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The Long Way Down
The Long Way Down
“For every one hundred men that you send us,
Ten should not even be here. Eighty are nothing but targets.
Nine are true fighters, we lucky to have them as they the battle make.
But one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”
-Heraclitus 500 BC
Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tuesday August 28, 2007. Dusk.
“Britto, My friend! Bring me anotta beer!” I heard the commandant order through the doorway. I sighed in frustration, I hated being his errand boy. I have heard through the ranks that other boys think it makes me look weak. I don’t need to lose their respect. Not now. Not right before the big push into the village of Baku.
The clip clap of my flip flops echoes through the empty tin church as I search through the empty six packs for one of the few remaining beers not guzzled down by the commandant and his personal friends. While looking through the empty boxes. I spot some of the other kids from my unit checking out the new weapons from the resupply issued in the town center.
“Ay, my friends!” I called out trying to get Rishi’s and the others attention from the new toys. “How are da new AK’s?”
“Dey, are fine a bit different than the ones we dug up.” Rishi replied between puffs of his cigarette. “I just hope de Chinese know dier way around an AK like the Russians.”
“Try and grab me one of dem with the folding stocks, Type-1’s I dink?” I asked trying to not make it seem like an order. More of a suggestion.
“Ye, da Type 56- 1. Here just take this one dere might not be any left by da time da commandant has you stop running around.” Rishi stated in his usual cold tone.
“Danks man I will owe you one for dis.” I thanked him. “Can you give dis to the quartermaster,” I added while handing him the rusted AKM from my back, “Also you haven’t seen any oder beers around here have you?”
“Nah.” Rishi grimaced. I knew he disapproved of the commandant drinking heavily the night before a big push. It was bad luck. I just nodded my head in agreement.
“Britto? Is it true we are going up against De Red Boar tomorrow?” One the new kid asked. The commandant had picked him and some other villagers and conscripted them into our unit. Under the presidents orders.
“I don’t know, but de commandant is confident dat we will take him out if he is in Baku.” I assured him. This would be his first real fight. I could see the worry in his eyes. I wish Rishi and I could say the same. I had to be confident in our commandant. He has seen us through other troubles, and he will see us through this. Even if it is The Red Boar.
Even as I walked away from my group of friends and the squad the name still sent shivers up my spine. The Red Boar. The amazing mercenary. The great ravager. Bandit. He goes by many names, but the one I am most interested in is, Wanted Dead 1 million dollars. US dollars. With that kind of money Rishi and I can leave this whole army and go Kinshasa. Hell anywhere in the world we want.
Heading around to the back of the church I spot a crate of beer that has been passed over by the commandant. Maybe he was saving it. Or maybe he forgot about it in his drunken stupor. Who cares all I have to do is bring it to him. With the rattle of the new AK on my back and the jangle of the beers between my hands I shuffled to the preacher’s room. The cigarette smoke billowed out like the plum of one of those old jeeps we road to get up here before the roads got too muddy to get any closer. I could hear the roar of their laughter as they played their games. A roar which only got louder as the jangle of glass grabbed their attention. I slowly passed them out to the table. Then I sat down near the door, hoping to clear out my lungs from the smoke.
I pulled my new AK off of my back and inspected it thoroughly. I couldn’t tell the difference between this one and the Russian one. Other than the folding stock. I’m sure there was one there had to be, but if there wasn’t a difference then I would make one. Pulling out my knife I began to carve my name into the wood. Humming to myself trying to drown out the older men’s laughter, when I heard it. The crack of a single AK shot. Followed by full auto fire.
I fell to the ground and crawled out into the church looking for Rishi. The zip of the bullets flying overhead as splinters hit my face. Damn, this tin church isn’t going to stop anything, it’s just one big shooting gallery. I continued crawling looking for Rishi, until I found him and the others in our squad hiding behind a bench.
“WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE! HEAD OUT DE BAK!” I yelled instructing him, not wanting to wait for the commandant.
He nodded not questioning. Probably already thinking about that course of action before I crawled up. Watching the walls getting peppered with bullets, mainly from the east side of the building. “HEAD OUT AND TO DE LEFT!” I shouted tapping them on the shoulder telling to ready their weapons. “READY GO! GO! GO!” I screamed leading them out the back.
Kicking out the back door, that’s when I saw him. His signature red beret clashing with his white skin. The Red Boer, not boar. In that instant moment of clarity I saw him, and he saw me. Both of us saw something that was missing in each other. Something that was taken from us. Not that it mattered as he already had his weapon was fixed on the backdoor, waiting. He didn’t even have to aim.
The Red Boer
As I walked through the bloodshed with my second, Mufune, surveying what was left of those in our unit. Also to see if there were any injuries. Luckily the assault went off without any. I knew that our luck wouldn’t continue. We still had 700 clicks to go until we reached Goma. Past three government checkpoints, for sure. Probably at Bunia, Komanda, and Butembo. Then the numerous smaller UN check points, but their effect would be limited as they never set foot outside of the compound without the APCs. Those two things were less worry some then the other groups on my mind, the rebel groups. Bush Kings we called them. The M23, LRA, FDLR, and some of the others has cells out in the bush. Right were we would go to avoid the UN and Government chokepoints. Most of them are way too trigger happy for their own good. Completely walled off from the world content in their own little kingdoms where they are the law.
“Everything looks ok, sir. The equipment, and the men.” Mufune told me trying to break me out of chasing the rabbit. I suppose he was right there would be time to think about the other stuff later. Right now our first job was done. Securing transport.
“Good,” I approved looking at him, both of us had seen better days. His dark skin caked in mud and sweat the same as mine. We had been brothers since we were both four years old. One look at us and you could tell we weren’t related, but it didn’t matter. He had saved my life and I had saved his. In fact we had saved each other’s lives so many times we both stopped keeping track. Then I looked out onto ‘the men’. There wasn’t a man here all of us are just boys playing soldier. Unfortunately we have done it so long it’s all we know. “How’s the ankle holding up,” I finished trying to shake myself out of that train of thought.
“It’s fine, no big deal.” Mufune told me shaking his head trying to play it off, but I could tell that it had been bothering him for the last 10 clicks.
“It’s not fine, here.” I instructed him taking a seat on a crate patting my leg. Taking off his oversized boots and three pairs of socks. I was greeted with a fine stench of sweat, muck, and the sight of a swollen ankle. “Yup, definitely sprained. It also looks like you have the rot.” I explained to him.
“Yea, me and just about everyone else.” He commented back. “We don’t heal like you do.” He continued smiling obviously teasing.
“Yea, and that means you have to be more careful,” I chuckled, “I can’t keep taking bullets for you.”
“You know that was one time.” Mufune gasped out punching my arm.
“If you have the rot and so does everyone else, that’s going to cut into our timeframe. We still have at least a two week journey to Goma and that’s hiking at 8 hours a day.” I explained rubbing my temples trying to come up with some way out of this.
“We will think about it when we get to Kilo, right?” he consoled me.
“Yea, I guess that right. How about if we crash here until morning. Let everyone sleep in the church and let their boots and socks air out. Then we take one of the supply trucks to Kilo and decide from there. Sound good?” I asked for his input but he just nodded and laced up his boots.
“I’ll go tell the men, the good news.” He smiled standing up racing off the groups savaging supplies around the village.
I stood up from the crate taking a brisk walk to the back of the church. Savoring the quiet sounds of the jungle. There is something oddly peaceful about the bush. Something primal. The clank of my rifle hit against my messenger bag breaking my thought process. As my boots squished against the mud, I came upon the body of boy. The boy who I only met for a short time, but somehow I knew him profoundly. Probably the same age as me. Maybe even older. I looked at the rifle still in his hand, a Type 56-1. The wood dust still fresh from when he craved something into the lower handguard.
“Britto, huh?” I whispered beneath my breath thumbing the inscription. “Well I’m so sorry Britto, but I have a responsibility to these boys. I’m going to get them home. You were just in the wrong place and the wrong time.” I told the dead body as I closed his eyes before pulling him and his squad away from the church. Wrapping them up in tarps I placed them in a row near the bush. I felt bad about not having enough time for graves. So I just took off my red beret. Held it between my hands, and said a silent prayer over the bodies wishing them well in the next life.
I guess if the Government forces are recruiting kids then I guess then plan of dropping our guns and riding into Goma on the supply truck is out.
I thought while walking into the church like the other boys in the unit. I started to lay down on the dry dirt floor of the church. My thoughts raced about our future far into the night long after I took off my large boots and socks. I hoped our luck would hold just for a bit longer. I looked at the thirty four young boys around the room. I couldn’t stand to lose any more of them, but I knew I had to get some sleep. So I put the beret over my eyes, and ignored the white noise of children talking.
United States Embassy. Nairobi, Kenya. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Early Morning.
Yawing, wiping the tears from my eyes. As the monotonous click of the clock filled the board room. I hated being woken up especially when I was having a nice dream. But I owed a duty to Agent Heath, after all he did sponsor me at Whateley. I wondered what could be so important to wake me up in Pretoria and red-eye flight me to Nairobi. Was it a bomb? Or a Chemical weapon? I know that there was and chemical weapons attack in Sudan a year ago, but the civil war there is over. Did some of the weapons get out of the country?
I scanned the room looking at the other members sitting around the table. Recognizing Shaka, he was a hero in the Durban area of South Africa. This time though he is dressed in a nice tailored suit. A far cry from his normal get up of traditional dress he normally wears like the person who he shares the code name with. “What are we doing here, do you know?” He asked as he caught my eyes.
“No idea, I just got woken to a phone call from Heath saying get ready. And then boom, here in Kenya.”
“Yes, I got the same message.” Shaka added dishearten, “But I was midflight on business in Dubai, like our other friend.” Pointing to a man, dressed similarly in a business suit. His Arabic features beaming through his beard along with his scowl. If he kept his arms folded any longer his suit might have permeant wrinkles.
Looking at those two maybe I’m the one that didn’t get the full memo, here I am in my comfy clothes looking like a mess next to these guys. Before I had time to finish that thought, Agent Heath strolled in looking like he took a dip in a deep fryer. His hair slicked back with way too much gel, and his redder than a beetroot. Holding back my laughter, he took one look at me and sassed, “Not now I don’t want to hear it.”
Heath gestured the seat to me to a West African woman that followed him. “Sorry, for being a little bit late. I had to pick up her in Freetown.” The woman also took her seat with a scowl. Obviously liking this about as much as the Arab in the room. They both brought down my already low mood about this whole situation.
“So now, here is why you’re all here so bright and early in the morning flown in on private jets financed by the generous Uncle Sam.” Heath chided as he passed out for manila folders containing names and pictures all of which were about seven years old. It had an overwhelming amount of abbreviated names for groups. If I wasn’t already used to strange symbols this would have been the writings of a mad person. Some names did stick out though. M23, the FDLR, the FRPI, and the ADF-Nalu. These were all rebel groups based out of the Congo.
As we got the last page my stomach turned, and my blood boiled. The three words I didn’t want to hear or read. The Red Boars. A group of horrid mercenaries out only for a quick buck, often times fielding children to fight their battles for them. I locked eyes with Heath quickly standing slamming my hands down. “When do we go out?!” I demanded pointing to the Intel sheet.
“Slow your roll, this isn’t a search and destroy. There are a couple of wrinkles.”
“What wrinkles?” Shaka snorted, “Don’t tell me this is a snatch and grab.” All I could do was look at Heath with disgust and fear as he simply nodded his head. Turning on the briefing screen.
“As all of you know, Central Africa is essentially an information black hole. No cell signals, no internet, bare bone phone lines. Very few High-Burst transmission towers. The only reliable way of communication is by the FM and AM radio stations.” Heath explained as I took my seat folding my arms. Trying to emulate the Arab, but he was leaned forward in his seat now obviously interested. The West African just looked board or maybe trying to hide her interest.
“Now the first reports of The Red Boars were six years ago in 2001 in the Sudanese civil war. And they are second hand accounts. So the validity of the reports is spotty.” Heath paused taking a drink of the water from the table. “Now here is one of the wrinkles I’m talking about. Everyone thinks they field children, but they don’t field kids. The entire group is children. Anywhere from fifteen down to six years old.”
“No, that can’t be.” I gasped as the anger flowed out of me only to be replaced by horror. “If you saying this than that must mean you have, 100% true verified intel. Right?” I choked out looking around the room. Shaka and the Arab looking disgusted, as I’m sure I did. The West African woman just sat there stone face like this is normal news to her.
“Yes, an asset was killed 12 hours ago just outside of a small village called Baku in the Eastern Congo. When he did, he had an eye camera with him that was transmitting via one of the High-Burst towers to a satellite feed. We managed to snag the video.” Heath went over to the computer console and hit play on the video file. In the film there was a firefight and men were screaming in French and bits of broken English. The asset ran to cover behind a supply trucks engine only to get sprayed down through the engine block. We could hear his death rattle as he bleed out in the mud through the clap of automatic fire.
“But that’s not possible, an AK round can’t go through an engine block.” The Arab marveled at the carnage on the screen.
“Keep watching…” Heath instructed. So we did and out of the tree line they came, in squads of six. A single child stuck out from the rest. One because he was obviously the leading the assault. Two because of his red beret and white skin. However, it was the third thing that shocked me the most. It was his AK. It was glowing a distinct blue hue. It could have been a device, but the source of the energy was trailing up his arm.
“He’s a mutant.” I gasped. “They turned a kid into a living weapon. I’ve heard of mutant mercenaries, even mutant spec-ops for the military. But never…never would I have thought….mutant child soldiers.”
“Do we know if de entire unit are mutants? And how many are der?” The West African probed still stone faced even at the slaughter on display.
“We don’t know exactly, anywhere from 200-300, but we do know where they are going. And if there are more mutants in the group I want you to extract them out also.” Heath groaned on.
“That’s going to be very difficult.” The Arab snorted. “If you know where they are going just call up the governmental forces in the area. Have them round’em up and make a bribe. Why not that?”
“These were the governmental forces….” Heath confessed looking at the carpet.
“If we go in, without the Congolese governmental authorization, you’re risking a potential international incident. Of the US, South Africa, Sierra Leone, and whatever Arabic country you’re from!” Shaka stressed pointing to the other man in the suit. “I won’t be a part of this pure colonial age aggression!” He started to get up, straightening his own suit before being stopped by Heath.
“I know you can knock me out in one punch, but you haven’t even asked why we want this kid or why you’re going to stop him and his unit from getting to Goma.” Heath pleaded.
“Fine. Then explain.” Shaka hissed at the agent.
“One year ago during the cleanup of the Sudanese Civil War a meeting was held in Khartoum, we don’t know the exact time or the place. But, an account was given by a turned militia man wanting to cut a deal.” Heath reported to us trying to salvage his own credibility. “The account of this man was largely based off of the fact that the meeting had an intel team running ops into the city. They were feeding information of UN and Sudanese Military movements to the security team guarding the meeting.”
“So what does that mean?” I stuttered out afraid of looking stupid.
“It means the man, if he is even real, never saw the meeting and never saw anyone on the security team. He only saw the intel team running around the city.” Shaka bickered. “So who was on the intel team then if it’s so important?”
Heath just simply pointed to the screen. “They were. Originally the Agency, discounted this intel as just a story. A team of child mercenaries, led by a Boer in the middle of Sudan conducting ops for a meeting that has no verified time or place. It just sounds crazy, but now that we have video proof of….them in action. It adds some credibility to his story.”
“That still doesn’t mean the meeting took place.” The Arab added while rubbing his hand with the other.
“Actually it kind of does. We have second to third hand reports of an unusual amount of mercenary leaders in the area around a year ago. The Wild Geese, The Combattants, The Tiger Guard, The Saberthooths, GATO Arms, Mantis Enterprises, and numerous others.” Answered Heath while pulling up other intel files on screen.
“That means that this kid…” the West African woman added in.
“Has firsthand intel on whatever the major mercenary outfits are planning,” Heath finished her sentence, “and if the Sabretooths and Tigers are involved then you know he was there.”
The room fell silent, we all knew who he was talking about. Deathlist. The infamous cyborg. The one who attacked Shaka and mine school in last year during Halloween. I don’t know if the Arab or the West African woman had the same connection as Shaka and I, but they knew enough of Deathlist’s reputation to know this was a big deal. Firsthand account of a mercenary meeting in a remote war torn country. This could save some major lives. This was defiantly worth the risk in my mind. I didn’t know if Shaka or the other saw it the same way.
“And you said we had to stop The Red Boars from getting to Goma, what’s there?” The Arab asked breaking the silence.
“A Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement, or a DD-triple-R, camp. It’s where rebel groups go when they give up, disband, or when lone individuals defect and want to go home.” Explained Heath. “This one in Goma is the only one large enough to handle the amount of child soldiers in the group.”
“And how do you know that exactly?” the West African inquired. Heath answered that question by just playing an audio file taken from the eye-camera of two boys saying that their mission was Goma by way of a village called Kilo.
“But, that sounds like a good thing, why just not wait for him to show up there?” I asked.
“It’s the UN policy to hand over mutant-soldiers to the local MCO for processing if they don’t have an MID. In my time at the agency here there has never been a report of a mutant-soldier leaving a DD-triple-R camp and coming back for resettlement.” Heath paused trying to find the right words, “Now, I don’t know if the UN will hand over a mutant child soldier to the Congolese MCO, but I’m not going to take that risk of highly valuable intel winding up dead in a ditch somewhere. So that’s why you are going in. If you accept.”
“I’m in.” I confirmed standing up looking at the other three around the room.
“If you pay my fee, I’ll do anything.” The West African woman chided.
“I’m in also, but if this intel leads us to Deathlist I want in on that mission also.” Answered the Arabic man looking fiercely determined.
“Shaka? You in or are you out?” Heath asked the Bantu warrior knowing full well he could rip him in half.
“I’m in but I’m not happy about it.” Shaka sassed. I knew where his loyalties lied. With the heart of Africa. He wasn’t one to harass me or other Afrikaners, but he made it known that he wanted a better Africa. And that all this rising bloodshed was because of post colonialism. Other than that he was okay to work with, but only in small does though.
“So when do we step off?” The West African Woman wondered.
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Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Early Morning.
The Red Boer
“Left. Right. Left. Right. Keep the cadence and keep the spacing.” I thought. It’s a lot easier when the snap of gunfire isn’t ringing your ears, the zip of bullets are flying past your face, or the force pounding of exploding mortar shells rumbling in your chest.
“GO, GO, GO! CROSS THE SMOKE! GET TO THE ROCK!” I yelled over the chaos to my squad. Trying as best to keep the casualties to a minimum after the shelling we received last night, but something was off. Something didn’t feel right. Why did I feel slow? Why was everything so muted? I know why, this was Angola. Six years ago.
I watched as my squad crossed the smoke. “First, Kinque gets zipped. Jean goes back across for him and gets hit by a mortar.” I narrated in my head, and just as I thought. It happened. Then what do I do? I run out, to get them. They are my responsibility. Aren’t they? That’s what I felt at the time, but now I knew I shouldn’t have ran out into the open.
I watched through my own eyes as I ran out to get them. Dodging the kill box set up by the Machine gun. Then I felt it the deadly click no one wants to feel in their foot. If I hadn’t been running I might have been able to slowly put weight off of it. That wasn’t to be. As the moment I felt it, I was soaring through the air tumbling. As the jungle became the sky and the azure blue the ground. I landed with a hard thud of the dusty ground as bells filled my ears. Drowning any other noise
All I could think was “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.” But the dream had other ideas as my vision lifted the remnants of my legs. Two stumps cauterized by fire, and all I could do was just stare. Just…stare not understanding that 5 seconds ago I had feet. Then I screamed, I knew I was I felt my mouth moving. The noise never reached my ears. As I screamed I felt four hands grab ahold of me pulling me out of the hole I found myself in.
I snapped upward getting my bearings, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I was still in the church, small candles burning in the corners. The glowing tin walls giving off ambient light. My ears filled with the sound of my beating heart, as I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead with fingers. “Just a dream...” I thought as I flexed my toes. Looking just to be sure, I saw the ten toes wiggling in cadence with my brain, connected to my scarred feet. Feeling my racing heart calming down with my breath I pulled on my socks and boots. Grabbing my messenger bag I got up from my un-resting place. Stepping over the sleeping children silently. I maneuvered out of the church, and into the clearing were I saw Mufune sitting on a log near the embers left by the night watch.
I just watched him as I approached, sitting there with a lit cigarette trembling in his hands. He was looking down at the mud not even moving as I sat down beside him. I pulled two canteen cups from my bag and filled it with water from my canteen, enough for two. Placing one near the embers to heat up. I also reached back into my bag, and pulled out the instant coffee mix that I had saved up from the MRE’s we used to get.
I looked at Mufune his cigarette was getting low, I don’t even think he smoked it. It was just burning between his fingers. He still avoided my gaze. Staring into the mud. I reached into my cargo pants, pulling out a pack of cigs and a photo. Grabbing two cigs from the pack. I stared into the photo. It was a small wallet photo of my family. The adults faces I burned out of the photograph a long time ago, but the two children were there smiling. Frozen in time. One small boy, and one small girl slightly older. “I will find you. After I get them home.” I thought looking into the photo. Kissing it, I turned it around looking at the account and routing numbers I wrote on the back. After studying it one more time I put it back in my pants pocket.
Taking the dying cigarette from Mufune’s hand, before it burned him. I lit both cigs from my pack, and placed one in his hand. I took a deep breath of mine as the water in the metal cup began to steam. Pouring both of the coffee packets into the cool canteen cup, I wet my fingers. I grabbed the handle of the hot canteen cup quickly transferring the hot water. I took a long drink of the bitter hot sludge in the cup. I had somehow gotten used to the taste.
When Mufune moved the cigarette to his lips, snapping out of his trance. “Which one was it this time?” I asked looking at him sincerely.
He didn’t meet my eyes. “The bridge. Sudan. Two years ago.” He answered taking the warm brew from my hand when I offered it.
“That was a rough one.” I replied nodding in agreement. Staring off into space as I remember being pinned down on the river bank below the bridge. Some rebel forces in Sudan had taken the remains of some power armor and jury-rigged them to the back of trucks. They were decimating the government forces in the area. So we were tasked with the search and destroy mission our commander, Rhodie, drummed up for us. I had it rough, but Mufune was in hell. He was on the bridge taking heavy fire from M134 equipped power-trucks, and small arms fire from the militia encamped with them.
“What about, you Max?” he asked after his sip of the warm sludge.
“The land mine. Angola. Six years ago.” I replied. We both just nodded in agreement as both incidents forever seared into our brains. The land mine was before I got my powers, and the bridge incident was just an entire shit-show wrapped in a bow.
Mufune looked me in the eyes this time, his own tearing up. “Do you think that these dream are his curse on all of us, for what you did to Rhodie? When he was around we never had to deal with any of these nightmares or memories.” He questioned running his hand through his hair.
“You know I had to do it. After what had happened with the gas attack, and then the village. He let Regis die! He was crazy with his idea of ‘the mission’. And you know he was going to mess with our heads again.” I explain to him trying to reassure him that what I did was the only option we had. “Now, come’on. We got mags to load. I want 20 for each one of us.” I finished slapping his leg trying to get him out of his funk more for my sanity than his.
If we were going to get through this I need him in the right frame of mind like everyone else. It just didn’t help that he wasn’t the only one cracking. “Some of us, worse than others. I just hope that we can hold it together for a couple more weeks.” I thought as Mufune and I walked over to the ammo crates left over from the government forces. We had done loading jobs many times over, but this time was different. Neither one of us wanted to speak. So we just loaded the mags in silence. Down time is time to reflect, but you don’t always like what sins you see looking back at you. And out here… in the bush, it’s very easy to forget exactly what a sin is.
The noise shook me out of the silence. As Urbain clanged the metal plates together. I guess he had woken up early to make everyone breakfast. “TODAY WE HAVE RICE, BEANS, AND WATER!” he screamed into the church rousing the children up. I could tell not many of them had a restful sleep by the way they moved out the front door. In fact very few of us sleep through the night anymore.
“Don’t we have that every day?” one of the kids in the group asked.
“Yes, but today it is special. Because it is government rice, government beans, and government water.” Urbain answered the smaller boy.
“OK, but does it taste any different?” another boy asked.
“Yes, it taste like authority!” Urbain chuckled rubbing the boy’s head.
I smirked at that comment and shook my head. He had a weird sense of humor, but it was needed. I finished my cigarette and walked over to the forming line. All of the kids looked at me and stopped waiting to see if I would jump the line. “Carry on” I told them as I filed in at the back with Mufune. “I’m ok with just the scraps.” I thought looking at the line comparing it to the food on the makeshift table. I just sighed as the line slowly shuffled forward. “Today is going to be a long day…I just know it…”
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Whateley Academy. Poe Cottage. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Very Early Morning.
I bolted awake running out of my dorm room hoping I could make it to the boy’s bathroom toilets. I only made it through the door. I tried not to think about the dream I just had, as my stomach spilled its contents onto the tile flooring. Coughing and gagging up the phlegm left over in my throat careful not to get any on my gym shorts. I wiped my mouth and stood up. Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. The strong shirtless 15 year old blue eyed male looked back at me. My blonde hair matted down with sweat. I had come a long way from the gangly girl I used to be. I had always prayed that I could be a boy, like my brother. Maybe I did pick on him a little too much out of spite. As my thoughts rushed to that dark place I quickly shut them down. He was dead along with my birth parents. I had to accept that. Nothing could change that. Now was the time for my new life here at Whateley. I had to move on.
I looked down at the mess I had made from my stupid night terrors. They had been getting less frequent now. Maybe once a week, since they started about year ago. It’s one of the reason why my adoptive parents sent me here from Quebec City. Hopefully so I could get some sort of treatment for them. Originally they thought it was repressed trauma from when my birth parents died in Namibia, but none of the dreams are about that day when our farm was raided. They are about me leading children younger than me into battle, hitting landmines, or just other gruesome pieces of war. All of Canada’s leading psychics and psychologists were stumped so they recommended my parents to Whateley Academy. Since I already was blossoming into what they called an exemplar male they sent me here. I guess in some ways I lucked out.
I exited the bathroom and got the ‘kitty litter’, broom, dustpan, mop, and cleaner from the janitorial closet. Hoping to clean this up before I pinned for being a baby who can’t handle a couple nights away from home. As I poured the ‘kitty litter’ around my pile of bile, I heard the door open. I turned around I saw the house mother Mrs. Horton, in her bathrobe and slippers looking like she had just rushed out of bed like me.
“What are you doing up so late, its one in the morning.” She asked me with sympathy in her eyes.
“Just a little spring cleaning?” I lied with a smile hoping she would just drop it and let me clean up my mess before anyone found out.
“You had one of your night terrors. Didn’t you?” the frumpy older woman said while taking a seat on the bench as I went back to work cleaning my puke.
“It’s no big deal, the doctors said that if Mr. Geintz couldn’t help I would outgrow them in time.” I repeated the doctor’s words almost like a mantra, but the images in my head still shook me to my core.
“It is a big deal when you wake me up.” said the unknown male voice dressed in a similar fashion as Mrs. Horton. “I’m sorry, I know we are supposed to technically meet in about nine hours. But seeing as that I’m awake and you’re awake let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. I’m Louis Geintz, but please call me Foob or Fubar.”
“Uhhh…hi… Johnathan” I muttered as I shook his hand wondering how the man got in without opening the door.
“When you are done with that, come down to the common room down the hall. So we can discussion some of these night terrors you’ve been having.” the robed man gestured to Mrs. Horton as they both left me in the bathroom.
I quickly cleaned up the kitty litter now thinking that I was in trouble. Crap crap crap. I had asked around the cottage about Mr. Geintz, or Foob, and all that people had told me was that he was an incredibly powerful psychic. I just shook my head and thought “WOW. Good job, second night at the prestigious school for mutants and I piss off the most powerful PSY here. Great. Good job brain.”
After dumping the wet mixture into the garbage bin I quickly sprayed down the area with cleaner and mopped it clean. I threw everything back into the janitor’s closet and head down the hall to meet my fate. My heart raced even as I passed my room hoping I didn’t wake my new roommate, and it only got quicker seeing my RA’s face poke out of his room. He had clearly woken up during my commotion as his hair was all over the place. “Nice one, man.” He chuckled as he shook his head and slinked back into his room.
By the time I got to the common room Mrs. Horton and Mr. Geintz were quietly chatting away, too low for me to hear as I skulked in. Mr. Geintz sitting on one of the chairs, while Mrs. Horton sat on the sofa. “Go ahead and shut the door behind you dear.” Mrs. Horton quietly told me as I took the other seat across from Mr. Geintz.
“Now, tell me about this night terror you had tonight.” Mr. Geintz politely asked me as I got comfortable. While Mrs. Horton looked tired, I clearly felt tired, but he had this unnatural physicality about him. I just couldn’t place it.
“Umm well…is this a therapy session Mr. Geintz?” I asked the two adults looking at Mrs. Horton.
“Well, umm no not this time.” Mr. Geintz responded, “And please call me Foob. There was an incident that occurred at the same time you woke up. As you know you were placed with a spell that hold Poe’s Cottage secret, but the cottage itself along with the Academy is warded. They all were pinged tonight, around the same time you woke up. So please…” he continued “your night terror…you aren’t in any trouble.”
I just nodded to his reassuring words, and retold them my dream. “This nightmare goes like this. I’m in a grassland type area commanding…ummm...men.” I stumbled for the words. I couldn’t say that in my dream I was leading children. “Then, they uhh… get shot and I run out after them and I get hit with something and I’m just left there looking at what’s left of my legs. That’s when I woke up. I ran for the bathroom and vomited on the bathroom floor.” I explained to the two adults quickly.
Mr. Geintz sat there rubbing his chin, thinking while Mrs. Horton looked at me worried. The silence in the room stayed until Mr. Geintz asked, “Would you consent to a psychic examination? I’ll be gentle” as he cracked a smile.
“Umm…sure…” I responded. This isn’t exactly my most picturesque night I envisioned. Being probed in the middle of my second night at a school for mutants.
“Ok. You may feel some pressure.” Mr. Geintz told me. “That is completely normal. I’m just going to be looking at your memories for tonight. So you don’t have to worry about anything else. Got it?”
“Yep.” I responded with a little bit of gusto. Wanting to get this over as quickly as possible. I began to feel the pressure inside my skull. It was a lot like getting a tooth cavity filled, but you know behind your eyes. Then images of my dream flushed from my memory, and suddenly the force in-between my ears was gone.
“Ok. I just have a couple more questions than you can go back to sleep, Johnathan.” The man commented. “You are adopted, from Namibia and sent to live in Canada, correct?”
“Yes,” I lamented looking away from his eyes. “both my parents were murdered on our farm…in front of me and my little brother.”
“And your little brother, was he murdered?” Mrs. Horton asked while reaching out from the sofa touching my knee.
“No, but he’s believed to be dead. He’s been missing for ten years. I’ve already had therapy for this and the other stuff that happened. I’ve accepted that they are dead, and what happened to me. OK.” I stated to the adults looking at them in the eyes. “Now, are we done? Can I go back to sleep?”
“Yes, we’re done, but I want you to come by my office first thing after breakfast…today…” Mr. Geintz noted subbing his eyes.
“Why?” I looked at him puzzled. “I thought we just had our first meeting.”
“We did, I just think that you might have some low powered astral projection talent that the power testers in Canada missed.” Mr. Geintz explained. “But right now everyone is tired so I’ll do a more thorough examination later this morning.”
“Astral Projection?” I burst out while raising an eyebrow. “Like dream walking?”
“Yes, kind of. Which is why you need to learn how to be careful in the astral world. Things there can bite back. That is why I want to see you today after breakfast.” He explained. “Now go on, back to sleep.”
I smiled as I left the room. I now had some kind of explanation for my night terrors. Looking down at my hands I thought “Wow I really lucked out with my powers Exemplar, Hemokinesis, and Astral Projection. I’ll have to amend my application to Future Superheroes of America. I hope I get accepted! I could really help people! Maybe even stop what happened to my birth family from happening to others.” Thinking about that raised my spirits as I sneaked back into my dorm. My roommate having never moved from his slumber. “Maybe this was meant to happen.” I thought as I drifted back into my own dreams.
Loius Geintz, Fubar.
“What is it Foob? Spill it, your hiding something.” The older woman nagged me after the young freshman left the room.
“Okay, okay.” I conceded, “Johnathan’s astral powers are too low for him to force himself into random people’s dreams.” Mrs. Horton sat there nodding as I continued. “So if he is projecting himself into others dreams, it has to be someone he is related to.”
“You don’t think that his brother is still out there? You think that is what pinged the wards?” Mrs. Horton exclaimed as she put a hand over her mouth. “Johnathan said he’s been missing for ten years. Can you imagine…ten years alone as a child….”
“I don’t know, he could have a half-brother or sister out there too. And if it did come from his missing brother, those dreams are fragmented memories.” I explained through a yawn. “Whatever happened to cause them, Johnathan’s brother is still trying to process the events.” I paused trying to gather my thoughts, but they eluded my sleep deprived brain. “Now listen I know it sounds horrifying, but I have got to get some sleep and you do too. I’ll know more in the morning after his full examination, and if need be I’ll have a chat with Mrs. Carson about what we can do. I’ll keep you in the loop, but for right now we can’t do a lot in our pajamas.” I joked looking down at both our bathrobes and slippers.
“Your right…” Mrs. Horton agreed with me, “Good night, Foob.” I just gave the old house mother a wave and vanished back to my tank.
Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Morning.
The Red Boer - Max
After I cleaned my bowl of rice and beans I walked over to the supply trucks the Government forces brought with them. Only two of them worked, since I put a powered round through one of the engine blocks. “HEY!” I yelled out to three of the kids that were done eating, bringing them over. “Before we get on the road I want to know what is on these two trucks, and only take the essentials. You got it? I’ll get started on the broken one.” I directed them.
“SIR, YES, SIR!” they yelled in unison slapping their foreheads in a makeshift salute. If Rhodie was still alive, he would have smacked them all for such sloppy presentation. Me? I couldn’t care less. Even if they saluted me with just a middle finger.
The mud squelched beneath my feet as I walked to the broken down truck, with the single bullet hole through the engine block. Undoing the security latch in the back I pulled the first crate from the back. Glass rattled as it hit the earth. Intrigued I pulled the crowbar from the side of the cargo bay. I shoved it into the top of the crate and pushed down on the makeshift lever, forcing the nails out of the wood. With a crack the top of the crate popped off revealing the contents. Twelve bottles of beer, arranged in three rows of four. I snickered and shook my head, “For all I know this could have been the beer wagon.” I thought as I pulled out another crate.
Popping the top off of this crate I was greeted to neatly packed cigarettes. I set that crate separately from the beer crate. Stretching into the truck I pulled out another crate. Ripping the top off of this one I was hailed to sight of magazines wrapped in plastic sheaths. I just casually put the top back on that crate and put it near the beer crate, the last thing I wanted to see was some pervy officers porn stash. Shuddering at that thought I hopped into the cargo bay of the truck. Grabbing last crate I gave it a shake. Hearing glass rattle I left in in its place as I moved out of the cargo area.
Walking to the front of the truck I opened the cab of the truck. Looking into the rear view mirror my dirt caked face looked back at me, my buzzed brown hair making my scalp look fuzzed. Thumbing the brand that was seared in my cheek. A gift from when I was child, before Rhodie rescued me and the others. A simple three pointed crown with a knife through the center, right below my right eye. Forever marking me as someone else’s property, someone else’s play thing. Ripping the mirror from the windshield I threw it out of the cab. I slammed my knuckle into the dashboard over and over and over. Until I couldn’t make a fist anymore. I watched as my hand swelled into a balloon, and then felt the bones snap back into place. “If I can heal this fast, then why are these scars still here?” I whispered to myself as I traced the numerous other scars on my hands and up my arms.
Sighing letting the anger flow out of me, I opened the center console “Empty.”, but when I opened the glove compartment I found a small box inside. Taking the small box out of compartment I walked to the back of the truck and sat on the beer crate. Undoing both latches I opened the box, and pulled out what I assumed to be a satellite phone. Turning it on, I waited a second for it to boot up then I went to the recent calls list. Nothing. So I looked through the contacts, in French of course. “Emergency. Operations Line 1. Line 2. Line 22.214.171.124. So on. Jeez how many operations do government officials have?” I thought. “I guess this was a new phone then, which might explain the box.” I completed as I turned the brick in my hands over to look at the back. “Sky blue decal line running end to end, and no serial number? What is this?” I didn’t have time to finish my inspection as one of the boys I had tasked with clearing out the two trucks ran up to me.
“All finished, Sir!” he squeaked at me. “One truck was full of ammo, grenades, medical supplies, even a couple of RPGs. The other was full of diesel, gasoline, water, and some MRE’s.” He continued to explain.
“Okay, all good then we don’t really need to move anything around. And we will just fit around the crates, but since these trucks run on diesel lets go ahead ditch the gas.” I winked at the dark skinned kid, while putting the phone in my pocket. “Now run back to Mufune. Tell him to give out the grenades evenly, and split the RPG’s between the two trucks. Also don’t forget your mags he should be done loading them all.”
“Sir, yes Sir!” he pipped and ran back to the other boys.
Leaning down to the ground I grabbed the wooden case full of cigarettes, and shuffled back to the church holding my prize. I knew I would have to share them with the group. Some of the kids didn’t smoke, but they could at least trade them for something when we got into Goma. So I would have to count them out before we left.
In the town of Bunia, DR Congo.
Special Agent Uys – MCO Central Africa Corps
“Any word from de Commandant?” the African man asked from the gun turret of the black tank, with sky blue sides.
“Negative, you know the drill. We’re here to support the UN until local forces confirm that there is a significant mutant threat in the area. Then we go out.” I explained to the man in the gun turret, and loud enough so the other three gunners could hear him too.
“But he was supposed to check in with dat phone you gave him four hours ago.” The other gunner complained further back in the pack.
“He must have gotten drunk again, and let The Red Boar slip away.” I crossed my arms over the tactical vest I wore and leaned back onto the tank closing my eyes. “Damn it's still early and already hot.” Thinking about that minor discomfort I almost didn’t notice the small crunch of boots on the gravel.
“Sir, the phone you gave the Commandant. It’s online.” The new female Asian agent told me.
“Agent Lee, how long has it been on?” I asked opening my eyes standing straight up.
“Thirty to forty minutes, Special Agent Uys. It was activated inside the village of Abuti. Now, it’s moving south along the road.” She explained.
“Interesting.” I grinned excitedly, “What’s the closest village between here and the phones thieves planned route?”
“They will reach the village of Mongbwalu before us given their speed, but if we leave now we can head them off inside the small town of Kilo.” She pointed out after looking at the laptop she had in her hands.
Looking at her, up and down, she had a tight body wrapped in the standard full combat armor. “She had to be burning up. No doubt.” She maybe fresh from the farm, but so far she was shaping up to be a good field agent. And in Africa those were very few and very far in-between. Any agent that wasn’t local to the area, Africa is where the MCO shipped them. The major screw ups before they get caught, or agents with a death wish. That made me wonder why she was here.
“You heard the lady. Let’s mount up and roll out in five!” I yelled at the two tanks and two APC’s. It may seem look like overkill. However with every mutant here trying to form their own Wallachia or Karedonia with the funds from conflict minerals. I knew it wasn’t. So I grabbed my H&K G3-BK rifle, and hopped onto the side of the tank. Putting on my cap I asked the new recruit, “Where are you from, Agent Lee?”
“China, Beijing. Sir.” She responded confidently.
“Ok, then you might want to bring extra water to stay hydrated if you’re going to stay in the combat suit.” I explained, “Yes, I know the suits say they have a temperature control system, but if you zipped that’s always the first thing to go.”
“But the local forecast only has it in the upper 80’s” She sneered.
“With 90 to 100% humidity, it’s going to feel like 115 degrees.” I informed the young recruit. “Also something else to think about. When was the last time you went to the bathroom? And how quickly can you get out of that suit?”
She didn’t respond she just blushed and turned away. I knew she was going to write a statement. The signs of an inappropriate conduct report were written all over her face. I turned to my gunner. He was just snickering and laughing with the other member of the tank.
“They don’t teach everything at those MCO camps.” I pointed out as I shook my head and took a sip of my canteen.
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Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Noon.
The Red Boer- Max
“Careful….careful….careful.” Mufune begged as I lightly pressed on the gas pedal trying to get the tires stuck out of the mud. Wringing my neck out the window looking at the back tires entrenched in the mud, I sighed. I had hoped to get to Kilo before noon, but the conditions of the roads had slowed us down considerably. What was supposed to be a two hour trip down the road was quickly spiraling out of control. “You’re losing the initiative.” Rhodie’s words echoed through my head.
“Let’s try again…” I sighed. “Get everyone out and help push this thing.” Mufune got out of the front seat, and quickly got everyone out of the cargo area of the truck. “One, Two, Three.” I counted out easing my foot onto the gas hoping to get some sort of traction. I felt the truck lurch forward as it caught onto something. Keeping my foot on the gas I turned the steering wheel guiding the truck away from the edge of the muddy road. “No guard rails here.” There was nothing stopping the truck from slipping off the road and down the hill. I put a little more force down on the pedal trying to get to the plateau where the other supply truck had stopped waiting for us.
“Kept you waiting, huh?” I chuckled at Urbain from the window of the truck as I shifted it into park. Hopping out of the cab I looked down the hill as the group trudged up slick mess. “We’ll take a quick break here. Let everyone stretch out.” I told him as he walked up to the truck.
“Are you sure dat is a good idea?” Urbain asked with a straight face. I took a quick glance at his hands. Both of them had a slight tremble. It was difficult to make out, but I knew the same mark that was on my cheek was also burned into his forearm.
“Nope. But also rolling into a small town armed to the teeth and blind is a worse idea.” I groaned looking for the small town on the horizon.
“What did Max say? He likes blind girls? Because he knows they are the only ones not covering their eyes from his skin!” Mufune cackled like a hyena as he joined the conversation. Causing Urbain to snicker and laughter to erupt through the unit. I hide a smile from the other boys.
“Well at least I like ones that don’t work with oxen.” I retorted the giggling duo.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Huh?” Mufune bellowed, puffing his chest.
“It means dat you like the smell of crap with all de brown nosing you do.” Urbain jested slapping Mufune in the chest.
“Oh you think that I brown nose?” Mufune asked leaping into a tackle.
I took a step back. I knew they were playing around. I would only step in if it got out of hand, or if they actually wanted to kill each other. Mufune had his arms wrapped around Urbain’s waist, he was going for the other boy’s legs. The power of Mufune’s surprise attack had forced them to the ground. However, Urbain was the best hand to hand fighter Rhodie had trained. It didn’t take long, but he soon had ahold of Mufune’s neck in a guillotine choke hold. Now all Urbain had to do was wait for Mufune to run out of steam. Sensing Mufune’s impending loss I looked at the other boys around the clearing.
“Hey, Mufune just tap. Urbain has to deal with something.” I told the two boys locked in an octopus of arms and legs.
“No….I….got’em…this tim….” Mufune struggled to the words out. A couple more seconds and he might actually black out.
“What….do I…have to do, Max?” Urbain equally fought to get the word out as he did to maintain the hold around his opponent’s neck.
”Well it looks like some of the kids on your truck....well they are playing cricket.” I told them while looking perplexed at the display unfolding out in front of me.
“Problem? I…dought you…wanted everyone….to stretch out.” Urbain looked at me while still maintaining the hold.
“While I would have no problem with them playing football or cricket. I do have a problem with what they are using for a bat.” I calmly explained.
“What are dey using?” He asked. Sweat now forming on his bald head.
“Remember that crate of RPG’s we found.” I inferred to the young man.
“No…dey aren’t.” he gasped releasing the hold. Hopping to his feet, looked in shock at what I was also seeing. Six boys taking turns throwing rocks at a seventh boy using the warhead as a bat.
“Oh they are…You got it?” I called out to him, trying to hide my smile from the absurdity of the situation.
“Oh I got it…” he growled stomping off to tear the boys a new one.
“Thanks….for….lying….” Mufune gasped trying to catch his breath while laying down on the grass.
“You think I would lie about that?” I laughed shaking my head. “I would let him choke you out any day. Now come on I need your binoculars.” I reached out my hand letting Mufune grab ahold. Anchoring my weight I helped him onto his feet.
“Holy shit…you weren’t kidding.” Mufune coughed, “What idiots!”
“Hey, we were almost that dumb, once.” I sympathized.
“Maybe you, but me…” Mufune stated holding his hand to his chest like one of the funny photos of dictators. I chuckled remembering that we would see the same pose painted on the side of bombed out buildings. They would look at us with absolute authority almost like they were letting us know who was king of that molehill.
“Oh Lord President Eternal, please grace me with your royal double spyglass.” I emphasized pointing to the case on his belt.
“You may.” He replied with a wave of makeshift arrogance he handed me the binoculars.
Taking the spyglasses from his had I walked over to the edge of the clearing near the muddy road. Spotting the tall structure near the horizon. Looking through the binoculars I focused in on it. A small-ish bell tower, it was a church. Sure. The village elders of the mining town shells out its money on a fancy church rather than more important things. Taking my eyes off of the church I turned them to the roads in and out of the town.
“What do you see?” Mufune asked, no doubt noticing my scowl.
“A church in the center of town with a bell tower. Surrounded by a roundabout with three main roads with smaller off shoots. The one we are on, then one heading north east out of town, and then the one we want to take going south.” I explained while studying the town.
“So, what does that mean for us?” He questioned.
“It means we get it easy. Roll into town, turn right on the roundabout, and roll out of town.” I smiled turns out our luck was holding.
Tossing the binoculars to Mufune so he could take a look. He confirmed my study of the town. “After lunch we should have Urbain take a look also just to be safe.” He told me putting the binoculars in the pouch on his belt.
“Hey, do you know what’s for lunch?” I asked Mufune, even though I already knew the answer.
“No, what is it?” he replied raising an eyebrow.
“Bobbing for MRE’s.” I answered with a smile.
Most African military’s don’t actually make their own rations for its soldiers. They outsource it to some food company that takes the rejects from other countries MRE factories and blind bags them. Most of the American and Russian MRE’s are the ones everybody wants and willing to trade for.
“Man, I always get shafted when we do this.” Munfune grumbled, “I always get some ching-chong thing I can’t read, but I’m hungry so I eat it anyway. And I can’t tell what it’s supposed to taste like. ” He continued to nitpick, “But because I don’t know what it is! Then I get the squirts. All because I don’t know if it is past its expiration date!”
“Sounds like you’re…shit otta’ luck.” I told him, emphasizing my crappy pun.
“OH CUT...DE SHIT!” Urbain bellowed as he walked up to us. No doubt he was done terrorizing the kids that were playing with high explosives.
“First I get beat up, then made fun of. Some friends you are.” Mufune lamented faking his sorrow.
“Best shot in de unit, we gotta keep your head small.” Urbain chuckled while grabbing Mufune and started rubbing his head.
“LINE UP! LUNCH TIME! TAKE ONE! NO REFUNDS!” I yelled out to the group so even the farthest kids in the clearing could hear me. “Well? Let’s pop the top.” I urged Urbain and Mufune.
Grabbing one side of the wooden pallet labeled Gk Mills I flipped the top off the wooden crate. Looking into the crate I saw the grey unmarked packages neatly packed together. Doing a quick eye count, there was enough for everyone here, with some left over. “5, not enough to split between everyone.” I eyed everyone in the line making sure that they only took one. There were some sighs, some joyful exclamations, even some trading of packets. After everyone had gotten through Mufune, Urbain, and I tried our luck.
“Merde! Pourquoi moi?” Mufune exclaimed slipping into French. Looking at him I couldn’t help but smirk at his bad luck. In his hands he had some Asian ration. It wasn’t the infamous Chinese ones we always teased him about. This packaging was different. Rather than the hard lines of the PLA rations, there were lots of circles and ovals spread throughout the writing.
“De mystery ration strikes again!” Urbain chuckled as he ripped his own ration pack open.
“Shut up! JUST SHUT UP!” Mufune screamed slamming the ration down into the grass. He then stormed off back to the supply trucks away from the clearing. No one stopping him and no one saying a word.
“Mon dieu! What’s gotten into him?” Urbain asked looking at me with one of his eyebrows raised.
“Just let him stew, he’s just tired.” I explained looking at the ground. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Everyone didn’t need to worry. Only me. “And what time is it?”
“I’m going to shut my eyes.” I answered him avoiding his eyes, “You’re in charge Urbain. Make sure no one blows themselves up.”
Walking away from the group that formed around the makeshift table. All of them stuffing their faces. Who can blame them? We didn’t know when we might get another meal that wasn’t rice and beans. Going to a nearby tree in the shade I sat down and laid my head on one of the roots jutting from the ground. Looking at the grey packaging in my hand I opened it. “U.S. Marines. So far so good… Beefsteak & Mushrooms?” I put the main meal aside, and began looking for the real prize. “There it is, the instant coffee packet.” Pouring out the MRE onto the grass, and looked for the accessory pack. “Sugar, Salt, Pepper, and…Kool-Aid.” I sighed “No extra coffee packet.”
One thing caught my eye sticking out from the grass, buried under the crackers and cheese spread. A square white tube with pictures of fruit on the side with one word written in the middle. “Charms?” I had never seen anything like it. Curious, I carefully opened the packaging on the top of the tube. Taking the square red one from the wrapper. Popping it into my mouth. I let the taste settle in my mouth for a bit before turning my head and spitting it out. Sighing I put the MRE back into its packaging. Shoving the packaging into my messenger bag pocket, the one not full of ammo and grenades.
Taking his beret off of my head, I looked at the emblem on the front. The blue winged dagger stared back at me. Judging me. Its blue hue clashing against the red surrounding it. “Who Dares Wins” I whispered Rhodie’s words while thumbing the emblem. Placing the cap over my eyes, it reeked of sweat. I didn’t care. I just wanted to close my eyes, if only for a little bit.
“Hey, Max…Hey wake up.” Urbain called out while kicking my leg, his voice pulling me from the darkness.
“What time is it?” I replied, with my eyes still closed under the red beret.
“12:42.” the voice responded dryly.
“24 minutes….I’ve been asleep for 24 minutes.” I sighed as the fatigue settled throughout my body.
“Yea, but don’t worry everything is packed up. We’re just waiting on you.” Urbain told me.
“Did you talk to Mufune?” I asked opening my eyes, only to see the red tinted light stabbing through the beret.
“Yea, he explained everything. Now are you ready to go, binti mfalme?”
Groaning I took the beret from my eyes, but giving Urbain the stink eye as I did so. I slipped the beret back onto my head as I stood up. Double checking my bag to make sure the ration and all its contents were still there. Just thinking about the hot meal made my stomach turn. I didn’t want to eat it on a day like this, but I knew I had too. It was already getting pretty toasty. We all were used to hot, but this was going to be a different story. Hot day on full stomach of hot food. It never felt right.
Walking with Urbain back to the trucks. He was right, everything was packed up and ready to go. Opening the door to the cab I looked at Mufune in the driver’s seat. He didn’t look at me. He just continued to gaze out the open driver’s side window, with a cig between his lips. One of his hands on the wheel, the other on his forehead.
“You, alright?” I asked rolling my window down with the crank handle.
“Yea.” He grumbled, taking a drag of the cigarette.
“Okay, follow Urbain then.” I responded taking off my messenger bag, while also reaching inside it grabbing the MRE heater, the beefsteak, and my canteen. I began to make my lunch use the flameless water heater. Throwing the warming pack onto the dashboard to finish cooking I took my own pack of cigarettes out of the bag. Taking the lighter plug out of its socket. Luckily it was still hot enough to light my cig. Either that or Mufune had been chain smoking his own pack.
The truck shot forward as I took puffs of my cig and let the steam bellow out of the cab. After heater was done spewing steam from its packaging I flicked my cig out into the Congolese wilderness. Watching it past by slowly, I pulled out the one utensil the MRE came with. Some weird hybrid of a fork, spoon, knife all in one. I never understood it. “Why don’t they just give out 2 utensils rather than all three in one?” I thought while looking at the strange plastic object in my hand.
Shaking my head at the silly thought I ate slowly as the jungle passed by. The taste of the meat was bland and off putting, but I chewed along anyway. Looking out at the vast green before me, I wondered how people live in cities. Yea, I get that out here is some of the most dangerous game out here. Humans, Mutants, animals, vicious flesh eating super bacteria made by said mutants. Other than those things how could you beat it? When we went to Khartoum for that job, everything looked so…dull. I don’t know how to describe it. People seemed like they were just going through the motions. Everything in the city felt so cramped and rushed, but out here…out here I could breathe.
Reminiscing about the hollow people of Khartoum almost made me not notice that we had reached the outskirts of Kilo. Looking at the small tin shacks around us, I guessed that this was the slums. “This is where the people who work the mine live.” Taking a closer look at the shacks I noticed that every single laundry line was empty, and there were no families in sight.
“Hey, it’s about 13:20 right?” I asked trying to wonder why the women weren’t out and about doing chores. Hell even the town kids should be playing soccer in the streets or working in the mines with their dads.
“Yea, why?” Mufune replied sensing the same thing I did.
“Were coming up on the hottest part of the day and there is no laundry anywhere out to dry?” I told him looking him in the eye while chambering a round in my AK. I slammed the back of the cab three times to let the boys in the back know to get ready for something.
“Do you think Urbain knows?” Mufune added while waving out the window trying to get the truck ahead of ours attention.
“Don’t wave, just flash your brights three times he’ll get the message that way.” I ordered him slapping his arm.
Eying the truck in front I saw that they got the message as they began loading their weapons. Either that or the kids in the back of ours told them what was up. Things were starting to get creepy. The further we went into town, more of the buildings changed from the tin scraps to actual brick and mortar. All of them were empty or had their windows were closed. The people here knew something was up.
As we approached the roundabout in the center of town my body tensed. Every nerve was on edge as my eyes scanned the shadows for any signs of movement. I could feel my heartbeat in my chest. I tried to control my breathing to slow my heart. Because I knew that the rate it was going it would affect my shots, and I felt a little jealous that Mufune could compensate for it better than I could.
My eyes were starting to get restless as I sped up my search for something. I continued to scan the shadows of empty homes and alleyways for any sign of movement. If they were people or robot. Not seeing anything I looked out of the corner of my eye making sure Urbain turned right at the roundabout. Once he did Mufune followed the turn. That’s when the silence was broken. A deafening snap ripped through the air. The shell was meant for the first truck, but it was fired to soon flying past and hitting the church delivering its payload into the house of God blowing out all the windows.
“PUNCH IT! CIRCLE AROUND GO OUT THE WAY WE CAME!” I yelled while firing at the two shapes that appeared on the roof. One yelped out in pain as the other ducked down, but more appeared on the ground floor. I shifted the fire selector into full auto and sprayed into the building. The rumble echoed through the cab as shells pinged off the sides. Then the mag went dry. When they realized that, they returned fire. Their bullets peppered the truck. I quickly reloaded and sprayed again. Trying to buy time for Mufune to slam the gas, and just then both trucks raced off and continued past the turn.
Our truck continued to take fire as we came upon the second turn, but Urbain’s truck was taking a beating. He was getting lit up by the guys on the roofs. It wasn’t my job to get them I was supposed to watch the ground floors for hostiles. Then as we crossed the street I saw it, an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and it was aiming its main cannon at our truck.
“EVERYBODY! BRACE!” I screamed, preparing for the worst as I saw the flash of the cannon. Only for the sound to drown out, and then to be thrown around in the cab like a rag doll. The next images I saw were of blurry feet on the ground around the cab of the truck. Unbuckling myself from the truck I slink to the ground filled with broken glass. Looking around I grabbed my bag, and turned to Mufune. Luckily he was in one piece, as a pair of hands reached into the cab and pulled me out. Eying my rescuer up and down it took me a second to recognize that it’s Urbain. I can see his mouth moving, barking orders telling everyone to get inside the church, but the words won’t go past my ears.
He grabs my shoulders and looks me in the eyes, yelling at me if I’m ok. I can only nod my head as bells start to ring inside my head. Sharing my nod Urbain smiles and laughs patting me up and down letting me know I’m in one piece. He then shoves my AK in my arms before going back into the truck to grab Mufune. Taking one look at remains of the truck I can tell it was hit with some sort of frag round. Three bursts must have hit it. One for the engine, one for the cab, and a final shell for the rear tires.
Shaking my head, the sound comes back into focus and the pressure leaves my skull. Spitting, I cough up a couple teeth. I check the chamber making sure the weapon in my arms is loaded. Checking the roofs again covering Urbain’s group, while taking cover behind the wreckage away from the IFV. I could feel the thud of its main gun firing in my chest even from about 400 meters.
“YOU GOT HIM?” I yelled to Urbain barely hearing the sound of my own voice over the cracks and snaps.
“I’M TRYING, BUT HE’S…” *BOOMF* Urbain yelled in response only to get cut off by a new explosion.
Looking out from behind the wreckage I could see something behind the IFV it was at a lower profile, but I could spot it through the dust. “TANK! GRAB THE SURVIVORS NOW! GET TO THE CHURCH!” screaming at Urbain and his group. Just then I felt another shell rip over our heads and hit the steps of the church behind us. Reaching into my bag I pulled out of on my last smoke grenades. Pulling the pin and launched it into the main street.
“GO HELP YOUR TEAM! SECURE THE CURCH! I GOT HIM! GIVE ME THE SIGNAL TO MOVE HIM WHEN YOU DO! ” I shouted while grabbing Urbain’s leg.
“ARIGHT…BE CAREFUL!” he screamed back as I crawled into the cab taking his place.
Staring at the boy hanging upside down I grabbed a large piece of glass and cut his seat belt. Letting him slam into the upside down roof. Mufune grunted, coughed and wheezed as blood leaked out of his mouth. Hearing the blind fire hit the metal around us made me more nervous. Grabbing him dragging him out of the ruined cab I noticed his shirt stained with fresh blood leaking onto me.
“ON YOUR FEET! YOU’RE FINE! YOU’VE HAD WORSE!” I screamed at him leaning him against the wreckage hoping he would snap out of his stupor while I grabbed my AK. Watching him slide over into the ground made me realize that he wasn’t fine. “SHIT.” I crouched down moving him onto his stomach. Then grabbing him I lifted him up and I kneeled down leveraging him onto my shoulders.
“Oh man! I know you’re a growing boy, but you’re heavy. You got to cut back.” I told him his ears near my mouth so I didn’t have to shout. His silence worried me even more.
Looking back down the street the smoke screen was still in place, due to the dead winds. Scanning the church doors for Urbain to give me the signal to move. I couldn’t spot him out until the large boy set up his PKM in a blown out window firing bursts at the roofs. “I hope that is the signal.” As I busted out into a sprint towards the church doors. Up one flight of stairs I could feel the enemy’s eyes one me. When I got on the second flight of stairs I could feel the hiss and snapping around me. Now I knew that I had their attention. I could see the open door ahead of me just a couple more steps. That’s when I crumpled. I felt the warm liquid run down my right leg before I felt the pain.
Face down on the stone steps I felt a few more bullets rip into me. I screamed out in pain. I knew that it would heal, but it was still pretty painful. I felt a multitude of hands grab my arms and pull me into the church along with Mufune. Looking down at my abdomen the two holes there were already closing up with the one on my leg. It wasn’t the wound I was worried about. Placing my hand on my upper leg. I pushed hard. Yelping out in pain, I knew that the bullet had shattered my bone. I knew I would walk soon, but I need to be on my feet now.
“URBAIN,” I yelled out weakly, “SITREP!”
“I SEE…” He paused obviously counting, “AT LEAST 60 MEN, 2 IFVS, AND 2 T-90’S!” he yelled back while laying down suppressing fire.
“Those numbers would be unlikely, seeing as though IFVs only carry about squads of eight or nine. That must mean the supplanted their force with some of the villagers or local militia.” I thought. “LOOK FOR THE GUYS THAT DON’T BELONG! BETTER GEAR WITH SIDEARMS! PACE YOUR SHOTS AND GO FOR THEM!” I ordered having my yell echo through the blasted church.
Sifting my gaze to Mufune I noticed his breathing was becoming more difficult. Crawling over to him I ignored the pain in my leg. I placed my ear to his chest. I tried to focus in on his breathing amidst all the gunfire. I barely heard a slight wheezing sound in between his breaths.
“Get me a knife and one of the med kits! NOW!” I yelled at some of the boys around Urbain.
They handed me the knife first which I used to cut open Mufune’s shirt. Frowning at the trails of blood scattered around his chest. I took my canteen and dumped it on him cleaning off of his chest. Just in time some of the kids came back with a small red pack. Dumping out the contents on my friend I looked for a big needle that could get the job done. Tearing the needle away from its plastic housing I replaced it with one of the small IV tubes. Then taking one of the make shift valves from the pack and placed it on the end of the tube. Placing my hand on his chest I counted two ribs beneath his collar bone. Praying I didn’t hit an artery and kill my friend I shoved the needle into chest. Hearing the air escape from the valve along with the gasp of air from my friend, I let out a sigh of relief.
“How is he? Is he going to be fine?” one of the kids asked as some of them huddled around.
“It’s bad and….he’s not going to be fine….” I told them. No use in sugar coating it. We are Fucked, with a capital F.
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Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Northeast of Kilo. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Noon – ish.
“We’re stuck again.” Ziyad, the Arab man driving, said looking at Shaka implying that he should get out and push us out of the mud. With an exasperated huff Shaka got out. He pushed us with one hand getting us out of the mud without any effort.
It wasn’t much of an effort to push the jeep out of the mud, it had become more of a chore. The Growler was essentially an engine, a frame, 4 doors, and 4 lawn chairs for seats. And even though it was possible the lightest jeep I had ever been in the mud was just too thick. One thing that Heath neglected to tell us that if our Osprey was detected by anybody then we would be dropped early. On the nearest road. The road we happened to end up on was at the bottom of the valley. Not the best place to be at the start of the rainy season.
Panicking I slapped my hip to make sure I still had my magic tokens. I knew I had them as they had become part of my every day carry, but the fear of not having them made me double check. Noticing my slight fear Askia, the Liberian woman, cracked a smile at me. Feeling the blood rise to my cheeks I returned the smiled. I tried to avert my eyes to hide my embarrassment, but I was draw to the burn mark on the back of her hand. It was a simple three pointed crown with a dagger through the center.
Taking my eye off of the brand I looked at her face. Her eyes meeting mine while also at the same time drifting away. She snapped out of it with a jostle of the jeep shoving her had into her pocket as we rocket back and forth. Sulking Askia looked out the window into the dense jungle around us.
“Echo, this is Origin do you read me?” Heath chirped over all of our radios breaking the silence that had permeated for the past couple of hours. “How far are you from target location?”
“Roger Origin. Echo reads you load and clear.” Shaka responded having been put in command. “We’re still hours away from target location, and it doesn’t help with all the mud slowing us down.”
“Sorry about dropping you off far away from the target location. I’m sure you understand.” Heaths voice rang into my ear piece.
“I don’t. You cost me some serious frequent flyer miles!” Ziyad responded into his own throat microphone. Turning to me, “I’m so close to earing that platinum club membership. I can taste it!” He smiled nodding.
“That’s nice…” I smiled forcing a laugh.
“Back to the matter at hand, I’m afraid I have some even worse news.” The agent’s voice wavered over the secure radio.
“What is it?” I asked clenching the receiver activating my throat microphone.
“I’ve procured a NSA satellite…”
“Going all out, huh?” Shaka interrupted.
“Yes, I am. Now, I’ve procured a NSA satellite and it shows that fighting has broken out between two factions inside Kilo.” Heath explained. “One, we believe, is The Red Boer’s group.”
“The other faction? Who are they and equipment did they have with them?” Askia recalled this time.
“The other is the MCO. They were supporting UN peacekeeping operations in the area. As for force numbers they have 2 T-90MS’ and 2 Stryker IFVs” Heath told us in a cold tone.
“Are the Strykers the ’05 armament or they the new ‘07s?” Ziyad asked with a hint of worry in his voice.
“Unclear.” Heath responded
“Whats the difference?” I asked slapping the Arab in the shoulder.
“The ’05 Stryker’s have twin .50 cals. The ’07’s have a 30mm cannon.” Ziyad explained showing me that he had gone up against some before. Judging for his shock I hoped we didn’t get the ’07s.
“So we’re looking at a force of 18 men supported by 2 tanks and 2 IFVs. It could be worse.” Shaka confided trying to raise our spirits.
“Not 18 men. Probably more like 100 men.” Heath corrected the Zulu warrior.
“What?” Shaka responded in shock.
“Central Africa, for the MCO, has been an absolute bloodbath. So they adjusted their operations manual.” Heath paused trying to find the words. “What happens now is a squad of agents goes into a town, throws around propaganda to get everyone riled up, and then they deputize everyone with a gun. Then the next thing you know it’s the O.K. Corral, and people are getting butchered in the streets for simply associating with a known mutant.”
“Do you think the MCO is capable of firing on children?” I asked Heath hoping he would lie to me.
“I don’t know…It’s not the MCO I’m worried about. Just get to Kilo as fast as you can!” Heath ordered.
Schuster Hall, Mrs. Carson’s Office. Whateley Academy. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Morning.
My empty stomach turned over the moment Mrs. Horton told about the change of plans. Rather than meeting with Fubar in his office. I had to report to Schuster hall, Headmasters Office. Breaking my chain of thought about the earlier conversation Mrs. Carson called me into her office. Following the voice of my executioner into her office I couldn’t help but think about the men at the gallows. This is how they felt. Looking around the workplace I was greeted with a large desk facing twin chairs. One of which was occupied by Foob, or Mr. Geintz.
Taking the unoccupied seat my worry steadily increased along with my heartbeat. Mr. Geintz looked relaxed sharing my nod hello. Mrs. Carson stood silently looking out the window like a stone obelisk of power. The silence permeated the room before the headmistress turned taking her own seat at the desk opening a manila file.
“Johnathan Tremblay. Age 15. Residence Poe Cottage. Status Freshman, keeping with Whateley’s four year policy.” She read from the file in her hands. “Exemplar 3, Hemokinesis 4. Is this all correct?” she asked looking at me with an icey stare.
“Yes, ma’am.” I coughed up.
“No it’s not.” She glared at me like a wolf stalking a wounded fawn. “You see last night a lot of wards were pinged, and Fubar informed me that it was you. You have an untrained ability. One of which is very dangerous to be an amateur in. Also this ability isn’t on your MID. So did you conceal your powers from the testers?”
“I…I…I didn’t know I had it.” I struggled to get out.
“It’s true Mrs. Carson. When I scanned his mind last night there was no intention to project that far. Anyway it must have also slipped through the power testers as they thought it was related to his night terrors.” Fubar explained coming to my defense.
“Is this true?” the amazon asked turning her head back to me. To which all I could do was nod my head. “Very well. In addition to your usual schedule you will meet with Fubar twice a week to learn to control your new ‘gift’. Am I clear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I responded looking down at the floor avoiding her gaze.
“Okay. You’re dismissed.” Mrs. Carson told me with a wave.
Taking my leave I let out of the office a huge sigh of relief. I wasn’t hungry earlier seeing as how I thought I was going to be roasted alive. But now my stomach grumbled in delight as made a beeline for the Crystal Hall. I hopped Kylie and her friend were there. They both seemed pretty cool.
“You put the fear of God in him. You know you didn’t have to come down so hard on him. He didn’t know what he was doing.” I told my boss.
“Yes, I did Foob. Did you read the most recent file Ms. Hartford collected on him?” She responded without looking from the file in front of her.
“No, how has it changed?” I inquired.
“In the BLACK section of his file it tells how he came to be adopted.” Mrs. Carson said while getting up from her chair and taking a couple steps towards the window.
“What does it say?”
“It says that in 1997 Syndicate operatives conducted an operation removing four hostile elements from the Jaeger Farm & Ranch in Namibia. What it doesn’t say was that two of the four ‘hostile elements’ were children.” The blonde amazon informed me while staring out the window. “One being Naomi, now Johnathan, was sold to a local warlord. Luckily, he escaped a year later, and was adopted through a UN backed private relief center in Québec.”
“And the other child, what happened?” I asked.
“Based on the testimony of Johnathan in ’98 the UN concluded that Max, the other child, was sold to a group of witch-doctors called ‘The Rippers’.” Mrs. Carson explained in a flat tone her arms crossed behind her back. “He was declared dead on the spot…They never even mounted searched for his body.”
“Do we know anything about them, these ‘Rippers’?” I interjected.
“No, but I’m having Ms. Hartford look into them also. It’s just taking her some time.” She said looking back at me before looking back out the window. She was trying to hide her emotions, but I could feel the rage burning off of her.
“That seems…odd.” I said while rubbing my chin. “I don’t buy it. The dream walking Johnathan had last night was way too powerful for him to maintain on his own. It had to be somebody he is blood related too….Elizabeth, his brother is still out there!” I pleaded with her.
“What do you think I can do!? Fly over to Africa and carve open the jungle to look for one lost child!?” Mrs. Carson snapped around with fire in her eyes. I knew that she wanted to do something. Anything really, but both she and I knew she couldn’t. “There is nothing we can do, except support and train Johnathan.” I sighed and nodded in agreement letting her know that I was on board with whatever she needed me to do.
Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kilo. Wednesday August 29, 2007. Noon-ish
The Red Boar – Max
The numerous cracks of rifles filled the air as pebbles and dirt peppered my face. Using the muzzle flashes from the buildings I picked out my targets. Firing a couple times then moving, never staying in one place for two long. Many of the other boys did the same. Checking my ammo, I had already burned through four magazines. Keeping count, I saved the new number of mags fresh in my mind. It only worried me a little bit as I looked at the bodies in the church. Kakain, Kariem, Okot, Ibraham, and Mo had all succumbed to their wounds from the truck. I eyed the others who were also in my truck that had gotten hurt. Mufune still hadn’t regain consciousness, Abdo had a bloody bandage around his upper leg, and Malse would probably lose a couple fingers.
The thought of surrendering had crossed my mind, but seeing as how there had been no lull in the fighting even when we stopped firing. I pushed it out of my head. Whatever this group was, they didn’t want surrender. They wanted blood, and if that’s what they wanted…we’ll give it to ’em.
“Max, Mufune is waking up.” Abdo told me while pointing to the shifting boy on the floor.
“Thanks, you got my spot?” The wounded kid nodded at my question. “Okay, keep your head down and away from the shop to the left, there are about six guys in there. Their shots have been getting close.” I told him while shuffling over to Mufune.
“Ughhh….what…what happened?” he groaned gasping for breath.
“We got punched in the nose is we happened.” I replied flatly while opening the makeshift valve in his chest to relieve the pressure.
“What is that?” He asked while taking his first deep breath while being conscious.
“You’re so full of holes, air is getting into your chest. It’s putting pressure on your lungs.” I explained while pointing to the valve. “This is to relieve the pressure, but the more active you are the more pressure you have to relieve.”
“I’m glad Rhodie taught you this medic stuff. I would have bit it a long time ago.” He coughed wincing at the pain.
“Think of it as payback for when you guys watched over me as my legs regrew.” I chuckled as I looked at the brand on his shoulder.
“Well I don’t think I’m going to be able to move pretty well.” Mufune told me meeting my stare, “Take it, the recoil alone would kill me now.” he continued to say while reaching for his weapon.
“Fine, but you know this isn’t a full trade. You’re getting this back when you’re back on your feet.” I told him firmly.
Taking the FAL from my friend, I grimaced. Everyone in the unit hated this thing. I never liked it, although I respected the users who did. It was long, heavy, and tough to handle in tight spaces. All of those things should have made the weapon obsolete, but the power and accuracy of the round it spat out made it a prize for all sharpshooters. “A classic marksmen’s rifle.”
“INCOMING!” Urbain yelled out warning everyone.
I dove over Mufune covering his wounds as an explosion rocked the church. Dust was kicked up into both of our lungs and eyes. Grabbing my canteen I gave it to him. I could cough up the phlegm, but if he coughed it might destroy the needle in his chest or puncture his lung.
“Drink, and only enough to suppress the cough. No more. You got me?” I ordered him.
“Yea… I got you….” He replied taking shallow breaths. “Now…go stop that armor.”
“Sure, thing boss. Hey, you planned this didn’t you? Getting hurt?” I chuckled trying to laugh both mine and his worry away.
“Yea, you know me….Anything to be lazy….” He added with a wink. Shaking my head I traded the AK ammo out of my bag for the FAL ammo he had.
After that I ran over to Urbain who was on his PKM. He was laying down suppressing fire so the others could pick at the infantry support mounting for an assault behind the tank and the IFV. Looking at them on the street both the tank and the IFV had their noses pointed toward each other. “Amateurs.”
“Hey, Urbain. You have been trying to pick off the mercs right?” I asked while popping off two rounds.
“Trying too, but they are crafty bastards. They haven’t exposed themselves too much.” He paused to reload the MG. Sensing that they would try and pin us down now that they had an opportunity. I leaned out of cover and emptied the mag. I let the rifle pound my shoulder, and the smell of burnt metal fill my nose.
“Get me two RPG tubes, both armed.” I ordered Urbain’s secondary gunner while reloading my own weapon. “And you’re going to want to be ready to move the PKM.”
“What’s your plan?” Urbain asked while pulling up the large machine gun and ammo belt.
“If we can break the armor, then the militia will flee.” I explained as Abdo limped over with the 2nd gunner carrying the RPGs.
“Both the tanks and the IFV’s out there have the React Armor. Normal RPGs are going to be useless.” Urbain tried to challenge me, but I just smiled.
“Who said anything about normal RPGs?” I told him. Taking one of the tubes I pulled the pin on the warhead in the front.
“What! You’ve never powered a RPG before! What happens if you put too much into it and it pops?” Urbain pleaded.
“If I don’t do it then we’re dead.” I stated, looking down trying not to think about the last time I powered something without practice. I shuddered at the thought of picking shrapnel out of my face again.
Taking in a deep breath I focused my mind. Closing my eyes I imagined flowing stream of water from the back of my neck down my right arm and into the weapon. Upon opening them I could see the blue hue the weapon was giving off. Running up to the window giving myself ample room for the back blast of the rocket. I aimed the tube between the two armored vehicles. Everything slowed down for just an instant. I knew it was a combat high running through my body, but in that moment I could see everything. The armored twins trying to adjust their cannons, the unprepared militia behind them taking cover, and the trained mercenaries directing them telling them to overrun us. I saw it all.
With a pull of my finger that special moment was ripped away. The screeching of a blue rocket flew towards the column. I felt my legs lock up. I couldn’t move. Panicking my eyes moved a mile a second while the tendrils of darkness wormed their way into my vision. “Funny. I don’t remember being that tired….”
Special Agent Uys
“SHIT!” I yelled slamming the radio down.
“What happened?” Agent Lee asked
“I lost contact with the assault team. It probably had something to do with that huge boom.” I spat out.
“Do you think they have devisor weaponry?” The rookie agent inquired.
“I don’t know, but get the AAS-4 ready.” I ordered keeping my cool. “Not every day we get to use that thing.” I thought smiling on the inside.
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The Red Boar – Max
The rush of sugary sweetness filled my throat. My eyes shot open as I snapped awake, coughing up the strange liquid in my mouth. “Disgusting.” I could feel the crunch of the sweet crystals on my teeth.
“Told you…That would…wake him…” I heard Mufune’s voice echo through the church weakly.
“How long was I out?” I asked shaking my head.
“Thirty min. Now drink.” Urbain ordered while hitting me with my canteen.
“Where is the fighting?” I commented on the silence around the church.
“Whoever hit us, dey fell back down the road to de south after your fireworks display.” He explained shaking his head. “Now, drink!”
Looking at the worn green steel container, I could feel the warmth of the water through the metal wall. Just barely, but enough. Grimacing I prepared myself for the worst as I raised it to my mouth. I tried to take a deep swig, but the moment the horrid slurry of candied water hit my tongue I gagged.
“What did you put in my water!?” I coughed out wiping my mouth.
“8 of dose fruity drink mixes, some sugar packets, and dose fruit charms you had in your bag. Also take dese.” Urbain explained counting pills out on his hand. “You put too much ‘umpf into that RPG. You need to get your energy back, and quick.”
I nodded in agreement taking the pills from his hand. Shaking the canteen I knew that I need to drink it. I just knew that I didn’t have to like it. Taking a closer look at the handful of pills he gave me. “Benzedrine? Where did you find these?” I snapped through my teeth chasing the pills down with the sugar water.
“From our friends out front. You wanna take a look?” He asked extending his hand.
“Is the perimeter secured?” I asked raising one of my eye brows.
“Yea, we have had a light patrol recon the area.”
Taking his hand I helped myself up off the ground. Peeking through the window I spotted the carnage in the street. The flaming twisted metal of the IFV and the tank burning in the road caked in red. I could see the scorch mark in-between the two armored vehicles, but looking at the other markings I could see that the other boys had used a couple more warheads to finish the job. Throwing both the metal and flesh parts around the street. Sighing I silenced my mind, as I slid down into a seated position against the wall and began to pick at rocks on the floor.
“How many RPGs do we have left?” I prodded Urbain.
“One.” He answered taking a seat beside me.
“Crap.” I thought. Throwing a rock across the church. Taking a look around, some of the boys had taken their boots & socks off during the lull in battle. Reaching into my bag I pulled out a fresh pack of smokes, but they had gotten stuck in between a grenade and its handle during the battle. Wiggling the pack out is metal prison. I held the steel sphere in my hand. Rotating it around. Tossing it up and down an idea began to take shape in my head the same way.
“Dinking about stoning de tanks to death? Dat will never work.” Urbain chuckled at my thoughtful look.
“Yea…thinking about it.” I smiled at the absurdity of the idea I had. Taking off my boots I ripped off my double pair of socks. Then slipped my boots back on as I gathered everybody’s grenades.
“What?” he asked looking at me like I had lost my marbles.
Standing up I took one of the stones that had come loose from the shelling. Taking the grenade I sandwiched the pin between the two stones. Looking back at Mufune and Urbain as they gave me looks of worry. I smiled and slowly unscrewed the detonator and pin from the fireball. Taking the hollow sphere I shoved it into one of the socks. Then I did that five more times before tying the end of the sock off. Taking the seventh grenade I tied it around the others with the socks twin leaving the handle and pin out.
“Cover me.” I ordered.
Holding the bomb closely I exited the church moving down the steps swiftly. Trying to get to cover as quickly as possible. Moving from cover to cover until I got to the destroyed IFV. I felt a ping of regret what was left of the bodies scattered behind the armored vehicle and in front of the store. “They didn’t deserve to die. Neither did Mo, Okot, or the others.”
Walking around the behemoth I found the undamaged engine in the nose. Wedging the bomb into the space between the tires and the hull. I readied myself and fingered the pin. Pulling the pin I ran and dove into the nearby shop away from the blast. Keeping my head down I counted to five, and then….Nothing. Standing up I patted myself down and looked at Urbain in the window. Shrugging at him. I waited ten more seconds before exiting the shop. Only to get thrown down as the pressure wave knocked me back down.
Groaning I rolled on the floor. Patting myself down I made sure again, for the second time today, that I was still in one piece. “No missing bits. Good….God I hate duds!” Setting up I saw Urbain and three others running down the steps. I waved at them letting them know that I was okay.
“Have you finally lost it!?” Urbain yelled at me grabbing me by my shirt.
“We needed to know if it would work.” I told him tearing his arms off me.
“It worked alright, if you want to blow yourself up.” He jibbed back.
Walking over to the engine I inspected the damage. About a small bucket sized hole in the armor. “It might take out the tracks on the tank, but it will definitely disable the engine on the IFV.” I said smacking the smoking and charred metal.
“You know we can’t just walk up to it and place a bomb nears it engine. De tires would tear it up before it explodes.” Urbain explained pointing at the burnt metal. “And dat’s not even counting de gunners and Infantry support. Anyone would get shredded before dey could even get close.”
Going prone in the dirt I pushed my hand deep into the tires rubbing it around telling them, “That is why were are going to use this.” Grunting as I pulled out my hand covered in black tar.
“Axel grease….” Urbain muttered as it clicked in his head what I wanted to do.
“Now we will have to rig up some rope soaked in gasoline. No way is anyone going to pull that pin, and get out in time. We throw it. Get it stuck to the IFV. Then light the soaked fuse, and BOOM.” I explained, “Then I’ll use the last RPG on the T-90 and we will get out of here.”
“Dat doesn’t sound as crazy as I dought it would be.” Urbain smirked.
“Now comes the real question….How many can we make?”
“Keep watch over Mufune.” I ordered Urbain as we locked arms. “I know I’m taking the best, but hold the fort.”
“No problem.” He replied with a salute. “Make those three chances count. See you when you get back.”
I smiled and ran down the steps to join the nine other boys waiting near the shops. Feeling the weight of the sticky bomb jump around on my belt. We were going to take the back streets until we got to their staging area on the south road. Apparently when we blew through the assault team it broke their moral a bit and some fled. So all we have to do is find a hole in their perimeter and destroy the armor, and the rest will flee. Now about two hours have passed since then. They are probably regrouping for another push, or they are waiting till night to slip in.
Working our way through the alleyways the stenches got to us. We tried to suppress our coughs and gags, but occasionally one got out. The town waste slithered down the passageway with us until a dead end. Then we had to slip right and cross the main road to get to another pathway. Taking the lead I exited the alleyway, checking corners and windows for any movement.
I could see that the life of the empty town was on hold. I had seen bombed out buildings and other horrors before so this was nothing new. This was different. Right now, it felt like the town despite it being quiet and ‘dead’. It was waiting for us to leave for life to resume. Carts in the street stack with grain, vendors with their goods still in the stall, and the radio broadcast of a soccer game echoing off hallow walls. Kneeling down I picked up a wooden doll, probably dropped by a little girl. I thought of home. What was left of it anyway. It was the kind of place that only existed in my mind. Never to be found again. So I pushed it out of my head as quickly as it entered.
Dropping the doll we positioned ourselves to cover each other as we crossed the street. Checking my sector again I signaled for the first boy to cross. Then the second, third, and forth until we all crossed safely into the alleyway. Following the muck down to another road we slowed our pace. Getting closer we began to hear voices. It sounded like two men talking, but experience had taught me that more could be there, just keeping their mouths shut.
Coming upon the mouth of the path I looked left through the pile of trash at the source of the voices. Two men in black camo and tac vests with two militia men sharing stories and cigarettes. Looking to the right I saw our prize, the IFV and the T-90 setting in line. The IFV had crates around it like they were offloading something from it. Now was our chance.
“Ready the RPG. Don’t use it. Just keep it ready. ” I whispered to the boy shouldering the missile. While I made hand gestures signaling that we would swing left take the four out, then swing right.
Once the plan was set I dove out of the alley onto my right shoulder steading my sights the group. Popping off half the mag they crumpled to the ground. Rolling onto my other shoulder I laid down cover fire with the rest of my magazine to let the other exit the backstreet. Popping up to my feet, I was quickly thrown back to the ground as two holes suddenly appeared in my chest. Coughing up blood I rolled into a home one the far side of the street away from my squad. Dropping the empty mag, I reloaded the FAL.
I didn’t have to wait long for the holes to close up. Luckily both hits were in-outs. Stepping out of the home I ran along side of the wall popping off rounds to suppress the enemy. Getting to the IFV was easy. Taking my bomb in hand I untied the makeshift fuse.
“COVER ME!” I yelled over the gunfire as I slammed the greased up sock into the nose of armored vehicle. “FIRE IN THE HOLE!”
Running back into the home carrying the fuse with me. I set it on the floor. Pulling out my lighter I flicked it a couple times before I was greeted with an orange flame. Setting it near the wet rope, blue flames zipped down to the bomb way faster than I would have imagined. In an instant there was a loud thud along with a shower of metal.
Running back into the fight I fired off a magazine into the dust that had been kicked up covering us. I wanted to inspect the damage. Looking at the hole, there is no way they would be able to field fix this. Looking at my squad spread out in the homes they were peppering the enemy with fire. Waving I got their attention. Using hand signals I got them to throw me the other bombs.
Taking cover on the side of the IFV I was able to get close enough to the tank. Untieing the fuse I threw the two greased up socks. I managed to get one to land under the treads and the other to stick to the treads. Running back to the nose of the IFV. I took my lighter, flicked it again and yelled “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” before lighting the fast acting fuses. I could feel the pressure wave wash over me. Straining my eyes through the dust I could see that the treads were damaged. “Our mission is done.”
I moved my mouth to say fall back or disengage. However, before I could the ground trembled slightly. Looking for the source I saw it peeking out over the dust cloud. A solid white bipedal machine with a bladed tail swishing back and forth as it staggered towards us with its dog legs. “A WHITE MAMBA?! No, they were all scrapped.” It stopped and looked at me with its cobra head stuck in a perpetual hissing motion. Where the mouth was a neon visor glittered in the sunlight. “That’s where the driver would be.” Not wanting to take any chances of my squad engaging. I shouldered my FAL. I pushed energy into the round, but before I could pull the trigger the machine was already top of me. It moved impossibly fast.
Seeing its tail swish up behind its shoulder I tucked and rolled to the right dodging the bladed strike as it tore into the ground where I was. Landing on my knees I shouldered the heavy rifle once more, and fired my powered shot. Only to have it bounce off a semi-translucent triangles that appeared around the head on the snake machine. Sensing an opening the machine slammed his left arm into pinning me to the concrete wall. I screamed out in pain as the solid metal arm crushed my insides. Looking at my reflection the in the visor the machine bellowed out.
“Your pretty fast Red Boar! But not fast enough to save your men!” The machine chuckled as it raised its right arm loaded with twin .50 cals.
“NO! FALL BACK TO THE…” I tried to yell but was cut off the blast of the alternating machine guns as they tore through the homes where my squad was.
“I will eliminate you and your pawns. You won’t brainwash anyone anymore!” The white armored man yelled out through the speaker system.
As he was doing so his tail shot out from behind him. I didn’t feel anything though. No pain. No gushing fluids, but I heard the crunch of bones. I only felt weight of the mechanized tail supporting my chest. Everything else below was just numb and cold. Dropping me to the ground the towering mech raised its left leg and kicked me down the street. I couldn’t feel if things were broken, but I knew they were.
“Mufune...Urbain… Abdo…Malse…I…do…someth…” I struggled as the darkness took me one more time. The last image I would see would be a huge mech lumbering towards me.
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The Red Boar – Max
“My…My…My…” Hearing the sounds of a woman speaking I snapped awaked rattling the chains I hung from. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dark room with the light seeping in from the boarded windows. My heart pounded in my head reminding me of the last time I was chained. Memories bubbled up through the black tar of my mind. Ones that I had buried so long ago. I pushed them out of my head and focused on the voice in the room.
“Earwig told me that you healed fast, but you are true treat. I would like to play with you very much.” The Asian woman in a body suit told me licking her lips viciously while standing over in the corner.
“Where are my friends?” I called out.
“You will join them soon. The Armored Assault Suit is probably making short work of them now.” I woman in the shadows replied but dodging my question. “Before I kill you though you need to answer one question. Where is Earwig’s ledger?”
“Earwig? I never met anyone with that name.” I coughed up feeling my ribs slowly sewing themselves back together. Looking up at the chains wrapped around the beams, suspending me in the air. I slightly shook them, testing them.
“I guess you weren’t that close with him then. Rhodie, that is. He told all of us in the group about his little book. I guess you were never slated to join us. Our little group, we know things….one of them being that you murdered Rhodie.” The woman flashed a shark tooth grin as I gritted my teeth. “You know we met once before.”
“How do you know that?” I spat out narrowing my eyes at the talkative woman. “And I think I would remember meeting an Asian woman in the bush.”
“Rhodie liked sending messages.” The woman told me crossing her arms shaking her head. “You should have let him send one more before you merc’d him…And come on.” She added pointing at me. “You of all people should know that appearances can be deceiving. You know with you being a killer, like me, despite only being a kid. Get to‘em early I say.” She joked with a fist pump as she strutted towards me.
The woman only smiled as her features twisted and morphed from the distinguishing Asian eyes and cheekbones into a powerful jawline with a five o’clock shadow. She kept her female body. It was very unnerving to see curvy body topped with a male head.
“Remember me now?” the shifter spoke still talking in a honey sweet voice.
“You were there at….that meeting last November.” I told her as I recognized the face of a mercenary that chatted with Rhodie before going into the meeting.
“So, you do remember me.” The woman exclaimed as her features melded back into a singular form. “Now, are you going to answer my question about the book or am I going to have to be mean.”
“I don’t…” I barely finished as a fist slammed into my stomach knocking the breath out of my lungs and sending me swinging back. I had no time to catch my breath as when I swung back to the woman my face was met with a powerful right hook sending me spinning above the ground. Her punches had way more power than she let on.
“Now, the only answer I’m going to take is going to start with the letters Y, E, and S. Followed by the words ‘I know where the book is.’ Any other words or sounds come out of your mouth. Will be met with a beating. You got that?” The merc told me as she grabbed me stopping my spiral. “I’ve made sure for the time being we are left alone….Now…where is the ledger?”
“I…” I tried to tell her that I had no idea about any book, but true to her word I was met with a fist. Sending me spinning again. The feeling of having your nose split open only for it to pop back into place moments later is never a pleasant experience. Especially when you know you’re about to get hit again.
“I have all the time in the world…You on the other hand. Do not. So tell me what I want to know, and I can call off the agent in the AAS. You can save your friends. All you have to do is tell me where the book is. Going once….twice…” The woman said with a shrug trying to make a deal. I just stared her down as she counted. “Sold, no deal for you.” She finished the mockery as she spun around planting the heel of her boot into the side of my jaw.
Sensing that I was spinning faster than the other times I pushed some energy into the chains connecting me to the rafters. Pulling down with what little strength I had. I willed with chains to break through the wood. With nothing to hold me up I slammed into the ground. Laying on the ground I snapped my arms to my torturer hoping to use what energy was left in the chains as a makeshift whip. Luckily it worked. The chains smashed into her ribs sending her flying into the wall, through it, and into the street.
Coughing from the dust of brick and mortar. I slid my hands from the chains. Quickly I grabbed my bag. Made sure everything was in it, and the FAL. Gritting my teeth I walked through the hole in the wall, and out into the street with the ruined tank and IFV. Laying in the middle of the street was the Asian woman with her breathing labored.
“We will…have it…the ledger…and we will….find Naomi…” she told me as I walked to her.
Looking at her I made sure she didn’t have any healing powers like me. I shouldered my rifle, chambered a round, and like a thousand other times pulled the trigger. After the deed was done I ran into the building the mech open fire on. Pushing down on my emotions as I looked around the carnage searching for the final RPG. Getting on my knees I searched the shaded interior of the building. Hearing the stomping of boots I kneeled down even further, readying my weapon. Listening in I could hear an exchange in French.
“<Quick! Someone killed the rookie! I told you I heard a gunshot!>” One of them called out no doubt inspecting the body.
“<Where are the others? Why is she alone in the street?>” The taller one added on.
“<There-is-no-way The Red Boar could have done it. He-was-dead. He-can’t-heal-that, right? His chest was torn open clean all the way through.>” The smallest one jumbled his word together in a panic.
“< Calm down, we need to find the other team, once Uys is done at the church we’re exfiltrating.>” The unseen fourth one said talking down the smaller one from a panic attack.
Noting that this Uys was still at the church I centered my sights on the group and opened fire. Snagging the two on the right with a quick spray down. The other two immediately returned fire. These were trained soldiers unlike the militia men, but still I had to move fast. Giving up on the search for the RPG I sprinted out of the run down building spraying the last rounds of the magazine wildly. I caught one in the leg and the other I chased down catching him with the stock of the rifle, not before getting my new torso shredded with a couple rounds. Catching my breath as my chest stitched itself back together I reloaded my weapon.
“<What is powering that White Mamba?>” I barked at the two wounded men.
“<It’s classified.>” The one with a broken jaw mumbled before catching a bullet.
“<Is it still classified?>” I calmly swung the weapon at the man with the bum leg.
“<Hold on! It’s…it’s some new prototype battery.>” The man stuttered clutching his leg.
“<Where is it located!?>” I yelled at the man.
“<Base of the neck, it stops halfway down the back…Please I have a little girl…>” He begged starting to sob.
I stood there with my finger hovering over the trigger, but I pulled the barrel away from the man’ head. Reaching down I tore the man’s belt from him pants. Taking the bayonet and sidearm I placed them on my own belt. I knelt down and fastened his belt just above the wound in his leg.
“<I would start walking.>” I grunted at the wounded man pointing in the direction away from the church.
I turned and sprinted away from the man before he could move. Even though I spared his life I wouldn’t put it past him to try and avenge his squad. I ran through the town with my mind racing along with my body, thinking about the outlook of survivors. Any situation I could come up with wasn’t great or was far worse than the one I was in now. The fear I had in my mind was pressed into my muscles as I continued the dead sprint all the way to the church. Not fearing any other soldiers because I was already afraid for my friends. As my heart pumped, the rough burn of smoke began to fill my lungs as I tore down the dirt of the main road.
Passing one home I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. On instinct my body dove to the ground. Curling up into ball clutching my rifle as the high powered rounds ripped through the air over my head. I had to cover my ears to stop them from ringing.
“GET UP! RED BOAR! I KNOW YOU’RE STILL ALIVE!” The voice of the pilot amped by the speakers cut through the violence. “YOU’RE A REGEN! I GUESS I’LL JUST HAVE TO TAKE YOUR HEAD!”
I felt the ground trembled slightly as the white doglegged mech lumbered out of the home and into its full standing posture with its bladed tail whipping back and forth. Getting up from the dirt I patted myself down and met the pilots gaze through the visor. Tightening my grip on the rifle. I stared my enemy down. Looking for any tells that would give away any weakness. Missing armor plates, slow rotary movement of the arms, or grinding leg motors. Anything.
Ripping my eyes away from the legs I checked out the guns on the arm. “Twin machine guns would eat through any ammo in a prolonged fight. Then what’s the battery for? Shields?” My mind raced as I checked the other hand. Its sliver and white plates caked with dirt. The mechanized fingers slightly trembling.
Suddenly the machine snapped its arms forwards into the firing position. Diving to the side, tucking and rolling. I was met with the familiar sounds of powerful thuds, whizzes, and snaps of metal flying through the air. Dirt was being kicked up all around me as I got to my knees and fired a couple rounds into the behemoth. Seeing the rounds bounce off the machine as the glowing triangles appeared. Frustrated I ran into a shop the bullets trailing me slamming into and through the walls.
Peeking out from the shop the white giant moved slowly trying to get a clear shot while keeping its guns raised. Picking up a rock I threw it out into the street and ran deeper into the building as the suit opened fire tracing the stone nugget. Stomping around in an empty building made my footsteps echo off the walls of the empty building. Almost as if sensing my movement the machine set his sights inward into the maze of stone and dry wall. Blasting through them as if they were paper. Sliding to the ground I tried to control my breathing. Slow my heartrate.
Feeling the earth I could sense when he was moving. He was too heavy, too loaded down with firepower to fool the ground. Sensing the trembles I maneuvered myself out of his new line of sight. I had to be careful, though, of the bullets holes in the walls. They rays of light beaming through, slicing through the darkness. Once I had control over my breathing I got up as quietly as I could, and waited. For any sound or movement.
We were in a standoff. Neither one of us making a move. My breathing ticked upward at the thought. Sensing nothing through the ground I knew that the machine stopped moving. Everything else though remained still. The dead town. The dead people. My dead friends. Rhodie trained us to fight against humans and sometimes people like me. People with abilities like he had. We had fought against mechs before but we had the supplies to deal with them. Thermite launchers, AT-mines, rail-cannons.
Hearing the grinding of gears and screeching of metal I could feel the mech lumbering back out into the street. Calling me out through his head set, “COME OUT RED BOAR! YOU HAVE TO FACE ME!” He screamed. I knew that he was right. I would have to take him down. Any way possible. If there are survivors in the church then they would definitely be injured. I had to focus on the task at hand. Killing this pilot. Slinking further into the building I looked across the street planning my moves.
Gazing past the mech and through the blistering humid air, I spotted a stairwell across the street. I need to get there. Watching the mech waiting until his back was to me, then I sprang out of the hare hole. Pushing blood into my legs with each stride. Keeping my eyes focused on the interior of the building. Only for pain to erupt from my left side throwing me to the ground. The pain filled my ears drowning out any other noise as I grabbed the edge of the wall and pulled myself into the stairwell. Feeling the thud of the ground I forced myself to stand. Limping up the stairs and around the corner to the door.
Opening the door I slid into the cover of the chest high watching myself bleed through my new hole. However, my shoulder knocked a tin bucket off the ledge. “Shit.” I thought reaching out weakly after the falling object. In awe I watched the metallic sheen float downward through the air only for it to be responded with a high pitched ping. Suddenly a plan clicked together in my mind as shots ripped upward. Crawling away from the edge I checked my wound again. It was healing slowly, much slower than normal. Thinking that he might have some devisor ammo, but that thought was washed away as my stomach growled.
Standing and stepping back into the stairwell I waited for the shooting to stop. Clutching my rifle I whispered to myself hoping everyone would hear, “If this doesn’t work, I’m so sorry…I’m sorry…for everything…” With no other motivation I sprinted out of the stairwell I threw my rifle out over the street into shops on the other side. Timing my jump so that my rifle would be halfway down to the street. I hoped the pilot would track the gun and have his back to me as I stepped off the wall diving into the street. With everything that went wrong today, this might be the only thing that went right.
Slamming into the machine’s back I grunted as I wrapped my left arm around the visor trying to get a nice handhold. The mech flailed trying to shake me off, but I held on with all the strength in my fingertips. Using my right hand I reached for the bayonet I took from the father I spared. Unsheathing the blade I screamed bloody murder I forced all the energy I could muster into the tip of the knife. Noticing a faint glow of pure white on the edge I drove it into the beast below the neck at the shoulder blades.
In an instant the machine died. The flailing stopped, and a green ooze pooled out from under the armor. Just as I let out a sigh of relief I felt the heat of a fireball wash over me for a split second before shrapnel tore into me launching me down the street.
Groaning in the dirt I clutched my left side. Wiggling my toes I conformed I still had feet, now onto my fingers. Forcing them to move only five wiggle in response on my left hand. Forcing myself I looked right. At the nub above the elbow. Seeing the red flowing freely out of me only increased my heart rate, letting it flow faster. Crunching my abs I sat up, reaching into my pants I patted my privates confirming that that were still attached. It calmed me down a little, but I had to move fast now as I was beginning to feel light headed.
Unlatching my belt I pulled it from my waist letting the pistol hit the mud. I wrapped the belt around my arm slowing the flow. Reaching for the FAL I racked the bolt twice ejecting two cartridges. Wedging the bullet in my teeth I clinched down pulling the copper steel bullet free from its brass casing. Spitting out the metal I poured the black powder on the artery and around the wound. Doing the same with the other bullet. Grabbing the lighter out of my bag I placed the strap of the bag in my mouth. Flicking the lighter near the wound. I screamed. I screamed through my teeth biting down on the strap trying to fight through the pain. Slapping the fire out with my bag. I check the nub for bleeding again. Seeing nothing I thanked God I didn’t have to do that again.
Using the FAL as a crutch I stood up and took a good look at the remains of the machine. Turning my back on the remnants I started limping my way back to the church. Taking it slowly I made it to the steps of the church, and like the rest of the town it was in ruin. Bullet hold peppering the side the main door blown open. Probably worst of all was that there was no one in the windows or anyone to greet me. Using the FAL as a crutch again I climbed the steps of the church preparing for the worst.
Going through the main door I breathed I sigh of relief seeing Urbain propped up on one of the ruined main support beams. Stumbling over to him, his breathing was labored and his face was swollen. Setting down next to him he looked me up and down. With a smirk he said, “Not exactly, your Sunday best.” Then he chuckled at his own joke before wincing in agony.
“Where are the others?” I asked trying to hide the worry.
“I moved them to the back.” He coughed. “I figured if you didn’t walk through that door. Then the people that did would just take me and leave the others.”
“How are they? How about Mufune?” I breathed out staring out the window.
“Worse than me, not as bad as you though…and he’s not great.” He forced out clutching his side. “That White Mamba, we couldn’t touch it. It just walked in here thrashed and pummeled us. Did you get him?”
“Yea….I got him….” I whispered dipping my head shame. Only to raise it hearing the rumble of a small engine coming into town and shutting off.
“One more time, friend?” Urbain chuckled at me pulling out his pistol.
“Just one more time…” I finished his sentence, while reloading the FAL one handed. Zeroing the sights on the door we heard talking and footsteps. The long rifle wobbled in one hand as I pressed it against my shoulder.
Rolling into town was an eerie experience. Everything was so quiet, so serene. That image was ruined however when we got to the center of town. Seeing the wrecked truck, the damaged tank, the destroyed Stryker. Seeing all of that made grimace in horror, but seeing the mutilated bodies made my stomach turn.
Getting out of the vehicle Shaka ordered us to search the church first. Climbing the steps with my three man team. We position ourselves around the opening. Shaka going in first since he was bulletproof. Being curious I peeked into the opening where we all received a bit of rifle and pistol fire. Not much just a couple shots.
“What did you see?” Shaka asked from across the opening.
“2 kids, sitting by a fallen support beam. One white with a red beret, the other black. They’re both watching the front. They both look pretty rough.” I informed him before hearing a voice belt out form inside the church.
“Are you with them?” the boy’s voice cracked obviously still going through puberty.
“Who’s them?!” Shaka bellowed out into the church.
“The ones out it the street…”
“No, we’re not with them!” Shaka yelled while motioning us to go through a window blown out window in the back.
“Prove it!” a different voice called out, but this once was much more confident in its deeper tone.
Moving with Askia silently along the outer wall of the church we made our way to the backside of the church. Hoisting ourselves through the window. I looked at the pair of boys sitting. The white one was missing an arm, and the FAL he was pointing at the door was wobbling. His strength was fading. The other boy sat next to him on fallen pillar. Sneaking up on them both we tore their weapons from them, while pointing ours at them.
“We just did.” Askia said holding them hostage. “Now, are there anymore here?”
“In, the back.” The boy in the red beret responded.
Motioning Shaka and Zyiad to check it out. When they disappeared into the back we heard over the radio. “Origin, we are going to need immediate medi-vac.”
“Who’s hit?” Heath responded immediately.
“No one on our team, but we have 11 wounded children. Many of them are in dire need of immediate medical attention.” Zyiad explained.
“Is The Red Boar still alive?” Heath asked.
“Yes, he’s one of the ones in critical condition.” I responded.
“Take him leave the others.” Heath responded in a cold tone.
Reaching down to carry the wounded boy. Askia watched the other boy making sure he didn’t do anything. What I should have been watching was the Red Boars one arm. Because it lashed out like a cobra grabbing the pistol holstered on my chest. Ripping out of its holster the gun found its new position next to the temple of the boys head.
“You’re taking all of us…or you get nothing.”
“Heath, he has a gun to his head and he’s saying he won’t leave unless everyone leaves with him.” I told Heath over the radio looking at the determined stare of the boy in the red beret. Askia just looked at me with shock in her face.
“Rodger let me see what I can do…..OK I have an Osprey in-bound ETA 60 mikes.”
Waiting around was the destroyed church was a chore while Zyiad and Aakia check the rest of the town. Until we heard the familiar sounds of the twin propellers chopping through the air. It landed without a problem, unloading twin teams of EMT’s carrying stretchers. They loaded all the children. From the back of the church first at the request of the two boys in the front saying they wouldn’t get on without them. Once everyone was loaded I sat next to the Red Boar who was staring out the window as we rose into the sky.
“You ever been on a plane before?” I asked hoping to bring some wonder back into his cold eyes.
“No…” he responded.
“We’ll for your first time we will be gentle.” I joked with a smile, but the boy just continued to brood sliding the beret over his eyes signaling that he was tired. Taking the hint I walked over and sat next to Askia who only nodded as I took my seat.
United States Embassy. Nairobi, Kenya. Wednesday September 5, 2007. Noon.
Sitting in the lobby waiting to be called into Heath's office. My leg wouldn’t stop bouncing up and down. Along with the chewing gum in my mouth, I’m pretty sure I was being annoying. Thinking about the debriefing a couple of days ago. Heath was not happy that my sidearm was taken and used to stronghold a deal for the other children. I didn’t mind, but what I did mind was keeping my job. The best situation right now would be getting put on unpaid leave. The worst, well…at least The Syndicate is always hiring. Chucking to myself at that thought. I swallowed my gum as Heath’s secretary approached.
Taking me into Heath’s office. I was about to take my seat while he finished up with papers on his desk, but he stopped me. “Don’t bother we’re not going to be here long.” He said behind the mountain of papers.
“Am I fired?’” I gulped out lowering my head.
“No, we get something worse.” He told me standing handing me a manila file. Taking it out of his hand, and opening it. Inside there were a couple of forms and three plane tickets to Boston. Firearms Importation, customs, and a Whateley Academy student application.
“The CIA thinks that it is in Max’s interest to be at a secure environment. This is the first one on the list….And frankly the most comfortable.” Heath said with a sigh. “So take a pen finish up the sponsor section with me, and wrap up those firearm import forms and then we’ll head to the airport.”
“What are the others on the list if I may ask?” I probed, intrigued by the wording. Were there multiple mutant schools now?
“One is ARC and the other is the Wheeling Facility.”
Schuster Hall, Mrs. Carson’s Office. Whateley Academy. Wednesday September 5, 2007 Morning.
Sighing once again I was called into Mrs. Carson’s office. Thinking this was about the fight on the Quad, I mentally prepared my statement as I was walked in by Ms. Hartford. Instead of being greeted by Foob there was no one in the other seat.
“Please take a seat Mr. Tremblay.” Mrs. Carson’s voice boomed over the folder in her hand. “I heard about your little tussle in the Quad. In the future please be aware that blood is considered a hazardous substance. So please refrain from spraying it all over our founder’s statue.” I sank further into my seat hoping that the torment would be over soon.
“However this in not about your incident in the quad.” The blonde woman closed the folder and walked around to the front of her desk. Leaning on it she was almost at eye level with me. “Whateley Academy prides itself on the privacy of the information gained during a student’s admission process. So I’m giving you a choice. You can submit to a spell blocking what is said in this room from ever leaving between us, or you can leave now and we will never speak of this again.”
“I…want to know what you called me up for.” I stumbled over my words with my heart racing. Mrs. Carson only nodded and did some hand waving, and when she opened her eyes. She reached back and handed me the manila folder.
Opening it my eyes were meet with a photo of a boy with a crown scar on his cheek and cold eyes staring into the camera. That wasn’t what made my blood turn into ice. It was the two words under name ‘Max Jaeger’.
With eyes tearing up fear rose with in me. All I could ask was “How?”
“The CIA picked him up about a week ago. He is going to be on campus tomorrow for academic and psychological testing. I can arrange a meeting if you want. Do you want me to?” Mrs. Carson asked with a hint of a motherly tone in her voice.
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Thought I was a together kind of person, the type who had a handle.
As fate would have it I'm exploding like a roman candle.
And it's pretty in the sky.
Such a beautiful way to die.
Chapter 1: Why We Test.
Thursday, September 6th 2007. Morning Headmistress’ Office. Whateley Academy.
“Where is Max?” I asked as Agent Heath and Rebecca took their seats across from me.
“We hit a snag last night.” Heath responded rubbing his eyes trying to wake up from the jet lag.
“What snag? I cleared my morning schedule for this. Whately Security was supposed to pick up three people from the Boston airport. So why are there only two adults here now?” I growled.
“The CIA wanted to make sure that before we escorted Max out of our custody, that we try every available option to coax valuable intel out of him.” Heath explained trying to con his way out.
“What did you do?” I asked crunching down on my teeth.
“Nothing physical. Max said he would only tell us what we wanted to know if we got his sister. We couldn’t find her. The UN and us…we are not on friendly speaking terms right now.” Heath paused taking a breath, and reaching for a file in his briefcase. “So we got a company psychic to imitate what Max would imagine his sister would look like.”
“I take it that didn’t work?” I sighed. Already dreading the amount of sleep I would have to lose to get caught up on the paperwork.
“Nope, he saw right through it, and Max. Well he had a rather strong reaction to having someone in his noodle with him.” Heath told me as he handed me a file. Inside were picture on a balding man in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors and ventilators. Turning the page I was greeted with more picture of a couple of guards with a couple of broken noses and arms. “He beat psychic into a coma, guards rushed in. Hit him with some tranq rounds, those didn’t work. So he ran them down. They’ll live though.”
“I’m sure our security can handle him, so else do you know about him?” I questioned Heath setting the folder down.
“Sadly, not much. You probably know more than we do. He’s barely spoken since we picked him up. He said he will only trade info he meets his sister, Naomi Jaeger.”
“How does he know she’s still alive? You know what happened to his family.”
“Yea, some of the other kids talked when we solo interviewed them. Apparently his parents were killed in front of him, and he was sold into slavery. Details vary from kid to kid but the gist remains the same. And I don’t know how he knows she is still alive, he just does.”
“How many other kids in his unit have the same story?”
“All of the ones we picked up with him. The Rippers only kill the product if they can’t sell it. Sadly, kids are a hot product in that part of the world.”
“So who bought them and gave them training?”
“We believe him, Wilhelm Vogel.” Heath explained opening another folder sliding a picture of a Waffen-SS soldier onto my desk.
“The Fourth Reich is involved?” I sighed.
“Nope, everything about the war was declassified a while back. So I snagged a couple records stating that Wilhelm was a double agent for OSS. Apparently he was undercover with the Schattenherren, but he worked for the winning side.”
“What happened to him after the war?”
“He was made Sir William Vogel. Bought a plot of land in Rhodesia, boarded a plane, and poof…gone. But, the loss of paper trail…that could be explained when Rhodesia was reformed into Zimbabwe.”
“Are you absolutely sure that he trained them? He would be what 70s,80s?”
“The kids who talked. Said they referred to him as Rhodie in private, and by his code name out in the field, Earwig.”
Turning the photo around written in German was Agent Earwig in neat penmanship. Setting the photo down I rubbed my temples at the oncoming amount of paperwork that would flood this office. “Fine. Let’s get this over with. Where is he?”
“He should be landing at ARC any moment now.” Heath told me taking a look at his watch. “The Company was worried after his little outburst about putting him on a commercial airliner. With the intel he knows we also wanted to limit his exposure.”
“What does he know that the CIA is willing to pass him along to Whateley with no strings attached?” I stated folder in my hands in front of my face.
“Classified.” Heath apologized with a shrug.
“Sure it is.” I mocked as the ringing of a cell phone filled my office with Heath answering it.
“You may want to alert your security, we’re going to warp him into Whateley.”
“Outside Schuster Hall.”
Grabbing my phone I punched in Delarose office. “We have an incoming transfer. Outside Schuster. Bring anyone, except Platoon 3.”
Being forced through the strange oval that was ripped open in front of me. I gawked through muzzle as it placed me outside a large building with a glass roof behind it. Rhodie had told me about large buildings before. How they reached up to the sky. I think they were called skyscrapers. The huge glass dome behind the brick building had to be one. Snapping out of it. I looked around and saw men with grey uniforms with rifles I had never seen before. They were all in a relaxed position. I guess I would be too if I saw myself. Hands chained to my waist and my feet chained together. All dressed up in this ridiculous orange jumpsuit. Yea, I was a real threat now.
However, there were five people that caught my attention. An older man with a bit of grey on either sides, but he had the air about him that he commanded respect. The others were dressed in some colorful armor. Each had their own animal style helmets. Wolf, Tiger, Bird and a Jackal?
“Take him to Carson’s office.” The older man ordered them.
The four colored crusaders stepped all around me as they guided me into the building. The old man followed in tail with a couple rear guards. The same ones who escorted me off the plane and into the portal. Tip toeing up the steps I saw some kids exiting the front door dressed in black uniforms looking at me funny. “What is this place?”
The thought didn’t last long as I miss judged my step. Only to have a steel ring choke my ankle sending me face first into the steps. Luckily I got snagged midair by the blue wolf guard. “Watch yourself.” He chuckled with a smile. Guiding me up the stairs, the guards met with another woman who brought all of us into a large office.
Shuffling into the office there was a gorgeous blonde woman with intense blue eyes staring me down. Closer to me was Rebecca the woman who ‘saved’ me in the Congo. The man was Hearth? No, Garth? Whatever it was he wasn’t important, he had one job and he wasn’t doing it.
“Hello, Mr. Jaeger I’m Mrs. Carson. Welcome to Whateley Academy.” Mrs. Carson explained almost talking down to me. While she was busy doing that I snapped a look at her name plate. “You have been given an amazing opportunity, the people who rescued you want to see you improve your life. We can do that here, and help you cope with your interesting….history. Heath, can we get rid of the chains and muzzle. You’re not a mad dog are you?”
“Only when I’m paid to be…Liz.” I countered watching her face frown into a sour expression as the chains and mask were removed.
“It’s Mrs. Carson, young man.” She snapped back. Mrs. Carson, Agent Heath, and the others. They were all the same. Adults who demanded respect for doing nothing at all.
“Stormwolf. I’m signing you out of your classes for the day. You are to accompany Mr. Jaeger to all of his tests. The rest of you can return to class.” Liz ordered the blue soldier around. “Mr. Jaeger, you have a full schedule for today. First you will start out with a medical exam in Doyle. Then powers testing, academic tests, and finally a psych test.”
“And then what, Liz?” I jibbed back watching her scowl grow.
“Then we will hold a special admissions hearing to see if you area right fit for our standards. Now, you a have tests to get to.” Liz growled.
“Come on.” Stormwolf gestured to the door guiding me out of the room and out of the building into a large clean cut field. Then he told me. “Don’t try to run. I’ll catch you.”
“I wasn’t planning on it so don’t worry.”
“Sounds like something someone who was planning on running would say.”
I didn’t respond, we just walked in silence to a square building with people gawking and whispering in each other’s ears as they saw me. Walking through the sliding doors a tall slender woman with honey colored hair studying a clipboard.
“Hello Max, I’m Dr. Ophelia Tenent. Please follow me to exam room three.” The lithe woman explained as she dragged me and my guard down the hall and into a medical room. “Please, disrobe.”
I unzipped the jump suit, and took off the undershirt. Leaving me in the underwear they provided me. Looking at my new ‘friend’ who was in the room, he stared down avoiding eye contact.
“Please stand in a T pose.” The doctor ordered with glaze of professionalism and distance.
She snapped pictures from the front, back, and two sides. She was taking photos of my scars. The next couple of test blurred together as they were the same that the CIA did to me. Something they called a physical and a MRI? The only difference is that she sliced me with a scalpel and took some blood.
“Congratulations, you are a healthy young man. I just find it odd that a regenerator has scars, so please be careful in the future.” Ophelia said with a fake smile. “Now, Stormwolf please take him to power testing labs.”
Walking out of the exam room, Ophelia gave me a look of worry. I had seen it on the face of other doctors before.
“Where…Where did you get all those scars?” Stormwolf asked me he voice faltering a bit.
“I got them from things I was paid to do.”
“What like a mercenary?”
“Were there other kids with you?” Stormwolf asked seeing no way to dance around the question.
“Yea, there were about 200 of us.”
“How many are still alive?”
“10 plus me.”
“What about you? What scars do you have from your time as a soldier?” I asked quickly changing the subject.
“Soldier? What? No, I’m just security auxiliary.”
“They hired you for security, and you don’t even have any battle experience?” I question raising my eyebrow.
“Hired? This is an academy, a school. I do a work study with security.”
“What type of school is this?”
“The kind for people with powers, like us. So we don’t get taken advantage of.” The blue wolf explained.
Walking into the powers testing lab there were numerous eggheads about. However one chubby man with loads of military medals I had never seen before pinned to his chest. He ran up to me and began shaking my hand vigorously. He introduced himself, as Dr. Richard Hewley.
“I’m very excited to get started testing. I watched the tape the CIA sent along with your application. I watched it about a hundred times. I have numerous theories on how you are able to adjust the properties of a bullet. Light TK fields, interstrung magnetic fields, or just plain of density warping.” He droned on and on getting more and more hyper the longer he spoke.
Keeping my silence I was guided to a locker room by the hyper fat man to change. Putting on the special suit I stretched for a bit to get a feel for the resistance. Hearing a whirr behind me I dove to the ground dodging a white ball shot from the wall behind me. Only to get pegged in the head by another one shot from the ceiling.
“Sorry, that’s something we test to see if you are a Precog. Pretty good job. Most people don’t even dodge the first one.” The speakers erupted with Dick’s voice. “Please proceed to the next room.”
The next room was full of weights and a treadmill. They put me on the moving belt only to find out that I had the great power of above average running speed. After the running the put me on the only what I could assume the weight machine. Again I lifting with all my might, Dick was ‘amazed’ that I had the power of above average strength.
Moving into the next lab there were my guns laid out on the table. My AKM, BHP, and even Mufune’s FAL. There were others guns on the table also. It’s just that those were the only ones that mattered to me. Standing next to the table was Stormwolf and a rather large African man dressed in olive green. He had the same posture that Rhodie used to wear, so I knew he main weapon was intimidation.
“Please select a rifle and sidearm you are most comfortable with. And fire at the targets.” Dick explained letting me take my pick.
Taking the AKM and the BHP, I cleared them both for safety and walked them over to the range. The egghead walked over and handed me two stacks of ammo. One for my AK the other for my pistol. Putting the ears they gave me on. I waited like a horse at the starting gate. The clock beeped overhead and the first target popped up a ways away. I put a slug through its center and I continued that for the rest of the targets that popped up. Each on getting further and further away. Keeping count of my bullets I dropped a mag after the 29th shot. “30 + 1.” I echoed in my head as I rocked another mag into the well.
The furthest target down range had some kind of plate in front of it. So I forced some energy down my arm and into the bullet. Sending it down range. The blue bolt ripped through the plate and hit the target before the timer beeped. Catching my breath I cleared the AK and handed it back to the large African man. Then the test with the pistol happened. It concluded in the same way. With a target far off with a plate in front of it. Putting the same energy in the smaller bullet would be risky so I eased off a bit. The smaller blue bolt still ripped down range and pinged off the plate. “Damn.” Putting energy into the bullet again I pulled the trigger. Only to get stopped by the plate again. Hearing the timer ring I cleared the pistol and handed it to the man again.
Rubbing the sweat of my brow I started to feel a little light headed. Then I was nudged by the large man. This time he was carrying an anti-material rifle. “Try this.” He gruffed setting it on the range table.
Loading the rifle with its massive cartridge I took aim down the reinforced range at the same glowing target this time with a new plate guarding it. Catching my breath, I slowed my heart down. Focusing I drew what energy I could I forced it down my arm. Pulling the trigger was the last thing I remembered before the darkness grabbed me.
The smell of food being brought into the room made me sit up in the bed. Looking around I was back in exam room three or one that was like it. “I figured you would want some breakfast. Did they even feed you at all?” Ophelia asked handing me a tray while carrying two others. She took her seat in the room opening a clipboard full of notes.
“They did.” I replied taking the tray and digging into the now cold sausage, eggs, and hash browns.
Just then Dick poked his head in, “We are done with the power tests, we will go over the results at the admissions hearing. What would you like your code name to be?”
“Yes, all mutants are given a Mutant Identification Cards, or MIDs, with codenames on them.” The fat man responded.
“Umm…How about…AP then.” I told him.
“AP…That’s interesting. Does it stand for something?” the researcher asked while typing into the laptop.
“Armor Piercing.” I stated as he printed out some hard plastic tag.
“OK now its best if you keep this on you at all times.” He informed me as I nodded feeling the weight of the MID.
“And if I don’t?”
“Let’s just say it causes major problems.” He stressed the importance of carrying the thing with me.
After he left I turned back to the Ophelia who was twirling a pen absentmindedly with her hair, “How many of these admission hearings have you been to?”
“Honestly, this is my first one. So I have no idea what will happen.” She answered before continuing. “Let me call Stormwolf to take you to Beck Library for your academic testing.”
I had no idea what that entailed, so I just waited for the blue guardian to show up. While I was waiting for him I polished off the other two trays of cold food. When Stormwolf finally did show up we walked past the glass dome, across the green field I was warped onto. This time however it was packed with other kids roaming about. There was a metal statue in the center of the pitch. Passing it I managed to get a better look at the behemoth. Now that he wasn’t buried under birds.
We headed straight into a building. I assumed it was the Beck Library, because that’s what the plaque on the entrance said. Inside the building there were stack of books towering overhead. Looking down each aisle I saw a spiky blue haired girl floating placing books on the upper shelves. I stopped and stared for a moment at the feat of flying. I was amazed that it she could do it so effortlessly, she on the other hand was rather embarrassed and zoomed around the corner out of sight. Getting nudged by Stormwolf we continued our journey through the stacks of books until we reach an old nun dressed in full black with a double eagle patch on her shoulder.
“Mrs. Henderson, Max Jaeger here for academic testing.” The guard told the old nun, passing me off to her.
“Are you not a nun? I thought nuns went by sister.” I asked explaining my reasoning.
“A nun, gosh no. I’m just a simple librarian.” The older woman explained guiding Stormwolf and me to a secluded study room. “Now, let me get the tests. I’ll be right back.”
Taking my seat at the table as she left the room my guard asked me, “Why did you think she was a nun?”
“There was a convent we would to go to in Rwanda, they had nuns there dressed the same way so I just assumed.” I told him shrugging my shoulders.
“We? Rwanada? You’re from Africa?”
“Yea, they would put up our entire unit for a couple nights. Warm food, blankets without holes in them, they even sang for us in the chapel. It was heaven.” I smiled drifting into remembrance.
“Sounds like a sad version of heaven.”
“Yea…well it was the only slice we had.”
Our conversation was cut short by the librarian returning with strips of papers with bubbles on them, pencils, and booklets.
Standing up and stretching I was glad to be done with those stupid bubble tests. I hoped I would never have to do those things ever again. So annoying, fill in this bubble, now this one, and this one. Better off just burning the damn thing. At least they brought me lunch in between the tests.
“So now where?” I asked Stromwolf who had been my silent shadow for the past couple of hours.
“Back to Doyle for your psych testing.” He sighed out of boredom, I guess he wished that I would try to escape. But then that would null my deal with Heath. I do the tests he tries to find my sister. If he finds my sister I give up the info about the mercenary meeting in Khartoum.
I groaned at the thought of having another psy trying to pick my brain, but this is for Naomi this time. “Well let’s go then.” I told the large tan boy.
We walked across ‘the quad’ as Stormwolf called it, but we stopped for a bit to talk to some girl who had the same skin tone as him. She was pretty in a weird way, I couldn’t exactly describe it. She was dressed in some animal skin from the looks of it. Far different than the black skirts the other girls I had seen wearing. She kept giving me the shifty eyed look every time I caught her eye. As the said their goodbyes Stormwolf said something along the lines of goodbye chief. That caught my attention.
“Chief? What was that about?” I asked pretty interested.
“Yea, she’s head of our tribe…well it’s a club…for Native American kids.” He explained as we inched closer back to Doyle medical complex.
“Ohh ok…” I whispered.
We stepped back through the sliding doors of Doyle. This time we were guiding into a large conference room. There was one chair along the wall, one chair in the center of the room across from a large table with three chairs behind it. Taking the seat in the center of the room, because I grown used to the brain picking practices of the CIA. It was a power play to make me feel outnumbered, weak, and alone.
Not long after I took my seat three men walked in. One an older man with a neatly combed hair and in a nice suit, he introduced himself as Dr. Alfred Bellows. The second man had a long pony tail with different colored ties in his hair, he waved at me tell him to call him Chris Summers. He seemed a little TOO friendly.
The third man caught my attention immediately when he walked into the room. With the others I could feel sort of feel when they walked into the room. Him however his footsteps were entirely silent. Coupled with the fact the he wasn’t breathing. Every now and then his chest would move as if he were, but it didn’t seem natural. His name was Louis Geintz, but he asked me to call him Fubar.
The questions started out the similar to the CIA’s questions. Name, DOB, what did my parents do, and when did I manifest. They avoided they question on how my parents died though. After a few rounds of these questions, I felt a light tingling sensation inside my head. The same kind of sensation that would appear when Rhodie wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do. Eyeing their faces, I looked for signs of strain. They all seemed pretty calm. So I thought of the worst smell I could think of. Then I made it fill every part of my brain.
Fubar was the one to cough in reaction to it. Narrowing my eyes. I zeroed in on him. The questions moved away from me and into a different territory. What would I do in this scenario, who would I talk to if this happened. Hypothetical questions. This continued a couple more hours, and every tingle sensation I felt. I punished Foob from trying to take a peek my brain. Finally as the sun was setting we completed all the questions.
“I believe were done. Thank you Max for answer all our questions now if you would please follow us back to Schuster Hall.” Alfred informed Stormwolf and me.
Silently we walked like a funeral precession back to the place where I had started my day. This time though we were escorted to a conference room upstairs made out to look like a mock court room. I took a seat next to Garth and Rebecca. To our left was a mountain of a man dressed like student with an ‘A’ pinned to his chest. In front of us was a large table with six seats. Even seated further was the long haired man who was too friendly. Liz then entered taking the center seat. The other five followed in around her taking their seats.
With a slam of the gavel she started the opening statements. “Thank you for everyone talking the time out of their evening to make it to this emergency admission hearing. Now, representing the student body is Wyatt Cody, president of the Alphas. Also in the room Dr. Chris Summers representing ARC. Let’s begin. Please send in Dr. Tenent.”
Ophelia walked into the room and took her seat off to the side when she was called in. When she was settled, Liz asked her to summarize the medical exam she gave me in the morning.
“Max, as far a physical medicine is concerned, a healthy young man. The only worry I have is the amount of scarring he has on his body. The scars easily cover 50 to 55% of his body.” Ophelia explained bringing up the pictures she took earlier.
“Were these injury self-inflicted?” Cody interrupted.
“No. Some of the scarring are remnants of knife wounds. Most are from gunshots, explosives that have taken limbs only to have them regrow later, and the burns on his back.” Ophelia clarified.
“Are they scars physically detrimental?” The middle aged man with the same skin tone as Stormwolf asked.
“No, we did an MRI to confirm that they are surface level scarring only.” The doctor continued.
“Any other biological differences from the baseline we should know about?” Rebecca asked the doctor.
“Aside from the second nervous system. Max has ultra-dense fat cells. Which should be obvious because that is where he gets his energy from. A gram of normal baseline fat cells come out to about 9 calories. One gram of Max’s fat cells would equate to about 100 calories.” The doctor explained.
“A factor of 10 doesn’t sound like much.” Heath scoffed.
“It is when you compound it out. One pound of baseline fat is about 4,000 calories.”
“So one pound of fat from Max would equal about 40,000 calories.” Heath stared at me like I was about to balloon up to an elephant. “So what does that mean for his metabolism? Surely burning 40,000 calories in a day can’t be healthy.”
“That will require more study, but right now I think his metabolism almost operates on a sliding scale.” Ophelia pondered on the bench.
“Any more questions for Dr. Tenent?” Liz asked the room folding her hands in front of her face, “No, then please bring in Dr. Richard Hewley.” Dick replaced Ophelia on the seat to get grilled. “Now Dr. Hewley what are the results from Mr. Jaegers powers testing.”
“Umm…well he is an Energizer- 4. Regen- 2, which is supercharged by his energizer trait making it a high 5 or low 6. And…he is a Warper- 1 Class V – Force.” The fat man stumbled to get the words out not liking all the attention he was getting. “He also has a secondary nervous system giving him hyper reflexes and hyper sense of ‘feeling’. He was able to dodge the first part of a Precognition test simply on his trained reactions.”
“You say he’s a Warper of Force, what does that mean exactly?” Cody asked interrupting Dick.
“Well, he is able to alter the amount of force an object has on impact. By supplying it with energy from his energizer trait without increasing the opposite reactionary force.” Said Dick answering the question.
“How dangerous is this ability?” The old man dressed like a priest asked the egghead.
“With firearms, very. He was able to shoot through 2 rated 4 armor plates with a 7.62x39 round. He was only able to pierce 1 of the rated 3a plates using a 9mm handgun. However, it seems that he can only use this ability sparingly. As evidenced in our anti-material rifle test.” He continued to rattle off numbers.
“Exactly how did the anti-material test work out?” Heath asked breaking the silence from our side.
“We will log that test into our data…when we find the bullet.” Dick countered looking down at the floor.
“You were on a reinforced firing range. How did you lose the bullet?” Liz asked trying show her concern for safety.
“The bullet tore through the back berm of the range. Luckily, there is nothing behind it. We just need to dig carefully to retrieve it.” Dick explained, trying not to explicitly ask for more money.
“Fine. Any more questions? No. Mrs. Shugendo, would you please.” Liz stated rubbing her forehead. As she was doing so the old Asian lady next to Carson stood up and took the seat away from Dick. “Mrs. Shugendo how would you describe Mr. Jaeger’s academic qualities.”
The old Asian woman replied with one word, “Lacking.” Before continuing, “But better than expected. The tests were tailored to him. He has shown that he is fluent in English, French, Portuguese, and even Swahili. Sadly, no knowledge of classical reading material in any of the aforementioned languages. Also His math skills are well below what is acceptable for someone entering his freshman year, but that was expected given his history. Speaking of history. He has some knowledge of history up until World War 2 and parts of the Boer Wars, but after that it is atrocious. Simply put, his academic performance have no place in an academy of this stature.” After she tore into me, she got up and went back to her seat next to Carson.
“Next, psychological profile, please send in Dr. Bellows.” Cason gestured to Stormwolf to send in the next expert. In walked in the ‘real’ man that interviewed me earlier with the nice suit and trimmed hair. “Dr. Bellows, How would you describe Mr. Jaeger?”
“Troubled, is a nice a simple way to describe him.” The psychiatrist told the room. “Manifesting at age 6, put a literal target on his back. Along with his parents murder these two events allowed certain adults to take control of him, and force him down a particular path. That path had a damaging effect on his development and his trust of adult figures.” Bellows expressed his opinion.
“What sort of damage to his development.” The other woman on the council asked.
“His education for one, and he also exhibits mild sociopathic tendencies.” Bellows answered.
“What type of tendencies?” Cody asked from his own desk.
“Disregard for social norms, difficulty socializing with others, both in verbal and non-verbal communication, and efficient behavior operating in hazardous situations… However, all of these behaviors could be explained by his unique upbringing.” Bellows refuted.
“Are these tendencies are dangerous? To himself or other students?” The priest questioned the doctor.
“I don’t believe so. Normal people are broken down into warriors, to fit the mold if you will. Max was never broken down, he was built from the ground up to be a soldier.” Bellows replied. “Psychically, Emotionally, Physically. How to think, feel, and act.”
“Do you believe Mr. Jaeger is only alive today because at his core, he is fundamentally broken as a person?” Carson asked breaking her silence in the issue.
“I don’t know. These expressions could be symptoms of extreme PTSD. Or it’s simply how his own mind taught itself how to survive the constant trauma.” Bellows confessed.
“Thank you Dr. Bellows. The Board of Supervisors will now vote of special admission status for Max Jaeger.” Liz said, “I Abstain.”
“I vote NO.” The priest replied.
“I vote NO also.” Mrs. Shugendo added.
“I vote YES.” The old native man said making eye contact with Stormwolf.
“I vote YES.” The other man who stayed silent throughout the meeting.
“It seems we have a tie, Mrs. Potter. You get to cast your vote.” Liz exclaimed instructing the other woman to decide my fate.
“I vote NO” Mrs. Potter announced, shocking Heath and Rebecca.
“Very Well. Mr. Jaeger, we the Whately Academy Board of Supervisors deny your special admission status. Should you reapply, we will reconvene next year to reconsider your admission.” The blonde woman said with a grimace and a gavel slam.
Mrs. Carson. Headmistresses Office.
I sat in my chair rubbing my temples wondering when the fuming CIA agent would get out of my office.
“There has to be some by-law, some special Headmaster admission standard.” Heath told me as he started to unwrap his nicotine gum.
“There isn’t, there’s not, and if there was one. That was the closest thing to it.” I groaned.
“There’s got to be another way.” Rebecca pleaded. “Can we take this to the trustees?”
“You said you wanted to limit his exposure. Taking this that high will gather a large amount of attention.” I explained to the hero. “What are you going to do now? I assume that you really don’t want him going to the Wheeling Facility.”
“ARC is our only choice. If we send him to the Wheeling Facility or Thunder Mountain he becomes property of the DPA.”
“You said on the way here. That if he doesn’t get into Whateley, and if he goes into ARC he might never come out. What did you mean by that?” Rebecca grilled the agent.
“That’s on a need to know basis.” Heath verbally slammed her right back.
“I’m sorry, I wish there was more I could do…” I started before getting interrupted.
“THEN DO IT!” Heath yelled.
“You didn’t let me finish…”I glared at Heath stopping him dead. “I wish there was more I could do, but I simply won’t. Whateley Academy is for students who need help with blending into society. Students who are too different from the norm. Students who need help controlling their powers and/or have difficulty with them. Max has neither and could blend into society. In fact he has a fairly large grasp on what his powers can do. What he needs right now is full round the clock metal help. Look at this way. It’s a win-win for everyone this way.”
“Everyone Except for Max.” Rebecca moaned.
“I have the utmost confidence that ARC Security can handle a 14 year old boy.” I assured the agent one more time.
“A 14 year old boy who lead his unit out of the bloodiest civil wars in recent years. Raided every mining town on his way down to the Congo. Also took out 2 APC’s, 2 tanks, 1 Type- A Power Armor, and a local militia supported by the MCO. Who, by the way, are no doubt pissed off, and turning over every rock in the Congo to find him.” Heath continued to yell raising his voice.
Raising my hand to stop him before I said anything, “I know that the MCO raised his bounty, but I assure you. He is going to be safe there. Whateley Security will help you with the transfer of Max to ARC.”
ACES Bar. Zeerust, South Africa.
I sipped my beer taking in the celebration along with others. We had just completed a pretty good ‘security’ job guaranteeing us a fat pay check for months to come. Taking a quick glance at the tele. It was running the news story about the MCO. Apparently they had a disastrous raid. A lot of people had died. In response, they were raising the bounty of who they thought was responsible. From 1 mil to 10 mil.
Pretty nice chuck of change, but not enough for the risk. Apparently whoever this Red Boar was, he had an extremely loyal army behind him. That’s what I thought. Until I felt my phone vibrating. What I heard from the voice on the other end made my heart skip. We would get paid ten times the MCO posted bounty, only on one condition. We bring him in alive. Now we had options. 100 mil alive, 10 mil dead. I told the broker that we would be honored to take the job. As a consideration he even gave me a head start. I now knew where to find the MCO agent that went missing during the raid.
Standing I yelled out to the men around the bar, “DRINK UP! TOMORROW WE GO ON A BOAR HUNT!”
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Dr. Otto. ARC. Thursday, September 6th 2007. Night.
Shuffling the last of the paperwork on my desk into my briefcase. I yawned as a light tap of a knuckle echoed from the entrance to my office. “Ah, yes. Major Amagata. Please come in. Sorry, I sent my PA home for the night.”
“No problem, Sir.” The tall well-muscled Asian man responded taking a stance in the middle of my office. “What do you need from me?”
“The matter of an incoming transfer. Normally this information would have doctor-patient confidentiality, but Dr. Bell has assured me that that the specifics of his past are paramount to his recovery.” I sighed pulling the manila folder out from my desk.
“You believe that I can unravel his past? Sir, what makes you think I can do that?” Amagata question me.
“Well a couple reasons actually. You probably have seen the ‘spooks’ around here today.” I paused with Amagata nodding his head. “Then, what if I told you that you and the patient in question ran in the same circles.”
“PMC’s?” Amagata answered. “What region are we talking about? Because in some parts of the world, you can have a gang running around calling themselves a mercenary company.”
“Africa.” I responded watching his face sour. “Is there something wrong?”
“12 major conflicts involving 32 countries in less than a decade. Sounds…peachy.” Amagata smiled as I chuckled a little bit. Handing him the folder he took it and began to flip through it. “Angola, DRC, CAR, Darfur, Chad, Sudan…what company was he with?”
“That is what we want you to find out.” I smiled slapping him on the shoulder.
“If I may speak frankly, sir.” Amagata replied.
“Nothing, but rumors and campfire legends will come from this.” Amagata explained.
“Then they will have to do.” I smiled
Max - AP.
More tests. Always more tests. Needles, poking, prodding, spitting. Always more, and being restrained didn’t help quench the rage that was starting bubble. Until large tan man with vague tribal tattoos came in and stopped the tests. Saying that he was going to take me to my room. My new ‘home’.
Walking in silence with the fat man next I took notice that he moved with a natural grace to his step. Opening the door with his keycard he ushered me into the solid white room with no windows. The room of clouds, that’s what it felt like when I tested the floors. Hearing the door close with ruthless efficiency I spun around.
Eying the fat man walk away from the windowed slit. When he was no farther than four paces the restraining jacket they put on me unwrapped itself and hung itself on the wall. With nothing to do. I tested the bed in the corner. Sitting on it, I bounced up and down before standing up again.
Walking to the opposite corner I threw my back to the wall. Sliding down I put my knees to my chest, and wondered. I wondered how the others were doing. Did they find their families? Did Heath and Rebecca follow through on their end of the deal? These questions plagued my mind as the softness of the room kept me awake. Until the deafening silence formed a blanket around me.
Friday Morning. Sept. 7th 2007.
The rustling of the white jacket on the wall made me raise my head from my knees. Not knowing what was going to happen I readied myself for anything. Feeling the adrenaline being dumped into my blood, I began to get the jitters. Then the white jacket shot out from the wall trying to wrap me up inside of it. With a quick side step I dodged the floating cloth.
Until an unknown force grabbed a hold of me, freezing me in place. Unable to dodge, the jacket it locked itself around me. I screamed in anger as it did so. Looking through the slit I saw the fat man with his two fingers to his temple. When I was able to move again I rushed to the door. Slamming my shoulder into the pillowed door. When that didn’t work I kept screaming and kicking the damn thing over and over.
“Calm down.” The tan fat man ordered through the intercom on door.
“Fuck you.” I breathed heavily. Falling to my knees. I could feel my fingertips and toes starting to tingle. “What’s going…..on….” I struggled to get out as I fell to the floor.
“I’m sorry, that we have to do this to you.” His voice echoed through my skull making it ring with pain.
Struggling to lift my head. The world outside the white room began to lose all color. Dulling out into a fine grey. Feeling woozy I felt a mask being put on over my mouth and nose. The door slid open. The air rushed in like warm breeze, but the air never reached my mouth.
“O2 levels at 64% and holding. He is ready for transport.” The fat man said to another person through a talky box. There was another name for it though, but the fog in my head wouldn’t let me reach for the word.
Hoisting me up the man brought me through the maze of hallways to a colorful room. One so colorful it bled through the grey in my eyes. The room was full of small fake little animals, and a lively blanket of some kind. There were two adults in white lab coats in the room beside the desk talking, but their words didn’t reach my ears.
“Hello, Max. How do you feel today? I’m Dr. Tanaka. Did Kam give you the tour of the facilities?” The older Asian man asked me staying inside the central portion of my vision.
“I did…but the hypoxia has him pretty loopy. He wasn’t really paying attention.” Kam muttered paging my ears.
What’s this drug hip-knox-as. I’d never heard of it before. Does it work on mutants? It has to its working on me right now. That has to be it.
“Calm down, Max. Your room is specifically designed for people like you. Your healing factor combined with your metabolism, means you would burn through many of the drugs on hand. So we have this mask and your room to help you cooperate with us.” Dr. Tanaka explained, although only half of it was seeping in. “That mask regulates the flow of oxygen to your body. I’m here to supervise that it is working correctly.”
“Yea, it’s working great.” I answered trying to stand only for my legs to turn into jelly. Tanaka pushed me back down into the chair with ease.
“We are going to turn off the regulators and allow you to breathe normally. Dr. Summers, if you would?” Tanaka asked taking his seat on the sofa.
“Hi, Max.” The ponytailed creep smiled as he zeroed in on me as the fog in my head lifted. “Were going to play a game today. Is that ok?” He paused waiting for me to answer. I just stayed silent. Hoping this weird torture would end soon.
“Do you have any preference?” he continued to ask “Here, we will play a quick one. Connect Four.” He smiled grabbing the game and holding it up.
Setting up the game the cheery doctor began to explain how to play the game. “Now, you tell me where you want the pieces to go and I will place them.” He said holding the red piece above the slots in the plastic.
“I’ll go first.” He said placing the black piece in the middle slot. “Now, where do you want your piece?” Staying silent he made the decision for me. “You know you’re going to have to talk to me if you want to win.” He continued to talk as he placed another piece on top of his.
Chis played with himself until he won his own game. Then we started another and another. Each game ending the same way. Chris winning, and grinning like an idiot. Like he won a clapping competition in a town where everyone has one arm.
“Ok I guess that’s enough for now. I’ll have Kam come and take you back to your room.” Chris said while Tanaka sat like a rock on the sofa.
Being walked out of the room I breathed a sigh of relief. I was glad to be out of the colored creep town.
“How do you think that went?” I asked my colleague on the sofa.
“It could’ve gone better.” Dr.Tanaka breathed. “But, it was a nice first step trust exercise. There is just one thing I want you to be aware of. You do know he finds you creepy right?”
“I got that feeling from him yes. You don’t think he was molested at some point do you?” I began to worry for the boy.
“If he was then we’ll work through that too. Just keep trying to earn his trust, and get him to open up.”
“What happens if he never gets over it?” I asked trembling already knowing the answer.
“Luckily, we have a basement full of never-evers.” Dr. Tanka replied with a scowl.
Johnathan Tremblay. Friday September 7th 2007. Morning. Poe Cottage.
From looking at the world around me, I knew I was dream walking again. The trees bent and twisted as if they were underwater. The hills moved with and unearthly crawl. Sloshing around like a bowl of jelly, or like a fat man’s belly in a red suit.
Confused I started to panic until I saw a little girl in a dress standing in the open field with me. Slowly my fractured mind began to piece it together. This was my family’s ranch. The stables were over there, and the water trough was a ways away. Everything was exactly how I remember it. Except for one thing. There was a tunnel door far away from the house just before the hill. Before I could focus in on it the girl strode beside me, and looked deep into my eyes.
“He’s going to find you.” The girl said calmly, but the words shook my bones and ignited a panic deep with me.
Bolting upright in my bed the cool air hit my skin drenched in sweat. I struggled to get control of my breathing. One for my sake. The other as to not wake my roommate. The words echoing in my head still shook me. The shock quickly turned into anger.
What will he say if he finds me? He’s looking for his sister. Not a brother. My thoughts quickly turned to the others in Poe. Some had accepting families, but others weren’t so luckily. Getting out of bed, I quietly got dressed and headed downstairs to the gym. I wanted to work out some of the frustrations I had. Hitting the gym bag over and over I let out my anger.
“Woah easy there, killer.” A voice called out from the other side of the gym. I turned to get a look at the boy, but I had a feeling I already knew who it was. Hank.
“Oh, hey Lancer.” I responded going back to my punches.
“You wanna spar for a bit? I heard around that the Blood Knight has some pretty sweet moves.” Lancer joked with a smile and an arm flex.
I scratched my chin for a bit, knowing that this probably wouldn’t end well for me. Lancer was a part of the infamous or famous, depending on your perspective, Kimbas.
“Yea, why not.” I chuckled back. “It’s Friday. Who needs a brain today anyway?”
Off in the corner I heard Wallflower groan, “Men and their games.”
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“Come in Amelia.” I responded to the knocking on the door as I finished typing the last of the emails.
“I finished looking into the Jaeger Family ranch like you asked.” Amelia voiced walking to the front of my desk, handing me the folder filled with her findings. “There were no noticeable differences in the Jaeger ranch and the ranches of the surrounding area…” She continued.
“Until 1992.” I interjected stealing her thunder. “You do have it circled.” I smiled pointing at the graph she meticulously calculated.
“In 1992, all other surrounding ranches posted heavy losses that year and the following years due to the drought. The Jaeger ranch posted a net gain of 4% until 1997.” Amelia clarified.
“Do you think they were cooking their books?” I asked
“It would appear so.” She reassured my own thoughts on the matter. “I’ll keep looking into the matter. I’ll try to find who lead the strike team during the raid.”
After she left I opened my desk, and pulled out the file with Max and Johnathan’s lab results. I continued to stare at the DNA results. The bold letters of 6% Match burned back into my eyes. “Just exactly who are you two?” I growled.
Max. ARC – Red Section.
Taking the stress ball Kam gave me I threw it against the wall of my room. It never gave a satisfying splat. Only a huff and puff when it hit the padded walls. With a knock at the door and a rustling of the jacket, I knew it was time for another ‘game’ with Chris.
I decided to go along with it and let the white jacket wrap me up. If I didn’t they would just turn on off the air in my room again. When I walked outside the pillowed room, I had this innate sense of déjà vu. Letting the feeling pass, I let Kam put the mask on me. It was kind of like a gas mask, but it only covered my mouth and nose. ‘Designed to regulate oxygen flow’ I thought mockingly. Then we walked silently to Chris’s office.
“Hello, Max. I see we didn’t have to use hypoxia this time to get you here.” Chris laughed. While all I could was raise my eye brows in annoyance.
“What game now?” I joked taking my seat. Yesterday it had been Connect Four. Then when I went back for another meeting it was a game called Guess Who. I bet you can guess who won that one.
“Monopoly.” Chis gushed raising up a familiar looking box.
“NO.” I snarled. Just looking at the box made me sick.
“Why not? Do you hate monopoly?” Chris asked as I tried to fight the rising memories of Regis. “Who was she?” Chris lamented.
“What did you say?” I roared through the mask. “Are you in my head right now? GET OUT!” I continued to yell while trying to stand against the weight of Kam’s TK.
“Max, please calm down.” Chris pleaded
“GET OUT OF MY HEAD! GET OUT! YOU’RE EXACTLY LIKE RHODIE!” I screamed at the man as my vision started to narrow.
“Max, I assure you. I’m nothing like Rhodie.” Chris panted
“THEN WHY ARE YOU IN MY HEAD? HUH? DID YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT I DID? I’LL SHOW WHAT I DID!” I exploded trying to stand as Kam forced me down with his mind.
“I…” Chris wavered, “I think its best that Kam take you back to your room.”
Once I was back in my room I fell into the corner. Trying to tuck myself away. This time however Kam didn’t remove the mask or jacket from me when he walked down the hall. I waited and waited for him to do so, but he never did. It was a long time when the door clicked open again. Chris and Kam walked in. Kam just stood watch by the door, as Chris took a seat on the bed.
“You know, Kam tells me that you haven’t been sleeping on your bed. You just tuck yourself in that corner like that.” Chris pointed out as I avoided his stare. “I came here to say I’m sorry. Every Psychic is supposed to follow a code of ethics, and I failed those and you today. I’m also sorry that you had to go through that with Rhodie. Psychic torture is one of the worst forms suffering.” Chris apologized before getting up to leave.
“Too soft.” I muttered.
“I’m sorry, what?” Chris jolted in surprise setting back down.
“It’s too soft…the bed. It feels like quicksand to me.” I explained
“I’ll see what I can do.” Chris joked with a wink and a nod. He let the silence between us grown before breaking it again.
I responded with silence.
“You know I have this paperwork here.” Chris told me opening up the papers. “Request to Open Adoption.”
“What good is that going to do?” I spat
“Well this is a signed request from you, not the CIA or ARC, you. Telling your sister that you want to meet…or write letters to each other.” Chris explained. “I’ll help you fill it out right now, and I’ll send it out first thing in the morning.”
That’s what we did for the next hour with Chris signing my name at the bottom. When the paper work was finally done Chris pulled out a little token from his pocket. Setting it in front of me, the small metal race car glinted under the lights.
“You know even after the board was destroyed she still carried that token.” I mourned
“I take it she was a good friend of yours.” Chris shared in my sorrow as I curled up deeper into the corner.
“Yea, she had plans to get out. Go to school. Come to America. Help others. And what did she get? Snuffed out like a candle.” I sniffed.
“Her death wasn’t your fault.” Chris admitted.
“Yes it was….” I interrupted.
“Then tell me what happened.” Chris requested.
Looking at the staffing sheet for ARC I decided to give Dr. Michaels a call. The dial tone rang a couple times before the man on the other end picked up.
“What do you want?” Dr. Michael’s disgust oozed through the speaker.
“The same as always. An update on our friend in room R- 4.” I spoke knowing I had him under our collective finger.
“You and your daily updates. Always so pushy. I know that you tried to strong arm the administration into letting me be his attending psychiatrist. If you would have just let me play my part he would have fallen into my lap, but you had to butt in!” Dr. Michaels tried to swing the balance of power in his favor.
“Need I remind you of your failures Dr. Michaels?” I growled. “I’m sure everyone would like to hear about your days at The Company.”
“Damn you, I should’ve never taken that job out of college. All you spooks are the same. Can’t trust the lot of you!” Dr. Michaels screamed.
“I’m hearing a lot of chatter, but none of it is any use to me…” I said using my leverage forcing him to calm down.
“…It appears Dr. Summers had an incident today. Accidentally got to close the sun. Cut their meeting short by about 57 minutes.” Dr. Michaels oozed.
“Nothing other than that?” I barked.
“Well, Dr. Summers is supposed to do a follow up right about…well now. However, who knows when he will update the charts for our mutual friend.” Dr. Michaels explained.
“Then you will have to do what you do best Dr. Michaels.” I implied his consent in the mission I was drawing up.
“No, Dr. Otto himself forbade me from being alone with him in his room.” Dr. Michael’s tried to weasel out of it.
“You can’t turn your back on your country, Dr. Michaels. Also, you won’t be alone and you won’t be in his room. You’ll have an orderly and a separate room for what you do best. Now I want that information! Key players are starting to move, I want to know why!” I finished hanging up the phone. Using my laptop I finished the mission details and sent it to my other man on the inside.
After Chris left Kam loosened the jacket and mask form me. Then I guess I must have drifted off to sleep, because the next noise was I heard was the sound of the food tray opening in the door. I wasn’t going to move to the trough like some trained animal, but the noise continued. Normally Kam just slid in the tray. Moving away from my corner I eyed the slit in the door. I didn’t see anyone at head level, but whoever was on the other side was waiting for me to move.
Once I was in the middle of the room. A translucent tentacle with blue rings on it shot out from under the door. I tried to jump back, but the slimy limb managed to get ahold of my ankle. Falling to the ground I punched at the appendage trying to free myself. I punched and punched at it, but it had some sort of suction attached to my leg. I started panicking when I felt a burning sensation rising up my leg followed by nothing. No tingling…just nothing. I punched harder and harder at the invader trying to free myself, because the longer it was attached to me the faster the numbing spread.
Screaming I tried to rip the tentacle off my leg. Summoning all my strength I tore at the arm ripping off a few of the sucker loosening its grip on me. Until another arm latched itself around my neck. I slap at this attachment but he feeling of nothingness quickly enveloped my whole body.
“Get him into the mask and jacket quickly…quickly damn it!” The unknown voice ordered in annoyance. As the orderly got me tied up into the jacket and mask.
I couldn’t feel him touching me. I could only feel my balance shifting as he tossed me around like a limp doll. My heart began to beat irregularly as my breathing began to become more and more labored. The mask didn’t help either. After I was dressed up and ready to go the unknown pair dragged me to an unknown room. Setting me up in a chair.
‘Whats happening. What are they going to do?’ My mind raced alongside my irregular heartbeat.
“You haven’t met me Max, but I’m Dr. Michaels.” The man called from across the table.
‘I can’t talk. I can’t talk. What did they do to me?’
“For what we are doing here Max we don’t need to talk.” I could see his smile slicing through the darkness.
‘Get out! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!’ I screamed internally trying to claw my way out.
“No need for a struggle. I just want to know. Who was Regis? Why did she like monopoly?”
‘Bait questions. He’s in my head. Think about something else. How to disassemble an AKM first you…’ I tried resisting.
“WHO WAS SHE!” he screamed inside my skull trying to dig at the wellspring of memories that I had buried.
‘Take off the cover, remove the bolt and spring.’ I imagined the AK in my head, drowning out the questions and my increasing pounding in my skull.
“Why are you trying to find your sister? You know she doesn’t want you. If she wanted you she would have reached out to you, after finding out you were still alive.” Dr. Michaels oozed slamming newspapers in front of me to read.
‘Lies…what motivation does he have to tell the truth.’ I thought looking at the headlines. Saved From the Jungle and Girl Saved, Adopted In Canada. Both were being burned into my eyeballs.
“She was rescued and you were declared dead. She has a normal life, and you’re trying to ruin that? You’re a selfish brother.”
‘No he’s lying. He’s just like Rhodie. But What if he is right?’ I tried to think as I drifted into nothingness. No pain. No blackness. Just….nothing.
Dr. Eric Tanaka
BZZBZBZBZBBZZZ BZZZZZZZZZ. The vibrations and the light from my cell pierced the darkness of my room.
“Just let if got to voicemail…” my wife grumbled.
“If they are calling this late, nothing good is happening.” I replied. Putting on my glasses looking at phone.
It wasn’t a phone call, but a data alert message from the breathing mask I had designed. “NO NO NO NO!” I yelled as I quickly ran out of bed sprinting to the RED Section. Pulling up the number for the in house ICU I hit call, “GET A TEAM AND A CRASH CART DOWN TO THERAPY ROOM 4! NOW!”
I sprinted past all the security doors going down the stairwell. Heading straight for the RED section. Once I got to Therapy Room 4 I entered the energy medical override code opening the door. Going straight to Max I ripped off the mask.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A SESSION!” Dr. Michaels yelled.
“Yea this is some hell of a session!” I yelled back checking Max’s pulse.
“Psychic Narrative Exposure Therapy has a 67% effectiveness in helping patients with PTSD.” Dr. Michaels smugly assumed.
“Using PNET, dosing him with Blue’s tetrodotoxin, and using O2 deprivation. You’re not helping him, you’re killing him.” I explained.
“The tetro was to help get him under control. He’s a energizer he should’ve burned it out by now.” He complained.
“Should’ve, but tetro is known to slow down metabolic rate in energizers because it blocks nerve impulses. You dosed him twice.” I pointed to Max’s neck and ankle. “Combine all of what you’re doing with his own unique sliding metabolic rate, and you’ve put him in V-fib.” I finished as the light bulb clicked in Dr. Michaels head.
The crash cart came and we soon got to work on Max. “Let me help.” Dr. Michaels offered.
“I believe you two have done enough.” I growled at the men in the room. “Get him on the gurney. Start De-fib, and get him to the ICU.” I ordered to the medical team.
5 hours later. Sunday, September 9th
“How is he?” Dr. Summers asked as I was just typing up the scathing report I was going to send to Dr. Otto.
“He’s stable now, but he’s in a coma. His O2 levels dropped below 60%.” I explained.
“Is he going to be fine?” Dr. Summers worried looking through that glass.
“He could wake up tomorrow or never…I just don’t know.” I explained.
Hammerhead. Jungle of the DRC.
“Tell me what else you saw, or I kill your wife and daughter.” I yelled at the MCO officer.
“I…I saw an Osprey. No markings. With military guys, black and grey gear no markings either.” The officer stuttered.
I nodded at my men telling them to kill them all. We got what we needed and we didn’t need anyone to follow our trail.
The explosions rattled my teeth while I sat in my foxhole. That’s where I waited until the shelling was over. Then I got up to inspect the damage to my unit. I told them to stay hidden. Staying nice and composed until I got to Regis’ foxhole. What I saw shook me to my core. Rather than the blood I was expecting, all I saw was a skeleton frame with skin draped over it.
“Why did you let me die? Max…why did you let me die?” Regis whispered, but her voice shook me to the core.
I turned to get away from her, but I was only met with more. Atsu, Daudi, Hanif, Masud, Mwamba, and others. They were all here.
“Why did you let us die?” They all said in unison.
“No….No…Not again…MEDIC! I NEED A MEDIC!” I screamed. Falling to my knees I closed my eyes trying to shut out their faces.
“I thought I taught you better.” A voice called out from the small crowd. I looked on true horror. The man walked with conviction and knelt beside me. “You should’ve saved them Max, you’re a medic. After all I trained you.” Rhodie spoke clearly. Even though he had a hole in his head. The same one that I put there.
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