Oliver glanced at her. “What’s with the silence?” he asked casually.
“You mean I can speak?” she cried.
“Ah! So she knows the English language!” Oliver teased.
“Yeah, and four other languages, buddy!” she exclaimed. Oliver let out a hearty laugh, and Marlene joined in, releasing the steam that had been built up since their last meeting.
Marlene glanced away from the nighttime rush hour traffic and asked, “So… can I ask you a question?”
Oliver tore his eyes away from the surroundings whipping by long enough to take her facial expression in. “No matter what I say to try and dissuade you, you’re going to ask,” Oliver said, slowly falling back into his British accent.
Marlene decided there was no time like the present. “What is Section Seven?”
“Section Seven is classified, but on a need-to-know basis, to all non-active personnel and civilians,” he rattled off, as if he were reading from a textbook.
Marlene wondered if she was fighting a losing battle. “Okay. Then can I call my mom and tell her I’ll be home late?” Marlene queried.
“That has already been taken care of,” Oliver replied. “Anything else?”
“How long will I be gone?” She maneuvered the Sentra into the number one lane.
“Long enough to receive the training required to successfully complete your assignment,” he said in that same, dry, textbook reading tone. Marlene was strangely excited by the prospect of whatever Section Seven was, but her nagging, paranoid voice warned her, ‘He’s a serial killer. You’re driving to your death!’
“Go to SFO,” he told her, right before Marlene almost missed the exit. “We will be taking a chartered flight to our destination.”
“Wait. Where are we going? Can I pack a bag or something?” she asked.
“I can’t tell you. Besides, it’s a little late to come to the realization that you need to pack your luggage, Miss Griffith,” he said, with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, I know that, but…” Marlene began, knowing she was beginning to sound more and more like a rookie. Finally Marlene decided to keep her mouth shut. They arrived within the confines of San Francisco International Airport a few minutes later without further conversation.
“Long term,” Oliver instructed. Marlene did as she was told and went around in circles in the concrete parking garage for a few minutes before finding an empty spot on the fourth floor. “Follow me,” he said, as they got out of the car. He walked briskly towards the nearest elevator, and punched the button for the basement. He pressed a few more buttons after they had entered the lift. It made the elevator jerk briefly before descending to the basement.
“What happened?” Marlene asked.
Oliver began whistling an unfamiliar tune and didn’t answer. The door opened to reveal a typical security checkpoint, complete with other non-secret agent looking passengers. Marlene was thoroughly confused. ‘Why would he go to all the trouble of pressing those buttons and looking mysterious, if we’re just going to end up at a gate anybody can get into?‘ But she went through the motions as they came upon the checkpoint. She put her purse on the conveyor belt, and took off her boots.
“This way,” Oliver said, leading her to an unmarked door. It opened out onto a tarmac. Marlene tried her hardest not to look dubious at the tiny Cessna that waited for them.
The décor on the inside of the plane was, for lack of a better phrase, pimped out. It was just like the planes that the CIA chartered whenever Sydney and her crew were on a mission overseas or something a rapper would shell out a cool million just to ride for two hours in.
“Have a seat,” offered Oliver. There were two rows of seats facing each other. Marlene took the seat facing the cockpit. He sat across from her. She took in her surroundings, in her own quiet and careful way. A few minutes later, Marlene felt the pull of the plane as they took off.
She began to internally speculate how much money these Section Seven cats had to spend on such an extravagant plane. Marlene had come to the conclusion that they were not CIA sanctioned, but maybe not in the same vein as the Alliance.
Then her thoughts drifted again. She had been looking for a job for quite some time, but because she had no prior job experience, no one in town was willing to hire her. Maybe Marlene had filled out an online application for an international company and this was their way of breaking in new employees. She had filled out so many applications over the course of the two years since she had graduated high school that she had forgotten what she had applied for. Or maybe they really were a secret intelligence agency and she was coming up with all the wrong assumptions.
‘Or maybe they’ve chartered this P. Diddy worthy plane for Oliver’s benefit and this was the only way to get you wherever he needs to take you to train,’ said the first voice in her head.
‘What the hell are you thinking?? Getting on the plane with a complete stranger!! He’s going to murder you in cold blood! Kick his ass, steal a parachute, and get the hell out of there!’ the other voice in her head asked.
‘But why would he waste his time putting her on a first-class private plane?’ the first voice asked wisely.
‘I don’t know! Maybe he gets off on stuff like this! Wining and dining his naïve, unsuspecting victims, so that when he dismembers them in an elaborate Satanic ritual, it’s the only way to get sexual gratification!’ the second voice cried.
‘I want to see what Section Seven is about. So shut up both of you and let me figure this out on my own,’ Marlene cursed them.
“I apologize in advance that there aren’t any videotaped flight attendants to tell you where the exits are and how your seat is a flotation device,” Oliver said, with a laughing glint in his eyes. Marlene dared to peek outside into the night, and figured they were quickly approaching cruising altitude. “Overwhelmed?” he asked, trying to catch her gaze.
“To say the least!” she said. “I have so many questions and so many things I don’t understand about this whole situation and stuff.”
Oliver smiled and took off his seat belt, and walked towards the back. “They’ll be answered when we get to the Farm,” he said.
“The Farm? So you guys are CIA?” Marlene asked, thinking back to that one Colin Farrell movie she had drooled over with Noelle awhile ago.
“No. But it sounds cool when I say it, doesn’t I?” Oliver asked, his voice muffled. Marlene tried to peek behind her, but her seat belt held her back. There weren’t any signs in the cabin of the plane or voices coming over the intercom from the cockpit, so she wasn’t sure if she should follow Oliver’s lead and undo her belt. All of a sudden, the amazing aroma of what Marlene could only guess was kaldereta and cooked rice came wafting from the back.
“What the hell? Oliver, do you have Pinoy food back there?” she called behind her.
“Sorry it’s not freshly cooked,” he began, placing a tray of steaming rice and kaldereta on the table in front of her, “I had to warm it up.”
In spite of all the excitement that had passed these last few hours, Marlene knew she was starving. She picked up the silver fork and stabbed a piece of meat onto it.
“Wow,” she said, flummoxed and wondering if that second voice in her head had it right.
“Go on. Eat,” he told her. Marlene’s second voice was quickly coming at the forefront.
‘Don’t eat it!’ the voice cried. ‘He’s poisoned it! He put a sleeping potion on it!!’ Marlene hesitated, wondering if her paranoid voice had the right idea.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he said, returning from the back room with his own plate of Filipino cuisine.
“Yeag…” she trailed off, her stomach getting angrier with her with each passing second.
“Now’s not the time to be mistrustful of me, Miss Griffith. You’re hungry; I can tell. I swear on my mother’s grave that I did not poison your supper,” Oliver said. To prove his point, he speared a large piece of meat from her plate and stuck it in his mouth, chewing slowly. “This is really good,” he said, his words muffled.
‘“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she said in her bossy older sister voice before she could stop herself.
Oliver swallowed and looked at her pointedly. “Happy now?” he said dryly.
She nodded, refusing to look at him. Surely he wouldn’t fault her for being suspicious. Marlene placed the fork in her mouth and her taste buds were hit full force with the familiar and comforting taste of homemade kaldereta.
“Yummers,” she said, mostly to herself, savoring the spicy flavor.
“Filipinos sure know how to eat,” Oliver offered from across the oak table.
Before Marlene could answer, she had burned her tongue on the rice and demanded, with her mouth full, “Water!” Oliver grinned and slid out from the table.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” he teased, walking briskly to the back room. He returned a few seconds later with two ice cold bottles of Evian. Breaking the seal on one bottle, Oliver handed it to her. Marlene drank until the burning sensation had subsided. The two of them ate mostly in silence, which is also how dinner ended.
“Done?” Oliver asked politely. He had excused himself to clear his dirty plate and silverware and had appeared at her elbow. As she had been taught, she had tidied up after herself and was now sipping on the lukewarm bottle of water quietly. “Yes,” she said, pushing the plate towards him. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, milady,” he said courteously. Oliver took her dirty dish and silverware to the back and sat back down across from her. Marlene didn’t feel like talking. What she really wanted to do was talk to her mother or Lily about this. She knew she should have said something to them. This (whatever this was) was a life-changing event. She didn’t care if it risked her family’s life; she didn’t want to keep this a secret. Not something like this.
“Am I allowed to call my family at all or anything?” she blurted out, glancing at Oliver beside her, as she placed the Evian bottle back on the table.
“No, unfortunately not, particularly not during your training and integration period.”
“I’m going to boot camp then? Do I have to earn phone privileges as well?” she asked playfully.
Oliver shook his head at her weak joke. “Do you ever stop asking questions?” he asked.
Marlene knew she was teetering on the edge. “If I don’t understand something, I will never stop asking questions until I can,” Marlene replied. “Question everything. That’s what I was taught.”
“You’ve had a very good teacher,” he said, unbuckling his seatbelt again and getting up to walk towards the back of the plane again.
Marlene quietly took in what he was saying. “How much do you guys really know about me?” Oliver didn’t answer. Before long, Marlene felt a curious feeling of exhaustion passing over her. She didn’t want to sleep though. She wanted to take in everything that was happening. Her paranoid voice was telling her not to fall asleep, lest it be the last time she did.
But that sleepy feeling came over her much too easily for her not to come to the conclusion that Oliver had something to do with it. Against her better judgment, she closed her eyes and fell asleep. Suddenly, Marlene felt the sensation of falling off a cliff. She felt the air rushing by, a thousand feet a second, but she was sure she was dreaming. She forced herself to jerk awake. The plane had landed at their destination and Oliver was by her side, rousing her awake.
“Hmm?” she murmured, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Sunlight was streaming in from the windows in the cabin.
Her handler smiled down at her. “Good morning sunshine,” he said warmly. “Let’s go.”