I dress hurriedly. Kemal has brought me my G-suit, and helmet. They are in surprisingly good shape. He also has a sand-brown flight suit emblazoned with a scorpion and Arabic writing. It just fits, and I raise my eyebrows at my benefactor.
“Syrian. One of their pilots is here. He is smaller even than you.”
He helps me into the suit and continues.
“It will advance our cause if you escape, Lieutenant. It helps us when the Imam is made to look foolish. Your last such escapade caused our mullahs to nearly fall from power. We have no active combat forces here, now. Only advisors. It will remain thus. When you see F-5 fighters now, know that whatever their markings our pilots do not fly them.”
I sit on the bed, wincing as my injured arm slides through the Nomex. Kemal cut the splint off. I must look like the Syrian if his audacious plan is to work. The base hospital is near to the ground control station. He will hide me in his car and enter the base. We must be careful, for we must pass by the operations center, where Muqtadeh’s men stay. The ground control station houses the Syrian, who is on ground-alert intercept duty. I will be on my own. He will let me out at the fence in the bushes and continue on. I will walk to the station and to the alert MiG on the tarmac.
“What of the Syrian?”
Kemal laughed. “Too much arrack… and chloral hydrate. He sleeps like a baby. He will have a headache when he wakes, as you did.”
I will have to sneak aboard the MiG. If the Syrian ground team sees me before I start engines, then, as you say, “the jig is up.”
The hospital is quiet. I pull on my white helmet-thank goodness it is unmarked!-and drop the dark visor into place. Kemal gives last-minute instructions. “When you walk out, be arrogant and aloof. You are a Syrian, a man.” He eyed me critically. “Though even in the g-suit, you do not appear to be a man, at all… still, act as if you belong and you shall belong.”
“Will you not be found out when I am gone?”
“No. The Imam’s men are now off to noon prayer and my men are at the door. The Imam’s guards will not enter to check on you when they return, for you are a woman and they are forbidden to look upon you. The Imam will send his wives for you tonight, for your very public execution, and you of course will be gone. When they ask, I will tell them that you were there when I left you, still unconscious. I am their benefactor. They cannot afford to question me. But his men, all their heads will roll!”
This wing of the hospital is deserted. All are at prayer. Kemal hustles me into his car and I lie across the seat in back, under a blanket as he carefully drives onto the base itself. He slows for the checkpoint and I hear voices in Arabic and laughter, Kemal is waved through. I see the shadows of the operations terminal hangars go by to the left, and Kemal slows suddenly to a stop.
“Now, Lieutenant. Get out! The MiG is through the trees, just ahead. Hurry!”
I pause as I open the door.
“My name is Sacha… and… I am sorry I called you dog. I owe you my life.”
“I am pleased to help, Sacha. I pray to Allah that my efforts end the war between our peoples and restores the secular government in Turkey.” He takes my hand, raises it to his lips, quickly, then accelerates away. I am alone.
The MiG awaits. I see its sand-painted camouflage through the trees, it impatiently waits on the tarmac. But the ground crew is all around, smoking, talking.
How to get there?