Preivew: Blood Chimera, Prologue – Part I

So I have to say that I often write prologues but they are usually the first things cut when editing time comes. More often than not, I’m telling a setting or background I should be showing instead. I agonized over whether or not to cut the prologue from my SF novel, Marduk’s Rebellion before deciding it was much stronger without it. I’m faced with a similar choice with Blood Chimera, but I think ultimately it does enough to advance the story that it’s likely to stay.

Story found after the cut…

“Hey Pastor!” Evans yelled across the field as they headed for the trucks, “Sorrinson said you asked for the Dead Man’s Ride. That true?”

The sky was a dark grey from fading night and the eminent approach of an unseen sunrise: the hour of the wolf, when the whole world seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation of a false dawn.

Jack Pastor finished tightening the straps on his Kevlar vest, and then checked the ammo clip in his side arm. He might not have answered at all but he looked up to realize a dozen men were waiting on his reply. He looked irritated. “Yeah, it’s true.”

Evans laughed and slapped the side of the hummer. “Jesus Fucking Christ! You’re just a ride-along! What are you trying to do, kiss the new boss’ ass?”

Benson punched Evans in the arm and laughed. “Way I hear it, the new boss would like that. He fancies pretty boys like ol’ Pastor here.” The man yelled across the length of two trucks, loud enough to be heard by the staff left behind at Phoenix Risk Control’s Iraqi headquarters. “Whadya say, Pastor? Bellogh asked you out on a date yet, or were you two already going steady?”

Pastor slammed the ammo clip home on his assault rifle and slung it over his back. He scanned the group of men as if debating which one to shoot first.

“Bellogh’s a cleaner,” Pastor said, looking at them the same way a farmer might look at a pack of rabid dogs. He’d never ridden with any of these men before; as the odd man out, he expected the teasing. Another time, another group, he’d have laughed with them.

“What did you say?” Benson asked in mock falsetto. “He likes your wein—“ Evans shoved him again, harder, and not in a friendly way.

Evans turned back to Pastor. “Say that again?”

Pastor’s mouth quirked up as he looked over the first truck in the convoy, the truck he had volunteered to drive. Satisfied with the cursory inspection, he answered Evans. “Way I hear it, Bellogh wasn’t sent here to be your new boss. Maybe you all haven’t been paying attention to the news, but things have gotten a touch messy in our backyard. Too many murders, too many rapes,” His glare at the men was ripe with accusation. “Bellogh is here…to… clean…it…up.”

Another man, Warner, shook his head. “Shit. That’s just a rumor.”

Navarez disagreed. “No, Pastor’s right. I hear Bellogh used to be black hat CIA. Did all kinds of illegal shit.”

“So what’s he going to do?” Benson said. “Fire us? Turn us over to Iraqi police?” He fingered the grip on his rifle. “That’s not happening.” There was a chorus of agreement behind him.

“Bellogh’s probably just going to bribe some of the local police,” Pastor said. “But maybe I’m wrong. And if that’s the case…” The dark-haired man shrugged. “Well hell. If half the rumors I hear about you are right Benson, you should be a little more respectful of the new chief. In fact, you should be downright terrified.”

“Bellogh tell you that?” Benson had an edge to his voice now; he wasn’t interested in teasing anymore.

“Never met the man,” Pastor said.

“Then what the fuck are you going here? I’ve heard of you. Aren’t you normally on the kidnap & ransom beat, playing patty-cake with FARC out in Columbia?”

“I’m here following orders, same as the rest of you. Beats me why I’m riding with the lot of you.” He pulled a St. Christopher metal out from under his Kevlar, kissed it, and then tucked it back inside his shirt. “Now who wants to sit with me in the first car?”

Silence.

Pastor smiled then, an unfriendly, cold smile. There wasn’t a single man in this group that hadn’t been brought up on some charge at one time or another, who hadn’t crossed over the line and gotten away with it. Once upon a time, private mercenary companies operating in Iraq couldn’t be brought up on criminal charges; there was a rumor floating around that the Senate was thinking of changing that.

It didn’t take a genius to figure with a situation like that, sticking some new guy in with the team likely meant that the higher-ups were putting a mole in the group, someone to watch them and report back on who was useful and who deserved to thrown to the wolves. Of course nobody wanted to ride with Pastor. He couldn’t blame them.

Hell, he also wasn’t sure that wasn’t what was going on, even if he hadn’t been given explicit orders. Maybe he even hoped that was the case – it beat the alternative.

“Lafayette, Rodes, Warner – you’re with me.” He waved them over to the first car, ignoring the unfriendly looks his invitation earned.

Driving first truck in a PMC convoy was the Dead Man’s Ride. Half joke, half threat, the truth was that locals held a special malice in their hearts for the mercenary units that roamed their streets. IEDs, snipers, and ambushes: the first truck in the line was the was first target for them all, and anyone who willingly sought that out was by general consensus known to have a death wish and one foot already in the grave.

Normally, it was punishment, sometimes very fatal punishment. Lafayette, Rodes and Warner certainly saw it that way; they were less than thrilled that he’d chosen them as his companions.

He couldn’t very well explain that he was probably saving their lives.

“Everyone in, everyone ready to go! Get your asses in gear now! We’re running late.” He looked over at Evans, stood crisp at attention and gave him a sharp, mocking salute.

Evans flipped Pastor off in return and got into the second truck in the convoy.

They moved out, gathering speed as they drove through the early morning streets of Baghdad.

Rodes, sitting next to Pastor, said, “Really, why are you here?”

“I told you: I’m following orders.”

“Bellogh?”

“No, like I said, I’ve never met the man. Never even heard the name before I was told to report here.”

“Just watch your back. Evans gets twitchy when he’s scared.”

Pastor shrugged. “I’m not worried.” He glanced back at his rearview mirror at the truck behind him.

Which promptly exploded.

Pastor looked back at exactly the right moment to see the expanding ball of heat and flame. There was a roaring sound for just a moment, and then no noise at all as the sound overwhelmed his eardrums. The first seconds of the explosion seemed filmed in time-elapse. There was just enough time to duck debris, bring his rifle into line, and then the sound was back, like surfacing from a long swim underwater, and he was stepping out of the truck and shooting.

It was noise and chaos and shots fired blindly into smoke and blown sand; Jack didn’t realize right away how the battle had turned, until he ducked behind a retaining wall and realized he was crouching over Warner’s body — or rather, just part of Warmer’s body.

Jack touched his mic, whispered, “Control, this is Pastor. We’re taking heavy fire from an unknown location. Need immediate assistance–” He looked up to see Navarrez take a bullet to the forehead, blowing out the back of the merc’s head. It was a textbook perfect shot. “They have a sniper! South side! Everyone under cover!”

Without waiting for a response, he started looking for possible lines of fire, of which there was a wide selection of possibilities. Still, if somebody didn’t do something about the sniper, Control wasn’t going to want to send in backup or evac, both of which they needed desperately. He ducked into one of the alleys along the road and quickly found a place where he could clamber up to the roof; the riskiest part of this, since if anyone found him mid-climb he would be an easy target. Everyone else was apparently too busy shooting at each other however, and he made it up to the roof without extra holes. He readied his rifle again and began a silent hunt, aware that there was no cover up on the roofs. He waited a tense moment, hoping the flash and fire of the sniper’s rifle would reveal his position. The sniper couldn’t be that far away; the close buildings that were so perfect for an ambush neatly blocked long-distance shots.

Luck was with him, and he spotted the sniper two rooftops over, wedged in behind a broken chimney, with an International Warfare AWSM cradled in front of him. He circled behind, all his care on being quick and silent until finally he was in position. Jack thought it odd; the sniper was set up with more care than he expected from the local insurgents, the gun nicer, and no sign of a spotter, but he was unquestionably the man killing his team mates, so Jack didn’t hesitate to fire two groupings of bullets into the sniper until he was dead. Pastor climbed over to the sniper’s position, picked up the rifle, and checked the sighting. As he did, he spotted the insignia on the man’s jacket and froze.

Phoenix Risk Control. The sniper was one of his own people. Pastor turned the body over. The man was in his early twenties, blond-haired, blue-eyed, the sort of face that didn’t need to shave often and probably would have driven the girls wild if it didn’t belong to a dead man. He was certainly not Iraqi, or any middle-eastern nationality. Probably homegrown in the old U. S. of A. He wouldn’t have looked out-of-place wearing a Captain America uniform.

Bellogh was indeed cleaning house. He only wished he knew what he’d done to put his own name on the kill list.

Pastor kicked the body aside and took up the same position.  Maybe he could even the odds. He started firing at the ambushers, taking out three of them before he picked up the rifle and began to move to a new location.

Jack didn’t feel the first bullet; it was a sensation of force, a loud noise, an unbidden step forward, a stumble, rather than actual pain. His back burned. He turned, saw the man behind him, his eyes widening as he realized it was the sniper — it was the same sniper — the man’s clothes soaked in blood, part of his scalp hanging like loose scarlet ribbons from where Jack had shot him in the head. The man should have been in so much pain he couldn’t move. The sniper should have been dead. But I shot him. In the head!

Jack raised his riffle, but even as he did the other man began emptying the clip of his Beretta into Jack’s chest, never missing. The Kevlar vest held, but only for the first half-dozen rounds, then there was a crack and Jack felt a warm wetness at his neck where a round had either skipped up or the ceramic plate had shattered. He fell to his knees, bleeding out through the arterial gash.

His vision was filled with flickering pulses of black and red as he felt the hand grab him by the back of his helmet and pull his head up. He saw the sniper standing over him, blood dripping past bright blue eyes. The man looked at him and grinned with white predatory teeth before bending down over his neck.

Jack Pastor did what any man would have, under the circumstances.

He died.

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