Excerpt from Hannah’s War

Thanks to Little, Brown for making this excerpt from Hannah’s War available to my readers.


They come for me at dawn, as I knew they would. I’ve slept in my clothes, and I ask if I may I step into my shoes. They allow that, but nothing else. He tells me to go outside, and I do. Parked on the dirt road between my barracks and the laboratory is a vehicle the Americans quaintly call a “paddy wagon,” an absurdly chipper term for the dank iron trolley that will transport me from Los Alamos to the prison at Fort Leavenworth, where I will wait again (not for long, I fear) for my perfunctory trial and inevitable execution.

The chain reaction leading to my death has been accelerated by my own divided heart. I see that now in a way I never could when all was theory, white chalk on blackboard, equations like pale bones scattered across scorched earth. The man I shouldn’t have trusted latches the manacle around my wrist and fixes it to a hasp welded hard to the bench.

“I’ll protect you,” he says, with such earnestness it makes me smile.

“You’re lying again.”

He glances over his shoulder. Sufficiently assured that no one can see us, he takes my face between his hands. “I will protect you, Hannah. If I can.”

I think he might kiss me, but that would be a danger to both of us. He is a meticulous and cautious man by nature, skilled at the art of keeping secrets. Most lovers are. I have limited empirical evidence to support this hypothesis, having loved only two men, but both of them held truth at a safe distance. Safe for them, not for me. His promise of protection—however well intended—doesn’t comfort me. So I comfort myself with equations.

The distance from the laboratories in Los Alamos, New Mexico, to the prison compound in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is 874 miles. We left when dawn was still a wishful glow behind

dark mountains. We are traveling, I estimate, at an average speed of forty-two miles per hour, allowing for stops—

Oh God. Will they stop? Will they allow me that simple comfort?

No. I won’t think about that. The equations. Stay with them. I drum the fingers of my free hand, playing an invisible keyboard, on the metal beside my legs. This is my habit when I run numbers, drumming my fingers on hard surfaces, desks, and tables. A distance of 874 miles at an average speed of 42 miles per hour creates a probability of 20.8095 hours of actual travel time, plus the approximately 27 minutes it would take for the MPs to force the paddy wagon to the side of the road, slide a bag over my head, and—

Stay with the equations.

“I will protect you, Hannah,” he said. “If I can.”

A distance of 874 miles, leaving at dawn, allowing for the variable If I can.