Category Archives: Snippet

A part of a larger work (novel, longer story, etc).

FJJ Investigations, Inc. – Prologue

Loosely inspired by a friend’s Facebook post. Merely a prologue. 

 

It was after midnight and the music was pumping at Z-Rez when the suit approached me for the first time. We were there celebrating, never mind why. Red had poured herself into a skin-tight black Keshiro Takeda dress, and guys were lining up to buy her drinks. Vee was, unsurprisingly, over at the DJ’s station checking out the newest Zeiss Ultrabass thumpers, and I had lost track of Mutt and his ward hours ago.

Me? I was enjoying a well deserved Ichiban when the suit darkened my booth.

“Mr. Jones?” his voice held just the slightest note of uncertainty, which told me that he only knew me by verbal description. Whoever he was, he didn’t have a file on me or he’d know my face. I hadn’t been reprofiled over a year. I had been considering trying a stint as a brunette, but always decided against it. My hair was pretty much my signature.

“Mr. Johnson,” I nodded back. Someday I’m going to meet a suit whose name really is Johnson. Or maybe the bigger suits know that’s what we call them, and never assign anyone with that name to low-level grunt work like this.

He smiled, an expression as plastic as his features: handsome in a bland, non-threatening way. The perfect corporate shill. No doubt the result of extensive reprofiling. “I represent certain people,” he began, slipping into the booth opposite me. “Certain people who have heard of you and your team. We want to hire you.”

My own smile could be measured in picoseconds. “Of course you do.” My voice was heavy on the sarcasm. It’s good, in these negotiations, to establish dominance from the very beginning. And nothing does that better than feigning disinterest. If he was any good at his job, he knew I knew that, and I knew he knew, and so the dance went. “Let me guess,” I went on, “your boss did something and now someone else knows about it and you want expendables who won’t be missed come next quarter’s accounting to go sort it out. That about sum it up?”

He paused, for just a fraction of a second. Maybe he wasn’t as good at his job as I had thought. “No,” he shook his head. “That’s not it at all. Someone broke into our offices…”

I nodded as he trailed off. “And you want us to find out who and retrieve whatever it is they took.” It wasn’t a question, but it was wrong as it turned out.

“No,” he shook his head again. His composure was back, and I realized that I had guessed wrong and forfeited the advantage. Dammit. “We know who did it and we have already recovered the property,” he continued. “What we want you to do is figure out how they did it.”

“Why not just make them tell you?” I asked, and from the self-satisfied smirk, I knew the answer as soon as I asked. “Oh,” I nodded, “no one left alive to question.”

He nodded smugly. “We want you to recreate the event. Figure out where how they did it. The pay is quite good by your standards.” He produced a small holopad from his suit pocket and slid it across the table at me. The figure displayed was as handsome as his face.

I thought quickly. The fact that, even after catching the perps, they still didn’t know how it was done implied certain things. “You think you have a mole,” I said, and he nodded again. “Double that,” I said, pointing at the display. It was a gamble, but I was pretty sure he would go for it. Most people don’t come to us unless there is something so incredibly wrong with their problem that usual avenues of inquiry just wouldn’t cut it.

I was right: he nodded without hesitation. “Done.”

I should have asked for more. Damn. “Done,” I repeated and it was sealed. He collected his pad and slid a card across the table in its place. The card was for the Senior Vice President of Information Security at Grünenthal Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH. I stopped myself from whistling just in time. I pocketed the card and nodded.

“Tomorrow, 8 AM,” he said as he stood. He smoothed out his suit, flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his shoulder, and turned to go. He was swallowed up by the crowd in seconds.

I sat there for a time, thinking about the case. GBI was one of the Big Boys, an Orbital with connections and branches in almost every nation left on Earth. It was said that they flat-out owned the Greater Southern California Republic. If someone was stealing from them, and they couldn’t figure out who did it, it had to be someone very powerful. And that meant very dangerous. We would have to be on our toes the entire time.

I clicked my jaw to activate the subdermal and called Vee. “We have a job,” I said without preamble when she acknowledged me. “Find Mutt and Shag, and meet me at the Van in ten. And give Shag some DeTox. I need him coherent for this. I’ll get Red and meet you guys there.”

“Of course you will,” Velma’s voice dripped sarcasm, and I flushed. My infatuation with Daphne was a long-running source of amusement for the others in the group. I disconnected without replying. Sometimes it’s best not to respond to that kind of thing.

Still, I was in a good mood. We had a new job, so close on the heels of the last. If this kept up, we’d be able to afford those new Nokia plugs Shaggy wanted, and upgrade the Mutt’s biodermal implants. Things were looking good for a change.

I should have known better.

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An Angel Comes Unto Thee

In retrospect, Beth thought, maybe we shouldn’t have come this way.

Beth and JD were, in a word, surrounded. The moment the two of them had arrived, creatures had begun pouring out of the tall, dark shapes that Beth presumed were buildings. They had started running, but the long street, lit only by starlight, contained a seemingly endless supply of monster-disgorging buildings. In less than a hundred yards, they were surrounded.

” ‘Oh don’t worry, JD’ ” JD threw her words back at her, ” ‘I’m sure it’s not really that bad there. After all, it’s just a dream, right?’ I tried to warn you, but you just wouldn’t listen. ‘I want to try it, just once. Come on, it’ll be fun.’ Is this fun? Are you having fun now?”

“Look,” Beth unleashed a bolt of plasma from her hand. The flash briefly illuminated the scene, and she immediately wished it had not. The monsters were horrid, and there were dozens of them surrounding the pair. “Look, I know your power works on nightmares, you told me. But it’s still a dream, right?”

“Wrong,” JD’s voice was breathless as he ducked under the wetly glistening claws of another of the creatures, “Dreams are what you have when visual or mental conduits to these Realms open into your sleeping mind. We are now in the place where nightmares come from. Every night terror you or any other living being on any world or any Realm has ever had, came from here. And here, they are real.”

Beth paused to blast two more of the creatures to ash with her powers. “Why are they coming after us like this?”

JD’s knife tore into one of the monsters, and it howled. Beth hoped never to hear a sound like that again.

“Because of me. Because I was afraid something like this would happen, and so it did. And because,” JD bumped into her as he jumped out of the way of another monster’s talons, “and because the Lords of this place still haven’t quite forgiven me.”

“Because you wouldn’t let them use you to destroy the world?”

“A world, ours. Earth. But yeah,” JD said. “Because of that.” He hissed in pain as one of the claws caught his left arm and cut him through the leather jacket. “Bastard! This is my favorite jacket!”

Another creature burst into flames on Beth’s side of things, and she could see in the momentary light that more were pouring out of the shadowy buildings on either side. “For every one we cut down, ten more arrive!”

“Well, yeah,” JD swore as he cut at the monster that had injured him. “What did you expect? We’re in the place where nightmares come from. We can’t win.”

“So, what then?” Beth glanced wildly over her shoulder at him for a moment, “We just give up and die?”

“We cheat,” even in the very faint starlight she could hear his evil grin. “Get ready to run.”

“When?” Beth blasted another monster as it reached for her.

“You’ll know,” JD said. “Now cover me for a moment. I have to concentrate.”

“Uh!” Beth started blasting as fast as she could, trying to give the man room to do whatever it was he was planning on doing.

Later, Beth would reflect that JD was right, there was no missing what happened. One moment there was nothing but darkness and monsters and the flashes of her plasma bolts. The next moment there was something else there; a light.

An intense, golden-white light so bright it blinded her momentarily even though she wasn’t looking directly at it when it appeared. It floated several feet above the ground, an oval of intense, eye-searing illumination roughly eight feet from top to bottom. It quickly dimmed until it was merely eye-wateringly painful to look at, rather than actually retina damaging. In the center was a figure, she thought. Roughly man-shaped, it seemed, although the light was so bright it was impossible to get a good look at the thing. All she could get were fleeting impressions; a vaguely human-shaped being, with something floating behind it like wings made from the same stuff as the Aurora Borealis, a thing that might have been a flaming sword in one hand, the face indistinct and possibly hidden in a hood or cowl. The light and the figure both seemed to move like liquid, although the light never became less intense after that first dimming.

With the light and the being there came a feeling. When trying to describe it later, Beth would say that it felt like beauty and joy and purity and it was so incredibly alien and cold that she shuddered with dread even as her heart yearned to approach and kneel at the being’s feet. But even as she would tell people this, she knew it was doing an injustice to the feeling coming off that thing. Mere human words could never hope to accurately portray it.

And then there came a sound. It was as if 16,000 French Horns, amplified to jet engine levels, went off at the same time. And although to Beth  it was just noise, horrible, deafening noise, she sensed that there was meaning to it, as if that sound was somehow speech. She did not, and could not, know what it meant, but she nearly wet herself in terror. Somehow, this one being of glowing light was infinitely more frightening than all the hordes of monsters that surrounded her and JD.

The monsters must have felt the same way, for en masse, they turned to flee.

The glowing thing proved that it was a sword in it’s hand. It began to slaughter the monsters.

“Run,” JD said so quietly she wasn’t sure she heard him. But they both ran.

Behind them, the screams of dying monsters were drowned out by another of those awe and dread inspiring trumpet blasts. JD grabbed her hand as they ran, and yanked her around the first corner they came to. “Hang on,” he panted, “I’ll get us out of here.”

“Please,” Beth said, “Please.” She wasn’t even sure what she was begging for. As terrified as she was, a part of her still wanted to go back and kneel before that glowing being and wait for the sword to fall. A part of her felt she deserved it.

And then suddenly, they were out of the dark nightmare world. It was cold, snow on the ground and a weak winter sun hiding behind some thin grey clouds overhead. The buildings surrounding them were brick, and the cars that drove past were inhabited by people. Beth leaned against the wall behind her and shook for a while.

JD stayed standing, although bent over with his hands on his knees, panting. “Fuck,” he declared, and Beth could find no fault with his assessment. After a time, he stood and inspected his arm. “Gonna need stitches,” he said.”C’mon, let’s find out where we are and how much it’s gonna cost you to get us home.”

But Beth wasn’t ready to lose her spot on the wall just yet. “What was that thing?” she asked.

JD chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he considered how to respond to that. Finally he shrugged and said, “An angel.”

“An angel? Then why did you make us run?”

JD laughed darkly at the question. “Did you FEEL it?” he asked. “People have this image of angels these days. Guardian angels, looking out for you and preventing you from stubbing  your toe or whatever. Have you ever stubbed your toe? Then you should have a fairly good idea that that is not really what angels are all about.” He found a spot a few feet from Beth and leaned against the wall also. “That thing was not a happy, hippie angel full of peace and goodwill and all that. That was an agent of Pure Holiness. That was the thing that threw it’s own brothers into Hell for ever because they sinned once. That is the thing that kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden and barred the door with a flaming sword because they sinned once. That is the thing that will one day mount itself upon a pale horse and kill every living thing in the Universe because it is told to. It is utterly and completely devoted to Good, and if you’ve ever sinned once, it is not your friend. If you’ve ever had an impure thought, or stolen a stick of gum when you were a kid. If you’ve ever taken a pen home from the office, or looked at the ass of your neighbor. If you’ve ever told a white lie, or said ‘God damnit’ even once, you are a sinner and that THING will be more than happy to cleanse you. That THING and it’s kin are why the word ‘awful’ has come to mean ‘bad’ rather than ‘full of awe.’ It has no compassion, it has no humanity, it has no sympathy. It went after the monsters first because they were more evil than we are, but make no mistake. When it was done with them, it would have come after us if we had stuck around.”

“Then why in God’s name did you bring it there?” Beth was oblivious to the irony of her question.

“Because,” JD stood up from the wall and offered her a hand, “That’s now my powers work. I am tied to Nightmare. I can’t summon up happy fluffy unicorns, I can only summon up the types of unicorns that use their horns to do horrible things to virgins and then eat their flesh. I had to summon something that the monsters were afraid of. And every evil thing in the Realms is afraid of those angels. Even you felt it, and you had no idea what it was.”

Beth stared at him in horror for a moment. “I… you told me before about the nightmare thing, but I never really got it. I never really understood. That’s… horrible.”

JD shrugged as he began to walk up the street, “Welcome to my life.”

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Sarah and the Goblin-King

A snippet (the first couple sections) of a longish short story I’m working on. Just thought I’d toss it out there and see what people think. In particular, do you like the sort of archaic ‘voice’ of the narrative?

 

 

There was once a young woman whose father was a mighty knight in the service to his king. They lived in the king’s palace, a beautiful castle with thick walls for protection and cheerful stained-glass windows for light and large fireplaces with deep chimneys for warmth. The young woman, whose name was Sarah, grew up there. Unlike the other ladies of the castle, Sarah spent most of her time watching her father train the soldiers in the courtyard, or riding his horse, or jousting with the other knights.

 

Sarah was a sweet girl, well-liked by most of the men-folk of the castle. The women tended to get frustrated with her, because she refused to spend time in ‘womanly pursuits,’ such as weaving and embroidering and cooking. She did play the harp, however, and such was her skill with that instrument that on those few occasions when she deigned to grace the castle with a song or two, it was inevitable that those present would stand still, as if spell-bound, until her fingers left the strings.

 

“It is amazing she can play at all,” Lady Beatrice, the king’s spinster sister, was heard to remark on more than one occasion. “Surely all the time she spends out of doors, playing with the boys, have left her hands far too rough and calloused for such gentle work.” And indeed, it was true that Sarah did spend most of her time in the yards, playing chase with the dogs, or riding the half-lame gelding her father gifted her with for her sixteenth birthday. She spent time with her father’s squire, watching as he polished and repaired her father’s armor and weapons, and it must be said that more than once Sarah did these chores herself while the squire, a sturdy boy two years younger than her, sneaked into the kitchen to steal hot, sticky buns or pinch a joint of fowl which he would share with Sarah for their afternoon snack.

 

So avid was the girl’s attentions to the duties of knighthood that Sir William, her father, was heard, more than once, to joke that all she needed was a firm cloth to strap across her chest and a mummer’s beard, and she could sit a horse in the summer games. At these times, the men would laugh and the women, particularly Lady Beatrice, would scowl. Sarah herself had no reaction to this joke, for her father was ever careful to make sure she was not present lest he give her ideas he might later come to regret.

 

Her father needn’t have bothered himself over the matter, however, as these were thoughts Sarah herself had come up with on her own long ago. “It is not fair,” she would complain to Gerard, her favorite dog. Sitting in the lee of the kennel, with her legs drawn up to her chest and Gerard’s head resting on her knees while she gently rubbed a silky ear or scratched his broad forehead, she would oft tell him of her trials and tribulations (as she saw them) while he, with the wisdom of his kind, listened in silence and accepted the head rubs that were his due. “I know as much about fighting as any of the new squires. More, even!” she would complain, and Gerard would lick her nose. It is a well-known fact that it is nearly impossible for a young woman to stay angry when there is a dog licking her nose.

 

This, then, was Sarah’s life. It was a good life, if a little dull. It was a happy life, if a little quiet. It was a peaceful life, which was really the problem with it as far as Sarah was concerned.

 

It wouldn’t last.

 

#

 

Winter was normally a quiet time in that part of the world. The ground was too hard to till. The air was too cold to grow crops. The roads were too icy to invade one’s neighbors. There was little to do except the day-to-day business of keeping up the castle. Even the training of the men-at-arms in the yard was, for the most part, curtailed except for a few hours a week to keep the men in what the king liked to call ‘fighting trim.’

 

As the days grew shorter and the stores of lamp oil grew lower, people took to their beds earlier and earlier. Thus it was that one night, scarce past the seventh bell, most of the castle folk were preparing to adjourn to their rooms or cells or mats in the kitchen, when there came at the thick wooden door to the great hall a raucous clatter. Curious looks were exchanged, and Sarah’s father went, with two other men, to see what was the matter.

 

One of the king’s men was there, shivering in the icy night air. One of the king’s guards he was, one of two who had the misfortune to draw the gate-watching duty for that night. “There is a man,” he said between teeth-chattering shudders, “outside the gate. He seems grave wounded and more than half-frozen.”

 

Weapons were swiftly collected by the men before venturing out into the cold. More than one war had begun and ended on the same night when an act of mercy was rewarded by a swift van of soldiers taking and holding the open gate until the main force of the invaders could arrive. Charity is a gift to the Gods, it was said, but stupidity profits only the Black Lady.

 

The precautions were unnecessary this time, however. The man collapsed outside the gate was alone and unarmed. The king called for the fires, previously banked for the night, to be built up again. The castle chirurgeon came down the stairs quickly, still tying off his night-robe around his frail old body. Curious on-lookers were made to stand back so that the chirurgeon had enough light to ply his craft as he looked over the nearly frozen man. From her place at the balcony over-looking the great hall, Sarah also looked the man over although it is unlikely that she and the chirurgeon saw the same things.

 

What the physicer saw was a man in his mid twenties, suffering from malnutrition, frostbite, and a particularly nasty gash along his left thigh. What Sarah saw was a man in his mid twenties, fair of skin and dark of hair, with a pleasingly handsome look to him and the well-worn clothes of one who has seen much and done more in his time. In short, she saw her One True Love, or so she imagined at the time.

 

“Oh, let him be well,” she whispered softly to herself. Many of the other young women in the castle expressed similar sentiments, and the older women smiled knowingly. If the young man lived, the collective fathers of the castle were in for a rough winter.


 

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The Hawk in Flight Pt. 1

The coronation was going well, if you liked that sort of thing. Marcus didn’t. He was fidgeting enough that the High Priest glanced at him several times, his old features set in disapproval.

Marcus couldn’t help it. The day was sunny and warm, and while the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral of Coranon was impressive with its myriad stained glass windows, those windows let in the sun but not the cooling ocean breeze. In his heavy velvet ‘dress’ tabard over his brightly polished armor, Marcus felt as if he were melting on the spot. A little puddle of Marcus for the staff to have to clean up. The image in his mind drew a snicker, which in turn caused the High Priest to glare at him again.

“Warm enough for you?” whispered Malcolm with a faint grin. Marcus turned his head to glance briefly at his friend, and grinned back.

If I’m hot, he must be about to burst into flames. Malcolm’s own armor was covered, not with a velvet tabard, but with a heavy velvet and fur robe with a high collar. The rich carmine of the robe with it’s sable fur lining weighed around 25 pounds and would keep a man warm during an Arrandarran ice-storm. What it was doing to poor Malcolm there in the balmy south of Krythe was something Marcus didn’t care to think about.

“If this goes much longer, we won’t need an assassin,” Marcus whispered in reply. “The heat’ll kill you as dead as any Regentist blade.”

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The Sanctuary

This is a snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time, about a bar that is a sanctuary for people who need it. It may appear in one of my books someday. Today’s exercise is just to get some ideas and a little story down on e-paper.

Sandra staggered into the bar shortly after 11:30 on a Friday night. Blood oozed around the hand she had pressed to the long, nasty cut on her left side just above the hipbone. People glanced up at her as she stumbled against one of the tables. I waved her towards the backroom and tossed my towel to Tom, the assistant bartender. Coming around the front of the large mahogany bar, I put my arm around her and helped her to the back room.

She could have picked a better time to get knifed. There were too many eyes in the bar tonight, too many people saw her come in. In addition to the regulars, there were eight tourists; a group of four college kids from the Valley, and two couples from elsewhere come to see the ‘real’ Hollywood. Definitely not good.

I helped her into one of the cots in the back room we keep for those too drunk to drive home, or those who, for other reasons, need a place to crash for the night. Thanks to her injury, Sandra fell into the later category. As I eased her back, the door opened again and Tina slipped in.

Tina was one of our waitresses. Small and slender, with an unruly mop of blonde hair and huge green eyes, she wasn’t as popular as the more voluptuous Desire, but she had a vibrant liveliness to her that more than made up for her lack of rack. Also, she was about three weeks away from receiving her RN credentials. I stepped aside and let Tina get to work, hovering around only so I could talk to Sandra.

“Sandra, who did this?”

She hissed in pain as Tina pulled her shirt away from the wound, tugging and reopening a clot. She hissed louder when Tina splashed some antiseptic on the nasty looking cut. “Raymond,” she finally replied.

I nodded. I had suspected as much, but it was good to have confirmation.

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For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her

Not strictly speaking a ‘story,’ this is more a moment in time exercise for me. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll write something where I can use this. In any event, it makes me smile.

I rang Kara’s cell phone around 9:20 her time. I expected that she would be just getting off work at the little book store where she was employed part time in the evenings to help pay for college. Excuse me, for ‘university’ as they call it there, making more of a distinction between that and ‘college’ that most Americans would bother to do.

It was quite cold, and I tucked one hand under my armpit while I waited for her to answer. Finally, she did. “Robert,” I could hear the grin in her voice as her caller-ID gave her a hint about my identity, “How are you my darling?”

I joined her in a chuckle. My name isn’t Robert. “What are you wearing?” I retorted in as sleazy a voice as I could manage.

“Nothing at all,” she replied. Then, in a more distant voice as if she turned the phone away to speak to someone else present, she said, “Good night, Angus. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?” It wasn’t really a question, just one of those charming little habits Brits like her use. I imagine they do not feel the same way about ‘bro’ and ‘like’ and ‘yanno’ from us Yanks. Turning her attention back to me, she said “Hang on a smidge, I’m just locking up now.”

“Take your time,” I said, switching the phone to my other hand as I tried to keep at least the semblance of life in both extremities. I gave her a few moments to lock the door I remembered from my last trip over the Puddle to meet her: a big oak affair with window in the center and the name of the shop frosted into it at just below eye level for me. “What are you doing tonight?” I asked when I thought sufficient time had passed.

“What?” she said, then, “Oh. Not much. Home, homework, bed. The usual. Why?”

“I don’t know,” I tried not to smile too hard as I spoke, she might hear the amusement before I was ready. “I just had a strange thought. Say, do me a favor?”

“Wassat?”

“Look to your left.”

“Alright, I’m looking to my left. Why am I doing this?”

“Look up more. Down the street, about a block away.”

There was silence from her end for a moment. “There’s someone there,” she said finally, “waving at m….” she never finished the word. Instead, she began to run. The phone line cut off abruptly as she stuffed it back into the pocket of her great thick wool coat.

I also began to run. We met halfway, and she jumped at the last moment, slamming into me full length. Luckily I had predicted this based on previous, similar encounters, and I was braced for it. She wrapped her legs around my waist, her arms around my neck. It was a long time before either of us could speak again.

“You’re a liar,” I told her when we came up for air. I glanced down at her attire meaningfully.

She grinned, “And you’re a terrible, terrible tease. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming over?”

I laughed as I set her gently on her feet, and we began to stroll slowly back up the road towards the book shop. The closest way to her flat, at that time, was actually on the other side of the store. “I’m just in country for a little business,” I shrugged, “and wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you did that!” She took my hand in hers as we walked. The scent of juniper was light and earthy in the cold, crisp air. Her strawberry curls glittered in the light of the streetlamps. “How long will you be here?” she asked with a soft, tremulous note in her voice.

“I’m not sure,” I told her honestly. “That depends on how the business I’m here for goes. If things go well, I may be here for as long as a week. If not, I may leave in a day or two.”

She squeezed my hand and we walked without speaking for a time, listening to the church bell peal the half-hour. “I hope you stay longer,” she said when the last note faded.

“So do I.”

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Rabbit Hole 2.0

This is in response to Sonia G. Medeiros‘ August Flash Fiction Challenge: Doorways.

In retrospect, we should have realized it wouldn’t be that easy. After all, we’d all read the reports. It almost felt like we’d grown up with them.

It took the NSA, working with NASA and Google Earth, all of five days to find the Doorway. It was more or less where we all thought it would be: near a big tree on the grounds of an ancient estate in England. Getting permission from the British government to allow a US SOD team access took only slightly longer. I guess Whitehall still felt it owed Washington over that thing from last year.

So there we were, my team and I, doing final gear check. It felt surreal to be doing this on a nicely trimmed lawn, beside some meticulously maintained topiary and not more than a dozen meters from a freshly-painted white gazebo. Luckily, it was well fed and didn’t attack.

One by one, we called out our ready status, and the Captain stepped up to give us his traditional pre-mission pep talk. We’d all heard it so many times most of us ignored him until he finally rambled his way to the end and then said those fateful words, “Team, you have a green light. Go to red.”

“Huah!” we all grunted in unison, and the racket of bolts being pulled back on our M-4s was as oddly out of place in the pastoral setting as the rest of this entire mission. Really, it should have been an omen. Even Fernandez, with his obsession with superstitions, missed this one. Poor Fernandez.

Halsford had point. He  approached the Doorway in classic text-book form and we stacked up on him. He looked at each of us to make sure we were ready and focused, then he flipped open the hatch and we all pointed weapons down. Nothing to see at first, just a dirt tunnel leading down. Ropes were tied around the nearby birch, and carabiners hooked to belts. We rappelled down. It was a long way to the bottom.

Halsford and the FNG took up positions in front of each of the two doors we found at the bottom, and we all shared a silent moment of amusement at how the FNG had to crouch to keep his weapon level with the imagined center-of-mass of anything that might come out of that second, 2′ tall door.

“Where are we?” I snapped as I unstrapped myself from the rope. First on, last off as the saying goes.

“We got it sir,” Adams responded smartly. I looked over to find him pointing at a table pushed up against the side of the room. And sure enough, there it was, just like the reports. The bottle, the cake, the key, the signs. Forewarned is forearmed they say, so Adams pocketed the key before reaching for the bottle. As he lifted it, he displaced the sign and it fell face-down on the table. That’s ok, we all knew what it said.

“Drink me.”

 

—–

Update: This has been expanded into the first part of  a chapter for a full-length novel. See more at the DWE page.

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