realized, just as animals killing
each other in the wild was necessary. Its for the preservation
and continuity of man, so that whats good for all would prevail.
Its just the question of what was the definition of good for all.
Besides, no two men are the same, so the good for one might not
be the good for the other.
I told Chris all that, but he found me weird. What the
hell is going on with you? he said.
Nothing. Im just< reflecting.
I think this whole assignments taking more of you
than I expected. Youre losing it, Holly.
Whatever. What the hell is taking Omar so long? Im
already done with these questions. He should be here right
now. Its already 7:24. He said the store was just right across
the street. I dropped my notebook on the floor, moved to the
sofas and stepped my feet on it to peek through the slide-door
window without endangering myself to a stray bullet. I used the
Handycam to zoom in down below. Several people were at the
street strolling around, remarkably not alarmed with the roars of
the explosions. I cant see him.
Then, I heard someone talking outside our door. Whoa,
who the fuck is that? Chris moved in slowly as I retreated back
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pered to the camera. The voice was loud enough to beat the explosions. The other tenants must have seen us entering this hotel
and recognized our faces from the television and told the police
of our location. Chris pressed his head against the wooden white
door. Who is that?
He moved and shaped his lips without producing a
voice, but I believed he just said it was Omar. I moved in closer
to the door, and when I was about to open it, Chris stopped me.
Wait. Hes talking to someone, he said.
I pressed my face and the camera to the door. It felt
wrong to be eavesdropping on the conversation of a trusted
friend, but I realized I knew nothing about this guy other than
his really nice personality and geeky appearance. And we just
met less than an hour ago. Whatever he may be hiding, I expected it to be not that important, like a forgotten pizza delivery
or something like that. He was speaking really fast in Farsi, and
from the stress of his voice, I guessed I was wrong. I could tell he
was begging to that someone he was talking to, and that something must be given to him soon enough. One thing for sure,
theyre talking about something really serious.
Who the hell is this guy talking to? Chris said. I felt
really bad listening to his conversation, so I just opened the door.
It was really Omar, holding a bag with what seemed to be
canned food and bottled water inside. He was a bit surprised
when he saw us, and he looked pretty sweaty.
Hey, Omar, I said. Where have you been?
He quickly turned off the call and placed the phone hurriedly to his pocket. Oh, Im sorry if I didnt tell you, he said.
I just bought some food and water for us to have in our trip to
those places we are gonna go. And I have that soap you were
asking me.
Who were you talking to?
Oh, that was my friend Mahmoud. He was asking me
for the movies I borrowed from him months ago. I said I was
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gonna bring it to him today. He spoke rather calmly and


straight. If I was him and I hid something, I wouldnt have made
that lie so quick. I would be breathing uncontrollably and speaking choppily, but he didnt. Are we ready?
Yeah, were all set, I said. I couldnt be suspicious of
this guy. Hes just too clean.

OKAY, IM GOING to ask you some questions, I said, standing beside the camera, and you just say what you what to say.
Just talk naturally, you dont need to shout. You can even curse.
And keep staring at me. Is that good?
Yes, Omar said. We moved the seat to the wall so that
he could lean his back on it. Chris crouched on the side and held
my Handycam to record shaky B-shots.
Okay, please tell us your name, age and occupation.
Im Omar al Mottaki, 32 years old, and I am a freelance
journalist, working on my independent newsletter for over two
years now.
I only prepared a handful of questions for him. I would
use this interview in the first few minutes of the documentary,
with his voice as the background while our shots of the devastated vista of Iran like those we got on the way are shown. The
editing guys should be able to get rid of the noise of the gunshots and explosions from outside. With the scarcity of time and
the danger around, I couldnt interview more people, which
would disobeyed a golden rule among journalists of one person
wont cut it, so I guess we just have to make do of what fate has
given us. For dramatic effect, I said my next questions slowly
and with stress.
Are there nuclear bombs in Iran?
Yes, he said as if the possession of a weapon capable
of world destruction was no big of a deal.
Can you tell us why you say so?
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He breathed deeply. In the past two years, one of the


stories I always cover is the nuclear bomb. It is always the hottest topic here for years. Everybody in the world thinks we have
bomb, we have bomb. And the government always denies it.
Our presidents say our nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, to power Iran with nuclear power so we wont have problems
with our electricity. It is also for national pride, so that Iran will
belong to group of nations with the nuclear power, like Saudi,
Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India
and many others. Apparently, efforts of the United Nations for
preventing the proliferation of the nuclear bomb failed, too late. I
didnt interrupt.
He continued. But I have interviewed many government officials and employees in uranium enrichment sites all
across Iran, and they say that it is not true at all, the government
denying the bomb. They say it is only necessary to build the
bomb to protect the country from attackers, most especially the
West and its allies. Iran is always at war to protect its national
interest, so building the bomb is only a logical thing to do.
Can you tell us about this uranium enrichment? Because it is always the thing that Iran says its doing inside its
nuclear facilities. Can you tell us what exactly uranium enrichment is? I asked that only for the record. Thanks again to my
brief Wikipedia skimming, I have fair understanding on how
nukes were made. I could just narrate that into the documentary,
but I thought it would be better if the words came from someone
whos been here for quite a while.
He tried to explain in the most non-coma-inducing way
possible. Uranium enrichment, he said, is the process of putting uranium into centrifuges to make it more< rich. Natural
uranium is not very good for use in a nuclear bomb because
much of it has a composition that is not suitable for use in a nuclear bomb. There is a specific kind of uranium that can only produce enough energy for the bomb, so the natural uranium needs
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to be further processed before it could be used, thats why


theres a need for enrichment. He followed it with a series of
history bits and much more complicated scientific stuff about the
workings of the enrichment process, much of which I didnt care
to remember. He did mention some pretty interesting bits of info, like the Germans actually the first to discover the nuclear fission process during the era of the Nazi Party, which led Einstein
to think that Hitler would make use of such a discovery to make
nuclear bombs. Einstein migrated to America and sent a letter to
then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which contained his absolute belief in the imperativeness of America making a bomb of
its own before the enemy does.
The creation of a nuclear bomb involved much technical
Einstein shit. As far as I remembered, uranium found in nature is
composed of two species, or isotopes, of uranium, U-238 and U235. The latter is the only kind where nuclear fission could take
place, in which the nucleus of a uranium atom is split apart to
produce energy more powerful than that produced by the Sun
itself, per atom. Much of the natural uranium found in the crust
is U-238, and what the enrichment process does is increase the
U-235 concentration in the uranium to make it viable for their
purposes. If Im not mistaken, the material must reach 90 percent
concentration of U-235 for it to be used as a fuel for the nuclear
bomb, though a concentration above 20 percent is already feasible for use. Natural uranium has only 0.07 percent of U-235 in it.
In the end, the technology of the Germans was not even
close to pursue development of a nuclear bomb, far from the expectations of the proponent of the theory of relativity. And that
erroneous assumption led to the birth of the deadliest and most
destructive weapon mankind ever made, which made the world
an extremely frightening place for all. Einstein himself discovered the basic formula that governs how nuclear bombs work,
expressed in the most popular formula of all, E=MC2. I couldnt
say it was Einsteins fault; he was a man of knowledge and he
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only wanted to advance mans know-how of the universe. He


tried to be a responsible citizen and help what he believed were
the good guys to prevent further annihilation and destruction
from the world war. I guess even without Einstein, in some parallel universe where mankind, or a life form close enough to our
likeness, couldve developed, a nuclear weapon or some other
form of weapons of mass destruction would find its way no matter what. Its innate in every organism to protect itself, which is
why cobras and frogs form venoms and toxins and plants form
thorns in their bodies. We make bombs and guns. So I guess
those crazy conspiracy theories featured on doomsday specials
of the History Channel were right; we are destined to destroy
ourselves. The tomorrow is an absolute unknown, but it would
ultimately lead to that very fate.
As far as we know, I said, the level in which Iran has
successfully enriched its uranium stash is not enough to make a
nuclear bomb. Is that true?
No, definitely not. There are a lot of things that the
government of Iran is not revealing to the world, and what they
reveal to the UN or the IAEA is only the information that they
want them to know. Of course, why would they tell them all?
For example, they say that they were able to enrich uranium up
to 3.5 percent or 10 percent only, which is enough for use in nuclear power reactors. But we have enriched up to one hundred
percent with the help of our allies like China, Pakistan and
North Korea who also have nuclear technology.
Really? One hundred percent?
Yes, long time ago in fact. Thats how good they hide
things and keep things secret here. And the enriched uranium
can now be used to make nuclear bomb, of which we have many
stocks all over Iran.
Can you estimate how many nuclear bombs are kept
here?
Maybe<. There was a long pause and facial twitches
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implying his effort to estimate. < 2,000.


Two thousand? Holy fuck. I felt the bolts holding my
jaw to my skull just flew off and left my jaw hanging loose. That
number was staggering by all measure. Even though its relatively miniscule compared to the nuclear arsenal of the United States
and other major superpowers, that would still inflict a hell of a
damage to wherever those bombs were dropped to and I was
talking about just a single bomb. If all of those nukes were let
loose, which would be the most probable scenario in the case of
lunatics running the show here in Iran, then all of mankind
would kiss their only world goodbye.
How did you come up with that estimate? I said.
As far as I know, there are< more than 15 nuclear facilities in Iran, and more secret underground facilities for sure. Our
nuclear program has been running ever since the 60s or 70s, so
given that long time, it is not impossible that they have made
some bombs here. Our government sends many of our brightest
students to Harvard, Oxford or MIT to study nuclear physics. It
was a program they called Shiraz. The government pays the tuition and living expenses. When the students come back, they
will go straight to the nuclear facilities and help in making the
bomb. Also, some bombs come from Irans allies Pakistan and
North Korea and China. Colleges must definitely do extensive
background checks on their foreign students before admitting
them to check for cruel intentions.
Why do you think the world failed to find these thousands of nuclear warheads?
No, they did.
What do you mean?
They chose not to disclose such information to the public. They had some sort of a deal.
You mean, everybody knows? What kind of deal?
Sorry, but its all I know. All I know is that they had
some kind of dead.
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Okay. With the government of Iran in danger of collapsing, do you believe that someone out there will take advantage, I mean, steal the bomb for their evil purposes? Whos
guarding the nuclear arsenal now?
No one, he said. Since the assassination of the president, our military and police system has just collapsed. Nobody
wants to serve their country anymore. Besides, before all this,
they were not properly paid and given benefits. There is no law
now. And our government officials all ran away because they
are being hunted down by the rebels. So, I do believe that someone, maybe terrorists or someone will take the bombs for themselves< definitely.
How many rebel groups do you think are out there?
I dont know exactly but since the assassination, I think
all rebel groups came rushing in from all around the region to
Iran to grab the opportunity of controlling our resources, and the
bombs. Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas, everybody. There are also
many other not so famous terrorist circles out there, like this
group that I know. Theyre led by someone they call the imam.
People consider him their prophet, their savior.
How did you know them? I said.
They captured me one time, and< tortured me because
they wanted me to join them. I managed to escape but they got
my friends, my< I think they killed them. He looked down.
Audiences love a heart-wrenching dramatic moment but it
would be really rude to elicit tears from him just for that purpose. I didnt really need to know what he went through anyway. I moved on just as I recognized his recovery.
Before I could say another word, another explosion
rocked the entire apartment. I felt the shockwave shaking every
single cell in my body, almost like from a giant club speaker. It
was the strongest one since that explosion which turned me into
a grenade earlier. And just like that one, it made my chest beat
hard again. But I fought it. I needed to finish this interview, now
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that I was getting some really kick-ass information.


Okay, I said, exhaling deeply. About the map we
showed you earlier< you said that youve been to those locations, right?
Yes, he said.
Have you seen any nuclear bombs there?
No, I< I wasnt able to get inside the facilities.
Why?
The whole place was heavily-guarded by the military.
There were many machine guns, snipers and guards around the
facility.
But can you say that there are nuclear bombs being
made or stockpiled in there?
Yes, definitely. They wont bother putting that much
defenses if its not that important.
The last question on the list was about that crazy allegation of some Iranians that the West assassinated their president.
Though it was a charge thats as good as saying Michael Jackson
has recently impregnated a woman even though hes been dead
for seven years, I still gave attention to it. So< you said before
this interview that there are Iranians who accuse the United
States of killing Rouhani. Where did this idea come from?
Days after the assassination of our president, he said,
the newspapers started publishing these articles that say America killed the president. Of course, since the whole country hated
the West for a very long time, they all believed it.
Do you believe it?
Im not sure, he said. That meant there was a tiny percentage of him that believed that ridiculous shit. Or maybe he
really believed in it, and he only said that because were here.
Come on, what do you really think? You mustve found
something about that in your papers.
I did not find any credible evidence here to support
that accusation. The people I always talk to when it comes to
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government stuff no longer talk to me, because they have run


away with their families. But personally< no offense, I believe
they might have something to do with it.
Its alright. Thats why were here to find out. There
were no more questions. Okay, thats it! Thank you, man.
Always my pleasure, he said, which was followed by
a slightly awkward handshake, common in situations where you
found out the one youre talking to actually has intolerance for
you. Chris then removed the camera equipment and restored the
room as Omar went straight to the kitchen. Outside, the gunshots and explosions continued to ruin the natural song of the
metropolis. Adding to the noise, the jet planes already made a
sort of minimalist collage in the sky, which contrasted with the
clear blue heavens.
So, I said, whats our plan, Chris?
We should start going right now and get footages, he
said, maybe head off to the nuclear sites in our map. We dont
have much time.
When do you plan to leave? Omar said.
Monday night, I said. Judd said its the last flight out
of here. Do you know other ways we could<?
Dont you want to ask the American army for help?
Our government banned all civilians here. The first
thing theyll do when they see us, theyll send us straight to
prison.
So, said Chris, I guess well be spying on these facilities on our own. Their huge cars and noisy mouths would likely attract much attention, and the Iranians would see us coming
and hide the nukes before we even get there. So, even though
my common sense told me otherwise, we have no choice but to
go by ourselves.
Okay. You say where you want to go and we will go
there, he said, chopping a piece of meat. But I say we should
go to the Vajehabad compound. Ive been there and I think thats
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one of their main warehouses of nukes. Its underground and


not that much fortified with defenses.
What are you cooking? I said.
We call this here ahmisa, very good for long travels. Its
a tuna sandwich and does not spoil easily.
Then, the satellite phone rang once again, which I almost
thought was a bomb that has exploded right in the room. I
reached for it in my pocket but it was gone, until I remembered I
placed it in the backpack. Chris was the closest to it, so he answered the call. He faced the wall where we had the interview.
Who is that? I said.
Judd, Chris said, just as I thought.
Turn on the loudspeaker.
I dont know how to.
Really? You gotta be kidding.
Shut up, I cant hear what hes saying! he said. Your
sisters are alright.
Please tell him thank you for the LeBron cap, Omar
said. I really appreciate it.
He says dont mention it, Chris said after a pause, as
long as you keep us safe. Omar laughed, which didnt appeal to
me as a joke with our lives on his hands. It was then followed by
several hums, nods and yeas. The two, I thought, must be talking
about basketball again so I grabbed the map from my pocket and
planned out our next course of action, just as Omar said, since
apparently I was the leader of this expedition. We settled to follow the map Chris gave us, and weve also settled that whatever
shit that would happen to us would be all on him. There were
five points of interest on the map, which must be where the nuclear warehouses were, two being within fifty kilometers of the
city and the rest all the way to the heart of the country. With the
time we got, we would be able to visit only that two. The map
seemed to have been extracted from Google with the highresolution details of all the physical features and province borpg. 125

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derlines. The coordinates of the X marks were even included,


which could have been useful if the GPS on my Smartphone
worked, but the last thing thats running on a war-torn country
was its Internet.
Then, I noticed my partner turned silent. Theyre not
talking about basketball, I thought, since if they did, then he
would be all jumping and yelling around like a madman. But not
a fiber of his muscles moved. The call ended and in slow motion,
Chris brought down the phone and faced me.
Whats going on? I said. What did he say?
Hes dead.
What? Who?!

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Chapter

08.
I GRABBED THE phone from him in light of Judds latest call,
the series of which during this assignment did nothing but make
this already pain-in-the-ass assignment into a vain of my existence. David Price has been killed. What the hell happened to
him? I said, turning on the loudspeaker. Chris pointed the camera at me.
He was found dead by police in his home yesterday,
Judd said. He was hanged upside down and his belly was cut
open. They have no idea who did it, but a neighbor who reported it to the police said at least three dark men and one fairskinned emerged out of the house. His horrendous death
brought back images in me of that old guy being eaten by dogs
in the middle of the road. I felt my guts rising up again but my
deep breathing suppressed any potential barf explosion.
Jesus Christ. Does he have any relatives?
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I dont think so. Hes already on the morgue, and no


ones telling me hes been claimed yet.
But< how did they know? Who killed him?
I dont know, he said, but I think it has something to
do with the map. It could only be it.
You think? Of course, nuclear bombs, the most powerful and destructive weapon yet created by man that can grant
limitless power to its owners, was something anyone would unsurprisingly slaughter for. It could give nobodies a chance to be
the most powerful person on earth, and with the map to that
very thing in our hands, we just became a very prized bounty.
The onset of panic started to manifest into me. Jesus, theyre
hunting us down. Theyre coming to us!
Just relax, Holly. No one else knows we have the map.
How the hell can you be so fucking sure? What if Price
told those men that he gave the map to us?! Prices killers
mustve been working too for that military contracting corporation he said he got the map from, which must have technological
capabilities beyond my comprehension that they were able to
pinpoint his location and that he stole from them in the first
place. That could also mean they must be tracing our location
this very moment, and any moment then, someones about to
crash through the door and cut open our bellies like medieval
criminals.
Theres no way theyre gonna find you, said Judd.
Look, you should blend in to the people there, dress up like
them. Throw that vest away. You still have the map?
Its safe with me, I said.
You should get the footages now. Ill keep you posted
with new developments. Just stay safe okay?
Fuck you, Judd. Why do you have to put me through
this shit?
Its our job, and besides you said yes, he said. He just
reminded me of the worst decision of my life.
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You fucking made me to say yes! I said. Just make


sure our goddamn ride home is ready.
Ive paid them double. Theyll come for you.
Wait< did my parents or my sisters call you?
No, they didnt call. Is there something you want me to
tell them?
No, no, no! Just< tell them Im okay, alright? I turned
the call off. Bringing down the phone, I tensed up and felt my
head get heavy again from a surge of fear and doubt. Chris following me with the camera, I sat in the sofas as I tried to wrap
my head around what were we gonna do, which came down to
only two choices. We could go to the locations in our intel, in
which case we would be subjected to a huge probability of becoming casualties ourselves, but then we would get the things
we came here for in the first place were we survive of course,
which was as possible as me getting a Pulitzer next year, with
the war, those killers and every Iranian hunting our asses. Or,
we could stay and wait until Monday, in which case we would
live to report for another day, but then this whole trip wouldve
been a huge waste of time but then again, we could just obtain
material from the internet and make a documentary from that.
From the looks of it, it seemed the best thing to do was to get the
fuck out of the country, but the crave to make a quality report
for our fans proved to be a strong deterrent.
Hey, Chris said, sitting by me, do you still wanna do
this? I was surprised. For the first time, he sounded like he
wasnt assertive that we should continue to do this thing.
What are you talking about?
We could go home right now, he said.
Theres a plane for us today?
You saw in the airport, there are still quite a lot of
planes there. We can still catch a flight now.
Ive been dying to hear that ever since I stepped foot on
this country. Though Ive been here for just an hour, I didnt
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need another one for me to realize how perilous and deadly and
dangerous the situation here was. Now, the stars have aligned
and they already gave me the ticket out of this fucking place. If it
just came earlier before we got out of the airport, I would turn
back to the plane, no questions asked. But right then I wasnt
sure, among the things I never saw coming of myself in this trip,
which included me surviving this assignment in one piece. My
urge to go home was in a tug-of-war with my desire to complete
this shit till the end. It was quite literally a war going on in my
head. Of all the things I hated, my work being a pile of garbage
was at the top list. I was a perfectionist and I always wanted my
work to be flawless. But then again, I didnt want this to be the
last I would make. But this report was so big that I might not get
another shot at landing another like this. But then again, I might
get killed! Its a conundrum probably more head-churning than
anything physicists baffle with.
I dont know what to do, I said.
Do you want to go home? he asked.
I< yes, but< I dont know. I guessed all of Chris persuasion earlier worked.
Forgive me if I interrupt, Omar said, but I can help
you get what you want. And I will do everything in my power to
keep you safe and< come back home with the news. So please,
stay. Youre already here.
I smiled to him. Thank you, Omar.
Its your choice, Holly, Chris said. I think I already
dragged you into this far enough.
The two options I got, I realized, had an approximately
same level of disadvantage. Were we to continue, we risked losing our lives, an irrevocable loss, but the help of someone whos
been here for most of his life would drastically lower that probability. Were we to go home, Ill surely not have the quality film
that I wanted and I would fail the expectations of our fans, but at
least I could still make do of that by making a bunch of reports.
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But chances like this to uncover the secret nuclear arsenal of a


rouge country dont come much often, if not at all. So, the
down factor was pretty much the same. I just imagined a large
coin and flipped it in my mind.
Fuck that, I said. Lets just do this bitch.
Alright, Chris said. Thats my girl. I mean, partner.As per my normal responses to his lame jokes, I pushed his
head in response and smiled. He turned to Omar, still working
on our travel snacks. Hey man, do you have some clothes that
we could borrow? We thought that we should blend in so we
wont be so conspicuous now that< you know.
Yes, of course, of course, Omar said, I have clothes
just for you.
As the two grabbed a whole assortment of garments
from the closet behind me, I was paralyzed on my seat, still
pondering if I made the right choice. The other side of my argument, to go home, whispered to my ear. Its electrifying to be at
the full control of my life, making choices with free will. But it
came with a price of making me think I just made the worst decision of my life, especially in big choices involving life and
death. Playing it safe and living doesnt come together, but I
didnt think it would apply in this case. Its a depression even
worse than I had when the news networks I applied turned me
down, since being turned down aint gonna kill me, but this
might just.
Okay, you wear that, Chris said, throwing a couple of
clothes, actually more of a mesh of black silk, at me.
Im not gonna wear this, I said. What am I, a nun?
Its traditional here. Women are not supposed to show
their shape, and besides its perfect cover. Almost every part of
your body is covered. No one will recognize you.
How am I supposed to wear this?
Its called chador, and its just like a big duster, Omar
said. You just put it on you.
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Oh shit, wheres the< comfort room man? Chris said.


Its outside at the end of the hallway.
Where the hell are you going? I said.
Im just gonna take a dump. What, youre coming with
me?
You gotta be kidding. He stuck my Smartphone into
one of his pockets, probably to jerk off at any porn he could find.

OUR DISGUISES WERE just plain horrible. The duster made


me look like a punk goth in a maternity ward with all the black.
It was more of a wedding gown, so I had to cut pretty much half
of the dress to match my puny height, but not too much for my
black Nike to be safely hidden. Chris wrapped the excess cloth
all over my head, making me a punk mummy too. The two men
assumed the Osama bin Laden-esque fashion. Chris wore a really loose brown coat-like cloth with a matching green scarf dangling all the way to his legs, pretty much like an Arabian hiphop artist minus the bling. He covered his camera with a piece of
Omars brown curtains. Our packs also got under the guise of
the outfits. Our Iranian informant gave up his geeky fashion
with a much more apt outfit a more traditional one with grey
loose pants and long scarves. We left our vests in the room,
which seemed like an extremely stupid thing to do but they offered almost the same level of protection as with the costumes. I
hoped to God these disguises would do the trick.
Chris finger map-reading estimated that the nearest
place of interest in the map would take 45 minutes of travel from
here, assuming no form of shit would descend upon us. But for
some reason, Omar insisted of proceeding to the main warehouse at Vajehabad, a couple of hours from the city, something
that of course I didnt contest against. I felt more agile with the
vest gone and my belly filled with a decent breakfast, but still a
bit shaky and cold. A surge of excitement slowly filled my syspg. 132

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tem, but it was countered by the sound of the gunshots and explosions getting a little more intense as we got through the marble-tiled rectangular lobby. My body started trembling deep
from my bones once again. The smell of burning tires and smoke
and dust overwhelmed the closet smell from the black cloth covering my head. Omar peeked through the cracked glass door,
collaged with bullet holes all over.
Its clear, he said. Lets go.
Just as I stepped off the apartment and into the dusty
sidewalk, the sonic boom from two fighter jets passing by right
then, though hundreds of miles away, almost threw me off balance. The sound from every single gunshot and explosion, even
from afar, rocked my insides like crazy. My entire body stiffened
like concrete, my lungs inflating almost beyond breaking point.
The smell epitomized that of burning tires, flesh and gas. I knew
one wrong move and Id get my head blown out of my neck.
Chris pushed me to the waiting pick-up, then shoved me to the
back seats as he and Omar occupied the front seats.
Everybody good? Omar said, and then started the car
as Chris got into the front seat. He turned on the mothballsmelling air-conditioner quite irritating, but at least better than
the smell outside. Omar had the windows closed shut, and the
opaque windows made the backseats pretty dark. Our destination was to the south of the city so we turned back from the way
we came. He played Miley Cyrus Party in the USA, which is a
track one would least expect to be played by a 32-year old Middle Eastern man. He placed the LeBron cap on the dashboard,
saying hed never let it off his hands ever, and took off.
Holy shit! I said. We forgot the fucking vests, Chris!
We left them, remember? Chris said. I felt ashamed.
Paranoia was setting in again.
Yeah, sorry.
Just relax. Were gonna be fine, he said, then pointed
the camera at me. Now, do your thing.
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Oh< um. I breathed and let it out. Hi, so< its 8:19
in the morning and we are on our way to find the elusive nuclear
bombs of Iran. Uh< our first target is approximately 30 miles
southwest of the city. Weve put on this ridiculous clothing on so
that no one would know that were Americans and were here to
hunt for their nukes. We just learned that David Price, the one
who gave us this intel, has been killed by what I believe to be
people working for that military contracting corporation he
hacked the map from. And probably those very persons are
hunting us down at this very moment. But well take our
chances on this and finish this thing till the end just for you
guys. So< well see if everything will turn out fine for us. See
you later. I waved at him to stop recording.
We should come back home by five in the afternoon,
Omar said. There is a curfew in the city.
I thought the militarys gone, I said.
Yeah, but its when the rebels and the Americans really
go out of the city and thats when the fightings really gets intense. Theyre really bombing the city during the night, he said.
From what he said, it seemed I have seen nothing yet.
Theres worse than< these bombings right now?
Yes, Omar said. Its actually pretty peaceful today.
I thought I just lost my breath for a bit. You gotta be
kid< you gotta be kidding me! Normally, I would be freaking
my guts out again and shouting at Chris about getting the hell
out of here. But, maybe because I was losing my mind, I burst in
laughter as if what Omar just said was the funniest joke ever.
Finally, shes having fun, Chris said.
Fuck this, man, I said. What I thought was the worst
proved to have not even tipped the scales. I wasnt sure if I could
endure more. Just a few meters away from the apartment and I
was already starting to regret my choice to go on. I cried again.
Oh, no, no, no, Chris said. Hey man, do you have any
Maroon 5 on the stereo?
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As a matter of fact I have, Omar said. The stereo then


blasted with the guitar strums and the girlish vocals of Adam
Levine. Chris sang-along with the song, strumming a makebelieve guitar and singing Wont Go Home Without You in a horrible falsetto. Omar did too, amazingly. I wiped my face to let
the two see how disappointed I was with their rendition. But I
knew Chris were sending a subliminal message to me, one that
might just help me get over with me being Angelina Jolie just
laugh it off. So, thats what I did.
Not bad, Omar, I said.
Why thank you, Holly, he said. Of all the singers in
America, Adam Levine is my fourth most favorite. It was apparent that Omar also detected my need of being calmed down.
Whos number one?
Carly Rae Jepsen.
Youre kidding, right? Chris said.
No, Omar replied. I think Call Me Maybe is the best
song ever. The fact that a guy as old as him has an affectionate
feeling for that annoying song tickled my funny bone hard, and
so did Chris. Omar went on to raise his defenses for the song,
maintaining one hand on the steering wheel. But my attention
was stolen by the tower of Irans continued resilience coming
into view directly ahead, and the blood-stained bodies of the
little kids below whose death I heard all too well. The way home
was at the right of the intersection. As the tower grew closer, the
battle in my head that I thought I had already settled earlier resumed once again. Home was right there. Its right there. We just
have to turn right there and Id be safe. I have another shot of
making the right choice. Turn or not turn? Its close enough to
that line in Shakespeares Hamlet. The main character contemplated of suicide when he uttered that ever-dramatic line. I realized I was pretty much in the exact situation. I wasnt thinking
of killing myself, but this was a choice decisive of my life. As the
two continued debating Call Me Maybes listen-worthiness, the
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pressure was about to blow my head off.


But Ive been through this dilemma all day long. Ive
had enough, and I spent long enough thinking about it. I just
closed my eyes as the car move around the tower. As I opened
my eyes, Chris looked at me with a huge smile on his face.
Thats right, he said. Were gonna make it through
this. Dont worry.
We better be.

THE EXPRESSWAY WAS wide but the craters and crevasses


and abandoned cars from a month-long war has made it close to
impassable, but Omar still managed to cruise through it at a
hundred kph. An albums worth of Maroon 5 songs already got
through my ears, but were merely halfway. Just as usual, the
roads were devoid of any live motorists or any form of human
life for that matter. So far, no gruesome sight of a dead body being eaten by cannibal dogs has made me throw up yet. But there
were more buildings in this part of the city thats been reduced
to its steel skeletons, some of them still smoldering. No mortar
shell has blown our asses to heaven yet, though I could see and
feel explosions going off all around us. Its almost were protected by some kind of force field, which I hoped would stay
with us until the end. Every ten meters or so, an Apache passing
above us would make me curl up and anticipate an RPG attack,
at which time Chris would turn around and tell me to calm
down.
For some reason, I longed to see a battle raging right in
front of us, with all the guns blazing and grenades blasting the
men off, which was weird considering how much of a pussy I
was for the majority of this assignment. Maybe its because I
didnt see any tank or machine gun-mounted Humvees or
armed men carrying grenade launchers in the past like twenty
minutes. I could hear gunshots and explosions loud and clear
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from all around me. That force field must be really there, protecting our asses.
Hey, Omar, I said, pointing my Handycam to him. I
thought you were gonna bring back the movies you borrowed
from your friend.
Oh< its alright, he said. Hes my friend. Im sure he
will understand. And hes far away over to the other side of the
city. And theres no electricity. Hes not gonna watch those movies. Ill give it to him after we do this.
What do you think we should do when we get there?
We will recon the area first before we go in, he said.
We will find a hill or anything we can hide with far from them,
and we see what they are doing.
How are we gonna get closer?
These costumes should do the trick. But dont worry. I
have done many like this before.
Are you really sure that place is not that fortified? Or if
theres even a single guard there? I said. I mean, the supervisors of your nuclear program mustve had someone guarding
the nuclear bombs. The absolute importance of even a single
nuclear warhead, let alone an entire arsenal, to a country cannot
be denied.
The supervisors of the nuclear program are from the
government, and since the assassination and all the rebel attacks,
they all ran away. So its open. Our only problem is the rebels
who might also be interested with the bombs.
Of course they do, I said. Why wont they? They already killed someone I know.
The Vajehabad facility is underground, under an entire
town. We just have to find the entrance. Ive not visited the place
in over a year now and Im sure they did some changes there.
Few moments of silence ensued, during which my focus
was stuck on the sea of devastation our car sailed through. Right
then, my mood became existential, philosophical. Why do they
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have to do this? Why destroy their nation? Why kill their brethren?
Theyre protecting what they think is right, Chris said.
Is it right to kill children, rape women, leave people
bathing in their own blood in the middle of the fucking street?
Its a sacrifice they have to make, you know.
For what? Take over everything so they could rule a
world of rubble?
To make things right, he said. To make the world
better for all of us.
So, youre with the rebels now? I said. Did you get
recruited by ISIS or something? The past couple of years have
seen the alarming increase of recruitments of terrorist circles and
terrorist attacks worldwide, a trend that has gotten the world
paranoid that soon enough terrorists would be everywhere that
they would be impossible to stop.
Im just sharing my thoughts. I mean, everybody does
that, kill people just to protect whats important for them. To
make the world a better place, you need to cut the weeds to the
root, you know what Im saying? Like, demolishing an old
building to build a new better one. My philosopher father used
to tell me, the world is fucked up by greed and power. It must
be changed, one way or another. Im sure some religious leader
told all these people to do this, that God wants them to.
Still, I said, fuck these people.
When I was captured by rebels like I told you, Omar
barged in, I saw the men and I actually pitied them. Before they
go out to fight, they hug their wives and children and they cry
when they see their father go. They are not cold killers; theyre
doing it for a reason. Once you see them, it will make you think
again who the real enemy is.
What do you mean? Were the bad guys? Our army
who tries to keep the democracy of this country is the enemy?
I dont mean anything by that, Holly he said, but
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why are they here? The wars none of their business. America
has always been there in every single conflict here and other
parts of the world. I sensed an abrupt change in his perception
to us, but he did have a point. Whenever conflicts erupt, especially those that could potentially injure the interest of America,
our troops get dispatched at moments notice, which drives their
families crazy because, indeed, its none of our business. Probably nothing is more outrageous than sending your ranger son to
some remote corner of the world to risk his life for people who
dont give a shit about him, like during the Vietnam War 50
years ago, which was a shame in the track record of American
foreign policy. More than half-a-million troops were sent there to
prevent the collapse of its ally South Vietnam, but the troops
were ultimately withdrawn in a ceasefire agreement in light of
the mounting losses and the increasing opposition of the American people to the war. The enemy didnt heed to the agreement.
South Vietnam was overrun, and 50,000 American soldiers died
for nothing.
Americas assistance in the war effort of its allies over
the years is based on promoting the interests of peace and forging stronger allegiance, for the greater good, but it turned out to
produce just the opposite. Recent interventions of the West to
the wars of the Middle East have sparked more violent attacks
from jihadists and Radicalists around the globe as an expression
of hatred, which is one thing I never understood. We just wanted
to help. But apparently, seeing us as a culture of evil, they consider our lending hands as a poison to infect their perfect cultures, an abomination that should not be tolerated. But come to
think of it, America is, as what many still holds, the strongest
and most powerful nation in the world, so why would it waste
its resources to save some country? Not unless<
What are you suggesting? I said to Omar. Are we
taking over the world?
Of course we do, Chris said. Thats the whole point
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of this. Help the country in war times and make the people think
were saviors and there you go, easy subjects. We will gain their
trust and we will have their precious resources.
I dont think thats the point here. Nukes are on the
loose and its more than important we find them before its all
too late.
Yeah, maybe in this case, said Chris, but ultimately
that is the point, it always has been.
Holy shit! And here I am thinking youre just a cameraman, I teased.
I graduated with a degree too, you know.
Why dont they just take care of their own business?
Omar said.
Isnt it obvious? We need each other. When war hits
one country, we help. We all depend on each other now.
Which is why its all too late, Chris said. America has
swallowed the whole world. One way or another, all the other
nations on this planet are our bitch.
Isnt it a good thing?
I dont know.
Omar took a sharp turn to a narrow road barricaded
with tall burnt buildings reduced to their scaffoldings, saying its
a shortcut out of the city. The road was as empty of life as a postapocalyptic wasteland. We got silenced, and I pretty shaken,
with the abrupt change in direction and the absolute death in
our surroundings, but the stereo tuning to Shake It Off disturbed
it.
Of all the songs, really? I said. I didnt like Swift that
much with all her rants for her exes in her songs.
Why? I love Taylor Swift, Omar said. Shes the hottest country singer ever. Shes on number 5 in my list.
Shes not hot, Chris said. Shes just cute, you know.
Thats why hundreds have broken up with her.
I dont care. I want to meet her someday.
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And what, court her? Shell break up with you, you


know that right?
Well, maybe if I
Then suddenly, something heavy smashed to the hood,
making a loud bang that made me shout my lungs out, my arms
and back stiffened like steel. The engine stopped and the car
screeched to a halt, almost throwing me to the dashboard again.
A spray of some kind of red fluid stained the windshield. What
the fuck was that?! I screamed.
Holy shit, your hoods soaked in blood man! Chris
said, leaning forward.
What? What the fucks happening?!
Something fell out of the sky, Omar said. Im gonna
take a look outside, you two stay here.
I dont think thats a good idea, I said.
The air filter probably got blown off. I need to fix it.
Please, stay inside. Its not safe out here. As he opened the door,
the smell of rotten flesh and burnt rubber, the sound of machine
gun bursts and the warmth of the Iranian morning air populated
my senses.
Did you see what fell in front of us? I said to Chris,
arduously peeking up the windshield with the big camera. Omar
stood in front of the car with his hands covering his face shut.
A dead person, he said, dropped from all the way up
that building.
What? Jesus Christ.
I need to help him out, stay here.
I grabbed his arms tight. Dont leave me here, please!
Well be right outside. Stay here and dont go out. It
felt like a vacuum contained me as I was left alone in the car. I
could hear every single breath and movement I made from the
black silk rubbing against each other. Though they were right
outside, my mind kept on telling me they just abandoned me,
left here to rot and under the mercy of everyone here who
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wanted me killed. My chest pumped hard again, my senses on


overdrive. I saw through the dark blue tint of the windows the
two lifting someone out of the way, its legs and all twisted,
bones protruding from its joints and its clothes all soaked in
blood, but in blue. As they placed the body beside a pile of rubble and trash, covering it just for the sake of giving that poor fellow a taste of dignity to carry to the other side, my Smartphone
rang for the first time. Knowing that the headquarters could only
know of its number, I assumed its them.
Miss Thompson? the caller said on the loudspeaker.
His voice and tone was rough, deep and croaky, almost monstrous. It wasnt Judd.
Who is this?
Oh my God, you have a lovely voice.
What? Who are you? How did you get this number?
I just want to meet the girl who started this all. Dont
worry, I have a feeling we will be seeing each other soon.
Who the fuck are you?!
You have something that belongs to me. Do you realize
what youve done? You will be responsible for the lives of
many.
I dont have time for you, whoever you are. Leave me
alone!
Dont you dare hang up on me! His deep dark voice
just penetrated through me, freezing my body and heeding to
his words. You will come to me, and Im gonna get whats
mine. Im gonna make you pay, you and every single person you
know. You will never stop me from I cut the call off and threw
the phone on the floor. The ringing in my ears was pitchy and
steady. I stared as the screen turned black, like the whole situation has just been. They got my number! They got my number!
And it would only be a matter of time before they would track
my location and open up my belly like what they did to Price. I
felt my throat closing up as I scrambled inside the car figuring
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out what I was gonna do. I cried again in desperation, and


yearned for the two men to save me, until I looked outside<.
I saw the two of them slowly retreating back to the car,
facing more than a dozen filthy-dressed Iranians, holding axes
and iron pipes and wooden clubs. They surrounded the pick-up
from all sides, slowly advancing to the car with pure rage on
their faces. Omar tried to converse with them, until a man threw
a rock at the windshield, creating a cobweb-looking crack. Chris
and Omar stormed into the car just as the men started pummeling the car with their weapons. As I screamed the life out of me,
I saw pure the rage steaming out of their faces, their collective
shouts penetrated through the doors. They started breaking the
lights and shaking the car side to side. They wanted us dead.
Please! Lets get out of here! I cried.
The car wont start! Omar said, repeatedly turning the
key to the slot. The men started pummeling the windows with
rocks and clubs, and soon shards of glass rocketed to my face in
a spray. Chris window shattered, and the men grabbed hold of
him and pulled him out of the car despite the edges of the glass
cutting their arms. In front of the car, a mother was holding her
baby high to us, as if pleading for us to save him. I looked again
at the men and it wasn't just pure rage; I also saw traces of desperation in their dirty faces. They needed our help. I guessed
they dropped that mans corpse to make us stop and give our car
to them. Soon enough, the windows at the back completely shattered and the men pulled my hair and dress out of the car. I just
squirmed and screamed with everything I got, my fear mostly
providing it. Despite the stress of the situation, I was able to notice they were not enjoying pulling us out of the car. They yelled
with traces of desperation and fear, in fact without the raw excitement from pulling a woman out of a car to be raped or something similarly unpleasant. But I couldnt be pitiful of people
who wanted me dead. No words Omar said calmed them down.
Chris! Chris! Help me!
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Goddamn it, Holly! Let her go!


Then, the head of one of the men pulling me out of the
car blew to a million pieces, showering me with blood and pieces of his head. More gunshots followed, and blood and chunks
of their muscles started spewing out of their chests. Cries of agony and death filled my ears, both that of men and women. I
thought the American army has come to our salvation, until I
looked at the back<
Start the fucking car! I shouted. Two military jeeps
filled with rebels holding their guns up high raced into the alley,
their machine guns continuously spraying bullets at us, tearing
holes all over the car. With one hard turn of the key, the engine
miraculously started and the car took off in a deafening screech.
I curled and laid in the backseat as I heard the gunshots that
seemed to never end and the cries of the men and women being
shot mercilessly by the hands of those murderous motherfuckers. I felt the car bumped and went over some of them. Right
then, my head went in a maelstrom that almost caused me to
lose my head, or maybe I already did. All these violence and
blood, I never thought humans were capable of this. They would
slaughter and butcher anyone, even their own brothers, just to
grab hold of power. Those rebels and that guy from the telephone I hope they all burn in hell.
The abrupt turns Omar threw me all over my seat, but
he managed to lose the rebels to our tail. After several minutes of
high-speed driving, he stopped the car at some corner in the
middle of the city. That was close. Is everybody okay? he said,
breathing deeply.
Yeah, Im good, Chris said. Are you okay, Holly? I
didnt answer; I couldnt. The thought of blood and pieces of the
brain of that guy sprayed all over my face paralyzed me, though
not severe enough as to freeze my lungs and guts. My mouth
was wide open. I was trembling. I felt Chris shaking and caressing my face, but I couldnt respond. Slowly, my eyes started getpg. 144

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ting blurry, my heartbeats getting slow. I breathed in long inhales and exhales, until I could no longer have another.
Holy shit! Shes shot! Shes been shot! Chris shouted,
or maybe it was Omar. Their voices sounded like an echo slowly
fading away. I tried moving my arms to find where the bullet
penetrated me, until I found wet goo just above my left breast.
Ive been shot.
Like a carpet at the ending of a ballet show, my eyes
gradually closed shut. After that, I felt nothing, heard nothing,
saw nothing. It was oblivion. I thought I just died.

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Chapter

09.
THE VOICES SEEMED to emanate from the deepest part of my
abysmal subconscious. They were a flood that seemed to never
end, quickly shifting from one to another with no apparent end.
I cant remember much of it, but I know they were flashbacks of
memory. You have something thats ours< a croaky voice
said. I will find you< Im gonna make you pay.
We have to take this map, Chris said. This is absolutely legit. Price told me people are coming after him for this
thing. This is gonna be our big break, Judd.
Holly<
You will be responsible for the lives of many, the
croaky voice continued. You will come to me, and Im gonna
make you pay, you and every single person you know.
They kill children and rape women to produce child
warriors and make their army bigger, Omar said.
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You have to come with me, Chris. Youre the only one I
could trust with my life.
Please, you need to do this for me, Holly, Judd said.
I cant die out here! I cant die out here!
Remember, dont trust anyone other than yourself.
I need you, Holly. We need you. The world needs you.
Holly!
The storm of voices ended, and like I was being sucked
out of the singularity of a black hole back into the light of the
world, I came out of oblivion, breathing heavily until my eyes
cleared out from a blur. I was still in the backseats but no longer
in the same pick-up. The interior was rusty, the seats now foam
as hard as concrete and the cabin creaky as hell. The engine
roared exponentially loud. Omar was in the drivers seat, the
pop paraphernalia in his dashboard gone, and Chris right next to
me. I kissed him, with an intensity apt in such situation of me
just returning back from the dead. I considered it a miracle I
couldnt fathom how high the probability of us getting blown to
pieces and getting killed in the process was, and yet we still managed to get out of the city in one piece.
Are you okay? he said.
Yeah, Im okay, I said, letting go of him. What happened to me?
You fainted and went to a coma for an hour. I thought
you were shot, but the blood on your chest was just a stain.
I wasnt shot? Thank God. Wha< what happened to
the car?
The engine got busted on our way out of the city, he
said. The tires got shot too, so have to leave the pick-up behind
and we walked for half-an-hour around the city and we hotwired this car. Lucky we didnt cross paths with those fuckers.
Oh my God, Im so sorry for your car Omar.
Dont worry about it, he said. I was gonna sell that
shit anyway. Im glad youre okay, Holly.
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I remembered the plead behind the rage in the faces of


the Iranians now butchered back in that alley, and that baby the
woman held up in front of me. Their cries and exploding chests
flashed in my head. Those people< they needed our help.
What are you talking about? Chris said. They tried to
kill us. They hate us.
No, I saw it in their faces. They< they just want to get
out of here.
Why wont they? Omar said. Its all fucked up in
here. No one wants to stay.
So why didnt you?
Like I told you, I have no choice.
The clear windows of our hijacked ride let me see that
we were now in the middle of some desert, evidenced by the
short brown grass, the cracked land and the mirage fooling my
eyes for a lake on the horizon. The vista was what I expected of
the Middle East. The road no longer had the smoothness provided by the asphalt, but only the ruggedness of the uneven terrain, which shook the car up to its breaking point. From the dust
and sand and tumbleweeds being blown around, the wind was
of significant strength. I could hear the tires rubbing over the
small rocks laid all over the path. No houses or nuclear facilities
were apparent, other than a long range of small hills directly
ahead. After checking me out again for any hidden and overlooked injuries, Chris moved to the front seats and played his
camera again.
I moved in between the two. Is it here? I said.
Yes, Omar said, the facility is just behind that hill
over there.
What is this place?
This is Vajehabad, he said. Only a very small town
with only a few hundred people.
It felt eerily safe with no audible explosions or gunshots
around for miles or even a single smoke tower or helicopter in
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the sky. The heavens were just pristine and cloudless, though the
dust and sand blown by the wind made it brownish. Theres not
a single structure from where snipers might be lying in wait, so I
opened the right car window halfway to feel the warm breeze of
the desert. As the warm sandy wind hit my face, adrenaline
kicked into my system, eliciting excitement and anticipation in
me, since we would be the first ever persons to uncover the nuclear bombs of Iran! I couldnt think of anything else in my twoyear journalism experience that made me feel this way, since
theres nothing big a secret as this one. Perhaps the only thing
that could match this revelation would be the Pope having a
wife and children or the President of the United States being a
shape-shifting alien. This was the mood Ive been trying to subject myself since the beginning of this assignment, but my fear of
imminent death has always restrained it, with the latter overwhelming me most of the time. With no patrolling rebels
around, the former has just won me over. But that man on the
telephone
Chris, I need to tell you something, I said, grabbing
his arm until I could feel his bones. My voice was apparent of
fright and pressure. He knows where we are! David Prices killer, he knows where we are!
What? he said. Thats impossible!
He called me in that alley. He said hes coming for us.
Hes gonna make me pay for what Ive done! My heart palpitated close to its limits. Were fucked. Were so fucked! For the
first time, he didnt make any attempts to calm me down, with
the situation that has turned so grim for the both of us giving no
absolute reason to. We could call the headquarters, but what
could they possibly do? We had next to zero information about
our would-be killers, and we couldnt let anyone, no matter
what it took, know of our transgression in this country.
Did he tell you what he want? Chris said.
No but, I said, it could only be our map. Theres
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nothing else. There was only one logical thing to do at that


point, something that Ive been contemplating ever since this
whole thing started and something that I would never think
twice again.
We should turn back. They looked at me. We must
turn< we must turn back now! Please! I dont want to be here
anymore!
Holly! Chris cut off my paranoia episode. Please, Im
trying to think this through.
I think the best thing to do right now is to continue on
with the mission, Omar said, still driving the car towards the
hills. If those bad guys want the map, we are definitely on the
right track. They are planning something. At least we must find
that out.
And then get ourselves killed?! I said.
Its the best thing we can do, Holly. I admired his
journalistic spirit, the so-called passion that drives people like us
to keep pursuing the truth even in the face of death. And he was
right, I realized. The only options we have left was to turn back
and face those fuckers again on the way to the airport, in which
case wed surely be dead, or get help from the American army,
in which case wed be good as dead in prison.
What do you think? Chris said, looking at me. Its the
only way.
I had no choice. Son of a bitch. Then what? After we get
their plans or their nukes, what then? Theyll kill us either way.
If we have evidence, Omar said, maybe the Americans will listen to us and help us.
Good idea, Chris said, which indeed lifted my spirits
up just a few millimeters. What do you think, Holly? With the
intel wed share, the army might find something useful of us,
even award us with something for revealing Irans nuclear
stockpile, and not send us to damnation. He looked at me, and
grudgingly I nodded. So I guess we push on.
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The road would lead us to the other side of the hills, but
before getting into the heart of darkness, we parked the pick-up
near the base of the hill behind a dead tree to recon the whole
area. As we got out of the vehicle, the scorch of the Sun and the
prickly silk stung my arms like hell, but the stream of sweat and
the cool breeze eased the irritation.
I opened the slit of my chador down to my chin, and unwillingly spoke to the Chris camera. So, its 9:37 and we have
just arrived at the first X-mark in our map in this small town of
Va< jehabad approximately 30 miles southwest of Tehran, I
said, walking slowly to the summit of the breast-shaped hill. The
loose pebbles and sand on the incline made us prone to slipping.
And as you can see, we are quite literally in the middle of nowhere right now. Omar says that one of the nuclear facilities in
this country is within the town directly behind this hill. And
were now going to recon the area from above this hill before we
go in.
A tall boulder at the top of the hill, shaped like an overturned honeycomb, provided perfect cover for us. Chris laid flat
on the rocky and prickly ground, his bin Laden-coverings
somewhat matched its color, as he captured wide shots of the
whole place. Me and our NBA-loving guide stood behind the
rock, well-protected from any snipers that might be positioned
down there. The entire area was bigger than I anticipated, with
the hill range acting like its walls from every direction other than
a small open side near us. Houses of varying sizes well, not
really houses but more like rickety shacks were scattered all
over the place, most concentrated along one half-a-kilometer
straight mud road. With my Handycam as an improvised binocular, I could see kids running around, women in black clothing
hanging their laundries on the roof of their shacks, and men scavenging wood from a burnt-down house but no apparent nuclear stockpile warehouse. I kept looking for spotlight towers,
barbed walls, a titanium building, heavily-armed guards and
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other form of world-class security worthy of the most soughtafter weapon of mass destruction in the world, but nothing.
You said it was here, right? I said to Omar. Where
the hell is it?
He did take several seconds to pinpoint the building.
Besides their sizes, the houses pretty much looked the same. The
largest was a rectangular one on the far side, but he said it was
just an abandoned basketball arena. There were more occupants
in the place than when he first spied on it, he also said, which
could only mean that the nuclear facility here mustve been long
decommissioned and the nuke stockpile long transferred to other locations, as no one would want a lot of people around something as sensitive as a nuclear bomb. And more importantly, we
could be too late already. Then, Omar pointed us to a small concrete house at the far end of the road.
That? I said. There are nuclear bombs in that small
shack? Our house is a lot bigger than that thing.
No, thats just the entrance, he said. The entire facility is underground. It made sense; the ground and the village
above provided the best cover from satellites and spy planes.
Do you think its still operational? I asked.
I dont think so. Like I said, all the supervisors already
ran away so<
I mean, could we find any bombs there?
There might be a couple of hundred nukes in there before, and its impossible for them to move all of those bombs
quickly so< I think we should see at least ten of those there.
Looks clear, Chris said, still lying on the ground. I
cant see anyone getting in or out of there, or any armed men in
the area. I didnt see any kind of gun or missile or machine gunmounted vehicle down there too.
Okay, Omar said. Lets get back to the car.
Just wait, I said. There were no apparent armed militias, but my confidence of going down there wasnt getting any
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higher. It never did, actually. Those people would be as brutal


and violent to us if we were found out to be members of the race
who allegedly killed their president. Were like delectable warthogs about to swim in a large anaconda-infested river hoping
that the snakes have forgotten to eat at all. And I wasnt up to
relying my life on this black silk dress. Are you sure about these
costumes?
Look around, there are a lot of girls down there who
look just like you, Chris said, looking at me. Just act natural
and youll gonna be fine.
And by natural, you mean<?
Dont freak out.
Thats helpful, I said, sarcastically. So, how are we
gonna do this?
We get in and get out, simple, Omar said.
Are there other ways to the facility than right through
that town?
There is only one door.
Fuck, I said. Lets just finish this thing.

THE SUNLIGHT MADE spectacular colored flares in my eyes,


like those in my favorite sci-fi flicks, whenever I looked up to the
Sun right above where we were going. My eyes were closed shut
and my whole body tensed up like a penguin for much of our
walk to the end of the mud road that cut through this small
town. I thought my bright brown eyes might give up our identities and screw us up. We had our bags on our back, my Handycam dangling on my leg. Omar led our caravan, the two of us
following closely behind. We left the car on the mouth of the
town facing the other way and ready to be jump-started in case
wed need a quick getaway; we couldnt bring the car in to minimize our conspicuousness. The houses werent really as rickety as I saw them from above. Most were actually concrete and
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looked study, albeit really old. The pointy rocks protruding from
the road made me slip and almost fall to the ground countless
times, so much so that I worried the people would think Im a
newcomer and come check me out. But thankfully, they were all
busy with their own businesses. Kids ran like crazy in the middle of the dusty street, an old man carried a huge sack of rice to a
small store on the other side of the road, and housewives cooked
what smelled like fish in their houses. We proved to be just
another ordinary Iranian trio in their eyes, but the whole walk
was still creeping the hell out of me, knowing that one small
misstep would cost our lives. I was supposed to, but I couldnt
turn around to Chris and say something, so I just whispered
close to the mic stuck down my neck and hoped that my voice
would penetrate through my head wrapping. But all I could
think of to say was how petrified I was with every obscenity my
scared-ass brain could come up with. Besides, it is scientifically
proven that saying curses helps alleviate every kind of pain and
fear.
On rusty metal walls and wooden poles on the either
side of the street, I could see ripped off pages of a newspaper
front page that had Lincolns caricature in it, which made me
assume that the large bold-faced Farsi letters on the paper meant
Americas killing of the Iranian president. But why in the world
would we do that? I wouldnt figure our president to be a sadistic leader who would kill another of his peers whenever he saw
fit, and besides he wont jeopardize the already fragile relationship of the United States with the Middle East. I bet that Irans
neighbors have already gone paranoid and have been plotting
an attack against the U. S., in which case our president would be
pleading our innocence like crazy to prevent an all-out nuclear
war. I started making connections in my head to figure out who
couldve done it but all I came up with failed to make sense; I
was too preoccupied by the fact that we were walking right
through hell. But so far so good; the kids kept on running in cirpg. 154

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cles in the street, the housewives hanging their washed clothes


and men lifting heavy sacks as we walked in the side of the mud
street. They didnt care about us.
A huge ditch on the side of the road covered with a large
black tarp caught my attention deep into the town. I kept my
gaze on it as I walked forward. The strong winds blew the side
of the cover, revealing lightly-colored objects inside the ditch. I
looked closer, and they had fingers. I started to reek. The wind
blew the cover further, and a face appeared. It was looking at
me, eyes and mouth wide open. Below it, a mass of dead corpses
half-filled the ditch, all tangled with each other like a mesh of
yarn.
Omar suddenly stopped and made me bump to him. I
was startled, and the fright from the dead corpses blown away.
Wait right here, he said. Im going to talk to an old friend.
What are you doing? I said. You cant leave us!
Itll only take a minute. I need to know whats been
going on here. My friend really hates Americans. We cant risk it,
so you must stay right here.
Thats just great.
What did he say? Chris said, also moving close with
his camera on the top of his right shoulder. The fabric wrap was
torn for the lens to see through.
Hes gonna talk to his friend over by that house, I said,
and just put down that camera. They might see it.
Yeah, yeah. Im on it, he said, and then moved towards Omar. Hey, you need some pot for your friend to talk to
you? We have a few sachets.
No, thank you. He is my friend, and I dont need to
give him marijuana to talk to me. And besides, no one smokes
marijuana around here anymore.
So much for your pot, I said.
As he crossed the road, we stood nearby a burnt hut directly in front of the single-storey blue house decorated by an
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assortment of plastic bottles hanged from the roof that swayed


with the wind and made reggae-like tunes. Omar moved up the
elevated porch of his friends house and knocked on the door as
the two of us tried everything to act casually. I kept my hands on
my legs like I was having an uncontrollable menstrual release for
the purpose of the wind not blowing my duster off and blowing
our cover. A really old, dark, wrinkly and bearded man emerged
from the door, who then embraced our guide as if they just had
their high school reunion. He looked more Indian than Iranian,
with his elongated face and head ornament. They exchanged
what I thought were usual Farsi greetings and how-do-you-dos,
and then closed the door shut, leaving us at the mercy of the Iranians.
Im really fucking scared, I whispered, which was a
grave understatement from the level of fright I was experiencing
then.
Me too, Chris said. I think I already shit my pants.
The wind blew notably strong from the mouth of the town.
Noises of an average town filled my ears.
Oh, God. I shouldnt have done this. I shouldnt have
done this!
I remember I saying that back in Libya. Funny that we
were in the exact same situation as this<
Shut up! They might hear you!
And you should stop whining then. I unwittingly
created tension between us, but I was too focused on keeping
our hearts beating. Im gonna go piss in the back.
Come on, you cant leave me here? I said. What the
hell< of all time in the fucking world?! His excuses, ridiculous
and outright stupid, were getting on my nerves.
Why, you want me to piss on you? he said, walking to
the back of the hut. Alone arduously and almost shitting myself
as well, the locals continued to show signs of not caring about an
Iranian couple standing for no reason beside a burnt hut. Every
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second lasted, as per the hyperbolical phrase, an eternity. I heard


Chris mumbling something on the back, so I checked on him.
His dick, hairy and tiny, dangled on his pants.
What the fuck?! He scrambled to hide his thing, and
my phone to his pocket.
Who the hell are you talking to? I said.
What? Im not talking! Cant you wait? he said.
Im almost dying out here?
Just go back. Jesus Christ, Holly.
I definitely heard you talk. I knew I did.
I dont know what youre talking about.
What the hell is taking him so long? I said.
I have no idea about that either, he said, giving the
phone back. I think we shouldve installed Omar with his own
mic.
What for? We dont have a translator in the States.
Well bring him with us. He already did much for us,
and I think the least thing to do is to save him from all this shit.
I already asked him that. He doesnt want to.
What could be left for him here? He doesnt have any
family or relatives of any kind.
No. He said he does.
Really?
Didnt you hear when we were going to his apartment? I said. And when I asked him about that again, he just
went silent.
You think hes hiding something from us? he said after a brief pause. I thought about that too, but his niceness and
good aura eliminated that possibility. Besides, if he was up to
something sinister, he shouldve already killed us back at his
apartment and saved himself from almost being killed.
I dont know, I said, but I dont think so. Hes a good
friend of Judd and hes been good to us. But arent you amazed
that he didnt want us to leave?
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What did you say? he said. I kept that last sentence to


myself. I realized its really rude to be accusing a good friend of
cruel motives for all the good things he did for us. But I couldnt
think of any of my own best friends who would risk their lives
just to take me to a place as dangerous as this, not to mention we
just met each other. But Judd already knew him for quite a while
as far as I knew and without him, we would have already
been hanged to death by the Iranians, or worse. He just wanted
to help, thats all. We owed him big time, and its a shame on me
to be even thinking about this sort of thing.
Nothing, I said. You think Omars plan will work?
Will the army listen to us?
Its the best thing we can do. We dont have a choice.
Look, we just found what theyve been looking for the last decade, he said. We should be fine.
Did you piss on my phone? I said, smelling something
foul on my device.
I love your AIDS detector app there. Its hilarious.
Before I knew it, two machine-gun mounted cars raced
into the town in a roaring engine sound, their passengers bearing every sign of being hostile. The rebels sprayed the air with
bullets from their AKs and LMGs and yelled out loud to wake
the town with their presence. People frolicked to get in their
homes at the sight of the rebels. As I saw the rebels approaching
me, my heart stopped beating and I was petrified like a zombie,
until Chris pulled me to the other side of the road. My ears rang
again.
Come on! Move, goddamn it! The trucks still looked
miniscule as we ran to the blue house, but the gunshots roared
loudly as if they were set off right by my ears. We banged the
door and yelled for Omar, not minding his American-intolerant
friend. The gunshots were getting closer. And at the best possible timing, Chris managed to crash the door open. Inside, the old
man was pointing a gun at Omar.
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Im fine, dont worry! he said.


What the fuck is going on here? Chris said. The old
man then aimed the gun at Chris, shouting an endless stream of
Farsi on his face. I shrieked, as per the norm. The gunshots were
getting closer.
We dont mean any harm to you, please! Chris said,
dropping his camera. We need your help! The rebels are going
to kill us. Please! Omar went on to reason out with his enraged
friend. I turned to the road, and the long barrels of the rebels
AKs were on my sight. Please!
After yelling loudly at him, the man started to move towards the door as to draw us all into his messy living room, all
while aiming his pistol dead at me and speaking incomprehensible Farsi. The floor made loud creaks with every step we made,
but it was nothing compared with the rebels yells and gunshots
progressively getting closer at us. My heart almost burst with
every beat. My skin felt really hot as blood rushed right below its
surface, about to blow me at any moment. As he stood in front of
the door, I realized what he was gonna do to us.
Please! Dont take us to them! I said. Before I finished,
Omar ran and punched the old man in the face, driving his head
almost to the other side. He bled and spewed pieces of teeth out
from his mouth and breathed deliriously. Omar then violently
pushed him back inside, crashing him right at his table, and
knelt right above his brittle body. Omar cried.
Bebakshid! Bebakshid, Peder. Bebakshid! Chris closed the
door, as the two continued to converse at each other, Omar apparently apologizing at his old friend who was still bleeding his
guts out from his mouth. I was left pressed my back against the
soft wall, stunned at how violent Omar could be, but mostly at
how much he would sacrifice to help us finish this thing.
Theyre right outside! Chris whispered, kneeling right
by the door. I could hear the rebels laughing their fucking guts
out at something. Then, all of a sudden<
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Komakamkon! Komakamkon! the old man yelled. Weeping, Omar grabbed a knife hanging near him and drove its sharp
edge right through the old mans throat. I was shocked. The old
man started making choking noises as rich red blood spewed
like a stream out of his neck and his life slowly faded away from
him. Omar cried like a little boy above his friends dying body. I
couldnt believe it he killed his friend just to save us.
Bebakshid! Bebakshid! he said, weeping.
Theyre coming right here! We must go now! Chris
said. From a tiny hole on the wall, I saw a couple armed men
slowly getting to us. They were both wearing black masks, but
their rather bright white arms were the more conspicuous feature. I couldnt talk at all.
Omar kissed the forehead of his friend. All shaken up,
he stood. Yes, please follow me, he said, walking towards the
back door. Chris pulled my unconscious body, and at the back
door I was welcomed by a really warm and sandy breeze as I got
out. The whole time, I had my mouth wide open and my eyes
stared at blank. Omar then pulled the two of us into a small alley, at the exact moment when the rebels got through the back
door. I awakened. Dont move, he whispered. Soon enough,
they retreated back. I hoped theyd think of the old man lying
dead in the floor back there as just another hopeless man who
has lost all hope in life. But still, I couldnt get over with the fact
that Omar just killed his own friend for us, until, of course, I discovered why he did all that.
We need to get down to the facility right now. We will
wait them out there. Omars voice was ever more serious, like
Tom Cruise speaking slowly and deep. His fun aura evaporated.
Im so sorry, Omar, I said, trying to express my guilt
for what he did to his friend. Im so sorry.
No time for that. Lets go.
We then ran on a clear path behind the houses, tiptoeing
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sions, my gown got snagged in pieces of logs protruding from


the garbage piles. I could also hear the breaks of the cars screaming from the road, the men firing their guns like crazy, and also
wailing women and children. I could only imagine what those
motherfuckers were doing to them. I was hyperventilating, constantly pleading to God for our deliverance from this thing and
cursing at the same time. My heart felt like it wanted to break
through my chest.
How in the world did they find us? I said.
No, theyre not here for us, Omar said.
Of course, they are! What else could they be here for?
Patrols come in here every day.
But you said there were no more guards!
Hey, just calm down, Holly, Chris said.
And I told you we shouldve got out of here!
Wait, wait, Omar said, waving the two of us to stop. A
road and a few more shacks separated us from where we were to
a small square structure that was supposed to lead us down the
nuclear stockpile. I still heard gunshots and hopeless screams all
around. Theyre massacring everyone!
The next thing I knew, my eyes were pouring with tears.
Get me out of here, please, I said. I cant take this anymore!
Chris pulled my body toward his and embraced me real tight,
hushing and caressing me like I was a small orphaned child. I
bet he could feel every single bone in my body shaking violently.
Please, please.
The rebels are right there. Just follow me and walk
slowly. Were gonna be fine, Omar said, remarkably calm. With
Chris arms above my shoulders, we walked as instructed, slowly to the small shack that would lead us to our temporary salvation. I turned to the side and I saw two armed men, both in black
masks and their weird white arms, raping a poor young girl. I
could hear the raw struggle from her as she used all that she had
to fight. The men ripped her clothes and dragged her to the
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ground until shes lying flat with legs open wide for their fucking dicks to get into. Her legs turned all violet and red. She
shouted until her throat broke apart. For some reason, I kept
watching the men through my thick tears as they tore the virginity out of that girl. And then, tired of her squirming around, they
shot her. I shouted. The rebels turned, and started shooting us.
Run! Run! Run! Omar screamed. I wiped my eyes to
get rid of the tears that clouded my vision, unwittingly bursting
the pimple on my nose. The bullets missed us by inches, some
ripping the sound barrier right in front of my face. When we got
to a long concrete wall on the other side of the road, the dress
got under my shoe and I tripped on a rock, falling hard on my
chest. The spot where I fell was sandy, otherwise the rocks
wouldve punctured my lungs all the way, but the impact and
the backpack still compressed my ribs so much that I couldnt
breathe. My legs might have crushed the Handycam dangling on
my feet. My squished breasts felt particularly painful.
As Chris dropped the camera and pulled me up, a rebel
saw me lying in the ground. Pulling a machete out of his belt, he
ran screaming towards me like a suicidal Japanese soldier. I
shouted beyond what my voice box could bear, until a few feet
away from me, Omar crashed against the man, throwing him to
the wall. The two exchanged strong punches that scraped their
faces and blew some of their teeth. Omar managed to drop the
knife away from him, but with a kick to his feet, he fell hard on
the ground and was strangled. Just as he drew his pistol to
Omar, Chris stormed to the battle and stabbed the man in the
back, probably penetrating all the way through his chest. He
pulled the knife out, and then swayed it to his neck, not making
it all the way to make a clean cleave. The man hit his head on the
wall, blood squirting out of his neck. In all that time, I was crying and freaking out like crazy thats the only adjective I could
come up with, but the real feeling was parsecs from that.
Are you okay? Chris said, pulling me up. I grabbed
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and held him tight.


Oh my God! Oh my God! I said, which was all I could.
I was losing my breath from all my crying. And when things
couldnt get more unbearable, the other rebel appeared. Chris!
Chris hasnt even turned his head to the man, but the rebel already has his gun aimed dead at us. Before any bullet could
pierce our bodies, Omar tore a hole through his head. The gunshots showering the locals in the town masked the sound.
We must go now! Omar said. I was really losing my
breath. My throat was closed shut but I forced the air to push
through the block. I feared my asthma could get a lot worse once
the next attack would set in. The sharp edges of the camera
made my left thigh hurt. I was shaking up to the smallest units
of my existence. Every hole in my face was dripping wet. In that
instant, I truly wished I wasnt pulled out of that void only to
suffer all this shit. I wished I was dead.
The concrete shack perfectly camouflaged its nuclear
contents, with cracked concrete walls, few tiny windows and a
trashed front lawn far from what one would expect of a nuclear warehouse, like say flesh-piercing laser or mines or motiondetecting snipers. Other shacks covered it from all sides. A few
steps to the entrance, Chris let go of me and helped Omar bash
through the metal door, shouting from deep their souls before
hitting it with their shoulders. My legs couldnt bear the weight
of my puny body, though I was breathing triple-time to get oxygen to my cells. My eyes started blurring, my ears echoing. The
day hasnt even ended, but this whole thing has probably already damaged my body beyond repair.
A couple strong blows finally made the door give up.
Come on, Holly. Stay with me! Chris said. I put all my weight
on him. The tear reservoir in my eyes emptied and I finally
calmed down. There was nothing in the structure but a single
wooden table in the corner and a rectangular piece of wood lying in the middle of the floor that proved to be a trapdoor which
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led to another metal door several steps below. Flags with blackglobe-with-stars-and-wings insignia decorated the walls, which
must be the rebels official trademark or something. We all
gasped for air, me more so.
We should be safe here for now, Omar said.
Why did you do that? I said. Why did you kill him?
The rebels would have killed us all if I didnt, and he
was going to kill you anyway. And hes too old to live.
Shit, dont say that. He was your friend.
I promised to keep you safe, remember?
Why are you really helping us? That just came out of
my mouth, but to bring up my suspicion to him, in light of what
he just did to one of his friends, was logical.
Is there something wrong? he said. Look Holly, I just
really wanted to help. I want to end this whole thing. I cant live
another day in this war. I want to help my people.
What did your friend say to you? Chris said.
He said people have been coming in and out of here,
and theyre getting the bombs out.
Were too late. Whats the fucking use? I said. The
rebels already know where the bombs are and theyre probably
about to blow one right now. And were gonna show our map to
the army? Whats the use?
Its not just a map you have. Its way more important.
Did you notice the lines on the side?
What about them? I said, pulling the map out.
Theyre launch codes. The nuclear bombs are worthless
if theres no launch code.
I almost let go of the map as it felt twice as heavy the
moment I discovered its true value. Son of a bitch. With the
power to annihilate nations coming with it, the map proved to
be more valuable than diamonds. The fate of the world was literally on my hands! I felt I was the target of every single terrorist
circle in the world, their legions being dispatched all over the
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country to hunt me down. And I knew it only a matter of time


before they do. Once again, the idea of David Price in possession
of this sort-of Armageddon device and his giving of it to us boggled me, but I was too worn out to see the connections.
Why the hell did you just tell us? Chris interrupted.
Sorry< I< I need you two with something.
With what? I said. Omar was silenced and frozen. It
seemed he spilled out something he shouldnt. With what?!
Then, his phone started to ring a drum tune. He looked at it for a
bit, his face bearing the marks of surprise, and then placed it
back in his pocket just as quickly.
Who was that?
Nobody, he said. Trust me. Nobody.
Trust? How could we when youre not telling shit? So,
what do you need us for, Omar?
Holly, thats enough, Chris said. I wasnt angry at our
guide, but I thought it was normal to act this way to someone
whom you depend your life with.
Omar remained silent. Tell me!
He breathed deep, and for the first time, I had a taste of
his anger which I thought he lacked in his body. I tried to help
you! I killed my dear friend just to let you two live! I did everything I can to keep you safe, and thats what youre thinking of
me?! If you need to know everything, that was Mahmoud, my
other friend who wants his movies back. I cant believe you
think of me like that, Holly. What if I just leave you behind and
let them kill you in a ditch?!
I was so ashamed. Oh my God. Shit, Im so sorry. Im
so sorry, I said, moving toward him while expressing my sincere regret. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Im just real scared. I< it just
comes out of my mouth. Im sorry.
Lets just get in here. Those men will come here any
time now. He then went down the underground facility, apparently feeling ambivalent of helping us out. Chris followed him.
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What the hell is wrong with you? my partner said.


Hes the only one weve got. Shame bathed my body as we
descended down the heart of darkness.

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Chapter

10.
THE DOOR WAS unlocked, though the rust has made opening
it quite a struggle for the two men. A surge of cold air, smelling
like rotten meat for some reason, blasted through me as a dark
hall was revealed inside. Large mice and all sorts of crickets ran
out the door when we made our first steps. The loud echo produced by even our smallest movements and quietest whispers
made it seem that the facility was incredibly big. Not a single bar
of signal registered on the satellite phone. I reached for my Handycam underneath my dress, and caressed every single corner of
it until I found the ON button. The stumble left a huge crack on
the viewfinder, but the camera operated fine nonetheless. When
I turned on the lights on it, particles of dust swirled and floated
in the beam like snow inside a snow globe when shaken. The
darkness ate the light wherever I pointed the camera on. Chris
eyes looked alien on the camera.
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Hold on, Ill get the lights, Omar said. After flicking a
few switches, the enormousness of the compound came into full
view. The complex was at least a football field wide and three
football fields long, already a feat of engineering in itself. All
sorts of metal structures and drums and frames were scattered
all over the place, with broken tents and small metal cylinders
thrown around and meshes of wire hanging on the metal frames
like cobwebs. It felt like an alternate dimension down here compared to the Stone Age world above. Three rows of spotlights
provided only a dim orange illumination, a couple was blinking
on and off like a perfect prop for a horror movie. The ceiling,
covered with what looked like sleeping swarms of bats, looked
uncomfortably weak to support the earth above. It was apparent
that this place has been around for a long time, so it would be no
surprise that hundreds of bombs mustve been made here, and
hundreds of bombs mustve been already smuggled out of here,
ready to be detonated anytime now.
Hey, should we be wearing masks for the radiation? I
said. We might turn to worms or something. I merely whispered but the echoes made it seem I just shouted for dear life.
Dont worry about the radiation, Omar said. The
uranium rods are kept in thick concrete containers so only a few
could get out. Besides, radiation cannot change your body into
something else. They can only destroy it.
Omars calm tone has returned, which I assumed to be a
sign that he has let go of everything that I said to him earlier. So
I proceeded with the inquisition. How long do you think this
has been around?
I think this is one of the oldest nuclear sites Iran, built
maybe back in the 80s. Judging from the size, this must be one of
the main warehouses too.
Jesus, what the hell is that smell? Chris said. The noseburning pungent smell seemed to emanate from deep in the facility. Even with thick coverings, the stench still made it through
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my smell receptors. It was disorienting. Is that from the uranium?


I have no idea. Come, we need to get out of here soon.
Listen, Omar, I said. Im so sorry for what I said. I
hope you can forgive me. Im just so fucked up with< everything. Sometimes, I dont know whats wrong with me.
I understand, and Im sorry too for what I told you earlier, and for everything you two have been through, he said.
But please, that launch code is extremely important. I believe
that is the only copy that exists. We cant let it fall on the wrong
hands.
I know. Its safe with me.
Every step we made echoed all over the compound,
even the squeaks and squeals of mice and bats and other nocturnal creatures that have made this weapons factory their habitat.
The floor was dusty as hell, and our steps produced a micro
sandstorm that further populated the air with potentially radioactive particulates. Pipes of varying size crawled from every
corner of the room. Occasionally, rats and spiders as large as my
arm would crawl over my feet and make me squeal like a little
pussy, which would then disturb a swarm of bats hanging at the
ceiling. The large metal drums and support beams bore all sorts
of Farsi letters, but one thing made it clear the small circle with
three triangles emerging from it, all inside a larger yellow triangle. Its nuclear, radioactive.
What are those giant pools for? I said, pointing to a
tarp-covered rectangular structure on the far side. Chris pointed
his camera accordingly to the conversation at hand. I kept mine
at Omar.
Theyre used to cool down uranium rods, Omar said,
speaking rather hurriedly. Because they are radioactive, the
rods produce a lot of heat, and if that is not regulated, those rods
might explode and release harmful radiation. Cold water helps
keep temperature down.
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Where are the rods?


The rebels mustve transported them to other places,
which is good because the whole place would have been really
dangerous for us to get into.
How exactly did they make the bombs here?
See those large drums over there? he said, pointing to
large cylinders on the far side of the facility. They contain the
centrifuges that concentrate uranium into weapons-grade. Then
they carefully take out the fuel rods and put it into an assembled
bomb. Workers here wear really thick suits to prevent radiation
from poisoning them, but it doesnt work that way. They were
still exposed. Many have died while working here, but many still
wanted to work because they get paid high, or the maybe the
government is forcing them to work. They threaten the lives of
their families to force them to work. The ditch above mustve
been where they buried their workers.
Jesus Christ! Chris suddenly shrieked for the first
time, awakening every single cell in my body. A dead man was
hanging by his neck on a metal bar, half-naked with his chest all
red with blood and his neck almost snapping off from his body.
Bats nibbled on his neck, but Chris light scared them off and
flew right passed us, almost grazing our faces with their potentially poisonous claws. Below him was a pool of dark red blood.
I felt my insides rising from my stomach, about to blow out of
my mouth again. As I fought it, I saw other bodies of killed
workers scattered all across the facility, each bathing in their
own pool of blood. The stench escalated. I shrieked in fright, and
unwittingly hugged Omar in the process.
Workers and scientists who once worked here, he
said, all killed by those rebels.
Look, theres something written on that guy, Chris
said, apparently not minding me hugging our guide. A board
was dangling on the hanged mans almost-torn neck, painted
with some letters in Farsi. What the hell is that?
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The< dawn of the new world has< arrived, Omar


said, looking at the letters almost 30 feet away from him with his
bare eyes. I let go of him. Evil will perish< from this earth.
What the fuck does that mean? I said.
I have no idea, but I think well know soon enough,
Omar replied. We have to keep moving.
I pressed my scared ass against Chris as we went
through the sea of corpses. The rivers of blood from the dead
made me close every hole in my face shut. A mutation of AIDS
and SARS seemed to have ravaged this very room. My eyes
filled with tears as I fought my guts from blowing out everything that I ate again. The blinking spotlights above also made
the whole walk more heart-pumping, like I was being chased by
Chucky or some other freaky horror icon.
I cant take another second in this place! I said.
I know. Me too, he said. But its nothing like any of
your first dates, right?
What the hell are you talking about?
Nothing. I knew he tried to elicit some lustful response from me, though the situation made no time for such
things. But I thought it would be better to turn my head to other
things that just freaking out all the time.
Yeah, I said after a while. Actually not that bad for
your first try. Due to his timidity, he has never asked for even a
few minutes of my time to have my company to do something
other than work, say, go on a date or watch a movie. In fact, no
one in my 23 years of existence ever did that, which could be
attributable to me being not that good looking. If Chris really
liked me, he should stop making suggestive shit and say what he
really felt right in my face.
So, you think were actually dating right now?
Fuck you.
Hey, are you seeing this? Omar said. Directly above
us, three rockets almost as big as a bus but a bit longer were
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hanging on big metal chains bolted on thick metal beams above.


Their sheer size and apparent mass left us all at awe. They had
pointed tips and stabilizing flaps on their ends, which mean they
must be for long-range attacks. I first thought they were space
rockets, but a nation at war wouldnt pursue space exploration
at such dark times. They could only be one thing<
Are those<? I said.
The nukes, Omar said. We could be the first Westerners, of course not considering the possibility of a conspiracy, to
lay our eyes on Irans weapons of mass destruction. Radicalists
have been right all along; the United States shouldve bombed
Iran years ago. The country dont comply with the statute and
refuse full transparency of its program, not to mention support
militia and jihadist forces, and renounce America and its allies.
Theyre really big, Chris said.
Holy shit, these are no ordinary nuclear bombs. These
are hydrogen bombs. But thats impossible.
What? I said. Hydrogen bombs are the much more
powerful and lethal variant of the nuclear weapons clan, making
use of hydrogen isotopes as fuel to produce an explosion hundreds of times more powerful than the average atomic bomb. As
their alternative name thermonuclear bombs imply, they release
tremendous amounts of heat that would instantly vaporize anything within hundreds of miles from ground zero, and poison
any surviving living thing with radiation afterwards. I believe
they are at least 500 times stronger than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Most of the worlds nuclear arsenal is thermonuclear. How did you know?
That small letter H down there. But I didnt know we
had at supply of it.
Must be from other nuclear states, right?
Probably.
Hey, those slots are empty, Chris said, pointing to five
other chain baskets beside the rockets which looked like they
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have just been emptied out.


The rebels probably got them already, Omar said.
Jesus, what are we gonna do? I said. Many people are
gonna die.Now that terrorists have the most powerful weapon
ever made, the world endures the grave threat of a nuclear holocaust from its failure to act decisively before all this shit. For
some reason, my body flooded with the urgency to at least do
something to prevent this impending doom of mankind, which I
too belong. All I wanted to do was to get this shit over with so I
could be safe in the sanctuary of my home with my sisters and
unknowing parents. But me being here has trapped me into this
huge responsibility of continuing the existence of life here on
Earth a duty I didnt even think or dream of assuming.
Were gonna let the army know about this, he said.
Make sure we document everything here, get as much information as possible. Come, I see something over there.Omar was
getting really sweaty and uneasy for some reason, which I
thought was a perfectly normal reaction in situations like this.
Chris picked up an AK-47 rifle and a few magazines and
stuffed them in his bag. What the hell are you gonna do with
that? I said.
I have a feeling were gonna be using this soon.
You cant even shoot.
How hard could it be?
We passed by countless empty metal cylinders and containers of God-knows-what as we followed Omar to a square
structure pretty much in the middle of the facility, which appeared to be a sort of an office. It was lit from the inside, and I
could see through its glass windows tall stacks of papers above
its desks and pictures and maps hanged from its walls. The
workstations where the bombs mustve been assembled were
behind the office; empty metal cylinders surrounded it on all
sides. But before I could get any closer, a dismembered head by
the door startled me and made me squeal. The body sat beside,
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the neck cleanly cleaved perhaps with a samurai sword or something. Black blood bathed the corpse. That was the most disturbing sight of my life.
Oh God! Im not getting in there! I squealed, covering
my eyes with my cold sweaty arms. Theres a fucking head on
the floor! Omar grabbed the head by the hair, blood dripping
from its torn arteries and veins, and threw it like a bowling ball
right by the cylinders. I pressed my face on Chris chest and
trembled, all while crying my eyes out. At this pace, if every
minute blood and death and decapitated men pops at my face,
Id lose my mind beyond any hope of recovery.
Pull yourself together, Chris said. Its just a head.
Shut the fuck up!
You need to take a look at this, please quick! Omar
said from within the office. Chris pushed me away and I wiped
my eyes clouded with tears, after which a journalists treasure
trove came into view. Fifty people could fit well into the room,
illuminated by a single incandescent light bulb. Several portraits
of who I believed were Khomeini and the succeeding presidents
of Iran were hanged on the wall, along with the rebels black
globe insignia and the flag of Iran. Rouhanis portrait was
stained in blood, which I thought was a telltale sign that the
rebels killed him, which made perfect sense. Only he knew of the
location of the bombs, and no one wanted those things more
than those motherfuckers.
A rectangular table occupied the center of the room.
Hundreds of documents and maps and booklets were stacked on
it like paper bills. If theres a place that could unlock the answers
to all the shit going on in this country, nothing should reveal
more than here. Help me with this. We should bring everything
that we could carry.
Chris did his thing and shot the two of us with his big
toy as we dug through the piles of what might be the key to everything, not just to the war but our survival as well. I should be
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feeling irrationally ecstatic with everything I wanted right in my


face, but this whole thing the few first hours alone of this assignment has already damaged my head beyond repair. No
matter how much I reminded myself this was what Ive been
looking for, my head was on a shutdown. I just stood near the
table with my head absolutely blank. I could see the papers, but I
couldnt think of what was on them. I could smell the rot from
the facility, but I wasn't repulsed. I could feel the cold and moisture from the room, but I was nothing to me. That head, the
blood, the death, the screams and cries, the violence this whole
thing has messed me up for good. Not until I accidentally
pushed a pile of papers to the floor and ruined its order that I
woke up from that conscious coma. I tried to fix them, but I
didnt know what I was doing.
Are you alright, Holly? Chris asked, rushing towards
me. I sat atop the papers and laid my back on the wall.
I< I just need to rest for a bit.
Okay. Ill just dig up for you.
Its already 10:25, several hours since I last stared at my
sorry face, so I pointed my Handycam right at me and checked it
out on the viewfinder. The blood from my pimple has dried out
and formed a stream down my mouth. I pressed the source,
from which rich yellow pus and blood just popped out of the
pimple. My eyes were all red and quite shriveled, my lower eyelids all swollen up like I havent slept for weeks. My face looked
shrunken, the corners of my skull somewhat more pronounced.
Feeling my stomach rumbling, I used up whats left of my energy to grab my bag and the ahmisa Omar made for us earlier. It
was basically a sandwich with some kind of fish and onion as
filling, and it tasted rather good. Every bite brought a bit of
energy within me, and slowly the cloud blurring my mind
started to clear up, so did my eyes.
After the fifth bite, I started to notice the meshed-up papers on the floor. Some were really old Iranian religious proclapg. 175

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mations or something. Some were whole issues of The New York


Times, Time and Newsweek that had the Iranian Armageddon
cover which proliferated in the news world ever since this war
started, as well as countless newspaper cutouts of American politics articles, much of which were about covert black ops and
jihadist hunt in the Middle East. The amount of Americaninspired media in the pile was disturbing.
What the hell are these people doing here? Chris said.
Look at these things. Who studies flight trajectories? Quark and
quantum theories? Radioactive particle interactions? The Will to
Power? Nostradamus? Mein Kampf?! What the fuck is all this?
Many of these are textbooks about nuclear bombs, but
Im not so sure about the others, Omar said. I have here a lot
about American culture.
Theyre learning our ways, I said, which was the only
logical reason behind. But why in the world theyd do that?
Further digging revealed manuals and receipts for what
I thought were parts for the nukes which were of French, Russian, Chinese, Iraqi, Israeli, Libyan and Pakistani origin, confirming perhaps a secret trade between these nations or WMDs already available for sale in the black market. A schematics map
was also right in front of me. It was an intricate layout of a thermonuclear bomb every single gear and screw, dimensions and
instructions necessary for its assembly were on it which had
too much jargon for a layman to bear. The boxes below bore the
symbol for some company called G4S, apparently the owner of
the thing. I frowned in an effort to recall where on earth I heard
that name from, but I couldnt.
Chris, I said. Have you heard of G4S?
No, why?
I showed him the schematic. I think its the company
providing Iran with the bombs.
Well take it all, Omar said. He grabbed a whole pile
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thing in the bag. We really need to get out of here right now.
His urgency was infectious. Whats the matter? Are the
rebels coming right here?!
They might come in here to get the other bombs. We
must get out before they do.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Check this out, Chris said, sweeping his part of the table clean and then laying a map in front of
him. Come on, look at this.
What is that? I asked. I got up with the strength the
sandwich provided me and beheld a political world map drawn
with several red Xs all over. A large blue circle and arrows pointing out of the country highlighted Iran. The Xs were drawn on
Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Cairo, Paris, Vatican City, Berlin, London,
Moscow, Baghdad, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai,
Manila, Sydney and Honolulu. The United States was conspicuously marked with a red circle, almost of blood. It would take
no rocket scientist to figure out what the map was.
The rebels targets, Chris said.
Jesus Christ, are they planning to destroy the world?
Theyre fucking insane. Theyre fucking insane! My worst fears,
unsurprisingly, have been realized; lunatics run the show in this
country. As what the plot of films centering on nuclear Armageddon would ultimately lead to, there would be no victors in a
nuclear onslaught, let alone survivors, but only a world of rubble
and radiation and death. With that many thermonuclear bombs
detonated, civilization would beyond any doubt collapse with
no hope of rising up again, because no one would live to do it. In
fact, not even bacteria or amino acids would survive as the subsequent fallout irradiates every single square inch of this poor
planet. I think it would take the birth of another universe, or
perhaps the terraforming technologies of a really advanced alien
species, and a billion years for the Earth to be restored, hopefully
free from a species like us capable of self-destruction.
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Wait, theres something else, Omar said.


What?
He pointed to a small Farsi writing above the map. I
think this is a date right here. Rabi is the fourth month of the year
in the Islamic calendar, which is approximately April in your
calendar. Today is April 29, right? There are only 29 days in our
month, and this says on the last day of Rabi. You add a day so<
April 30< Saturday, Chris said, facing us. Thats<
tomorrow! At that very instant, my legs softened and almost
made me collapse to the floor, my lungs shrunk as I ran out of
breath, and my skin felt freezing as the chill of the dark situation
was slowly creeping through me. I couldnt believe what I just
discovered. The ten billion human beings, together with trillions
of other living things and the countless magnificent sights and
vistas, on this planet would perish less than 24 hours from now!
The apocalypse was not something Id want a heads-up on Id
rather die unexpectedly, like with a truck squishing me on the
sidewalks or a mad killer shooting my head off with a sniper
gun, than to know of my passing. I slowly retreated back to the
wall, my face of devastation, grief and hopelessness. Because of
the countless end-of-the-world motion pictures I bathed my eyes
on, I already planned out the things Id do if the world would
come to an end, the first of which would be to have a last party
with my friends, then get laid, then zip-lining, and of course tell
my parents and sisters how much I appreciate them, even
though they didnt. I couldnt do any of that. Im stuck in this
hellhole.
Jesus< Jesus Christ! I cried. Chris then came to pull
me into his hard chest. Oh my God, were gonna die!
We can still do something with this, Omar said, as if
the end of the world was something two young American journalists and a thinly-built Iranian could thwart. We have the
launch codes. We can go to the American army and ask them for
their help. This is too much intel we will show them. They
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shouldnt throw us to prison with this.


Its not that its< how could we stop this? I said, letting go of Chris. Were too late. The rebels already have the
nukes. Every Iranian here wants to kill us, and that guy from the
telephone wants me dead. We arent even sure if the armys
gonna listen to us.
Not unless if we try, Chris said. We already talked
about this. Besides, what are we gonna do, just stand here and
do nothing when we have the answers to all of this?
I never wanted all of this shit. I just want to go home!
This is the way home, he said, gripping my shoulders
tight. We dont have a choice.
I dont wanna die, Chris!
Were not gonna.
Promise me! Promise me!
I did. And I still do.

AFTER OMARS ANOTHER reminder of us getting the hell out


of that place, we piled every single piece of paper we deemed
potentially useful and stuffed them all in the remaining spaces of
our bags, with the important ones like the targets map right in
my handy pocketed pants. My five-hour mark for my medication was closing so I checked the pants for the bottle, which still
rested in one of my left pockets. The adrenaline from the pressure of Armageddon relieved and provided me with the
strength to carry on. And they were right better to die trying
than for nothing at all. A few minutes after, were back again in
the dim abyss of the compound, together with the hundreds of
dead corpses and decapitated heads inside. The bats above and
the critters creeping below squeaked exponentially loud.
There must be some sort of passageway out of here, a
road or something, Chris said. How on earth could they get
these bombs out? And indeed, below the bombs of destruction,
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there were tire tracks leading out to the wall. The illumination
from the spotlights couldnt reach the side of the facility, and
every step proved to be as scary as shit. The tracks went through
the wall decorated with Khomeinis huge bearded face. Chains
bolted the door shut. Goddamn son of a bitch.
There, there, over there, Omar said, pointing to a large
metal support column whose highest point led to what appeared
to be a trap door. We can climb that column out of here.
We cant go back out there, I said. The town must
still be sprawling with hundreds of rebels.
Where else would we go? Chris said. That shut me
down, which I thought what they wanted for me long before.
The structure was at least 30 times my height, four times my
width, and looked sturdy enough to withstand earthquakes. A
series of protruding U-shaped metal bars without any protective
barricades served as the ladder. The trap door above was pouring dust into the compound.
Okay, who wants to go first? Omar said.
Its too high, I said. I< I cant do it. Would it be just
the same if we use that front door?
We dont have time for this! Chris said. Maybe Omar
should go first, you follow and Im gonna be on the back to catch
you.
Sounds good, Omar said.
As Omar climbed effortlessly with our big camera on his
shoulders, Chris pushed me up the ladder with his head directly
below my ass. The thick mesh of the chador made it excruciatingly hard to place my feet on the metal steps; I still had to lift the
whole thing so pull my feet up, so every time I placed my feet in
the next step, only my left hand bore all my weight plus that of
my stuffed-up bag. To make it worse, its all sweating up, lubricating my hold of the metal steps. The wires dangling in the column snagged us like snakes. The whole climb, to sum it all, was
nothing but unbearable. Then, close to the halfway point of the
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climb, a bat stuck itself in my dress. I shrieked. Get this shit off
of me!
Chris scared it off with the lights on the Handycam hes
holding for me, then laughed as if it was all a big joke. That
ones getting in the bloopers, he said. I flipped him.
How much time we got left? he said after a while.
Probably 30 hours still, Omar said. The rebels are
probably gonna blow the bombs at night after the last salat.
Whats that?
Daily morning prayers, he said. We do that five times
a day while facing Mecca.
Five times a day? Most people could hardly do one.
People are too trapped in the physical world, only caring about what their bodies need. They forget they have a soul to
nourish also, that is why we have all these crimes and corruption
and greed. Which is why<
What? I said.
< man needs to be saved.
A loud thud then echoed from the entrance of the facility, startling the swarm of bats sleeping near us. We were all frozen. A creaky sound further startled the bats, making some to fly
off. Mumblings start to fill up the room. Before I knew it, ten
armed men were walking straight for us.
Holy shit! I held the metal steps tight and pressed my
face against the cold metal column. We were already an arms
length away from the ceiling and just above the hanging spotlights. I hoped the bright lights would hide us from them, but it
was of no help at all to calm me down. I breathed twice as fast,
shook twice as hard, and perspired twice as heavy. My hands
were bathing in sweat. Every passing moment was torturous
beyond words.
The rebels quickly scrambled around the facility, a sign
of their awareness of someones transgression, which was unsurprising since we turned the lights on. Some looked up, and
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indeed the lights camouflaged our scared asses. They then went
to open the locked gate, some to the support beams holding the
H-bombs. In a roaring and irritating sound, a large military truck
went through the gate and positioned itself right below one of
the nukes. A series of pulleys slowly lowered the bomb. One of
the man accidentally lost his grip of the chains, almost dropping
the bomb and blowing all of us to Heaven. I briefly squealed, but
the noise they made covered it.
Chris pinched my foot to move up as Omar already had
half of his body up the ground. Move! The wind above blew
sand to my mouth as my head got out, but the bag got stuck,
pulling me in with it. I got back in, but before I even got my head
out of the door again, the men below shouted, apparently seeing
the light of day from the trap door. They started shooting us.
Move, goddamn it! Move! I yelled for dear life as I tried to get
my bag to go through the door, which took some seconds and
got Chris in the haywire. The bullets ricocheting right in my face
made magnificent sparks, but for some reason, not even a single
bullet shrapnel got into me. In a loud cry, the bag snapped off of
its snag and I laid face down in a rather cold and soft bed of
sand. As Chris got out, bullets tore through the door as Omar
shut it close. I breathed hard and deep.
Holy shit, holy fucking shit! I said. Right then, Chris
started groaning of extreme pain, only to find out hes been shot
in the abdomen. Oh my God! We need to get help!
Dont< Im fine! he insisted.
Where the hell are we?
Were on the other side of the hills behind the town,
Omar said, which meant the car was all the way to the other side
of the town, half-a-kilometer away. We have to go. They know
were here, and theyre coming right for us. With the camera on
his other hand, Omar helped me get Chris up. But before even
making a step, we froze again on the sound of roaring and gunfire. Omar quickly climbed the hill with the camera. And after a
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All She Lost.

brief gaze, he ran back just as fast. Theyre coming! All of them!
Theyre coming!
Where are we gonna go?
Go around the hills, he said, giving me the camera.
Ill take care of Chris. We will follow you. Go, go!
The Sun assumed its might in the noontime sky, further
drying up the ground and driving sand to my eyes with the even
stronger wind. The sand was soft, but not as much as to drown
my shoes and make running a struggle. I could hear the rebels
running towards where we came from as they kept firing their
guns, and the townsfolk shrieking and crying and begging for
mercy. I ran as fast as I could, which I guess was actually really
slow with Chris and Omar following close behind. Every step
seemed to put a pound of weight more on my body, and by the
time we reached the mouth of the town, gravity almost made me
lie to the ground. By a dried-up tree, Omar put my partner down
and I did the necessaries. The bullet tore a gaping hole in his abdomen, out of which a considerable amount of blood poured out
of him. I ripped off a piece from the gown and wrapped the
wound tight, bubbling blood oozing out. He moaned and held
my arms tight. I kissed him, though it wont ease even by a bit
the agony hes facing, but I thought it would be a motivation for
him not to go to the light just yet. Please, stay with me. I need
you. I need you with me. He responded with another moan of
pain.
Our cars right on the other side, Omar said, peeking
by the tree. The men are all the way back to the town.
Are you alright? I said to Chris. Im really sorry. He
just smiled, the trauma apparently still overwhelming his brain.
The gunshots and cries continued, echoing into my ears.
We will make a run for the car, Omar said, leaning
close to us. You go first Holly. Run straight to the car as fast as
possible. Ill carry Chris.
I scoped the scene myself as Omar got Chris up. A long
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All She Lost.

metal wall provided a nice path to hide from the rebels. Are
you sure about this?
Just go straight to the car. Well follow you.
You got this< Holly, Chris said arduously. After materializing from my system the necessary courage, I ran with my
hands covering my head like a comet was about to fall on me. I
looked straight down to the ground, my eyes wide open, my
back curved and my feet all stiffened up. I shouted every breath
during that run, my chest beating hard as never before. Once we
got to the edge of the metal wall, I scoped the scene again. A
couple of meters ahead into the town, ten old men and women,
all wailing for mercy, formed a line on the road with their hands
tied up behind their heads. On the other side, the masked rebels
cocked and aimed their guns at them. It was a death squad. They
all fired simultaneously, blowing the locals chests and faces off
and killing them instantly.
Jesus Christ! I said, shivering. They killed all of them!
They killed all of them!
Holly, Omar said. We cant do anything about that.
Please, we need to get out of here. Its very dangerous. As I saw
the men retreat to reload, I materialized whats left of my courage once again and made a run for the car. Before I knew it, I
bumped my head and opened the rear door. I heard another particularly close gunshot, to which I turned back. Omar and Chris
were lying on the ground, our guides legs really bleeding. He
has been shot.
Chris! Omar! A couple of meters away from the car, I
rushed back to the two and tried to get them on my shoulders,
but they proved really heavy for me. Another gunshot blasted a
pebble near us, and when I turned to the road, the whole battalion of rebels stormed through the town towards us. Their bullets screamed right at my ears. Such a situation usually provides
humans with insane adrenaline rushes which would have been
helpful for me to lift my two salvations to their own salvation,
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All She Lost.

but mine wasnt enough. Omar was hit on his lower left leg.
Please, get up! Please! I cried.
No, no! You have to go! Omar said, pushing my arm
away. Take Chris with you. Get the intel to the army. Im so
sorry, Holly. Im so sorry!
What? Were not leaving without you!
Go! Please! They will kill you. I can take care of them.
Im gonna be alright. Go, now! It was no time to rationalize the
next move I was gonna make, and out of impulse, I carried Chris
to the car and decided to leave our chauffeur to the mercilessness of the rebels. Omar continued shouting as bullets flew right
on us, some blowing sand inches away from our feet. Chris
moaned with every step. Finally, I threw him on the backseat,
the camera on the dashboard, and assumed the drivers seat.
Bullets rained down endlessly, some penetrating right through
the windshield and showering my face with razor-sharp shards
of glass. I turned the car keys several times; the car wasnt starting. On the road apparently pouring with corpses of the locals,
the rebels ran like a mad mob, getting closer by every passing
second. Still, the car wasnt starting. Until<
Yes! Yes! I immediately threw the car in reverse and
drove out of that fucking town like crazy, bullets still showering
the two of us with glass on the way out. From the windshield,
though really shaky, I saw the rebels get their hands on Omar
and beat him to death.
Tears poured out of me like the Niagara, clouding my
vision of the road. I wailed with my feet unwittingly floored on
the accelerator and repeatedly pounded the steering wheel with
the force of my grief. I just abandoned the only guy that could
get us through all of this madness! And the feeling was compounded by the fact that I already caused the death of three
people! Not to mention, I was now all by myself; Chris was in
real danger of dying, and help was hundreds of thousands of
miles away to the other side of the planet. Theres also no assurpg. 185

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ance that the army would listen to us. It was helplessness and
despair at its highest possible form.
And when things couldnt get any worse, three cars
popped into view in the rearview mirror, their engines roared as
they raced through the bumpy desert. Men holding guns stood
on them. The rebels were onto us.
Chris! Chris! Were being chased by the rebels! Wake
up! You gotta help me, please! I said, franticly pressing the floor
panels, pumping the clutch and turning the steering wheel as I
drove for our lives. He didnt respond. I was screaming my guts
out, mucous clogging my windpipe. A kilometer away from the
town, the rebels kept their hot pursuit, raining bullets from their
machine guns at us, but the bumpy desert made them miss by a
mile. Normally, as the bodys response to stressful situations like
this involving life and death, Id gain relative supernatural powers like I did several times earlier, which allowed me to carry a
man as heavy as Chris. But right then, the adrenaline juice has
finally drained out. My heart pumped rather slow, my eyes
slightly blurred, and I felt rather weak; my body was crashing
down. The only thing that drove me through was the fact that if
we stopped, those motherfuckers would hang our guts out of
our bodies. I might have already mumbled every known curse
word that ever came out of a mouth.
I absolutely had no idea where I was heading the car to.
All I knew was that I was driving to the way we came, or at least
I thought. The rugged terrain stretched our hijacked ride to its
breaking point, tumbling it in all directions. More and more bullets got their way through the car, some so close to me that they
blew off some of my hair. Spectacular sparkles from the bullets
made it a New Years Eve celebration in the car.
A hand reached for my shoulders. Chris! Holy shit!
Theyre onto us! You gotta help me! I said. He tried to move to
the front seats, but the pain was just too unbearable.
Where is Omar? he said.
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I left him, goddamn it! I cried. Will you just help me


get rid of those fuckers? !He looked at our pursuers for a rather
long time. Then, fighting through the pain and the bullets ricocheting in the car, he grabbed the rifle he picked up from the
facility and fed a magazine to it. Do you even know how to use
that thing?
Dont worry, he said. I got a plan.
Then do it right now!
But Im sorry. I have to do this.
What? Right then, something really hard bashed the
back of my head and instantaneously threw me unconscious,
which made me hit my head to the steering wheel. I left the car
still running, and the rebels still behind our tail.
For the second time, I was in oblivion.

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Chapter

11.
THE DESERT STRETCHED far and wide, with mirages on the
horizon making it seem that the land was being cooked up by
the scorch of the Sun. The road went straight and smooth,
though years of neglect has left gaping cracks in some parts,
which our car didnt handle pretty well. I expected to see a
horde of camels or raccoons or rattlesnakes crossing the street, or
towering cacti or gigantic sand dunes basically anything distinctive of the desert vista but there was nothing in the place
but brown grass and totally dried out soil. The sky was still as
pristine, though dark clouds loomed in some parts, which really
proved ominous to me. I was seeing what might be my last
glimpse of the planet. That thought made me regain my sense of
awareness. Chris was driving the car, his one hand still pressing
on the entry wound. I sat on the front seat beside him. More importantly, the rebels were gone.
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All She Lost.

Theyre gone, I said, breathing hard and deep. What


happened? How did<?
You bumped your head hard on the steering wheel
when you passed over that big dune. You were unconscious<
Ive been driving for the past thirty minutes.
How did you lose them?
They got stuck in the sand or something. I just saw
their vehicles stop and I went for it. Are you okay?
Sort of, feeling a little dizzy. How long was I out?
You mean for the second time? he said. Like, ten minutes, maybe fifteen.
Do you know where youre going?
Omar told me on the way to that village while you
were out the first time. There should be another road to the city a
few miles from here, directly to the American base. Oh shit! He
groaned from his aching wound. I then pulled out the necessary
kits from the bag, removed the impromptu bandage and did the
necessaries.
You want me to drive? I said.
No its okay, he said. I got this.
After, I grabbed the rest of the tuna sandwich from my
bag and shoved a piece at his mouth. It was time for lunch, 11:37,
and the warmth of the wind was testament to that. Oh shit, 11:37!
Oh my God! Oh my God! I said, reaching deep into
every single pocket in my pants for my prescription drugs. I was
30 minutes late to my self-imposed five-hour medication schedule, and with my scheme forcing me to take my drugs at the
exact moment I was supposed to, I just endangered myself to
another severe asthma attack. I took up two tablets to be safe,
but its only a matter of time before the attack would set in.
Judd has no idea about that, has he? he said.
I will tell him after this< if were gonna be alive.
What the hell are you talking about? Course we will,
he said. Dont you go all down with me. You feel good?
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Think so.
What happened to Omar?
He got shot in the leg while we carried you, I said.
We were getting out of the town, and a sniper got his leg.
Fuck, goddamn it.
Flashes of memory filled my mind of my last sight our
guide. He was lying helplessly, and the rebels came to him and
just beat and beat him until he bled out. Hes probably dead by
now. I felt insanely bad that we accused him of conspiring
against us, and here we were, still alive while he lay back in the
town probably butchered up by those murderers for helping out
two wretched Westerners. Its< all our fault, man.
We have nothing to do with it. Its part of the job.
So, we kill now, is that it? I said. If we didnt come
here in the first place, none of this will ever happen. Three
people are dead because of us, and I cant have more just because of this fucking news shit fantasy.
Theyre gonna die anyway, all of us! he said. Those
fuckers are gonna blow up the world, and we are right here with
a shot of saving this forsaken planet. Dont make this all about
you, cause its not. Lunatics are everywhere in this country. We
didnt do anything wrong. We are gonna save the world, dont
you realize that?
Why bother saving this world? After all of this is over,
were just gonna go back killing each other again.
This world is all we got, he said. You wanna die?
I dont know. After seeing the horrors of the world
firsthand and the extent to which man could go to defend his
interests, far beyond what I was already aware that he could go,
I wasnt sure if I could endure another second. Turns out every
single thing teachers say to toddlers in preschool about the
world that its peaceful and happy and cares for every single
person is complete bullshit, which is I think a good thing. Exposing them to the horrors of the real world at such a young age
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All She Lost.

would totally mess their brains and maybe make them contemplate suicide. Reality is so harsh that bringing a child to the
world would be like taking a poor good soul to the mercy of
monsters a mortal sin in and on itself. The world is fucked up.
Maybe we should just let them do it.
What? What are you talking about?
Let them blow up the world.
What the hell is wrong with you? You mean we should
just let everybody, our loved ones, our friends, die? The world
maybe is a horrible place but not all of it. Theres just so much
thatll be lost, forever. Think about your mom and dad and your
sisters. I grimaced. Look, I know you and your parents dont
get along much but its not the way to fix things.
What are you talking about? I love my parents, I said.
Its just< I just wish they loved me back, thats all. Chris was
well-aware that I was a classic example of a failed expectation of
my parents. They wanted me to be business tycoon or something, reaping the money of the people for some product to feed
their desires that we made in the first place. I received little to no
support in my pursuit of my journalism dreams. They didnt
attend my graduation, nor did they help me find a job the
worst things a parent could possibly do. Back when I lost all
hope from my rejection, all I got from them was a whole fucking
bag of we-told-you-so. I mean, they just left me crying in my
favorite sofa for three consecutive days. They didnt care about
me at all.
They do. The fact that theyre gonna kill you if they
find this out proves that. You are still their daughter a very
beautiful and sexy daughter, though quite height-deprived.
Shut up. For the first time in like five hours, I smiled.
For some reason, any comment by men on womens size always
elicits response from us. I wanted to flip him again but I noticed
but his face was a tiny percentage paler, which could be a sign of
infection from the gold-plated bullet casing. Jesus, you're getpg. 191

All She Lost.

ting pale. Are you feeling okay?


Dont worry about me, please, he said. I caressed his
head and fought through all of his assertion of toughness. Im
aware that probably aside from losing a girl, being labeled a
weakling brings the same, if not greater, damage to a man,
which applies to those with tiny cocks or interests in any scholarly subject. What they dont realize is that a mans unreservedness to show his soft side, which all men no matter how tough
or cocky have somewhere in them, is one of the sexiest things
that turns women on.
Now I know how you get scared, I teased, remembering him being scared stiff back in the facility.
Come on, that was a dead guy hanging by his neck! Of
course Ill scream like that. I cant imagine how loud you would
freak out if you saw that guy first.
That ones getting in the bloopers.
So, this is how it is, huh? At least Im not the one
screaming like a girl all the time.
I am a girl, I said. Its like our natural response.
The road leading to the air base went to the opposite
direction of the left-turning main road. The skyline of the Tehran
metropolis was faint and shrouded with dust and cloud on the
horizon but it was already distinctive. Pressure waves from explosions and gunshots slowly get audible, as did the beating of
my chest. Chris pulled the miniature Yao Ming figurine from his
pocket, and started reminiscing on his and Omars short-lived
friendship.
He was such a nice guy, he said.
I feel really bad that we thought he was one of them.
Yeah, how could you?
Like Im the one who only thought of that, I said.
I didnt alright. I just asked if you think hes hiding
something from us.
Then suddenly, on the side compartment of the pack,
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All She Lost.

the satellite phone rang once again. Knowing the intense experience from my last call on that very phone, I kept Chris hands
away from it. Dont call that!
It might be the headquarters.
No, no, no. Its them. Its them! It might be that answering the call would let them trace our location.
Im just gonna look at it, he said. Its Judd.
Let me get that. Hello?
Holly! he said. Oh, thank goodness. Are you
You better have that fucking plane! I said. My pressure to him should be justifiable.
I< yeah. Are you three alright?
Its just the two of us now. Omar is dead.
Oh my God. What happened?
He got shot by sniper on our way out of the nuclear
warehouse. We are going to get help to the American army, I
said. We found something really big back in one of the nuclear
warehouses. The rebels are going to detonate every single nuclear bomb of Iran to every major city in the world tomorrow! All
two fucking thousand nuclear bombs!
Holy shit. Are you sure about that? Judd said.
We have their goddamn targets, and we saw them take
the bombs out of the warehouse. Those lunatics are going to destroy the world. You better make some calls right there now!
Yeah, but<
Theres more, I said. Omar said David Prices map
contains the launch codes for the nukes, you know the crazy
lines on the side of the map. So without this theyre not gonna be
able to use them. Were gonna show this to the army and let
them take care of the rest. When we get our hands on some extremely sensitive data like Black Budget allocations of the U. S.
government or covert military spec-ops in the past decade, we
usually protect at all costs its exclusivity to us, but since the fate
of the world was literally on this very thing, it would be the stupg. 193

All She Lost.

pidest and most selfish thing not to let anyone know.


Where is it?
I checked in my upper left pocket. Its here. Listen, you
really need to make sure the armys gonna let us in.
Sorry but I cant do anything about that. If I told anyone youre there, the FBIs gonna send us all to prison.
Fucking shit, I said. It was perhaps the most irritating
thing I heard in my whole life. Could you be of any fucking
help right now?
I am helping you. Look, I need to tell you something.
Listen very carefully. Several fighter jets flew above us, screaming sonic booms with their sound barrier-breaking speed. They
were followed by large C-130s, higher though relatively slower,
and boomerang-shaped aircrafts that I thought were stealth
planes. Its all over CNN. The President just ordered a massive
airstrike and land offensive to take back control of Iran and eliminate rebel forces there, after the video of the rebels chopping the
arms and legs of ten American volunteers went viral all over the
country. I think those are fighter jets I heard there. More will
come, and theyre gonna bomb the fuck out of Iran. You need to
get the hell out of there.
No shit. Where is our plane landing?
Shit< listen. He breathed hard, just before he uttered
the most devastating news I got from him yet. The planes not
gonna come. The air force will shoot any unauthorized plane in
Iran down and no matter how I persuaded the guy, he said hes
not gonna do it anymore.
Wha< what do you mean? Are you saying<?
Holly< I did everything that I can
Are you saying that no ones coming for us? That were
gonna be stuck in this fucking hellhole?! That youre gonna let us
get killed in here?! I cried once again, this time fueled even
more by hopelessness and devastation. You put us here! You
get us the fuck out of this place! Please! I dont wanna die! I
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All She Lost.

dont wanna fucking die!


Holly! Calm down! Chris was restraining me. I was
starting to morph into a wild animal.
Fuck you, motherfucker! You get us out of here, please!
Please, I beg you! I wanna live!
Im really sorry, Holly! Judd said. Theres not that
much that I could do now for you. Im really sorry. In complete
anger, I ended the call and threw the phone to the floor of the
car, regardless if the only means of contact we got to the headquarters would get broken. I went on to make perhaps the loudest wail I did in the assignment, with the realization that there
was no getting out, no getting home, no one to save us the end
of the line. America was gonna bomb Iran straight to hell, Omar
was dead, every single person in this country wanted us dead,
that man from the telephone wanted us dead, and our ride home
would not come every single thing that I had thought this assignment would be has been spot-on and worse so far. All evidence pointed to our ultimate and inevitable demise.
The pretty strong desert breeze and the tears flooding
my face cooled my head that was warming up with blood. As
my hands covered my face squirting with all sorts of despair
fluids, I felt the car stopped and Chris arms wrapped around
me. He smelled of noontime stench but his caress proved really
helpful. Im right here, he said. Im right here.
Were gonna die, Chris. Were gonna die!
Listen to me! he said, pushing me and pressing my
shoulders hard. Another squadron of fighter jets flew right
above us. I want you to stop saying that shit. Were not dying
out here. Ive been telling you that for ten hours now, and look,
were still alive. I wont let you die, because I love you, okay?
I wasnt actually that surprised. I knew all along he felt
that way for me, and I was too for him, but the moment of his
confession of that feeling was of the worst possible timing. That
doesnt change things.
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All She Lost.

We have the goddamn launch codes, and those fuckers


can do nothing without these codes. The army would be really
stupid not to let us in. Its all gonna be alright, you hear me? Im
all fucking tired of this shit too, and I just want to go home, no
more than you do. Promise, Ill keep you safe.
I know, I said, calming down but still pretty devastated. Youre gonna get the both of us home, right?
I swear to God, he said.
You know you picked the worst timing. You shouldve
told me you loved me a long time ago.
I thought you always knew, he said, looking at me
with his bright brown eyes. Feeling my crotch ticklish again, I
wanted to kiss his rather dry lips and probably make love with
him briefly in his seat but sex required much more energy than
what was barely left in my body. Ive always thought when I
was a kid of kissing and sexual intercourse, just like everybody
else, as the grossest thing, but it seems that our biological drives
would make it impossible to resist, no matter how the brain tries
to override. Love, no matter what form, is a socially acceptable
form of insanity that none would ever escape from. So I just
smiled and produced an enticing stare for him to get excited
with as a response. He then reached for the large camera sitting
on the backseat and aimed it at me. Come on, we still have a job
to do.
I cleansed my face of all traces of my melodramatic episode and started assuming the journalist aura once again. So<
its been a long time. So, our excursion in the facility didnt turn
out very well as what you have seen. Our chauffeur, Omar al
Mottaki, is dead. He was caught and killed by the rebels on our
way out of the village. With his help, we discovered some pretty
big things. Apparently, the rebels are planning to destroy the
world tomorrow, and I think theyre gonna release all two thousand nuclear bombs of Iran. Thats the apocalypse in simplest
terms. It also turned out that we have the launch codes of the
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All She Lost.

nukes. What a coincidence. Were now heading to the American


army base and hopefully, theyll listen to us and get all of this
shit over with, buy the world more time. I tried smiling, but it
was instantaneously dissolved by the feeling of hopelessness
eating my body whole. Chris confession of his emotions did
nothing to suppress it, and I still believed wholeheartedly that
we were not gonna escape this, that this is where we would die.
Okay, he said. Lets get the hell out of here.
Were not even halfway through the day, and yet more
shit has already descended upon us than most people on Earth
would likely encounter in their lifetimes. And that proved to be
another understatement with everything that was to come.

ANOTHER HOUR OF driving through the barren and almost


desolated lands of Iran was all it took to get out of the desert and
into the outskirts of Tehran. Chris drove at a speed he can manage with one hand on his still aching stomach. Civilization was
now apparent, and the vista reminded me more of a classic Iraqi
war movie setting brick houses, rusty billboard frames, chicken
pecking seeds, herds of goats walking around, and people just
standing along the side of the road. My fears of them suddenly
attacking the car didnt come true. The strong sunlight increased
the albedo effect of the ground, but our costumes made the glow
less irritating. Every few kilometers or so, a burnt American flag
hanged on some thin wire would remind us that we were despised in this country, and that anyone who dared to step their
foot on it would meet their certain death. I wondered where that
asshole blogger got himself into then, as well as the other American volunteers aboard the flight, and that Iranian family so anticipating their arrival in this hellhole.
I had my Handycam on top of the dashboard pointing at
the two of us. Realizing it was the best thing that I could do at
that moment, I went through some of the documents we scapg. 197

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venged back in the facility. Most were useless incomprehensible


fancy-written religious proclamations or something, but some
fueled my intrigue even more.
Look at this, I said. White House layout, Kremlin,
Chinese economics, British parliament organization, continuity
of government? What the hell are these people planning to do?
Theyre taking over the world, thats what, he said.
By destroying it first then they take the power? Theres
gonna be nothing left once they blow up those bombs.
Looks like they want to start anew, he said, and build
a new world from the rubble, a world they would rule.
Thats the craziest shit Ive ever heard in my life. I
mean, why would you change the world?
An hour ago, you were all let them blow up the fucking world and now<
No, I mean< could they rule the world by themselves?
They could hardly feed their own kind, let alone provide for ten
billion humans on Earth? I said.
Its corruption and income inequality, you know, rich
getting richer and poor getting poorer. And also all the obvious
shit porn, gambling, Wall Street, Bieber, One Direction. Basically the whole system is fucked, and the only way you could fix
that deep a problem is to reset everything and start fresh. And
dont say Im on their side now. Who knows, they might just be
lunatics who want to see the world burn.
You think the world is fucked?
I do, he said, looking at me. But this is not the way to
fix things.
A huge bump on the road made him lose his grip of the
wheels for a moment. I picked up the papers scattered on the
floor; an article on scientology caught his attention. Ive always
wondered the deal about that scientology stuff.
You dont know scientology? I said. Its the religion
of Ron Hubbard that audits people, you know to get them in a
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state of higher spiritual enlightenment, at a really high price.


Tom Cruise and Travolta, I think, are in that organization. Wait,
what in the world is this doing here? Based on Ron Hubbards
book on psychology called Dianetics, scientology is perhaps the
most controversial denomination there is, as well as the fastest
growing in the world, and the fact that Muslim jihadists such
other religion-intolerant people have interests in it was interesting. Perhaps they wanted to learn of Hubbards techniques on
persuading people to join his new religion and thus attract their
brethren to join their cause, or adopt scientologys basic dogmas
as their guiding principles for their new world. I remembered
Hubbard quoted as saying one has to lie to build religion, which
could mean that the rebels were fighting based on the lies of
some leader-figure among them.
Its not a lie, Chris said. Corruption, greed, all those
shit of the world arent a lie.
I started to get a little uncomfortable with his defenses
for the militias. Are you really with them?
Im just rebellious I guess. If I was with them, why
would they want to kill me? Besides, weve been together since
basically forever.
I didnt know you exist until five years ago, I said.
By the way, who came up with The Valiant?
I did, right after I got over the news stations rejection
of me. I made a Facebook group called the Rejected Journalists
of the World and Judd was the first to join. We chatted for a
while and then I introduced him to this brilliant idea of mine.
Dennis was the first one we recruited. You mean, youve been
with us for five years and you have no idea about that?
But Judd always says hes the one who came up with
the idea, he said.
He can say that to my ass.
Oh, Jesus Christ! Chris suddenly exclaimed, stepping
on the brakes until the car screeched to a halt. I turned to the
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road, and I screamed as I saw the most terrifying thing in my


life. On the electric poles made crosses on the side of the street
meters away, three men were left butchered and crucified. Their
arms and legs were severed from their torso, nailed to the poles
like meat on a market stall. Their bellies were cut open, their intestines hanging out of them and swaying with the wind. Their
faces, eyes and mouth were wide open, and their clothes bore a
green cross with a small Farsi inscription below. The base of the
poles drowned in rather bright red blood. On their heads, imitating the I.N.R.I. sign on Jesus cross, were Farsi writings that I
believed served a warning for us. The wind blew the horrible
stench right in my face. I kept on wailing and trembling. My
streak of having zero breakdowns was lost.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!
The blood is still very red, fresh, Chris said. The
rebels are not far. We must get out of here. Before he could put
his feet on the gas pedal, a group of young boys, maybe not even
past their tens or fifteens, emerged from a store near the electric
poles. They bore AK-47s and shotguns that perfectly matched
their rebel outfits. I couldnt see them clearly with my eyes
drowning in tears, but I heard them making fun of the corpses.
And after finishing a loaf of bread they probably stole from the
store, they started shooting the bodies, laughing as the dead
were reduced to shreds and bones. They fired at the passing
fighter jets as well. I couldnt handle it. I cuddled down my seat
and shivered violently.
Dont move, Chris said. Im gonna drive right past
them.
Get me out of here, please! I whispered, scared stiff on
my seat. The boys continued firing on the bodies. I could feel the
pressure waves of the bullets going around me as our car moved
right by them. And by chance, they didnt bother us at all.
Jesus, those kids< how could they do that? I said.
The militia forces, theyre recruiting everybody in the
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country like Omar said.


My head went into another maelstrom with the sight of
unadulterated violence. I have lost it. I repeatedly pounded my
head on the backrest and Chris caressed my back, but all that did
absolutely nothing. To make things worse, my throat suddenly
closed on me, triggered perhaps by that encounter. I couldnt
inhale a molecule of air, as if a ton of concrete was clogging my
windpipe. The deprivation quickly manifested itself my eyes
got blurry, my ears ringed in a scream, my whole body weakened. I couldnt speak and tell Chris of my impending catastrophe. I couldnt even lift my arms to him. The attack has never
bothered me in months, and it has returned with revenge. For
some reason, Chris wasnt noticing my twitches and apparent
signs of asthma attack. But with a hard push of air, I managed to
break through the barriers and restore my breathing.
Whoa, whoa, whats going on? Chris finally noticed.
Are you okay?
Asthma, I said. I almost got an attack.A short-lived
attack like that was a telltale sign that another exponentially severe one was on its way to destroy me anytime soon. The last
time I went through such an ordeal, I had my chest and my
windpipe cut open, through which a three-foot long tube connected to some breathing apparatus had to be lodged and
pushed in deep all the way to my lungs. The scar from that
nightmare marked my torso. With help thousands of miles away
on the other side of the world, the primary attack would definitely kill me, and I couldnt do anything to prevent it. The medics at the army base were my only hope.
I need to get there now.
Yeah, just hold on.

THE ROAD WENT straight, and judging from the cars scattered
and the mediocre buildings and houses packed along the road,
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we were in the suburbia of the city. Carnage was everywhere. I


could see four or so people in the place, but more dead corpses
populated the area. In a crane in a middle of an abandoned construction site, five people a family were hanged by their
necks in the long arm of the machine, their bodies swaying with
the wind. Flies feasting on death swarmed the place. The smell
was beyond unbearable.
Chris drove at half the speed than he previously managed, and he continued to show signs of agony over his injury.
Holly, Chris said, could you wrap my bandage tighter?
Does it still hurt?
A little.Apparently, it was more than that. I lifted his
garment and beheld a gush of red blood emanating from the still
fresh wound.
Shit, the bleedings not stopping. I wrapped more
bandage around his abdomen as he drove. He was noticeably
paler. I couldnt force him to drive faster like a demanding boss
as he was in a pain of his own. I didnt know the way either.
Helplessness overwhelmed me.
Are you sure were going the right way? I said.
Omar said just go straight on this road.
How far is it?
I dont know.
An intersection was ahead. Just let me drive.
Im okay. I can do this, he said.
You're losing much blood. You wont make it. You
need to lie down.
Im fine, alright! Just let me do this. He was starting to
be that guy again, the guy who thinks he knows everything. Its
not a particularly appealing quality of him.
I can do it, Chris. By the time we get to the base, youll
run out of blood. Youll go dark.
I cant risk it, he said. And I dont want you dragging
my ass around. That was another thing I couldnt believe he
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said to me.
What?!I was just trying to help! Now if your fucking
pride is too important for you to give up, just forget that I tried
to help you. I heard him sigh, a sign that he has sparked something he never wanted, which was the same thing I felt with it. I
perfectly understood why men wouldnt want women to drag
their helpless asses, but this situation called for no such pride.
Look, listen, he started his apology. I looked at him,
and before he could utter a word, a car smashed at us from his
side. The impact pushed the car to the right and brought it to a
stop. I felt my eyes being squished against my sockets, as did the
rest of my insides against my bones. The last thing I saw was
Chris face going right at me. For a moment, the weight of the
whole universe was on my shoulders.

HE WASNT MOVING, and his body paralyzed me in my seat.


The door on his side was crumpled, the windows totally shattered, the frame bent. The car was smoking, smelling of burning
tires and gasoline. Chris face was totally bleeding, almost bathing in blood, from the shards of glass that grazed and got lodged
in his flesh. I was in a sitting position against the side door, Chris
lying face-down right on top of me with his head on my tummy.
I tried moving him up, but his feet was stuck on the door. He
wasnt moving or breathing, seemingly dead. I slapped and
shook him, but nothing. Chris mustve absorbed all the force of
the collision, which I feared was enough to kill him. I reached for
his pulse, but nothing.
Help, please! Komakamkon! I yelled, not knowing who
was out there. I didnt really see the car that hit us in detail, but
it was white and didnt look like it belonged to the rebels. Komakamkon! It wasnt long until I realized my face was also
bleeding out. Blood was everywhere on me, on my mouth, my
nose, my eyes, my cheeks. Glass was on every single part of my
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face and my head, especially on the back. I smashed my head on


the window of the door, the point of impact colored with a splatter of blood. My vision started blurring again, and my heart
pumped real hard like in a cardiac arrest. I was fading.
Though my ears were ringing really loud, I could hear
footsteps approaching our wreck. A human figure was right outside, and I could hear his or her attempt to take out the door and
save us. My blurring eyes and the cracked windows blocked my
view of the good Samaritan, or maybe a rebel. I couldnt tell anymore.
Then, the Beethoven tone of my Smartphone rang, emanating from somewhere in the car. Someone was calling. It then
made some weird techno-sounds and, out of some mysticism,
automatically opened the line. No one prepared me on the voice
I was about to hear. It was rough, deep and croaky, almost monstrous. It was him.
I told you I will make you pay. You are making a huge
mistake. Many more will die because of you, Ms. Thompson, just
like your Iranian friend. Yes, I know where exactly you are, and I
know every single thing you are planning to do. You think you
have a chance to stop us? You cant. I will deploy the bombs. The
world will be cleaned of all its evil, the true traitors will be eliminated, and the righteous will prevail! Nothing can stop us, not
you. I will kill everyone who dares to stop me! I will kill you and
everyone you know, you hear me?! Im going to kill you all<
After the call, my senses got deactivated and I didnt
know what really happened afterwards. The last sensations I felt
were that of pain as my body was being pulled out of the car.
My eyes were totally blurred out, but I did hear something from
someone masculine.
Come on. Im gonna get you two out of here.

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Chapter

12.
WHERE DID YOU find them? a deep-voiced man said.
At the seventh street where we sent Dug, Ishmael, and
Jake, another man said, who sounded like the same one who
pulled us out of the car. I was looking for them when I crashed
to their car. They were really bleeding and I thought I might
have killed them so I brought them here.
You know we already have so much of my people and
our supplies are barely hanging on, let alone provide for these
two fools. We cant have more helpless people in here.
But I know them. I met them at the airport.
You know how I feel about Americans.
Come on, man. Not every one of us is like that, thats
why Im here, and them too.
How about our brothers? Did you find them?
I heard the rebels coming so I quickly turned back.
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And you left them for these two?


I think they can help us, Amir. Theyre journalists. And
dont worry, Im going back out there right now for them.
Make sure you find them. We cannot afford to lose other men. And deal with these two when they wake up.
The Amir guy already turned away when I managed to
open my eyes. As my vision gradually cleared from a cloud, I
immediately beheld a wide space, several concrete columns connecting the tiled floor to the corroded ceiling, the closed-shut
windows bearing an orange glow, and shadowy human figures
walking around and sitting by the columns. The hall was
sprawling with children, close to a hundred of them, their faces
marked with some kind of stain, most probably for identification. I found myself lying in a really hard metal bed barely big
enough for me to move around, beside other beds where kids on
life support lay sleeping. A long tube connected to a bag of fluid
penetrated my wrist. Chris wasnt anywhere near me, and as I
groaned and looked around for him, a pale freckled man came at
intimate distance to me.
Holly, he said. Its me, Matt. Remember me?
Where am I? I said, slight pain still drilling my head.
What happened< wheres Chris?
Hes right there, five beds away. Got pretty messed up
from the crash, but doctor says he just needs to sleep it up. Im
really sorry I crashed to you. I was looking for my friends.
What is this place?
Oh, this is the hospital I told you about in the airport
where some Americans worked as volunteers. We keep all kids
trapped in the streets and heal them. In his brown jacket was a
grey T-shirt pinned with a green cross and a Farsi inscription
below, which I thought was the insignia of the hospital.
His face remained alien to me until the pain subsided.
Youre< the prick, right?
He smiled. I would say that to myself sometimes.
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What happened to your hair? It was now all black and


messed up, far from the smooth blonde one I remembered.
Amir said I had to blend in or the Iranians are gonna
kill me. For some reason were despised in this country, though
were the ones getting them out of this mess. I could see Im not
just the one who had the same idea of blending in.
I have to tell you something, I said. I know why they
hate us. The Iranians think we killed their president. And the
rebels, they have the nuclear bombs. They are going to kill everyone, the whole world!
Thats crazy.
We need to Shockwaves from a couple of really loud
explosions interrupted me, which rocked the entire building and
made the children embrace each other, helpless against the fury
of the war.
The bombings are getting worse. Just stay here, our
doctors are gonna take care of you. I have to find my friends or
Amirs gonna kill me.
Are you crazy? I said, pulling his arm. Youre gonna
get killed out there!
Ive been in crazier shit worse than this. What could
possibly go wrong? he said. Well talk later about what you
saw. Everythings gonna be alright.He then grabbed his camera
and ran straight to the wooden door on the far side of the room.
On one of the beds near the exit, I glimpsed on a heavilybandaged pale face, which was definitely Chris on account of
the tall nose and the brown jacket. My Handycam lay on a small
table beside me, the crack now propagated on the casing itself. It
turned on nonetheless, and I stared through the cracked viewfinder at my fucked up face battered by non-stop violence and
carnage. A couple of long reddish scrapes ran their courses all
over my face, and my eyes have never looked so shrunken and
dry. The lines of my face and the edges of my skull nightmares
of women of all ages have never been so pronounced. Several
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times in the few hours of this day alone that I have stared death
in the face and have welcomed it as my fate, but there I was lying in some hospital, still struck by the miracle that I was still
alive. Its an achievement worthy of a laugh, but it was barely
the end, and I knew its only a matter of time before death would
get me, and so would the rest of the world.
I have probably rested for a considerable amount of time
that I could already get myself up. The map, the targets, a few of
the bomb blueprints, the Smartphone and the bottle of four remaining asthma-preventing green pills rested well in my pockets. The satellite phone was reduced to its chips, wires and casing, crushed from the accident. Matt apparently left the rest of
our stuff in the wreck, thus leaving us with no contact to home, a
dead Iranian guide, a depleting supply of medicine, no food, no
clothing, and a few pieces of paper that might save the world
from obliteration. Were truly on our own, but I guess weve always been since we got here. The images of home, my parents
and sisters, all the violence, and the thought that I have brought
this upon myself all flashed in my eyes. There was no more
logical thing to do at that time of hopelessness but to cry.
Sitting on the bed, I did another video diary in hopes
that through words, this feeling of regret and despair would let
go of me. I< I shouldnt be here < If I just turned back in the
airport, I wouldve avoided all of this shit in my head. But how
could I know? I swear to God, if I could come back home, Ill<
never do this fucking news thing again. Ill never lie again, Im
gonna be better. Just< please God. Let me go home. That was
actually hard for me to say, with journalism as much of a passion for me as having a child. I used to say back in high school
that if I wasn't in the news industry, Id rather be a prostitute.
But if giving up this job would mean me getting back home, I
wont think twice. The world is a terrible place.
And that was further proven as the wooden door suddenly popped open and a bloody man carrying another bloody
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child rushed through. The man was wailing desperately for help.
The doctors placed the kid to a bed near Chris but I could see
the childs poor face, crying helplessly with tears and blood
drowning it. The father kneeled and gripped the kids arms tight
as the doctors and nurses fixed him. His stomach and left shoulder was being dug with long metal tongs and scissors, every single one bringing intense pain to the child. The doctors then
pulled a cube the size of a hand out of his guts. It was probably
too much that just in a snap, the child stopped screaming and his
head just collapsed. The father shook him, and after moments of
non-responsiveness, he punched one of the doctors and went
amok, tossing everything around him and shouting the kids
name and pleads to Allah. It fed the despair and hopelessness in
me even more.
Please< I said. Please. Let me go home.
A kids laughter went through my ears before I could
finish. On the bed beside mine, a little girl chubby and roundfaced and by all definition cute as hell was smiling and giggling at me. The mark on her face, a thin cross, messed with her
cuteness a bit. She wore a loose Barbie shirt and a long loose
skirt. She saw me talking and making sad faces to a video camera, which come to think of it was actually hilarious in her perspective. The father was gone. I laughed with her.
Whats your name? I said, until I remembered I was in
Iran. I mean, esmeshomachist?
Aliya, she said, her voice also too cute to be true. I
fought the natural human tendency to squeal and pinch really
cute things, but if I could, I might have torn her face apart. As I
came near her, I saw no signs of repulsion.
Salaam aleikum, Aliya, I said, making all efforts to engage in a decent Iranian conversation.
Salaam aleikum! she immediately responded.
Esme man Holly hast. Azmolaghate shamkhoshvaghtam!
That meant nice to meet you.Chands alet hast? That meant
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how old are you?


Man sheesh saldaram.I thought asking a child of her age
was part of a normal first-encounter conversation, but I actually
had no idea about Farsi numbers. From the sound of it and on
her facial features, I guessed shes six years old.
Man az America hastam, I said, saying that I was from
America, a name I thought would make her uncomfortable of
me but she didnt mind at all. A kid would have no grasp of the
intricacy of world politics and international relations. At that
point, I completely ran out of Farsi. Seeing her interest, I let her
use the camera and marvel at how her face showed up on it. She
was using just her left hand, until she took off her bed sheet. Her
entire right arm was gone, and from the skirt it was obvious that
the right leg was too.
We found her four days ago on a side of a destroyed
building in the city, a female voice said, startling me. Her arm
and leg were blown off by bombs. We thought she never make
it. She is miracle of Allah. The stout dark-skinned and middleaged Iranian nurse then came and stroked the kids head. She
wore a white hospital gown with the small cross symbol that
showed off her fat curvatures.
Where are her parents? I said.
We only saw her mother. She was pregnant. When we
found Aliya, she was crying beside her mothers dead body. Her
head was crushed by a big rock.
Jesus Christ.
Shes been crying every day, she said. She didnt eat
or talk, no matter how we tell her. Its the first time I saw her
smile. Thank you, miss<
Holly, Holly Grace Thompson, I said, shaking my
hand with the nurse, Marishka. Aliya then reached for my hand,
kissed it and went to sleep again with my hand as her pillow. As
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born baby. She was proof that all good and innocence in the
world has not yet disappeared, and that theres still hope to save
whats left. She, and countless others here and somewhere in this
country, were precious jewels that needed to be saved from the
rocks of evil and violence that crushed their soul. And in my
pocket might just be the key to their and everybodys redemption. Is she gonna be alright?
Her right leg got infected from the bomb, she said,
lifting her skirt for me to see the bandage of her leg all red with
blood. Whats left of her limb has turned bluish and had portions
of yellow protrusions all over. She needs antibiotics every day
and were running out of supply. If she doesnt get any medicine, infection will kill her.
Im gonna take care of her.
How about you? You might still need care.
No, no, no. Thank you, but Im fine. Others need more
help than me. I sat on Aliyas bed, and as she saw me coming,
she pulled me down and we shared the bed together, her body
pressed against me and her arm around my neck. Our stares
were locked on each other, and I beheld her need; she needed
help to get out of here, she needed a home, and most importantly, she needed someone to take care of her.
Im gonna get you out of here, I said. Dont worry.
Youll be safe with me. Promise.

THE VENETIAN BLINDS of the windows failed to hide the


mess of papers and empty boxes of prescription drugs in his office, a small enclosed room at the edge of the hall. A man that
appeared to be Amir was making an inventory of the hospitals
remaining supply of medicine, and from the gestures of his
hands, it was apparent they were in big trouble. His hair was
rather long and wavy for a man, and his body almost twice as
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pital obvious. The smell of nicotine-laced smoke from his cigarette overwhelmed my nose.
I know where we could get more medicine, I said. He
immediately turned to me, and I stared at his dark, round and
crumpled face complemented with his darker lip.
Youre one of Americans Matt brought here, he said,
his diction almost laughable. He blew a big cloud of smoke before speaking.
Yes, and I thank you for helping us.
Slowly, he turned back. He shouldve left you where he
found you.
Excuse me?
We dont have enough medicine to take care of you and
your friend.
We dont need any more medicine
So what else I could help you with then, miss?
We need to get everyone out of here. The armys gonna
bomb the whole city soon. A full scale attack has been ordered
against the rebels. Its not safe here anymore. We need to bring
them to the airbase. Im sure they have plenty of medicine over
there. He didnt respond. Do you understand what Im saying
to you? Youre all gonna get killed if you stay here!
Why would I listen to you? he said, turning to me.
These children are gonna die if we dont get them out
of here!
You are one of them! Americans< you are the ones
who brought war upon my country, and to the whole world, and
now millions of my people have been killed because of your
kind.
What? The rebels are the killers of your people! Were
here to help! Right then, I realized he was among those brainwashed of the lies of those motherfuckers to justify their blind
crusade to destroy our country and the rest of the world. The
rebels are lying to you. We didnt kill your president. They did! I
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have proof. They killed him so they can have the whole nuclear
arsenal of Iran
Those rebels have been here for a long time, he said in
a rough voice. We survive everyday even with them, but ever
since the Americans came here, more people are dead! You are a
disease to the world!
Then why is Matt here? Why did you have an American to help you here?
He paused. He proved himself to be a friend.
So am I, I said. I want and I can to help you! These
kids, they dont deserve all this shit. We can save them.
Where are you saying we take them?
The army airbase. They have plenty of medicine for
everyone. They can protect us.
I already tried once, he said, his voice lower and calmer. They didnt let us in no matter how much we ask them.
They didnt care about us. They even tried to shoot us if we
didnt leave. They are monsters, all of them. All of you!
I have something that will change their minds. We have
the location of the nuclear bombs, and the launch codes to deploy them. This is really important. If Im a monster, I would have
left you all here to die.
Once again, he turned around and didnt respond. We
have to get out of here. By five, our Iranian guide said its gonna
get a lot worse out there. It was already 4:13.
Who is this Iranian guide youre saying?
Omar al Mottaki, I said. Hes been with us ever since
weve been here. But he was killed when we were escaping with
this map. The rebels killed him?
You know why I really hate Americans? he said, talking slowly and lowly. His emotions started to flow out of him.
A year ago, Obama ordered many drones to be sent here and
kill Taliban and al Qaeda living in Iran. Hes been doing that for
many years, even Bush before him. No Taliban or al Qaeda was
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living in our town, I know that. I remember I was coming home


from work. My son and my dear wife< they were on the front
door waiting for me. I saw them wave their hands at me. I
brought home a bag of chocolates. Then< a missile from a drone
hit our house. My son and my wife, they were dead. I loved
them most in the world<
No words I could say. Im
They killed my family! They killed my son! They killed
my wife! How could I believe you that they will help us?
We have to try.
No! You must get out of here, you and your friend!
Please, these children< I cant let them die
You think I cant take care of them? That I will let you
take my children to those monsters?! Theyre gonna kill them!
Please, we have no time! You are running out of resources. You have to trust me if you want to save all of them.
We dont need your help, he said, pushing me out of
the office. I can take care of my own people! Get out of our
country, you murderous monsters! The door almost broke apart
as it closed shut. Frustration was about to blow me to pieces. He
was acting insanely and unbelievably stupid, irresponsible and
irrational.
Amir! Listen to me!I said, repeatedly pounding the
thin metal door. You will kill them all! You will kill all of these
children, do you understand?! Please, you have to listen to me!
I was stopped by the deafening silence in the hall; all the children, the nurses and doctors stared at me with such frightened
and terrified gazes that pierced through my body, seemingly
understanding what I just said. Aliya too looked at me with my
camera from her bed, but she was smiling and waving her
hands. If only she knew what was coming of us. Anytime soon,
the whole city would be pulverized to dust, with it the poor
souls of these innocent children who had nothing to do with the
sick fantasy of whoever was behind all this. Theres nothing
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more devastating for a person to say to someone of their certain


death, that there was no hope for their salvation, that there was
nothing I could do for them.
Whats going on here? Matt appeared from the back.
Hes not listening to me, I said, grabbing his arm. We
have to get out of here now. The armys gonna pulverize this city
to dust. These children< we have to save them!
Slow down, Holly.
There is no time! We must get everyone to the airbase
right now.
We cant just do that, he said. If the army sees us,
theyll throw us straight to jail. And I heard they dont get along
with these people.
But theyre children! What, are we just gonna sit here
and let them be killed?
Calm down! he said, an expression I heard for countless times this day alone. Lets sit down and talk this thing
through, okay? Come on.
Chris remained asleep as we passed by his bed. When
we got back to my crib, Aliya pulled me to hers and she held my
waist as if her life was hanging on it. She was probably mistaking me for her mother, but I couldnt blame her. She must have
seen something in me that made her think I could provide her
with the love and caring and safety she deserved, and I wasnt
planning to fail her.
Shes really cute, isnt she? Matt said, smiling. You
know she didnt stop crying until you came.
She needed someone to look after her, I said.
Youre really thin, you know that? I knew he was on
an attempt to hit me, in another sense of that word. I never got
to know your whole name.
We dont have time for that shit.
Come on, I was just asking.
The lives of these kids are in danger, and youre gonna
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waste the time we have left to hit on me?


Alright, Im sorry. I didnt know youre too rigid, he
said. My rigidity was only a logical reaction to the threat of imminent annihilation were in. Anything otherwise would be a
sign of severe mental illness, like he probably has.
Did you find your friends? I said.
No. I looked everywhere and I called, but nothing.
I looked at the insignia on his shirt, and something came
up from deep in my memory. I saw three men wearing that
symbol earlier.
What?! Where?
I took the camera from Aliya, hit PLAYBACK and fast
forwarded all the way before the crash. We were going to the
airbase when we saw this.I believed those three men hanged on
the telephone poles were three of him. As he saw the violence
that came with our experience, he was as repelled as I was.
Jesus Christ! Oh my God.
Im sorry, I said.
I only knew those guys for a couple of hours, and now
theyre butchered like poultry meat. Man, fuck this country.
How could they do that? He didnt answer.
So, he said, putting down the camera, what did you
see out there? What the hell is this all about?
All of this is all about the nukes. The rebels are planning to deploy all two thousand warheads of Iran and destroy
the world. They killed the president to get access to these bombs,
and they probably have them positioned all over the country,
maybe even beyond.
Jesus, two thousand? Thats fucking nuts. And why
would the Iranians hate us if the rebels killed their president?
They published these papers that put the blame on us,
to make the people believe were evil, to justify their cause to
wipe us all out.
Why the hell would they do that?
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They hate everything that we are, the West. Its a long


story.
Then were doomed?
No. I have the launch codes right here, I said, handing
it over to him. That map shows the locations of the nuclear
warehouses. We went to one of those. These lines are the codes.
They wont be able to deploy those bombs without that thing.
Our guide said its the only copy.
How in the world did you get this?
David Price< said he stole that from a military contracting corporation, an American corporation.
But why would they have the launch codes of the nuclear bombs of Iran? he said. And why did he give it to you?
I have no fucking idea, I said, grabbing the precious
map from him. That man gave this map to Chris a few weeks
ago. Maybe he trusted us more to do the job thats why he gave
it to us. I hadnt thought about that, and indeed, why would an
American corporation possess the launch codes of the nuclear
arsenal of Iran? As my head started forming possibilities, their
implications made me uneasy. The only way they could have the
codes was that if the traitor conspired with the government of
this country, but the president was already dead before Price
gave the map to us. The man on the phone must be the conspirer; hes the one who wanted to take the map from me. But how
could he use the nukes if the rebels have the bombs? Not unless<
No, hes with the rebels, I said.
What?
Theres a man whos been calling me. American. I think
he owns the codes, the traitor. He works with the rebels! I think
he ordered the assassination of Rouhani.
Youre saying, he said, slowly, there is an American
traitor who wants to blow up the world? And hes behind all
this? He ordered the assassination, then he put the blame on
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America, I mean, it doesnt make any sense. Why would he do


that?
I dont know, but it doesnt matter now. We need to get
these kids out of here. The airbase is the only place they could be
safe but Amirs not listening to me. You must convince him to go
right now.
I already did. He doesnt trust them. And even if I did
convince him to go, we only have two SUVs, barely enough for
twenty of us. Its too dangerous to come back and forth, let alone
go out there. And how are you sure they wont send you to jail?
Ill show this map to them. This should be enough for
them not to throw us away, I said. But these kids< how are
we gonna
No. No, heres what were gonna do. We take one of
the cars, go to the airbase and find my friend, just the two of us.
Well let him convince the general or someone to send help
here.
I felt energized. Great, lets go now!
I have to talk to Amir.
No, we have no time!And just as I said that, the sirens
blared all over the city once again, a sign of imminent doom for
all of us. The sirens. We must get out of here now!
He trusts me, he said. Ill reason with him so we
could work something out. Just stay here with her.
I grasped his arms tight. I thought you already talked
to him?
I did. Im just gonna get the keys.
Time has never been of the essence. Every single passing
second meant a chance lost at getting to the airbase alive. Outside, gunshots and explosions continued to roar from all over the
metropolis, which has never been as intense as before. The children cried as loud, and the nurses scrambled to calm them down.
It was a surrealistic nightmare. My whole body started to tremble and shiver from the fear. It overwhelmed my mind; I didnt
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know what to do. It was 4:20, and weve never been closer before
we all get trapped in the fury of this war. And all of a sudden,
the attack came once again. My throat closed shut and I was
choking. It felt like the whole world was strangling me. Tears
poured out of my eyes as I forced air into my lungs. And once
again, I managed to survive it. I knew the next one would definitely kill me if I didnt get out of here.
Aliya heard the loud breaths I made, showing her immense concern for me. I smiled, the expression I only knew that
would make her understand that Im fine, though Im far from it.
Im alright, my little one, I also said. Stay here, Im gonna go
get your uncle Chris. Okay? Dosetdaram. That meant, I love
you.
Dosetdaram, mader, she said. It melted me.
I grabbed the camera from the bed that was still playing
the recordings we made. The video was at before the intersection
where me and Chris had our latest relationship tear, and where
Matts car crashed to us. The camera was at the dashboard and it
clearly captured how Chris torso just flew to me, but glitches
from the video hid the rest of the crash. My bloody face was the
next thing I saw. I rewound the video to a random part to see if
the crash also ruined the rest of our footages, which would make
this entire situation even more fucking distressing. Our drive to
Omars apartment, Omar and Chris carrying my unconscious
body to another car in the middle of the city, inside the nuclear
facility, our escape from the facility everything seemed fine.
The video then showed Chris hitting the back of my
head with his gun back in the desert. I was instantly made unconscious, banging my head on the steering wheel. Right then, I
had no recollection of what transpired next. He grabbed the
wheel and stopped the car, the rebels right behind him. He got
out of the car with his arms up and shouted something in Farsi,
which I had no idea he knew of. One of the rebels approached
him, and after a long chatter, they shook hands.
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Holly? someone held my shoulders, startling the hell


out of me. It was Chris. Are you okay?
I< yeah. You?
I think Im good.
I looked again on the camera, but I unwittingly turned it
off. I was still collecting in my mind what I just saw.
Quite a day, huh? he said.
Yeah< quite a day.

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Chapter

13.
AS HE APOLOGIZED once again for his words and asked me
of our current whereabouts, I tried to dismiss in my head everything that I just saw, it being just too ridiculous and crazy to be
true. It might be that the carnage and blood I went through has
messed my perception that made me see an alternate reality. Ive
been working with him in the past five years, and neither in that
time span or in his prior history as far as Im aware of he had
any connections with people doing stuff that would make one
think hes a member of a cult congregation or something. He did
go to Libya, his only exposure to the Middle East before this
which ended tragically for his companion, but its like a thousand miles from this country, the language was different, and
those murderous rebels couldnt have been the ones who saved
him. All these arguments convinced me that I might be delusional.
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Aliya hugged me the whole time. That kid got quite


attached to you, Chris said, sitting on my bed. I didnt notice; I
held the camera tight and still tried to get over what I just saw.
Is everything okay? Talk to me, please. If this is about what I
said, Im real sorry okay. Im
No, no, no. Its okay, its just< I thought about asking
him what he really did to get away from the rebels back in the
warehouse, but it would ignite something that we had no time
for. We need to get these kids out of here. We have to take them
with us.
Are you crazy? There are like hundreds of these kids in
here. How on earth could we take them all?
No. We go to the airbase now, I said. Matts gonna
ask his friend at the army and were gonna come back for them
with the whole army.
Who the hell is Matt?
The guy we met at the airport, he works here. He
pulled us out of that wreck. They have a car thats gonna take us
there. Hes in the office talking to his boss.
Did the headquarters call you? he said.
The satellite phones busted from the crash. All I got is
my stupid Smartphone.
Shit. Wheres all our stuff?
Theyre all left behind in the crash, I said. The map,
my Smartphone, my medicine, the camera, its all we got. You
think you can drive? Hows your gunshot wound? I reached for
his stomach to check on his wound, but he immediately pushed
my hand away.
Im fine, dont worry about me.
Dont start this again, goddamn it. Im tired of that shit
of yours.
No, no, no, Im sorry. Im fine really. Just dont worry
about me. He showed me the entry wound, still moist and rather fresh but no longer pouring with blood.
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We still need to get that bullet out.


Yeah. Hows your asthma?
Its getting worse, I said. It totally clogged my windpipe. I couldnt let any air in. Its never like this before.
Have you tried holding your breath?
My throats doing that for me. How about your feet?
Still numb on the lower thigh but never better, he said.
Im sorry for everything I did. Im sorry for bringing you here.
Its not your fault.
Dont worry. I promise its all gonna be worth it. Im
just gonna go look around, okay?
I faced the young one, still smiling at me. Aliya, were
gonna get out of here. Everythings gonna be okay now, alright?
Its gonna be okay. I hugged her tight, feeling a little bit weird
with her torn appendage. For some reason, her breathing was
effortful and rugged, like her throat was filled with rocks. I
could feel her ribs growing out, signs of her weakening body
and need for immediate care. Down on her blanket was a red
stain of blood; her torn leg was bleeding.
Another series of explosions shook the building, and
with the sonic booms of fighter jets sprawling the skies, it was no
doubt the situation has turned for the worse, as every second of
this day has been. Screams emanated from all over the hall. I
stood and peeked through a small hole on a window near us. It
was a fucking mess; the entire city was incinerating, so much in
fact that I truly doubted we would survive that cruise through
hell. But I didnt have a choice.
Holly! Holly! Matt shouted as he came running toward us. Lets go! Lets go! Come on!
Did he say yes? I said.
Lets just get out of here, he said, his expression suggesting of hostility in his negotiation. Where is Chris?
I dont< Chris! I screamed. Where the fuck are you?
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et. What the hell are you doing? Lets go!


I grabbed the camera and Aliya and walked quickly as I
could to the door; Matt offered to help Chris walk, which he refused as per the norm. As they saw me walking away with one
of them, the other children started wailing and reaching for me,
begging to take them with us. They couldnt stand with their
messed-up bodies; it was beyond heartbreaking, but I could do
no more than ignore their desperate call for help. I could feel the
warmth of Aliyas blood on my feet. It was already 4:32. Our
distance to the airbase was uncertain, and with the time we
wasted, as with our chances of getting to the airbase alive.
Where are you taking her? Mariska came to me.
The airbase, I said. Shes getting sicker by the minute.
She needs help now. Come with us!
Take this, she said, handing over a half-emptied bottle
of antibiotics.
Thank you. Please, come with us!
I cannot leave these children. Go now!
Come on, Holly! Matt pulled me to the door.
Promise, I will come back for you.
Before I could reach the wooden door, Amir shouted at
us from the door of his office. On his hands was a shotgun. You
are not taking my child away! he said.
Matt rushed in front of us, as Chris embraced me and
the young child. Whoa, whoa. Put the gun down Amir, please,
he said. The gun was aimed, locked and loaded straight at us.
Who do you think you are, American? You think you
can just take my people away?
She needs help, cant you see that?! I said. Shes gonna die if she stays here!
And you think theyre not gonna kill her? he said, the
gun shaking on his hand. They killed my family! And they are
going to kill all of us!
Come on, you know Im your friend right? How many
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times do I have to tell you, we are here to help your people!


Matt said, slowly walking to Amir with his hands raised. Were
here to help you. As soon as we get to the airbase, we will come
back with help for everyone. Please, Amir!
Oh my God, shes bleeding really bad! I said, showing
to him the girls torn appendage. Splatters of thick red blood
stained the floor below me. Her wound smelled rotten. Every
passing moment exponentially decreased our chances for survival, and his unreasonable crazy fucking mind was just making
things a lot worse. Please, let us go! I beg you, for her sake,
please! Please! I was pouring my heart out to him, but he didnt
let go of his aim, the thought that he would kill a child the very
thing they have been fighting for not even passing in his mind.
You are not taking her away, Amir said, slowly and
deeply. Id rather let my people die than be on the hands of
monsters!
Youre the fucking monster! Before I realized it, Matt
threw a bottle of water at Amirs face, which made him fire the
gun, obliterating the light bulb above them. Everybody shrieked
in shock; Chris and I covered Aliya from harm. Despite the sheer
size of Amir, Matt managed to take the man down, landed on
top and tried to take the gun from him. A couple of blows to
Amirs face made him let go of the gun, but Amir retaliated with
a hard blow to his face. Just as quickly, he got on top of Matt and
punched his head several times, until Chris grabbed the shotgun
and pointed it on his back. Amir was stopped.
You let us go, now! he shouted and pulled Matt out of
his reach. Matt bled heavily from his nose and mouth; I saw a
couple of his teeth got blown off. His daze was apparent.
You Americans, Amir said. After I help you this is
what you pay me, you evil people!
We really need to do this.
Are you okay, Matt? I said.
Do I look like Im fucking okay? he said.
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Come on! Chris said, the gun still on his hands.


No! Amir shouted effortfully as we opened the door.
He was crying. I was just trying to protect her. You must understand. The Americans cannot be trusted. Please, dont take
her away.
I cant let her die, I said. You must understand. I
promise, I will come back with help. Im going to save all of you.
Promise. I went straight out without realizing in my mind that I
would also put the very existence of the human race on the line,
something that I did when it was all too late.

WASTING NOT EVEN a millisecond, we rushed to one of the


tarp-covered SUVs, essentially an ambulance. I gave Chris my
camera to do his job. The hall was actually on the fourth floor of
the building, and stairs of the fire exit were the only access
down, with the main entrance blown to bits by mortars. The inaccessibility of the place though proving more of a pain to the
dying children was keeping them from being found by the
rebels. Chris showed continued struggle of the pain from his
wound with every step. My entire feet was all wet with the
blood dripping from Aliyas leg, and the next time I looked at
her face, she has turned all pale and weak, with no strength to
even smile at me.
Just hold on my dear, I said, my voice echoing all over
the shaft of the fire exit.
How is she? Matt said.
Shes bleeding all over and shes really pale.
Do you know where the airbase is?
Yeah, we go straight at the road where you found us,
Chris said.
The air smelled of burnt matter and death, and each explosion and gunshot, regardless of apparent distance, produced
a shockwave that shook my body. As we got settled in the car, I
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injected Aliya with all the remaining antibiotics and reinforced


the bandage of her still-bleeding wound; she has lost pretty
much all the energy in her body, barely enough to make her
breathe. Chris kissed his lucky charm. Though it seemed we
were about to venture into the heart of evil from which no life
would escape, I was so pumped up from the pressure of Aliyas
safety and ours too. The hospital was the safest place in all of
Iran we could ever be in, but I have pledged the little ones safety and the whole of the worlds very existence as my responsibility. There was nothing I wanted more than to get the hell out of
this country, as manifested in my series of breakdowns early in
this assignment, but I went into something that would haunt me
until the ends of this planet. The traitor knew me, and he would
stop at nothing to have me killed. I had no choice.
Matt took the wheel, swiftly passing through rubble and
dead corpses on the road. I have Aliyas head on my lap as she
lay on the long cushion seat right behind the two men. Monstrous dark clouds ruled the sky; smoke clouds were rising everywhere. Not even a single soul was around. It felt as if monsters
were all around us, about to maul me any moment then, so I lay
my head atop Aliyas. Its gonna be okay, its gonna be okay, I
whispered.
Hey Matt, Chris said, thanks for saving us back there,
you know the crash and everything.
Oh, dont mention it, he said. I was actually the one
who crashed to your car. So, I guess Im sorry. I was looking for
my friends, three other volunteers from the hospital.
Did you find them?
Theyre dead, butchered by those fucking rebels.
Oh the< shit, Im sorry about that. Hows your nose?
Its fine, thank you. This is the intersection, right?
Just go straight to the left.
Amirs resistance to the help we offered him was boggling me hed rather let his people die than let us save them.
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Their history of Western intolerance couldnt have been the driving force, neither though understandable the fact that American drones killed his whole family. Life was what they sought to
protect, and letting it fade away just because of some personal
hatred would be the worst monstrosity. And considering that he
risked his own life and those he was working with just to save
children, the things he did to us must be justified by something
real. But then again, the rebels could have implanted their lies to
him.
Is everything alright, Holly? Chris said.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I said. Are we there yet?
Were back on the road, but I have no idea how far we
have to go.
Hey Matt, did Amir always hate Americans?
Ive only known him for a few hours, he said. He did
want me out of the hospital the moment I went in, but they badly needed volunteers so he had no choice.
Who killed his family anyway? Chris said.
American drones, Matt replied. Their town was a target for harboring Taliban insurgents. His family got caught in
the bombings.
Is that all he said why he hates Americans? I said.
The nurses told me that he thinks the army works with
the militia forces, and he saw them kill his people in the streets. I
thought that was bullshit.
But why would he let those kids die than let us help
them?
He doesnt trust Americans, but Amirs pretty old and
his brains all messed up.That was actually a good defense that
would eliminate the possibility of a conspiracy. And come to
think of it, its insanely stupid for the army to work with someone they wanted to kill in the first place. But nothing could have
prepared me for the truth.
Would you mind if I look at your pictures? Chris said.
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No, no, not at all. He handed over his dSLR to him


and my partner started clicking through the pictures and comparing his photographic prowess to his.
This ones from the airport right?
I stuck around in the airport for quite some time before
I went to the hospital. There were just so many things to capture.
But its terrifying back there.
I didnt see these military trucks when we went out.
Oh, those trucks? They suddenly came in and all these
armed men pulled every able-bodied men and children to the
trucks. I think they were rebels.
Let me see that, I said. We did see these trucks on our
way out, remember? The rebels threw the children into the
trucks like pieces of meat, and beat to death those who fought
back. Some of them, I remembered, were the ones who almost
crushed me to death, those naked and sweaty kids. They also
took the weakest ones, even the old guy I saw talking to himself.
Omar was right the rebels were building an army of their own
people to fight the war with them. They took everyone. Theyre
building an army. But why kids< these old people?
I looked at my wristwatch 5:13.
Do you have a telephone or something that can call the
States, man? Chris said.
No, I didnt bring any phone with me.
You mean you came here with no contact home? What
if you got into some severe shit? Whos gonna help you?
I think the government can trace my calls, he said,
and if I made just one call, theyre gonna send the FBI to hunt
my ass down. Besides, I dont have anyone to call.
What do you mean? I said.
Im all alone in life, Matt said. My mothers dead, my
fucking dad abandoned me when I was a child. Im living on my
own and this thing is all Ive got. I just want to do something
worthwhile in this life, and you came. Im gonna help you get
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through this. Were gonna save the world.


Damn right we will, Chris said.
Is this your first time overseas? I asked.
No, actually, he said. My first was in Sudan a couple
of years ago. I documented the horrible civil war there, I mean it
was chopped bodies here and there and shit. I stumbled on a
refugee camp, and you cant imagine the violence. Womens
breasts were cut out, arms and legs cut out, pregnant women<
Jesus, it was terrible. Why, is this your first time?
In my case, yeah. Chris already went to Libya.
You have no idea what I went through there, Chris
said, and the people I met.
What people? I said.
You know, the ones who saved me.
The video came back to me. You saw them today?
What? Theyre like thousands of miles away, he said,
speaking rather fast. How on earthwould I see them? Whats
wrong with you?
Nothing, never mind.
Hey, did you know there is a complex system of tunnels underneath this whole city? said Matt. If not for this war,
I wouldve blogged that shit instead.
Why? Is there treasure there or something? Chris said.
You never know. During the 1980s, the Iranians used
those tunnels to flank their enemies and get ammo and food for
their people. That would be History Channel material man.
Matt, are you sure your friend would let us in? Whats
his name by the way?
Sergeant Kevin Jacobs, he said. I was supposed to
sneak in to the airbase and hell let me in a cargo plane back to
the States. He expects me to come on Friday evening next
week.He really wanted me to blog some conspiracy about their
general and the Iranian president, but I dont know.
So I guess well just have to knock on their front door,
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said my partner. We were still on our horrible costumes, and it


might be that on first sight, the armys gonna blow our heads off.
Theyre not gonna shoot us, are they? I said.
I hope not, Chris said, but I think they wont, not unless they want to start a whole frenzy over our murder. That will
seriously fuck the military. I think they wont. I think.
Wait, there should also be some kind of launch key,
right? Matt said. You know to activate the nuclear briefcase
like in the movies.
Omar never told us that.
The rebels probably got them already, but they still
cant detonate the nuclear warheads without the launch codes,
said Chris.
Yeah, but just one more thing, how are we gonna make
them believe your map is real? Matt said. I mean, were just
three independent journalists with zero credibility and were
gonna show them the launch codes of the nuclear arsenal of
Iran.
This is very real, alright, I said. Why would the traitor call me for this map if this isnt real?
We cant just say that to them. I mean we got nothing to
back that up.
You got any better ideas?
Im just saying.
Lets just hope theyre not stupid enough.
And what are we gonna tell them if they ask us where
we got the map from? he added. Matt was right. We were just a
bunch of nobodies with absolutely nothing to show for the authenticity of this map, the map that decades of search by the
largest nations on Earth with all the technologies of the world
failed to find but a small band of journalists somehow managed
to have. And what indeed were we gonna tell them on how did
we get the map? If we told them it was stolen, we would avail
ourselves a free pass to an eternity in prison. And I brought all of
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us outside in the chasm of death, and risked not only our lives
but the very existence of every single human on this planet. I
didnt think this through; this plan would never work.
Oh shit, I said, my hands rubbing my face. Oh shit,
shit, shit, shit! This is all my fault! This is my<Oh my God!
Holly, calm down please, Chris reached for my hand.
Its all< its all fucked up! This is not gonna work! This
is all my fault!
No, no, Im sorry! Im sorry! Matt said. Fuck!
We gotta turn back! Were gonna get killed out here.
Shut up! This plan is going to work, okay? Chris said.
This is the best you could come up with. There is nothing better
we could possibly do. I need you to focus for us< for her.
I killed everyone!
No you did not. Were gonna save everybody. You hear
me? We are gonna save everybody.
Okay, I said. Okay.
Were all in this together, Holly, said Matt.
Its gonna be okay, Chris said. How many times did I
tell you that? Seriously, I lost count.
Its not funny, I said.
Are you guys in a relationship? Matt said, which was
also the last thing I wanted to hear at that very time. Sorry if I
ask, but Im just curious.
Maybe, but I dont know, Chris said, smiling. He then
faced me. Are we?
I was so tired that I just said whatever word came to my
mind first. No! Were not in anything right now. Just< focus on
the goddamn road, okay? They were both silenced, Chris more
so. His smile disappeared just as fast as he realized I was not in a
mood for bullshit, which I was. Moments of silence passed, that
is if the explosions outside wouldnt be counted, which turned
out to be boring as hell. Now I realize the value of small talks.
Im his girlfriend, I said, since a few hours ago. You
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know, Chris is such a pussy with things like this.


What? Look, she was the one who kept on sticking to
me, Chris said, and I knew this girl likes me, but I took things
slow. I didnt want to rush the magic.
Just shut up pussy.
Damn, Matt said.
I wasnt!
A faint but gradually intensifying hiss sound caught my
attention, something that I never heard before. Hey, shut up!
You two hear that?
Yeah, Matt said, theres definitely something hissing.He switched on a little orange light in the car. I froze and so
did the two men, my heart beating extremely loud and my body
enveloped by the fear that something was about to kill me.
Sounds like somethings coming this way, said Chris.
It sounded exponentially louder for every passing second, and it
seemed something was indeed coming our way. Matt kept the
pace of the car. I could barely see a thing with darkness already
taking its toll outside, but the curvature of Tehrans mountainous backdrop was still visible against the light blue sky. Rubble
filled the road we were in, laid against a block sprawling with
skyscrapers of inconsiderable height. We all stared at each other,
wondering what the sound was to bring us, until I noticed a
bright little light on the sky directly ahead.
Hey, what the It all happened very fast. A short lightning-fast beam of light pierced the road tens of meters away, and
pulverized the entire block to dust just as fast. The sound was
thunderous, almost bursting my eardrums to pieces. The shockwave just made a long crack to the windshield, but somehow
stunned every single muscle fiber in me. The car screeched to a
halt, pushing my insides against the front of my body. Aliya fell
from my hands and hit her destroyed leg on the floor of the car;
she screamed in severe pain. The seatbelts saved the two men
from flying out the windshield, but they were left in awe with
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what just happened. When I noticed all this, dust has already
swallowed the car.
Holy shit! Matt screamed as he threw the car in reverse
as fast as he could to escape the cloud of dust, and turned to the
first road he saw out of the road were in. The thunderous noise
of the collapsing buildings roared in my ears, like a prelude to a
nightmare, but it was immediately overwhelmed by the highpitched tone that tore the inside of my head. The pain was excruciating. I knew I screamed but I couldnt hear myself, neither
did Aliyas screams nor the curses the two men were shouting,
nothing but that painful tone and the faint echo of the chaos outside. Matt drove up to the cars breaking point as I looked after
Aliyas leg spilling with so much blood that I feared shed run
out of. It was horror right in my eyes. And as I regained my
hearing and cleared vision, it proved more so, more than anything I went through yet.
Motherfucking son of a bitch! screamed Chris, freaking the hell out in his seat. That was fucking close!
Is everybody alright? Matt said.
Were right in the middle of the crossfire, Chris said.
Were so fucking dead out here!
Where the hell is that airbase?!
I thought you both know! Matt said.
That road will go straight to the place, said Chris.
Holy shit, shes bleeding! I screamed. Shes bleeding
everywhere! Help me, please!
Put more bandage on her leg! Chris said. Holy fuck!
Aliya was screaming and flailing her heart out as I
wrapped her exposed insides with a big piece of my clothing,
with her blood squirting all over my hands. I did every means I
could think of to ease the extreme pain she was going through,
but none sufficed. The helicopters, rockets, explosions, gunshots
all the noise and commotion stirred my head to the point of
insanity, like the whole of the world was trying to get into me.
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My brain was in a total mess. I breathed so deep that my lungs


almost blew, shivered so hard that my bones almost broke, and
cried so much that I almost emptied my body of water. I was
deep in the fury of hell. I truly knew then that if this wouldnt
kill me, I dont know what would.
Please, please, please, please! Get me out of here, for
the love of God! I cried.
Which way are we gonna go?! Matt said.
I dont fucking know! Chris said. Just drive!
We have to stop here.
Are you fucking crazy?
Were gonna get fucking killed out here! You dont
even know the goddamn way! said Matt.
Holly, hand me that goddamn map! Chris said.
Its no fucking use! I said. The map was actually of the
entire country and not detailed enough to show the very streets
of Tehran.
Just give it to me!
Where the hell is that place?!
Im working on it, alright!
Another weird sound intensified, this time much closer
to ours. I braced for another devastating explosion, until the two
guys saw something on the sky right in front of us. A helicopter
was in a swirl, fire incinerating its tail and crawling all the way
to the cabin where a few soldiers hanged on for their lives. It
wasnt after Matt accelerated the car that I realized the aircraft
was heading for us.
Its coming for us. Its coming for us!I yelled to Matt,
the helicopter drawing even closer and coming in like an asteroid breaching the atmosphere.
Everybody, hold on tight!
What are you doing
Holy shit! Chris screamed as Matt revved the car right
to the ball of fire. The aircraft crashed to a building, the rotors
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and pieces of concrete flying everywhere and some hittingour


car, and then tumbled in a fiery inferno on the road, taking with
it those poor soldiers inside who have all died for nothing. It
barely missed us.
The two boys yelled all sorts of obscenities to release the
rush within them as I was left drained of all the energy I have.
Aliya stopped screaming and went non-responsive again; I
thought she was dead. My eyes bulged out and I froze in disbelief. She still has her pulse but I could barely feel it, and her
breathing was next to nigh. She wasnt dead, but she was definitely fading away fast.
Where the fuck is that airbase?! I yelled.
Im trying! Im trying, okay?! Chris said, scrambling to
pinpoint our whereabouts on the map. For some reason, he still
held it tight despite the impossibility of finding the road were in
on the map.
Shes dying, Chris! Shes dying!
I told you not to bring her in the first place.
What the hell was I supposed to do?!
Hey guys, look! Matt said, pointing to something that
I least expected to see but was the only thing I hoped to save us
at this very time of demise. For the first time in quite a long time,
my hopes actually went up. A military convoy!
Is it American? Chris said.
Im not sure.
Through the cracked windshield and a significant distance away from us, I saw a couple of big Humvees and military
personnel standing by. They were definitely American,otherwise
they would have been shooting at us by then. American.
Theyre American soldiers! I said, genuine happiness coursing
through me. Holy shit, thank goodness!I faced Aliya. Hold
on. Help is here. Youre gonna be okay, my child. Still, she
didnt respond.
As our driver honked at the soldiers like a maniac, the
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lights of their heavy-built weapons blinded him. I heard one of


the soldiers shout something, but the excitement deafened me.
At last, the end of this road of pain and agony which I thought
would last until the end of time was finally at arms reach, a
prize just waiting for me to grab and cherish forever. And suddenly, a bullet pierced the windshield and almost hit my poor
little one. I screamed, and the car was stopped.
Why the fuck are they shooting at us?! Chris said, his
head bent away from the soldiers sight.
Were not supposed to be here, remember? said Matt.
Out of pure desperation over Aliyas life, I reached for
the door and opened it, until Chris pulled my hand back. What
the fuck are you doing?! Theyre gonna shoot you if they see
you! he whispered in a deep stress.
Shes dying Chris, and help is right there!
Theyre gonna kill us!
But you said they wont!
You are entering a restricted area! a man shouted over
a megaphone. Turn around or we will shoot you! You have ten
seconds to comply!
Oh, shit, shit, shit! Theyre gonna kill us! What are we
gonna do?! I said.
We must show ourselves to them, Matt said, apparently shaking from fear. We have no choice.
What if they shoot us?!
No, we go out slowly, arms up high.
Five seconds!
Alright, alright! Were getting out! Matt screamed.
Icovered Aliya with the window curtains of the car, and went
out as told so. She was rather light for her chubby built, perhaps
because much of her mass has already been torn off of her. The
two had their hands behind their heads and slowly moved away
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from. I counted seven of them. The headlights turned everything


in the alley light orange.
Please do not shoot us. We are American citizens! We
need help!
What are you doing here? the soldier said. American
civilians are banned in this country!
HQ, we got a code three niner delta, another soldier
said on a large phone. I repeat code three ninerdelta. We got
American civilians here, please advise.
We are journalists! Chris said, the camera dangling on
his legs. We need your help! We have an intelthat can help win
this war!
What the hell are you talking about?!
I see her, copy that.
We have a child! I screamed, Aliya lying unconscious
on my hands. I slowly walked toward the soldiers. She needs
help right away! Please! Help us!
Dont move any fucking closer! the soldiers shouted,
theguns of the infantry aimed straight at me. We will shoot
you!
Please! Shes dying!
Holly, slow down!
I went on. Shes gonna die! Please, I beg you! Help us!
Stop moving! We will shoot you! We will shoot you!
Holly, stop goddamn it!
Stop moving! We will fucking shoot!
Holly!
Please, help us!
Copy that, target acquired.
Stop moving!
Goddamn it, stop!
Stop moving! We will shoot you!
No, please dont!
Shoot her now!
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Their noises did nothing to stop me, but it seemed at


some point that my unconscious was taking over my body. I
could see the barrels of their guns aimed right at me, and my
normal response at such a sight would be to run away flailing
around. But the drive to save my little girl was too strong. I
promised her life and safety, and in no way I would break that
responsibility. I continued to walk towards the soldiers, Aliya
right in my hands, still unconscious, desperately waiting for
someone to offer a helping hand.
And suddenly, one of the men fired their weapons at
me. I was startled, awakened from that altered state. I felt a sudden concentrated push in my midsection, but not a pierce in my
skin, otherwise, I wouldnt have stood for that long. I wasnt
shot, but I definitely felt that the bullet went through me.
Until I looked at Aliya<

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Chapter

14.
IT FELT LIKE the longest continuous stretch of time when everything in the universe seemed to freeze in its tracks as I stared
at the young girl laying on my arms to whom I promised to save
and look after, a promise that I risked my life and the very existence of mankind for. For most, if not all, of my life, I guess I only cared about myself I went to journalism school, disobeying
my parents, to pursue what I thought was best for myself. I
hated waking up every goddamn minute to tender my baby sister. I lied to my parents, my parents who looked after me for all
of these years, just to do my stupid fantasies, which turned out
to be the single worst decision I ever and perhaps would ever
make in my life. That was me, until I met her. It was with her
that I first felt that motherly bond every woman long to have. It
seemed that I just lost my own daughter.
What the fuck!? You shot her!
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Cease fire! Cease fire!


Motherfuckers!You sons of bitches!
Stop moving! Stop moving!
She felt a little bit heavier, her hands and feet dangled
freely from her. Her face was completely calm and collected, as if
she was just sleeping, but the back of her head was blown open.
The bullet went straight through her head. Pieces of her brain
scattered all over the road, and her blood gushed out like water
out of a drain. She was dead. The child whose life I was responsible for with everything I was, dead. The child who depended
on me for her life and safety, I failed. Whats worse, I myself and
no one else brought it to her. It was the single most devastating
thing that has and probably would ever happen to me. I
screamed in complete despair, laying her corpse on the ground.
The men exchanged screams but I didnt really notice, as I was
still overwhelmed with what has become of my little girl.
Stay where you are! one of the soldiers shouted.
How could you kill a child, you fucking bastards?!
She didnt do anything!
You two shut the fuck up!
Matt moved aggressively to the soldiers, his voice bursting with pure rage. She was a just a child, you motherfucker!
You< fucking shits!
Dont go any closer! This is your last warning!
What the fuck are you gonna do? Go ahead! Fucking
shoot me, you motherfuckers! Matt screamed in rage.
Matt, please dont! Chris said.
We got another stray, please advise.
How could you kill her?! She was just a little kid.
Matt!
Copy that, target engage.
Dont do it!
Another gunshot reverberated near me, and as I looked
down the road, Matts body collapsed and fell hard on the road
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like a toppled domino, the spray of his blood populating the air.
The devastation could not possibly get any more worse.
Matt! Chris screamed, kneeling on the road. Goddamn it, why did you do that?! What the hell did he do? Why
did you fucking kill him?!
Targets acquired. I repeat, targets acquired. We are a go
for delta extraction.
The soldiers moved in. Dont move! Dont move!
As they dragged my partner to their cars, all while fighting through his thrashes and flails, I was left a prisoner of the
idea that I brought upon them their death, that this was all my
fault, a result of my stupidity and assumption that I could already make decisions of my own. I moved beyond the line,
which provoked the soldiers to fire, which in turn angered the
hell out of Matt, which again provoked the soldiers to fire. Had I
not come in this country in the first place in pursuit of some illusory glory craved by my selfish desires, the blood of three innocent human beings, and for sure even more to follow, wouldnt
have been on my hands. The ringing returned, and as Aliyas
blood, warm and thick, made its way to my legs and feet, I trembled and shrieked in pure horror. I killed them. I killed them.
The traitor was right. I was the harbinger of death.
The soldiers cuffed and threw me on the back of one of
the Humvees with Chris, who laid flat on the floor, his arms tied
up tight. We were still on our costumes. All of my screams were
unfruitful. The rectangular cabin was separated from the drivers
with a mesh wire and the door fabricated from hard steel. A tiny
red bulb and the orange lights from the street piercing through
the windows and holes of the car provided illumination.
Im sorry, I said, tears pouring out of me. Im so sorry. I did all of this. This is all my fault.
No, he said. You dont have to be.
I killed them, Chris. I killed them!
No you didnt! Dont ever say that again. Stop blaming
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yourself for everything! You just did what needs to be done.


You know what, youre right. Its not my fault. Something sparked in me, a realization. You did this< you did this!
I was too overwhelmed with grief that I felt the urge to pounce
and reach for his face to claw his eyes out, if not for my cuffs. I
wanted to kick the hell out of him, make him pay for what he
has done to me and to those who lost their lives because of him.
If not for that fucking map he brought, I would have never met
them and they would have been alive. This is all your fault!
This is all your fucking fault!
Please, just calm down please.
I couldnt control it. I wailed until my veins tore apart.
Theyre fucking dead, Chris. You fucking killed them! He was
silenced, looking away, perhaps finally realizing to himself the
magnitude of what he did and the lives he took. The roar of the
engine and the echoes of war outside were loud, but the silence
between us proved louder. He was no doubt responsible for this
mess; he did bring the map to me and persuaded me to follow it.
But in the end, he wasnt. I held her in my arms, in my care. But
still she slipped away, right in my arms where she should have
been safe. It was me. Chris only did his job. I had the final word
on our actions, in fact the final word on going to this country. It
was clearly my fault. If I didnt come here in the first place, my
little daughter would have survived.
It wasnt you, Chris, I said.
No, I shouldnt have brought you to this.
No, I did this to her. Aliya< I promised on my life that
I would take care of her, I said, that she would have the love
and protection her mother would have given her. And I brought
her here, and Matt and Omar, I brought them all here.Now,
theyre dead. Theyre fucking dead!
Please you have to calm down.
I shouldn't have come here. If I just turned back, she
would still be alive. They would all still be alive! I was totally
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freaking out. My face drowned with tears, my chest at the verge


of exploding, my head burning with blood rushing all over it. I
bashed my head repeatedly against the metal cabin as partial
justice for my little daughter, but the only thing to match the evil
Ive done was to give up my life altogether.
Its not you, okay.
Oh God! Please forgive me!
Holly! Listen to me! he said. You cant do anything
about that! Theyre gone! But were still here. Pull your shit together, alright? I need you. We can still make it through this.
How? I said, looking at him dead in the eye. Please,
tell me. How?! How are we gonna get through this?
He was silent for a while. I dont know. I dont know.
But just trust me. We made it this far. And Im not letting them
hurt you. Im here for you, you hear me?
The devastation prevented any degree of comfort in me.
Flashes of Aliyas blown head and brain stormed my mind like
in a surrealistic nightmare. But I killed them! The traitor< he
said many are gonna die because of me.
Wait, shut up! Shut up! Pushing himself against the
side of the cabin, Chris heard the soldiers talking to each other.
They were faint, but some sentences were comprehensible.
Yes, sir, said a deep-voiced man perhaps in his forties,
apparently over a phone. The subjects are in custody. Yes, a
man and a woman, the journalists. Two strays eliminated.
Motherfuckers, Chris whispered. From the sound of it,
Matt and Aliya seemed to be nothing but expendables, lives excluded from their protection.
Roger that. Are we still gonna move them to that location, sir?
Where are they taking us? I said.
Shut up! I dont know.
Copy that,moving cargo to base now. ETA, ten mikes.
Come on boys, lets get this shit on the road. Lets go!
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Where are they taking us? I said. Where are you taking us?! Please!
As the soldiers embarked the vehicles, Chris rushed to
the end of the cabin and screamed at them the intel we possessed
and wanted to share, the intel that would definitely put an end
to this war and curb the imminent annihilation of this planet.
Perhaps because it was too farfetched of a claim, the soldiers
shut him off.
Where are you taking us?! he said.
To your worst fucking nightmares, one of the soldiers
said, then laughed their asses off and shut the door. For once, I
thought things, after an endless array of carnage and tragedy,
would finally go for the better. Everything in the universe has a
natural tendency to balance itself, and over the long run there
exists no hot streaks. Every possibility has an equal chance of
occurring over long enough time frames. So in theory, all of this
shit must have run its course already. How was I wrong. Im like
cursed or something, carrier of a virus that immediately kills
every single person I knew or even came across with. They were
my last hope of salvation and they failed me. My plan was destined for damnation since the very start, and ultimately cost
three lives so far then. The camera lay on the floor; the vehicles
finally moved.
Holy shit< holy shit, I said, my head in a state of complete delirium. What the hell are we gonna do? What are we
gonna do? With so much death in my mind, my head was in
oblivion, hitting a dead end from which no thought of ways to
get out of here could be made. I literally had no idea what I was
gonna do, nor the capacity to assure myself that everything was
gonna be okay. Its fucking not.
Why, you dont have a plan B? Chris said. Look, they
are gonna take us to the airbase. Most likely, theyre gonna interrogate us and well tell everything to them.
Theyre not gonna believe us, I said.
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You got any better idea? We have no choice. Look, everythings gonna be okay.
Dont tell me that! Its not and it will never be, okay?
Everybodys fucking dead because of me.
Were not arguing about that again, he said. Whats
important is we are still alive, and we can still have a shot for
dear life, you hear me?
I fucking hate this place.
It couldnt get any worse.
And suddenly, the Smartphone sang its Beethoven tune
again. I threw it to the floor like it was the most sickening insect
in existence. It could only be the traitor, out to haunt my already
messed-up life with his extremely disturbing voice and threats
again. Those weird techno sounds returned, then I heard a voice,
a funny-sounding British voice. I immediately grabbed the
phone, ecstatic on the sound of salvation.
Judd! Thank God. Please, you have to help us. The armys taking us to the airbase, and I dont know if
Please forgive me, he said. He was crying.
What? Whats going on?
I did this to you. I lied to you. He lied to you.
What are you talking about?
They were going to kill my family if I didnt bring you
there. Im so sorry.
I dont have time for bullshit Judd. We
Neither do I, a croaky voice said. Then, a gunshot
roared from the phone, deafening and painful. Somebody shot
him. My whole body went on another overdrive.
Judd? Judd! Judd!
Hes no longer here, Ms. Thompson, another voice
said, the sound of which made me freeze in space and time. It
was him.
What did you do?
Just what he deserved.
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You< you fucking monster! You fucking monster!


He laughed, expressing his dominion to me. You dont
understand, do you? The world needs to change. Civilization
needs a radical revolution. And I am the instrument of that.
Then what do you want from me?! I cried.
You know what I want from you.
If you want this fucking map, why dont you come here
and get it, motherfucker?! Why do you have to kill him?
I like to see you pay for what you did, he said. This
brave new world will not allow defiance from anyone.
Holly! a womans voice said, terrified and trembling.
Maggie? Is that you? I said.
What the hell is happening? said Chris.
Hes here, your guy. Help us, please! I dont want to
die. IAnother gunshot roared. It took my breath away. I heard
loud desperate cries in the background.
Please! Dont kill them! Dont kill them!
We are going to kill every single person you know.
Please, stop! I beg you< I said, pleading my heart out.
For the love of God, Ill give whatever you want!
Too late for that. And as I heard the barrage of gunshots raining down on my beloved staff, and their loud and
helpless cries of death, I screamed as loud as I could. My cry was
at the end of the threshold of what I could handle. I was hearing
them die, my friends with whom I shared some cherished memories and golden opportunities. I was hearing the moment when
once animate things become but lumps of rotting meat. Their
cries dug deep all the way to my subconscious. My head was
about to blow.
Theyre dead, the man said. Right now, I want you to
know something< you killed them, Ms. Thompson.
You fucking son of a bitch! You monster! You fucking
monster! Burn in hell, you fuck!
You and your team conspired against me. Dont you
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understand? I am here to save the world, bring about a radical


change for a better mankind! And you want to stop me? Who is
the real monster now?
You are going to kill millions of people!
Billions, Ms. Thompson, he said. Billions of innocent
God-fearing hypocrites. Consider it a reset. The foundations of a
new society cant be built on top of an existing one. From the
rubble, a utopia will rise, free from all evils and the true traitors
who bathe in the illusion that they own the world.
Your fucking insane, I said, a severe understatement
for his diabolical plan. In fact no word exists apt enough to describe what he was planning to do. Youre gonna burn in hell!
They tell the same thing to the greatest patriots in history. Victory is never without sacrifice. Now, if youll excuse us,
were gonna go kill your whole family. Have a good night, Ms.
Thompson.
No! No, no, no! Dont do it! Please! Please! I yelled.
The call was cut. Air departed from my lungs as I realized what
Ive truly done, a lie that has just cost the life of my family. Chris
went on to kick the panel to the drivers seat.
You have to help us! Please! Let us out now!
It was too much, too much death and psychological
trauma for a person to handle. The entire staff, all 13 of them,
people I spent more of my days with than my family, were all
dead, their last cries buried deep in my mind. And now my parents. My throat closed shut on me again, the onset of what might
just be my ultimate demise. No matter how strong my push was
and how hard my gasps were, the constriction on my throat
wouldnt let any air in. I collapsed on the floor.
The panel opened. You shut the fuck up!
You have to let us explain. There is someone out there
who wants to kill us!
I said shut the fuck up or Im gonna shoot you!
Enemy contact!
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I could not breathe at all. Then, through the windshield,


I saw the first Humvee fly into the air, a ball of fire rising from
underneath it, and tumbling on its side several times. Our truck
screeched to a halt. The soldiers scrambled to retaliate and send
a distress call to the base, and drive the truck away from the
choke point. Bullets showered the car, only penetrating few parts
of the thick steel of the vehicle. The sound of death was everywhere. In front of us, the soldiers got shot down one by one.
Chris rushed to me and held me on a tight embrace, somehow
protecting one another from getting killed. All the possible manifestations of fear in a human being I was able to show, some
more so. I still couldnt breathe. Chris kept whispering in my ear
that annoying phrase everythings gonna be okay though
at that moment, it proved to be the only thing that anchored me
from completely losing my mind.
But we were overran; the Humvee was thrown to its
side, skidding several meters along the road. I fell hard on my
back to the rough side of the cabin with Chris on top of me. I still
couldnt breathe. He tried resuscitating me, but the added force
still couldnt get through the barrier to my lungs. I started to lose
my vision, getting blurry and foggy. I stiffened like concrete.
Signs of death started to materialize in me.
The next thing I knew, the door was being struck down
by a whole army of men outside. Their yell proved their absolute
horrifying intentions.
Dont worry< its okay, Chris said, his hands caressing my paralyzed face. Im gonna protect you, you hear me?
Holly! Im always here.
As the door was brought down, I felt Chris getting
dragged out of the car. I remember the single thing I thought
about at that moment in time the raw cruelty and violence of
the world, and the true fate of all men. To live in this planet is
the greatest mistake of all. There is no grand purpose, or some
transcendent reason why were put on this planet. Man is the
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swine of nature whose only purpose for this existence is to die to


provide the more deserving life on Earth with what they needed
to survive. Like pigs, nature provides us with an immense
amount of sustenance to make us big and fat for the earth to extract our juices for the more deserving life forms to take in when
we die. Man is so fucked. Life is a quest to stall that fate, and I
guess mine has finally come to its bitter end.
Hands dragged my suffocating body all the way to the
rough road. The endless barrage of gunshots and explosions in
the city were reduced to mere echoes. In my last moments of
consciousness at that moment, I remember several human figures surrounded me. Their murmurs were inaudible, but one
leaned to an intimate distance to me and whispered with a voice
I never thought I would hear again. It sounded crisp. I knew he
was dead, in fact I myself led him to that demise. It might be that
my dying brain was hallucinating, creating a reality of its own,
but it seemed too real.
Its really good to have you, Holly, he said.

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Chapter

15.
THE NEXT INSTANCE I opened my eyes, I found myself on a
room, rectangular and not bigger than a couple squared meters,
with a small chair on a corner. A flickering light hanged on the
ceiling, together with an immense amount of spider residue. The
rocky soil was paved with sand, the walls made from mud and
clay. My horrible disguise was stripped off of me. Iranian nighttime breeze chilled the room through a small window, too high
and too small for me to get through. Silence was as dead as the
night outside, and any noise was suppressed by the ring of my
ear. My partner was nowhere to be found. It took me a few
seconds to realize this due to the sheer ridiculousness of itI was
locked in prison. Neither screams, cries, yells nor did bashes to
the rusty door do anything to make my situation any better. I
was all alone.
It couldnt get any more fucked up for me, like all the
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shit of the world has condensed and formed a singularity from


which theres no possible way of escaping. Aliya, Matt, Omar,
Judd, my entire staff, Chris probably, my family and I all met
and would be meeting our deaths, the bloods of whom bathed
my hands. It was devastating. And that didnt include the fact
that Judd actually sent me here to save his family from certain
death, something which boggled my mind. Somehow, the traitor
knew some of the deepest facets of my life, which implied that
he specifically chose me out of the billions of people on earth to
fuck with. The stolen map might be the culprit, but we have been
planning this job for quite some time and Judd already persuaded me to take the assignment before Price gave it to us. This
meant that the traitor wanted me specifically to come to Iran, the
reason for which still at-large. It wasnt just for the map but
something else big and deep, something that nothing could ever
prepare me for.
No force in the universe could ever bring my salvation,
an idea that completely swallowed me. No words could describe
the grief and sorrow and pain brought by the fact that no one
would ever come for me, that Id be alone to suffer in my demise, that Id die without even tasting the fullness of the world,
and worst of all, that I would be bringing my family to the grave.
I did all this to them, no doubt about it. This was probably Gods
sentence for everything I did, for the lies and betrayals, for my
selfishness and crave for glory, for thinking I could decide for
myself. I killed my own family, the worst conceivable evil thereis. I learned in The Kite Runner that there is only one true sin in
the world, stealing. You lie, and you steal ones right for the
truth. You betray, and you steal ones trust. You kill, and you
steal ones life. I did all this to all of them.
The release of this grief, pure and raw, drained me with
every last bit of energy I have, and for some considerable
amount of time left me laying on the floor unconscious like a
traumatized girl raped by a gang of ten men. The cries of my
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staff reverberated from every corner of my head, twitching the


wirings of my brain in a searing pain. And when I returned from
that void, regaining my thoughts, I saw the camera pointing directly at my face, still recording. I reviewed the footage in hopes
of bringing to light where on earth I was, but the tumble on the
streets blurred the recording and messed the sound all up. The
fingers of my watch pointed at 8:39, which reminded me of my
severe respiratory disorder, something that should have killed
me already. My windpipe was clear as ever, almost unscathed
despite the repeated onslaughts of asthma. I genuinely believed
that I should be dead, but it turned out that the universe has
some other plans for me. I wish it hadnt. I wish it just let me die.
Pointing the lens close to my face and my back against
the mud wall, I made another video diary, which I thought was
the last one I was ever gonna make. I was more certain of my
death than ever before. And the logical thing to do at such a realization was to impart my final words, final pain, final pleads to
God, and final I-love-yous. Besides, I still have a job to do. The
storm of emotions ranging in me controlled every word I said. I
cried non-stop.
I< I dont know where I am right now, I said, shaking
tremendously. We were on our way to the airbase when those
motherfucking sons of bitches attacked our convoy. They killed
the soldiers, and put me in this cell. I cant find Chris. That fucking traitor killed my whole staff, shot them all remorselessly.
Hes a monster; he wants to destroy the whole world and kill
everyone to build a new world for him to rule. Hes fucking insane. He did all of this to me. Burn in hell! You fucking shit, burn
in hell!
I was then speaking on overdrive, driven by devastation.
Im sorry! Im sorry< I never wanted this to happen. Mom,
dad, Carmen, Jade, I love you! I love you, please believe me. Im
so sorry I lied to you. Im so sorry for everything I did to you all
these years. Please forgive me! I love you! I love you! Please bepg. 253

All She Lost.

lieve me. The images and sounds of death plagued my mind.


The faces of the deceased I was responsible for filled my eyes
like they were right in front of me. Im so sorry, Judd, Matt,
Omar, Aliya, Maggie, Jake< Jesus Christ, Im so sorry! God,
please, forgive me for what Ive done! Please, forgive me!
God, Im so scared< Im so scared. Im never doing
this again. Please God, just let me live! I promise you, I promise
you, I will be better< Ill never gonna lie again, Ill go to church
every day, and Ill praise your name! Im gonna love my family
more. I still want to help many people. Please, for the love of
God, someone help me! Please! Please! The lens of the camera
got soaked with tears, tears from the raw fear of imminent death
and realization that no matter how much I plead to the metaphysical intelligent being omnipotent over the entire cosmos,
nothing could ever save me from this demise. Nothing is perhaps more painful than those caused by the repercussions of
ones own decisions, that you yourself and no one else brought
this upon you you and you alone.
I exhibited the thanatological stages of grief, as what is
expected of dying people living their final moments on earth.
Ive always had a weird fascination for death, even though, evidently, I completely lose it on the sight of a severed arm. The
first stage brings denial, when the patient does not accept the
fact of death thinking its just a big mistake and that hes too
young or healthy to die. The second stage brings anger, when
death gets to the mind as an assured possibility and the patient
resents that out of the billions of people on earth, hes the one to
be cut off. The third stage brings bargaining, when the patient
start to make promises of bettering himself in exchange for a
longer stay. The fourth stage brings depression, when he realizes, like I just did, that no matter how much plead you make,
your destiny will always run its course. The fifth and final stage
brings about acceptance, when the patient gives it all up and just
waits for his ultimate end. This was exactly the plot of my story,
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and with the light at the end of the tunnel nonexistent in my


very case, I was nearing the end, if not already in it.
I am Holly Grace Thompson, lead journalist for The
Valiant, I said, wrapping up the diary. I cried as hard as ever,
for the end was nigh. Mom, dad< I love y
All of a sudden the light went out, eliciting a violent jolt
and loud scream from within me. The cell became as dark as the
abyss of empty space, an infinity of nothingness, a void that has
completely swallowed me. And as I turned on the light built on
the camera, the jail door creaked and opened, followed by the
sound of footsteps running away from my cell. Someone was out
there.
Hello? Please help me! I said, only to hear more of the
footsteps going away. Hesitant but with no other choice, I
walked slowly and meticulously through the recently-opened
door of opportunity, the shine of the light guiding my way. A
hallway, apparently hand-dug with the rough surfaces and
wooden support beams of the walls, ran perpendicular to my
cell with no discernible ends. I made another call for help, but
only echoes answered me. I went to the right. Every step bore a
risk of me falling to the unknown.
I managed a few steps into the hallway when I noticed
several other opened prison cell doors all the way to the end of
the path, confirming the whole place to be a rebel concentration
camp or something similarly horrifying. They were all emptied,
contents no better than mine. It reeked exponentially. The sand
was disturbed, looking rather fresh, which meant people other
than myself were incarcerated in the prison. Lines in the sand,
some with tiny specks of blood, going out of the cells implied
that my captors dragged the prisoners to be tortured or executed. I could hear my every single breath; my lungs were palpitating from all my shivers. It was the most terrifying walk of
my life.
Soon enough, a faint scream, more like a little girls, got
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to my ears, coming from several rooms away. It sounded more


of pain and agony. And when I pointed the light to the end of
the hallway, I saw someone peeking at me from the wall then
ran away.
Hello? I said, my voice squeaking. It couldnt get any
more frightening, but I walked to the end nonetheless. My trembles and shivers weakened my legs to the point that I almost fell
on my own weight. I couldnt say anything to the camera. I
might have prayed to God and all His apostles more than even
the most devout Catholic would ever make in his lifetime. At the
end, there was another dark hallway going to the left, leading to
a dim orange light to which I slowly walked.
Another hallway to the right, all illuminated by light
bulbs connected with electric wires, met me. I turned off the
light. Pieces of cloth painted with a black globe and stars alternated with the orange bulbs. Its stupid and insane, I realized: I
knew something bad and horrifying was waiting for me at end
of this path, perhaps a trap that would slice me in half or snakes
and scorpions that would poison me to death or those murderous bastards who would butcher me to sell my meat to a cannibal market. But for some reason, I just kept on going. I had no
other choice. That time, the screams grew in frequency with my
every step, some short and high-pitched, some long and undulating, but all of pain.
I tried to be stealthy with tactics I got from spy movies
and violent first-person shooter games just creeping along the
wall with my back bent, stiffening my body and legs, and holding my breath for as long as possible. The hallway led to a concrete stair that went up to another metal door. I peeked through
the railings of the door, radiance from dim incandescent lights
hanged on the ceiling coming in, and saw another hallway. The
walls and ceiling were concrete but inflicted of age paint was
peeling off, the walls cracked, grease all over it. Burnt stuff,
turned-over chairs, empty boxes and other garbage filled the
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All She Lost.

hallway. It looked like I was deep in a labyrinth with an eternity


to go before salvation. I saw no sign of the man who freed me.
The door could only be opened from the other side. I
reached for the lock but the window was too small even for my
puny appendage. I couldnt pull back my arm, leaving half of it
exposed. Then, I heard footsteps coming.
My heart went on overdrive as I squeezed my arm back.
The footsteps were getting louder. My skin stretched out to the
breaking point, painful, but I managed to pull the arm in just as
two men, in classic rebel rug uniform with AKs hanging on their
backs, appeared from the end of the hallway. My eyes were
bulging. The men came to the door and took the lock; they were
definitely ordered to come and get me. I could not be in any
more precarious position. I kept pushing my back against the
wall and suppressed any possible sound that might come out of
me. The rust of the door made a loud screech as one of them
pushed it open. And out of some miracle, it got stuck against the
floor and didnt make it all the way to me, otherwise Ill get
crushed and captured instantaneously. I was scared shitless. The
men passed right through and down the prison cells, and once
they did, I moved out.
Several times in this day alone that Ive had a brush with
death, and in all that time I managed to run away and live for
another moment. As I ran that way to salvation, some part of me
thought I was invincible, that I could cheat death every time,
that I would make it out alive. I actually felt a bit uplifted, but
that was complete bullshit. Death can only be cheated for so
long.
Instinct chose the path I took. I ran quietly and quickly,
the camera on my hands, weaving through all the garbage. The
narrow and dim hallways made me claustrophobic and dazed,
and the whole place seemed like a big maze, going all around
but actually going nowhere, but I kept on moving nonetheless. It
was only a matter of time before those two men find out of my
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escape and alert the entire battalion, at which time not even God
could save me. I passed a lot of doors and portraits of what appeared to be an Iranian hero, old and battle-scarred and heavilybearded, almost the face of bin Laden, hanged on the walls. Farsi
sentences and a hook letter written in blood were also all over,
giving that aura of a butcher house to the place.
I was still finding my way through the labyrinth when a
voice stopped me. Help! Please! it said, apparently of a man.
The voice was almost Chris but there was too much obstruction
for me to be sure. It seemed to be coming on the other side of the
wall I faced. I went through the nearest door I found, no apparent rebel presence whatsoever, and in the room filled with overturned tables and chairs, I didnt see anyone.
Theres no need to be afraid of, my friend, another
voice said, crisp and rather familiar, seemed to be coming directly from atop me. I got out of the room and up the stairs at the
end of the hallway. On the floor above, windows shining with
the rays of the evening Moon welcomed me; it turned out I was
underground. A door which looked like the exit was directly
ahead, but on the side was the room where I might have heard
the voices. With my legs and body stiffened, I moved closer and
peeked with the camera through the glass window as I squatted
out of sight. The crack in the glass was too small but I identified
six armed men stood on the corners; another, dressed not as
messy as the others, was talking to a guy strapped to a chair and
covered with a sack on the head. It was too dark for a clear view,
but the hostage wore a dark-blue shirt with the Paramount insignia.
Youve been reunited with us, the man said, your
true family. I couldnt see his face, so I couldnt confirm the familiarity of the voice. He removed the sack from the hostage,
who I still failed to see with the darkness and the small field of
vision. I heard every word they said, but their voices sounded
somehow distorted for some reason.
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Ive been looking all over for you. I knew youll come
for me, the hostage said, who was apparently happy notwithstanding his dire situation.
We never left, the other said.Were always there to
tend our brothers fighting for our grand cause. Take off his restraints right now. You have injured one of our brothers.
No, its fine. Where is the imam?
Hes dealing with the American. I think he knows
were the ones shooting down his helicopters. Hes growing really suspicious of us. Hes also angry because you and your Iranian friend killed two of his men back in the facility.
She was there. We had to do it.
Dont worry about that. The news of your return will
greatly please him, Im sure. Im truly glad to see you again berader, after all these years.
Me too, berader. Ive been waiting long for this.
You have been injured. Tell me what happened.
I got shot by one of his men on our way out the nuclear
facility at Vajehabad.
Dont worry, we will take care of that. You have done
well. Where is Omar?
He was left behind at the facility, but Im sure hes
doing his job for us. Look, I got something for you. Its the
launch codes for the whole nuclear arsenal of Iran.
Oh, God is great! The imam will be most happy with
this. We are one step closer to our ultimate goal.
We are. Look, I still got the charm you gave me.
Keep it. He entrusted you with it. It is the most important instrument to our success. You of all should keep it.
Understand.
But I thought you are to give it to her. He is really anxious to know if she is one of us. He trusts you for the success of
our cause. Weve waited too long for this moment.
I understand how important this is. She will be ready,
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she has to. A brave new world is upon us, and I promise with
my life, tomorrow will not end with victory in our hands.
That I cannot be in doubt.
I was nervous as hell. Every squeak of rodents swarming
the place, every drop of water hitting the floor from the ceiling,
and every piece of metal failing from the floor above made me
curl. I couldnt get a hold of whatever they were talking about,
but from their mentions of new age and grand cause, they must
be on the rebels side, or whatever sick congregation this was
aimed at destroying the world. The fact that they spoke incredibly fluent English spooked me. Then, the two men sent to get me
came in and talked to the standing guy.
What is happening? the man on the chair said.
She escaped.
Should we go and get her?
Let my men take care of it. Besides, she must not know
the truth yet.
Please dont let her get hurt. I love her, you know that.
Of course. She will become part of our grand cause. Of
course, she will be taken care of. But she will get hurt one way or
another, you know that right?
No! Im not letting her get hurt! You tell the imam she
must not be touched in any way. She must not have that thing
inside her, you understand? Cause if he does, Im not gonna
forgive all of you.
I understand, brother. I know shes suffering a condition. Our doctors think there might be a chance to get rid of it
from her. You must give us a chance.
Okay, okay. I think she will understand what it is that
we do.
She should. It is for the betterment of mankind, of the
world, of everything.
I thought of a dire possibility, one that made the fear
inflicting my body almost broke out of containment. I thought
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plotting the apocalypse and maniacs wanting every single soul


on this planet extinguished were just stuff of storylines. I cried,
my hands covering my face, and I lay back on the wall. I had no
idea of how big of a mess I just put myself into. It was unbearable. The whole world, and the whole of mankind with it, would
soon pay for my stupidity and mistakes. The fact that I was right
there and my fear and spinelessness froze me from doing anything about it made it worse. Being the destroyer of earth was a
legacy no one would ever want to leave behind. But out of the
billions of people on earth and out of the infinite chain of
chances the cosmos couldve chosen to happen, why was I the
one picked to get fucked up in this whole mesh of shit? That
would be a question to haunt me until the end of my days.
The men inside went silent, I noticed. I slowly brought
the camera up the window again to check on the two of them.
The lens already got well inside the window, but I had the viewfinder closed. I opened it, and when I did, they were looking
right at me.
Air blew out of my lungs. I ran for the exit, sprinted with
everything I got, hoping to somehow escape and survive an entire battalion of rebels hunting my ass down. I closed the door
shut and locked it with one of the metal bars on the floor. Long
thick plastic strips hanging from a metal bar, like that in meat
lockers and cold storage units, welcomed me in my supposed
exit. It sounded like a multitude of people flocked the other side.
The screams returned. I got in and beheld another hallway, all
illuminated with dim orange light bulbs, that went through a
series of rooms. I followed the sound of human life, and sure
enough, I found a plenty of them standing and filling up a large
room. Through a long slit on the wall, I saw several armed men
who pointed their guns at their frightened faces, some of little
children with their parents and old men and women.
Leading the pack was a fat and dark-skinned man with
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by clinging on to her neck. Two rather lightly-complexioned


boys, perhaps their sons, were on their side, crying and hugging
them tight. It was by the complexion that I recognized who they
were theyre the family on the plane! The man slapped the
boys faces in anger. Then, another Iranian, rather young and
dressed in a white robe, came in and inspected everyone with
his keen eyes for some reason. The fat man pulled and presented
his boys to him with pride, as if they were being offered as a gift,
but the two young men wouldnt let go of their mother, who too
pushed them to the guy. After caressing their chests, the Iranian
ordered the men to drag them away, and as they did the boys
desperately reached for their parents in a raw cry.
I looked at the others, and after checking the memory
database of my brain, I confirmed it. The children at the Square,
the old guy and those naked kids at the airport, the people on
the village above the nuclear warehouse, and the children at the
hospital everybody was there. Jesus Christ! I said. But thats
impossible! The rebels got them, those poor little kids. I brought
those kids here, only I could have.
The man on the white robe picked a couple more children and a couple of old folk with him. Something fucked up was
definitely going on, and since I wasnt likely to go anywhere and
the rebels still not on my tail, I followed them but the slit only
went up to the end of the room. Making use of my stealth tactics,
I moved through the hallway until I found the room where their
voices were loudest. An unlocked door got me inside.
It was suddenly dark; from the looks of it, I was stuck in
a corner filled with discarded containers, metal stuffs and tarps
with nothing but the LCD viewfinder as my light. Several holes
through the refuse allowed me to see them, three boys, two girls
and a couple of old folk. The armed rebels made them sit in the
metal beds scattered all over the room, each with its own tiny
lamp. Other men in white robes, their faces covered with hospital masks, stood by the beds, fixing and calibrating something.
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Like Adolf Hitler in his final days, the man on the white robe
went and smiled at each one of the boys and girls, said something encouraging, and rubbed their terrified faces wet with
tears and mucous. I still had no idea what the hell he was up to.
And when he finally got to one of the sons of that fat Iranian, he
nodded to the others and injected a fluid to the boys backside.
What followed was a nightmare.
The white robed men made the subjects, apparently injected with a sleeping agent or a paralyzing chemical, lay on
their backs. I focused the camera on the one closest to me, who
had one of the fat Iranians son. He ripped off the clothing of the
boy, poured alcohol or something and rubbed it all over his
chest. The boys face faced me, his eyes and mouth wide open,
completely paralyzed but still breathing. The man then took a
tiny knife, a scalpel, and slowly made a slit on the abdomen of
the kid, starting from the base of his ribs all the way down to the
navel. Blood dripped from the slit like a viscous waterfall. He
opened the slit even more with two clamps, and then pulled
parts of the boys intestine out. The man placed a small wooden
box into the cavity, pushed the guts back in and sew the slit. I
was terrified beyond no word could possibly convey.
As I turned my camera away, my entire body was shivering like crazy, unconsciously. The trauma couldnt get any
worse. That has got to be the worst sight of my life, most likely
everybody elses too. I threw up, semisolid matter slowly making its way out of my mouth. I felt extremely weak, blood, intestines and the look on that boys face storming my mind. I trembled violently. That fat guy sent his sons here to offer them as a
tribute for the rebels so that they could cut them in half and bury
something deep in the fragile bodies of his sons! I could not
think of any worse evil than that, which actually proved me
wrong. Mine was not the worst evil in the world.
I heard footsteps pounding the floor and rifles being
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tire rebel army was onto me, and I had nowhere else to go. The
white robed men pushed the metal beds with the sliced children
to a door at the end of the room, opening a window of opportunity for me. I went through an opening in the pile of junk and
crept my way through all the blood spilled on the floor to the
door where they first went in, but it was locked and remained so
no matter how hard I yanked it. I was left totally exposed. Soon
enough, I heard the men about to get out, about to capture and
cut me in half too, until the knob suddenly moved on its own.
The door opened, and my partner pulled me out of sight.
Dont move, he whispered, hiding behind the door as
the white robed men and their armed companions moved out of
the room. He held my arms right. I saw his wrists all reddened
for some reason.
Where did you come from?
Theres no time. We need to get outta here. Follow me.
You know this place? I said, walking and trusting his
sense of direction. Where are we?
Please just shut up. The entire rebel army is onto us.
Theyre gonna kill all of us! Everybody!
Just shut your mouth. I dont wanna die here and neither do you. Im trying to save our asses here, okay? Follow me.
I pulled him to me. Theres no way out! Ive been all
over this place. Theres no way out! Please, just stay with me!
Please, Holly, just trust me, Chris said, his eyes wide
opened. His hands gripped mine tight. I dont know what Im
doing, but we cant just do nothing. I swear Im gonna get us out
of this place, you hear me?
The maze of hallways didnt end, like when I actually
thought that we were halfway through the labyrinth, only to
discover we never actually went anywhere. We werent sure of
even a single step, a whole motherfucking nightmare indeed.
But somehow, our navigation skills have evaded any hostiles so
far which did make me feel hopeful, but it vanished anyway as
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the twists and turns of this labyrinth continued to drive our way
out away. He held my hand tight and towed myself on him, his
reddened wrist still dark and red. I kept my eyes shut when seeing was unnecessary, as another sight of human entrails would
make me spill whats left inside me, but my head was just being
stormed with images of blood and kids being cut open and
blood and the fact that I was right in the lair of monsters who
wanted to destroy the world. I tripped countless times against all
the garbage and shit.
A couple of armed men standing at the end of a hallway
stopped our hunt for the exit. We leaned on a wall. Shit, Chris
said. Theres nowhere else to go.
Forget it, Chris, I said, still reeling from the fourth
stage of grief. Were just gonna die anyway.
I promised youll never get hurt, remember? Were
gonna make it through this like we always have. Stay with me,
he said, sounding really certain. He looked around and saw a
door in front of us. Get in there now. Ill try getting them out of
the way.
What are you gonna do?
Just trust me. Get in there! Ill be back for you.
Dont leave me, okay? Please, dont.
Everythings gonna be okay.
So I did, and once again, I was on my own. I saw Chris
silhouette moving towards the guards through the cracked colored glass, but I was disturbed with the sheer stink in the room,
well beyond the threshold my nose could handle. The room was
dark and cold as hell, the smell of rotting flesh and blood making all the way to the cavities of my skull. The buzz of flies was
loud. I turned on the lights on the camera<
The floor was flooded with blood and pieces of skin and
guts and fingers and legs. Hanged on metal hooks like pieces of
meat, dead human corpses, some completely skinned off, sway
lightly as their blood dripped from their exposed muscles, bones
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and arteries into overflowing buckets. Their eyes and teeth were
plucked and bulged from their torn faces, a big piece of skin
hanged open on their legs, and their bellies all cut open, their
guts hanging from them. Below were almost hundreds of halfnaked and bloody children and old men and women with their
stomachs all sewn up. They were all moaning like zombies.
Death and gore were everywhere I looked. The rebels seemed to
be experimenting with humans like mad scientists for some insane end. It was horror for which no apt word existed. I slowly
moved back, petrified from deep beneath my skin. My ears rang
again, my eyes flooding from the raw sight of pure violence.
I turned back, but someone was behind me, three men
covered with thick scarves on their heads. I screamed and flailed
as they covered my face with a sack, grabbed my appendages
and carried me away. Raw panic ensued, but the hard grip of the
men made my efforts unfruitful. I yelled my partners name, but
no one came. I flailed, squirmed, flapped, screamed, begged,
cried, prayed nothing.
The next thing I knew, they laid me onto a metal bed
and tied my arms and legs tight. The sack was removed, and the
bright light of the ceiling overwhelmed my tear-filled eyes. Water distorted my sight, but I could see several people surrounding me, some of them in white robes with hospital masks. Then,
someone walked to me and wiped off the tears, clearing my vision. At first, I didnt recognize him, but the shape of his face, his
tall nose and the mole on this jaw gave it up.
Dennis? I said, gasping. Wha<
No, Holly. He is gone, he said. Im a new man now,
awoken and enlightened< free.
Please help me. Please.
I am helping you. I am freeing you from the prison of
this world, to see the bigger truth like we all have.
Why are you doing this?
You must understand. The world is filled with evil and
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darkness. Everyone needs to see the light, and through this light
we will all be cleansed and start anew, build a more perfect
world.
Please! Save me! I am your friend!
And now, you will have the honor of joining us< The
men then covered my mouth and ripped off my shirt and bra.
<to save the world from the evil of humankind<
No, no, no! Please, stop!
They poured and rubbed a cold fluid all over my breasts
and abdomen. I flailed uncontrollably and screamed until my
veins burst, but it was no good.
<to restore the planet to its natural state<
From the table beside me, the white robed man took a
long, thin knife, rubbed the blood stains, and sharpened it. He
looked at me with his terrifying, piercing gaze.
Please! Stop!
<to kill all those in power and riches, those who think
they own the world and control the people of God<
The men pressed my arms, legs and head, and the white
robed man came to me. He punctured my belly and cut all the
way down to the top of my navel. The pain was beyond imagination, beyond bear. I felt my warm blood spilling out of my
belly and around my torso.
<to make the world a better place for all of us<
I felt his hands go inside me, inserting something solid,
and for the first time experienced the sensation of touch from my
internal organs. My whole body was burning with pain, my
brain felt like being pierced by a thousand needles. I looked
down, and the man, his eyes wide open, held my heart in his
hands. And ate it.
<to glorify the one true God, Allah!

HOLLY! HOLLY! WAKE the fuck up! Youre dreaming again!


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All She Lost.

I opened my eyes and took a deep breath as if I just


swam from the deepest trench in the ocean, my lungs expanding, hyperbolically speaking, from a pea to a planet. My eyes
cleared, and I found myself lying on one of the seats inside a
metal chamber, Chris on his dark-blue Paramount T-shirt sitting
by my side. It was the same Humvee the little red light and the
orange light from the lampposts in the streets were there, the
mesh wire and the soldiers on the drivers cabin were there. An
oxygen mask covered my nose, spraying cold rich air into my
nostrils. I couldnt believe my eyes.
Whoa, whoa. You alright?Chris said.
Where< where are we?
Were on our way to the airbase. Weve been driving in
the past hour or two. What, did you teleport to another dimension or something?
My clothes, the thin, breast-revealing grayish-blue shirt,
was still intact, and underneath, I found no sensations of deep
lacerations or sews on my stomach, nor any traces of blood.
More importantly, I was still alive, my heart still beating.
Is everything okay? Did you have a nightmare?
What happened to me?
You went into another attack, but lucky for you these
assholes have that oxygen mask for you. You could have been
dead.
But< werent we attacked? How<?
You were just dreaming.
But I saw you< no, I<
You saw me what?
I was captured and you saved me, and Dennis< Dennis was there!
Hallucinations, must be from your pills, he said. Just
sleep it off, Holly.
No, no, I think it really happened!
Youve been with me all the time, he said. Ask those
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All She Lost.

assholes. Everythings gonna be okay. Youre with us now.


What?
I said, go to sleep already.
It took my brain a few seconds, but for the sake of getting over the trauma, I came to accept that it was all a dream, a
construct of my screwed mind, nothing but a really vivid dream.

pg. 269

All She Lost.

Chapter

16.
THE TREK TO the airbase proved to be long, but I didnt really
notice as I was too occupied with what turned out to be an extremely disturbing dream. Sitting on the chair with a big oxygen
tank standing beside me, I stared at the side of the cabin filled
with nets, long plastic tubes and camouflage tarps hanged on
tiny bolts, my head on a struggle to find reality. Usual dreams
are supposed to be black and white and fade into oblivion once
the state of sleep is broken. Also, dreams are what the brain
makes of what the person saw and experienced the day prior.
But for some reason, I could still recall the exact sequence from
my imprisonment to my dissection, as well as the intimate details like the look on that boys face as the man in a white robe
sliced his stomach and the color of the veins on the peeled-off
skin of those corpses. The amount of pure gore and violence I
endured this day alone might have screwed my neurons to the
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point that they already destroyed my sense of reality and made


my world bathe in red blood. Other than the scar from the lung
operation I had a long time ago, no signs of any cut or scar were
on me, but I did notice that that scar has gotten quite longer than
I remember. The Humvee looked unscathed, the soldiers were
still alive, and more importantly, me and Chris were still alive. It
was just a dream.
With my reality uncertain, I hoped that the death of
Aliya, Omar, Matt and my staff and indeed this assignment
altogether was also an elaborate construct of my mind, that I
was just sleeping back hope safe and sound on my couch, that I
didnt really cause all of this death, that this was all a big sick
fantasy. Inception, the only authority on dreams I got, taught me
that a dream world, if this be, follows slightly different laws of
physics and could be distorted and twisted depending on whats
happening on the real world or the upper dream level. Also, Ive
lost my consciousness several times, which meant that I must
have descended into limbo the black hole of the subconscious
already and wait a lifetime before I could wake up back to the
real world. But Chris made my hope in vain; they were still
dead, every single one of them. He kept on telling me that it was
just a dream and that I was just tired from all the shit we went
through, but he and I would never know, he might just be a projection. Or this was actually real world real life, but then again,
how could I know?
My wristwatch showed 9:48. I dipped my hands in every
one of my pockets. Holy shit, the map! I said. The map, I lost
the map!
Its right here, Chris said, handing it to me. Jesus
Christ, Holly. Calm down. Youre gonna give me heart attacks.
With the air mask on, I sounded like an estrogen-filled
James Earl Jones. Are you really sure we werent attacked?
What? Maybe thats just a side effect of your prescriptions or a nightmare. Get over it.
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All She Lost.

But it was just too vivid. I still remember all of it.


Hey! Shut the fuck up! one of the soldiers shouted
from the front cabin, banging the mesh wire with his gun. Or
well take off that goddamn oxygen from you.
I saw the camera near Chris, let him reach it for me, and
replayed the recordings, my baseline for reality. I moved the
track slider to the very right, and the video showed my convulsing and choking to death. As per my dream, the rebels mustve
attacked our convoy and flipped our car on its side by then. But
instead it showed a glitchy footage of Chris putting me to the
chair and pummeling the front cabin of the soldiers for help,
who went on to operate the necessaries on me after a brief violent confrontation. It might be that I was almost dying and my
sensations were turned off, but I couldnt remember anything
from that moment. The footage then showed me lying still on the
chair with the oxygen mask no sign of my nightmare.
So, you believe in me now? said Chris.
It was just so real.
Its just a goddamn dream. This is real, right now. And
we made it, just like I promised you. The militarys now gonna
take care of it and its all going to end soon, real soon.
If theyre gonna listen to us, I said.
They have no choice.
I saw reddening around his arm. What happened?
That? I< I just grazed it on something, I dont know.
How about your stomach?
Your bandages are still holding up.
Silence ensued. What are we gonna do after this?
What are you talking about? Were going home, like
you always wanted.
No. I mean, this thing that we do.
You still want to keep doing this?
Its kind-of funny to think that after all the close brushes
with death that I went through and the millions of times I cried
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All She Lost.

my heart out regretting doing this assignment, there was still a


part of me that wanted to keep pursuing this madness. Despite
bruising our torsos and messing up my head along the way, we
still prevailed, not to mention saved the whole of mankind in the
process, something that no couple of human beings I believed
ever did, not even the greatest figures in history. All they did
was leave a legacy of quotations for motivational speakers to
use. Besides, I couldnt spend the rest of my life dedicated for
some shitty job. But I couldnt let anybody die because of me.
I cant let anyone die because of me anymore, I said.
Shit, how many times do I have to tell you, you didnt
kill them! I didnt listen, for it was a fact already cemented in
my head. I killed all of them.
I guess Ill just stack Gatorade on our garage or something, or write the fucking script for Fox News. Shit, I hate this
fucking life.
My parents are dead, he said, his voice croaky.
I faced him, and for a moment I was blank in disbelief,
but more of anger. What?! I thought they<
They both suffocated a couple of days before I left for
this job. It was their time anyway, so<
Why didnt you tell us? I mean, we could have<
No, he said. I know you wont let me come to this
assignment if I did. Funerals would do us no good at all. I always saw Chris as the perfect son that every parent would die to
have, but the inherent imperfection of the world infecting each
of us would never allow that. He was just like me.
How the fuck could you say that? Theyre your goddamn parents, Chris. They were there every second of your life
and the least you could do is be there when they lie on their
graves, say whatever it is you want to say before their time ends.
And you gave that up just for this shit?
You have no fucking idea what youre saying! They
hated other people, and they didnt want anyone to cry for them
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All She Lost.

when they die. So I buried them myself in our backyard. Do you


realize how fucking hard that is, burying the people who looked
after you and realizing youre now all alone in your life? His
eyes moistened, his mouth trembling. I never gave them up,
and dont you ever say again that I did< and this shit that we
did saved more lives no other human could possibly do. They
wanted me to do this. I loved them, Holly.
Im sorry, I said, ashamed. Im so sorry. Once again,
silence. He looked away from me for quite a while.
Its gonna be very lonely back home. I think Im gonna
marry you if you let me, he said, like marriage was something
that can be done out of spontaneity. Other girls would freak
their eyes out when offered of marriage, but I was just blank, too
overwhelmed by depression and trauma.
You sure about that?
I think its the logical thing to do. Weve been together
for quite a while. I like you, you like me. And Im gonna be so
lonely when I come back home.
My parents would make terrible in-laws, I said.
Theres always a way to everything, he said, smiling.
And theyre not really that bad, you know.
I could hear helicopter rotors breaking the sound barrier
outside. Bright spotlights shined the car, making beautiful narrow rays of light in our cabin. We must be near the airbase right
now. Seeing my crumpled up face, Chris came to me and
placed his hands on my shoulders from the other seat.
Come on, dont be so down on the dump with me. Its
okay, I dont take grudges that much. We made it! Everythings
gonna be fine.
I burst in tears again in light of what happened to Chris,
which reminded me of my own family and how short time was
before they get taken away and leaving me with regrets of not
being there when they needed me most. I hugged him from my
seat, a necessary gesture for someone who just lost their beloved.
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All She Lost.

He truly loved his parents, and the last thing he did for them
was testament to that. I lied to mine. The people that took care of
me all these years, and all I gave for them in exchange were lies.
I love you, I said.
I love you. Its gonna be okay, its gonna be okay<
I saw the reddening on his wrists again. A surge of dj
vu went into me. What really happened to your wrists?
Dont worry about it, okay? he said.Im sorry, I cant
stop looking at your boobs. Theyre really big for someone as
thin as you.
And what the hell does that supposed to do? Make me
feel better?
Im just trying to lighten the mood. The end of the
world is tomorrow evening, remember?
Fuck you. He triggered me again.
I was just kidding, he said, elated. Our job is done.
Done? How can you be so happy with this? You arent
even sure if theyre gonna throw us straight to jail once we got to
the airbase. Our friends are fucking dead because of what we
did, and youre happy with that? He started it; one minute we
were making out, and the minute after, we were fighting again.
Of course not. But we would all be dead if we had not
been sent here. It was a necessary sacrifice for the good of all.
They did not deserve to die!
Everybody deserves to die, Holly. Its a must of existence like everything elses. Lets not start this again, please.
Our friends, do they deserve to die?! My parents<
That reminded me. Oh shit, my family. Oh my God. I threw
the mask out of my nose and rushed to front of the cabin. But
before I could scream at the soldiers, the car stopped, inertia
making me hit my head on the mesh wire. The soldiers closed
the window and left the car, and through a small hole on the
side, against the pitch darkness of the night, tall spotlights gave
light to a wide concrete ground crawling with military personnel
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All She Lost.

running around in formation, armored Humvees and tanks driving around, huge cargo planes and helicopters parked on the
edge of the grounds, and large hangars stretching as far as my
eyes could see. The noise outside, helicopters and personnel
shouting with loudspeakers, was intense. Further out to the
background, glowing orange lights from which dark towers of
smoke rose to pollute the sky were spread all over the city, forming an image of desolation and destruction.
The back door opened, and Chris pulled me to his arms.
Stay with me! Just stay with me, he said, at which time one of
the soldiers, bald and heavily-built rushed inside and pulled my
partner remorselessly out of the car, pushing him to the ground
and tying him like a pig as he screamed in pain. I didnt recognize that they were the same soldiers that killed Aliya and
dragged me into this car.
Get the fuck out! Move it!
You have to help me, please! I said. My parents, they
are going to kill my parents!
Shut the fuck up! the bald soldier screamed, slapping
my face in pure rage, which for some reason didnt sting but did
drive my head to the breaking point of my spine. He tied my
arms tight until the rope pressed against my bones, and covered
my head in a sack, tying it shut to my neck. The soldier went on
to caress the whole of my body with his hard hands, particularly
those parts men would fantasize about at night. I felt his hands
as he pulled the precious contents of my pockets.
Please, you have to listen to me!
You got some buns, missy.
Please, stop! I cried. Chris!
You better shut the fuck up or I will fucking fuck your
brains out, you hear me? Youre gonna be in so much trouble
once generals done with you. Youre gonna be mine! Its about
time we get a woman here. Now get moving!
He pushed me outside, and I felt the warm and cool
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All She Lost.

breeze from the exhaust of the heavy-metal vehicles and the


nighttime air, and trod my worn-out feet on the concrete. The
noise was unbearable, but for the first time since forever, my
hopes actually went high. Finally, salvation was in reach.

LIKE TWO HOSTAGES of Middle Eastern jihadists, my hands


tied and the knot on my neck almost chocking me to suffocation,
the three soldiers, walking in unison, brought us into a series of
stairs and labyrinths deep in the compound. The place was rather chilly, in fact stiffening my entire spine, but smelled of dirt,
liquor and cigarette. A loud voice over the speakers saying many
different names of infantries, basically names of exotic animals
and cool-sounding words, their assignments and orders to proceed to their battle stations filled my ears. And with the siren,
the guns being cocked, helicopters and jet fighters flying outside,
and the commanders screaming at their men, the sound of war
was all around. I cried and sucked in the gooey stuff coming out
of my nose for the rest of the walk, and every time I begged for
the soldiers to hear me out, they would push my shoulders and
finger the middle of my thighs, laughing and whistling as they
did. It was my womanhood being ripped to shreds. I could hear
Chris grunts over his torn gunshot wound. My legs were shaking from the inside out.
The next thing I knew, the men finally untied me and
shoved my ass in a metal seat, and then tied my hands and legs
tighter on the arm rests and stand. They got rid of the sack, and
after I regained my breathing, I saw Chris tied as well to another
seat a few feet from me. We were in a dim room with nothing
but cracked walls, a couple of incandescent bulbs and a really
large glass window with bright white figures seemingly moving
from the other side, much like an interrogation room. I was immobilized. The soldiers then left us on the room, the one who
slapped me winking and blowing me a kiss.
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All She Lost.

You alright Holly? Chris said.


Where are we?
I dont know. Deep in the airbase, I think. God, my
stomach fucking hurts. The wound opened again.
They took all, the map, everything, I said. What are
they gonna do to us?
Dont worry. Im right here. Were gonna be fine.
Please dont leave me!
I am a few moments away from launching a full assault
on those motherfucking rebels right in the heart of this godforsaken country, and what I have here are two fucking adolescents. What the hell were you thinking, private?! a mans voice
echoed from the other side. On the glass window, several human
figures on their uniforms became apparent though blurry.
Please, you have to help us! I screamed out of instinct.
The traitors gonna kill my family! You have to listen to me!
A man, perhaps the general, looked at several pieces of
paper laid over a table by another soldier. He looked at us. Then,
the glass suddenly cleared as they brightened their side of the
room and I beheld a man with a dark and rugged face and with
a round white scar near his mouth, standing close to the glass.
His uniform bore his rank.
What was your purpose here? he said.
We are journalists, Chris said. We came here this
morning to document the war. But we discovered something
from our contacts here<
The rebels plan to launch the entire nuclear arsenal of
Iran tomorrow night! All two thousand nukes!
How did you know that?
I was shaking the whole time I spoke but relieved at the
same time, that we have finally reached our salvation. We went
in one of the underground facilities in that map youre holding.
We only saw a single bomb. The rebels already got them; they
probably positioned them across the country already. Theyre
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All She Lost.

gonna blow every major city on the planet. Our Iranian friend
died when we escaped. But wait< the map also has the launch
codes. The rebels cant launch without it.
How in the world did you get this map? the general
said, apparently stunned.
David Price, he< gave the map to us a week ago. All
those other papers we got from the facility. He said he stole the
map from a military contracting company hes working for. I
dont remember the name, but that company controls the bombs.
It was an American company! There is a traitor, hes been calling
me. He killed all of my staff and friends and now he said hes
going to kill my family for that map! Please, you have to help
me! I saw my camera on a table near him. There, there in my
camera. I caught everything with it. There is footage in there
with the bombs. You have to believe me! I wanna go home,
please!
There are many young children trapped back in the
city. We need to rescue them, Chris said. A soldier approached
the general, pointing at the papers. Then, he laughed.
You expect me to believe this shit? he said.
What?! Our friends died because of that map! I said.
You just violated a strict order from the government
and you want me to, what, believe in a conspiracy that some lunatic American is plotting against his own goddamn country?
And in this fucking piece of paper are the launch codes? I am
about to single-handedly win this war, and the last thing I want
to hear is the fucking return of Jesus Christ!
We are telling you the truth! Chris screamed.
This map is a fake. All of these you brought are nothing
but worthless pieces of paper. Just who the fuck do you think
you are that you can tell me what to do? I dont give a shit what
youve been through. You violated a strict ban. He threw the
papers to the floor and left the room. Throw these two to where
they belong and stop wasting my goddamn time!
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All She Lost.

General, sir! Please, Im telling you the truth!


Holly, its no use.
Please, sir please! You< stupid motherfucker! I was
wrong. As the general walked away, I despaired over the fact
that the only hope I got that would save me from all of this, the
only salvation I had, the only light at the end of this abyss, failed
me. It was my light slowly fading into oblivion. The curse of my
bad luck was still on me. My parents were gonna die and theyre
gonna throw me to jail for the rest of my life, putting everything
Ive been through into absolute nothing. I failed; I guessed I always knew I would. I was doomed from the very start.
Its okay, its okay.
Shut up! Shut the fuck up! What the hell do you want
me to do? I screamed at Chris. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! What
are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?! My parents, oh my
God! Oh my God!
Right then, the five soldiers rushed in, the bald one, excitedly, unbound and tied my arms again, all while rubbing his
oily and sweaty face and drooling mouth all over my cheeks,
neck and chest. He kept pushing my crotch against his; his erection, hard and stiff, piercing through his thick uniform was like a
hallow metal tube being forced into my vagina. The soldiers
knew: theyre free to do anything they want with us without facing trial for inhumanity, since they could easily deny we were
here. No one knew we were here. I couldnt do anything but
scream and flail in disgust.
Hey! Get your fucking hands off her! Chris screamed,
but the other soldiers punched him in the belly, eliciting an extreme pain response.
Please, stop!
Shut up! You should have never come here, and now
youre mine. Youre fucking mine! With his hands squishing
my face, he kissed me like he wanted to suck my guts out, his
tongue wiggling all over my mouth. I almost puked out. I bit his
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All She Lost.

fucking tongue as hard as I could, and he yelled in pain, his


mouth bleeding. Then, he punched my stomach, constricting my
insides, and pushed me to the ground. I felt something hard
pressing against my insides. I couldnt breathe, like the holes of
my body were plugged with thick slabs of steel, and I started
quivering uncontrollably while making weird sounds of agony.
The next thing I knew, he kicked me so hard right in the chest
that it seemed a spear pierced right through me.
Holly! I heard Chris. Im gonna kill you! Im gonna
fucking kill you, you hear me?! Motherfucker! Tears clouded
my eyes, and the pain overwhelmed my other senses, feeding
my brain with none other than the burning pain.
You fucking bitch! Im gonna make you pay for this. I
am going to tear you apart. Im going to fuck you until you fucking die, you hear me?!Piece of shit! And you, motherfucker, you
aint gonna do shit about it.
You fucking touch her again, and Im gonna cut your
goddamn head off!
You mean like this?He pulled me up, and started
kissing me again. His saliva moistened and his stinking lips caressed and massaged the extent of my face, slime freezing over
my skin. I cried in disgust.Yeah? You like that, little bitch?
You son of a bitch! Chris yelled. Im gonna kill you!
Take him away. They covered his head with a sack,
and then dragged him out of the room, fully cuffed.
Dont you fucking touch her!
And now, missy, we got some business to attend to.
Come on!
My chest and face was burning in pain, almost radiating
with heat, the points of impact swelling. Blood and saliva flowed
out of my mouth uncontrollably. Struggling to let air into me, I
couldnt stand on my own as the bald bastard dragged me out of
the room, my head covered again with the black sack tightly
wound on my neck, to what might be his red room of pain.
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Every bit of movement was agony and torture, emanating from


deep within the very fibers of my muscles and the joints of my
bones. Sirens, helicopters, the radio announcer and the helicopters, all screamed at my ears but none from Chris. That moment I
clearly knew, it was my end.
Not far from the room, another soldier stopped us. Ill
take her Gideon, he said. General says he needs you and your
men out front right now.
What the fuck do you think youre doing Jacobs?
Generals orders. What happened to your mouth?
None of your fucking business, he said. You think
you could fuck my woman before I do? Youre out of your goddamn mind.
Hes gonna shoot your head off if you dont show up
right now, you know that right?
Fucking shit! He handed me over to him, and then
pressed his hands against the middle of my thighs. Im coming
back for you, missy. And dont you even fucking do shit with
her Jacobs, or Ill fucking rip your head off, you hear me?
Please< stop! I said.
Ill take care of her, dont worry about that, he said.
Youll have her after Im done. The bald soldier left, his loud
stomps indicative of his anger and absolute certainty that he
would come back for me. The extreme pain coursing through me
left no room for any relief. The soldier then removed the sack,
wiped my face clean and untied me, after which I beheld his
white round face and a large black mole by his nose. His chubbiness made his jaws and facial bones less pronounced, but not
so much as to make one think he gobbles an entire buffet. He
looked like he was in his late-thirties.
You alright?
Thank you, I said.
Hes such an asshole, the biggest one around here. Hes
lucky hes very good at combat or we already kicked his ass to
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All She Lost.

his head.
Please, help me. I< dont want to die out here.
Dont worry, he said, whispering. Im here to help
you. I believe this is yours. He gave me my camera, my prescriptions and my useless Smartphone.
Who are you?
We cant talk out here. Its too dangerous. Come on.
Where are you taking me?
Somewhere we could share a secret.

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Chapter

17.
A WOMAN COULD not possibly be more battered and bruised
and traumatized as I had and still have her life and mental faculty intact. The amount of torture, both physically but mostly mentally, I endured and managed to survive almost made my body
worthy of an achievement. The pain was beyond excruciating, so
much so that my sensations were numbed, reducing me to a
zombie, an unconscious walking piece of meat. It was almost my
metaphysical self floated with him; I couldnt feel my feet. But
for several brief moments, I flashed back, and I heard the intense
reverberations from the battle outside. I noticed little to no human life. I actually got pissed with the universe; I wanted to die
for all of this shit to end. The world is the quintessence of misery, death and despair, and there is absolutely no point for existence, and I mean absolutely nothing. My parents and sisters
were probably already hanged by their feet and had their bellies
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opened by those pieces of shit. No one believed a single word I


said. There was no point anymore. The army probably decimated, pulverized and obliterated all traces of those rebels by
then, and with the launch codes on the armys hands, the world
should be saved from assured destruction. Fuck that traitor.
Fuck everything. Fuck the world. I killed my own family and
several other lives on account of my foolishness and selfishness.
I killed my little child. That would earn me a one-way ticket to
hell, but I hoped saving the world and its countless inhabitants
from a fiery doom would compensate for that and give me a
proper eternity in the next life, if there is one.
The next thing I knew, I was laid back in a small room,
bright and cold, the glare of the tiny incandescent light bulb irritating my eyes. Indeed like a zombie, I kept moaning from the
pain. The room couldnt fit a dozen; a mess of maps and pictures
and used military uniforms were stuck on the wooden wall, a
pile of bags stacked on the corners. Frames with faces in them
stood atop a table in front of me. I could hear the echoes of the
war. Then, the soldier went on to rejuvenate my damaged self.
He was on his tight white shirt that revealed his nipples and his
rather muscular chest cavity, and on a bulky dark army pants.
Dont worry, he said. Its not bad as you think. He
was clearly lying.
Please just kill me now.
You know I cant do that. Now hold still please. Im
trying to save your life. How long have you been here?
Just this< morning, I said. Where am I?
Dosshan Tappeh airfield, at my own personal crib. Are
you a journalist or something?
Yeah, but it doesnt matter now. Theyre all dead. My
staff and friends, theyre all fucking dead!
Keep still, keep still. Im gonna inject you with a little
morphine, okay? This is gonna loosen the pain. Youre gonna
feel a little bit weird at first. Ready, on three<
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Wait, where are you sticking that thing?


On your heart, he said. Dont worry, I know what
Im doing. Thisll be quick.
No, no. Are you nuts? On my heart? I said. And before
I noticed, the needle already went through my cleavage, breastbone and heart, and before I could freak out, the burning sensation of agony slowly evaporated from all over my body, after
which it felt like a stream of electricity flowed inside my cavities,
waking me up.
See? Now just lie there and rest. Looks like youve been
in quite a mess.
We< we have to get Chris. They got him.
Dont worry about that. I could easily get him out of
there. You need some sleep. Its almost midnight.
Please, hes the only one Ive got, I said. Everybodys
dead because of me. My parents< friends, all fucking dead because of me.
I need to keep it down, he said, standing by the table.
Its really dangerous out here. Im gonna get killed if they find
out Im helping you.
Why would they? Arent they supposed to help us?
You violated a strict ban remember? You were supposed to be shipped straight out of this country and dumped
into some prison cell in a secret facility reserved for kinds of
stuff like yours for the rest of your life. And thats gonna be for
me too when they see me.
So why are you helping me? I said.
He peeked at the window behind him, closed it shut
with the blinds and sat down. I saw your footage during interrogation. You were with my friend Matt.
Wait, youre<
Kevin Jacobs. Matts been my closest friend since military school. That son of a bitch already graduated a goddamn
ranked official, but for some reason he turned it down and chose
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to become, what, an independent journalist? Thats the stupidest


shit anyone could ever do with their life. Our first assignment
was supposed to be on a friggin aircraft carrier. He never
stopped telling me about that. I dont know what happened.
We were on the same plane going here.
I actually sent him here for something I wanted him to
cover for his blog or something. Where the hell is he anyway?
Isnt he with you?
He didnt see the whole of the footage. I didnt know
how to put it without provoking him; I guessed no person in the
world would. Hes< we were driving to the airbase from the
hospital, and the soldiers blocked our way and< they<
What?
Im so sorry, I brought him there. I killed him! Please,
forgive me. I didnt want this to happen.
You mean< one of us shot him?
Im so sorry. I shouldnt have brought him with me. Its
my fault.He suppressed the emotion of anger and devastation,
it was apparent, indeed a rare sight for me. Few times Ive seen
men, known for their brute and ego, shed a tear or a hint of emotion, and when they do, its of the purest kind.
Its okay, he said, turning away. Theres nothing you
couldve done, nothing you< goddamn it! He kicked the metal
wall in an outburst of grief, and the picture frames fell from the
table. Its my fault, its all my fault. I told him to come here.
He saw me looking at the pictures. Its my little kids,
he said, picking up a frame with a doodle drawing of a house
and a stick family. Her names Patricia, my first. I think todays
her graduation from grade school. When she was born, I< I just
freaked out. I wasnt prepared. I didnt know what to do. I took
a few days off alone to suck it all in, and I did realize the blessing
that God gave me. But when I came back, she was gone. She left
me. She took my child. And here I am, wasting my life.
Im so sorry, I said. I noticed all the cigarette butts and
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small aluminum foils collected on the corner of the room.


My little girls never get to know me, until the mail
came with that drawing. He started crying and laughing. They
know me! They miss me. Thats why as long as Im here, I wont
let anything happen to them.
I sat up the bed. What was it youre gonna tell him?
He breathed deep before letting it out. I saw him, he
said, his voice hinting that he was about to impart something
big. A few weeks ago, my friends and I went on this routine
check around the compound. We went on top of a building to
get a full view of the area. I saw him on my scope. The general,
he was talking to one of them.
What are you talking about?
Hes working with the rebels. Theyre behind all this.
My head ached again over the discovery of a potential
conspiracy. I thought this whole shit was already over for me,
but how was I wrong. What?! You sure about that?
I think it was the rebels grand master or something.
Hes so scarred and so hairy. His beard is bigger than his head.
Jesus Christ, I said. I had a brief surge of dj vu from
his description of the old man, but I realized he was within my
violent dream, something I still hold firmly as just a big fucking
nightmare.
I followed him a few times, and I caught him again. He
was talking to someone over the phone, about bombs and assassinations. I think he ordered the president of this country dead.
He started this war.
Holy shit, the Iranians were right. Amir was right. Holy
shit, I shouldve listened to them! And there it was, another
proof that I was guilty of murder. They knew about it, but like a
fool I kept my ears closed, leaving me with their blood stained
on my hands and an eternity to despair over my foolishness. So
it was true, and the Iranians werent delusional and shit. And
there in the interrogation room I saw right in the face, the traitor,
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the crazy lunatic who wanted to blow the whole world.


You know about this? said Kevin.
Our Iranian contact first told us about this. Everybody< the locals were really pissed at us because they think we
killed their president. I didnt believe him, I thought everybody
was brainwashed or something. Its fucking crazy. How could
he? What the hell is he planning to do?
I dont know, but I cant do anything about it. Nobodys listening to me. Even if they did, he controls the entire
army. Its hopeless.
It makes no sense, I said. If hes with the rebels, then
who the hell are they fighting outside?
I dont know. Im as clueless as you are. Ive never been
in the front line, just in routine checks around the compound
and supplying ammunition to my brothers.
I thought youre a sergeant?
I was demoted. They caught me spying on the general.
Well, they dont actually know I was spying on him. I was accused of trespassing and there goes my rank.
The children< oh shit, the children at the hospital! We
and Matt went to that place, a couple of miles from here. Hundreds of kids are trapped in there. We need to rescue them,
please! I promised Im going to help them.
Its no use. The soldiers would immediately shoot them
on sight. And where the hell would we hide them?
There has to be something that we can do, I said.
Those poor little kids< they need me.
Im sorry. Its too dangerous. Theres much at
stake.And as the roar and thunder of the explosions outside got
to my ears, I shriveled and trembled as the image of those young
innocent and helpless children getting incinerated and blown
apart by those bombs and guns flashed to my mind, intensified
by the fact that I promised their safety with my life, that I would
come back for them. But there I was, alive and breathing, while
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they all die out helplessly. I felt like every breath I took was a
sin. Kevin went on to calm me down, which took a few cups of
water, a lot of smooth strokes on the back, a few hugs, a constant
reminder that it was fine and several minutes of his time.
Hes been calling me, I later said.
What?
He knows Im here. He wants me here. The map! He
wants the map! He gonna kill everyone tomorrow, six o clock in
the evening. Hes gonna launch the whole Iranian nuclear arsenal and collapse civilization as we know it!
Jesus.
The map has the launch codes, I said. They cant fire
the nukes without it. Its the only copy thereis.
You mean the map from the interrogation room?
Yeah. You have it with you, right?
He was silent for a few moments, then< He took it.
He took< what do you mean he took it? Who?
The general, he has it, he said.He didnt throw the
map, he took it with him. I was right all along. He definitely has
something laid out with that thing, and if what youre saying is
true, then were totally fucked. I just lost the map to the worst
possible place, the one that I was running away from, which single-handedly brought the world ever closer to the apocalypse.
But how could I have known? Nobody can be trusted truly, so it
seemed. Nobody.
Then lets go get it from him!
Wait, he said. I need to think this through.
Hes going to kill everyone tomorrow! Do you still have
to think about that?
Look, Ive been in hot water okay. I already got myself
demoted from sergeant to private, and if he sees me again Im
definitely gonna get myself kicked out of this base, if they dont
kill me first.
I thought youre going to help us, I said.
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I am helping you right now. If not for me, you would


have been raped by Gideon and his men. You would have been
dead.
Cant we call the States for help?
The communications centers right beside the generals
office, and theyre tapping every single call in and out of this
base. Were on our own.
What are we gonna do?
Somebody knocked hard on the door, startling the hell
out of me. I almost launched myself out of the bed, but he made
me stop. Jacobs! Stop jerking off in there. Were getting laid out
in ten.
Why? he said.
I dont know. Command says the general needs all battalions on the front line. Now come on, get your ass outta
there!Its our last chance to kick some Iranian ass, man!
Youre gonna leave me? I said as the soldiers left.
I need to go. I have no choice. Im gonna get in trouble
again if they found out I stayed here.
You cant leave me here. I cant save Chris on my own.
Dont worry, he said. Ill be back as soon as I can. Im
gonna check on that hospital youre talking about. I saw it on
your footage and I think I know where it is. Maybe Ill spy on the
general some more. Well go get your boyfriend first thing. Just
stay here and get some rest. And dont do anything stupid. He
then handed me a small walkie-talkie, almost a small shoe with
an antenna sticking out of it. Take this. Ill call you when I get
back.
I laid back and wrapped myself with his thin cloth blanket in obedience, the best and only thing I could possibly do for
the better. He wore the rest of his uniform, turned off the lights
and opened the door. I saw parts of the horizon totally ablaze
with the flames of war outside.
Ill be back, I promise, he said.
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Is Chris gonna be okay? I said.


Hes alive< Im sure hes alive. Stay here, alright?
As darkness and loneliness became my companions, an
eerie chill wrapped my body, realizing that I was right in the
heart of the lair of the monster. Everything never made a bit of
sense, but I did try to wrap it up. It turned out that the general of
the American army sent here to rehabilitate this forsaken country would be the one to end it, and the whole world with it, once
and for all, not mentioning hes the one who actually started all
this. He killed the president of Iran to spark a nuclear holocaust.
But what the hell could he possibly get from bringing Armageddon to the world? Unless hes a god or something, he would
never live to cherish his victory afterwards. I suspected that he
might be a war hero from Iraq or Afghanistan who wanted justice for the injustice of those in power, or that he might not have
been compensated properly for his selfless services for the country like in many cases of military rebellion and treachery, and in
such case he might demand the whole of the planets riches in
exchange for its very existence. He also turned out to be working
with the Iranian murderers a counterintuitive allegiance, considering that they hate the West for much of its history. But what
do these have to do with me? The traitor wanted me here so it
seemed, and he even cared to waste resources just to stall my
inevitable death by hunting my staff and family down just to
show hes not a person to fuck with. He couldve sent a drone,
fire missiles at us and retrieve the map from my charred remains, but he didnt. Hes planning something for me. It might
be that he wanted me right where I was right then, lying on the
very bed he wanted, waiting for the very soldier he told to.
I saw him dead in the flesh, his round white scar sticking
to my memory, but I noticed no signs of smugness or anything
indicative that he knew me. Also, his voice wasnt as terrifying
or monstrous or rough, deep and croaky as that on the phone,
but it couldve been a guise. Further still, why would he let me
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be sent back to the States if he wanted me disemboweled for


what Ive done with his fucking plan?
All that thinking stressed the hell out of me, drying my
eyes and pulling my scalp until it ripped apart. I tried to close
my eyes and fall to slumber, but the feeling that somebodys
eyes were locked on me made it close to impossible. The morphine proved to be short-lived as the searing sensations soon
came back to make my life more hellish than it already was, the
pain more pronounced in my stomach. It felt as if a long stretch
of skin was about to rip open from my chest to the top of my
crotch. I pulled my clothing and caressed the points of pain, and
immediately, I sensed something hard and round just below the
tip of my breastbone, seemingly unnatural. Looking down, it
made a bump almost as big as that on my elbow each time I exhaled. I pressed it, thinking that it might just be my colon stuffed
with undigested food, but the bump was rather hard, like something solid was lodged in my body. It wasnt actually the first
time several other weird stuffs have grown on my weaknessinflicted body before, and just like those, I just let this recent one
be and hoped that tomorrow, I would just evaporate away.
My parents and sisters must be dead by then, and together with those children and the others whose hopes I failed
and whose lives I took, their souls must be standing next to my
bed, screaming in anger for what Ive done. I couldnt be sorry
enough. My conscience was stormed with the faces of those I
killed, a nightmare in and on itself. But looking at the bright
side, I have potentially one of the biggest and most compelling
stories a journalist could ever uncover, one that would be on the
front page for years, start a radical change in the system, and
save countless lives. I guessed that would make my parents understand; there is a high price for the truth, Chris dad used to
say. But was it worth it to save millions of lives who dont even
care about me, or even knew I existed, while those dearest to my
heart die out, leaving me all alone in this desolate hellhole evepg. 293

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rybody calls home?


With the things I saw and learned this day alone, its a
resounding no. Human nature dictates that man always craves
to destroy himself, which is entropy at work, and it means that
absolute long-term peace is nonexistent. Long after my body rots
to the ground, the world will return to a state of chaos no matter
what, putting everything I gave up for to nothing. There is no
point in saving mankind; it will just destroy itself eventually, an
inevitability and certainty. So I lay in the bed crying my eyes out
once again, mourning the fact that my family and friends died
for nothing, like flies who just kissed their short, pointless lives
goodbye. I cried, like I always did.

A BRIGHT ORANGE beam populated with tiny dust feathers


woke me from my sleep. The utter silence and the serenity immediately struck, like the world was reset or something. The
sleep seemed to have rejuvenated my body, eliminating the pain
and even my tremble. Feeling rather excellent, I got up, sensing
the start of a new day, and through the metal blinds, I saw thick
and thin smoke columns rising to the sky from all around the
city as if Tehran has just been incinerated. The war was apparently over. On the concrete grounds, the worn-out soldiers slowly walked back to their hangars with their trucks and tanks. Cargo planes parked in front of the hangars. There was no sign of
Kevin, and time was running out. My wristwatch pointed at 6:43
am, and in less than 12 hours, mankind and life itself would
come to an abrupt end.
Though I came to the realization that my efforts of saving the world from destruction would ultimately prove futile,
the notion of living this short borrowed life to the fullest invoked
a sense of purpose in me. I still needed to do plenty of things
before I leave this mortal existence, and as popularized by popular culture, not fulfilling earthly desires would trap my soul on
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this planet to haunt those who would come across my grave.


Besides, the chaos of the future world would be the problem of
the next generation, and its better to have died fighting for at
least a miniscule chance of life than leaving it all to fate. This
feeling of great responsibility, of courage after an eternity of
fright and weakness, might be the result of my electrocardiographic personality, but what better thing could I do indeed?
The camera, its battery already half-empty, was still recording atop the table. Beside it were a couple of sandwiches
and the picture frames cracked from Kevins outburst, which
housed photos of two little babies, the cuteness of whom had no
words for, and a small family portrait, perhaps Kevins. Inside
one frame was a childs drawing of a house with rainbows, blue
clouds and star-shaped stars, and a large I MISS YOU, DAD and
COME BACK HOME on the top. It proved to be a very harrowing
picture for me a picture of what I have lost, of what I could no
longer have so I let go before the devastation could overwhelm
me once again. My family was dead, and there was no way I
could bring them back. I was on my own, living the repercussions of what I chose for myself. I would never experience the
joys of home, of my horrible sisters, of my uncaring parents.
Looking at the round blue eyes of his baby girl, I feared that
crossing paths with Kevin would just bring my curse to him,
single-handedly depriving his family of the love and care they
deserved and ruining the rest of their existence, something that I
couldnt bear to have on my hands. No one other than myself
should suffer the burden I brought on my own.
And so I did. Even though this decision might ultimately
cost my life, I couldnt bear any more lives destroyed on my account. I had to find Chris, retrieve the map and get the hell out
of this place on my own. I wore the spare military uniform, dusty though perfectly fitted, grabbed one of the maps of the base
and placed the Smartphone, the walkie-talkie, and the camera in
one of the large pockets that happened to be holed for the lens to
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see through. A matching cap provided identity cover. I then


gave up my Nike shoes for a more fitting one. I stuffed my
mouth with one of the sandwiches, albeit cold. The bump in my
stomach was gone.
As per the map, the base stretched one-and-a-quarter
miles long and half-a-mile across in an elongated shape. It didnt
include the perhaps larger subterranean system I knew the soldiers took me last night. A series of numbered hangars were laid
like a backbone, surrounded by tiny house units one of which I
suspected I was in. In front was a large empty space serving as a
runway and parking for armys war machines. I was near hangar
six, a couple of hangars away to the end of the base. Beside hangar two all the way to the other side was the communications
tower and the generals quarters where the launch codes must be
hidden. A large enclosed area, marked RESTRICTED, was behind
hangars one and two. Judging from its larger size, hangar two
must be where the main shit was and possibly Chris too, but he
could be anywhere. But I have to find him.
Fuck this, I said, a common motivator. As I pushed the
wooden door and stepped on the concrete, the massive scale of
the compound made me feel punier. Pushing through the thick
black smoke of war, the sunlight of the early morning sun still
was spectacular. The sky, tinted light orange from the sunrise,
was as serene as it was yesterday. The soldiers and the traitor
must still be reeling from the night on the battlefield so I decided
to head straight to the lair of the monster and retrieve the map,
than find Chris first in which case the soldiers would be all
around us and the map would be out of my grasp.
I tried to walk as inconspicuous as I could along the
structures in the base. Soldiers and personnel, mostly men,
crawled all around me, some jogging around in formation and
singing about women and pussies, some just sitting along their
house units sipping coffee, smoking and playing cards, some
carrying crates of ammo to the hangars. Others took a bath in
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makeshift showers in the middle of the field for all to see, the
runoff soaking the whole place wet. The men were too busy
messing with each other, attention that thankfully didnt point at
me. I saw no sign of that bald bastard.
All personnel, a female announcer said over the radio,
report to your respective infantry commanders for debriefing.
Remain on base until further instructions.
Cargo trucks, small jeeps and a shitload of ammo crates
and weapons filled hangar five. A large cargo plane parked in
front, from which even more ammunition and weapons were
carried with forklifts and large pushcarts to the hangar. All the
cargo bore the insignia of some organization called G4S a black
globe with stars around it apparently the militarys supplier of
weapons. I tried to walk straight through the line, but a forklift
accidentally bumped to another in front of it, smashing a crate
and its sniper rifle content to the ground. I was trapped.
What the hell is going on in there? someone screamed
from inside the hangar. Then, a tall man in his forties, grey hair
and on a brown coat, came rushing at the incident.
It was an accident, sir, the driver of the forklift said.
The clutch got stuck and I lost control of the forklift.
Keep those cargos coming in! the man said, pointing
at the others and then the driver. He then talked to the driver
with such deep intensity. You better fix your shit together or
Im gonna make you pay for the millions well lose if we dont
get this thing done, you hear me?
Yes, Mr. Neumann, sir. As the driver went on to fix
the forklift, I scrambled to get through, until the boss called me.
Petrified, I faced him with my head pointing at the ground.
Bring these papers to the general, will you? Let him
sign them and bring them back to me. Got it?
Y< yes, sir, I stammered. I immediately turned and
walked away the moment I got the papers, but not even making
a dozen steps, he called me again.
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Wait! Come with me to the plane, he said, walking


towards me. Im gonna get some more papers for the general.
And so we did, his hands on top of my shoulders. My head only
reached his shoulders, and the way he walked proved his high
civilization. His hair had stripes of white. His smell, musky and
smooth, was of the riches. His shoes, long and pointed, matched
his coat and every trod made a sound that was music to every
materialistic womans ears.
Im sorry if I smell bad. I just got off a trip from Ohio.
No, not at all sir. He was definitely kidding.
You seem pretty young to serve in the military, he
said. How old are you?
Im 23 years old, sir, I said.
Why the hell did you choose to be in here? You could
have been a journalist or accountant or a cover model. I mean,
look at you. Youre one of the most beautiful gals Ive seen
around here. I laughed with him, which was of course faked. A
complement for something that wasnt true is never funny.
I just like to serve my country, sir.
You never considered doing something else?
If opportunity comes, I might consider, sir.
Stop with the sir. Just call me Jerry. I felt his hands
moved down my arms a bit. Back then I started getting uncomfortable. From experience, when an old man gets friendly with a
woman, his hands pressed against her body, somebody is going
to get fucked, literally. If not for the excuse he gave me for going
into the traitors office, I had already slapped his face.
And what do I call you?
Ryan, I said.
What kind of name is that for a girl? he said.
I like it, sir. I mean, Jerry.
He kept his hands on me until we got to the stairs up the
front cabin of the plane. I was at awe with the sheer size of the
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gine, and seeing my reaction, he went on to share the specifics


on the vehicle and how he got it from a poker game against the
mayor of Los Angeles. We got up the aircraft, letting me in first
in a gesture of unnecessary gentlemanliness, and little did I
know, he had a mansion inside the plane. The handles were
gold-plated, the seats all leather, the ceiling decorated with a
crystal chandelier, the top of the table made of marble, and the
television as flat as televisions could possibly be. He closed the
door, me and him all alone.
You like it? he said. He had a classic American voice.
It is very impressive.
This plane is both my delivery truck and sky palace.
Please, sit down.
No, thank you, I said. I better give this to general<
to the general.
You dont know his name?
My heart palpitated. I am new here, and< everybody
calls him that way so I never knew.
Its Howard Marcus, he said. Hes been a really good
friend of mine for ages. A real patriot that guy is. He loves his
country more than he loves his children. Thats something we
both share. Im prepared to sacrifice my life for it. If he only
knew what hes planning to do. I thought of telling him just that,
and given that he might like me, he could help me with the map
and the dire situation of the world. But that would blow my cover and might further screw my situation in ways that I didnt
expect. I didnt risk it. But sometimes he just doesnt get it. He
just cant understand what I wanted for everyone.
Are you the supplier of weapons for the military, sir?
Yes, for the entire U.S. military in fact. I am the president and CEO of G4S, Green for Security, the largest private military contracting and weapons manufacturing company in the
world.
Holy sh< I mean, wow, I said, a bit starstruck.
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Yeah, holy shit, he said, digging through his table for


the papers. It surprised me too. I wanted to be a doctor actually,
but look where I ended up. What do you do around here?
Im a private, sir< in charge of the supplies.
Really? Never heard that job before.
Can I ask you something, Jerry?
Of course. You already did, anyway.
Is the war over? He then looked at me, smiling.
I should be the one asking you that.
I< just spend all my time here, I said. But I hear the
last wave of attacks was yesterday.
We managed to wipe out much of the rebels but they
seem to be conglomerating to a single main group. Im not that
sure if last night was the last attack, but I think Im gonna convince the general to keep the assault completely wipe out what
remains of the rebels with only the ancillary forces. The others
will be dispatched home.
But why are you still bringing weapons here?
Quite the inquisitive girl, huh? he said, smiling at me.
I have a contract to fulfill, to supply the army that much weapons and ammunition as need be. That contract is worth billions,
and if I dont deliver, all that moneys gone just like that. The
military doesnt give me an order to stop giving so, I still do. He
finally found the papers, all bound by a long metal fastener, and
gave them to me.
Take my ID so you wont get bothered by the soldiers
out there. I guess everybodys hitting on you on this base, so
take that as a protection. He laughed, and I quite flattered. The
ID, much like a credit card, bore his face and a couple of details:
his name and position. The black globe logo was prominent.
Thank you, sir. I will take this to the general now.
Why cant you look straight at me? He then removed
my hat and reluctantly, I looked at his elongated face, rugged
with the wrinkles of old age. His thin grey beard outlined half of
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his head. What happened to your eye?


I didnt even know I had something on my eyes, but I
suspected it swelled and maybe discolored from the beating I
got earlier. I< tripped, sir.
You are really young, you know that? he said, looking
at me. You shouldnt be in the military.
Thank you, sir Jerry.
You want some champagne?
I< no, but thank you sir. I really should be giving this
to the general.
No you dont, he said, walking to me. Right then I
displayed all signs of discomfort. He was definitely going to fuck
me, or worse. Those papers can wait. Please, just a single glass.
And I dont take no for an answer. I placed the papers on a table beside me and took the glass from him, the champagne sparkling delectably on the rim. I poured the whole thing to my
throat like a drunkard asshole to get it over with, thinking that
champagne was basically Sprite, until the kick of alcohol made
me cough, spraying it all over the room. Jerry laughed.
Holy shit, I said, swelling from embarrassment. Im
so sorry Mr. Neumann. Please forgive me. Ill clean this
No, dont worry about it, he said, still laughing. You
are pretty funny for a military girl.
Thank you, sir. But I guess I better get going before I
make more mess in your place. I started walking for the door,
but he proved his persistence.
I need to tell you something first. Suppressing my frustration, I stopped. Youre aware of the Iraq War, right, Bushs
biggest shame? Thousands and thousands of civilians and our
own men, dead. Michael Moore nailed it on his documentary.
He interviewed me on Fahrenheit 9/11, you noticed me?
I< Im afraid not, sir. I havent seen it. I lied and I
didnt. He was talking about my favorite documentary of all
time, the inspiration of my life, that a guy with a camera could
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expose the truth and do something about it. Its sort of The Cove,
but centering on Bush and how he allegedly lied to the American
people just to justify the invasion of Iraq, a country that has never threatened, never attacked, or didnt even have the military
might to damage the United States. But in reality, I didnt notice
his ugly-ass face on the film.
Then you dont know that Bush killed all those people,
wasted billions of dollars and the lives of our men just to secure
the oil fields of Iraq? He said it was to avenge 9/11, to hunt down
al Qaeda, to kill bin Laden. But bin Laden wasnt an Iraqi, all of
Taliban in fact werent Iraqis. He was smiling. They were fucking Arabians, all of them. And months before 9/11, Bush was
talking to the president of a Saudi oil company about making an
oil deal, gain access to the rich oil fields of the region in exchange for billions and billions. But Saddam had his hands on
Iraq, another major oil field. He needed to get rid of them but
with Vietnam and the Gulf War, the American people didnt
want to sacrifice another life on the battlefield. So, Bush needed a
reason to offer to the American people to destroy Saddam.
You mean he< he ordered the attack? I said.
He did. He killed three thousand innocent lives for oil,
for money. I didnt know about that allegation, but a lie his story wasnt. It was a conspiracy, other than the alien cover-up, that
I personally believed might just be true. He drank another glass,
keeping his burning gaze on me.
Are you also aware of the attack on the American embassy at Benghazi three years ago?
I< I dont
Of course you are, he said. Four American lives perished in that faithful day, including the ambassador to Syria
Christopher Stevens, my good friend. It was the last major blow
of al Qaeda to the United States since the death of bin Laden,
and now the groups been brought down to its knees and everybody thinks justice has been done for all those lives lost.
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Im afraid I dont understand. By that, I meant the reason why the president of the largest military corporation would
narrate me such an account. The Benghazi attack was the hottest
story of 2012, another one from the Middle East eating the bulk
of primetime news hours for months that followed almost as
much as the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi a year earlier. Alleged members of the al Qaeda attacked the American embassy
that cost the lives of four civilians and the ambassador to Syria.
The attack happened on the 11th of September, which most likely evoked memories of the worst day in American history, and
perhaps signaled that another attack was coming. We failed to
cover this story as intimately in our channel following Dennis
death.
Of course you know this. Its your job.
I think I really must be going<
They are lying to you, he said. The al Qaeda didnt
attack the embassy. The group has been completely wiped out
since Operation Neptune Spear. Neptune Spear was the code
name for the black ops that successfully liquidated the most
wanted man of the decade, the one responsible for more deaths
than any other single terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
How about the other attacks blamed on them?
It was a total cover-up.
He unwittingly ignited my journalistic spirit, but I kept
in mind what it might cost me in blowing my cover. What are
you saying? Who attacked Benghazi?
Obama ordered the attack, upon the recommendation
of the secretary of defense and the CIA director. I was in the Situation Room during the entire operation. We codenamed it Sand
Arrow. The president used Seal Team Seven members to pose as
the terrorists, the al Qaeda that everybody thinks. The other attacks you were talking about, Seal Team Seven members were
behind them under the authority of the president. I think youre
very much aware of this.
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No, sir, I said. I< I have no idea. I was left in shock,


weakening my legs and muscles. Considering that he held practically the entire military of the United States, his preposterous
claim got a spray of authenticity. It should be my lucky day: exposes as outrageous rained on me for my own gratuitous taking,
waiting for me sniff the glory they would bring to my life. But
the world was on the brink of destruction, and no amount of
glory would save me from it. Even if it didnt, now that I knew
of the dark schemes of my own government, that they are prepared to kill anyone to promote the countrys interests, I would
never feel safe again.
He definitely got my attention, almost making me
breathless for every single thing he said. I have only dreamed of
this moment. A few weeks before the attack, said Jerry, pouring another round of champagne, Christopher approached me
and he told me that an American vessel ducked at the border of
Libya and Syria weeks before. It carried a lot of low-grade weapons and ammunition, AK-47, RPG, light machine guns. A retired army general was also with the ship. He has been frequently visiting the country over the few past months, making contact
with several militia leaders and commanders. Christopher said
they formed an alliance aimed at taking control of the entire
Middle Eastern region and making it a single sovereign unit under their control. The alliance was named ISIS.
Holy shit. I couldnt contain the shock.
We identified the general, highly-decorated, served in
Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq. He had very close ties with the president, having been graduated from the same college. By that
time, the whole Middle East was plunging into chaos and at any
moment could burst into an uncontrollable fire that will burn the
whole world. It all started with Gaddafi, then came Egypt, Syria,
Jordan, Lebanon until the whole region went into shit. With the
success of the United States intervention in Libya, the presidents advisors came up with an idea that could effectively conpg. 304

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trol the whole region ISIS.


ISIS was the worlds bane of its existence since it started
attacking and occupying major cities and territories in the Middle East and beheading hundreds of prisoners for the world to
see, all for the end of making the Muslim countries of the region
into a single unified state. Though use of social media and effecting tapping into the minds of maniacs and sociopaths, the group
was able to penetrate other territories on the other side of the
planet and attract a significant following, which led to acts of
terrorism sprouting all around the world, all for the grand cause
of the group. It was sinister in all respects. And if what I thought
the boss just said was true, it would turn out worse than that.
Youre saying that<
The president created ISIS as his means to control the
whole Middle East and destroy all potential enemies of the country, he said. Christopher was the first person to know that.
But they were beheading people. Theyre fucking terrorists! Murderers!
Their governments were on the verge of collapse, and
the people would never allow America to barge in so this is the
second best way to do it. By getting the militia commanders to
promise never to attack any territory again, in exchange for giving them what they want, peace is assured for everyone.
What do they want? I said.
Money usually, lots of it. But some commanders were
very specific. They wanted the heads of fifty Westerners. So the
president did. He let his people handpick the lucky ones wholl
get beheaded for the whole world to see.
I was sickened. You mean< the president let those
people get their heads chopped off? They offered them like pigs
for sacrifice?! And then he ordered the ambassador to be killed
because he knew the madness he was doing?
When Christopher got back to Libya, the next thing I
knew, CIA went to my headquarters and brought me to a bunkpg. 305

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er in the White House with the president. He told me everything


about this black op and made me swear never to tell anyone. He
also told me he needed more weapons for another operation.
During the day of Sand Arrow, he brought me to the Situation
Room again. He didnt even tell me. He made me witness how
his soldiers kill my friend and those civilians. He then displayed raw hatred. That evil lunatic< that fucking traitor. And
so you see, every single government of our country has a record
of these kinds of atrocities. The list goes on and on.
He went silent, and so was I. Never before did a revelation impact me that way before. Those poor people, beheaded
for the sake of keeping power and control, not minding the families theyd left behind, the futures theyd ruin. I wasnt really
surprised the world is filled with liars and murderers, people
who are prepared to kill just to protect what they think is right.
Its just that the infection has spread at our own back doors. But
one thing wasnt clear still<
Why are you telling me this? I said.
I just want you to understand, he said.
Understand what?
I thought you had a right to know, thats all. I thought
you would find it useful in the thing you and your friend do. I
couldnt talk back, terrified with the price I might pay for such a
huge discovery. Now go deliver those papers to the general,
and come back to me afterwards.
Y< yes, sir. Right away.
Wait, I never got your last name.
My mind scrambled to quickly come up with a decent
unsuspicious name. Walker, sir, I said.
He looked at me intently. Walker, huh? Well then Private Ryan Walker, Ill see you later.
The door was at my arms reach when he interrupted me
again. Do you have a boyfriend? he said.
Excuse me? Considering his age, that was a disturbpg. 306

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ing, almost sickening, question.


Of course you do. You have no idea how lucky you are
to have him. Yet hes the one who brought you to this.
Im just gonna go sir, I said. Finally, I got out of his
luxury and walked away, completely stunned with what might
be the biggest revelation the world would ever know of, at the
same time relieved that my fears of being fucked didnt come
true. I just dismissed the other things he said as side effects of his
disintegrating brain. This might just be the news that would
shape the whole decade. The whole system would crumble, governments would topple, power would be shifted, and the world
would be stirred. A revolution would erupt. But perhaps more
troubling was the fact that he shared such extremely sensitive
information to me, a nobody. It might be that his aging libido
made him say those things to impress me, but he was too busy of
a man to do that. And for some reason, he kept on assuming I
knew what he was talking about, which made me think of a dark
possibility.
I glanced at the papers, a comprehensive list of all the
weapons and ammunition delivered to the base. The logo of the
company gave me a dose of dj vu. Then, the name patch on
my uniform stole my attention. I didnt even notice it was there.
And in big capital letters, it said, ROGERS.
Oh shit.

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Chapter

18.
WITH MY HEAD looking down,I walked as quickly as I could
from the plane to the generals quarters. My throat dried from
the amount of air I inhaled. He knew I was lying; he might have
already alerted the whole base and at any moment, the thousand
guns of the base would come hunting my ass, but everything
that happened suggested otherwise. He shouldve just trapped
me back there if he wanted me captured, but instead he told me
perhaps the biggest lie of recent history as if it was some small
talk and let me live to deliver worthless papers to the traitor. He
wanted me to know that conspiracy to understand something,
and for the thing that I do. It was too much; my head could no
longer take the sheer complexity of my situation, made even
worse by the fact that in less than eleven hours, the whole of
planet Earth would soon become a desolate rock floating in the
abysmal space, not to mention the bastard soldier who wanted
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to rip my body open.


Hangar four housed the tanks and large Humvees, arranged in the back like ducks flying south for the winter. In the
entrance were the battle-scarred machines being put back together, the damages of which made it seem that the army went
through a hell of a fight against the rebels last night. One of the
tanks got its tracks soaked with slimy red fluid and traces of
muscle and skin; it apparently ran over and squashed someone.
Another was completely covered with blood and pieces of entrails. In a brief flash I was transported back to my bloody
dream, blood and fingers and veins and torn heads right in front
of my eyes. I ran away with saliva pouring out of my mouth,
until I bumped into someone.
Hey, watch where youre going!
Im sorry, Im sorry, I said, still puking out. The soldier then shoved the hat off my head and paid me a closer look,
so did the others with him. He was half-naked, coal staining his
six-pack abs and his uniform hanging on his shoulders, and
slightly shorter than his companions. His head looked squashed,
his face rather cleanly shaved. He exposed his rather attractive
armpits and biceps. My chest pumped chaotically, and not on
that account.
I dont recognize your face. What infantry are you?
No, I< I am new here. Im with< Mr. Neumann, the
supplier of your weapons. I was just taking this inventory list to
the general.
Seeing a girl they could potentially get laid with, his
companions of varying skin color came for me while showing off
their big chests and wide smiles, until the guy pushed them off.
It was then his turn, his tone suddenly changing to a very sweet
one. Im Captain Brian Lock, commander of the Lion battalion,
at your service. Can I help you with those papers maam?
No, theres no need to, I said, irritated but just a tiny
bit flattered actually. Besides our commune in the headquarters,
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I have never been surrounded with many men, all grinding


against each other for the ultimate prize.
Come on, you look like you have been in pain. Let me
carry those for you. I can give you a ride to General Marcus.
Please, I dont need your help! Leave me alone. His
companions went on to boo on his failed attempt to get me. I
made it through him but men are such persistent creatures.
His office is at least a quarter-of-a-kilometer from
here, he said. Now, I wont forgive myself if I see a beautiful
lady walking that long.
I can walk by myself.
Can you at least give me your name, Miss< Rogers?
Whoa, whoa. Ill take some of that action, somebody
screamed from the back, slowly walking towards us. His voice
immediately flared my memory, and I knew if he ever saw even
a tiny square inch of my face, he would beat and fuck me to
death like he almost did last night.
Shes not yours to take, Gideon. We saw her first.
You know you dont have the cock big enough for that.
Or maybe we could share her, come on.
Slowly, I grabbed my hat and suppressed my tension as
far as I could. As per the situation, my ears rang again. I was expected to respond violently to his offensiveness, but the threat of
death made me freeze.
Shut your goddamn mouth, said Brian. Shes with
Neumann. And dont even say a fucking word about my cock.
Then why is she on our uniform, eh? The men moved
back when I felt the bald soldiers aura coming close to me, until
I felt his hands pressing on my shoulder. Whats your name,
missy? When I didnt respond, he pressed his hands on me
even harder. I said, whats your name?
Leave her alone, Gideon!
The situation called for decisive measures. Im going to
tell Mr. Neumann about this, I said, not looking at him.You
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will be sorry if you ever touch me again.


I apologize, maam, he said, lightly.I thought you
were one of us.
Thats the way you always treat women? You should
be ashamed of yourself, you asshole.
Oh shit, you got schooled Gideon, said the others. It
felt rather good to have tamed such a beast even with my back
turned on it. With the path cleared, I walked away, but Brian
proved his determination.
Come on, maam. Im just trying to help, he said from
his jeep. He was now on uniform. Just one ride. With my potential killer behind, I had to give up my hard-to-get play. His
vehicle was reminiscent of the classic war jeeps of the great wars:
no roof, clear windshield, almost bare interior and big enough
for at most five persons only. As he started the engine, I saw the
piercing stare of Gideon, who immediately walked away with
his men back to hangar six, at which time I knew he already
knew who I was.
You have to forgive him, Brian said. Being a total
asshole has its perks on the battlefield. Hes one of our best soldiers around here.
Can you go faster? I have to get the fuck out of here. I<
I mean, get these papers signed right away.
Of course, of course. Just hold on tight. He immediately obeyed as expected of him. I removed the camera from my
pocket. So, can you tell me your name?
Ryan< Ryan Wa< Rogers. Ryan Rogers.
Damn, quite a name for a woman.
Hey, can I ask you something? I said, pressingly. Do
you know someone named Kevin Jacobs? He said hes been deployed in Iran. Hes a friend of mine.
No, Im sorry. He must be from another battalion.
Are all the infantries here now?
Yeah, everyone except the Hawks. Theyre still outside
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cleaning up our trash and checking what might remain of the


enemy. Maybe thats where your friend is in, he said. Is he
your boyfriend or something?
Is the offensive over? I interrupted his stupid question. Are you all getting out of here soon?
Well, yeah. The general said last night was the final
blow. We managed to completely wipe out the rebel forces.
Were ready to go this afternoon, but I think the equipments and
the wounded will go ahead today.
You were fighting the rebels?
Yes of course. Who else is the enemy? he said. He had
no idea. The resistance wasnt actually that tight as I expected.
Almost half of us didnt even get our guns fired. The air guys
took much of the work for us.
Where did you fight?
The attack load is divided among the six infantries. My
battalion, Lion, the Eagle and the Hawk got assigned within five
clicks from the perimeter of the base. The other three, the Beast,
Empress and Stallion fight further out in the city and maybe
beyond. Let me tell you, these militias are brutal. They fucking
rush to our tanks like kamikazes, you know, the suicidal Japanese pilots. They run to our tanks and cling to them, then they
blow themselves to bits. A bomb must have been implanted inside them. Some were just kids and women. They were tossing
them from the top of buildings like bombs.
Jesus Christ. We passed the hangar numbered three,
and parked underneath its large metal bearings, a Humvee with
intestines hanging by the back wheel churned my stomach.
I hear that the rebels are shooting people in the streets
like theyre just some deer, you know. They capture women and
rape them, all others they torture and kill. I mean, how could
they do that to their own people?
I dont know.
But they fight like usual renegades, brutal yeah but
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pretty much just your normal average untrained rebels. Most of


the time, we were just strolling around. My battalion didnt even
have any casualties, something I like to attribute to my cunning,
you know.
My stomach started aching, as if my guts got pushed
against something solid, which might be attributable for his bullshit cunning or the guts hanged on the car. Are you okay? he
said. Just as quickly, the pain faded away.
Im fine. So apparently, they slaughtered the militia
forces last night, but that shouldnt be the case if the general and
the rebels were co-conspirators. It was still of no sense.
What exactly do you do for Mr. Neumann? How much
do you earn? Must be really high, yeah, with his company is the
largest supplier of weapons in the world?
Not much, I said. I< Im his personal secretary.
Why are you in our uniform? Arent you supposed to
be in a tuxedo or something?
He insisted me to wear this so I wont be stared at by
men like you, but I guess it failed.
He smiled. Unfortunately, it did.
A brief blow of stench made me almost puke all over the
car. What the fuck is that smell? Jesus!
That must be from the burning compost over there behind hangar two. A few weeks ago, the general erected walls
behind that hangar for something. Then that stinking smoke just
rose, and it turned out not just some but all of our shit is smoldered in there. Get it? He laughed over his senseless joke. Faint
gunshots seemed to emanate from the same place.
Dont worry about that, he said. Theyre just practice
shootings. I know, pretty weird for this time of day, but its their
exercise. And we have a lot of spare ammo.
Can I ask where do you keep your prisoners?
Whoa, we dont keep prisoners of war around here. Its
against the some convention I think. Besides, we have a shoot-topg. 313

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kill order. No time for interrogations. I mean, how can you interrogate those rebels if they want to blow themselves all up?
You have a ban for American civilians, right? Where do
you keep the ones you caught?
Ryan, youre making me pretty uncomfortable with the
things you ask me for, he said, still smiling. Did Mr. Neumann
tell you to have the base background-checked?
Im< just curious. Come on, at least we have something to talk about while on this long journey.
The generals office is right up ahead, dont worry. But
if you say so, I think the guys cage them underground, beneath< I think hangar three back there, or maybe hangar two. I
heard that we caught two journalists and an Iranian last night.
Today, they should be shipped out this country to Guantanamo
Bay. Poor sons of bitches, those three are.
Iranian? I said. I mean, did you see the prisoners?
No. Gideon and his men took care of them, and theyre
the ones who bag our captives assess to Guantanamo.
Is Guantanamo that really harsh?
Oh, you have no idea, he said. Its in the middle of
the equator, so if the poor supply of food and water or the brutal
prisoners doesnt kill you first, the searing heat will. I mean, the
wardens will serve you nothing but garbage two times a day and
only three cups of water every day. Even me, I dont think I
could survive that. He just gave a haunting picture of what I
risked for going here, but none of that mattered in the face of an
even worse fate that would come for all less than half a day from
then.
The car stopped right by a large tank parked in front of a
large brown tent marked with four stars, the generals rank. Its
roof was anchored on the rusty beams of hangar two and the tall
communications tower on the other side. Before I got out, a large
rocket launcher with a sphere and two streamlined torpedoes on
either side, mounted on a sturdy block, being pulled into hangar
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All She Lost.

two caught my attention. What the hell is that?


Thats an anti-rocket rocket launcher, the pride and joy
of the general, he said. We call it full metal kick-ass. That big
ball in the middle points lasers to a rocket or nuclear warhead or
any bird in the sky, and those bad boys blow the thing mid-air
with rockets. Pretty badass, huh? Courtesy of your company.
That thing can destroy nuclear warheads? I said.
Yeah, though we havent seen it in action but yeah.
You need to deploy it now.
What? What are you talking about?
I< nothing, Im sorry. I got out of the car.
Wait. Can I see you again later?
His eyes and lips were rather delectable, sparkling and
smooth like ice cream, in fact significantly more beautiful than
Chris. I would have let him take me to dinner for Chris to see
and thereafter make the two of them fight for my hand, if not for
the apocalypse coming for everyone. I thought Id let him help
me with everything but I would never know, he might give me
in to the traitor. I cant. Sorry, I said.
Can I at least get your number or something?
No, please you dont understand. You have to go.
Whats going on? Please, let me help you.
I felt he needed to know. The general, I said, close to
his face, hes working with the rebels.
What? What are you talking about?
I held his hand. I spoke stressfully. Hes going to deploy all the nuclear bombs in this country tonight. Please you
have to believe me. He will kill everyone! You have to help me!
Who are you really? he said.
I< Im a journalist. I wanted to speak
What? Youre one of the journalists we caught? You
escaped?
No, no, no, please. I need your help!
His radio suddenly turned on. Hey, commander, the
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All She Lost.

general wants to see you and the other battalion officers.


He kept his gaze on me. Why? Cant it wait until the
conference in the Situation Room?
I dont know, but he says its urgent.
He looked at me. Please<
Sorry, I have to go.
You have to believe me!
Im so sorry. I need to leave. He left without a single
hint that he was going to screw my cover. My looks paid off to
steal his affection, which was enough to save me from being captured again, at least thats what I thought.
The heaven was well lit, glorified of day, and the base
fully awakened. Five or seven grey cargo planes each large
enough to carry an entire town lay on the far end of the base,
vehicles and equipment being delivered to them. Wounded personnel were pushed on metal beds to helicopters swirling wind
and dust in the middle of the base. My camera was still recording. I just have to get into the office, find the launch codes and
any clues to where Chris might be caged, get to that place and
retrieve him, find Kevin, and finally hitch our ride out of this
place, all while not getting myself caught. Mr. Neumann would
just have to get his stupid invoices himself.
This should be easy, I said. I hoped it really was.
The office was behind the rather shiny and hazel tank
that probably has never seen the darkness of war. And just as I
made it all the way to its end, I saw, standing right in front of the
door, the bald asshole and his men harassing another guard. I
pushed myself against the side of the tank, praying that they
never saw my skin.
Are you sure you didnt see her? the asshole said.
No ones been here since last night.
She should be here any moment now, boss. Dont worry about it. Well get that bitch.
Alright, you fucking stay here. Well go for a little hunt.
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You call when you get your hands on her, got it? You two find
Kevin. That assholes gotta be with that woman. Go! The stomp
of their boots sounded like the men ran out of my way, but in no
way that offered any form of relief in me. I just became a prey
trapped in the sea of predators all scrambling to hunt me down
and tear my body to pieces, with nothing but a miniscule and
most probably vain hope of getting out. And once again, my
curse would inflict death to another life that I hung onto. It
seemed that the world was closing in on me, trapping me with
nowhere to go, about to crush and obliterate all sparks of hope
and life.
I peeked behind the tank; only a rather thin-bodied soldier stood watch on the office. Inside, many personnel scrambled around scrutinizing papers and all sorts of communications
equipment. I could theoretically take him down, but twists of
fate might give me the disadvantage. I pressed my back again to
the tank, calculating other courses of action. Brian. For once I
regretted letting a man go off my sight; with a little more persuasion, he would me my ticket in. I ran to the front of the tank; his
car should still be within sight. Then, Gideon appeared out of
thin air. Laughing monstrously, he constricted my arms with his
large hands, immobilizing me.
Where do you think youre going, you bitch!?
Matched with a scream, I swayed my feet all the way up
to his balls, which made him grip my arms even stronger. He
lost his stance, and on the second time I crushed his nuts, he finally fell, screaming in pain. I turned around and another of his
men ran storming at me, and as if my mind has just overtaken
my conscious control of my body, I threw the papers to him like
a boomerang, the edge of the metal bar landing right in his eyes,
drops of blood moistening my cheeks. I ran to where my subconscious took me, overriding my physical limitations, and for a
few seconds of brain hyperactivity, I actually plotted out where I
was going. If I stormed right to the generals office, I would be
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trapped. If I turned back and ran to the middle of the base, Brian
would see me and hopefully go on to save his damsel on extreme distress, assuming that he didnt take my denial too seriously, but then again he would find out that I was a convict
and turn me over. On the side of the hangar was a door leading
inside the gigantic building. Before I realized any drawback
from this choice, my brain resumed normal processing speed,
and so I rushed to the only reasonable choice.
Inside were even more Humvees and tanks arranged in
a grid formation. A cargo truck was still pulling the anti-nuclear
weapon into the hangar, and amidst all the men delicately doing
the operation, I walked right through the warehouse unnoticed.
At places the floor made my head prone to severe trauma. I
pulled the camera out in light of the deadly chase, swerving all
over the place while on crawl. The holes of my head were pouring with all sorts of fluids. After the thousandth turn, I got to the
other end of the hangar, where another door waited for me.
There she is! My escape tactics proved bullshit. The
adrenaline rushing through my veins made it seem I ran at the
speed of light but their sights were somehow faster. The door led
me to a space filled with retired war machines, wrecked of rust,
stacked ammo crates and rusty steel bars. A large wall lay right
ahead.
You think you can get away from us?! You think you
can get out of this place alive?! Guess what! I will find you! I will
hunt you down! And Im going to tear you apart! You hear me?!
You got nowhere to run!
For several times, I got snagged on the sharp corroded
edges of the metal sea, each time driving me close to insanity,
but nonetheless I kept running, even with absolutely no sense of
where I could be heading and no assurance I would get away
from them. Everything was falling apart. I was near the point of
no return, the end of the line.
The wall was monstrous, of the same kind used to keep
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away zombies from the last sanctuary of humankind. Foul and


unbearable was the smell. I ran through the expanse of the structure, the screams of death closing behind me, but any door to
salvation was nowhere until, out of perhaps some intervention
from the universe, I found a tarp covering a crack big enough for
me to get through. After a minute of wait inside and all my run
finally paid off. I somehow got away.
My arms and legs were shaking, weakened from the
adrenaline overdrive, and my throat was as dry as the dust
bowl. All over me were large rusty metal panels as high as the
wall itself. The perpetual ringing weakened the sound but I still
heard what seemed like screams and gunfire on the other side of
the wall. The smell was of rot and char. Intrigued and with nowhere else to go, I walked through what turned out to be an intricate maze until I found a bent panel. Through a hole, I saw
many people, apparently local Iranians, in a single file, crying
and flailing around, their arms all tied up. There were, of all ages
and condition, men, women and children, even pregnant ones
and babies. Every gunshot made them scream and bend their
knees to the ground, at which time men in black masks would
shove their large guns at their faces. The line extended to the
other side of the panel, so I moved to find another vantage point.
Gunshots were endless, and that time I could also hear something burning.
The path led me to a hole in a wall of a small room filled
with weapons and ammunition of all sizes. A large sniper rifle
surrounded by smaller pistols and machine guns lay on a table
in the center, an American flag was stuck on the wall, gallons of
gas piled on the corner, and a lot of black masks stuffed on a
box. Before I could look out the window, the knob on the door to
the other side started creaking. I turned back the way I came,
closing it with the carton panel, just in time before two soldiers
walked right in. I shivered in fear. The men sounded British,
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dowed with what I would hear next.


Jesus, how long would it take for us to finish this?
I dont know. I saw three trucks parked outside before I
came here.
Three? Fucking shit, thats still a lot of people to kill.
I mean, did you see the whole shitload of people trying
to break in here to evacuate? Boss wants to kill them all.
Do we have enough ammo?
The boss just brought a new stash right now.
How about fuel?
Theres still a shitload in the back. Hey, why dont we
bring in the newbies here, you know for target practice.
I dont know. But maybe not. Theyre gonna piss their
fucking pants off if they see this. Maybe we should use the silencers now, yeah? These LMGs might be too noisy. Those idiots
outside might come to check us out. Boss dont want that.
Have it your way. Im still gonna use these bad boys.
The sound of the bullet makes the whole experience more immersive, you know. Besides, the wall is tall enough, and they all
think were practice shooting.
Hey, how much did the boss promised you?
Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars.
Dont fucking lie to me. Rob says his was a million.
Its actually 1.3 million for me.
Son of a bitch, thats unfair. Why is mine eight hundred
thousand only?
Maybe you could use a little bit of sweet talking on
Neumann. I hear hes quite the generous guy.
Their voices finally disappeared, but that was nothing
with the chaos in my head over everything I just heard. But I had
to see it for myself. I looked through the window with my camera, and there I beheld the dark truth. Surrounded by the large
rusty metal panels was an expanse of soil, dug with three large
trenches, with perhaps a dozen soldiers positioned all around
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the area, holding large machine guns. They wore black masks
and, for some reason, the rebel uniforms that exposed their
bright white arms. The trenches were ablaze, but the men made
them burn even more with gallons of gasoline. The people, in
groups of five, were made to line in front of the burning pits, a
pregnant woman among them. Their cries pierced my heart.
And then, they open fire. Like puppets cut from their lines, the
bodies fell to the burning pit. I saw the belly of the pregnant one
explode just as she fell to the fire.
I was paralyzed, every bit of fiber in my body quivering
over the sheer cruelty I witnessed, but it proved too much to
bear. I dropped the camera on my side. As the guns continued to
blaze outside, I shrieked, sitting with my head clasped between
my thighs. My hands went all over me like a wild animal. My
head felt warmer, filled with blood about to blow out of me. I
was losing it. I was losing it. I could not take it anymore. The
death of that pregnant woman, and the heads of everybody I
killed, coalesced in a storm within my mind that made me see
the world turning upside down and sideways. All I could see
were blood, guts, torn fingers, blood, heads, children getting cut
in half, and even more blood. It was too much.
I knew it the moment I stepped out of his plane, which
put sense on his revelation of the biggest lie of the 21st century
and the uncanny feeling that he knew me. Jerry Neumann was
the traitor, I couldnt be more certain. That would explain why
the mark of his company was all over rebel territory. He wanted
me to understand his betrayal of his own motherland and his
plan to obliterate the civilization that man spent his whole history to build, to reset everything and found a utopia free from
what he referred to as evils. Obamas lies and barbarism might
be severe, in fact worthy for him to be hanged or executed
through firing squad, but not severe enough to justify Armageddon. Neumanns reasons must have extended over decades of
injustice and corruption and violence, but it didnt matter. The
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general must be his right-hand, another lunatic who shared his


twisted ends, ordering a genocide to eliminate every Iranian in
the country. The abundant nuclear stockpile of Iran mustve led
the traitor here, and Marcus connections with the rebel forces
allowed him to kill the president of Iran, acquire the map with
the launch codes, and then force the United States to bring the
generals troops to the country, who would take care of eliminating all possible enemies by butchering an entire race of people.
The rest would be put to end with the nuclear warheads. The
masked men I saw in every single brush with death that I had
throughout this assignment were the Americans in rebel disguise, which would make the people put the blame on the real
militias. The high remunerations clouded the moral judgment of
the soldiers to the extent that they would kill a whole mass of
people just for thousands of bucks. But something wasnt clear
still why the hell Neumann wanted me to come here?
Omar was right; the real enemy was the other way
around. I recalled his story when he was captured by the rebels,
who he discovered were fighting for their homes and families
against the real monsters. The entrails from the tanks outside
must be from the militia forces holding the genocide operation of
the American soldiers off. Though for much of Irans history
they too almost brought the citizens of the country to extinction,
they would prove to be the only one who could maintain the
country and their race. But the general, and therefore the traitor,
and the rebels were co-conspirators, so why the hell would they
fight one another?
The barrage of fire stopped and another group were led
to the pits. Crawling and still shaking from trauma, I moved out
before their screams could get into my head. I have to find Kevin
and perhaps Brian too. It appeared that not all of the army was
made aware of what they really signed up for, so with the added
bonus of his attraction to me, I could get him to help me find my
partner, hijack one of the helicopters and fly all of us out of here.
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And I have to do all that in ten and a half hours.


Other than the hole I came in from, there was another
door on the corner that might be my way out. But I would never
know. There was no other safe exit in the room than that hole.
When I got the carton out, I heard a Beethoven tune ringing from
underneath me; someone was calling. The Smartphone showed
an unidentified caller, which most probably was Neumann. I
opened the line nonetheless.
You fucking monster, I said. Why would you kill all
these people?
Holly! Thank God, youre okay.
I couldnt believe it. Chris? Jesus, are you okay? Where
are you?
Im fine, he said, whispering and breathing deeply. I
just got out of my prison cell. I think Im still underground.
Where are you? Are you okay? Are you still locked up?
No, Matts friend saved me. Im outside beyond the
wall and< the soldiers are killing them Chris, theyre killing all
the Iranians! The traitor, I know who he is.
Were gonna talk about that later. Now heres what I
want you to do. You go and wait for me on hangar two. Behind
the building should be the wall where you are right now, right?
Wait for me there. I have the launch codes.
But the general has them.
No, the real map has been with me all along. I gave you
a fake one from the underground facility.
No wonder he didn't listen to us!
Ill just explain later. Get the hell out of there and wait
for me on hangar two. I love you. I gotta go.
I felt rather rejuvenated with a new hope that came unexpected in my midst, a hope that made its way through the
thick walls of my despair, a hope that I never thought would
come for me again. The map was in good hands, which made
things easier by a million-fold. Just as I was about to put away
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the phone, I noticed the crosshair icon on the screen alternating


from dark to glowing for some reason. It has been like that since
I arrived in this shithole of a country. I got up and cleared my
way to the hole, until the door at the corner creaked. I placed the
cover back and hid under the table, which was wide enough to
cover my puny body, just as a heavy guy went into the room.
The sound of his steps pressing against the concrete floor was
familiar, and when I saw his bald head, I ran out of breath.
Hey! Gideon screamed to the men outside. You fuckers see a girl come in here?
No, why? Did your dick fall off and she got bored with
you or something?
I asked you a goddamn question, you asshole.
I did not see any girl you recently fucked with, okay?
Like a raccoon, I compressed myself to a ball, all while
fighting through the shivers to keep myself alive. I could hear
even the faintest sound in the room, even the dust that his boots
crushed on the floor. My eyes were opened wide, seeing all the
way to my peripheral sights. And sure enough, I saw my black
camera on the middle of the floor.
Gideon walked right in front of the camera when his
phone rang. Screams were about to break out from me. Hello?
Yes sir, Mr. Neumann< He then turned to me, his dark and
dusty boots pointing to where I was. The phones volume was
loud enough for me to hear the traitor.
You have her?
I dont have her yet sir, but I assure you she got nowhere to go. My men are looking all over for her.
You make sure you find that bitch or Im gonna make
you so sorry, you hear me? And find her fucking boyfriend too.
Yes sir. What do you want me to do with her?
I dont care. Fuck her if you want. Wait, no.If you see
that woman, I want you to make her suffer until she wants to
die, then Ill kill her myself after I kill everyone she loves. And
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the Iranian, get the codes from him and you can go do whatever
you want with him. Hes of no use to me anymore.
With pleasure sir.
And find Jacobs too and kill him. Ive had enough of
this fuck. Those sons of bitches think they can have the world for
themselves<
Yes sir. Ill make sure youll have her sir.
He turned off the call, but for some reason, he wasnt
moving, standing still and silent. He definitely heard something,
and soon enough, he moved around the table and stopped once
again on my other side. I bit my lip until it got torn apart just to
keep the fright within me. He stood there for too long, as if he
knew I was right underneath and he was just waiting for the
right timing to grab my ass away. But he didnt. The bastard
walked hurriedly out of the room, offering me a huge dose of
relief. He left the door open.
I faced a directional dilemma. If I went out the same way
I came in, I would go right at where Chris told me to go, but the
agents of death might be waiting for me outside. If I went
through that door, which would lead me underground, that motherfucker might sneak up on me again and end me once and for
all, but Chris was right down there. And something made me
think that I should find out the Iranian also incarcerated with
him. After weighing the good and the bad that each would bring
me, I went to the right way.

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Chapter

19.
IT GOT COOLERwith every step down the concrete stairs. The
new shoes provided noise-free stomps. Electric buzzing sounds
filled the rather clean and bright hallway down below.I felt my
insides vibrating from hunger, proving the sandwiches lacking.
The best and ideal case scenario that should and Id die to happen was that I would see Chris sitting in some room with the
map, waiting for me, and without Gideon chasing us, we would
sprint the hell out of this place to a helicopter or a cargo plane,
and buy the world a few more years. Albeit terrified to death, I
moved as natural and calm and swift as I could through the
mesh of hallways. Closed circuit cameras and other soldiers
wandering around threatened to blow my cover, which my hat
effectively averted. I was all but sure-footed, going left and right
then another right without any sense of progress.
The world kept collapsing in on me. The traitor wanted
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to kill Chris and Kevin dead, like Neumann wanted every single
person that Ive been with dead. It seemed like he knew wherever I went and whoever I was with. He probably has his eyes on
me right then. But if he did, he shouldve already sent the bald
one to rip me in half. I went on. I had to find my partner.
The trauma level my brain could handle reached its
maximum threshold to the point that I could see dead corpses,
dismembered and marinating in pure red blood, all around me.
It has turned into a drug that screwed my consciousness of space
and time. Aliyas head, all blown open, was hanged from the
ceiling. The loud cries of mercy from my slaughtered staff deafened me. Hordes of people being shot to death were raining on
me. No matter how much I shook my head, the hallucinations
were resilient, so did the smell of blood and burning flesh from
the slaughter house for some reason.At times, my consciousness
departed from my body back from that scene of carnage, only to
return when my head smacked against the wall. I went to a vacant room, all but clean and illuminated, and puked my guts out.
I cried again.
Times like this made me rethink if my actions were the
right thing to do, if mankind was really worth saving. Man is the
cruelest animal in existence, and in most cases, a disease that
needs to be eradicated. I remember what the villain in The Matrix
said per that notion. Man is more like of a virus, the beings resembling our nature more than monkeys or chimpanzees. Once
a virus gets its way into a computer, it multiplies and infects the
system, stopping no matter what, until it is rendered inert. Destruction is its only program, its only purpose. In the same way,
man multiplies and colonizes areas on the globe, exhausting all
that there is, at which point he moves out and finds another area,
until ultimately theres nothing and nowhere left to go, finally
meeting his inevitable doom. It might be for his survival, but it
comes with the price of destroying the only living space the
cosmos has made available for life. Man is a disease of the Earth
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that needs to be eradicated. Then again, I still wanted to live my


life to the fullest, not to be cut short by a nuclear holocaust,
something that, as big as it may seem, I actually have a chance of
stopping.
8:10 less than ten hours to the end of the world.
I sat against the wall of the cordoned off room. For some
reason, I felt heavier than normal, which might be from the puke
draining my energy out. As the tiny red light on my camera
caught my eye, I marveled at how that tiny little bastard that
was my camera survived grueling hours of nothing but pure
suffering and violence. Aside from the crack on the viewfinder
and another on the main casing, it still operated fine. I looked at
my face, my right eye indeed swelling and discoloring a bit. It
was even more shrunken than before, as if my insides were being sucked out of me, and the pimple perked up again, but I felt
less irritated than I normally would. This assignment has completely turned over its head. What was supposed to be a documentation of the war and how the people survived it became a
rescue mission to save the planet. Its almost ridiculous that a 23
year old-journalist nobody from some outskirt of Ohio would be
the one up against the apocalypse, the end of the world itself,
which was another thing that I never saw coming of me.
If I ever get the footage I caught out to the Web, a sensation unlike any other would emerge. I hoped the world would
change for the better with everything I discovered. For a week or
two, my name would be glorified on every media thereis, celebrated like a heroine in fact for saving the world from certain
doom, glory which unfortunately would never compensate with
losses I had. Like anyone who has enjoyed the peak of media
exposure, I would come crashing down into the oblivion of anonymity where no one would even know I existed. Right then I
would know the true price of everything Ive done, all my lies,
all my betrayals. It wasnt even certain that I was gonna make it
through the end. I guessed the only right thing to do was to try
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and give saving this planet a shot.


Unable to contain how much I missed Aliya, I looked at
my footages back in the hospital. I laughed at how she messed
around with my camera, making faces as she aimed it away and
back again on her face. There was no possible way I could forgive myself for what Ive done to her. I swore with my life to
give her the love and care she deserved, for me to be the mother
she wanted, to make her life and future brighter and away from
all this hell, but I brought nothing but death. I thought I could
protect her, but I was in no capacity for so; I was such a fool to
think that I could be my own woman. I stopped the footage before tears flood my eyes, but I was too late.
With the end in sight, I made what could be my last video diary. I tried to be unemotional but it proved impossible with
my feminine nature. I didnt want it to be my final farewell, but I
could never know, so it might as well be.Hi, its me again<
been quite a long time since Ive done this. As youve seen, Ive
been through some serious shit, and I have lost many of my
friends and family along the way. Uh< I gotta say this is the
worst experience I had in my entire career, in all my life in fact. I
swear to God Im never doing this shit again. Besides, all my
staff, my friends are dead because of me. Everybodys dead. If I
just turned back< I had many chances, but I kept on going, and
now Im all alone. Im so sorry! Though I know you will never,
but I hope you can forgive me. I swear to God, I never wanted
this to happen. That motherfucking monster brought me here.
He should be the one suffering like this. What the hell does he
want from me? Its already 8:17 and I have less than ten hours to
find my partner and Kevin and get the hell out of this place before that monster blows the whole world up. I gotta go, and< I
hope well all see each other again. I love you, mom and dad.
Jade and Carmen, take care of them for me will you?
I turned off the camera to give it some well-deserved
slack until a voice of a woman echoed in the hallway. All battapg. 329

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lion commanders, all battalion commanders, she said, please


report to the general in the situation room immediately for urgent matters. Your presence is a must. All other personnel, return to your stations and await orders. I repeat, all other personnel, return to your stations and await orders.
Just as I thought things couldnt get any worse, it did.
The general mustve called the meeting to orchestrate a manhunt
for me, further slimming my already microscopic chances of
survival. But that was my cue, in fact my only remaining cue.
With the bases authority concentrated on one place and the soldiers de-motivated with their trip home indefinitely cancelled,
everything should theoretically go without a hitch, provided that
that bald bastard and his men somehow died. Otherwise, if the
plan has already been laid out and my search still hasnt paid
off, I would be no better than a dead cold corpse, and so would
the world.
My anxiety made the air even cooler and my walk wobbly. With no other means to navigate, I stuck to going random
directions in the labyrinth, relying on my peripheral sight to find
where Chris cell was with my hat blocking my face. Not even a
single sign or direction or map made my life easier. I came
across the interrogation room where me and my partner might
have gotten our asses handed to us, a hallway of empty prison
cells, even more interrogation and torture rooms and a couple of
conference rooms. Some paths were left dark and abandoned,
proving the labyrinth larger than it seemed to me. The whole
place must be part of a subterranean system that ran throughout
the city used by guerillas during the war-torn days of Iran like
what Matt talked about.
Already, forty minutes have passed since I last looked at
my watch, like the universe was anticipating the doom of the
planet. I might have walked the entire expanse of the underground system before I came across something promising. The
smell of cigarette and liquor and the sound of heavy footsteps
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and murmurs suddenly filled my senses, signs of humanity close


by. At the end of the hallway I trod on, the battalion commanders walked in close unison going to my left. It might be fate, but I
saw Brian among them. My instincts wanted me to run for him
but that would prove to be an extremely stupid idea, now that
they would all soon hunt for me.
I turned to that direction, and by the door of the situation room were the bald motherfucker and his three other men.
There were five of them as I recalled. I have nowhere else to go
but right through them. That time, the laws of nature were absolutely stacked against me if I attempted to take them down. And
suddenly, of all the possible time, Beethoven sang on my phone.
Blood rushed to my head as I pressed every pocket to shut him
up, and as footsteps emanated from the other side, I made a run
for it. The hallway looked three times as long for some reason,
but I still managed to reach its end without them chasing after
me. I hid on a short path stacked with chairs and rubbish. Chris
was calling.
Holly, where the hell are you?
It seemed that I lost them. My heart wanted to break out
of me. Im at the underground near the situation room looking
for you.
I told you to wait for me on the hangar.
Where the hell are you?
Im already up here waiting for you, he said.
Im sorry, I said, burdened with what turned out to be
another bad decision. I thought youre still down here.
Just stay where you are. Im going down there.
How are you gonna find me?
He wont, a deep voice whispered to me. Then, it all
happened very fast. Gideon pulled and threw me to the floor,
the camera and Smartphone skidding down further, and then
kicked my feet so hard that my bones vibrated. Another of his
men, the one whose eyes I messed up, rushed and stomped on
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my back. It proved very gratifying for them, like beating another


human being to death was such a fun thing to do. I couldnt
stand, my legs and back too bruised to support me. Pulling myself with my arms to somehow avert the coming end, I screamed
for help like a fool as he slowly walked towards me. I heard his
zipper being pulled down.
You thought you could get away from me, do you?
Please, let me go! Please! Help me!
You will never get away from us. We always see where
you are. No ones coming for you. Youre all alone, and youre
all mine, he said, as if savoring a meal to come. Ive been waiting for this moment. Now, youre gonna wish you havent been
born! Come on, boys! We have ourselves a feast!
The four of them grabbed every one of my appendages
and dragged me on the hallway like a pig for butchering to the
nearest empty room they could find. They laughed like devils in
the lair of Satan himself, their teeth grinning and their mouths
literally drooling over the illicit indulgence they were about to
have. The one with the messed eyes held my feet, his hands caressing my legs up to the middle of my crotch. I begged for mercy until my veins broke. Perhaps the entire subterranean system
echoed with my screams of despair and mercy, but it did nothing. Help was too late. It was my end.
Then, they threw me to a cold dark room, the full weight
of my body crushing my arms. Gideon turned me over and knelt
by my crotch, instantly rendering me inert. I couldnt move my
hips and legs with the sheer weight of his body, or reach for his
eyes for me to pluck them out with his sheer size. The others
surrounded me, removed their nightmarish-smelling clothes and
undergarments, and started jerking off to perk up their dicks as
the bastard ripped open my uniform to reveal my breasts and
puny shape. He then undressed himself, revealing his insanely
hairy chest and similarly hairy crotch with his erection looking
through. They tore the top of my pants and panties to pave a
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way for their fucking. I was helpless. Any form of resistance met
with a violent beating. The whole time I convulsed, shaking and
thrashing as hard as I could to lose their grip on me. It was
beyond a nightmare, a dream which I would rather die than experience.
Youre mine, he said, his face monstrous and eager to
eat me up. Dont worry, I wont kill you. Neumann will do that
for himself. I will keep you alive, but just barely.
He went on to grasp and massage my rather stiffened
breasts while repeatedly and rigorously piercing my vagina with
his erection, all while moaning like a dog. The others kept on
rubbing their horrifying genitals on my breasts and skin, traces
of semen pouring out of them. I really wanted to fucking die in
that moment. The one with the messed-up eyes pushed the bald
bastard as he was about to enter orgasm, and went on to push
his penis within me. Gideon punched him, and he landed over
my body, his erection still lodged deep within me, like it had
pierced all the way to my back. The bastard lifted and pushed
him to the side, and fucked me again. Weird enough, in some
moments, it actually felt good his penis rubbing against my
womanhood and his hands pressing on my breasts perhaps
due to this being a biological womanly need, but it was overwhelmed with the nightmare they were doing to me. He moved
faster and faster, digging deeper and deeper, and licked every
single square inch of my body, his saliva drowning my skin.
Then the next one did the same, and the next, and the next. It
was my end until, in an act of divine providence, I heard someone screaming.
Then, on top of me, Gideons head exploded in blood,
drowning all of my body. A long metal bar cut his face in half all
the way down to his open mouth, revealing the curves of his
brain, red blood squirting all over. I just trembled uncontrollably. I felt his penis got pulled out as he collapsed to the ground.
The warm blood marinated my skin and blocked my sights, but I
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heard screaming, choking and then bodies falling to the bloodsoaked floor. Somebody was killing the motherfuckers off while
I lay naked and bloody, screaming and terrified from the nightmare I just endured. Then, after the last scream faded away,
somebody rushed to hug me tight.
Holy shit, Im sorry, Im sorry, Im sorry, Holly. It was
Chris, also on a soldier disguise. He was breathing loud and
deep. I should be rejoicing and ecstatic with salvation finally
within my arms embrace, but the trauma left no room for such
feeling. I didnt really feel him touching me. My crotch was
warm and swollen, the rest of my body burning in pain. I wasnt
really there with him, like my consciousness departed from me.
Please forgive me. I shouldve been here for you. Im so sorry,
Holly! It wasnt the first time I got pierced with a dick, but it
did convince me to never have it again, in fact to never fucking
breathe at all. I wailed in his arms, a desperate call for the universe to end me. The only reason that I was still alive was to live
my life up to its supposed end, not to be cut off by some lunatics
vision of world purification, but if the rest of my existence would
be filled with suffering like this, what would be the point?
The men and the bastard all lay dead spilling and soaking with blood on the floor, pieces of metal sticking in their flesh.
They were finished but for some reason, I could still feel their
members going through me, their bodies piled on top of mine.
Half of Gideons sliced face was right at me, but for some reason
my eyes locked on him, until he blinked. I was frightened, and
like a schizophrenic I rushed and pushed myself to the corner of
the room. Chris came back with some clothes, but even to him I
freaked out.
Come on, put this on, please, he said. We need to get
out of here.
No, no, no, no, no. I dont want to do this anymore.
We are going to die if we dont get out of here.
I dont care! I dont care! I said. Just leave me here
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alone please! I cant do this, okay?


You dont understand.
What else there is to understand?! The planets going to
get destroyed no matter what. And I cant take more of this fucking shit, Chris! Were dead. Were already dead before we even
die! So whats the fucking point?!
I cant lose you, okay? he said. I swore to my life that
I would get you out of here, and Im gonna marry you remember? We have a shot to make things right, to save everything and
everyone. It doesnt have to end that way. Look, all we need
now is to get the hell out of this place and show the world everything that we saw, nothing else. Its almost over. Its all gonna be
okay.
Okay? How about my parents, my friends, everybody
that I killed?! Can you bring them back from the grave? Its never gonna be okay, Chris!
What the fuck do you want me to do?!
I want you to stay with me, never leave me alone! Im
tired of being alone and I dont know what am I gonna do! Dont
leave me alone
He hugged me again. Of course, of course. I promise Ill
never leave your side ever again. Ill never let anything like this
happen to you anymore. Promise. My quivering was strong
enough to shake his body, but his caress and warmth proved
quite a remedy.
What are we gonna do now?
I saw cargo planes being loaded with equipment and
taking off outside. We could hitch a ride in one. I have the map
with me. But get dressed first. Are you okay?
He clearly had no idea what being fucked by four monsters felt like. My legs were numbed, my breasts swollen from
the intense massaging. I pulled back my pants, and suddenly my
stomach screamed in pain again, like my guts were being pulled
to a single point inside me. I caressed my belly, and there it was
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again, the enigmatic bump.


What the hell is that? he said.
I< I dont know. I dont know.
Is it painful?
What the fuck does it look like?
He did it to you. That son of a bitch! he whispered.
What? What are you talking about?
Come on, lets get you out of here.
After checking outside, my partner had me on his
shoulders and we walked back the way he came, which turned
out to be the only hallway left for me to walk through. The camera and Smartphone lay on the floor and escaped a bloody bath,
but before I could pick up the phone, Chris stepped on it.
What the hell is wrong with you?! We have nothing
else to call with!
Just trust me. I shouldnt have brought it.
Whats going on?
Lets just go! Come on!
It took a couple of steps before blood flowed through my
legs again and the sensation returned; it took a couple more before the whole of my consciousness came back. No backups
stormed to us, perhaps due to de-motivation, and the conspicuous soldier carrying a mysteriously wounded personnel that
was us moved swiftly through the hallway. For some reason, not
a single soul took post on the situation room.
Voices reverberated loudly from inside the conference.
< we sure about these new intel, General?
Wait, Chris said, stopping by the fiberglass door.
What the hell are you doing? I whispered, stressfully.
Im gonna listen for a bit.
Theyve been proven correct by reconnaissance ops.
The general, I recognized.
Theyre gonna kill us here! Please we have to go.
Just a minute, please.He then aimed the camera to the
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glass window of the door and left me trembling with the chance
that soldiers might suddenly pop up and bag our asses again.
< we dont have enough firepower to support another
full-blown attack. Weve wasted everything last night with that
erroneous tip. Our soldiers are tired and frankly have had
enough of this thing.
We understand commander, Neumann said, but isnt
it better to end this thing once and for all and kill those sons of
bitches now than be deployed here again?
General, with all due respect, why is the president of a
weapons corporation present in this meeting?
Because commander, I happen to be the one who obtained these new intel. We have satellite capabilities beyond anyones reach. And I assure you, those motherfuckers are there.
Holly, look at this, Chris said, looking at the scope of
the camera. Theyre gonna launch another attack on the rebel
hideouts. This war isnt over. Turned out I was wrong. Come to
think of it, a couple of journalists were not such a big target for
the commanders to go hunt and waste time and men for. And
apparently too, they have no idea what Neumann and the general were really planning to do.
Lets go, come on please! I said. He didnt listen.
What you think we should do, Jerry? said the General.
Do you still have to wait? Right now is the time to attack. They dont know that we have their true locations. Its a
fucking guaranteed win. And I have all the weapons you would
ever need. I just brought a new stash right now<
You said you know who the traitor was, right? Chris
said.
Its that guy talking, Jerry Neumann, I said. The general must be working with him. Hes the president of a military
corporation called G4S. Price must have stolen the map from
them.
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ist, that sick fucking bastard. Hes gonna kill all of them.
What?
Who the hell are those two? the commander said.
American journalists we apprehended last night, said
one soldier. They escaped and still at large.
I saw our faces flashed in the screen inside. I felt my
blood got drained. Turned out I was right. Oh shit, shit! Theyre
going to hunt us down!
Hes going out. Hes coming out, come on! We rushed
to the end of the hallway. My feet have fully regained sensation
but the joints at my pelvis were still a killer; those bastards dicks
mustve mushed everything within. I couldnt bring my legs together, and so I trod like a penguin. The whole place seemed
deserted and no soul whatsoever came across us, an extremely
good thing. I could still feel the bump on my stomach. We
stopped on the intersection as we heard the door slam and as
Neumann talked over his phone. Suppressing the pain of my
body proved a tall order, but Chris plugged my mouth with his
still bloody hands.
Gideon? Come in, you son of a bitch< He apparently
still had no idea. Where are they? < What? How the fuck could
you lose them? < This place is packed with fucking idiots. Get
everything ready to leave < Let me take care of those codes and
just do your fucking job. He should be talking about his attempt for Armageddon, which was nine hours and fifteen minutes away by then.
How many units did Obama dispatch to other countries?<Fuck that bastard, thats not enough. Slaughter another
ten volunteers and make it more gruesome as possible, you understand? We need their entire military. He was a real fucking
monster; he butchered Americans to induce the president to
bring him more firepower. Have you delivered the bomb here?
< Theyre out of the deal. They didnt agree to my terms. Kill
any of his emissaries if you see them. Ill go kill that old fool and
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his people. We cant let them take everything from us<


Motherfucker, Chris said, as if devastated. Motherfucking son of a bitch.
What did he say?
Nothing. Come on. We have to go.We moved as the
door got slammed. The hallway echoed with our loud breaths
and the sound of our shoes skidding on the rather shiny floor. I
had the camera on my hand. My heart beating so hard from the
fact that we have just become wanted fugitives rejuvenated me.
I talked to him, I said. I didnt know he was the traitor. He explained to me why he wanted to destroy everything.
He said Obama himself created ISIS to gain him control of the
Middle East, something like that.
What? Did he know who you are?
I dont know, but I think he does, but I dont know. He
just talked to me, and he didnt really mention stuff about me.
Good thing he didnt kill you.
Thats what Im wondering about. He wanted me to
know why he was doing it, but he didnt really say that. I dont
know.
Where did you meet Matts friend? Chris said. Where
the hell is he?
I dont know. That bald one was about to take me to his
cell when he took me away and brought me to his room. We
talked about stuff that he knows and then he left. He got dispatched to war. He gave me a walkie-talkie but he hasnt called.
Ive been looking everywhere. He said hell find us a way out.
We cant wait for him. Cant you call him now?
I dont know how to use it, I said. I gave it to him as
per the necessity. Still walking towards the end, he turned some
dials on the phone and called Kevin. We then reached the end of
the hallway, and to the left were the stairs leading up the ground
finally at reach. But before I could reach salvation, my stomach
cried in pain and made me fall on my weight. A drill seemed to
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be boring a hole though my body. Chris pulled me away from


the sights of security cameras. Every time I breathed, fire burned
though my guts. Those motherfuckers have messed my insides
big time. Chris couldnt offer any comfort.
Come on, just a little longer.
I cant do it, I said.
Wait, wait< Kevin? Kevin! Its Chris. Where are you?
I pulled my shirt up and tried pushing the bump in
where the pain emanated, but it was too much to bear. It was
definitely solid and of a size larger than I could possibly swallow
with. It could only be a cancerous tumor, but the fact that my
lineage was clean of any genetic infirmity made that possibility
unlikely, but maybe I was the lucky one. I wish it was truly a
tumor.
He wants to talk to you.
Kevin? Its me. Where are you?
The static messed his words but not enough to make
them a bunch of gibbers. We just got back, he said. Im right
outside hangar four. You got Chris?
Yeah. The pain finally subsided after a few
groans.Listen to me, the whole armys onto us! Theyre going to
hunt us down! What are we gonna do?
Just stay there and dont get out. Im coming for you.
Its Neumann, the supplier of your weapons. He is the
traitor. I heard him. He wants you dead. You have to come with
us right now!
Alright, there are a bunch of helicopters in front of
hangar two. Meet me there in fifteen minutes. And Holly, about
that hospital<
Yeah, you saw the children? How are they? I held my
breath, expecting the only answer I wanted to hear.
I< Im sorry. The buildings intact but I didnt find anyone inside. I think the rebels took them. Im sorry, Holly.
My face got pulled down. Are you sure? Did< did you
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search the building further? They have to be in there. They have


to be in there. I promised. I promised Ill come back for them!
Im so sorry, Holly. I searched every room in that place,
even the basement. They were not there. And so, devastation
got triggered in me once again.
Come on, theres nothing you can do, Chris said, hugging me. There is nothing you can do. It seemed like a bad
thing to say but he couldnt be any more correct. I knew theyd
be dead all along. Chris took the phone. Well see you in fifteen.
Cant we just kill him?
What are you talking about?
Neumann. Throw a fucking grenade in there and that
motherfuckers done.
Then what? The whole armys gonna come down here
and shoot us both? This is the best thing we can do.
Were gonna fail. No matter what we do, hes always
one step ahead of us, like he knows where we are.
Not anymore. He doesnt know where we are.
How the hell can you know?
Just trust me, okay?
Ive been trusting you this whole fucking time and look
at where it took me! I trusted you to follow that fucking map of
yours, and it brought me in this pile of shit!
I know its my fault. Holly, I< Im so sorry I have to
put you through all this. Im so sorry.
Are you hiding something from me? What the hell are
we really doing here? Where did you get that fucking map?
Holly, listen to me. He moved closer to me. I love
you. I love you, you know that. I would never do anything to
put you in harms way.
What the hell is really going on? I shrieked. Please,
just tell me, Chris. I cant take this anymore. I hate this fucking
place! Please! Take me out of here!
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Its gonna be over soon, I promise you, he said, and I


swear, you will never get hurt again, ever. I will protect you, I
will never let you get hurt. Were all gonna be saved, I promise.
A scream from deep through another hallway interrupted us. I did not contest against Chris going to check it out,
despite the fact the whole army would soon be hunting our asses
down. The voice was uncannily familiar, in fact of someone I
knew who recently died. With the pain in my stomach eased and
my feet perfectly capable of carrying me again, I followed Chris
through the dim hallway. At the end of the hallway was another
leading to an opened door into which the voices came from. I
could hear another voice, rough and of a large man, and then a
scream, and another scream, apparently of someone getting a
hell of a beating. Chris picked up a long metal rod on the floor.
Please! Please, stop! I have to talk to your boss. This is
very much important, please!
I dont give a fuck! You just have to give those things to
me. You are no longer needed.
But we had a deal! We had a deal!
Shut the fuck up!
I stood still on a distance as Chris was on a fighting
stance behind the door, holding the metal bar like a pitcher. No
other soul was around us. Then, after breathing deep to his soul,
he rushed into the room and from the screams of agony I heard,
he beat the shit out of the other guy. I didnt think he needed
help, considering he just slaughtered four monsters in my presence. I never thought of him being capable of such violence, but
it might be because of love, that socially acceptable form of insanity that drives the alter egos of people up from the deepest
abyss of their subconscious, which triggered him.
Holly, come in here!
I ran to the door as fast as I could, anticipating to see
someone I knew I myself was responsible for his death but still
miraculously lived through it. And beside the corpse of perhaps
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another of Gideons men was him, lying on the floor, blood and
bruise contrasting his really pale skin, still on his traditional
Muslim rug dress.
You son of a bitch.

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Chapter

20.
HOW? WE THOUGHT you were dead! How in the world did
you get here? That was the first thing I said to our Iranian
chauffeur, which seemed rude considering he lay on the floor
next to being dead. The sight of his all bruised up face lifted a
slightly significant block of guilt off me; I couldnt be happier. As
Chris pulled and hid the dead one on the side of the room, I tried
to ease our guides pain the way I knew without any kits whatsoever.
The rebels didnt kill me, he said, breathing heavily.
After they killed all the people in town, they left me for dead in
the desert. I had nowhere else to go but here. Im so sorry, Holly.
I know I promised you Im gonna be with you, but I broke that. I
hope you can forgive me.
Just shut up, I said. You did more than enough.
Please tell Judd that Im so sorry.
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Hes dead, Omar. Hes< dead.


Oh my God, Im so sorry, he said. This job has taken
so much from you. He clearly had no idea.
You really have to fucking tell me that?! Just let me fix
you, okay? I spiked up again, like twenty-five seconds after I
saw him got resurrected from the dead. Look, Im so sorry. Im
really happy to see you again, Omar. I really thought I killed
you.
I forgive you. Thank you Chris for saving my life.
Dont mention it. Never thought Id see you again.
Me too, my friend. We sat him up on a chair, after
which I went on ripping cloth to shreds and wrapping his
wounds with them as tight as I could, the best thing to do with
wounds and lacerations as far as I knew. Purple discolorations
were all over him. I wiped every stream of blood flowing out of
his skin. Both of his pinkie fingers got cut off in half. Apparently,
we got to him just in time.
How long have you been here? I said.
I came last night.
The armys bombing the hell out of the city last night,
Chris said. Good thing you got through that. Did you walk all
the way from that town up to here?
I hitched a ride for a few times, Omar said. Hows
your stomach Chris?
Dont worry. Its all stitched up.
What? I dont remember stitching that, I said. Who
did that to you?
The< hospital where you found the kids, remember?
he said.I think I should call Kevin right now.
Who is Kevin?
He is a friend who works in this base, I said.Hes
gonna help us get out of here.
No, Omar said. I cant get out of here yet.
What are you talking about? This is a very dangerous
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place. I almost fucking died here several times. Now the soldiers
are gonna hunt us down!
You have to go on your own. I need to do something.
What?! He wants you dead Omar, dont you understand that? What the hell could be more important than your
life? And the whole world? I said. Listen, I know now who the
traitor is, an American. He used the army to start this war. Those
rebels on the streets, theyre the American soldiers in disguise.
They are killing every single man, woman and child in this country. I saw it myself! He killed my parents and every single person Ive met in my life! Chris finally contacted Kevin, and he
went out for a better reception. We have the launch codes. We
need to get out of here! The world needs to know about this. He
wasnt looking at me. Please, you have to come with us!
He then held my arms with his trembling bloody hands,
and faced me with such a terrified face. No, you dont understand. Hes going to kill you. Hes gonna find you no matter
what. Hes relentless, he has no soul, and he cannot be stopped.
He controls everything. You have to go!
Wait< you know Neumann? I said. You know the
traitor?He let go and turned away from me again, silent.
Im sorry, Holly.
Stop saying sorry and answer my goddamn question!
He cried. I didnt mean for this to happen to you.
For the love of God, answer me!
I know him, alright! I met him long before I met you,
he said. He told me to go pick you up from the airport and take
you to the nuclear warehouse. You caught me a few times when
he called.
You work for that monster? Once again, he went silent. You lied to us?!
No, you do not understand
Then explain yourself!
What the hell is going on? Chris interrupted the inquipg. 346

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sition. Omar was pouring but by no means pitiful, with his true
allegiance in doubt. I was so infuriated of him; he was among
those responsible for ruining my life forever.
He fucking works for the traitor. He set us up!
No, I didnt! Omar said. Listen, I have no choice.
You sure about that? said Chris.
He was calling Neumann the whole time, thats why
the bastard always knows where we are, why the rebels are always on our tail. He lied to us!
Chris aura abruptly changed. Is this true?
Please, sincerely, I never wanted to hurt you.
We trusted you man, said Chris.
I have no choice! You have to understand!
Then make us understand! I said.
No, Chris said, deeply. Kevin said he has secured a
helicopter for us, one of the fastest one in the base, but theres a
slight change of plan. It just flew to Saudi Arabia to get fuel, and
we have to wait for an hour before it gets back.
Son of a bitch, I said.
Any minute hes gonna come to us with a truck. Were
gonna wait in his room.
I moved out of the room, surprisingly able and feeling
strong, perhaps fueled by anger of another traitor in our midst.
Theres something about the fact that the guy whom I depended
my very life with would be the one who would lead me to my
ultimate doom. I couldnt believe I actually thought of marrying
him! The block of guilt lost in me became a swirling storm of
rage for myself for trusting someone I barely even know like a
big gigantic fool. I was out of the door, but Chris still remained.
What the hell are you doing? We need to go now. The whole
armys right on our ass!
We cant leave him here.
Are you kidding me? Hes with Neumann! He practically killed us! He probably will contact him again.
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He wanted him dead remember?


Wha<? Do you still trust that guy?
We need all the help that we can get.
He doesnt even want to come with us!
I understand if you want to leave me, Omar said, not
looking at us. Ive caused terrible things to you.
Just tell me, Omar, I said. What the hell are you really
doing here?He then gave at me a teary piercing gaze.
He got my family, Holly.
What?
I need to save them, thats why I did it. You must understand. Ive never seen my wife, my kids in a month and I
dont even know if theyre still alive.
Why didnt you tell me before?
I know if I told you we would not get to the facility.
You wont let me. He will kill them. Please forgive me.
Why? Why that facility? Chris said. What did we really do there?
All of a sudden, his mouth burst with puke and all sorts
of undigested matter, covered with traces of blood, spilling all
over the table. My rage gone, I ran to him and rubbed his back,
but he started coughing uncontrollably. I felt his vertebrae protruding from his back. What the hell did he do to you?
We need to get him out of here right now! said Chris.
He lifted him up but Omar resisted, pointing at the dead guy
Chris covered with big blocks of dusty foam in the corner. My
partner went to check on him, and on his back pocket he pulled
out a little folded piece of paper with drawings of thick and thin
lines and tiny numbers and letters below them, much like those
in my map.
What is that? I said.
Thats what he wanted me to find, said Omar. Those
are the deactivation codes for the nukes.
Deactivation codes?
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They can stop the missiles midair once entered.


We have to go, said Chris, hiding the codes. Kevin
should be up there by now. Come on.
Apparently, this country wouldnt just let me go, which
made me think the universe didnt want me to leave at all, like it
wanted to end this wretched world, slowly cutting all of our
strings to stop us. Chris carried Omar as I led them to the stairs
out of the labyrinth. Kevin waited on a light brown jeep, and
after a few introductory and the usual are you alright remarks,
we went back to his room all the way back to the sixth hangar,
all surprisingly without any hitch from the soldiers trying to hit
on me. My terrible costumes were gone but the heat of the heavens was still enough to moisten every crack in my body. I
should be feeling safer with the bald bastard gone, but I would
never know, the traitor might have his eyes locked on us. I sat
beside Kevin, my head pressing against the bare metal dashboard. The soldiers were all prepping their trucks and tanks for
another round of battle. Cargo planes took off on the field. Omar
lay on the back seat with Chris, quietly moaning in pain from the
torture he endured. My anger clouded my judgment; he of all
people was the only one who could definitely save us, provided
his sincerity was true. He turned out to be another victim, an
expendable, but now an asset against that monster.
Albeit of gasoline and burning rubber and dust, I missed
the smell of the over-ground, far from the smell of blood and
guts of thousands of innocent Iranians massacred back there. We
should have fate on our side. The launch and deactivation codes
were on our possession, and soon enough our ride out of this
country would save the planet from certain destruction. But I
couldnt help but think if were really one step ahead of him, if
he actually wanted me to be at this very car, at this very moment, with these very people. He shouldnt. It might be an attempt at optimism, but the recent turn of events suggested that
he shouldnt. We should be safe, for now.
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9:45 eight hours and fifteen minutes to the end.

OMARS MUSCLES MUSTVE been so tender from his beating


that he had to stuff a piece of cloth to his mouth as Chris and
Kevin carried him to the room. The base got noisier with the war
machines being turned on and warmed up for battle. Kevin immediately stuck a double dose of morphine to his heart, which
Omar handled rather well, and went on to do everything else
that he should. I sat on the table beside his family pictures, the
leftover sandwich and the camera, collecting everything in my
head. Every five seconds or so, Id look through the blinds for
any hostiles coming our way. My partner stood by the door.
Dont worry, Kevin said, they dont come here that
often.
Arent you supposed to be out there? I said. What if
they come and check you out again?
I already gave my excuse to our commander.
Chris held his cracked picture frames. Is this your wife
and kids? he said. Theyre really cute, I gotta say.
Yeah. Her name is Claire, and those little girls are Patricia and Mary Jean. Thats Patricias drawing right there. She<
she broke up with me when the two of them were born.
Im so sorry, man.
But it turns out they know my name. They want me
home. And thats why were gonna stop this shit together.
Fuck yeah, we will.Kevin went on with the medications. You a medic here?
No, my mother is actually a nurse so I kind of got into
it. Im a private now, recently demoted.
Shit, why is that?
Trespassing, said Kevin, but I think they knew I was
spying on the general.
How long did you know what he was up to?
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Quite a while now. I saw him talking to a very old guy,


maybe the leader of the rebel forces, while we were on patrol. I
tried telling everybody but no one would believe shit as crazy as
that. I even called my friend Matt to blog about this conspiracy
and tell the world about it. I know hes really fond of stuff like
that.
Im so sorry about Matt. He was a good guy.
I know. Me too, said Kevin.
Very old guy, huh?
Yeah, dark, scarred and heavily bearded. Hes pretty
thin and tall, kinda like bin Laden. Wait, what happened to you?
Whats that blood on your hands?
He killed Gideon and all of his men, I said, somewhat
proud.
Really? You took him down?
Why, you doubt that I did? Fuck you man.
So, where did our ride go? I asked.
I already reserved it for us, medical transport I called it.
I was about to start it when they called me off. They need fuel
for the tanks and Humvees all the way from Saudi. I reasoned
out but they just took off. Once it comes back, we need to board
it immediately before someone else will take it. That helicopter is
badass; it has a triangular chassis. It will only take us only three
hours to get to Sicily on that thing.
What the hell are we gonna do in Sicily? I said.
The USS George Washington should be ducked in that
island by now. I used to be assigned in that carrier, supposed to
be with Matt before this shit. We should be safe there.
Cant we just get another helicopter?
You wanna get out now? How about him
He lied to us! I said, anger clouding my mind again.
Hes with Neumann!
Stop it, will you? Chris said. Cant you see hes all
fucking beat up and shit?
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We should get out of here right now! I cant wait for


another fucking hour in this place. What if Neumann finds us
here?! Hell definitely cut off our heads and then hell blow up
the whole fucking planet.
If Omar wanted us dead, then he shouldve left the two
of us in that village! He fucking saved us!
Because thats what he was supposed to do!
You want us to leave him, is that it?
Please, stop! shouted Omar, which rid his lungs of air
and made him cough. I dont want you fighting because of me.
Just go, just leave me. I know you cant forgive me for what Ive
done.
No, no ones leaving anyone, alright?
Please, I beg you. You need to go.
Shut up! Chris said, eliciting a void of silence. He then
looked at me. We stick together until the end of this thing!
Neumann knows hes dead and crazy he might be, hes not gonna track a dead fucking corpse. I looked down, my spike finally
gone. We stick together, its the only way. I knew I already
forgave him; its just that betrayal is an extremely huge of a deal
to just let fade away. Now I know how my parents must feel.
Thank you, Omar said.
What are we gonna do now? I said, lowly. Everybodys looking for us in here.
We follow Kevins plan. We wait for that helicopter
and get the hell out of here. As long as we stay here, they wont
find us. Isnt that right, Kevin?
Youll be safe here, he said. Chris moved close to
touch my hand, to which I responded with nothing.
Were they really gone? The children? I said.
Im sorry, Holly. There was no one in there.
Goddamn it. Another failed promise.
But I dont think theyre dead, he said. I saw the
body of a fat old nurse and another old guy, but no child. I think
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they took them. Those should be Marishka and Amir.


Really? Where the hell could they take them?
I have no idea.
Kevin has bandaged the whole of Omars right arm and
chest when he finished. Our guide stared at the fiberglass ceiling
the whole time, tears dripping on the side of his eyes, apparently
thinking about what he did to us or probably about his family.
He hid their existence for us to get to the warehouse and get the
deactivation codes. Probably because he took too long to deliver,
Neumann dispatched his men to the village to get rid of him,
including us, but keeping him alive with the codes in the end for
some reason. Seeing him all patched up, I started extracting the
truth.
Maybe you can explain yourself now, Omar.
Dont talk man, Chris said. Just go rest and
No, you deserve the truth, said Omar. He sat himself
up the bed and started talking, stealing our focus. For years, the
Iranian government instituted an operation called Shiraz. I told
you about this in the interview. They pick the brightest and
smartest students from all over the country. They segregate them
from the rest, and put them in special schools in Qazvin where
they would learn all about Iran, its history, its power, its politics,
its role in the world, nothing else. All they would say is that Iran
is the most powerful country in the world. Other countries must
bow to our power. They would say that all the time.
And you were among them? I said.
Yes. I was among the hundreds chosen during the duration of the program. They conditioned us to love the country
unconditionally, even above our love for our own parents, and
our own sons and daughters. Any insubordination was met with
harsh punishments, flogging and getting locked in a pillory.
Jesus, said Kevin.
Many of us died there. Many tried to escape but they
were shot once they stepped foot out of the wall. I survived that
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program, and when Im old enough I was sent to the United


States to study nuclear physics at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. And when we graduate, we will come back and
help make the nuclear bombs. They never even let me see my
parents. Next thing I know, they were killed by firing squad.
You can make nuclear bombs? Chris said, apparently
impressed.
Yes. I continued working for the government until one
month ago, when this war started. I think I made three hundred
warheads.
Really? Kevin said, impressed as well.
When the president was killed, said Omar, the minister on weapons ordered every single nuclear technician like myself dead. I dont know about the others but I escaped with my
wife and two daughters.
Where are the bombs?
I dont know. But I think theyve been taken all over the
country, maybe even outside the country, by the rebels.
Neumann, I interrupted. It could only be him.
Yes, said Omar. But there might be others.
What do you mean?
Other rebel organizations in the Middle East who want
the bombs for themselves, but I think they all banded together to
form one giant group. I saw them last night. They were wearing
different clothes but they fight together against the soldiers.
Yeah, Neumann told me that himself.
You talked to him? said Kevin.
He thought I was a private or something. He brought
me to his plane and he talked about why he was doing it, wiping
out everyone, that Obama created ISIS and ordered the attack at
Benghazi and all that shit. Some general united the militia
groups of this place in exchange for a lot of money and several
American heads.
Did he do anything to you? said Chris.
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I thought he was going to fuck me. I didnt know it was


him until I went out his plane. I think he knew who I was but I
dont know why he let me go.
Hes fucking playing you, thats what.
If youre saying Omar that the entire militia corps in
this region banded together, said Kevin, then why are there so
few of them? We barely fought anyone last night.
There are thousands of them all over Iran, even more
outside the country, and what you fought against last night was
not even the full force. They are all under control of someone
called imam, the one I told you about yesterday.
I think thats the one I saw talking to the general.
What the hell does that mean? said Chris.
Imam means a descendant of Muhammad, a religious
leader appointed by Allah himself.
Like a prophet or something?
Wait, I said. I thought Neumann was working with
the rebels? Why is he fighting against them?
The soldiers dont know what he is up to, so he needs
to make them think theyre really fighting a war.
And their leader would sacrifice his men for that?
They have the same goal, to destroy America and the
rest of its allies. Thats what I know.
Son of a bitch, Kevin said. I was right all along, that
sick motherfucking bastard.
Why does he have to bring the soldiers here? I mean he
could just order the rebels to take care of everything, I said.
And why are they killing all the locals, all those people?
I dont know. But I think he needs to send the entire
military of America to Iran and other parts of the world, so when
the attack starts America will be left vulnerable, very weak. It
wont be able to help its citizens and the whole country will just
collapse.
Other parts of the world? said Chris.
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Its not just Iran, said Omar. Neumann owns the biggest military weapons corporation in the world. He started war
in many countries by assassinating presidents and taking over
American embassies. He started in France, then here, Libya and
everywhere.
It was jaw-dropping. That son of a bitch apparently single-handedly started the worst crisis of this decade. You mean,
I said, he started all that? Hes responsible for all that chaos?
How did you know all this? Kevin said.
I managed to look at his computer files before, Omar
said. All of his plans, where every single nuke are, the organization of the new government hes going to build after the attack< I saw everything.
Jesus Christ. Were in some big fucked up shit.
Tell me about it, Chris said. We think hes gonna
launch the bombs tonight, maybe at six, which is why we need
to get the hell out of here as soon as possible.
You said you have the codes. Are you sure there aint
any more copies of those things?
Im sure they are the only copies, Omar said. It is for
security. Only one person should have the codes.
What he just revealed was big, but I wasnt up to hearing more of that monsters diabolical and delusional plan. How
did you know that traitor? I said.
I dont know how he came to me. I was at home with
my wife and kids until his men break into my house and took all
of us to him. He said he needs me for a job or he will kill my
family. He wanted me to reprogram the whole nuclear arsenal to
his system.
I thought the launch codes are all thats needed, said
my partner.
President Ahmadinejad wanted the nuclear program to
be digital, encrypted, so when the United States somehow confiscates the bombs they could be remotely detonated right in the
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heart of America. He actually wanted the U.N. to find Irans nuclear arsenal.
But they didnt find the warheads, I said. You said
there was a deal.
Yes, between Neumann and the previous Iranian government, Omar said. He gave Iran access to his weapons in
exchange for the countrys nuclear bombs. Neumann probably
took thousands of the nuclear bombs to other countries under
the disguise of his company. When the new president was
elected, Rouhani didnt want him to have the bombs anymore.
He took control of the weapons, which is why Neumann ordered
the rebels to kill the president, which started this war.
How in the world did Neumann made the rebels work
for him? Dont they despise Americans? Why did they do it?
I dont know. I have no idea.
Companies like his are generally non-regulated, Kevin
said, which means that they can basically do whatever they
want. His company has grown so much that hes thinking he
could do whatever the fuck he pleases.
Governments still own them, right? Chris asked.
No, they dont need any Congressional approval to do
shit, like go to war. Theyre a private company.
If I enter those deactivation codes in the system, they
will cause all bombs to become inoperative, no matter where
they are in the globe, Omar said. He then started showing signs
of discomfort, pressing on his chest like he was about to go into
cardiac arrest. He waved our offers to help him.
Then what did Neumann make you do? I said.
He told me to get the deactivation codes with you.
But why me?! I said. That was the question I was dying to ask and be answered, so I let it out with an apt intensity.
Why did you have to take us to get your stupid launch codes
and tangle us in this whole mesh of shit? Why me, Omar?!
It wasnt my call, he said. I dont even know the two
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of you until we met at the airport, I swear! He just told me to


pick you up, go to the warehouse and return with the codes.
And what the hell did he want from us?
I dont know. He did tell me to not let you die.
How fucking sincere of him, I said.
The rebels tried to find the codes too but they did not
find it, thank God. We were supposed to get a key too, Omar
said, the key to open a briefcase that contains the launch control
panel. He told me it was there, but I didnt see it.
Do you know where else it could be?
No, but he already made copies of it probably. I dont
know.
As long as we got the codes, said Kevin, were fine?
Yes, said Omar. Judd then called me when you will
come, and
Wait< did that monster call Judd to make me come
here? Did you know all about this Chris?
Why the fuck would I know that? he said. That might
be the reason for Judds abrupt change of mind for doing another overseas coverage. He never wanted to do another following
the tragic conclusion to our last one with Dennis and Chris, but
perhaps the monster got to him and threatened to kill his family,
which would explain why he appeared begging to me as he relayed the assignment to me for the first time.
His men killed Judd and all our friends, my parents, I
said, suppressing my emotions of loss. He made me hear their
cries as he shot them all mercilessly.
Holy shit, said Kevin.
He said it was his fault< I could no longer contain it.
What the fuck does he want from me?! What did I do to him?!
Why does it have to be me?! Chris then offered his warmth, which
I welcomed.
Im so sorry, said Omar. He had absolutely nothing to
do with it, I realized; if anything, we were on the same page,
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caught in the delusion of a lunatic. I apologized for my accusing,


and seeing his face I suddenly felt an urge of responsibility.
How about your wife and kids? I said.
I dont know where they are, Omar said.
We should find them. They have to be somewhere.
What to do you want to do? said Chris. You wanted
to leave him alone to get out of here and then you want us to
find his family?
Im sorry okay? It wasnt his fault. You were right. He
did save us, and thats the least thing we could do for him.
Not to be pessimistic, said Kevin, but Neumann just
killed him, right? So< he could have
Come on. Dont say that. Tears started spilling out of
Omars eyes. It was the first time in my life that I beheld grief
and devastation of someone elses, which proved to be infectious. With Omar dead, there would be no reason for the monster to keep them alive. I could not think of any evil worse than
killing an entire ethnicity without even a tiny drop of remorse
like they were pests on a field, tiny little bugs that had no purpose for life, not to mention plotting the apocalypse, wanting to
wipe out every single soul on this planet. He was close to being
Hitler, only this time he has access to weapons thousands of
times more powerful, enough to destroy life as we know it. He
has got to be the Antichrist himself, perhaps possessed by the
devil or an even worse manifestation of evil. That actually
proved me wrong once again, which did make me feel quite better. Mine was not the worst evil in the world.
So< why dont you wanna come with us? I said.
I was< I was thinking that I could still find them.
Who? Your family? How would you do that?
I think there is a computer here that I could use to get
into their database.
Yeah, Kevin said. Theres one I know but its all the
way back to the communications tower, and that place is packed
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with security cameras. Its too risky.


I dont think we should do it, said Chris. Our rides
coming in less than thirty minutes. Weve ran out of allies. If we
get caught once again, theres no possible way we could get out
of here.
You dont have to help me, Omar said.You have to
go on your own. I got no use to you. Ill be dead weight.
Bullshit. We stick together no matter what.
I think we should copy all that data, I said. There has
to be some storage device in there. We need all that information
to take Neumann down, take everybody involved in this shit
down.
Our footage should be enough, Holly. Besides, how on
earth could you open the computer? I mean, theres got to be
biometrics or a password. Theyre a goddamn military corporation for Gods sake.
And on cue, it popped on my head, the thing Neumann
himself gave me, and on one of my pockets, there it was, the
monsters identification card. Here, maybe this will help. He
gave it to me when we talked on the plane. Kevin paid it a closer look and concurred that it might work.
Hear me out a moment, Chris said. If you show them
that card, dont you think they wont call Neumann and cage
you in that tower? We cant risk things anymore Holly, now that
were nearly out of here, like youve always wanted, right? He
clearly didnt want us to leave and risk our assured escape for
something that would likely cost us more than what it would
give in return, which was logical. Our ride and assured salvation
was twenty-five minutes away, ever nearer than Ive never been.
I would kill anyone and anything to be home, to leave this forsaken place, but in an act of cosmic irony, I felt like something
needed to be done first. And so, once again, I was in the very
same situation back in Omars apartment a day ago; I was again
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portunity. But right then, there seemed to be only one logical


choice. The last time I chose to keep on this treacherous road I
almost died every step of the way, some closer than others,
though I still managed to stay alive. I didnt think my alleged
invincibility would last longer.
How are we gonna pull this off just in case? I said to
Kevin.
The computers are on the second floor, locked by a
metal door, which this ID should unlock. There are five personnel up top; theyre checking out the security cameras. If we can
make it through the guards on the door, we should be fine.
Dont tell me youre actually thinking of doing this,
said Chris, imparting all opposition. You saw our faces in the
conference. Were fugitives on this place.
What do you want to do? Let his family get killed?
They will definitely die if we dont get out of here! Everybody will die! The cycle of the never-ending conflict between
the two of us has turned upside down, now starting from him.
Youre the one who told me that we stick together!
Thats why we shouldnt do it. Theyre dead anyway!
I glanced at Omar. I wouldve thrown Chris out of the window
for the very words he just said, but our chauffer took no offense,
apparently because it was probably true.
You need to leave, said Omar. I beg you. I need to do
this, please. You have to go. Take the codes and save the world. I
need to find my own family.
Theyre dead, Omar! Dont you understand that? We
have to get out of here, all of us!
Im sorry but theyre my family. He paused. You do
understand. You will do everything for the safety of your family
even if there is little chance, right?
There are bigger things at stake here!
You have to leave me! I have to do this!
Chris moved to him and took his hands. We cant leave
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you to die out here. Youre our friend. We owe you our life.
Think about how many NBA games youll miss. If you ever find
your family, do you think you will be safe? Omar looked down;
he made up his mind.
We have to help him Chris, I said. We owe him.
He stood and banged his hands on the door. We wont
get out of here if we do this.
Youre the one who keep telling us to stick together no
matter what. He needs to find his family.
He looked at me. I thought you wanna go home.
More than anything, I said, but he needs our help.
We cant leave him behind. I wasnt actually sure of what I was
saying, like my mouth says what my head doesnt.
And you never know what you might find in those
files, said Kevin. Really important information, I bet.
You think we can make it? said Chris.
There should be only a few guards there. Better than
not trying at all.
He sighed. Alright, how are we gonna do this?
You dont have to
Shut it Omar. Hollys right. We owe you. And we dont
have time to argue this. We only have twenty-three minutes. I
think me and Holly should go to the tower.
No, Kevin said, you and me should go.
I have to see them for myself, I said. I went on to fix
my army disguise. I think me and Kevin should go. You just
bring Omar to the helicopter when it arrives.
But I need to go too, said Omar. Dont risk your life
for me.
Were not doing it for you. And youre still hurt. I need
to find something out. Well see you on the helicopter. I gave
Chris both of the codes as a measure in case shit would break on
us, specifically if we get caught. He then gazed as if memorizing
every curve of my face, and hugged me.
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I love you, you know that right?


Yeah, yeah, I know.
He gave me an almost creepy look that penetrated
through me. Promise youll stay with me.
Im not going anywhere. I need you to save my ass.
Thank you, Holly, Omar said.
Well keep in touch with the walkie-talkie, Kevin said,
giving one to my partner. Use that car outside. We wont be
long. I promise I will keep her safe. He then holstered a pistol.
You better do.
Come on, we gotta go, I said.
I went out the door feeling rather courageous and confident that I would actually make it. Against the scorching heat,
the war machines were arranged in formation in the middle of
the compound. The men busied themselves with prepping for
war rather than hunting us, which was extremely relieving. I
needed to know something, which would answer the single biggest question haunting me right then. Before Judd died, he told
me of another liar in my midst. I needed to know.
Apparently, the monster still hasnt had his eyes on us,
which should make things easy for all, but I would never know.
Chris assured me that were safe from him, that he didnt know
where we were, but how could he know? The fact that everything has been running smooth so far made me rather anxious.
The universe always wants balance in everything, and it was
only a matter of time before our luck would turn against us once,
and perhaps the last time, again.
10:27 seven and a half hours until the end of the world.

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Chapter

21.
I WAS SHAKING and trembling and quivering and showing all
manifestations of anxiety on our way back the tower. The courage was bullshit. Despite the Sun already way up high the horizon, the air was rather cold, hitting the sweat trickling down the
side of my body, moistening the deepest crevices. I sat straight to
avoid undue attention, the hat covering my identity. Kevin kept
on noticing and never stopped talking about how I should just
calm down and breathe deep and think about something else.
But despite that, I didnt think of turning back even for a bit for
some reason. I needed to know. The camera was as it were on
my first excursion on this place, as did how my heart pounded
my chest. Activity on the place was deafening, and so far none
has jeopardized the two of us.
I never asked where you came from. He clearly made
efforts to take my mind of it.
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Ohio.
Im from Miami, weird considering how white I am,
right? I didnt respond and still maintained my stiff poise.
Come on, relax. Its all gonna be okay.
Im fucking tired of that sentence.
Understood.
The voice of the radio announcer then filled the entire
base. All personnel, report to your respective battalion commanders for instructions. Repeat, all personnel, report to your
battalion commanders for instructions.
The conference is over. Looks like the attack is about to
start, he said. This should be a window of opportunity.
How long until the helicopter comes?
Nineteen minutes. That should be enough.
The base of the tower was now on sight. I hyperventilated. Alright, just stay behind me and dont look at anyone, got
it? Let me do the talking. You show that ID when I tell them you
work for Neumann.
Are you sure about this?
What? You told us to
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Im sorry. Sorry.
Stop freaking out. He didnt have to tell me twice. Its
gonna be< sorry.
A rectangular building acted the base of the tower, considerably of smaller size than the generals office. The whole
thing was shorter than similar towers in airports. The head of the
tower was octagonal, satellites and metal rods protruding from
the roof. Age was apparent in the structure; a single tremor
might be able to topple it down. As we stopped, Kevin pointed
to a small window directly above a slightly corroded metal
stairs, saying that led directly inside the computers and would
be our way out in case the soldiers trap us in. Beside the opened
door, four men blew smoke on each others faces. I looked at my
feet the whole time.
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Shes with the supplier. Were gonna take something


up top. I showed the card as per the need.
Holy shit, take a look at this. Our boy is becoming a
man. Good for you! About fucking time too, one said.
You little son of a bitch, another said.
I guess I just need some place secure, Kevin said.
Dont worry about it. We got you covered. Just dont
leave a whole mess of things up there.
Wait, do you even know how to fuck women? How to
put on a condom? I could teach you.
Dont worry, Mike. I figured it out. We got inside the
rather empty room with nothing but a pile of garbage on one
end and the stairs to the second floor. But only a couple of steps
in, one of them called us again. I didnt look, but he stepped inside too.
Wait, Jacobs! Commander wants to tell you he wants
you back on the field. Your excuse is denied.
Come on. Im still tired from last night, he said. I deserve some slack.
He also wants you to find the journalists we interrogated last night.
I froze. They escaped? Gideon brought them to their
cells. I never saw them again.
Where are those assholes?
I never saw them too, Kevin said. I better go, man<
Thats one sexy chick you got there. What battalion
Shes with Neumann. Come on, we really need to get
these papers for him. You know how that old man is.
I paid the man a quick glance, but I quickly turned back
just as I saw his face staring intently at me. He must be one of
the men at the interrogation room. Can I at least see her?
You will after we get what we need. Lets go.
Fine, suit yourself.
It almost went out of hand. Relieved, we stepped inside
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and went straight to the stairs up the second floor, the only thing
in the first storey. I never thought I would give credit to me being a woman that men could just fuck whenever and wherever
they wanted. Holy shit, I said.
Keep quiet and dont look up. Cameras can hear us.
Sorry.
Straight from the stairs was another one leading up the
tower. On the side of the narrow hallway was the door to the
computers. The whole place was far from what I imagined a
treasure trove of confidential information would be: no lasers, no
sensors on the floor, no fancy spy stuff, nothing but a laser scanner by the door. And, as expected, the ID unlocked it. Inside, a
single row of four processing units, all with blinking green LED
lights, a table with used up mobiles phones, and three computers on desks across the room welcomed us. Miles of wires on the
floor almost made me trip. Kevin closed the door. I was on edge.
I pulled my camera out.
There are USBs in here. Get everything. We only have
fifteen minutes.
The desktop displayed the black globe logo of the monsters military company, but the moment I moved the mouse it
demanded a password. Fucking shit, a password. I have no
idea what this is.
Try the serial number on the ID. And just as I did, the
treasure chest opened up. A single icon, the G4S logo, appeared
on the screen which I clicked and initiated a fancy animation of
the American flag, marching soldiers and jet planes. Arranged in
a grid were categories of information; those that caught my eye
were about advanced weaponry, drones, organizational structure, investment opportunity, employees and the company history. I traced the source file of the application and copied everything.
You got it? Kevin said.
Yeah, yeah. Eight minutes. Wait, can this thing connect
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to the Internet?
Yeah, why?
I took the memory card from the camera and pushed it
on a slot in the computer. Im gonna email these files to my contacts and upload our footage so everyone can see whats really
going on here.
We dont have time for that.
Dont worry. Ill cut it out.
The connection ran at light speed and I processed the
video on YouTube without a single lag. I removed everything
until we came at the airbase where I had the biggest revelations
on this assignment. I didnt bother looking at them; reliving everything that happened might trigger something unpleasant in
me, now that we were in the heart of the enemy. As the video
finished uploading, I sent the link of the video to every news
outlet I knew.
Thirteen minutes!
Its done, its done! Its all uploaded.
Is the copy done?
Shit, it got longer. Ten min< eleven minutes!
I got nothing here, he said. These computers are all
empty.
I placed the memory card back to the camera. Dont
worry, this should be enough. Kevin went on to scavenge everything of potential use in the room, taking one of the phones
from the table. The copy was fourteen percent complete, and the
green progress bar on the screen wasnt moving at all. My chest
was beating as hard as never before.
I looked at Kevin. Goddamn it, fourteen percent. Its
not moving, its not moving!
No, no! Dont look up on me. Theyll see your face! He
pointed to a security camera mounted on a corner. I immediately
heeded. He then unlocked the window he pointed at earlier and
opened it halfway.
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Looks like we have no choice, he said. We have to go


out through here.
You think those men recognized me?
Theyll surely check you out once we pass down there.
Come on, come on, come on! I motivated the computer to copy faster as if it would listen to me. My insides were
completely freaking out.
Eight minutes.
Will you please stop that? I said. I cant breathe with
you yelling at me all the time. He didnt actually yell; its just
that every time hed tell me how much time we got left, my heart
wanted to jump right out of my mouth. I directed all my focus
on the screen, my eyes almost popping out of their sockets, hoping that my brain power would make the computer copy the
files faster. Already, half of our time has passed, yet only a quarter of the monsters secrets got to us. I let Kevin dig through the
files to find the potential location of Omars family, scanning
every page like a superhuman, maps and documents flashing on
the screen in a split-second.
Its useless, he said. Theres nothing here. We wont
find the location of hostages on this thing.
There has to be something in there. I then felt the walkie-talkie vibrating. Alien with the device, I pressed every button
and turned every dial before I got to hear Chris voice. Yeah,
whats wrong? I said.
I think our ride just landed.
What?!
Its the triangular one right?
You gotta be kidding me! Kevin said, rushing to the
window to look for the helicopter. I threw the walkie-talkie to
him. Shit, there it is. Theres the helicopter. We need to get out
of here now!
I still need to find out where his family is.
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side. I skipped a breath. Hey! What the hell are you doing in
there?
Shit! I said.
Chris, listen to me! You have to bring Omar to that helicopter right now. Were getting out.
Open the goddamn door!
Were getting something for Neumann!
Come on! Come on, you son of a bitch! I said.
We have to go right now, Holly! Please!
I need more time!
They kept banging the door. Open this thing now!
I inputted MOTTAKI to the query, which the computer
took forever to load results for no matter how hard I shook the
screen and focused my energy on it. Kevin pushed the desks to
the door .Then, a bullet tore through it, grazing him. More followed, ricocheting across the room and creating sparks all over. I
shrieked. Fragments of wood and dust flew all around us like
snow.
Please stop! Were trying to save everyone! I yelled. It
was useless. They kept firing, some too close to me.
Open the fucking door right now!
What the hell are you doing Jacobs?!
Stop shooting! Stop shooting, man! Kevin screamed. I
have to help her. Neumann is lying to us! He wants everyone
dead! It turned out useless too; the bullets kept on coming. I hid
behind the thickest part of the desk, hoping the wood might
somehow stop them from piercing me. I couldnt move. I knew
this was coming all along.
Open the goddamn door!
Kevin was at the window. Holly, come on! Lets go!
The computer finally finished searching, and in the results three instances of the name showed up under the EMPLOYEES tab. No pictures were available, but someone named
Sofia, Hana and Umana Mottaki, most likely Omars wife and
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daughters, were shown as working in a facility at Qazvin. Beating the bullets flying in the room, I then entered the next name I
wanted to find, the something I wanted to know.
What the hell are you doing?! Kevin screamed.
That time, the results appeared instantly, and to my surprise and horror, nothing appeared, not even a single record or
reference. I refreshed the screen, but again, nothing. My brain
slowed down time for me to realize what that meant. I froze. He
lied to me. He didnt exist. He lied to me. He brought me here to
die. He did all this to me. He fucking lied to me.
Kevin snapped me off and pulled me to the window,
taking the USB and my camera. The monitor got shattered from
a bullet just as I moved away. Chris, you better get to that helicopter right now!
Were on our way, were on our way!
It was a hell of a rush. The handrails led down to a corridor near the door where we came in. Our car was waiting at
the end, but the way down looked ten thousand times longer. I
knew it was shorter but my brain kept on lying. The men kept
banging the door, bullets lighting up the whole room. Kevin
pushed, bit I resisted. Shit, I cant do this! I cant do this
You need to get down there now!
I cant!
We have no time!
Get outside and check on the stairs! the men said.
Shit! Theyre going outside. Get down there now!
I got out blind feet first. He held my arms until I stepped
on the rail. We had to get out quick before the monster sends the
entire battalion to hunt down our asses. I stepped on the first rail
and he let go, but suddenly, the rail snapped and for a few
seconds I went into freefall, so did my insides, until I managed
to hang onto another rail, a couple of feet from the ground. My
body smashed into the metal bars, the pain less worse than it
might seem. It was an unconscious move, and for that I owe the
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mystical force that rules over the cosmos. I jumped down the
ground before Kevin did, and then the chase resumed.
Were driving right now to the helicopter, Chris said
over the radio. Come in, Kevin, Holly. Where are you?
Two of the men saw us making a run for it. Hey, stop!
Stop running! Theyre down here, come on!
My eyes were opened wide, my lungs expanding ten
times as large. The army forces didnt surround our car; apparently, the monster still didnt know where we were. We rushed
into the vehicle, the men following behind. Before it got started,
one of them punched me in the face and tried to pull me out of
the car. The hit dazed and almost left me unconscious. As he was
pulling, Kevin floored it and the man got dragged on the concrete, rolling several times over.
I recovered. The wind blew hard on my face, which
compensated for the scorch of the Sun, but still left me breathless. He gave me back my camera.Holy shit. Holy shit!
Are you okay? he said.
Fuck, he blew my teeth off. I spit a molar out.
Could be worse.
The massiveness of the field, thrice as big than I first
thought, stole my attention for a bit. Directly ahead was a line of
fighter jets, helicopters and cargo planes, stretching across the
entire field. The sky was less pristine than usual and real cloudy
in places. Finally, the way home was in reach. The wind was less
colder, almost saying to me that the end was near, that I survived. I got the location of Omars family and a few things to
destroy and pulverize that fucking monster, not to mention the
codes that would bring the annihilation of the planet. I got all the
reasons to finally rejoice, until<
Holly, Kevin, where the hell are you?! Chris screamed.
Were near the helicopter. Are you there?
Were still on our way. Listen, you better start that helicopter right now! The whole armys coming for you! The whole
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fucking base is on your tail! I turned around and cleared my


head of my hair entangling with the wind, and there they were,
more than a dozen jeeps and Humvees coming from all around
us, right on our tail. One soldier kept on screaming on top of one
with a megaphone. If not for the other helicopters parked in the
field, they would have been raining bullets at us. I knew this was
going to happen, that the universe would screw us all over again
like it always did. The whole fucking base was onto us.
Jesus, how the hell are we getting away from that?!
Oh shit. Holly, you better strap in your seat right now!
Kevin said, pressing down on my shoulders.
What? I turned to his direction; a giant cargo plane
was barreling to where we were going, slowly getting bigger
and bigger, closer and closer. Were gonna crash into it, but he
never moved his feet off the pedal.
Turn the fucking car! I screamed.
No, we can make it.
I flailed all over the car. Are you fucking crazy?!
Those cars will stop if we make it. Just trust me!
I shook him. The plane was drawing nearer and nearer.
Were going to hit the plane!
No were not! No were not!
I gripped the door of the car as hard as my body made
me as the plane drew closer and closer. The engine screamed.
The entire car was shaking to the point that it might just break
into million pieces any time. I shut my eyes. Hold on!
Son of a bitch! We both screamed our own curses the
whole time. I felt the intense warmth of the aircraft and almost
went deaf with the loud cry of the engine. The strong winds
made my eyes open, and the next thing I saw was the round
nose and the metal belly of the hull. I breathed again when the
heat subsided. It was easily one of the most nerve-crushing
things I went though. Apparently, we were still alive. The plane
barreled down the runway and lifted off.
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Are you okay? Kevin said.


What the fuck makes you say that? I said.
He smiled. I told you well make it.
Youre one fucking crazy son of a bitch.
He looked at the soldiers behind us. Shit, theyre on the
move again. Those two better be there now.
Chris! Where the fuck are you?! He didnt answer.
Our stupid stunt offered only a few seconds more for our escape;
the soldiers were on us again.
Stop the fucking truck!
A truck filled with gallons of fuel was left parked a few
meters from our ride. The rather sharp nose, wide rotor blades
and the metallic green cover of the craft was very conspicuous,
but the dozen trucks racing down at us were really difficult to
ignore. I was on an adrenaline rush the entire time. My partner
was nowhere to be found.
Kevin threw me the walkie-talkie before he scrambled to
turn the monster on. The soldiers were getting closer with every
second. Where the fuck are you two?! I said.
Get inside!
Holly! Were trapped! I< I cant find the helicopter.
What do you mean trapped? Were in the middle of the
base, how can you be trapped?
The soldiers were getting closer.We got lost! Im driving by the cargo planes. Where is that fucking helicopter?!
They were close. Almost ignoring perhaps the hundred
army personnel barreling toward us, I looked at the far end of
the compound where I saw the line of cargo planes and sure
enough, a brown Humvee raced to my direction. I waved my
arms until they got ripped from my body. Chris! Can you see
me?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! I see you!
Get the fuck inside, Holly! Kevin screamed. He already got the rotors moving, the engine warming up. Before I
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could move, a tiny spark and a small crater suddenly appeared


on the concrete right by my feet, followed instantly by a thunderous gunshot noise which jarred me. I rushed to the cabin of
the helicopter, smelling of gas, and hid behind the door.
Oh my God! Theyre firing at me!
Where the hell are they?!
Theyre close, theyre close! I screamed as another bullet tore a hole in the helicopter, a tiny ricochet burying itself to
my leg. The rotors were almost at full rotational speed, the soldiers already on the runway. Come on Chris, get the hell in
here now! And on cue, their car screeched to a halt and the two
of them ran to the cabin, Chris supporting Omar on his shoulders. Another bullet hit the cabin as they got to me, running out
of breath, exhausted. We slid the door close, the soldiers still on
pursuit.
Theyre in! Lets go! Lets go! Lets go! The rotors were
at full speed, and right away we were up in the air. Bullets were
hitting every part of the vehicle.
From the pilot seat, Kevin handed me a lighter. Throw
this thing on that truck down there. I lit it, but he turned back
and slapped my hand. Whoa, dont light it here! Were filled
with gas and fuel!
Give it to me, Holly, Chris said. He threw it to the gasfilled truck and almost immediately, a gigantic ball of fire and
smoke emerged from it, blowing the truck to big pieces to the
incoming soldiers, effectively cutting off their pursuit. We hid
behind the rising tower of smoke as we flew out of the base.
Then, everything went smooth and tranquil all of a sudden. We looked each other in the eyes like we just met after a
hundred years, breathing deeply, still. And slowly, the whole
base got smaller and smaller, farther and farther. An alien feeling crept its way into my body, which my mind tried to reject at
first. I froze, trying to figure out if it was true, until Chris hugged
me, long and tight, and whispered to my ear the three words
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Ive waited an eternity to hear.


We made it, he whispered ever so passionately. Holly, we made it! I didnt believe it. My body was just too messed
up from everything that I refused to accept it. It took me a while,
but as the blue sky and cottony clouds filled my view outside
and the sound of the rotors whirling on top of us and carrying us
to the sky far away from the land filled my ears, I finally realized. We did make it. We made it. We were finally going home.
We made it!
Holy shit! We made it! Were going home! I suddenly
burst to ecstasy, almost going out of control. I went on to make
out with every single one of them, Kevin on the pilot seat, Omar
on the long seat and Chris on the other seat, more so of course
with the latter. That should be justifiable with the fact that we
were finally safe, that we survived that nightmare, that we were
going home, and that we saved the whole wide world. The feeling, the emotion, was akin to getting a second chance at life after
dying, of being rescued from the deepest, darkest corner of the
planet. It might be my perseverance or courage or the help of my
friends or it might be the intervention of the universe that got me
through, which didnt matter. The plot of my story didnt turn
out to be the four stages of grief, nor did the universe was totally
against me and mankind. I pressed my hands against my face
and said thank you for a thousand times to whatever or
whoever was responsible for this miracle I would never take for
granted. It was happiness nothing in the cosmos could match.
My leg suddenly screamed in pain when I straightened
it. Chris lifted my pants up and lodged deep on my skin was a
piece of metal. He moved it, and the pain made me lose my
breath. Come on, he said. Its just a tiny piece of metal.
It hurts, okay?
He handed me a piece of cloth. Bite that. Im gonna pull
this thing on the count of three.
Just do it quick. Without even counting, he pulled the
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metal out of my skin, setting my legs on a metaphorical fire. He


wrapped the wound and hugged me.
Its okay, its okay.
You son of a bitch, I said.
See? he said, rubbing my back and sitting next to me.
I told you well make it.
Chris, I< Sorry for everything Ive said to you before
Dont be. Lets just forget all that, okay? We hugged
once again. I love you, very much.
I love you too.
Now we could think about when will be our wedding.
Dont rush yourself, I said. Im still pretty fucked up
from this job. Most, if not all, of the stuff we covered in the
channel over the years has changed the way I saw the world,
both for good and for worse. This assignment made me see it as
the worst possible place anyone could fathom, full of desolation
and cruelty and remorselessness, something that I experienced
firsthand. It has messed me up completely, irreversibly, and it
would likely remain so until the day I die. Perhaps even when I
die, the scars of this nightmare would join me in the afterlife. I
tried to prevent the flashbacks destroy the mood of salvation.
Your face, Chris said, its swelling.
Oh yeah, that son of a bitch punched me when we ran
out of here. Is it bad?
Did it break open? Kevin said.
It just swelled.
Ill just wear off. Just dont move it too much.
The interior was all dark, big enough to comfort eight or
so persons, and apparent of frequent use. Wires and cables were
tangled in the many holes of the hull, the top of the cabin covered with a large net. The floor was still wet of fuel, the smell of
which we had to endure. Two parachute bags were hanged on
the side, but I didnt think they would be put to use. The hull
was thick enough to restrain the noise from the rotors to let us
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hear each other clearly without those large-ass headgear. A dizzying sea of dials, blinking switches and levers were on the helm
of the vehicle, all for Kevin to pay attention to, but it seemed he
got the hang of it. His pistol was sticking out of his holster.
Next top, Sicily! he said, gladly.
I never actually been to Italy, I said.
The sea there is totally heavenly, and their beaches
transcend paradise. He then threw me the phone he got from
the room. In case you have someone to call.
Did you find my family, Holly? Omar said, lying on
his seat. Chris was on his side reinforcing his bandages. I totally
forgot about the more pressing stuff at hand, with going home
dominating my mind. They returned. I lost the ecstasy.
Yes. I found Sofia, Hana and Umana on the computer.
Theyre my family! Where are they?
In Qazvin, I said. It said they were employees of the
company at some facility.
Thats only a few kilometers northeast from here, Kevin said.
Can you please bring me down there?
Are you serious, Omar? said Chris. Its too dangerous for us to get back down there. I bet that place is an entire
goddamn city. We have no time to search for them. And even if
we did find them, the whole army will be right on our tail and
we might never get out ever. I supported Omars quest for his
family but with home now assured, I wasnt really sure.
Hes right, Omar, I said. I dont know if we still make
it if we do that.
I will go on my own. Thank you for everything that
youve done. I have to do this, please.
But you cant even walk.
We wont leave you to die on this place, said Chris.
Why dont we get help from the military? I could talk
to somebody on the carrier to get us some backups, Kevin said.
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All She Lost.

And you need to get well Omar, I said.


But they might be dead right now! he screamed, tears
flowing on his face. Why cant you just let me go? My family
needs me, okay?
They might be dead already, man! Chris said.
I thought you already agreed to let him find his family, I said.
I know I did and I totally respect that, but he cant possibly rescue them on those bandages. Youre going to die down
there and we cant have that. Omar was silenced, still crying.
Im sorry, man. We just care for you.
I know. Thank you.
Well get help first, and I promise you, were gonna
find your family together, Chris said.
I looked through the window and saw how the war has
dismantled the city, leaving an entire portion smoldered and on
ashes, the rest crumbled and on ruins. No life of any form was
apparent, nor any pursuers. The idea that Neumann wanted billions of people killed, that he butchered an entire race just for his
sick fantasy of cleansing the world, still gave me the chills. My
video must have gone viral already by then, and the world
should be working something out already. Neumann would be
trialed in an international court and sentenced with one enough
to cover his crimes of genocide and the plotting of the apocalypse. That induced a feeling of pride in me. After all, no 23-year
old in the history of the planet has successfully averted Armageddon and still lived to tell about it. But then again, with my
parents gone and pretty much every single person I knew dead,
it would prove to be short-lived, which reminded me. That monster was definitely at the middle of all this, the one responsible
for fucking my life all up, but it wasnt all him. The happiness of
going home was lost. Some questions had no answers still, and it
was time to find it out.
You see anyone following us, Kevin? Chris said.
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I dont see anything on the radar.


Holly, pass me the phone. I gotta call someone. I ignored him. You okay, Holly? Something going on?
Who are you gonna call?
The embassy, thats what.
You know the embassy was already overrun long ago.
Just< just give me the phone.
My Smartphone, I said. You let me bring it, right?
Yeah, if we would call the headquarters.
But you also know it cant handle long-distance calls.
You never know how it could be useful.
Then why did you smash it back there? He was silenced, apparently thinking of an alibi.
Neumann was calling you through that phone. He was
probably tracking us with that thing. Hes the owner of the largest military corporation, and he has satellite or radar, whatever
that is that can track us down wherever we are on the planet.
And you knew that he was tracking us? I said.
No, of course not! Are you kidding me?
Youre always calling someone ever since were on the
plane. Who were you talking to?
I wasnt talking to any<What in the world is going on
here? He was clearly defensive, which implied a lie.
Everybody just calm down, please, said Kevin.
I took a moment to think if I should tell him what I discovered, but everybody responsible for messing my life must
pay. David Price< you took the map from him right?
But hes dead, what
He doesnt exist, Chris! I looked for him on their database, and he wasnt there.
Maybe its not updated or something.
No, you need to tell me something straight. Where the
hell did you get that map?
I took it from him! He gave it to me!
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He doesnt exist, Chris!


Then why did Judd call us back at Omars apartment
that hes dead?
He told me he was lying.
What?
Stop lying to me, please!
I am not! he said. Im telling you the truth!
Emotions started running wild. I started having tunnel
vision, blurring everything else other than his face. How would
you explain to me how Neumann got to our friends and my family?! How did he find them?!
I dont know, okay? It wasnt my fault.
Its all your fucking fault, dont you see? If you didnt
bring that map, we wont be in this mess!
What are you saying? That I brought this to you?
I interrupted his bullshit. Why didnt you give the real
map to the general?! If you gave him the real thing, he wouldve
helped us! Wait, did< did you know they work for each other?!
Holly<
You betrayed me!
No! he yelled. I knew< I knew he would never believe us. I thought the map should stay right here with us. You
know I never want you to get hurt. I was just doing my job. I
was doing it for us!
For us?! How can this shit be for us?
I want us to live in a perfect place, a perfect world, for
the two of us. He rushed towards me, but I pushed him off.
Stay the fuck away from me.
If you just understand what Im trying to do.
Why not now?! Make me understand now!
The phone started ringing, interrupting my inquisition.
I swear, Holly, I had nothing to do with this.
Shut the fuck up! On the screen an unidentified numpg. 381

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ber was shown calling. The crosshair icon was on it too. I opened
the line.
Hello? Nobody answered. Hello?! The static noise
answered back. I looked at Chris. Who the hell is this?
How am I supposed to know?
Then, I heard a voice form the phone, slightly noisy and
distorted but still audible and recognizable. It was a womans,
but I didnt exactly hear what she just said. I pressed the earpiece
deep against my ears, and what I heard next was nothing short
of shocking.
Hello? I said. What followed was a short duration of
static noise, then I heard her voice again.
Holly?
I lost my breath. Oh my God!
Who is it? Chris said.
Please< help us!
Mom?
Shit, we got an incoming missile! Everybody hold on!
The loud, thunderous noise from the explosion made me
ears ring once again. It tore a hole just above where Omar was.
We were thrown all over the cabin, smashing into the metal hull.
I let go of the phone. Everything went foggy and blurry, but I felt
the whole plane shaking violently. I could hear the faint echoes
of the helicopters buzzers and Kevin desperately screaming on
his seat. Chris was moving all over the place; he dragged me to a
corner with Omar and covered the two of us. We seemed to be
spinning, the sky and the buildings appearing one after the other
outside. Smoke was filling the cabin, smelling of burnt plastic
and fuel. We were to suffocate. Chriss face was right on top of
mine, shaking and terrified. He was mumbling something, perhaps about how sorry he was for bringing me to this mess. He
kissed me, but I didnt look at his face. The whole cabin was disintegrating, sparks bursting from every corner. Once I thought it
would never end, the lights dimmed and we smashed to the
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All She Lost.

ground hard. Then, it was silent. Everything stopped moving. I


was unconscious.
I should be heading home, but my curse caught up with
me. The universe turned against us once again. That point I realized, I was never getting out of this country, alive that is.

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Chapter

22.
THE SIRENS WERE blaring again, the first thing I noticed since
I regained consciousness. Like a camera resetting, my eyes slowly cleared. My head ached from the concussion I might have sustained. I lay on a rather smooth surface, concrete and wet. I too
was soaked. A male voice was echoing loud. My brain was apparently not damaged that I still cared moving different parts of
my body for signs of immobility from fractures and other shit.
Youre awake, Kevin said. The walls made his voice
echo as if in a theatre hall. Thank God youre alive. Apparently unscathed, he was sitting next to Omar, awake but in pain,
binding more stuff on his right arm and legs. Chris lay against a
wall, still unconscious. Are you hurt? Can you move?
I think Im okay.
We have to get out of here. Those soldiers will come for
us any minute now. Theyre already on the move for the attack.
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The smoke will give away our location.


I moved my body up. The four of us were in a rectangular room quarter-filled with wood and floor tiles, apparently an
unfinished house. Against the cloudy glass window, I saw rain
pouring outside. How did we get here? Wheres the damn helicopter?
Burned to the ground, he said. I pulled you out from
the vehicle after we crashed, then brought you all here. He even
saved my camera, which survived the crash out of some mechanical miracle. Sony did make a hell of a robust piece of gadget. I picked it up.
Thank you, Kevin.
But the phone got destroyed, so we have nothing to call
with around here.
Is Omar okay?
His wounds got pounded, Kevin said, but other than
that you should be fine, man.
May God bless you for what you did to us, said Omar.
Is< he okay? I pointed to Chris.
He hasnt blinked since I brought you all here. But hes
alive, dont worry about him.
Jesus, where did that rocket come from?
It should be from the base. They might have used that
big-ass rocket launcher Neumann brought today.
Hes not gonna let us go, is he?
Dont worry. Well make it out of here, or well die trying, he assured.
Chris miniature Playoffs trophy, his lucky charm, lay in
two pieces beside him. It was broken, the ball detached from its
tiny body. What looked like a key protruded from it.
Did your mother call? asked Omar.
I turned to him. I replayed the voice in my head; I was
more than sure it was her. A wave of hope moved through me.
I thought she was dead. Neumann told me he was going to kill
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my family. She needed my help. She was< she was crying. I


think Dads with her too and my sisters. I have to find them! I
have to save them!
Wait, dont rush things, okay? Kevin said. Were still
in the middle of the city. Those soldiers are gonna be searching
for us, and theyll shoot you on sight. We should stick together.
They have no time! They need my help!
You wont find them if youre dead!
I rushed the door. No, I have to do this!
Holly! Listen to me! he screamed. Youre gonna die if
you go out that door! Now, we need to get the hell out of here
and figure things on the way.
What if theyre killed?
Neumanns not gonna kill them, I assure you, he said.
Theyre his leverage. If he kills them now, he knows he wont
get the codes, dont you think?
How about Omars family?
Its okay, Holly, said Omar. Theyre gone. I cant do
anything about that anymore. But I will help you find your parents, promise.
Why? I said.
You came for me. I owe you my life. Its the least thing I
could do for you.
The phone was totaled from the crash, the only thing
that would help me find them. It felt like every lasting second
was a huge chance wasted, some of which might just be the one
that could get my parents back.
I lied to them, I said, remembering every sin I did to
my parents. I never got to tell them how much I loved them. I
took them for granted and just did whatever I want to do, and
look where the fuck it got me!
Chris started moving, still dazed. What the hell is going
on? Where are we?
I dont know where it came from, but all of a sudden I
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All She Lost.

was consumed with raw anger which pushed me towards him. I


got on top of his beaten body and slapped the hell out of him.
You did this to me! I screamed. Where are they? Where are
my parents?! Kevin restrained and pulled me out of my reach
of the guy who single-handedly ruined my life for the rest of my
days, possibly even up to the afterlife. Chris was shaken, curling
his body like a fucking pussy.
Holly, please!
Where the fuck are they?
I swear I dont know, okay? he said. Its not my fucking fault! I did not bring them to Neumann!
Of course you have something to do with it!
Why the hell would I give your parents to that monster? I didnt do anything wrong Holly! Of course, there was no
way he did, I slowly realized. Judd already told me of the assignment before Chris gave the map to me, which meant that the
monster already had me on his sights. My anger clouded my
judgment, but then again if he knew where the map came from,
he shouldnt have lied to me.
Why did you have to lie about the map? You knew its
from a traitor and you still< what the fuck were you thinking?
How many times do I have to tell you? he said. I took
it from Price! He gave it to me! Whatever its for, I had no fucking idea. He stood up and moved towards me. And I love you
and I wont let you get hurt
Just< stay the hell away from me! And stop saying I
love you for Gods sake, its fucking irritating. Let go of me Kevin! Then, silence. Water dripped down my head.
We should seriously get the hell out of here guys, said
Kevin.
I faced him. To where? Where the fuck are we gonna
go? Were fucking trapped in this country and everybody here
wants us dead! Where are we gonna go?!
Calm down, Holly.
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All She Lost.

You have no right to tell me that! Dont ever tell me to


fucking calm down!
Im just trying to help, okay? he said. We will find
your parents and his family. Well get help! His attempt for optimism was terrible.
And how the hell are we gonna do that?
Well just have to figure something out. Right now we
need to get the hell out of here. This place will be crawling with
soldiers any minute now.
We wont. It doesnt matter if we get out of this place,
I said, countering his optimism. Neumann knows where exactly
I am. He always knows what I was up to. He sees me, he hears
me. All of us right here, he planned this.
No, he cant possibly trace our location right now. We
dont have any radio-transmitting device on us so we should be
invisible to his radars. Neumann might have used the phone to
blow us from the air.
He can do that?
Tracking technologies, oldest in the business. It was
the culprit; my Smartphone as the instrument of my demise, and
Chris let me bring it.
You know about this? I said, facing Chris. You let
him track us?
Why would I do that? he said, desperately expressing
innocence. I didnt bring the two of us in this country just to get
ourselves killed. And I fucking swear to you, I never met Neumann before. I never even heard of his name, ever! Just because
Prices name wasnt in the database doesnt mean I ruined your
life. Dont forget that Im in this shit too.
I was silenced from his point. Im so sorry, Holly.
Yeah, your sorry wont do shit now, I said. He might
have nothing to do with my parents, but he was still in part responsible for ruining my life forever, albeit not deliberately.
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er and louder, made all of us freeze. We all turned to the door.


You hear that? I said.
Kevin peeked through the entrance and just as quickly
turned back. Shit, get down! Get down! he whispered. Our
faces and body against the wet concrete, the heavy war machines
produced vibrations on the earth as they passed by us, even reverberating through me. The others had their backs against the
wall and the stack of wood and tiles, Kevin right by the door.
The water seeped through my thin cotton dress. I could hear the
soldiers orchestrating the hunt for us.
They should be somewhere around here, one said.
Search every building, every goddamn room within this perimeter. You two, go look over there!
Holly! said Chris. What are you doing there?!
It was too late when I realized I lay on the middle of the
room, the worst possible hiding spot. I pushed the camera to the
side. I slowly crept my way to the side beside Chris, but when I
did, a soldier looked right at the window. I almost screamed. My
whole body stiffened and my breath nonexistent, the soldier was
looking intently through the cloudy glass. I hoped the grayishblue hue of my clothing would somehow mask me. And then he
moved towards the door.
Oh shit! Hes coming inside!
I stood up when the soldier came and aimed his large
gun at me. Dont fucking move! he screamed, the lights of his
rifle on my face. Kevin then smashed the door close and, in a
scream of fury, threw the man to the ground. Chris followed the
assault with a hit on his chest with a long piece of wood. Kevin
then grabbed the gun and aimed it at his brother, using the light
to block the soldiers sight of him. The soldier was effectively
rendered inert, me almost shitting my pants. The rain covered
their noise.
Dont you fucking move! said Kevin, on a very aggressive stance. Who were you looking for? Who sent you to
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search for them?


Thats none of your fucking business.
Kevin cocked the gun. Id rather not kill you.
Why dont you do it, motherfucker?
Who sent you here?!
The soldier was silent for a few moments. Jacobs?
That was the cue. Kevin flipped the gun and smashed
the handle to his face, instantly knocking the soldier cold. Everybody okay? he said.
That was fucking terrifying, I said.
The radio strapped on the soldier went on. All units,
head out to lateral B. I repeat, all units head out to lateral B,
possible sighting of the jackpot.
Theyre moving out. Come on, lets go.
What if he wakes up?
Dont worry about him. We need to go.
Kevin got Omar on his shoulders, but he refused. I saw
him push something on his back, which I assumed was just his
hands reaching out for an itch down there. Im okay, Kevin. I
can walk by myself, he said. Kevin took the rifle and let us out.
Rain poured disturbingly hard for a country mostly of
desert and dryness. Thick black smoke still emerged from the
wreck of the helicopter on the other end of the road, which practically became a shallow murky river with even muddier puddles; the fallen debris from blown infrastructure provided break
for the current. We walked under every shade from the rain, but
we were nonetheless very wet still. Good thing my camera was
waterproof. Chris was behind me the whole time, almost awkwardly silent, apparently thinking that I was still mad at him for
what he did. I wanted him to stand by me, providing his body
warmth to fend off the cold. It was irritating on several occasions, but I kind of missed his reminder to me that everything
was going to be okay. Judging from the current situation and the
reinforced allies Ive got, everything might just go okay. We
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All She Lost.

sensed no military presence whatsoever, so far.


I know this place, Omar said. His legs were in obvious
pain from walking but he didnt welcome any help. We were in
a sidewalk beside a tall building. I think I might have a house
near here.
Is it safe? said Kevin.
Its underground. I stacked plenty of water and maybe
some food in that place.
So, I guess his place it is.
We have to find my parents, I said.
We all know that, Holly, Kevin said. We just need a
safe place to plan things out.
Chris and I were in an awkward couple situation; when
I caught him looking at me, he would turn away. He maintained
a considerable distance from me. But I guessed I couldnt blame
him for my ailment of suddenly bursting into fury, spiking high
in split-seconds. Then again, if he really had nothing to do with
everything, he shouldnt be acting like that to show his innocence. And he shouldnt have lied in the very first place. Yet, if
he was really with the enemy, he wouldnt have taken all this
shit with me and just have all of us killed, but he didnt and hes
still right there, trying to escape the very enemies I thought he
was conspiring with. So, he should be telling the truth. He must
be.
I couldnt take it anymore. Im cold, I said, to which he
immediately came to my aid, wrapping my shoulders with his
arms. Thank you.
Im so sorry, Holly, he said.
Are you really telling me the truth?
I swear, nothing but the truth.
Really?
Why did I take all of this mess for you? Like I thought.
Well< Im sorry too. I said.
I hope this is the last time well fight.
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You know I cant promise you that.


He giggled. Yeah, I know.
We walked against the rain. The water seemed to be rising by each passing minute. The rain was absolutely pouring,
big raindrops massaging my body, and loud, which effectively
covered every noise we made from the soldiers. My feet were
soaking and painful. Chris body warmth and the army jacket
provided little to no defense from the chills. Desolation was all
around us, destruction everywhere we looked. Drowning on the
road were corpses of people, some still intact, some torn into
half, some with severed appendages, their blood mixing with the
flood water. For some reason, I wasnt that repulsed as I did the
first time I had a taste of raw violence in this place, which might
be because I already endured too much of it.
Are we there yet? I said.
Im not so sure, Omar said. Im not been here in a
long time.
The radio turned on. Whats your status, Delta Dog?
Kevin covered his mouth to distort his voice. Ah, negative on my position, Alpha. Lots of dead bodies, zero visual of
jackpot.
Keep looking. They cant be too far. The general will
kill us if we dont catch their asses.
Copy that.
You better figure out the way right now Omar, I said.
Im trying, Im trying.
Shut your mouths, said Kevin, holding the rifle like a
veteran SEAL. I have no idea where they are but theyre crawling all over this place. Watch every corner. He was the white
commander, dragging two little kids though hell on earth; his
history in the military offered a sigh of hope to me that we
would make it out of this mess.
A series of gunfire suddenly screamed from some part of
the city, apparently just a few blocks away. It was coupled with
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what I thought were screams. The soldiers were on a killing


spree once again. Jesus Christ.
Come on, lets keep moving.
We were once again in an intersection, a very terrifying
spot where, as my experience in this country proved, the enemy
almost always showed up to kill us. A small park with a still
functioning fountain in the center was the centerpiece. Cars were
overturned on one side, craters from shelling ruined the road on
the other. The area was obviously a commercial center filled
with all sorts of Western convenience and electronic stores, all of
which have been defiled upon. The rain never stopped, so did
the gunshots. We ran as fast as we could, not minding how wet
weve been, to what Omar thought was the way to our asylum. I
was losing my breath, getting extremely tired, but my brain disregarded these physical reactions and kept on pushing me. Chris
had me the whole time.
I should be having an asthma attack right now. I
wasnt craving for my life-threatening affliction to come back
and haunt me. Its just that it vanished totally into thin air like
the years it spent to ruin my life was nothing.
Arent you glad about that? Chris said.
Its kind of freaky how it just disappeared.
Stop thinking about things too much. Its gone when
its gone. You should be happy about that.
Wait, stop! Kevin said. A steady stream of faint gunfire emanated directly ahead, masked by the noise of the rain. I
zoomed to that direction and through the rain, I saw something,
someone, moving, running towards us. Some of them just fell to
the ground like flies. They were people. My legs softened.
Who are those people? I said.
Go, go! Get to the side of that building, now!
The nightmare started all over again. We rushed to a
narrow dead end between two small restaurants and pushed our
backs against the concrete wall, out of sight of whatever was
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coming our way. The screams were getting louder. I was behind
the four of them, but I still saw men and women running, sprinting, on the road to where we came, shouting frantically. They
carried bags and baskets of fruit and clothing. Then, right in
front of my eyes, blood and muscle burst from the shoulders of
one man, blowing off one of his arms, and then he dropped face
down to the road. Chris shut my mouth. A Humvee carrying the
soldiers passed by; a long-barreled machine gun was above it. I
heard the men laughing.
What the hell are they doing?
Dont make any fucking sound! said Kevin.
More people ran past us, among them an old guy carrying a young one on his back, perhaps his son. A bullet went
through his legs, shredding them all over, bones totally vaporized. The boy fell hard to the ground, his father bled to death.
The boys cry was excruciating to hear. Then, another truck
passed by, firing a barrage of bullets to their side. The next thing
I saw, the boy lay on top of his father, his head completely gone.
I lost it once again. I flailed all over.
Please shut up Holly! said Chris.
O God, please forgive them.
Holy shit! Holy shit!
Theyre gone, Kevin said. Stay close behind me and
keep up, understand? Lets go!
We went to where the people came. Bodies were everywhere, all of them missing of a few body parts, mostly arms and
chests and heads, blown away from the gunfire. The flood water
was all red. I puked.
Just a little further, Holly! Come on!
There! There! I see it! Omar said.
My insides jumbled to knotted twists, pushing stuff out
of my mouth until I ran dry. A couple of fighter jets screamed at
the sky on top of us. Chris stood me straight, sometimes dragging me against the road as we ran. His body warmth provided
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less, if no relief from the cold. I lost track of where we went, but
we got to an alley where there was less massacre but with more
debris and floodwater. Suddenly, the pain from the enigmatic
bump on my stomach screamed once again, burning the whole
of me. It was too much; I curled on the road, stopping us in our
tracks.
Come on, we have to keep moving! Kevin said.
You have to get up Holly. Were gonna get killed out
here!
Fuck! Its killing me!
Get her up now!
The gunshots and screams returned, and that time it was
getting closer, coming for all of us. I turned back, and at the end
of the very road were in, a horde of people was running towards us, bullets raining after them from a caravan of murderous monsters. Holy shit!
Kevin screamed with everything he got. Get up! Get
up! Lets go! Keep moving, keep moving! Go! Go! Go! My partner carried me on his arms as we ran for our lives, with adrenaline provided him with the strength he needed and more. The
flood and the immense debris on the road slowed our run. I saw
people on our tail falling to the ground one by one as bullets
pierced their heads and chest in an explosion of guts and blood.
The soldiers were killing off everyone in this country to curb the
formation of any resistance against the rule Neumann would
found once his plans were done. Funny that just yesterday we
scrambled to get to the base to ask for their help, only to turn out
the other way around. The rain acted as our camouflage, and out
of some miracle we ran without a single bullet piercing us. My
stomach was killing me, but it was actually tolerable, with adrenaline acting as my pain-killer. I held the camera, and sure
enough it was documenting a hell of a chase, action and violence
our audiences would love.
Go! Go! Go! Go!
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Which fucking way is it?! Chris screamed.


Straight ahead! said Omar.
A line of smoke emerged from the top floor of a building ahead, racing towards the soldiers behind us, apparently a
rocket-propelled grenade. Then, against the mist of the rain, tiny
flashes of light appeared and the noise of gunfire screamed right
at our faces. Armed locals suddenly popped up everywhere, and
we were right in the middle of their ambush, right in the kill
zone, in the fucking open.
Kevin!
Get out of the goddamn road! He led us to the nearest
alley he could find, away from the choke point, but not until I
saw the whole building where the rocket came from blow to a
million pieces right in front of my face. The blast was powerful
enough to knock all of us to the ground.
Son of a bitch!
Keep moving!
Chris brought me back to his arms. Are you okay? he
said, still caring despite the insane chaos were in. He showed no
sign of weakening from carrying me for a hundred miles.
Make this stop! I said.
Just a little more, come on!
The ground started vibrating at the middle of the aisle as
I saw a tank moving past us, soldiers surrounding it on all corners. The mist of the rain was our cloak. We then stopped at the
other end where another road waited, Kevin cocking the long
rifle ready and assuming the commander role. The rain was ever
stronger; everything was wet as hell.
Fucking shit, I cant see anything.
Where is that goddamn apartment? Chris said.
Three buildings away from here, said Omar.
Jesus Omar, youre bleeding all over! I said. His bandages have turned red, soaking in his blood.
Are you okay, man? Kevin asked.
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Im okay, I dont feel anything, he said.


The gunshots and explosions got fainter, indication that
the chaos was already away, so did the pain boring deep in my
stomach. I could still feel the bump. I got down from my partner.
Okay, you move when I move, understand? Kevin
said stressfully. His voice wasnt really that of the commandotype, soft but still forceful enough. When you see a tank, wait
for it to leave. They got motion-detecting sensors.
You sure you can handle it, Holly? said Chris.
Im fine. Dont worry about me.
Our walk along the roadside was precarious, and the
first few steps brought no trouble. Power lines drowned in the
road, but they didnt electrocute us. It was silent for a while, of
course excluding the deafening rain. The gunshots and cannons
were still faint. At a corner of another small intersection, Kevin
stopped again.
See that? He pointed to a burned-up 7/11 store on the
other side of the road. Well get killed the longer we stay out
here. There should be a storage room in there or something. We
will wait it out and get the hell out of here after weve come up
with something. Agreed?
How long do we have to wait? I said.
I dont know, as long as we have somewhere to lie
down on and think things through. Alright, me and Omar will
go first. And so they did, running like they were in a middle of
a crossfire. They checked the store and from their gestures, it
seemed we found an alternative refuge.
Come on! Kevin said.
And so we did follow after much hesitation, and we got
to the asylum in one piece. I thought I heard an engine starting.
My partner checked on me again, to which I responded okay.
Only a quarter of the store got roasted, but it was a total
mess, chairs and food cabinets and Slurpees and wine spread on
the floor. Long wooden planks marked with some kind of Farsi
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letter, a hook with dots and commas all over it, replaced the
glass windows. The smell of expiration reeked. Four or five rotting bodies lay on the side. On one corner was a metal door.
Help me with this, Chris, said Kevin. I kept looking
for any signs of trouble outside as the two of them scrutinized
the door, until I noticed the pain Omar was enduring. He was
even more noticeably pale, the whole of body pouring with
blood. I went to tend for him.
Are you okay?
Holly, here, Kevin said, throwing me his bag of medic
stuff. Inject him with a couple more of that morphine.
Dont Holly, please, said Omar. You need it more
than I do.
Shut up. Your family needs you. We need you to stay
alive. We cant do this without you. I wrapped his wounds and
injected him as instructed. Pus and blood oozed through the
bandages. His skin was so hot; he had a fever. It required no
doctoral degree to figure out that his body was being overwhelmed with infection.
He needs antibiotics! I said.
The two managed to get the door opened, and inside
they were welcomed with screams of people, hiding from the
carnage. Who are they?
People, locals, said Chris. I brought Omar inside the
storage room where more than a dozen Iranians flocked in helplessness. Much of them were children and adolescents, one was
pregnant and the rest were fathers and old bearded folk. They
were scared to death when we got in, with Kevin looking exactly
like the monsters hunting them down. They were sickly and appeared next to being dead; they had been here forever.
Please, calm down, said Kevin. We are not here to
hurt you. Were here to help. Keep quiet! Omar did the job of
translating. An old, rather smart-looking, man in a loose robe
spoke for the group. Desperation was all over him.
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He says, please dont kill us, Omar said. We didnt


do anything wrong.
How long have you been here? I said.
He says this has been their home since the start of the
war. They havent eaten a decent meal in the past three days.
The soldiers are killing everyone they see. They dont understand why they do this to them.
A traitor brought this upon you, one of ours, I said.
Im so sorry for everything weve done.
He says, dont be sorry for what others are responsible
for. It wasnt you. Chris looked at me, implying hes been right
about this being all my doing. Still, they were wrong.
Can we stay here for a little while? Chris said.
He says you cant stay here. It is not safe. They want to
get out of here.
Shomamitoonikekomakamkonid? the man said.
Can you help us?
The soldiers are all over the city, said Kevin. They
will definitely see you, and before you even know it youll all be
dead.
Are there anyone else other than you? I said.
Yes, Omar translated. They believe there is a big refugee camp just a few miles west of this place where everybody is
staying. There is enough food and water for everyone there. It is
the safest place we could be.
He then looked at us with a pleading gaze. We have to
help these people.
We have enough problems already, Omar. We barely
made it out of there on ourselves.
The man started talking again. He says Allah will grant
you anything you want if you help His people.
Yeah, but your god wont make all of us bulletproof,
would he?
Omar started coughing hard, continuous, running him
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out of breath. The freakish sound he made from the vibrations of


his throat scared me. His whole bodys getting infected. We
have to give him something now.
Im< fine, please, he said.
Medicine? the old guy said. He then showed us a bottle with some kind of black fluid in it, apparently an exotic drug.
He was about to give it to me when he started blabbing again.
He says< they will give it to you if< you agree to take
them out of here.
You dont understand, said Kevin. You will all die if
you take one step out of there. It is safer for you, for her, to stay.
He says she< she cannot give birth in this filth. They
cant take care of the baby here. She needs somewhere safe. Four
of them have already died in this place. They cant stay here.
Tell them if they know a way out of here, Chris said.
Yes< there is a He coughed hard again.
Give us the bottle now! I said.
No, you< help! Help. Us! the old man demanded.
Kevin took it from his hand, and I put it straight to our
guides mouth. For a moment, I thought it was going to erupt in
an armed confrontation. We will help you, said Kevin. But
you must tell us the way out of this place. The man nodded,
apparently understanding him, and then readied the rest.
Were doing the right thing for them, right? Kevin said
to my partner.
Its what they want, Chris said.
Theyll all get killed out there.
The same will happen if they stay here anyway, I said.
Its better to give them at least a fighting chance. You feeling
better now Omar?
Yeah, he said, though his wellness was not apparent
in his face. He then pulled out the LeBron cap we brought him.
You had it the whole time?
He smiled and put the cap where it should be. This is
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now my most prized possession. Im not letting go of this.


A kid then approached me and handed a half-filled bottle of water with a few pieces of bread. It was heart-warming.
Kheily mamnoon, I said to him, an expression of thanks.
The rain stopped, said Kevin. Everybody ready? Tell
them to go whenever and wherever I go, okay?
Can you walk, Omar?
Dont worry, Holly. I can do this.
Were just gonna check outside, said Kevin. Chris
you come with me. The locals stuffed everything useful in the
room into their bags, mothers and fathers dressing up their
children as if we were going on a field trip. The pregnant ones
husband offered his cuddles and presence. I could see her fat
legs stained with stripes of blood. I turned away from them; I
could not handle one more death in my head.
Omar then pulled me to him. Thank you< for everything you did for me, he said, ever so deeply.
Of course. You dont have to thank me for something
that I should do.
I hope you can forgive me.
He was talking about Neumann. No, we already talked
about this. You were a victim. It wasnt you.
Its not that, its< Im afraid I havent told you the
whole truth yet. You are making a huge mistake.
It felt ominous. What do you mean?
I know why youre here, he said.
What?!
I couldnt tell you. He wont let me.
Who? I said. Who?! Why am I here, Omar?
He
Its clear, Chris suddenly showed up. Well get out of
here now. Tell them to form a tight group Omar. Come on, Holly. He then pulled me from him, from the truth. Omar was
looking at me, and with his lips he was sorry again. I was dying
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to find out that truth, to reason out the nightmare I endured and
to blame the ones truly responsible. The folks clustered as they
got out of the room. Kevin was on prone at the entrance; his
burden just grew exponentially huge with more souls depending
on him. The rain has indeed stopped, the water almost emptied
on the road. Faint were the sounds of violence.
12:59.
Omar, Kevin said, tell them to stick right behind me
and dont ever fall out of their group. Walk wherever and whenever I go, alright? Now, which way to go?
Straight through this road and go right after two blocks
and then straight through a railway. The camp is marked with
that same letter on that piece of wood. There should also be a
small train there that we could use.
You sure that place exists?
He said yes, Omar said. The imam promised to save
all of them, to keep them safe.
What is he, like your prophet or something?
Our savior.
We were about to put ourselves once again in the path of
certain demise, but it was a risk we need to take. I didnt complain about finding my parents as per Kevins huge point of
them being the monsters leverage. The plan was to get out, get
help, come back, and save them. The Samaritan child kept looking at me from behind, but I didnt make any bond with him or
any of the children in the flock. If they were to die, which was
almost assured in this case, and I was still attached to them, as I
was with Aliya, my brain would collapse in and on itself like a
black hole. I couldnt take lives on my hands like they were mine
to save, now that I couldnt even assure mine.
Keep close behind me, Kevin said, his gun readied,
Chris right by my side. Our breaths and steps were rather loud.
Omar never faced me again for the truth he shouldve given me.
The folks were apparently sickened seeing the corpses of their
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brethren spread across the road. I was totally wrong about fearing them; we were all victims of a lunacy.
A faint sound of a tank stopped us. Where is that?
Dont stop moving, Kevin said. Lets go.
A couple of tall buildings with a huge mosaic of bullet
holes were at the first block. The folks anticipation to escape this
nightmare was apparent. More helicopters and jets flew past us,
positioning for the final attack.
Chris turned around. Wait, wait, somethings moving
back there.
What? Where?
At the far end of the road, I saw some sort of long metal
tube, but it blended well with the hue of its surroundings that I
could hardly see it. What is that? I said.
Come on, we have not much time, Kevin insisted.
I think theres really something over there. I zoomed
in with my camera. I heard our faintest breaths as all of us stared
wondrously at the structure. The tube started moving, taking
with it some sort of a large metal hull and a tread. We froze.
Slowly, the tube pointed right where we were. Then, my blood
drained out of me.
Holy
Everybody down!
Instinct threw me to the ground just as the bullet-laden
wall we walked against blew to dust, the explosion pushing me
to the other side of the road. Everything turned white and dim,
the sounds faint. My ears screamed as loud as never before. I felt
like drowning, lost, desperately reaching for something to cling
on, but there was nothing. Chris was probably shaking me, but I
was a cold corpse. And slowly, the white world I was in faded
back to my dark reality. We were in a dust cloud, concrete and
debris swirling around. A hand was right above me. Thinking it
was Chris, I reached for its end, but it was warm and wet and
tender with something hard at its center. I looked at the severed
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hand, and it was violent enough to wake me.


I could hear my partner calling. Chris! Help me!He
immediately came to my aid, brought me to his shoulders and
rushed me out.
Are you okay?
Chris! Omar! Come on! Kevin screamed from outside
the cloud. That tank is coming for us!
What< what about the others? I said.
Theyre all dead. Theyre all fucking dead!
I stepped on something soft and slippery. Entangled on
my shoes were intestines and skin, fresh and red with blood. The
cloud cleared a bit, and all around me were the Iranians severed
into million pieces, almost as if they were creamed from a blender. Fingers and heads and guts were everywhere, soaking in
pure red. The Samaritan kids head lay severed on the side, a
large piece of metal lodged on his forehead. I lost my breath and
puked all of a sudden. I could hear the tank coming.
Chris! Come on! Kevin shouted.
We got out of the cloud, my other two male companions
apparently undamaged. Chris had my camera. The radio was
screaming. All units, all units. This is Alpha Dog. Beast has eyes
on the target. I repeat, eyes on the target at Beasts position. Proceed and apprehend.
Son of a bitch, were gonna get boxed in!
Then, I heard a sign of life, a scream for help. Wait!
Wait! Someones still alive back there!
We cant go back! Chris said.
They need my help! Let go! I screamed, then pushed
him away and ran back. The cloud has cleared and at the end of
the road, the tank slowly crawled towards us, the tube pointed
right at me. Against the carnage, I saw a woman waving her
arms, half of her body stuck in a large boulder.
Get back here right now, goddamn it! Kevin said.
What the hell are you doing?!
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The debris was too heavy even with the adrenaline rush
inside me. The tank was now ever closer. I pulled her out with
her hands, screaming with everything Ive got, but like tender
beef meat, her muscles snapped apart and her torso just ripped
off her hips. Her guts got spread on the road, her juices spilled
all over her. She screamed until she just turned off. Just as I
thought that I already got over the violence of this place, my
head went into havoc again. I was horrified. I killed her. I succumbed to paranoia throughout our escape.
Holly, come on! Chris said, dragging me out.
Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!
Kevin let off a few rounds from his rifle to the oncoming
mechanized monster, only to ricochet against its thick metal armor. Come on, move! Move! Move your ass!
Motherfucker!
The way that womans body replayed in my head over
and over again. I was too disturbed to keep track of where we
went, but we took many abrupt turns and went through tight
spaces, gunfire raging on every one. Kevin was up against the
entire battalion, his single rifle battling tanks and rockets and
grenades, we taking cover under his almost inexistent shield.
The locals kept on their assault in an act of revolt. The next time I
noticed, we were behind a tall pile of cinder blocks.
Shit, Im out of bullets, said Kevin. Where the fuck is
my pistol?
We have to keep moving! Chris said.
Yeah, no fucking shit! Were trapped!
There, down there! said Omar. Down there. I think
there is underground bunker inside. Come on!
I puked almost ceaselessly, so much so that I might have
drowned the entire city with my bodily fluids. Omar led us to a
concealed staircase on the side of a half-blown building, which
went down an average-sized room flooded toe-high and filled
with metal gas drums and wooden crates, far from the trove he
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promised. A large hole on ceiling provided illumination, rainwater still dripping from it. Chris put me down on top of a crate,
but my body seemed to be five times as heavy, flaming with
pain from hell. All my partner could do was press himself
against me and ask whether I felt okay. The men breathed hard
and deep, pressed against the damp walls, apparent of exhaustion after our dive right in the sea of fire and violence. The rain
washed away the blood from Omar, and the morphine has taken
its toll on him.
Were never getting out of this, are we? I said, crying.
Im not so sure about that anymore, Kevin said.
Come on, man, said Chris. That rail station should
not be far away from here.
Even if we get in those trains, their helicopters and jets
are going to blow us sky high. The only thing we could do right
now is wait until all of them are gone. During the night might be
our best shot to escape.
How about my family? Omar said.
Are you seriously still gonna go out there? Chris said.
Its a fucking warzone, man. Yeah, I think we should stay here
and take a rest. Well move out at night. We need you, Omar. We
dont know where to go and what well do. We have to figure
this thing out together. Omar didnt answer.
You think someone would come and help us? I said.
I dont know, said Kevin. But you uploaded you videos, right? Maybe someone will.
Dont worry too much, Holly. Were gonna be fine,
Chris said, as if I was a little kid who needed a lie to feel better. I
almost burst into anger again, but it was inappropriate. I knew
we were all alone; no one would ever come for us. Any spark of
hope was laughable. We were never getting out.
I was shaking. Those people< we left them<
We knew what was going to happen to them, anyway,
said Kevin.
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Why are we still alive? How are we still< alive?


Maybe God still has plans for you.That explosion obliterated all of those people in a snap, which should have easily
vaporized us as well, but it didnt. It seemed that God and that
fucking monster conspired with one another to fuck my life.
Ending the world still wasnt enough that they had me involved
in this pile of shit.
I hate him. Why me? Why fucking me? I saw Omar
look at me. Why? He looked away.
Hey, can you hold on to this for me, Chris said, giving
me his lucky Playoffs charm.
What am I supposed to do with this?
Just hold on to it. Its very important to me.
We should all get some rest, Kevin said. Its been a
very long day, and I can only assume its gonna get even fucking
longer. How are you feeling, Omar, my friend?
He didnt respond. Omar?
Yeah?
You okay?
What time is it? He said that rather stressfully.
What did you say?
What time is it?
Its thirty to two, said Chris. Why?
Something collapsed above, an entire wall, startling all
of us. Shut up! Shut up! said Kevin.
I tried to get up, and retreated to the darkest part of the
room. Holy shit, holy shit!
We all froze. Shut up! Dont move. The engine of the
tanks and the treads pressing against the road were loud. The
ground was vibrating, pouring dust all over me. All of us looked
up the hole.
Theyre gonna find us!
Shut the fuck up, Holly, said Kevin.
Im so sorry.
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Shut up, Om
Jesus Christ. We were all startled.
Omar< what are you doing?
Im sorry. I have to do this.
Omar, I said. Were your friends. Dont do this.
You dont understand. They need me. My family needs
me. He is going to kill them.
Drop the gun, Omar.
He had Kevins pistol, and with his shivering weary
arms, he aimed them at our commandos head. Only his two
fingers held the magazine. He was crying. I could hear the army
was right above us. My family needs me.
Omar, please, if you fire that gun, they will kill us all,
said Kevin. You will never find your family.
They will take me to him. He said if I take you to him,
he will bring my family back. That was our deal.
I was shitting my pants. Omar, I said. I beg you<
My family need me!
Listen, you dont have to do this, Kevin said, his arms
on his head. Well gonna get help, and we will bring your family back. Remember, that was our plan.
You cant stop him, no one can. It is inevitable. It is
larger than all of us. No matter what we do, we are too late.
Omar, said Chris. Put down the gun. Remember everything weve been through. I will take a bullet for you, you
know that. Put down the gun, please.
He then looked at me. His gaze showed his innocence,
that he didnt want this, but still he would do anything for his
family. Holly< do you really want to know why you are really
here?
Omar<
Love, he said. He was smiling. Love.
Hey, did you hear that? said the soldiers outside.
Im not a bad man, Holly. I just have no choice.
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All She Lost.

I know Omar, I know but this is not the way to fix this
mess. We can still figure things out.
We already tried everything, and everything well
think of will just fail. I have to do this. I have no other choice.
Please<
Im so sorry. He then smacked the gun against the top
of Kevins spine, instantly knocking him out. Chris tried pouncing on top of him but Omar was surprisingly agile, aiming the
gun at him before he could move. Im so sorry Chris. He
pulled the trigger, the bullet bursting Chris chest and dropping
him to the wet concrete. Omar pointed the barrel at me, stained
with my partners blood.
Omar, please!
Hey, check down there. I heard something! the soldiers outside shouted.
I hope you understand, Holly. I never want to do this
to you. Im so sorry.
I could feel the bones of my legs slowly crumbling. I
dont wanna die Omar! I dont wanna die! I just wanna go home!
I thought you are our friend. Please, you promised to keep me
safe, remember? Omar!
He turned away, crying heavily, the gun shaking violently. I saw he was fighting it, the need to kill me over the life of
his family. But it wasnt fair. The last thing I saw was the barrel
of the pistol swinging right to my head. For a few seconds I still
had my consciousness.
Allahu akbar, he said.

pg. 409

All She Lost.

Chapter

23.
I WISHED EVERYTHING was another of my brains elaborate
and vivid construct, a big daydream, resulting from my constant
exposure to violence and blood. I wished I had just returned
home when I had the chance. I wished I turned the other way
back in that marble monument. I wished I was never here, that I
was in the sanctuary of my own home. I have reached the deepest point of the chasm of helplessness and despair where I have
buried myself, where there was no other end, no way out. One of
the last persons I trusted and could only trust, indeed an extreme rarity in this fucking world, have singlehandedly destroyed the last flicker of hope I had. Being one of the gifted
ones, Omar mustve been on Neumanns sights for quite some
time, and through that email he sent Judd weeks ago he mustve
told him to have me tortured in this country and retrieve the
codes with us for him. But why would Judd, my closest of
pg. 410

All She Lost.

friends, almost a brother of my own, lie to us, to me? That monster had his family, but he shouldve at least told us or contacted
the CIA or something, and avoid this whole big fucking mess.
And, of course that all important question, why fucking me?
That monster couldve chosen nine billion other more insignificant human beings to fuck with. Omar provided an extremely
ambiguous answer, but it couldnt be that love, that ridiculously
overrated emotion, would want me to suffer all the hell in the
world for nothing. Being the special sucks, fucking sucks in my
case. I had no one else to trust. I was all alone, on my own.
I felt I was being pushed on a wheelchair; the ground
was rather smooth. I could not open my eyes, or they might have
wrapped my head on a thick black bandage. My arms and legs
were strapped tight against the cold metal bars of the mobile
chair. I couldnt talk or produce a single tone; something soft
and mushy was stuffed in my mouth. I was dizzy, in pain. For a
couple of times a brief flash of yellow orangey light got to my
eyes. The smell was of meat and blood. My ears were still ringing. I was never getting out of this shithole. Any notion saying
otherwise was comical, ridiculous, absurd, bullshit. I did save
the world from certain destruction, which should be enough
compromise for all the deaths I caused when I get to heaven. But
still, bullshit.
I thought it couldnt be more painful, but the feeling that
I already had salvation right at the palm of my hands, that I already celebrated it, that I had it in my grasp, only to suddenly
vanish to thin air, never to come back, was arguably worse than
hell itself. It was like seeing a ship for the first time after being
stranded in the middle of the sea for months. You wave and
scream for help, only to see the ship moving past you, away
from you, into the horizon, leaving you to certain death. I should
be going home right now, but destiny or God or whatever other
metaphysical entity couldnt just stop fucking my life.
They pushed my cart against a wall and unwound the
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All She Lost.

tight wrap on my neck. They pulled the sack from my head. I


couldnt see anything clear, my eyes still blurred. I spat the ball
of tissue stuffed in my mouth, all red with blood, after which I
screamed help up to heaven. It was cold, reeking. I tried trashing myself, but the restraints were resilient. I screamed again.
No one will come for you.
I was stopped with his voice, croaky and deep, echoing
throughout the big hall we seemed to be in. I looked up. The
shape of a tall man in a grey dress was in front of me, standing
by a spotlight, his edges brightened. My eyes slowly cleared and
the shape became more pronounced. His elongated head was
outlined with something white. He moved a few steps forward,
and there he was. I saw him, the lunatic, the monster.
I have to admit, I underestimated you Ms. Thompson. I
had everything planned out for this grand venture of mine, but
you are the one thing I least expected to happen, let alone interfere with my cause. And for that you have my respect.
I couldnt control it. You< you fuck! You fucking monster! You burn in hell you son of a bitch! Where are my parents?!
Where are they?! Please! Where are my parents?!
You hacked into my system and uploaded my files and
your footage to the Web. He laughed. Isnt it really funny that
the smallest, almost ignorable faults can fuck you the worst?
Please! Where are they?!
Did you like the little show we made for you? Theyre
such sick motherfucking bastards like me. We work well together. Too bad we couldnt work out our differences in the end
though we wanted the same thing.
Where are my parents?!
You think youll gonna get them back after everything
youve done to me? You almost destroyed everything I have
worked and sacrificed for much of my life. You think you can
still get away with this?
Please, just let me see them! Please! I need to say sorry
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All She Lost.

to my parents! I need< I need them to forgive me.


Your efforts to stop the inevitable, to stop me, are very
laudable. But youre too late. The clocks in motion. No one, not
even God, can stop me now. Soon enough the whole world will
come crumbling down and a whole utopia will rise from the
ashes where there is no war and power. Everyone will be equal.
And I will be their savior<
Fuck you! You heartless monster! You< fucking monster! I screamed, followed by an outburst of tears. The room
was dark with a couple of spotlights pointed at us breaking it,
the ground moist and dark with long estuaries of some viscous
red fluid. I noticed my camera by the spotlight. Mucous clogged
my nose from smelling the rot. Long metal chains, some with
large hooks at the end, scattered all across the floor near me. I
could feel my fingers tingling from the tight restraints. I couldnt
see anyone behind him but the place must be crawling with his
minions. He let me cry my eyes out as he stood by the light,
chuckling, as if the sorrow of one was something that could
please. But I couldnt blame him; hes a heartless motherfucking
monster.
Why are you doing this to me? I said. Why dont you
just get on with it and kill me?!
Im not gonna kill you, yet. A human life like yours is
very precious now that Im about to start a new world.
Why me?! Why did you have to ruin my life for this?
Fuck you, why me?!
I anticipated his answer. He smirked. Im not gonna
spoil the surprise, Ms. Thompson. But I assure you, itll surprise
the hell out of you.
If you want to destroy the world, why did you have to
do all of this to me?! Why did you kill my friends? We have
nothing to do with whatever it is you want to do!
You really have no idea, do you?
Where is my family?! Where are Chris and Kevin?
pg. 413

All She Lost.

I am not a monster, Ms. Thompson, he said. I am a


savior, a patriot of the world. I did tell you why Im doing this,
which is why I didnt kill you back in my plane. Any person of
sound mind would understand my cause. The world is filled
with traitors, those who think the world is theirs to keep. Those
who think they can rule over everything! Those who think<
they could just kill innocent lives for the sake of keeping their
fucking illusion of power!
Isnt that what youre trying to do? Isnt that what
youre trying to do?! Youre gonna kill billions of people to have
the world for yourself! What would be left for you to rule? Everybody will be dead!
He smiled. Thats why I like you, Ms. Thompson. You
still have the guts to scream at me like that though you know I
could kill you right now.
Where are my parents?! Please!
We are living a lie. Freedom is the biggest lie. Everyone
thinks they control their own lives but they dont. The powerful
has every single person on this Earth in their prison where we
are made to do whatever the fuck they want. They make us use
the things they want us to use, eat what they want us to eat, do
what they want us to do. We think were safe in our homes, but
were never safe, not even by a bit. I have seen the truth, Ms.
Thompson. The government spies on its people. They kill them,
they steal from them. I exposed all of that to the world, and I
have ignited their spirit to protect their homes against those who
abuse their power.
He was behind all of it, the worst crisis the world has
seen in recent history. He apparently released all those classified
black ops documents that sparked the biggest outrage America
has ever seen. And youre happy with what youve done? The
world is in chaos. Civilization will fall apart
But thats the point. We need to start over, he said. I
will never allow my children, my family, to grow in a world run
pg. 414

All She Lost.

by abuse and corruption.


You have a family? Do they have any idea what youre
doing? If you love them, why are you letting them die in your
fucking lunacy?
You have no idea what youre saying.
They are going to die if you do this!
Theyre dead! I was silenced, my mouth trembling.
For the first time, I saw a hint of sadness, of vulnerability, to his
soul. Do you have any idea how they died? After the operation,
after they killed Christopher, they made me swear never to tell
anyone about the barbarism they did. I didnt. Five days later, I
came home late at night. I saw my wife dipping in the bath, with
a wire lodged in her neck. I ran to my kids; they were sleeping,
until I took off their blankets. Their throats were slit open. Their
eyes were still open wide; they were terrified, and I wasnt there.
I wasnt there for them! He paused, the corner of his eyes shining from a tear about to fall. So you tell me< who is the real
monster now?
You think your family would be happy if they see what
youre doing? I said.
Are you trying to lecture me what is right and wrong?
You have no fucking idea. The ISIS is just a small bullet in the
long list of dark agendas of your so-called sovereign. The 9/11
attacks, monopoly of all nuclear arms, bombing of every single
town in this region, global control< cant you just see?
Please, just let me go. I have nothing to do with this! I
cried. I want to go home!
He was speaking with pressure. I am here to make everything right, dont you understand that?! The society we made
is fucked up. But by starting over and with the proper guidance,
a perfect world will usher in. Thats all I wanted to do.
And you think you have what it takes to lead the
world? I said.
I know what I would be doing, Ms. Thompson. But I
pg. 415

All She Lost.

assure you, this end will be the beginning of something great. It


was really creepy every time he went existential, talking about
his plan of world purification like a deranged preacher. He was
really consumed with what he was trying to do.
Why did you have to kill all those people?
You mean the Iranians? he said. They dont deserve
to live, so does every single person on this planet. All of them
have been poisoned with the lies of the world we made.
Then who would be left for you to lead?
I dont know, Ms. Thompson. Maybe you. But I do consider the possibility that mankind would not survive this cleansing at all, which I think is the better outcome. Better for all of us
to perish than live in the cages of evil. Maybe, Im Gods next
chosen one, like Noah. I am here to finish what he should have.
Creation needs to be purified, cleansed. Thats what the old man
used to tell me, and I believed him.
What do you want from me?!
Dont you remember? You have something that belongs to me. Where are the codes, Ms. Thompson?
I was frozen. The codes were the most important thing
in the world, worth a billion human and an almost infinite nonhuman lives, perhaps the only collection in the entire cosmos,
but somehow I got my mind of them. I<
He moved closer. Where< are< the codes?!
My head was an absolute void. I couldnt think of nothing but the codes ever since this whole thing started. I knew I
had it. I knew I had it, but< I lost them, I said.
I dont think I like your answer.
I dont know! I dont know! Too many things happened
and I might have dropped them, I dont know!
The world needs to change for the better of man, and
youre gonna deprive everyone of that chance?
I dont know! Okay?! I< it might be back in the city, in
the< in the 7/11 store. I might have left the codes there.
pg. 416

All She Lost.

He smiled. You really think that lie would save your


life? Or your friends?
Please! Please! Please! Just let me go!
Im not gonna ask you again.
I dont know!
Screams of pain then emanated from the dark side of the
room. Looks like I have no other choice, he said. Gears and
the metal chains screeched above us, almost deafening. What
looked like dark honey dripped on my head. Slowly, a shape of a
human emerged from the dark, pushed by two other army men.
It was upside down, hanged on a hook like a butchered pig.
When it got against the light, its army outfit became apparent.
Blood was dripping from its hands. They took off the sack from
its head.
Kevin! His face was all bruised up, his nose broken,
his eyes swollen. A couple of his fingers were torn off. The metal
hook tore through his legs. He wasnt moving, or breathing. A
white tape covered his mouth. Kevin! Kevin!
Neumann pulled out a gun and aimed it at his head.
No, no, no, please! Please! Dont kill him!
I try not to be violent. It would be against the very fundamentals of the world Im trying to build, but it seems to be the
only option. The prospect of death is a strong motivator.
Please, I dont know where the codes are. I really dont
know!
He stared at me, the pistol on my commandos head.
Im gonna count to five. Youre gonna tell me where the codes
are, or Im gonna blow his head off.
The veins on my neck were about to explode. Please!
Please! I dont know!
One< two<
Please! I dont know where it is!
< three, four<
Dont kill him!
pg. 417

All She Lost.

Kevin started moving, and his eyes instantly locked on


me, widened. He was screaming for me.
Please, for the love of God!
I want you to see what youve done, Ms. Thompson.
No!
He ripped the tape from his mouth. Holly! Tell my family, I love them! Please! Tell my wife Im sorry! Tell them I love
them!
He pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore right through
his skull, blowing the top and much of his brains off. He was
looking at me; I saw his eyes and the end of his mouth light up
as the projectile penetrated his head. His lips went loose, his
tongue hanged out of his mouth. I flailed and thrashed, screaming as hard as I could. Another life has been taken, and I was
behind it.
You did this to him, Ms. Thompson.
Motherfucker!
Youre gonna tell me now?
Why dont you just kill me?!
He snapped his fingers, and the gear mechanism above
us activated again. The other men dragged Kevins body to the
dark corner as another approached the light. Neumann cocked
his gun. He was smiling.
You know this would all be unnecessary if you just tell
me where the codes are. The next one was alive, screaming,
flailing to fall out of his restraints. His small physique and his
voice were rather familiar. He was screaming my name.
No, no, please, please! I said.
I did know every single thing you were planning to do.
I got that a really fascinating feeling of being a god, watching
over another human being, having that power to control their
actions and destiny. But it was a luxury I sadly had no time for.
The new world requires a very dedicated leader. Little did I
know you two would grow to be a threat.
pg. 418

All She Lost.

Chris! Chris!
Gideon was supposed to tear you two apart, but you
managed to kill one of my best men.
They removed the sack from him. Chris head was totally red from the blood rushing to his brain, veins bulging against
his skin. A tape was in his mouth, but I knew he was screaming
for me too. His white arms had large areas of discoloration.
Please dont kill him!
You know what I am asking for. You have the power to
keep your boyfriend alive.He pointed the gun to his head.
No, no, no, no! Please!
One<
Ill take you to the codes! I know where they are! Just
let him go! I take you to them!
Oh my God, you are a terrible liar. Two<
The pressure of the situation woke every single cell in
my body. Its ironic that we actually feel more alive when faced
with certain death. Still, I couldnt recall the place where I left
them, or the person to whom I handed them over. My lungs contracted and expanded as such of my heart. My cords stretched to
their breaking point, but I could still scream my helpless pleads
to the heartless monster. My world was falling apart, and the
single person I have left was about to die, but I couldnt do anything.
Three<
Let him go! Please! Please! I am telling you the truth, I
dont know where it is! I yelled at him, my voice of a deranged
maniac. How many times do I have to tell you? Killing him
wont do anything. I dont know where they are.
He lowered the gun. I understand you want to save
mankind, nine or ten billion human beings on this holy Earth
who did nothing but waste everything the planet gave to them.
Their ignorance and stupidity and arrogance made them think
they are the most powerful thing creation made. He moved
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All She Lost.

around. Are those the kind of people you want to save? You
want to save a bunch of ungrateful, uncivilized pigs who barely
even know who you are and have taken you for granted?
Those are lives youre going to take, innocent lives. Its
not their fault that you lost your family. Think of the children,
the future youre gonna take away<
Not their fault? One day, they will be leaders, they will
be presidents. They will be< holding power only to themselves,
abusing the weak and getting away with it as if it was nothing!
Were all the same, Ms. Thompson, dont you know that? Give a
man power and riches and you will see just how cruel and selfish they can be.
Like you?
No. I told you I am their savior. I will save them from
their prison! I will bring a new world free from those fucking
pigs, like you!
I lost it. Well, go ahead! Kill him if you want! I dont
want to live in your world! Kill me! Kill me right now! You will
never find those maps! You will be hanged for everything you
did! You will never get away from this!
He laughed. Youre still hopeful? Youre not gonna die,
Ms. Thompson, at least when I allow it. You would play an important role in the new world I will make. But I can take the life
of your dearly beloved if you dont give them to me right now.
I dont know where they are!
He laughed once again, and was clearly losing his patience. He threw the gun to the floor. Youre making this very
difficult for yourself and him. He whistled, after which a soldier pushed a wheeled metal table to him. It had scissors, knifes,
scalpels, tongs and all kinds of surgical apparatus. I ran out of
breath.
What are you gonna do to him?
I now realize guns are boring, he said. You cant really see the emotion of death. And since you dont want to coopepg. 420

All She Lost.

rate<
No, no, just stop, okay, just stop! He grabbed a scalpel
and tore Chris shirt in two, revealing his muscular and bruised
chest. His gunshot wound clotted; they were indeed sewed. A
long white scar running through his abdomen, almost identical
to mine, was noticeable. Chris stiffened, flailing all around but
the metal chains were just too strong.
You know sometimes, I also get surprised myself on
how humans can be so cruel. Maybe its in our innate nature, but
if everyones as devilish as those fucking pigs, we wouldve been
extinct a long time ago, but no. There is good in us. Until it hit
me, its power. The fact that only a single percentage of humans
on earth have power gives room for abuse, corruption, evil.
Power is the real source of evil. Im here to get rid of that.
I looked at my partners eyes the whole time, constantly
pleading for his forgiveness, his soaking with tears. He was gonna die and I was right there with him, but I couldnt do anything
about it. Im sorry. Im sorry.
I am going to blow all the nuclear bombs of this country tonight, he said, and then a lie would be revealed, the lie of
freedom and sanctity. But through me they will be truly freed.
The world will be rid of power and evil. A new age will begin,
where everyone and everything will be equal, fair.
My partners eyes burned with raw anger to the monster. He pointed the sharp tip of a scalpel to Chris stomach, and
before he could pierce it, it hit me out of nowhere, the last location where I last saw the codes. No, no, no, please. I< I remember where the codes are, I said. I left them at the airbase, back
at Kevins room. Im sure, thats where I last saw them. I know
theyre there. He kept the knife on him. Im telling you the
truth! Thats where I last saw the codes. Im sure theyre
there!Still, he just kept looking at me, silent, apparently not believing. What more do you want from me?! I told you where
they are! Let him go! Let us go, please! Were gonna get out of
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All She Lost.

here and well not gonna interfere with your plans, we promise.
Please, just let us go!
So, youre just gonna let the whole world burn? He
laughed senselessly once again, and then glanced the time on his
wrist. The knife swayed right on Chris face. Have I told you
that I wanted to be a doctor? I always had that fascination with
how the human body works.
Please! Please! I cried.
Dont you want to see what your boyfriends really
made of?
Stop! No! He lodged the tip of the knife on his stomach, and slowly made his way to the other side, tearing his
skin apart and draining a whole lot of blood. Chris was apparently in hell, screaming and violently thrashing as the knife
made a long incision along his abdomen. For some reason, I felt
something tingling on that very part of mine too.
Stop! Stop! Stop! For the love of God, please! I yelled.
Neumann knelt down and looked at my partners face,
drowning with his own blood and sweat. With every breath,
blood oozed out from the slit on his stomach. He was still
screaming. The monster had the knife on Chris face. It took me
a while to understand why he did it, he said. It didnt make
any sense to me, but it did eventually. Love is such a stupid,
dangerous thing, you know. Once it buries itself to someone, it
will never stop corrupting the mind, driving one to do terrible
things, even bring their loved ones in danger of certain death.
My hands were shaking unconsciously, cold, and I
couldnt even make a full breath. My lips and the whole of my
windpipe all dried up. My head felt like collapsing in itself, my
skull crushing my brain to a singularity. I could see the pleasure
and satisfaction he was having on torturing us, a window to his
twisted mind I never thought I had when I first saw him. He was
never gonna listen to me, no matter how much tear I let out, no
matter how many please I say, but what better could I do?
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All She Lost.

What more do you want from us? I already told you.


Do you want to hear his voice again? he said.
Please, dont do this.
He then ripped the tape off of Chris mouth, blood splattering out of it. Screams of excruciation went out next. Holly!
he shouted. Holly! I love< you!
Chris! You fucking monster! The map is back at the
base! You can have it for all I care! Let him go!
Neumann looked at me, straight, expressing of frustration. And suddenly, he drove the knife right through his naval,
bursting blood out of the cut. You really think Im stupid?!
Chris!
He walked to me with such anger. You think youll
make me believe your fucking lies?! You think youre over me?!
Now Im gonna make you pay. You will pay for what hes done
to me. You will never get out of this place, you and everyone in
this motherfucking country! Cut him down!
Chris then landed head first and then on his back on the
floor, the chain banging on his head. His teeth were all red,
drowning in blood, almost as if he endured Jesus flogging. He
never stopped screaming. He curled on the floor, until Neumann
ran to him and kicked his back repeatedly. All I did was scream
for him to stop. He didnt.
You think you< can steal< everything from me!
Stop!
I will kill< all of you! Stick that< to your and that old
fools< thick monkey skull! he screamed with every kick to my
partners backside. When he stopped, Chris remained completely still, nonresponsive, seemingly dead. I was silenced. He spit
on him, then took a deep breath and fixed his grey coat with
Chris blood all over it. He coughed hard, his beating proving
strenuous to his old ass.
That was fun, he said, breathing heavily.
He still wasnt moving. Chris< Jesus Christ!
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All She Lost.

You have to understand something. Actions have consequences. Yours is just right for what you did to me. He then
reached for something deep in his coat.
Fuck you!
Im afraid, like all people around you, Im also not being entirely honest. He pulled a couple pieces of paper out, and
showed them to me. The codes were in his hands. I am truly
sorry for everything I did to you, he said. But youll soon
know that Im not the one responsible for this. Treason is something I dont tolerate. Well, Im just gonna leave you here with
him. He moved out. He had the codes all along.
I trembled. You< you fuck<!
Oh, before I forgot. Bring Omar here! Two soldiers
pushed our chauffeur, handcuffed, into the room. He looked the
same the last time he pointed a gun at my face. The very moment he saw me strapped in a chair, he apologized for countless
times, something I didnt take in. My partner was dead, bleeding
out, lying on the floor. How stupid of me to think that he lied to
me, that he betrayed me, and right in front of my eyes, hes gone,
dead. My eyes froze on his body; I was drooling. Hes dead. And
the monster had the codes all along. Now, humankind was assured of extinction because of me.
I would like to thank you for your service to me, Omar.
He was my eyes and ears to your every move, dont you know
that, Ms. Thompson. But he still got me the codes, so thank you.
I am a man of my word, so Ill let you have your family back.
Bring them in! The sound of womanly fright filled my ears, and
then from the dark emerged two young ladies, one taller than
the other, and a mother. They wore the traditional Muslim outfit.
They shrieked with the sight of Omar, he too with the sight of
them.
Papa! Papa! the younglings said.
Oh Allah! Its okay, my dekheter. Its gonna be okay.
Neumann picked up the gun he dropped. No, really, I
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All She Lost.

really appreciate what you did for me, Omar. I took care of your
family. I didnt touch them or let my men rape them. So, why
dont you say I love you to them? Come on.
Omar was shaking. No, no, no, please. You promised!
I promised youll get them back. Now, you say it!
He was crying. Please, no<
Say it!
Papa< the youngest one said.
Omar looked at his family with such emotion. I< love
you. Right then, Neumann shot the all three of them in the
chest and head, their bodies falling to the floor like flies. Air ran
out of Omar, and slowly his feet melted with the sight of his
family massacred. Like me, he was there in front of them, but he
did nothing. He couldnt do anything. I remained silent, still
overwhelmed with everything that happened. With his hands
bound, Omar crawled to his wife and children, and caressed
their faces one last time while bathing them in his tears.
Your job was too easy, Omar, Neumann said. You
just have to bring the codes to me, and you would have been a
big happy family once again. But you have to tell these two my
plans, and look at us now, a big pile of mess! They wouldnt
have died if you just followed me, Omar.
He brought his wife to his arms and screamed to the
ceiling; I could tell he was sorry for what he brought upon them.
His cry went through me, but I showed no sign of sadness. I
couldnt. Then, remorselessly, inhumanely, monstrously, Neumann shot him, the bullet passing though Omars chest. The shot
screamed in the hall, almost deafening. His body fell on top of
his family, as if still protecting them. I didnt scream or shriek or
thrash myself. I was just left with my eyes absolutely pouring.
He then faced me, his gun lowered. Your excursions
have cost me quite enough, young lady, he said, wiping the
blood on his coat, but like I said, Im not gonna kill you. Something tells me that we should be seeing each other again soon,
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All She Lost.

that is if you survive the army bombing the hell out of his place
any minute now. Remember, in the conference? I know you saw
me. If you ever survive, a brand new world awaits for you. He
moved out, but not until he told me something else<
And, about your parents< theyre gone. The one who
called you was just a recording. If you want I could let you hear
their final message for you before I shot them. But I guess youve
had enough for today. Your sisters, theyre safe with your parents, if you know what I mean. It was very nice knowing you,
Ms. Thompson. If you will excuse me, Im just going to hunt
down your boyfriends allies.
He left, and so did the rest of his men. Other than the
ring in my ears, it was a sea of silence. I didnt know for how
long I stared at their corpses, the ones who have been dragging
me away from my certain demise, the ones who I depended on.
Ive always thought I would be the one to die first, with me being the vulnerable one, but in a big fucking irony of things, all
those who were supposed to keep me alive, all dead. The harbinger of the Grim Reaper, a curse that trod the land, thats what
I was. Every single person I came across with, all dead. I remembered the family portrait Kevin had on his room back in the
base, and the faces of those who died because of me the futures
I single-handedly destroyed. It was all on me. Aliya< she would
have been part of a generation that Iran waited for a long time, a
generation that would spark revolution in the country, but right
in my grasp, she perished. Matt would have eventually joined
our band of extreme journalists and see the day when we take
over mainstream news. Omars children< they might be among
those who would change the whole country for good. Chris<
we wouldve started a family together, living through life, and
perhaps spark a radical change in our own right. All of them,
they all fought for me, for a cause that was doomed from the
very beginning. Their death was on me, and soon enough, all of
mankind as well.
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All She Lost.

Futurists were right; the planet is destined to destruction


from the very life that depended on it. The virus that is humankind will eventually infect the whole system that is our planet
until it crashes and destroys the whole thing. I have long accepted this truth, with the insane developments in technology
accompanied with the increasing instability of sovereigns making it seem that its only a matter of time before the next World
War would break out. Its just that I never expected in my whole
fucking life that I myself would play a big part in this ultimate
fate of the world. It was quite a transition a 23-year old journalist nobody to the destroyer of earth.
I could hear faint explosions and helicopter engine from
where I was. I figured I was above ground, otherwise the noise
wouldnt have been that crisp. The countdown to my end has
finally come. I would leave this planet, bearing the legacy of being the killer of billions of living souls. Maybe Neumann was
right, the world we made is fucked up. Maybe it really needs to
start over again. Even if I thought about it otherwise, there was
nothing I could do. The bombs got closer and closer by the moment. That was it, the end. There was no escape.
I called on Chris, wanting for his tight embrace in light
of my impending end, but he remained still on his side. I called
him again, and again, but nothing. I couldnt see his face, but
more importantly, I couldnt apologize for everything I did to
him. I brought him to this. His parents died without him on their
side, where he was needed the most. Like a fool, I kept blaming
him for something I totally did to myself. I didnt know if he
could hear me, but his soul might still be around, so I scream
sorry to him. The ceiling slowly crumbled, dust pouring on
their corpses. I was about to die, about to face the lives I destroyed, and soon enough, the billion souls of humankind. I
hoped God would forgive me for what I did, for my stupidity,
for letting his creation get destroyed. I know he is the King of
pardons, but my case might be too stiff for any forgiveness.
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All She Lost.

I grew tired, tired of everything. I faced the ceiling and


waited for a bomb to vaporize my soul to heaven. I got nothing
else to live for, nothing else to do. The world is a terrifying place,
and I guess its for the best to leave it to its inevitable fate. The
hell with it. I never actually thought I would be glad the moment
I die.
I closed my eyes. At last, Im gonna die.

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All She Lost.

Chapter

24.
SEE, WHAT DID I tell you? She was right. I cant believe
weve been fools! How did we not see this, man?
Jesus Christ.
Weve been fighting for the fucking enemy. We just
killed hundreds of innocent people! Why does the president do
nothing about this?
He cut off communications, remember? And hes too
busy figuring out how to deal with the black ops leak and his
other shits.
Well, this shit will definitely get everybody killed. We
better tell somebody about this right now.
Jacobs has been telling me about that conspiracy for a
long time. Jesus, I shouldve taken him more seriously.
What? He knew about it? Why didnt you tell us?
Would you idiots believe it? I mean, weve known the
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All She Lost.

general our whole lives. We even shared drinks with him, and
Im not just gonna believe some crazy conspiracy against him.
And its Jacobs man, you never know what stuff hes been taking
ever since his wife broke up with him. But how could Neumann
possibly gain control of all nukes around the world? Arent they
encrypted or something?
Hes got hackers, man. Or all governments handed him
their codes to their missiles. Hes president of a military corporation, right?
How is she back there, Erik?
Still cold. Not moving, but shes breathing. Man, how
are we gonna figure this thing out? Its just the three of us. How
in the world would we possibly take on this lunatic?
I dont know. Well just have to figure something out.
Its already 4. Its almost nighttime. Were not gonna do
this. I mean, I dont wanna die man!
Then stop freaking out and help me figure this thing
out, okay?
How? Neumann has all of our weapons. If he finds out
were onto something, hell get us all killed.
No, no. The commanders have no idea about this, and I
think so do much of the others. If we show them the tape, he
would have nowhere to run. You got the tape right?
Yeah, yeah, right here. Holy shit, you have to see the
stuff thats in here. They got through a whole lot of shit, man. Oh
my God, hey dude, look at this.
The fuck is that?
They cut her stomach, man.
Holy fucking shit!
Does it have anything with Neumanns face on it?
Wait, oh yeah, yeah. She< actually got to talk to him,
look at this. And whoa, youre in here too, man. What the fuck
are you doing here?
I told you, I saw her back in the base. She said she was
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All She Lost.

looking for the general so I gave her a short ride. She went down
by the tanks and she first told me there, about the general. Put
that thing back in here.
The lieutenants gotta be looking for us right now. You
gotta hurry up.
What, so he could get that bomb?
What does he want from that thing anyway? What if it
blows up, I mean, were all gonna die! And who has the codes
on that thing?
Probably Neumann. If Hollys right, the lives of everyone lie upon us killing this guy. What a fucking lunatic!
The turbulence of wherever I was brought me back from
the depths I was supposed to never come back from. Their voices, I thought, were residues from the depository of my brain being drained out of me before I go to the next realm. I felt my
body pressed against a cushion seat, vibrating and squeaking
with mechanical noises. Flashes of orange street lights made my
eyes open. I was most likely in hell, with heaven unlikely to have
orangey glows and shaky rooms. I couldnt complain; better for
me to be in the inferno than suffer the hell that is the world.
Then, blurry, I saw a mans face, round and light, come near
mine, looking like a normal human being, far from the horny
monstrosities I expected.
Hey, guys, shes awake. Are you alright, miss?
I groaned. Where am I? Am I dead?
Brian, you gotta talk to your girl. Ill drive the car.
Where am I?
Holly, you remember me? A squashed face was on top
of me. My head took a while to process the visual input. Are
you okay?
Brian? Are you dead?
We came to save you. Were taking you out of here.
I realized I was in a car. Like a man just waking up just
minutes before work, I rose from the seat and looked all around
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All She Lost.

me. There were no flames or sharp corroded structures or the


bright red sky distinctive of hell. I hyperventilated, in disbelief.
Im still alive, still in this nightmare. I wailed. No, no, no, no!
Please, whats going on?
Im still here? Im still alive?!
You have to calm down!
She got messed up pretty bad, another voice said.
What the fuck did he do to her?
I pressed my head against the seat, devastated that I still
havent escaped this misery. I so wanted to be dead, but my
curse always was one step ahead. What did I do to deserve
this?! Why dont you just kill me now?! No, no!
Im here for you, said Brian, caressing my back. We
are here for you. Tell us what we could do. I didnt respond.
Shit, is that the best you can do? said another voice,
apparently teasing.
Will you shut the fuck up? Youre not helping, Malcolm. He kept rubbing my back, but it was of no help at all. I
could hear helicopters and gunfire and explosions going off all
around us.
Good thing we got to you in time, he said. The entire
armys gonna pummel this whole place to the ground. Listen,
Im sorry for not listening to you. I shouldve helped you back
there. And Im also sorry for the way I acted to you. Youre just
so pretty and
Come on, you really think she needs to hear that?
You< Malcolm I swear Im gonna pummel my fucking
gun on your face.
Im just helping man.
Where are you taking me? I said.
Were taking you back to the base. You were right, Holly. I shouldve listened to you. We are going to stop Neumann
from whatever he is planning to do.
Paranoia overwhelmed me. I turned back to face him,
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All She Lost.

and when I saw the military uniforms they wore, I freaked out,
terrified of him and all of them. I was surrounded by monsters. I
thrashed myself all over the car, kicking the hell out of the nearest one from me. Brian was shaken, my Nike shoes impacting his
chest. The black guy went from the front seat to restrain me. The
driver almost lost control of the car.
Please, Holly! Were here to help you!
Let go of me! I yelled. You killed my parents! You
killed all my friends! You fucking monsters, let go of me!
What the fuck is wrong with her?
Im so sorry for this, miss. Something pricked my arm,
after which a tingly sensation quickly spread and then drained
my strength out of my body. The black one brought me down; I
couldnt move, no matter how I wanted to. My bones were made
concrete stiff.
What the fuck did you do?! said Brian.
Its the new sedative they gave me. It paralyzes the
whole body without making the victim sleep.
Are you fucking nuts?!
What do you want me to do, let her kick our ass? The
drugs only gonna last for ten minutes. Im really so sorry, miss.
Why dont you just kill me now? Please, just kill me
now! I said.
Holly, Brian said. Were not here to hurt you, understand?
It turned out that the drug also blew the cloud out of my
head, and the paranoia clogging my sanity. Brian? Is that you?
Y< yeah, its me, you remember.
The paralysis felt weird, alien. Apparently, it didnt
freeze my internal muscles and those on my head, which would
otherwise kill me, but it induced panic in me, almost like I was
strapped again in that chair, forced to witness his massacre of
the only people I have left. I< I couldnt move! What did you
do to me?!
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All She Lost.

Its just a tranquilizer miss. It will keep you still for only ten minutes, and dont worry about it. It will do you no harm.
Im Malcolm, by the way. We actually already met in the base,
unofficially.
We saw you strapped on that chair, said Brian. We
thought you were dead. Who did this to you?
Neu< Neumann, I was trembling. I started freaking
out, forcing my body to flail but the drug was just too strong.
Neumann, he did this to me! He did this to me! He killed all of
them! He killed them!
Just calm down, Holly. Were here now, dont worry.
Motherfucking bastard, I shouldve known.
Where did you come from? How did you find me?
Remember when we first saw each other? Lieutenant
Ford called the commanders of the two smallest platoons in the
corps to a briefing. He said we had an order from Neumann to
get a huge cargo full of ammo from the edge of the city to the
base. One of the helicopters apparently dropped it. It was a huge
container, barely fitted in our cargo truck.
Like those in ports but only medium sized, Malcolm
barged in. When we got to the container, the rebels were hacking it open. Of course, we killed them all. And this little canister
sat in the middle with all those long wires spread all over the
place<
It was a nuclear bomb, said Brian. It has a remote
detonator. Its not yet armed, but we cant disarm it. The detonators surgically attached to the fissile material. It might trigger
the chain reaction if we move it. The only way to keep it from
blowing up is to prevent it from being armed or enter some
deactivation codes or something.
There are deactivation codes. I had them, I said, but
he took them all, even the launch codes.
Looks like were going to take it from him, said Erik.
He wants to kill all of you before you learn of his sepg. 434

All She Lost.

cret, I said. Where is it?


We left it a few miles west of the base. I had my men
guarding it. We are heading there right now.
But how did you find me?
I actually found you, miss, said the driver. When we
were heading out in this area for the attack, I stopped to pee and
then I saw a jeep and one of our Abrams going on the other road
towards the helicopter where you were. I dont know where it
came from I kind of sensed something fishy.
It wasnt just Neumann. He told me General Marcus is
his best friend. Theyre accomplices.
Jacobs kept telling me that exact shit about the general, said the driver. I didnt take him seriously. Seems that our
top command is filled with traitors.
After all these time, you didnt even have the slightest
doubt? I said. Did you even know hes killing people right in
your backyard? Hes murdering hundreds of them, on the other
side of that big wall; I saw all of them. You didnt even notice?
We had no idea, said Malcolm. It was all they could
say for the hundreds of innocent souls butchered for someones
ridiculous dream of world domination. Its all they could fucking do.
Brian grabbed the radio. Four, whats your status?
Its all clear so far one two, no ones attacking us.
Where the hell are you?
Five minutes out, were coming.
Let me just say, your escape was insanely sick! said
Malcolm. I watched everything from hangar three. When you
floored it at the runway with that jumbo jet taking off, I knew
you were gonna crash. But holy shit, you made it!
So I followed them. The rain never let them see me, but
I saw how he just< massacred all those people running. I know
they werent rebels. So I called these two knuckleheads, and the
next thing I knew they were blabbing that they have a nuclear
pg. 435

All She Lost.

bomb in their hands. Im Erik by the way.


Wait, where is Chris? I said.
You mean, you have somebody else with<?
Yeah, where is he?! Hes with me in that room! Did you
leave him? They all looked down.
Im so sorry, Holly.
Where?!
We didnt see him, said Brian. We didnt see anyone.
The room was empty, but we did recover your camera. No one
else was there, Holly.
What?! He was right in front of me! How could you not
see him? He was with me the whole time!
Im sorry.
How about Kevin and Omar and his family? They were
with me!
Youre the only one there. Im sorry were too late.
I acted like they were still alive, like they could still be
saved, until I remembered what became of them. Theyre all
dead, and he even took their bodies away, maybe to fucking eat
or display like mannequins or make them his sex dolls like the
necrophiliac that fucking monster is. I dont know for how many
times Ive felt like theres no point in me existing, carrying on in
this noble quest of saving the only abode of life in the cosmos,
but right then it reached its absolute. Everyones dead, but me.
He has the codes, and a few hours from then the whole world
would bathe in a fiery inferno, wiping everything and every living soul with it. I couldnt fathom a way out of this, even a tiny
light at the end of this dark fucking tunnel, or a silver lining, a
way through which I would still be alive. If my story was made
into a movie, or a novel, it would turn out awful, pan-worthy,
with my plot going in a constant crash without seeing the slightest light of day. I already gave it all, my friends more so, in giving this world a fighting chance to live another century or two,
but it seemed theres just no way. Besides, who am I kidding,
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All She Lost.

me, nothing but a forsaken, spoiled fucking brat who never appreciated what others did for her, saving the world? Even with
these guys on my side, arguably more capable than my previous
deceased company, it would likely turn into a disaster like it always have. I am a walking curse.
Youre all gonna die if you take me with you, I said.
What are you talking about? said Brian, right by me.
You have to leave me here. I cant< I cant kill another
soul anymore. You shouldve left me to rot in that seat.
Malcolm, I thought you said that drug would do nothing to her.
No, I swear. She might be too traumatized, man.
Please, leave me alone! Throw me away! Kill me!
Holly, listen to me! Brian gripped my arm hard, but I
couldnt feel a thing. Im not gonna do that same mistake I did.
Im never letting you go again. Ill never let anything happen to
you, understand? Everythings gonna be okay.
No its not! No matter what we do, were never gonna
stop him! Were all gonna die, dont you get that?! We tried everything! We tried all that we could! But I still failed. I failed everyone! I ki< I killed all my friends and family! I lied to them! So
just kill me, I dont want to live anymore!
Tears flowed constantly out of my eyes, though I didnt
feel the tickle of the drops nor the cold. The paralysis didnt stop
the spasms that came with extreme emotions. Then all of a sudden, Brian pressed his lips against mine, caressing it with his, his
hands rubbing my face. I couldnt feel a thing, I couldnt fight it.
But for some reason, I calmed me down, allowed air to get really
deep into me. I couldnt say I liked it, but it did help.
Things will be different now, he said. Im here. Were
gonna stop it, or well die trying. Im not gonna leave you. His
gaze was assuring, which did made me a bit confident that he
would be there with me until the end. It might seem too bitchy
of me to find another man just after my boyfriend died, but I
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All She Lost.

couldnt refuse his charity. I nodded to him.


Thats my boy, said Malcolm, laughing out loud.
There, there, I see it, said Erik. Theres the container.
A dozen or so men surrounded the slightly torn metal container.
Thank God theyre all alive.
You stay right here, Holly, Brian said. Erik parked the
car. Im just gonna take care of this.
The paralysis took longer than what it should. Its been
ten minutes, why am I not moving yet?!
Just relax maam, it will wear off anytime soon, said
Malcolm. They all went out of the car.
The immense clouds which bore the hellish rain earlier
tore apart in the dusk sky, revealing a lighter shade of blue slowly being consumed by the night. The explosions and gunfire
from the distance sounded as if they were drum beats. I could
now move my fingers, and shortly thereafter my legs and left
arm went responsive. All I could think of was Brian and his men
soon falling to my curse; they would all die, they would all die.
But they were right: much of the personnel on the base have no
idea that they harbor monsters on their lair. But once that secret
has been let loose, fire would rain down on those motherfuckers.
Theoretically, that plan should be foolproof provided that we let
the secret out in time. I looked at my watch 4:39. Once the
hands breach six oclock, the end could be at any moment by
then. I felt quite a bit aroused from the new light that unexpectedly came, but still, with all the previous lights all went off, I
wasnt entirely sure this would last long enough.
Malcolm opened one of the side doors and reached for
something in the seats. Oh, the tranquilizer wore off. Dont
worry, you will stand any second now.
We need to tell the commanders right now! I said.
Were running out of time.
Were trying to call the base, but it seemed they shut
down the network, he said. We cant contact any of the compg. 438

All She Lost.

manders, but I think I know a way through. Were figuring it out


right now.
You think this will work, the plan?
Affirmative. Neumann might have the weapons, but as
we say in the corps, without me, a weapon is nothing. The commander is the second most powerful guy in the base, and once
he discovers this, hes gonna send those two motherfuckers to
hell.
Okay.
Hey, you know my mans gotta big crush on you. No, I
think its more than that, like he really loves you.
What? Brian?
Yeah, so I suggest you dont break my mans heart.
Why?
Hes persistent, and youre his second. Hes that kind of
guy who always wants to get things done. And he really gets
crazy when he doesnt get something. Hes a true soldier, a true
friend, and once he has your back, he never let it go. Youre very
lucky to have his heart.
But I have<
What? A boyfriend?
Yes, but< hes dead.
Im so sorry about that, he said. But thats something
you have in common. He got his first killed a few years ago,
which is why hes here.
What? Why? Did he kill her?
His eyes bulged. Shit, I said too much. Okay, he< told
me they were doing this picnic that time. He had a gun on his
trunk. And the girl had some kind of personal issue with her
mom I think. Brian left her to get some firewood and the next
thing he knew, his girlfriend shot herself. When her parents
knew about it, they blamed him. So he had no choice. Please
dont ever tell him I told you this.
Jesus.
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All She Lost.

But you are in real good hands. And I know he will


never let you get away again. I didnt know what to feel about
my newfound relation, which seemed baseless, considering
Brian only got to know me for a few minutes when I was very
preoccupied. But it seemed I was more charming to some than I
thought, and it just earned me a new unexpected ally. It also
seemed that every guy I met have some sob back-story: Chris
just lost his parents, Omar got his family kidnapped, Kevin got
his family destroyed, Neumann had his daughters and friend
killed, Matt lived alone in life, and Brian lost his first girlfriend,
made worse with the fact that everybody thought he himself was
responsible. This just goes to show that there cant be absolute
happiness in this world.
I forced the paralysis out of my body, and soon enough I
sat straight. I was inside a Humvee, with three rows of seats and
a whole lot of equipment and ammo stuffed in bags all over the
car. I sat in the back seats. Brian and Malcolm fixed some kind of
comms apparatus. He looked at me through the window, but he
didnt see me. It was too early to say that I have feelings of attachment and affection for him, but he seemed totally into saving me. Hes better than nothing. I did think for a split second
that he was another of those double-crossers, but why would he?
Well, at least I hoped so.
The radio suddenly spoke with a womans voice. All
units, all units, return to the base as ordered. Repeat, all units
return to base. This is a direct order from the general. All units,
return to the base<.A more manly voice then spoke. Lion,
lion, this is Lieutenant Ford. Where the hell are you? The generals been looking for that cargo right now! Get back to the base
as soon as possible, copy? Copy? Lion, come in! Lion, come in!
Theyre not there, sir, the womans voice said.
Fucking impossible, go send<. The call ended. It was
obvious. The general mustve called the entire force back to the
base to have them exterminated with the hydrogen bomb right
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All She Lost.

in front of me. The magnitude of how crazy those lunatics were


cannot be measured, patriots and martyrs for a wrong cause.
And now, theyre coming to get us. I had to tell them.
I tried to open the door but the knobs were far from the
average sedan; it was locked. I messed with every lever and stick
on the door until what looked like another Humvee, but smaller,
got my attention. It was still bright enough for me to see its distinct jeep shape. It turned away from my direction and followed
more jeeps moving perpendicular to where it was a few meters
down.
The three men returned to the car. You okay, Holly?
said Brian.
Y< yeah. Wait, the lieutenant called through the radio.
I overheard him, he was going to send someone here to get the
bomb. I thought no one knows where we are.
No one does, said Malcolm, prepping a long enormous assault gun. But with their satellites, they would track our
location within five minutes.
What are we gonna do now? I said. Did you contact
the commanders?
No, our transmitters down, said Brian, also prepping
a long rifle. They would hear us if we use the radio. Were gonna stick to the original plan. The car started moving. Were
gonna bring that thing to the base so everybody would see.
We overtook the cargo truck which had the weapon of
mass destruction and led the way. Another Humvee covered the
back of the convoy. Malcolm and Brian had their assault rifles on
standby, aimed outside for any insurgent activity. The air hitting
me from the open windows was cold, slightly damp and smelled
of smoke and fire.
Four, you got the back, right? Brian called one of his
men through the radio.
You got it, one two.
What if they detonate the bomb? I said.
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Lets just hope they dont.


What if they dont believe us?
Malcolm is our man right there, said Erik. Anything
this black guy says, everybody believes it.
Racist motherfucker, but yeah, dont worry about it,
he said. They will believe me for sure. I got a big mouth,
maam. And we have tangible proof right there.
So, you actually talked to Neumann? Brian said.
I didnt know who he was but I think he knew me and
what I do. He told me why hes doing this. He said< he said
Obama made ISIS to control the Middle Eastern countries, and
he killed the ambassador to Syria, Neumanns friend, who knew
of this secret. He owns the largest military corporation on Earth
and hes got his nukes ready to launch all over the planet, thousands of them!
Jesus. So much for pulling this thing off, said Erik.
Yeah, no shit, Malcolm responded.
No, we just have to tell Commander Merrick and the
others, said Brian, and well bag Neumann and all of his accomplices asses and get the codes.
Um, one two, the radio said, were seeing a convoy of
trucks on our tail, three clicks, maybe three or five of them.
You think theyre hostile?
Theyre not shooting at us. I dont see any armed personnel on the trucks. Oh, wait, they just drove away from the
road. I count< four of them. I see armed personnel on at least
one of the jeeps.
Keep your eyes peeled, four.
Roger that, one two. Have you asked her out yet? He
turned off the radio.
Theyre from the base, I said. Neumann sent them!
I dont know. Maybe.
My camera sat still on the dashboard of the car, which I
asked Brian to get. It was turned off. They wiped the blood from
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All She Lost.

the massacre I endured that bathed it, but it still reeked. The
crack on the viewfinder slightly grew longer, reducing a fourth
of the screen to colored strips. I replayed the footage, disregarding the trauma that might fuck me again. The blood on the lens
made the video all red but shapes were still discernable. Brian
had me on his arms; I was out cold, shaking with him running
towards the cars.
Who the fuck is that man? Malcolm said on the video.
Someone I know, said Brian. Get that fucking truck
ready! Were getting out of here! The whole forces incoming!
Fours getting attacked. Theyre being surrounded!
Son of a bitch<!
I wound the video back. I stopped when I saw myself
strapped in that metal chair, paralyzed, devastated, and Neumann about to leave. He made a big mistake; he shouldve killed
me when he had the chance. In fact, he had every chance in the
world to end me, but he didnt. He thought we would see each
other again like a fucking prophet he was. And for that, he made
a big mistake, or at least Id like to think he did. Any terrorist
would never hesitate to kill all those who even remotely posed a
threat to their plans, but he didnt. He still wanted something
from me.
< very nice knowing you, Ms. Thompson, the monster said, and then left. It was all red and dark, but the spotlight
made my shape visible. For a few minutes thereafter, I stared at
the camera unconsciously, like a perfect actress for a horror movie. I didnt really see how grave my face looked like with all the
blood on the lens.
Theres a lot of dead bodies in here, said Erik.
Four, you see that convoy again? Brian said.
Thats a negative, one two.
All clear on this side, commander, said Malcolm.
Copy that.
How long do we have to go? I said.
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About fifteen minutes.


It now got darker outside, prominent sign that time was
running out. 4:56 one hour and four minutes till the end of the
world.
Well get there, said Brian. Dont worry about it.
The next time I looked at the camera, a tall lean man
stood right by where I was, cutting away my restraints. I was
startled. I could hear men scrambling behind the camera, the
lean man instructing something in Farsi. He spoke too soft for
me to identify who he was, but I still heard what he said. He was
on some kind of loose clothing, but I didnt really see. The blood
made his face blurry. He was rubbing my face.
Im so sorry, Holly, the man said, slowly, softly. Im
so sorry you have to go through all this. But you will understand, it will all be worth it. It will all be over soon, I promise.
My face crumpled when I heard those very words. He used to
tell that to me all the time, but I saw him bled to death. He
couldnt be alive. I felt a chill run down on my spine.
I will come back for you, he said, and then left.
Chris!
Who did you say? Brian said.
Oh, whoa, whoa, guys, we got something up ahead,
said Erik, slowing down the car. Brian, you better take a look at
this.
Whats the matter, one two? the radio said.
The fuck is that? said Malcolm.
Illuminated by the bright headlights of the car, a body,
apparently of a kid, was strapped tight against a concrete electric
pole a few hundred meters ahead right by the road were in, his
arms tied around the pole. My heart started beating hard once
again; shit was almost certainly about to hit. The body faced us;
it wasnt moving, most likely dead. Erik cautiously approached
the corpse, all of us keeping a keen eye on it. The body had a
thin built, his stomach abnormally bulged.
pg. 444

All She Lost.

Watch it, Erik, said Brian. That might be rigged.


I dont see any wires, said Malcolm.
What the hell is going on?
We got a kid strapped on a pole, four. I think hes
rigged. Keep an eye out for those trucks, will you? They might
have this thing set up.
Copy, we dont see anything so far.
The boy was bleeding rather excessively from the bulge,
like he just gave birth to a child or something. He was looking
down. I could feel my heart beating up my throat. Slowly, we
came ever nearer to the body.
Jesus, its just a little kid, said Malcolm.
Erik turned to us. Should we untie him at least?
Whoa, stop the car! Brian screamed. I bumped myself
to the seat as he floored the breaks. Jesus Christ!
Oh my God! Erik said. Shit! Brightened by the spotlights, a shiny transparent wire blocked the road, apparently
coming from the body to the other side. We almost snapped it,
which could have detonated an explosive somewhere. We all ran
out of breath. Watch the goddamn road!
That was fucking close, said Malcolm.
Is there another way round? I said.
Wed never make it in time, said Brian. And well get
caught if we take another route. Malcolm, get your bomb kit.
Copy. Looks like another blow job for me. He giggled,
and the two of them went out. I could see the body clearly from
inside the car.
Four, were checking out the body, said Brian.
Copy that. Were setting perimeter now.
Erik, slowly move the car back, okay? Get her away
from here.
Gruesome the sight maybe, I stared intently as the soldiers inspected the body. The rebels apparently did this to the
kid. People are such heartless monsters; they would massacre
pg. 445

All She Lost.

even the most innocent of souls just to get what they want. I
know Muslims, even jihadists alike, care as much of their brethren as their own lives, but why the hell would they forsake the
lives of their brothers just to realize their cause of spreading the
wisdom of Allah to the world, and having allegiance with what
they consider as the worst of cultures, the worst of people, the
source of all evil that is the West? For some reason, the rebels let
the traitor lay waste on their land and exterminate their people!
But Neumann sent all of the troops to eliminate all last rebel hideouts. No less c