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The sun and the moon flanked the golden crescent sky as Sebastian Oliver Smith plummeted from 30,000 feet above Manhattan. The night’s grip was encroaching upon the greatest city in the world. As his body uncontrollably tumbled, flipped, and contorted, he failed to appreciate the splendor of the glowing expanse erupting from the heavens ascendant and the concrete jungle below. 


At that moment, he was overtaken by the question of his mortality. 


Within seconds he arrived at terminal velocity. The winds were extreme and whatever feeling of vertigo his whirling mind sensed was soon replaced by profound despair.   


The explosion had killed the rest of the crew, he was sure of it. And now he would die too. He hoped it would happen before he hit the ground.


Sebastian had been the only person seated in the plane’s tail section. His crewmates were instantly consumed by the exploding fuel tanks embedded within the plane’s wings. Blood jettisoned from his forehead, the spot where a dime-sized piece of shrapnel from the hull had struck after the C-17 split into two.  


At 21,000 feet Sebastian’s movement stabilized as his body remained at equilibrium in a semi-supine state.  


At 17,000 feet his panic subsided. Foreboding dissipated into confusion.


At 13,000 feet an eerie calm.


At 9,000 feet his field of view dimmed.  


At 6,000 feet the world went dark.


Something was wrong, so very very wrong. Earth: the smell and texture was unmistakable. Those were his early thoughts as his consciousness gradually returned and his panic resumed. He had never felt nausea so acute.  


-What’s going on? Where am I? Who am I?  

With the greatest strength he could muster he willed his eyelids to open.  


A fluorescent halo grazed the jagged edges of the maple leaves suspended from the trees that encircled Sebastian’s body. A steady breeze caused the light to flicker and dance around the wilting grasses and dehydrated shrubbery beneath the canopy. He immediately recognized the source. About ten yards away the foliage intersected with a row of lamps atop a rocky plateau. The setting was a familiar one.  


We had taken countless walks along the very same path the lamps guided. Sebastian had only just turned 18 when I lured him to the city for the first time. It was another life, long ago. He would never have the chance to join me for another adventure there, or anywhere else again on Earth for that matter. 


That thought discomforted Sebastian.


The shredded remnants of the parachute that had saved his life came within range of Sebastian’s eyesight. Scrambling to board the plane back in Doha, he had no idea that the rucksack the Captain had hurriedly slung onto his back contained a lifeline. It must have deployed automatically somehow after he had blacked-out during the fall.  


Realizing the impossibility of his salvation, Sebastian felt no sense of relief. He dare not move. His safety remained in peril. The ravine in which he lay, strewn out like a rag doll fresh from the wash, probably provided the best cover he could hope for given the circumstance.

The first of a series of muffled yells drifted downward from the walkway above. They knew where Sebastian was. Idiot, of course they did. How could he have been naïve enough to even consider for a second that he had successfully evaded chase?


Sebastian halted his breathing as the search team zeroed in on his position. He needed one last Hail Mary for the day. The louder the voices grew, the more obvious the ultimatum became. Although the bloodletting from the gash on his face had ceased, Sebastian was still far from able to fight though in his present condition. If there was any chance to avoid capture, he had to move.  


Night had swallowed Central Park whole, an island of darkness in a luminescent lake of wonder. Enervated, Sebastian uprighted himself and sprinted west through a clear patch in the bush. There was no definite plan or strategy for escape. He had no time to consider a particular destination. Adrenaline circumvented hopelessness.


Sebastian ran aimlessly in the direction opposite the intensifying search lights that now danced over the tree trunks and limbs surrounding.  


The wooded landscape gave way to another walking path. About 50 yards farther a young couple swooned, interlocking as they kissed, embracing their youth. They were far too preoccupied to notice the bloodied man hobble across the cobblestone into another shrubby swath.  


Sebastian’s mind was singularly focused on getting out of the park. If he could make it to the edge, he could melt away into the nine million other souls pounding pavement in Manhattan.


The small chance that the government would pre-maturely assume he had died in the explosion had been quickly extinguished by the National Guard soldiers running around with spotlights. They clearly had some idea that he had survived.


It was a surreal experience realizing that the United States’ military was pursuing him, a federal employee, inside the United States. The transformation from public servant to enemy of the state had been swift over the last few days.


By the time he stumbled onto Central Park West Avenue, Sebastian was exhausted and close to passing out again. The bleeding from his forehead had stopped, but had lost almost two pints of blood. He was also now dehydrated having not drunk any water since leaving Al Udeid. The precision of thought that his fear had induced as a wanted man on the lam– a fallen star from the sky– transformed into muddled awareness of his environs.  


Surveying the street before him and the cross-sections to his right and left, Sebastian placed himself in the mid-70s on the Upper West Side. Ok, he knew the area at least. His mind hurled and heaved as he struggled to identify somewhere to hide. After a few frantic seconds of labored contemplation, he slowly became aware that a hiding spot was directly in front of him.


The Dakota was one of the most exclusive residences in the world. Rumor had it that Madonna once had tried to buy one of the several dozen luxury condominiums in the building, a two-story penthouse that featured three fireplaces and 6,000 square feet of mahogany-paneled living space. The building’s mysterious board of directors, who served as gate-keepers defending the Dakota’s exclusivity, maintaining its status as the city’s home for the most elite of the elite, rejected her application: no nouveau riche allowed.

The fact that Sebastian knew one of the occupants of the Dakota astounded him most of all. Professor Valentina di Jenne, the heiress of the namesake Italian shoemaker and a direct descendent of some pope that Sebastian heard her repeatedly mention in class but could never remember, had taught him postmodern literary theory years ago in college. Professor di Jenne had also authored several obscure books of her own, mostly fictional tales of political movements among the Italian diaspora in Staten Island that had received acclaim from several prominent critics but never gained much commercial success or recognition.


Sebastian suddenly became self-aware of his appearance. He must look like he had just left a combat zone. Well, in fact, he had, so the matted nappiness of his wardrobe and bruised body was at least justified. Fortunately, the New Yorkers walking at breakneck speed around him were either too busy to notice his disheveled look, or immune to his debauched state having dismissed him for just another homeless street beggar. 


Those thoughts did little to alleviate Sebastian’s concern. He certainly would bring attention to himself once he set foot inside the lobby where billionaires and international celebrities called home.


-Come in, quickly. Are you clean?


-I think so.



-There’s nowhere else I’d rather be on this planet than with you, right here.

-This isn’t how life works. I can’t be with you always.

-I’m not asking for that. Time is precious. You can always make more money. You can't make more time. It’s reasonable for me to want to be able to hold you at night. I’m not asking that you be by my side all day, every day.  




-You’re a unicorn. It’s rare we have someone with your background working here. We’re lucky to have you. You need to make connections where we aren’t. You need to help us figure out what’s working and what’s not. These are important issues and deserve more critical reflection and improvement in how we collect, in how we analyze.


-I’m done asking you to be healed for me.

-I can fix this. I want to work on this.


-When will I see you again?

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