The other kids all wanted to be Indiana Jones or Gordon Gekko or Jacques Cousteau but you had grander aspirations. All you ever wanted to be was James Bond. You dedicated yourself to perfecting all of the skills you would need for a life in high espionage. By the time you were applying for colleges you were fluent in Farsi, French, Spanish, Russian and German. You were a fair code breaker, computer hacker, and lock picker.

The college scene didn’t really do it for you, but the CIA likes educated operatives, so you gave it your all, like you had everything else. You double-graduated with degrees in computer science and Arabic studies. You knew budgets for field operations were being cut so you figured a fallback as a computer security expert with multiple languages under your command would guarantee you an analyst job at the very least.

Your entire life was carefully constructed with the sole purpose of not merely passing an intelligence agency background check but indeed making the checkers fall to their knees and thank God above that you, the perfect spy candidate, were a born and bred Midwesterner and not some useless foreigner. On paper you were the perfect candidate and you were sure that you’d land a job in the National Clandestine Service and be making dead drops, dangling moles, using active doubles (and passive doubles) and working some highly anticipated honeypot missions. It turned out that being too perfect on paper is a red flag. Your resume was good enough to get you far enough along in the process to fail the psychological evaluation. That was when you learned that you can want something too much.

It was a big setback, but as with everything else, you were prepared for it. You knew that the CIA contracted with third parties regularly, and that those freelance operators were often more important in the intelligence game than the people on payroll back in Langley. You took a job as an analyst for a defense contractor that was processing large sets of data collected by NSA and other agencies. It wasn’t Bond-level work but it got you a foothold in the industry and put you in a position to make valuable contacts.

You thought you would get a big break when you pieced together a tangled web of captured text messages that other analysts had passed off as non-threats. Using a computer program of your design you were able to prove that the messages were encoded details of a terrorist attack. In order to verify your data you had to get close enough to one of the terrorists to intercept a sample of live communications, so you staked out one of the suspects and set up an unauthorized electronic surveillance operation. Your work allowed a special ops team to intercept a dirty bomb en route to D.C. and you thought for sure that the powers-that-be would see how important an asset you were and put you in the field. Instead you were officially reprimanded for disregarding protocol and put on an administrative leave of absence.

You were a hero, and you couldn’t understand why this was all happening. You didn’t want recognition, a medal, money, or anything else. You wanted to serve your country and do your part in the war on terror. Sometimes things develop too fast for “proper channels” and “protocol.” If you hadn’t surveilled that guy illegally then half of the District’s residents would have been dying from radiation poisoning while some suits figured out how to get a judge to allow domestic surveillance and which agency would be on point.

That was when you decided that you would go it alone. The most effective course of action was to operate outside of official channels, as a private citizen, and feed information to your contacts when you came across things. For the last few years you had been making shadow copies of files and sneaking them out of your office. At first you were using an elaborate system of micro-usb devices that you could secret away in various body cavities (some less fun than others) but after a while you just started using Gmail to send them to your home address. Security at some private security firms is shockingly soft.

You started working as a freelance web security consultant but that was just your cover and a way to fund your one-man covert intelligence operations. At night you pored over files of potential terror suspects living in the area and when you found a promising lead you got to work. You began observing him regularly, making meticulous notes of his activities and identifying anyone he had regular contact with. You posed as a FiOS installer and gained access to his home where you installed several bugs and a device you designed that would mirror his internet traffic to a terminal in a storage facility you rented. He watched way more porn than you were comfortable with. So much so that you wondered how he managed to focus on anything else. But after a few weeks you realized that you were on to something. This guy was the real deal, and he was facilitating something that was going to go down soon. You needed more time to put the pieces together so that you could give concrete evidence to the Agency but time was running short.

You stepped up the surveillance. You were physically tailing him full time and spending the hours that he slept poring over the communications data you were getting from the bugs at his house. You were sleep deprived but you were sure something was going down within the next week. You had to break the case and figure out what he was planning.

Desperation and exhaustion clouded your mind and you expended every drop of energy and focus you could muster on this guy. You had tunnel vision, and as a result, you never saw the van following you while you followed your suspect. He stepped into Starbucks for his usual morning coffee (Black Eye, room for cream) and you waited, pretending to read the paper. When you looked up to track him, he was looking at you and smiling. Something was wrong. Before you could figure out what it was a hood was pulled over your face and two pairs of hands grabbed you and threw you into the van.

You had no idea how long they tortured you but you didn’t break. There was nothing to break. You didn’t work for anyone, and you didn’t know anything. You just had a hunch that turned out to be right. Slim satisfaction considering the circumstances, but you’d take it. Had you been trained by the CIA they’d have taught you to hold on to any positive thought you could so you would have the strength to resist aggressive interrogations. By the end you were delirious and convinced that this was a test. An initiation. And that in moments some shadowy handler would walk through the door and congratulate you on passing and becoming a secret agent. Or that the leader would tell you his plan, which would mean that you were minutes away from escape or rescue. Reality rarely features such twists, even for actual spies, they left you in that windowless room until you succumbed to some combination of hunger, dehydration, and internal bleeding.