Sarah's SUV speeds through forests and along lakes, eventually bringing her and the driver to the Olympia Veterans Affairs offices. The building doubles as a live-in facility as well. They park the car in the sparse but expansive lot, this one next to a sprawling corn field so large they are unable to see any other edges, and enter the administrative building.
Captain Wilcox is there to meet them. He is the ranking officer of the staff and will be helping with today's drill and session.
VA was told this was a new form of exercise-based therapy, they went along and supplied volunteers, soldiers who were willing to try just about anything. These were typically soldiers suffering from severe cases of PTSD, the trauma from their time in the military ruining any chance at a new life.
The Captain takes Sarah and the driver, Lt Heracles, down to the lake to meet the volunteers. Sarah steps back and the Lt introduces their organization and gives a prepared speech she's heard dozens of times now. The volunteers are nodding along. Each one has a bracelet on their arm, a scanner that sends data to Sarah's tablet. Eventually they take off on the two mile run around the lake. The starting lot is the base of operations for the day, as the Captain has brought out the files on all the volunteers. Sarah starts going through these and Lt acts as the lead, directing research and questioning the Captain. The facility's head therapist eventually shows up and Sarah questions him for a while.
All along the soldiers continue on their run. Three wheelchairs are in the fray, and they glide by the base every so often, the spikes a sparkling blur in the hot sun. An hour goes by, then two. Heatwaves shimmer along the pavement as the temperatures reach a hundred and ten. Someone working the captain's orders brings out water for the volunteers, coffee for the researchers. Sarah reads and learns each soldier's past, the events that lead to their PTSD.
Three hours in, she asks for Private Fields. Fields is a former Marine Medic who was captured and tortured for over fourteen hours before being rescued. He's sweating.
"Westley Fields reporting!" The Captain directs the former Marine toward Sarah. Fields looks lost for a moment. "Oh, didn't see you there, ma'am."
Sarah instructs him to jog in place. He does so. Sarah stands in front of Fields and asks him to recall the circumstances of his capture.
"The convoy was ambushed, we turned into a dead-end..." Fields talks around the topic, needs to be nudged back on track multiple times as he takes random tangents.
"Good," Sarah comments as Fields comes around to describing being cut off from his friends. "Now. Imagine me walking next to you. Pretend I'm a reporter, like Lilith, when she was embedded with your unit." Sarah is picking names from a page in her notebook. "We're walking along Blue Star Route, it's sunset. Remember?"
Fields nods, "I remember." He continues to jog in place, but his mind is miles and years away.
He recalls the ambush, the dead comrades, imagines Sarah right by his side. She tells a story of being left in a freezing car as a child, Fields remembers his own childhood trauma. They chatter about random topics in the present, while Fields finishes the story, imagines Sarah watching all along, a sort of guardian angel. He alters the story and now it ends with marines bursting in, about twelve hours earlier, and before his kidnappers pulled out a tooth.
Sarah directs the former Marine back onto the track. "He's done in another hour," Sarah tells Lt Heracles, who relates this information to the Captain, who nods and repeats it to Fields. He is mostly amused by this strange chain, smiles, and continues on his run.
Sarah requests another volunteer, this one a former ranger, and the Captain culls her from the passer-bys. Sarah asks the former soldier about her incident, a time when she lost her entire squad, and they talk about it. "Imagine me standing next to you," Sarah says.
The diary of Westley Fields Jr
Entry for Thursday, May 3, 2xxx
Strange day today. Went for a five-hour run around the lake. It was some new therapy the VA is developing, or something, and it's about running. Five hours, just pounding the pavement. They didn't even do many tests. Just had us run with the heart monitors on. But goddamn it hurts! It's like I've been running all day, in full kit and with my weapon. Tired. Didn't realize how out of shape I got. Going to make this short, tired. Fuck the world and so on. Night.
Entry for Friday, May 4, 2xxx
It's like I'm back in college, after a wild party. So hungover. Everything hurts. Gonna throw up and go for a run. New day and all that.
Entry for Saturday, May 5, 2xxx
Met a cute girl tonight. She was visiting her uncle. She's the first person I told! Didn't even tell you, until now. I'm leaving! This place has really helped me. I haven't had any nightmares, no incidents. It's like this weight has been lifted off me. Like the darkest possible clouds opened up and there's this deep blue sky up above and all things are possible.
Entry for Sunday, May 6, 2xxx
Strange. Going over my notes from yesterday. Don't remember the girl. Someone came to visit an uncle? Don't remember that either. Doc says I was probably dehydrated. I'm OK leaving it at that.